Raul Castro's New "Excuse"

Friday, April 29, 2016
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in Newsmax:

Cuba Still a Brutal Dictatorship

Supporters of President Obama's policy of unconditional engagement with the Castro dictatorship are in a terrible bind after last week's VII Cuban Communist Party Congress ("Congress").

They argue that the prior U.S. policy of principled accountability had given Castro an "excuse" for its recalcitrant and repressive behavior. Removing this "excuse" is the premise of their policy.

So it was interesting to gauge their reaction to the recent Congress.

During the Congress, Gen. Raul Castro retrenched politically, making it clear that he will remain the "supreme leader" of Cuba and its sole party until 2021, hence, not giving up power in 2018, as many naively believed.

Castro also retrenched economically by criminalizing any subjective "accumulation of wealth" by Cuba's "self-employed" sector ("cuentapropistas") and refusing to recognize them as legal entities. This, in addition to the previously criminalized "accumulation of property."

Moreover, the Congress served a healthy dose of anti-American rhetoric, lambasting President Obama and referring to the United States as "the enemy."

So what was the reaction of Obama's supporters? That Castro's retrenchment is due to his feeling "nervous," "threatened," and "vulnerable" by the new policy.

In other words, those who argue that the previous policy served as an "excuse" are now arguing that Castro is using Obama as an "excuse." Better yet -- the "excuse" excuse is now their new excuse.

Note how they have dizzied themselves in circles:

Before they argued that Castro's recalcitrance was due to a "failure" in U.S. policy. Now they argue that Castro's recalcitrance underscores the "success" of Obama's policy.

Before they argued that U.S. policy buoyed Castro's anti-American rhetoric. Now they argue that Castro's anti-American rhetoric shows Obama has made him "nervous."

Before they argued that President Bush served as a scapegoat for Castro's attacks. Now they argue that Castro attacked Obama because he feels "threatened" and "vulnerable."

But my favorite is U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. During his tenure in the Senate, Kerry consistently argued that U.S. policy "endangered" dissidents.

Yet, in an recent interview, Kerry now argues that increased repression on the island is a good thing — part of "a positive transformation."

These inherent contradictions are due to the fact that their premise is wrong.

If the United States and other democratic nations embrace dictatorial regimes, does anyone truly believe that they'll democratize and stop repressing their people? Of course not.

Let's look at some of today's repressive regimes: What's the Nicolas Maduro government's excuse for arresting, torturing and killing Venezuelans? There are no U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and the Obama administration repeatedly sought to accommodate Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. What was Iran's excuse for the 2009 arrest, torture, and killing of courageous democracy activists during the Green Revolution?

The Obama administration remained shamefully silent throughout that tragic crackdown on Iranian dissent. What’s Basar al-Assad's excuse for the genocide he is waging against the Syrian people? What's Kim Jong Un's excuse for his crimes against humanity against the North Korean people?

Dictators use repression to stay in power. They don't need excuses. When for some reason they feel they must justify their actions, they’ll make up an “excuse,” just as Raul Castro is now doing with Obama. The only people who believe a dictator’s “excuse” are the minions that propagate them.

Knowing that Raul Castro and his cohorts will make up excuses to stay in power, regardless of what the United States and the free-world does, it should be a no-brainer for the American government to oppose its dictatorship and actively support the democracy activists that challenge it.

We can't recognize or become complicit with Castro's dictatorship, through tourism, trade and investment deals with its military monopolies, while wishfully awaiting its "good-graces" to reform. That's not "change" — it's delusional.

Lifting Sanctions Towards Cuba Would Be a Bad Investment

Thursday, April 28, 2016
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in SAGE Business Research:

Lifting Sanctions Towards Cuba Would Be a Bad Investment

In order to have an honest debate about trade and tourism sanctions on Cuba, it’s important to understand how that totalitarian regime conducts business.

First, the very concept of trade and investment in Cuba is grounded in a misconception about how "business" takes place on the island. In most of the world, trade and investment means dealing with privately-owned or operated corporations. That's not the case in Cuba. In Cuba, foreign trade and investment is the exclusive domain of the state, i.e. the Castros. There are no "exceptions."

Here's a fact: In the last five decades, every single "foreign trade" transaction with Cuba has been with a state entity. The state's exclusivity regarding trade and investment was enshrined in Article 18 of Castro's 1976 Constitution.

The state's exclusivity even extends to "humanitarian" transactions. Since passage of the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act ("TSREEA"), nearly $5 billion in U.S. agricultural and medical products have been sold to Cuba. It is an unpleasant fact, however, that all those sales by more than 250 privately-owned U.S. companies were made to only one Cuban buyer, the Castro regime.

The dominant force in Cuba's economy is the military's holding company, called GAESA. Founded by Raul Castro in the 1990s, GAESA controls a wide array of companies, ranging from the very profitable Gaviota S.A., which runs the island's tourist hotels, restaurants, car rentals and nightclubs, to TRD Caribe S.A., which runs all retail operations. In plain words: GAESA controls virtually every economic transaction in Cuba. It is run by Raul's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodríguez Lopez- Callejas.

Foreign tourists have made GAESA the largest hotel company in Latin America. It controls more hotel rooms than The Walt Disney Company. Thus, every tourist that stays at Cuba's Hotel Nacional, has a daiquiri at El Floridita and catches a show at The Tropicana, shares one thing in common -- contributing to the Cuban military’s bottom line.

This is the same Cuban military that took possession of a stolen U.S. Hellfire missile for nearly two-years; has been caught twice internationally-smuggling heavy weaponry, including the worst sanctions violations ever to North Korea; that oversees the most egregious abuses of human rights in the Western Hemisphere; that allows Russian military intelligence ships to dock in its ports; that shares intelligence with the world's most dangerous anti-American regimes; and of which three senior Cuban military officers remain indicted in the United States for the murder of four Floridians.

Not a good investment for America’s interests.

Cuban-Americans Beware: Rights Disappear in Cuba

By Guillermo Martinez in Sun-Sentinel:

Cuban-Americans beware: rights disappear in Cuba

Cuban-Americans heading to Cuba should beware of what they won't have

The information came to me from different sources. One was from a friend who I don't see often enough.The other came from Cesar Pizarro, who I have known since the 1970s at The Miami Herald.

The first one was trying to convince me to travel to Cuba. He did, however, warn me that on the day that one gets on an airplane from the United States to Havana, Cuban-Americans have to leave the Bill of Rights sitting on the airplane. They are no good in Cuba.

Then came a succinct message from Pizarro, with a copy of the page where the U.S. Embassy in Havana details its services for Cuban- Americans. It was chilling.

I could not believe what I was reading, so I went directly to the Internet and found the page that Pizarro had sent to me.

Under the heading of dual nationality, the embassy document addresses what it can and mainly cannot do for people of dual nationalities. This applies to Cubans born on the island that have become American citizens and (this part is incredible and despicable) to the children of Cuban Americans born in the United States.

But, instead of trying to say what the document says in my words, let me pick up a few choice sentences from the document itself.

Under the heading of Dual Nationality, it reads: "The Government of Cuba does not recognize the U.S. nationality of U.S. citizens who are Cuban-born or (and here is the part that to me is unbelievable and unacceptable) or are the children of Cuban parents.

These individuals will be treated solely as Cuban citizens and may be subject to a range of restrictions and obligations, including military service (in Cuba).

The Cuban government may require U.S. citizens, whom the Government of Cuba considers to be Cuban, to enter and depart using a Cuban passport… There have been cases of Cuban-American dual nationals being forced by the Cuban government to surrender their U.S. passports," the document says.

The document also issues a serious warning to all Cuban Americans:

"Cuban-American dual nationals should be especially wary of any attempt by Cuban authorities to compel them to sign 'repatriation' documents. The Government of Cuba views a declaration of repatriation as a legal statement on the part of the dual national that she/he intends to resettle permanently in Cuba.

In several instances, the Government of Cuba has seized the U.S. passport of dual nationals signing declarations of repatriation and has denied these individuals permission to return to the United States."

The document is indeed chilling.

But the part that concerns me most is the part that these draconian measures by the Cuban government apply also to the American-born children of Cuban-American parents.

That means that for Cuba, even children born in the United States are Cuban nationals and they have all rights over them – whether they decide to apply them or not.

As an aside, I am just wondering what would happen in my case. My wife and I are Cuban-born American citizens who came here in 1959 and 1960. We have two children. The oldest was born in Argentina, while we still had not become American citizens. That makes him a naturalized American citizen and his dual nationality, which he has never sought, is as an Argentine.

My daughter was born in Peru and we had already become American citizens. We inscribed her in the American Embassy and thus, like Ted Cruz' parents did in Canada, she is an American citizen by birth.

Now, mind you, Cuba is obviously not applying all these regulations rigorously. Yet it is important to know, for who knows the evil that lurks in the hearts of the Castro brothers.

The may or may not want to apply the laws in Cuba, but what the U.S. Embassy document does is warn all Cuban Americans of the dangers that they might encounter in the Communist nation. And, it is extremely important to say, that in this case the American Embassy in Havana says that it must abide by the Cuban laws and thus can do nothing for Cuban-Americans apprehended in Cuba during their travels to the island.

Unscrupulous Companies That Love Cuba, Love Iran

It's not a coincidence that foreign companies known to do business in Cuba, seek to do business with Iran as well.

They have no sense of decency or moral responsibility.

Before you know it, Iran's business lobbyists will start pushing Marriot-Starwood not to "miss opportunities" there.

And we know Obama will give them a "special license" (regardless of U.S. law).

From Hotelier Middle East:

Melia looking to replicate Cuba's success in Iran

Melia hopes to be a major operator in Iran. Melia hopes to be a major operator in Iran.

Hoteliers have wasted no time in announcing their Iran plans ever since the sanctions were lifted earlier this year, and Melia Hotels International became the third brand, behind Accor and Rotana, to announce its plans.

Melia Hotels International global development managing director Maria Zarraluqui told Hotelier Middle East exclusively at AHIC: “The construction is progressing and it should open in less than a year. We are first five-star brand to come to Iran, which is of a different scale.”

Melia has above 15,500 keys in Cuba – a country that shares similarities with that of the Iranian economy, and Zarraluqui explained how that expertise can give the operator a leg up in operating in Iran.

One-Year Later: Cuomo's Cuba Trip Produces Zero Exports (and Taxpayer Deficit)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Remember all of the fanfare surrounding New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's trip to Cuba?

Well, one-year later, here are the results: Zero.

Actually, to be fair: a $200,000 deficit for New York taxpayers.

From Buffalo's WQRZ:

Exports lacking 1 year after Cuomo's Cuba trip

New York State trip to Cuba under scrutiny

It was one year ago today that Governor Cuomo was in Cuba for a visit, and you paid for it to the tune of $200,000.

The U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council is calling out the Governor.

"It was a $200,000 24 hour visit to Cuba for a photo-op," says U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council President John Kavulich.

Kavulich contacted representatives of the seven New York-based companies that went on the trip to see how they've benefited one year later.

"None of the companies have reported any solid exports or service activities since last year. One company that was involved with agriculture wasn't able to get anywhere. Sought the help from Governor Cuomo's staff, didn't get anywhere," said Kavulich.

That company, according to Kavulich, is Cayuga Milk Ingredients. He says Chobani Greek Yogurt, Pfizer, and Regeneron also reported no exports to Cuba. And his research found Infor just has an agreement to sell software in Cuba. MasterCard is awaiting some legal clarifications. And Jet Blue has applied to start direct U.S. flights to Cuba and is waiting for a decision.

The one bright spot in Kavulich's report is Roswell, which he points out has had a relationship with Cuba since 2011, long before Cuomo's trip. Roswell's C.E.O. told 2 On Your Side the trade mission was critical when it came to making progress with the lung cancer vaccine that's being worked on there. It's now marching towards F.D.A. approval for clinical trials to begin in the U.S.

The Freedom of Information request filed by Kavulich’s group revealed that the Governor went with 15 staff members. Seven of those people work in his press office.

Russian Lawmakers Want to Deploy Rocket Systems in Cuba

Bottom-line: This wouldn't even be a thought if they didn't perceive President Obama to be a push-over.

From Ukraine Today:

Russia wants to deploy rocket systems in Cuba

New Caribbean Crisis could become Kremlin's answer to U.S. presence in Turkey

Two Russian lawmakers from the Communist Party propose to deploy rocket systems in Cuba. This action could be an answer to the presence of the United States in Turkey.

According to the deputies, Washington is going to place its high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) in Turkish south. Russia fears the weapons will threaten its allies.

"The fire range of these rockets is around 500 kilometers. It poses a potential threat to Russia's partners, primarily, Armenia", the officials said.

The deputies add Soviet activity in Cuba during the Caribbean crisis in 1962 forced the United States to abandon their similar plans to deploy artillery in Turkey. Now the lawmakers propose to resort to this strategy once again.

"First, we should locate our artillery in Cuba with fire range similar to HIMARS. Then, it seems rational to restore our Signals intelligence facility (SIGINT) in Lourdes", Russian lawmakers claim.

Earlier Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed the U.S. was going to deploy artillery near Syrian border. It could be used to target areas held by the so-called Islamic State. According to the Minister, the HIMARS systems will be arriving in May.

Repression Clears Way for Hollywood Production -- @FastFurious in Cuba

Cuban security agents have been violently removing "undesirables" -- e.g. homeless -- from tourism zones in Old and Central Havana for the filming of scenes for the Hollywood blockbuster, "Fast & Furious 8."

These agents, wearing plain-clothes and rubber gloves, have been scouring the area for "undesirables" and forcefully taking them away. Various incidents of great violence have been reported (see image below).

Is this how President Obama thinks American culture will positively impact Cuba?

No wonder Hollywood VIPs and artistic delegations come back "marveled" by Cuba and whitewashing their experiences.

They have no clue what takes place behind-the-scenes.

Again, Embracing Tyrants Doesn't Raise Their Standards

We've said it once, we'll say it again:

Embracing tyrants doesn't raise their standards. To the contrary -- it lowers the standards of those who embrace them.

Note how a similar incident to the ABA's collusion with China's regime (below), already happened with the Florida Bar Association in Cuba.

It proves how this proposition holds, even after decades of unconditional business and engagement (as in the case of China).

From Foreign Policy:

Leaked Email: ABA Cancels Book for Fear of ‘Upsetting the Chinese Government’

The American Bar Association insists the move was market-driven, but an employee email says otherwise.

In December 2014, the publishing arm of the American Bar Association (ABA), the preeminent professional organization for U.S. lawyers, commissioned a book by Chinese rights activist Teng Biao. Provisionally entitled Darkness Before Dawn, the book was to paint a picture of China’s politics and society through “the shocking stories” of Chinese human rights lawyers, as well as through personal narrative, according to Teng’s book proposal, which he sent to Foreign Policy. Teng, pictured above, had moved to the United States in September 2014, as the situation for Chinese human rights lawyers was growing steadily worse. He took up a visiting fellowship at Harvard Law School, and began to reflect on his 11 years of experience as a Chinese human rights advocate. The book he planned to write would also have included his experience defending persecuted Chinese minorities; as the lawyer for Chen Guangcheng, the blind advocate who became famous after taking shelter in the U.S. embassy in Beijing in April 2012; and the “kidnaps [sic] and torture” Teng experienced.

But on January 28, 2015, Teng received an email from an employee of the ABA, a professional organization with nearly 400,000 members, one avowedly committed to “serving the legal profession,” according to its website. “I have some bad news,” wrote the ABA employee, whom Teng wished FP keep anonymous. “My publisher, after receiving some concerns from other staff members here about your proposed book, has asked me to rescind the offer that I had made for DARKNESS BEFORE DAWN on December 9th.” (Emphasis in original.) “Apparently, there is concern that we run the risk of upsetting the Chinese government by publishing your book,” the employee wrote, “and because we have ABA commissions working in China there is fear that we would put them and their work at risk.” In the email, which Teng forwarded to FP, the employee wrote that “this has the potential to be an amazing book,” and offered to help Teng find another publishing house.

“I was pretty shocked when I got that email. The ABA in the United States is a very influential organization,” Teng said in an April 13 interview. “Surprisingly, an organization this formidable still fears Chinese pressure.”

The VII Cuban Party Congress -- A Reality Check

Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Roberto Alvarez Quinones is a Cuban journalist who spent over 25-years in Castro's state-run Granma newspaper, as an economic commentator. He also served stints at the Cuban Central Bank and the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

Forget all the media spin -- it's worth reading his analysis very carefully -- for he knows and understands the "belly of the beast."

Alvarez Quinones also corrects the most fundamental mistake among Obama policy supporters and pundits, and all their talk about "hardliners" in Cuba -- Raul Castro is the hardliner.

By Roberto Alvarez Quinones in Diario de Cuba:

The 7th Congress: A Reality Check

Without surprising those harboring low expectations, the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) dealt a reality check to Cubans and all those around the world who had hoped for news of major changes on the island.

The event not only did nothing to improve the lives of ordinary people, but also approved decisions that will actually aggravate the devastating national crisis that is choking the country.

If I were asked to sum up the Congress, in a nutshell, I would say that the civil-military elite of the West's only single-party state doubled down on its reactionary positions and presented the rawest evidence in 57 years of the disconnect between the dictatorship's leaders and the Cuban people.

In addition to approving greater restrictions on the self employed, the Congress decided not only to ban the concentration of private property, but also wealth (riquezas), a word that was not included in the Guidelines of the 2011 Congress. As did his brother Fidel in 1968, now, well into the 21st century, General Castro accused entrepreneurs of having "unscrupulous attitudes" and thinking only about "making more and more."

Nor were the self employed granted legal personality or recognized as owners of small businesses. The owner of a family restaurant, for example, will continue to receive a license, on a personal basis, as a "food vendor." Private property? No way. Also out of the questions is freely importing and exporting goods, or doing business with foreign companies.

The clearest message sent by the VII Congress was that, as long as Castro is in power, there will be no real change on the island. The two brothers are the problem and not the solution. They ruined the country, and they're not going to be the ones to save it. One thing is to think about what they should do for the Cuban people to progress, and quite another is what they do and will do.

The historical experience of "real socialism" shows that in no country has the old communist leadership undertaken processes of profound reform. In China it was only after the death of Mao Tse Tung that economic reform began. In the Soviet Union it was not Brezhnev, Andropov or Chernenko or who launched perestroika and glasnost, but Gorbachev, younger and without ties to the Stalinist past shared by his predecessors. In Vietnam, Doi Moi (renewal) occurred after the elderly leaders of the Ho Chi Minh era either died or stepped down due to illness. Why should we believe that Cuba is going to be any different?

The Cuba-US thaw, paralyzed

With respect to the "thaw" and the normalization of relations with the United States, the Congress has, in fact, frozen the whole process, and resuscitated the old rhetoric of Cuba as a besieged fortress, apparently for two basic reasons.

First, the Castros and the gerontocracy are very concerned about rapprochement with the US, extremely rattled by President Barack Obama's visit and his popularity on the island. Hence, they ordered the Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, to describe the US president's visit as an "attack" on Cuba. And that's what he did.

Moreover, as Obama clarified, he has made all the unilateral concessions that he can, and it is now up to Congress to lift the embargo, so the military junta cannot keep asking for more goodies without giving anything in return, which was the strategy thus far. It is very likely that, given the circumstances, the regime now wants to pressure Washington with the threat of unleashing another kind of Mariel crisis, or that of the balseros from 1994, if it does not put an end to the embargo in the short term.

Raúl Castro, a "hardline" leader

Moreover, the confirmation of historic dinosaurs in the Political Bureau (except for Abelardo Colomé) and, in particular, the ratification of Machado Ventura - who turns 86 in October -  as the second secretary of the PCC, and the country's second-in-command, was another clear indication of the party elite's Jurassic intentions.

As for Raúl Castro, who does not seem decided on withdrawing from the CCP in 2018, it is worth noting that his image as more pragmatic and moderate than other longstanding hardline commanders is errroneous. On the contrary, it is precisely Raúl who heads up the troglodyte wing of the Political Bureau and the entire nomenklatura, faithfully carrying out the mission entrusted to him by his beloved brother.

Something that has gone almost unnoticed, but it is important, is the announcement by General Castro that the Party's Central Committee (the dictatorship's political and administrative backbone) will only admit those age 60 and under, and the age limit to have a leadership position in the PCC will be 70.

This smells like a first step paving the way institutionally so that Alejandro Castro Espin, age 50, can be the future dictator, heading up the PCC, though not the State, when his father believes that his time has come. Whether this will come about or not remains to be seen, but that is the general's intention.

Constitutional reform. What for?

The situation is similar surrounding the announced reform of the Constitution, which may involve wresting from the President of the Council of State his position as Supreme Commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), as is established by the current socialist Constitution; and also separating the positions of the President of the Council of State and the President of the Council of Ministers so that they are held by different people, and not just by one, as has been the case until now.

Looking at that future constitutional amendment in this light clears up doubts about the situation when Castro II steps down as president in 2018, at which point he could be replaced by Miguel Díaz-Canel as head of State – but without him holding the powerful Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces position, and, perhaps, neither that of the Head of the Government, who would be the Prime Minister. That is, within two years Díaz-Canel could be an updated version of Osvaldo Dorticós, or Manuel Urrutia, the two figurehead presidents who had no real power whatsoever.

Finally, if something evidenced the total disconnect between the PCC and the people it  claims to represent it was that the VII Congress did not even have one word of encouragement and hope for Cuba's increasingly exasperated young people, who will now, obviously, reject everything that the Castro regime represents even more vehemently.

And they will be more determined to leave the country. The dramatic exodus of young Cubans fleeing in search of opportunities for a better life, denied them by the manifestly anti-Cuban dictatorship, is one of Fidel and Raúl Castro's greatest crimes.

Quote of the Week: Raul's Dauphin

Fidel trains him daily. A consolidated metaphor of Don Corleone with Michael.
-- Norberto Fuentes, renowned Cuban author and former confidant of Fidel and Raul Castro, on the preparation of Raul's son (Fidel's nephew) Col. Alejandro Castro as successor to the family dictatorship, La Tercera, 4/24/16

Image below: Fidel Castro and Col. Alejandro Castro (center) celebrating with the convicted Cuban spies released from U.S. prisons by President Obama.

Obama’s Visit Increases Cuban People’s Pain

By Dr. M.G. Oprea in The Federalist:

Obama’s Visit Increases Cuban People’s Pain

Cuba’s Communist Party recently convened, and rather than liberalizing as a consequence of President Obama’s overtures, it has retrenched.

Last week, the congress of the Cuban Communist Party convened to elect party leaders and shape economic policy. The Obama administration and many of its supporters expressed hope that this gathering, coming on the heels of the recent diplomatic thaw with the United States, would mark a new beginning for the isolated island nation. But the party bosses made clear that things won’t be changing any time soon.

When President Obama made his historic visit to Cuba last month, he was criticized for once again giving legitimacy to a repressive government and getting nothing in return. Cuba’s human rights record and economic privation are considered unacceptable by many to merit the U.S. offer of diplomatic relations.

But supporters of the détente hoped diplomacy would encourage more openness toward the United States and free markets, especially because Raul Castro has appeared more amenable to reform and change than his older brother, Fidel. What’s more, the younger generation within the Cuban political class seemed poised to take the helm and move the country toward friendlier relations with the United States and more economic freedom. But it now seems Obama’s visit itself is causing Cuba’s leaders to double down on their authoritarian ways.

Party Like It’s 1959

Not only was Raul Castro re-elected the party head, a predictable outcome, but party hardliner José Ramón Machado was re-elected as his second-in-command. Most surprising was the unanticipated appearance of Fidel Castro, which reinforced this affirmation of the island’s commitment to communism. The father of the Cuban Revolution told the 1,000 delegates who had gathered that the legacy of Cuban communism would live on. The congress wants the United States to know that the old communist guard is still in charge.

Meanwhile, in his opening remarks, Raul, the so-called “reformer,” called the United States Cuba’s enemy, saying it still wants to rid the country of communism. Even if it has changed its tactics, Raul proclaimed, America’s goal is unchanged—a not-so-veiled reference to Obama’s diplomatic overture.

The economic message was perhaps most disappointing. At the time of Obama’s visit, the hope had been that the communist congress, which only meets once every five years, would produce significant economic policy changes. But there were none by the close of the four-day gathering. This is a setback for U.S. companies hoping to expand on the island, but an even graver disappointment for the Cuban people, who will suffer the most. It turns out that this may be due in large part to Obama’s visit and the Cuban peoples’ excited reception.

The Obama Effect: Suffering

According to Ted Henken, an expert on Cuba, the show of power and solidarity at the congress was a reaction to the enthusiasm with which the Cuban people received Obama. He calls it the “Obama effect,” and says it’s to blame for the regime doubling down on its communist message. The Cuban people’s zeal for Obama expressed their desire for personal and economic freedom, something that shook up the regime. If there’s one thing an authoritarian hates, it’s seeing his people cheering for another leader.

There were early indications in the weeks after Obama’s visit that change was not in the cards despite his administration’s hope of it. The official Cuban press called the United States’s new policy a Trojan horse meant to overthrow the regime. Fidel Castro even wrote a scathing op-ed titled “Brother Obama.”

The cool reaction from the Cuban powers-that-be is the result of the Obama administration’s unwillingness to allow diplomacy to unfold slowly. Like so many times before, Obama is more concerned with the idea of making history than with how history actually plays out. He didn’t want to pass up on this momentous trip to Havana even if it was too soon after the diplomatic thaw. He’s like a car salesman whose pushy tactics scare potential buyers.

This kind of diplomatic behavior is typical of his presidency. Obama was so eager to sign a nuclear deal with Iran that he accepted a shoddy agreement that is already proving itself unenforceable and weak. It also risks throwing an already turbulent Middle East into an arms race.

Obsessed with Legacy, Oblivious to Impressions

So, why does our president act this way? Because he enjoys the fanfare of making large gestures—and the headlines they produce.

It’s not Obama’s fault that Cuba is a dictatorship. But it is his responsibility as president to think carefully about how his actions and attitudes influence world leaders and the decisions they make at home and abroad. A truly great leader would understand that weighty burden and act accordingly.

But Obama treats his role as president flippantly. He displayed his arrogance and carelessness when he declined to march in Paris with other world leaders after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in early 2015. He broadcast a similar message when he failed to attend the funerals of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Nancy Reagan. And how many times has he been found on vacation or playing golf during a major domestic or international crisis?

Obama’s trip to Cuba has done more harm than good, at least for now. What some have called one of the principal achievements of the trip, speaking directly to the Cuban people, seems to have hurt them. Let’s hope that the negative effect his visit had on Cuban leaders is short-lived, and that our next president has a better sense of the influence this office holds, and how it affects the lives of millions of people throughout the world.

Nearly 250 Political Arrests in Cuba Over the Weekend

Monday, April 25, 2016
The Castro regime arrested nearly 250 Cuban dissidents in protests throughout the island this past weekend.

In Havana, over 30 members of The Ladies in White and other activists were arrested as part of the weekly #TodosMarchamos (#WeAllMarch) campaign.

The Castro regime even cut off the water supply at The Ladies in White's headquarters in the Lawton neighborhood, in order to prevent them from gathering there.

Meanwhile, in the eastern provinces, nearly 200 members of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) were arrested for peacefully protesting and demanding the release of political prisoners.

UNPACU's regional coordinator in Las Tunas, Alexis Cruz Guerrero, was handed an eight month prison term for refusing to pay arbitrary fines stemming from peaceful protests.

Also, Jacqueline Heredia Morales of The Ladies in White has been held for over one week at the Cuban secret police's facilities, known as the VIVAC in Havana. She has been on a huger strike throughout the week.

Other democracy activists, including Yosvani Sánchez Valenciano, Yunet Cairo Reigada, Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda, Alberto Valle Pérez and Marieta Martínez Aguilera, also remain arbitrarily detained at the VIVAC since April 15th. They are all on hunger strike.

WaPo Editorial: To Change Cuba, Focus on Freedom and Demnocracy

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

To change Cuba, speak up for democracy again and again

President Obama's visit to Cuba last month laid down a marker. The president hailed the island’s entrepreneurs, met with dissidents, and encouraged openness and democracy in the presence of President Raúl Castro, who rules without any. The regime’s answer has now been delivered at the just-concluded Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party: a loud “no way.”

The four-day conference, held in Havana, ratified the old guard’s hold on leadership. Mr. Castro, 84, was reelected as first secretary of the party, and the delegates cheered a farewell speech from a frail Fidel Castro, 89. Party members seemed eager to snuff out any lingering glow from Mr. Obama’s visit. Raúl Castro referred to the United States as “the enemy” and warned “we have to be more alert than ever.” The Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, called the president’s visit “an attack on the foundation of our history, our culture and our symbols.” He added, “Obama came here to dazzle the non-state sector, as if he wasn’t the representative of big corporations but the defender of hot dog vendors, of small businesses in the United States, which he isn’t.”

Obviously, Mr. Obama discomfited the regime. Despite some market reforms and economic tinkering in recent years, the authoritarian system the Castros have built still dominates state and society. The brothers’ intention is to make it impossible for Cuba to undergo the kind of transformation that is an ostensible goal of Mr. Obama’s policy.

According to the Associated Press, on April 8 one of Cuba’s most well-known advocates of economic reform, Omar Everleny Perez, was fired from his University of Havana think-tank position for allegedly sharing information with Americans without authorization. Mr. Perez was a consultant to the Castro government when it launched some market-oriented reforms. He confirmed his dismissal, saying it was not because of his contacts with foreigners but because he wrote critically about the slow pace of economic reform. “Sometimes they don’t like what you write or think,” he said.

Exactly. This is why the authorities relentlessly harassed Oswaldo Payá, a champion of democracy who was killed in a suspicious car wreck in 2012 along with a colleague, Harold Cepero; why regime thugs still assault the Ladies in White, relatives of political prisoners who demonstrate weekly; why they rough up other dissidents and free thinkers.

In all the enthusiasm in the United States for more tourism, cultural exchanges and investment in Cuba, there have been far too few demands for more democracy on the island. A lesson of Mr. Obama’s visit, and the Communist Party’s overheated reaction, is that the mere mention of democracy and freedom is a powerful tool. Mr. Obama put it simply in Havana, declaring that “citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear.” Those rushing to Havana lately must not forget to articulate this message, again and again.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Editorial: Obama's Mess, Cuba's Thanks

From The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Editorial Board:

Obama's mess: Cuba's thanks

Weeks after President Obama's trumpeted visit to Cuba, the sour notes are still blaring from the communist isle.

The latest discord comes from Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who called Mr. Obama's ill-advised fence-mending visit “an attack on the foundation of our history, our culture and our symbols,” Fox News Latino reports. To a regime locked in time and ideology, Obama's mission was nothing more than to “dazzle the non-state sector,” Mr. Rodriguez insisted.

President Raul Castro, who, incidentally, will retain Cuba's Communist Party's highest post for another five years, recently called the United States “the enemy” and warned Cubans to remain vigilant against U.S. initiatives that undermine the communist revolution, Reuters reported.

And that followed the vitriol of Fidel Castro, who, just days after Obama's sojourn, rejected the notion that his country needs anything from the U.S. and insisted that the U.S. embargo won't soon be forgiven.

So what has changed? Only that more Cubans are fleeing to the U.S. to escape their country's repressive government and claim asylum benefits, which they fear will run out as U.S. “detente” evolves.

Contrary to the administration's presumptions, the Castro regime — and its inevitable heirs — will never accept or respect U.S. capitalism and the freedom it enables. Chalk up another foreign policy fumble by an administration that's become renowned for dropping the ball.

Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial: Perils of Business in Cuba

From The Richmond Times-Dispatch's  Editorial Board:

The perils of business in Cuba

Earlier this year a delegation of Virginia business leaders traveled to Cuba to explore the potential for commerce there, now that the Obama administration has eased relations between the two countries. At one point, Cuban officials tried to reassure them by vowing that foreign investment could not be “expropriated” except “for reasons of public or social interest.”

Some reassurance.

But having your money, plants or equipment stolen at gunpoint is not the only peril facing American companies in the Castro Brothers’ island paradise. Just ask Carnival Cruise Lines.

The company recently, and wisely, made a hasty retreat from its announced policy of not allowing Cuban-Americans to take cruises to Cuba. We are not making this up. The company blamed the Cuban government, which restricts how and whether Cuban-Americans can visit. Carnival was just following orders, you see.

What’s more, Cuba does not recognize the American nationality of Cuban-Americans who were either born in Cuba or born to Cuban emigrés. In fact, the U.S. government warns such individuals that they “will be treated solely as Cuban citizens and may be subject to a range of restrictions and obligations, including military service.” In some instances, Cuba has even refused to allow such “dual-nationals” to return to the U.S.

Cuba’s reprehensible treatment of its own political dissidents is well-known. So is its treatment of gays and lesbians, who at one time were routinely sent to labor camps for the crime of being gay. That is no longer the case today, and the Cuban regime has tried to reinvent itself as a paradise of gay liberation. That false front is one its critics view, correctly, as little more than pinkwashing.

It’s jarring to watch the American business community boycott North Carolina over that state’s new law regarding LGBT individuals — while racing to see who can open up shop in Cuba, where discrimination is even worse.

No, America’s five-decade embargo did little to change things in the Cuban prison state, and a new approach might produce better results. But those who have flocked to Cuba looking for new business opportunities (a cohort that includes Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe) might want to pause and consider whether the potential gain is worth the risk — not only to their own interests, but to the interests of freedom and justice for all.

Change In Cuba -- But Not For The Better

Sunday, April 24, 2016
By Mike Gonzalez in Forbes:

Change In Cuba -- But Not For The Better

The Obama Administration hasn’t had a good Cuba week. Private companies showed that embracing dictatorships torpedoes mission statements, while the White House embarrassingly had to backtrack and re-invite a jazz legend who supports democracy in Cuba. Meanwhile, in Havana, the Communist Party shut the door on any reform.

All these developments are important, as they revealed the hollow middle of the President’s decision to engage the Castros. They’re not changing for the better—we are, for the worse.

The communist party meeting, which happens twice a decade, was the most important, but perhaps least understood, of these three stories. Most accounts focused on the fact that Fidel Castro, already looking like a cadaver, showed up, spoke some Marxist psychobabble and reminded his audience he may soon die. Well, he’s 89.

Other things were more important. Fidel’s 84-year-old little brother, party honcho Raul Castro, had himself re-elected (unanimously, too, lest there be any doubt) for another five years. That is 2121, when he will be 90 unless he’s already departed for warmer climes.

Until now, all the talk had been of Raul stepping down in 2018. He might, as president of the government, which may be left in the troubled hands of a faceless functionary, but not in the more important role as head of Cuba’s only party.

On Cuba’s lack of political pluralism, Raul was firm. In an exhaustive and exhausting two-hour, 10,000-word speech (it’s not just dissidents who are tortured), he reminded the party cadre and the world that Article 5 of Cuba’s constitution “consecrates” the communist party as “the superior leading force of society and the state,” as it organizes all efforts for the construction of socialism.

Raul castigated the world for having the temerity to suggest that Cuba permit other parties “in the name of the sacrosanct bourgeois democracy.” With admittedly impeccable logic, he added, “if they succeeded in fragmenting us one day, it would be the beginning of the end. Don’t ever forget this!”

So now we have it directly from the Horse’s Mouth: the Communist Party would cease to exist if Cubans were actually given any other option.

There was more. The PCC actually reversed some of what little progress there had been.

Previously, the private sector had been barred from the “concentration of property.” As of the new congress, the private sector will also be barred from the “concentration of wealth.”

Commenting on his blog, CapitolHillCubans, the analyst Mauricio Claver-Carone made the point that this—not the political immobility—was the news coming out of the Congress that deserves world attention. I concur. Claver-Carone writes:

"In other words, the Castro regime can crack down on any person for accumulating any amount of money, without any recourse, based on its own subjective standard.

Castro also reminded everyone that ’cuentapropistas’ (“self-employment”) are not juridical persons.

In other words, they are legal ghosts."

Google “cuentrapropista” and you will get all sorts of wild-eyed expectations of growth by these small entrepreneurs and hopes that they will be the agents of change. Guess who else has done that? Raul. So just as with multi-partism, he closed the door on that.

“We are not naïve nor do we ignore the aspirations of powerful external forces betting on what they call the ‘empowerment’ of the non-state sector, with the goal of generating agents of change in the hope of ending the Revolution and socialism in Cuba,” he lectured those who were still awake.

And that is the problem that awaits the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and all the companies that want to make a deal with the Castros. Their main and only concern is survivability. Nothing else matters. That’s how you stay in power for 56 years.

Carnival Cruise found the hard way with its maiden cruise to Cuba, which was scheduled to launch on May 1 (International Workers’ Day, or communism’s high holiday). To comply with a rule by the Castros, Carnival told Americans born in Cuba they need not apply for a cabin.

A public relations fiasco ensued, of course, and Carnival retreated. The Miami-based company had to go back to the Cuban government and say, you let in the Cuban-Americans or we can’t come here.

What the experience showed was that companies will be only too happy to coddle the Castros until public pressure here gets too intense. In fact, even the White House behaves this way.

This week it emerged that the White House had disinvited 14-time Grammy winner Paquito d’Rivera—a strong proponent of human rights in Cuba—from playing there on April 30, International Jazz Day. D’Rivera wrote a letter to Obama reminding him of America’s values, but it wasn’t till the letter became public a week later, and again public pressure mounted, that the White House decided to re-invite him.

All in all it was a week that showed, once again, that dealing with the Castros will diminish us, not them.

Cuba, Obama and the Law of Unintended Consequences

 By Carlos Alberto Montaner in El Nuevo Herald:

Cuba, Obama and the Law of Unintended Consequences

There are no exceptions. The president of the United States is also subject to the “Law of unintended consequences.” This became patent, for example, in Libya. NATO carried out 7,000 bombing raids and caused the destruction of the army of Qaddafi, who ended up executed by his enemies. In total chaos, the country was finally taken over by some fanatical gangs that murdered the U.S. ambassador.
Objectively speaking, that criminal madman, Qaddafi, was less bad than those who came later. Something similar happened with Saddam Hussein Mubarak, the Shah of Persia, and Batista, episodes in which, directly or indirectly the United States has great responsibility for its behavior, by abstaining to act or for acting belatedly.

It just happened to Barack Obama in Cuba. The president arrived in Havana jovial, hopeful and loaded with good intentions, accompanied by successful (former) Cuban exiles, also desirous to help their native land, convinced one and all of the simplistic theory of the “bombardment of hams.”

Grosso modo, those who support that strategy suspect that -- out of the capitalist penetration, the empowering of the civilian society and the creation of a layer of private owners and self-employed entrepreneurs -- the gradual end of the communist model will eventually emerge.

They therefore renounce any economic reprisals or military threats, confident that the island's gradual economic transformation will produce the results that weren't obtained after more than half a century of economic embargo and hostility.

Wishful thinking. They assume that wishes are reality. Raúl and Fidel are two serious communists, resolutely Stalinist, ready to maintain by blood and fire the State's economic preponderance, the exclusivity of the Communist Party in charge of the nation, and the firm belief that Washington is the enemy against whom Cubans must fight to the death.

That is why they support Nicolás Maduro with cloak and dagger, why they send weapons to North Korea, embrace Iran and the Middle East terrorists, and give their total solidarity to the narco-guerrillas of the  FARC. To the Cuban government, it is obvious who are its friends and who are its enemies. It doesn't hesitate or err or is halted by petty bourgeois prejudices about violating human rights.

As Mauricio Claver-Carone pointed out in CapitolHillCubans, the first thing they did was to add the alleged crime of “accumulation of riches” to the prohibitions imposed on Cuban self-employed entrepreneurs, an anathema that joins the existing impossibility to “accumulate properties.” They know perfectly well the strategy of the “bombardment of hams” and will not be surprised by the “grossly materialistic” tactics of their adversaries.

For the Castros and for the military men who command in their dynasty, the weak private economic fabric, watched very closely by the counterintelligence, composed of minor service activities (small hostels, household restaurants, sweaty bicitaxis and a ridiculous etcetera.), has the function of paying taxes, absorbing the manual labor that doesn't fit in the large public companies, alleviating the deficiencies of an astoundingly clumsy system, and giving the regime the stability furnished by a layer of micro-entrepreneurs anxious not to do anything that might endanger their meager privileges.

A few days after Obama's trip, the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba answered the American president firmly and unanimously. Raúl Castro, along with other octogenarians, were returned to their posts by 100 percent of the votes. The same happened with all the members of Politburo and the Central Committee. Those who expected some sign of aperture or pluralism, some symptom of tolerance toward other voices, did not find them.

The icing on the cake was Fidel's delirious speech. After repeating for the umpteenth time that he has been a communist since the age of 20 -- the only verifiable truth that he has said in all his life -- he began to hallucinate about dinosaurs and the cosmic end of life upon the planet.

It is a pity that Barack Obama, the (former) Cuban exiles, and those diplomats and academicians convinced of the virtue of the strategy of “bombarding with hams” ignore the power of ideologies, absurd and counterproductive though they may be, and don't respect the homicidal determination of some cutthroat enemies that have held power for almost 60 years, terrorizing the domestic population and intimidating their foreign adversaries.

The “unintended consequences” have not taken long to materialize. The dictatorship prepares to tighten the screws. It already expelled from his post Prof. Omar Everleny, a surprisingly reasonable and dialogue-prone Marxist. It will redouble its vigilance. It will batter the opposition with greater brutality (it's already doing so.)  It will economically bleed the entrepreneurs and will show Obama and his friends that the Castros are convinced and consistent Stalinists, willing to kill or be killed in defense of their ideas.

Raúl and Fidel are not sucking their thumbs. It's time for their enemies to learn that.

Lawyers Not Ready to Drop Carnival Suit

From The Wall Street Journal:

Lawyers for Cuban-Americans Not Ready to Drop Discrimination Suit Against Carnival

Carnival on Friday announced that the Cuban government is allowing Cuban-born travelers to join the company’s historic cruise to the island next month.

But lawyers for Cuban-Americans who brought a discrimination suit against the company this month say they’re not ready to drop their complaint.

Friday’s development is a big turnaround from just a few days ago when Carnival was barring Cuban-born Americans from taking part in the first cruise to the island in more than 50 years. Carnival’s policy was the result of a longstanding Cuban ban on Cuban-born people returning to the Communist island by sea.

A federal lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Florida on April 12 accuses the world’s largest cruise-ship company and its new Fathom subsidiary of unlawful national-origin discrimination in a public place of accommodation, in this case a cruise ship. The suit, filed as a class action, has two named plaintiffs, both Cuban-born Americans.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say they still object to the requirement that Cuban-born travelers who came to the U.S. after 1971 obtain a Cuban passport from the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C., a step not required of other passengers.

“Everybody should be treated equally. That’s what we want,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Javier A. Lopez, of Kozyak Tropin Throckmorton LLP in Florida, told Law Blog on Friday. He called Carnival’s announcement a “huge step in the right direction.”

Lesson From Carnival's Cuba Outrage

Friday, April 22, 2016
The Castro regime announced this morning that American citizens born in Cuba will be allowed to enter the island through cruise ships.

This was as a result of the pressure and outrage stemming from Carnival's adoption of Castro's discriminatory practices.

First, it's important to clarify that American citizens born in Cuba will still be required to undergo the Castro regime's discriminatory visa-passport application process.

The Castro regime will also continue to exert its political discrimination, which bars the entry of American citizens born in Cuba, who are critical of its dictatorship.

Finally, the ban remains in tact for American citizens born in Cuba from entering the island through smaller, non-cruise or merchant ships.

But it shows you what a lawsuit, media outrage, unanimous bipartisan condemnation, a public relations fiasco and fear of loss revenue can induce the Castro regime to agree to.

For let's be clear -- if it were not for the scrutiny, pressure and outrage, Carnival would have happily gone along with Castro's discriminatory demands (as it had planned to, until outed) -- and just as Google and Airbnb are currently censoring and compiling information on Cubans at the behest of the Castro regime.

Too bad there's not similar pressure and widespread outrage placed on the Castro regime to stop beating female activists and imprisoning peaceful demonstrators.

On this pressing matter, Castro's getting a pass.

CPAC Cuba Debate: Claver-Carone vs. Cato Institute

Last month, CPAC 2016 featured a Cuba debate between CHC Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone and the libertarian Cato Institute's Juan Carlos Hidalgo.

Click below (or here) to watch the substantive exchange:

WSJ: Obama’s Illusions About Post-Castro Cuba

By Dr. Jose Azel in The Wall Street Journal:

Obama’s Illusions About Post-Castro Cuba

A faux democratization will conceal the military’s grip on power through a dominant political party.

Fidel Castro, visibly weak and infirm at the close of the Cuban Communist Party Congress on Tuesday, spoke of his own mortality: “Soon I will turn 90 years old,” he said. “Never would such a thing have occurred to me and it’s not the outcome of any effort; it was fate’s whim. Soon I will be like everyone else. To all of us comes our turn.”

For the millions of Cubans who suffered for nearly five decades under Fidel’s brutal dictatorship, and those forced to flee their home and their families, his “turn” is long overdue. And sadly, when Fidel dies, his brother Raul, anointed in 2008 and “elected” again this week at the Communist Party Congress, will carry on as dictator while promoting the illusion of political change.

Under what I call a hegemonic party system, the emerging regime in Cuba will not rely on its revolutionary past or one man’s charisma, but on the institutionalization of a dominant political party, controlled by the military, designed to hold power in perpetuity. It will differ from Cuba’s current Leninist model in that some “opposition” parties will be tolerated. This opposition has no possibility of gaining power but suggests the false image of a totalitarian state in transition to democracy.

This image will serve the regime well in projecting political stability and giving potential investors greater confidence in the long-term survival of the regime. It provides investors with the convenient rationalization that their activities are helping advance a democratization process. It also channels the opposition’s energy into participating in a rigged political process. Instead of factions operating against the whole, they become uncompetitive proto parties that are made part of the whole, much as we saw in Mexico under seven decades of PRI rule.

The Cuban political transfiguration began in 2013 when Miguel Diaz-Canel was appointed first vice president of Cuba’s Council of State with the goal of grooming him as Raúl Castro’s successor. Mr. Diaz-Canel, a 56-year-old engineer with a military background, is portrayed as the young civilian face of the government. The mirage was reinforced by Raúl’s announcement that he will not seek the presidency of the National Assembly when his term expires in 2018.

In an address last year to the United Nations, President Obama placed his expectations for change in Cuba on diplomacy and commerce: “We continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to stand up for human rights. But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties.”

The administration has failed to grasp that, with its help, the Cuban regime’s political trajectory will not follow a democratic path. It will crawl into a hegemonic party system that, as if following the length of a Möbius strip, always returns to its repressive origins.

The Most Important (Under-Reported) Story of the Cuban Party Congress

Thursday, April 21, 2016
Most of the media's focus on the VII Cuban Communist Party Congress has been on the political immobility of the Castro regime.

General Raul Castro, his family and comrades will clearly remain in charge, with no youthful or optimistic outlook for the future.

However, what was widely under-reported was the economic retrenchment of the Castro regime.

This is the area where the Obama Administration and its allies had set the highest hopes for "change."

Well, they got change -- for the worse.

During the Congress, Castro announced that the much-lauded "Lineamientos" ("Guidelines") released pursuant to the 2011 Congress will be amended, so that the prohibition (#3) on the "accumulation of property" by the "non-state sector" will also include a prohibition on the "accumulation of wealth."

In other words, the Castro regime can crack down on any person for accumulating any amount of money, without any recourse, based on its own subjective standard.

Castro also reminded everyone that "cuentapropistas" ("self-employment") are not juridical persons.

In other words, they are legal ghosts.

Of course, this was entirely predictable by anyone that has followed the ebbs-and-flows of "self-employment" since Castro authorized it in 1993.

The regime only expands "self-employment" out of necessity. Then, once it recovers economically, hinders it again.

Thus, every pardoned debt, line of credit and license given by the Obama Administration to conduct business with the Castro's monopolies only hurts Cuba's "self-employment" sector.

It's not a coincidence that the number of "self-employed" Cubans has dropped by 10,000 since the Obama Administration announced its new policy in December 2014.

Obama's new policy is only empowering Castro's regime.

U.S. Should Not Allow Castro to Extort American Citizens

By Manuel Ballagas in Sun Sentinel:

Cuba treats its exiles unfairly, and US does nothing about it

The story of my life is about two passports.

I left Cuba more than 30 years ago, and I have never gone back. I find it impossible to return to a place from which my wife, my son and I were literally thrown by a mob that pushed us, spat on us, and kept hitting us until we were on a boat for Key West, all the time screaming, "Scum!"

Call it trauma, but there are still other reasons for not going back.

Even if I wanted, I would not be able to get on a flight to Havana without first applying for a Cuban passport, at a cost of $400, and then, curiously enough, applying for a Cuban entry visa, at a cost of $200. It is also mandatory that the passport be "renewed" every two years, at a cost of $150. Why should I do all that having been a U.S. citizen for 25 years?

My American passport has allowed me to travel in Europe, Canada and Latin America. It is my best form of ID, except the Castro government refuses to accept I am no longer its citizen and demands I buy its passport, even if I renounced my former nationality long ago, and the Cuban Constitution states that Cuban citizenship is relinquished once you become a citizen of another country.

With the recent decision by Carnival Cruise Lines not to allow Cuban-Americans on their trips to the island, the public has been introduced to just one of the enigmas of Cuba travel. Some are now crying discrimination. Their frustration is understandable, but it surprises me it has taken all this time to realize the Cuban government is getting away with discriminatory practices on American soil — and with the acquiescence of privately owned companies, too.

This has been happening since the Cuban government authorized exiles to travel to Cuba in the late '70s. And not only to Cuban-Americans. Any Cuban who has acquired another nationality in the world suffers this treatment if he wishes to buy a plane ticket to the island. Yet even in this age of "engagement" with the Castros, no nation or government has bothered to address this issue.

Which brings me to the story of my life. The story of two passports. One, I gladly acquired in 1992, when I became an American. The other is one I don't want, being as it is a sad reminder of my former life as a slave in a country I fled. Our government should take notice of this, and not allow its citizens of Cuban origin to be extorted into betraying their naturalization oath by accepting a foreign passport, whether they travel to the island by sea or air.

Plane Flies Over Miami: "Boycott Bigoted Carnival Cruise Line"

Tweet of the Day: 

Famed Cuban-American Jazz Artist Shunned by Obama

Wednesday, April 20, 2016
UPDATE: Hours after this letter was reported in the media, The White House was shamed into "re-inviting" D'Rivera to the event.

Grammy-award winning artist Paquito D'Rivera was recently shunned by The White House from an International Jazz Day presentation.

He has been a vocal critic of President Obama's Cuba policy. And we all know the Obama Administration only likes to listen to its echo chamber.

Upon being notified, D'Rivera wrote a letter to President Obama with his thoughts.

See the full text of the letter is below:

Dear Mr. President:

A few months ago, the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute informed me that they had proposed that I participate in International Jazz Day, an event organized by UNESCO that will take place at the White House on April 30th, and will have you, Mr. President, and First Lady Michelle Obama, as hosts. This concert will feature many loved and admired colleagues of mine such as Chick Corea, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Heath, Dave Holland, Al Jarreau, Diana Krall, Christian McBride, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Sting, and even my former Cuba-based colleague Chucho Valdés. I was delighted and put the rehearsal schedule and dates on my calendar.

I regarded this invitation as recognition of my contribution to American culture that, throughout the years, has earned me the appointment as NEA Jazz Master, honorary doctorates from Berklee School of Music and University of Pennsylvania, , Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend, and the Presidential Medal of the Arts, among other awards. So imagine my surprise when, a couple of days ago, I received a phone call from the Monk Institute informing me, without any further details, that my participation did not pass the vetting process by the White House. That is all the information that was given.

If the matter at heart here were my cultural contribution to Jazz and American culture, I wouldn’t take the time to write you this letter, Mr. President. I have played the White House before. However, I fear that this “not passing the vetting process” may have to do with my decades-long vocal position against the dictatorship that oppresses Cuba, my country of birth, and my support of human rights and democratic values that you defended so well a few weeks ago in Havana. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have suffered discrimination instigated by the Cuban dictatorship, due to my democratic convictions, even in the United States. And still, this occasion strikes me as particularly troublesome, given that it is an event in which you, Mr. President, will be the host. You, who just a few days ago defended in my native-land the principle that “citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize and to criticize their government and to protest peacefully,” and praised the accomplishments of the Cuban exile, of which I am a proud member.

Mr. President, I write to you because it concerns me that your genuine goodwill gestures towards the Cuban people could be understood as a call to be complacent towards the demands of the dictatorship that oppresses it; that these gestures may be taken as a pretext to marginalize, even on American soil, Cuban exiles who defend the right of the Cuban people to express freely and to decide their destiny democratically. It is telling (and I pray that I’m wrong) that if the Cuban regime is willing to exert this level of spite and pressure against a public figure in another country — and not just any other country, but the United States — one can only imagine the level of impunity with which the Castro regime acts against Cuban private citizens at home.

It concerns me, that if this is an act of political discrimination against me, it will take place in your house — which is the house of all Americans, given its symbolic weight. It concerns me because it is easier to bear individual discrimination against my person — no matter how painful and humiliating it may be — than the idea that in the name of coexistence with other governments, regardless of their repressive nature, there will be a violation of the basic principles of free speech that so many generations of Americans have fought for over centuries — principles that are a model and a beacon of hope for a considerable part of humankind.

I suppose that this decision to “veto” my presence was made without your knowledge, but my exclusion from the show will be made public. It is my civic duty as a citizen to warn you that even an event celebrating a musical genre that embodies the aspiration of freedom could be used precisely to do the opposite. Because of my respect towards you — which has only increased recently due to your performance in my native country — I believe it is my duty to inform you that your status as host is possibly being manipulated by the very people who deny the very principles that allowed you to become the President of this country, and which allow me to address the most powerful man on Earth with absolute freedom and without fearing repercussions.

Most respectfully,

Paquito D’Rivera

Meet Cuba's 'New' Leaders

The leadership "selection" of the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party encapsulated in one image:

H/T: Yoani Sanchez

Quote of the Day: Generational Change Hype

So much for all the hype about generational change.
-- Brian Latell, a former Central Intelligence Agency Cuba analyst and author of "After Fidel," on the VII Communist Party Congress and the continuation of Castro's dictatorship, The Wall Street Journal, 4/20/16

Curbelo: What Are the Concrete Results of Obama's Cuba Policy?

By U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) in El Nuevo Herald:

Concrete results of Cuba policy

The White House offers a false choice: support his policy or punish the Cuban people

When Congress was debating the nuclear agreement with Iran, the White House told us glibly that our option was to support the deficient product of its negotiation or go to war. The reply of a bipartisan majority in Congress was to reject both war and the agreement, and ask for a more robust product that would eliminate the nuclear threat and create a more stable situation in the Middle East. In the current debate over Cuba, the White House and its allies are offering another false choice: either we support its policy or we punish the people of Cuba.

The first thing that must be made clear is that the only ones responsible for the misery and suffering in Cuba are the brothers Castro. The United States and its government until recently maintained a posture of absolute solidarity with the Cubans, denouncing the dictatorship and supporting its principal victims, the domestic opposition. The United States also has been the biggest source of humanitarian assistance to Cubans. But let's evaluate the president's new policy according to the facts, its achievements and failures, and leave passion aside.

As a member of the U.S. Congress, I have to first ask what this new policy has achieved for the national interests of our country? The dictatorship continues to maintain one of most sophisticated espionage networks within the United States, with the goal of causing us harm and sharing sensitive intelligence with the Russians, Chinese and North Koreans. Fugitives from U.S. justice are still living well in Cuba – criminals who defrauded Medicare, murderers like the woman who killed a policeman in New Jersey, and the pilots who shot down and killed four young men from Brothers to the Rescue, among others.

The Castro brothers, who were the architects of the chaos in Venezuela, continue to support the criminal regime of Nicolas Maduro. Venezuelans continue to suffer, and Florida has lost billions of dollars in commercial activity due to the Cuban intervention. And there's been little talk about the biggest theft of U.S. properties in the history of our country. What little the U.S. can claim as a victory is the release of one hostage and one spy and the tardy return of a Hellfire missile that mysteriously wound up in Cuba – something the White House tried to cover up.

As for the people of Cuba, more than 51,000 have tried to escape from the island since the president made the announcement. Some died at sea or in the jungles of Central America, part of a migration crisis. There is more repression and fewer "self-employed" workers. No one will forget the abuses against the Ladies in White while the president and his family were flying toward the island. Without a doubt, the president's speech on the second day of his visit deserved praise. He supported pluralism and asked for human rights and free elections. He was far more explicit than all the popes, and met with the opposition. We are grateful to him for all of that.

But we must conclude that up to now the party that most benefited from this process started by the White House is the Cuban dictatorship. The United States and its people have achieved little, while many concessions have been made to the Cuban government – among them the official acknowledgment of the Cuban dictatorship as a legitimate government, an injection of millions and millions of dollars into its coffers and the return of Cuban spies whose hands will always be stained by the blood of young U.S. citizens.

Within the Cuban-American community there is now a debate between those who support the new policy and those of us who oppose it. I have met with several people from both sides to listen, learn and debate respectfully. Not to make secret agreements, as was reported in a perverse column published in these pages last week, full of lies, insinuations, conjectures, intrigues, gossip and baseless allegations. The intent of the column was to divide and sow discord, without any evidence and quoting a faceless and nameless source that was totally wrong.

The truth is that we can disagree without disparaging, and work toward a consensus on the assumption that the great majority of us wish the best for the people of the United States and Cuba. My doors are always open to those who want to talk about this issue, within a democratic framework and with good intentions.

Until now, the policy of unilateral concessions has produced few benefits for this great country, which has been so generous with Cubans, and crumbs for our brothers on the island. Returning to the example of the agreement with Iran, what many of us want is a policy that advances the interests of our country in concrete ways, and that helps the people of Cuba without legitimizing and strengthening its oppressors.

Cuba Caught Camouflaging Cocaine with Molasses

By Frank Calzon in UPI:

Cuba caught camouflaging cocaine with molasses

The discovery by Panamanian police of more than 400 kilograms of cocaine in a Cuban ship on its way to Belgium received little media coverage in the United States. The drugs, hidden among tanks of sugarcane honey, were found at the Panamanian Caribbean port of Colón by Panamanian Police Intelligence agents.

Just like when in 2013 Panama discovered a large shipment of war materiel on its way from Cuba to North Korea, Havana said that Cuba was not at fault, that the ship only carried a donation of Cuban sugar for the suffering North Korean people. A search proved otherwise. Now Havana insists that the drugs found last week could have been brought on board the ship at the Panamanian port, and some echo the "explanation."

Panamanian sources point out that the episode resembles the 2013 Cuban shipment of warplanes and missiles under tons of Cuban sugar on a North Korean cargo vessel to Pyongyang.

The interdiction at the Colón Free Trade Zone "has been dubbed Operation Fiery Cane (Caña Brava)," reported the blog Capitol Hill Cubans, adding that "in 2013, the Obama administration allowed Cuba's regime to get away scot-free, despite clear evidence that it was at the center of a major illegal shipment of arms from its Port of Mariel to North Korea."

In 1993, an American federal court indicted Gen. Raul Castro for his participation in a conspiracy that smuggled more than 7 tons of cocaine into the United States over a 10-year period. The Clinton administration "squashed the indictment," according to Capitol Hill Cubans.

The North Korean ship, the Chong Chon Gang, was loaded at Mariel's port, which Castro says is his most extensive effort to expand the island's trade. A Washington source said, "It is very probable that the cocaine shipment also originated in the Port of Mariel." As Mauricio Claver Carone and other experts have pointed out, it is inconceivable that neither the weapons shipment to North Korea nor the cocaine shipment to Belgium could occur without approval at the Cuban government's highest levels.

All Cuban officials remember vividly the 1989 execution of Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa when he was to become commander of one of Cuba's three armies. According to Fidel and Raul Castro, Ochoa was sentenced to die due to his role in narco-trafficking, although according to Cuban law the penalty for drug smuggling does not include the death penalty. The regime said that Ochoa had to die because his drug smuggling placed at risk the security of the country; presumably by providing an excuse to enemies of the revolution (the United States) for strong action against it.

The eighth Congress of Cuba's Communist Party just took place, but the drug smuggling to Belgium was not part of the discussions, and President Barack Obama is not likely to make an issue of it.

Raul Castro favors the use of maritime shipments for dangerous missions. In 2015, the Colombian navy intercepted yet another ship, the Da Dan Xia, a Chinese vessel bound for the Port of Mariel containing "about 100 tons of gunpowder, almost 3 million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells." The weapons were hidden under tons of grain; although Cuba, as a sovereign country, has a right to purchase weapons. The reason for the cover-up was likely that the weapons' final destination was not in Cuba, but for Colombian rebels, since the Chinese ship was scheduled to dock at Cartagena and Barranquilla, two Colombian ports.

In the case of the three ships' modus operandi was similar: The shipments were hidden under sugar, honey, or grain. In the case of the North Koran ship, Havana at first lied to the Panamanians, and in the cocaine shipment, it insists the drugs, hidden under Cuban honey, were not placed there in Cuba. A well-documented United Nations report charged that extraordinary measures had been taken to hide the weapons shipment, and that the attempted smuggling was a violation of international sanctions on Pyongyang. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, however, was quoted saying that the weapons shipment was not important enough to threaten Obama's Cuba initiative.

Cuban Lt. Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, a Cuban intelligence officer and son of Raul Castro, led the Cuban team that obtained the withdrawal of Cuba from the list of supporters of international terrorism. Alejandro Castro met with Obama in Panama and New York in 2015 when the president met with Raul Castro.

Raul Castro's shipments say much about Havana's appraisal of how much they can get away with under the present administration. Members of the House Committee on Intelligence are concerned and will likely ask Secretary of State John Kerry what the administration knows about the cocaine shipment and if he intends to raise the issue with his Cuban counterpart.

The New York Times Has Moment of Lucidness on Cuba

Monday, April 18, 2016
In an editorial ahead of last weekend's VII Cuban Communist Party gathering, The New York Times (NYT)expected "a series of economic and political reforms" to be announced.

Well, that's not happening.

As General Raul Castro made clear in his opening remarks, Cuba's totalitarian regime will remain in tact, military-run state enterprises will control the economy, and the private accumulation of wealth and property will be restricted (and punished).

But, to be fair, the NYT had peppered its hopes with a dose of reality (frustration). It wrote:

"For many Cubans, the island’s languishing economy is the most pressing issue. In 2011, party leaders promised to overhaul the centrally planned economy, but they have moved too slowly in opening up the country to foreign investment and allowing a private sector to take root. The main obstacle has been the Cuban military, which has long exercised monopoly control over large segments of the economy, creating an oligarchy in uniform that is reluctant to spread the wealth."

Alas, a moment of lucidness.

But if you recognize this is the main obstacle -- then why support business deals with Cuba's military monopolies?

If this is the main obstacle -- then why is the Obama Administration skirting U.S. law and giving a special license to Starwood Hotels to cut hotel deals with the Cuban military?

It defies common-sense to think that doing more business with Cuba's military monopolies will somehow weaken them -- and make them less of an obstacle. To the contrary.

As the renowned political risk firm, Eurasia Group, prognosticated over the weekend:

"The recent rapprochement with the United States will probably undermine the regime’s sense of urgency regarding the pace of liberalization on the island since it has led to an increase in dollar inflows from both remittances and increased tourism and reduced the need to expand local private sector activity."

Moreover, along the lines of the NYT's revelation, it concluded:

"The government is also beholden to elite interests, which will continue to operate as a constraint to more substantive reform. Senior figures within the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) have significant business interests in the country’s most important sectors, including sugar, tourism, and cigar production. In fact, the military’s holding company, GAE, reportedly employs 20% of Cuba’s workers and includes the island’s largest tourism corporation, real estate, retail, and warehouses, as well as the Mariel special trade zone, run by Castro’s son-in-law."

And guess what was the only business pitch made by Raul Castro during his remarks at this weekend's Party Congress?

"Every hotel that is opened is a factory that produces income necessary for our country," said Raul.

In Castro-speak -- that means for his family and its military regime.

Yet, that is precisely what Obama is catering to.

Must-Read: Why Even Google Can't Connect Cuba

A tech correspondent travels to Cuba and recognizes that there's only one impediment to connectivity on the island -- Castro's totalitarian regime.

As for Google's Havana center, where it's actively acquiescing to censorship -- a marketing gimmick.

By Mike Elgan in Computerworld:

Why even Google can't connect Cuba

Reports say Google intends to help wire Cuba and bring the island into the 21st century. But that's not going to happen.
When President Obama said in Havana last month that Google would be working to improve Internet access in Cuba, I wondered what Google might do in Cuba that other companies could not.

Today, Cuba is an Internet desert where only 5% of trusted elites are allowed to have (slow dial-up) Internet connections at home, and a paltry 400,000 people access the Internet through sidewalk Wi-Fi hotspots. These hotspots have existed for only a year or so. Also, some 2.5 million Cubans have government-created email accounts, but no Web access.

I spent a month in Cuba until last week, and I was there when the president spoke. I'm here to report that those government Wi-Fi hotspots are rare, slow and expensive. While in Cuba, my wife, son and I spent about $300 on Wi-Fi. In a country where the average wage ranges from $15 to $30 per month, connecting is a massive financial burden available only to a lucky minority with private businesses or generous relatives in Miami.

And this is why I think the possibilities of what Google might accomplish in Cuba are misunderstood.

It's not as if Cuba would have ubiquitous, affordable and fast Internet access if it just had the money or expertise to make it happen. The problem is that Cuba is a totalitarian Communist dictatorship.

The outrageous price charged for Wi-Fi in Cuba can't possibly reflect the cost of providing the service. The price is really a way to restrict greater freedom of information to those who benefit from the Cuban system.

The strange Wi-Fi card system is also a tool of political control. In order to buy a card, you have to show your ID, and your information is entered into the system. Everything done online using a specific Wi-Fi card is associated with a specific person.

The Cuban government allows people to run privately owned small hotels, called casas particulares, and small home restaurants, called paladares. The owners of these small businesses would love to provide their guests with Wi-Fi, but the Cuban government doesn't allow it. Nor does it allow state-owned restaurants, bars and cafes to provide Wi-Fi.

Google is connected to the global Internet through satellite networks. Cuba is connected to the Internet by an undersea fiber-optic cable that runs between the island and Venezuela. The cable was completed in 2011, and it existed as a "darknet" connection for two years before suddenly going online in 2013.

So here's the problem with Google as the solution: The Cuban government uses high prices and draconian laws to prevent the majority of Cubans from having any access to the Internet at all. The government actively prevents access as a matter of policy. It's not a technical problem. It's a political one.

In other words, Cuba doesn't need Google to provide hotspots. If the Cuban government allowed hotspots, Cubans would provide them.

Read more here.

Cuban Rapper: The Castros Will Not Change

Never, never, while there is a Castro regime, will there be a change in human rights. The Cuban government will not change nor will it allow a political opening.
-- Angel Yunier Rendon, a.k.a. "El Critico," young Cuban rapper and former political prisoner, who took part in the meeting of President Obama with members of the opposition in Cuba and has now sought asylum in the U.S., Fox News Latino, 4/16/16

How Obama's Policy is Stifling Economic Liberalization in Cuba

Saturday, April 16, 2016
In April 2014, we argued:

"Based on the lessons of history, those who still believe 'self-employment' licenses are 'a step in the right direction' toward capitalism, actually have all the more reason to support U.S. sanctions."

Click here to understand why.

Unfortunately, President Obama chose to ignore history for the sake of his legacy.

Thus, we're now seeing how Obama's policy is stifling -- rather than encouraging -- private sector activity in Cuba.

Not only have the number of "self-employed" licensees dropped since December 17th, 2014, but the Castro regime no longer has any incentive (need) to liberalize Cuba's economy.

Here's why --

From Barrons:

Does Cuba Communist Party Want Foreign Investment?

Don’t expect much from the Cuban Communist Party congress to be held Saturday through April 19.

The recent rapprochement with the United States will probably undermine the regime’s sense of urgency regarding the pace of liberalization on the island since it has led to an increase in dollar inflows from both remittances and increased tourism and reduced the need to expand local private sector activity,” say Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow and Agata Ciesielska.

State media say that just 21% of the more than 300 economic updates announced at the last Communist congress were implemented, according to Eurasia Group. With debt forgiven by China, Russia, Mexico and Japan, Cuba is likely to take a “very gradual approach” to economic liberalization, the analysts say. While much attention has been paid to repression of citizens, consider this, again from Grais-Targow and Ciesielska:

The government is also beholden to elite interests, which will continue to operate as a constraint to more substantive reform. Senior figures within the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) have significant business interests in the country’s most important sectors, including sugar, tourism, and cigar production. In fact, the military’s holding company, GAE, reportedly employs 20% of Cuba’s workers and includes the island’s largest tourism corporation, real estate, retail, and warehouses, as well as the Mariel special trade zone, run by Castro’s son-in-law.”