Must-Watch: Obama's Cuba Trip Meant Less Press Freedom For These Reporters

Saturday, April 2, 2016
Obama's Cuba Trip Meant Less Press Freedom For These Reporters

President Obama's trip to Havana led to more repressive censorship for independent journalists on the island.

Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez is the director of Hablemos Press, an illegal news outlet in Cuba. Newsy spoke with Guerra Pérez about the increase in repression of the press during President Obama's visit to Havana.

Click here to watch the video.

Cuban Migration to U.S. Nearly Doubles at End of 2015

Wasn't Obama's new policy supposed to improve the lives of the Cuban people?

From CBS Miami:

Cuban Migration To U.S. Nearly Doubles At End Of 2015

Nearly twice as many Cuban migrants reached the United States by foot and sea in the last three months of 2015 compared with the same period the year earlier.

The exodus is apparently fueled by the restoration of diplomatic relations between the former political foes.

Department of Homeland Security figures show about 17,000 Cubans reached the United States from October through December. Slightly more than 9,000 Cuban migrants arrived during the same months in 2014.

Obama's Trip to Cuba was Self-Serving and Wrong

By Professor R. Bruce Anderson in The Ledger:

Obama's trip to Cuba was self-serving and wrong

There’s a great song from the 1930s celebrating Cuba and the fact that, in their wisdom, the happy people of this fated island did not embrace the silly affectation of prohibiting alcohol, then so very popular on the mainland.

One verse goes like this: “So let us leave our cares and troubles behind, And tell 'em our new address; Is where they stay up late and drink till they're blind? Blind, but nevertheless… They're glad to see you in C.U.B.A.”

Nowhere was President Obama’s trip to Cuba more problematic than here in Florida. The legacy of the Castros weighs heavily on our land, with citizens of Cuban extraction – now the proudest of Americans – unlikely to forgive and forget the almost six decades of misery inflicted on their point of heritage by the communists.

Almost alone in the world, Cuban has remained under the hammer and sickle — the other main third-world exception being that novelty nation, North Korea. But North Korea has a brand-new, malignant chairman, drawn from the questionable gene pool of her hereditary rulers. Cuba seems to have no true heir-apparent.

The Castros have grown old in their debauchery; in their arrogant betrayal of the human spirit. They have grown elderly, fragile. Death is near, and there does not seem to be more of them on the horizon.

There is little that can alter the course of change in Cuba. The awful system – like a terminal disease – has run its course, nearly consuming the island and its people in its 57-year run. There’s so little left. The ancient old cars still steam about, running on Chinese engines and under a ransom of taxes. There are still sugar mills and cigars – but these are what came with the place five decades ago.

The major export of Cuba seems to be people. No argument for the “progressive” nature of the society is stronger than the thousands of people who risk their lives trying to escape it every year.

So, why now? In a few years, at most, both Raul and Fidel will be dead. Evidence of their frailty was manifest during the visit. Fidel can no longer hold himself upright and Raul seems to be completely confused. As with most “personality-centered” regimes, the collapse will not be far behind.

Why go? All must be considered under the terms of the miserable foreign-policy failures of this presidency. The only possible reason to go, to cut a deal (any deal) is to be able to return and claim at least a shred of success.

But the cost is high. It was high before the bombs went off in Brussels; the fact that the trip took place under the cloud of death wafting over from Belgium was an added problem, but not the real problem itself. The real problem is that this trip had all the underpinnings of the half-thought-out, half-considered, reactionist foreign policy that has dogged this administration for nearly eight years.

In a few years, we’ll be ready, and more importantly, Cuba will be ready. With the Castros dead, and the island in flux, a new president can plan and carry through with a long-term notion of how best to help.

Forging a new place for Cuba in the world will not be possible without the help of the United States, but it’s the job of a president two years from now – or three — who can best assure that it happens in an orderly, decent way. As it stands, this current deal has the smell of the last-minute political scheme meant to forge someone’s political “legacy” — not to help solve the tangled, complex, and impossibly deep problems inflicted by 50 plus years of the Castros. It would be sad, if it weren’t so baldy self-serving.

Obama should not be allowed to create an alternate history, short-lived and cruel, for the sake of his own glory. They were glad to see Obama in Cuba all the same – like the song, he’d left his cares and troubles behind and come to a place where even a scent of hope is welcome.

But it's false dawn. Until the regime is gone, the hope he advertises is deceitful, twisted and wrong.

USA Today: In China, Trade and Engagement Has Not Lead to More Freedoms

A reality check for those who harbor false illusions that the "China model" leads to freedom and democracy -- or even good behavior, for that matter.

From USA Today's Editorial Board:

China behaving badly

Push back against troubling direction under President Xi Jinping.

Chinese President Xi Jinping recently toured the headquarters of three state-run media organizations, where he told journalists to be loyal to the Communist Party in “thought, politics and action.”

As if to underscore how seriously the assembled journalists took this admonition, the coverage of the visit was comically positive. Chinese national television CCTV reported on how Xi liked a news app he was shown: “Quite literally, he hit ‘like,’ ” an enthusiastic anchor said. CCTV also noted that a staffer for the Xinhua news agency said Xi's “encouragement was their driving force.”

The visit might have been a big hit with the regime, but it came as a big disappointment to anyone who thought that China’s decades-long economic expansion and growing middle class would lead to greater freedom.

The Chinese government is, in fact, in the midst of a news media crackdown. In addition to issuing loyalty edicts, it has arrested journalists for covering such events as protests in Beijing and last summer’s stock market crash. And lest people try to bypass officially sanctioned news media, the government continues to strengthen the so-called Great Firewall of China, the barriers that prevent the Chinese public from accessing certain information via the Internet.

China’s recent aggressive military posture make its domestic moves more foreboding. Rather than leveraging its growing prestige to become a trusted international leader, China has spent the past few years building up its military and badgering neighbors over dubious claims to various islands in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

It has created artificial islands and armed them with missiles and radar, inviting conflict with its neighbors and America, despite President Xi's assurances to President Obama that he would not do so. Xi and Obama are set to meet Thursday at a nuclear security meeting in Washington.

This is not the way responsible nations behave. Whatever natural resources or military advantages could be gained through these islands are less valuable than the good faith China is squandering with its prosperous neighbors.

The Chinese government has not been without redeeming qualities, at least internationally. It did agree to steep cuts in carbon emissions, and it recently OK'd sanctions on North Korea that it had long resisted.

China-bashing of the kind espoused by presidential candidates such s Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is not particularly constructive. And — notwithstanding its recent behavior — China is not the old Soviet Union and should not be seen as a new Cold War adversary. Even so, the U.S. and its allies need to apply more pressure.

The best place to start would be to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact linking 12 nations in Asia and the Americas. China not among them. The TPP, as it is known, gets a bum rap from labor unions and factions of both major parties — Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton championed it as secretary of State but has abandoned it as a presidential candidate. But it is vital to establish a set of rules for democratic capitalism and to counterbalance China’s economic strength in the region.

Beyond the TPP, the U.S. needs to forge stronger military ties with Asian nations and to find other ways to make clear that China’s aggression abroad and its repression at home are not in its best interests.

China is simply not behaving the way Western nations envisioned when they welcomed it into a series of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. It’s too soon to give up. But Obama and U.S. allies need to be even clearer and more forceful in pushing back against China's troubling direction under Xi. If not, the silliness of Chinese news media coverage will be the least of our problems.

Once Again, Raul Castro Takes "Active Measures"

Thursday, March 31, 2016
The Castro regime knows all about "active measures." As a matter of fact, they excel at them.

Active measures are a form of political warfare -- used both domestically and externally -- originally created by the Soviet KGB and East German Stasi to propagate disinformation.

In Cuba's Ministry of the Interior (where Castro's intelligence agency resides, DGI) -- and whom some in the U.S. naively seek to do business with -- there's a whole section dedicated to "active measures" ("medidas selectivas") -- it's called Department MIX.

This week's letter by Fidel Castro slamming President Obama and a Granma article about tension in Cuba's Communist Party are classic "active measures."

First, anyone who thinks Fidel Castro actually wrote that letter (or did so alone) is delusional. It's a coordinated operation by Raul's son, Col. Alejandro Castro; Raul's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas; and other chieftains to send a dual-track message:

To Cubans on the island, nothing is going to change and repression will escalate. To U.S. policymakers and the foreign media, keep giving Raul unilateral concessions because he's the "good guy" in the family.

As for the Granma article on "dissatisfaction" among Communist Party officials, it's what's referred to as white propaganda attributed to the Castro regime itself as the source. Again, a dual-track message:

To Cuban Communist Party officials, it's an exercise in loyalty, power and control by the Castro family. To U.S. policymakers and the foreign media, it feigns "reform" in Cuba's regime and cheers on the generous Obama doctrine, which is centered on engagement and business with the Castro family.

Thus, the headline in the foreign media, "Unusual dissent erupts inside Cuban Communist Party."

This is eaten up by those who are just learning about Cuba.

Except that the Castros have long been masterful in such active measures, with Raul (not Fidel) in charge of such operations.

Just ask Carlos Aldana, Roberto Robaina, Carlos Lage, Felipe Perez-Roque, etc.

Oh wait, we can't -- they've all been purged.

Image below: General Raul Castro, guarded by his son and grandson, puts his hand on former Cuban Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, whom he purged in 2009.

Video: Neighbors Intervene to Prevent Cuban Dissident's Arrest

And the police was forced to back off.

Click below (or here) to watch:

Cuba's Made Less Progress in Health Care and Education Than Rest of Americas

The facts by Hans Bader in DC Examiner:

Obama fostered myths about Cuba's health and education systems 

In Cuba last week, President Obama gave glowing praise to institutions in that communist country that did not deserve it. Obama naively called Cuba’s "system of education" an "extraordinary resource" that "values every boy and every girl."

But there’s nothing "extraordinary" about Cuba's flawed educational system. Children are taught by poorly-paid teachers in dilapidated schools. Cuba has made less educational progress than most Latin American countries over the last 60 years. According to UNESCO, Cuba had about the same literacy rate as Costa Rica and Chile in 1950 (close to 80%). And it has almost the same literacy rate as they do today (close to 100%). Meanwhile, Latin American countries that were largely illiterate in 1950 — like Peru, Brazil, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic — are largely literate today, closing much of the gap with Cuba. El Salvador had a less than 40% literacy rate in 1950, but has an 88% literacy rate today. Brazil and Peru had a less than 50% literacy rate in 1950, but today, Peru has a 94.5% literacy rate, and Brazil a 92.6% literacy rate. The Dominican Republic’s rate rose from a little over 40% to 91.8%. While Cuba made substantial progress in reducing illiteracy in Castro’s first years in power, its educational system has stagnated since, even as much of Latin America improved. Educational attainment is particularly lackluster among Afro-Cubans, judging from a recent New York Times story.

Worse, Obama promoted the myth that Cuban health care is excellent, saying that the “United States recognizes progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its enormous achievements in education and in health care.”

In reality, Cuba has made less progress in healthcare and life expectancy than most of Latin America in recent years, due to its decrepit health care system. “Hospitals in the island’s capital are literally falling apart.” Sometimes, patients “have to bring everything with them, because the hospital provides nothing. Pillows, sheets, medicine: everything.”

Cuba lost the big edge in life expectancy it once enjoyed over other Latin American countries, as a result of communism. It led virtually all countries in Latin America in life expectancy in 1959, before a communist regime took power in Cuba. But by 2012, Chileans and Costa Ricans lived slightly longer than Cubans. Back in 1960, Chileans had a life span seven years shorter than Cubans, and Costa Ricans lived more than 2 years less than Cubans on average. In 1960, Mexicans lived seven years shorter than Cubans; by 2012, the gap had shrunk to just two years.

As the progressive economist Brad DeLong notes, Cuba has deteriorated economically, and stagnated in many areas of health care, since the communists took power there (he calls it “hideously depressing”):

"Cuba in 1957 — was a developed country. Cuba in 1957 had lower infant mortality than France, Belgium, West Germany, Israel, Japan, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Cuba in 1957 had doctors and nurses: as many doctors and nurses per capita as the Netherlands, and more than Britain or Finland. Cuba in 1957 had as many vehicles per capita as Uruguay, Italy, or Portugal. Cuba in 1957 had 45 TVs per 1000 people — fifth highest in the world…. Today? Today the UN puts Cuba’s HDI [Human Development indicators] in the range of … Mexico. (And Carmelo Mesa-Lago thinks the UN’s calculations are seriously flawed: that Cuba’s right HDI peers today are places like China, Tunisia, Iran, and South Africa.) Thus I don’t understand lefties who talk about the achievements of the Cuban Revolution: '…to have better health care, housing, education.'"

Cuba also is not the multiracial utopia some lefties claim. As the New York Times notes, “On an island that is around two-thirds black and mixed race, according to a 2007 study by the Cuban economist Esteban Morales Domínguez, the civil and public leadership is about 70 percent white. He also found that most scientists, technicians and university professors, up to 80 percent in some fields, were white.”

Under the Obama administration, the EPA celebrated the bloodthirsty Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, a mass murderer and torturer, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, even though it turns out that Che was a racist and anti-Semite. Obama recently did a photo-op in Cuba in front of a big portrait of Che Guevara.

Progressives sometimes blame Cuba’s shortcomings on the U.S. embargo. But even Latin American countries racked by civil wars in the 1980s, like El Salvador and Nicaragua, have made more progress than Cuba. Nicaraguans had a life expectancy 17 years shorter than Cubans in 1960, but today, the gap is less than 5 years. The gap in life expectancy between El Salvador and Cuba shrank by 6 years between 1960 and 2012. An embargo by another country is a lot less challenging to deal with than a destructive civil war.

Doing Business With Devil Won't Free Cuba's Captive Souls

Wednesday, March 30, 2016
In an oped today, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) wrote that during last week's trip to Cuba with President Obama she was told by a Cuban-American businessman: “It’s time that we stop fighting and start cooperating.”

As of this morning, 18 members of the prominent pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, remain missing after being arrested yesterday at their headquarters in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana.

Lawton is a poor and predominantly Afro-Cuban neighborhood, not frequented by visiting Congressional delegations, let alone elitist businessmen.

Their crime? Hosting a monthly literary tea for their members.

Below are pictures of various Ladies in White, who (over the weekend) had their clothes ripped off, were arrested and beaten with cables, rubber belts and rods.

(And no, Castro's regime doesn't beat women due to any religious extremism. It's pure political sadism.)

As we previously posted, they are the ones left behind to pay the price of Obama's trip.

Is this what we should "start cooperating" with?

Note to Senator Heitkamp: We know that your farmers want to sell lentils to Castro's monopolies -- and that they want the U.S. to finance it -- but that doesn't change the brutal nature of who their potential client is.

Moreover, if there was a company in North Dakota that did this (below) to women, would you promote business with them or demand consequences for their criminal actions?

Doing business with the devil doesn't free captive souls -- but it does make ours murkier.

Obama’s Inept Defense of Human Rights in Cuba

By Nat Hentoff of The Cato Institute:

Obama’s inept defense of human rights in Cuba

In January, the Associated Press reported that President Barack Obama “may travel to Cuba as early as this spring if he feels the rights situation here is improving and a presidential trip will help.”

The Castro dictatorship’s response was immediate and severe.

According to Elizardo Sanchez, the president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, there were 2,555 political detentions in Cuba during the first two months of 2016.

It is a familiar pattern.

The Cuban government’s response at each stage in the process of reconciliation with the United States has been a steady escalation in the arbitrary harassment, abuse, arrest and detention of Cuba’s pro-democracy dissidents. Crackdowns on political dissidents preceded both the September visit of Pope Francis and the opening of the U.S. Embassy in August.

Obama proceeded with his historic visit to Cuba in spite of the crackdowns.

To his credit, the president gave a lengthy speech on human rights, which was broadcast live on Cuban state television. Obama also held a two-hour meeting with a group of prominent Cuban political dissidents — something Pope Francis did not do. U.S. Embassy staff had to escort the dissidents to the meeting for fear they would be arrested if they tried to attend on their own.

Castro was asked about Cuba’s political prisoners by CNN’s Jim Acosta during a joint news conference with Obama. Castro’s response raised belligerent sarcasm to an art form:

“What political prisoners? Give me a name or names, or when, after this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners and if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends.”

Obama stood mute. It would have sent a powerful message to Castro if the president had ticked off a list of Cuba’s remaining political prisoners by name and demanded that they be released.

But sending powerful messages to dictators is not one of Obama’s talents.

This was apparent when Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry held a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument to Jose Marti in Havana’s Revolution Square on Monday. Marti was a philosopher, journalist and freedom fighter who died in 1895 leading a revolution against the Spanish occupation of Cuba. Obama quoted Marti more than once during his speech on human rights, although he failed to note that Marti’s goal was to establish a democratic republic in Cuba.

But the hoped-for symbolism of a U.S. president laying a wreath at the Marti memorial was overshadowed, literally, by a five-story relief sculpture of Che Guevara looming over the ceremony from a nearby building. The rendering of Guevara makes it appear that the Castro dictatorship’s former chief executioner is winking at those assembled below.

We were reminded of the time Nat interviewed Guevara during a meeting at the Cuban mission to the United Nations in the early 1960s. Guevara, dressed in his neatly pressed military uniform, professed not to understand English and spoke through an interpreter.

“Mr. Guevara, can you envision at any time in the future that there might be free elections in Cuba?’’ he was asked by Nat.

Guevara didn’t wait for the interpreter. He burst out laughing.

In between his amused chortles, he managed to respond, “Aqui? In Cuba?’’

Obama's Not-so-Excellent Adventure in Cuba

By Alfredo Estrada in The Hill:

Obama's not-so-excellent adventure in Cuba

While the breathless cadre of journalists that accompanied President Obama to Cuba dubbed the trip as "historic," it was soon lost in the subsequent media mash-up of Trump, terrorism and tango.

But a few indelible images of the president remain: holding a umbrella as he toured Old Havana in the rain, sparring with Cuban President Raúl Castro at an awkward press conference, and attending a baseball game in shirtsleeves and sunglasses. It was a command performance in the twilight zone of his administration, turning a lame duck into a graceful swan.

Many Cuban-Americans such as myself, who support better relations with the island, objected to the timing of the visit. Obama had drawn yet another red line (not in the sand, but the surf) promising to visit Cuba only if the human rights situation improved. "If we're going backwards," Obama said in 2014, "there's not much reason for me to be there. I'm not interested in validating the status quo."

Yet, as has been well-documented, persecution of political dissidents has increased markedly in the past year. According to The Washington Post, there were 526 arrests in the two weeks before the trip. Cubans are fleeing the island in record numbers, often by way of Mexico.

Despite this, Obama doubled down, bringing along not just a seemingly dazed first lady but also his daughters and mother-in-law, turning a state visit into spring break. But did it accomplish anything other than a few selfies for Malia and Sasha? What will be the impact of the trip?

Visitors to Cuba, beginning with Christopher Columbus, who described it as the most beautiful place "human eyes had ever seen," usually find what they want to find. In this case, the media found the "unspoiled" Havana of vintage cars, crumbling colonial buildings and deserted streets, with somehow festive Cubanos grinning like slaves on the plantation in "Gone with the Wind." Just perfect for a boho, politically correct vacation like the Obamas themselves took.

And now that Starwood has obtained a license to manage the Hotel Inglaterra (where British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once stayed) tourists will be able to get room service, movies and Wi-Fi.

But with his legacy in mind, Obama was looking for something else to prop up his dramatic opening to Cuba, which seemed to have fizzled. While relations have been "normalized," the embargo remains. It's now somewhat easier for Americans to visit, but the travel ban is still in place. And while companies like Starwood are eager to do business in Cuba, ordinary Cubans earn an average monthly salary of $20.

Castro failed to greet the president at José Martí International Airport upon his arrival, a slap in the face. The reason might have been Obama's insistence on meeting with dissidents. The tension was evident at a press conference, where Obama egged on Castro to take questions from reporters. But Castro, who survived his share of ambushes in the Sierra Maestra, won the encounter by literally twisting Obama's arm and holding it up in victory. Obama let his hand go limp so as not to salute, but his smile remained painfully frozen. Where's the Secret Service when you need them?

Obama's only concession to Cuban-Americans was not meeting with Raul's older brother, former Cuban President Fidel Castro, though he told ABC News that he would be willing to do so if Fidel's health permitted it.

But he found time to appear on Cuban television with the comedian "Pánfilo," learning to play dominoes and joking about "The Beast," the armored limo that took him around Havana.

The dissidents that attended the much-anticipated meeting at the American embassy included Berta Soler, head of the "Ladies in White" group (whose members were roughed up and arrested just hours before Obama arrived in Cuba) and José Daniel Ferrer of the Cuban Patriotic Union, who had been recently detained as well. Obama offered them little other than praise for their "courage," and it remains to be seen what consequences will befall them in the days to come.

The grand finale was a speech by Obama at Havana's Gran Teatro, in which he declared, "I am here to extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people." Obama combined personal reminiscencess with references to Ernest Hemingway and Jackie Robinson, whose widow was in the audience, and shout-outs to fledgling Cuban entrepreneurs like barber Papito Valladares. He encouraged Cubans to have "hope that is rooted in the future that you can choose and that you can shape, and that you can build for your country."

Hope and change, huh? It was classic Obama, long on poetic inspiration but short on practical solutions.

Nonetheless, the speech was well-received by the same journalists who seemingly spent the entire trip riding 1959 Cadillacs along the Malecón. But it was also televised throughout the island, and what Cubans saw was something quite different.

They saw an American president trading high-fives with Raúl Castro, one of the most discredited and dismal despots ever to grace the world stage. Obama sounded like the Havana Chamber of Commerce, touting the achievements of the Revolution in healthcare and education, and urging American businesses and tourists to come on down.

Obama did precisely what he vowed not to do, validating the status quo. He didn't challenge Raul to "tear down the wall," as did President Reagan did Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a generation ago in Germany, but rather encouraged Cubans to hang in there and be cool.

Cubans are a proud people and don't like to be patronized. They've heard that message before — from the pope, from other visitors, from the media. They don't need encouragement, but rather freedom. And shortly after his speech preaching the virtues of democracy, Obama attended an exhibition baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, and did the wave with Raúl Castro, the very man responsible for denying Cuba democracy for over half a century.

Obama's excellent adventure in Cuba received no mention on the Sunday political shows just a few days leter. The island is once more on the back burner, and will remain there until after the election, when a volatile world and other priorities will confront Obama's successor. A Republican president would undo what progress has been made, and even with a Democrat in the White House, the embargo will not be lifted by a recalcitrant Congress. So we're back where we started.

And as reported by Fusion, just an hour after Obama finished his speech, a group of dissidents was beaten up and arrested, a block away from the theater.

Estrada was born in Cuba and graduated from Harvard University before practicing law and founding HISPANIC Magazine.

Must-Read: Trade With The Cuban People, Not Castro, Inc.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016
By Bill Frezza in The Daily Caller:

Trade With The Cuban People, Not Castro, Inc.

Libertarians have long argued that lifting the Cuban embargo, allowing free trade to flourish with the Cuban people, would do more to bring down the murderous Castro regime than exploding cigars or infected scuba diving suits. And yet President Obama’s recent Cuban outreach is raising strong criticism from many of those same voices. Why?

The right time to destabilize the Castro dictatorship by lifting the U.S. trade embargo would have been shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Cuba’s communist government faced imminent bankruptcy and before it attached itself to oil-fueled Chavismo. Having missed that opportunity, the next best time would be immediately after the death of the Castro brothers, before their surviving henchmen could consolidate power.

Instead, President Obama has chosen to use U.S.-Cuba policy as a personal legacy-building exercise, handing the Castros and their henchmen a lifeline, offering them the resources they need to build a Putin-like Mafia state just as the flow of Venezuelan oil dollars collapses. The only piece missing is a parade of U.S. crony corporatists eager to cut deals that will fill state coffers at the expense of the Cuban people, who will remain indentured servants dancing to their master’s tune.

Understand how these rigged deals work. Foreign companies cannot contract freely with Cuban employees. Instead, they must fork over top dollar to the Cuban government in return for controlled access to selected markets, a handy way for first movers to box out prospective competition. The Cuban government then handpicks those privileged enough to work for the foreign employer, paying them typical Cuban starvation wages while pocketing the difference.

This is not free trade. This is payola. This is creating an environment that encourages the worst elements of American crony corporatism to join forces with the worst elements of Bolivarian state socialism. And it’ll do nothing to bring greater freedom to the Cuban people, especially in loosening the restrictions on emigration from the Castros’ island prison.

There is only one way to stop President Obama’s pandering to the Castros from turning into a disaster. Congress should pass legislation enabling free trade with the Cuban people, or any Cuban private corporation, but maintaining the embargo on all business with the Cuban government or government-controlled corporations, until Cuba holds free and fair elections. Go ahead and let Obama veto free trade legislation as his pal Valerie Jarrett sings the praises of Cuba’s indoctrination… er, educational system.

Congress might even consider turning Guantanamo Bay into a charter city, planting the seeds for a mini Hong Kong right on Castro’s doorstep. Take down the barbed wire and let the Cuban people vote with their feet, populating this new free trade zone as they leave their indentured servitude behind. Let Cuban expats’ investment dollars flow back not into the Castros’ pockets but directly to the people and land they left behind, hoping for a better day.

Frezza is a Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Quote of the Week: In Cuba, There Are No Cuban Businessmen

In Cuba, there are no Cuban businessmen. There are generals, who lead the party for a while, then the armed forces and then dress up as businessmen.
-- Dr. Hilda Molina, famed Cuban neurosurgeon, former Castro confidant and deputy in the National Assembly, exiled in Argentina since 2009, TN Internacional, 3/26/15

Google's Cuba Deal Not What It Seems

The media sensationalism surrounding Obama's Cuba trip would have you believe that Google was readily providing free Internet access to the Cuban people.

One headline read, "Obama Says Google Has a Deal To Expand Internet Access in Cuba".

But that's simply not the case.

As Fabiola Santiago explains in her latest Miami Herald column, "Post-Obama Cuba asks: And now what?":

"Not only are lives still at risk -- more than 300 activists were arrested before Obama’s visit -- but some advances aren’t what they seem.

The tech center Google inaugurated is a step forward but a controlled one, brokered by rewarding Castro sympathizers. It gives a coveted Wi-Fi hotspot and the prestige of hosting a Google-sponsored technology zone in his studio to Kcho, a mediocre but official artist who’s a Castro protege and calls Fidel his father.

Yet the government turned down Google’s proposal to connect all of Cuba for free."

The Real "Cuban Market"

Excerpt from Harvard Business Review's "The Potential and Pitfalls of Doing Business in Cuba":

To deflect attention from challenges, the Cuban government has introduced various distortions into the country’s official economic statistics, which are used largely unaltered by entities such as the World Bank and CEPAL. To guard against possible revenue losses, American business leaders must also be attentive to how currently available data on this economy tends to overstate the sales opportunity.

Let’s look at the two largest of those distortions. The first is in regards to wages in the public sector, which as reported by the Cuban government stand at an average rate of over $7,000 USD per year. In fact, when paying local workers, the government uses the country’s non-convertible currency, or the CUP, in contrast to the convertible currency, the CUC, but reports these wages as if they were paid in CUC.  This effectively means that these wages are overvalued by as much as 2400%.

A further over-representation of the actual market size is determined by methodological inconsistencies. Between 2003 and 2007, the Cuban government enacted a series of methodological changes that produced a jump in GDP of approximately 15%. For instance, the government decided to assign an arbitrary value to the free social and medical services provided to its citizens. This is why U.S. healthcare companies, among the first to do business in Cuba, have told us that official statistics regarding the healthcare sector just don’t match the demand they see in reality.

Cuban Dissidents Left to Pay the Price for Obama's Trip

Monday, March 28, 2016
The state dinner is over. The salsa band played its last song.

The baseball game is over. The last pitch was thrown.

The sensationalism in over. Elitist businessmen ate all the pâté at the military's Hotel Saratoga.

All that's left is for Cuba's courageous dissidents to pay the price for Obama's trip to Cuba.

And what a price they paid this weekend.

Over 300 Cuban dissidents were arrested over the weekend in what the Castro regime has dubbed Operacion Fortaleza (Operation Strength).

It was a display of gross brutality.

In Havana, there were over 100 arrests, including 30 members of The Ladies in White.

In the eastern provinces of Santiago, Las Tunas and Gunatanamo, over 150 members of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPCU) were arrested.

In the central province of Matanzas, dozens more were arrested.

Member of The Ladies in White, including Annia Zamora and Sisy Abascal were beaten on the floor with cables. Abascal's younger sister, a minor, was arrested.

Marisela Aleman was stripped of her clothes and whipped.

Yunia Pupo suffered an arm fracture, as she was hit with a washing machine's rubber belt.

Others like Felix Navarro, a Varela Project leader, was brutally beaten in retaliation for presenting 10,000 new signatures seeking a democratic plebiscite.

Throughout Sunday, the cellular phones of Cuban democracy leaders were blocked, as the wave of repression began -- courtesy of Castro's telecom monopoly, ETECSA (Sprint and Verizon's new partner).

By relegating Cuba's dissidents to a secondary role, the Obama Administration is making a tragic and costly mistake.

The Castro regime knows that they can't cede one inch to these courageous dissidents -- for 300 this weekend, will become 3,000 next weekend, and 300,000 the following.

Moreover, these aren't "cuentapropistas" who can be controlled with a license and a token concession.

These are democrats in the noble pursuit of justice and freedom for all Cubans. They are the ones suffering in their own skin every dollar invested in Castro's military business conglomerates.

They are the ones we should be "empowering."

Sen. Menendez: Obama's Cuba Visit Means Castros Win, Democracy Loses

By U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in The Star-Ledger:

Obama's Cuba visit means the Castros win, democracy loses 

My mother made the courageous decision to flee a tyrannized Cuba in the 1950s and bring her children to the United States, where I was born.

And like many Americans, whether of Eastern European ancestry growing up hearing of the oppression of the yoke of totalitarianism, or Irish-Americans well-learned in the poverty, famine and conflict that defined generations, I am well-versed in the ongoing struggles of the Cuban people.

I will not ascribe to the "Blame America" club for vicious abuses of human rights, systemic exploitation of Cuban labor, unrelenting repression, and stifling censorship. There is one source of injustice in Cuba: The Castro regime. It is not United States policies and it is not the United States embargo.

To be sure, Europe, Canada, Latin America and the rest of the world have invested millions upon millions of dollars in commerce and in travel to Cuba, yet all of that money and tourism have not led to an iota of positive change in the way the regime rules or the Cuban people live. Cubans are free to buy food and goods from across the globe, yet little or no imported food or medicine makes it onto regime-owned store shelves in which they can afford to shop.

Don't blame America for the thousands of Cubans who have been arrested, detained and imprisoned by Castro for peacefully protesting the regime. Last month alone, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights documented 1,141 political arrests by the Castro regime, on top of 1,447 in January — that's after we forfeited U.S. leverage.

And don't blame America because Joanne Chesimard — convicted killer of New Jersey State Trooper, Werner Foerster — lives free on the island our President just visited. As the U.S. opens tourism flights to the island, N.J. State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes and Trooper Foerster's family remain waiting for the day we can bring Chesimard to justice here at home.

The Obama Administration negotiated a deal with the Castros, but no amount of unilateral concessions from the U.S. will move Raul Castro to honor the basic human rights of the Cubans his government exploits. I understand the desire to build a legacy, but there is a central issue of freedom and democracy that has not been addressed. 

We know how to do this right. Before President Obama ever traveled to Burma — a country with notorious human rights abuses and with which this administration began to engage — the U.S. first demanded, and received, real action by the Burmese to address their human rights record. To be sure, the Burmese government agreed to meet nearly a dozen benchmarks as part of this "action for action" engagement, including granting the Red Cross access to prisons, establishing a U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Office, release of political prisoners, and other material steps. It's a work in progress. But unlike the case of Cuba, there is work and there is progress.

What is clear right now to those of us who have been close observers, is that the dictatorship of the Castros — and not the voice of democracy — has triumphed. Blaming the United States for the Cuban people's woes is misplaced. It is the regime that profoundly controls every aspect of the Cuban political and economic system and it is the regime which will use sanctions relief and new-found proceeds only to fortify its repressive systems of control, rather than passing them along to everyday Cubans.

Unless the Castros are compelled to change the way they govern the island and the way they exploit its people, no victory can be claimed. The Castro Regime will remain the sole beneficiary of any one-sided policy changes by the United States.

I have spent my entire career fighting the injustice of the oppressed island nation my parents fled from years ago. And, in fact, I would love nothing more than to be able to go to Cuba, to trace my roots, and to witness true democratic change. But I am realistic — changes to U.S. policy without corresponding changes from the Castros have only pushed that dream farther away.

Obama Visit to Cuba Didn't Advance Liberty or Human Rights

By Frank Calzon in UPI:

Obama visit to Cuba didn't advance liberty or human rights

The day after President Barack Obama ended his historic three-day visit to Cuba, Rosa Maria Paya, the daughter of the late Christian Democrat leader Oswaldo Paya, delivered to Cuba's National Assembly a petition with 10,000 signatures urging it to pass legislation to adopt and guarantee civil, political and economic rights for the Cuban people.

Her petition is reminiscent of the civil rights campaigns waged by her father, who died in a 2012 auto accident when the car he was riding in was intentionally rammed, forced off a highway and rolled over.

Cuba's government-controlled news media has yet to print the speech Obama delivered, and its "coverage" of Obama's visit was limited. In Cuba, as in North Korea and in totalitarian governments of the past, not publishing a speech or distributing a book doesn't stop authorities from harshly criticizing what has been said or written. Neither has the Cuban media reported Gen. Raul Castro's response to a foreign journalist to give him a list of political prisoners and he'd see they were released. In fact, the United States had already given the Castro government a list.

At one level, Obama's trip to the island was a success. His very presence – a young, black, American president seen side by side with an old, sickly white general -- was in itself a "counterrevolutionary image." Most Cubans today are not white, and most of the ruling elite are members of the white military gerontocracy. The opposition movement that is now present in every province of the country developed out of a committee to promote human rights that was founded in one of Cuba's most feared prisons, Combinado del Este.

Thus, it is not accurate to say that everything stood still in Cuba for over 50 years. The collapse of communism in Europe and the Soviet Union had its impact. U.S. President Ronald Reagan's short wave radio broadcasts to the island, which mirrors Radio Free Europe's efforts to break Communist censorship in Poland and Czechoslovakia, informed millions of Cubans but American Cuban policy never conditioned significant concessions to Havana of the magnitude provided by Obama to the end of beatings of dissidents and other basic reforms.

Be that as it may, Obama won the hearts of many Cubans, who were surprised when they heard the world's "most important leader" reaching out to them, explaining and seeking their opinion on issues. This is not the manner in which Fidel and Raul Castro or Cuba's other "revolutionary leaders" treat them. In one instance, which years later Cubans remember, a young Cuban dared to ask a government leader why he could not, if he saved the money needed, "travel abroad?" The question was asked at a university assembly, and the student was told "the problem" was "with all of these people wanting to engage in airplane traveling, there would be a major jam in the skies."

Even so, many Cubans on the island remain skeptical, having gone through the euphoria of even longer visits by several popes that didn't change anything. Twenty years ago, it was John Paul II, the Polish pope, who publicly called on the world to open up to Cuba, and for Fidel Castro to open Cuba to the world. Since then, tens of millions of tourists have traveled to Cuba, and commerce with Europe, Latin America and elsewhere increased exponentially. Still the island remains tied down to the government's Cold War mentality and insistence that all economic activity of any importance must be under the control of the government – in reality under the control, as Forbes has indicated, of the Castro family.

Obama has since gone on to Argentina, where he will pay homage to the victims of past dictatorships. Before Obama arrived, there was no controversy between him and the Argentine government of Mauricio Macri about whom Obama would meet with, nor – in sharp contrast with what happened in Cuba – were large numbers of Argentinians put under "house arrest" to prevent them from doing anything that called attention to the lack of freedom in their country.

Despite the political benefits that accrued to Cuba's Castro government by Obama's visit and the millions of dollars the Castro government has collected as a result of Obama lifting restrictions, the Cuban people's struggle for human rights, civil liberties and freedom continues. Many Cubans hope Obama's visit will inspire or force the Cuban government to fulfill its unkept promises, including Gen. Raul Castro's pledge to provide every Cuban a daily glass of milk.

At another level, Cubans resent the fact that their country's future might be decided between Castro, the dictator, and Obama without giving them any voice. In a perverse way, it's as if Obama is returning to an era when U.S. diplomacy embraced military dictatorships throughout Latin America, and American foreign policy was driven by profits for American business rather than showcasing democratic principles and respect for civil and human rights.

Obama’s Legacy Will Be His Silence on Human Rights in Cuba

By Ana Quintana in The Daily Signal:

Obama’s Legacy Will Be Marked by His Silence on Human Rights in Cuba

The president’s decision to visit Cuba was a great mistake from the start.

Back in 2015, long before his trip was announced, President Barack Obama stated that he would only travel to Cuba if he saw “some progress in the liberty and freedom”. But like his red-line of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, such assurance was clearly just another one of the president’s “red-lines”, and Gen. Raul Castro knew it.

Since the thaw began, the Cuban government has doubled down on its repressive tactics, with political and religious persecution levels increasing drastically.

It is now clear that there is nothing that the Cuban regime can do to draw Obama’s criticism. Just a few hours shy of Air Force One’s landing in Havana, the Ladies in White were assaulted by government agents, a local pastor and a journalist were brutally arrested, and more than three-hundred dissidents were detained.

Yet, in spite of these circumstances, there were plenty that hoped Obama would pivot and stand up to Castro once in the island. This assumed that the president would see the light, and through public diplomacy would attempt to improve the lives of the people of Cuba.

Any such hopes were crushed by Obama’s joint press conference with Castro. While there were moments when Obama spoke of basic rights like freedom of speech, he spent the majority of the time being lectured by Castro.

Instead of taking the despot to task for his countless crimes, or at the very least defend the country he represents, Obama chose to welcome a butcher’s criticism without offering any in return.

While Castro’s attacks were predictable, the president’s submissiveness shouldn’t have been. This was Obama’s best opportunity to condemn the Cuban regime for its countless human rights abuses and take a public stand in favor of the Cuban people.

In an appalling absence of courage, Obama went on to defer the task of confronting Castro to two journalists. In a display of the very best virtues that underwrite their profession, both of them looked Castro in the eye and did what Obama failed to do, they took him to task.

The exchange that ensued put Castro’s pettiness in full display, as he proceeded to lose his temper after being challenged on the status of political prisoners. A small win, but one that the president will undoubted take credit in his memoirs one day.

After all, he called on them, right? The truth is that throughout his trip Obama cowered at every opportunity to reject the abuses of the regime.

By failing to condemn Castro’s abuses in front of him and the people he oppresses, Obama has effectively appeased a murderous regime and enabled it to continue its crimes.

The president’s silence is a tacit approval of the Cuban regime’s crimes. Through this visit, Obama officially joins the shameful ranks of other hemispheric leaders that have turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in the region—choosing to sell out the Cuban people in the name of good economic relations with their oppressor.

Obama’s visit will be remembered not for the business deals he brokered with the Cuban military, nor his first pitch in for the Tampa Bay Rays, or even for his awkward handshake with Castro, but for the deafening sound of his silence.

His betrayal of the Cuban people will live in infamy, and like his hosts, history will not absolve him.

Cuban Agents Brutalize Democracy Protesters After Obama Visit (Video)

Sunday, March 27, 2016
Click below (or here) for video footage of the protest and arrests.

From Yahoo News:

Cuban agents brutalize democracy protesters after Obama visit

Well, that was fast. On Tuesday, President Obama addressed Cubans about the importance of human rights and peaceful dialogue. On Thursday, pro-democracy demonstrators in Havana were beaten and arrested by Cuban police agents just steps away from where Obama had spoken.

The demonstration occurred three blocks from the Grand Theater of Havana, where Obama spoke live to the Cuban nation, and was swiftly broken up by plainclothes officers, who attacked demonstrators violently and then stuffed those they had captured into police cars and swept them away within moments. This reporter witnessed the brutal arrests of two demonstrators during the mid-afternoon eruption of public dissent in one of the most public forums in the city.

According to witnesses, a small group of demonstrators had entered a park on San Rafael Street, the most popular of Havana’s newly opened Wi-Fi hotspots, where hundreds of people were busily connecting to the Internet or placing international calls over VOIP services. It is unclear how many participated in the demonstration or were arrested; attracted by a loud, angry crowd that had formed on one of the city’s principal avenues and was filming the arrests, I arrived on the scene too late to see the original incident but witnessed part of the aggressive police response.

As hundreds of Cubans flooded into the park, perhaps more than 60 raised their cellphones and recorded a rough, even vengeful series of arrests. One protester I witnessed appeared to be running away from the police response as muscular men in guayabera shirts chased him down, pinned him to the ground and then punched him repeatedly in front of hundreds of their fellow citizens as well as foreign tourists and this reporter.

A female demonstrator was dragged to a police car and quickly removed from the scene, although a large crowd appeared to pursue the police car for more than a block, filming the arrest. 

“They were shouting pro-Obama slogans and saying things like ‘Down with Fidel,’” said an Australian tourist who was standing on San Rafael Street when the incident began. He described a curious but passive crowd gathering around a small group of active demonstrators, who marched toward the Grand Theater, scene of Obama’s unprecedented live address to the Cuban nation. Protesters handed out small pamphlets — “a little bigger than a dollar bill,” the Australian witness said — before police agents swept in. The papers were cleaned off the street as quickly as the demonstrators were.

Obama’s speech was a rare interruption of Cuba’s state-run monopoly on public discourse. The president’s remarks were broadcast live across the country and, by agreement with U.S. negotiators, reprinted in their entirety in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, the island’s only daily. Obama’s nuanced remarks were simultaneously designed to avoid antagonizing the Cuban government while sending a clear message that the United States supports multiparty democracy and open debate on the island. Protesters appear to have taken that message to heart, using some version of a slogan that one witness described as “Obama sí, Castro no.”

The sight of dozens of cellphones raised overhead to record the incident and the police response did not deter officers. According to Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Human Rights and Reconciliation Commission, Cuban police have been retrained in recent years to use less visible tactics when responding to dissent, including physically isolating and gently removing demonstrators. None of that was visible on Thursday. Plainclothes officers punched and kicked a defenseless man who had already been pinned to the ground by another officer; screams could be heard as another demonstrator was dragged into a police car that accelerated dangerously in the crowded street.

“Watch out,” a tall, powerfully built Cuban man shouted to people around him. “There are more police than not in this park.” He was referring to plainclothes officers who often monitor public gatherings in Cuba. Moments later, at least six Cuban police cars roared to a stop at the park, disgorging uniformed officers whose presence rapidly reestablished a sense of order. The number of Cubans watching quickly fell by half. Many Cubans have been unwilling in the past to express direct political opinions in the face of police enforcement and government demands to conform to a predetermined political agenda. But many remained on the scene, filming with their phones even as the area returned to normal.

“There are no secrets anymore,” said Reinaldo Escobar, an anti-government dissident and publisher at 14 y Medio, an independent online newspaper for Cubans. In an interview later, Escobar said he had not heard of the afternoon demonstration on San Rafael Street, but he reported a separate incident in the morning in which pro-democracy activists had been arrested on the steps of Cuba’s capitol.

“This isn’t about a dialogue between Obama and the Cuban government,” said Rosá Maria Payá, another prominent activist who has pushed for a plebiscite on President Raúl Castro’s rule over the island. “We need a dialogue between the Cuban people and the regime.”

Payá added that, whatever slogans or pamphlets the protesters had offered, “When they say 'Obama sí, Castro no,’ what they are really saying is 'Democracy sí, Totalitarianism no.’”

An American tourist on San Rafael Street had a different, perhaps more partisan, take on the scene that had just unfolded. “If they are cheering Obama,” he suggested, “obviously they don’t know him.”

Obama Plays Small Ball in Cuba

By Jose Cardenas in Foreign Policy:

Obama Plays Small Ball in Cuba

President Obama’s trip to Cuba this week certainly made history, at least in the strictest sense of the term. He indeed walked off Air Force One and set foot on Cuban soil, becoming the first president to do so since 1928.  But it was hardly historic in the fullest meaning of the term — as in shock-and-awe, transformational historic.

His words had none of the forcefulness, for example of Ronald Reagan’s speech to students at Moscow State University in 1988, let alone any of the audaciousness of his remarks at Brandenberg Gate in 1987, where he challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear Down This Wall!

No, Obama played it cool — a single here, a bunt there, a stolen base. In fact, it was that minimalist approach that allowed the hoped-for White House narrative of history-in-the-making to be stepped on repeatedly by bad optics: dissidents being manhandled in the streets as the president arrived; an awkward ending to a joint press conference with Cuban dictator Raul Castro that lit up social media; and, finally, the president and his family taking in a baseball game with Castro even as Europe bled again from an Islamist terrorist attack.

Still, as a colleague put it to me, the trip “wasn’t totally demoralizing.” The regime’s repressive actions against peaceful dissidents were put on full display to the world — including a dramatic occurrence during an ESPN live shot — and Castro was exposed as a thoroughly odious figure who denies that his regime holds political prisoners.

To Obama’s credit, he did use his speech at the Teatro Nacional to talk to the Cuban people rather than at them, as he expounded on the virtues of freedom and self-determination. He hit several good notes, but the problem is that his address came with so many qualifiers and caveats so as not to offend his Cuban hosts that some Cubans may have wondered whether democracy is all it’s cracked up to be. To wit:

"So here’s my message to the Cuban government and the Cuban people. The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution: America’s revolution, Cuba’s revolution, the liberation movements around the world. Those ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy. Not because American democracy is perfect, but precisely because we’re not."

True enough, but in a speech to a captive nation? Imagine how history would have turned out if Ronald Reagan went to the Soviet Union and said: “Well, we’re no great shakes either, so let’s just split the difference!”

The fundamental problem with the president’s approach to Cuba is that he is trying to reconcile two utterly incompatible objectives. He is at once attempting to convince the Castro regime that the United States means no harm, while at the same time trying to inspire the Cuban people to take control of their own destiny.

Now, that may make hearts in U.S. faculty lounges swoon, but it is utterly incongruent with what Cubans want to hear.

The fact is, contrary to what U.S. academics and activists will tell you, Obama does not need to apologize to the Cuban people about the United States or U.S. policy. They understand viscerally that the United States is not the enemy, but that they are victims of their own government’s incompetence and repression.

What the Cuban people want to hear is a full-throated challenge to the regime, not diplomatic circumlocutions and, “well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree” on such seminal issues as human rights and self-determination.

In the Cuban peoples’ minds the regime is the problem and, based on more than decades of experience, they have no trust it can be part of the solution.

It’s clear the administration does not want a confrontation with the regime, believing instead that disarming it with soothing rhetoric will somehow allow it to drop its guard. It is a fool’s errand.

The Castro regime is and always has been terrified of a more independent and autonomous Cuban people — and no speech from Washington, no matter how well crafted, changes that fact.

In short, President Obama had a chance to go deep on the truly historic opportunity he had before him — to dramatically alter the situation in forlorn Cuba by breaking a bit of diplomatic crockery. Instead, he preferred to play small ball, missing the chance to make a real choice between the Castro regime and the Cuban people. Which is why, despite the continuing misdirection of the administration and its most ardent cheerleaders, the miserable status quo in Cuba will continue apace.

Tweet of the Day: Let Cuba's Citizens Speak!

Obama Puts Off Cuba's Democratization

By Miguel Sales in Diario de Cuba:

Obama and the indefinite postponement of change

Imagine the scene: 1987. US President Ronald Reagan is about to complete his second term in office. He arrives at the Airport of Chile to visit that allied country and to meet with General Augusto Pinochet.

Mr. Reagan knows that the Chilean regime has hundreds of citizens incarcerated for political reasons (14 years after his rise to power), censors the press, suppresses the opposition, and does not allow political parties to publicly act or vote in free elections. He also knows that thousands of Chileans have abandoned the country in search of freedom to improve their economic situations.

When he gets off his airplane the US leader approaches the journalists thronging the terminal and states: "I know that there are many aspects about which General Pinochet and I will not agree. But I trust that, through the development of commercial and cultural relationships between the two countries, the human rights situation in Chile will improve, and the regime will evolve towards freedom and democracy."

Now imagine what the international reaction would have been, by the press and government officials, if that visit had ever taken place.

Well, this is what, mutatis mutandis, President Barack Obama is doing during his current visit to Havana. The big difference is that his trip, rather than sparking criticism and condemnation around the world, is receiving universal praise, as the "progressive" press showers admiration upon him.

The worst part is not that Mr. Obama's presence is legitimizing a regime that has killed thousands of people, has hundreds of political prisoners in its jails (57 years after it's rise to power!), prohibits political parties and suppresses the opposition, monopolizes the media, generates thousands of boat people, and provides for multiple human rights violations in its Constitution and Penal Code, so that they can be carried out "legally."

The worst part is that the US President has publicly rejected the instruments which would have allowed him to pressure the Cuban regime towards a liberal, democratic transformation, instead endorsing the gradual evolution of the island's economy and culture as the way to "empower" its civil society. That is, after criticizing the half century of stagnation that, according to him, had prevailed in Washington with respect to Cuba, Mr. Obama inaugurates a new strategy based on... the long term. The only problem is that, as John Maynard Keynes used to point out: "In the long run, we are all dead."

Economic development and prosperity are, perhaps, necessary conditions for the development of liberal democracy, but they are not sufficient. The experiences of some Asian countries demonstrate that a dynamic and prosperous society can survive under a post-totalitarian government. The monopoly on political power, absence of human rights and police control exercised against the Chinese people have not proven incompatible with the rapid growth of that nation's economy, and the consequent bolstering of its quality of life. 

Taking into account the frailty of Cuba's civil society, the woeful quality of life it provides for, and the reluctance of the Castroist hierarchy to change a system that, despite its many failures, has been very effective at retaining power and smothering opposition, the strategy adopted by Mr. Obama and his advisers offers them 20 more years of Castroism "light," putting off the island's democratization until only God knows when.