Cuban and North Korean Special Forces in Venezuela

Friday, May 20, 2016
Earlier this week, the head of Venezuela's National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, denounced that 60 Cuban military officials are embedded among operational forces at the Fuerte Tiuna military complex -- home of Venezuela's Ministry of Defense -- under the command of Cuban General Raul Acosta Gregorich.

This morning, the French investigative journal, Intelligence Online, reported that North Korea's regime has sent a special forces contingent to Venezuela to help its embattled quasi-dictator, Nicolas Maduro.

Furthermore, how this arrangement stems from a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement that North Korea's Kim Jong-un with Cuba's Castro regime in March.

Of course, there's more than a hint of irony that while President Obama was wining-and-dining in Cuba in March, that the Castro regime was signing a military and intelligence cooperation agreement with the North Korean regime.

Here's the report from France's Intelligence Online:

Kim Jung-un comes to Maduro's aid

Observers are wondering just how involved the North Korean Praetorian Guard that Pyongyang has sent to assist Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro will become. Hugo Chavez’s successor has declared a state of emergency in the country while anti-government protests continue to mount. The man behind the 'loan' of North Korean troops is General Kim Yong-chol, who is close to the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un. The general is both head of the special forces and the United Front Work Department, or Tongil Chonsonbu, the intelligence service in charge of relations with friendly political movements.

North Korean special forces are training with their counterparts of Venezuela’s Grupo de Acciones Commando (GAC) and Chinese troops of the 21st Armed Group of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Caracas this month.

Back in March, Pyongyang also signed a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement with Cuba, even though the latter is in the midst of a reconciliation process with the U.S.

Congress Bans U.S.-Cuba Military 'Cooperation'

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to the must-pass 2017 National Defense Authorization Act ("NDAA") that prohibits military-to-military relations with Cuba's Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces ("MINFAR").

The amendment was presented by U.S. Rep. Ron Desantis (R-FL).

In short, it prohibits any bilateral military-to-military contact, cooperation, or related security conferences between the Governments of the United States and Cuba until the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, certify to the appropriate congressional committees and Congress convincing assurances that the anti-American posture of the Castro regime has undergone a material change.

Last week, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) added similar language to Senate version of the bill.

You can read the language here.

Cuba, 'Law Enforcement Dialogue' and the Cop Murderer

By Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations:

Cuba: the “Law Enforcement Dialogue” and the Cop Murderer

The United States and Cuba are about to enter a series of “dialogues” including one about law enforcement. Here is what Reuters reported:

"Cuba and the United States aim to reach new agreements on cooperation in law enforcement, health and agriculture over the coming months, a senior Cuban official said on Monday, as part of the former Cold War foes’ drive to normalize ties...

A bilateral commission met on Monday in Havana to establish a roadmap for talks over the rest of this year, which would include more high-ranking official visits, said Josefina Vidal, head of the Cuban delegation...

“The United States looks forward to holding these meetings in the near future,” the [United States] embassy said. “Tomorrow (we) will discuss specific steps related to bilateral security during the law enforcement dialogue.”

How do you have a law enforcement dialogue with a regime that is giving sanctuary to, and protecting, American fugitives who include murderers?

The most famous case is that of Joanne Chesimard, but she is not alone.  Here is what NBC reported in March:

White House officials would not tell NBC News whether President Obama will raise the issue of 70 fugitives from U.S. justice — including convicted cop-killer JoAnne Chesimard — who are hiding in Cuba when he meets Cuban leaders during his visit to the island.

A White House official did say, however, that the “United States continued to seek the return from Cuba of fugitives from U.S. justice and has repeatedly raised those cases with the Cuban government.”

Chesimard, who fled to Cuba in 1984 after escaping from a New Jersey prison in 1979, was convicted of the 1973 execution-style murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster. She is on the FBI’s Most Wanted International Terrorists list, and is the most notorious of a group of criminals and violent radicals who have sought refuge in Cuba since Fidel Castro took power.

If the “law enforcement dialogue” is aimed at getting back such fugitives, we can only hope it succeeds. If it does not have that objective, it is another in a series of give-aways and disgraces that have marked recent U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Why Obama's New Cuba Flights Pose Security Concerns

Thursday, May 19, 2016
This week, the House Committee on Homeland Security chaired a hearing on the security risks stemming from the Obama Administration's proposed commercial flights to Cuba.

The hearing revealed some troubling issues.

In private, Transportation Security Administration ("TSA") officials have been raising serious of concerns with lawmakers.

Yet, since the hearing was called, the Obama Administration has been stonewalling the entire process.

Moreover, under political pressure, TSA officials skirted most questions at the hearing.

As Homeland Security Subcommittee Chair, U.S. Rep. John Katko (R-NY) noted, "This leads me to believe that the administration is either hiding something, or worse, simply negligent of the security concerns associated with this policy."

And there's plenty of reason to be concerned.

For example, a 2014 report from the Center for a Secure Free Society revealed how Venezuelan authorities provided at least 173 passports, visas and other documentation to Islamist extremists seeking to slip unnoticed into North America.

As the report warns, and has recently been confirmed the Panama Paper leaks, Venezuela's passport and national ID systems are completely controlled by Cuba's regime.

Adding further concern, The Washington Post recently reported how, "over the past two months, travel agents in Kabul have been surprised by Afghans showing up at their offices with Cuban visas, which are suspected of having been issued in Iran or acquired on the black market."

Meanwhile, U.S. authorities will have no independent security verification on the ground in Cuba's airports to screen travelers.

Instead, the Obama Administration plans to outsource and fully entrust the security of the U.S. to the Castro regime.

As Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) stressed, this isn't for five flights per week -- as is the case of Cairo's airport, which is leaps-and-bounds better suited than Havana's. But for 110 flights per day -- as the Obama Administration intends for Cuba.

Obama is clearly more interested in his legacy than ensuring our security.

Homeland Security Chair: Obama Placing Americans at Risk to Appease Cuban Dictator

Statement of U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee:

Flying Blind: What are the risks of resuming U.S. commercial air service to Cuba?

I would like to start by thanking the gentleman from New York, Mr. Katko, for holding this important hearing today and for his leadership on aviation security. I believe that the issue of security at last points of departure airports is of critical importance to our homeland security.

I saw this firsthand earlier this month, when I led a Congressional delegation overseas to examine the spread of Islamist militant groups. I had the opportunity to visit Egypt and examine the security measures that were in place at the Cairo airport. The Egyptians are making progress, but what I saw was still concerning, especially when compared to our own airports.

For instance, they are not using full-body scanners, and airport workers are apparently not fully vetted against up-to-date terror watchlists. Yet, the Cairo airport serves as a last point of departure to the United States.

Now the Administration is rushing to open regularly scheduled commercial air service to Cuba and designate ten new airports as last points of departure to the United States. I fear that the security situation at these airports in Cuba is much, much worse than places like Cairo. And while there only five direct flights to the U.S. each week from somewhere like Egypt, the Administration’s proposal calls for up to 110 daily flights between the U.S. and Cuba. I hope to visit Cuba in the near future with Representative Katko and other members to evaluate the airport security situation for myself.

The Administration’s plan to open direct commercial air service to Cuba is being unnecessarily rushed. There are serious security concerns here that seem to be taking a back seat to a legacy building effort. Although Cuba has taken steps to liberalize its economy in recent years, the country is still led by a communist dictator who has been ruthless against his own people and who has brutally suppressed calls for more open and democratic governance.

Restoring relations has done little to soften the Castro regime’s hateful rhetoric toward the United States or to compel the government to loosen its tyrannical grip. In fact, it’s done the opposite by rewarding bad behavior. And now the regime is giving us no indication that it is acting in good faith or has the best interests of the United States or our citizens in mind. Accordingly, we must do all we can to ensure the safety and security of Americans that choose to visit the island, and so far I remain entirely unconvinced the Administration has done its due diligence.

While the Obama Administration may be willing to put the security of Americans at risk to appease a dictator, today’s hearing will show that the United States Congress will not.

Obama Officials Not Being Forthright About Cuba Flight Concerns

From Politico:

Lawmakers accuse Homeland Security of doublespeak on Cuba flight risks

Piling security concerns atop their political complaints, House Republicans say initiating commercial air service from Cuba is a disaster waiting to happen, and accused the Obama administration of fast-walking flights to shore up the president's legacy.

Obama administration officials publicly insist TSA has thoroughly scrutinized the 10 Cuban airports where flights may soon begin, ensuring that they meet the highest security rules laid out by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. body.

But Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) says administration officials have told a different story behind closed doors, including warnings about outdated screening equipment, “mangy street dogs” on canine teams and insufficient vetting practices for aviation workers.

“The administration’s lack of transparency on this issue is unacceptable and leads me to believe that the administration is either hiding something, or worse: simply negligent of the security concerns associated with this policy,” Katko said during a House Homeland Security hearing Tuesday. “The picture officials of TSA paint of the security situation at Cuba’s airports is indeed bleak.”

The congressman, who serves as head of the House Homeland Security subcommittee that handles transportation issues, pressed TSA witness Larry Mizell to reiterate worries he expressed privately. But Mizell declined to publicly elaborate, saying the information was classified as sensitive and that his opinion of Cuba’s aviation security procedures has improved over time.

“The concerns I had that I shared with you was over a five-year period. Certainly I had concerns at the beginning which I don’t have now,” Mizell said. “Right now, the government of Cuba airports that have been assessed and inspected by the inspectors meet ICAO standards.”

Mizell would not say, though, whether he personally believes security is sufficient at Cuban airports.

“The concerns I have are very minor compared to what we were looking at five years ago,” he said.

Katko said that it was only under threat of subpoena that the Homeland Security Department would allow Mizell to appear before the committee.

"Even then," the congressman said in a statement after the hearing, "the administration failed to allow the witness to openly testify about security concerns that he had previously stated to the committee.”

Katko claims bomb-sniffing dogs at Cuban airports are “poorly trained at best,” that there is no equipment for detecting trace explosives and that only one of the airports in question uses full body scanners.

To boot, “these scanners are Chinese-made,” he said. “We have no idea whether they work at all, or how they work, or how well they work.”

TSA Subcommittee Chair Rips Obama on Cuba Flights

From Syracuse.com:

Rep. John Katko rips Obama plan to open air travel with Cuba

U.S. Rep. John Katko on Tuesday unleashed stinging criticism of U.S. plans to open air travel with Cuba, suggesting the move could open a back door for overseas terrorists to enter the United States.

Katko, R-Camillus, chaired a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing in which he battled with representatives of President Barack Obama's administration.

Katko demanded to know if Cuban airports will have proper security screening equipment and procedures in place before the start of commercial flights to the United States later this year.

But the hearing quickly turned divisive, and the panel's top Democrat accused Katko and his fellow Republicans of playing politics with the issue.

Homeland Security officials declined to answer many of Katko's questions in a public meeting, saying it would divulge classified information.

Katko said he is concerned because a Feb. 16 accord between U.S. and Cuban officials will eventually allow more than 100 daily roundtrip flights between the two countries.

"As has been the practice of this administration, the deal was signed with minimal consultation or input from Congress," Katko said. "In fact, countless attempts by this committee to attain information about various aspects of the negotiations and requirements to begin regularly scheduled commercial service to Cuba have been stonewalled."

Katko said he had to battle with the Obama administration to produce witnesses at the House transportation security subcommittee hearing he chaired Tuesday.

"This leads me to believe that the administration is either hiding something, or worse, simply negligent of the security concerns associated with this policy," said Katko, a former federal prosecutor in Syracuse.

Katko aggressively questioned Larry Mizell, a representative of the Transportation Security Administration, who declined to say in public whether Cuban airports have explosive trace equipment, body scanners and document verification technology to help thwart potential terrorists.

In an unusual move for a committee known for its collaborative bipartisan approach, Kathleen Rice, D-Long Island, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, criticized Katko for a taking a tone similar to a "criminal inquiry."

"We're not prosecutors anymore," said Rice, who like Katko is a former federal prosecutor for the Justice Department.

"The bottom line is we are trying to get to the bottom of what we consider to be very grave concerns...about the opening of these airports," Katko replied.

"If you take issue with my tone, let me apologize for that," Katko said. "But I do have the interests of our country as the biggest thing at stake to us, and making sure the airlines are safe and the people are safe."

A board of top Homeland Security officials will be required to share intelligence and operations information.

Rice suggested the subcommittee could obtain its answers in a closed-door hearing with the witnesses.

"Let's just take the politics out of this clearly politicized issue and get to the heart of the matter." Rice said.

Katko said he has legitimate concerns, and cited a Washington Post report last month that some refugees from Afghanistan are making Cuba their gateway to the United States or Canada.

The report said Afghans have obtained Cuban visas, which may have been issued in Iran or obtained on the black market.

Stick to the Facts on the Cuba "Travel Ban"

Wednesday, May 18, 2016
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Hill:

Stick to the Facts on the Cuba "Travel Ban"

The Obama Administration is leading a full-scale lobbying effort in the U.S. Congress to lift the so-called “travel ban” to Cuba. If this sounds disingenuous, particularly as Carnival cruises and the Kardashians descend upon Havana -- well, that's because it is.

While supporters of Obama's efforts, led by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ), resort to misleading catch-phrases and philosophical arguments, few stick to the facts. Consider:

• There is no ban on travel to Cuba -- only on transactions with Cuba's military-owned tourism monopolies. The Department of Treasury's responsibility, under the Trade Sanctions Reform Act (TSRA), is to prohibit or regulate commercial "transactions'' related to tourism, not travel per se.

Travel to Cuba is authorized for a variety of reasons, ranging from educational, religious and family visits to visits in support of civil society. Hundreds of thousands of Americans legally travel to Cuba for these purposes every year.

• Tourism is a main source of income for the Castro regime. Cuba's tourism industry is operated and owned by the Cuban military, the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces ("MINFAR").

According to Hotels Magazine, a leading industry publication, Cuba's MINFAR -- through its subsidiaries -- is by far the largest regional hotel conglomerate in Latin America. It controls more hotel rooms than The Walt Disney Company.

These MINFAR tourism assets are also mostly located on properties stolen without compensation from Americans.

This is the same Cuban military that has recently 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 has subverted democracy in Venezuela; 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 Americans.

Just as the U.S. Congress focused sanctions on Iran's petroleum-refining capability, which is that country's foremost source of income, the United States has sanctions against tourism transactions in Cuba to prevent an exponential increase in funds directly to Castro regime's repressive machinery.

It would be much more forthright to label legislation to lift restrictions on tourism to Cuba as the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces Stimulus Act.

• We constantly hear the argument that tourism transactions are permitted with other repressive regimes, such as Iran, Sudan and North Korea, so why not with Cuba? While undoubtedly rich in culture, Tehran, Khartoum and Pyongyang are not appealing tourism destinations or easily accessible to Americans.

Cuba, with its sunny beaches and proximity, is an appealing vacation destination for American tourists, but so, too, are many other Caribbean islands with democratic governments. Should U.S. policy beggar friendly democratic neighbors to court an unfriendly repressive neighbor?

Or here's a novel concept. Why not save American taxpayers money and instead promote tourism to the financially troubled U.S.-territory of Puerto Rico?

• Current U.S. policy toward Cuba has not failed. In order to label a policy as a failure, there needs to be evidence of the success, or likely success, of alternatives.

The fact is that decades of Canadian and European tourism to Cuba -- with over three million visitors per year -- has not eased the Castro regime's repression, improved its respect for basic human rights or helped Cuba's civil society gain any democratic space. To the contrary, it has increased repression and stabilized Castro's regime. Even supporters of lifting tourism sanctions concede this. Senator Flake has himself said that "there are no guarantees that this will bring democracy to Cuba.''

What lifting restrictions on tourism transactions will guarantee is that the Cuban military will double its income. To spend on what? Guns to rein in civil dissent? Technology to further censor Cubans' access to the Internet? Intelligence assets to support anti-American activities?

The question to be answered by Senators Flake, Leahy and other supporters of lifting sanctions is: Do they trust the Cuban military with an exponential rise in income?

The answer leads to only one fact, with real consequences:

For Cubans, the consequence of lifting restrictions on U.S. tourism is more repression; for the United States, it's having financed that repression.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington, D.C.

Obama's Policy Leads to Largest Cuban Migration Crisis

Tuesday, May 17, 2016
If Obama's new policy is "improving the lives of the Cuban people," then why has it led to a migration crisis of historic proportions?

For comparison, note the 1980 Mariel boatlift resulted in 125,000 Cuban arrivals.

From The Washington Examiner:

Cuban immigrant surge on pace to more than triple 2015, 156,000 vs 43,000

More Cuban immigrants have arrived in the United States so far this year than in all of 2014 and is on a pace to more than triple 2015's count, according to a new analysis of the surprising surge.

In a review of the Cuban immigration boom, the Center for Immigration Studies said on Monday that some 26,000 had arrived at United States border stations by the end of February.

The 13,000 a month pace could suggests a yearly total of 156,000.

For comparison, 24,277 Cubans came to the United States in 2014. That grew to 43,154 in 2015 and is set to break another record this year. And those are just the numbers of arrivals at border stations, mostly in Texas. Some others arrive by boat.

From Breitbart:

Cuban Migration to U.S. Increases Six-Fold Under Obama Administration

The number of Cuban migrants seeking asylum at U.S. ports of entry has skyrocketed since President Obama took office — increasing six-fold since 2009 and nearly doubling from 2014 to 2015, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

Head of Venezuela's National Assembly: Cuban Officials Directing Military Operations

The head of Venezuela's National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, has denounced that 60 Cuban military officials are embedded among operational forces at the Fuerte Tiuna military complex -- home of Venezuela's Ministry of Defense.

They are under the command of Cuban General Raul Acosta Gregorich.

Thus, while the Castro regime distracts the Obama Administration with "security cooperation" talks, it continues to play a central role in subverting democracy in Venezuela.

Regional Lawyers Learn There's No 'Rule of Law' in Cuba

The Inter-American Bar Association was recently forced to change the venue of its annual conference.

The note below to its members speaks for itself.

URGENT - 52nd IABA Conference - change of venue

Dear Members:

I am writing to inform you that the 52nd Conference of the Inter-American Bar Association scheduled for June 20th to 24th, 2016, will be held in Miami, Florida, instead of Havana, Cuba.

The Executive Committee expresses its profound regret about the complications that this sudden and unexpected change of venue may cause.

The shift arises from the unilateral decision of the Cuban Organizing Committee (the National Association of Cuban Attorneys, the National Organization of Collective Law Offices, the Cuban Supreme Court, the Cuban Attorney General’s Office and the University of Havana Law School) to cancel the conference forty-five days from its scheduled date. By reneging on their word, these organizations have completely disregarded the economic impact and reputational damage to our Association.

During two days of intense negotiations with Cuba, we were met with utter inflexibility. Not only did our Cuban counterparts cancel the conference, they prohibited it from being held in the country.

Pursuant our organization’s by-laws, and as coordinated by our Treasurer, Vice-President, Secretary General and administrative office in Washington, D.C., this Executive Committee will form an Organizing Committee.

I would like to ensure you personally that we will hold our conference in Miami.

Anyone registered for the conference in Cuba is, for all intents and purposes, already registered for the conference in Miami.

We will reach out to you soon with additional details so that you may make your travel plans and hotel reservations.

For anyone experiencing difficulties in receiving a refund of already-incurred expenses, the IABA will appoint a person to offer the necessary assistance through individual casework.

Sincerely,

Carlos López López
Presidente

Castro Reverts (Yet Another) "Reform"

Monday, May 16, 2016
In December 2013, the media was abuzz about a new wholesale market venue ("El Trigal") on the outskirts of Havana.

Here's how CBS News hyped it:

"Gone are the muddy field, lettuce wilting under the sun and sacks of rice soaked by a sudden downpour.

From now on, business would be conducted in an enormous, well-lit terminal run by ten men in bright red tee-shirts with the word 'cooperative' blazoned across the back.

El Trigal market is not just a new form of commercializing agricultural products. The market itself is something new to have emerged from the economic reforms being rolled out by President Raul Castro. It's one of a still limited number of non-agricultural cooperatives approved by the government that previously controlled all food distribution."

And here's how the D.C.-based, Castro-friendly, Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA), propagated it:

"Our visit to El Trigal, the first wholesale produce market in Cuba, provided a glimpse of Cuba’s future mixed economy. El Trigal is located on the outskirts of Havana and opened in December 2013. In the market, we saw evidence of the emerging role of non-state cooperatives and the growing importance of market, rather than central planning mechanisms, in distributing agricultural goods to both private and public enterprises."

This week, the Castro regime announced that El Trigal was being shut down and the agricultural cooperative was being dissolved due to "a group of irregularities."

Meanwhile, farmers have been scrambling to hide leftover products due to fear of further confiscation.

Below is what El Trigal looked like this week.

More "reforms" your can't believe in.

Jorge Perez: Cuba Threw Bucket of Cold Water

There needs to be a profound change in the government, but also in mentality. I would love to participate in the future development of Cuba, but it was like a bucket of cold water when we met with our [Cuban government] counterparts. It's a huge struggle to determine what they will allow. 
-- Jorge Perez, Chairman and CEO of Related Group of Florida, on the challenges facing political and economic development in Cuba, Concordia Summit at Miami-Dade College (MDC), El Nuevo Herald, 5/12/16

Forget Cuba, 'Pyonghattan' is Where It's Happening

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Chanel and the Kardashians are wasting their time in Cuba.

Clearly, the real "reforms" are taking place in North Korea.

Kim Jong-Un is much more market-oriented than Raul Castro. His economic reforms are leaps-and-bounds beyond anything Raul has done.

'Pyonghattan' is leaving Havana in the dirt.

Sure, all of these modern businesses are owned and operated by regime cronies -- but the Chamber and Co. have no scruples.

So when are the Obama Administration and its allies going to start cutting deals with Kim's cronies to "empower the North Korean people"?

From The Washington Post:

North Korea’s one-percenters savor life in ‘Pyonghattan’

They like fast fashion from Zara and H&M. They work out to be seen as much as to exercise. They drink cappuccinos to show how cosmopolitan they are. Some have had their eyelids done to make them look more Western.

North Korea now has a 1 percent. And you’ll find them in“Pyonghattan,” the parallel ­universe inhabited by the rich kids of the Democratic People’s Republic.

“We’re supposed to dress conservatively in North Korea, so people like going to the gym so they can show off their bodies, show some skin,” said Lee Seo-hyeon, a 24-year-old who was, until 18 months ago, part of Pyongyang’s brat pack.

Women like to wear leggings and tight tops — Elle is the most popular brand among women, while men prefer Adidas and Nike — she said. When young people go to China, they travel armed with shopping lists from their friends for workout gear.

At a leisure complex next to the bowling alley in the middle of Pyongyang, they run on the treadmills, which show Disney cartoons on the monitors, or do yoga.

The complex also has a fancy restaurant that advertises for wedding functions — glitzy ­venues cost as much as $500 an hour — and a coffee shop, where most drinks are priced between $4 and $8, although an iced mocha costs $9.

“It’s a cool spot. When you’re in there it feels like you could be anywhere in the world,” said Andray Abrahamian, who is British and helps run an exchange program that provides financial training to North Koreans. He recently played squash on one of the three courts at the center. “It’s not cheap. It’s a few dollars for a class. It’s definitely for people who have disposable income.”

North Korea as a whole remains economically backward — industry has all but collapsed, and even in Pyongyang, the official salary remains less than $10 a month — but the rise in recent years of a merchant class has created a whole layer of nouveaux riches in the capital city.

“Donju,” or “masters of money,” have emerged with the tentative moves toward becoming a market economy that began about 15 years ago but has picked up momentum under Kim Jong Un, the third-generation leader who took over the reins of North Korea at the end of 2011.

The donju usually hold official government positions — in ministries or the military, running state businesses abroad or trying to attract investment into North Korea. On the side, they trade in everything they can get their hands on, including flat-screen TVs and apartments.

The money that they are making now flows through society, through the markets that are present in every population center to the high-end restaurants of Pyongyang.

“Kim Jong Un is very ­pro-market. His policy has essentially been benign neglect,” said Andrei Lankov, a Russian historian specializing in Korea who once studied in Pyongyang. “A number of North Korean capitalists I’ve talked to say that they’ve never had it so good.”

Kim, 33, has made it a high priority to improve the lives of his fellow millennials in particular. He has ordered the construction of amusement parks and water parks and skate parks, even a dolphinarium and a ski resort. Around the capital, volleyball and tennis courts are full of young people.

Check out these North Korean "cuentapropistas":

Ponder These Images Carefully: The Human Cost of Fighting for Cuban Freedom

Sunday, May 15, 2016
Last week, we posted how, Rosa Escalona, a member of Cuba's Ladies in White, and her family were violently beaten by agents of the Castro regime in the eastern city of Holguin.

Escalona's husband, Alberto Pedro Freire Leiva, suffered a broken spleen and massive internal bleeding. His life currently hangs in the balance.

Meanwhile, her son, Yunior Alberto Freire Escalona, suffered a skull fracture.

Below are the images of Escalona's husband and son.

Currently, the media's focus is exclusively on foreign dignitaries fêting the Castro brothers, on businessmen cutting deals with them, on tourists frolicking in Havana and celebrities glamorizing repression.

The Obama-Chanel-Kardashian policy is doing its best to distract from Cuba's tragic reality.

It's doing its best to cast impunity upon its perpetrators.

It's doing its best to relegate those who courageously fight for the freedom of all Cubans.

But here's the price being paid. Ponder these images carefully.

Cuba-Disneyland and Its Leftist Pimps

By Professor Isaac Nahon Serfaty in Spain's El Pais (via Translating Cuba):

Cuba-Disneyland and Its Leftist Pimps

Cuba is now the Disneyland of the fashion show business. The list of celebrities who go to the island as almost archeological tourists is growing every day. The Mummy Stones, the Lagerfield effigy, and the inevitable voluptuous Kardashion have made their Havana pilgrimage. From Miami comes a cruise ship acclaimed by local enthusiasts. The gringos, like the expected Mr. Marshall from Garcia Berlanga’s film, wander along the Malecon and enjoy their mojitos. Fascinated, they discover a theme park populated by dilapidated American sedans, Old Havana with its architectural gems both restored and in ruins, and a people hungry for change. All this under the admiring acclaim of Western media fascinated by a supposed “opening” in the Pearl of the Caribbean.

It is worth the exercise of historic imagination to show the inconsistency of the liberal politicians and the enthusiastic journalists. Let’s consider, for example, that some legendary rockers, a fashion designer and an exemplar of the “beautiful people” had decided to visit Chile in the times of Pinochet to celebrate the economic opening implemented by the dictator at the hands of his neoliberal technocrats.

It is not difficult to imagine the reaction, fully justified, of leftist intellectuals and politicians: “What barbarity to endorse the bloody dictator!” “We must reject this propaganda maneuver of Yankee imperialism!” “Enough with the manipulation to conquer the fragile minds of our people, poor victims of industrial culture!” “Let’s boycott the music, clothes and porno photos of these agents of imperialism!” And so we could continue with variations on the same manifestations of indignation.

However, when this happens in the Cuba controlled by the monarchical Castro dictatorship, everything is all parties and laughter. Who gives a crap if the repression against political dissidents continues? Who cares if the regime’s propaganda machinery continues to vomit its hollow slogans while it limits freedom of expression? Who worries about the refugees escaping the island for the United States (via Costa Rica, for example), before Obama, or whoever succeeds him, eliminates the privilege of the Cuban Adjustment Act? Who denounces the military nomenklatura that controls the state enterprises, collecting bribes and preparing the terrain for an economic opening in the style of savage capitalism?

The hypocrisy of the leftist pimps has annulled their critical capacity. They is not capable of digesting that in their breast there is too much corruption (so says Lula); that with the excuse of the liberation of the people they proclaim a discourse of anti-Semitic hatred (as some in the British Labour Party say); with the alibi of the struggle against injustice and inequality they mount a new class of privileged cynics (so say the “bolichicos”—the young and politically connected Venezuelan entrepreneurs—of Chavism).

Carlos Rangel, a Venezuelan writer prematurely disappeared and despised by this left, in the seventies drew the portrait of that intellectual misery that idealizes the myth of the “good revolutionary.” Myths are not only symbolic resources. They are instruments to legitimize interests and businesses, like those now being cooked up in Cuba-Disneyland.
__________

Isaac Nahon Serfaty is professor at the University of Ottawa (Canada). 

Cuba: A Revolution With Promises to Keep

By Barbara E. Joe in The Huffington Post:

A Revolution With Promises to Keep

“Fidel promised that the Revolution was for us, for campesinos, rural farmers like me,” sighed Sirley Avila, a slender 56-year-old former Cuban community activist, who has lived under Castro leadership her whole life. “Then, look,” she said, “this is what happened.” From her wheelchair, she extended the stump of her left arm, where her wrist and hand had been amputated. Lifting her trouser-legs, she revealed scars on her knees. Then, defiantly, she raised her remaining hand in the Cuban dissident “L” sign for Libertad, Liberty.

I met Avila on April 2 at Miami’s convention center, where I was participating in Amnesty International (AI) USA’s annual conference. She was accompanied by John Suarez of the Cuban Democratic Directorate. Avila had come to Miami for rehabilitation arranged by the Directorate. My own past professional experience with rehab services has made me hopeful that she can regain the ability to walk and also learn to use a left-hand prosthesis.

Back in June 2015, at a book talk at a New York City public library, an audience member had asked me about Sirley Avila, the first time I’d ever heard her name. She had been attacked on May 24. I’d tried to find out more, but reliable information from Cuba is not easy to obtain. Now, less than one year later, here she was, sitting with me and Gabriele Stein, a fellow human rights volunteer from Germany, telling us her story in Spanish, which I translated for Gabriele.

Avila told us she lives alone on a little farm with fruit trees located outside Las Tunas, a small city in central-eastern Cuba. From 2005 to 2013, she was elected three times by her community as an unpaid delegate to Poder Popular, an official legislative body, half of whose members are elected locally. In 2010, the region’s rural school was closed because it had only a few pupils. Avila protested that meant children had to walk too far, up to 12 km., but the school remained closed, although she was still reelected to her position. After continually being thwarted on the school issue, two years after its closing, on Sept. 8, 2012, Avila took a fateful step, speaking openly about her frustrations on Radio Martí. She was immediately labeled a mercenary, but no charges were brought against her and the community continued its support. She then joined UNPACU, Unión Patriótica de Cuba, an opposition group, and participated in hunger strikes in solidarity with two political prisoners, Luis Enrique Lozada and Angel Yunier, hunger strikes each lasting more than three weeks.

In December 2013, after a few days’ absence to tend to her elderly mother with Parkinson’s, Avila returned home to find her dogs and other animals all dead, apparently poisoned. The interior of her home had also been vandalized, with her bed set on fire and the cords cut to her refrigerator and television set with their motors short-circuited and burned out. (In Cuba, appliances are very expensive and hard to replace.) Then, she found her well had been poisoned after hundreds of pounds of yucca had been dumped inside and had decomposed. It took her a full two months with the help of sympathetic neighbors to remove it and restore the water quality. All that proved an ominous warning; the worst was yet to come.

Avila had dared to report the damage to her home and property to the police, accusing state security of being behind the attacks against her. Meanwhile, her neighbors remained steadfastly loyal, asking her to continue to represent them, but, instead, her district was eliminated and apportioned among other districts. In February 2014, when the long-closed school was finally reopened, community members clamored to have her reinstated and the law allowed for a protest by 25% of voters. She went to Havana and met with activist Elizardo Sánchez’s brother, Gerardo, to discuss this possibility.

One evening, after Avila had returned home, a young woman friend, Yunisledy López, called to warn her about plans to kill her, but, soon after, López herself was found murdered.

On May 24, 2015, a couple Avila had hired to help her out on the farm, Osmany Carrión and Mariela Hidalgo, suddenly turned on her and viciously assaulted her. Wielding a machete, Carrión slashed her shoulder, collarbone, and knees and, as she raised her arm to shield her head from his blows, he sliced off her left wrist and hand. His wife then threw the severed hand into the pigsty, contaminating it so it could not be reattached. After that, a judicial hearing was held on the attack, but Avila was not allowed to attend or to submit testimony. She doesn’t know what, if anything, happened to Carrión, but she was told that in court, he had accused her of trying to recruit him for dissidence. In September, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights supported Avila’s complaint that she was in a “serious and urgent situation.”

Surely if the Cuban government did not condone or facilitate the attacks on Avila, it had a duty to protect her — the universal duty of any government toward citizens acting non-violently and within the law. Yet, it is no secret that brutal actos de repudio, acts of repudiation, are officially encouraged. Some Cubans seem to genuinely relish such invitations to beat up fellow citizens, while others claim only to be reluctantly following orders. At the 2011 party congress (another has just concluded), President Raúl Castro issued a call for the expression of righteous wrath against traitors and mercenaries: “It is necessary to make clear that we will never deny our people the right to defend their Revolution. The defense of the independence, of the conquests of socialism, and of our streets and plazas will still be the first duty of every Cuban patriot.”

Avila arranged her own trip to Miami, tricking authorities who had blocked her efforts by getting two round-trip flights for herself and her son from Las Tunas to Havana, but having her son return home alone while she boarded a flight to Miami instead. She had already obtained a U.S. visa. She plans to stay in Miami for three months undergoing treatment, fully intending to return home again to her farm, her aging mother, and her two sons, also to rejoin Cuba’s peaceful struggle for free expression and association. “We Cubans deserve personal liberty, just like all other human beings,” she says. “Yes, I’m still afraid, but unless we are willing to put heart and body on the line, nothing will change for us or for our children. My problem has been that I still enjoyed community support despite all the government’s efforts against me and they just couldn’t tolerate that.”