Former Cuban Prisoner: Human-Rights Violations Intensify

Friday, June 3, 2016
By Armando Valladares in Time:

Former Cuban Prisoner: Human-Rights Violations Remain

Many of the Damas de Blanco—Cuba’s infamous wives, mothers and daughters of jailed political dissidents—were recently detained on their way to Sunday Mass with their families. But you likely didn’t read about these arrests in the American news media. You were much more likely to have read about the first Carnival cruise ship to sail from the U.S. to Cuba. Coverage of the “historic voyage” featured photos of Carnival executives clinking champagne and waiving miniature American and Cuban flags and images of happy Cubans lining the shores of Havana alongside gleaming antique cars. Never mind that Cuba initially refused passage to Cuban-born Americans.

Despite direct flights to Havana and even a historic presidential visit in April, human-rights violations in Cuba remain serious. Just weeks before Carnival’s maiden voyage to Cuba, hundreds of government workers in eastern Cuba surrounded and demolished the Strong Winds Ministry Church of Las Tunas and threatened to throw its pastor, Reverend Mario Jorge Travieso, in jail for seven years if he said a word about it. The church’s crime? Failure to register with the government. Strong Winds was the fourth church to be destroyed by the government in 2016.

The Cuban government is especially good at violating the human rights of its people, and then labeling the victims as the criminals. I spent 22 years in Catro’s gulags for the simple crime of refusing to place a sign on my desk that read: “I’m with Fidel.” I lost 22 years of my life, and countless friends and family, for that sin against the regime. I spent eight of those years naked, when I refused to wear the prison uniform of a criminal. Of his treatment at the hands of the Cuban authorities, after they had destroyed his church and the house of worship for many more, Rev. Travieso said he was made to feel “like a common delinquent.”

Despite backslaps between Raul Castro and President Barack Obama and vacationers packing their bags for Cuban beaches, my jailers are still in their back-alley business of rounding up everyday citizens, violating their most basic human rights, and then slapping them with the label “criminal.” Last year, the number of documented political arrests was almost as high in just one month as it was in the entire year of 2010. Hostility to religion is especially enflamed, with one human rights group counting 2,000 churches marked as “illegal” by the government last year, 100 of them slated for the same fate as that of Rev. Travieso’s. That group found a nearly 1,000% increase in overall religious liberty violations from 2014 to 2015.

Just ask Alan Gross, the American who was captured working covertly in Cuba to help the small Jewish community gain access to better Internet services. He returned to the U.S. after five years, missing teeth, weighing 100 pounds less, hardly able to walk due to the pain from chronic abuse, and barely able to see from one eye. That is Cuban price tag for working peacefully for religious liberty.

The Castro regime has long loathed religion, because God is their biggest competition when it comes to rights. How can rights come from Fidel, and now Raul, when there is someone much bigger and greater than they? And how can they seize those rights on a totalitarian whim, when they were never the bestower of rights in the first place? Any dictator knows it’s hard work to compete with God. So the solution is to crush God from civil society.

As Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Justice Samuel Alito recently wrote in a joint opinion uniting the two poles of the Court in a major religious liberty ruling: “religious institutions act as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the state.”

And so it follows that an all-powerful state would be hard at work destroying those buffers, one church foundation at a time. And when the buffer can’t be destroyed, focus on the individual, one Dama at a time.

And so if Carnival would like to take its passengers to see “the real Cuba,” as it advertises, they might stopover in Las Tunas and visit the rubble of what was once Rev. Travieso’s church. That should provide some authentic flavor to the trip.

Armando Valladares is the author of Against All Hope, about the 22 years he spent as a prisoner in Castro's gulags.

U.S. Subpoenas Huawei Over Dealings With Cuba, Syria, Iran, North Korea

From The New York Times:

U.S. Subpoenas Huawei Over Its Dealings in Iran and North Korea

Huawei Technologies has become China’s most successful international technology company, in part by tapping markets as varied as Britain, India and Kenya.

But it also moved into markets like Syria, where American officials have imposed limits on sales of technology that could be used to commit human rights abuses, and into Iran, where sanctions have only recently been eased. And its presence in such countries is now coming under greater scrutiny.

The United States Commerce Department is demanding that the company, based in the south China city of Shenzhen, turn over all information regarding the export or re-export of American technology to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, according to a subpoena sent to Huawei and viewed by The New York Times. The subpoena is part of an investigation into whether Huawei broke United States export controls.

Sent to Huawei’s American headquarters in the Dallas suburb of Plano, the subpoena called for Huawei to turn over information related to shipments to those countries over the past five years. It also sought evidence of shipments to the countries indirectly through front or shell companies. The subpoena directed company officials to testify last month in Irving, Tex., or to provide information before then; it was not clear whether the meeting took place.

Obama's Cuba Policy Raises Further Security Concerns

From The Washington Free Beacon:

Obama Administration Hosts Cuban Border Guard Visits

Trips to Coast Guard facilities raise security concerns

The Obama administration is hosting visits to U.S. Coast Guard facilities by Cuban Border Guard officials as part of its policy of seeking closer ties with the communist government in Havana.

The visits are raising concerns among officials and security analysts that closer ties with Cuba will benefit aggressive Cuban intelligence operations in the United States that have been underway for decades.

A delegation of Cuban officials arrives this week for visits to Coast Guard bases in Florida and Alabama following an earlier visit two months ago.

The Department of Homeland Security, which arranged the visits, refused to provide details of the Cuban delegation. But a spokeswoman said they are part of an exchange program.

“These visits represent professional exchanges between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Cuban Border Guard to discuss issues of mutual interest such as at-sea rescue operations,” DHS spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told the Washington Free Beacon, without elaborating.

Cuban officials on March 18 visited three Coast Guard port facilities in the south, including one near Mobile, Alabama. The group also toured an oil refinery in Alabama, according to a Coast Guard spokeswoman.

A State Department official said the Cuban Border Guard tours of Coast Guard bases are an outgrowth of the president’s pro-Havana tilt. “‎The administration’s new policy of engagement has enabled U.S. agencies to discuss and coordinate on topics of mutual interest as we work to normalize relations.”

The official referred further questions to the Cuban government. A Cuban Embassy official did not respond to email requests for comment.

President Obama traveled to Cuba in March as part of what the White House has called his rejection of “the failed, Cold War-era policy” of isolating the communist regime in Havana.

Alexandria Preston, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, said the March visit was arranged by Coast Guard headquarters as part of the International Port Security program.

The Cubans were given public information briefings and presentations about Coast Guard operations in Mobile followed by a question and answer session on the Maritime Transportation Security Act, she said. At the refinery, the Cubans were given a briefing and tour by the refinery’s security officer.

Cuba’s Border Guard troops are part of the Cuban Interior Ministry that directs the Intelligence Directorate, the political police, and an intelligence service modeled after the Soviet-era KGB intelligence service. The Border Guard in the past has been involved in liaisons with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Cuba’s intelligence services also cooperate with Russian intelligence services.

International drug traffickers are known to use Cuban waters and airspace to evade U.S. drug interdiction efforts.

The visits have raised concerns among security officials about Cuba’s role in conducting aggressive intelligence activities in the United States.

“Cuba—with historic, deeply held KGB connections—continues to command an enormous intelligence capacity and network to spy on America,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

“Hosting Cuban government officials and delivering them to ‘tour’ American national security facilities—as well as critical infrastructure sites in the United States—proves that this administration naively believes that Cuba has changed,” Pompeo said. “It has not. And its espionage against the United States continues.”

Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, made no mention of the Border Guard-Coast Guard program during a Wednesday meeting with reporters at the Pentagon.

Tidd said a Cuban military medical team toured the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort during a port visit to Haiti in September. In January, Southcom co-hosted a Caribbean Nations Security Conference with 18 nations represented, including Cuba for the first time.

“The island of Cuba sits directly astride principal north-south trading routes. Those trading routes also happen to be smuggling routes and Cuba has concerns about illicit trafficking,” Tidd said.

Engagement with Cuba will take time and the pace likely will be driven by the Cuban regime “because they’re not prepared for that degree of openness, frankly, and I think it will take [time] to get to that point.”
An FBI report two years ago warned that Cuban intelligence agents are targeting American academics for recruitment as spies.

“The Cuban intelligence services (CuIS) are known to actively target the U.S. academic world for the purposes of recruiting agents, in order to both obtain useful information and conduct influence activities,” the Sept. 2, 2014 report says.

Cuban intelligence seeks out academics as agents because the Havana government lacks the funds to provide cash to recruits. “Therefore, the CuIS have perfected the work of placing agents that includes aggressively targeting U.S. universities under the assumption that a percentage of students will eventually move on to positions within the [U.S. government] that can provide access to information of use to the CuIS,” the report said.

A key objective is “influencing American and Cuban-American academics, to recruiting them if possible, and to converting them into Cuban intelligence agents,” the FBI said, adding that students also face recruitment.

“Unfortunately, part of what makes academic environments ideal for enhancing and sharing knowledge also can assist the efforts of foreign intelligence services to accomplish their objectives,” the FBI said. “This situation is unlikely to change, but awareness of the methods used to target academia can greatly assist in neutralizing the efforts of these foreign intelligence services.”

Fred Burton, a Stratfor analyst, stated in a recent report that CIA and FBI agents will be closely monitoring Cuban intelligence activities following the resumption of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties.

“U.S. intelligence agencies are well aware of the Cuban threat,” Burton stated, adding that “the threat is real... and in a world full of hidden threats, there is no such thing as a friendly intelligence service.”

U.S. intelligence agencies also were fooled for years by a long-term Cuban spy in the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Montes, who supplied U.S. intelligence secrets to Cuba, including the identities of four American spies. Montes, who spied for Cuba from 1984 until her arrest in 2001, also was blamed for disclosing to Cuba the location of a clandestine U.S. Army base in El Salvador. The disclosure led to the 1987 death of Army Green Beret Sgt. Gregory Fronius, who was killed in El Salvador during an attack by pro-Cuban insurgents.

Cuba also has close ties to North Korea, as disclosed by the seizure in July 2013 of a North Korean ship found to be illegally carrying Cuban military jets and missile guidance components. North Korea was hit with Treasury Department sanctions but Cuba was not sanctioned as part of the Obama administration’s policy of seeking closer ties.

Disclosure of the Cuban visits to the United States comes as a leading Cuban dissident, José Daniel Ferrer García, said political repression on the island located 90 miles from Florida is increasing as opposition to the regime is growing.

“We make advances, then the regime represses us and we have to take steps back,” Ferrer told reporters in Washington this week.

“But the best thing we see is the change in the mentality of the people,” he added.

Ferrer said he expects “periods of more repression” and that dissidents could take to the streets in pro-democracy protests like those in Poland in the 1980s.

Ferrer cautioned American businesses to be wary of setting up subsidiaries in Cuba.

“The Castros never negotiate for a win-win,” he said. “They have a sick need to win and for the rest to lose.”

Cuba's Depraved Blood-Trafficking Business

Thursday, June 2, 2016
From Cuba Archive:

Cuba's Export Blood Business: An Unprecedented Case of State-Trafficking

Part I: Export Sales, Blood Collection, and Rights of Donors.

For decades, the Cuban state has run a multi-million dollar business with blood, collected from unknowing and non-remunerated citizens.

As early as the mid-1960s Cuba was reportedly selling blood to at least Vietnam and Canada. By 1995, blood exports of US$30.1 million were Cuba’s 5th export product after sugar, nickel, crustaceans, and cigars.

Cuba’s official statistics, published by the Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas (O.N.E.), do not report these exports, but global trade data indicates that in the 1995-2014 twenty-year period), Cuba exported $622.5 million —an annual average of $31 million— under SITC (Standard International Trade Classification) 3002 for human blood components (plasma, etc.) and plasma-derived medicinal products (PDMPs). The bulk of these exports has gone to authoritarian governments, politically allied with Cuba, presumably to state entities applying laxer standards, ethical and otherwise (Iran, Russia, Vietnam, Algeria until 2003, then to Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador).

Cuba reports that 95% of all collected units of human blood is fractionated into components, allowing for a much more lucrative trade than for plasma alone and for the production of highly valued PDMPs such as interferon, human albumin, inmunoglobulines, coagulation factors, toxins, vaccines, and other medicinal products. This export business has an important edge over competitors by saving the usual cost of paying donors for the raw material, their blood.

The business could be much larger than as reported under SITC 3002. In 2012, O.N.E. reported $808 million in exports of pharmaceutical/medicinal products, of which some —or many— might also be derived from human blood and not classified as such. Cuba’s unreliable statistics are standard fare and, in fact, Cuban officials have reported to the media that pharmaceutical and biotechnology exports are more than $2 billion.

Blood collection in Cuba: massive government deception and exploitation

Mass blood drives soliciting volunteer and altruistic donation began very soon after Fidel Castro’s rise to power in January 1959. But, a much more sinister approach was also put in place. In the 1960’s, the blood of political prisoners was drained right before their way to execution. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights denounced this in a scathing April 1967 report. Cuba Archive has documented at least eleven cases and obtained numerous anecdotal accounts of this island-wide practice lasting several years.

Cuba has long had a 100% donation rate. By 1998, Cuba was reporting that the ratio of voluntary altruistic blood donation had surpassed the PAHO/WHO goal of one per 20 inhabitants. In 2014, the last year of official statistics, it reported 407,989 voluntary non-remunerated blood donations, of which 392,244 (96%) were useful. Surprisingly, citizens are required to donate blood before any medical procedure, even minor ones, and there is often no blood when needed for emergencies or surgeries. PDMPs are also not readily available to the population, reserved for foreigners, the nomenclature, and the well-connected.

Cuba has an average monthly wage of less than US$20 and the monthly food rationing only covers ten days of the average citizen’s nutritional needs. Despite the widespread economic deprivation, donors are not remunerated. Given the country’s chronic food shortages, just the cheese sandwich and watered-down glass of juice given to donors is incentive enough for many to give of their blood.

Numerous, diverse, and concerted state efforts are devoted to collecting blood year-round. Media and mass communications in Cuba, all state-owned, effusively promote nationwide campaigns to fulfill quotas. Voluntary blood donations are portrayed as “a duty” to “save lives” of fellow citizens or victims of disasters in other countries. Family doctors and an extensive web of state-controlled mass organizations, health institutions, and the Red Cross, promote blood donation. The neighborhood “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution” (CDRs) —with around 8 million reported affiliates in the country of 11 million— are divided territorially with annual blood donation quotas. They reward “good revolutionaries” with diplomas and medals; in the past, TVs, refrigerators, and other scarce consumer goods were awarded. Blood is collected using different degrees of coercion at “work centers,” schools, among members of the police and Armed Forces, among young men serving the obligatory two-year military service (getting typically meager food rations), and at prisons, where many hungry donors are easily found.

Some people are tricked into becoming “permanent donors” under false science. They are told, with no apparent scientific basis, that unless they continue giving blood regularly, they will overproduce red blood cells (polycythemia vera) and put their health in peril. Select donors are recruited from a pool of people in very good health who are then sensitized to generate certain proteins in their blood to produce “hyperimmune” plasma, which is subsequently fractionated. These harvested and “permanent” donors reportedly receive just a slightly more generous monthly food ration.

The government goes to great lengths to conceal its blood export business, hypocritically cheering “the solidarity of the people.” State officials tell the population that “each donation saves three lives” and that their blood is used for surgeries, medical emergencies, and to treat diseases. Export sales are never mentioned. Even scientific publications join in the ruse with outlandish statements such as this: “Even in our contemporary unipolar and neoliberal world in which countries such as the United States defend remunerated donation, Cuba emerges as paradigm of altruistic donation...”

Rights of blood donors

“The Code of Ethics of Blood Donation and Transfusion” of the International Society of Blood Transfusion (ISBT), adopted by the World Health Organization, holds (among other things):

1. “Blood donation... shall, in all circumstances, be voluntary and non-remunerated; no coercion should be brought to bear upon the donor.”

2. “The donor should provide informed consent to the donation of blood or blood components and to the subsequent (legitimate) use of the blood by the transfusion service.”

3. “A profit motive should not be the basis for the establishment and running of a blood service.”

From an ethical and public health perspective, whether to pay blood donors or not —instead of solely relying on altruistic donations— is subject of continuing debate. In many developing countries blood donation is still paid —albeit poorly— and in many developed countries for-profit corporations producing PDMPs pay donors. In certain countries, in order to maintain blood supplies, some medical facilities ask family members to give voluntary donations. In the U.S., for example, although the Red Cross only collects voluntary blood donations, it is reimbursed by hospitals for the costs associated with providing the blood —recruitment and screening of potential donors, collection, processing, testing, labeling, storage, and distribution. What is clear, according to ethicists, is that informed consent is an indispensable requisite for donations and that the donor must receive information concerning the possible uses of his/her blood, the potential beneficiaries, and the procedures involved, including accurate and unambiguous information regarding the possibility of commercial use.

For a government to run an export business with the non-remunerated altruistic donations of its unknowing citizens is contrary to solidly established international practices and standards and, in fact, unheard of. According to Kenneth Goodman, Ph.D., director of the University of Miami’s Biothethics Program, “it’s depraved.”

Tweet of the Day: Cuba's Post-Obama Chill

Tweet by AP's Michael Weissenstein:

U.S.-Cuba Relations: It Can't Just Be a Business Deal

By Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and Jordan Allott in The Weekly Standard:

It Can't Just Be a Business Deal

What's next in U.S.-Cuba relations?

There has already been a vigorous debate about President Obama’s decision to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba. His recent visit to Havana inspired a wide range of feelings, with many Cubans and Cuban Americans still believing it to be a mistake.

But what's done is done. The real question now is what the U.S. government should be pressing for in its newly established dialogue with the government in Havana.

There is nothing inherent in the idea of U.S.-Cuba relations that implies Cubans' basic human rights will ever be recognized. After all, many other tyrannical governments have reasonably constructive relationships with Washington.

As Milton Friedman liked to note, economic freedom is a necessary condition for other freedoms, but it is not a sufficient condition. For example, think of the Chinese model. Economic reforms in that country have dramatically improved the lives of Chinese citizens, to be sure. But they remain unfree to voice political opinions, unfree to worship as they see fit, and subject to press and Internet censorship. And of course, they absolutely lack any say in who governs them or how.

The same could become true in a Cuba that only opens economically, without a corresponding blossoming of other human freedoms. It is not hard to imagine a Cuba where U.S. businesses merely take advantage of cheaper labor and a new consumer market. Perhaps, at best, a small group of handpicked Cubans would be able to take advantage of some of the economic freedoms—but even then only as long as they don't step out of line.

This is the Cuba that Raúl Castro seems to think he can preserve. So far, neither the Obama administration nor the international community has offered evidence to prove him wrong.

Just look at the joint press conference that Castro held with President Obama. One defining moment came when Castro reacted testily to being asked unscripted questions by a reporter—something he normally does not have to tolerate. Castro also made clear in that same press event that he does not believe Cuba even has a human rights problem. He offered the usual false denial that Cuba holds political prisoners, a line his brother Fidel used for decades. Just about every international human rights organization in the world has evidence to prove otherwise.

I (Dr. Biscet) spent the better part of the last 20 years in prison for believing in, and publicly advocating, such basic rights as the freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom to assemble, and many other fundamental rights detailed in the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights—a declaration, by the way, that Cuba has signed but is rarely pressed by the international community to live up to. When I was allowed into the general population at the maximum security prisons where I was housed, and out of solitary confinement and the physical and psychological torture that accompanied it, it was evident to me and to all the prisoners that I was just one of thousands wasting away in Cuban prisons for nonviolent political reasons.

Raúl Castro implied that there was little difference between Cuba's brutal, oppressive policies and America's supposedly inferior retirement and public health system. The absurdity of this comparison does not depend on whether that inferiority is real—Americans have a system they chose for themselves, and they can change it if there is sufficient public support. Cubans, by contrast, have no say in how their system works. That's the only comparison that matters.

President Obama and the world cannot be satisfied with a Cuba that merely opens its markets and goes no further. Moreover, the acceptance of such a Cuba would backfire. For decades, the Castro regime has blamed the poverty and other problems that it created for Cuba on exploitation by wealthy international (and specifically American) interests. For American businesses to behave in a purely self-interested manner, seeking only to exploit a new market without a corresponding opening of human freedom, would suggest that the Cuban regime was right on this point all along.

The United States should not tolerate such a halfhearted policy. It is not enough to demand economic changes while putting human rights and the rule of law on the back burner. Communist Cuba, after all, has been doing business with the rest of the world since 1959. Even American companies have sold billions of dollars in goods to Cuba for more than 20 years. If the new opening simply seeks to fulfill the demands of American industry, it will only replenish the regime's source of money, now that its support from Venezuela's oil industry has collapsed.

This would be a tragically wasted opportunity. Now is precisely the moment for Obama to demand from Castro concessions that the Cuban people really need: human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

Oscar Elias Biscet, a physician and president of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2007) and the Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt Medal for human rights. Dr. Biscet lives in Havana. Jordan Allott is a filmmaker who produced Oscar's Cuba, a 2010 documentary about the life and work of Dr. Biscet.

Justice Should Not Evade Cuba's Military Dictatorship

As in the case below, justice should not evade Castro's military dictatorship for the torture and killing of thousands of innocent Cubans.

From The Atlantic:

More Prison Time for Argentina’s Last Dictator

Reynaldo Bignone is already serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.

The last military dictator of Argentina was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday for his involvement in a covert campaign that hunted down his political opponents.

Reynaldo Bignone, who served as the country’s president from 1982 to 1983, was implicated for his involvement in Operation Condor, a covert program between six South American dictators and their secret police.

Bignone, who is 88 years old, is already serving a life sentence for other human-rights violations he committed after the 1976 coup while he was a general, including his involvement in the torture and killing of 56 people.

WaPo Editorial: On U.S.-Cuba Military Cooperation, Proceed With Caution

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

On U.S.-Cuba military cooperation, proceed with caution

Idael Fumero Valdés is not someone you’d expect to see as an honored guest of the U.S. military. As chief of investigations for Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police, a part of the military-controlled Ministry of the Interior, he plays a key law enforcement role in a state where beating and arresting human rights activists is considered law enforcement. Yet there he was at a U.S. naval air base in Key West, Fla., on April 21, touring the facilities at the invitation of the U.S. military command for Latin America.

Accompanying Mr. Valdés were senior officials of the Cuban anti-drug agency and border guards, plus a diplomat. Separately, U.S. officials have attended a security conference outside the United States with a Cuban delegation headed by Gustavo Machín Gómez, who was expelled from a previous diplomatic post in the United States 14 years ago due to his involvement with a highly damaging Cuban espionage operation against the Defense Intelligence Agency. Apparently the White House has decided to let that bygone be a bygone.

Welcome to the brave new world of military-to-military contact with Cuba, the Obama administration’s latest idea for engagement with that island nation. Direct communications between the two countries’ security forces have been going on for years, of course — in limited, operational contexts such as avoiding clashes around the Guantanamo Bay naval base and repatriating Cuban rafters plucked from the sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. That’s necessary and appropriate.

As the Key West visit suggests, however, the administration has a wider agenda in mind. For the first time, the United States accepted Cuban participation, alongside military officers from democracies, in this year’s Caribbean Nations Security Conference in Kingston, Jamaica. The deputy secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, visited Havana earlier this month to discuss law enforcement cooperation. At a conference on the benefits of expanded contacts Thursday sponsored by the American Security Project think tank, a retired Army colonel suggested that the United States could seek information from Cuban military intelligence about North Korea and other countries.

Latin American military and police crave the legitimacy that comes from ties with their U.S. counterparts. A great bipartisan achievement in U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America over the past three decades has been to condition military cooperation and assistance increasingly on respect for the rule of law and human rights — rather than turn a blind eye to military abuses in the name of either anti-communism or the war on drugs, as U.S. officials so often did in previous years.

Today, in a hemisphere where military dictatorship was once widespread, no generals rule. The exception is Cuba, where Gen. Raúl Castro’s word is law. Normalizing military-to-military ties between the United States and Cuba, for the sake of fighting drugs or other “common threats,” would imply that civilian rule doesn’t matter so much to us anymore — that Cuba’s military is morally equivalent to its hemispheric counterparts — when, in fact, it is deeply complicit in political repression and corruption.

Legislation pending in Congress would block full military-to-military normalization until Cuba democratizes. At a time when Cuba’s beleaguered civilian democracy activists need unequivocal U.S. moral support, the administration and outside supporters of its Cuba policy should not be eager for potentially compromising relationships with the Cuban people’s uniformed oppressors.

Missouri Governor Literally Subsidizes Cuban Dictator

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is the latest state official that has traveled to Cuba for a tropical boondoggle.

The big "news" from his trip is that "Cuba has accepted a 20-ton shipment of long-grain rice grown and processed in Missouri."

You'd think this means the Castro regime purchased 20-tons of Missouri rice -- and that's the media spin they'd like you to believe.

But as Governor Nixon's office clarified, "the 20-ton shipment of Missouri rice arrived at the deep-water Port of Mariel last week and was sent to the people of Cuba by Martin Rice at no cost."

In other words, 20-tons of free rice was handed to the Castro regime at the Cuban military's Port of Mariel.

Apparently, Governor Nixon is channeling his inner Khrushchev and Chavez by now subsiding Castro's dictatorship as well.

He even added the typical propaganda line that it was "sent to the Cuban people."

You know -- the whole handing food subsidies to dictators "for the people" scheme -- à la Mengitsu, Saddam Hussein and Mugabe.

Just another example of how the Obama Administration's new policy is literally subsiding Castro's dictatorship.

Cuban Soldiers in Business: A Bad Deal

By Luis Cino Alvarez in Cubanet (via Translating Cuba):

Soldiers in Business: Bad Deal

The survival of the Castro regime increasingly appears to be in the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). And not only because of the generals who run some of the most important ministries but also because of the general-businessmen of the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA).

GAESA, whose managing director is Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, father of one of Raul Castro’s grandsons, invoices more than a billion dollars a year. It has sugar plants, the TRDs (Hard Currency Collection Stores), Caribe and Gaviota, which impose abusive taxes on commodity prices, the Almacenes Universales SA, farms, mills, telecommunications and computer industry, trade zones, etc. And if that were not enough, having most of the hotel and marina capacity, it governs tourism, one of the country’s main sources of foreign income.

Some things borrowed from capitalism have functioned successfully in FAR’s enterprises.

At the beginning of 1985, after the shipwreck of the Economic Planning and Management System copied from the Soviet model, FAR implemented the Business Improvement System on a trial basis in the company “Ernesto Guevara,” in Manicaragua, Villa Clara, the largest facility of the Military Industries Union.

The experiment was supervised by General Casas Regueiro, who kept General Raul Castro, then FAR Minister, regularly informed about the matter.

Two years later, the experiment was extended to the military industries throughout the country.

The Business Improvement System (SPE), which Raul Castro called “the most profound and transcendent change to the economy,” copied capitalist forms of organization and administration: corporations, joint stock companies, management contracts and partnerships with foreign companies.

SPE permitted the Cuban army to ride out the worst years of the Special Period. If it was not introduced on a national level it was for fear of its consequences, which would have been worse than those of shock therapy.

In 1994, Fidel Castro, pressured by the deteriorating situation, agreed that a group of businesses from the Basic Industry Ministry would enter the SPE on an experimental basis. Later 100 more businesses were incorporated.

In 1997, the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party adopted the SPE as an economic strategy. After Raul’s succession, the extension of business improvement to the entire Cuban economy was conceived as a long-term strategy for preserving the status quo.

At the end of the last decade, when more than 400 businesses that implemented SPE were the most efficient in the country in terms of costs and results, it seemed that the Cuban economy was beginning to move to general application of that system. But it was a too-artificial model to extrapolate it to the rest of the national economy. To begin with, the unaffordable and disastrous enterprise system in Cuban pesos was not compatible with business improvement in dollars.

With SPE, the military men played the economy to advantage. Their businesses bore fruit in a greenhouse environment. They did not have to face labor or capital competition, they had unlimited access to state resources and benefitted from disciplined labor accustomed to obeying orders. Production factors, prices and marketing were at their disposal. Investments were provided by foreign businessmen prepared for unscrupulous deals in exchange for a minimum participation in the businesses.

Although they have had relatively modest success, there is not much to learn from the FAR businesses. And that is because a nation is not governed as if it were an armored division.* War is one thing, and managing a country’s economy efficiently is something else, although both things use bellicose language interchangeably.

FAR, dragging its old slogans and obsolete Soviet weapons, also reflects the system’s wear and tear and the distortions of current Cuban society.

Military men crammed into businesses can become problematic in the not-too-long term. Distanced from the interests of the people, they contribute to the system’s continuity. But they will always be stalked by temptation. Contact with foreign capitalists foments greed and corruption. This has been happening for some years.

When they feel their privileges and properties granted by the proprietary state threatened, their loyalty to the bosses or their successors will be put to the test. We will see what will happen then.

*Translator’s note: An allusion to Cuba’s hero of independence José Martí’s words to General Maximo Gomez during the independence struggle: “A nation is not founded, General, as a military camp is commanded.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel.

Must-Read: Obama's Human Rights Betrayal in Cuba

Sunday, May 29, 2016
By Aaron Rhodes in The Huffington Post:

Obama’s Human Rights Betrayal

As a human rights activist, I cringed at President Obama’s response when Raul Castro attacked America’s human rights record. It is not that the United States is free from human rights violations. In fact, under the current administration, the government has infringed on press freedoms, and has used the federal bureaucracy to intimidate and persecute civil society groups seen as political opponents. Police violence is widespread.

But Castro wasn’t speaking about those problems. Castro claimed that while Cuba was in compliance with international human rights standards, the United States violated human rights with respect to welfare policies. President Obama replied, “President Castro, I think, has pointed out that in his view making sure that everybody is getting a decent education or health care, has basic security and old age, that those things are human rights as well. I personally would not disagree with him.”

Ever since economic and social rights were implanted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, American diplomats have insisted on a distinction between human rights to basic freedoms, as opposed to rights to government services. In doing so they have sought to defend the sacrosanct character of natural rights — moral rights that are prior to any national law — as opposed to welfare rights, which reflect the politics of different societies and eras, and are protected by positive law.

Obama missed an opportunity to explain and defend that idea of human rights, which animated America’s founders, and which they bequeathed to Americans and to people all over the world in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. Instead, Obama “personally” embraced an interpretation of human rights at variance with the philosophy of the U.S. Constitution. What is more, Cuba has arguably done more than any other nation to subvert respect for authentic human rights in the United Nations. With his response, Obama indirectly but clearly endorsed that program. If his words indeed reflect the U.S. approach to human rights, it is bad news for those who defend human rights as natural rights to basic freedoms, and who look to America for support and as an example of the success of freedom.

Cuba has consistently defended the world’s worst human rights abusers, like North Korea, from criticism in international forums, claiming that such criticism is “political” and “biased.” In fact, Cuba is the most vocal member of the United Nations seeking to blunt the UN’s already blunt instruments for investigating grave human rights violations and putting pressure on governments to reform, favoring anodyne, “thematic” issues instead. Cuba has been a leader in proposing bogus human rights mandates in the UN Human Rights Council, like the “Independent Expert” on the “Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order,” which is nothing but a platform for ideological attacks on free societies and free enterprise — in the name of “human rights.”

Thanks in large part to Cuba, the international human rights system has become hopelessly clogged up with such institutions. The language of human rights has become thoroughly polluted with left-wing, politicized rhetoric used to justify restrictions on freedom and to attack other states, while drawing attention away from actual human rights problems. What is more, human rights treaties are being drafted on such issues as “business and human rights,” a topic seen as a top priority by leading UN human rights bureaucrats, and on the human rights of the elderly and peasants. Individual rights have been marginalized, while collective rights reflect an international identity politics.

The idea of human rights has become so expansive and that there is no longer any rational basis for determining what is and what is not a human right. But to preserve their meaning and what enforcement is possible, human rights need to remain clearly defined and apart from politics. What legislatures decide about taxation in order to protect the vulnerable and needy is a matter of politics. Protecting that process itself, and other basic political freedoms, is the challenge of human rights.

A few years ago, at a UN briefing in Geneva, Cuban diplomats bragged about their “free” health care and education systems as proof that their government respected human rights. A Cuban dissident responded, “Our health care system and our education system are not without costs. We have paid for them with our freedom.” Obama’s betrayal of the idea of natural rights was also a betrayal of Cuban human rights campaigners, and indeed people around the world living under dictators who exploit the conflation of human rights and welfare rights in order to defend oppression.

Aaron Rhodes is president of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe and a founder of the Freedom Rights Project. He was executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights between 1993-2007.

Dr. Biscet: Obama's Embrace of Castro Weakens Cause of Freedom

Excerpt from an interview with Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Cuban democracy leader, former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, in Diario las Americas:

"I wasn't surprised by Barack Obama's decision, as he had been in favor of establishing relations with the Castro regime as a U.S. Senator. To do so though, the Administration had to violate the Helms-Burton law, which required that the Castro regime take steps towards democracy.

The United States, until the establishment of relations was announced, had greatly supported the cause of freedom in Cuba. It was a friend of our cause. Since the beginning of this dialogue with the Castro regime, some have felt abandoned. In my case, I have always believed in creating a united internal opposition force, independent of the solidarity of any foreign government. We think that anyone who believes in fundamental freedoms should support our cause, but it's not an obligation.

That Obama is now acting in concert with the Castros weakens the democratic spirit of the U.S. before the world and in the eyes of the Cuban people, for there is an intellectual awakening taking place in Cuba that goes well beyond economic necessities.

Obama’s embrace of Cuba's tyrant is seen by many as the U.S.'s abandonment of people seeking freedom."

Cuban Police Raid Dissident Headquarters, Target Leaders

From PanAm Post:

Cuban Police Raid Opposition Activists for Fourth Time in 2016

Authorities Seize Hardware and Documents Without Warrant

The Cuban police raided the national headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), a civil dissidence group in opposition to Raúl Castro’s administration.

Without giving explanation, security confiscated three computers, two cell phones, a hard drive, passports and other hardware and records.

Arcelio Molina, an activist and owner of the property, told the newspaper Martí Noticias that police also seized the luggage of the youth leader Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, who traveled from Santiago de Cuba to Havana to take a flight to Argentina.

According to Molina, Oliva can’t travel, and has since been arrested.

This is the fourth time this year that state security has raided and confiscated Unpacu’s equipment.

Molina added that what has transpired is a classic “trampling” of citizens’ rights in the country, “where there are no laws or respect for the constitution on the part of the authorities.”

This is not the only repressive measure implemented by the Cuban regime in recent years. On Tuesday, May 24, activist and leader of the Ladies in White group, Berta Soler found out she will be going on trial for "resisting arrest."

Soler could go to prison between three months and five years. She has been prohibited from leaving the country until the trial is held, and said she is “prepared to go to prison.”

Soler said there are videos showing she is innocent, which is why she is not afraid to go to jail. She went so far as to say that she hopes they “have a room reserved for her.”