Recent Crimes of Cuba's Castro Regime: Sirley's Story

Friday, July 22, 2016
Please watch this video testimony produced by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation of Sirley Ávila León, former Cuban National Assembly delegate-turned-dissident, who had her limb severed in a machete attack as a result.

Click below (or here) to watch the video:

Also, below is Sirley's recent Congressional testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations:

My name is Sirley Ávila León. I am Cuban and I live in Cuba. Because of my work as a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power for the Majibacoa municipality since 2005, I have seen the double standards of our leaders, who in reality are not interested in the people. The biggest problems were bureaucratic: there was so much corruption that the system did not work. From the beginning, I started to take interest in the lives of the citizens and in particular the children of my region, who walked more than 9 kilometers through difficult roads in order to attend the nearest school. The parents, needing to accompany their children, had no time to cultivate their land, despite the abject poverty in which they lived. Some emigrated to other villages in order to spare their children. I set myself to the task of demanding the school that the neighborhood needed so much. I reached the highest echelons of power in Cuba, passing through all the intermediate levels, and although I managed to get a school built, it was soon closed, leaving the village and rural children in the same situation of helplessness.

Because of my work and my demands in favor of reopening the school, I began to be accused of being a leader, and the families of the farmers in my area began to receive threats that their school-aged children would be taken away from them. I was threatened and repeatedly repressed by government officials, and in Havana I was even expelled from the Council of State and threatened with being accused of threatening State Security. All this is what led me, on September 8, 2012, to denounce the regime’s human rights violations against the farmers and the people in general from the island itself, by means of the broadcaster Radio Martí. From that moment onwards, I was a victim of several attempts on my life, attempts to eliminate me physically, and other acts of vandalism against my farm, my animals and my property, all organized by the regime and its political police as part of its attempt to get rid of me. A young woman, Yudisleidy López Rodríguez, alerted me to the fact that the political police had offered highly dangerous common criminals rewards for murdering me. She was killed on September 26, 2014 for publicly decrying an attack on me in which my bed was set on fire during the early morning. Her murder was covered up as a crime of passion.

On May 24, 2015, I was attacked in my home by Osmani Carrión, who was sent by State Security to kill me. I am sure he was sent by the political police because I later discovered that he was a highly dangerous common prisoner who had been granted parole only days before attacking me. He attacked me with a machete, severing my left hand and mutilating my right arm and both knees. He did not cut off my head thanks to the presence of a child at the scene of the events and thanks to God who protected my life so that I could be here today and offer my testimony. In the days before the attack the regime had started a rumor that I had sold the farm and had left the area so that the neighbors would not be concerned about my physical disappearance.

Today before this Subcommittee of Foreign Affairs of the United States Congress, I want to ask two questions. Taking into account the US government’s new relations with the dictatorship of Cuba, I wonder:

Why has the situation of systematic human rights violations in Cuba not been a fundamental point in negotiations with a regime that has been in power for 57 years?

How is it possible that the US government has made so many concessions to the government of Cuba without demanding respect for human rights on the island and justice for the many attacks on the civil and political rights of the Cuban people? I am a direct witness of the workings of the legal system, in which citizens are not guaranteed any procedural safeguards.

I am very grateful that over the years other victims of repression in Cuba have had the chance to come forward in this very space in order to denounce and publicize the realities of life in Cuba. And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate here today. I ask only that the government of the United States, international human rights organizations, and the governments of the free world not abandon the people of Cuba in their struggle for freedom. Do not allow yourselves to be confused by the regime’s propaganda campaign presenting Cuba as a country in transition. Cuba remains a military dictatorship. In Cuba human rights continue to be violated. And the people of Cuba are now more alone than ever behind the curtain of foreign investors and North American tourists.

I ask you not to abandon Cuba and to denounce the harsh reality we live.

Thank you very much.

Cuban Democracy Leader Begins Hunger Strike to Protest His Torture

From Breitbart:

Cuba Post-‘Normalization’: Tortured Dissident Begins 24th Hunger Strike to Protest

Guillermo Fariñas, a Cuban human rights activist who has been a vocal critic of President Barack Obama’s concessions to dictator Raúl Castro, has declared himself on a hunger strike following a severe beating in which communist agents tortured him for hours for daring to inquire about the status of another dissident in custody.

Fariñas has posted a video online describing the injuries he suffered this week at the hands of Castro’s police. Fariñas and a group of dissidents had walked to a police station to inquire about a dissident recently arrested: Carlos Amel Oliva, currently himself on a hunger strike.

Fariñas notes that they did not assemble in protest; they made no public declarations against communism, held up no signs and brought no flyers to distribute urging dissent. He was nonetheless arrested and tortured, suffering two fractured ribs and speaking through a swollen, “black” tongue.

In the video, he describes the methods of torture: Attempted asphyxiation, elbow blows to the ribs, and having his tongue pulled out until it turned purple. The police, he said, told him “it was important for me to know… they didn’t want me on the street anymore.”

“He told me he was going to kill me and ‘viva Fidel,'” Fariñas adds, calling the torture “crimes against humanity.”

Fariñas will not eat or drink water, he declares, until “Raúl Castro says publicly to everyone that there will be no more torture, no more beatings, no more death threats, no more false charges against opposition and arbitrary confiscation.” He confirms to the cameraman that he is willing to die in protest.

Fariñas has also penned an open letter to Raúl Castro in which he asserts that a wave of “abuse, terror, and violence by the repressive authorities of your government” has escalated in the past 19 months, since President Obama announced his concessions to the Castro regime in December 2014.

Fariñas, who in 2010 won the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for human rights advocacy and the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in 2015, has been an outspoken critic of President Obama. Following the initial announcement of the beginning of the “normalization” process in 2014, Fariñas said he felt “betrayed” by President Obama. “We live in daily fear that we will be killed by the fascist government. And now, the US – our ally – turns its back on us and prefers to sit with our killers,” he said.

Repression Intensifies Against Cuban Dissident Youth Cells

From 14ymedio (via Translating Cuba):

“It Has Sparked Harsh Repression”

The harassment against the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) intensifies. Several activists of the opposition organization have denounced the up to five raids that took place in the early morning hours this Thursday.

Ovidio Martin Castellanos, a member of UNPACU’s Coordination Council in Santiago de Cuba, confirmed to 14ymedio that antiriot troops entered the home of Jose Maria Heredia, on 8th Street in the Mariano de la Torre neighborhood. “They mixed anti-riot troops with the political police. At the front was a Major from counterintelligence who calls himself Bruno. Once inside the house, they seized and stole his possessions.

Carlos Amel Oliva, on hunger strike since last July 13 “to protest the arbitrary confiscations” experienced similar interventions to those of last night, also explained in detail the raid on the house where the Heredia cell is organized and where the father of the youth leader Carlose Oliva lives.

The operation was led by three State Security officers known as Charles, Bruno and Julio Fonseca. The troops were assault troops, officers fully clothed in bullet-proof vests with long shotguns. They entered my house, tearing down the first door, and taking a video camera and some documents. They also went into the house of some neighbors who have shown a lot of solidarity with me in previous days and took a laptop and hard disk from them,” he said.

The operation was even extended to a kindergarten managed by UNPACU that serves 20 children, children of sympathizers of the movement. There they confiscated a laptop and “frightened the coordinator who cares for the children,” according to the activists, who were relieved that the raid occurred at dawn and that there were no children in the house.

“It has sparked a harsh repression,” says Ovidio Martin, who adds that at Yasmani Magaña’s house, in Palmarito de Cauto, various slogans were painted on the walls, including “Viva Fidel.” According to the opponent, eleven people were detained in this operation, driven approximately 10 miles away and beaten before being released far from town.

“This wave of repression comes because the regime knows the situation that is looming. They are preparing the population for a new Special Period, because people don’t want to live through that again. To us, we are determined to take to the streets and we have attracted their sympathy, and they have intensified harassment because they are afraid that people are joining and becoming activists,” he says.

Carlos Amel has taken advantage of the new wave of attacks against the organization he belongs to, to detail the reasons for his hunger strike. Despite being determined not to eat until they return his belongings, he clarifies the meaning of his words. “It is not [for] a laptop and a computer, they are things that are not worth the life of any human being, but because they arrest us when we go out. Or come into our homes and take whatever they want. This is a constant violation of our rights,” he denounces.

Oliva has shown his appreciation for the support he has received from his organization and other opposition groups such as Somos+ (We Are More) and FANTU (Anti-Totalitarian Forum), and in real solidarity with Guillermo ‘Coco’ Fariñas, on hunger strike as of this Wednesday.

“I am a little weak physically, but firm in my position,” says Oliva. “I have received many calls from abroad, from friends, from media… it is very comforting, for someone on a hunger strike this is the only source of strength.”

Oversight Needed on U.S.-Cuba Embassy Deal

Thursday, July 21, 2016
On the one-year anniversary of the resumption of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties, the Obama Administration should be pressed on whether Cuba is respecting Vienna Convention standards in its treatment of U.S. diplomats and the operation of the Embassy.

For example, does U.S. Embassy personnel currently have freedom of movement and travel in Cuba?

Is the Castro regime respecting the inviolability of U.S. diplomatic pouches to the Embassy in Havana?

Do all Cuban nationals working at the Embassy still have to be hired through SERVIMPORT, a Castro regime enterprise owned and operated by the Council of State?

We raised these key questions and other issues regarding the Embassy deal one-year ago -- click here.

The American people now deserve answers.

As discussed in today's The Miami Herald:

Resumption of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties hits one-year mark

After months of discussions on conditions to reopen the embassies, negotiators agreed that diplomats from both countries would have greater freedom to travel and engage with the people of each nation.

But Mauricio Claver-Carone, one of the founders of the pro-embargo U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and executive director of Cuba Democacy Advocates, said he has “yet to see U.S. embassy personnel visiting the provinces regularly, let alone to visit democracy activists.”

In contrast, he said, “Castro regime officials are traveling throughout the U.S., propagandizing, lobbying against U.S. policy and being given visas without hesitation.”

Since the resumption of diplomatic ties, Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas has traveled extensively across the United States, attending conferences and speaking to various groups. He often tweets about his experiences and new developments in the Cuba-U.S. relationship.

[U.S. Rep. Ileana] Ros-Lehtinen said she wishes U.S. embassy personnel would engage in more outreach: “U.S. pro-democracy advocates have complained that they have less access to the embassy and their visas are being denied, even though Castro sympathizers have their visas granted,” she said.

And some exile activists complain that the United States has done little in the past year to further an agenda that includes respect for human rights in Cuba.

“We have yet to see how the embassy has helped promote human rights on the island better, amid growing repression. To the contrary, the silence is deafening,” said Claver-Carone.

Dissidents React to Anniversary of U.S.-Cuba Ties

Various Cuban dissidents have reacted to the one-year anniversary of U.S.-Cuba ties.

Diario de Cuba has a compilation of their reactions.

Below are some excerpts.

Berta Soler, Leader of the Ladies in White:

One year after the Interests Section gave way to an Embassy, the change has been very great, not only in terms of the name, but how the Embassy of the United States is behaving.

Right now I can say that many human rights activists who had computer time there, to communicate with the outside, and be able to report on their work and the situation on the Island, have been affected.

Civil society's access to the computers is not facilitated in any way. I cannot say that attention by or contact with US officials has ceased to exist, but we have seen everything change.

The computers to which we had access are now being used for English courses for young people. We are not against this, but these are young people affiliated with the Communist Party. They are not representatives of civil society, and they are not opponents of the Government. They are persons hand-picked by the Cuban Government.

These relations between the US government and the Cuban regime have not benefited the people of Cuba at all. What we see is that the only thing President Barack Obama is interested in is business: doing business with the military because here it is the Revolutionary Armed Forces that run Gaviota, and the TRD.

These are businesses transactions that will not benefit the people of Cuba or bring about change. After Obama's visit, we have seen how police and State Security Department repression against people who want to exercise their freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration, has only gotten worse.

For example: the Ladies in White. We have been harassed for 62 Sundays in a row. And the US government has not spoken up to demand that the Cuban regime cease its actions.

Martha Beatriz Roque, former prisoner of the "Group of 75":

The high hopes sparked by the resumption of relations with the US government have been largely dashed. We have endured a year full of hardships, and the next one will be even harder.

People thought that an improvement in relations could mean an improvement for the people. This was what President Obama said at all times, that civil society was going to notice the improvements, but so far this has not been the case. The only thing it has experienced to date has been the regime's kicks and punches.

The regime, on the other hand, has benefited from the easing of restrictions enacted by the Obama Administration, while the people continue to languish, with the same old problems, now aggravated by the deficient transport, power outages, and water shortages.

What the Obama administration has done is to funnel money into the pockets of the Castro brothers, not into those of the average Cuban. And the Washington-Havana relations have served to buoy the regime internationally.

Antonio Rodiles, Coordinator of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms (ForoDyL):

A year ago relations were restored but, if one counts the 18 months of the confidential political process leading up to that achievement, it has been some 3 years of rapprochement between Washington and Havana. During this period what has been most evident is an increase in repression and violence on the Island.

This is a trend that has affected not only the opposition and human rights activists, but also the population at large, ordinary Cubans who do not get involved in politics because they are afraid to; the self-employed, for example, with fines, controls, and the whole issue of abusive and excessive taxes.

What we are seeing is a regime that, though it has opened up in the international sphere, at home is doubling down on its repressive policies. A sign of this is the relentless flight of Cubans abroad we have been recently been witnessing.

The Obama Administration had stated that this was best way to bring about positive change in Cuba, but I think it is high time that it at least begin to publicly recognize that things are not going as they expected, because what we are experiencing is a process curtailing all the freedoms and rights of Cubans.

From the outset the Forum for Rights and Freedoms identified the need for a real political process in which the regime also had to take steps. This is not what has happened. The people behind this agenda of continuing to grant concessions, without requiring anything from the regime in return, are proving to be somewhat obstinate.

It is very worrisome that in recent weeks we have seen a wave of imprisonments, not only temporary arrests, while Washington remains utterly silent about the situation. Moreover, the famous empowerment that the self-employed were going to enjoy has yet to materialize.

The regime's response to the Obama Administration's measures has been its traditional backwardness, and it is surprising that there have been no statements released, by any institution, including human rights groups, with respect to the current situation.

Rubio: I Will Continue Blocking Any U.S. Ambassador to Cuba

From Politico:

Rubio vows to keep up fight against U.S. ambassador in Cuba

A year to the day after the Obama administration restored diplomatic ties with Cuba, the United States still doesn't have an ambassador officially representing it on the communist-led island.

And if Marco Rubio has his way, that’s not going to change anytime soon.

The Florida Republican, who decided to run for reelection to the Senate after his presidential bid failed, told POLITICO that he won’t drop his objections to any hypothetical ambassador nominee. And he scoffed at the notion that having an ambassador in Cuba could help the U.S. argue its case to the government there.

“A U.S. ambassador is not going to influence the Cuban government, which is a dictatorial, closed regime,” Rubio said in a phone interview earlier this week from Florida. He is leading in the polls in the Senate race there after reversing his decision to return to private life following his White House run.

A single senator can severely slow down the confirmation process for an ambassador. Rubio and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) are all harsh enough critics of the U.S. opening to Cuba that President Barack Obama has not even bothered to nominate an ambassador.

All three senators are of Cuban descent. They argue that the Cuban government, led by President Raúl Castro, brother of ailing revolutionary figure Fidel, will merely use its new relationship with Washington to cement its harsh rule.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment for this story; Obama, however, has noted in the past that the U.S. has a better chance of bringing about change in Cuba through engagement than isolation.

Cuba’s Human Rights Abuses Worse Pursuant to U.S. Ties

Wasn't Obama's policy supposed to improve rights, remove Castro's "excuse" and encourage regional support for democracy in Cuba?

Well, the opposite is happening.

By Andres Oppenheimer in The Miami Herald:

Cuba’s human rights abuses worse despite U.S. ties

One year after Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington on July 20, 2015, Cuba’s human rights situation is much worse. It’s time for Latin America and the U.S. to stop clapping, and demand that Cuba’s dictatorship start allowing fundamental freedoms.

On the first anniversary since Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington, D.C., one thing is clear: The reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties — which I have cautiously supported in this column — has not helped improve by one iota Cuba’s human rights situation. On the contrary, human rights abuses have worsened.

This is not a conclusion based on random anecdotes from the island, but the result of a well-documented report just released by the Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the island’s oldest and most respected non-government, human-rights monitoring group.

According to the commission, short-term political detentions have gone way up so far this year, from a monthly average of 718 last year to a monthly average of 1,095 during the first six months of this year. The number of political detentions skyrocketed during the months before and after President Barack Obama’s visit to the island in March, the monthly figures show.

During the first six months of this year, there have been 6,573 short-term political detentions in Cuba, which — if they continue at their six-month rate — would be a significant increase over last year’s figure. There were 8,616 documented short-term political detentions last year, 6,424 in 2013, and 2,074 in 2010, says the commission.

In addition to the rise in short-term detentions, the number of peaceful opponents who have been sentenced to longer terms in prison or labor camps over the past year has risen from about 70 to more than 100, the commission says.

“The civil and political rights situation has worsened over the past year, no doubt about it,” commission founder Elizardo Sánchez told me in a telephone interview. “In terms of [Cuba’s] domestic politics, the reestablishment of ties hasn’t had any positive impact.”

Sánchez added that “after Obama’s speech in Havana, which was very good, the government started a campaign to discredit the U.S. president, which was started by Fidel Castro himself. They hope to erase the memory of Obama’s speech from Cubans’ memory, and to continue improving ties with the outside world, while maintaining an iron fist at home.”

José Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas department of the Human Rights Watch monitoring group, agrees that there has been no improvement in Cuba’s human rights scene since Cuba reopened the embassy on July 20, 2015. But Vivanco, who like Sánchez supports the reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban relations and the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, said it would be a mistake to expect that the normalization of bilateral ties will lead to less political repression on the island.

“Neither the opening of embassies nor the eventual total dismantling of the U.S. embargo will change the nature of the regime or bring about democratic and human rights improvements in Cuba,” Vivanco said. “Only effective and strong pressure from democratic leaders in the region and outside the region will achieve that.”

My opinion: I fully agree. It’s time for the Obama administration and Latin America’s democracies to cut the celebrations over the reestablishment of U.S. diplomatic ties and the end of the Cold War in our region. That’s old news by now.

Instead of extending the fiesta indefinitely, it’s time for Latin American democracies to denounce the region’s oldest military dictatorship. (It’s not mentioned in most articles on Cuba, but the island’s president, Gen. Raúl Castro, is a military dictator who alongside his brother Fidel Castro has overseen thousands of political executions and has not allowed a free election, political parties or independent media in almost six decades.)

Enough is enough! There is no excuse for Cuba to increase political repression at a time when Obama is dismantling what’s left of the U.S. embargo on the island, allowing U.S. cruise liners and commercial planes to ultimately carry tens of thousands of Americans to Cuba — their numbers rose by 84 percent over the first six months this year — and the first Sheraton hotel to open its doors in Havana.

It’s time for Latin America and the world to stop the clapping, and publicly demand that Cuba free political prisoners, stop the beatings of peaceful political opponents, and start allowing freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and free elections. It’s time for Cuba’s octogenarian military dinosaurs to go.

Obama's Migration Crisis: Flow of Cubans to U.S. Surges 500%

Wednesday, July 20, 2016
One of the most tragic consequences of Obama's shortsighted Cuba policy.

Clearly, the Cuban people aren't getting the "hope and change" message of the Obama-Castro deal.

And these numbers don't even take into consideration all of those who have been lost at sea -- like the 13 whose boat collapsed just this week.

From EFE:

Flow of Cuban migrants to U.S. surges 500 pct.

The number of undocumented Cuban migrants arriving in the U.S. has quintupled over the past five years, increasing dramatically after the December 2014 announcement by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro of a normalization of relations between Washington and Havana.

Fewer than 8,000 Cubans reached the U.S. in the 2011 fiscal year, compared with more than 44,000 so far in fiscal 2016, which ends Sept. 30, Customs and Border Protection told EFE Tuesday.

Some 60 migrants arrived in the Florida Keys in a 48-hour period earlier this week, all of them aboard barely seaworthy rafts and boats.

Point of Clarification: Donald Trump on Cuba Policy

Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Whether out of laziness or political convenience, it has become a media "talking point" that Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, purportedly supports President Obama's Cuba policy.

However, the record states otherwise.

For the sole purpose of clarification, below is the transcript of what Trump said about Obama's Cuba policy during the March 15, 2016, presidential debate held in Miami, FL:

CNN's DANA BASH: Mr. Trump, you said the concept of opening Cuba is fine. You said the concept of opening Cuba is fine. Why do you agree with President Obama and disagree with what Senator Rubio just said?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I don't really agree with President Obama. I think I'm somewhere in the middle. What I want is I want a much better deal to be made because right now, Cuba is making - as usual with our country, we don't make good deal. We don't have our right people negotiating, we have people that don't have a clue.

As an example, I heard recently where the threat was made that they want reparations for years of abuse by the United States, and nobody's talking about it and they'll end up signing a deal and then we'll get sued for $400 billion or $1 trillion.

All that stuff has to be agreed to now. We don't want to get sued after the deal is made. So I don't agree with President Obama, I do agree something should be - should take place. After 50 years, it's enough time, folks. But we have to make a good deal and we have to get rid of all the litigation that's going to happen.

This was just a little story but it was a big story to me because I said oh, here we go, we make a deal, then get sued for a tremendous amount of money for reparations. So I want to do something, but it's got to be done intelligently. We have to make good deal.

BASH: Senator Rubio, I know you want to get in. But just to be clear, Mr. Trump, are you saying that if you were president, you would continue the diplomatic relations or would you reverse them?

TRUMP: I would want to make a good deal, I would want to make a strong, solid, good deal because right now, everything is in Cuba's favor. Right now, everything, every single aspect of this deal is in Cuba's favor. It the same way as the Iran deal.

We never walked - we never - all we do is keep giving. We give and give and give.

BASH: But Mr. Trump, just to be clear, there is an embassy that you would have to decide whether it would be open or whether you would close it. Which would it be? In Havana.

TRUMP: I would probably have the embassy closed until such time as a really good deal was made and struck by the United States. (APPLAUSE).

Christie Attacks Clinton on Obama's Cuba Policy

From The Miami Herald:

Chris Christie says Clinton is 'guilty' on Cuba policy

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took the Republican National Convention stage pledging to prosecute a case against Hillary Clinton on foreign policy. And in what he called his "evidence," Christie talked about Cuba -- the first time the island's been mentioned at the presidential nominating convention.

"Now we go to Cuba. Hillary Clinton supported concessions to the Castro brothers and got almost nothing in return for ending the embargo. She supported a deal that didn’t even require this murderous regime to return a cop killer, JoAnne Chesimard, to face justice. See, I know about this personally: Chesimard murdered a New Jersey State Trooper in cold blood, fled to Cuba and lives there to this very day.

I want to ask you: How can someone live with your own conscience when you reward a domestic terrorist with continued safety and betray the family of fallen police officer waiting for decades for justice for his murder? So let's ask the question: Hillary Clinton, as coddler of the brutal Castro brothers and betrayer of the family of fallen Trooper Werner Foerster and his family, is she guilty or not guilty?"

The crowd responded with a resounding, "Guilty!"

Cuba Keeps Defaulting on Debts, Arkansas Congressman Unfazed

Imagine a scenario whereby a politician dedicated nearly all of his time and effort to providing financing to a notorious deadbeat.

Seems utterly irresponsible, right?

Yet that is the case with U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) and Cuba's Castro regime.

The biggest takeaway from the story below is not that Cuba's regime continues to default on its debts -- despite of all of the hype and spin -- but that some politicians who want to provide credit to Castro remain unfazed.

After all, they can always count on U.S. taxpayers to bail them out.

Excerpt from The Miami Herald's story, "Economic hardships in Cuba spark rumors of a new 'Special Period'":

The shortage of liquidity is so serious that Castro informed the population that Cuba has not been paying its foreign debts on time and Minister of the Economy Marino Murillo — who was later reassigned to a new position — said the government would not be paying new debts for the rest of the year.

His public statements came as U.S. agricultural producers are lobbying Congress, hard but without success so far, to ease laws and regulations that currently require Cuba to pay cash and in advance for its U.S. agricultural purchases.

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-AK., recently withdrew his proposal to ease those requirements after agreeing with Florida members of congress to look for different ways to meet the interests of U.S. agricultural producers. Crawford's office issued a brief statement saying that Cuba's failure to pay its debts and lack of liquidity “will not affect the Congressman's efforts.”

Cuba in The 2016 Republican Party Platform

Yesterday, the Republican National Convention adopted the official 2016 Platform of the party. The Platform declares the Party's principles and policies.

It includes the following section on U.S.-Cuba policy:

"We want to welcome the people of Cuba back into our hemispheric family — after their corrupt rulers are forced from power and brought to account for their crimes against humanity. We stand with the Ladies in White and all the victims of the loathsome regime that clings to power in Havana. We do not say this lightly: They have been betrayed by those who are currently in control of U.S. foreign policy. The current Administration’s 'opening to Cuba' was a shameful accommodation to the demands of its tyrants. It will only strengthen their military dictatorship. We call on the Congress to uphold current U.S. law which sets conditions for the lifting of sanctions on the island: Legalization of political parties, an independent media, and free and fair internationally-supervised elections. We call for a dedicated platform for the transmission of Radio and TV Martí and for the promotion of internet access and circumvention technology as tools to strength Cuba’s pro-democracy movement. We support the work of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba and affirm the principles of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, recognizing the rights of Cubans fleeing Communism."

Obama's Cuba Internet Projects: 99% Hype, 1% Substance

Excerpt by Dr. Larry Press, California State University Professor, in The Internet in Cuba:

Google's wireless connectivity is the biggest disappointment. I've speculated on significant infrastructure and content investments Google could conceivably make in Cuba, but all they announced was a single WiFi hotspot at the studio of Cuban artist Kcho. Google supplied 20 Acer Chromebooks and a number of Nexus 5 phones with Cardboard viewers, and got a lot of publicity in return. Perhaps this is a necessary relationship-building step (Kcho is well connected), but in itself this hotspot is less than a drop in the bucket -- 99% hype and 1% substance, like Kcho's previous hotspot.

How about the deal with Stripe and their Cuban partner Merchise? In March, I contacted Merchise and Stripe to learn more about their business relationship. Merchise had nothing to say about their relationship with Stripe and Stripe said "Merchise is a partner in the the Stripe Atlas Network ... it isn't so much that we expect them to represent or market Stripe in Cuba; rather, if they know any specific entrepreneurs or businesses in Cuba for whom Stripe Atlas would be helpful, as a Network partner they can refer those entrepreneurs to us for early access to the Atlas program."

Last week, I asked Stripe if anything had come of the partnership to date and was told they had no concrete updates, but they had "been in touch with many Cuban entrepreneurs." I also asked Cisco about the status of and plans for their Cuban project, and was told that at this time they had nothing to add to what was said in the blog post announcing the relationship last March.

So far, nothing concrete and significant has come of the Internet projects Obama announced.

An Ominous Warning: Obama's Cuba Policy Opened Door to Maduro Coup

Monday, July 18, 2016
The accelerated subversion of democracy by Nicolas Maduro's regime in Venezuela -- and Daniel Ortega's in Nicaragua -- may come as a surprise to some.

However, we had warned in March 2014 -- while fiction novelist Ben Rhodes was still secretly "negotiating" a one-sided deal with Col. Alejandro Castro -- that a change in Cuba policy would do precisely that.

Below is an excerpt from the March, 25, 2014 testimony by CHC Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone before the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives:

Autocracy v. Democracy in Latin America

"[I]t's essential that the United States lead the region's defense, promotion and application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter ('Charter'). Otherwise, it will become irrelevant.

The authoritarian ambitions of Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega are no secret.

What has inhibited them -- thus far -- is the institutionalization of representative democracy as the backbone of hemispheric relations, as was agreed upon in the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter signed by 34 of the 35 countries of the Western Hemisphere. To skirt the Charter, they try to manipulate laws and institutions and exert greater executive control while maintaining a facade of democracy.

The biggest deterrent to breaking their public commitments to representative democracy has been the omnipresent economic isolation of Cuba as the result of U.S. sanctions. These leaders are keenly aware that they need the United States to survive economically. For example, Venezuela is entirely dependent on exporting oil to -- and importing gas from -- the United States. Thus U.S. sanctions on Cuba serve as 'the stick' to 'the carrot' of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and obeisance, if not enforcement, of its principles.

It's precisely the authoritarian underbelly of these Latin American leaders that makes them such zealous lobbyists for the end of U.S. sanctions on Cuba.  It's for this reason that they want to see the Castro regime embraced despite its blatant disregard for representative democracy. Such a U.S. policy change would allow them to accelerate their own authoritarian tendencies and free their zeal for absolute power.

If U.S. sanctions toward Cuba are lifted and Castro's dictatorship is embraced -- what's to keep a return to the Latin American dictatorships of the 20th Century?

The people of the Americas can’t afford a return to the dictatorships -- whether of the left or the right -- that once ruled Latin America. It would severely damage the 21st century national interests of the United States.

Sadly, plenty of Latin American 'leaders' would gladly seize the opportunity to permanently close the door on democracy.

Let’s not hand them the opportunity."

Nine months later, Obama handed them the opportunity.

(We reiterated this point in "Obama Gives Cuba a Hemispheric Coup" in The Huffington Post immediately after Obama's new Cuba policy announcement.)

Tweet of the Week: Havana's Other Man in Caracas

By Venezuelan legislator and democracy leader, Maria Corina Machado:

Translation: Under Cuban orders, the new person responsible for hunger in Venezuela is called Vladimir Padrino Lopez

WSJ: Who Will Stop Maduro’s Cuban-Backed Coup?

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Who Will Stop Venezuela’s Slow Self-Coup?

The U.S. is doing little to help defend democracy, which will please the Castros.

Eleven newborn babies died recently due to a respiratory bacteria outbreak in the neonatal unit of a hospital in the city of Maturín in Venezuela’s Monagas state. According to press reports, in May the director of the “child protection system” at the Central Hospital of San Cristobál in Táchira state said that at least 70 sick babies had perished in 2016 because the hospital lacked supplies to care for them.

Dire food and medicine shortages, the collapse of the health care, sanitation and transportation infrastructure, and hyperinflation have all led to speculation that the Venezuelan government, headed by Nicolás Maduro, will soon fall. But the Cuban-backed regime is entering a new phase of self-preservation. Havana has no intention of losing its hold over its most valuable satellite.

The Venezuelan government’s most urgent task is to fend off demands for a presidential-recall referendum this year—though the right to hold it is guaranteed by the constitution. If President Maduro were to lose that vote, there would have to be an election within 30 days. The next Cuban-proxy candidate put forth for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) would almost certainly lose.

If the referendum can be delayed until next year, then even if Mr. Maduro loses, his PSUV vice president would finish his term, which ends in 2019.

The opposition is pushing hard for the government to abide by the constitution and is seeking help from the international community. The Obama administration is instead supporting a “dialogue” between the government and the opposition, led by the former president of Spain, the Socialist Workers’ Party’s José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero. This delay tactic is designed to help the PSUV retain power while it finishes militarizing the government so it can rule indefinitely.

That process accelerated last week when Mr. Maduro put the defense minister, Gen. Vladimir Padrino López, in charge of all cabinet ministries. It means that Venezuela is now run by a quasi-military junta with the general sharing power with Mr. Maduro. Gen. Padrino will also head the newly created “Great Mission of Sovereign Supply,” which will manage the supply and distribution of food. The military also took over the country’s ports, which until now have been under civilian control.

Latin Americans call this kind of handover of power a “self-coup,” because it shifts authority from elected officials to outsiders who are not constitutionally in line to succeed the president.

It is unlikely that this was Mr. Maduro’s idea. Rather, having taken note of the president’s unpopularity, his Cuban handlers are making adjustments. Though the 53-year-old Gen. Padrino once trained with the U.S. military, he has found favor with the Castros. In February the general was named to head a new military-industrial mining, oil and gas company that will rival the state-owned oil company PdVSA.

Venezuela is also adjusting its socialist economic model, using a template the Castros borrowed from Russia’s Vladimir Putin. With the assistance of Mr. Obama, they are inviting in U.S. capital investment so they can consolidate power for the next generation.

Venezuela unwittingly displayed to the world the failure of the Bolivarian revolution’s economic plan on July 10 when it reopened the once-busy Venezuelan border crossing near the Colombian city of Cúcuta. It had been closed for almost a year. In a 12-hour period, an estimated 35,000 Venezuelans surged into Colombia to buy food and other necessities. There was similar surge this weekend with another temporary opening.

Farther north in the state of Zulia, my sources say, the chavista government has been permitting entrepreneurs to bring Colombian goods across the border duty-free and sell them in the formal economy at free-market prices since March. On June 27, Zulia’s secretary of the interior, Giovanny Villalobos, admitted to the Venezuelan news outlet La Verdad that this is happening. The aim, he said, is “to guarantee” the importation of food for the middle class, put an end to the black market and allow the government to help the truly needy.

It would be a mistake to read this as a surrender to democratic capitalism. Just as the Cuban police state is making careful use of American capitalists, Caracas is making use of the market for survival.

It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the Obama administration is unwilling to back the restoration of Venezuelan democracy because that would put at risk its efforts to solidify the U.S.-Cuban friendship. If a new Venezuelan government were to stop financing Cuba—which it continues to do despite its own distress—the island would sink and Mr. Obama’s legacy “achievement” would likely sink with it.

An equal disincentive for Mr. Obama to help Venezuelan democrats is that, with Cuban mentoring, Caracas has built a weapons arsenal for its civilian militia. Rumors abound that a successful recall vote would trigger the distribution of those weapons and an ugly outbreak of violence on a grand scale. That may be unavoidable, but Mr. Obama no doubt would prefer to be out of the White House if it happens.

Obama Gives U.S. Property Claimants the Shaft

Sunday, July 17, 2016
From McClatchy News:

Have U.S. property claims in Cuba been forgotten in normalization rush?

When Javier Garcia-Bengochea opened his morning newspaper in 1996, the last thing he expected to see was a mention of his family’s former property.

But, near the bottom of a Wall Street Journal article on foreign business investment in Cuba, there it was. An Italian shipping line with which the U.S. did business would be developing the Santiago shipping port La Maritima Parreño as a new destination for its cruise ships.

The port and its warehouses were once part of a privately held corporation headed by Garcia-Bengochea’s cousin, Albert J. Parreño, who’d become an American citizen in 1943. If the family had sold, given away or even abandoned the property, its development might not have been shocking news.

However, the Cuban government had confiscated the Santiago land from the family in 1960, and the family had never been paid for its stake in the company, as international law requires.

“Every American venture in Cuba involves stolen property,” said Garcia-Bengochea, a neurosurgeon who lives in Jacksonville, Florida. “It’s one of the most disgraceful things I’ve ever seen.”

Garcia-Bengochea is one of almost 6,000 U.S. citizens who hold interest in certified property claims against the Cuban government. His cousin’s is No. 1231, according the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. Cubans who became American citizens after their property was expropriated by the Castro regime are not eligible to take part in the U.S. claims process.

With diplomatic relations restored, some travel restrictions lifted and legislation in the pipeline that would lift even more constraints on trade, Garcia-Bengochea and his fellow claimants are growing increasingly concerned that their claims – valued today at $6 billion to $8 billion – may remain unsettled forever.

“They are really running out of time to do this,” said Mauricio Tamargo, former chairman of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. “I understand some gestures of opening the process to begin discussions, but we’ve gone well beyond what we should be doing.”

More than half a century has passed since Fidel Castro’s rise to power and his subsequent confiscation of property in the name of the revolution. Since then, the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, an independent agency within the Department of Justice, has evaluated 8,821 claims by American parties and validated 5,913 of them with certifications.

Most of the claims are held by corporations. Others were filed by individuals, such as Garcia-Bengochea’s cousin, who were American nationals at the time of the confiscation. Though the property was originally valued at $1.9 billion, interest brings that estimate as high as $8 billion.

Under international law, the U.S. government is supposed to negotiate a settlement for the claims with the Cuban government. But as the process of normalization has surged – last week, the Obama administration proposed authorizing eight airlines to fly nonstop to Havana – there’s been no public progress on settling the claims, and claimants’ advocates are feeling frustrated.

“I am quite distressed at the level of commerce that is occurring between the two countries,” Tamargo said. “Stop giving these trade concessions; start forcing them to make an offer and settle these claims.”

“It’s disgraceful,” Garcia-Bengochea said. “This process has found a way to not follow the law.”

Since Garcia-Bengochea saw that Wall Street Journal story in 1996, multiple international corporations have continued doing business on his family’s former property, including Carnival Cruise Line, the China Harbour Engineering Co. and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, Garcia-Bengochea said. The property includes the Santiago port and its accompanying warehouses.

Garcia-Bengochea inherited the claim from his cousin Parreño, a New York attorney and American citizen at the time of the property’s confiscation. Originally valued at $547,365, the claim’s 6 percent annual interest rate means its value today is almost $8 million.

Tweet of the Week: Obama Embraces Cuba's Past, Paul Ryan its Future

Buyer's Remorse on Obama's Cuba Policy, Pt. 2

By Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

Cuba-sanctioned TV arrives in U.S., sugar-coated for Yanqui viewers

The age of rapprochement with Cuba has moved into the realm of the absurd.

We’re not doing so well exporting democracy, but the famously propagandist Cuban television is making a debut in America.

“De Cuba a la Yuma,” boasts the DishLATINO sales brochure that arrived in my mailbox, peddling in Cuban street lingo a new channel of state-sanctioned Cuban programming aimed at the U.S.

“CUBAMAX TV has arrived….”

Missing: quality artistic production and freedom — to be expected from an entity with direct connection to the ruling Communist party.

The U.S. satellite television provider and its partners, however, insist that the Cuban programs aren’t a boring tool for indoctrination veiled as entertainment. What my fellow Americans and I will experience is “an open window into Cuban culture via movies, novelas, documentaries, music and children shows.” If there’s any doubt about authenticity, the silhouette of a vintage convertible — the signature of time-frozen Havana pre-engagement and an overused visual cliché these days — is juxtaposed against the twinkling Miami skyline at night.

“Pure entertainment from Cuba, y más na’,” DishLATINO promises. That’s it, the only guarantee that there’s no dogma in your package.

It’s not worth much. When I checked out the thin offerings, with the exception of some films we’ve already seen in Miami, what I saw are productions of official institutions like CubaVisión, which bills itself as “Fidelistas por siempre.” Fidel supporters forever.

The politics are pretty blatant.

The police show “Serie Policíaca Uno” features the feared forces of Cuba’s Interior Ministry, who repress the population, as heroic protagonists and crime-solvers. “Young professionals who go after the criminals, face appalling situations, as well as personal issues that mark their lives, integrated into a team assisted by intelligence and science and supported by the experience of the National Police system,” according to the synopsis.

The marquee comedy, “Vivir del cuento,” a double entendre title that means living off fantasy or surviving by your wits, stars Pánfilo. He’s the Cuban comedian President Barack Obama catapulted to fame by appearing in a skit with him to promote his Cuba visit on Cuban television. I sat through some YouTube episodes. Mostly, the 80-year-old character is what we call in Spanish un bofe, a drag, and his humor is codified with inside-Cuba stuff that seems critical but pushes the government’s agenda.

The actor who plays Pánfilo, Luis Silva, visited Miami recently to promote CUBAMAX TV, and guess what he did for thrills? While boating on the city’s Intracoastal, he made a video poking fun at rafters who risk their lives at sea fleeing Cuba.

Nah, no politics.

For the bargain price of a $34.99 per month subscription, DishLATINO will import into your home 24 hours of this low-budget, badly acted dramas, soft Commie porn propaganda, and Cuban children’s programming.

Now, you too can raise your kid to be a good soldier of the Revolution like Eliancito.

Fifty-seven years of dogmatic fidelismo and Cubans are still fleeing the island anyway they can — and in record numbers, post-engagement. Back home, to get away from drab Cuban TV, they paid for a viewing “paquete” circulated in the black market with American shows and Cuban Miami fare. Now that they’re here, they’re pursued as… Cuba television consumers! Fertile targets for the sale of products from the state they fled — so Kafkian.

Viva la Yuma, lucky land of the uncensored, where you can subscribe to all the junk TV your brain cells can stand.