Cuba uses Twitter to denounce a Miami conference on internet freedom as an act of ‘subversion’

raulraton

The Castro regime uses Twitter to denounce as “subversive” the right of the Cuban people to also have access to the Internet

The Miami Herald

Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s director general for the United States, said that an upcoming conference in Miami on internet use on the island seeks to promote internal subversion.

“The illegal use of radio and television against Cuba is not enough for them, they insist on the use of the internet as a weapon of subversion,” Vidal wrote in her Twitter account Thursday.

Her comment was in reaction to an article published by the government-run Cubadebate criticizing the Cuba Internet Freedom conference to be held in Miami Sept. 12-13, which is being organized by the U.S.-funded Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB).

Cubadebate characterized the event as “the first conference on internet use in Cuba, as part of subversion programs by the U.S. government against the island that have been maintained during the administration of Barack Obama.”

The article went on to say that,“since [former president] George W. Bush activated the Law for Democracy in Cuba, which empowers the U.S. Congress to allocate $20 million a year for programs to promote regime change in Cuba, has spent $284 million over the past two decades for this purpose.”

The Cuba Internet Freedom conference is part of Social Media Week taking place in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District.

Do Cuban lives matter to Obama?

farinas

Sun Sentinel, by Guillermo Martinez

Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas has met with President Barack Obama at least twice. Together they discussed the lack of personal freedom in Cuba.

That was before President Obama went on a well-deserved golfing vacation while Fariñas was in the fourth week of a hunger strike in Cuba. By the time this column is printed, Obama will be visiting the destruction caused by the floods in Louisiana —and Fariñas may be dead.

In December 2014, Obama decided he wanted his legacy to show he had improved relations between Cuba and the United States. Since then, the United States has given many benefits to the Cuban government.

American tourists are traveling to Cuba in ever-growing numbers. Cubans escape the island and come to seek refuge in the United States, only to return to the island after a year and a day. Some go to see relatives while others go to enjoy a break from the tough life they have endured in the United States.

They all take money to Cuba. This money does not end up in the pockets of ordinary Cubans. All the money American tourists and Cubans who come and go freely to the island bring ends up in the hands of the Cuban Armed Forces – charged by the Castro regime with the responsibility of collecting and spending, as they see fit, all the dollars that flow to the island.

Since Obama opened the doors to more exchanges with Cuba, the Cuban government has repaid the American president by making life harder for all those on the island who dare oppose the regime.

Dissidents are beaten, repressed and jailed with increasing frequency.

Nobody knows precisely how many are beaten or jailed, but most international human rights organizations say the number has more than doubled in the nearly two years since Obama decided to improve relations with the Castro regime.

In Cuba, Fidel Castro turned 90 years old this past week, and his brother Raul rules in much the same ruthless manner as his brother. He has made it clear he will not respond to American acts of rapprochement with any acts of kindness or making things easier for the people of Cuba.

It is an uneven deal the one Obama and the younger Castro brother agreed to in 2014. In it, the Americans give and Cuba takes all it can while at the same time it increases internal repression.

That is the legacy of President Obama in Cuba.

To be precise, his legacy is best seen in the monthlong hunger strike by Fariñas. He has said his condition for ending his hunger strike is for the Cuban government to stop beating dissidents who peacefully demonstrate for human rights.

News from the 54-year-old Cuban comes from his mother, and is circulated on the internet by those who really care about him. News of his giving up the hunger strike or dying as a result of it will make it to the main news media. But for his day-to-day condition, there is little interest in the American media.

Obama, the first African-American president, is concerned about the lives of African-Americans killed in American cities. But he cares little for the life of that brave, black Cuban man who is willing to die so others on the island will not be repressed by the lack of interest from the White House in those who dare protest peacefully in Cuba.

Yes, in the United States and to President Obama, “Black Lives Matter” as long as they are American lives. He cares little for the life of a Black Cuban.

If Fariñas dies, that will be the true legacy of President Obama’s new Cuban policy.

The Capture of ‘The Ghost,’ a Criminal Legend of Miami’s Cocaine Era

mustelier

The Atlantic

Anibal Mustelier is tied to a famous Florida bank heist, Colombian cartel murders in the 1980s, and even Cuban government assassinations.

During the years Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel flooded Miami with cocaine, authorities say Anibal Mustelier was one of the city’s more deadly hitmen. In 1989, he allegedly machine-gunned a local businessman accused of taking money from the cartel. When that failed, he is said to have bombed the man’s car.

Mustelier is now 66, and has spent the past 26 years hiding as a fugitive from the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, and authorities in several countries. It was that knack for evasion that earned him the nickname “The Ghost.” He was so successful at hiding, in fact, that when officers in a Miami suburb caught a lead on a group of bank robbers earlier this month, they didn’t even know whom they were chasing.

Mustelier was arrested over the weekend with little attention. It was only Tuesday that local media outlets published the news. Of the robbery that brought down him down, the Miami New Times reported that Mustelier and his crew had cut a hole in the roof of a nail salon adjacent to a jewelry store. They planned to tunnel through another wall once inside, but they had:

… accidentally drilled through a metal pipe with wires inside, shorting out the lights in the entire shopping center.

Around 8:50 a.m. the next morning, a witness says he saw a “suspicious male” standing outside the store acting as a lookout and heard unknown voices emanating from inside the jewelry store. Possibly realizing they’d been seen, the alleged robbers bolted, carrying large black duffel bags with them and shielding their eyes with their hands.
After the robbery, a confidential informant helped officers record conversations with some of the suspected robbers, one of whom, to their surprise, turned out to be Mustelier. On Sunday, police raided the aging criminal’s home. Inside, they found jewelry, a bulletproof vest, gloves, a mask, and weapons.

Along with charges connected to the robbery, Mustelier has warrants out from an old bank robbery, and an attempted murder. Mustelier is believed to have masterminded one of South Florida’s largest robberies, that of the SunTrust Bank in Miami in 1996. The heist allegedly earned Mustelier and his associates $5 million, and a starring role in an episode of America’s Most Wanted.

Local police said Mustelier was at one time linked to former Cuban President Fidel Castro, working as an assassin for the government. He was believed to have hidden in Cuba for a long time, and possibly in Venezuela. In 2001 he was seen visiting family in the Miami area, but quickly vanished. Lately, Mustelier lived in a small, single-story home with his girlfriend.

One Year Later: Assessing President Obama’s Failed Cuba Strategy

damas1

National Review, by Jeb Bush and Iliana Ros-Lehtinen

One year ago this month, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Havana to celebrate the reopening of the U.S. embassy, 54 years after President Dwight Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba’s Communist regime.

During the last year, we have seen President Barack Obama, his administration, and its extended echo chamber work exhaustively to portray the president’s misguided Cuba policy as a success. But the realities on the ground paint a different picture. We saw President Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro enjoy a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national baseball team with FARC terrorists in the stadium, host a jubilant joint press conference, and mingle with Nancy Pelosi, Patrick Leahy, and Charlie Rangel over a lavish state dinner at the Palace of the Revolution.

But today, despite the president’s promises to “engage and empower the Cuban people,” little has changed for those suffering under the Havana tyranny.

Dozens of protesters were arrested in Cuba just hours before President Obama’s arrival in Havana back in March. The Ladies in White, such as Berta Soler and Yaquelin Heredia Morales are still being harassed, beaten, and jailed. Sakharov Prize awardee Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas has been on a hunger strike for nearly three weeks to shine a spotlight on Castro’s human-rights abuses on the island. The regime controls the media and the Internet remains highly censored with little access to divergent views. Last month, the Obama State Department even admitted the dictatorship has failed to live up to the promises it made to broaden Internet access. At a meeting of the Cuban Communist party in April, Raul Castro denied Cuba was moving toward capitalism and continued to deride free markets and private-property rights. Elections remain far from free and democratic.

In fact, prominent leaders of Cuba’s peaceful opposition believe President Obama’s concessions to the Castro regime have been counterproductive to the fight for freedom. Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, also known as Antunez, and who spent 17 years in Castro’s gulags, has affirmed that “a vital segment of the Cuban Resistance” view the Obama administration’s policy of appeasement “as a betrayal of the aspiration to freedom of the Cuban people.”

Cuban pro-democracy advocate Antonio Rodiles, who has been arrested more than 50 times, believes repression by the dictatorship and its Communist apparatchiks is actually increasing. He recently said, “the regime is more legitimate after the change in relations with the U.S.,” adding, “Economic changes won’t bring political changes; now human rights and the promotion of democracy are not the priority of the discussion.”

As we assess the results of President Obama’s foreign-policy legacy, it is clear that Cuba, like Iran in recent nuclear negotiations, has received far more concessions from the United States than what we achieved in return. That shouldn’t come as a surprise — at every turn, the Obama administration has put politics over sound policy, pursuing photo-ops instead of pragmatic and tangible objectives.

Continue reading One Year Later: Assessing President Obama’s Failed Cuba Strategy

Cuba: Crackdown on Christians sees 1,600 churches targeted

religiouspersecution

Christian Solidarity Worldwide

More than 1,600 churches have been targeted by authorities in Cuba this year as a crackdown on religious freedom continues.

Between January and July 2016, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) recorded 1,606 violations of religious freedom.

These included the demolition and confiscation of church buildings, the destruction of church property and arbitrary detention.

In March, prominent pastor and religious freedom activist Rev Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso was arrested just hours before President Barack Obama arrived in the country for his official state visit.

Religious leaders have also had their personal belongings confiscated, and more than 1,000 churches are still considered ‘illegal’ and are under threat of future confiscation.

According to CSW, church leaders have raised concerns that the government’s treatment of religious groups has significantly deteriorated in the last year.

CSW has accused the government of targeting church properties “to tighten its control over the activities and membership of religious groups and thus eliminate the potential for any social unrest.”

In its annual report on international religious freedom, the US State Department last week said the Cuban government “monitored religious groups” and “continued to control most aspects of religious life”.

“The government harassed, detained, and restricted travel for outspoken religious figures, especially those who discussed human rights or collaborated with independent human rights groups,” the report said.

“Many religious leaders stated they exercised self-censorship in what they preached and discussed during services. Some said they feared direct or indirect criticism of the government could result in government reprisals, such as denials of permits… or other measures that could limit the growth of their religious groups.”

The report also mentioned concern from some religious leaders that government tolerance for groups that relied on informal locations, such as house churches, was decreasing.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW is alarmed by the escalation of FoRB violations throughout Cuba, but humbled and inspired by the courage and perseverance of the many religious communities who continue to peacefully resist government pressure.

“We remain disappointed by the broken promises for reform on the part of the Cuban government and urge it to change course. We call on the international community and in particular the United Kingdom, European Union and the United States government to stand in solidarity with Cuban citizens by pressing the Cuban government to halt these repressive actions and ensuring that human rights, and in particular FoRB, remains a core component of any upcoming dialogues with the Cuban government.”

Cuba’s Military Dictatorship in Complete Control: Historian confirms military taking over operations

Hotel Ambos Mundos

The Miami Herald

In the early 1990s, with Havana in ruins and Cuba mired in a devastating economic crisis, the island’s government granted historian Eusebio Leal Spengler and his office broad and rare powers to return Old Havana to its former glory.

Under his guidance, and largely reinvesting its own funds, the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana (OHCH) rescued at least one third of the buildings in the historic heart of the Cuban capital and won lavish international praise.

But Leal’s autonomy appears to have come to an end, with all OHCH operations now under the control of the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA), a holding company controlled by the Cuban armed forces.

“You see that building? Ten years ago it was full of putrid water, rats and garbage. The balconies could fall on people walking under them any time. Today they are apartments, thanks to Eusebio’s work,” said Mirna, 68, a retiree who added that she’s worried about the future of the OHCH.

Leal confirmed the change in an email response to questions from a reporter but chose his words carefully. The OHCH, he wrote, “was not transferred to the armed forces but to (GAESA), a development enterprise that has the prestige and capacity to invest, while the Historian’s Office retains the power to advise on preservation and new construction projects.”

Cuba’s government-controlled news media has not reported on the change. Some independent journalists have described the shift as a direct takeover by the armed forces.

Leal, however, said that OHCH employees are not worried because “the preservation work is being extended to (other) cities important to Cuba’s heritage.” But he went on to take a sharp jab at unidentified critics of his efforts to protect the national patrimony.

“We have been hurt, it’s true, because at a moment that requires the utmost respect for life, mediocre people who never achieved anything and are spiritually poor are taking advantage to injure and damage the many others who have worked so many years to preserve the patrimony of a nation, either in Cuba or any other part of the world,” he wrote.

Leal took over the OHCH in 1967 after the death of Emilio Roig de Leuchshering, who had led the agency since its founding in the 1930s. It began to grow, in size, revenue and autonomy as it renovated and sold or rented buildings in Old Havana.

Its almost total autonomy — rarely seen in Cuba’s communist system — was assured in the 1990s with a government decree that empowered Leal to create an enterprise that could earn revenues and reinvest them in Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The decree ordered the OHCH to report directly to the national Council of State rather than to the municipal government. The office also has its own special legal code and judicial standing, as well as permission to import and export goods directly instead of going through the cumbersome national system for foreign trade.

One of its most important benefits is the power to require payments from companies that are based in Old Havana but are not under direct OHCH control. They pay the office 1 percent of revenue if they work in Cuban pesos and 5 percent if they work in convertible pesos known as CUCs.

Among the entities are the Habaguanex hotel chain, the San Cristobal travel agency, the Opus Havana cultural magazine, the Habana Radio station, the Bologna publishing house and several businesses with web pages that advertise and sell OHCH products.

OHCH also controlled the Aurea and Fénix real estate companies, more than 50 cafeterias and two dozen restaurants, museums, concert halls and shops, an import company, a trade school and three construction companies.

In the past two decades, it created 13,000 jobs directly and thousands more indirectly, according to studies carried out by the organization. Sixty percent of the $500 million in revenues it brought went to “social” projects such as a home for the aged. The OHCH also received more than $30 million in foreign assistance.

About 55 percent of the tourists who go to the island visit Havana, and 90 percent of them walk around the historic city center. Per capita tourist income in Old Havana is estimated at 2,185 convertible pesos, compared to 245 in the rest of the capital, studies show.

“The biggest slice of the cake is in Old Havana. Everyone knows that, and that’s why they are taking away of all of Leal’s enterprises,” said one employee of a senior citizen’s home financed by the OHCH.

Leal’s email said OHCH will retain the power to impose a 5 percent charge on any public or private activity in Old Havana, and will still run “heritage” shops such as those in museums. Other state institutions also will continue to contribute to the historian’s office.

Leal’s office grew even bigger in 2003, when it took control of the redevelopment of the old part of the seaside Malecón boulevard, and then in 2005 when it began running the Chinatown section of the capital.

But it began losing branches to other government entities after a string of corruption scandals involving some of its administrators covered by the islands’ independent journalists and never by the government’s mass media monopoly.

“The process of pruning its branches has been slow. They have been removing one after another to protect Leal,” said one Cuban economist who spoken on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “The auditors found a huge embezzlement, and the only way of not judging the Historian, who in fact had nothing to do with the theft, is to terminate his responsibility for those enterprises.”

Leal flatly denied that version of OHCH’s break up in his email, but added that “wherever there is someone willing to sell his soul to the devil, there will be administrative and corruption scandals.”

The shift to GAESA control, he added, is designed “simply to consolidate development efforts that we cannot face with our own resources.”

Eugenio Yanez, a Cuban academic with the online think tank Cubanálisis, has a somewhat different view of the problems at OHCH.

“First of all, (Cuban ruler) Raúl Castro is more pragmatic, and so he may want an enterprise that specializes in management to focus on running the businesses in Havana,” said Yanez.

But Yanez added that the corruption scandals and Leal’s suspected poor health — he was said to have nearly died recently from an unspecified ailment — had unquestionably added to OHCH’s troubles.

“The auditors found shady dealings,” he said. “The solution was the transfer to the armed forces, which Castro trusts.”

Some of the small private businesses in Old Havana said they felt protected by the OHCH and expressed concerns about its transfer to GAESA.

“The government always promotes its own restaurants, hotels and businesses ahead of the private sector,” said Reinaldo, who runs a clothing shop in Old Havana.

Hairdresser Camilo Condis said the small private businesses in Old Havana have thrived under the OHCH umbrella.

“Without the Historian’s office, the work we do would not have been possible,” said Condis, who works with Gilberto Valladares, the beauty shop owner who met with President Barack Obama during his visit to Cuba.

But since GAESA’s takeover on Aug. 1, the institution that preserved at least one third of Havana’s historic center has been limited to “managing museums, promoting cultural activities and the care of our patrimony,” said a source at the Vitrina de Valonia museum in Old Havana.

It’s not clear how the military will manage the restoration projects in Old Havana, but many expressed fear that they will not know how to maintain Leal’s legacy, and will seek more immediate profits without taking residents into account.

What’s Worse: $400 Million to Iran or $4 Billion To Cuba?

winnerloser

The Blaze, by Humberto Fontova

If it’s any consolation, the $400 million President Barack Obama recently smuggled to terror-sponsoring Iran wasn’t (directly) extorted from the American taxpayer. Instead it was money the Shah (Iran’s ruler in 1979) paid for U.S. military equipment shortly before he was deposed by the terror-sponsoring maniacs still running Iran (i.e. sold down the river by President Jimmy Carter.)

Amazingly the U.S. never delivered the arms to the Shah’s “successors,” who still claim rightful ownership of U.S. jets, tanks, etc. The $400 million, as rationalized by Obama and some in the media, is simply a way of making good on that transaction– a harmless money-back policy, similar to Wal-Mart’s.

I wrote “amazingly” because delivery of sophisticated U.S. military equipment to Islamic maniacs seems like business-as-usual for Democratic presidents. Just ask the jumble of Islamic maniacs shooting, blasting and hacking each other to pieces in Syria.

If delivering (a probably unconstitutional) $400 million to terror-sponsoring, hostage-taking Iran strikes many of us as foolish—or shameful, outrageous and dangerous—what about $4 billion annually to Iran’s closest ally in the Western Hemisphere: Terror-sponsoring Cuba?

Much of the $4 billion (yes, with a “b”) in U.S. dollars annually to the Castro-Family-Crime-Syndicate (euphemized as “Cuba” by the media and Obama’s State Department), also results from Obama’s executive orders—which is to say: it’s ALSO probably unconstitutional.

Worse still, this loot enriches the Castro family at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer.

Not that anyone relying on the mainstream media or Obama spokespersons would have the slightest clue about these scandalous and well-guarded transactions that have the Castro family and their military cronies guffawing all the way to (Swiss and Panamanian) banks.
You see, amigos: the U.S. issues 20,000 visas to Cubans annually. And amazingly (except to everyone familiar with Castroism) the Castro regime is in charge of which Cubans get them. So Castro’s apparatchiks make sure to issue their thousands upon thousands of entry tickets into the U.S. to a special type of “refugee.” This type enters the U.S. via comfy commercial flight and sprints from the airport terminal to the nearest welfare office. Shortly he’s sending a portion of his U.S. refugee welfare benefits back to his family in Cuba, where other communist apparatchiks promptly skim off 20 percent in various “transaction fees” and deposit them into communist regime coffers.

And some say communists are “inefficient?”

Some Cuba-watchers even report that the ultra-efficient (in fleecing Americans) Cuban regime even gives preparatory classes to its snickering “refugee” visa applicants. These intensive training seminars focus on how to quickly fill out those pesky welfare forms those fussbucket Yankee Imperialists make you fill out before forking over the $1,200 a month in assorted Yankee Imperialist welfare benefits. Some say these classes even feature wall-maps showing where the Yankee Imperialist welfare offices are located in the Miami area.

And some say communists are “bunglers.”

After completing all the pesky paperwork in Miami some of these “refugees” even return to Cuba, where they continue receiving their monthly U.S. welfare checks sent by their Miami relatives. Considering the cost of living in Stalinist Cuba (where the average salary is $22 a month) these “refugees” eke out a lifestyle like Tony Montana eked out in south Florida.

And some say communist have no sense of humor? HAH!

According to an investigation by Sun-Sentinel :

“In Miami-Dade County, where 24 percent of the population was born in Cuba, immigrants from the island account for 73 percent of arrests for health care fraud; 72 percent of arrests for cargo theft; 59 percent of arrests for marijuana trafficking; and half the arrests for credit-card and insurance fraud. Among Cuban-born defendants sentenced to federal prison for these crimes, two out of three are still Cuban citizens.

“Medicare fraud alone accounts for more than $2 billion in stolen funds every year in South Florida. Investigators, prosecutors and members of Congress have speculated that the Cuban government may be behind the Medicare fraud scheme.”

So more than pirates, modern Cuban criminals operate as privateers: i.e. they have a commission from Castro’s Stalinist/kleptocratic regime, who gets a cut of their booty, at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer.

Anybody who knows anything about the Castro family—especially their expertise on U.S. politics–knows that helping fill up a crucial swing-state (Florida) with Democratic voters is hardly an afterthought for the communist apparatchiks when issuing their “refugee” visas in Havana. Thanks to this well-guarded racket, the term “Miami-Cuban” no longer denotes what it did in the 60’s and 70’s (“rabid, right-wing Republican’).

Some of these “refugees from communism” even arrive in Florida pre-packaged with their Che Guevara T-shirts and Castro tattoos. Makes you long for the good ‘ole days of Tony “say hello to my little friend!” Montana. After all, besides investing his profits right here in the good ‘ole USA, Scarface famously boasted, “I kill communists for fun—for money I REALLY gonna carve ‘em up!”

‘People are complaining openly in Cuba and this has never happened before’

rodilesposter

The Guardian

Leading dissident Antonio Rodiles has been arrested more than 50 times this year, but he says he has moments of optimism about political change in Cuba

Two days before he was due to meet the president of the US, Antonio Rodiles was arrested by the Cuban police.

But this was nothing new – as a democracy activist in Cuba you get to know the police pretty well. Rodiles estimates that he has been arrested more than 50 times since the beginning of the year.

I met Rodiles in his house in Havana, shortly after the US president’s historic visit. He was eventually released and met with Obama, who spent two hours with prominent Cuban dissidents and anti-Castro civil society leaders. “It was a good meeting, but it doesn’t mean we will have a good result,” Rodiles says. And yet, despite plenty of negative experiences, the activist admits that these days, he has moments of optimism.

Rodiles, a native Cuban, has been openly critical of the Castro government since his return from the US in 2010. A qualified physicist, he spent 12 years away from Cuba until he turned to political activism, concerned and frustrated by the lack of civic liberties in his country.

His activism is mainly about reclaiming public space and intellectual freedom. Last year he launched #TodosMarchamos (we all march), an initiative to exercise the right to freedom of expression and take back the streets from the government – there’s a saying in Cuba “esta calle es de Fidel” (this street belongs to Fidel).

On a smaller scale, every Thursday Rodiles hosts meetings at his house – an organisation called Estado de SATS – an open space to present art exhibitions, independent films and debates. They are “a kind of therapy session for activists,” he says.

“There’s no space like this in Cuba. It’s so important to have these kinds of events. People can come here and speak openly without limits. They can say they hate Fidel or even, well, we haven’t had anyone say they like the Castros, but they could do that here,” he jokes.

And these meetings are poignant. Ex-political prisoners are given a microphone to share their thoughts on the future of Cuba and openly discuss their experiences of their restricted life. It seems to be a lifeline for those who think differently to the Cuban communist ideology; and it is perhaps now more important than ever to continue these discussions. The invitation to meet with Obama was a recognition of their work.

Continue reading ‘People are complaining openly in Cuba and this has never happened before’

Cuba is in trouble

A Cuban woman migrant uses her cell phone while other Cubans sleep outside of the border control building in Penas Blancas, Costa Rica, on the border with Nicaragua, on Nov. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix, File)
A Cuban woman migrant uses her cell phone while other Cubans sleep outside of the border control building in Penas Blancas, Costa Rica, on the border with Nicaragua, on Nov. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix, File)

iPolitics, by Jonathan Manthorpe

Economic reforms have stalled — and Cubans are running out of patience

Under the Castro brothers’ brand of feudal Marxism, Cuba has always needed a sugar daddy.

It hasn’t helped the island’s economic well-being, of course, that since Fidel and Raul Castro captured the island in 1959 the United States has imposed comprehensive travel and trade sanctions. The Soviet Union stepped in early on to support the Caribbean orphan and for 30 years was responsible for 80 per cent of the island’s imports and exports.

That subsidy came to an abrupt end with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Cuba then entered what is euphemistically called the “Special Period in Time of Peace” — when the country’s production dropped by 34 per cent, there was total dislocation of the transportation system and power outages were common. Mass starvation was avoided, but the average Cuban lost nine kilograms in weight during this period.

In 1999, that strutting rooster Hugo Chavez came to the rescue. From then until his death in March, 2013, the Venezuelan president supplied Cuba with tens of billions of dollars in loans and a steady stream of heavily subsidized oil at around 200,000 barrels a day. That has all but dried up as Venezuela’s economy and society continues its tailspin under Nicolas Maduro.

Fortunately for the Castro brothers, a new sugar daddy appeared on the horizon almost immediately — in the unlikely shape of Uncle Sam.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement in 2014 of renewed ties to Cuba opened the door to American tourism and investment. This prospect seemed close when Obama visited Cuba in March, the first U.S. president to do so for nearly a century. However, the Castro brothers are nothing if not pigheaded — especially Fidel, who only waited until Air Force One had lifted off before launching another of his classic diatribes against Obama and all things Washington.

Promises by Raul Castro of economic reforms to enhance a revived, business-friendly relationship with the U.S. have turned out to be less than meets the eye. Old Commies find it hard to let go of the simple doctrines of their youth, even when they’ve brought them nothing but failure for half a century.

The result is that with the Venezuelans gone — and the Yankee saviours having not yet arrived — the Cuban economy is experiencing a sharp decline.

The number of tourists visiting Cuba increased by 17 per cent last year over 2014, generating gross revenues of $US2.8 billion. But it’s a drop in the bucket. Tourists visit only limited areas of the island and the bulk of the country gets little benefit. That may change when direct U.S. commercial flights resume later this month. But for the moment there’s a big hole in the Castro brothers’ wallet.

It doesn’t help that their natural instinct at these moments of economic stress is to impose price controls and rationing. These act as a major discouragement to Cuba’s already semi-dysfunctional agricultural sector.

Fuel and energy consumption is being cut by 25 per cent. Public lighting is being reduced and government offices are closing early to save power. Price controls are being imposed to placate public discontent over inflation. Imports are being cut by 17 per cent, a severe measure for an import-dependent economy.

Raul Castro, who now runs the show (unless Fidel feels a rant coming on), is portraying these moves as pre-emptive action to prevent a return of the “Special Period.” They also amount to another blow to market reforms — without which the country will continue to flounder.

Many Cubans who can are voting with their feet. There’s been a remarkable increase in the number of Cubans making the arduous and sometimes perilous journey to claim political asylum in the U.S.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 46,635 Cubans have entered the U.S. so far this year, up from 43,159 in 2015. And the 2015 total was up 78 per cent on the 24,278 Cubans who made it to the U.S. in 2014, when the Castro regime made it easier for Cubans to travel abroad. In 2011, only 7,759 Cubans made it to the U.S.

The economic recession at home and uncertainty about when things may improve are driving this exodus, but there’s also the strong magnetic pull from the U.S. In 1966, as Washington ratcheted up its sanctions against the Castro regime, it also enacted the Cuban Adjustment Act, aimed at aiding refugees from the island. The act is sometimes called the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy; it allows Cubans who arrive in the U.S. through a regular port of entry, and who pass criminal and immigration checks, to apply for permanent residence after only a year in the country.

But with relations between the U.S. and Cuba returning to normal, there’s a growing mood in Washington to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act. Which explains the rush among Cubans who want to get to the U.S. (and can do so) to make the trip before the fast-track to citizenship is closed off.

The Havana government has railed against the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, saying it turns Cubans into “victims of human traffickers and delinquent bands operating in the region. These citizens are victims of the politicization of the migration theme on the part of the United States government, which stimulates illegal and unsafe migration.”

The most popular route for Cubans is to fly to Ecuador, where entry is usually easy, and then travel north through Central America and Mexico. Most of these Cubans — 64 per cent of the total — enter the U.S. through Laredo, though many also go through El Paso.

But Ecuador has started demanding visas of Cubans and other routes through the Caribbean rim have become more difficult. Early this month, Colombia deported 1,350 of about 1,800 Cubans stranded in the town of Turbo near the border with Panama. This followed Panama’s closing of its border with Colombia in May. In April, Costa Rica closed its border with Panama, and last November, Nicaragua closed its border with Costa Rica to Cuban migrants.

The time-honoured alternative is the 145-kilometre sea crossing from Cuba to Florida. Last year the number of Cuban migrants who registered with the U.S. border authorities in Miami more than doubled to almost 10,000 from just under 5,000 in 2014.

But since October of last year, the U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted 5,786 Cubans at sea — taking them home to a not very warm welcome from the Castro brothers’ regime.

Cuban dissident on hunger strike ‘ready to die’ to call attention to government abuse

farinas

FoxNewsLatino

On his third week of a hunger strike, Guillermo Fariñas, one of Cuba’s most prominent human rights activists, is refusing medical intervention as his health declines and says he is ready to die to call attention to the Cuban government’s abuse of dissidents.

In a telephone interview from his home in Cuba on Tuesday with Fox News Latino, Fariñas said he wants the Cuban government to stop engaging in physical assault of political dissidents.

Those who have visited Fariñas, as well as a doctor who was monitoring his condition, have told Fox News Latino and other news organizations that he suffered two fractured ribs and other injuries in July when he asked Cuban state police about the status of a detained dissident, Carlos Amel Oliva.

Fariñas, who has gone on more than 20 hunger strikes in protest of human rights violations in Cuba, immediately wrote a letter to Cuban President Raul Castro asking for an end to “abuse, terror, and violence by the repressive authorities of your government.” He decided to launch a hunger strike, and more than a dozen other human rights activists in Cuba have joined him.

Fariñas, 54, has been hospitalized twice in the last 10 days, according to the Cuban American National Foundation, an influential Miami-based lobby group that pushes for democratic reform in Cuba.

As his health has deteriorated and a weaker Fariñas spends more and more of his days sleeping, the recipient of several international human rights prizes has been visited by a representative of the U.S. Embassy in Havana and an envoy who stopped by on behalf of Pope Francis.

The Vatican envoy told Fariñas a few days ago that Pope Francis does not agree with holding a hunger strike, but respects his decision to do so.

Fariñas said he is too tired of the systemic abuses by the Castro regime and that he will sacrifice his life to get the Cuban government to take action, or the world to take human rights abuses in Cuba more seriously.

“I’m not asking them to stop detaining people, though they should stop making up bogus reasons and trumping up charges and refusing to admit that they detain people just for political reasons,” Fariñas said of what he is asking of the Cuban government. “I want them to stop beating up people who are merely protesting peacefully for freedom, for democratic reform. They also should never beat someone up when they are handcuffed or put in some other restraints.”

Fariñas, who met with President Barack Obama when he visited Havana in March, said the United States’ move to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba only has emboldened the Castro regime “by giving it validation.”

“The intentions by the president were good, I believe, but it has served to make them feel legitimized and more reckless about oppression,” Fariñas said. “If they had any good will, the Cuban government would have taken steps toward democratic reform and liberties for everyone, the Cuban citizenry and critics of the government. But instead, the regime is acting with impugnity.”

Fariñas wants the Obama administration to freeze diplomatic relations so long as the government continues to crack down on dissension.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said to Fox News Latino on condition of anonymity that it is keeping track of Fariñas’ health, and has contacted Cuban authorities about its concerns regarding the activist. A U.S. Embassy staffer went to check on Fariñas at his home on Monday.

“We remain concerned about the physical wellbeing of Guillermo Fariñas, Carlos Amel, and other activists engaged in a hunger strike in Cuba,” the State Department official said in a statement. “We are monitoring their situation closely.”

“We stand in solidarity with those who advocate for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly,” the official said. “We have raised our concerns directly with the Cuban government, both in Washington and Havana.”

Fariñas has dropped nearly 30 pounds since he began his hunger strike in July, said fellow dissident Jorge Luis Artiles Montiel, who has been acting as spokesman for Fariñas and others holding hunger strikes.

Fariñas’ mother, who is a nurse, is monitoring his vital signs, Artiles Montiel told Fox News Latino.

“His blood pressure is low, his pulse is slow, his heart rate is low,” he said. “He doesn’t want food or anything. At the hospital they had an IV pumping fluid into him, but he didn’t want it.”

“He wants no more medical intervention, even if his condition deteriorates and he loses consciousness. He told us not to call for help if that happens. But of course we will, how can we not? His health is in peril.”

The Cuban government has force-fed hunger strikers in the past. The United Nations considers force-feeding hunger strikes a human rights violation.

In 2010, Fariñas held one of his most watched hunger strikes as the Cuban government was in talks with the Spanish government about releasing political prisoners. The government released 116 political prisoners, many of whom were offered exile in Spain. Fariñas was one of them, but refused, saying – like some other dissidents – that he would not grant Cuba’s wish to rid itself of critics by banishing them to other countries.

Besides the U.S. State Department, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican of Cuban descent, several international human rights organizations, and U.S.-based groups that advocate for democratic reform in Cuba all have expressed concern about Fariñas.

Fariñas has been honored around the world for his human rights activism. Among the honors is the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2010.