The Disastrous Cuba Deal—One Year On

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By Stephen Flurry, The Trumpet

When United States President Barack Obama reestablished full diplomatic relations with the Castro regime in Cuba in December 2014, he said it would advance U.S. interests and engage and empower the Cuban people. At the U.S. flag-raising ceremony in Havana in August, Secretary of State John Kerry said the deal would help ease restrictions on Cuban entrepreneurs, as well as improve family communications and travel. He urged the Cuban government to do its part in making it less difficult for Cuban citizens to start businesses, engage in trade, and access the Internet.

“The goal of all these changes is to help Cubans connect to the world and improve their lives,” Kerry said. It’s only been six months since Secretary Kerry made those remarks, and already the Washington Post editorial board is calling the Cuba deal a “failure.”

There is “scant evidence” of any sea change in Cuba, the Post wrote—“perhaps because Mr. Obama continues to offer the Castro regime unilateral concessions requiring nothing in return” (emphasis added).

The Obama administration used the same strategy on the Iran nuclear deal—unilateral concessions requiring little or nothing in return. How long will it be before the world awakens to the failure of the nuclear deal?

In Cuba, the deal that was supposed to help Cuban people has instead empowered a ruthless Communist regime. As the Washington Post noted, “Autocrats everywhere must be watching with envy the Castros’ good fortune.”

Over the past year, the Castro brothers have actually cracked down on dissidents promoting democracy in Cuba! And the only businesses benefiting from “improved” relations with the U.S. are state-run institutions.

Continue reading The Disastrous Cuba Deal—One Year On

Facts Prove Obama’s Cuba Policy Counter-Productive

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The World Post by Mauricio Claver-Carone, Director of Cuba Democracy Advocates in Washington, D.C.

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President Obama announced a new Cuba policy on Dec. 17, 2014. It gave diplomatic recognition to the sole remaining dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere, unilaterally eased U.S. trade and travel restrictions, and commuted the prison sentences of three convicted Cuban spies, including one imprisoned for plotting the murder of three Americans shot-down by Cuban MIGs while flying over the Florida Straits.

When Obama announced his new policy, describing it as “what change looks like,” few believed that the “change” would be for the worse. Yet the policy has clearly proven to be counter-productive. Set aside the policy theories and debates. Instead, look simply at the irrefutable facts since the announcement:

•Political arrests have intensified. Throughout 2015, there were more than 8,616 documented political arrests in Cuba. In November alone there were more than 1,447 documented political arrests, the highest monthly tally in decades. Those numbers compare to 2,074 arrests in 2010 and 4,123 in 2011.

•A new Cuban migration is unfolding. The United States is faced with the largest migration of Cuban immigrants since the rafters of 1994. The number of Cubans entering the United States in 2015 was nearly twice that of 2014. Some 51,000 Cubans last year entered the United States; tens of thousands more are desperately trying to make the journey, via Ecuador and other South and Central American countries. When President Obama took office, the numbers were less than 7,000 annually.

•The number of “self-employed” workers in Cuba has decreased. The Cuban government today is licensing 10,000 fewer “self-employed” workers than it did in 2014. In contrast, Castro’s military monopolies are expanding at record pace. The Cuban military-owned tourism company, Gaviota S.A., announced 12 percent growth in 2015 and expects to double its hotel business this year. Even the limited spaces in which cuentapropistas previously operated are being squeezed as the Cuban military expands its control of the island’s travel, retail and financial sectors of the economy.

•Internet “connectivity ranking” has dropped. The International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Measuring the Information Society Report for 2015, the world’s most reliable source of data and analysis on global access to information and communication. ITU has dropped Cuba’s ranking to 129 from 119. The island fares much worse than some of the world’s most infamous suppressors of the Internet suppressors, including Zimbabwe (127), Syria (117), Iran (91), China (82) and Venezuela (72).

•U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba have plummeted. Despite the Obama Administration’s easing of sanctions, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba declined by nearly 40 percent in 2015. In August alone, the value of U.S. agricultural exports dropped 84 percent to $2.25 million from $14.30 million in 2014. That’s one of the lowest numbers since the United States authorized agricultural exports to Cuba in 2001.

•Religious freedom violations have increased tenfold. According to the London-based NGO, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), last year 2,000 churches were declared illegal and 100 were designated for demolition by the Castro regime. Altogether, CSW documented 2,300 separate violations of religious freedom in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.

•Castro reneged on the release of political prisoners and visits by international monitors. Most of the 53 political prisoners released in the months prior and after Obama’s December 2014 announcement have since been re-arrested on multiple occasions. Five have been handed new long-term prison sentences. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch noted in its new 2016 report, “Cuba has yet to allow visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross or by U.N. human rights monitors, as stipulated in the December 2014 agreement with the United States.”

•International political and economic pressure on Cuba has eroded. Despite the Obama Administration’s prediction that the new U.S. policy would allow other countries to hold the Castro regime accountable for its repressive practices, the opposite is occurring. Presidents, foreign ministers and other dignitaries have flocked to Cuba to discuss business opportunities with Castro’s state monopolies. None has made even a minimal gesture of solidarity with Cuba’s civil society. International creditors have forgiven tens of billions in the Castro dictatorship’s debts.

Supporters of Obama’s policy point to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations as a sign of “success” in itself. Yet no progress has been made on pressing diplomatic issues like the extradition of one of the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists, who continues to be harbored by Cuba’s regime, or compensation or return of billions in Americans property confiscated by the regime. To the contrary, we’ve learned that throughout this process of negotiations and “changes” sought by the Obama Administration, that Cuba has had a stolen U.S. Hellfire missile in its possession and refused to return it. To make matters worse, defense experts fear Cuba may have shared information about this missile’s technology with nations like North Korea.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s “talking for the sake of talking” is proving only to be a useful distraction in this country and the world that is allowing the Castro regime to strengthen its political and economic grip over the Cuban people and their future.

Follow Mauricio Claver-Carone on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@capitolcubans

Another Canadian family has a Cuban vacation nightmare

Kelly Morrison (left) and her daughter while on vacation in Cuba. (Photo by Kelly Morrison)
Kelly Morrison (left) and her daughter while on vacation in Cuba. (Photo by Kelly Morrison)

Regina family’s dream vacation in Cuba turns to ‘nightmare’

CBC News

The Morrison family says money, jewelry taken from the safe in their hotel room

Members of a Regina family say their dream vacation in Cuba “turned into a nightmare”.

“Everything was great for the first few days,” Kelly Morrison said in a news release. “That all changed, however, last Saturday.”

On the morning of Jan. 30, Morrison opened their hotel room safe and found her wedding rings and money was nowhere to be found. She said about $170 Cdn. and 130 Cuban pesos (approximately $7 Cdn.) was missing.

When Morrison reported it as a theft to the hotel staff, they were told to fill out an report. That’s when Morrison said she was interviewed by the resort’s staff.

“Rather than an interview, it became an interrogation,” she said. “It was clear they didn’t believe our story. They thought we made up the whole thing.”

Morrison said security staff at the resort then went to their hotel room to search the family’s belongings. The missing items were not found.

According to Morrison, they were then told by the resort staff to leave everything in their rooms, including their passports. The family was moved to another part of the resort.​

After a few hours of waiting, Morrison said the resort told the family they could move back to their room and get their belongings, but only if they withdrew their statement alleging a theft from their safe.

“Obviously, they were only interested in keeping this incident quiet, rather than helping us,” Morrison said. “They refused to believe anyone else was in our room. They even threatened to kick us out of the hotel if we ‘made a scene’ and told other guests about what happened.”

When Morrison reached the Canadian embassy in Varadero, Cuba, they were told it would be best to retract their statement.

After the less-than-relaxing winter getaway, Morrison said it’s not the missing money that bothers her the most.

“I’m more upset about the loss of my three rings, including my wedding and engagement bands,” she said. “But worst of all, by far, is the way we were treated. Obviously, I would advise everyone to stay as far away as possible from Memories Santa Maria. I guarantee we’ll be choosing another destination for our next family vacation.”

On their next family vacation, Morrison said the family will also be leaving their valuable belongings at home.

CBC contacted the resort for comment, and the company said it will be issuing a statement later today.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church will meet in Cuba next Friday

APTOPIX Cuba Pope

The Washington Post

En Español Infobae

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church will meet in Cuba for the first time next Friday as part of an effort to heal a schism that has divided Christianity between East and West for nearly 1,000 years.

The meeting, the first ever between a sitting pope and Russian patriarch, will take place at José Martí International Airport, where the two will sign a joint declaration. Pope Francis will fly to Cuba before traveling on to Mexico for a six-day tour of the country.

“This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches,” said a joint press release.

“The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits,” it added.

Patriarch Kirill is scheduled to arrive next Thursday in Havana for an 11-day tour of South America, which will also include stops in Paraguay, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Sãn Paulo in Brazil.

The meeting would culminate decades of overtures seeking to bridge suspicions and rifts that span both historical and contemporary grievances, which have so far blocked any papal visit to Russia.

Among the obstacles that have complicated deeper dialogue are long-held claims by Moscow that the Roman Catholics have been seeking to expand Rome-affiliated churches in traditional Christian Orthodox areas.

Eastern Rite churches — which retain Orthodox traditions but are loyal to the Vatican — have been one of the thorniest issues blocking attempts to heal the divisions between the world’s Roman Catholics and more than 200 million Orthodox.

Orthodox Christians are spread among various churches and patriarches. But the Russian church is the largest and carries major influence among the Orthodox heirarchy.

Although Catholics and Orthodox remain estranged on other issues — including married clergy and the centralized power of the Vatican — there have been significant moves over the generations toward closer interactions and understanding.

The first major breakthrough came in 1964 when Pope Paul VI met in Jerusalem with Patriarch Athenagoras in the first encounter between a pope and Orthodox patriarch in more than 500 years. The meeting led to the lifting of mutual excommunication edicts and the Catholic-Orthodox Joint Declaration of 1965 that called for greater harmony among the churches.

An apostolic letter by John Paul II in 1995 encouraged unity between the two branches of Christianity and opened the way for a historic visit to Rome by Bartholomew I, who is based in Istanbul and is considered the “first among equals” of the Orthodox patriarchs.

In 2001, Pope John Paul II made a landmark trip to mostly Orthodox Greece and issued an apology for the ravages of the Fourth Crusade, which in the early 13th century sacked Constantinople, now Istanbul, the seat of the Eastern church.

In 2006, Benedict XVI was hosted by the Bartholomew, known as the ecumenical patriarchate, in Istanbul in a visit that brought protests from some archconservative Orthodox but generally opened room for more exchanges.

The Cuba encounter also appears to show evolving views by the Kremlin toward the Vatican under Francis, the first pope from Latin America, who has been critical of Western-style capitalism and other social ills.

The Vatican has been careful with its comments against Russia’s actions in Ukraine, including its annexation of Ukraine in 2014, but has indirectly criticized Moscow and others over failures to end Syria’s civil war. Russia is a key backer of Syria’s government and last year began airstrikes to aid Syrian forces.

Previous pontiffs, meanwhile, have been appraised with a possibily harsher eye by the Kremlin. The Polish-born Pope John Paul II directly challenged the former Soviet Union during his early years in his papacy. His successor, Benedict, was often seen through the prism of his former role as the Vatican’s chief overseer of Catholic doctrine.

Cuba open, not free

activista

The Cavalier Daily

President Obama is not doing enough to secure basic human rights for the Cuban people

On Nov. 22, 1963 French journalist Jean Daniel ate lunch with Fidel Castro in Varadero Beach, Cuba. He was delivering a message of potential reconciliation from President John F. Kennedy to the Cuban prime minister — “an indication,” as Castro would recall, “of a desire to establish contact… to establish a certain kind of communication.” As Daniel and Castro were discussing the possibility of better relations, the telephone rang and Fidel received the news that the president had been shot. “Everything has changed. Everything is going to change,” Castro said. And he was right.

Although not always publicly, and most of the time covertly, each administration since Eisenhower’s has attempted to reestablish connections between Washington and Havana. And with the recent reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, we can say significant progress has finally been made. President Barack Obama has defended his engagement policy with Cuba, claiming that “through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves.” While Obama’s engagement policy with Cuba has removed many market barriers, the island still seems to be imprisoned by a repressive regime that has little consideration for basic human rights.

Opening telecommunications, increasing tourism and embracing foreign culture into the island are all signs that Obama’s policy of engagement has resulted in a Cuba with less restrictions and barriers. Cuba has become an island of great attraction to many tourists and artists from the United States. It has received millions of dollars due to more U.S. tourism and remittances. Yet the humanitarian conditions in the island don’t seem to show any signs of improvement. Although not as frequently as before, journalists continue being silenced, critics of the regime are persecuted and individuals voicing their concerns are being detained.

When the president began the normalization of relations between Havana and Washington, one of the arguments presented by the White House was that an embassy in Havana would provide U.S. diplomats more freedom and flexibility to move around the island than the previously established “interests section.” However, according to Cuban dissident Antonio G. Rodiles, U.S. diplomats are being seen less than before around the island, and concerns about human rights have been “sidelined” when it comes to U.S. policy towards Cuba.

But the United States supposedly has a reason for this. According to Obama, this process of normalization will be a “long journey.” Yet the Castro brothers seem unwilling to embark on this journey towards normalization, keeping a tight grip on the economy and society as a whole. They only seem to be preparing the perpetuation of their regime by passing down the baton of power to their respective heirs with no signs of doing away with violence and coercion to repress free-speech.

Additionally, Raul Castro’s increasingly popular role in foreign affairs is a sign that the world is starting to recognize the legitimacy of the island’s president. “Raúl Castro has been legitimized and recognized by the majority of the governments of the planet, and played a leading part in a Summit of the Americas, amid flashing cameras and meetings with Barack Obama,” Yoani Sanchez wrote in The Washington Post. This is not only perpetuating the repressive Castro regime within Cuba — it’s also approving of it.

Despite Castro’s increasing popularity among political and social elites throughout the world, harassment, arrests, beatings and intimidation against critics have shown no sign of stopping. According to a report by the Human Rights Watch, Raul Castro has kept Cuba’s “repressive machinery” in place instead of dismantling it. According to Sanchez, several generations of journalists and other information professionals have had to approach their work through “censorship, ideological propaganda and the applause of power.”

While Obama’s policies of engagement with the island have resulted in the positive lifting of market barriers and reduction of restrictions in tourism, they have undeniably left a huge hole when it comes to addressing the island’s humanitarian crisis and deeply repressive regime. Before facilitating Cuba’s reintroduction to world market and letting an influx of cash enter the government’s coffers, Obama needs to ensure the Castro regime is taking the necessary measures to improve the humanitarian conditions of which the Cuban people are deprived.

The nation of Cuba is an island with a long history and of tremendous potential for economic, cultural and social fortune. Lifting market-based barriers and restrictions has proven to be helpful for many tourists and cultural artists, but has simultaneously left the Cuban people in the back shadows of U.S. policy toward Cuba. Hopefully, the United States will recognize the need to shift its policies toward Cuba from solely market-based open policies to humanitarian, social and economic policies that will actually put Cuba in a path to modern success.

French TV makes fun of Raúl Castro and his inseparable grandson

Raúl Castro’s grandson, known in Cuba as “El Cangrejo” (The Crab) because he has six fingers, is the dictator’s inseparable bodyguard.

During his trip to Paris this week, some of the guards and even President Hollande tried to stop El Cangrejo from following the dictator wherever he went. But  they failed.

At the end of the video a French journalist asks Castro in Spanish: “¿Cuándo los cubanos podrán votar libremente?” (When will Cubans be able to vote freely). As expected, the dictator ignored the question.

 

The Castros Continue to Shut Churches in Cuba

cubareligion

Newsweek

The Obama administration has been easing restrictions on travel, exports and export financing. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker spoke of “building a more open and mutually beneficial relationship.”

However, the administration expressed concern over Havana’s dismal human rights practices. Despite the warm reception given Pope Francis last fall, the Castro regime has been on the attack against Cubans of faith.

In a  new report, the group  Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) warned of “an unprecedented crackdown on churches across the denominational spectrum,” which has “fueled a spike in reported violations of freedom of religion or belief.” There were 220 specific violations of religious liberties in 2014, but there were 2,300 last year, many of which “involved entire churches or, in the cases of arrests, dozens of victims.”

Even in the best of times, the Castros have never been friends of faith in anything other than themselves. The State Department’s 2014 report on religious liberty noted that “the government harassed outspoken religious leaders and their followers, including reports of beating, threats, detentions and restrictions on travel. Religious leaders reported the government tightened controls on financial resources.”

Last year, the  U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was similarly critical. The commission explained: “Serious religious freedom violations continue in Cuba, despite improvements for government-approved religious groups.”

Never mind the papal visit, “the government continues to detain and harass religious leaders and laity, interfere in religious groups’ internal affairs, and prevent democracy and human rights activists from participating in religious activities.”

Now CSW has issued its own report. Last year’s increase in persecution “was largely due to the government declaring 2,000 Assemblies of God churches illegal, ordering the closure or demolition of 100 AoG churches in three provinces, and expropriating the properties of a number of other denominations, including the Methodist and Baptist Conventions.”

This wide-ranging campaign was led by the Office of Religious Affairs. Noted CSW: “In 2015, the ORA continued to deny authorization for a number of religious activities and in cooperation with other government agencies, issued fines and threats of confiscation to dozens of churches and religious organizations.”

Through the ORA the Communist Party exercises control over religious activities. Indeed, reported CSW, the office “exists solely to monitor, hinder and restrict the activities of religious groups.”

The regime also has increasingly targeted church leaders and congregants, for the first time in years jailing one of the former. In early January, two churches were destroyed, church members arrested and three church leaders held incommunicado. One of the government’s more odious practices, according to CSW, has been to threaten churches with closure if they “do not comply with government demands to expel and shun specific individuals.”

The regime’s destructive activities have been justified as enforcing zoning laws. But in practice the measure is a subterfuge to shut down churches.

Other legislation threatens house churches. While not consistently implemented in the past, “church leaders have repeatedly expressed concern at its potential to close down a large percentage of house churches.”

CSW concluded that the ongoing crackdown was an attempt to limit calls for social reform which would complement ongoing, though limited, economic changes. Detentions initially were concentrated on “Cubans considered by the government to be political dissidents,” including a group of Catholic women called the Ladies in White. The regime crackdown later “expanded to include other individuals associated with independent civil society, including human rights and democracy activists.”

The Obama administration was right to engage Cuba. After more than 50 years, the embargo serves no useful purpose.

However, even lifting all economic restrictions won’t turn Cuba into a democracy. Only sustained pressure from within and without Cuba is likely to force the Castro regime to yield control to the Cuban people.

As I wrote in Forbes: “Americans should forthrightly encourage freedom in Cuba. Religious believers should be particularly vocal in supporting people seeking to live out their faith under Communist oppression. Some day autocracy will give way to liberty even in Cuba.”

A letter from a friend in Indonesia

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Foreigners who praise Cuba’s “free education” also includes progressives-left wingers in my country, Indonesia. They are opposition outside the Indonesian government (no strong leftist party in the parliament) and mostly spreading their views by blogs, alternative media, and social media.

Unfortunately we have a dark history dealing with the Reds, in 1965 there was a coup attempt allegedly committed by them (30 September movement). In that chaos Soeharto seized power and massacred suspected communists (not all of the victims were communists!) and used the Cold War tension to silence his opposition (He was Western friendly).

Yes, I denounced his human rights violation, but also it doesn’t mean that socialism will go away scot-free. My question is, how I, with only an Internet connection can convince people (esp. my friend and families) to not be influenced by leftist propaganda? Thank you The Real Cuba for informing me about the real situation in Cuba.

Greetings from an Indonesian anti-communist.

Lukas Lumbantobing

My response:

Thank you for writing. I am sure you can influence people even if all you have is an Internet connection. That is all I have and more than 5 million people from all over the World have visited the realcuba.com to learn the truth about Cuba.
If you decide to open a website to express your views about leftist propaganda in Indonesia, let me know and I’ll be very happy to publicize it at therealcuba.com

Best regards,

George

Project Exile: Cuba exiles writer for penning uncomfortable truths

Amir Valle
Amir Valle

Global Journalists

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The minister “decided I was a rotten apple and rotten apples have to be set apart before they contaminate the rest.”

Amir Valle was once a loyal son of the Cuban Revolution.

The Cuban novelist, editor and journalist was born in 1967 in Guantanamo Bay to a humble revolutionary family, just eight years after Fidel Castro’s ragtag band of revolutionaries took power from pro-U.S. dictator Fulgencio Batista. Valle recalls his childhood as a time when the country was filled with sentiments of hope and certainty that a better future was being built by the Castros and their communist comrades.

Valle excelled in school and studied journalism at the University of Havana and served in the military. He then went to work for Cuban radio in 1989 at a time of momentous transition as Soviet aid that had propped up the economy began to vanish. He was assigned to cover the construction of a nuclear power plant and oil refinery that were the twin pillars of the government’s plan to power the energy-starved island, and was shocked to see they were being built with nowhere near the speed the government had proclaimed.

Now 49, Valle’s revolutionary optimism has vanished even as his career has flourished. He’s won awards for his non-fiction work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Havana’s sex trade and his probing novels of Cuba’s seedy underworld of drug dealers, transvestite prostitutes and human traffickers. Though he became one of Cuba’s best-known writers, in 2005 he found his government no longer wanted him. While on tour to promote a book in Spain, he learned the government wouldn’t allow him to return to his native land. Now living in Germany, Valle spoke with Global Journalist’s Nicole Osuna about losing his revolutionary fervor and the contradictions of Cuban life.

GJ: What was it like growing up in Cuba in the 1970s?

Valle: Many people saw the Cuban Revolution as a beacon of freedom and hope in a time when the world seem to be crumbling. That ideal existed especially among young individuals. The propaganda of the revolution told us that we were going to be the kind of man Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were talking about, the “new man.” I wasn’t able to see the dark side of the revolution like other children since my parents shared its ideals.

My father still remains very proud he helped the revolutionary cause. But he did tell me that he fought so that I would be able to do what I believed in even if it was contrary to his beliefs. His words had profound meaning to me. My process of disillusionment with the revolution started when I began studying journalism. I noticed there were boundaries I was forced to follow and topics that as a journalist I didn’t have the right to cover. This opened my eyes.

GJ: What kind of pressure is there on Cuban journalists?

Valle: The first thing you are told when you begin journalism studies in Cuba is that you are an ideological soldier of the revolution. When you graduate, you are placed in different media outlets, which have a set of “unbreakable guidelines.”

These guidelines establish what can or cannot be said, who you are allowed to interview, which topics are important to cover, etc. The rules are dictated by the Central Committee of the party’s Department of Ideology.

If you are a good journalist you try to find ways to tell the reality but generally journalists don’t want to risk it and end up doing very shallow journalism. But I have talented friends that decided to abandon the profession and end up working, for instance as taxi drivers, because they were unwilling to submit.

GJ: You helped write the script for Estela Bravo’s flattering 2001 documentary “Fidel: the Untold Story.” What did you learn from that experience?

Valle: That was another key moment for me. In the making of the documentary, we got to see many private images and clips of Fidel Castro that I had never seen. The standard of living I saw through those images had nothing to do with how the rest of the Cuban population was living. The level of luxury was very shocking to me. Images of him with his family reminded me more of an Arab sheikh, an oil multimillionaire, than of a revolutionary leader that everyday asked the masses for more sacrifices.

For a long time, I thought —the same as many Cubans— that if Fidel ever found out about the wrong things happening on the island, these things would cease to exist. I thought that the problem resided in party middle men that weren’t doing their work adequately. But in the making of the documentary, I realized that Fidel was already aware of all of those things and that he was as guilty as the failed system.

Continue reading Project Exile: Cuba exiles writer for penning uncomfortable truths

Marco Rubio’s very big night in Iowa

marcorubio1

The Washington Post

Sure, his rival won the first-in-the-nation nominating contest. And he didn’t even come in second place. In fact, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) came in third, exactly where we predicted he would.

But it’s how Rubio came in third that makes all the difference. Polling indicated Rubio would be a distant third, trailing by perhaps double digits in the socially conservative state — an afterthought behind the two candidates expected to duke it out for first: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Donald Trump.

Instead, Rubio came in a very strong third — a third that was very nearly second, as he crept up on Trump’s vote total. In Monday’s Iowa GOP caucuses, Cruz got 28 percent of the vote, Trump 24 percent and Rubio 23 percent.

Rubio came within a couple hundred supporters of piercing the impenetrable bubble thought to be around Cruz and Trump — and on the two leaders’ own political turf, no less. He over-performed expectations, and for that, Rubio perhaps almost as much as Cruz can call Monday a win.

A few minutes after the Associated Press called the race for Cruz, Rubio took the stage in Iowa, flanked by his family. But if you were listening to Rubio’s speech in a news vacuum, you would have thought AP called the race for him.

“For months, they said we had no chance,” he said. “… They told me I had no chance because my hair wasn’t gray enough and my boots were too high.”

Then, he pivoted to what can only be described as a general election stump speech — sharing his Cuban immigrant parents’ story of making it in America, knocking Democrat Hillary Clinton for her emails and warning that “everything that makes this nation great now hangs in the balance” of this presidential election.

Rubio’s impressive results in the Iowa caucus — and his speech afterward — were tailored to one simple message: He is the GOP candidate with the broadest appeal to win in a general election, and Iowa proves it.

“We are going to unify this party, and we are going to unify the conservative movement,” he said Monday, a subtle dig at both Cruz’s and Trump’s reputation for divisiveness.

Rubio is arguing that Iowa is proof that his strategy, to be many things to many different people, is working. He was never expected to win among such a conservative electorate, so the fact he got so close to the two who were — even after going on the defense for supporting immigration reform in 2013 — suggests he has staying power among the social conservative community while he carries the mantle of leader of the establishment pack. (The next establishment candidate, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, came in sixth place Monday with 3 percent of the vote.)

Still, one great night does not a nomination make.

There are some holes in his argument, like Rubio’s support in Iowa may not be as widespread as he indicates. He won support in Iowa’s metropolitan areas, where voters tend to be more moderate, and didn’t appear to win a single other.

And Rubio is going to need whatever momentum Iowa gives him for the next contest, New Hampshire’s primary. There, a more moderate state that should be more in Rubio’s wheelhouse, he is fifth and has been criticized for not campaigning very hard.

Daring to look even further ahead, Rubio is in a familiar position in South Carolina: Third behind Trump and Cruz. But we’ll note that, as Iowa votes were being tallied, Politico reported the well-liked Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is expected to endorse Rubio in his state’s primary. And there, Rubio’s good night became even better.

Time will tell whether Rubio’s strong Monday night will be a turning point for his campaign. But for now, he’s the candidate whose showing was probably the biggest surprise of the Iowa caucuses.