Monthly Archives: June 2015

Venezuelan Paramilitaries Wreak Havoc with Cuban, FARC Support

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Studies Reveal Colectivos with 10,000 Active Members
Studies released by the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami have revealed that the Cuban regime is training Venezuelan paramilitary groups, including Los Tupamaros, La Piedrita, Simón Bolívar, and Alexis Vive. These groups have killed more than 25 students during protests, and injured over 300.
These studies show that for years the Venezuelan government has sent regime supporters to Havana to learn repression tactics in order to help their leaders stay in power. Furthermore, there is evidence that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a group designated as a terrorist organization by the US government, also trains these groups on Venezuela’s border with Colombia.
Since 1999, and Hugo Chávez’s rise to power, Venezuela has maintained a close political and economic relationship with Cuba. Even today, in the midst of economic crisis, Venezuela continues to send oil Havana, while the Castro regime continues its unconditional political support for Venezuela. Around 7,000 members of Cuba’s Interior Ministry are scattered throughout Venezuela, but studies suggest that the figure rises to 40,000 when counting the medical personnel and staff from other areas.
Since Chávez’s time in office, Venezuela has sent hundreds of supporters to Havana to learn the tactics of the Castro regime that are used today in Venezuela by militant groups called “colectivos.” These groups are heavily armed and travel by motorcycle, and have been widely criticized by the international community for their abuses.
They have also been witnessed helping the National Guard suppress peaceful student protests in recent years, an issue that various NGOs in the country have reported and denounced.
Uberto Mario, a journalist and former Cuban intelligence agent, has attested to the training of colectivos in Cuba. He has openly stated that the Venezuelan Tupamaros, for example, were trained how to kill on the island, in the Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio and Havana.
He says Cuban generals provided Los Tupamaros a Marxist-Leninist education, with courses that last up to three months. It’s in these training sessions, Mario contends, that the members of these paramilitary groups learn how to attack and defend, as well as how to provide escort and security to Venezuelan mayors and governors of the ruling party.+
According to the ICCAS studies, General Raul Castro currently has several high-ranking officers providing strategic and tactical training to these groups. His instructors include General Leonardo Ramón Andollo, second in command of the Ministry of the Armed Forces (Minfar), Commander Ramiro Valdés, head instructor of Cuba’s Interior Ministry (Minint), and General Carlos Fernández Gondín, deputy commander of the Interior Ministry.
Colectivos Do the Regime’s Dirty Work
Jairo Libreros, a Colombian security expert and international analyst, explains that the only way Nicolás Maduro can stay in power is through the actions of these groups.
“Maduro is aware that the only way for him to stay in power as a representative of Chavismo is through repression, and for this to be effective he needs units that are not directly linked to the Bolivarian Armed Forces,” he says. “The logic behind the repression on the streets has one purpose: to guarantee his power, even against democracy and human rights.”
While these groups are self-appointed as “guardians of the Venezuelan socialist revolution,” the ICCAS studies demonstrate that they are in fact endorsed by the government, which provides them the weapons and training they use to attack “rebel” citizens.
“Cuba has even created a contingency plan in case there is a change of government in Venezuela. They have prepared groups that are ready for action to prevent that change in politics,” lawyer and researcher Pedro Roig asserts.
“Tupamaros” brandish their weapons on the streets of Venezuela.
Roig says Cuba cannot afford to lose the oil they receive from Venezuela — around 50,000 barrels per month, and roughly 100,000 before the economic crisis — and that is why they train these Chavista groups.
“Cuba needs to protect the oil that comes from Venezuela. For Cuba, this is vital, and they are doing what they need to do in order to keep it,” he adds.
The ICCAS estimates that between 5,000 and 10,000 young Venezuelans have been trained by members of the Cuban regime. However, colectivo members do not need to travel to the island to receive their training, given the many “sanctuaries” within the country, especially along the Colombian border.
Guerrilla Lessons
In 2011, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, on behalf of the Colombian Defense Ministry, conducted an independent analysis of the computers of Raúl Reyes, a member of FARC’s Central High Command who was killed in an ambush in 2008. The investigation revealed important intelligence material on the guerrilla, including information that linked senior members of the Venezuelan army with drug trafficking.+
The IISS also found evidence of that the FARC had trained Venezuelan colectivos in exchange for the campgrounds Hugo Chávez allowed the guerrilla to establish on the border.
“There is clear evidence that on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, where the main authority is not the state but the FARC, they have been involved in the formation of these colectivos,” says Libreros.
According to the IISS study, it is through this tacit agreement between the Venezuelan government and the FARC that the guerrilla trains these groups in terrorism tactics and asymmetrical warfare, given their expertise in these areas.

PanAmPost

Cuban activist’s daughter in Tampa pushing for referendum

rosamariapaya

Rosa Maria Paya, one of Cuba’s best-known young dissident leaders, has a message for those who stand on both sides of the major question facing the communist island nation: Will normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba hasten real freedom for its people?
“They both want to help the Cuban people,” said Paya, 26, who is visiting Tampa this weekend. “I’m sure they agree what is best for the Cuban people is for them to decide on their own destiny.”
Paya’s organization, Cuba Decides, is urging the international community to pressure the Cuban government for a plebiscite — a direct vote of the populace on matters of national importance.
The question she wants answered: Do you want free multiparty elections covered by news organizations without government interference?
She will present her case at 11 a.m. Saturday at the headquarters of Casa de Cuba, 2506 W. Curtis St. At 12:30 p.m. Sunday, she will attend Casa de Cuba’s 25th anniversary celebration at La Giraldilla Hanley, 8218 Hanley Road.
This will be her first U.S. presentation of the plebiscite campaign, centered at the website www.cubadecide.com.
“Everyone needs to help us exert pressure and spread the word that Cubans have the right to choose their government,” Paya said. “No matter your party or political affiliation, this is about supporting real change in Cuba.”
Those in Tampa who support the move by President Barack Obama to normalize relations with Cuba after five decades of isolation may consider the site of Paya’s local presentation to be enemy territory.
Casa de Cuba advocates for continuation of the Cold War-era embargo, arguing it’s the only way to topple the Castro regime and bring democracy to Cuba. Obama says engagement now will improve the lives of its people.
Paya hopes those on both sides of the debate can put their differences aside Saturday.
Everyone is welcome to her presentation, said Ralph Fernandez, the Tampa lawyer who represents Casa de Cuba.
“Her message has universal acceptance,” Fernandez said. “Casa de Cuba does not want to divide the audience.”
Tampa was chosen for Paya’s first U.S. audience for three reasons.
First, because of its Cuban-American population, the third largest in the U.S.
Second, because it is the U.S. city most associated with José Martí, the Cuban freedom fighter who inspired the island nation’s successful war of independence from Spain in the 1890s.
It was from here that Martí raised money for the war and wrote the order for the battle to begin.
Tampa also has the José Martí Trail — a tour of spots linked to the freedom fighter — and in October will become the first U.S. city with a branch of the José Martí Cultural Society. The society has chapters in more than 90 countries.
“Tampa understands Martí’s dream for Cuba,” Paya said. “So they should understand what we need to do now.”
Finally, Tampa was chosen because it has sounded the call for normalization.
The Tampa City Council passed resolutions seeking to host a Cuban consulate and the signing of any documents restoring relations. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce supports trade with Cuba.
And U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, has led the normalization efforts.
Paya would consider it a victory to win support for a plebiscite from among the people of Tampa.
“Tampa’s city council … should show solidarity with the democratic demands of the Cuban people,” said Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, who challenges the Cuban government in the magazine “Voces,” published in the U.S. and available as an Internet download in Cuba.
Tampa Councilwoman Yvonne Capin, who introduced the Cuba resolutions, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Castor said she welcomes Paya to Tampa and encourages her constituents to join Saturday’s discussions.
“America’s new policy of engagement is intended to empower the Cuban people and encourage the Cuban government to go further and faster,” Castor said in an email to the Tribune. “I support Ms. Paya’s right to call for a plebiscite and believe that the Cuban people and indeed all people around the world should have the political freedom to petition their government for change.”
Another supporter of Paya’s measure is Albert Fox, founder of the Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, which lobbies for the end of the Cuba embargo.
“My opinion has always been that it is not for me or the U.S. government to tell the Cuban citizens what form of government they should have,” Fox said. “That is for them to decide, and that is important to me.”
Neither Castor nor Fox plans to attend Saturday’s event, citing prior commitments.
Cuba holds elections to decide representatives in municipalities, provinces and its National Assembly.
The president, however, is chosen by the National Assembly. A presidential term is five years, and there is no limit on the number of terms.
The Communist Party is the only party allowed under the constitution, but a candidate can run without an affiliation.
Up to 40 percent of the National Assembly members are people without a party, said Ted Henken, professor of Latin American studies at the City University of New York’s Baruch College.
Still, decisions of all elected officials must be in line with the platform of the Communist Party.
And most decision-making power lies with the president and his Council of State, both appointed by the National Assembly.
“The plebiscite is the first step,” Paya said. “Before we can have freedom of elections, we need to decide if we want to make the necessary changes in the system to move us in the right direction.”
The constitution does not require the government to accept the results of a plebiscite, but Paya said the international community would know the wishes of the Cuban people.
Even if the result favors the status quo, she said, she welcomes the chance for Cubans to make their choice.
“This Cuban government has never been selected by the people,” Paya said.
A poll of 1,200 Cuban citizens conducted by Miami-based Bendixen & Amandi International showed 39 percent are satisfied with the political system, 58 percent rate the Communist Party of Cuba negatively and 48 percent are dissatisfied with Raul Castro’s leadership.
Cuba has about 11 million people.
“Obama has said isolation has not worked and this new policy will empower the Cuban people,” said dissident Cuban writer Pardo Lazo. “But the Cuban people are not participating in these discussions, and they will not be allowed to under the current form of government. Those who really say they support Obama because they care about Cuba will support this plebiscite.”
Paya’s work continues the legacy of her father, the late Oswaldo Paya.
He began speaking in favor of more civil rights in Cuba in the 1980s and acquired international fame in 2002 when he presented Cuba’s legislature 11,020 signatures calling for a referendum on safeguarding freedom of speech and assembly and ending one-party rule.
A year later, he delivered an additional 14,000 signatures.
A clause in the constitution requires a national referendum if 11,000 signatures are gathered.
For his efforts, Paya was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and won the European version.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter traveled to Cuba to endorse his cause.
But no referendum was held on his questions.
Instead, the Cuban government scheduled a referendum declaring the socialist system untouchable. The government said more than 8 million voters supported it. The measure was added to the constitution.
Just as her father did, Paya seeks to bridge the debate with her message.
He opposed Fidel and Raul Castro but also the embargo, saying it gave the brothers cover for their economic failures.
Fox, of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, recalls attending cocktail receptions welcoming Paya’s father to the U.S.
Attorney Fernandez supported his petition for a referendum from Tampa.
These two men, who rarely agree on anything about Cuba politics, share respect for his work.
Paya died in a car crash in 2012.
Cuban law enforcement said the vehicle veered off the road accidentally and hit a tree.
Dissidents say witnesses saw another vehicle push it off the road. They contend state security was behind the death.
“Since then Rosa has become a very important figure in Cuba,” said Henken, of Baruch College. “Her last name means something in Cuba. Her father was long heralded for his peaceful resistance to the government. And she has earned credibility through her intelligence and eloquence.”
Paya says she was forced into political exile two years ago by opponents who harassed and threatened her.
She has spent some time in Miami, she said, but stopped short of calling any U.S. city her home.
In May, she returned to Cuba and invited everyone she met to work for a plebiscite.
She said she is not advocating for violent overthrow. Rather, she wants people to have a voice and sees opportunity in the current political climate.
As the U.S. and Cuba renew relations, the eyes of the world are fixed on the island nation.
With the eyes of the world watching, pressure is on the Cuban government, she said.
“People in Cuba want change. This is the moment that can lead us to success.”

The Tampa Tribune

Some Remain More Equal than Others in New US-Cuba Policy

Democracy the First Victim of Champagne Diplomacy by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

A revolutionary rumor in Washington, DC, can be filtered through congressional offices the same way it can from the dozens of Castroist NGOs that exist in the capital. It’s the sort of rumor that leaves no room for doubt: later this month, or in early July, the Cuban embassy in the United States will reopen at 2630 16th Street NW.
Countless state security agents who work at the Cuban “consulate” spent an entire week digging a hole for a flag pole in the mansion’s garden. It’s a residence that the Castroists stole from the republic’s treasury and the Cuban people. In practice, however, there never was a “consulate,” since the building has always functioned as one of the most important embassies in DC.
Once finished with the flag pole, the diplomatic police sang the Cuban national anthem. It wouldn’t surprise me if the song ends up on the Billboard Top 100 or featured on MTV. On December 17, 2014, US President Barack Obama said “we are all Americans” when he announced his policy shift towards Cuba. However, the real corporate trend in the United States is that “we are all Castroists” now, beginning with certain sectors of the Cuban exile community.
Roberta Jacobson, the ever-smiling US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has negotiated with Cuban spies Gustavo Machín and Josefina Vidal, among other diplo-criminals. Both men are members of the Cuban Interior Ministry and were caught red-handed and expelled from the United States in 2002 and 2003, respectively, for their links to Havana’s espionage network within academic institutions in the United States and the Pentagon.

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They gathered at a DC bar called The Partisan, and over drinks and selfies sealed their secret deal with the Castro regime: no pro-democracy Cuban activists will be invited to the opening of the new embassy. To ensure this, the US State Department will keep the launch date secret, and the FBI will keep a close eye on the entire block. They’ll do all they can to prevent any demonstration against this “New Deal.”
Congressmen from both yanqui parties made their way to the pub like flies at a marketplace. The crème de la crème of the pro-communist lobbyists in the US Congress were joined by representatives of the recently launched anti-embargo (read: pro-dictatorship) coalition Engage Cuba. And at the head of the table sat the chief of the Cuban Special Interests Section in Washington, José Ramón Cabañas, who way before December 17 was traveling the country — from Pittsburgh to Tampa, and back to New York — asking for foreign investment and credit in exchange for the island’s slave labor.
The Cuban magnate Carlos Saladrigas, member of the executive committee of the Cuba Study Group and the man who is expected to succeed Raúl Castro, has summarized his allegiance to the regime with a slogan as wise as it is cynical: “For Cuba, China is better than North Korea.”
This is the real United States of America: a country on the verge of executive tyranny, whose leaders and achievers tend to be resentfully anti-American, conspiring against their own country — whether they know it or not — and harming the nation’s reputation as a superpower and example for the world. They may finally achieve this during the current administration.
For pro-democracy activists both on and off the island, the war is no longer against the dynastic and despotic regime of Revolution Plaza, but against the indifferent and indecent establishment of the White House and State Department.
Like the last supper in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the executioners in green “Hecho en La Habana” guayaberas and their accomplices in “Made in Washington” suits join together to celebrate their post-Castroism future.
The apostate giggling of Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal are suddenly interchangeable masks. There is no doubting the transformation of their faces. George Orwell could have summarized this as well, but only 50 years before: “The Cubans outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

PanAmPost

Castro and the Pope: A Real Conversion?

National Review

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 10:  President of Cuba Raul Castro and Pope Francis meet at the Paul VI Hall private studio during a private audience on May 10, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. This is the first visit of the Cuban leader to the Vatican, twenty years ago his brother Fidel Castro had met John Paul II prior to his visit to Cuba.  (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

The evidence, please. “. . . they only heard it said, ‘He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy’. . . .” – Galatians 1:23

Has Cuban president Raúl Castro, once described by a senior Vatican official as a man with a soul “like a stone,” had a Damascus Road experience like Saint Paul, such that he’s now preaching the kind of politics he had long tried to destroy? Fidel Castro’s little brother and political heir was certainly suggesting as much, in remarks to the press after his May 10 visit at the Vatican with Pope Francis.

The pope “is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too,” Raúl said; “I always studied in Jesuit schools.” And when Pope Francis comes to Cuba in September, just before his visit to Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, “I promise to go to all his Masses, and with satisfaction.” And then the money line: “I read all the speeches of the pope, his commentaries, and if the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to Church, and I’m not joking.”

Well, perhaps not. One can always hope. But Raúl Castro, no fool, is certainly spinning. And rather more is going to be required of him if his protestations of having taken an “important step” by allowing religious believers some role in the governing Cuban Communist party — which he’d like the Church and the world to believe is the first step in a break with totalitarianism — are to be taken seriously.

What might the evidence of a genuine “conversion” on the part of Raúl Castro and the totalitarian regime he leads look like?

• The Cuban government immediately releases all political prisoners, including the hundreds arrested on political charges in the months since the regime’s rapprochement with the Obama administration.

• The Cuban government disbands the neighborhood-based Committees for the Defense of the Revolution — the tentacles of a nationwide network of surveillance, betrayal, and repression reminiscent of life under Hitler or Stalin.

• President Castro publicly apologizes to the Ladies in White — the brave women who protest every Sunday against the imprisonment of their relatives and who are regularly beaten up by Castroite goons — and invites Berta Soler, the Ladies’ leader, to sit in a place of honor at the pope’s Mass in Havana.

• The regime closes the Museum of the Revolution in Havana and disposes of the burlap bag that once carried the corpse of Che Guevara; the museum displays the bloodstained bag in a glass case, an obscene, sacrilegious imitation of the Shroud of Turin.

• The Cuban government withdraws the internal-security “consultants” it has seeded throughout Latin America in support of repressive regimes in places like Venezuela and Ecuador.

• The Cuban government ratifies the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and amends the Cuban constitution so that it no longer subordinates basic civil rights to the leading role of the Communist party.

• The regime opens access to the Internet for everyone.

• The Cuban press, print and online, is liberated; writers and editors are no longer subjected to harassment and imprisonment for criticizing the government.

• The government permits newspapers and magazines from around the world to be openly distributed throughout Cuba.

• Workers in enterprises owned by foreign businesses receive their wages directly from their employers, rather than through the government, thus eliminating the government’s (substantial) cut.

• Entrepreneurs running small businesses like restaurants, cabs, and other tourist services are no longer required to fork over large sums of money to the government on a regular basis.

• Religious communities and institutions are allowed to live their lives by their own standards, openly propose the truths they profess, build new facilities, and work without hassle with co-religionists from abroad.

• Cubans may travel freely inside and outside their country.

• Pro-democracy nongovernmental organizations from around the world are welcome to work in Cuba.

• The government announces a national roundtable at which all interested parties will meet for several months to discuss Cuba’s political and economic future; the safety of all participants is guaranteed, and foreigners from long-established democracies are invited to observe and even offer counsel.

The list could go on and on, but perhaps these minimal benchmarks of a genuine “conversion” illustrate the point: It will take a lot more than references to the Jesuit Old Boys’ Club to persuade any reasonable observer that, thanks to Pope Francis, Raúl Castro is a changed man who wants to spend his remaining days repairing the colossal damage he, his brother, and their accomplices have done to the physical, social, and moral fabric of Cuba.

And until those steps are taken, it would be prudent for all concerned to work on the assumption that the Castros and their allies have not fundamentally changed, except to become a bit more clever. The transition they now seem to imagine has elements of post-Communist Russia and post-Mao China in it: The Russian angle involves the continued role of the internal-security services in maintaining the regime during a period of economic liberalization; the Chinese side involves the party and military as principal economic actors, thus ensuring that the fruits of any economic liberalization redound to the benefit of those currently in power. None of this has anything to do with the free and just society envisioned by Catholic social doctrine, or by Pope Francis.

Raúl Castro’s promise to attend Francis’s Masses in Cuba in September calls to mind January 1998, when John Paul II visited Cuba and celebrated Mass in, among several other places, Santiago de Cuba, the principal city in the old Oriente province and, as home to Fidel and Raúl Castro, the romantic heart of the Castro revolution. It was a blazing hot day, but a vast crowd had gathered for the open-air Mass, both to pray with John Paul and to venerate Cuba’s national icon, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, whose statue was going to be publicly displayed for the first time in decades. Raúl Castro, evidently concerned by the outpouring of affection that the pope had already received in Havana, Santa Clara, and Camagüey, unexpectedly showed up and sat in the front row, arms crossed and a scowl on his face.

At the beginning of Mass, Archbishop Pedro Meurice Estiú welcomed the pope on behalf of his people and lambasted the “false messianism” of those who had “confused the fatherland with a single party, the nation with the historical process we have lived through during the last few decades, and culture with an ideology.” John Paul’s homily lifted up those Cuban cultural and political heroes who had chosen “the way of freedom and justice as the foundation of the people’s dignity” and made a strong plea for a Church that, by defending religious freedom, “defends the freedom of every individual, of families, of different social units, which are living realities with a right to their own sphere of autonomy and sovereignty.” The throng responded with cries of Libertad! Libertad! Raúl, looking decidedly unhappy, returned to Havana, as did John Paul, who spent the evening at a prayer service held in a leprosarium. As for Archbishop Meurice, the electricity in his residence mysteriously disappeared for some days after the pope’s visit to his diocese.

Will Pope Francis bring a similar message to Cuba in September: a call to national renewal through a reclamation of Cuba’s authentic history and culture, traduced for half a century by Communism? Like John Paul, Francis will almost certainly call on Cuba to open itself to the world, and the world to open itself to Cuba. It would be a splendid gesture of solidarity if the Holy Father met with the Ladies in White. And in his discussions with the bishops of Cuba — who are often thought of as analogous to the Polish bishops under Communism, but who are in fact in a far more difficult situation, given the weakness of Cuban Catholicism — I’d expect Francis to challenge the Church to both build and resist: to rebuild its institutional strength while pressing the regime for genuine civil, political, and economic liberties.

Such a strategy would make for a steady, constant testing of the extent of Raúl Castro’s “conversion” — and the testing would take place under the patronage, and protection, of a pope whom Raúl clearly wants in his corner, for whatever reasons.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

When Helping ‘the Cuban People’ Means Bankrolling the Castros

The Wall Street Journal by Mauricio Claver-Carone ,  director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC

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U.S. legislation to ease sanctions will instead primarily benefit Havana’s state-owned monopolies.
Three bills full of lofty but disingenuous rhetoric about “supporting the Cuban people” were recently filed in the U.S. Senate to ease sanctions. To have an honest debate about sanctions on Cuba, it’s important to understand how that totalitarian regime conducts business. The bills primarily benefit three monopolies in Cuba, all owned and operated by the Cuban government: Etecsa, Alimport and Gaesa.
Let’s look at each piece of legislation:
• The Cuba Digital and Telecommunications Advancement Act. This bill’s purpose is to provide millions of U.S. dollars to develop telecom infrastructure for the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, S.A. (Etecsa), owned by the Cuban government. The company works with the secret police of Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, tapping phone lines, monitoring conversations, censoring the Internet and persecuting Cubans discovered with homemade satellite dishes.
Etecsa is very good at what it does, according to a recent report by Freedom House, a nongovernmental organization based in Washington, D.C., that ranks Cuba, China, Iran and Syria as the world’s most Internet-repressive governments.
The cosponsors of the Cuba Digital and Telecommunications Advancement Act, including New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall and Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, argue that foreign investment in Etecsa will lead to greater Internet connectivity for the Cuban people. Apparently they are unaware that Telecom Italia owned a 27% stake in Etecsa from 1995-2011. Or that America’s Sprint Corporation provided Etecsa with its first Internet connection in 1996, and that France’s Alcatel-Lucent laid new fiber optic cable for Etecsa in 2012.
None of those “foreign investments” improved connectivity for the Cuban people. What the investments did was improve the Cuban government’s ability to control its people.
Etecsa already provides Internet service in Cuba. The problem is that the Cuban government only allows foreigners and its own apparatchiks to access the Internet. So this Senate bill purports to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and offers nothing to change the real problem.
•The Agricultural Export Expansion Act. This bill seeks to provide lines of credit to the Empresa Cubana Importadora de Alimentos, S.A. (Alimport), the Castro brothers’ import monopoly. This government organ is already well supplied by U.S. taxpayers. Since Congress passed the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, nearly $4 billion in U.S. agricultural products have been sold to Cuba. The only buyer was Alimport. As the U.S. Agriculture Department reports: “The key difference in exporting to Cuba, compared with other countries in the region, is that all U.S. agricultural exports must be channeled through one Cuban government agency, ALIMPORT.”
One result is that little of the food and medicine that Cuba imports from the U.S. ever makes it to stores where Cubans shop. It isn’t available on ration cards either. Instead, agricultural imports from the U.S. end up on the tables of Cuban government-owned tourist resorts and in government-owned stores that accept only “hard currencies,” such as dollars or euros.
Experience demonstrates that exporting to Cuba is not about assisting small and midsize farmers on the island, as the bill’s cosponsors, including Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, and John Boozman, an Arizona Republican, would like their legislative colleagues to believe. It’s about financing the monopoly run by the Castros.
• The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act is a billion-dollar windfall for Grupo de Administracion Empresarial, S.A.—the most notorious and vile of the Cuban-government monopolies.
Gaesa is the holding company of Cuba’s Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Cuba’s military. It is the dominant driving force of the island’s economy. Established in the 1990s by Raúl Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel as Cuba’s leader, it controls tourism companies, ranging from the very profitable Gaviota S.A., which runs Cuba’s hotels, restaurants, car rentals and nightclubs, to TRD Caribe S.A., which runs the island’s retail stores. Gaesa controls virtually all economic transactions in Cuba and is run by Raúl Castro’s son-in-law, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, one of the cosponsors of the Gaesa bill along with Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy and others, says that it allows Americans to travel to Cuba. But that is misleading. Any American today can travel to Cuba under one of the 12 broad categories of purposeful travel. What Mr. Flake proposes to lift are restrictions imposed in 2000—Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act—on tourism-related transactions with Gaesa. Those restrictions are there because tourism is to Cuba’s military and security forces what oil is to Iran’s military.
Spending by Canadian, European and Latin American tourists enjoying Cuba’s all-inclusive beach resorts sustains the government’s military and security services. It finances the government’s operations to share intelligence with terrorist groups and rogue regimes and promote violence to subvert democracy in Venezuela—and finances a government that has been caught twice in the past two years smuggling heavy weaponry to the world’s worst violators, including North Korea. Nonetheless, Mr. Flake’s bill effectually earmarks millions in U.S. tourist dollars for Gaesa.
U.S. support for Cuba’s government monopolies can only strength that brutal regime’s totalitarian grip. The Cuban people know it, and U.S. senators ought to be able to figure it out.

More than 6 months after the deal between Obama and the Castro brothers, the repression continues

More than 6 months after Obama agreed to give the Castro brothers everything they wanted without any conditions, the repression against the Cuban people is only getting worse.
And what does Roberta Jacobson, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and chief ‘negotiator’ with the Castro regime, has to say about that?
Well, she is too busy celebrating at bars in Washington with Cuban ‘diplomats’, American politicians who want to end the embargo and business piranhas that want to go to Cuba to join in the exploitation of Cuban workers.

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The following video was taken on Monday June 22, 2015 in Altamira, Santiago de Cuba.

Two Cuban rappers and some of their fans, including members of UNPACU (Union Patriotica de Cuba), who were practicing for the filming of a musical video, were violently repressed by members of Castro’s Gestapo. Fifteen people were arrested and were still in jail on Tuesday June 24.

 

Cuba opening up economically, but remains bolted shut on democratic reforms

welcometocuba
While Cuba has seen several economic reforms, including entrepreneurial opportunities for its citizens, under President Raul Castro much of the censorship and oppression that has characterized the Communist regimes of the Castro brothers still remains.
According to the Washington Post, this year, when the U.S. and Cuba have been moving toward normalizing diplomatic relations and opening up trade and travel, dozens of artists, activists and dissidents have been arrested and detained.
“Money is not going to solve Cuba,” said Tania Bruguera, an artist who is a Cuban national and who made headlines in December when Cuban authorities arrested her after she planned a performance in Havana’s Revolution Plaza that was focused on freedom of expression.
“People can actually live their fantasy in Cuba. But because of that, because the government knows that, and because the government is providing that, it’s giving the key to access that kingdom to anyone who is going to behave well,” Bruguera told the Post. “And that counts for foreigners, for businessmen, for foreign press, for artists, anybody,” said the 46-year-old artist, whose passport is still confiscated by the Cuban government.
Obama administration officials respond to criticism about its overtures to the Raul Castro regime – Cuba’s reluctance to move toward giving its people more freedom – by saying that such change cannot happen overnight, and that more frequent exchanges between Cubans and Americans can slowly force democratic reforms on the island.
Cuban officials, by contrast, seem to be focusing on using the easing of U.S. trade and travel restrictions as something that can benefit the island’s economy, and by extension the government, without the Castro regime making any real political changes, the Post said.
Cubans on the island express hope that both things can happen with better U.S.-Cuba relations, but they are skeptical.
The Post cites an Univision/Fusion poll in April that showed that a slight majority of Cubans wish they lived in another country, that 70 percent would like to have their own business, and that 75 percent are afraid to express their true opinion in public.
Javier Nuñez Florian, a Cuban actor now residing in Las Vegas, says he is hopeful that many things will improve in his country, though it won’t be dramatic or large.
“The U.S. is meeting in the middle, little by little getting closer to Cuba, and Cuba the same,” he is quoted as saying in the Post. “Little by little everything is changing for the better.”  Fox News Latino

Cuba investments are a high risk for U.S. companies, new report says

A firm that specializes in commercial real estate and investment management has issued a report stating that the time to invest in Cuba has not yet come.
The report by JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle) — among the nation’s 500 highest-earning companies according to the latest edition of the annual Fortune magazine’s list — cautions U.S. investors against diving into business opportunities in Cuba and concludes that the process of “integration with Cuba, even if the embargo is fully lifted, will take decades.”
“What we have determined is that there is still a lot of risk involved, there is not a solid banking system, the physical infrastructure of the country is a challenge and with the current embargo, U.S. companies are not allowed to enter into a contract with the government” as required in joint ventures, said Steve Medwin, managing director of the firm.
“There are a lot of impediments in the way. We do not mean that there won’t be opportunities in the future but right now there are so many hurdles that it is rather a wait and see where things shake out. It’s like a double-edged sword: There are opportunities but with a very high risk,” he added.
The easing of sanctions by the administration of President Barack Obama could have an impact on increased trade with the island, according to the report, but “development plans and economic expansion” should come first.
The ability to directly export to small private entrepreneurs in Cuba — as new regulations now permit— is evaluated as a “marginal opportunity” to increase the volume of trade with the island.
The authors point out the shortcomings of the Cuban infrastructure, low purchasing power and dealing with the Cuban government as additional elements that hinder the American presence on the island.
While Cuban officials have conveyed a welcome message to the U.S. investors, the Cuban government has not yet ruled on many aspects of the measures announced in January, such as direct exports to private businesses or the granting of permits for ferry services.
“They may be saying that, and there may be those opportunities, but when it comes to an individual or company risking their capital to make an investment, people want to have reasonable assurance on getting a return. What we are saying to our constituency is that, what we see today is not a sound investment because of all impediments that are in the way, although there are opportunities,” Medwin said.
In this regard, the report identifies telecommunications and the sale of building materials, as avenues where investment opportunities may be more immediately possible, “but it is not an open country with which to do business,” he said.
The sector with the most potential for long-term development, according to JLL, is tourism and associated services, such as hotel services and transportation services specifically tied to the industry such as ferries. However, a substantial increase of U.S. tourism would require the complete removal of the embargo and a new legal framework in Cuba so that U.S. companies can legally invest in the creation of a “solid hotel infrastructure.”
JLL also assessed business opportunities for Florida, which could benefit from the possible expansion of the demands of offices for financial and legal services to address businesses in Cuba, to the extent that relations and trade between the two countries move forward. Less clear are the opportunities in the agricultural sector, as the report notes, as a result of concerns from the Florida Farm Bureau Federation that competition could mean the arrival of Cuban agricultural products that are very similar to what is grown in Florida.

The Miami Herald

Yes, Cuba is more open now. But for these artists and activists, little has changed

tania

Tania Bruguera’s work sits in the permanent collection of Cuba’s premier art gallery, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. So it was a surprise when, despite invitations from organizers of the Havana Biennial, Bruguera was turned away by the guards there during an event taking place on the Biennial’s first weekend.
Far less surprising was the arrest of Gorki Águila, a punk rocker who unfurled a banner at the Museo Nacional demanding the release of political satirist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto.” Machado has been incarcerated since last December after producing a series of provocative political cartoons and antigovernment street art.
Though it no longer throws dissidents in the infamous UMAP labor camps of the 1970s, Cuba has historically arrested and detained activists, including artists. But when Obama took the first steps of normalizing relations with Cuba last year, he promised that diplomats would demand an end to all that. Last December, the president straightforwardly said his policy is “fundamentally about freedom and openness,” and it intends to “create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people.” The New York Times, 13 days later, extolled the country’s burgeoning art scene.
The Biennial, an art exhibition that began in 1984 that highlights Latin American and Caribbean art and nontraditional artists globally, was a chance to showcase a new, freer Cuba. In a recent Associated Press article, art critic Rafael Acosta de Arriva raved about the event as a “moment of major effervescence,” capturing the sense that now is the time to “discover” Cuba, artists and all — and at valuable prices.
For some of the country’s artists, not much has changed. In the last several weeks, Bruguera, Águila and dozens of other artists, activists and dissidents have been detained, and there’s no sign that the political rapprochement has brought any corresponding détente. It’s one reason why young Cubans may be so skeptical about closer relations between the United States and Cuba, at least according to an informal poll on a recent hopping Saturday night along Havana’s sociable Malecón. They are excited about improved U.S. relations, young Cubans told me, but they doubt that will necessarily deliver any real change. A more formal Univision/Fusion poll in early April showed that although 97 percent of all Cubans support greater ties with the United States, fully 55 percent of Cubans want to live in another country, 70 percent want to start their own business, 75 percent thought they had to be careful about expressing opinions in public and 79 percent are still dissatisfied with Cuba’s economic system, and the numbers were even higher among young Cubans. The gap between American froth and Cuban reality at this year’s Biennial warns that the pace of change will be stubborn.
News coverage since December paints a rosy tapestry of a country on the brink of a Western-style revolution. Netflix announced it would target Cuba, though Internet access is heavily censored, available for $10 an hour at designated government-run Internet cafes, universities and tourist hotels. JetBlue announced grandiose plans to launch a commercial nonstop flight from New York by year’s end; hopes to reestablish a ferry service from Key West followed.
State Department officials say that the U.S. government’s new policy represents a bet that liberalization and modernity will drag Cuba into the 21st century and empower Cuban entrepreneurs. The Cuban government, instead, is betting it can open its economy without its politics, press or Internet.
Bruguera fears Cuba could soon become the worst of Castro-style socialism and American-style capitalism at the expense of the Cuban people.
“Money is not going to solve Cuba,” she said. “People can actually live their fantasy in Cuba. But because of that, because the government knows that, and because the government is providing that, it’s giving the key to access that kingdom to anyone who is going to behave well. And that counts for foreigners, for businessmen, for foreign press, for artists, anybody.”
She would know. In May, Bruguera was arrested following a 100-hour reading of Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism” in her modest home in Havana Vieja, a few footsteps from the national Cuban art collection. When I visited Bruguera for the first time, on the final day of the reading, plainclothes policemen from MININT, Cuba’s feared interior ministry, swarmed just outside the doorway, and state workers were jackhammering away, digging forlorn trenches into the dusty road. Bruguera, who once taught art at the University of Chicago, where she also knocked on doors for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, has been under a kind of “city arrest” since late December, her passport confiscated and every step under state surveillance, following another public demonstration. We made plans to meet, perhaps later that day. Instead, MININT officials detained and questioned her.

The Washington Post