From an article in the November issue of Bloomberg Markets
Things are changing rapidly in Cuba, and people from around the world are eager to get in on the action. Wait until they learn all roads lead to Raúl Castro’s son-in-law.
Omar Everleny Pérez is eager to show me how far Raúl Castro’s overhaul of Cuba’s socialist economy has advanced, and so, on a muggy evening in August, the 54-year-old economist invites me into his home in Havana’s Marianao neighborhood. Above his cramped desk, shelves sag under the weight of economics books and monographs, including more than a dozen that Pérez wrote.
“Just look at this,” he says, pointing to the screen of his wheezy black desktop PC. He clicks on a file, and scenes of Havana’s colonial-era port appear. A female narrator with a soothing voice describes a 14-part government plan to replace the gritty piers with cruise ship terminals, restaurants, and hotels, all to be bankrolled by foreign investors. Run-down warehouses fade digitally into luxury apartments, shops and offices, and marinas crowded with yachts. Little virtual people jog and bike along greenways where an oil refinery now sits, and a ferry glides into a modern glass-and-steel terminal.
“It’s really visionary, what they want to do, if you think about it,” says Pérez, a professor at the University of Havana and a researcher at the influential Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.
Later, a few steps from the port in Old Havana, I see the city’s redevelopment in progress. Near El Floridita, where Ernest Hemingway once knocked back daiquiris, the hulking Manzana de Gómez building is being transformed into a five-star hotel. Stylish boutiques sell perfume and stereos. Inside an old warehouse is a microbrewery teeming with people drinking lager made in huge steel tanks imported from Austria.
What isn’t immediately apparent to a person taking a walk on a warm Caribbean night is that all of this—and anything else that stands to make money in Old Havana, and much of the rest of the country—is run by a man who is little known outside the opaque circles of Cuba’s authoritarian regime. A quiet general in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Cuba’s multibranch military, he has spent his life around the communist elite that served Fidel Castro’s revolution. Yet he is chairman of the largest business empire in Cuba, a conglomerate that comprises at least 57 companies owned by the Revolutionary Armed Forces and operated under a rigid set of financial benchmarks developed over decades. It’s a decidedly capitalist element deeply embedded within socialist Cuba.
This is Luis Alberto Rodriguez. For the better part of three decades, Rodriguez has worked directly for Raúl Castro. He’s the gatekeeper for most foreign investors, requiring them to do business with his organization if they wish to set up shop on the island. If and when the U.S. finally removes its half-century embargo on Cuba, it will be this man who decides which investors get the best deals.
Rodriguez doesn’t just count Castro as a longtime boss. He’s family. More than 20 years ago, Rodriguez, a stocky, square-jawed son of a general, married Deborah Castro, Raúl’s daughter. In the past five years, Castro has vastly increased the size of Rodriguez’s business empire, making him one of the most powerful men in Cuba. Rodriguez’s life is veiled in secrecy. He’s rarely been photographed or quoted in the media, and his age isn’t publicly known. (He’s thought to be 55.) Rodriguez and the other Cuban government officials in this story declined multiple requests for comment.
Raul Castro again told President Obama that full normalized relations cannot be resumed until the United States lifts the economic embargo on his country and abandons its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, officials said Tuesday.
Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla told reporters that the Castro-Obama meeting “took place in a respectful and constructive climate,” and the two leaders agreed to “work on the agenda that both countries will be discussing in the next few months towards the normalization of relations.”
In order for that to happen, however, Castro told Obama that the “embargo that has caused damages and hardships to the Cuban people and affects the interests of American citizens must be lifted and the territory occupied by the US naval base in Guantanamo should be returned to Cuba,” according to Rodríguez Parrilla.
Obama, in his speech Monday to the United Nations General Assembly, also called on Congress to lift the decades-long embargo on the former Cold War rival. But the administration opposes abandoning Gitmo, which also serves as a prison for detainees in the war on terrorism.
A White House statement on Tuesday’s meeting did not mention the embargo or Gitmo, saying only that Obama “highlighted U.S. regulatory changes that will allow more Americans to travel to and do business with Cuba, while helping to improve the lives of the Cuban people.”
In February of 1996, Raul Castro ordered the shot down of the planes in international waters from Brothers to the Rescue while Bill Clinton was president of the United States.
Four innocent people, including 3 Americans, were killed.
Bill Clinton was too coward to do anything.
And now, 21 years later, Bill Clinton comes to shake hands with the murderer of those innocent people. And even worse, the sex pervert former president of the United States tells the Cuban dictator that he feels “much better” now that he knows him.
Absolutely nauseating! A sex pervert and a mass murderer getting together at a hotel in New York.
“Dear Mom and Dad,
I’ve just received the news that I’ll be executed by firing squad in the morning. I assure you, dear parents, that I’ve never felt such spiritual tranquility as I do now. I feel content knowing that very shortly I’ll be with God, waiting and praying for you, my parents. I realize this news is painful for you, but please have faith in the Eternal Life. I want you all to rise above this and know that God, in his infinite mercy, has given me the grace to reconcile with Him… Hugs and kisses, not tears, for everyone. Goodbye, my dear family. Have faith in God.
Long Live Christ the King!
“Apunten! (aim)” yelled the unnerved firing squad leader the following morning April 18, 1961 …
…….“Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long Love Christ the King!”) suddenly yelled Alberto Tapia shortly interrupting the murder process and greatly unnerving the murderers.
“Fuego!!!” (Fire!) finally yelled the furious executioner.
A deafening blast and Soviet bullets ripped apart the head and torso of yet another young Cuban martyr. Albert Tapia was barely 21 years old, typical age for most of Castro and Che’s murder victims.
“The defiant yells (“Viva Cristo Rey!”—“Viva Cuba Libre!”-“Abajo Comunismo!”) from the bound and staked martyrs “would make the walls of La Cabana prison tremble!” wrote eyewitness to the slaughter, Armando Valladares, who suffered 22 torture-filled years in Castro’s prisons and was later appointed by Ronald Reagan as U.S. ambassador to U.N Human Rights Commission.
Given their valiant defiance even during their last seconds alive, by mid 1961 the mere binding and blindfolding of Castro and Che’s young murder victims wasn’t enough. The fine folks who hosted Pope Francis’ in Cuba this week then began ordering that the Catholic youths also be gagged. The shaken firing-squads demanded it. The yells were badly unnerving the trigger-pullers, you see.
So now, as the fine folks who hosted Pope Francis’ in Cuba this week yanked the young Catholic heroes from the cells, bent their arms back, and bound their hands, two more Communist guards came into play. One grabbed the struggling victim’s hair and jerked his head back, trying to steady him. The other taped his mouth shut.
Raul Castro (who hosted the Pope at last week’s Havana Mass) and Che Guevara (whose visage formed the backdrop for the Mass) were the most notorious executioners during the early years of the Cuban Revolution. The orders, of course, all issued from Fidel Castro, who Pope Francis went out of his way to visit and smilingly hob-nob with after the Mass, profusely thanking him for his efforts towards “world peace,” (I am NOT making this up!)
“I am not Christ or a philanthropist,” wrote Che Guevara in a letter to his mother. “I am all the contrary of a Christ–In fact, if Christ himself stood in my way, I, like Nietzsche, would not hesitate to squish him like a worm.”
As mentioned: an enormous image of Che Guevara formed the backdrop to Pope Francis’ Mass in Havana last week.
Pope Francis’s address to Congress will prove a concluding flourish to the descent of the Catholic Church into an accessory for modern man’s temptation toward totalitarianism.
We must struggle every day so that this love of humanity becomes a reality. — Che Guevara
I am writing this on the eve of Pope Francis’ address to the joint session of Congress. Permit me a confession of distaste for tomorrow’s extravaganza and disinterest in the details of a media-conscious homily to the nation.
In large measure, Thursday’s propaganda event will prove a concluding flourish to what this pope is on course to achieve: the descent of the Catholic Church into one more geopolitical “ism,” a pious-seeming companion to every other materialist -ism that tempts modern man away from freedom and toward submission to totalitarian order. Since ascending to the papacy, Francis’ actions have served a mongrel papo-caesarism that drains Christianity of its soul. Christian idiom degrades into the carrier of a secular agenda.
From Trust to Blindness
Ideolatry, the idolatry of fixed ideas, is as rampant in the Vatican as in any other directorate, and just as dangerous. Even more so. Because the pope commands deference from the world’s peoples, the present object of his worship—from climate-change dogma to the antagonisms peculiar to an anti-democratic Leftist elite—disfigures the faith of billions. It becomes a golden calf festooned with gospel quotes.
Christian idiom degrades into the carrier of a secular agenda.
Deference to a pope comes readily to Catholics. We are groomed for it. Within legitimate bounds, there is grace in that. But the boundaries are not totalizing. Outside of them, obeisance falls prey to forces that do not serve the church. Neither do they lend succor to a civilization painfully wrought from endemic tyrannies and universal poverty. Far, far from it.
There comes a moment when deference glides into collusion. At that point, we all become Good Germans. Fascist-friendly. Trust in respected authority curdles into a thing entirely different—a willed blindness to something dark in the particular voice commanding assent. Decent and dependable, we incline toward the beckoning circle of connivance.
Our own lifetime has not prepared Catholics for such a moment. But it is here now. We can adjust our sensibilities, our priorities, and our hopes to counter this juncture. Or we can surrender our children and grandchildren to a downward slide into a retrograde world order built on contempt for the bases of those very structures that have lifted a still-increasing portion of the earth’s population out of the misery that is history’s norm.
Pope Francis’s Malice
Something in me gave way at the sight of an exultant image of Che Guevara overseeing the altar in Plaza de la Revolución, the approved site of the recent papal Mass in Havana. A sadistic, murderous thug looked down on attendees in an obscene burlesque of Christ Pantocrator. Under the gaze of a butcher and amid symbols of the regime, Jorge Bergolio joined his fellow Argentine in service to the calamitous Cuban revolution. The entire spectacle played like a farcical inversion of John Paul II’s presence in Warsaw’s Victory Square, in 1979, and in stark contrast to the message he brought to Cuba in 1998.
What collapsed was any lingering sense of obligatory constraint. Gone is the time for courtesy extended to an occupant of the papacy despite his hubris and ruinous impulses. Out the window is dutiful tolerance for this man’s accusatory or incendiary language. Politesse has run its course. Historian Roberto de Mattei, writing on the wound to marriage delivered by Francis’ recent motu proprio (a personal mandate) ends his analysis with this: “Silence is no longer possible.”
Earlier this year, Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, introduced a bill on the congressional floor titled the Cuba DATA Act. The bill encouraged U.S. telecommunication companies to set up shop in Cuba and was widely cheered by human rights activists and business leaders alike.
But not so fast.
Just because American companies have been given the green light by the U.S. government to do business in the country, experts say it’s unlikely Google or Verizon will be dropping any high-speed fiber-optic Internet cables on the island any time soon.
“This isn’t just one side, you also have to have a Cuban government that’s interested,” says Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Cuba Study Group. “What challenges will the Cuban government pose regarding censorship? It’s a complicated scenario.”
Bilbao says there are a number of complicating factors to delivering widespread Internet access to Cubans. First and foremost, though, he says the Cuban government may just simply not allow it. The government has historically held a tight grasp over the Internet, and that policy is unlikely to change.
Perhaps the second-largest challenge is that it will be enormously expensive to build the infrastructure. And with Cubans living on about $20 per month, it’s hard to envision a business model that would be profitable for a major U.S. company.
“Let’s say you wanted to offer residential Internet,” Bilbao says. “What’s the purchasing power of the average Cuban household? Can they afford to pay for a residential Internet connection?”
He adds, “If you want to set up an Internet infrastructure, you’d have to drop a fiber-optic cable 90 miles through the Caribbean or through the Bahamas and you’d have to create switching servers and stations inside Cuba.”
Ricardo Herrero, executive director of Cuba Now, agrees the costs would be incredibly high, but it’s the Cuban government that will present the largest hurdle for U.S. telecom companies.
The Washington Post Editorial
In his visit to the United States beginning Tuesday, Pope Francis will meet not just President Obama and Congress but also those marginalized by our society: homeless people, immigrants, refugees and even the inmates of a jail. He’s expected to raise topics that many Americans will find challenging, such as his harsh critique of capitalism. His supporters say it’s all part of the role the pope has embraced as an advocate for the powerless, one that has earned him admiration from both Catholics and some outside the church.
How, then, to explain Pope Francis’s behavior in Cuba? The pope is spending four days in a country whose Communist dictatorship has remained unrelenting in its repression of free speech, political dissent and other human rights despite a warming of relations with the Vatican and the United States. Yet by the end of his third day, the pope had said or done absolutely nothing that might discomfit his official hosts.
Pope Francis met with 89-year-old Fidel Castro, who holds no office in Cuba, but not with any members of the dissident community — in or outside of prison. According to the Web site 14ymedio.com, two opposition activists were invited to greet the pope at Havana’s cathedral Sunday but were arrested on the way. Dozens of other dissidents were detained when they attempted to attend an open air Mass. They needn’t have bothered: The pope said nothing in his homily about their cause, or even political freedom more generally. Those hunting for a message had to settle for a cryptic declaration that “service is never ideological.”
Sadly, this appeasement of power is consistent with the Vatican’s approach to Cuba ever since Raúl Castro replaced his brother in 2006. Led by Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the church committed to a strategy of working with the regime in the hope of encouraging its gradual moderation. The results have been slight. Cardinal Ortega obtained Raúl Castro’s promise to release all political prisoners, but arrests have continued and dissident groups say the number of jailed is now above 70. One leading Christian dissident, Oswaldo Payá, was killed in a suspicious 2012 auto crash.
The Vatican’s greatest success has been the adoption of its strategy by the Obama administration, which has also restored relations with the Castros while excluding the political opposition. Here, too, there have been disappointing results. U.S. exports to Cuba, controlled by Havana, have declined this year, while arrests of opponents have increased, along with refugees. Many Cubans are trying to reach the United States ahead of what they fear will be a move by the Obama administration to placate the regime with a tightening of asylum rules.
Pope Francis may believe that merely by touring the country he will inspire Cubans to become more active and press the regime for change. But two previous papal visits, in 1998 and 2012, did not have that effect. By now it is clear that the Castros won’t be moved by quiet diplomacy or indirect hints. A direct campaign of words and acts, like that Pope Francis is planning for the United States, would surely have an impact. But then, it takes more fortitude to challenge a dictatorship than a democracy.
From The Telegraph
Cuban authorities prevented leading dissidents from meeting Pope Francis in Havana on Sunday, in a sign of the Communist regime’s rigid intolerance of political opposition.
Two well-known dissidents, Marta Beatriz Roque and Miriam Leiva, had been invited by the Vatican to attend a vespers service led by the Pope’s in Havana’s historic baroque cathedral.
But they said they were detained by security agents and barred from attending the event.
“They told me that I didn’t have a credential and that I couldn’t go to the Pope’s event that was taking place there in the plaza of the Cathedral,” Ms Roque said.
She said that she and Ms Leiva had also been invited by the Vatican to meet Pope Francis at the residence of the Holy See’s ambassador to Cuba shortly after the pontiff’s arrival on Saturday, but that they were detained on that occasion as well.
The head of an opposition group called the Ladies in White said that 22 of the 24 members of the group who had hoped to attend a Mass celebrated by the Pope were prevented from doing so by Cuban security officials.
There had been intense speculation about whether the Pope would risk incurring the displeasure of his host, President Raul Castro, by meeting political opponents of the Communist regime.
The fact that the Vatican invited the women to Sunday’s cathedral service showed Francis’ determination to try to engage with the dissident movement, which has endured years of persecution by the Castro regime.
Earlier in the day, the Pope celebrated Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square in front of tens of thousands of people.
He was driven through the crowds in a white pope-mobile, pausing to kiss children who were held up to him.