Monthly Archives: October 2015

Research shows Cuba’s Internet issues

 A map showing submarine Internet cables in and around Cuba. Image used courtesy of

A map showing submarine Internet cables in and around Cuba. Image used courtesy of


In December 2014, President Barack Obama made history by reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, which included loosening its economic embargoes. Two months later, American companies like Netflix and Airbnb announced plans to expand into the once-banned island.

“Our first reaction was: ‘Really?'” said Northwestern Engineering’s Fabián E. Bustamante. “As a business model, Netflix and Airbnb rely on most people having Internet access. That’s not quite the case in Cuba, so it really didn’t seem to make much sense.”

Wanting to see if these business ideas were feasible, Bustamante, professor of electrical engineering and computer science in Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, and his graduate student Zachary Bischof decided to measure Cuba’s Internet performance. They found that Cuba’s Internet connection to the rest of the world was perhaps even worse than they expected.

Bischof presented their findings October 30 at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2015 Internet Measurement Conference in Tokyo.

Cuba’s history with computing and Internet is a complicated one. Its citizens were not even allowed to own a personal computer until 2008. In February 2011, Cuba completed its first undersea fiber-optic cable with a landing in Venezuela, but the cable was not even activated until two years later. Today, about 25 percent of the population is able to get online and just five percent of the population has home Internet.

“If you’re trying to connect anywhere, you either have to connect through these marine cables or up to the satellite,” Bustamante said. “If you go up to the satellite, it would take significantly longer.”

“For one, it’s much farther to travel,” Bischof added. “And the trip is on a very interference-rich environment, which include cosmic rays.”
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New exodus of Cubans headed to the U.S. is underway across the Americas


The Miami Herald

Hundreds of Cubans are crossing the river that separates Guatemala and Mexico on their journey to the U.S.-Mexico border

Most travel in groups and pay thousands to smuggling networks

Border entries are at its highest since 2005

They line up on the edge of the water, their silhouettes barely visible in the wee hours before the sun rises. Groups of 10 to 12 climb aboard rafts mounted with plywood and pay less than $2 to be ferried to the other side. Within the span of 20 minutes, at least 60 have crossed aboard six rafts.

All of them are Cuban migrants en route to the United States. The illegal crossing scene at the Río Suchiate — the body of water that separates Guatemala from Mexico — is happening every day under the cover of darkness.

A new exodus of Cubans is underway at this river in Ciudad Hidalgo in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Over the past month, hundreds have come across from the border town of Tecún Umán, Guatemala, and those making the journey say many more are on the way.

“We’re leaving in droves,” said one Cuban as he rushed to get away from the river and onto a van that would drive his group to the nearest immigration center in Tapachula, about 18 miles away. “Everybody is leaving Cuba.”

“Another hundred are waiting to cross,” shouted another young man as he dismounted the raft from Guatemala and caught up with the group of new arrivals in Mexico.

The migrants are from across the island, predominantly between 20 and 40 years old. Many travel with children. Most are headed to South Florida.

The migrants are Cubans who have either spent some time in third countries such as Ecuador or who travel directly from the island to a third country as tourists and immediately proceed on their journey across South and Central America to make their way to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The migration route is not new for Cubans. But the numbers passing through over the past month have grown to the point that human rights activists in Mexico have labeled it a “migration crisis” that is adding to the already high number of Central American migrants also using Mexican land as a pathway toward America.

“A lot are coming through here,” said Sister Maria del Carmen, who helps run a Catholic migrant shelter in Tapachula. Since it opened its doors in early September, more than 500 Cubans have been served at the shelter.

“But the figure is much higher,” del Carmen said. “The immigration center is full of Cubans.”
Continue reading New exodus of Cubans headed to the U.S. is underway across the Americas

Black Lives Matter to Obama, Except When They’re Cuban

Mes de la Herencia Hispánica y aniversario 25 de la iniciativa por la Excelencia Educacional Hispana en la Casa Blanca

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in the PanamPost

White House Honors Omara Portuondo: Singer, Performer, Executioner

Eighty-year-old Omara Portuondo traveled all the way from Havana to DC to perform a 20-minute salsa concert alongside the Buena Vista Social Club for Barack Obama. The president, however, shook her hand and exited the West Wing before the show was over.

Perhaps Obama’s advisers, after a quick Google search on Portuondo, passed him a last-minute tip, instructing him to avoid too many photographs with a woman with blood on her hands.

Nevertheless, the two are clearly made for each other.

Message from Havana

On April 19, 2003, 27 public figures signed and released an outrageous document called “Message from Havana for Far-Away Friends.” Without knowing the context behind the message, or the situation in Cuba at the time, the short and cryptic letter doesn’t say much.

Fidel Castro himself wrote the 285-word message, while he was still in office. Cubans know his nasty style all too well, and can readily recognize his poisonous metaphors against anything having to do with the United States: the “anti-Cuban propaganda machine”; the “great campaign seeking to isolate us”; the “superpower attempting to impose their fascist dictatorship on a global scale.”

He even inserted a reminder of “the defeat of the mercenary Bay of Pigs Invasion,” and the excuse that “Cuba has been forced to take energetic measures we naturally did not wish to take.” By signing their names to this document, some 20 white Cubans validated the death sentence summarily pronounced against three black Cubans, who had already been executed earlier that month.

Among those who rushed to endorse this document were Cuban authors, actors, film directors, painters, singer-songwriters, and the performer Omara Portuondo.

The Castro Revolution restored capital punishment in Cuba as soon as they took power in January 1959, even though they enforced it generously during the guerrilla years. Biopolitics has always underpinned Cuban communism: whoever truly opposes the regime — not with petty online denunciations or childish marches — must go into exile or die. In some cases, both.

Over a decade later, one-third of those 27 public figures have passed away, and another handful are well on their way out of this world. The rest of them may as well be dead, since the public regards them with such disdain for betraying a nation screaming for freedom, and for endorsing the self-imposed transition to Castroism without Castros — or worse yet, with second- and third-generation Castros.

Two weeks before executing the three innocent black Cubans, Fidel Castro used George W. Bush’s war against Saddam Hussein as an excuse to incarcerate dozens of members of the Cuban opposition during the Black Spring.

Portuondo and the other 26 who signed the “Message from Havana” endorsed the fates of these peaceful activists who had not violated any laws, and whose combined prison sentences summed up to almost 1,500 years.

The only leader that the Castro regime didn’t lock up was Oswaldo Payá, so that Cuban intelligence agents could murder him, along with Harold Cepero, on July 22, 2012, in another one of these “energetic measures” that I suppose Cuba “naturally did not wish to take.”

Nevertheless, Portuondo and most of the other surviving executioners were never held accountable for consenting to these actions, and can today apply for multiple-entry visas to come and go as they please, to and from their former enemy, the United States of America.

Ironically, they’ve found a loophole for the embargo and can rake in imperialist wages in undeclared US dollars, with the added bonus of doing so by performing at the White House.

Maybe it’s better this way, since the 80-year-old murderous woman and the young US president, who lies about his views on Castroism, are perfect for each other. The three murdered black men, Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla García, and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, don’t elicit the same compassion from Obama as the black men that US police kill off.

Black lives matter to Obama, but it appears that some matter more than others.

Obama wanted to vote in favor of lifting the embargo, but couldn’t


Barack Obama is finally realizing how hard it is to deal with criminal dictators like the Castro brothers.

No matter how many concessions Obama makes, the Castros are unwilling to accommodate him.

On Tuesday, the United States was forced to vote against the lifting of what little remains of the embargo, even though Obama has said that he wants it lifted and has asked Congress to do so.

This is what the Washington Post reported about yesterday’s UN vote:

“Administration officials had indicated in recent weeks that they were prepared for the first time to abstain in the vote, provided Cuba altered the wording. Cuba, an administration official said, was unwilling even to discuss the subject.

“Their argument was, ‘You ­haven’t lifted the embargo, so we can’t really change the language,’ ” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic conversations. “To run the same resolution you always run . . . seemed to us stuck in the past.”

There was a popular song in Cuba back in the 1950s that said:” Bájate de esa nube y ven aquí a la realidad” Step down from that cloud and come back here to reality.

That seems to be the song that the Castro brothers are singing to their new benefactor.  But I doubt that he will listen.

Read the article in The Washington Post

Cuba’s Interior Ministry Colomé Ibarra resigned


Corps General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra resigned today as Vice President of the Council of State and Minister of the Interior of Cuba.

Colomé Ibarra, known as Furry laid the foundations for the Castro regime State Security in 1959, put in place to repress all Cubans who oppose the Castro dictatorship.
He has been Minister of the Interior for 26 years.
According to a report read on Cuban state TV on Monday night, Colomé Ibarra resigned due to “health reasons”, but no more details were given.
He will be replaced by Gen. Carlos Fernández Gondín, another high member of Cuba’s military dictatorship who until now was serving asfFirst vice president of the Ministry of the Interior.

The Cuban Assassination That Could Kill Obama’s Detente Deal


Could the murder of an anti-Castro dissident—and billions of dollars in damages from that and related cases—threaten Obama’s peace plan with Havana?

It was just past 7:30 on a muggy night in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, in late October of 1976, and the dinner crowd was turning out for the evening—when a flurry of pistol shots sent bystanders scrambling for cover.

Some witnesses said the shooters fired from a passing vehicle, while others claimed the pistoleros had taken up ambush positions in the houses and shops lining the crowded Avenida Central. Ballistics reports would later indicate there had been at least two weapons used—a 9mm and .38—perhaps making the second scenario the more plausible.

When the barrage was over a man lay in the crowded street, shot twice in the back and critically wounded.

The dying man’s late-model Ford Mustang would later be found parked just a few meters away from where he was shot, but even if he’d made it to the car, he wouldn’t have gotten away. Whoever killed him had already punctured the tires to prevent his escape.

The dying man’s name was Aldo Vera Serafin. A 43-year-old exile from Cuba, Vera was also a top anti-Castro dissident with alleged ties to the FBI and CIA. But the gringos in Washington couldn’t help him now.

The former war brother of Fidel Castro and onetime national police commissioner of Cuba had been hit in the liver and the aorta. He was declared dead at the nearby Centro Médico hospital, at which point several gruesomely detailed photographs were taken of his fatal wounds.

The photos soon leaked to the press, and within hours Vera’s death made headlines around the world.

The killing of top Cuban militant and underworld legend Aldo Vera has never been officially solved.

Gunned down on the street by unknown assailants as he stepped out of a bakery in the barrio called Puerto Nuevo—he was on his way to a meeting of an anti-Castro political group at the time of his death—the killing involved plenty of suspects but few clues. Vera’s has become known as the Cold War cold case nobody could crack.

His murder is the kind of thing JFK conspiracy theorists argue about in their spare time: a controversial moment in history that’s also a compelling whodunit. Vera played a part in some of the more outlandish and violent episodes of the Cold War era—including working as a spy for the FBI (PDF) and probably the CIA, involvement in the bombing of a Cuban airliner, and allegedly being tied to the Kennedy assassination.

Now a landmark ruling handed down last month by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Second Circuit Court lends new urgency to solving the mystery of Vera’s death.

In fact, the future of U.S.-Cuba relations might just be at stake.

Almost 40 years after his death—Aldo Vera is once again back in the headlines.

Continue reading The Cuban Assassination That Could Kill Obama’s Detente Deal

Oddity: In Castro’s Cuba, some pigs more equal than others



Danilo Maldonado, better known as El Sexto, stands at the entrance of his home after being released from jail, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday. Maldonado was freed after 10 months behind bars for attempting to release two pigs painted with the names of Raul and Fidel Castro, the country’s current president and former leader.

The Cuban street artist known as El Sexto was freed this week after spending 10 months behind bars for attempting to set free in a public park two pigs painted with the names of the country’s highest leaders.

International human rights groups called his case a vivid demonstration of how Cuba’s harsh limits on free expression remain in full force despite its economic opening and detente with the United States.

Maldonado, 33, was arrested a week after the declaration of detente last year as he drove toward Havana’s Central Park in a rented car with two pigs covered with green paint and the names Fidel and Raul in red, in mockery of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his brother who has led the country since 2008.


Until recently, Maldonado’s case had drawn less attention than that of expatriate Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who was briefly arrested and had her passport confiscated after she tried to convene a free speech forum in Cuba’s Plaza of the Revolution shortly after Dec. 17. Bruguera has since had her passport returned and left Cuba.

But in recent months, Amnesty International and other human rights group began calling for Maldonado’s release and describing his case as a test of Cuba’s openness to dissent.

His detention showed that “there are some topics and themes that journalists and writers know they can’t touch,” said Elizardo Sanchez, head of Cuba’s non-governmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Maldonado told The Associated Press that he had been held without charge since Dec. 25 “simply because I made fun of the highest leaders of this revolution.”

Swift and harsh condemnation

Cuba has been gradually loosening central control of the economy and allowing slightly more open discourse in state-run media and an art world that requires state approval for everything from gallery and theater space to permission to import materials.

The country’s leaders remain sacrosanct however, and attempts at political organization or questioning of the country’s single-party system are met with swift and harsh condemnation.

While never formally charged, Maldonado was accused of the crime of disrespect toward government officials, a violation that can bring a 1- to 3-year sentence under Cuban law.

“We are very happy to learn that in the end he is being freed,” said Robin Guittard, Caribbean campaigner for Amnesty International. “He’s just an artist who tried to do an art show, to use his legitimate right to freedom of expression. That should never lead people to be sent to prison. That’s a very cold reminder of what’s the situation of freedom of expression today in Cuba.”

Creative dissent

In April, Maldonado received the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent from the New York-based Human Rights Foundation.

“A government that doesn’t let itself be criticized starts to lose credibility,” said Maldonado’s mother, Maria Victoria Machado.

Dressed in grey shorts, sneakers and a T-shirt, Maldonaldo munched a sandwich Tuesday afternoon as relatives, well-wishers and reporters began to fill his home.

“I want to now connect with the people that supported me, “ he said, telling the AP that he planned to request a visa for the United States and travel to Miami “to be close to people who think like I do, people in exile, who had to leave.”

He said he planned to recover his strength and energy and return to Cuba after six months.

The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Investigates Venezuelan Oil Giant


The Wall Street Journal

Former PdVSA officials suspected of looting billions of dollars through kickbacks and other schemes

The directors of one of Spain’s leading construction companies were delighted to land an appointment with  Rafael Ramírez, the president of Petróleos de Venezuela, to talk about their plans to bid on a $1.5 billion electric-power project for the Venezuelan state oil giant.

But when they showed up at the JW Marriott Hotel in Caracas, it was Mr. Ramírez’s cousin,  Diego Salazar, who received them in the presidential suite, say two people who attended the 2006 meeting. Mr. Salazar got right to the point, they say: The Spaniards would have to pay at least $150 million in kickbacks to be in the running.

“If not,” Mr. Salazar told the businessmen, according to one person, “you should return to the airport.”

The executives didn’t bite. But plenty of other vendors were willing to play along on PdVSA projects, say people who worked with the company before Mr. Ramírez’s departure last year.

Now, U.S. authorities have launched a series of wide-ranging investigations into whether Venezuela’s leaders used PdVSA to loot billions of dollars from the country through kickbacks and other schemes, say people familiar with the matter. The probes, carried out by federal law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions around the U.S., are also attempting to determine whether PdVSA and its foreign bank accounts were used for other illegal purposes, including black-market currency schemes and laundering drug money, these people say.

Mr. Ramírez, who is now Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations, didn’t respond to four detailed letters seeking comment or to phone calls. PdVSA, the Ministry of Communications, the Venezuelan attorney general’s office and the office of President Nicolás Maduro didn’t respond to phone calls and emails.

Mr. Salazar, who splits his time between New York, Miami, Caracas, Paris and Madrid, didn’t answer numerous emails, telephone calls and text messages asking for comment.

In the past, Venezuelan officials have routinely dismissed allegations of official corruption as attempts to destabilize and overthrow the government by opposition figures allied with the U.S. and other “foreign enemies.”

No charges have been made public in the PdVSA matter and it is possible none will be filed. Earlier this month federal prosecutors from New York, Washington, Missouri and Texas met in person or by teleconference in Washington to coordinate actions and share evidence and witnesses in the various PdVSA-related probes, say three people familiar with the matter. The meeting also included agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies, these people say.

Troubled economy

The investigations are taking place as Venezuela’s economy is on pace to contract by 10% this year and inflation to hit 160%, according to International Monetary Fund estimates. The country is crippled by a collapsing currency, moribund industry and an inability to pay for imports of medicine and food.
Continue reading The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Investigates Venezuelan Oil Giant