Monthly Archives: October 2015

Cuba releases artist who was considered a prisoner of conscience


Cuba released a graffiti artist known as “El Sexto,” his sister said on Tuesday, ten months after he was jailed for “disrespect of the leaders of the revolution” over a satire of Fidel and Raul Castro.

On Sept. 29 Amnesty International declared Danilo Maldonado, 32, the country’s only prisoner of conscience while saying it was evaluating other cases. His sister Indira Maldonado told Reuters that he had been freed.


Amnesty International: The unlikely chance of a serious human rights debate in Cuba


Amnesty International

Nearly a month since Pope Francis ended his historic visit to Cuba, any hope that authorities would loosen control on free expression in the country is fading as fast as the chants that welcomed him.

At the start of his tour, Pope Francis said Cuba had an opportunity to “open itself to the world”. He urged young people in the country to have open minds and hearts, and to be willing to engage in a dialogue with those who “think differently”.

Cubans listened, but the government didn’t.

Instead, the Cuban authorities continued to prevent human rights activists from expressing their dissenting views.

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent organization, in 2014 there was an average of 741 arbitrary detentions each month.

Last September, during the month of the Pope´s visit, the number increased even further, with 882 arbitrary detentions registered.

Activists Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, Ismael Bonet Rene and María Josefa Acón Sardinas, members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU), a dissident group, are three of the activists detained. They were arrested on 20th September after they crossed a security line in Havana as they attempted to talk to the Pope and have been held in prison since then.

They are believed to be charged with contempt (“desacato”), resistance (“resistencia”) violence or intimidation against a state official (“atentado”), and public disorder (“disorden publico”). If convicted, they face prison sentences of between three and eight years.

The crackdown seems to have escalated since the Pope left the country.
Continue reading Amnesty International: The unlikely chance of a serious human rights debate in Cuba

Cuban doctor: “With my salary in Cuba I couldn’t afford an egg a day”



US$18 Monthly Salary Left Juan Afonso No Choice but to Leave
Juan Afonso is a Cuban-born physician. He lived, studied, and worked in Cuba under the communist health-care system. But far from the praise that uninformed observers heap on Cuba’s medical care, Afonso says the reality is much different. He fled Cuba for Chile in the 1990s, and says he could hardly afford to feed himself on his monthly salary on the island.
He speaks with a split accent, a perfect mix of Chilean Spanish and Cuban slang, after living in the Andean country for over 20 years. Some 280 kilometers away from the Chilean capital of Santiago is Talca, where Afonso currently lives and has established a private practice, on top of his shifts at a primary-care emergency room.
Prior to arriving in Chile, Afonso took part in a state-sponsored mission in Laos, and says he dreamed of the day the regime would allow him to buy a car. He confesses that the thought of escaping on raft heading toward Miami entered his mind more than once.
After reading a PanAm Post report on the Cuban health-care system, published on October 6, Afonso decided to get in touch and share his experiences as a doctor on the island.

How would you describe the Cuban health-care system?
The Cuban medical system is not healthy. I have family, people that I love that still live in Cuba, and I would like to see the country thrive. But nothing can be fixed without recognizing the essence of what’s going on here.
Many talented people have moved to the United States and elsewhere; good people, experts, have been forced to leave. It’s not that they don’t love their country and have abandoned their brothers, but you need to be practical. If you are starving in your own country, and they [the regime] are having a laugh at your expense — with low wages, no chance for a raise, and unpaid shifts — what are you going to do?
I look at my university professors. If they would have left in 1959 to the United State, they would be very wealthy by now … but they stayed. They sacrificed themselves, and trained thousands of future doctors.
When I saw how those brave doctors were abused by a group of leeches and bureaucrats, I told myself: “What am I doing in this country? I wasn’t born to be slave.” And I don’t regret it, despite the government not allowing me to return to my country, and especially now that I’m speaking out publicly. They would throw me in jail.
One has to be consistent. I’m only talking about things I’ve experienced: my own experience. I hope one day Raúl [Castro] will show some compassion and actually speak with the doctors in the country. About 20 years ago, he asked the public for their opinion on the matter, but I don’t think he read a single reply. The government has been making fun of us for a long time now.

How much does a doctor like you make in Cuba?
I will tell you something: I would have liked to stay in Cuba. I left because I could barely afford to buy a single egg to eat a day.
I remember the Argentinean crisis of 2001, when the banks froze people’s accounts, and a man on TV held up a package of spaghetti and said, “Look at all we have to eat!” When I saw that, I remembered what we experienced in Cuba when the Russians left in the 1990s, and the terrible famine we went through. With a pack of spaghetti, I would have been the happiest man on Earth.
In 1993 and 1994, the hunger was terrible. At that time, I earned US$18 per month, in a country where prices are the same as everywhere else. I have a Cuban friend living in Chile who is a dermatologist. He used to tell the shoemaker, “Today, I’ll buy only the left shoe.” He was kidding, but it had some degree of truth.
I used my bicycle to visit my patients’ homes. It was my only means of transportation, and changing a flat tire cost CUP$400, which was roughly my monthly income.
Then I started listening to Radio Martí, and a friend of mine, who happens to be a prosecutor, told me I should stop [criticizing the regime], because they would put me in jail. There is no separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary in Cuba.

Continue reading Cuban doctor: “With my salary in Cuba I couldn’t afford an egg a day”

Cuba fails to keep promise to release graffiti artist unfairly held


Caribbean News

Cuba fails to keep promise to release graffiti artist unfairly held

The Cuban authorities’ failure to keep to their commitment to release a graffiti artist unfairly imprisoned nearly a year ago is a painful illustration of their disregard for freedom of expression, said Amnesty International.

“Committing to release Danilo Maldonado Machado on 15 October only to keep him behind bars for no reason other than speaking his mind and criticising the government is not only cruel but sends a strong message that freedom of expression is not on the Cuban government’s radar,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“Danilo is a prisoner of conscience, deprived of his liberty as punishment for peacefully expressing his opinions. He must be released immediately and unconditionally and not be made to spend another second behind bars,” she said.

On Thursday, prison authorities told Machado’s mother that he had served his time but that they did not know when he would be set free. Machado, however, has never been brought before a judge or sentenced.

“Danilo’s story has all the elements of a science fiction novel: fist he was put behind bars under the most ludicrous excuse and then kept there arbitrarily without even being charged. The fact that Cuban authorities continue to play with Danilo and his family is just shocking,” said Guevara-Rosas.

Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as ‘El Sexto’, was arrested by agents of the political police (Seguridad del Estado) in Havana while travelling in a taxi on 25 December 2014. Officers opened the taxi’s trunk and found two pigs with “Raúl” and “Fidel” painted on their backs. He was accused of “disrespecting the leaders of the Revolution” but never brought to court. Machado intended to release the pigs at an art show on Christmas Day.

A message to American businesses: ‘There is no money’: cash-strapped Cuba is forced to cut vital imports

For almost a year we have been hearing that American companies are salivating about the great economic opportunities that are now available in Castro’s Cuba, since Barack Obama agreed to open relations with the dictatorship in the island.
But now reality is setting in: Cuba is broke and is only looking for idiots who are willing to sell them on credit, which is the same as giving it away since the Castro brothers never pay their bills.
Here is a report in The Guardian:

Low commodity prices, a drought at home and Venezuela’s economic crisis have created a cash shortage for Cuba’s communist government, restricting its ability to trade just as it could be taking advantage of an economic opening with the United States.

State companies have cut imports and are seeking longer payment terms from suppliers, diplomats and foreign business people say.

The cash crunch, combined with Cuba’s hesitancy to embrace a recent softening of the US economic embargo, demonstrate some of the complications US companies face in Cuba even though Washington is chipping away at the sanctions.

The Caribbean island’s cash flow has been cut by low prices for nickel, one of its leading exports, as well as for oil.

Cuba receives oil on favorable terms from Venezuela and refines and resells some of it in a joint venture with its socialist ally. But prices for refined products are down in tandem with crude.

“There is no money,” said the foreign director of a manufacturing firm in a joint venture with Cuba. Like others interviewed for this story, the director wished to remain anonymous to avoid annoying the government.

Comments about the liquidity shortage are echoed by others doing business with Cuba even with tourism up 17% this year.

“Cuba is clearly feeling the squeeze,” said the commercial attache of one of the country’s top trading partners. “They are falling behind on some payments and asking suppliers for credit terms of 365 days or longer, compared with 90 days to 180 days.”

The economy minister, Marino Murillo, speaking to the national assembly in July, said export revenue had been less than expected and “adjustments” would be made.

Identifying those adjustments is difficult as Cuba’s finances are opaque. It is not a member of any international lending organization and the local currency has no value abroad.
Cuba imports more than 60% of its food and more than 50% of its oil, but the benefits from lower international commodity prices have been offset by the need for more imports due to the worst drought in more than a century.

In addition, the collapse of oil prices punishes Cuba given the terms of its oil deal with Venezuela.

It receives more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day as part of an exchange that sends Cuban professionals to Venezuela. Some 30,000 doctors and nurses, plus another 10,000 professionals, are posted in Venezuela.

Cuba also receives cash for its professionals. Economists and oil market experts believe the amount is tied to oil prices, meaning Venezuela would pay less to Cuba when prices are down.

Continue reading A message to American businesses: ‘There is no money’: cash-strapped Cuba is forced to cut vital imports

Cuba Is Intervening in Syria to Help Russia. It’s Not the First Time Havana’s Assisted Moscow


The Daily Beast

Reports that Cuban forces are now fighting in Syria follow a long history of the Castro brothers working closely with their patrons in Moscow.

Not for the first time Cuban forces are doing Russia’s dirty work, this time in Syria. On Wednesday it was reported that a U.S. official had confirmed to Fox News that Cuban paramilitary and Special Forces units were on the ground in Syria. Reportedly transported to the region in Russian planes, the Cubans are rumoured to be experts at operating Russian tanks.

For President Obama, who has staked his legacy on rapprochement with America’s adversaries, the entrance of Cuba into the bloody Syrian civil is one more embarrassment. Russia, Iran, and Cuba—three regimes Obama has sought to bring in from the cold—are now helping to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, ruler of a fourth regime he also tried in vain to court early on in his presidency. Obama has been holding his hand out in a gesture of goodwill to America’s adversaries only for them to blow him a raspberry back in his face—while standing atop a pile of Syrian corpses.

Yet for seasoned Cuba-watchers the entrance of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces into the Syrian civil war is a surprise but hardly a shock. A surprise because Cuba was forced two decades ago to curtail its military adventurism by a deteriorating economy (the Cuban military has been reduced by 80 percent since 1991).

Largely thanks to the involvement of Cuban troops in the fight against Apartheid South African in Angola in the ’70s and ’80s (not to mention the more recent medical “missions” to disaster-stricken parts of the world) Cuba has gained something of a reputation for internationalism. At one point the Cuban presence in Angola reached 55,000 soldiers, inflicting a defeat on South African forces which helped precipitate the end of apartheid. “The [Cuban army’s] decisive defeat of the aggressive apartheid forces [in Angola] destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor,” Mandela told the Cuban leader on a visit to Havana in 1991.

In recent years Angola has lent the Castro regime a romantic penumbra which says that, for all its faults, the Cuban revolution is on balance progressive (watch the film Comandante by the ludicrous Oliver Stone to get a sense of what I mean).

Yet while everyone remembers Cuban heroics in Angola, few remember Cuban terror in Ethiopia.

Continue reading Cuba Is Intervening in Syria to Help Russia. It’s Not the First Time Havana’s Assisted Moscow

Cuba’s claims are asinine, inaccurate.


Last month, Cuban President Raúl Castro stood before the U.N. General Assembly to berate the United States and demand a host of concessions from Washington. Topping his list were the return of Guantánamo Bay to Cuban control and the payment of reparations for the decades-long trade embargo against the regime. Neither demand is reasonable, much less in America’s national interests.

Guantánamo rightfully belongs to the United States. Legally, the terms of America’s lease are indisputable.

At the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, Congress passed the Platt Amendment, which stipulated that in exchange for ensuring the island nation’s freedom, Cuba must “sell or lease to the United States the lands necessary for coaling or naval stations.”

In 1934, the United States and Cuba further solidified the agreement with an updated treaty. It explicitly states, “So long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantánamo or the two governments shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station shall continue to have the territorial area that it has now.”

Arguments for returning the naval base are grounded more in feel-good optics than considerations of national security. Opponents of the naval base claim it’s a vestige of U.S. “imperialism” and that normalized relations between the United States and Cuba are impossible until this “blot” is erased. Both points are factually inaccurate.

A few short years after the Spanish-American War, Cuba emerged not as a colony of Spain but as an independent and sovereign republic – a change in status made possible only thanks to U.S. military assistance.

Granted, Washington didn’t fight the Spanish for purely altruistic purposes. At the time, America’s grand strategy, the Monroe Doctrine, was predicated on keeping foreign powers from overtaking the United States in the Western Hemisphere.

The strategic value of having a neighbor free from Spanish rule and agreeable to facilitating the regional operations of the U.S. Navy was undeniable. And it remains undeniable today.

Arguments supporting reparations for the Cuban government are ill-founded as well. The trade embargo was imposed in response to Fidel Castro’s illegal nationalization of American assets then worth $1.8 billion. Decades later, the almost 6,000 claims certified by the U.S. Department of Justice are valued at more than $7 billion. This figure does not include the property confiscated from hundreds of thousands of Cubans before and after they were forced to leave Cuba by the Castro regime.

The embargo cannot legally be lifted until the claims issue is resolved. Havana’s counterclaim for damages suffered as a result of its initial malfeasance is asinine.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has chosen to unilaterally “normalize” relations with this regime, the last vestige of Cold War communism. In the last nine months, the White House has drastically eased sanctions, lobbied Congress to lift the embargo, and prematurely removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism – all without placing so much as one precondition on Havana.

The regime remains free to practice its systematic abuse of human rights to punish critics and discourage dissent.

Yet even given that, Castro insists that “normal” relations are impossible without Guantánamo and reparations. But these issues are red herrings.

The real reason that normal relations are impossible – beyond Havana’s ongoing human rights violations – is the Cuban government’s unshakable commitment to undermining the United States.

The Castro regime continues to forge relationships with our adversaries and support anti-U.S. authoritarians in Latin America at every opportunity. It has no intention of being our friend.

Ana Quintana is a policy analyst specializing in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere at the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy.

UN Hypocrisy on Women Reaches New Level with Cuba Stance


By John Suarez PanAmPost

Privileged Officials Praise Raúl Castro while His Agents Violate Female Rights Aplenty
The Castro regime has a record that stretches back decades of threatening, brutalizing, and murdering women who speak their minds and demand that human rights be respected in Cuba.
Back on September 17, 2013, the PanAm Post published my op-ed that explained how the Castro brothers got a pass for terrorizing and killing women. Unfortunately, the situation has gotten worse. The December 17, 2014, announcement of normalized relations between Cuba and the United States has been accompanied by new accounts of regime violence against women that have escalated in severity. Meanwhile, the international community have been complicit in their silence.
Consider Sirley Ávila León, an ex-delegate of the People’s Assembly of Majibacoa. She joined the democratic opposition after she was driven out of her position for trying to keep a school open in her community. Official channels ignored her, and when she went to the international media she was removed from office.
Following escalating acts of repression by state security, the mother of two, aged 56, was gravely wounded in a machete attack on  May 24, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. The enforcer was Osmany Carrión, who had been “sent by state-security thugs,” Ávila León explains, for an act of aggression that “was politically motivated.”
Ávila León suffered deep cuts to her neck and knees, lost her left hand, and could still lose her right arm. Although Carrión was the principal assailant in the coordinated attack, his wife forced Ávila León’s hand into the mud to compound the injury with infection.
Sent home from hospital, Ávila León remained in this critical state without the proper medication. Five months have passed, and she still needs medical attention, completely incapacitated, demanding justice, and denouncing irregularities in the judicial process against her assailant. On September 2, 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concurred that she was in a “serious and urgent situation, since her life and physical integrity are at risk.”
In a democratic country, Sirley would be a political leader in government representing her constituents, but in Cuba she is a target of brutal repression. Let’s just say she has yet to find support from UN Women, the agency of the United Nations that claims it is “for gender equality and women’s empowerment.” They are even promoting Raul Castro on their twitter stream.
This ignores that the government in Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship in which the rule of law is non-existent. Since 1959, the ultimate authority has resided in two brothers: Fidel and Raúl Castro. Women in Cuban government structures have no real power other than to rubber stamp the decisions of the Castro brothers or face the consequences. UN Women should be helping women like Sirley Ávila León not legitimizing their oppressors.

Castro’s Marielitos For Medicaid

Investor’s Business Daily

Socialism: After years of touting the putting-people-first humanity of Cuba’s communism, the Castro regime has decided it’s easier to outsource costs for its retirees to the U.S. When did the U.S. become Cuba’s 401(k)?

For years, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and his brother Raul have preached the virtues of socialism over capitalism, claiming his government model was all about prioritizing human needs — above all, in free health care.

As a result of this focus on human needs over, say, war or corporate profits, as the propaganda went, Cuba has more doctors per capita than anyone, and it’s all “free.”

Some, like director Michael Moore, have been easy marks for this claptrap, making a movie called “Sicko” praising Cuba’s system, which Obama administration officials have said was an inspiration for ObamaCare.

But with Cuba so superior to the U.S., why is Castro shipping its vast and growing elderly population to the U.S. for retirement instead of taking care of it itself?

Turns out Uncle Sam is another easy mark for the Castro brothers’ filchings.

A relatively little-noted investigation from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports Castro is shipping Cuba’s old to the U.S. in soaring numbers — because the Cuban Adjustment Act entitles them to free housing, free Medicaid, free Supplemental Social Security and even welfare. No matter if they have relatives who can care for them, a free retirement plan is theirs for the taking.

That’s quite an enticement, given that Cuban old-age pensions run about $7 a month, and Cubans live in shambling misery with shortages, ration cards, broken-down transport and long lines. By contrast, the lowest SSI package is about $700 a month.

With free housing, free health care and free spending money added on, Cubans have a retirement plan unlike anything they can imagine in Cuba, all without having contributed a penny.

The Sun-Sentinel found that in Cuba, knowledge of these benefits is widespread. A surge of elderly Cubans coming to the U.S. for benefits has already begun, nearly doubling from 1,460 to 2,685 so far this year. And Castro has encouraged the emigration of the most costly.

It’s part of an overall surge in migration, ever since President Obama announced normalization of relations. Customs and Border Protection data show that from October 2014 to June 2015, 27,296 Cubans entered the U.S. for residency, a 78% rise over last year.

More are coming. Cuba has the hemisphere’s oldest population. The average age is 47, and nearly 24% of the population is above age 55, according to CIAdata.

Abandoned by the Pope, Will Cuba’s Political Prisoners Abandon All Hope?

Pope Francis holds his pastoral staff as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Revolution Plaza in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, where a sculpture of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara and a Cuban flag decorate a nearby government building. Pope Francis opens his first full day in Cuba on Sunday with what normally would be the culminating highlight of a papal visit: Mass before hundreds of thousands of people in Havana's Revolution Plaza. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

By Nat Hentoff This article appeared on on October 14, 2015.

In my last column, I reported on the suffering of Cuba’s dissidents and political prisoners, which has only increased since President Obama normalized relations.

The reconciliation between Cuba and the United States was facilitated by Pope Francis and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Cuba. On Oct. 1, 2014, I wrote a column titled “Pope Francis’ Admirable War on Poverty.”

It is with regret that I must now write that by abandoning Cuba’s political prisoners, Pope Francis bears some responsibility for their increased suffering.

The PanAm Post, an online magazine covering the Americas, reported that prior to the Pope’s visit to Cuba, a list of political prisoners was sent to the Vatican by Nelis Rojas de Morales — secretary of the International Coordinator of Former Cuban Political Prisoners. Cuban human rights groups were therefore stunned when Cardinal Ortega, the architect of the Pope’s visit, denied the very existence of political prisoners in Cuba during two interviews with Spanish language media.

In an interview held in Rome, and published on March 30 in the Spanish language Catholic magazine Nueva Vida (New Life), Cardinal Ortega denied that there were any political prisoners in Cuba. Two months later, on June 5, Cardinal Ortega told Spain’s Cadena Ser radio that “there are no political prisoners on the island; just common criminals.”

“The dissidents, those that are called dissidents, are more present in the foreign press, in south Florida, and in blogs,” he said

Elizardo Sanchez, leader of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), contested Cardinal Ortega’s claim that there were no political prisoners left in Cuba. According to the PanAm Post, the CCDHRN identified at least two dozen prisoners serving long sentences for peaceful political activities, 13 of whom were members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Cuba’s largest dissident organization.

The Catholic Register reported that Jose Daniel Ferrer — general coordinator of Cuba’s Patriotic Union (UNPACU) — “wrote an open letter to Pope Francis Sept. 3 asking him to ‘intercede and take up the defense of the rights of the oppressed in Cuba.’”

Damas de Blanco (“Ladies in White”) leader Berta Soler told Reuters that she would like to “discuss with the Pope the need to stop police violence against those who exercise their freedom to demonstrate in public.”

Earlier this summer, she reiterated to the PanAm Post that “the Catholic Church … should protect and shelter every suffering, defenseless person.”

Although the Cuban government released over 3,000 prison inmates prior to the Pope’s arrival, none of them were political prisoners. Reuters reported that in August, the month before the Pope’s visit, Cuban police detained 768 dissidents for peaceful political activity, the highest monthly total in 2015. The arbitrary detentions continued during the Pope’s visit. Berta Soler was prevented from attending the Pope’s appearances, while three members of UNPACU were dragged off, detained and have since disappeared after they tried to approach the Pope.

The closest that Pope Francis ever came to acknowledging the existence of political prisoners in Cuba was an oblique reference — during his welcoming ceremony in Havana — that he “would like my greeting to embrace especially all those who, for various reasons, I will not be able to meet.” The Pope’s greeting resonated with the impact of a tree falling in an empty forest with no one left to hear it.

Defenders of both Pope Francis and Cardinal Ortega have likened their non-confrontational approach to the Castro regime with the spirit of reconciliation exemplified by the ministry of Jesus Christ. Yet the stubborn denial that there are no political prisoners suffering in Cuba’s jails — and equating the defense of human rights with a partisan political agenda — seems a far cry from the ministry of Jesus.

The Bible gives an account of Jesus appearing in “the Temple courts” and advocating on behalf of a woman accused of adultery brought before him by “the teachers of the law and the Pharisees” (New International Version, John 8: 1-11). Jesus stood between the woman and the stone throwers and challenged the unjust law that required her to be stoned to death.

Even atheists like me can acknowledge that the historical Jesus became the world’s most famous political prisoner through his detention, his public humiliation and his suffering. As Christians, Pope Francis and Cardinal Ortega might well remember — in their future dealings with the Castro regime — that Jesus welcomed the righteous into heaven with the greeting: “I was in prison and you came to visit me … whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:31-46).