Hundreds of angry Cubans gathered in front of Ecuador’s embassy in Havana on Friday in an unusual public display of discontent. They said they were frustrated by Ecuador’s new rule that Cubans need a visa to visit — a move that complicates both legitimate travel and efforts to reach the United States.
The lack of a visa requirement for Cubans made Ecuador a favored destination for those seeking a vacation or job abroad, as well as those who leave the island and make the 3,400-mile (5,500-kilometer) overland route to the United States, where they can receive automatic legal residency.
Many people lined up early in hope of getting a visa, which will be required for travel as of Tuesday. But diplomats told the crowd by loudspeaker that they would have to apply for a visa via a government website. Most Cubans have almost no internet access.
A sort of impromptu protest broke out, with many in the crowd chanting “Visa! Visa!”
Police blocked off the area around the embassy in Havana’s Miramar district and by late morning, the crowd began to dwindle to at most about 200.
Ecuador announced the visa requirement on Thursday as part of an effort to stem a flow of migrants using Ecuador as a transit country to reach other nations without permission.
“We do not close the door to Cuba,” but Ecuador is committed to efforts by the Latin American community to prevent migration without authorization, Deputy Foreign Minister Xavier Lasso said in making the announcement.
Latin American officials held a weekend meeting in El Salvador to discuss the plight of 3,000 U.S.-bound Cuban migrants who are stranded at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, which has balked at allowing them to cross its territory.
Many Cubans fear that the normalization of relations with the U.S. will bring an end to Cold War-era special immigration privileges that give U.S. residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.
A Venezuelan opposition election candidate was shot dead while campaigning, political leaders said Thursday, raising tensions ahead of a legislative vote that could weaken the major oil producer’s socialist government.
An attacker shot Luis Manuel Diaz on Wednesday evening at an event also attended by Lilian Tintori, the wife of a jailed opposition leader and a high-profile critic of President Nicolas Maduro, the official said.
“As the rally with Lilian finished, we heard shooting … We saw Luis fall to the ground bleeding,” a regional leader of the Justice First opposition party, Abrahan Fernandez, told AFP.
Another political ally of the victim, the chairman of the Democratic Action party Henry Ramos Allup, said on Twitter that Diaz was shot at short range near the stage where he had made an appearance.
He said Tintori took refuge with security guards in a nearby shop.
Polls have indicated Maduro’s government could lose its majority in the national assembly in the Dec 6 vote, potentially weakening the president’s grip on power.
That has raised fears of unrest in the Latin American nation of 30 million people, already wracked by violence and an economic crisis with many families short of basic supplies.
Ramos said the shooter was believed to be a member of an “armed gang” linked to the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
Tintori’s husband Leopoldo Lopez is in prison for incitement to violence in 2014 anti-government protests, though a fugitive prosecutor in the case has cast doubt on his conviction.
That unrest left 43 people dead, according to the government.
Violence ‘from highest levels’
The Union of South American Nations (Unasur) condemned Wednesday’s killing and rejected “all forms of violence that could affect the normal development of the electoral process.”
The 12-country regional bloc, which is sending observers to monitor the elections, in a statement called on authorities to carry out “a thorough investigation into this reprehensible act.”
One of Maduro’s top allies, the speaker of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, on Wednesday dismissed recent alleged attacks on opposition campaigning as “staged.”
In the past two weeks, Venezuela’s opposition has reported numerous assaults and harassment against its leaders including former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who said he was attacked by ruling-party supporters.
The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition blamed Diaz’s death on Maduro’s government.
“The violent preaching from the highest levels of government is responsible for sowing hatred,” it said.
It called on international authorities such as the European Union and the Vatican to urge the Venezuelan government to openly reject violence.
The PSUV had yet to react to the killing.
Venezuelans will elect 167 deputies to their single-chamber National Assembly when they vote next month.
Opinion polls indicate that the opposition is poised to win control of the body for the first time since Maduro’s mentor, late leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez, came to power in 1999.
Maduro has warned that if the opposition wins, his side is “politically and militarily prepared to deal with it” and would “take to the streets.”
Venezuela’s oil-rich economy has suffered recently from a plunge in crude prices and runaway inflation, which have fuelled violent crime and political tension.
Venezuela has the second-highest murder rate in the world after Honduras: 54 killings per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, according to the latest UN figures.
Political analyst Francine Jacome told AFP Wednesday’s killing may have been politically motivated to instil fear, but “could have the opposite effect and encourage people to vote.”
In any case, he added, “what is happening is a warning sign of violence that could break out on and after election day.”
Fearing the recent rapprochement between Havana and Washington could end preferential U.S. policies for Cuban migrants, thousands of people from the Communist-ruled island have been crossing into South America and traveling through Central America hoping to reach U.S. soil.
More than 3,000 Cubans have been stopped for days at the Costa Rican border after the Nicaraguan government shut its borders, denying them passage north through the country. At least 150 Cubans are arriving every day, exacerbating the problem.
During a regional summit in El Salvador, which included representatives from the governments of Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico, Nicaragua rejected Costa Rica’s suggestion of creating a “humanitarian corridor” for the migrants to pass through and said its border would remain closed.
“Nicaragua demands that the government of Costa Rica … remove all migrants from our border areas,” said Nicaraguan first lady and government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo.
Led by former Marxist guerrilla Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua is a close ally of Cuba, and his administration has complained that by issuing the Cubans with transit visas, Costa Rica has violated its national sovereignty.
Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Gonzalez told reporters he thought Nicaragua had blocked a reasonable policy suggestion for resolving the crisis.
“It’s unacceptable to kid around with people’s suffering,” he said.
Since U.S.-Cuban ties began to thaw in December, the number of Cubans heading through Central America has climbed.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data published by the Pew Research Center, 27,296 Cubans entered the United States in the first nine months of the 2015 fiscal year, up 78 percent from 2014.
Under arrangements stemming from the Cold War era, Cuban migrants receive special treatment on reaching the United States. The “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy allows Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil to stay, while those captured at sea are sent back.
Venezuela’s opposition hailed on Monday conservative politician Mauricio Macri’s presidential win in Argentina as a blow for leftists in Latin America and a good omen for their own duel with “Chavismo” in next month’s parliamentary vote.
Macri, 56, narrowly defeated ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli as voters punished outgoing President Cristina Fernandez over the economy and her leadership style.
That was a big disappointment for Venezuela’s ruling socialist “Chavismo” movement, which had a close political alliance with Fernandez.
Macri is urging Venezuela’s suspension from South American trade bloc Mercosur for alleged rights abuses by President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
“Argentina, Venezuela and Latin America all win. Democracy and liberty win,” said Maria Corina Machado, a strident opponent of Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez.
Venezuela’s opposition takes on the ruling Socialist Party in a Dec. 6 parliamentary election where they could win the National Assembly for the first time in more than 15 years.
They predict the beginning of the end for “Chavismo”, though the government also forecasts victory and has some advantages in voting geography and mobilization capacity.
Polls show the opposition ahead on voter preferences, mainly due to anger over the economy: the world’s highest inflation, recession and widespread product shortages.
Some opposition leaders noted pointedly how Scioli had graciously accepted defeat. “I hope Mrs Lucena can see how elections are done!” wrote Henrique Capriles, who unsuccessfully claimed fraud after losing a 2013 presidential vote to Maduro, referring to Venezuela’s election board head Tibisay Lucena.
Venezuela’s on-the-day electronic voting system is endorsed by international experts. But critics accuse the government of skewing the vote in advance by shuffling districts, naming voting centers after Chavez, and using state resources for publicity and transport.
Lilian Tintori, wife of Venezuela’s best-known jailed opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, said she was in Argentina for the vote and had hugged the incoming president’s wife.
“She told me she was with Venezuela, she said ‘I am with you and with Leopoldo,'” Tintori said. “Political change in Latin America is starting. Argentines achieved with their vote what is coming to Venezuela on December 6.”
Officials say the opposition has a nondemocratic agenda and is planning violence.
Jorge Rodriguez, head of the government’s parliamentary election campaign, lauded Fernandez as Argentina’s best-ever president and noted Macri’s win was a tight one.
“I didn’t see Scioli call for violence or for the killing of Argentines. I think the Venezuelan right-wing should learn from that example,” he added.
The refugees were floating on a row boat attached to barrels They were spotted just before the sun rose on Sunday morning They were taken aboard the Independence of the Seas ship until the US Coast Guard arrived to pick them up One passenger said at first people thought the refugees were pirates
Eight refugees fleeing from Cuba were rescued by a Royal Caribbean cruise ship after they were spotted out at sea just before the sun came up on Sunday morning.
The refugees were floating on a row boat that appeared to be attached to barrels, with backpacks and paddles inside.
They were taken aboard the cruise ship aptly-titled Independence of the Seas until the US Coast Guard arrived and picked them up.
Passenger Mark Sims said that at first others believed the refugees were pirates trying to get on the ship.
There were more than 4,000 passengers and 1,500 crew members on board at the time.
This isn’t the first time a Royal Caribbean ship picked up Cuban refugees.
It seems that the Castro brothers are taking advantage of Obama the same as they did when another weak president, Jimmy Carter, was in the White House. The Castros manufactured a marine exodus called Mariel during Carter’s presidency and now they are organizing a ground Mariel for their new ‘friend’ in the White House. American politicians never learn!:
A humanitarian crisis is developing in Central America along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Earlier this week, the Nicaraguan military began refusing to allow the passage of around 2,000 Cuban refugees fleeing the Castro dictatorship.
Nicaragua’s socialist Sandinista government (and close ally of the Castro regime) has even resorted to using teargas and other deterrents.
But has the Cuban government manufactured this refugee crisis in order to strong-arm the U.S.?
Evidence of Havana’s manipulation can clearly be seen in the magnitude of refugee flows. Cuba is a totalitarian police state, where people are not even allowed to move from one house to another without the government’s approval. So is it reasonable to believe that 2,000 Cubans got to Costa Rica without Castro’s approval?
This point is reinforced by the circumstances surrounding their departure. Vast majorities are leaving via government-owned and operated planes en route to Ecuador. State permission is also needed to fly in most cases.
This is also not the first time the Cuban government has used refugees to coerce an American government to do its will, the most notable instances being the Mariel boatlifts of 1980 and the 1994 Cuban raft exodus. Prior to each, a common thread of events is clearly seen. In both cases, the regime sought to strong-arm the U.S.
The events occurring now in Nicaragua are not at all different.
The blame for this humanitarian catastrophe can then largely be attributed to President Obama’s new policy of support for the dictatorship in Havana.
Essentially, the Castro regime has been put in the driver’s seat of U.S. policy toward the island since Obama announced his new Cuba policy. The Obama administration has unilaterally granted a series of concessions at breakneck speed—without gaining anything in return from Castro.
In less than 11 months, the president has weakened our position with Cuba by giving into Havana’s demands to be prematurely removed from of the State Sponsor of Terrorism list and to lobby Congress to undeservedly lift the trade embargo.
Throughout this normalization process, the administration has stretched and arguably violated U.S. law in order to fulfill the Castro regime’s demands for normalization. Cuba’s bucket list has largely been fulfilled except for two items: removal of trade embargo and financial reparations for supposed damages caused by the U.S.
The trade embargo, codified under the Cuban Liberty and Democracy Act of 1996, can be repealed only through an act of Congress. Numerous bipartisan measures from the 114th Congress clearly indicate a rejection of the president’s dangerous new policy and a certainty that the Cuban government has not met the basic conditions for its repeal.
To the chagrin of the Castro regime, concessions via executive action have plateaued. The administration’s recent vote in support of the embargo at the U.N. general assembly has also undoubtedly upset Havana. Having grown accustomed to getting all for nothing, Cuba is now resorting to an old tactic of pressuring the U.S. by unleashing Cuban refugees.
In response to Nicaragua’s brutality, the State Department has only insubstantial statements asking for “all countries to respect the human rights of migrants and to ensure humane treatment of individuals seeking asylum or other forms of protection in accordance with international law and their own national laws.”
Obama’s capitulation to the Castro regime has called into question the administration’s commitment to the oppressed Cuban people. Hollow press releases from the State Department are inconsequential.
Considering the protected status and many benefits Nicaraguans and their government are given by the U.S., the administration can ensure a positive outcome for the Cuban refugees.
The Cuban government has shut down the island’s only official email service provider and it’s not clear when it’ll come back.
The Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) announced in an official note Wednesday that it has had to “completely stop email services” in the country.
As is often the case in Cuba, the communist government hasn’t given an official reason for the shutdown. Service on the island has been spotty for more than a week, according to Jose Luis Martinez, communications director at the Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, who is in regular communication with people on the island. Earlier this week, ETECSA said that the “infrastructure that supports the accounts has had a technical failure that affects the sending and receiving of emails.”
While there’s no law that stops Cubans from using Gmail or any other email service provider, the shutdown of all official email accounts, which are called Nauta accounts, will have huge ramifications for how people communicate on the island.
There is very little wifi access in Cuba and no mobile internet service for Cubans whatsoever, but standard cell phone service is pretty widespread. The Cuban government allows its citizens to send and receive text-based emails on mobile phones using standard cell signal and Nauta accounts. As a result, Nauta emails are how a lot of business gets done on the island, and it’s how a lot of people communicate with those overseas while they’re on the go.
The message that’s bouncing back if you try to email a Nauta email account.
“It’s the only email you’re allowed to have on your phone,” Martinez told me.
Martinez says he’s been trying to email people on the island and has had the emails bounced back to him with this message: “This message has not yet been delivered. It will will keep trying to be delivered.”
“There’s no way to understand what’s going on—if it’s a hack, if it’s a technical issue because ETECSA is a very opaque organization,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately, a lot of things in Cuba are very obsolete and outdated and clunky.”
It’s entirely possible the shutdown only lasts a couple days, but even if that’s the case, it underscores the country’s extremely shaky telecommunications infrastructure. Cuban leader Raul Castro says he wants to open the island up, but it has been very slow to get widespread internet service. At the moment, the country relies on a handful of wireless hotspots that are expensive, slow, and surveilled. Companies such as Verizon have launched wireless data service for American travelers to the island, but there’s no indication from the government that the Cuban people are going to have better internet access anytime soon.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) says he would undo much of President Obama’s diplomacy with Cuba if elected president.
“Nothing was asked of Cuba,” he said Thursday of the White House’s diplomatic thaw with the island nation earlier this year, according to The Associated Press.
“We somehow ignore the fact that 90 miles from our shores is an anti-American communist dictatorship that oppresses its people and sows instability,” Rubio added.
“We have a vested interest in ensuring there’s stability on that island, and you won’t have it as long as it’s a dictatorship,” the GOP presidential candidate continued. “People think it’s because we’re being stubborn or holding onto old policies. I’m prepared to change strategies with Cuba, but it has to be one that yields results.”
Rubio said he would downgrade the Embassy of the United States opened in Havana earlier this year if he wins the presidency, instead making the facility a diplomatic interests section, which it was before the Obama administration.
He also pledged to snap back into place restrictions on U.S. government and business dealings with Cuba.
Rubio criticized American corporate interests for blindly rushing toward Cuba’s markets.
“American companies think that they want to invest in Cuba. They have no idea what the terms are,” he said. “The terms are, you don’t own anything. You can’t go to Cuba and open a business and own it.”
He also charged that Cuba’s restrictive society presents an immediate humanitarian concern for Americans.
“As long as they’re an oppressive regime, people are going to get in rafts and leave that island and come to the U.S.,” the presidential candidate said. “It’s our Coast Guard that’s going to have to go and save their lives in those straits.”
Rubio, whose parents fled Cuba’s government before his birth, criticized current U.S. policies on Cubans seeking refuge here.
“What I have criticized — and what I think makes no sense — is that we allow people to come to this country on the Cuban Adjustment Act,” he said.
“One year and a day after they’ve arrived, they’re traveling to Cuba 15 times a year,” Rubio continued. “The laws that exist are hard to justify anymore.
“When you have people who are coming and a year and a day later they are traveling back to Cuba 15 times a year, 12 times, 10 times, 8 times, that doesn’t look like someone who is fleeing oppression.”
The American Embassy in Havana began flying a U.S. flag over its facilities for the first time in 54 years last August.
Obama announced he would begin restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba late last year following decades of tension during the Cold War.
He says he’ll ignore the December election if his party loses. Even the OAS is upset.
Independent polling companies in Venezuela are reporting that if the Dec. 6 national assembly elections are fair, Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is likely to take a beating.
President Maduro announced last month that no matter the outcome, the PSUV will not relinquish power. He also said he plans to win. No wonder since Venezuela has not held a fair election in at least a dozen years and it’s not likely that this one will be different.
Cue the outrage from the Organization of American States, though why now and what took so long it hasn’t said.
On Tuesday OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro sent an 18-page letter to Tibisay Lucena, president of Venezuela’s electoral council, sharply criticizing the country’s decision not to allow an OAS observer mission for the election. He also outlined numerous transgressions committed by the government against democratic norms in the lead up to the vote.
“If I did not heed, or remained silent, regarding the facts I have mentioned in this letter,” Mr. Almagro wrote, “I would lose my legitimacy, especially with respect to the essence of the principles in which I believe and hope I will never abandon: the defense of democracy and resolute promotion of human rights.”
Venezuelan democrats were elated, because the OAS has for 15 years ignored the steady slide toward despotism in their country. To finally see chavista tyranny criticized by the international community is cause for celebration.
Yet it is unlikely that Mr. Almagro’s letter is the result of a decision to stake out ground on principle. What is more probable is that the former Uruguayan foreign minister in the pro-Castro, pro-Chávez government of José Mujica has read the region’s political and economic tea leaves.
Chilean Socialist José Miguel Insulza was Mr. Almagro’s predecessor. During his tenure from 2005-15 he was blind to Cuban repression and did not disguise his disdain toward many of those who tried to defend human rights in Venezuela. This was good for the military governments but it made the OAS irrelevant. Mr. Almagro no doubt realizes his organization needs to regain respectability, and recognizes Venezuela’s declining economic power. So it follows that he’s decided to throw the Bolivarians overboard.
According to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Mr. Maduro said in an Oct. 29 interview on a state television channel that in the event of an opposition victory, “Venezuela will enter one of the most murky and emotional phases of its political life and we will defend the revolution, we will not hand over the Revolution and the revolution will move to a new phase.” Translation: Get ready for a Cuban-style crackdown.
The only thing new here is that Mr. Maduro is admitting that democracy is dead. In a January 2009 column, I outlined how Hugo Chávez orchestrated a coup of sorts against the country’s democracy while revenues from oil exports were gushing. Speech was gagged, political opponents were jailed, the independence of crucial government institutions was destroyed, peaceful protesters were shot and killed. Property rights were eliminated, private enterprise was strangled, and media outlets were closed.
An OAS leadership committed to its democratic charter would have acted to isolate the country for its thuggishness. Mr. Insulza instead mostly looked the other way or preached the moral equivalence of the two sides.
Chávez apologists, including former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, justified the regime’s behavior on grounds that a majority of Venezuelans backed the revolution—as if elections were fair and there’s no such thing as minority rights in a free and just society. But there was another reason Caracas was getting a pass.
Venezuela was awash in oil revenues, and it shared its wealth only with those who refrained from criticizing the Bolivarian Revolution. Spanish and Brazilian companies won state contracts worth billions of dollars. Uruguay, Argentina and Nicaragua became important food and commodity suppliers. In the Caribbean, Venezuela bought friends with oil largess. Mostly with carrots, sometimes with sticks, Venezuela did what it pleased. The OAS provided the rubber stamp. Then came the flood.
Venezuelan petroleum output was already falling due to incompetent management of the state-owned oil company, when the bottom fell out of the oil market last year. The Central Bank’s reserves have dwindled to $21.4 billion, and that includes gold assets and $4 billion of Chinese loans. Export revenues will barely cover the country’s import needs and debt service next year. All of which is to say that Venezuela has become simply one more banana republic going broke.
The OAS’s belated objections to the Maduro tyranny are welcome. But Venezuelan democracy now swings lifeless at the end of a rope. If, as it seems, Mr. Almagro and his OAS partners are only changing sides out of institutional and personal self-interest, it’s not much progress.