Monthly Archives: December 2015

Why Is Rahm Emanuel Vacationing in Repressive Cuba?


Elliot Abrahams in Newsweek

Here’s the  news out of Chicago:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is cutting short his family vacation in Cuba and will return to Chicago on Tuesday to deal with the latest crisis involving the city’s Police Department.

While the press is paying attention to the shootings, I’d like to ask another question: what is he doing taking a “family vacation” in a viciously repressive communist country?

Think of it: the liberal Democrat ignores suppression of freedom of the press and speech and religion. The elected mayor frolics in a place where there has not been one free election since Fidel Castro took over in 1959, nor will there be while he and his brother Raul live.

The island’s prisons are full of political prisoners, but Emanuel ignores this. There are plenty of human rights activists and former political prisoners who would be happy to talk with him about Cuba’s future, but that won’t happen: he’s on a “family vacation,” you see.

Can you imagine a “family vacation” on South Africa’s beautiful beaches while Nelson Mandela sat in prison on Robben Island? A fun time in Russia while Sharansky was in the Gulag? No. So why is Cuba different?

Emanuel’s visit to Cuba is an expression of indifference to human freedom. Cuba is surrounded by democracies whose people do not live in a police state and do not go to jail for asking to vote or trying to publish a newspaper–and their beaches are equally beautiful.

Chicago’s mayor chose to hand some badly needed cash to the Castro regime, and there is simply no excuse for it. But there is a considerable irony here: just as  Amnesty International is pounding Emanuel over protection of human rights in Chicago, he’s off sunning himself on an island that is famous precisely for the violation of human rights.

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the   Council on Foreign Relations.

Cuban Activist Freed in Obama Deal, Then Arrested Again, Now in Grave Condition


PJ Media

The Obama administration is calling on the Cuban government to free a political prisoner — one of the dozens released from prison a year ago as a rapprochement gesture, only to be re-arrested a few months later.

Vladimir Morera Bacallao, 53, is reportedly near death due to the hunger strike he started behind bars in October.

Morera Bacallao, a labor activist, was arrested in April in the run-up to the regime’s sham municipal elections for posting a sign outside his home stating: “I vote for my freedom and not in an election where I cannot choose my president.”

A month ago, he was sentenced to four and a half years behind bars.

Around the same time, another one of the political prisoners whose release was hailed by the Obama administration as a grand gesture of the Castro regime toward human rights was sentenced to another prison term. Jorge Ramirez Calderon received two and a half years behind bars for “joining a peaceful protest asking for improved sanitary conditions and water in his community,” the State Department acknowledged at the time.

“Respect for human rights is a cornerstone of our foreign policy, and we call on the Cuban government to respect its citizens’ rights to free expression and peaceful protest,” the State Department said Nov. 24.

Morera Bacallao was transferred from his prison cell to an intensive care unit last week. At today’s State Department briefing, spokesman Mark Toner told reporters the activist is in “very serious condition.”

“The United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating physical condition of Vladimir Morera Bacallao, who has been on a hunger strike since October to protest his imprisonment for peacefully expressing political dissent,” Toner said. “Mr. Morera Bacallao was one of 53 prisoners of concern released shortly after the December 2014 announcement of the president’s new policy direction on Cuba, but detained again in April of 2015 for hanging a sign outside his home in protest of municipal elections.”

“…The United States urgently calls on the Cuban government to release Mr. Morera Bacallao.”

Amnesty International noted on Dec. 10 that 1,477 arbitrary politically motivated arrests by Cuban officials in November — “the highest monthly total in many years.”

“For weeks on end, the Cuban authorities have used a spike in arrests and harassment to prevent human rights activists and dissidents from protesting peacefully,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) noted that during President Obama’s time in office “activists Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilman Villar Mendoza died under uncannily similar circumstances” as hunger-striking Morera Bacallao. “Activists Laura Pollan and Oswaldo Paya also perished at the hands of Castros’ thugs during this administration.”

“Morera Bacallao has risked everything for the basic right to have a voice in his government. His unjustifiable imprisonment and mistreatment are further indictments of the brutal malevolence of the Castro regime, and the utter failure of Obama’s appeasement of Cuba’s dictators,” Diaz-Balart wrote on his Facebook page. “I urge human rights organizations and the Obama administration to bring attention to the urgent case of Vladimir Morera Bacallao, and to demand that he receive immediate medical attention. We must not remain silent while another courageous activist hovers on the brink of death.”

The Castros ordered their Venezuelan puppets to ignore the election results

madurogritonThe Castro brothers are the ones who control Venezuela’s puppet regime and they will not recognize the results of the December 5th election because they do not believe in obeying the will of the people.

Court threat to Venezuela opposition’s super-majority


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s party has filed a legal challenge against the election of eight opposition lawmakers, threatening the two-thirds majority it won in landmark polls this month, the high court said Tuesday.

The opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), accused the leftist ruling party of violating “the people’s will” after the December 6 legislative polls, in which MUD won control of the National Assembly for the first time in 16 years.

The opposition won 112 of 167 seats in the elections, a dramatic blow to Maduro and the “revolution” launched in 1999 by his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

If the court challenge is successful, it could reduce that number to 104, which is shy of a two-thirds majority.

The super-majority gives MUD the power to put legislation to a referendum, remove officials from office, call an assembly to draft a new constitution and possibly seek to force Maduro from power before the end of his term in 2019.

The case will be decided by the Supreme Court of Justice.

Last week Maduro’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, used an extraordinary session in the final days of its legislative majority to name 13 new judges and 21 substitute judges to the 32-member court.

The opposition, which boycotted the session, condemned the move.

MUD had last week accused the ruling party of filing a court challenge against the election of 22 of its incoming lawmakers, calling the move an “attempted judicial coup.”

The high court denied it had received such a case.

But Tuesday’s challenge shows the opposition’s super-majority is in fact under threat.

Analysts warn of a tough political struggle ahead for the oil-rich but deeply troubled nation, which is mired in recession and facing a potentially chaotic period of divided government.


Central American nations reached an agreement to allow several thousand Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica to continue their journey towards the United States

Cuban migrants say they prefer to try their luck through Central American than returning to Cuba
Cuban migrants say they prefer to try their luck through Central American than returning to Cuba

BBC News

Central American nations have reached an agreement to allow several thousand Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica for over a month to continue their journey towards the United States.

The migrants will be airlifted to El Salvador and put on buses, which will take them to the US.

American legislation gives Cuban migrants preferential treatment.

If they arrive at the US border by land they are allowed to enter the country and apply for residency.

Those who are intercepted at sea are sent back, under the special immigration policy known as “wet foot, dry foot”.

Many Cuban migrants fear that the thaw in relations between Washington and Havana may put an end to the preferential treatment given to them.

“We have agreed to make the first humanitarian transfer in January,” said foreign ministers from the Sica regional group and Mexico.

They met in Guatemala City to try to find a solution to the crisis.

Cuba did not attend the meeting, but said it expected “a quick and adequate solution” from the nations involved.

“I strongly believe that the politicisation of US migration policy toward Cuba must change,” said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

The current crisis began in November when Nicaragua, a close ally of Cuba, denied access to thousands of migrants arriving from Costa Rica. The Cuban government says an estimated 7,000 migrants have been living on the Costa Rican side of the border since 14 November.

Many of the migrants flew from Cuba to Ecuador, which did not require Cubans to have visas. Ecuador has since changed its visa policy for Cubans.

From Ecuador, the Cuban migrants travelled north through Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica until they were stopped by Nicaragua.

The move has caused tension between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Costa Rica had called for the creation of a “humanitarian corridor” to allow the migrants to continue their long journey to the US border, about 2,400 km (1,500 miles) away.

On Sunday, Pope Francis urged Central American nations to show generosity in dealing with the crisis.

“I invite the countries of the region to renew with generosity all necessary efforts in order to find a rapid solution to this humanitarian drama,” the Pope told tens of thousands of people at the Vatican’s St Peter’s Square.

The Pope said many of the Cubans passing through Central America were victims of human trafficking.

Thirteen killed, 34 injured in truck collision in Cuba


India Today

There have been more than 10,000 reported traffic accidents in Cuba in the past year which have resulted in the death of 615 people killed.

Thirteen people died and another 34 were injured in eastern Cuba due to a collision between two trucks according to local media reports.

The collision happened in Santiago de Cuba province, Agencia Cubana de Noticias reported.

Of the 34 injured, five were in very serious condition, the report added.

Authorities are investigating the cause for the crash.

The Cuban government decided that it was cheaper to turn trucks into people movers than to import costly buses, due to Cuba’s long running economic crises.

In a country of 11 million, there have been more than 10,000 reported traffic accidents in Cuba in the past year which have resulted in the death of 615 people killed.

A bad year for freedom in Cuba


By Charles Lane in TribLive

Much has changed in Cuba since President Obama and the island’s dictator, Raúl Castro, announced their rapprochement a year ago.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed into Cuban government coffers because of more U.S. tourism and remittances. Havana has negotiated a generous U.S.-tolerated debt restructuring with Western creditors. You can’t walk down the street in Havana, it seems, without bumping into a would-be American investor.

And, of course, the stars and stripes wave over a reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana.

But when it comes to the elementary freedoms that the Castro regime has denied its people since 1959, results are scant.

“This year has been a bad year for us,” democratic activist Antonio G. Rodiles told Washington Post editors this month. Rodiles cited a “huge increase in arbitrary arrests,” as well as his savage beating by regime thugs in July.

“Raúl Castro has been legitimized and recognized by the majority of the governments of the planet and played a leading part in a Summit of the Americas amid flashing cameras and meetings with Barack Obama,” independent blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote. “Inside the country, he has not wanted to give even the slightest recognition to his critics, against whom he has continued arrests, mob actions and painful character assassination.”

As for freer telecommunications, there are a few new open-air WiFi hotspots, but they are exorbitantly priced and officially monitored, Sánchez noted. Meanwhile, Washington trumpets a deal to restore snail-mail service between the United States and Cuba on a date to be announced.

This is what happens when a magical-thinking president runs up against a communist octogenarian who inherited Cuba from his brother, Fidel, and aspires to pass it to his son, who is the intelligence chief, and son-in-law, the tourism industry boss.

“Our central premise,” Obama explained to Yahoo News, “has always been for a small country 90 miles off the shores of Miami — that if they are suddenly exposed to the world and America and opened up to our information and our culture and our visitors and our businesses, invariably they are going to change.”

If Obama can figure that out, so can Castro. The dictator has every incentive to limit U.S.-Cuban interactions to those he can contain and control, which is what he has done so far. (By the way, Havana is 229 miles from Miami.) When Yahoo News asked Obama to list “concessions” Castro had made, the president couldn’t name one.

Obama wants Congress to lift the rest of the embargo, in part to eliminate one of Castro’s last propaganda excuses. Anticipating that, Castro has declared that, even if the embargo ends, “normalization” as he defines it would hinge on more U.S. concessions, including a handover of the naval base at Guatanamo Bay.

U.S. engagement probably won’t “work” in Cuba any more than isolation did, and Cuba is not analogous to China, to which it’s often compared.

There was no real alternative to trade and engagement with a geopolitical giant such as China, human rights notwithstanding. Tiny, impoverished But Cuba offers no strategic compensation for legitimizing its dictatorship through business as usual — not even the agreement to protect whitetip sharks and other marine life Washington and Havana so excitedly unveiled.

“Our original theory on this was not that we were going to see immediate changes or loosening of the control of the Castro regime, but rather that, over time, you’d lay the predicates for substantial transformation,” Obama told Yahoo News.

He has all the time in the world to try his theory — before leaving office a year from now.

Cubans are tired of waiting.

Cuba: Three Sad Scenarios


By José Azel in PanAm Post

Exiles Feel the Pain of US Policy, Gloomy Outlook for Democracy

Dedicated to the heroes of the Brigade 2506 and the resistance.

Tres tristes tigres — literally “three sad tigers” — is a Spanish tongue twister, and the title of Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s masterful novel published in English as Three Trapped Tigers. Written in Cuban Spanish, the work is a linguistic experiment of chaotic events, apparently discrete, but integrated in a way that the reader must discover for himself.

The narrative takes place in pre-revolutionary Havana and frames the tragic reality and sociopolitical outlook of Cubans of that generation.

The colorful characters and language games of Tres tristes tigres came to mind when I sought to envision Cuba’s future in light of President Barack Obama’s new US-Cuba policy, and my analytical exercise produced three sad scenarios.

The new policy — consisting of Cuba’s withdrawal from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, the reopening of embassies, a campaign to end the economic embargo, and more — has created what analysts call a “new reality on the ground.” This new reality calls for rethinking how events in Cuba may unfold over the next five to 10 years. Future possibilities are infinite, and thus forecasting the future is the ultimate exercise in oversimplification. The three scenarios that follow serve mostly to focus our thinking.

If General Raúl Castro is able to orchestrate a relatively smooth succession with no significant changes in Cuba’s political or economic model, we can expect (1) continuity.

If the death of the Castro brothers results in a power struggle and a loss of coherence in the military/party elites, we may witness a (2) fractured solidarity of the ruling elite.

If this weakened leadership engenders deteriorating economic conditions and widespread popular discontent, there might be a reform-oriented new leadership (3) transition, which would be the best-case scenario. The most likely outcome is some form of authoritarian rule. In the worst of cases there would be a failed state.

Each of these scenarios will be determined, in some measure, by US policy responses to the unfolding of events on the island and in the United States. The US federal government can enact policies that either facilitate or obstruct developments in Cuba.

I leave that examination for another day. Also, my statistically minded readers may wish to assign probabilities of occurrence to each one of the scenarios. I will refrain from that exercise.

If we posit that change in Cuba will not come about as a result of some US or international intervention (outside-in change), nor will it come about as a result of some bottom-up event, such as an Arab Spring-type revolution, then we are left with top-down change. That is, change that originates within the Cuban leadership.

But the Cuban leadership lacks a democratic culture. Moreover, the Cuban ruling class has a built-in incentive to resist any democratic reforms. In any genuine transition, the nomenclature fears its institutional extinction and the disappearance or dilution of its privileges. This is not equivalent to forecasting that nothing will change in Cuba. There will be change, but a competitive, pluralistic, and democratic process appears very unlikely.

Of course, the imponderable, the possibility of a black swan event is always present. One such black swan occurrence may be an unknown Václav Havel or Boris Yeltsin in the midst of the Cuban military who is able to emerge and consolidate power as a true reformer. However, at this juncture, it is hard to visualize how any of these three scenarios could offer a realistic path to a liberal democracy, or how Cuba’s future may break out of this Gordian knot.

This new reality should sadden all freedom-loving people, but it is particularly painful for that generation of historical Cuban political exiles who have fought so valiantly for a democratic outcome. We are the sad tigers.

True, my scenarios do not offer much hope for a genuine democratic endgame in a reasonable time frame. However, towards the end of Tres tristes tigres, Cabrera Infante teases the reader with a chapter titled “Some Revelations,” where the reader anticipates answers to the perplexing conundrum of the narrative.

As if to remind us that the future is unknown and unknowable the “Revelations” chapter consists of several blank pages and indecipherable typography. The same is true for my three scenarios. The hope for freedom remains in the pages yet to be written.

José Azel
Senior scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. Azel was a political exile from Cuba at the age of 13 in 1961 and is the author of Mañana in Cuba. Follow @JoseAzel.

Obama’s Cuba policy makes life worse for Cubans


The Boston Globe

When President Obama declared 12 months ago that he intended to normalize relations with Cuba, he claimed that rapprochement with the Castro regime would uphold America’s “commitment to liberty and democracy.” Liberalizing US policy, the president predicted, would succeed “in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.”

He affirmed that message seven months later, as he announced the reopening of the US embassy in Havana. Life on the island might not be “transformed overnight,” Obama conceded, but he had no doubt that more engagement was the best way to advance democracy and human rights for Cuba’s people. “This,” said the president, “is what change looks like.”

Reality-check time.

The Obama administration’s year-long outreach to Cuba has certainly been frenetic. The American flag was raised over the US embassy in August, and in Washington the Cuban embassy was reopened. President Obama held a face-to-face meeting with Raul Castro during the Summit of the Americas in Panama. The State Department removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Restrictions were eased on travel to Cuba by Americans, resulting in a 54 percent increase in trips this year. Three Cabinet members — the secretaries of state, agriculture, and commerce — were dispatched on separate missions to Cuba. And plans have been announced to resume direct mail service and commercial air travel between the two countries.

The Castro brothers snapped up all these treats. They will gladly pocket more of them. But there has been no hint of the expanded freedom and democratic reforms that Obama’s engagement was supposed to unlock.

Cuba remains the only dictatorship in the Americas, as repressive and hostile to human rights as ever. More repressive, in fact: Over the past 12 months, the government’s harassment of dissidents and democracy activists has ballooned. In November, according to Amnesty International, there were nearly 1,500 political arrests or arbitrary detentions of peaceful human-rights protesters. That was the highest monthly tally in years, more than double the average of 700 political detentions per month recorded in 2014.

Continue reading Obama’s Cuba policy makes life worse for Cubans

Catholic Bishop Accuses Cuba of Holding Political Prisoners, Despite Cardinal Ortega’s Denial


Breitbart News

The bishop in charge of the pastoral care of prison inmates in Cuba declared Wednesday that Cuba is holding a number of political prisoners on the island, some of whom are serving long sentences, a claim that Havana has repeatedly denied.

“Let’s be clear,” said Jorge Serpa, the bishop of the western diocese of Pinar del Rio. “We do have cases of political prisoners, persons serving long sentences for whom I have requested a review on behalf of the Church, and I will not tire of doing so.”

The bishop’s statements formed part of an interview published Wednesday in the magazine Palabra Nueva, a publication of the Archdiocese of Havana.

The Cuban government vehemently denies the existence of political prisoners on the island and instead punishes dissidents or members of the opposition under non-political charges, such as disturbances of public order or danger to the state.

In the interview, Serpa, who is head of the Commission of Pastoral Work with Prisoners of the Catholic Church in Cuba, said that there are “persons serving 47 or 40 years in prison.” He added, “In my group there are seven ‘color orange’ prisoners, who are those serving life sentences, and some of them are politicians.”

“Not long ago I received a call from an accredited foreign journalist in Cuba who had just received a list of political prisoners,” Serpa stated in mid-December.

Earlier this month, Cuba’s attorney general, Dario Delgado, declared that there were no political prisoners detained on the island and referred to dissidents as “common delinquents.”

“Sometimes it is said that we have political prisoners here. There are none,” Delgado said in an interview published on Human Rights Day.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an officially banned group tolerated by authorities on the island, says there are sixty “prisoners of conscience” in Cuba.

A year ago, the United States and Cuba began a historic diplomatic reconciliation after more than a half century of estrangement dating to the Cold War.