Monthly Archives: April 2016

Cuban-Americans beware: rights disappear in Cuba

americanembassy

Sun Sentinel, by Guillermo Martínez

The information came to me from different sources. One was from a friend who I don’t see often enough.The other came from Cesar Pizarro, who I have known since the 1970s at The Miami Herald.

The first one was trying to convince me to travel to Cuba. He did, however, warn me that on the day that one gets on an airplane from the United States to Havana, Cuban-Americans have to leave the Bill of Rights sitting on the airplane. They are no good in Cuba.

Then came a succinct message from Pizarro, with a copy of the page where the U.S. Embassy in Havana details its services for Cuban- Americans. It was chilling.

I could not believe what I was reading, so I went directly to the Internet and found the page that Pizarro had sent to me.

Under the heading of dual nationality, the embassy document addresses what it can and mainly cannot do for people of dual nationalities. This applies to Cubans born on the island that have become American citizens and (this part is incredible and despicable) to the children of Cuban Americans born in the United States.

But, instead of trying to say what the document says in my words, let me pick up a few choice sentences from the document itself.

Under the heading of Dual Nationality, it reads: “The Government of Cuba does not recognize the U.S. nationality of U.S. citizens who are Cuban-born or (and here is the part that to me is unbelievable and unacceptable) or are the children of Cuban parents.

“These individuals will be treated solely as Cuban citizens and may be subject to a range of restrictions and obligations, including military service (in Cuba).

“The Cuban government may require U.S. citizens, whom the Government of Cuba considers to be Cuban, to enter and depart using a Cuban passport… . There have been cases of Cuban-American dual nationals being forced by the Cuban government to surrender their U.S. passports,” the document says.

The document also issues a serious warning to all Cuban Americans:

“Cuban-American dual nationals should be especially wary of any attempt by Cuban authorities to compel them to sign ‘repatriation’ documents. The Government of Cuba views a declaration of repatriation as a legal statement on the part of the dual national that she/he intends to resettle permanently in Cuba.

“In several instances, the Government of Cuba has seized the U.S. passport of dual nationals signing declarations of repatriation and has denied these individuals permission to return to the United States.”

The document is indeed chilling.

Continue reading Cuban-Americans beware: rights disappear in Cuba

I swear this is not a joke: Venezuelan public employees will only work Monday and Tuesday

A watchman uses his phone's light at a condominium's checkpoint during a power cut in San Cristobal, in the state of Tachira, Venezuela, April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez.
A watchman uses his phone’s light at a condominium’s checkpoint during a power cut in San Cristobal, in the state of Tachira, Venezuela, April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez.

ABC News

Venezuela’s public employees will work only on Monday and Tuesday as the country grapples with an electricity crisis.

President Nicolas Maduro announced Tuesday that the government was slashing working hours for at least two weeks in a bid to save energy.

He said the water level behind the nation’s largest dam has fallen to near its minimum operating level thanks to a severe drought. Experts say lack of planning and maintenance is also to blame.

The country’s socialist administration already gave nearly 3 million public workers Fridays off earlier this month, and on Monday initiated daily four-hour blackouts around the country.

The government is now extending the Friday holidays to grade school teachers, though it appears employees of public hospitals and state-run supermarkets will still have to work.

Venezuelans reacted with disbelief to the news that most public workers would hardly be going into the office.

Workers will be paid for the days they’re sent home. Some have been using their Fridays off to wait in lines to buy groceries and other goods. Others have been going home to watch TV and run the air conditioning, leading critics to say the furlough is not an effective energy-saving measure.

Power outages have been a chronic problem in this oil country. Maduro’s predecessor President Hugo Chavez promised to solve the problem in 2010, but little has improved.

Venezuela blackouts: ‘We can’t go on living like this’

Back in 1999, Hugo Chávez promised to take the Venezuelan people to the same “sea of happiness” that Cubans enjoyed under the Castro brothers dictatorship

Incredibly enough, they still voted for him. Now, 17 years later, they are finally arriving at that promised “sea of happiness” and they don’t like it.

apagonvenezuela

CNN

About the only thing that can be counted on around the clock at Gustavo Diaz’s home these days is the gas stove.

The food in the fridge is spoiling. The microwave oven sits unused. The television is dark and the stereo system silent. It’s sweaty and uncomfortable inside, thanks to government-imposed electricity blackouts meant to deal with chronic power shortages across the country.

Even getting running water is a problem.

“We can’t go on living like this,” he said. “We Venezuelan people deserve much better.”

Power outages are nothing new for Venezuelans, including Diaz, who lives with his wife and three daughters in a Caracas suburb. But with the government’s recent announcement of a formal rolling blackout program set to last at least 40 days, things have only gotten worse, he said.

“We’ve had rolling blackouts since last month. We used to lose power two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, but now it’s four hours straight,” Diaz said.

Opposition blames corruption, mismanagement

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other government officials blame the El Niño weather pattern and epic drought for the problem. The water level at the Guri hydroelectric dam, which provides 75% of Venezuela’s electricity, is at a record low.

But opposition figures blame mismanagement and corruption for the problems.

Caught in the middle: people like Diaz. Life has taken on new rhythms, dictated by the ebb and flow of power.

“We unplug everything when we lose power so that the appliances don’t get damaged (with power surges) when we get the power back on,” Diaz said.

The blackouts are the most significant step yet the government has taken to save energy.

On April 6, Maduro forced government employees and other workers to take Fridays off. He also plans to push forward Venezuela’s time zone half an hour in May to give people more daylight during working hours.

The capital district in Caracas and some adjacent municipalities are exempt from the rolling blackouts because they house government officials. Nueva Esparta and Vargas — states that heavily depend on tourism — will not be affected either.

But for most Venezuelans, the blackouts add to a litany of other daily burdens.

‘This life is killing us’

The government — cash-strapped because of low oil prices — can’t pay for basic imports such as sugar, flour and eggs. Many Venezuelans wait several hours in lines outside supermarkets, hoping shelves won’t be emptied out by the time they arrive.

Venezuela’s economy shrank 5.7% in 2015 and is expected to contract another 8% this year, the International Monetary Fund says. Inflation has skyrocketed, and it could rise another 500% in 2016, according to IMF projections.

The bolivar, Venezuela’s currency, is worth less than a penny on the black-market exchange.

In Charallave, a working-class area that has historically been supportive of the late President Hugo Chavez and the socialist government, just about every business displays the same sign.

“No hay luz,” it says. (“There’s no power.”)

At a paint store, owner Luis Marcano said sales are way down, not just because of the power outages, but the economic crisis as well.

“I’ve been waiting all morning to sell something,” he said.

At another shop, a woman started to cry when a reporter asked how hard things had been. Unless something gives, she’ll likely have to shut down before the end of the year.

“We can’t live like this anymore,” said the shop owner, who feared reprisals and asked not to be identified. “This life is killing us.”

Editorial: The perils of business in Cuba

canibalDoin

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Earlier this year a delegation of Virginia business leaders traveled to Cuba to explore the potential for commerce there, now that the Obama administration has eased relations between the two countries. At one point, Cuban officials tried to reassure them by vowing that foreign investment could not be “expropriated” except “for reasons of public or social interest.”

Some reassurance.

But having your money, plants or equipment stolen at gunpoint is not the only peril facing American companies in the Castro Brothers’ island paradise. Just ask Carnival Cruise Lines.

The company recently, and wisely, made a hasty retreat from its announced policy of not allowing Cuban-Americans to take cruises to Cuba. We are not making this up. The company blamed the Cuban government, which restricts how and whether Cuban-Americans can visit. Carnival was just following orders, you see.

What’s more, Cuba does not recognize the American nationality of Cuban-Americans who were either born in Cuba or born to Cuban emigrés. In fact, the U.S. government warns such individuals that they “will be treated solely as Cuban citizens and may be subject to a range of restrictions and obligations, including military service.” In some instances, Cuba has even refused to allow such “dual-nationals” to return to the U.S.

Cuba’s reprehensible treatment of its own political dissidents is well-known. So is its treatment of gays and lesbians, who at one time were routinely sent to labor camps for the crime of being gay. That is no longer the case today, and the Cuban regime has tried to reinvent itself as a paradise of gay liberation. That false front is one its critics view, correctly, as little more than pinkwashing.

It’s jarring to watch the American business community boycott North Carolina over that state’s new law regarding LGBT individuals — while racing to see who can open up shop in Cuba, where discrimination is even worse.

No, America’s five-decade embargo did little to change things in the Cuban prison state, and a new approach might produce better results. But those who have flocked to Cuba looking for new business opportunities (a cohort that includes Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe) might want to pause and consider whether the potential gain is worth the risk — not only to their own interests, but to the interests of freedom and justice for all.

To change Cuba, speak up for democracy again and again

raulpress

The Washington Post Editorial Board

President Obama’s visit to Cuba last month laid down a marker. The president hailed the island’s entrepreneurs, met with dissidents, and encouraged openness and democracy in the presence of President Raúl Castro, who rules without any. The regime’s answer has now been delivered at the just-concluded Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party: a loud “no way.”

The four-day conference, held in Havana, ratified the old guard’s hold on leadership. Mr. Castro, 84, was reelected as first secretary of the party, and the delegates cheered a farewell speech from a frail Fidel Castro, 89. Party members seemed eager to snuff out any lingering glow from Mr. Obama’s visit. Raúl Castro referred to the United States as “the enemy” and warned “we have to be more alert than ever.” The Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, called the president’s visit “an attack on the foundation of our history, our culture and our symbols.” He added, “Obama came here to dazzle the non-state sector, as if he wasn’t the representative of big corporations but the defender of hot dog vendors, of small businesses in the United States, which he isn’t.”

Obviously, Mr. Obama discomfited the regime. Despite some market reforms and economic tinkering in recent years, the authoritarian system the Castros have built still dominates state and society. The brothers’ intention is to make it impossible for Cuba to undergo the kind of transformation that is an ostensible goal of Mr. Obama’s policy.

According to the Associated Press, on April 8 one of Cuba’s most well-known advocates of economic reform, Omar Everleny Perez, was fired from his University of Havana think-tank position for allegedly sharing information with Americans without authorization. Mr. Perez was a consultant to the Castro government when it launched some market-oriented reforms. He confirmed his dismissal, saying it was not because of his contacts with foreigners but because he wrote critically about the slow pace of economic reform. “Sometimes they don’t like what you write or think,” he said.

Exactly. This is why the authorities relentlessly harassed Oswaldo Payá, a champion of democracy who was killed in a suspicious car wreck in 2012 along with a colleague, Harold Cepero; why regime thugs still assault the Ladies in White, relatives of political prisoners who demonstrate weekly; why they rough up other dissidents and free thinkers.

In all the enthusiasm in the United States for more tourism, cultural exchanges and investment in Cuba, there have been far too few demands for more democracy on the island. A lesson of Mr. Obama’s visit, and the Communist Party’s overheated reaction, is that the mere mention of democracy and freedom is a powerful tool. Mr. Obama put it simply in Havana, declaring that “citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear.” Those rushing to Havana lately must not forget to articulate this message, again and again.

Obama’s mess: Cuba’s thanks

winnerloser

Trib Live

Weeks after President Obama’s trumpeted visit to Cuba, the sour notes are still blaring from the communist isle.

The latest discord comes from Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who called Mr. Obama’s ill-advised fence-mending visit “an attack on the foundation of our history, our culture and our symbols,” Fox News Latino reports. To a regime locked in time and ideology, Obama’s mission was nothing more than to “dazzle the non-state sector,” Mr. Rodriguez insisted.

President Raul Castro, who, incidentally, will retain Cuba’s Communist Party’s highest post for another five years, recently called the United States “the enemy” and warned Cubans to remain vigilant against U.S. initiatives that undermine the communist revolution, Reuters reported.

And that followed the vitriol of Fidel Castro, who, just days after Obama’s sojourn, rejected the notion that his country needs anything from the U.S. and insisted that the U.S. embargo won’t soon be forgiven.

So what has changed? Only that more Cubans are fleeing to the U.S. to escape their country’s repressive government and claim asylum benefits, which they fear will run out as U.S. “detente” evolves.

Contrary to the administration’s presumptions, the Castro regime — and its inevitable heirs — will never accept or respect U.S. capitalism and the freedom it enables. Chalk up another foreign policy fumble by an administration that’s become renowned for dropping the ball.

What will happen if?

carnivalok

Some questions to ponder about Carnival’s upcoming cruises to Cuba:

What will happen if?
Hundreds of desperate Cubans storm Carnival’s ship while docked at a Cuban port and refuse to leave?

Will Carnival call Castro’s brutal police and ask to remove them by force?

Carnival CEO said on Friday that the cruise line will use Cuban musicians to entertain passengers while in Cuba. What will happen if any of them refuse to leave the ship and ask to be taken out of the country?

Will they be removed by force? Will they be turned over to the US Coast Guard?

Will Carnival be allowed to hire and contract directly the musicians and workers they use while docked at Cuban ports, or will they be supplied by Cuba’s slave masters?

Will Carnival pay them directly or will they pay the Cuban government for their service?

We know what happens when the slave masters get paid directly, 90% goes to them and maybe 10% to the slaves.

There are dozens of more questions that I can think of. Feel free to post the ones you have.

Change In Cuba — But Not For The Better

fidelpcc

Forbes, by Mike Gonzalez

The Obama Administration hasn’t had a good Cuba week. Private companies showed that embracing dictatorships torpedoes mission statements, while the White House embarrassingly had to backtrack and re-invite a jazz legend who supports democracy in Cuba. Meanwhile, in Havana, the Communist Party shut the door on any reform.

All these developments are important, as they revealed the hollow middle of the President’s decision to engage the Castros. They’re not changing for the better—we are, for the worse.

The communist party meeting, which happens twice a decade, was the most important, but perhaps least understood, of these three stories. Most accounts focused on the fact that Fidel Castro, already looking like a cadaver, showed up, spoke some Marxist psychobabble and reminded his audience he may soon die. Well, he’s 89.

Fidel Castro during the closing ceremonies of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana on Tuesday. (Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate via AP)

Other things were more important. Fidel’s 84-year-old little brother, party honcho Raul Castro, had himself re-elected (unanimously, too, lest there be any doubt) for another five years. That is 2121, when he will be 90 unless he’s already departed for warmer climes.

Until now, all the talk had been of Raul stepping down in 2018. He might, as president of the government, which may be left in the troubled hands of a faceless functionary, but not in the more important role as head of Cuba’s only party.

On Cuba’s lack of political pluralism, Raul was firm. In an exhaustive and exhausting two-hour, 10,000-word speech (it’s not just dissidents who are tortured), he reminded the party cadre and the world that Article 5 of Cuba’s constitution “consecrates” the communist party as “the superior leading force of society and the state,” as it organizes all efforts for the construction of socialism.

Raul castigated the world for having the temerity to suggest that Cuba permit other parties “in the name of the sacrosanct bourgeois democracy.” With admittedly impeccable logic, he added, “if they succeeded in fragmenting us one day, it would be the beginning of the end. Don’t ever forget this!”

So now we have it directly from the Horse’s Mouth: the Communist Party would cease to exist if Cubans were actually given any other option.

There was more. The PCC actually reversed some of what little progress there had been.

Previously, the private sector had been barred from the “concentration of property.” As of the new congress, the private sector will also be barred from the “concentration of wealth.”

Commenting on his blog, CapitolHillCubans, the analyst Mauricio Claver-Carone made the point that this—not the political immobility—was the news coming out of the Congress that deserves world attention. I concur. Claver-Carone writes:

In other words, the Castro regime can crack down on any person for accumulating any amount of money, without any recourse, based on its own subjective standard.

Castro also reminded everyone that ’cuentapropistas’ (“self-employment”) are not juridical persons.

In other words, they are legal ghosts.”

Google “cuentrapropista” and you will get all sorts of wild-eyed expectations of growth by these small entrepreneurs and hopes that they will be the agents of change. Guess who else has done that? Raul. So just as with multi-partism, he closed the door on that.

“We are not naïve nor do we ignore the aspirations of powerful external forces betting on what they call the ‘empowerment’ of the non-state sector, with the goal of generating agents of change in the hope of ending the Revolution and socialism in Cuba,” he lectured those who were still awake.

And that is the problem that awaits the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and all the companies that want to make a deal with the Castros. Their main and only concern is survivability. Nothing else matters. That’s how you stay in power for 56 years.

Carnival Cruise found the hard way with its maiden cruise to Cuba, which was scheduled to launch on May 1 (International Workers’ Day, or communism’s high holiday). To comply with a rule by the Castros, Carnival told Americans born in Cuba they need not apply for a cabin.

A public relations fiasco ensued, of course, and Carnival retreated. The Miami-based company had to go back to the Cuban government and say, you let in the Cuban-Americans or we can’t come here.

What the experience showed was that companies will be only too happy to coddle the Castros until public pressure here gets too intense. In fact, even the White House behaves this way.

This week it emerged that the White House had disinvited 14-time Grammy winner Paquito d’Rivera—a strong proponent of human rights in Cuba—from playing there on April 30, International Jazz Day. D’Rivera wrote a letter to Obama reminding him of America’s values, but it wasn’t till the letter became public a week later, and again public pressure mounted, that the White House decided to re-invite him.

All in all it was a week that showed, once again, that dealing with the Castros will diminish us, not them.

Public and legal pressure against Carnival should continue

canibal

There are plenty of reasons for the public pressure and the class action suit against Carnival to continue, because American citizens who were born in Cuba continue to be discriminated.
If you are an American citizen who was born someplace else except Cuba, all you need to take a cruise to Cuba is your American passport.
But if you are an American citizen who was born in Cuba, you need to obtain a Cuban passport at a cost of approximately $450 + a Visa, in order to take a Carnival cruise to the enslaved island.
That is discrimination against US citizens based on their country of origin and is against US law.
In addition, Cuba’s ‘constitution’ doesn’t recognize double citizenship. So, if you are an American citizen, it should be against Cuban law for you to be forced to obtain a Cuban passport.
But as we know, in Cuba there are no laws and no Constitution, it is whatever the Castros decide and all they care about is the revenue they will receive by forcing US citizens to buy a Cuban passport in order to visit Cuba.
I hope that the lawyers continue their class action suit and public pressure continues against Carnival for being more interested in making a buck than following US laws.
It is the only way that Cuba’s dictatorship will be forced to do the right thing.
Public and legal pressure forced the Castro brothers to change a ‘law’ that had been in effect for more than 50 years. Such pressure should not be relaxed now, to the contrary it should be increased.

Cuba will allow Cuban-born to arrive on Carnival cruise ship

The fact that the Castro regime changed its position about Cuban-Americans traveling on cruise ships and other vessels, proves that they will only make changes when they are forced to.
The problem with Obama’s Cuba policy is that he gave away the store without asking anything in return and the Castros took advantage of him.
Whether he did it because he is too naive, a terrible negotiator, or because he sympathize with them, is another question altogether.

carnivalok

From The Miami Herald

Carnival had said they expected the change but was ready to delay May 1 cruise if it didn’t happen

Cuba is easing a long-standing ban on Cuban-born people returning to the island by sea, clearing the way for Carnival Corporation to launch a Miami-to-Havana route that was the subject of a national controversy when the company declined to sell tickets to Cuban-born Americans.

Cuba made the announcement via Granma, the official voice of the Cuban government.

Carnival Corp. said it has been working closely with the Cuban government to reach an agreement that would allow the Doral-based company to take travelers to Cuba in the same way air charters currently do, according to a release issued Friday morning. Cuban-born Americans have been the primary travelers to Cuba by air.

The change marks the first time in decades that Cuban-born individuals will be able to travel to the island by sea. On March 21, Carnival Corp.’s new Fathom brand became the first U.S. company to gain approval to sail to the island in more than 50 years.

“We made history in March, and we are a part of making history again,” said Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp. “More importantly, we are contributing to a positive future. This is a positive outcome and we are extremely pleased.”

According to the new regulations, Cuban citizens, regardless of immigration status, can enter and exit the country as passengers and crew on merchant ships and cruise ships. The new policy goes into effect Tuesday.

The Granma also reported that at a later date, Cuban citizens will be allowed to enter and exit the island, regardless of immigration status, as passengers or crew on recreational boats, such as yachts.

But when Carnival first earned approval, the cruise company declined to sell tickets to Cuban-born Americans, in accordance with Cuban law. After controversy sparked by a Miami Herald column by Fabiola Santiago argued Carnival Corp. was discriminating against Cuban-born Americans, the cruise company changed course.

Government officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez lashed out against Carnival Corp., one of the county’s largest private employers, for the policy.

Two lawsuits were filed in federal court in Miami last week, a class-action suit and a civil suit, by Cuban-born Americans who attempted to book and were denied tickets on Fathom. The lawsuits alleged that the cruise line was violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by following a policy that discriminates against a class of Americans on a place of public accommodation for transient guests — a cruise ship.

Fathom then resumed selling tickets to Cuban-born Americans, easing a threat by Miami-Dade to block the company from having access to its terminals at the county-owned PortMiami. Fathom parent Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company, said it would delay its inaugural visit to Cuba on May 1 until the Cuban government changed its policy.

But Carnival Corp. executives also said they expected the Cuban government to change the regulation before the cruise was set to launch.

Fathom’s 704-passenger Adonia will leave PortMiami for Havana on weeklong voyages beginning May 1, with stops in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

CNN’s Havana bureau reported the news early Friday morning; Carnival Corp. issued a release confirming shortly thereafter. Carnival resumed selling tickets to Cuban-born Americans last week amid a storm of controversy and a threat by Miami-Dade to block the Doral-based company from having access to its terminals at the county-owned PortMiami

On Friday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued a statement praising Carnival chairman Micky Arison, who had come under fire three days earlier at the County Commission meeting. Commissioner Javier Souto, Cuban-born and a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion, took aim at Arison’s role as the owner of the Miami Heat, which receives county subsidies and plays in a county-owned arena. “I was appalled and surprised,” Souto said. “We’ve been so good to the Heat.”

Gimenez had accused Carnival of violating the county’s human-rights ordinance through its original booking policy for the Cuba cruises, but has also been in touch with Arison throughout the dispute to ease tensions.

“Mr. Arison and Carnival have been great corporate citizens in Miami-Dade County for more than 40 years,” Gimenez said in the statement. “This policy change was the right thing to do, and I congratulate both Mr. Arison and Carnival on their efforts…”