Monthly Archives: December 2016

Dissident artist jailed in Cuba beaten and fed sedative-laced food, family says

elsexto

Fox News

One of Cuba’s most prominent anti-Castro artists is refusing to eat food served by his jailers, alleging that they have laced it with pills that induce drowsiness, those close to him say.

Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” was taken by Cuban security agents the day after the death of former leader Fidel Castro. Maldonado, 33, still has not been charged, but those familiar with the graffiti artist’s actions that morning say
that he posted a Facebook message seemingly gloating over Castro’s death and urging people to “come out to the streets…and ask for liberty.”

Maldonado also is said to have spray-painted “El Sexto” on a wall near Hotel Habana Libre.

His girlfriend, a writer who lives in Miami, said that Maldonado has been transferred several times since his arrest on Nov. 6. Alexandra Martinez told FoxNews.com Monday that Maldonado’s mother, Maria Victoria Machado, who has been allowed to visit her son briefly twice since he has been in the custody of Cuban security police, told her that the artist was beaten the day he was taken from his apartment, as well as last Tuesday.

“He’s an artist, he’s a human being who is just using his voice” and art for peaceful expression, Martinez said. “There are still no charges. He was taken to police stations and now a detention center that is maximum security.”

Maldonado had been slated to be at a Miami premiere of an HBO documentary that features him titled “Patria o Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death” last week, Martinez said.

“The Cuban authorities have a history of detaining El Sexto ahead of many planned performances, but Castro’s death appears to be the impetus for this particularly aggressive assault,” said Julian Schnabel, the producer of the HBO
documentary, in a statement quoted by the Miami Herald.

Other Cuba experts say that while Cuban authorities routinely detain prominent dissidents without pressing charges before, during or after a high-profile event, in recent years they have kept them in custody for less than a day, usually a few
hours.

They say that Maldonado’s extended detention is particularly hard-line.

“The classic pattern in the last couple of years is that police come and arrest dissidents either because they’re having a demonstration, or they’re planning to have one, and they hold them for shorter periods of time than before, and then let them
go without charges,” said William M. LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, and co-author of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana.”

“The police has hit upon this as disrupting dissident activity without processing people through the justice system,” LeoGrande said. “For [Maldonado] to have been in
jail for a long period of time without charges is unusual.”

Maldonado, who is active on social media, spent 10 months in jail about a year ago after he posted a photo of two pigs with “Fidel” written on one and “Raul” on the other.

The Human Rights Foundation said on its Facebook page that the Cuban government had charged Maldonado in 2015 with “criminal defamation” for linking the Castro brothers with the pigs, which the artist had prepared for a performance of George
Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

Amnesty International declared Maldonado a prisoner of conscience, and Human Rights Foundation awarded him the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent after he used the pigs to portray the Castro brothers.

Trump faces decision on letting Americans sue over Cuba property

trump-bay-of-pigs-1026

Tampa Bay Times

Supporters of improved relations with Cuba say President-elect Donald Trump will have a hard time reversing the two years of momentum created by his predecessor.

But they acknowledge that Trump, who has signaled that he wants a better deal from Cuba, has at least one potent legal card at his disposal that could stifle relations. And the ripples could extend from the Tampa Bay area.

In his first two weeks in office, under a clause in the travel and trade embargo that Congress imposed on communist Cuba, Trump can permit Americans to file lawsuits against any interest that has profited from property of theirs nationalized by the Cuban government.

The question is, will Trump do it?

Jason Poblete, a Virginia-based attorney specializing in U.S.-Cuba policy who represents about two dozen clients who could file such lawsuits, is confident Trump is more likely to do so than his White House predecessors, if not immediately then later in his term.

“I think his administration will do what is best for U.S. interests,” Poblete said. “The Cubans will need to step up and take positive steps.”

The clause, called Title III, involves civil litigation filed in U.S. courts against either private companies — American or international — or the Cuban government.

Civil penalties imposed by the court could add to the debt Cuba already owes the United States, scare American and international companies away from doing business there, and punish those already doing so.

“Trump ran his campaign saying tyranny would not be tolerated,” said Burke Francisco Hedges, a St. Petersburg heir to more than 20 nationalized properties valued at $50 million. “Let’s send a message right away.”

Title III is not in force now. It carries a provision allowing its suspension each six months, and every U.S. president has opted to do so since the clause was written in 1996. That means no one has had the opportunity to file suit. The current suspension, signed by Obama, ends Feb. 1, just 11 days after Trump’s inauguration.

Bolstering the belief that Trump will not suspend Title III was his selection of Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the hard-line U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in Washington, D.C., to his transition team for the Department of the Treasury.

Claver-Carone has testified before Congress that Title III grievances should be allowed to proceed. Earlier this year, he told the Tampa Bay Times in an email, “I support it 100 percent.”

If lawsuits are allowed, the Southwest Airlines Tampa-to-Havana flights that launch Dec. 12 could be grounded, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Council in New York

The reason: The family of José Ramón López, who lives in Miami, claims Havana’s José Martí International Airport is built on land taken from them, Kavulich said.

An heir could sue Southwest and any airline in the world profiting from the family’s property and carriers would have to decide whether the penalties are worth the profit.

Then there is London-based Imperial Tobacco, which holds exclusive rights to distribute coveted Cuban cigars outside the island nation.

One of the brands is H. Upmann Cigars, rolled in a Havana factory seized from the Cuesta family of Tampa. The property’s value was estimated at $400,000 when it was nationalized.

The Cuesta family could not be reached for comment, but they and any other American interest that owned a cigar factory seized by Cuba would have standing to file suit against Imperal.

Counting American citizens who had their property seized and Cuban citizens who left for the United States, “Title III would produce several hundred thousand lawsuits against Cuba for untold billions of dollars” said Robert Muse, a Washington, D.C. attorney who advises corporations considering business in Cuba. “This will effectively end for decades any attempt to restore trade between the U.S. and Cuba.”

Among other local people who could file lawsuits are Tampa’s Gary Rapoport, grandson of American gangster Meyer Lansky, whose Habana Riviera hotel and casino in Havana was nationalized. The property’s value was estimated at $8 million.

The family of Clearwater’s Beth Guterman had an estimated $1 million in property taken, including a school and a plantation.

They each told the Times they’d consider suing the Cuban government, which now manages the properties, and any company that invests in them.

Still, Antonio Martinez II, a New York attorney whose practice includes U.S.-Cuba regulations, notes that past presidents have opted not to invoke Title III because of the conflict it would cause with nations that have invested heavily in Cuba, including Canada, Great Britain, Russia, Brazil and China.

Plus, these lawsuits would “jam up courts,” Martinez said.

“It would then take longer to collect, if anything is ever collected,” he said. “Allow diplomacy to work.”

But Miami’s Javier Garcia-Bengochea, whose family owned the property that now makes up Cuba’s Port of Santiago, said he is frustrated with failures by past administrations to effectively negotiate with Cuba.

He said he hopes Trump will come through for him, and if so, he pledges to go after every cruise line in the world profiting from his family’s land.

“Allowing anyone to traffic in stolen property,” Garcia-Bengochea said, “is politically sanctioned organized crime.”

How should we memorialize Castro? By freeing Cuba

derechoshumanos

The Washington Post, by Daniel Morcate

How should we memorialize Castro? By freeing Cuba.

He was a tyrant whose death should be welcomed by anyone who loves liberty.

The death of a dictator, not his final memorial, is — and should be — a happy occasion for the people who have suffered his rule. It’s why no one should celebrate the life of Fidel Castro when he is finally laid to rest Sunday.

Instead, we should mark the day reminding ourselves how Castro got the better of us, freedom-loving Cubans, and understanding that his death didn’t end his reign of terror.

Because we shouldn’t kid ourselves: Castro’s departure — long awaited by those of us in the Cuban diaspora, as well as those who still live in our island homeland, even if they’re not free to express it — won’t immediately bring the liberty, democracy and respect for basic human rights that all Cubans long for. Castro’s long convalescence, along with the political indifference of several key nations to his years of brutal tyranny, have, in part, allowed his despotic regime to exist for decades. Long before his death, Castro was afforded the resources he needed to assemble a form of institutionalized self-preservation, his family dynasty, which has existed by exercising its malevolent grip over Cubans in a way that rivals the power of any autocracy known throughout history.

Castro got the better of Cubans and, even in death, is a painful reminder to us that we haven’t found a way to break free of his rule. He knew how to cunningly enlist countrymen against each other as a way of holding on to power. And he never could have succeeded without the complicity of thousands of Cubans who spied on, accused, imprisoned, tortured and killed other Cubans. To wit, as the Miami Herald reported this week, Danielo “El Sexto” Maldonado, a “detained Cuban artist who mocked Castro’s death, ‘was badly beaten’ ” by Cuban government agents, according to his family. That kind of terror is Castro’s real legacy.

Throughout his cruel reign, Castro benefited from the tacit approval of democracies: He consistently enjoyed a parade of world leaders willing to visit Havana, including three papal visits. Starting in 1991, his regime was welcomed at the Ibero-American Summit. All reminders that the world community has not learned how to defend — with firmness and effectiveness — the values it espouses and represents.

All this, despite the fact that Castro backed numerous insurgencies designed to subvert governments that he deemed representative of spurious bourgeois interests. The democrats who went only as far as timidly suggesting a free market, a multiparty approach to governance, and a free press for Cuba? Castro simply saw them as weak.

And never having been effectively held accountable for his innumerable crimes, Castro’s long tenure sent a dangerous message to other aspiring dictators, particularly within our hemisphere. He had no shortage of disciples in Latin America, among them Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, whose design on clinging to power was cut short only by his own death. Others imitated Castro, with different degrees of fealty to his model: Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa were who they were, at least in part, because of Castro’s influence. Each sliver of recognition he got from legitimate democratic and religious leaders was a symbolic slap in the face of oppressed Cubans, further encouraging imitators and propagating Castro-style oppression throughout the Caribbean and South and Central America.

If Fidel Castro’s death does not soon lead to a global campaign in favor of liberty and democracy for Cuba, the old tyrant will have scored his first posthumous victory. The United States should lead this effort, even during the last days of Barack Obama’s presidency. Western leaders, including Obama, can and should use their leverage to demand specific concessions — freeing all political prisoners, legalizing opposition parties, allowing freedom of the press — from Castro’s brother, President Raúl Castro, in return for the benefits Cuba’s regime now reaps from diplomatic engagement.

The moment is appropriate and critical because it is the only way to open a door for free expression, and to demand meaningful changes on the island that improve the lives of all Cubans, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or ideology. In other words, Fidel Castro’s death is not an occasion to mourn. It’s an occasion to free Cuba.

American Airlines trims Cuba schedule, cites weak demand

passengers

USA Today

American Airlines is reducing capacity to Cuba, a cutback that comes just months after U.S. carriers rushed to start regular service there amid loosening travel restrictions between the nations.

American will not drop any of its recently launched routes to Cuba, but will instead drop one of the two daily flights that it currently flies between Miami and each of the Cuban cities of Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero.

American’s schedule to Havana – which launched just this week – is not currently targeted for cutbacks. American offers four daily round-trip flights to Havana from its hub in Miami and one daily round trip from its Charlotte hub.

The reductions to the three smaller cities will hit in February, reducing American’s flight schedule to Cuba from 13 flights a day to 10.

American cited weaker-than-expected demand for the reduction, adding the decision had nothing to do with the results of the U.S. presidential election in November.

“These adjustments are part of the regular evaluation of our network,” American spokesperson Matt Miller told Air Transport World. “And the changes were loaded into our schedule the first weekend of November — before the election.”

Some airlines declined to comment on their new routes to Cuba, but Delta and Spirit each told Bloomberg News that their bookings were in line with expectations. However, Spirit spokesman Paul Berry added that carriers appear to be keeping Cuba fares as they try to fill seats.

“When fares are as low as ours, that means there’s a lot of capacity,” Berry said to Bloomberg.

When Cuba opened up to U.S. airlines earlier this year, nearly all rushed in with requests to add new service to the island — especially to Havana. Against that enthusiasm, however, some industry executives openly wondered whether demand would live up to the hype.

Without regular airline service to the island in five decades, there was little data available to carriers in trying to assess potential demand for flights to new destinations. And unlike other foreign markets, Cuba remains a unique and highly regulated place for U.S. airlines to do business.

In October, American dropped its first suggestion that Cuba flights were underperforming during a call to discuss its third-quarter earnings.

“I think everyone is struggling a little bit in terms of selling in Cuba,” Don Casey, American’s senior vice president of revenue management, said during that call. “There a lot of restrictions that are still in place that has made it difficult to sell.”

Despite those comments, American was quick to affirm its commitment to competing in Cuba.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” American CEO Doug Parker added on the same call. “This is really a new market. We’re excited to be the largest carrier there. We’re committed to Cuba and making it work.

 

USA Today: Closer look at the man advising Trump on Cuba policy

mauricio-claver-carone

USA Today

The words Fidel Castro have been fighting ones for Maurico Claver-Carone, the man helping President-elect Donald Trump craft policy on Cuba.

As a boy when he played high school football in Orlando, Claver-Carone wore his love for the island country with at least one black sock emblazoned with the Cuban flag. And when he wasn’t on the field, Claver-Carone was already making himself an expert on Cuban history and politics, and forming strong opinions about the Castro regime.

“If you ever mentioned Castro, he would go berserk,” said Ferlan Bailey, Claver-Carone’s longtime friend who graduated with him from Bishop Moore Catholic High School in 1993. “The word ‘Castro’ would just set him off. He’d be like, ‘Don’t even tell me you support Castro.’ He would talk about the people who were persecuted. He knew about the economy, he knew about everything.”

Bailey said Claver-Carone would never physically fight and preferred to dominate his opponents with wit.

“I remember one time in practice, one of the guys got heated and said, ‘We can fight right now,’” Bailey said. “And Mauricio just insulted him with his intelligence.”

Now all of the knowledge and skills Claver-Carone has honed over the years as one of the country’s leading pro-U.S. embargo hardliners will come to bear as he assumes one of the most consequential positions in his career. Last week, Trump appointed him to a key position on his transition team at the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees financial sanctions enforcement with the communist island.

Claver-Carone, who had worked in Treasury in 2003 under President George W. Bush and has been a top lobbyist and advocate on Cuba, also will be handling regular rank and file work of the department. His portfolio also likely includes policy concerning sanctions on other nations, such as Iran and Venezuela.

The Miami native, raised in Spain and Orlando, obtained his masters in international law from the Georgetown University Law Center, his law degree from The Catholic University of America’s School of Law and his undergraduate degree from Rollins College.

Now back at the Treasury Department, Claver-Carone has one job that’s perfectly suited for him: undoing President Obama’s normalization efforts with Cuba — fulfilling a campaign promise made by Trump in September in Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community.

“All the concessions that Barack Obama has granted to the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd at the James L. Knight Center. “And that, I will do, unless the Castro regime meets our demands. Not my demands. Our demands.

“Those demands are religious and political freedom for the Cuban people. And the freeing of political prisoners,” Trump said.

Those words could have come directly from Claver-Carone’s Capitol Hill Cubans blog, which the 41-year-old regularly writes for as the executive director of the Cuba Democracy Advocates, a Washington, D.C., non-profit that promotes democracy and human rights in Cuba.

Claver-Carone’s expertise on Cuba has brought him before Congress repeatedly for testimony on the subject, and he’s become a go-to source for reporters, talk shows, and even an appearance on Comedy Central.

However, Claver-Carone has not spoken to a reporter since Trump tapped him for his transition team.

Continue reading USA Today: Closer look at the man advising Trump on Cuba policy

The Fidel Castro Myth Debunked: The Death Of A Tyrant, Not A Hero

Damas3

Investor’s Business Daily

With Fidel Castro’s death at 90, the encomiums are rolling in, especially from what remains of the American Big Media. But in fact, Castro during his 58 years of dictatorship was an evil man, a communist who tortured, killed and imprisoned with no remorse, a tyrant who tore a once-beautiful country apart and sent its finest citizens into exile.

Yet, the media might as well have been going around with black arm bands following Castro’s death.

He was the “George Washington of his country,” said Jim Avila of ABC’s “Nightline.” He “will be revered” for bringing education, social services and health care to Cubans, gushed MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. CNN’s Martin Savidge hailed Castro for “racial integration.”

Elsewhere, in print, The New York Times recounted how he “dominated his country with strength and symbolism” — another way of saying he ruled through oppression and relentless propaganda.

Of course, all of these things are the kinds of lies and euphemisms used by left-leaning journalists to cover up for Castro’s many crimes against humanity. And it’s not limited to these few recent examples.

ABC’s talk-queen Barbara Walters had what amounted to a middle-aged school-girl crush on Fidel. Film maker Oliver Stone, perhaps styling himself a latter-day Hemingway, revered Fidel’s macho swagger and made a much-derided documentary about him, “Comandante.” And Michael Moore, in his film “Sicko,” swallowed Cuba’s propaganda about its health care system hook, line and sinker.

We could go on. The list is long.

What you won’t hear from any of these media mavens is that, at his death, Fidel Castro leaves a Cuba far worse off in almost every way than the one he took over in 1958.  His brother, Raul, who is 85, has been the actual power in the country since Castro fell seriously ill in 2006. Cuba has improved under him, but not much.

After taking power in 1958, the then-youthful revolutionary Fidel vowed that no Cuban mother would “shed a tear” over violence from then on. But once he consolidated power after defeating Cuba’s then-leader Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro set out on a course of extraordinary revolutionary violence.

He murdered thousands upon thousands. The late R.J. Rummel, a University of Hawaii professor who tracked mass-killings by governments around the world, estimated as many as 141,000 people were murdered by the Castro regime. And that was  just through 1987. Since then, of course, thousands more have been killed.

Genocide Watch says it “holds the Castro regime responsible for the death of thousands of people (executed and died trying to flee the regime).” Both Belgium and Castro’s homeland, Spain, have leveled genocide charges against the Jefe Maximo.

Sadly, Castro’s Cuba isn’t at all unusual for Communist regimes, as noted by Rummel. “Clearly, of all regimes, communist ones have been by far the greatest killer,” he said.

What’s especially galling is the suggestion — present in almost every story on Castro’s demise — that he took an impoverished, oppressed nation and turned it into a kind of socialist paradise, with education, social services and health care for all.

This is an utter and complete lie. But don’t take our word for it.

“One feature of the Cuban social structure is a large middle class,” the Geneva-based International Labor Organization said in a 1957 report. “Cuban workers are more unionized (proportional to the population) than U.S. workers. The average wage for an 8 hour day in Cuba in 1957 is higher than for workers in Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany. Cuban labor receives 66.6%. In the U.S. the figure is 70%, in Switzerland 64%. 44% of Cubans are covered by Social legislation, a higher percentage than in the U.S.”

Remember, this is before the revolution.

Numbers taken from the most comprehensive global data base available — created by the late economist Angus Maddison — show that in 1958, real GDP per person was $2,406. At the time, that was second highest in Latin America. But by 2008, that had risen to just $3,764 a person, a mere 1.2% annual growth rate. Cuba has the worst economy in Latin America, outside Haiti and Nicaragua.

And much of that “growth” was due to massive subsidies from the former Soviet Union, which traded badly needed oil to Cuba for sugar at highly favorable exchange rates. Cuba’s growth was a mirage, although in recent years modest market based reforms have helped increase incomes for some Cubans.

Before the revolution, Cuba had the 13th-lowest infant mortality rate in the world. It was lower than France, Belgium and West Germany. Today, it ranks about 40th. That still looks respectable, until you consider how it was accomplished: Cuba has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. At the first sign of any trouble when a woman is carrying a baby, it is aborted — regardless of the parents’ wishes.

That’s why their infant mortality rate isn’t even worse.

But surely health care for all is a major accomplishment, right?

No. As has been noted in many other places, Cuba has three separate health care systems. One for paying customers from places like the U.S., who go to Cuba for discount treatments of cosmetic surgery and the like.

There’s another for Cuba’s ruling Communist elite, also a good system. This is the health care system visiting journalists are taken to see, and that they later glowingly report on.

But there’s still another system for the rest — the average Cubans. It is abysmal, and even that might understate how bad it is.

“Cubans are not even allowed to visit those (elite) facilities,” according to the Web site The Real Cuba. “Cubans who require medical attention must go to other hospitals, that lack the most minimum requirements needed to take care of their patients.”

It goes on: “In addition, most of these facilities are filthy and patients have to bring their own towels, bed sheets, pillows, or they would have to lay down on dirty bare mattresses stained with blood and other body fluids.”

As for doctors, well, they make an average of about $25 to $35 a month. Many have to work second jobs to make ends meet, using substandard equipment. Drug shortages are rife. As a result, one of Cuba’s ongoing problems is that doctors leave as soon as they can for other countries, where they can make a decent living.

The country has over 30,000 doctors working overseas officially. Why? Out of kindness? No. The Castro regime earns an estimated $2.5 billion a year in hard currency from doctors working elsewhere, which means Cuba’s poor must go without decent care or access to doctors.

As for “universal literacy,” please. Primary and secondary schools are little more than Marxist indoctrination centers, where students are taught only what the state wants them to know. That’s how they keep people quiet.

Then there’s  Cuba’s higher education, in which “universities are training centers for bureaucrats, totally disconnected from the needs of today’s world. To enter the best careers and the best universities, people must be related to the bureaucratic elites, and also demonstrate a deep ideological conviction,” notes Colombian journalist Vanesa Vallejo, of the PanAm Post, a Latin American news site.

Nor is it “free.” In fact, those who graduate from college must work for a number of years for the government at a substandard wage of $9 a month. They are in effect slave labor. As with most “free” things the socialists offer, the price is very high and nonnegotiable.

In sum, Castro took a healthy country and made it sick. Those who glorify him deserve the scorn they get for propagating such a longstanding lie.

“A less megalomaniacal ruler would have considered (Cuba’s pre-revolution economy) a golden goose landing in his lap,” wrote Humberto Fontova, a Cuban exile and author of “Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant.” “But Castro wrung its neck. He deliberately and methodically wrecked Latin America’s premier economy.”

How about race relations? By Cuba’s own estimates, roughly 36% of the country is black or “mixed.” Other estimates put it much higher, as high as 50%.

Nonetheless, a study five years ago by the online journal Socialism and Democracy found “black and mixed populations, on average, are concentrated in the worst housing conditions” and tend to work in lower-paying, manual-labor jobs.

We’ll save for a later date Castro’s many crimes and 58 years of silent war against the U.S.,  his allowing Soviet nuclear missiles on his soil in order to threaten the U.S., his repeated intervention in other countries, his assassinations, and his obscene theft of hundreds of millions of dollars of Cubans’ wealth to line his own pockets.

Suffice it to say, as Castro departs the scene for the last time,  he leaves a Cuba far worse off in almost every way than the one he took over in 1958.  Donald Trump, with his impeccable anti-PC skills, summed it up about right, calling Castro a “brutal dictator.”

“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Trump said in the statement. Exactly right.

Don’t believe Trump? OK, here’s Fidel’s daughter, in an interview with the Miami Herald, describing dear old dad: “When people tell me he’s a dictator, I tell them that’s not the right word,” Alina Castro said. “Strictly speaking, Fidel is a tyrant.”

Fidel’s brother, Raul, who is 85, has been the actual power in the country since Castro fell seriously ill in 2006. He’s done little better.

So, for now, though Fidel is dead, there is little hope of change. But one can hope that Cubans will one day throw off the yoke of communism and live as free human beings.

In the meantime, the American media should be deeply ashamed for lionizing and celebrating a cruel tyrant such as Fidel Castro.