Venezuelan Military Beat Up Congressmen Denouncing Chavista Coup

PamAmPost

After hearing the ruling of the highest court in Venezuela in which the approved the annulment of the Parliament, members of Congress protested and held a press conference outside of the court. In the midst of this, the Venezuelan military struck members of Congress.

Officers of the National Guard physically assaulted several deputies who only expressed their opposition to the court’s ruling. The deputies attacked were Marco Bozo, Carlos Paparoni, and Juan Requesens.

The National Assembly’s board of directors called Judgment 156 of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) as a coup d’etat in which it ruled that the judiciary would assume full parliamentary powers.

“This is a coup, it is a dictatorship and in all the nations of the world, all the alarms must be turned on. This National Assembly does not know the TSJ. This Assembly refuses to recognize and ignores this sentence of the Supreme Court,” emphasized Borges.

“We were chosen by 14 million Venezuelans … You are not going to go unpunished, we are going to make denunciations inside and outside Venezuela for your crimes against humanity,” he said.

He also commented “What is the difference of this sentence with the previous ones? That this sentence grants all the powers to Nicolás Maduro to make the laws that he pleases.”

Borges called on the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) to ignore the last two rulings of the Supreme Court of Justice and restore Constitutional order.

The president of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, announced in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, that the opposition will take to the streets in protest. The first will take place this Saturday, April 1.

“We call for different street actions in which we hope the people will accompany us. We know that there is fear and repression but this is the time to make your voice heard,” he stated.

The Supreme Court, which has heavily favored the regime of Nicolás Maduro, ruled that the National Assembly, in which the opposition enjoys a large majority, will no longer exercise its function, because they supposedly remain in contempt of the court.

The judicial ruling declares the “National Assembly out of Constitutional order” and warns that “as long as the contempt and invalidity of the proceedings of the National Assembly persists, this Constitutional Chamber shall ensure that the parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this Chamber, in order to ensure the rule of law.”

Another “dream” vacation in Castroland

Global News

Ontario regulator says travellers to Cuban resort without water have legal rights

Canadian travellers who ended up at a Cuba hotel that had little or no water for 12 days can file complaints with Ontario’s travel industry watchdog or sue in small claims court, according to the organization that regulates the province’s travel companies.

The Travel Industry Council of Ontario, known as TICO, governs licenced travel companies and enforces the province’s Travel Industry Act.

“We ask that consumers approach the travel company involved first to allow the company the opportunity to address the matter to the consumer’s satisfaction,” said Dorian Werda, TICO’s vice president of operations, while responding to questions raised by Global News about why travel agencies and tour operators continued to sell package vacations to the Starfish Cayo Santa Maria resort in Cuba in early March when the water system there wasn’t functioning.

Travellers told Global News they had little or no fresh water for their entire trip to the resort, making it impossible to flush toilets, take showers or wash their hands.

Some, like Donna Carvalho of Georgetown, Ont., returned to Canada and went almost immediately to hospital with severe diarrhea, vomiting and an excruciating headache. Carvalho was placed in isolation for five hours and released after she said doctors concluded she had likely become ill from unsanitary conditions at the resort.

Carvalho said she witnessed the hotel restaurant using a “dirty rag” to clean dishes, cutlery and glassware in lieu of a dishwasher. Other travellers described similar nauseating experiences.

“The dishes were often filthy and we witnessed people bathing in and around the pool. We tried not to think about just how unsanitary it all was, but now thinking of it – gross,” said Gary Pearson of Lindsay, Ont., who was on vacation with his girlfriend and staying at the Starfish resort.
“In Canada, if a school doesn’t have running water they close. If a restaurant doesn’t have running water, they close. However, this resort continued to check in new guests. Walking downwind from the restaurants filled our noses with a very unpleasant odour of rotting food, clearly from a lack of cleaning with limited water available,” said Pearson.

Continue reading Another “dream” vacation in Castroland

Christie renews call for cop killer’s return from Cuba

Joanne Chesimard

NorthJersey.com

Now that a friend and fellow Republican is leading the country, Gov. Chris Christie is urging the White House to demand the return of a convicted cop-killer who fled to Cuba four decades ago.

Joanne Chesimard, a leader of the Black Liberation Army, was convicted on March 25, 1977, of eight counts of murder, robbery and assault in the killing of State Trooper Werner Foerster on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973. Six years later, in 1979, Chesimard escaped and fled to Cuba, where she has lived in political asylum since. She now goes by the name Assata Shakur.

In 2015, when then-President Barack Obama reopened relations between the United States and Cuba, there was hope that Chesimard would be returned to finish her life sentence. But she remains free today, even though the Obama administration said her return would be part of diplomatic negotiations with the communist regime.

Appearing Friday night on Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Christie said “it’s outrageous” that Chesimard lives in freedom, and he pressed the administration of President Donald Trump to fight for her extradition to the U.S.

“I hope that what the Trump Administration is going to do is, before we take any further steps with a relationship with Cuba, that they say, ‘Listen, first and foremost, return this fugitive from justice back to New Jersey so that she can rightfully serve the rest of her term for murdering a police officer,'” said Christie, a friend and supporter of Trump. “I think this is something that Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson and others in the Trump Administration should make a top priority in any dealings they have with Cuba,” Christie added.

Christie’s interview with Carlson was brief, about five minutes. But he confirmed what many lawmakers and intelligence officials have already said over the last few weeks about Trump’s claims that Obama wiretapped his phones.

“There certainly doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that at this point,” Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said. He added, “We’ll continue to listen, but I can tell you from my experience that kind of stuff is really difficult to get.”

Christie also declined to indulge in speculation, stoked by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, that he could end up with a job in the White House someday. His term as governor ends in January.

“Will I ever go work there? I have no idea,” Christie said. “I don’t have a crystal ball.”

Joanne Chesimard

Cuban dissident leader to Trump: ‘Treat Cuba like a dictatorship’

Frustrated by what they see as “indolence” from the previous administration, some Cuban government opponents are urging President Donald Trump to backtrack current Cuba policy and speak out about increased government repression on the island.

Antonio G. Rodiles and his partner Ailer González — both members of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms — are calling on the new administration to reset U.S.-Cuba relations and “recognize that they are dealing with a dictatorship.”

“The main thing would be for those of us who are legitimate actors on the Cuban scene — inside and outside the island — to be part of the policy design and part of that political process toward the island” unlike what former President Barack Obama did, Rodiles said during a recent meeting with el Nuevo Herald.

The couple also denounced an increase in repression since Obama announced his policy of engagement and the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba in December 2014. The situation, they said, has become worse since the death of former leader Cuban Fidel Castro in November with a “millimetric monitoring” of opponents’ actions and harassment of their families.

“It is important for the new administration to start taking action on the issue and make some statement, because silence is being very well used by the regime to try to crush the opposition,” Rodiles said.

The Cuban government opponent criticized the “indolence” of the Obama administration toward the human rights situation on the island.

“We have direct experience, including talking to President Obama, and the direct experience was that there was a lot of indolence in what happened with Cuba … There was a moment when we understood that the administration was not an ally [in the struggle for] for democratic changes in Cuba, that they had a vision that Cuba was going to change in the long term and that we would have to accept neo-Castroism,” he said.

Although he was careful not to mention what measures taken by the previous administration should be eliminated — such as sending remittances or authorizing U.S. airline travel to the island, which are popular in Cuba and within a large portion of the Cuban American community — Rodiles said he supports returning to the previous longtime policy of applying economic pressure against the Raúl Castro government, a practice Obama has referred to as a “failed policy.”

“If the regime is taking advantage of some of these measures, I’d cut that economic income,” Rodiles said. “Everything that is giving benefits to the regime and not to the people must be reversed.”

The frustration expressed by the activist couple has become increasingly evident. A video published by the Forum for Rights and Liberties and in which González exclaims, “Obama, you are finally leaving!” unleashed a whirlwind of controversy within social media networks.

According to Rodiles, Obama asked dissidents and activists during a meeting in Havana on March 22, 2016, to have patience with his policy of rapprochement.

“I told him that you can’t be patient when they are kicking citizens and women with impunity,” Rodiles said. The couple was among several activists arrested during a widely reported act of repudiation against dissidents on the same Sunday that Obama arrived in Havana for an historic visit.

Rodiles and González dismissed criticism by those who question their support for President Trump and claim their agenda is dictated by groups within the Cuban exile community. They said their interest is in readdressing Cuba issues not taking a position on U.S. domestic issues.

“Those same people who say that we are being radical and confrontational, are extremely unsupportive. They do not report any violation of human rights. These are hypocritical positions,” González said.

As for other strategies being carried out by other opposition groups on the island in an effort to incite change, the couple acknowledged that there are many different ideologies and approaches, which they said was a healthy element in the struggle for democracy.

“The most important thing,” Rodiles said, “is that the regime has to understand that 60 years is more than enough, and that it’s over.”

Cuban families desperately seek information on relatives who arrived on a go-fast boat

The Miami Herald

The call from Cuba ended with a sense of dread for Yandry Pérez.

His aunt warned him through the interrupted telephone call from Villa Clara, in central Cuba, that the whereabouts of his mother and two younger brothers had been unknown for two days. Some 50 Cubans fled the island last weekend aboard speedboats to Florida, even though they knew they would no longer receive preferential treatment upon arrival in the United States. The escape had been organized in absolute secrecy.

“For days, we have been waiting for news, succumbed to total uncertainty,” said Pérez, who two years ago crossed seven international borders to take advantage of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which was repealed by former President Barack Obama in the last days of his administration.

“When we saw in the news that they had caught two boats with Cubans we breathed a sigh of relief,” he said.

His mother, Marlenes Romero León, 47, along with his brothers Yusdiel and Kevin, 20 and 11, respectively, boarded the speedboat as a last resort to reunite with the rest of the family that was already in Florida. A process of reunification that had begun a few years earlier was frustrated when Romero was denied a visa to travel to the United States to reunite with the father of her children.

“On television I was able to see one of my brothers, so I know they are being detained,” said Pérez, who is desperately trying to find out where his relatives are so he can hire a lawyer to handle the case.

“We believe they can apply for political asylum. On more than one occasion they arrested my mother. They would not even allow her to go to the beach so she could not try to escape from Cuba, he said. “My brother is a child, they should at least let us take care of him.”

On Sunday, a 40-foot speedboat was intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It had more than 30 migrants aboard, five of whom ran into the mangroves in an attempt to escape authorities but were later caught.

A few hours earlier, a small boat with seven Cubans aboard was intercepted at Blackpoint Park and Marina, south of Miami-Dade. A third boat with 21 migrants was intercepted near Key Largo.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the agency could not provide any information about the case or those involved because it is part of an open investigation.

Authorities are investigating the boatmen who transported the Cubans from the island. If they prove to be human traffickers they could face severe penalties.

Family members in Florida said they did not know whether their relatives had paid for the trip, but it is known that similar trips on speedboats can cost thousands of dollars, even before the end of wet foot, dry foot, which allowed most Cubans who made it onto U.S. soil to stay.

Since news broke of the Cuban migrants’ arrival, Julio Infante, who lives in Miami, has not stopped looking for the whereabouts of his father-in-law, who allegedly traveled on one of those boats.

“I’ve been to several places but they always tell me that they cannot give information. We are desperate because we do not even know if he is alive,” Infante said.

The missing relative is Wilber Hechavarría, 46, who left his home in Las Tunas in eastern Cuba. Family members on the island called his daughter, Yoandra, in Miami, so she could keep an eye on the news.

“He wanted to be with her and leave Cuba. He always wanted to leave that country because over there, people have to steal in order to eat,” said Infante.

“My wife came from Guatemala a year ago crossing international borders. She arrived pregnant. We already have a family and we wanted her father to be with us, too,” he said.

Although the migrants knew about the end of wet foot, dry foot, they ventured across the Florida Straits with the belief that they would find some way to legalize their situation later in the U.S.

For Infante, it does not matter that the policy that facilitated the entry of Cubans to the United States is over.

“In the end, we would find a way to legalize his status or he would remain undocumented,” he said. “Either way, that would be better than staying in Cuba.”

Immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen said that Cubans who arrive on U.S. territory and do not surrender to immigration authorities not only will not have the right to avail themselves of the Cuban Adjustment Act a year and a day after arrival, but they also cannot obtain legal status even if they marry U.S. citizens.

“When a rafter or any undocumented Cuban arrives in the United States, he is obliged to appear before the authorities for processing. The migrant can apply for political asylum if he is persecuted and fears to return to Cuba,” Allen said.

If the case for migrants seeking asylum is deemed credible, they have the right to request asylum before a judge and, if granted, they could then adjust their status through the Cuban Adjustment Act, Allen said.

“If the migrant who entered the United States illegally does not present himself to the authorities, he remains undocumented and it is very difficult for him to legalize his status later,” he said. “He is subject to immediate deportation.”

Rejecting the tourist apartheid: Weak demand prompts two U.S. airlines to cancel Cuba service

The Miami Herald

The shake-up continues in the Cuba travel business with two U.S. airlines announcing Monday that they planned to cancel their routes to the island.

Fort Lauderdale-based Silver Airways said it had made “the difficult but necessary” decision to suspend all its Cuba service on April 22. It had originally hoped to serve all nine of the Cuban cities outside Havana that the U.S. Department of Transportation had authorized for regularly scheduled flights from the United States to Cuba.

Frontier is canceling its Miami-Havana route on June 4 due to higher than anticipated costs and lower than expected demand. “Market conditions have failed to materialize there, and excess capacity has been allocated to the Florida-Cuba market,” the airline said in a statement.

Frontier launched its service to Cuba on Dec. 1, 2016 with a special introductory one-way fare of $59 on the Miami-Havana route. The low-cost carrier had planned its daily flights to and from Havana so that Frontier passengers coming from Denver and Las Vegas could make easy one-stop connections in Miami.

The Denver-based airline noted that more than 80 percent of its “new routes have succeeded over the past few years, yet circumstances sometimes prevent us from achieving our objectives.”

Last year there was a mad scramble as U.S. airlines applied to DOT for the first flight frequencies to Cuba in more than half a century. Part of the enthusiasm was based on the assumption that the travel opening that began under former President Barack Obama would continue.

But U.S. travelers still can only visit the island if they fall into 12 specific categories of travel such as family visits and those making people-to-people, humanitarian or educational trips. U.S. travel to the island is supposed to be purposeful, ruling out vacations baking on the beach like Canadian and European tourists.

President Donald Trump also has ordered a review of all Obama’s executive orders on Cuba, leaving the future of his Cuba policy still up in the air. Some of the forbidden-fruit, pent-up-demand aspect of Cuban travel that was so much in evidence in 2015 and 2016 has faded too.

“This lack of demand coupled with overcapacity by the larger airlines has made the Cuban routes unprofitable for all carriers,” Silver said in statement.

JetBlue recently decided to put smaller planes on its Cuba routes, and in mid-February American Airlines cut its daily flights to Cuba from 13 to 10. Silver, which flies out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, had already reduced frequencies on some of its Cuba routes before it decided to throw in the towel.

Silver Airways was granted flight frequencies to nine Cuban cities outside Havana and it had begun serving all but the airport in Cayo Largo, which the Transportation Security Administration hasn’t approved for operations from the United States.

“Silver has maintained from the beginning that these smaller Cuba markets — which are similar to its successful network and fleet strategy in Florida and the Bahamas — are best suited for Silver’s smaller aircraft type,” the airline said. Silver has been using 34-seat aircraft on its Cuba routes.

“While the actual total number of passengers currently traveling to and from Cuba on all carriers combined is in line with what Silver originally projected, other airlines continue to serve this market with too many flights and oversized aircraft, which has led to an increase in capacity of approximately 300 percent between the U.S. and Cuba,” said Silver.

But Silver plans to continue monitoring Cuba routes and “will consider resuming service in the future if the commercial environment changes.”

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said he had heard that Silver is considering applying for the Miami-Havana route that Frontier is abandoning, but Silver didn’t confirm that, saying only that it would continue monitoring Cuba routes.

She’s aging in the hemisphere’s oldest nation and survives by digging through Cuba’s trash

The Miami Herald

At 67, struggling against the challenges that come with aging and a meager pension, Raquel, an engineer who in her own words was “formed by the Revolution,” survives by sifting through garbage every day in search of recyclable products.

Hands that at one time drew plans and measured distances now pick up cardboard, cans and other discarded containers.

“My life is a struggle from the moment I wake up,” Raquel said.

“My last name? For what? And I don’t want any photos. I have children, and I once had a life. I don’t want people talking about me,” she said after agreeing to tell her story.

Digging through garbage as a way to make a living was not part of Raquel’s plan but she is not alone. Many within the island’s growing aging population are struggling with survival in the twilight years.

Cuba has become the oldest country in the Western Hemisphere, according to official figures, amid an accelerated process that has even surprised specialists who had not expected the phenomenon to become apparent until 2025.

Facing a pension system that is increasingly nonviable, a harsh economic recession and an expected impact on social services as a result of the aging population, the island is confronting one of the biggest challenges of its history, experts say.

Almost 20 percent of Cubans are now older than 60, and the fertility rate stands at 1.7 children per woman of child-bearing age. To counter the aging population, the fertility rate would have to rise to 2.4 children per woman of child-bearing age. Cuba’s economically active population shrank for the first time in 2015, by 126,000 people.

“The population aging that is affecting the country leads to a significant increase in public spending as well as a drop in the population of the fertile age, which in turn leads to a decrease in the fertility rate,” said Juan Valdés Paz, a Cuban sociologist who has written several books on the issue.

Valdés said no government can be prepared for the kinds of demographic problems that Cuba now has.

“If there’s no harmony between demographic progress and economic development, the latter is impacted,” he said.

Declining subsidies

Government spending on public health per capita in 1999 was 21 percent lower than in 1989, according to economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago. Official Cuban figures show that category of spending dropped from 11.3 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2009 to eight percent in 2012.

Although Raquel is retired, government pharmacies do not subsidize the medicines she needs for her diabetes and hypertension. State social service programs do not serve elderly Cubans who live with relatives or other presumed caretakers.

“I get a pension of 240 pesos a month,” said Raquel, the equivalent of less than $10. “From that money, I have to pay 50 pesos for the Haier refrigerator the government forced me to buy and 100 pesos to buy my medicines.”

Cuba has about 300 day-time centers for the elderly and 144 nursing homes, with a total capacity of about 20,000 clients. Officials have acknowledged that a significant portion are in terrible shape, and many elderly prefer to go into one of the 11 homes across the country run by religious orders. They operate thanks to foreign assistance, like the Santovenia asylum in the Cerro neighborhood of Havana.

20,000 THE TOTAL CAPACITY AT STATE-RUN NURSING HOMES

The state-run daycare centers charge 180 pesos per month and the nursing homes charge about 400 pesos. Social Security subsidizes the payments when social service workers determine that the clients cannot afford to pay those fees.

Cuba once had one of the most generous and broadest social security systems in Latin America. But that was largely possible because of the massive subsidies from the Soviet Union, calculated by Mesa-Lago at about $65 billion over 30 years.

“Although the pensions were never high, there was an elaborate system established by the state to facilitate access to food and other products at subsidized prices,” said the economist.

After the Soviet subsidies ended in the early 1990s, pensions remained at about the same level but their purchasing power collapsed. In 1993, a retired Cuban could barely buy 16 percent of what he could afford in 1989. By the end of 2015, the purchasing power of retirees remained at barely half of what it was when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba entered into the so-called “Special Period.”

Raquel is a product of that reality.

“It bothers me when I hear talk of the good services for the elderly,” Raquel said. “I don’t get any subsidies because I live with my son, his wife and my two grandchildren. But they have their own expenses, and can’t afford to also pick up all of mine.

“I need new dentures,” she said, “and if you don’t give the dentist a little gift, they take months or come out bad.”

Other elderly residents on the island echoed Raquel’s sentiments.

IT’S VERY HARD TO GET OLD AND LIVE OFF A $10 PENSION WHEN FOUR DRUMSTICKS OF CHICKEN COST $5.
Andrés, retired cartographer

“We are two old people living alone, we have no one overseas, so we receive no remittances,” said Andrés, a former cartographer who lives with his wife, Silvia, in the central city of Cienfuegos and now sells homemade vinegar and other products to make ends meet. “It’s very hard to get old and live off a $10 pension when four drumsticks of chicken cost $5.

“Last year, I was awarded with a lifetime achievement recognition at work and then I was laid off,” he said. “I was already retired but continued to work because we could not live on my pension.”

Drastic cutbacks

After Fidel Castro left power in 2006, following a health emergency, the Raúl Castro government began drastic cutbacks in social security benefits under the rubric of “the elimination of gratuities.” Of the 582,060 Cubans who were receiving social assistance benefits in 2006, such as disability or special diet funds, the number was slashed to 175,106 by 2015.

Castro also removed several products from the highly subsidized ration card, such as soap, toothpaste and matches, forcing everyone to pay far more for those products when they bought them on the open market.

The government has launched some new programs for the elderly. The Sistema de Atención a la Familia (System to Help the Family), for example, allows more then 76,000 low-income elderly to obtain food at subsidized prices. That’s a tiny number compared to Cuba’s elderly population, estimated at more than 2 million in a nation of about 11 million.

2 MILLION THE ESTIMATED THE NUMBER CUBA’S ELDERLY POPULATION

Some elderly Cubans also receive assistance from churches and non-government organizations.

“People see me picking up cans, but they don’t know I was a prize-winning engineer and that I even traveled to the Soviet Union in 1983,” Raquel said.

After retirement, she had to find other ways of making ends meet. She cleaned the common areas of buildings where military officers lived near the Plaza of the Revolution until she got too old to handle the work.

“They wanted me to wash the windows of a hallway on the 9th floor. That was dangerous, and I was afraid of falling. I preferred to leave, even though they paid well,” she said.

Raquel was earning 125 pesos (about $5) per week — more than half her monthly pension of 240 pesos.

Raquel said she sells the empty recyclable containers she collects to state enterprises but would love to be able to sell them to a private company, instead, to avoid bureaucratic problems and delays. In the patio of her home, she has created a home-made tool to crush the empty cans she finds on the streets.

The work can be profitable but competition is stiff and physically tougher for the elderly and disabled who have to wait in long lines to sell their products at state enterprises or pay someone else to hold their spot in line.

“In January, I made 3,900 pesos on beer bottles. But I paid 500 pesos to hold my spot in line because I can’t just lay down on the floor while I wait,” she said. “Aluminum also pays well. They pay 40 pesos for a sack of cans. It’s eight pesos per kilogram.”

Cuba does not have official statistics on poverty.

A 1996 government study concluded that 20.1 percent of the 2 million people in Havana were “at risk of not being able to afford a basic necessity.” A poll in 2000 found that 78 percent of the country’s elderly complained their income was not enough to cover their expenses.

The majority of the elderly polled said their main sources of income were their pension benefits, assistance from relatives on the island and remittances sent by relatives and friends abroad.

Many elderly now walk the streets in Havana and other cities, selling home-made candy or peanuts to make ends meet. Others resell newspapers or pick through garbage for items to sell. The number of beggars on the streets of Cuba’s main cities has visibly increased.

For Raquel, the daily struggle is but another chapter of her life.

“I have always been a hard worker because the most important thing is my family,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me to wear old clothes while I collect the cans. The one who has to look good is my grandson, who just started high school.

“The kids in school sometimes make fun of him but my grandson is very good and he’s not ashamed of me, at least not that he shows,” she said. “He always defends me against the mockery.”

Mary Anastasia O’Grady: Cuba Kills Another Dissident

The Wall Street Journal, by By MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY

After Obama’s detente: More tourists on the island and more repression.

Score another kill for the Cuban military dictatorship: Last month it eliminated Afro-Cuban dissident Hamell Santiago Más Hernández, an inmate of one of its most notoriously brutal prisons.

The remarkable thing was not the death of a critic. That’s routine in a police state that holds all the guns, bayonets, money and food. What’s noteworthy is that the world hardly blinked, which is to say that two years after President Obama’s detente with Raúl Castro, the regime still dispatches adversaries with impunity. It also routinely blocks visitors to the island, even of the leftist stripe—more on this in a moment—in order to keep the population isolated. “Normalization” to the contrary, Cuba is the same totalitarian hellhole that it has been for the past 58 years.

Forty-five-year-old Más Hernández was a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, a group working for a peaceful transition to democracy. He was healthy when he was arrested in June and sentenced to four years in prison for “disrespect for authority”—a k a failure to bow to the masters of the slave plantation. His real crime was advocating for a free Cuba while black. There are few more lethal combinations.

The black Cuban is supposed to show gratitude to the revolution to sustain the myth that he has been elevated by communism. The grim reality is the opposite, but heaven help those who dare to say so.

In November, Más Hernández was transferred to Combinado del Este prison, a dungeon not fit for animals. There he developed a kidney infection. His wife told the independent media in Cuba that he lost almost 35 pounds. According to his overlords he died on Feb. 24 of a “heart attack.” Funny, that epidemic of heart disease among those who cross Castro.

His death ought to prick the conscience of the free world. But while the island is crawling with foreign news bureaus, the story has not appeared in the English-language press. President Obama may have opened Cuba to more tourists, but the regime takes pains to keep its 11 million captive souls and their misery invisible.

The Castro family is a crime syndicate and many American businesses want a piece of the action. Sheraton Four Points now runs a hotel owned by the military regime. The luggage company Tumi spent the winter promoting Cuba travel on its website. (Note to self: Buy that new suitcase from someone who isn’t blind to tyranny.) The upshot is that more U.S. dollars flow to Cuba’s military coffers than ever before.

Mr. Obama argued that more contact with outsiders would empower Cubans. The regime agrees. It has been open to foreign tourism and investment since the end of Soviet subsidies in the early 1990s, and millions of Europeans, Latin Americans and Asians have flooded the country. But its secret police keep a tight leash on visitors.

British real-estate developer Stephen Purvis, Canadian businessmen Cy Tokmakjian and Sarkis Yacoubian and U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross all did time in Cuban jails for being too independent of the mob boss.

Last month Castro took the audacious step of refusing visas to three prominent Latin American politicians who could hardly be regarded as enemies of Cuba.

Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro was invited to Cuba by Rosa María Payá. She is the daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, who was killed in a suspicious car accident in the summer of 2012. Mr. Almagro was slated to receive an award named for Ms. Payá’s father from the Latin America Youth Network for Democracy. But Mr. Almagro, who is a Uruguayan leftist, was denied entry to the island.

The regime also blocked Mariana Aylwin, the daughter of Patricio Aylwin, the first elected Chilean president post-Pinochet. Ms. Aylwin is a Christian Democrat and a former education minister and was to accept a posthumous award for her late father. She remains an important voice in the Chilean Christian Democrat Party, which is a member, with the Communist Party among others, of the governing coalition.

Ms. Payá also invited former Mexican President Felipe Calderón to the event. Mr. Calderón is a member of Mexico’s center-right PAN, but as head of state he was friendly toward Cuba. One memorable moment was when he welcomed Raúl at the Rio Group summit on the Mayan Riviera in 2010 at a time when Orlando Zapata, another black Cuban dissident, lay dying in a military prison. Mr. Calderón was also denied a visa.

Cuba is not reforming. As always, dissidents are sent to prison death traps, and now Castro insults highly placed onetime friends by refusing them access to the island. Tourists are welcome, but only to drink state propaganda and leave behind hard currency. Any suggestion that Cubans have a right to self-determination remains a crime against the state.

Pastor and Wife Arrested for Homeschooling Children in ‘Normalized’ Cuba

Breitbart News

A pastor and his wife have been arrested in Cuba for homeschooling their children, according to Mike Donnelly, director of global outreach for the Home School Legal Defense Association, a U.S.-based organization that has offered legal assistance to homeschooling families since 1983.
Donnelly wrote about Cuban pastor Ramón Rigal and his wife Adya, who were arrested on Feb. 21, on the HSDA website on Monday.

“The Obama administration argued that normal relations with Cuba would lead to improved conditions for Cubans,” Donnely wrote. “But things have not gotten better for homeschoolers.”

“We wanted the freedom to give our children the education that we, the parents, have chosen,” Ramón said. “As Article 26.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, every parent has the right to give his children the education that he chooses.”

“The Municipal Office of Education in Guantánamo wrote to Ramón explaining, among other things, that ‘in our system, homeschooling is not considered an educational institution, as this term is basically used in countries with capitalist foundations,’” according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.

“The letter also stated that the Cuban penal code provides sanctions for a person who ‘leads a minor to abandon his home, be absent from school, refuse educational work that is inherent to the national system of education, or fail to fulfill his duties related to the respect and love for the homeland.’”

Donnelly said this stance violates international human rights law — something characteristic of totalitarian regimes like the one in Cuba.

“A government that denies parents the right to choose how their children are educated, including home education, violates fundamental norms of international human rights law,” Donnelly told Breitbart News.

In the article, Donnelly said Cuba should “meet certain minimum norms” to be part of the global community.

“If Cuba plans to join the community of nations, especially having a relationship with the United States, it should be expected to meet certain minimum norms in the way it treats its citizens,” Donnelly wrote in the article. “The right of people to establish private schools and to homeschool is a minimum expectation.

“A society that forces its children to learn only in public school is totalitarian and Cuba’s long history of totalitarian behavior in many areas including education must change now,” wrote Donnelly, who also sent a letter to the Senior Minister of Education in Cuba on behalf of the family.

He did not receive a response.

Donnelly pointed out in his article that the U.S.’s Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 states that U.S. policy should oppose the human rights violations of the Castro regime, to maintain sanctions “so long as it continues to refuse to move toward democratization and greater respect for human rights” and to “be prepared to reduce the sanctions in carefully calibrated ways in response to positive developments in Cuba.”

Donnelly also cited President Barack Obama’s 2016 memorandum that said normalizing relations with Cuba would help human rights.

“Our vision for U.S.-Cuba normalization reflects my Administration’s support for broad-based economic growth, stability, increased people-to-people ties, and respect for human rights and democratic values in the region,” then-President Obama wrote in the memorandum. “Our policy is designed to support Cubans’ ability to exercise their universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, with the expectation that greater commerce will give a broader segment of the Cuban people the information and resources they need to achieve a prosperous and sustainable future.”

“Ramón wants to be able to stay in Cuba to pastor his congregation. But it is no wonder that Ramón and his family, after being treated like this simply because they homeschool, have expressed a desire to seek refuge in a country that would respect their rights to educate their children,” wrote Donnelly, who called on the Cuban government to respect parents’ rights and the U.S. government to hold it accountable.

“A government that is unwilling to trust its citizens to homeschool is not worthy of trust from its citizens,” Donnelly wrote. “We call on Cuba to respect Pastor Rigale’s right and to end its prosecution of his family.

“We hope that members of Congress and the Trump administration will take an interest in this case and take action to defend the Rigals and others like them,” Donnelly wrote.

A brave act in Cuba deserves American support

The Washington Post

Bringing freedom and democracy to totalitarian Cuba will be no easy task. Two indispensable ingredients, though, must be courage on the part of the country’s dissidents and democrats, and international solidarity with them.

Both were on display in Havana over the past week. At the center of events was Rosa María Payá Acevedo, daughter of the late Oswaldo Payá, a recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought who lost his life in a still-unexplained 2012 car crash. Ms. Payá decided to pay tribute to her father by awarding a human rights prize in his name and chose as the first recipient Luis Almagro, the Uruguayan secretary general of the Organization of American States, who has distinguished himself through forthright condemnation of repression in Cuba’s authoritarian ally Venezuela. Ms. Payá invited former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, former Chilean education minister Mariana Aylwin (daughter of a former president) and Martin Palous, a former Czech ambassador to the United States, to attend.

Raúl Castro’s regime blocked them all from entering the country, telling Mr. Almagro that Ms. Payá’s entirely peaceful program was “anti-Cuban activity” and a “provocation.” Officials also detained journalists attempting to cover the planned ceremony, including Henry Constantin Ferreiro, regional vice chairman of the Inter American Press Association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information. No doubt Ms. Payá’s unauthorized attempt to honor an international diplomat before such distinguished company did present the regime with an awkward choice: to tolerate an elementary exercise of her rights, and the rights of her invitees, or to deny it, and incur international political damage. How revealing of Havana’s true nature, and true priorities, that it chose the latter. Indeed, Cuba’s foreign ministry said the crackdown showed its determination not to “sacrifice its fundamental principles to maintain appearances.”

And how revealing of the limits of U.S. “engagement” with Cuba. While these European and Latin American leaders were supporting Ms. Payá’s assertion of freedom, a bipartisan delegation of six members of Congress, headed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), were on a visit to Cuba, promoting business ties. After a visit with Mr. Castro, Mr. Leahy blandly observed that the dictator “wants reform to continue, he wants the movement forwards to continue” despite President Trump’s uncertain attitude toward the island’s government. Mr. Leahy’s spokesman told us that the delegation’s schedule was too “packed” with appointments such as the Castro meeting to allow for any contact with Ms. Payá, and declined to comment, pro or con, on the regime’s refusal to admit Mr. Almagro and company.

To be sure, Mr. Trump is hardly the ideal spokesman for democracy promotion, in Cuba or anywhere else. All the more reason that members of Congress supply on America’s behalf the solidarity Cuba’s democrats need, and all the more reason to be disappointed that Mr. Leahy and his colleagues did not provide more of it.