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Ex-Venezuelan intelligence chief detained in Aruba at the request os U.S. prosecutors

July 24 - Authorities in Aruba announced Thursday that they arrested a close confidant of the late President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela who was sent as that country's consul to the Caribbean island despite being sanctioned by the U.S. government on charges of drug trafficking.
Hugo Carvajal, the former head of military intelligence under Chavez, was arrested at the request of the U.S. prosecutors and is expected to appear in an Aruban court Friday.

Carvajal was one of a number of high-ranking Venezuelan military officials blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury in 2008 for allegedly providing weapons to Marxist rebels in neighboring Colombia and helping them smuggle cocaine to fund their insurgency. Despite the charges, he remained close to power circles in Venezuela and in January was appointed consul to Aruba by Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela condemned the arrest, calling it a "grave violation" of international law and the Vienna Convention granting diplomats immunity from arrest.
Venezuela's foreign ministry released a statement calling on the Netherlands, which manages foreign affairs for the otherwise autonomously run Aruba, to immediately free Carvajal. It warned that commercial and diplomatic ties could be affected.
There was no immediate comment from the Dutch government.
Officials in Aruba said they were initially confused about whether Carvajal had immunity since he holds a diplomatic passport from Venezuela. However, they went ahead with the detention because he had yet to receive his accreditation from the local government.
"Immunity is always linked to a function," prosecutors spokeswoman Ann Angela said in a phone interview. "And he does not have any function here in Aruba. He is not the consul general; therefore he has no immunity."
U.S. prosecutors now have 60 days to formalize their extradition request, Angela said.
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
Chavez was an instructor at the military academy in Caracas when Carvajal was a student there in the early 1980s. Like many other cadets from that era, Carvajal later took up arms with Chavez in a failed 1992 coup uprising that catapulted the young tank commander to fame and set the stage for his future rise to power through the ballot box. Associated Press

 

Everything We Know About The Huge Spy Base In Cuba That Russia Is Reopening

July 22 - Moscow and Havana have agreed to reopen a Cold War-era signals intelligence (SIGINT) base in Lourdes, Cuba.
An agreement was reached during Putin's visit to Cuba last week to reopen the base, Russia business daily Kommersant reported last week. That was confirmed by a Russian security source who told Reuters: "A framework agreement has been agreed."
The base was set up in 1964 after the Cuban missile crisis had brought the U.S. and Soviet Union close to confrontation over Moscow's proposal to place nuclear weapons on Cuban soil.
Havana shut it down in 2001 because of financial issues and American pressure.
Located south of Cuba's capital Havana and just 150 miles from the U.S. coast, the base left many parts of the U.S. vulnerable to Soviet communication intercepts, including exchanges between Florida space centers and U.S. spacecraft.
Here's what a Congressional report from 2000 said about the facility:
• The Secretary of Defense formally expressed concerns to Congress regarding the espionage complex at Lourdes, Cuba, and its use as a base for intelligence directed against the United States.
• The Secretary of Defense, referring to a 1998 Defense Intelligence Agency assessment, reported that the Russian Federation leased the Lourdes facility for an estimated $100 million to $300 million a year.
• It has been reported that the Lourdes facility was the largest such complex operated by the Russian Federation and its intelligence service outside the region of the former Soviet Union.
• The Lourdes facility was reported to cover a 28 square-mile area with over 1,500 Russian engineers, technicians, and military personnel working at the base.
• Experts familiar with the Lourdes facility have reportedly confirmed that the base had multiple groups of tracking dishes and its own satellite system, with some groups used to intercept telephone calls, faxes, and computer communications, in general, and with other groups used to cover targeted telephones and devices.
• News sources have reported that the Lourdes facility obtained sensitive information about United States military operations during Operation Desert Storm.
• Academic studies cite official U.S. sources affirming that the Lourdes facility was used to collect personal information about United States citizens in the private and government sectors, and offered the means to engage in cyberwarfare against the U.S.
• The operational significance of the Lourdes facility reportedly grew dramatically after Russian President Boris Yeltsin issued a 1996 order demanding the Russian intelligence community increase its gathering of U.S. and other Western economic and trade secrets.
• It has been reported that the Government of the Russian Federation is estimated to have spent in excess of $3 billion in the operation and modernization of the Lourdes facility.
• Former U.S. Government officials were quoted confirming reports about the Russian Federation’s expansion and upgrade of the Lourdes facility.
• It was reported in December 1999 that a high-ranking Russian military delegation headed by Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel-General Valentin Korabelnikov visited Cuba to discuss the continuing Russian operation of the Lourdes facility.
Defense experts agree the base could significantly boost Russia's ability to spy on America during a low-point in U.S.-Russia relations.
Ivan Konovalov, head of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Trends Studies, estimated that the Lourdes base was used to acquire at least 50% of the Soviet Union's radio-intercepted intelligence from the U.S., according to Reuters.

Continue reading Business Insider

 

Same old Cuba

July 21 - Are those who would normalize U.S. relations with Cuba intelligent enough to decode the signal being sent by an agreement to reopen a Russian “signals intelligence” base there?
Cuban dictator Raul Castro and Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly struck the deal in Havana this month (though Mr. Putin later denied it). Russia supposedly gets to reopen the electronic spying post; Cuba gets off the hook for about 90 percent of its Soviet-era debt to Russia — about $32 billion, according to The New York Times.
Ironically, debt played a role in Mr. Putin's closure of the base in 2001 — because Congress linked its abandonment with restructuring of Russian foreign debt. Technological updates to the listening post in Lourdes, outside Havana and about 150 miles from Florida, could bolster its former capabilities.
At its height, says The Times, Lourdes monitored the U.S. Navy, the U.S. space program and “microwave transmissions of telephone conversations in the southeastern United States” while facilitating communications with Russian spies in America. Heading Cuba's armed forces in 1993, Mr. Castro claimed Lourdes then produced 75 percent of Russia's strategic intelligence on the U.S.
Questions abound over what's left of the old Lourdes facility and to what extent it can or will be constituted, given Russia's struggling economic situation. Thus, whether this spate of power projection is real or faux remains difficult to discern. But the signal for Castro apologists should be that the more things appear to change in Cuba, the more they stay the same. The Tribune-Review

 

Russia to reopen Cuban mega-base to spy on America

July 16 - Information from Russian media:

Moscow and Havana have reportedly reached an agreement on reopening the SIGINT facility in Lourdes, Cuba - once Russia’s largest foreign base of this kind - which was shut down in 2001 due to financial problems and under US pressure.
When operational, the facility was manned by thousands of military and intelligence personnel, whose task was to intercept signals coming from and to the US territory and to provide communication for the Russian vessels in the western hemisphere.
Russia considered reopening the Lourdes base since 2004 and has sealed a deal with Cuba last week during the visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to the island nation, reports Kommersant business daily citing multiple sources.
“I can say one thing: at last!” one of the sources commented on the news to the paper, adding that the significance of the move is hard to overestimate.
The facility in Lourdes, a suburb of Havana located just 250km from continental USA, was opened in 1967. At the peak of the cold war it was the largest signal intelligence center Moscow operated in a foreign nation, with 3,000 personnel manning it.
From the base Russia could intercept communications in most part of the US including the classified exchanges between space facilities in Florida and American spacecraft. Raul Castro, then-Defense Minister of Cuba, bragged in 1993 that Russia received 75 percent of signal intelligence on America through Lourdes, with was probably an overstatement, but not by a large amount.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the base was downscaled, but continued operation. After Russia was hit the 1998 economic crisis, it found it difficult to maintain many of its old assets, including the Lourdes facility. In Soviet times Cuba hosted it rent-free, but starting 1992 Moscow had to pay Havana hundreds of millions dollars each year in addition to operational costs to keep the facility open.

An additional blow came in July 2000, when the US House passed the Russian-American Trust and Cooperation Act, a bill that would ban Washington from rescheduling or forgiving any Russian debt to the US, unless the facility in Lourdes is shut down.
Moscow did so in 2001 and also closed its military base in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh, with both moves reported as major steps to address Americans’ concerns. But, in the words of a military source cited by Kommersant, the US “did not appreciate our gesture of goodwill.”
No detail of schedule for the reopening the facility, which currently hosts a branch of Cuba’s University of Information Science, was immediately available. One of the principle news during Putin’s visit to Havana was Moscow’s writing off of the majority of the old Cuban debt to Russia. The facility is expected to require fewer personnel than it used to, because modern surveillance equipment can do many functions now automatically.
With the Lourdes facility operational again, Russia would have a much better signal intelligence capability in the western hemisphere.
“Returning to Lourdes now is more than justified," military expert Viktor Murakhovsky, a retired colonel, told Kommersant. “The capability of the Russian military signal intelligence satellite constellation has significantly downgraded. With an outpost this close to the US will allow the military to do their job with little consideration for the space-based SIGINT echelon.”  
RT
 

N. Korean freighter, fresh from stop in Havana, raises suspicion as it runs aground off Mexican coast

July 15 - A North Korean freighter has run aground near a port in eastern Mexico, just days after a stop in Havana that sparked comparisons with another Pyongyang vessel seized last summer with a large and illegal shipment of Cuban weapons.
The 6,700-ton Mu Du Bong, built in 1983, ran aground Monday on a reef off the port of Tuxpan in the Gulf of Mexico, according to shipping and salvage industry officials. There was no immediate information on whether the freighter docked or planned to dock in Tuxpan.
The ship had sparked suspicions before its mishap because its Caribbean voyage seemed similar to that of the Chong Chon Gang, seized by Panama last summer as it prepared to cross the Panama Canal on its way home to North Korea. An estimated 240 tons of weapons were hidden under hundreds of thousands of sacks of sugar.
Both freighters sailed in Cuban waters and stopped in Havana, but their exact locations were mysteries for days because there were no reports from their location transponders, as required by safety regulations. The Chong Chon Gang had turned off its transponder to hide its location, a U.N. investigation later found.
The Mu Du Bong crossed the Panama Canal into the Caribbean June 15. Its transponder signaled on June 25 that it was near the port of Mariel, and on June 29-30 that it was in the port of Havana, according to an article in Forbes magazine that first reported its voyage.
For the next nine days the freighter’s transponder fell silent, Forbes reported. It started working again July 10, showing the ship was in Havana and then sailed into the Gulf of Mexico, according to Forbes. 

The Miami Herald       El Nuevo Herald Español

Major League Baseball All-Star Game: The Cuban Baseball Invasion

July 15 - What's Behind the Rise of Stars Like Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu
For decades, Cuban baseball stars have existed in something of a parallel universe. Tales of their exploits tantalized Major League Baseball teams, but because of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, scouts rarely saw them. And because many never left the island, most fans never heard of them.
"Nobody knew the level of talent," said Cuban baseball historian Peter Bjarkman.
For anyone who doesn't know by now, Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game in Minneapolis will serve as a crash course. It will feature five Cuban-born players, the most in 40 years, and three of them are major stars.
Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who will start for the National League, has been the game's most compelling player since debuting a little over a year ago. Chicago White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu leads the majors with 29 home runs. And Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman possesses one of the game's best arms, averaging a major-league-high 100.1 mph on his fastball, according to the statistics site FanGraphs.
Their presence at this year's game, along with Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, reflects a burgeoning pipeline—albeit one that still is perilous for U.S.-bound Cuban players over a half-century since the embargo started.
Twenty-two Cuban-born players have made their debut in the majors since 2010 alone, double the number that did between 2005 and 2009. And teams are making increasingly bigger bets on players they have barely seen. In early 2012, the A's signed Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million deal. Months later, the Dodgers signed Puig for $42 million over seven years. Last fall, the White Sox signed Abreu for $68 million over six.
"It's like when the first guys went to California to prospect for gold, and word got back that there was a lot of gold in California," said Logan White, the Dodgers' vice president for amateur scouting.
Like many evaluators, White has long viewed Cuba as a largely untapped reservoir of talent. The success of the Hernandez half-brothers, Cuban-born pitchers Livan and Orlando, reinforced that belief in the late 1990s. What has changed since then is teams' ability to assess each player's potential—sometimes by looking at videos posted on YouTube—and the number of top players leaving Cuba.
Since the embargo began, most players who have left Cuba to play in the majors have done so after the prime of their careers. But several factors have pushed current Cuban stars to leave closer to the height of their earning power. Among them: a sagging Cuban economy; the snowball effect of Cuban players succeeding in the majors and earning ever bigger paychecks; and the development of intricate smuggling networks through which players leave the island.
To avoid being subject to the MLB draft, which would substantially reduce their earning potential, Cuban players must first establish residency in a third country.
"Guys know what to do now," said White Sox catcher Adrian Nieto, who was born in Havana but grew up in Florida. "There's a protocol. You go to a third country and get a visa and you're able to sign as a free agent, whereas before, it was more of an issue."
That protocol comes with high costs and considerable danger.
Joe Kehoskie, a consultant and former agent who represented Cuban players, said that until the mid-2000s, players would leave in one of two ways: while competing for Cuba at an international tournament or on the same boats any other Cuban would use to attempt to reach South Florida. Then they would hire an agent, who would get a 5% cut of their contract.
Now, Kehoskie said, professional smugglers have aligned with a handful of U.S.-based agents to target ballplayers before they even decide to leave. He said some players receive advance payments with the expectation that if they ever decide to leave, they will do so using the smuggler-agency alliance that paid them—for fees as high as 35% of their MLB contract. "The lines between agents and smugglers have been blurred almost to the point where they're nonexistent," Kehoskie said.
A spokesman for the players' union, which certifies agents, said it is "very concerned over the use of illegal activities that threaten the safety of players and their families."
Players can go around the smugglers by fleeing at international tournaments. By all accounts, Cuban authorities have become more lax in their efforts to stop them. But few players choose to do so. "A lot of guys are scared," Nieto said.
According to an ESPN The Magazine account of his 2012 journey from Cuba to Mexico, Puig, the Dodgers star, has received death threats over unpaid debts to smugglers with ties to a Mexican drug cartel. Puig declined to comment. In a separate matter, three people were indicted in Miami in December on federal charges of conspiring to smuggle, kidnap and extort Texas Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin during his 2010 journey from Cuba to the U.S. via Mexico. That case is scheduled to go to trial next year.
"It's an ugly business," Bjarkman said. "It's involving MLB in, if not sanctioning, then at least looking the other way on human trafficking."
An MLB spokesman said the league is "extremely concerned" about the trafficking of Cuban players and is discussing ways to combat the issue with the players' union and the U.S. State Department.
Meanwhile, baseball continues to reap the benefits of Cuban players who have already arrived. Unlike prospects from other Latin American countries that sign as teenage amateurs and require seasoning in the minor leagues, Cespedes and Abreu both signed at age 26, after several years in the Cuban National Series, Cuba's main league, and went straight to the majors.
"These are guys who have played professional baseball for a long time," said Athletics assistant general manager David Forst. "They're smart and they're mature."
Many also play with an exuberance that reflects both where they are from and, according to Nieto, how they got here.
"Imagine you've done the hardest part, which is risk your life," he said. "Once you get here, everything else is a bonus."

The Wall Street Journal

 

More than 100 Ladies in White arrested by Castro's Gestapo

July 14 - Cuban authorities arrested an unusually large group of about 100 dissident marchers on Sunday, breaking up a march by the Ladies in White opposition activists.
Shouting "Freedom! Freedom!," the women offered no resistance as they were put on buses by dozens of police and plainclothes agents of the only communist-ruled country in the Americas.
A group of about 100 government supporters, who arrived along with the authorities at the scene in Havana's Miramar district, angrily shouted "Viva Fidel, Viva Raul" as the women were whisked away.
The women's group, formed in 2003 by wives and relatives of political prisoners, marches with the government's permission every Sunday in the Cuban capital after hearing mass at Santa Rita parish church.
Since theirs is the only group that has government permission for a regular protest, arrests are few and infrequent.
But on Sunday, dozens of police moved in and surrounded the large crowd of marchers two blocks from the church after they headed toward the sea instead of along their usual route on Miramar's Quinta Avenida.
"The Ladies in White are growing and increasing their base in society... and this is really dangerous for (the government's) legitimacy. That's why they are cracking down so hard," said dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua.
Award-winning fellow dissident Guillermo Farinas agreed.
"I think the Cuban government is pulling out all the stops to keep the Ladies in White from growing. That explains so many arrests on Sunday," added Farinas, the 2010 European Parliament's Sakharov Prize winner.
The Ladies in White won the prize in 2005.
Sunday's march coincided with the 20th anniversary of an incident in which 37 people, including 10 children, drowned trying to flee the communist-ruled island in a tugboat.
The tugboat sank after being intercepted by four Cuban vessels, which survivors said doused the boat with a water cannon and rammed it.
Continue reading

 

Man accuses Cuban agents of insidious, ‘psychological’ intimidation

July 14 - A man who threw a party for a friend in a punk-rock band that has been critical of Fidel Castro says that he has been the target of a ‘psychological’ campaign of intimidation
Oscar Casanella, a 35-year old cancer researcher in Havana, says he just wanted to have a party for Ciro Díaz, a close friend who plays in a punk-rock band.
Problem is, Díaz is lead guitarist for Porno Para Ricardo, a band whose expletive-filled lyrics include attacks on Cuba’s former ruler, Fidel Castro: “The Comandante wants me to applaud after he’s spoken his delirious s---.”
So Casanella’s party turned into an example of how Cuba’s communist system tries to grind down the citizens it finds objectionable, starting out with low-level threats and ratcheting up the pressure if the targets refuse to change their behavior.
Cuban police and State Security agents can beat dissidents, arrest them for brief periods to harass or intimidate them, search their homes, seize their phones and computers, listen in on their conversations, and throw them out of school.
“But they also have psychological pressures, like anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night, a car that comes too close, an agent who stands there just to make sure you know he’s watching you,” dissident Guillermo Fariñas told a Miami audience last year.
Casanella said Díaz, a friend since high school, called him at the end of a trip to Europe to say that he was returning to Havana on Dec. 6, 2013, a Friday. Casanella promised him a welcome-back party at his own home that Saturday.
“That’s where the Kafka-esque machinery started,” wrote Lilian Ruiz, who first reported the case July 4 on Cubanet, a Miami-based portal for news on Cuba.
On the Thursday before the party, four elderly men and women he did not know approached him as he left his home in the Plaza neighborhood of Havana and threatened him, Casanella told el Nuevo Herald on Thursday.
“They said, ‘You cannot have any activities or parties these days,’ that other people could harm me, and they also could harm me,” he said. He asked what right they had to threaten him, but they refused to identify themselves and walked away.
Casanella said he presumed the four knew about the party from State Security monitors of Diaz’s telephone calls or perhaps his own. He has attended meetings of the dissident group Estado de SATS but said he does not consider himself to be a dissident.
He phoned police the same night to report the incident but got nowhere, he said. When he went to his nearest police station Saturday, officers refused to write down his complaint. But they called in one of the men who had threatened him “and in front of me told him to stop and treated him like a little child.”
Neighbors later told him the four were former officials of his neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, a pro-government watchdog organization, who were operating as a sort of auxiliary to State Security, said Casanella.
He walked out of the police station thinking the harassment would stop. But as he arrived home, two men in civilian clothes identified themselves as State Security agents and asked to talk to him inside the house — but refused to show any IDs.
“They looked more like delinquents than officers, and I said no,” Casanella said. The men then turned up the threats. “They said they could mess up my life, mess up my family, put me in jail, that I could think whatever I wanted, but not say it.”
The party nevertheless went on that Saturday, the researcher said, with about 50 people dancing and drinking plus four men in civilian clothes watching the front and back of the house and a neighbor writing down the license plates of all the cars parked outside.
The pressure went up another notch Monday when Casanella returned to work at the National Oncology and Radiology Institute, where he’s studying for his doctorate. Supervisor Pedro Fernández Cabezas warned him that he could lose his job. His work environment “turned hostile,” and he was left out of a new project. Continue reading The Miami Herald
 

Anyone who provides credit to the Castro brothers, loses his shirt

July 12 - Russia has written off $32 billion of Cuba's outstanding debt, which represents the main bulk of the funds the Caribbean republic obtained from the Soviet Union decades ago.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the debt write-off Friday, the Kremlin said in a statement, after the country's parliament approved the law.
The move comes as Mr. Putin arrived in Havana to meet with Cuba's top officials as part of his tour of Latin America. He is also set to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brazil this weekend.
Russia's generosity appears to follow strategic rather than commercial interests, says Jaime Suchlicki, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami. Mr. Putin, he said, was interested in obtaining a berth for Russia's fleet at the port of Mariel which opened earlier this year on the island's north coast.
"Russia also wants to put a space tracking station in Cuba, which can double as an electronics listening facility aimed at the U.S.," Mr. Suchlicki said.
The port, financed by Brazil, is seen by Havana as crucial to its economic future, as it seeks to accommodate the larger ships expected to pass through an expanded Panama Canal. The sleepy town of Mariel was the site of the 1980 exodus that saw 125,000 Cubans leave the island for the U.S.
In forgiving the debt, Russia follows Mexico, which last year agreed to forgive $478 million of Cuban debt.
At the time, a top Mexican official said that while there was no chance Cuba could repay its debt, Mexico was interested in reviving moribund trade ties with the island in a bid to counterbalance growing Brazilian influence in Cuba, which lies astride the Gulf of Mexico, and is close to Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.
The debt forgiveness is the latest step in a Cuban-Russian rapprochement. For decades, Cuba depended on the former Soviet Union, which provided billions of dollars in aid, mainly in the form of subsidized oil exchanged in payment for high-price Cuban sugar. After the U.S.S.R. collapsed in 1991, the Cuban economy plunged, with the island's gross domestic product contracting by at least 35%.
As Soviet subsidies disappeared, Cuba entered a "special period" of scarcity and hardship, which forced then-President Fidel Castro to grudgingly allow the use of U.S. dollars on the island as Havana scrambled to survive.
Since 1999, Cuba has largely depended on Venezuela, which sends nearly 100,000 barrels of subsidized oil products daily and grants other economic benefits worth at least $6 billion.
In exchange, Cuba has sent tens of thousands of doctors, sports trainers, security advisers and other technicians to Venezuela. The Communist island also leans heavily on remittances sent from Cuban émigrés and exiles living abroad.
In recent years, Cuban President Raúl Castro has begun a cautious overhaul program, which, among other things, has increased the number of jobs and professions which Cubans are permitted to perform. The Wall Street Journal

 

Could Google provide Internet access in Cuba?

July 11 - Eric Schmidt and other Google executives traveled to Cuba where they met with members of the Internet community and the government. Google is providing Internet access in a few US Cities and is considering others -- might they provide Internet access in Cuba?
Consider the following:
•Cuba has very little domestic backbone infrastructure, but they could afford to extend Internet connectivity via satellite.
•Google has satellite projects that could serve Cuba.
Of course, both governments would have to agree for Google or any other satellite ISP to connect Cubans. I believe that, if the Cuban government would agree, the US would as well.
But, the Cuban government has feared the Internet since the time of their first IP connectivity in 1996. At that time, there was high level debate about the Internet. The hard liners, led by Raúl Castro, argued against the Internet while others argued for a "Chinese" approach of supporting Internet use while censoring content and surveilling users. (It seems Fidel Castro was ambivalent).
The hard liners won in 1996, but what about today? Schmidt reports that a "number of the people" he spoke with said "the eventual model of Cuba would be more like China or Vietnam than of Venezuela or Mexico." If some of those were young government officials, there may be a glimmer of hope. The Internet in Cuba
 

Cuban ‘dissident’ says he was really an infiltrator

July 9 - A Cuban lawyer has confessed that he was a State Security collaborator for the four years he spent portraying himself as a dissident and harshly attacking two of the country’s most active opposition groups.
Ernesto Vera, 34, had been accused of being a collaborator last year but his confession cast a rare spotlight on how State Security agents recruit informants and pays them thousands of dollars to discredit dissidents and generate rivalries among them.
Vera also pointed a finger at five other Cubans who in his view have been suspiciously critical of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) and the Ladies in White, the largest and most aggressive dissident groups on the communist-ruled island.
"My mission within State Security was to disparage and discredit UNPACU, especially its leader, José Daniel Ferrer, and the Ladies in White,” Vera told El Nuevo Herald by phone Wednesday from his home in the eastern city of Santiago De Cuba.
But he sat for a 44-minute video taped confession to Ferrer earlier this month because he was “disgusted with so many lies, the double life and faking a friendly relationship with people I hated so much.”
The two men shook hands at the end of the video.
State Security began the slow work of recruiting him as “Agent Jorge” after he was fired as a law professor at a medical school in Santiago, he said. Until then, he had only been on the periphery of dissident groups.
People who identified themselves as dissidents arranged to meet him in public places. But they were State Security agents and their meetings were videotaped — recordings then used to blackmail him into becoming an informant in 2010, Vera said. They also threatened to kill his mother and make it look like an accident unless he cooperated.
“I am ashamed to say I was a coward,” he told the Herald, confirming that he had recorded the talk with Ferrer and written a three-page confession dated July 5 and published Tuesday by UNPACU.
“All of my attacks on José Daniel Ferrer and the Ladies in White were ordered by State Security,” he said. They were part of a one-two punch, “to discredit the dissidents and lessen the impact of the repression when it came.”
The lawyer said he falsely accused Ferrer of stealing money sent by supporters abroad and abusing his wife. He and another infiltrator also sparked the biggest schism within the Ladies in White, causing about 30 members in Santiago to break with the main group.
Vera said he wrote the attacks with information and photos provided by State Security Col. Ernesto Samper. He was paid several thousand dollars over four years so that he could send his columns abroad by the Internet, which costs $6-$10 per hour in Cuba.
Samper also gave him specific instructions to send his columns attacking UNPACU and the Ladies in White to Miami exile Aldo Rosado Tuero, administrator of the anti-Castro blog Nueva Accion, and assured him that Rosado would publish them.
Rosado, a steadfast critic of Ferrer and long-time radical opponent of the Castro government, said Wednesday that he was not a Cuban agent and accused Ferrer and Vera of joining forces with State Security to attack him.
Vera’s confession was not a surprise because Ferrer had unmasked him in October with hard evidence. State Security is known to target almost every dissident group on the island nation for infiltration, and has even reportedly started a few.
One knowledgeable Miami exile said he was concerned with Vera’s identification of other agents of State Security, also known as G2. “The guy who says he was G2 now can say someone else is G2 and create a lot of problems,” said the author. He asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the topic. Read more The Miami Herald
 

Sen. Robert Menendez seeks probe of alleged Cuban plot to smear him

July 7 - Sen. Robert Menendez is asking the Justice Department to pursue evidence obtained by U.S. investigators that the Cuban government concocted an elaborate plot to smear him with allegations that he cavorted with underage prostitutes, according to people familiar with the discussions.
In a letter sent to Justice Department officials, the senator’s attorney asserts that the plot was timed to derail the political rise of Menendez (D-N.J.), one of Washington’s most ardent critics of the Castro regime. At the time, Menendez was running for reelection and was preparing to assume the powerful chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
According to a former U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of government intelligence, the CIA had obtained credible evidence, including Internet protocol addresses, linking Cuban agents to the prostitution claims and to efforts to plant the story in U.S. and Latin American media.
The alleged Cuba connection was laid out in an intelligence report provided last year to U.S. government officials and sent by secure cable to the FBI’s counterintelligence division, according to the former official and a second person with close ties to Menendez who had been briefed on the matter.
The intelligence information indicated that operatives from Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence helped create a fake tipster using the name “Pete Williams,” according to the former official. The tipster told FBI agents and others he had information about Menendez participating in poolside sex parties with underage prostitutes while vacationing at the Dominican Republic home of Salomon Melgen, a wealthy eye doctor, donor and friend of the senator.

A spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, which functions as the island’s U.S. diplomatic outpost, did not respond to requests for comment.
The allegations against Menendez erupted in public in November 2012, when the Daily Caller, a conservative Web site, quoted two Dominican women claiming Menendez had paid them for sex.
The FBI investigated the prostitution claims but was unable to corroborate them. Last year, three Dominican women who had initially claimed to reporters that they had been paid to have sex with Menendez recanted their story.
Investigators in the Justice Department’s public-integrity division continue to probe whether Menendez used his position to benefit Melgen’s business interests, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.
The April letter from Menendez’s attorney to the Justice Department has not been made public. The attorney, Stephen M. Ryan, confirmed that he sent the letter but declined to comment on its contents.
“It is deeply disturbing that a foreign government whose intelligence service is an enemy of the United States might try to influence U.S. foreign policy by discrediting an elected official who is an opponent of the Cuban regime,” Ryan said.
CIA spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment. Spokesmen for the Justice Department and FBI declined to comment on whether their offices were made aware of the intelligence information or whether they took any actions as a result.
There was no indication that the information gathered by U.S. intelligence officials alleging Cuba’s role in the Menendez case had been fully investigated or proved.  Continue reading   The Washington Post
 

Economy stalled, Cuba resists speedier path to free enterprise

July 7 - Raul Castro told parliament on Saturday the communist country's market-oriented reforms must remain gradual, a clear signal he would resist calls to accelerate change in order to address an underperforming economy.
He also praised Cubans for "defeating imperialism" by resisting U.S. aggression ever since the 1959 Cuban revolution.
Since taking over for his ailing older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro, 83, has enacted widespread reforms such as turning state enterprises into private cooperatives, freeing Cubans to work in small private businesses, and reducing the role of the state in everyday life.
The reforms have raised expectations for improvements in the economy while also generating debate within the ruling Communist Party about how much more free enterprise should be allowed.
Castro said the pace of reforms would remain deliberate.
"The gradual nature of a series of activities that we are approving is indispensable," Castro told 548 members of the National Assembly in its one-day, semiannual meeting.
The reforms have created a new class of wealthy Cubans, but a large majority still lives on $20 a month and overall Cuban productivity has stagnated. Low salaries remain a chronic complaint, even with free education, healthcare and a ration card good for a small amount of basic foodstuffs.
Castro blamed the 52-year-old U.S. economic embargo of Cuba for much of the country's economic difficulty, saying the Cuban people deserved a medal for resisting U.S. hostility.
"We have had success. We have had success in which our people have played a fundamental role. ... They have resisted and they are defeating imperialism," Castro said.
The man charged with implementing the reforms, Marino Murillo, told the assembly more salary increases would be tied to productivity and that more state enterprises would be turned into private cooperatives in order to improve efficiency.
For example in the food products and services sector, the government had authorized 498 cooperatives, of which 249 were functioning, said Murillo, a member of the elite Poltiburo.
Cuba has also now authorized 467,000 people to work in the private sector, making them eligible to work in nearly 13,000 businesses, mostly restaurants, Murillo said.
The assembly meets more to hear updates on the economy and government activities rather than to approve laws. Special sessions are sometimes called to pass major legislation, as with a foreign investment law approved in March.
The Cuban economy grew just 0.6 percent in the first half, forcing the government to revise down its full-year projection to 1.4 percent from a target of 2.2 percent established in December, Economy Minister Adel Yzquierdo told the assembly.

Continue reading Reuters
 

Cuba: Team Boots 2 Pitchers After Defection Bids

July 7 - Villa Clara pitchers Diosdani Castillo and Yasmany Hernandez Romero have been indefinitely kicked off their club after they recently attempted to defect, according to Cuban official media.
The Vanguardia newspaper of Villa Clara province said Castillo and Hernandez tried to leave the island about two weeks ago.
"They will no longer wear the orange jersey following a grave indiscipline," Vanguardia reported over the weekend.
Villa Clara is the reigning champion of the Cuban baseball league, and orange is its signature color.
Sports officials announced in late June that Castillo, Hernandez and several players from other clubs would be left off a national squad that is set to face a team of U.S. collegians later this month.
All were said to have made "illegal exit attempts." At least one of the players named, Yasmani Tomas of the Havana team Industriales, was successful.
Cuban ballplayers who leave often hope to compete in the United States, where potential multimillion-dollar contracts beckon.
Cuba recently began letting some players still in their prime sign temporary contracts in other leagues such as Japan.

Associated Press

 

The risk of doing business in a lawless country: Company Defends Canadian Exec in Cuba Graft Case

July 2 - The company and family of a Canadian business executive awaiting a court ruling in Cuba defended him against accusations of graft, arguing that what were in fact "legitimate commercial transactions" were wrongly characterized as corrupt at trial.
A two-page statement sent to The Associated Press by the Tokmakjian Group also complained that company president Cy Tokmakjian's trial, which ended June 21, was unfairly stacked against him.
It said he was held without charge for two years while the results of the investigation were kept secret, and then given just two months to present a defense. Meanwhile 14 of 18 proposed defense witnesses, including international tax experts, were rejected by the court without explanation.
"We are concerned that the outcome of the trial is predetermined given the reluctance by the Cuban authorities to rectify gross procedural mistakes," the statement said.
Prosecutors are seeking 15 years for Tokmakjian and 8 to 20 for more than a dozen others named as defendants. They include two more Canadians as well as Cuban employees of the company, government officials and workers at state-run businesses.
On Monday, Communist Party newspaper Granma said Tokmakjian was accused of corruption to obtain benefits in contract negotiations, unauthorized financial transactions, illegally taking large amounts of money out of the country, falsifying documents to avoid taxes and payroll irregularities. A ruling is expected soon.
Tokmakjian is among a number of foreigners and dozens of Cubans arrested in 2011 as part of a high-profile crackdown on graft that targeted multiple businesses operating in the country.
Another Canadian, Sarkis Yacoubian of Tri-Star Caribbean, was sentenced to nine years in 2013 but freed earlier this year and allowed to return home.
Saro Khatchadourian, a spokesman for Canada's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular, said Ottawa is monitoring its citizens' legal cases in Cuba and providing them with consular services, but declined to comment further. Canada's ambassador to Havana attended Tokmakjian's trial.
Cuban officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The statement from the Tokmakjian Group, an international transportation company based in Concord, Ontario, questioned why an individual was being held liable for a corporate tax issue, and said any claims were purely commercial and should have been handled in arbitration rather than a criminal court.
"A simple and objective reading of recent court decisions will lead to the conclusion that what is shown as 'corruption' is internationally accepted business practices," it said. "Commercial activities such as discounting bills of exchange or providing supplier credit appear as 'evidences of corruption.' Earning profits out of a commercial activity is considered a 'crime against (the) economic interests of Cuba.'"
Tokmakjian's trial came to a close within days of a new law taking effect that Cuba hopes will lure much-needed foreign investment. Officials say it safeguards commercial and personal property rights.
Though Cuban authorities made no details publicly available while the trial was ongoing, its outcome is sure to be scrutinized by the foreign business community and likely by potential investors.
"Although no one will (dispute) the legitimacy of Cuba to combat corruption," the Tokmakjian Group statement said, "this fight against corruption has been used as an excuse to deprive companies operating in Cuba of their rights and assets with no compensation."

AssociatedPress

 

Expert Says Emails Used to Accuse Maduro Opponents of Assassination Plot Are Fake

July 1 - A cybersecurity forensics expert said Monday the emails used by the Venezuelan government to accuse political opponents and U.S. diplomats of conspiring to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro last month are fake.
The expert was hired by one of the Venezuelan opposition figures accused by the government, in an effort to clear his name.
The assassination-plot accusation was first made last month by top Venezuelan officials and broadcast on all the country's television stations. Based on a handful of emails, the government accused leading opponents of the government, including former Venezuelan congresswoman Maria Corina Machado and newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker, of plotting to murder Mr. Maduro.
At the time, all of the alleged conspirators, including Ms. Machado and Mr. Whitaker, denied the Venezuelan charges.
According to Angela Cervetti, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, "these are false accusations in a long line of baseless allegations against U.S. diplomats by the Venezuelan government."
"Repeatedly and falsely accusing members of the international diplomatic community will not solve Venezuela's internal problems, nor will it create the environment necessary for Venezuela to engage its citizens in a meaningful and genuine dialogue," Ms. Cervetti added.
Last week, Google GOOGL +1.17% released the data on the alleged plot emails after Pedro Burelli, a former director of Venezuela's state oil company who lives in Washington, D.C.,went to court to obtain the email information to clear his name, Mr. Burelli said.
On Monday, Winston Krone, a cybersecurity forensics expert retained by Mr. Burelli said Google had no record of three of the emails the Venezuelan government said were written by Mr. Burelli, while it appeared the government had falsified a fourth, adding words Mr. Burelli didn't write to an email he did write two years earlier.
"All of the objective, verified evidence is consistent with the falsification of the emails related to Pedro Burelli in the Venezuelan government report," wrote Mr. Krone, managing director of San Francisco-based Kivu Consulting.
"They fabricated all four of the emails they have attributed to me," said Mr. Burelli. "I bet anything that's the case with all the other emails on which they have based this farcical ploy."
A spokesman at Venezuela's Attorney General's office declined to comment on Mr. Krone's findings.
On Sunday, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega said the alleged conspiracy was part of a continuing plot to "destabilize" Venezuela where more than 43 people have died in months of unrest as the government, human-rights groups say, has violently repressed demonstrators who took to the streets to protest soaring inflation, surging crime, and widespread shortages of basic foods.
Most analysts have dismissed the government's assassination-plot claims as an attempt to divert attention from its growing problems. In recent days, the embattled Mr. Maduro has also had to face a nationwide electricity blackout and a widening rift with his party's left wing, which is disappointed with his leadership. The Wall Street Journal

 

Raúl Castro Motors sells 50 cars--yes, 50--in the first 6 months of the year

July 1 - Cuban dealers sold 50 cars and four motorcycles nationwide in the first six months of the year under a new law that removed limits on auto purchases for the first time in half a century but came with prices so high few people could afford them.
Long-frustrated Cubans welcomed the law that took effect in January until they saw sticker prices were marked up 400 percent or more, pricing family sedans like European sports cars.
Cuba has said it would invest 75 percent of the proceeds from new car sales in its woeful public transportation system.
But total sales at the country's 11 national dealerships reached just $1.28 million in the first six months of the year, the official website cubadebate.com reported on Monday, citing Iset Vazquez, vice president of the state enterprise Corporacion CIMEX.
Before the start of this year Cubans had to request authorization from the government to buy from state retailers, which sell new and second-hand vehicles, usually former rental cars.
Most of the sales this year appeared to be of the second-hand variety considering the average sale price of $23,759 per vehicle, including the motorcycles.
A Havana Peugeot dealership was pricing its 2013 model 206 at $91,000 when the new rules came into effect, and it wanted $262,000 for the sportier 508.
Such prices drew howls of protest from the few Cubans who could even consider buying a car. Most state workers make around $20 a month.
The high prices have also been a complaint of foreign businesses and potential investors, who need government permission to import a new or used car without the huge markup.
Cuba only gradually is loosening the auto market. In 2011, it started allowing its people to buy and sell used cars from each other. Before then, only cars that were in Cuba before the 1959 revolution could be freely bought and sold, which is why there are so many U.S.-made, vintage 1950s cars on the streets.
Giant Chevys and Buicks rumble alongside little Soviet-made Ladas, another popular brand dating from the era before 1991 when Moscow was the communist island's main benefactor. Reuters
 

Cuba seeks 15-year sentence for Canadian businessman

July 1 - Prosecutors are seeking 15 years in prison for a Canadian businessman who was arrested in a high-profile crackdown on corruption, Cuban authorities said Monday.
The trial of Cy Tokmakjian, president of an automotive and transportation company, the Tokmakjian Group, concluded June 12 and a ruling is to be announced "in the coming days," according to an announcement published by Communist Party newspaper Granma and other official media.
The case is being watched closely by the foreign business community in Cuba. President Raul Castro's government has said there is no place for graft in the country, although foreign executives say gifts or cash payments are often demanded in business dealings conducted with low-paid government officials.
Tokmakjian is accused of using corrupt practices to obtain benefits in business negotiations, carrying out unauthorized financial transactions, illegally expatriating large sums of money, altering records to avoid tax obligations and payroll irregularities.
Monday's announcement named for the first time two other Canadian citizens among the accused, identifying them as Marco Vinicio Puche Rodriguez and Claudio Franco Vetere. Both could face 12-year sentences.
Also named were more than a dozen Cubans — Tokmakjian Group employees, government officials and executives at state-run businesses in the tourism and nickel sectors.
Prosecutors are seeking the toughest prison sentence, 20 years, for Nelson Ricardo Labrada Fernandez, a former vice-minister of the now-defunct Sugar Ministry.
The other defendants face possible terms of 8 to 12 years.
The court was also asked to order more than $91 million in compensation for "economic damage they caused to various Cuban entities and the Tax Administration," to be paid for in part by money and assets seized during the investigation.
A number of foreigners from several companies were swept up in the 2011 crackdown. Another Canadian, Sarkis Yacoubian of Tri-Star Caribbean, was released earlier this year and returned home after serving 2 1/2 years of a nine-year sentence in Cuba.
The Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group did an estimated $80 million in business annually with Cuba, mainly selling transportation, mining and construction equipment. It was the exclusive Cuba distributor of Hyundai, among other brands, and a partner in two joint ventures replacing the motors of Soviet-era transportation equipment. CBC News

 

Google executives visit Cuba for first time to promote open Internet

June 30 - A team of top Google executives is visiting Cuba to promote open Internet access, according to a dissident blogger who says she met the group in Havana.
The team, led by Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, met with Cuban officials as well as independent people in the technology and digital field, according to a report on the independent news website 14ymedio.com, which was started last month by blogger Yoani Sanchez.
Google is on an official two-day visit "to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet," the report said.
Schmidt appeared to confirm the report when he retweeted a message on Twitter posted by Sanchez about the visit.
Neither Google nor the Cuban government made any official statement about the executives' presence in Cuba.
Cuba does not allow open Internet access. Only 2.6 million out of a population of 11.2 million have Internet access, almost entirely limited to government-run centers, foreign companies and tourist hotels. Most of those who do have access are only been able to explore a limited, state-controlled basket of approved websites.
Schmidt, who was Google's chief executive from 2001 to 2011, is becoming more visible on issues involving technology and world affairs. His mandate as executive chairman involves government outreach, thought leadership and building partnerships and business relationships, according to the company.
Schmidt was accompanied by Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, as well as two other staff, Sanchez said.
Google Ideas describes itself as a "a think/do tank that explores how technology can enable people to confront threats in the face of conflict, instability or repression," according to its website.
Schmidt and Cohen are the coauthors of The New Digital Age, published last year, and have a track record of speaking with leaders of countries that restrict free speech to advocate for a free and open Internet.
Schmidt was the first high-profile tech executive to visit Myanmar last year in the wake of reforms that prompted Western nations to ease sanctions following decades of military dictatorship.
The Google delegation in Havana met with students and was given a tour of Havana's University of Information Sciences on Saturday, according to 14ymedio.
Sanchez started 14ymedio, Cuba's first independent online newspaper in May, although the site has been repeatedly blocked in Cuba.
The Cuban government sought to discredit Sanchez as a paid propagandist doing the bidding of the U.S. government.

Read more Reuters   El Pais (Spanish)

 

Think twice before vacationing in a totalitarian country: "Honeymoon in a Cuban Hell"

June 17 - A Cuban hotel, run by Raul Castro's military, charged a British couple 4,000 euros ($5,440) to replace a TV set in their room, that was allegedly damaged. They were not allowed to go back to their room to verify that the TV was not working.

The cost was 10 times the price of the TV.

They were told that the hotel was run by the military and if they didn't pay they'll go to prison.

Read their story in the Daily Mail
 

An eyewitness account of Cuba’s shocking wretchedness

June 6 - Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 science-fiction film Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, takes place in Los Angeles, circa 2154. The wealthy have moved into an orbiting luxury satellite — the Elysium of the title — while the wretched majority of humans remain in squalor on Earth. The film works passably as an allegory for its director’s native South Africa, where racial apartheid was enforced for nearly 50 years, but it’s a rather cartoonish vision of the American future. Some critics panned the film for pushing a socialist message. Elysium’s dystopian world, however, is a near-perfect metaphor for an actually existing socialist nation just 90 miles from Florida.
I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba — not because I’m nostalgic for a botched utopian fantasy, but because I wanted to experience Communism firsthand. When I finally got my chance several months ago, I was startled to discover how much the Cuban reality lines up with Blomkamp’s dystopia. In Cuba, as in Elysium, a small group of economic and political elites live in a rarefied world high above the impoverished masses. Many tourists return home convinced that the Cuban model succeeds where the Soviet model failed. But that’s because they never left Cuba’s Elysium.
I had to lie to get into the country. Customs and immigration officials at Havana’s tiny, dreary José Martí International Airport would have evicted me had they known I was a journalist. But not even a total-surveillance police state can keep track of everything and everyone all the time, so I slipped through. It felt like a victory.
Havana, the capital, is clean and safe, but there’s nothing to buy. It feels less natural and organic than any city I’ve ever visited. Initially, I found Havana pleasant, partly because I wasn’t supposed to be there and partly because I felt as though I had journeyed backward in time. But the city wasn’t pleasant for long, and it certainly isn’t pleasant for the people living there. It hasn’t been so for decades.
Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city — tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins. Continue reading NationalPost

 

King Castro: How Fidel lived the life of luxury in Cuba, complete with his own private island

May 21 - Presione aquí para leerlo en Español: Infobae

Fidel Castro lived like a king with his own private yacht, a luxury Caribbean island getaway complete with dolphins and a turtle farm, and travelled with two personal blood donors, a new book claims.
In La Vie Cachée de Fidel Castro (Fidel Castro's Hidden Life), former bodyguard Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, a member of Castro's elite inner circle, says the Cuban leader ran the country as his personal fiefdom like a cross between a medieval overlord and Louis XV.
Sánchez, who was part of Castro's praetorian guard for 17 years, describes a charismatic and intelligent but manipulative, cold-blooded, egocentric Castro prone to foot-stamping temper tantrums. He claims the vast majority of Cubans were unaware their leader enjoyed a lifestyle beyond the dreams of many Cubans and at odds with the sacrifices he demanded of them.
"Contrary to what he has always said, Fidel has never renounced capitalist comforts or chosen to live in austerity. Au contraire, his mode de vie is that of a capitalist without any kind of limit," he writes. "He has never considered that he is obliged by his speech to follow the austere lifestyle of a good revolutionary."
Sánchez claims he suffered Castro's ruthlessness first hand when he fell out of favour, was branded a traitor, "thrown in jail like a dog", tortured and left in a cockroach infested cell, after asking to retire. Released from prison, Sánchez followed the well-worn route of Cuban exiles to America in 2008. "Until the turn in the 1990s I'd never asked too many questions about the workings of the system … that's the problem with military people … as a good soldier, I did my job and my best and that was enough to make me happy," he writes.
The book, published on Wednesday, has been written with French journalist Axel Gyldén, a senior reporter at L'Express magazine. Gyldén admits Sánchez has a large axe to grind with Castro, but insists he has checked the Cuban's story.
"This is the first time someone from Castro's intimate circle, someone who was part of the system and a first-hand witness to these events, has spoken. It changes the image we have of Fidel Castro and not just how his lifestyle contradicts his words, but of Castro's psychology and motivations," Gyldén told the Guardian.
This is not the first time it has been claimed that Castro enjoys great wealth. In 2006 Forbes magazine listed the Cuban leader in its top 10 richest "Kings, Queens and Dictators", citing unnamed officials who claimed Castro had amassed a fortune by skimming profits from a network of state-owned companies. The Cuban leader vehemently denied the report.
Castro's long reign ended in 2006 when he was stricken with what was believed to be diverticulitis, an intestinal ailment, and handed power to his younger brother Raúl, who had served as defence minister. He officially ceded power to Raúl in 2008.
Fidel continued penning columns for the Communist party newspaper Granma but gradually vanished from public view, fuelling rumours he had died, only to surface for occasional, fleeting appearances. Raul has made cautious economic reforms but kept tight control.
Visitors such as Ignacio Ramonet, the French journalist who has interviewed Castro at length, have depicted an austere lifestyle of reading, exercise, simple meals and modest home comforts.
But Sánchez, now 65 and living in America, claims Castro enjoyed a private island – Cayo Piedra, south of the Bay of Pigs, scene of the failed CIA-sponsored invasion of 1961 – describing it as a "garden of Eden" where he entertained selected guests including the writer Gabríel Garcia Márquez, and enjoyed spear-fishing.
The former bodyguard says Castro sailed to the island on his luxury yacht, the Aquarama II, fitted out with rare Angolan wood and powered by four motors sent by the Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev. Continue reading The Guardian
 

This is the kind of 'dialogue' that Venezuelans can expect from the Maduro regime

 

Citizens protesting against the regime on March 28 in Havana's famous Galiano Street

 

Freedom for Venezuela

 

Who said that brainwashing doesn't work?

Dec. 7 - Elian González after 14 years of brainwashing: "Fidel Castro for me is like a father. I don't profess to have any religion but if I did my god would be Fidel Castro. He is like a ship that knew to take his crew on the right path"

 

Videos: The Ladies in White protest in Havana and stopped from marching in Holguín

Dec. 3 - Video of a protest by the Ladies in White on Sunday December 1 at Parque Gandhi in Havana and an attempt to march in Holguin, but were stopped by Castro's police

 

 

Cuban lady is brutally attacked by Castro's police for expressing her opinions

Nov. 4 - Anonymous Venezuela has a warning: This is the future of Venezuela unless they get rid of Maduro and the other puppets under the control of the Castro brothers.

 

Yoani Sáncez's presentation at Google Ideas Summit

October 26 - Yoani Sánchez explains how Internet without Internet is used by Cubans inside the island.

Learn how you can help promote Internet without Internet in Cuba:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Learn about a new technology that allows Cubans in Cuba have access to websites banned by the Castro regime and how you can help:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Video of another act of repudiation against members of UNPACU

Oct. 9 - This took place in Cardenas on Sunday October 6, 2013

Click here to see the video

 

Yoani: Cuban authorities are worried about web paqs circulating inside Cuba

Sept. 13 - Tweet from Yoani Sánchez:

"Authorities worried because of "packages" or "combos" with a collection of audiovisuals in the black market"

As I have said before, projects like Web Paqs for Cuba are the best way to bypass the blockade at the Internet, put in place by the Castro dictatorship to prevent Cubans in the island from knowing what's happening inside Cuba and in the rest of the world.

You can learn more about Web Paqs for Cuba and how you can get involved in this project at La Singularidad Cuba (Español) The Real Cuba (English) Twitter and FaceBook

 

Video taken at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, Luyanó, Havana, Cuba

July 8 - Video taken in April of this year at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, one of the hospitals for Cubans who do not have hard currency to pay the Castro brothers.

Very different from the hospital where they took Micahel Moore and the hospitals that are used by foreigners who pay with dollars.

Click here to see the video

 

Clandestine video shows Bahamian guards brutally abusing Cuban rafters

June 15 - June 15 - This clandestine video taking inside a Bahamian jail, shows a guard kicking and insulting Cuban rafters who were trying to reach the United States and ended up in the Bahamas.
There should be a tourism boycott of the Bahamas, unless the Bahamian government orders the arrest and prosecution of this brutal thug and stops abusing Cuban rafters who are risking their lives in search for freedom.
Click here to see the video

 

Tweet from Yoani Sánchez about the Web Paqs for Cuba project

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Learn more about Paquetes Web Para Cuba

Visit our page about Paquetes Web Para Cuba

You can also visit us on Facebook to find all information about the Internet Web Paqs for Cuba, a project to help the Cuban people have access to the websites that are blocked by the Cuban regime.

Make sure to click on 'Like" as a sign of support Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Spanish daily ABC has an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare

Foto de la versión impresa del reportaje en ABC

March 17 - On Thursday of last week, Carmen Muñoz a columnist for Spanish daily ABC, called me to ask for permission to use the photos at therealcuba.com for an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare.

I was able to send her many of the photos on high resolution to use on the print edition of the newspaper.

The article was published on Sunday on ABC and is also on their web page at ABC.es  (Spanish)

 

Twit by Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo about Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Our new page: Fidel Castro, the World's oldest terrorist

 

My interview with Baseball PhD

March 29 - I was interviewed by Ed Kasputis, of Baseball PhD, about baseball in Cuba before Castro and about the two Cubas, the one for foreigners and the one for regular Cubans.
Ed did a previous program with Mr. Sports Travel of San Diego, CA, about the five top international baseball destinations and was surprised to find out that the #1 destination was Cuba.
He received some nice pictures of Cuba and was ready to book a trip when he saw therealcuba.com and changed his mind.
He interviewed me as part of a program about the new Marlins Stadium and I was able to talk about baseball in Cuba before Castro and then we had a long chat about what is the reality of life in Cuba under Castro.
The program lasts 53 minutes, if you are not a baseball fan and just want to hear my interview about Cuba use your mouse to move the dial to minute 25:35  Click here to listen

 

Listen to Fidel Castro

For those who think that the Cuban people chose the system imposed by the Castro brothers, here are some of the things that Fidel Castro said and promised when he gained power Click Here

 

Satellite photos of Cuba's prisons, missile installations, military bases and more

 

A look at Havana before the Castro brothers destroyed it Cuba B.C

 

Visit our updated page: The Useful Idiots

 

We have new photos of Havana taken in October of last year

Oct. 9 - A friend sent me around two dozen photos of Havana that he took at the beginning of this month.

Some of them are very sad, because they show how Havana has been completely destroyed by this gang of human termites.

Some others are hard to believe, including this one of goats having "lunch" off the dumpsters on a Havana street.

Click here  to see them

 

Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro Cuba

Dec. 17 - Cuba Facts is an ongoing series of succinct fact sheets on various topics, including, but not limited to, political structure, health, economy, education, nutrition, labor, business, foreign investment, and demographics, published and updated on a regular basis by the Cuba Transition Project staff at the University of Miami.

Click here to learn the truth about Cuba's Health, Education, Personal Consumption and much more in pre-Castro Cuba.

 

More photos showing how the Castro brothers have destroyed one of the world's most beautiful cities

Click here

 

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