Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Getting Online in Cuba Remains a Risky Endeavor for Most

A stylishly-dressed man in his late 20s hawked pirated DVDs and computer games from the doorway of his apartment in the alleyways of Old Havana.

He is licensed and fully sanctioned by the Cuban government to do so, he told me, adding that if I wanted a TV show or movie that he didn’t have, he could almost definitely find it for me.

Illegally copied media is not an officially recognized issue in this country.

Internet access is another story.

When I asked the DVD seller about his Internet-related behavior and practices, he quickly hushed me up and insisted we move to the other side of the road to speak.

“Internet? Things here are bad,” he said quietly. “They’re really bad.” When I inquired about his use of the Web, he shut up completely and walked back to his booth.

This is a typical story in Cuba, where only a tiny fraction of Cubans have legally-sanctioned Internet access and many more use a variety of clandestine methods to log on and connect with the rest of the world.

As of 2010, Internet penetration in Latin America and the Caribbean stands at 34.5 percent, based on data from Nielsen and the International Telecommunication Union.

But a recent survey done by Cuba’s National Statistics Office says that only 2.9 percent of Cubans have direct access to the Internet–a number that includes state and academic officials.

Even for them, it’s mostly at work where they can use the connection, because it can be monitored. The Big Brother treatment extends to the home as well, one university professor with a connection in his house told me.

The key word in that statistic, though, is “direct.”

In my conversations with average Cubans, even outside of urban centers like Havana, people showed an impressive knowledge of popular Web sites, online services and modern hardware.

More than once, as I used it to snap photos on the street, my camera was correctly identified by cries of “iPhone, iPhone!” by excited children.

So without direct access, how is this information coming through? Certainly, many Cubans are in regular contact with their family members in other countries, and some interact with tourists on a regular basis.

But others are finding different ways of getting online in their own country.

One teenager told me about her friend of a similar age, who set up his own pirated connection at great financial cost and legal risk.

“It is a big risk, but for him it is worth it,” she said. Sometimes she uses his connection as well, but made me promise not to say a word of that to her mother.

Individuals with sanctioned and illegal connections alike share them with other Cubans, a sort of Internet black market. As it was explained to me, people will offer up their bedrooms or workspaces, wherever a computer may be set up, as illegal cyber-cafes of sorts–one of many ways to supplement their universally meager income.

Another journalist who recently visited related her experience in one of these situations.

“I would go to a home to check my email, and I did it seated on a queen bed, beside another customer who was also surfing,” she said in an email.

Once connected, some of the more daring users will access sites like Revolico.com, a sort of Cuban black market craigslist, where people can post classifieds to sell anything from computer parts to cars or apartments.

Private buying and selling of the latter two have been very tightly restricted by the government, but new laws mentioned at the country’s Communist Party congress in April may change that.

Knowing all of this, I felt a bit guilty when I was easily able to check my email from the hotel’s computer. The price for 60 minutes of access is about $6.00, a sizable chunk of the average Cuban monthly salary of $20.

Considering the intolerably slow connection speed (by American standards), it comes out to the value of most of a week’s work for the typical state employee for me to find out that AT&T is buying T-Mobile, shoot off some one-sentence responses to friends and delete a few daily Groupon offers.

There was some hope for improvement in the country’s connectedness when a fiber optic cable from Venezuela arrived in Cuba in February, after four years, with nationwide installation estimated to be complete by July.

But state officials have made it clear that, while this cable will dramatically increase connection speeds and lower costs to go online, it will only benefit those who are already on the Internet, which includes foreign businesses, high-ranking government workers, some students and foreign visitors like me.

To make matters worse, Raul Castro’s government has a history of characterizing the Internet as a means for nefarious capitalists to corrupt Cuba’s socialist ideals, with an obvious focus on the United States.

Most scholars on this side of the Florida Strait agree that the new cable won’t do very much to let Cubans see the rest of the world in any truer light than what state-run media casts.

But those Cubans I spoke to who even knew about the project were optimistic. After all, what choice do they have?

I couldn’t help but be optimistic for them myself, even as I stood in the immigration line at Miami International Airport 100 miles away, lamenting the spotty 3G coverage inside the terminal building.

Erik Silk

Source: All Things D

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  • Sunday, May 29, 2011

    New golf courses in Cuba? Not yet

    The only golf course in Havana.

    Golf in Cuba has been talked about for many years but building golf courses in Cuba requires a delicate mix of Capitalism and Communism.

    The Capitalists aren’t going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in development and the Communists don’t want to give up government owned land and allow for “inequalities” in the Communist system. Currently there is a government owned golf course in Havana for foreigners and the Varadero Golf Club.

    Until recently, foreign owned golf course development in Cuba was all talk and no action but that could be changing. Maybe…

    The Cuban government has recently announced the easing real estate ownership laws for foreign investors by allowing 99 year leases of land, villas and other property. This allows buyers to get bank financing so now developers have the incentive to build the golf courses so they can sell the villas, condos, timeshares etc that will compliment them. However, the Cuban property laws have not yet been published so developers are preparing for golf course development but until the laws are published, no one knows the details of ownership. Also, no development group has received final approval from the Cuban government. ALL are in some phase of “negotiation”. So, is this time any different? Here is the summary golf course development projects currently “in development” in Cuba, from oldest to newest.

    Leisure Canada

    From Business Week company description: “Leisure Canada Inc. engages in the development of hotel and resort properties in Cuba. It also develops golf courses. The company was founded in 1986 and is based in Vancouver, Canada”.

    From this 1999 Leisure Canada press release: “The Le Meridien Village Jibacoa will form the cornerstone of Leisure’s 5.5 sq. km property in Jibacoa, Cuba, with an anticipated start of construction in September 1999. To add to this, the Company plans additional 1600 vacation ownership golf villas and condominiums, strategically located around two golf courses and marinas.”

    In the 25 year history of Leisure Canada, the company has NEVER broke ground on ANY project in Cuba and its entire business model is real estate and golf course development in Cuba. Now the company is trying to raise “working capital”. Note that their stock has been flat or down since the Cuban government started announcing favorable news to golf course developers. One would think that this publicly traded, Cuba focused development company’s stock would jump on such news but savvy investors with an eye towards Cuba know that what is said and what is done in Cuba are two VERY different things. However, one would expect this stock to pop when the Cuban government actually announces that a golf course development project has actually broken ground in Cuba.

    Carbonera Club

    From a June 2008 article: “A British company in which Sir Terence Conran is involved has set up a strategic partnership with the ministry to develop the first of several golf resorts on the Caribbean island. The Carbonera Country Club Resort, which is due to open in 2011, will be developed by Esencia Hotels & Resorts. Carbonera is one of five golf projects in Cuba given the go-ahead by the authorities, three of them by Spanish developers and one by a Canadian company.

    The Carbonera Club press release from the same time “Construction of the Carbonera Golf & Country Club will commence in 2009.”

    Nope. Never happened. So, are things different now with Standing Feather’s Loma Linda Golf Estates (see below) announcement? The Cuban government has made positive statements about golf course development and real estate for sale in Cuba but until the Cuban government itself makes an announcement that ANY golf course project has begun, don’t believe the hype.

    La Altura

    A British-Spanish group hired Foster + Partners to design a gigantic golf course community near Bahia Honda west of Havana featuring three golf courses and a 200-slip marina. Estimated cost to be $1 billion with plans to spread out over more than 1000 hectares featuring more than 2000 apartments and timeshare units.

    According to CubaNews.com, the units will be in clusters of 964 units near the golf courses, 450 near the marina, another 308 adjacent to a lake and another 300 next to a planned golf academy. In addition, 293 single-family homes are planned on parcels of 1,500 to 2,000 square meters each.

    Also planned are two five-star hotels—a 300-room oceanfront tower and a 120-room property near the golf courses. In addition, the resort will have its own airstrip, which currently measures 800 meters. That runway will be extended to between 1,800 and 2,000 meters, large enough to accommodate Boeing 737 or Airbus 320 jets capable of carrying 150-200 passengers each.

    Bello Monte

    The Bellomonte project on Guanabo beach, just east of Havana, calls for about 800 units ringing one golf course, plus a small marina.


    According to CubaStandard.com, La Playa Golf & Resorts S.L. is planning to build a resort centered around seven golf courses. This is proposed to be a giant 4,000-hectare project including apartments, villas, townhouses, three boutique hotels, a golf academy, marina, sport fishing club, and a horseback riding center.

    Loma Linda Golf Estates

    The most recent announcement by Standing Feather from Ontario Canada states that this company is ready to break ground after almost a decade of negotiations. The 99 year lease plan was important to Standing Feather since the company not only wants to build a golf course but wants to sell villas and and condos. All golf course developers will want to sell villas and condos, that’s where the money is… not from fees for rounds of golf.

    While the New York Times reported that Standing Feather had received “preliminary approval” with the Cuban government, the Globe and Mail reports that the company is “hoping to finalize a deal this August to create a joint venture”.

    The Times article goes on to say that the company “signed a memorandum of agreement with the Cuban government in late April and will be the first to break ground, in September”.

    From the Standing Feather website, the company is in the “final stage of negotiation with our Cuban partners, and the imminent formation of the Cuba-Kanata Golf SA joint venture”.


    Until the Cuban government itself makes an announcement that construction of ANY golf course has begun, we’ll all have to be patient because everything else is either posturing or simply hype. Why? Because first, this is Cuba we are talking about so nothing can be independently verified because there is no free press in Cuba and second, we have seen this type of announcement before… many times.

    Rob Sequin 

    Havana Journal

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  • Friday, May 27, 2011

    Without One Vote Against

    When Castro says that Cuba is the most democratic country in the world, I am uncertain if he is being serious or it is black humor. I can understand that a lifelong guerrilla, fiercely opposed to the capitalist model, does not appreciate at all the system of representative democracy in the Western world.

    But from there to setting up a series of institutions, silent and obedient to the government, where the three branches of State are controlled by one person and to tell us that this is the only true democracy, confirms to me that all autocrats have that pathological mania to appear as democrats.

    A dictator should state clearly that he is going to rule until his death, because he considers himself a superior being. Or because he does what the hell he wants.

    Any resemblance is not purely coincidental

    I’m sick of the lies. Perhaps true democracy does not exist. In countries where universally accepted laws operate and human rights are respected, failures occur in bulk, but people shout what they want against their government and no one will look at you with a mean face.

    Also, there are independent courts and parliament is like a madhouse, where everyone disagrees with the package of measures released by the president. That’s what I mean by a democracy.

    In Cuba, when the Castros talk nobody can go against them. Publicly, no one has ever been seen raising their hand to tell the comandante that he is pondering a load of nonsense.

    On the island, everyone is wrong. The infallible are the Castros. If things in Cuba are crooked it’s not by their misrule. No, the ‘guilty’ are the negligent workers and certain talentless ministers.

    General Raul Castro wants there to be disagreement. But when they end their speeches and the president of the dull and monotonous Cuban parliament asks the members whether they agree with the words of the leader, everyone, absolutely everyone, raises their hand.

    I will believe in the Socialist democracy, as advocated by the regime in Havana, when you see a negative vote.

    By Iván García

    From: Translating Cuba

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  • Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Take Five

    The so called "Five".

    Do you know about the Cuban Five? They are not a mambo band (although maybe a quintet should pick up the name). They are a group of Cuban spies, imprisoned in the United States. And they are a big, big cause on the left. I mention them in my “Oslo Journal” today – because some leafleters were leafleting for them. The Cuban Five are much leafleted.

    They were convicted of espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. And, needless to say, they were afforded all of the rights, privileges, and advantages of our system: including multiple appeals. One of the five was convicted for his role in the Castro government’s shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996. Those planes were in international airspace. The attack killed three U.S. citizens and one permanent resident.

    But whatever, you know? No need to get all right-wing about it.

    Recently, Jimmy Carter called for the release of the Cuban Five. He was on Cuban soil. That’s our 39th president. Luckily, he did not call for the five to join the Gaza flotilla.

    Anyway, I received a letter from a reader, which I now share:
    "I live in Basel, Switzerland . . . I was walking around on May 1st at the Basel jazzfest and saw a booth that was advocating the release of these “Cuban Five.” I thought it was strange that a group was trying to get only five political prisoners out of the Castros’ jails. When I went up to the booth to ask why so few, they quickly informed me that they were protesting the “illegal” holding of five Cuban nationals by the U.S. government.

    Because I was somewhat fearful for my safety, I did not ask them about the Cuban political prisoners being held by the Cuban dictatorship. I’m disappointed in myself for not speaking up, but I have learned that the Left, especially in Europe, does not take kindly to dissent.
    It really amazes me how some people’s hatred of the U.S. can twist their logic. . . ."
    Yeah, kind of amazing. Allow me to quote from my journal today: “Wouldn’t it be nice if ‘progressives,’ for once in their lives, leafleted about Cuban prisoners of conscience — the political prisoners of the Castro brothers and their dictatorship? First, pigs will fly, to the moon.”

    No, I was not channeling Ralph Kramden, consciously.

    by Jay Nordlinger 

    Source: National Review Online

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  • Monday, May 23, 2011

    Communism 3.0

    Would also Castro put these "tours" on sale?

    Cuban officials 'studying' how not to act like communists. Oh well, it's progress

    Cuba has announced it is "studying" ways that Cuban residents can be allowed to travel outside the country as tourists.

    Wow. That's a tall order. Let's hope they put the best minds in the Cuban government on this one.
    We can imagine what that study committee's discussions might be like.

    Chairman: "OK, folks, we've got to figure out ways Cubans can be allowed to travel outside the country for tourism and actually have them come back. And we don't have a lot of time to come up with an answer -- maybe only years, knowing the majestic efficiency of our great revolutionary government comrades!" 

    Member: "Well, rather than reinvent the wheel, maybe we should look at other countries. Is there any other country that actually allows its people to leave whenever they want, for any reason?" 

    Silent pause. 

    "Nahhhhh," the group says in unison. 

    Don't get us wrong. We appreciate that Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and now president, is loosening things up in Cuba. But the thing that best shines a light on how insane communism is, and how stupid communists are, is how they look when they start trying to weasel their way out of the disaster they, themselves, have created.

    So, how do you let Cubans go abroad as tourists?

    Well, if you're not worried about whether they return -- and you shouldn't be worried about it, unless you're running a prison rather than a country -- then you just do it !

    Source: Augusta Chronicle

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  • Saturday, May 21, 2011

    Has Cuba Lost its Last Chance?

    Raúl Castro’s consolidation of his position as successor to his brother Fidel confirms that his Cuba will give the military domestic hegemony, which makes any serious political or economic opening in the near future seemingly impossible. The Cuban Communist Party’s recent Sixth Congress reflected this, offering little new and rehashing a lot of the old.

    Since ill health forced Fidel Castro to retire from Cuba’s leadership, Raúl has opened the doors to the military and pushed out even those civilians who had been his brother’s trusted associates. While Fidel wrote doctrinaire articles in the official press, the armed forces took over politics and production. Fidel’s appearance at the Party’s congress – an event full of political significance, because he has only rarely participated in public events since becoming sick in 2006 – seemed to confirm his support for this outcome.

    We now know that the congress had been put off for 14 years, owing to deep divisions among Cuban leaders. The civilian group that was ousted wanted to adapt the “Chinese model” of gradual economic reforms initiated by the Party. Raúl and his military cronies, however, cornered Fidel and imposed their group’s criteria.

    In Asian communism – as practiced in China and Vietnam, in particular – the Party leadership rotates periodically, and a civilian leadership controls the military. Systemic nepotism in the top political and military leadership exists only in North Korea.

    By contrast, Cuba’s new Raúlist political structure takes its inspiration from the purest tradition of Latin American military caudillismo, using communist ideology pragmatically. The model is clearly revealed in the nature of Raúl’s proposed reforms. The economy’s most dynamic industries – namely, mining and tourism – are reserved for the military, which manages them in a business-like, profit-seeking way.

    Only in these privileged sectors can some reforms be seen. The “new class” that populates them does not demonize foreign capital. Indeed, there are talks centered on debt, with some creditors interested in the mechanics of capitalization.

    For the rest of the economy, the Party’s position recalls the famous line from Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard): something must change so that everything else can remain the same. The sale of buildings and vehicles will be legalized and self-employment authorized, mainly in the service sector. But, lacking capital and forced to pay taxes, what fate awaits industries driven by the state into the market?

    Nearly 1.5 million Cubans will never have a stake in the industries controlled by the military bourgeoisie. Nor was the issue of land ownership resolved: only a few plots will be leased in some form.

    As a result, Cuba will continue to import a lot of food, most of it at a price that the population cannot afford. Moreover, ordinary Cubans fear that their ration cards – their only means of getting food – will be canceled. Indeed, according to Raúl, the state-controlled food-rationing system is a “factor of immobility,” but no one knows what might replace it.

    The Sixth Congress ignored questions of human rights. Neither freedom of the press nor access to information was on the agenda, and the opposition will continue to be ignored, its only options being conditional freedom or exile. Migration, an option financed by remittances from relatives in the United States, was not made any more flexible, either.

    When the Soviet Union collapsed, many believed that the Cuban regime would take the road to reform, however grudgingly. But the democratic transitions in Eastern Europe made Fidel Castro wary, so the first opportunity for a similar transition in Cuba was lost. Now an opportunity to introduce young blood and new ideas has similarly been missed: although the Sixth Congress adopted a ten-year limit for holding office, the two people designated to succeed Raúl Castro are both octogenarians.

    In the 1980’s, Deng Xiaoping warned that China would collapse if it didn’t change; Raúl has said the same thing. But Deng chose real reform and real change, appealing to overseas Chinese, whom the Party had demonized for many years, to bet on the country’s future and invest. The diaspora listened – the beginning and the secret of the reforms that put China on the path to its current economic success.

    Cuba cannot remain isolated, dependent on Venezuelan petrodollars and penalized by America’s ill-conceived trade embargo. Any realistic agenda for change in Cuba inexorably requires opening up to the world, along with ensuring full freedom within the country. Unfortunately, the Sixth Congress demonstrated that the Cuban Communist Party remains in denial about the country’s prospects and options.

    Carlos Perez Llana

    Source: The Guatemala Times

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  • Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Eurolat lawmakers call for freedom in Cuba and fair elections in Venezuela

    The resolutions were agreed during the two-day meeting in Montevideo of the Fifth Ordinary Plenary Session of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly, Eurolat.

    Regarding the Castro brothers regime lawmakers expressed solidarity with the “Cuban democrats that struggle inside and outside the island for freedom and full compliance with human rights in the Republic of Cuba”.

    They also underlined support for the “legitimate aspiration of the people of Cuba for the immediate launching of a political and democratic transition process that fully respects the people’s sovereignty”.

    Lawmakers expressed support for “the demands of freedom of the press, freedom of action for political parties in a pluralist framework, free democratic elections and equally fair conditions for parties and candidates” and similarly, solidarity with demands for the liberation of political prisoners in Cuba.

    Regarding Venezuela Eurolat lawmakers expressed their satisfaction with the successful political measures taken by the opposition parties that are part of the Democratic Unified Panel to present a plural and democratic alternative for Venezuela's future.

    They also urged the Venezuelan government to observe the basic conditions to ensure a fair election within the framework of full respect for human rights, freedom of expression and pluralism. Further, they urged authorities to “allow the presence of international observers”.

    Eurolat lawmakers also requested the Venezuelan government to refrain from using state institutions to the service of a political party, from using public propaganda and from obstructing the actions of opposition political parties, so as to ensure respect for democratic coexistence. The plenary sessions had the attendance of lawmakers from Uruguay, Spain, France, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Slovakia, Italy, Paraguay, Luxemburg and Guatemala among others.

    Source: MercoPress

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  • Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    Communist jalopy creeps to capitalism

    The "good" old times are over long time ago.

    The communist utopia that Fidel Castro hoped to bring to Cuba with the revolution he led more than 50 years ago has, from all indications, collapsed into a stifling stasis for everyday Cubans.

    Most live in the same abode from birth to death, and struggle to maintain either rickety cars imported from the Soviet Union more than two decades ago, or 1950s-era jalopies that, on these shores, would be wheeled out at classic car shows. Few new products or ideas enter Cuba, thanks in part to America's long-running economic embargo, and few Cubans ever see the world beyond their island thanks to Byzantine travel restrictions.

    Anyone who is waiting on the edge of their seat for the regime to fall should probably lean back and get comfortable - a popular uprising like those that brought down totalitarian governments from East Germany to Egypt doesn't appear to be in the offing. But there are some indications that Cuba's rulers are opening the door, a tiny bit, to some economic reforms.

    A Communist Party gathering in April approved new guidelines that would allow Cubans to buy and sell houses and cars on a limited basis, let private farmers use state land and, possibly, let cooperatives bypass the maze of state bureaucracy and send their products straight to consumers.

    While it's barely American-style, go-go capitalism, it's at least a start. Like a stubborn music buff who refuses to part with his eight-track tapes, Cuba is one of the few remaining communist regimes in the world, and the day when it also crumbles seems an inevitability. One can't help believing that we could help hasten its demise by lifting the economic embargo that has been in effect since the Kennedy administration.

    Exposure to other cultures and ways of life has proven to be the undoing of other iron-fisted regimes before, and that's why your garden-variety dictator is reluctant to see satellite dishes sprout up on the sides of those drab apartment buildings that seem to be the hallmark of totalitarian societies. As the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once pointed out, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

    Source: Observer Reporter

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  • Sunday, May 15, 2011

    Viva La Internet Revolución in Cuba


    After seeing how mobile and social networking technologies led to popular revolutions in places like Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, is it possible that we’ll soon see a similar type of revolution in our own backyard? On May 9, Raul Castro and the Cuban Communist Party released over 300 new measures designed to loosen control over the state. For the first time in more than 50 years, Cubans will be allowed to buy and sell houses and new automobiles, as well as travel abroad as tourists more freely. More importantly, Cuban dissidents are increasingly turning to the Internet to share their thoughts about everyday life in Cuba.

    For now, the ability of everyday Cubans to leverage the Internet as part of a grassroots revolution is marginal at best. With only 10% of its citizens having access to the Internet, Cuba is the country with the lowest Internet usage in the northern hemisphere. Connections are slow, and at a rate of $2/hour, the Internet is incredibly expensive in a country where the average income is $20/month. Moreover, the sale of computer equipment is strictly regulated, Internet access is widely filtered, and e-mail is closely monitored. The Cuban authorities carefully control the news that reaches its citizens and ruthlessly cracks down on "counter-revolutionary" journalists. Sounds a lot like Tunisia or Egypt, right?

    Despite these obstacles, a brave band of Cuban bloggers led by Yoani Sánchez have already made progress. Sanchez, named by TIME Magazine as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2008, has created an Internet-powered dissident movement that continues to attract new adherents. Last summer, the New York Review of Books brilliantly outlined how these brave voices are trying to effect change on the island nation by cobbling together makeshift Internet connections and relying on supporters outside of Cuba. (In some cases, the extent of censorship is so great that these bloggers have never actually even seen the blogs they have created!)

    The loosening of rules on buying and selling goods in Cuba is a nice first step. Certainly, similar types of thaws under the Soviet regime eventually created the pre-conditions for Gorbachev’s perestroika and the end of Soviet-style Communism. However, real change needs to leverage the power of mobile technology and social networking connectivity –- and that requires bandwidth.

    There's good news on this front as well. The current issue of Monocle points out that Cuba’s Internet capacity is set to increase by 3,000% thus summer (no, that’s not a typo!), as the result of a new 1,600 kilometer-long fiber-optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela. That’s a lot more bandwidth capacity to carry photos, voice and images of life in Cuba. By the time the cable is finished, it will stretch from Cuba to Venezuela to Jamaica.

    What remains to be seen is whether the increase in connectivity will represent greater freedom of expression and change the dynamic of the public debate over Cuba. Over a nice round of Cuba Libres and music by the Buena Vista Social Club, U.S. policymakers should consider whether the current U.S. embargo – in effect for almost a half-century – is actually doing anything to bring about democratic freedom to this island nation. Many Cuban bloggers actually make the point that the embargo hurts – not helps – their cause. At the end of the day, making the Internet and mobile technology more widely available to the average citizen in Cuba could be far more effective than a nationwide embargo in preparing people for revolutionary change.

    Dominic Basulto

    Source: Big Think

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  • Friday, May 13, 2011

    Rapper Who Hails Stalinist Mass-Murderer Invited to White House

    Jay-Z, another "revolutionary" rapper.

    For inviting the rapper-“poet” named “Common,” to the White House, our First Lady is currently taking some heat. Common’s lyric, it appears, are a trifle “racy,” plus in his “poetry”, he hails Black-Panther/Cop-killer Joan “Assata Shakur” Chesimard.

    But for inviting a rapper who identified with a Stalinist mass-murderer who denounced President Obama’s co-citizens as, “hyenas fit only for extermination!” and who openly craved to incinerate millions of them with a surprise nuclear attack….well, not much.

    Such is the news cycle.

    Above I refer to rapper Jay-Z, honored (on March 4th 2010) in the very White House his T-shirt idol craved to incinerate (in Oct. 1962) and the rapper’s idol, Communist mass-murderer Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

    “I’m like Che Guevara with a bling on!” (Jay-Z in his Black Album)

    “The U.S. is the great enemy of mankind!” raved Jay-Z’s T-shirt idol in his Message to the Tri-Continental Conference in 1966. “Against those hyenas there is no option but extermination! If the nuclear missiles had remained (in Cuba) we would have fired them against the heart of the U.S. including New York City. The solutions to the world’s problems lie behind the iron Curtain. The victory of socialism is well worth millions of atomic victims! We must keep our hatred against them (the U.S.) alive and fan it to paroxysms!”

    More interestingly still, the cop-killer hailed by current White House invitee “Common” in his compositions (along with dozens of other fugitives from U.S. law) has been sheltered for decades by the very regime Che Guevara co-founded.

    So we wonder: being as President Obama (apparently) violated Pakistan’s sovereignty in going after Osama Bin Laden, will President Obama now go after Assata Shakur in the same manner? Shakur, after all, was actually convicted of murder in U.S. courts. Seems he’d have a better case, in the view of international opinion, against her.

    Imagine the MSM uproar if Pres. George Bush had invited, say, a David Duke T-shirt wearer to the White House! Well, from his very diaries, here’s Jay-Z’s idol, Ernesto “Che” Guevara:
    “The Negro is indolent and spends his money on frivolities and booze, whereas the European is forward-looking, organized and intelligent. The negro has maintained his racial purity by his well known habit of avoiding baths.”
    In fact, this is not Obama people’s first public brush with Che Guevara. In Feb. 2008 Houston’s Fox TV station interviewed some Obama campaign volunteers (a precinct captain and head of the “Houston Obama Leadership Team”) who had festooned their offices with Che Guevara banners and Cuban flags. The MSM kept mum, but the conservative blogosphere spread the story. Intrepid blogger Henry Gomez (Babalu Blog), then uncovered 15 different pages of Che Guevara well-wishers on the official Obama campaign site.

    More interestingly, those Che Guevara posters had not been hung by a young volunteer who dug the cool looking dude’s awesome guitar licks for the Foo Fighters, or by an older one who thought she remembered the groovy guy with the beret “hangin” with Wavy Gravy at Woodstock. No, the campaign volunteer who hung the Che poster is named Maria Isabel and according to the Lone Star Times, she had hung similar banners from her balcony at home.

    Joan “Assata Shakur” Chesimard
    Most interestingly, she is a middle-aged woman who was born in Cuba and lived there as a child during the very period when Che Guevara was Cuba’s chief executioner and second in command. At the time Cuba had the highest political incarceration and execution rate on earth, far surpassing that of their Soviet mentors and suitors.

    As a public service for Jay-Z handlers and Obama White House staff and operatives, I provide the following: Ernesto “Che” Guevara was second in command, chief executioner, and chief KGB liaison for a regime that outlawed elections and private property. This regime’s KGB-supervised police—employing the midnight knock and the dawn raid among other devices—rounded up and jailed more political prisoners as a percentage of population than Stalin’s and murdered more people (out of a population of 6.4 million) in its first three years in power than Hitler’s murdered (out of a population of 70 million) in its first six.

    Che Guevara’s regime also shattered—through executions, jailings, mass larceny and exile—virtually every family on the island of Cuba. Many opponents of the Cuban regime qualify as the longest-suffering political prisoners in modern history, having suffered prison camps, forced labor and torture chambers for a period three times as long in Che Guevara’s Gulag as Alexander Solzhenitsyn suffered in Stalin’s Gulag. But please, please, please don’t bother looking for any History Channel, NPR, or 20/20 interviews with these heroes. They were victims’ of the Left’s premier poster boys, you see.

    The regime Che Guevara co-founded stole the savings and property of 6.4 million citizens, made refugees of 20 per cent of the population from a nation formerly deluged with immigrants and whose citizens had achieved a higher standard of living than those residing in half of Europe.

    Under Che Guevara’s rule “change” indeed came to Cuba.

    But don’t misinterpret Che Guevara’s bluster with actual bravery. His stock in trade was the mass-murder of defenseless men and boys—bound and gagged is how he demanded his victims. On Oct. 8, 1967, upon finally encountering armed and determined enemies, Che quickly dropped his fully-loaded weapons and whimpered: “Don’t shoot! I’m Che! I’m worth more to you alive than dead!”

    Humberto Fontova

    From: CFP

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  • Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    Cuba: “Police Brutality” or “Natural Causes” in Dissident's Death?”

    Cuban bloggers continue their outcry over the death of dissident Juan Wilfredo Soto, especially in light of an official statement which suggests that Soto, popularly known by his nickname “The Student”, died “of natural causes”.

    On hearing the position of the Cuban government, Uncommon Sense quips:
    That could be true, of course, because in Cuba under Castro, the police beating a dissident is as natural as it comes.
    Then his tone becomes serious, saying:
    But the party line has been undermined by witnesses who have stepped forward to tell what they know about Soto's death. The party line is being undermined by the truth.
    For instance, there is Mario Lleonart Barroso who says he spoke to Soto after he was beaten and before he was readmitted to a hospital in severe pain.
    The blogger also speaks of “other witnesses ready to testify not to what they saw but ready to risk their own lives to ensure that justice prevails in Soto's death” as well as “numerous dissidents ready to go on hunger strike if by July 26, 2011, the dictatorship does not properly investigate what happened to Soto.” One dissident has reportedly already begun [es] his hunger strike.

    Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia.
    The two accounts of Soto's death could not be more contradictory, with local dissidents insisting that he had been beaten by police and officials maintaining that his “acute pancreatitis…led to multiple organ failure” and calling the allegations of police brutality a “'smear campaign' aimed at weakening the Cuban revolution.”
    Babalu does not accept the official line, saying:
    Apparently, a vicious and brutal beating by State Security is considered a natural cause of death in Cuba.
    The blog also takes issue with this post, saying:
    Once again we have a ‘Cuba Expert' blaming the victim instead of the assailant. Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia is dead not because Cuban security agents beat him to death, but because Soto Garcia ‘resisted their entreaties to leave the area.'
    Meanwhile, Pedazos de la Isla spares a thought for Soto's mother, who “must accept the harsh reality of no longer being able to see her son just because chose to defend human rights in a country where all that is just is considered illegal.” The blogger goes on to question the position of the Cuban government:
    The only thing that is clear is that they have responded with fear, quickly asserting that it was all a lie. Now we must wait and see if the international media will repeat the absurd fallacies created by the Castro government, as many did with Orlando Zapata.
    Octavo Cerco offers a more personal perspective on the situation:
    The last image I have of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia is at my side running around under the Santa Clara’s relentless sun. We tried to get permission from the Bishop so that Padre Dominico–who had come halfway around the world to get to Cuba–could go see Guillermo Fariñas in Intensive Care at the scheduled visiting hours.
    Now I look at the photo in Penultimos Dias of the Student and I don’t recognize him. It must be that I refuse to accept that they beat him to death. It must be that I can’t admit that this time of horror has come to this Island. And I ask myself–is it the obvious uncertainty of rationalism–how many Wilfredos have there already been and how many are still to come? While sitting in a park, an incomprehensible crime, the massive weight of half a century of police impunity falling on his body.
    Finally, the blogger goes on to say of the Cuban police, whom she calls “anonymous faces in blue”:
    For a long time people have feared them more than the thieves, scammers and criminals. “Call the police” has become the last card in the deck. Because justice does not come with them. Because they are not here to protect us, but to control us at any price.
    Written by Janine Mendes-Franco

    Video of one of the few testimonies of police violence in Cuba. To film or photograph the police in Cuba it's a crime punished by the "law".  The "press" and the "tribunals" work for the dictatorship. So there's no way the citizens could defend themselves against the state.  

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  • Monday, May 9, 2011

    Juan Wilfredo Soto, Cuban dissident, dies after detention

    Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia.

    He was allegedly beaten by police days earlier.

    A Cuban dissident, Juan Wilfredo Soto, died Sunday, days after allegedly being beaten by police and detained.

    Three days before he died, Soto, 46, was beaten by police while being arrested in a park and then detained, human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez told AFP.

    "There is not the slightest doubt that there was a cause and effect, and that Soto's death was related to the beating he was given," another dissident, Guillermo Farinas, said.

    Soto died in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara. An official at the Arnaldo Milian Hospital told CNN that Soto died of pancreatitis.

    About 80 people, including other prominent dissidents, attended his funeral Sunday, Reuters reports.

    Relatives and other dissidents at the funeral of Juan Wilfredo Soto.
    Anti-government activist Lizet Zamora told CNN she saw the beating of Soto on a cell phone.

    Soto had previously served 12 years behind bars as a political dissident.

    President Raul Castro said in April that dissidents are not welcome in Cuba.

    "If we do not do something, so that the government changes its stand toward peaceful protestors, we are going to be reporting even more deaths," Farinas told AFP.
    The Cuban government did not comment on the death.

    Source:  Global Post

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  • Sunday, May 8, 2011

    Corruption in Cuba - Greed or just survival?

    Corruption. Unfortunately it’s a way of life in Cuba due to the failure of Communism and a centrally controlled economy. 

    A visit to the Black Market is an every day event for most Cubans so they can “resolve” the challenges of living in Cuba. When you see the word “resolve” used in this way, it means to borrow (and never return) something, usually from the government.

    Three generations of Cubans have lived this way. Couple this with the “go along to get along” mentality in order to stay out of trouble in Cuba and there is little reason to wonder why there is corruption in Cuba.

    Everyone is careful not to “resolve” too many problems or too be too successful or too openly critical of the government or to be too corrupt but, cross the invisible, moving line and you are arrested. You are removed from your state job and even your family may suffer in one way or another by losing their job, a promotion or some other perk from the cradle-to-grave Cuban social security/free healthcare/free education system.

    I just read Cuba: Catching Kleptocrats by Nick Miroff from Global Post.

    He writes “As part of his economic reform push, Castro wants to give more independence to Cuba’s state companies and local governments, freeing them from the need to obtain Havana’s permission for every little decision and expenditure. But a series of corruption scandals among Cuban executives in recent months has been a reminder as to how the island’s state-run economy got so centralized in the first place. As soon as the government eases up its controls, company managers steeped in graft tend to get even greedier.”

    Manuel Garcia - Habanos

    Manuel García, Habanos’s commercial vice-president has been in jail since August 2010. He and ten of his staff also face corruption trials for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for selling Cuban cigars at a discount to black market distributors.

    Rogelio Acevedo - Cubana

    Nick goes on to write “Rogelio Acevedo, the country’s former top aviation official, was arrested last year for allegedly running a side business that chartered jets of the national airline, Cubana de Aviacion, for outrageous personal profit. There are also new reports this week that executives in the country’s lucrative nickel-processing industry are in custody and facing corruption charges.”

    Alejandro Roca - Food Ministry

    As reported in Granma (the “you read what we want you to read newspaper), Roca has been sentenced to fifteen years in prison after being found guilty of several crimes “continuously accepting bribes and acts harmful to economic activity”.

    Max Marambio - Chilean businessman

    Friend of Fidel Castro, Chilean businessman Max Marambio was sentenced to twenty years in prison for the crimes of accepting bribes, fraud, and falsification of bank or trade documents with regards to his Rio Zaza company. The crimes committed were particularly grave and required a vigorous legal response, in correspondence with the extensive damage to the national economy. This trial was connected to the Roca trial. Both men were convicted in absentia. There was no mention as to why Roca was not present.

    Pedro Alvarez - Alimport and Cuba Chamber of Commerce

    Pedro Alvarez, former President of the purchasing agency Alimport who then moved (or was moved) to the Cuban Chamber of Commerce is under investigation for alleged corruption. It has been reported that he was detained several times by the Technical Investigations Department in Havana.


    In April 2010, Esteban Morales, said some top Cuban officials are preparing to divide the spoils if Cuba’s political system disintegrates. He continued “In reality, corruption is much more dangerous than so-called internal dissent,” Morales wrote in the piece, which appeared on the Web site of the state National Artists and Writers Union of Cuba. “The latter is isolated ... but corruption is truly counterrevolutionary because it comes from within the government and the state apparatus, which are the ones that really control the country’s resources.”

    In November 2010 we heard from a source who believes that many of these charges may be “inflated” and targeted against people loyal to Fidel Castro. In other words, there is speculation that Raul Castro is removing anyone loyal to Fidel. As many know, Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque were removed from office for being seduced by the “honey of power”.

    So, today, maybe Raul is done cleaning house or maybe the new economic opening is seducing more government officials to be corrupt or maybe the Cuban government is looking harder for corrupt officials. The Global Post article is wrapped up this way “Cuba’s Comptroller General Office’s is currently engaged in an audit of 750 state companies, sending 3,000 investigators to look into “all sectors, all organizations and territories” and evaluate “discipline, legality and economic control,” Comptroller General Gladys Bejerano announced on state television last month. So more managers may fall in the coming weeks.”

    Life in Cuba is the definition for “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t”.

    Rob Sequin 

    Source: Havana Journal

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  • Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Chilean businessman, ex-minister get long-term sentences

    Max Marambio (l) and Castro in the "friendship" times.

    Ending a one-year trial, a provincial court in Havana sentenced a former food industry minister and a Chilean investor to long prison terms.

    A report in Granma said ex Food Industry Minister Alejandro Francisco Roca Iglesias must serve 15 years, after the court convicted him in March of “repeated bribery” and “acts to harm economic activity,” while Max Marambio, who was sentenced in absence, must serve 20 years on convictions of bribery, fraud and falsification.

    In both cases, the court followed the guidance of prosecutors.

    Marambio, via his Twitter account from Chile, denounced the sentencing as “pure political persecution” and challenged the Cuban government to ask a Chilean court for his extradition. “They never sent anything,” he wrote.

    He was represented by a court-appointed defender. The political insider-turned-businessman and long-time resident of Cuba has not returned to the island since fall 2009. He filed legal proceedings against Cuba before the court of arbitration of the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in October 2010.

    The Havana court’s ruling can be appealed before the Superior Court within 10 days.

    Neither did the Granma article provide any details of the allegations, nor has there been any other official information as to what the pair’s alleged crimes actually consisted of.

    “The charges of the prosecution were duly proven, and [the court] took into account that the crimes committed are of particular seriousness, requiring an energetic response for punishment that corresponds to the many damages to the national economy caused by the accused, to the detriment of the ethical behavior of various officials and subordinated workers,” Granma said, without explaining details.

    Marambio claims part of the accusations stem from his paying generous benefits to Cuban employees. According to Chilean press reports, Roca is accused of making considerable bank deposits abroad from illicit commissions. A son of Roca’s works for Marambio in Chile.

    The sentencing puts an end to a two-year investigation and trial that prompted broad media coverage in Chile. It comes on the heels of several cases of destitution and investigation against state company executives, most recently the imprisonment of a long-term executive at cigar company Habanos S.A. on corruption charges.

    Roca Iglesias.
    Roca Iglesias, 75, was minister of food industries from 1976 to March 2009. He lost his minister job the same time as Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque and Vice President Carlos Lage.

    Marambio, 63, made it into Cuba’s inner circles of power under Fidel Castro. The former student leader in Chile and body guard of President Salvador Allende fled to Cuba after the 1973 coup, where he became a member of Cuba’s special forces, and founding chief executive of the CIMEX holding — today Cuba’s largest business conglomerate. In the 1990s, he used his close relationship with the Cuban government to build a thriving business, the Havana-based Alimentos Río Zaza joint venture. Early last year, the government shut down Río Zaza, which produced and sold processed food products in Cuba to the tune of $100 million a year, and took back Marambio’s house in Havana.

    As of October, two Río Zaza executives were imprisoned in relation to the investigation, according to Marambio; the government hasn’t released any information about related cases.

    Source: Cuba Standard

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  • Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Voice of the Resistance

    Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet.

    Dr. Óscar Biscet, in Cuba’s prisons for twelve years, speaks.

    ‘I need to get to work,” says Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet. Are you familiar with him? He is perhaps the foremost Cuban democracy activist, a symbol of the general resistance to the Castro dictatorship. Has he been neglecting his work? Not exactly. For the past twelve years, essentially, he has been in prison, suffering the things that the regime’s prisoners have always suffered. George W. Bush gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. The recipient could not accept it in person, of course. But he has now been released from prison. The day, so long hoped for, by so many of us, was March 11. I spoke to him three weeks after.

    Biscet was born in 1961 and has a wife, Elsa Morejón Hernández, and two children, Winnie and Yan. The children have been in the United States for several years; Elsa, like her husband, is in Cuba. Biscet obtained his degree in internal medicine in 1985. A few years later, he embarked on human-rights activism. In 1994, he was charged with “dangerousness,” a very common charge. It means that the individual in question will not submit meekly to dictatorial rule. In 1997, Biscet established the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights (“Lawton” being the name of the Havana neighborhood in which he lived). The organization, of course, is banned. In 1998, he spoke out strongly against abortion, particularly late-term abortion: In his work as a doctor, he saw ghastly things. The authorities responded harshly to his protest.

    After being detained repeatedly — 26 times — Biscet was arrested in 1999 and thrown in prison for three years. He was released on Oct. 31, 2002, and had 36 days outside of prison. During this time, he worked on his “Democratic Principles for Cuba” and a civic project called “Club for Friends of Human Rights.” He was again arrested on Dec. 6, 2002, and underwent his ordeal until last March 11.

    I found it somewhat amazing to hear his voice, after reading about him and writing about him for many years. His voice was low, grave, and resolute. We spoke by phone, Biscet in Havana, his questioner in New York. Serving as translator between us was Aramis Perez, of the Directorio Democrático Cubano in Miami.

    Biscet has felt “a kind of ambivalence” in the last few weeks. Those are his words: “a kind of ambivalence.” “I’m happy to be able to return home to my wife, but I’m unhappy to see an entire people still without freedom.” In his view, Cuba as a whole is “the big prison” while El Combinado del Este, where he and so many other dissidents have been confined, is “the little prison.” “We who live under this dictatorship look to the sea and know that the sea is our prison bars.” Biscet also says, “This great, beautiful island of Cuba has been converted by the Castro brothers into their own personal estate.”

    Why, in his estimation, did the government choose to release him? “Because of the economic crisis, coupled with the social and moral crisis. The government offers false expectations of democratic change. They do this so that free countries will give them economic support. My release is part of the effort to create false expectations.” The government’s overriding goal is “to be financed. They want more money, even as they impoverish the Cuban people, and, with money, they will remain in power.”

    In the weeks before Biscet’s release, a movement was building around the world to get him the Nobel peace prize. He was nominated by the prime minister of Hungary, U.S. congressmen, members of the European Parliament, and others. Did this movement have an effect on the Cuban government and its decision making? Biscet is less likely to get the prize outside of prison than he was inside. He can’t say for sure whether the Nobel prize played a part in the government’s calculations. But he can say this: “It was a political error for the regime to imprison the Group of 75,” an error that cost the regime in the court of world opinion. The 75 are the democracy activists arrested in the crackdown of March 2003, known as the “Black Spring.” These prisoners have now been released.

    Almost all of them were exiled to Spain. This is what the regime wanted to do with Biscet, too, but he strongly resisted this fate. His supporters around the world backed him in this resistance. Instead of exiling him, the government has released him on a kind of parole. Biscet is serving out his prison term beyond the gates of prison itself. His continued freedom depends on his “good conduct.” Why was he so set against exile? “Because I love the people of Cuba and want them to be free. I want basic human rights to be respected, so that the Cuban people can develop themselves and their talents fully. They need freedom in order to develop themselves fully.”

    Men and women of Biscet’s makeup always resist exile, no matter how terrible are the conditions at home. Remember that Solzhenitsyn did not leave the Soviet Union voluntarily; he was expelled, a fate he considered a tragedy.

    Somewhat gingerly, I ask what it was like inside prison. For years, we heard reports of the torture that Biscet was enduring. He answers me very, very briefly (and I don’t press him): “My experience was very traumatic. I was forced to live among criminals,” meaning common criminals, thugs, not prisoners of conscience, like Biscet himself. And he was indeed tortured — “primarily between 2002 and 2006.” He immediately adds, “I also gained a lot of wisdom, because I studied a great deal and drew closer to the Biblical God.” Biscet is a devoted Christian. The authorities allowed him a Bible, although he could not share it with anyone, or pray with anyone. If this happened, the other prisoner would be punished and transferred to another cell. Biscet also says, “I thought of Beethoven, who said, ‘There is no evil so great that no good can come of it.’”

    Biscet is a steadfast advocate of nonviolence: a nonviolent struggle for political change. We have always heard that his models are Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama. Is this so? Yes, says Biscet, but there are others, ones who may not be as “universal,” because they come from the Bible, and not all “accept Biblical teaching.” He cites Moses — “who led the first nonviolent revolution.” Then he mentions the three Hebrew boys, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. “When a king tried to force them to bow down before an idol, they refused. They knew that God would help them — and even if He did not, they would never bow down to an idol.” While in prison, Biscet “kept them close, because they are examples of freedom of expression and freedom of religion.” And they were, of course, delivered.

    For the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Biscet will not take any personal credit. “I felt honored, but I wasn’t the only person being recognized with the medal. The American people saw in me the suffering of the entire Cuban nation.” And the medal “helped change the way the world thought about Cuba.” One day, Biscet would like to meet Bush and “thank him for everything he has done for Cuba’s freedom.”

    Why was abortion so important to him, early in his dissidence, and why it is important now? “The fundamental duty of a physician is to defend life.” And “life lasts from conception until natural death.” Biscet maintains that science makes clear that a fetus is “a human being distinct from the mother.” He regards abortion as “a crime against humanity.” And he links the issue to human rights more broadly. What about the Cuban health-care system as a general proposition? One of the myths of the Cuban revolution is that it has provided health for all. This is not a myth that works on Biscet, who, as a Cuban doctor, knows too much.

    What about another myth, then — the myth that Communist rule has been a boon to blacks? Biscet himself is black, as are many other leaders of the opposition. His contempt for this myth is unconcealed. “Completely false,” he answers. “We know that the Cuban dictatorship is anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-black.” And if you would like to know what the dictatorship thinks of black Cubans, “you need only go to Cuban prisons.”

    It is natural to ask Biscet what he thinks of a contentious issue in the United States: the longstanding sanctions on the Cuban regime, known collectively as “the embargo.” He says, “The embargo has helped the Cuban people both politically and morally.” He wishes that all “free and civilized countries would boycott Cuba, the way they did racist South Africa.” The world made South Africa a pariah state. The American embargo should be lifted, says Biscet, “when the embargo against the Cuban people’s human rights,” imposed by the dictatorship, “is lifted.”

    As he sees it, “civilized countries” have given the dictatorship “life” and “oxygen” for the past 20 years — i.e., since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And when he says “civilized countries,” does he mean Western Europe, which has sent so much cash Havana’s way? “I mean civilized countries in Europe, Latin America, and North America” (which is to say, Canada and Mexico).

    Recently, Jimmy Carter was in Cuba, seeing the Castro brothers and others, including some democracy activists, Biscet among them. During his stay, Carter referred to Fidel Castro as an “old friend.” This is appalling to Biscet, as to other democrats. “One can have different ideas, and they should be respected. But to call a tyrant a friend is truly horrible.” Many in the world have tried to make a hero out of Castro. And “we should not encourage the creation of false heroes.”

    Then we have the question of Biscet’s future: What will he do? He says that his immediate task is to “recover psychologically and physically” from his twelve years in darkness and hell. “I hope to be in the best possible condition,” to do the work he finds it unavoidable to do. Does he expect to be rearrested? “Anything is possible,” but he will work without fear. He believes that the island’s democrats are basically united, although “we do live under a totalitarian dictatorship that uses all of its resources to attempt to destroy us, which makes it difficult to progress as quickly as we would like.” That is probably the understatement of the hour — the hour of our time together.

    The Cuban people are “enslaved,” Biscet says, “but, here in Cuba, the slaves will revolt,” as they have done elsewhere. He mentions China, Iran, and Libya. And he describes a great challenge of the opposition: to shape a transition to democracy without a Tiananmen Square. Without a massacre by the rulers, who will not give up power sweetly.

    What does he want from America? He wants people to recognize just how bad the Cuban dictatorship is. And he wants solidarity. “The American people can help the Cuban people by drawing close to us in our suffering. Those of you who live in freedom have the ability to do this.” Above all, he says, do not provide the regime with the “oxygen” it needs to survive. He sees the Obama administration making concessions to the regime. And it is incomprehensible to him why “civilized and democratic countries” should lend a hand to such people — should give oxygen to the persecutors of so many, persecutors who are ripe for a great push.

    After we hung up with Biscet, I talked for a while with Aramis Perez, who had translated. How did he think Biscet had sounded? “Serene and collected. He spoke out of such conviction that he did not need to emphasize his words” — they all had authority. Every now and then, you feel that you have encountered a great man. Someone who makes up for some measure of human iniquity and indifference. Perez and I felt this about Biscet. So will many others, around the world, if they get to know him.

    Jay Nordlinger 

    Source: National Review Online

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  • Monday, May 2, 2011

    AP Report on Cuba's May Day Reads Mostly Like Castro Propaganda Piece

    Where are the changes? Photo Courtesy of Gonzalo Obes.

    The guess here is Associated Press writers Peter Orsi and Andrea Rodriguez believe their May Day dispatch from Cuba represents an example of objectivity and insightful analysis. Anyone with knowledge of how a country under the iron grip of a five-decade Communist dictatorship really operates would beg to differ.

    The AP pair leaves readers with the impression that although Cubans are impatient to learn the details of the economic changes the government has passed but not revealed, they are generally supportive of whatever improvements might occur -- as if anyone in the island nation is really free to speak their mind.

    Readers might be able to determine for themselves that a decidedly unfree situation exists, but Orsi and Rodriguez ignored a Radio Marti report (translated here by Google's translator, and probably more accurately here by Babalu Blog) that the government launched a wave of repression in advance of May Day to ensure that there would be no disruption of its planned events. The AP pair only needed to cite the report without endorsing it; that they wouldn't even do this betrays either ignorance or a willingness to let readers believe completely unsupported assertions about potential improvement in a country that is the third most economically repressive regime on earth according to the Heritage Foundation's 2011 Index of Economic Freedom. Of the countries evaluated, only Zimbabwe and North Korea were worse.

    Here are selected paragraphs from Orsi's and Rodriguez's report (numbered tags are mine):
    Cubans mark May Day, await details of change

    Hundreds of thousands of Cubans marched through Havana and other cities on Sunday to mark May Day in a demonstration touted as a vast show of support for economic changes recently approved by the Communist Party - even though the people holding placards and shouting slogans haven't seen the details yet. [1]

    Nearly two weeks after the party endorsed President Raul Castro's bet to fix the island's broken economy through limited free-market reforms, the government has not released specifics of the 311-point guidelines, or said when it will do so.

    The parade, always a big event on the communist-run island, has nevertheless been touted by the official party newspaper, Granma, as "the best chance for Cuban workers to ratify ... their backing for the accords." [2]

    ... Still, many in Havana said they were impatient to see the actual details of the changes.

    "I would like to know what the guidelines have that's new, because so far it seems to be a lot of noise and nothing concrete," said Manuel Pedrosi, 56, who was just a small boy when Fidel and Raul Castro's revolution succeeded in 1959. "But if we've waited 50 years, we can wait a little longer."

    The economic measures approved unanimously and en bloc at a party summit April 19 include potential blockbusters that would open a door in the island's tightly controlled economic system, such as legalizing the buying and selling of private property and providing bank credit to finance small businesses. [3]

    ... While Cubans have generally welcomed the economic overhaul, some expressed impatience with the lack of clarity. Some say they are anxious to go into business for themselves or buy a home big enough to accommodate their family, but are waiting to see the ground rules.

    Others are nervous about plans - shelved for the time being - to lay off hundreds of thousands of state workers, and to gradually phase out the ration book, which provides Cubans with a basic basket of food at greatly subsidized prices. [4]

    "This can't wait. Everyone is going to benefit in one way or another because there will be a little more freedom to do as you like with what's yours," said Yordanka Rodriguez, a 45-year-old Havana resident. "We just have to see what the terms are like. Until that happens, it's hard to judge accurately." [5]
    • [1] -- Omitted, as reported by Radio Marti: The government planned to "transport thousands of Cubans to the "Plaza of the Revoution" to celebrate the International Day of Workers." It would appear that the people aren't sufficiently fired up about the situation to come out and "celebrate" without "encouragement."
    • [2] -- So that's how it works. The government buses in "celebrants," and, voila (or, in Spanish, "como si por magia, or "as if by magic), their presence represents endorsement of laws they know nothing about.
    • [3] -- Given that they haven't seen it, it's interesting that the AP reporters seem to be able to describe what's in it. If they can't, they should have written that "the economic measures ... potentially include blockbusters" instead of claiming that they "include potential blockbusters." As to private property, Orsi himself reported on April 27 that "(Raul Castro) drew a line in the Caribbean sand as to which reforms should remain, telling party luminaries that he had rejected dozens of suggested reforms that would have allowed the concentration of property in private hands." I would welcome an explanation from Mr. Orsi as to how one can "buy and sell" private property without "accumulating" it.
    • [4] -- Context, guys. An item posted by Bush administration Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez notes that, "Today, the average Cuban lives on $20 a month and relies on government ration cards" (calling this "living" is a stretch).
    • [5] -- This strained quote is the final paragraph of the report. Unless he is a party insider, Mr. Yordanko Rodriguez can't possibly know that "everyone is going to benefit" or "that there will be a little more freedom." But despite the lack of any evidence, less experienced readers will come away from the AP report believing that this is the case.
    Interesting. That last point echoes the reporting about Obamacare just over a year ago.

    By Tom Blumer

    Source: NewsBusters

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