Monday, October 31, 2011

For Cuban Women, Sundays Are for Protest Marches

The Ladies in White march in Havana, Cuba

Relatives of political prisoners in Cuba--many of them women--are fighting to curb abuses they say family members suffer during incarceration. One of the most prominent opposition groups, Ladies in White, meets on Sundays.

Four women stood with anti-government signs in a well-trafficked square in Havana.

They were members of Ladies in White, a group that formed in 2003 after 75 political dissidents were jailed.

Dressed in white--the color of peace--they march to Catholic mass to pray for human rights and the release of relatives and loved ones in prison.

The group has been meeting on Sundays across Cuba for years. But this particular small demonstration a couple of months ago--on Aug. 23 in Havana--proved momentous. When a plain-clothes police officer came to break up the women, some nearby people defended the women and forced the officer to leave in search of backup.

It wasn't the first time bystanders had aided the women, but because it was in such a busy area, it was the first time such an action was caught on video with cell-phone cameras and uploaded to YouTube the very next day.

"It was visible proof, released to an international audience over YouTube, that there is an increasing support for the resistance movement," said Aramis Perez, a leader of the Assembly of Cuban Resistance, based in Miami, Fla.

Often, he said, reports filed from Havana are censored or written by government supporters and describe activist groups as "small and fragmented."

Two days later Amnesty International, the London-based rights group, published a call to stop the repression of the Ladies in White.

Police and government officials have violently attacked individuals and groups of female political dissidents on at least 25 occasions this year--sometimes while the women were engaged in nonviolent protest, and other times while they were with their families at home--according to a report released by the Assembly of Cuban Resistance in August. The report, "Cuba: Violent Aggressions Against Women, Human Rights Defenders," was based on daily communication with activist groups in Cuba.

'A Leading Role'

The resistance movement is carried out by a wide cross-section of Cuban citizens--urban, rural, farmers, students--but "women have been playing a leading role," said Perez.

One of those women is Laura Pollan, the leader of Women and White and the recipient of the European Parliament's 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Pollan died on Oct.14 at age 63.

Another is Bertha Antunez who lives in exile in Florida.

She spoke at a meeting last month on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly along with other human rights activists, including Marina Nemat, Iranian author and former political prisoner; Jacqueline Kasha, Ugandan LGBT rights activist and winner of Martin Ennals 2011 Human Rights Defenders Prize; and Rebiya Kadeer, Uyghur dissident and former political prisoner.

Antunez used the podium to urge the international community to help women in Cuba who are working for human rights.

"These women, today, at this moment, risk their lives, put their bodies before the police violence," she told a roomful of people at the forum, organized by a coalition of international nongovernmental groups. "Their voices shout for freedom while they are brutally beaten and they continue to take to the streets."

Antunez said her activism was fueled by prison visits to her brother, released in 2007, after 17 years of incarceration in various prisons, making him one of the longest serving political prisoners in Cuba.

"Soldiers from the prison savagely beat my brother in my presence and in the presence of two children from our family. We were beaten too. On various occasions I had to resort to a hunger strike to save my brother's life," she told the human rights activists, advocates and supporters.

Motivational Visits

In an interview with Women's eNews, Antunez expanded on how those prison visits had motivated her.

"I got firsthand testimony from many prisoners and there were things I couldn't believe" she said. "I never thought these abuses were taking place in my country. I knew there were injustices outside the prison because we are all victims of those; but this was torture."

A Cuban dissident group, the Cuban Democratic Directorate, based in Hialeah, Fla., reports that Antunez's brother, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, was arrested during a demonstration for yelling that communism was "an error and a utopia." His speech was considered "oral enemy propaganda," the report says. His sentence was extended several times for speaking back to guards and continuing to vocalize his political beliefs.

Antunez and relatives of other family members of political prisoners founded the National Movement of Civic Resistance "Pedro Luis Boitel" to fight abuse in prisons.

The group remains active and continues to organize peaceful protests, sit-ins and hunger strikes at prisons across the island.

This year, the incarceration of two of the group's members and other recent crackdowns on dissidents spurred Human Rights Watch to issue statement in June saying that Cuban laws "criminalize virtually all forms of dissent, and grant officials extraordinary authority to penalize people who try to exercise their basic rights."

By Maura Ewing

Source: Women's eNews

  • Go to Home Page
  • Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    Just How Specious is Latin America's Revolutionary Rhetoric?

    Although Cuba's Fidel Castro, as one of the fathers of revolution, continues to verbally assault the U.S. and essential democratic principles, Cuba is playing it safe and cautious not to stagger too far off the beaten path of a much better informed world audience.

    An exception to this apparent rule is Castro's admiration for his protégé, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Castro does not hesitate to wave the much tattered Cuban revolutionary flag when speaking of his admired pupil.

    An op-ed column last week by Fidel Castro graphically demonstrated his remaining true moniker of world dictator. He remarked, "Given its exceptional educational, cultural, social development and its immense energy and natural resources, Venezuela is called upon to become a revolutionary model for the world." And with what must have been a monumental attempt to be sincere and appear rational, he added, "I had long conversations with (Chavez) yesterday and today. I explained to him the intensity with which I am devoting my remaining energies to dreams of a better and more just world." (Digital Granma Internacional, Havana, Cuba, Oct. 19, 2011; translation Granma)

    While both Castro's have been pandering for world support and U.S. mercy to lift the decades old trade embargo against Cuba, Fidel could not resist his usual venomous hatred of U.S. governance and culture. "... (T)he empire [the U.S.] is already showing the symptoms of a terminal illness.... Saving humanity from an irreversible disaster, these days, could depend on the stupidity of any mediocre president among those who have led the empire in the most recent decades, or even one or another of the constantly more powerful heads of the military-industrial complex which controls the destiny of that country."

    While praising the "friendly nations" of Russia and China, Castro said that "together with the peoples of the so-called Third World in Asia, Africa and Latin America, (they) could attain" the goal of saving humanity from capitalism.

    Castro's usual heady dialogue always fails to confess the financial and institutional destruction of the Cuban mainland and the horrible sacrifices imposed on the populace by iron-fisted communist dictatorial rule. And the Castro agenda, once again, telegraphed the proverbial passing of the now dimly lit torch of radical rhetoric to Hugo Chavez's narrowing optical imagination.

    Furthermore, Castro's revolutionary hysteria appears to have taken a curious back seat with Cuba's silence on the death of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, while having and maintaining a very strong mutual support relationship.

    To the verbal rescue of those revolutionaries remaining mute, Venezuela's Chavez stepped up quickly to say, "(Gaddafi's death is) an outrage. We shall remember Gaddafi our whole lives as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr." Owed loyalty could be attributed to Chavez's ego, after having been awarded the "Algaddafi International Prize for Human Rights," a prize granted by the Libyan leader. Cuba's Fidel Castro and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega were also past recipients of the award.

    Fidel Castro's fading revolutionary tenure and factual recollection remained to remind that Chavez "is a supremely humanitarian person and respectful of the law; he has never taken revenge against anyone. The poorest and most forgotten sectors of his country are profoundly grateful to him for responding - for the first time in history - to their dreams of social justice."

    Considering apparent major voids of factual events in praise by Castro, Chavez and (Nicaragua's) Ortega of each other's human rights achievements, one must question their words and thoughts related to national liberation and social revolution - and then refuse support to the overwhelming majority of Libyans in their battle for freedom against dictatorial rule and public dissent.

    Leftist leaders Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Bolivia's Evo Morales have also been noticeably quiet recently, as citizens of their respective countries have amassed in verbal and demonstrative posture in protest.

    More than 1,000 Indians opposing a jungle highway in Bolivia's Amazon paraded last week into the capital after a 63-day protest march. Government "baton-swinging police" attempts to break up the marches "fueled charges that leftist President Evo Morales discriminates against Bolivia's Amazon-based indigenous groups."

    Ecuador's Correa too has had problems. Last year Correa's own brother, Fabricio Correa, said the nation is being "directed" from Venezuela in an effort to impose "a political model" that is widely rejected. "Now everybody rebels, and students, indigenous people and professors are against a Venezuelan project that nobody wants in Ecuador. A totalitarian model is intended to be established."

    Rafael Correa was attacked in 2010 in what he described as "an attempted coup d'état (and ‘kidnapping')" from his own police force. Soldiers subsequently arrived with tanks and submachine guns, opened fire on the police, and a fierce gun battle ensued.

    Even with a world "media revolution," that is apparently demonstrating new messages these days, leftist regimes in Latin America are having serious trouble with credibility. Consequently, many are silent - for now.

    By Jerry Brewer

    Source: Mexidata

  • Go to Home Page
  • Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Freedom House study reveals optimism in Cuba about economic reforms

    The Freedom House report on Cuba released today finds that Cubans see real economic change there, and more Cubans now would rather work for themselves than hold once-prized state jobs.

    When Raul Castro announced radical changes to the economic structure of communist Cuba, the country was in a semi-daze.

    Many Cubans were excited about the prospects of economic change, particularly opening access to self-employment. But, as state jobs were slashed, many were also worried about going it alone after a lifetime of stable, if paltry, government salaries and subsidies.

    But a new Freedom House survey released today shows a radical change in perceptions. Forty-one percent of Cubans say the country is making progress, compared to only 15 percent who felt optimistic about the country’s future when Freedom House last conducted field research in December 2010. In fact, today more Cubans say they would prefer to work for themselves than for the government, the survey shows.

    Less than a year ago, Cubans were “very skeptical about change. They doubted real change would happen,” says Daniel Calingaert, deputy director of programs at Freedom House and co-author of the study. This survey was carried out in June, after reforms were implemented formally at the Sixth Communist Party Congress in April. And now, Mr. Calingaert says, Cubans see “change is real.”

    This economic opening is the “most significant positive change to have taken place in Cuba since communism was introduced half a century ago,” the new survey concludes.

    At first glance, Cuban optimism could be a good sign for the Castro government. But it could also pose additional challenges. Cubans who have tasted economic freedom say they want more, and a bit of stability has also allowed them the luxury to think beyond the day-to-day economics of feeding a family. “It’s opening people to new possibilities,” says Calingaert. “There is more interest in individual freedoms.”

    Indeed, one of the more surprising findings is that, when asked what reforms they most wanted, Cubans said increased freedom of expression and the freedom to travel (28 percent). This is a radical change from the most recent study, when economic reform topped the wish list of respondents.

    The Cuban government has a long way to go on the freedom front. Most Cubans continue to get their news from the government. The poll showed that only 40 percent of Cubans surveyed knew what happened to Egypt’s leaders, while only 36 percent knew how the revolution in Tunisia ignited.

    Here are some of the survey’s specific major findings:

    • 79 percent say they have noted visible change in the past six months in Cuba, including more self-employed on the streets.
    • 63 percent of respondents favor the reforms introduced under Raul Castro. The report quotes an ice-cream vendor: “Imagine, I can make more money selling ice cream than I ever did as an accountant for the government.”
    • 49 percent say that it is better to work for themselves, compared to 44 percent who say a government job is better.

    That is not to say that Cubans aren’t wary of changes ahead of them. For example, the field research culled commentary from Cubans voicing concern about unsteady incomes, having enough funds to start their own businesses – especially those without family in the US to help – and growing resentment among less successful entrepreneurs.

    “The changes are causing a sense of insecurity and resentment among some Cubans, as might be expected in a country where citizens were almost entirely dependent on government for their material needs and had no experience of market competition,” the report says. “Such insecurity and resentment accompanied the shift from communism to market economies in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. While the insecurity and resentment presents a challenge for reform in Cuba, it is also a reflection of how profound are the changes that are currently underway.”

    By Sara Miller Llana

    Source: CSMonitor

  • Go to Home Page
  • Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Updating Immigration Policy in Cuba

    The mere fact of hearing it on television petrifies me, but listening to the president of my county has been illuminating, because in revolutionary Cuba there are issues so ethereal that they never find an appropriate occasion to be raised “procedurally,” taboos the single mention of which give one goosebumps, themes that cannot be approached without people looking at you, eyes wide with terror.

    This is the case with the immigration policy the Cuban government has maintained over the last 50 years, one of the most traumatic and thorny issues in Cuban society. The twisted mechanisms created to impede the free flow of people, whether to travel or to emigrate, have turned what would normally be one more choice in the life of any Cuban, into a real ordeal.

    During his speech delivered to the Cuban Parliament on August 1, 2011, Raul Castro announced that work was now underway “…to implement the upgrade of the current immigration policy…” While I welcome the proposal — given that Fidel Castro never announced anything like this in his entire time in government — I quickly curbed my enthusiasm when, a minute later, Raul specified that “…the flexibilization of the policy will take into account the right of the revolutionary State to defend itself from the interventionist and subversive plans of the United States government and its allies, and at the same time will include reasonable countermeasures to preserve the human capital created by the Revolution in the face of the theft of talent practiced by the powerful.

    Stated thus, is this a way of saying he’s going to put the usual patch over the tatters? Suddenly I sensed he was talking about me because, being a doctor, I am subject to the super-punitive Ministry of Public Health Resolution 54 — which places restrictions on the emigration of doctors — which hangs like a guillotine over professionals in my profession.

    Until now, the Cuban citizen who desires to travel outside of Cuba has to overcome a whole string of obstacles: obtain a “letter of invitation” from a foreign citizen, getting a visa for the country in question, first having deposited thousands of dollars in a bank — a necessary condition for many countries — and then… ah! then… the terrifying “exit permit,” also called the “white card,” that can be issued or denied at will, and which also includes the “entry permit” — awarded by the immigration authorities of the Ministry of the Interior through Decree/Law 989 of December 5, 1961, which says it all.

    This has one obvious consequence for Cubans within and outside the island, who for fifty years have been subjected to a tacit ban on travel abroad, because the above-mentioned mechanism functions like a narrow filter, unbreachable by anyone stigmatized for political reasons and especially anyone whom it is suspected might emigrate if given authority to travel. This monster, treacherously rationed, is subject to thousands of acts of extortion, bribery, corruption and moral degradation involving both officials and citizens throughout the country.

    But as this is the land of magical realism, a government that has practiced, for so long, this policy of secrecy with regards to travel, has come to the point of cynically questioning the immigration policies of others. They cite repeatedly, for example, the government of the United States for prohibiting its citizens to travel to Cuba as a consequence of the embargo — which is certainly a violation of the rights of the American people — and even convene meetings with the diaspora where they poetically call for “normalization” of relations with emigrants, including, I suppose, those who left Cuba in 1980 under the rain of their blows and tossed eggs.
    At these meetings not a word of apology is heard, nor is the need to reform immigration policy even mentioned; convened by the Cuban government, its representatives lash out, throwing stones from their glass house. When I hear news like this I turn off the television, because I was born with only one liver and my tolerance has its limits.

    Shielded behind the argument of the “…legitimate defense against the aggressions we’ve been subjected to for more than 50 years…” — perpetrated by successive U.S. administrations, but for which my people bear no fault — the Cuban government lashed out indiscriminately against our freedom and extended this “immigration” war to the rest of the known universe.

    Taking as a given that the U.S. administrations certainly haven’t rested, nor will they, in their attempt to overthrow the Revolution, there are still more than 180 other countries with whom Cuba maintains diplomatic relations, consulates, or full trade. This, if there’s no way we can consider ourselves an “enemy” of all humanity, then why don’t we have the right to travel freely in the rest of the world? Why does this ban remain even for countries with “friendly” governments like China, Bolivia, Ecuador and our Venezuelan ally? Why has this sick control been maintained over something so natural? This shows that the sealed-wall policy marks the hard line of a much wider control strategy. Maintaining this strategy fits like a glove with our condition as an archipelago. Our insularity greatly facilitates the wishes of the Cuban government, which has the luxury of trampling rights that it would not be able to monopolize so fully if we had land borders.

    Raul added in his speech: “This sensitive issue has been subject to political and media manipulation over many years in an effort to denigrate the Revolution and create enmity with Cubans living abroad.” As if anyone needed to distort anything in relationship to this policy to show exactly what it is: the glaring and massive violation of a right inherent to every home sapiens on the earth. It is not possible to ethically defend such a posture, nor is it necessary exhaust oneself in any kind of “manipulation” to “denigrate” the guilty, because this policy is already, in and of itself, a sufficiently denigrating manipulation to universally discredit anyone who perpetrates it.

    Nor was it necessary to “alienate” anyone from the Revolution, because this same policy led to truly bestial treatment of emigrants; it’s enough to remember those shameless repudiation rallies in 1980, the demonization of those who left, the social stigmatization of all those “lumpen” and “worms,” of all that “social scum” dragged through the streets everywhere in Cuba for their “sin” of emigrating, the confiscation of all their property, the total uprooting…

    It was this brutality that kept families separated for five decades, and not just residents of “enemy” territory, but every Cuban resident in any country from Manchuria to Patagonia. This policy is at fault, in great measure, for thousands of lives lost at sea in the last two decades, a trail of death that could have been avoided with a policy supporting the natural flow of Cubans through legal means. No one, given a civilized alternative for travel, would have risked ending up adrift with the sharks.

    Hopefully, for the good of everyone, sanity will finally be imposed, because once this policy of perpetual imprisonment is eliminated, maintained against the will of the Cuban people, its immediate and visible consequences will end — the illegal trafficking of people across the Gulf, for example — and then time will heal, bit by bit, its generational consequences — which are chronic and so, deeper — at the same time that the Cuban government casts off this serious stigma. For now, one conclusion is clear: “normal relations” cannot exist with immigration as long as there are not normal legal mechanisms that regulate the migratory phenomenon; as long as this isn’t the case every attempt to approach the subject will be a farce, as long as it is not accompanied by sincere political will.

    The time has already come in my country when travel can no longer be entertainment earned by a privileged caste, or a gift rewarded uncritical or servile postures, but rather a strictly personal decision, without consultation, not subordinated to the authority of any minister.

    Citizens must be left to their own devices, through binding and unequivocal laws that no authority would dare to break. They must guarantee full respect for the individual right and return to the national the wealth of the diaspora, the whole universe of Cubans beyond the sea that has been separated from us for far too long; a universe that in its time included the poetry of Gaston Baquero, the narrative of Cabrera Infante, or the lyrical prose of Reinaldo Arenas; the music of Sandoval and Willy Chirino,Celia’s lost voice that no longer vibrates with Los Van Van in the Piragua; the arms of Duque and Contreras, who don’t throw against their Cuban team, but are excluded from it in the World Baseball Classic; I speak of the generational painting José Bedia and many others, Cubans like me, who make an infinite cosmology that belongs to us. We all fit under the sky of our unique tricolor Cuban nation, but to realize this miracle will require that we forever swear off the doomed Dictionary of Absurd Analogies and admit, finally, that concepts such as travel and renounce, migrate and betray, abdicate and forgive… will never be synonymous.

    There remains, however, the sting of uncertainty: In the event that the leadership of the country is certainly thinking about freeing foreign travel without conditions — something I sincerely doubt — will doctors and other professionals be excluded? Will they take “reasonable countermeasures” — words of a rare exoticism among us — or will they to back to the extremes?

    Not to fall into sterile speculation, we can only hope. But for now I recover the hope of seeing old friends again, alienated by this wall of discord for over ten years, when they left for new horizons. Because they decided not to live under this government, the doors of their country closed behind them. I say their country, because that sacred spiritual possession that is one’s homeland is always carried within. These, my beloved beings who seek new paths, convince — I already said the most universal of Cubans — that homeland is also humanity.

    By Jeovany J. Vega

    Source: Translating Cuba

  • Go to Home Page
  • Monday, October 17, 2011

    Cuba: Anti-corruption campaign hits British golf developer

    Directly affecting a core player in Cuba’s ambitious golf development plans and a major port expansion, the top executive of a British investment fund was arrested in Havana amid an investigation into alleged corruption.

    The Cuban government has not made any announcement regarding the arrest last week in Havana of Amado Fakhre, of Coral Capital Group Ltd.

    The arrest, first reported by Reuters, is part of a broadening anti-corruption sweep against Cuban state company executives and the foreign investors they interact with. The move against Coral Capital comes after long prison terms, in absence, for the Chilean owners of Alimentos Río Zaza and a shut-downs of Canadian trading companies Tokmakjian Group and Tri-Star Caribbean.

    Cuban company executives receive tiny salaries, while often handling millions of dollars worth of transactions.

    According to Reuters, the investigation of Coral Capital apparently centers on the company’s import business in Cuba, not on its plans to build a $120 million golf resort just east of Havana and a $43 million logistics zone at the port of Mariel.

    Set up in 1999 and incorporated on the British Virgin Islands, the London-based company has slowly become a strategic player in the Cuban economy. Coral offers trade financing, manages the Laroc Trading Fund, provides brand representation in Cuba, and has invested in plastics bottle manufacturing, as well as film production and other cultural ventures in Cuba. It also spent $28 million on the Saratoga boutique hotel in the historic center of Havana and led the 2006 buyout of the foreign side of the El Senador joint venture hotel on Cayo Coco; that hotel, managed by Iberostar, is undergoing renovation and expected to reopen in winter 2011.

    However, Coral may have the biggest impact yet with its plans to build a 1,200-home golf resort at Bellomonte, just 15 miles from the center of the capital. The 628-acre site at Playas del Este, within the city limits of Havana, is anchored by two 18-hole golf courses; plans include a country club, spa, and 323,000 square feet of commercial space. On a separate 20-acre property, Coral plans to build a 160-room beach hotel and beach club.

    Bellomonte is one of four golf projects the Cuban government is expected to approve soon, and Coral was planning a construction start of the $120 million first phase for the end of 2012.

    In another key project for Cuban economic development, Coral is a partner in a planned $43 million investment in the Mariel logistics zone just west of Havana. Over five years, Coral has produced a master plan with Dubai-based Economic Zones World. The first phase includes 540,000 square feet of warehousing, light industrial plants and offices.

    Source: Cubastandard

  • Go to Home Page
  • Sunday, October 16, 2011

    In Memory of Laura Pollan

    Today, all of Cuba grieves for the passing of Laura Pollan, the co-founder of las Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White). For nearly a decade, she helped to stage weekly protests with other wives of political prisoners to press for their release. She never missed a week, regardless of whether it rained or if the island was awaiting the imminent arrival of a hurricane. She also never gave up hope that her voice, and the voices of so many other families, would be heard.

    She was 63 years old when she passed from this world on Friday, October 14th. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, she had been in intensive care for acute respiratory problems since October 7th.

    As the head of the Commission said of her, "She was a teacher and a housewife, but she became a leader for civil rights. She has played a fundamental role, without a doubt even beyond winning freedom for her husband."

    Indeed, it is true that few can remember a time when Pollan was seen wearing any colour other than white. But, before the Black Spring of 2003 that saw her husband and dozens upon dozens of other Cubans imprisoned on trumped up charges, Laura Pollan was a high school literature teacher who loved cats and plants. She steered clear of politics.

    When she dared to speak out against her husband's imprisonment and to call for his release, the Cuban authorities labelled her a "traitor" and a "subversive agent" in the employ of the United States. Even under attacks by paramilitary forces, she and the other brave members of the Ladies in White have continued to march peacefully once a week, a silent and non-violent expression of resistance against a decaying dictatorship that stubbornly clings to power.

    IFLRY stands in solidarity with the Ladies in White, the family of Laura Pollan, as well as all those who knew this courageous person, as they go through a difficult and trying time. Her loss is felt around the globe. But, as Laura Pollan passes from this world, she also leaves behind a powerful legacy. The weekly marches of las Damas de Blanco have secured the release of many political prisoners. The decision to continue, to carry on the legacy of Laura Pollan, is a welcome one.

    On behalf of the IFLRY Cuba Programme Team, I commit myself to intensifying our efforts, to giving all that we can and all that we have in the struggle for a brighter future for Cuba and the Cuban people. Laura Pollan deserves no less from us.

    Paul Pryce

    IFLRY Cuba Programme Manager

    Source: IFLRY

  • Go to Home Page
  • Friday, October 14, 2011

    Cuba, Venezuela pose subtle, but real dangers to United States

    Havana Malecon, summer 1994

    This bicoastal discussion with a colleague began on Twitter. We are often — to avoid the absolutes — on different sides of most issues. This one exchange over the weekend was no different.

    We were tweeting along, disagreeing respectfully, when she came up with a question that was difficult to answer in 140 characters. What danger do Cuba and Venezuela represent to the United States?

    This was not a question of human rights, or of democracy, or even of communism. The question was simple and direct. I was stumped, particularly when limited in space. I have to admit that, in that Twitter conversation, I was check-mated.

    This is why I resort to a lengthier format; one in which I am more comfortable in responding to my colleague.

    Cuba and Venezuela do represent a serious dangers to the United States, but not directly in a militaristic way.

    Cuba did at one point represent a very real danger to the United States — during the 1962 Missile Crisis, when armed with Soviet missiles the world came closer than ever to a nuclear war. That, however, was almost five decades ago — it will be 50 years ago in October 2012. Certainly, that is not the case now.

    Still both Cuba and Venezuela, each in its own way, present a real and present danger to the United States today. No, the danger is not of a military invasion, or of terrorists attacking this country, or even of invading other countries in the region. Still, they represent a real and present danger to this country in many other ways.

    First, let's start with Cuba. The Cuban regime has repeatedly used its people as weapons against the United States. It has done so at least three times, and could do it again at any point as a way of relieving the pressure from its failed economy. South Florida felt the brunt of its fury in the 1960s when Fidel Castro opened the Port of Camarioca in 1965, forcing the United States to adopt an orderly flow of exiles from Cuba that brought 270,000 Cubans to the United States over the next seven years.

    Fifteen years later, Castro did it again when he opened the Port of Mariel and allowed 125,000 Cubans to cross the Florida Straits in less than five months. And in the mid-1990s, he allowed more than 33,000 people to flee on rafts in a few short weeks.

    Back in the 1980s, then-Ambassador Victor Palmieri, director of Refugee Affairs in the State Department when Jimmy Carter was president, wrote in an unpublished paper that Mariel had been "an act of war." And this is a weapon Cuba can always use on the United States to test the will of a U.S. president.

    Venezuela and Hugo Chávez, Castro's most advanced disciple, represent an enormous danger to U.S. diplomacy in the region. In much the same way that Castro tried to oust regimes in Latin America by helping guerrilla movements, Chávez now is the chief financial officer of the movement to elect socialist leaders in countries to set up an anti-American block in Latin America. For starters, we can talk about Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. All have been helped by Chávez, whose petrodollars feed anti-American sentiment in the region.

    Cuba and Venezuela still support Iran, as well as Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who is now probably fighting for his life in the city of Serta against Libyans rebelling against his regime. They also back the Palestinian effort to be recognized as a nation, and quietly oppose the state of Israel.

    Furthermore, Venezuela's armed forces have billions in new weapons purchased from Russia to please its generals, who are now heavily Involved — albeit secretly — in the drug trade. As Colombian rebels have lost power, it has moved across the border to Venezuela where its own armed forces supervise the drug trafficking to Europe and the United States.

    The elected authoritarian regimes rising in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua are not a direct danger to the United States. They do represent, however, represent a danger to the freedoms of people in the hemisphere. Freedom of the press and human rights are constantly violated in these countries. People live in fear of their governments and thousands have been forced to flee their homeland.

    But no, none of this represents a clear and direct danger to the United States; just to the type of government we would like our neighbors to our south to have. So point, set and match go to my colleague on the West Coast. Or does it?

    By Guillermo I. Martínez

    Source: Sun Sentinel 

  • Go to Home Page
  • Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Cubans Escaping Castro's Economic "Reforms"

    Cubans continue to "vote" against the Cuban regime

    The number of Cubans intercepted at sea trying to reach the coast of Florida more than doubled in the last fiscal year according to figures released by the Department of Homeland Security. In the previous fiscal year, 422 Cubans were intercepted at sea by the Coast Guard, while in the fiscal year 2011 (which just ended on September 30th), 1,000 Cubans were caught. Moreover, the number of Cubans who actually reached the U.S. shore increased by 70%, from 409 in fiscal year 2010 to 696 in fiscal year 2011. This is the first rise in illegal Cuban immigration by sea in 3 years according to authorities.

    This is yet another sign that the much heralded economic “reforms” announced by Havana aren’t working. The massive layoffs of hundreds of thousands of public employees undertaken by the government of Raúl Castro were meant to be absorbed by Cuba’s almost non-existent private sector. The Communist regime tried to ease the pressure by allowing private employment in 178 economic activities, such as masseurs, clowns, shoemakers, locksmiths, and gardeners. However, as I warned over a year ago, it capped the number of permits for these private activities at 250,000 while also penalizing the new entrepreneurs with stiff tax rates. It doesn’t take a Nobel Prize winner in economics to realize that Cuba’s nascent private sector wouldn’t be able to make room for all of the newly unemployed. What then for these people?

    Earlier this year I talked to an official from the U.S. Interest Section in Havana who told me that we shouldn’t be surprised if we see a steady increase of Cubans trying to escape the island towards the United States. Faced with a dilapidated economy, hundreds of thousands of unemployed, and growing social unrest, the Castro regime wouldn’t hesitate in letting more Cubans use the “escape valve” of emigration. We might be seeing the first signs of this.

    by Juan Carlos Hidalgo

    Source: Cato@ Liberty

  • Go to Home Page
  • Saturday, October 8, 2011

    Vietnam presses Cuba on debt

    Before increasing investment in oil and construction on the island, Vietnam wants Cuba to find a way to its debt with rice exporter Vinafood and allow the opening of a Vietcombank office in Havana, official daily Viet Nam News reported.

    Debt is rarely mentioned in the official communication between the two long-time partner countries.

    Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung urged a Cuban delegation, in Hanoi for routine bilateral talks, to “continue creating favorable conditions for Vietnamese enterprises to invest in the Caribbean nation and to encourage more Cuban investment in Viet Nam,” according to the official daily. Dung suggested the partners should “come up with solutions to settle outstanding debt” and urged Cuba to speed up the permit process for Vietcombank, the government foreign trade bank, to open a branch in Cuba.

    “The presence of the bank will help facilitate the financial settlement between Vietnamese and Cuban companies and enable Vietnamese investors to invest in Cuba, particularly in the fields of construction, oil and gas, and trade,” Dung said, according to the newspaper.

    Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca, who led the Cuban delegation, said Cuba wants Vietnam to continue to sell rice, and pledged to honor Cuba’s financial commitments by gradually reducing credit debts with Vinafood, according to Viet Nam News. Malmierca said Cuba wanted the partners to agree on a joint development strategy.

    Neither Cuba nor Vietnam have released details about the debt.

    Vietnam, a close political ally of half a century, has been selling 400,000 tons of rice per year to Cuba under generous conditions, making the fellow Communist nation the island’s main source of the basic staple. Payment terms in the past have included 450 to 540 days and either interest-free or very low interest financing. In September 2010, state company Vinafood 1 signed an agreement to sell Cuba 200,000 tons of rice, including 50,000 tons for a low price of $496 per ton.

    Affected by a cash crunch in Cuba, bilateral trade dipped to $250 million in 2010 but is expected to grow again this year.

    State oil company PetroVietnam leased an offshore block in Cuban waters and partnered with Russia’s Zarubezhneft, but has not performed an exploration drill yet. Meanwhile, state construction company Housing & Urban Development Corp. (HUD) in 2008 signed a letter of intent with Grupo Palmares to jointly build a 300-hectare golf community near Bauta, just west of Havana. HUD has also been negotiating construction of another golf course resort in Varadero as well as a hotel at Playa Santa Lucía in Camagüey province. In 2009, Vietnam also agreed to set up textile and electronics joint venture production in Cuba.

    Dung committed to Vietnam’s continued support of rice cultivation programs in Cuba. Agricultural projects supported by Vietnam have played “a very important role” in Cuba, Malmierca said.

    Meanwhile, Cuba wants to introduce new pharmaceutical products to the Vietnamese market, Malmierca said.

    Source: Cubastandard

  • Go to Home Page
  • Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    Project: Help Young Cubans Connect Through Cell Phones




    By purchasing and shipping new Cuba capable cell phones, we are boosting connectivity among youth in Cuba. With these modern tools, youth in Cuba can start becoming the authors of their own future.

    What is the issue, problem, or challenge?


    At the end of 2010, fewer than 8% of the Cuban population will have access to cell phones. In other developing countries, cell phones--especially SMS text services--have been used as low cost ways of sharing news about job opportunities, organizing and connecting civic groups, and broadcasting news that could otherwise be censored by the official press. Cell phone access remains limited today, which restricts Cubans' abilities to inform, advise and act on up-to-date information.

    How will this project solve this problem?


    Our project provides pre-paid calling cards and new, Cuba-ready phones for youth on the Island. These young people can use their new cell phones to not only communicate with each other, but also to connect with the world outside of Cuba.

    Potential Long Term Impact


    By increasing young peoples' connectivity, we provide Cuban youth with a means of educating and organizing themselves. In the process, we promote their self-determination and give them a tool for creating positive social change.

    Project Message


    Since I was born in Cuba, I could have been the young man I am today in a country separated from the outside world. I want to see that each day less and less young persons in Cuba are disconnected.
    - Miguel Cruz, Cell Phones for Cuba Project Manager

    Give Now

    Funding Information


    Total Funding Received to Date: $5,095
    Remaining Goal to be Funded: $17,405
    Total Funding Goal: $22,500

    Additional Documentation


    This project has provided additional documentation in a Microsoft Word file (projdoc.doc).

  • Go to Home Page
  • Sunday, October 2, 2011

    What about Cuba?

    Cuba’s 52-year nightmare is about to end with the death of the last of Latin America’s old time dictators. In the long run it is hard to see how the demise of the old caudillo can be anything but good news, but the short term will be rough. The U.S. has a plan but no doubt so do regional nuisances such as Hugo Chavez.

    All day I have been whistling that song from the “Wizard of Oz”. You, know, “ding-dong the witch is dead”. Whether Castro sups with the devil tonight or not, his reign is clearly through. An eighty-year-old guy who probably pees in his pants and cannot remember what he talked about yesterday is already knocking on hell’s door. How will he come back? His brother Raul has taken power.

    Raul is known as the ruthless enforcer. He is the one who killed many of the regime’s opponents. He lacks his brother’s charisma, but may be a little more practical. He evidently advocated such radical capitalistic steps as allowing small farmers to sell produce at farmers’ markets during the hard times when the regime lost its Soviet sugar daddy. But after Hugo Chavez stepped in with subsidies to take the place of the Soviets Fidel was able to kill (sometimes literally) the farmers’ markets and roll back other reforms. One possible hope is that Raul will try to go the Chinese route when big brother is out of the picture. Ironic that the best case scenario would make Cuba only just a little more oppressive than China.

    Beyond the geriatric Castro brothers, there is no heir apparent. The Castro boys killed, exiled or imprisoned any bright young man or woman with ambitions so Raul is what they get.

    We have to remember that Cuba is not a democracy and not even as open a system as the latter day Soviet Union. The strength of a democracy is that it produces lots of leader and independent thinkers. Fidel’s did not go for this sort of idea. He executed even ideological allies if he suspected them of disloyalty and his paranoia made him suspect everyone except his brother. (Those who know say “Fidel only praises the dead,” many of whom he made that way.) That means Cuba has nobody accustomed to making decisions without asking Fidel first. Anyone with power derives it from a relationship with Fidel. When he is gone, so is that connection. The Cuban communist system will collapse, soon after he shuffles off this mortal coil. We need to be ready.

    Cuba is a mess. Fidel really believed the Marxist-Leninist crap he was peddling. He opposed individualism, private enterprise, investments or any of the ordinary freedoms we take for granted. Cuba was more of a closed society than most E. European communist regimes under communism. We will find Cuba more like Albania than Poland or the Czech Republic. It is a long road ahead.

    In 1959, Cuba was one of the most developed countries of Latin America. Now it is among the most backward. Most of the rest of Latin America shook off its dictators in the 1980s, but the Cuban socialist showboat managed to stay afloat, even listed a bit to the left. It will not be enough to get rid of Fidel and replace Havana’s 1950s vintage automobile fleet. The world will be surprised at the abysmal poverty and corruption when people are free to visit and take pictures all over the island.

    The added complication will be Cuban Americans. More than 10% of the Cuban population left the country soon after Fidel se up his socialist paradise on the Pearl of the Antilles. Others followed as soon as they learned to sail small boats or float in inner tubes. Most went to Florida. They were Cuba’s best and brightest. Fidel kept their property, but their skills and intelligence were their real wealth. They took their human capital with them. In the U.S., where such things are valued, they were soon successful. They and their children are still interested in their country of origin. Some want to return. Expatriate skills and money will jump start Cuban development. A similar thing happened in Poland. The difference is that Cuban-American numbers are larger in comparison to the population of Cuba. Cubans in Cuba will probably come to resent these guys. There is a real possibility of a divided society, not only divided between haves and have nots, but also between skilled and skilled not.

    Think of it like your rich and smart cousin who goes away to school at some nice place, while you stay at home and endure years of hardship. Then he comes back to tell you what to do. The worst part is that he is usually right.

    So after Fidel has gone where the goblins go, below, below, below, expect a messy transition, but ultimately a successful one, this time w/o Myer Lansky (who it turns out was a less successful gangster than Fidel).

    Source: China Online News

  • Go to Home Page