Alan Gross interview on 60 Minutes: The world learns about Cuba what we already knew

Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

What We Learned (Knew) From Alan Gross’ Interview

On Sunday, American development worker, Alan Gross, conducted an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes about his five-year ordeal as a prisoner of the Castro regime in Cuba.

The interview confirmed many things we’ve long-known, while (hopefully) providing some lessons going forward — as current events in Cuba go from bad to worse.

What we learned (knew) from Gross’ interview:

How Gross’ imprisonment was indeed a hostage-taking. The segment’s opening line says it all, “the new opening to Cuba would not have happened without an old-fashioned swap.” Indeed, Alan Gross was taken hostage in order to procure a series of concessions from the Obama Administration, including the release of Cuban spies convicted by U.S. federal courts in a conspiracy to murder Americans. This was also admitted by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and his aide, Tim Rieser, who (nevertheless) worked incessantly to pay Castro’s ransom.

– How Gross was mistreated by the Castro regime. As Gross himself recounts, “they threatened to hang me. They threatened to pull out my fingernails. They said I’d never see the light of day.” He was subjected to sensory deprivation, held in squalid cells, drugged and malnourished — losing up to 110 lbs. This happens in Cuba all of the time. This is not a “benevolent” dictatorship. Yet, these are the new business partners the Obama Administration and some unscrupulous lobbyists seek.

– How the Castro regime knew it could coerce President Obama. In the interview, Gross explains how the equipment he took to the island was in plain sight of Cuban customs. It was also not the first time Gross traveled to the island to help the Cuban people with uncensored Internet connectivity. Moreover, there have been others like Gross. He was taken hostage during the first year of the Obama Administration because the Castro regime knew it could coerce the new President, who kept sending all of the wrong signals by streamlining democracy programs and further unconditionally easing sanctions. Thus, it waited patiently to succeed. If the Obama Administration would have made it clear that the taking of an American hostage would be met with severe consequences, Gross would have been home long ago.

– How Obama’s new policy stems from coercion. Any policy that stems from coercion is inherently counter-productive. The current repression and refugee crisis taking place in Cuba — along with the Castro regime’s utter unwillingness to “cede one millimeter” — is proof of this. Such a policy has only empowered the Castro regime.

Continue reading HERE.

Cuban dissident artist El Sexto: Prison for pig art proof Obama’s policy is not changing Cuba

Via Miami’s WLRN:

El Sexto: Prison For Pig Art Is Proof Normalization Not Changing Cuba

It’s been almost a year since President Obama announced the U.S. was normalizing relations with communist Cuba. Some Cuban dissidents embrace the move. But others – including artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto” – say it’s done little to improve human rights on the island.

“El Sexto” (which means “the Sixth” in Spanish) just got out of prison in Cuba and is visiting Miami this week to convey that message.

A week after Obama’s announcement last year, Maldonado publicly painted the names of Cuba’s top leaders – Raúl Castro and his brother Fidel Castro – on two pigs. It got him 10 months behind bars. Pressure from human rights groups helped get him released in October.

At the Cuban-American National Foundation in Little Havana Monday, Maldonado said his ordeal was proof that normalized relations haven’t led to free speech in Cuba yet.

“There have been no positive changes,” he told WLRN. “The U.S. has given away too much at the normalization talks, and that has let Cuba continue its repression.”

Continue reading (and listen to El Sexto) HERE.

Congressional bill seeks to tighten security at U.S. diplomatic outposts in Cuba

Aaah.  The fine details of “normalization.”

It seems that some lawmakers in Washington have noticed that U.S. diplomatic facilities in Cuba have been full of Castronoid spies for quite some time.

Something overlooked in the past year in all reporting on the “normalization” circus is the fact that the U.S. Interests Section/”Embassy” in Havana employs around 300 Cubans to do much of its work, and that infiltration by Castro spies is a high risk.  Such a high number of native employees is most unusual and out of character for U.S. diplomatic outposts.

Well, it looks as if things are about to change, thanks to a House of Representatives bill that aims to lessen the chance that Cuban spies will be assigned to supervisory roles in American diplomatic facilities in the magical Castro Kingdom.

The current occupant of the White House is much more interested in not offending the Castro regime than he is in the security risks posed by Castro agents in Havana, so this bill is not likely to please him, if he takes the time to examine it closely.  The new provisions could irk Raul.

No need to worry.  Chances are that he’ll be playing golf or discussing global warming rather than reading this bill, so maybe the new measures will go into effect, despite their un-Obamanoid character.

Maybe.  Passing laws is one thing, enforcing them is a quite different kettle of fish, especially when it concerns a circus.

All your efforts to curb our spying will be useless… and…don’t forget, you must gimme Gitmo and my eleven billion dollars in reparations!

From The Wall Street Journal :

Cuba, Russia, ISIS Key Items in House Intelligence Bill

The House of Representatives is set to vote as early as Tuesday on a bill that would authorize spending for the intelligence community for the year that ends Sept. 30, 2016, and the bill contains a number of policy directives that touch everything from Russian political assassinations to cyberattacks.

The unclassified version of the bill, which is 67 pages, which has bipartisan support, is expected to pass easily.

Here are some of the key provisions on Cuba:


Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall ensure that each key supervisory position at a United States diplomatic facility in Cuba is occupied by a citizen of the United States.

Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State, in coordination with the heads of other appropriate departments or agencies of the Federal Government, shall sub mit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on the progress made by the Secretary with respect to the use of locally employed staff in United 16 States diplomatic facilities, including (A) the number of such staff; (B) the responsibilities of such staff; (C) the manner in which such staff are selected, including efforts to mitigate counter-intelligence threats to the United States.

The Secretary of State shall ensure that each United States diplomatic facility in Cuba that, after the date of the enactment of this Act, is constructed or undergoes a construction upgrade includes a sensitive compartmented information facility.

For more details go HERE and scroll to p. 42.

Reports from Cuba: The first anniversary of truncated hope

Rebeca Monzo in Translating Cuba:

The First Anniversary of a Truncated Hope

Some days from now it will be the first anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, but the great expectations awoken by the desired event seem to have fallen into uncertainty and stagnation.

The vast majority of Cubans believed they saw on this event the potential for great improvements in every sense, but disappointment soon invaded all of us on seeing that the island’s government had not taken a single measure to indicate good faith and the desire to realize the changes so greatly longed for.

The fact that they authorized travel for all Cubans and have streamlined the paperwork is nothing new, nor is the authorization to buy and sell homes and cars. These are not government handouts, but simply a restoring of citizens’ rights usurped 56 years ago by the regime itself.

Government immobility has led to a new stampede of Cubans abroad, using every kind of means to escape from a regime in which nobody believes or has any confidence.

Moreover, while thousands of compatriots abandon the country that is totally bankrupt, selling all their property and belongings in order to finance the path to a new dream, the influx of tourists to the island grows as never before, surprising given that the country does not have adequate infrastructure to receive them.

Shortages in the markets and hard currency stores, the sporadic disappearance of basic goods like mineral water, soft drinks and beer, the bad state of the streets and highways, the unhealthy atmosphere in a city where garbage collection is inadequate, the outbreaks of dengue fever and cholera in the capital and other provinces, make me question what motivates this great arrival of foreigners, among whom we find stars of the screen, the stage and music.

Could it be they want to visit this great Caribbean Jurassic Park before the oldest and sickest of its dinosaurs, still breathing, cease to exist? Only time will have the last word.

Why the embargo on Cuba and the Cuban Adjustment Act are still needed

John Suarez in Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Why the Embargo on Cuba and the Cuban Adjustment Act are still needed

“La ‘crisis’ no es en Costa Rica, alli son 4000 que ya escaparon de la tirania. La ‘crisis’ es en Cuba, donde son millones queriendo escapar del comunismo.” Tony Diaz Sanchez, November 27, 2015
Cubans at the Ecuadorian embassy in Havana, Cuba (Photo: 14yMedio)

International news today is reporting on the manufactured Cuban migrant crisis in Central America while ignoring the underlying crisis in Cuba. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that this has happened and those familiar with the situation in Cuba understand the real crisis. Exiled Cuban opposition leader Tony Diaz Sanchez, of the Christian Liberation movement and a former prisoner of conscience explained it well above in Spanish: “The ‘crisis is not in Costa Rica, there are 4,000 who have already escaped the tyranny. The ‘crisis’ is in Cuba where there are millions wanting to escape communism.”

It seems that many in the media are confusing the effects with the underlying cause and it is not only with the question of Cuban migration, but also with the sanctions placed on the Cuban dictatorship by the United States. The reason for the poor relations between the Castro regime and the United States is not because of the embargo but just the opposite. The reason for the embargo on the Castro regime is to safeguard U.S. taxpayers and not have them subsidize a dictatorship hostile to U.S. interests.

The Cuban embargo was first imposed on the Castro regime on  January 3, 1961 by President Eisenhower in response to the confiscation of U.S. properties and toughened by President Kennedy a short time later. The logic for economic sanctions was to raise the cost for the Castro regime to engage in subversion in the hemisphere. Unfortunately, the reason for the embargo still endures.

Cubans were fleeing the Castro regime prior to and following the embargo. However in 1965 the Lyndon Johnson Administration was faced with the Camarioca Boatlift, an migration crisis provoked by the Castro regime. Kelly M. Greenhill in her February 2002 paper, Engineered Migration as a Coercive Instrument, gave an analysis of what the Castro regime did and how the Johnson Administration responded that can be briefly summed up as follows.

Continue reading HERE.

Keep Cuban Adjustment Act, but clamp down on its abusers

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) in The Miami Herald:

Keep the Cuban Adjustment Act, but clamp down on its abusers 1965, one year before signing the Cuban Adjustment Act into law, President Lyndon Johnson said, “I declare this afternoon to the people of Cuba that those who seek refuge here in America will find it. The dedication of America to our traditions as an asylum for the oppressed is going to be upheld.”

Clearly, the spirit of the Act was to assist Cubans who had to flee their homeland and could not return for fear of persecution.

However, unlike other immigrants seeking political asylum, Cubans can return home without jeopardizing their status. In no other instance are refugees or asylees allowed to return to the country they claim is persecuting them without fundamental political change in that country occurring first, or before becoming U.S. citizens.

This is an obvious inconsistency in the law, as several South Florida newspapers have repeatedly pointed out. Ignoring this flaw is detrimental to efforts to reform and preserve the law for those who truly fear for their safety and security in Cuba. Moreover, those who wrongfully take advantage of this law are abusing our country’s generosity and creating gross inequities in our immigration system. Economic immigrants from many other countries in our hemisphere who waited in line to come to the United States do not understand why Cubans, who openly admit they have come for economic opportunities, enjoy these privileges.

Reportedly, some Cubans qualify for public-assistance benefits in the United States and then move back to Cuba. Many of them receive more in benefits than retired Americans who have worked in this country for decades.

On Oct. 8, I met with senior White House staff involved in immigration and Cuba policy. I requested that meeting in a good-faith effort for cooperation to try to address abuses of the CAA and avoid a possible migrant crisis. The goal was to find common ground for a legislative solution.

While acknowledging the abuses, the officials echoed Secretary of State John Kerry’s words that the Obama administration, “has no plans whatsoever to alter the current migration policy.”

Continue reading HERE.

Dozens of dissidents arrested in Cuba as island’s Obama-backed regime unleashes another Sunday of violent repression

The Obama-backed apartheid Castro dictatorship in Cuba unleashed another Sunday of violent repression yesterday. As reports filter in from the heavily-censored island, Cuba’s Ladies in White organization is reporting as many as 70 dissidents were violently arrested yesterday. This marks the 32nd consecutive week of violence and oppression against peaceful dissidents and human rights activists in Cuba.

Reports from the island on yesterday’s repression have been even more scarce than usual this morning.  This lack of information is mostly due to the Castro regime cutting off the cell phone service of leading dissidents who participate in the weekly peaceful protest marches. One of the last messages to come out came from human rights activist Angel Moya, who sent out a tweet a little after 1:00 pm saying “They’re going to arrest us.”

Uncommon Sense has more coverage HERE.

Is Mexico going “Trump” on Cubanos?

Up here, Mr Trump wants to send illegal immigrants back home. The Mexican government has criticized such a campaign position.
I have said several times that massive deportation is an unrealistic option, in large part because it will get caught up in the courts and not send any one home.

Interestingly, the Mexican government is doing its own version of Trump’s idea.

They pick up “indocumentados cubanos” and send them back to Cuba, as we read in The Yucatan Times:

After providing first aid and verifying that they were in good health, the Navy transferred the rafters to the remote terminal of the Port of Progreso.

The Cubans were then sent to the Merida facilities of the National Institute of Migration.
Authorities have reported the arrival in Yucatan of more than 150 Cuban rafters in 2014 and so far in 2015, in what is considered the largest exodus from the island in the past decade.

Most are seeking to reach the United States, using Mexico as a stopover on their journey.
However, unlike the Cubans who have in past months arrived to Mexico, the six recent arrivals could never reach the United States due to the Mexico-Cuba repatriation agreement signed Nov. 7 in Merida by President Enrique Peña Nieto and Cuban President Raul Castro.

Due to the agreement, the six Cubans would be sent back to the island.

We understand that Mexico is a sovereign country and has the right to enforce immigration laws, such as keeping people without papers away from its territory.

Here is the question: Why do so many Mexican politicians criticize Mr Trump for proposing to do here what they do down there?

The bottom line is that Mexico is hypocritical about enforcing immigration laws.   Apparently, it’s OK for Mexico to deport Central Americans or Cubans in the name of sovereignty and the rule of law.   It’s not OK for the US to do the same thing.

The word is “hipocrita”!   Someone should ask President Pena-Nieto about it!

P. S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Crazy Che: A film review

Jonathan Holland in The Hollywood Reporter:

Crazy Che’ (‘El Crazy Che’): Film Review

An Argentinian doc about an American double agent in the 80s and 90s.


At giddying speed, Crazy Che strips back,the life and times of Bill Gaede, a driven American who during the 80s and 90s dealt in industrial espionage: first for Cuba and the Soviet Union, and then for the U.S. Anyone who’s ever suspected that the spying game is just that — an elaborate way for certain kinds of driven people to keep themselves entertained — will find their suspicions confirmed by a documentary that’s just as fast and frenzied as its distinctive hero.

Digital surveillance may mean that the days of the good old, raincoat-wearing, fast-thinking spy, of which Gaede is definitely one, are numbered, which makes Crazy Che, with its 80s cassette tapes and handicams, a bit of a nostalgic homage too. Festivals should warm to a well-put together package with no pretentions other than to properly tell a good yarn.

The original intention of directors Iacouzzi and Chehebar — whose radically different last film was about a plague of Patagonian beavers — was to shoot a doc about Argentinean scientists working abroad. But when they came across the unlikely figure of Gaede – now a physics professor working in Germany, and working on his theory of the universe – they understandably changed their minds.

In his 20s, Gaede became seduced by the high ideals of Communism and Castro, and decided to supply them with technical information about integrated circuitry produced at the large Silicon Valley company where he worked. Rarely has the manufacture of microchips been filmed as excitingly as it is here.

He was invited to Cuba to meet Castro, but that never happened — instead, the poverty he saw in Havana disillusioned him with communism. Falling in with the likes of Jose ‘Pepe’ Cohen and Roland Sarraf Trujillo (recently released from jail following the Cuban thaw and referenced by President Obama himself in one of the film’s final sequences) Gaede did an about turn and started supplying classified Cuban info to the FBI with the aim of overthrowing his former hero Castro. Gaede doesn’t seem to care much who falls, but it all ended for him with 33 months in jail.

Continue reading HERE.

Reports from Cuba: The exodus is due to the lack of freedom

By Pedro Campos in Translating Cuba:

The Exodus Is Due To The Lack Of Freedom
The Red Cross helps Cubans stuck at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border since last weekend.

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 25 November 2015 — The current immigration crisis created by the presence of thousands of Cubans in Central America in transit to the United States has put the issue of human rights in Cuba back in the international arena, in particular the civil, political, social and economic rights of Cubans.

The government of General Raul Castro and a part of the international press emphasize the idea that it is a legal issue, related to the Cuban Adjustment Act. The Cuban government also links it to the maintenance of the blockade-embargo, which analysts say is an attempt to pressure the US government to repeal both laws.

However, it is not possible to hide, behind the Cuban exodus, the fundamental problem in Cuba: the dissatisfaction of hundreds of thousands of Cubans with the economic and political situation in our country, which remains essentially unchanged thanks to decisions taken by the government — which has been in power for more than half a century – in the name of socialism, which has never existed.

No, we Cubans are not starving, because really there is no generalized crisis of that type in Cuba. Although for many nutrition is precarious, the fundamental appetite Cubans have is for rights and freedoms, for democracy, because the “dictatorship” – supposedly of the proletariat – established in Cuba and always led in the same direction by the Communist Party, continues to insist on its political and economic model of monopolistic State capitalism; by its nature anti-democratic, exclusive and retrograde.

Despite the public discourse of an “opening,” in reality economic activity outside the State is constantly limited by laws, regulations and provisions at all levels and by high direct and indirect taxes. Autonomous work, or self-employment, continues to be restricted to a group of activities and cannot be exercised by professionals in medicine or law, for example. To establish a cooperative requires permission from the Council of State.

But above all, State monopolies in domestic and foreign trade and the limited access to international communications networks, hinder non-State economic activity.

But what most oppresses Cubans, along with the daily problems of housing, transportation or poor-quality food, is the repressive philosophy of the State that impedes the freedom of expression, of association and elections, which obstructs any democratic alternation in power of forces and figures different from the governmental clan, forces and figures that could bring another focus to politics and get the country out of the stagnation in which it finds itself.

This is definitely a massive and flagrant violation of the civil, political, economic and social rights of the Cuban people, by a government that has spent more than half a century in power, with the methods and mechanisms to guarantee its indefinite existence. And this is the real cause of the exodus and of the current crisis.

It is true that the internal problems of Cubans must be resolved by Cubans ourselves, but when these problems affect other nations it is logical that they would take action in the matter and try to influence events through international means established by multilateral institutions recognized by the States.

The Central American community has met to discuss the crisis, but it should go beyond the legal and border problems involved and evaluate it in its entirety. The Inter-American system should also take action on the issue and the United Nations itself should involve itself, because as long as there is no resolution to the internal problems in Cuba, the system imposed by this “eternal Government” is going to continue to generate regional tensions related to immigration, be it in Central America, South America or the Straits of Florida.

Some believe that the current immigration crisis caused by the presence of thousands of Cubans in Central America is a land version of the Rafter Crisis of 1994. Any attempt to put a plug in the Cuban exodus across the continent could lead to a situation like that one, if democratic changes that loosen tensions do not come to pass in Cuba

Happy Birthday Maestro Aurelio de la Vega


I recently had the very great pleasure of attending a Verdi Chorus concert dedicated to my friend, Maestro Aurelio de la Vega in honor of his milestone 90TH birthday. I can only describe this wonderful man as a gift, truly a treasure. It is an honor to know him.

A short biography via The Verdi Chorus:

Aurelio de la Vega – Composer and Musicologist

Aurelio de la Vega was born in La Habana, Cuba, on November 28, 1925 and became an American citizen in 1966. Since the early 60s he has been an important force in the United States and in the Latin American musical scene.
After studying with Ernst Toch in California (1947-1948) he occupied relevant positions in his native land (Dean, School of Music, University of Oriente; Adviser, National Institute of Culture; Vice-President, Havana Philharmonic Orchestra), toured the United States as lecturer (1952-1954) and settled in Los Angeles in 1959, where he has been very active as composer and lecturer. Other positions held include those of Past-President of the Cuban National Music Council (UNESCO), 1950-1956; Past-Treasurer of the Cuban Section of the Inter-American Music Association (Caracas), 1952-1959; Past-Second Vice-President of the Inter-American Music Center (Organization of American States, Washington, D.C.), 1952-1958; Past-President of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Association of Composers, U.S.A., 1964-1968; Past-Chairman of the West Coast Branch of the United States Section of the International Society for Contemporary Music, 1965-1972, and Visiting Professor of Music at the University of Rio de Janeiro (Fulbright Research Award, Washington-Rio de Janeiro), 1985. He was Visiting Professor at the University of Southern California during the summer of 1959. From 1959 to 1992 he was Professor of Music and Director of the Electronic Music Studio at California State University, Northridge. In 1971 he was awarded the Outstanding Professor Award of the entire California State University system. At present, he is a Distinguished Emeritus Professor of said University, and is a Member of the Academy of Arts and Letters of Chile, and of the Brazilian Academy of Music.
He has lectured extensively in Cuba, the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, Spain, Argentina and Chile, mainly on contemporary music, on electronic music and on the art of Latin America. His list of compositions (many published and many commercially recorded, almost all commissioned works from 1962 on) include symphonic pieces, chamber music, solo piano, solo instruments with tape, song cycles, cantatas, ballet music, solo guitar and electronic music works. His compositions have been played by major orchestras, ensembles, important soloists and singers in numerous cities of Cuba, the United States, Europe, Israel, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Japan, Puerto Rico and India. Many of his works have been commercially recorded on Panart, Orion, Avant, Crystal, Opus One, North/South Consonance, Labor, Vienna Modern Masters, Tapa, Centaur, Raptoria Caam, Musicians Showcase, and Universidade Río Grande do Sul Recordings (Brazil).
The recipient of numerous prizes, commissions, awards and distinctions, among them, Virginia Colliers Chamber Music Award (Washington, 1955), Andrew Mellon Fellowship (University of Pittsburg, 1963), Distinguished Professor Award (California State University, Northridge, 1974), Friedheim Award of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Washington, 1978 and 1984), City of Los Angeles Commendation (Office of the Mayor,1978 and 1993), California State Senate Commendation (Sacramento, 1979), Creativity Award (California State University, Northridge, 1984 and 1991), Council of the City of Los Angeles Resolution Honoring Maestro Aurelio de la Vega (Los Angeles, 1995), Certificate of Recognition (City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, Los Angeles, 2000) and FACE (Facts About Cuban Exiles)Award (Miami, 2000). His Variación del Recuerdo (“Variation of the Remembrance”), for string orchestra (1999) received a Latin Grammy nomination in 2009. In 2010 he received the Warren Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cintas Foundation.
Commissioning of works include those extended by the Coolidge Foundation of the Library of Congress (Washington, 1962), the Third Inter-American Music Festival (Washington, 1963), the Third Caracas International Music Festival (Caracas, 1965), the Los Angeles philharmonic Orchestra (1977), the Klimt Foundation (Sidney, 1981), the American Chamber Symphony (Los Angeles, 1983), the University of California at San Diego (La Jolla, 1985), the Sociedad de Música de Cámara de Zaragoza (Zaragoza, 1987), the Buenos Aires Encounters of Contemporary Music (Buenos Aires, 1990), the Culver City Chamber Orchestra (Culver City, 1998), and the Moldenhauer Foundation of the Library of Congress (Washington, 2006), in addition to patrons, singers and instrumentalists.
He has received honors and decorations from various governments (Medal of the Order of Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, Republican Cuba, 1956; Medal of the Order of Eloy Alfaro, Colombia, 1961; Medal of the Order of the Sun, Peru, 1969; Medal of the Order of Vicente Emilio Sojo, Venezuela, 1985) for his contributions to Latin American art music. He is also a well-known essayist on the pictorial art of Latin America.

Miami Dade College Professor Ricardo Pau-Llosa interviews Cuban Composer Aurelio de la Vega and filmmaker Camilo Vila. Mr. Vila produced and directed a documentary about the life of Aurelio de la Vega, Aurelio: Rebel With a Cause, available at Amazon.

Babalú has previously celebrated Doctor de la Vega, HERE, HERE, and in 2008, BabaluBlog Radio Hour was thrilled to host special guest Dr. Aurelio de la Vega.