scarcity of basic staples has shot up to 60%, as expected;
the government had to raise the prices of regulated food items in government stores, sometimes as much as 60%, also as expected;
To put it all in perspective, Últimas Noticias has an excellent story about the day-to-day struggle of poor Venezuelans to find the things they need. One of several money quotes:
“Approximately a year ago, María Rodríguez and her husband stopped selling basic staples from their little shop, located in a small terrace in Mamera, a poor neighborhood up the hill from the Antímano boulevard, in western Caracas. “Everything has gotten really difficult [to obtain]. It’s not even worth it to go to wholesalers in Quinta Crespo or the La Yaguara Makro because, besides having to stand in line and pay for transportation, they don’t let you buy wholesale, you can only take two or four packages per person. That is only good for us, but not for reselling. Now, we just get by through selling junk food such as candy and chocolates (which we get from a local wholesaler), root beer, and soda, which distributors continue bringing us.”
The same story also repeats the much-vaunted line about how Venezuelans are consuming more calories than ever before. Of course, if you can’t buy chicken or flour, and instead you have to consume Torontos and Maltín Polar, you caloric intake is going to go up – way up! But is that a good thing? It’s no wonder there is one ranking where we are doing exceedingly well – obesity rankings.
This confirms the anecdotes we have been hearing about: in the first few months of the year, the supply of currency in the economy dried up almost completely. We were even hearing about how activity in our major ports was down to a trickle. Scarcity is simply the end product of a decision made by someone, somewhere, to simply shut down the supply of dollars.
Typically we try to explain this several ways: it’s the Cuban subsidies, or the boligarchs that are stealing the country’s money, or the fire in Amuay that is forcing us to import everything, or the sales in advance to China.
Me? I think it’s all of this, and then some. And while some people think the worse may be over, I have my doubts.
HAVANA, Cuba — For almost the first three years of his regime, Fidel Castro was not interested in Cuban intellectuals. He did not forgive their passivity during the years of revolutionary insurrection. They had not put bombs in the street, nor did they engage in armed conflict with the previous dictator’s police. Even those who lived abroad did not do anything for the revolutionary triumph. He never forgave them. Neither he nor other political leaders considered them revolutionaries either before or after the Revolution.
Che Guevara had left it written forever in his little Marxist manual Socialism and Man in Cuba: “The guilt of many of our intellectuals and artists resides in their original sin: they are not authentically revolutionary. We can try to graft the elm tree so that it will produce pears, but at the same time we must plant pear trees.”
But the pears that Che mentioned had nothing to do with human beings because an intellectual, writer or artist is characterized by his sensitivity, his pride, his sincerity. In general, they are solitary and proud.
But also they are, and that is their misfortune, an easy nut to crack, above all for a dictator with good spurs.
During those almost first three years of the Revolution, the most convulsive of the Castro regime — the number of those shot increased and the few jails were stuffed with more than 10,000 political prisoners — surely writers did not fail to observe how Fidel Castro was cracking the free press when after December 27, 1959, he gave the order to introduce the first “post-scripts” at the bottom of articles adverse to his government, supposedly written by the graphics workers.
It was evident that Fidel Castro, who controlled the whole country, did not want to approach them to fill leadership positions of cultural institutions founded by the regime, like the Institute of Art and Cinematographic Industry, House of the Americas, the Latin News Press Agency and numerous newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations that were nationalized.
For minister of education he preferred Armando Hart. For the House of the Americas, a woman very far from being an intellectual, Haydee Santamaria. For the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, Papito Serguera, and for the Naitonal Council of Culture, Vicentina Antuna and Edith Garcia Buchaca, two women unknown in cultural domain.
The first approach that Fidel Castro had with writers, June 16, 1961, in the National Library of Havana, could not have been worse. It was there where he exclaimed his famous remark, “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing,” and where he made clear that those who were dedicated to Art had to submit themselves to the will of the Revolution, something that is still in force.
The maximum leader left that closed-door meeting more than pleased on seeing the expressions of surprise and fear of many of those present, and above all by the words of Virgilio Pinera, one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century when he said: “I just know that I am scared, very scared.” That precisely was what the new Cuban leader most needed to hear from the intellectual throng: Fear, to be able to govern at his whim.
Two months later the Fist Congress of Cuban Writers and Artists was held, and UNEAC was founded. The intellectuals had fallen into line.
Alan Gross visited by Rabbi Arthur Schneier during the feast of Purim
The answer to the question raised in this article's title seems to be "yes."
Rabbi Abraham Cooper --associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles --suggests that some oligarchs in Castrogonia definitely think that Jews in the United States have immense clout and are therefore in a better position than most people to pressure the U.S. into releasing the Cuban "Five" (now three) in exchange for Gross.
Rabbi Cooper employs the term "freedom fighter/terrorist" for the Castronoid spies serving jail sentences in the U.S. Whether he is being sarcastic or not is hard to tell.
But there is no doubt at all about one thing: the abysmal vileness of the Castro regime rivals that of the devil himself.
Prayers for Alan Gross' freedom on Passover 2014
By Rabbi Abraham CooperPublished April 14, 2014 FoxNews.com
I never met Alan Gross. But on Monday night, when I gather with 700 other American Jews in Phoenix to celebrate the Passover Seder, his plight will be one of the hot-button issues, along with the post-mortem on Secretary of State John Kerry’s Mideast peace talks and Iran’s imminent nuclear breakout.
That’s because it is increasingly clear that Gross, an American, is caught in a no-man’s land between the U.S. and Havana, a hostage to the Cuban authorities’ desperate desire to free five of their freedom fighter/terrorists from U.S. custody.
Gross, 64, was not convicted of espionage, but of bringing computers and satellite phones paid for by a grant from a U.S. agency to a Jewish group serving the tiny Jewish community in the communist island nation 90 miles from Florida.
I learned of Gross’ plight in 2012 from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who used a very public meeting with 200 Jewish leaders at the State Department to denounce Havana for jailing him – while distancing the U.S. government from any responsibility to get him out!
“Try to help him,” Clinton told me.
My chance came two years ago, when the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Shoah Foundation were asked to prepare a permanent Holocaust exhibition for a synagogue in Havana.
From the moment I landed, I asked to see Gross. It never happened, but I did have a formal meeting with a government official who dealt with “religious” issues (including the visit of Pope Benedict XVI that took place a few weeks later).
I urged the Cubans to release Gross on humanitarian grounds. The official emphasized that Gross had “violated the law,” but he did not accuse him of being a spy or try to justify his draconian 15-year sentence.
Later, during an informal discussion with a well-informed Cuban, it became clear that one of the reasons they threw the book at Gross was because Alan Gross is a Jew. Not that he is being mistreated in jail because he is Jewish. To the contrary. But some Cubans were convinced that his value as a hostage went up because he was a Jew.
“Everyone knows that the Jews have a lot of clout in Washington,” this person told me somewhat sheepishly – so sentencing Gross to 15 years could be the key to win the freedom of their agents jailed in the U.S., the thinking went.
Well, I guess they never Googled Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew who, despite decades of protests from members of the Jewish community over the harshness of his sentence, is still in Federal Prison in North Carolina for spying for Israel 30 years later!
So, for now, Gross remains a prisoner of unfortunate circumstances and unrealistic expectations. I have no idea what it will take to win his release. He is reported to be on a hunger strike and has myriad medical issues. I can only hope the Obama administration will make his release a priority before further economic concessions are made to the Cuban regime.
Geopolitics aside, it is true that the mitzvah (good deed) of Pidyon Shvuim (ransoming Jewish hostages) is considered of great importance. Jewish law dictates that a community can sell its last holy Torah scroll to save the life of a fellow Jew.
So if Washington or Havana were to ask this rabbi (and they have not) how to solve the Gross quandary, here would be my simple game plan: Have President Castro release Gross on humanitarian grounds, and I am sure that an interfaith group of clergy, myself included, would undertake to bring much needed medicines to help Cubans in need .
In the meantime, I will be thinking of Alan Gross and his family while eating the bitter herbs at our Passover Seder, and saying a prayer he will soon be free.
First, potatoes disappeared from Cuban markets. They are back, but police are struggling to keep throngs of frantic buyers in check. And now there are shortages of beer and condoms, with some shops charging up to $1.30 for each prophylactic.
Havana blogger Miriam Celaya wrote that a woman friend had joked that if in the 1990s she had to buy condoms instead of hard-to-find balloons for her son’s birthday party, today she might have to buy him balloons so he can practice safe sex.
Cuban ruler Raúl Castro has repeatedly declared that the island is moving, slowly but steadily, away from its highly inefficient Soviet economic model and toward a more-productive system that mixes socialism with small doses of private enterprise.
Yet Cubans are complaining almost daily about shortages, sometimes in one province and not in another, sometimes in some stores and not others, and sometimes about one item and not another — for instance, no galvanized roofing sheets but lots of nails.
Havana author Polina Martínez Shvietsova wrote that the shortage of condoms in state-run pharmacies started about 15 days ago, although shops that cater mostly to foreigners still sell the prophylactics at $1.30 each — a day’s wage for the average Cuban.
“In the great majority of pharmacies in the [Havana] municipality of Playa, there’s a shortage,” she wrote. “In the municipality of Plaza, in the pharmacy at 23rd and 24th Streets, the salespeople said, ‘We have none, and we don’t know when they will arrive.’ . . .
“Nevertheless, all of the pharmacies that have no condoms do have signs recommending safe sex,” Martinez wrote in her report published in Cubanet, a Miami-based website for independent journalists.
Desperately Seeking Proof of Cuba’s Role in Venezuela?
Scholars and Journalists Should Question State's Incentive to Conceal Information
Why does the mention of Cuba’s influence in Venezuela throw otherwise reasonable people into a seeming state of incredulity?
This week, Moisés Naím (a former minister of trade and industry for Venezuela and a former executive director of the World Bank) published an article in the Financial Times arguing that the “enormous influence that Cuba has gained in Venezuela is one of the most underreported geopolitical developments of recent times.”
I shared Naím’s article on my Twitter feed, one of many articles I have posted on the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Oddly, none of the articles I have shared about state repression and censorship by the Venezuelan regime has elicited as much push-back from the intellectual and media set as those articles I have shared drawing attention to Cuba’s role in the Venezuelan crisis.
An article I tweeted a few weeks ago on the Cuban connection in Venezuela prompted a series of responses (some public, some private) from people who suggested that Cuba is a “red herring” of the “extreme right wing” in Venezuela and Latin America more broadly.
In response to my tweet of Naím’s recent article, a distinguished Associated Press reporter on Latin America (seconded by a reporter from Al Jazeera) responded: “documentation/testimony, please” — ostensibly referring to the need to further substantiate Naím’s claim.
That such a distinguished reporter would ask me for documentation instead of Naím seems a bit odd. Perhaps the reporter was simply taken aback that a scholar outside of the Miami and Washington enclaves would give airtime to an argument portraying the Cuban regime in a less-than-flattering light.
As I see it, there are two main points of contention with respect to Naím’s article: one is whether Cuba does, in fact, play a critical role in Venezuela; the other is whether this role has been underreported in the media (and the latter, it seems to me, is the main point of Naím’s latest article).
With respect to Cuba’s role in Venezuela, Naím quotes Juan José Rabilero, ex-head of Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). A neighborhood surveillance and intelligence-gathering network, CDRs were established to ensure “revolutionary vigilance”: “Militia battalions will be created throughout Cuba,” explained Fidel Castro on launching the CDRs in 1960. “Each man for each weapon will be selected. A structure will be given to the entire mass of militiamen so that as soon as possible our combat units will be perfectly formed and trained.”
Naím notes that Rabilero, giving a speech in the Venezuelan state of Táchira in 2007, confirmed the presence of 30,000 cederristas (members of the CDRs) in Venezuela. Surely even a skeptic will accept statements about Cuba’s role in Venezuela when these statements come from officials themselves?
Grayston Lynch helped train, in his own words, “brave boys who had never before fired a shot in anger” — college students, farmers, doctors, common laborers, whites, blacks, mulattoes. They were known as La Brigada 2506, an almost precise cross-section of Cuban society of the time. The Brigada included men from every social strata and race in Cuba — from sugar cane planters and cutters, to aristocrats and their chauffeurs. But mostly, the band was comprised of the folks in between, as befit a nation with a larger middle class than most of Europe.
Short on battle experience, yes, but they were bursting with what Bonaparte and George Patton valued most in soldiers: morale. No navel-gazing about “why they hate us” or pondering the merits of regime change for them. They’d seen Castroism point-blank.
Their goals were crystal clear: firing-squads silenced, families reunited, tens of thousands freed from prisons, torture chambers and concentration camps. We see such scenes on the History Channel after our GIs took places like Manila and Munich. In 1961, newsreels could have captured much of the same without crossing oceans. When those Cuban freedom-fighters hit the beach at the Bay of Pigs 53 years ago this week, one of every 18 Cubans suffered in Castro’s Gulag. Mass graves dotted the Cuban countryside, filled with hundreds of victims of Castro and Che Guevara’s firing squads. Most of the invaders had loved-ones among the above. Modern history records few soldiers with the burning morale of the Bay of Pigs freedom-fighters.
For many of us, they are just our parents, grandparents, and in some cases, our great-grandparents. They are humble, hard-working folk who wholly dedicated themselves to providing a life of liberty and freedom for their children. But fifty-three years ago today, more than 1,500 Cuban exiles from that generation embarked on a mission to free their homeland from tyranny. As they stormed that beach in Cuba on April 17th, 1961 to battle the evil forces of the communist Castro dictatorship, they had no idea they were about to become victims of one of the most heinous and insidious betrayals in modern history.
The promised air support from the U.S. military, which was part of the military plan and vitally necessary for the beach invasion to be successful never arrived. In a moment of monumental cowardice, President John F. Kennedy called back the American support forces at the last moment, leaving those brave and courageous men to fend for themselves. Severely outnumbered and with no one to resupply them, they did not stand a chance. Nevertheless, even when they realized they had been abandoned and left to die, they continued to fight until they spent every last bullet they had.
It took the vastly larger and better equipped forces of the Castro regime three days to conquer those brave soldiers of the Brigada 2506. A testament to not only their valor, but to their place as Cuba's Greatest Generation.
A tribute from our friends at Electric Piquete
This track was inspired by the 2506 Brigade, the Bay of Pigs invasion and bass player Michael Mut and trumpet player Rich Dixon's grandfathers' role in it as CIA-trained combatants. The recording features a couple of notable guest musicians: Suenalo's Chad Bernstein on conch and trombone and Tony "Smurphio" Laurencio from Afrobeta and ex-Suenalo and was produced, engineered and mixed by DJ Le Spam.
Journalist held for past ten days, charged with “terrorism”
Reporters Without Borders condemns independent journalist Juliet Michelena Díaz’s detention since 7 April, three days after she wrote a by-lined report for the Miami-based independent news platform Cubanet about a case of ordinary police violence she had witnessed in Havana.
Michelena, who was arrested in a heavy-handed police operation, is a member of the Cuban Network of Community Journalists (RCCC), an organization that defends freedom of information. The police often break up its meetings and arrest participants, but the arrests are usually of short duration.
The charges against Michelena have changed since her arrest. Initially accused of “threatening a neighbour,” she is now charged with “terrorism.” Despite the absence of any evidence, the nature of the charge prevents a quick release, which is otherwise often the case with arbitrary arrests in Cuba.
“We urge the authorities to free Michelena without delay and drop all charges against her,” said Lucie Morillon, head of research at Reporters Without Borders. “The decision to bring a more serious charge indicates a desire to silence her and put a stop to all her critical reporting. Police violence is nonetheless far from being a subject that Cubans can easily forget.”
Independent journalists are subject to constant judicial harassment in Cuba. Arbitrary arrests are used to undermine their ability to work and to restrict the flow of information.
Michelena was already arrested on 26 March, when she was released after a few hours. Police officers attacked the independent journalist Dania Virgen García on 12 April, as she was dropping her nephew off at school. Two state TV journalists who began to film the attack were also immediately arrested. The three women were released that evening.
Reporters Without Borders wrote to French foreign minister Laurent Fabius ahead of his visit to Havana on 10 April asking him to raise the issue of arrests of journalists. RWB believes that an improvement in economic relations between Cuba and European Union countries should not be at the expense of Cuba’s journalists.
Three other journalists and bloggers are currently detained in Cuba. They are Yoenni de Jesús Guerra García, who was arrested last October and was given a seven-year jail term in March; Angel Santiesteban-Prats, who has been held for more than a year; and José Antonio Torres, a reporter for the official newspaper Granma who was given a 14-year sentence in July 2012.
From the offices of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL):
Ros-Lehtinen Commemorates Anniversary of Bay of Pigs, Urges the Obama Administration to Support Freedom On the Island
(Miami, Florida) – Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) issued the following statement on the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs. Said Ros-Lehtinen:
“On this tragic anniversary, we honor the memory of the brave Cuban exiles who gave their lives for the cause of a free Cuba. Over 100 members of Brigade 2506 were butchered by the Castro regime and more than 1,000 were captured, and more than 50 years later, this cold-blooded regime continues to oppress and violate the basic dignity the Cuban people. The members of Brigade 2506 have inspired pro-democracy leaders to continue the legacy of calling for respect for human rights and democratic change, but they are met with intimidation, beatings, and unjust arrests. I urge the Obama Administration to condemn these gross human rights violations and support these freedom seekers who constantly risk their well being and even lives to advance democratic values. In order to fulfill the dream of the courageous brigadistas, we must advocate and support freedom for the Cuban people.”
HAVANA, Cuba – On April 12, 2003, media throughout the world carried the news of the execution of three young Cubans for their involvement in the hijacking of the Regla-based boat “Baraguá.” They were trying to flee the country and get to the United States.
Leftist newspapers, sympathetic to the Cuban regime, tried to justify the act, writing: “the government wanted to strike at the roots of airplane and boat hijackings.” They admitted that the punishment was intended to send a message, meaning that none of the accused was entitled to a fair trial.
Some went further. Heinz Dieterich Steffan (who later became the ideologist of “Socialism of the XXI Century”), told on his website how the then-president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, was sending a message to the White House: “You have declared war and your first soldiers have fallen.” And he later added: “I want you to know how to interpret the message of the firing squad, so there is no more bloodshed.”
The executions occurred just over a week after the group of 11 young men, armed with a gun and a knife, had diverted the ferry some 30 miles offshore.
How did it all happen?
The hijackers, upon boarding the boat, fired a shot in the air and one yelled: “This is fucked! We’re going to the U.S.!” After 30 miles the fuel ran out and the boat drifted. The sea was very choppy, so in an act of tragic naivety they agreed to be towed to the port of Mariel with the promise that the authorities there would give them fuel.
They didn’t tie anyone up (as—according to family members of the accused—the prosecution claimed). If they had, how do you explain that upon arriving at Mariel some passengers, at a signal from security agents, jumped into the water? Enrique Copello Castillo, who tried to prevent one of the foreigners on board from escaping, had the gun. But he didn’t use it even when the situation got out of his control. This shows that he was not a criminal, just a young person desperate to reach the United States, in search of freedom and the chance for personal advancement.
On April 8, 2003, after a summary trial, the sentence was issued: Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro L. Sevilla García, and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac were condemned to death. The rest of those involved in the attempted hijacking were given prison sentences: life imprisonment for Harold Alcala Aramburo, Maykel Delgado Aramburo, Ramon Henry Grillo and Yoanny Thomas Gonzalez; 30 years for Ledea Wilmer Perez; and from 2 to 5 years for the women traveling with them.
In March of that same year, the government had jailed 75 human-rights activists, independent journalists, and political dissidents. These were in the Villa Marista prison when the hijackers were taken to that infamous headquarters of the Cuban political police. Ricardo González Alfonso, the now-exiled independent journalist and one of the 75, has left behind a disturbing account of the last hours of Enrique Copello Castillo, who shared his cell.
The day of the trial, a State Security captain took him to an office to explain that, although they were seeking the death penalty for Copello Castillo, there was a chance he would not be executed. He therefore asked for González Alfonso’s cooperation in helping save the condemned man’s life if he tried to commit suicide. In light of what happened on April 11, when the condemned were taken before the firing squad without notice to their families, it can be interpreted that the captain was in charge of “supply”: he could not allow the scapegoats to escape their own sacrifice. How could they make an example of Copello Castillo if he had not attended his own execution?
THE REGIME WANTS THEM SILENCED! Reports indicate 137 journalists assaulted during protests in Venezuela
Venezuela's National Press Workers Union (SNTP) is reporting that as of this past Saturday, which marked the second month of street protests against the government of president Nicolas Maduro, 181 assaults against 137 journalists have been documented.
During a speech to colleagues, Marco Ruiz, the Secretary General of the SNTP, explained that of the 181 assaults there was one journalist shot, 82 cases of harassment, 40 cases of physical attacks, 35 cases of theft and destruction of equipment, and 23 arrests.
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