Cuban dissidents assess effectiveness of Obama’s Cuba policy: More repression and more cash for apartheid regime

Being that they are all Cuban dissidents and live on the island, no one in the White House gives much credence to their assessments. President Obama prefers to get his information about Cuba directly from the apartheid regime and the bevy of yes-men that surround him.

Nevertheless, if you want to know just how effective the president’s Cuba policy has been through the eyes of an actual Cuban, here you go.

Via Diario de Cuba:

Revenue for the regime, a crackdown on society, and the repression of dissidents

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Antonio Rodiles, Coordinator of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms (ForoDyL):

A year ago relations were restored but, if one counts the 18 months of the confidential political process leading up to that achievement, it has been some 3 years of rapprochement between Washington and Havana. During this period what has been most evident is an increase in repression and violence on the Island.

This is a trend that has affected not only the opposition and human rights activists, but also the population at large, ordinary Cubans who do not get involved in politics because they are afraid to; the self-employed, for example, with fines, controls, and the whole issue of abusive and excessive taxes.

What we are seeing is a regime that, though it has opened up in the international sphere, at home is doubling down on its repressive policies. A sign of this is the relentless flight of Cubans abroad we have been recently been witnessing.

The Obama Administration had stated that this was best way to bring about positive change in Cuba, but I think it is high time that it at least begin to publicly recognize that things are not going as they expected, because what we are experiencing is a process curtailing all the freedoms and rights of Cubans.

From the outset the Forum for Rights and Freedoms identified the need for a real political process in which the regime also had to take steps. This is not what has happened. The people behind this agenda of continuing to grant concessions, without requiring anything from the regime in return, are proving to be somewhat obstinate.

It is very worrisome that in recent weeks we have seen a wave of imprisonments, not only temporary arrests, while Washington remains utterly silent about the situation. Moreover, the famous empowerment that the self-employed were going to enjoy has yet to materialize.

The regime’s response to the Obama Administration’s measures has been its traditional backwardness, and it is surprising that there have been no statements released, by any institution, including human rights groups, with respect to the current situation.

Laritza Diversent, Director of Cubalex

The rapprochement between the two governments has been positive, although we have not seen any steps forward by the Cuban Government in terms of greater respect for human rights on the Island.

It is up to Cuban civil society to expand strategies to achieve the recognition of its rights.

The repression against dissidents is getting even harsher, but I think this is more due the regime’s fear than its privileged position.

Eduardo Cardet, National Coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement

For the people of Cuba this has been a very tough, difficult year, characterized by a worsening economic and social crisis, and an alarming increase in the exodus of Cubans who are heading abroad, by any means possible, especially to the United States, as almost the only opportunity to improve their lives.

The political regime has exhibited no changes of the kind we have been striving for, as dissidents. The repressive control has only increased, and we’re not the only ones saying it. There is a palpable level of violence being perpetrated against the Ladies in White, and against all opponents of the regime in general, and any manifestation of independent participation.

Unfortunately, there has been no democratic opening-up, at all. At the public relations level, however, the Government of Cuba has managed to project a fraudulent mirage of change. Many democratic countries around the world, such as in the European Union, have sought to rethink their relationships with the Government of Cuba, as if almost everything was resolved.

Continue reading HERE.

Real change in Cuba – Part I: New jobs created on the island… for foreign laborers

When President Obama announced his new Cuba policy over a year ago, he promised that his strategy of unilateral concessions and embracing the island’s brutally repressive apartheid dictatorship would “empower” the Cuban people to break free of the government by dismantling the dismal state-controlled economy with some good old fashioned capitalism. Well, changes have certainly arrived in Cuba, but not for the Cuban people. They remain impoverished, enslaved, and trapped on an island prison, but foreign investors and workers are certainly cashing in on the “changes.”

Via Reuters:

Indians help build Cuba hotels as foreign labor ban weakens

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French construction group Bouygues (BOUY.PA) is employing more than 100 Indian laborers to work on a hotel it is building in Cuba, breaking a taboo in the Communist-run country on hiring foreign labor in order to meet increased tourism demand.

The Cuban government removed a key barrier to hiring foreign workers with the passage of a 2014 foreign investment law that authorized “special regulations” concerning foreign workers under “exceptional circumstances.”

Cuban government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the influx of foreign workers, several dozen of whom spoke to Reuters in Havana. But the Bouygues move, which was also confirmed by a company spokesman, is the first time a firm has bypassed Cuba’s state-run labor halls to hire foreign workers en masse.

For a country struggling to prop up export revenue in the face of low commodity prices, foreign workers on the Caribbean island signal how critical tourism is now in Cuba and how market forces are transforming its once tightly controlled economy.

Already popular as a low-cost beach resort for Europeans and Canadians, Cuba is seeing a surge in American visitors since the United States and Cuba announced in December of 2014 that they would work to normalize relations.

Tourism increased 17 percent in 2015 and was up over 11 percent through June this year, official data shows. It generated $2.8 billion in revenue last year.

Meanwhile, the trade deficit in goods widened by $1.5 billion last year.

Continue reading HERE.

EU ombudsman to investigate organization’s refusal to disclose deal with Cuba’s apartheid dictatorship

Via Diario de Cuba:

EU Ombudsman To Investigate Refusal to Disclose the Agreement with Havana

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EU and Havana delegations during the negotiations.

The Ombudsman’s Office of the European Union (EU) will investigate the European External Action Service’s (EEAS) decision not to disclose the content of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement reached with Havana, as reported in a letter by Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.

“I have decided to open an investigation into the following allegation and claim: that the EEAS wrongly decided not to disclose the document. The EEAS should disclose the document,” O’Reilly stated in her letter, addressed to Erik Jennische, Director of the Latin America Program of the organization Civil Rights Defenders, to which DIARIO DE CUBA has had access.

In recent months Jennische had complained regarding the EEAS’s refusal to reveal the contents of the treaty reached with Havana in March to the “general public.”

In April the head of the EEAS’s Division of Parliamentary Affairs, Gabriele Visentin, responded to a request by Jennische that disclosure “could undermine the process” and “damage relations between the EU and Cuba.”

The letter from the Ombudsman came as response to a complaint filed by Jennische with the Ombudsman’s Office.

“In order to decide whether the EEAS should be invited to give an opinion regarding the complaint, as a first step in my inquiry I concluded that it would be expedient to inspect the document,” said Ireland’s O’Reilly.

“Therefore, I have informed the EEAS that my office will conduct an inspection of the document. A copy of the inspection report will be sent to you in due time,” she added.

Last week EU diplomatic sources quoted by the Europa Press agency said that the EU expected to sign the agreement with Havana before the end of the year, in order to finally “normalize relations.”

EU Foreign Affairs ministers planned to “provide their perspectives” on the deal at a Monday meeting in Brussels, although there “was no talk about revisiting the text,” agreed to with the government under Raúl Castro.

The European Union Ombudsman is the party to whom citizens can turn to seek redress for damages caused by mismanagement at the organization’s institutions or agencies.

Reports from Cuba: Repression instead of solutions

By Fernando Damaso in Translating Cuba:

Repression Instead of Solutions

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The topic of discussion among Havanans today is not only the intense heat and “the evil of it,” but also the beginning of the persecution and repression against self-employed taxi drivers who have raised their prices.

Given the lack of public transport, which has been going on for a long time, the so-called “boatmen” — as the private drivers are called — have been a boon to citizen transport, helping to alleviate the problem. Taking into account the cost of their vehicles, from the high prices of fuel, the nonexistent parts for repairs, and the increased taxes they have to pay, they have raised their prices.

The response from the Council of Public Administration of the city’s People Power, a regressive and inefficient replacement for the former Mayor, has responded with controls, sanctions and withdrawal of licenses from those who violate the previous prices, all of this being applied as of this last Monday.

Cuban leaders should explain to the citizens why they destroyed the systems of public transportation that functioned efficiently at low prices prior to January 1959, and in 58 years have not been capable of creating one that works.

Repressing those who help transport citizens, in the face of the state’s inability to do so, is not a good decision, and if they don’t stop doing it the situation will become chaotic and could even become violent. The need to move from one place to another has existed since the dawn of mankind, and is not resolved with decrees or impositions, but with efficient and sufficient public transport.

Cuba’s Oswaldo Payá: A Story of Injustice

Thor Halvorssen and Roberto González in National Review:

Oswaldo Payá: A Story of Injustice

Four years after Payá’s death in a mysterious car accident, his family is still searching for the truth.

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Today marks the fourth anniversary of the death of Cuban pro-democracy dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas. Despite the Castro regime’s perpetual smear campaign against him — the government has labeled him a “worm” and a “mercenary” — Payá is internationally recognized as the most prominent Cuban activist of the last 25 years in the Communist island.

In 1988, Payá founded a political movement to promote democratic transition in Cuba. The most prominent effort was the Varela Project, a draft law that — through the collection of more than 11,000 signatures and in observance of requirements set by the Cuban constitution — proposed a referendum that would allow Cubans to decide on legal reforms that would enable the respect of individual rights.

Castro’s regime didn’t take Payá’s work lightly, and it vilified the Varela Project as a CIA-funded, imperialist attempt to undermine Cuba’s constitution. As a result, almost everyone involved with the project was sent to jail and Cuba’s national assembly swiftly approved a set of constitutional reforms affirming the island’s “irrevocable” commitment to the Communist system. Despite this setback, Payá continued struggling for democratic change.

Exactly four years ago, on July 22, 2012, Oswaldo Payá was traveling by car from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. Cuban pro-democracy activist Harold Cepero, Spanish youth-party leader Ángel Carromero, and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig were traveling with him. According to the Cuban government, Carromero lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a tree on the side of a highway in the province of Granma. The government claims that Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero died in the crash.

Almost immediately after the events, the Payá family contradicted the government’s version. They stated that a second vehicle was involved. A text message sent by Jens Modig to his friends in Sweden said that a car pushed them off the road. This was confirmed by Carromero, the driver of the car who, once out of Cuba, declared that officers from the Ministry of the Interior had forced him to change his statement of facts. Originally, Carromero had stated to an officer that they were being followed by a vehicle en route to Santiago de Cuba, which later rammed them and pushed them off the road. Carromero had been forced to record a self-incriminating video that was broadcast by state-owned media.

To date, the Cuban authorities have not communicated the autopsy’s results to the Payá family. The only document given to them by the authorities was a handwritten piece of paper, issued by Havana’s medical examiner’s office, stating Oswaldo Payá’s cause of death as “damage to the nervous system.” Also, inexplicably, the authorities washed and packed the outfit worn by Payá on the day he passed away before returning it to his family, “as if they had taken them to the cleaners,” his daughter said.

The facts behind Oswaldo Payá’s death remain uncertain and are actively obscured by the authorities. The best available evidence strongly suggests direct government responsibility for Payá’s death. Meanwhile, the Payá family still demands a proper investigation.

Continue reading HERE.

Senator Marco Rubio vows to continue fight against appointment of ambassador to apartheid Cuba

Julia Ioffe in Politico:

Rubio vows to keep up fight against U.S. ambassador in Cuba

rubio politico

A year to the day after the Obama administration restored diplomatic ties with Cuba, the United States still doesn’t have an ambassador officially representing it on the communist-led island.

And if Marco Rubio has his way, that’s not going to change anytime soon.

The Florida Republican, who decided to run for reelection to the Senate after his presidential bid failed, told POLITICO that he won’t drop his objections to any hypothetical ambassador nominee. And he scoffed at the notion that having an ambassador in Cuba could help the U.S. argue its case to the government there.

“A U.S. ambassador is not going to influence the Cuban government, which is a dictatorial, closed regime,” Rubio said in a phone interview earlier this week from Florida. He is leading in the polls in the Senate race there after reversing his decision to return to private life following his White House run.

A single senator can severely slow down the confirmation process for an ambassador. Rubio and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) are all harsh enough critics of the U.S. opening to Cuba that President Barack Obama has not even bothered to nominate an ambassador.

All three senators are of Cuban descent. They argue that the Cuban government, led by President Raúl Castro, brother of ailing revolutionary figure Fidel, will merely use its new relationship with Washington to cement its harsh rule.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment for this story; Obama, however, has noted in the past that the U.S. has a better chance of bringing about change in Cuba through engagement than isolation.

Continue reading HERE.

Four years ago today, Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero were assassinated by Cuba’s Castro dictatorship

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It was four years ago today when two peaceful Cuban human rights activists, Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, were assassinated by State Security agents of the apartheid Castro dictatorship. Along with many of Cuba’s martyrs over the past five and a half decades, their lives were mercilessly snuffed out simply for daring to challenge the tyranny of Cuba’s oppressive regime. And it should be noted this is the same regime President Obama has rewarded with unilateral concessions and as a product of his new “Cuba policy,” is now a brutally repressive apartheid regime that enjoys the full backing of the U.S. government.

Nevertheless, on another anniversary of the ultimate sacrifice made by Payá and Cepero for their fellow Cubans and the tireless struggle for freedom and liberty on the island they carried out before being murdered, we take a moment to honor their memory. We will continue to celebrate and honor the struggle for freedom in Cuba and the sacrifice made by these brave men despite the attempts by the  White House to whitewash the Castro dictatorship’s crimes against humanity. Not only will these men be forever remembered for their bravery, so will the perpetrators of the cowardly acts that took their lives be remembered and eventually judged as well:

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

Cuba’s constitution promises democracy, but its articles deliver tyranny

Nelson Rodriguez Chartrand in PanAm Post:

The Cuban Constitution Is Anything But Democratic

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There is only one thing that makes the Cuban constitution notable, and that is the fact that it’s a document that contains within its pages, like no other, the greatest lies the human mind has ever conceived.

Right from the first article and clause, they tell you the Cuban state is transparent, and that Cubans live in a democracy, which is a real insult to the intelligence and dignity of all of the island’s people.

How can they speak of democracy in a society governed by a dictator that has personal involvement with all branches of powers of the state — legislative, executive and judicial?

Well, that’s how it is ladies and gentleman. It’s incredible to see how the Cuban Magna Carta, in only five articles, has created the perfect dictator. In case you were wondering, those articles were 74, 89, 96, 121 and 128 — those that put the three branches at his mercy.

But wait, there’s more regarding the powers in question, and that is that the worst article giving away power to this dictator is article 5. It gives the Communist Party of Cuba the power to have the grand dictator that it has, and for that dictator to exhibit maximum authority.

Of course that was what Montesquieu was referring to when he conceived of the essential condition that democracy must exist with a classical division of powers.

Only those of us who have seen and lived the dictatorship over six decades can know in its true form the dire consequences that cause the concentration of power to convert its people into slaves.

There exists other realities that make even more implausible the idea of the existence of democracy in Cuba.

Can there be democracy in Cuba when freedom of expression is only a privilege granted to those that share the same ideology imposed by a great dictator (article 53)?

Can democracy exist in Cuba when freedom of association is limited to the organization created by the dictatorship in the first place (article seven)?

Continue reading HERE.

Reports from Cuba: Guilty!

Yoani Sanchez in 14yMedio via Translating Cuba:

Guilty!

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This summer, taxi drivers have become the government’s new public enemy.

At the beginning of the year evil was incarnated in the intermediaries, who were blamed for the high food prices in the produce markets. At the end of 2013, the boogeymen were those who worked for themselves selling imported clothes and other merchandise. In February of this year the war against the pushcart vendors reached its height, and today the enemy drives a shared taxi, a person who in common parlance is called a “boatman.”

If there is anything that has characterized the Cuban system of the last 57 years it is its ability to find a scapegoat. When the agricultural plans are not met it is the fault of the drought, the indiscipline of the workers or the poor organization dictated by some low-ranking bureaucrat. If in times of heavy precipitation the water supply remains unstable in towns and cities it is because, “the rain is not falling where it should,” as was explained to us in recent statements by an official of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH).

Urban transport does not work well due to “vandalism” and because “the population doesn’t treat this equipment as it deserves,” they tell us. Meanwhile most road accidents are because of the “recklessness of the drivers,” and not because of the poor state of the roads and highways, the terrible signage or the inventive measures taken by drivers to keep their obsolete vehicles running.

The powers-that-be point their index fingers in all directions to accuse others, but never turn it back on themselves. From time to time, to display a certain tone of self-criticism, they come down on Communist Party members themselves, and accuse them of not voicing their opinions “in the right place and at the right time,” or they make some minister take the fall for the failed policies in the areas of public health, education or some other sector.

We citizens are the main culprits, according to what state television tells us, for the presence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that, for years, has failed to yield to spraying or campaigns against it. Our homes are the “main foci” of the mosquito, they spit at us from the press, as if state and government entities were untainted redoubts of cleanliness and order.

Emigration is also among our sins, because we go in search of “siren songs” and let ourselves fall “into the hands of the coyotes,” declares the Castro regime’s discourse. In this script it is third parties who are always to blame; the migrants who protested in front of the Cuban embassy in Ecuador were ‘scoring points’ with the United States and some of them, once they are settled in our neighboring country to the north, will end up sending “illicit funds” to their relatives on the island to support a private business.

The easiest to find are the external enemies, like imperialism, “the criminal United States blockade,” the conspirators “from the Latin American right,” and even the “historic betrayal” of the old comrades of Eastern Europe. This scarecrow to install fear is accompanied by the demonized “counterrevolutionaries” in our own backyard, who are targeted by all the insults the rude government machinery has created over almost six decades.

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Does Obama really care about the human rights abuses suffered by the people of Cuba?

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Our friend Jay Nordlinger asks the question in National Review Online:

Cuba: Does Obama Care?

There was a headline in the Miami Herald yesterday: “Cuba’s human rights abuses worse despite U.S. ties.” (Article here.)

Oh, yes. But I might question that word “despite.” Is the Castro dictatorship more brutal now despite President Obama’s normalization or because of it?

Last year, I talked with Berta Soler, the leader of Cuba’s Ladies in White. This is what she told me:

“The European Union, the USA, Pope Francis — they have turned their backs on us.” Obama promised that his new policy would empower civil society. “But we are seeing that what he has done is give a green light to the Cuban government to crush civil society.”

Yes, the green light.

If I were a journalist who had the opportunity to question Obama, I would ask, “What about this, Mr. President? Human-rights abuses are a lot worse since your opening. Is that something that concerns you? Does it make you reconsider the policy?”

My view is a very dark one. I think that Obama and his people simply wanted to poke their finger in the eye of the anti-Communists. My guess is, they view the Castros as basically on the “right side of history,” whatever their excesses.

Also, I believe that normalization with the dictatorship was on Obama’s “list” — the list that he said “rhymes with bucket.”

This would be kind of funny if not for the fact that real lives — and real broken bones, and real corpses — are involved.

Finally, let me note that both major presidential nominees this year are in accord with Obama’s Cuba policy. As the Republican might say, on Twitter, “Sad.” And disgusting.

One year after Obama changed course on Cuba policy, tyranny is stronger and democracy is weaker

It has been a year since Obama decided to change course in regards to U.S. policy towards Cuba’s apartheid dictatorship and the results are in: Tyranny is much stronger on the island and any hope for democracy has been weakened and marginalized. ¡Gracias, Obama!

John Suarez has analysis at Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

One year after changing U.S. – Cuba Policy course to the wrong direction: Marginalizing democrats embracing dictatorship

Changing course to go in the wrong direction is not progress.

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From meeting with opposition leaders (2003) to shunning them (2015)

Today the White House tweeted “One year ago, we changed course in Cuba” and claimed to have achieved “progress.” Over the past year human rights have worsened in Cuba and overall situation has deteriorated. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s passivity before regime demands is partly to blame.

One year ago today the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C. was formally re-designated the Cuba Embassy with Secretary of State John Kerry in attendance.  Later on that same day the significance of this new relationship with the Castro regime was made evident in the treatment accorded to Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo.

On  July 20, 2015 at the State Department, Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo attended a press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry and Castro’s foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez. Rosa Maria had proper accreditation as a member of the press. She has had articles published in news publications such as The PanAm Post and her own blog. This did not stop Rear Admiral John Kirby, who was transferred from the Pentagon and in May of 2015 became the new State Department spokesman, from taking Rosa Maria aside and warning her that she would be physically removed if she asked any questions or caused any kind of disturbance.

Cecilia Bradley of NBC6 captured a blurry image of when Rosa Maria Payá was taken aside. The young activist tweeted a photo of Rear Admiral Kirby with the following text: “John Kirby kindly told me if I caused disturbances during the conference security would remove me.” In a later tweet Rosa Maria reported that “Mr. Kirby asks me not to ask questions at John Kerry’s press briefing or they would use force to expel me.”

The United States Department of State in the space of  twelve years has gone from Secretary of State Colin Powell receiving Cuban democratic opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas to threatening his daughter with force if she dared to ask a question at a press conference in which Secretary of State John Kerry took questions with the Cuban dictatorship’s Foreign Minister. The same dictatorship that martyred her father three years earlier.

Continue reading HERE.