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

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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.

Read more

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.

Cubanita from Miami becomes media darling of the GOP convention

I am very proud of my good friend Jessica Fernandez!

Patricia Mazzei via The Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog:

Miami delegate becomes media darling at GOP convention

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Celebrity, if such a thing exists among delegates who make up the geeky fest of Americana that is the Republican National Convention, looks like this: a young, Hispanic, conservative woman from the country’s biggest swing state making an appearance on Telemundo. And Univision. And The Washington Post. Fusion. The BBC. The Financial Times.

Such has been the life of Miami-Dade County delegate Jessica Fernandez since she arrived in Cleveland on Monday. On Tuesday, she cast her ballot to nominate Donald Trump for the White House. He wasn’t her preferred candidate — which was one of the reasons so many reporters found her interesting.

“I checked all those magical unicorn boxes: Female. Republican. Hispanic. Under 40,” she said.

She’d just finished lunch outside the Quicken Loans Arena, trying a pierogi for the first time (“It’s like a dumpling with mashed potatoes inside.”) Sipping a Blue Moon, she showed off her convention selfies: with actor Billy Baldwin (she wasn’t sure which Baldwin he was), with Texas Gov. Rick Perry (she ran into him in an elevator), with NBC News and Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart (she posed after he interviewed her).

“I am taking regular pictures, too, guys, but I just think it’s funny to get selfies,” she clarified.

This is why Fernandez, 31, makes for a compelling voice of Miami’s Young Republicans, the organization she leads.

More here.

Despite new ties to U.S., human rights abuses in Cuba have worsened

Andres Oppenheimer via In Cuba Today:

Cuba’s human rights abuses worse despite U.S. ties

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On the first anniversary since Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington, D.C., one thing is clear: The reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties — which I have cautiously supported in this column — has not helped improve by one iota Cuba’s human rights situation. On the contrary, human rights abuses have worsened.

This is not a conclusion based on random anecdotes from the island, but the result of a well-documented report just released by the Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the island’s oldest and most respected non-government, human-rights monitoring group.

According to the commission, short-term political detentions have gone way up so far this year, from a monthly average of 718 last year to a monthly average of 1,095 during the first six months of this year. The number of political detentions skyrocketed during the months before and after President Barack Obama’s visit to the island in March, the monthly figures show.

During the first six months of this year, there have been 6,573 short-term political detentions in Cuba, which — if they continue at their six-month rate — would be a significant increase over last year’s figure. There were 8,616 documented short-term political detentions last year, 6,424 in 2013, and 2,074 in 2010, says the commission.

In addition to the rise in short-term detentions, the number of peaceful opponents who have been sentenced to longer terms in prison or labor camps over the past year has risen from about 70 to more than 100, the commission says.

[…]

José Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas department of the Human Rights Watch monitoring group, agrees that there has been no improvement in Cuba’s human rights scene since Cuba reopened the embassy on July 20, 2015. But Vivanco, who like Sánchez supports the reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban relations and the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, said it would be a mistake to expect that the normalization of bilateral ties will lead to less political repression on the island.

“Neither the opening of embassies nor the eventual total dismantling of the U.S. embargo will change the nature of the regime or bring about democratic and human rights improvements in Cuba,” Vivanco said. “Only effective and strong pressure from democratic leaders in the region and outside the region will achieve that.”

My opinion: I fully agree. It’s time for the Obama administration and Latin America’s democracies to cut the celebrations over the reestablishment of U.S. diplomatic ties and the end of the Cold War in our region. That’s old news by now.

Instead of extending the fiesta indefinitely, it’s time for Latin American democracies to denounce the region’s oldest military dictatorship. (It’s not mentioned in most articles on Cuba, but the island’s president, Gen. Raúl Castro, is a military dictator who alongside his brother Fidel Castro has overseen thousands of political executions and has not allowed a free election, political parties or independent media in almost six decades.)

Read the entire piece HERE.

Despite long history of defaults and eventual burden on U.S. taxpayers, Arkansas congressman lobbies to extend credit to Cuba’s apartheid dictatorship

U.S. Representative Rick Crawford (AR-R) does not seem at all troubled by the fact that he is pushing hard to extend credit to Cuba’s apartheid dictatorship, a regime that is a notorious deadbeat and has defaulted on billions of dollars worth of foreign debt. Perhaps Crawford’s nonchalance on this questionable endeavor of his is a product of him knowing it will be U.S. taxpayers who will eventually foot the bill for increasing the profits of his business constituents.

Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

Cuba Keeps Defaulting on Debts, Arkansas Congressman Unfazed

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Imagine a scenario whereby a politician dedicated nearly all of his time and effort to providing financing to a notorious deadbeat.

Seems utterly irresponsible, right?

Yet that is the case with U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) and Cuba’s Castro regime.

The biggest takeaway from the story below is not that Cuba’s regime continues to default on its debts — despite of all of the hype and spin — but that some politicians who want to provide credit to Castro remain unfazed.

After all, they can always count on U.S. taxpayers to bail them out.

Excerpt from The Miami Herald‘s story, “Economic hardships in Cuba spark rumors of a new ‘Special Period’“:

The shortage of liquidity is so serious that Castro informed the population that Cuba has not been paying its foreign debts on time and Minister of the Economy Marino Murillo — who was later reassigned to a new position — said the government would not be paying new debts for the rest of the year.

His public statements came as U.S. agricultural producers are lobbying Congress, hard but without success so far, to ease laws and regulations that currently require Cuba to pay cash and in advance for its U.S. agricultural purchases.

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-AK., recently withdrew his proposal to ease those requirements after agreeing with Florida members of congress to look for different ways to meet the interests of U.S. agricultural producers. Crawford’s office issued a brief statement saying that Cuba’s failure to pay its debts and lack of liquidity “will not affect the Congressman’s efforts.”

After uproar for selling Che Guevara ‘art projects,’ Perez Art Museum Miami admits it made an ‘error’

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After it was discovered that the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) was selling a Che Guevara “art project” in its gift shop, a public uproar ensued over the tax-payer funded museum’s insensitivity to the South Florida victims of Che and his Castro dictatorship puppet masters. To its credit, PAMM quickly pulled the offensive item glorifying a mass murderer from its gift shop and yesterday, its director Franklin Sirmans issued this statement in The Miami Herald:

PAMM’s error

The Pérez Art Museum Miami committed an error. As has been remarked upon, PAMM Shop sold an object that offends many members of our community — and many of us. We made a mistake and removed the item immediately. The item in question — a paper build-your-own-sculpture kit featuring Che Guevara — was introduced into our gift shop’s inventory as part of a broader line of products that feature imagery of a variety of recognizable figures.

By no means was the object’s specific inclusion meant to serve as a political statement, and we agree that it should have been rejected. This object was not curated into an exhibition at PAMM but was displayed in our retail setting. We are acutely aware of the power of images, no matter the context, and we are disappointed in ourselves for letting the community down.

Franklin Sirmans, director, PAMM, Miami

Captive Nations Week: Reagan vs. Obama

John Suarez via Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Captive Nations Week: Reagan 1988 versus Obama 2016

Some years ago, two friends of mine were talking to a refugee from Communist Cuba. He had escaped from Castro. And as he told the story of his horrible experiences, one of my friends turned to the other and said, “We don’t know how lucky we are.” And the Cuban stopped and said, “How lucky you are? I had some place to escape to.” – President Ronald Reagan, July 13, 1988, Remarks on Signing the Captive Nations Week Proclamation 

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President Ronald Reagan on July 13, 1988 issued his final Captive Nations Week proclamation in the last year of his presidency with an inspiring call for freedom and solidarity with the victims of communism  that contrasts dramatically with the final proclamation issued by President Obama today
in the last year of his presidency. The excerpt below from 1988 is clear in its denunciation of totalitarianism while at the same time offering specificity:

The citizens of the captive nations daily hear the mighty call of freedom and answer it boldly, sending an echo around the globe to remind totalitarians and all mankind that their voices cannot be quelled — because they are the voices of the human spirit.

Across the continents and seas, the cry for freedom rings out and the struggle for its blessings continues, in the republics of the Soviet Union, in the Baltic States and throughout Eastern Europe, in Cuba and Nicaragua, in Ethiopia and Angola, and in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It also continues in Afghanistan, despite initial Soviet withdrawal, because the Najibullah regime imposes its will upon the Afghan people. We in America, who have held high the torch of liberty for 2 centuries and more, pause during Captive Nations Week to express our solidarity with those who strive at great personal risk and sacrifice to win justice for their nations. We commemorate as well the many freedom fighters and individuals such as Polish Father Jerzy Popieluszko and Ukrainian poet Vasyl Stus who have given their lives in the imperishable cause of liberty. We cannot and will not shirk our duty and responsibility to insist on the speediest end to subjugation, persecution, and discrimination in the captive nations. We repeat our call for all governments to respect and honor the letter and the spirit of the United Nations Charter and the Helsinki Accords.

Whereas President Reagan highlighted specific countries under the grips of communism in 1988 the current occupant of the White House offers no such details with the exception of Cuba and there is no inspiring call for freedom or solidarity with or naming of the victims.

“It also means discussing our differences with nations more directly. And we have opened a new chapter in our relationship with Cuba, which includes direct engagement with their government on human rights and steps to empower and create opportunity for the Cuban people.”

No mention of the victims of communism in Cuba during President Obama’s watch.  Why not commemorate those Cubans such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Harold Cepero, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and others who gave their lives in the cause of freedom in Cuba while the Obama Administration pursued detente with the Castro regime who played a role in their deaths?

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Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero murdered four years ago on 7/22

Continue reading HERE.

Reports from Cuba: More UNPACU activists on hunger strike

14yMedio reports via Translating Cuba:

More UNPACU Activists on Hunger Strike

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UNPACU youth leader Carlos Amel Oliva.

The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) reports at least twenty have been arrested in recent hours, after five activists, on Monday, joined the hunger strike started six days ago by the organization’s youth leader, Carlos Amel Oliva, to demand the return of two laptops, a cellphone and a removable hard disc confiscated by the police.

“The repression has been tough. Some 16 activists were arrested in Santiago de Cuba when they went to visit Oliva. The arrests were violent,” one of the opposition group’s coordinators, Ovidio Martin Castellanos, told 14ymedio. In addition to those arrested in the provincial capital, nine other people were intercepted in other areas of eastern Cuba, like Palmarito de Cauto, in the municipality of Mella.

Katherine Mojena Hernandez, wife of the youth leader and UNPACU member, said that Oliva is physically weakened, “but with the same fortitude with which he started the strike.” She added that the one who calls himself “Official Bruno” personally told Carlos Amel that “you are going to die of hunger” if he waits for his belongings to be returned.

Lazarus Curvelo Mejia, one of the Cubans who has been on hunger strike for four days, said he was willing to support the demand of Carlos Amel until the final consequences.

Among the five activists who have supported Oliva are two women, Zulma Lopez and Joanne Quesada.

The activist Yasmany Magaña from the province of Santiago de Cuba also joined.

UNPACU has denounced the increase in repressive actions against its organization, which it attributes to its growing membership throughout the island.

The group of hunger strikes, in addition to Oliva, includes Lazaro Curbelo Mejias, who has been on strike since the 15th of this month, Maikel Mediaceja Ramos, Zulma López Saldaña, Yoanna Quesada Masabeaux and Yasmani Magañana Díaz who have spent between 24 and 48 hours without eating.