Cuban and North Korean Special Forces in Venezuela
Earlier this week, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, denounced that 60 Cuban military officials are embedded among operational forces at the Fuerte Tiuna military complex — home of Venezuela’s Ministry of Defense — under the command of Cuban General Raul Acosta Gregorich.
This morning, the French investigative journal, Intelligence Online, reported that North Korea’s regime has sent a special forces contingent to Venezuela to help its embattled quasi-dictator, Nicolas Maduro.
Furthermore, how this arrangement stems from a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un with Cuba’s Castro regime in March.
Of course, there’s more than a hint of irony that while President Obama was wining-and-dining in Cuba in March, that the Castro regime was signing a military and intelligence cooperation agreement with the North Korean regime.
Observers are wondering just how involved the North Korean Praetorian Guard that Pyongyang has sent to assist Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro will become. Hugo Chavez’s successor has declared a state of emergency in the country while anti-government protests continue to mount. The man behind the ‘loan’ of North Korean troops is General Kim Yong-chol, who is close to the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un. The general is both head of the special forces and the United Front Work Department, or Tongil Chonsonbu, the intelligence service in charge of relations with friendly political movements.
North Korean special forces are training with their counterparts of Venezuela’s Grupo de Acciones Commando (GAC) and Chinese troops of the 21st Armed Group of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Caracas this month.
Back in March, Pyongyang also signed a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement with Cuba, even though the latter is in the midst of a reconciliation process with the U.S.
In recent weeks some media outlets have once again underscored Cuba’s surprising demographic trends, pointing out that the country features demographic characteristics of a developed nation, but saddled by a Third-World economy. In that vein, the daily Granma, the Communist Party of Cuba’s (PCC) official publication, recently published figures updated since the last census (2012), generated in 2015 by the National Bureau of Statistics and Information’s Population and Development Studies Centre.
As the regime often does, its statistics contain certain adjustments and a little makeup to keep them from straying too far from the ideal they wish to project. Just to mention the most glaring example: the document states that the migration balance in 2015 was less than 25,000; that is, just over 25,000 more people abandoned the island than moved to it.
It is difficult to reconcile this figure with the migration figures from the United States, Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, Spain and other countries that regularly receive Cuban exiles/emigrants. I have not seen exact statistics in this regard, but the numbers consulted suggest that the exodus last year was at least double what the authorities in Havana report.
The statistical manipulation involved a change in the emigrants’ classification, the result of Cuba’s latest immigration reform: before 2013 those who left the island without intending to return were classed under “indefinite leave permit” if the Government authorized them to travel, or “illegal exit” if they left at their own risk. Now those people are simply termed “residents living abroad” who, in theory, can return to the country in the following two years without losing their status as citizens under the regime. In this way they do not count as migrants, nor are they subtracted from calculations of the total population.
As reality is one thing, and demographic analysis another, the negative forecasts seem to be confirmed sooner and sooner. A decade ago it was estimated that by 2025 the number of retirees would equal that of active workers. Today it is believed that this parity could materialize in 2021.
While the 2012 census indicated that 18.3% of the Cuban population was 60 or over (2,041,392 citizens) and exceeded by more than one percentage point those ages 0-14, today almost 20% of Cubans are 60 or older, accounting for some 2,200,000 people, while the population age 0 to 14 represents only 16% of the total population. A change so sudden (three and a half percentage points in just three years) indicates that something is very wrong, both in the statistical system and in society as a whole.
As we see 19 Cubans clinging to a lighthouse off the coast of Key West after escaping apartheid Cuba and risking their lives in the shark-infested Florida Straits, it becomes plain to see how well Obama’s Hope and Change Cuba policy of embracing the Castro dictatorship is working.
Cuban migrants climb down from lighthouse near Key West
The 19 Cuban migrants straddled atop the American Shoal lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key have come down and are being processed by immigration officials, Coast Guard officials said Friday afternoon.
The migrants climbed down from the 109-foot structure around 5:30 p.m. Earlier in the day, the migrants had swum to the lighthouse after the Coast Guard approached their makeshift boat in the waters off Sugarloaf.
The Coast Guard confronted the boaters early Friday morning after receiving an 8 a.m. telephone call from a boater who had noticed the migrants in their vessel, said Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard 7th District.
As the Coast Guard approached the boat, 19 migrants jumped off and swam to the lighthouse, which was built in 1880 and sits about five miles off shore from Sugarloaf. They climbed the lighthouse’s metal stilts. Meanwhile, two other migrants swam to the Coast Guard cutter.
Officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were in the process of screening the 21 migrants on a Coast Guard cutter Friday evening to determine whether they will remain in the United States or be returned to Cuba.
“Typically, migrants taken at sea are returned to their country of origin,’’ Doss said. “But there are special circumstances — like fear of persecution” that come into play.
It’s not clear if the lighthouse would be considered land under the U.S. immigration policy of wet-foot, dry-foot. The policy, stipulated under 1995 changes to the Cuban Adjustment Act, allows Cubans who step foot on U.S. soil to stay here and apply for permanent residency after a year. The lighthouse sits in the water.
Brazil’s “Coup”: The Left’s Double Standard on the Rule of Law
Authoritarians Denounce the Legal System Only When It Suits Them
Latin America’s left, almost in unison, has raised it voice in response to Brazil’s impeachment trial.Congress has suspended Dilma Rousseff from the presidency for six months, which many have denounced as a coup, part of an international conspiracy.
Though the impeachment is clearly described in the Brazilian Constitution, and Congress has scrupulously followed all of its listed steps, leftists of the continent, most notably Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and El Salvadorian President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, complained that the continent has lost one of its democratic strongholds.
The same thing happened four years ago, when Paraguay’s Congress dismissed Fernando Lugo. It seems to happen every time a leftist leader is prosecuted or sanctioned.
Impeachment is a legal recourse that appears in many if not most Constitutions and serves to control the executive power of a government through joint action taken by the other branches — usually the judicial and the legislative.
There is nothing illegal about impeaching a president. Brazil itself already did it almost a quarter of a century ago, when Fernando Collor de Mello was forced to step down.
It’s almost nonsensical to call following a procedure described in the Constitution as a coup.
There’s a reason why Latin America’s left is acting this way: their mentality is still stuck on the Leninist totalitarian model. They will only settle for full power and won’t give it up.
Rousseff and her predecessor, the famous Lula da Silva, lauded the illegal and brutal methods used by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, who already has nearly absolute power.
The Latin American left embraced Fidel and Raúl Castro’s regimes despite there being nothing democratic about them. They also supported President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, among so many other authoritarian leaders, not to mention the FARC guerrilla in Colombia.
Below the mask of democracy, they are nothing more than the usual despots. And now, to make matters worse, they have become more corrupt than ever.
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 May 2016 — A small protest convoy and a demand by a group of bicycle taxi (pedicab) operators at the Plaza of the Revolution; indignation and astonishment among producers and traders about the arbitrary and unannounced closing of the wholesale market for agricultural products in the capital; irritation of several citizens who verbally attacked the policemen who were trying to maltreat a blind and helpless beggar, who was at the Carlos III marketplace; a sit down strike led by workers at a cigar factory in the city of Holguín over wages… These are some of the events that demonstrate both the state of dissatisfaction and frustration that are taking shape in Cuba’s population, the emergence of a sense of questioning the system and the incipient rebellion against the power and the authorities that represent it.
It is without a doubt, good news. The bad news is that social balance becomes dangerously fragile in a society where rights and prosperity have been banned, where institutions respond fully to the interests of the parasite power, where any opposition to the government is illegal and where public debate and dialogue between the power and “governed” are non-existent.
As the social tension grows and the government increases the obstacles, uncertainty becomes greater as to ways a conflict could be unleash that would elude institutional control.
It seems that the above facts are insignificant and isolated amid the general acquiescence of Cubans with respect to their government. However, such events were unthinkable just five years ago, and even less so during the period prior to July 30, 2006, when the “Proclamation” was made public, which declared Fidel Castro’s supposed temporary withdrawal from the presidential chaise lounge, which he had intended to be his for life. The proclamation gave some hope to the people about improvements in their living conditions.
If the power caste did not suffer from the colossal blindness of its proverbial arrogance, it would have enough lucidity to interpret the current signs, especially when the still timely efforts of the people’s protests are taking place just weeks after the conclusion of the last Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, where presumably national economic and socio-political strategies were drawn for at least until 2030. A moderately insightful Government would at least have the perception that the social acceptance of its eternal monologue had ended and that the urgencies of the national reality far outweigh the temporary and strategic limits set by the Party Guidelines.
Like it or not, the lords of power must understand that the Cuban crisis demands changes dictated from social slogans, not from the Palace of the Revolution, and that such changes must occur willingly–that is, starting from a real national debate from which a transitional covenant might emerge–or by force, when an undesirable social explosion could take place due to the unstoppable deterioration of the population’s living conditions, with unpredictable consequences.
It turns out that autocracies are not designed for public scrutiny. Far from establishing a national dialogue which would, in principle, act as an escape valve for frustrations, the last page of the Party newspaper Granma on Tuesday May 17th, 2016 contained an article which is the absolute denial of this possibility. The article is titled Rules for Debate or Matter of Principles, signed by a (let’s use the term they prefer) “revolutionary intellectual” by the name of Rafael Cruz Ramos, which establishes two simple “rules” for an imaginary debate which, by the way, the reader never catches a glimpse of.
Summarizing a substantial verbal extraction that fills an entire page with what might have been said in a few paragraphs, Mr. Cruz tries unsuccessfully to enunciate a first rule, designed not to establish the basis or topics for that nonexistent debate-monologue of his, but what will not be included in it, under any circumstances.
We should not ever debate with “those who come to us carrying a political fragmentation grenade ready to have it explode in the heart of the country, of the Republic, of the motherland, in order to destroy the socialist system under construction and restore the archaic and worn-out capitalist system” Cruz Ramos assures us, though no one knows what authority or supranational power this unknown subject has that he can issue such categorical guidelines.
No amount of Hope and Change propaganda from the White House and the pro-Castro lobby in the U.S. can change the fact that Cuba’s apartheid dictatorship continues to be a dangerous enemy of the United States and a threat to American citizens.
Why Obama’s New Cuba Flights Pose Security Concerns
This week, the House Committee on Homeland Security chaired a hearing on the security risks stemming from the Obama Administration’s proposed commercial flights to Cuba.
The hearing revealed some troubling issues.
In private, Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) officials have been raising serious of concerns with lawmakers. Yet, since the hearing was called, the Obama Administration has been stonewalling the entire process. Moreover, under political pressure, TSA officials skirted most questions at the hearing.
As Homeland Security Subcommittee Chair, U.S. Rep. John Katko (R-NY) noted, “This leads me to believe that the administration is either hiding something, or worse, simply negligent of the security concerns associated with this policy.”
And there’s plenty of reason to be concerned.
For example, a 2014 report from the Center for a Secure Free Society revealed how Venezuelan authorities provided at least 173 passports, visas and other documentation to Islamist extremists seeking to slip unnoticed into North America.
As the report warns, and has recently been confirmed the Panama Paper leaks, Venezuela’s passport and national ID systems are completely controlled by Cuba’s regime.
Adding further concern, The Washington Post recently reported how, “over the past two months, travel agents in Kabul have been surprised by Afghans showing up at their offices with Cuban visas, which are suspected of having been issued in Iran or acquired on the black market.”
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities will have no independent security verification on the ground in Cuba’s airports to screen travelers. Instead, the Obama Administration plans to outsource and fully entrust the security of the U.S. to the Castro regime.
As Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) stressed, this isn’t for five flights per week — as is the case of Cairo’s airport, which is leaps-and-bounds better suited than Havana’s. But for 110 flights per day — as the Obama Administration intends for Cuba.
Obama is clearly more interested in his legacy than ensuring our security.
Previously, I discussed the neglect of communist atrocities. Although communist governments murdered and repressed even more people than the Nazis, their crimes have gotten only a tiny fraction of the public awareness and recognition extend to the latter.
But does that neglect matter? After all, the major communist regimes have either collapsed (the USSR and its Eastern European satellites) or evolved into much less oppressive forms (China and Vietnam).
But there are several reasons why increasing recognition of communist crimes should be an important priority: providing justice for victims and perpetrators; alleviating the oppression of the unreformed communist governments that still exist today; and ensuring that comparable atrocities are never repeated.
I. Justice for Victims and Perpetrators
Millions of victims of communism are still alive today. They include former Gulag inmates, forced laborers, dissidents subjected to political repression, ethnic minorities such as the Crimean Tatars who were forcibly deported, and many others. With a few exceptions (principally in Eastern Europe), little has been done to recognize the suffering of these victims or to compensate them for the wrongs they suffered.
Obviously, the scale of communist crimes was so vast that complete compensation is impossible. However, the impossibility of perfect compensation is no excuse for doing nothing. After all, the same can be said for the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes. Yet extensive efforts have been made to compensate Holocaust survivors and return property confiscated from Jewish and other Nazi victims. The German government has paid reparations to Holocaust survivors and former forced laborers, among others.
These efforts at reparations for Nazi crimes surely have many shortcomings. But they far outstrip anything that has been done for the even more numerous victims of communism.
II. Focusing Attention on Oppression in the Remaining Unreformed Communist Governments
Most of the world’s communist regimes have either collapsed or reformed. However, at least two unreformed communist governments still remain: Cuba and North Korea. North Korea, in particular, is probably the world’s most oppressive regime, having starved to death at least 1 million of its own people as recently as the 1990s. It also maintains a system of Gulags and secret police that is, if anything, even more draconian than that of the USSR under Stalin.
Despite these atrocities, Cuba and North Korea receive only a tiny fraction of the attention that human rights groups and the international community pay to much lesser offenses committed by democratic governments or non-leftist dictatorships.
According to the Cuban regime’s Granma newspaper Cuba closed out 2015 with a population of 11,239,004 citizens, of which 19.4% were born in or before 1955, or 2,180,366 Cubans, many of whom were children or adolescents in January, 1959. If to these we add those born between 1956 and 1959, we realize that there remain just a few hundred thousand infirm, frustrated and sulky Cuban retirees who in January 1959 supported Fidel’s revolution.
If we subtract, of course, the children (now with grey hair) who witnessed the triumphal entry of the rebel army in Havana, whether amidst excitement or fear, the number of Cubans who supported the Revolution in 1959, and later socialism, in 1961, does not even reach 20%. And concluding that all these seniors continue to support the “Revolution” defies common sense.
So what explains Castroism’s ability to endure, generation after generation? It duped some and bought off others, but to an extent, it was the undeniable charisma of Fidel Castro. His spirited diatribes, full of bluster, promises and apocalyptic musings, helped to imbue him with the aura of a legendary hero who, despite his many failures and unfulfilled prophecies, remained part of Cubans’ life, like a chronic condition that only now, as his ailing image personifies the deterioration of the Revolution itself, seems to be winding to an end.
And it wasn’t attacks, or allied regimes fallen from grace, or invasions. The strongman sullied his image all by himself, by retiring too late, by living too long, and by repeatedly failing to deliver as promised. His posturing has ceased to impress, such that everyone has begun to see him for what he is: a tired, sick old man responsible for the suffering of his people, with an ego that impedes him from recognizing it. Now he indulges himself by receiving curious visitors and repeating the same anti-capitalist rhetoric that nobody wants to hear.
The Revolution, which has grown old along with its leader, has lost its capacity to renew itself, as apathy and dissimulation replace the revolutionary fervor able to turn setbacks into victories, or at least to believe. Those born after the Revolution, 80% of the island’s population, do not identify with the bearded heroes of the Sierra Maestra, and the Bay of Pigs and Missile Crisis are distant allusions to them. The intervention by Cuban troops in Angola’s war, and the export of guerrilla fighters to Latin America, make no sense to a young population that has trouble singing the national anthem, prefers soccer to baseball, and has no interest in being like Che.
An ageing population, but at the same time a new one, deserves an opportunity to choose the kind of country it prefers, and not to slavishly accept what was imposed almost 60 years ago, when most of them had not even been born. Neither should they be obliged to follow a political party that has failed to serve its purpose, yet stands as a self-appointed supreme and eternal authority determining Cubans’ destinies.
Last Chance for Freedom? Venezuela’s dictatorship is cracking down on Venezuelan democrats
“Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.” – George Orwell, 1984
The democratic opposition is using constitutional means and nonviolence to seek an outcome from the current political crisis, but unfortunately according to Secretary of State John Kerry “the United States and Cuba are talking about ways to solve the Venezuelan crisis.” This implies that the U.S. is on board with Maduro continuing in power in Venezuela while trying to find ways to stabilize the country.
The Maduro regime has declared a state of emergency as a pretext to crackdown on nonviolent demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights. Today the military and national guard beat up, and tear gassed opposition demonstrators. Maduro has threatened to disappear the National Assembly.
At least 30 were arbitrarily detained today according to Alfredo Romero of the Penal Forum. At the same time armed collectives backed by the police set out to terrorize Venezuelan democrats. Some of these colectivos shot at demonstrators and burned installations at a medical school in Merida to terrorize university students. Meanwhile the regime brought in their own supporters to give the appearance of still have some measure of popular support.
Naturally the Maduro regime resorts to these same old tactics perfected by their Cuban handlers. Meanwhile the same old worn out attacks are made to any who criticize its dictatorial turn. This ignores an unpleasant fact that many would prefer to leave unmentioned. What is taking place today not only in Venezuela, but also in Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and elsewhere in Latin America is the cost of tolerating injustice in Cuba when a concerted hemispheric response in the early 1990s supporting the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people would have made all the difference.
Regional Lawyers Learn There’s No ‘Rule of Law’ in Cuba
The Inter-American Bar Association was recently forced to change the venue of its annual conference.
The note below to its members speaks for itself.
URGENT – 52nd IABA Conference – change of venue
I am writing to inform you that the 52nd Conference of the Inter-American Bar Association scheduled for June 20th to 24th, 2016, will be held in Miami, Florida, instead of Havana, Cuba.
The Executive Committee expresses its profound regret about the complications that this sudden and unexpected change of venue may cause.
The shift arises from the unilateral decision of the Cuban Organizing Committee (the National Association of Cuban Attorneys, the National Organization of Collective Law Offices, the Cuban Supreme Court, the Cuban Attorney General’s Office and the University of Havana Law School) to cancel the conference forty-five days from its scheduled date. By reneging on their word, these organizations have completely disregarded the economic impact and reputational damage to our Association.
During two days of intense negotiations with Cuba, we were met with utter inflexibility. Not only did our Cuban counterparts cancel the conference, they prohibited it from being held in the country.
Pursuant our organization’s by-laws, and as coordinated by our Treasurer, Vice-President, Secretary General and administrative office in Washington, D.C., this Executive Committee will form an Organizing Committee.
I would like to ensure you personally that we will hold our conference in Miami.
Anyone registered for the conference in Cuba is, for all intents and purposes, already registered for the conference in Miami.
We will reach out to you soon with additional details so that you may make your travel plans and hotel reservations.
For anyone experiencing difficulties in receiving a refund of already-incurred expenses, the IABA will appoint a person to offer the necessary assistance through individual casework.
During the recent meeting of the National Council of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), archaic terms and concepts were were complacently dusted off in response to the reappearance in public of the Revolution’s aged leader.
In an evocation of old ghosts, the meeting took place in the exact same location where fifty-five years earlier his comments to intellectuals unleashed the great witch hunt that laid the groundwork for our highly ideological political culture.
During this meeting, the members of the Permanent Commission on Culture, Tourism and Public Spaces released a statement declaring, “Cuban writers and artists have reacted with surprise, disbelief and outrage at images of the reception for passengers on the cruiseship Adonia, which docked at the Havana port terminal early this month. Girls dressed in swimsuits that replicated the national emblem, imitating one of our traditional dances with their movements and providing a deplorable spectacle to those visiting Cuba for the first time.”
In light of the possibility of ideological contamination resulting from the reestablishment of relations between our country and the United States, the critic Rolando Perez Betancourt offered an alternative, suggesting that we not “succumb to fear of the vampire but rather avail ourselves of a silver bullet to kill it.”
It seems Betancourt has forgotten that those who first desecrated our national emblem were in fact the country’s leaders. The man at the forefront of the Revolution accepted an invitation to sign a Cuban flag presented to him by the head of the Union of Young Communists at the time on the main staircase of the University of Havana.
For some time now it has also been common to see flags adorned with a portrait of Che printed on them. Or to see groups of them hanging, without rhyme or reason, in shops and offices, or in the oversized windows of some state-owned enterprises, used like curtains to keep the sun out. Others fray and fade on the facades of government buildings without anyone ever thinking to remove and protect them.
Corraling a U.S. flag with a hundred ours, as this critic proposed, ignores our reality. Perhaps he is unaware that our tricolor flag (made in China) can only be purchased at hard-currency stores with CUCs, to which only a very lucky few have access.