Obama’s ‘Sunshine Policy’ towards Cuba

Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

Obama’s ‘Sunshine Policy’ Towards Cuba

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In 2010, we ominously warned the Obama Administration about the dangers of a “sunshine policy” towards the Castro dictatorship, akin to South Korea’s failed approached to relations with its northern neighbor.

In light of recent events in inter-Korean relations — and now that the Obama Administration has chosen to walk down this counter-productive path — this warning remains more pertinent than ever.

In short, here’s what the South Korea’s “sunshine policy” entailed — as per Max Fischer in Vox:

The idea was that decades of hostility with the North hadn’t worked, but maybe that taking a softer line would ease tensions. That included lots of political summits and official rhetoric about Korean unity, but it also meant opening up some trade with the North. But it turned out that North Korea was just exploiting the Sunshine Policy as a con. The greatest symbol of this was the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a big production center just on the North Korean side of the border, where South Korean companies and managers contract with North Korean workers. The idea was that this daily contact would ease cultural tension and that the shared commercial interests would give the countries a reason to cooperate. In practice, though, the North Korean government stole most of the workers’ wages, big South Korean corporations exploited the ultra-cheap labor to increase profits, and North Korea didn’t ease its hostility one iota.

Sound familiar?

That’s precisely what we warned as regards Cuba:

(Note the op-ed below was written three years before Cuba’s regime got caught red-handed smuggling 240 tons of weapons to North Korea — the most egregious violation of U.N. sanctions to date — which the Obama Administration chose to basically ignore.)

By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Washington Times:

June 28, 2010

‘Sunshine policy’ toward Cuba?

Similar wishful thinking failed to bring together the two Koreas

North and South Korea are facing their gravest crisis since the end of the Korean War as South Korea threatens to retaliate against North Korea for sinking one of its warships. Forty-six sailors died in the torpedo attack by a North Korean submarine.

Yet only a decade ago, South Korean politicians and pundits were saying that five decades of political containment and economic isolation had “failed” and should be replaced with a new policy of engagement and reconciliation toward the totalitarian regime of North Korea’s Kim Jong-il. The rest of the world had moved on past the Cold War, they argued, while the Koreas were still trapped in a state of conflict and mistrust.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because opponents of U.S. sanctions policy use the same argument regarding Cuba.

Continue reading HERE.

#FreeElSexto: Imprisoned dissident artist in Cuba declared a ‘high social danger’ by Castro regime

Via Uncommon Sense:

Imprisoned Cuban artist El Sexto remains on hunger strike as regime declares him ‘a high social danger’

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El Sexto

Cuban graffitti artist Danilo Maldonado — better known as “El Sexto”remains on hunger strike to protest his continued unjust imprisonment by the Castro dictatorship, according to his mother.

El Sexto has been held without trial since December, when he was arrested just before he was about to release two pigs with the names “Fidel” and “Raul” painted on their . He faces a charge of “disrespecting” the Castros — as if they deserve anything more — but lawyers on El Sexto’s behalf have argued that no crime was committed because he never released the pigs and he did not identify the animals by their last name.

These and other legal appeals have been ignored or otherwise rejected by Castro officials.

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El Sexto with Fidel the pig.

El Sexto’s mother, María Victoria Machado, said she suspects Cuban State Security is pressuring judicial officials to not release her son. Earlier this summer a prison official had told El Sexto he would be released Aug. 24.

He wasn’t.

Court documents, according to a report by Diario de Cuba, label El Sexto as a “high social danger” who does “nothing socially useful.”

“Artists are not useful to society?” Machado asked. “How dangerous can my son be with a brush and a spray?”

Apparently to the Castro dictatorship, very dangerous.

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Hope and Change in Obama’s Cuba: Peaceful human rights activists suffer 20th consecutive Sunday of beatings and violent arrests

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Almost fifty peaceful human rights and democracy activists in Cuba suffered vicious beatings and violent arrests yesterday at the hands of the Obama-backed apartheid Castro dictatorship. The Ladies in White endured the brunt of this wave of repression with 30 of them arrested, including their leader, Berta Soler. Cuban State Security agents also prevented other members of the Ladies in White from attending church services.

This latest brutality marks the 20th consecutive Sunday of violent repression against peaceful dissidents standing up for freedom and human rights on the island. President Obama’s Hope and Change policy of backing the Cuban dictatorship over pro-democracy dissidents has given the regime a new lease on life and the green light to violently quash any dissent.

Capitol Hill Cubans has the coverage of this latest iteration of Hope and Change in Cuba:

20th Straight Sunday of Political Arrests in Cuba, Ladies in White Barred From Mass

For the 20th Sunday in a row, nearly 50 Cuban dissidents were violently arrested in Havana today, as they peacefully demonstrated for human rights and the release of all political prisoners.

Among those arrested were over 30 members of The Ladies in White, including its leader, Berta Soler.

The Ladies in White is the renowned pro-democracy group composed of the wives, mothers, daughters and other relatives of Cuba political prisoners.

Reports indicate several of The Ladies in White were brutally beaten, including Danaysi Muñoz, who was taken to the military detention facility at Tarara.

Also beaten was Yaquelin Boni, who witnessed her son, Yasser Rivero Boni, being beaten and rearrested. He had just been released last month after serving four years in prison.

(Below is an image of Yaqulin Boni pursuant to another recent beating she received at the hands of Castro’s secret police.)

Others arrested include independent journalists, Juan Gonzalez Febles and Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, and Raul Borges, who is the father of political prisoner, Ernesto Borges.

Meanwhile, in the town of Aguada de Pasajeros (Cienfuegos), two members of The Ladies in White, Milaidis Espino Diaz and Niurvis de La Rosa Hernandez, were prohibited from attending Mass by the parish priest.

This behavior, akin to the Obama Administration’s during the U.S. Embassy flag-raising ceremony, doesn’t bode well for the upcoming visit of Pope Francis.

This is “what change looks like” in Cuba.

Uncommon Sense has more coverage direct from the island HERE.

Reports from Cuba: U.S. government snubs the independent Cuban press

By Ivan Garcia:

U.S. Government Snubs the Independent Cuban Press

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Havana, 10 August 2015 — The U.S. Embassy in Havana, the State Department, and the administration of Barack Obama, have intentionally mapped out a strategy to prevent independent Cuban journalists from covering the visit of John Kerry and the official reopening of the diplomatic headquarters on Friday, August 14.

For the the four-day historic event, no independent journalist, dissident, or human rights activist has been invited to participate in the ceremony, or the press conference by Kerry.

Since July 22nd I have made a dozen calls to the U.S. Public Affairs Office in Havana to request a press pass that would allow me to cover the event for Diario las Americas, El Periodico de Catalunya, and Webstringers LCC, a Washington-based media communications company, and I have not received a response from any official.

According to a diplomatic source, effective July 20th, the process changed for obtaining a credential to cover events or press conferences of politicians, business organizations, or Americans visiting the island.

Before that date, when Lynn W. Roche was head of the Public Affairs Section, I could get credentials in record time. I was able to cover the visit of Roberta Jacobson, congressmen, senators, businessmen, and officials from the State Department, among others.

Now, according to this source, accreditation must be obtained at the International Press Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, located at 23rd and O, in Vedado. A rather crude strategy designed to get rid of independent journalists.

The worst part is not the disrespect or indifference. The U.S. government has the sovereign right to invite to its events those people it deems appropriate.

But out of respect, at least have the courtesy to speak face-to-face with independent journalists and inform them of the new policy. Don’t beat around the bush.

The U.S. government, which is not stupid, knows that for 54 years Cuba has been ruled by a military autocracy that prohibits political opposition and independent journalism.

Leaving press accreditation to the Cuban regime for events that the United States puts on in Cuba is like putting a child molester in charge of a Boy Scout camp.

Armed with a letter from Maria Gomez Torres, director of content for Webstringers, I personally went to the International Press Center. The official who vetted me, after reading the letter, looked through her papers and said with mock surprise, “Mr. García, you do not appear as an accredited journalist in Cuba.”

“And how can I be accredited?” I asked her.

“You must have an operating license and a permit from the Center,” she replied.

“Fine. Can you handle that for me?”

“No, because you do not qualify,” she replied with a tone of mystery.

“Why don’t I qualify, since I’ve collaborated with newspapers in Spain and the United States since 2009?” I inquired.

“Our Center reserves the right to give permission to reporters as we see fit,” snapped the bureaucrat.

Read more

Video of the Day – Violent repression against dissidents and children in Cuba caught on video

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Watch the thugs of Cuba’s apartheid Castro dictatorship do what they do best against not only peaceful dissidents, but children as well. As you watch the violence, you can hear audio of Fidel Castro’s numerous claims that there is no political violence in Cuba and there is no such thing as political prisoners on the island.

Brazil’s corrupt former president implicated in Odebrecht lobbying scheme in Cuba

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Epoca magazine has implicated Brazil’s former president, the corrupt Lula da Silva, in a shady lobbying scheme in Cuba for Odebrecht, an engineering firm currently under investigation for its corrupt practices. It appears da Silva used his connections and influence with Cuba’s apartheid dictatorship to grease the tracks for Odebrecht so they could receive sweetheart deals from the corrupt, terrorist sponsoring regime of the Castro brothers.

For all those Americans who have bought into the Obama and U.S. Chamber of Commerce fairy tale that Cuba is one big legitimate business opportunity ready to be exploited, take heed of how business is really conducted in Castro’s Cuba.

Via Reuters:

Brazilian weekly says Lula lobbied for Odebrecht in Cuba

BRASILIA (Reuters) – A Brazilian news magazine has accused former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of acting as lobbyist in Cuba for Brazil’s largest engineering firm Odebrecht, which built the container terminal at the Cuban port of Mariel.

In this week’s edition headlined “Our man in Havana,” Epoca magazine cited Brazilian diplomatic cables about visits to Cuba by Lula after he had left office. During those visits he sought to further Brazilian business interests on the island, it said.

One cable from 2014 reported on a meeting in Havana at which Lula discussed with Odebrecht executives how to secure Cuban guarantees for loans from Brazilian state development bank BNDES to finance new projects sought by Odebrecht in Cuba.

Lula’s foundation called the Epoca story “offensive” and “malicious” and “criminal manipulation” of government documents.

“These are normal activities. The ex-president did nothing illegal and was discussing sovereign guarantees for loans to Cuba in a meeting where a diplomat was present,” said Jose Chrispiniano, a spokesman for the Lula Institute.

Lula is under investigation for improperly using his influence to benefit Odebrecht, whose billionaire chief executive Marcelo Odebrecht was arrested in June in connection with the massive bribery and political kickback scandal focused on state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Prosecutors say Lula frequently traveled abroad at Odebrecht’s expense after leaving office, from 2011 until 2014.

Continue reading HERE.

Reports from Cuba: 4-Star Cockroaches

Liliane Ruiz in Translating Cuba:

4-star Cockroaches

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Facade of the Plaza Hotel in Old Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 26 August 2015 – When Francina Islas and Juan Andres Sanchez planned their Cuban vacation from Miami, they didn’t imagine that their stay in Havana would become a sequence of discomforts and annoyances. Three days at the centrally-located Hotel Plaza was enough to know that the excellence of Cuban tourist facilities is often a publicity mirage with no connection to reality.

The latest figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that the country experienced a 21.1% increase in foreign visitors between January and May of 2015, compared the same period from a year ago. However, at the same time that the number of tourists was increasing, customer demands were increasing.

The couple who shared their experience with 14ymedio said, “We were not looking for luxury, just minimal conditions of hygiene and maintenance, working hot water, no cockroaches,” said Francina, a Mexican traveling with her Spanish husband and their daughter.

With difficulty, the family managed to book a room in Havana from Spain. The flood of tourists has left little availability in the accommodation network which includes 430 establishments throughout the country, including hotels, apartment hotels, motels, villas, hostels, houses, cottages and campgrounds.

After working through several obstacles, Francina and Juan Andres made a reservation through the Logitravel travel agency for a room in the Armadores de Santander, located in a historic mansion in the city. But a week before traveling, they were alerted that it was overbooked and they were relocated to the Plaza Hotel, what was announced as four-stars.

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Interior Detail of the Plaza Hotel (14ymedio)

The change didn’t bother them at all, because the new place is a few yards from Central Park, and had a beautiful façade. However, passing through the most visible areas of the building, they found the rooms left a lot to be desired.

The musty smell on opening the door of the room was the first sign that something was wrong. Then they found there was dust on the furniture, the shower was not embedded in the wall, but hanging, and the water pressure lasted just a few minutes. If someone closed the bathroom door from inside, they needed help from outside to open it, and the bedspreads were dirty and shabby. “Fortunately the sheets had been washed and changed, and they were the only things we used because the blanket was torn, ripped and filthy,” the alarmed Francina commented.

Read more

Cubans don’t need permission to be free

Belen Marty in PanAm Post:

Cubans Don’t Need Permission to Be Free

Dissident Gómez Manzano Wants Nothing to Do with Referendums

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Cuban lawyer René Gómez Manzano says public disapproval of the Castro regime has grown significantly in the last 20 years.

René Gómez Manzano is a well established voice within the Cuban dissident movement. Born in Havana in 1943, 16 years before the start of the revolution, Gómez Manzano is a lawyer, freelance journalist, and currently a member of the Coordinating Council of the Patriotic Union for Cuba party (UNPACU).

As far the Cuban regime is concerned, the UNPACU is an illegal organization, and Gómez Manzano has been arrested and imprisoned several times. In fact, Amnesty International has declared him a prisoner of conscience on three separate occasions.

Nevertheless, he simply calls himself a lawyer, even though the Castro regime has revoked his license to practice law on the island.

To my surprise, Gómez Manzano published an article on August 20 claiming the headline for a report I wrote for the PanAm Post about Cubans gathering in Puerto Rico was false.

When I contacted the attorney to question why he took issue with the headline, he politely replied — with exceptional quickness considering the connectivity issues on the island — 24 hours later.

What’s wrong with the statement that Cuban dissidents gathered in Puerto Rico in search of a plebiscite?

It was not the plebiscite that brought us together, but the need for the Cuban democratic opposition to reach a consensus, to unite. Once we gathered, each organization presented their proposals, requested support, and representatives then agreed on which projects they would support. They included the idea of the plebiscite, among others.

I personally disagree with this idea. I don’t see the logic in holding a referendum to see if people want to have elections, only to then have elections.

Amnesty International has previously called you a “prisoner of conscience.” Do you agree with that description?

Yes, I think it’s appropriate. The organization sets a very positive example in this regard, although I must admit that with some other dissidents they have been somewhat conservative in declaring them prisoners of conscience.

The main reason why I was given this distinction is simply because my fellow dissidents and I were sent to prison for having opinions that differ from the regime’s, and we expressed them.

The regime tends to downplay the acts of those dissidents who haven’t received much media attention, or who have been arrested under turbulent circumstances. They send these dissidents to prison and claim they are common criminals.

The regime tries to conceal this as much as possible. Sometimes the international organization plays it safe and is reluctant to recognize these people as prisoners of conscience as well, even though their condition is only being kept from view.

What does it mean to be a Cuban dissident?

I would say that the vast majority of the Cuban population, over 80 percent, are dissidents. However, most are crypto-dissidents; they hide their beliefs.

Sometimes you take public transportation, and there it is: people expressing their dissatisfaction with the status quo. It’s completely natural, because the economy is a disaster here. But they are reluctant to express their beliefs, because repression is widespread, and for over 50 years they’ve been taught that government is untouchable.

Continue reading HERE.

Cuba, Iran, Russia: Why the knives are out for Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ)

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz in Da Tech Guy Blog:

Why the knives are out on Menendez

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_mlhDaH7J3Hw/Rir5OviizNI/AAAAAAAABeQ/PTgwRUs2IcA/s200/watts-schumer+029.JPGAs Pete notes, the knives are out against Robert Menendez, with lurid headlines again screaming Sen. Robert Menendez may have had sex with underage hookers in Dominican Republic. Menendez’s office again denied the accusations, which are part of a larger case (emphasis added),

And unlike in many federal public corruption cases, this prosecution revolves, in part, around testimony by ex-girlfriends of Menendez and his donor, the eye doctor Melgen. The Justice Department says at least six of those girlfriends are “direct witnesses to the corrupt relationship between the defendants.” Prosecutors added that they didn’t call all of the men’s former paramours, only those who benefited from the alleged corruption.

Woe betide those whose former girlfriends talk, or whose divorce records are opened.

It’s curious to see the hooker story pop up again. I have been blogging on the case for the lastcouple of years, and noted that a grand jury in Florida already found no basis for the prostitution allegations. Let’s not forget why it has.

The knives are out on Menendez for three reasons, all pertaining to foreign policy:
1. The Iran deal (about which we have been posting), and Cuba:

Mr. Menendez sharply questioned State Department officials about Mr. Obama’s move to open diplomatic relations with Cuba, calling it “a bad deal” that “compromised bedrock principles for virtually no concessions.” In December, Mr. Menendez, a son of Cuban immigrants who has made opposition to the Castro leadership a centerpiece of his political life, said Mr. Obama’s decision had “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”

He has also battled with Mr. Obama over a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran, which the president argues would undermine talks to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Mr. Menendez is a co-sponsor of the bill.

And during Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address last month, Mr. Menendez sat grim-faced as other Democrats cheered the president’s promise to veto any effort to roll back his domestic agenda. Days later, Mr. Menendez told Obama administration officials that they sounded as if they were peddling “talking points that come straight out of Tehran” in arguing against his sanctions bill.

2. Russia

All the while, Mr. Menendez has agitated for a more aggressive response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, calling for more sanctions on Moscow and military assistance to Kiev.

Continue reading HERE.

Freemuse calls for the release of imprisoned dissident artists in Cuba

The international organization Freemuse, which advocates for the freedom of expression for musicians and composers calls for the release of imprisoned dissident artists in Cuba.

Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

Freemuse: Release Imprisoned Cuban Artists

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Cuba: Freemuse calls for the release of imprisoned artists

The Cuban graffiti artist and activist Danilo Maldonado Machado, best known as El Sexto, who has been arbitrarily imprisoned for eight months in the Valle Grande prison, located west of Havana, has initiated a hunger strike, according to El Nuevo Herald and various other sources.

El Sexto was arrested on 25 December 2014 while he was on his way to put on a performance art piece called ‘Rebelión en la Granja’ – the title in Spanish of George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm – which included two pigs decorated with the names Fidel and Raúl.

El Sexto was charged with contempt, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. According to El Sexto’s mother, María Victoria Machado, he is going on a hunger strike to protest his continued detention without due process.

El Sexto is not the only young artist imprisoned in Cuba. On 28 January 2015, the rapper Maikel Oksobo ‘El Dkano’ (real name: Maikel Castillo Pérez) was sentenced to a year in prison in Havana. It is generally believed he was targeted for having used music to express his dissenting political opinions. El Dkano was sentenced under a charge known as ‘peligrosidad predelictiva’ (‘dangerousness that is likely leading to a crime’), which is used to imprison dissidents for long terms.

Freemuse calls for the release of the two artists. “Cuba over the years has produced and supported many great artists, but it is appalling that the Cuban authorities continue to repress artists, who are addressing serious problems,” said Ole Reitov, Freemuse Executive Director. “A solid state system should not fear but stimulate artistic freedom and live up to international conventions guaranteeing freedom of speech.”

Freemuse is an independent international organization advocating freedom of expression for musicians and composers.

Reports from Cuba: Dreaming in color

By Rosa Maria Rodriguez in Translating Cuba:

Dreaming in Color

http://www.translatingcuba.com/images/rosa/1439478248_malecon_havana.jpgOn August 5, 1994, the Havana shoreline filled with a human tidal wave that took the capital by surprise and overflowed into international news. The national press, as always, had to wait for the approval of the censor before reporting on the event. Nothing like this had happened in thirty-five years of the Castro dictatorship: a tsunami of people overcame fear, and hundreds of them went to the seaside promenade, driven by rumors that boats from the United States were coming ashore to transport those who wanted to emigrate.

Many thought it was another exodus approved by the authorities, like the Mariel boatlift. When they got there, the unraveling rumors gave way to frustration, and anti-government demonstrations broke out along the length of the Malecon and adjacent areas. Thus was born the event known as El Maleconazo.

The agitated human mass started breaking windows, trashing shops, and confronting the police. The riots lasted for several hours. Then the government sent in its specialized police force to do what it does best: suppress.

Society inevitably returned to its sheep-like obedience and today, twenty-one years later, the bleeding continues by “cutting the femoral” of the nation, which the authorities have always used—and even provoked—to their benefit, for permanently remaining in power.

After that event everything returned to the routine that characterizes life in Cuba: those who are able to emigrate do so, and many of those who do not continue to play the role of supporters of the regime, as the only way of sociopolitical survival.

After fifty-six years of the Castros’ totalitarianism and twenty-one years after that event, the Cuban people remain trapped, prevented from exercising their fundamental rights by the discriminatory designs of a dictatorial regime.

Many fellow citizens hold the goal of emigrating as the only way of achieving personal fulfillment (which is part of the pursuit of happiness) for themselves or their family members.

It is true that there have been some economic and social reforms in Cuba, but as long as the leaders in the forefront of these changes are those who committed so many injustices in the past, who imposed and repealed laws for their own convenience, many will distrust and will doubt whether they will stay.

Others will hesitate to come and invest their capital in a market run by a political class that is in power to serve the wealthy minority, not the excluded majority.

I hope this latest anniversary of El Maleconazo will cause everyone to reflect on how urgent it is for us to allow ourselves to dream of freedoms and rights, and social, political, and economic progress in our own country.

Translated by Tomás A.