The lunacy of enabling terrorists officially now sanctioned by the Brazilian government. I suppose we can expect more of this.
The first one in our hemisphere, and designed to make a statement (emphasis added):
Built on a piece of land that is more than 17,000 square feet and donated by the Brazilian government when it was led by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the space is considered large in comparison to other diplomatic missions. Topped with a golden dome, the building resembles the famous mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas laid the cornerstone for the building in 2011.
Lula donated a strategic location in his own country’s capital: There’s a security component,
The inauguration of the embassy comes as Brazil and Israel tussle over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nominee to fill the vacant Israeli envoy position.
The closeness of the new embassy to major Brazilian governmental buildings, including the Planalto Palace, Congress, Supreme Court and ministries, has been widely criticized due to security concerns.
“Diplomats and their vehicles cannot be checked. The embassy is a sovereign Hamas area now,” an unnamed military source told Brazil’s Veja magazine in an article published last year. “The site is strategic. Terrorists could access the whole governmental structure in a half an hour.”
For decades the Brazilian government has ignored Hezbollah’s activities in the Tr-Border Area. Now Hamas and the PA have a strategically-important spot in the middle of Brasilia.
What could possibly go wrong?
By Roger F. Noriega via American Enterprise Institute:
Time for US leadership in the Americas
In 2016, the United States has the opportunity to advance key US interests in the Americas—eclipsing the failed and fading legacy of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, filling the void that China’s receding demand created, and backing a trend toward accountable policies. Predictably, President Barack Obama’s outreach to the Raúl Castro regime in Cuba has failed to produce the results that he hoped would leave a lasting legacy. However, he has one final year to make a meaningful contribution to democracy, the rule of law, and free-market economics in the Americas as a whole.
For nearly two decades, several countries have succumbed to a mix of authoritarian populism, statist economic policies, and unsustainable social spending—giving government such an overbearing role in national economies that it spurred corruption and undermined democracy. Regrettably, in the last decade, the United States failed to advance any alternatives to big-government strategies.
Meanwhile, regional antidrug cooperation that willing Andean neighbors forged with the United States 25 years ago has virtually disintegrated today. At first, leftist regimes in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela defied this US-led agenda. Eventually, several became complicit with narcocorruption—with little or no pushback from US policymakers. Now, Colombia’s government is gutting key antidrug policies in its rush to make peace with narcoguerrillas, but US diplomats have failed to counsel against making peace at any price. Transnational organized crime destabilizes a half-dozen countries, but the Obama administration plans to throw US tax dollars at the symptoms in Central America while neglecting the narcostate in Venezuela.
In a number of countries in recent months, elections and opinion polls suggest that people are seeking alternatives to statist formulas that have produced political repression, economic recession, or both. President Obama has the opportunity to salvage the final year of his mandate by empowering his diplomatic and economic team to demonstrate US leadership in key areas:
Show that the United States cares about its neighbors. Energize outreach to like-minded governments, civil society, and the private sector, and speak out on a host of practical and pressing issues—including fighting corruption in Central America, promoting political accountability and practical economic solutions in Haiti, and rallying solidarity with the region’s democrats, beginning in Venezuela and Cuba.
Lead with free-market solutions. The secretary of the treasury should form a regional working group of finance ministers to develop a prosperity agenda for aggregating and channeling private capital and international assistance to private-sector entrepreneurs, liberalizing internal markets, modernizing infrastructure, maximizing energy production, and tapping the benefits of international trade.
Help rescue Venezuela and support the new democratic majority. Call for an urgent meeting of foreign ministers at the Organization of American States under the Inter-American Democratic Charter to respond to the Nicolás Maduro regime’s attempts to deny the democratic opposition the National Assembly supermajority it won on December 6.
Put narcotraffickers and other transnational criminals on the defensive. Use executive authorities to sanction individuals (denying access to the US financial system and freezing assets) who play a disproportionate role in undermining democracy and the rule of law.
Promote principled peace in Colombia. Encourage the Colombian government to negotiate a tough, enforceable agreement with the guerrillas, such as Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC); fortify the agreement with a constitutional referendum; and restore effective extradition and coca-eradication programs if the FARC fails to cease drug-related crimes.
Support the right of the Cuban people to choose their own future. Reprioritize their human rights, democracy, and economic liberty in compliance with the bipartisan Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996. Challenge the Castro regime for meddling in Venezuelan affairs.
Filling the Vacuum of Responsible Leadership
President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry clearly come from a school of thought that sees Latin America and the Caribbean as a bundle of grievances against US interference. When, in November 2013 at the Organization of American States (OAS), Kerry declared, “The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over,” he might have admitted that the Obama administration’s policy is to leave the Americas alone, literally. Dutiful career US diplomats have fashioned a policy of benign reticence—self-conscious silence as leftist caudillos (strongmen) dismantled democratic institutions, muzzled independent media, and jailed political opponents; as unsustainable social programs and corruption smothered burgeoning economies; and as China muscled its way into a natural US market with mercantile tactics and predatory loans.
Minding these matters is the United States’ business.
It is a fallacy that Latin America regards any sort of engagement by Washington as unhealthy intervention. The truth is the United States can work with like-minded democrats to reenergize the Inter-American Democratic Charter—starting with reviewing the conditions of democracy, human rights, and the separation of powers in Venezuela. Luis Almagro, the new OAS secretary general, deserves the strong backing of the United States and other democratic governments, so the OAS can reassert its role in detecting and responding to threats to democracy and human rights.
There is dramatic evidence that people in many countries need and welcome their neighbors’ renewed solidarity. In Guatemala, a political neophyte, Jimmy Morales, was elected president in October with two-thirds of the popular vote. His election came after months of peaceful popular protests, which forced President Otto Pérez Molina (and his vice president) to resign in the face of corruption charges uncovered by a prosecutor backed up by a UN-sanctioned (and US-backed) international investigative team. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has turned to the OAS for similar international assistance to ferret out corruption.
In Haiti, the United States and the international community cannot merely provide aid while ignoring the feudal economic system, nor should they pay for periodic elections and then neglect political dysfunction. Once the current electoral impasse is resolved, the United States and other donors must press Haiti’s new president and parliament to govern responsibly and eliminate the culture of cronyism and corruption. Haitian leaders, in government and business, should be challenged to take practical steps to modernize the economy from the bottom up, emphasizing private initiatives that create decent jobs and give people a stake in the future. This requires transparent policies that encourage domestic and international investment. As Haitians begin to identify responsible government with greater prosperity, their leaders can pursue the long-term goal of reforming the country’s political institutions to make them more accountable and relevant.
Poverty and insecurity in some Latin American and Caribbean countries are primarily caused by a lack of strong, accountable institutions that can foster economic development and provide for public security. For these valid reasons, the United States has been active for 80 years in promoting democracy and the rule of law in the Americas. In numerous countries in recent years—including Guatemala, Haiti, Argentina, and Brazil—people demonstrated their faith in these democratic solutions to the toughest problems. In each case, legislatures, courts, independent media, civil society, the rule of law, or free and fair elections have played indispensable, positive roles.
US foreign policy cannot be timid when these values and institutions are tested. Although some in the region complain about the appearance of US meddling, many have come to expect US solidarity with its neighbors in defense of shared principles.
Report from 14yMedio via Translating Cuba:
People In Need Award Goes To Former Cuban Prisoners Of The Black Spring
Martha Beatriz Roque believes that work to defend human rights “is becoming more difficult for the internal opposition,” in Cuba. (14ymedio)
The Czech organization People in Need has given its Homo Homini Award for this year to the 11 former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring who continue to live in Cuba, as confirmed to this newspaper by several of the laureates. The entity, focused on the defense of human rights, has recognized the work of those who have continued to exercise their peaceful activist for decades, despite the rigors of prison and political repression.
Last year the award celebrated two decades since its founding. The award is intended to honor individuals for their “dedication to the promotion of human rights, democracy and non-violent solutions to political conflicts.”
Among the honorees with distinction, is Cuban opposition member Felix Navarro who told 14ymedio that he was “very pleasantly surprised with the news” and dedicated the honor to all those who struggle “peacefully inside Cuba to produce the changes that will make Cubans free.” The activist went on to ask whether the Cuban government will allow the winners to travel to receive the award, given the travel restrictions they have endured since their release from prison.
The only woman in the so-called Group of 75, Martha Beatriz Roque, welcomed the recognition for her work “within the country to defend the cause of human rights.” The activist points out that this task “is becoming ever more difficult for the internal opposition” and agrees that it is likely that none of the 11 will be allowed to leave the country, so that “there will be an empty chair, with everything that’s going to mean.”
“Moral and political backing and support,” is how the dissident Angel Moya described the Homo Homini Award, adding that this is a recognition that extends “to all those within Cuba struggling to establish the rule of law”.
For the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, Jose Daniel Ferrer, this is a good time to remember that “the first Cuban to receive it was Oswaldo Paya Sardinas in 1999.” At the time, Ferrer was an activist in the Christian Liberation Movement, who spread ” the news throughout the eastern part of the country.” He added, referring to Payá’s death, “It is now up to us and this award makes us very happy.”
Among the winners from previous years, as well as Oswaldo Paya, are Sapiyat Magomedova (Russia, 2013), Intigam Aliyev (Azerbaijan, 2012), Azimžan Askarov (Kyrgyzstan, 2010), Liu Xiaobo (China, 2008), Su Su Nway, Phyu Phyu Thin and Nilar Thein (Myanmar, 2007), Ales Bialiatski (Belarus, 2005) and Sergej Kovaljov (Russia, 1994), among others.
The NGO People in Need was founded in 1992 and is defined as a non-profit organization ” based on the ideas of humanism, freedom, equality and solidarity.” It has employees and volunteers both in the Czech Republic and in a dozen countries seeking to “provide assistance in regions of conflict and support the commitment to human rights throughout the world.”
Cuba’s press freedom ranking is the worst in the Americas. In this recent article, RSF noted:
The regime has an almost total monopoly on the circulation of news and information, using harsh laws and police harassment to gag independent and opposition media outlets. Cuban journalists who try to resist government control are subject to intimidation, threats, arbitrary arrest and the confiscation of their professional equipment.
“We urge François Hollande not to dodge the fundamental question of media freedom in Cuba during his talks with Raúl Castro,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk. “The Castro government’s many attacks on Cuban journalists are unacceptable. France must use this visit to advance the debate about media pluralism and the protection of journalists in Cuba.”
The progressive lifting of the US embargo and the resumption of diplomatic relations with the United States, symbolized by Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Havana in August, have not resulted in any sign of improvement in the lot of Cuba’s journalists.
In fact, harassment of the opposition media has intensified in recent months. Reporters who cover the weekly protest march by the “Damas de Blanco” on Sundays are systematically arrested and held for several hours before being freed.
When Pope Francis visited Cuba in September, the secret police told opposition journalists and bloggers they would be arrested if they did not stay at home until the pope left.
Freedom of information is extremely limited in Cuba, which is ranked lower in the index than any other country in the Americas. The government tolerates no independent press. Internet access is restricted and tightly controlled. The authorities continue to cite the US embargo as the reason for the low Internet penetration but the activation of Cuba’s ALBA-1 fibre-optic cable with Venezuela proves that it has more to do with a political desire to control the Internet. In addition to the lack of media pluralism, outspoken journalists and bloggers are still subjected to threats, smears, arrest and arbitrary detention.
Continue reading HERE.
Dr. Jose Azel via Capitol Hill Cubans:
Cognitive Dissonance in Obama’s Cuba Policy
By Dr. Jose Azel of The University of Miami:
Sour Grapes in Foreign Policy
We get the expression “sour grapes” from Aesop’s fable “The Fox and the Grapes.” In the fable, a fox tries to eat some appetizing high-hanging grapes. When the fox is unable to reach the grapes he does not admit defeat, but rather rationalizes that the grapes are not ripe; thus sour grapes.
Psychologists often use this classic tale to illustrate the concept of cognitive dissonance. When heavily invested in a position and confronted with disconfirming evidence, we go to great lengths to justify our position as did the fox in Aesop’s fable. In short, our tendency is to deny discrepancies between our preexisting beliefs (cognition) and new information.
Cognitive dissonance theory examines our actions when we are confronted with information inconsistent with our prior beliefs. Scholars use this paradigm in international affairs to examine historical failures in leadership resulting in calamitous surprises. Examples are, the German invasion of France bypassing the Maginot line, the Japanese bombardment of Pearl Harbor, and the simultaneous attacks on Israel in the Yom Kippur War.
Cognitive dissonance is also evident in how the Obama administration has handled the stances of Iran and Cuba following major reconciliatory initiatives by the administration. The administration’s expectations have not been met. Yet, in an effort to reduce dissonance, officials downgrade discrepant information.
The Iranian firing of rockets within 1,500 feet of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, followed by the capture of two U.S. Navy patrol boats and their crew in the Persian Gulf is illustrative. The detention of the U.S sailors came just days before the release of billions in Iranian assets as part of the controversial nuclear deal reached with Tehran.
In violation of international protocols, a video from Iran’s news agency showed the U.S. sailors kneeling on deck, hands clasped behind their heads. The video contrasted sharply with statements from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and the White House. The official statements dealt with the cognitive dissonance of the situation by downgrading the discrepant information and focusing on the release of the crew, rather than on the humiliating context of the capture.
Following the December 17, 2014 announcement by President Obama of his initiative to normalize relations with Castro’s Cuba, the administration has made several unilateral concessions to the Castro regime before and after the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. At every step, the Cuban government has failed to respond in kind to the expectations of the Obama administration. In fact, General Raul Castro has repeatedly insisted that Cuba will not concede anything.
In its cognitive dissonance the administration, instead of reexamining their misconceptions, has sought to reduce dissonance and achieve consonance by doubling down on its losing bet. It has unilaterally proceeded with further giveaways to the regime.
Without even the slightest hint of a concession by Cuba, the administration has given to the Cuban government the license to export Havana Club rum to the U.S. contravening the legal decision that Bacardi Limited is the rightful owner of the license. It also announced new regulations that will benefit the Cuban government by easing restrictions on the financing of Cuba’s imports from the United States.
The announcement employs Orwellian language to discount the fact that Castro’s Cuba exerts totalitarian controls and that the new regulations will enrich, not small Cuban entrepreneurs, but the government’s monopolies. It disingenuously explains that, exports will be permitted to state-owned enterprises if the products meet “the needs of the Cuban people.” An honest approach would be for the administration to acknowledge its misjudgment. The grapes of the Castro regime are not ripe for democratic values.
Newsweek via The Real Cuba:
The Obama administration has been easing restrictions on travel, exports and export financing. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker spoke of “building a more open and mutually beneficial relationship.”
However, the administration expressed concern over Havana’s dismal human rights practices. Despite the warm reception given Pope Francis last fall, the Castro regime has been on the attack against Cubans of faith.
In a new report, the group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) warned of “an unprecedented crackdown on churches across the denominational spectrum,” which has “fueled a spike in reported violations of freedom of religion or belief.” There were 220 specific violations of religious liberties in 2014, but there were 2,300 last year, many of which “involved entire churches or, in the cases of arrests, dozens of victims.”
Even in the best of times, the Castros have never been friends of faith in anything other than themselves. The State Department’s 2014 report on religious liberty noted that “the government harassed outspoken religious leaders and their followers, including reports of beating, threats, detentions and restrictions on travel. Religious leaders reported the government tightened controls on financial resources.”
Last year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was similarly critical. The commission explained: “Serious religious freedom violations continue in Cuba, despite improvements for government-approved religious groups.”
Never mind the papal visit, “the government continues to detain and harass religious leaders and laity, interfere in religious groups’ internal affairs, and prevent democracy and human rights activists from participating in religious activities.”
Now CSW has issued its own report. Last year’s increase in persecution “was largely due to the government declaring 2,000 Assemblies of God churches illegal, ordering the closure or demolition of 100 AoG churches in three provinces, and expropriating the properties of a number of other denominations, including the Methodist and Baptist Conventions.”
This wide-ranging campaign was led by the Office of Religious Affairs. Noted CSW: “In 2015, the ORA continued to deny authorization for a number of religious activities and in cooperation with other government agencies, issued fines and threats of confiscation to dozens of churches and religious organizations.”
Through the ORA the Communist Party exercises control over religious activities. Indeed, reported CSW, the office “exists solely to monitor, hinder and restrict the activities of religious groups.”
The regime also has increasingly targeted church leaders and congregants, for the first time in years jailing one of the former. In early January, two churches were destroyed, church members arrested and three church leaders held incommunicado. One of the government’s more odious practices, according to CSW, has been to threaten churches with closure if they “do not comply with government demands to expel and shun specific individuals.”
The regime’s destructive activities have been justified as enforcing zoning laws. But in practice the measure is a subterfuge to shut down churches.
Other legislation threatens house churches. While not consistently implemented in the past, “church leaders have repeatedly expressed concern at its potential to close down a large percentage of house churches.”
CSW concluded that the ongoing crackdown was an attempt to limit calls for social reform which would complement ongoing, though limited, economic changes. Detentions initially were concentrated on “Cubans considered by the government to be political dissidents,” including a group of Catholic women called the Ladies in White. The regime crackdown later “expanded to include other individuals associated with independent civil society, including human rights and democracy activists.”
The Obama administration was right to engage Cuba. After more than 50 years, the embargo serves no useful purpose.
However, even lifting all economic restrictions won’t turn Cuba into a democracy. Only sustained pressure from within and without Cuba is likely to force the Castro regime to yield control to the Cuban people.
As I wrote in Forbes: “Americans should forthrightly encourage freedom in Cuba. Religious believers should be particularly vocal in supporting people seeking to live out their faith under Communist oppression. Some day autocracy will give way to liberty even in Cuba.”
Continue reading HERE.
We’ve all heard about Cuba in the 1950’s, the Pearl of the Antilles, thriving commercially, culturally, and by all measurable statistics more advanced than much of the world. Back in 2007, I came across and posted about the Directorio Telefonico de la Habana 1958, with page after page verifying the grand reality of Cuba B.C.
Thanks to my friend Omar, from the University of Florida Digital Collections, here is the 1949 version, and guess what, Cuba in the 1940’s was just as grand:
There are 378 pages of private residences, 448 pages of professional and commercial listings. It’s all here, thousands and thousands of listings for every product or service you’d expect to find in any U.S. city of the era. Candy stores, insurance agencies, sporting goods, jukeboxes, anything and everything you can think of.
The directory is affirmation of the great society Cubans built with ingenuity, capitalism and enough freedom of self-determination. A great society the bastard son, Fidel Castro so envied, hated, and determinedly destroyed. All of it gone, replaced by interminable poverty, hopelessness, repression and slavery. Generations of Cubans have been denied their nations true history and heritage by propaganda schools promoted as “free education”. I think the photos below, the first an ad in the directory for a car dealer with nationwide locations, the other of a sad relic, proof of the failed revolution, shamelessly exploited and marketed as nostalgia to entice ignorant useful idiot tourists.
Click your way through this wonderful treasure HERE.
Wonderful tribute to Dr. E.A. Rivero by his friend, and mine, David Landau.
Via blog of The PanAm Post, The Canal:
A Cuban Hero Leaves Us, but His Home Left Him First
In Memory of Doctor E.A. Rivero
By David Landau
Nations almost always outlive their sons and daughters. That’s not the case with E.A. Rivero, who is one of Cuba’s unsung heroes.
A few days ago, at age 87, the former doctor of law, residing in Washington, DC, took an accidental fall and struck his head. But his lonely death on a Washington street was not his real misfortune. His misfortune was to outlive the nation that was first in his heart.
The Cuba that welcomed E.A. Rivero into life in 1928 was a society teeming with promise and discontent. By the early 1930s, when Cuban politics approached a boiling point, E.A.’s father had surmounted his modest origins and was a rising journalist.
Having come along during the family’s years of struggle, E.A. grew up as a direct and domineering personality. His brother Adolfo, seven years younger, entered a prospering family and became a prince.
The brothers’ common trait was an impassioned devotion to the res publica. But their zealous natures brought them into conflict.
Like nearly all young people, E.A. and Adolfo, as well as Fidel Castro, despised Fulgencio Batista and fought against Batista’s illicit regime. E.A., having been Castro’s classmate at Havana University, admired Castro’s abilities, but remained skeptical of the man. As for Adolfo, he entered the university and fell hard for the siren-song of communism.
Castro himself had come up not as a communist but as an opportunist. He would have turned himself into a Buddhist or a Zionist, if either of those doctrines had shown him the way to power. But in Batista’s Cuba, the smart move was toward communism, and Castro made an alliance with the communists.
When Castro’s forces took power in 1959, Adolfo became a loyal cadre of the regime; while E.A. came to feel that Castro’s rule would be a disaster for the country and turned with equal energy against it.
E.A. joined the clandestine forces that were fighting against Castro inside Cuba. In 1960, E.A. walked straight into the CIA with an urgent request for help in opposing Castro’s regime, which was being openly backed by the Soviet Union.
The CIA egged him on, but did not give more than token support. For their part, the Americans preferred to work with anti-Castro Cubans in Florida who would be subservient to them, which the experienced fighters in Cuba would not.
Then came the disaster at the Bay of Pigs. A little-known effect of the fiasco was that it delivered the Cuban underground to Castro’s police. In April 1961, E.A. was arrested in the enormous dragnet carried out by Castro’s security forces.
With E.A. in captivity, the Castro regime put Adolfo to the test. In his offices at the communist youth, Adolfo got a surprise visit from two state security agents. After some preliminary talk about E.A., the senior agent asked Adolfo: “In your opinion, what should we do?”
Adolfo replied without missing a beat. “I believe you should put him before a firing squad. With my brother, there is no deal. There never will be one.”
The statement was so unflinching that, as Adolfo later wrote, even the security officer “couldn’t meet my gaze.”
By a spectacular irony, the recommendation actually saved E.A.’s life. Had Adolfo pleaded for E.A., the Castro people would have executed him in order to discipline their cadre. E.A.’s mother, who came from Florida to attend the trial, was sure her son would get the firing squad. Execution was foreordained — until Adolfo requested it.
Instead of being shot, E.A. received a 30-year prison term. He was 33 years old.
In October 1979, eighteen-and-a-half years after his capture, the Castros released E.A. and sent him into exile. For every day of those 18-plus years, prison authorities had tried to extort information from him. Right up to his last day, they wanted the names of other people with whom he had worked in the underground.
They shut him up in solitary; they brought him close to starvation; they pretended they would shoot him; they put prison “stoolies” in contact with him to get him to talk. All of it failed. At last, Castro’s people released him as a supposed goodwill gesture, with a curt statement that Cuba had “no further use for the prisoner.”
When E.A. left prison, he had an ally in his brother. Adolfo, who in his way was just as truculent and independent, had been purged from the Communist Party and was suffering confinement in the “big prison” — Cuba itself.
E.A. fought for his brother’s release from Cuba. In 1988, when Adolfo received an exit visa and took a plane bound for Paris. E.A. was at Orly airport to meet him.
From then on, until Adolfo’s death in 2011, the brothers lived in the United States — one in Washington, one in Miami — their connection indestructible.
They were modest men; respected by those who had known them in Cuba, but unknown to the broader society that did not care about their experience or knowledge.
Whatever the disappointments of their exile, they were living in a real country, while the people of Cuba were not.
In July 1989, the second man of Cuba, Raúl Castro, gave a notable prescription. As reported by the July 6 issue of Granma, he said: “It is preferable that Cuba sink into the ocean, like Atlantis, before the corrupting forces of capitalism prevail.”
The Castros took power in January 1959. More than 47 years later, Fidel Castro was able to leave office in the manner of an elderly professor going into retirement.
A few years from now, the Republic of Cuba will not even be a memory. The country long ago ceased to be what E.A. Rivero, or any former citizen of the republic, would have recognized as his or her own.
No worries, Doctor Rivero — it’s not on you. You did your part. You did it well. And you’ve won your piece of eternity.
David Landau has been a recognized writer since his early 20’s, when his first book, Kissinger: The Uses of Power, appeared. He lives in San terFrancisco, where he’s a radio news co-anchor, editor, and publisher. His imprint, Pureplay Press, has published a dozen books about Cuba. Follow @pureplayed.
When a castrolandia minion pens a divert, deny, and distract article proclaiming Cuba’s innocence and promoting Obama’s Cuba policy, you have to wonder what exactly is Obama and Cuba’s military junta up to.
Important: Mr. Lopez Levy questions Mr. Abram’s credibility while failing to disclose his work as an agent for Cuba’s intelligence services, as revealed byThe New York Times News Service. This is relevant to the article’s pro-Havana anti-Cuban exile slant on cold war events, U.S Cuba policy during the Reagan administration, and his praise for Obama’s policy of engagement; noting it’s so-called benefits, and the importance of understanding Cuba’s transition process for future relations with “the new post revolutionary elites“.
An American Missile Landed in Cuba: A Pro-Embargo Charade
The story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal about the American missile that allegedly ended up in Cuba, lost in Air France’s baggage, speaks poorly of the Department of Defense. Not everything that comes out wrong from the Pentagon is a product of espionage or ill-will. Negligence does exist.
There is no evidence to date indicating that Cuba has any responsibility whatsoever in the affair but there are those who want to make political hay out of an unfortunate situation. Of all who are using the story to attack engagement with Cuba none other than Elliot Abrams has been the concertmaster.
Abrams, you will remember, was in the center of the Iran-Contra, arms-for-hostages scandal during the Reagan Administration. His insistence on being in this story speaks volumes about his incapacity for shame or a naïve belief in amnesia among concerned adults in Washington. Yet, he launched an effort including journalist Maria Anastasia O’Grady, Senator Marco Rubio and congress members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, affirming ahead of the fact that Cuba will share the missile technology with China, Russia, North Korea and according to O’Grady “even with other terrorist organizations”. The Miami Herald made up its own insinuation posting the story together with a video about the 1962 Missile Crisis. How sloppy!
Elliot Abrams does not have a shred of objectivity as an analyst about Cuba. While Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs during the Reagan administration, Abrams had hidden a Cuban diplomatic communication in favor of negotiating an honorable solution to the conflicts in the Southern Cone of Africa that was favorable to the strategic interests of the U.S. It took a professional diplomat, Jay Taylor, chief of the U.S. Interests Sections in Havana from 1987-88, to circumvent Abrams and pass the information to Chester Crocker, American Assistant Secretary for African Affairs under Secretary of State George Shultz. Crocker convinced Shultz of the convenience of using that Cuban overture, and the U.S. mediated a solution in which the dominant forces in the region now, Nelson Mandela’s ANC, the SWAPO in Namibia and the MPLA in Angola, who were Cuba’s allies against the apartheid regime, ended up as Washington’s allies. The agreements bolstered American interests in the whole African continent.
It is well know that Cuba became closely connected to America’s rivals in Moscow and Beijing. Over the decades of the Cold War, the greater the hostility Cuba received from the U.S., the more Cuba relied on other great powers and anti-American allies. That is the logic of realism in international relations. As it has broken from the policy practices of previous administrations toward Cuba, the Obama administration has cleverly understood that its island neighbor is in the middle of a generational transition. A well-timed engagement policy before the final retirement of the Castro brothers would open relations with the new post-revolutionary elites with a clean slate.
Amidst increasing indications that President Obama planned to visit Cuba in the final year of his presidency, a symbolic yet important step in advancing the process of normalization, this missile has rolled into the laps of his strongest critics. If Cuba has the missile, it should simply return it to the U.S. Nothing that Havana can get from the already used weaponry outweighs Cuba’s national interest in improving its relations with its powerful neighbor. This would be consistent with the tone of respect announced at the meetings of presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama in Panama City and the United Nations.
Somos+ (We Are More) Holds Convention Despite Police Operation
The Somos+ (We Are More) opposition movement held its national convention Thursday, despite the arrest of several participants and a strong police operation around its site in Havana. The home of Eliecer Avila, leader of the organization, was surrounded by several police patrols at dawn, and only those who entered the home several hours or days earlier were able to attend.
Despite the obstacles, Somos+ issued a statement announcing,”We are holding the convention!” The activists were referring to a meeting held on 14 January to decide on the program ahead of time. The speeches, lectures and presentations were digitized to be able to project them in case their protagonists were not able to arrive at the site.
Groups of government sympathizers, dressed in plain clothes, threateningly warned off any curious person who wanted to take pictures around the site, or access the house on Esperanza Street in the Cerro district, where the event took place.
According to Pedro Acosta, who was prevented from reaching Avila’s house, the police deployment included several patrol cars and motorcycles. “I was surprised by this display of police force, because I hadn’t noticed any abnormal situation in the neighborhood.” A motorcycle with a sidecar stopped next to Acosta to ask for his identify card. When he said he wasn’t carrying it, the police ordered him, “Get in, citizen!” In the vehicle, they drove along several streets in Havana and let him out on 26th Avenue. “And this?” Acosta asked them, continuing his story, “They started up and the one driving addressed me for the first time telling me that next time I wouldn’t forget my ID card.”
At seven in the evening the siege on Avila’s house continues, according to what he himself told Acosta by phone.
The police also intercepted Angel Santiesteban and prevented him from reaching the house, said Avila.
In the text released this Thursday, the leadership of Somos+ explains that they tried to rent a space for their most important annual meeting. However, those in charge of the locales – both state and private – were intimidated by State Security and so would not rent to them.
Several members of the movement who live outside the capital were threatened and, in several cases, arrested to prevent them from traveling to Havana. Among these was Johana Columbie, who lives in Camaguey and who, with police stationed outside her house, sent a letter to the convention ensuring them that the recent events, rather than frightening her, had given her “strength to continue.”
Other activists such as Alexey Games and Franky Rojas received police summonses received this morning, while the movement coordinator in the province of Las Tunas, Pedro Escalona, ??was arrested and released just a few hours ago.
Eliecer Avila and Manuel Diaz Mons, general coordinator of Somos+ were arbitrarily detained and warned not to hold the convention.
On its digital page, the movement thanked Amnesty International – in particular Louise Tillotson, investigator for Cuba and the Caribbean – for having contacted their members and for showing concern in the face of the latest developments.
The convention had as its central theme “how to live with the internet in Cuba so as not to have to emigrate, not to have to jump into the sea, or cross so many borders, without having the power within Cuba to run businesses, labor cooperatives, produce resources,” according to Avila.
Via Capitol Hill Cubans:
Who Will Succeed Raul Castro?
Roberto Alvarez Quinones is a Cuban journalist who spent over 25-years in Castro’s state-run Granma newspaper, as an economic commentator. He also served stints at the Cuban Central Bank and the Ministry of Foreign Trade.
It’s worth reading his analysis carefully.
By Roberto Alvarez Quinones in Diario de Cuba:
Who will succeed Raul Castro?
General Raúl Castro has stated that he will retire when he finishes his second term as president of Cuba, in 2018, even indicating that he then plans to head to Mexico to summer there.
Of course, the bit about enjoying a nice overseas escape was a slip of the tongue, revealing that he has either already stolen a hefty sum of public funds, or that the State will be footing the bill for a vacation abroad for him, his family and bodyguards. As was the case with his nephew, Antonio Castro, on a large yacht in the Mediterranean. Because in Cuba a retiree, no matter how good his pension, cannot even take a vacation in the city where he lives.
Politicians, leaders and members of the media all over the world assume that in 2018 the Castros’ time in power will come to an end. And many believe that this will mark the start of profound changes leading the towards democratization of the country’s political system.
That all sounds very nice, but they’re overlooking something. General Castro has not stated whether at the 7th Congress of the Communist Party (PCC), to be held next April, he will step down as the party’s First Secretary, a position that gives him the “right” to continue for another five years, in accordance with the rules adopted at the organization’s meeting in 2011.
That is, it is not clear whether his retirement in 2018 will be only as the Head of State and Government, and not as the head of the PCC. And this is pivotal, because Castro’s status as a dictator does not stem from his role as president of the nation, but rather as the leader of the PCC, the highest level of political power under the Constitution, and as Commander-in-Chief of the army, navy and air force.
It is unlikely that the General will cede his pharaonic throne within three months. Especially with his brother still alive, who has demanded that he remain in the post as long as his health allows, so as to keep alive the legacy of Moncada and the Sierra Maestra, etc. And, if by some miracle he did step down, the position would be de jure and not de facto.
The dictator is obviously pondering two possibilities: 1) continuing as the head of the regime beyond 2018, or 2) continuing to head up the PCC for another two years and relinquishing the post when he gives up the presidency.
If he remains as the leader of the PCC “until death does them part,” in 2018 Cuba’s new president will be his puppet, like Osvaldo Dorticós was for Fidel Castro, who in February of 1959 annulled the Constitution of 1940 and made the President of the Republic a subordinate of the Prime Minister.
And if Castro II abandons his leadership of the PCC in 2018, it will be to remain behind the scenes as the regime’s political/military “guide,” as did China’s Deng Xiaoping, who, after “retiring,” actually continued to run the country until his death at the age of 93.
The point is that, if he only leaves the presidency in 2018, and not his Party post, for the first time the First Secretary of the PCC would no longer be the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, as the socialist Constitution stipulates that it falls upon the President of the Council of State to “assume the Supreme Command of all armed institutions and determine their general organization.”
This would be unacceptable in a militarized regime that is increasingly so. Today, four of the six vice presidents of the Council of Ministers are officers, as are 9 of the 14 members of the Political Bureau. Really in charge of Cuba is a 15-member military junta headed by a commander-in-chief who has always been the First Secretary of the PCC.
That is, it would be necessary to amend the Constitution to strip the Head of State of his status as supreme commander of the armed forces, or the fact that he is a puppet of the dictator would be all too obvious. The leader of the PCC will always be the head of the country’s military. Period.
But if Raúl, who will be 87 in 2018, also decided to hand over leadership of the PCC, and for his replacement to also serve as the Head of State, the situation would be different: if the dictator were to become ill, or die, his successor would be called upon to guarantee the implementation of the neo-Castroist military model of State-backed capitalism that has been underway for years now.
Even with General Castro still alive there would exist the possibility that the new head, with all the branches of government under his command, would just ignore Raúl’s guidance. Thus, the dictator’s successor is bound to be chosen for his fierce loyalty.
It will not be Díaz-Canel
Who could that successor be? Nobody knows, but we can say that it will not be Miguel Díaz-Canel, as he does not form part of the political-military elite holding power. The current First Vice-president’s mission is marketing: selling the false idea that Cuba’s ruling cadre is being overhauled. Díaz-Canel could only be President of Cuba if Raúl died, and only until 2018.
The answer to the previous question will depend largely on who will be the new Deputy Secretary of the PCC, as we know that José R. Machado Ventura, about to turn 86, will not be ratified. A strong candidate, even for the official “number one,” if Raúl were not to continue as head of the PCC, is General Álvaro López Miera. At age 72 he is the youngest and the most capable of the “historic” generals, and the dictator has been protecting him like a child since, at the age of 14, he went up to the Sierra Cristal to fight against Batista’s army.
López Miera is the First Deputy Minister of the MINFAR, head of the General Staff, and the man who in practice really runs that Ministry, as its official head, General Leopoldo Cintra Frías, is short on talent, we might say, and was given the post to placate his protector Fidel Castro. In the Sierra Maestra “Polito” was always under Fidel’s direct command.
The most powerful generals are old commanders back from the Sierra Maestra days, who are now in their 80s or older. But there are other equally powerful young people, many with command over troops, and all of them members of the Party’s Central Committee – almost all of whom distinguished themselves as invading officials in Africa – who qualify to succeed the dictator.
What about Alejandro Castro Espín?
Of course, there is also Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, the youngest member of the Military Junta. But there are some things that would have to happen first. At the next congress, in addition to being promoted to the Party’s Central Committee, he would also have to be promoted to the Political Bureau. If this spectacular ascent were to occur, and if before or after the 7th Congress Alejandro were promoted to general, we would be looking at the new crown prince of the House of Castro in 2018.
However, such a meteoric rise could produce rifts in the regime’s political and military apex. It seems unlikely that the seasoned general would agree to be under the command of an inept young person without military experience and with serious difficulties communicating and interacting with others, just because he’s a daddy’s boy. We are, however, dealing with Castroism, so nothing can be ruled out.
In short, whatever decision the dictator and his military junta make at the 7th Congress, unfortunately it does not look like there will be many pleasant surprises on the Cuban political horizon, at least in the short term. Hopefully there will be, and Castroism does not manage to mutate into neo-Castroism in 2018.
Image below: General Alvaro Lopez-Miera trafficking weapons to the North Koreans.
Tweet of the day from the Twitter account of Angel Vivas:
CUBA,LA ISLA DEL TERROR.El peor enemigo de Venezuela desde1959. Meca del comunismo terrorismo y narcotráfico mundial https://t.co/v7moW8B3N0
— Angel Vivas (@Gral_Vivas_P) January 14, 2016
Translation: CUBA, THE ISLAND OF TERROR. The worst enemy of Venezuela from 1959. Mecca of communism terrorism and international narco-trafficking.
The island of terror, a perfect description for Cuba. It conjurs up all sorts of images from old B-grade horror movies with crowds with terror stricken faces fleeing from a frightenimg monster. Surely this must be how it feels for the Cuban people, well aware of the specter of mass-executions, arrests, beatings, living with every aspect of your life under threat. Imagine the constrictive fear of such repression. Those of us living in freedom cannot truly understand how it feels living with the constant fear of being found out for your thoughts, or for an anti-regime slip of the tongue by the neighborhood snitches of the CDR. How would you like it if your children were were taught to snitch on you, imagine that distrust; then multiply that by millions over almost six decades. Imagine going to bed each night knowing there is no food for tomorrow. Imagine living in a building on the verge of collapse as happens so frequently in Cuba. Imagine that no one cares. That is Cuba.
Obama’s willingness to appease his favorite dictator knows no bounds; he is not constrained by promises he made to Cuba’s dissidents, his specious concern for human rights, or the law.
Via Capitol Hill Cubans:
Obama Hands Castro Monopoly a Trademark, Violates U.S. Law
Earlier this week, we’d posted how the mask had quickly come off Obama’s Cuba policy.
For the past year, Obama purported — in rhetoric — that his new Cuba policy was aimed at increasing “support for the Cuban people.”
Now, it’s just blatantly looking to change policies simply because “Castro doesn’t like them.”
Tonight, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office handed Cubaexport, a monopoly owned by the Castro dictatorship, a trademark for the Havana Club brand.
The Havana Club brand was stolen by the Castro regime from its original owners. Its legal owner today is the Bacardi Corporation.
In 1996, Cubaexport was denied the ability to register the Havana Club trademark. In subsequent litigation, the U.S. Government argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that Section 211 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1998 provided the legal rationale for this prohibition.
Here’s what Section 211 states:
“Bars certain transactions with respect to intellectual property in which the Cuban Government or a Cuban national has an interest with respect to a mark or trade or commercial name that is the same as or substantially similar to one that was used in connection with a business or assets that were confiscated unless the original owner or successor-in-interest has expressly consented.”
Clearly Bacardi has not consented to the Castro regime’s use of the stolen Havana Club brand. To the contrary, it has fought it in court — and won.
So how does granting a Castro monopoly a trademark — in violation of U.S. law — “support the Cuban people”?
How does it help Cuba’s “self-employed”?
Please, do tell, Mr. President..
It’s another mentirita — pun intended.
It’s bad enough that the Castro regime has no respect for property rights — and that its victims suffered the cost once.
But now Obama doesn’t either. Or U.S. law for that matter.
By José Azel via PanAm Post:
Despite Being All the Rage, the Cuban Economy Is Still Locked in a Cage
Castro’s Military Continues to Limit, Frame, and Condition All Market Activity
In 2010, when the Castro government announced its plan to “update socialism,” some thought that Cuba had finally begun moving toward a market economy.
The centerpiece of the plan consisted in the firing of up to 1.3 million state employees and granting them permits to work “outside the state sector.” Cuban Orwellian doublespeak, it turns out, does not permit the utterance of “private sector,” even for the self-employed.
The permitted self-employment (known as cuentapropismo) is limited to humble domestic activities in more than 200 trades, such as shoe shinning, umbrella repairs, babysitting, and the like. Naturally, each of these activities is encumbered with stifling regulations and taxes.
Not surprisingly, nearly six years after the government’s announcement, the plan has produced little in terms of economic development. Rather, it has magnified the people’s hopelessness as manifested by the increased exodus of desperate Cubans seeking to reach the United States.
Raúl Castro’s version of economic reform is a minimalist adaptation of what Chinese reformist Chen Yun called the “birdcage economy.” I was recently reminded of this historic label by economist Fernando Menéndez in his work titled “The Market and the Birdcage: A Critical Assessment of Cuban Reforms and Transition Prospects.”
Although Deng Xiaoping is usually credited as the architect of China’s economic reforms, it was mostly Chen Yun who provided the theoretical and practical underpinnings for the strategies adopted by Deng. As early as the mid 1950s, Chen sought to moderate Chairman Mao Zedong’s radicalism, but it was not until after Mao’s death in 1976 that his birdcage theory was implemented.
Chen’s vision was to use market mechanisms to better allocate resources, but always within the confines of the central plan like a bird in a cage. Yet, he was fearful of losing control: “You must not hold the bird in your hand too tightly or it would be strangled. You have to turn it loose, but only within the confines of a cage. Otherwise, it will fly away.”
Chen’s idea was to always use the centralized state planning of a command economy to provide boundaries for the market mechanisms. Thus, the marketplace would be firmly restricted so as to not lose control. The birdcage could be large or small, but the reforms would not be allowed to “fly away.”
In the case of the Cuban reforms, General Castro has not only kept the birdcage extremely small, but has also increased repression to ensure that his self-employment permits do not result in a fly-away market. The Cuban cuentapropistas can barely spread their wings within the confines of the Castro birdcage.
It’s not just a question of the scope of the reforms or the size of the birdcage. It is also the accompanying mindset. When Deng Xiaoping introduced his version of market socialism in China, he famously declared that “to get rich is glorious.” In contrast, General Castro insists that any new, “non-state” economic activities will not be allowed to lead to the “concentration of property.” That is, the accumulation of wealth will not be permitted.
Recognizing General Castro’s economic adjustments as a birdcage economy is helpful to understand that the changes are not designed to promote economic freedoms or development. At best, they are a clumsy effort to improve resource allocation within an inescapable central plan. And the general has no intention to let the market fly away.
The Cuban political reality is that Raúl Castro and the Cuban military will limit, frame, and condition all allowed marketplace activities. This conditioning includes relaxing travel restrictions for Cubans, a policy that is often presented — incorrectly — as evidence of reforms.
In the context of the birdcage economy, granting travel permits is simply a method of exporting Cuban unemployment and underemployment to the United States. What US policymakers have not understood is that, in Cuban doublespeak, allowing work “outside the state sector” also means authorization to go work in the United States and send remittances back to Cuba.
With this methodological insight of the birdcage economic philosophy, all claims that Castro’s reforms are a gateway to political freedoms become vacuous. What is worse, such arguments embody a shameful, condescending proposition that Cubans should not aspire to be free.
The unspoken suggestion is that Cubans are unworthy of freedom and must acquiesce to live in a birdcage, but what is the intellectual justification for such a proposition?