Regional human rights body reports on politically motivated machete attack against Cuban dissident
Sirley Ávila León who was the victim of a politically motivated machete attack mentioned in Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) 2015 Annual Report published in 2016.
Photos of injuries suffered by Sirley Ávila León in May 24, 2015 machete attack
On September 2, 2015, the IACHR requested that precautionary measures be adopted for Sirley Ávila León. Based on the request filed by the Cuban Democratic Directorate (Directorio Democrático Cubano ) with the Commission , Ávila has been subjected to harassment and threats, which came to a head in May 2015, when the proposed beneficiary was allegedly the victim of a machete attack as a result of her work as a human rights defender. After examining the allegations of fact and law submitted by the requesting party, the Commission believes that the information shows that Sirley Ávila León is at serious and urgent risk, inasmuch as her safety and life are threatened. Accordingly, as provided under Article 25 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure, the Commission requests Cuba to adopt the necessary measures to ensure the life and personal integrity of the beneficiary and to make it possible for her to engage in her activities as a human rights defender without being subjected to acts of violence and harassment. Additionally, it requests the State to come to an agreement with the beneficiary and her representatives on what measures must be taken and to report actions taken to investigate the alleged incidents, which gave rise to the adoption of the instant precautionary measure and thus prevent them from happening again. [ Read the full resolution in Spanish]
One of the biggest threats to liberty is when people think they think, and act, above the law. During the course of the last few years there are, unfortunately, plenty of examples of this throughout the Obama administration. For example, the regulatory superstate is destroying our healthcare system and, in the process, trampling fundamental liberties. Bailing out the automakers. Obama’s executive action on guns. EPA regulations. And the list goes on and on and it bleeds into the foreign affairs arena.
Obama’s cavalier approach to foreign policy and national security matters weakens U.S. security and national interests. Whether failing to follow the advice of intelligence and other national security experts, military intervention in Libya without Congressional consent, failing to enforce U.S. economic sanctions on the Iranian regime, or removing Cuba from the state sponsors of terror list, these and other blunders puts American lives in danger at home and have emboldened the enemies of the United States to do us, and our allies, ill.
In the case of Cuba, Obama, his national security team, set out to defy the Congress to normalize relations with Communist Cuba. Undeterred and in a second-term legacy-building stupor, the Obama administration trampled the law and made up authorities that Congress has not authorized. To mind his political flank, an army of well-funded lobbyists and special interest groups invested millions to whitewash what is happening in Cuba. They supported the Obama approach with advertising and a stealth lobbying campaign in the Congress to secure sanctions-easing support. With Congress unable or unwilling to press forward as an institution to stop this madness, the Obama administration steamrolled ahead.
I’ll skip the legalese, but take this to the bank: under U.S. law, laws that were codified by Congress (i.e., effectively making it impossible to amend through the administrative process – remember the Constitution grants Congress, not the President, the power to legislate) the President has the power to make Cuba sanctions stronger, not weaken them. The LIBERTAD Act created a balancing of equities that requires assistance to the people of Cuba and, at the same time, economic isolation of the regime and its leaders. Yes, it can be done and has been done since the late 1990s and 2000s, successfully, at least up until now.
Engagement with Communist Cuba as outlined by Obama weakens the integrity of the U.S. financial system, tosses an economic and political lifeline to Communist hardliners in Cuba as well as emboldens rogue regimes throughout the Americas and elsewhere in the world. Most importantly, the lawless coddling of the Cuban regime violates U.S. law as well as longstanding policy of supporting the future leaders of a free Cuba. It even invites U.S. companies to, in essence, engage in unlawful transactions in Cuba involving confiscated properties. Congress must rein the regulatory overreach.
The Obama administration has turned this policy and legal equilibrium around: he is helping the regime and hurting the people of Cuba. Everyone else, including U.S. taxpayers, be damned. The administration has ignored Cuban support for international terrorism. They’ve ignored Communist Cuba’s culture of corruption, a system that functions on pay to play (i.e., bribes). They’ve ignored trafficking in stolen properties as well as the Cuban slave labor state. In other words, they’ve ignored and set up regulations that violate U.S. law.
In the political vortex that we sometimes must operate in, especially in this town, these issues are challenging to bring to the surface. This issue is of limited political consequence and there are other, more pressing matters that receive the media coverage. The bottom line is that while some of the regulations issued since the December 17, 2014 policy shift may have been legal, many are not. The regulations issued this week, especially those for travel, the business presence rule, and some of the financial regulations, are clearly inconsistent with U.S. law. And that is why I counsel U.S. and foreign companies under existing laws and regulations, to be extremely careful when engaging in the Cuba market. There is risk in Cuba and, now, even more risk in the United States.
Earlier this week one of the champions of liberty in Cuba, Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) offered one of the best accounts, to date, of what is at stake in this matter. How the United States resolves the Cuba questions will impact well beyond the island. Sure, the United States is concerned about the people of Cuba, but there are issues here that impact U.S. taxpayers and, indeed, the entire Western Hemisphere. His remarks seem prompted by the latest round of sanctions easing regulations that, in essence, have gutted the sanctions and, as Menendez says, amounts to a “unilateral transfer of the little remaining leverage that the Administration hadn’t given away prior to this week’s announcement.” Then there is this:
I warned officials at the Department of Treasury that these changes come up to the line and in some cases cross it with respect to statutory authority … Their actions are inconsistent with existing statutes and incompatible with the intent of Congress as expressed through those statutes. I should know as I was one of the authors of the “Libertad Act” when I served in the House of Representatives … With these steps, I believe Commerce and Treasury have set the stage for legal action against the Administration. Congress has authorized categories of travel to Cuba, but none of the categories were tourism or commerce-for-commerce’s-sake with the regime.
If Cuba were a nation thousands of miles away, with a billion people, and geo-strategic interests required engagement with the police state, then you may be able to sway folks like me that dancing with the enemy is a necessary evil. Doubtful. But Cuba is just 90 miles away from the United States and is a political and economic basket case. In my book, it remains a terrorist state and a national security problem. In the near term, it is a market of little or no consequence for the United States, one that survives, not thrives. Why should we allow it privileged access to our financial systems and markets?
What we should be doing is following the law and isolating the regime economically; and keep doing what we have successful done for a decade, keep supporting Cuban civil society.
President Obama is going to Cuba next week, the first official state visit by a sitting president in more than 80 years.
It’ll surely be followed by regularly scheduled domestic airline and cruise-ship service, rock concerts, major sporting events, US corporate investment and thousands of American tourists curious to see Marxism up close and how an entire country can be reduced to an underclass.
Havana is where most of the tourists will likely travel. There’s a sprinkling of four- and five-star hotels along the scenic port and bay of Havana, several of which have at their backs the barrios of the Old City and Centro Habana.
There is something beautiful and rustic about the panorama of poverty when it is viewed from the upper floors of a luxury hotel.
But Americans, beware. Unlike the president and his entourage, you aren’t dignitaries with security teams, or part of a pampered and propagandized political delegation fattened and flattered by the type of cuisine and accommodations most Cubans can only dream about.
I’m not saying that the jittery Cuban military and police aren’t interested in your movements on the island — in fact, they surely are — but you’ll have no visible escorts or other functional layers of protection.
You also should know that some of America’s most wanted terrorists are living openly in Cuba. These still-dangerous revolutionaries roam the island, disenchanted about all things American.
It’s highly unlikely that the Cuban landscape will be swept of their presence before your arrival because US government negotiators, speaking on behalf of the Obama administration, seem to lack both the will and intent to press the Castro brothers for their return to the United States to answer for their crimes.
Make no mistake, however, about the will and intent of Gov. Chris Christie and the New Jersey State Police to continue to advocate strongly against their privileged and coddled status of political asylum.
Four of them — Joanne Chesimard, William Guillermo Morales, Victor Manuel Gerena and Charles Hill — hail from US-based domestic terror organizations whose violent track record includes bringing about the deaths of 17 police officers, five American civilians and two members of the US military, as well as perpetrating a string of 159 bombings that have destroyed the lives and families of many more.
Gerena remains on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list, and Chesimard holds the distinction of being the only woman on the photo spread of the FBI’s Most Wanted International Terrorists list.
The FBI and the state of New Jersey continue to pledge a $2 million reward for Chesimard’s return to prison for her conviction in the murder of New Jersey Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973.
My connection to Foerster’s murder by Chesimard and several accomplices runs the breadth of my career.
From the time of her escape from a New Jersey prison on Nov. 2, 1979, to my deeper investigative involvement in her flight from justice while assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in the mid-’80s and into my current role as colonel and superintendent, the New Jersey State Police and I have never lost the determination to see her returned to prison.
For your safety, before you depart for your long-awaited Cuban vacation, please visit the New Jersey State Police website at njsp.org. You’ll find the most updated photographs of these four terrorist fugitives accompanied by a short bio from the FBI.
If your walk about the island crosses the path of any of these coddled criminals, I’d ask you to immediately report their sighting to the US Embassy in Havana. At all hours, the embassy can be reached at (53)(7)839-4100, a handy number to keep in your pocket to mitigate many of the unforeseen perils of travel to Cuba.
Enjoy your trip.
Col. Rick Fuentes is superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
Social Capital, Civil Society and Democracy in Cuba
Some admit it, and others do not, but there are Cubans who harbor doubts about whether democracy is possible in Cuba. Some even dare to suggest that the country should be annexed by the US. Frustration and hopelessness about the future of Cuba lead some to give up. Fortunately, there are many other Cubans who will not give up, and continue to fight for democracy.
It makes no sense to reduce the issue to a simplistic and defeatist dichotomy about whether democracy is feasible or not in Cuba. It is more logical and productive to identify the factors that make it possible, and to act accordingly. Believing and acting like democracy is impossible means doing a great favor to the current Castroist oligarchs and other dictators, hampering the work of dissenters who are struggling heroically for a regime change. The triumph of democracy in Cuba would also encourage those who are fighting for democracy in other countries.
The future of democracy in Cuba depends mainly on Cubans overcoming the many obstacles they face, especially government repression, and establishing the corresponding institutions. In this way we can focus on those forms of individual and collective behavior that could produce a democratic opportunity, especially in view of the impending generational changing of the guard in the country’s Government. I start from the premise that the future of democracy in Cuba depends mainly on certain collective actions by a critical mass of citizens. That is, a group that, though relatively small, has the conviction, organization and determination necessary to alter the course of history of Cuba. Virtually all members of Cuba’s internal dissent and opposition already form part of that critical mass, but it still needs to grow in size, organization, influence and resources.
Since 1959 the organization of citizens in Cuba has been monopolized by the Government.
It is noteworthy that the lifestyle of the typical Cuban on the island is currently characterized by the poverty of his relationships with other citizens. In a free society the network of relationships between citizens is huge, including a myriad of family, social, political, economic, cultural, religious, sports and other kinds of bonds. This set of relationships is known today as a nation or community’s social capital. It’s like a neural network or nervous system that reflects the activities of a society, allowing its members to connect and communicate in countless ways, exchange ideas, identify common interests, establish institutions and organizations of all kinds, and take collective action based on their personal interests. Social capital increases in parallel to the degree of freedom citizens enjoy in any society.
A basic component of social capital is the level of confidence that citizens have in other citizens. That interpersonal trust is what cements relationship between citizens, which can lead to stable agreements and forms of collective action. For example, the formation of a business, a club to read and exchange ideas about books, a community organization, a political party or a protest or public demonstration. Such initiatives exist in Cuba, but it is necessary to extend, enlarge and consolidate them so that Cubans gain confidence in their ability to take collective action.
Social capital is the connective tissue of a nation’s civil society, which is composed of family and the private activities of citizens, excluding the Government and the private business sector. Through social capital, interpersonal relationships foster, facilitate and lead to the formation of civil society’s institutions and organizations. That is, without social capital there can be no civil society. And without civil society there can be no democracy.
In a totalitarian state there are all kinds of restrictions to thwart the development of social capital and the organizations and activities it gives rise to. The first measures of Castroism in 1959 included precisely the systematic demolition of almost the entire network of relationships of social capital, as it formed the basis of civil society and, as such, could spawn serious opposition to the dictatorship. Although virtually invisible, we can say that the minimization of social capital in Cuba was the most devastatingly successful achievement of Castro’s assault. By wiping out social capital, what little remained of civil society was a paralyzed body, unable to defend itself against the Government, which controlled everything. In fact, totalitarianism can be defined as a system of government that seeks to minimize a nation’s social capital.
It is social capital that Cuba now lacks if it is to have an influential civil society. Its absence is what also makes the typical Cuban citizen feel like he exists in a kind of limbo of impotence, or a state of weightlessness, largely disconnected from other Cubans. He cannot, therefore, participate freely in the affairs of his country, or undertake actions to progress in life. It was in this way that many Cubans lost many of their organizational skills: by delegating to the Government and depending on it.
Under current conditions, democracy in Cuba must be built with the elements that constitute its foundations: precisely the interpersonal relationships of social capital. Democracy is a superior form of social organization, based on citizens’ deliberate participation. But that organization can only be carried out by citizens who have relationships with their compatriots. Hence the critical importance of social capital. Note that the basis for totalitarian power in Cuba is the Government’s organizational monopoly, in contrast to the citizens’ disorganization and disarray. This is why the Government devotes so many resources to the repression of social capital, through punishments for organizing meetings, or exchanging and circulating ideas and information that allow people to organize, and for taking any kind of collective action that threatens the Government’s monopoly. This is also why it prevents Cubans from having unfettered access to the Internet and the modern social networks.
All these efforts testify to the fact that a large number of Cubans on the island, at a very high personal cost, do not accept a form of government that is not a democracy, that in which man’s full dignity can be realized. These Cubans are heirs to the spirit of independence of 1895. They are, in fact, our new mambises, our freedom fighters. They struggle without machete charges, out in the open, without the jungle’s protection. And they deserve our admiration and our support.
Before Obama trip, US eases security for ships visiting Cuba
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States removed Cuba on Thursday from its list of countries deemed to have insufficient security in their ports, eliminating a major impediment to free flow of ships in the Florida Straits. The move marks one more step toward normalized relations ahead of President Barack Obama’s historic trip to Cuba.
The shift clears the way for U.S. cruise ships, cargo vessels and even ferries to travel back and forth with much less hassle. No longer will all ships have to wait to be boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard for inspections, though the Coast Guard still can conduct random inspections.
The Coast Guard, in an advisory on global port security, said Cuba now has effective security measures in its ports. That certification also removes the requirement that American vessels maintain a higher level of security for access to ships while in Cuban ports.
Removing Cuba’s designation under rules designed to fight terrorism also addresses a sore spot in the painful history between Cuba and the U.S., which dominated the island before relations were cut off amid the Cold War. After all, it was only last year that the U.S. removed Cuba from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Other countries on the list include Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iran.
Last March 11, Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser and chief architect of Barack Obama’s policy to Havana, met in Miami with activists and human rights defenders in Cuba. One of those attending the meeting, Carlos Amel Oliva, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, was arrested on his return to the Island. He’s still under arrest.
However, this has not been the only repressive act carried out by the Castro regime these days, prior to the visit of the US President.
Yesterday we learned of the arrest of several independent journalists and of citations and warnings to other reporters and activists by the political police.
On Sunday 13 March, just two days after the meeting of Rhodes in Miami, we learned of the heart-rending testimony of the Lady in White Aliuska Gomez; handcuffed, stripped naked by force, and dragged by a group of henchmen to a dungeon in Havana.
That same day, after the crackdown against #TodosMarchamos, the regime organized his followers into a carnivalesque troupe -music included- and rewarded them with lunch boxes at Gandhi Park, the place for demands of the Ladies in White, a group which, by a personal letter delivered by Rhodes in Miami to one of their representatives, Obama had just called “an inspiration for human rights movements.”
With the escalated crackdown, Raul Castro sends a clear message to Obama while mocking the US president, who in December said he was “very interested” in going to Cuba if he could “claim with confidence that we are seeing some progress in freedom”.
Being it clearer now that human rights have not only not improved but worsen ostensibly -by arresting an activist who met in Miami with the emissary of the President, Castroist repression has reached the very doorstep of the White House- Obama’s visit will occur in a climate of intensified confrontation between the regime and pro-democracy forces.
Barack Obama and his team -who have not ceased to make explicit their disagreement with Havana in the field of human rights-, would do well to make clear and public this stance during his visit, to all Cubans. Anything other than a clear signal of defending democracy and human rights would be nothing more than a way to prolong the suffering of the people of Cuba and especially its fighters and peace activists; something that, ultimately, will also damage US interests.
President Obama should not forget that the best for both countries, Cuba and the United States, is a democratic and prosperous island. Anything else, including a purely commercial and economic transition to State capitalism, which is gradually making headway, will only bring more repression, more violence, and more social fracture and corruption.
Bacardi Advances Havana Club Trademark Case in U.S. District Court
Bacardi files new complaint; Asks court to strike the Havana Club mark from the register
In an ongoing effort to defend its rights and ownership of the Havana Club rum brand and trademark in the United States, Bacardi has filed an amended complaint with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. This filing amends the original complaint Bacardi filed in March 2004 under the Lanham Act (also known as the Trademark Act of 1946), the federal statute that governs trademarks, service marks, and unfair competition. The Defendants in the complaint are Cubaexport, an agency of the Cuban government, and Havana Club Holding S.A., the joint venture company between the Government of Cuba and Pernod Ricard – the second largest spirits company in the world.
With this filing, Bacardi asks the Court – presided over by District Judge Emmet Sullivan – for the cancellation of the Cuban government’s Havana Club trademark registration in the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (“PTO”) based on, among other things, the Administration’s fraud in obtaining the original filing. Bacardi also seeks a declaration that it has common law rights in the mark based on distribution and sales of Havana Club branded products in the United States. Bacardi obtained the rights to the mark through a lawful and U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”)-licensed transaction with the brands original owner and creator Jose Arechabala S.A.
“We are extremely disappointed to have to resort to using the precious time and resources of the U.S. justice system due to the failure of the U.S. government in following established legal and public policy protecting the rights of those who have suffered confiscations of property,” says Rick Wilson, senior vice president for external affairs for Bacardi in the U.S. “A ‘let the courts decide’ mentality is not the way to go when, for decades, the Cuban government and its business partner intentionally and knowingly concealed and misrepresented to the PTO the pertinent facts that have undermined its claims as the lawful owner of the mark in order to deceive the PTO and maintain the registration.”
In the filing, Bacardi outlines the elaborate, misleading, fraudulent and deceptive activities employed by the Cuban government and its joint venture partner Pernod Ricard concerning the obtaining, maintenance and renewal of the Havana Club trademark in the U.S. Among other things, Bacardi states that Section 211 prohibits any U.S. court from recognizing, enforcing or otherwise validating the Cuban government’s assertion of rights in a mark incorporating the words Havana Club because the mark was associated with a business that was illegally confiscated by the Cuban government in 1960.
“The United States has a long history of upholding the law and non-recognition of foreign confiscations so we are confident Bacardi will once again prevail in this decades-long matter,” says Eduardo Sánchez, senior vice president and general counsel for Bacardi. “No company or government should be able to profit from stolen property.”
Bacardi seeks four specific actions from the Court:
1) Reversal of the PTO decision by striking the Havana Club registration from the principal register on the grounds that the Cuban government failed to file the mandatory renewal application and declaration prior to the end of the statutory period in 1996, and failed to file a legally adequate renewal application in 2006, or alternatively, canceling that registration on the grounds that the U.S. Havana Club registration was fraudulently obtained, maintained, and renewed; that the registered mark was abandoned; and that the registered mark misrepresents the source of goods;
2) A declaration that Bacardi owns the common law rights in the Havana Club mark for rum, and that the Defendants has no common law or other rights in any mark incorporating or consisting of the words Havana Club;
3) A declaration that Bacardi’s use of the Havana Club mark does not infringe on any mark owned by the Cuban government or its joint venture partner or otherwise violate any enforceable rights of the Cuban government or a state-owned entity, because longstanding U.S. public policy and Section 211 of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, passed by a bi-partisan Congress on Oct. 21, 1998, preclude recognition and enforcement of purported rights in a trademark or registration that are founded on the Cuban government’s expropriation of assets; and
4) An injunction prohibiting the Defendants from using or registering in the U.S. any mark incorporating or consisting of the words Havana Club and from interfering with Bacardi’s use and registration of the Havana Club mark.
“Following the U.S. government’s failure to uphold the protection of confiscated properties, the U.S. courts will now need to step in and recognize the rights of legitimate owners whose properties have been expropriated,” adds Sánchez.
On August 3, 2006, the PTO issued an office action that stated that the Cuban government’s registration of the Havana Club mark will be “cancelled / expired.” Because cancellation of the registration would provide equivalent relief that was sought in this matter, the D.C. District Court stayed the entire case on May 24, 2007, pending final resolution of the PTO office action. In January of this year, the PTO suddenly and unexpectedly reversed course and permitted the Cuba government to renew its Havana Club registration retroactively. Thus, Bacardi has no choice but to continue its efforts in the D.C. District Court to obtain cancellation of the Cuban government’s registration and protect Bacardi’s rights in the Havana Club mark in the United States.
Does this look like a tourist destination? A place to relax and enjoy? No, it looks like human misery exploited for profit. This photo tops a Travel & Leisure Magazine article titled How to Travel to Cuba With Miles, you know as in frequent flyer. This is the new reality, human depravity as the norm, celebrated.
Letter to Barack Obama: Foro por los Derechos y Libertades and La Asamblea de la Resistencia
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
There is an immense concern about the fate of our nation that is affecting millions of Cubans. If the current plans of the regime to transfer power to its heirs and political henchmen are materialized, we Cubans will simply confront a new incarnation of this ruthless dictatorship. Corruption, nepotism, lack of values, violations and blatant indifference to the pain of the people are just a few among the many illnesses of this government.
The new policies towards Cuba spearheaded by your administration pose the risk of legitimizing the deeply entrenched Cuban regime. Moreover, it would do so without receiving anything in return. The friendly gestures, formal recognition and official negotiations bestowed on the Castros by the United States government have actually yielded a significant increase in violence against the opposition, especially against women activists. It is no wonder then, why a record number of Cubans are currently fleeing the island.
The Castro Regime will not generate its own change. It has remained in power for nearly six decades by carrying out horrific human rights violations. In Cuba, human rights violations are systemic; they are an institutional part of the Regime’s so-called judiciary system.
We would never imagine that the democratic world would legitimize the Castros. These individuals have destroyed the well-being of our nation. From firing squads and political assassinations to political imprisonment, thousands of Cubans inside and outside the island have had their lives taken by the Regime because of their advocacy of a Free Cuba.
The most relevant issues about the adverse effects of Castro’s dictatorship on the Cuban people will not be part of the agenda of your visit. The presidential delegation includes CEOs from top American corporations as well as members of Congress who are eager to trade with the regime, including the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, as well as the SBA Administrator. Why there are not human rights advocates among them? Sadly, it’s more than obvious that the main objective of this visit is to eagerly solidify business deals.
If the quest for commerce continues to be placed above the support of the pro-democracy and civil rights movement in Cuba, the legacy left by your administration will be one where the suffering of the Cuban people was prolonged. Yet, your best contribution would be to act as a facilitator of a true democratic transition in Cuba.
When members of the international community turn their backs on our demands and proposals, they actually facilitate the regime’s escalation in violence, as well as the further fracture of the Cuban society. To those who visit Cuba as if it were some type of exotic zoo of sorts without acknowledging the crude reality that the Cuban society is going through, we remind them what Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
We respectfully remind you, sir, of your own words in February 1981, when as a student leader speaking against the South African apartheid regime and those corporations investing there, you said:
“There’s a struggle going on. It’s happening an ocean away. But it’s a struggle that touches each and every one of us. Whether we know it or not. A struggle that demands that we choose sides. Not between black and white. Not between rich and poor. No. it’s a harder choice than that. It’s a choice between dignity and servitude. Between fairness and injustice. Between commitment and indifference. A choice between right and wrong.”
In spite of all the odds appearing to be stacked up against us, the oppressed, we have full confidence in our victory. History teaches us of the plight of those seeking civil justice and freedom. We know that seemingly impossible roads will miraculously open up for us, as if life itself stepped in to make things, as they should be.
Obama Is About to Visit Cuba. He Should Know It Hasn’t Changed.
As the U.S. president goes to Havana, he must understand just how repressive the regime remains, and how important it is for him to speak out about human rights.
President Barack Obama will be traveling to Cuba at the end of this month. Some people believe that this is the whipped cream and cherry on top of a new, unfreezing era between the United States and Cuba. Others say that this is the grand finale of a circus production that puts the U.S. government to shame. Me, as a Cuban living on the island until recently, I have mixed feelings about his visit.
There are only 90 miles of ocean between the longest dictatorship in the Americas and the longest uninterrupted democracy. These waters are filled with tears for the disappearance of thousands of Cuban rafters who fled the Castro government and its miseries; this is a narrow sea that divided for many years families, friends, and lovers.
Cuba has not changed. Fidel Castro ousted a dictatorship only to establish his own. He seized power violently: robbing, expropriating, and executing Cubans. The world must not forget it. Not once did he call for open elections. He took over the media, transforming it into a big public relations machine for the state, and he expropriated all forms of private property during the ’60s.
Fidel established an era of hate among brothers, the world of “us“ and “them,” a time of discrimination against all Cubans who kept contact with their families abroad, and the repression and confinement of artists, religious people, and homosexuals.
Cuba has not changed. Raúl Castro did not become president by winning any elections either. He inherited power by blood, just as monarchies do (and Cuba’s long time ally, North Korea).
Some call Raúl a “reformist,” because he allowed us Cubans to enter hotels in our own country, because he gave us the right to buy and sell houses and cars, because he entitled us to have a cell phone line (with the world’s most expensive prices), and because he has reduced the barriers for Cubans to leave the country.
It’s all makeup, a façade, yet people in Cuba and the wider world are persuaded to say they are grateful. Have they not realized that Raúl has done nothing but[sic] to reinstate basic human rights that are taken for granted in the rest of the world, and that were sequestered by his brother for decades?
And then, Barack Obama, the leader of “the empire,” as we grew up being told, this “evil enemy of Cuba,” announces that he intends to normalize relations between the two countries. And suddenly, after 54 years of brain washing to the contrary, the president of the United States becomes “an honest man” and the new enemy of Cuba is now “the Miami mafia,” a term that has yet to be defined.
Cuba has not changed. Yes, there is a new flag waving along Havana’s malecón. Yes, the number of American visitors has increased significantly. Yes, we’ve seen many a congressman, governor, and other politicians shaking hands with Cuban officials. But that’s about it.
By the way, some people attribute the increase of Internet access on the island to the new U.S. regulations, but that has nothing to do with it. The new WiFi spots through which Cubans can go online are courtesy of China’s Huawei.
And now, Obama is visiting.
There are two types of feelings associated with the president’s visit: optimism and fear.
Optimism, because many believe that this new era will bring about changes in the day to day life of Cubans sooner or later, and will put an end to the backwards discourse of the Castro regime about the U.S.
But many feel fear. Fear that nothing will change. Fear to come to realize that, after all, the United States was not the cause of the poverty and repression in Cuba. Fear of a parent that he will continue to struggle to ensure a daily meal for his kids for years to come. Fear that the house where three generations live together will fall for lack of maintenance, that average families can’t afford. Fear to continue to be imprisoned just for expressing one’s ideas freely.
There are those who believe that the exchanges with American citizens will bring democracy to Cuba. I’ve never understood this theory. In Cuba we receive visitors on a daily basis from Canada, Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, Mexico… These are tourists from well establish democracies who engage with Cubans, and they have not brought us democracy. What makes Americans different?
Like a dog that bites the hand that feeds it, the Castro brothers’ regime exhibits a great anti-national arrogance by spurning Cuban emigrants, when what it should do is take advantage of President Barack Obama’s visit to build a monument to them in Revolution Square, as it is they, in large measure, who keep the startlingly unproductive economy afloat.
The Cuban diaspora furnishes the island with some 5.6 billion dollars with its visits, remittances, parcels, surcharges on tickets, passports, renewals, permits, “tips” at Cuban customs, etc. And yet, as gusanos (“worms”), Cubans living abroad are completely ignored in official statistics, and are still required to apply for a visa to travel to their native country, something unique in the history of the Americas.
It suffices to take a look at Cuban tourism. The National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI) recently reported recently that gross revenue in Cuba from international tourism in 2015 was 1.94 billion USD (up 188 million from 2014), with 3.5 million visitors; pointing out that behind Canada, with 1.3 million tourists, there was Germany, 175,264, in second place, which was incorrect.
The United States was the second largest sender of tourists to Cuba, with nearly half a million visitors, almost triple the number of Germans walking camera-in-hand through Havana. And there’s more: the 148,700 Americans who visited the island in 2015 overtook France (129,692), Italy (123,254), Spain (100,339) and other major sources of tourists to Cuba.
It is not that the regime wants to punish Obama because the embargo bans tourist travel to Cuba, but rather that the visitors from the United States were overwhelmingly Cubans. A total of 361,024 Cubans arrived on the island, mainly from the northern neighbor, a fact that José Luis Perello, professor at the University of Havana’s Department of Tourism “overlooked.”
Neither did the ONEI recognize that the flow of American visitors increased by a dramatic 76% as a result of the thaw in Havana-Washington relations and the greater flexibility to travel to Cuba, decreed by a very accommodating President Obama.
The Dominican / Jamaican contrast
The State’s institutions clearly have instructions from the dictator himself not to express anything positive about the US and Cuba’s “worms.” This is why the Government actually relegated to the “Other Countries” section the half million people who came to Cuba from the northern neighbor, and at the end of a list of 17 nations identified by name, 12 of them with less than 95,000 tourists each.
In contrast, the Government of the Dominican Republic revealed that in 2015 it received 5.6 million international visitors, who spent 6.1 billion dollars, and expressed its great satisfaction with the fact that 676,734 travellers were Dominicans living abroad, mainly in the US.
It is worth remembering that in the 50s the Dominican Republic received nine or ten times fewer tourists than Cuba (347,508 visitors in 1958), and its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was one seventh of Cuba’s. Today, that nation has a real nominal GDP greater than Cuba’s (which is bloated by social spending and Venezuelan subsidies recorded as new assets ??created), and almost doubles the Cuban tourism industry in terms of turnover.
If total gross revenue is divided by the number of visitors, spending per tourist in Cuba last year was $554 dollars, 79 less than in 2013, and less than half of the $1,089 each tourist spent in the Dominican Republic. It also represented just 42% of the international average of $1,317 per visitor in 2015, according to the World Tourism Organization (OMT). The global tourism industry last year recorded 1.184 billion international visitors, who spent 1.56 trillion dollars.
Jamaica is another example. The island, also tropical and one tenth the size of Cuba, in 2015 received 2.1 million tourists, who spent about 2 billion dollars, for a per capita expenditure of 952 dollars – almost double the figure in Cuba.
Why is spending so low on the Island? Castro expropriated the “bourgeoisie” and “liberated the country from imperialism.” As a result, today it produces very few goods and services, and tourists have little to spend their money on. If anything reflects the Socialist/Castroist disaster, it is Cuba’s inability to obtain higher net revenues from tourism.
Very high costs
The official report, moreover, does not address the main obstacle hampering Cuba’s tourism sector: the massive imports impacting the industry’s operating costs. Due to the anaemic productivity of the socialist economy, something ingrained in its very DNA, it is necessary to import almost everything the hotels and other tourist facilities need to function, including tropical fruits and vegetables, which could be grown on the island.
Of every dollar spent in Cuba by tourists, some 55 to 60 cents flow back out abroad, according to expert estimates. That is, the real revenue in foreign currency the regime received in 2015 from tourism was between 776 and 873 million. And from 1.067 to 1.164 billion dollars went abroad for imports needed by the tourism sector.
These importation costs, and insufficient production of all kinds, prevent the Cuban tourism industry from making a greater contribution to the country in foreign currency, and to its GDP, as occurs in the rest of Latin America. In Mexico, for example, with nearly 30 million visitors in 2015, tourism generates between 9% and 10% of the country’s GDP. In Cuba it represents just 3.2%.
If tourism in Cuba represented 10% of nominal GDP, the figure, at current prices, would be nearly 200 billion USD, for a per capita GDP of $17,857, which would place it ahead of Chile, the Latin American country closest to First World standards.
The WTO announced that international tourism is the third largest creator of jobs on the planet, after retail businesses and agriculture. It generates 4 billion dollars daily, and directly or indirectly employs 277 million people.
In response to the accumulation of the Castros’ deficiencies, if Cubans travel back to their home country, and the diaspora in general generates billions of dollars annually, it is disgraceful that the regime’s statistics completely ignore them.
If for some reason the country were to cease to receive this basic financial support by its “disaffected” emigrants, Cuba would be plunged into a devastating crisis more severe than that which triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In light of this fact, General Castro ought to swallow the pride that so characterises his family and order the construction of the abovementioned monument, in the heart of the Cuban capital.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, Executive Director of Cuban Democracy Advocates, is a tireless defender of human rights and democracy for Cuba. Yesterday, he testified during during the hearing (“Trade With Cuba: Growth and Opportunities”) before the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Via Capitol Hill Cubans:
Congressional Testimony: The Reality of Trade With Cuba
Testimony of Mauricio Claver-Carone
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member and Members of the Committee.
It’s truly a privilege to join you here today to discuss important and consequential issues surrounding U.S. trade policy towards Cuba. I particularly appreciate being given the opportunity to be the sole dissenting voice in this panel, as free expression is a right enjoyed by 34-of-35 nations in this Western Hemisphere, with only one exception – Cuba.
My name is Mauricio Claver-Carone and I’m the Executive Director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cuba.
Obama’s Policy Changes Have Proven Counter-Productive
As you are aware, pursuant to the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (‘TSREEA’), the sale of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices to the Castro regime in Cuba was authorized by Congress, with one important caveat – these sales must be for cash-in-advance. Prior to that, the export of food, medicine and medical devices to the Cuban people had been authorized under the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (‘CDA’). I, for one, have no problem with taking cash away from the Castro regime. That is not a point of contention in this hearing. It’s the consequences of expanding cash-in-advance sales to bilateral trade, financing and investment – in other words, flushing the Castro regime with cash – that should concern us all.
For years we’ve heard how an improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations, an easing of sanctions and an increase in travel to the island, would benefit U.S. farmers. Well, since December 17th, 2014, the Obama Administration has engaged the Castro regime and has provided a litany of unilateral policy concessions.
As part of these concessions, the Obama Administration eased payment terms for agricultural sales; American travel to Cuba increased by over 50%; Cuba’s GDP grew by over 4%; diplomatic relations were established; and endless U.S. business and trade delegations have visited Havana.
Thus, surely U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba would have grown exponentially, right? Wrong.
U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba plummeted by nearly 40% in 2015. In August alone, the value of U.S. agricultural exports dropped 84% to $2.25 million from $14.30 million in 2014. That’s one of the lowest numbers since the United States authorized agricultural exports to the Castro regime in 2000.
And that’s not the only counter-productive result of President Obama’s policy of unilateral easing sanctions in December 2014. Additionally:
• Political arrests have intensified. Throughout 2015, there were more than 8,616 documented political arrests in Cuba. In November alone there were more than 1,447 documented political arrests, the highest monthly tally in decades. Those numbers compare to 2,074 arrests in 2010 and 4,123 in 2011.
• A new Cuban migration crisis is unfolding. The United States is faced with the largest migration of Cuban immigrants since the rafters of 1994. The number of Cubans entering the United States in 2015 was nearly twice that of 2014. Some 51,000 Cubans last year entered the United States; tens of thousands more are desperately trying to make the journey, via Ecuador and other South and Central American countries. When President Obama took office, the numbers were less than 7,000 annually.
• The number of “self-employed” workers in Cuba has decreased. The Cuban government today is licensing 10,000 fewer “self-employed” workers than it did in 2014. In contrast, Castro’s military monopolies are expanding at record pace. The Cuban military-owned tourism company, Gaviota S.A., announced 12% growth in 2015 and expects to double its hotel business this year. Even the limited spaces in which “self-employed” workers previously operated are being squeezed as the Cuban military expands its control of the island’s travel, retail and financial sectors of the economy.
• Internet “connectivity ranking” has dropped. The International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Measuring the Information Society Report for 2015, the world’s most reliable source of data and analysis on global access to information and communication. ITU has dropped Cuba’s ranking to 129 from 119. The island fares much worse than some of the world’s most infamous suppressors of the Internet suppressors, including Zimbabwe (127), Syria (117), Iran (91), China (82) and Venezuela (72).
• Religious freedom violations have increased tenfold. According to the London-based NGO, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (‘CSW’), last year 2,000 churches were declared illegal and 100 were designated for demolition by the Castro regime. Altogether, CSW documented 2,300 separate violations of religious freedom in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.
• Castro reneged on the release of political prisoners and visits by international monitors. Most of the 53 political prisoners released in the months prior and after Obama’s December 2014 announcement have since been re-arrested on multiple occasions. Five have been handed new long-term prison sentences. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch noted in its new 2016 report, “Cuba has yet to allow visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross or by U.N. human rights monitors, as stipulated in the December 2014 agreement with the United States.”
You may ask – what do these facts and figures on political, civil and economic rights have to do with trade with Cuba? The answer is: Everything — because the Castro regime is the only client/business partner for foreign companies in Cuba.
Days Before Obama Visits Havana, Cuba’s Allies Try to Block Dissident From Speaking at UN Human Rights Council
By Patrick Goodenough
The Castro regime, backed by representatives of some of the world’s most repressive regimes, tried on Tuesday to prevent a prominent Cuban dissident from speaking at the U.N. Human Rights Council, repeatedly interrupting Rosa Maria Paya who expressed the hope that President Obama in his March 21-22 visit will defend human rights.
Paya had scarcely spoken a single sentence when Cuban delegate Pablo Berti complained that she was not properly accredited to speak as representative of a non-governmental organization (NGO).
Paya was speaking on behalf of Freedom House during a general HRC debate in Geneva under an agenda item on “human rights situations requiring the council’s attention.”
The independent Washington-based democracy watchdog is accredited – via the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – to participate at HRC sessions.
But Berti said it was public knowledge that Paya was not a representative of “so-called NGO, Freedom House,” implying that she should therefore be silenced.
One by one, delegates from Venezuela, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, China, Egypt, Pakistan and others spoke in favor of Cuba’s position.
Other members, including the U.S., Canada and European nations, spoke in support of allowing Paya to speak.
Later in the session, Berti lashed out at Freedom House, calling it “a machine of subversion” that “answers to the CIA.”
He said the group’s funds come from the State Department and USAID, adding that its “links to known terrorists are well-known.”
(The State Department and USAID are among many governmental and private supporters of Freedom House, listed on its website.)
In response to the intervention by Cuba and others, the HRC’s president, Choi Kyonglim of South Korea, noted that Freedom House was indeed accredited and that it had authorized Paya to speak in its name.
Invited to continue, Paya said the Cuban people have not had the right to elect their representatives for decades. She voiced the hope that Obama during his visit to the island will speak in favor of human rights and a national consultation process.
Paya then referred to the slain opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, her father, who died in a 2012 car crash which relatives and supporters view as suspicious. In her remarks, Paya said he had been “murdered.”
Another round of points of order ensued, led by Cuba’s delegate who charged that Paya was directing “baseless accusations” at his country, in contravention of U.N. practices and policies.
Other countries backed Berti, although the Dutch representative, speaking for the European Union, said NGO statements should not be interrupted simply because they include “concrete examples” of violations by governments.
Eventually allowed to continue, Paya spoke about death threats received by her family after she spoke on a previous occasion at the HRC, in 2013.
She urged the council to “try to prevent the impunity of the Cuban government and try to help save the lives of those who are defending human rights and democracy in Cuba. The delegation of the Cuban tyranny has of course been striving to do this—”