I had a Center for a Free Cuba conference to attend in Midtown Manhattan and reserved a hotel room on Lexington Avenue and 38th Street, near Grand Central Station.
Little did I know when I made this reservation that I’d only be a few steps away from a doorway to Hell.
That plaque kept me awake all night. I had visions of it flying off the brick wall, crashing through my window and slicing off my head. I bet its edges are sharp enough for that.
On my way to the conference on Monday morning, I went to spit on the plaque, but instead took a photo of something else I hadn’t noticed before:
Mayor Rudy Giuliani renamed that corner and had the sign installed shortly after the Castro regime murdered Brothers to the Rescue Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Jr., Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales.in 1996.
That sign dulled the edges on the plaque, making it pitiable rather than frightful. It made me realize that the plaque is a hostage, not a symbolic guillotine.
I’ve lost my sense of smell completely — due to my head injury. Thank God for that. Even with no sense of smell, I could feel the evil fumes radiating from that building burning my nostrils.
The Cuban flag flying three stories above Lexington Avenue was weeping uncontrolably, a moco tendido, as we Cubans say.
Fifty-six years after it was kidnapped, it’s still being held hostage and raped day in and day out by those who dare to claim it as theirs. And when they’re not raping it, its captors use it to wipe their demon-possessed asses.
The flag sang a familiar dirge in Spanish and English: “A su debido tiempo, sus pies resbalarán…. In due time their feet will slip.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)
There is only so much one can know by reading and talking about a nation, without actually going there. Such was my dilemma before making a trip to Cuba in September, aware of the risks to people who work in the media and challenge the regime.
Now, with so many observations to process, I must overcome that same hurdle in communicating to others what I experienced. To gather the initial reaction in depth, my good friend and PanAm Post contributor Yaël Ossowski interviewed me for our podcast.
Above all, and I don’t feel good saying this, I want to convey that the Castros and their criminal allies have made Cuba a nation of lies. Their deceit permeates far and wide, from the socialist propaganda that litters the nation to the misleading tourism advertising that lures foreigners in. While those in charge scapegoat their home-grown problems on the United States and the embargo, the people suffer and the capital, Havana, struggles on as a dirty, smelly, and pitiful ruin of a city.
One can barely walk a block without a tribute to the Castro brothers, Che Guevara, their revolution, and even Hugo Chávez, although what they are to be thanked for remains a mystery. And with internet access almost nonexistent, locals are left with little other than regime-approved media. For newspapers, I saw the Granma, the “official voice” of the Communist Party of Cuba, but that was about it, and I felt sorry for the visibly poor man trying to persuade me that a copy was worth US$1 (a day’s salary there), 25 times what he actually sells it for.
Why anyone would rave about Cuba as a tourist destination and why Marxists abroad parrot praise for the tyrants, perhaps I will never understand. One would think the thousands fleeing on makeshift boats (often perishing), along with Cuba’s top athletes defecting at foreign sporting events, would send the message that it’s no paradise. Apparently the lackeys are too mesmerized by the smokescreen of “free” medical care and education to notice the strongman rule and flagrant disregard for human rights.
Cuba’s Castro regime is interested in only one thing: The Castro regime. American food sales to the island have nothing to do with feeding the impoverished Cuban people and everything to do with keeping the apartheid regime in power. And no one should be surprised; this is what happens when you do business with a corrupt and criminal dictatorship.
As the White House tries to open up a trade relationship, Cuba shuts off the spigot. What’s going on?
As President Obama’s Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker journeys to Havana tomorrow to promote the idea of a warmer U.S. trade relationship with Cuba, she’s shadowed by an awkward fact: The existing trade between the two nations is vanishing, and nobody is quite sure why.
Strange as it might sound for a country under a 53-year embargo, Cuba does buy a significant quantity of American goods every year, thanks to a little-known exception that allows American companies to sell food and medical supplies there. But as the two countries grow diplomatically closer, that business relationship has dropped off sharply.
Agricultural exports to Cuba slid from $710 million to $291 million between 2007 and in 2014. In the first seven months of this year, they’ve fallen to $122 million, a 41 percent drop. In July, the only agricultural product that Cuba imported from the United States was poultry, according to the U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
As Pritzker arrives on Tuesday for two days of high-level talks with senior Cuban officials, the drop-off is a stark reminder of how much control the Cuban government can exert over the relationship—and the limits of the White House’s ability to promote U.S. interests.
But many experts say economics is only part of the reason for the decline in exports. They also point a finger at politics. All U.S. agricultural goods must be sold to one state-owned company, Alimport, and many Cuba observers generally believe the Castro regime uses it as a political lever. During much of the 2000s, Alimport purchased U.S. agricultural products from dozens of states with the hope of garnering support from the states’ respective lawmakers to repeal the embargo.
“Alimport can certainly make decisions on imports that aren’t purely economic,” said Michael Gershberg, the special counsel at Fried Frank who focuses on trade issues. “If they receive orders from the government to make decision based on political reasons, that can certainly have an effect [on purchases].”
When the strategy failed, the Cuban government moved in the opposite direction: Instead of buying from many different states, it decided to dramatically cut back on all U.S. agricultural products.
“They tried the carrot. That didn’t work,” said Parr Rosson, the head of the department of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University. “This may be the stick.”
Aaaah! Such are the pleasures of doing business with pirates, and of treating those pirates as business partners.
Prediction: The current occupant of the White House will probably fork over 114 billion dollars to pirate Raul “Little Grey Mustache” (Bigotico Canoso) Castro as part of the “normalization” circus.
Bigotico Canoso is asking for 121 billion, but Mr. Give-It-All-Away might simply subtract the 7 billion in stolen American properties owed by Bigotico Canoso and his band of pirates: $121 minus $7 equals $114.
Or… maybe he’ll just fork over the whole enchilada, including Guantanamo Naval Base.
He’s itching to visit Castrogonia and to pose for photos with Fidel. And he’ll probably grant Raul everything he demands –and more — just for the right to have that “historic” photo opportunity with Cap’n Nosferatu.
From Bloomberg BNA:
U.S. Not Updating Asset Claims Against Cuba Even as Trade Beckons
Thousands of U.S. certified claims against the Cuban government have spent decades changing hands among rights holders, gathering dust and amassing billions of dollars in interest. The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission that certified and adjudicated the claims can’t update them because its authority to do so has expired.
That means the commission doesn’t have a full account of which U.S. companies still exist, which ones merged or split into other entities, or which are now under foreign control. The commission, an arm of the Department of Justice (DOJ), also hasn’t decided what happens to claims from companies that no longer exist, DOJ spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said.
Nearly all of the claims originated in the 1960s and early 1970s, as Fidel Castro nationalized Cuba’s economy following his rise to power in 1959. As the U.S. and Cuba now work to normalize relations, the claimant information has gained relevance. The 1996 Helms-Burton Act made settling the nearly 6,000 certified claims—totaling between $7 billion and $8 billion after interest—a condition of Congress lifting the embargo that the U.S. put in place shortly after Cuba expropriated the assets.
Cuba, however, has demands of its own. The island nation estimates the accumulated economic damages of the embargo at $121 billion and says the U.S. should compensate Cuba for those losses. Some observers, though, say Cuba is simply posturing and using the $121 billion figure to counter the U.S. claims estimate.
“That number is a marker for the Cubans to basically say, ‘We’re not going to pay $7 billion and here’s why,’?” said Jason Marczak, deputy director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
Cuban officials have said removing the embargo is just one necessary step toward normalizing relations between the U.S. and the Communist nation. Other conditions include returning Guantanamo Bay and staying out of the island’s affairs.
The Obama-backed apartheid regime of the Castro brothers in Cuba unleashed another hellish wave of violent repression during the month of September. By the time the month was over, 882 violent arrests of peaceful human rights and democracy activists had taken place. This brings the total number of political arrests in Cuba to a whopping 5,146 in 2015. Since President Obama granted the Cuban dictatorship the full endorsement and backing of the U.S. government in December of last year, the apartheid Castro regime has basked in the glow of undeserved legitimacy and has brutally increased its repression and violence against peaceful and defenseless dissidents.
Ironically (perhaps a more appropriate word would be disturbingly), many of these arrests took place during the visit of Pope Francis to the island, who neglected to meet with or even acknowledge the dissidents during his time in Cuba. Moreover, both the pontiff and the Vatican scandalously and incredulously claim they were not aware of any political repression taking place on the island during their visit.
Cuba human rights group reports 882 arrests in September
September, the first full month the U.S. Embassy in Havana was reopened and when Pope Francis visited the island, was a high-water mark for political repression in Cuba, according to a human right monitoring group.
The precise link between the embassy reopening and the papal visit and the worsening repression may be impossible to prove, but it would naive to conclude it’s only a coincidence. Of the arrests recorded by the human rights group, at least 353 occurred before and during Pope Francis’ visit, Sept. 19-22, repression that was met mostly with silence from the U.S. government.
The most-visible arrests occurred before Pope Francis said Mass on Sept. 20 in Havana, when three anti-Castro activists — Zaqueo Báez, María Acon and Ismael Bonet — were arrested after they approached the papal motorcade. More than two weeks later, they remained jail without formal charges being filed against them
Elizardo Sanchez, head of the human rights commission, said the trio may be deserving of international recognition as “prisoners of conscience.”
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 October 2015 — There was no mistaking it. It was the same face that smiles defiantly from some paintings in which it resembles an unrepentant Christ. I had seen the signature of El Sexto at bus stops, followed his ironies on Havana’s walls, and wondered if this young man really existed, putting so many dreams, so many screams into his midnight strokes . But there he was, standing in front of me, in a T-shirt with a spray can.
“You cross out my stuff, I cross out yours,” said some of the artist Danilo Maldonado’s first paintings. It was when the police were using pink paint to hide his graffiti. Walking down Linea Street you could guess that behind those colorful patches in the middle of a wall that had gone decades without maintenance, the irreverent artist had left a drawing.
So when I stumbled upon El Sexto, thin, rebellious, talented, it seemed I had rediscovered a well-known face from my family photos, someone I had shared colorful nocturnal moments with, insolent and clandestine. With time I discovered that I was also facing a man who would not give in to fear and who would use his own body as a canvas for disobedience.
When we were drowning in the Castro regime’s longest campaign, demanding the release of the five Cuban spies in prison in the United States, Maldonado confronted this hemorrhage of slogans and billboards. He declared himself, at his own risk, “El Sexto,” The Sixth of the “heroes” and shamelessly demanded “give me back my five euros,” in a mocking allusion to the official demand for the “five heroes” to be returned to the island.
The nickname stuck, although the former prisoners – sent home from the United States last December – are now fat and bored in their endless national tours and public events. And so the graffiti artist went from being “the sixth hero” to being the only hero of this story. A few days ago Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. This same restless boy who launched flyers all over Havana, inviting people to tear up and destroy their own fears.
But it would be the playful side of El Sexto that most annoyed the prudish Cuban officialdom. The capacity for laughter, to ask an apparently naïve question that infuriates the repressor trying to interrogate him. The mischief of turning a traffic signal into a work of art. El Sexto made us big in his hands, although many of us were still watching him like a friendly and playful child who was beginning to leave his signature in the city.
But the authoritarians lack humor. To them, laughter is an offense. Any joke plunges into their chests like a knife and hits them in the face like an embarrassing slap. Has there been anyone in Cuba as devoid of comic timing and the capacity for merriment as Fidel Castro? Probably not. And so the system created in his image and likeness reacts with self-consciousness and intolerance to sarcasm.
The two piglets El Sexto was preparing to release in Havana’s Central Park last 25 December, painted with the names Raul and Fidel on one side, were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Every day of his long confinement in Valle Grande prison, they had to make him pay for the great audacity of that performance which he titled “Animal Farm.” But they don’t realize that he who laughs first laughs twice, and Danilo Maldonado has always been the one who initiated the fit of laughter in this story.
A friendly visit by the world’s top rock icon to the Stalinist nation that criminalized his music and herded many of its listeners into forced-labor camps at Soviet bayonet-point as punishment is being hailed by the official newspaper of the Stalinist regime today.
Keith Richards and Ron Wood, the guitarists for the the world’s top rock group, proudly belonged to Artists United Against Apartheid and played on the group’s anti-Apartheid anthem titled: “I Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City.” Sun City was a resort in segregationist South Africa during the 1980’s ( but this resort wasn’t itself subject to segregationist laws, by the way.) The guitarists seem thrilled to be planning a concert sponsored by Cuba’s Stalinist-Apartheid regime.
“Brown Sugar! how come you taste so good!–just like a Black Girl should!”
“Hear him whip the women just around midnight!….” (Most of Cuba’s dissidents nowadays are black, many of them women, like Sonia Garro pictured above. The Stalinist/racist regime proudly hosting the delighted Mick Jagger this week repeatedly sets their machete-wielding police on these black women to savagely beat them before arrest.)
In his United Nations speech, Raúl Castro attacked “the blockade,” demanded the return of the base at Guantánamo, and asked for an end to the Radio Martí broadcasts. He defended Nicolás Maduro and Rafael Correa. He sided with el-Assad’s Syria, Iran, Russia, and Puerto Rican independence. He criticized the market economy and, in a heavy-handed flourish, closed with a quote from his brother Fidel, an obligatory gesture in Cuba’s unctuous revolutionary liturgy.
Shortly thereafter, he met with the U.S. president. According to The Washington Post, a somewhat disappointed Obama mentioned to him the overlooked matter of human rights and democracy. There wasn’t even a glimpse of a political opening.
Obama doesn’t understand that, with the Castro brothers, there is no quid pro quo or give-and-take. To the Castros, the socialist model (they constantly repeat this) is perfect, their “democracy” is the best in the planet and the dissidents and the Ladies in White who ask for civil liberties are merely salaried servants of the yanqui embassy, invented by the media, people who deserve to be thrashed.
The Cuban government has nothing to rectify. Let the United States, that imperial power that abuses other nations, rectify. Let capitalism, that system that spreads misery worldwide with its free market, repulsive competition, hurtful inequalities and lack of commiseration, rectify.
To the Castros and their troops of battle-hardened Marxist-Leninists, indifferent to reality, the solution to all evils is in the collectivism managed by army officers, with the Castro family directing the puppet show.
Raúl, Fidel, and all those around them are proud of having created the greatest subversive core in the 1960s, when they founded the Tricontinental and nurtured all the terrorist groups on earth who knocked at their doors or forged their own intelligence services.
They worship the figure of Che, dead as a result of those bloody goings-on and recall with emotion the hundreds of guerrillas they trained or launched against half the planet, including the democracies in Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay.
They become teary-eyed when they remember their feats in Africa, carried out for the purpose of creating satellites for the glory of the USSR and the sacred cause of communism, as they did in Angola, where they managed to dominate the other anti-colonial guerrillas. Later, in bloody combat on the Ogaden desert, they defeated the Somalis, their friends before the war, who are now confronting Ethiopia, Havana’s new ally.
They feel not the slightest remorse for having executed adversaries and sympathizers, for having persecuted homosexuals or religious believers, for having confiscated estates that had been honorably acquired, for having separated families and pushed into exile thousands of people who ended up at the bottom of the sea. What does this minor individual suffering matter when compared with the glorious feat of “seizing the skies by storm” and changing the history of humanity?
Did U.S. Embassy officials in Havana hand over a U.S. citizen to be brutalized by Castro’s secret police?
United States embassy in Havana hands over fleeing former political prisoner to Castro’s police
On Wednesday, September 30, 2015 Carlos Manuel Figueroa, a former Cuban political prisoner released earlier this year, made news over social media beginning at 3:28 pm Ivan Hernandez Carrillo tweeted: “A man jumped the fence of the US embassy in Havana this morning with cries of Down With Raul!!!” A few minutes later thanks to Ivan the identity and fate of the man was made known: “the citizenwas identified asCarlosManuelFigueroa, who protection authorities handed over to policeimmediately.” Three hours later at 6:21pm the news took an ominous turn with the same Cuban journalist reporting that while in custody Carlos Manuel was beaten up by military. EFE news wire is reporting that the Cuban dissident is missing. The U.S. embassy is refusing to confirm what transpired citing security concerns.
Cuba’s apartheid dictatorship served up another heaping helping of Obama’s Hope and Change yesterday arresting more than 50 peaceful dissidents on what is now the 24th consecutive Sunday of violent repression on the island.
Arrests during the #TodosMarchamos [#WeAllMarch] campaign
More than 50 activists were arrested for the 24th consecutive Sunday while participating in the #Todosmarchamos campaign.
Activists are reporting the arrests of dozens of Ladies in White and other activists in Havana who were participating in the #TodoMarchamos campaign to bring an end to repression.
A report by Ailer González before the arrests took place indicated that 59 Ladies in White and 20 activists were able to make it to the Gandhi Park today, but that another 15 members of the opposition had been arrested upon leaving their homes and driven a long distance outside the capital and left there.
After being arrested when they left their homes, blogger Agustin Lopez and activists Yasser Rivero and Servilio Villegas were transported to Guanabacoa and later released there.
“The only thing they wanted was to make sure we wouldn’t make it to Gandhi Park,” said Rivero.
Activists from the provinces of Matanzas and Santa Clara also attended this Sunday’s #TodosMarchamos protest.
The IAPA Does Not See Progress In Press Freedom In Cuba
Within a few hours of the opening of the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), scheduled between 2 and 6 October in Charleston (South Carolina), regional reports from the Commission for Freedom of the Press and Information were made public. According to the organization, ten months after the beginning of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, journalism on the island continues to be “dogged by censorship in the Cuban Communist Party monopoly over the national media.”
The report details that in Cuba there are still no signs of “economic improvement,” nor an increase in the respect for “human rights, greater freedom of expression, association and the press,” derived from the process of diplomatic rapprochement that both countries are experiencing.
With special alarm, the text includes the threats and arrests made this summer by State Security against the reporter Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, when he tried to document in videos and photos the repression suffered by the Ladies in White. The independent journalist denounced the repressive methods against the exercise of the unofficial press, including detentions for “several days without records of arrest nor of the seizure of our belongings” and the “confiscation of the tools of our work.”
The case of the artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto,” was also highlighted by the IAPA as evidence of the lack of freedom of expression on the island. Nine months after his arrest for planning a performance, the Graffiti artist remains in prison without having been brought to trial. This week Amnesty International named him as a prisoner of conscience.
The IAPA report also denounces “the censorship maintained on digital sites, as is the case of sites like Cubaencuentro, Martinoticias, and the digital newspaper 14ymedio, as well as other sites that address the Cuban issue from a perspective critical” of the authorities.