Santana in El Nuevo Herald:
"You'll see, with this campaign we have going on... they're going to end up lifting the embargo."
"We're going to have to reinforce the blockade then."
Rosa Maria Paya, member of Cuba's Christian Liberation Movement and daughter of slain opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, assassinated by the Castro regime in 2012, writes a letter to the editors of The Washington Post:
No rewarding the Cuban regime
Conversations with the Cuban government, which have been maintained for decades by U.S. congressmen, lobbies, nongovernmental organizations, businessmen, journalists, religious leaders, intelligence and government officers, have hardly served democracy in Cuba. Neither has the U.S. trade embargo.
What Wayne S. Smith, Cuba project director for the Center for International Policy, said in an Oct. 26 letter [“Keep the trade embargo?”] is a Cuban move “toward liberalization,” my father, Oswaldo Payá, called “fraudulent change.” The Cuban dictatorship that is supposedly changing is the one responsible for taking the life of my father and Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012. They refuse to allow an investigation of these deaths.
How can anyone know what “the overwhelming majority” of Cubans agree on if we have no access to mass media on the island and no citizen under the age of 80 has ever voted in free and pluralistic elections? Cubans deserve and have asked for a plebiscite to change our law so that we can choose a legitimate government and hold it accountable.
Lifting the U.S. embargo is not the solution because it is not the cause of our lack of political and economic rights. I’m in favor of coherent communication, but engagement and dialogue should not be a reward for the military elite from Havana that imposes its monologic agenda on my people while fostering intolerance and hostility with absolute impunity.
Let’s not speak for the Cubans but support the right of Cubans to have a voice in Cuba.
Rosa María Payá, Miami
The writer is a member of the coordinating council of the Cuban Christian Liberation Movement.
By Vilen Khlgatyan at the Political Developments Research Center:
Money Trumps Morality: Armenian-Canadian Businessmen Invest and Lose Millions in Totalitarian Cuba
Late last month the regime of Raúl Castro sentenced a Canadian businessman of Armenian origin, Cy Tokmakjian to 15 years in prison on corruption-related charges. The sentence follows a three-year ordeal which began as part of a wider campaign targeting foreign investors in Cuba by the Castro regime. Cuba follows the Soviet model slavishly, including the treatment of foreign investors. On the one hand, they are wooed for their money and know-how, on the other scapegoated for their crimes – real and imagined – in an eerie tropical morality play straight from the USSR’s New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920s. Tokmakjian was arrested in September of 2011, only two months after another Canadian businessman of Armenian origin, Sarkis Yacoubian, had been arrested. Cy heads the Tokmakjian Group, which is an Ontario-based automotive firm. Prior to its closure in Cuba it was one of the largest foreign companies to have operated on the Communist island over the past 20 years. Through the sale of construction and mining equipment, as well as being the exclusive Hyundai distributor in Cuba, the company took in roughly $80 million per annum. This sum made it the second largest Canadian operation in Cuba. It all came crashing down on that September day in 2011 when agents of the Cuban State Security seized and shut down the local headquarters. Predictably, the regime confiscated the company’s assets which were worth over $100 million.
Fashioned after the Soviet NEP, the Cuban regime under Raúl has been carefully crafting an imaginary economic liberalization that includes major “reforms” such as stamping out corruption. The early Soviets ran a seminal disinformation operation to induce Westerners and some Russian exiles to successfully promote foreign investment in the USSR. The Soviets, who always intended this state capitalism as a temporary measure to improve the economy, later arrested many investors known as the NEP-men on trumped-up charges and confiscated their investments without recourse.
After nearly three years of detention without formal charges leveled against him, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), Granma, reported that Tokmakjian was accused of corruption to obtain benefits in contract negotiations, unauthorized financial transactions, illegally taking large amounts of money out of the country, falsifying documents to avoid taxes and payroll irregularities. Cy Tokmakjian and his family who help run the business back in Canada deny any wrong doing. His lawyers made the decision to appeal the verdict in Cuba’s Supreme Court. Concurrently, Canadian MP Peter Kent, whose district includes the Tokmakjian Group’s headquarters, has warned other businessmen with projects in Cuba to be careful. Curiously, the New York Times is now forcefully advocating for the lifting of the U.S. embargo evidently so that American investors can seize the same “opportunities” as Mr. Tokmakjian.
Sarkis Yacoubian, the other Canadian-Armenian businessman targeted by the Cuban regime, started out as Tokmakjian’s junior partner before creating his own company. Yacoubian’s Tri-Star Caribbean, a transport and trading company developed into a burgeoning $30 million a year business. Regime officials accused Yacoubian of bribery, tax evasion and “activities damaging to the economy.” Unlike Tokmakjian though, Yacoubian decided to cooperate with his captors and provided them the ins and outs of how foreigners conduct business in Cuba. This may be the reason why he was expelled from a Cuban prison this past February and does not have to finish the rest of his nine-year sentence in a Canadian penal institution.
A practical as well as patriotic question arises. Why were Tokmakjian and Yacoubian investing millions of dollars in one of the most corrupt and totalitarian regimes in the world, whilst their ancestral home is in dire need of investments from the Diaspora and foreign businessmen in general? All the hazards, real and imagined, of doing business in Armenia pale in comparison to the hoops and hurdles with which one is confronted in order to succeed in the Cuban business environment. Armenia is under a Turkish and Azerbaijani embargo over which it has no control. Cuba, in contrast, faces only a unilateral American embargo that would end, or at least ease, were the regime to accept the timeless principle that all men are created equal and all deserve to be ruled by a government of their own choosing. In the meantime, any country in the world can and does invest in Cuba helping to prop up a regime that does not respect the rights of its own citizens. It can hardly be expected that this regime will somehow respect the rights of foreign investors. In fact, it would behoove Armenian and other investors to understand that Cuba’s NEP is just an elaborate deception operation. They will soon be victimized one way or another.
Continue reading HERE.
Weakened as it is, that pesky embargo is in fact all that remains in this world of tangible support for a return to the rule of law and self-determination for the Cuban people. Those calling for an end to embargo are either naive, have $$ "business interests" $$, or a political agenda favorable to the regime.
Via Capitol Hill Cubans:
How to Relegate Human Rights and Democracy in U.S.-Cuba Policy
In light of recent lobbying efforts by the Castro regime and its cohorts, along with The New York Times, to unilaterally and unconditionally ease U.S. sanctions, El Nuevo Herald recently interviewed four of Cuba's most renowned democracy leaders.
They are The Ladies in White's Berta Soler, the Cuban Patriotic Union's (UNPACU) Jose Daniel Ferrer, Estado de Sats' Antonio Rodiles and Arco Progresista's Manuel Cuesta Morua.
All four strongly agree that human rights and democracy should remain the priority of U.S. policy towards Cuba.
Moreover, three of the four -- Soler, Ferrer and Rodiles -- support current U.S. sanctions and believe they should remain in place until the Cuban regime takes significant steps towards human rights and democracy.
Only Cuesta Morua was not against the lifting of sanctions, though he is quite weary of those who intentionally obliviate human rights and democracy to further their Cuba policy objectives (i.e. this year's Council of the Americas letter, which he strongly criticized).
So how does he reconcile the two?
Essentially, through wishful thinking.
Cuesta Morua stated:
"I don't think the United States, if it takes a step towards normalization, will abandon the agenda of human rights."
If relations with Cuba were normalized, the United States might occasionally raise the issue of human rights and democracy rhetorically -- but in practice it would be relegated to the bottom of the agenda.
The United States' agenda towards Cuba would become subject to the priorities of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau, the National Foreign Trade Council, every major agribusiness and oil conglomerate, etc.
None of whom care one bit about the human rights of the Cuban people -- nor of the Iranian people, Syrian people, Burmese people, et al.
This is not a theory. It is a fact.
Just take a look at U.S. policy toward China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia or even Venezuela.
Let's not forget, the State Department passionately opposed -- until it was embarrassed by the General Hugo Carvajal fiasco -- simple visa restrictions against individual human rights violators from the Venezuelan government.
(For that matter, why hasn't the rest of the Western Hemisphere lifted a finger on behalf of human rights and democracy in Venezuela, despite no U.S. sanctions and normalized relations with everyone?)
Or take a look at Obama's current Hong Kong "quandary."
As Politico wrote this week:
"Despite calls from some American lawmakers and democracy advocates in Hong Kong that the president speak out more forcefully on the side of student demonstrators, who want less interference from Beijing, Obama has publicly held his tongue."
Of course, Castro's D.C. lobbyists and apologists know that if relations with Cuba were normalized, human rights and democratic reforms would be relegated, which is why they are marketing the The New York Times' "bag of goods" that, "[normalizing relations] would better position Washington to press the Cubans on democratic reforms."
Most Cuban democrats know -- and the facts show -- that this would not be the case.
Image Below: Cuban dictator Raul Castro with U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue.
Via NBC Sports:
Cuban second baseman Andy Ibanez defects to sign with MLB team
Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that 21-year-old second baseman Andy Ibanez has defected from Cuba with the intention of signing with an MLB team.
Ibanez was the youngest player on Cuba’s World Baseball Classic roster last year and Badler rates him as the No. 8 prospect still in Cuba. However, he’s unlikely to get a huge contract because as a 21-year-old with only three seasons of experience in Cuba he’s subject to the international spending limits that Cuban veterans are able to avoid.
Badler speculates that he’d likely begin his American career at Double-A and projects as a solid regular rather than a potential star.
The Castro family's (from Mariela's to Fidel's himself) endorsements of Obama need no elaboration hereabouts--I hope.
And now famous Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas has endorsed Democrat Joe Garcia against Republican Carlos Curbelo--to the point of headlining in a TV commercial for the Democratic candidate.
And why shouldn't he? Farinas is acting perfectly rationally. Simply follow the money (botellita) trail. Lately Jorgito Mas' Cuban Foundation for Human Rights has been cadging the most U.S. taxpayer money for the vital U.S. taxpayer duty of helping upkeep the likes of Guillermo Farinas and Yoani Sanchez. And it's no secret who Jorgito backs...elementary my dear Watson--(and my dear U.S. taxpayer.)
Persecuted dissident Farinas has also come out for keeping open the vital remittance and travel economic lifeline from persecuted Cuban refugees to the persecuting Castro regime. This economic lifeline (partly at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer who obviously foots the bill for the "refugee" benefits) annually totals about what the Soviets used to send Cuba.
"Imagine if you will...a place where a totalitarian terror-sponsoring regime maneuvers those portrayed as its opponents to lobby in favor of among its most vital economic lifelines. Then imagine that both this lobbyist and the economic lifeline are subsidized by the taxpayers of a nation portrayed as an implacable enemy..."
"Fairy tales can come true--it can happen to you...."
Imagine ISIS raising its flag over Bagdad and Damascus, the U.S. scooting from its bases in Saudi Arabia and the history books and media all hailing President Obama as a peer to Richard the Lionheart and El Cid. Crazier things have happened.
Take JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Imagine an Obama Presidency--but with only Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow “reporting” on TV and only Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristof scribbling. No Fox News. No Rush. No Mark Levin. No Glenn Beck. No internet. That’s what John F. Kennedy enjoyed.
Hard as it might be for those who weren’t around at the time (or those with short memories) to imagine, only in his sweetest dreams can President Obama envision the slobbering love affair the media carried on with President Kennedy.
It's a tribute to the power of Castroite mythology that, even with all this information a matter of public record for almost half a century the academic/media mantra (gloat, actually) still has Castro, "defying ten U.S. Presidents!" Instead he’s been protected by them.
Our friends at Townhall help disseminate items UTTERLY unknown outside the miniscule Cuban-American informational ghetto.
The Editorial Board of The Miami Herald:
Cuba hasn’t earned embargo’s end
In October of 1960, the United States imposed an embargo on exports to Cuba covering all commodities except medical supplies and certain food products. That was the beginning of a trade embargo that still endures and still inspires heated debate.
The anniversary of the embargo, plus this week’s upcoming vote in the United Nations condemning it — which the United States will lose, as usual — have prompted calls for a reassessment. Dropping the embargo altogether would require action by Congress. Meanwhile, anti-embargo advocates say, there’s a lot the president can do to soften or minimize its effects and open the door to restoring full ties with Cuba.
We disagree. Such a move would be premature and utterly lacking in justification at this time.
Granted, Raúl Castro has loosened the reins on the tightly controlled economy to permit more individual businesses. Some citizens can own property, and new rules are designed to encourage foreign investment. But it’s only because Cuba has been frozen in time for so long that such minimal change seems so dramatic. The Cuban nomenklatura still runs the Soviet-style planned economy that largely remains in place, and its members remain its major beneficiaries.
Some see vague government statements from Havana welcoming renewed diplomatic ties with the United States as a sign that it’s willing to negotiate longstanding differences. We would attribute that not to any goodwill but rather to Cuba hedging its bets as it nervously watches the slide in oil prices and the rise of political instability in Venezuela.
The Andean country has been the Castro brothers’ main benefactor in the last few years, helping prop up Cuba’s chronically weak economy with cheap oil. But if oil prices continue to drop, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro will need every penny he can get selling oil on the international market. He won’t hesitate to throw Cuba under the bus if it means survival for the Chávez movement in Caracas.
That makes the timing of any move by Washington toward Havana particularly inappropriate. Why throw it a lifeline now?
Continue reading HERE.
Cuban refugees in Bloomington, Illinois, October, 1963
Fifty years ago, when I was living with my uncle Amado in Bloomington, Illinois, I routinely helped him proofread the letters he sent to the local newspaper, The Bloomington Pantagraph.
My uncle, who was born in 1900, two years before Cuba became an independent nation, had learned English as a child in the 1910's. He left everything at the age of 62 and came to the United States as penniless and clueless as any other Cuban refugee. But he never stopped dressing as a Cuban gentleman, even when taking a stroll in the countryside on a Sunday. (See photo above)
His English was good, but rusty. He didn't ever have to use it very much in Cuba, where he was a successful architect . Most of his clients were fellow Cubans who were building new homes and businesses.
Hard to believe, but true: there was a time when Cubans used to build houses and businesses with their own hard-earned money, and Cubans who made a living by designing and building those houses and businesses.
I digress. My uncle wrote letters to the Pantagraph every week -- sometimes more often than that -- in which he would point out all of the incorrect facts about Castro's Cuba reported by the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, and other news agencies. Before sending these letters, he'd ask me to polish his rusty English. His grammar was always correct, as well as his spelling, but he still thought in Spanish and his phrasing was somewhat awkward. This very smart and very wise and very kind man was not ashamed to have his writing corrected by his snotty 13-year-old nephew, who was far less smart, wise, or kind, and whose knowledge of English was still so shaky that he actually admired and imitated the charming accent of Andy Griffith and the Beverly Hillbillies.
We were living at the very edge of absolute poverty. My uncle earned very little working as a lowly draftsman at an architectural firm that focused on building churches and banks. He was probably the lowest-paid employee. To make matters worse, he had one daughter with severe disabilities, a wife who knew no English at all, and two good-for-nothing nephews who were an additional drain on his meager income. The local welfare office refused to give him any assistance when he took in those nephews, but I never heard him complain about that. He never expressed anything but gratitude to the United States for having allowed him to escape Castrogonia.
My uncle literally counted his pennies at the grocery store and used every coupon he could find in the Pantagraph's food market inserts. We kept the thermostat set as low as possible during winter and even kept the vents closed in two rooms. During the coldest days, ice would form inside our windows. In those two rooms with the closed vents --one of which contained our 1920's washing machine and clotheslines-- you could always see your breath. Sometimes, the wet laundry we hung on those clotheslines would freeze and get as hard as plywood. We had no car, and no telephone, and the television given to him by the First Presbyterian Church could only receive signals from one channel (a CBS affiliate in nearby Urbana, Illinois). All of our somewhat bruised furniture had been given to us by the Presbyterians and the Methodists. All of our clothes came from the Salvation Army store, which was just a few blocks down the street from our rented bungalow.
I remember one of his letters very clearly. The Pantagraph had published some news story about the wonderful advances in agriculture that Fidel's so-called Revolution was making. My uncle's face had turned red while he read that article, and I could see the veins on his bald head throbbing furiously.
I wish I had a copy of that letter. It was beautiful. And, as was the case with many of his letters, the Pantagraph probably didn't publish it. In it, my uncle rhapsodized about the corn and soybean fields that surrounded Bloomington and the abundant food available in our local stores. That abudance, he pointed out, was only possible under a free-market capitalist economy. Then he described in great detail all of the ways in which Cuban agriculture had been ruined by Fidel's communism, as well as all of the endemic shortages Cubans had to endure. The lies being published by the Pantagraph were not just sheer communist propaganda, he said, but dangerous and evil.
I also remember him saying that he wished he could send a photo of the corn and soybean fields to Fidel, just to make him green with envy. "'This is what you will never be able to achieve,' that's all I would write on the back of the photo," said my uncle.
Yesterday I went apple-picking with my lovely wife Jane and two of my grown children. I couldn't help but think of my uncle Amado and that letter. The sheer overabundance of the orchard left me breathless. The beauty of the landscape actually made me weep.
Children of Cuban refugee in Northford, Connecticut, October 2014
(If you have never been to New England in autumn, you might think I'm exaggerating, but the landscape here right now is so beautiful, so full of color, that it deserves to be described as unearthly, or as too beautiful to be real. According to one of my former professors, an English scholar who visited Yale in the fall back in the 1930's actually complained about the colors as "lacking in restraint and a bit overdone." )
The view from one of my windows.
It was the last day for apple-picking this season. Most of the trees had already been picked clean. But there were a few that had apples in hard-to-reach spots. Row after unrestrained row, apples littered the ground under the trees. Thousands of apples, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, mostly in perfect shape. They had just fallen off or been knocked off. There were enough beautiful apples on the ground at that orchard to distribute to every Cuban in Havana. And this is just one relatively small orchard, in a somewhat urban area.
My uncle's idea of sending a photo to Fidel popped into my head, along with what he wanted to write on the back of that photo: "This is what you will never achieve."
Thanks to my parents --who wisely tossed me across the Florida Straits -- I am here, rather than there. Thanks to God, I am still alive, and able to walk, after cracking my skull in several places. So what if my head buzzes all the time? So what if it hurts? So what if I get tired easily? So what if I can't hear too well in my right ear? So what if I sometimes feel as if I'm a glob in a lava lamp? I'm alive, and I'm in New England, not in Castrogonia. I can pick as many apples as I want, and so can everyone else. My fellow apple-pickers were a mixed bunch: white Americans, black Americans, Asian Americans, foreigners of all sorts too, speaking tongues I couldn't understand. No one was rude or pushy, not one unkind word was spoken by anyone. No one had to watch us to make sure we behaved correctly. No one told us what to do or how to do it.
Bishop's orchard, Northford, Connecticut
Thanks to my injuries -- which brought me close to death and still threaten me with a sudden stroke -- everything about that orchard seemed to be an uncommonly special gift. Great God Almighty, what a world, and what luck. I am here. My loved ones are here with me. The sky is so blue. And everything here is so much better than whatever I lost in my native land. If this is exile, give me exile forever. If this is convalescence, give me convalescence forever. Let me be grateful forever, never let my gratefulness cease, or my wonderment.
We bought $75.00 worth of apples. At least six different varieties, including some I had never heard of before. Jane made two apple cakes today. We'll be eating and sharing more cakes and pies, along with home-made apple sauce.
Eleven million Cubans now live in an earthly hell where it is impossible for them to experience anything like this. It has nothing to do with the fact that apples won't grow in Cuba, or the fact that the island has no autumn season. Cubans could be picking all other sorts of fruit in orchards large and small, from one end of their island to the other, in landscapes equally beautiful, equally "unrestrained and over the top." And they wouldn't have to wait for only one month out of the whole year to do it. They could be loading their Cuban-manufactured or imported cars with bags full of fruit every month of the year, and bringing the fruit to their own well-maintained houses, to kitchens full of new appliances that they bought in Cuban-owned and Cuban-run private businesses.
The sole reason those eleven million Cubans are deprived of such experiences is that they live in a communist totalitarian dictatorship run by a military junta. And the only way that situation will come to an end is for that system to be replaced by one similar to the one I am lucky enough to live in.
Call it whatever you want: Castroism, communism, socialism, utopianism. It stinks. It always stinks. It never works. Without private property and a free market economy, there is never genuine freedom or prosperity.
No phony band-aid "reforms" will ever fix what is wrong in Cuba, no compromises with its bloodthirsty greedy oligarchs will ever do it either. Nothing ever suggested by The New York Times editorial staff will allow Cubans to live as free prosperous people. And forget about apartheid tourism fixing anything. It will only make things worse.
Look at these bags full of apples -- a portion of our harvest yesterday. As my wise uncle Amado would say, this is what Castroism, communism, and 21st century Latrine socialism will never, ever achieve. And this is what all of the bigots at The New York Times refuse to acknowledge, along with their willful ignorance, prejudice, and contempt.
Much has been made of the health care system in Cuba. Many brag about the competency of Cuban physicians, while others discuss the free health benefits offered to the Cuban population. But like the propaganda by the New York Times editorials, much of the vibe is a smoke screen for the truth.
And the best way to get the truth is to listen to the popular song by Juan Luis Guerra: El Niagara en Bicicleta.
By Rebeca Monzo in Translating Cuba:
The Misery That Unites Us
When the ill-named Special Period began in 1989, three years had passed since I had quit my job with the Cuban National Commission of UNESCO (with all that that implies), where I worked as a secretary. I was making 148 Cuban pesos (CUP) a month at a time when a pound of ham that tasted artificial and weighed half that amount once you removed the excess water cost 6.00 CUP. I was earning only 6.20 CUP a day.
Around this time, thanks to my very good and late friend Poncito, I had found out about the Cuban Association of Artisan Artists (ACAA) and how much it was growing. So, after submitting three samples of my work and letters of recommendation from two of its member artists, I was admitted to the organization, which allowed me to be my own “immediate supervisor,” improve my quality of life and work from home, which had become a veritable artist’s studio.
By then my older son was pursuing a career in design, my niece — who was also living with us — was in college and my younger son was in primary school. On weekends the house was filled with kids and on weekdays my friends — all of whom were professionals who worked nearby — came over for a little peace and quiet, a cup of tea and a friendly atmosphere.
Since we all truly believed this was the end of the System, I “broke out” (as we often say here) my best porcelain china cups — family heirlooms — and filled them with Soviet black tea or an infusion of lemongrass stalks from my patio. Sometimes I managed to make a tasty pudding to sweeten our get-togethers. Outside my four walls the world looked grey and menacing. People on the street walked with their heads down and their shoulders slumped.
I remember one particular birthday during this period when there was nothing in the stores and only a few vegetables in the produce market. Some architect friends suddenly appeared at my door singing “Happy Birthday” and carrying a beautiful basket they had fashioned from cardboard and decorated with a beautiful bow made out of newspaper. Inside it they had carefully and tastefully placed some green bananas, several taro and half of a small pumpkin.
My friend the painter showed up with a beautiful painting of sunflowers. And the dentist, who was never able to fill even one cavity for me due to a shortage of materials, did me the honor of giving me a pixie haircut. He was a master at challenges like this. It was without a doubt one of the most memorable birthdays I have ever had.
As time went by, everyone’s lives gradually got more complicated and they began leaving the country. My children also left and this house, which had always been so happy and bustling, began descending into silence and solitude. I continued working as an artisan-artist and started meeting new people, making new friends (some of whom have also left) and seeing a new world open up through my blog.
Other wonderful people keep crossing my path, people who have given new meaning to my daily routine as well as the courage and strength to carry on. These days I am busy preparing for the next exhibition of my work outside “my planet,” taking advantage of our newly “restored” right to travel freely, which had been denied us for almost half a century.