Reports from Cuba: The IAPA does not see progress in press freedom in Cuba

14yMedio via Translating Cuba:

The IAPA Does Not See Progress In Press Freedom In Cuba
Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)

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.

Raul Castro’s government maintains a tendency towards “paramilitarization” of the repressions, with physical and verbal violence but without leaving legal footprints, says the report. This method was demonstrated during Pope Francis’s visit in mid-September, “particularly with the detention of the opponent Martha Beatriz Roque and the independent journalist Miriam Leiva, when both were traveling to accept an invitation from the Aposolic Nunciature to greet the pontiff at Havana Cathedral,” it says.

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Cuba’s apartheid dictator gets a taste of free political expression upon his arrival in New York City

For Cuba’s dictator Raul Castro, the scene outside his limousine window on a New York City street must have been as shocking as it was disturbing. A group of activists stood on the sidewalk protesting the apartheid dictator’s repressive regime and holding up protest signs as his motorcade drove past. In Cuba, neither Raul nor Fidel Castro have to worry about such a public challenge to their imposed rule and what they consider to be a punishable display of “disrespect.” More than half a century ago, the Castros abolished freedom of expression and have a well-oiled and well-funded machine of repression that quickly and efficiently quashes any expression against their regime. In the U.S., however, it is a different story.

Via the Free Cuba Foundation:

Activist shouts down Raul Castro’s motorcade as it arrived at the Cuban Mission in NYC

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture 1986
Rolando Pulido (Left) Augusto Monge (Center) Rosa Maria Payá (Right)

The reasons to protest the Castro regime are numerous and well documented. On September 28, 2015 Cuban exiles from around the country gathered in New York City in front of the United Nations and  in front of the Cuban Mission to the United Nations to protest against Raul Castro and his dictatorship.

Towards the end of the day, when most of the protesters had left, FCF founder Augusto Monge on his way back from lunch happened upon Raul Castro and his motorcade returning to the Cuban Mission. In the video below, you can hear Augusto Monge denouncing Raul Castro, the dictatorship’s delegation and calling for the freedom of jailed artist and prisoner of conscience Danilo Maldonado known as “El Sexto.”

WSJ: Obama’s Castro courtship

The Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal:

Obama’s Castro Courtship

The U.S. may stay silent while the U.N. condemns the U.S. trade embargo.

President Obama gave Raúl Castro the expected gift of a handshake photo-op this week, conferring legitimacy on the 56-year-old dictatorship with a bilateral meeting. But could Mr. Obama’s courtship of the Castros be so passionate that he’d even abstain from an anti-U.S. resolution at the United Nations?

That’s the recent scoop from the Associated Press, which reported that the Obama Administration is debating whether to let the U.N. condemn the U.S. trade embargo without a peep of protest. What a stunning turn that would be. Cuba and its pals roll out the condemnation every year in the General Assembly, and the U.S. routinely votes against it.

For the U.S. to abstain now would essentially endorse a denunciation of America by an assembly that includes some of the world’s most unsavory regimes. This goes well beyond Mr. Obama’s famous “apology” tours for alleged past U.S. sins. He would be apologizing for a law currently on the books that has been supported by members of both parties for years and that Mr. Obama has taken an oath to uphold and enforce.

Mr. Obama may feel he must slap America in the face in this fashion because Raúl has been playing hard to get. The U.S. President has given him diplomatic recognition, easier travel by Americans to the island, and returned some spies. But Mr. Castro now says he won’t make any concessions until the U.S. lifts the trade embargo and returns Guantanamo Bay to Cuba.

The current Congress won’t do either, which means Mr. Obama has to find other ways to please the Castros enough that they’ll grant him the Havana trip Mr. Obama covets before he leaves office. If refusing to oppose a denunciation of America at the U.N. doesn’t work, don’t be surprised if he does try to give Gitmo back without Congressional approval.

A call for help for three innocent lives in Cuba rotting in a Castro gulag

While Pope Francis claimed he didn’t see any repression in Cuba and President Obama was busy posing for pictures with the island’s apartheid dictator Raul Castro, three innocent Cubans, brave and courageous activists for democracy and human rights, are rotting in a Castro gulag with their health deteriorating with each passing day. It is time the world wake up to the violent repression and human rights atrocities taking place in apartheid Cuba.

Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

SOS: Three Innocent Lives at Risk in Cuba

This call for help for the lives of three humble and peaceful Cubans is addressed to Pope Francis, to the governments of the free world, to organizations defending human rights and all people of good will.

On the morning of Sunday September 20th, within minutes from the start of the first Mass by Pope Francis in Cuba, three residents of Calabazar village in the Cuban capital, with Biblical names and members of a cell of the pro-democracy organization Patriotic Union of Cuba, UNPACU, named “Felix Varela” passed through Security rings without hurting anyone and approached the Bishop of Rome with the intention of calling attention to the things that make our country an inferno for the lives of most Cubans.

Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, Ismael Bonet Rene and the outstanding Lady in White Maria Josefa Acón Sardinas, wanted the Supreme Pontiff, the foreign press, and through this, the World, to know that in Cuba there are political prisoners who survive in subhuman conditions, that we live under a harsh dictatorship that tramples the rights and fundamental freedoms of human beings, and that the repressive forces beat Peaceful Women and men who just dream about a fraternal, fair, democratic and prosperous Cuba.

These three good Cubans, Zaqueo, Ismael and Maria, are on hunger strike as of Sunday September 20, and later also of thirst, in the infamous center for “investigations” at Aldabó and 100th Street in Havana. They are accused of assault, disrespect, public disorder and resistance. Their lives are in grave danger. With their strike they are sending a clear Message: they are not willing to serve prison time for an action to which they were compelled by the criminal methods of the Castro regime and the indifferent attitude towards the suffering of the victims of repression displayed by institutions and personalities that have a sacred duty to condemn abuses, all affront to human dignity, and always be “good Samaritans”.

In an open letter to His Holiness Pope Francis, dated September 3, we had already warned: “Many members of our organization and other groups of independent civil society wish to attend, with discipline and respect, to your masses, but the secret political police will prevent them as happened during the visit of your predecessor Benedict XVI. On behalf of those who could spend the days of your historic visit in dark dungeons, we also, since now, give you our warmest welcome.”

We had also written to the Cuban Bishops in order to inform them on the brutal beatings and even torture against peaceful human rights defenders. The same day of the arrival of the Successor of Peter to Havana, many dissidents were surrounded, and that same evening Berta Soler, Martha Beatriz Roque and Miriam Leyva were arrested. The three had been invited by the Church to be among those who would welcome the Argentinian Pope on his arrival in the Nunciature. All this was convincing Zaqueo, Maria and Ismael that there was no choice: They had to raise the cry of an enslaved people in that square.

Continue reading HERE.

Reports from Cuba: Raul Castro in his worldwide debut

By Miriam Leiva in Translating Cuba:

Raul Castro in His Worldwide Debut

raul-castro-ONUCubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 30 September 2015 – The organization United Nations organization is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its creation in a big way. The most important players in world politics and the dignitaries from the majority of its member countries met in New York. The 2030 Sustainable Development Summit, where Pope Francis gave his first speech before the UN, took place from 25-27 September, and the Conference on Gender Equality was held on the 27th. The high-level meetings of the UN’s 70th session began on the 28th.

Raúl Castro traveled for the first time to the United States as President of Cuba on 24 September. The General-President wore the halo of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, the reopening of the respective embassies, conversations with President Obama, the constant flow of dignitaries from other countries and American visitors to Cuba, the mediation between Venezuela and the US, and participation in the meeting of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the chief of the FARC-EP for the signing in Havana of their first peace accord.

The Cuban leader seemed to enjoy the influence of his constant accompaniment of Pope Francis during his Cuban tour—with a synchronicity developed during the papal facilitation of conversations with the US—and appeared to be counting on the symbolism continuing in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

But the media stumble caused to the Supreme Pontiff over the detention of more than 150 activists from the independent civil society, among them three ladies who had been invited by the Papal Nunciature to greet him, uncovered the buried reality that in Cuba the same dictatorship from the last almost 57 years still exists; and it tarnished the arrival of Raúl Castro in the US, and his presence in the Cuban seat during the speech by the Holy Father before the United Nations on 25 September. Then he did not hear Cuba explicitly named for the negotiations with the US, nor the condemnation of the embargo/blockade, just as had not happened in the speeches by Pontiff previously during the US Congress joint session. The public greeting, and the Francis/Castro/Obama meeting that had been predicted by the media, did not occur.

Nonetheless, Raúl Castro saturated the UN as planned, to make up for his prior absence since assuming power nine years ago. He delivered speeches on 26, 27 and 28 September at the 2030 Development Summit, the Gender Equality Conference, and the high-level segment of the UN General Assembly, consecutively.

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#FreeElSexto: The rotten fruits of Obama’s ‘People-to-People’ Cuba policy

According to President Obama, “engagement” with Cuba’s murderous dictatorship and “people-to-people” contact will somehow miraculously bring freedom and democracy to Cuba. And unfortunately for one courageous Cuban dissident artist, here we see how well that works out in practice.

Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

Cuban artist El Sexto played by the rules of engagement — and got burned

Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, aka “El Sexto,” played by the rules of the people-to-people policy so highly regarded in these days of rapprochement.

Early last year, the young artist participated in a ground-breaking educational scholarship program at Miami Dade College, traveling from Havana to study English, computing, business and social studies.

No surprise to anyone, about half of the class of 17 young Cubans stayed in the United States, taking advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act to remain and become a resident.

But not Maldonado. He returned to his homeland, his soul recharged with ideas about artistic expression and pushing the limits of censorship. His experiences made him want all the more to be a part of the brave, bold generation challenging the status quo in a Cuba stuck in the dark ages of totalitarianism.

Isn’t that the point of cultural exchange programs and the “people-to-people contact” lauded in speech after speech? Americans travel to Cuba and share values — an army of peacemakers breaking through barriers. Cubans travel to the United States, experience democracy and take back what they’ve learned, contributing to change.

Only in theory, it seems.

Not long after his return, El Sexto was arrested in December for attempting a performance featuring two pigs named Fidel and Raúl. He planned to let them roam around Havana’s Central Park, but was detained before he could get there. The reason: disrespect of national figures. Yet Maldonado hasn’t been formally charged in the ensuing nine months of imprisonment.

Continue reading HERE.

President Obama mocks the victims of Cuba’s murderous apartheid regime

Just because it is no secret where President Obama’s loyalties lie does not make his policies and actions any less objectionable or despicable.

Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

Obama Mocks Cuba’s Victims

During Cuban dictator Raul Castro’s visit to New York City this week, he received the red-carpet treatment from the Obama Administration, some Members of the U.S. Congress, corporate CEOs and the United Nations.

The Members of Congress that visited Castro were the usual suspects from the “Castro Caucus” with the new addition of U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota; the corporate CEOs are looking for a profit no matter how unpalatable their business partner; and the United Nations loves anti-American dictators, even giving them slots in their Human Rights Council.

But even in the best case scenario — despite (or due to) the flurry of unilateral concessions the Obama Administration has already given the Castro regime — the President should have been more stern with Raul Castro.

Instead, President Obama and the First Lady couldn’t seem happier to welcome the Cuban dictator (see image above).

This takes place as Amnesty International names a new Cuban prisoner of conscience, artist Danilo Maldonado “El Sexto,” who is in critical condition on the 24th day of a hunger strike; as the three dissidents who personally pleaded for Pope Francis’ help remain imprisoned at the infamous torture facility of “Aldabo y 100” and face charges of “contempt”; and as the tally of political arrests since the December 17th deal approaches 4,000, with increased force and violence.

It also comes as senior Obama Administration officials are themselves admitting that they are frustrated by Castro’s unwillingness to reciprocate U.S. concessions.

“There’s been no real give at all from Havana,” a senior Obama official told The Washington Post .

Moreover, that the Castro caucus in Congress “are desperate for gestures” from Cuba, “and they aren’t getting those gestures,” added the official.

So why the broad smiles and banter with Raul Castro?

Is the Obama Administration unaware of how that picture will be used to demoralize Cuba’s courageous democracy activists?

President Obama must have gotten dozens of requests from foreign leaders for bilateral meetings during the U.N. General Assembly meeting. Yet, only a handful were granted.

Did Raul Castro deserve one of those few meetings?

Since the beginning of the Castro family’s totalitarian dictatorship, Raul has served as the regime’s chief executioner — responsible for thousands of deaths (including those of Americans).

Raul was nearly indicted in U.S. federal courts (politically scrapped at the last minute by President Clinton) for trafficking seven and a half tons of cocaine into Florida.

Raul has stolen and hoarded nearly all of the island’s wealth under the control of his military cronies and phantom corporations.

And since Raul’s “promotion” to dictator-in-chief, Cuban pro-democracy activists are suffering the highest number of political arrests in 30 years.

Is this how Obama wants to “win-over” the Cuban people — by embracing their oppressor?

It’s a mockery.

The chutzpah of Cuba’s dictator Raul Castro deserves a Nobel Prize

Andres Oppenheimer in The Miami Herald:

A Nobel Prize for Raul Castro!

ANDRÉS-OPPENHEIMERCuban dictator Raúl Castro deserves a Nobel Prize in political chutzpah: He is demanding reparations for the five-decade-old U.S. trade embargo of the island, neglecting to mention that it was imposed after Cuba confiscated up to $7 billion in U.S. properties and executed thousands of people whose relatives have yet to be compensated.

In his speech to the United Nations this week, Castro demanded “that our people be compensated for the human and economic damages that we are still suffering.” In a report to the U.N. General Assembly last year, Cuba claimed that such accumulated damages have reached $117 billion.

Castro’s act of bravado was reported matter-of-factly by most international media. I was in Mexico City when Castro made his U.N. speech, and newspapers carried big headlines about the Cuban ruler’s demand for U.S. economic reparations, failing to say even in passing that the U.S. trade sanctions had been imposed in response to Cuba’s expropriations of U.S. companies’ property.

According to the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, a semi-independent U.S. Department of Justice agency, there are nearly 6,000 certified claims of expropriated U.S. properties in Cuba worth $1.9 billion, not counting interest. International lawyers say that with a 6 percent annual interest rate often used for decades-old claims, the total figure would reach about $7 billion.

Continue reading HERE.

Reports from Cuba: Freedom of expression: A change that has been just another strategy

By Weiner Alexander Martínez in Translating Cuba:

Freedom of Expression: A Change That Has Been Just Another Strategy

The flexibilities described by the Cuban government in recent years regarding freedom of expression constitute only a change in its political strategy, the objective being to improve its image before international public opinion and organizations that defend human rights.

Testimonies of various government opponents and independent journalists indicate that repression of their activities has not ceased, but rather that the methods used have evolved, becoming more subtle and imperceptible.

They differ from those in the now distant 1970s and 80s, when the dissidence (and even any person who would dare to express divergent ideas) was dealt a “strong hand.”

Currently, the Island’s independent journalists, as well as the organizations of human rights activists or dissidents, are in the midst of a psychological war waged by the State Security apparatus.

The most common tactics consist of weakening the opponents, attacking their weaknesses, psychologically torturing them as well as their families; carefully tracking all their steps, relationships, friendships, influences, and even their enemies—so as to cause them to be isolated from their families and suffer social and moral death.

This way, nobody can prove that the security forces are harassing them, being that on no occasion do the agents appear in their uniforms, nor can they be shown to be behind the actions they commit.

For these purposes, they rely also on technology, spying on and filtering emails, telephone calls and text messages, and mounting surveillance operations across the street from activists’ dwellings.

All of this goes on with no concern over operational costs, being that the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and the Armed Forces do not answer to the public regarding their expenditures.

As journalists of the Hablemos Press Agency, we have not remained far from the war. My family has been threatened, stigmatized, and often coerced so as to instill fear and insecurity among all members.

The reality faced by dissidents and independent journalists is harsh in all senses of the word. But currently, in my opinion, there is something that without a doubt is a point in favor of the non-governmental organizations.

The desertions, violations of protocol, corruption, and fragmentation in its ranks have weakened the organs of State Security, revealing many of the obscure facets of this apparently solid institution.

This entity, also, suffers from the effects of the destruction of Cuban society, as is happening in the schools, state institutions, factories and high levels of government.

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Easy Money: U.S. welfare flows into Castro’s Cuba

An investigative report from The Sun Sentinel:

U.S. welfare flows to Cuba

“They’re taking benefits from the American taxpayer to subsidize their life in another country.”


Cuban immigrants are cashing in on U.S. welfare and returning to the island, making a mockery of the decades-old premise that they are refugees fleeing persecution at home.

Some stay for months at a time — and the U.S. government keeps paying.

Cubans’ unique access to food stamps, disability money and other welfare is meant to help them build new lives in America. Yet these days, it’s helping some finance their lives on the communist island.

America’s open-ended generosity has grown into an entitlement that exceeds $680 million a year and is exploited with ease. No agency tracks the scope of the abuse, but a Sun Sentinel investigation found evidence suggesting it is widespread.

Fed-up Floridians are reporting their neighbors and relatives for accepting government aid while shuttling back and forth to the island, selling goods in Cuba, and leaving their benefit cards in the U.S. for others to use while they are away.

Some don’t come back at all. The U.S. has continued to deposit welfare checks for as long as two years after the recipients moved back to Cuba for good, federal officials confirmed.

Regulations prohibit welfare recipients from collecting or using U.S. benefits in another country. But on the streets of Hialeah, the first stop for many new arrivals, shopkeepers like Miguel Veloso hear about it all the time.

Veloso, a barber who has been in the U.S. three years, said recent immigrants on welfare talk of spending considerable time in Cuba — six months there, two months here. “You come and go before benefits expire,” he said.

Continue reading HERE.

WaPo: Obama’s one-sided relationship with Cuba’s dictatorship

The Editorial Board of The Washington Post:

The one-sided relationship with Cuba

SINCE DEC. 17, President Obama has been engaged in a sweeping overhaul of U.S.-Cuba relations at the heart of which are conciliatory gestures by Washington; more travel by dollar-spending Americans to the impoverished island; a pledge to deal with differences, including on human rights, through diplomatic channels rather than confrontation; and a presidential call for the end of the U.S. trade embargo. In calling for “reform” in Cuba this week at the United Nations, Mr. Obama made no use of such provocative terms as “liberty” or “democracy.”

President Raúl Castro’s regime, by contrast, “seems to have done little beyond reopening its Washington embassy,” as The Post’s Karen De­Young reported Wednesday. Mr. Castro’s son-in-law, an army general, still controls the dollar-earning tourist industry, the Internet largely remains unavailable to ordinary Cubans, and, most important, dissidents remain subject to arbitrary arrest and detention — including several snatched off the streets for daring to approach Pope Francis during his recent visit.

Mr. Castro has in fact appeared to pocket Mr.?Obama’s concessions — and raise his demands. His speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday read like one of his brother Fidel’s old jeremiads from the 1960s, complete with a call for Puerto Rican independence and condemnation of alleged NATO encroachment on Russia. More pertinent for Mr. Obama’s normalization project, Mr. Castro cast bilateral reconciliation as a long, complex, process which can only reach fruition once the United States ends the “economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba,” and the “return” of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. These conditions, as Mr. Castro knows, range from politically difficult (lifting the embargo) to impossible (Guantanamo). The true practical relevance of lifting the embargo, at a time when it already exempts food and medicine, and travelers from the United States brought $3.5?billion worth of goods to Cuba in their luggage during 2013, while Cuban Americans sent $3.1 billion cash in remittances, was not seriously discussed.

Nevertheless, Mr. Obama staged yet another photo opportunity and private meeting with Mr.?Castro at the U.N., after which Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, was pleased to chide the U.S. president for failing to use his executive powers even more aggressively to circumvent the embargo law. Mr. Rodríguez said: “He has not done so. I expect him to do so.”

When it began, Mr. Obama billed his opening to the Castro regime as a more effective means of bettering the lot of the island’s impoverished and repressed 11 million people. So far, it’s raised their hopes, but not their prospects. Perhaps it’s time Mr. Obama started reciprocating the Cubans’ offer of advice and tell Mr. Castro more plainly what he expects Havana to do, starting with allowing the Cuban people freedom of speech, press and assembly. After all, Mr. Castro’s executive powers, accumulated over more than half a century, are much, much more extensive than Mr. Obama’s.