Shaking hands with libertad in Cuba
In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama told a crowd in South Florida that his policy towards Cuba would be governed by one word: “Libertad,” Spanish for liberty.
“The road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba’s political prisoners, the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair,” Obama said. “That is my commitment. I won’t stand for this injustice; you will not stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba. That will be my commitment as president of the United States of America.”
We’re pretty sure that’s not what President Obama told Cuba’s Dictator-in-Chief Raul Castro when he shook his hand at the funeral service for Nelson Mandela. If he did, it did not have much of an impact. The day after the handshake heard around the world, the Castro boys celebrated Human Rights Day by tossing over 150 Cuban dissidents in jail.
But the war over the handshake is lost. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart mocked those who feel true outrage that the Leader of the Free World would extend warm wishes to a tyrant responsible for the death of over 50,000 of his own countrymen. Like President Johnson losing Cronkite over Vietnam, losing Comedy Central over oppression in Cuba is deadly.
So let’s change the debate. The President wants to shake hands with Cuban leaders, let’s give him a few new ones. If President Obama were to shake these hands, he could live up to his campaign promise and truly change Cuba.
Jorge Louis Garcia Perez “Antúnez” – Arrested and imprisoned at the age of seventeen for openly criticizing the tyranny of the dictatorship, Antúnez spent the next seventeen years of his life in a Castro gulag. In spite of suffering countless beatings and arrests since his 2007 release, Antúnez continues to be an outspoken critic of the regime.
Gorki Águila – As front man for the Cuban punk-rock band Porno Para Ricardo (Porn for Ricardo), Gorki’s music mercilessly skewers and mocks the Castro dictatorship. He has been arrested and detained for his protest rock numerous times, and the Castro regime has confiscated the band’s musical instruments and gear on various occasions. What the Cuban regime cannot confiscate, however, is Gorki’s determination to fight for his rights.
Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, known by many as the “Nelson Mandela” of Cuba – A medical doctor and devout Catholic, Oscar Elias Biscet had his first run in with the Castro dictatorship when he protested the regime’s policy of using unsafe drugs to induce pregnant women to have abortions. His opposition led to his firing and a prohibition from practicing medicine. Refusing to go away quietly, Dr. Biscet then became a leader in the human rights movement in Cuba. He was arrested during the Black Spring of 2003 (along with 74 other activists) and given a 25-year prison sentence. Finally released from prison in 2011 and placed on parole, Dr. Biscet continues to defy the dictatorship and valiantly advocates for democracy in Cuba.
Sadly, there are some Cuban hands President Obama will not be able to shake because they were murdered by the Castro regime since Obama took office in 2008.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo – Murdered, February 3, 2010 – After a prolonged hunger strike to protest his inhumane incarceration, this Afro-Cuban was brutally beaten by Cuban State Security agents as they screamed racial epitaphs at him. He was initially refused medical care and died at the age of 33 from the injuries he had sustained.
Laura Pollán – Murdered, October 14, 2011 – As the wife of political prisoner Hector Maseda – one of the 75 dissidents arrested and given long prison sentences during the Black Spring of 2003 – Laura Pollan was one of the founders of Cuba’s Ladies in White. This group was made up of the wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of political prisoners in Cuba. After the group gained worldwide prominence and was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005, the Castro dictatorship became more aggressive towards the group. Following a 2011 violent, government-led attack on the Ladies in White, Pollan complained that one of the thugs had pricked her with what felt like a needle. A few days later she was hospitalized with an unexplained illness and mysteriously died a week later.
And, finally, while the President is in the mood to shake hands, extend one to American Alan Gross, who is currently dying in a Cuban prison for giving cell phones and lap tops to a Cuban synagogue.
President Obama shook hands with Raul Castro, the leader of a country that denies its citizens human rights.
My Canadian friend Brian Lloyd French, author of “Mojito”, wrote “The island of lies” a couple of years ago:
“Lies are a permanent part of life on the Castros’ island paradise lost.
Younger Cubans have to lie about their opinions of the government, its leadership and their opinion of the United States. Old Cubans lie about Fidel Castro because those lies are the only opinion they’ve ever been allowed to have.
The Cuban politburo lies about everything it does, and just about everything everyone else does; especially the USA.
The Castros spew lies constantly but are so absent from reality that they seem to believe them.”
Why would President Obama elevate a liar like Raul Castro?
Click here for my chat with Brian, and specially his thoughts on how black Cubans are discriminated against in the island:
Here is a video depicting some of Raul Castro’s reform: violent repression against those who dare expose the truth about Cuba.
From UNPACU, no translation necessary.
The 2013 Index of Economic Freedom is out, and Cuba remains next to last place, above only North Korea.
Cuba’s economic freedom score is 28.5, making its economy one of the world’s least free. Its overall score is 0.2 point higher than last year, with a notable decline in monetary freedom counterbalanced by gains in freedom from corruption and fiscal freedom. Cuba is ranked least free of 29 countries in the South and Central America/Caribbean region, and its overall score is significantly lower than the regional average.
Cuba scores far below world averages in most areas of economic freedom, and its economy remains one of the world’s most repressed. The foundations of economic freedom are particularly weak in the absence of an independent and fair judiciary. No courts are free of political interference, and pervasive corruption affects many aspects of economic activity.
As the largest source of employment, the public sector accounts for more than 80 percent of all jobs. A watered-down reform package endorsed by the Cuban Communist Party in April 2011 promised to trim the number of state workers and allow restricted self-employment in the non-public sector, but many details of the reform are obscure and little progress has been observed. The private sector is severely constrained by heavy regulations and tight state controls. Open-market policies are not in place to spur growth in trade and investment, and the lack of competition stifles productivity growth.
A one-party Communist state, Cuba depends on external assistance (chiefly oil provided by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and remittances from Cuban émigrés) and a captive labor force to survive. Property rights are severely restricted. Fidel Castro’s 81-year-old younger brother Raul continues to guide both the government and the Cuban Communist Party. Cuba’s socialist command economy is in perennial crisis. The average worker earns less than $25 a month, agriculture is in shambles, mining is depressed, and tourism revenue has proven volatile. But economic policy is resolutely Communist, and the regime rejects any moves toward genuine political or economic freedom.
I hear the echos of the experts, Raul the reformer, Raul the reformer, Raul the reformer, . . . and nothing to show for it, other than more repression.
Last month, a tragic anniversary passed (perhaps purposefully) unnoticed by the media.
On July 31st, 2006, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro fell ill and handed power to his brother, General Raul Castro.
At the time, the news was reported with great fanfare, as it was speculated that Raul was some sort of “reformer” (apparently à la Bashir al-Assad or Saif Gaddafi).
Yet, six-years later, Cuba remains as morally, politically and economically bankrupt as when Raul took the reins.
And finally, even his cosmetic “reforms” are being generally recognized for what they are — a sham.
They were just a headline for the media, but in reality remain stalled and in some cases have even been reverted (as The Economist noted this week).
If Cuba were a democracy, Raul would have been booted from office two years ago — and Fidel 43 years ago.
But that’s why their rule is based on force and fear, instead of the popular will of the people.
However, one thing has dramatically changed since the 2006 transfer to Raul: Repression has sky-rocketed.
Political arrests, beatings and harassment are all all-time highs; leading pro-democracy activists, such as Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan and Christian Liberation Movement leader Oswaldo Paya, have died under mysterious circumstances; and an American has been held hostage since December 2009.
We warned the media at the time (see here at the 7:22 mark) about Raul’s brutality, as historically he has been Fidel’s chief executor and has led some of the regime’s most infamous purges.
But the truth was inconvenient to their narrative at the time.
Cuba’s system of free medical care, long considered a birthright by its citizens and trumpeted as one of the communist government’s great successes, is not immune to cutbacks under Raúl Castro’s drive for efficiency.
The health sector has already endured millions of dollars in budget cuts and tens of thousands of layoffs, and it became clear this month that Castro is looking for more ways to save when the newspaper voice of the Communist Party, Granma, published daily details for two weeks on how much the government spends on everything from anesthetics and acupuncture to orthodontics and organ transplants.
It’s part of a wider media campaign that seems geared to discourage frivolous use of medical services, to explain or blunt fears of a drop-off in care and to remind Cubans to be grateful that health care is still free despite persistent economic woes. But it’s also raising the eyebrows of outside analysts, who predict further cuts or significant changes to what has been a pillar of the socialist system implanted after the 1959 revolution.
The psychologist and independent journalist said he was held at a police station in Santa Clara, the city where he lives some 270 kilometers (168 miles) east of Havana, from Thursday afternoon until Saturday morning, adding that this was the fourth time he was detained in one week.
State security agents arrested him on Thursday, he said, along with other members of the opposition, for mounting a street protest against the supposed removal of a computer from the home of dissident Jorge Luis Artiles, something they blame the authorities of doing.
If the hosts feared that Benedict XVI might emit criticisms about the management of the Communist Party on Cuban soil, real life calmed them. His public speeches were centered on pastoral themes and the boldest phrase that came out of his mouth was to assure us that “Cuba is looking to the future.” Beyond that, there was incense in abundance while social and political references were scarce.
Cuban dissidents Friday reported a crackdown across the island, with more than 30 activists detained to keep them from marking the monthly “Day of Resistance” and the one-year anniversary of one of the most active opposition groups.
Fourteen members of the Cuban Patriotic Union were detained in Havana as they gathered for the anniversary of the group, according to Pedro Arguelles, another member of the Union.
Five other dissidents were reported detained in the central city of Santa Clara during a vigil demanding the release of all political prisoners. Another four were arrested in the eastern town of San Luis and three more in the central town of Placetas.
Police told a dozen dissidents in eastern Camaguey province they would be arrested if they left their homes to attend an opposition gathering, and told seven others gathered in a Placetas home that they would be arrested if they did not leave.
As we’ve heard so many times since Raul Castro took the helm in Cuba, the younger of two Communist dictators is a pragmatist. A reformer. He’s brought changed to the island’s dated, no-longer-sufficient economic system that everyone has known were long overdue.
There are signs that the changes Raul has made are paying off. With economic freedom from the state comes new opportunity. For example: the opportunity to work for the state.
But wait; there’s more! This “brigade of cuentapropistas,” as the BBC refers to it, will be using its freedom from the state to work for the state in accommodating immigrants that will kick Cuba’s economic progress up a few notches: 146 wild animals that Namibia has donated to Cuba, including (but not limited to) lions, leopards and buffalo.
Let me pause here for the benefit of any new readers who might not read much Cuba news. Yes, you are reading this correctly. The government that created “spaces” for free-ish market activity because confining its citizens within its ludicrous economic system was too much of a burden… has decided that the next step in its scheme is to not only hire all those workers right back, but spend a reported $15 million on committing to the care of 146 wild animals. For a zoo in a city where plenty of the human attractions need remittances to feed themselves properly.
And… call me crazy, but something tells me this project won’t stay under its $15 million-dollar budget. Between whatever the regime agreed to pay its new “independent contractors” (cuentapropistas translates roughly to “ownaccorders” or “ownaccounters”), the frivolous and unproductive “job creation” the project will prompt the state to spend on, and the meat that it will presumably feed those animals while denying meat to the two-legged class outside the fence… this might just be the most hilarious-if-it-weren’t-so-tragic theft of Cuban time and talent (a “long con,” if you will) we’ve seen in some time.
Read all about it — including Cuba’s history of inability to properly feed its zoo animals and the international brouhaha over the animals’ right to better migration conditions — here.
Finally, here’s a video of some lions at a zoo in Camaguey, Cuba. It was supposedly shot in May of this year… probably close enough to present day that we can place it in the post-special-period period during which interviewees for the BBC story insist the government has fattened up its animals.