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As expected, the Castros want more concessions without making any changes

Jan. 26 - The start of talks on repairing 50 years of broken relations appears to have left President Raul Castro's government focused on winning additional concessions without giving in to U.S. demands for greater freedoms, despite the seeming benefits that warmer ties could have for the country's struggling economy.
Following the highest-level open talks in three decades between the two nations, Cuban officials remained firm in rejecting significant reforms pushed by the United States as part of President Barack Obama's surprise move to re-establish ties and rebuild economic relations with the Communist-led country.
"One can't think that in order to improve and normalize relations with the U.S., Cuba has to give up the principles it believes in," Cuba's top diplomat for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, told The Associated Press after the end of the talks. "Changes in Cuba aren't negotiable."
It's not clear if Cuba's tough stance is part of normal negotiation tactics or a hardened position that could prevent the talks from moving forward.
The Obama administration has dedicated significant political capital to rapprochement, but closer ties with the economic giant to the north also could have major importance for Cuba, which saw growth slow sharply in 2014 and is watching with concern as falling oil prices slam Venezuela, which has been a vital source of economic support.
In a wide-ranging interview, Vidal said that before deciding whether to allow greater economic ties with the U.S., Cuba was seeking more answers about Obama's dramatic of loosening the half-century trade embargo.

Measures put into effect this month range from permitting large-scale sales of telecommunications equipment to allowing U.S. banks to open accounts in Cuba, but Vidal said officials on the island want to know if Cuba can buy such gear on credit and whether it is now free to use dollars for transactions around the world, not just those newly permitted with U.S. institutions. Until now, at least, U.S. law and policy has banned most foreign dealings with Cuba.
"I could make an endless list of questions and this is going to require a series of clarifications in order to really know where we are and what possibilities are going to open up," Vidal said.
Obama also launched a review of Cuba's inclusion on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and Vidal said "it will be difficult to conceive of the reestablishment of relations" while Cuba remains on that list, which imposes financial and other restrictions.
Vidal also said full normalization will be impossible until Congress lifts the many elements of the trade embargo that aren't affected by Obama's executive action — a step seen as unlikely with a Republican-dominated Congress. Among key prohibitions that remain is a ban on routine tourism to Cuba.
Even a relatively simple measure such as granting U.S. diplomats freedom of movement around Cuba, she said, is tied to reduced U.S. support of dissidents, whom Cuba says are breaking the law by acting to undermine the government of behalf of U.S. interests.
"It's associated with a change in behaviour in the diplomatic missions as such and of the diplomatic officials, who must conduct themselves as our officials in Washington do, with total respect for the laws of that country," Vidal said.
She also said Cuba has not softened its refusal to turn over U.S. fugitives granted asylum in Cuba. The warming of relations has spawned new demands in the U.S. for the State Department to seek the return of fugitives including Joanne Chesimard, a Black Liberation Army member now known as Assata Shakur, who fled to Cuba after she was convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper.
Vidal said the two nations' extradition treaty "had a very clear clause saying that the agreement didn't apply to people who could be tied to crimes of a political nature."
But the opening already has led to some changes, at least in the short-term: Cuba significantly relaxed its near-total control of public information during the talks in Havana, allowing the live broadcast of news conferences in which foreign reporters questioned Vidal about sensitive topics including human rights. Cuban television even broadcast part of a news conference with Vidal's counterpart, Roberta Jacobson, to foreign reporters, state media and independent Cuban reporters who are considered members of the opposition.
Cubans said they were taken aback by the flow of information but wanted to know much more about what the new relationship with the U.S. means.
"We've seen so much, really so much more than what we're used to, about very sensitive topics in our country," said Diego Ferrer, a 68-year-old retired state worker.
Jesus Rivero, also 68 and retired from government work, sat on a park bench in Old Havana reading a report in the official Communist Party newspaper, Granma, about Jacobson's press conference.
"It's good that Granma reports the press conference in the residence of the head of the Interests Section," Rivero said. "But I think they should explain much more so that the whole population really understands what's going on."  The Canadian Press

 

Bombing suspect William Morales sought amid Cuba ‘normalization’

Jan. 26 - A movement to extradite fugitive bombmaker William Morales from Cuba is gaining momentum 40 years after the deadly terrorist blast at historic Fraunces Tavern in the Financial District.
Some Republican lawmakers have pushed for Morales and about 70 other suspected criminals living in Cuba to be returned for trial in the wake of the Obama administration’s plans to normalize relations with the Castro regime.
On Friday, three GOP senators — David Vitter (La.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) — issued a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder questioning the legality of the administration’s normalization despite Cuba’s harboring of fugitives.

New York Post

 

Russian spy ship in Havana on eve of US-Cuba talks

Jan. 20 - A Russian intelligence warship docked in Havana on Tuesday, a day before the start of historic US-Cuba talks aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations.
There was nothing stealthy about the arrival of the Viktor Leonov CCB-175, which was moored to a pier in Old Havana where cruise ships often dock. But the visit was not officially announced by Cuban authorities.
US officials in Washington played down the presence of the Russian vessel, saying it was perfectly legal and not at all out of the ordinary.
"It's not unprecedented. It's not unusual. It's not alarming," a defense official told AFP.
The Vishnya or Meridian-class intelligence ship, which has a crew of around 200, went into service in the Black Sea in 1988 before it was transferred seven years later to the northern fleet, according to Russian media.
The vessel previously docked in Havana in February and March last year, staying there for a few days. Those visits were also unannounced.
The highest-level US delegation to visit Havana since 1980 arrives Wednesday for two days of talks aimed at normalizing diplomatic and immigration relations between the former Cold War foes.
The former Soviet Union was Cuba's main patron during the Cold War. AFP News

 

Antunez will be a guest of House Speaker John Boehner during the State of the Union

Jan. 19 - House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) will host Cuban resistance leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as Antunez, among his guests at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.
Guests connected to Cuba, with whom the U.S. is easing trade and travel rules for the first time in 50 years, received some of the most high-profile invitations this year to attend the president’s Tuesday night address before Congress.
Prominent Republicans have divided over President Barack Obama’s recent move to ease travel and trade restrictions with the island. Mr. Boehner, along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and other Cuban-American lawmakers, have criticized the administration’s steps to normalize relations, while Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) has backed the president’s decision.
Mr. Rubio has also invited a figure connected to the Cuban resistance to Tuesday night’s speech: Rosa Maria Payá, the daughter of slain Cuban activist Oswaldo Payá.
Alan and Judy Gross will join First Lady Michelle Obama in the box she shares with Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, the White House announced Monday. Mr. Gross is the veteran international development worker freed last month after spending five years in a Cuban jail.
Antunez, the Cuban dissident who will watch Tuesday night’s speech in Mr. Boehner’s box, spent more than 17 years in a Cuban jail, according to the speaker’s office. Also attending will be Antunez’s wife.
Mr. Boehner’s other guests include Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, and students and faculty of the Consortium of Catholic Academies, a nonprofit organization supporting inner-city Catholic elementary schools in Washington.
The top House Republican will also host a group of families and businessmen from his Ohio district north of Cincinnati, including Aaron and Betsy Ward, owners of A&B Cake and Coffee Company in Greenville; Jamie McGregor, owner of McGregor Metal Working in Springfield; Fritz Borke, president and chief executive of Borke Molds in West Chester; and Dr. Jo Alice Blondin, president of Clark State Community College in Clark County.
“Speaker Boehner’s guests highlight the people and issues too often forgotten by the Obama administration, including his own constituents in Ohio, who are struggling with rising costs — especially for health care–and stagnant wages” as well as “students trapped by bureaucracy in failing schools, and victims of the continuing tyranny on Cuba,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner.

The Wall Street Journal

 

Sen. Marco Rubio invites Rosa María Payá to attend the State of the Union

Jan. 19 - On Monday, the White House announced that recently freed Cuba prisoner Alan Gross will be among First Lady Michelle Obama’s official guests at tomorrow night’s State of the Union address. Now, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has countered that move by inviting Rosa María Payá, the daughter of Cuban activist Oswaldo Payá.
“All Oswaldo Payá wanted was a better future for Cuba and the Cuban people, and the Castro regime assassinated him for it,” Rubio said in a statement Monday. “I’m honored that Rosa María Payá will join us in the Capitol on Tuesday evening as the president addresses our nation. Since her father’s murder, Rosa María has honored his legacy by continuing to advocate for a free and democratic Cuba and also fighting to bring his murderers to justice. In 2013, Rosa María visited the Senate and met with several senators who pledged their assistance in her search for justice.”
Oswaldo Payá and fellow activist Harold Cepero died in a 2012 car crash that was alleged to have been orchestrated by the Castro regime in Cuba. At the time, Rubio was among the Cuban-Americans and others who called for an independent investigation into their deaths.
“While I disagree with the president’s new Cuba policy, I hope Rosa María Payá’s presence on Tuesday night will at least remind him that her father’s murderers have not been brought to justice, and that the U.S. is now, in fact, sitting at the table with them,” the senator added. “I hope the administration takes the opportunity to demand reforms and changes in Cuban behavior before relations are normalized. At the very least, President Obama and his administration should push the Cuban regime to allow an impartial, third party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo and Harold.”
Following Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba, Rosa María Payá penned an open letter to President Barack Obama that was published by the Washington Post.
“We agree, Mr. President, that you cannot ‘keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect different results,’” she wrote, quoting Obama’s words. “But there is nothing new in treating as ‘normal’ the illegitimate government in Havana, which has never been elected by its citizens and has been practicing state murder with impunity. That strategy already has been done by all the other governments without positive consequences for democracy in my country.” MediaIte

 

The Obama-Castro show Chapter II

 

(Alan Gross sitting with his lawyers at their office. On the wall, a picture of mass murderer che Guevara)

Jan. 19 - Alan Gross, a subcontractor recently freed by the Cuban government after five years of imprisonment, will be one of first lady Michelle Obama’s guests at Tuesday’s State of the Union address along with Mr. Gross’ wife Judy.
Mr. Gross’s release, part of a spy swap, came on the same day President Obama announced a large-scale normalization in relations between the United States and the communist island country.

Others who will be seated in the box include astronaut Scott Kelly, Ana Zamora, a student in the country as part of the administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and Capt. Phillip C. Tingirides of the Los Angeles Police Department, who has spearheaded a program intended to foster cooperation between the LAPD and the Watts housing developments.
Prophet Walker, an ex-convict and co-founder of Watts United Weekend who has collaborated with Capt. Tingirides, is also a guest, as is Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Health, who announced last year that the retail pharmacy was eliminating tobacco sales in its stores.
Others in the box include students, a doctor who was in Liberia fighting the Ebola crisis, and several people who have written letters to the president, including Retired Army Staff Sgt. Jason Gibson, who lost both legs in Afghanistan, a 13-year-old from the South Side of Chicago and a working mother from Minneapolis. The Washington Times

 

With Chávez dead and Venezuela bankrupt, it's Obama's turn to bankroll the Castro brothers

Jan. 15 - The Obama administration began to chip away at the U.S. embargo against Cuba, announcing new changes taking effect Friday that will allow more trade and travel between the two countries.
The changes were announced despite concerns from members of Congress that the landmark shift in U.S.-Cuba relations is a "one-sided deal" that will benefit the Castro regime.
They come three days after U.S. officials confirmed the release of 53 political prisoners Cuba had promised to free. But some of those prisoners reportedly are still facing restrictions and being monitored.
Announced Thursday, the new Treasury and Commerce Department regulations are the next step in President Obama's goal of re-establishing diplomatic relations with the government of Cuban President Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother.
Only Congress can end the five-decade embargo. But the measures make a number of changes weakening it.
Among them, they would allow U.S. citizens to start bringing home small amounts of Cuban cigars after more than a half-century ban.
They would give permission for Americans to use credit cards in Cuba and U.S. companies to export telephone, computer and Internet technologies. Investments in some small business are permitted. General tourist travel is still prohibited, but Americans authorized to visit Cuba need no longer apply for special licenses.
Obama vowed to soften the embargo last month and begin restoring diplomatic ties with Havana, saying "these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked." The deal was the product of 18 months of secret talks that culminated in the exchange of imprisoned spies and release of Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years.
The sudden rapprochement between Cold War foes has divided U.S. lawmakers across party lines and interests.
Among Republicans and Democrats in Congress, Cuban-Americans such as Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Bob Menendez of New Jersey have been particularly vocal in opposition.
Rubio on Thursday questioned whether the changes were even legal.
"This is a windfall for the Castro regime that will be used to fund its repression against Cubans, as well as its activities against U.S. national interests in Latin America and beyond," he said in a statement. "Given existing U.S. laws about our Cuba policy, this slew of regulations leave at least one major question President Obama and his administration have failed to answer so far: what legal authority does he have to enrich the Castro regime in these ways?"
He said the "one-sided deal is enriching a tyrant and his regime at the expense of U.S. national interests and the Cuban people."
But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the changes would help "empower the Cuban population to become less dependent upon the state-driven economy, and help facilitate our growing relationship with the Cuban people."
"We firmly believe that allowing increased travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba will allow the United States to better advance our interests and improve the lives of ordinary Cubans," he said in a statement.
Some pro-business types have welcomed the opportunity to open up a new export market in a country so close to American shores. The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, said Wednesday it was better for the U.S. to sell computers, smartphones and cars to Cuba than to cede such business to countries like Russia and China. Still, the embargo as a whole appears unlikely to fall anytime soon.
Starting Friday, U.S. companies will be able to export mobile phones, televisions, memory devices, recording devices, computers and software to a country with notoriously poor Internet and telecommunications infrastructure.
Americans permitted to travel to Cuba for family visits, official U.S. government business, journalism, research, education, religious activity and other reasons fall under a U.S. general license and don't need to apply for a separate license. A limit on remittance payments to family members in Cuba will be raised to $8,000 per year, from $2,000 per year. Americans visiting Cuba will be allowed to bring home $100 in alcohol and tobacco products, and $400 in total goods.
Other changes include:
--Travel agents and airlines can fly to Cuba without a special license.
--Insurance companies can provide coverage for health, life and travel insurance policies for individuals residing in or visiting Cuba.
--Financial institutions may open accounts at Cuban banks to facilitate authorized transactions.
--Investments can be made in some small businesses and agricultural operations.
U.S. and Cuba are scheduled to hold migration talks in Havana next week, the next step in their normalization process. Leading the American delegation is Roberta Jacobson, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America. Her visit marks the highest-level trip to Cuba by a U.S. official since 1980.
Further down the road, Washington envisions reopening the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Fox News

 

Obama’s one sided deal with Castro sparks surge in immigration attempts

Jan. 15 - The number of Cubans fleeing to the U.S. has surged since President Obama’s diplomatic deal with the island nation, according to statistics that lawmakers on Capitol Hill said suggest the administration was caught off guard.
The Coast Guard interdicted more than 340 Cubans in the final two weeks of December, more than double the 140 who came in the first half of the month, before Mr. Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement that he would try to restore more normal diplomatic ties with Cuba. In the first seven days of January, another 144 came, keeping up the frenetic pace, according to Coast Guard records shared with Congress.

Mr. Obama’s announcement set off rumors that the U.S. would soon end its special immigration policies for Cubans, which sparked a scramble as migrants tried to beat what they believed to be a mid-January deadline for getting into the U.S., ahead of the immigration changes. The changes are merely rumors and no immediate action is pending, but they proved a powerful lure for hundreds trying the dangerous crossing.
“The Coast Guard protects our coastlines, and apprehensions of Cuban migrants could only be expected to increase in light of the Cuba decision,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee’s subcommittee on the Coast Guard. “I hope the administration consulted with the Coast Guard through its decision-making, but nothing so far shows the administration did so to any great degree.”
Mr. Hunter wrote a letter Monday asking the Coast Guard to detail whether the White House consulted on its diplomatic plans.
Mr. Obama last month announced a prisoner swap with Cuba, sending home three Cubans serving time in U.S. prison for spying, and getting back an American government contractor, Alan Gross, and a U.S. spy in exchange.

Read more The Washington Times

 

Sen. Marco Rubio: Cuba deal a 'terrible trade off'

Jan. 11 - Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) criticized President Obama for restoring relations with Cuba after 50 years without extracting democratic reforms from the Castro regime.
The U.S. is "going to bestow upon the Cuban government a strong level of legitimacy … And in exchange for all that the only thing the Cubans agreed to do was to release 53 political prisoners whose names, by the way, have yet to be disclosed," Rubio said in an interview on "The Cats Roundtable," host John Catsimatidis's Sunday radio show on New York AM 970.
Last month, the Cuban government freed American aid worker Alan Gross in an exchange involving three Cuban prisoners held in the United States. The Castro regime also pledged to release 53 political prisoners, which drew the ire of Rubio.
"And today there are reports that the people who are being released are both at the end of their prison terms and being sternly warned that if they take up the cause of democracy they’ll be re-arrested,” he added.
The son of Cuban immigrants who fled the island in the 1950s as Fidel Castro rose to power, Rubio emphasized that his sole interest is "for democracy to return to Cuba."
"Cubans don't have access to Twitter or Instagram or Facebook unless you have a government account, and doing everything we can to open that up is something I've focused on quite a bit."
When asked about the possibility of running for president in 2016, the Florida Republican danced around the question, saying "no announcement today."
He said if he decides the White House is the best place to fulfill his middle class agenda, he'll run for president. "And if I decide the best place to achieve it is in the Senate, then I will run for reelection. But that's a decision I haven't made yet, but in the process of trying to make."  The Hill
 

Socialism of the XXI Century: Venezuelans Throng Grocery Stores Under Military Protection

Jan. 10 - Shoppers thronged grocery stores across Caracas today as deepening shortages led the government to put Venezuela’s food distribution under military protection.
Long lines, some stretching for blocks, formed outside grocery stores in the South American country’s capital as residents search for scarce basic items such as detergent and chicken.
“I’ve visited six stores already today looking for detergent -- I can’t find it anywhere,” said Lisbeth Elsa, a 27-year-old janitor, waiting in line outside a supermarket in eastern Caracas. “We’re wearing our dirty clothes again because we can’t find it. At this point I’ll buy whatever I can find.”
A dearth of foreign currency exacerbated by collapsing oil prices has led to shortages of imports from toilet paper to car batteries, and helped push annual inflation to 64 percent in November. The lines will persist as long as price controls remain in place, Luis Vicente Leon, director of Caracas-based polling firm Datanalisis, said today in a telephone interview.
Government officials met with representatives from supermarket chains today to guarantee supplies, state news agency AVN reported. Interior Minister Carmen Melendez said yesterday that security forces would be sent to food stores and distribution centers to protect shoppers.

“Don’t fall into desperation -- we have the capacity and products for everyone, with calmness and patience. The stores are full,” she said on state television.
President Nicolas Maduro last week vowed to implement an economic “counter-offensive” to steer the country out of recession, including an overhaul of the foreign exchange system. He has yet to provide details. While the main government-controlled exchange sets a rate of 6.3 bolivars per U.S. dollar, the black market rate is as much as 187 per dollar.
Inside a Plan Suarez grocery store yesterday in eastern Caracas, shelves were mostly bare. Customers struggled and fought for items at times, with many trying to skip lines. The most sought-after products included detergent, with customers waiting in line for two to three hours to buy a maximum of two bags. A security guard asked that photos of empty shelves not be taken.
Police inside a Luvebras supermarket in eastern Caracas intervened to help staff distribute toilet paper and other products.
“You can’t find anything, I’ve spent 15 days looking for diapers,” Jean Paul Mate, a meat vendor, said outside the Luvebras store. “You have to take off work to look for products. I go to at least five stores a day.”
Venezuelan online news outlet VIVOplay posted a video of government food security regulator Carlos Osorio being interrupted by throngs of shoppers searching for products as he broadcast on state television from a Bicentenario government-run supermarket in central Caracas.
“What we’re seeing is worse than usual, it’s not only a seasonal problem,” Datanalisis’s Leon said. “Companies are not sure how they will restock their inventories or find merchandise, with a looming fear of a devaluation.”
The price for Venezuela’s oil, which accounts for more than 95 percent of the country’s exports, has plunged by more than half from last year’s peak in June to $47 a barrel this month.
“This is the worst it has ever been -- I’ve seen lines thousands of people long,” Greisly Jarpe, a 42-year-old data analyst, said as she waited for dish soap in eastern Caracas. “People are so desperate they’re sleeping in the lines.”  Bloomberg

 

Cuban Human Rights Group Says Short Detentions on the Rise

Jan. 5 - The Cuban government carried out a record number of detentions of dissidents and political activists last year, an independent Cuban human rights group said Monday.
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation recorded 8,899 short-term detentions of dissidents and activists in 2014. That was about 2,000 more than the previous year and four times as many as in 2010, said the group's head, Elizardo Sanchez.
The detentions can last for a few hours or a few days, but do not lead to prison time. Some people have been detained several times in a month, so the total number of people detained is lower.
Sanchez said his group counts about 90 people held in prison for political reasons ? less than half the figure five years ago.
The report also said dissidents inside Cuba did not know who was on the list of 53 whom the U.S. asked Cuba to release as part of a detente announced last month. Neither the U.S. nor Cuba has made the list public or said openly whether any of those on it have been released.
A U.S. official said on condition of anonymity Monday that some of the 53 had been released but efforts to secure the release of the dissidents was a "work in progress." The official wasn't authorized to provide details on who has been freed. The official said the release of all the dissidents wasn't a prerequisite for planned talks in Cuba between the Obama administration and Cuban officials later this month.
Cuba's government has long narrowly defined the bounds of acceptable speech, accusing many dissidents of being agents of the U.S. government or right-wing exile groups, and subjecting them to surveillance, temporary detention and harassment.
President Barack Obama pledged this month that easing the embargo on Cuba and normalizing diplomatic relations would be a better way of supporting Cuban civil society. Some experts said that lessening U.S.-Cuban tensions would remove a pretext for repression of domestic critics.
But Obama also said he was "under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans," and Sanchez said Monday that he expected no major short-term changes in Cuba's treatment of dissidents.
The list of those detained in December includes expatriate artist Tania Bruguera, who was briefly held and released at least three times since her return to Cuba late last month to organize a performance art piece involving the installation of an open microphone in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution for Cubans to speak about their country. Authorities launched a round of brief detentions on the day of the planned performance, which did not take place.
Also included in the list is graffiti and performance artist Danilo Maldonado, who other dissidents said was arrested last month in or near a square in central Havana as he attempted to release two pigs labeled "Fidel" and "Raul," the first names of Cuba's current and former presidents. The right group's report said he was being charged with the crime of disrespect for authority, which carries a one- to three-year prison sentence. Associated Press

 

Rosa María Payá: Here’s what Cuba really needs, Mr. Obama

Dec.20 - Sr. Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
I am writing to you because I assume that goodwill inspired your decision to change U.S. policy toward my country.
I appeal to this goodwill, notwithstanding your decision to review Cuba’s place on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism despite the Cuban government’s attempt, just a year ago, to smuggle tons of weapons in a North Korean ship through the Panama Canal. And despite Cuban state security provoking the 2012 car crash that took the life of my father, Oswaldo Payá, one of Cuba’s best-known dissidents who represented the alternative to the regime, and his young associate Harold Cepero. And even though the Cuban government refuses to allow an investigation and has not given even a copy of the autopsy report to my family.
The Cuban regime has decided it needs to change its image, so it will relax its grip in some areas while it remains in power. It has discovered that it can allow more Cubans to enter and leave the country and that some people can create a timbiriche (a very small business), but the Cuban government still decides who can travel and who can open a small business. Mr. President, your laws are not what is preventing the free market and access to information in Cuba; it is the Cuban government’s legislation and its constant censorship.
We agree, Mr. President, that you cannot “keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect different results.”
But there is nothing new in treating as “normal” the illegitimate government in Havana, which has never been elected by its citizens and has been practicing state murder with impunity. That strategy already has been done by all the other governments without positive consequences for democracy in my country.
What would be new would be a real commitment to the Cuban people, with concrete actions supporting citizens’ demands. We don’t need interventionist tactics but rather backing for solutions that we Cubans have created ourselves.
For 55 years, the only free, legal and popular demand from Cubans has been a call for a referendum on self-government, the Varela Project. We want changes in the law that will guarantee freedom of expression and association, the release of political prisoners, the right to own private enterprises, and free and plural elections.
You asked in your historic speech : How can we uphold that commitment, the commitment to freedom
I take you at your word, Mr. President. The answer to you and to all the world’s democratic governments is: Support the implementation of a plebiscite for free and pluralistic elections in Cuba; and support citizen participation in the democratic process, the only thing that will guarantee the end of totalitarianism in Cuba.
My father used to say, “Dialogues between the elites are not the space of the people.” The totalitarianism of the 21st century — which interferes in the internal affairs of many countries in the region and promotes undemocratic practices in countries such as Venezuela — will sit at the table next to the hemisphere’s democracies. I hope censorship doesn’t come to that table as well and that we Cubans, whom you so far have excluded from this process, can have a place in future negotiations.
We expect your administration, the Vatican and Canada to support our demands with the same intensity and goodwill with which you supported this process of rapprochement with the Cuban government. Human rights are the foundation of democracy, and we expect you to support the right of Cubans to decide their future.
We ask you to support an independent investigation into the attack that caused the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero.
We do not want symbolic solidarity. We do not want to participate only in the parallel forum to the next Summit of the Americas. The chair that will be occupied by the Cuban government is not the chair of the people, because the Cuban government does not represent Cuba’s citizens . That’s why we need to be present at the main summit, so that the demands of Cuban citizens are heard and empowered by the regional democracies.
Mr. President, dare now, after quoting our José Martí, to put into practice the honesty that a free Cuba deserves, “with all and for the good of all.”
God bless our countries.
Merry Christmas to you and your family,
Rosa María Payá Acevedo      The Washington Post

 

Cuban Dissident Leaders React to Obama's Announcement

Dec.18 - Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

Cuban dissident leaders react to President Obama's announcement to normalize relations with Castro's dictatorship:

 

 "Sadly, President Obama made the wrong decision. The freedom and democracy of the Cuban people will not be achieved through these benefits that he's giving -- not to the Cuban people -- but to the Cuban government. The Cuban government will only take advantage to strengthen its repressive machinery, to repress civil society, its people and remain in power."

-- Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White.

"[Alan Gross] was not arrested for what he did, but for what could be gained from his arrest. He was simply bait and they were aware of it from the beginning... Castroism has won, though the positive result is that Alan Gross has left alive the prison that threatened to become his tomb."

-- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger and independent journalist, 14ymedio.

"The Cuban people are being ignored in this secret conversation, in this secret agreement that we learned today. The reality of my country is there is just one party with all the control and with the state security controlling the whole society. If this doesn’t change, there’s no real change in Cuba. Not even with access to Internet. Not even when Cuban people can travel more than two years ago. Not even that is a sign of the end of the totalitarianism in my country."

--Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of murdered Christian Liberation Movement leader, Oswaldo Paya.

"[Obama's announcement] is horrible and disregarding the opinion of [Cuban] civil society sends a bad message. The acceptance of neo-Castroism in Cuba will mean greater support for authoritarianism in the region and, as a consequence, human rights will be relegated to a secondary role."

-- Antonio Rodiles, head of Estado de Sats.

"Alan Gross was used as a tool by the Castro regime to coerce the United States. Obama was not considerate of Cuban citizens and of the civil society that is facing this tyrannical regime. In Miami, Obama promised that he would consult Cuba measures with civil society and the non-violent opposition. Obviously, this didn't happen. That is a fact, a reality. He didn't consider Cuba's democrats. The betrayal of Cuba's democrats has been consummated."

-- Guillermo Fariñas, former Sakharov Prize recipient.

"The Obama Administration has ceded before Castro's dictatorship. Nothing has changed. The jails remain filled, the government represents only one family, repression continues, civil society is not recognized and we have no right to assemble or protest... The measures that the government of the United States has implemented today, to ease the embargo and establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, will in no way benefit the Cuban people. The steps taken will strengthen the Castro regime's repression against human rights activists and increase its resources, so the security forces can keep harassing and repressing civil society." -

-Angel Moya, former political prisoner of the Black Spring (2003).

"We are in total disagreement with what has transpired today. It's a betrayal of those who within Cuba have opposed the regime in order to achieve definitive change for the good of all Cubans."

-- Felix Navarro, former political prisoner and co-head of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU).

"It's discomforting that the accounts of the Castro regime can grow, as the first step will be more effective repression and a rise in the level of corruption."

-- Jose Daniel Ferrer, former political prisoner and co-head of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU)

"This is a betrayal that leaves the democratic opposition defenseless. Obama has allied himself with the oppressors and murderers of our people."
-- Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," former political prisoner and head of the National Resistance Front.

"I feel as though I have been abandoned on the battlefield."
-- Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, former Cuban political prisoner and U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.
 

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, talks about Obama's "wrongful decision"

 

Each time the Castro's are desperate for money, an ignorant with money shows up

Obama unmasked

Dec.17 - After the end of the Soviet Union, when the Castro brothers lost the subsidy of more than $4 billion a year, Hugo Chávez came in to their rescue.

Now, 15 years later when Venezuela is on the verge of bankruptcy thanks in great part for having become a colony of Castroland, Barack Obama steps up to the plate to save them once again.

The Castros are always lucky enough to always find an ignorant with money willing to save them

 

Obama gave the Castros everything they asked, and more

Dec.17 - Everything Obama said he wasn't going to do, he did today.

He traded Alan Gross, who had been a hostage in Cuba for 5 years, for 3 Cuban spies including one directly involved in the murder of the Brothers to the Rescue pilots.

He is re-establishing relations with  the Castro brothers without asking anything in return.

He will increase trade relations, travel, tourism, and everything that would bring money to the Cuban dictatorship, so they can continue to enslave, exploit, torture and oppress the Cuban people.

As Raul Castro said in his speech at the same time Obama was speaking to the American people: "We didn't make one single concession".

They didn't have to since Obama was willing to give them everything they wanted and more.

It is a shameful day for America.

 

Obama to speak later today about a "policy change" regarding Cuba

Dec.17 - President Barack Obama plans to talk today about the next steps in U.S.-Cuba relations, strained by a decades-long embargo, after Cuba released prisoner Alan Gross.
Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat close to Obama, said in a statement the president would announce the normalization of trade and travel relations with the island nation.
Gross, a 65-year-old American, left Cuba on a U.S. government plane this morning to fly to the U.S., said an administration official familiar with the release. The person spoke on condition of anonymity before Obama’s remarks, which are scheduled for noontime in Washington.
Gross, who has been in failing health, was released on humanitarian grounds under U.S. pressure, the person said.
Gross was arrested by Cuban officials while working to expand Internet access for Havana’s Jewish community. He was accused of undermining the Cuban state and in December 2009 was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Cuban President Raul Castro is scheduled to speak about the same time as Obama to talk about U.S.-Cuba relations, Agence France Presse reported. Bloomberg

 

Obama makes a deal with Castro to exchange the Cuban spies for Alan Gross

Dec.17 -  U.S. contractor Alan Gross, held by the Cuban government since 2009, was freed Wednesday as part of a landmark deal with Cuba that paves the way for a major overhaul in U.S. policy toward the island, senior administration officials tell CNN.
President Obama is expected to announce Gross' release at noon.
Gross' "humanitarian" release by Cuba was accompanied by a separate spy swap, the officials said. Cuba also freed a U.S. intelligence source who has been jailed in Cuba for more than 20 years, although authorities did not identify that person for security reasons. The U.S. released three Cuban intelligence agents convicted of espionage in 2001.
President Barack Obama is also set to announce a broad range of diplomatic and regulatory measures in what officials called the most sweeping change in U.S. policy toward Cuba since the 1961 embargo was imposed.
Alan Gross, at right with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, has been in Cuban custody since December 2009, when he was jailed while working as a subcontractor. Cuban authorities say Gross tried to set up illegal Internet connections on the island. Gross says he was just trying to help connect the Jewish community to the Internet. Former President Jimmy Carter and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have both traveled to Cuba on Gross' behalf. On December 17, Gross was released from Cuban prison.
Luke Somers, a photojournalist being held captive by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was shown begging for his life in a video released by the terror group. Somers was killed by AQAP militants during a raid conducted by U.S. forces on Friday, December 5. A U.S. official said that during the raid, one of the terrorists ran inside the compound and shot Somers and South African hostage, Pierre Korkie.
Kenneth Bae is one of two American detainees released from North Korea in November. Bae had been held since late 2012, and in April 2013 was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified "hostile acts" against the North Korean government. North Korea claimed Bae was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime.
Matthew Todd Miller also was allowed to leave North Korea with Kenneth Bae in November. According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency, he was convicted in September of committing "acts hostile" to North Korea and sentenced to six years of hard labor. He had traveled to North Korea after arranging a private tour through the U.S.-based company Uri Tours, which takes tourists into North Korea. He and Bae were released after U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper went to Pyongyang as an envoy of President Barack Obama, a senior State Department official told CNN.  Read more CNN

 

The Dark Side of Cuba’s Ebola Economy

Dec.11 -The communist government’s medical missionaries win praise for the regime, but they are victims, too.
If you ask most people what Cuba is famous for they probably will name two things: rum and cigars. But if you ask leftists what Cuba is famous for they will usually say something altogether different: healthcare and education.
Despite all the government oppression and poverty and the endless speeches by el líder maximo and his sibling, the Cuban healthcare and education systems are still held up as justification for the 1959 Cuban revolution in and of themselves.
So good is the healthcare system on the island supposed to be, and such is the abundance of skilled doctors, that Cuba can even afford to export medical personnel to disease- and crisis-stricken parts of the world in a gesture of international solidarity that the capitalist West does not begin to rival.
Estimates suggest that around 50,000 Cuban-trained health workers are spread across 66 countries, with many stationed in some of the poorest corners of the globe. In 2010 Cuba provided the largest contingent of medical staff during the aftermath of the huge earthquake that shook Haiti. Similarly, after an earthquake devastated Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 2005, there were more Cuban doctors on hand to aid the relief effort than there were medics from Pakistan proper. Who said socialist internationalism died in 1989?
The government in Havana rakes in around $8 billion a year on the backs of its health workers.
And so today, during the current Ebola crisis, while the rich capitalist countries pontificate selfishly about things like anti-Ebola border security, socialist Cuba has again come to the rescue, flying in 461 health workers to stricken West Africa—more than any first-world country.
Even John Kerry, secretary of state in a country that has spent decades trying to oust the Castro clan, described Cuba’s contribution to the fight against the Ebola outbreak as “impressive.”
This penchant for medical internationalism goes back to the greatest icon of the revolution, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. He was a doctor and envisioned a world in which a medic would use “the technical knowledge of his profession in the service of the revolution and the people.”
Yet like Guevara’s socialism, Cuba’s fraternal medical altruism has a dark side. Che may have felt a genuine affinity with the poor, but he was also a fanatic who locked up homosexuals and other “deviants” in labor camps. He wanted to “bring justice to the downtrodden” but he wanted to do it by launching a first nuclear strike on New York or Washington. The Cuban government, still led by some of Che’s former contemporaries, exemplifies a similar contradiction between idealism and brutal coercion.
There is in fact a great deal more to the Castro brothers’ medical diplomacy than the development of Cuba as, in the words of gushing Guardian columnist, a “beacon of international humanitarianism.” The government in Havana rakes in around $8 billion a year on the backs of its health workers. Most notably it receives cheap oil from the Chavez/Maduro autocracy in Venezuela, but it also gets a hefty sum of much-needed hard currency from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for every doctor it sends to Africa and beyond.
Not that there is any shame in that: socialist economies need hard currency to buy things on the international markets as much as any other country. But if there’s altruism here, it’s on the part of the workers themselves, since they rarely see any of the money they bring in for the dictatorship back home. All the available evidence suggests that they receive a measly stipend from the regime—about $20 extra a month—with the rest pocketed by the government to bolster things like Cuba’s omnipresent security apparatus.
Yet lavish praise is heaped on the supposed generosity of Havana’s elderly rulers—the same ones who for 50 years have stopped most Cubans from travelling abroad. “Cuba is a special case,” says José Luis Di Fabio, who heads the World Health Organization’s Havana office, told DeutscheWelle. “The country has the ability to react very quickly because of the experience of the physicians and the political will to do so.”
“Political will” in this instance is a euphemism, for there is ample evidence to suggest that Cuba’s medical diplomacy is far from voluntary for those sent abroad on their country’s international missions. Much like those who decline to attend the “voluntary” pro-government rallies which sporadically fill the streets of Havana and give a veneer of democracy to the one-party state, those medics who choose not to play ball with the Leninist Center can pay a severe penalty. As Madrid-based Cuban doctor Antonio Guedes told the same German website, “Whoever does not cooperate may lose his job, or at least his position, or his son will not get a place at university.”
This jibes with something Yanelis Ochoa, a university medical student in Santiago de Cuba, told me when I visited the country in 2011. Talking about the future, Yanelis said that when she eventually graduates she “may have to go to Venezuela or Brazil for a short time to work.” What about your boyfriend? I asked. Are you not getting married soon? “James,” she replied with unusual gravity. “You don’t understand how these things work. If they say I go then I go. It’s that simple.” The Daily Beast

 

This is how much the Castro brothers make from their slave doctors

Nov. 17 - No wonder the New York Times wants to make sure Cuban slave doctors cannot escape. The NYT partners in Havana make billions of dollars a year exploiting the slave doctors and other Cuban professionals.

The slave trade brings the Castro brothers almost four times more than tourism.

 

New York's Granma, wants to make sure that the slave doctors can't seek freedom

Nov. 17 - The New York Times, best known as the Castros' mouthpiece in New York, has a new editorial today, the sixth in as many weeks, in favor of the fascist dictatorship in Cuba.

This time, the NYT wants the United States to cancel the program that has allowed thousands of slave Cuban doctors flee their slave masters and seek refuge in this country.

New York's Granma knows that the Castro brothers make more than $9 billion a year in their slave trade with Cuban doctors and other professionals, and want to make sure that those doctors keep working for their partners in Havana.

If you have the stomach to read it, here is today's NYT editorial: A Cuban Brain Drain Courtesy of the US

 

Cuba's Abandoned Communist Nuclear Reactor

Oct. 10 - Just 90 miles off the tip of Florida lies a half-baked, abandoned relic of the Cold War-era arms race — what was once going to be a joint Cuban-Soviet nuclear reactor. Thank God it never panned out. Because not only do we now have these incredible shots from photographer Darmon Richter, but every last aspect of this thing would have been a total and utter disaster.

It all started back in 1976, when comrades in communism, Cuba and the Soviet Union, agreed to build two nuclear reactors near Juragua, Cuba. And if it had ever been finished, just one of these 440-megawatt reactors could have satisfied over 15 per cent of Cuba’s energy needs. As The New York Times explained when construction officially ceased, this wasn’t your everyday reactor:
The V.V.E.R. design, which was the most advanced at the time, was the first to be exported by Moscow for use in a tropical climate. It differs from the Chernobyl-style design in that the radioactive core and fuel elements are contained within a pressurised steel vessel.
Construction didn’t start until 1983, which gave Cuba 10 years to build their potential-livelihood, all thanks to the the steady flow of Soviet funds. Of course, when the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the essential funds ceased, over 300 former Soviet technicians returned to the motherland, and all construction came to a standstill — despite the fact that 40 per cent of the heavy machinery had already been installed.
Still, it wasn’t over quite yet. The whole project spent nearly a decade in limbo, until finally, in 2000, Fidel Castro told Vladamir Putin that he was done with the two countries’ former joint-dream. Now, the power plant at Juragua was officially little more than a testament to what could have been — which is a very good thing. Because as it turns out, “what could have been” basically entailed wildly dangerous conditions and potentially a whole mess of destruction. Continue reading and see more photos Gizmodo

 

Citizens protesting against the regime on March 28 in Havana's famous Galiano Street

 

Videos: The Ladies in White protest in Havana and stopped from marching in Holguín

Dec. 3 - Video of a protest by the Ladies in White on Sunday December 1 at Parque Gandhi in Havana and an attempt to march in Holguin, but were stopped by Castro's police

 

 

Cuban lady is brutally attacked by Castro's police for expressing her opinions

Nov. 4 - Anonymous Venezuela has a warning: This is the future of Venezuela unless they get rid of Maduro and the other puppets under the control of the Castro brothers.

 

Yoani Sáncez's presentation at Google Ideas Summit

October 26 - Yoani Sánchez explains how Internet without Internet is used by Cubans inside the island.

Learn how you can help promote Internet without Internet in Cuba:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Learn about a new technology that allows Cubans in Cuba have access to websites banned by the Castro regime and how you can help:

The Real Cuba  Also on Twitter: @WebPaqsforCuba  On Facebook: Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Video of another act of repudiation against members of UNPACU

Oct. 9 - This took place in Cardenas on Sunday October 6, 2013

Click here to see the video

 

 Video taken at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, Luyanó, Havana, Cuba

July 8 - Video taken in April of this year at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, one of the hospitals for Cubans who do not have hard currency to pay the Castro brothers.

Very different from the hospital where they took Micahel Moore and the hospitals that are used by foreigners who pay with dollars.

Click here to see the video

 

Spanish daily ABC has an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare

Foto de la versión impresa del reportaje en ABC

March 17 - On Thursday of last week, Carmen Muñoz a columnist for Spanish daily ABC, called me to ask for permission to use the photos at therealcuba.com for an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare.

I was able to send her many of the photos on high resolution to use on the print edition of the newspaper.

The article was published on Sunday on ABC and is also on their web page at ABC.es  (Spanish)

 

Twit by Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo about Paquetes Web Para Cuba

 

Our new page: Fidel Castro, the World's oldest terrorist

 

My interview with Baseball PhD

March 29 - I was interviewed by Ed Kasputis, of Baseball PhD, about baseball in Cuba before Castro and about the two Cubas, the one for foreigners and the one for regular Cubans.
Ed did a previous program with Mr. Sports Travel of San Diego, CA, about the five top international baseball destinations and was surprised to find out that the #1 destination was Cuba.
He received some nice pictures of Cuba and was ready to book a trip when he saw therealcuba.com and changed his mind.
He interviewed me as part of a program about the new Marlins Stadium and I was able to talk about baseball in Cuba before Castro and then we had a long chat about what is the reality of life in Cuba under Castro.
The program lasts 53 minutes, if you are not a baseball fan and just want to hear my interview about Cuba use your mouse to move the dial to minute 25:35  Click here to listen

 

Listen to Fidel Castro

For those who think that the Cuban people chose the system imposed by the Castro brothers, here are some of the things that Fidel Castro said and promised when he gained power Click Here

 

Satellite photos of Cuba's prisons, missile installations, military bases and more

 

A look at Havana before the Castro brothers destroyed it Cuba B.C

 

Visit our updated page: The Useful Idiots

 

We have new photos of Havana taken in October of last year

Oct. 9 - A friend sent me around two dozen photos of Havana that he took at the beginning of this month.

Some of them are very sad, because they show how Havana has been completely destroyed by this gang of human termites.

Some others are hard to believe, including this one of goats having "lunch" off the dumpsters on a Havana street.

Click here  to see them

 

Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro Cuba

Dec. 17 - Cuba Facts is an ongoing series of succinct fact sheets on various topics, including, but not limited to, political structure, health, economy, education, nutrition, labor, business, foreign investment, and demographics, published and updated on a regular basis by the Cuba Transition Project staff at the University of Miami.

Click here to learn the truth about Cuba's Health, Education, Personal Consumption and much more in pre-Castro Cuba.

 

 

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