Saturday, October 1, 2016

World Movement for Democracy: "deeply concerned about the Cuban government’s ongoing crackdown on civil society"

Human rights situation in Cuba continues to deteriorate. Reproducing statement issued by the World Movement for Democracy on September 30, 2016:

CUBAN AUTHORITIES’ ESCALATE VIOLENT ASSAULTS ON CIVIL SOCIETY

On September 23, 2016, police authorities raided the headquarters of Cuban Legal Information Center (CUBALEX) and confiscated computers, hard drives, USB drives and cell phones. Cuban activist Kirenia Yalit stated: “when it seemed that everything was going to end and they had concluded their interrogations’ of the activists, they forced them to strip naked ‘and squat to verify that there was nothing hidden in their bodies.” The authorities also told Laritza Diversent, Director of CUBALEX, that members of the organization could be accused of “illicit economic activity” and “illicit association.”
CUBALEX is an independent Cuban organization based in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, and provides free legal advice to Cuban citizens and civil society activists. Unfortunately, the raid of the CUBALEX offices was part of a larger wave of harassment against Cuban civil society that has been taking place since last week.A day earlier, 23 activists belonging to the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) were arrested, one of whom was indefinitely detained. This arrest marks the 43rd UNPACU member who has been imprisoned by the authorities.
Laritza Diversent, Director of CUBALEX
On September 18, 27 members of the Ladies in White movement, and several  #TodosMarchamos (We All March) demonstrators, were arrested during peaceful protests. In a separate incident, Ladies in White activist Leticia Ramos, is facing baseless charges of “public disorder” after a police raid on her home. As of now, Ramos is under a government-imposed house arrest. On September 20, Cuban political police raided and disbanded a “meeting of several trade unionists,” according to Iván Hernández Carrillo, spokesman for Cuba’s Independent Trade Union Coalition. 
On September 27, Cuban authorities detained Arturo Rojas and Ada López, members of the Otro18 (Another 18) initiative, which seeks to promote independent candidates trying to run in Cuba’s 2018 elections. The two activists were prevented from traveling to Colombia to observe the upcoming plebiscite on the country’s Peace Accords. 
The World Movement for Democracy is deeply concerned about the Cuban government’s ongoing crackdown on civil society, and urges them to cease the harassment immediately. Cuban activists should be able to practice their right to freedom of assembly and association without encountering state-sponsored violence. Ladies in White leader, Berta Soler, has urged the world to stand up for Cuba’s human rights activists in her recent interview
Join us in solidarity of Cuban activists by tweeting this message to the government of Cuba:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Newsweek's bait and switch on Cuba in the 2016 election

The ugly truth
Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro in 2000 and Raul Castro in 2015
Kurt Eichenwald's article " How Donald Trump’s Company Violated the United States Embargo Against Cuba" is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," in terms of the main charge, carried in the report's title, but requires adding a few more facts to provide context and meaning.  Chris White in Law Newz characterizes Trump's dealings in Cuba as "another media distortion" and a "non-scandal" and one should read Mauricio Claver-Carone of Cuba Democracy Advocates analysis of the Trump non-controversy.

President Bill Clinton in 1992 ran  as a "hardliner" on Cuba policy supporting the Cuban Democracy Act also known as the Torricelli Bill. A bill that President Bush had initially refused to sign, but relented once Cuban exiles got Candidate Clinton's backing. As was the case with his approach to China once he got into office he did an about face.

First, President Bill Clinton between 1993 and 1996 pursued a policy of engagement with the Castro regime. In 1994 the Clinton administration initiated regular contacts between the U.S. military and the  Castro regime's military that included joint exercises at the Guantanamo Naval base. This was  confirmed by Raul Castro in a December 2008 interview with Sean Penn where he stated "we've had permanent contact with the US military, by secret agreement, since 1994." Not only contacts but joint military exercises according to General Raul Castro:
"It is based on the premise that we would discuss issues only related to Guantánamo. On February 17, 1993, following a request by the United States to discuss issues related to buoy locators for ship navigations into the bay, was the first contact in the history of the revolution. Between March 4 and July 1, the Rafters Crisis took place. A military-to-military hot line was established, and on May 9, 1995, we agreed to monthly meetings with primaries from both governments. To this day, there have been 157 meetings, and there is a taped record of every meeting. The meetings are conducted on the third Friday of every month. We alternate locations between the American base at Guantánamo and in Cuban-held territory. We conduct joint emergency-response exercises. For example, we set a fire, and American helicopters bring water from the bay, in concert with Cuban helicopters.
( Despite his rhetoric George W. Bush continued the practice during his presidency.) During this period of "constructive engagement" brutal massacres of Cubans such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down took place. The shoot down involved two planes blown to bits over international airspace by Cuban MiGs killing three American citizens and a Cuban resident who were engaged in the search and rescue of Cuban rafters. Since it occurred while President Clinton was seeking re-election and his only options were to do nothing, military action, or toughen sanctions he opted for the latter signing the Cuban Libertad Act of 1996. 



This ended his first round of normalizing relations which lasted less than two years. Thus Eichenwald's reporting on the Clinton administration's Cuba policy is incomplete when he writes:
"The first signs that American policy might be shifting came in March 1998, when President Clinton announced several major changes. Among them: resuming charter flights between the United States and Cuba for authorized Americans, streamlining procedures for exporting medical equipment and allowing Cubans in the U.S. to send small amounts of cash to their relatives on the island."
Nor does Eichenwald mention what happened after 1999. Bill Clinton was the first sitting president to shake hands with Fidel Castro on September 6, 2000 and one month later he signed  Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TEFRA) that opened trade between the Castro regime and U.S. companies. Opposition in congress led to that trade not being subsidized by U.S. taxpayers by through government backed credits ensuring that business would be cash and carry.

At the time of its passage,  Fidel Castro said "his country would not buy 'even a grain of rice' under the current terms."  The Cuban dictator ended up buying much more than a grain of rice under those terms. Between 2000 and 2016 American companies sold $5.2 billion dollars in goods to the Castro regime on a cash and carry basis.

Trade with the Castro regime peaked at $711.5 million in 2008 under the Bush administration with sanctions that protected U.S. taxpayers from picking up the tab while under the Obama administration's Cuba policy of unilateral concessions trade collapsed to $180.3 million in 2015 and in January 2016 the White House opened up financing for the notorious deadbeat nation. This may be great for the Chamber of Commerce but it is terrible for the American taxpayer.

Young Cuban Americans picketed Clinton, protested Cuban embassy opening (2015)
Donald Trump explored opportunities for business in Cuba in 1998 and a year later in The Miami Herald explained why he would not do it. When President Obama announced on December 17, 2014 the normalization of relations with the Castro regime Trump gave his lukewarm support saying "I think it's fine" but characteristically that we "should have made a stronger deal."

On this blog I explained repeatedly why Trump's echoing of Obama and Clinton's Cuba policy would cost him and the Republican Party the Cuban American vote.  This would not be the first time that Republican's abandoned an anti-communist position supported by an ethnic group only to lose their support. This happened with Chinese Americans in the 1990s.

Only 35% of Cuban Americans were supporting Trump before he indicated on September 16, 2016 that if elected he would rollback Obama's normalization of relations with the Castro regime if human rights were not dramatically improved in Cuba. It will be interesting to see what are the new polling numbers for Mr. Trump among Cuban Americans after his mid-September announcement on Cuba policy.

Yesterday, on this blog the question was raised if the Obama Administration's Cuba policy legacy project would throw Clinton under the bus? Reading today's desperate piece in Newsweek Magazine the answer appears to be yes. Remember both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama maintained a pro-embargo position when running for president and did well in Florida.

Committee to Protect Journalists issues report on internet access and journalism in Cuba

"The restrictions also mean that despite the rise of independent journalism and blogging in Cuba, there are often more readers outside the country than on the island."- Committee to Protect Journalists

Illustration points to important division in Cuba with regards to internet
The Castro regime appears to be changing tactics in their control and censorship of the internet. The Committee to Protect Journalists have published an important and detailed report by Alexandra Ellerbeck titled: Connecting Cuba: Staying connected in an offline world  that is too long to reproduce here but is available online.

However the Committee to Protect Journalists offers the following recommendations, although brief, shed light on the lack of freedoms on the ground in Cuba:

To the Cuban government
  1. Implement constitutional and legal reforms to ensure full respect for freedom of expression and to allow journalists to work freely without fear of reprisal.
  2. Amend the restrictive legal framework that bans privately owned media ownership and ensure freedom of speech and the press in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory.
  3. Allow the creation of press cooperatives or privately owned media so that journalists are not forced to operate in a legal limbo.
  4. Foster an environment that encourages the state press to operate independently and report critically.
  5. End the practice of summonses, brief detentions, and harassment of independent journalists.
  6. Make internet access more affordable and extend connectivity to the internet without restrictions.
  7. Accept the 2015 request by David Kaye, the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, for an invitation to visit Cuba as part of his mandate.

To the Organization of American States

  1. Request authorization for the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression to conduct a mission to Cuba to assess the state of press freedom and freedom of expression, and report its findings and recommendations publicly.
  2. Ensure any dialogue with Cuba regarding its participation in the multilateral body includes consideration of its press freedom record, including harassment and intimidation of journalists, summonses, and brief detentions.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Will Obama Administration Cuba policy legacy project throw Clinton under the bus?

Will President Obama's move to name an Ambassador to Embassy in Havana hurt Hillary Clinton in Florida?

Will President Obama's announcement cost Hillary Florida?
42 days before election day President Obama made a fateful decision that could impact the outcome of the Presidential election in Florida when he announced yesterday afternoon that “Today, I am proud to nominate Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis to be the first U.S. Ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years." 

Cuba, so far this election cycle has not been high on the radar, but with this announcement the Obama Administration's controversial Cuba policy will be debated and at a time when polls indicate that the race in Florida is tightening the Cuban American vote could be decisive in swinging the state and its 29 electoral votes.

Lets review for a moment some of the outcomes of the Obama Administration's Cuba policy:
1. Dissidents murdered by the dictatorship within a worsening human rights situation. 
2. Trade between the United States and Cuba has collapsed under the Obama Administration to levels not seen since 2002. 
3. Castro regime power and influence projected further into Latin America with devastating results in Venezuela and Nicaragua. 
4. Mass exodus from Cuba with tens of thousands of Cubans fleeing the island because they see that the Castro regime is being assisted by the White House in a generational succession of the Castro family. 
5. Military and Castro family further expanding control over the economy. 
6. Discrimination against Cuban American by American corporations trying to satisfy demands of the Castro dictatorship. 
7. China, North Korea, Russia and Iran strengthening ties with the Castro regime to levels not seen in years. 
8. Cuba seized a U.S. Hellfire missile in 2014 while secret negotiations were underway and refused to return it until the Wall Street Journal broke the story in early 2016.  
This is most likely the reason why Donald Trump reversed his support for the Obama Cuba policy on September 16, 2016 describing Obama's deal as "one-sided" and benefiting "only the Castro regime," and met with Cuban American and Venezuelan American leaders in Miami yesterday promising results in improving the situation in Cuba and Venezuela with a smarter and more assertive American foreign policy under a Trump administration. 

President Obama could have nominated DeLaurentis after November 8th and avoid heightening the focus on his Cuba policy in the Cuban American community and potentially harming Hillary Clinton. Bendixen-Amandi polls and the FIU Poll with dubious methodology have tricked more than one politician into believing that the Cuban-American community has changed and that backing a policy that legitimizes the Castro regime while human rights worsen on the island will not reflect negatively their support.

President Obama did not take that chance when he was running for the White House in 2008 and 2012 but is apparently willing to risk Hillary's prospects in 2016.

The number 42 was revealed by the late British author Douglas Adams in his Hitchhiker's trilogy to be the answer "to life, the universe and everything," but the joke was that it didn't make sense without knowing and understanding what the question was. 

In 42 days however the Obama White House and the Clinton campaign will have a definitive answer on how Cuba policy impacts the Cuban American vote and in a tight race the outcome may not lead to much laughter or celebration in either quarter.

Meanwhile the debate begins:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Cuban democracy activist Rosa María Payá to address San Francisco Freedom Forum 2016

Oslo Freedom Forum experience arrives in the Bay Area on September 29, 2016



Tonight the San Francisco Freedom Forum commenced with an opening reception at 7:30pm sponsored by Humanity United. Tomorrow, September 29, 2016 will feature a full day of presentations beginning at 9:30am and the agenda is available online.


Rosa María Payá to address San Francisco Freedom Forum
Cuban pro-democracy activist Rosa María Payá will be speaking during the first session at 9:45am. Below is the description of the young activist prepared by the Oslo Freedom Forum:
Rosa María Payá, daughter of the deceased democracy activist Oswaldo Payá, is one of Cuba’s most vocal political dissidents. Payá serves as the president of the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, and is a member of the Cuba Decides campaign. In April 2014, Payá was detained in Panama before the Summit of the Americas in what has been criticized as a move of political intimidation. Since her father’s passing in a mysterious car accident in 2012, Payá has repeatedly called for a formal investigation into his death. She speaks around the world on his behalf and addressed a public letter to President Obama after the 2014 U.S. policy shift toward Cuba. 
In May of 2016 she spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum about her martyred father Cuban democracy leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas who died under suspicious circumstances on July 22, 2012.  


For more information about the Oslo Freedom Forum, please visit their website or watch a selection of talks from their speakers. Follow them on TwitterFacebook, and Google+ for updates.

For more information or to purchase your tickets using PayPal or Bitcoin, please contact them at info@oslofreedomforum.com or +1 (212) 246-8486.