Sunday, March 31, 2013

Prison Diary VII. My Life in a Story

Prison Diary VII. My Life in a Story / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on March 31, 2013

Recently I've been reading the book "Mandatory Happiness" by the
Romanian writer Norman Manea, deported as a child with his family to a
Ukrainian concentration camp, and the way the author masterfully
describes an everyday story under a totalitarian government has caught
my attention in a powerful way: the Romanian political police arrest an
artist who collaborates with the opposition and subject her to
continuous torture sessions, a constant ritual day and night, in an
attempt to drive her mad. These old-school KGB techniques are applied
under the advice of the entire socialist camp, including Cuba, of course.

In the first story of the book, captivating from the very beginning,
"The Interrogator," an obscure character of the political polices —
superbly characterized — after brutally torturing his victim, says:

"Maybe we'll let you go. Although we could also condemn you. Not
necessarily for political crimes. We're looking for something else. We
still haven't decided. I've been frank with you. Don't kid yourself, I'm
not always honest (…) The freedom to work, the freedom to love, the
freedom of creation. Nice, no? It's normal that artists, for all you are
and especially for all you are not, become rebels.

"In short, the artist is a precursor or a straggler.

Whatever you are, you're a being outside the ordinary. You haven't found
your place, your tranquility, your harmony. You're not understood in
your profession, your family, the laws; you've chosen a completely
different form of vanity. Art, clearly, has as its starting point a
dislocation, an inadequacy, an uprooting. But fed…

(…) You have established, you have confirmed. That you'll always be in
the opposition, I mean. Freedom (…) It is normal that you're with all
the dispossessed (…) In the end, the books are filled up there."

Norman Minea, like a prophet, wrote a part of my immediate reality, or
simply bore witness to the many times they suffered the persecutions,
the torture and the punishment in his country. The only thing I know of
socialism. And what always lines up, even though we are separated by
continents and time: the same way to silence dissonant voices.

I simply ask for an ode to Norman Menea.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats. La Lima Prison. March 2013

29 March 2013

90% of the private cars in Cuba don't offer any protection to drivers and passengers

90% of the private cars in Cuba don't offer any protection to drivers
and passengers / Anddy Sierra Alvarez
Posted on March 31, 2013

Most of the private cars in Cuba are old, built around 1939, 1941, 1955
etc. None of them have seat belts or airbags, which increases the number
of fatalities in an accident.

Private cars don't have seat belts or airbags at the steering wheel.
Also government vehicles are like this too, and their passengers a
vulnerable in any accident.

A government driver in the Instituto Nacional de Educación Física y
Recreación (INDER), who preferred to remain anonymous says "I have been
driving a (Russian made) Lada 2107 for two years and it hasn't had seat
belts since the day they gave it to me."

A mounted policeman explained that most of the traffic is made up of old
cars. "Many of the old cars have brakes which rely on water with
detergent in place of proper brake fluid" explained the traffic cop.

Ricardo López, 35-years-old, says he has a friend who places his trust
in water and detergent rather than spend money on brake fluid. "The
reality is that drivers trying to save money don't buy brake fluid,"
added López

The modifications to the old cars: exchanged motors, transmissions,
gearboxes, and even loss of the structure of the vehicle in order to get
more people in. These things are everywhere in the streets offering
private transport services, "But nobody bothers about safety," says
Carlos Ramírez, aged 42, a passenger.

Adrian González, 32, comments that the car he is driving is a '52
Chevrolet, "the car has had its chassis modified to carry more people,"
says González

An accident in Independence Avenue (Boyeros) is usually catastrophic.

Independence Avenue is one of the roads where you get many old adapted
cars, which are made into racing cars and which are driven at excessive

Private cars are mostly ancient machines with a very rigid chassis which
in turn adds to the danger because they it do not absorb the force of
the impact, while modern cars are designed to absorb the force of
impact, as well as having the benefit of seat belts and air bags on the
steering wheel.

But not everyone has the opportunity to buy a one- to three-year-old
car. The economy doesn't permit it, the old crates are more affordable
in terms of paying back the loan.

Translated by GH

25 March 2013

Cuba Environmental Protection A Mixed Picture

Cuba Environmental Protection A Mixed Picture
Sunday, March 31, 2013 at 5:47 by Tom Palmer

I'd been wondering about environmental management in Cuba for several

Recently I had an opportunity to learn more about it first-hand during a
10-day trip organized by Audubon.

Like things here in Florida, it's a mixed picture.

Cuba has set aside quite a bit of land for conservation to protect its
unique wildlife species, though trapping of wild birds for the pet trade
continues with little regulation.

Pollution and waste management regulations appear to have some ways to go.

Why Cuba?

It's the largest island in the West Indies and many species that breed
in the United States migrate to or through Cuba, making its conservation
management important to the survival of some North American species.

I learned that about 20 percent of Cuba's land has some kind of
conservation protection in a network of preserves that include mountain
and lowland habitats as well as marine ecosystems.

We were interested in birds primarily. There are more than 20 species of
birds found only on Cuba. They range from the bee hummingbird to
Gundlach's Hawk. Many are hard to find outside of some very local

There are hundreds of other endemic species ranging from snakes and
turtles to butterflies and bats,

One positive thing is that the Cuban government understands the value of
promoting ecotourism.

A Cuban biologist accompanied us on our tour and our tour group used
local guides to find species in certain parts of the island.

That provides local people with incentives to study and to preserve
their unique wildlife.

Cuba's national bird is a species called the Cuban trogon, which is a
striking bird species related to species found in the Southwest United
States and the quetzals in Central America.

It was fairly widespread in rural forests.

By the way, our group saw or heard 162 species, including all of the
Cuban endemics except the Zapata rail, which may be extinct.

One troubling aspect of bird protection in Cuba is the long-standing
cultural habit of capturing wild birds and putting them in cages at
homes or in restaurants.

We were in one restaurant that had a mockingbird, a Cuban bullfinch and
a Cuban parakeet in cages.

Students at one school we visited in Havana are collecting data on this
issue, By the way, this is a problem in Miami, too. Wintering painted
buntings are a popular target there, according to Tropical Audubon
Society, the local chapter.

We were told in one of the lectures that was arranged as part of out
tour by tour guides employed by the Cuban government, that the U.S.
trade embargo has helped environmental protection by limiting outside
development pressure on natural areas in Cuba.

However, that's not the whole picture.

When were on the Zapata Peninsula, the only known habitat for some
species, I learned that the only reason we were able to take a bus trip
into parts of it was because of a road built in anticipation of a peat
mining venture that never occurred. That resulted in the protection of
this extensive expanse of sawgrass that looks somewhat likes parts of
Everglades National Park.

There is extensive modern tourist-related development on Cayo Costa, a
barrier island off Cuba's northern coast. We spent the last three days
of the trip at one of several beachfront resorts there that were full of
Canadian and other non-U.S. tourists.

I did learn that before the resort development began, the Cuban
government set up a coastal research center to gather data on the area's
natural resources to guide development projects to mitigate the impact
as much as possible. That's probably the opposite of what would have
occurred here.

Scientists at the center said they continue to do extensive wildlife
surveys and regularly update the area's management plans.

The area reminded me of the Florida Keys in two ways.

There was beautiful clear water and large stands of native habitat,
though I did learn that some of it was second growth forests originally
cleared for charcoal production, a main source of fuel for cooking in
rural areas of Third World countries.

However, despite the work to protect or restore conservation lands
outlined in the planned lectures, I found some problems when I was out
on the land.

I saw extensive dumping of construction debris and other materials on
some side roads near the resorts. I also learned that recycling
programs, which could have diverted this waste, are pretty minimal. I
saw a lot of recyclable trash ranging from cans to scrap iron along the
roadsides, though some it was no worse than what I find in some rural
areas of Polk County.

I did see a couple of guys at one beachfront area collecting aluminum
cans out of trash barrels to turn in for money, but less than they wood
in a private market economy.

Sewer treatment and water pollution regulations appeared to be laxer in

We visited a sewer impoundment to look for birds. While we were there, a
septic tank truck drove up the crew opened the valves and dumped
everything raw into the pond, which had no aerator as is typically
required here.

The industrial plants belch black smoke, though there don't appear to
be too many of them.

The numerous older American and Russian-made cars that are a common
sight certainly lack modern pollution control systems, but the good news
is that there aren't that many cars on the road in Cuba.

Even on some of the main highways there were stretches were I saw as
many horse-drawn carts and bicycles as cars and trucks. Mass transit and
ride-sharing seem to be commonplace out of necessity.

The water in many of the rivers I saw was algae green. I didn't see
much in the way of stormwater retention anywhere, though rooftop
cisterns to collect water for household use and larger structures in
farming areas were common.

Cuba's a beautiful island with many still intact ecosystems, but
protecting them will require more work.

The Legacy of Intransigence

The Legacy of Intransigence / Miriam Celaya
Posted on March 30, 2013

Let's say that for a long time the damn phrase hasn't been heard in the
mainstream media (although I must admit I'm not exactly a follower of
that media). In any event, it's been missing from the speeches, which
slyly avoided it, like those who choose to ignore as far as possible the
hard expressions of the Stalinist period before 1989. However, a few
days ago, during a news broadcast, a young and elegant announcer
mentioned it and it fell on my ears with the force of a blow: "The
activity demonstrated the 'revolutionary intransigence' that
characterizes our people."

Revolutionary intransigence, the girl said, and her face, far from being
grim and fierce, glowed with the happy enthusiasm of someone alluding to
an invaluable treasure.

The negative charge of this buzzword is overwhelming, along with some of
its synonyms — intolerance, fanaticism, obstinacy, stubbornness,
persistence — but I understand that no word is bad in and of itself. In
fact, almost all of us refuse to compromise on some essential issues or
principles, without doing harm to others and without clinging to a
deliberate, insurmountable rigidity of spirit. However, context marks
the differences. Personally, it makes me sick to recall the whole
nightmare brought on by the practice of revolutionary intransigence as a
vehicle of terror and social control in times that, perhaps naively, we
prefer to assume are in the past.

Let us briefly review some forms of expression of this official strategy
called intransigence, which marked the lives of everyone in the Castros'
Cuba and by virtue of which every Cuban was supposed to betray their
comrades at the slightest suspicion of not sufficiently appreciating the
process and its leaders or not showing the zeal and enthusiasm (also
revolutionary) appropriate in every circumstance:

"Obstruct" even the slightest critical manifestations — and if they were
veiled or moderate, these tended to be the most "dangerous" — if they
were directed against the government, official regulations, a mere
member of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), etc. Combat "softness," the
"tendency to individualism" and certain "aberrations" such as
homosexuality, or deeply rooted and damaging scourges such as religious
beliefs of any denomination; clearly demonstrate a rejection of "petty
bourgeois deviations" such as a taste for things, fashion, music, etc.,
and for capitalist countries, particularly the United States (sins
classified as "ideological diversion" and of which wearing jeans,
listening to rock music, and having long hair were considered among the
most serious); and many more. Not to mention recognizing any kind of
political opinion that different from the line carefully monitored by

Past and present damage

Due to the application of the intransigence as a strategy in the service
of power, there have been crimes on the Island such as the firing
squads, the the Military Units to Aid Production* (UMAP), schools in the
countryside**, discrimination and harassment of individuals and groups
on grounds of religious belief or sexual preferences, the repudiation
rallies*** in all their different gradations — which continue even today
— annulment of independent civil society and a free press, and many
other diabolical variations designed to enclose in the iron fist of
totalitarianism even the slightest hint of public will.

Intransigence has been the mother of censorship in literature, film and
other forms of art and culture, and also has gagged creation and
initiative in all spheres of national life. It is not by chance that
Ernesto Guevara is considered the paradigm of intransigence and what
should have been the "New Man."

We could talk about other disastrous events that left us a legacy of
intransigence throughout our history, including examples from all stages
prior to 1959, but I'm afraid that the count would be too extensive. If
I prefer to refer to the so-called "revolutionary" stage it is because
it was after that deceptively bright January when to be intransigent was
generalized and established itself as a policy and became a feature of
decorum and social recognition. Many accepted it, many others remained
silent and everyone, absolutely everyone, was afraid. And so it was able
to do so much damage.

Thus, I was perplexed when a smiling barely thirty-something speaker
pronounced the word malignant, and shuddered at the regenerative power
of the perversity of the system that is trying to perpetuate itself like
a crust on the psyche of certain individuals of new generations.

Does this girl know how much pain revolutionary intransigence has
produced in this nation? Since then and going forward, fighting
revolutionary intransigence has become a permanent item on my personal

Forgive me readers if this decision makes me look somewhat intransigent.

Translator's notes:
Military Units to Aid Production was a system of concentration camps for
undesirables such as religious believers, homosexuals and others.
** Schools in the countryside were boarding schools for teenagers
designed to produce the "New Man" away from the influences of their
families. This program has only recently been ended.
*** Repudiation rallies are government sponsored and directed mobs
(often using school children) who confront "counterrevolutionaries"
screaming slogans and even physically attacking them.

Translated from

27 March 2013

Retail Network and Shortages in 2012

Cuba: Retail Network and Shortages in 2012

Cuban Retail Network's Deficiencies Brought Shortages in 2012: Offical
Report Says
The industry of construction materials should work on solid ground to
meet the country's needs.

Cuban Domestic Trade Minister, delivered a report that blamed on the
absence of a sound strategy for the commercialization and mobilization
of inventories in 2012 for affectations in the mercantile retail
circulation of Cuba.

According to the report inventories of products in the retail network
were estimated at over 1.5 billion Cuban pesos, a larger amount than in

On the other hand, the ignorance of needs and habits of consumptions
affected in the distribution for territories, and favored in turn
instabilities in the supplying of the market, including shortages in
several products.

Other problems identified in the period were the constructive
deterioration of the market places, the nonexistence of a corporate
image, and insufficient measuring devices and weighing in the retail
network, the document reads.

In the industrial retail markets there were shortcomings in the sales of
construction materials, agriculture goods and items like soaps,
detergents and cleaning products.

According to the Minister, the provinces with the worst results in sales
were Pinar del Rio, Artemisa, Havana and Camaguey, in that order.

Still, there were some positive signs in the commercialization of
perishables like milk, the attention to elders and handicapped people,
she added. / Source: PL.

Crash that Killed Cuban Democracy Advocate Still Shrouded in Mystery,Photos posts Photos

Crash that Killed Cuban Democracy Advocate Still Shrouded in Mystery
Photos posts Photos
Posted 30 March 2013 12:00 GMT
Written byEllery Roberts Biddle

The car accident that killed democracy advocate Oswaldo Payá has been
shrouded in mystery and misinformation since it happened in eastern Cuba
last July.

Payá, who dedicated his life to promoting human rights and democratic
governance in Cuba, died along with his colleague, advocate Harold
Cepero. Angel Carromero and Jens Aron Modig, European politicians who
were visiting Cuba to support Payá's efforts, survived the crash.
Oswaldo Paya, at his home. Screenshot from video by Tracey Eaton, taken
with photographer's permission.

Oswaldo Paya, at his home. Screenshot from video by Tracey Eaton, taken
with photographer's permission.

While state press and Cuban officials [es] reported that Carromero, who
was at the wheel, lost control of the car and hit a tree, rumors of a
second car began to circulate. Though the two Europeans survived the
crash, weeks passed before either survivor gave an account of the
accident. Having endured decades of harassment and threats on her
father's life, Payá's daughter Rosa Maria publicly stated that she
suspected foul play. Cuban authorities charged Carromero with vehicular
manslaughter; he was put on trial in October, found guilty, and
sentenced to four years in prison. Carromero also delivered a statement,
before the press, confirming authorities' version of the story.

Given that the passengers killed in the accident were in the back seat
of the car, the claim that the car crashed into a tree seems unlikely.

This month, Angel Carromero, who served jail time in Cuba and was then
(with assistance from the Spanish government) granted permission to
complete his sentence in Spain, gave an interview to The Washington
Post. The newspaper's website does not specify who conducted the interview.

In this new account of the accident and its aftermath, Carromero
describes being followed by a series of strange cars, the last of which
crashed into the back of the car, killing Payá and Cepero, who were
riding in the backseat. Carromero recalls being taken to a hospital and
later asked to sign the "official" account of the accident and recite
the account before members of the press.

Carromero says that military officers intimidated him, suggesting that
he would face further trouble if he did not stick to the official
version of the story.

One of them told me that what I had told them had not happened and
that I should be careful, that depending on what I said things could go
very well or very badly for me.

He also describes meager prison conditions and claims that while he was
in the hospital, personnel unnecessarily sedated him. He believes this
may have caused his memory of the incident to lapse.

Phil Peters, US-Cuba policy expert and author of The Cuban Triangle, is
doubtful that those following the case will find Carromero's account

…[Carromero's] conduct to date has frustrated those that most want
to pin Paya's death on the Cuban government, and the presentation of the
case – slow, late, and piecemeal, with Modig consistently useless – has
limited its impact. My strong guess is that skeptics of both accounts
are not going to get satisfaction.

Carromero claims that when they saw a vehicle following them, Paya and
Cepero said it was "from 'la comunista.'" Peters notes that this
doesn't sound right — Cubans do not colloquially refer to authorities
this way. "La comunista" would be a pretty general way to refer to just
about anyone in Cuba, a Communist country.

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo says he has no
reason to believe Carromero. Spanish daily El Pais notes that the
Spanish government has handled the case delicately, likely in the
interest of preserving Cuba-Spain relations and protecting other Spanish
citizens who are awaiting trial in Cuba.

Havana Times reports that García-Margallo has said that Carromero should
present this information before the court. At his trial, Carromero gave
what he now claims was a false description of the accident.

Havana Times blogger Harold Dilla also expressed skepticism about
Carromero's account. He noted that people on all sides of the incident
seem to have given accounts and spread information that is not entirely
truthful– the lack of impartial, thorough reporting on the incident has
made the situation all the worse. Dilla wrote,

The unfortunate death of Oswaldo Paya is another example of the
morbidities that come with the lack of information openness in Cuba and
the lack of independent response channels.

Although the Cuban government acted to provide rapid and
technically supported information on the facts of the incident, I don't
think it was sufficient for anyone, if we consider that Paya was always
considered an enemy and harassed accordingly.

Dilla also supported the Paya family's request for an independent
investigation of the case and argued that "the Cuban government should,
in the name of decency, be obligated to allow that."

Many have called for an independent investigation of the accident; the
Payá family has sought assistance on the matter from the United Nations.
But even this may be a challenge. Agustín López casts doubt [es] on the
efficacy of such an effort

¿Qué tribunal internacional tendrá la suficiente potestad para
realizar una investigación imparcial y por qué métodos obtendrán pruebas
periciales que no sean fraudulentas? ¿Se dignara algún cubano que
conozca la verdad a arriesgar la vida en una transparente declaración?

What international court will have sufficient power to conduct an
impartial investigation and what methods will be used to obtain credible
evidence that will not be fraudulent? Will any Cuban who knows the truth
to deign to risk his or her life by making a transparent statement?

In the wake of the accident, a diverse range of Cuban voices — even
those who didn't agree with Payá — expressed appreciation for his
efforts to push for reform on the island. Payá was internationally
recognized as one of Cuba's most pragmatic, forward-thinking advocates
for freedom of expression, freedom of association, and other fundamental
rights on the island. For Payá's family and those who supported his
work, it is unfortunate that his death has been marked on all sides by
layers of misinformation and mistrust.

Angel Santiesteban Responds to the Havana Times

Angel Santiesteban Responds to the Havana Times / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on March 30, 2013

In my response to the statement "March 8: Everyone against violence" — a
campaign to collect signatures against gender violence that exploited
the supposed crime imputed to me — launched from Havana by Sandra
Álvarez, Marilyn Bobes, Luisa Campuzano, Zaida Capote Cruz, Danae
Diéguez, Laidi Fernández de Juan, Lirians Gordillo Piña and Helen
Hernández Hormilla, I didn't only say I was innocent.

I said much more through the means of expression that has given me the
chance to be as emphatic and explicit and warranted by the events in
which I'm implicated. But knowing that my words may not be enough, I
sought help as well, from the forceful video that demonstrates my
innocence with absolute clarity.

I did more: I interviewed the lead official investigator in the case, in
the presence of witnesses. He didn't remember me, I had to remind him of
some facts, and later would remember, he was surprised that that
archived file was copied, and that it had been copied behind his back.

I related the events and his reaction was complete surprise. I talked
about the version of the complaint about a rape and told me that the
first night she had already presented a medical certificate. He sent her
with a police officer to the doctor, but the new certificate did not
reflect the injuries that appeared in the first certificate that she
had, and with regard to the rape, she barely insinuated it, the
instructor told her to call Legal Medicine and she refused. It was then
that the complainant decided to change her account.

While this first investigator was off the case to take a course through
which he would become a lieutenant, another official had taken up the
case against me and returned to the charge of supposed sexual violence
and failed to say that the first Investigator had the Legal Medicine
report and that she had retracted the accusation and changed her version.

When this official Investigator returned to his duties and read on my
computer the statement that the complainant had made before the new
Investigator who had taken up the case, he was furious and asked me to
present it at trial as a witness for the defense.

The complainant has lied left and right about everything that didn't
suit her, and not only against me, because her statements are
contradicted by what she declared to the first Investigator.

It was my lawyer who decided not to this officer as a witness for the
defense, because he believed it unnecessary with witnesses and evidence
presented, and analyzing the weak evidence of the prosecution, it was
clear we had a considerable advantage.

As could be seen in the trial and then in the judgment and the appeal of
my conviction, my verdict never relied on evidence or on a serious and
legal analysis. The number of irregularities and violations and the
police and legal budgets make more than obvious the Government's revenge.

Still those who live on the island could understand, since they don't
have access to the media to inform themselves. Some do, but those never
say anything against the process, always fearing the consequences, but
those who live abroad, they have a way to inform themselves and seeing
the brand new "witness" for the Prosecution telling the truth of all the
facts: how he was bribed, pressured to testify against me, they have
resounding evidence of what lies behind this process.

Do not ask about my innocence, see it with your own eyes. I communicate
one thing: the witness, after being filmed and when the video was made
public, was visited by the complainant and accompanied by here to the
Police Station to accuse me of "threat" and lied again saying the video
had been recorded under that threat, so they opened another line of
"attack" because I had allegedly threatened a prosecution witness.

But thanks to the response of police experts, it was determined that the
video is genuine, not edited or manipulated and that the witness is not
threatened. They recommended then to the Investigator that he clarify
his statements, making it clear that I was right and that the witness
was manipulated in his statements against me.

I'm not saying anything you can't see on the Internet. We have put many
things there to prove my innocence. However, no one has access to the
accusations of the Prosecution it would be very easy then to discover
any irregularities in the process, the contradictions in the statements
of the complainant and the alleged witness.

As for me, the evidence defends me. So I repeat: I urge the Government,
that is the real Prosecutor in this process, to present any evidence
against me other than my slanted handwriting.

Ángel Santiesteban Prats
Prison La Lima.
Guanabacoa. Havana

15 March 2013

Prostitution in Cuba: Denied at Home, Enabled from Abroad

Prostitution in Cuba: Denied at Home, Enabled from Abroad
March 30, 2013
Graham Sowa

HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba the denial of prostitution is a lie of omission:
the government doesn't really talk about it. At the same time American
politicians promote a travel ban that seriously damages United States
efforts to identify and prosecute child sex tourism.

Few people in Cuba want to talk about prostitution. I've been here for
three years and I have yet to see any type of campaign against
prostitution or sex tourism. Denial that prostitution is rampant in the
tourist sector is an outright lie. Anyone who disagrees is invited to
walk down Obispo Street with me (this is a serious offer). You will
think the only services offered to tourists in Havana Vieja are taxis
and blowjobs.

Police are often witness to the solicitation. I've never seen them
intervene. I'm left to wonder if they are paid in-kind or in cash for
their see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil approach to their job.

I know right now those readers who defend Cuba out of reactionary habit
are preparing their anecdotal story about how sex crimes with minors are
prosecuted in Cuba. And those stories are probably true. But they don't
originate from the official news here.

Not the crime, not the societal problem, not the obvious police
corruption and not even the successful prosecution (of what I am left to
imagine are a very small percentage of cases) are addressed at any level
higher than street gossip among neighbors.

Child sex tourism (or child rape tourism as it should be known as) not
only exists, but is literally killing Cuban children. I refer here to a
good piece of journalism from the Miami Herald about a 12 year old girl
who was statutorily raped to death by European and Cuban tourists.

The Cuban authorities acted appropriately and tried and jailed the
rapists. Of course we read nothing in the local newspapers about the
crime or punishment.

In a problem this grave both Cuba and the United States share blame. And
while I would like to see both countries take a much more hard-line
approach to child rape tourism that involves civil society; as a United
States citizen I'm going to appeal to my homeland.

In the United States the story ran one day in the Miami-Herald and I
could not find any syndication in other newspapers, not even the
European ones. So I can't say my society is very interested in making
this problem known either.

The same day the Toronto Star ran an article about child rape tourism in
Cuba originating from Canada after a lengthy Canadian Government
investigation of the sick enterprise.

But the Cuban problem in Cuba is only one half of the picture. As far
as the United States is concerned the extreme right Miami-Cuban
community continues to support a travel ban that has made it all but
impossible to track and prosecute child rapists for their pedophilic
visits to Cuba.

The octagenarian anti-Fidelistas will sometimes harp on prostitution as
a reason why the Revolution has failed. (Even though I have no idea how
they would ban it if they somehow took power again. I can only imagine
it would get worse with floods of Cuban-Americans returning to the island.)

But the Cuban-Americans never take the discussion about sex tourism
further than superficial criticism because that would mean either
stiffening the travel ban to unconstitutional proportions or ending it
outright. They don't have the courage or political capital to do the
former and completely lack the intelligent foresight to do the latter.

An apt example is the Junior United States Senator from Florida (who
knows just as much about Cuba as anyone else who has never been there)
Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio recently spoon fed some tired rhetoric to a
lobby group about how American travelers to Cuba treat the country as a

Obviously aside from knowing nothing about Cuba outside of Miami hearsay
and gossip, Senator Rubio also knows nothing about American tourists. So
let me tell Senator Rubio what most of us Americans know about
ourselves: we, as Americans, pretty much treat everywhere we travel to
like a zoo. (I encourage any doubters to watch the movie National
Lampoon's European Vacation.)

We even treat local tourism, within the United States, like a zoo. Look
at Senator Rubio's beloved Miami; whose tourist fueled party culture,
fleeting decadence, silicon beauties, and millions of people stuck in a
sad cultural limbo are as worthy as comparison to an animal prison as
any Communist Caribbean island.

Few people in Cuba want to talk about prostitution. I've been here for
three years and I have yet to see any type of campaign against
prostitution or sex tourism. Denial that prostitution is rampant in the
tourist sector is an outright lie. Anyone who disagrees is invited to
walk down Obispo Street with me (this is a serious offer).

Instead of making predictable observations about American travel
attitudes I think Senator Rubio would have been better off having a
discussion on how the United States could do something to prevent child
rape tourism to Cuba. Because as it stands we are probably facilitating
more than we are prosecuting.

Illegal travel to Cuba under the current United States travel ban
usually involves passing through Mexico first, followed by the final leg
to Cuba. Upon arrival in Cuba the Cuban Passport Control does not stamp
United States passports. Instead they stamp a piece of paper inside of
the passport.

Without a passport stamp the traveler is left with plausible deniability
that they never traveled to Cuba. And with Cuban-American relations kept
dismal by petty disputes perpetuated by feuding octogenarian neighbors
there is no reason to expect Cuban cooperation in a United States
investigation into crimes committed by a U.S. Citizen in Cuba.

So the situation, made possible by both Cuban and United States
policies, is that a pedophile can travel to Cuba from the United States
knowing that their home country will not be able to prosecute the crime.

In a problem this grave both Cuba and the United States share blame. And
while I would like to see both countries take a much more hard-line
approach to child rape tourism that involves civil society; as a United
States citizen I'm going to appeal to my homeland.

As a country we need to decide if we are going to continue letting our
differences with the Cuban government set the limits to the actions we
will take to do what is right. If we know that people can use the travel
ban to fly under the radar and rape children with little to no fear of
getting caught shouldn't we talk about ways to prevent that, regardless
of what the Cubans are doing?

I think that legalizing all travel to Cuba, with the understanding that
Cubans would stamp all United States passports and cooperate with United
States law surrounding sex tourism, would help make child rape tourism
to Cuba feasibly prosecutable as a federal crime under the PROTECT Act
of April 2003. I hope other people will offer their thoughts, opinions
or original ideas.

The Yoani Sánchez roadshow at the U.N.

Posted on Sunday, 03.31.13

Blogger's U.N. visit

The Yoani Sánchez roadshow at the U.N.
By Maria Werlau

She came in through the visitors' entrance after passing the security
check. When she pushed through the revolving door into the grand hall,
standing there alone, I greeted her with pretended formality: "Welcome
to the United Nations." The hall was packed with Model U.N. students. A
distance back, a U.N. official "welcome committee" stood by: Tuyet
Nguyen, correspondent for a German news agency, who had come to escort
us in on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA),
and three guests. Two media crews filmed her entry; no one seemed to

She was delayed from filming a last-minute CNN interview, so I was
determined to rush her through the next steps. Passes were secured at
the information desk — she used her Cuban passport as ID and was
photographed like any other visitor. We hurried downstairs and through
the basement parking lot to the Library building where journalists' and
UNCA offices are located during the main building renovation. As we
walked fast and through successive security points, I told her the Cuban
government had blocked our plan and we would have to improvise. We
agreed it did not matter — she was at the U.N. and she was going to
speak regardless. Just minutes before, I had read on my phone that the
tantrum had played out at the highest levels; Cuba's ambassador had
filed an official protest asking the U.N. Secretary General to call off
the "grave attack."

Cuba is very influential at the U.N. It has one of the largest and most
active representations. China, Russia, Iran, and the like are strong
supporters — plus Cuba exerts great influence over many other governments.

Cuba's diplomats are known for expertly working the U.N. bureaucracy and
rules. The room change was the least of my worries. At any moment, I
feared, we could be stopped at a security check, escorted out of the
building, or attacked by Cuba's diplomat-thugs. These things have
actually happened at the U.N. in New York and Geneva.

The briefing was planned weeks earlier for the Dag Hammarskjold Library
Auditorium, a large and elegant venue with the necessary audio
equipment. But, the day before, the UNCA liaison mentioned "certain
problems." The auditorium would not be available and we would not have
equipment for the simultaneous interpretation. I imagined great pressure
was at play. Fortunately, with a few U.N. battles under my belt, I had
asked that this be kept from Yoani's official schedule until the
invitation had been sent out. It would be harder to dismantle an event
announced to UNCA members, 200 correspondents from all over the world.

Cuba had complained that UNCA was being "manipulated by spurious
interests," but the truth is much less sinister. I represent a tiny
human rights group with the most meager of resources; most of our work
is voluntary. Familiar with UNCA, I knew it hosts press briefings with
newsworthy sources and freely decides who to invite. So, when I asked
them if they would like to host Yoani Sánchez, they immediately answered
yes — I assumed because she is a world-famous blogger and journalist.
After details were agreed on, I contacted the person handling Yoani's
schedule (a mutual friend volunteering his efforts). Once a time was
agreed, I sent UNCA her biography and suggested a media advisory. Then,
I hired an interpreter. It had all been simple and transparent.

The briefing would now be at "UNCA square" within the journalists'
temporary area during the remodeling. To my dismay, when we arrived we
found it was just an opening within a hallway surrounded by offices.
Next to a large copying machine was a tiny table with three small chairs
crammed behind it. To the side, another small table had refreshments. In
the middle, there were no more than 10 chairs. Most people had to stand
in the hallway and adjoining offices. We looked at each other puzzled,
so I pointed Yoani and the interpreter to the chairs, leaving the third
one for the UNCA host. Though the designated moderator, I stepped aside
— there was no room and no need for another person. Having seen her over
the previous days, I knew all we needed was to let Yoani speak.

A few film crews and correspondents from news agencies and several
countries were there. Italian journalist Stefano Vaccara explained to me
that no biographical commentary was needed, as everyone knew who she
was, and proceeded with a heartfelt introduction. She delivered her
remarks with no notes, as usual, her voice strong despite no microphone.

Orlando Luis Pardo, the Cuban blogger/photographer traveling with Yoani;
Mary Jo Porter, the Seattle engineer who founded a volunteer translating
service to support Cuban bloggers; and I, sat on the floor — there was
no space elsewhere.

Yoani began by saying she was proud that her first time at the U.N. was
"with my journalist colleagues." Though clarifying that she came as a
citizen and joking about being used to working in small spaces, she
pulled out all the stops. She called on the United Nations to support
human rights in Cuba and declared it was time the organization "came out
of its lethargy and recognized that the Cuban government is a
dictatorship." She asserted: "Cuba is not a government or a political
party [but] the fiefdom of one man." Further, she called for U.N.
support of an international investigation of the suspicious death of
Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá. During the Q&A, the correspondent for the
Cuban news agency, Prensa Latina, asked two questions. Unsurprisingly,
they were from the "40 questions for Yoani" that Cuban regime supporters
have trailed her with wherever she goes. He sounded pretty silly and he
must have known it, as his hands were shaking. She dispatched them
quickly, ably, and with aplomb. It's remarkable that a 37-year-old
petite and unassuming blogger took to the United Nations headquarters in
defense of fundamental rights bearing no more than her determination and
the strength of her word. The poised and eloquent "little person," as
she calls herself, made a mighty military dictatorship of over five
decades run scared to stop her from speaking. Forced into a cubicle, she
could not be silenced. Only five hours after the briefing, a Google
search produced four pages of links to news stories from around the
world in Spanish alone — all highlighting the Cuban government's bully
tactics. The regime and its minions had actually generated the lead to a
great story, made themselves look like fools, and allowed Yoani to shine

Recapping the event with Carmen Rodríguez, UNCA member from Radio Martí,
she recalled José Martí's words: "A just cause coming from the bottom of
a cave is more powerful than any army."

From start to finish, her U.N. foray could not have been more perfect
or poetic.

Maria Werlau is executive director of Cuba Archive
(, a New Jersey based nonprofit organization.

Read more here:

With wit as her weapon, Yoani Sánchez cuts Castro regime to ribbons

Posted on Saturday, 03.30.13

With wit as her weapon, Yoani Sánchez cuts Castro regime to ribbons
By Juan O. Tamayo

When a hostile questioner pushed Yoani Sánchez in New York earlier this
month to explain how she dared criticize a Castro government that
provides free health, education and welfare services, Sánchez compared
Cubans to birds in a cage.

"Yes, the food and water are free," the Cuban blogger and journalist
replied calmly. "But those things are not worth more than our freedom."

It's that kind of lacerating yet cool language, and the simple yet
powerful ideas it delivers, that have made Sánchez the spearhead of a
burgeoning digital dissident "blogostroika" in Cuba and won her
international fame and prizes.

The 37-year old , who jokingly describes herself as merely an
"impertinent little girl," has in fact become a powerful player in the
binary guerrilla struggle against Cuba's communist rule.

Her Generación Y blog gets well over 15 million hits a month and is
translated into 20 languages. Her Twitter account has nearly 500,000
followers, and Fidel Castro as well as Raúl Castro's daughter, Mariela,
took the time to criticize her.

Sánchez will be in Miami this week for a string of public appearances
and a family reunion during a stop in her whirlwind tour of a dozen
countries in South and North America and Europe that started Feb. 17 and
is expected to last about three months.

It's the first time Cuban authorities have allowed her to leave the
island since 2004, when she returned from a two-year stay in Switzerland
and began launching a string of digital publications.

Sánchez's digital sword regularly skewers Fidel and Raúl as well as
their policies and acolytes. And her tweets — at times fierce, funny or
mocking — are like 140-character thumbs-in-the-eye to the government.

Her power lies in "language that cuts through the hypocrisy and myths
that have clouded the truth about Cuba for so many years," said Ted
Henken, a Baruch College professor who studies social media in Cuba and
has written several articles about her.

She describes herself as a political "free electron" that gravitates
toward conservatives or liberals depending on the issue and does not
insult the other side.

Her husband, journalist Reinaldo Escobar, 65, says that's part of the
secret of her success.

"Yoani writes from a point of moderation, a middle point that many
people can agree with," said Escobar, who was fired from the newspaper
Juventud Rebelde in 1988 for criticizing the government and now works as
an elevator repairman.

She opposes the U.S. embargo, Escobar said, because the Castro brothers
use it as an excuse for all their failures. And since she favors
unlimited travel abroad for Cubans, he said, she also favors
unrestricted U.S. travel to the island.

Havana calls her a "mercenary" paid by Washington, and Castro supporters
threw fake dollars at her in Brazil last month. She denies accepting
improper money and Escobar says they live off their work for foreign
newspapers. Sánchez is the Cuba correspondent for Spain's El País newspaper.

Ironically, a number of moderate exiles and U.S. journalists say they
wonder whether she's too good to be true — perhaps allowed a long leash
by the Castros and spared the police repression that other dissidents
suffer in return for her criticisms of U.S. policies.

Sánchez argues that her fame is her shield from repression. And while
she steadfastly attacks the government, she has not joined any dissident
organization and calls herself an "independent" or "alternative" journalist.

And while Cuban officials argue that Sánchez is virtually unknown on the
island, her supporters point out that the government blocked access to
her blog until recently, and that the state's news media monopoly treats
her as a Soviet-era non-person.

"A baseball player here can be well known, but the question is how
important are his home runs to the future of Cuba," Escobar said in a
phone interview from Havana.

Sánchez can look a bit like a hippie at times, favoring loose cotton
blouses, long skirts and dark hair down to her hips. She speaks softly
and mostly slowly. But even relatives paint her as fiercely headstrong
since the age of 5, said Henken.

Mary Jo Porter, the Seattle engineer who founded the volunteer network
that translates Generación Y and other Cuba blogs, said part of
Sánchez's appeal is the "juxtaposition of her fragility, her small and
slight physical form, with the iron strength so apparent in her voice,
her life and her work."

But, Porter said, "put food in front of her and she eats like a
lumberjack," and in private she's even more cheerful and funny.

"There's no 'behind-the-scenes-Yoani'… what you see is the real her,"
the translator said.

Born in 1975, Yoani Maria Sánchez Cordero is part of what she dubbed
Generation Y — Cubans whose names are often spelled with odd Ys because
of Moscow's influence over the island at the time. But she came of age
as the Soviet Union collapsed, cut off its huge subsidies to Cuba and
plunged it into its worst economic crisis of the 20th century.

The daughter of a modest family — her father, William, is a retired
train engineer who now fixes flat car and bicycle tires, and her mother,
Maria Eumelia, works as a taxi dispatcher — she studied IberoAmerican
literature at the University of Havana.

Her graduation thesis was titled "Words under Pressure: A study on the
literature of dictatorship in Latin America" and was partly based on a
novel by Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa about the assassination of Dominican
Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961.

Escobar said that they met in 1993 when she borrowed his copy of another
Vargas Llosa novel, and their son Teo is 17 years old.

The couple later taught Spanish, mostly to German visitors, and guided
them around Havana, while at the same time learning German.

Sánchez moved to Switzerland to work in a bookstore in 2002 in what was
planned as the first step of the family's departure, Escobar said. Teo
followed a year later, but a string of factors, including her father's
illness, led them to return in 2004.

Having lost their Cuba residency by staying abroad for more than 11
months, they bought round-trip tickets to Havana for a "family visit"
and tore up their passports after landing to avoid being returned to
Europe. They lived in legal limbo until the government agreed to
recognize their residency again.

Sánchez, who had put together her first computer in 1994 from used bits
and pieces — Escobar said she also fixes the fridge in their Havana
apartment — and experienced the Internet while in Zurich, returned with
a new career: digital journalist.

In 2004 she began launching a string of Internet publications such as
Consenso, Contodos and Convivencia, and later became the webmaster for
Desde Cuba, a Web portal that today hosts 45 blogs, almost all critical
of the Castro governments.

Three years later she launched Generación Y — the first anti-government
blog from inside the island and not anonymous — declaring that she had
tried yoga but still needed to somehow exorcize the demonic frustrations
of life in Cuba.

With the government blocking access to her blog, Sánchez passed herself
off as a German to use Internet cafes in tourist-only hotels and email
her columns to supporters abroad who translated and posted them.

She once donned a blonde wig to slip into an academic seminar on
blogging limited to government supporters.

But prestigious awards poured in for her posts. She won Colombia
University's Maria Moors Cabot prize and Spain's Ortega y Gassett award.
The Prince Claus award from the Netherlands brought her $40,000. Time
magazine put her on its list of 100 most influential people in 2008. And
President Barack Obama answered her written questions in 2009.

The government unblocked access to Generación Y and about 40 other blogs
in 2011, implicitly admitting that it could not really control what
Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes called the "wild pony" of the

Millions of Web pages now circulate in the island on CDs, DVDs, flash
drives and Bluetooth-capable cellphones. In a scene she compared to a
Wild West gunfight, Sánchez wrote that people were meeting in a park,
pointing their phones at each other and exchanging data without nearby
police knowing what was happening.

In more recent years she has founded a bloggers' academy, tweeted alerts
on police arrests or harassment of other dissidents and grown more

Raúl Castro's meek reforms are not enough to rescue the economy from its
quagmire, Sánchez has declared, and once he leaves power — he has
promised to retire in 2018 — it will be difficult for his successors to
maintain control.

Cuba's ruling system is like the old Havana buildings that are
dilapidated yet survive even hurricanes, she told McClatchy
correspondent Tim Johnson during an interview in Mexico last month.

"But one day, they want to fix the door," Sánchez said. "They take out
screws, and the house collapses."

Read more here:

Yoani Sánchez faces as many questions as explanations from exiles

Posted on Saturday, 03.30.13
In My Opinion

Myriam Marquez: Yoani Sánchez faces as many questions as explanations
from exiles
By Myriam Marquez

Forty questions in 80 days.

From Brazil to New York, internationally renown Cuban blogger Yoani
Sánchez has encountered Castro sympathizers agitating, calling her a
"mercenary of the CIA," a gusana, a worm (so old school for the
commies), an instrument of the U.S. government. They have thrown at her
fake dollar bills and a list of 40 loaded questions the Cuban regime
wants answered.

Forty questions in the 80 days of her whirlwind tour to Latin America,
Europe and the United States. Forty questions that aren't questions at
all but, rather, malevolent intentions to trap a 37-year-old Cuban (for
daring to question her government) in a crumbling ideological box.

Now she's in Miami, the soul of the exile community, and faces more
questions, some heartfelt and truly curious about this wife, mother and
writer who turned to the Internet just a few years ago to report about
her homeland, an island of daily paradoxes and humiliations. And with
each posting on her Generation Y blog and each tweet on Twitter she has
become an internationally recognized figure in journalism, politics and
human rights causes that extend beyond Cuba.

From Miami, many more than 40 questions are headed her way as she meets
with me and the Herald's Editorial Board and newsroom editors and
reporters on Monday before heading to the Freedom Tower at Miami Dade
College to answer more questions, then to Florida International
University for more questions. So many questions for the unfazed Yoani,
who seems to take it all with poise, her words as biting about the
regime as they are illuminating and hopeful about Cubans' march toward

More than the questions, there are the explanations from Miami's walking
wounded — the old soldiers of Brigade 2506, the now middle-aged children
of Pedro Pan, the exiled political prisoners, the historicos. They want
Yoani to know, for her to let fellow Cubans know upon her return, that
exiles love their homeland, love their compatriots — but more than that,
that their history has been distorted by a dictatorship that gets to
write it.

The brigadistas' fight at the Bay of Pigs 50-plus years ago, like
Yoani's words running through the iCloud in nanoseconds today, was an
attempt to save the country they still love from the ruin it has become
under the Castro brothers. The 14,000 Cuban children sent to the states
by desperate parents through the Catholic Church in the early 1960s
wanted the best for them, they were exercising the universal and
fundamental right of each parent to save her children, and they needed
no CIA-inspired plot to come to that conclusion.

And so the questions and the explanations will come at Yoani rapid fire
in the hope that she will speak truth to a world of apologists for the
regime. As if this slip of a girl with the hip-length hippie hair were a
21st century prophet descending the Sierra Maestra. On Saturday, she
once again descended the mountain of lies to expose the historical scabs
to freedom's fresh air. In a Saturday post titled "Flan de Coco" on her
Generación Y blog, she writes:

"I've found a Cuba outside of Cuba, I told a friend a few days ago. He
laughed at my play on words, thinking I was trying to create literature.
But no. In Brazil a septuagenarian excitedly gave me a medal of the
Virgin of Charity of Cobre. 'I have not been back since I left in 1964,'
she confirmed as she handed me this little gem that had belonged to her
mother. During my stay in Prague, a group of compatriots living there
seemed to be more aware of what was happening in our country than many
who vegetate, inside it, in apathy. Amid the tall buildings of New York,
a family invited me to their house and their grandmother made a 'coconut
flan' in the style of our traditional cuisine, so damaged on the island
by the shortages and scarcities.

"Our diaspora, our exile, is conserving Cuba outside of Cuba. Along with
their suitcases and the pain of distance, they have preserved pieces of
our national history that were deleted from the textbooks with which
several generations have been educated or rather, raised to be mediocre.
I'm rediscovering my own country in each of these Cubans dispersed
around the world. When I confirm what they have really accomplished, the
contrast with what official propaganda tells me about them leaves me
with an enormous sadness for my country.

"For all this human wealth that we have lost, for all this talent that
has had to wash up outside our borders and for all the seeds that have
germinated in other lands. How did we allow one ideology, one party, one
man, to have felt the 'divine' power to decide who could or could not
carry the adjective 'Cuban?'

"Now I have proof that they lied to me, they lied to us. Nobody has had
to tell me, I can grasp it for myself on seeing all this Cuba that is
outside of Cuba, an immense country that they have been safeguarding for

And, still, so many questions — from the spiritual to the ordinary to
the conspiratorial. Is she religious? How did she lose a tooth, really?
Who's paying her way?

She will answer them all, I suspect, with the grace she exhibited while
being attacked by pro-Castro mobs in Brazil on her first stop. Here, she
will be tested by a dwindling rightwing fringe that wants her to fall
lock step with their pro embargo position. They will not speak for the
majority of exiles who see beyond one U.S. policy to judge a woman who
succinctly and poetically exposes her people's suffering every day from
inside the dictatorship and, now, once again with four simple words
tells the world:

They lied to us.

Read more here:

In solidarity with Cuba's voices of opposition to Castro's tyranny

Posted on Saturday, 03.30.13


In solidarity with Cuba's voices of opposition to Castro's tyranny

As we celebrate Passover and Easter, we cherish the freedom to practice
our beliefs and express our views, but are also reminded of those 90
miles away who suffer under an evil communist dictatorship. As the
beacon of democracy, we stand with pro-freedom activists in Cuba who are
struggling to achieve those same essential liberties.

On Monday, South Florida will have the opportunity to hear, once again,
the tragic story of an oppressed people under the thumb of a despotic
regime. Yoani Sánchez uses social media to shine a light on the dark
rule of the Castro brothers. Through her blog and writings, Yoani
reveals the plight of the Cuban people to the international community,
raises awareness on the extent of the regime's brutality, and gives
voice to those silenced by oppression.

During her recent visit to Washington, we, along with our congressional
colleagues, discussed with Yoani the ongoing dire situation in Cuba.
This event illustrated the bipartisan and bicameral support for the
cause of democracy in Cuba. We discussed the gross human-rights
violations on the island as Yoani conveyed the atrocities committed
against the Cuban people and the denial of their rights of free speech,
press, and assembly. We expressed to Yoani that, even if we do not agree
on every point, we stand in solidarity with the opposition voices in
Cuba and reaffirmed that they are not alone in their struggle.

This month, we remember the 2003 Black Spring crackdown in Cuba where 75
dissidents were unjustly imprisoned. Unfortunately, little has changed
since that time. The Ladies in White continue to be harassed, kicked and
beaten by Castro's state security agents just for marching in peace to
church. The Castro regime has the blood of pro-democracy advocates on
its hands, and we remain deeply concerned for the health and lives of
those brave activists who continue to speak out.

During the years of the Obama administration alone, pro-democracy
leaders Orlando Zapata Tamayo (d. Feb. 23, 2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto
García (d. May 8, 2011), Laura Pollán (d. Oct. 14, 2011), Wilman Villar
Mendoza (d. Jan. 19, 2012), Harold Cepero (d. July 22, 2012) and Oswaldo
Payá Sardiñas (d. July 22, 2012) have lost their lives at the hands of
the Castro dictatorship. These deaths underscore the grave risks assumed
by pro-democracy activists such as Antonio Rodiles, Sara Marta Fonseca,
Yoani Sánchez, Jorge Luis García Pérez ("Antunez"), José Daniel Ferrer
García, Marta Beatriz Roque, Berta Soler, Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and
many others when they simply express their views.

We also cannot forget the appalling case of Alan Gross, a U.S.
humanitarian aid worker who was arrested in December 2009 and remains in
prison for the "crime" of helping Cuba's small Jewish community access
the Internet. He is reportedly in poor health after having lost 100
pounds in prison while his daughter and mother are both battling cancer
in the U.S.

According to the Human Rights Watch 2013 World Report, "Cuba remains the
only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of
political dissent. In 2012, the regime . . . continued to enforce
political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts
of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile." Numerous NGOs
have documented the sharp rise in detentions, arrests and other acts of
repudiation in Cuba, but the numbers could actually be higher due to
many who are imprisoned on trumped-up charges that are difficult to
document. For example, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and
National Reconciliation reported that there were 6,602 documented
political arrests in 2012, which was markedly up from 4,123 in 2011 and
2,074 in 2010.

Unfortunately, many in the international community fail to acknowledge
the Castro regime's egregious human rights record and brutal suppression
of fundamental liberties. However, with the help of Yoani and other
pro-democracy advocates, the Castro brothers have failed to silence the
Cuban people who are increasingly demanding real change.

Cuba's growing opposition movement is more united than ever. Due to its
heroic efforts, democracy will prevail on the island. May it be soon.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart are Republican members of
Congress representing South Florida.

Let freedom tweet

Posted on Saturday, 03.30.13
The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Editorial: Let freedom tweet

OUR OPINION: Now in Miami, Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez has become a
symbol of hope for her Generation Y
By The Miami Herald Editorial

If symbols matter, then surely Yoani Sánchez won the hearts of Cuban
exiles everywhere when she rushed from Miami International Airport
straight to the Virgin of Charity Shrine so dear to so many on both
sides of the Straits of Florida.

There she sat on the sea wall on Thursday afternoon outside the Coconut
Grove shrine to Cuba's patron saint, while visiting with Catholic
Archbishop Thomas Wenski. "Miami's Malecon," she called the wall —
capturing exactly the yearning that Cuba's first exiles experienced in
the 1960s when they decided to pool their pennies to build the shrine
overlooking Biscayne Bay, a view that many likened to Havana Bay and its
famous sea wall.

Still, 54 years separate the 37-year-old wife and mother from those who
first stepped on freedom's soil in Miami after the 1959 revolution. Her
beliefs and experiences, for a woman born a generation after the
revolution, are in many ways unique to her so-called generation Y (those
who grew up in Cuba under the influence of the former Soviet Union) and
yet universal for those who believe that freedom comes from the people
and not from a dictatorship's decree.

Ms. Sánchez has faced many more fans throughout the world than
pro-Castro mobs during her 80-day tour through three continents. In
Miami, she's likely to face some protests from another faction — the
dwindling number of hard-right exiles who view her with suspicion. (Or
those pro-Castro operatives who are known to infiltrate such groups to

It would not be the first time that such a small, and increasingly on
the fringe, group would get disproportionately more attention from the
media than their numbers warrant. But as Ms. Sánchez stated in Brazil
and Mexico when she was staring down leftist radicals with their 40
questions supplied courtesy of Cuba's communist regime, "I dream that
one day people in my country will be able to express themselves . . .
publicly like this, without reprisals."

There will be many questions for Yoani, whose first name has become a
household word here if not in Cuba, where her blog and her tweets are
blocked by Raúl Castro's government so that they do not penetrate the
limited access that Cubans have to the Internet. Certainly she has
answered anything thrown her way with aplomb

She surely will speak out again against a regime that quashes most every
basic human right and note, as she did in a small room at the United
Nations when Cuban officials threw a tantrum after learning that the
blogger was meeting with international correspondents: "If this meeting
had been held in an elevator, it would have been freer" than what the
Cuban people face on the island.

Castro sympathizers claim the same old line they've employed on other
dissidents: that she is working for the CIA. Some exiles, having been
burned before by Cuban agents in Miami pretending to be anti-Castro
activists, wonder if this young woman is beholden to government
officials in Havana.

What's clear is that Ms. Sánchez does not shy away from telling us how
she sees it. She is in Miami visiting her older sister, who arrived two
years ago. On Monday she will meet with The Herald's Editorial Board and
receive freedom awards at Miami Dade College's Freedom Tower and Florida
International University.

"I am truly happy," Ms. Sánchez said upon her arrival to Miami. "I feel
in the air and in the people a lot of respect, a lot of freedom. I feel
like I'm in Cuba but free."

Bienvenida a Miami, Yoani. Welcome to the Magic City.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Questions about a dissident's death in Cuba won't go away


AN EDITORIAL: Questions about a dissident's death in Cuba won't go away
The Washington Post

The car crash that killed dissident Oswaldo Paya and the youth activist
Harold Cepero in eastern Cuba last July was on a rural road. As with any
wreck in which passengers die or are knocked unconscious, there was some
confusion. In the front of the rental car, on the passenger side, sat
Jens Aron Modig of Sweden, president of the youth league of Sweden's
Christian Democratic Party. He has said he was asleep at the moment of
impact. The driver, Angel Carromero, a leader of the youth wing of
Spain's ruling party, has told us the car was hit from behind by a
vehicle bearing Cuban government license plates. They both survived; Mr.
Paya and Mr. Cepero, in the back seat, did not. Mr. Carromero said that
after the crash he was imprisoned and subjected to intimidation and
threats by Cuban authorities, who attempted to cover up their role in
the deaths. Cuba convicted Mr. Carromero of vehicular homicide,
transferred him to Spain and declared the case closed.

But it must not be closed. Mr. Carromero and Mr. Modig carried cell
phones. Text messages were sent to friends and relatives abroad
immediately after the wreck. These messages cannot be manipulated or
suppressed. Although not the whole story, they must be taken seriously
as important contemporaneous evidence. The text messages are one reason
why the questions about Mr. Paya's death will not go away.

It is not known precisely what happened on the road, but the messages
offer clues. One was sent from Mr. Modig's phone to a recipient in
Sweden, according to screenshots provided to us. It says: "We've
crashed. Traveling in an ambulance now. I do not have my passport. Not
in grave danger." A subsequent message reports that Mr. Modig and Mr.
Carromero are in a hospital in the town of Bayamo "and OK."

Then Mr. Modig adds: "Angel said that someone had tried to run us off
the highway."

Who? And why? If the wreck was — as Cuba has claimed — an accident
caused by reckless driving, why would one of the survivors have said
they were run off the road? These and other suspicions about the death
of Mr. Paya need to be addressed. Mr. Paya's family, including his
daughter Rosa Maria, have demanded an international and independent probe.

On Monday, eight U.S. senators from both parties asked for such an
investigation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part
of the Organization of American States. The signers are Sens. Richard J.
Durbin, D-Ill., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., Mark
Kirk, R-Ill., John McCain, R-Ariz., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Robert
Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark R. Warner, D-Va. They say Mr. Carromero's
account has raised "deeply troubling questions that Paya's car was
deliberately targeted by Cuban government officials well known for their
harassment of Paya." Only a serious investigation will put this matter
to rest. It seems like the very minimum necessary for a man who
championed the cause of freedom in Cuba.

Finding Cuba Outside of Cuba, My Nation Safeguarded by Its Exiles

Yoani Sanchez - Award-winning Cuban blogger

Finding Cuba Outside of Cuba, My Nation Safeguarded by Its Exiles
Posted: 03/30/2013 11:57 am

I've found a Cuba outside of Cuba, I told a friend a few days ago. He
laughed at my play on words, thinking I was trying to create literature.
But no. In Brazil, a septuagenarian excitedly gave me a medal of the
Virgin of Charity of Cobre. "I have not been back since I left in 1964,"
she confirmed as she handed me this little gem that had belonged to her
mother. During my stay in Prague, a group of compatriots living there
seemed to be more aware of what was happening in our country than many
who vegetate, inside it, in apathy. Amid the tall buildings of New York
a family invited me to their house and their grandmother made a "coconut
flan" in the style of our traditional cuisine, so damaged on the island
by the shortages and scarcities.

Our diaspora, our exile, is conserving Cuba outside of Cuba. Along with
their suitcases and the pain of distance, they have preserved pieces of
our national history that were deleted from the textbooks with which
several generations have been educated or rather, raised to be mediocre.
I'm rediscovering my own country in each of these Cubans dispersed
around the world. When I confirm what they have really accomplished, the
contrast with what official propaganda tells me about them leaves me
with an enormous sadness for my country. For all this human wealth that
we have lost, for all this talent that has had to wash up outside our
borders and for all the seeds that have germinated in other lands. How
did we allow one ideology, one party, one man, to have felt the "divine"
power to decide who could or could not carry the adjective "Cuban"?

Now I have proof that they lied to me, they lied to us. Nobody has had
to tell me, I can grasp it for myself on seeing all this Cuba that is
outside of Cuba, an immense country that they have been safeguarding for us.

Chavez successor attended "communist training school" in Cuba

PICTURES: Chavez successor attended "communist training school" in Cuba

Pictures have emerged of Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro, apparently
attending a communist training school in Havana, Cuba
by The Commentator on 28 March 2013 17:58

New pictures show the self-appointed successor to Hugo Chavez, Nicolas
Maduro, at what has been described to The Commentator as a "communist
training school" in Cuba.

Maduro, who recently assumed the role of acting president of Venezuela,
is often keen to burnish his socialist credentials, however the new
pictures, if accurate, will cause great concern that Venezuela is due to
tack harder to the left if Maduro is elected on April 14th.

The images were published earlier this month by the Diario del Huila,
Neiva, Colombia and were provided by Israel Guarnizo Silva, who says he
studied with Nicolas Maduro at the 'School of Political Education'
between 1986 and 1987 in Havana, Cuba.

Maduro is often portrayed as a man with a simple background of being a
bus driver, union official and someone who rose through the ranks to
become Chavez's Vice President. The new images will certainly cause
concern that the man is far more than that - a well-trained, hard line,
old school communist from Havana in the 1980s.

The images are somewhat corroborated by a news story from 2011 which
states that Maduro went out of his way on a trip to Havana, to make sure
the importance of the "Escuela de formacion politica" (School of
Political Education).

Maduro emphasised the importance of the new School of Political
Education for the ALBA Armed Forces, calling it a "vanguard experience
not just in Latin America but for the entire world."

Observers have noted, "The School of Political Education for the ALBA
Armed Forces appears to be a communist counterweight to the Western
Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC)."

During the Cold War, WHISC was known as the School of the Americas and
gained undue notoriety for being 'responsible' for training groups
linked to anti-Marxist Latin American military regimes. Such accusations
were never proven and the School of Americas, which closed 12 years ago,
was known for teaching professional courses to individuals, not
degree-granting curricula to groups.

Latin America expert Joel Hirst told The Commentator, "It has been 25
years since the fall of the Berlin wall, yet Latin American governments
are only increasing their deference to tiny, totalitarian, and
economically irrelevant communist Cuba. The Cubans, trained by KGB, have
always taken a longer view. It's now paying off."


Yoani Sanchez in Miami to Measure Cuban-American Pulse

Vanessa Garcia

Yoani Sanchez in Miami to Measure Cuban-American Pulse
Posted: 03/29/2013 4:02 pm

Super-star Cuban dissident blogger, Yoani Sanchez, is about to hit Miami
on April 1, in what might prove to be the most interesting leg of her
global tour. Skeptics and supporters abound. The two sides of the
Cuban-American hyphen will tug at the Diaspora, and what will result is
a taking of the Cuban-American pulse. A pulse that will play a role in
U.S.-Cuba foreign policy, as it has in the past.

But, first, we will have to see how Sanchez survives the Cuban-American
Wringer. A wringer that has, previously, blown up travel agencies,
closed down restaurants, and booed musicians off stage. A wringer that
proves to be a paradox in which Cuban-Americans exert the same kind of
militant behavior and censorship they despise in the Castro brothers.

Growing up in Miami, I witnessed this behavior first hand. In the late
nineties, I saw a friend's restaurant close down; a Molotov cocktail
thrown through the restaurant's window when it announced a particular
Cuban singer would perform. A singer who, for Cuban-American
hard-liners, was not vocally anti-Castro enough to be allowed to sing.

Since then, the temperatures, many say, have thawed. I too have seen
this change, this tempering of Miami's pulse. Sometimes, however, it
still peaks. As late as 2009, Cuban-Americans were in an uproar against
the Colombian rock star, Juanes, and his "concert for peace" in Cuba --
claiming a concert in Cuba showed support of the communist government in

Sanchez's visit will be a perfect time to test the proverbial waters
once more.

On Sanchez's tour outside of Miami, some have called her a "tool" for
the United States government. Castro sympathizers in Brazil and Mexico
have insulted her, calling her a "mercenary," among other pleasantries.

Miami, meanwhile, remains a hot-house in anticipation of her visit, and
often on the other end of the political spectrum. Some are even claiming
she is in cahoots with the communists. Mambi Watch, a Miami-based
Cuba-related blog, whose purpose it is to confront hard-liners, has
called out El Nuevo Herald for headlines that sensationalize against
Sanchez. Headlines that, for instance, claim Sanchez is not only
anti-embargo (gasp!), but aligned with the Cuban Government, for
instance, in calling for the release of the Cuban Five -- five Cuban
spies held by the United States since the late nineties.

Sanchez's comments on the Cuban Five, in fact, had layers of irony,
which she pointed to in blogs, interviews, and tweets afterwards, and
did not call for their literal release. This was enough, however, to get
hard-line Cuban-American airwaves buzzing against her.

Sanchez has, characteristically, been very careful, calm and collected
since then, and overall. She has even leaned in to the Cuban-American
community by giving an interview with Maria Elvira Salazar, a popular
Cuban, Spanish-language TV celebrity. In this interview, Sanchez said
she understood the differences between exiles and Cuban dissidents
within Cuba, and even among exiles and dissidents themselves, but she
linked all in opposition to the Castro regime by saying that the
important thing is that everyone is connected in the "fundamentals." "We
all want democracy [in Cuba]," she said.

I understand that hard-liners are comprised of an entire generation of
people that had to fight -- hard -- to flee from a system that was
oppressive. That those same people are the generation that gave birth to
me, in a place where I can write an article like this one. Where I can
speak my mind -- for that I am grateful.

The question is -- why carry on the oppression they fled from in Miami?
Not allowing artists and writers freedom of speech goes against the very
basic rights Cuban-Americans enjoy in the United States and criticize in

Only time will tell how Miami welcomes or shuns Sanchez. My guess is
that the reaction will be more mixed than in the past, with a younger
generation leading the way. The hope is that there will be no more
Molotov cocktails, of course. The hope instead: a discussion, where a
long-sought freedom can reign. After all, it's a strong and steady pulse
that gives life -- not one that spikes in fits and rages. No matter what
it is, all eyes should be on this reception, perhaps more so than even
Sanchez's recent trip to Washington. For it foretells U.S.-Cuba
relations by measuring the sentiments of Cuban-Americans today.

Controversial Cuban blogger answers tough questions

Controversial Cuban blogger answers tough questions
Published on : 29 March 2013 - 4:02pm | By RNW Latin America Desk

For over a decade, the Cuban government refused to allow one of the
world's best known bloggers, Yoani Sánchez, to travel abroad. When
Havana finally loosened travel restrictions for Cuban citizens, Sánchez
was one of the first to take advantage of the change, embarking on an
80-day 10-nation tour. One of the countries she visited was the
Netherlands, a stopover arranged by Amnesty International and the Dutch
film festival "Movies that Matter" .
by Alejandro Pintamalli

Yoani Sánchez also visited RNW's Latin America department at our new
premises in Hilversum. She answered questions t readers had posted on
our Spanish-language Facebook page web site. "I don't feel like a hero",
she said. "My knees tremble. I'm a coward who is trying to do
something. These are times for cowards."

Sánchez responded to dozens of questions posed by our worldwide audience.

Julio César Díaz in Chile: who finances your trips and luxury products?
I love this type of question because it helps me refute a lot of lies. I
live in a country where you can't ask those in power a question like
this. No one can ask the president where he gets the money to buy luxury
products. In my particular case, I'm able to travel because of
solidarity. I flew to Brazil thanks to the money I collected from
Brazilian bloggers. I was then invited by academic institutions and
humanitarian groups, such as Amnesty International and various
universities in the United States. Everywhere I've gone, I've been fed,
hugged and given a place to sleep. I'm going to Florida soon using a
ticket which my sister has been saving up for for the past two years.
So, that's it basically: solidarity, solidarity and more solidarity.

Maruss Khievick in El Salvador: How much does the CIA pay you to promote
your biased project, financed by the worst human rights violators in the
I haven't received a penny from the CIA. I think this accusation is
ludicrous. The day I find out that the CIA is planning to do something
evil in Cuba, I'll be the first person to condemn them.

Harold Tupaz in Colombia: Is there so much hunger in Cuba that you sell
your fatherland for a McDonald's hamburger?
I don't like McDonald's. I like pineapples and Cuban bananas. I think
this question just adds to the confusion which I am trying to clear up.
The confusion is that Cuba is about a single party, man, government or
ideology. Criticising the government is not the same as criticising
Cuba. Cuba is much more than that: it's huge, plural and diverse.

Ana Brus in Holland: I went to Cuba in 2000. Has the country changed
since then, and in what way?
I think it has. Cuba is changing, and the thing that gives me a lot of
hope is that people are changing on the inside. More and more people
dare to speak out and do things. Technology has helped a lot to bring
about this change from silence to criticism. People are expressing
themselves on Twitter, in blogs and through videos. These small changes
in recent years are also creating a space for private initiative. People
now think: 'OK, I'm going to stay here and see if I can make a living
through my own sweat'. So, yes, things are changing, not because of the
politicians, but because of civic pressure.

Luis Chaura in Florida: Would you like to be the president of Cuba?
No way. I want to devote myself to journalism, to the media. I'd like to
set up a newspaper. Besides, in the Cuba of my dreams, presidents won't
be important. Power will be transferred to the people.

Gabril Delpino in Cuba: what would you do if they barred you from
returning to Cuba?
If they did, I would get on the first raft to the island. No one is
going to prevent me from going back to the country where I was born and
where I want my grandchildren to be born. The island doesn't belong to
the government.

Lázaro Díaz in Miami: After such a long journey and having complained so
often, aren't you afraid that the Cuban government might take reprisals?
Of course, I'm afraid of reprisals, but I've seen the monster's face.
I'm prepared.

Francisco Javier in Spain: Why is your blog's server blocked at times
and why isn't it possible to speak about American policies in your blog?
It gets blocked because we're the victims of a lot of attacks by
hackers. This hasn't been confirmed, but we believe that the attacks
come from the University of Computer Sciences on the outskirts of
Havana. In November 2012, my site was attacked 15,000 times in a single
month. Regarding US policy, it was on the eve of the last elections,
people were leaving comments on my blog expressing their support for one
candidate or the other. So we said, 'this is a blog to speak about Cuba'.

Raúl Cerverio in Spain: how much money would you need to make a
newspaper in Cuba? Millions would have to be sent to Cuba, thereby
partly breaking the economic embargo.
For a virtual newspaper , the only thing you need is talent and stories
to tell. We have an abundance of both. I don't know how that would
translate in euros and cents, but it would need millions in terms of
talent. We're a team of people who want to tell our reality using the
technologies at hand. It wouldn't be a print newspaper, so it wouldn't
be very expensive. It wouldn't be sold, so we wouldn't get rich doing
this. That's the initial idea. As far as the embargo is concerned,
everyone knows that I'm extremely critical of it. I'm not critical to
help the Cuban government, but to help my country.

Martín Guevara Duarte: Freedom of expression, to read and associate,
have to go hand in hand with the freedom to establish companies and
trade. In China, people are free to make money, but the country
continues to strictly control freedom of expression and the right to get
involved in politics. In Cuba, Raúl Castro appears to be moving in the
same direction. What do you think?
Yes, exactly. It seems that the government wants to create a model with
a form of economic and political liberalisation. But for a number of
reasons I don't think it's going to work. It's taken them too long. They
started going down this path very late. Cuban society doesn't only want
prosperity. It wants freedom of expression. The other reason is an
unshakeable truth, a truth that's like a stone, a mountain: the leaders
who came to power during the revolution are dying off. I don't think
they have enough time left to introduce the Chinese model in Cuba.

Gabriel Delpino in Cuba: How did you lose your tooth? Is it true that
that happened when you were in prison? A friend of mine doubts that
version of events. She says you're a drama queen.
I think we Cubans are quite melodramatic. Our national history is a
mixture of that. Don't forget that soap operas originated in Cuba. Fidel
Castro used many dramatic touches to hypnotise the nation. Personally, I
try not to talk much about my painful journey. It has been long and full
of incidents. I prefer the path of joy.. all the wonderful events I've
experienced. I lost a tooth when three female police officers were
trying to forcibly undress me in a room. I don't try to show off the
fact that I lost that tooth. A smile is never incomplete. It's a smile.

Preserving Stability In Cuba After Normalizing Relations With US: Importance Of Trading With State Owned Enterprises

Preserving Stability In Cuba After Normalizing Relations With US:
Importance Of Trading With State Owned Enterprises – Analysis
By COHA -- (March 30, 2013)
By Dr. Timothy Ashby

Cuba under Raul Castro has entered a new period of economic, social, and
political transformation. Reforms instituted within the past few years
have brought the expansion of private sector entrepreneurial activity,
including lifting restrictions on the sales of residential real estate,
automobiles, and electronic goods. Additional reforms included, more
than a million hectares of idle land has been leased to private farmers
where, citizens have been granted permission to stay in hotels
previously reserved for tourists, and freedom being granted for most
Cubans to travel abroad. Stating that it was time for the "gradual
transfer" of "key roles to new generations," President Raul Castro
announced that he will retire by 2018, and named as his possible
successor a man who was not even born at the time of the Cuban
Revolution. [1]

The twilight of the Castro era presents challenges and opportunities for
U.S. policy makers. Normalization of relations is inevitable, regardless
of timing, yet external and internal factors may accelerate or retard
the process. The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is likely to
undermine the already dysfunctional Cuban economy if it leads to
reductions in oil imports and other forms of aid. This could bring
social chaos, especially among the island's disaffected youth. Such an
outcome would generate adverse consequences for U.S. national and
regional security. To maintain Cuba's social and economic stability
while, reforms are maturing, the United States must throw itself open to
unrestricted bilateral trade with all Cuban enterprises, both private
and state-owned.

The collapse of Cuba's tottering economy could seismically impact the
United States and neighboring countries. It certainly did during the
Mariel Boatlift of 1980, precipitated by a downturn in the Cuban economy
which led to tensions on the island. Over 125,000 Cuban refugees landed
in the Miami area, including 31,000 criminals and mental patients.
Today, the United States defines its national security interests
regarding Cuba as follows:

Avoid one or more mass migrations;
Prevent Cuba from becoming another porous border that allows
continuous large-scale migration to hemisphere;
Prevent Cuba from becoming a major source or transshipment point
for the illegal drug trade;
Avoid Cuba becoming a state with ungoverned spaces that could
provide a platform for terrorists and others wishing to harm the United
States. [2]

All of these national security threats are directly related to economic
and social conditions within Cuba.

U.S. policy specifically supports "a market-oriented economic system"
toward Cuba, yet regulations prohibit the importation of any goods of
Cuban origin, whether from the island's potentially booming private
sector – including 300,000 agricultural producers – or State Owned
Enterprises ("SOEs"). [3],[4] Such a policy is counterproductive to U.S.
interests. Regardless of over 400,000 entrepreneurs, including
agricultural cultivators, it could be many years, if ever, when Cuba's
private sector would be ready to serve as the engine of economic growth.
SOEs employ 72 percent of Cuban workers. [5] A rational commercial
rapprochement towards Cuba would; therefore, require a change in current
laws and in the system of regulations prohibiting the importation of
Cuban goods and products. Normalized bilateral trade will benefit the
Cuban people by helping to provide economic stability and fostering the
growth of a middle class – both of which are essential for the
foundation of democratic institutions. Two-way trade must include both
Cuba's private sector as well as SOEs.

Cuban SOEs are in a state of gradual transition like other parts of the
economy. In December 2012, the Cuban government authorized a wide range
of co-ops that will allow workers to collectively open new businesses or
take over existing SOEs in construction, transportation and other
industries. Considered a pilot program that is a prime candidate for an
expansion, the co-ops "will not be administratively subordinated to any
state entity."[6] Many Cuban officials, well aware of the limits to
small-scale entrepreneurism, appear to harbor hope that co-ops could
shift a large portion of the island's economy to free-market competition
from government-managed socialism. In other transitional states,
particularly in post-socialist economies, co-ops have served as
commercial bridges between state-owned and privatized business. Of the
300 largest co-ops in the world, more than half are in United States,
Italy, or France. [7]

Ironically, the outputs of such co-ops, including agricultural products
which could find strong demand in the American market, are barred by
short-sighted federal regulations, thus hampering if not defeating what
could be a major U.S. policy goal.

The United States has been actively trading with foreign SOEs for years.
The People's Republic of China – a one party and communist state – is
the United States' second largest trading partner, and Chinese SOE's
account for a large percentage of the nearly $400 billion USD in goods
exported to America each year. Venezuela is in the top fifteen of U.S.
trading partners, and the bulk of that country's exports are petroleum
products deriving from the state-owned PDVSA (which in turn owns
Houston-based CITCO oil company). Another communist country, Vietnam –
which initially was the subject of a U.S. economic embargo similar to
that imposed on Cuba – is the second-largest source of U.S. clothing
imports and a major manufacturing source for footwear, furniture, and
electrical machinery. [8] On these matters, the Cuban government has
said that it wants to "replicate the paths of Vietnam and China." [9]

Of relevance to Cuban trade relations, Vietnam has formally requested to
be added to the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program as
a "beneficiary developing country," which authorizes the U.S. President
to grant duty-free treatment for eligible products. The statute also
provides the President with specific political and economic criteria to
use, when designating eligible countries and products. "Communist"
countries are not eligible for GSP membership unless the President
determines that certain conditions have been met, including whether the
applicant is "dominated or controlled by international communism."
Furthermore, countries that fail to recognize "internationally accepted
workers' rights" are excluded. [10]

U.S. statutes do not provide a general definition of a "Communist"
country, and the Obama administration is expected to declare that
Vietnam is no longer "Communist" in terms of its economic system. The
argument will be that even if Vietnam is a "Communist" country (hard to
deny, considering it has one party government that is officially titled
the Communist Party of Vietnam), it is "not dominated or controlled by
international communism" because no such entity exists following the
collapse of the Soviet Union. Similar arguments may be applied to Cuba
in considering normalized relations with the United States.

At the request of the U.S. Congress, the General Accountability Office
(GAO) conducted detailed reviews of the frameworks for seven key
statutes that govern Cuban sanctions. [11] The resulting reports
concluded that (i) the President still maintains "broad discretion" to
make additional modifications to Cuban sanctions; and (ii) prior
measures, implemented by the executive branch have had the effect of
easing specific restrictions of the Cuba sanctions and have been
consistent with statutory mandates as well as within the discretionary
authority of the President. [12] Some legal scholars asset that absence
of such explicit statutory provisions in other areas suggests that
Congress did not intend to prohibit the executive branch from issuing
general or specific licenses to authorize certain transactions with Cuba
when "such licenses are deemed to be appropriate and consistent with
U.S. policies." [13]

Although, a complex variety of federal statutes have re-stated the
regulatory prohibition on importation of Cuban goods under 31 C.F.R. §
515.204, enabling legislation to codify the restriction, has not been
passed. For example, 22 U.S.C. § 6040(a) "notes" that 31 C.F.R. §
515.204 prohibits the importation of goods from Cuba, but does not
codify or expressly prohibit such activity, and 22 U.S.C. § 7028
acknowledges that Congress did not attempt to alter any prohibitions on
the importation of goods from Cuba under 31 C.F.R. § 515.204. [14]

The complete dismantling of the Cuban Economic Embargo will undoubtedly
require Congressional legislation; however, the President has broad
powers to modify policy towards Cuba, particularly in an emergency
situation that could affect US national security. [15] For example,
imports of Cuban origin goods are prohibited under the Cuban Asset
Control Regulations ("CACRS") except as "specifically authorized by the
Secretary of the Treasury by means of regulations, rulings,
instructions, licenses or otherwise." [16]

Such authority could allow the President to argue for the modification
of 31 C.F.R. § 204's complete prohibition on the importation of Cuban
goods by stating that Cuban exports to the United States help the Cuban
people by creating employment and thereby maintaining island's social
stability. Considering the domestic political constituency and the
political obduracy of U.S. Congress, a more realistic presidential
rationale for allowing Cuban imports from all types of enterprises could
be the protection of U.S. borders during an era of grave concerns about
homeland security.

Some policy analysts suggest that bilateral trade with Cuba should be
restricted to businesses and individuals engaged in certifiably
independent (i.e., non-state) economic activity. [17] While
well-intentioned, such a policy would likely have a negligible impact on
Cuba's economic development, and fails to recognize that commercial
enterprises that the U.S. government would classify as SOEs are actually
co-ops or other types of quasi-independent entities that are in the
early stages of privatization. Restrictions such as this also fail to
address larger national and regional security concerns which are the
primary responsibility of the President.

Although ultimately the Cuban people must freely choose their own
political and economic systems, President Obama should be seen as heavy
legal authority to support the transition taking place on the island by
opening U.S. markets to Cuban imports. Normalized bilateral trade will
benefit the Cuban people and help to provide economic and social
stability that is in turn vital to U.S. national and regional security.

Such trade must include both the island's small, yet growing private
sector, and State Owned Enterprises. In this regard, it would be both
unfair and strategically unwise to treat Cuban differently from its
stated models, China and Vietnam.

Dr. Timothy Ashby, Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric

Dr. Ashby, who recently joined COHA's Board, served in the U.S. Commerce
Department, International Trade Administration, as Director of the
Office of Mexico and the Caribbean and acting Deputy Assistant Secretary
of Commerce for the Western Hemisphere. Currently a Counsel with the
international law firm Dentons, he has PhD, JD and MBA degrees.


[1] "Raúl Castro Says His New 5-Year Term as Cuba's President Will Be
His Last," New York Times, Feb. 24, 2013, accessed Feb. 27, 2013,

[2] Gary H. Maybarduk, "The US Strategy for Transition in Cuba," in A
Changing Cuba in a Changing World edited by Mauricio A. Font (The
Graduate Center, City University of New York, March, 2008), 226,

[3] Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, 22 U.S.C. § 6007(a) (1992).

[4] 31 C.F.R. § 515.204 prohibits the importation of any Cuban origin
goods, goods located in or transported from Cuba, or goods derived in
whole or in part from Cuba, unless expressly authorized by the Secretary
of the Treasury.

[5] CIA World Factbook, accessed Feb. 27, 2013,

[6]"Co-op Laws in Cuba Are Seen as Progress," The New York Times, Dec.
11, 2012, accessed Feb. 27, 2013,
[7] "Global 300 list reveals world's largest cooperatives," USDA Rural
Development, Cooperative Programs, accessed Feb. 27, 2013,

[8] Michael F. Martin, U.S.-Vietnam Economic and Trade Relations: Issues
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[9] "Easing of Restraints in Cuba Renews Debate on U.S. Embargo." New
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[10] "Easing of Restraints in Cuba Renews Debate on U.S. Embargo." New
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[11] Stephen F. Propst, Presidential Authority To Modify Economic
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[12] United States General Accounting Office, U.S. Embargo on Cuba:
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[13] Propst, Presidential Authority, 9.

[14] Seven Steps the U.S. President Can Take to Promote Change in Cuba
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[15] Such as H.R.214 – the Cuba Reconciliation Act, introduced on
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[16] 31 C.F.R. § 515.204(a) (1996).

[17] Seven Steps the U.S. President Can Take, supra.