Thursday, April 19, 2018

Succession Watch: Fact checking Raul Castro's cheerleaders

Fake news on Cuba

Big factual error
It has been a painful month reading the "news" on Cuba, and basic factual errors that could be corrected on a major story continue to be repeated as fact.  CNN, The South China Morning Post, NBC6,  and many more outlets are repeating the falsehood that "It's the first time in nearly six decades that Cuba is being led by a man not named Castro."

For the record: Raul Castro handed over the office of the presidency to his hand picked successor Miguel Díaz-Canel on April 19, 2018. The Castro regime is using this to give the impression that there is a transition underway in Cuba. This is not the case. General Raul Castro will remain head of the communist party and in control of the military. General Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, Raul's son-in-law, runs the Cuban economy. Raul Castro's son, Colonel Alexandro Castro, who negotiated the normalization of relations with the Obama Administration is an intelligence officer with close ties to the secret police. Diaz-Canel, like Osvaldo Dorticos who was president of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, will most likely be a puppet controlled by the Castros.The succession is not to make Miguel Díaz-Canel the new dictator but to maintain the Castro dynasty in control of Cuba.

The press has also been far too kind in the assessment of Raul Castro's tenure as President. No mention of the murdered dissident leaders, increased violence, and a dramatic increase in arbitrary detentions.Nor any mention made of Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet, whose life hangs in the balance today or that 10,000 Cubans petitioned the Castro regime to free him.

On April 16, 2018 the Associated Press's Cuba bureau reported on Raul Castro's legacy a couple of days prior to the communist dictator's departure from the presidency and the arrival of communist apparatchik Miguel Díaz-Canel and made a number of claims that need to be placed in context or risk misrepresenting the reality on the ground.

Claim: "In 2008 Raul Castro took over a country where most people couldn’t own computers ..., leave without permission, run most types of private businesses or enter resort hotels."

Context: The Castro regime banned the sale of computers in 2002 in Cuba.  The restriction was lifted by Raul Castro in 2008.

Context: The Castro regime altered regulations to allow Cubans to travel without requesting prior permission in 2013.  However restrictions are still in place, that violate international rights standards to the right to enter and exit your homeland, and many Cubans are restricted from traveling abroad or being allowed to return. This includes cases where a family member is dying or having died refused entry to attend their loved ones funeral service.   

Claim: "Cuba has nearly 600,000 private entrepreneurs, more than 5 million cellphones, a bustling real estate market and one of the world’s fastest-growing airports."  

Context: Castro regime drafted new rules in February of 2018 curtailing the private sector. This would not be the first time. In the 1980s and 1990s following economic crises the private sector was temporarily expanded only to once again be restricted when the economic need to subsidize political objectives subsided.

Claim: "Limited internet use is expanding fast, with thousands of Cubans installing new home connections this year."

Cheapest home internet connection in Cuba costs $15 per month (which is more than half the average monthly salary) and according to PanAm Post you get " 256 kilobits per second, similar to the internet services offered in the United States in the late 1990s; ... "The fastest connection price offers a download speed of four megabits per second and will cost US $70. That’s two and half times the average Cuban salary." Not to mention that it is all run through a government monopoly and censors web sites critical of the government.

Claim: "Foreign debt has been paid."  

Context: Mark Frank of Reuters offers a more accurate picture on October 18, 2017: "The Paris Club agreement forgave $8.5 billion of $11.1 billion in official debt Cuba had defaulted on through 1986, plus charges. Repayment of the remaining debt was back-loaded through 2033, with around $40 million paid last year and nearly $60 million due by Oct. 31."The Castro regime still owes $2.5 billion dollars to the Paris Club. The "foreign debt" has not been paid off.

An old problem
Sadly, this is not a new problem. In September of 2011 Cuban opposition activist Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas called attention to important information omitted by reporters from the Associated Press bureau in Havana. This caught my attention at the time and led me over the years to take a closer look at AP reporting and possible bias or omissions over the next seven years. In 2014, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez raised the concern that news bureaus in Havana, in order to maintain their presence in Cuba, compromised their ethical obligations. and risked crossing the line to become regime collaborators. In 2017 while reporting on the mystery of what is harming U.S. diplomats in Cuba the Associated Press, once again left out pertinent information regarding the expert they selected to interview who downplayed the significance of what was going on.

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