Saturday, October 31, 2020

What the Castro regime has been covering up about brain damaged diplomats in Havana

 This letter to the editor was published in The Washington Post on October 30, 2020.


Letters to the Editor

Cuba has a long history of using sonic weapons

 The U.S. flag at the U. S. Embassy in Havana on Aug. 14, 2014. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

October 30, 2020

The Oct. 26 editorial “Another invisible enemy” was correct when it called for the perpetrators of sonic attacks on Americans in Cuba to be identified, Americans protected and a proper response delivered, but too many are quick to believe the claims from Cuban officials that nothing happened and that they had no knowledge of what caused the injuries.

The Castro regime has a history, stretching back decades, of harassing American diplomats such as: killing their pets, trying to run them down or crash into their vehicle and switching out mouthwash with urine

Furthermore, on Oct. 18, dissident Cuban artist Tania Bruguera described and recorded a sonic attack that caused her a headache and ear ache that she found difficult to tolerate. Two former Cuban political prisoners, Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez and Luis Zuniga, described at a forum held on Capitol Hill in November 2017 how prison officials used high-pitched sound to cause them physiological harm in 1979. This history and the recent attack against Ms. Bruguera using the same kind of sonic weapon with similar symptoms that had been visited on U.S. diplomats should invite greater scrutiny of Havana.

John Suarez, Falls Church


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Rosa María Payá on "Pan con Podcast" interviewed in depth by Chef Michael Beltrán, including the Castro regime's blocking of humanitarian aid

Setting the record straight from the perspective of a new generation.

Rosa María Payá interviewed on Pan con Podcast

Back in June had an article published in Dade magazine on the revolutionary program being advanced today in the United States, and its dangerous history. Today, learned that the same magazine and its podcast, Pan con Podcast, conducted an extensive interview with Cuban pro-democracy activist Rosa María Payá Acevedo.

This is good timing because the Castro regime is pushing its victim narrative again, while hiding its brutal nature. They are complaining because the United States is cutting off currency flows to the Cuban military that is currently in Venezuela, playing a repressive role. In order to push back rather than end the military's involvement in profiting off remittance transfers by Cubans to their families in the island. They are doubling down and shutting down all the Western Union's across the country.

This should not be surprise when one considers that tons of humanitarian aide donated by the Cuban diaspora that arrived in Cuba in August 2020 has still not been released to the Cubans that desperately need this humanitarian assistance. Rosa María Payá Acevedo back in May 2020, together with the CubaDecide initiative, the Pan American Foundation for Democracy,and the City of Miami coordinated efforts for this drive to help Cubans on the island.

More than three months have passed and the communist dictatorship continues to deny this help to Cubans. Please listen to this full interview and share it with others.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Same Castro regime that wanted to start World War 3 remains in power in Cuba today: Some lessons from 1962 for 2020

"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana, The Life of Reason ( 1906 )

Republished from Center for a Free Cuba

The world is marking another anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the days in October 1962, when the Soviet Union introduced offensive nuclear missiles into Cuba, and the United States blockaded the island and after eleven tense days Moscow withdrew its missiles. This crisis brought the world perilously close to nuclear Armageddon. Professor Jaime Suchlicki of the Cuban Studies Institute draws on this history in the important essay "What We Learned From The Cuban Missile Crisis", and concludes that this crisis was precipitated by perceptions of American weakness.

Most analysts focus on the interplay in the crisis between the Soviet Union and the United States, and justifiably so, these two great powers had the stockpiles of nuclear weapons, but only touch superficially on Cuba, and its reactions during and after the crisis. This is a mistake, and one that has had dire consequences in the past, when great powers ignored the agency of small countries, such as Serbia, and the Serbian terrorist group, Black Hand, whose assassination of an Archduke unleashed a series of events that sparked World War One. Fidel Castro personally came very close on October 27, 1963 to starting World War Three.

On October 14, 2012 the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis the National Archives and the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum held a forum titled "50th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis" during which scholar and former CIA analyst Brian Latell outlined Castro's attempts to spark a conflict while Kennedy and Khrushchev were seeking to avoid war:

"As Khrushchev and Kennedy were struggling during those last few days to resolve the crisis without resorting to war, Fidel Castro was stimulating military conflict. Castro, on the morning of October 27th -- “Black Saturday” that we keep hearing about, the worst, the most dangerous, the most tense day of the Missile Crisis -- Fidel Castro ordered all of his artillery to begin firing on American reconnaissance aircraft at dawn, at sunrise that morning of “Black Saturday.” 

Fidel Castro said later on the record, “War began in those moments.” And the commander, one of the Soviet generals there with the expeditionary force, General Gribkov, said essentially the same thing. He said that, “We Soviet commanders, all the way from the generals down to the lieutenants in the Soviet force, we all agreed that conflict, military conflict, essentially began that morning.” October 27th, “Black Saturday,” Kennedy and Khrushchev are desperately trying to bring this crisis to a peaceful end, and Castro is stoking the fan of conflict.

Fidel Castro was so persuasive with his Soviet military counterparts that later that day, “Black Saturday,” the U-2 was shot down. We saw earlier in the video that the U-2 was shot down. It’s very interesting. Nikita Khrushchev believed, I think until his death, that Fidel Castro had personally ordered the shoot-down by a Soviet ground-to-air missile site, Khrushchev believed that Castro had actually somehow been responsible for it himself."

On October 27, 1962, the same day that Fidel Castro ordered artillery to fire on American reconnaissance aircraft, Khrushchev received a letter from the Cuban dictator, that historians call the Armageddon letter, in which he called for a Soviet first strike on the United States, in the event of a US invasion of Cuba.

If an aggression of the second variant occurs, and the imperialists attack Cuba with the aim of occupying it, then the danger posed by such an aggressive measure will be so immense for all humanity that the Soviet Union will in circumstances be able to allow it, or to permit the creation of conditions in which the imperialists might initiate a nuclear strike against the USSR as well.

Thankfully, Kennedy and Khrushchev reached a peaceful outcome, but the Castro regime continued to protest and was unhappy with their Soviet allies. Ernesto "Che" Guevara's essay "Tactics and strategy of the Latin American Revolution (October - November 1962)" was posthumously published by the official publication Verde Olivo on October 9, 1968, and even at this date was not only Guevara's view but the official view: 

"Here is the electrifying example of a people prepared to suffer nuclear immolation so that its ashes may serve as a foundation for new societies. When an agreement was reached by which the atomic missiles were removed, without asking our people, we were not relieved or thankful for the truce; instead we denounced the move with our own voice."

In the same essay, the dead Argentine served as a mouthpiece for the Castro regime declaring: "We do assert, however, that we must follow the road of liberation even though it may cost millions of nuclear war victims."

Perceived American weakness in 1962 brought the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. Twenty years later, during the Reagan Administration, when Fidel Castro was once again advocating for nuclear war, the Soviets quickly shut him down and did not entertain his apocalyptic plans.

The New York Times on September 21, 2009 published the article "Details Emerge of Cold War Nuclear Threat by Cuba" written by William J. Broad, the Science writer at the paper of record, revealed that Castro had continued to push for the wholesale destruction of the United State by a Soviet first strike in the 1980s.

The Pentagon study attributes the Cuba revelation to Andrian A. Danilevich, a Soviet general staff officer from 1964 to ’90 and director of the staff officers who wrote the Soviet Union’s final reference guide on strategic and nuclear planning. In the early 1980s, the study quotes him as saying that Mr. Castro “pressed hard for a tougher Soviet line against the U.S. up to and including possible nuclear strikes.” The general staff, General Danilevich continued, “had to actively disabuse him of this view by spelling out the ecological consequences for Cuba of a Soviet strike against the U.S.” That information, the general concluded, “changed Castro’s positions considerably.”

The Castro regime's conduct during the Cuban Missile Crisis was not an aberration, but a feature of the dictatorship. It is an outlaw regime. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Center for a Free Cuba executive director Frank Calzon eight years ago on October 23, 2012 writing in The Wall Street Journal warned the 2012 U.S. presidential candidates about the nature of the Castro regime observing:

"The past decades have shown that the behavior of the Castro brothers in 1962 was perfectly characteristic. Fidel Castro has never shied away from a political gamble such as deploying secret Soviet missiles and then lying about them. He assured other governments that he would never do such a thing, just as the Soviet Union's ambassador to the United States told the Kennedy administration that rumors about missiles were false. But the missiles were there, and their deployment was an effort to intimidate and blackmail America. Today, Havana's intimidation and blackmail are of a different magnitude, but there are plenty of examples." 

Conventional opinion in Washington, D.C. was that normalizing relations with the Castro regime was "low hanging fruit" for the Obama Administration. 

The aftermath of the December 2014 opening to Cuba proved otherwise: more extrajudicial killings and violence against activists, U.S. diplomats suffering brain damage in Havana under suspicious circumstances, the seizure of a U.S. Hellfire missile on its way back to the United States somehow ended up in Havana, and greater projection of the Cuban military into Venezuela and Nicaragua. And to add insult to injury, Cuban troops on January 2, 2017 chanted that they would shoot President Obama so many times in the head that it would be a hat made out of bullets.

The lessons of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis continue to remain relevant with the regime in Havana, and the failure to follow them can be seen in this recent detente with the Castro regime.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Latin America went unmentioned in tonight's Presidential debate. Here is why that was a mistake.

Revisiting recent Latin American history and U.S. policy

President Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden debate.

Regardless who wins in November, the international environment will continue to present challenges to U.S. national security. We heard about China, Russia and North Korea, but nothing was said about an important region neighboring the United States, or the presence of the above mentioned countries in the region. In Latin America, there are three countries with incredibly problematic records on human rights that have translated into massive and systematic human rights violations, economic downturns, mass exoduses of refugees, and engagement with outlaw regimes hostile to America: Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. They were not mentioned in tonight's debate, and that is a pity. Latin America was relegated without much detail to a question

It is important to examine the historical record.

In January of 1958 the United States was pressuring Batista to restore Constitutional guarantees in exchange for the sale of arms. On March 14, 1958 the State Department in a telegram to the U.S. Embassy in Cuba  requested that the export license for 1,950 M-1 rifles for the Cuban Army awaiting shipment be suspended. This was done because State felt that the Cuban government had failed to "create conditions for fair elections." 

On March 17, 1958 Fidel Castro's candidate for provisional president Manuel Urrutia, along with a delegation of other supporters in exile of the future Cuban dictator's July 26th movement, met with officials at the State Department. They lobbied the U.S. government and argued that arms shipments to Cuba were for hemispheric defense, and they claimed that Batista using them against Cuban nationals was in violation of the conditions agreed to between the two countries.  Months later the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba was pressuring Batista to abandon the country.

The Castro regime took power in 1959, and its objective from the beginning was to consolidate a Marxist Leninist dictatorship in Cuba, and export armed guerillas to overthrow democracies, such as Romulo Betancourt's social democracy in Venezuela in the early 1960s, and replace those governments with communist regimes. 
Dictator Fidel Castro and Vice President Richard Nixon meet in 1959

Containment worked as a policy in the 1960s and 1970s, but when that bipartisan consensus broke down in the mid 1970s, first with President Ford's National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger beginning in 1974 pursued secret negotiations to normalize relations with Cuba, but the Castro dictatorship intervened again in Africa in 1976 in Angola and later in Ethiopia.  This angered Kissinger, who ended the efforts to normalize relations during the Ford Administration.

Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 Presidential election, and the approach to Cuba changed.

On April 27, 1977 representatives of the Carter Administration and the Castro regime sat down and personally negotiated an international fishery agreement. This was the first time since 1958 that any officials of the United States government sat down with representatives of the Castro regime to formally negotiate an agreement.  

Former President Carter in an interview with Robert Fulghum on December 19, 1996 quoted on page 310 of the book Conversations with Carter said: "When I had only been in office two months in 1977, I opened up all travel for American citizens to go to Cuba and vice versa. And we opened up an entry section, which is just one step short of a full embassy in both Havana and Washington. And those offices, by the way, are still open."

Within the Carter administration there were from the beginning low expectations on the limits of what normalizing relations would achieve. The Secretary of the Treasury, W. Micheal Blumenthal, in a August 12, 1977 memorandum to the president titled "Subject: Next Steps on Normalization of U.S. Cuba Relations" addressed Castro regime priorities and the tendency to "overestimate" US leverage:

"I do not believe that our lifting the trade embargo completely, let alone relaxing it partially, would be sufficient to deflect Cuba from pursuits which it considers central to its own national interests, presumably including its involvement in Africa."
Also on August 12, 1977, U.S. Senator Frank Church sent a memorandum to President Carter detailing the conversation he had with Fidel Castro and resulting U.S. policy recommendations for Cuba which included: relaxing restrictions on financial transactions with Cuba in order to make it easier for a tourist to pay a hotel bill. Meeting with Fidel Castro during the United Nations General Assembly later that fall (Clinton would shake hands with Fidel Castro there in 2000). Look for ways to cooperate on controlling the international drug traffic. Explore ways to ease the embargo on trade.

Robert A. Pastor, of The Carter Center in July 1992 in the report "The Carter Administration and Latin America: A Test of Principle" summed the outcome of the Carter policy on Cuba:
In November 1977 there were 400 Cuban military advisers in Ethiopia; by April 1978 there were 17,000 Cuban troops there serving under a Soviet general. The line had been crossed. Carter's hopes for a major improvement in relations with Cuba were dashed, and he said so publicly: "There is no possibility that we would see any substantial improvement in our relationship with Cuba as long as he's [Castro] committed to this military intrusion policy in the internal affairs of African people.
However, according to Pastor in the same article the Castro regime sought to sweeten the pot using political prisoners as political leverage. Unlike  the small, and debated, number of political prisoners released in the recent negotiations with the Castro by the Obama's administration the Carter administration achieved the release of thousands:
"Rhetoric aside, Castro might have thought he could change Carter's mind on normalization if he changed his policy on political prisoners. In the summer of 1978, Castro informed U.S. officials that he was prepared to release as many as 3,900 political prisoners to the United States. (He released about 3,600; 1,000 immigrated to the United States.) During the next year he also released all U.S. prisoners - both political and criminal - and people with dual citizenship. This represented a reversal from a position he had taken in an interview with Barbara Walters one year before. Castro also tried to do the impossible: to transform the Cuban-American community from his enemy to his lobbyist. He invited a group to Havana in November 1978 and left them believing they had persuaded him to release the prisoners." 
Concretely in addition to opening up the interests sections in Havana and Washington D.C. and ending the travel ban the negotiations between the Carter administration and the Castro regime, according to Pastor achieved some additional concrete agreements:
"The U.S. Coast Guard and its Cuban counterpart coordinated their search-and-rescue and anti-drug efforts, and Cuba lifted its 17-year ban on the use of Cuban water and air space by the U.S. Coast Guard. 46 But Cuba's military cooperation with the U.S.S.R. in Africa was an insurmountable obstacle to normalization, and as it expanded, it also began to affect American relations with the Soviet Union."
At the same time as this process was underway the Castro regime also played a crucial role in the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua while the Carter Administration imposed sanctions on the Somoza regime when it refused to pursue democratic reforms. According to Robert Pastor:
Somoza pretended the sanctions had no effect on him. He doubled the size of the National Guard and evidently believed he was secure. However, by May 1979, with Cuban President Fidel Castro's help, the three Sandinista factions had united and established a secure and ample arms flow from Cuba through Panama and Costa Rica. The United States tried to end all arms transfers to both sides. It urged Torrijos and Costa Rican President Rodrigo Carazo to cooperate; both pretended not to be involved. Public opinion in both countries viewed Somoza as the threat to their nations' security and the Sandinistas as the solution to the crisis. The United States did not know the magnitude of the arms flows nor did it have conclusive evidence of the involvement of Costa Rica, Panama, or Cuba. 

Towards the end of the Carter Administration the discovery of a Soviet ground forces brigade operating on Cuban territory and the ineptness in handling the Mariel boatlift crisis spelled not only the end of the policy but was also a contributing factor to the defeat of President Carter during his 1980 re-election bid.  The Cuba policy set out by President Carter in the 1970s was proven a disaster at the time. 

Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista rebels in 1979 financed and backed by the Cubans, took power and a civil war erupted in El Salvador in 1979 with efforts of Cuban backed guerillas to overthrow the existing government. Central America became a blood bath. A communist beach head was established in Central America.

Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1981 and re-imposed the Cuba travel ban, toughened economic sanctions undoing Jimmy Carter's detente with Fidel Castro, in 1982 placed the Castro regime on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and started Radio Marti to break through the communist monopoly with uncensored information for Cubans on the island. 

On March 1, 1982 the Castro regime was placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. less than three months after the US State Department confirmed that the Castro regime was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democratic government.  

 With Cuba Ronald Reagan backed the creation of a Radio Free Cuba to break Castro regime's information monopoly over the Cuban people beginning in 1981. In a 1983 address, President Reagan explained the importance of getting the truth to oppressed peoples:

The Soviets are terrified of the truth. They understand well and they dread the meaning of St. John's words: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." The truth is mankind's best hope for a better world. That's why in times like this, few assets are more important than the Voice of America and Radio Liberty, our primary means of getting the truth to the Russian people.[...]  We've repeatedly urged the Congress to support our long-term modernization program and our proposal for a new radio station, Radio Marti, for broadcasting to Cuba. The sums involved are modest, but for whatever reason this critical program has not been enacted. Today I'm appealing to the Congress: Help us get the truth through. Help us strengthen our international broadcasting effort by supporting increased funding for the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and by authorizing the establishment of Radio Marti.

When it finally went on the air in 1985 Radio Marti marked a before and after inside Cuba. At the time President Reagan hoped that Radio Marti would ''help defuse the war hysteria on which much of current Cuban Government policy is predicated.'' The Castro regime's response was to end an immigration agreement and suspend the visits to Cuba by Cubans living in the United States.The Hoover Institution in 1989 listed it as one of a 100 conservative victories.  

The Reagan Administration also named former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and made human rights in Cuba a priority there. The end result was that for the first and last time Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Human Rights Commission were able to visit Cuban political prisoners.

Dr. Ricardo Bofill co-founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights in 1976, dedicated his entire life to and suffered years in Cuban prisons for defending human rights. Reagan invited him to the White House in 1988.

Dr. Ricardo Bofill meets President Reagan in The White House in 1988

Ronald Reagan was an unapologetic anti-communist who empowered dissidents and engaged in acts of solidarity to underline their importance.  Lastly, President Reagan went to Russia in the midst of Perestroika and Glasnost which meant improving human rights standards and greater freedoms along with dissidents empowered. 

This policy reversed Castroism's gains in Grenada and in Central America. The collapse of the Soviet empire between 1989 through the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 put the Castro regime into a crisis. However in the midst of this collapse, the remaining communist parties from around the world gathered in Brazil at the Sao Paulo Forum and planned their comeback.

Clinton resurrects Carter's Cuba policy with deadly results
Carter's  détente policy would reassert itself first during the Clinton Administration beginning in 1994 when President Bill Clinton authorized the U.S. military to have permanent contacts and joint exercises with the Castro regime's military.

The Clinton administration stopped calling Cubans refugees declaring them migrants. The General Accounting Office (GAO) explained this change "for over 30 years, fleeing Cubans had been welcomed to the United States; however, the U.S. government reversed this policy on August 19, 1994, when President Clinton announced that Cuban rafters interdicted at sea would no longer be brought to the United States."  Wet foot, dry foot" was a massive set back for Cuban refugees. At the same time a  1995 agreement with the Castro regime empowered them to control who would arrive in the United States by registering Cubans for a lottery and up to 20,000 "immigrants" would be eligible to enter the United States annually. This is a large part of what has led to South Florida being filled with regime oppressors and who knows how many spies. This, not the Cuban Adjustment Act, is what needs to be ended. 

This normalization effort peaked when Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro in 2000 and opened cash and carry trade with the dictatorship loosening sanctions.  This was done in spite of tightened sanction in 1996 following the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. This new period of engagement coincided with the rise of Hugo Chavez and reversals of the democratic gains made in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Fidel Castro greets Hugo Chavez in Cuba on December 13, 1994

George W. Bush cools relations without rejecting Clinton normalization advances
During the George W. Bush Administration the cash and carry trade continued as did the joint military exercises. Even though in 2003 in the aftermath of the Black Cuban spring in which 75 dissidents were jailed following show trials the Bush administration responded by tightening sanctions limiting travel by Cuban exiles to Cuba and remittances. In 2006 the Sandinistas return to power in Nicaragua with the old dictator Daniel Ortega now winning a democratic election with 38% of the vote. Despite all of this, under the Bush Administration, the United States became the fifth leading trade partner with the Castro regime in 2008.

Obama's back to the future retread of Carter era Cuba policies

The December 17, 2014 announcement by President Obama broke new ground in U.S.-Cuba relations only one area, when compared to President Carter, releasing Gerardo Hernandez, a Cuban spy and terrorist, convicted of murder conspiracy of three U.S. citizens and a resident. Not only did President Obama commute the sentence but tried to rewrite history calling an act of international terrorism, the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down, a tragedy.  Freeing unrepentant killers is not a good policy for promoting human rights.

More extreme machete attack in 2015

Six months after the announcement of normalizing relations on May 24, 2015, Sirley Ávila León was the victim of a brutal machete attack that cost her her left hand and also left her right upper arm nearly severed and knees slashed, leaving her crippled. She was denied adequate medical care and was told quietly by medical doctors that if she wanted to get better she would need to leave Cuba. The regime had been embarrassed by a campaign she organized to keep a school open. She arrived in Miami on March 8, 2016 unable to bend her legs, or use her remaining had.Thanks to a team of medical doctors treating her, by September 2016 Sirley had regained the use of her hand, and was able to walk short distances.

Negative international trends for human rights in Cuba under Obama Cuba policy.  

Human rights worsened in Cuba as the dictatorship was legitimized internationally by the Obama Administration's Cuba policy, and March 2016 state visit that led to Cuban dissidents and human rights defenders becoming more isolated.  

The Obama administration's Cuba policy of engagement and detente with the Castro regime in the past served to empower other anti-democratic actors in the region with the aide of the Cuban intelligence service and military. Latin American democrats in the region, despite some positive signs, should remain vigilant. These are dangerous times. It is important to recall that the long term policy goals first enunciated by Fidel Castro on July 26, 1959 continue into the present: "We promise to continue making Cuba the example that can convert the cordillera of the Andes into the Sierra Maestra of the American continent." This vision was reaffirmed by Fidel Castro at the VII Cuban Communist Party Conference shortly before his death in 2016

"Lenin’s work insulted after 70 years of revolution. What a historical lesson! We can say that it should not take another 70 years before another event like the Russian Revolution occurs, so that humanity has another example of a great social revolution that meant a huge step in the fight against colonialism and its inseparable companion: imperialism."

With or without sanctions Castro regime's hostility will continue
With or without sanctions the confrontation with the United States will continue as long as the government of the United States is a democracy. Furthermore, the propaganda of the regime in Cuba and its allies in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and elsewhere is that the United States is an imperial power. 

Opening up to the United States economically as it has with other countries will present a new line of argument to justify its continued totalitarian control: the threat of economic domination by the imperialists. 

This can already be seen in the arrests of Western businessmen and the confiscation of their assets with preferences to companies from ideologically friendly countries such as communist China, Vietnam, Venezuela, Brazil, etc. The increased hard currency that the Castro regime is getting its hands on will go towards reinforcing the dictatorship's repressive apparatus at home and expanding its power and influence abroad at the expense of U.S. and regional interests.

Nicaragua: A deteriorating situation
Ominous signs in Nicaragua for Central America with the purchase of 50 new T-72B1 battle tanks at a cost of 80 million dollars in 2016 sent a message to the domestic opposition that has been demonstrated with the Ortega regime.

Ortega's dictatorship shut down independent media and violently crushed non-violent protests in Nicaragua beginning on April 18, 2018 murdering dozens, torturing and arbitrarily detaining many more but failed to silence Nicaraguans, who have continued to protest against the Sandinista dictatorship.

Cuba and Nicaragua then vs Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela now

When one looks at different flash points in Latin America over the past sixty one years, the Castro regime has systematically played a negative role.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Havana Syndrome: The dangerous legacy of appeasing tyrants and not recognizing their true nature (What The New York Times forgot)

Update on Cuba's health attacks that many would like to forget.

Did appeasement policy lead to 40 diplomats suffering brain damage?

The question raised by The New York Times in their October 19th article referencing the "Havana Syndrome" with respect to China and Russia titled "U.S. Diplomats and Spies Battle Trump Administration Over Suspected Attacks", was first raised in this blog with regard to Cuba on September 20, 2017:"Did State Department downplaying attacks on diplomats in Cuba endanger others?"  This downplaying of injuries to American diplomats started during the Obama Administration. This blog also asked if the 2014-2017 neo-appeasement policy had worsened the behavior of the Castro regime?

Over forty American employees stationed at embassies in Cuba and China are requiring long term "emergency health and other benefits" due to injuries suffered on the job in these two countries. The largest number were stationed in Cuba.  

In the fall of 2016 U.S. diplomats began to complain of "mild" traumatic brain injury, permanent hearing, and memory loss. In May of 2017 two Cuban diplomats were expelled from the United States over the matter, but the reason was not made known until August 9, 2017.

On December 7, 2016 the United States and Cuba held their fifth Bilateral Commission meeting where they celebrated progress on U.S.-Cuba relations, and according to the Miami Herald signed "11 non-binding agreements on health, the environment, counter-narcotics, and other areas of cooperation." No word on attacks against diplomats.

Cuban troops in military parade chant they'll shoot President Obama in the head

On January 2, 2017 Raúl Castro presided over a military parade in Havana where marching troops chanted about shooting the American President in the head: "Obama! Obama! with what fervor we’d like to confront your clumsiness, to give you a cleansing with rebels and mortar, and send you a hat of lead to the head.”
On January 12, 2017 the Obama Administration provided further concessions to Cuba gutting the Cuban Adjustment Act and ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program that had bothered General Castro for years.  

On January 16, 2017 the Obama State Department issued a statement that "the United States and Cuba [had] signed a bilateral Law Enforcement Memorandum of Understanding to deepen law enforcement cooperation and information sharing." American diplomats were suffering serious harm, including mild traumatic brain injury, permanent hearing loss that included loss of balance, headaches, and brain swelling. Yet, according to The Wall Street Journal no complaint was made until February of 2017.  

On January 17, 2017 President Obama granted clemency to Oscar López Rivera, a founder of the Armed Forces of National Liberation Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a movement responsible for more than 130 bombings in American cities - including one in New York City on January 24, 1975 that went off in the Fraunces Tavern during lunch hour killing four people. Unrepentant, López had 10 years added to his sentence when he and another FALN member were caught plotting a prison break that included killing their prison guards. On November 17, 2017 Mr. 
López Rivera received the Order of Solidarity from the Cuban government.  

American diplomats were being permanently harmed while all these concessions were being made, and regime soldiers contemptuously chanted about shooting President Obama in the head so many times that they'd make him a lead hat. Fabiola Santiago, an Obama partisan, wrote a column on January 6, 2017 outraged at the disrespectful action by the dictatorship titled "Cuban troops’ bizarre chant: We’ll make Obama ‘a hat out of bullets to the head’", and she correctly described it as "a threat to do the U.S. president harm." 

Now CBS says that the State Department "only admitted the attacks were occurring after CBS News Radio first reported them August 9." According to the news agency an "internal Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs document obtained by CBS News shows the State Department was fully aware of the extent of the attacks on its diplomats in Havana, Cuba, long before it was forced to acknowledge them."

Worse yet "experts" such as Fulton Armstrong with a track record of "minimizing Cuba’s ability to threaten U.S. interests and its continued support to terrorists" are engaged in downplaying this latest outrage. What goes unmentioned is that under international law as described below by the International Court of Justice put it in the case of US Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran (paras 38-40):

[t]here is no more fundamental prerequisite for the conduct of relations between States than the inviolability of diplomatic envoys and embassies . . . [T]he institution of diplomacy, with its concomitant privileges and immunities, has withstood the test of centuries and proved to be an instrument essential for effective co-operation in the international community, and for enabling States, irrespective of their differing constitutional and social systems, to achieve mutual understanding and to resolve their differences by peaceful means . . . [and] the inviolability of consular premises and archives, are similarly principles deep-rooted in international law…

The Castro regime has failed to maintain the "inviolability of diplomatic envoys and embassies" in this matter but also has a decades long history of engaging in the wholesale violation of this international norm.   

Former Canadian ambassador to Cuba James Bartleman described events that occurred midway during his  (1981 – 1983) posting: “[h]is family dog was poisoned, a trade officer had a dead rat nailed to their door and the embassy started receiving threatening phone calls.”  

U.S. diplomat Robin Meyers was subjected to cars being used against her as weapons in Cuba in February of 1996. 

In 2006 The Miami Herald reported how a high-ranking member of the U.S. mission found his mouthwash replaced with urine. In another case, after one diplomat’s family privately discussed their daughter’s susceptibility to mosquito bites, “they returned home to find all of their windows open and the house full of mosquitoes.”  American diplomats, like their Canadian counterparts, have also had pets poisoned while stationed in Cuba. 

This is an outlaw regime with a track record that should not be ignored, especially when doing so is led to diplomats and their families being seriously physically harmed.  Back on December 17, 2014 this blog made the following prediction: "Rewarding the hardline and rogue elements in the Castro regime is unlikely to improve the dictatorship's behavior to the contrary it may worsen." 
Average Cubans and other Latin Americans suffered at the hands of a more aggressive and violent dictatorship during the 2009 - 2017 warming of relations. An extreme example documented in May 2015 was the machete attack against Sirley Avila Leon by agents of the Castro regime.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Cuban prisoner of conscience Silverio Portal Contreras lost vision in one eye after two strokes, and brutal beating now losing vision in other eye

“Don’t believe anything they tell you. I stand firm in the sense that either they set me free or I’ll be carried out of here dead.” - Silverio Portal Contreras, October 13, 2020

Lucinda González and prisoner of conscience Silverio Portal Contreras

Madrid based NGO Prisoners Defenders earlier this month reported that there were 139 political prisoners in Cuba, and that there are 11,000 Cubans, not affiliated with opposition groups, jailed on the Orwellian charge of “pre-crime.” 

An urgent case of a Cuban prisoner of conscience currently unfolding is that of Silverio Portal Contreras.

Amnesty International on August 26, 2019 recognized “Silverio Portal Contreras, former activist with the Ladies in White, [who] is serving a 4-year sentence for “contempt” and “public disorder” a prisoner of conscience. According to a court document, Silverio was arrested on the 20 June 2016 in Old Havana after shouting “Down Fidel Castro, down Raúl...” The document states that the behavior of the accused is particularly offensive because it took place in a touristic area.” … “According to Silverio’s wife, Lucinda González, before his arrest he had campaigned against collapsing dilapidated buildings in Havana.”

He suffered from epilepsy and hypertension before prison, conditions that worsened after he suffered two strokes, lost vision in one eye after a brutal beating. He is quickly losing vision in the other eye after being diagnosed with diabetes. 

Silverio spoke with his family on October 13, 2020 after more than three months of being denied phone calls at the 1580 Prison in San Miguel del Patron, Havana. 

Throughout their conversation, Lucinda says Silverio had a prison guard standing next to him. He told her: “Don’t believe anything they tell you. I stand firm in the sense that either they set me free or I’ll be carried out of here dead.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Remembering Laura Pollán, Cuba's Lady in White nine years after her killing

 They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens." - Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (2010

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, February 13, 1948 – October 14, 2011

Nine years ago today, Cuban opposition leader and human rights defender Laura Pollán died under circumstances that Cuban dissident and medical doctor Oscar Elias Biscet described as "death by purposeful medical neglect."
Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, a courageous woman spoke truth to power and protested in the streets of Cuba demanding an amnesty for Cuban political prisoners. She had been a school teacher, before her husband was jailed for his independent journalism in 2003 along with more than 75 other civil society members. Laura was greatly admired both inside and outside of the island.
But when one opposes the regime in Cuba not only is their physical life in danger, but their reputation is systematically slandered. The dictatorship claimed that she was a stateless "traitor." She became ill and died within the space of a week under circumstances that raise the question of foul play by Castro's secret police. Following her death the official media of the dictatorship began a slander campaign asserting that she was a common criminal.
  Following brutal repression, in an effort to prevent them from marching through the streets of Havana, Laura Pollan directly and nonviolently challenged the regime declaring, "we will never give up our protest. The authorities have three options — free our husbands, imprison us or kill us."
Unfortunately beginning in 2010 a new and deadlier pattern of oppression presented itself with the extrajudicial death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo
Laura Pollán's "criminal" behavior was to start the Ladies in White movement after the Black Cuban Spring of 2003 and nonviolently challenged the Castro regime in the streets of Havana at the beginning, and eventually across the island. Laura reached out to the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the 75 prisoners of conscience jailed in March of 2003 along with her husband and they carried out a sustained nonviolent campaign that after nine years obtained the freedom of their loved ones.
Since she did not dissolve the Ladies in White when her husband returned home because she recognized that the laws had not changed, and that political prisoners remained behind bars and that she would continue her human rights activism, the Castro regime did away with her on October 14, 2011.
Today let us remember the words that Laura put into action and that was nonviolent resistance to tyranny.
"They tried to silence 75 voices, but now there are more than 75 voices shouting to the world the injustices the government has committed." (2004) "We fight for the freedom of our husbands, the union of our families. We love our men." (2005)
"They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens." (2010) "We are going to continue. We are fighting for freedom and human rights.” (September 24, 2011)
"As long as this government is around there will be prisoners because while they've let some go, they've put others in jail. It is a never-ending story." (2011)
“If we must give our own lives in pursuit of the freedom of our Cuba that it be what God wants.” (September 24, 2011)
"We are not going to stop. If you have imprisoned our sisters thinking that we would give up, they are mistaken. We are very united (...) all the women's movements are very close." (October 2, 2011)
"My life has changed a lot, now I have learned to love the country much more, the prisoners, the humanity. That's how I have so much work, that I don't have much time to think about myself, what really satisfies me, in short, I owe myself to other more important tasks. Now I understand much more, before I could not understand these things, you have to live and feel them to be able to dedicate soul heart and life to this beautiful cause." (2011)
The regime in Cuba is the most misogynist government in all of Latin America. Women who speak out and exercise their fundamental rights are regularly slandered, physically assaulted and sometimes die under suspicious circumstances as Laura did nine years ago today.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

How many EU members voted for the Castro regime despite its unsuitableness for the UN Human Rights Council?

A majority of the world's democracies failed to defend human rights today. A sad day.

The Center for a Free Cuba sent out the following 2020 Human Rights Briefing on Cuba to dozens of democratic missions to the UN in New York City yesterday and asked them to speak out on Cuba's unsuitableness for the UN Human Rights Council and to abstain from voting for Cuba. "We are disappointed that only 22 countries voted against another dictatorship hostile to human rights joining the Council. Placing the Castro regime on the United Nations Human Rights Council is the equivalent of placing Jack the Ripper on the committee to end knife violence in London. It not only makes a mockery out of this important human rights body, but places on it a regime that seeks to actively subvert it." said John Suarez, Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba. "This is why we requested that democratic governments speak out on Cuba's human rights record, and abstain from voting for the Castro dictatorship," added Mr. Suarez.

"Cuba got 170 votes out of 192 possible.Twenty two countries did not vote in favor of the Castro regime, but there are 27 member countries of the European Union. One can also count the United States among the votes against. This means that most probably [at least] six members of the European Union voted in favor of the Castro regime," and that runs counter to the shared values of the European Union which include ‘respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.’ Those nations that voted for a 61 year old communist dictatorship that systematically violates human rights and seeks to undermine international human rights standards, did not live up to those principles," said Mr. Suarez.

Below is the text that was sent out yesterday.

2020 Human Rights Briefing on Cuba: Petition to Democracies to speak out on Cuba's unsuitableness for the UN Human Rights Council

On October 13, 2020 the United Nations General Assembly will be voting on membership to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. There are three openings and three candidates for Latin America, and one of them is Cuba. The human rights record of the regime in Havana is actively hostile to the stated agenda of the UN Human Rights Council that claims to be "responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe." In addition to Cuba, candidates for this election cycle in other geographical regions include China, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The failure of the UN Human Rights Council to hold competitive elections and hold candidates to account for their respective records is compounded by the world's democracies, through these elections for the UN Human Rights Council , legitimizing dictatorships with their votes. This is why the Geneva based NGO UN Watch is proposing to scrap elections to the Council "altogether, and make every country a member, as is the case in the General Assembly’s human rights committee."

The vote this time comes in the aftermath of a crackdown in Cuba on Saturday, October 10th that is a historic day to celebrate an uprising for freedom in 1868 against Spanish colonial rule. This year around the island and the world Cubans and the Cuba diaspora sought to observe the day with a call for freedom. In Cuba this meant, preventive arrests, homes surrounded by regime mobs to prevent dissidents from exiting their residence, and abuse by police of nonviolent activists. 

The past few months have been deadly. Cuban dissident Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros died on August 7, 2020 in Cuba while in police custody following a 40 day hunger strike. He had been jailed on false charges in the Kilo 8 prison of Camagüey. His body was quickly cremated by the dictatorship. On June 24, 2020 in Guanabacoa, Cuba an unarmed 27 year old Black Cuban, Hansel E. Hernández was shot in the back and killed by the police, and Cubans that wanted to protest his death were prevented from doing so by regime agents. The human rights group Cubalex identified 17 Cubans detained by the political police and CubaDecide reported 20 arbitrary detentions and 41 registered incidents.

Reporting on human rights violations in Cuba is a dangerous practice as highlighted by independent journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa in his column in The Washington Post on October 5, 2020.

Below is a human rights briefing, made up of summaries of various recent human rights reports on Cuba, that outlines why the regime in Havana should not be on the UN Human Rights Council.  We are requesting that democratic governments speak out on Cuba's human rights record, and abstain from voting  for the Castro dictatorship.


Amnesty International Human Rights in the Americas. Review of 2019 – Cuba

February 27, 2020

A year after President Díaz-Canel took office, the authorities continued to employ long-standing mechanisms of control to silence critical voices. The Cuban authorities continued to arbitrarily detain and imprison independent artists and journalists, and members of the political opposition. During the year, Amnesty International named six people prisoners of conscience, representing only a fraction of those likely to be detained solely because of the peaceful expression of their opinions or beliefs. The island remained mostly closed to independent human rights monitors.

[Full Report]

Freedom House Freedom in the World 2020: Cuba 

March 4, 2020  


Cuba is a one-party communist state that outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2019 that included the introduction of a new constitution.

Key Developments in 2019

●     A new constitution was approved in a February national referendum that included a historic number of abstentions and “no” votes. The charter maintained the one-party state and socialist management of the economy, but contained some modest changes, including the recognition of private property.

●     Miguel Díaz-Canel, who had served as president of the Council of Ministers and head of Council of State since April 2018, took on the newly created post of president of the Republic in October. In December, he appointed Manuel Marrero as Cuba’s prime minister. Raúl Castro, who left the presidency in 2018 after two five-year terms, continues on as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) until 2021.

●     New laws approved during the year legalized electronic surveillance and banned citizens from hosting web content on foreign servers, effectively placing all independent digital media outlets in greater legal jeopardy.

●     Cubans took advantage of the availability of third-generation (3G) mobile data service to criticize government policies and confront ministers via social media, using popular hashtags linked to periodic public protests, including ones demanding lower internet prices and calls to abstain from voting or vote against the new constitution.

[ Full Report ]

Committee to Protect Journalists

CPJ calls on Cuban security forces to stop threatening Washington Post columnist Abraham Jiménez Enoa

October 6, 2020 

By Committee to Protect Journalists

Miami, October 6, 2020—Cuban authorities must immediately cease harassing and threatening journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa, and allow him and all journalists in the country to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On October 2, state security agents dressed as civilians strip-searched and handcuffed Jiménez and transported him to their headquarters, where he was interrogated for close to five hours and threatened, before letting him go, according to local news reports, and to Jiménez, who spoke with CPJ via phone yesterday. That day, Jiménez had presented himself before a police station in Havana, after being summoned the day before, he told CPJ. Jiménez posted a copy of the summons on his Twitter account.

Jiménez, a freelance journalist who is one of the co-founders of the Cuban online literary journalism magazine El Estornudo, has a monthly column in the Spanish edition of The Washington Post and in regional news magazine Gatopardo, where he mostly writes about life in Cuba. During the interrogation, the agents specifically warned Jiménez that he would face retaliation in the form of legal proceedings and actions against his relatives if he continued to publish in The Washington Post, he told CPJ. 

“They told me that if I publish in The Washington Post they will prosecute me for usurpation of functions, because the outlet is not accredited in Cuba, that they will start a war against my family and my relatives, that all this was because behind me is the United States government, ” Jiménez wrote the day of his interrogation on his Twitter account.

[ Full Report]

Civil Rights Defenders  Cuban Doctors Abroad at Risk of Human Rights Violations

April 24, 2020

During the last couple of months, the Cuban government has sent more than one thousand medical professionals to approximately 20 countries around the world, in order to participate in the fight against the coronavirus. Cuba has sent medical staff abroad for decades. In November 2019, two UN Rapporteurs expressed concern over the working and living conditions for the Cuban medical staff abroad. Civil Rights Defenders now fears the pandemic will lead to an increased number of Cuban medics suffering from these human rights violations.

Cuba has been sending medical staff abroad for decades, both in order to participate in international efforts such as the campaign against the Ebola virus, and to retrieve funds for the government. In November 2019, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Urmila Bhoola, and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, sent a worrying letter to the Cuban government regarding the export of medical staff.

The two rapporteurs expressed their concern over the working and living conditions for Cuban medics abroad. One of their main concerns relates to the health care professionals’ working hours, which were up to over 64 hours per week, potentially representing labour exploitation. They also highlight the pressure being put on the medics, including threats of reprisals such as prison sentences for doctors who refuse to fulfill some of their mission. In addition, they report that the Cuban government is “freezing” a part of the wages which doctors can only access once they return to the country, and in many cases medics do not even receive the full payment.

The rapporteurs also state that “Working conditions reported could be understood as forced labor, according to the forced labor indicators established by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Forced labor is a modern-day form of slavery.”

“We are very concerned by the reports from the UN Special Rapporteurs about the working conditions for the Cuban medical staff abroad, and by the fact that the Cuban government has not replied to their letter. It is therefore particularly important that the countries receiving or employing Cuban medical staff ensure that their rights are guaranteed and protected,” says Erik Jennische, Director for the Latin America Department at Civil Rights Defenders.

Center for a Free Cuba Human Rights in Cuba: Beyond the Veneer of Reform

July 11, 2019

Excerpt from Testimony of John Suarez, Executive Director, Center for a Free Cuba Hearing on “Human Rights in Cuba: Beyond the Veneer of Reform” U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade July 11, 2019

Past is prologue

To understand the human rights situation in Cuba, one must understand what came before. Cuba had regular competitive elections, and between 1944 and 1952 presidents who respected human rights and civil liberties. This was reflected in the role Cuban diplomats played in 1948 in pushing for regional and international human rights covenants. All of this came crashing down with Fulgencio Batista’s military coup in 1952. 

The Castro brothers promised to restore democracy, while imposing a communist dictatorship in 1959. 

In May 1961 they confiscated private schools and most seminaries to eliminate religion. In September 1961, the Castro regime at gun point collected 131 priests, brothers and a bishop, placing them on board the Spanish ship Covadonga and deported them from Cuba.

Today, the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), an arm of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, still oversees religious affairs in Cuba, and exists to monitor, hinder and restrict religious activities. 

Sixty years later, Fidel Castro is gone, but his brother Raul remains along with the communist regime.

The non-transition

What is called reform in Cuba has been a fraud for the dynastic succession of the Castro family. Raul Castro remains in control of the government as head of the Communist Party.  His son, Alejandro Castro Espín, a colonel in the Ministry of the Interior presided over the Cuban side in the secret negotiations to normalize relations during the previous Administration. 

In 2018 Raul Castro presided over the revision of the current constitution that was subjected to a referendum on February 24, 2019.

On February 24th Cubans were called to the polls to ratify a new constitution that despite cosmetic changes, enshrines the principles of the existing one-party political system. Basic conditions for free and fair elections were not fulfilled, independent observers were not allowed, and numerous voting irregularities were reported.

This is the third time during the communist era that the constitution was changed.

The Communist Party remains the only legal political party. The maximum authority in the regime resides with the head of the Cuban Communist Party.

The late dissident leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas called this fraudulent change.  There have been no improvements that alter the nature of the Cuban regime. It is a one-party communist dictatorship run by the Castros.

[ Full Statement]