Iván García, 21 March 2017 — In the slum of Lawton, south of Havana, the
need for housing has converted an old collective residence with narrow
passageways into a bunkhouse. With dividers made from cardboard or
bricks recovered from demolished buildings, "apartments" have appeared
where a dozen families reside, living on the razor's edge.
Among the blasting Reggaeton music and illegal businesses, cane alcohol,
stolen the night before from a state distillery, is sold and later used
in the preparation of home-made rum; or clothing with pirated labels,
bought in bulk from stalls in Colón, a stone's throw from the Panama
Canal. A while back, when cattle were slaughtered in the Lawton or
Virgen del Camino slaughterhouses, you could get beef at the wholesale
These overpopulated townships in the capital are cradles of
prostitution, drugs and illegal gambling. Lawton, like no other
neighborhood in Havana, is the "model" for marginalization and crime.
People live from robbing state institutions, selling junk or whatever
falls from a truck.
But don't talk to them about political reforms, ask them to endorse a
dissident party or protest about the brutal beatings that the political
police give a few blocks away to the Ladies in White, who every Sunday
speak about political prisoners and democracy in Cuba.
Let's call him Miguel, a guy who earns money selling marijuana,
psychotropic substances or cambolo, a lethal mix of cocaine with a small
dose of bicarbonate. He's been in prison almost a third of his life. He
had plans to emigrate to the United States but interrupted them after
Obama's repeal of the "wet foot-dry foot" policy.
Miguel has few topics of conversation. Women, sports, under-the-table
businesses. His life is a fixed portrait: alcohol, sex and "flying,"
with reddened eyes from smoking marijuana.
When you ask his opinion about the dissident movement and the continued
repression against the Ladies in White, he coughs slightly, scratches
his chin, and says: "Man, get off that channel. Those women are crazy.
This government of sons of bitches that we have, you aren't going to
bring it down with marches or speeches. If they don't grab a gun, the
security forces will always kick them down. They're brave, but it's not
going to change this shitty country."
Most of the neighbors in the converted bunkhouse think the same way.
They're capable of jumping the fence of a State factory to rob two
gallons of alcohol, but don't talk to them about politics, human rights
or freedom of expression.
"Mi amor, who wants to get into trouble? The police have gone nuts with
the businesses and prostitution. But when you go down the path of human
rights, you're in trouble for life," comments Denia, a matron.
She prefers to speak about her business. From a black bag she brings out
her Huawei telephone and shows several photos of half-nude girls while
chanting out the price. "Look how much money. Over there, whoever wants
can beat them up," says Denia, referring to the Ladies in White.
Generally, with a few exceptions, the citizens of the Republic of Cuba
have become immune or prefer to opt for amnesia when the subjects of
dissidence, freedom and democracy are brought up.
"There are several reasons. Pathological fear, which certainly infuses
authoritarian societies like the Cuban one. You must add to that the
fact that the Government media has known very well how to sell the story
of an opposition that is minimal, divided and corrupt, interested only
in American dollars," affirms Carlos, a sociologist.
Also, the dissidence is operating on an uneven playing field. It doesn't
have hours of radio or television coverage to spread its political
programs. The repression has obligated hundreds of political opponents
to leave the country. And State Security has infiltrated moles in almost
all the dissident groups.
"The special services efficiently short-circuit the relation of the
neighbors of the barrio and the people who support the dissidence. How
do you overcome that abyss? By expanding bridges to the interior of the
Island. I believe the opposition is more focused on political crusades
toward the exterior. The other is to amplify what the majority of Cubans
want to hear: There isn't food; to buy a change of clothing costs a
three months' salary; the terrible transport service; the water
shortage….There is a long list of subjects the dissidents can exploit,"
I perceive that around 80 percent of the population has important common
ground with the local opposition. The timid economic openings and
repeals of absurd regulations were always claimed by the dissidence,
from greater autonomy for private work, foreign travel or being tourists
in their own country.
According to some dissidents, many neighbors approach them to say hello
and delve into the motives for their detentions after a brutal verbal
lynching or a beating. But there aren't enough.
Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, the leader of the Alianza Democrática
Oriental (Eastern Democratic Alliance) and director of Palenque Visión
(Palenque Vision), felt frustrated when street protests demanding rights
for everybody were taking place, and people were only watching from the
curb of a sidewalk.
"One night I was in the hospital's emergency room, since my son had a
high fever, and I initiated a protest because of the poor medical
attention. Several patients were in the same situation. But no one
raised their voice when the patrols arrived and the political police
detained me by force. That night I realized that I had to change my
method to reach ordinary Cubans. Perhaps the independent press is a more
effective way," Lobaina told me several months ago in Guantánamo.
Although independent journalists reflect that other Cuba that the
autocracy pretends to ignore, their notes, reports or complaints have a
limited reach because of the lack of Internet service and the
precariousness of their daily lives.
For the majority of citizens, democracy, human rights and freedom of
expression are not synonymous with a plate of food, but with repression.
How to awaken a Cuban from indifference is a good question for a debate.
Translated by Regina Anavy
Source: The Cuban Regime Survives by Fear / Iván García – Translating
http://translatingcuba.com/the-cuban-regime-survives-by-fear-ivn-garca/ Continue reading
OPINIONMIGUEL DE LA TORRE | MARCH 28, 2017
Returning to the land which witnessed my birth is always a gut-wrenching
experience. Separation from my island has now been five times longer
than Odysseus' was from his. But unlike Odysseus, who was returning to a
place he was familiar with, I am attempting to piece together some type
of rootedness upon the shifting sands of my parents' false memories (sí,
porque los bichos no picaban, y los mangos eran más dulce; yes, because
the bugs were not biting, and mangoes were sweeter).
Every Cuban over a certain age lives with a particular trauma caused by
the hardships of being a refugee. Homesickness for a place that was
never home, mixed with nostalgia, romanticization and an
unnaturally-taught hatred towards various actors blamed for our
Babylonian captivity contributes to the trauma of not having a place, of
not ever being able to visit one's grandmother's garden to eat mangos
from its trees, nor enjoy the gentle sea breezes.
By the rivers of Miami we sat and wept at the memory of La Habana. There
on the palm trees we hung our conga drums. For there, those who stole
our independence with gunboat diplomacy, asked us for songs. Those who
forced on us the Platt Amendment demanded songs of joy. "Sing us one of
the mambo songs from Cuba." But how can we sing our rumba in a pagan
land? If I forget you, mi Habana, may my right hand wither. May my
tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do
not consider la Habana mi mayor alegría. Remember, Yahweh, what the
oppressors did. A blessing on him who seizes their infants and dashes
them against the rock!
As I stroll down el malecón, as I amble along calle Obispo, as I have a
daiquiri en el Floridita, I observe. I randomly gaze at my surroundings,
reflecting upon what I see, attempting to understand what occurs beneath
the surface. In no specific order, here are some of my musings:
- I notice many yuma lechers — old white men with young beautiful
mulatas on their arms, planning to do to them what the embargo has done
to the island.
- I notice yumas rushing to see Cuba before it changes, before it is
spoiled, fetishizing the misery and poverty of others, ignoring how much
the people want change because they hunger.
- I notice la buena presente, where the faces of tourism's
representatives have a light complexion, thus denying their darker
compatriots lucrative tourists' tips.
- I notice how liberals, from the safety of first-world middle-class
privilege, paint Cuba as some socialist paradise, ignoring how sexism
and racism continues to thrive, along with a very sophisticated and
not-so-well hidden classism connected to political power.
- I notice how conservatives, with an air of superiority, paint Cuba
with brushes which impose hues of oppression to color a portrait of
repression ignorant of the survival mentality of a people fluent in
doublespeak and sharp tongues of criticism.
- I notice tourists who can't salsa dancing in well-preserved streets
while a block away from the merriment are inhabited buildings on the
verge of collapsing.
- I notice Trumpites insisting on removing the human rights violation
splinter out of Cuba's eye while ignoring the log of Border Patrol
abuses against the undocumented, the log of black lives not mattering,
the log of grabbing women by their ——-, paying them lower wages than men
for the same job, the log of unthreading a safety net which keeps people
alive, and all the other human rights violation logs firmly lodged in
the USA's eye.
- I notice liberal yumas apotheosis of el Ché and Fidel, dismissing as
gusanos the critiques of those and the surviving families who have suffered.
- I notice the swagger of conservative yumas quick to dictate the
conditions under which they will recognize someone else's sovereignty,
holding on to the self-conceived hegemonic birthright of empire.
- I notice the false dichotomy created by bar stool pundits between
ending the genocidal U.S. embargo and the need for greater political
participation from the people. This is not an either/or issue; it's a
The most painful thing I notice is how I am not fully accepted aquí o
allá — here or there. I am held in contempt and suspicion on both sides
of the Florida Straits. Here, I'm too Cuban to ever be American, and
there, I'm too American to ever be a Cuban. The trauma of which I speak
is never belonging.
As you contemplate these reflections, note I have again returned to la
isla de dolor. Like Odysseus I am struggling against the gods who decree
separation from the fantasy island I claim to love, an irrational love
toward a place where I am neither welcomed nor truly belong. I close
these reflections with that of another refugee, who also spent his life
wandering the earth where there was no place he could call home or where
he could rest his head. According to José Martí, "Let those who do not
[secure a homeland] live under the whip and in exile, watched over like
wild animals, cast from one country to another, concealing the death of
their souls with a beggar's smile from the scorn of free persons."
Source: Never belonging: Random reflections on my last visit to Cuba –
Baptist News Global -
https://baptistnews.com/article/random-reflections-on-my-last-visit-to-cuba/#.WNppUfmGP6Q Continue reading
Juan Juan Almeida, 22 March 2017 — On March 17 of this year, a group of
NGO (non-governmental organization) representatives from Latin America
and the Caribbean celebrated in Havana Cuba's political agenda in
support of people with disabilities of every kind. The next day, for
the twentieth time, Cuban institutions honored the legacy of Terry Fox
by encouraging people to join in the traditional marathon. It is
interesting that, although the Cuban State and constitution guarantee
the right to free education without discrimination, there are neither an
educational policy nor laws designed to protect people with different
According to official figures, approximately 3% of the Cuban population
lives with some limitation that keeps them from participating in the
labor market, and as a result, they cannot access the funds to confront
the many obstacles they face in life.
The present legislation regarding this issue is very clear, but not all
people with limitations possesses "special protection" status. In order
to prove need, a disabled person needs to be in a situation of
vulnerability or of economic dependence.
There is a logical explanation: having a deficiency is not synonymous
with being vulnerable. There are many types of disabilities: physical,
mental, motor, and even sensory, and not all necessarily make a person
incapable of work. However, in the particular circumstances of the
island of Cuba, this justification is very unjust. There is nobody
legally responsible for determining or regulating, according to whatever
conditions are established, exactly when a disabled person is considered
deserving of being included in, or excluded from, "special protection."
As a result, this right is being denied to all people with hinderances.
Furthermore, we should not forget that any individual receiving
subsidies from social security for labor disability continues to be
economically dependent. Simply getting a pension should not disqualify
one from "special protection" status. It is not a mathematical equation,
but rather question of applying formulas to the present reality in order
to be efficient and achieve the greatest social benefit. What products
or services are available to a person who receives 150 Cuban pesos a
month (about $6 US)?
I suffer from a disease that, without the right treatment, makes it
impossible for me to do certain things. I speak from the knowledge of
personal experience: I know that Cuban associations for the
physical-motor disabled, and for the visually or hearing impaired, such
as ACLIFIM. ANSI, and ANSOC, work for the equal rights of people with
handicaps, for recognition of their dignity, autonomy and social and
community integration. This, however, is pure publicity, because as
long as the Government does not push for a real legal policy designed to
stop us seeing disability as disease, they will not begin to tackle this
controversial issue from a more inclusive and less discriminatory social
Perhaps, as Mariela Castro did for the LGBTI community, her brother
Alejandro Castro Espín, known for having a visual impairment, should
lead a campaign for the respect of equality and the rights of people
with disabilities. But, of course, the masses of handicapped, with
shameful frequency, fail to be a priority for a "great leader" who has
been held up as champion of human rights.
Translated by Claire Huttlinger
Source: Task for Alejandro Castro: Protecting Cuba's Disabled / Juan
Juan Almeida – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/task-for-alejandro-castro-protecting-cubas-disabled-juan-juan-almeida/ Continue reading
Castro regime agent
"I am obliged to once again denounce the dictatorial regime of the
Castros, this time as a mother and human rights defender." - Sirley
Avila Leon, March 20, 2017
Las Tunas, Cuba: Yoerlis Peña Ávila on March 15, 2017 received a death
threat against him and his grandmother, Sirley Leon Aguilera, for being
family (son and mother respectively) of Sirley Avila Leon, who was the
victim of a May 24, 2015 machete attack carried out by a regime
collaborator that left her permanently disabled. The threat is in
response to her legal demand presented to recover 126,000 Cuban pesos
($4754) in damages resulting from the attack.
On March 15, 2017 he was able to send an e-mail to his mother that
described what had happened that same day: "I was working and a man that
I do not know told me that it was better that the legal demand not be
continued because you did not know the risk in which you were exposing
me and my grandmother that for you to suffer they could attack us."
Four days earlier on March 11, 2017 Sirley Avila Leon had contacted her
son, and again on March 13th on both occasions they discussed the legal
action being pursued, but then found it increasingly difficult to
communicate. It appears that the Castro regime does not want this legal
action to be pursued and is using intimidation to try to shut it down.
There is good reason to be concerned with this pattern of threats and
harassment. Over a three year period (2012 - 2015) regime agents made a
series of threats and took actions that culminated in the attempted
murder of Sirley Avila Leon on May 24, 2015. Another round of threats
and harassment when she returned to Cuba on September 7, 2016 following
medical treatment in Miami led to her decision to leave Cuba on October
28, 2016 and request asylum in the United States when death threats
against her person escalated and her attacker, Osmany Carriòn, was free
and bragging that he would finish the job he started.
Sirley Avila Leon is asking democratic representatives, human rights
organizations, and members of international organizations and all people
of goodwill to urge the Cuban government to investigate the threat made
against her son and mother.
Sirley Ávila León was a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People's
Power in Cuba from June 2005, for the rural area of Limones until 2012
when the regime gerrymandered her district out of existence. The Castro
regime removed her from her position because she had fought to reopen a
school in her district, but been ignored by official channels and had
reached out to international media. Her son, Yoerlis Peña Ávila, who had
an 18 year distinguished career in the Cuban military was forced out
when he refused to declare his mother insane and have her committed to a
Sirley joined the ranks of the democratic opposition and repression
against her increased dramatically. On May 24, 2015 she was the victim
of a brutal machete attack carried out by Osmany Carriòn, with the
complicit assistance of his wife, that led to the loss of her left hand,
right upper arm nearly severed, and knees slashed into leaving her
crippled. Following the attack she did not receive adequate medical care
and was told quietly by medical doctors in Cuba that if she wanted to
get better that she would need to leave the country.
On March 8, 2016 she arrived in Miami and began a course of treatments
over the next six months during which she was able to walk once again
although still limited due to her injuries. She returned to Cuba on
September 7, 2016 only to find her home occupied by strangers and her
attacker free and bragging that he would finish the job. She moved in
with her mother and within a short time a camera and microphone were set
up across from her mother's home on a post.
Threats against Sirley's life intensified leading her to flee Cuba to
the United States and request political asylum on October 28, 2016.
Below is a video in Spanish explaining the circumstances that led her to
Source: Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter: Mother and son of 2015
machete attack victim receive death threat from Castro regime agent -
http://cubanexilequarter.blogspot.be/2017/03/mother-and-son-of-2015-machete-attack.html Continue reading
21 March 2017, 16:58 UTC
A three year sentence against the leader of a Christian pro-democracy
movement after he criticized Fidel Castro is a stark illustration of
ongoing restrictions to the right to free expression in Cuba, said
Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción, leader of the Christian Liberation
Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, MCL) was sentenced on Monday
20 March, his wife told Amnesty International.
He was charged with attacking an official of the state (atentado) after
he publicly criticized former Cuban leader Fidel Castro a few days after
his death. During an interview with Madrid-based radio station esRadio,
aired two days before his arrest, Cardet described the mourning in Cuba
following the death of Fidel Castro as imposed, and said: "Castro was a
very controversial man, very much hated and rejected by our people."
His lawyer has ten days to file an appeal.
"For decades, the Cuban authorities have harassed and intimidated
members of the Christian Liberation Movement in a attempt to silence any
dissenting ideas," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at
"Despite some recent openness, we see how the Cuban authorities continue
to control free expression. It is beyond belief that people are still
routinely arrested for criticizing a politician or for writing an
opinion on a wall – as was the case of graffiti artist Danilo 'El Sexto'
Maldonado. Sadly, Cuban courts continue to fail to provide a rigorous
check and balance to executive powers."
Despite some recent openness, we see how the Cuban authorities continue
to control free expression. It is beyond belief that people are still
routinely arrested for criticizing a politician or for writing an
opinion on a wall.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International
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"There is no doubt that Dr Cardet is a prisoner of conscience, put
behind bars for speaking his mind. He must not be made to spend a second
longer in jail."
Provisions of the Cuban Criminal Code, such as contempt of a public
official (desacato), resistance to public officials carrying out their
duties (resistencia) and public disorder (desórdenes públicos) are
frequently used to stifle free speech, assembly and association in Cuba.
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a
Cuban-based human rights NGO not recognized by the state, documented a
monthly average of 827 politically motivated detentions in 2016.
The Christian Liberation Movement (Movimento Cristiano Liberación, MCL)
is a prominent actor in the pro-democracy movement in Cuba. According to
its website, it is a movement for peaceful and democratic change and
respect for human dignity. It was founded in 1988 by Oswaldo Payá
Sardiñas, who became a visible figure of the Cuban political opposition,
and four other activists.
Amnesty International has documented harassment and intimidation of
members of the MCL for decades. In 1991, after Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas
presented a petition calling for a national referendum relating to
constitutional reform, he had his home destroyed by over 200 people,
said to be members of a Rapid Response Brigade. After Oswaldo Payá
announced his intention to put himself forward as a candidate for deputy
to the National Assembly for the municipality of Cerro, Havana, members
of his organization were reportedly subjected to frequent questioning
and short-term detention.
Source: Cuba: Activist sentenced to three years in jail after
criticising Fidel Castro | Amnesty International -
https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/03/cuba-activist-sentenced-to-three-years-in-jail-after-criticising-fidel-castro/ Continue reading
Jackson Ventrella / Ana Quintana / @Ana_R_Quintana / March 20, 2017
Jackson Ventrella is a member of the Young Leader's Program at The
Ana Quintana is a policy analyst for Latin America and the Western
Hemisphere in The Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign
Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J.,
have reintroduced a bill to rename the street outside the Cuban Embassy
in Washington, D.C., after Oswaldo Payá.
This bill conveys a sense of solidarity with the Cuban people whose
rights have long been abused by their corrupt and evil government.
Human rights violations continue in Cuba, despite what proponents of
President Barack Obama's Cuba policy believe. It has been two years
since the Obama administration attempted to normalize relations with the
But what has actually changed?
Attempting to normalize relations has only bought tourists a cozy island
getaway and some commodities like cigars and rum to bring back with
them. It has given the Cuban people nothing.
Since 1961, the Cuban government has oppressed and imprisoned dissidents
simply for disagreeing with the regime. Today, this is still the case.
There is no freedom or prosperity in a place like this.
More importantly, there are no protections for even the most basic of
human rights. Any dissent in Cuba is met with imprisonment, violence,
and even death.
Payá was one of those people.
Payá, the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, established
himself as one of the most well-known dissidents in Cuba. Tragically,
his life was cut short before he could see his dream of a freer and
democratic Cuba realized.
In 2012, Payá died in a car accident when his car was run off the road.
His incredible story includes intentionally staying on the island, even
after having the opportunity to leave in 1980 on the Mariel boatlift.
The independent Human Rights Foundation has found the Cuban government
culpable for his death.
Payá committed his life to the promotion of human rights and democracy
in Cuba, and in making that decision, he also made a commitment to stay
in Cuba. Although he will never see the complete fruits of his labor,
the important groundwork that he laid will enable future generations to
secure and protect the human rights of all Cubans.
His daughter, Rosa María Payá, continues his activism efforts in Cuba.
She was recently set to present a human rights award to Luis Almagro,
the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, but the
Cuban government denied entry to him and former heads of state.
The Castro regime simply could not allow an awards ceremony that would
champion and celebrate human rights and democracy to take place.
The Cruz, Rubio, and Menendez bill will serve as a reminder, not only of
Oswaldo Payá's life, but of the purpose of his life and all the things
for which he fought. If the bill passes, Cuban diplomats will be given a
daily reminder of their criminality.
Those who promote human rights and democracy may be persecuted in
Havana, but they are celebrated in the United States. The Castro regime
has a long and consistent history of human rights violations, and even
though other nations, like Venezuela, may imitate it, it will not last.
Payá gave his life to lay a firm and resolute foundation for change. The
base he created will continue to thrive and inspire others to complete
Source: How Congress Can Send a Strong Message to Cuba -
http://dailysignal.com/2017/03/20/how-congress-can-send-a-strong-message-to-cuban-diplomats-in-dc/ Continue reading
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
Frustrated by what they see as "indolence" from the previous
administration, some Cuban government opponents are urging President
Donald Trump to backtrack current Cuba policy and speak out about
increased government repression on the island.
Antonio G. Rodiles and his partner Ailer González — both members of the
Forum for Rights and Freedoms — are calling on the new administration to
reset U.S.-Cuba relations and "recognize that they are dealing with a
"The main thing would be for those of us who are legitimate actors on
the Cuban scene — inside and outside the island — to be part of the
policy design and part of that political process toward the island"
unlike what former President Barack Obama did, Rodiles said during a
recent meeting with el Nuevo Herald.
The couple also denounced an increase in repression since Obama
announced his policy of engagement and the restoration of diplomatic
ties with Cuba in December 2014. The situation, they said, has become
worse since the death of former leader Cuban Fidel Castro in November
with a "millimetric monitoring" of opponents' actions and harassment of
"It is important for the new administration to start taking action on
the issue and make some statement, because silence is being very well
used by the regime to try to crush the opposition," Rodiles said.
The Cuban government opponent criticized the "indolence" of the Obama
administration toward the human rights situation on the island.
"We have direct experience, including talking to President Obama, and
the direct experience was that there was a lot of indolence in what
happened with Cuba ... There was a moment when we understood that the
administration was not an ally [in the struggle for] for democratic
changes in Cuba, that they had a vision that Cuba was going to change in
the long term and that we would have to accept neo-Castroism," he said.
Although he was careful not to mention what measures taken by the
previous administration should be eliminated — such as sending
remittances or authorizing U.S. airline travel to the island, which are
popular in Cuba and within a large portion of the Cuban American
community — Rodiles said he supports returning to the previous longtime
policy of applying economic pressure against the Raúl Castro government,
a practice Obama has referred to as a "failed policy."
"If the regime is taking advantage of some of these measures, I'd cut
that economic income," Rodiles said. "Everything that is giving benefits
to the regime and not to the people must be reversed."
The frustration expressed by the activist couple has become increasingly
evident. A video published by the Forum for Rights and Liberties and in
which González exclaims, "Obama, you are finally leaving!" unleashed a
whirlwind of controversy within social media networks.
According to Rodiles, Obama asked dissidents and activists during a
meeting in Havana on March 22, 2016, to have patience with his policy of
"I told him that you can't be patient when they are kicking citizens and
women with impunity," Rodiles said. The couple was among several
activists arrested during a widely reported act of repudiation against
dissidents on the same Sunday that Obama arrived in Havana for an
Rodiles and González dismissed criticism by those who question their
support for President Trump and claim their agenda is dictated by groups
within the Cuban exile community. They said their interest is in
readdressing Cuba issues not taking a position on U.S. domestic issues.
"Those same people who say that we are being radical and
confrontational, are extremely unsupportive. They do not report any
violation of human rights. These are hypocritical positions," González said.
As for other strategies being carried out by other opposition groups on
the island in an effort to incite change, the couple acknowledged that
there are many different ideologies and approaches, which they said was
a healthy element in the struggle for democracy.
"The most important thing," Rodiles said, "is that the regime has to
understand that 60 years is more than enough, and that it's over."
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres
Source: Cuban dissident Antonio Rodiles calls on Trump to get tough on
Cuba | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article139927853.html Continue reading
China, Iran, Bangladesh
By UN Watch —— Bio and Archives March 21, 2017
GENEVA— Cuba, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Bolivia, UAE, Iran,
Bangladesh, and Venezuela today attempted to silence UN human rights
council testimony by the head of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights
non-governmental organization, after he criticized or called for the
removal of these countries from the council.
However, Neuer thanked the USA, the UK, Canada, Germany, Netherlands,
and Latvia for successfully defending the right of UN Watch to speak.
Full text of the speech and interruptions below.
UN Human Rights Council, debate under Agenda Item 8, Vienna Declaration
of Human Rights
delivered by Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch
Today we ask: Is the world living up to the Vienna Declaration, which
reaffirms basic human rights?
We ask the government of Turkish President Erdogan, if it cares about
human rights, why did they just fire more than one hundred thousand
teachers, university deans, judges, prosecutors, religious figures and
We ask Pakistan, when will they release Asia Bibi, the innocent,
Christian mother of five, now on death row on the absurd charge of
We ask Saudi Arabia, when will you end gender apartheid? When will you
stop oppressing all religious practice that is not Wahhabist Islam? When
will you release Raif Badawi, serving 10 years in prison for the crime
of advocating a free society?
We welcome the Secretary-General's new pledge of UN reform. That is why
today, pursuant to Article 8 of Resolution 60/251, we call for the
complete removal of Saudi Arabia from this Council.
So long as 1.3 billion people are denied their basic freedoms, we call
for the removal of China. So long as human rights are abused by
Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burundi, Congo, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, and UAE, we
call for their removal.
So long as the Maduro government imprisons democracy leaders like Mayor
Antonio Ledezma of Caracas, and causes its millions of citizens to
scavenge for food, we call for the removal of Venezuela.
So long as the Castro government jails Eduardo Cardet, a prisoner of
conscience, we call for the complete removal of Cuba from this Council.
[Cuba interrupts on a point of order, followed by 8 other countries]
Cuba: We are taking the floor under Article 13 of the UN General
Assembly Rules, Point of Order. We heard the speaker, he has just taken
the floor in this debate and questioned the membership of the Human
Rights Council, particularly our membership but also other countries.
The decision on granting membership is up to the member states of the
United Nations alone, pursuant to which they freely decide and elect who
will be a member. And bear in mind resolution 96/31 of ECOSOC and
resolution 60 of the UNGA, we would ask you to call the speaker to order
and that we should confine our comments to what is on agenda. It's
important that they are called to order, bearing in mind the
prerogatives that NGOs enjoy.
Bangladesh: We also have the same position as Cuba with regard to the
intervention made by the NGO, UN Watch. We note with very high concern
that the language used by this particular organization is not only
unacceptable, it is abhorrent. The basic premise of questioning the
membership of the Human Rights Council with regard to a number of states
is out-hand rejected. We believe that this is a matter of serious
concern, the continued participation of this organization in the
proceedings of this Council is, to our view, not desirable, and we would
ask the Human Rights Council to take a unified view on this matter.
Venezuela: I wanted to support the points of order raised by Cuba and
Bangladesh. My delegation would also like to state in writing its
position. We reject what has been said by this political organization
called UN Watch. They use this session to address political issues which
have nothing to do with promoting human rights. Vice-President, we are
under agenda item 8, the general debate, this is a thematic debate, it
has to do with the Vienna Action Plan. We therefore reject the fact that
this political body violates the spirit of cooperation that needs to
prevail in our work. President, I agree that we need to respect freedom
of expression and freedom to disagree with a country, but at the same
time we demand respect, and we cannot accept offensive terms used
against our country and our government. I would, therefore, president,
ask you to call the speaker to order. Thank you.
Pakistan: We would support the well articulated arguments already given
by Cuba, Bangladesh, Venezuela, and we would also align ourselves with
their viewpoint, that this organization is way out of line, and the
honor and respect of the Council should be always at the top of the
agenda, and to target continuously particular countries by the
organization, which we saw in the last agenda item also, and again in
the last agenda item we had to take the point of order on the same
organization, it is not in line, and we urge the whole Council to take a
unified position on this, and we respectfully request the Vice-President
to take Point of Order on this.
United States: Without addressing the substance of the speaker's
statement, we are of the opinion that what we have heard of the
intervention is indeed addressed to the subject matter at hand before
this council and is within the UN rules and IB package. I believe that
the speaker has already finished speaking as I understood it but if the
speaker has not, we respectfully ask that you rule that the speaker be
allowed to finish his presentation.
China: I support the statement made by Cuba, Bangladesh, Venezuela and
Pakistan. Members of the Human Rights Council were elected by the member
states, and this is an NGO which is making this kind of attack, which is
totally unacceptable, and therefore I would respectfully request the
Vice-President to end the speech that has been made by this NGO. And I
would also call on this NGO to respect the rules of the Council in this
United Kingdom: NGOs should be allowed to speak openly and freely in
this forum. The NGO should be allowed to conclude their statement,
Netherlands: We highly value that civil society be able to speak. We ask
you to allow the speaker to finish their statement.
Canada: Canada deeply believes that accredited NGOs should be authorized
to take the floor in this council. What we heard from this statement is
relevant to our ongoing discussions.
Saudi Arabia: I won't be long. We support the points of order raised by
Cuba, Bangladesh, and China. Thank you.
Iran: We would like to support the point of order made by our
distinguished Cuban colleagues, followed by Bangladesh and other
distinguished members of the Council. Thank you.
Latvia: It is very important that we allow NGOs to express their views,
even if we may sometimes disagree with what they say. That enriches our
human rights dialogue. It is the better of courtesy to ensure that NGO
statements should not be interrupted. I call on you to allow NGOs to
Vice-President (Egyptian ambassador Amr Ahmed Ramadan): Actually NGOs
were given the chance to speak, we have been listening to them since
Germany: Like others before us, we would urge upon this council to
listen to the voice of NGOs, even if we do not always agree with what
Bolivia: Thank you, brother Vice-President. We feel compelled to second
what has been said by Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, etc. We are not
questioning freedom of expression, it is the content of what has been
said which discredits the NGO. We are clear in how this NGO operates.
United Arab Emirates: President, the Emirates would also like to endorse
the point of order raised by Cuba, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and
others. Thank you.
Vice-President: Distinguished members of this council: we have wasted
more than 10 minutes, we listened to 15 countries whether to allow UN
Watch to continue with this statement. We need all to recognize that we
are short of time in this session. So with that in mind, we need to work
in an efficient manner, to finish the agenda. With that in mind, I will
ask the representative to respect member states, and more importantly to
respect this Council.
UN Watch: Mr. President, we have the right to cite the suspension
provision of this council's own charter. They can silence human rights
defenders at home, but they cannot do so at the United Nations.
UN Watch is a Geneva-based human rights organization founded in 1993 to
monitor UN compliance with the principles of its Charter. It is
accredited as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Special
Consultative Status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and
as an Associate NGO to the UN Department of Public Information (DPI).
Source: UN Watch testimony at UNHRC interrupted by Cuba, Pakistan, Saudi
Arabia, China, Iran, Bangladesh -
http://canadafreepress.com/article/un-watch-testimony-at-unhrc-interrupted-by-cuba-pakistan-saudi-arabia-china Continue reading
Karen Gilchrist | @_karengilchrist
Thursday, 16 Mar 2017 | 9:02 AM ET
U.S. airlines Silver Airways and Frontier Airlines have become the
latest to bow out of Cuba due to weakened demand, posing new questions
about the U.S's future relationship with its former Cold War foe.
For a brief period under President Barack Obama, longstanding tensions
appeared to be easing. But now, as the White House conducts a "full
review" of U.S.-Cuba policies, diplomatic relations between the two
neighbors look as uncertain as ever.
Indications so far suggest that President Donald Trump would be loath to
continue the détente initiated by his predecessor, which sought to
loosen travel restrictions and barriers to trade implemented more than
50 years earlier. During campaigning, the now President tweeted his
condemnation of human rights abuses conducted by Cuba's totalitarian
government. Then, last week, Cuba's President Raúl Castro made his first
public retort, describing President Trump's policies as "egotistical"
However, President Trump also has a pro-business agenda to ally. A
number of U.S. companies took advantage of Obama's executive order and
efforts to restrict business freedoms will not come easily. Indeed, it
would not go unnoticed that Trump built his fortune on the tourism
industry and his organization reportedly once sought to pursue possible
business interests on the island.
So where does President Trump go from here - and how should business
What are companies currently doing?
Airline carriers Delta, jetBlue and American Airlines were some of the
first to capitalise on Obama's policies. In the first year after
restrictions were lifted, travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens grew 77
percent. However, a recent surplus of carriers and weakening demand have
caused some national airlines to reduce services, while regional
carriers Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways are to suspend their Cuba
"Lack of demand coupled with overcapacity by the larger airlines has
made the Cuban routes unprofitable for all carriers. As a result, Silver
has made the difficult but necessary decision to suspend its Cuba
service effective April 22, 2017. It is not in the best interest of
Silver and its team members to behave in the same irrational manner as
other airlines," Silver Airways said in a press note.
Trade association Airlines for America told CNBC it is currently
"working with government" to secure an adequate framework between the
Meanwhile, delivery services company FedEx announced this month that it
is delaying the implementation of its regularly scheduled cargo service
to Cuba by six months to address "operational challenges in the Cuban
These challenges are also acutely felt by entrepreneurial start-ups on
the island. Chad Olin, president of U.S. Tour operator Cuba Candela, set
up his business to facilitate U.S. tourists under President Obama's
normalisation programme. He now faces an uncertain wait under the White
House's policy review.
"Although the new U.S. administration has introduced some uncertainty to
the continued improvement of U.S.-Cuba relations, we are cautiously
optimistic that relaxed travel rules will not be repealed," Olin told CNBC.
John Kavulich, president of the U.S-Cuba Trade and Economic Council,
regularly deals with businesses and policy makers with interests in the
U.S. and Cuba and indicated that more still are in a state of limbo.
"U.S. companies are hesitant to re-engage or engage due to the
uncertainty about what the Trump administration will or will not do with
respect to Cuba," he explained, adding indications that the White House
may intend to rescind certain freedoms.
If it is the case, however, that the new administration wishes to repeal
President Obama's executive order, it won't be without litigation issues
from current business license holders, noted Kavulich. A more likely
scenario, at least in the short term, would be a partial freeze on
issuance while the U.S. confirms its position, he said, noting
conversations heard within government and the business community.
"There is not a desire to issue further (business) licenses, but also an
acknowledgement that some license applications are and will be
legitimate," he said.
Christopher Sabatini, lecturer of international relations and policy at
Columbia University, agreed that full reinstatement of the trade embargo
would be unpopular, particularly in Florida, a crucial swing state which
helped secure President Trump's election.
"Some of the entrepreneurial concession will be hard to roll back
because people's lives rely on them," Sabatini told CNBC, referring to
Florida businesses which export to Cuba. Such moves would make the
President very unpopular, he said: "You would see protests on the
streets if they were removed."
"Big ticket" items, such as large corporates, would be easier to remove,
As well as on the streets, Florida is likely to have an influential role
in policy at a Congressional level, too.
Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator for Florida, is one of six hard-line Cuban
American members of Congress who believe President Castro's government
is deeply untrustworthy and are likely to push for a retightening of policy.
"This (Cuban sanctions) is a concession President Trump can make to a
very powerful constituency in Congress," said Sabatini, who remarked
that the President may be keen to maintain his perceived favourability
among Floridians. Last month, President Trump met with Senator Rubio and
told a press conference of their "very similar views on Cuba."
Such a concession may also be necessary given the complexity of the
issue, notes Sebastian Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research
Institute at Florida International University.
"President Trump will delegate his Cuba policy to others he trusts and
he assumes understand the issue better."
"That means people like Senator Rubio or Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart
will be quite influential in defining the new policy.
"We don't know yet what such policy will look like, but based on the few
signals from the Trump administration, it will be less congenial than Mr
Obama's," Arcos noted.
A new era for Cuba?
Such hard-line members of Congress clearly criticize the reform agenda
for further embedding repression, which has dogged the island for
decades. They claim that new businesses and tourist dollars only serve
to further fund the Castro regime and aggravate segregation on the island.
Trump's adviser Helen Aguirre Ferre said last week that the
administration has not seen Cuba make any "concessions" despite "all the
things it has been given."
However, Cuba has clearly been changing. Citizens are now more globally
connected than ever before, benefiting from improved telecommunication
services and internet connectivity, and certain legacies of Obama's
reform agenda will not be undone
With citizens now more exposed to the freedoms enjoyed by democratic
societies, including more private industry and gradually increasing -
albeit still limited - access to a free press, President Trump now
stands at a crucial juncture for U.S.-Cuba relations: continue pursuing
reforms or return to isolation tactics.
President Castro has stated his intentions to step down in 2018 which
could provide President Trump with greater leverage in his aims to
create a "better deal for the Cuban people." Tactical diplomatic
negotiations could secure greater democratic freedoms for Cuban citizens
if the President is willing to engage with his political opponent – an
enviably legacy for any President.
However, it remains a big if.
When contacted by CNBC, the White House and the Trump Organization were
not available for comment.
Source: As further US airlines exit Cuba, what does the future hold for
US-Cuba relations? -
http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/16/as-further-us-airlines-exit-cuba-what-does-the-future-hold-for-us-cuba-relations.html Continue reading
Daniel Abma, director of 'Transit Havana' says the regime is now
integrating gays into society
Bilbao 20 MAR 2017 - 15:50 CET
"El colectivo LGTB de Cuba vive un momento de apertura y transición"
A meeting with a Belgian surgeon gave the Dutch documentary filmmaker
and human rights activist Daniel Abma the story he was looking for:
every year, Cuba invites this surgeon along with a Dutch colleague to
carry out sex reassignment surgery on five of the island's residents.
Between November 2013 and January 2015, Abma documented the lives of
three transsexuals hoping to be among the lucky five. Then, as relations
between the US and Cuba warmed, he was given a newsworthy peg on which
to hang his film.
"The regime has gone from persecuting homosexuality to using all its
propaganda machinery to promote integration," says Abma who has just
watched his documentary, Transit Havana, premiere at the LGTBI Zinegoak
2017 Film Festival in Bilbao. " But Cuban homosexuals still have to deal
with religious intolerance, poverty, discrimination and often prostitution."
Many Cuban transsexuals have no alternative than to turn to prostitution
Cuban-trained doctors do not possess the necessary know-how to perform
sex reassignment procedures, which is why the Cuban government seeks out
experts in Europe. Through him, Abma was able to get permission to
document the new transgender residents' program, headed by President
Raúl Castro's daughter, Mariela.
"Mariela Castro supported us in every way. There was no control over
what we filmed and it became clear that she is a sort of mother figure
for the community," says the director, who visited the island four times
over the course of two years.
Mariela Castro is a member of Cuba's National Assembly and Director of
the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), whose push for
integration is giving the community a great deal of positive exposure
while, at the same time, making socialism a priority – the program
financing the sex reassignment surgery has adopted as its slogan:
homophobia no, socialism yes.
But it wasn't all plain sailing for Abma's project. While he was offered
unprecedented access to certain aspects of life in Cuba, some of his
footage was thought to give the wrong image of the island. "Without
Mariela's support, it would have been impossible to move so easily
around the island but when the authorities saw the results, they wanted
several changes that we didn't make," says the director, who regrets
that Mariela Castro did not show up for the premiere.
The Cuban authorities wanted some cuts to the documentary, which were
Along with Abma, the documentary's three protagonists, Odette, Malú and
Juani – three generations of different sexes facing different challenges
– were at the premiere in Bilbao. "At 64, Juani has a good life," says
Abma. "She was one of the first transsexual women and her new identity
as a man has not caused her problems."
This is not the case for Odette, who at the age of 38, has had to deal
with rejection from her family due to their religious beliefs, while
Malú, 28, was forced at times to turn to prostitution to make a living.
"Each of the three highlights the challenges that still face
transsexuals: religious prejudice, the lack of job opportunities and
social stigma," says Abma.
The director adds that Cubans are aware discrimination is wrong and
that, in the spirit of the revolution, they accept in theory that all
people are equal. But in practice traditional attitudes, combined with
Catholic convictions, mean that prejudice is widespread.
"The Church is a big problem for Odette," says Abma. "Her mother insists
that she can't be transsexual because it goes against Creation. Malú's
fight for transsexual rights has become her life and made her the leader
of the TransCuba Association. The older generation has reservations
about the country opening up, and finds it hard to understand
transsexuals. The young people are pushing for change and see the
community as normal."
The making of Transit Havana also prompted Abma to consider issues such
as how countries can implement radical change and how the most
traditional governments can turn their propaganda tools to good use. "In
Cuba, tradition exists side-by-side quite comfortably with movements
keen to open up," says Abma. "And it's Mariela Castro who is promoting
integration within the National Assembly. It's a shift that fills the
LGBTI community in many Eastern European countries with hope.
Communities can take strength from my documentary and governments can
reinforce their campaigns."
In Georgia, a transsexual was murdered on the street just days after
Transit Havana was released. But as he embarks on his next project,
these kinds of brutal responses only make the director more determined
to use cinema as a platform to bring about change and equality.
English version by Heather Galloway.
Source: Gender issues in Cuba: "The LGBT community in Cuba is going
through a transition" | In English | EL PAÍS -
http://elpais.com/elpais/2017/03/20/inenglish/1490015070_027498.html Continue reading
"So when are you going to Cuba?"
I get that a lot, maybe once a week. It's understandable, since I am a
home-grown Cubano, at least until I was almost 5 years old. That's when
my parents, in an act of ultimate sacrifice, left everything behind
except their dignity and a sense of purpose to escape Fidel Castro's thumb.
It's the Cuban-American narrative. We'll fast-forward through all the
tears and pain and hardships to get to 2017, when we are dancing on
Fidel's grave and Cuba is now an alluring tropical paradise. Grab some
sunscreen, book a flight or cruise, and order a mojito with a side of
Everybody is Havana Daydreamin'!
Not I. I don't begrudge anyone who wants to go. It is a beautiful place,
with a time-machine vibe. Hop on a '57 Chevy and feel the ocean breeze
as you cruise down el Malecón.
Cuba still stands still in so many ways. The "normalization" of Cuba
under the Obama administration has unlocked the keys to free commerce,
but not the chains that bind dissidents and others under Cuba's
People still rot and die in prisons. Members of the dissident group
Ladies in White still get pummeled by cops and arrested.
Just last month, Cuban dissident Hamell Santiago Mas Hernandez died in
prison. Cuban officials called it a "heart attack," a euphemism for when
a prisoner develops kidney failure, loses 35 pounds and rots away in a cell.
The U.S. does business with a number of unsavory nations, including
China, but the difference with Cuba is that there are a lot of
Cuban-Americans taking notes. They are passionate hall monitors who
don't understand why the Obama administration didn't squeeze Cuba on the
human-rights issue in return for the perks of tourism and groovy
Will things change under the Trump administration? Check your Twitter
feed for updates from 45. I suspect there will be more pushback, given
this snippet from the confirmation hearings for Secretary of State Rex
"Our recent engagement with the government of Cuba was not accompanied
by any significant concessions on human rights," he said. "We have not
held them accountable for their conduct. Their leaders received much
while their people received little. That serves neither the interest of
Cubans or Americans."
He has a point. The purpose of negotiating is to get something in
return, not just give away stuff.
But there's another dynamic in play here, too, that does not bode well
for Cuban tourism. The novelty is wearing off.
Silver Airways recently announced that it will scrap its service to Cuba
next month, citing low demand and competition from other airlines.
Frontier Airlines will cease its daily flight to Havana from Miami in
June. American Airlines and JetBlue have also scaled back their number
Raúl Castro and his compadres are finding out that capitalism is driven
by market factors, and Cuba is still running the con trying to lure all
The infrastructure is a little shaky, given the impact of the embargo
and other economic factors. Hotel reviews on TripAdvisor include handy
tips like "Don't forget to bring and 'USE' bug repellent!!" and "I guess
you get what you pay for."
Restrictions abound: There are 12 "authorized types" of travel to Cuba,
including educational, religious and journalistic purposes. And here's
another fun fact from the U.S. embassy in Havana:
"The Government of Cuba does not recognize the U.S. nationality of U.S.
citizens who are Cuban-born or are the children of Cuban parents."
That would be somebody like me. Cuba keeps meticulous notes on
journalists writing about the regime, and I probably would fill all the
checkmarks as an "enemy of the state." Without any rights as a
naturalized American citizen.
I'm afraid there will be no Havana Daydreamin' for me.
I prefer to visit my homeland one day free of restrictions. I want to
take in the ocean breeze from el Malecón without a cop asking for my
Cuban passport. I want to walk freely along the streets, without fear of
somebody monitoring my footsteps.
You don't have to be in prison to wear shackles. You just can't see them
when you disembark the cruise ship or an airplane.
firstname.lastname@example.org Read George Diaz's blog at
Source: Cuba capitalism blinds tourists from Communist reality -
Baltimore Sun -
http://www.baltimoresun.com/os-ed-cuba-human-rights-not-improving-george-diaz-20170317-story.html Continue reading
HRF explicó que "el 17 de febrero, agentes de la Seguridad del Estado sacaron a la activista de su casa, la golpearon y la arrestaron sin una orden judicial".Continue reading
El Gobierno ha aumentado "las prohibiciones, topes de precios, confiscaciones de mercancías y equipos, regulaciones" contra los transportistas privados o boteros de La Habana, los bicitaxistas y los vendedores ambulantes de productos agrícolas ("carretilleros"), denunció en un informe Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba.Continue reading
As icy U.S.-Cuba relations begin to thaw, Cuba's knowledge economy is
waking up. But it's a delicate process
Like many Cubans, Ubaldo Huerta left his homeland during a time of deep
economic crisis following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989,
which decimated Cuba's economy and sent tens of thousands of Cubans
looking for better opportunities abroad. The 47-year-old electrical
engineer quickly found his way to Silicon Valley, where he worked as a
software developer for numerous startups and gained his U.S.
citizenship. Later he relocated to Barcelona, founded a Craigslist-like
online classified website and sold his venture to eBay in 2005.
But despite these accomplishments, Huerta never lost sight of his
homeland. He began splitting his time between Spain and Cuba and three
years ago co-founded Fonoma.com, a small startup that enables people
outside of Cuba to make payments to prepaid cell phone and WiFi accounts
used by friends and family in Cuba. The business employs 15 people,
including seven in Havana.
"I want to be in Cuba," Huerta told Salon. "I cannot find better
developers than the ones that I've found here. I used to work in Silicon
Valley so I don't really need the money. I'm doing this because it makes
economic sense, and it's fun."
Cuba is in a better economic position today than it was when Huerta left
25 years ago. Huerta said that he amount of cell phone and WiFi account
deposits Fonoma processes grew by 40 percent last year amid Cuba's
nascent WiFi revolution. Today, the startup handles hundreds of
thousands of dollars' worth of transactions, half of them from the
United States — an online venture that would have been unheard of a
Huerta isn't alone. Last year, computer engineer Bernardo Romero
González came up with an idea to develop an online ordering system that
allows people outside of Cuba to pay for gifts purchased from local
Cuban businesses to be delivered to friends and relatives on the island.
"This platform helps other entrepreneurs in Cuba to grow their
market," Romero told Salon. "Businesses in Cuba are limited to their
town or city because they don't have access to e-commerce. This creates
the financial platform that allows them to put their products on the
Expected to go live before the end of the year, Cubazon will process
credit-card payments outside of Cuba and then wire money through the
same network used by Cubans abroad to send money to relatives back home
to pay the local Cuban business, such as a flower shop or bakery, to
make and deliver the gift. This system legally circumvents current U.S.
Treasury Department restrictions on payment processing in Cuba. Romero
expects 80 percent of his business to come from consumers in the United
Romero was one of 10 winners of last year's 10x10kCuba, a contest
sponsored by U.S. groups promoting Cuban tech innovation that includes
the University of Stanford's School of Engineering. The 33-year-old
programmer recently completed an intense two-week program at Colorado's
Boom Town Accelerator, a Boulder-based tech innovation incubator
participating in the program.
Planting seeds for success
Since Cuba and the United States began the process of thawing their icy
Cold War-era relations, highly educated Cubans like Huerta and Romero
have become two of a small number of tech-industry pioneers cautiously
planting their stakes on their country's future relations with the
United States. Former U.S. President Barack Obama's efforts to promote
private-sector engagement, along with a series of reforms in Cuba that
allows small businesses to operate, has made it easier for Cuba's
tech-startup economy, though many challenges still remain.
Proponents of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba argue that
promoting the tech industry in Cuba would unlock a lot of unused
potential, and help prevent Cuba's young tech talent from leaving the
island. Cuba needs these innovators at home to help figure out a way to
support its increasingly aging population.
Tres Mares Group, a Miami-based private equity investment firm that
follows business activity in Cuba, estimates that about 3,000 Cubans
currently work as freelancers in the local knowledge economy — many of
them doing work for companies in Canada and Spain — and as many as
50,000 qualified university-trained computer science engineers are
sitting on the bench, unable to fully utilize their skills. Most of
these computer science degree holders are graduates of the University
Campus José Antonio Echeverría (CUJAE by its Spanish acronym) or the
Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas, which is often compared to MIT.
On the U.S. side, companies are also starting to pay more attention to
the potential pool of Cuban talent.
"There are at least a half dozen firms [in the U.S.] who are working
with Cuban coders and programmers already," James Williams, president of
Engage Cuba, a Washington D.C. nonprofit coalition of private companies
working to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations, told Salon. "The challenge is
that since we're in this new period, they're not promoting these
activities yet and keeping them quiet until this becomes more normalized
and routine. But it's something that's already happening."
Indeed, there is still a lot to be done, and a lot that can be undone,
which is why many stakeholders on both sides of the Florida Straits are
being cautious about promoting their activities.
On the Cuban side, many hardliners in Cuba's Communist government are
suspicious of U.S. efforts to promote greater Internet access,
suspicions that were confirmed in 2014 when reports emerged that the
U.S. Agency for International Development was secretly funding a project
that used social media to try to foment an Arab Spring-like revolution
in Cuba. Though the failed project ended in 2012, whispers among people
who declined to speak to Salon on the record because of the sensitivity
of the issue claim similar efforts persist through other web-based front
organizations backed by the U.S. government.
On the U.S. side is an 800-pound gorilla in the White House known as
President Donald Trump. On the campaign trail Trump criticized Obama's
Cuba policy and promised to terminate his predecessor's efforts to
normalize relations with Cuba. The president also installed Mauricio
Claver-Carone, an active supporter of the 56-year-old U.S. embargo
against Cuba, to his transition team. Congress, too, is still reticent
to remove the embargo that would be perceived to empower Cuba's
authoritarian regime with a history of human rights violations — despite
the glaring fact that Congress accepts trade and diplomatic ties with
other authoritarian governments like China and Saudi Arabia. Another
concern among proponents of closer U.S.-Cuba trade ties is the fact the
China and Cuba trade ties are growing.
Many, including Huerta and Romero, are watching to see the direction the
president will take, and they're hoping that his business-focused
disposition will encourage him to avoid disrupting efforts to promote
Romero said he hopes that at worst Trump doesn't upend efforts begun by
Obama three years ago to help him and other Cubans grow a local tech
industry. At best he said he would like to see better access to U.S.
banking services and to be able to market his apps on sites like the
"After December 2014, when closer relations began between both
countries, I had the opportunity to come to the United States to make
connections and find people to help me to develop my ideas," he said. "I
think that the United States is naturally the country that should do
this work with Cuba."
Source: Cuba's nascent tech industry is growing fast - Salon.com -
http://www.salon.com/2017/03/11/cubas-nascent-tech-industry-is-growing-fast/ Continue reading
By KATARINA HALL • 3/8/17 8:00 PM
At the end of January, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced the
Agricultural Export Expansion Act aimed at removing restrictions on
United States agricultural exports to Cuba. Following the steps of 16
other states, Virginia also launched its Engage Cuba State Council, an
initiative of the Cuba Engagement Coalition that seeks to promote trade
and travel with Cuba and eventually lift the embargo.
Supporters of these initiatives believe ending the embargo will
alleviate Cuban poverty while helping state economies grow. The
president of Engage Cuba, James Williams, said the Agricultural
Expansion Act would "increase US agricultural exports, create jobs
across the country, and provide the Cuban people with high-quality
American food." While these efforts are an important step in improving
American relations with the Caribbean country, Cuba also needs to reform
its system of import taxation for trade liberalization to have its
The U.S. embargo against Cuba has been controversial since it was
implemented in the 1960s. Opponents of the embargo argue that
restricting the population's access to cheap foreign goods makes the
country poorer and gives the government someone to blame for its
widespread poverty. Proponents of the embargo believe that it is the one
thing keeping the Communist Party of Cuba in check, providing justice
for dissidents and keeping money out of the pockets of regime officials.
While they have valid arguments, advocates on both sides are missing an
important factor: whether or not an external embargo exists, most goods
will never reach the Cuban people because of a state-imposed internal
I spent last year doing research on economic remittances in Cuba.
Throughout my time there, I conducted several interviews with Havana
residents. Like many Cuba observers, I went in thinking that the
external embargo was Cuba's main stumbling block toward development.
Through these conversations I learned that many Cubans think
differently, against the wishes of state propaganda officials.
As one of my interviewees, Jorge, put it: "The embargo that most affects
us is internal. We don't need the United States; we can buy things from
Mexico, Panama, China." The problem, he explained, is that import taxes
in Cuba are so high that it makes it impossible for anyone to buy things
from other countries. "Either that," Jorge continued, "or the customs
officials steal your goods because they can." One time, Jorge went as
far as to destroy a new microwave he had purchased in St. Martin because
custom officials would not let him keep it. "If they wouldn't let me
keep my microwave, I wasn't going to let them have it."
Even if companies are able to legally pay the taxes, the price of goods
drastically increases well beyond the reach of an average Cuban. My
Havana neighbor, Maria Elena, explained that in Cuba you do see imported
goods like refrigerators from China, anti-electricity antennas from
Spain, even your occasional Nestlé ice cream. "But I can't afford any of
these with my $20 a month salary," she said, "a $3 ice cream becomes a
luxury." A resident from the next-door building, Lismary, said that
sometimes import taxes raise the price of a good by 110 percent. With
these prices, American products entering the Cuban market could only be
sold at stores for foreigners or hotels, not your average Cuban store.
If U.S. companies were to become established in Cuba, they would run
into another problem: it takes ages for customs to process goods.
Manuel, a Havana resident who worked for a Spanish company, told me that
sometimes it took his company six months to a year to get the permits
needed for their products to be released by customs. "That is, 6 months
plus countless bribes," he said, "and sometimes we get the products too
late, when we don't need them anymore." Having products stuck so long in
customs could eventually lead to losses for Cubans importing goods and
American companies in Cuba.
Despite their intentions, efforts like the Senate legislation are
unlikely to help average Cubans. While it is true that these efforts
might help the economic growth of some states, and perhaps the communist
regime, they will not provide cheap foods for the Cuban population. As
noble as the intentions of such campaigns might be, it will not be until
the internal embargo in Cuba is removed that Cuban people will begin to
benefit from trade with the U.S.
Katarina Hall is the director of the Human Rights Center at Universidad
Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala. She is also a Young Voices Advocate.
Source: Cuba's self-imposed embargo is hurting Cubans more than the US
embargo | Washington Examiner -
http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/cubas-self-imposed-embargo-is-hurting-cubans-more-than-the-us-embargo/article/2616539 Continue reading
Posted: Mar 08, 2017 5:48 AM
Updated: Mar 08, 2017 6:09 AM
Two human rights activists from the island nation spoke about what it
will take to secure democracy in the country.
Rosa María Payá with the Christian Liberation Movement and Cuba Decide
and Oswaldo Payá were invited to the university by the Department of
Cuba Decide is a citizen initiative that coordinates the efforts of
those seeking a binding referendum to bring about free, pluralistic, and
fair elections on the island.
"Its important that we all understand is that because Fidel Castro is
gone that doesn't mean that there is a transition process going on in
the island," Payá says. "The transition process is going to start in the
moment in which the Cuban people could have a voice. And in order to
have a voice we need also the support of the international community and
the American people."
Source: Future of democracy in Cuba - KATC.com | Continuous News
Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette -
http://www.katc.com/story/34692353/democracy-in-cuba Continue reading
activist, dead in prison
DDC | La Habana | 8 de Marzo de 2017 - 20:48 CET.
In its monthly report the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounced the "482 arbitrary arrests" of
peaceful opponents and dissidents that took place in Cuba in the month
The figure was slightly higher than those from the three preceding
months: 359 arrests (November), 458 (December) and 478 (January).
"Our Commission also documented 16 cases of physical assaults and 18
cases of harassment perpetrated by undercover political police and
paramilitary agents, with peaceful dissidents also their victims," added
the report, to which DIARIO DE CUBA had access.
The document indicated that "the Ladies in White and the Patriotic Union
of Cuba (UNPACU) were the most repressed organizations: the former has
been repeatedly subjected to harassment and other abuses, for 90
consecutive weekends, while 54 members of the UNPACU are political
prisoners, most of them remaining imprisoned without formal charges, or
The report also denounced the death in prison on February 24, at the
Combinado del Este (Havana) of the "political prisoner Hamel Santiago
Maz Hernández, a member of UNPACU, who had languished there since June
3, 2016; that is, more than 8 months without even receiving even the
kind of kangaroo court that the Castro regime calls a "trial."
"There have been many cases of Cubans who have died in government
custody, and all the moral and legal responsibility rests with the
ruling elite," concludes the CCDHRN.
Source: CCDHRN: 482 arbitrary arrests on the Island in February and a
political activist, dead in prison | Diario de Cuba -
http://www.diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1489002530_29507.html Continue reading
In its monthly report the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounced the "482 arbitrary arrests" of peaceful opponents and dissidents that took place in Cuba in the month of February.
The figure was slightly higher than those from the three preceding months: 359 arrests (November), 458 (December) and 478 (January).Continue reading
Pending Trial / 14ymedio
14ymedio, Havana, 7 March 2017 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights
and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) has denounced the death of
political prisoner Hamel Santiago Maz Hernández, an activist from
UNPACU, who died* on February 24 at Combinado del Este prison in
Havana. The opponent had been imprisoned for eight months without trial
for the alleged offense of contempt.
The CCDHRN has released its report for the month of February in which it
says that "there have been thousands of cases of Cubans killed in
government custody," a situation for which the authorities bear all the
"moral and legal responsibility."
The report includes the 482 arbitrary arrests of dissidents last month,
a "slightly higher figure than in January."
The CCDHRN also documented 16 cases of physical aggression and 18 of
harassment, "by the secret political police and para-police agents,"
with the victims being peaceful opponents, adds the report.
The text clarifies that, given "the closed nature of the regime that has
ruled Cuba for almost 60 years," it is "impossible to record the
thousands of violations of fundamental rights" that occur throughout the
island each month.
Nevertheless, it reports that the Ladies in White and the Patriotic
Union of Cuba (UNPACU) are once again the organizations most
repressed. In the case of the women's organization, they have been
"subjected to humiliations and other abuses" over and over. For its
part, 54 members of the UNPACU "are political prisoners, most of whom
remain imprisoned without formal charges or pending trial."
During 2016, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National
Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented 9,940 arbitrary detentions. This
figure "places the Government of Cuba in the first place in all of Latin
America," according to the independent organization.
*Translator's note: Cuban State Security informed his wife that he died
of a heart attack.
Source: Cuban Human Rights Group Denounces The Death Of A Political
Prisoner Pending Trial / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-human-rights-group-denounces-the-death-of-a-political-prisoner-pending-trial-14ymedio/ Continue reading
14ymedio, Havana, 6 March 2017 – Cuban police prevented activist Joanna
Columbié from boarding a plane this Monday heading to Mexico. The car in
which she was raveling was intercepted on the way to the airport and a
State Security official warned her that she would not be allowed to
travel abroad, according to what she herself told 14ymedio after being
Columbié had planned to participate in a discussion meeting of the
Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD) to be held in Mexico City. The
meeting is scheduled for this week and four activists from various
opposition groups and social projects were invited.
Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Boris González, Roberto Díaz and Eroisis González
were the other participants planning to attend event in Mexico. So far
this newspaper has not been able to determine if those four activists
managed to board their flights or if any of them was detained inside the
"The meeting was to be the MUAD secretariat with other members outside
the island," says Columbié. The activist also states that the Konrad
Adenauer Foundation participated in organizing the event.
"I left the house in a taxi and I was nearing Lenin Park when a police
patrol car with the number 784 stopped us. They told me to go with them
and they also asked me for my phone so I could not make any calls," says
the member of Somos+ (We Are More) Movement.
In the police car was a State Security official known to Columbié from
previous arrests, who calls himself Leandro. She was taken to Bacuranao
Beach, to the east of the city, where the man warned her that they would
have "a long conversation" and that she would not be allowed to travel
"I asked him what the reasons were but he simply told me that he wanted
to talk," recalls the activist. Leandro warned her that in recent months
she had been "greatly elevated in her profile," and that this could lead
to her being deported to the village of Céspedes in Camagüey, where
Columbié lived before residing in the capital.
The official warned her to stay away from "the counterrevolution" and
threatened that "from now on" her life would become "very bad." The man
insisted that they would not let her leave the country.
"This is totally arbitrary," says Columbié. "They have come to the point
of taking completely arbitrary actions without even seeking a pretext."
The activist does not rule out taking legal action before the Military
Prosecutor's Office to denounce what happened.
During 2016, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary detentions
in the country. A figure that "puts the Government of Cuba in the first
place in all of Latin America," according to the report of the
Source: Cuban Police Prevent Joanna Columbié From Boarding A Plane To
Mexico / 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/cuban-police-prevent-joanna-columbie-from-boarding-a-plane-to-mexico-14ymedio/ Continue reading
Kyodo via AP Images
by FRANCES MARTEL 6 Mar 2017
The Cuban anti-Communist group Ladies in White reports at least 50 of
its members were arrested this weekend following a mob attack on their
headquarters in Havana, in which the dissidents were forced to hide as
the mob hurled large stones into the building.
"They called us mercenaries, paid for by the Empire [the United States],
told us to get on a raft and go," Ladies in White member María Cristina
Labrada told the Spain-based publication Diario de Cuba.
"They shouted obscenities at us, called us whores, lesbians, told us to
come out so they could beat us." Labrada added that the group, which she
estimated to be about 200 people, ran to the other side of the building
in which they typically congregate on Sundays to avoid coming "under
fire with stones… they threw large rocks, we had to cover up the TV and
Ultimately, the women needed to leave the building. Labrada says the mob
beat those who left, ensuring to cover up any cell phone cameras that
could capture the attack.
The government reportedly organized the mob at a nearby park under the
guise of an International Women's Day celebration. "I think the goal was
to organize people at that activity and bring them here," Labrada said
from the Ladies in White headquarters.
Miami's Martí Noticias cited a different Lady in White, Denia Fernández,
who confirmed the event as an attempt to keep the Ladies from attending
Catholic Mass on Sundays. The group, founded during the Black Spring of
2003, began as a support group for the wives, daughters, sisters, and
mothers of political prisoners. The Ladies in White attend Catholic Mass
every Sunday carrying the portraits of their relatives who remain
imprisoned for opposing Communism. The government often intervenes to
prevent them from attending Mass, even during holiday seasons like Lent.
Violence against the Ladies in White is common in Cuba. In an incident
in December, for example, Lady in White Ivonne Lemus lost consciousness
after a Cuban state police officer repeatedly slammed her head on the
pavement while arresting her. During high-profile visits like those of
Pope Francis and former U.S. President Barack Obama, police beat and
temporarily detained Ladies in White members to prevent them from
attending welcome event for the prominent individuals. The women would
be beaten and driven hours away from their homes, abandoned with no way
of returning to their families.
During Pope Francis's visit in 2015, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler
recalled: "They grabbed me by the hair, by the neck, and shoved my
violently into a car."
That same year, a Communist mob attacked Lady in White Digna Rodríguez
Ibañez and doused her in tar as a form of humiliation.
While President Obama claimed that opening the United States up for
further interaction with the dictatorship of Raúl Castro would help the
Cuban people, extreme repression of dissidents has continued, and
worsened, since his "normalization" announcement in December 2014. The
Cuban Observatory for Human Rights documented 484
arbitrary/politically-motivated arrests in February 2017 alone. Largely
driven by Ladies in White activity, 77 percent of those arrested were women.
The 2016 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Cuba found
multiple incidents of police torture of dissidents, including an
incident in March 2016 in which "police officers allegedly beat two
members of the Damas de Blanco with cables" and multiple reports of
"head injuries, bites, bruises, and other injuries during
government-sponsored counter protests and detentions."
Source: Cuba: 50 Ladies in White Arrested After Communist Mob Stoning -
http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2017/03/06/cuba-communist-mob-stones-ladies-white-way-church/ Continue reading