Human Rights in Cuba

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Daily Archives: April 17, 2013

Jose Marti Society is a Ghost With the Site in Ruins / Intramuros
Posted on April 16, 2013
By Juan Carlos Fernández Hernández.

José Martí, the man we Cubans call our "Apostle," was, and let no man
doubt it, a man of vast moral, spiritual and cultural heritage.
Qualities that have served as the cornerstone for modeling the thinking
of being Cuban.

Well, some years ago José Martí Cultural Societies were set up in
provinces and municipalities, designed and created to foster among our
population, especially young people, the thought and vision of the
Master; this was a vain endeavor by Communist Party leaders to somehow
fit Marti within Marx, Engels and Lenin.

It sounds crazy but the effort still persists, although it is fair to
say that the Communist ideologues don't know how to insert the liberal
ideas of Marti within those of International Communism, and no one
swallows their story anyway because the Complete Works of Jose Marti
circulate freely on the streets, and in these works Marti dismisses
Marx, Communism included.

But back to the idea of the so-called Cultural Society, as an idea it is
very good but, it all depends on the intentions… let me explain.

If this was intended to rescue the thinking of the Apostle from
shameless oblivion shameful for new generations, for them to have as a
reference in their lives, it would be logical that these institutions
would have the social role that the name suggests. But, on the contrary,
the organization almost unknown to the ordinary person from Pinar del
Rio, passing by its headquarters, dilapidated and unpainted, in an old
house located in San Juan Street between Yagruma and Martí. What irony,
given that this was the home of a respected and wealthy local family. It
is in such a shameful state due to the degree of neglect that is
inhabited only by the ghosts of its former owners.

I do not think anyone in Pinar del Rio would be happy with the fate of
the José Martí Cultural Society, but the complaints can be put to good
use, we have to rely on citizen action, so we can together find
solutions to rescue something that can be very valuable and appreciated
by all.

A public collection in Pinar del Rio would involve a lot of citizens,
taking as its theme something that can't miss: "With all and for the
good of all." It would be healthy, it would empower citizens and they
would feel a part of a city repairing one block for this Society, where
the authorities are rushing to repair the hard currency store popularly
known as "Bambi."

I would like to note that material things are important to us, but more
important than profit are the healthy and transcendent ideas of the
Apostle of all Cubans, who preferred to reach out with the white rose
because he could not hate.

by Juan Carlos Fernandez Hernandez. (1965). Pinar del Rio. Co-leader of
the Brotherhood Assistance to Prisoners and their Families Pastoral Care
of the Diocese of Pinar del Rio. He is a member of the team of Coexistence.

4 April 2013 Continue reading
Zurich bank cuts Cuba's last Swiss franc channel
Published: 16 Apr 2013 21:07 GMT+02:00

Zurich's cantonal bank is halting all transfers to Cuba starting next
month to avoid activities deemed in violation of a US embargo on the
communist-ruled island.

"Starting on May 1, the Zürcher Kantonalbank will cut all business
relations with Cuba," the bank said on Tuesday in an email sent to AFP,
confirming Swiss news reports.

"The bank is part of an international network and must respect
international economic embargoes and restriction lists," it explained.

Bank spokeswoman Evelyne Brönnimann told AFP that new rules meant ZKB
must now attest to its banking partners in the United States that its
activities are in line with the US Office of Foreign Asset Control
(OFAC) rules.

"If this is not the case, the United States can take actions against the
banks like freezing their holdings," the bank statement said.

A number of international banks have been slapped with
multi-million-dollar fines in the past year for flouting US sanctions on
Cuba, as well for transactions with Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan.

The bank said its decision would impact 12 clients, but did not provide
details on who they were.

The head of the Swiss-Cuban Chamber of Commerce, Andreas Winkler,
however, told AFP the move would especially affect small and
medium-sized Swiss companies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
that dealt with Cuba.

Winkler harshly criticised ZKB's decision, lamenting that the bank was
removing the only banking channel operating in Swiss francs.

"Now operations will need to go through European banks that operate in
euros," he said, pointing out that the extra exchange process would end
up costing businesses more money.

He also questioned whether ZKB was actually required to cut business
ties with Cuba under the OFAC rules, since it is not a US bank, or
whether it was just playing it safe.

Washington has faced international criticism since it imposed its
embargo on Cuba more than five decades ago.

AFP ( Continue reading
16 April 2013 - 23H11

Venezuelan vote bad news for Cuba: analysts

AFP - Venezuela's disputed election result is bad news for the communist
regime in Cuba, which became heavily dependent on oil and hard currency
from Caracas under its late leader Hugo Chavez, analysts say.

Nicolas Maduro won a much closer than expected election to succeed
Chavez, but deadly protests have erupted after liberal opposition leader
Henrique Capriles demanded a recount.

"Cubans can't be cheering this result. They have to be worried that
Maduro proved so politically weak. The opposition has the momentum and
will define the agenda," said Michael Shifter, head of the
Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

With Maduro entering office with a much weaker mandate than his colorful
predecessor, the Castro-led regime may not enjoy the same economic
benefits, potentially threatening the communist island's lifeline.

"The sympathy effect for Chavez was fleeting, and Capriles was able to
capitalize," Shifter said.

A clause in Venezuela's constitution allows for a possible referendum to
revoke a president half way through his six-year term, a consideration
that will weigh on Maduro's foreign policy, after his narrow election win.

"The outcome could accelerate Cuba's reform process," Shifter told AFP,
alluding to the likely need for Maduro to focus his efforts on domestic

"The (Cuban) government will be compelled to pursue other economic options."

Venezuela supplies Cuba with two thirds of its oil on extremely good
terms: in exchange for 100,000 barrels of crude a day Havana has sent
some 40,000 experts to Venezuela, notably in the health sector.

Worth some $6 billion a year, the deal is Cuba's biggest source of cash,
well ahead of money sent home by expatriate Cubans ($2.5 billion),
tourism ($2 billion) or exports of nickel, tobacco and drugs (less than
$2 billion).

During the election campaign Capriles repeatedly attacked the "gifts"
sent from Venezuela to Cuba, calling Maduro "Cuba's candidate" and
demanding that Caracas cut off oil supplies to Havana.

"Cuba can't hope for anything good from political instability in
Venezuela," according to Cuban academic Arturo Lopez-Levy, from the
University of Denver.

"The Cuban government would do well to accelerate its reform process and
the opening up of its economic system, to prepare for various scenarios,
all of them less favorable than the current situation," he told AFP.

Paul Webster Hare, British ambassador to Cuba from 2001-2004 and a
former deputy head of Britain's mission in Caracas, added: "Cubans will
know now that the Chavista movement depended on Chavez for its
leadership and momentum.

"The Cubans will now conclude that their time for depending on the
largesse of Chavismo is limited," said the ex-diplomat, who now teaches
international relations at the University of Boston.

The lesson of Venezuela's disputed post-Chavez election should also be
borne in mind by Cuba's new number two, Miguel Diaz-Canel, the
designated successor of President Raul Castro, according to Hare.

"The key lesson may be that for Miguel Diaz-Canel to assume smoothly the
mantle of the Castros will be much tougher than they may have supposed,"
he said, noting that he has until 2018 to prove himself fitted to the
new reality.

Diaz-Canel, 53 this month, "may need to start talking more about the
material ambitions of Cubans," and "tell fewer fantasy stories" about
the state of the country, 54 years after the Revolution.

Marking the second anniversary of the 6th Congress of the Communist
Party of Cuba, which launched economic reforms, the official daily
Granma said Tuesday that "the tasks facing us are among the most complex
and important."

"They will have the biggest impact on reform of the Cuban economic
model," it added, without elaborating on the challenges facing the country. Continue reading
April 16, 2013 4:15 pm

Venezuela forces Cuba's pace of change
By Marc Frank in Havana

Hugo Chávez's death, the narrow election victory of Nicolás Maduro, his
chosen successor, and Venezuela's stuttering economy are forcing Cuba,
the country's closest regional ally, to pick up its reform heels.

In 2011, before Mr Chávez's failing health potentially imperilled
Caracas' annual supply of $3.5bn of subsidised oil to Havana, Cuba's
Communist party adopted plans to "update" its stalled socialist model.

But two years later, Cuba remains only part way through that
transformation process, as even Miguel Díaz-Canel, the new
vice-president, admitted recently on state television.

"We've made progress on the issues that are easiest to solve, that
require decisions and actions that are less complex," said the 52-year
old. "Now what's left are the more important choices that will be more
decisive in the development of our country."

To date, measures under Raúl Castro, 81, the president, have bettered
everyday life but failed to improve Cuba's underlying performance,
critics say. For the regime, it is a balancing act: change too fast and
the regime could unravel; change too slow and the economy will
deteriorate and undermine the Castro brothers' legacy anyway.

Mr Castro, who was quick to congratulate Venezuela's president-elect on
his victory, which should ensure that Cuba has five more years of cheap
oil, has three main goals, says Bert Hoffmann, a Cuba expert at the
German Institute of Global and Area Studies: "Avoid splits in the elite,
and also social unrest; organise a succession; and get gradual economic
reforms started to secure the regime's survival."

At least one part of the juggling process, the organisation of a
potential succession, has happened after Mr Díaz-Canal was appointed
vice-president in February, putting him a heart beat away from the

The former electrical engineer and party official, known as more of a
technocrat than a political firebrand, has already taken over some of Mr
Castro's ceremonial functions – such as travelling to Rome for the
election of the Pope.

This has been accompanied by a slight softening towards some of the
regime's internal critics. Yoani Sánchez, the pro-democracy blogger who
operates despite general government restrictions on internet access, and
Berta Soler, leader of the "Ladies in White", can travel abroad after
new rules that allow all Cubans to leave and return.

The appearance of the economy is also changing. Often funded by exile
remittances, which have doubled in two years to $2bn, once barren city
streets are clogged with private taxis and small businesses that employ
about 400,000 in total. Some 1,700 restaurants and 5,000 bed and
breakfasts are operating, against a few hundred in 2010.

Sloppy Joe's, a Havana haunt once famous among tourists in pre-US
embargo days, even reopened last week – too late for Beyoncé and Jay-Z's
recent controversial trip but not for the growing stream of American
visitors, over 90,000 last year, that have followed looser US restrictions.

Farmers are selling almost half of their produce directly, bypassing a
state monopoly. Demand for paint, plaster and skilled tradesmen has
mushroomed after Cubans were allowed to buy and sell their homes.

Nonetheless, those changes are only around the edges of what remains a
centrally-planned economy that needs to attract foreign investment and
grow by more than 5 per cent a year if it is to have any hope of
rebuilding crumbling infrastructure and create sufficient jobs to absorb
the bulk of Cubans who work for a state that barely pays a living wage.
Since 2008, when Mr Castro became president, economic growth has
averaged just 2 per cent.

"The macroeconomic trend does not support such gradual reform," said
Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist teaching at Cali's Pontificia Universidad
Javeriana in Colombia.

Officials admit the most dramatic measures are still wanting: eliminate
excessive subsidies; allow farmers to purchase inputs; make state
enterprises autonomous and efficient; provide true incentives for
foreign investment; and eliminate a dual currency system.

"The reforms are afflicted by inner contradictions in their design: a
positive step is taken but then excessive controls and restrictions are
introduced, generating disincentives that conspire against their
success," said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, author of Cuba Under Raúl Castro:
Assessing the Reforms.

"This 'compromise' . . . results in a hybrid that does not bear the
expected fruits. More daring measures are needed."

Mr Castro begs to differ. "We are moving forward at a good pace," he
said this month. "We must resist the pressure of those who insist we
need to move more rapidly."

But Mr Castro may not really have a choice, especially if Venezuela,
which suffers a gaping fiscal deficit, finds it can no longer afford to
subsidise the island. Henrique Capriles, Venezuela's opposition leader,
has said he wants to cancel Caracas' oil subsidy and slammed
president-elect Mr Maduro as a Havana puppet.

"Havana has failed to find oil offshore and, in terms of financial
support, the new Maduro government in Venezuela only creates
uncertainty," a European diplomat in Cuba said. "It must pick up the
pace, like it or not." Continue reading
Posted on Tuesday, 04.16.13

Daughter carries out father's bold work in Cuba
By Fabiola Santiago

A gray Miami morning framed the conversation with Rosa María Payá,
blinding rain pouring into Biscayne Bay, long, tear-like droplets
streaking the conference room windows.

"What we're asking for has nothing to do with ideology or party," the
24-year-old physicist said to the journalists gathered to meet her in
the same Miami Herald room where her internationally recognized father
presented his ground-breaking — and daring — Varela Project 10 years ago.

"We want to know the truth about what happened to my father and to
Harold Cepero."

Rosa María is the daughter of Oswaldo Payá, the late leader of the
island's peaceful Christian Liberation Movement. And he was the founder
of the Varela Project, a human-rights based platform for change that
included a signature-gathering drive throughout the island calling for a
referendum on Cuba's leadership.

Payá, 60, died under increasingly questionable circumstances last July
along with Harold Cepero, one of the group's most charismatic young

Rosa María, who had been active in the movement for only two years
before her father's death, has been on a tireless European and U.S. tour
— Madrid, Geneva, Sweden, Washington D.C., New York — to get the
international community to call for an independent investigation of the
car wreck the Cuban government has blamed for the deaths.

Petite but exuding tremendous strength, Rosa María has been methodically
collecting evidence, stringing facts together and speaking with
witnesses — most importantly, the Spaniard driving the car, Angel
Carromero, and the Swede activist Jens Aron Modig, who rode with
Carromero up front.

Text messages sent immediately after the wreck by both men, testimony
from Carromero that a car with government plates was following and
harassing them, then rammed them off the road, and a string of other
circumstances such as the government's refusal to give the family the
customary autopsy report and the police accident report, as law
requires, all indicate that the crash was not an accident.

The Cuban government was following Payá's moves that day, and let him
know publicly via an official Twitter post at 6:15 a.m when he left his
home with Carromero and Modig: "Payá is on the road to Varadero."

This was not unusual, the daughter said.

State security officers often followed Payá and their threats had become
quite blunt, telling him things like: "You are not going to live to see

After their conversations with Rosa María, Carromero and Modig both
broke their silence publicly.

In the most complete account to date, published in The Washington Post,
Carromero gave a hair-raising narration of what happened from the moment
the four men left Havana until he was finally allowed to leave for Spain
after the Spanish government negotiated his being allowed to serve in
his homeland the four-year-sentence imposed in Cuba. After the accident,
he was sedated at a heavily militarized hospital, his life threatened, a
confession to reckless driving coerced.

After meeting with Rosa María, Modig described on radio how he was kept
a prisoner for more than a week in Cuba without any communication to the
outside world, his possessions confiscated. He confirmed the existence
of the texts he and Carromero sent. He says he doesn't doubt Carromero's
account and the information Rosa María had gathered, but has no memory
of the crash.

"He says he was sleeping for most of the time they were on the road and
that since he doesn't speak Spanish he's not sure what the others were
talking about," Rosa María told us. Armed with facts and testimony, Rosa
María denounced her father's death before the United Nations Human
Rights Council, not without the interruption of the Cuban
representative, who banged on the table and called her "a mercenary."

And recently, thanks to Carromero's coming forward and Rosa María's
intervention, the human rights arm of the Organization of American
States has formally asked Cuba for details of the car crash.

Yet the government has remained mum.

If the Cuban government is so certain the death was an accident caused
by careless driving, why not give the grieving families the autopsy
reports? Why not give them the accident report? Why not respond to the
OAS? Why not prove their case before the UN instead of calling Rosa
María names?

As I write on Tuesday about her path through Miami, Rosa Maria Payá
reports via Twitter that she returned to Cuba without incident, despite
the death threats made against her life.

"I'm with my family in Havana," she tweets in Spanish. "Thanks to everyone."

Her family — minus one, the father she lost but whose voice can still be
heard through his valiant and eloquent daughter. Continue reading
Zapata lives
Zapata lives
No place to live
No place to live