CUBA BRIEF: Obama’s Evil Eye on Baseball, Raul’s Fairy Tales, & US Flag officers in Havana

Obama’s Evil Eye on Baseball, Raul’s Fairy Tales, & US Flag officers in Havana

The word in Cuba’s capital according to Santeria priests is that Barack Obama hexed Cuban baseball when he joined Raul at the Pan American stadium during his visit last year. Santeria is the Afro-Cuban religion brought to the island by African slaves. No amount of Santeria prayers helped Cuba’s national baseball team at the World Baseball Classic where to the dismay of millions of Cubans, Cuba’s team lost to Japan (8-5), the Dutch (14-1) and Israel (4-0). 

Obama’s hex does not work on Cuban baseball players in the United States. 

In this Cuba Brief we go from Obama’s hex to Raul’s fairy tales as chronicled at a recent article in National Review. Finally to their discredit a number of American flag officers are in Havana to “improve relations between the two governments.” America’s values and America’s history of defending freedom around the world are not in the officers’ agenda. Apparently their heavy schedule with government officials left no time to visit Cuba’s courageous opposition or the mothers and wives of Cuba’s political prisoners suffering in Raul’s dungeons.

Diario de Cuba, March 16, 2017

Great Baseball News

DDC | Madrid | 16 de Marzo de 2017

Cuba’s collapse at the World Baseball Classic is great news for several reasons.

First, because at times it is beneficial to hit rock bottom. A national team outperformed in every aspect of the game reveals the true extent of the debacle. The few victories in recent years had helped to sustain the fallacy that things were not really that bad.

Second, because what happened is a clear metaphor for what is happening in Cuba. No country can afford to squander the best of its talent and its youth. As long as Cuban professionals cannot invest knowledge and resources in their own country, Cuba will continue to be a nation unlikely to be able to compete against the community of free nations and achieve prosperity. Barring Cuban baseball players who are now playing in the US Major Leagues from representing their country is like preventing doctors, architects, scientists, academics and engineers from benefitting all Cubans outside the overview of the State.

Third, because the culprits are exposed. The task of the political class that still governs Cuba should not be to keep watch over and control the gates of the country based on its interests and loyalties, but to open those doors for all Cubans to freely come and go and contribute their as best they can and wish to. True to itself, and no one else, that political class now seeking to establish State capitalism, after spending years spouting bombastically patriotic discourse based, among other thing, on sports, is what is keeping the country mired in a permanent political, social and economic crisis.

Baseball in Cuba, since its inception, has been linked to independence and national identity. Today it continues to be, but only to portray, like few other things, the magnitude of the disaster engendered by the Castro regime. It was Fidel Castro who introduced the theory of the superiority of “free ball” over “slave ball.” Today we must recognize that he was right, though acknowledging that “slave ball” is what the regime promotes, and always has.

National Review, March 16, 2017 

Raúl the Reformer and Other Cuban Fables

by José Cárdenas@JoseCardenas

USA President Trump should abandon his predecessor’s feckless policy toward the Castro regime. 

In the run-up to President Obama’s decision to reverse U.S. policy toward Cuba in December 2014, the American public was fed a steady diet of assurances by Cuba experts. Raúl Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel in 2008, was “a pragmatic reformer,” they maintained — he recognized the country’s desperate need for change. Despite the lack of evidence that Raúl was ever anything but a hardline, murderous Communist, the experts insisted that he would boldly usher in a liberalizing transition to a Chinese- or Vietnamese-style “mixed economy” and that the U.S. needed to get in the game to “help” the process along. 

No such reforms ever materialized. Instead, Raúl presided over an unprecedented expansion of the Cuban military’s control over the nation’s economy, especially in the tourist sector. In short, he cut his military cronies into government revenues to ensure their enduring loyalty. (U.S. tourists may as well write their checks out directly to the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces and the repressive Ministry of the Interior.)

The experts blamed Fidel Castro. It seemed his presence even in retirement induced an “executive paralysis.” His vocal opposition to change resulted in a “psychological pressure on the system to keep it as it is,” as Alvaro Vargas Llosa of the Independent Institute told the Christian Science Monitor. Fidel’s death, then, would serve as a liberating event for Raúl, removing the younger brother from his older brother’s shadow. “Now that Fidel is gone, there may be a boldening, a quickening of the economic reforms,” an analyst told CNN after the elder Castro died last November. “There may be a louder voice within the Politburo . . . from the side of the reformers, the modernizers to allow more economic progress.”

Suffice it say, no such boldening has occurred, and the bloom is now off the Raúl rose. Indeed, he is now merely a “transitional president” between the old guard and the future. He has said he would retire as president next year. As one proponent of Obama’s policy lamented to the Miami Herald, “Raúl Castro and his aging colleagues seem to lack the vision and energy to drive comprehensive reform, so the Cuban people will have to wait until 2018 when new leadership — a new generation — comes forward.” That would be the 56-year-old Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Raúl’s designated successor. But the reality is that Diaz-Canel is a colorless civilian apparatchik with no power base who — if he survives — will be no more than a figurehead atop a military-dominated regime. That’s because what is being planned in Cuba is a transfer of power not to a new generation of Cubans but to a new generation of Castros — specifically, Raúl Castro’s son and his son-in-law.

Raúl’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín, 49, is a state-security colonel who coordinates internal spying with the Cuban military. If anyone has the goods on challengers to the political throne, it is Castro Espín. His political profile has been rising steadily, as he attended meetings between President Obama and Raúl and was reputedly a key interlocutor in negotiations to normalize relations.

On the economic side is Raúl’s son-in-law General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, effectively the gatekeeper for all foreign companies looking to do business in Cuba and one of the most powerful men on the island. He runs GAESA (Enterprise Administration Group), the holding company that controls the military’s business interests. It owns the best hotels in Cuba and most retail outlets, rent-a-car companies, and import entities. Estimates are that GAESA companies account for more than half of the business revenue generated in Cuba — and that number is rising. 

Although the prospects for positive change in Cuba look bleak, the Cuba apologists remain undaunted. In fact, they have seized on President Trump’s criticisms of Obama’s unilateral concessions to the Castro regime, warning that if Trump demands reciprocal gestures from Havana, then the imagined reform process could be imperiled. “If Trump demands a lot of the Cuban government, that could be counterproductive,” as Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, told Agence France-Press. “It could generate a strong nationalist reaction and could end up boosting the hardliners and delaying further reforms.” 

Such sophistry should be rejected once and for all. It is precisely a continuation of Obama’s feckless Cuba policy that would help lock the Cuban people into a North Korean–style dynasty. President Trump would do well to explore a different path, a more principled stand, on behalf of democracy and human rights, that would empower the Cuban people and give them more opportunities than merely the opportunity to persevere. — José R. Cárdenas served in senior foreign-policy positions at the State Department, the National Security Council, and the U.S. Agency for International Development during the George W. Bush administration, focusing on Latin America and the Caribbean.

Pressure Points, March 15, 2017

The Sad Story of American Flag Officers in Cuba

by Elliott Abrams

The American Security Project, a somewhat obscure Washington think tank, is one of the very many groups leading trips to Cuba. What makes theirs different is that it is a “Delegation of Retired Admirals and Generals to Cuba.” The group departed on March 14 for Havana.

It isn’t a very big or distinguished delegation, to be sure. One member is a retired brigadier general who is actually the CEO of the American Security Project (ASP). There are five others (also retired) with flag rank joining him. They should be ashamed of themselves.

ASP’s own web page tells us why, stating that “ASP looks forward to helping build a closer relationship between the governments of the United States and Cuba.” The governments— that is, a relationship between our government and the vicious, brutal, repressive Castro regime.

The delegation schedule is true to this approach: “The itinerary includes meetings with senior officials from across the Cuban government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Trade and Investment, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Energy.” What’s missing in this list? Cubans–ordinary Cubans who are not on the regime payroll and who might tell the delegation the truth about life in Cuba. Notably, the delegation meets no dissident and apparently has not the slightest interest in freedom and human rights in Cuba.

Another ASP web page tells us that “The American public understands the complexities of today’s global challenges, but has too often been misled by empty rhetoric and cherry-picked facts. ASP is organized around the belief that honest public discussion of national security requires a better-informed citizenry–one that understands the dangers and opportunities of the 21st century, the spectrum of available responses, and the benefits and drawbacks of each course of action.”

But the Cuba trip makes a mockery of that standard. This delegation will hear one side, the official side–and then help the Castro regime by shoveling it back to the U.S. press. “The delegation is scheduled to return to Washington, D.C by way of Miami late Friday, March 17th and is eager to engage with media regarding the trip,” says ASP. Eager–no doubt, as there is no doubt what they will have to say after this voyage to visit the Castro regime. They will see nothing of the real Cuba, and this trip is reminiscent of the visits Westerners made to Potemkin villages in Stalin’s Russia.

No doubt the regime is eager to welcome them, as it welcomes all visits by Americans whom it is confident it can fool. That there are a half dozen retired American flag officers on this visit is sad. Will not one single one of them demand to speak to a dissident, or to say a word in defense of the freedom of the Cuban people?