CUBA BRIEF: How Cuba Runs Venezuela, Rosa Maria Paya returns to Cuba, The Mistakes of Raúl Castro, Venezuela opposition calls for escalation of street protests, The poet and the tyrant

In this CubaBrief reprint from column Heberto Padilla, The Wall Street Journal, CubaDecide, 14ymedio, and The Washington Post.

The poet and the tyrant 

Heberto Padilla was persecuted because of his poems in the early 70s. Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Mario Vargas Llosa and other Western intellectuals denounced his imprisonment and forced confession.

The Old Bard Speaks

By Heberto Padilla

Don’t you forget it, Poet.

Whatever the place and time

in which you make or suffer History,

there will always be a dangerous poem waiting to ambush you.


The Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2017

How Cuba Runs Venezuela

Havana’s security apparatus is deeply embedded in the armed forces.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

July 16, 2017 5:24 p.m. ET

The civilized world wants to end the carnage in Venezuela, but Cuba is the author of the barbarism. Restoring Venezuelan peace will require taking a hard line with Havana.

Step one is a full-throated international denunciation of the Castro regime. Any attempt to avoid that with an “engagement” strategy, like the one Barack Obama introduced, will fail. The result will be more Venezuelas rippling through the hemisphere.

The Venezuelan opposition held its own nationwide referendum on Sunday in an effort to document support for regularly scheduled elections that have been canceled and widespread disapproval of strongman Nicolás Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution.

The regime was not worried. It said it was using the day as a trial run to prepare for the July 30 elections to choose the assembly that will draft the new constitution.

The referendum was an act of national bravery. Yet like the rest of the opposition’s strategy—which aims at dislodging the dictatorship with peaceful acts of civil disobedience—it’s not likely to work. That’s because Cubans, not Venezuelans, control the levers of power.

Havana doesn’t care about Venezuelan poverty or famine or whether the regime is unpopular. It has spent a half-century sowing its ideological “revolution” in South America. It needs Venezuela as a corridor to run Colombian cocaine to the U.S. and to Africa to supply Europe. It also relies heavily on cut-rate Venezuelan petroleum.

To keep its hold on Venezuela, Cuba has embedded a Soviet-style security apparatus. In a July 13 column, titled “Cubazuela” for the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba website, Roberto Álvarez Quiñones reported that in Venezuela today there are almost 50 high-ranking Cuban military officers, 4,500 Cuban soldiers in nine battalions, and “34,000 doctors and health professionals with orders to defend the tyranny with arms.” Cuba’s interior ministry provides Mr. Maduro’s personal security. “Thousands of other Cubans hold key positions of the State, Government, military and repressive Venezuelan forces, in particular intelligence and counterintelligence services.”

Every Venezuelan armed-forces commander has at least one Cuban minder, if not more, a source close to the military told me. Soldiers complain that if they so much as mention regime shortcomings over a beer at a bar, their superiors know about it the next day. On July 6 Reuters reported that since the beginning of April “nearly 30 members of the military have been detained for deserting or abandoning their post and almost 40 for rebellion, treason, or insubordination.”

The idea of using civilian thugs to beat up Venezuelan protesters comes from Havana, as Cuban-born author Carlos Alberto Montaner explained in a recent El Nuevo Herald column, “Venezuela at the Edge of the Abyss.” Castro used them in the 1950s, when he was opposing Batista, to intimidate his allies who didn’t agree with his strategy. Today in Cuba they remain standard fare to carry out “acts of repudiation” against dissidents.

The July 8 decision to move political prisoner Leopoldo López from the Ramo Verde military prison to house arrest was classic Castro. Far from being a sign of regime weakness, it demonstrates Havana’s mastery of misdirection to defuse criticism.

Cuba’s poisonous influence in Latin America could be weakened if the international community spoke with one voice. The regime needs foreign apologists like former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and the leftist wing of the Vatican. It also needs the continued support of American backers of the Obama engagement policy, who want the U.S. to turn a blind eye to human-rights abuses.

Yet there are limits to what can be brushed off. When opposition congressmen were attacked by Cuban-style mobs on July 5, and their bloodied faces showed up on the front pages of international newspapers, the Zapateros of the world began to squirm. That was Havana’s cue to improve the lighting for Mr. Maduro.

First Mr. Maduro claimed he knew nothing about it, though his vice president was on the floor of the legislature while it was happening. That was not believable. Three days later came the sudden decision to move Mr. López from military prison to house arrest. Mr. Maduro said it was a “humanitarian” gesture. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, an acolyte of Fidel, said that it was a “product of dialogue and tolerance.”

Thus the images of the savagery in the National Assembly receded while photos of Mr. López, kissing a Venezuelan flag atop a wall outside his home, popped up everywhere. Mission accomplished and Mr. López remains detained.

For too long the world has overlooked the atrocities of the Cuban police state. In 1989 Fidel was even a special guest at the inauguration of Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez. Today the “special guests” are brutalizing Venezuela as the world wonders what went wrong.

Write to O’



CubaDecide, July 17, 2017

Rosa Maria Paya returns to Cuba today, to honor the legacy of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero on the 5th anniversary of the attack which killed them both.

Today July 17, 2017, Rosa Maria Paya returns to Cuba to honor the legacy of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero on the 5th anniversary of the attack which killed them both.

Friends, relatives, members of the opposition and Cubans in general will be honoring their lives and legacy at a Mass in Havana. Oswaldo Paya, Cuban opposition leader, winner of the Sakharov award and youth leader Harold Cepero lost their lives on July 22, 2012 in an attack provoked by officers of the Castro regime.

Rosa María Payá, along with other members of the opposition and Cuban citizens, promotes the Cuba Decide initiative that gives continuity to the campaign initiated by her father Oswaldo Payá before dying to change the system in Cuba through the realization of a plebiscite with the participation of all Cubans.

Cuba Decide’s Vision:

We want Cuba to be a prosperous and happy nation of free citizens.

A nation open to the world that you can always decide to return to.

A home where everyone counts and we are accepted without fears or hypocrisies.

A place where Cubans can realize our dreams with our work, creativity and own effort.

It’s possible, Cuba Decide.

To monitor developments in Cuba during this visit please follow Cuba Decide on our website, Twitter and Facebook.


14ymedio, July 15, 2017

The Mistakes of Raúl Castro

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 15 July 2017 – In his most recent public speech before Parliament, General-President Raul Castro offered a self-criticism about “political deviations” under which the private sector and cooperatives are governed. “Mistakes are mistakes, and they are mistakes… they are my mistakes in the first place, because I am a part of this decision,” he emphasized.

In the list of mistakes he didn’t mention, he should have put in first place the absence of a wholesale market to serve these forms of economic management. It that option existed, honest entrepreneurs wouldn’t have to turn to the diversion of state resources to get raw materials and equipment to allow them to produce goods and services in a profitable way.

The greatest advance in this direction has been opening shopping centers were goods are sold “wholesale,” meaning in large volume sacks or boxes, but with the retail price per unit unchanged.

If, in addition, self-employed workers were allowed to legally import and export commercially, with the required customs facilities, then these forms of management would be on an equal footing with the state companies, and be able to perform efficiently.

The underreporting of income to evade taxes is a problem that exists in most countries where citizens must pay tribute to the state treasury. As a rule, evasion of these payments is seen as a dishonest act where taxes are fair, and as an act of self-defense where the state tries to suck the blood out of entrepreneurs.

When governments have the vocation to grow the private sector, they reduce taxes, whose only role is to redistribute wealth and increase the financial capacity for social spending, but not to act as a drag to reduce individuals’ ability to grow and prosper.

Raúl Castro’s most profound mistake, when he decided to expand self-employment and the experiment of non-agricultural cooperatives, has been to do so with the purpose of depriving the state of “non-strategic activities, to generate jobs, deploy initiatives and contribute to the efficiency of the national economy in the interest of the development of our socialism.”

This opportunistic vision, of using an element alien to the economic model as the fuel to advance it, generates insurmountable contradictions. An entrepreneur who starts a business is interested in increasing his profits (according to Karl Marx) and growth. He does not care that hiring workers will reduce unemployment and that their particular efficiency will have repercussions on the country’s economy. Much less that his good performance contributes to perfecting a system that takes advantage of his success in a circumstantial way.

The entrepreneur dreams that in his country there are laws that protect his freedom to do business, that his money is safe in the banks, and that he has the right to import and export, to receive investments, to open branches, to patent innovations without fear of unappealable seizures or sudden changes in the rules of the game. Without fearing a report will arrive on the president’s desk detailing how many times he has traveled abroad.

The entrepreneur would also like to be able to choose as a member of parliament someone proposing such laws and defending the interests of the private sector, which he does not see as a necessary evil, but as the main engine to advance the country. Not understanding this is Raul Castro’s principal mistake.


The Washington Post, July 17, 2017

Venezuela opposition calls for escalation of street protests

By Fabiola Sanchez and Michael Weissenstein | AP July 17

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan opposition leaders calledMonday for escalated street protests after more than 7 million people rejected a government plan to rewrite the constitution and consolidate power over the country, which has been stricken by shortages and inflation and riven by more than 100 days of clashes between protesters and police.

The opposition said 7,186,170 Venezuelans participated in a symbolic referendum rejecting President Nicolas Maduro’s plans for the July 30election of an assembly that would remake the country’s political system. Maduro’s allies have called on the assembly to impose executive branch authority over the few remaining institutions outside the control of Venezuela’s socialist ruling party.

A coalition of some 20 opposition parties met Monday to call for a “zero hour” campaign of civil disobedience in the two weeks leading to the government vote. More than three months of opposition protests have left at least 93 people dead and 1,500 wounded. More than 500 protesters and government opponents have been jailed.

“Right now we have to escalate and deepen this street movement,” National Assembly President Julio Borges told local radio station Exitos ahead of the opposition announcement, which was delayed more than two hours into the early afternoon as the opposition discussed its next steps behind closed doors.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos planned to discuss the crisis during a visit with President Raul Castro of Cuba, Venezuela’s closest regional ally, Colombia’s foreign minister said from Havana.

“It would be hard for two presidents to meet these days without discussing Venezuela, because of its importance and the concern the whole continent has about Venezuela,” Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said. “The situation in Venezuela will be part of the conversation with President Castro, seeing how we can come to a solution, that dialogue is re-established, that there are paths to a deal.”

Colombia has dealt with rising tensions and a growing number of people crossing the border from Venezuela as the crisis in the oil-rich country has deepened.

David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela, saidSunday’s result would likely rally the international community even more strongly against the July 30 vote.

“Overall, this vote, I think, makes it difficult for the government to just proceed as planned,” Smilde said. “I think it’s going to embolden the international community to reject it.”

Sunday’s opposition vote was a strong but not overwhelming showing that fell short of the opposition’s 7.7 million-vote showing in 2015 legislative elections and the 7.5 million votes that brought Maduro to power in 2013. Opposition leaders said that was because they were able to set up only 2,000 polling places in a symbolic exercise the government labeled as illegitimate.

Still, some supporters said they were disappointed.

“I thought it was going to be more,” said Mariela Arana, a 56-year-old school counselor. “But these 7 million people spoke and it was plenty.”

The vote on Sunday was marred by violence when a 61-year-old woman was killed and four people wounded by gunfire after government supporters on motorcycles swarmed an opposition polling site in a church in western Caracas.

The opposition released only turnout numbers Sunday night, not tallies of responses, although virtually all who voted were believed to have answered “yes” to the central rejection of the constitutional rewrite.

In smaller numbers in many parts of the capital, government supporters went to polling stations in a rehearsal for the July 30 vote.

Maduro and the military dominate most state institutions but the opposition controls the congress and holds three of 23 governorships. The country’s chief prosecutor has recently broken with the ruling party.

Opponents of Venezuela’s government blame it for turning one of the region’s most prosperous countries into an economic basket case with a shrinking economy, soaring inflation and widespread shortages. The government blames the crisis on an economic war waged by its opponents and outside backers.


Fabiola Sanchez on Twitter:

Michael Weissenstein on Twitter:

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.