CubaBrief: The Castro regime remains a threat. Cuban rapper profiled by Reuters and attacked by secret police. Major League Baseball’s values failure in Cuba.

Castro regime officials are masters of political propaganda, repression, and sponsoring international terrorism with over six decades of experience. Yesterday, in National Review author Néstor T. Carbonell in the article “Cuba Remains a Threat” provides a brief overview of Havana’s past and current history as a bad actor engaged in international terrorism, allied with Beijing and Moscow who are hostile to U.S. interests, but left out the Cuban dictatorship’s decades long alliances with other state terror sponsors: North Korea, Syria, and Iran. The Center for a Free Cuba has prepared a non-exhaustive summary of the Castro regime’s history of sponsoring terrorism titled “FACT SHEET: CUBAN SUPPORT FOR TERRORISM” that underscores and expands on the facts cited by Mr. Carbonell.

Maykel Castillo "Osorbo" shows his bloodied nose following an attack engineered by secret police in Cuba

Maykel Castillo “Osorbo” shows his bloodied nose following an attack engineered by secret police in Cuba

On April 9, 2021 Reuters published a profile on Cuban dissidents that highlighted Cuban rapper Maykel Castillo, a member of the San Isidro Movement, and an artist who sang and appeared in the video Patria y Vida that has been a viral sensation in Cuba. Yesterday, Maykel was assaulted in Havana by strangers as state security agents filmed the assault. Maykel Castillo also known as “Osorbo” denounced the incident on a live broadcast through Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s social networks.

“Every time you hit me, you’re going to make me stronger and people are looking at this. You are murderers. We need a change now. This is Homeland and Life,” said the rapper as he bled from his nose. Maykel Castillo “Osorbo”, a member of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), affirmed that when he arrived at Belascoaín street a heavy set man punched him in the nose, and an instant later another person hit him again, while State Security agents observed and filmed the scene.

Maykel does not exaggerate when he states that they are murderers. Two recent cases demonstrate the regime’s repressive nature.

Cuban dissident and political prisoner Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros died on August 7, 2020 in Cuba while in police custody following a 40 day hunger strike. He had been jailed on false charges in the Kilo 8 prison of Camagüey. His body was quickly cremated by the dictatorship so that the family could not ascertain the cause of death.

Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros died in police custody on August 7, 2020

Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros died in police custody on August 7, 2020

Cuban police shot Hansel E. Hernández, age 27, in the back on June 24, 2020, killing him, cracked down on an attempt by civil society to protest the killing, and organized their own “heroes of the blue” social media campaign to promote Cuban police.

Hansel E. Hernández, age 27, shot in the back by Cuban police on June 24, 2020

Hansel E. Hernández, age 27, shot in the back by Cuban police on June 24, 2020

Meanwhile Major League Baseball (MLB) that claims to have a social conscience has a record in Cuba of collaborating with the Cuban dictatorship. Mary Anastasia O’Grady in her column titled “Baseball Says Cuba ‘Sí,’ Georgia ‘No’: The league talks up its ‘values’ in the U.S. but loves doing business with Castro” exposes the hypocrisy of MLB highlighting that “[a]s recently as 2018, Major League Baseball sought a deal with Raúl under which Havana would send players to the U.S. and baseball would garnish their salaries and send the dollars back to the dictatorship—as if the players were the regime’s property rather than the teams’ employees.” Left out is the damning evidence that Fidel Castro’s son, Antonio Castro, runs the Cuban Baseball Federation and likes to live large, and would benefit from the exploitation of these baseball players.

Cuba remains a threat in the region, to US national security interests, and to Cuban dissidents on the island. This is why people of good will are circulating a petition calling on the Biden Administration to prioritize the human rights of Cubans when considering making changes to US-Cuba policy

National Review, April 12, 2021

World

Cuba Remains a Threat

By Néstor T. Carbonell

April 12, 2021 6:30 AM

Miguel Diaz-Canel and Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint news conference in Moscow, Russia, Nov 2, 2018. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Miguel Diaz-Canel and Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint news conference in Moscow, Russia, Nov 2, 2018. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

The Biden administration should keep this in mind as it determines its policy toward our Communist neighbor to the south.

Cuba’s return to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in January 2021 is bound to trigger congressional debates. Given what’s at stake, these should be serious foreign-policy and national-security discussions, not partisan, political scrimmages.

President Biden is reportedly planning to engage the Castro regime to seek a possible opening on the island. Before he does so, it would be wise to review what happened when the Obama administration removed Cuba from the terrorist list, restored diplomatic relations, and eased U.S. restrictions on travel, remittances, trade, banking, and investments. At the time, those largely unilateral concessions were intended to encourage the progressive liberalization of Cuba. In practice, however, they only emboldened the island’s rulers to tighten their grip on the population and strengthen their alliances with hostile powers.

Detentions and violence against peaceful dissidents actually rose in 2016, the year Obama visited Cuba, with nearly 10,000 documented cases. New government licenses for the rapidly growing self-employed micro-enterprises (cuentapropistas), including in-home restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts, were abruptly suspended in 2017 for nearly a year — then reinstated with new restrictions.

Today, due in part to the sanctions imposed over the last four years and the economic crisis convulsing Cuba, the Castro regime has started to introduce several overdue reforms. It has scrapped the dual-currency system, devalued the peso, and announced a “major” expansion of the private sector. However, the government maintains control of all large industries and wholesale shops, and continues to monopolize health care, education, communications, and professional services. And all cuentapropistas are still barred from incorporating their businesses.

If the Biden administration is truly serious about human rights in Cuba, it should not give in to a police state that just two months ago quashed a dialogue proposed by artists and young activists of the Movimiento San Isidro seeking to rescind two government decrees that were designed to strangle artistic freedom and silence independent media on the island. Repression has intensified in recent days against peaceful San Isidro protesters and against leaders of the major Cuban dissident organization (UNPACU), who had to go on an extended hunger strike to obtain the lifting of a police barricade.

There are also real national-security concerns. When Cuba was removed from the terrorist list, the Castro regime “provided assurances that it [would] not support acts of international terrorism in the future.” Yet it continues to harbor dozens of American fugitives, including convicted murderers on the FBI Most Wanted List, and provides an operational base to ten leaders of Colombia’s National Liberation Army — a designated foreign terrorist organization.Moreover, in 2016 and 2017, several dozen U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers (and a number of Canadian officials) stationed in Cuba suffered severe headaches, nausea, dizziness, and loss of hearing and memory. Similar symptoms also afflicted American officials in China, Russia, and other countries in 2018–19. After several years of investigations, experts indicated that the most probable cause of the brain damage was “radio-frequency energy” — a type of radiation likely spurred by high-intensity microwave beams. Strong evidence points to “malicious, directed, and pulsed attacks.” The suspected perpetrator seems to be Russia, which has done significant research on pulsed-radio-frequency technology. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency reportedly warned in 1976 that Soviet research on microwaves showed great promise for “disrupting the behavior patterns of military or diplomatic personnel.” Regarding Cuba now, there seems to be an additional Russian objective: weakening U.S. and Canadian intelligence on the island by forcing the evacuation of afflicted spies and diplomatic personnel. And the accomplice: the Castro regime. Accountability is a matter of urgency and should precede any new détente with Cuba. History tells us that impunity, if allowed to stand, is an invitation to more aggression.

Russia’s strategic involvement in Cuba since the Cold War is not new. It was manifest in February 2014, when the Russian spy ship Victor Leonov docked in Havana just before the invasion of Crimea. The Victor Leonov has since returned to Cuba several times. In September 2015, another Russian ship, Yantar, equipped with two submersible craft, targeted a major undersea cable near the U.S. base of Guantanamo, which carries vital global Internet communications. And in November 2018, Moscow reportedly gave the green light to installing a Russian global satellite navigation system in Cuba for possible dual use — commercial and military.

China is also keen on cyber-technology on the island. For years it has been using Cuba’s spy base in Bejucal, near Havana, to intercept U.S. electronic communications. According to The Diplomat magazine, Beijing may have been involved in a new powerful signals-intelligence installation adjacent to Bejucal.

The current Havana–Moscow axis also encompasses Venezuela, where Cuba and Russia have been propping up the Maduro dictatorship. Thousands of Castro spies, repression agents, and military personnel have been spreading terror with Venezuela’s militias (colectivos), and have spearheaded Maduro’s Special Forces (FAES), responsible for torture and thousands of extra-judicial killings. In a U.S. Senate hearing in July 2017, the current secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said that “there are currently about fifteen thousand Cubans [including intelligence agents, presidential bodyguards, and military personnel] in Venezuela. . . . It’s like an occupation army from Cuba.”

Given the Castro regime’s continued oppression in Cuba and looming threats to the U.S. and the region — in collusion with Russia, China, Venezuela, and terrorist organizations — the Biden administration would do well to maintain Cuba’s designation as a terrorist state and other sanctions. That is, unless the regime stops repressing peaceful dissidents and supporting international terrorism, withdraws its spies and military personnel from Venezuela, and pursues a true democratic opening in Cuba.

https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/04/cuba-remains-a-threat/


The Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2021

The Americas

Baseball Says Cuba ‘Sí,’ Georgia ‘No’

The league talks up its ‘values’ in the U.S. but loves doing business with Castro.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

April 11, 2021 4:48 pm ET

Cuban President Raúl Castro cheers next to President Obama at a baseball game in Havana, March 22, 2016. Photo: AP

Cuban President Raúl Castro cheers next to President Obama at a baseball game in Havana, March 22, 2016. Photo: AP

Major League Baseball says “values” compelled it to move this summer’s All-Star Game out of Georgia. But this piety doesn’t square with its long record of collaboration with Cuba’s military dictatorship, one of the world’s most notorious human-rights violators.

This is especially relevant now, as the Cuban struggle for free speech and artistic liberty reaches new heights in the humble San Isidro neighborhood of Havana.

Baseball advertises itself as a champion of racial justice. But the league’s practice of engaging with the Castros as if the regime were normal has had the opposite effect. It has added to the isolation of Cuban dissidents.

San Isidro’s brave musicians, performance artists, writers and intellectuals, who are overwhelmingly people of color, are a prime example. They have to work extra hard against the myth, strengthened by years of major-league complicity, that Fidel and Raúl Castro ended social injustices, including the marginalization of black Cubans.

As recently as 2018, Major League Baseball sought a deal with Raúl under which Havana would send players to the U.S. and baseball would garnish their salaries and send the dollars back to the dictatorship—as if the players were the regime’s property rather than the teams’ employees.

Major League Baseball said it would be paying the Cuban baseball league, which it absurdly described as independent of the totalitarian regime. At the time, a U.S. baseball official assured me that the league’s “intentions are pure.”

That made me laugh out loud because, as I wrote in a column on Dec. 30, 2018, the deal was purely mercenary: “The league gets cheaper talent in exchange for enforcing regime control of the players.”

The Trump administration shot down the proposal, but it stands as evidence of the league’s ethics.

The Castro regime is hypersensitive about its reputation for repression, and it spends enormous resources on propaganda to combat it. Baseball has often proved useful in that effort.

In 1999 Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos provided invaluable spin for the dictatorship when he took his players to the island to face the Cuban national team. Mr. Angelos watched the game from elite box seats with Fidel and Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. Ted Turner, former owner of the Atlanta Braves and CNN founder, is a Castro admirer from way back.

During President Obama’s trip to Cuba in 2016, Major League Baseball hooked up with Raúl, who sought to use the visit to humanize himself. Americans endured the embarrassing spectacle of their president doing “the wave” with Raúl at a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba’s national team.

The Castro propaganda effort also gets help from Hollywood leftists like Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, Danny Glover and Sean Penn, who admire the regime for its defiance of the U.S.—and its staying power. After years of agitprop from America’s cultural elites, dopey gringos still go around in T-shirts emblazoned with the image of Che Guevara, who was infamous for summary executions.

The pro-Castro narrative ignores the ruin of the Cuban nation brought on by the revolution. Before Fidel took over in 1959, Cuba was the third-wealthiest country in Latin America and had the lowest infant-mortality rate. Fidel promised elections but never held them. He was greedy, narcissistic and maniacal. He wrecked the economy and made Cubans slaves in their own country.

It wasn’t enough to own industry and commerce. Castro’s absolutism needed to own the Cuban soul. Families were torn apart as human capital fled in search of freedom of conscience. With the right to earn a living suppressed, stealing became the only way to survive.

Performance artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and rapper Maykel Osorbo Castillo are two leaders of the San Isidro Movement. They are under constant surveillance. State security raids homes and detains members of the movement sporadically. They have not backed down.

Over Easter weekend, the group held a resistance block party. Neighbors sang the popular antigovernment anthem “Patria y Vida,” or “Homeland and Life.” When police and later state-security agents arrived and tried to arrest Mr. Osorbo, scores more brave Cubans joined the singing. The police and the agents backed off.

But a showdown is coming. The days when the veneration of Fidel was obligatory and could be used to control the nation are long gone. San Isidro’s message, which is spreading across the island, is that it neither fears nor respects the decrepit Castro dictatorship.

The rebellion may be met with brutal force, but the regime won’t be able to hide a crackdown. Cell phones will record it and it will go viral. The movement will need international solidarity. Let’s hope Major League Baseball is not busy negotiating another deal.

Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/baseball-says-cuba-si-georgia-no-11618174108

Reuters, April 9, 2021

Analysis: Raised fist, dangling handcuffs: a snapshot of Cuban dissent

By Sarah Marsh

HAVANA (Reuters) – A striking image is circulating this week on social media in Cuba: a dissident pumping his fist in the air, handcuffs dangling from one wrist, after friends and neighbors helped him evade arrest by police in Havana.

Screen Shot 2021-04-13 at 8.12.00 AM.png

A man who did not want to be identified shows on his mobile phone an image displayed in social media of the rapper Maykel Osorbo with handcuffs clamped around one wrist, in Havana, Cuba, April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

The image is a screenshot from a video showing rapper Maykel Castillo celebrating his escape, surrounded by other dissidents and residents of Havana’s rundown San Isidro neighborhood on Sunday. Some join him singing an anti-government song and insulting President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Castillo told Reuters by phone from his home that the arrest attempt was another in a string of arbitrary detentions to intimidate him and others in the dissident artists collective, the Havana-based San Isidro Movement (MSI).

Asked about Sunday’s incident, the Foreign Ministry’s International Press Center, which fields all requests from foreign journalists for comment from state entities, told Reuters that there would be no comment.

State media such as ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma have in the past five months called Castillo and the MSI part of a U.S.-directed “soft coup” attempt, charges they deny. The government generally denounces dissidents as members of tiny groups paid by the United States to stir up unrest and further its decades-old efforts to overthrow the government.

To those who want the end of the one-party state, Castillo, 37 and also known by his stage name Maykel Osorbo, is a hero. To others he is a social misfit.

The image circulated on social media shows how while public dissent in Cuba is still uncommon, it is becoming less so. This is partly due to access to mobile internet and because frustrations with the government are growing amid the island’s worst economic crisis in decades, half a dozen analysts and Western diplomats interviewed by Reuters said.

Tough U.S. sanctions and the pandemic, which have gutted tourism, have cut into foreign exchange earnings and battered the largely state-run economy, which contracted 11% in 2020. There have been increased shortages of basics like medicine and food.

The MSI has staged provocative performances and exhibitions documented online since it was created three years ago, first largely about censorship but now also on daily hardships.

The “artivist” movement has expanded organized public dissent beyond traditional political activism, attracting support from sectors of the broader artistic community and some ordinary citizens. There are no independent opinion polls so it is not possible to say how wide this support is.

Speaking at the MSI headquarters, a dilapidated 1920s building, one of its main organizers, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, 33, told Reuters that 80-90% of its funding came directly from the artists themselves, through artwork sales or crowdfunding.

The MSI’s latest performance, which included handing out candies to children, aimed to underscore the fact families in poor neighborhoods like theirs could no longer even afford sweets due to state economic mismanagement, he said.

Otero Alcantara said the fact ordinary citizens sided with the MSI against the police and joined in a protest on Sunday showed they were beginning to overcome their fear of authority and the consequences of speaking up, he said.

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“This neighborhood is an example of what is happening across Cuba, not just here,” Otero Alcantara said. “It’s just that as artists, we are more visible.”

SPREADING FRUSTRATIONS

Small protests – whether over censorship, red tape deemed excessive or animal rights – have popped up nationwide in recent years.

Analysts say the launch of mobile internet in 2018 was a game changer because it allowed Cubans to get information outside traditional state-controlled mass media, and mobilize.

“This allows one person’s or one community’s frustration and dissent to spread in real time so that others who harbor similar frustrations will also learn that they are not alone and lose their fear of speaking out,” said Ted Henken at Baruch College in New York, author of “Cuba’s Digital Revolution”.

Internet access has allowed new online non-state media outlets to emerge and also let Cuban activists on the island better connect with the large Cuban American diaspora that emerged after Fidel Castro’s leftist revolution in 1959.

The anti-government song “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”) that San Isidro residents intoned on Sunday was a hit released in February by some of Cuba’s most popular contemporary musicians who now live in Miami, like reggaeton duo Gente de Zona. The song also featured Castillo and another dissident rapper on the island.

Dissident group the Patriotic Union of Cuba, headquartered in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, says dozens of its activists have been on hunger strike for three weeks, protesting what it says is state harassment that has prevented them from delivering food and medicines to needy residents. The group is posting pictures on social media of the hunger strikers.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the strike.

State media have dismissed it as a “show”.

On Thursday, Julie Chung, the U.S. State Department’s acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said on Twitter Washington was alarmed by the “worsening situation” regarding the hunger strike.

‘OLD PLAYBOOK’

The Cuba government has addressed some specific issues raised by dissidents, for example announcing in February it was introducing a decree on animal rights.

It has attacked critics who want a complete political overhaul, like the MSI and the independent journalists covering public dissent. State television has dedicated hours of prime time in recent months to dismissing them as the “new actors of the old playbook” – a U.S. soft coup attempt.

The U.S. State Department declined to directly address a Reuters’ question about Havana’s view that Washington and U.S. groups finance dissidents in a bid to destabilize it.

“We support those in civil society, in Cuba and around the world, who are defending their rights or struggling for freedom,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Some activists and independent journalists have publicly stated that they are not directed by the United States, though they acknowledge that they receive foreign grants including from U.S. organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy, funded largely by the U.S. Congress.

Dissidents like the MSI members have documented on social media repeated house arrests and other types of harassment. At least 10 prominent journalists for non-state media have left Cuba in recent years after complaining of state pressure, according to an informal count by Reuters.

Still, some dissidents told Reuters they are undeterred.

“As much as they try to discredit the work we are doing, it doesn’t work,” Castillo said. “I am not anyone’s agent. I am a free citizen. I have family in the United States and friends and supporters that help me, and my artwork.”

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Frances Kerry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-opposition-analysis-idUSKBN2BW2XQ