CubaBrief: Examining the Castro regime’s internal blockade on Cubans – dictatorship pays in pesos and charges in dollars; beats, jails & kills Cubans who dissent

Six months ago today, on July 12, 2021, during the 11J protests, Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, age 36, was shot in the back by regime officials on day two of nationwide protests in Cuba. Another Cuban appeared on video showing an entry and exit wound after being shot by regime agents, but many others were also beaten up and jailed. The full extent of the violence carried out by regime officials remains unknown, and the numbers of those detained and arrested are partial, not complete.

Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, (age 36) was shot and killed on July 12, 2022

The Castro regime has mastered the art of misinformation and disinformation to cover up its own misdeeds by repressing and forcibly exiling independent Cuban journalists, and intimidating foreign news bureaus and journalists into not reporting the reality of what is going on. On August 12, 2014, in her column “Reporting is the least of it”, Yoani Sánchez warned how foreign journalists could develop a version of Stockholm syndrome. “Caution foreign news agencies! Your representatives in these lands are always in danger of becoming hostages, first, and then collaborators of the rulers.”

CubaLex calls on international press to cover trials in Cuba

EFE news agency President Gabriela Cañas said the news agency was considering leaving Cuba after their journalists reported the dictatorship was attempting to “kick them out” by withdrawing press accreditations. “They are kicking us out of Cuba. With only two journalists, we cannot keep up with the quality standards that the EFE Agency has offered up until now in the country. It’s a great shame,” said Cañas in Madrid on January 12, 2022. This is not the first time, and the dictatorship’s objective is for news bureaus to increase their self-censorship to be allowed to remain on the island.

Officials of the Cuban dictatorship, and their agents of influence push a narrative that the United States economic embargo on Cuba is a “blockade” and responsible for the island’s economic difficulties. This is not true as the State Department (and U.S. – Cuba trade statistics over the past 20 years) demonstrate. The United States has porous economic sanctions with a focus on cutting off funds to the Castro military that controls most of the Cuban economy.

In practice, this has meant that some American companies are complicit in using stolen or trafficked properties to benefit the Cuban dictatorship. Nora Gámez Torres in her January 12, 2022 article, gave the example of a Cuban family who left Cuba “after Fidel Castro confiscated their businesses and properties in 1960 as part of a broad expropriation effort that triggered what was to become a six-decade U.S. embargo. Several years later, two high-end apartment buildings in Havana’s exclusive Miramar and Alturas de Miramar neighborhoods, seized from his family, ended up as a profitable Airbnb rental and residence for American diplomats in Havana. García-Bengochea says both the American company and the U.S. State Department owe him money. “At least State claims to serve our diplomatic corps. Airbnb is cynically hawking our stolen property purely for profit and in violation of U.S. law,” said Javier García-Bengochea, whose family owned and currently has a certified claim on the properties.

Over Twitter on January 11, 2022 Dr. Bengochea provided context: “What Airbnb did encapsulates everything wrong with Obama opening to Cuba: US companies partnering with so-called cuentapropistas selected by Cuban military to traffic in the stolen property of Americans purely for profit. It was politically sanctioned organized crime.”

Property rights are human rights. Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.” The desire to normalize relations with the Castro regime led to the violation of property rights in the above case, and also in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office violating “the law by reviving a Cuban government entity’s ‘Havana Club’ trademark that had been arbitrarily and illegally seized at gunpoint from their rightful owners, Jose Arechabala SA by the Castro regime in 1960.

How could this policy towards Cuba advance human rights, when it led to these violations of property rights in order to benefit a totalitarian-military dictatorship?

A meme appeared on social media in 2021 in Spanish that outlined this reality, and Cuban scholar and journalist Carlos Alberto Montaner on July 15, 2021 gave a commentary on the blockade not prohibiting a series of economic measures that are proscribed by Havana. Below is the translation of the meme to English.

“The blockade does not prohibit fishermen in Cuba from fishing, the dictatorship does;

The blockade does not confiscate what farmers harvest, the dictatorship does;

The blockade does not prohibit Cubans on the island from doing business freely, the dictatorship does;

The blockade did not destroy every sugar mill, textile factory, shoe store, canning factory, the dictatorship did;

The blockade is not responsible for Cubans being paid with worthless pesos and stores sell you products with American dollars; the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible that Cubans are beaten and imprisoned for thinking differently, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible that there are hundreds of Cuban political prisoners who have not committed any crime, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for sending Cubans US dollars that they give to you in worthless pesos in the Western Union, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for the dictatorship building hotels and the roofs that fall on Cubans’ heads, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for hospitals in Cuba that are disgusting, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for not having water in homes, for not maintaining the aqueduct system, the dictatorship is;”

CubaBrief has been highlighting the reality that it is not the U.S. embargo that the Castro regime calls a blockade, but the dictatorship’s communist controls that have created an internal blockade that is systematically harming Cubans. Today, we will be examining three of the claims made in the above meme on how the dictatorship pays Cubans “with worthless pesos and stores sell them products with American dollars“; the Castro regime is responsible that “Cubans are beaten and imprisoned for thinking differently”; and the totalitarian dictatorship “is responsible that there are hundreds of Cuban political prisoners who have not committed any crime.

Pedro Pablo Morejon wrote the article “Cubans Suffer Apartheid in the Government’s USD Stores” published in the Havana Times on January 10, 2022 that the Castro regime’s stores with prices in US dollars that must be paid in a currency the Cuban government calls MLC (Freely Convertible Currency), “which is nothing more than a virtual currency that the government invented in early 2021 as part of the so-called Currency Reform, which was to fill their coffers again, and is based upon dollars and euros.They are the only relatively well-stocked stores in the entire country.” Cubans are not paid in this currency and Cubans who do not have relatives living abroad, or a source abroad to send them foreign currency, are in a tough spot.”

Cuban independent journalist Mabel Páez beaten up and threatened on December 7, 2021

Cubans are not only beaten and imprisoned for thinking differently, but some are also shot in the back and killed. This was the case of Diubis Laurencio Tejeda highlighted at the top of this entry. In addition, independent Cuban and international journalists trying to cover the news in Cuba were also beaten bloody. On December 7, 2021, Cuban independent journalist Mabel Páez was brutally beaten up, and told this was her first warning. Associated Press photographer Ramón Espinosa was roughed up and bloodied while covering the 11J protests in Havana on July 11, 2021.

Associated Press photographer Ramón Espinosa beaten up on July 11, 2021

The Castro dictatorship, not the embargo, is responsible for the fact that “there are hundreds of Cuban political prisoners who have not committed any crime” in Cuban prisons today. Their numbers are growing. The Cuban NGO Cubalex has documented that 719 continue to be jailed from the July 11-13, 2021 protests. According to the Associated Press, “relatives of Cubans arrested during the largest demonstrations in decades across the island said that at least 57 protesters are scheduled to go on trial this week, some facing sentences of up to 30 years in prison. The relatives told The Associated Press that three collective trials are scheduled, with 21 charged in the eastern city of Holguin, 20 in Havana and 16 in Santa Clara.” These are partial numbers. The Castro regime does not release data on their prison population, and the International Committee of the Red Cross has not been able to visit a Cuban prison in decades.

EFE, January 12, 2022

SPAIN MEDIA

Spanish news agency EFE mulls leaving Cuba over credentials withdrawal

EFEMadrid12 Jan 2022

Efe Agency President Gabriela Cañas said the multimedia news agency was mulling pulling out of Cuba after its journalists reported the government was attempting to “kick them out” by withdrawing their press accreditations.

“They are kicking us out of Cuba. With only two journalists, we cannot keep up with the quality standards that Efe Agency has offered up until now in the country. It’s a great shame,” Cañas said at a breakfast working group in Madrid organized by Nueva Economía.

Due to recent events, Cañas said the company was considering taking measures.

“We are beginning to consider our presence on the island. We cannot exercise journalism freely,” the president lamented.

Despite the agency having no interest in leaving Cuba, the president said it may be necessary to “report from abroad.”

Cañas added that the situation with the Cuban government had not been resolved despite diplomatic efforts from Madrid.

This summer seven journalists were working in Havana, but now only two — an editor and a cameraman — have press accreditation.

The agency began to face obstructions when the Cuban government delayed, without any explanation, the issuing of a press visa for a new correspondent who was appointed in July 2021 and who has not yet been able to enter the country.

In November Cuba’s International Press Center withdrew the press accreditations of all Efe workers in Cuba.

“We ran out of witnesses on the island,” Cañas added.

Hours later, the CPI returned two accreditations to Efe journalists, but since then the situation has stalled.

Havana assured that it would return the accreditations out of “goodwill” in November, but this has yet to happen.

“We have asked them to let us work there a thousand times” to no avail, she said.

Efe Agency, which launched almost five decades ago, covers “almost 50% of the news” published in Latin America about Cuba.

Cañas guessed that it was “perhaps this resonance” that did not sit well with the Cuban government.

Efe’s president also discussed Radio Televisión Española —Spain’s state-owned television and radio broadcaster — and Efe’s intention to join forces on several projects looking to the future.

“RTVE and Efe work well together, they have the technological and audiovisual capacity and we have a broad reach,” Cañas said.

“We have presence in 120 countries, we have around 500 journalists working abroad, so we are very complimentary, so much so that in some delegations, such as in Buenos Aires we already work together.”

As well as collaborating to strengthen both companies’ news coverage, RTVE and Efe will synchronize efforts to forge a pioneering public college of journalism. EFE

https://www.efe.com/efe/english/portada/spanish-news-agency-efe-mulls-leaving-cuba-over-credentials-withdrawal/50000260-4715944

The Washington Post, January 11, 2022

World Dozens of Cuba protesters face trial this week: relatives

January 11, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. EST

HAVANA — Relatives of Cubans arrested during the largest demonstrations in decades across the island said that at least 57 protesters are scheduled to go on trial this week, some facing sentences of up to 30 years in prison.

The relatives told The Associated Press that three collective trials are scheduled, with 21 charged in the eastern city of Holguin, 20 in Havana and 16 in Santa Clara.

Officials initially appeared to be caught off-guard when thousands of Cubans took to the street in cities across the island on July 11 and 12 to protest shortages of goods, power blackouts and economic hardship — with some also calling for a change in government.

Cuban authorities acknowledged that some complaints were justified, but they said that the United States was the real force behind the protests, which appeared to have been mobilized in part over recently authorized social media networks.

At least one person died and several shops and vehicles were vandalized or burned.

Officials have never given an official number of arrests during the protests, though court officials said in August there had been 23 quick trials of 67 defendants facing lesser charges such as public disorder.

Since then, prosecutors have formalized more serious charges, such as sedition, against other defendants, said Salomé García of Justice 11J — a group with members in Cuba and abroad that tries to track the cases of those detained.

The organization said it has confirmed 1,334 detentions, 223 convictions for various charges and 231 others facing charges. It said 98 people had been fined. The group said the initial detainees included 48 people under the age of 18 — the age of criminal responsibility is 16 in Cuba — though several of them have since been freed.

Roxana Garcia, the sister of 24-year-old defendant Andy Dunier Garcia, said she had been told the trials are expected to last three to four days. Her brother is charged in Santa Clara with public disorder as well as attacking and contempt of authority.

She said the defense attorney seemed to be doing a good job, and said the only witnesses against the defendants are “the same police who beat them.”

In Havana, Yaquelín Cruz said her 20-year-old son Dariel Cruz faces a prosecution request for a 15-year-sentence for sedition — attempting to overthrow a legitimate government. She said her son recently was stabbed in prison.

Justice 11J’s list of cases indicates some in Holguin face 30-year sentences for the same charge.

Several relatives said they had been informed that only one family member of each defendant would be allowed in the courtroom.

Government authorities did not immediately respond to requests for information on the cases.

The United States has denied mobilizing the protests and responded to Cuba’s crackdown on the demonstrations by imposing sanctions on officials it says have been complicit in it.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/dozens-of-cuba-protesters-face-trial-this-week-relatives/2022/01/11/4e5a4242-7308-11ec-a26d-1c21c16b1c93_story.html

The Miami Herald, January 10, 2022

Castro confiscated his apartments in Cuba. American diplomats and now tourists stay in them

Nora Gámez Torres

Mon, January 10, 2022, 7:00 AM

This six-apartment building was built by Javier García-Bengochea’s family in 1939 and was confiscated without compensation by the Cuban govt in 1960. Tourists can book one of the apartments for $107 on Airbnb.

Javier García-Bengochea, a successful neurosurgeon in Jacksonville, was just a baby when he left Cuba with his family, after Fidel Castro confiscated their businesses and properties in 1960 as part of a broad expropriation effort that triggered what was to become a six-decade U.S. embargo.

Several years later, two high-end apartment buildings in Havana’s exclusive Miramar and Alturas de Miramar neighborhoods, seized from his family, ended up as a profitable Airbnb rental and residence for American diplomats in Havana. García-Bengochea says both the American company and the U.S. State Department owe him money.

“At least State claims to serve our diplomatic corps. Airbnb is cynically hawking our stolen property purely for profit and in violation of U.S. law,” he said.

[ Full article ]

https://news.yahoo.com/castro-confiscated-apartments-cuba-american-120000484.html

Havana Times, January 10, 2022

Cubans Suffer Apartheid in the Government’s USD Stores

January 10, 2022

By Pedro Pablo Morejon

HAVANA TIMES – My cellphone rings and when I pick it up, I have my little girl’s voice on the other end of the line asking: “Papa, what did the Three Kings bring me?”

I don’t know what to tell her, so in response, as a joke, I say that these kings were astrologers in the Middle East and their star only led them to Bethlehem, that they wouldn’t cross continents and an ocean to bring her presents.

But she laughs and insists that they must have brought her something. The truth is she wants candy, juice, things to eat.

So, before going to see her, I have no other choice but to go into one of those stores with USD prices that have been set up in a currency they call MLC (Freely Convertible Currency), which is nothing more than a virtual currency that the government invented in early 2021 as part of the so-called Currency Reform, which was to fill their coffers again, and is based upon dollars and euros.

They are the only relatively well-stocked stores in the entire country. Although the problem lies in the fact that Cubans aren’t paid in this currency and Cubans who don’t have any relatives living abroad (called scum and worms once upon a time, but have been rebaptized a while ago under the title “community members”), or a source abroad to send them foreign currency, are literally in a tough spot, and have to exchange their miserable pesos into MLC, the market value of which already stands at over 80 Cuban pesos.

Absurd prices in the government’s USD priced.

In the beginning, the Government said that this measure was a necessary, but temporary, evil, and that its purpose was to improve the economy and stock up markets and national currency stores.

However, this hasn’t happened at all and we can deduce two things: That the “reforms process” didn’t manage to eliminate the country’s dual currency, and that the existence of MLC stores isn’t fleeting either, in fact Cubans feel like they have come to stay for good.

The saddest thing is how shameful the prices are. Let’s give you some of the cheaper products you can find in these stores as an example: a can of root beer costs 0.80 MLC, which is the equivalent to 64 pesos; a little bottle of juice costs 2.50 MLC, equivalent to 200 pesos; a can of soda costs 1 MLC, equivalent to 80 pesos; a jar of mayonnaise is 2 MLC, equivalent to 160 pesos, etc.

Not to mention other products. I had to buy a fan recently, one of the “cheaper” ones cost 52 MLC, which is the equivalent to 4160 pesos, which is higher than the average wage of any Cuban worker, which fluctuates around 3000 pesos.

Well, anyway, I went into the store, bought a couple of goodies and even though I was happy when I left that my little girl would be able to enjoy a little candy, I couldn’t stop thinking how unfair this whole situation is and I wonder: what does the future hold for us?

Meanwhile, many are looking for a way to reach the Cuban dream, which is leaving this country. All because we have things like this currency apartheid in stores and many other horrors.

Read more by Pedro Pablo Morejon here.

https://havanatimes.org/diaries/pedro-pablo-morejon/cubans-suffer-apartheid-in-the-governments-usd-stores/

The Miami Herald, January 7, 2022

Airbnb is rightly fined for violating Cuban embargo. It got off easy | Editorial

By the Miami Herald Editorial Board

January 07, 2022 6:00 AM

This home is among several of Airbnb’s listings in Cuba. Airbnb

President Biden and former President Trump have little in common, but they both agree on one aspect of foreign policy: Be unyielding with the Cuban government, and make sure to erase all the concessions that the Obama administration granted to the Communist island starting in 2014. It was the right approach to the repressive nation under Trump, and it’s the right approach now. This week, the U.S. Treasury Department fined Airbnb, one of the best-known vacation rental companies in the world, for apparent violations of the 1962 U.S. embargo on the island, according to el Nuevo Herald.
That’s a serious accusation, especially considering Airbnb was once the poster child of reopened relations with Cuba. In 2016, Airbnb received special authorization from the Obama administration allowing travelers from around the world to book stays in private homes on the island. Airbnb was the first major American company to enter Cuba after Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro declared detente on Dec. 17, 2014.
[ Full editorial ]

https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article257112707.html

Diario de Cuba, November 29, 2021

Opinion

Yes, Cuba is a Failed State

The government continues to complain about US attempts to depict Cuba as a failed state.

Dimas Castellanos

La Habana 29 Nov 2021

A street in Havana. Diario de Cuba

A street in Havana. Diario de Cuba

“The U.S. government is following a script, seeking to portray Cuba as a failed state,” grumbled Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla on Wednesday, November 10, during his appearance before the accredited diplomatic corps in Cuba.

Among the defining elements that characterize a failed state, those related to its economy are fundamental.

On February 19, 1959, six days after taking office as prime minister, Fidel Castro announced a government program that was supposed to “notably increase agricultural production, double the consumption capacity of agricultural workers, and erase Cuba’s  dreadful chronic unemployment figure, achieving for the people a standard of living higher than that of any other nation.” To achieve this, foreign and Cuban companies were expropriated. Three years later, in March 1962, the inefficiency resulting from these moves made necessary the introduction of the rationing book.

In March 1968, with the “Revolutionary Offensive,” nationalization reached the 55,000 micro and small enterprises that had survived, which exacerbated the inefficiency of production and services, a situation that only worsened with the attempt to produce ten million tons of sugar in 1970, which ravaged the entire economy, without achieving the outcome expected. Meanwhile, the February 1959 promise remained unfulfilled.
Soviet subsidies, amounting to 65 billion dollars in 30 years (three times more than what all of Latin America received from the US Alliance for Progress and the millions lent by the Paris Club and capitalist countries) all went straight down the drain.

The reform measure introduced after the implosion of socialism in Eastern Europe and since 2008, failed to revive productive efficiency. Today, 62 years after the promise made in that February 1959, the economic sectors in which Cuba had excelled until 1958 have degenerated to unthinkable levels.

Sugar production progressively sank until equaling figures produced back in colonial times. Coffee fell from 60,000 to 6,105 tons between 1960 and 2014, a figure not even sufficient to meet demand, forcing Cuba to purchase coffee on the foreign market for domestic consumption. Measures taken to produce 24,000 tons of coffee by 2020 failed.

The production of meat, milk and cattle by-products waned to the point that they disappeared from the Cuban diet. Meanwhile, the diminished supply of pork and pork products drove up prices in an inflationary spiral.

The housing shortage —which according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean came to more than 700,000 houses through 1959— was tackled with a “battle for housing.” The first plan, from 1959 to 1970, calling for 32,000 houses per year, averaged only about 11,000. During the second plan, from 1971 to 1980, which slated 38,000 houses per year, the annual average was less than 17,000. Then in 1980, with a population of more than ten million inhabitants, the plans were for 100,000 dwellings per year, but only 40,000 were built.
In 2005, it was announced that “no less than 100,000 new homes per year would be built and completed starting in 2006.” This plan met the same fate as the previous ones: in 2008, about 45,000 were built, in 2009 the figure dropped to about 34,000, and in 2013 it fell below 26,000 homes. In 2015 about 30,000 were completed, and in 2016, according to the report presented by Marino Murillo in December 2015, the year was expected to close out with 27,480 housing units. Instead of being solved, the housing deficit has actually worsened.

Until 1958, Cuba was characterized by immigration. Between 1959 and 1965, in contrast, the exodus of Cubans, by both legal and illegal means, generated the first great migratory wave through the Port of Camarioca in Matanzas. When travel by sea was interrupted, the thousands of Cubans who were still waiting to leave did so by means of the so-called “friendship flights,” chartered by the United States from the Varadero Airport. By April 1973, at the end of the airlift, 260,000 Cubans had left the country. In 1980, in a second massive wave, another 125,000 Cubans emigrated. In August 1994, thousands of Havana residents staged the so-called Maleconazo, giving rise to a third migratory wave that saw approximately 33,000 Cubans abandon the island.

In recent years, through Central American countries, Russia, and any country that does not require an entry visa, thousands more Cubans, despite the great risks they face, continue to leave Cuba. This stampede began before the U.S. enacted the Cuban Adjustment Act, the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, and the parole program for Cuban doctors. If those waves occurred before and after those measures, it means that the main causes lie elsewhere.

To top it all off, according to the Government itself, in 2021 more than 500 state enterprises will post losses; Cubans spend most of their time in endless lines to buy, at very high prices, basic products such as food, toiletries and medicines; there are difficulties guaranteeing the standard quantities of milk for children under seven years of age; most families, when the school year resumes, cannot afford to buy a new pair of shoes for their children to attend school; and in the midst of the pandemic, countries that before 1959 trailed Cuba in most economic categories, recently donated humanitarian aid to alleviate our crisis.

Cuba’s contradictions rooted in its lack of freedom, which for decades have landed thousands of Cubans in prison, or exile, have been exposed and indicted with greater force by young people in a new era of information technologies and social media. The country’s youth has gradually realized the impossibility of continuing to live as they had been until now. Protests centered on specific issues have undergone a qualitative shift in the form of demands for freedom to participate in the destiny of the nation. The San Isidro Movement, the demonstration in front of the Ministry of Culture, the 11-J rallies and the call of the Plataforma Archipiélago for a peaceful march are all part of a civic trend towards calls for profound change.

The cause: the unfulfilled promise of February 1959, due to the unworkability of the model implemented. Cubans, most of whom supported the revolutionary process at the beginning, today demand a new accord. It is impossible to preserve the model and save the nation, since the model, by its nature, is irreformable and, therefore, unsalvageable.

This outcome, as grim as it is real, cannot be described as anything else but a failed state.

https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1638200078_35839.html