CubaBrief: Castro regime’s shameful defense of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. How the war is impacting Cuba.

Cuban tourism is being impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 900 Russian tourists were evacuated from Cuba onboard Charter flights, and another 940 are expected to leave today due to airspace bans placed on Moscow, after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

AFP | Vladimir Putin (left) and Raul Castro in 2014

Putin’s attacks against Georgia in 2008, Crimea in 2014 and the eight years long low intensity war in the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine, and the February 24, 2022, multipronged Russian invasion of Ukraine were all acts of aggression in violation of international law. The Russian dictator’s repeated aggressions were backed by Cuba in 2008, 2014 and now in 2022. Bruno Rodríguez, the Castro regime’s foreign minister, on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine said that Russia “has the right to defend itself.”

Havana’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is exposing the hypocrisy of the Cuban regime on the subject of imperialism, and its internal human rights record. The Washington Diplomat on March 7, 2022 published an article by Larry Luxner titled “Cuban envoy justifies mass arrests, internet limits; waffles on Ukraine”, drawing more scrutiny from unexpected quarters. American University Professor Philip Brenner, in a March 3rd webinar with Ambassador Lianys Torres Rivera, the Castro regime’s ambassador in Washington D.C. since January 2021, “challenged the ambassador to explain why Cuba chose to abstain rather than support the March 2 resolution at the United Nations General Assembly condemning Russia for its bloody invasion of Ukraine. The resolution passed overwhelmingly, with 141 countries voting in favor, five against and 35 (including Cuba) abstaining.” Ambassador Torres Rivera gave a long and incoherent reply but “she never actually said why Cuba abstained. Instead, she rambled on about how “we have always opposed the use of force against any country.”

Philip Brenner, a professor at AU, speaks with Cuban Ambassador Lianys Torres Rivera.

Luxner concludes in the above mentioned article that “the real reason Cuba didn’t condemn the invasion—despite her lofty pronouncements—is that Russia remains one of Cuba’s chief financial backers; in February, the island’s cash-strapped communist government announced it would deepen ties with the Kremlin and boost bilateral collaboration in transportation, energy, industry and banking. In fact, right before the vote, Cuba’s envoy to the UN, Pedro Luís Cuesta, blamed the war on Washington’s determination to keep expanding NATO toward Russia’s borders. Various reports said some Cubans have been arrested for leaving flowers at the Ukrainian Embassy in Havana.”

Luxner’s analysis ignores that the key factor in the Cuban dictatorship’s long relationship with the Soviet Union, and later with Russia, was its autocracy and anti-Americanism. This is why Havana’s relations with Moscow cooled during Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost reforms, and reached its nadir during the Yeltsin presidency. When Russia was trending towards democracy and good relations with the United States, the Castro brothers wanted nothing to do with the reforms and censored Moscow’s official publications.

Luxner also mentions that Ambassador Torres Rivera “dismissed the [11J] protesters as nothing more than vandals and troublemakers,” and that” a month after the demonstrations, Cuba passed a draconian cybersecurity law that criminalizes calls for public disturbances or spreading information that ‘denigrates the revolutionary process,’ in the words of one Cuban official.”

Vladimir Putin and Bruno Rodriguez in Cuba in 2014

Cuban independent journalist Yoani Sanchez reports on how the official Cuban press echoes Russian propaganda describing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a “demilitarization.” At the same time that Havana passes restrictions on Cubans using social media, the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez criticizes Western Democracies shutting down Russian propaganda channels such as RussiaToday.

This is the same Foreign Minister that “claimed that the warnings about a possible conflict were only part of ‘propaganda hysteria’ in the West. Now, he comes out in defense of several Russian media outlets whose transmissions have been cut in numerous countries and he does so in the name of freedom of the press, the same thing that is persecuted on this Island.” Yoani Sanchez observes that “if the foreign minister’s crusade were sincere, it would have to include the same demand by all the independent media censored on Cuban servers, such as 14ymedio and many others; an exhortation for the immediate release of Yoan de la Cruz, who broadcast the first protests in San Antonio de los Baños on July 11th (11J) through Facebook with his mobile phone, and an energetic demand for the Cuban authorities to eliminate the prohibition on traveling outside the country* that weighs on so many reporters.

France24, March 7, 2022

Russian tourists evacuated from Cuba on charter flights

About 900 Russian passengers flew to Moscow from Cuba on Sunday YAMIL LAGE AFP

Varadero (Cuba) (AFP) –About 900 Russians took chartered flights home from a Cuban resort town on Sunday as airspace bans imposed after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine complicated travel for tourists around the world.

Dozens of countries, including European Union nations and the United States, have banned Russian planes from their airspace as part of sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy.

Russia retaliated by barring its airspace to multiple countries, including 35 European nations.

An airport official in Varadero, a resort town near Havana, told the press that 927 Russian passengers flew to Moscow on Sunday, among them a group from the Dominican Republic.

Another 940 tourists will depart on Monday, the official said.

Cuban media reported Friday that the 5,570 Russians on vacation in Varadero would return on Nordwind Airlines charter flights.

International sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine could have wide-ranging impacts on its Latin American allies such as Cuba, experts say YAMIL LAGE AFP

Nordwind has suspended their regular flights to Cuba, along with fellow Russian carriers Aeroflot and Azur Air.

– Vacation interrupted –

Alexei Nekrashevich, a 48-year-old tourist, told AFP that his trip ended abruptly “because of the situation over there (in Ukraine).

“It’s unfortunate that we had to fly a little early and that we didn’t get enough rest,” he said.

Nearly 15,000 Russian and 2,000 Ukrainian tourists are stranded in the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean country’s government said Wednesday.

Nordwind will operate four weekly charter flights from Moscow to the Cuban tourist resort towns of Varadero and Cayo Coco YAMIL LAGE AFP

The Dominican Republic said it had reached a deal with hotel chains to guarantee the tourists’ accommodation until a solution is found.

Nordwind will operate four weekly charter flights from Moscow to the Cuban tourist resort towns of Varadero and Cayo Coco.

International sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine could have wide-ranging impacts on its Latin American allies such as Cuba, experts say.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Russian tourists have become the single largest group of visitors to the island nation.

The arrival of Russian visitors to Cuba increased almost 200 percent since 2019, helping the island’s battered tourism industry, which collapsed with the pandemic and the tightening of US sanctions.

© 2022 AFP

https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220307-russian-tourists-evacuated-from-cuba-on-charter-flights

The Washington Diplomat, March 7, 2022

Cuban envoy justifies mass arrests, internet limits; waffles on Ukraine

By Larry Luxner

March 7, 2022

Protesters at a 2015 demonstration in front of the Cuban Embassy in Washington demand an end to the US embargo, which is now 60 years old. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

On Feb. 3, 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed into law “Proclamation 3447: Embargo on All Trade with Cuba.”

Sixty years and 11 presidents later, that embargo—known in Cuba as “el bloquéo” or blockade—has endured in one form or another, crippling the Caribbean island’s economy and preventing ordinary Americans from visiting Cuba as tourists.

And that’s deeply unfair, says Lianys Torres Rivera, Cuba’s ambassador in Washington since January 2021—especially after expectations that President Joe Biden would reverse the anti-Cuba rhetoric of his predecessor, Donald Trump, and resume the thaw initiated by the Obama administration when it re-established full diplomatic relations with Havana in 2015.

“In terms of US policy toward Cuba, it is the same as the previous administration. The Cuban people are enduring the same sanctions,” she said. “It is a terrible mistake to continue to implement these sanctions, even during a pandemic. Cuba has always been willing to move forward with the US—even with the Trump administration. The only thing that we ask is respect for our self-determination, and no interference in international affairs.”

Torres Rivera made her comments during a March 3 webinar hosted by American University’s School of International Service. The ambassador spoke with AU Professor Philip Brenner, an expert on US-Cuba relations and co-author of the 439-page book “Cuba Libre: A 500-Year Quest for Independence.”

Since 1985, Brenner has served on the advisory board of the National Security Archive, working to declassify and disseminate documents on US foreign policy, including those related to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Torres Rivera is the first woman ever to represent Cuba as ambassador in the United States, replacing Havana’s longtime man in Washington, José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez. Prior to her arrival, she was Cuba’s ambassador to Vietnam for three years.

‘We have a lot of common ground for cooperation’

Born in 1971, Torres Rivera earned a bachelor’s in international economic relations from Havana’s Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales Raúl Roa García in 1994. Assigned first to the North American division of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Minrex), Torres Rivera worked at the then-Cuban Interests Section in Washington as an attaché (1995-96).

Her other overseas postings include stints as third secretary at the Cuban Embassy in Denmark (1998-2002), and as first secretary at the Cuban Embassy in Malaysia (2007-11). From 2015 to 2017, Torres Rivera was part of the Cuban delegation that met with US authorities to discuss the renewal of full diplomatic relations between the two sides.

Billboard in Santiago de Cuba demands an end to the US trade embargo. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

She said that Obama—who reopened the US Embassy in Havana amid hopes the embargo would eventually be abolished—showed that a less contentious bilateral relationship was possible.

“During the Obama administration, we signed 22 memos of understanding in areas like agriculture, telecommunications, programs for teaching English, law enforcement, public health and environmental issues,” she said. “All these documents are in the interests of both peoples. We are neighbors, and we have a lot of common ground for cooperation.”

But then Trump came to power and quickly undermined Obama’s efforts to improve relations with the Pennsylvania-sized island of 11.3 million that had been ruled by Fidel Castro from 1959 until 2008.

Besides imposing more than 140 bans on travel and financial transactions, Trump—in his last week in office—also put Cuba back on the State Department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism, along with Iran, North Korea and Syria.

Passengers disembark from an American Eagle jet that has just arrived in Camagüey from Miami. US travel to Cuba is severely restricted under the terms of Washington’s 60-year-old embargo. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

“Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism, nor does it represent a threat to the US,” she insisted. “There is a huge misinformation campaign about the situation of Cuba, and how the sanctions work. US citizens would sympathize with Cuba’s plight if they understood the extent to which their government has blockaded the country and its people.”

Cuba abstains in UN vote to condemn Russia

Partly due to COVID-19—which forced Cuba to shut its doors to foreign arrivals for nearly two years—the island’s GDP has fallen by 15%, though Torres Rivera claimed that “even in the midst of economic restrictions, more than 200,000 jobs have been created in Cuba.”

This past January, 86,000 foreign tourists arrived in Cuba—up from 22,000 in January 2021—and agricultural production is growing, she said. What the ambassador didn’t say, however, is that Cuba’s 2022 sugar harvest won’t even match last year’s production of 800,000 tons, the worst since 1908.

In much the same vein, Brenner challenged the ambassador to explain why Cuba chose to abstain rather than support the March 2 resolution at the United Nations General Assembly condemning Russia for its bloody invasion of Ukraine. The resolution passed overwhelmingly, with 141 countries voting in favor, five against and 35 (including Cuba) abstaining.

Brass plaque marks entrance to the Russian Embassy in Havana. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

“As you know, the Cuban people have had a very close relationship with the Ukrainian people,” she said, recalling how in 1986—following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster—more than 25,000 children were airlifted to Cuba and treated for thyroid cancer and other diseases resulting from exposure to radiation. “Of course, it is impossible for us to make an honest examination of the current situation in Ukraine without carefully assessing the historic factors that have led to this unfortunate situation and conflict.”

She never actually said why Cuba abstained. Instead, she rambled on about how “we have always opposed the use of force against any country.”

The real reason Cuba didn’t condemn the invasion—despite her lofty pronouncements—is that Russia remains one of Cuba’s chief financial backers; in February, the island’s cash-strapped communist government announced it would deepen ties with the Kremlin and boost bilateral collaboration in transportation, energy, industry and banking.

In fact, right before the vote, Cuba’s envoy to the UN, Pedro Luís Cuesta, blamed the war on Washington’s determination to keep expanding NATO toward Russia’s borders. Various reports said some Cubans have been arrested for leaving flowers at the Ukrainian Embassy in Havana.

Cuban youth check their mobile phones while gathering on a sidewalk in Camagüey. A new cybersecurity law places harsh restrictions on internet access. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

Cuba enacts harsh crackdown on internet access

Perhaps that’s no surprise, considering that last July saw some of Cuba’s largest anti-government protests since the Castro regime came to power in 1959. Thousands of ordinary citizens, enraged by a lack of freedom and an economy worsened by COVID-19, chanted “freedom” amid demands for the resignation of President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Police beat protesters, some of whom threw rocks at officers and overturned vehicles.

Yet Torres Rivera dismissed the protesters as nothing more than vandals and troublemakers.

“I was in Havana on July 11, and what I was going on there was anything but peaceful,” she said. “These people were involved in vandalism, assaults on authorities, and damage to public property including a pediatric hospital and a police station.”

A month after the demonstrations, Cuba passed a draconian cybersecurity law that criminalizes calls for public disturbances or spreading information that “denigrates the revolutionary process,” in the words of one Cuban official.

Patriotic children wave Cuban flags along a quiet street in Old Havana. (Photo by Larry Luxner)

Not exactly a shocking development, considering that Cuba remains one of only five communist regimes left in the world, along with China, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea.

Asked why such a law was even necessary, Torres River said “the real story here, Phil, is that the internet is used in destabilizing attempts aimed at subverting constitutional order in Cuba.” She claimed that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter “encourage toxic operations” against Cuba.

It’s worth noting that Torres Rivera made her comments the day before Cuba’s ally and best friend, Russia, banned Facebook and made calling Putin’s war in Ukraine a war, or referring to the invasion as an invasion, crimes punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

“No country including the US allows agents financed by foreign actors and foreign governments to use the internet to advance a foreign political agenda,” she said. “Hate speech that calls for violence and acts of aggression cannot be, and will not be, tolerated in Cuba. That is my answer to your question.”

https://washdiplomat.com/cuban-envoy-justifies-mass-arrests-internet-limits-waffles-on-ukraine/


Havana Times, March 6, 2022

Cuba’s FM Defends Putin’s Press While Censoring at Home

His statements are not written to reach our ears, but to ingratiate himself with Putin and to annoy Europe and the United States.

By Yoani Sanchez (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – If Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez had any shame left, he would submit his resignation. A few days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the foreign minister claimed that the warnings about a possible conflict were only part of “propaganda hysteria” in the West. Now, he comes out in defense of several Russian media outlets whose transmissions have been cut in numerous countries and he does so in the name of freedom of the press, the same thing that is persecuted on this Island.

For less than that, a resignation would be knocking on the doors of a public official anywhere in the world, but Rodríguez does not occupy his position because of his talent, charisma, or decency, but because of the docility and agility with which he repeats the script that others write for him. In this case, he has had to play the role of champion of information and the rights of citizens to have several news sources. He assumes it on behalf of Sputnik, Russia Today and other Kremlin propaganda media, determined to narrate the war as a “special military operation” to save the Ukrainians.

In the space where hoaxes and manipulation flourish, the Cuban minister sees journalists who must be saved from censorship and denounces that “big technology companies have decided to restrict access” to the toxic news grid broadcast by these channels controlled by the Kremlin. To add to the absurdity, Rodríguez uses the social network Twitter, one of those giant companies he abhors, to launch his cynical backing at the disinformation campaigns promoted by Vladimir Putin.

If the foreign minister’s crusade were sincere, it would have to include the same demand by all the independent media censored on Cuban servers, such as 14ymedio and many others; an exhortation for the immediate release of Yoan de la Cruz, who broadcast the first protests in San Antonio de los Baños on July 11th (11J) through Facebook with his mobile phone, and an energetic demand for the Cuban authorities to eliminate the prohibition on traveling outside the country* that weighs on so many reporters.

If these declarations by Rodríguez were not “pure theater,” as the popular song says, the minister would be in front of the International Press Center right now raising his voice so that the blackmail and pressure against foreign correspondents based on the island would cease. They would also be notably present in the Ministry of Justice, provincial courts, and police stations every time a citizen was questioned by State Security, fined, or had their technological devices confiscated for spreading news that the regime did not like.

Not to mention the activism that the face of Cuban diplomacy could display to promote legislation that allows and safeguards the existence of media outlets that are not subordinate to the Communist Party of Cuba; to promote their essential participation in campaigns that protect the journalistic union from abuses and repressions; and the fiery diatribe that he would pronounce in front of the microphones demanding the right for the audience to be able to choose which newspaper to read, which channel to tune in to or which radio program to listen to.

Bruno Rodríguez should do all this and more to bring his compatriots closer to the freedom of the press that he demands so much for others. But his tantrums, we already know, are designed for an outdoor setting, where he plays the character of the democratic chancellor who can’t sleep every time a journalist is silenced. His statements are not written to reach our ears, but to ingratiate himself with Putin and to annoy Europe and the United States.

He doesn’t even care about us. In his eyes we do not deserve access to another speech that is not his… the one that someone writes behind the curtain.

———

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times

https://havanatimes.org/opinion/cubas-fm-defends-putins-press-while-censoring-at-home/

Havana Times, March 6, 2022

Cuba & the UN Resolution on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

By Xel2 (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – This week we have drawn about Cuba’s abstention at the UN on the resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With a support of 141 votes, 5 against and 35 abstentions, the world made it clear which side is right.

It is a war that has lasted more than ten days with hundreds of casualties on both sides, and countless destruction, and the arrogance of the Russian leader who persists in calling this war a simple military operation.

In recent days, Russian soldiers bombed the area surrounding Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to take control of it in what could be the greatest ecological and social disaster in history. However, it is still evident which side the official Cuban discourse is on.

From our artistic space, we condemn war as a way to resolve conflicts, whatever color it may have. We are with those who resist the aggression on the street under the bombs.

Greetings and happy Sunday,

Wimar Verdecia Fuentes

The UN General Assembly condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine. CUBA: Neither against or in favor… in fact just the opposite

Cuba at the United Nations