Breaking the status quo

Here’s some fresh reinforcement for the ol’ “embargo only gives the Castros an excuse for their failures” argument:

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Havana (CNN) – Cuban officials have accused the U.S. government of bizarre plots over the years, such as trying to kill Fidel Castro with exploding cigars. On Wednesday, they said Washington is using a new weapon against the island: spam.

“It’s overloading the networks, which creates bad service and affects our customers,” said Daniel Ramos Fernandez, chief of security operations at the Cuban government-run telecommunications company ETECSA.

At a news conference Wednesday, Cuban officials said text messaging platforms run by the U.S. government threatened to overwhelm Cuba’s creaky communications system and violated international conventions against junk messages.

The spam, officials claim, comes in the form of a barrage of unwanted text messages, some political in nature.

So USAID paid “tens of thousands of dollars” for a program that it couldn’t sustain because it violated our own embargo, and all it got in return was zero civil unrest and a PR victory for the Cubans.

Now as the Cubans update their telecoms infrastructure to provide home and mobile internet access, they can blame any and all interruptions or delays on covert US spamming platforms aimed at toppling the regime.

Yep, sounds like our Cuba policy alright. Says who it ain’t working?

“The embargo is not the only, or the biggest, hindrance to film production. Directors and experts say the Cuban government does its part in hampering filmmakers, keeping politically provocative movies out of theaters, not recognizing private production companies, and making it hard for filmmakers to obtain permits for, say, filming on the street.”

From the NYT, on the damage that banning crowfunding sites such as Indiegogo and Yagruma from providing funds to Cuban independent artists.

Yesterday, Sens. Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson proposed the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014.

The bill sounds like the perfect compromise legislation to update our Cuba policy: pro-democracy projects that’ll create jobs in Miami combined with targeted sanctions on human rights violators, instead of against the entire country. Except its directed at Venezuela. From our brothers from a very different mother at Capitol Hill Cubans:

Washington, DC – Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) joined by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 today.

This bipartisan legislation authorizes $15 million in new funding in the FY2015 budget to defend human rights, support democratic civil society organizations, assist independent media, and strengthen good governance and the rule of law in the face of the massive violence and repression being carried out by President Maduro against peaceful protesters.

It also requires President Obama to impose sanctions on persons that have been involved in serious human rights violations against peaceful demonstrators and others in Venezuela or that have directed or ordered the arrest or prosecution of a person due to their legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly.

We still don’t understand how these two can reconcile their policy positions toward Venezuela and Cuba. The efficiency of targeted sanctions is iffy at best, but a helluva lot more promising than 50-year old blanket sanctions. To prove my point, I’m going to post the entire language of of the Venezuela bill and replace every reference to that country with “Cuba” along with a couple other edits. Tell me it doesn’t sound a hundred times more sensible than our embargo on Cuba:

Venezuela Cuba Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014

Section 1. Short Title: Venezuela Cuba Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014.

Section 2. Findings: This section presents key findings regarding Venezuela’s Cuba’s growing economic crisis; alarming levels of criminal violence; and erosion lack of democratic governance, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Section 3. Sense of Congress: This section states that it is the sense of the Congress that 1) the United States seeks a mutually beneficial relationship with Venezuela Cuba based on respect for human rights and the rule of law, and a productive relationship on issues of public security, including counternarcotics and counterterrorism; 2) that the Government of Venezuela Cuba is responsible for the chronic mismanagement of its economy, the levels of violence in the country, and for undermining democratic governance; and 3) these crisis conditions prompted the demonstrations taking place throughout Venezuela Cuba.

Section 4. U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela Cuba: This section recognizes that it is the policy of the United States to 1) support the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan Cuban people as defined under the Inter-American Democratic Charter; 2) work in concert with the members of the Organization of American States – as well as the European Union – to ensure the immediate end of violence against protesters and a peaceful resolution of the current crisis in Venezuela Cuba; and 3) hold accountable government and security officials responsible for or complicit in the use of force against anti-government protestors.

Section 5. Sanctions on Persons the President Determines Are Responsible for Violence in Venezuela Cuba: This section requires the President to impose sanctions on persons that he determines 1) have perpetrated, ordered or directed significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses in Venezuela Cuba against persons associated with the anti-government protests in Venezuela Cuba, including current and former officials of the Government of Venezuela Cuba or 2) have directed or ordered the arrest or prosecution of a person primarily because of the person’s legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly. Sanctions to be imposed by the President would include 1) asset blocking – using all powers granted to the President by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to block and prohibit all transactions in property; and 2) exclusion from the U.S. and revocation of visas – denying visas, excluding from the United States, and revoking visas and other documents in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Section 6. Support for Civil Society in Venezuela Cuba: This section authorizes $15 million in new funding in FY2015 to 1) defend human rights, 2) build the capacity of democratic civil society, 3) support independent media outlets and unrestricted access to the internet, 4) improve government transparency and accountability, and 5) assist civil society activists, journalists and protesters that have been targeted for their activity.

Hardliners made a whole lot of hullabaloo a few weeks ago when Charlie Crist unequivocally came out against the embargo. “Political suicide!” they hollered. Yet the numbers paint a drastically different picture. From Marc Caputo’s Sunday story on Florida’s gubernatorial race for The Miami Herald:

But many of Scott’s fellow Republicans were paying attention to a different set of numbers: a raft of poll data-points that make the GOP queasy because it shows Democrat Charlie Crist has broad support across Florida right now. The highlights:

• 34 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, according to one business interest’s statewide survey. This margin is 12 points greater than Democrat Alex Sink’s in the 2010 governor’s race. If she had earned Crist’s poll numbers in just these two counties, Sink would have won.

• 10 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in another business interest’s statewide poll.

• 8 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in two other business interests’ statewide polls.

• 7 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in a fourth business interest’s statewide poll.

• 6 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in a poll of Republican-controlled state House districts across Florida.

• 4 percentage points — the margin Crist beats Scott by in North Florida, a Republican stronghold. The number is well within the poll’s error margin. But it’s a cumulative 17-point shift in favor of Democrats compared to 2010, and Sink would have won the governor’s race with this North Florida margin.

• 2 percentage points — the margin Scott beats Crist by in a poll of Republican-controlled state Senate districts in North Florida. Again, it’s within the error margin. But again: If Sink had had this margin, she probably would have won the governor’s race.

• 1 percentage point — the margin Crist beats Scott by overall in that poll of Republican-controlled state Senate districts. The poll was paid for by the Republican Party of Florida.

Crist also has a better image than Scott overall, with 48 percent having a favorable impression of the Democrat and 39 percent an unfavorable impression in these Republican-held seats.

Put another way: Crist has a favorability index of +9.

Scott’s index: only +1.

36 flippin’ percentage points in Miami-Dade!  If this doesn’t shatter the myth that the embargo is the third rail of Florida politics, nothing can.

From “The Futility of Sanctions on Russia“, by conservative columnist, Steve Chapman:

Economic sanctions exert a perennial appeal during geopolitical crises because they spill no blood and cost little money, at least compared to the toll of war. These virtues are enough to make everyone forget that they rarely accomplish anything beyond allowing our leaders to posture.

A revealing example is the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, which was imposed in 1960 with the goal of driving Fidel Castro’s communist government from power. The boycott is still in place, more than a half-century later, and so is the regime.


Experts on the subject are divided into two groups: those who think sanctions usually fail and those who think they almost always fail. Gary Hufbauer, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, says sanctions have been effective in about 30 percent of the cases they’ve been used. But he doubts the steps taken by Obama — what he calls “light” sanctions — will make any difference in Ukraine.

“The success rates for symbolic or ‘light’ sanctions, for sanctions against autocratic governments, and for sanctions seeking territorial concessions are lower,” he said by email. For anyone hoping to get the Russians out of Crimea, he said, “these findings are not auspicious.”

Pessimists are even gloomier. University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape calculates that sanctions have worked less than 5 percent of the time. The intractable obstacle, he has written, is that modern governments are “willing to endure considerable punishment rather than abandon what are seen as the interests of the nation.”


The recent NYT article about entrepreneurship in Cuba continues levantando ronchas. First it was Little Brother, now it’s our old friend Mauricio’s turn.

In an article full of paranoid factoids –”look, there’s a general’s son! and a car with MININT plates!”– Mauricio tries to convince us that the private businesses in Cuba are a mirage. Nothing, nada, but the same old regime, hiding behind a pretense of economic reforms but pulling the strings of every paladar and timbiriche in Havana. (Which, first of all, why would they need the subterfuge?) But Mauricio is not Ninoska. He knows stridency and made-up assertions don’t play well outside the hardliner hive, and so he coats his diatribes with a varnish of semi-truths.

So yes, some of the paladares and private businesses belong to people with links to the regime. Family members, retired officers, apparatchicks and functionaries. That’s to be expected, of course. The people in power always benefit first, because they have the contacts, the know how and the protection. It was the same everywhere in post soviet bloc countries. It’s not the best scenario or the way it should be in the future. But if the best scenarios had become true in Cuba, we would not be having this discussion.

What is a stretch is to say a business is owned by the Cuban government because they have to get a license or pay taxes. It’s even more ludicrous coming from somebody who should be a fervent believer in the transformational power of capitalism.

The best answer to all these innuendos and half truths is a resounding “so what?”

If the sons of generals are embracing capitalism nowadays and opening private businesses instead of going to Camilitos schools and becoming the next generation of regime strongmen, that’s a great development. If the government is moving from owning every business to collecting taxes, that’s a step in the right direction. Because both those things create a class of people interested in pushing forward the reforms for their own benefit, instead of stalling them. And as any capitalist worth its salt knows, self interest is the best motivator to achieve more.

Mauricio knows this, but he still pretends not to see the forest for the trees. What’s even sadder is that the article is a wide swipe at a program –Cuba Emprende– that has done more to create a class of Cubans who are economically independent of the regime than the embargo has in five decades of failures. Good thing his readership is about one hundred thousandth percent that of The New York Times.

I don’t really need to comment much on this one. Check out Mario Diaz-Balart’s bravura — and entirely unconvincing — performance defending the embargo in an interview with the New York Times. Lil’ bro gets stuck in a sad and inarticulately endless loop of “Hurt the regime/help the dissidents” that reveals just how bankrupt and out of touch he is on Cuba policy.

It is highly recommended reading. You might be tempted to shrug it off as more of the same ol’ tired B.S. from the Diaz-Balarts (and it is), but you’ve never seen one of them come completely unhinged in such a spectacular fashion.



In a rousing speech on the Senate floor yesterday, Rubio argued that embargoes against repressive societies are futile and that targeted sanctions may hold more promise. Too bad he wasn’t talking about Cuba.

On embargoes:

“We don’t have an embargo against Venezuela,” he said. “They have a shortage of toilet paper and tooth paste. Why? Because they are incompetent. Because communism doesn’t work. They look more and more like Cuba economically and politically every single day.”

On targeted sanctions:

Over the next few days, Rubio said, he’d propose sanctions “we should be pursuing against the individuals responsible for these atrocities [in Venezuela].”

And then he went on to defend the Cuban embargo.

If only the Senator could explain why his policy views apply to Venezuela but not Cuba?

Ileana and Menendez:
Protests in Venezuela? SANCTIONS
Protests in Ukraine? SANCTIONS!
Cuba has sanctions? MORE SANCTIONS!!!
I stubbed my toe against a stupid table. SANCTIONS! SANCTIONS! WE LIVE FOR SANCTIONS!!!!
At least with Ukraine they finally learned that targeted sanctions make more sense. So that’s progress for ya’, America.
Speaking of targeted sanctions, it looks like that’s what the UN will use as punishment against individuals and enterprises in Cuba and North Korea for violating its weapons embargo on the Asian country.

For no discernible reason other than to back up their yella’belly horseturd of a pro-embargo editorial (which sorta kinda says that maybe Cuba policy should be reviewed, but only a little bit), The Miami Herald just published a Pulitzer-worthy exposé about a Cuban spy station that still sends messages to their spooks in U.S., proving just how much of a threat those evil Cubans pose to the national security of the United States:

Sixteen years after the arrests in Miami of five Cuban spies who got their secret orders by short wave transmissions, Havana is still using a system that fell out of favor in the cloak-and-dagger world with the end of the Cold War.

There are many more modern and efficient ways of communicating secrets by using satellites, burst transmissions, one-time emails and other means, said Chris Simmons, a retired Pentagon counter-intelligence officer who specialized on Cuban affairs.

“But these Cuban transmissions may be for old spies, dinosaurs who have been listening to (short wave) for so long, long term agents, that they are comfortable with it and don’t want or need a change,” Simmons added.

Smolinski says he laughs when he talks about the [Cuban] Atención station because it was infamous as one of the worst-run spy stations in the spook world. Its transmissions often started late, its signal drifted across frequencies and a buzz would make the messages unintelligible, he said.

The station once mistakenly broadcast part of a regular Radio Havana program, a no-no for a spy station trying to conceal its country’s identity, Smolinski said. In another broadcast, a rooster could be clearly heard in the background.

“I guess most things there don’t run very well,” he chuckled.

The only thing the Cuban government does right is pick its enemies.