The Free Territory of Skype

An article has been added to the saga against information technologies maintained by the official press. Last Thursday a report against phone fraud left many Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) readers feeling that cellphones are a source of endless problems. To the barrage of accusations about the destabilizing plans that arrive via text messages, and the collapse of networks caused by titles that travel from one cellphone to another, we can now add the “personal profit” of those who use tricks to pay less for a call or for a text message abroad.

Every crime of fraud or embezzlement is legally and morally contemptible. However, the context in which these infractions are committed should be taken into account. We live under an absolute state monopoly of telecommunications. The only phone company in the country, ETECSA, has no competitors in its field and thus sets its prices much higher than the tariffs common in the rest of the world. A one minute call overseas costs the average worker about two days wages. With such a large population having emigrated, it’s easy to imagine the Island’s need to communicate with the rest of the world.

To this must be added the limited and scarce Internet access. Without any new facilities for services such as Skype, many prefer to resort to fraudulent practices rather than to give up calling other parts of the world. Penalizing the offenders who resort to tricks like voice bypass will not resolve the problem. I don’t imagine a lady in her sixties, with a son who emigrated, risks being fined for phone fraud when she can pay barely pennies to call via the Internet. Pushing a population into crime, and then condemning them for engaging in it, seems to me, at the very least, pure cynicism.

Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 31 May 2014 | 14ymedio


15 thoughts on “The Free Territory of Skype


    Independent National Communard Council Created in Venezuela

    Jun 6th 2014, by Ewan Robertson

    The council was sworn in by communards at a final plenary session following a day of discussion groups (Ewan Robertson)

    The council was sworn in by communards at a final plenary session following a day of discussion groups (Ewan Robertson)
    Communards raised their hands to approve the creation of the National Communard Council and other proposals (Ewan Robertson)

    Communards raised their hands to approve the creation of the National Communard Council and other proposals (Ewan Robertson)
    One of several dozen discussion groups in which communards debated proposals to be approved in the plenary session (Ewan Roberts

    One of several dozen discussion groups in which communards debated proposals to be approved in the plenary session (Ewan Robertson)

    Mérida, 6th June 2014 ( – Activists from across Venezuela met last weekend to form the National Communard Council, which aims to coordinate the country’s commune movement and present its demands to the national government.

    The council was formed in the western state of Lara during a three day meeting of around 2000 communards (commune members) from around the country, most of whom are representatives of a particular commune. The meeting was the fifth national gathering of the independent National Communard Network since the organisation was founded in 2009.

    The move represents another step forward for Venezuela’s communards, who seek to replace the state’s representative political structures, particularly those of local and regional governance, with direct participatory bodies such as communal councils and communes.

    Communal councils in Venezuela are small neighbourhood organisations where local residents organise to develop their local community and run community affairs. They can also receive public funds to undertake a variety of projects in their area.

    Communes meanwhile are made up of groups of community councils. They are created when local residents hold an election to select spokespeople from each community council in a given area to form a communal parliament, which then assigns different sub committees to cover community affairs over a larger territorial zone.

    The commune can take on larger scale tasks and responsibilities than individual community councils. They can also register with the Ministry of Communes, which makes them eligible to apply for public funds to create productive, educational, cultural, infrastructural or other developmental projects.

    During the meeting last weekend, communard Abraham Simenez explained some of the aims of the commune movement to

    “The commune movement is a launching pad to consolidate this process of change toward socialism, to put people first. It’s a way for us to end with the state as it is currently constituted, with regional state governments and mayors, and for us to arrive at a communal state with constituent power [direct participatory bodies], the base of which are the communes,” he said.

    The activist continued, “It’s through the communes and organised communities that we can propose projects [to the national government] to acquire public funds and carry them out ourselves for the good of the community”.

    Creating new structures

    The driving force behind the creation of the National Communard Council last weekend was the National Communard Network, which groups together many of the country’s communes.

    The council aims to present the commune movement’s demands directly to President Nicolas Maduro vía the Presidential Council of Communal Governance. It will also work to strengthen grassroots and regional communal organising, and will seek to take on certain state powers itself, such as requesting to take over some functions currently performed by the Ministry of Communes.

    The National Communard Council is composed of communal spokespeople from each regional state, and has sub-councils on communal economy, political organisation, communication, education, security and defence, and youth.

    The specific characteristics and functions of each council were decided after communards met for a day of discussion groups. The conclusions reached were presented at a final plenary session during which the different councils were sworn in.

    As a result of the discussion groups, it was announced that the demands to be put to the national government include to take over management of the national commune registry from the Ministry of Communes, and to be granted control over public TV channel Tves. Other proposals agreed were to strengthen the communal economy, found new institutions of higher education, create a communal newspaper, and form a communal intelligence agency and strengthen the communal militia.

    Debate and interpretation

    The commune minister, Reinaldo Iturriza, was invited to speak at the meeting’s plenary event. Afterwards, he offered his thoughts to on the council’s creation.

    “The National Communard Council is a very valuable initiative because it aims to coordinate the disperse efforts of communes in the country. There are parallel (complementary) experiences in this regard, with the formation of territorial groupings of communes and communal cities. There are some sixty experiences of this underway in the country,” he said.

    The minister added, “I understand this initiative as a unified political platform, about which the Bolivarian government doesn’t have to say if it’s good or bad. The government observes how the people’s movement, in this case the commune movement, decides how to organise itself. Our job is to accompany this experience”.

    Many communards related their experiences of communal organising during the meeting. A coffee grower, Jorge Franco, said farmers in his local area were organising to develop their own coffee processing capacity and cut out the private sector from the processing, distribution and sales chain.

    He said that to do this the farmers had organised themselves into communes and were receiving public funds to aid them in this task. “Nationally, the government is supporting farmers in every way, with the idea that rather than rural workers going to the city to work, they stay in the country and dedicate themselves to planting crops,” he explained.

    Meanwhile, many communards stated the opinion during the meeting that while they were able to work with “allied” governmental figures and state institutions to further their aims, there also existed institutional opposition to their project.

    “We must be clear that this National Communard Council is the start of a new struggle. There are those who are going to come and try to take this down, and we need to overcome that situation,” said the coordinator of one discussion group

    Jasmy Quintana, a communard activist from the eastern Anzoategui state, said that in particular mayors and governors would lose autonomy and responsibilities if the commune movement were to grow, and so many were opposed to the move toward what activists call a “communal state”.

    “We still have people that say they are revolutionaries and belong to the Bolivarian process, but they don’t support people’s power. That’s why we, independently of whether they speak to us nicely, have to be vigilant that these nice words are translated into practice. We don’t want sugar coated words, we want action. We are just beginning. We have to consolidate our base from below, to go for a constitutional reform…to take autonomy away from the mayoralties and state governments,” she said.

    The communard also argued that growing people’s consciousness and the desire to self-manage the country’s resources was the reason the government of the United States was “afraid” of Venezuela’s political process.

    Communards also discussed differences in strategy at the meeting. One point of debate was whether the commune movement should seek a gradual “transition” of powers from representative to communal structures, or whether these powers should be “taken” more quickly.

    In a national register of community organisations undertaken last September, it was found that there existed 40,000 communal councils and 1,400 formed or developing communes in the country.

    Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act. Taken together, the four main categories of sanctions resulting from designation under these authorities include restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

    Designation under the above-referenced authorities also implicates other sanctions laws that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with state sponsors.

    Section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act (removal from terrorist list is possible)

    RESCISSION.—A determination made by the Secretary of State under subsection (a) may not be rescinded unless the President submits to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate—
    (1) before the proposed rescission would take effect, a report
    certifying that—
    (A) there has been a fundamental change in the leader-
    ship and policies of the government of the country concerned;
    (B) that government is not supporting acts of inter-
    national terrorism;
    (C) that government has provided assurances that it will
    not support acts of international terrorism in the future; or
    (2) at least 45 days before the proposed rescission would take effect, a report justifying the rescission and certifying that—
    (A) the government concerned has not provided any sup-
    port for international terrorism during the preceding 6-
    month period; and
    (B) the government concerned has provided assurances
    that it will not support acts of international terrorism in
    the future.
    (d) WAIVER.—Assistance prohibited by subsection (a) may be provided to a country described in that subsection if—
    (1) the President determines that national security interests or humanitarian reasons justify a waiver of subsection (a), except that humanitarian reasons may not be used to justify assistance
    under part II of this Act (including chapter 4, chapter 6, and chapter 8), or the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945; and
    (2) at least 15 days before the waiver takes effect, the President consults with the Committee on Foreign Affairs 951 of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate regarding the proposed waiver and submits
    a report to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate containing—
    (A) the name of the recipient country;
    (B) a description of the national security interests or humanitarian reasons which require the waiver;
    (C) the type and amount of and the justification for the assistance to be provided pursuant to the waiver; and
    (D) the period of time during which such waiver will be
    effective. The waiver authority granted in this subsection may not be used to provide any assistance under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which is also prohibited by section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act.


    BREITBART REPORT NEWS: Venezuela, Cuba Providing Easy Access for Islamists to US and Canada – by Frances Martel

    A report by the Secure Free Society reveals this week that Venezuela and Cuba have been providing passports and national identification cards to Middle Eastern immigrants, later used to surreptitiously enter the United States and Canada, with Venezuela providing a passport to the right-hand man of the head of Hezbollah in Lebanon. The study warns that both countries “offer Islamist extremists facilities that pose a threat to security in North America,” according to Argentine news outlet Infobae. The Venezuelan government, in particular, provided at least 173 passports, visas, and permits to migrants from the Middle East between April 2008 and November 2012. It was during this wave that Suleiman Ghani Abdul Waked, known as a right-hand man to Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, received his Venezuelan papers.

    The paper notes that the relative ease with which migrants moving West into Latin America can receive credentials is a cause for alarm for the United States and Canada. While Canada ended its diplomatic ties with Iran and closed down the embassies of respective countries, Latin America was the largest prior embarkation region for Iranian migrants without the proper paperwork to receive refugee status in Canada between 2009 and 2011. From Latin America, they then moved north into Canada. Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, was among the most trafficked migrant intermediate points from the Middle East.

    The links between the socialist Venezuelan government and radical Islamists has long been a problem for North America, as Hugo Chávez maintained close ties with the government of Iran that have persisted into Nicolás Maduro’s tenure. An AEI report in February also reveals that Hezbollah has been working to cement its ties with Caracas. Ghazi Atef Nassereddine, a Hezbollah operative sanctioned by the United States, has allegedly been working to cement Venezuela’s ties with Syria, even helping contrive schemes to transfer Syrian oil to Venezuelan refineries to avoid sanctions placed on President Bashar al-Assad.


  4. THE NATIONAL POST: An eyewitness account of Cuba’s shocking wretchedness – by Michael J. Totten

    I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba — not because I’m nostalgic for a botched utopian fantasy, but because I wanted to experience Communism firsthand. When I finally got my chance several months ago, I was startled to discover how much the Cuban reality lines up with Blomkamp’s dystopia. In Cuba, as in Elysium, a small group of economic and political elites live in a rarefied world high above the impoverished masses. Many tourists return home convinced that the Cuban model succeeds where the Soviet model failed. But that’s because they never left Cuba’s Elysium.

    I had to lie to get into the country. Customs and immigration officials at Havana’s tiny, dreary José Martí International Airport would have evicted me had they known I was a journalist. But not even a total-surveillance police state can keep track of everything and everyone all the time, so I slipped through. It felt like a victory.

    Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city — tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins.

    Marxists have ruled Cuba for more than a half-century now. The revolutionaries promised liberal democracy, but Castro secured absolute power and flattened the country with a Marxist-Leninist battering ram. The objectives were total equality and the abolition of money; the methods were total surveillance and political prisons. The state slogan, then and now, is “socialism or death.”

    Cuba was one of the world’s richest countries before Castro destroyed it — and the wealth wasn’t just in the hands of a tiny elite. “Contrary to the myth spread by the revolution,” wrote Alfred Cuzan, a professor of political science at the University of West Florida, “Cuba’s wealth before 1959 was not the purview of a privileged few … Cuban society was as much of a middle-class society as Argentina and Chile.”

    More Cubans vacationed in the U.S. in 1955 than Americans vacationed in Cuba. Americans considered Cuba a tourist playground, but even more Cubans considered the U.S. a tourist playground.” Havana was home to a lot of that prosperity, as is evident in the extraordinary classical European architecture that still fills the city. Poor nations do not — cannot — build such grand or elegant cities.



    The Judiciary

    Venezuela has no dual organization of national and state courts. Since 1945, all courts have been part of the federal system, even though at one point a parallel organization of state courts existed. Regardless of their form of organization, the courts have never exercised as much influence as the executive or even the legislative branch in Venezuela.

    As is the case with the legislature, the judicial branch in Venezuela does not share equal status with the executive. Although the law provides for the process of judicial review and for coequal status among the three branches of government, the reality is quite different. The Venezuelan brand of federalism does not provide for state courts. The law is perceived as the same, unitary, throughout the national territory. Thus, all courts and virtually all legal officers, from those who arrest to those who prosecute, are federal (i.e., central government) officials.

    Broader implications stem from the fact that the Venezuelan legal system is essentially a code law system, and thus the legal system is relatively rigid and leaves little room for judicial discretion. In a system of code law, the jurist is seen as a confirmer of the written code rather than the finder or maker of the law, as is the case in common law systems.

    The highest body in the judicial system is the fifteen-member Supreme Court of Justice, which is divided into three chambers that handle respectively, politico-administrative, civil, and penal matters. Its members are elected by joint session of the Congress for nine-year terms. One-third of the membership is renewed every three years. Each justice is restricted to a single term of nine years; this short tenure effectively limits how much a Supreme Court justice can accomplish.

    Below the Supreme Court are seventeen judicial districts, each district having its own superior court. Lower courts within a judicial district include courts of instruction, district courts, municipal courts, and courts of first instance. The superior courts are composed of either one or three judges, a bailiff, and a secretary. They serve as appellate courts for matters originating in courts of first instance in the areas of civil and criminal law. Some deal exclusively with civil matters, others with criminal matters, and others with all categories of appeals. The courts of first instance are composed of one judge, a bailiff, and a secretary. They have both appellate and original jurisdiction and are divided into civil, mercantile, penal, finance, transit, labor, and juvenile courts. District courts are composed of one judge, one bailiff, and a secretary; they also operate nationwide. They have original jurisdiction in small bankruptcy and boundary suits, and appellate jurisdiction over all cases from the municipal courts. Municipal courts, consisting of a judge, a bailiff, and a secretary, hear small claims cases and also try those accused of minor crimes and misdemeanors. They also perform marriages. Although they do not constitute courts as such, instruction judges issue indictments, oversee investigations to determine whether a case merits the attention of the courts and, if so, issue an arrest warrant. Thus, these judges perform a crucial task in the initial stages of all cases that come before the courts.

    In addition to the courts of ordinary jurisdiction, several courts of special jurisdiction operate under the Ministry of Justice. Military tribunals, fiscal tribunals, and juvenile courts all fall into this category. Although they operate independently of the ordinary courts, the Supreme Court also acts as the highest court of appeal for the special courts. Juvenile courts throughout the country try those under eighteen years of age.

    One of the most interesting aspects of the Venezuelan judicial system is its carryover of medieval Castilian traditions, such as the fuero militar (military privilege). Under this centuries-old tradition, members of the military cannot be tried by criminal or civilian courts, although the military has at times intruded into the civilian judicial system. For example, the Armed Forces of Cooperation (Fuerzas Armadas de Cooperación–FAC)–also known as the National Guard– was charged with the function of protecting all national territory and highways. Under this broad mandate, it could and did prosecute contraband cases and in effect became involved in the criminal prosecution of many suspected civilian offenders. This power was likely to increase as drug contraband became a greater problem in Venezuela, especially along its borders with Colombia.

    Generally speaking, the system for selecting judges tended to limit their independence. The Congress chooses the members of the Supreme Court, and the minister of justice names judges to the lower civilian courts. Neither category of judge enjoyed life tenure. Judges’ salaries were submitted to Congress as line items in the Ministry of Justice’s annual budget and were therefore not guaranteed. Thus, in a number of ways the judiciary was subordinate to and dependent upon the good will of the executive and the legislative branches. Although Venezuelan jurists occupied a highly regarded position in society, they did not hold nearly as much power as their counterparts in those systems where judicial review and common law are the basic determinants of procedures.

  6. INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION OF JURISTS (ICJ): Venezuela: weak legal system threatens democracy and human rights; reforms urgently needed, new report says

    A new report launched today by the ICJ pinpoints key deficiencies in the Venezuelan legal system, which threaten the rule of law, democracy and human rights in the country.

    The report Strengthening the Rule of Law in Venezuela documents failures by the authorities, as well as interference, intimidation, arbitrary suspensions and other pressures, that have undermined the independence and impartiality of the country’s judges and prosecutors, and the ability of lawyers to be effective and independent in upholding people’s rights.

    The study calls for reform to the legal institutions and practices in the country, with the prime objective to restore their independence.

    “The situation in Venezuela underscores the need for reforms and demonstrates exactly why a robustly independent judiciary, prosecutorial service, and legal profession are needed now more than ever to protect people’s rights in a democratic state,” said Wilder Tayler, ICJ’s Secretary General.

    “Without them, respect for the rule of law and for human rights quickly goes into a downward spiral,” he added.

    The ICJ report shows that the vast majority of judges hold temporary appointments with no security of tenure, leaving them vulnerable to repeated hindrance and sometimes reprisals by the executive government, the legislature and others.

    Today, more than fourteen years after the adoption of the Venezuelan Constitution, 70% of judges hold only provisional or temporary office.

    This cannot be justified under either the Constitution or international law, the ICJ notes.

    And citing the case of judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, persecuted for duly conducting her judicial functions in an independent manner, the human rights organization says it is emblematic of the deterioration of the legal system.

    The report further points out that the autonomy and impartiality of public prosecutors are also seriously affected by improper interference from the Attorney General and other political actors in Venezuela.

    According to the ICJ, the lack of security of tenure and transparency in their selection, and the allocation of criminal investigations and procedures without regard to technical criteria and workload of public prosecutors, have yielded an inability or unwillingness of prosecutors to bring perpetrators of crime to justice in an effective and equal manner.

    The result is a climate of insecurity and impunity that surpasses 90% concerning common felonies, and even more for crimes involving violations of human rights.

    Lawyers are also facing numerous challenges in Venezuela, including threats to their freedom to bring and carry out cases on behalf of their clients.

    This is particularly evident in human rights or other politically sensitive cases, the study deplores.

    Furthermore, outside meddling in the elections of the bar associations has undermined their ability to safeguard the independence of lawyers.

    In addition, judges, prosecutors and lawyers are subject to arbitrary suspensions because judicial oversight bodies fail to follow the proper procedures determined by the law, the report stresses.

    The ICJ has made a series of recommendations to improve the situation of the Venezuelan legal system.

    First steps include: reform of the current legal framework when it does not meet international standards on the role of judges, lawyers and prosecutors; and full enforcement of those existing laws which meet the international standards, but are not respected in practice.

    In particular, the report underlines it is necessary for institutions such as the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and the Attorney’s General Office to conduct proper selection processes for permanent judicial and prosecutorial appointments, and to uphold the system of checks and balances between branches of the state, guaranteeing that other branches do not unduly interfere in areas within the exclusive competence of the judiciary or prosecutors.

    “The ICJ urges Venezuelan authorities to act urgently to restore, strengthen and safeguard the independence of judges, prosecutors, and lawyers in the country,” Tayler said.

    Carlos Ayala, ICJ Commissioner, Venezuela, m +41 79 564 35 02 e-mail: carlos.ayala(a)

    The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is an international human rights non-governmental organization.

    The Commission itself is a standing group of 60 eminent jurists (including senior judges, attorneys and academics) dedicated to ensuring respect for international human rights standards through the law. Commissioners are known for their experience, knowledge and fundamental commitment to human rights. The composition of the Commission aims to reflect the geographical diversity of the world and its many legal systems.

    The current ICJ President is Professor Sir Nigel Rodley, a member of the UN Human Rights Committee. Former Presidents include Professor Pedro Nikken (2011-2012) and Mary Robinson (2008-2011), the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and President of Ireland.


    REUTERS: Venezuela’s ‘very weak’ judiciary undermines rules of law: jurists group – by Stephanie Nebehay

    Venezuela’s judiciary is persecuting students, dissidents and independent judges while turning a blind eye to most crimes in a country with one of the world’s highest murder rates, an international human rights watchdog said on Thursday. About 1,500 students face prosecution after three months of street protests this year with no evidence they took part in any criminal act, including about 160 still behind bars, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said. Forty-two people, including 38 civilians, were killed in the daily marches to decry crime, inflation and food shortages in Venezuela. Excessive use of force by security forces has been documented as well as least 14 alleged cases of torture.

    Yet there has been no substantial progress in investigating such cases, the ICJ said.

    The independence of legal institutions in Venezuela is “very weak”, the Geneva-based jurists group concluded in a report.

    “It is of the utmost importance that the legal and political institutions of the State – especially the judiciary and the Attorney General’s Office – be strengthened and become the fundamental pillar of democracy, as guardians of the rule of law”.

    Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, jailed in February for leading the protests, was being held in isolation in a military prison by the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro, the ICJ said.

    A judge in Caracas ruled on Thursday that Lopez should face trial on charges including instigating arson and damage in connection with the protests. Four students will go to trial on similar charges.


    “There is a lack of independence of judges in Venezuela beginning with the Supreme Court. Appointments are made on the basis of political loyalty,” Carlos Ayala, a Venezuelan law professor and member of the ICJ’s Executive Committee, told a news briefing in Geneva.

    “Judges are used to persecute dissidents, that is to say judges and prosecutors are used against persons who make demands, such as union leaders and students,” he said.

    The country of 30 million is one of the world’s most dangerous.

    Maduro’s government, which has declared war on crime, said in December the murder rate had fallen by about a quarter in 2013, dismissing opponents’ talk of ever-rising crime as propaganda.

    The official homicide rate is about 52 per 100,000 people last year, or more than 15,000 victims.

    “We have record figures in crime and murders, every sort of crime but there are no prosecutions, no investigations, no indictments, no convictions,” Pedro Nikken, an ICJ Commissioner and former dean of the Law School of the Universidad Central de Venezuela, told the news briefing.



    BLOOMBERG: Caracas Goes Thirsty as Taps Run Dry and Bottles Vanish – by Corina Pons and Nathan Crooks
    Residents of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, who already struggle to find toilet paper and deodorant, are facing a new shortage — drinking water.

    The rationing of tap water amid a drought and a shortage of bottles because of currency controls are forcing people to form long lines at grocery stores and bottle shops as soon as deliveries are made. Truck drivers spend much of their day outside water dispatch centers as they try to meet demand.

    “I used to have to wait an hour to refill the truck, but now I have to wait six,” said Carlos Miliani from his truck outside the Alpina dispatch center in eastern Caracas. “More trucks are lining up here because of the shortage of plastic containers and the fact that plants that bottle mineral water have shut down.”

    Miliani, who was waiting behind 15 trucks at 11 a.m. to fill up with 5-gallon (19-liter) jugs, said that a government-mandated water rationing plan in Caracas and hot weather are fueling demand as supply shrinks.

    “I haven’t been able to find 5-liter bottles of water in the supermarket for the past two weeks, and there haven’t been half-liter bottles this week,” Maria Hernandez, a 36-year-old secretary, said in an interview in Caracas today. “I have four at home, but I’m afraid that they’ll run out and that I won’t be able to find more. They ration water at my house on Wednesdays.”


  9. FOX NEWS LATINO: Cuban opposition group denounces more than 1,100 political arrests in May

    The opposition Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission on Monday denounced the 1,120 political arrests – at least – made on the communist island in May, a figure it said was one of the highest one-month totals in recent decades.

    “We’re certain that the real figures are even greater because we’re subjected to the most closed regime in the entire Western Hemisphere and it’s impossible to document all cases of political repression and even less so the systematic repression of the entire society,” said the report released by the commission.

    In addition, the report said that in May there had been “an increase in repressive violence against the citizens who dare to publicly dissent.”

    The dissident group cited the case of independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas, 2010 winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, who has been arrested each Monday for the past 19 weeks and subjected to “beatings and taunts.”


  10. BOOK PREVIEW: “A Cuban Boxer’s Journey” – by Brin-Jonathan Butler

    In 2007, I met Rigondeaux at Gimnasio de Boxeo Rafael Trejo in Havana not long after his first failed attempt at defecting in Brazil. At Trejo, the outdoor gym where I returned nearly every year to train under Hector Vinent, two or three vaguely sinister-looking old women guarded the entrance from tourists. There were different sets of these old women, but they always reminded me of the Macbeth witches. The women were nestled up against a wall of photographs inventorying the great Cuban champions Trejo has produced. While each boxer’s face hanging on display belonged to a former world or Olympic champion, you quickly remembered that they were all even more famous on the island for rejecting millions of dollars. Nothing drove the Cuban f– you home more to Americans than demonstrating that Cubans fought for something more valuable than money. While the witches spoke about this information for free, naturally there was a charge of a couple dollars to document any of this fascinating legacy with your camera. If you had the money to pay, lately you could document something else too. Over the last couple years the wall of champions had become an even more exclusive club. More athletes than at any other time since the Revolution had responded to the siren song of the American Dream and risked everything, including their own lives, to escape.

    Past the entrance, the sun blazed down and there were rows and rows of bleachers behind and in front of you. For warm-ups, the students raced up and down the bleachers and their paces were as loud as an express New York subway until the coaches whistled them on to the next task. Car tires were set against an iron railing for boys to practice their combinations, snapping their punches. In place of bags, sacks were hung next to the tires. A tractor tire lay in the shade under the far side bleachers where an instructor swung a sledge hammer over one shoulder and then the other, plunging the hammer down and showing a kid the proper technique of incorporating the entire body with each swing and the mechanics of the weight transfer involved. The ring was the centerpiece of the gym, its canvas blood- and sweat-stained with a little neighborhood mud smeared here and there. There was a lucky child who lived next door, on the second floor of his building, who routinely spied with his friends on the action below from his window.

    This last trip to Havana to train at Rafael Trejo, more than any other I’d had, whispers of sympathy were everywhere across Havana for those abandoning their lives in Cuba for an opportunity anywhere else. A hushed referendum was building with each high-profile defection. Maybe this was because it was also my first trip to Cuba since Castro had stepped down from power with a mysterious illness, the illness itself an official state secret. As usual, all the predictions of societal collapse or popular uprising were false, yet everywhere citizens nervously watched and waited. As with the rest of the world, all 11 million inhabitants on the island could feel the Castro brothers near five-decade hold over Cuba coming to an end. Unlike the rest of the world, however, few bothered to speculate as to what came next. They knew full well who held the guns. They were not surprised riots never ensued after Fidel stepped down. The prevailing sentiment remained the sense that the treasure of their country continued to rust in the wrong hands. The joke on Fidel Castro had always been that if Spanish lacked a future tense the man who could give a speech for seven hours straight would be silenced. What subject was there for him to discuss besides promises? And now nobody was sure what the future promised.


  11. Well…the old Miami Cuban dogma is back in full force trying to polarize the support and opposition to the Reforms in Cuba. “more blockade vs. more trade”…”Socialistic Democratic Model vs. Capitalistic Model”. What is needed is Bipartisanship and a Welfare State for Cuba….the old polarization or divide and conquer strategy only divide the Cuban People and instead of Reforms it only achieves pragmatic results… Cubans living outside of Cuba lack the leadership to unify the People for a bipartisan solution that benefit all Cubans…..they only know how to become tools of American Hegemony in the World…very sad ….very sad….

  12. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Foreign Investors Won’t Liberate Cuba – The billions already poured into the island have done nothing to advance civil society. – by Mary Anastasia O’Grady
    Today, a great many of the island’s political activists and human-rights advocates no longer believe that foreign investment helps them in their struggle for liberation. They are asking for more economic pressure on the regime from abroad, not less. As Cuban political activist Antonio Rodiles told journalist Pablo Diaz Espi for the Spanish website Diario de Cuba last month, “We need, first and foremost, the re-establishment of basic rights and freedoms. The international pressure, which includes the American embargo, is very necessary to at least contain the impunity enjoyed by the totalitarian regime.”

    This is worth noting, not the least because of new pressures on President Obama to allow Americans to do more business in Cuba. Last month one group—made up largely of lobbyists and former U.S. bureaucrats and politicians who now make their living as consultants—sent a letter to Mr. Obama asking him to unilaterally lift some restrictions on U.S. investment and travel to Cuba.

    The letter’s signers say a change in U.S. policy “can help the Cuban people determine their own destiny,” strengthen civil society and improve bilateral relations between the U.S. and the dictatorship. But as Cubans are not allowed to freely engage in any business transaction with a foreign entity, any new investment from the U.S. must go through the Castro brothers and their friends.

    The dissident community on the island and in exile responded to the letter with indignation. “The embargo that must be eliminated is the one which totalitarianism has imposed on the Cuban people,” Cuban poet and former political prisoner Raúl Rivero wrote in the Spanish daily El Mundo. As to bilateral relations, once there is a democracy, “the issues between both governments can be resolved diplomatically in 24 hours.”


    BBC NEWS VIDEO STORY: Windsurfing for four days from Cuba to a new life in US. For decades, Cubans fleeing their island home in search of a new life in the US have crossed the shark-infested waters in makeshift rafts. But when Jorge Armando Martinez decided to make the journey in February he chose a different method of transport: his windsurfing board. Thinking the voyage would last only a few hours, Martinez, 28, took only a bottle of water and a bag of sweets. He was at sea for four days. He spoke to the BBC about how he survived and eventually found his way to an island in the Florida Keys. Produced by the BBC’s Lorena Arroyo and David Botti.


    HAVANA TIMES: Cuba’s Phone Co. Sings the Blues – by Fernando Ravsberg
    The socialist state telephone company, ETECSA, complains about the competition from individuals “using the Internet as an alternative route” to supplant “the role that corresponds to the company” and “International Telephone Companies” bringing “heavy financial losses.”

    It would be a good idea to put the managers of ETECSA in contact with their counterparts around the world so they can explain to them how to survive economically while charging less and facing competition from Skype and all other avenues of communication through the Internet.

    Of course ETECSA hints that its poor economic performance is due to fraud “organized and implemented from abroad.” In that way an inefficient company is transformed by political magic into the victim of Zunzuneo (the USAID false Twitter program for Cuba) and the plans of the empire and the Miami Mafia that keep it from developing.


  15. Sorry — The Spam and “general-set-this-comment-aside” filters suddenly went into overdrive and basically killed every comment for a while. And I didn’t notice. Now I have and I’ve “released” them all… if I missed yours it was completely unintentional — there was a lot of real spam in there and duplicate comments. My apologies… I’ll try to keep a closer eye on it for a few days to make sure it’s working again.

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