The next round of US-Cuban discussions is scheduled for January 21 and 22, a week from today, in Havana.

Almost a month ago, Pres. Obama gave his Statement on Cuba Policy Changes,

In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests,

thereby implying that the Cuban communist regime had evolved and the U.S. had not.

No matter how you look at it, Cuba is firmly footed in a Cold War time capsule. Jason and Yleem Poblete, writing in the Wall Street Joournal, offer a brief list: They start with espionage,

In May 2003, 14 Cuban diplomats were declared persona non grata by the State Department and expelled from the U.S. for “unofficial activities,” which is diplomatic speak for espionage. One was the first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section, Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera. His wife, Josefina Vidal, also a first secretary and known Cuban intelligence officer, left with her husband. In exchange for her “heroic” exploits on behalf of the Revolution—yes, they still talk this way in Havana—the Castro regime rewarded Vidal by placing her in charge of North American Affairs or the “United States Division” as Cuba’s Foreign Ministry refers to it.

In her capacity as chief anti-American operative, Vidal traveled to the U.S. in May 2014 to meet with State Department officials. Her interlocutor? Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, whom President Obama has chosen to lead a high-ranking delegation to Havana this month for normalization talks.

Indeed, Vidal will most likely head Cuban delegation at the next round of US-Cuban discussions on January 21 and 22 in Havana.

The Pobletes also ask,

Is there a different leadership in Cuba—one that espouses freedom and no longer threatens the U.S. or undermines its interests and objectives? Absolutely not.

Under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996 and which could be viewed as also codifying the Eisenhower decision to sever ties with Cuba, the legal criteria for normalization of relations, including the political reward of full diplomatic recognition, have clearly not been met.

That is particularly true in the area of human rights, where the fate of 53 prisoners released remains firmly at the whims of the regime, and where any multinational who employs Cubans pays the government an amount in dollars stipulated by the government, which in turn pays the employee no more than the maximum legal wage (approx. $20 a month) in pesos.

Since Cuba has a long history of defaulting on its debts with foreigners, you may also want to recall what happens to owners of multinationals who did business with Cuba and tried to collect. Most of the businessmen mentioned in my column still remain in jail.

But if you really want a blast from the Cold War past,

Months before President Obama announced on Wednesday that he is seeking to do away with decades of U.S. economic sanctions against the communist regime in Cuba, Russia concluded a security deal with Havana aimed at bolstering intelligence and military ties to the island dictatorship.

The Russia-Cuba agreement was announced May 16 when a memorandum was signed in Moscow establishing a joint working group between Russia’s Security Council and the Cuban Commission for National Security and Defense.

The agreement’s announcement overlapped Vidal’s trip to the U.S. to meet with Jacobsen.

Will the Statement’s aftermath erode Russian influence with Havana? I wouldn’t hold my breath on it – especially not with Putin at the helm.

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news, and culture at Fausta’s Blog.

The first time I was in England I heard a phrase, sure as rain (that stuck with me, since it was raining), which means something will certainly occur.

Sure as rain, rumors that Fidel Castro is dead are coming up again. For Latin America watchers, this is routine, happening at intervals over the years. In fact, I was nearly certain Fidel had bought the farm years ago – and then Castro imported from Spain an oncologic gastroenterologist with full surgical team and state-of-the-art operating room equipment, something that would surely only be done for the comandante máximo.

So much for that “free, excellent Cuban healthcare” propaganda. Propaganda doesn’t cut it when the rubber hits the road.

Or when the patient needs real surgery.

My favorite line on Fidel’s health was from Person of Interest:

Mr. Reese: Fidel Castro is dead?
Mr. Finch: Fidel Castro is dead, and his body double has cancer.

Yesterday the rumors were flaring again, with many people pointing out that Fidel has not been seen in public for over a year, and he or his amanuensis have remained silent over Obama’s December 17 statement, while in the past Granma (the official organ of the Communist party and sole legal newspaper) carried heavily verbose opinion articles by Fidel on nearly every topic.

The only thing I know for sure is that the Cuban government has scheduled some announcement, subject unknown, for later today.

Of course there’s a twitter hashtag running amok: #fidelcastromuerto (fidel castro dead). I like this tweet in Italian,
Is he dead, or has he resurrected again?

However, a friend figures that, even if Fidel is dead now, there won’t be an announcement made until after a big pow-wow scheduled for early Spring, which Obama may attend, while Fidel’s funeral will be a bigger show than Mandela’s, and it would distract from much anything else.

Let’s hope they have better luck with the sign language interpreter.

Likewise, any such announcement will be timed for a slow-news day, and right now all the world’s attention is on France.

I’ll be extremely surprised if any such announcement comes today.

Years ago I posted in my blog that I’ll believe Fidel’s dead after a CSI team from the U.S. and the EU release official, audited, uncensored autopsy results.

Until then, I suggest they get Chevy Chase to do the talking, and, while they’re at it, make sure they’re not talking about Fidel Castro Odinga from Nairobi.

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news, and culture at Fausta’s Blog.

French satire weekly Charlie Hebdo has been attacked by Muslims again, this time killing twelve people, including two policemen, and wounding twenty more.

This is what we know so far:

  • Three gunmen wearing face masks and carrying repetition guns came out of cars and walked into the office of Charlie Hebdo, which was holding its weekly meeting.
  • This was a well-planned, premeditated attack.
  • Paris police have confirmed at least one of the men was carrying a rocket launcher.
  • Eyewitness say the attackers yelled “Allahu Akbar” as they fired. One said in French “the prophet has been avenged.” Additionally,

There are reports in the French press that one of the attackers told an eyewitness to “tell the media that we are from Al-Qaida in the Yemen”.

Jean Cabut, or “Cabu”, a veteran of several French newspapers and reportedly the highest paid cartoonist in the world.

According to a journalist at the scene, at least one of the police officers killed had been assigned to protect Mr Charbonnier personally. In 2013 he was included on a “most wanted” list published by Inspire, al-Qaeda’s terrorist propaganda magazine.

  • Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief Gerard Biard was in London when the attack took place.
  • One of the policemen, apparently unarmed, was executed on the sidewalk.
  • The gunmen are still at large. France is at its
    highest level of alert.

You can watch the France24 livefeed here.

Later today,

A car explosion has been reported in front of a synagogue in Sarcelles, a heavily Jewish populated city near Paris where two where two gunmen attacked the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo just hours earlier on Wednesday, French media outlet Metronews reported.

The car was parked in front of a synagogue, and reportedly exploded at about 2.30 p.m. local time.

The synagogue had been firebombed last July. Other attacks had been taking place through France since late December.

What this means:
This is an attack on civil society, be it in France or anywhere in the world. Every civilized country should condemn it.

I first browsed through a Charlie Hebdo years ago, mistakenly thinking it would be a French Mad Magazine. It was not. While it is a humor magazine, frequently [WARNING: the link is definitely not suitable for work] it’s in-your-face pornographic and thrives on blasphemy. I heard one of the reporters mistakenly describe CH as “a conservative magazine.”

That said, the Charlie Hebdo staff have been steadfast on their commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and continued their work unflinchingly after a firebombing on the night of November 2, 2011.

As Charb declared, “I prefer to die standing than to live on my knees.”

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news, and culture at Fausta’s Blog.

My Magnificent Seven colleague A.P. Dillon tweeted this morning,

Which brought up the question in my mind, Were taxes an issue in the 2014 midterm election?

Obamacare, as Chief Justice Roberts ruled, is a tax, and it appears to have been a factor in last November’s election, since half of the Senators who voted for Obamacare won’t be part of new Senate.

Obamacare aside, voters at the polls did not appear to be directly energized by the issue of taxes.

The key word is directly.

Indirectly, however, things are happening:

The US Census Bureau announced last week that New York slipped to fourth place in population among the 50 states.

Though babies are still born here every day, and immigrants still flock in, overall population growth lags because New Yorkers are abandoning the state.

Don’t blame the weather. Blustery Montana and North Dakota aren’t having this problem. New Yorkers are escaping high taxes and dismal job growth.

Other high-tax states like Illinois and New Jersey, which has the country’s second-highest tax burden, are also hemorrhaging residents. Families are uprooting and moving to places with lower taxes, more growth and fossil-fuel-friendly policies.

The residents who fled the high-state taxes essentially gave up on changing the local and state politics, so they picked up and left.

So are New Jerseyans. Despite having a Republican governor, they’re among the most taxed Americans, and nearly 200,000 decamped in the last four years in search of a better deal.

New Jersey, for instance, has some of the highest school and local taxes in the country; then you have state income taxes – and how has that worked out?

New Jersey was a high-growth state until it added an income tax in 1976.

And, if you die in New Jersey, your estate gets to pay estate taxes and your heirs pay inheritance taxes.

Not to mention all the taxes your business has to pay the State, on top of the costs of conducting business in N.J.

“But governor Christie’s a Republican!” you may respond. A fat lot of good that has done (all puns intended).

I ought to know. I upped and moved to Florida six months ago.

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news and culture at Fausta’s Blog.

Without a doubt, Pres. Obama’s December 17 Statement on Cuba Policy Changes was the top news of 2014 on Latin America.

Along with the Statement, American hostage Alan Gross was released in exchange for three Cuban spies, whose ringleader, Gerardo Hernández, was serving two life sentences. Gerardo Hernández’s wife was able to impregnate his wife through artificial insemination by having his sperm collected at prison in the U.S. and then flown to Cuba at U.S. taxpayers’ expense as part of the deal. Hernández was greeted as a hero in Havana as soon as he landed in Cuba.

The takeaway from Obama’s Statement was that a new U.S. policy towards Cuba would lead to a new Cuba policy towards the U.S. It didn’t take long for Mariela Castro, daughter of dictator Raul Castro and member of the Cuban Parliament, to disabuse us of that notion.

More significantly, the new U.S. policy towards Cuba has meant no change at all towards dissidents. Just yesterday (emphasis added)

Cuban authorities arrested dissidents, independent journalists and a well-known artist Tuesday in an apparent attempt to block a rally in Havana’s revolutionary square organized by a new movement that calls itself #YoTambienExijo (I also demand).

Among those detained were journalist Reinaldo Escobar, editor of the online 14ymedio publication and husband of prominent blogger Yoani Sánchez; Eliecer Ávila, an activist; and Antonio Rodiles, who directs a human rights group called Estado de Sats. Sánchez, who founded 14ymedio, reported the arrests on Twitter.

Sánchez said she was placed under house arrest and also reported that several other 14ymedio contributors were visited by State Security officers and warned not to cover the event, which was scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. at the Plaza de la Revolución.

The demonstration called for participants to go before a microphone for one minute to share their thoughts, concerns or ideas about how Cuba’s future should unfold.

Cuban authorities had denied permission to its organizers. Leading the event was artist Tania Bruguera.

As for the rest of Obama’s Statement, Frances Martell examined LINE BY LINE: EVERY EMPTY PROMISE IN OBAMA’S CUBA SPEECH.

Meanwhile, Bruguera, who resides in the U.S., is still detained, whereabouts unknown.

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics at Fausta’s Blog.

[Spoilers ahead. Proceed accordingly.]

It was Christmas Day, the gifts were opened, brunch was done, and I have watched The Princess Bride and A Christmas Story enough times I can lip-synch them, but I felt like watching something.

Of course, I had to watch The Interview.

Mind you, for as long as I can remember, I have made it a point to watch/read banned films/books. The Interview is available on YouTube, my TV can play YouTubes, so I plunked down $6.

It was worth it. It’s a very funny serious movie.

Claudia Rosett found The Interview

crude, vulgar, silly, tedious at times and crammed with what we might politely call locker-room gags, presumably meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator of modern pop culture.

I’m cool with that.

But,

as a graphic jab at North Korea’s totalitarian system, including its third-generation current tyrant, Kim Jong Un, The Interview — despite its lavish dose of rubbish — is a standout achievement. It is a burlesque laced with moments of truth that anyone can understand.

Rich Klein finds that “The Interview” really does subvert North Korea’s regime.

Much has been said about The Interview’s scene where Kim Jong Un gets blown up to smithereens. The real-life Kim probably threw a hissy fit over that, but what should keep him awake at night is the interview itself, which celebrity talk show host Dave Skylark (played by James Franco) starts with pre-scripted questions and hits gold by asking

why the country can spend billions of dollars on a nuclear weapons program but needs $100 million in UN aid each year to feed its people.

Kim (played by the very funny Randall Park), a master manipulator of the media, had wooed Skylark with everything from orgies to Soviet tanks in preparation to the interview. It reminded me of Fidel Castro taking Barbara Walters for a ride back in the day, by land,

and by sea,

in preparation for Barbara Walters’s interviews of Fidel Castro (you can watch the 20/20 here).

In real life, however, Barbara refers to Fidel as “charismatic, magnetic,” so she didn’t do an interview like The Interview.

Rich Klein, again,

Think of the movie as Chernobyl for the digital age. Just as the nuclear catastrophe in the Soviet Union and the dangerously clumsy efforts to hide it exposed the Kremlin’s leadership as inept and morally bankrupt, overseeing a superpower rusting from the inside, so does The Interview risk eroding the myths, fabrications and bluster that keep the Kim dynasty in power.

Those who know how ought to dub and make the Interview available in North Korea, and in every country where tyrants thrive on personality cults. Venezuela. Cuba. And the stops in the Jennifer Lopez dictator tour.

(The Interview has plenty of foul language, sexual situations, gore and violence, so you do not want your children around when it’s playing.)

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news and culture at Fausta’s Blog.

It’s Christmas eve, you hate, hate, going to the mall, and you have readers on your list who don’t like fiction. I strongly recommend you buy them The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels on Kindle edition, which they can also read on line and in their tablets and cell phone apps.

Epstein created the Center for Industrial Progress (emphasis added),

Center for Industrial Progress (CIP) is a for-profit think-tank seeking to bring about a new industrial revolution. We believe that human beings have the untapped potential to radically improve our lives by using technology to improve the planet across a multitude of industries: mining, manufacturing, agriculture, chemistry, and energy. Every individual has the potential for a longer, happier, healthier, safer, more comfortable, more meaningful, more opportunity-filled life.

The keys to a new industrial revolution are a new industrial philosophy, a new industrial policy, and a new approach to communication.

The emphasis on using technology for an anti-pollution but pro-development approach to improve our lives is key to The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.

Epstein convincingly makes the case that “fossil fuel power [is] cheap, plentiful, reliable, scaleable – indispensable.” He discusses the greenhouse effect and the fertilizer effect (and global greening), the energy effect, and climate mastery.

Climate mastery, you ask? Yes,

There are two elements to mastering climate. One is control over the climate you’re in. Two is the ability to make the most of the climate you’re in. [page 122]

Epstein goes on to discuss how fossil fuel energy contributes to climate livability and climate justice.

This is only one example of the topics he discusses throughout the book. He makes a convincing case that fossil fuels are the only way to develop cheap, reliable, plentiful energy for seven billion people, and that it’s immoral to deny it to the developing world.

When I was asked if I would review the book I said yes but clarified that I could not promise you favorable review. Now that I read it, I highly recommend it.

And you’re on time for Christmas!

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news, and culture at Fausta’s Blog.

The opinions of those of us who strongly oppose easing up restrictions on Cuba are dismissed as “an outdated Cold War perspective” (the link I use here is typical but not alone).

The implication is that the Cuban Communist regime has evolved, and we have not.

Let’s take a brief glance at four points of the Cuban Revolution evolution, then.

1. Commitment to the status quo:
Mariela Castro, Raul Castro’s daughter and member of the Cuban parliament, when asked about Obama’s new concessions,

“If the U.S. thinks these changes will bring Cuba back to capitalism and return to being a servile country to the interests of the most powerful financial groups in the U.S., they must be dreaming.”

“I don’t know what my father plans to do. What I can see at least, as a Member of Parliament is that there’s big concerns about how to do things the best way possible to obtain funds for the many problems we are discussing now.”

You can listen to Mariela’s “outdated Cold War perspective” yourself.

2. Persecution:
Political repression in Cuba has quadrupled since 2010 — and 2014 isn’t over yet

As of Nov. 30, there have been at least 8,410 politically motivated arrests in Cuba this year, compared to 6,424 in all of 2013 and more than four times the 2,074 arrests in 2010, according to the Cuban National Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

3. Labor conditions:
Cuba is an enslaved society. Those who apparently have evolved beyond “outdated Cold War perspectives” cite China – hugely dependent on slave labor – as a reason why the US should grant Cuba credit (which dozens of countries have granted Cuba and lost money) to purchase American goods.

Yesterday I posted at my blog (emphasis added)

comparisons with China policy fall short on a vital aspect:
I have friends who have operated profitable businesses in China in the past 20 years. Their corporations paid their Chinese employees directly. However, anyone employing Cuban citizens does not pay the employee; they pay the Cuban government a stipulated (by the government) amount per person. The communist regime then pays the employee an amount no higher than the maximum salary (yes, Cuba has maximum salary laws), which is approximately 10% of the amount the communist regime received from the business.

That is the case with any of the hundreds of multinationals that have done business with Cuba in the country, and with the thousands of “doctors” Cuba sends to places like Venezuela and Brazil.

I was mistaken, though (emphasis added):

Cubans working for firms with foreign capital on the island received a bucket of cold water Tuesday when a new resolution published in the official Gazette fixes their salaries at only 8% of what the joint venture or foreign companies must pay the government in hard currency for their services.

The announcement published by Granma daily quotes Vice-minister of Labor and Social Security, Zamira Marín Triana, as saying the new wage involves a “significant increase” for workers.

Additionally, foreign businessmen who have tried to collect monies due by Cuba have been thrown in jail, most recently Alejandro Abood, Cy Tokmakjian, Krikor Bayassalian, Nessin Abadi, Sarkis Yacoubian, and Stephen Purvis.

4. Human rights:
In Wednesday’s speech, Obama stated,

we welcome Cuba’s decision to release a substantial number of prisoners whose cases were directly raised with the Cuban government by my team.

I have been researching for three days trying to find a list of names of the “substantial number of prisoners” who purportedly are to be released, and so far have found none.

Indeed, the Communist regime need not do anything. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson:

“I do not necessarily think that we are talking about direct human rights conditionality in the restoration of diplomatic relations part.”

What do Cuban dissident leaders, who are risking their lives, have to say about President Obama’s announcement to normalize relations with Castro’s dictatorship? Read it at Capitol Hill Cubans.

Four items, briefly looked at.

But let’s go full-Cold War on Cuba’s

harboring of U.S.-designated terrorists; subversion of democracy in Venezuela; support of rogue regimes in Syria and Iran; and illegal trafficking of weapons to North Korea

Mary O’Grady has more on the Cuba-Venezuela-Iran nexus.

Just this week, Cuba Leads Opposition to UN Resolutions on Human Rights in Iran, Syria and North Korea.

And how’s this for Cold War deja-vu? Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared early this year that Russia is planning to expand its permanent military presence outside its borders by placing military bases in a number of foreign countries, among them Cuba.

“Cold War perspective”? Hell yeah.

Outdated? You decide.

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news, and culture at Fausta’s Blog.

Alan Gross, the American political prisoner held by the Communist Cuban regime for five years, has been released. You may recall my prior article on Cuba’s American hostage.

In exchange for his release, the U.S. government released three of the remaining Cuban spies convicted in 2001 on 26 federal charges, including conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, and acting as agents of a foreign government.

But that is not all:
President Barack Obama will make a televised statement today at noon, simultaneous with Cuban dictator Raul Castro,

Mr. Obama has long said American policy toward Cuba has failed to achieve the ends it was intended to achieve and over the years he has made modest changes to restrictions on travel and contact. But it has frustrated him that he has not been able to make more significant changes until now.

The Washington Post reports (emphasis added),

Cuba has freed American contractor Alan Gross after five years in custody as part of a prisoner swap that could herald sweeping changes in U.S. policies toward the island after decades of sanctions, a senior Obama administration official and news reports said.

As part the rapprochement, U.S. and Cuba will start talks to normalize diplomatic relations, which could include opening an American embassy in Havana in the coming months, the Associated Press reports, citing U.S. officials.

Political repression in Cuba has quadrupled since 2010 — and 2014 isn’t over yet.

Val Prieto:

This is a major setback for the opposition and dissident movements in Cuba. The Obama administration, by making this “deal”, has confirmed that they are OK with the repression, brutality, incarceration, and murder the castro regime foists upon the opposition. And I will once again say what I have been saying since day one of this farce of a presidential administration, for the record: faced with the fact that he is, by far, the worst President this nation has ever seen, and with no true positive legacy, Obama is relying on the low hanging fruit of the Cuban embargo to placate the left. Look for President Executive Action to undermine codified US Cuba policy.

Get ready. This is going to be one hell of a day.

Obama is trying to cement his legacy. Human rights be damned.

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news, and culture at Fausta’s Blog.

Note: This is a rant. Proceed accordingly.

Back in my much younger, stupider days, I sent Greenpeace a check for $25 of my hard-earned bucks. That was a couple of decades ago.

Yes, I recycle; yes, I don’t waste water or electricity; yes, I owned a house in a lot that had two dozen trees (which probably more than made up for whatever fumes the house may have generated), and their leaves and branches were mulched. So much for being “green.”

Vandalism is a crime.

Some vandalism is a misdemeanor. Toilet-paper a neighbor’s tree on mischief night, get caught, and you’ll find out what the word means.

Greenpeace, however, has engaged in felonies for the sake of publicity for years.

No, I don’t buy their “sustainability”, “renewability” excuses.

Greenpeace, in these days of moral equivalence, through their ends-justify-our-means methods, are descending to the levels of the Taliban.

To wit:
Back in 2001, the Taliban destroyed two ancient Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan, a World Heritage Site. The statues were over 1,500 years old:

Despite world-wide condemnation, the Taliban lined the statues with explosives and blew them up in the spring of 2001 because they considered them idols, and thus un-Islamic.

Fast-forward to this week in Peru, where Greenpeace vandals decided to post some graffiti at the Nazca Lines World Heritage Site,

The Nazca lines are huge figures depicting living creatures, stylised plants and imaginary figures scratched on the surface of the ground between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago. They are believed to have had ritual functions related to astronomy.

Take a look:

The letters are made of some kind of yellow material and were carried there on foot, and held down by rocks,

The damage caused by Greenpeace’s vandalism is inestimable,

The ground around the site is so sensitive and so sacred that Peru has even forbidden presidents and top officials to walk where the Greenpeace activists went. Peru’s Deputy Culture Ministertold the BBC: “You walk there, and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years.” Tourists generally get to see the site from the air, or, on rare occasions, are equipped with special foot gear.

“They are absolutely fragile. They are black rocks on a white background. You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years,” said the minister. “And the line that they have destroyed is the most visible and most recognized of all.”

Mind you, anyone even thinking of going to the Nazca site knows you can’t walk on it. Greenpeace willfully engaged in inflicting irreparable damage. In their breathtaking arrogance to say “the future is renewable”, they can’t see that the past is not.

What did Peru and mankind do to deserve this, in Greenpeace’s eyes?

The message was intended for delegates from 190 countries at the UN climate talks being held in Lima.

Sue Greenpeace out of business in countries where you can actually enforce the judgement; ban their activites as terrorism; identify the perpetrators and put them in jail.

Enough. It’s time for change: put Greenpeace out of business.

UPDATE:
Before Greenpeace:

After Greenpeace:

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news, and culture at Fausta’s Blog.