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“They’re taking benefits from the American taxpayer to subsidize their life in another country.”
Original Article Here: U.S. Welfare Flows to Cuba
Orlando Sun-Sentinel, October 2, 2015
Read previous investigations into special treatment for Cuban immigrants
Cuban immigrants are cashing in on U.S. welfare and returning to the island, making a mockery of the decades-old premise that they are refugees fleeing persecution at home. Some stay for months at a time — and the U.S. government keeps paying.
Cubans’ unique access to food stamps, disability money and other welfare is meant to help them build new lives in America. Yet these days, it’s helping some finance their lives on the communist island.
America’s open-ended generosity has grown into an entitlement that exceeds $680 million a year and is exploited with ease. No agency tracks the scope of the abuse, but a Sun Sentinel investigation found evidence suggesting it is widespread.
Cuban arrivals in Florida
Unlike most immigrants to the U.S., Cubans are presumed to be refugees and can access special assistance. Since 2003, more than 329,000 Cuban immigrants arrived in Florida and were eligible for this aid, which includes cash, medical care and job training. They now make up nine out of 10 foreigners getting refugee services in Florida.
Fed-up Floridians are reporting their neighbors and relatives for accepting government aid while shuttling back and forth to the island, selling goods in Cuba, and leaving their benefit cards in the U.S. for others to use while they are away.
Some don’t come back at all. The U.S. has continued to deposit welfare checks for as long as two years after the recipients moved back to Cuba for good, federal officials confirmed.
Regulations prohibit welfare recipients from collecting or using U.S. benefits in another country. But on the streets of Hialeah, the first stop for many new arrivals, shopkeepers like Miguel Veloso hear about it all the time.
Veloso, a barber who has been in the U.S. three years, said recent immigrants on welfare talk of spending considerable time in Cuba — six months there, two months here. “You come and go before benefits expire,” he said.
State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah hears it too, from constituents in his heavily Cuban-American district, who tell of flaunting their aid money on visits to the island. The money, he said, “is definitely not to be used … to go have a great old time back in the country that was supposed to be oppressing you.”
The sense of entitlement is so ingrained that Cubans routinely complained to their local congressman about the challenge of accessing U.S. aid — from Cuba.
“A family member would come into our office and say another family member isn’t receiving his benefits,” said Javier Correoso, aide to former Miami Rep. David Rivera. “We’d say, ‘Where is he?’ They’d say, ‘He’s in Cuba and isn’t coming back for six months.’”
The money “is definitely not to be used … to go have a great old time back in the country that was supposed to be oppressing you.”
“They’re taking benefits from the American taxpayer to subsidize their life in another country.’”
One woman told Miami immigration attorney Grisel Ybarra that her grandmother and two great aunts came to Florida, got approved for benefits, opened bank accounts and returned to Cuba. Month after month, the woman cashed their government checks — about $2,400 each time — sending half to the women in Cuba and keeping the rest. When a welfare agency questioned the elderly ladies’ whereabouts this summer, the woman turned to Ybarra, a Cuban American. She told Ybarra her grandmother refused to come back, saying: “With the money you sent me, I bought a home and am really happy in Cuba.”
Cubans on the island, Ybarra said, have a name for U.S. aid. They call it “la ayuda.” The help.
Special status abused
Increasing openness and travel between the two countries have made the welfare entitlement harder to justify and easier to abuse. But few charges have been brought, and Congress and the Obama Administration have failed to address the problem even as the United States moves toward détente with Cuba.
Cubans fuel increase in Florida costs
The U.S. opens its borders and wallets to Cubans like no other immigrant group. The number of Cubans coming to the U.S. is increasing, along with the expense of supporting them. The cost of food stamps, welfare and short-term cash assistance for Cuban immigrants in Florida has increased 23 percent since 2011, compared to five percent for refugees from all other nations.
Adding it up
Florida’s costs are only part of the picture. To calculate the total cost of public assistance for Cuban immigrants, the Sun Sentinel included estimates for federal refugee assistance and welfare for seniors and the disabled. The $682 million total is conservative.*
Cubans’ extraordinary access to U.S. welfare rests on two pillars of special treatment: the ease with which they are admitted to the country, and America’s generosity in granting them public support.
Cubans are allowed into the U.S. even if they arrive without permission and are quickly granted permanent residency under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. They’re assumed to be refugees without having to prove persecution.
They’re immediately eligible for welfare, food stamps, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income or SSI, cash assistance for impoverished seniors and disabled younger people.
Most other immigrants are barred from collecting aid for their first five years. Those here illegally are not eligible at all.
The Sun Sentinel analyzed state and federal data to determine the annual cost of taxpayer support for Cuban immigrants: at least $680 million. In Florida alone, costs for welfare, food stamps and refugee cash have increased 23 percent since 2011, the last year data was available.
Not all Cubans receive government help. Those arriving on visas are ineligible, and some rely on family support. And many who receive aid do so for just a short time until they settle in, as the U.S. intended. Cubans over time have become one of the most successful immigrant groups in America.
“They come to the U.S. to work and make a living for their family,” said Jose Alvarez, a Cuba native and city commissioner in Kissimmee. “I don’t believe that they come thinking the government will support them.”
But some take advantage of the easy money — and then go back and forth to Cuba.
A public housing tenant in Hialeah, who was receiving food stamps and SSI payments for a disabled son, frequently traveled to Cuba to sell food there, records show. She admitted to a city housing investigator in 2012 that she “makes $700 in two months just in the sales to Cuba.”
Another man receiving food stamps admitted to state officials “that he was living in Cuba much of 2015.”
A recent arrival with a chronic illness got Medicaid coverage and turned to attorney David Batchelder of Miami to help him get SSI as well. But the man was “going back and forth to Cuba” so much that Batchelder eventually dropped the case. “It was just another benefit he was applying for.”
Concerns about Cubans exploiting the aid are especially troubling to exiles who came to this country decades ago and built new lives and careers here. Dr. Noel Fernandez recalls the assistance his family received from friends and the U.S. government when they immigrated 20 years ago, help that enabled him to find work as a landscaper, learn English and complete his medical studies. Now medical director of Citrus Health Network in Hialeah, Fernandez sees Cuban immigrants collecting benefits and going back, including three elderly patients who recently left the U.S. for good.
“They got Medicaid, they got everything, and they returned to Cuba,” he said. “I see people that said they were refugees [from] Cuba and they return the next year.”
State officials have received complaints about Cubans collecting aid while repeatedly going to Cuba or working as mules ferrying cash and goods, a common way of financing travel to the island.
Another way of paying for the trips: cheating. Like other welfare recipients, some Cubans work under the table or put assets in others’ names to appear poor enough to meet the programs’ income limits, according to records and interviews. Some married couples qualify for more money as single people by concealing marriages performed in Cuba, where the U.S. can’t access records.
Florida’s refugee costs by nationality in 2014
The United States accepts refugees from around the world if they can prove persecution at home. Cubans don’t need such proof – they are the only nationality with open-ended access to the U.S. and government benefits.
“Stop the fraud please!” one person urged in a complaint to the state. Another pleaded with authorities to check airport departure records for a woman suspected of hiding income. “It would show how many times she has traveled to Cuba.”
Florida officials typically dismissed the complaints for lack of information, because names didn’t match their records or because the allegations didn’t involve violations of eligibility rules. Travel abroad is not expressly prohibited, but benefits are supposed to be used for basic necessities within the U.S.
“Our congressional folks should be looking at this,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr., a Cuban American. “There could be millions and millions of dollars in fraud going on here.”
Money to Cuba
Accessing benefits from Cuba typically requires a U.S. bank account and a willing relative or friend stateside. Food stamps and welfare are issued monthly through a debit-type card, and SSI payments are deposited into a bank account or onto a MasterCard.
A joint account holder with a PIN number can withdraw the money and wire it to Cuba. Another option: entrust the money to a friend traveling to Cuba.
Roberto Pizano of Tampa, a political prisoner in Cuba for 18 years, said he worked two jobs when he arrived in the U.S. in 1979 and never accepted overnment help. He now sees immigrants “abusing the system.”
“I know people who come to the U.S., apply for SSI and never worked in the USA,” he said. They “move back to Cuba and are living off of the hard-earned taxpayer dollars.”
Roberto Pizano of Tampa, a political prisoner in Cuba for 18 years, said Cubans are signing up for U.S. benefits and moving back to Cuba, “living off of the hard-earned taxpayer dollars.“ Photo by Taimy Alvarez
Federal investigators have found the same scenario in other cases. A 2012 complaint alleged a 75-year-old woman had moved to Camaguey two years earlier and a relative was withdrawing her SSI money from a bank account and sending it to her. Social Security stopped payments, but not before nearly $16,000 had been deposited into her account.
Another recipient went to Cuba on vacation and stayed, leaving his debit card with a relative. Social Security continued his SSI payments for another six months — $4,000 total — before an anonymous caller reported he had gone back to Cuba.
One woman reportedly moved to Cuba in 2010 and died three years later, while still receiving SSI and food stamps, according to a 2014 tip to Florida welfare fraud investigators. A state official couldn’t find her at her Hialeah home, cut off the food stamps and alerted the federal government.
Former congressman Rivera tried to curb abuses with a bill that would have revoked the legal status of Cubans who returned to the island before they became citizens.
“Public assistance is meant to help Cuban refugees settle in the U.S.,” Mauricio Claver-Carone of Cuba Democracy Advocates testified in a 2012 hearing on the bill. “However, many non-refugee Cubans currently use these benefits, which can average more than $1,000 per month, to immediately travel back to the island, where the average income is $20 per month, and comfortably reside there for months at a time on the taxpayer’s dime.”
Rivera recently told the Sun Sentinel that he interviewed welfare workers, Cubans in Miami and passengers waiting for charter flights to Havana. He said he found overwhelming evidence of benefits money going back, especially after the U.S. eased travel restrictions in 2009.
The back and forth undermines the rationale that Cubans are refugees fleeing an oppressive government, Rivera said. And when they return for visits, they boast of the money that’s available in the U.S., he said. “They all say, ‘It’s great. I got free housing. I got free food. I get my medicine.’ ”
Five Cubans interviewed by the Sun Sentinel in Havana said they were aware of the assistance and knew of Cubans who had gone to America and quickly began sending money back. Two said they believed it was U.S. government aid.
“I don’t think it’s correct, but everyone does it for the well-being of their family,” said one woman, Susana, who declined to give her last name.
Outside welfare offices in Hialeah, the Sun Sentinel found Cuban immigrants who had arrived as recently as three days earlier, applying for benefits. They said family and friends told them about the aid before they left Cuba.
“Back in the ’60s, when you came in, they told you the factory that was hiring,” said Nidia Diaz of Miami, a former bail bondswoman who was born in Cuba. “Now, they tell you the closest Department of Children and Families [office] so you can go and apply.”
Crooks collect in Cuba
Miami bail bondswoman Barbara Pozo said many of her Cuban clients talk openly about living in Cuba and collecting monthly disability checks, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. “They just come here to pick up the money,” Pozo said. “They pretend they’re disabled. They just pretend they’re crazy.” SSI payments, for those who cannot work due to mental or physical disabilities, go up to $733 a month for an individual. Most other new immigrants are ineligible until they become U.S. citizens.
Cubans collect, others don’t:
Some Cubans try to build a case for SSI by claiming trauma from their life under an oppressive government or the 90-mile crossing to Florida. Diaz, the former bondswoman, said she has heard Cuban clients talk about qualifying: “‘Tell them that you have emotional problems. How did you get these problems? Well, trying to get here from Cuba.’”
Antonio Comin collected disability while organizing missions to smuggle Cubans to Florida, including one launched from a house in the Keys, federal prosecutors said. Comin claimed he rented the home to celebrate his birthday — after receiving his government check.
Casimiro Martinez was receiving a monthly check for a mental disability — but his mind was sound enough to launder more than $1 million stolen from Medicare. Martinez was arrested at Miami International Airport after returning from a trip to Cuba.
Outside welfare offices in Hialeah, the Sun Sentinel found Cuban immigrants who had arrived as recently as three days earlier, applying for benefits.
Government disability programs are vulnerable to fraud, particularly SSI, with applicants faking or exaggerating symptoms. Some view SSI as “money waiting to be taken,” said John Webb, a federal prosecutor in Tennessee who has handled fraud cases.
While benefits are supposed to be suspended for recipients who leave the United States for more than 30 days, the government relies on people to self-report those absences, and federal audits have found widespread violations.
The government could significantly reduce abuses by matching international travel records to SSI payments, auditors have recommended since 2003. The Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security are still trying to work out a data sharing agreement — 12 years later.
Jose Caragol, a Hialeah city councilman and Havana native, said aid for Cubans “was meant to assist those who were persecuted and want a new life. The bleeding has to stop.”
By Mike Stone And Mitra Taj, Reuters, New York/Lima, Peru, Sept 30 2015
Original Article Here: U.S. HOTEL CHAINS
The race for Cuba’s beach-front is on.
Executives from major U.S. hotel chains have stepped up their interest in the Communist island in recent months, holding informal talks with Cuban officials as Washington loosens restrictions on U.S. firms operating there. Executives from Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Carlson Hospitality Group, which runs the Radisson chain, are among those who have held talks with Cuban officials in recent months, they told Reuters.
“We’re all very interested.” said Ted Middleton, Hilton’s senior vice president of development in Latin America. “When legally we’re allowed to do so we all want to be at the start-line ready to go.”
The United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations in July after decades of hostility. Washington chipped away further at the half-century-old trade embargo this month, allowing certain companies to establish subsidiaries or joint ventures in Cuba as well as open offices, stores and warehouses in Cuba. The United States wants to strike a deal that lets U.S. airlines schedule Cuba flights as soon as possible, a State Department official said last week, amid speculation that a U.S. ban on its tourists visiting Cuba could be eased.
U.S. hoteliers are not currently allowed to invest in Cuba, and the Caribbean island officially remains off-limits for U.S. tourists unless they meet special criteria such as being Cuban-Americans or join special cultural or educational tours. Foreign companies have to partner with a Cuban entity to do business and U.S. hoteliers expect they will have to do likewise if and when U.S. restrictions are lifted.
While they wait for the politicians to iron out their differences, U.S. hotel bosses are conducting fact-finding missions in Havana and holding getting-to-know-you meetings with government officials in Cuba and various European cities. This week, Middleton, along with executives from Carlson and Wyndham Worldwide Corp., which runs the Ramada chain, are meeting with Cuba’s Deputy Tourism Minister Luis Miguel Diaz at an industry conference in the Peruvian capital, Lima.
In the 1950s Cuba was an exotic playground for U.S. celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardener, as well as ordinary tourists, who travel led there en masse on cheap flights and ships from Miami. A recent relaxation of some of the restrictions on U.S. travelers has encouraged over 106,000 Americans to visit Cuba so far this year, more than the 91,254 who arrived in all of 2014, according to data compiled by tourism professor José Luís Perelló of the University of Havana.
Overall, tourist arrivals are up nearly 18 percent this year after a record 3 million visitors in 2014, making Cuba the second-most popular holiday destination in the Caribbean behind the much-smaller Dominican Republic. U.S. hoteliers expect the number of U.S. visitors to balloon if all travel restrictions are axed. “If and when the travel ban is lifted. We estimate there will be over 1.5 million U.S. travelers on a yearly basis,” said Laurent de Kousemaeker, chief development officer for the Caribbean & Latin American region for Marriott. De Kousemaeker accompanied other Marriott executives, including chief executive Arne Sorensen, to Havana in July to meet with representatives of management companies and government officials.
Even if sanctions were lifted soon, Cuba traditionally has been slow to approve foreign investment projects, making it unlikely that U.S. hotels would be popping up immediately. Rivals from Canada and Europe have seized the opportunity, operating and investing in Cuban hotels and resorts, alongside Cuban government partners, for years. Spanish hotel operator Meliá Hotels International SA, is aiming to have 15,000 rooms in Cuba by 2018. It currently has 13,000 rooms via 27 joint ventures. London + Regional Properties Ltd, a U.K. hotel and real estate development firm, agreed a deal this summer for an 18-hole golf course, hotel and condominium project with state tourism enterprise, Palmares SA, which has a 51 percent stake in the project.
But even with government plans to add 4,000 new hotel rooms every year for the next 15, the island is not ready for a significant surge in tourism. The island’s tourism infrastructure went into decline in the decades following the 1959 revolution. Five-star hotel rooms, good restaurants and cheap Internet access are all in short supply.
When and if they get a green light from both governments, executives said U.S. hotel chains will likely offer branding and management partnerships to Cuban government partners such as Palmares and Tourism Group Gaviota, the largest Cuban government tourism entity.
The ultimate goal would be to secure long-term leases on resort developments, which is how Cuban authorities have generally operated with foreign hotels. But right now, U.S. hoteliers can’t even refer to tourism when they meet Cuban counterparts, let alone talk about actual deals. Instead the buzz word is “hospitality.” Marriott’s de Kousemaeker likes to use an analogy from baseball, a sport loved both in Cuba and in the United States, to describe the situation.
“We’re learning, and taking batting practice, but we’re sitting on the bench.”
CENTER FOR LATIN AMERICAN & LATINO STUDIES 4400 MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE, NW WASHINGTON, DC 20016-8137 (202) 885-6178 FAX: (202) 885-6430 www.american.edu/clals
Complete Article Here: Fulton Armstrong, Policy Brief, US-Cuba Policy Brief
“Democracy promotion” has been one of the most contentious aspects of U.S. policy toward Cuba—and one of the most counterproductive—but it doesn’t have to be either. With a little effort and flexibility, Presidents Obama and Castro can take the edge off this irritant and even make it mutually beneficial.
Like American “exceptionalism,” the concept of democracy promotion is ingrained in U.S. policy culture—and is unlikely to fade as a stated objective. Although consensus on the criteria for “democracy” has never existed, the desire to promote it reflects a widely held perception that democracy is better for countries’ internal governance, regional stability, and U.S. interests. U.S. policymakers and scholars cite the post-World War II transformation of West Germany and Japan into flourishing democracies as evidence. Many argue that U.S. programs, such as secret assistance to Poland’s Solidarity movement, were critical to the collapse of the authoritarian governments that made up the “Soviet Bloc.” The U.S. Congress created the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its four constituent units in 1983 and gave them generous budgets with which to promote democracy. These organizations and their programs have become as bullet-proof as any in Washington. NED says it is “on the leading edge of democratic struggles everywhere,” and it receives little scrutiny by Congress or the news media.
Democracy promotion—albeit in different forms—has been a main element of U.S. policy toward Cuba for decades.
Ultimately, the key to successful democracy promotion in Cuba will be for the U.S. government to let the successes of people-to-people relations—as a legitimate manifestation of the two countries’ interests—guide the relationship. By all accounts, experience since President Clinton first authorized people-to-people exchanges in 1998 has been that the interaction has been pragmatic, constructive, respectful, open—and mutually beneficial. President Obama’s steps to increase the flow of people and goods across the Florida Strait have created important opportunities. He and President Castro should trust their citizens to develop the historic roadmap that will define the relationship into the future, and American leaders should have particular trust that democracy promotion is encoded in the American people’s DNA and will manifest itself through the normal course of people-to-people exchanges. Both the United States and Cuba stand to benefit.
By Carlos Eire
Carlos Eire is the T. L. Riggs Professor of Catholic Studies at Yale University.
Original article here: When Francis Came to Cuba,
From “First Things” (“America’s most influential journal of religion and public life”), October 25, 2015
We should cheer any time a pope mingles with sinners. It’s what Jesus did, and what his vicar on earth is supposed to do, too. Sin and evil need to be confronted, not ignored, and those who are unjust should be urged to repent and mend their ways. Unfortunately, there is little to cheer about when it comes to the mingling Pope Francis did with the Castro brothers in Cuba, and with other heads of state in Latin America who praise and emulate their dictatorship. Pope Francis seems much too comfortable with Latin American dictators and with their symbols of repression.
A few months ago, when he visited Ecuador and Bolivia, Pope Francis mingled with presidents Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, avowed disciples of Fidel and Raul Castro with tyrannical tendencies, but he refrained from speaking about their human rights abuses. He also received a blasphemous hammer-and-sickle crucifix from Evo Morales and accepted this gift with a smile. What if that crucifix had been in the shape of a swastika rather than a hammer and sickle?
That incident was a portent of things to come in Cuba, where Pope Francis has smiled his way through meetings with blood-soaked tyrants and failed to speak out about human rights abuses on the island, or to challenge the cruelty of his hosts. Pope Francis also failed to meet with any of Cuba’s non-violent dissidents, despite their urgent pleas for an encounter. This is not so much the “preferential option for the poor” as the preferential option for oppressors.
Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino explained this approach by saying that the Catholic Church in Cuba had to avoid “partisan politics.” This is the same prince of the Church who has called for the arrest of asylum-seeking dissidents in his churches, and in April of 2012, at Harvard University, ridiculed these persecuted Cubans as “former delinquents” and “people with psychological disturbances” who lacked “any cultural level.” Despite his frequent calls for “reconciliation,” Ortega has referred to Cuban exiles as “gusanos” (worms or maggots), the unchristian epithet that the Castro regime has applied to all its opponents for over half a century.
The papal entourage eventually decided to give in to the dissidents’ pleas for a meeting at the last minute, as an afterthought, but the results were predictably disastrous. When some democracy advocates were suddenly and unexpectedly invited to meet with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana all of them were arrested as soon as they left their homes. In addition, many other non-violent dissidents were rounded up or placed under house arrest, to prevent them from attending the pope’s open-air Mass. Meanwhile, the Castro regime sent busloads of its own hand-picked supporters to the papal Mass, to ensure that Pope Francis would have a sufficiently large audience of politically-correct Cubans. Worst of all, the selection process for those who were crammed into those buses was vetted at the parish level by the Cuban Catholic Church, and approved by its bishops.
When four dissidents somehow managed to get close to Pope Francis, despite the efforts of church and state to keep all such Cubans away from him, they were quickly attacked by plain-clothed state security agents and whisked away to prison. Has Pope Francis denounced these injustices, which amount to religious persecution? Has he voiced concern over the compliance of his bishops in this persecution? No. Not a word. His silence is deafening.
The Holy Father’s homily on Sunday, in Havana, focused on the vulnerable members of society, and it could have been delivered anywhere on earth. His sermon was full of beautiful sentiments, but there was very little in it about Cuba, and nothing whatsoever about the oppression, vulnerability, and poverty of the Cuban people. This sermon displayed none of the sharp-edged subtlety favored by his own Jesuit order. It was far too subtle. So subtle, in fact, that only someone with a doctoral degree in theology, rhetoric, or political science might be able to detect any reference to injustice in it.
As Newsweek has observed, seventeen years ago in his homily in Havana, John Paul II mentioned “freedom” seventeen times and “justice” thirteen times. In his homily, Francis did not mention “freedom” or “justice” once. All that Francis said about Cubans was that they are “a people which has its wounds, like every other people.” In other words, Francis told Cubans that they are no worse off than any other people on earth after fifty-six years of economic and political repression, and that they really have nothing to complain about. The closest he came to upbraiding the Castro regime or to calling for an end to the enslavement of the Cuban people was to say: “service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.”
Ironically, dictator Raúl Castro had just greeted Pope Francis at the airport with a long speech that had less to do with his visit than with praising the failed ideology that has made Cuba one of the poorest and most repressive nations on earth. “Preserving socialism is tantamount to securing independence, sovereignty, development and the well being of our nation,” said dictator Raúl.
In his long-winded speech, Raúl Castro strung together a series of lies that have yet to be challenged by the Pope or by anyone at the Vatican. Emboldened by the pope’s overt approval of his regime, made manifest in their meeting in Rome this past spring, the octogenarian dictator boasted: “We have founded an equitable society with social justice and extensive access to culture, attached to traditions and to the most advanced ideas of Cuba, Latin America, the Caribbean and the world.”
As if this were not cheeky enough, the unelected and unchallenged “president” Raúl Castro also claimed that he was committed to building “a prosperous and sustainable socialism focused on human beings and the family, and with the free, democratic, conscious and creative involvement of the entire society.”
Fine things to say, especially for someone who is responsible for driving out into exile twenty percent of his country’s population, breaking apart millions of families, and stifling all dissent and all access to outside sources of information. The Holy Father had nothing to say about these lies then or afterward.
Sadly, however, he did have something nice to say to the oppressors. According to Granma, the top official newspaper of that regime, in a private meeting Francis “thanked comrade Fidel Castro for his contributions to world peace in a world saturated with hate and aggression.” If this is indeed true, Francis has overlooked the history of a consistently violent government, one of the very few to have brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation, and the only one in Latin America to have sent troops to three continents and to have sponsored warfare and terrorism around the globe, and to have consistently called for the extermination of Israel.
What is any Catholic to make of this? Why has Pope Francis chosen to side with the oppressors rather than with the oppressed?
God only knows. Perhaps he wants to win favor with the Castro regime so that the Catholic Church in Cuba can avoid the persecution experienced by Protestant evangelical churches on that island? Perhaps he knows that most popes who have locked horns with secular rulers have ended up losing way too much? Perhaps he is taking a cautious Jesuit approach of the sort taken by his order in seventeenth-century China? Perhaps he knows that the Catholic Church has always thought of change in terms of decades, centuries, and millennia rather than days, weeks, months, or years? Or perhaps he likes what he sees in Cuba and genuinely admires its unelected rulers? His reasoning is immaterial. What matters most is that his smiling silence and his joviality in the company of ruthless oppressors is immensely dismaying.
Pope Francis is not exactly the silent type when it comes to social, political, or economic issues. When he thinks something is wrong, he lets the world know, as he has just done in his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he champions environmentalism and excoriates materialist consumerism. A few months ago, in Bolivia, he spoke of “the unfettered pursuit of money” as nothing less than “the dung of the devil.”
So, why is it that he refrained from calling the Castro regime and other such failed experiments in materialist totalitarian communism “the dung of the devil”? Is communist materialism any less fiendish? Is communist political and economic repression any less reprehensible? Why didn’t he call Raúl and Fidel Castro to repentance? Why did he praise them instead?
We’d like to know why.
But who are “we,” and why are “we” so impertinent, you ask?
Here is who “we” are: we who have been unjustly abused by the Castro regime, who have seen our nation ruined, who have had our relatives tortured and killed, who have seen our families torn apart by imprisonments and exile, who have been denied the right to express ourselves freely, who have been subjected to atheist indoctrination and had our right to worship denied. In brief: we who know from first-hand experience that to live in Cuba is to be a slave.
We could provide a much longer list of injustices endured for the past fifty-six years, but what would be the use? For now, all we Cuban Catholics can do is acknowledge the fact that the first pope, Saint Peter, made many, many mistakes, and that none of his successors have been infallible when it comes to politics. And we can take comfort in praying along with an innumerable throng of Christians who stretch all the way back to first century: Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Marc Frank in Havana, James Politi in Rome and John Paul Rathbone in London
As a parish priest in poor areas of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was so struck by Pope John Paul II’s 1998 trip to Cuba that he wrote a book about it. The work, Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro, was published in Argentina shortly after he became archbishop of Buenos Aires.
For the 78-year-old Argentine pontiff, the trip will cap his role helping to broker the thaw in US-Cuban relations, which could lead to an end to the half-century trade embargo. The visit will also test the pope’s diplomatic skills: he will seek to proselytise a universal message of helping the poor, while pushing the socialist government of President Raúl Castro to increase its reforms and give a greater role to the Church.
“In the fast-approaching era of no US embargo, Castro can no longer argue that the revolution needs its restrictive laws,” said Paul Hare, former UK ambassador to Havana, now professor of government at Boston University. “Pope Francis helped to usher in this new era and it is one where the Church will ask increasingly probing questions . . . He wants to launch a new battle of ideas.”
The subtlety of that battle of ideas is foreshadowed by the pope’s early Cuban thoughts. Although, as pontiff, he has criticised capitalism and the unfettered pursuit of money as “the dung of evil”, in his book he called for “corrupt, dictatorial and authoritarian governments” to be replaced by democracy.
Francis, a Jesuit, also harshly criticised socialism and, by extension, Fidel Castro’s atheist revolution for denying individuals their “transcendent dignity”.
“Castro may have become a Marxist, but don’t forget he was educated by Jesuits before that, so you may need a Jesuit to bring him round,” said Jimmy Burns, a former Financial Times correspondent and author of a new biography of Francis, The Pope of Good Promise.
Still, few expect strong criticism during the pope’s sermons, which are expected to be live-streamed on state-controlled media. “These matters can be dealt with without doing so in a big way; discretion can be more effective,” said Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.
Late last week, as a “humanitarian gesture”, the Castro government pardoned 3,522 prisoners, although it does not appear that these included any political detainees. Havana made similar moves before John Paul II’s trip and Pope Benedict’s 2012 visit.
Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, signalled this week that the Obama administration was unhappy with Havana’s progress on human rights. “#Cuba sending exactly the wrong signal in advance of @Pontifex visit by detaining @DamasdBlanco for marching in street,” she tweeted, referring to the dissident group Ladies In White.
Dissidents have asked to meet the pope, but no meetings are currently on his agenda. Mr Burns believes that the pope will make “some reference” for Cuba to “respect human rights”. If not, it could damage his image, even before he lands in the US.
Although Cuba remains a one-party state, much has changed for the Church since John Paul’s visit. Christmas and Good Friday are again national holidays, and believers are no longer stigmatised. Today, the Church is the island’s only leading institution outside state control.
One price paid for this greater space, though, is criticism for being too accommodating with the government. Raúl Castro is expected to be at Francis’s side during the trip; although a self-professed atheist, the 84-year-old leader was so impressed by Francis during a May visit to the Vatican that he said he was considering returning to the Church.
Francis will lead his first service on Sunday in Havana’s Revolution Square at an altar flanked by images of revolutionary heroes including Che Guevara. His trip will end in eastern Cuba at the shrine of Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint.
In the build-up to the trip, Cuban cardinal Jaime Ortega gave a 45-minute TV interview, and state TV on Thursday night ran a video message to the Cuban people from Francis.
Meanwhile, in the central Camagüey province, Cuba’s most Catholic community, pictures of the pope have been posted on doors, and the Communist party has been helping to organise bus transport to masses.
“Everything . . . is well-organised,” said retired nursing professor Anaida Morales. “People have a lot of expectations and hope because every time a pope comes there is some positive change . . . Look, they have freed some prisoners,” she added.
Most Cubans have more realistic expectations about what Francis might achieve. He can fix some “little things here and there”, said Nuris Lopez, the 23-year-old owner of a beauty salon in Granma province.
Ted Piccone, Brookings Institute, | September 18, 2015 12:30pm
The leaders of three odd bedfellows are coming together this week: a 2,000-year old global institution known as a defender of the status quo, a 239-year old revisionist democratic superpower, and a 56-year old Communist revolutionary regime. How will they move the needle toward change? We are about to find out.
Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba this week—followed immediately by a meeting with President Barack Obama on the pontiff’s first-ever trip to the United States and President Raúl Castro’s inaugural appearance at the United Nations General Assembly shortly thereafter—together offer a compelling sequence of events that can move mountains. Or at least a few boulders from the thorny path of U.S.-Cuba relations.
Roll out the tickertape
Let’s start with the Holy Father’s visit to Cuba, an island he knows remotely through his many years of service as a leading Latin American bishop and his book on Pope John Paul II’s dialogue with Fidel Castro in 1998. The hugely popular pope arrives in Cuba as an agent of change in at least two ways: as a promoter of religious freedom and a more activist church that is already providing critical social services to Cuba’s downtrodden citizens; and as a key facilitator of the breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations announced last December.
In the former, Pope Francis builds on the earlier groundwork of Popes John Paul II and Benedict who devoted time and energy to restoring—gradually and incompletely—the place of religious faith in Cuban society. Their man in Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, whose non-confrontational approach has won both critics and fans, has played a critical role in bridging the yawning church-state divide and negotiating the release of over 150 political prisoners.
The Pope’s role as “guarantor” of the normalization process between Cuba and the United States, particularly its human rights elements, helps give the White House some political space to push Congress to lift the embargo even in the face of Cuba’s often violent harassment of opposition figures. The Pope also brings an overwhelmingly positive message of reconciliation among all Cubans on and off the island and a humanistic approach to the excessive depredations of both communism and capitalism. The visit should inject another wave of enthusiasm and hope around the possibilities of gradual but positive change on the island.
The embargo thorn
For the Castro regime, the Pope’s visit is another perceived endorsement of Cuba’s standing as a country that punches well above its weight in international affairs. A longstanding critic of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, the Vatican will help Cuba remind the world that the United States should not only unconditionally end the embargo, but pay up for the all the damages it has caused.
In case the point is missed on anyone, Cuba this week launched its annual campaign for yet another vote at the United Nations this fall condemning the embargo. The vote may not look as lopsided as previous years if other governments choose to endorse the olive branch Obama has extended to Havana. The Pope himself is unlikely to inject himself in the middle of this fight.
A conversion to more Christian treatment of civil society and free expression looks frustratingly unlikely, despite the Pope’s quiet entreaties.
But his speech to the U.S. Congress on September 24, another first for any pope, offers an irresistible opportunity to call upon legislators to consider, in at least moral terms, the benefits of engagement and reconciliation over isolation and punishment, a point that would fit in nicely with his theme of mercy and forgiveness. The same message, of course, ought to apply to the Cuban government and its heavy-handed treatment of its own citizens. Raúl Castro’s gushing comments of someday returning to the Catholic Church suggests he gets the importance of religiosity in various forms to Cuban society (evangelicalism, Santeria, and Catholicism, among others). But a conversion to more Christian treatment of civil society and free expression looks frustratingly unlikely in the short term, despite the Pope’s quiet entreaties.
In search of positive legacies and soft landings
For President Obama, the big bet to normalize relations with Cuba is shaping up to be a positive legacy the White House will go to some lengths to protect. It is already proving highly popular among Americans of all persuasions and even more popular in Cuba itself. The initial enthusiasm he received—including by other heads of state at the Panama Summit of the Americas last April—has carried the ball forward at a steady clip, as embassies reopened in both capitals this summer and talks proceed to improve bilateral cooperation on several fronts.
With the latest announcement of another round of unilateral measures by Obama to expand travel, remittances, and telecommunications, and trade with Cuba’s emerging private sector, the reality that only Congress can fully lift the embargo is sinking in, and starting to get more attention. As Obama told a business audience on September 16: “my biggest suggestion would be for [the business community] just to start having a conversation on a bipartisan basis about lifting the embargo.” He went on to say, however, that it shouldn’t happen “all in one fell swoop.”
It won’t. With competing bills in Congress for and against weakening or lifting the embargo, and nearly all Republican presidential candidates aligned against such a move, no one should expect any reversion, sudden or otherwise, to a pre-Castro era.
Which is precisely where the three main actors on the stage—the Pope, Raúl Castro, and Barack Obama—want to be: positioned as agents of gradual but positive change. They all hope for a soft landing for a nation transitioning from decades of trauma and triumph to a more stable, open, and—perhaps—more “normal” future.
By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, SEPT. 18, 2015, New York Times
The Obama administration on Friday announced wide-ranging changes to loosen travel, commerce and investment restrictions on Cuba, moving to fulfill President Obama’s goal of breaking down barriers between Washington and Havana even as the American embargo remains in place.
The rules will allow American companies to open locations and hire workers in Cuba, facilitate financial transactions between the nations, and remove limits on the amount of money that can be brought to the island nation. They are to take effect on Monday on the eve of the visit to Washington by Pope Francis, a proponent of the reconciliation between the United States and Cuba who quietly helped broker the agreement last year between Mr. Obama and President Raùl Castro to forge it.
Jacob J. Lew, the Treasury secretary, said the rules could lead to “constructive change for the Cuban people.”
“A stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike,” Mr. Lew said in a statement. “By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.”
They also hold out the prospect of new business opportunities for American companies in Cuba, which some observers said were intended to increase pressure on Havana to take corresponding action to open its economy.
The White House is working to show momentum in the rapprochement with Cuba before Dec. 17, the one-year anniversary of when it was announced.
“In addition to expanding our commercial engagement with the Cuban people, these additional adjustments have the potential to stimulate long overdue economic reform across the country,” Penny Pritzker, the secretary of commerce, said in a statement.
American corporations have been working behind the scenes with the Obama administration for months to bring about the normalization the president promised, which began with an initial set of regulatory changes in January. But the new rules exceeded the expectations of some business leaders, who said they had sent a clear message to Cuba that it must do more to hold up its end of the process.
“They’ve gone farther at one time than most anyone expected,” said John S. Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “It’s in keeping with President Obama’s strategy, agree or disagree, which is, ‘I’m throwing the proverbial ball into the Cuban court.’ ”
In Havana, Mr. Kavulich added, the changes are “too much, too fast.”
The regulations will for the first time in decades allow United States firms to do business directly in Cuba, setting up subsidiaries or opening offices or warehouses there, and allowing Americans to have bank accounts and Cubans to maintain bank accounts outside of their country. Cruise ships will be able to travel between the United States and Cuba without making a stop in a third nation. And close relatives will be able to visit family members in Cuba for a wider array of purposes.
The rules will also allow American telecommunications and Internet companies to situate in Cuba and market their services there, as well as to import mobile applications made in Cuba for development in the United States.
The changes came as the diplomatic opening between Washington and Havana inched forward. On Thursday, Mr. Obama received credentials at the White House from the first Cuban ambassador to the United States since 1961. The envoy, José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, had been the chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington for three years.
LAS COOPERATIVAS NO AGROPECUARIAS Y LA TRANSFORMACIÓN ECONÓMICA EN CUBA: POLÍTICAS, PROCESOS Y ESTRATEGIAS; NON-AGRICULTURAL CO-OPERATIVES AND ECONOMY TRANSFORMATION IN CUBA: POLITICS PROCESSES AND STRATEGIES
POR Mirta VUOTTO Revista de Estudios Cooperativos (REVESCO), Universidad Complutense de Madrid El link al ensayo es REVESCO Mirta VUOTTO, COOPERATIVAS CUBA RESUMEN
La contribución de las cooperativas se ha puesto en evidencia desde la década del 70 como principal línea de desarrollo en la producción agropecuaria de Cuba. En contraste, el reconocimiento de las cooperativas urbanas ha sido tardío, aun cuando fuese percibida la necesidad de transformaciones basadas en la realización de la propiedad en diversos escenarios territoriales.
El artículo analiza los procesos de reforma impulsados en Cuba desde la primera década de 2000 centrándose en las iniciativas tendientes a la promoción, constitución y desempeño de las cooperativas no agropecuarias (CNA). Se examina el potencial y limitaciones propias de las experiencias recientes para reflexionar sobre los procesos y transformaciones organizacionales desde la perspectiva de sus miembros.
A modo de conclusión el análisis plantea interrogantes ace ca de la aptitud de estas cooperativas para sustraerse del impacto de circunstancias anteriores y sobre su capacidad para consolidar estrategias diseñadas por los cooperadores que tiendan a fortalecer los principios de adhesión voluntaria y autonomía en que se fundan estas organizaciones.
Contribution of co-operatives has been demonstrated since the 1970s as the main development line in agricultural production in Cuba. In contrast, there has been a late recognition of urban co-operatives, even if the need of transformations based on the realization of property in different territorial scenarios had been identified. The article analyses the reform processes launched since the first decade of the 21st century focusing on the nature of the initiatives fostering formation and promotion of nonagricultural co-operatives including follow up of their performance.
The potential and limitations of the recent experiences are examined in order to reflect on the organizational processes and transformations from the point of view of their members.
To conclude, some questions are posed about whether these co-operatives are capable of avoiding the impact of earlier employment circumstances and of developing strategies aimed at reinforcing voluntary membership and autonomy on which they are founded.
Eight hundred years ago, the Magna Carta laid the foundations for individual freedoms, the rule of law and for limits on the absolute power of the ruler.
King John of England, who signed this great document, believed that since he governed by divine right, there were no limits on his authority. But his need for money outweighed this principle and he acceded to his barons’ demand to sign the document limiting his powers, in exchange for their help.
King John then appealed to Pope Innocent III who promptly declared the Magna Carta to be “not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust” and deemed the charter to be “null and void of all validity forever.” Thus from the beginning of the conflict between individual rights and unlimited authority, the Church sided with authority. It is a position that, with notable exceptions has, and continues to characterize the conduct of Church-State affairs.
In 1929, the Holy See signed with Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government the Lateran Treaty which recognized the Vatican as an independent state. In exchange for the Pope’s public support, Mussolini also agreed to provide the Church with financial backing.
In 1933, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) signed on behalf of Pope Pius XI, the Reich Concordat to advance the rights of the Catholic Church in Germany. The treaty predictably gave moral legitimacy to the Nazi regime and constrained the political activism of the German Catholic clergy which had been critical of Nazism. Similarly, advancing the Church’s interests in Cuba is the explanation given for the Church’s hierarchy coziness with the Castro regime.
For most of us the Catholic Church is simply a religion, but the fact is that it is also a state with its own international politico-economic interests and views. It is hard to discern the defense of any moral or religious principles in the above historic undertakings of the Church-State.
These doings of the Church, as a state in partnership with authoritarian rule, are in sharp contrast with the Biblical rendition, where Christ was persecuted for his political views by a tyrannical regime acting in complicity with the leadership of His church. Cubans today are also politically persecuted by a tyrannical regime. The question arises as to whether the leadership of the Catholic Church will side with the people or with the Castro regime.
Pope Francis probably, was not thinking of Magna Carta, the Lateran Treaty or the Reich Concordat, when he warmly received General Raul Castro in the Vatican earlier this spring, and he probably won’t be thinking about that foundational document for individual freedoms, the rule of law and for limits on the absolute power of the ruler or how the medieval Church spurned it when he travels to Cuba in September. But the questions of the Vatican’s support for authoritarianism and the Pope’s political ideology will be in the background of his visit nonetheless.
In political terms, Pope Francis is himself the head of an authoritarian state -an oligarchical theocracy where only the aristocracy -the Princes of the College of Cardinals- participate in the selection of the ruler. Most religions do not follow a democratic structure, but the Catholic Church is unique in that it is also a state recognized by international law.
Pope Francis may seem to be sailing against the winds of this structure in some of his carefully publicized “iconoclasms,” but clues he has left as to his political and economic thought regarding Cuba show someone very comfortable with certain status quos.
In 1998, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Monsignor Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the Pope was then known, authored a book titled: “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro.” In my reading of the Pope’s complex Spanish prose, he favors socialism over capitalism provided it incorporates theism. He does not take issue with Fidel Castro’s claim that “Karl Marx’s doctrine is very close to the Sermon on the Mount,” and views the Cuban polity as in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine.
Following Church tradition he severely condemns U.S. economic sanctions, but Pope Francis goes much further. He uses Cuba’s inaccurate and politically charged term “blockade” and echoes the Cuban government’s allegations about its condign evil. He then criticizes free markets, noting that “neoliberal capitalism is a model that subordinates human beings and conditions development to pure market forces…thus humanity attends a cruel spectacle that crystalizes the enrichment of the few at the expense of the impoverishment of the many.” (Author’s translation)
In his prologue to “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro,” Monsignor Bergoglio leaves no doubt that he sympathizes with the Cuban dictatorship and that he is not a fan of liberal democracy or free markets. He clearly believes in a very large, authoritarian role for the state in social and economic affairs. Perhaps, as many of his generation, the Pope’s understanding of economics and governance was perversely tainted by Argentina’s Peronist trajectory and the country’s continued corrupt mixture of statism and crony capitalism.
His language in the prologue is reminiscent of the “Liberation Theology” movement that developed in Latin America in the 1960’s and became very intertwined with Marxist ideology. Fathered by Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, the liberation theology movement provided the intellectual foundations that, with Cuban support, served to orchestrate “wars of national liberation” throughout the continent. Its iconography portrayed Jesus as a guerrilla with an AK 47 slung over his shoulder.
John Paul II and Benedict XVI censured Liberation Theology, but after Pope Francis met with father Gutierrez in 2013 in “a strictly private visit,” L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, published an essay stating that with the election of the first pope from Latin America Liberation Theology can no longer “remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years…”
The political ideology of the Argentinian Monsignor Bergoglio may not have been of any transcendental significance. But as Pope Francis, he is now the head of a state with defined international political and economic interests. These state-interests and personal ideology will be in full display in his upcoming visit to Cuba and the United States.
In “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro,” Pope Francis speaks of a “shared solidarity” but, as with Pope Innocent III’s rejection of the Magna Carta, that solidarity appears to be with the nondemocratic illegitimate authority in Cuba and not with the people. This is a tragic echo of the Cuban wars for independence when the Church sided with the Spanish Crown and not with the Cuban “mambises” fighting for freedom. No wonder that when Cuba gained its independence, many Cubans saw the Church as an enemy of the new nation.
In his September visit Pope Francis will have a chance to reverse this history and unequivocally put the Church on the side of the people, especially with the black and mulatto majority in the Island. If he does not, history will judge him as unkindly as it has Innocent III. When the Castros’ tropical gulag finally fades into the past, Cubans will remember that this Pope had a choice between freedom and authoritarianism, just as his predecessor did eight hundred years ago, and picked the wrong side.
José Azel is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami and the author of the book “Mañana in Cuba.”
By Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald, September 2, 2015
Complete Article Here: The Purita Cooperative
Carlos Fernandez, Founder of the Purita Cooperative