Category Archives: Cuba

Cuba’s self-imposed embargo is hurting Cubans more than the US embargo

At the end of January, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act aimed at removing restrictions on United States agricultural exports to Cuba. Following the steps of 16 other states, Virginia also launched its Engage Cuba State Council, an initiative of the Cuba Engagement Coalition that seeks to promote trade and travel with Cuba and eventually lift the embargo.

Supporters of these initiatives believe ending the embargo will alleviate Cuban poverty while helping state economies grow. The president of Engage Cuba, James Williams, said the Agricultural Expansion Act would “increase US agricultural exports, create jobs across the country, and provide the Cuban people with high-quality American food.” While these efforts are an important step in improving American relations with the Caribbean country, Cuba also needs to reform its system of import taxation for trade liberalization to have its desired effect.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba has been controversial since it was implemented in the 1960s. Opponents of the embargo argue that restricting the population’s access to cheap foreign goods makes the country poorer and gives the government someone to blame for its widespread poverty. Proponents of the embargo believe that it is the one thing keeping the Communist Party of Cuba in check, providing justice for dissidents and keeping money out of the pockets of regime officials.

While they have valid arguments, advocates on both sides are missing an important factor: whether or not an external embargo exists, most goods will never reach the Cuban people because of a state-imposed internal embargo.

Continue reading at Washington Examiner.

Could Cuba be the next Vietnam?

With the death of Fidel Castro, many are wondering what the future holds for Cuba. Could the island nation finally free itself from the chains of communism with the Dear Leader finally dead? A recent trip I took to Vietnam gives me hope for Cuba’s successful transition to a market economy.

In all likelihood, an economic sea change isn’t likely to sweep the Caribbean country immediately. Nevertheless, Cuba has taken some positive steps towards a market economy in recent years. In 2011, President Raul Castro legalized private property, allowing citizens to buy and sell their homes and farmers to cultivate a portion of their land for profit. This year brought even more optimistic changes, with many United States embargo restrictions on travel and trade lifted, facilitating the freer flow of goods and services.

Historically speaking, Cuba is likely to join most other so-called “communist” countries still standing today by embracing more capitalist reforms. While China, Laos and Vietnam are all red in theory, in practice the three Asian countries have enjoyed some of the fastest economic growth in recent decades because of free market reforms. North Korea is arguably the last true communist holdout, with the state completely owning the means of production to disastrous results.

This odd juxtaposition of communist ideology with capitalist practice was on full display when I visited Vietnam in November. The monuments and museums are still filled with propaganda. Nearly every mention of the Vietnam War is presented in black and white, as “imperialists” versus “patriots.” Granted, that time period wasn’t exactly the brightest for American foreign policy, but the communist recollection is so biased to the point of humor. While strolling through Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum, for example, I couldn’t help but laugh at a panel claiming to show a photograph of South Vietnamese soldiers “drinking blood and swearing to destroy the communists.”

Continue reading at Washington Examiner.

Rebelling against Castro… with spray paint

For many, graffiti is just another form of street art, but for Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado it is a way to dissent from and protest against the Cuban Communist Party. Through his art, he criticizes the human rights abuses the Cuban people suffer at the hands of the Castro regime.

As a young kid in Cuba, Maldonado always knew he wanted to be an artist. Yet throughout school he was constantly indoctrinated with the country’s revolutionary ideology and saw himself unable to express his thoughts through art. As he grew older, he eventually found the artistic medium that would give him voice: graffiti. However, his artistic expression came at the price of his freedom—he is now one of Cuba’s most detained artists.

The world noticed Danilo when, in December 2014, he performed one of the most subversive acts seen in Cuba in the last couple of years. He was arrested for attempting to stage a performance involving two pigs; one painted with the name of Raúl, while the other read Fidel. As part of his act, he planned to release the pigs in Havana’s central park for people to try and catch them. His main inspiration: George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Danilo never made it to his performance. He was detained on his way to the central park. The Cuban Communist Party accused him of contempt for the leaders of the Revolution—a crime in Cuba that can cost you up to three years in jail. When talking about his arrest, Danilo believes he was arrested “simply because [he] made fun of the highest leaders of this revolution.”

Danilo was not given a trial. He was never officially charged. Simply for trying to express his art, he was held for 10 months in a Cuban prison.

To him, and to the rest of the world, his imprisonment only confirmed the harshness of the dictatorship. While he was in jail, several international human rights organizations picked up his case. Each day he remained imprisoned, more joined his cause. He was classified as a prisoner of conscience by both the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba and Amnesty International. The Human Rights Foundation awarded him with the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.

With his story in the spotlight, Danilo was eventually released in October of 2015. Since then, not only has Danilo continued to draw graffiti, but he has become one of the island’s leading human rights activists.

Read the full article at Dissident, here.