CubaBrief: The latest episode on the University of Miami soap opera can be summarized as follows: Dr. Julio Frenk, UM President, met with a group of prominent Cuban Americans today which included writer Carlos Alberto Montaner, Facts About Cuban Exiles’ Sam Verdeja, business entrepreneur and civic leader Diego Suarez, Humberto Arguelles president of the Brigade 2506, and others. The meeting went over serious concerns by the Cuban American community about the future direction of Cuban Studies at the university. Later in the day UM released a statement indicating that the university will not establish exchanges with Cuban universities. 

Cuban universities, like universities in the old Soviet Union, have little in common with European and American universities. Havana continues to expel professors and students because of their political views. There is no academic freedom and important books considered outside the communist orthodoxy are not available in Cuban libraries. UM intends to establish a search committee to find a replacement for Dr. Jaime Suchlicki, who is no longer at the university, as soon as possible. But there are a number of significant issues remaining.

Cuban Studies is of importance beyond the University of Miami. Florida International University announced just announced plans for a considerable expansion of its Cuban programs. FIU announced a first contribution of $200,000 for the creation of “Casa Cuba.” The donation was made by The Knight Foundation.

The Venezuelan crisis remains a focus of considerable attention in Washington and elsewhere. Freedom House has organized a panel discussion with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, Venezuela’s National Assembly President Julio Borges and key justices from Venezuela’s Supreme Court in Washington on August 23rd.

Finally Diario de Cuba reported this morning that according to the Cuban government official website CubaDebate there were five Cubans wounded  at the terrorist attack in Barcelona yesterday. 

Many ask why Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro went suddenly to Cuba this week. At CubaBrief we know why: The subject of the emergency meeting with Raul Castro could not have been discussed on the telephone, and it was of such a sensitive nature that Havana would not put it in writing. Maduro needed to ask Raul what to do.


The Miami Herald, August 17, 2017

After Maduro’s secret trip to Cuba, opposition leaders want to know: ‘Why did he go?’

By Nora Gámez Torres

The unannounced visit to Cuba earlier this week by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, apparently to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro, has rekindled criticisms about the the Cuban government’s strong influence on Venezuela's crisis.

“Mr. Maduro traveled secretly last night to Cuba. Why did he go? He's been to Havana more than Maracaibo or San Cristobal,” Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles wrote in Spanish on a Tweet posted Monday.

“Why did Mr. Maduro go?” Capriles added in a video postedWednesday on Periscope. “To hand over more of our oil? To commit our armed forces even more, asking for reinforcements from the Cuban military so they can continue … to command the Venezuelan military?

In the midst of the deepening political crisis in Venezuela, opposition activists in both countries have stepped up their complaints about what they allege to be the noxious influence of Havana over domestic affairs in the South American country.

“The Castro government tests and applies all its repressive technology in Venezuela,” said a declaration signed by 42 Cuban government opponents. “Havana designs the strategy for installing a totalitarian regime, and sends the agents necessary to carry out those objectives. The Chavista regime, plagued by corruption and drug trafficking, has been the perfect ally.”

The declaration signers — including prominent Cuban dissidents Berta Soler, Guillermo Fariñas, José Daniel Ferrer and Antonio Rodiles — added that Cuban ruler Raúl Castro and his son Alejandro, as well as Maduro and his No. 2., Diosdado Cabello, “should be held equally responsible for the disastrous situation in the sister nation.”

For the Venezuelan opposition, the issue of alleged Cuban interference is of such importance, that in a declaration criticizing President Donald Trump's recent mention of a possible U.S. military intervention in their country, the Caracas-based Mesa de la Unidad(Democratic Unity Coalition) alleged that “military and political interference by Cuba has not only affected our sovereignty and independence but is one of the main causes for the government's violence and repression.”

Maduro's trip to Cuba and meeting with Raúl Castro, kept secret until it was confirmed by the Cuban news media Wednesday, highlighted a frequent criticism of the Venezuelan president: that he accepts too much political advice from Havana.

“I believe the proposal for a new Constituent Assembly was created in Cuba,” said Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner. “Under the current constitution they could not carry out a communist revolution. They needed a tighter model because the experience of the Cuban government is that if they build a system for defending the political model, they survive.”

Raúl Castro recently congratulated Maduro for ordering the Constituent Assembly in a letter that appeared to sum up his advice to Caracas: resist and appeal to “the unity of the people.”

“Experience shows that each act of terrorism lifts the morale of the people, each attack makes it stronger, each blow strengthens unity,” Castro wrote.

Castro also predicted “days of powerful struggles, of international harassment, of blockades, of restrictions. But they will also be days of creativity and work for revolutionaries and the entire Venezuelan people which, like today … will have us Cubans on the first row of militant solidarity.”

The stability of the Maduro government is vital to Cuba because Venezuela has been its biggest trade partners and provides the island with highly subsidized oil. Although the oil shipments have dropped significantly in recent months, Maduro remains committed to a level of supply that has kept the Cuban economy from total collapse.

The Venezuelan opposition has been denouncing the Cuban presence in the country for years. After the alliance between Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Cuba gained a powerful influence over the South American nation, including its national identification system, the PDVSA oil monopoly and many government ministries. In 2012, opposition activist María Corina Machado demanded an investigation of the Cuban military's Cooperation and Liaison Group (GRUCE) in Venezuela, led by Gen. Ermio Hernández Rodríguez.

“As OAS Secretary General, Luis Almargo, said at a Senate hearing on July 19th, there are approximately 15,000 Cuban regime military and security forces who are acting 'like an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela,’ ” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fl.

“...The world needs to know and stand up against the occupation of Venezuela by the Cuban regime and it needs to support the appeals of the Venezuelan people for democracy and basic human rights,” Díaz-Balart added.

The U.S. government has not taken a clear position on the issue, although it has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan government officials and is drafting new regulations expected to ban U.S. companies from doing business with companies controlled by the Cuban military.

The State Department declined to answer questions about the Cuban meddling in Venezuela. But CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently said that U.S. concerns over the Venezuelan crisis were justified by the presence of Cuba and hostile countries like Russia and Iran.

“The Cubans are there. The Russians are there. The Iranians and Hezbollah are there,” Pompeo said in an interview with the Fox TV network. “This is something that has a risk of getting to a very, very bad place. So, America needs to take this very seriously.”

Jason Poblete, a lawyer in Washington who follows U.S. policies for the Western hemisphere, said Cuba is trying to support the Maduro government at all costs because it is desperate to continue receiving Venezuelan oil.

“Cuba wants to protect the oil,” he said. “If you want to resolve the Venezuelan problem, you have to resolve the Cuba issue.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres


 14ymedio, August 15, 2017

Three Activists Arrested At Santiago Cathedral Receive Their First Prison Visit


14ymedio, Havana, 15 August 2017 — The Aguadores prison authorities authorized on Monday the first family visit to the three activists arrested during the protest at the cathedral of Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 14ymedio was told by Reina Silvia González, wife of Alberto Antonio Ramírez Odio, one of the detainees.

During the meeting, which lasted half an hour, Gonzalez was also able to see her brother-in-law Leonardo Ramirez Odio, and the father of both young people, Alberto de la Caridad Ramírez Baró. The three men were transferred to the prison last week on a provisional basis while the investigation process is underway, in advance of filing charges against them.

Gonzalez, who went to the prison along with the brothers’ grandmother, told this newspaper that “they are in good health.” Since they arrived at the prison “everyone is eating” and “they are all together,” although the authorities “have threatened to separate them” and send each to a different prison.

“They did not tell me the date of the trial yet, but I was able to learn that, from now on, the visits will be every two weeks,” Gonzalez said. She also reported that the prison guards spoke to her in “very bad form.”

The woman said that the prison is far from the city of Santiago de Cuba, in a location that complicates the travel of relatives to the visits.

The activists belong to the Committee of Citizen Defenders of Human Rights (CCDH) and had demonstrated along with the opponent José Carlos Girón Reyes. They held up posters that read “58 years of deceit, hunger and misery,” and “The people demand freedom, Justice, democracy” and “Viva the right of expression, opinion and of the press.”

The protest occurred a few yards from the headquarters of the People’s Power of Santiago and was recorded in a video produced by the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU). Opponents also shouted “Down with the dictatorship, Down with Fidel, Down with Raul, Down with Congress.”

The action was a challenge precisely on the day that commemorated the 64th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks. A few minutes after the protest began, the National Police and State Security intervened and detained the activists.