In this CubaBrief the Inter-American Press Association (SIP)  condemns threats by state security against independent journalist. Also five former American diplomats call on world leaders to come to the assistance of the Venezuelan people suffering under Nicolas Maduro and Frank Calzon, the Center for a Free Cuba executive director is featured among answers to the latest Inter-American Dialogue publication. We publish here the question from the Dialogue, Mr. Calzon's answers and the others that were published. Last but not least Pat McDonogh at the Louisville Courier Journalremembers the passing in Louisville, Kentucky of former Cuban prisoner of conscience, Omar Pernet Hernandez.

14ymedio, January 18, 2017

IAPA Condemns Cuban State Security’s Threats Against ’14ymedio’ Journalist

By 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 18 January 2018 – Cuban State Security’s threats against Luz Escobar, a journalist with 14ymedio, were condemned on Tuesday in a statement by the Inter-American Press Association (SIP); the organizations said that the threats “show that restrictions and challenges continue to confront the exercise of freedom of the press” on the island, as they have since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

“We are concerned that this new harassment of an independent journalist only reflects the government’s intolerance and lack of will,” the president of the IAPA, Gustavo Mohme, said in the note.

Last Monday, 14ymedio published an article in which it made known that Luz Escobar, who has been working for this medium since its founding in 2014, had been summoned in Havana by agents of the political police, who invited her to collaborate with the Government and thus “influence the editorial line” of this newspaper.

During the hour and twenty minute meeting, and before the professional had received and rejected the offer, the agents threatened to prevent her from leaving the country, said they would pressure her family members, and would accuse her in front of her neighbors of being a “counterrevolutionary.”

In a recent article framed as a letter to the journalist, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, openly stated her support for Luz Escobar. “They, without planning to, have given you the best argument to continue your career in journalism, because they have shown you that ‘up there’ nothing remains of respect for the citizen, for ethics, morality, sincerity, integrity… and much less for COURAGE. Of which you possess oceans,” she told the journalist.

The president of the IAPA has reiterated that what is happening in Cuba “continues to be a priority issue” for the organization he presides over. The statement also mentions another incident that occurred on January 11 in which the authorities detained journalists Sol García BasultoInalkis Rodríguez and Henry Constantín Ferreiro, members of the magazine La Hora de Cuba  in Camagüey.

IAPA continues to emphasize that this action by Cuban State Security against the journalists of La Hora de Cuba was due to the presence of President Raúl Castro in Camagüey, since he was visiting the city. ” Constantín Ferreiro and Garcia continue to be prohibited from leaving Camagüey, where they reside,” the statement reads, noting that they had been accused of the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity” because, according to the government, they have not been “duly authorized” to practice as journalists.

In its latest report on Cuba, the IAPA denounced that the lack of press freedom on the island worsened in 2017. The non-profit organization said that this was due to an increase in “the aggressions against independent journalists and even their relatives, and against users of social networks by police bodies” with the collaboration of the Ministry of Justice.

In the Human Rights Watch’s 2017 Annual Report published on Thursday, the organization notes that the Government of Cuba “detains, harasses and threatens independent reporters” among other serious violations of people’s rights and freedoms.

 NeoClub, January 18, 2017

American diplomats urge world leaders to oppose Maduro’s repression in Venezuela

Five former American diplomats issued an appeal today to 12 heads of state and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Dr. Luis Almagro saying that the murdering of “Venezuelans who demanded a return to the rule of law and democracy … will not be [resolved] without democratic governments [taking] every step needed to bring peace, justice and democracy to the Venezuelan people.”

The diplomats are requesting “urgent action on the outrageous crimes occurring in Venezuela,” including the killing of Oscar Perez and others this week “by Maduro’s security forces, in spite of their efforts to surrender,” which were witnessed by millions of people on social media.

The letter was signed by several former American ambassadors and high level officials in the State Department and the National Security Council. The appeal went this afternoon to the Presidents of Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Spain, France and the United States, and the Prime Ministers of Canada, the UK and Germany.

A copy of the letter is attached:

Washington, DC January 17, 2018

President of the United States Donald Trump

Prime Minister of Germany Angela Merkel

President of Chile Michelle Bachelet
President of Argentina Mauricio Macri
President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos
President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto
President of Costa Rica Luis Guillermo Solís
President of Brazil Michel Temer
President of Spain Mariano Rajoy Brey
Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of the UK Theresa May
President of France Emmanuel Macron
Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Dr. Luis Almagro

Your Excellency:

We are writing as former American diplomats and supporters of democracy and human rights around the world to request your urgent action on the outrageous crimes occurring in Venezuela where Nicolas Maduro’s regime continues to commit murder against the Venezuelan people.

Óscar Alberto Pérez was killed on Monday along with six others: Daniel Enrique Soto Torres, Abraham Israel Agostini, José Alejandro Díaz Pimentel, Jairo Lugo Ramos, Abraham Lugo Ramos and an unidentified woman. They were killed in what the international press reports was murder by the security forces, in spite of their efforts to surrender.

During several hours social media carried videos showing an attack by Venezuelan security forces against Óscar Alberto Pérez, a rebel officer and others. In the back ground explosions and gunfire could be heard. With blood flowing from his head, he said: “they are firing at us, they want to kill us, we want to turn ourselves in.” In another video broadcast Óscar Pérez’s mother said, “please do not kill my son.”

Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro on July 19, 2017 said that “[t]here are currently about 15,000 Cubans in Venezuela.” …”It’s like an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela.” These killings that took place yesterday could not have happened without Cuban military and intelligence involvement, possibly command and control.

These are but the latest murders committed against Venezuelans who demand a return to the rule of law and democracy for their country. Many demonstrators have been murdered by security forces under President Maduro. Without the international community there will not be a solution to the Venezuelan situation. It is incumbent on democracies witnessing this outrage to take every step needed to bring peace, justice and democracy to the Venezuelan people.


Ambassador James C. Cason, former U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay, former Chief of U.S. Mission, Havana, Cuba. Retired Foreign Service Officer.

Ambassador Everett E. Briggs, Former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, Honduras and Panama Former Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Latin America, National Security Council, The White House. Retired Foreign Service Officer.

The Honorable Elliott Abrams, Former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, and for Inter-American Affairs, Former Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy.

Ambassador Jose S. Sorzano, Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Former Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Latin America, National Security Council, The White House.

Ambassador Otto J. Reich, Former Assistant Secretary State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela. The President’s Special Envoy for Western Hemisphere Initiatives, and Senior Staff Member, National Security Council.




Which Economic Ties Are Most Critical for Cuba?

Q: The European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, wrapped up a two-day visit to Havana on Jan. 4 by meeting with President Raúl Castro and saying the E.U. member countries combined were Cuba’s most important economic partner. Mogherini’s visit came just days before outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet met with Castro in Havana and vowed to strengthen the two countries’ economic and commercial ties. Which economic and trade relationships are most critical for Cuba in the months and years ahead? Would closer trade relations with other countries encourage Cuba to transition to a more open economy? Will economic relations between the United States and Cuba cool further during the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, and to what degree are U.S. sanctions holding back other countries from trading with Cuba?

A: Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba: “Havana knows that President Michelle Bachelet’s promises to strengthen ties between Chile and Cuba are meaningless. Sebastián Piñera, who has no illusions about the regime’s totalitarian nature, will be president of Chile in a few weeks. It is up to General Raúl Castro to improve relations. The White House wants returned several hundred million dollars stolen from Medicaid/Medicare that remain in Cuba’s National Bank. Mr. Trump wants Havana to return American terrorists living in Cuba to face justice in America. He asserts that his Cuba policy is to deny resources to Castro’s military and
security forces, which control tourism on the island. Havana has 15,000 Cuban military personnel in Venezuela, according to Luis Almagro, Secretary General
of the OAS, who told the U.S. Congress on July 19, 2017 that the Cuban troops are ‘like an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela.’ Tourism is against U.S. law, but it was made possible by former U.S. President Barack Obama under the pretense that partying, going to the beach, attending nightclubs and government briefings is not tourism but rather ‘people-to-people’ outreach. Tourists had no impact on repression in the Soviet Union, nor in Cuba under Batista or in Chile under Pinochet. Havana has yet to pledge that it will cease the smuggling of warplanes and missiles to North Korea, which Raúl Castro attempted in 2013. Federica Mogherini is on record indicating that Cuba is a ‘one-party democracy;’ many Europeans disagree. Will European governments insist on Havana’s compliance with the human rights clause, part of the E.U.-Cuba agreement? What do human rights organizations in Cuba think?”

A: Paul Hare, senior lecturer at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and former British ambassador to Cuba: “Less than 20 years ago, E.U. member states were the main sources of investment and tourism for Cuba. In the early 2000s, Venezuela came to dominate as Cuba’s economic and political partner
of choice. That is declining fast, and Trump has reverted to an adversarial relationship. What next? Though a new political chapter is opening, E.U. companies will be wary about rushing in again. The history includes many bad debts, expropriations of E.U.-owned joint ventures and even the jailing of some business executives. Cuba is still not promoting foreign investment and the ‘self-employment’ sector, at the expense of military-run conglomerates. And without Raúl Castro as president, the government will be nervous about policy shifts, which could boost inequality and uncertainty. The European Union likes to show collective diplomacy in Cuba, saying it is a ‘predictable partner.’ But from the European Union’s strong diplomatic reaction to the 2003 crackdown on dissidents, Cuba will know that the European Union is not promising unconditional political support. And therein lies the rub. China, Russia, Iran and others are all giving Cuba the credit and oil it needs and won’t interfere politically. The European Union won’t offer that. Some economic factors are changing. The Trump administration has given Cuba’s hardliners an unexpected gift: the old enemy is again at the door. But partners like China and the European Union will not be offering blank checks. Cuba must relax controls on individual initiative and wealth creation. Already, Cuba has agreed that E.U. engagement with Cubans can include ‘the whole range of civil society, the private sector...’ That is a remarkable change.”

A: Jorge Sanguinetty, chairman and senior advisor at DevTech Systems: “Putting aside the relative volumes of current trade, the most critical trade and economic relations for Cuba are still with the United States, if we take into account the historical background and the permanent expectations and keep in mind the possibility that such relations can improve at any point in time. The current exchanges involving remittances from Cuban exiles to relatives and friends on the island represent a constant reminder of the geo-economic fact that both countries share a mutual degree of interdependence within their corresponding relative dimensions. Closer relations would definitely serve
to more widely open the Cuban economy, if only the Castro government seized the opportunity and open the internal economy to the rest of the Cuban people. In fact,
the main obstacle for the United States to improving relations with Cuba remains the unwillingness of the Cuban government to move to a more inclusive economy and allow
Cubans on the island to participate in the same benefits granted to foreign investors. The Cuban government is still dominated by the fear that a more open economy for
its citizens will lead to greater dependence on the United States, a condition that has created a Gordian knot between both countries and a profound divide between
the Cuban government and its citizens. This helps to extend the U.S. embargo indefinitely, which at the same time represents the second major obstacle to Cuba’s economic
development and other foreign investors. As the Cuban government has become an extension of the Castro family, it is the latter that holds all the cards to free Cuba of its
current quagmire.”

A: Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of the Cuba Study Group and Regis HR Group: “The recent overtures by the European Union, as well of those by Chile’s outgoing president, are shrouded in the realization that there is very little business to be had in Cuba, unless the Cuban economy undergoes major reforms and the U.S. embargo comes to an end. Yet, in owning important amounts of Cuban debt and visualizing potential opportunities from a U.S. retreat in the face of a significant leadership transition in Cuba, Europeans have intensified their engagement, while at the same time sending an important message to the U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. The changes implemented by the U.S. government, although not nearly as bad as they could have been, have virtually frozen diplomatic engagement and any new business opportunities. For Cuba’s hardliners, this has been a godsend. The intense ideological battle unleashed by former U.S. President Barack Obama’s policy and visit
have since intensified, and have given the hardliners, once again, the ‘I told you so’ upper hand. The Americans have proven once again to be unreliable and unpredictable,
and are only interested in Cuba’s collapse. Obama’s ‘Trojan Horse’ has been followed by a very detectable one. To be disengaged from Cuba at this time is disingenuous
and downright stupid. Cuba is undergoing its most important leadership transition ever, and engagement helps to influence developments better than isolation. We are
again creating a vacuum that other nations may find advantageous. Let us pray it is the Europeans and not the Russians that fill in the gap we left behind.”


Louisville Courier Journal, January 18, 2018

A Cuban hero died in Louisville – and no one noticed

By Pat McDonogh

The camera shakes and zooms in clumsily. Good video technique is not the priority here, it's the story coming out of his mouth that matters.

He speaks slowly and calmly, retelling a life spent standing up for human rights and against communist oppression.

Omar Pernet Hernandez was 14 years old when Fidel Castro overthrew the government of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba in 1959. Eventually, he spent 22 years in Cuban prisons.

"I was tortured in Castros' jails in four trials since 1965," Pernet Hernandez once said in an interview.  A series of YouTube videos documents his life story fighting the Cuban regime. 

Pernet Hernandez, who came to Louisville in 2012 as a political refugee, died last year on Oct. 7 at the age of 72. Largely unknown in his adopted city, he fought cancer as bravely as he fought the Cuban government. 

"He never let those struggles or his history in Cuba keep him from living life to the fullest, even when everything worked against him," said Chris Clements, who worked at Catholic Charities helping Pernet Hernandez settle here. "We always admired him for that."

In 2009, Pernet Hernandez testified before the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva, on the conditions in Cuba. 

"We all supported the change of government because we understood that it was necessary due to the situation our country was in," Pernet says, in Spanish, in one of his videos.

"My break with the Castro regime came with the imposition of military service, I refused and in 1965 they took me to the UMA concentration camps for young people who did not sympathize with their policy, including those who were homosexuals and the religious," he says. "There together with thousands of young people, we worked from sun up to sun down, cutting cane and banana trees." 

Pernet said he was later arrested and spent eight years in prison for joking with friends about taking a boat to the United States. In 1992, he was arrested for hanging propaganda posters against the Cuban government.

During his time in prison, he went on several hunger strikes and endured humiliation, multiple beatings, solitary confinement and starvation.

In 2003, the "Black Spring" roundup landed Pernet and 74 other dissidents in Cuban gulags. Pernet's sentence was for 25 years. 

"As I was being transferred from one jail to another, we had an accident in which all of the police officers in the car died. I was in the hospital for a long time and was unable to ever walk again," he says in a video. "In 2008, they deported me to Spain with other prisoners and their families. They did not allow me to bring my family. This has been my exile."

Pat McDonogh can be contacted at