Poll Finds Informed US Voters Dead Against Cuba Normalization

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Apr 10, 2015, 10:58 am
Asunción Carrillo Hernández, Dama de Blanco y Directora del boletín “El Cubano Libre, de Hoy” (Angélica Mora)
Cuban activist Asunción Carrillo is arrested. In 2014, the regime detained 8.900 dissidents, 2,000 more than in 2013. (Angélica Mora)

EspañolA survey by InterAmerican Security Watch (ISW) challenges the notion that normalization with Cuba will enjoy popular support. ISW acknowledges that right now a slim majority of US citizens agree with President Barack Obama’s move to restore diplomatic ties. Their findings, however, suggest that support evaporates as the same individuals learn of the Castro regime’s foreign-policy record and human-rights violations.

ISW, a policy institute that monitors regional security issues, questioned 700 likely US voters by phone from March 16 to 23, including an “oversample” of 300 Cuban Americans. On March 24 they then published a 51-versus-38 percent tilt in favor of normalization with Havana. However, when respondents were presented with evidence of negotiations between Cuba and terrorist groups, and alliances with Russia and North Korea, levels of approval flipped, to considerable margins of 30-40 percent.

Surveyors emphasized the shipment of 240 tons of weaponry that the regime of Raúl Castro attempted to send to North Korea in 2013. After hearing of this, for example, 64 percent of respondents preferred to maintain sanctions on Cuba until there is progress towards free and multi-party elections, the release of political prisoners, and respect for human rights.

After being acquainted with the topic, 68 percent of respondents also wanted the US federal government to keep Cuba on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Self-identified Republicans were the most opposed to Cuba being removed, at 82 percent. This proportion dropped to 66 and 55 percent among independents and Democrats, respectively.

“President Obama’s decision to cave to Castro was terrible diplomacy and, we know now, foolish politics,” Roger Noriega of ISW said.

“When Americans hear basic facts about Castro’s hostility and human-rights violations, they know that the president’s unilateral concessions only emboldened a dangerous, despotic regime,” the former US Ambassador to the Organization of American States added.

Normalization with Whom?

José Azel, a senior researcher at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, suggests that the US public are not well aware of the human-rights violations committed by the Cuban regime, nor of the possible threat to US national security that Cuba’s alliances with countries such as Russia, North Korea, and Iran represent.

“By embracing Cuba’s totalitarian regime, the administration’s new policy sends the wrong message to Latin America. The new policy seems to signal that the United States is no longer concerned with championing democratic values in our hemisphere,” Azel told the PanAm Post.

The expert fears that Washington’s overlooking of the suppression of civil liberties in Cuba, in order to restore diplomatic and commercial links, will embolden authoritarian governments throughout the world.

“That message will have tragic consequences in the years to come.” With these dangers understood, he says “the American public rejects the new policy of unilateral concessions to Cuba’s totalitarian regime.”

Cuban activist Ana Olema argues that Cuba's manipulation of statistics has misled many.
Cuban activist Ana Olema argues that Cuba’s manipulation of statistics has misled many. (Ana Olema)

Ana Olema, a Cuban democracy activist who now lives in the United States, believes that “the fundamental problem” is the lack of profound changes within the island.

“We have to tell the American people that in Cuba we have a 240 percent tax on products. We have to explain to them that powdered milk costs US$6 [per kilogram], oil costs $3.40 [per liter], and ground beef is at $2.15 [per kg]; while the salary of an engineer, teacher, or lawyer barely gets to $20 [per month]. We must tell them that Cubans cannot go out to the street to protest.”

Olema explains that she comes from a nation that “lacks the truth,” due to the government’s manipulation of official figures. “The international statistics support and applaud a neo-slavery of the Cuban people.… If you tell that to the American people, knowing this republic [the United States] as much as I do, believe me, they will not like that rotten government.”

Translated by Rebeca Morla. Edited by Laurie Blair and Fergus Hodgson.

Belén Marty Belén Marty

Belén Marty is the Libertarian Latina, a journalist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has lived in Guatemala, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States and is a former candidate for local office with Argentina's Libertarian Party. Follow @BelenMarty.

Media Watchdog: Ecuador “Has Declared War on the Press”

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Apr 10, 2015, 9:48 am

EspañolOn his first day in office, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa vowed to wage a war on the media, a promise which his critics claim he continues to keep today more than ever. His administration's latest moves towards censorship include launching a criminal investigation against cartoonist Xavier Bonilla, a new website designed to investigate and respond to social-media users that “attack” his government, insulting and defaming independent reporters, and even setting up a tax-funded "troll center" to target critics online. Despite the government-sponsored backlash against the free press, a few brave voices still dare to speak out against the arbitrariness in Ecuador. One such voice is Fundamedios, an NGO that promotes freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the right to access public information. PanAm Post interviewed its director, César Ricaurte, who claims that since Correa took office in January 2007, the president has stigmatized the press and portrayed it as the "enemy." For Ricaurte, this attack on independent media climaxed when the Ecuadorian Congress approved, with an overwhelming majority, Correa's so-called Media Law in June 2013. "With it, the state created a whole apparatus to control media content," Ricaurte argued. The civil-society leader says the press has been under constant attack since these bodies began operating in January 2014. They have issued over 270 complaints for a wide range of reasons: because cartoons are misleading, because headlines are deemed too alarming, or because some photos accompanying stories are too crude. The Media Law "created a superintendency, in charge of surveilling, controlling, and punishing the media; several commissariat bodies to monitor the media locally, and a regulatory council that dictates policies and carries out studies," explained Ricaurte. Image: Censored, radio station sanctioned over listener's opinion. Tweet: [state body] .@SuperComEc sanctioned Radio Novedades for allegedly infringing the Media Law. He claims that Correa himself, on national television, orders which journalists must be punished: "Several of the complaints are initiated at the request of the president during his Saturday television show." Once the president singles out someone, "the superintendency carries out" the investigation. From those 270 complaints, Ricaurte says the Ecuadorian government has issued 85 sanctions. "There can be three kinds of sanctions: economic, public apologies or rectifications, and responses the media are forced to publish." But for Ricaurte, the punishments and harassment effectively amount to "a regime of prior censorship." "While the law says censorship is not allowed, what happens in practical terms is that the government, through the superintendency, can control media content." Targeting of Cartoonists The criminal investigation against cartoonist Xavier Bonilla, also known as "Bonil," shocked the independent media in March 2015, and Ricaurte believes Bonil's case is a clear example of prior censorship. The artist draw a cartoon lampooning Agustín Delgado, an Afro-Ecuadorian congressman, over a speech he gave at the National Assembly — but the state judged the drawing to be racially discriminatory and ordered Bonil and the newspaper to amend it. "They used Bonil's usual place on the newspaper to put a public apology," he said. "Ecuadorian media are punished for what they say, for what they don't, and for what third parties say. They are held responsible for the opinion of columnists, interviewees … If they say something the superintendency finds uncomfortable, the outlet is sanctioned." Furthermore, media in Ecuador are forced to publish information that the state body deems of "public interest," Ricaurte alleged. "Three newspapers are being investigated because they didn't cover on their front pages the Chilean president's visit for the granting of a honorary doctoral degree," he added. Ricaurte also revealed that "Correa has hired at least four public relations, marketing, and publicity agencies in the United States to handle his government's image" in the legal battle with Chevron over oil spills in the Amazon forest. "It's an administration that bases much of its platform on crafting a public image both inside and outside the country," he concluded. Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Laurie Blair.

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