Raul's (Greedy) Year in Review

Thursday, December 31, 2009
The year 2009 can be easily summarized for the dictatorship of General Raul Castro:

On the political front, there have been absolutely no reforms. To the contrary, the regime's repression against pro-democracy leaders and human rights activists sharply increased, as documented by the Cuban Committee for Human Rights (CCHR) and Human Rights Watch (HRW).

On the economic front, the regime has cut the importation of foodstuffs and other basic goods (including toilet paper), reduced energy consumption (imposing dramatic shortages), confiscated approximately $1 billion from the bank accounts of foreign businessmen and froze debt payments to creditors.

All of this, courtesy of the political and economic greed of the Castro brothers and a handful of their cronies.

May 2010 witness an end to this obsessive greed.

The Tyrant Two-Step Dance

Dictatorial regimes can be so predictable.

Whenever their victims challenge them, they begin a two-step dance

Step #1 - send in the secret police, preferably dressed as civilians, to violently suppress any demonstrations.

Step #2 - stage a "pro-regime" demonstration to deceive the international community with a "show of popular support."

That is currently the case in Iran, where ABC News is reporting:

"Hundreds of thousands of government supporters flooded the streets of Iran today in a well orchestrated show of solidarity with the regime. State television showed live pictures of people praising the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei and calling for the punishment of opposition leaders."

And just weeks before, it was the case in Cuba, where according to the BBC:

"Cuban dissidents trying to hold a silent march in Havana to mark Human Rights Day were confronted by crowds chanting pro-government slogans."

However, sometimes Step #2 backfires on tyrants.

Remember Ceausescu?

Here's a video reminder:

28 New BMWs for Raul's Potholes

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
El Nuevo Herald newspaper is running an investigative series about Spanish-Venezuelan businessman Ricardo Fernandez Barruecos, who after amassing a billionaire fortune under the government of Hugo Chavez was later imprisoned in Venezuela for bank fraud.

In other words, he bit the crooked hand that fed him.

But the most interesting part of the series, thus far, has been the revelation of 28 BMWs that Fernandez sent from Venezuela to Cuba, in order to gain favor with his friend, General Raul Castro.

Fernandez did so thinking that once Fidel dies and Raul inherits absolute power, he would be positioned to "take advantage of failed companies in Cuba."

In other words, to engage in mafia style acquisitions, similar to those that took place in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union pursuant to the collapse of communism.

Ironically, this revelation was published within days of another story in El Nuevo Herald about the decrepit state of Cuba's streets. According to official statistics, of the 29,600 kilometers of paved roads in Cuba -- the grand majority of which were constructed before 1959 -- almost 60 percent are in dire need of repair.

No wonder Raul needs so many BMWs.

Must be a Flaw in the Polling

Peruvian pollster Sergio Bendixen wrote a piece in The Huffington Post entitled, "The Significance of the Diaz-Balarts' 'Un-Endorsement' of Charlie Crist," in which he discusses -- more precisely, criticizes -- the merits of a recent decision by U.S. Congressmen Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart not to support any candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Frankly, the endorsement issue is not of any interest to us. However, we were intrigued by two tangential observations made by Bendixen in his post.

First, he states that,

"There is little doubt that Lincoln Diaz-Balart is currently the most respected and credible politician among Cuban exiles and that his brother Mario is not far behind in popularity."

A very assertive statement indeed.

But then, proceeds to claim that,

"[T]he hard-line Cuba policy for which the Diaz-Balarts are famous for no longer has the backing of Cuban Americans; nearly three-fifths of them -- 59% -- now support allowing all Americans to travel freely to Cuba according to a poll conducted by my firm in October."

So, here's Bendixen's theory:

Lincoln Diaz-Balart is undoubtedly the most "respected and credible politician amongst Cuban exiles" -- the very same community that (according to Bendixen's polling) opposes Diaz-Balart's views on Cuba policy.

Huh? Why would Cuban exiles support, respect and elect a Member of Congress that they do not agree with? Moreover, how would Diaz-Balart be the most popular politician amongst Cuban exiles?

Does Bendixen believe we're masochists, or somehow ignorant? That's not only absurd, but an insult to Cuban exiles.

There must either be a flaw in his assertion, or alternatively, in his polling.

Judging by the results of last November's Congressional elections -- it's surely the latter.

Carlos Varela's Misguided Criticism

The New York Times ran a story yesterday entitled, "Trying to Sway America's Cuba Policy With Song."

The title speaks for itself, but here's the opening gist:

"When one of Cuba's best-known musicians landed in the United States, his first appearance was not onstage, but on Capitol Hill.

Carlos Varela, often referred to as Cuba's Bob Dylan, had come to remix an album with his good friend Jackson Browne. But he also hoped to help reshape relations between the United States and his homeland.

So before going to Hollywood to work on the album, he stopped in Washington early this month for meetings with legislators and a lunch with a senior White House official. Later he held a jam session in the House Budget Committee meeting room."

It's interesting how the Castro regime granted Varela a "white card" -- an exit permit to travel in-and-out of the island -- yet denied Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez a similar "privilege" to receive Columbia University's Maria Cabot Moore Journalism Prize in New York City just a few months before.

Perhaps there's a criticism levy, or some sort of "standard of conduct." In other words, if a Cuban artist or intellectual is not measured in her criticism, or doesn't overwhelmingly direct her criticism at U.S. policy, then she will not get a "white card" (and get physically assaulted as a bonus).

But that doesn't make Varela a bad person. He is simply another victim of the Castro regime, for the simple fact that a Cuban artist can come to the U.S. and openly criticize U.S. policy -- with no repercussion -- is a testament to the fact that there is no moral equivalency between both governments.

Unfortunately, Cuban artists, including Varela, cannot do the same in their own homeland without the risk of censorship, or even more egregiously, beatings and imprisonment.

Coincidentally, while Varela is amidst his "music-lobbying tour" of the U.S., Cuban artists on the island have been taking a stand against the regime's "silent repression" of cultural expression.

According to the Nuevo Herald newspaper, this week, a group of young artists, academics and intellectuals have written an open letter to the Castro regime "rejecting the current obstructions and prohibitions against cultural and social initiatives," reminiscent of the intense atmosphere of cultural repression that existed in Cuba in the 1970s.

We wish Varela well in his musical collaboration with Jackson Browne.

However, we hope he'll take advantage all of the media attention garnered during his U.S. tour to call attention to this courageous act of dissent by his colleagues on the island, and which The New York Times chose to ignore.

Even if it means risking his "white card."

Has Obama "Dissed" Dissidents?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
In perhaps an overly harsh critique -- as balanced by the next post -- the Wall Street Journal's William McGurn compares President Barack Obama's attitude towards dissidents to that of former President Gerald Ford:

Obama Puts the Dis in Dissident

Here's a timely New Year's resolution the president might do well to deliver to his National Security Council: "When it comes to nasty regimes that brutalize their people, we will never again forget that the most powerful weapon in a president's arsenal is a White House photo-op."

The December headlines remind us that we have no shortage of these nasty regimes. In China, the government sentences Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for writing a letter calling for legal and political reforms. In Iran, security forces fire on citizens marching in the streets. In Cuba, pro-government goons intimidate a group of wives, mothers and sisters of jailed dissidents—with President Raul Castro characterizing these bullies as "people willing to protect, at any price, the conquests of the revolution."

In all these cases, the cry goes up: Where is the president of the United States?

For a man whose whole appeal has been wrapped in powerful imagery, President Obama appears strikingly obtuse about the symbolism of his own actions: e.g., squeezing in a condemnation of Iran before a round of golf. With every statement not backed up by action, with every refusal to meet a leader such as the Dalai Lama, with every handshake for a Chavez, Mr. Obama is defining himself to foreign leaders who are sizing him up and have only one question in mind: How much can we get away with?

As Yogi Berra put it, it's déjà vu all over again. In his eagerness to downplay freedom in his foreign policy, Mr. Obama resembles no president so much as Gerald Ford. Barely a year into office, President Ford also made a symbolic choice for realism over rights.

The year was 1975. For its dinner in Washington, the AFL-CIO had invited Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Nobel Prize winner exiled from his Russian homeland a year earlier, after publication of the first volume of his "Gulag Archipelago."

Republican senators tried to arrange for a meeting with Ford. Acting on the advice of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Ford nixed it.

The pragmatists thought that having the president get together with Solzhenitsyn would sour efforts for détente in a forthcoming meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. As usual the pragmatists were highly impractical. The refusal to meet Solzhenitsyn made Ford look weak. In many ways, the moment would forever define his foreign policy.

One of the leading critics of President Ford's decision was Ronald Reagan. In his own time as president, Reagan met with dissidents. He quoted Solzhenitsyn often. And when he so famously upset the establishment by referring to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire," Reagan no doubt recalled that night in 1975 at the AFL-CIO dinner—when Solzhenitsyn had referred to the Soviet Union as "the concentration of world evil."

Reagan set a tone that hit the Soviets in their most vulnerable spot: their lack of moral legitimacy. In retrospect, we can more easily see that Reagan's willingness to give voice to freedom-loving dissidents only increased his leverage as president as he dealt with the Soviets and their allies.

George W. Bush also made it a point to meet with dissidents and signal which side America was on. He met with a defector who spent 10 years in the North Korean gulag. He met with persecuted Chinese Christians, marked the 20th anniversary of a famous pro-democracy uprising in Burma by meeting with Burmese dissidents in Thailand, and awarded the Medal of Freedom to a jailed Cuban political prisoner. In 2007, he even spoke to a whole conference of dissidents in Prague organized by another alumnus of the Soviet prison system: Natan Sharansky.

Now it's not easy for a president to meet with dissidents. When you do, some won't think you are strong enough. And even Ronald Reagan was criticized in 1986 for not meeting with Yelena Bonner, wife of jailed Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

More important are the internal pressures—some key trade deal, some delicate negotiation, some huge foreign policy concession your staff has been working on forever. Yet precisely because all the momentum is in the direction of accommodation, it's important for a president to remember the one argument to the contrary. By meeting with some brave soul whom others want silenced, he sends a signal that cuts through the fog, compels respect from his enemies, and will be remembered long after the concerns of the day are forgotten.

Barack Obama has spent his first year as president determined to prove to the world he is not George W. Bush. He has succeeded. Let's hope that in so doing he has not sent the message that he is the new Gerald Ford.

Welcomed Remarks on Iran

Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the anti-regime protests in Iran. In his remarks, the President said:

The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries, and even death.

For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days. And each time that has happened, the world has watched with deep admiration for the courage and the conviction of the Iranian people who are part of Iran's great and enduring civilization.

What's taking place within Iran is not about the United States or any other country. It's about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice and a better life for themselves. And the decision of Iran's leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away.

As I said in Oslo, it's telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.

Along with all free nations, the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people.

We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there. And I'm confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.

Spring Breakers Only Need Apply

According to The Oregonian:

"A humanitarian aid group from the First Unitarian Church of Portland was allowed to leave the Havana airport today, after being detained by Cuban authorities.

Nine members of the group were held in the airport overnight for unexplained reasons while five others were sent back Saturday to Cancun, Mexico, where their flight to Cuba originated."

Apparently, the Castro regime was not very accommodating,

"[Carol] Rossio, [a church member], said e-mails from detainees indicated that Cuban authorities appeared to be expecting them and intercepted them as soon as they landed. Some of those detained were in their late 70s, and found it uncomfortable to sleep on the airport's cold concrete floor."

An what was the purpose of this trip by the First Unitarian Church?

"[Rev. Kate] Lore, [the church's social justice minister], said the 14-member group was bringing medical supplies and planned to paint a health clinic."

Moral of the story: Unless your trip produces hard-currency for the Castro regime's apartheid beach resorts, retail stores, nightclubs and restaurants, you are not welcome in Cuba.

From the Alternate Universe

Monday, December 28, 2009
The Spanish news agency EFE reported last week that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who led the Sandinista regime in that country from 1979-1990, was awarded the 2009 Muammar Al Gaddafi Human Rights Award by the Libyan dictatorship.

Past recipients of the award, which includes a $250,000 cash prize, include Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Unfortunately, this is not a joke.

The Twitter Revolution

Pro-Democracy Programs = Solidarity

On Christmas Day, the Washington Post ran a story entitled, "Pro-democracy program in Cuba questioned after man detained."

According to the article:

"Few dispute that tools such as blogs, Twitter and YouTube are cracking the Cuban government's monopoly on information. But the jailing of the American contractor -- who has not been publicly identified -- has highlighted the risk of trying to slip communications technology into police states."

Which leads to the question:

If "few dispute that tools such as blogs, Twitter and YouTube are cracking the Cuban government's monopoly on information," then why dismantle the very programs that help the Cuban people obtain access to these methods of information?

Apparently, because,

"It has also revived a debate over whether the U.S. democracy program for Cuba, like a similar one in Iran, can backfire by exposing dissidents to charges that they are U.S. puppets.

'It taints them. It is almost a gift to the Castro regime to do that,' said Ted Henken, a sociologist at Baruch College who has studied the growing Cuban 'blogosfera.'"

Really? Is that the best they can come up with?

This sociological thesis overlooks the obvious. First of all, information technology is not being forced upon the Cuban people by these pro-democracy programs. They are simply filling a thirst (or should we say, a direct demand) for information technology by the Cuban people.

From humanitarian aid to information technology, it is U.S. policy to provide as much direct assistance to the Cuban people -- key word is direct -- as possible without the control and manipulation of the Castro regime's totalitarian monopoly.

The alternative would be to ignore this direct demand and condemn the Cuban people to the absolute censorship of the Castro regime -- a policy that would border on complicity.

Furthermore, this thesis fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the regimes in Havana and Tehran.

This was recently explained, as regards Iran, by Abbas Milani of The New Republic:

"Will the United States stand on the side of Iranian democracy now? The worry one hears most often in Washington is that such a stand will backfire; it will bolster the mullahs by annoying the innate nationalism of the Iranian people. But this misunderstands the regime. No matter what the United States does -- even if it maintains a studied silence -- the regime will describe its opponents as U.S. tools."

The fact remains that too many courageous Cubans are consciously risking their lives to speak out on behalf of human rights and democratic reform. Many are sacrificing decades in prison for these principles and beliefs. Therefore, they do not deserve to be patronized by foreign academics, or tourists for that matter. They get enough of that from the Castro regime.

These brave activists deserve nothing less than our solidarity.

Quote of the Week

Sunday, December 27, 2009
"Many activities that are legally protected in democratic countries are arbitrarily punished in Cuba, as has been documented in multiple reports by respected human rights organizations."
- Charles Luoma-Overstreet, State Department spokesman on the arrest of an American citizen by the Castro regime for providing information technology to the Cuban people, AFP, December 21st, 2009

Video Clips of Senate Forum

From the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Senate Forum held last Monday:

Is Freedom in Retreat?

Saturday, December 26, 2009
An excerpt from "In 2009, Global Freedom Had Few Blooms" by Steve Chapman of The Chicago Tribune's Editorial Board:

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the blossoming of democracy around the world, stimulated in part by the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. Far from producing much new growth, however, 2009 brought to mind an old folk song: Where have all the flowers gone?

Not to China, which had an anniversary of its own -- the 20th since Chinese students occupied Tiananmen Square in an inspiring call for democracy and liberty, only to be crushed by the army. Looking back, Beijing shows no remorse. In fact, Human Rights Watch said in May that it "continues to victimize survivors, victims' families and others who challenge the official version of events."

On June 4, Tiananmen Square was occupied again -- by battalions of police. Liu Xiaobo, the chief author of a manifesto calling for democracy and human rights, was sentenced to 11 years for "incitement to subvert state power."

A human rights lawyer was shot to death, along with a student journalist, in broad daylight on a Moscow street. After his government passed a law making it a crime to equate Josef Stalin with Adolf Hitler, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged the creation of museums documenting his crimes. A grandson of the dictator filed a libel suit against a newspaper that called Stalin a "bloodthirsty cannibal," but he lost.

Among the last Stalinists in power is Kim Jong Il of North Korea, whose new constitution mysteriously dropped all reference to "communism" but gave him the new title of "supreme leader." The human rights organization Impunity Watch said his regime holds 154,000 political prisoners, while a North Korean official told the United Nations Human Rights Council the actual number is zero.

Another old-school communist is Cuba's Raul Castro, who took over the government from brother Fidel three years ago but has maintained his repressive policies.

A new law allows the incarceration of dissidents for "dangerousness" before they have committed any crime. When one of them, Alexander Santos Hernandez, was ordered to serve four years in prison, the sentence was dated two days before his trial began.

Raul's Spring Chickens

Does Cuban dictator Raul Castro simply fear or dislike young people?

Probably a bit of both, as young Cubans form a counter-culture movement that is united by its desire for CAMBIO ("CHANGE"). Yet, instead of embracing the calls for CAMBIO, Raul has chosen to squander them through repression.

Raul's fear and dislike of young people is also reflected in his personnel decisions.

In March of this year, he purged the two youngest members of the Council of Ministers, Felipe Perez Roque, 44, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Carlos Lage, 58, who was the Economics "Czar."

They have not been publicly seen or heard from since.

And just this week, Raul promoted former Minister of the Interior Ramiro Valdes and Comptroller Gladys Bejerano to become Vice Presidents of the Council of State.

Apparently for Raul, these (see below) are the "new" faces of Cuba's future.

China's Free Pass on Human Rights

Friday, December 25, 2009
Words on Trial in Beijing

By Jonathan Mirsky
The New York Times

In the late spring of 1989, a few weeks before the killings of June 4, a slight, almost nerdish figure appeared in Tiananmen Square and began exhorting the students to concentrate on democracy rather than the deposition of China's top leaders and an end to corruption.

I recall that young man scurrying from group to group of demonstrators sitting on the flagstones. As he awkwardly gesticulated, they hung on every word with the intense attention that Chinese students give teachers of great authority.

He was Liu Xiaobo, then 33, a university teacher of literature who had hurried back from Columbia University, where he was a visiting scholar, to join the Tiananmen demonstrations.

Mr. Liu now faces 15 years in prison. Or rather 15 more years: He was imprisoned for two years after June 4, another three during the 1990s, and he has been in detention since his arrest last June.

The present charge is "agitation activities, such as spreading of rumors and defaming of the government, aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialism system."

According to the PEN American Center, the trial could begin as early as Monday.

What is Mr. Liu's crime? He was a principal figure behind Charter 08, a document published last December and initially signed by 303 brave Chinese inside China and abroad.

It declared: "We should make freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and academic freedom universal, thereby guaranteeing that citizens can be informed and can exercise their right of political supervision.

These freedoms should be upheld by a Press Law that abolishes political restrictions on the press.

The provision in the current Criminal Law that refers to 'the crime of incitement to subvert state power' must be abolished. We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes."

To anyone living in a free society the words seem merely Jeffersonian:

"For China the path that leads out of our current predicament is to divest ourselves of the authoritarian notion of reliance on an 'enlightened overlord' or an 'honest official' and to turn instead toward a system of liberties, democracy and the rule of law, and toward fostering the consciousness of modern citizens who see rights as fundamental and participation as a duty."

For Beijing the charter was like an explosive charge capable of blowing up the leadership compound within the walls of the Forbidden City. Ever since Mao began persecuting writers in the early 1950s, words have been regarded as especially dangerous in China.

Beijing does not engage in arguments. It simply bullies to discourage others. Zhang Zhixin, a young Chinese woman, was executed in 1975 for "opposing the Great Helmsman Chairman Mao, opposing Mao Zedong thought, opposing the revolutionary proletarian line and piling offense upon offense." To ensure that Ms. Zhang could not cry out at her execution, her vocal cords were cut.

Mr. Liu's indictment came on International Human Rights Day. But there's nothing unique here. Recently, for example, a Chinese official explained why the government bans Wikipedia: "The strength of a small number of evil-doers will make Wikipedia into a platform spreading bad information and threatening state security and social stability."

On a nationwide scale, there is the constant official inspection of the Chinese Internet for taboo words like Tiananmen, Taiwan, Dalai Lama — and democracy. Use of such words can bring a knock on the door and arrest.

Sadly, China now gets a free American pass on the abridgment of its fundamental human rights. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has suggested that human rights must now take a back seat behind other more important considerations, and President Obama canceled a visit to the White House by the Dalai Lama after Beijing warned that it would imperil the president's trip to China.

Liu Xiaobo remains clear-eyed. Before his latest arrest he observed, "In the game of ban and response to ban, the people's space for expression increases millimeter by millimeter. The more the people advance, the more the authorities retreat.

"The time is not far when the frontier of censorship will be breached and the people will openly demand freedom of expression."

Jonathan Mirsky is a journalist specializing in Chinese affairs.

EDITOR'S NOTE: It's imperative to cast a spotlight on China's courageous pro-democracy movement. Unfortunately, economic interests cast a large shadow upon them. It's for this reason that the current human rights conditions in U.S. policy towards Cuba are so important -- for once the shadow is cast, it becomes yet another barrier for activists to overcome.

A Christmas Dedication

Christmas is a time of giving. It's a time of selflessness.

As such, let's not forget all of the courageous pro-democracy leaders and human rights advocates separated from their loved ones, in distant political prisons, due to their selfless pursuit for freedom and justice.

Advocates such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who is on the 22nd day of a hunger strike in the Kilo 8 prison in Camaguey, due to the beatings and inhumane treatment he has been subjected to by the Cuban authorities.

Zapata, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, is serving a 36-year prison sentence. On December 20th, in solidarity with Zapata, 16 other inmates of the Kilo 8 prison joined in the hunger strike.

Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Fittingly, the following Christmas postcard was designed in 1997 by a group of Cuban political prisoners in Kilo 8. Some remain in prison to this very day.

May their hopes and dreams (of freedom and justice) become a reality in 2010.

Eva Mendes (Passionately) Talks Cuba

Thursday, December 24, 2009
The December-January 2010 edition of the magazine Simplemente Mujer ("Simply Woman") features an interview with Cuban-American actress and model, Eva Mendes.

Here's an excerpt:

"It's clear that at her 35 years, she [Mendes] feels very proud of her origins and close to her people. So much so, that upon asking her if she would travel to Cuba someday, she did not hesitate to say that she does not pass judgment on those that want to go, 'but I am not ready to do so until the political situation [on the island] changes.'"

Mendes is yet another example -- perhaps the most beautiful example -- of how the younger generations of Cuban-Americans do, in fact, care about Cuba and Cuba policy just as passionately as our parents and grandparents.

Must be a glitch in the "polls."

General McCaffrey's Change of Heart

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Four Star Gen. Barry McCaffrey (Ret) Cancels Trip to Cuba Because of 'Shallow, Vitriolic' Comments and Actions by Cuban Foreign Minister

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Four-Star General Barry McCaffrey (Ret), former White House Drug Czar and SouthCom (Latin America) Commander, is canceling a scheduled January 3-6 trip to Cuba to discuss U.S.-Cuban future cooperation because of recent "shallow, vitriolic" comments and actions by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. In a prior trip to the island, McCaffrey met with top Cuban government, political, military, and academic leaders – including a seven hour meeting with Fidel Castro in Feb 2002. 

McCaffrey's letter to Dr. Wayne Smith of the Center for International Policy, which was sponsoring McCaffrey's trip, follows:
22 December 2009

Dr. Wayne Smith
Center for International Policy
1717 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC. 20036
Just got in last night to read the Reuters reports that Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced President Obama at the Copenhagen Conference as an "imperial and arrogant liar" in the most vile and personal terms imaginable.
The Foreign Minister could not have borrowed talking points from Cuba's worst enemies to more effectively harm the country's future economic and political interests.
This type of shallow and vitriolic 1960's public diplomacy also makes Cuban leadership appear to be non-serious, polemical amateurs. President Obama is the most thoughtful and non-ideological US Chief Executive that the Cubans have seen in 50 years.  This Foreign Minister Rodriguez speech probably slammed the window shut on US Congressional and Administration leaders being willing to support bringing Cuba back into the community of nations.
This situation makes me very sad for the Cuban people. I see little reason to visit Cuba and deal with leadership of this appalling lack of good judgment.
Please withdraw my name for the proposed visit to Cuba in January.
Barry McCaffrey
General USA (Ret)

What in Newsweek's World?

Newsweek has released its top ten list of "World Predictions for 2010."

#10 on the list is "Castro Dies, U.S. Relations Improve"

This prediction begins by stating that:

"Fidel Castro has been ailing for years, and 2010 looks to be his last year on earth."

From Newsweek's mouth to God's ears.

It then proceeds to predict that:

"Cuba won't change overnight, but Fidel's demise will mean that all the doctrinal rigidities tied to his name (lack of press freedom, immigration restrictions, a cult of personality, persecution of gays) will get a second look."

Apparently, they didn't get Raul's memo, or Human Rights Watch's recent report, "New Castro, Same Cuba," which reminded us that,

"In July 2006, Fidel Castro handed control of the Cuban government over to his brother Raúl Castro. As the new head of state, Raúl Castro inherited a system of abusive laws and institutions, as well as responsibility for hundreds of political prisoners arrested during his brother's rule. Rather than dismantle this repressive machinery, Raúl Castro has kept it firmly in place and fully active. Scores of political prisoners arrested under Fidel Castro continue to languish in Cuba's prisons. And Raúl Castro's government has used draconian laws and sham trials to incarcerate scores more who have dared to exercise their fundamental freedoms."

Finally, Newsweek predicts that, "Raul, recognizing the economic potential of improving ties with the U.S., will curtail the government's anti-American rhetoric."

They also seemed to have missed Raul Castro's speech last week at the Cuban National Assembly, where he stated that "the enemy [U.S.] is as active as ever."

However, we were encouraged by the important prefix in this last prediction, "...recognizing the economic potential of improving ties with the U.S...."

That's exactly the leverage that U.S. sanctions provides at this crucial time and the reason why the U.S. shouldn't unilaterally and/or unconditionally lift them.

Time will tell.

Digging Their Own Hole

Despite the severe economic crisis affecting Cuba, its inability to provide people with basic goods (including toilet paper) or pay foreign creditors, the Castro regime has announced that it will continue to build massive bunker-style tunnels to "protect the population during time of war."

These tunnels have been undergoing construction since 1959 and are in a process of eternal expansion and incompletion.

Division General Samuel Rodiles told the Cuban National Assembly last week that these tunnels will remain a "priority" and that the construction efforts "were right on track."

In other words, that the Castro regime is digging its own hole.

Bipartisan Support for Cuban Freedom

Tuesday, December 22, 2009
From the Southern Political Report:
Florida Senate candidates agree on one thing: Cuba

The four leading candidates for the open US Senate seat in Florida -- Gov. Charlie Crist, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, US Rep. Kendrick Meek and former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre -- met for the first time in Coral Gables Monday for the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee's annual luncheon. And while they may not agree on much, all four took a tough stance on normalization of relations with Cuba.

"Freedom in not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is a fundamental concept that unites us all in this nation,'' Crist said.
Crist and Rubio are Republicans, and Meek and Ferre are Democrats. 

Rubio is the only Cuban American in the field, but Crist called attention to his family's immigrant (Greek Cypriot) roots, Ferre has close ties to the Cuban American community in Miami, and Meek's mother, former US Rep. Carrie Meek, was recognized at the luncheon for her efforts on behalf of the community.

Senate Candidates Unified on Cuba

From The Miami Herald:
Florida's U.S. Senate candidates unified on Cuba
The four candidates for U.S. Senate affirmed their support for democratic reforms in Cuba and took a tough line on American policy toward the island nation.
The four leading candidates for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat in 2010 were in the same room for the first time Monday at the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee's annual luncheon -- where they staked out their positions on the future of Cuba and its relations with the United States.
"The quest for an open, democratic and free Cuba has to guide all of the United States' actions with respect to Cuba,'' said Democrat Maurice Ferré, the former Miami mayor who was the first to speak at the event at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
Ferré was joined on the dais by his rival for the Democratic nomination, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, and by the Republican hopefuls, Gov. Charlie Crist and former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio.
The PAC favors maintaining economic sanctions against the Cuban government. Among the more than 400 attendees at the luncheon were leading Cuban-American business executives and politicians, including U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario and Lincoln Díaz-Balart, and local state representatives.
Ferré said the recent crackdown by Cuban authorities on dissidents and civic activities were "deliberate steps'' by the Cuban government to sabotage Washington's efforts to normalize relations.
"It is clear that Cuba uses confrontation with the United States as a means to legitimize its totalitarian government and to justify decades of repression,'' Ferré said.
Rubio -- the only Cuban American among the candidates -- maintained that freedom and human rights were pillars of the United States' policy toward Cuba.
"Do we still believe it when we say that no government has power that its people have not given it?'' Rubio asked during a speech that drew applause. "Or have we arrived at a point in our history when we think that to sell rice and livestock to a tyranny is more important than upholding the founding principles of this country? Are we prepared to say that sending tourists to Havana is more important than many words that the birth of this nation made possible?''
Meek emphasized his collaborative relationship with his Cuban-American colleagues in Congress and said that as a member of the Democrat majority he would have the attention of President Barack Obama on Cuba policy.
He stressed that whenever the United States made a gesture toward normalizing relations with Cuba, the Castro regime "did not move an inch toward democracy, free elections or the release of political prisoners.''
He recalled that U.S. Sen. Bob Menéndez, D-N.J., was a key player in early 2009 in supporting legislation that would maintain the Cuba embargo.
Crist closed the forum by talking about his personal history, shaped by a family of immigrants who had pursued a dream of a better life, which is "the dream of the Cuban people.''
"Freedom in not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is a fundamental concept that unites us all in this nation,'' he said.
During the lunch, the U.S.-Cuba PAC acknowledged former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, the 83-year-old mother of Kendrick Meek, for her support in the cause of democracy in Cuba.
"Our immediate task is to support candidates who do not want the unconditional lifting of sanctions against Cuba, and who put first the issue of human rights and democratic reforms,'' said Mauricio Claver-Carone, who is head of the U.S.-Cuba PAC.
For video clips of the presentation, click here.

Is Castro Afraid of Engagement?

Monday, December 21, 2009
Last week, Abbas Milani wrote a great article in The New Republic entitled, "The Great Satan Myth: Everything you know about U.S. involvement in Iran is wrong," in which he makes the following timely observation:

"Will the United States stand on the side of Iranian democracy now? The worry one hears most often in Washington is that such a stand will backfire; it will bolster the mullahs by annoying the innate nationalism of the Iranian people. But this misunderstands the regime. No matter what the United States does -- even if it maintains a studied silence -- the regime will describe its opponents as U.S. tools. This accusation is a political necessity for the mullahs and deeply embedded in their worldview. Besides, no matter how much the regime denounces the Great Satan, Iranians, on the whole, remain positively disposed to the United States, at least relative to the rest of the Muslim world."

It's timely, for many Cuba watchers have asked themselves why the Castro regime has refused to reciprocate the policy and diplomatic overtures made by the Obama Administration in 2009.

As can be expected, anti-sanctions advocates ingeniously argue that it's because the Castro regime is afraid of engagement and that, therefore, the U.S. should unilaterally normalize relations regardless of the regime's brutal repression and undemocratic behavior.

But similar to Milani's observation on the Iranian regime, here's what Berta Antunez, an Afro-Cuban human rights advocate and the sister of former Cuban political prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," had to say about this argument:

"All my life I have had to deal with the true face of the Castro regime: its thugs, its interrogators and its prison guards. As a result, my brother, my family and I do not fall under the spell of the regime's sophisticated diplomats, its well-placed agents of influence, and its propagandists.

It's ironic to hear some argue that the Castro regime is repressive only to avoid engagement with the United States, as if a 50-year-old dictatorship is full of closet reformists kept in check by their fear of the ``evils'' of U.S. imperialism. No, I come from deep inside Cuba and I know how the regime treats us Cubans and what it really thinks of us, especially if we happen to be black.

The regime represses us because it can. It brooks no dissent and tolerates no opposition. It can't because it knows that the majority of Cubans want their freedoms restored.

Giving a regime that is nearing its end, a unilateral windfall of tourists' dollars, will only reinforce its bloody repression. It is the wrong signal to send to a youthful and growing resistance movement that eventually will prevail over a decrepit totalitarian state. For the sake of the Cuban people, America should continue to stand as a pillar of moral clarity

(Excerpt from "Stand Firm, America," Miami Herald, November 11th, 2009)


Senate Forum in Florida

Fla. Senate candidates to meet at Cuba forum

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -- Three top candidates in the race to become Florida's next U.S. senator will face off on the issue of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Gov. Charlie Crist, GOP challenger Marco Rubio, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek are among the candidates expected to address the nation's most powerful Cuba lobby, the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, on Monday in Coral Gables.

The event is the first since the Senate campaign began that all will attend simultaneously.

And no wonder. Not only does Florida have a large and politically active Cuban-American community, but a recent report by a nonprofit that tracks political donations showed the PAC and its supporters have given more than $10 million to congressional campaigns over the last seven years.

Easing Sanctions is a Losing Proposition

Sunday, December 20, 2009
From yesterday's editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "More Castro Fuming":

Fidel Castro's displeasure with President Barack Obama and the United States means little except continuing misery for Cubans.

In a letter read by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez to a summit of leftist Latin American nations, Mr. Castro said Mr. Obama's "friendly smile and African-American face" hide sinister intentions for that region. That's an obvious bid to divert attention from the Castro regime's sinister intentions toward Cubans.

Those intentions underlie that regime's brutal repression of its people. And the ailing Fidel's supposed transfer of power to brother Raul is a distinction without a difference for Cubans' basic freedoms and human rights.

The revolutionary rhetoric of the Castros, Mr. Chavez, Bolivia's President Evo Morales and their regional "comrades" hides sinister intentions indeed -- to seize, hold and wield power without regard for civil and economic liberties. Thus, positive change for Cubans must precede any normalization of relations with Cuba.

Fidel's hostile response to the Obama administration's tentative steps toward normalization nevertheless has value. It reminds Washington that so long as the Castros maintain an iron grip on their island nation, easing the U.S. stance toward Havana is a losing proposition.

A Diary of Madmen

Saturday, December 19, 2009
"Calumny is only the noise of madmen."

- Diogenes of Sinope, Greek philosopher, 412 B.C.-323 B.C.

Waxman Blasts Cuba on Climate Talks

Chairman Waxman's Statement on Completion of Climate Talks in Copenhagen

This morning in Copenhagen, the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change completed their work on the Copenhagen Accord.  In response, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released the following statement:

"Due to President Obama's leadership, the vast majority of the world has come together to meaningfully tackle climate change.  No one should be surprised that Venezuela, Cuba, and just a handful of countries attempted to stand in the way of international progress on climate change.  Fortunately, while they may have blocked consensus, they have not blocked progress."
EDITOR'S NOTE:  What happened to all those issues of mutual interest that advocates of unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime keep talking about?

Diplomats Told to Ignore Repression

Today's Nuevo Herald reports that the Castro regime has summoned the top diplomats in Havana from the U.S., the U.K., and Germany to reprimand them for allowing their diplomats to observe the public demonstrations marking Human Rights Day on December 10th.

On that day, public demonstrations by pro-democracy activists, such as the Ladies in White, were met with great violence and repression by the regime's organized mobs. In some cases, the mobs even assaulted foreign diplomats that were observing.

Just imagine what they would have done to any foreign tourist that might have dared observed (but there was never any real danger of that as they were too busy enjoying the regime's all-inclusive beach resorts).

Therefore, the message of the regime is loud and clear, foreign diplomats and tourists only have one function in Cuba. That is, respectively:

To provide legitimacy and foreign currency to the Castro regime.

In other words, "just shut up, don't watch and give me your money."

We hope these diplomats don't relent in their human and moral obligation in favor of the human and civil rights of the Cuban people, which is consistent with international principles and accords.

As such, here's a partial list of more than 80 known pro-democracy activists who were detained by the Castro regime on December 10th -- some for a few hours, some for a few days, and others placed under house arrest -- in a constant campaign of harassment.

We pray for their safety.

1- Aníbal Reinier Vera
2- Idalberto Acuña Talavera
3- Damián Sánchez Sainz
4- Luís Godinez Solenzal
5- Vladimir Calderón Frías
6- Pedro Moisés Calderón Tápanes
7- Yusnaimy Jorge Soca
8- David Águila Montero
9- Carlos Manuel Pupo Rodríguez
10- Sebastián Rogelio Brage Borges
11- Aníbal Alemán Jiménez
12- Idalberto Rodríguez Osorio
13- Juan Gilberto Garcia Pérez
14- Rafael Ernesto Ávila
15- Lilvio Fernández Luís
16- Emilio Jerez Oliver
17- Arturo Montgomery Alonso
18- Elizabet de Regla Alonso
19- Jorge Luís Trujillo González
20- Juan Juan Almeida (Abogado disidente)
21- Julián Guerra derrite
22- Ernesto Rodríguez López
23- José Antonio Menéndez González
24- Alfredo Guilleuma
25- Julián Enrique Martínez Báez
26- Luís González Medina
27- Luz Maria Barceló Padrón
28- Eduardo Pacheco Ortiz
29- Michel Lazcano Rico
30- Lázaro Urra de Armas
31- Frank Silveira Machado
32- Yunieski García López
33- Gonzalo Nicolás de la Barca Pedraza
34- Antonio Suárez Fondiciella
35- Ana Rosa Alfonso Arteaga
36- Guillermo del Sol Pérez
37- Isidro Manuel Pérez Cruz
38- Juan Miguel González Cutiño
39- Orlando López Escobar
40- Guillermo Peña González
41- Carlos Hernández Tamayo
42- Luís Alberto Rodríguez Rodríguez
43- Víctor Manuel Pérez Nápoles
44- Oter Varona Borrego
45- Walter Martínez Sánchez
46- Carlos Alberto Gilbaus Paredes
47- Guianella Ortiz Hernández
48- Orestes Antonio Giniebra
49- Emiliano Calvo Díaz
50- Dunieski Guerrero de la Cruz
51- Alexis Guerrero Cruz
52- Jesús Clemente Yapur
53- Lázaro Moriña González
54- Trinidad Rodríguez Abril
55- Charles Manuel Lorenzo Sordo
56- Arisbel Guerrero
57- Luís Escalona Díaz
58- Manuel Martínez León
59- Félix Menéndez Pérez
60- Miguel Amado Rey
61- Juan Carlos Bous Batista
62- Alfredo Guileuma
63- Adrián del Sol Alfonso
64- Celestino Hernández Morales
65- Frank Reyes López
66- Jorge Luís García
67- Blas Augusto Fortún Martínez
68- Idalberto González Gómez
69- Damaris Moya Potiellis
70- Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera
71- Ana Hilda Contreras Rodríguez
72- Belkis Maria Mena Contreras
73- Donaida Pérez Paceiro
74- Alcides Rivera Rodríguez
75- Carlos Michael Morales Rodríguez
76- Alberto Reyes Morales
77- Michel Oliva López
78- Yoslabi Despaine
79- Juan Alfaro González
80- Alexei Martínez Rojas
81- Diosiris Santana Pérez
82- José Pérez González
83- Idania Yánez Contreras

Cut the Mic!

Friday, December 18, 2009
In Castro's Cuba, if they can't "cut the mic" on time, they send the secret police to your home.

Just ask Gladys Escandell Martinez.

Dissident sends greetings on state radio stations

HAVANA, (Iván Sañudo Pupo, Cubanet) – Gladys Escandell Martínez says she was threatened by police after she called three radio stations last week and sent on-air greetings to two jailed fellow dissidents.

Escandell, a member of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women, said she called Radio Rebelde, Radio Coco and Radio Metropolitana and sent the greetings to Oscar Elías Biscet and Darsi Ferrer, both medical doctors.

She said two State Security agents later went to her home and threatened her with arrest for "civil disobedience" because of her calls to the radios stations.

The U.S. Will Not Be Blackmailed

According to the Miami Herald:

Florida Sen. George LeMieux dropped his opposition Thursday to the Obama administration's new ambassador to Brazil, saying he won commitments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on areas of concern -- including Honduras and Cuba.

The Florida Republican said he secured assurances from Clinton that the U.S. will normalize relations with Honduras and jump-start stalled democracy grants to nonprofits looking to work in Cuba.

As regards the case of an American citizen arrested by the Castro regime for providing information technology to the Cuban people:

LeMieux said he got assurances from Clinton "that we were not going to negotiate away democracy assistance in exchange for this person's return."

Kudos to Senator Lemieux and Secretary Clinton.

Castro's Sex Syndicate?

According to Ghana News:

"The Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service says the sex syndicate uncovered in Russia is only a tip of the iceberg.

The unit says similar rings exist in Italy, the USA, Cuba, Syria and along the west coast of Africa.

Investigators are working with Ghanaian missions abroad to arrest the gangs involved.

Speaking to Joy News on Wednesday, Head of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Police Service, DSP Patience Quaye, said steady progress is being made in Russia and the other countries to which Ghanaians are sold into modern slavery.

'We've mounted some surveillance, tracking down some of the suspects in Ghana. We know the others are in Russia,' she said and hinted that 'anybody could be trafficked to any country depending on the mission that the person wants to accomplish.'

DSP Quaye cited an incident where a gang which had promised its victims business in the USA, took them to Cuba.

The police has so far ensured the conviction of three persons in connection with human trafficking whilst six other cases are pending before the courts, DSP Quaye stressed."

Castro's Cuba is a totalitarian police state. The regime's secret police and intelligence services are amongst the most sophisticated in the world. They can find a cell phone, computer or thumb drive in the most remote neighborhood, of the most remote city or town in the island.

Therefore, it would be nearly impossible to run a human trafficking operation in Cuba without the knowledge or participation of the regime.

Plus, slavery is not an alien concept to the Castros.

Attorney General's Remarks on Credit Suisse

Thursday, December 17, 2009
Excerpt from Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement:

Today we are announcing the outcome of a major investigation into massive financial misconduct at one of the world's largest global banks, Credit Suisse. In both its scope and complexity, the criminal misconduct perpetrated by Credit Suisse in this case is simply astounding. Indeed, as set forth in the court documents filed today, this case offers a stark and disturbing example of the lengths to which some corporate wrongdoers are willing to go in seeking ill-gotten financial gains.

It is exactly the type of wrongdoing that has led to the erosion of the public's confidence in our financial security and institutions. And it is the kind of financial misconduct we at the Department of Justice will continue to target aggressively. For more than a decade, Credit Suisse did business with and for countries that the United States had specifically banned from our financial systems. The rules that prohibited financial transactions with these sanctioned nations were in place for many years. Credit Suisse, like all other major global banks, knew well that the United States would not process financial transactions from individuals or companies in places like Iran, Libya, Sudan, Burma, and Cuba.

But rather than adhere to the law and decline to serve these customers, Credit Suisse established a business model to allow these rogue players access to U.S. dollars. At one point, the company even developed a pamphlet for its Iranian clients, explaining how to fill out payment messages so as not to trigger U.S. filters. They created a "how-to" book on committing a crime – and it worked well for years.

In another case, a Credit Suisse team leader circulated an email with screen shots of payment applications, showing how to format messages to ensure that they would pass through the United States undetected.

The sanctions put in place against these countries have been deemed appropriate and necessary by numerous Administrations, and are followed by hundreds of financial institutions around the globe. And these rules matter -- they keep dollars out of the hands of countries and individuals that threaten U.S. interests abroad and our national security here at home.

Pro Bono Translation of Travel Lingo

Yesterday, U.S. travel industry leaders met in a Washington, D.C. hotel to listen to a Castro regime official's seductive pitch for business (and plea to lobby in favor of tourism travel to Cuba).

During the event, hosted by the U.S. Tour Operators Association, industry leaders watched promotional videos of Canadian and European tourists on Cuba's beautiful beaches, basking in the sun, while sipping mojitos.

As part of the business pitch, Miguel Figueras Perez, the Castro regime's tourism official, stressed to the group that Cuba was safe, that there were:

"no drugs, no vices, no kidnappings, no crimes against tourists."

Since it was the first time some of these U.S. travel specialists were interacting with officials from the Cuban dictatorship, and therefore may be unfamiliar with some of the code-talk and lingos they use, we felt it would be important to translate just what Mr. Figueras means by this statement.

What he means is,

"no drugs (for narcotics trafficking is the exclusive domain of regime officials), no vices (other than the regime's blind zeal for totalitarian rule and repression), no kidnappings (except for 100 lb female bloggers, and other pro-democracy and human rights activists), and no crimes against tourists (as the regime only beats, tortures, harasses and imprisons the Cuban people)."

Yet, directly or indirectly, repression can be a lucrative business.

Any questions?

Cuban Journalists Under Fire

CPJ's 2009 Prison Census: Freelance Journalists Under Fire

Freelancers now make up nearly 45 percent of all journalists jailed worldwide, a dramatic recent increase that reflects the evolution of the global news business, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ found a total of 136 reporters, editors, and photojournalists behind bars, an increase of 11 from the 2008 tally. A massive crackdown in Iran, where 23 journalists are now in jail, fueled the worldwide increase.

China continued to be the world's worst jailer of journalists, a dishonor it has held for 11 consecutive years. Iran, Cuba, Eritrea, and Burma round out the top five jailers from among the 26 nations that imprison journalists. Each nation has persistently placed among the world's worst in detaining journalists.

Please take a few minutes to read the plight of some of these imprisoned Cuban journalists:

Pedro Argüelles Morán, Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Argüelles Morán was convicted in April 2003 of violating Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy, which punishes anyone who commits acts "aiming at subverting the internal order of the nation and destroying its political, economic, and social system." He was given a 20-year prison sentence. Argüelles Morán, a cartographer who, in 2003, was working as director of the independent news agency Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes in the central province of Ciego de Ávila, was being held at the Canaleta Prison in his home province, his wife, Yolanda Vera Nerey, told CPJ. The 62-year-old was allowed visits every three months, she said. Vera Nerey told CPJ that her husband was diagnosed with bone and respiratory ailments, and had cataracts in both eyes.

Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, Unión de Periodistas y Escritores de Cuba Independientes
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Arroyo Carmona, a journalist for the independent news agency Unión de Periodistas y Escritores de Cuba Independientes in his home province of Pinar del Río, was handed a 26-year prison sentence for acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" under Article 91 of the penal code in April 2003. Arroyo Carmona was being held at the Kilo 5½ Prison, his wife, Elsa González Padrón, told CPJ. The journalist, who was housed in a hall with at least 130 prisoners, waged a hunger strike in May to protest prison conditions, news reports said. Arroyo Carmona—who had been diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, and pulmonary emphysema—protested a lack of medical attention, unsanitary cell conditions, cruel treatment, and obstruction of his efforts to practice religion. At least three other political prisoners joined the reporter in his protest.

Miguel Galván Gutiérrez, Havana Press
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Galván Gutiérrez, a journalist for the independent news agency Havana Press, was tried in April 2003 under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for acting against "the independence or the territorial integrity of the state." He was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Galván Gutiérrez, 44, was being held in Guanajay Prison, in the western province of Havana, near his home, his sister, Teresa Galván Gutiérrez, told CPJ. Though prison conditions were harsh, she said, they were better than at the maximum-security Agüica Prison, where the journalist was imprisoned until June 2007. Galván Gutiérrez was housed alone in a cell in which, he told his sister, he could read and study, although he said books were hard to come by. The journalist suffered severe joint and back pain, she said.

Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, freelance
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

For 24 years, Gálvez Rodríguez worked for government media. But in March 2003, as he was working as a freelance reporter in Havana, state security agents arrested him as part of the massive crackdown. He was summarily tried that April under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy and given a 14-year prison sentence. The People's Supreme Tribunal, Cuba's highest court, upheld the decision a month later. In 2009, Gálvez Rodríguez, 65, was being held in solitary confinement at Havana's Combinado del Este Prison, his partner, Irene Viera Silloy, told CPJ. She said the journalist was allowed one family visit every two months. Gálvez Rodríguez suffered from high cholesterol, hypertension, and respiratory problems, according to CPJ research. Viera Silloy said he was also diagnosed with pneumonia. Gálvez Rodríguez continued to write from prison, Viera Silloy told CPJ. She said prison authorities briefly revoked the journalist's phone privileges in September after he refused to wear a prison uniform.

José Luis García Paneque, Libertad
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

A physician by profession, García Paneque, 43, joined the independent news agency Libertad in 1998 after being fired from his job at a hospital in eastern Las Tunas because of his political views. In April 2003, a Cuban court sentenced him to 24 years in prison after he was convicted of acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code. García Paneque was being held at Las Mangas Prison in Granma province, according to his wife, Yamilé Llánez Labrada. Although general prison conditions improved in 2009, she said, the reporter still shared a small cell with several other inmates and complained of difficulty sleeping. García Paneque's parents visited him every 45 days, his wife told CPJ; she and her children, who moved to Texas in 2007, talked to him on the phone monthly. García Paneque's health has significantly deteriorated in prison. He has been diagnosed with a kidney tumor, internal bleeding, chronic malnutrition, and pneumonia. Llánez Labrada told CPJ that her husband continued to have digestive problems and had lost all the hair on his body due to malnutrition.

Ricardo González Alfonso, freelance
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

González Alfonso, a poet and screenwriter, began reporting for Cuba's independent press in 1995. He founded the award-winning newsmagazine De Cuba and a Havana-based association of journalists, and then worked as a freelance reporter and Cuba correspondent for the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders. He was taken into custody on March 18, 2003. In April, the Havana Provincial Tribunal found him guilty of violating Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for "acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state," and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. That June, the People's Supreme Tribunal Court upheld his conviction. González Alfonso, 59, was being held at Havana's Combinado del Este Prison, a two-hour car ride from his family home in the capital, his sister, Graciela González-Degard, told CPJ. The reporter's small, windowless cell, she said, was hot and humid, and the prison food was poor. As punishment for his refusal to wear a prison uniform, officials denied him religious assistance, barred his family from bringing him clean clothes, and cut family visitation to once every two months. González-Degard, who lives in New York but visited her brother in August, told CPJ that he was in good health and spirits, though he suffered from hypertension, arthritis, severe allergies to humidity and dust, chronic bronchitis, and several digestive and circulatory problems. During her three-week visit to Havana, she was followed and harassed by state security agents, she said. She also told CPJ that González Alfonso's two teenage sons had lost employment opportunities as a result of his imprisonment.

Léster Luis González Pentón, freelance
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

A court in the central province of Villa Clara sentenced independent freelance reporter González Pentón in April 2003 to 20 years in prison under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for acting against "the independence or the territorial integrity of the state."The youngest of the imprisoned Cuban journalists, González Pentón, 32, was being held in 2009 at La Pendiente Prison in the northern city of Santa Clara, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. González Pentón suffered from stomach problems, according to Laura Pollán Toledo, a human rights activist and wife of imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. He was allowed occasional visits to his home for good behavior, she said.

Iván Hernández Carrillo, Patria
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Hernández Carrillo, a reporter for the independent news agency Patria in the western city of Colón, was sentenced in April 2003 to 25 years in prison under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy. In 1992, he had been given a two-year prison sentence for allegedly "distributing enemy propaganda and disrespecting Fidel Castro." Hernández Carrillo, 38, was being held at Guamajal Prison in Santa Clara province in 2009. He suffered from hypertension and gastritis. On April 14, Hernández Carrillo went on a 10-day hunger strike to protest the conditions of his imprisonment, his mother, Asunción Carrillo, said. Prison authorities encouraged other inmates to harass and attack him, he told his mother.

Alfredo Pulido López, El Mayor
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Cuban authorities arrested Pulido López, director of the independent news agency El Mayor in Camagüey, in March 2003. A month later, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison under Article 91 of the penal code, accused of acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state."In 2009, the journalist was being held at Kilo 7 Prison in his home province along with more than 100 hardened criminals, his wife, Rebecca Rodríguez Souto, told CPJ. The cell's ventilation was poor, and he shared the restroom facilities with the other inmates, she said. She told CPJ that she was able to visit him once a month and take food and medicine to him. Pulido López, 49, suffered from chronic bronchitis, gastritis, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. In 2009, his respiratory ailments worsened significantly from the high humidity and poor ventilation, his wife said. She told CPJ that her husband was receiving medical treatment for his respiratory condition only.

Omar Rodríguez Saludes, Nueva Prensa Cubana
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Rodríguez Saludes, director of the Havana-based independent news agency Nueva Prensa Cubana, was arrested in March 2003 and summarily tried in April under Article 91 of Cuba's penal code for "acting against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state." Cuban authorities handed him a 27-year prison sentence. Rodríguez Saludes, 44, was a well-known photographer who also reported and wrote. He was being held at Toledo Prison in Havana, where he was allowed just one visit every month, according to Laura Pollán Toledo, a human rights activist and wife of imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. According to his wife, Ileana Marrero Joa, the journalist had been diagnosed with gastrointestinal problems and hypertension.

Mijaíl Barzaga Lugo, Agencia Noticiosa Cubana
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Barzaga Lugo, a reporter for the independent news agency Agencia Noticiosa Cubana, was arrested in March 2003 and accused the following month of violating Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy. Cuban authorities handed him a 15-year prison sentence. Barzaga Lugo was being held at 1580 Prison in the municipality of San Miguel del Padrón, according to Laura Pollán Toledo, a human rights activist and wife of imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. She said the reporter suffered from skin ailments made acute by prison conditions; he did not receive medical treatment for the problem.

Adolfo Fernández Saínz, Patria
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

In March 2003, Cuban state security agents raided the Havana home of Fernández Saínz, correspondent for the independent news agency Patria, and then arrested the journalist. He was tried under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy in April. In June of that year, Cuba's highest court, the People's Supreme Tribunal, upheld his conviction and his 15-year prison sentence.Fernández Saínz, 60, was being held at Canaleta Prison in central Ciego de Ávila province, 250 miles (400 kilometers) from his home, CPJ research shows. Prison authorities allowed him family visits once every two months. His wife, Julia Núñez Pacheco, told CPJ that traveling to the prison was difficult and very expensive. A one-way bus ticket cost 85 Cuban pesos (US$3.75), a large portion of the average Cuban monthly salary of 480 Cuban pesos (US$21). Conditions in Canaleta Prison were very poor, Núñez Pacheco told CPJ. Her husband was housed in a barracks with roughly 40 other inmates with almost no air circulation and bad hygiene. Food was inadequate and often inedible, she said. He suffered from chronic hypertension, emphysema, osteoporosis, prostate ailments, and four kidney cysts, and received scant medical attention.

Alfredo Felipe Fuentes, freelance
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Fuentes, an economist by training, began working for the Cuban independent press in 1991. On March 19, 2003, he was arrested after a raid on his home in the city of Artemisa. The next month, the freelance reporter was convicted of violating Article 91 of the Cuban penal code, which imposes harsh penalties for acting against "the independence or the territorial integrity of the state." A judge in western Havana province handed him a 26-year prison sentence.The 60-year-old journalist was being held at the maximum-security Guanajay Prison, his wife, Loyda Valdés González, told CPJ. Valdés González, who is allowed to visit her husband only once every 45 days, said conditions at Guanajay were better than those at other prisons where he had been held. Due to his severe back problems, the reporter did not share a cell with other prisoners. Valdés González said her husband suffered from chronic gastritis that caused him to lose significant amounts of weight.Valdés González told CPJ that in December 2007, her husband presented an appeal to Cuba's Supreme Tribunal Court. Because Cuban authorities denied Fuentes access to a lawyer, he did so without benefit of counsel. After two years, the court had still not responded to him, Valdés González told CPJ.

Normando Hernández González, Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Hernández González was arrested in March 2003 as part of the massive crackdown on Cuba's dissidents and independent press. The director of the news agency Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey was sentenced the following month to 25 years in prison under Article 91 of the penal code. Hernández González was held in an isolation cell at the maximum-security Kilo 7 Prison in his home province of Camagüey for much of the year, his mother, Blanca González, told CPJ. He spent all but two hours a week alone, and received family visits only once every 45 days, she said. The journalist was diagnosed with intestinal ailments, and has suffered from pneumonia and knee problems so severe that even standing was difficult, his mother said. In November, doctors also diagnosed Hernández González with several cardiovascular ailments.Hernández González was moved to the hospital at Combinado del Este Prison in late October, said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a formerly jailed journalist. His wife, Yaraí Reyes Marín, told CPJ that she requested medical parole for her husband in July 2006, but Cuban authorities did not respond.

Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

In March 2003, Herrera Acosta was arrested during the massive crackdown on Cuba's dissidents and independent press. A Cuban court sentenced him a month later to 20 years in prison under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy. Herrera Acosta, Guantánamo correspondent for the independent news agency Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental, was being held at the eastern Holguín Provincial Prison in 2009, independent Cuban journalist Miriam Leyva told CPJ. She also said that the reporter was diagnosed with diabetes. His wife, Ileana Danger Hardy, told CPJ that he suffered from psychological ailments. According to Leyva, those problems became more acute over the course of 2009.

José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Izquierdo Hernández, a reporter in western Havana for the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, was sentenced in April 2003 to 16 years in prison for acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" under Article 91 of the penal code. Following an appeal the next month, the People's Supreme Tribunal Court upheld his conviction. In 2009, he was being held at the Guanajay Prison in his home province. Izquierdo Hernández was diagnosed with severe depression, digestive ailments, circulatory problems, emphysema, and asthma, according to Laura Pollán Toledo, wife of fellow imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez.

Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Several state security agents raided Maseda Gutiérrez's home on the second day of the March 2003 crackdown on Cuba's dissidents and independent press. Following a closed-door summary trial the following month, the reporter was charged under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" and Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In June of that year, Cuba's highest court, the People's Supreme Tribunal, dismissed his appeal. An engineer with a graduate degree in nuclear physics, Maseda Gutiérrez began working as an independent journalist in 1995, according to his wife, Laura Pollán Toledo. Maseda Gutiérrez was a founding member of the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro. In 2009, the reporter was being held at the maximum-security Agüica Prison in western Matanzas province, Pollán Toledo said. She said Maseda Gutiérrez was allowed family visits once every 45 days. CPJ research found that he continued to report on jail conditions and human rights violations from prison. In 2008, Maseda Gutiérrez was awarded CPJ's International Press Freedom Award. The 66-year-old reporter, the oldest of the imprisoned Cuban journalists, suffered from high blood pressure and a skin condition, his wife said. The skin problems worsened over 2009, but Maseda Gutiérrez did not receive medical treatment, she said.

Pablo Pacheco Ávila, Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

On March 19, 2003, state security agents raided the home of Pacheco Ávila, a reporter for the local independent news agency Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes, in central Ciego de Ávila. He was convicted in April under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's Independence and Economy for committing acts "aiming at subverting the internal order of the nation and destroying its political, economic, and social system," and sentenced to 20 years in prison.Pacheco Ávila, 39, was being held at Canaleta Prison in his home province, his wife, Oleyvis García Echemendía, told CPJ. She said her husband was in generally good health despite having been diagnosed last year with high blood pressure, acute gastritis, and kidney problems. He was housed in a barracks with at least 30 other prisoners.On March 20, the sixth anniversary of Pacheco Ávila's arrest, prison authorities granted him a 24-hour home furlough for good behavior. In an interview with U.S.-based Radio Martí, Pacheco Ávila said that while at home, he was able to see his wife and 10-year-old son, and speak by phone with other jailed reporters and family members in other parts of Cuba and abroad.

Fabio Prieto Llorente, freelance
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Prieto Llorente, a freelance reporter in western Isla de la Juventud, was arrested in March 2003 during the massive crackdown on the Cuban independent press. In April of that year, a local court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for violating Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy.Prieto Llorente was being held in solitary confinement at El Guayabo Prison in his home province, his sister, Clara Lourdes Prieto Llorente, told CPJ. In a January 7 letter to Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz, the reporter said his cell measured just 10 feet (three meters) by six and a half feet (two meters), and his meals consisted of spoiled and burned "animal products." According to his sister, the journalist has been diagnosed with allergies, emphysema, back problems, high blood pressure, and depression. He was allowed visits from two family members every two months, his sister told CPJ. In 2009, Prieto Llorente actively reported on and protested prison conditions. His stories, published on overseas news Web sites, detailed such issues as the brutal punishment inflicted on other inmates by prison guards, and the "slave-like" work that authorities imposed on prisoners. In February, he waged a hunger strike to call attention to the situation at El Guayabo, the Miami-based news Web site Payolibre reported.

Omar Ruiz Hernández, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Ruiz Hernández, a reporter for the Havana-based independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro in the province of Villa Clara, was arrested on March 19, 2003, during the massive crackdown on the island's dissidents and independent press. He was sentenced in April to 18 years in prison for acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code. The reporter, 62, was being held in Nieves Morejón Prison in the central province of Sancti Spíritus, 40 miles (65 kilometers) from his home, his wife, Bárbara Maritza Rojo Arias, told CPJ. He shared quarters with 11 prisoners in a small barracks, she said. The quarters, which he was rarely permitted to leave, had no ventilation and poor lighting. Rojo Arias said other living conditions—including his meals—improved at the prison over the course of 2009. He was allowed a family visit of two hours every two months, his wife told CPJ.Ruiz Hernández suffered from depression and loss of eyesight. He was also diagnosed with high blood pressure, circulatory problems, and chronic gastrointestinal ailments. Rojo Arias told CPJ that her husband was being treated by prison doctors and that she was allowed to provide him with additional medication.

Oscar Sánchez Madan, freelance
Imprisoned: April 13, 2007

In early 2007, Sánchez Madan was detained twice and warned to stop working for the independent press after he covered a local corruption scandal and social problems in western Matanzas province, where he lived. He was arrested in April 2007 and, after a one-day trial, Cuban authorities convicted him of "social dangerousness," a vague charge contained in Article 72 of the penal code. The reporter was handed the maximum prison sentence of four years. In 2009, the reporter was being held at the maximum-security Combinado del Sur Prison, outside the provincial capital of Matanzas, according to CPJ research. His neighbor, Juan Francisco Sigler, told CPJ that prison conditions were very poor. The reporter's mother was allowed to visit once every 45 days, CPJ research shows. Sánchez Madan continued to report on human rights violations from prison, Sigler said. Prison authorities threatened retaliation, saying they would do everything in their power to keep him jailed if he continued to write, Sigler told CPJ. On at least one occasion, inmates beat the journalist severely at the encouragement of authorities. As further retaliation, the reporter was sent to solitary confinement for weeks at a time, according to Sigler.

Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, Havana Press
Imprisoned: April 18, 2009

Police arrested Du Bouchet Hernández, director of the Havana-based independent news agency Habana Press, while he was visiting relatives outside Havana. Officers alleged that the journalist was shouting antigovernment slogans in the street.In May, Du Bouchet Hernández was convicted in a summary trial on charges of "disrespect" and distribution of enemy propaganda, and sentenced to three years in prison. Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana, told CPJ that the journalist was not allowed a defense lawyer. Miriam Herrera, an independent journalist based in Havana, told CPJ that Du Bouchet Hernández had reported on social issues, which could have upset local authorities. In 2005, Du Bouchet Hernández had been jailed on "disrespect" charges and sentenced to one year in prison after he enraged authorities with his coverage of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society. The two-day gathering, unprecedented in Cuba, brought together 200 opposition activists and guests in May 2005 to discuss ways to create democracy in Cuba. Du Bouchet Hernández was released in August 2006 after completing his sentence.

What Medicine Embargo?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Anti-sanctions advocates repeatedly argue that U.S. policy hurts the Cuban people, claiming that it denies them the ability to purchase and receive medicine and health care equipment.

Even well-intentioned human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, periodically fall into this rhetorical trap.

For its part, the Castro regime -- taking full advantage of this misguided criticism -- has gone as far as labeling U.S. policy "genocidal" -- a tragic irony for a regime that has overseen the imprisonment, execution and disappearance in the Florida Straits of approximately 10% of its population, and the exile of another 10%.

Last week, the AP wrote a story on this issue, which makes two very important points:


U.S. law exempted medicine and health care supplies from the embargo in 1992. It also lifted the ban on agricultural exports in 2000 and is now Cuba's biggest supplier of food — $710 million worth last year.

And secondly,

The U.S. Commerce Department says it takes only about 14 days to get a license to export medical supplies to Cuba — about twice as fast as for ordinary exports to other countries.

That's right, your read it correctly, it says "twice as fast."

Click here for the entire article.

Senator Menendez Discusses TV Marti

State Department on Detained American

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
From the State Department's press briefing with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Ian Kelly:

QUESTION: Ian, can you discuss the case of the American contractor arrested in Cuba apparently distributing electronic devices? Is this sort of standard practice for U.S. officials, and do we always contract such things?

MR. KELLY: Well, we're not going to discuss the details of this case. And I told you why on Friday we're not going to. What I will say is that we, of course, are – first of all, let me just say about consular access, we're trying to get access to the individual involved. And we would expect the Government of Cuba to honor its obligations under the Vienna Convention on consular affairs and grant consular access. So we are calling on the Cuban Government to do that in a very expeditious way. But I don't want to comment on any of the details of this, what would he may or may not have been doing, simply because we don't want to cause any harm, frankly.

QUESTION: How long has the State Department been aware that the guy has – was detained?

MR. KELLY: I believe we were informed on December 5th that he had been detained.

QUESTION: And do you know how long? Was he detained on December 5th or before?

MR. KELLY: It's my understanding that we were informed the same day. It may have been with a day's lag time, but it was fairly quickly after that.

QUESTION: There is any negotiations now with the Cuban Government about him?

MR. KELLY: Any negotiations?

QUESTION: Well, any discussions?

MR. KELLY: Well, we have a – I mean, we have diplomats in Havana, obviously. And we are – right now, we're very focused on the consular access issue of this, trying to get consular officers in to see this individual and ensure that his conditions are appropriate and that his legal rights are respected.

QUESTION: Ian, would you just go through why you don't want to talk about this case? It's kind of – you've talked about a lot of the others ones today so far. Why not this one?

MR. KELLY: Well, it's very simple. I mean, I can talk in general terms about the way that we handle these kinds of cases in terms of consular access. I can talk in general terms about our calls to open up Cuban society, to support democracy in Cuba. We have a number of programs that are very open and are all available on the internet to try and foster the growth of civil society. But as I said on Friday, I just can't talk about the individual details of an American citizen in this case.

QUESTION: Well, but yet you can say that charges that don't yet exist or that you know that – that you don't know yet exist against three Americans in Iran are spurious. You can't say that this guy wasn't doing anything wrong?

MR. KELLY: We haven't had access to this individual to see what kind of public stance that this individual wants us to take on his case. And so until we've had that access, I want to respect his legal right to privacy.

QUESTION: That's – so that's the only reason?

MR. KELLY: That is the only reason.