The Castro's War Against Youth

Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Video Sheds Light on Raúl Castro's Strict Approach
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, (IPS) - In another demonstration that it is impossible to hide anything in this socialist Caribbean island nation, the hottest video in Cuba today appears to show President Raúl Castro's determination to root out certain vices and disloyalties, regardless of the rank of the people involved.

While details of the scandal spread rapidly by word of mouth, not much is being said about the lessons arising from what was undoubtedly one of the most difficult situations faced by the Cuban government since the June 2006 retirement of former president Fidel Castro for health reasons.

As told to IPS by several members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), Raúl Castro's moves were aimed at eliminating "test tube" leaders – a term that refers to young people who leapt from youth organizations to powerful positions - and at putting an end to parallel structures of power in order to strengthen the country’s institutions.

Click here for all the gritty details.

Is Cuba Contractually Sound?

The World Bank has just released its 2009 "Worldwide Governance Indicators," which assesses the way people are governed in more than 200 countries.

Amongst the dimensions of governance analyzed are "regulatory quality," which measures the ability of the government to provide sound policies and regulations that enable and promote private sector development and the "rule of law," which is the confidence in the legal system and the compliance with established standards. 
 
And the worst country in the Western Hemisphere is -- surprise -- Cuba.

Charlatan of the Year

There are no limits to the unabashed hypocrisy of Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

At yesterday's meeting of Central American heads of state in Managua, Nicaragua, Castro stated:

"The right of the Honduran people to express themselves politically was trampled."

And even more astounding,

"[The conflict] transcends the borders of Honduras and is an expression of the danger of returning to a past of military dictatorships."

Raul Castro needs to take a deep, introspective look.

29 "Confused" Congressmen

Last week, the "Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment Act of 2009" (H.R. 3012) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives with 107 cosponsors. This legislation seeks to review and renegotiate existing trade agreements -- mostly with democratic allies -- and strengthen the role of Congress in trade policymaking, to ensure that core labor standards (as defined under the Conventions of the International Labor Organization ("ILO")) and fundamental human rights (as defined by the U.N. Convention of Human Rights) are being upheld by the U.S.'s trading partners.

Yet ironically, of the 107 cosponsors of this trade legislation, 29 are simultaneously cosponsors of the "United States-Cuba Trade Normalization Act of 2009," which was introduced by U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois, who lavished praise on the Castro dictatorship after an April visit to the island.

Needless to say, Cuba remains one of the world's top violators -- alongside Burma, Iran and North Korea -- of the ILO's Conventions and the U.N. Conventions of Human Rights, which the latter legislation doesn't even bother mentioning once.

So who are these 29 "confused" Congressmen that seek to review trade policy with democratic allies, but want to normalize trade relations with the Cuban dictatorship:

Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii
Robert Brady of Pennsylvania
Mike Capuano of Massachusetts
Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri
Steve Cohen of Tennessee
John Conyers of Michigan
Jerry Costello of Illinois
Elijah Cummings of Maryland
Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts
Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut
Keith Ellison of Minnesota
Bob Filner of California
Marcia Fudge of Ohio
Al Green of Texas
Raul Grijalva of Arizona
Maurice Hinchey of New York
Hank Johnson of Georgia
Marcy Kaptur of Ohio
Dale Kildee of Michigan
Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan
Dennis Kucinich of Ohio
Barbara Lee of California
Betsy McCollum of Minnesota
Gwen Moore of Wisconsin
Donald Payne of New Jersey
Jan Schakowsky of Illinois
Bart Stupak of Michigan
Maxine Waters of California
Lynn Woolsey of California

Like Peas in a Pod

Monday, June 29, 2009
Over the weekend, Iranian paramilitary Basij forces staged nightly raids in Tehran, invading private homes and beating residents in an attempt to stop protests against Iran's disputed election, Human Rights Watch reported.

Meanwhile, 18 members of the Cuban regime’s Rapid Response Brigade raided the home of independent journalist Pedro Enrique Martínez in Santiago de Cuba province, according to Cubanet.

As shown here, the Rapid Response Brigades are the Cuban regime's paramilitary wing, similar to Iran's Basij.

A Relationship of Mutual Co-Dependence

The Chávez-Castro Connection Lies in a Now Forgotten Chapter of the Cold War

By Brian Nelson

Many are calling Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez “Castro’s Heir”—a man destined to be the perpetual thorn in the side of the United States just as Castro has been for the last 50 years.

Like Castro, Hugo Chávez wants to expel U.S. interests from Latin America while simultaneously expanding his own brand of socialism. But unlike Castro, Hugo Chávez has the massive profits from Venezuela’s oil industry to actually make a difference. In 2007 alone Chávez gave $8.8 billion in aid to his Latin American neighbors (the U.S. gave only $1.6 billion, most of it earmarked for Colombia). What’s more, Chávez has set up four TV stations to broadcast his ideological message and has even given aid to the Colombian FARC.

For an in-depth analysis of the historical underpinnings, and the mutual co-dependency, of this dangerous relationship, please visit the History News Network.

Insulza's Nefarious Legacy

On September 11th, 2001, the Inter-American Democratic Charter ("Charter") was signed by 34 out of 35 nations of the Western Hemisphere.

Article I of the Charter stated that "the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it."

This was an awesome achievement for a region that had been plagued by dictatorships, of the left and the right, throughout its modern history.

Unfortunately, Organization of American States ("OAS") Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza began the process of dismantling the Charter by stubbornly seeking to admit the hemisphere's dictatorial anomaly, the 35th nation, Castro's Cuba, into the regional body.

On June 3rd of this year, Secretary General Insulza succeeded in this effort, and the Cuban dictatorship's expulsion was revoked with no mention of the Charter.

On Saturday night, the door that Insulza opened for the Cuban dictatorship was stepped into by the Honduran military.

Who will be next?

Will military forces in Ecuador and Bolivia now feel emboldened to oust their divisive Presidents, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales? Or will this be used as an excuse by Hugo Chavez to finalize the dictatorial process in Venezuela and push his Ecuadorean and Bolivian allies to do the same?

Whatever the future holds, this remains the nefarious legacy of Insulza.

The Eye-Rubbing Hypocrisy of the OAS

Sunday, June 28, 2009
The Organization of American States ("OAS"), which refused to directly reference the Inter-American Democratic Charter ("Charter") in its June 3rd resolution revoking the expulsion of the Cuban dictatorship, promptly issued a resolution strongly condemning the military ouster of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.

Please note the following eye-rubbing excerpts:

THE PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES,

REITERATING the principles established in the Charter of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Democratic Charter on the strengthening and preservation of the democratic institutional system in member states, and

RECALLING CP/RES. 952 (1699/09) of June 26, 2009, relative to the situation in Honduras,

RESOLVES:

4. To instruct the Secretary General of the OAS to urgently attend the meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA), that will take place in Managua, Nicaragua, and in accordance with Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to carry out all necessary consultations with the member states of the Organization.

6. To immediately convene a special session of the OAS General Assembly to take place at the headquarters of the Organization, on Tuesday, June 30, 2009, to take whatever decisions it considers appropriate, in accordance with the Charter of the Organization of American States, international law, and the provisions of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Even more hypocritical is the statement by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who rabidly advocated for the Cuban dictatorship's readmission to the OAS, regardless of the Charter:

"I'm deeply worried about the situation in Honduras. It reminds us of the worst years in Latin America's history. We will demand that the OAS [Organization of American States] fully comply with the democratic charter that requires unconditional respect for democracy and, above all, the restoration of the Honduran president."

Why do these regional leaders only refuse to recognize the repressed rights of the Cuban people to live under the democratic tenets that the Charter protects for its own populations?

The Honduran Coup, Cuba & the OAS

Less than a month after the Organization of American States (OAS) tacitly ignored the Inter-American Democratic Charter in order to open its doors to the sole remaining dictatorship in the hemisphere, the Castro's Cuba, a military coup has taken place.

Ironically, it has taken place in Honduras, where the OAS Ministerial that revoked Cuba's ouster took place on June 3rd, and it has swept from power President Manuel Zelaya, who gloated about the magnanimity of the effort to readmit Cuba's dictatorship.

During the debate over the Castro's readmission to the OAS, it was continuously argued --including by Capitol Hill Cubans -- that tacitly ignoring the Inter-American Democratic Charter could potentially open a Pandora's Box that would lead to a resurgance of military dictatorships -- from the left and the right -- throughout Latin America.

The State Department's spokesman now says, "we urge all sides to seek a consensual democratic resolution in the current political impasse that adheres to the Honduran constitution and to Honduran laws consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. And we think that the OAS has an important role to play here, and we urge the OAS to take all appropriate actions necessary to uphold the provisions in the charter."

Unfortunately, the OAS no longer has credibility in upholding the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

It seems President Zelaya has just reaped what he helped sow.

School of Tyrannical Scoundrels

There seems to be a pattern in the absurd accusations made by officials of the Iranian and Cuban dictatorships:  
 
Here's Mohammad Hassan Ghadiri, Iran's Ambassador to Mexico, claiming that the CIA was responsible for the death of Iranian pro-democracy activist, Neda Soltan:
 
"These are the methods that terrorists, the CIA and spy agencies employ.  Naturally, they would like to see blood spilled in these demonstrations, so that they can use it against the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is of the common methods that the CIA employs in various countries."
 
Now here's Ricardo Alarcon, head of Cuba's National Assembly and a member of Castro's Council of State, on the arrest of Cuban pro-democracy leaders:
 
"The US-Cuba program [Plan for Assistance to a Free Cuba], includes secret ops of the CIA, going on for years, and the new policy of promoting and fabricating an opposition inside Cuba working openly through AID.  Do you expect to have all that without a legal reaction from Cuba?"

Must be from the "Slandering Dissent 101" curriculum.

When Faced With an Inflexible Regime

Saturday, June 27, 2009
Last week, Yoani Sanchez, Cuba's "Generation Y" blogger, told Reuters that change in Cuba was "inevitable," as the people were visibly losing their fear to challenge the regime.
 
This week, Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, Cuban writer, former editor of the Catholic publication "Vitral" and civil society activist, echoed that sentiment in an interview with Radio Marti:
 
"When faced with a regime that has declared itself inflexible, people lose their fear.  They are finding means to express themselves without taboos regarding the critical social, political and economic crisis facing the nation."
 
As regards, the pro-democracy protests in Iran, Valdes added:
 
"What is taking place in Iran is proof that no authority can repress the free spirit of mankind."

Student Disappointed in Obama

To the Editor of The Washington Post:

As one of the young people who watched President Obama's campaign sweep the nation last year with promises of "change" and "hope," I was disappointed that the president wouldn't grant an audience to Bertha Antúnez, a representative for the Cuban dissidents who were awarded the National Endowment for Democracy's annual Democracy Award ["Cuba Dissidents Win Award but Not Obama Audience," June 25].

While Mr. Obama's statement on the awards was strong, it rings hollow without action. How can pro-democracy Cubans feel hopeful and fight for change when someone who should be their greatest ally won't spare a few minutes to listen to their plight? It would appear that Mr. Obama isn't really interested in spreading the messages he campaigned on to Cuba.

The article mentioned Mr. Obama's campaign statement that "libertad" would be the focus of his relations with Cuba. Who better to discuss the meaning of liberty, particularly in Cuba, than dissidents who haven't been able to experience it? Perhaps it would be wise for the Obama administration to take its cues on Cuba from those who have experienced brutal oppression instead of from Cuban diplomats.

Mr. Obama should make the time to meet with a freedom fighter who should be admired by all Americans for her and her family's dedication to democracy and liberty.

BRITTNEY MORRETT
Vice President, George Washington University Students for a Free Cuba
Washington, D.C.

The Contagion Effect of Iran's Protests

Apparently Raul Castro fears there may be some striking resemblances between pro-democracy movements in Iran and Cuba:

BEIJING -- The authoritarian governments of China, Cuba, Myanmar and Venezuela have been selectively censoring the news out of Iran, out of fear that history might repeat itself.

In 1988-90, amid a lesser global economic slump, pro-democracy protests that appeared to draw inspiration from one another broke out in Eastern Europe, Myanmar, China and elsewhere. Not all evolved into revolutions, but communist regimes fell in a broad swath of countries.

A similar infectiousness has shown up in acts of defiance by democracy advocates around the world this week.

In China, commentators tinted their blogs and Twitters green to show their support for Iranians disputing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election. The deaths of at least 20 people in violent clashes in Tehran have drawn comparisons online to "June 4," the date of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing in 1989.

In Cuba, President Raul Castro's government has imposed a blackout of news surrounding the Iranian elections. But developments are trickling through, anyway.

In Myanmar, the junta's mouthpiece, the New Light of Myanmar, has drowned out news from Tehran with articles on bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan. But some of the nearly 200 private journals have seized on the topic as a way to pass subversive messages to readers.

In Venezuela, where protests against President Hugo Chavez are common, Juan Mejia, 22, said he found the protests in Iran stirring.

"We believe that if the people of the world raise their voices loudly enough -- in Iran, as we do it here in Venezuela -- then surely we will have a better world."

-- The Washington Post

A Mother Pleads For Her Son's Life

Friday, June 26, 2009
Ariel Sigler Amaya, one of 75 Cuban pro-democracy leaders imprisoned during the repressive "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003, is gravely ill at the Ariza Hospital in Cienfuegos. His condition has seriously deteriorated in the last few months.

Ariel’s mother, Gloria Amaya, was able to see him briefly last week and was devastated by his frailty. Shortly after her visit, she recorded the following heartbreaking statement (the original recording can be heard in Spanish below):

“My son is dying... my son is dying... please don’t let my son die... Mommy, he says, there's no place left for them to inject me anymore…. he is a cadaver... I plead for justice… for justice to be made... because my son is going to die there, and before my son dies, I ask this government here, this government that does not deserve anything, to issue a parole to all the sick prisoners, because there are many who are sick, a lot of them... they say that there are none, that there are no political prisoners of conscience, that there are none, that all of them are common prisoners... that’s a huge lie, my God... let a human rights observer come here... and let them visit the jails, let them come to the hospitals... and let them see the way they are dying... not for lack of things that one brings to them, because we take whatever we can... but for lack of medical assistance, they have to give it to him, it's the way it should be, they have to give it to him because he is a human being... it is a human being, not an animal... they have my son in a hole, they have him in a part of the hospital, where they are not permitted to see anybody, not to talk to anybody, so no one can communicate with him... I was allowed to see him for only twenty minutes and they didn’t let me talk anything with him... this is criminal... it’s criminal what they are doing... my son, who had always been as strong as an oak, my son went in there strong, big and in good shape, and now he is weak, skinny, he is a skeleton... I implore you, all the community outside Cuba, to please do something for him... to President Barack Obama, to the European Union, to all the Congress people there... this government here is trying to finish them, they are being killed slowly... I am a mother who has been suffering since my son was imprisoned... he entered healthy and now look at the way my son is... my son is dying... my son is dying... don’t let my son die."


A Sobering Reminder

DEATHS ATTRIBUTED TO THE CUBAN REGIME IN 2008
Not including disappearances or fatalities in exit attempts by sea

Despite persecution, fear of reprisal, and material/logistical limitations, Cuba's human rights' activists and independent journalists issue reports, from which the following information has been taken. The list below is not considered exhaustive, as reporting from many prisons and other locations inside Cuba is not possible and Cuba Archive may not have yet had access to some reports from the island.

Details and sources on all cases listed below are available at www.CubaArchive.org.

23 Deaths in Prison from Lack of Medical Care and/or Malnourishment

6 at Ariza Prison, Cienfuegos:

Leonardo Delgado Díaz, Age 62. 3/2/2008.
Yslandis Gómez Izquierdo, Age 23. 2008.
Jorge Luis Jiménez Andino, Age 35. 4/30/2008.
Genry Ordoñez Quiñones. January 2008.
Gustavo Pérez Rodríguez, Age 48. 5/14/2008.
Maximiliano Troncoso Aguilar, Age 54. 4/17/2008.

4 at Combinado Prison, Guantánamo:

Pascual Cobas Gaínza, Age 41. 2/21/2008.
Pascual Correa, Age 35. 2/23/2008.
Neuvis Ortíz Machado, Age 36. 4/19/2008.
Tomás Pantoja Rodríguez. 2/16/2008.

3 at Kilo 7 Prison, Camaguey:

Ismario Alvarez Andrade, Age 31. 1/28/2008.
Dennis Pupo Zamora, Age 31. 1/11/2008.
Rafael Sierra García, Age 41. 2/23/2008.

2 at Combinado del Este Prison, Havana:

Humberto Alvarez Chile, Age 40. 4/24/ 2008.
Edgar Wilson Bonbal Rojas, Age 23. April 2008.

2 at Valle Grande Prison, Havana:

Isaac Alcántara, Age 29. 5/29/2008.
Félix Oscar Campos Castañeda, Age 47. 3/252008.

6 at other prisons:

Luis González Días, 4/19/2008. Cuba Sí Prison, Holguín.
Alexander Márquez Consuegra, Age 38. 8/22/2008. Kilo 9 Prison, Camaguey.
Osmel Pedroso Pérez, Age 31. 4/9/2008. Canaleta Prison, Ciego de Avila.
Jorge Ramírez Montesino, Age 50. 3/22/2008. Kilo 5 Prison, Pinar del Río.
Israel Torres González, Age 37. 4/19/2008. Las Mangas Prison, Granma.
Andrés Vázquez Rodríguez, Age 57. 3/24/2008. Guanajay Prison, Havana.

11 Reported Suicides in Prison
*Some may be extrajudicial killings.

Fiss Casa Fábrega, Age 35. 6/5/2008. Cerámica Roja Prison, Camaguey.
Diosmel Castillo Martín, Age 25. 5/15/2008. Quivacán prison, Havana.
José Antonio Delgado Cabrera. 6/24/2008. Canaleta Prison, Ciego de Avila.
Florencio Deronselé, Age 36. 11/7/2008. Mar Verde Prison, Santiago de Cuba.
Leonardo García Rivero, Age 37. 6/24/2008. Kilo 8 Prison, Pinar del Río.
Juan Aparicio González, Age 60. 6/15/2008. Las Mangas prison, Granma.
Fernando Hurtado Carrillo, Age 47. 4/5/2008. Ariza Prison, Cienfuegos.
Juan Carlos Padilla Cabrera. 10/5/2008. Ariza Prison, Cienfuegos.
Eddy Pérez Caballero. 9/16/2008. Guamajal-Hombre Prison, Villa Clara.
Michael Santos Depara, Age 29. 4/1/2008. Las Mangas Prison, Granma.
Eliecer Vergara Pino. 1/30/2008. La Pendiente Prison, Villa Clara.

2 Presumed Extrajudicial Killings

Misael García Medina, Age 33. 9/17/2008, Combinado del Este prison, Havana. Shot to death in an escape attempt in the first perimeter surrounding the prison, where firing at escapees is forbidden.
Liborio Borroto Monroe, 11/19/2008. Jatibonico, Sancti Spiritus. Human rights activist run over by a horse-driven cart in a suspicious accident.

2 Deaths from Accidents Due to Negligence

Rey Ramón Gómez Alvarez, January 2008. Canaleta Prison, Ciego de Avila.
Gabriel Sánchez Sánchez, 9/13/2008. Kilo 7 Prison, Camaguey.

A Cuban Labor Activist's Courage

Letter to the Editor of The Washington Post:

The Post criticized President Obama for not inviting to the White House Bertha Antúnez, who accepted the Democracy Award, which honored five Cuban leaders of the pro-democracy movement who are imprisoned in Cuba ["A Dissident Deflected," editorial, June 25].

I share your outrage.

But the Post failed to mention a most courageous honoree, a leader of the Cuban independent labor movement, Iván Hernández Carrillo, who is serving a 25-year prison term since his arrest in 2003. Mr. Hernández Carrillo is imprisoned for the "crime" of organizing unions not beholden to the communist-controlled Cuban Labor Confederation.

Mr. Hernández Carrillo is one of seven other labor leaders imprisoned for the same "crime." The Post should have acknowledged that labor activists in Cuba also risk their lives for freedom.

JACK OTERO
Committee for Free Trade Unionism
Washington, D.C.

Stick to Miami Beach and Hawaii

Amid warnings that the United States loses tourism dollars to overseas rivals, U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota became the main sponsor of legislation to create a five-year national tourism promotion campaign. The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that doesn't have these types of campaigns at the national level, which seek to lure tourists from all over the world to come visit the U.S. (and contribute to the U.S. economy), and to encourage U.S. tourists to discover the vast natural wonders and diversity of their own nation.

Ironically, Senator Dorgan is also the main sponsor of legislation seeking to authorize U.S. tourism travel to Cuba, with it repressive regime and apartheid beach resorts, where Cuban nationals are denied access.

Who knows? Senator Dorgan might even want the U.S. tourism campaign to encourage tourist travel to Castro's Cuba, instead of within the U.S.

Senator, please stick to Miami Beach and Hawaii. At least for the sake of the U.S. economy.

Concern Over Iran-Latin America Ties

Thursday, June 25, 2009
General Douglas Fraser, the new head of the US Southern Command, says Iran's heavy presence in Latin America is a "potential risk" to US interests in the region.

After taking office in 2005, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expanded Iran's cooperation with many Latin American states, including Venezuela and Cuba.

Message to the U.S. Congress

Yesterday, five courageous Cuban pro-democracy leaders were recognized by the National Endowment for Democracy ("NED") with its 2009 Democracy Award. Please see this brief encapsulation from the Washington Post, which highlights their important message to the U.S. Congress:

Former House minority leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), chairman of the endowment, presented the award at a ceremony in the Cannon House Office Building attended by lawmakers. In the past, the group has given the prize to Chinese democracy activists, Afghan civic workers and such luminaries as Havel.

The presentation included a video about the five Cubans, in which one of them, labor activist Iván Hernández Carrillo, spoke in a phone call from prison. "Congressmen, I thank you for this recognition because it reminds us that we are not simply malcontents but fighters for democracy," he said.

[NED President Carl] Gershman said Carillo lost his once-a-month phone privilege for six months after the call.

Antúnez, who moved to Miami a year ago, said she was disappointed not to meet Obama. "What I'd like is to have the opportunity to tell the president about the situation of the country . . . and tell him of the hope the Cubans have placed in him," she said in an interview. She added that she hoped Obama would not alter the traditional U.S. hard line on Cuba, because "any change could give strength to the government."

Her brother, Jorge Luis García Pérez, is an Afro-Cuban dissident who was released from jail in 2007 after 17 years. His wife, Iris Pérez Aguilera, who is also black, leads a group called the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights.

The other two recipients were José Daniel Ferrer García, a youth activist from the Christian Liberation Movement; and Librado Linares García, founder of the Cuban Reflection Movement, a human rights organization. Both are in jail.

From the Washington Post Editorial Board

A Dissident Deflected
Why doesn't President Obama have time for Cuba's pro-democracy opposition?

FOR ITS winners, the National Endowment for Democracy's annual Democracy Award can mean a brief respite from a dangerous life as a dissident: a trip to Washington, attention from Congress and the media, and -- during the Bush and Clinton administrations -- an Oval Office meeting or statement of support from the president. No such luck for this year's honorees, who are five leaders of Cuba's pro-democracy movement. Two of them -- Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera and Jorge Luis García Pérez -- were detained in the Cuban town of Placetas on Tuesday when they joined a peaceful meeting of the Rosa Parks Women's Movement for Civil Rights. A third, Librado Linares García, who is already imprisoned, was moved to a punishment cell before yesterday's Capitol Hill award ceremony.

None were able to travel to Washington. They have been represented here by Bertha Antúnez, sister of Jorge Luis García Pérez. And Ms. Antúnez, an Afro-Cuban who was active in the Rosa Parks movement before she was forced into exile a year ago, has been snubbed by President Obama. Requests that he meet with her went unanswered. Only as the ceremony began did the White House issue a brief statement.

It's not that the president is too busy to concern himself with Latin American politics. The White House arranged for a Spanish journalist to ask a question at Tuesday's news conference; reporter Macarena Vidal pressed Mr. Obama on whether U.S. allies such as Chile and Colombia were doing enough to help with "less democratic countries." The president replied by heaping praise on visiting Chilean President Michele Bachelet, a socialist who has been promoting Cuba's readmission into the Organization of American States and who has gone out of her way to avoid offending Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. "Chile is leading by example," Mr. Obama said, adding that its good relationship with Washington despite political differences "points the way for other countries . . . where the democratic tradition is not as deeply embedded as we'd like it to be."

Message to Mr. Chávez and the Castro brothers: We can work with you. Message to Cuba's democratic opposition: We don't have time for you. "What I'd like is to have an opportunity to express to the president the situation of the island," Ms. Antúnez told us. "For the Cuban people it's enormously significant that Obama can become president" -- particularly, she said, because of his race and relative youth. "The Cuban people are hoping that he won't disappoint them."

Mr. Obama's hastily drafted statement -- issued after The Post inquired about his silence -- said he wished "to acknowledge and commend" the five dissidents "and all the brave men and women who are standing up for the right of the Cuban people to freely determine their country's future." He called for the release of the three now in prison. Will that satisfy Ms. Antúnez and the other opposition leaders? We suspect not. They, like the beleaguered pro-democracy movements of Venezuela and Nicaragua, are hoping that the American president will focus his policy on supporting them. Yet for now, Mr. Obama's diplomacy is clearly centered on their oppressors.

Obama Gives Nod to Pro-Democracy Leaders

Statement of President Obama on NED 2009 Democracy Award Recipients

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and commend the National Endowment for Democracy's 2009 Democracy Award recipients Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Librado Linares, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, and Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera and all the brave men and women who are standing up for the right of the Cuban people to freely determine their country's future. Like too many of their fellow citizens, four of these individuals have been unjustly jailed for defending the basic freedoms we all hold dear in the Americas. It is my sincere hope that all political prisoners who remain jailed, including three of today's award recipients, will be unconditionally released and allowed to fully participate in a democratic future in Cuba.

Trade With Castro, Not Democracies

Yesterday, U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois, who lavished praised on Cuban dictator Fidel Castro during an April trip to the island, sent the following "Dear Colleague" seeking cosponsors for his legislation to normalize trade relations with Cuba.

Please note that only two of the cosponsors below have supported trade agreements with democratic countries in Central America and the Caribbean, or even pending trade legislation with democratic Panama and Colombia.  However, with the Cuban totalitarian dictatorship, where only a state-owned monopoly - the Castro regime's Alimport - is authorized to transact international trade, and where the people have no political, civil or economic rights whatsoever, they want to trade away.

A striking irony.
 
From: The Honorable Bobby L. Rush

H.R. 2272 The United States-Cuba Trade Normalization Act of 2009
 
Current Co-Sponsors:

Reps.  N. Abercrombie, S. Bishop, R. Brady, M. Capuano, Y. Clarke,  W. Clay, E. Cleaver, J. Clyburn, S. Cohen, J. Conyers,  J. Costello, E. Cummings,  D. Davis, W. Delahunt, R. DeLauro, K. Ellison, S. Farr, C. Fattah, B. Filner, B. Frank, M. Fudge,  A. Green, M. Hinchey, M. Honda, E. Johnson, H. Johnson, M. Kaptur, D. Kildee,  C. Kilpatrick, D. Kucinich, B. Lee, J. Lewis, D. Loebsack, D. Matsui, J McDermott, G. Meeks, G. Moore, R. Neal,  S. Ortiz, D. Payne, C. Rangel, L. Richardson, J. Schakowsky, D. Scott, J. Serrano, B. Stupak, E. Towns, N. Velazquez, M. Waters, M. Watt, L. Woolsey
 
Dear Colleague:
 
Because of travel restrictions, many Americans have not been able to see the vast opportunities in Cuba, and what the nation has become. What I witnessed on my recent trip to Cuba has compelled me to call for a change in U.S trade policy towards Cuba.  The United States-Cuba Trade Normalization Act of 2009 is designed to open up markets for U.S. commerce while also helping to bring liberty and prosperity to the Cuban people.
 
Cuba has opened its doors to the entire world and the world has walked in.  All nations in the Western Hemisphere, except the United States, have resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba.  All of our economic competitors, including China, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Canada, and the European Union are currently trading with Cuba. Cuba has also made it clear that the same doors are open to the U.S., and our policies should not prevent American companies from doing business with the Cuban people.  With the U.S. economy continuing to be a problem, the embargo should be lifted as a means of providing greater export opportunities.
 
Normalizing trade with Cuba is not without precedent and has already proven extremely beneficial to our economy.  In 2000, when I and other members of Congress voted to approve a modest opening of trade, exports to Cuba rose from $7 million in 2001 to $710 million in 2008.  These sales are an indicator of broader potential at a time when the U.S. economy is struggling. 
 
It is time to remove the counterproductive embargo on Cuba, a move that would not only benefit the struggling Cuban population and be of value to the United States, but also improve the tarnished image of the U.S. in Latin America. This bill will lift the embargo, travel and parcel restrictions, normalize trade relations and remove Cuba from the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism list
 
Please join me as a co-sponsor of The United States-Cuba Trade Normalization Act of 2009 to open up markets for U.S. commerce while also helping to bring liberty and prosperity to the Cuban people.  
 
Sincerely,
 
Bobby L. Rush
Member of Congress 

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 10

Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Commentary by Mauricio Claver-Carone on Secure Freedom Radio:
 
"Iran and Cuba share various things in common - a military dictatorship hostile to the United States and the use of state terrorism to foment fear and repression amongst its citizens.

But most importantly, they share a struggle of the future versus the past, where young generations seeking freedom and democracy are courageously confronting geriatric regimes intent on absolute power
.

Before "Change" became the slogan of the Obama campaign in 2007, young Cubans were being beaten and arrested for wearing white wristbands with the word "Cambio" - Change - engraved on them.  In a December 2007 story, the Chicago Tribune dubbed these Cambio wristbands, "an accessory to counter-revolution."

The Cuban pro-democracy movement encompasses a wide array of individuals, from human rights activists, to independent journalists, to independent labor leaders.

This week on Capitol Hill, the National Endowment for Democracy will be honoring five of these individuals in absentia, including Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez", a 43 year old afro-Cuban leader, who spent more than 17 years as a prisoner of conscience; Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, a youth activist and member of the Christian Liberation Movement; Librado Linares Garcia, founder of the Cuban Reflection Movement, who has been in prison since the 2003 repressive wave known as the Black Spring; Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, an independent labor leader also imprisoned since 2003; and Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera, founder of the Rosa Parks Women's Movement.

All five of these activists were, once again, arrested yesterday by Cuban State Security.

Of course, one cannot talk about Cuba's opposition without mentioning Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, who is currently spending 25 years in prison for his human rights advocacy.  Dr. Biscet has been recognized as a 21st century Nelson Mandela.

And finally, the Ladies in White movement of spouses, mothers, daughters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners that demonstrate every Sunday after Mass in Havana's Santa Rita church.

All in all, demographics, courage and a moral compass are clearly at work against Cuba's dictatorship."

Quote of the Week


"I am the same age and color of Barack Obama. Yet look at how far he has risen, and I am here in Cuba unable to enjoy the opportunities of a free society."

- Jorge Olivera, Cuban independent journalist, Broadcasting Board of Governor's Annual Report

Democracy Awards Today

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) will honor the courage and determination of five Cuban democracy activists with the presentation of its annual Democracy Award at a Capitol Hill ceremony and reception on Wednesday, June 24, 2009. Confirmed speakers include NED Chairman Richard Gephardt; Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman (D-CA); Ranking Foreign Affairs member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL); Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL); NED Board member Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY); Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL); and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL).

“The five brave Cubans we honor this year represent the future of their country,” said NED Chairman Richard Gephardt. “All of them have endured significant personal hardship for nothing more than standing up for basic rights and freedoms. With this award, we hope to express our solidarity with their struggle, and let them know that we share their dream of a free and democratic Cuba.

The honorees are Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez, (aka “Antúnez”), José Daniel Ferrer García, Librado Linares García, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, and Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera. All five are relatively young, in their 30s and 40s, three are Afro-Cuban, one is a Christian Democrat and another is a Social Democrat, one is a trade unionist and another is a women’s leader. All of them espouse the philosophy of non-violent resistance and activism and, together, the five represent a broad spectrum of opinion and activism. García, Linares and Carrillo are in prison; Antúnez was released in 2007 after 17 years in Cuban jails. Antúnez and Aguilera are living under virtual house arrest since beginning a hunger strike in March of this year.

The award presentation and reception will take place in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building from 5:30 – 7:00 pm.

Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez (“Antúnez”) — A 43-year old leader of Cuba’s civic resistance movement who served more than 17 years in prison, having been released in 2007. During that period, his fellow inmates nicknamed him “the black diamond” because of his courage and unbreakable spirit. In “A Word from the Opposition” in the January, 2009 issue of the Journal of Democracy, Antúnez highlighted the Movement’s adherence to the principles of non-violent resistance as set forth by Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. He is married to Iris Tamara Perez Aguilar, another honoree.

José Daniel Ferrer García is a youth activist and member of the Christian Liberation Movement who was instrumental in gathering hundreds of signatures and mobilizing people in poor, marginal neighborhoods in support of the Varela Project. García organized meetings with neighbors throughout the eastern provinces, turning them into informal town hall meetings where grievances were expressed and the desire for change articulated. He received one of the highest prison sentences of the group of dissidents arrested on March 18, 2003. He has been a leader of the resistance of political prisoners against the abuses of the regime from within prison walls.

Librado Linares García is a young intellectual and founder of the Cuban Reflection Movement. Linares organized independent libraries, soup kitchens for the poor, workshops among various dissident groups, as well as forums and conferences for citizens living in the central region of Cuba. He developed a comprehensive multi-tiered strategy of resistance against the regime, aimed at organizing and mobilizing Cuban civil society through non violent means. One of the pro-democracy leaders arrested on March 18, 2003, Linares has been suffering a progressive loss of eyesight during his imprisonment.

Ivan Hernandez Carrillo is an independent labor activist prior to his imprisonment in March, 2003, in his mid-30s and black, Carillo is widely regarded as one of the key youth leaders of the civic opposition. He is from Matanzas province, which, together with Villa Clara province, forms the geographical core of the Cuban resistance. Carillo has continued the resistance struggle during his incarceration.

Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera is founder and President of the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement, whose objectives are to struggle against human rights violations. Born in 1975 in Sancti Spiritus province in central Cuba, she entered the opposition movement in 1999, when her brother, Mario Pérez Aguilera, was imprisoned at Nieves Morejón prison. Ms. Aguilera is married to Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (“Antunez”).

The "Inflexibility" of Dissidents

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The siren call for a "new approach" in dealing with the Burmese junta rang loudly in the Wall Street Journal's weekend edition. One can almost guess the theme of the article entitled, "In Myanmar, Two Hidden Worlds. Amid privations, its regime prospers by trading with China and India" -- that Western sanctions towards the Burmese junta are ineffective because the dictatorship is being provided financial relief by the two Asian nations.

Substitute China and India for Venezuela and Spain, and it's all-too-eerily familiar to the Cuba debate.

Nonetheless, here's the line that was truly striking:

"Other [advocates of a "new approach"] go so far as to propose that the West should accept a diminished role for Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's leading opposition figure. The Nobel laureate is arguably the world's most revered prisoner of conscience since Nelson Mandela, but she has drawn criticism for her inflexibility in dealing with the regime."

It's fascinating how opposition leaders that support sanctions towards their oppressors are so easily labeled "inflexible." Fortunately, there's an inspiring trend that finds these "inflexible" opponents on the right side of history.

From the 19th century abolitionist movement to end slavery:

"With reasonable men I will reason; with humane men I will plea; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost."

-William Lloyd Garrison, U.S. abolitionist and editor of "The Liberator"

To the 20th century Soviet opposition during the Cold War:

"We are slaves there from birth, but we are striving for freedom. You, however, were born free. If so, then, why do you help our slave owners?"

- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Soviet political prisoner and author of "The Gulag Archipelago"

To the 21st century Cuban civil society:

"I do not support, nor will I ever support, any policy of dialogue with the Castro's dictatorship because I firmly believe that the only way to achieve democracy in Cuba is through civil disobedience and a campaign of no cooperation."

- Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," Cuban pro-democracy leader and political prisoner (17 years and 38 days)

Target: Inter-American Development Bank

Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda makes two important observations following last month's confrontation at the OAS Ministerial over Cuba's potential readmission to the regional body:
 
"The first consideration involves the ALBA countries' [Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, etc.] conduct of foreign policy. Given that the smaller countries do not act independently of Venezuela, and that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez does not act without Cuba's guidance on weighty matters such as these, it is now clear that the Cubans and their allies will cut U.S. President Barack Obama no slack on Latin American issues.

The second consideration is that this behavior will continue. The reason seems clear enough: Cuba needs international aid desperately, and there are not too many places where it can find it. Hopes that Brazil and China would provide cash to Cuba have been dashed by the international financial crisis and geopolitics.
 
And Chavez, despite the recent increase in oil prices, can no longer afford to subsidize Cuba as he did during the boom years. So it seems that the Cubans are hoping to find resources elsewhere, and the only possibility, as remote as it seems, is the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)."
 
EDITOR'S NOTE: For Cuba to obtain a "bailout" from the IDB, it would essentially need U.S. support, which is not legally feasible without the U.S. Congress lifting sanctions towards the Castro regime.

The Cost of Disillusionment

Here's the result of decades of emigration amongst Cuba's younger generations, as the geriatric Castro regime insists on absolute power. Fortunately, this trend can change overnight with the demise of the dictatorship and the dream of a better tomorrow.

Cuba’s Population to Fall Below 11 Million by 2032

HAVANA – EFE, Cuba, which ended 2008 with 11.24 million people, will see its population drop by 100,000 by 2025 and go below 11 million in 2032, state media reported Monday, citing a new study.

A Spanish Tourist in Havana

Excerpt from "A Day in the Real Cuba" by Isane Aparicio Bust:

"To arrive in Old Havana was like arriving in a theme park.  Majestic homes, clean streets, and police surveillance intent on limiting contact between Cubans and tourists. The Cuban people are Caribbean victims of 21st century apartheid.

Hotels for tourists, buses for tourists, stores for tourists.  A separate world, where Cubans are denied access.  And it's not even a matter of purchasing power.  As reprehensible as classism is, it's even worse.  Some Cubans whom we asked about this segregation tried to justify the tourist privileges by claiming that 'Cubans nag,' 'there are people that harass tourists so it's better to limit access to them.' Is this what European tourists then interpret as hospitality and great service during their trips to Cuba?  That a whole nation is forced to treat the white visitor with reverence?"

The Future Always Wins

In this weekend's Wall Street Journal, former Presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan pointedly commented on Iran:

"Something has been unleashed, and it won't be going away. A thugocracy has been revealed as lacking the support and respect of a considerable portion of its people, and that portion is not solely the most sophisticated and educated but, far more significantly, the young. Half the people in Iran are under 27. When the young rise against the old, the future rises against the past. In that contest, the future always wins. The question is timing: soon or some years from now?"

Sound familiar?

The Castro's Cuba is a Pariah

Monday, June 22, 2009
By Jerry Brewer

A quintessential theme, which is not necessarily popular by a majority, is the restoration of relations and lifting of the described embargo of Cuba by the United States. Acquiescing to a form of romanticism with the Cuba of the 1950s and former President Fidel Castro's despotic and ideological influence throughout Latin America is irresponsible rhetoric. His four-decade rule has brought death and misery throughout Cuba and Latin America.

What is the real issue that democracies of the world should embrace as they look to the future of Cuba and its citizens? Fidel Castro's venomous hatred for the United States started long before he came into power. Castro's establishment of a Communist state came quickly with his intervention of personal property and businesses. Cuba's firing squads were quick to execute dissidents as well as U.S. citizens on the Cuban homeland.

Protagonists for the end of the Cuban embargo cite the ending of the Cold War of the past, as well as a no longer need to protect the U.S. from Communism. Is Fidel Castro's past relevant to today?

It is important that we focus on past and current facts to proactively circumvent any memory recall deficiencies that may exist on these critical decisions. Too, those that have fallen in defense of homeland freedoms in Cuba, and those who fled the island, as well as those that faced ruthless and bloody confrontations against Cuban insurgency on other foreign land, deserve consideration and respect.

Fidel Castro has stated "America is weak and will be brought to its knees." Why has the U.S. become the scapegoat for the misery of the Cuban people who cry out to the world for the freedoms and the rule of law that they deserve from their government and leaders?

U.S. President Barack Obama stated recently that we would "extend a hand to the Cuban people in support of their desire to determine their own future."

Support for Cuba must circumvent mere opinion. World support will come to Cuba's doorstep with action and not mere words by Cuba's ruling government. The fundamental issue is for Cuban leaders to allow citizens the ability to attain the freedoms they deserve and the ability to join those where the rule of law can prevail.

What have Cuban rulers recently done to demonstrate to the world their sincere desires to provide for citizens?

Fidel Castro retained his post as "First Secretary" of the Communist Party of Cuba. President Raul Castro has claimed "Second Secretary." The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) is the highest rule of decision-making and controls the election of the members who serve the Central Committee.

Communist ideology and action by Fidel Castro has graphically meant death and destruction. Cuba has trained thousands of Communist guerrillas and terrorists. In fact, ties to rogue states such as North Korea and Iran continue today. Cuba sponsored terrorism and subversion in Africa and the Middle East, among other regions. Prior to Castro's illness, his travel destinations included Syria, Libya and Iran.

Miami has seen a violent and pervasive anti-Castro struggle for decades. The newer generations of Cubans and Cuban Americans voice their vociferous recriminations to the Cuban leadership model demanding peace, freedom, technology, and other Western comforts.

President Raul Castro should unequivocally and publicly renounce terrorism and revolutionary violence, and extend new freedoms for his people before a world audience. Generations of Cubans would welcome sweeping changes, both socially and economically, and the restoration of liberties. This in graphic contrast to Cuba's past in which opponents were imprisoned and executed. Castro's rule began with over 700,000 citizens fleeing the island, mostly to the U.S. The U.S. "weakness" apparently only demonstrated by its heart and soul.

Cuba chose communist bloc aid early. This mistake evident with the collapse and breakup of the former Soviet Union in 1991. Stiffer trade sanctions against Cuba by the U.S. followed in 1992, and again in 1996, with Cuba's aggression in Latin America and Angola from the decades of the 1980s and 1970s. The threat to the U.S. by Cuba allowing Soviet nuclear weapons on its soil in 1962 was a grim reminder of Cuba's leadership ideology.

Lift the embargo and allow trade normalization with Cuba?

Communist rule unscrupulously forced horrific sacrifices upon the Cuban people. No one must encourage others to emulate the Cuban Revolution. The suffering Cuban population demands freedom and world support. Recent Cuban espionage incidents against the U.S. demonstrate the ruling party's motives. Let us help Cubans to define their destiny and help themselves to establish a democracy.

Jerry Brewer is CEO of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global risk mitigation firm.

We Are All Neda Soltan




Weapons of State Terrorism

Meet Iran's Basij militia:

And Cuba's Brigadas de Respuesta Rapida (BRR):

Why do tyrants fear the free will of their nation's citizenry?

The "Lucrative" Cuban Market

Is this the great foreign market that U.S. Senator Max Baucus of Montana and U.S. Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York keep talking about, and that the National Foreign Trade Council and American Farm Bureau insist the U.S. in missing out on?

According to Spain's El Pais:

"Things are worse than ever," said a foreign investor that has transacted business in Cuba for years. Like many of his colleagues, [the foreign businessman] complains that he's had hundred of thousands of dollars frozen in his bank account in Cuba. "Since January, I've been unable to transfer a single dollar. There's just no money," he said. This malaise is quickly spreading [amongst foreign businessmen on the island] and is beginning to have consequences. "Some businessmen have begun to limit the delivery of products as long as they are unable to repatriate their earnings."

The Complicity of Business Interests

It's no secret that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Foreign Trade Council, the American Farm Bureau and other trade groups lobby to do business with the Castro regime based on the incentive of profit.

Yet it's insulting when they hypocritically claim that lifting trade and travel sanctions towards the totalitarian Castro regime would serve as a "democratizing force."

The fact remains that similar business interests led the silent complicity of the international community during the brutal suppression of Chinese activists in Tiananmen square in 1989, which practically disseminated China's pro-democracy movement to this day.

Twenty years later, the same is happening in Iran. Does anyone doubt that the same would happen to Cuba's civil society, if U.S. policy followed the desires of these trade groups?

The Wall Street Journal reports:

While young Iranians take to the streets calling for change, many European companies active in Iran are quietly hoping the country resolves the crisis soon.

Investors say their greatest fear is that neither the Iranian authorities nor the opposition back down over the contested June 12 election, potentially leading to a violent suppression of protests -- and more pressure on foreign businesses to stop trading with Iran.

Most of these companies, aware that their investments in Iran are politically contentious, decline to talk openly about Iranian politics.

The Carriage In Front of the Horse

Cuba is a totalitarian regime, which represses the most fundamental human, civil, political and economic rights of its citizens; it is the only remaining dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere; it has been ruled by the same family for 50 years; it is responsible for the death of 10 percent of its population through execution, imprisonment or attempting to escape the island by sea; and has another 10 percent of its population in exile.

The United States is a representative democracy, which freely elects its President every four years and Congress every two years; it has a Constitution that fully protects its citizen's fundamental human, civil and political rights; it has an independent judiciary; and it represents one of the freest -- and most prosperous -- economies in the world.

Yet, somehow, the totalitarian regime believes the multiparty democracy needs to make more "gestures."

The AP reports:

HAVANA - Raul Castro dismissed Barack Obama's policy changes toward Cuba as "achieving only the minimum," and said Wednesday that it is up to the U.S. - not Cuba - to do more to improve relations.

The Cuban president suggested the communist government is not willing to appease Washington by embracing small political and social reforms on the island, saying in a speech before an international gathering of government ministers that "it is not Cuba who has to make gestures."

Will "Daytrips" Bring Freedom to Cuba?

Sunday, June 21, 2009
Foreign tourists that visit Cuba typically stay at segregated beach resorts, where Cuban nationals are denied access. Yet those unaware of Cuba's reality argue that authorizing U.S. tourism to the island will allow increased engagement with the Cuban people, even though interaction between Cubans and foreigners are sanctionable by the Castro regime's Orwellian laws.

So how will foreign tourists interact with the Cuban people?

Apparently through "daytrips" organized by the authorities.

According to the Ottawa Citizen:

Many beach resorts organize daytrips to Havana, shuttling visitors into the historic centre for a few hours of sightseeing in a city that is often described as a time capsule. Antique Fords and Soviet-era cars provide a colourful contrast to crumbling colonial architecture, while large murals and posters on city walls and along major roads promote pro-communist slogans.

Support Freedom for the Iranian People

Saturday, June 20, 2009
"Let us remember: what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander."

- Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient


A Powerful Cyber-Weapon Against Tyrants

From Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times:

If President Barack Obama wants to support democratic movements on a shoestring, he should support an “Internet freedom initiative” in Congress, which would include $50 million in the appropriations bill for these censorship-evasion technologies. The 21st-century equivalent of the Berlin wall is a cyber-barrier, and we can help puncture it.

Zhou, the son of a Chinese army general, said that he and his colleagues began to develop such software after the 1999 Chinese government crackdown on Falun Gong (which the authorities denounce as a cult). One result was a free software called Freegate, small enough to carry on a flash drive. It takes a surfer to an overseas server that changes I.P. addresses every second or so, too quickly for a government to block it, and then from there to a banned site.

Freegate amounts to a dissident’s cyberkit. E-mails sent with it can be encrypted. And after a session is complete, a press of a button eliminates any sign that it was used on that computer. The consortium also makes available variants of the software, such as Ultrasurf, and other software to evade censors is available from Tor Project and the University of Toronto.

Originally, Freegate was available only in Chinese and English, but a growing number of people have been using it in other countries, such as Myanmar. Responding to the growing use of Freegate in Iran, the consortium introduced a Farsi-language version last July — and usage there skyrocketed.

Soon almost as many Iranians were using it as Chinese, straining server capacity (many Chinese are wary of Freegate because of its links to Falun Gong, which even ordinary citizens often distrust). The engineers in the consortium, worrying that the Iran traffic would crash their servers, dropped access in Iran in January but restored it before the Iran election.

A Sculpture for a Free Cuba


cAMbIO cUbAnO by Margarita Garcia Alonso

Where's the Momentum?

Friday, June 19, 2009
From the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA):

Momentum for Changing U.S. Policy Toward Cuba Subject to Interpretation

While a National Foreign Trade Council official said June 17 that momentum is growing in Congress for U.S. policy change toward Cuba, an official with a Cuban democracy advocacy group said that lawmakers currently advocating policy change in the 111th Congress have done so before and failed.

Jake Colvin, NFTC vice president of global affairs, and Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy Corp., made their remarks at a forum organized by the Washington International Trade Association.

Colvin said that there is increasing interest in Congress in normalizing relations with Cuba. President Obama, he noted, has said that U.S. policy with respect to Cuba has failed.

Also, currently, nearly 70 percent of Cubans living in the United States support the removal of all U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba. This marks a "huge change" from two years ago, he said.

Cuba has been under U.S. economic embargo for over 45 years. The Obama administration April 13 announced a series of steps aimed at relaxing certain restrictions on U.S. travel to and business dealings with Cuba, including authorizing the donation of certain consumer telecommunication devices without a license from the Commerce Department and restoring items such as clothing and personal hygiene products to the list of items that can be included in gift parcel donations (69 DER AA-1, 4/14/09).

"In the short-term we're likely to see a lot more engagement and interaction between the United States and Cuba," he said. Colvin speculated that the Obama administration will focus on implementing regulations for the changes it has already announced before undertaking other reforms.

During his presidential campaign, President Obama promised to loosen restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. However, he also said that the trade embargo should be maintained as leverage to encourage Cuba to make democratic changes.

Colvin argued that—contrary to some opinions—the president is empowered to make changes to the Cuba embargo. "For those of us who want to see policy change, the wind is at our back for the first time in a long time," he said.

John Veroneau, former deputy U.S. trade representative now with Covington and Burling, commented that the current administration has more "policy space" than prior administrations to make changes to Cuba policy. He said it remains to be seen how much of that policy space Obama will use.

Same Lawmakers Back Legislation

Claver-Carone said that U.S. lawmakers pushing policy change with Cuba in the 111th Congress are the "same members with the same interests" as have supported such changes in the past.

Several bills loosening sanctions have been introduced in the 111th Congress. Among them, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), joined by 15 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, May 20 introduced a measure to ease trade and all travel restrictions on Cuba, including Treasury Department rules that made it harder for Cuba to purchase U.S. agricultural products (96 DER A-6, 5/21/09).

Normalizing relations with Cuba's dictatorship—now led by Raul Castro—would open a Pandora's box, Claver-Carone said, noting that Cuba is one of only a handful of totalitarian states remaining.

"Cuba is not China and it is not Vietnam," he remarked. A totalitarian regime strives to control all aspects of a citizen's life, he said.

Consistent with U.S. law, Obama has made it clear that the embargo will not be lifted until Cuba makes a democratic transition, Claver-Carone said.

Three conditions are necessary before the embargo is lifted: the unconditional release of all political prisoners; the respect and recognition of universally recognized human rights; and recognition of the opposition party, he said.

Labor Leaders for Cuban Freedom

Geneva, Switzerland, (Committee for Free Trade Unionism) - Hearing an impassioned account of the depth of repression inside Cuba's prisons, former political and trade union prisoner Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, leader of the banned independent trade union movement the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers (CUTC) called for the release of all political and trade union prisoners in Cuba.
 
The forum sponsored by the Unitary Council of Cuban Workers, Solidarnosc and the Committee for Free Trade Unionism brought together an international group of worker delegates to the ILO, human rights advocates, journalists, influential leaders and observers to discuss the current labor situation and the prospects for change on the island nation long throttled by political repression.
 
"Hundreds of political prisoners are today in inhumane Cuban prisons designed by the dictatorial regime in Havana to silence the truth. In this cruel and systematic manner, the regime deprives these men and women, without any respect for their personal dignity, of their most sacred rights, and the freedom to express their thoughts.  For five years, I experienced with these men and women the abuses and violence committed every day by the Cuban government," said Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, the exiled Secretary General of the United Federation of Cuban Workers (CUTC).
 
He continued, "As one of those arrested and subsequently incarcerated, I witnessed and suffered alongside the other victims of those terrible acts, which were perpetrated against human rights activists, journalists, union members and political party members who supported and still support the new civil society emerging in our country."
 
In a new report on labor violations released by the International Group for Corporate Social Responsibility (GIRSCC), Joel Brito, Executive Director of the group described the current level of repression and how the Cuban government continues to deliberately shut down efforts by independent worker groups to organize freely.  "These are clear violations of all ILO Conventions and standards and Cuba has violated all of them repeatedly with impunity." 
 
"We want to fight for the legalization of independent trade unions in Cuba in accordance with international labor standards, its time to stand up for Cuban workers who want free trade unions --- they should not be jailed," noted Manuel Cova, General Secretary of the Confederation of Workers of Venezuela.

The report noted that despite the fact that Cuban workers find themselves without any true labor or political representation, the government continues to pursue independent unionists and to deny the creation of independent unions without ties to the CTC, the government's official representative. 
 
"There are many independent labor unions in Cuba that have solicited the legalization of their organizations before the corresponding authorities, however none of these organizations have ever received a reply," noted Brito.
 
"We know from our communications with worker activists and their families on the island that the Castro regime continues to harass and imprison those who dare to speak up and speak out," said Thomas R. Donahue, the former president of the AFL-CIO and chairman of the Committee for Free Trade Unionism.
 
"We are proud to support their struggle for freedom of association, a basic right."

Tom Donahue, Chairman of the Committee for Free Trade Unionism discussed the most egregious labor violations orchestrated by the Cuban government discussed at the forum focusing on a recent historic decision by a U.S. District Court at the end of 2008 to award $80 million to three Cuban workers who were victims of a Cuban forced labor scheme operating in Curacao, the Netherland Antilles. 
 
"Forced labor is not a crime according to Cuban law.  Cuban statutes permit it.  The result is that the state has absolute power to compel labor from its citizens, and that is what happened in the case of the Cuban workers in Curacao.  They were sent to Curacao, but held captive there at the drydock, and the Cuban government got paid for their work.  It was essentially an outpost of the Cuban forced labor system and funneled millions of dollars to the Cuban government and we want the ILO and other democratic countries to lead an effort to put an end to these practices," Donahue said.

"I want to ask for support of all democratic unions here at the ILO that care about freedom for all workers in Cuba and our international campaign is demanding their freedom," noted Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos.

"Pre-Criminal Social Danger"

Thursday, June 18, 2009
That's the "charge" under which the Cuban regime imprisons independent journalists that seek to report on the island's repressive realities. The EFE reports today:

PARIS – Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday demanded the immediate release of Cuban photo journalist Maria Nelida Lopez Baez, who is being held at an unknown location on the communist-ruled island.

The journalist faces possible persecution for "pre-criminal social danger," the Paris-based organization, known as RSF, said in a statement.

"The regime once again feels the need to censor and crack down on dissidents and journalists," RSF said. "This helps to explain why it was so contemptuous about the recent decision, obtained thanks to the efforts of other Latin American countries, to let Cuba back into the Organization of American States."

"Rejoining the OAS would have meant respecting basic freedoms, a clearly unacceptable prospect for the continent's last dictatorship," the press freedom watchdog said. "The international community must press for the release of Cuban political prisoners."

The organization noted that the accusation of "pre-criminal social danger" leveled against the journalist is commonly used by the Cuban government against individuals who have committed no crime, jailing them merely for their "potential" threat to society.

Three journalists have been convicted on this charge since 2006 and given sentences ranging from three to four years: Oscar Sanchez Madan, Ramon Velazquez Toranso and Raymundo Perdigon Brito.

Things You Cannot Do in Cuba (Or End Up In Prison For)‏

by Jorge Moragas Sanchez
 
1. Travel abroad without permission from the government.  Even if you have an approved visa and an airline ticket, you may only leave Cuba with a government issued "White Card," which may take years to obtain and is usually denied.  Workers linked to health services, government agencies, the armed forces, or high profile athletes, among others, must wait at least five years, but in most cases never get permission to leave.

2. Travel abroad with spouse and/or children.  With the exception of some senior government officials.

3. Switch jobs without prior government permission.

4. Switch homes.
  Home exchanges are subject to endless regulations and is practically impossible.

5. Publish anything without permission from the government.

6. Own a personal computer, a fax machine, or a satellite antenna.

7. Access the Internet. 
 The Internet is strictly controlled and monitored by state security.  Only 1.7% of the population has access to the web.

8. Send your children to a private or religious school.  All schools belong to the communist party.

9. Belong to any religious denomination without penalty.  Adults may be terminated from their jobs and the children can be expelled from school. 

10. Belong to any organization regardless of its national or international presence with the exception of government organizations.  The exceptions are the Communist Party, Union of Communist Youth, Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, etc.

11. Listen to or watch any radio or television station that is independent or privately owned.  All of the media is state property and controlled by the state.  Cubans illegally listen to or watch BBC, Voice of the Americas, Radio Marti, TV Marti, etc.

12. Read books, magazines, or newspapers, with the exception of those approved/published by the government.  All books, magazines, and newspapers in Cuba are published by the government.  There is no authorized independent press. 

13. Receive publications from abroad or from visitors.  This is punishable by jail pursuant to Law 88.

14. Freely communicate with foreign journalists. 

15. Visit or stay in hotels, restaurants, beaches, or resorts for tourists. 
 
16. Accept gifts or donations from foreign visitors.

17. Search for employment with foreign companies established on the island without prior approval from the government.  

18. Own your own home or business. 

19. Earn more than the wages established by the government for all employees:
  $7-12 monthly for most jobs, $15-20 monthly for professionals, such as doctors and government officials.

20. Sell any personal belongings, services, homemade foods or crafts without the approval of the government.  

21. Fish along the coastline or board a boat without permission from the government. 

22. Belong to any independent trade union.
  The government controls all unions and no individual or collective bargaining is permitted; neither are strikes or protests.

23. Organize any sporting team, sporting activity, or artistic performance without permission from the government.

24. Claim any monetary prize or recognition from abroad.

25. Select a doctor or hospital.  
The government assigns them all.

26. Seek medical help outside of Cuba.

27. Hire an attorney, unless he or she is approved by the government.

28. Refuse to participate in an event or mass demonstration organized by the Communist Party. 
 Refusal to participate in demonstrations results in being categorized as an opponent of the state and leaves you exposed to serious consequences.

29. Refuse to participate in "voluntary" work for adults and children.  

30. Refuse to vote in a single party election with candidates nominated by the government.  

31. Aspire to hold a public office unless the Communist Party nominates you.

32. Criticize or simply question the oppressive laws of the regime or any comment/decision made by the officials or the "Maximum Leader."

33. Transport any food products for either personal or family consumption between provinces.  The police regularly inspect bags and/or luggage in trains, buses, cars, bicycles, and any other mode of transportation, in search of vegetables, sugar, coffee, and meats.  All food products are confiscated and its carriers undergo judicial proceedings.

34. Slaughter a cow.  Farmers who tend livestock cannot sacrifice their animals for consumption and much less to sell the beef.  This "felony" is sanctioned by five years imprisonment.

35. Purchase or sell real estate or land.  

36. Import into the country the following electronic products:
  refrigerators, air conditioning units, stoves, ovens, microwaves, water heaters, showers, fryers, irons, and toasters.

37. Return to visit Cuba after emigrating.  Those who decide to visit their families in Cuba need a visa-permission to return to the land where they were born and must obtain a Cuban passport, even if they already have another recognized nationality.  This process alone costs more than $450 excluding airline tickets and other fees.  If permission to enter the country is denied, the Cuban government keeps the money.

38. Visit a "quitting" member of the family outside of Cuba.  When a Cuban "quits" (defects) while abroad on duty, which the government considers an "official mission" (sports, science, arts, etc.), their family members must wait at least five years for the government to decide whether or not they may travel to visit.

39. Keep belongings when a family member emigrates or is caught trying to do so.  When a Cuban receives permission to leave, their raft is intercepted at sea, or is repatriated; their belongings (home, television, furniture, clothing, etc.) are confiscated.  If repatriated or intercepted at sea, it will also be impossible for them to return to work, they lose their rationing book (the means by which they obtain the right to pay for a portion of the nutrients they need), they are repudiated and/or receive criminal penalties.         

40. Freely select a career to study.  A 12th grade graduate, regardless of their academic record and placement availability, cannot select the career they wish to pursue.  In the selection process for universities (all of which belong to the state), they factor ideological considerations associated to the unconditional support of the applicant and the "needs of the revolution" at the present time. 

41. Invite a foreigner to spend the night at your home.  If the neighborhood CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) finds an unauthorized foreigner spending the night in the home of a Cuban, investigations begin which generally result in fines for the residents and removal from their home.

42. Refuse to participate in the Militia of Territorial Troops, CDR, Brigades of Rapid Response or any of the regime's oppressive organizations.  The refusal is interpreted as a clear manifestation of dissatisfaction with the revolution and is subject to penalties.

43. Buy milk in a regulated establishment for any child older than seven years.  Only Cuban children up to seven years of age have the right to pay a quota for milk, from that age on, the purchase of milk is forbidden and parents can only obtain milk in the black market, which implies a clear violation of the law. 

44. Live in liberty and with human rights.  Survive like a human being. 

45. Say "Down with Fidel!"  
 
Jorge Moragas Sanchez is a Spanish Parliamentarian.  He is a Foreign Affairs Spokesman for the Popular Party of Spain.  

Political Prisoner's Testimony at U.N. Council

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
INTERVENTION AT THE 11th SESSION OF THE U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL,
 
Thank you, Mr. President:
 
My name is José Gabriel Ramón Castillo. I was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, and I testify before this forum as a victim of repression in Cuba. I will refer concretely to two points contained in the Responses provided by Cuba on the recommendations listed under paragraph 131 of the report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba (A/HRC/11/22) Adopted during the Fourth Session of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review.
 
The ratification of the International Covenants on Civil, Political, Social, Economic, and Cultural rights is still a pending matter. My question concerning this - Will it be possible to put a date on definitive adherence to these Covenants? As long as Cuba does not ratify these Covenants, the human rights situation will continue to depend on the political will of the Government, and there is no guarantee whatsoever that the current situation will change.
 
On page 2, the aforementioned document indicates that "Cuba is a State Party to the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments or punishments (CAT) from May 17, 1995 assures respect for the physical and spiritual integrity of persons. In the country there are no existing practices of torture or of other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments or punishments. Cuba has the effective national resources to ensure the rigorous application of the CAT."
 
The reality is that in Cuba there are hundreds of political prisoners recognized by Amnesty International. Many are ill and do not receive treatment. Human rights defenders enter prison healthy and in a short time suffer serious illnesses as in the cases of, among others, Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, Librado Linares García, Normando Hernández González, and Ariel Sigler Amaya, who has been left an invalid. In Cuba, there is physical and psychological torture, and I am a direct victim of these practices.
 
On page 8, the aforementioned document speaks of the self-determination of peoples, and economic, social, and cultural rights are mentioned. Nevertheless, the self-determination of Cuban workers is not respected in Cuba. Workers lack the right to organizer labor unions independently of the state, and 5 Cubans are currently in prison for attempting to organize independent labor unions. This has been well documented by the relevant international institutions.
 
The Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs of Cuba has documented 21 deaths in prison in 2009 due to denial of medical attention and/or psychological harassment. There have been 500 cases of arbitrary arrests and 26 imprisonments of human rights activists. Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, executive director of the Council, as well as Julio Romero Muñoz of the Free Expression Solidarity Movement, have been persecuted for sending reports to the Universal Periodic Review Committee.
 
Mr. President, in the name of those thousands of Cubans who have been repressed and tortured, and whose fundamental rights are violated, I ask the Council to do justice for the Cuban people
 
Thank you.

Trade Conference Remarks

Remarks by Mauricio Claver-Carone of the Cuba Democracy PAC
 

"What's Next on Cuba Trade Policy?"
Washington International Trade Association (WITA)
 
Thank you so much for your kind invitation.  I must admit that I'm at a bit of a disadvantage here today with the composition of the panel; the interest of the registrants; and even the time for preparation, but I am truly honored to be here with all of you. 
 
Obviously, Cuba and U.S. policy towards Cuba -- including the issue of trade -- are topics of great passion, and seemingly endless comment, reflection and debate -- or at least for those of us that deal with it on a daily basis.
 
In order to get a full perspective of the issue at hand, let me first address Cuba's political system and U.S. policy towards Cuba in general, as these have important implications for the subject of agricultural trade with Cuba.
 
First of all, Cuba is not China and it is not Vietnam.  It is not an authoritarian bureaucracy.  Cuba is one of a handful of totalitarian states remaining in the world, alongside Burma and North Korea. 

I hate to delve too far into political science, or even sound patronizing, but it's important to understand the dynamics of a totalitarian state in order to understand the Cuban reality. 

A totalitarian state strives to control every aspect of public and private life. Totalitarian regimes, such as Cuba's, maintain themselves in power by means of an all-embracing cult of personality; propaganda disseminated through a state-controlled media; a single party that controls the state; absolute control over the economy; restrictions on discussion and criticism; the use of mass surveillance; and state terrorism to foment fear and submission.

As regards food consumption, Cubans are condemned, not by their own choice, but by that of the ruling regime, to a system of rationing, or as it's known in Cuba, the Libreta de Abastecimiento ("ration card").

On top of rationing -- of which the Cuban regime announced this week it plans to further "ration the ration" -- the average wage of a regular Cuban is about 350 pesos per month ($17-20).

Cubans can not change jobs, change residence inside Cuba, or leave the country without government permission.

Cubans are prohibited from using hotels, restaurants or other facilities reserved for tourists.

A person can get more jail time for killing a cow in Cuba (10 years in prison) than for killing a human. Those who sell beef without government permission can get three to eight years in prison. Consumers of illegal beef can get three months to one year in prison.  And just to clarify, Cubans are not bound to any religious or cultural observations regarding beef, this is purely a political and economic decision of the regime.

Cuba, Zimbabwe and North Korea (177-179) comprise the least free economies in the world, according to the Wall Street Journal's 2009 Index of Economic Freedom.

I hope I've painted a good picture of the obsession for absolute control by Cuba's regime.  Now, let me proceed to U.S. policy towards Cuba.
 
The US has a dual track policy towards Cuba.  It seeks to – first and foremost -- provide support to the constantly besieged Cuban civil society (by civil society, I'm referring to opposition groups, religious organizations, independent journalists, and other marginalized, independent – and therefore illegal -- trade groups); while –secondly -- denying hard currency and resources to the Cuban dictatorship.  In other words, U.S. policy seeks to weaken the Cuban regime's absolute monopoly over power and resources, in order to help the Cuban civil society create some sort of "playing field" for itself, despite the grossly disproportionate circumstances it faces.
 
Within this context, U.S. policy sees sanctions as an important tool that not only denies resources to the regime, but also provides important moral and political support to the Cuban civil society.  However, it is important to understand that U.S. sanctions towards Cuba are not defined indefinitely, they are subject to conditions, and have been specifically codified into U.S. law as such.  Since 1996 -- with the codification of this policy -- the power to ease or terminate sanctions shifted from the executive to the legislative branch of the U.S. government.
 
According to law, the U.S. will only lift the remaining trade sanctions and normalize relations with the Cuba when three essential conditions are met:  1. the unconditional release of all political prisoners, 2. the recognition and respect of the fundamental human, political, and economic rights of the Cuban people, and 3. opposition parties are legalized.
 
Therefore, any unilateral adjustment or further easing of U.S. sanctions prior to progress made on these conditions would not only send a devastating message to the Cuban civil society, but could also have very serious geopolitical ramifications as well.
 
Thirty-four (34) out of the thirty-five (35) nations of this Western Hemisphere are democratic.  Granted, we have better relationships with some than with others, and frankly, some are outright hostile to the U.S.  However, we cannot afford a return to the dictatorships -- whether of the left or of the right -- that ruled Latin America for most of the 20th century.  Some may have appeared to be good for business at the time, but they are all damaging to the 21st century national interests of the U.S.  Normalizing relations with Cuba's dictatorship would open a Pandora's Box that might lead to history repeating itself.  And trust me, there are plenty of leaders with authoritarian tendencies ready to take advantage of such a moment.   
 
Let me proceed, and conclude, with the issue of trade.
 
To speak of "trade with Cuba" is in itself a misrepresentation.  To "trade with Cuba" is not about trading with the nation's businesses and people.  Under the Cuban regime's constitution, only one company is allowed to engage in international trade -- that company is called Alimport.  Therefore, I'm a regular Cuban citizen, and I want to import chickens from Maryland, I'm not allowed to – even if I had the capital to do so.  Only Mr. Pedro Alvarez, the head of the Cuban regime's Alimport, is solely authorized to import products to Cuba – to the entire island.  That's it.  Cubans have no stake in it. 
 
Therefore, we should be forthright and call it "trade with Alimport," or "trade with Cuba's monopoly," which leads to the question: 
 
Why does the Castro regime insist on monopolizing food in Cuba?
 
Furthermore, why does the Castro regime only authorize one company, Alimport, to engage in agricultural trade?
 
There's no food in the Cuban people's ration stores, but plenty of food in the island's hard-currency supermarkets for tourists, diplomats and the regime's bourgeois, which are stocked by Alimport.

The answer is: Because food is also a weapon of submission in a totalitarian regime.
 
Therefore, every dollar that the 157 companies from 35 states have transacted in agricultural sales with Cuba since the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform Act has only had one Cuban counterpart.
 
Judging by the interest of all the diverse trade groups here today, you would think that Alimport was the biggest monopoly in the world.  Far from, it's part and parcel of a bankrupt regime whose foreign debt more than doubles its GDP and represents one of the greatest credit risks in the world.  To top it off, foreign companies have been currently denouncing that their bank accounts in Cuba have been frozen, some dating six months back, and European holders of Cuban debt were just informed last week that bond payments would be postponed – again.
 
The good news is that the U.S. has zero credit exposure to Cuba, as current policy prohibits the extension of credit to the Castro regime.
 
Despite sanctions, the U.S. proudly remains the largest provider of humanitarian aid to Cuba, last year alone surpassing $270 million.  There are no legal restrictions to the amount of humanitarian aid that one can send directly to the Cuban people.  Cubans are extremely smart people, they know that it is not U.S. sanctions that prohibits them from freely expressing themselves; it is not sanctions that keeps them from entering those beautiful resorts, with their restaurants and bars; it's not sanctions that keep them from entering the plentiful "diplotienda" supermarkets; it's not sanctions that keep them from choosing their own destiny.  It is the Cuban regime that does so.
 
Furthermore, Cubans on the island know what democratic ideals are.  In many cases, they have given the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of those ideals.  Let's not forget, Cuba has the largest prison population – per capita – in the world.  Ten percent of the Cuban population has died, either trying to cross the Florida Straits, executed or imprisoned. Add to that another ten percent that has been exiled. Those are Stalin-Mao proportions. 
 
We all know that Cuban dictator Raul Castro lacks Fidel's persuasive charisma and faces a big leadership test amidst the global economic squeeze.  So the question to ask is: Who deserves the benefits of trade with the U.S.?  The geriatric regime that represses and monopolizes the lives of Cubans, or those pro-democracy advocates that are courageously undertaking a daily struggle for a better tomorrow.
 
Hopefully, the answer will be the latter.  And at that time, I hope we can gather here and discuss the prospects for a free trade agreement between the U.S. and a future democratic government in Cuba.
 
I am going to wrap up here.  I hope I've been able to spark your interest and look forward to any questions or comments.
 
Thank you.