Governor Beebe Tries to Save Face

Friday, July 31, 2009
The Associated Press published these headlines within an hour of each other:

Beebe is optimistic about Arkansas-Cuba trade

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Gov. Mike Beebe said Friday he returned from a visit to Cuba optimistic that Arkansas can increase its agricultural exports to the communist country.

Meanwhile,

Cuba enters crisis mode as economy worsens

HAVANA — Cuba clicked into crisis mode Friday, postponing a key Communist Party congress aimed at charting a post-Castro future and announcing that its woeful economy is even worse than expected.

Either Governor Beebe is trying to save face due to the time and expense of his otherwise worthless trip to Castro's Cuba, or the Cuban economy is actually in great shape and the Castro brothers simply want to temper the Cuban people's expectations.

My money is on the first.

Dr. Darsi Ferrer on Cuban Apartheid

As Cuban pro-democracy leader, Dr. Darsi Ferrer, faces an 8-year prison sentence for his political and human rights advocacy, it's important for the world to know what the Castro regime is so afraid of. Ferrer, an Afro-Cuban physician, has continuously exposed the regime's tragic realities, such as the case of tourism apartheid.

The Accomplices of Cuban Apartheid

By DARSI FERRER

Never in Cuba's history were Cubans discriminated against because of their national origin. The use of apartheid as a state policy by authorities of the regime is the worst humiliation suffered by the Cuban nation.

The segregation imposed by the caste in power during the last several decades surmounts the racial, political, religious, and social motivations of the subordination to the disdain of Cuban nationals.

While the members of the nomenclature and foreigners enjoy the exclusive resorts, resources and services the country has to offer, Cubans are relegated to the condition of pariahs, forbidden such rights.

Such a separation, although supposedly forbidden by current legislation and by the judicial instruments in the international arena, establishes in an official and invariable manner, the arbitrary social differences, with perceptible affectations to the people.

Apartheid guarantees the usurpers of sovereignty to maintain political control and economic and social privileges that are denied to the rest of society.

Unable to generate riches because of economic incompetence, the regime uses as one of its main mechanisms for its permanence the currency it obtains from foreign investments.

The foreign economic partnerships, in an illegal and immoral manner, obtain revenues in the millions at the cost of serving as accomplices ex profeso of the international crime of apartheid perpetrated by the dominant caste.

The Spanish hotel chain Sol-Melia has the largest presence in the tourism sector on the island. It controls 24 luxury hotels, in preferential areas of tourist locations, from which it earns hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Just as in the rest of the island's tourist facilities, in those hotels the management accepts the use of the official policy of exclusion of Cubans and the exclusivity of enjoyment for foreigners and functionaries of the regime's elite.

Visiting or walking around those areas means a possible prison sentence for any regular Cuban. The denial of services does not distinguish those who have the necessary buying power; one only needs to be a Cuban national to be forbidden access.

The employees at said locales, in their great majority, are selected based on unique qualities: they must be young, white and faithful to the regime and its politics. This situation does not interfere with the modern day slavery conditions to which they are subjected by both their bosses, foreign investors and the state. In turn, they earn the equivalent to 8% of real salary in convertible currency and they have no right to strike, negotiate their contracts o freely unionize.

The unscrupulous employers should learn from history's lessons, remembering the Swiss banks that were morally and judicially sanctioned after the Holocaust for banking the gold that that the Nazis stole from the Jewish people.

Few are the possibilities that the people, because of their misery, can lead a boycott that will affect the economic interests of foreign investors, a different reality to the Cuban exile community and other persons opposed to the complicity of these companies with the regime in Havana, and who have the ability to lead actions directed to pressure the beneficiaries of the marginalization of Cubans.

The use of campaigns that hurt the revenues of those who adopt an attitude of indifference to injustice was shown with the elimination of British colonization in Mahatma Gandhi's India, the politics of segregation against blacks in the South in the Martin Luther King Jr.'s U.S. and the system of apartheid in Nelson Mandela's South Africa.

Foreign investment constitutes an unquestionable need for a nation's development, but in accordance with legality and the principles of human respect. Why don't Cubans and all those who agree unite their efforts and begin to boycott the Sol-Melia hotel chain?

Perhaps it is more favorable for such employers to take conscience regarding their dignity and attitude, and influence the regime so that it dismantles the vile system of apartheid.

Havana, May 18th, 2007

Most Predictable Award Ever Given

By Kyle Munzenrieder in Miami New Times:

​In perhaps the most predictable award ever given, Benicio del Toro accepted an accolade from the Cuban government for his work in Che. Sure is nice that they can hand out awards to celebrities, but not present their own citizens with basic rights isn't it?

The "Island of Freedom"?

In a bid to have travel regulations towards the Cuban regime lifted, Travel Video News posted on its website:

"Cuba is a luring tourism destination. There are UNESCO world heritage sites as well as beautiful beaches."

It forgets to mention political prisoners, a totalitarian dictatorship, tourism and medical apartheid, constant surveillance, child prostitution, human trafficking, beatings, torture, harsh confinement in isolation cells, and political indoctrination. And of course, no mention of any human, civil and political rights, which are completely denied to the Cuban people.

But then, they proceed to absolutely lose their minds, or any ounce of dignity, in their blind-zealousness:

"Cuba may witness a surge of U.S. travelers coming to its shores. With the new U.S. president, the policy towards the "Island of Freedom" changes and it is possible that the travel ban restricting U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba will be lifted altogether."

Cuba, the "Island of Freedom"?

Just how blood-thirsty for a dollar are these people?

China in the OAS?

Thursday, July 30, 2009
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs published an interview with Otton Solis, founder and three time Presidential candidate of Costa Rica's Citizens' Action Party (Partido Accion Ciudadana).

Solis, whose platform is centered on opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), was narrowly defeated in the 2006 election by current President Oscar Arias.

In the interview, Solis was asked about Cuba:

Q: How will you change Costa Rica-Cuba relations if you become President?

Solis: We will recognize Cuba and vote for its unconditioned full membership in the OAS. If we were to place conditions related to its political organization we would have to review our relations with other communist states, such as China.

Mr. Solis, the OAS stands for the Organization of American States, not the Organization of Asian States. Therefore, the China example is completely misplaced.

Furthermore, it is an organization of nations in this Western Hemisphere, all of whose members are signatories to an Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, which places representative democracy at the core of hemispheric relations. That is why Cuba -- despite the steadfast efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and even OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza -- is not, and should not, be a member.

Ladies of Extraordinary Courage

On July 17th and 18th, the Ladies in White, the courageous mothers, wives, daughters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners, staged a fast in solidarity with those prisoners in ill health. The fast culminated on July 18th with a public demonstration through the streets of Havana.

This picture was taken in front of Castro's Ministry of Basic Industries.

Europe's Last Ruling Communists Defeated

According to the UK's Guardian, Europe's last ruling Communist party was today swept from power after pro-EU opposition parties in Moldova won a surprise victory in parliamentary elections.

With almost all of the results counted after yesterday's poll, the Communists received 45.1% of the vote, or around 48 seats in the 101-member parliament. The four largest opposition parties gained 50.7%, which would give them 53 seats.

Today's defeat for the Communists follows their slender victory in April during Moldova's last parliamentary election. The result led to violent demonstrations by young pro-opposition activists in the capital Chisinau, dubbed the Twitter revolution.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Unfortunately, Belarus still remains Europe's sole dictatorship under the personal reign of Alexander Lukashenko. Hopefully, democracy can soon prosper in this anomaly and Europe can become the first fully democratic continent in history.

Dear Chamber, Human Freedom is Priceless

According to The Hill, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and six other trade associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote to President Obama in a July 9 letter, urging to him maintain "economic stability" in Honduras.

The letter goes on to state that, "predictability and stability are absolutely critical to U.S. companies, especially in these difficult economic times. Key to that predictability is that the United States maintain a secure bilateral and regional economic relationship with Honduras."

This letter goes to the heart of why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Foreign Trade Council and all of these trade groups also support unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime in Cuba.

In their minds, to condition commercial relations to human, civil, political and even economic freedoms is an obstacle to "economic stability." And that's without getting into the "political destabilization" that free, multiparty, democratic elections might cause.

Dictatorships, including the 50 years of the Castro regime, might appear to provide "the predictability and stability" deemed to be "absolutely critical to U.S. companies," but human dignity and freedom is priceless.

Castro's Bourgeois Mattresses

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
How profound is the Castro regime's obsession with absolute power and control?

At the very least, enough to maintain a monopoly on mattress-production. Yes, the type you sleep on.

According to the Miami Herald, this monopoly has led to a severe shortage of mattresses on the island -- but only for the Cuban people that is, as any limited production is reserved for foreign tourists.

Furthermore, it has resulted in the proliferation of make shift mattresses in the black market.

These two paragraphs perfectly encapsulate this absurdity:

"In Cuba, the Mattress Giant is the communist state. It has granted the country's sole mattress-making concession to an outfit called Dujo Copo Flex, a joint Cuban-Spanish operation created in 2001.

The company annually produces 60,000 mattresses. Generally, they are designated for ritzy tourist hotels that don't cater to Cubans or sold through hard-currency stores run by the government."

However, there's also a sad, tragic, degrading and unfortunate reality regarding the Cuban people's desire to flee this absurd regime, in pursuit of freedom and a better tomorrow.

Mattresses float.

Quote of the Week

"I sympathize with the left, but I am not a communist.  I could not live in Havana."
 
- Latin pop star Paulina Rubio, Spain's El Pais newspaper, July 26, 2009

Dr. Darsi Ferrer on Hunger Strike

Dissident doctor on hunger strike

HAVANA, (Leafar Pérez, Cubanet) - Yusnaimy Jorge Soca says her husband, dissident medical doctor Darsi Ferrer Ramírez, has been on a hunger strike since his arrest July 31.

Ferrer, director of the Juan Bruno Zayas Health and Human Rights Center, has been held without charge at the Valle Grande prison.
According to his wife, police said her husband had not been arrested but was being held for questioning about events that occurred July 9, when agents broke down the door to his home and removed two sacks of cement.

For the past few years, Ferrer has been a main organizer of a protest march every December 10 in front of the UNESCO headquarters in Havana. He has also been involved in publications denouncing poverty in Cuba.

General Honore's (Mis)Concept of a Failed State

Retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore, former commander of the Joint Task Force Katrina, was in Cuba this week with Wayne Smith of the Center for International Policy, to study disaster co-operation between both nations.

In a Financial Times report, General Honore, who advocates for unconditionally normalizing relations, said "everyone should stop looking in the rear view mirror. A failed state so near to home is not in our interest."

General Honore went on to say, "peace and prosperity are in the interest of both countries as we are neighbors and there are now many Cubans in the United States,"

Newsflash to General Honore, Cuba is a failed state.  It is a bankrupt totalitarian regime that rules through force, fear and submission, not through democratic institutions and the rule of law. 
 
It is disservice for any U.S. military officer -- even if retired -- to express support for a military dictatorship in that manner, as it's reminiscent of the dark days of U.S. collusion with military regimes throughout Latin America in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  They too were failed states.
 
Furthermore, General, the reason why so many Cubans are now in the United States is because a repressive dictatorship has systemically violated the human, civil and political rights of the Cuban people. It is also the reason why an estimated 500,000 Cubans have perished in the waters of the Florida Straits in search for freedom.

Yet another symptom of a failed state.

Another Boondoggle in Havana

Tuesday, July 28, 2009
The Global Forum for Health Research, an advocacy organization largely funded by the World Bank, is celebrating its 2009 Forum from November 16-20 in Havana, Cuba.

The Global Forum's Head of External Affairs, Susan Jupp, was presented this challenge in response to her posting in famed NYU Economics Professor William Easterly's blog, AID Watch:

You state, "we work with policy-makers, civil society, the private sector, the media. And we would welcome suggestions from those reading this blog on how to be more effective."

Here are some ideas to promote your core values of (1) "health as a right"; (2) "Equity"; and (3) "Research as an indispensable tool".

- To promote health as a right, demand that the Red Cross be granted free and unconditional access to all political prisoners in Cuba and elsewhere.

- To promote equity, ensure conferences attendees stay in hotel facilities where ordinary Cubans are not denied entry, as is currently the case.

- Advocate freedom of research and publication by Cuba's own doctors (in view that doctors exposing shortcomings in the Cuban health system are routinely thrown in jail).

- To reach out to civil society, invite the few brave independent bloggers in the island to attend the conference and report on it using conference provided web access (the latter is strictly controlled in Cuba, being restricted primarily to tourist facilities).

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 12

From today's New York Times article, US Turns Off News Billboard Atop Its Mission in Havana:

"Taking down the billboard has permitted both sides to act like mature adults," said Robert A. Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University. "That's the most hopeful thing we've seen."

But not everyone viewed it that way. "The only people that are happy about having the news ticker turned off are the Castro brothers," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in Washington.

Congratulations Yoani!

Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism has announced Yoani Sanchez as a 2009 winner of its prestigious 71st Maria Moors Cabot Prize for outstanding reporting on Latin America and the Caribbean.

The award honors journalists who cover the Western Hemisphere and whose reporting and editorial work have advanced inter-American understanding.

Yoani Sanchez is Cuba's Generation Y blogger. She has creatively managed to defy the island's censors in order to give the world a compelling look at the Castro regime's repressive realities. In 2008, Time Magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World; this year it named Generation Y one of the Best Blogs of 2009. Spain honored her with its highest award for digital journalism, the Ortega y Gasset Prize.

The 2009 Cabot winners will receive their awards Oct. 14.

The Castro regime has consistently denied Yoani an "exit permit" to travel abroad and receive previous awards and recognitions.

Will the same happen with New York?

Governor Beebe's Trip: A Fool's Errand

Governor Mike Beebe of Arkansas is heading to Castro's Cuba today in pursuit of business opportunities with the island's dictatorship.

This is the Governor's first foreign trip while in office, and instead of going to a country with a democratic system, a private sector and a robust rule of law, the Governor has chosen to visit one of the most brutal, totalitarian regimes in the world.

Ironically, Beebe is heading to Cuba looking to sell products from Arkansas, just two days after Raul Castro delivered a major speech saying that Cubans would be returning to a feudal-style system of subsistence farming in order to slash imports, and just weeks after it was discovered that the Castro regime has frozen approximately $1 billion dollars in bank accounts held by foreign businesses on the island.

In other words, a fool's errand.

But to add insult to injury, State Rep. Robert Moore of Arkansas City, who is accompanying Governor Beebe on the trip, expressed disappointment that they had not yet confirmed a personal meeting with Fidel or Raul Castro.

"That would be a real nice sidebar to the trip," Moore told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The people of Arkansas are indeed fortunate to have never been subjected to a dictatorship that has executed, imprisoned and/or exiled approximately 20% of its population.

Count your blessings, Governor.

Useful Idiots v. Dog-and-Pony Show

Monday, July 27, 2009
At least useful idiots do not know when they are being used.

From The Denver Post:

Pro-trade business groups say they realize the Cuban government — which prefers trade envoys that include elected officials — isn't buying American goods purely out of need or altruism.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out they're going to take pictures and say, 'Here's the senator from New Mexico. Here's the Nebraskan governor. Why won't the federal government talk to us?' " said Jim Reis, president of the World Trade Center Denver.

State Department Press Briefing

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly on the news ticker displayed on the facade of the U.S. Interests Section building in Havana:

QUESTION: A different topic in the region. On Cuba, do you have anything to say about your decision to switch off this news ticker at your Interests Section?

MR. KELLY: Yeah. As I understand it, the news ticker was turned off in June. The – we believe that the billboard was really not effective as a means to delivering information to the Cuban people. It was evident that the Cuban people weren't even able to read the billboard because of some obstructions that were put in front of it. We think that some of the measures that the President announced on April 13 to increase the free flow of information to the people of Cuba will ultimately be more effective in trying to promote the free flow of information.

QUESTION: Would you – was this something that the Cubans had asked you specifically not to do in any of the meetings that took place? And then, was this kind of a sign of goodwill?

MR. KELLY: Well, I will note that the Cubans, for their part, did dismantle a few very negative billboards and graffiti around the U.S. Interests Section, which we do see as a positive gesture. But whether or not this was specifically raised in these talks, I just don't know.

QUESTION: Would you – would we interpret this as a goodwill gesture by the U.S. towards Cuba, or is this solely because you don't think it was effective?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think what we're trying to do here is we're trying to do all we can to promote the free flow of information between the U.S. and Cuba. That's why the President announced these measures. We are looking for ways that we can do that in the best way possible. And we just felt that this – these dueling, disparaging – not – well, disparaging is the wrong word, but these dueling billboards, if you will, was not serving in the interests of promoting a more productive relationship.

QUESTION: Okay. So it was solely a U.S. decision to do this? It was not prompted or requested or anything like that?

MR. KELLY: I'm not sure. I'm not sure if – I'm sure it was requested, but I'm not a hundred percent sure.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 11

From today's Denver Post:

Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, an anti-Castro group, says Cuba is using the agriculture sales in an effort to influence U.S. policy toward the nation by buying from states and seeking their help lobbying Congress.

Claver-Carone said U.S. companies can do business only with a quasi-governmental import agency run by the Castro family.

"We will be for (opening trade with Cuba) the day when U.S. farmers and the people in Colorado can do business with the Cuban people — when Cubans can open up a business or a fruit stand," Claver-Carone said. "This doesn't help the Cuban people."

The Reign of Raul "the Reformer"

Sunday, July 26, 2009
Whatever happened to Raul "the Reformer"?

Whatever happened to the China model and the economic reforms that Cuba "experts" swore Raul Castro was committed to?

Since Fidel's illness was publicly announced in August 2006, news article after news article reported -- and pundit after pundit argued -- that Raul would soon be opening up the island's economy. No one seems to know how this rumor about Raul's psyche got started, but the rumor morphed into perception, perception became "fact," and "fact" is now exaggeration.

So much so, that an outspoken advocate of normalizing relations with the Castro regime even dubbed Raul, "the Cuban Margaret Thatcher."

Yesterday, Raul had another chance to brandish his hyped reformist credentials during the most important public speech of the year for the Castro brothers (the anniversary of the July 26th, 1953 attack on the Moncada military barracks).

Instead, Raul declared:

"To have more, we have to begin by producing more, with a sense of rationality and efficiency, so that we may reduce imports, especially of food products -- that may be grown here -- whose domestic production is still a long way away from meeting the needs of the population. We face the imperative of making our land produce more; and the land is there to be tilted either with tractors or with oxen, as it was done before the tractor existed."

At best, this means a rural version of the regressive "import substitution" model adopted by the right-wing military dictatorships of Brazil and Argentina during the 1960's and 1970's, and at worst, it means a return to the subsistence farming of the Middle Ages.

Same policies, different Castro.

Dr. Darsi Ferrer Remains Imprisoned

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern at the arrest and detention on 21 July of dissident Darsi Ferrer, head of a health and human rights centre, saying it feared he faced a long period behind bars.

Ferrer, a medical doctor, has been jailed at the Valle Grande prison, west of the capital, Havana. He is well known for his reports on the state of the Cuban health system and the plight of political prisoners.

Ferrer, head of the Juan Bruno Zayas centre, was officially arrested for attempting to illegally acquire building materials for his house in Havana which is in a poor state of repair.
 
He and his wife, Yusnaymi Jorge Soca, were prevented from leaving their home for 12 hours on 9 July the day they planned a peaceful march in the capital dubbed "The journey of a lifetime". Several activists were arrested a few hours before the start of the demonstration.

"The completely absurd reasons given for his Ferrer's arrest will obviously not fool anyone. It is a new ploy to silence a dissident voice and a particularly important one," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "There are worrying signs, that against a background of a fresh crackdown, his transfer to jail could mean the start of a prolonged period of imprisonment", the organisation added.

An upsurge in short-term detentions and summonses by State Security has become the chief method of cracking down on dissidents, since the July 2006 handover of power by Fidel Castro to his brother, Raúl.

Independent journalist Ileana Pérez Nápoles was held by the political police in Las Tunas, eastern Cuba on 11 July at a march in tribute to victims of reprisals in an operation by the coast guard. Agents of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) took independent journalist David Águila Montero to the internal security department on 15 July. During questioning they seized his USB memory stick and copies of the US daily Nuevo Herald and The Dissident Review.

With 24 journalists in jail, including Reporters Without Borders' correspondent Ricardo González Alfonso, founder of De Cuba magazine, Cuba is the world's third biggest prison for the profession, after Iran and China.

Anyone Think Insulza is Doing a Good Job?

Apparently not.

In today's Washington Post, Edward Schumacher-Matos, a former editor and Latin America reporter with The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, writes:

The tiny country of Honduras is providing a lesson in humility on the frailty of democracy and the limits in making it work. The secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, hasn't listened and may soon lose his job.

He deserves to.

Honduras's de facto government has been surprisingly hardheaded in defying the OAS, the Obama administration and most world governments by refusing to allow the return of Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president. The equally hardheaded Zelaya has ignored widespread pleas for patience. Saturday, he set up camp on the Nicaraguan border, across from Honduras, and has threatened to return by force. Central America could be thrust back into war.

It's a crisis that should never have happened. In the weeks before Zelaya's ouster, American diplomats behind the scenes tried to encourage moderation as the Honduran president sought recklessly to push through a constitutional referendum that might lead to his reelection. The Supreme Court, the National Congress, the president's own attorney general, the human rights ombudsman and the electoral commission all ruled that the referendum violated the constitution, which clearly outlaws even consideration of a presidential reelection.

Then, the OAS sent in three election observers. Their very presence gave legitimacy to Zelaya's efforts. The Congress asked the OAS mission to leave; it didn't. Empowered, Zelaya then resorted to mob rule by sending supporters to invade a military base and seize the ballots that the electoral commission refused to distribute. The Supreme Court ordered the army to arrest the president. The army did so and sent him into exile.

Insulza then further inflamed the situation by emotionally declaring the ouster a military coup -- "rape," he called it -- and leading an unconditional charge to restore the president. He went so far as to fly in an escort plane as Zelaya tried to return to the country -- an attempt that set off riots at the Tegucigalpa airport and led to the only death in the crisis.

Party is Over (And Karma Came Knocking)

Saturday, July 25, 2009
After years of colluding with the Castro brothers to brutally and systemically violate the human, civil, and political rights of the Cuban people, newly released pictures of former Cuba Vice President Carlos Lage, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and senior Communist Party official Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, provide a vivid reminder of how in a police-state you never know which party will be your last.

Ironically, their "crime" was getting caught on tape making fun of Fidel and Raul Castro, but karma has a funny way of working.

Pictures of the former three senior officials during a party at the ranch of one of Castro's authorized business representatives, Conrado Hernandez, who is now in a Cuban jail for his relationship with Spanish intelligence officials, were anonymously delivered last week to Miami-based television host Maria Elvira Salazar.

Lage, Perez-Roque and Remirez were purged from their positions this past March, and their whereabouts since that time remain unconfirmed. For years, foreign businessmen, diplomats and the international media had considered them to be the "heirs apparent" of the Cuban dictatorship.

That party is definitely over.

Quote of the Week

"Information technology inevitably creates more space. And day after day, also inevitably, closed regimes are drowning in the little space they have guaranteed for themselves to remain in power."

- Pablo Pacheco, Cuban independent journalist and political prisoner sentenced to 20-years, who was arrested during the infamous Black Spring of 2003. Two months ago, Pablo launched a blog from prison, From Behind The Bars, narrating his entries by telephone to fellow blogger Claudia Cadelo, who prepares them for publication; additional helpers outside Cuba manage the translations.

Obama: Ball (Correctly) in Castro's Court



President Barack Obama said Friday he's open to more overtures to Cuba, such as lifting restrictions on academic travel to the island, but not without signs of changes from the government in Havana.

"We're not there yet,'' he said. "We think it's important to see progress on issues of political liberalization, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, release of political prisoners in order for there to be the full possibility of normalization between our two countries.''

In April, Obama lifted travel and gift restrictions for those with relatives in Cuba and eased restrictions on U.S. telecommunications firms to do business there. And the administration last week resumed talks with Cuban officials on what Obama called a "narrow set of issues,'' chiefly migration.

But Obama said further steps may take time.

Obama referenced last week's "government-to-government conversations'' in New York and said that the administration's "hope is that if we're seeing progress on those issues, then they can begin to broaden.''

"We're taking it step by step, seeing if, as we change some of the old approaches that we've been taking, we are seeing some movement on the Cuban government side,'' he added.

"I don't think it's going to be happening overnight. I think it's going to be a work in progress.''

"Free Biscet" Today in Georgetown

Please join The George Washington University Students for a Free Cuba organization today, as they give away cards and balloons urging the release of Cuban political prisoner Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. Dr. Biscet, who is currently serving his tenth year of a 25 year prison sentence for his human rights work on the island, has been adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

The students will gather at the corner of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., between 10:00am and 3:00pm.



Hypocrisy's Universal Appeal

Friday, July 24, 2009
This month, the Organization of American States ("OAS") expeditiously suspended Honduras for violating the terms of the Inter-American Democratic Charter; the same Charter the OAS intentionally chose to ignore in its June resolution revoking the Castro regime's suspension.

Just yesterday, the European Union's Commissioner for External Relations delivered millions of euros to the Castro dictatorship, while on the same trip eliminating aid to Honduras' non-democratically elected, de facto government.

Tragically for democracy activists everywhere, hypocrisy seems to be having a universal appeal, as columnist Celestine Bolen points out in this weekend's International Herald Tribune:

Here's an example: the European Union withdrew its ambassadors from Honduras after a relatively bloodless coup d'état there this month, but left them in Tehran during the violent crackdown against the post-election demonstrations.

"What's good for Honduras should be good for Iran," Jean-Pierre Brard, a deputy in the French National Assembly, said at a recent press conference. "Or maybe the real difference is that Renault, Total and Areva are not so well represented in Honduras?"

The same logic applies to the muted response in Washington to the ethnic unrest in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which left more than 190 people dead earlier this month. Human rights groups have called for an independent investigation into the clashes and the Chinese government's handling of them; the U.S. State Department called for "calm."

The fact is that human rights violations in China don't get much attention in the United States these days, not when China holds so much of the U.S. national debt and when Washington is looking to Beijing to help pull the global economy out of recession.

Tampa Taxpayers Flip Bill for Cuba Trip

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern used about $1,300 in taxpayer money to pay for a trip to Cuba.

In doing so, Mulhern spent almost half of the $3,100 in discretionary funds that are given yearly to each City Council member.

During the trip, she met with Castro regime officials, including the head of Alimport, the only company in Cuba authorized to engage in international trade.

Mulhern didn't bother to engage with ordinary Cubans, as they are prohibited from conducting business activities.

Ironically, Mulhern is spending taxpayer funds to pursue ties with the Castro regime as businesses from other countries are severing such ties, for the Cuban authorities have abruptly frozen nearly $1 billion dollars in foreign bank accounts on the island since January 2009.

Think about it, Mulhern could have spent half her discretionary budget traveling to any country in the world, including those that respects their citizen's human, civil and political rights, and perhaps even countries that respect contractual obligations. Yet, she chose Castro's Cuba.

A down payment, of sorts, on further loses to come for Tampa's taxpayers.

Student Event in D.C. for Dr. Biscet

GWU Student Group Urges Release of Cuban Physician in Prison
Students to Host Balloon Giveaway in Georgetown
 
Students from The George Washington University Students for a Free Cuba organization will be giving away balloons urging the release of Cuban political prisoner Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. Dr. Biscet, who is currently serving his tenth year of a 25 year prison sentence for his human rights work on the island, has been adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He has also received the United States Medal of Freedom.
 
This Saturday, July 25th on the eve of the anniversary of Fidel Castro's attack on an army barrack which began the revolution, the students will gather at M Street and Wisconsin Ave. in the historic Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, DC. The activity will take place between 10:00am and 3:00pm and everyone is welcome.
 
A card petitioning General Raul Castro to set the black physician free and allow him to rejoin his family in the United States will be made available. The students will also distribute a flyer urging men and women of good will to call on President Barack Obama to include the release of Dr. Biscet and all Cuban political prisoners in any conversation with the Cuban government.
 
GW Students for a Free Cuba also calls on the American people to urge General Raul Castro to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit his political captive. 
 
GW Students for a Free Cuba was founded in 2009 and has hosted several speakers and panel discussions on human rights in Cuba, including Fidel Castro's severing of diplomatic relations with Israel.

Does Blackmail Promote Investor Confidence?

Thursday, July 23, 2009
The Castro regime has resorted to a new strategy in seeking to restore minimal investor confidence.
 
The strategy is called blackmail.  
 
After foreign businesses halted transactions with the Castro regime due to having their foreign business accounts frozen in Cuba's banks, and non-payment of outstanding invoices since January 2009, the Cuban Central Bank has now authorized the release of some funds, according to Reuters.
 
However, there is a caveat:
 
For the foreign businesses to have renewed access to their frozen accounts, even if only partial, they must continue to do business with the Castro regime.
 
If not, they can pack their bags, and leave the island, but the regime keeps their money.
 
There are some 600 foreign business accounts, with frozen funds estimated at $600 million to $1 billion, at stake.
 
Think they regret that decision?

The Constitution, Courts, Congress (and Cuba)

Last week, a federal lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York, challenging the constitutionality of U.S. laws that require Americans who travel to Cuba to disclose details about their financial expenditures on the island.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit legal advocacy group that filed the suit, this law forces travelers to incriminate themselves, therefore making an individual vulnerable to criminal prosecution.

Indirectly, the lawsuit recognizes that "self-incrimination" is simply a vehicle, as the true target of the lawsuit is U.S. foreign policy towards the Castro regime, in particular "efforts to stifle American travel to Cuba."

First of all, it's important to recognize, which this lawsuit does, that the Department of Treasury's jurisdiction under the Trading With the Enemy Act ("TWEA") is to prohibit or regulate commercial or financial "transactions related to travel," not travel per se.

Even if that weren't the case, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in the past that travel restrictions imposed by the Executive Branch are constitutional.

In Regan v. Wald, citing the precedent set by Zemel v. Rusk, the U.S. Supreme Court held:

"[T]he Court [in Zemel] found the Fifth Amendment right to travel, standing alone, insufficient to overcome the foreign policy justifications supporting the restriction...We see no reason to differentiate between the travel restrictions imposed by the President in the present case and the passport restrictions imposed by the Secretary of State in Zemel. Both have the practical effect of preventing travel to Cuba by most American citizens, and both are justified by weighty concerns of foreign policy."

Despite this ruling, the Center for Constitutional Rights will strenuously argue that the Executive Branch is encroaching upon a constitutional protection against self-incrimination.

But wait, there's another major obstacle.

In 1996 and 2000, U.S. sanctions towards the Castro regime were codified into law by the U.S. Congress.

Following further precedent set by Kent v. Dulles, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the right to travel was grounded in the Constitution, and if this right -- or other similar rights -- are to be regulated, it must be pursuant to the law-making functions of the Congress. This would become known as the "clear statement" principle.

And so on, and so forth, we can then proceed to analyze the court's historic deference to the Executive Branch, not to mention both the Executive Branch and Congress, in foreign policy decisions.

Yet here's the bottom line: there's a fluid legislative process in this country that allows for laws to be enacted and changed.

The U.S. Congress has found that tourism expenditures in Cuba should be prohibited, and while there are a host of categories permissible under law for travel expenditures (ranging from family visits to religious to humanitarian), it remains in the foreign policy interests of the U.S. to limit and account for hard currency that flows to Cuba's totalitarian regime, which uses a disproportionate amount of its income to fund a repressive state security apparatus and remains as one of four nations on the U.S. State Department's state-sponsors of terrorism list.

When Congress feels that it is appropriate for U.S. tourists to double or triple the Castro regime's GDP, so that spring breakers can enjoy Cuba's beaches, while the Cuban people are denied their most fundamental human, civil and political rights, including the ability to enjoy the hotels, stores and litany of services reserved for foreign tourists, then it will change the law.

In the meantime, this suit remains creative lawyering.

U.S. Rep. Sanchez on Vietnam (vs. Cuba)

In The Hill's Congress Blog, U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez of California makes an admirable and impassioned plea in favor of human rights for the Vietnamese people. The post is reproduced in its entirety below, as it's vitally important, and the Vietnamese people deserve nothing less than our complete solidarity and support.

Nonetheless, at its conclusion, we pose an important question for Congresswoman Sanchez.

The Vietnamese Government Should Respect Basic Human Rights

It's no secret that Congress has a lot on its plate. With comprehensive health care reform, clean energy legislation, and a complete overhaul of America's financial systems on the table, it's unsurprising that many Americans are unaware of the human rights abuses currently taking place in Vietnam. Some might wonder why Americans should care about civil and political rights in a country thousands of miles from our own. I hope this post will provide some good reasons.

I have been actively following the plight of Vietnam's people since I was first elected to the House in 1996. After visiting Vietnam three times and having my visa denied at least six times, I have first-hand knowledge of the country's deteriorating human rights situation. The Government of Vietnam continues to prevent churches, charity organizations, human rights groups, and other advocates from exercising their rights to free speech and expression. Anyone who attempts to exercise these rights is harassed or imprisoned by the Government of Vietnam.

In response to Vietnam's ongoing disregard for the political, religious, and civil liberties of its people, in 2004 the State Department designated Vietnam as a country of particular concern (CPC) for severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act. Although Vietnam did absolutely nothing to improve the human rights situation of its people, our government, under the Bush Administration, inexplicably took Vietnam off the CPC list in 2006 and granted the country Permanent Normal Trade Relations status the same year. Vietnam was later admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO), granting their repressive government further legitimacy despite their refusal to protect the most basic human freedoms of the Vietnamese people.

It has been over two years since Vietnam was admitted to the WTO, an organization that takes pride in the "Western values" of its members. But we have yet to see any human rights improvements in Vietnam
. Just two weeks ago, two young and prominent dissidents, Le Cong Dinh, an attorney, and Nguyen Tien Trung, an engineer, were arrested by the Government of Vietnam for speaking out against human rights violations in their country. Can you imagine life in America if our government imprisoned its citizens for merely speaking their mind, and expressing their desire for freedom and democracy? Can you imagine how angry Americans would be if our law enforcement agencies imprisoned constituents who expressed their opinions to elected officials? For the people of Vietnam, that nightmare is a reality.

Vietnamese authorities have not limited their oppressive actions to their citizens. In 2007 and 2008, the Government of Vietnam arrested, detained, and jailed four U.S. citizens in Vietnam, some of whom were charged for promoting peace and non-violence. Luckily, with Congressional and international pressure, they were all safely returned to the United States.

In 2008, the Government of Vietnam created the Administration Agency for Radio, Television and Electronics Information, a seemingly innocuous agency whose sole objective is to restrict internet freedom and censor private blogs. The people of Vietnam should have the right to express their views without censorship – on the streets, on the internet, wherever they may be. Next week, I will be introducing a resolution calling on the Government of Vietnam to release imprisoned bloggers and respect internet freedom. I hope my Congressional colleagues will join me in supporting this important legislation, and honor America's promise to be a beacon of freedom and democracy for nations across the world.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Congresswoman, don't you believe the Cuban people deserve the same? If so, we hope you'll reconsider your past support for legislation seeking to unconditionally normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship in Cuba.

Kafkaesque Arrest of Dr. Darsi Ferrer

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Cuban opposition leader Dr. Darsi Ferrer, Director of the Juan Bruno Zayas Center for Health and Human Rights, was re-arrested yesterday morning, according to the AFP.

Dr. Ferrer is currently being held at the Valle Grande Prison, west of Havana.

On July 9th, Dr. Ferrer was briefly detained and viciously beaten (see picture below) by the Cuban authorities for organizing a demonstration thematically entitled, "A Walk of Dreams," near the Hotel Nacional in Havana, whose premises are solely designated for foreign tourists.

During last week's detention, the Cuban authorities violently searched his home, breaking windows and causing structural damage. Connivingly, Dr. Ferrer is now being charged with "illegally" purchasing construction materials in the "black-market," in order to fix the damage incurred.

Who teaches the Cuban authorities such Kafkaesque tactics?

Sanctions Opponents Lobby (for Sanctions?)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009
In February 2009, Cigar Aficionado published "A Memo to President Obama on Cuba Policy" by Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations ("CFR"), which stated:

"As you know, there is no evidence that any unilateral sanctions program anywhere in the world has ever been effective in changing the internal character of the target government."

In the same vein, the Washington Office on Latin America ("WOLA") states on their website:

"WOLA's Cuba program encourages U.S. policy-makers to move towards normalized relations with Cuba."

Yet amazingly, Reuters reported yesterday that:

Some analysts say the Obama administration needs to step up sanctions to pressure the interim government to accept Arias' seven-point plan, allowing Zelaya to return to Honduras to set up a coalition government that includes rival parties.

"If the United States is to send a message that coups in this day and age in Latin America are not acceptable...the message needs to be reinforced," said Vicki Gass, with the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.

Julia Sweig, a senior Latin America analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said the threatened sanctions, to be effective, would need to be clearly and promptly stated.

"The threat must be stated very explicitly, now," said Sweig.

EDITOR'S NOTE: When ideology trumps reason, only contradiction prevails.

Castro's "Black Hole" Ate the Imports Too

Cuba's Economy and Planning Ministry disclosed today that the island's 2009 imports will plummet 22.2 percent, or some $3.4 billion, compared with an increase of nearly $1 billion that had been projected earlier in the year, according to a report seen by Reuters.

The Castro regime claims that this drastic, negative revision is due to the international financial crisis. However, the Cuban authorities -- along with practically every other person in the world -- had been well aware of the international crisis since the beginning of the year.

Click here to learn the true cause of this revision.

Who is Separating Cuban Families?

For those that habitually argue -- and mislead -- that U.S. policy is responsible for separating Cuban families, here's an important reminder:

According to today's Nuevo Herald newspaper, there are at least 621 Cubans that have been granted visas by the U.S., but are being denied "exit permits" to leave the island by the Castro regime.

Of those 621, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana has identified 358 as principal solicitors and 263 as solicited by family members abroad.

And these numbers are from the current 2009 fiscal year alone.

Cuba, along with North Korea, are amongst the few nations in the world that require its citizens to obtain "exit permits" prior to leaving the country, henceforth making them hostages within their own homeland.

The U.S. State Department's 2008 Report on Cuba's Human Rights Practices provides further important details on this violation of fundamental human rights by the Castro regime:

Persons routinely denied exit permits included medical personnel, men of military age, dissidents, and citizens with certain political or religious beliefs. An unpublished government policy denies exit permits to medical professionals until they have performed, on average, six to eight years of service in their profession after requesting permission to travel abroad; nurses and medical technicians waited an average of two to three years to receive exit permission.

The government denied exit permits for several years to relatives of individuals who migrated illegally (for example, merchant seamen and sports figures who defected while out of the country). The government frequently withheld exit visas to control dissidents.

The government denied exit permission to human rights activists who held valid foreign travel documents. In April authorities refused permission to blogger Yoani Sanchez to travel to Spain to receive a prestigious prize for journalism. Noted dissidents Francisco Chaviano and Jorge Luis Perez Garcia (Antunez) were both refused permission to travel abroad for treatment of serious medical conditions that developed during their long prison terms.

The government used both internal and external exile. The law permits authorities to bar an individual from a certain area, or to restrict an individual to a certain area, for a period of one to 10 years. Under this provision, authorities may exile any person whose presence in a given location is considered "socially dangerous." The authorities routinely warned emigrating dissidents and their family members that speaking out against the government abroad could result in repercussions for relatives remaining in Cuba, such as loss of employment or denial of permission to leave the country.

Those seeking to emigrate legally alleged they also faced fines, reprisals, harassment, and intimidation by the government; involuntary job transfers; threatened arrest; and dismissal from employment.

Fees for medical exams, exit permissions, passport costs, and airport taxes are payable only in convertible pesos, and amounted to approximately 630 convertible pesos ($680.40) for an adult, or nearly three years' salary. These fees represented a significant hardship, particularly for migrants who had been fired from their jobs for being "politically unreliable" and had no income. At year's end some would-be migrants were unable to leave the country because of inability to pay exit fees. Authorities routinely dispossessed migrants and their families of their homes and most of their belongings before permitting them to leave the country. The government also demanded payment of hefty fines for past attempts to leave the country illegally.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of 300 to 1,000 pesos ($11 to $38) for unauthorized departures by boat or raft. The government also sometimes applied a law on trafficking in persons to would-be migrants. The law provides for imprisonment from two to five years for those who organize, promote, or incite illegal exit from national territory.

Under the terms of the 1994 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accord, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters, or from the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo, after attempting to emigrate illegally if they had not committed a separate criminal offense. However, in practice many would-be migrants experienced harassment and discrimination such as fines, expulsion from school, job loss, and detention in prison.

Castro's "Black Hole" Ate the Money

According to Mexico's La Jornada, foreign businesses operating in Cuba are reporting that there's an apparent "black hole" totaling hundreds of millions of dollars that remain unaccounted for by the Castro regime's foreign currency banks.

This has resulted in transactions with the Castro regime being temporarily halted, as a large pile of outstanding invoices have been mounting since January 2009. Foreign businesses are also expressing concern about their Cuban bank accounts being frozen and their inability to repatriate profits to their home country headquarters.

To address these concerns, Raul Castro has announced a set of "brilliant" new rules -- that no one has seen -- transferring the authority to approve foreign currency transactions beyond $10,000 from the Cuban Central Bank to the various public ministries.

But here's the kicker -- no one knows how to recoup the hundreds of millions in the "black hole" and Rauls' new system of payment approval only applies to contracts executed from July 2009 forth.

In other words, the "black hole" ate hundreds of million of dollars.

Coincidentally, this is the same "black hole" that U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and U.S. Senator Max Baucus of Montana want the U.S. government to finance.

The European Union's Shameless Hypocrisy

Monday, July 20, 2009
The European Union (EU) suspended 65.5 million euros ($93 million) in aid to Honduras today, as talks mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias broke down between the interim government and the ousted President, Manuel Zelaya.

"In view of the circumstances, I have taken the difficult decision to suspend all budgetary support payments," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement.

That is arguably justifiable, as the European Union does not want to support a de facto government that was not democratically elected.

Nonetheless, Spain's EFE news agency is simultaneously reporting that an EU official is headed to Cuba this week with 37 million euros ($55 million) in aid for the repressive Castro dictatorship.

And who is the EU official traveling to Cuba?

The obviously shameless EU External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Venezuelan Drug Trafficking Threatens U.S.

According to a recently released GAO report requested by U.S. Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, Venezuelan drug trafficking threatens U.S. gains in counternarcotics.

Venezuela's cooperation on counternarcotics has deteriorated according to a report released today by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report, requested by U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar in February 2008, is an effort by Lugar to ensure that funding for United States Government policies designed to interdict narcotics being trafficked through Venezuela in transit to the United States are being used effectively.

Lugar asked the GAO to determine (1) what is known about cocaine trafficking through Venezuela, (2) what is known about Venezuelan support for Colombian illegal armed groups, and (3) the status of U.S. Venezuelan counternarcotics cooperation since 2002.

In March 2009, the Department of State reported that Venezuela had become a major transit route for cocaine out of Colombia, with more than a fourfold increase in cocaine flow between 2004 and 2007, from about 60 metric tons in 2004 to 260 metric tons in 2007.

"The findings of this report have heightened my concern that Venezuela's failure to cooperate with the United States on drug interdiction is related to corruption in that country's government," Lugar (R-IN) said.

According to the report, hundreds of metric tons of cocaine flow annually from South America toward the United States, threatening the security and well being of U.S. citizens. The report found that Venezuela's National Guard provides an important "lifeline" to cross border Colombian drug traffickers, and that President Hugo Chavez has decreased counternarcotics cooperation. Since 2000, the United States has provided more than $8 billion to countries in the region to disrupt drug trafficking.

"I would hope that the Government of Venezuela understands that the findings of this report merit serious corrective action. I encourage expeditious action in this regard," Lugar said. "President Chavez has recently approved the reestablishment of our respective Ambassadors. I hope he sees this as an opportunity to further dialogue in areas of common interest, but also in matters of sharp differences. The fight against drugs must be won through full cooperation among producing, transit and consuming nations," Lugar said.

The report is the first comprehensive overview of U.S – Venezuela counternarcotics efforts since the break in U.S.–Venezuelan relations in 2002. The report demonstrates that the resulting decline in counternarcotics cooperation is a significant impediment to the U.S. capacity to interdict drugs en route to the United States.

The GAO report was a result of a thorough review of U.S. counternarcotics reports, assessments, and other documents regarding illicit drugs transiting Venezuela. GAO officials also traveled to Venezuela and Colombia to discuss these matters with U.S. and foreign government officials. In addition to substantive analysis, the report GAO consolidates significant data into charts and summaries of trafficking routes into Venezuela from Colombia and from Venezuela to the United States, Western Europe and Western Africa.

GAO findings of note:

- Venezuela's military and law enforcement officials that report directly to President Chavez, notably Venezuela's National Guard, provide support and weapons to illegally armed groups crossing the border, providing a "lifeline" to these groups who are involved in the drug trade.

- Venezuela is a major drug transit country. While the final destination of cocaine transiting Venezuela is primarily the United States, there has been an increase in cocaine flowing directly towards Europe and to West Africa from Colombia through Venezuela, according to U.S. and foreign government officials.

- The U.S. Department of State reported that corruption is rampant within the Venezuelan government and military and has fueled a permissive operating environment for drug traffickers. The 2008 Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated three top officials who report directly to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as "drug kingpins," clearly demonstrating that corruption has reached the highest level of the Venezuelan government.

- The United States and Venezuela cooperated closely on counternarcotics between 2002 and 2005, but this cooperation has declined rapidly since.

- Despite the desire of some entities within Venezuela to reestablish cooperation with U.S. law enforcement agencies, some of Venezuela's most senior government officials do not share that view.

Will the OAS Strike Out With Nicaragua?

Thus far, the Organization of American States ("OAS") is batting .000.

First, it ignored the specific terms of the Inter-American Democratic Charter ("Charter") in revoking the 1962 exclusion of the Castro regime from the regional body. Such an irresponsible, ideological act consequently opened the door for the Honduran military to illegally ouster President Manuel Zelaya -- an event that could have been avoided if the OAS had been diligent in questioning the usurpation of Honduras' Constitution and other illegal activities by Zelaya.

Now, the OAS pushes to defend the Charter, but has little credibility.

The futility of the OAS and its Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza has even resulted in a "back-bench" view of the current negotiations on the Honduran crisis, as the lead role has been trusted upon Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

So here comes Nicaragua.

Trying to capitulate on the OAS's irrelevancy, Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega announced Sunday -- on the 30th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution -- that he would seek a referendum to change the Constitution to allow him to seek reelection.

Article 148 of Nicaragua's 1987 Constitution, as amended in 1995, allows the President to serve for one term of six years.

Calling for a referendum is a populist gimmick by Ortega.

A partial reform of the Nicaraguan Constitution, as would be needed to extend the term limit set by Article 148, can be initiated by either the President (pursuant to Article 191) or 1/3 of the National Assembly.

A referendum is not required. However, approval of such a partial constitutional reform would require 60 percent of the National Assembly.

Undoubtedly, this will be an uphill climb for Ortega. While the Sandinistas hold 38 seats in the National Assembly, the combination of both Liberal Democratic parties hold 45.

Therefore, the referendum ploy -- which can be easily manipulated (as the pre-fabricated results recently discovered in Honduras prove) -- as a means to subvert the National Assembly through fraud and populism.

Will the OAS, once again, be too late?

Strike 3 is quickly approaching.

Dr. Biscet's Birthday: In His Own Words

Sunday, July 19, 2009
"Today, on the eve of my 48th birthday, I write these lines from prison cell #1232. If this testimony from the box where I have been unjustly forced to live for almost 10 years now is of some interest to mankind, then publish it.

When I began advocating the philosophies of Gandhi and Thoreau, I remember those who commented that I would soon begin walking through the streets of Havana in a loincloth like Gandhi. Upon hearing these insults, I'd simply smile, as surely I would soon be subjected to this condition -- not in the streets of Havana, but in the indefinite confinement that I would face for such advocacy. Those that resorted to such insults, seeking to humiliate me, would not be mistaken after all, but it is through the humiliation of a man in loincloth that human dignity is reflected over barbarism.

When you ask me how I am doing, and I tell you that I am resisting, it is because the environment I find myself in is too brutal for any civilized man imprisoned for promoting ideas of love, the respect for human rights and the defense of life. Yet, I thank God as I awake every day, for in this dark and lonely cell, I know He is with me."

- Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Cuban pro-democracy leader and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience serving a 25-year sentence, in a letter to his wife and the world.

Where's Mariela When You Need Her?

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban dictator Raul Castro and head of Cuba's National Sexual Education Center (CENESEX), has been profiled throughout the world for her advocacy in favor of recognition for Cuba's highly-repressed gay and transgender population.

However, it seems that such advocacy only takes place when it involves a press conference with the international media, or a staged public relations event, as repression against Cuba's gay community maintains its brutal pace.

According to Mexico's Enewspaper, Cuban state security raided a HIV-AIDS prevention workshop last week and arrested 19 young homosexuals in attendance. The workshop's materials, which included condoms, educational pamphlets and HIV tests had been partly sponsored by the U.N. AIDS Global Fund.

The Reinaldo Arenas Foundation for Lesbians, Gays, Transgender and Bisexuals (LGTB), an opposition group considered "illegal" by the Cuban authorities, has filed a complaint with the Ministry of Public Health, condemning the arrest of the 19 participants and the deportation of 8 other young homosexuals to cities in the island's countryside.

The Arenas Foundation also demands that the Ministry of Public Health allows for the repetition of the disrupted HIV tests and calls for an end to the harassment, beatings and torture by the Cuban authorities of Havana's gay community.

Mariela must be on one of her frequent European vacations.

Is Cuba a Personalized Dictatorship?

In centralized, personalized dictatorships, getting rid of the dictator is usually enough to destroy the regime's foundations. Such has been the case in Francisco Franco's Spain, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar's Portugal and Rafael Trujillo's Dominican Republic.

Fidel Castro's Cuba definitely fits into the mold of a centralized, personalized dictatorship.

Therefore, will Fidel's death destroy the Cuban regime's foundations?

Here's an excerpt from Ken LaRive's "Castro Died a Long Time Ago" in the Examiner, which makes a passionate argument in favor of this thesis:

Those who will fill the vacuum that Castro left are a rag-tag group who have been waiting in the sidelines for their chance. They have had the same primary goal for decades: to keep the machine going no matter what the cost, and Cubans have paid dearly. Fidel’s aspiration to use the regime to restructure the world for his particular philosophical thought fell short long ago. Cuba has been in a vacuum for decades, where minions twiddle their cigar smelling thumbs, and grow fat by the oppression of their own kind.

The new functionaries can not claim the dreams of Fidel as their own, no matter how ambitious, or the political correctness they may use as smoke. No more similar is Josef Stalin to Leonid Brezhnev. Stalin was a visionary, though it is evident his ideology went against human nature, and as the thought disintegrated in a world where totalitarian rule was eaten by free world radio and television, Brezhnev became a functionary to survive. Under the Brezhnev umbrella the dreams of Stalin were served up cold, and so Brezhnev could do nothing more than serve up the regime in like kind. This Communist Cuba is a dying ember, and will go the same way. The walls that kept the masses from leaving will fall.

Sure, our President Reagan played a part of the last days of the Soviet Union. The old songs and slogans were played to lifeless crowds, where the ideals of Lenin and Stalin once reverberated goose bumps. In the end no one, not even Brezhnev, believed a word. The regime disintegrated from the inside out, as the true weakness unfolded one layer after another, like an onion. People can not be subjugated.

Likewise, the dreams of Fidel fell with the slow-sinking Soviet, as Fidel seemed never to give up hope that his original vision could still ignite, and his once strong words fell on deaf ears like a broken record.

To the very end Castro promoted the idea that it was the American embargo and the strangled relations of an imperialist American Economics that burned the life out of Cuba. He was very persuasive early on, but little to no one believes that today. Anyone could trade with Cuba, Latin America, Europe, Canada, whomever, and Cuba wasn’t even completely locked out of North America, as third parties collected their commissions. No, it was Fidel’s dreams that subdued Cuba, and his heavy hand that could not rationalize economics and free trade. Hitler and Saddam had their believers too, and the earth shook with their terrible dreams, but who will listen to Raul and his nuevo-league of bean-counters and functionaries? It has come to pass that men can no longer be held in check by instruments of power, not for long, as is the story of other Communist Regimes that have collapsed.

Even their own hot air could not keep them aloft.

Zelaya's Psychic Intervention

Saturday, July 18, 2009
Honduran prosecutors are scouring through various computers found in the Central American nation's Presidential Palace, which purportedly contain the results of ousted President Manuel Zelaya's proposed referendum seeking to extend his constitutionally mandated term in office, according to Europa Press.

Here's the kicker -- the referendum was supposed to take place on June 28th, the day Zelaya was forcefully removed from office.

Therefore, Zelaya had already decided -- through some sort of "psychic intervention" -- what was best for the Honduran people.

While this evidence adds to the long list of illegal activities by Zelaya, it still does not justify his forced expulsion from Honduras. Zelaya remains entitled to due process of law in his own country.

Finally, judging by some of the "results" of the referendum that never took place, Zelaya's "intervention" placed support for his extended mandate at 80%, a middle ground between the 99% that Castro and the 55% that Chavez typically "intervene" for themselves.

A Solomonic judgment indeed.

Catching Up to Cyrus the Great

In 539 B.C., Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, after conquering the city of Babylon, set a historic precedent -- he freed all the slaves to return home. Moreover, he declared that people had the right to choose their own religion.

The Cyrus Cylinder, a clay tablet containing these proclamations is considered the first human rights declaration in history. The idea of individual rights would spread to India, Greece and eventually Rome.

Two millennia later, the Castro regime holds an entire population under the absolute control of a totalitarian dictatorship -- a form of modern day slavery -- refusing to recognize the individual, fundamental rights of any of its citizens.

Sadly, the Castro regime has a lot of catching up to do.

Quote of the Week

Friday, July 17, 2009
"Whether in Latin America or Lebanon, Iran or Liberia, those who are inspired by democracy, who understand that democracy is about more than just elections – that it must also protect minority rights and press freedom, develop strong, competent and independent judiciaries, legislatures and executive agencies, and commit for democracy to deliver results – these are the people who will find that Americans are their friends, not adversaries."
 
- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, July 15, 2009

Star Pitcher Arrested for "Illegal Exit"

Cuban star pitcher Yuniesky Maya Mendizula has been arrested by the Castro regime for trying to flee the island by sea. He was intercepted, along with some of his family members, by the Cuban authorities as they tried to depart from the island's southern coast.

According to Article 12 of the United Nation's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Castro regime signed -- but refuses to respect -- on December 10th, 2007:

(1) Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.

(2) Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.

The U.N. should demand that the Castro regime respects the Cuban people's fundamental right of free movement.

Barbara Lee's Economic Recovery Plan

During yesterday's floor consideration of the FY 2010 Financial Services Appropriations Bill, which funds the Treasury Department, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California made the following statement:

"Let me just say that United States companies should be able to benefit from profits and create jobs, which is the bottom line during this recession as a result of these business opportunities. So this provision is very important for our economic recovery."

Was she talking about provisions aimed at stabilizing capital markets? Provisions to ensure greater regulation and oversight of credit derivatives? Or even, to clamp down on tax havens?

No, she was talking about a provision seeking to allow the Castro regime to pay for agricultural products upon the commodity's arrival on the island, as opposed to before the commodity leaves the U.S.

This shouldn't be a surprise after Congresswoman Lee's April visit to Cuba, where she lavished praise on the Castro brothers.

Apparently, she's been taking their economic advice as well.

Berry, Berry Bad Business

This week, U.S. Congressman Marion Berry of Arkansas boasted in a Delta Farm Press opinion editorial,

"Recently, I introduced the Agricultural Export Facilitation Act with Republican Jerry Moran of Kansas. Together, we are building support for this bipartisan, common sense bill that would amend the law to allow for agricultural credit sales to purchasers in Cuba."

Meanwhile, Spain's ABC newspaper is reporting that companies from the autonomous region of Valencia -- which is approximately the size of the state of Arkansas -- have not been paid for their exports to the Castro regime (the only legally authorized purchaser in Cuba) in over a year. Similar to companies from other regions of Spain, Valencian companies are now requesting lines of credit from their local and national government to cover these delinquent debts, which total well over $30 million. While sales to Cuba from the Valencia region had multiplied in the last few years, they have now come to a complete halt due to the Castro regimes inability (or refusal) to pay.

What was that about common sense, Congressman Berry?

Congressional Letter on Ariel Sigler Amaya

Thursday, July 16, 2009
Click on letter to expand.

Same Laws, Different Tyrants

On October 24, 1933, the German Reichstag -- controlled by Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party -- passed the Law Against Habitual and Dangerous Criminals that justified placing "anti-social" elements, including dissidents, homeless, homosexuals, unemployed, artists and eventually Jews in concentration camps.

More than 75 years later, the Castro regime uses the same legal justification.

Dissident faces possible 4-year sentence

HAVANA, Cuba, July 14 (Roberto de Jesús Guerra, Cubanet) – The National Liberal Cuban Party says one of its members, Marcos Rivas, has been arrested in the municipality of Gibara and faces a prison sentence of four years.

Miguel Batista, the party's provincial vice-coordinator, said that the Political Police told Rivas's family that he will be charged as a danger to society and having been involved in anti-social activities against the government.

Don't "Block" Macroeconomic Logic

According to the Brownfield Ag Network:

"Former Illinois and U.S. Agriculture Secretary John Block says legalizing travel with Cuba will boost U.S. food sales. The Center for Democracy in the Americas held a conference call with Block on Wednesday in Illinois. Block says he supports legislation in Congress seeking to allow all Americans to travel to Cuba because it would increase tourism in Cuba and its demand for food."

From a macroeconomic perspective, Secretary Block's rationale is faulty at best, as it simply makes the Cuban regime an unnecessary middle man.

Let me explain.

Joe American (a U.S. tourist) would have bought a cob of corn in the U.S. at $1 say. Now he goes to Cuba and he pays $1.50. Of this, the Cuban regime pays $1 to U.S. farmers, which makes farmers equally well off as selling it at home: they still get $1 for their produce.

However, the 50c extra is the Cuban regime's mark up.

From the U.S. side, those 50c represent an import of services by the U.S. and adds to the U.S.'s current account deficit. These are 50c Joe American would have otherwise spent in the U.S. (or saved). From the Cuban side, those 50c represent export revenues to the Cuban regime. Such moneys may be used to buy U.S. goods, but also goods from other countries. They may also end up financing the Castro regime's state security and military apparatus, in order to continue exerting power by force and repressing the Cuban people.

Farmers would be better off if, in addition to U.S. tourists, Cubans themselves were to buy U.S. corn. However, the Cuban regime is essentially bankrupt and does not have the money to pay for it. Therefore, the Cuban regime needs to generate export revenue to earn US$ with which to pay for imports. Yet ample evidence from the last half century shows that to accomplish the latter, Cuba needs to develop a competitive market economy -- something the Castro regime refuses to do.

But let's be honest, should farmers be worried about exchanging corn for Cuban IOUs? Not really.

If Cuba undertakes reforms, they will eventually be able to exchange the IOUs for U.S. IOUs (e.g. dollars). If it doesn't, sooner or later the U.S. government will bail them (and simultaneously the Cuban regime) out. For farmers, the great thing about this plan is that it is essentially a farm support system that (1) would not appear to contravene World Trade Organization rules and (2) would not be seen as such by taxpayers, thus making for an easier pitch to Congress.

For U.S. businessmen, taxpayers and national security, on the other hand, this is terrible news. Taxpayers will likely foot the final bill, businesses with Latin American operations will face a better financed foe, and national security will continue to be undermined by Castro's anti-American activities and persistent network of spies in the U.S.

By the way, did somebody mention narrow self interests?

Illinois Congressman on Migration Talks

Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Statement on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL):
 
Madam Speaker, I rise today to discuss our relationship with our neighbor to the south, Cuba.

I applaud President Obama for his plan to re-engage Cuba in a constructive dialogue, and support his first steps to that end.

But, I must ask, what has Cuba done?

Improving the relations between the United States and Cuba is something I surely support, but I do not support this partnership at any cost.

I must ask, what has Cuba done? 

Cuba still imprisons political dissidents.

Cuba still denies gay and lesbian citizens basic rights like freedom of assembly.

Cuba still forbids travel outside the country without official permission.

We cannot tacitly reward this behavior by restoring normal relations with Cuba without asking – what has Cuba done?

Our ultimate progress is up to Cuba, and our shared diplomacy must be a two-way street.

U.S. State Department on Migration Talks

"On Tuesday, July 14, the United States and Cuba met to discuss implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. This was the first such meeting since 2003. In the course of the meeting, the U.S. team, led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to promote safe, orderly, and legal migration. Engaging in these talks underscores our interest in pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba to advance U.S. interests on issues of mutual concern.

The U.S. delegation highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, while also identifying issues that have been obstacles to the full implementation of the Accords. The agenda for the talks reflected long-standing U.S. priorities on Cuba migration issues, including: ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to operate fully and effectively; gaining access to a deep water port for the safe repatriation of migrants; ensuring that the American consular staff at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana are able to monitor the welfare of repatriated migrants; and gaining Cuban government acceptance for the repatriation of all Cuban nationals who are excludable on criminal grounds. The United States views these talks as a venue to achieve practical, positive results that contribute to the full implementation of the Accords and to the safety of our citizens."

Dorgan Auditions for Cuba's Censors

As U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota works to eliminate funds for TV Marti in the FY 2010 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, Cuba's independent journalists report:

Police crack down on illegal TV antennas

HAVANA, Cuba, July 13 (Roberto de Jesús Guerra, Cubanet) – Police supported by workers from ETECSA, the Cuban-Italian telephone company, removed homemade parabolic antennas and cable connections last week, according to an activist from the Republican Party of Cuba.

Raimundo Cuevas said he counted 17 police cruisers and a similar number of telephone company vehicles in the Veracruz district of Havana. He said more than 30 men were involved in cutting cables and scaling roofs to remove the dishes

EDITOR'S NOTE: If Senator Dorgan gets his way, Castro's state security and censors will no longer have to worry about dismantling "illegal" antennas and have plenty of time to concentrate on other activities, such as beating up human rights activists and imprisoning dissidents.

Obama Waives Title III of LIBERTAD Act

Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Consistent with section 306(c)(2) of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-114) (the "Act"), I hereby determine and report to the Congress that suspension, for 6 months beyond August 1, 2009, of the right to bring an action under title III of the Act is necessary to the national interests of the United States and will expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba.

Sincerely,
BARACK OBAMA

EDITOR'S NOTE: Title III of the LIBERTAD Act, which gives U.S. nationals and corporations the right to sue foreign companies that "traffic" in property expropriated from the U.S. entity, has been waived every six months by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush since its original enactment by Congress in 1996. Therefore, it has never effectively been applied.

Beaten for Using a Tourist-Only Toilet

From The Epoch Times:

OTTAWA - To commemorate the 15-year anniversary of the infamous Tugboat Massacre, Juan Carlos brought a makeshift raft to Parliament Hill on Monday similar to the one he had used on the open sea to escape from Cuba in 1994.

Carlos is a "rafter," one of thousands who fled Cuba in 1994 after Fidel Castro declared that people were free to leave the country without reprisal. He used a combination of innertubes and wood to cobble a raft that would take him to the United States and escape what he saw as Castro's oppressive regime.

Speaking on the Hill, Carlos, a resident of Guelph, said that at 17 he was badly beaten for using a public washroom that was designated for use by tourists only.

"From that day on I have been very angry. I wonder how Canadians would feel if they were beaten for using a public washroom in their own country but which foreign people are allowed to use. I won't welcome tourism in my country until the Castro government is over. I would like to tell the Canadian people that the only thing you are doing by going to resorts in Cuba is hurting the Cuban people.

Worst Country for Priests or Pastors

If you are a priest...

Father Mariano Arroyo Merino, 74, was found dead Monday at the parish of Our Lady of Regla, in Havana.

Initial investigations indicate that the priest was murdered in a knife attack early Monday morning, the archbishopric of the island capital reported.

Father Arroyo is the second Spanish priest to be assassinated in Cuba in less than a year. Father Eduardo de la Fuente Serrano, 59, was killed Feb. 14.

If you are a pastor...

There was international concern Tuesday, July 14, over the detention of a Cuban Evangelical pastor, after news emerged he has been sentenced to six years in prison on charges that include "counter-revolutionary conduct and attitudes" as part of what rights investigators called “mounting state hostility towards religious groups."

The family home of detained Pastor Omar Gude Pérez will also confiscated as part of the sentence, trial observers said.

An Obituary for Fidel Castro

"Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it."

Bill Cosby, American Comedian

Porno para Ricardo is a Cuban punk rock band founded in 1998. Their lyrics have become a staple of Cuba's repressed youth due to its harsh and fearless criticism of the Castro regime. Such criticism has landed the band's members in prison on several occasions for "dangerousness," a charge that allows the Cuban authorities to preemptively detain people whom they think are likely to commit "crimes."

Ciro Diaz, the band's lead guitarist, has now taken his opposition of the Castro's regime to the blogosphere. While his blog is in Spanish, it features this short clip filmed in Cuba, "An Obituary for Fidel Castro," which can be understood universally (and encapsulates the views of young Cubans).


The Measure of Success for Migration Talks

As migration talks between the U.S. government and the Cuban regime resume today in New York City, it's important to recall that these talks were suspended in 2003 due to major violations of the 1994 Migration Accords -- which set the original framework for these periodic talks -- by the Cuban authorities.

These violations* include:

(1) Cuban government denial of exit permits to otherwise eligible Cubans approved for resettlement to the U.S.;

(2) Cuban government restriction on travel of U.S. Interests Section personnel to monitor the well-being of Cuban migrants returned by the U.S. Coast Guard;

(3) the Cuban regime's refusal to take back criminals ordered removed from the U.S.; and

(4) credible reports of retaliation by the Cuban regime against returning migrants and their families.

Therefore, the success and continuation of these migration talks must be, first and foremost, measured by the Cuban regime's compliance with the Accord's original commitments.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This might seem tangential, but recalling the loss-of-life at sea by so many Cubans in pursuit of freedom is yet another tragic reminder of the immense physical and emotional suffering caused by the absolute obsession of one man (and his brother) to remain in power forever. Like the U.S., Cuba was a nation that historically received migrants. It was the Castro regime that turned it into a source of migrants. Therefore, the only way to surely achieve the stated goal of these talks, which is "safe, legal and orderly migration between both nations," is through freedom and democracy in Cuba.

*Report to Congress, "Cuban Compliance with the Migration Accords," transmitted by the Department of State pursuant to Sec. 2245 of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 105-277), March 2007.