"Fact-Finding Vacation"

Monday, November 30, 2009
According to The New York Post:

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Laura Jacobson was reimbursed $2,878.40 to travel to Cuba in late September with the National Association of Women Judges for what one attendee reportedly called a "fact-finding vacation."

Perhaps Justice Jacobson traveled to Cuba to see how people get arrested for "social dangerousness" (in other words, for posing a threat to the regime), or maybe to learn from the kangaroo-court proceedings of pro-democracy activists, who are imprisoned indefinitely without due process or an independent defense.

Or, maybe she just went to enjoy some mojitos at a Varadero beach resort.

Either way, we hope that -- at least -- the National Association of Women Judges took note of how the Castro regime violently beats up 100 lb. women for posting online criticisms of the regime. Thus far, we haven't seen a press release or condemnatory statement.

Bottom line: New York taxpayers deserve better.

Don't "Engage" Without "Change"

From the Editorial Board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Same old Cuba: Tyranny pervades

No one should be surprised that Raul Castro's July 2006 assumption of power from his ill brother has yet to free the Cuban people from heinous repression by their island nation's Communist regime.

Thus, the U.S. must not use this regime "change" -- a distinction without a difference -- as a reason to further "engage" Cuba.

The unchanged plight of the Cuban people is made clear by the new Human Rights Watch report, "New Castro, Same Cuba." Raul Castro has shown he cares as little for human rights and civil liberties as his brother Fidel always has, making unwise any additional Obama administration moves toward more normal relations with Cuba.

Under Raul, the Castro regime continues to use vague "dangerousness" charges to persecute Cubans whose advocacy of fundamental freedoms threatens the government's power. The 132-page report documents more than 40 cases of the Cuban police state suppressing dissent through imprisonment imposed by kangaroo courts, denial of work and brutality toward political prisoners.

Raul Castro can have better relations with America -- but only if he ends his tyranny. Not until Cuba proves it respects fundamental freedoms should the U.S. stance ease further. Otherwise, the U.S. will only strengthen the Castros' iron hand.

Humanitarian vs. Repressive Aid

How many times have we read this story (or some version of it) over the past decade?

"Members of Pastors for Peace arrived in Cuba Sept. 13 with a shipment of 435 computers in a challenge to the unlawful blockade against the people and the government of Cuba.

The Cuban government has from the start said the donated computers were to be used solely for a medical information network in emergency clinics and other priority institutions."

Answer: Yearly.

Yet, it's rarely noted that the Castro regime's security forces are apparently one of the "other priority institutions."

But don't take our word for it.

Analyze the picture below from this week's Bastion 2009 "war games" designed by the Castro regime to vividly remind the people of its extensive repressive capabilities.

Moral of the story: Humanitarian aid must go directly to the Cuban people, for only repressive aid is funneled through the Castro regime.

Quote of the Month (Cuba's Cowards)

Sunday, November 29, 2009
"Coward is the government that through its absolute power denies the rights of its citizens and condemns them to live in the material and spiritual poverty of slaves. Cowards are the servile oppressors, who supported by their limited, momentous and fragile impunity believe that tyrants will always spared from justice. Cowards are also those poor souls -- fortunately, those are the least in numbers -- who under the guise of dissatisfaction and incapable of shining in their own light, today operate as occasional allies of the regime screaming insults at Cuba's bloggers, in an effort to tarnish the civility and honesty of those that work with extraordinary sacrifice, more or less talent, and that extraordinary treasure that sadly appears to be so scarce: dignity."

- Miriam Celaya, Cuban blogger, from her portal Sin EVAsion (Without EVAsion), November 26th, 2009.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to fear of government repression, Celaya used to write under the pseudonym Eva. At the beginning of 2009, in an act of extraordinary courage and symbolism, she revealed her real name and even her state identity card. Thus the name of her blog, Without EVAsion.

Argument of the Week

Saturday, November 28, 2009
"As Congress debates the travel ban, the politicians should ask why cultural exchanges that allow Cuban artists like Chucho Valdes and Omara Portuondo to attend the Latin Grammys in Las Vegas would deny [Willy] Chirino, Gloria [Estefan], et al, in Havana.

Because what we have is a one-way policy.

The Cuban regime gets to pick and choose who can travel to Cuba while we offer a virtual open door to their government-approved artists.

Does no one see the contradiction?"

- Myriam Marquez, "Cultural Exchange a One-Way Policy," The Miami Herald, November 23, 2009

Cuban VP's Son Arrested for Protest

Juan Juan (JJ) Almeida, son of the recently deceased Cuban Vice-President and one of the original Comandantes of the Castro Revolution, Juan Almeida, was arrested this morning by the regime's state security.

At the time of his arrest, he had been protesting on the street with a poster calling for democratic change and the resignation of Raul Castro.

Almeida is being held at the nefarious state security prison of Villa Marista.

The Prospects of Tyrant Rehabilitation

This week, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez jubilantly received Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Caracas.

During the opening ceremony of the visit, Chavez announced that he'd just returned from Cuba, and that,

"Fidel told me: 'Tell Ahmadinejad that going to Venezuela is like coming to Cuba, because they're one and the same country."

For years, critics of U.S. policy towards Cuba have argued that it is too confrontational and provides the Castro regime with a scape-goat for its policy failures and repression.

Of course, these critics always overlook the qualifier that -- for this argument to be true -- the Cuban people have to believe the Castro regime's lies in the first place. Frankly, we believe the Cuban people are much too intelligent and pragmatic for that.

Nonetheless, for the sake of discussion, let's say it were true.

For the last five years, the U.S. has had a policy of "ignoring" and "engaging" Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, as opposed to "confronting" him.

During the second term of the Bush Administration, U.S. policy towards Venezuela -- under the diplomatic guidance of Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon -- was to ignore any provocations by Chavez and engage him on issues of common interest, such as energy and narcotics trafficking.

This strategy has continued through the first year of the Obama Administration.

The result?

Chavez has dismantled Venezuela's democratic institutions and civil society, while becoming a major transit point for narcotics trafficking. All right under our noses.

And just for kicks, Chavez is prospecting for uranium reserves in Venezuela with help of Iranian specialists (despite the international condemnation of Iran for secretly enriching uranium).

Ever met a tyrant rehabilitated through engagement?

Not likely.

Cuba Supports Iran in IAEA

Friday, November 27, 2009
(JTA) - The United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency voted to censure Iran for building a nuclear enrichment facility in secret and demanded it freeze its nuclear enrichment program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors' resolution, which passed 25-3 with six abstentions, was significant because it was backed by all six major world powers, including Russia and China. Both of those countries have been reluctant to go along with Western efforts to sanction Iran for its nuclear program, although it is still unclear if Friday's vote signaled that Russia and China would support further punitive measures.

The only three nations to vote against the resolution were Cuba, Venezuela and Malaysia.

Does Castro Think Obama is a Liar?

Three months ago, Cuba's Generation Y blogger, Yoani Sanchez, submitted the following question to U.S. President Barack Obama:

Has the U.S. Government renounced the use of military force as way to end any dispute between the U.S. and Cuba?

Last week, President Obama answered:

The United States has no intention of using military force in Cuba. The United States supports increased respect for human rights and for political and economic freedoms in Cuba, and hopes that the Cuban government will respond to the desire of the Cuban people to enjoy the benefits of democracy and be able to freely determine Cuba's future. Only the Cuban people can bring about positive change in Cuba and it is our hope that they will soon be able to exercise their full potential.

Yesterday, the Castro regime also responded:

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba's armed forces launched three days of intense military exercises across the island Thursday, a mobilization that state-controlled media says is designed to guard against an American invasion.

Conclusion: Either Castro thinks Obama is a liar or he's terrified of the Cuban people's desire for freedom.

The First Presidential Proclamation

Thursday, November 26, 2009
Reflections on Thanksgiving through Washington's words

By Art Veneris

This Thanks-giving Day, please take a moment and read what is written below. My words fall short describing this wonderful holiday, celebrating God and his bounty. We are awash with His blessings. This fact was not lost on our first President, George Washington.

On Oct. 3, 1789, Washington signed the first official presidential proclamation of this great nation. Washington's proclamation did not smack of government control of Americans; rather, it celebrated the blessings given to us by Almighty God.

This Thanksgiving, let us reflect as a community on Washington's words. Let us receive God's blessings and understand this nation was founded by those who realized our rights as humans, as Americans, flow from God, not from government. Let us take this day also as a day of peace and prayer as requested by our first president. May we please understand many people in this world are living under freedom stifling regimes such as Iran, North Korea, China, Venezuela and Cuba just to name a few. These individuals have no right to worship as they wish, and are crushed literally and figuratively when attempts to regain their rights are forcefully refused by these leftist dictators.

Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation:

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLIC THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

Art Veneris is production manager of the Brownwood Bulletin.

Much To Be Thankful For

Cuba's current reality is one of sadness, violence and injustice.

As such, every day we denounce the brutality of the Castro regime and its assault on the human rights and dignity of the Cuban people.

Yet the future of Cuba is filled with great hope.

It's embodied in a new generation of pro-democracy leaders, such as Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," Dr. Darsi Ferrer, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, Ariel Sigler Amaya, Claudia Cadelo, Ciro Diaz, Yoani Sanchez and many more.

On this day, we dedicate our thanks and prayers to their courage and resilience.

Inevitably, all of their dreams and aspirations -- which we share -- will come through.

As Yoani recently noted about Fidel and his geriatric dictatorship:

"As they prepare for what will undoubtedly be the most spectacular funeral in the history of Cuba, or what some call "the biological solution", the mournful saga that floods the television programming seems like a dress rehearsal. The noise of the ceremonial cannons doesn't allow them to hear the new generation knocking at the door, coming like a whirlwind to dismantle everything. Sweeping away—in passing—the odor of dried-up flowers we sense all around us."

Happy Thanksgiving.

EU Commissioner Should Resign

Wednesday, November 25, 2009
According to CNN:

A European Union commissioner Monday told Christiane Amanpour that Europe's policy toward Cuba in the future will place less emphasis on human rights in the island nation than now.

The EU commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, Karel De Gucht, who is just back from a visit to Havana, Cuba, told Amanpour, "We have relations with a lot of oppressive regimes and we have a special regime for Cuba. It makes no sense singularizing them."

This statement by Commissioner De Gucht stands in gross dereliction of the 2005 European Consensus on Development.

The 2005 Consensus identifies shared values, goals, principles and commitments for the European Commission and EU Member States to implement in its development policies.

Prominently amongst these is:

"Development based on Europe's democratic values - respect for human rights, democracy, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, good governance, gender equality, solidarity, social justice and effective multilateral action, particularly through the UN."

Furthermore, Commissioner De Gucht should consider reading Development as Freedom by Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, who was praised by the Nobel Prize Committee for bringing an "ethical dimension" to the field of international development. In the book, Sen argues that political liberties are necessary for sustainable development.

Otherwise, Commissioner De Gucht should resign -- or be formally reprimanded -- for his derelict and unethical statement.

As it stands, Commissioner De Gucht's statement is a drawback to the worst of European colonial insensitivity.

A Failed Policy

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Last weekend, the Boston Globe ran an excellent article on the U.S.'s failed policy of trade and tourism towards China's dictatorship.

It's entitled, "Nonstop Party, The Surprising Persistence of Chinese Communism."

Here's an excerpt:

For at least two decades, most American leaders - and many American China-watchers - have been waiting for the party to fail. At least since the Tiananmen protests of 1989, the US foreign policy establishment has assumed that China's Communist Party would eventually bow, making way for Chinese democracy. After all, in 1989 virtually every other communist regime collapsed, and in the following years democracy spread across Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and East Asia, including neighbors of China such as Thailand and South Korea. "Color Revolutions" swept through countries as diverse as Georgia and Lebanon. Even nations far poorer than China, like Malawi and Bangladesh, held successful multi-party elections.

Other authoritarian regimes now try to copy the Chinese "formula" for staying in power: just enough reform to co-opt the middle class, using nationalism to shore up the regime, and moderating (and monitoring) the flow of information into the country. Most successfully, Vietnam, which for years sent officials to China to study the Communist Party's strategy, has followed the CCP's policies like a textbook. Other countries, from Cuba to Syria to Kyrgyzstan, also have sent senior officials to China to study the party's methods. Other authoritarian regimes seem almost awed by China's success. Indeed, in some countries, like Syria, officials tout the idea of importing a "China model" without seeming capable of even defining what China has done, other than pairing some economic liberalization with virtually no political liberalization.

Please note that the Castro regime is studying the Chinese model for its long-term survival -- not vice-versa.

This proves that the Castro regime feels its existence is at greater risk with U.S. travel and trade sanctions, than China's regime does without any sanctions.

Therefore, let's make sure that the Cuban dictatorship doesn't survive past Castro through a failed policy of increased travel and trade.

Regardless, profit should never be a substitute for basic human rights and dignity.

P.S. We also highly recommend the following book:

A Bittersweet Reality

Monday, November 23, 2009
During last week's Cuba policy hearing in the U.S. House of Representative's Foreign Affairs Committee, Chairman Howard Berman of California stated:

"I understand the concern that allowing Americans to travel to Cuba would put money in the hands of the Castros. But the reality is that a significant portion of these funds would also aid the underground economy and the small self-employed sector, strengthening an important foundation of independence from Cuba's authoritarian regime."

Is this the "underground economy and small self-employed sector" that Chairman Berman is talking about?

Making candy leads to charges against human rights advocate

HAVANA, (Juan C. González Leiva, Cubanet) – Human rights advocate Edey Sánchez says he was arrested by national police agents following a five-hour search of his home that turned up an oven, a mixer and trays for making candy.

Sánchez, who lives in Cumanayagua in the province of Cienfuegos, was held by police for seven days and charged with illicit economic activity. The stove, mixer and trays were confiscated.

He was released pending trial after posting a 500,000 bond.

Profit$ in Anti-Sanctions Advocacy?

Are anti-sanctions lobbyists, activists and interest groups profiting from their advocacy?

Last week, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and U.S. Congressman Howard Berman of California wrote an opinion editorial in the Miami Herald calling for the unconditional lifting of tourism-travel sanctions towards Castro's Cuba.

On the very same day, the price of the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund (CUBA) jumped 4%. This fund holds about 100 companies -- both foreign and U.S. based -- that should benefit economically (in conjunction with the Castro regime) from the lifting of tourism-travel sanctions.



Regardless -- for the sake of transparency -- we call on Public Campaign to conduct an investigation into the fund's investors and issue a report on any potential profiting by lobbyists, activists and interest groups that oppose sanctions.

Canadians With a Conscience

Sunday, November 22, 2009
From the Editorial Board of Canada's National Post:

Don't go to Cuba

As the weather turns against us and holidays approach, many Canadians will eagerly begin to plan their winter escapes to hotter climes. Each year, hundreds of thousands of us travel to the island of Cuba, to enjoy the sun, surf and hospitality for which the island is justly famous.

But the island is infamous, too. While tourists rarely bother to venture far beyond their comfortable resorts, if they would, they would see a nation where the worst excesses of authoritarianism remain as entrenched as ever. This point is well made by the recent Human Right's Watch (HRW) report, New Castro, Same Cuba, that lays bare the state of freedom in Cuba, under the new leadership of the slightly younger Castro brother, Raul.

In Raul's Cuba, as in Fidel's, dissent remains punishable by indefinite imprisonment, unemployment is considered antisocial and the government can lock away anyone a summary trial finds guilty of "dangerousness," a legal catch-all.

Once incarcerated, political prisoners are denied medical care, family visits and legal aid. Solitary confinement is a common and seemingly arbitrary form of discipline.

We have criticized HRW's biased, anti-Israel reporting in the past, and will continue to do so. But in this report, it has produced exemplary work. Cuba's eagerness to welcome Westerners is limited only to tourists, and the HRW's research was conducted clandestinely, as international rights organizations are not welcome there. While they did their best to protect the anonymity of their sources, changing names, dates and locations, they concede that their efforts were not entirely successful, and some of the Cubans who co-operated by providing first-hand accounts and documents have been punished by the Castro regime.

While many in the West hoped that Raul would move Cuba away from the worst excesses of his brother and into a new era of freedom, as this report makes clear, for Cuba's jailers and torturers, it's business as usual.

Canadians should not be subsidizing this tyranny -- directly or indirectly. If you want sun, try Miami, the Dominican Republic or St. Lucia. Don't go to Cuba.

Message to Yoani Sanchez

You are undoubtedly a heroine, not to mention the future of Cuba.

Regardless of any disagreement that we may have regarding U.S. policy towards Cuba, we certainly respect your right to voice that disagreement, as we're confident you respect our right to disagree.

That is the diversity of our views (and the roots of a future democracy).

Yet, any disagreement is minimal within the context of our fundamental agreement that the human rights of the Cuban people must be respected; that an end to the Castro regime's brutal dictatorship is imminent; and that a process of democratic change must take place.

That is the unity of our purpose.

Such diversity of views, in furtherance of this united purpose, make our Cuban family stronger.

So within our family, please indulge us with the following recommendation:

When you were abducted and assaulted by the Castro regime's thugs on November 6th, not one of the current 178 Members of Congress that have co-sponsored legislation to unconditionally lift tourism sanctions towards Cuba -- nor its advocates -- raised their voice in concern or condemnation.

Similarly, Friday's physical attack by the regime's thugs against your husband, Reinaldo, did not seem to disturb the conscience of those Members of Congress, nor their advocates. It was, once again, met with disturbing silence.

Yet, the same people that urged you to weigh-in on behalf of their views during last week's Congressional hearing on US policy towards Cuba, have left no stone unturned, exerting all of their energy and efforts, to exploit your views for their political gain.

Simply put, they seek to take advantage of our family's diversity, in the hopes of hindering our united purpose.

Therefore, we respectfully ask:

Make sure to hold them accountable for their silence.

In the meantime, we will continue working hard to do so.

In Solidarity With Yoani and Reinaldo

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Yoani's Husband Attacked

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez's husband, Reinaldo Escobar -- an independent journalist and blogger in his own right -- was attacked by Castro regime thugs yesterday.

Pursuant to the November 6th assault and abduction of his wife, Yoani, Escobar had challenged -- in a blog post -- her attackers to a "verbal dual" on a Havana street corner.

Apparently, the Castro regime reads Reinaldo's blog (despite censuring it from the remaining Cuban population), for a prearranged group of thugs were waiting for him at the indicated street corner, screaming obscenities, then physically assaulting him.

Take note of the picture below.

Reinaldo (in the purple shirt) is being aided by two colleagues. The white band on his friend's wrist is a CAMBIO band, which means CHANGE.

And that's exactly what the ancient Castro regime is afraid of.

Quote of the Week

Pardon the self-indulgence.

"For some of these folks, it's OK for unions to support pro-labor members. It's OK for trial lawyers to help elect pro-litigators. It's OK for the Jewish community to help elect pro-Israel members. But somehow it's not OK for the Cuban community to help elect members and candidates that help and support conditioning business and tourism with the Castro regime with human rights and democratic reforms."

- Mauricio Claver-Carone, a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, responding to a report by the interest group Public Campaign targeting Cuban-American political activism, Associated Press, November 16th, 2009.

Quote of the Hearing

"In the same manner that the Iran Libya Sanctions Act was enacted in 1996 to target Iran's economic vulnerability, its energy sector, and in the same manner that this Committee, just three weeks ago, adopted the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act to impose sanctions targeted at Iran's newest economic Achilles' heel, so it is that U.S. travel regulations are targeted at the tourism sector."

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, opening statement at House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S.-Cuba policy, November 19th, 2009.

"The Center of Our Cuban Policy"

Friday, November 20, 2009
From yesterday's daily press briefing with U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly:

QUESTION: Yeah. Human Rights Watch had a report out yesterday, said basically that the Cuban Government's human rights record has not gotten any better under Raul Castro, and in fact, in some aspects, is worse in that they're doing some preemptive arrests of people they think might violate whatever order is there. I'm just wondering, has this given the Administration any cause to rethink some of the contacts that it's been having with the Cuban Government?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think first of all, we share many of the concerns put forth in this report, particularly regarding the incarceration of political prisoners as well as actions that have violated the human rights of Cuban citizens and have basically limited the exercise of what we call or we would consider fundamental freedoms.

We – human rights is at the center of our Cuban policy. We are interested in promoting human rights for all Cubans. We have begun an engagement with Cuba of – in areas of national interest and mutual concern. We've also launched some initiatives creating opportunities for Cuban civil society to more easily receive information and interact with their family and also with Cubans who live in the United States. This is the increasing the mail service and increasing telephone service.

So this is a real priority for the United States, and it will continue to be so.

QUESTION: One other – Human Rights Watch recommended that, again, the United States sort of abandon a general embargo against Cuba and get together with other interested countries and just basically issue an ultimatum on Cuba to release all political prisoners by a date certain or face sort of targeted sanctions. Is that an idea that has any appeal to the Administration?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I haven't seen the exact recommendations of the Human Rights Watch. I think you've heard me say before that we've made some gestures to Cuba, and we are waiting to see Cuba make some – take some concrete steps to show that they are also serious in opening up their society and opening up exchanges and interactions with the U.S. And I think that we need to see some more concrete steps before we take any actions like that.

Speaker Pelosi Sets Priorities

According to the AFP:

Pelosi douses hopes for quick end to Cuba travel ban

WASHINGTON — US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that congressional efforts to end the US ban on travel to Cuba would take a back seat to overhauling US health care and fostering job creation.

"I've always been a supporter of lifting the travel ban to Cuba. Right now we're consumed with job creation, health investments and health care, and I don't know when that would be coming to the floor," she told reporters.

Pelosi's comments came as a key House of Representatives committee held a hearing aimed at building support for legislation to scrap the restrictions.

While we disagree with the Speaker's position on this issue, we commend her for the priorities she has set.

At a time of such great economic challenges facing our nation
, unilaterally lifting the ban on tourist travel to Cuba -- whereby U.S. consumers can vacation in Cuba, but not vice-versa -- would cost thousands of U.S. tourism and service sector jobs.

Yet, even more importantly, it would strengthen the repressive machinery of the Castro regime in Cuba, undermining the courageous efforts of the island's voices of dissent.

As a result, the sole beneficiaries of tourism-travel sanctions would be the Castro regime and some well connected plutocrats in the U.S. and Cuba.

The Speaker's decision stands in the best interest of both the American and Cuban people.

Ros-Lehtinen Statement at Cuba Hearing

Thursday, November 19, 2009
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the following opening statement at this morning's Committee hearing regarding U.S. policy towards Cuba:

On January 21st of this year, I heard a statement that appeared to telegraph to the world that the U.S. would hold brutal regimes accountable for their actions; that our foreign policy toward tyrants would be based on the overarching moral, political, and strategic U.S. objective of promoting freedom and democracy.

On that historic day, President Obama said 'To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history…'

He added that the U.S. would extend a hand 'if', he emphasized, 'you are willing to unclench your fist.'

And I commend President Obama for re-stating his position earlier this year and re-stating his support of the U.S. embargo on the Cuban dictatorship, calling on the regime to free all political prisoners.

The President said 'The Cuban people are not free…And that's our lodestar…when it comes to our policy in Cuba.'

Proponents of unfettered travel to Cuba seek to reward the Cuban regime with tourism cash flows, as the dictatorship tightens its stranglehold on the Cuban people.

Let's have an honest debate on the issue of travel to Cuba—one based on facts. There is no ban on travel to Cuba. Do not mislead the American people. A ban denotes a prohibition on any travel to the island. But there are 18 different ways Americans can legally travel to Cuba—8 categories under general licenses and 10 categories under specific licenses.

In addition to family, journalists, and official U.S. government travel, one can travel for other reasons, ranging from verifiable educational, religious, and humanitarian activities, to 'professional research and meetings', athletic competitions, artistic performances, and activities relating to authorized U.S. exports to Cuba.

Many Members of Congress travel to Cuba every year—some at taxpayer expense-- stay at the best hotels-- some of which have been built on confiscated U.S. property-- and return with nothing but glowing reviews about Fidel Castro and his new 'face man' and current dictator, his brother Raul.

In April, for example, one of our House colleagues traveled to Cuba and said this of Fidel Castro, 'It was almost like listening to an old friend.'

Even more regrettable, many of our colleagues have sought to present the apartheid system of health care in Cuba as a model for the U.S. to emulate.

A Member of this committee, during an August 28th town meeting, praised the Cuban regime's health care system and said Fidel Castro was 'one of the brightest leaders I have ever met.'

This is the same Cuban health care system which provides all the best treatment to foreigners and to the regime elite, while denying it to dissidents and subjecting some political prisoners to electroshock treatment as punishment for their beliefs.

Some of the categories of U.S. travel to Cuba have been in place for decades. In fact, during the Carter administration, there were no restrictions on travel to Cuba. Despite this licensed, targeted American travel; despite the onslaught of European tourists and visitors from countries in the Western Hemisphere the Cuban regime has not unclenched its fist.

In fact, just two weeks ago, independent blogger Yoani Sanchez and fellow blogger Orlando Luis Pardo, were detained and beaten by Cuban agents, to prevent them from participating in the "march against violence."

A week ago, José Antonio Vázquez was fired as a chef at a restaurant, because of his opposition to the Cuban dictatorship and for wearing a 'CAMBIO' – 'CHANGE'-- bracelet just like the one I'm holding up.

What opponents of the current travel regulations want is unrestricted tourist travel to Cuba.

One of our colleagues in this Committee has even joked 'Let the Castro brothers deal with spring break once or twice, and we'll see how much control they still have.'

We have seen the images in the news of what happens during Spring Break. How could anyone credibly argue that lounging on the beaches of Varadero or partying in the nightclubs till the wee hours of the evening will bring freedom and democracy to the Cuban people? It is not funny.

The majority of Europeans and tourists from around the world have been going to Cuba for rum, music, sex, cigars, and sun for years. Have they brought about democratic reform and change?

By contrast, as Ambassador Cason, one of our witnesses today, highlighted in an editorial earlier this year, the tourism restrictions or travel ban against South Africa's apartheid government, did play a key role in forcing a change by convincing the government that its practices were unacceptable and would not be condoned.

Cuba travel regulations and U.S. sanctions on the Castro regime were developed to address U.S. security interests and foreign policy priorities and are based on solid legal ground.

First, the tourism sector in Cuba is built on confiscated U.S. property.

Many of the hotels and restaurants which are closed to the average Cuban, are part of the uncompensated property stolen from Americans.

Why would we seek to propagate such violations of U.S. property rights by promoting tourism to the island?

Second, the Cuban dictatorship's economic vulnerability lies in the tourism sector, as it constitutes the single biggest source of income for the regime.

In the same manner that the Iran Libya Sanctions Act was enacted in 1996 to target Iran's economic vulnerability, its energy sector, and in the same manner that this Committee, just three weeks ago, adopted the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act to impose sanctions targeted at Iran's newest economic Achilles' heel, so it is that U.S. travel regulations are targeted at the tourism sector.

Tourism is to Cuba what energy investments and refined petroleum products are to Iran.

Third, it is in our nation's security interest to curtail travel to the island.

As former Defense Intelligence Agency counter-spies have emphasized during Congressional briefings and as analysts at Stratfor Global Intelligence report: '…the Cuban military is well-integrated throughout the tourism industry…This presents an excellent platform from which to conduct a wide variety of illicit activities due to the large volume of foreign visitors who pass in and out of these resorts, providing Cuba with hard currency.'

Among other regime entities involved in the tourism sector are Grupo de Administracion Empresarial S.A. (Enterprise Management Group), or GAESA, which is the holding company for the Cuban Defense Ministry. This group holds a wide array of companies, including Sasa, which controls the island's gas station network and Gaviota, which controls and operates more than 30 hotels and resorts.

Tourism profits have enabled GAESA to control the Military Counterintelligence Department VI and its support companies, such as Antex which has served as a channel for introducing Cuban intelligence operatives into foreign countries.

It has also been reported that Cuban intelligence sees tourist travel to the island as an important source of potential assets—that is, as a means of recruiting foreigners to spy for the regime.

Given the success of Cuban intelligence in recruiting U.S. academics, a senior INS official, a senior Department of Defense official, State Department intelligence and research official Walter Kendall Meyers, and the most senior Cuba analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Belen Montes, to betray the United States and spy for the regime, why would we want to facilitate such potential espionage activities by allowing unfettered travel to Cuba?

Fourth, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that travel to Cuba can be restricted in support of U.S. foreign policy.

The Court held '…there is an adequate basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to sustain the President's decision to curtail the flow of hard currency to Cuba …by restricting travel…'

Fifth, the travel regulations also help contribute to the safety of Americans and enable us to minimize the risks to U.S. travelers to Cuba.

Some have sought to justify the removal of all travel restrictions by comparing Cuba to Iran. I welcome such a parallel. The case of Iran illustrates the need for the travel regulations by shining light on the safety and security issues associated with unregulated travel to countries under the control of rogue regimes.

Three American backpackers, who got lost while hiking in a mountainous region along an unmarked Iran-Iraq border, were detained by Iranian border security agents in July and are now being charged with espionage.

There is also the case of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who, in April of this year, was sentenced to 8 years in prison after Iran accused her of spying for the United States. After spending four months in prison, she was released in May.

The Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars was detained in Iran in 2007 and placed in solitary confinement in Evin Prison for more than 110 days.

Iran and Cuba are not trustworthy regimes.

Already, the Department of State warns 'In several instances, the Cuba(n) (regime) has seized the U.S. passports of dual nationals…and has denied these individuals permission to return to the United States…Cuban authorities consistently fail to notify the U.S. Interests Section of the arrest of Cuban-American dual nationals and deny U.S. consular officers access to them. They also withhold information concerning their welfare and treatment.'

Why promote tourism travel to Cuba? Why not choose to go to the Bahamas, Jamaica, or the Dominican Republic, given the implementation of the CAFTA-DR trade agreement?

Haiti needs help. Why not flock to Haiti and help rebuild this nation?

Why choose to vacation off the backs of the forced, slave labor of the oppressed Cuban people who are denied access to the tourist hotels in their own country?

Promoting tourist travel to Cuba does not advance the interests of the US or our constituents.

If you desire to go to a warm tropical climate, come to Miami or Key West in my District or any of the beaches on either Florida's Gulf or Atlantic Coast. Go to the Jersey shore. Visit California or Arizona on vacation.

Let's boost our states' economies. Don't fill the coffers of the Cuban regime.

Castro is the Problem, Not American Policies

Rep. Bilirakis: Castro is the Problem, Not American Policies

WASHINGTON – During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) issued the following statement in strong opposition to lifting the United States travel ban to Cuba:

"The idea that increased travel would have a real impact on openness in Cuba is misguided. Castro is the problem, not American policies. We should not be in the business of perpetuating the Castro regime's propaganda apparatus that blames the U.S. for the island's suffering.

"Lifting travel restrictions would directly provide tourist dollars to the Marxist regime in order to fund its tools of oppression.  There is no free market in Cuba; just a giant money-laundering machine for a tyrant bent on maintaining Soviet-era policies that otherwise met their demise with the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago.

"We must maintain travel restrictions to prevent the regime from using tourist dollars to further oppress the Cuban people."

Congressional Testimony by Berta Antunez

Testimony prepared by Bertha Antúnez Pernet for today's U.S. House of Representative's Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S. policy towards Cuba:

Good morning. My name is Bertha Antúnez Pernet. I come here today as the sister and niece of political prisoners. I left Cuba a short time ago. As an activist in my country, I worked as best I could to organize the family members of political prisoners to advocate for their release. My uncle, Omar Pernet, who has serious health problems after spending several years in prison, was removed from prison to Spain last year. My brother, Jorge Luis García Pérez, usually known as "Antúnez," who served 17 years as a political prisoner, remains in Cuba, struggling for freedom as part of the resistance for the rights of the Cuban people, for the democratic change that the majority of the people want.

The Castro government's war against those Cubans who peacefully advocate for change in Cuba seeks to maintain and increase repression while avoiding criticism on the global stage and international condemnation of its repressive conduct.

The Castro regime feels emboldened by the half dozen Latin American heads of state who have traveled to Havana to embrace the region's longest reigning and bloodiest dictator; by Spain's policy toward the Island, the objective of which is to bolster and uphold the dictatorship, and by the increasing influence of Hugo Chávez in the region.

On the other hand, the regime fears the ever more manifest defiance and non cooperation of the Cuban people. Therefore, perceiving the weakness in the world democratic community, it has made its dirty war ever more public in an effort to still the unrest in the hearts of the Cuban people. The physical attack on blogger Yoani Sánchez and her companions just a few days ago is an example of this.

My own brother Jorge Luis, released from prison in April, 2007, has decided to remain in our country in order to continue the civic struggle for democratic change. He has been the target of constant arrests, beatings, and harassment by Castro's repressive apparatus. Jorge Luis has seen how the Castro regime becomes bolder and bolder in its repression as it receives unilateral concessions from the world's democracies.

In April of this year, in a letter to the Cuban American members of Congress, he wrote: "It is extraordinarily remarkable that while the Castro Regime increases repression, while the mistreatment of our compatriots inside and outside of the prisons increases, certain, particular sectors [of the United States] seek engagement with the oldest and most repressive dictatorship of the continent."

Therefore, I believe this is not the time for the United States government to transform its policy regarding travel to Cuba. Indeed, those who, in good faith, believe that by doing this they will help the Cuban people, are mistaken. I say this as someone who was born and lived all her life in Cuba until a short time ago, and I am speaking to you about the reality I know well. Throughout all my life, I have faced and confronted the prison wardens, the State Security agents, the military personnel and agents of repression who are the true face of the regime. I know the regime's contempt for the Cuban people, and how they show no mercy to those of us who are black. The experiences I have lived through do not allow me to fall under the spell of the regime's sophisticated diplomats, agents of influence in key positions, or of its professional propagandists.

The real people of Cuba, the Cuban people that suffer and deeply desire to live in freedom, will not benefit from any tourist travel. Rather, those resources will serve the totalitarian regime to increase its repressive capabilities. Some people ingenuously think that tourists will have direct contact with the Cuban people, and that this will help Cubans to have a clear vision of freedom. In the first place, Cubans are reprimanded, fined, and even imprisoned for maintaining contact with tourists. There are places in Cuba where Cubans are subject to restricted entry or time schedules so that they will not be present at the same time as tourists.

It must be understood that for years, European, Canadian, and Latin American tourists have traveled to Cuba, without having any impact on the Cuban reality, but rather on the government's coffers.

It is an error to think that American tourism will mean something positive to the Cuban people. What the Cuban people need once again is the support of the American people in their struggle for freedom. The Cuban people and the internal resistance, more so than they need tourists, need people who will stand in solidarity in the US Congress and advocate for their liberation. We ask recognition for the men and women who run grave risks for the sake of the rights of an entire people. We ask for a voice to be raised against the repression, the prisons, and the censorship imposed against our people for 50 years.

There are those who hold that the Castro regime represses in order to avoid a rapprochement with the United States. This is to mistake the real nature of that regime. The Castro regime represses because its priority is to stay in power. The reason why it has spent 50 years killing, imprisoning, persecuting and forcibly exiling Cubans is because it knows very well that the immense majority of the Cuban people desire freedom. If the Cuban people were not repressed, we would already be free.

The regime wants the discussion on Cuba in a place as important as this to revolve around the questions of "Tourists or no tourists? Commercial relations or no commercial relations?" because the regime fears this Congress making the debate on how the United States can directly support those who struggle for Cuba's freedom its priority.

And I ask you, to echo the opinion of my brother Antúnez and of many thousands of Cubans pro-democracy activists on the Island:

On which side does the US Congress wish to be?

On the side of those who engage in repression, and attempt to silence the free thought and voice of the Cuban people?

On the side of those who today engage in torture in Cuban prisons? Or on the side of those who engage in civic, non violent struggle for Cuba's freedom?

On the side of the unarmed and repressed, or on the side of those who flaunt their power, self servingly, and unscrupulously for over 50 years?

On the side of a totalitarian regime nearing its end, or of a young and vigorous resistance that sooner, rather than later, shall take the reins of its country?

Thank you.

President Obama Answers Yoani

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez sent -- through her popular Generation Y blog -- seven questions to U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

While the Cuban dictator maintains his usual tyrannical silence, democratically elected President Obama has graciously responded.

Please read the entire exchange in Yoani's blog (English version).

Here's an excerpt from President Obama's response:

"Your blog provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba. It is telling that the Internet has provided you and other courageous Cuban bloggers with an outlet to express yourself so freely, and I applaud your collective efforts to empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology. The government and people of the United States join all of you in looking forward to the day all Cubans can freely express themselves in public without fear and without reprisals."

The State of Dangerousness

Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The precarious state of human rights in Cuba, as documented in today's report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), "New Castro, Same Cuba," can be summarized by the following provision in the Castro regime's criminal code (and widely-used against critics):

The State of Dangerousness

Article 72. A state of dangerousness is considered to be the special propensity of a person to commit crimes, as demonstrated by conduct observed in manifest contradiction to the norms of socialist morality.

We commend HRW for documenting the Castro regime's brutality.

Nonetheless, we disagree with an adjoining letter by HRW's Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco, which advocates for the unconditional lifting of tourism-travel related sanctions.

In lieu of tourism-travel sanctions, Vivanco's letter states that,

"[HRW's] report lays out a proposal for the United States to work with allies in the European Union, Canada, and Latin America to forge a new coalition that will exert targeted pressure on the Raul Castro government to release all political prisoners."

If such coalitions haven't been successful in preventing or dismantling nuclear weapon facilities in Iran and North Korea, what makes him think it would be successful in persuading the Castro regime to release political prisoners?

And just how successful have these coalitions been in preventing genocide in the Balkans, Rwanda or the Sudan?

Not successful at all.

But even more worrisome is Vivanco's own admission that:

"However, lifting the travel ban by itself will not bring an end to the Raul Castro government's repression."

So what's the point?

If the U.S. doubled the Castro regime's GDP through U.S. tourist-travel, it would also be doubling its ability to finance repression.

And that's a dangerous proposition indeed.

Time for a Reality Check

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and Congressman Howard Berman of California wrote an opinion editorial in the Miami Herald advocating for the unconditional removal of tourism-related sanctions towards the Castro regime.

They wrote:

"Travel ban defenders view sanctions as leverage over the Cuban government and their abolition as a concession. But over the last five decades, it has become clear that isolation will not induce the Castro regime to take steps toward political liberalization. Conditionality is not leverage in this case."

Yet, during a seminar this summer -- organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. -- on Europe and Canada's policy of unconditional engagement with the Castro dictatorship, Dianna Melrose, Britain's Ambassador to Cuba -- and a philosophical foe of sanctions -- painfully admitted,

"Let's have a reality check. The EU has little to show for its engagement over the past year. There's very little the Cuban government wants from the EU that it doesn't already have: trade and investment, development assistance and continuing opposition to the U.S. embargo. So if there is any external actor that has potential leverage over Cuba, it is the United States."

Reality is tough to accept at times, but it is reality nonetheless.

In Case You Had Any Doubt

Note to U.S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and Congressman Howard Berman of California, who co-authored an editorial in the Miami Herald calling for the lifting of tourism-travel sanctions towards Castro's Cuba:

The desire for change by the Cuban people is homegrown. It does not stem from -- nor was it "inspired" by -- American spring breakers and other tourists.

But don't take our word for it.

Washington, DC A year-and-a-half after Gen. Raúl Castro assumed the presidency of Cuba, more than four in five citizens on the island (82 percent) do not believe things are going well, according to a recent survey sponsored by the International Republican Institute (IRI). The survey, which was fielded on the island last summer, showed a vast majority of Cubans would vote for fundamental political change (75 percent) and economic change (86 percent) if given the opportunity.

"The data reveals Cubans' strong dissatisfaction towards its leadership and their indisputable preferences for political and economic change," said Lorne Craner, President of IRI.

The survey was fielded on the island from July 1-August 4, 2009.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Only 7.9% of those interviewed thought ending the U.S. embargo would improve the Cuban economy. Why? Because the Castro regime would hoard all of the increased income through their totalitarian infrastructure.

You can view the entire poll here.

The Silence of the Media

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
From today's Special Order speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida:

The international press, including almost all the press in the United States, continues to ignore the suffering of the oppressed people of Cuba.

Yes, there are exceptions, such as the National Review's Jay Nordlinger, the premier defender of human rights in the American press, or The Miami Herald's Juan Tamayo or Wilfredo Cancio, and occasionally there are other dignified exceptions. But the almost totality of the U.S. press systematically ignores what goes on in Cuba.

Despite 50 years of brutal tyranny there.

Despite Cuba being only 90 miles from our shores.

Despite hundreds of prisoners of conscience languishing in dungeons
simply because of their peaceful advocacy for freedoms—including freedom of the press—which should not be denied to any people. And thousands of others imprisoned for crimes which are only illegal in the totalitarian fiefdom of a demented despot—crimes like "dangerousness", or "illegally attempting to leave the country."

The press continues to ignore the reality of Cuba. Their irresponsibility in doing so is absolutely indefensible.

Jewish friends have told me they understand what I am talking about when I refer to the concept of the non-person. For countless generations—for 1800 years—Jews were subject to exile, to pogroms, persecution, discrimination. And their suffering was ignored in countries throughout the world. They were "non-persons".

When their suffering was ­not ignored, it was often minimized or ridiculed. Jews know that the recovery of their homeland—the establishment of their state in 1948—was absolutely necessary. That was the only way to guarantee the end of the non-person status, to guarantee an end to pogroms, to discrimination, to persecution.

Cubans have been stateless non-persons for almost 51 years. Their suffering is systematically ignored. Their unity of purpose is continuously questioned or ridiculed. Even the torture of their heroes, of the heroic political prisoners, is ignored.

Martha Beatriz Roque, a respected economist and leading Cuban dissident and former political prisoner (who was only released from prison so she would not die in prison and embarrass Castro) is close to death in Havana due to complications arising from a hunger strike she is engaged in. Dozens of other brave dissidents are also on hunger strikes in the home of one of Cuba's other extremely respected pro-democracy leaders, Vladimiro Roca.

Cubans, unlike the Jews, have not yet recovered their state. They will. But they haven't yet.

I ask the press, the media, to please cease treating Cuba's pro-democracy activists as though they did not exist. Stop treating Martha Beatriz Roque as a non-person.

Why do you continue to absolutely ignore Cuba's brave prisoners of conscience? Why don't you, at least, write about the elderly prisoners of conscience in Cuba, such as Hector Maseda Gutierrez, or Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique? Or about severely handicapped prisoners of conscience such as Miguel Galván Gutierrez. Or, most especially, about the gravely ill Cuban prisoners of conscience in the gulag such as Ariel Sigler or Normando Hernández? Or Dr. José Luis García Paneque? Or Dr. Alfredo Pulido Lopez, or Pedro Arguelles Morán?

Members of the press, have you no conscience? Do not continue to treat the suffering, oppressed people of Cuba and their heroes as non-persons. Please, do your duty.

No Thanks, Senator Lugar

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, the Ranking Republican of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, has developed a keen interest in unconditionally normalizing relations with Castro regime.

According to last week's feature article on Cuba policy by Congressional Quarterly:

Lugar, who wrote Obama earlier this year urging greater engagement with Havana, agrees that it is time for an overall change in U.S.-Cuba policy. "Our whole protocol of sanctions has not worked to bring down the Cuban government or modify the power of Cuba in any substantial way," he said.

Driving such calls for change, especially among Republicans, is the potential for increased trade. With all of the obstacles that have been put in the way, U.S. food and pharmaceutical sales to Cuba earned a paltry $712 million in 2008. But with a relaxation of travel and trade restrictions, that figure is bound to grow, Lugar says. "This is a very good time for public diplomacy," he said. "And it can occur very profitably for Americans though trade in food and medicine."

Did he say "profitably"?

So just how does this work?

Engage the Castro regime, transact business, pocket the profit and beg that they don't repress the Cuban people?

And -- at the end of the day -- if the regime doesn't listen, at least the US business interests made a profit, despite subsidizing even greater repression?

Is that the thinking?

No thanks, Senator Lugar.

Listen to the advice of former Czech dissident leader -- and President upon the fall of Communism -- Vaclav Havel, who in a speech at the European Parliament last week commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall stated:

"It has long been my opinion that after what we underwent at the time of the totalitarian system, we ought—or we are duty-bound even—to explain to others in a convincing manner what we went through, and make specific suggestions based on its various implications... Above all, clear and unequivocal solidarity with all those confronted by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes wherever they are in the world. And economic or other particular interests should not hinder such solidarity. Even a minor, discreet and well-intentioned compromise can have fatal consequences --even if only in the long term, or indirectly."

The stakes of freedom are too large for a simple profit.

Save Energy (for Castro's Military)

Last week,

Cuba orders extreme measures to cut energy use

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba has ordered all state enterprises to adopt "extreme measures" to cut energy usage through the end of the year in hopes of avoiding the dreaded blackouts that plagued the country following the 1991 collapse of its then-top ally, the Soviet Union.

In documents seen by Reuters, government officials have been warned that the island is facing a "critical" energy shortage that requires the closing of non-essential factories and workshops and the shutting down of air conditioners and refrigerators not needed to preserve food and medicine.

This week,

Cuba set to carry out large-scale military drills

HAVANA (RIA Novosti) - The Cuban Defense Ministry has announced that large-scale military exercises will take place in the country on November 26-28.

The three-day Bastion-2009 drills will be held on the eve of the National Defense Day, which is celebrated in Cuba on November 29.

If sanctions were unconditionally lifted, take a guess where U.S. tourism, trade and financing dollars would end up.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 15

Monday, November 16, 2009
From The Hill:

Report: Anti-Castro funds see dramatic shift to Democrats

Supporters of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba have made more than $10 million in campaign contributions since the 2004 election cycle.

Pro-embargo donors are also continuing to funnel more and more funds to Democrats, according to a report released Monday by Public Campaign, a watchdog group that supports public financing of election campaigns.

"Our committee always gets criticized for its political activism," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a former career Treasury Department attorney who serves as one of the PAC's directors. "We are not going to apologize for using our constitutional rights to support and oppose candidates, and we are proud of it."

Public Campaign argues special interest groups such as those pushing the Cuban embargo can unduly sway public policy through campaign donations. Publicly financed election campaigns are needed to reduce their influence, according to Public Campaign.

Claver-Carone said the PAC is a personal cause for many Cuban-Americans who want lawmakers to protest human rights violations by the Castro regime.

"If we do not speak out for democracy and human rights in Cuba, no one else will," Claver-Carone said. "Yes, Cuban-Americans have vested interests. Our vested interests are friends and family who are suffering under the regime."

Who Funded the "Public Campaign" Report?

Public Campaign, a DC-based group that attacks political committees and contributors, has just issued a report smearing the Cuban-American community for its political activism on behalf of human rights and democracy for the Cuban people.

Apparently, for this group, only the farm bureaus, business groups and trade associations that want to unconditionally transact business with the Castro regime can participate in the political process. In other words, only those that seek to profit from repression.

Note the irony, Public Campaign is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt organization that receives large contributions from corporations and foundations -- many of which are created by multi-millionaires to avoid taxes and pursue their ideological agenda.

Meanwhile, political committees are the most highly regulated, transparent entities. They are legally prohibited from receiving corporate money, contribution amounts are capped at $5,000 and are not tax deductible.

In other words, they are grassroots campaigns by definition.

Nonetheless, Public Campaign has the audacity to criticize the Cuban-American community and its political committees -- such as the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC -- for exercising their Constitutional rights?

The only reason they were even able to put this report together is due to the transparency of political committees, and the detailed, thorough reporting required by law, which is public record.

Here are some questions:

Who paid for this report by Public Campaign?

What corporation or foundation that seeks to unilaterally lift sanctions financed it?

Oh, almost forgot, they don't have to report it.

Guess transparency is a one-way street for Public Campaign and their "shadow" donors.

A Trivia Question

Sunday, November 15, 2009
How many of the co-sponsors of the Flake/Delahunt tourism travel legislation -- or of any other legislation that would unconditionally lift travel, trade or financial sanctions towards the Cuba -- issued statements condemning last week's violent attack by the Castro regime against blogger Yoani Sanchez -- a 100 lb. woman -- for her critical posts?

Let us save you the time.

Answer: None.

Quote of the Week

"So we still have our duties of solidarity with movements of transformation, and we can draw on the memory of a time when civilized peoples, so long forced to hold their tongues and hold their breath, all exhaled at the same moment and blew the old order away without a shot being fired."

- Christopher Hitchens, "The Lessons of 1989," Slate Magazine, November 10th, 2009

According to the Voice of America

Stifling Voices Of Freedom In Cuba

The Castro government restricts access to the Internet.

Change comes slowly in Cuba, even when it starts at the top. Despite expectations of reforms when Raul Castro became president last year and some signs of easing, the island nation remains a tightly controlled central economy under a Communist regime that suppresses freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

The Castro government has extended its authority over the Internet, as it has done with newspapers, radio and television. It restricts access to computers and Internet subscriptions, keeping prices high and blocking Web sites that the government considers critical or undesirable. Officials and government loyalists monitor Web logs, or blogs, to watch for signs of dissent and to post comments supporting the regime and attacking its critics.

These actions took an ugly turn this month when 3 prominent Cuban Internet journalists were attacked by plain clothes government security agents. On their way to cover a peaceful march in downtown Havana, Yoani Sanchez, Orlando Luis Pardo and Claudia Cadelo were forced into unmarked cars and driven around for 20 minutes, during which time Ms. Sanchez was beaten. Ironically, the purpose of the march, organized by young musicians, was to protest against violence. Ms. Sanchez's work reporting on conditions in Cuba has been recognized around the world.

President Barack Obama proclaimed November 9 as World Freedom Day, and it is just this kind of repression and violence against the voices of freedom and reconciliation that his proclamation is meant to expose.

The United States strongly deplores the assault and urges the government of Cuba to ensure the full respect of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.

A Chinese Slap to Obama

Saturday, November 14, 2009
Further evidence that dictatorships are not reasonable, rational or reliable partners.
According to the Financial Times:

China detains dissidents ahead of US visit

Chinese police have detained dozens of dissidents and political reform advocates ahead of US President Barack Obama's first visit to China, according to family members and human rights activists.

The crackdown comes as human rights groups worry that Mr Obama, who arrives in China on Sunday, will play down China's poor human rights record in order to get cooperation from Beijing on issues such as climate change, trade and the economy.

The Financial Times has independently confirmed the cases of four Chinese activists who have been detained over the past two days in preparation for Mr Obama's visit.

At least 30 other activists who were expected to join one dissident in applying for the right to protest have also likely been detained, according to activists. They provided more than a dozen names of people whom they said had been detained.

Spain's French Attitude Towards Cuba

A striking resemblance.

Just substitute "France" for "Spain," and "Africa" for "Cuba."

From yesterday's International Herald Tribune:

DAKAR, Senegal — A waiter, reacting to the mosquitoes plaguing a customer on a recent hot night here, said sharply, "Those aren't mosquitoes; those are French people!"

Two thousand miles away, in another coastal African capital, Libreville, in Gabon, a crowd yelled: "We're sick of the French! Let's kick them out! Let's kill them!" after learning this fall that their nation's reigning autocracy was staying in power.

It is not a good time to be French in Francophone Africa, except if you are a high official from Paris privately visiting a strongman's palace. As democracy slips in country after country in the region, France often quietly sides, once again, with the once-and-future autocrats.

All summer long, while African opposition figures were protesting, demonstrating and fleeing, men in power were coolly visiting Paris, or receiving visits in return.

Nicolas Sarkozy, now France's president, promised a departure in relations with Africa three years ago. Instead, the nation appears to be reverting to historic type, looking past unsavory rulers for the sake of a uranium mine in Niger, oil interests in Gabon and a deep-water port in Cameroon.

On the region's streets, where people have been clamoring for democracy, this choosing of sides — the side of power — by the region's old colonial ruler has led to attacks on French structures, rock-throwing at French people and warnings for French citizens to stay indoors or evacuate.

Simple Problems = Simple Solutions

Friday, November 13, 2009
The Castro regime has mastered the art of formulating complex solutions for simple problems, and thus, never resolving problems.

It's called ideological babble, for the sake of absolute power and control.

But one can almost expect this from an inefficient, absurd regime.

However, it's fascinating to watch pundits abroad try to actually rationalize this babble, and spinning themselves in circles, rather than simply calling a spade-a-spade.

Here's an example.

Just this week, the Castro regime's Granma newspaper blamed the island's agricultural woes on "an excess of nonproductive personnel."

The state-run newspaper reported that the island's agricultural sector, also run by the state, has 89,000 "nonproductive personnel," 26% of the total.

Immediately, pundits sought to rationalize this statement -- whether it was an excuse for layoffs, analyzing the cooperative model, dissecting the agricultural bureaucracy, etc.

Yet, here's a simple, novel solution:

How about allowing the Cuban people to freely produce what they want, whenever they want, wherever they want and at the price they want (which they will base on what customers are actually willing to pay)?

Nah, that's too simple.

Plus it kills the whole totalitarian thing.

Yoani Beating Condemned at (Not By) OAS

At this week's session of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) -- marking the 50th anniversary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -- Lew Amselem, the Acting U.S. Permanent Representative stressed:

"Just last week, three young Cuban bloggers—Yoani Sanchez, Orlando Luis Pardo, and Claudia Cadelo—were detained by plain clothes state security personnel and beaten while en route to a peaceful demonstration in Havana. This sort of repression and violence against the voices of freedom reminds us why the government of Cuba does not have representation in this room and of the importance of this gathering and the work that remains to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all in our region."

Return of the Cuban Gentleman

According to the AP:

The husband of an internationally known dissident Cuban blogger is challenging the presumed state security agents who roughed up his wife to a verbal duel on a Havana street corner.

Reinaldo Escobar said Thursday he feels compelled both as a husband and open critic of the communist government to avenge an incident last week, when two men in plainclothes allegedly forced political blogger Yoani Sanchez into an unmarked sedan, pulled her hair and kicked her.

The confrontation was so violent, Sanchez said she thought the men might kill her, but instead they dropped her off near her apartment.

"I had many options, like throwing two molotov cocktails at the Interior Ministry or keeping quiet like a coward," Escobar said in a phone interview.

He said challenging the assailants to a duel is the most decent way to respond, since he doesn't have their names or addresses.
Escobar posted a photo on his blog Thursday of a security agent at another event who he thinks was involved.

For over half a century, the Castro regime has indiscriminately humiliated, beaten and imprisoned the best and brightest of the Cuban people. In the case of Yoani, they violently assaulted a 110 lb. woman.

Contrast this barbaric behavior by the Castro regime to the non-violent civility of Cuba's future, young pro-democracy advocates like Reinaldo and Yoani.

My bet is on the future.

See the English version of Yoani's latest post, Shadow Beings, here.

Dissident Leader Near Death

Thursday, November 12, 2009
Cuban dissident leader, Martha Beatriz Roque, founder of the Association of Independent Economists, is in extremely frail health due to a hunger strike she began 35 days ago to protest the Castro regime's human rights abuses.

From 1997-2000, Roque was imprisoned by the Castro regime for her publication of the critical essay "The Homeland Belongs to All." She was again imprisoned -- along with 75 other democracy activists -- pursuant to the Black Spring crackdown of 2003. While sentenced to a 20-year prison term, she was subsequently released due to health reasons.

Constantly harassed by the regime, she began this most recent hunger strike, along with six other democracy activists, to protest the systemic repression they are subjected to. The hunger strikers have remained together in the home of Vladimiro Roca, himself a leading dissident.

In order to disperse the hunger strikers, the regime's authorities have organized mobs to surround the home, yelling insults, vandalizing the property and even attacking Roque physically.

Please see the following clip of the activities surrounding the protest, hunger strike and harassment by the regime's mobs.

Where's the Oil?

According to Reuters:

Cuba has ordered all state enterprises to adopt "extreme measures" to cut energy usage through the end of the year in hopes of avoiding the dreaded blackouts that plagued the country following the 1991 collapse of its then-top ally, the Soviet Union.

"The energy situation we face is critical and if we do not adopt extreme measures we will have to revert to planned blackouts affecting the population," said a recently circulated message from the Council of Ministers.

Energy shortage in Cuba?

There must be something wrong.

What happened to the 100,000 barrels of oil per day that the Castro regime receives from Venezuela's Hugo Chavez?

Our educated guess: the regime has been selling it on the spot market for hard currency.

What happened to the urgent need to allow U.S. oil companies to drill off Cuba's shores?

Remember that -- for years -- U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona have been raising the red-flag regarding substantial quantities of undiscovered oil that the Russians and Chinese are supposedly beating us to.

Our educated guess: it's the same lie the regime has been spreading since the USSR discovered some oil off Varadero in 1971 (yet the USSR had to continue massively subsidizing oil shipments to Cuba until its demise).

Old habits die hard.

Get Ready for Gorki!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The New York Times had an inspiring article over the weekend entitled, "Musicians Who Poked at the Iron Curtain."

Here are some excerpts:

Guitars, keyboards and drums did not topple the Berlin Wall. But for the young people who helped bring down Communist regimes across Eastern Europe in the fall of 1989, pop music was a profoundly subversive force, inspiration and vital tool of protest for challenging and undermining a totalitarian state stricter than any parent.

"There was a cultural opposition, a movement all over Eastern Europe, an underground network," said Peter Sziami Müller, one of three lead singers of Kontroll Csoport, which was founded in 1980. "We all wanted to bring together those who belonged together, and to liberate the soul." The reward, said the saxophonist Arpad Hajnoczy, was to be officially labeled an "ultra-right-wing group" and "always have a white Lada at the corner, watching and following us."

When change finally came late in 1989, it was swift and full of surprises. "In the course of a single day, Dec. 22, 1989, we went from being underground to mainstream," said Adrian Plesca, lead singer of the new-wave Romanian band Timpuri Noi, referring to the day the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu collapsed. "The same guys remained in charge of the state cultural apparatus," Mr. Plesca said, so to prove their democratic bona fides in the new political context, "they asked, 'Who do we have around here who is anti-Communist?,' which turned out to be us."

But those euphoric new times, which is what Timpuri Noi means in Romanian, eventually faded. One of Timpuri Noi's biggest post-1989 hits, "Victory," contains these lyrics: "I ask myself if I see any change/ I'm asking you if there's any change/ in the people around." Dezerter continues to perform a 1987 song called "Swindle," which rages that "A new swindle is prepared/ Again they want to get into your head."

In a way, some of the musicians said, the situation has come full circle. As in the 1980s, they can no longer get their music played on the air, not because of government censors but because their countries are now so fully integrated into the global pop machine that stations prefer to play the same Britney Spears and Beyoncé songs and MTV videos as everyone else.

Yet the musicians and their fans continue to believe in the transformative power of music. At the New School event audience members from countries still under oppressive rule, like Iran and Cuba, asked the Eastern Europeans what they learned from the 1980s and what strategies they would recommend.

"I continue to say that 1989 was a miracle," Mr. Kascak said. "I fully expected to have to live the rest of my life under Communism, unable to travel or play as a professional. I don't care about the radio. I feel free now. If you were to have told me 20 years ago that in 2009 I would be playing in New York, I would have told you that you needed a psychiatrist."

Ever heard of Gorki Aguila?

If not, you should.

By the way, Happy Birthday Gorki!

Havel Warns Against Appeasement

This morning, former Czech dissident leader, and President upon the fall of Communism, Vaclav Havel, addressed the European Parliament to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In his remarks, Havel warned that economic interests should not hinder European solidarity or weaken opposition to totalitarian regimes:

"One must not retreat in the face of evil, because it is in the nature of evil to take advantage of every concession. Europe has already had its own unfortunate experience of appeasement policies. Our support can help open-minded people or outspoken witnesses to the situation in North Korea, Burma, Iran, Tibet, Belarus, Cuba or anywhere else, much more than we think."

A Cuban Reason to Tighten Iran Sanctions

The Iranian regime has agreed to expand its existing line of credit to Cuba from 200 million euros to 500 euros, the equivalent of a $445 million increase, said Iran's minister of Industries and Mines Ali-Akbar Mehrabian.

According to PressTV, the additional credit is meant to finance "quick-return projects."

It should be concerning that the Iranian regime has sufficient income to hand out to other antagonistic tyrannies throughout the world, particularly one just 90-miles from the U.S.

This is exactly what the Castro regime used to do when it received billionaire subsidies from the former U.S.S.R. (which ironically, some Members of Congress want to now substitute with billionaire subsidies from U.S. tourism -- the most prized commodity for the Castro regime).

Fortunately, the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently marked-up legislation to expand sanctions towards Iran.

The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act targets companies involved in financing Iran's petroleum sector and gasoline imports.

Although a major oil producer, Iran must import most of its gasoline because of a lack of refining capacity.

The legislation crafted by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, like a similar bill in the Senate, would prohibit non-U.S. companies selling, or enabling the sale or transport of refined petroleum products to Iran, from doing business in the United States.

We hope this legislation passes the full House of Representatives and quickly proceeds through the Senate.

A World of Gratitude

Invaluable Graffiti Wisdom

Tuesday, November 10, 2009
"Presidents and diapers should be changed frequently, both for the same reason."

Not to mention it prevents dictatorships.

Senators Strongly Condemn Attack on Yoani

Bipartisan Group of Senators Condemned Brutal Attack of Blogger by Cuban Regime

WASHINGTON – On Friday, Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez and several colleagues were viciously attacked, beaten and thrown into waiting cars by plain-clothes state security agents as they walked to join a peaceful march against violence.

Today, U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Senator George LeMieux (R-FL), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), condemned the attacks.

"I'm sure the irony of viciously beating a pacifist dissident on the way to a march for non-violence was lost entirely on the Castro regime," said Senator Menendez. "Once again, the dictatorship rears its ugly head in the form of physical violence and the suppression of human rights against its own people. This is yet another indication that despite all of the hope for change on the island, the regime continues to rule with an iron fist that crushes any seed of free speech or human rights. The Castro regime wants to have it both ways – they want a new relationship with the United States, but they also want to keep attacking their own people, silencing free speech and imprisoning dissidents just as they always have. This should not and cannot be. The Castro regime can't continue to expect to get something without giving something in return, plain and simple."

"This is yet another unfortunate reminder that appeasing the Castro regime will not work. We must continue standing with Cuban heroes like Yoani Sanchez and Oscar Elias Biscet and not with their oppressors," said Senator George LeMieux.

"The United States and the international community must stand together in support of those who peacefully exercise their basic rights and freedom of expression. We must have zero tolerance for repressive regimes and the tactics of intimidation," said Senator Bill Nelson.

"Yoani Sanchez has been a symbol of courage in one of the most dangerous press environments in the world, and I strongly condemn attempts by the government of Cuba to silence her. If Cuba is ever to improve its standing with the community of nations, it must protect human rights for all people, including political dissidents, members of the press, and bloggers. I hope the Cuban government realizes that this act violates freedom of expression, and it is critical that the perpetrators of this crime are punished and justice is served," said Senator Kaufman.

"The best judge of political freedom is for dissenting points of view to be freely expressed. Senseless acts like this make it difficult to believe that the Castro regime is willing to allow political and economic freedom for its people. It's time the Castro brothers allow the people of this rich nation to enjoy the civil rights and liberties that billions across the world already have," said Senator Chuck Grassley.

"The anti-freedom message sent by the Cuban government with last month's denial of Ms. Sanchez' exit request has been multiplied with the vicious physical attack on this internationally respected blogger. Last month, I wrote to the Cuban Interests Section to ask the Cuban Government to allow Ms. Sanchez to come to the United States to accept Columbia University's Maria Moors Cabot Prize, which is awarded for outstanding reporting on Latin America and the Caribbean. Now, more than ever, I call on the Cuban Government to treat its journalists with respect," said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

"Freedom of speech is a basic human right that Cuba must respect if it wants a future relationship with the United States. Government-sponsored violence and intimidation cannot be tolerated and we have an obligation to speak out against these actions by the Cuban Government," said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg.

State Department Reacts to Yoani's Assault

Monday, November 9, 2009
Assault on Cuban Bloggers

Ian Kelly
Department Spokesman
Washington, DC

The U.S. government strongly deplores the assault on bloggers Yoani Sanchez, Orlando Luis Pardo, and Claudia Cadelo. On November 6, these three activists were forcibly detained by plain clothes security personnel and beaten while en route to a peaceful demonstration in Havana.

The President has proclaimed November 9 World Freedom Day. It is precisely this sort of repression and violence against the voices of freedom and reconciliation that World Freedom Day is meant to expose. We call on the Government of Cuba to ensure the full respect of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.

We have expressed to the Cuban government our deep concern with the assaults, and we are following up with inquiries to Yoani Sanchez, Orlando Luis Pardo, and Claudia Cadelo regarding their personal well-being and access to medical care.