Cuba Debated in New Mexico

Saturday, May 16, 2009
Transcript from KUNM in New Mexico:
A new administration in the White House could mean a change in U.S.-Cuba relations.

And a $410 billion dollar spending bill designed to keep the federal government afloat through September includes a provision to open up travel to the island, but as KUNM's Mireya Hernandez reports, not everyone is on board.


The bill includes a measure that would allow relatives to visit Cuba once a year, instead of every three years.

And some groups are pushing for even more change to U.S.-Cuba relations, including the New Mexico chapters of the U.S.-Cuba Sister Cities Association and the U.S-Cuba Cultural Exchange.

They're pushing the state's congressional delegation to support several bills that would allow ALL Americans to travel to Cuba.

Arnold Trujillo represents the U.S-Cuba Sister Cities Association in Taos. He says the U.S. is out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to Cuba.

TRUJILLO: "Why does it have to fall on Cuba to make concessions? Why can't the United States make some concessions? We're the ones who have a war against them, an economic war. And it feels like a war, to them it feels like war. They feel like they're under a state of siege, which they are. The United States has tried for 50 years to undermine and topple that government and they've never been able to do it."

But opponents of the measure want Cuba to make the first move.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee.

He says if the U.S. opens travel to Cuba, it would mean support for an oppressive regime.

CLAVER-CARONE: "The United States is a leader in this hemisphere. To pretty much sit there and turn a blind eye to the horrible abuses taking places just 90 miles from our shores would not only counter U.S. policy, but think of the message it would send to others in the hemisphere such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela that have authoritarian tendencies. If we basically allowed business as usual with Cuba, then what's keeping Chavez from all of a sudden converting Venezuela into a totalitarian state and disregarding even the concept of elections and representative democracy.

The Common DNA of Tyrannies, Pt. 2

It's as if they all shared the same schooling.
From Andrei Lankov's OpEd in the IHT:
Pyongyang needs the United States, both as a generous donor and also as a counterweight to China's growing power. Pyongyang's leaders know that to be taken seriously, they should appear dangerous, irrational and unpredictable. So, they are trying hard.

The North's diplomats also know from experience that blackmail usually works. From 2002 to 2006, the Bush administration followed a hard-line approach. In October 2006, the North conducted a nuclear test, and in merely four months, the United States switched to a soft line, restarted negotiations and resumed aid to the North. The decision to return to the engagement was, probably, a wise one, but its timing sent a dangerous signal to the North Koreans. They saw — once again — that their provocations are handsomely rewarded.

Upon learning about the change in U.S. policy, a senior Russian diplomat remarked: "Well, from now on the North Koreans will know what to do when they again run out of money."  

The Common DNA of Tyrannies

Familiar behavior?
From the NYT on the latest repressive measures against Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi:
The harsh treatment of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's most prominent opposition figure and the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, may give pause to those who advocate more humanitarian aid and engagement with the junta, said U Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst based in Thailand.

The release of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi has been a primary demand of the United Nations and of Western nations. Her imprisonment now "would send a serious signal to the international community, especially the West, that the Burmese military is not ready to be engaged," Mr. Aung Naing Oo said.

The Senate's Nameless Cuban Journalists

Friday, May 15, 2009
More than a week after World Press Freedom Day, the U.S. Senate finally approved a resolution urging the release of Cuba's imprisoned independent journalists.  As had been mentioned in recent posts, a certain New England Senator held up the bill as he objected to the original version containing the names of 26 imprisoned journalists.  This shameless Senator finally lifted his hold after a "compromise" in which the individual names were removed.  Senator, here are the names of those 26 courageous imprisoned journalists you refused to recognize:
Ricardo Severino Gonzalez Alfonso
Normando Hernandez Gonzalez
Hector Fernando Maseda Gutierrez
Pedro Arguelles Moran
Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona
Mijail Bargaza Lugo
Juan Adolfo Fernandez Sainz
Miguel Galvan Gutierrez
Julio Cesar Galvez Rodriguez
Jose Luis Garcia Paneque
Lester Luis Gonzalez Penton
Ivan Hernandez Carrillo
Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta
Regis Iglesias Ramirez
Jose Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernandez
Jose Miguel Martinez Hernandez
Pablo Pacheco Avila
Fabio Prieto Llorente
Alfredo Manuel Pulido Lopez
Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodriguez
Omar Rodriguez Saludes
Omar Moises Ruiz Hernandez
Raymundo Perdigon Brito
Oscar Sanchez Madan
Ramon Velazquez Toranso
Alfredo Felipe Fuentes

Solidarity with Cuban Writers and Journalists

Senate Passes Resolution in Solidarity with Cuban Writers and Journalists

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) today announced that the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution expressing solidarity with the writers, journalist, and librarians of Cuba to mark World Press Freedom Day, which was May 3rd, 2009.
The resolution was authored by Senator Martinez and co-sponsored by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Ensign (R-NV), George Voinovich (R-OH), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Richard Lugar (R-IN).

"In Cuba, the repressive regime has gone to great lengths to extinguish freedom of press, and of expression, and of independent thought. Many who have had their homes invaded, their families blacklisted and their lives ruined for merely reporting the facts about the reality of Cuba under the Castro Brothers' dictatorship," Senator Martinez said. "I am pleased my fellow senators joined me in calling for an end to this obstruction of fundamental human rights and for the release of those held for exercising their fundamental rights."
 "A free press helps create and sustain a free society," said Senator Menendez. "To see how censorship and authoritarian control over the press serves to hold people down, we don't have to look any further than 90 miles from our shore. The regime in Cuba has taken away the Cuban people's basic right to the truth, and that is a main reason why they have lived under an iron fist for 50 years.  By supporting the freedom of the press worldwide, we help advance the cause of liberty."

"An independent, objective and professional media is essential to informed free market business decisions," Sen. Voinovich said.
"World Press Freedom Day is an opportunity for us to recognize the important role a free press plays towards sustained economic growth and prosperity in emerging economies such as Cuba's. I believe that if you want to be a member of the club, you must play by its rules."
"The U.S. should continue to stand with the Cuban people who still can't exercise the most basic of liberties – freedom of speech and having an uncensored free press," said Martinez' Florida colleague, Sen. Nelson.

The resolution calls for the immediate release of Cuban citizens imprisoned for exercising the rights associated with freedom of the press. 

Unfortunately, This Is Not a Joke

Sentenced To a Year For Selling Candies

HAVANA, (Roberto de Jesús Guerra, Cubanet) - Lázaro Melanio Vidal Hernández, a member of the Democratic Pacifist Line Movement, was recently sentenced to one year of forced labor for selling home-made candies, according to the dissident party’s president, Rodolfo Ramirez Cardoso.

Ramirez said Vidal Hernández was obliged to sell the candies in order to support his family. He said he will serve the sentence at the Amistad Cuba-Corea farm in Bejucal, Havana province.

“That’s a crime,” Ramírez said.
Castro's Candy Police?

DepSec Steinberg's Own Words

There have been mixed reports on Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg's Cuba remarks at this week's Council of the America's conference at the State Department.  Some media outlets have reported his remarks as expressing an aggressive desire for engagement with the Cuban regime, while others have reported his remarks as placing clear democratic markers for such engagement and challenging the other nations of this hemisphere to do the same.
You decide.
The Cuba portion of Steinberg's remarks:
We must recognize that each of our countries has pursued its own democratic journey.  Next month in El Salvador, for example, we will see the peaceful democratic transfer of power between representatives of opposing sides in a terrible civil war that tore the country asunder a decade ago.  But however our individual trajectories might unfold, we cannot turn our back on the charter and our shared vision of a robust democratic order. 
That is why we look forward to the day when every country in the hemisphere, including Cuba, can take its seat at this very special table in a manner that is consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. 
The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba, and we have changed our policy in ways that we believe will advance liberty and create opportunity for the Cuban people.  We now allow Cuban-Americans to visit the island more freely and provide resources to their families there.  The President has also made clear our willingness and our readiness to engage constructively with the Cuban Government on a wide range of issues.  But as the United States reaches out to the Cuban people, we must also call on our friends in the hemisphere to join together in supporting liberty, equality, and human rights for all Cubans. 
No one should mistake our willingness to engage governments with whom our relations have deteriorated in recent years for an abdication of principle.  On the contrary, we believe that engagement strengthens our abilities to raise concerns about democracy and human rights as we look for ways to cooperate in areas of common interest. 
One of the biggest challenges facing democracies everywhere is demonstrating to our citizens that democracy produces shared prosperity for all its hardworking people.  The region is showing that democracy can deliver if governments can find ways to go beyond trade and capital liberalization to craft policies and build institutions committed to social justice.

Apartheid's Merchants

During South Africa's apartheid, companies like Debeers -- the most famous name in diamonds -- took advantage of all of apartheid's mechanisms to provide the company with cheap and docile labor for its mines. Today, U.S.-based companies like Ft. Lauderdale's Splash Tropical Drinks seek to profit from the Castro regime's segregated, beachfront enclaves. Please recall that Cuban nationals are barred from hotels, beaches, restaurants, nightclubs and even medical clinics reserved for tourists.

The AP reports on products authorized for sale to Cuba under the agricultural exemption of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000:

Rep. Joanne Emerson, R-Mo., one of the waiver's original backers, said that lawmakers at the time weren't focused on deciding item-by-item which products to allow and which ones to disallow.

"When you get to the weeds, I don't think that's a good thing," she said, adding, "The more products we can sell to the island, the better."

The waiver has created all kinds of exotic opportunities for American businesses.

One of the first U.S. companies to sign a deal with Cuba was not an agriculture giant sending grain from the heartland. It was a drink mix company in Fort Lauderdale.

Rich Waltzer, owner of Splash Tropical Drinks, frequently provides the mixes for the daiquiris and margaritas tourists sip at Havana's legendary Hotel Nacional.

ATTENTION Senator Shameless

Thursday, May 14, 2009
To the shameless U.S. Senator -- and his staff -- that is holding up a resolution introduced by Senator Mel Martinez urging the release of Cuba's imprisoned journalists.  While you hold up the resolution, another independent journalist has been unjustly sentenced for attempting to practice his trade. 
From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Cuban journalist sentenced to three years in prison

New York -- A Cuban independent journalist was sentenced during a summary trial on Tuesday to three years in prison on charges of "disrespect," journalists in Havana told the Committee to Protect Journalists today.

According to the foreign-based Cuban news Web site Cubamatinal, Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, director of the Havana-based independent news agency Habana Press was also charged with distributing enemy propaganda, although CPJ could not confirm the charge or whether he was convicted of it. Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana, told CPJ that the journalist was not allowed a defense lawyer but has already appealed his sentence. The appeal is pending.

Officers arrested Du Bouchet Hernández on the afternoon of April 18 while he was visiting relatives in Artemisa, 38 miles (60 kilometers) from Havana, according to CPJ interviews and foreign-based Cuban news Web sites. The police claimed Du Bouchet Hernández was shouting anti-government slogans in the street, Sánchez Santa Cruz told CPJ. His family has been unable to see him since his arrest, according to Cubamatinal.

Miriam Herrera, an independent journalist based in Havana who has spoken to Du Bouchet Hernández since he's been jailed, said she believed he was imprisoned in reprisal for his work. Herrera told CPJ that Du Bouchet Hernández had recently reported on social issues. Sánchez Santa Cruz said the circumstances behind the arrest remained unclear.

"Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández has been tried and convicted on charges that have not been made public and without legal representation," CPJ Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría said. "We call on the Cuban authorities to follow due process and allow Du Bouchet Hernández access to a lawyer. He now joins 21 other independent journalists currently jailed under bogus charges as retaliation for their reporting."

Du Bouchet Hernández had previously been jailed on "disrespect" charges. He was detained in August 2005 while on a reporting trip to Artemisa. He was summarily tried and sentenced to one year in prison; he did not have access to a lawyer before or during the trial. The journalist had drawn the ire of authorities a few months earlier, when he covered the congress of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society. The two-day gathering, unprecedented in Cuba, brought together 200 opposition activists and guests in May 2005 to discuss ways to create democracy in Cuba. Du Bouchet Hernández was released in August 2006 after completing his sentence.

Twenty-one independent reporters and editors are currently jailed in Cuba, which is the second-worst jailer of journalists in the world after China. Twenty of them have been held in inhumane conditions since the massive March 2003 crackdown on Cuba's dissidents and independent press. CPJ recently ranked the island as the fourth-worst country in the world to be a blogger in a recent report.

Antunez Prepares For Stage Two of Protest

From the Miami Herald:
The Cuban activist who gave up solid food for nearly three months in a protest over prison and housing conditions ended his hunger strike Thursday, and vowed to launch an in-your-face campaign against the government that does not damage his health.

Former political prisoner Jorge Luis ''Antúnez'' García gave up eating Feb. 17 in a quest to force the government to fix the house his sister lost to a hurricane last year and improve his brother-in-law's prison conditions.

Antúnez, his wife, Iris Pérez, and several friends set up camp on Antúnez's front porch in Placetas, a town about three hours east of Havana. There, the Cuban National Police surrounded the street and refused to let anyone pass.

In that time, Antúnez's frame went from 213 pounds to 147. Pérez dropped from 157 pounds to 127.

''I am very thin,'' Antúnez said in a telephone call Thursday from Cuba. ``When I look at myself, even I get scared.''

Antúnez's brother-in-law, Mario Alberto Pérez, is no longer being harassed in prison, and the family has been allowed to visit. But his sister Caridad García still does not have a new home.

''We don't feel beaten. We don't feel frustrated,'' he said. ``We feel healthy pride.''

Now he plans a series of confrontational acts the government will not be able to ignore or cordon off.

''We are starting a new phase of this protest,'' he said. ``When we begin to take those steps, you will know it and the government will know it.  It would be an error to discuss it on the telephone when our calls are monitored.  It will be much more head-on, much more open and strong.  It will be forceful, with a greater political cost to the government, but less damage to our health.''

The Most Selfish Member of Congress

Congressman Marion Berry of Arkansas should count his blessings that he and his family were born in a free and democratic country, and have never suffered under the yoke of tyranny and repression.
As President Abraham Lincoln wisely said, "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it."
Fortunately, Congressman Berry's indifference to the freedom of the Cuban people stands in stark contrast to the historic views and principles of the American people, which is what makes this country so great.

Congressman Berry's quote in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
Rep. Marion Berry appeared at news conferences held by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York. Both promoted an easing of trade restrictions with the island nation [Cuba].
"We've got our hands full running our own government," Berry said in an interview. "It does not work for us to be prancing around the world telling people how to run their countries."

History Lesson for Insulza

Letter to WSJ: Let's Remember Why the OAS Excluded Cuban Regime 

Mary Anastasia O'Grady is right in asserting that the revocation of the exclusion of the Castro communist regime from the Organization of American States and its readmission to the regional organization would undermine the inter-American system and demoralize the surging dissident movement in Cuba ("Cuba Doesn't Belong in a Democratic Club" Americas, May 11).

I attended the 1962 Punta del Este Conference that adopted the exclusionary resolution as the Special Representative of the Cuban Revolutionary Council (in exile) to the OAS, and met with most of the foreign ministers and ambassadors who were present. Based on the official documents, and on my notes and recollections, I can affirm the following:

A few weeks prior to the Conference, Fidel Castro precluded an invitation to renew Cuba's ties to the OAS with his defying statement that he was, and always will be, a Marxist-Leninist.

The foreign ministers unanimously declared that Marxism-Leninism was incompatible with the inter-American system because it negates its core principles of representative democracy, human rights, nonintervention and self-determination.

The foreign ministers rejected an outlandish attempt by Brazil Foreign Minister Francisco Dantas to create a special statute for the Cuban Marxist-Leninist regime so that it could remain in the OAS, but outside its charter (a proposal now under consideration). By two-thirds vote, the Cuban regime was excluded from the OAS, not only because of its alignment with the Soviet bloc, but also because of its brutal totalitarianism.

José Miguel Insulza, the current Secretary-General of the OAS, supports the revocation of Cuba's exclusion because he claims that it is a remnant of the Cold War and, therefore, "obsolete." No, what is obsolete, and disgraceful, is the permanence in the Americas, with hemispheric subservience, of a half-century dynastic tyranny that has suppressed all human rights and continues to despise the OAS and reject its Democracy Charter.

Mr. Insulza and all those who are courting the Castro brothers should know that the empty chair of the OAS belongs to the legitimate representatives of a free Cuba, not to its oppressors.

Nestor Carbonell-Cortina
Greenwich, Conn.

Senator Menendez Asks Tough Questions of OAS

Speaking immediately prior to OAS Secretary General Insulza at the Council of the America's conference at the State Department, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey made the following important remarks regarding Cuba:
Next month, the OAS General Assembly is convening in ­­­­­Honduras. 
During the General Assembly, some may advocate to allow Cuba to participate in the OAS, without having made any progress on the fundamental tenants of democracy and human rights. 
If this takes place, I would expect a wide range of voices to cry foul.
First, I would expect that those who claim that the debate on Cuba is antiquated and stale, to say that this signal would take the debate back decades, to a time where we didn't even have a broad set of principles that we all agreed on.
I would expect countries that may see symbolic value in such a gesture to ask, "How would this benefit my people, and how does this advance our collective interests?" 
I would expect anyone concerned about democracy to ask, "How can we do this without fundamentally dismissing Articles 3 and 7 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter?"
And as the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign assistance, I would expect the U.S. Congress to ask, "Should we continue to pay 60 percent of the budget of an institution that just discarded democratic principles as a fundamental part of its Charter?"
I would expect the 200-plus political prisoners in Castro's jails and the 5,000 citizens serving sentences for "dangerousness," without being charged with any specific crime to ask, "Have my friends in the region abandoned me simply so they could stick a finger in the eye of the United States?"
And, I would ask, is the invitation of a country to the OAS for symbolic value more important than the Charter itself?  More important than basic human rights?  More important than the fundamental precepts of democracy, precepts for which men and women throughout the region have fought for and, in some, cases, died trying to achieve?
We all have to ask ourselves, is the Inter-American Democratic Charter something we take seriously, or is it a joke?  If we take it seriously, how can we invite a regime that repudiates it back into the organization? And furthermore, if we invite Cuba back in, in spite of their violations, what message are we sending to the rest of the hemisphere—that it's okay to move backwards away from democracy and human rights, that there will be no repercussions for such actions?
President Obama said it himself with respect to Cuba that, "Change can't be one-sided" and in his remarks at the Summit, he said that liberty and justice are bedrock values of the Inter-American charter.  I couldn't agree more.
So, it would only be wise to see how our recent overtures are reciprocated, and take it from there.  Building on what the President said in his inaugural address, we can't extend our hand if they aren't willing to unclench their iron fist.

I know most of us in this room probably agree in more ways than we disagree. Most of us have a deep connection to the work we do, have been at it for a long time and care personally about what comes of our efforts.
And I think everyone in this room shares a basic sense of hope for what kind of institutions we want to help build in this hemisphere and beyond. We want to see financial systems that empower the ambitious and protect the vulnerable, justice systems that prosecute crimes and protect basic freedoms, health systems that provide care to those who need it, and systems of education that nurture curiosity and prepare young people to succeed.
I look to those of you in this room today, to work with me to help come up with more creative ways that we can build partnerships to make these dreams a reality.
Any efforts to do so are well worth all our time. We know there's a will to do it—we just have to constantly evaluate and refine the way.
We now have an unprecedented opportunity to do that, at all levels. As we do, I hope that we will find ourselves united by the values we share, energized by the spirit of the times, and ever hopeful of a better tomorrow. 

Secretary Clinton On Democracy In The Americas

At yesterday's Council of the America's conference at the State Department:

We have requested an additional $320 million in the 2010 budget to support democratic governance in the Western Hemisphere.  As President Obama has made clear, we look forward to the day when every country in the Americas, including Cuba, can participate in our hemispheric partnerships in a manner that is consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter

A Compelling Look at Cuba's Reality

Radio Bolivar or Miranda?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Both Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Miranda were great heroes of Venezuelan independence, but due to Hugo Chavez's exhaustive manipulation of Bolivar's history, Miranda would be a better fit.  Plus, Miranda fought alongside our founding fathers during the American Revolution as well.
According to the AP:

The government of US President Barack Obama wants to make television broadcasts to Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez has cracked down on many independent media. Obama's administration has vowed to continue radio and television programs to Cuba, according to the recent budget submitted by the government.

Frustration in Arkansas

From today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
Small steps the Obama administration has taken toward normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba have farmers hopeful that the island will grow as an export market for their crops.
However, opposition from some in Congress, particularly Florida lawmakers with many Cuban-American constituents, and residual distrust on both sides of diverging political ideologies are likely to hamper efforts to end a 46-year-old trade embargo.
Sanctions are the best tool to try to pry some change out of the Cuban government, argued Ray Walser, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington research and advocacy group.
"These guys are still totalitarians," he said in an interview. "If they're not going to change, why should we?"
"That's the same crap we've heard for the past 50 years," responded Rep. Vic Snyder, a Democrat from Arkansas. "We've given the policy ample opportunity to work."
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's cession of power in 2008 to his brother, Raul, and the Obama administration's pledge to open channels of communication have many foreign-policy experts hopeful for a breakthrough.
In April, Obama relaxed restrictions on family travel to Cuba and eased limits on money people send to family members on the Island.
The move brought immediate criticism from some, including Florida Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who said, in a statement, that it was a "serious mistake."
"Unilateral concessions to the dictatorship embolden it to further isolate, imprison and brutalize pro-democracy activists," Diaz-Balart said.
During March debate on a broad spending bill, he and other Florida legislators, including Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, fought an attempt to relax agricultural-trade rules with Cuba. Certain agricultural products are not included in the embargo.
As enacted, the law specified that the Treasury Department was not to enforce a rule that requires cash payments on agricultural shipments to the island be made in advance and go through a third-country bank.
Shortly afterward, after Martinez and others weighed in, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner issued a statement that indicated that the regulation would not be enforced, but that the official policy remained intact - shippers would have to be paid in cash, in advance.
"That was disappointing," said Reece Langley, vice president of governmental affairs at the USA Rice Federation.

Berta Antunez on CNN (In Spanish)

And At The Capitol Visitors Center...

What?:  Lunch - Discussion on the current state of human affairs in Cuba and a sneak peak of the new documentary "Cuba and the Elephant."  With invited guests from the Congressional Legislative Staff Association.

When?: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 12:00pm

Where?: Capitol Visitor Center Room 208/209

Who?: All are welcome

Documentary creator Yesenia E. Alvarez Temoche, President of the Insituto Politico para la Libertad, Jon Perdue, Director of Latin America Programs at The Fund for American Studies, and Marc Wachtenheim, Director of the Cuba Development Initiative will present their findings on the political and social climate of Cuba.  Presentation followed by a question and answer period.
RSVP to Erasmo Sanchez:

Today On The Hill

Ladies in White: Advocating for Freedom in Cuba
Please join Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, as well as several other Members of Congress, as we present a briefing on the status of human rights in Cuba.  Professor Tanya Wilder will be joining us for a presentation about human rights violations in Cuba.  She will highlight the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco), a peaceful pro-democracy group of women in Cuba dedicated to creating awareness of the political realities of the island.  We will also be showing portions of a new documentary on the Damas de Blanco.
When: Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Time: 12pm – 1pm
Where: 1629 Longworth House Office Building

Look Both Ways Before Crossing

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — The United States Tuesday was elected, along with China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia, to the UN Human Rights Council, a body shunned by the previous US administration for harboring notorious rights violators.

Memo to Castro: Freedom of the Press is Good

EDITORIAL: Castro putting his spin on freedom of the press

The Decatur Daily -- Fidel Castro, not exactly a renowned philosopher on civil liberties, has explained why he thinks a government-controlled press is better than a free one.

The 82-year-old dictator emeritus of Cuba says that in countries that guarantee press freedom, people wealthy enough to pay for newsgathering manipulate news coverage.

But a free press provides checks and balances by providing a different point of view from the government's.  And professional journalists have traditions and voluntary codes of ethics that call for fairness and citizen access.

Also, Castro ignores the virtues of competition.  Even today, with many publishers struggling financially, readers in free societies probably can get more news from more sources than ever.  The free flow of reporting and commentary helps correct errors and generate additional information and opinions.

In the U.S. and other free countries, much information gets out by low-cost publishing on the Internet.  But Cuba strictly controls the Internet, denying access to those who won't spout the government's official line.

Castro writes an online column (which state radio, television and newspapers then publish).  We'll bet plenty of other Cubans could afford financially to do the same thing if the government permitted it.

Does This Sound Like a Vacation Destination?

The State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs encapsulates concerns about tourism travel to Cuba:
Cuba is a totalitarian police state which relies on repressive methods to maintain control.  These methods, including intense physical and electronic surveillance of Cubans, are also extended to foreign travelers.  Americans visiting Cuba should be aware that any encounter with a Cuban could be subject to surreptitious scrutiny by the Castro regime's secret police, the General Directorate for State Security (DGSE).  Also, any interactions with average Cubans, regardless of how well intentioned the American may be, can subject that Cuban to harassment and/or detention, and other forms of repressive actions, by state security elements.  The regime is strongly anti-American, yet desperate for U.S. dollars to prop itself up. 

The Cuban Regime's Credibility Quandary

Monday, May 11, 2009
Reuters reports on talks between European Union officials and the Cuban Foreign Minister:
"Our views did converge on the issues of climate change and U.N. reform; they did not in the area of human rights," Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said after EU officials held talks with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

"We came back to the issue of political prisoners in Cuba and their health, and the answer we got was that in Cuba there are no political prisoners," he told reporters.

Insulza, Castro's Regional Lobbyist

Case and point by the Wall Street Journal:
Cuba Doesn't Belong in a Democratic Club
Castro's apologists make a move at the OAS 

The Organization of American States claims to be "the region's principal multilateral forum for strengthening democracy, promoting human rights, and confronting shared problems such as poverty, terrorism, illegal drugs and corruption."

Now OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza wants the group to be able to add a new goal to the list: legitimizing the Cuban military dictatorship by making it a member.

How he intends to do it and why I'll get to in a moment. But first let's review how Cuba got the OAS boot in the first place. Contrary to Mr. Insulza's assertions, Cuba has not changed since its 1962 expulsion, and renewing its membership now will undermine OAS credibility. It will also be a gut punch to the island's dissidents who, according to the Center of Human Rights Rapporteurs in Cuba, are being brutalized daily by Raúl Castro's thugs.

Dissidents also can't be too happy with the news that the Obama team has been holding meetings with the regime to see if it can, according to one official quoted in the New York Times, have a "serious, civil, open relationship" with the owners of the Cuban slave plantation. Still, Tom Shannon, the State Department's assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, suggests that, at least within the OAS, the U.S. is planning to stand up for the long-suffering Cuban people. "Giving Cuba a pass on the OAS's democracy and human rights requirements would be bad for the OAS and bad for Cuba," he says.

Since its founding in 1948, the OAS has professed a belief that the "historic mission of America is to offer to man a land of liberty and a favorable environment for the development of his personality and the realization of his just aspirations."

The Cuban regime is at odds with these ideals and in January 1962 the OAS expelled it, resolving: "That adherence by any member of the Organization of American states to Marxism-Leninism is incompatible with the inter-American system and the alignment of such a government with the communist bloc breaks the unity and solidarity of the hemisphere."

In other words, because the Castro government had murdered and imprisoned dissidents, done away with free elections and economic and civil liberties, and allied itself with communism, Cuba was deemed unfit for OAS membership.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the OAS strengthened its commitment to democracy and free elections by adopting the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

All OAS members signed onto the charter, signaling that political liberty and to a lesser extent economic liberty might be finally taking hold in Latin America. But Cuba was still supporting violence and terror in the region. Worse yet, one of Fidel Castro's disciples, Hugo Chávez, had won the presidential election in Venezuela and was militarizing the government. Over the next seven years he would slowly strip the population of civil and economic rights and use his oil wealth to spread Bolivarian revolution to neighboring states.

He has also bought allegiances at the OAS. Today, it is Mr. Chávez along with Brazil's President Lula da Silva (another Fidel ally) who call the shots at the OAS, not Mr. Insulza (though as a Chilean Socialist, he is no doubt sympathetic to their views). What the fidelistas want is international legitimacy for Cuba. "Step one," as Mr. Insulza has referred to his proposal, is to lift the 1962 resolution. Then, he told me by telephone last week, "countries" can decide whether the dictatorship should be allowed back into the OAS.

His reasoning? The 1962 resolution is "not valid anymore," he told the Americas Society in an interview last week, "and it doesn't condemn Cuba for not being democratic. It condemns it for being a member of the Sino-Soviet axis and says that this axis is aggressive against the United States. But it doesn't exist anymore. . . it's really crazy. It is a piece of the Cold War that was left in a corner and we must get rid of it."

This so betrays both the letter and the spirit of the resolution that it is hard to interpret it as anything other than a sop to the dictator and his friends. Yes, the Cold War is over. But the Cuban military today has close bilateral ties with North Korea and Iran, two points on a new axis of evil that threaten world peace and stability. Cuba is also a safe haven and medical outpost for Colombian narcotrafficking guerrillas. Moreover, the regime still pledges its loyalty to Marxist-Leninist ideology, which is directly at odds with human liberty.

Mr. Shannon says that the Democratic Charter was a "hard-won accomplishment, and it would be a big mistake for the OAS to step away from it." But Mr. Insulza seems to have another take. He told me that he would like to see all countries be democracies. Yet when I asked him how the Castro dictatorship could possibly comply with the charter, he told me that the charter is a resolution of the general assembly but it is not necessary for all countries to sign it. One wonders what other dictatorships in Latin history the secretary-general would have lobbied for.

How the End of East Germany Began

For years, there's been an active international campaign -- initiated by the Castro regime and widespread through the media -- dismissing opponents of the regime as a small and relatively unknown movement.  The fact remains that Cuba's repressed opposition is currently, proportionally as large -- if not larger -- than what was seen in Eastern Europe throughout the 1980's.

That being said, Germany's Spiegel provided fascinating insight this weekend regarding the last year of East Germany's existence. 
Here are some excerpts:
The end of East Germany was ushered in by massive protests across the country.  But opposition to the communist dictatorship started with a whisper.
May 7, 1989 was a sunny day in Berlin, both East and West.  By then, the Wall had been standing for almost 28 years, and few -- no matter which side of the barrier they called home -- thought it would disappear any time soon.
And yet, the beautiful spring day was far from ordinary in communist East Germany.  Municipal elections were scheduled -- and everyone living in Erich Honecker's dictatorship knew the ground rules.  Everyone was expected to make their way to their local voting station and approve the list of candidates put together by the ruling SED party.  There was no opposition.  For those who forgot to vote, the East German secret police, the feared Stasi, promptly showed up with a reminder.
In the evening, the results were announced.  Fully 98.85 percent had voted to approve the SED list -- that, at least was what state officials reported.  As it turned out, however, not everything went completely according to plan on that May day two decades ago.
In the weeks prior to the vote, a handful of opposition activists had called for East Germans to boycott the elections with fliers critical of the Honecker regime appearing on the streets.  And on the evening of May 7, after opposition groups smuggled clear evidence of election fraud to the West German media -- news which was then broadcast back across the border into East Germany -- the unthinkable happened.  A few dozen East Germans gathered to protest the "election" results.
It didn't take long, of course, for those initial, tentative protests to bloom into the mass demonstrations that would eventually bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall that November.  There would be plenty of help -- from Gorbachev's policy of perestroika to the gradual opening of borders throughout the summer of 1989 in other communist countries across Eastern Europe.
But, much of the pressure came from below -- from the thousands who continued gathering weekly in Leipzig and in other cities across East Germany, to the mass demonstration on Alexanderplatz five days before the borders between the two Germanys were opened.

Mother's Day Recognition

Sunday, May 10, 2009
On this Mother's Day, let's take a moment to remember the approximately 300 Cuban political prisoners recognized by Amnesty International and the thousands of others being held in Castro's prisons for being considered a threat to the regime or for attempting to escape the island.
They all have one thing in common:  They have mothers that share in their pain and sacrifice.
The greatest symbol of these mothers are the Ladies in White, an opposition movement in Cuba consisting of spouses and other relatives of jailed dissidents.  The women protest the imprisonments by attending Mass each Sunday and then silently walking through the streets dressed in white clothing.  The color white is chosen to symbolize peace.
The movement received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 2005.  Please watch the clip next to this post.
Happy Mother's Day.

10 Years After Governor Ryan's Visit to Castro

In 1999, Governor George Ryan of Illinois became the first sitting U.S. governor to travel to Cuba since Fidel Castro seized power in 1959.  During the trip he had a long meeting with Castro and repeatedly called for the unilateral lifting of sanctions towards that regime.  Today, Governor Ryan sits in a federal prison on corruption charges, but did the trip have any benefit for Illinois businesses?
From the Peoria Star Journal:
Boon to Illinois trade?

Opening trade between the United States and Cuba could benefit certain sectors of the U.S. economy, including agriculture, pharmaceuticals and heavy machinery - all of which have a strong presence in Illinois.

But it's unclear whether the 1999 trip means that the Land of Lincoln would stand to gain more than other states if Cuba and the United States normalize diplomatic relations.

"That's a long time ago. That's 10 years ago," David Chicoine [former dean of University of Illinois' College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences] said. "From an economic standpoint, it's probably much more of an important issue for the Cubans and the Cuban economy than it is for the U.S."

Doug Crew, a retired governmental affairs manager at Caterpillar Inc., added: "Given the time that has passed since then, I think the potential for opportunity because of that trip is increasingly limited."

Meet the U.S. Chamber's Prospective Business Partner

HAVANA, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro said the US government misinformed Americans and the world about 9/11, echoing conspiracy theories about the terror attacks against the United States six years ago.

In an essay read by a Cuban television presenter on Tuesday night, Castro said the Pentagon was hit by a rocket, not a plane, because no traces were found of its passengers.

"Today one knows there was deliberate misinformation," wrote Castro, who has not appeared in public since July of 2006 when life-threatening surgery for a secret illness forced him to hand over power to his brother Raul Castro.

"Studying the impact of planes, similar to those that hit the Twin Towers, that had accidentally fallen on densely populated cities, one concludes that it was not a plane that crashed into the Pentagon," Castro said.

"Only a projectile could have caused the geometrically round hole that allegedly was made by the plane," he said.

"We were fooled like the rest of the planet's inhabitants," he wrote.