A View of Two Former U.S. Presidents

Saturday, May 30, 2009
Last night, former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush shared the stage during a global affairs conference in Toronto, Canada.  The issue of Cuba was raised and they each gave their individual opinion on U.S. policy.

From the Canadian Broadcast Corporation:

On the issue of Cuba, Bush said he felt it was "important" to keep the U.S. trade embargo in place.

Clinton said his view on Cuba was "more like that of the current Secretary of State," (his wife Hillary), generating laughter from the crowd.

Cuba is our neighbor, he told the audience, and "they ought to be part of our future."

Clinton then called for Congress to give the current president the power to be flexible with Cuba and negotiate a better future for both countries.
EDITOR'S NOTE:  The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD) gives the President substantial authority to negotiate a "better future" between the U.S. and Cuba, contingent upon the unconditional release of Cuba's political prisoners; the recognition and respect of the Cuban people's fundamental human, civil and political rights; and the legalization of an independent media, independent labor unions and political parties.  It's otherwise hard to imagine a "better future" for the Cuban people.

Ambassadors to Hillary: Protect the Democratic Charter

Dear Madam Secretary:
As members of the U.S. diplomatic team that helped bring the Inter-American Democratic Charter to fruition, we write to urge you to take the initiative at the upcoming General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) to form a regional consensus around President Obama's vision that the full normalization of relations with Cuba should be based on full respect for democracy and human rights and solidarity with the Cuban people. 
We invoke the words of democratic activists on the island in asserting that any dialogue with the island should engage the Cuban people and support their peaceful struggle for a genuine democracy.  On May 15, 250 courageous Cubans – including former political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez" and the president of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina – wrote to OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza imploring him to, "Embrace the Cuban people. Condemn its dictatorship. Do not reinstate the Castro regime in the Latin American democratic community; open the doors of the OAS to the Cuban civil society that non-violently struggles for democratic transformation."
The OAS and its member governments must not shrink from their collective responsibility to "promote and defend" the "right to democracy" that is denied the people of Cuba under the current regime.  The Democratic Charter, drafted and signed by the 34 active member states on the fateful day of September 11, 2001, is unambiguous in declaring, in Article 1, "The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it."   Article 3 of the document defines the "essential elements" of "representative democracy" in very specific terms, including:

·  Respect for "human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the free exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage";
·  "pluralistic system of political parties and organizations";
·  "separation of powers and independence of the branches of government";
·  "freedom of expression and of the press"; and,
·  "constitutional subordination of all state institutions to the legally constituted civilian authority."

Further, the document asserts that "an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order or an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state constitutes ... an insurmountable obstacle to its government's participation" in the inter-American system. 
We recognize that the world has changed in dramatic ways since Cuba's suspension from the OAS in 1961.  Fortunately, the region has progressed – with most governments committed to perfecting their own democratic order and to accepting representative democracy as the only legitimate form of government. 
Tragically, Cuba has not changed.  Even since the superficial transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his brother, Raul, we have seen evidence that the island's authorities are determined to maintain the dictatorship that suffocates the legitimate aspirations of 11 million Cubans.  Cuba's current system fails to meet any of the indispensable standards outlined in the Democratic Charter. 
Now more than ever, any actions that confer legitimacy on the unelected regime in Havana would be a betrayal of our Cuban brothers and sisters.  Those Cubans who are struggling to claim their own freedom and planning for a brighter future deserve the solidarity of their neighbors.  We hope you will mobilize the Hemisphere behind this principled policy and redouble tangible U.S. support for this noble cause.
Very respectfully,
Ambassador Lino Gutierrez
Ambassador Roger F. Noriega  
Ambassador  Otto J. Reich
Gutierrez retired from the career U.S. Foreign Service in 2006; he was acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs when the Inter-American Democratic Charter was negotiated and signed.  Noriega was U.S. Ambassador to the OAS who completed negotiations on the Democratic Charter; he signed the formal document in Lima, Peru, on behalf of the United States, September 11, 2001.  Reich served as Assistant Secretary during the implementation of the Democratic Charter.

Insulza Obviously Didn't Get the Memo

Friday, May 29, 2009
There's an African proverb that says, "When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you."

So why would OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza work so actively to destroy the democratic standard of the regional body he heads by opening-the-door to the sole dictatorship in the region, Cuba; particularly, as the Castro regime is bent on destroying the democratic fiber of the OAS?
From Castro's Granma periodical today:

Throughout this long history, there is too much involvement with death, genocide and lies for the OAS to survive these times. It is a political corpse and should be buried as soon as possible. However, there is no lack of those who, in their zeal to bring back the dead, are seeking to rectify matters by "allowing Cuba to live," restoring to it the place that never should have been taken from it within the OAS. All sorts of technicalities have been brought into play, such as the argument that it was the Cuban government, not the country, which was excluded, as if the legal entity of the state were separable from its very existence. The reality is, without the OAS, the United States would lose one of its principle political/legal instruments of hegemonic control over the Western Hemisphere.

Dismantling it and founding a new organization of Latin American and Caribbean countries, without the United States, would be the only way for Latin America and the Caribbean to decide their destiny without endangering their identity and making real progress toward a great united homeland, which Martí and Bolívar indicated as a historic goal.

As for Cuba, it does not need the OAS. It does not want it, reformed or not. Blood and infamy ooze out of every one of its pores. We will never return to that old run-down old house of Washington, witness to so much selling-out and so many humiliations. Raúl expressed it with the words of Martí: Before we enter the OAS, the North Sea would have to unite with the South Sea and a snake will be born from an eagle's egg.

Multilateralism Vs. Democracy

Today's Washington Post reports on the current standoff between the U.S. and the Chavez Axis -- led by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza -- regarding the Cuban regime's possible readmission to the regional body, which the newspaper describes as a "challenge" for the U.S.'s regional priorities. 
The "challenge" is encapsulated as follows:
Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington, said the Cuba resolution has trapped the Obama administration between two of its priorities: democracy promotion and better relations with its neighbors.  In 2001, the U.S. government supported the Democratic Charter, a milestone in a region once known for dictatorships.  But Obama told hemispheric leaders in Trinidad and Tobago last month that he wanted to form closer partnerships and not have the United States dictate policy.
"There's really two different values at play here: multilateralism versus democracy. You can't have multilateralism and then let one country, i.e. the U.S., make the decision for a multilateral organization," Hakim said.
EDITOR'S NOTE:  Europe and the Americas are the only regions in the world almost entirely composed of liberal democracies -- Cuba is the exception in the Americas and Belarus is the exception in Europe.  In Europe, the 20th century's extremist ideologies -- fascism and communism -- were defeated due to the strength of the region's democracies and incremental economic integration.  Similarly, after decades of civil wars and strife, Latin America embraced representative democracy.  Today, peace in Europe and the Americas depends on the resilience of these democracies.  The reason the Chavez Axis insists on Cuba's unconditional readmission to the OAS is precisely to subvert its own democracies and eventually that of its neighbors -- a fissure that no degree of multilateralism can fix.

Has Fidel Castro Practiced Torture?

In this week's "Reflection" by Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator attacks the U.S. for its use of "torture" to extract information from terrorists. That's almost expected, but in a surreal moment, Castro wrote:

"In our country [Cuba], despite the very serious dangers that have threatened us for decades, we have never tortured anyone to obtain information."

You decide.

Quote of the Day

Thursday, May 28, 2009
From Venezuela's El Universal:
Venezuela is to become a second Cuba, said Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa during his presentation on Thursday in the forum The Latin America Challenge, hosted by think tank Center for Dissemination of Economic Knowledge (Cedice).

According to Vargas Llosa, while such a regime has not taken root yet, Venezuela is moving closer to it.

The former candidate for Peruvian president explained that totalitarian utopias have always tried to replace an "imperfect democracy," but all of them have failed and have turned into dictatorship.

"Only two countries in the world keep the fiction of the socialist utopia –North Korea and Cuba," said the writer.

U.S. Legally Barred From Supporting Cuba's OAS Readmission

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, raised new concerns today regarding the authority for U.S. officials to encourage Cuba's reinstatement into the Organization of American States (OAS).  Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

"The recent decision by U.S. officials to encourage Cuba's reintegration into the OAS clearly contradicts current U.S. law.

"Long-standing U.S. policy, as enshrined in the LIBERTAD Act (Helms-Burton law), has been to oppose any efforts by the Cuban regime's sympathizers and enablers to terminate the dictatorship's suspension from OAS membership.

"The U.S. position has been firmly rooted in the promotion of freedom and democracy for the Cuban nation.  We have clearly said that Cuba should not participate in regional groups until there is a freely elected, fully participatory, democratic government in power in Cuba.
"The Cuban people have long looked to the U.S. as the one nation courageous enough to stand against Cuba's repressive communist regime.

"Lamentably, it appears that U.S. leaders have succumbed to the peer pressure of the OAS.  Do we now value the approval of Castro apprentices and sympathizers in the Hemisphere more than upholding our core values, democratic commitments, and national security interests?

"I urge U.S. officials to reconsider this recent decision and continue to serve as a beacon of hope for those in Cuba who struggle for the day when they are finally free of the shackles of tyranny."

BACKGROUND:  Section 105 of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 states that "the President should instruct the United States Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States to oppose and vote against any termination of the suspension of the Cuban Government from participation in the Organization until the President determines under section 203(c)(3) that a democratically elected government in Cuba is in power."

A Fair-Weather Friend

In today's AP story on Fidel Castro's latest tirade against the U.S., there's an interesting reference to a recent court case with an important historic reminder: 
Last year, a Florida jury awarded nearly $253 million to the children of a former friend of Fidel Castro who they said was tortured and killed in a Cuban jail more than three decades ago.

Rafael del Pino Siero, who became a U.S. citizen and lived in Miami, was captured while trying to help a Cuban escape the island in 1959 and sentenced to 30 years in a Cuban prison. He died in his cell in 1977 at age 51.

The Cuban government said he hanged himself. The lawsuit filed by his children in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleged that the Cuban government "intentionally, unlawfully, and with complete disregard for human life, tortured and killed Rafael del Pino by hanging him."

NOTE: The case of Rafael del Pino Siero is tragic, but unfortunately, not unique.  There's a long list of former friends and colleagues of Fidel Castro that ended up in prison, in front of a firing squad or suffered tragic "accidents."  If that's how Castro treats his friends, just imagine how he treats his opponents. 

A Plantado Condemns Double Standards

by Eleno Oviedo
The Cuban regime is buying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of agricultural products and medicines in the United States, but they have to pay for them up front -- no credit.

There is no embargo from Spain, France, Canada, Mexico, China, or Russia just to mention a few countries.  Cuba's dictators can buy anything they want, but they can't pay and their credit is deplorable.  The problem with the Castro brothers is money.  They want to buy, but not to pay.  They want us, U.S. taxpayers, to eventually subsidize their subversion and espionage all over the world.
Why did the international community complain about Francisco Franco being a military dictator in Spain for decades?

Why did the international community seek to prosecute Augusto Pinochet for the disappearance of opponents?

Why did the international community work to dethrone the Somoza's dictatorship in Nicaragua?

Why did the international community consider Trujillo a criminal and assassin?

Yet, why doesn't the international community do the same with Comandante Fidel Castro or General Raul Castro?
Eleno O. Oviedo is a Director of Plantados until Freedom and Democracy in Cuba.  He spent 26 years as a political prisoner in Castro's jails.

State: No Change in OAS/Cuba Policy

From the U.S. Department of State -
Question: Can you explain the change of policy on opening up discussions at the OAS for membership for Cuba?

Answer: There has been no change of policy. As the Secretary stated in her remarks before the Council of the Americas on May 13, the United States looks forward to the day when Cuba can return to the Organization of American States in a manner that is consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Today at the OAS, the U.S. submitted a resolution that supports the OAS taking steps to initiate a dialogue with Cuba regarding its eventual reintegration into the inter-American system, in a manner consistent with the commitments of all other OAS member states under the OAS Charter, the Democratic Charter, and other instruments.

As the Secretary noted in her remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 20, "any effort to admit Cuba into the OAS is really in Cuba's hands. They have to be willing to take the concrete steps necessary to meet those principles. We've been very clear about that – move toward democracy, release political prisoners, respect fundamental freedoms. That is what it means to be a member of the OAS."

A Saberi Lesson For Senator Dorgan

One can only hope that Roxana Saberi, the former Miss North Dakota that was convicted of espionage by Iran's regime but released on appeal, has taught her home state's U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan an important lesson. 
Saberi was initially handed an eight-year sentence and incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, which prompted her to go on a hunger strike in protest, and provoked an outcry from President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and U.S. lawmakers, including Senator Dorgan.

Upon her return to the U.S. this week, Saberi told The Hill newspaper:

"When I found out that I had the support while I was in prison, I gained a lot of strength and hope and I didn't feel so alone anymore."
Senator Dorgan never misses an opportunity to promote business ties with the brutal Castro regime in Cuba, yet has never taken a moment to offer his solidarity and support to Cuba's courageous political prisoners, many of whom are serving 25-30 year sentences, such as Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.
It is for this reason that U.S. policy towards Cuba is first and foremost conditioned upon the release of the island's political prisoners.  As Roxana Saberi learned in Iran, it is their source of strength and hope, and the least we can do in support of their enormous sacrifice for freedom.
Let's just hope that Senator Dorgan has taken note. 

Obama on Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi

Statement by the President on Aung San Suu Kyi's House Arrest and Detention
I call on the Burmese government to release National League for Democracy Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from detention immediately and unconditionally.  I strongly condemn her house arrest and detention, which have also been condemned around the world.  The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued opinions affirming that the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi dating back to 2003 is arbitrary, unjustified, and in contravention of Burma's own law, and the United Nations Security Council reaffirmed on May 22 their concern about the situation and called for the release of all political prisoners. 

Aung San Suu Kyi's continued detention, isolation, and show trial based on spurious charges cast serious doubt on the Burmese regime's willingness to be a responsible member of the international community.  This is an important opportunity for the government in Burma to demonstrate that it respects its own laws and its own people, is ready to work with the National League for Democracy and other ethnic and opposition groups, and is prepared to move toward reconciliation.

By her actions, Aung San Suu Kyi has represented profound patriotism, sacrifice, and the vision of a democratic and prosperous Burma.  It is time for the Burmese government to drop all charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and unconditionally release her and her fellow political prisoners.  Such an action would be an affirmative and significant step on Burma's part to begin to restore its standing in the eyes of the United States and the world community and to move toward a better future for its people.

Political Prisoner on Hunger Strike

Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Havana, Cuba, (CNA) - The leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, denounced the inhuman conditions at the federal prison in Pinar del Rio, where Varela Project member Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona is incarcerated and has been on a hunger strike since May 15 to protest the poor treatment.

In a recent press release, Paya said that Arroyo Carmona, a journalist and promoter of the Varela Project, was "unjustly condemned to 26 years in prison in April of 2003. His protest is over the lack of medical care, the overcrowding of 130 prisoners in a single hallway for months, the denial of chaplain visits and the cruel and degrading treatment to which he is subjected."

After noting that Arroyo Carmona is "allowed to see the sun just once per month," Paya reported that "while he was confined to the hellish [Cuban] prison in Guantanamo, Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona was on a hunger strike for 25 days to protest the same inhumane conditions there. Both at the Guantanamo prison and the prison at Pinar del Rio…as well as at so many other Cuban prisons, the conditions in which prisoners are keep and the treatment they receive constitute true torture."

Given this treatment, Paya called on "the entire international community and especially Cubans to demand the liberation of Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona and of all prisoners of conscience being held in Cuban prisons, to thus defend their freedom and their lives."

"Let all Cubans remember that if Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona and all peaceful Cuban political prisoners are unjustly incarcerated in inhumane conditions, it is for peacefully defending the rights and dignity of Cubans themselves," Paya said.

Democracy Award For Cuban Activists

WASHINGTON - The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) will honor the courage and determination of five Cuban democracy activists with the presentation of its annual Democracy Award at a Capitol Hill ceremony and reception on Wednesday, June 24, 2009.

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

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

The award presentation and reception will take place in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m., and will be preceded by a panel discussion examining the prospects for democracy in Cuba, which will begin at 3:30 p.m. in the same room.

2009 Democracy Award Honorees

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

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

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

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

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

In Typical OAS Fashion

The Organization of American States (OAS) will now create a taskforce to evaluate various proposals, and sort out disagreements, on the Cuban regime's possible readmission into the regional body.  The taskforce is set to report its conclusions before the foreign ministers of member countries meet at the OAS's June 2nd General Assembly in Honduras.

An Extraordinary Man, With Extraordinary Courage

"I do not support, nor will I ever support, any policy of dialogue with the Castro's dictatorship because I firmly believe that the only way to achieve democracy in Cuba is through civil disobedience and a campaign of no cooperation. Those that talk about dialogue, no matter where they are located, do not represent the majority view of the Cuban people, nor the majority view of those struggling for freedom here."

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

Text of U.S. Resolution (on Cuba) to the OAS

Resolution of the General Assembly

(Presented by the United States)
The shared interest in the full participation of all Member States;
That some of the circumstances since Cuba's suspension from full participation in the Organization of American States may have changed;
The spirit of openness that encouraged dialogue among the heads of state and government at the V Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, and that, consistent with that spirit, the Member States desire to establish a period of renewed hemispheric relations;
That frank and open dialogue is one of the hallmarks of multilateral relations between sovereign states and between sovereign states and multilateral organizations;
Recalling the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which are instruments universally applicable to all Member states, as well as the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance; and
Taking into account, in accordance with article 54 of the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS), that the General Assembly is the supreme organ of the OAS;
1. To support the interest of the Member States in facilitating the eventual reintegration of Cuba into the Inter-American system in a manner that is consistent with the commitments, principles and values of the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and other instruments.
2. To instruct the Permanent Council to initiate a dialogue with the present Government of Cuba regarding its eventual reintegration into the inter-American system, consistent with the principles of sovereignty, independence, non-intervention, democracy and full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as enshrined in the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and other OAS instruments.
3. To instruct the Permanent Council to present the results of the dialogue prior to the next General Assembly.
4. To review the report of the Permanent Council at the next General Assembly and determine what, if any, steps could be taken towards the eventual reintegration of Cuba into the inter-American system, in a manner consistent with the spirit of consensus that governs the institution.
5. To reaffirm our will to act in accordance with our commitments to the fundamental principles of the inter-American system.

Cuban General's Son Arrested

Juan Almeida Garcia, son of General Juan Almeida Bosque -- one of the original Commanders of the Cuban Revolution and currently the third-ranking member of Cuba's dictatorship -- was arrested and charged by Cuban authorities for attempting to "illegally exit" the island, according to El Nuevo Herald.
Almeida Garcia is the youngest of General Almeida Bosque's four children.  Ironically, two of his four children already live outside of Cuba. 
In a letter written by Almeida Garcia to his Cuban captors, and obtained by El Nuevo Herald, he states, "I had no other choice but to attempt an illegal exit.  You can imprison me, place another hood over my head and make me disappear amongst secret locations, but I'm only asking for the ability to visit a doctor and be reunited with my family."
This news comes soon after the announcement of renewed migration talks between the U.S. and Cuba.  These talks were precisely suspended in 2004 due to the Cuban regime's violations of the original 1994 Migration Accords, which require the Cuban authorities to grant exit permits to Cuban nationals that have been granted U.S. visas and to allow U.S. diplomats on the island to verify the well-being of repatriated Cubans, as arrests for "illegal exit" are widespread.
If this is the case of the son of Cuba's third-highest ranking official, just imagine the repressive reality of an ordinary, anonymous Cuban.   

Antunez's Weekend Arrest

Washington, DC - U.S. Rep. Kendrick B. Meek (D-FL) released the following statement after learning that Cuban dissident Antúnez and six others were arrested in Havana over the weekend:
"On May 20 – a day of important historical significance for Cuban Americans – I met with Berta Antúnez, sister of political dissident Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antúnez in my Washington, DC office.  The genuine concern and apprehension she expressed for her brother was heartfelt.  I pledged that her family's story would not go unheard in the halls of Congress.  My message to her was that it is unacceptable for Cuba's potential Nelson Mandela to remain a prisoner of the state when he is practicing his inalienable rights and freedoms in Havana. 
"To learn that only days after our meeting, Antúnez was arrested further demonstrates that the Castro regime would rather silence political opponents rather than allow free speech to flourish on the island.  Berta Antúnez's message of hope that she delivered to me days ago resonate with me even more so now and my thoughts and prayers are with her family."  


From the National Endowment for Democracy's Digest:
There is significant bipartisan opposition to Cuba's re-admission to the OAS.  Such a concession would put at risk the regional consensus that has consolidated the hemisphere's relatively recent democratization, according to the Brookings Institution's Ted Piccone, co-editor of the newly released book, The Obama Administration and the Americas: Agenda for Change:

The governments of the region, as they emerged from years of military dictatorship in the 1980s, agreed to lock arms and resist any attempt to overthrow civilian constitutional rule. This joint approach has served the region well when such countries as Peru, Paraguay, Guatemala and Haiti faced political turmoil. The commitment to core democratic standards, expressed through the Inter-American Democratic Charter, is central to the region's identity and compares well to the European model of integration based on common democratic values and forms of government.

Attention U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Reuters has confirmed as well:
Foreign businesses [in Cuba] have been complaining about slow payments and inability to transfer cash abroad, while Cuban banks have warned they are short of hard currency.

Senator Lugar Reveals Motives

After authorizing a staff trip to Castro's Cuba, signing off on a detailed report about this trip, and calling for a revision of U.S. policy with great media fanfare, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana has issued a statement today announcing his support for legislation seeking to ease trade and travel sanctions towards Cuba.
Senator Lugar's statement makes the point that:
"Indiana farmers' annual agricultural exports are increasing and have exceeded $2.4 billion in value," said Lugar. "Access to the Cuban market, located near the United States in our own hemisphere, will be a valuable opportunity for Hoosier grain, livestock, and vegetable producers, as well as Indiana's overall economy. I remain committed to increasing trade opportunities for Indiana's farms and businesses."
Surprise!  It's about business.  No wonder his staff report virtually ignored Cuba's courageous political prisoners and pro-democracy movement.

American Farm Bureau Didn't Get The Memo

Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau, wrote an opinion piece today on Cuba that is being carried by McLatchy
As usual, Stallman has looked over the tragedy of Cuba's political prisoners, torture and brutal repression, but we're accustomed to that.

Stallman also overlooks the fact that the Cuban people are restricted from private business activities and that every penny of business U.S. farmers have done with Cuba have been with only one entity, the Castro regime's Alimport.  However, he obviously also missed this morning's memo to Senator Baucus, which is a great disservice to the farmers he represents. 
Stallman states:
"While touring the Cuban countryside I realized the nation's ability to produce bulk commodities had significantly diminished after the Russians' departure. Other countries are taking advantage of the opportunity."
Therefore, please allow us to repeat the very important information posted below.
Foreign companies are denouncing that their bank accounts in Cuba have been frozen, some dating six months back.
According to Mexico's La Jornada, hundreds of foreign companies that operate on the island, and transact business with the Cuban regime's authorities, have had their accounts frozen by the state-owned bank that is solely empowered to conduct commercial banking operations in convertible currencies, the Castro regime's Banco Financiero Internacional, S.A. ("BFI").
These foreign companies' attempts to repatriate their funds to their headquarters outside of Cuba, or to pay providers outside of Cuba, have been fruitless.
Stallman has endorsed legislation that would effectively abrogate the current system of "cash-sales only" to Cuba.  This would essentially force U.S. companies looking to transact business with the Cuban regime to open accounts in BFI.
As the saying goes, pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered.

Another $180k In Lobbying For Castro's Interests

The AP reports:
French drinks company Pernod Ricard spent $180,000 in the first quarter to lobby the U.S. government on trade and trademark issues, according to the form filed April 16 with the House clerk's office.
In the mid-1990s, Pernod Ricard partnered with the Cuban government to sell Cuba's Havana Club rum worldwide. That excluded the U.S., where Cuban imports are forbidden under a trade embargo.

Red Alert, Senator Baucus!

As U.S. Senator Max Baucus of Montana looks to expand financial transactions with the Castro regime, foreign companies are denouncing that their bank accounts in Cuba have been frozen, some dating six months back.
According to Mexico's La Jornada, hundreds of foreign companies that operate on the island, and transact business with the Cuban regime's authorities, have had their accounts frozen by the state-owned bank that is solely empowered to conduct commercial banking operations in convertible currencies, the Castro regime's Banco Financiero Internacional, S.A. ("BFI").
These foreign companies' attempts to repatriate their funds to their headquarters outside of Cuba, or to pay providers outside of Cuba, have been fruitless.
Legislation recently introduced by Senator Baucus -- and the House version by U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran of Kansas -- would effectively abrogate the current system of "cash-sales" to Cuba, and essentially force U.S. companies looking to transact business with the Cuban regime to open accounts in BFI.  The legislation would also authorize U.S. banks to open corresponding accounts in BFI.

A lose-lose situation, for American farmers and for American taxpayers.

Martinez to OAS: Don't Pervert Principles

By U.S. Senator Mel Martinez of Florida in The Miami Herald:

As the nations of the Western Hemisphere prepare to meet in Honduras for the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), the question again arises as to whether this hemisphere stands with the principles of democracy or the terror and misery of tyranny. It would seem an easy choice, but a move is afoot to readmit Cuba to the OAS. Such a move, if not quashed with vigor, sends a chilling message regarding the future of our hemisphere. In September 2001, the OAS achieved a global first and, unlike any other region its size, ratified a document outlining 28 agreed-upon articles that resolve to promote democratic institutions, free and fair elections and the protection of human rights.

The document, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, states in its first article that, ``the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy, and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.''

The Charter goes on to outline what it calls ''the essential elements of representative democracy'' as including respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections, a system of pluralistic political parties, the separation of powers and the independence of the branches of government.

This commitment by this hemisphere to democracy has few precedents and makes our hemisphere distinct. It reflects the leadership this hemisphere has taken during the past 30 years to embrace democratic norms and ensure respect for an individual's fundamental freedoms.

But some, including the secretary general of the OAS, have brought this powerful commitment to democracy and human freedom into question by suggesting that it is time to readmit the Cuban dictatorship into the organization.

In 1962, the decision to exclude the Castro government from active membership in the OAS was based on a unanimous declaration that Marxism-Leninism, a system that still prevails in Cuba, was incompatible with the inter-American system. The OAS stated that such a system with its denial of freedom and dignity to individuals was anathema to the core principles of representative democracy, human rights and self-determination.

The only tragedy larger than the Cuban regime's failure to break from its past would be the General Assembly's readmission of a country that has not shown the will to meet any of the commitments outlined in the Democratic Charter.

Recently, 250 Cuban activists, in Cuba, signed an open letter to the OAS stating, ``Cuba has not been separated from the OAS. It is the tyrannical regime which violates the public liberties of Cubans that has been separated. Nevertheless, what worries us most is not the affront which would be committed against our rights by accepting the dictatorship which oppresses us as an equal in terms of the fundamental values of its democratic neighbors, but rather the damage that would be inflicted on the hemisphere itself.''

There should be no ''Cuba exception'' to this hemisphere's commitment to democracy. The United States should encourage the OAS to formulate how it might help Cuba make a transition to democracy and become fully compliant with the Democratic Charter. The Cuban people, not the current government elite in Havana, need to be the guides of this process. The opening move must be a dialogue between the government in Havana and the Cuban people.

The OAS, the United States and all signatories to the Democratic Charter should focus on helping the Cuban people claim their fundamental rights and fulfill the vision of protected democracy and human rights. Cuba's readmission to the OAS would be a perversion of principle and a stunning reversal of democratic progress; it would be the dissolution of this hemisphere's significant commitment to freedom and would make the OAS a hollow body.

Free Within These Walls

Aspiring filmmaker and Brown University graduate (as of Sunday), Amanda Lehtinen -- daughter of U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida -- is screening her new documentary, Free Within These Walls, tomorrow at the University of Miami's Casa Bacardi.

The documentary is a compelling look at the enormous struggle and sacrifice of Cuba's political prisoners, featuring:

Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez, 22 years in prison
Angel de Fana, 20 years in prison
Maritza Lugo, jailed more than 30 times
Ana Lazara Rodriguez, 16 years in prison
Armando Valladares, 22 years in prison
Manuel Vazquez Portal, imprisoned during the "Black Spring" of 2003

The screening will take place Wednesday, May 27th, 6:30 p.m., University of Miami (Casa Bacardi), 1531 Brescia Avenue, Coral Gables, Florida.

FARC Leaders Residing In Cuba

Monday, May 25, 2009
Colombian government sources have confirmed that only three members of the FARC's secretariat, the highest body within the guerrillas' command structure, are inside Colombia. The other twelve are hiding in Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba, newspaper El Tiempo reported Monday.

Resilience For Free Information

As U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota looks for ways to defund U.S.-based broadcasts to Cuba, the Cuban people courageously defy Cuban authorities in pursuit of a free flow of information.
From today's Miami Herald:
Punishment for illegal possession and installation of parabolic antennas ranges from 3 to 5 years' imprisonment, fines and confiscation of goods, according to each case.

Amaury, 41, does not know for sure how his neighbor obtained the antennas and repeaters, but said that neither the fines nor the confiscation of the equipment used for the distribution of satellite signals ``will make clients forget cable television.''

According to him, every so often a van from the Ministry of Computer Sciences and Communications drives through the neighborhood detecting unauthorized frequencies.

''That happened in the Vedado neighborhood, but two or three days after the police came and cut the special cables, the neighbors reinstalled the connections,'' he said.

The authorities have been particularly watchful of citizens' access to the Internet. There is still no official response from Cuba to the suspension of a series of restrictions on communications and TV linkage to the island announced recently by President Obama.

Ten Ways Hugo Chavez Hurts the U.S.

By Gustavo Coronel in Petroleum World:
1. His alliance with Iran's President Ahmadinejad has opened up Latin America to that fundamentalist country.
Chavez has provided Iran, so far, with entry to Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador. Iran is conducting active ideological indoctrination in these countries, disguised as cultural interchange, and is openly promoting anti-US political strategies.
2. His promotion of Islamic terrorism through increasing links with Hezbollah and Hamas is sending Islamic terrorists to the US border.
The alignment with Iran, mentioned above, and the increasing connections with terrorist Islamic groups, is allowing for the entry of Islamic terrorists into Venezuela, where they are provided with false Venezuelan documents and sent to the Mexico-US border.
3. Cutting off links with the US drug enforcement agencies and turning Venezuela into the main drug distribution center for Andean cocaine going to the US and Europe further complicates US anti-drug efforts in Latin America.
The volume of cocaine now moving through Venezuela, with the cooperation and complicity of the Venezuelan authorities, is on the order of 300 tonnes per year and increasing rapidly.
4. Promoting petroleum production cuts and price increases within OPEC is contributing to the global economic downturn.
Chavez leads the group of hawks within OPEC, demanding production cuts to pressure petroleum price increases and asking the organization to abandon the dollar as the currency of choice for their transactions.
5. His creation of a regional political and economic anti-US block places increasing pressures on an already over-extended list of US foreign policy priorities.
Through the use of oil as a political weapon, he exercises influence over the small states of the Caribbean, several Central American countries, and even some larger countries in the region. Chavez is close to acquiring political control of the Organization of American States, OAS.
6. A $6 billion acquisition of sophisticated weapons from Russia and China has altered the balance of military power in the region, increasing the probabilities of a major hemispheric crisis.
Chavez has a very unstable personality. He would not think twice about promoting a crisis similar to the Cuban-Russian- US missile confrontation of the 1960s that took the world to the brink of nuclear war.
7. His financial and political oxygenation of Cuba has extended the life of the Castro dictatorship.
The amount of Venezuelan money illegally given by Chavez to the Castro regime can be estimated at some $12-14 billion, an amount of money comparable to the financial help given to Cuba by the Soviet Union during the 1960s. This transference of resources has been possible through the supply of about 150 million barrels of oil to Castro's Cuba during the last five years, plus cash transfers and the financing of housing and road projects on the island. This has extended the life of the Cuban regime for at least a decade.
8. His alliance with the Colombian terrorist army, FARC, represents a clear act of aggression against the political stability of the region.
The well-documented link between Chavez and the terrorist-drug trafficking organization FARC, guilty of the death and kidnapping of more than one hundred thousand Latin Americans, would be enough basis to name the Venezuelan regime as a supporter of terrorism. Such an alliance is in clear violation of the Declarations and Resolutions, as well as the Charter, of the Organization of American States, of which the US is a member country. FARC has acted directly against US nationals and property during the last 15 years.
9. His financing of the extreme left presidential candidacies of Ollanta Humala in Peru, Andres Lopez Obrador in Mexico, the Farabundo Marti Front in El Salvador and the Sandinista Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua is part of a global anti-US strategy.
The fact that, so far, his success has only been modest does not detract from his openly stated main objective, which is the destruction of what he calls "the evil empire."
10. His well-financed campaign of recruiting US organizations and individuals to his cause, either through material rewards or ideological seduction is undermining US society.
Organizations that have a grudge against the government of the United States, ideological fellow-travellers, academic guns for hire and individuals who are easily seduced by despots and think poorly of US democracy, now form a small but active group of pro-Chavez Americans who have, for all practical purposes, become Chavez' agents in the United States of America.
Mr. Gustavo Coronel was a founding member of the Board of Directors for Petroleos de Venezuela (PdVSA), 1976-1979. He was elected to the House of Deputies for the State of Carabobo, the most highly industrialized state in Venezuela, however the Congress was subsequently dissolved by Hugo Chavez in 1999.

In Remembrance...

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist and philosopher (1803-1882)

Iran In The Americas, It All Began In Cuba

From Israel's Ynet:
Ties to South America aiding Iran's nuclear program

Venezuela is helping Iran circumvent the Security Council's economic sanctions and is also suspected of providing Tehran with uranium, while Hizbullah is setting up terror cells in south America, this according to an official Foreign Ministry document obtained by Ynet.

Next week Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon is expected to visit South America ahead of FM Avigdor Lieberman's tour of the region.

As part of the preparations for Lieberman's trip, the Foreign Ministry drafted a detailed dossier on Iran's activities in South America, which have been expanded amid the sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic by the West.

The report, which is based on information gathered by military and diplomatic sources around the world, both Israeli and foreign, claims that Iran had begun its infiltration of Latin America as early as 1982, when it forged ties with Cuba. Over the years Tehran opened embassies in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela and Uruguay. The dossier also mentions Iran's involvement in the terror attacks on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and on the AMIA Jewish community center in the Argentinean capital in 1994.  

All About a Bushel

U.S. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas has added his voice -- not to mention his true motives and grave disinformation of the Cuba reality -- in support of legislation to unconditionally ease trade and travel regulations towards the Castro regime.
"In Kansas, one out of every two bushels of wheat is sold overseas," Senator Roberts said. "American farmers and ranchers deserve the support of their government in pursuing international markets for their products. This legislation seeks to clarify and enhance the ability of our farmers and ranchers to sell their products in this growing and important market. The removal of the travel ban can only help Americans share the lesson of democracy and freedom with the Cuban people and expand opportunities for trade."
NOTE:  Senator Roberts' remarks make it more than clear that his motives are purely commercial, in gross disregard of the courageous struggle of the Cuban people versus the brutal repression of the Cuban regime.  
Senator Roberts proceeds to mention the "growing and important" Cuban market.  That grave disinformation fails to mention that Cuban law only permits one company, Alimport, owned and operated by the Cuban regime to engage in foreign trade with Kansas.  The Cuban people are strictly prohibited from engaging in private commercial activity, so Senator Roberts should be forthcoming in his definition of the "growing and important" Cuban market: one company, the Castro's Alimport
Finally, Senator Roberts should be careful not to degrade the decades in political prison served by Cuban pro-democracy leaders and human rights advocates, such as Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez."  These 21st century Vaclav Havel's and Nelson Mandela's have given the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of "democracy and freedom," the "lessons" Senator Roberts wants American travelers to lecture them on. 
Senator Roberts owes them an apology.         

We Will Never Forget (Memorial Day)

They fell, but o'er their glorious grave
Floats free the banner of the cause they died to save.

~Francis Marion Crawford, American Writer (1854-1909) 

Tyrants Fear Bloggers

Courtesy of the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR)

The Afro-Cuban Reality

Sunday, May 24, 2009
From the Trinidad and Tobago Express:
Cuba's Black Secrets
by Andy Johnson

NINETY-SEVEN years ago there was an uprising in Cuba which in the end left more than 6,000 people dead. Many thousands more fled to the hills, precipitating a labour shortage. This led to the importation of millions of immigrants, many of them coming from the West Indian islands.

Among those who joined the army of cane cutters and other classes of labourers were the parents of Carlos Moore, an Afro-West Indian Cuban who would grow up to become virtually a man without a country. He was targeted, pursued, persecuted and victimised and as a counter-revolutionary for more than three decades. His crime was that he dared to protest against what he came to realise as the systematic means by which the Cuban revolution he had adored continued to deny the existence of racism in his country.

In fact, Moore writes in his moving memoir, Pichon: Race and Revolution in Castro's Cuba, the regime's crime was compounded by what he says was its deliberate suppression of Afro-Cuban culture and its refusal to treat with the issue of race relations in a country in which black skin meant, and still means, lowest-class citizenship.

To have said otherwise was to court ostracision, punishment, banishment and death. The book describes in frightening detail how many times he miraculously escaped death.

May 20 is a Cuban anniversary not many people know about, except that it is the anniversary of the date of Cuba's independence from Spain. But on that date in 1912, poorly armed black Cuban men, many accompanied by their wives, took to the hills protesting social conditions under which they were living. It was to be referred to later as Cuba's "war against the negroes''.

"A reign of terror was unleashed against innocent men, women and children, regardless of any association with the rebels. Lynchings took place all over the island. Within six months 6,000 black lives were claimed. Blacks fled into the mountains to escape, provoking a labour shortage and the standstill of sugar mills,'' Moore writes in Pichon, from a story told to him by a man who would later become one of his lifelong heroes.

It's a story which remains little known in the country that continues to ignore its serious social and racial imbalances, Moore claims.

"We live in a republic with all and for all, so the negro has no cause to set himself apart from his white brother to advance his cause,'' the Cuban president at the time of the 1912 revolt is reported to have said. And it is a position which Moore said he came face to face with on several occasions in the country of his birth, before his departure for the United States at age 15 in 1957 and after his return home in June, 1961. Two years after Castro gained power.

Much has been made over the years, for example, of Castro's stay at the Theresa Hotel in Harlem during his visit to the United Nations in September 1960. He felt he had been treated, Moore writes, "as a negro'' in Manhattan, therefore, he was going to stay with them in Harlem. But from Moore's viewpoint, this was the first of many con jobs Castro was to do on his audiences on the question of his race perspective. No one in the Cuban delegation was black, from a country then with a 40 per cent black population. He hurriedly sent for Juan Almeida Bosque, a black army major who had originally been left behind, but who was the highest ranking black face in the revolutionary apparatus at the time.

Based on a face-to-face encounter with Castro at the Theresa and on the strength of the prevailing revolutionary consciousness, he decided to return and work for the revolution. On his first job application interview, however, he began to notice that "racism was not only alive and well in Communist Cuba, it was receiving new ideological legitimacy.'' That "the old paternalistic racism had simply been repackaged through the use of a Marxist jargon.''

In quick time he would also realise that to ask unwanted questions, to complain about anything the regime had pronounced upon, was to court detention and worse. Moore was to discover a pattern in which Afro-Cuban culture was driven underground. The clubs they had formed as means to their group sustenance were closed down, turned into instruments of ideological control.

"There were no longer Blacks in Cuba,'' he was told by an officer during the job interview which then led to his dispatch to a labour camp. "Fidel had declared that racism no longer existed. To affirm that there was racism in Cuba was to call the leader of our revolution a liar. To attack the commander in chief is to attack the revolution,'' he was told.

He was to pay dearly for this, for 34 years. He would face sustained character assassination, attempts on his life while in exile and be called a counter-revolutionary, an enemy of the state, which meant being seen as a worm and as scum.

Zapatero: It's Castro's Turn To Move

Attention U.S. Congressmen Bill Delahunt, Jeff Flake, Jose Serrano and other Members of Congress pushing the Obama Administration for further unilateral concessions towards Cuba: 
Even the Spanish government believes it's the Castro regime's turn to show goodwill and undertake reciprocal reforms.
MADRID – Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in an interview published Sunday that U.S. President Barack Obama "has taken positive measures" regarding his "problem" with Cuba and that now it's Havana's "turn to make a move."

"Now the Cuban government has to make reforms and, in my opinion, they must start with the economic and social," Zapatero told the Spanish daily Publico.

Washington Post Editorial Board On Chavez

Is Silence Consent?
The Obama administration's 'engagement' policy is convenient for Hugo Chávez's latest crackdown.
WHILE THE United States and Venezuela's neighbors silently stand by, Hugo Chávez's campaign to destroy his remaining domestic opposition continues. On Thursday night state intelligence police raided the Caracas offices of Guillermo Zuloaga, the president of the country's last independent broadcast network, Globovision. They claimed to be looking for evidence of irregularities in the car dealership that Mr. Zuloaga also runs. In fact this was a thinly disguised escalation of an attack that Mr. Chávez launched this month against Globovision. The channel has been officially accused of "inciting panic," based on its accurate reporting of a mild May 4 earthquake in Caracas; under the regime's draconian media control law it could be shut down. Few doubt that that is Mr. Chávez's intent: Two years ago he revoked the license of the country's most popular television network after a similarly trumped-up campaign.
To recap: In February Mr. Chávez eliminated the limit on his tenure as president after a one-sided referendum campaign that included ugly attacks on Venezuela's Jewish community. Since then he has imprisoned or orchestrated investigations against most of the country's leading opposition figures, including three of the five opposition governors elected last year. The elected mayor of Maracaibo, who was the leading opposition candidate when Mr. Chávez last ran for president, was granted asylum in Peru last month after authorities sought his arrest on dubious tax charges. The National Assembly, controlled by Mr. Chávez, is considering legislation that would eliminate collective bargaining and replace independent trade unions with "worker's councils" controlled by the ruling party. Another new law would eliminate foreign financing for independent non-government groups.
This is hardly the first time that a Latin American caudillo has tried to eliminate peaceful opponents: Mr. Chávez is following a path well worn by the likes of Juan Perón and Alberto Fujimori -- not to mention his mentor, Fidel Castro. But this may be the first time that the United States has watched the systematic destruction of a Latin American democracy in silence. As Mr. Chávez has implemented the "third phase" of his self-styled revolution, the Obama administration has persisted with the policy of quiet engagement that the president promised before taking office.
"We need to find a space in which we can actually have a conversation, and we need to find ways to enhance our levels of confidence," Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr. said two weeks ago, echoing earlier remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. We have no objection to dialogue with Mr. Chávez. But isn't it time to start talking about preserving independent television stations, opposition political leaders, trade unions and human rights groups -- before it is too late? 

Is Raul a Reformer?

Let's Ask The "Specialists"...
Since the moment Fidel Castro became seriously ill in 2006, a broad spectrum of Cuba "specialists" went on a full-court media and advocacy press seeking to convince the world that Fidel's brother, Raul, was a pragmatist and reformer.

Julia Sweig, a Cuba "specialist" at the Council for Foreign Relations ("CFR"), went as far as stating in 2009's Great Decisions that, "Raul Castro has often sounded in his speeches -- which are much more brief than those of Fidel -- a bit like Margaret Thatcher, emphasizing productivity, efficiency, the possibility that markets can actually deliver where the state cannot."
These same "specialists" later conceded that Carlos Lage, Cuba's former economics "czar," and Felipe Perez Roque former Foreign Minister, embodied a new generation of reformist leaders that -- together with Raul Castro -- were emerging from within the ranks of the regime.

"I think the gesture of stepping aside and resigning is a signal that there's going to be more space for others -- Raul [Castro], [Carlos] Lage, Felipe [Perez Roque], the others that are working within the communist structure to make that party more of a legitimate instrument," Sweig told a CFR panel in February 2008. 
Then, upon Lage and Perez Roque's March 3rd, sudden removal from power and disappearance by the Castro brothers due to their "unworthiness" and seduction by the "honey of power," the new spin by these Cuba "specialists" became that such a removal was in furtherance of Rauls' reformist attitudes.
AFP reported at the time that, "According to Julia Sweig, Director of Latin America Studies at the New-York based Council on Foreign Relations, the move may be important beyond personnel shifts, and could herald further political and economic reforms."
It turns out that Lage and Perez Roque might have had reformist attitudes and were videotaped expressing such tendencies.  These attitudes became the very reason for their dramatic ouster by Raul Castro.  The Miami Herald reported this weekend that a videotape of Lage and Perez Roque was being shown by Raul Castro to select groups of Cuban senior officials to remind them of the consequences of reformism. 
So is Raul Castro a reformer?  Obviously not.  But, of course, that will not stop Cuba "specialists" from trying to portray him as such.