Support Freedom for the Iranian People

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

- Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient


A Powerful Cyber-Weapon Against Tyrants

From Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

A Sculpture for a Free Cuba


cAMbIO cUbAnO by Margarita Garcia Alonso

Where's the Momentum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same Lawmakers Back Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labor Leaders for Cuban Freedom

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

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

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

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

"Pre-Criminal Social Danger"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Switch jobs without prior government permission.

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

5. Publish anything without permission from the government.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. Freely communicate with foreign journalists. 

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

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

18. Own your own home or business. 

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

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

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

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

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

24. Claim any monetary prize or recognition from abroad.

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

26. Seek medical help outside of Cuba.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

35. Purchase or sell real estate or land.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Prisoner's Testimony at U.N. Council

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

Trade Conference Remarks

Remarks by Mauricio Claver-Carone of the Cuba Democracy PAC
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Trafficking in Persons Report

The U.S. State Department has just released its 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report, which lists Cuba as one of 17 nations in the lowest possible category, Tier 3. According to the report:

Cuba is principally a source of women and children trafficked within the country for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Some Cuban children are reportedly pushed into prostitution by their families, exchanging sex for money, food, or gifts. Cuban nationals voluntarily migrate illegally to the United States, and there have been reports that some are subjected to forced labor or forced prostitution by their smugglers. The full scope of trafficking within Cuba is difficult to gauge due to the closed nature of the government and sparse nongovernmental or independent reporting. State-run hotel workers, travel employees, cab drivers, and police steer some tourists to women and children in prostitution – including trafficking victims – though this appears to be on the decline.

The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and is not making significant efforts to do so. It is difficult to assess the true extent of trafficking in Cuba. Observation and independent reports suggest that the Cuban government is taking steps to address the problem of child sex tourism, though this information cannot be verified. The government will not release information about anti-trafficking activities it may have engaged in during the past year, viewing U.S. attempts to engage officials on trafficking issues as politically motivated.

Recommendations for Cuba: Acknowledge that child sex trafficking in Cuba is a problem; provide greater legal protections and assistance for victims; develop procedures to identify possible trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; increase anti-trafficking training for law enforcement; and take greater steps to prevent the trafficking of children in prostitution.

A Zero-Sum Argument by CATO

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Daniel Griswold of the CATO Institute made this insulting, not to mention nonsensical, argument for lifting sanctions towards Cuba in Opposing Views:

"If more US tourists were permitted to visit Cuba, and at the same time US exports to Cuba were further liberalised, the US economy could reclaim dollars from the Castro regime as fast as the regime could acquire them. In effect, the exchange would be of agricultural products for tourism services, a kind of "bread for beaches", "food for fun" trade relationship."

Coincidentally, the U.S. State Department released its 2009 Trafficking in Persons report today, which classifies Cuba in the lowest rank, Tier 3, due to its tourist sex trade and female exploitation practices. Are the apartheid hotels, beaches and nightclubs -- where only foreigners and prostitutes are allowed access by the regime's authorities -- the "beaches" and "fun" referred to?

Even more fundamentally flawed is the notion that U.S. tourists would fuel the demand for U.S. agricultural products in Cuba. Economically, that is a zero-sum proposition. You'd simply be feeding an U.S. tourist in Havana versus doing so in Miami Beach, there's no added value.

Cubans Akin to 18th Century Slaves

Dr. Hilda Molina, the prominent Cuban neurosurgeon, whom after 15 years was finally authorized by the Cuban regime to travel to Argentina and visit her ailing mother, son and two grandsons, made the following powerful observation:
 
"For eleven million Cubans on the island, it's as if we were 18th century slaves, asking our slave-master for permission to enter and exit the country," Dr. Molina told Argentina's Todo Noticias television station.  

Corporate Beneficiaries of Travel to Cuba

From The Miami Herald:

BY MAURICIO CLAVER-CARONE

If the United States lifted all restrictions on tourist travel to Cuba, what corporations would net the biggest gains? Two: Orbitz Worldwide of Chicago, Ill., and GAESA, S.A. of Havana.

Orbitz, the Internet travel agency, is ratcheting up its campaign to lift U.S. travel sanctions against Cuba. It has announced an on-line petition addressed to Congress and the Obama Administration, and to seduce signatories from the 14-million monthly visitors to its website, it is offering $100 coupons good for travel to Cuba if restrictions are lifted.

What's in it for Orbitz? Obviously there is an anticipated financial windfall from tourists booking vacations. Less obvious but more important, there are the good graces of the Castro brothers, who run Cuba. Their goodwill could make Orbitz the sole provider of travel services between the United States and Cuba, a monopoly worth millions.

Monopolies are not new to the Castros. Havanatur, a commercial entity of Cuba's Ministry of the Interior, has exclusive rights to arrange foreign travel and already contracts with a small cartel of agents in South Florida to arrange flights for Cuban Americans allowed to travel to the island. Obligingly the cartel allows the Castro regime to vet the travelers to exclude human-rights advocates and its outspoken critics.

Orbitz's Chief Executive Barney Harford, a British national, traveled to Cuba in 1997, and surely has the appropriate business connections with Cuban authorities to cash in if the United States lifts remaining restrictions. The same week Orbitz announced its Internet petition, however, the Cuban regime ironically issued a decree permitting only foreign visitors to access the Internet from Cuba's hotels and other tourist facilities.

Tourist facilities are among the few places in Cuba with access to the Internet, but islanders who don't work in the government-run tourist industry have been barred from entering hotels, restaurants, and other facilities ''reserved'' for foreign tourists. That apartheid has brought widespread criticism and serves as a slap of reality in the faces of those still promoting the idea that tourism will somehow ''open up'' the Castro regime.

Even more repressive are the Castro regime's Law 80, which makes it a crime for Cuban nationals to accept ''publications'' from foreigners, and the Ministry of Tourism's 2004 memo that prohibits hotel workers from accepting gifts and having any contact with foreigners outside the workplace.

For Orbitz to ignore such repression puts the company on the same low rung of the ladder of moral equivalence that the DeBeers Corporation occupied in South Africa's apartheid governments. DeBeers, world famous for diamonds, was set up by another British national, Cecil Rhodes. It used all the mechanisms of apartheid to ensure it had a cheap and docile labor force for its mines. Propped up by apartheid laws, DeBeers prospered to spawn other corporations and eventually to own 40 percent of all companies listed on the Johannesburg stock exchange.

In the Castros' Cuba, not all the spoils will go to Orbitz. To boost its revenues, the Cuban government has been promoting foreign investment in tourism since the mid-1990s. The foreign investor, however, must have a Cuban partner, and as head of the Cuban armed forces, Raúl Castro made sure the military would be that partner and become the driving force of the island's economy. Raúl established Grupo de Administracion Empresarial S.A. (Enterprise Management Group), or GAESA, a holding company for the military. He appointed several of his close confidants and relatives to GAESA positions, including its current chairman and CEO, Maj. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez Callejas, who is married to Deborah Castro Espin, Raúl's oldest daughter.

No tourism-related transactions take place in Cuba without GAESA or one of its companies having a stake. GAESA leads the nation in foreign-exchange earnings and undoubtedly will be the biggest Cuban beneficiary of U.S. tourist travel to Cuba.

This leads to the next question: Who will be the biggest loser? Unfortunately, that will be the Cuban people. They will not only continue to be subject to the harassment and repression of Cuban government authorities, but also subject to the exploitation of their military's foreign partners.

The Cuban people deserve a better deal from U.S. policymakers.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and founding editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington, D.C.

Europe's Oxymoron (or Moron)

The European Union's Foreign Ministers have succumbed to Spain's insistence to continue pursuing a dialogue with the Cuban regime despite no improvements on human rights.

It was accurately reported that:

LUXEMBOURG CITY – The European Union decided Monday to continue and deepen an expansive, respectful and results-oriented political dialogue with Cuba despite determining that there has been a lack of advances on the communist island in the area of human rights.

How can there be a "results-oriented" dialogue "despite determining" that the Cuban regime has made no advances on human rights?

Where are the the "results" that have led the EU to continue this fruitless dialogue?

Either this is an oxymoron, or the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, is just a moron.

Criminal Procedure 101

The following sentence in Carol Williams' L.A. Times article on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to decline certiorari in the case of the "Cuban Five" is insultingly misleading:

"Alleged ringleader Gerardo Hernandez, who was also convicted of murder conspiracy in the 1996 deaths of four pilots from the Brothers to the Rescue group for allegedly passing information that helped the Cuban Air Force shoot down the intruding aircraft, issued a statement through the Cuban parliament denouncing the Supreme Court decision."

Legal scholars have argued whether a person is "convicted" upon being found guilty by a jury or pursuant to sentencing. However, there is no disagreement about a person being "convicted" after being found guilty, sentenced by a judge and undergone all feasible appeals. Therefore, there are no longer "allegations."

Geraldo Hernandez was convicted by a trial jury (in which there were no Cuban-Americans), sentenced by a judge, underwent two appeals in the 11th Circuit and filed a writ of certiorari, which was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court. If somehow one is still not sufficiently convinced that Hernandez was acting illegally as a foreign agent, then perhaps the fact that he issued his statement through "the Cuban parliament" will be persuasive.

A Lesson in Civility

Monday, June 15, 2009
A young protester against the fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad protects a police officer sent to repress the demonstration. Do you think the dictators of Iran, Cuba, Burma and North Korea would show the same type of empathy? That is the difference between tyranny and civility.

"Continue to express your dissent and your needs, but remember to remain civilized, for you will sorely miss civilization if it is sacrificed in the turbulence of change."

William James Durant
, 1885-1981, American philosopher and historian.

Iran's Shot Heard 'Round the World


TEHRAN, Iran - MSNBC, Gunfire from a compound used by pro-government militia killed one demonstrator Monday after hundreds of thousands of opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad massed in central Tehran to cheer their pro-reform leader in his first public appearance since he lost elections that he alleges were marred by fraud.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard 'round the world
.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Concord Hymn," 1837

The Golden Cows

"Cattle are sacred in Cuba. A colorful etching spotted at an Old Havana crafts market underscored that point, depicting a cow saying, 'I'm worth more than you.'

That's because a person can get more jail time for killing a cow than killing a human, under Cuban law. Cow killers can get four to 10 years in prison under a toughened crime law adopted in January. Those who transport or sell the meat from an illegally slaughtered cow can get three to eight years. Providing beef at an unauthorized restaurant or workplace can fetch two to five years. And buying contraband beef is punishable by three months to one year in jail or a steep fine. Authorities also have the power to confiscate all or part of the property of anyone involved in black-market cattle dealings.

In contrast, the jail sentence for homicide is generally seven to 15 years, unless there are aggravating circumstances. Suspects involved in contract hits, kidnap-murders, sadistic or perverse killings, the murder of police officials and other acts can get from 15 years in jail to the death penalty."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This segment is from a 2005 Dallas Morning News article. Please note that Cubans are generally not bound to any religious or cultural observations regarding cows or meat of any kind. This is purely a political and economic consequence of the Castro regime.

Castro's Tourist Scam

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
 
Because it's a poor country, there is very little for a tourist to buy in Cuba to bring home, which is probably just as well because your money disappears as soon as you land at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport.
 
All foreigners are required to exchange their currency for Cuban Convertible Pesos -- CUCs -- with the Castro government taking 20 percent off the top.
 
Cubans themselves spend National Pesos at peso stores on subsistence items. In this dual economic system, tourists are spending CUCs for hotel rooms, meals, entertainment, taxis, cigars, and rum. And since regular Cubans can't stay in hotels and can't afford to eat in tourist restaurants, they drive the taxis and are the entertainment. Like everything in Cuba, it works most of the time -- but barely.

Supreme Court Rejects "Cuban Five" Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear an appeal by five convicted Cuban spies who argued that their trial should have been moved out of Miami because of a biased jury pool, according to Reuters.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As a reminder, there were no Cuban-Americans on the jury that convicted the so-called "Cuban Five" in 2001 for espionage activities, which included attempts to infiltrate U.S. military installations.

The Flipside of Biden's Remarks

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on NBC's Meet the Press:

"Talks with Iran are not a reward for good behavior," Biden said.

"They're only a consequence, if the president makes a judgment that's in the best interest of the United States of America -- our national security interests -- to talk with the Iranian regime."

Substituting Iran for Cuba, would this imply that if Cuba is not a security threat to the U.S. -- as opponents of current U.S. policy like to argue -- that talks with Cuba should then only be as a reward for good behavior?

Seems like a fair point.

CAMBIO is Inevitably Coming


"Change is coming, it's as inevitable as rain in the summer and cold in the winter," Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez told Reuters in Havana.

Yoani's "Generacion Y" blog has earned international acclaim despite her constant censorship and harrassment by the Cuban authorities. In 2008, Yoani was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the world's most influential people.

She said Cuban dictator Raul Castro lacks Fidel's persuasive charisma and faces a big leadership test amidst the global economic squeeze.

"On the street you hear opinions or criticism now that you never would have heard two, three, four or five years ago. People are waking up."

Wreath Laying Ceremony Tomorrow

Tuesday, June 16th, an international commemoration ceremony will take place from 10:30-11:00 AM at the Victims of Communism Memorial ("VOC") in Washington D.C.

This ceremony will feature wreaths and flowers from countries around the world -- from those that suffered the iron grip of Communism in 20th century Eastern Europe and the former Soviet bloc, to those that continue to suffer from Communist oppression in China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam to this day.

The VOC Memorial was dedicated by President George W. Bush on June 12, 2007. The dedication ceremony featured the unveiling of the "Goddess of Democracy," a bronze replica of a statue erected by Chinese students in Tienanmen Square in the spring of 1989.

The Memorial is located at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and New Jersey Avenue, N.W. on Capitol Hill.

Please consider attending.

Vaclav Havel on EU Relations With Cuba

Sunday, June 14, 2009
This week, a meeting of the EU’s General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) will discuss once more relations between the EU and Cuba.

Despite repeated reminders from the EU, the Cuban government has done none of the things that the Union has been urging it to do for many years — above all, to release all political prisoners and stop the persecution of independent civil-society groups and the regime’s political opponents. On the contrary, the Cuban government continues to detain prisoners of conscience and to criminalize demands for a society-wide dialogue.

This year, the peoples of Europe are marking the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain that once divided Europe in two. That 20 years after this epochal event an iron curtain remains around Cuba makes this anniversary poignant. Of course, the tourists who crowd Cuba’s beaches are not aware of this iron curtain. But, regardless of this ignorance and of its economic interests, the EU should insist on the release of political prisoners and use all international institutions to bring pressure to bear on the Cuban government to respect the human and civil rights of Cuba’s people. During any negotiations with Cuba’s leaders, European politicians and diplomats should remind their Cuban partners of their obligations.

They should also be in contact with Cuban civil society to express their solidarity with the families of the political prisoners.

From its own experiences in the twentieth century, Europe knows what catastrophes can result when concessions are made to evil.

The history of the twentieth century is an object lesson in this. Time and again, Europe paid a high price for policies of compromises with evil that were dictated by economic interests or the illusion that evil can be appeased and will disappear of its own accord. The EU should not and must not repeat
this error.

Václav Havel was President of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992) and President of the Czech Republic (1993-2003)

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 9

The failure to tap a productive [oil] well fueled speculation by some that potential for an abundance of Cuban oil is just that.

"It's been a big smoke screen for a long time...The Soviets used to say there were large deposits off the shores of Cuba, though it hasn't been proven," Mauricio Claver-Carone, a member of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, told United Press International.

The Isolated Gesture (That Took 15 Years)

There's been broad coverage this weekend about the case of Dr. Hilda Molina, the prominent Cuban neurosurgeon, who finally received permission from the Castro regime to leave Cuba and visit her aging mother, son and grandchildren in Argentina.

Dr. Molina, who had been a senior Communist Party official, broke ranks with the Castro regime in 1994 over the island's "apartheid" health care system, where tourists and dignitaries are offered state-of-the-art health care services and treatments -- a privilege denied to ordinary Cubans. As a result of her outspoken criticism, she lost her job, her home and her family -- she became a pariah in Cuba, a hostage of Fidel Castro's regime.

After 15 long years of seeking permission to visit her family in Argentina, the Castro regime finally relented. However, she stresses the fact that this is far from progress, as the Cuban people are still denied the basic, fundamental right to travel in and out of their country.

"I think this is an isolated gesture," Dr. Molina told Reuters at her home in Havana.

"I think things will only change in this regard when no one has to ask for permission to leave Cuba," she stressed.

The Castro regime is one of the few governments in the world, along with North Korea, that requires its citizens to obtain exit permits to leave their country.

Quote of the Week

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that U.S. Representative Laura Richardson (D-CA), one of the Congressional Black Caucus members that lavished praise on Cuba's regime during an April trip to the island, has her Long Beach neighbor's upset about her home's upkeep -- or better yet, lack of upkeep.
  
Richardson's home is "abandoned and in disrepair," according to neighbors.
 
"I wouldn't want anyone that irresponsible to represent me," said Bailey [a neighbor], who like Richardson is a liberal Democrat. "What I don't get is how she has the time to visit with Fidel Castro but doesn't have time for her own house. If you can't manage your own household, you probably shouldn't get involved in international affairs."

20 Years After the Arrest of General Ochoa

Twenty years ago -- on June 12th, 1989 -- the Castro regime arrested one of its most distinguished military commanders, General Arnaldo Ochoa, and eight other high-level officials on charges of drug trafficking and corruption.

The arrests came at a time when U.S. law enforcement agencies began detecting a dramatic surge in drug-smuggling flights over Cuban territory, suggesting that the country had become a major transshipment point for cocaine traffic into the United States.

Worried that U.S. intelligence had irrefutable evidence of the Cuban regime's links to Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel in Colombia, and that the evidence might result in an indictment of the Castro brothers -- ultimately placing their existence in a precarious situation, similar to that of Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega -- the Castros' quickly used one of the island's most respected and charismatic generals as a scapegoat, while simultaneously removing a competitive threat to their leadership.

Shortly after a nationally televised military show-trial (see clip below), General Ochoa would be executed by a firing squad. Twenty years later, the Castro brothers continue to purge with the same impunity, as was the case in March of this year with Cuba's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Perez Roque, and Economic Czar, Carlos Lage.