One Letter, A Whole New Meaning

Saturday, July 4, 2009
"Courage, courage and more courage. The more you blog me, the more it grows."

Courtesy of Yoani Sanchez, Cuba's Generation Y blogger -- named in 2008 as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World.

The irony behind this picture is that the graffiti was actually a regime slogan saying, "...the more you blockade me...," in reference to the U.S. embargo. However, the letter "q" was defiantly tampered with to make it a "g," changing the word "bloqueo" (blockade) to "blogueo" (blog), and giving it a whole new meaning.

The Enemy of Freedom

From Michelle Malkin in Hot Air:

The true enemy of freedom is fear.

It's fear that makes people abandon the last, faded pretense of democracy, at the insistence of thugs and secret police. The lonely souls that yearn for freedom in a dictatorship do so in silence, because they fear that if they speak up, there will be more enforcers bearing down on them, than friends standing beside them. This is the terrible silence that America's voice was meant to shatter.

We know that we cannot liberate the rest of the world with military force. Our greatest weapon against tyranny is our courage. We know that freedom is not a special privilege reserved for people fortunate enough to have been born in the United States. We know it's not a peculiar quirk of Western culture, impractical or meaningless to the people of other nations. We know from the writings of Russian dissidents that the strong support of the American president helped them endure prison cells and exile camps.

We should never hesitate to roar our defiance, and contempt, in the faces of dictators. They have no more right to rule the people of Iran, Honduras, Cuba, or Venezuela than they did to rule Germany, Russia, or France. The language of freedom cannot be properly spoken by appeasers, manipulators, or international socialists. It is the speech of eagles and lions.

July 4th, Baseball (and Cuba)

"There are many Cuban baseball players in Cuba who would like to play in the Major Leagues. The problem is that we are not allowed to go back to Cuba then. Not everyone makes the decision to abandon his country, because they know that they won't be able to return. It's a very difficult decision."

- Aroldis Chapman, Cuban star pitcher, who defected this past Thursday in Holland.


EDITOR'S NOTE: The Cuban regime has a systemic policy of not allowing defectors to return to the island, even to visit their families, as punishment for fleeing. Additionally, their families in Cuba become social "pariahs," are removed from their jobs and are deprived access to rations and other basic staples. Chapman is the highest profile pitcher to defect since Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. As you may recall, Hernandez was once hailed as the finest pitcher in modern Cuban history, but was banned from baseball for life by the Cuban regime for plotting to defect in 1996. Instead of accepting his punishment, Hernandez fled the island in a a thirty-foot fishing boat.

As we celebrate July 4th, it's thematic to extend our best wishes to Aroldis Chapman, as we eagerly await the day in which all Cubans can enjoy the unalienable rights of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" in their homeland without fear of repression or repercussions.

The Unalienable Rights of All Peoples

Today, in the United States of America, we celebrate the unalienable rights of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" that our forefathers fought for.

Consistent with this spirit, we also stand in solidarity with those around the world that remain suffering under "a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism," for it too is "their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

Chavez's Point of No Return

Friday, July 3, 2009
Free speech has been officially squandered in Venezuela.

The New York Times reports:

Diosdado Cabello, a top aide to President Hugo Chavez, said the government would revoke the licenses of 240 radio stations across the country. Mr. Chávez has also threatened to shut down Globovisión, a television network critical of his rule. Mr. Cabello cited incomplete tax payments and improper regulatory filings as reasons for canceling the licenses, but he also criticized the control of radio stations exercised by elite families, declaring a need to “democratize spectrum use.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: For Chavez, to "democratize the spectrum use" means to transfer control of 240 diverse radio stations to 1 central authority, his own. In other words, a "democracy" of 1 -- a monocracy.

Normando Hernandez, An Inspiration

Cuba Keeps Ill Writer Jailed as Norway Awards Prize

by Jeremy Gerard*

A few weeks ago, Normando Hernandez Gonzalez got the kind of news that usually prompts cheers and emotion-filled toasts.

The Cuban journalist and poet had been awarded the annual Freedom of Expression award by the Norwegian Writers' Union. A delegation traveled from Oslo to the island nation to present the award, which included a prize of 100,000 kroner (about $15,775).

In this case, there were no hugs, no toast. Gonzalez, 39 and seriously ill, has been in prison for six years, except for a few stays in a Havana military hospital. Much of his incarceration has been spent at the notorious Kilo 7 in Camaguey.

Gonzalez is one of 29 journalists arrested in the "Black Spring" of March 2003, when 75 dissidents were convicted of "endangering the state's independence or territorial integrity," according to the Cuban government. Gonzalez, who doesn't share filmmaker Michael Moore's enthusiasm for Cuba's health-care system, published stories critical of the health, education and judicial agencies. His reward was a 25-year sentence.

Since then, seven of the dissident writers have been released, while conditions for Gonzalez and others have only worsened, according to his mother, Blanca, who lives in Miami, and his wife, Yarai Reyes, who lives in Vertientes, a small town not far from the prison. I've spoken with them several times over the past two years.

Second-Best

According to an international watchdog group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Cuba is the world's second-leading jailer of journalists, after China.

Cuba's "imprisoned journalists live in inhumane conditions," the CPJ reported in a June 15 letter to leaders of the European Union.

"Their health is deteriorating, and their families are harassed by local authorities. To date, no international humanitarian organizations have visited any of the imprisoned Cuban journalists."

Courtesy of Norwegian writer Henrik Hovland and the New York chapter of International PEN, a group that monitors human- rights abuses of writers around the world, I was able to watch as Gonzalez received news of the Norwegian award.

Telephone Call

Hovland, accompanied by Norwegian Writers' Union President Anne Oterholm and an Oslo news crew, journeyed from Havana to the sugar-cane-growing region of Camaguey province. There in Vertientes, Yarai and her daughter, Daniela, live in a tiny spartan house.
It was wrenching to watch Daniela, who was celebrating her first birthday when her father was arrested, spring into action each time the phone rings, hoping it's him on one of the scheduled calls the authorities allow each month. His communications are strictly regulated.

When Gonzalez finally got through, Daniela reluctantly turned the phone over to the Norwegians, who informed him of the award and spoke briefly about his living conditions.

"He sees the prize as something for all political prisoners in Cuba," Hovland, 43, told me in a telephone interview from Oslo. "He talked about his health and the conditions in jail for political prisoners. He confirmed that his weight is down to 52 kilos (114 pounds).

"But you know, he told Yarai that he had a grin on his face when he got the news about the prize. He sounded happy."

On Monday, Alberto Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Cuban government, spoke to me from his office in Washington.

Real Criminal

"We do not consider him to be a journalist," he said of Normando Gonzalez. "The crimes he committed were very real, crimes linked to the American section in Havana." (Because the U.S. has no formal diplomatic relations with Cuba, the countries maintain "Special Interests" sections in each other's capitals.)

"It's pretty common that the U.S. provides support by way of computers, libraries, et cetera to dissidents," I was told by Anna Kushner, a PEN staff member in New York who has had extensive contact with Normando Gonzalez's family.

The dissident writers, she added, never denied having contact with the Americans in Havana. And in a much-publicized gesture of support, Blanca Gonzalez was seated in the First Lady's box at President George Bush's 2008 State of the Union address.

The Cuban spokesman denied that any of the "Black Spring" prisoners had been singled out for harsh treatment.

None Died

"Our system in Cuba is to take care of all the people, including prisoners," he said. "You cannot find evidence of any prisoner who has died."

That, however, if true, may be more a matter of luck than of policy. While in prison, Normando Gonzalez has suffered with increasingly serious illnesses, including a severe intestinal disorder that prevents him from absorbing nutrition. He is, his mother says, in constant pain.

But he is also defiant, having refused to renounce his positions. That is almost certainly why he continues to suffer at Kilo 7, where the conditions are "subhuman," according to Martha Beatriz Roque, a prominent Cuban journalist.

The image that stays with me is the most human of all: A child pressing the telephone to her ear, listening to her father's voice and assuring him that she has been eating and has stopped crying -- both of which, Hovland told me, were untrue.

"Papi! Papi! Muchos besitos!" Daniela said: Many kisses, undoubtedly sweeter even than the accolades of good-willed friends from Oslo.

Jeremy Gerard is an editor for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.

20 Years After Ochoa: A Coup Hypothetical

Exactly 20 years ago this week -- from June 28th-July 10th, 1989 -- the Kafkaesque show trial of the most respected General in the Cuban Armed Forces, Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, was broadcast throughout Cuba.

General Ochoa was accused of corruption, dishonest use of economic resources, and narcotics trafficking. However, the ulterior motive behind his arrest was an attempt by the Castro brothers to deflect their own involvement in narcotics trafficking -- as detailed in this post -- and to squelch their obsessive fear of sedition by this highly respected military officer, who had the loyalty and support of an entire generation of Cuban soldiers that fought under his command from Yemen to Angola.

At dawn on July 12, 1989, General Ochoa was executed by firing squad at the military base known as "Tropas Especiales" in Baracoa, West Havana.

The 20th anniversary of this event that shook Cuba, in conjunction with a host of current events, leads to an unlikely, yet thematic, hypothetical:

If current elements within the Cuban Armed Forces were to plot and succeed in a coup against the Castro brothers, force them on a plane and send them to Costa Rica, what would be the reaction of the Organization of American States ("OAS") and its Member States?

Would the OAS begin a dialogue with the coup leaders of the Cuban Armed Forces and urge them to begin a process of democratization, or would it seek the immediate and unconditional return of the Castro brothers to Cuba and threaten the new regime with diplomatic and commercial sanctions?

How would the concept "non-intervention" be applied in this scenario? As the OAS currently applies it to the Castro brothers in Cuba, by pursuing partnership and dialogue; or as it is being applied to the current Honduran government, by aggressively demanding unconditional, non-negotiable change?

Czechs Criticize Coddling of Castro's Cuba

Thursday, July 2, 2009
Czechs know what it's like to live under repressive regimes, they've suffered both the wrath of Nazism and Communism. As a result, they understand that traveling to Cuba and not visiting with the island's courageous pro-democracy movement would have been the equivalent of having traveled to the former Czechoslovakia and not visited with the pro-democracy, Charter 77 movement; or of currently traveling to Iran and not visiting with the opposition, Green Movement. Tangentially, note below how the European countries most critical of the Cuban dictatorship actually make an effort to provide aid to the Cuban people, while those that promote "dialogue" limit themselves to cocktail parties with the regime's elite.

Czech KDU head privately visits Cuba, criticizes EU's approach

Prague (CDK) - Cyril Svoboda, head of the Czech Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and former foreign minister, criticized the EU´s pragmatic approach to Havana on arrival from a private visit to Cuba today.

Svoboda set out for the trip in cooperation with the People in Need foundation on June 27, without any publicity.

He told journalists today that only the Czech, Dutch and Polish embassies distribute medicines to the Cuban people who need them.

The other EU countries unfortunately have preferred pragmatic policy to a free approach and a dialogue, Svoboda said.

One year ago, the EU decided to lift the sanctions it had imposed on Cuba in reaction to Cuban communist bodies' intervention against local dissidents in 2003.

The sanctions were formally suspended in 2005 and the EU representatives started visiting Cuba again.

Svoboda today said only few of them meet dissidents. On the contrary, they show cordial relations with the official representatives of Cuba, an undemocratic state, Svoboda said.

The Czech Republic was in the past opposed to the abolition of the sanctions, that was promoted mainly by Spain.

The Cuban communist regime seemed to be weakening after Fidel Castro´s brother Raul came to power a couple of years ago.

According to the latest reports by the People in Need foundation, the Cuban government has toughened repression against the local inhabitants again.

In Cuba, Svoboda met local dissidents whom he visited in their homes.

He told journalists he is sure of having been spied on.

"It is an exciting experience to be reminded of what the situation in the Czech Republic was like many years ago [before 1989], though in Cuba it is worse," Svoboda said.

He said European countries can feel ashamed for giving up the policy of defending human rights in Cuba.

Communist Monarchies

North Korea: A Communist Monarchy?

by Jeremy Paulson  
 
In 1792 the French Revolution began a trend against absolute monarchy that resulted in the decapitation, deportation, and removal of absolute monarchs all across the globe. That's the received wisdom, but received wisdom is based on broad assumptions that often fail upon close examination. Absolute monarchy is alive and well but wearing different clothes.
 
A convenient definition of monarchy can be found in the Miriam Webster online dictionary. It reads: a government having a hereditary chief of state with life tenure and powers varying from nominal to absolute.
 
On an anthropological note hierarchical systems are rife through primate societies; whether gorilla dominant silverbacks or alpha prime chimpanzees there is a clear pattern in primate society toward single leadership. Unfortunately it usually fails to deliver societal success. Success depends on the personal qualities of the leader and heredity is usually not a good selection system. All too often hereditary leaders confuse authority with license or are more concerned with their own wealth, or political success rather than the overall success of the society.
 
So, you thought that monarchy was dead eh? Have a look at the following: "Papa Doc" Duvalier, President for Life of Haiti transferred power to his son, styled "Baby Doc" in 1971. In Syria, President Hafiz al-Assad died in 2000. Immediately following his death the constitution was amended to allow his 34 year old son, Bashar al-Assad, to succeed him. In Cuba, when Fidel Castro's infirmities made him unable to rule, his brother Raul took over. As you can see monarchy is alive, if not well but wearing clothes as varied as "President for Life" to "General Secretary."
 
Perhaps the most bitterly amusing example of monarchy is taking place right now in North Korea, a "Communist" government is in the process of transferring power to a third member of the Kim dynasty. How weird can this get a "Communist Dynasty?"
 
So when people tell you monarchy is dead, just direct them to these examples.
 
Copyright 2009 Examiner.com. All rights reserved.

Is Zelaya Linked to Narcotics Trafficking?

Washington, DC – Following please find the text of a letter sent today by Congressmen Thad McCotter (R-MI), Connie Mack (R-FL), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) to President Obama, seeking his explicit personal assurances that U.S. intelligence or law enforcement agencies do not have information implicating officials of the Honduran administration of Manuel Zelaya, including Mr. Zelaya himself, in the transit of illegal narcotics through Honduran territory or in any other ties to drug trafficking.

Reports have linked Zelaya to cocaine trafficking:

"We write to seek your explicit personal assurances that U.S. intelligence or law enforcement agencies have no information implicating officials of the Honduran administration of Manuel Zelaya, including Mr. Zelaya himself, in the transit of illegal narcotics through Honduran territory or in any other ties to drug trafficking.

On June 30, the Associated Press published an accusation by a current Honduran official that Mr. Zelaya's government "allowed tons of cocaine to be flown into the Central American country on its way to the United States." Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Ortez is quoted saying, "Every night, three or four Venezuelan-registered planes land without the permission of appropriate authorities and bring thousands of pounds ... and packages of money that are the fruit of drug trafficking…. We have proof of all of this. Neighboring governments have it. The DEA has it."

In light of your personal, public demands that Mr. Zelaya should be restored to power, we believe that you must assume personal responsibility for ensuring that our government is not aware of any information that suggests that Mr. Zelaya or his associates have been complicit in the trafficking of cocaine or any other illegal substances to the United States.

We are certain that the American people would be shocked to discover that the United States government is playing or has played any role in restoring to power any official who U.S. intelligence or law enforcement agencies suspect of any ties to the deadly illicit drug trade.

Obviously it is always wrong for the military to displace a democratically elected president. In this case, the situation is much more complicated because the political leader in question was in the process of violating the Constitution of his country in order to maintain personal power. Furthermore, Mr. Zelaya was replaced not by a general but by an elected member of the parliament, who was selected by a vote of parliamentarians. The Supreme Court of Honduras, as well as many political people in Mr. Zelaya's own circle, were opposed to his efforts to eliminate certain constitutional restrictions on his presidency. These complications should suggest that the United States be cautious and deliberate in response, as compared to challenges in other countries where dictatorial regimes brutally repress democratic elements. In this case the military action that was taken was done so to ensure the constitutional and democratic process in Honduras, rather than destroy it."

Make Sure You're Sitting Down

From the Cuban regime's official news agency (the only one permitted on the island):

HAVANA, Cuba, (acn) The abundant information of the international mass media on the coup in Honduras is being blocked by the de facto government, causing the Honduran population to remain misinformed.

As a reminder, Reporters Without Borders' 2008 Press Freedom Index ranks Cuba 169 out of 173 countries, squeaking by North Korea and Burma, regarding the ability of independent journalists to practice their trade free of repression, and for the ability of the nation's citizens to access information free of government censorship.

Additionally, the Committee to Protect Journalists has documented that Cuba is the country with the second highest number -- in gross terms -- of imprisoned journalists in the world, only behind China, whose population is over 100 times that of Cuba.

"A lie may take care of the present, but it has no future."
- Author Unknown

An Important Challenge for the OAS

Yesterday, the Organization of American States ("OAS") vociferously advocated "the importance of strict adherence to and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms" in its Resolution to the Political Crisis in Honduras, AG/RES 1, (XXXVII-E/09).

Consistent with this declaration, and to ensure credibility, it would be imperative that the OAS and its Member States simultaneously proceed to vociferously challenge the egregious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Castro regime in Cuba.

Furthermore, if the Honduran government is suspended from the OAS for violating the terms of the Inter-American Democratic Charter ("Charter"), the OAS should immediately proceed to revoke the June 3rd resolution that terminated Cuba's suspension from the regional body, and issue a new resolution specifically enumerating the terms of the Charter -- of which the Cuban regime must strictly adhere to prior to readmission.

Finally, the OAS should press all of the Members States that are advocating for diplomatic and commercial sanctions against the non-democratic government of Honduras to extend similar sanctions towards the only other non-democratically elected government in the hemisphere, the Castro's Cuba.

Alternatively, the OAS building in Washington, D.C. would make an ideal location for the Smithsonian's upcoming Latino Museum.

Quote of the Day

Wednesday, July 1, 2009
"Some of the very same regional players now urging a united front on behalf of democracy in Honduras are the same leaders who in recent months have been eager to embrace Cuba and give the tropical gulag nation a pass on its lack of democracy and basic civil liberties, citing explicit principles of nonintervention and implicit nostalgia for anti-gringo revolutionary lore."
 
- Andrés Martinez, Director, Bernard L. Schwartz Fellows Program, New America Foundation

For the Statistically Inclined

Vote-riggers of the world beware!

In today's Washington Post, two young professors at New York University ("NYU") use statistics to show how Iran's election results were likely altered behind closed doors.

Can't wait until Raul Castro posts his 99% victory margin.

Here's how:

"We'll concentrate on vote counts -- the number of votes received by different candidates in different provinces -- and in particular the last and second-to-last digits of these numbers. For example, if a candidate received 14,579 votes in a province (Mr. Karroubi's actual vote count in Isfahan), we'll focus on digits 7 and 9.

This may seem strange, because these digits usually don't change who wins. In fact, last digits in a fair election don't tell us anything about the candidates, the make-up of the electorate or the context of the election. They are random noise in the sense that a fair vote count is as likely to end in 1 as it is to end in 2, 3, 4, or any other numeral. But that's exactly why they can serve as a litmus test for election fraud. For example, an election in which a majority of provincial vote counts ended in 5 would surely raise red flags.

Why would fraudulent numbers look any different? The reason is that humans are bad at making up numbers. Cognitive psychologists have found that study participants in lab experiments asked to write sequences of random digits will tend to select some digits more frequently than others.

So what can we make of Iran's election results? We used the results released by the Ministry of the Interior and published on the web site of Press TV, a news channel funded by Iran's government. The ministry provided data for 29 provinces, and we examined the number of votes each of the four main candidates -- Ahmadinejad, Mousavi, Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai -- is reported to have received in each of the provinces -- a total of 116 numbers.

The numbers look suspicious. We find too many 7s and not enough 5s in the last digit. We expect each digit (0, 1, 2, and so on) to appear at the end of 10 percent of the vote counts. But in Iran's provincial results, the digit 7 appears 17 percent of the time, and only 4 percent of the results end in the number 5. Two such departures from the average -- a spike of 17 percent or more in one digit and a drop to 4 percent or less in another -- are extremely unlikely. Fewer than four in a hundred non-fraudulent elections would produce such numbers.

As a point of comparison, we can analyze the state-by-state vote counts for John McCain and Barack Obama in last year's U.S. presidential election. The frequencies of last digits in these election returns never rise above 14 percent or fall below 6 percent, a pattern we would expect to see in seventy out of a hundred fair elections.

But that's not all. Psychologists have also found that humans have trouble generating non-adjacent digits (such as 64 or 17, as opposed to 23) as frequently as one would expect in a sequence of random numbers. To check for deviations of this type, we examined the pairs of last and second-to-last digits in Iran's vote counts. On average, if the results had not been manipulated, 70 percent of these pairs should consist of distinct, non-adjacent digits.

Not so in the data from Iran: Only 62 percent of the pairs contain non-adjacent digits. This may not sound so different from 70 percent, but the probability that a fair election would produce a difference this large is less than 4.2 percent. And while our first test -- variation in last-digit frequencies -- suggests that Rezai's vote counts are the most irregular, the lack of non-adjacent digits is most striking in the results reported for Ahmadinejad.

Each of these two tests provides strong evidence that the numbers released by Iran's Ministry of the Interior were manipulated. But taken together, they leave very little room for reasonable doubt. The probability that a fair election would produce both too few non-adjacent digits and the suspicious deviations in last-digit frequencies described earlier is less than .005. In other words, a bet that the numbers are clean is a one in two-hundred long shot.

Bernd Beber and Alexandra Scacco, Ph.D. candidates in political science at Columbia University, will be assistant professors in New York University's Wilf Family Department of Politics this fall.

Castronomics 101

The Castro regime revealed its new economic policy this week:

Deprive young Cubans of any entrepreneurial spirit or initiative, while heavily taxing elderly women selling trinkets to Canadian tourists on "daytrips" to Old Havana.

One exception, young Cuban men and women can continue to engage in one entrepreneurial activity, prostitution, as long as it keeps the foreign tourists coming back for more.

HAVANA, (Frank Correa, Cubanet) – The Cuban government has started to issue new licenses for sales in Havana by the self-employed, provided they’ve reached what Cubans call the “third stage” of life.

However, the government hasn’t specified what the minimum age is. Some people near 50 have been reported requesting the licenses, but it is not known if they received therm.

The vendors are limited to selling artisan works and items made at home. They must give the government 20 percent of their income from the sales.

Are Perez Roque and Lage in Costa Rica?

On March 3rd of this year, the Castro brothers purged two of the youngest members of their Council of Ministers, Felipe Perez Roque, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Carlos Lage, who was the Economics "Czar."

For years, these two figures had been the "darlings" of the international media and Cuba "experts," who had vaticinated that they were the new generation, the future leaders, of the Cuban regime.

Also, purged was Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, who was lauded in Washington diplomatic and social circles during his tenure as head of the Cuban Interests Section during the Elian Gonzalez saga.

Over the weekend, Spain's El Pais documented the drama behind the apparent disloyalty and purging of these officials by the Castro brothers, which was full of intrigue and suspense, including operations by Spanish intelligence; reaction by Cuban counter-intelligence; and even lavish parties on the rooftops of Havana's finest hotels.

However, watching Raul Castro yesterday, as he lambasted the "putschist" coup by the Honduran military that swept up President Manuel Zelaya at night and put him on a plane to Costa Rica, merits the question of Castro:

Where is Lage and Perez Roque?

For years, not one news story came out of Havana that didn't mention these individuals in some capacity.

So, why hasn't anyone sought their whereabouts?

Essentially, two senior Cuban officials were vanished from the face of the earth with absolutely no national or international accountability whatsoever.

No one seems to know (or care), but it's highly unlikely they were sent to Costa Rica.

The Castro's War Against Youth

Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Video Sheds Light on Raúl Castro's Strict Approach
By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, (IPS) - In another demonstration that it is impossible to hide anything in this socialist Caribbean island nation, the hottest video in Cuba today appears to show President Raúl Castro's determination to root out certain vices and disloyalties, regardless of the rank of the people involved.

While details of the scandal spread rapidly by word of mouth, not much is being said about the lessons arising from what was undoubtedly one of the most difficult situations faced by the Cuban government since the June 2006 retirement of former president Fidel Castro for health reasons.

As told to IPS by several members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), Raúl Castro's moves were aimed at eliminating "test tube" leaders – a term that refers to young people who leapt from youth organizations to powerful positions - and at putting an end to parallel structures of power in order to strengthen the country’s institutions.

Click here for all the gritty details.

Is Cuba Contractually Sound?

The World Bank has just released its 2009 "Worldwide Governance Indicators," which assesses the way people are governed in more than 200 countries.

Amongst the dimensions of governance analyzed are "regulatory quality," which measures the ability of the government to provide sound policies and regulations that enable and promote private sector development and the "rule of law," which is the confidence in the legal system and the compliance with established standards. 
 
And the worst country in the Western Hemisphere is -- surprise -- Cuba.

Charlatan of the Year

There are no limits to the unabashed hypocrisy of Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

At yesterday's meeting of Central American heads of state in Managua, Nicaragua, Castro stated:

"The right of the Honduran people to express themselves politically was trampled."

And even more astounding,

"[The conflict] transcends the borders of Honduras and is an expression of the danger of returning to a past of military dictatorships."

Raul Castro needs to take a deep, introspective look.

29 "Confused" Congressmen

Last week, the "Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment Act of 2009" (H.R. 3012) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives with 107 cosponsors. This legislation seeks to review and renegotiate existing trade agreements -- mostly with democratic allies -- and strengthen the role of Congress in trade policymaking, to ensure that core labor standards (as defined under the Conventions of the International Labor Organization ("ILO")) and fundamental human rights (as defined by the U.N. Convention of Human Rights) are being upheld by the U.S.'s trading partners.

Yet ironically, of the 107 cosponsors of this trade legislation, 29 are simultaneously cosponsors of the "United States-Cuba Trade Normalization Act of 2009," which was introduced by U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois, who lavished praise on the Castro dictatorship after an April visit to the island.

Needless to say, Cuba remains one of the world's top violators -- alongside Burma, Iran and North Korea -- of the ILO's Conventions and the U.N. Conventions of Human Rights, which the latter legislation doesn't even bother mentioning once.

So who are these 29 "confused" Congressmen that seek to review trade policy with democratic allies, but want to normalize trade relations with the Cuban dictatorship:

Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii
Robert Brady of Pennsylvania
Mike Capuano of Massachusetts
Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri
Steve Cohen of Tennessee
John Conyers of Michigan
Jerry Costello of Illinois
Elijah Cummings of Maryland
Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts
Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut
Keith Ellison of Minnesota
Bob Filner of California
Marcia Fudge of Ohio
Al Green of Texas
Raul Grijalva of Arizona
Maurice Hinchey of New York
Hank Johnson of Georgia
Marcy Kaptur of Ohio
Dale Kildee of Michigan
Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan
Dennis Kucinich of Ohio
Barbara Lee of California
Betsy McCollum of Minnesota
Gwen Moore of Wisconsin
Donald Payne of New Jersey
Jan Schakowsky of Illinois
Bart Stupak of Michigan
Maxine Waters of California
Lynn Woolsey of California

Like Peas in a Pod

Monday, June 29, 2009
Over the weekend, Iranian paramilitary Basij forces staged nightly raids in Tehran, invading private homes and beating residents in an attempt to stop protests against Iran's disputed election, Human Rights Watch reported.

Meanwhile, 18 members of the Cuban regime’s Rapid Response Brigade raided the home of independent journalist Pedro Enrique Martínez in Santiago de Cuba province, according to Cubanet.

As shown here, the Rapid Response Brigades are the Cuban regime's paramilitary wing, similar to Iran's Basij.

A Relationship of Mutual Co-Dependence

The Chávez-Castro Connection Lies in a Now Forgotten Chapter of the Cold War

By Brian Nelson

Many are calling Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez “Castro’s Heir”—a man destined to be the perpetual thorn in the side of the United States just as Castro has been for the last 50 years.

Like Castro, Hugo Chávez wants to expel U.S. interests from Latin America while simultaneously expanding his own brand of socialism. But unlike Castro, Hugo Chávez has the massive profits from Venezuela’s oil industry to actually make a difference. In 2007 alone Chávez gave $8.8 billion in aid to his Latin American neighbors (the U.S. gave only $1.6 billion, most of it earmarked for Colombia). What’s more, Chávez has set up four TV stations to broadcast his ideological message and has even given aid to the Colombian FARC.

For an in-depth analysis of the historical underpinnings, and the mutual co-dependency, of this dangerous relationship, please visit the History News Network.

Insulza's Nefarious Legacy

On September 11th, 2001, the Inter-American Democratic Charter ("Charter") was signed by 34 out of 35 nations of the Western Hemisphere.

Article I of the Charter stated that "the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it."

This was an awesome achievement for a region that had been plagued by dictatorships, of the left and the right, throughout its modern history.

Unfortunately, Organization of American States ("OAS") Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza began the process of dismantling the Charter by stubbornly seeking to admit the hemisphere's dictatorial anomaly, the 35th nation, Castro's Cuba, into the regional body.

On June 3rd of this year, Secretary General Insulza succeeded in this effort, and the Cuban dictatorship's expulsion was revoked with no mention of the Charter.

On Saturday night, the door that Insulza opened for the Cuban dictatorship was stepped into by the Honduran military.

Who will be next?

Will military forces in Ecuador and Bolivia now feel emboldened to oust their divisive Presidents, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales? Or will this be used as an excuse by Hugo Chavez to finalize the dictatorial process in Venezuela and push his Ecuadorean and Bolivian allies to do the same?

Whatever the future holds, this remains the nefarious legacy of Insulza.

The Eye-Rubbing Hypocrisy of the OAS

Sunday, June 28, 2009
The Organization of American States ("OAS"), which refused to directly reference the Inter-American Democratic Charter ("Charter") in its June 3rd resolution revoking the expulsion of the Cuban dictatorship, promptly issued a resolution strongly condemning the military ouster of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.

Please note the following eye-rubbing excerpts:

THE PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES,

REITERATING the principles established in the Charter of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Democratic Charter on the strengthening and preservation of the democratic institutional system in member states, and

RECALLING CP/RES. 952 (1699/09) of June 26, 2009, relative to the situation in Honduras,

RESOLVES:

4. To instruct the Secretary General of the OAS to urgently attend the meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA), that will take place in Managua, Nicaragua, and in accordance with Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, to carry out all necessary consultations with the member states of the Organization.

6. To immediately convene a special session of the OAS General Assembly to take place at the headquarters of the Organization, on Tuesday, June 30, 2009, to take whatever decisions it considers appropriate, in accordance with the Charter of the Organization of American States, international law, and the provisions of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Even more hypocritical is the statement by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who rabidly advocated for the Cuban dictatorship's readmission to the OAS, regardless of the Charter:

"I'm deeply worried about the situation in Honduras. It reminds us of the worst years in Latin America's history. We will demand that the OAS [Organization of American States] fully comply with the democratic charter that requires unconditional respect for democracy and, above all, the restoration of the Honduran president."

Why do these regional leaders only refuse to recognize the repressed rights of the Cuban people to live under the democratic tenets that the Charter protects for its own populations?

The Honduran Coup, Cuba & the OAS

Less than a month after the Organization of American States (OAS) tacitly ignored the Inter-American Democratic Charter in order to open its doors to the sole remaining dictatorship in the hemisphere, the Castro's Cuba, a military coup has taken place.

Ironically, it has taken place in Honduras, where the OAS Ministerial that revoked Cuba's ouster took place on June 3rd, and it has swept from power President Manuel Zelaya, who gloated about the magnanimity of the effort to readmit Cuba's dictatorship.

During the debate over the Castro's readmission to the OAS, it was continuously argued --including by Capitol Hill Cubans -- that tacitly ignoring the Inter-American Democratic Charter could potentially open a Pandora's Box that would lead to a resurgance of military dictatorships -- from the left and the right -- throughout Latin America.

The State Department's spokesman now says, "we urge all sides to seek a consensual democratic resolution in the current political impasse that adheres to the Honduran constitution and to Honduran laws consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. And we think that the OAS has an important role to play here, and we urge the OAS to take all appropriate actions necessary to uphold the provisions in the charter."

Unfortunately, the OAS no longer has credibility in upholding the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

It seems President Zelaya has just reaped what he helped sow.

School of Tyrannical Scoundrels

There seems to be a pattern in the absurd accusations made by officials of the Iranian and Cuban dictatorships:  
 
Here's Mohammad Hassan Ghadiri, Iran's Ambassador to Mexico, claiming that the CIA was responsible for the death of Iranian pro-democracy activist, Neda Soltan:
 
"These are the methods that terrorists, the CIA and spy agencies employ.  Naturally, they would like to see blood spilled in these demonstrations, so that they can use it against the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is of the common methods that the CIA employs in various countries."
 
Now here's Ricardo Alarcon, head of Cuba's National Assembly and a member of Castro's Council of State, on the arrest of Cuban pro-democracy leaders:
 
"The US-Cuba program [Plan for Assistance to a Free Cuba], includes secret ops of the CIA, going on for years, and the new policy of promoting and fabricating an opposition inside Cuba working openly through AID.  Do you expect to have all that without a legal reaction from Cuba?"

Must be from the "Slandering Dissent 101" curriculum.