The Stoning of Soraya M.

Saturday, July 11, 2009
This weekend, please make an effort to see this powerful movie.

Based on a true story, it highlights the heroic plight of Iranian women for their fundamental rights, not to mention of all Iranians for freedom and democracy.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I've had the privilege of working with the writer and director of this movie, Cyrus Nowrasteh, as well as with the producers, Mpower Pictures, on a screenplay about Cuba's historic political prisoners, known as The Plantados, and can attest to their unselfish dedication to just causes worldwide.

Here's a short preview.

Speaking Truth to Power

Please make sure to visit Claudia Cadelo's blog from Cuba, Octavo Cerco. There is both an English and Spanish version. Similar to Yoani Sanchez's Generation Y blog, she finds creative ways to circumvent Castro's censors and comment on the island's realities.

We commend Claudia for her remarkable talent and courage.

Lula Swindles Brazil's Taxpayers

According to Reuters, Brazil said on Thursday it would give the Cuban dictatorship up to $300 million in credits to start rebuilding the island's port of Mariel. Brazilian Industry and Trade Minister Miguel Jorge said $110 million had been approved by his government and the rest would likely be.

Just last week, the Russian Federation's Audit Chamber revealed that the Cuban regime failed on three occasions to pay installments on the US$355 million credit deal it signed with Russia on Sept. 28, 2006.

It doesn't take a sophisticated financier to realize that this is poor credit risk management.

Brazil's taxpayers should demand accountability from their President, Lula da Silva.

Release Dr. Darsi Ferrer

Cuban pro-democracy leader Dr. Darsi Ferrer, and his wife, Yusnaymi Jorge Soca, were arrested on Thursday at their home in Havana, according to family members and human rights advocates on the island. The arrests came a day before Dr. Ferrer planned to lead a demonstration along the seafront Malecon in the capital.

Dr. Darsi Ferrer is the Director of the Juan Bruno Zayas Center for Health and Human Rights in Havana, Cuba, and one of the leading critics of the regime's tourism and health care apartheid, which prohibits regular Cubans from having access to state-of-the art facilities reserved for foreign tourists, diplomats and senior government officials.

In a 2006 profile entitled, "Cuban Doctor Pays High Price for Truth," the Wall Street Journal encapsulates his multiple arrests and harassment by the Cuban authorities:

"Dr. Ferrer had sinned against the Revolution: He is an Afro-Cuban medical professional who, noting the country's abysmal state of health care, established an independent health and human rights clinic. 'We have dedicated ourselves to offering free medical attention to those in need and visiting extremely poor communities where scarcities strike marginalized Cubans daily, to offer health services, give medicine, clothing and toys and to share the suffering of those beings,' Dr. Ferrer reported.

The 36-year-old doctor's selfless dedication to others would win praise from any government genuinely concerned about the welfare of citizens.

However, in Cuba, his work scandalizes the state. It has rewarded him by shutting him out of the official medical community and refusing to allow him any form of gainful employment. Along with his wife and son, he has been regularly harassed and terrorized by the government's infamous "repudiation squads," organized mob violence unleashed against non-conformers."

As Dr. Ferrer would remind us, "the vast majority of Cubans crave change. We've endured more than four decades of stagnation while the tyranny has failed in the political, economic and social arenas. It is time to put an end to so much suffering. We advocate change in order to live in freedom and democracy."

"Europe's Cuba" Marks Sad Anniversary

Friday, July 10, 2009
Europe and the Americas share many things in common, but none more important than being the only two regions in the world where democratic systems have almost been completely consolidated. Both suffer from only one anomaly. In the Americas, it's Castro's Cuba; in Europe, it's Lukashenka's Belarus.

In the summary below, please note the all-too-familiar behavior by some unscrupulous nations that place business interests at the forefront of their relationship with this dictatorship, in complete disregard for the basic human dignity of the Belarusian people.

15 years of Lukashenka's dictatorship

Today, marks 15 years of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's coming to power in the presidential election. Since that time he held several illegal referendums and usurped power.

In a year after Lukashenka's rise to power, in 1995 on his order special services men beat up deputies of the Supreme Council of the 12th convocation of the Belarusian Popular Front faction. Parliamentarians announced a hunger strike protesting against holding the referendum on changing the state symbols and recognizing Russian as the official language.

In November 1996 the only legal legislative body of the modern Belarus, the Supreme Council of the 13th convocation. The powers of the deputies, who had been elected by people for 5 years, were stopped by Lukashenka. Since that time a decorative organ, "chamber of representatives", works in the country. Its first members were former deputies of the Supreme Soviet, who submitted applications to Lukashenka with a request to make them "parliamentarians".

At the same time the regime's opponent Viktar Hanchar was removed from the post of the chairman of the Central Election Commission. Other opposition leaders disappeared in the country: former Internal Affairs Minister Yury Zakharanka, a businessman and public leader Anatol Krasouski and a journalist Zmitser Zavadski went missing without traces. The world community suspects the Belarusian authorities in being involved in their abductions.

Since 1996 all election campaigns in Belarus were recognized by international structures not free and undemocratic. The chairperson of the Central Election Commission Lidziya Yarmoshyna was banned entry to the countries of the EU and to the US for rigging election results.

Over the years of Lukashenka's rule independent mass media have been destroyed in Belarus: there is not a single independent TV channel here, all radio stations in FM range are subordinate to the state, practically all independent newspapers have been closed or get to readers with difficulty.

All peaceful protest rallies in the country are harshly cracked down on by force structures.

Over these 15 years hundreds of political prisoners have appeared in the country, dozens of thousands of people were repressed on political grounds.

"Over 15 years Lukashenka has developed in his ambition to preserve power. He has gained limitless powers, built strong power ministries, the establishment fears him," stated the former chairman of the Supreme Council of Belarus Stanislau Shushkevich.

"First we were tolerant to manifestation of Lukashenka's regime at an early stage, I mean his desire to strengthen personal power, dictatorial ambitions, building a totalitarian system fro the first days. We gave advance to the newly elected president, as the first democratic election in the history of Belarus took place in 1994. But then that system started to work against the nation effectively.

Ruthless crackdown on the opposition started. One can recall disappearances of Viktar Hanchar, Yury Zakharanka, Anatol Krasouski and the mysterious death of Henadz Karpenka. Then Lukashenka started to get support from the West suddenly. The "new policy" of Europeans hasn't started today. Europeans always wanted to establish relations with Lukashenka's regime (not the European Union as a whole, but certain countries). They fed the dictator with credits, developed trade and economic relations, supported transit role of Belarus. He used the international situation around Belarus rather successfully, and undoubtedly "milked" Russia.

But now the system has run out of steam. The crisis which is progressing now, is exposing all the problems of the political system of Belarus, makes people act more decisively. When people would be fired, their salaries and pensions cut, they won't wait without complaint for the situation to become worse. It is to bring about pressure on the today's political system inevitably," believes the leader of the civil campaign "European Belarus" Andrei Sannikov.

Courtesy of Charter

A Family's Courage: The Siglers

Thursday, July 9, 2009
by Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat

Varadero, the most renown of all beaches in a land of beautiful beaches, lies on the northern coast of Cuba, in Matanzas province. If the droves of European, Canadian and Latin American tourists who flock to the tightly-controlled tourist enclaves there dared to venture beyond the invisible but implacable barriers that separate the resorts from the daily travails of Cubans living under the region's longest-lasting dictatorship, they would find that there is far more to Matanzas province than sun and sand.

According to Cuban folklore, Matanzas, which means "slaughter" in Spanish, was the legendary place where in the 18th century Cubans fought off a swarm of demons, driving them deep into underground caves. The angels which aided the denizens of Matanzas in this fight warned them that they should remain ever vigilant, should the demons ever reappear. And so they have.

A mostly flat land of sugar fields, swamps and soft hills, Matanzas' country folk put up a stiff resistance against the Castro's Communist take over. Well into the mid 60's poorly armed guerrillas greatly aided and abetted by the population, persisted in a hit and run war against the Communist forces. Eventually they were overwhelmed by the Russian-armed and advised Cuban military. Few survived. Matanceros still remember how the firing walls worked non-stop in the regime's assembly-line drive to rid Cuba of its patriots.

Later, after Che Guevara returned from China awed by the Maoist concentration camps, the Castro regime implemented its own version of forced labor settlements: the infamous UMAPS (Military Units in Support of Production) where among others, seminarians of different denominations, disaffected youth, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and prostitutes were thrown together to be cleansed of their "sins" and re educated along the lines of Guevara's idea of the "new man." The location of the UMAPs? Matanzas province.

However, the Castro dictatorship's bid to crush the province's spirit of liberty failed. Today Matanzas is once again at the center of open resistance against the now 50-year old tyranny.

One courageous family, the Siglers, is at the forefront of the growing civic non violent challenge to the regime. And they have paid a high price for it.

Gloria Amaya was one of the daughters of Matanzas whose spirit would not be broken. She was too small and frail to take up arms, and she wasn't sent to the UMAP's, but she turned the inside of her home into free territory, raising her children on Christian love, democratic principles and anti Communism. Castro had turned Cuba into a Soviet puppet, Gloria taught her children, but the Sigler Amayas would remain a sovereign family.

So it would be that her young sons would lead a new generation of their fellows in the struggle for freedom.

Ariel Sigler, the youngest of her five children, was a tall, strong young man who excelled in sports and became a regional boxing champion. He was expelled from his job as a physical education teacher because he voiced his discontent with the government. On November 16, 1996 he founded the Independent Alternative Option Movement. He led his brothers and scores of other youths into the sugar fields and the countryside, organizing workers to defend their rights against the State as the sole employer, carrying out public peaceful demonstrations, setting up soup kitchens for the poor and hungry supposedly non existent under a "people"s dictatorship," and establishing an independent library in their family home where the books censored by the government could be accessed by the population.

Emboldened by Ariel's leadership and the unshaken support of his family, dozens of Matanceros joined the movement. Eventually Ariel met and collaborated with Havana-based Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner serving a 20-year sentence in a Castro prison for his commitment to freedom.

The regime retaliated ruthlessly against the Siglers. A gang of thugs invaded the family home, hurled Gloria Amaya, now more than 80 years old to the floor, and beat her, breaking her ribs. Police repeatedly arrested the Sigler brothers, earning Ariel the recognition of prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

Finally, on March 18, 2003, the Castro dictatorship tried to use the US invasion of Iraq as cover for its attempt to destroy Cuba's civic resistance with one fell swoop. Seventy-five activists were arrested. Ariel and his older brother were sentenced to 20 years each. Weighing 250 pounds at the moment of his arrest, Ariel is now at less than 100 pounds. He lies in a prison hospital suffering from a battery of illnesses he did not have before being imprisoned. His family is convinced that, as has been the case with other Castro opponents in the past, the regime is using a combination of induced illnesses and medical negligence to get rid of one of its most tenacious foes.

As Ariel Sigler lies dying in a hospital bed for the sole "crime" of refusing to live as a slave, not a word on his behalf has been uttered by, for example, Jose Miguel Insulza and the Organization of American States, which should be looking out for the respect for human rights and democracy in the region. Not one of the Latin American leaders who has stopped by Havana to visit an ailing Fidel Castro has dared to inquire about his health.

Sadly enough, this is not a new thing in Cuban history. It was in Matanzas that the Cuban flag first flew, raised by a band of freedom fighters led by Venezuelan Narciso Lopez who briefly captured the provincial capital from the Spanish before being defeated, captured and garroted, abandoned by the Latin American governments he believed would come to the aid of Cuba's right to freedom. Pedro Luis Boitel, a courageous student leader, was also born in Matanzas. He dared to challenge the Castro picked candidate in elections for the student government of the University of Havana in 1959. Imprisoned and sentenced to 10 years, he died as a result of the same combination of induced illnesses and medical negligence that Ariel Sigler may now be suffering. Boitel was protesting his continued imprisonment after his sentence had been served.

A cry goes out to the international community from Matanzas, one that sun-bathing tourists and Communist apparatchik may not hear: In the name of freedom, let the slaughter of Cuba's best sons and daughters cease, aid Cubans in this new fight against the demons of tyranny.

German Official Tells It Like It Is

Upon being denied a visa by the Castro regime to enter Cuba for wanting to visit with both regime officials and dissidents, German parliamentarian and spokesman for the Social Democratic party, Markus Meckel, told Deutsche Welle:

"There are more than 200 political prisoners living in subhuman conditions. Some of them are ill and receive no medical attention. Their situation is alarming. But it's not just about the opposition, it's about an entire population in dire need of reforms for their economic development. Raul Castro regime's is taking the Cuban people towards a dead end street and not keeping his promises. As a result, Cuba is locking its own door to the future."

The Great Cuban Oil Myth Remains (a Myth)

An opinion editorial by University of Michigan economics and finance professor, Mark Perry, and distributed by McClatchy-Tribune, sets an all-too-familiar alarmist tone:

"The 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba has been shaken by the revelation that drilling for oil and natural gas is about to take place less than 50 miles off the U.S. coast - in Cuban waters."

Ironically, the editorial was being distributed on the same day Reuters reported that, "Cuba and a consortium of foreign oil companies have once again postponed plans to drill for oil in the island's still-untapped fields in the Gulf of Mexico, diplomatic and industry sources said this week."

"The project has been postponed until a further date for more study," said a foreign oil industry source with direct knowledge of the plans.

During a 2006 debate over legislation by then-U.S. Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, which sought to lift sanctions on U.S. companies seeking to drill for oil in Cuba, the UPI reported:

Though the lure of what lies beneath the waters off Cuba has piqued the interest of oil companies and lawmakers alike, some like Mauricio Claver-Carone, a member of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, said the potential for striking real oil riches out there is more fallacy than fact.

"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," said Claver-Carone, who also contends that Castro is using the basin as a means of promoting foreign investment in Cubapetroleo.

You decide.

An Inspiring Tribute

Please watch this inspiring tribute to Cuban pro-democracy leaders recently recognized by the National Endowment for Democracy ("NED") with its prestigious 2009 Democracy Award.

It is narrated by the Honorable Richard Gephardt, former House Democratic Leader, and current NED Chairman.

The Courage To Be Free: Tribute to Cuban Democracy Activists from National Endowment for Democracy on Vimeo.

We Are All Omar Rodriguez Saludes

Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The International Press Institute ("IPI") is calling for the immediate release of 22 journalists imprisoned in Cuba - 21 of them arrested in a 2003 government crackdown.

Among the cases highlighted by the IPI is that of Cuban journalist Omar Rodriguez Saludes, director of the independent news agency Nueva Prensa Cubana in Havana, who was arrested during the March 2003 crackdown on Cuba's political dissidents and independent journalists.

Rodriguez was sentenced to 27 years in prison, the longest sentence handed down to any of the 29 journalists arrested in the 2003 crackdown. Speaking to IPI about "changes" within Cuba’s regime and potential hopes that Rodriguez may be granted leniency, the journalist’s wife, Ileana Marrero Joa, said, “The term ‘leniency’ is not correct, because what we need is ‘justice’ and he should be freed, since he did not commit any crime.”

Rodríguez began his journalistic career in 1995 as a freelance reporter and photographer. He later joined Nueva Prensa Cubana, where he wrote about political repression under the Castro regime, among other topics, and soon became the agency's director.

The following video features interviews with members of Rodriguez’s family and photographs taken by the journalist, is a powerful reminder that fundamental rights are being continuously violated in Cuba.

Hillary's Globovision Comments on Cuba

Excerpt from yesterday's interview with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Venezuela's Globovison:
Q. The phrase "Freedom for Cuba and its people."  Do you think it is possible under the Castro regime?
CLINTON: As you know, we are committed to talks with the Cuban government on issues we consider important. 

For example, migration.  However, we have made it clear that there is not much more we can talk about with Cuba unless Cuba makes changes.

Political prisoners need to be freed.  There should be free and fair elections.

If you believe you are doing a good job for your people, convince them to vote for you in an honest, open and free election. 
So we are beginning a dialogue with Cuba, but making it very clear that we want to see fundamental changes in the Cuban regime.

Ros-Lehtinen Proposes Amendment to Cut OAS Funding

Funds would be re-routed to support the National Endowment for Democracy

WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today offered an amendment to the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill (H.R. 3081) to cut funding to the Organization of American States.
Statement by Ros-Lehtinen: 

"The OAS is fast abandoning its founding mandate.
From its warm overtures towards the Cuban tyrants to its knee-jerk support of Manuel Zelaya, echoing the rhetoric and agenda of autocratic leaders like Chavez, Morales, and Ortega, the OAS is losing credibility as an entity that stands for democratic institutions, human rights, and the rule of law.

U.S. funds can be better spent elsewhere where they can truly be used to advance the freedom agenda.

For this reason, my amendment transfers funds from the OAS to the National Endowment for Democracy, an organization which fights for fundamental freedoms and democracy worldwide and which recently recognized the brave efforts of five dissidents and peaceful opposition leaders fighting for freedom in Cuba."

Note:  Ros-Lehtinen's amendment reduces funding to the OAS by $15 million and transfers this amount to the National Endowment for Democracy. 

Dorgan Seeks Frustrated Creditor Status

Last week, the Russian Federation's Audit Chamber revealed that the Cuban regime failed on three occasions to pay installments on the US$355 million credit deal it signed with Russia on Sept. 28, 2006.

This is just the latest episode in a saga that, in 2009 alone, includes:

1. Reports by Mexico's La Jornada and Spain's El Pais newspapers that hundreds of foreign companies that transact business with the Cuban regime's authorities, have had their accounts frozen since January 2009 by the regime-owned bank that is solely empowered to conduct commercial banking operations in convertible currencies, Banco Financiero Internacional, S.A. ("BFI").

2. "Cuba has rolled over 200 million euros in bond issues that were due in May, as the country's central bank asked for another year to repay foreign holders of the debt, financial sources in London and Havana said this week." Reuters, June 9, 2009.

As a reminder, in Castro's Cuba, you can only do business with the government, as private business activity severely restricted.

Yet, the National Journal reports this morning:

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., will offer legislation today to change a provision in the 2000 law that allows agriculture trade with Cuba so that the Treasury Department cannot require the government of Cuba to pay for food before it is shipped, Dorgan said Tuesday.

During the Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the FY10 Agriculture appropriations bill, Dorgan said he had considered offering his Cuba amendment to the bill, but that he had been told that some members of the committee "would have an apoplectic seizure" so he will instead offer it today on the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill.

Dorgan noted that the Treasury Department had initially allowed Cuba to follow the normal commercial pattern of making payment before goods arrive in the country, but that in 2005 the Bush administration decided that "cash in advance" meant payment for the goods before they left the country.

Dorgan said he would introduce the measure because he has failed in his attempts to convince Treasury officials to change their position. "Someone down at Treasury apparently still can't hear," Dorgan said. "We've had meeting after meeting after meeting."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The U.S. can also join this ever-growing club of Castro's frustrated creditors by supporting Senator Dorgan's legislation.

Senator Martinez on the Honduran Crisis

Tuesday, July 7, 2009
U.S. Senator Mel Martinez of Florida on the floor of the U.S. Senate today:

Mr. President, I rise to speak about the events in Honduras. The events that are taking place in Honduras right now are the unfortunate result of a silence from both the United States and the Inter-America community to the assault on Honduras' democratic institutions. It is difficult for Hondurans and other democrats within the region to understand the full significance of President Zelaya's expulsion from Honduras. Up until this point, there has not been any significant voice or action in opposition to the dismantling of free societies in Venezuela, Bolivia, and as Honduras was going down the same path, you might also add Nicaragua to that, to name only a few of the most visible cases.

It is also hard to explain why there was silence in the face of President Zelaya's earlier unconstitutional actions, especially the events that have appeared to precipitate his ousting: the storming of a military base to seize and distribute ballots for a referendum that previously had been declared unconstitutional by the Honduran Supreme Court. A fundamental tenet of democracy is the separation of powers. You've got a president in the executive branch and then you have a judicial branch of government as a coequal branch. And that branch of government told the president that the referendum he was seeking to have to extend his rule beyond the constitutional term was illegal, should not be done. He was undeterred and he was completely unrepentant as he sought to continue with his plan to have a referendum, even though the Congress, even though the judiciary, had already told him that that was in contravention of the Constitution of their country.

Where was the region's outrage of Hugo Chavez's support for Mr. Zelaya's unconstitutional actions in Honduras? Mr. Chavez supported Mr. Zelaya because they are kindred spirits. Because Mr. Chavez already had been able to usurp every institution of democracy within Venezuela and now rules as an autocrat, he wanted to have that same playbook applied to Honduras, as he has coached and shepherded the doings of the same thing in Bolivia and to some degree in Ecuador as well. And with Nicaragua now coming along. So the Honduran people decided this was not going to happen in their country and the people in the Honduran Congress and the Honduran Supreme Court decided that it was not going to happen on their watch.

The region's silence toward the assault on democracy in Honduras followed a pattern of acquiescence to Chavez's dismantling of democratic institutions and civil liberties in Venezuela. For instance, the O.A.S. has said absolutely nothing about Chavez's closing of independent media, his manipulation of elections, his erosion of independent branches of government, and his usurping of the authority of local elected officials. Leaders like Chavez, Ortega, and Zelaya have cloaked themselves in the language of democracy when it's convenient for them. Yet, their actions ignore it when it doesn't further their personal ambitions. This situation was compounded by the United States' actions, including work behind the scenes to keep the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court from using the clearly legal means of presidential impeachment. Some of us have wondered why wasn't he impeached? Why didn't the Congress go ahead and impeach President Zelaya? The fact of the matter is that our embassy in Tegucigalpa counseled that they should not do that – that they should not do that, that the Hondurans should not use the tools of impeachment.

Having stood on the sidelines while Mr. Zelaya overstepped the nation's Constitution, the United States and the international community only speak now. Protecting a sitting president regardless of their illegal act sets a dangerous precedent. Instead, U.S. policy should be focused on supporting efforts that uphold the integrity of constitutional order and democratic institutions.

In fairness to the Obama Administration, this distorted policy is not new. Through advice from the State Department, former President George W. Bush was talked out of having the United States stand visibly with democratic advocates in Latin America. The advice was based on the belief by not making the United States an issue, this would allow the region to stand up for democratic activists. Unfortunately, no country or leader did so. And most significant of all, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States has sat idly by year after year, as democracy after democracy is being dismantled one piece at a time, one election at a time, one institution at a time, saying absolutely nothing.

The O.A.S. has a responsibility to condemn and sanction presidential abuses, not just abuses against presidents. Because of the O.A.S.'s failure to uphold the checks and balances within democracies, it has become an enabler of authoritarian leaders throughout the region. The result of this has been a signal of acceptance to anti-democratic actions and abandonment of those fighting for democracy in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and elsewhere.

This silence was compounded by recent repudiation of the application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to the Cuban dictatorship. Ironically, it was in Honduras with Mr. Zelaya taking the leading role where the O.A.S. General Assembly decided against any clear democratic standards for Cuba retaking its seat in that organization. So here's what occurred: The Organization of American States - filled with the desire to reincorporate Cuba into the family of nations - completely ignoring that for 50 years Cuba has been a military dictatorship without even the vestiges of a free and fair election, and they invited Cuba to be readmitted without setting up a standard by which they would have to live. President Zelaya, with his partner Hugo Chavez, was leading the charge in saying, "Cuba should be welcome back and there should be no conditions." Those conditions of democratic rule are the very ones that he is now relying upon to try to get his presidency back. It is Mr. Zelaya now seeking the very protection of the democratic charter of the O.A.S. which he thinks is important to apply to him, but which he felt was unimportant to apply to the rights and opportunities of the Cuban people to try to claim a democratic future for themselves.

The crisis in Honduras stems from the failure of its leaders to live within constitutional boundaries and the earlier silence of the United States and the international community regarding the abuse of power by the Honduran executive. Tragically, the United States and the O.A.S. have put Honduras and the region in a position where democracy is the loser once again. The return of Mr. Zelaya will signal the approval of his unconstitutional act. If he is not allowed to return, then the unacceptable behavior of forcibly exiling a leader would be given tacit approval. This is what happens when principles are sacrificed for a policy only described as appeasement of authoritarians.

In the current crisis neither the United States nor other countries in the region or the international community should be taking sides in a constitutional dispute, but rather encouraging a resolution through dialogue among Hondurans. To this end, efforts should be focused on helping Hondurans form a reconciliation government that would include representatives not associated with either Zelaya's administration or the current interim government. The objective would be to keep Honduras on track to hold currently scheduled Presidential elections in November with the inauguration of a new president in January as mandated by the Honduran Constitution. The newly elected president with an electoral mandate then can decide how to deal with Mr. Zelaya and those involved in his ouster.

As the U.S. Senate takes up President Obama's nominees to key State Department positions in Latin America, it is time to question the acceptance by the United States and the Inter-American community of the sustained dismantling of democratic institutions and free societies by presidents seeking to consolidate personal power at any cost. This is the larger challenge in Latin America and Honduras is the latest symptom. The United States must no longer remain silent when democratic institutions are undermined. Any disruption of the constitutional order is unacceptable regardless of who commits it.

It would be well for us to remember that as we look forward to what may come next, the Presidential succession ought to be honored, however institutions of democracy also ought to be equally honored. Secretary of State Clinton met today at 1:00 with deposed President Zelaya and it appears that she is seeking to align the United States with the mediation that is about to be undertaken by President Óscar Arias – a Nobel Prize winning, well regarded man from Costa Rica. And that President Arias might take the opportunity to see how we can bring this process back together again. It seems to me the elections in Honduras ought to take place as scheduled and a new, democratically elected government ought to go forward. The real question is, will Mr. Zelaya be allowed to return to the Office of President? It seems to be fairly unanimous that all Honduran institutions oppose such an outcome. They do not want Mr. Zelaya back. They have seen the dark movie of what life can be like in a Cuba-type situation. They have seen the erosion of democracy with the complete erosion of freedoms so much made a dear part of what we in this country believe in that has taken place in Venezuela. They have seen the continued erosion of democratic values in Nicaragua and they don't want to see it happen in their country. And one can't blame them. It would only be fitting that they should find comfort by those of us in this country who not only value democracy for us but believe it should be shared by others around the world no matter their circumstances.

It isn't good enough to be elected democratically but then rule as a dictator and in the process of being an elected president, then move to erode all the institutions of democracy – the courts, the congresses, even the military as an institution; they ought to be respected. Their Independence ought to be valued. The playbook of Mr. Chavez, which is to dismantle the military leadership and bring in cronies of his, the efforts to then discredit the courts and bring in judges that he would also approve of – this has been the playbook by which Chavez has operated and the one that Mr. Zelaya was attempting to put into play.

So let's hope that President Arias from Costa Rica will be able to lead a mediation effort, that will bring together all the disparate groups. That there can be a free and fair election. And that there can be a resolution to this crisis of democracy. But let it also be a wake-up call to the rest of us who have sat silently by as this erosion of democracy takes place one country at a time in Latin America. We ought to say, "enough is enough." Let's stand for the rule of law. Let's stand for democracy not only on Election Day, but each and every day thereafter as we seek leaders that are elected democratically but govern democratically.

Mariela Castro's Freudian State of Mind

"I don't believe in the multiparty system. I believe in the diversity of opinions, in a participation where we all contribute elements. The multiparty system is a falsehood intended to make you believe that you have democracy. So far, the multiparty system has not guaranteed democracy."

Mariela Castro, daughter of dictator Raul Castro and director of the Cuba's National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), in an interview with the BBC.

How can you have diversity of political views and opinions if you do not allow diversity of political parties? Perhaps she means that in Cuba, while only the Communist Party is permitted, you can be Marxist, Bolshevik, Leninist, Engelian, Stalinist, Maoist and perhaps even Trotskyite, but that might land you in jail.

Famed Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud labeled such blatant contradictions, and self-deception, as a state of unconscious mental representations.

Or just delusion.

A Cuban Hero's Challenge to the Hemisphere

"I would like to ask all of the people, organizations and governments of the world that have condemned the coup in Honduras to, with the same outrage, condemn the Castro regime for the suffering it has caused the Cuban people for half a century.

I'm profoundly struck by the double standard of those people and governments that purport to be democrats, that rally against the commercial and financial embargo of the United States towards the [Cuban] communist regime, and that oppose policies of isolation towards Havana -- yet, now advocate a policy of isolation towards the new government in Honduras.

It is not possible to, on the one hand, condemn a policy of isolation against the Castro regime, and on the other, seek to isolate Honduras."

Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez," Cuban pro-democracy leader and political prisoner, who served 17 years and 38 days, and was recently recognized with the 2009 Democracy Award -- in absentia -- by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Courtesy of Miscelaneas de Cuba.

Insulza, Malice or Hypocrisy?

Monday, July 6, 2009
Note the stark contrast in Organization of American States' ("OAS") Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza's remarks last week, "we are not going to Honduras to negotiate. We are going to Honduras to ask them to change what they have been doing."

Versus a month ago, "it should fall to Cubans themselves, through free and peaceful dialogue and without external interference, to find the most appropriate path to the wellbeing of the people."

And even more appalling, this week, Insulza stated that Fidel Castro was one of the legitimizing sources of the Cuban dictatorship, and stressed, "I say this with a great deal of respect and almost admiration for him [Fidel Castro]."

In other words, Insulza only supports "free and peaceful dialogue" with totalitarian dictatorships that do not allow the slightest hint of dissent, let alone "free and peaceful dialogue." However, anything less than a totalitarian dictatorship must unconditionally "change" without "negotiation."

At best, Insulza's "great deal of respect and almost admiration" for Castro has blinded his reason.

Important Lesson From Robert McNamara

Robert McNamara, who served as U.S. Secretary of Defense under Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, has died at 93.

McNamara is known mostly for his role in the Vietnam War, but he was also a key figure during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when the U.S. faced the closest threat of nuclear attack in its history.

Looking for closure on some issues that troubled him regarding those days, McNamara traveled to Cuba in 2002 (for a conference on the 40th anniversary of the Missile Crisis), and directly queried Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

According to McNamara, " I asked him 3 questions. One - did you know there were nuclear warheads in Cuba? Two - would you have recommended to Khrushchev to use nuclear missiles in the event of an American invasion of Cuba? And three - what would have happened to Cuba? Castro said, 'One - I knew the missiles were there. Two- I would not *have* recommended it, I *did* recommend it! And three - we would have been totally obliterated." The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, 2003.

In other words, Fidel Castro recommended to Krushchev that he murder 10 million Americans and 7 million Cubans.

This is the man that some Members of the U.S. Congress want to have "business as usual" with?

Did the U.S. Embassy Prevent Zelaya's Legal Removal?

President Barack Obama has declared that the June 28th "coup" against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was "not legal." Frankly, President Obama is probably correct.

Keeping ideology aside, and as unpalatable as Zelaya is, it's tough to argue that what took place in Honduras did not usurp due process of law in some fashion. At the very least, it is clear that the Supreme Court ordered Zelaya's arrest, but it did not order his forced expulsion from the country. As a result, Zelaya was forced out of the country in lieu of being able to mount a legal defense for the violations he was accused of -- perhaps Zelaya should count his blessings for that.

One can argue whether this fits the definition of a "coup," and whether it was political or military, but at this point those are semantics.

However, here is the million dollar question (and a follow-up).

In Friday's Washington Post, columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner writes:

"The United States Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, an extremely competent diplomat, tried very hard to keep Honduras's Congress from ousting President Manuel Zelaya. After his arguments and pressures were exhausted, and faced with something that seemed inevitable, he did what he could: he sheltered the president's son at his residence to save him from any violent outcome."

If true, why did the U.S. Ambassador work very hard to keep the Honduran Congress from legally ousting Zelaya?

It seems this would create a policy inconsistency, for how can the U.S. condemn the illegal removal of Zelaya, when it allegedly worked very hard to prevent his legal removal?

Was U.S. policy for Zelaya not to be removed from office, legally or illegally? In other words, for Zelaya to stay in office and serve out his full term -- regardless of his violations of law -- at all costs?

The U.S. Congress should ask these questions of Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Tom Shannon, and U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens.

Quote of the Day

Sunday, July 5, 2009
"We ask that the Organization of American States ("OAS") pay attention to all of the illegal activities that had been taking place [by the Zelaya government] in Honduras, not just at what took place on June 28th," declared the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez.

In reference to the aggressive remarks made recently by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cardinal Rodriguez added, "the Honduran people are asking themselves why the OAS hasn't condemned the hostile threats being made [by Chavez] against our country."

Be Wary of Unconditional Talks

According to the New York Times, "the most important group of religious leaders in Iran called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate on Saturday, an act of defiance against the country’s supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country’s clerical establishment."

Immediately after, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared "I will go to the United Nations and will invite Obama to negotiations."

Sound familiar?

"With Obama, talks could happen anywhere he wants," Fidel Castro, December 5th, 2008.

When tyrants face mounting domestic pressure, they always seek talks or negotiations with democratic nations -- particularly the United States -- as a means of gaining legitimacy and demoralizing the opposition.

Fidel Ate All the Mangoes

Tragically, this is not a joke. The Cuban regime's Granma newspaper has reported that fruit trees "have become practically extinct on the island," which will cause massive shortages and dramatically increase prices.

Prior to Castro's Revolution, Cuba was a net exporter of fruits and a host of other agricultural commodities. There used to even be a popular saying, "a year of mangoes, a year of hunger," inferring that regardless of how bad things got, there would always be mangoes.

Well, either Fidel ate all the mangoes with his yogurt, or the regime has managed to graze the island of all its fruit trees -- in the same manner it has destroyed buildings, roads, the sugar industry, cultural patrimony and most importantly, human lives.

However, something tells me that the breakfast buffets for foreign tourists in Varadero will not be interrupted during by crisis. Unfortunately, ordinary Cubans are not allowed in to verify.