Party is Over (And Karma Came Knocking)

Saturday, July 25, 2009
After years of colluding with the Castro brothers to brutally and systemically violate the human, civil, and political rights of the Cuban people, newly released pictures of former Cuba Vice President Carlos Lage, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and senior Communist Party official Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, provide a vivid reminder of how in a police-state you never know which party will be your last.

Ironically, their "crime" was getting caught on tape making fun of Fidel and Raul Castro, but karma has a funny way of working.

Pictures of the former three senior officials during a party at the ranch of one of Castro's authorized business representatives, Conrado Hernandez, who is now in a Cuban jail for his relationship with Spanish intelligence officials, were anonymously delivered last week to Miami-based television host Maria Elvira Salazar.

Lage, Perez-Roque and Remirez were purged from their positions this past March, and their whereabouts since that time remain unconfirmed. For years, foreign businessmen, diplomats and the international media had considered them to be the "heirs apparent" of the Cuban dictatorship.

That party is definitely over.

Quote of the Week

"Information technology inevitably creates more space. And day after day, also inevitably, closed regimes are drowning in the little space they have guaranteed for themselves to remain in power."

- Pablo Pacheco, Cuban independent journalist and political prisoner sentenced to 20-years, who was arrested during the infamous Black Spring of 2003. Two months ago, Pablo launched a blog from prison, From Behind The Bars, narrating his entries by telephone to fellow blogger Claudia Cadelo, who prepares them for publication; additional helpers outside Cuba manage the translations.

Obama: Ball (Correctly) in Castro's Court



President Barack Obama said Friday he's open to more overtures to Cuba, such as lifting restrictions on academic travel to the island, but not without signs of changes from the government in Havana.

"We're not there yet,'' he said. "We think it's important to see progress on issues of political liberalization, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, release of political prisoners in order for there to be the full possibility of normalization between our two countries.''

In April, Obama lifted travel and gift restrictions for those with relatives in Cuba and eased restrictions on U.S. telecommunications firms to do business there. And the administration last week resumed talks with Cuban officials on what Obama called a "narrow set of issues,'' chiefly migration.

But Obama said further steps may take time.

Obama referenced last week's "government-to-government conversations'' in New York and said that the administration's "hope is that if we're seeing progress on those issues, then they can begin to broaden.''

"We're taking it step by step, seeing if, as we change some of the old approaches that we've been taking, we are seeing some movement on the Cuban government side,'' he added.

"I don't think it's going to be happening overnight. I think it's going to be a work in progress.''

"Free Biscet" Today in Georgetown

Please join The George Washington University Students for a Free Cuba organization today, as they give away cards and balloons urging the release of Cuban political prisoner Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. Dr. Biscet, who is currently serving his tenth year of a 25 year prison sentence for his human rights work on the island, has been adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

The students will gather at the corner of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., between 10:00am and 3:00pm.



Hypocrisy's Universal Appeal

Friday, July 24, 2009
This month, the Organization of American States ("OAS") expeditiously suspended Honduras for violating the terms of the Inter-American Democratic Charter; the same Charter the OAS intentionally chose to ignore in its June resolution revoking the Castro regime's suspension.

Just yesterday, the European Union's Commissioner for External Relations delivered millions of euros to the Castro dictatorship, while on the same trip eliminating aid to Honduras' non-democratically elected, de facto government.

Tragically for democracy activists everywhere, hypocrisy seems to be having a universal appeal, as columnist Celestine Bolen points out in this weekend's International Herald Tribune:

Here's an example: the European Union withdrew its ambassadors from Honduras after a relatively bloodless coup d'├ętat there this month, but left them in Tehran during the violent crackdown against the post-election demonstrations.

"What's good for Honduras should be good for Iran," Jean-Pierre Brard, a deputy in the French National Assembly, said at a recent press conference. "Or maybe the real difference is that Renault, Total and Areva are not so well represented in Honduras?"

The same logic applies to the muted response in Washington to the ethnic unrest in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, which left more than 190 people dead earlier this month. Human rights groups have called for an independent investigation into the clashes and the Chinese government's handling of them; the U.S. State Department called for "calm."

The fact is that human rights violations in China don't get much attention in the United States these days, not when China holds so much of the U.S. national debt and when Washington is looking to Beijing to help pull the global economy out of recession.

Tampa Taxpayers Flip Bill for Cuba Trip

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern used about $1,300 in taxpayer money to pay for a trip to Cuba.

In doing so, Mulhern spent almost half of the $3,100 in discretionary funds that are given yearly to each City Council member.

During the trip, she met with Castro regime officials, including the head of Alimport, the only company in Cuba authorized to engage in international trade.

Mulhern didn't bother to engage with ordinary Cubans, as they are prohibited from conducting business activities.

Ironically, Mulhern is spending taxpayer funds to pursue ties with the Castro regime as businesses from other countries are severing such ties, for the Cuban authorities have abruptly frozen nearly $1 billion dollars in foreign bank accounts on the island since January 2009.

Think about it, Mulhern could have spent half her discretionary budget traveling to any country in the world, including those that respects their citizen's human, civil and political rights, and perhaps even countries that respect contractual obligations. Yet, she chose Castro's Cuba.

A down payment, of sorts, on further loses to come for Tampa's taxpayers.

Student Event in D.C. for Dr. Biscet

GWU Student Group Urges Release of Cuban Physician in Prison
Students to Host Balloon Giveaway in Georgetown
 
Students from The George Washington University Students for a Free Cuba organization will be giving away balloons urging the release of Cuban political prisoner Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. Dr. Biscet, who is currently serving his tenth year of a 25 year prison sentence for his human rights work on the island, has been adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He has also received the United States Medal of Freedom.
 
This Saturday, July 25th on the eve of the anniversary of Fidel Castro's attack on an army barrack which began the revolution, the students will gather at M Street and Wisconsin Ave. in the historic Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, DC. The activity will take place between 10:00am and 3:00pm and everyone is welcome.
 
A card petitioning General Raul Castro to set the black physician free and allow him to rejoin his family in the United States will be made available. The students will also distribute a flyer urging men and women of good will to call on President Barack Obama to include the release of Dr. Biscet and all Cuban political prisoners in any conversation with the Cuban government.
 
GW Students for a Free Cuba also calls on the American people to urge General Raul Castro to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit his political captive. 
 
GW Students for a Free Cuba was founded in 2009 and has hosted several speakers and panel discussions on human rights in Cuba, including Fidel Castro's severing of diplomatic relations with Israel.

Does Blackmail Promote Investor Confidence?

Thursday, July 23, 2009
The Castro regime has resorted to a new strategy in seeking to restore minimal investor confidence.
 
The strategy is called blackmail.  
 
After foreign businesses halted transactions with the Castro regime due to having their foreign business accounts frozen in Cuba's banks, and non-payment of outstanding invoices since January 2009, the Cuban Central Bank has now authorized the release of some funds, according to Reuters.
 
However, there is a caveat:
 
For the foreign businesses to have renewed access to their frozen accounts, even if only partial, they must continue to do business with the Castro regime.
 
If not, they can pack their bags, and leave the island, but the regime keeps their money.
 
There are some 600 foreign business accounts, with frozen funds estimated at $600 million to $1 billion, at stake.
 
Think they regret that decision?

The Constitution, Courts, Congress (and Cuba)

Last week, a federal lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York, challenging the constitutionality of U.S. laws that require Americans who travel to Cuba to disclose details about their financial expenditures on the island.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit legal advocacy group that filed the suit, this law forces travelers to incriminate themselves, therefore making an individual vulnerable to criminal prosecution.

Indirectly, the lawsuit recognizes that "self-incrimination" is simply a vehicle, as the true target of the lawsuit is U.S. foreign policy towards the Castro regime, in particular "efforts to stifle American travel to Cuba."

First of all, it's important to recognize, which this lawsuit does, that the Department of Treasury's jurisdiction under the Trading With the Enemy Act ("TWEA") is to prohibit or regulate commercial or financial "transactions related to travel," not travel per se.

Even if that weren't the case, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in the past that travel restrictions imposed by the Executive Branch are constitutional.

In Regan v. Wald, citing the precedent set by Zemel v. Rusk, the U.S. Supreme Court held:

"[T]he Court [in Zemel] found the Fifth Amendment right to travel, standing alone, insufficient to overcome the foreign policy justifications supporting the restriction...We see no reason to differentiate between the travel restrictions imposed by the President in the present case and the passport restrictions imposed by the Secretary of State in Zemel. Both have the practical effect of preventing travel to Cuba by most American citizens, and both are justified by weighty concerns of foreign policy."

Despite this ruling, the Center for Constitutional Rights will strenuously argue that the Executive Branch is encroaching upon a constitutional protection against self-incrimination.

But wait, there's another major obstacle.

In 1996 and 2000, U.S. sanctions towards the Castro regime were codified into law by the U.S. Congress.

Following further precedent set by Kent v. Dulles, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the right to travel was grounded in the Constitution, and if this right -- or other similar rights -- are to be regulated, it must be pursuant to the law-making functions of the Congress. This would become known as the "clear statement" principle.

And so on, and so forth, we can then proceed to analyze the court's historic deference to the Executive Branch, not to mention both the Executive Branch and Congress, in foreign policy decisions.

Yet here's the bottom line: there's a fluid legislative process in this country that allows for laws to be enacted and changed.

The U.S. Congress has found that tourism expenditures in Cuba should be prohibited, and while there are a host of categories permissible under law for travel expenditures (ranging from family visits to religious to humanitarian), it remains in the foreign policy interests of the U.S. to limit and account for hard currency that flows to Cuba's totalitarian regime, which uses a disproportionate amount of its income to fund a repressive state security apparatus and remains as one of four nations on the U.S. State Department's state-sponsors of terrorism list.

When Congress feels that it is appropriate for U.S. tourists to double or triple the Castro regime's GDP, so that spring breakers can enjoy Cuba's beaches, while the Cuban people are denied their most fundamental human, civil and political rights, including the ability to enjoy the hotels, stores and litany of services reserved for foreign tourists, then it will change the law.

In the meantime, this suit remains creative lawyering.

U.S. Rep. Sanchez on Vietnam (vs. Cuba)

In The Hill's Congress Blog, U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez of California makes an admirable and impassioned plea in favor of human rights for the Vietnamese people. The post is reproduced in its entirety below, as it's vitally important, and the Vietnamese people deserve nothing less than our complete solidarity and support.

Nonetheless, at its conclusion, we pose an important question for Congresswoman Sanchez.

The Vietnamese Government Should Respect Basic Human Rights

It's no secret that Congress has a lot on its plate. With comprehensive health care reform, clean energy legislation, and a complete overhaul of America's financial systems on the table, it's unsurprising that many Americans are unaware of the human rights abuses currently taking place in Vietnam. Some might wonder why Americans should care about civil and political rights in a country thousands of miles from our own. I hope this post will provide some good reasons.

I have been actively following the plight of Vietnam's people since I was first elected to the House in 1996. After visiting Vietnam three times and having my visa denied at least six times, I have first-hand knowledge of the country's deteriorating human rights situation. The Government of Vietnam continues to prevent churches, charity organizations, human rights groups, and other advocates from exercising their rights to free speech and expression. Anyone who attempts to exercise these rights is harassed or imprisoned by the Government of Vietnam.

In response to Vietnam's ongoing disregard for the political, religious, and civil liberties of its people, in 2004 the State Department designated Vietnam as a country of particular concern (CPC) for severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act. Although Vietnam did absolutely nothing to improve the human rights situation of its people, our government, under the Bush Administration, inexplicably took Vietnam off the CPC list in 2006 and granted the country Permanent Normal Trade Relations status the same year. Vietnam was later admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO), granting their repressive government further legitimacy despite their refusal to protect the most basic human freedoms of the Vietnamese people.

It has been over two years since Vietnam was admitted to the WTO, an organization that takes pride in the "Western values" of its members. But we have yet to see any human rights improvements in Vietnam
. Just two weeks ago, two young and prominent dissidents, Le Cong Dinh, an attorney, and Nguyen Tien Trung, an engineer, were arrested by the Government of Vietnam for speaking out against human rights violations in their country. Can you imagine life in America if our government imprisoned its citizens for merely speaking their mind, and expressing their desire for freedom and democracy? Can you imagine how angry Americans would be if our law enforcement agencies imprisoned constituents who expressed their opinions to elected officials? For the people of Vietnam, that nightmare is a reality.

Vietnamese authorities have not limited their oppressive actions to their citizens. In 2007 and 2008, the Government of Vietnam arrested, detained, and jailed four U.S. citizens in Vietnam, some of whom were charged for promoting peace and non-violence. Luckily, with Congressional and international pressure, they were all safely returned to the United States.

In 2008, the Government of Vietnam created the Administration Agency for Radio, Television and Electronics Information, a seemingly innocuous agency whose sole objective is to restrict internet freedom and censor private blogs. The people of Vietnam should have the right to express their views without censorship – on the streets, on the internet, wherever they may be. Next week, I will be introducing a resolution calling on the Government of Vietnam to release imprisoned bloggers and respect internet freedom. I hope my Congressional colleagues will join me in supporting this important legislation, and honor America's promise to be a beacon of freedom and democracy for nations across the world.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Congresswoman, don't you believe the Cuban people deserve the same? If so, we hope you'll reconsider your past support for legislation seeking to unconditionally normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship in Cuba.

Kafkaesque Arrest of Dr. Darsi Ferrer

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Cuban opposition leader Dr. Darsi Ferrer, Director of the Juan Bruno Zayas Center for Health and Human Rights, was re-arrested yesterday morning, according to the AFP.

Dr. Ferrer is currently being held at the Valle Grande Prison, west of Havana.

On July 9th, Dr. Ferrer was briefly detained and viciously beaten (see picture below) by the Cuban authorities for organizing a demonstration thematically entitled, "A Walk of Dreams," near the Hotel Nacional in Havana, whose premises are solely designated for foreign tourists.

During last week's detention, the Cuban authorities violently searched his home, breaking windows and causing structural damage. Connivingly, Dr. Ferrer is now being charged with "illegally" purchasing construction materials in the "black-market," in order to fix the damage incurred.

Who teaches the Cuban authorities such Kafkaesque tactics?

Sanctions Opponents Lobby (for Sanctions?)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009
In February 2009, Cigar Aficionado published "A Memo to President Obama on Cuba Policy" by Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations ("CFR"), which stated:

"As you know, there is no evidence that any unilateral sanctions program anywhere in the world has ever been effective in changing the internal character of the target government."

In the same vein, the Washington Office on Latin America ("WOLA") states on their website:

"WOLA's Cuba program encourages U.S. policy-makers to move towards normalized relations with Cuba."

Yet amazingly, Reuters reported yesterday that:

Some analysts say the Obama administration needs to step up sanctions to pressure the interim government to accept Arias' seven-point plan, allowing Zelaya to return to Honduras to set up a coalition government that includes rival parties.

"If the United States is to send a message that coups in this day and age in Latin America are not acceptable...the message needs to be reinforced," said Vicki Gass, with the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.

Julia Sweig, a senior Latin America analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said the threatened sanctions, to be effective, would need to be clearly and promptly stated.

"The threat must be stated very explicitly, now," said Sweig.

EDITOR'S NOTE: When ideology trumps reason, only contradiction prevails.

Castro's "Black Hole" Ate the Imports Too

Cuba's Economy and Planning Ministry disclosed today that the island's 2009 imports will plummet 22.2 percent, or some $3.4 billion, compared with an increase of nearly $1 billion that had been projected earlier in the year, according to a report seen by Reuters.

The Castro regime claims that this drastic, negative revision is due to the international financial crisis. However, the Cuban authorities -- along with practically every other person in the world -- had been well aware of the international crisis since the beginning of the year.

Click here to learn the true cause of this revision.

Who is Separating Cuban Families?

For those that habitually argue -- and mislead -- that U.S. policy is responsible for separating Cuban families, here's an important reminder:

According to today's Nuevo Herald newspaper, there are at least 621 Cubans that have been granted visas by the U.S., but are being denied "exit permits" to leave the island by the Castro regime.

Of those 621, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana has identified 358 as principal solicitors and 263 as solicited by family members abroad.

And these numbers are from the current 2009 fiscal year alone.

Cuba, along with North Korea, are amongst the few nations in the world that require its citizens to obtain "exit permits" prior to leaving the country, henceforth making them hostages within their own homeland.

The U.S. State Department's 2008 Report on Cuba's Human Rights Practices provides further important details on this violation of fundamental human rights by the Castro regime:

Persons routinely denied exit permits included medical personnel, men of military age, dissidents, and citizens with certain political or religious beliefs. An unpublished government policy denies exit permits to medical professionals until they have performed, on average, six to eight years of service in their profession after requesting permission to travel abroad; nurses and medical technicians waited an average of two to three years to receive exit permission.

The government denied exit permits for several years to relatives of individuals who migrated illegally (for example, merchant seamen and sports figures who defected while out of the country). The government frequently withheld exit visas to control dissidents.

The government denied exit permission to human rights activists who held valid foreign travel documents. In April authorities refused permission to blogger Yoani Sanchez to travel to Spain to receive a prestigious prize for journalism. Noted dissidents Francisco Chaviano and Jorge Luis Perez Garcia (Antunez) were both refused permission to travel abroad for treatment of serious medical conditions that developed during their long prison terms.

The government used both internal and external exile. The law permits authorities to bar an individual from a certain area, or to restrict an individual to a certain area, for a period of one to 10 years. Under this provision, authorities may exile any person whose presence in a given location is considered "socially dangerous." The authorities routinely warned emigrating dissidents and their family members that speaking out against the government abroad could result in repercussions for relatives remaining in Cuba, such as loss of employment or denial of permission to leave the country.

Those seeking to emigrate legally alleged they also faced fines, reprisals, harassment, and intimidation by the government; involuntary job transfers; threatened arrest; and dismissal from employment.

Fees for medical exams, exit permissions, passport costs, and airport taxes are payable only in convertible pesos, and amounted to approximately 630 convertible pesos ($680.40) for an adult, or nearly three years' salary. These fees represented a significant hardship, particularly for migrants who had been fired from their jobs for being "politically unreliable" and had no income. At year's end some would-be migrants were unable to leave the country because of inability to pay exit fees. Authorities routinely dispossessed migrants and their families of their homes and most of their belongings before permitting them to leave the country. The government also demanded payment of hefty fines for past attempts to leave the country illegally.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of 300 to 1,000 pesos ($11 to $38) for unauthorized departures by boat or raft. The government also sometimes applied a law on trafficking in persons to would-be migrants. The law provides for imprisonment from two to five years for those who organize, promote, or incite illegal exit from national territory.

Under the terms of the 1994 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accord, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters, or from the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo, after attempting to emigrate illegally if they had not committed a separate criminal offense. However, in practice many would-be migrants experienced harassment and discrimination such as fines, expulsion from school, job loss, and detention in prison.

Castro's "Black Hole" Ate the Money

According to Mexico's La Jornada, foreign businesses operating in Cuba are reporting that there's an apparent "black hole" totaling hundreds of millions of dollars that remain unaccounted for by the Castro regime's foreign currency banks.

This has resulted in transactions with the Castro regime being temporarily halted, as a large pile of outstanding invoices have been mounting since January 2009. Foreign businesses are also expressing concern about their Cuban bank accounts being frozen and their inability to repatriate profits to their home country headquarters.

To address these concerns, Raul Castro has announced a set of "brilliant" new rules -- that no one has seen -- transferring the authority to approve foreign currency transactions beyond $10,000 from the Cuban Central Bank to the various public ministries.

But here's the kicker -- no one knows how to recoup the hundreds of millions in the "black hole" and Rauls' new system of payment approval only applies to contracts executed from July 2009 forth.

In other words, the "black hole" ate hundreds of million of dollars.

Coincidentally, this is the same "black hole" that U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and U.S. Senator Max Baucus of Montana want the U.S. government to finance.

The European Union's Shameless Hypocrisy

Monday, July 20, 2009
The European Union (EU) suspended 65.5 million euros ($93 million) in aid to Honduras today, as talks mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias broke down between the interim government and the ousted President, Manuel Zelaya.

"In view of the circumstances, I have taken the difficult decision to suspend all budgetary support payments," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement.

That is arguably justifiable, as the European Union does not want to support a de facto government that was not democratically elected.

Nonetheless, Spain's EFE news agency is simultaneously reporting that an EU official is headed to Cuba this week with 37 million euros ($55 million) in aid for the repressive Castro dictatorship.

And who is the EU official traveling to Cuba?

The obviously shameless EU External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Venezuelan Drug Trafficking Threatens U.S.

According to a recently released GAO report requested by U.S. Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, Venezuelan drug trafficking threatens U.S. gains in counternarcotics.

Venezuela's cooperation on counternarcotics has deteriorated according to a report released today by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report, requested by U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar in February 2008, is an effort by Lugar to ensure that funding for United States Government policies designed to interdict narcotics being trafficked through Venezuela in transit to the United States are being used effectively.

Lugar asked the GAO to determine (1) what is known about cocaine trafficking through Venezuela, (2) what is known about Venezuelan support for Colombian illegal armed groups, and (3) the status of U.S. Venezuelan counternarcotics cooperation since 2002.

In March 2009, the Department of State reported that Venezuela had become a major transit route for cocaine out of Colombia, with more than a fourfold increase in cocaine flow between 2004 and 2007, from about 60 metric tons in 2004 to 260 metric tons in 2007.

"The findings of this report have heightened my concern that Venezuela's failure to cooperate with the United States on drug interdiction is related to corruption in that country's government," Lugar (R-IN) said.

According to the report, hundreds of metric tons of cocaine flow annually from South America toward the United States, threatening the security and well being of U.S. citizens. The report found that Venezuela's National Guard provides an important "lifeline" to cross border Colombian drug traffickers, and that President Hugo Chavez has decreased counternarcotics cooperation. Since 2000, the United States has provided more than $8 billion to countries in the region to disrupt drug trafficking.

"I would hope that the Government of Venezuela understands that the findings of this report merit serious corrective action. I encourage expeditious action in this regard," Lugar said. "President Chavez has recently approved the reestablishment of our respective Ambassadors. I hope he sees this as an opportunity to further dialogue in areas of common interest, but also in matters of sharp differences. The fight against drugs must be won through full cooperation among producing, transit and consuming nations," Lugar said.

The report is the first comprehensive overview of U.S – Venezuela counternarcotics efforts since the break in U.S.–Venezuelan relations in 2002. The report demonstrates that the resulting decline in counternarcotics cooperation is a significant impediment to the U.S. capacity to interdict drugs en route to the United States.

The GAO report was a result of a thorough review of U.S. counternarcotics reports, assessments, and other documents regarding illicit drugs transiting Venezuela. GAO officials also traveled to Venezuela and Colombia to discuss these matters with U.S. and foreign government officials. In addition to substantive analysis, the report GAO consolidates significant data into charts and summaries of trafficking routes into Venezuela from Colombia and from Venezuela to the United States, Western Europe and Western Africa.

GAO findings of note:

- Venezuela's military and law enforcement officials that report directly to President Chavez, notably Venezuela's National Guard, provide support and weapons to illegally armed groups crossing the border, providing a "lifeline" to these groups who are involved in the drug trade.

- Venezuela is a major drug transit country. While the final destination of cocaine transiting Venezuela is primarily the United States, there has been an increase in cocaine flowing directly towards Europe and to West Africa from Colombia through Venezuela, according to U.S. and foreign government officials.

- The U.S. Department of State reported that corruption is rampant within the Venezuelan government and military and has fueled a permissive operating environment for drug traffickers. The 2008 Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated three top officials who report directly to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as "drug kingpins," clearly demonstrating that corruption has reached the highest level of the Venezuelan government.

- The United States and Venezuela cooperated closely on counternarcotics between 2002 and 2005, but this cooperation has declined rapidly since.

- Despite the desire of some entities within Venezuela to reestablish cooperation with U.S. law enforcement agencies, some of Venezuela's most senior government officials do not share that view.

Will the OAS Strike Out With Nicaragua?

Thus far, the Organization of American States ("OAS") is batting .000.

First, it ignored the specific terms of the Inter-American Democratic Charter ("Charter") in revoking the 1962 exclusion of the Castro regime from the regional body. Such an irresponsible, ideological act consequently opened the door for the Honduran military to illegally ouster President Manuel Zelaya -- an event that could have been avoided if the OAS had been diligent in questioning the usurpation of Honduras' Constitution and other illegal activities by Zelaya.

Now, the OAS pushes to defend the Charter, but has little credibility.

The futility of the OAS and its Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza has even resulted in a "back-bench" view of the current negotiations on the Honduran crisis, as the lead role has been trusted upon Costa Rican President Oscar Arias.

So here comes Nicaragua.

Trying to capitulate on the OAS's irrelevancy, Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega announced Sunday -- on the 30th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution -- that he would seek a referendum to change the Constitution to allow him to seek reelection.

Article 148 of Nicaragua's 1987 Constitution, as amended in 1995, allows the President to serve for one term of six years.

Calling for a referendum is a populist gimmick by Ortega.

A partial reform of the Nicaraguan Constitution, as would be needed to extend the term limit set by Article 148, can be initiated by either the President (pursuant to Article 191) or 1/3 of the National Assembly.

A referendum is not required. However, approval of such a partial constitutional reform would require 60 percent of the National Assembly.

Undoubtedly, this will be an uphill climb for Ortega. While the Sandinistas hold 38 seats in the National Assembly, the combination of both Liberal Democratic parties hold 45.

Therefore, the referendum ploy -- which can be easily manipulated (as the pre-fabricated results recently discovered in Honduras prove) -- as a means to subvert the National Assembly through fraud and populism.

Will the OAS, once again, be too late?

Strike 3 is quickly approaching.

Dr. Biscet's Birthday: In His Own Words

Sunday, July 19, 2009
"Today, on the eve of my 48th birthday, I write these lines from prison cell #1232. If this testimony from the box where I have been unjustly forced to live for almost 10 years now is of some interest to mankind, then publish it.

When I began advocating the philosophies of Gandhi and Thoreau, I remember those who commented that I would soon begin walking through the streets of Havana in a loincloth like Gandhi. Upon hearing these insults, I'd simply smile, as surely I would soon be subjected to this condition -- not in the streets of Havana, but in the indefinite confinement that I would face for such advocacy. Those that resorted to such insults, seeking to humiliate me, would not be mistaken after all, but it is through the humiliation of a man in loincloth that human dignity is reflected over barbarism.

When you ask me how I am doing, and I tell you that I am resisting, it is because the environment I find myself in is too brutal for any civilized man imprisoned for promoting ideas of love, the respect for human rights and the defense of life. Yet, I thank God as I awake every day, for in this dark and lonely cell, I know He is with me."

- Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Cuban pro-democracy leader and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience serving a 25-year sentence, in a letter to his wife and the world.

Where's Mariela When You Need Her?

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban dictator Raul Castro and head of Cuba's National Sexual Education Center (CENESEX), has been profiled throughout the world for her advocacy in favor of recognition for Cuba's highly-repressed gay and transgender population.

However, it seems that such advocacy only takes place when it involves a press conference with the international media, or a staged public relations event, as repression against Cuba's gay community maintains its brutal pace.

According to Mexico's Enewspaper, Cuban state security raided a HIV-AIDS prevention workshop last week and arrested 19 young homosexuals in attendance. The workshop's materials, which included condoms, educational pamphlets and HIV tests had been partly sponsored by the U.N. AIDS Global Fund.

The Reinaldo Arenas Foundation for Lesbians, Gays, Transgender and Bisexuals (LGTB), an opposition group considered "illegal" by the Cuban authorities, has filed a complaint with the Ministry of Public Health, condemning the arrest of the 19 participants and the deportation of 8 other young homosexuals to cities in the island's countryside.

The Arenas Foundation also demands that the Ministry of Public Health allows for the repetition of the disrupted HIV tests and calls for an end to the harassment, beatings and torture by the Cuban authorities of Havana's gay community.

Mariela must be on one of her frequent European vacations.

Is Cuba a Personalized Dictatorship?

In centralized, personalized dictatorships, getting rid of the dictator is usually enough to destroy the regime's foundations. Such has been the case in Francisco Franco's Spain, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar's Portugal and Rafael Trujillo's Dominican Republic.

Fidel Castro's Cuba definitely fits into the mold of a centralized, personalized dictatorship.

Therefore, will Fidel's death destroy the Cuban regime's foundations?

Here's an excerpt from Ken LaRive's "Castro Died a Long Time Ago" in the Examiner, which makes a passionate argument in favor of this thesis:

Those who will fill the vacuum that Castro left are a rag-tag group who have been waiting in the sidelines for their chance. They have had the same primary goal for decades: to keep the machine going no matter what the cost, and Cubans have paid dearly. Fidel’s aspiration to use the regime to restructure the world for his particular philosophical thought fell short long ago. Cuba has been in a vacuum for decades, where minions twiddle their cigar smelling thumbs, and grow fat by the oppression of their own kind.

The new functionaries can not claim the dreams of Fidel as their own, no matter how ambitious, or the political correctness they may use as smoke. No more similar is Josef Stalin to Leonid Brezhnev. Stalin was a visionary, though it is evident his ideology went against human nature, and as the thought disintegrated in a world where totalitarian rule was eaten by free world radio and television, Brezhnev became a functionary to survive. Under the Brezhnev umbrella the dreams of Stalin were served up cold, and so Brezhnev could do nothing more than serve up the regime in like kind. This Communist Cuba is a dying ember, and will go the same way. The walls that kept the masses from leaving will fall.

Sure, our President Reagan played a part of the last days of the Soviet Union. The old songs and slogans were played to lifeless crowds, where the ideals of Lenin and Stalin once reverberated goose bumps. In the end no one, not even Brezhnev, believed a word. The regime disintegrated from the inside out, as the true weakness unfolded one layer after another, like an onion. People can not be subjugated.

Likewise, the dreams of Fidel fell with the slow-sinking Soviet, as Fidel seemed never to give up hope that his original vision could still ignite, and his once strong words fell on deaf ears like a broken record.

To the very end Castro promoted the idea that it was the American embargo and the strangled relations of an imperialist American Economics that burned the life out of Cuba. He was very persuasive early on, but little to no one believes that today. Anyone could trade with Cuba, Latin America, Europe, Canada, whomever, and Cuba wasn’t even completely locked out of North America, as third parties collected their commissions. No, it was Fidel’s dreams that subdued Cuba, and his heavy hand that could not rationalize economics and free trade. Hitler and Saddam had their believers too, and the earth shook with their terrible dreams, but who will listen to Raul and his nuevo-league of bean-counters and functionaries? It has come to pass that men can no longer be held in check by instruments of power, not for long, as is the story of other Communist Regimes that have collapsed.

Even their own hot air could not keep them aloft.