Mapping the Fall of Communism

Saturday, August 29, 2009
The BBC has a great interactive "mapsite" that traces the fall of communism in Europe from 1989-1991.

Watch the red fade here.

Peace Without Freedom?

By Miguel Perez
 
When the Colombian pop singer known as Juanes announced that he would take his music to Havana's Plaza of the Revolution soon to perform in a "Peace Without Borders" concert, I had some soul-searching to do. Surely it happened to most of my fellow Cuban-Americans.

We had to weigh all the facts and decide which side we were going to fall on. There was no gray area, no middle ground. We were going to either applaud Juanes for trying to reach Cuba's isolated youth or condemn him for demonstrating amazing ignorance in dealing with Cuba's highly manipulative communist dictatorship.

I fall with the latter.

In the past, I have argued against mixing politics with sports or entertainment. When Cuban athletes and entertainers have managed to come to compete or perform here, I have been criticized by some Cuban-Americans for supporting and even attending some of those events. In my mind, I was not only admiring their talent and feeling that nationalistic pride that only your countrymen can give you but also hoping they would find a way to defect. And many of them did! I applauded baseball player Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and musician Paquito D'Rivera long before one became a New York Yankee and the other an icon of American jazz.

But this is quite different. I see no reason to clap for Juanes, who clearly lacks the cojones to say he is going to Cuba to perform in a concert for freedom instead of peace.

When Juanes and other artists performed in a similar concert in war-torn Colombia last year, calling for peace made a lot of sense, especially because his country was facing growing friction with neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela. But the only war in Cuba is the war of the government against its own people. Will Juanes ask for peace in that war? Will he call for respect for freedom of expression and other human rights that really would allow the Cuban people to live in peace?

Don't count on it!

While Juanes calls "Peace Without Borders" "a politically neutral organization," this concert is by no means independently produced. This spectacle, scheduled for Sept. 20, will be entirely staged by the Machiavellian Cuban government. It will be used as another propaganda tool to tell the world that it is OK to accept Cuba in its abhorrently repressive state. After all, Juanes has!

Those images of young Cuban people taking breaths of freedom at a concert for a couple of hours will be used to manipulate the news media and to fool the world, to make us forget that those same young people instantly would have cleared the Plaza of the Revolution if Juanes had announced the presence of enough boats on the Havana shore to take them all to Miami.

Does Juanes not see the hypocrisy in a peace concert for people who don't have freedom? For a musician who has written some smart lyrics, he is surprisingly dumb when it comes to politics.

Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in the plaza and still couldn't get the Cuban government to release the people from its satanic grip. Yet apparently, Juanes thinks that by singing a few songs, he can perform miracles.

The concert, featuring communist Cuban performers along with visiting artists, has ignited a heated debate among Cuban-Americans, especially in cyberspace. Bloggers and e-mail writers passionately have been expressing feelings that range from calls for reconciliation to death threats.

At one extreme, you have those who argue, quite hypocritically, that Juanes should not be "censored" by Cuban-Americans for performing in Cuba. Mind you, this is a country where everyone in censored and where a Cuban-American singer, such as Miami's Willy Chirino, never would be allowed to return to perform his songs about freedom.

At the other extreme, you have a few pinheads who not only overreacted but also used Twitter to post threats against the singer's life, giving the whole controversy much more attention than it deserves. You also have those Miami Cubans who held a demonstration at which they smashed and burned Juanes CDs, apparently forgetting that the dictatorship they abhor began with similar angry bonfires.

And yet there are those who rightfully question the double standards of Juanes and other politically left-leaning performers. They never would perform for a racist regime or right-wing dictatorship but are willing to overlook the atrocities of a leftist ideologue, even when that leftist has a history of sponsoring bloodshed abroad, including in Juanes' Colombia.

Would Juanes have performed in the right-wing Chile of Augusto Pinochet? Would he and his fellow concert headliners, Puerto Rico's Olga Tanon and Spain's Miguel Bose, have gone to South Africa to perform during apartheid? Do they know that the Nelson Mandelas of Cuba are still in prison? Didn't Juanes recently cancel a "Peace Without Borders" concert in Honduras because he didn't want to legitimize the temporary government there? Doesn't the 50-year-long dictatorship in Cuba exude enough illegitimacy? Does Juanes really want to help legitimize the same evil force that drives the FARC guerrillas in his homeland?

Let's face it; those are just too many hard questions for a young lad who wrote a few good songs and somehow thought it gave him the wisdom to delve into politics. Juanes has demonstrated that he is just one more extremely naive and gravely misinformed "useful fool" — the kind of person who allows himself to be used by leftist despots.

As long as it is done in pursuit of the useful fools' elusive "peace," you can count them in — forsaking even freedom!

© 2009 Creators Syndicate. 

Queen of the Congressional Hall of Shame

Friday, August 28, 2009
In this must-see clip, U.S. Representative Diane Watson of California gives her thoughts about the Cuban Revolution and the dictatorship of Fidel Castro.

Watson's blatant ignorance regarding Cuban history is almost expected, but her insensitivity about the totalitarian regime that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Cubans, and maintains the largest per capita political prisoner population in the world, is breathtaking.

As she declares that "Fidel Castro is one of the greatest leaders I have ever met," Afro-Cuban pro-democracy leaders -- 21st century Nelson Mandela's -- such Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and Dr. Darsi Ferrer, suffer torture and seclusion in Castro's political prisons.

EU Diplomats vs. Governor Bill Richardson

According to Reuters, the Castro regime summoned the ambassadors or charges d'affaires of five European Union countries -- Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Germany and Britain -- for allowing their diplomats to visit the home of a jailed dissident.

The diplomats from the European Union countries visited the home of recently imprisoned Afro-Cuban, pro-democracy activist, Dr. Darsi Ferrer, to express their concern about the case and what they view as government efforts to quell dissent.

Meanwhile,

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson called for measures to increase trade and travel between the U.S. and the Castro regime, which he said was needed to "build more confidence in each other before we tackle the bold, divisive issues" such as the embargo and Cuban human rights.

Human rights are bold and divisive?

Seriously?

They're h-u-m-a-n!

Castro Prioritizes Relations With Iran

Efforts by the Obama Administration to improve relations with the Castro regime, through family travel and remittances, bilateral talks and tempered opposition to the suspension of the 1962 OAS Resolution, have gone unanswered.

To the contrary, Raul Castro has re-emphasized that it will only accept unilateral concessions and has increased the repression of dissent.

Nonetheless, the Cuban regime has announced that deepening ties with the Iranian dictatorship is one of its foremost policy priorities.

This declaration was made during the departure ceremony of Cuba's current Ambassador to Iran, Fernando García Ricardo, according to the EFE.

Meanwhile, Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Manoucher Mottaki, emphasized his regime's desire to deepen ties with the governments of Latin America, in particular Cuba, with whom it already shares "specially beneficial ties."

A tyrannical brotherhood, of sorts.

Is Bill Richardson Selfish or Malicious?

During his week-long trip to Cuba, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson stated,

"My main goal is to increase economic ties with the government of Cuba, with the island."

Well, what about the human, civil and political rights of the Cuban people?

What about the world's largest per capita political prisoner population?

Doesn't it bother Governor Richardson that the Cuban regime holds a monopoly over all economic activity on the island, while the Cuban people are condemned to breadcrumbs, rations and remittances?

Obviously not, which is why he's limiting his trip to business gatherings with the regime. After all, it's his main goal, and why waste time with the Cuban people -- there's no money in it.

He then proceeds to discuss tourism travel to Cuba.

"There's a link between Hemingway and the United States and Cuba, and now there's a New Mexico link. I think enhancing cultural and artistic and educational ties is a prelude to diplomatic and commercial ties," Richardson told the AP.

In other words, his goal is for American travel -- whether to Hemingway's Finca Vigia or for that matter to Cuba's "historic" beaches -- to become a prelude to the normalization of diplomatic and business ties with the Castro regime.

Once again, no mention of human rights, democratic reform or the repressed Cuban people.

That's just selfish.

But there's more.

On Wednesday, "coinciding" with his trip, top Justice Department officials decided to drop indictments against Governor Richardson for questionable dealings with lucrative state contracts.

Apparently, local prosecutors or the FBI anonymously expressed frustration to the AP saying,

"It was killed in Washington."

Is it possible that Governor Richardson decided to host the controversial North Korean delegation in New Mexico last week, and spend this week in Cuba, in order to dissuade attention and controversy from the political decision -- at least in perception -- that he knew was coming regarding his investigation?

If so, dealing with brutal regimes as a guise, is not only selfish and insensitive to its victims, it's malicious.

EU Concerned About Ongoing Repression

Thursday, August 27, 2009
EU diplomats say Cuba dissident case "worrying"

HAVANA (Reuters) - Diplomats from European Union countries went to the home of a jailed Cuban dissident on Thursday to express their concern about the case and what they view as ongoing efforts by island authorities to quell dissent.

Representatives from Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Germany and Britain met with Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, the wife of Cuban physician Darsi Ferrer who has been imprisoned since July 21 on charges he bought two bags of cement on the black market and verbally assaulted a neighbor.

No trial date has been set for Ferrer, 39, who has organized walks along Havana's seaside boulevard, the Malecon, and in front of local UNESCO offices to support human rights.
 
Swedish diplomat Ingemar Cederberg, speaking on behalf of the EU group, said the case looked suspiciously like a political prosecution hidden behind trumped-up criminal charges and needed to be "clarified."

Fidel Declares Himself Right-Wing Racist

In his latest "Reflection," Cuban dictator Fidel Castro labeled critics of President Obama as racists:

"The extreme right [in the U.S.] hates [Obama] for being African-American and fights what the president does to improve the deteriorated image of that country. I do not harbor the slightest doubt that the racist right will do everything possible to wear him down."

Yet, the U.S. -- with an African-American population of only 13 percent -- elected President Obama with 52 percent of the vote.

In contrast, the Castro dictatorship in Cuba -- with an Afro-Cuban population of over 60 percent Afro-Cuban -- is unwilling to even autocratically select Afro-Cubans for positions of power on the island.

According to the Cuba Transition Project, Afro-Cubans compose only:

17% of the Senior Leadership (Politburo) of the Cuban Communist Party;

4% of the Executive Committee (Secretariat) of the Cuban Communist Party;

8% of the Council of Ministers (President and Cabinet Members); and

10% of the Senior Command, Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

Fidel is obviously staring in the mirror.

The Real Guantanamo Prison

Wednesday, August 26, 2009
As published in Real Clear World:
 
By Mauricio Claver-Carone

Let's talk about Guantanamo in the eastern tip of the island of Cuba.
 
There is a brutal prison in Guantanamo where physical and psychological torture are the norm and inmates spend years in solitary confinement, are routinely deprived of food, light and medical care, and no one is held accountable for inmate deaths.
 
Detainees are confined three to four to a cell measuring six by four feet. Extreme heat and humidity; mosquitoes, scorpions, flies, ants and lizards plague them. The single bucket of water delivered for drinking, bathing, and flushing the hole in the cell floor is often contaminated with feces and visible parasites. It is a prison secluded from the world, and neither the International Committee for the Red Cross nor other international human-rights monitors have been allowed to visit.
 
This describes Combinado de Guantanamo prison in the Castros' Cuba where some inmates resort to hunger strikes, self-mutilation, stab themselves, swallow wires, small spoons, ingest harmful fluids to protest conditions and force a transfer to a medical facility or prison closer to family.
 
Unfortunately, little attention is paid to this prison. The world's attention is riveted on the military prison in the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo, where for eight years the United States has held suspected terrorists.
 
Yet peaceful pro-democracy and human-rights activists who gather in parks, petition the government for change, print and distribute copies of the International Declaration of Human Rights, send independent accounts of what's happening in Cuba to foreign publications are prominent among Cuba's political prisoners. The catchall charge is "dangerousness." Others are imprisoned for "illegally" attempting to leave the island.
 
Amongst these prisoners in Combinado de Guantanamo are:
 
Ernesto Lucas Corral Cabrera, sentenced to four years.
Andry Frómeta Cuenca, sentenced to 27 years.
Ricardo Galván Casals, sentenced to three years.
Yordis García Fournier, serving an "indefinite" sentence.
Ardelay Guerra Blanco, six years.
Miguel Angel López Herrera, three years.
Julián Antonio Monés Borrero, three years.
Félix Navarro Rodríguez, 25 years.
Jorge Osorio Vázquez, five years.
Joel Pérez Osorio, five years.
Isael Poveda Silva, one year and four months.
Claro Sánchez Altarriba, 18 years.
José Angel Simón Rodríguez, five years.
 
One might think those advocating closing the military prison at the U.S. Naval Base and even turning over the entire facility to the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro, would first want to investigate the state of the criminal justice system in Cuba and the inhumane conditions at Cuba's Guantanamo Prison.
 
It would be tragic for the United States to hand the Cuban regime another prison to fill with dissidents. It would be inexcusable to hand the prison to Raul Castro, who as Minister of Defense had long commanded Cuba's Border Guards. For five decades under Raul's orders, those guards have been shooting at and killing Cubans trying to swim the bay or crawl through the minefield to reach the U.S. Naval Base and claim asylum.
 
President Barack Obama has eased restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba and sending money to relatives, gestures intended to help reconnect the Cuban people to the outside world. In return, Obama has asked the Cuban regime to show reciprocal goodwill. He is absolutely right to expect reciprocity.
 
As the Obama Administration closes the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, we must hope that the Castro regime's advocates here and in the international community will also reciprocate by turning their focus to the Castro brothers' political prisoners and conditions in Cuba's Combinado de Guantanamo and 300 other prisons.
 
Mauricio Claver-Carone is a Director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and Founding Editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington, D.C. He is an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and has served on the full-time faculty of The Catholic University of America's School of Law and adjunct faculty of The George Washington University's National Law Center

Bill Richardson's "Charm" Offensive

How does the Governor of New Mexico top hosting senior North Korean officials for a visit to the southwestern U.S. state?

By heading to Cuba, of course.

Governor Richardson, who is still under a federal grand jury investigation for questionable state contracts, is currently on a mission to Castro's Cuba to explore business opportunities with the regime's trade monopoly, Alimport.

Federal investigations, questionable state contracts, foreign monopolies and state-sponsors of terrorism are an unpalatable mix.

If only Governor Richardson had some charm.

Divisive and Resentful Ethnic Politics?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Question:  Is this New Jersey mayor being divisive, resentful and extremist?
 
According to Politico:

The mayor of the North Jersey town where Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi might stay next month during a diplomatic visit to nearby New York City blasted federal officials on Tuesday, from members of Congress all the way up to President Barack Obama, for not doing enough to stop the visit.

"The truth is that it seems like they're just going through the motions and it's a fait accompli," said Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes. "I'm disappointed that nobody's got moxie."

"If this is the change that our president has endorsed and is directing our country where we're reaching out to countries like Iran, Syria and Libya," he added, "I would have bargained for another one."

Wildes, a Democrat who supported Obama, said he continues to "have great confidence in his leadership. It's just that there's collateral damage that is unfathomable."

After all,

North Jersey also has a large Jewish population likely to be particularly sensitive to a Qadhafi visit, given Libya's history of tension with Israel.
 
Answer:  Absolutely not, those closest to the victims -- or potential victims -- of such tyrannical regimes should, rightfully, be the first and loudest to voice their concerns.  At the very least, as a proxy for those they threaten or repress.

Idaho Statesman Needs Fact Check

A recent editorial by Martin Peterson in the Idaho Statesman, which argues for the lifting of trade and travel sanctions against the Castro dictatorship in Cuba, makes the following the following observation:

"Being a dictatorship hasn't kept us from having diplomatic relations with Sudan, China, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Libya and Zimbabwe."

Interesting point, Mr. Peterson, but the flip-side is that there is not a "successful alternative," as travel and trade from the U.S. with those countries hasn't helped the pro-democracy movements there either. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite, it's made the human, civil and political rights of those country's citizens subservient to Western business interests.

But that's an arguable policy discussion.

Nonetheless, the next statement in the editorial is flatly deceiving and erroneous:

"Unlike many of the countries with which we maintain full diplomatic relations, Cuba has no tolerance for drugs or drug smuggling."

The truth is that the Castro regime has only been opposed to drugs and drug smuggling when they are not profiting from it.

"Federal prosecutors in Miami were prepared to indict Raul Castro as the head of a major cocaine smuggling conspiracy in 1993...current and former Justice Department officials tell ABC News," ABC's Brian Ross and Vic Walter reported on August 14, 2006.

"The officials say Castro, as Cuban Defense Minister, permitted Colombian drug lords to pay for the use of Cuban waters and airstrips as staging grounds for smuggling runs into the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s," the investigative journalists noted.

Furthermore, various senior level Cuban officials remain indicted in U.S. federal courts for narcotics trafficking.

Please get your facts straight.

Be Wary of Unilateral Gestures

An important pitfall of unilateral rapprochement with brutal dictatorships, whether in Iran, North Korea, Burma, or Cuba, was clearly illustrated this week in the case of Libya.

According to the Financial Times:

The return to Libya of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, is likely to provide another boost to Colonel Muammer Gaddafi as he prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary next month of the coup that brought him to power, analysts said on Friday.

"It is psychologically important," said Diederik Vandewalle, a Libya specialist and professor at Dartmouth College in the US. "The Libyan regime has been trying to point out to its own citizens that it is rehabilitated and credible. The release proves Gaddafi's point. Even if it is not terribly important in itself, it adds to the legitimacy of the regime."

It is for this reason that the Castro regime in Cuba is so eager to have "talks," without any type of democratic reform, with the U.S. Any unilateral steps taken by the U.S. to normalize relations with the Castro regime is sinisterly used to portray normalcy and legitimacy, and to further neutralize and demoralize the internal opposition.

Dictators rule through fear and force, not through popular will. Therefore, they are always trying to disguise their illegitimacy. It is not a coincidence that the North Koreans imprisoned two U.S. journalists and held them for a photo-op with former U.S. President Bill Clinton. In other words, to portray legitimacy.

Be wary of unilateral gestures to dictators. It's usually a losing proposition, particularly for their repressed populations.

What Repression? It's a Mojito Party!

Advocates of normalizing trade and travel with the Castro dictatorship argue that substituting the current licensed categories of travel to Cuba, i.e., family, religious, educational and humanitarian, with unfettered tourist travel would have a trickle-down effect that would eventually free the Cuban people (through gratuities and breadcrumbs).

Apparently, they believe that by American tourists experiencing first-hand (from isolated beachside resorts) the misery and repression of the Cuban people, that it will somehow make the victims feel better. Just think of the joy that European and Canadian tourists have brought to the island (or humiliation, sex-tourism and apartheid).

One can almost feel the compassion that this potential American tourist, the Examiner's Gisele Perez, in her latest article, "A Mojito Party":

"Sigh - we may not be able to visit the balmy little island of Cuba - yet, but we can sure celebrate the great food and music it's given us with a Mojito party!"

Cuba's political prisoners must be anxiously awaiting for Spring Break.

Sarcasm emphasized throughout.

The Generation Card is "Getting Old"

Monday, August 24, 2009
When all else fails, play the generation card.

It's an all too familiar tactic.

When efforts to unconditionally lift sanctions towards the Castro regime fail, conduct an opinion poll claiming there's a generational gap amongst Cuban-Americans.

When polls fail to translate into election results, defame the first wave of exiles in the hope that perception becomes reality.

So, as expected, when the debate over Juanes' concert in Havana's Revolutionary Square intensified, the insults came rolling.

Everyone from Cuban singer (and Castro regime parliamentarian) Silvio Rodriguez, to Spanish singers Ana Belen and Victor Manuel, to Castro's Minister of Culture Abel Prieto, to Juanes himself, have begun insulting "older exiles," whom they call "intransigent," "resentful" and "worms."

However, as usual, this campaign distorts reality.

The most vocal critics of Juanes' concert happen to be young Cuban musicians, such as Amaury Gutierrez and punk rocker Gorki Aguila, who know all too well how the regime censors and represses Cuban musicians and manipulates these events for their domestic and international propaganda.

It's the exclusion of these young Cuban musicians from being allowed to perform in the concert, or on the island generally, that's at the core of this vocal opposition. In other words, whether Juanes likes it or not, his concert has already been censored by the regime.

Opposition has also come from artists that have arrived in the most recent generation of exiles, such as Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D'Rivera, and Zoe Valdes.

Ironically, those who argue that sanctions provide the regime a tool of propaganda (or an "excuse") for its dictatorship, don't seem to mind handing over this censored concert's propaganda on a platter.

But even if it were true that opposition was centered around older, first-wave exiles -- why the hatred and disregard for their historic pain, sacrifice and experience of that generation?

Do we insult and discard older Jews for their Holocaust experience?

There's a Spanish saying, "the Devil knows more due to age, than due to being the devil."

Let's learn to respect our elders.

Ok, Fidel and Raul can be the exception.

Yoani, Che Shirts & Real Counter-Culture

Sunday, August 23, 2009
"I am part of [Cuba's] counterculture, and the counterculture is growing, but it is very diverse. Maybe one thing we all have in common is that we don't wear Che T-shirts, like foreign kids who consider themselves counterculture do. In Cuba, Che represents the government. In Cuba, only tourists and members of the Young Communist League wear Che shirts.''

She explains her generation: "We came up after the disbanding of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. We could never believe that the system would create a utopian Cuba, because the experiment had already more than failed. As a philologist, I don't call myself a dissident, because a dissident has to believe in something before one day opposing it. I never believed in the doctrine.''

- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban pro-democracy activist and founder of the Generation Y blog, "Cuban Blogger the Voice of Youth-Oriented Counterculture," The Miami Herald, August 23rd, 2009.

Bourgeois Boxers and Beautiful Prostitutes

The International Olympic Committee announced this week that it will debut female boxing during its 2012 Summer Games in London.

The announcement was oddly met with indignation by the Cuban regime.

"Cuban women are meant to show their beauty, not to get hit in the face," said Jose Barrientos, the head of Cuba's Olympic boxing team.

Ironically, this is the same Cuban regime that has historically derided vanity and appearance, and has denounced beauty pageants as "bourgeois" events.

Fidel Castro has forbidden the Miss Cuba pageant since 1959 and has not permitted Cuba to participate at a Miss Universe competition since then.

Perhaps the Castro regime is now afraid to taint the physical beauty of Cuban women -- even in perception -- as it has invested so much in the island's grotesque sex tourism industry that the middle-aged European and Canadian tourists it caters to might get the wrong impression.

Or, it's just trying to avoid additional defections.