Quote of the Week

Saturday, September 19, 2009
"It's time to call things by name. The bad in our country has a name: It's called Fidel Castro. It's called Raul Castro."

- Gorki Aguila, outspoken lead singer of the popular Cuban punk rock band Porno Para Ricardo, Associated Press, September 19, 2009

Only Courage Will "Inspire" Cubans

Throughout the debate over whether or not Juanes should hold his "Peace Without Borders" concert in Havana's Revolutionary Square, we've repeatedly heard the justification that this event can serve to "inspire" Cuba's youth.

Fair point.

However, just one day before the concert, there's a whole different buzz coming from the island.

Here are some excerpts from the report, "Cubans on island wary of politics behind Juanes concert," in The Miami Herald:

Most Cubans interviewed, some speaking in hushed tones and looking over their shoulders, had little good to say about the planned event.

"I am not going to that concert because I do not like to be used,'' said Martin, a Havana man in his 40s who lives with his aging parents. ``In this country, they can buy people with a drink and a song. That's not a concert; it's a political event. They couldn't have held it in a stadium? Why there? Why such a place with so much meaning here?''

Added Martha, a small business owner: "Why did they have to invite Silvio Rodríguez? There are plenty of less political artists they could have invited.'' Rodríguez and Los Van Van, also scheduled to perform, are longtime supporters of the Castro regime.

"So what do they do? They hold a big concert that's going to be a political event. There will be rows and rows of neatly arranged chairs with the military people up front, the young communist people behind them, and people from the party behind them. Behind all of them, way in the back, in the street, will be the Cuban people. They will eventually go home because they can hear Juanes from three blocks away. I might as well watch it on TV,'' said Alex, a 29-year-old bicycle taxi driver from the eastern provinces.


Frankly, it's a bit presumptuous to suggest what does or doesn't inspire people.

However, it's fair to say that submission in not high on the list.

Courage -- on the other hand -- is almost always inspiring.

Unfortunately, it doesn't take much courage for a foreign rock star to play a concert in a country ruled by a repressive, totalitarian regime, and abide by their control and conditions.

It does take courage to call the regime for what it is. That's what Cuba's pro-democracy leaders do on a daily basis -- dare we say truly inspiring.

We'll see what Juanes decides tomorrow.

No U.N. Meetings on Cuba

Friday, September 18, 2009
Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on the current and upcoming U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York:

Q. Could I just do a quick follow-up -- I'm sorry -- could you tell us any other meetings going on that have to do with Cuba, Iran, or Syria?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Not aware of meetings related to Cuba. With respect to Iran, this is a topic that I think will come up in a number of different meetings. We've talked about taking stock of where we are with Iran with our partners during this period of time. That will happen not only in a format of P5-plus-1 -- the Permanent 5 members of the Security Council: Russia, China, France, the U.K., and the U.S.; plus Germany. There will also be discussions at the G8 level.

Freedom Without Borders

For there to be peace, you first need freedom.

A Tragic Plea to Juanes

Letter to Juanes From the Family Members of Cuban Political Prisoners

Those of us writing this letter are family members of Cuban political prisoners that are enduring the pain of having our loved ones in prison for their ideas. The Cuban reality is very difficult to understand by those that have never suffered first-hand the deprivation of their freedom and basic human rights.
 
We ask that, using the platform that is being prepared for you and your colleagues in Revolutionary Square on September 20th, you call on the Cuban government to immediately and unconditionally release all of its political prisoners.

Yours truly,

* Alejandrina García de la Riva, wife of Diosdado González Marrero, sentenced to 20 years.
* Magaly Broche de la Cruz, wife of Librado Linares García, 20 years.
* Elsa González Padrón, wife of Víctor Rolando Arroyo, 26 years.
* Elsa Morejón Hernández, wife of Oscar Elías Biscet González, 25 years.
* Aniley Puentes Varela, wife of Fidel Suárez Cruz, 20 years.
* Clara Lourdes Prieto Llorente, sister of Fabio Prieto Llorente, 20 years.
* Ana Margarita Perdigón Brito, sister of Raimundo Perdigón Brito, 4 years.
* Asunción Carrillo Hernández, mother of Iván Hernández Carrillo, 25 years.
* Julia Hernández Alemán, grandmother of Iván Hernández Carrillo, 25 years.
* María Esther Blanco Aguirre, wife of Próspero Gaínza Agüero, 25 years.
* Blanca González, mother of Normando Hernández González, 25 years.
* Reina Luisa Tamayo Danger, mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, 25 years.
* Milka María Peña Martínez, wife of Luis Enrique Ferrer García, 28 years.
* Melba Santana Ariz, wife of Alfredo Domínguez Batista, 14 years.
* Matilde Duportal, wife of Julián Antonio Monés Borrero, 3 years.
* Raúl De la Cruz Barthelemy, brother of Rodolfo Barthelemy Cobas, 15 years.
* Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, wife of Darsy Ferrer Ramírez, no trial.
* Gregoria Corrales Borges, mother of Luis Campos Corrales, 26 years.
* Margarito Broche Espinosa, released under temporary extra-penal license.
* Lourdes Esquivel Vieyto, wife of José Díaz Silva and mother of Ernesto Díaz Esquivel, both political prisoners, no trial.
* Suyoani Tapia Mayola, wife of Horacio Julio Piña Borrego, 20 years.
* Evangelina Mederos Arozarena, sister of Ernesto Mederos Arozarena, no trial.
* Idalmis Desdín Salgueiro, mother of Juan Luis Rodríguez Desdín, no trial.
* Odalis Martínez Pérez, wife of Ángel Luis Santiesteban Rodés, 6 months.
* Julia Antonia Ayala, mother of Aurelio Antonio Morales Ayala, 2 years and 9 months.
* Sabiel Ávila Caro, nephew of Luis Caro Chávez, 15 years.
* Aniurka Campos Díaz, cousin of Joel Cano Díaz, 20 years.
* Teresa Cuenca, mother of Andry Frómeta Cuenca, 27 years.
* Gladys Farah Estrada- Lázaro Alejandro García Farah, 25 years.
* Sabina Martín Gómez, sister of Carlos Martín Gómez, 14 years and 6 months.
* Ariel Ramos Acosta, son of Ignacio Ramos Valdés, 12 years.
* Mamiuska Rodríguez Serrano, wife of Orestes Paino Viera, no trial.
* Raúl Borges Álvarez, father of Ernesto Borges Pérez, 30 years.
* Rita María Montes de Oca Chirino, sister of Vladimir Alejo Miranda, no trial.
* Rebeca Rodríguez Souto, sister of Alfredo Pulido López, 14 years.
* Haydé Galbán Casals, mother of Ricardo Galbán Casals, 3 years.
* Ana Belkis Ferrer García, sister of José Daniel and Luis Enrique Ferrer García.
* Amelia García Vega, mother of José Daniel and Luis Enrique Ferrer García.
* Belkis Cantillo Ramírez, wife of José Daniel Ferrer García, 25 years.
* Catalina Cano Vergara, aunt of Marcelo Cano Rodríguez, 18 years.
* Bárbara Yurubí Dueñas, wife of Marcelo Cano Rodríguez, 18 years.
* Moralinda Paneque Martínez, mother of José Luis García Paneque, 24 years.
* Margarita Deulofeu Almirola, wife of Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, 20 years.
*  Mariluz Almenares Almarales, mother of Leonel Grave de Peralta, 20 years.
* Nilza Rivas Hernández, wife of Benito Ortega Suárez, 11 years.
* Esther Benita Martín Prieto, mother of Armando de Jesús Medel Martín, 20 years.
* Quirenia Guerra Lugo, wife of Nelson Molinet Espino, 20 years.
* Tania Montoya Vázquez, wife of Raumel Vinajera Estibe, 5 years.
* Noris Morales Alonso, mother of Egberto Escobedo Morales, 20 years.
* Sahilí Navarro Álvarez, daughter of Félix Navarro Rodríguez, 25 years. 

The Juanes Repression Wave Begins

Thursday, September 17, 2009
Here we go.

Independent journalists in Cuba are reporting that state security agents are visiting anyone who has been previously arrested for political reasons or who is a known opponent of the Castro regime.

They are being threatened and told they will not be allowed to attend the Juanes concert on September 20th.

According to Cubanet, human rights and democracy advocates are being forced to sign an "acta de advertencia" ("warning act") that they will not even try to attend the concert.

Those who violate this "warning act" will be processed as a "danger to the society" and could receive up to 4 years in prison.

It has also been reported that several dissidents, who are considered "problematic," will be detained prior to the concert.

Now here's the question.

Will all the passionate advocates of Juanes' concert -- not to mention Juanes himself -- condemn these repressive acts?

Or, will they silently acquiesce to the Castro regime's control?

If they choose the latter, the only message that the Juanes concert will send to young Cubans is that it's best to be a submissive, obedient, member of the Young Communist Union -- despite your beliefs -- in order to get the best seats in Revolutionary Square.

Do Embargo Foes Think Obama is a Liar?

With good-humor, it was fun being the "back-end" of Al Kamen's Washington Post column yesterday.

However, the column (below) leads to an interesting question:

Do Congressmen Bill Delahunt, Bobby Rush, Barbara Lee, et al, think President Obama is a liar?

They lobby the President -- ad nausea -- to unilaterally take steps to lift the embargo; yet, Obama has repetitively stated that he will not do so until the Castro regime undertakes democratic reforms and respects the Cuban people's fundamental human rights.

So, why don't they take him for his word?

BUT NO CIGAR
by Al Kamen

The House vote yesterday to rebuke Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) for shouting "You lie!" at President Obama during his speech last week was one of many signs of support for the president.

For example, Obama came under attack Tuesday from liberals and opponents of the trade embargo on Cuba for signing a one-year extension of the law used to impose the embargo. But anti-Castro folks and embargo supporters, including Mauricio Claver-Carone, head of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee here, defended Obama.

"People think he's a liar," Claver-Carone said, according to the Miami Herald, "but he's doing exactly what he has said -- changing [restrictions on] travel and remittances but not the embargo."

Okay, maybe not the strongest endorsement.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

The Truth Finally Comes Out

Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Surprise!

The travel cartel that so aggressively fought the 2004 regulations on Cuban-American travel, claiming that these violated the integrity of the family, had an ulterior motive all along:

Making profits and setting a framework for the lifting of tourism travel, where the big money lies.

According to The New York Times:

Eddy Levy, 75, co-owner of Xael Travel, said the entire travel industry, including charter companies like his own, were laying the groundwork for what they hoped would be a more significant opening [than just Cuban-American travel].

Let's not forget, travel to the island -- Cuban-American or otherwise -- is entirely run by a cartel of seven U.S. based charter operations that work in collusion with the Castro regime, and divide a large profit margin.

For these folks, conditions for human rights and democratic reform by the Castro regime are ancillary.

It's all about the profits.

Reciprocity Can't Be Stressed Enough

Within minutes of President Obama's final regulations on family travel being released by the Treasury Department, advocates for unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime began lobbying for increased academic, cultural and, of course, tourist travel by Americans towards Cuba.

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

And just how did the Castro regime react to the "goodwill" gesture of President Obama to allow unlimited family travel?

According to the Miami Herald:

The Cuban government has denied exit permits to about 30 Cuban college students who had been offered U.S. government-funded scholarships for academic programs at American academic institutions.

Not only did the students lose the chance to attend classes for free in the United States, but some were accused of ideologically losing their way and were expelled from their colleges in Cuba. Those who were members of the Communist Youth Union were booted out, several students said.

"I've been told that I have been expelled from the university and that I have a hearing pending with the Communist Youth, where I am to receive a temporary sanction due to the fact that, in self-criticism, I acknowledged having applied for the scholarship,'' wrote a student selected for a leadership program in the United States.

The student, who asked to remain anonymous, said there is deep frustration among the selected students.

"Our state of mind couldn't be worse. We feel unprotected. Nobody will defend us nor challenge the Cuban government to claim our right to exercise the option any university student in the world has.''

That is simply unacceptable.

For decades, the Castro regime refused to allow Cuban-Americans to visit family in Cuba. Now, due to financial necessity, they are allowing family visits. The moment non-Cuban-American tourists can simply head to the island's beaches, turning a blind eye to the people's suffering, the regime will surely shut the door to family visits again.

The Obama Administration has taken the first step.

Now, it's time to focus on reciprocity for the Cuban people.

Indicted Billionaire Lobbies for "Cultural" Ties

Add indicted financier R. Allen Stanford to the list of advocates for greater cultural ties with Castro's Cuba.

Naturally, this must be another "thoughtful" effort that will somehow, somewhere, eventually have a trickle-down benefit for the repressed Cuban people.

Or, wishful thinking.

Or, insensitivity.

According to the AP:

Financier R. Allen Stanford, who is awaiting trial on charges he orchestrated a massive Ponzi scheme, spent a half-million dollars in a lobbying effort to gain U.S. approval for Cuba to participate in his international cricket tournament.

According to Stanford's lobbyists, the Treasury Department turned him down. Treasury refused to confirm that, saying it does not comment on specific cases.

Interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press show that Stanford, a huge cricket aficionado, lobbied the Treasury and State Departments to approve his plan to include Cuba in last year's Stanford Twenty-20 Caribbean Cricket Tournament held in Antigua.

Stanford, a Texas native who lived in the Caribbean for many years, pleaded not guilty in June to charges of swindling investors out of $7 billion as part of an investment scam.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 13

Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Excerpt from "White House Renews Trade Ban on Cuba" in today's Miami Herald:

President Barack Obama extends the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba for another year in a symbolic step used by past presidents.

Supporters of sanctions against Cuba argued, however, that the extension confirmed that Obama is sticking by his promises to retain the trade embargo, while removing restrictions on Cuban Americans who want to travel to the island or send remittances to relatives there.

"People think he's a liar, but he's doing exactly what he has said -- changing travel and remittances but not the embargo,'' said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee in Washington.

The extension is "symbolic of the fact that the president supports the current policies,'' Claver-Carone added in a interview.

For the Love of a Son

What are the chances that the Castro regime could set aside political differences and allow a son to say a final farewell to his deceased father?

Obviously, none.

As we'd previously posted, General Juan Almeida, Cuban "Vice-President" and an original "Comandante" of the Revolution along with Fidel and Raul Castro, died over the weekend at the age of 82.

Almeida was a member of the Council of State, Council of Ministers and Politburo of the Communist Party.

Ironically, during Almeida's last few months of life he was confronted with the political defiance of his son, Juan Almeida García, who was detained by the Cuban authorities this past August 20th for staging a public protest in Havana's Revolutionary Square.

Almeida Garcia had been previously arrested on May 6th for attempting to "illegally" leave the country. He was released a few days later, but under the condition that he "reports-in" to Cuban State Security headquarters on a daily basis.

On Sunday, Almeida Garcia was prohibited from attending the memorial service held for his father. He'd always made it clear that while he disagreed with his father, he loved and respected him.

While that comes as no surprise to the millions of Cuban families separated by the stubbornness and cruelty of the Castro regime, hopefully it will dawn upon the rest of the world.

For the Castro regime, there's only one love:

Absolute Power.

Young Internet Activists Imprisoned

Yosvany Anzardo Hernández, promoter of the Campaign for Free Access to the Internet in Cuba and creator of 'Red Libertad' an independent e-mail service in Cuba, has been arrested by the Castro regime's State Security Police in Holguin, a city located in the Eastern part of the island.

According to the information provided by Lourdes Yen, Yosvani's wife, a group of "twelve agents, among them two women arrived in our home at 6:00 a.m. on September 10th. They arrived in a military jeep along with four State Security police cars and two local police vehicles," said Mrs. Yen.

"Six agents handcuffed Yosvany and they dragged him right after they forcibly took the computer server and broke it."

Meanwhile, the founders of the Youth Movement for a Free Cuba (YMFC), Nestro Rodriguez Lobaina, and is brother, Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, were arrested yesterday afternoon in the capital city of Havana.

The YMFC had been preparing a Young Cubans Forum on Democracy and the Economy to be celebrated on October 10th, which they had publicly announced over the weekend, and urged young Cubans throughout the island to freely participate in.

Where's the outrage?

Straight Talk on the Embargo

Monday, September 14, 2009
Excerpt from "Cuba: Straight Talk on the US Embargo" by Jerry Haar in the Latin Business Chronicle:

The most ludicrous, naïve and empirically unproven claim in the [embargo] debate, inarguably, is the assertion by anti-embargo proponents that removing trade sanctions will instigate political change in Cuba.

If past embargoes by the United States on Iraq, Haiti and South Africa did not bring about democracy in those countries, neither did lifting them - there were other, stronger and more influential forces at work. Access to iPods, Levis, Motorola cellphones, Nikes, and Dell laptops will not catalyze young Cubans to take to the streets and trigger a velvet revolution. (If that were the case, Samsung MP3 players, Diesel jeans, Blackberry cellphones, Adidas running shoes, and Toshiba laptops would have sparked a democratic revolution, since countries that manufacturer these products have been trading with communist Cuba for half a century.)

On the contrary, loathsome though they may find their regime, Cubans will acquiesce to their government's policies - resentment diffused via an influx of consumer goodies. This page, right out of the PRC playbook, worked before in communist Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito and allows authoritarian regimes of the right (Chile under Pinochet), as well, to redirect political resentment towards material contentment.

Even if the embargo were lifted, what could Cubans who earn on average $10 a month (the price of one Montecristo #4 cigar) afford to buy? Given this economic reality, removing the embargo would have symbolic value but produce little else.

Not even mentioned in the debate over lifting the embargo is the control of the supply chain and distribution. Were the embargo lifted tomorrow, U.S. manufacturers and wholesalers would not be able to ship directly to distributors and retail stores owned and operated by private citizens.

Uncle Pepe in Hialeah, Florida, shipping diesel compressors to his nephew Julio in Holguín, Oriente Province? Forget about it.

The entire distribution chain is in the hands of the Cuban military and intelligence services, who also control 90 percent of the nation's exports and 60 percent of its tourism. Almacenes Universal, Cimex, Gaviota and the Union of Military Industry control hotels, foreign trade operations, equipment sales and factories. In other words, lifting the embargo would actually postpone Cuba's transition to democracy, as the military and security apparatus in their role as commercial "middlemen" would become more entrenched, wealthier and more tenacious in their support of the Castro brothers and the power brokers in the Cuban Communist Party.

Jerry Haar is an associate dean and professor in the College of Business Administration at Florida International University.

© Copyright Latin Business Chronicle

Obama Renews "TWEA" Cuba Sanctions

THE WHITE HOUSE

Presidential Determination
No. 2009-27

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE AND THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY

SUBJECT:
Continuation of the Exercise of Certain Authorities Under the Trading With the Enemy Act ("TWEA")

Under section 101(b) of Public Law 95-223(91 Stat. 1625; 50 U.S.C. App. 5(b) note), and a previous determination on September 12, 2008 (73 FR 54055, September 17, 2008), the exercise of certain authorities under the Trading With the Enemy Act is scheduled to terminate on September 14, 2009.

I hereby determine that the continuation for 1 year of the exercise of those authorities with respect to Cuba is in the national interest of the United States.

Therefore, consistent with the authority vested in me by section 101(b) of Public Law 95-223, I continue for 1 year, until September 14, 2010, the exercise of those authorities with respect to Cuba as implemented by the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 515.

The Secretary of the Treasury is authorized and directed to publish this determination in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA

How Engaging Tyrants Damages Dissent

Wei Jingsheng is one of China's most prominent dissidents. He has spent most of his adult life in prison.

Wei was first sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment in the infamous Chinese laogai (labor camps) in 1979 for arguing in his essay "The Fifth Modernization: Democracy" that -- in addition to Deng Xiaoping's heralded reforms -- China needed democracy.

Enduring solitary confinement and unspeakable conditions, Wei was released in 1993 during China's bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games. Within eighteen months, he was sentenced to another fourteen years.

Upon his release, he offered this important anecdote to the Speak Truth to Power Forum of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial:

The second time I was in jail, before I was officially given a fourteen-year sentence, some of my jailers said, "What's the point of you fighting like this? Your so-called friends in the United States are very good friends with our leader. They are in a pact together. You are wasting your time." At the time I refused to believe them. But, now that I am outside, I am forced to believe because I have seen it with my own eyes.

Let's not make that same mistake with Castro's Cuba.

Cubans, Burmese... And Now Iranians

It's not just the Cuban diaspora that is wary of unconditional talks with its homeland's dictatorship, but also the Burmese diaspora -- as was seen pursuant to U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia's visit with that country's military junta last month -- and now the Iranians.

According to Politico:

Some Iranian pro-democracy activists in the diaspora expressed their concern in the wake of the U.S. announcement that international talks could further embolden the Tehran regime to escalate its continuing crackdown on opposition leaders and protesters. Among the concerns they cited, rumored plans by the Iranian authorities to arrest opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, which numerous Iranians said had been ordered.

Coincidence?

No, it's a shared experience, as victims of tyranny.

Raul's Biggest Political Reform to Date!

Sunday, September 13, 2009
No need to despair!

The highly-anticipated reforms of Raul Castro are finally coming to fruition.

According to the AP, Castro has authorized Cuba's Casa de las Americas, the official cultural institute, to present a novel about the life and death of Leon Trotsky.

That's right, Leon Trotsky!

The novel, "The Man Who Loved Dogs," by Leonardo Padura, about the life of Trotsky, including a segment about his murderer, Raul Mercader, who died in Cuba in the 1970's, was presented this week.

For a Stalinist regime, this is huge!

As you probably know, Trotsky was a Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist. He was one of the leaders of the Russian October Revolution, second only to Lenin. After leading a failed struggle against the policies and rise of Joseph Stalin in the 1920s, Trotsky was deported from the Soviet Union.

At this rate, Raul will soon allow a presentation on the Mensheviks!

How's that for progress?

A Taste of "Free Will"

Something transformational happened on September 8th.

It was 8 p.m. in the city of Santiago de Cuba, in the easternmost tip of the island, and thousands of people took to the streets for a procession honoring Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of Cuba, on her feast day.

Under the menacing stare of Castro's state security, the streets were crowded with expressions of faith and hope. There are individual accounts of people screaming "Long Live the Virgin of Charity" and "Freedom."

For decades, September 8th processions had been severely restricted by the Castro regime, at times even with violence.

However, while the regime resists change, the desire of a people cannot be repressed forever.

This ceremony was replicated throughout the island. Cuba-based blogger Claudia Cadelo has an English account of the Havana procession here.

But here's the transformational part:

The people joined the procession based on their own volition, not because they were mobilized and required to attend by their neighborhood vigilante committee.

It was a taste of "free will."

One that can hopefully soon become permanent.