In Solidarity With Yoani and Reinaldo

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Yoani's Husband Attacked

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez's husband, Reinaldo Escobar -- an independent journalist and blogger in his own right -- was attacked by Castro regime thugs yesterday.

Pursuant to the November 6th assault and abduction of his wife, Yoani, Escobar had challenged -- in a blog post -- her attackers to a "verbal dual" on a Havana street corner.

Apparently, the Castro regime reads Reinaldo's blog (despite censuring it from the remaining Cuban population), for a prearranged group of thugs were waiting for him at the indicated street corner, screaming obscenities, then physically assaulting him.

Take note of the picture below.

Reinaldo (in the purple shirt) is being aided by two colleagues. The white band on his friend's wrist is a CAMBIO band, which means CHANGE.

And that's exactly what the ancient Castro regime is afraid of.

Quote of the Week

Pardon the self-indulgence.

"For some of these folks, it's OK for unions to support pro-labor members. It's OK for trial lawyers to help elect pro-litigators. It's OK for the Jewish community to help elect pro-Israel members. But somehow it's not OK for the Cuban community to help elect members and candidates that help and support conditioning business and tourism with the Castro regime with human rights and democratic reforms."

- Mauricio Claver-Carone, a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, responding to a report by the interest group Public Campaign targeting Cuban-American political activism, Associated Press, November 16th, 2009.

Quote of the Hearing

"In the same manner that the Iran Libya Sanctions Act was enacted in 1996 to target Iran's economic vulnerability, its energy sector, and in the same manner that this Committee, just three weeks ago, adopted the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act to impose sanctions targeted at Iran's newest economic Achilles' heel, so it is that U.S. travel regulations are targeted at the tourism sector."

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, opening statement at House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S.-Cuba policy, November 19th, 2009.

"The Center of Our Cuban Policy"

Friday, November 20, 2009
From yesterday's daily press briefing with U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly:

QUESTION: Yeah. Human Rights Watch had a report out yesterday, said basically that the Cuban Government's human rights record has not gotten any better under Raul Castro, and in fact, in some aspects, is worse in that they're doing some preemptive arrests of people they think might violate whatever order is there. I'm just wondering, has this given the Administration any cause to rethink some of the contacts that it's been having with the Cuban Government?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think first of all, we share many of the concerns put forth in this report, particularly regarding the incarceration of political prisoners as well as actions that have violated the human rights of Cuban citizens and have basically limited the exercise of what we call or we would consider fundamental freedoms.

We – human rights is at the center of our Cuban policy. We are interested in promoting human rights for all Cubans. We have begun an engagement with Cuba of – in areas of national interest and mutual concern. We've also launched some initiatives creating opportunities for Cuban civil society to more easily receive information and interact with their family and also with Cubans who live in the United States. This is the increasing the mail service and increasing telephone service.

So this is a real priority for the United States, and it will continue to be so.

QUESTION: One other – Human Rights Watch recommended that, again, the United States sort of abandon a general embargo against Cuba and get together with other interested countries and just basically issue an ultimatum on Cuba to release all political prisoners by a date certain or face sort of targeted sanctions. Is that an idea that has any appeal to the Administration?

MR. KELLY: Yeah, I haven't seen the exact recommendations of the Human Rights Watch. I think you've heard me say before that we've made some gestures to Cuba, and we are waiting to see Cuba make some – take some concrete steps to show that they are also serious in opening up their society and opening up exchanges and interactions with the U.S. And I think that we need to see some more concrete steps before we take any actions like that.

Speaker Pelosi Sets Priorities

According to the AFP:

Pelosi douses hopes for quick end to Cuba travel ban

WASHINGTON — US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that congressional efforts to end the US ban on travel to Cuba would take a back seat to overhauling US health care and fostering job creation.

"I've always been a supporter of lifting the travel ban to Cuba. Right now we're consumed with job creation, health investments and health care, and I don't know when that would be coming to the floor," she told reporters.

Pelosi's comments came as a key House of Representatives committee held a hearing aimed at building support for legislation to scrap the restrictions.

While we disagree with the Speaker's position on this issue, we commend her for the priorities she has set.

At a time of such great economic challenges facing our nation
, unilaterally lifting the ban on tourist travel to Cuba -- whereby U.S. consumers can vacation in Cuba, but not vice-versa -- would cost thousands of U.S. tourism and service sector jobs.

Yet, even more importantly, it would strengthen the repressive machinery of the Castro regime in Cuba, undermining the courageous efforts of the island's voices of dissent.

As a result, the sole beneficiaries of tourism-travel sanctions would be the Castro regime and some well connected plutocrats in the U.S. and Cuba.

The Speaker's decision stands in the best interest of both the American and Cuban people.

Ros-Lehtinen Statement at Cuba Hearing

Thursday, November 19, 2009
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made the following opening statement at this morning's Committee hearing regarding U.S. policy towards Cuba:

On January 21st of this year, I heard a statement that appeared to telegraph to the world that the U.S. would hold brutal regimes accountable for their actions; that our foreign policy toward tyrants would be based on the overarching moral, political, and strategic U.S. objective of promoting freedom and democracy.

On that historic day, President Obama said 'To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history…'

He added that the U.S. would extend a hand 'if', he emphasized, 'you are willing to unclench your fist.'

And I commend President Obama for re-stating his position earlier this year and re-stating his support of the U.S. embargo on the Cuban dictatorship, calling on the regime to free all political prisoners.

The President said 'The Cuban people are not free…And that's our lodestar…when it comes to our policy in Cuba.'

Proponents of unfettered travel to Cuba seek to reward the Cuban regime with tourism cash flows, as the dictatorship tightens its stranglehold on the Cuban people.

Let's have an honest debate on the issue of travel to Cuba—one based on facts. There is no ban on travel to Cuba. Do not mislead the American people. A ban denotes a prohibition on any travel to the island. But there are 18 different ways Americans can legally travel to Cuba—8 categories under general licenses and 10 categories under specific licenses.

In addition to family, journalists, and official U.S. government travel, one can travel for other reasons, ranging from verifiable educational, religious, and humanitarian activities, to 'professional research and meetings', athletic competitions, artistic performances, and activities relating to authorized U.S. exports to Cuba.

Many Members of Congress travel to Cuba every year—some at taxpayer expense-- stay at the best hotels-- some of which have been built on confiscated U.S. property-- and return with nothing but glowing reviews about Fidel Castro and his new 'face man' and current dictator, his brother Raul.

In April, for example, one of our House colleagues traveled to Cuba and said this of Fidel Castro, 'It was almost like listening to an old friend.'

Even more regrettable, many of our colleagues have sought to present the apartheid system of health care in Cuba as a model for the U.S. to emulate.

A Member of this committee, during an August 28th town meeting, praised the Cuban regime's health care system and said Fidel Castro was 'one of the brightest leaders I have ever met.'

This is the same Cuban health care system which provides all the best treatment to foreigners and to the regime elite, while denying it to dissidents and subjecting some political prisoners to electroshock treatment as punishment for their beliefs.

Some of the categories of U.S. travel to Cuba have been in place for decades. In fact, during the Carter administration, there were no restrictions on travel to Cuba. Despite this licensed, targeted American travel; despite the onslaught of European tourists and visitors from countries in the Western Hemisphere the Cuban regime has not unclenched its fist.

In fact, just two weeks ago, independent blogger Yoani Sanchez and fellow blogger Orlando Luis Pardo, were detained and beaten by Cuban agents, to prevent them from participating in the "march against violence."

A week ago, José Antonio Vázquez was fired as a chef at a restaurant, because of his opposition to the Cuban dictatorship and for wearing a 'CAMBIO' – 'CHANGE'-- bracelet just like the one I'm holding up.

What opponents of the current travel regulations want is unrestricted tourist travel to Cuba.

One of our colleagues in this Committee has even joked 'Let the Castro brothers deal with spring break once or twice, and we'll see how much control they still have.'

We have seen the images in the news of what happens during Spring Break. How could anyone credibly argue that lounging on the beaches of Varadero or partying in the nightclubs till the wee hours of the evening will bring freedom and democracy to the Cuban people? It is not funny.

The majority of Europeans and tourists from around the world have been going to Cuba for rum, music, sex, cigars, and sun for years. Have they brought about democratic reform and change?

By contrast, as Ambassador Cason, one of our witnesses today, highlighted in an editorial earlier this year, the tourism restrictions or travel ban against South Africa's apartheid government, did play a key role in forcing a change by convincing the government that its practices were unacceptable and would not be condoned.

Cuba travel regulations and U.S. sanctions on the Castro regime were developed to address U.S. security interests and foreign policy priorities and are based on solid legal ground.

First, the tourism sector in Cuba is built on confiscated U.S. property.

Many of the hotels and restaurants which are closed to the average Cuban, are part of the uncompensated property stolen from Americans.

Why would we seek to propagate such violations of U.S. property rights by promoting tourism to the island?

Second, the Cuban dictatorship's economic vulnerability lies in the tourism sector, as it constitutes the single biggest source of income for the regime.

In the same manner that the Iran Libya Sanctions Act was enacted in 1996 to target Iran's economic vulnerability, its energy sector, and in the same manner that this Committee, just three weeks ago, adopted the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act to impose sanctions targeted at Iran's newest economic Achilles' heel, so it is that U.S. travel regulations are targeted at the tourism sector.

Tourism is to Cuba what energy investments and refined petroleum products are to Iran.

Third, it is in our nation's security interest to curtail travel to the island.

As former Defense Intelligence Agency counter-spies have emphasized during Congressional briefings and as analysts at Stratfor Global Intelligence report: '…the Cuban military is well-integrated throughout the tourism industry…This presents an excellent platform from which to conduct a wide variety of illicit activities due to the large volume of foreign visitors who pass in and out of these resorts, providing Cuba with hard currency.'

Among other regime entities involved in the tourism sector are Grupo de Administracion Empresarial S.A. (Enterprise Management Group), or GAESA, which is the holding company for the Cuban Defense Ministry. This group holds a wide array of companies, including Sasa, which controls the island's gas station network and Gaviota, which controls and operates more than 30 hotels and resorts.

Tourism profits have enabled GAESA to control the Military Counterintelligence Department VI and its support companies, such as Antex which has served as a channel for introducing Cuban intelligence operatives into foreign countries.

It has also been reported that Cuban intelligence sees tourist travel to the island as an important source of potential assets—that is, as a means of recruiting foreigners to spy for the regime.

Given the success of Cuban intelligence in recruiting U.S. academics, a senior INS official, a senior Department of Defense official, State Department intelligence and research official Walter Kendall Meyers, and the most senior Cuba analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Belen Montes, to betray the United States and spy for the regime, why would we want to facilitate such potential espionage activities by allowing unfettered travel to Cuba?

Fourth, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that travel to Cuba can be restricted in support of U.S. foreign policy.

The Court held '…there is an adequate basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to sustain the President's decision to curtail the flow of hard currency to Cuba …by restricting travel…'

Fifth, the travel regulations also help contribute to the safety of Americans and enable us to minimize the risks to U.S. travelers to Cuba.

Some have sought to justify the removal of all travel restrictions by comparing Cuba to Iran. I welcome such a parallel. The case of Iran illustrates the need for the travel regulations by shining light on the safety and security issues associated with unregulated travel to countries under the control of rogue regimes.

Three American backpackers, who got lost while hiking in a mountainous region along an unmarked Iran-Iraq border, were detained by Iranian border security agents in July and are now being charged with espionage.

There is also the case of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who, in April of this year, was sentenced to 8 years in prison after Iran accused her of spying for the United States. After spending four months in prison, she was released in May.

The Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars was detained in Iran in 2007 and placed in solitary confinement in Evin Prison for more than 110 days.

Iran and Cuba are not trustworthy regimes.

Already, the Department of State warns 'In several instances, the Cuba(n) (regime) has seized the U.S. passports of dual nationals…and has denied these individuals permission to return to the United States…Cuban authorities consistently fail to notify the U.S. Interests Section of the arrest of Cuban-American dual nationals and deny U.S. consular officers access to them. They also withhold information concerning their welfare and treatment.'

Why promote tourism travel to Cuba? Why not choose to go to the Bahamas, Jamaica, or the Dominican Republic, given the implementation of the CAFTA-DR trade agreement?

Haiti needs help. Why not flock to Haiti and help rebuild this nation?

Why choose to vacation off the backs of the forced, slave labor of the oppressed Cuban people who are denied access to the tourist hotels in their own country?

Promoting tourist travel to Cuba does not advance the interests of the US or our constituents.

If you desire to go to a warm tropical climate, come to Miami or Key West in my District or any of the beaches on either Florida's Gulf or Atlantic Coast. Go to the Jersey shore. Visit California or Arizona on vacation.

Let's boost our states' economies. Don't fill the coffers of the Cuban regime.

Castro is the Problem, Not American Policies

Rep. Bilirakis: Castro is the Problem, Not American Policies

WASHINGTON – During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) issued the following statement in strong opposition to lifting the United States travel ban to Cuba:

"The idea that increased travel would have a real impact on openness in Cuba is misguided. Castro is the problem, not American policies. We should not be in the business of perpetuating the Castro regime's propaganda apparatus that blames the U.S. for the island's suffering.

"Lifting travel restrictions would directly provide tourist dollars to the Marxist regime in order to fund its tools of oppression.  There is no free market in Cuba; just a giant money-laundering machine for a tyrant bent on maintaining Soviet-era policies that otherwise met their demise with the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years ago.

"We must maintain travel restrictions to prevent the regime from using tourist dollars to further oppress the Cuban people."

Congressional Testimony by Berta Antunez

Testimony prepared by Bertha Antúnez Pernet for today's U.S. House of Representative's Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S. policy towards Cuba:

Good morning. My name is Bertha Antúnez Pernet. I come here today as the sister and niece of political prisoners. I left Cuba a short time ago. As an activist in my country, I worked as best I could to organize the family members of political prisoners to advocate for their release. My uncle, Omar Pernet, who has serious health problems after spending several years in prison, was removed from prison to Spain last year. My brother, Jorge Luis García Pérez, usually known as "Antúnez," who served 17 years as a political prisoner, remains in Cuba, struggling for freedom as part of the resistance for the rights of the Cuban people, for the democratic change that the majority of the people want.

The Castro government's war against those Cubans who peacefully advocate for change in Cuba seeks to maintain and increase repression while avoiding criticism on the global stage and international condemnation of its repressive conduct.

The Castro regime feels emboldened by the half dozen Latin American heads of state who have traveled to Havana to embrace the region's longest reigning and bloodiest dictator; by Spain's policy toward the Island, the objective of which is to bolster and uphold the dictatorship, and by the increasing influence of Hugo Chávez in the region.

On the other hand, the regime fears the ever more manifest defiance and non cooperation of the Cuban people. Therefore, perceiving the weakness in the world democratic community, it has made its dirty war ever more public in an effort to still the unrest in the hearts of the Cuban people. The physical attack on blogger Yoani Sánchez and her companions just a few days ago is an example of this.

My own brother Jorge Luis, released from prison in April, 2007, has decided to remain in our country in order to continue the civic struggle for democratic change. He has been the target of constant arrests, beatings, and harassment by Castro's repressive apparatus. Jorge Luis has seen how the Castro regime becomes bolder and bolder in its repression as it receives unilateral concessions from the world's democracies.

In April of this year, in a letter to the Cuban American members of Congress, he wrote: "It is extraordinarily remarkable that while the Castro Regime increases repression, while the mistreatment of our compatriots inside and outside of the prisons increases, certain, particular sectors [of the United States] seek engagement with the oldest and most repressive dictatorship of the continent."

Therefore, I believe this is not the time for the United States government to transform its policy regarding travel to Cuba. Indeed, those who, in good faith, believe that by doing this they will help the Cuban people, are mistaken. I say this as someone who was born and lived all her life in Cuba until a short time ago, and I am speaking to you about the reality I know well. Throughout all my life, I have faced and confronted the prison wardens, the State Security agents, the military personnel and agents of repression who are the true face of the regime. I know the regime's contempt for the Cuban people, and how they show no mercy to those of us who are black. The experiences I have lived through do not allow me to fall under the spell of the regime's sophisticated diplomats, agents of influence in key positions, or of its professional propagandists.

The real people of Cuba, the Cuban people that suffer and deeply desire to live in freedom, will not benefit from any tourist travel. Rather, those resources will serve the totalitarian regime to increase its repressive capabilities. Some people ingenuously think that tourists will have direct contact with the Cuban people, and that this will help Cubans to have a clear vision of freedom. In the first place, Cubans are reprimanded, fined, and even imprisoned for maintaining contact with tourists. There are places in Cuba where Cubans are subject to restricted entry or time schedules so that they will not be present at the same time as tourists.

It must be understood that for years, European, Canadian, and Latin American tourists have traveled to Cuba, without having any impact on the Cuban reality, but rather on the government's coffers.

It is an error to think that American tourism will mean something positive to the Cuban people. What the Cuban people need once again is the support of the American people in their struggle for freedom. The Cuban people and the internal resistance, more so than they need tourists, need people who will stand in solidarity in the US Congress and advocate for their liberation. We ask recognition for the men and women who run grave risks for the sake of the rights of an entire people. We ask for a voice to be raised against the repression, the prisons, and the censorship imposed against our people for 50 years.

There are those who hold that the Castro regime represses in order to avoid a rapprochement with the United States. This is to mistake the real nature of that regime. The Castro regime represses because its priority is to stay in power. The reason why it has spent 50 years killing, imprisoning, persecuting and forcibly exiling Cubans is because it knows very well that the immense majority of the Cuban people desire freedom. If the Cuban people were not repressed, we would already be free.

The regime wants the discussion on Cuba in a place as important as this to revolve around the questions of "Tourists or no tourists? Commercial relations or no commercial relations?" because the regime fears this Congress making the debate on how the United States can directly support those who struggle for Cuba's freedom its priority.

And I ask you, to echo the opinion of my brother Antúnez and of many thousands of Cubans pro-democracy activists on the Island:

On which side does the US Congress wish to be?

On the side of those who engage in repression, and attempt to silence the free thought and voice of the Cuban people?

On the side of those who today engage in torture in Cuban prisons? Or on the side of those who engage in civic, non violent struggle for Cuba's freedom?

On the side of the unarmed and repressed, or on the side of those who flaunt their power, self servingly, and unscrupulously for over 50 years?

On the side of a totalitarian regime nearing its end, or of a young and vigorous resistance that sooner, rather than later, shall take the reins of its country?

Thank you.

President Obama Answers Yoani

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez sent -- through her popular Generation Y blog -- seven questions to U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

While the Cuban dictator maintains his usual tyrannical silence, democratically elected President Obama has graciously responded.

Please read the entire exchange in Yoani's blog (English version).

Here's an excerpt from President Obama's response:

"Your blog provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba. It is telling that the Internet has provided you and other courageous Cuban bloggers with an outlet to express yourself so freely, and I applaud your collective efforts to empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology. The government and people of the United States join all of you in looking forward to the day all Cubans can freely express themselves in public without fear and without reprisals."

The State of Dangerousness

Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The precarious state of human rights in Cuba, as documented in today's report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), "New Castro, Same Cuba," can be summarized by the following provision in the Castro regime's criminal code (and widely-used against critics):

The State of Dangerousness

Article 72. A state of dangerousness is considered to be the special propensity of a person to commit crimes, as demonstrated by conduct observed in manifest contradiction to the norms of socialist morality.

We commend HRW for documenting the Castro regime's brutality.

Nonetheless, we disagree with an adjoining letter by HRW's Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco, which advocates for the unconditional lifting of tourism-travel related sanctions.

In lieu of tourism-travel sanctions, Vivanco's letter states that,

"[HRW's] report lays out a proposal for the United States to work with allies in the European Union, Canada, and Latin America to forge a new coalition that will exert targeted pressure on the Raul Castro government to release all political prisoners."

If such coalitions haven't been successful in preventing or dismantling nuclear weapon facilities in Iran and North Korea, what makes him think it would be successful in persuading the Castro regime to release political prisoners?

And just how successful have these coalitions been in preventing genocide in the Balkans, Rwanda or the Sudan?

Not successful at all.

But even more worrisome is Vivanco's own admission that:

"However, lifting the travel ban by itself will not bring an end to the Raul Castro government's repression."

So what's the point?

If the U.S. doubled the Castro regime's GDP through U.S. tourist-travel, it would also be doubling its ability to finance repression.

And that's a dangerous proposition indeed.

Time for a Reality Check

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and Congressman Howard Berman of California wrote an opinion editorial in the Miami Herald advocating for the unconditional removal of tourism-related sanctions towards the Castro regime.

They wrote:

"Travel ban defenders view sanctions as leverage over the Cuban government and their abolition as a concession. But over the last five decades, it has become clear that isolation will not induce the Castro regime to take steps toward political liberalization. Conditionality is not leverage in this case."

Yet, during a seminar this summer -- organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. -- on Europe and Canada's policy of unconditional engagement with the Castro dictatorship, Dianna Melrose, Britain's Ambassador to Cuba -- and a philosophical foe of sanctions -- painfully admitted,

"Let's have a reality check. The EU has little to show for its engagement over the past year. There's very little the Cuban government wants from the EU that it doesn't already have: trade and investment, development assistance and continuing opposition to the U.S. embargo. So if there is any external actor that has potential leverage over Cuba, it is the United States."

Reality is tough to accept at times, but it is reality nonetheless.

In Case You Had Any Doubt

Note to U.S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and Congressman Howard Berman of California, who co-authored an editorial in the Miami Herald calling for the lifting of tourism-travel sanctions towards Castro's Cuba:

The desire for change by the Cuban people is homegrown. It does not stem from -- nor was it "inspired" by -- American spring breakers and other tourists.

But don't take our word for it.

Washington, DC A year-and-a-half after Gen. Raúl Castro assumed the presidency of Cuba, more than four in five citizens on the island (82 percent) do not believe things are going well, according to a recent survey sponsored by the International Republican Institute (IRI). The survey, which was fielded on the island last summer, showed a vast majority of Cubans would vote for fundamental political change (75 percent) and economic change (86 percent) if given the opportunity.

"The data reveals Cubans' strong dissatisfaction towards its leadership and their indisputable preferences for political and economic change," said Lorne Craner, President of IRI.

The survey was fielded on the island from July 1-August 4, 2009.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Only 7.9% of those interviewed thought ending the U.S. embargo would improve the Cuban economy. Why? Because the Castro regime would hoard all of the increased income through their totalitarian infrastructure.

You can view the entire poll here.

The Silence of the Media

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
From today's Special Order speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida:

The international press, including almost all the press in the United States, continues to ignore the suffering of the oppressed people of Cuba.

Yes, there are exceptions, such as the National Review's Jay Nordlinger, the premier defender of human rights in the American press, or The Miami Herald's Juan Tamayo or Wilfredo Cancio, and occasionally there are other dignified exceptions. But the almost totality of the U.S. press systematically ignores what goes on in Cuba.

Despite 50 years of brutal tyranny there.

Despite Cuba being only 90 miles from our shores.

Despite hundreds of prisoners of conscience languishing in dungeons
simply because of their peaceful advocacy for freedoms—including freedom of the press—which should not be denied to any people. And thousands of others imprisoned for crimes which are only illegal in the totalitarian fiefdom of a demented despot—crimes like "dangerousness", or "illegally attempting to leave the country."

The press continues to ignore the reality of Cuba. Their irresponsibility in doing so is absolutely indefensible.

Jewish friends have told me they understand what I am talking about when I refer to the concept of the non-person. For countless generations—for 1800 years—Jews were subject to exile, to pogroms, persecution, discrimination. And their suffering was ignored in countries throughout the world. They were "non-persons".

When their suffering was ­not ignored, it was often minimized or ridiculed. Jews know that the recovery of their homeland—the establishment of their state in 1948—was absolutely necessary. That was the only way to guarantee the end of the non-person status, to guarantee an end to pogroms, to discrimination, to persecution.

Cubans have been stateless non-persons for almost 51 years. Their suffering is systematically ignored. Their unity of purpose is continuously questioned or ridiculed. Even the torture of their heroes, of the heroic political prisoners, is ignored.

Martha Beatriz Roque, a respected economist and leading Cuban dissident and former political prisoner (who was only released from prison so she would not die in prison and embarrass Castro) is close to death in Havana due to complications arising from a hunger strike she is engaged in. Dozens of other brave dissidents are also on hunger strikes in the home of one of Cuba's other extremely respected pro-democracy leaders, Vladimiro Roca.

Cubans, unlike the Jews, have not yet recovered their state. They will. But they haven't yet.

I ask the press, the media, to please cease treating Cuba's pro-democracy activists as though they did not exist. Stop treating Martha Beatriz Roque as a non-person.

Why do you continue to absolutely ignore Cuba's brave prisoners of conscience? Why don't you, at least, write about the elderly prisoners of conscience in Cuba, such as Hector Maseda Gutierrez, or Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique? Or about severely handicapped prisoners of conscience such as Miguel Galván Gutierrez. Or, most especially, about the gravely ill Cuban prisoners of conscience in the gulag such as Ariel Sigler or Normando Hernández? Or Dr. José Luis García Paneque? Or Dr. Alfredo Pulido Lopez, or Pedro Arguelles Morán?

Members of the press, have you no conscience? Do not continue to treat the suffering, oppressed people of Cuba and their heroes as non-persons. Please, do your duty.

No Thanks, Senator Lugar

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, the Ranking Republican of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, has developed a keen interest in unconditionally normalizing relations with Castro regime.

According to last week's feature article on Cuba policy by Congressional Quarterly:

Lugar, who wrote Obama earlier this year urging greater engagement with Havana, agrees that it is time for an overall change in U.S.-Cuba policy. "Our whole protocol of sanctions has not worked to bring down the Cuban government or modify the power of Cuba in any substantial way," he said.

Driving such calls for change, especially among Republicans, is the potential for increased trade. With all of the obstacles that have been put in the way, U.S. food and pharmaceutical sales to Cuba earned a paltry $712 million in 2008. But with a relaxation of travel and trade restrictions, that figure is bound to grow, Lugar says. "This is a very good time for public diplomacy," he said. "And it can occur very profitably for Americans though trade in food and medicine."

Did he say "profitably"?

So just how does this work?

Engage the Castro regime, transact business, pocket the profit and beg that they don't repress the Cuban people?

And -- at the end of the day -- if the regime doesn't listen, at least the US business interests made a profit, despite subsidizing even greater repression?

Is that the thinking?

No thanks, Senator Lugar.

Listen to the advice of former Czech dissident leader -- and President upon the fall of Communism -- Vaclav Havel, who in a speech at the European Parliament last week commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall stated:

"It has long been my opinion that after what we underwent at the time of the totalitarian system, we ought—or we are duty-bound even—to explain to others in a convincing manner what we went through, and make specific suggestions based on its various implications... Above all, clear and unequivocal solidarity with all those confronted by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes wherever they are in the world. And economic or other particular interests should not hinder such solidarity. Even a minor, discreet and well-intentioned compromise can have fatal consequences --even if only in the long term, or indirectly."

The stakes of freedom are too large for a simple profit.

Save Energy (for Castro's Military)

Last week,

Cuba orders extreme measures to cut energy use

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba has ordered all state enterprises to adopt "extreme measures" to cut energy usage through the end of the year in hopes of avoiding the dreaded blackouts that plagued the country following the 1991 collapse of its then-top ally, the Soviet Union.

In documents seen by Reuters, government officials have been warned that the island is facing a "critical" energy shortage that requires the closing of non-essential factories and workshops and the shutting down of air conditioners and refrigerators not needed to preserve food and medicine.

This week,

Cuba set to carry out large-scale military drills

HAVANA (RIA Novosti) - The Cuban Defense Ministry has announced that large-scale military exercises will take place in the country on November 26-28.

The three-day Bastion-2009 drills will be held on the eve of the National Defense Day, which is celebrated in Cuba on November 29.

If sanctions were unconditionally lifted, take a guess where U.S. tourism, trade and financing dollars would end up.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 15

Monday, November 16, 2009
From The Hill:

Report: Anti-Castro funds see dramatic shift to Democrats

Supporters of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba have made more than $10 million in campaign contributions since the 2004 election cycle.

Pro-embargo donors are also continuing to funnel more and more funds to Democrats, according to a report released Monday by Public Campaign, a watchdog group that supports public financing of election campaigns.

"Our committee always gets criticized for its political activism," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a former career Treasury Department attorney who serves as one of the PAC's directors. "We are not going to apologize for using our constitutional rights to support and oppose candidates, and we are proud of it."

Public Campaign argues special interest groups such as those pushing the Cuban embargo can unduly sway public policy through campaign donations. Publicly financed election campaigns are needed to reduce their influence, according to Public Campaign.

Claver-Carone said the PAC is a personal cause for many Cuban-Americans who want lawmakers to protest human rights violations by the Castro regime.

"If we do not speak out for democracy and human rights in Cuba, no one else will," Claver-Carone said. "Yes, Cuban-Americans have vested interests. Our vested interests are friends and family who are suffering under the regime."

Who Funded the "Public Campaign" Report?

Public Campaign, a DC-based group that attacks political committees and contributors, has just issued a report smearing the Cuban-American community for its political activism on behalf of human rights and democracy for the Cuban people.

Apparently, for this group, only the farm bureaus, business groups and trade associations that want to unconditionally transact business with the Castro regime can participate in the political process. In other words, only those that seek to profit from repression.

Note the irony, Public Campaign is a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt organization that receives large contributions from corporations and foundations -- many of which are created by multi-millionaires to avoid taxes and pursue their ideological agenda.

Meanwhile, political committees are the most highly regulated, transparent entities. They are legally prohibited from receiving corporate money, contribution amounts are capped at $5,000 and are not tax deductible.

In other words, they are grassroots campaigns by definition.

Nonetheless, Public Campaign has the audacity to criticize the Cuban-American community and its political committees -- such as the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC -- for exercising their Constitutional rights?

The only reason they were even able to put this report together is due to the transparency of political committees, and the detailed, thorough reporting required by law, which is public record.

Here are some questions:

Who paid for this report by Public Campaign?

What corporation or foundation that seeks to unilaterally lift sanctions financed it?

Oh, almost forgot, they don't have to report it.

Guess transparency is a one-way street for Public Campaign and their "shadow" donors.

A Trivia Question

Sunday, November 15, 2009
How many of the co-sponsors of the Flake/Delahunt tourism travel legislation -- or of any other legislation that would unconditionally lift travel, trade or financial sanctions towards the Cuba -- issued statements condemning last week's violent attack by the Castro regime against blogger Yoani Sanchez -- a 100 lb. woman -- for her critical posts?

Let us save you the time.

Answer: None.

Quote of the Week

"So we still have our duties of solidarity with movements of transformation, and we can draw on the memory of a time when civilized peoples, so long forced to hold their tongues and hold their breath, all exhaled at the same moment and blew the old order away without a shot being fired."

- Christopher Hitchens, "The Lessons of 1989," Slate Magazine, November 10th, 2009

According to the Voice of America

Stifling Voices Of Freedom In Cuba

The Castro government restricts access to the Internet.

Change comes slowly in Cuba, even when it starts at the top. Despite expectations of reforms when Raul Castro became president last year and some signs of easing, the island nation remains a tightly controlled central economy under a Communist regime that suppresses freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

The Castro government has extended its authority over the Internet, as it has done with newspapers, radio and television. It restricts access to computers and Internet subscriptions, keeping prices high and blocking Web sites that the government considers critical or undesirable. Officials and government loyalists monitor Web logs, or blogs, to watch for signs of dissent and to post comments supporting the regime and attacking its critics.

These actions took an ugly turn this month when 3 prominent Cuban Internet journalists were attacked by plain clothes government security agents. On their way to cover a peaceful march in downtown Havana, Yoani Sanchez, Orlando Luis Pardo and Claudia Cadelo were forced into unmarked cars and driven around for 20 minutes, during which time Ms. Sanchez was beaten. Ironically, the purpose of the march, organized by young musicians, was to protest against violence. Ms. Sanchez's work reporting on conditions in Cuba has been recognized around the world.

President Barack Obama proclaimed November 9 as World Freedom Day, and it is just this kind of repression and violence against the voices of freedom and reconciliation that his proclamation is meant to expose.

The United States strongly deplores the assault and urges the government of Cuba to ensure the full respect of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.