"Change" in Mario's Wallet

Saturday, December 12, 2009
From the POLITICO series, "What's in your Wallet?":

Rep. Diaz-Balart Opens Up
By Amie Parnes

POLITICO caught up with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and asked him, "What's in your wallet?"

"That's a scary question," the congressman admitted, "because I have a four-year-old son and he loves going through my wallet, so I have no idea. It may be empty or it may be full. I'm not sure."

Diaz-Balart pulled out what he calls a "kind of a beat up, generic wallet" which has U.S. Congress etched into the leather. He fished out some of his own business cards, two metro cards, a Florida drivers license, a Florida concealed weapons permit, insurance cards, credit cards, a card with phone numbers for the House of Representatives, a picture of his four-year-old son and wife Tia, and a card with a quote by Frederick Douglass. The congressman also unveiled a card with a picture of President Obama and Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a political prisoner in Cuba.

The card, written in Spanish, reads: "Barack Obama asked for change and he became president. Oscar Elias Biscet asked for change and they made him a political prisoner in Cuba."

"It's a reflection of the greatness and freedom of the United States and the unfortunate slavery that the people in Cuba have to go through," Diaz-Balart said.

Still, Diaz-Balart said he is "not a fan of the president's. I respect and admire what he has achieved but I am horrified and frankly somewhat frightened by his policies."

The congressman had no cash in his wallet. However, he did pull $1.60 out of his pants pocket.

"That's why lunch is in the office today."

Clinton Briefing on Latin America

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held her first "Diplomacy Briefing Series Meeting" at the State Department.

The theme of the meeting was "Issues and Challenges of U.S. Relations With Latin America."

Here's an excerpt of Secretary Clinton's introductory remarks and some poignant questions and answers:

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it is a very great pleasure to be here today to welcome you to the first in a series of diplomacy briefings that we will be hosting here at the State Department. I want to thank all of you for being part of this because it is in keeping with our efforts to reach out and to have a dialogue about what we're doing and how we're doing it, and to seek your ideas as well.

Later this morning, you'll have the opportunity to engage with some of our State Department leadership on the way forward in Afghanistan and pursuant of the President's policy. You'll be able to discuss ways that the United States intends to expand global economic opportunity and ensure citizens' safety. We also have some community activists and students listening from New York City, San Antonio, Texas, and Miami, Florida. So we are also using technology to bring us together. The Western Hemisphere, we decided, was a fitting place for us to start this effort because of our deep ties, our shared history, so many familial and cultural connections. We are connected by geography and history, by shared challenges, and a common future that we all have the capacity to help shape.

QUESTION: Good morning. My name is Susana Molina and I'm from the University of Central Florida. My question is: Is democratic progress in danger by social unrest and the rise of the left in Latin America? Whether yes or no, how do these developments affect U.S. interest?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Great question, and I think the University of Central Florida may be in Orlando, not Miami. Is that right? (Applause.) Yes.

QUESTION: Yes.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, I've – we have to coordinate our facts here. But that's a really important question. I feel so strongly that we have to support the rights of all people to voice their opinions, and we want to further economic equality, not just prosperity, because for too many years, prosperity has increased in Latin America without being equally distributed. We want to build a strong base of democratic support for fundamental freedoms of all people, and governments need to be effective, accountable, and responsive to the needs of their citizens.

And I said earlier in my remarks that you really have to be supporting the entire institutional foundation for democracy. And we do worry about leaders who get elected and get elected fairly and freely and legitimately, but then, upon being elected, begin to undermine the constitutional and democratic order, the private sector, the rights of people to be free from harassment, depression, to be able to participate fully in their societies.

So I worry about how we get back on the track where we recognize that democracy is not about individual leaders. It is about strong institutions. Good leaders come and go. Obviously, we've had our own experience in this country with that. And so we need to make it absolutely an article of faith that any leader elected must not just further his own position and his power base, but respect the rights of the people who elected him and build up the democracy so that democratic development and economic development can go hand in hand.

I mean, obviously, we have expressed our concerns about Venezuela, about Nicaragua. We will continue to express our concerns, because it's important that we sound a strong call to people and to leaders to really stay on the path of democracy. So I thank you for your question, and obviously, we all hope in the not-too-distant future to be able to see a democratic Cuba, something that would be extraordinarily positive for our hemisphere. (Applause.)

We'll take the next question over here.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I have a concern because in the trafficking of passports from – especially from China, buying basically different – I don't know if the State Department is doing any investigation or not – from different nations. And that seems to be like, once they buy a passport from, let's say, a nation down in Venezuela, Bolivia, and they sell a business which seems to be a front for a – behind giant economic enterprise on there. So is the State Department doing some investigation on – another question also is the – in term – the penetration, basically, of China and other nations like Iran from Latin America. Of course, you mentioned Bolivia – I don't think you mentioned Bolivia. You should also mention Venezuela, Bolivia, well – as well as other nations that are basically (inaudible) international, basically, security issue that I'm very concerned.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I thank you for raising this. We're concerned too. In speaking to a number of the Central American countries, they have reported to us large numbers of people being trafficked into their countries, particularly Chinese, but not exclusively Chinese. And we do need to redouble our efforts to try to help our friends in Central America deal with this. I was told in one of the countries that there is a large detention area – detention center which has hundreds and hundreds of people who are there illegally from China.

So this is a problem that is affecting a number of our friends, and we are working with them to try to provide more resources and support to help them deal with it. And as you point out, we have no problem with any country such as China engaging in economic activities – business, commerce – with any country anywhere. But we do want governments to drive hard bargains. We don't want to see corruption that benefits the fortunes of a few leaders and undermines the sustainability of the economy and the environment and the natural resources of any country.

We also are well aware of Iran's interests in promoting itself with a number of other countries – Venezuela and Bolivia, as you mentioned – and we can only say that that is a really bad idea for the countries involved. And we hope that there will be a recognition that this is the major supporter, promoter, and exporter of terrorism in the world today. The Revolutionary Guard of Iran, which is increasing its control over the country because of the elections, which were a stark example of the abuse of human rights in action, is deeply involved in the economy as well as the security issues of Iran. And I think that if people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them, and we hope that they will think twice, and we're going to support them if they do. (Applause.)

(No) Human Rights Day in Cuba

Friday, December 11, 2009
A great post from the Miami Times blog. Frankly, we couldn't have said it better ourselves:

Human Fights Day in Cuba

By Jorge Casuso in La Habana

The three dozen "Ladies in White" who took to the streets of Havana on Human Rights Day on Thursday hoped to bring attention to husbands, fathers and friends serving time in Cuban jails for speaking out.

But it was the government that made the strongest case that human rights are being trampled daily on the Communist island. Functionaries deployed bus and car loads of counter-protesters who allegedly taunted and roughed up the demonstrators.

To further drive home the point that human rights would not be tolerated, the Cuban regime broke up another peaceful demonstration at a park in front of the UNESCO building.

Two of the protesters -- Pedro Moises Calderin Tapanes and a man only identified as Rogelio -- were reportedly whisked away and are deemed to have "disappeared," according to a report in El Nuevo Herald.

There are an estimated 200 political prisoners in Cuba, according to the Human Rights Commission. One of those prisoners, freelance baseball agent Juan Ignacio Hernandez Nodar, recently returned to Miami after serving a 15-year prison sentence.

The protests came on the day U.S. documentarian Estela Bravo's puff-piece "Anecdotas Sobre Fidel" was screened in Havana.

"You get to see Fidel a little more like he is," Bravo said at the screening.

To get a better look, perhaps she should get off her ass and look out the window.

Senator Menendez Floor Speech on Cuba

Last night, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey delivered this important floor speech on U.S. policy towards Cuba:

I rise to speak about the Omnibus bill before the Senate and specifically about provisions on Cuba that have not passed the Senate and have not been subjected to debate by this body. These provisions would undo current law, where the Castro regime would have to pay in advance of shipment for goods being sold to them – despite their terrible credit history.

Yes, Cuba's credit history is horrible. The Paris Club of creditor nations recently announced that Cuba has failed to pay almost $30 billion in debt (not related to official development assistance). Among poor nations, that's the worst credit record in the world. So I ask: if the Cuban government has put off paying those who it already owes $30 billion, why does anyone think it would meet new financial obligations to American farmers?

Considering the serious economic crisis we're facing right now, we need to focus on solutions for hard-working Americans, not subsidies for a brutal dictatorship.
We should evaluate how to encourage the regime to allow a legitimate opening – not in terms of cell phones and hotel rooms that Cubans can't afford, but in terms of the right to organize, the right to think and speak what they believe.

However, what we are doing with this Omnibus bill, M. President, is far from evaluation, and the process by which these changes have been forced upon this body is so deeply offensive to me, and so deeply undemocratic, that I have no intention – no intention - of continuing to vote for omnibus appropriations bills if they are going to jam foreign policy changes down throats of members, in what some consider "must pass" bills.

I am putting my colleagues on notice, if you do that – that's fine – but don't expect me to cast critical votes to pass your bill.

An example of the danger of what we are doing by changing the definition of "cash in advance" is exhibited by a Europapress report:

"During a trade fair this month in Havana, Germany's Ambassador to Cuba, Claude Robert Ellner, told German businessmen that Cuba's debt to the German government had been forgiven, in the hopes that Cuba will meet its debt obligations to them."

In other words, German taxpayers will now be responsible for bailing out its private sector and, by implication, the Castro regime.

Thanks to the U.S. policy of requiring the Castro regime to pay "cash in advance" for its purchases of agricultural products, U.S. taxpayers can rest assured the same will not happen to them.

The Castro regime has mastered the art of making some European governments acquiesce to its every whim, even if it means a free-pass for its daunting repression.

So what's the secret?

It's simple.

They give European countries a choice: Either do as we say or we will freeze your nationals' bank accounts and default on any debts.

This practice is also known as blackmail.

Let's take Spain, for example.

Recently, European news services reported that Spain has begun a diplomatic offensive to convince the Castro regime to unblock nearly 266 million euros ($400 million U.S. Dollars) in funds that have been frozen from over 300 Spanish companies in Cuba.

Not coincidentally, the Spanish government announced that upon assuming the presidency of the European Union in 2010, it would enter into a new bilateral agreement with the Castro regime that would replace current EU policy, which contains diplomatic sanctions for human rights violations.

The Castro regime had made it clear to Spain that the current European Union policy was an "insurmountable obstacle" to normal relations and, I might add, for Spanish nationals and companies to get their money back.

Therefore, the Spanish government immediately jumped.

And on a recent visit to Cuba, Spain's Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos met for three hours with Raul Castro - and didn't get one single concession on human rights – but did get $300 million that Cuba owed to Spanish companies that do business in Cuba.

Is that what we intend to do?

So, the lesson for dictators is that frozen bank accounts and debt can buy you a free-pass for repression.

A recent Reuters article highlights that Cuba continues to block access to foreign business bank accounts.

I quote from the article:

"Many foreign suppliers and investors in Cuba are still unable to repatriate hundreds of millions of dollars from local accounts almost a year after Cuban authorities blocked them because of the financial crisis, foreign diplomats and businessmen said.

The businessmen, who asked not to be identified, said they were increasingly frustrated because the Communist authorities refused to offer explanations or solutions for the situation, which stems from a cash crunch in the Cuban economy triggered by the global downturn and heavy hurricane damage last year.

'I have repeatedly e-mailed, visited the offices and sent my representative to the offices of a company I did business with for years and which owes me money, and they simply refuse to talk to me,' a Canadian businessman told Reuters.

Delegations from foreign banks and investor funds holding commercial paper from Cuban state banks have repeatedly traveled to Cuba this year seeking answers from the central bank or other authorities—without success—the sources said.

Representatives of some companies with investments or joint ventures on the island said they were bracing for the possibility of not being able to repatriate year-end dividends paid to their accounts in Cuba
.

Some 90 percent of the country's economic activity is in state hands.

Foreign economic attaches and commercial representatives in Cuba said most of their nationals doing business with the Caribbean island still faced payment problems."


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

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

First, reports by Mexico's La Jornada and Spain's El Pais newspapers that hundreds of foreign companies that transact business with the Cuban regime's authorities, have had their accounts frozen since January 2009 by the regime-owned bank that is solely empowered to conduct commercial banking operations in convertible currencies.

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

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

The real reason why so many, whose work is often subsidized by business interests, advocate Cuba policy changes is about money and commerce, not about freedom and democracy.

It makes me wonder why those who spend hours and hours in Havana, listening to Fidel Castro's soliloquies, cannot find minutes for human rights and democracy activists.

It makes me wonder why those who go and enjoy the sun of Cuba, will not shine the light of freedom on its jails full of political prisoners.

They advocate for labor rights in the U.S. but are willing to accept forced labor in Cuba.

They talk about democracy in Burma, but are willing to sip rum with Cuba's dictators.

Which takes me to Placetas, Cuba.

Placetas is a city in the Villa Clara Province in the center of Cuba.

In other words, not a beach-side resort frequented by Canadian and European tourists.

Placetas is also the home of Cuban political prisoner and pro-democracy leader, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez."

On, March 15, 1990, a then 25-year old Antunez stood at the center square of Placetas, listening to the government's official radio transmission calling for the IV Congress of the Communist Party. He spontaneously began to shout "what we want and we need reforms like the ones performed in Eastern Europe."

Immediately, he was beaten by State Security agents, charged with "oral enemy propaganda" and imprisoned. That would be the beginning of a 17-year prison term, almost half of his current life in prison.

Antúnez was not released until 2007. He is now 45 years old, with an entire life ahead of him.

The Castro regime would love for Antunez to leave the island permanently, but he refuses to do so. He has decided to stay in Cuba and demand that the human and civil rights of the Cuban people be respected. For this, he has been re-arrested over 30 times since 2007.

Last week, at that same center square in Placetas, Antunez and other local pro-democracy leaders gathered to honor Cuba's current political prisoners.

Antunez and his colleagues were not "educated" on the importance of human rights and civil disobedience by foreign tourists – as some suggest would happen.

Unwittingly though, foreign tourists have financed their repression.

Let me read an open letter that Mr. Antunez sent to Cuba's dictator Raul Castro – I quote, an English translation:

Mr. Raul Castro,

My name is Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez -- a former political prisoner -- and I am writing to you again not because I pretend to make you aware of something that far from alien, is common place in Cuba due to the nature and politics of your government.

For several months now my spouse Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera and I find ourselves under forced house arrest by your political police. The week before the Juanes concert, a high ranking State security official upon arresting me informed me that there had been an order for my arrest throughout the island of Cuba. He emphasized that they were going to be watching every step I take. Since that date I have lost count of how many times I have been arrested, the majority of times with violence.

Mr. Dictator - allow me a few questions that may help you clarify some doubts amongst those compatriots of mine who were hopeful that your government would diminish repression or that even democratic openings could be made.

With what right do the authorities, without a prior crime being committed, detain and impede the free movement of their citizens in violation of a universally recognized right?

What feelings could move a man like Captain Idel Gonzalez Morfi to beat my wife, a defenseless woman so brutally causing lasting effects to her bones for the sole act of arriving at a radio station to denounce with evidence the torture that her brother received in a Cuban prison. Or is it that for you there are only five families that exist in our country that have the right to protest and demand justice for their jailed relatives?

Should you not be ashamed that your corpulent police officers remain stationed for days at the corner of my home to impede us from leaving our house and monitoring our movements in our own city?

Where is the professionalism and ethics of your subordinates that with their ridiculous operations provoke the mockery of the populace towards these persons on an almost daily basis?

How do you feel, when you encourage or allow these persons who call themselves "men," to beat and drag women through the streets such as: Damaris Moya Portieles, Marta Diaz, Ana Alfonso Arteaga, Sara Marta Fonseca, Yris Perez and most recently the blogger Yoani Sánchez?

How can you and your subordinates sleep calmly after deliberately and maliciously phisically knocking-down on more than one occasion Idania Yánez Contreras who is several months pregnant?

How can you and your government speak about the battle of ideas when you are constantly repressing ideas through beatings, arrests and years of incarceration?

Maybe your followers cannot find or even attempt to find a response. However, I find myself in the long list of persons that are not afraid to respond.

You act this way because you are a cruel man and insensible to the pain and suffering of others. You act this way because you are faithful to your anti-democratic and dictatorial vocation, because you are convinced that dictatorships like the one you preside over can only be maintained through terror and torture, and because the most minimal opening can lead to the loss of the only thing that you are interested in -- which is maintaining yourself in power.

Lastly -- returning to my case in particular -- I will respond without even asking you beforehand the concrete motives of your continual repression against my person. Your government and your servants in the repressive corps cannot forgive my two biggest and only "crimes": First, that despite almost two decades of torture and cruel and inhumane punishment during my unjust and severe sanction, you could not break my dignity and my position as a political prisoner. Second, because even though I am accosted and brutalized and above all risk returning to prison, I have taken the decision not to leave my country in which I will continue struggling for a change that I believe is both necessary and inevitable.


- From Placetas, Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antunez," December 2009.

This is the voice of those who languish under Castro's brutal dictatorship. As you can see, Antunez, is an Afro-Cuban, not part of the white elite of the regime's dictatorship.

Antunez's voice, rings in my head, tugs at my conscience. His words, … "despite almost two decades of torture and cruel and inhumane punishment during my unjust and severe sanction, you could not break my dignity and my position as a political prisoner. Second, because even though I am accosted and brutalized and above all risk returning to prison, I have taken the decision not to leave my country in which I will continue struggling for a change I believe is both necessary and inevitable."

Antunez is right, change in Cuba is inevitable, but the United States needs to be a catalyst of that change.

These are the human rights activists that some would turn their back on for the sake of doing business.

Well not me, not now, not ever.

###

Statement by the National Security Advisor

Thursday, December 10, 2009
Statement by National Security Advisor General James L. Jones on International Human Rights Day

Today, on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, I welcomed distinguished representatives of leading human rights and democracy promotion groups in the United States to the White House for a meeting with me and senior representatives from over a dozen offices of the National Security Staff.

I reiterated the President's strong and unwavering commitment to the advancement of human rights and democracy around the world, including the right to choose one's leaders, to speak one's mind, to assemble freely, and to worship as one pleases. This commitment was on display again this morning, in his speech in Oslo where he declared that "America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal." In addition to civil and political rights, the President has also stressed that our pursuit of human rights and democracy must deliver real improvements in people's everyday lives – by ensuring that people can meet their basic needs and expanding opportunity and prosperity.

Under President Obama's leadership, the Administration has worked hard to achieve these objectives around the world in four major ways.

First, we've started at home--from day one, renewing American democracy and recommitting ourselves to the protection of basic human rights. In his first days in office, the President issued executive orders prohibiting torture and ordering the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. We are now dealing responsibly with detainees in a manner that is consistent with our values. We are also fulfilling the President's commitment to run the most open, transparent, and accountable government in American history.

Second, we have sought to engage the rest of the world on human rights and democracy, not simply chastising other governments publicly where we have concerns. I have been at the President's side as he has travelled around the world and met with his counterparts, and I can attest—in every country where we have a concern about human rights or democracy, the President raises these issues directly and forcefully.

We also have raised our concerns about human rights abuses publicly. We have condemned human rights abuses in Sudan, Cuba, Russia, Guinea, Zimbabwe and Syria; deplored the systematic rapes and sexual violence in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo; and called attention to the continued repression in Burma and Iran. The President has also been clear on our commitment to equal rights: for women; ethnic and religious minorities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

In parallel to engagement with governments, President Obama has sought to engage citizens of other nations directly on these issues—speaking to a large and diverse audience in Cairo, participating in a civil society summit in Moscow, and holding town hall meetings with students from Strasbourg to Istanbul to Shanghai. In all of his travels, President Obama has affirmed his solidarity with those struggling for more just government and explained directly to people why the United States has a national interest in advancing human rights and democracy.

Third, we have taken a more collaborative approach in advancing human rights. We have joined the UN Human Rights Council, mindful of its limitations but committed to working to strengthen the Council from within. At our first session, we successfully championed a unifying resolution on the previously divisive issue of freedom of expression. We worked closely and cooperatively with Member States in the Organization of American States in condemning the coup in Honduras and seeking a peaceful restoration of democratic and constitutional order. We signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first human rights treaty of this new century, and we are making special efforts to implement human rights treaties to which we are already party.

Finally, we are making historic investments in development and working hard to strengthen democratic institutions, because we understand the relationship between democracy, human rights, and development. We are pursuing a comprehensive global health initiative; we leveraged significant new U.S. commitments to launch a global effort to combat global hunger and stimulate rural growth; and we are using our leadership in the G8 and G20 to launch new efforts to enhance transparency, fight corruption, and strengthen the rule of law.

These are the commitments we have made and the progress we have achieved—in just the first eleven months. I believe it's a strong record. And I believe it's only just the beginning of what's possible as part of a new era of American leadership and engagement in the world.

President Obama's Nobel Speech

The following are some noteworthy excerpts from U.S. President Barack Obama's remarks at today's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway:

"I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.  For make no mistake:  Evil does exist in the world.  A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies.  Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms.  To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."
 
"Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this:  The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.  The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.  We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will.  We have done so out of enlightened self-interest -- because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity."
 
"[I]in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to actually change behavior -- for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something.  Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable.  Sanctions must exact a real price.  Intransigence must be met with increased pressure -- and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one."
  
"When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma -- there must be consequences.  Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy -- but there must be consequences when those things fail.  And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression."
 
"I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear.  Pent-up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence.  We also know that the opposite is true.  Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace.  America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens.  No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests -- nor the world's -- are served by the denial of human aspirations."
 
"So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal.  We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran.  It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.  And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear that these movements -- these movements of hope and history -- they have us on their side."

International Human Rights Day

On December 10th, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This document embodies the most sacred tenets for free people throughout the world. As such, December 10th is observed in the world's democracies as International Human Rights Day.

This document also embodies the hopes and aspirations of those that remain captive by tyranny. As such, December 10th is marked by heightened vigilance and repression in the world's remaining tyrannies.

Yet, despite the brutal consequences, it is also a day in which outstanding men and women courageously challenge tyranny and demonstrate against the violation of their basic human rights.

One of these outstanding individuals is Afro-Cuban physician, Dr. Darsi Ferrer.

Every year, on December 10th, Dr. Ferrer organizes a demonstration to highlight the Castro regime's abuses. And every year, predictably, his demonstration is violently suppressed.

This past summer, Dr. Ferrer was arrested by the Castro regime and remains imprisoned without trial.

Therefore, in solidarity with Dr. Ferrer, we recall one of his yearly calls to action. This one is from 2007.

It is for this advocacy that he languishes today as a political prisoner:

March Against Apartheid Suffered by the Cuban People

We call upon all Cubans to commemorate International Human Rights Day on December 10th, by exercising our right to demonstrate in a peaceful silent march as a protest of the immoral and illegal apartheid policy imposed by the Cuban government.

It is the duty all people to assume individual responsibility and confront the tragedy facing the nation, to urge political, economic and social changes that benefit everyone, and to facilitate an end to this humiliating situation in which a powerful few violate sovereignty and enjoy privileges all while discriminating against the majority simply because they are citizens.

Governments, institutions, organizations and human beings in general have an obligation to promote respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as ensure their recognition and universal and effective application.

Our appeal, by our participation on that day, will be for the recognition, in every corner of the earth, of the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.

Never in the history of the nation has there existed such an anti-Cuban government. The current constitution recognizes rights and freedoms for Cubans (Article 42 and 43), the penal code condemns as a felony any application of apartheid (Article 120-1 and 295-1); in practice the two laws are systematically violated by the established official public policy.

Despite the fact that the Cuban government is a member of the newly created United Nations Council for Human Rights, it violates its pledge to be a signatory of the international convention on repression and punishment for the crime of apartheid.
The march will take place at the park located at Calzada between D and E, in El Vedado. The start time for the march will be 11:00 A.M. and will consist of walking around the park, in silence, to avoid any kind of disorder and provocation.

We urge Cubans living outside the island to conduct activities on the 10th of December, at the same hour, in commemoration of this important date, and thus extend their support and solidarity to the march.

We call upon the international organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights to join and contribute by promoting the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the elimination of apartheid in Cuba.

In particular, we expect that the authorities of the government of Cuba to ensure order during the march and prevent, on this occasion, abuses by state security apparatus.

Dr. Darsi Ferrer Ramirez, Cuban citizen.

One Man at a Time

On November 28th, we posted that Juan Juan (J.J.) Almeida, son of recently deceased Cuban Vice-President and original Comandante of the Castro Revolution, Juan Almeida, was arrested by Cuban state security for demonstrating down a Havana thoroughfare with a sign demanding "Democracy!"

Here's a picture of Almeida's courageous demonstration for democracy. Let's remember, this man's father was the 3rd highest ranking official of the Cuban dictatorship.


Photo courtesy of Claudia Cadelo's Octavo Cerco.

Welcome to Placetas

Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Placetas is a city in the Villa Clara Province in the center of Cuba. Close towns include Zulueta (to the north), San Juan de los Remedios (to the northeast), Cabaiguán and Fomento (to the east), and Santa Clara and Camajuani (to the west). Placetas is also a municipio, one of 13 subdivisions of the Villa Clara Province. Cuba's geographical center, Guaracabuya, is located in this municipality.

In other words, not a beach-side resort frequented by Canadian and European tourists.

Placetas is also the home of Cuban political prisoner and pro-democracy leader, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez."

On, March 15, 1990, a then 25-year old Antunez stood at the center square of Placetas, listening to the government’s official radio transmission calling for the IV Congress of the Communist Party. He spontaneously began to shout "what we want and we need reforms like the ones performed in Eastern Europe."

Immediately, he was beaten by State Security agents, charged with "oral enemy propaganda" and imprisoned. That would be the beginning of a 17-year prison term, almost half of his current life in prison.

Antúnez was not released until 2007. He is now 45 years old, with an entire life ahead of him.

The Castro regime would love for Antunez to leave the island permanently, but he refuses to do so. He has decided to stay in Cuba and demand that the human and civil rights of the Cuban people be respected. For this, he has been re-arrested over 30 times since 2007.

Last week, at that same center square in Placetas, Antunez and other local pro-democracy leaders gathered to honor Cuba's current political prisoners.

The video clip is below.

The names being called out are those of Cuban political prisoners.

NOTE to Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman:

Antunez and his colleagues were not "educated" on the importance of human rights and civil disobedience by foreign tourists.

Unwittingly though, foreign tourists have financed their repression.


Racism Will End the Dictatorship

Please read this historic, introspective column by famed Nigerian-Jamaican author Lindsay Barret in Nigeria's The Sun News:

Cuba: Will Racism Kill the Revolution?

By Lindsay Barret

I have been an almost uncritical supporter of the Cuban revolution ever since it was installed by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz in 1959. One of my closest friends and a fellow advocate of the struggle for Pan African liberation Dr. Carlos Moore is however the exact opposite of me in this wise. Dr. Moore is a Cuban and he has consistently asserted that in spite of all its undoubted social benefits, in comparison to the old plantation-based imperialism of the system that he overthrew, Castro's revolution has not actually confronted the endemic racism inherited from the Spanish colonial past of that Caribbean island. Many of us who consider Carlos an intellectual of high repute and irrepressible integrity have tried to reconcile his dedication to the truth with his irrevocable intransigence against the Cuban Government. It has not been an easy task.

The anti-imperialism of our youthful days melded seamlessly into support for the Cuban people's struggle to sustain their social integrity and build what we believed to be an equitable society against the open antagonism of the USA. Over the last five decades the Cuban Revolution has provided one of the most epic examples of the improbable power of the triumph of the people against the imperialist system. It has appeared to us to be the ideal example for African nations to look up to in spite of the fact that very few of them have actually achieved the level of conscious reform that the Castro Revolution has recorded in Cuba. It is therefore both disappointing and distressing for me at this point to have to acknowledge that in spite of everything Carlos Moore's challenging assertions are beginning to ring true fifty years after we allowed ourselves to be enchanted by the glamour and courage of the Cuban insurgency.

The immediate issue that has brought Carlos Moore's stand on Cuba's betrayal of its revolutionary purpose to the fore arises out of the arrest and detention in recent months of a bright Afro-Cuban doctor who has been confronting some serious issues within the country. Dr. Darsi Ferrer is now the subject of a burgeoning international movement seeking not only his release from detention but also the acknowledgement of the conditions and the struggle for equity within Cuban society that he represents. This issue has been brought to my attention by a letter published by Carlos, but that is not all.

One of the most highly respected elders of the intellectual pantheon of the African Diaspora is Dr. Abdias do Nascimento of Brazil, whose advocacy of the recognition of the ascendancy of African culture in Brazilian national sensibility has made him an international icon. During the period leading up to the festival of Black and African Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in Nigeria in 1977 Dr. Nascimento was resident at the university in Ile-Ife and many of us who visited him there were influenced not just by his erudition but also by his impeccable integrity and humility. He has leant his voice to appeals for the release of Dr. Darsi Ferrer in no uncertain terms and this has given extra weight to the overwhelmingly emotional appeal that Carlos Moore's interventions on this matter represent. It would be totally unconscionable of me to pretend that I can be as knowledgeable about the real situation in Cuba as either Carlos who is a Cuban or Dr. Nascimento who is an elder and scholar of the Afro-Latin Diaspora whose impressive depth of comprehension is universally acknowledged.

For this reason it is of paramount importance that I should allow Carlos's words in his widely disseminated letter to speak for themselves.

"Dear brothers and sisters: Many of you may never have heard of the Civil Rights Afro-Cuban activist, Dr. Darsi Ferrer. Yet, he is one of the most important Civil Rights leaders in Cuba today, and a tireless, courageous fighter against social exclusion. Dr. Ferrer was arrested more than three months ago, and jailed on absurd, untrue charges of having "stolen materials" from the state. What did he do? Dr. Ferrer runs a number of independent programs designed to help impoverished, marginalized and discriminated communities in Cuba (who are overwhelmingly of African descent). But because the government claims that there are no such things as poverty, racism or marginalized communities in Cuba, Dr. Ferrer is regarded as a highly subversive person by the authorities. A documentary produced by Dr. Ferrer, shows the condition of these communities (residents of what are called "tenements").

These are the people that Dr. Ferrer has been assisting for many years. I want to make clear, that this is the first time in my life, as an anti-racist activist myself, that I publicly raise a voice in support of any Cuban dissident. If I have done so, it is only because the Cuban government has, once again, crossed another threshold in the sort of oppression that it customarily dishes out to its citizenry. We have come to the point where to remain silent before such injustice and oppression is tantamount to be complicit with it. That is why I raise my voice on behalf of those who have no voice inside of Cuba. I appeal to your own sense of justice, asking you to help me mobilize world opinion around this case where an honorable, brave, black Cuban citizen, has suffered detention because he dared place himself at the service of the humblest of communities in Cuba. I am asking for your help to free the black political leader, Dr. Darsi Ferrer. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Please help us free this brave Black intellectual whose only crime is to have stood up and protested against the racism and discrimination that Blacks confront in Cuba
."

Carlos Moore is the author of a book of reportage about the life of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti entitled This Bitch of A Life. He is also the author of a new and widely praised memoir entitled Pichon. The latter book's title is a term used to identify blacks in Cuba we are told and the suggestion is that by accepting the designation Dr. Moore is exposing the continued devaluation of the peoples of African descent in a society that claims to have overcome racist stereotyping. This is an issue that cannot be wished away. Moore's determined assertion that the Cuban nation is actually inhabited by a majority of peoples of African descent, the Afro-Cubans, but ruled by a minority of Hispano-Cubans must be considered objectively.

While I am not aware of what recent census figures or statistics of population by race in Cuba illustrate the cultural matrix of the society, which I have maintained a deep and profound interest in, suggests to me that Moore's assertions must be true. In fact in my last column on the subject of Cuba I raised the issue that with the change of guard represented by Fidel's retirement and his brother Raul's ascent to the seat vacated by his sibling there should be a fundamental examination of the need for more equitable and representative change if the revolution is to remain a revolution.

In the event that this does not happen the Castro revolution will become atrophied by its refusal to acknowledge such realities as those being exposed by men like Darsi Ferrer and Carlos Moore. In that event supporters of the Cuban revolution like me will become culpable collaborators in the demise of the dream that we thought we were supporting when we raised the Castro banner against the imperialist charge wherever and whenever we could.

Senator Kerry's Glaring Contradictions

Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Today, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry of Massachusetts, announced his support for unconditionally easing U.S. policy towards Cuba in a St. Petersburg Times opinion editorial entitled, "Open Cuba to U.S. Travelers."

Yet, his rationale is fatally flawed by two glaring contradictions.

Senator Kerry first argues that:

"[W]hen it comes to a small impoverished island 90 miles off the coast of Florida, we cling to a policy that has manifestly failed for nearly 50 years."

We generally challenge such statements, for in order to genuinely classify a policy as a failure, one must be able to identify a successful alternative.

To his credit, Senator Kerry agrees with this notion, and states:

"Fortunately, we know there is a different strategy that can succeed."

Great, what is it?

"The Clinton administration refocused policy around what matters: on the Cuban people, not the Castro brothers; on the future, not the past; and on America's long-term national interests, not the political expediencies of a given moment.

We improved cooperation on issues like migration and fighting drug trafficking. Family travel in both directions skyrocketed, and the regime's portrayal of us as the neighborhood bully was readily debunked. Americans helped repair a synagogue roof, and Baltimore Orioles players visiting Cuba for an exhibition game gave children bats and balls — gestures of American generosity
."

Seriously?

How can Senator Kerry boldly state that U.S policy has "manifestly failed" for nearly 50 years, then qualify the Clinton Administration's travel and engagement initiatives as "successful"?

Wasn't Bill Clinton's presidency within the last 50 years?

Wasn't Jimmy Carter's presidency -- when tourism and all other travel transactions between the U.S. and Cuba were completely authorized without limitation -- also within the last 50 years?

Under this premise, shouldn't travel and engagement also be classified as a "failure"?

Think about it, in the aftermath to the fall of the Soviet Union, during the most politically and economically vulnerable time for the Castro regime in recent history, the Clinton Administration chose the path of travel and engagement -- to no avail.

Senator Kerry then proceeds to note that:

"[T]he administration should review the programs that the Bush administration funded generously to substitute for people-to-people diplomacy...U.S. civil society programs may have noble objectives, but we need to examine whether we're achieving them."

And in the same breath:

"Free travel is also good policy inside Cuba. Visiting Europeans and Canadians have already had a significant impact by increasing the flow of information and hard currency to ordinary Cubans. Americans can be even greater catalysts of change."

As a sidebar -- it's fascinating how the most virulent Congressional critics of American exceptionalism always find an exception (no pun intended) to this criticism when it comes to tourism travel to Cuba.

But back to the point -- how can Senator Kerry question whether U.S. civil society programs are "achieving their objectives," while assuming that European and Canadian tourists in Cuba's apartheid beach resorts "have already had a significant impact by increasing the flow of information"?

It's the other way around, Senator.

The goal of U.S. civil society programs since their creation in 1996 (four years before Bush) has been precisely to "increase the flow of information" to the Cuban people, plus enhance civil society's ability to gather and disseminate information themselves. Therefore, according to your own litmus, they have been successful.

What we should be examining is whether European and Canadian tourists have been "achieving their objectives" (and its cost to the Cuban people).

Tragically though, we already know they have: sun, sex, mojitos and a blind-eye towards repression.

What Happened to the Magna Carta?

Monday, December 7, 2009
Britain's Ambassador to Cuba, Dianna Melrose, has taken issue with our recent post about her remarks at a Center for Strategic and International Studies' (CSIS) forum on the European Union's (EU) policy towards Cuba, and has issued a statement in response.

At the CSIS forum, Amb. Melrose said:

"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."

It was not our intent -- by far -- to get into a tit-for-tat with Amb. Melrose, nor did we in any way assert that Amb. Melrose supported U.S. policy towards Cuba, we simply reiterated the important observation she made.

However, it seems logical that if the U.S. has a policy of sanctions (and by Amb. Melrose's own admission, potential leverage), while the EU has a policy of unconditional engagement (and no leverage), then one policy is clearly more effective than the other.

Yet, Amb. Melorse doesn't specifically re-visit the issue of leverage in her response. Instead, she simply advocates against U.S. law and policy, as if there was any doubt regarding her position.

Considering this extraordinary intervention into the U.S. legislative process by a foreign diplomat, we felt it would be appropriate to address some of her arguments.

First of all, Amb. Melrose proudly states that:

"The UK has full diplomatic and trading relations with Cuba and is the second largest source of tourists here after Canada."

She then proceeds to advocate for altering U.S. law and allowing U.S. tourism to Cuba:

"If [the Cuban people] were able to talk to US citizens, with whom they share so many sporting, cultural and historical links, they could benefit from learning about the civil liberties and economic freedoms which US citizens enjoy. This contact would also help debunk the daily fare of anti-US propaganda they have grown up with in the state-run media."

Does this mean that the millions of British tourists that have vacationed in Cuba since the 1990's have not been discussing the Magna Carta with the Cuban people (during their day-trips to Havana from the Castro regime's all-inclusive beach resorts)?

Furthermore, are the "lessons" taught by British tourists about civil liberties and economic freedoms, which they surely enjoy at home, somehow inadequate compared to those of potential U.S. tourists?

Frankly, we don't believe in British, nor American, exceptionalism. Too many Cubans have been harassed, imprisoned and executed for their ideals -- without being "educated" by foreign tourists -- in order to now be patronized. Moreover, if the Cuban people were given the opportunity to emigrate from the island, more than half the population would make the painful decision to do so, and their choice destination would be the U.S. (so much for their "gullibility" in believing the Castro regime's anti-U.S. propaganda).

Amb. Melrose also embraces some of the economic arguments commonly made by anti-sanctions advocates:

"The arrival of thousands of US citizens would put pressure on the [Cuban] government to allow more free enterprise (more family businesses offering rooms to rent, more privately owned "paladar" restaurants and more taxi licenses)."

We hate to point out that Cuba is not a market-driven economy, it is a totalitarian command economy. As such, when the Cuban military feels that it can't accommodate any more U.S. tourists in their beach resorts, they will simply not allow any more into the island (and proceed to build more hotels). A brief review of the history of the Castro regime clearly shows that it is driven by absolute power and control, not rational economic logic.

She also echoes that,

"The [Cuban] government would have to import more food for the tourism sector, potentially creating new markets for US suppliers."

More bad news. By transplanting a U.S. tourists from one place to another, a new market is not created. It is simply changing the location of where that U.S. tourist is fed, not adding a new consumer. However, you would be adding a middle-man to the transaction (in this case, the Castro regime), which would actually be detrimental to the U.S. economy and to our current account deficit. You can follow the macroeconomic logic here.

Yet, despite these disagreements, let's let bygones-be-bygones and join in a New Year's wish for the Cuban people:

That the spirit and inspiration of the Magna Carta may prevail in 2010.

"IT IS ACCORDINGLY OUR WISH AND COMMAND that the English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fullness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever."

- Magna Carta, June 15th, 1215

Do Foreign Tourists Help the Cuban People?

Sunday, December 6, 2009
Let's take Canadian tourists, for example.

According to Canada's Vancouver Sun:

"Havana is not a common tourist destination for Canadians. Though some 700,000 Canadians travel to Cuba each year, most go to the popular resort areas of Varadero, Cayo Coco and Holguin, with maybe a day trip to Havana."

As a reminder, those resorts are in isolated areas, owned and operated by the Castro regime's military and where access by the Cuban people is prohibited (or at best, strictly controlled).

Answer: Hardly.

Do tourists help the Castro regime's military (aka, repressive forces)?

Answer: Lucratively.

Quote of the Week

"[F]or a Cuban blogger to get to the mythical Ithaca that is the Internet, they must first navigate an odyssey of obstacles. First, there is the scandalous cost of connecting, which in just a couple of hours can swallow an average monthly salary ($15 to $20 U.S.). Then there are the Paleolithic browsing speeds (usually less than 50 Kbps). And finally, of course, there is the ministry-level apartheid that prohibits Cuban nationals from opening a web account with ETECSA, the national telephone company -- whereas any foreign resident can do so with a simple bureaucratic application accompanied by hard currency."

- Orlando Pardo Lazo, from INSIDE CUBA: Guerrilla Blogging, December 6th, 2009

A Distinguished Diplomat's View

The impossible dream, again

By Ambassador Everett 'Ted' Ellis Briggs

My father was a U.S. diplomat stationed in Cuba when I was born. Thus I am an American by birth who spent my life as an American diplomat serving in many countries, including Portugal, Honduras, and Panama where I was the American ambassador.

Because we lived in Cuba for many years, I have remained interested in the island's affairs.

I attended this month's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearings on whether to lift restrictions on tourist travel to Cuba. Many in Congress, who favor a softer U.S. policy, argue we should neither demand nor expect anything in return from the Castro regime for lifting what remains of the U.S. embargo. It doesn't bother them that Havana rejected President Obama's request, when he lifted restrictions on remittances and family visits, that Cuba respond by releasing its political prisoners.

In fact, it is misleading to continue to call U.S. restrictions on commercial dealings with Cuba an "embargo." Today's restrictions aim not to undermine the regime, but rather to avoid financing its longevity, and they do so without harm to the Cuban people.

That's because the hardships of Cuban life don't stem from the U.S. "embargo." They stem from the mind-numbing economic and heavy-handed political policies of Cuba's communist regime.

The regime tries to blame the United States for widespread shortages in Cuba, but the Cubans know that the United States is one of the island's most important sources of food, feed and other agricultural products, including lumber and paper.

Current U.S. trade with Cuba is valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. What makes it different is that the United States requires Cuba to pay cash for its American imports, because Cuba has repeatedly defaulted on payments to suppliers extending credit. Were America to extend credit to Cuba, essentially guaranteeing American exporters would be paid, U. S. taxpayers would get stuck with the bill for its default. Until Cuba returns to being a "normal" country with a rule of law, credit restrictions are prudent and ought to be maintained.

It is the regime that embargoes the Cuban people, resisting changes that can improve life in Cuba but might disturb the status quo. For example, Washington recently offered to facilitate construction of a fiber-optic cable connection. Havana rejected the idea as a threat to its "national security."

U.S. law also bars investment in Cuba to prevent American corporations from becoming "junior partners" in this communist government. In Cuba, the government is the only employer. The government assigns jobs, sets pay scales and serves as paymaster. Foreign investors pay the regime to supply labor. Cuba not only sets the amount to be paid, it demands payment in a hard currency. The government then keeps 90 percent of what investors pay and remits the remainder in near worthless pesos to workers. "Foreign investment" in Cuba is not only unfriendly toward labor, it directly subsidizes and strengthens the regime's repression of workers.

The argument that unrestricted travel by American tourists to Cuba would expose Cubans and the regime to our way of life and soften government resistance to reform flies in the face of experience and history. Tourism is Cuba's major source of foreign revenue, and the hordes of European and Canadian tourists have wrought no perceptible changes in Cuba. Worldwide, there are no examples of dictators allowing tourists to undermine their rule.

U.S. interests are better served by our principled opposition to the Castro dynasty and restricting commerce that benefits the Cuban government. There is nothing to be gained by trying to win the good will of tyrants who have demonstrated unbounded enmity toward the United States.

Cuba remains a cancer in the Western Hemisphere. With help from Venezuela and radical Arab states, it has resumed spreading virulent anti-American propaganda, most recently accusing the United States of genocide against Cuba.

Congress should not pretend that softening U.S. policy will dissipate the enmity of the Castro brothers. America's national interest requires that Congress recognize Havana's challenge to freedom, its continuing efforts to infiltrate its spies in the American government, and it's promotion of violent anti-American groups worldwide.

Everett "Ted" Ellis Briggs is a former United States Ambassador to Portugal, Panama and Honduras.

© Copyright 2009 The Washington Times, LLC.