A Diary of Madmen

Saturday, December 19, 2009
"Calumny is only the noise of madmen."

- Diogenes of Sinope, Greek philosopher, 412 B.C.-323 B.C.





Waxman Blasts Cuba on Climate Talks

Chairman Waxman's Statement on Completion of Climate Talks in Copenhagen

This morning in Copenhagen, the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change completed their work on the Copenhagen Accord.  In response, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released the following statement:

"Due to President Obama's leadership, the vast majority of the world has come together to meaningfully tackle climate change.  No one should be surprised that Venezuela, Cuba, and just a handful of countries attempted to stand in the way of international progress on climate change.  Fortunately, while they may have blocked consensus, they have not blocked progress."
 
EDITOR'S NOTE:  What happened to all those issues of mutual interest that advocates of unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime keep talking about?

Diplomats Told to Ignore Repression

Today's Nuevo Herald reports that the Castro regime has summoned the top diplomats in Havana from the U.S., the U.K., and Germany to reprimand them for allowing their diplomats to observe the public demonstrations marking Human Rights Day on December 10th.

On that day, public demonstrations by pro-democracy activists, such as the Ladies in White, were met with great violence and repression by the regime's organized mobs. In some cases, the mobs even assaulted foreign diplomats that were observing.

Just imagine what they would have done to any foreign tourist that might have dared observed (but there was never any real danger of that as they were too busy enjoying the regime's all-inclusive beach resorts).

Therefore, the message of the regime is loud and clear, foreign diplomats and tourists only have one function in Cuba. That is, respectively:

To provide legitimacy and foreign currency to the Castro regime.

In other words, "just shut up, don't watch and give me your money."

We hope these diplomats don't relent in their human and moral obligation in favor of the human and civil rights of the Cuban people, which is consistent with international principles and accords.

As such, here's a partial list of more than 80 known pro-democracy activists who were detained by the Castro regime on December 10th -- some for a few hours, some for a few days, and others placed under house arrest -- in a constant campaign of harassment.

We pray for their safety.

1- Aníbal Reinier Vera
2- Idalberto Acuña Talavera
3- Damián Sánchez Sainz
4- Luís Godinez Solenzal
5- Vladimir Calderón Frías
6- Pedro Moisés Calderón Tápanes
7- Yusnaimy Jorge Soca
8- David Águila Montero
9- Carlos Manuel Pupo Rodríguez
10- Sebastián Rogelio Brage Borges
11- Aníbal Alemán Jiménez
12- Idalberto Rodríguez Osorio
13- Juan Gilberto Garcia Pérez
14- Rafael Ernesto Ávila
15- Lilvio Fernández Luís
16- Emilio Jerez Oliver
17- Arturo Montgomery Alonso
18- Elizabet de Regla Alonso
19- Jorge Luís Trujillo González
20- Juan Juan Almeida (Abogado disidente)
21- Julián Guerra derrite
22- Ernesto Rodríguez López
23- José Antonio Menéndez González
24- Alfredo Guilleuma
25- Julián Enrique Martínez Báez
26- Luís González Medina
27- Luz Maria Barceló Padrón
28- Eduardo Pacheco Ortiz
29- Michel Lazcano Rico
30- Lázaro Urra de Armas
31- Frank Silveira Machado
32- Yunieski García López
33- Gonzalo Nicolás de la Barca Pedraza
34- Antonio Suárez Fondiciella
35- Ana Rosa Alfonso Arteaga
36- Guillermo del Sol Pérez
37- Isidro Manuel Pérez Cruz
38- Juan Miguel González Cutiño
39- Orlando López Escobar
40- Guillermo Peña González
41- Carlos Hernández Tamayo
42- Luís Alberto Rodríguez Rodríguez
43- Víctor Manuel Pérez Nápoles
44- Oter Varona Borrego
45- Walter Martínez Sánchez
46- Carlos Alberto Gilbaus Paredes
47- Guianella Ortiz Hernández
48- Orestes Antonio Giniebra
49- Emiliano Calvo Díaz
50- Dunieski Guerrero de la Cruz
51- Alexis Guerrero Cruz
52- Jesús Clemente Yapur
53- Lázaro Moriña González
54- Trinidad Rodríguez Abril
55- Charles Manuel Lorenzo Sordo
56- Arisbel Guerrero
57- Luís Escalona Díaz
58- Manuel Martínez León
59- Félix Menéndez Pérez
60- Miguel Amado Rey
61- Juan Carlos Bous Batista
62- Alfredo Guileuma
63- Adrián del Sol Alfonso
64- Celestino Hernández Morales
65- Frank Reyes López
66- Jorge Luís García
67- Blas Augusto Fortún Martínez
68- Idalberto González Gómez
69- Damaris Moya Potiellis
70- Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera
71- Ana Hilda Contreras Rodríguez
72- Belkis Maria Mena Contreras
73- Donaida Pérez Paceiro
74- Alcides Rivera Rodríguez
75- Carlos Michael Morales Rodríguez
76- Alberto Reyes Morales
77- Michel Oliva López
78- Yoslabi Despaine
79- Juan Alfaro González
80- Alexei Martínez Rojas
81- Diosiris Santana Pérez
82- José Pérez González
83- Idania Yánez Contreras

Cut the Mic!

Friday, December 18, 2009
In Castro's Cuba, if they can't "cut the mic" on time, they send the secret police to your home.

Just ask Gladys Escandell Martinez.

Dissident sends greetings on state radio stations

HAVANA, (Iván Sañudo Pupo, Cubanet) – Gladys Escandell Martínez says she was threatened by police after she called three radio stations last week and sent on-air greetings to two jailed fellow dissidents.

Escandell, a member of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women, said she called Radio Rebelde, Radio Coco and Radio Metropolitana and sent the greetings to Oscar Elías Biscet and Darsi Ferrer, both medical doctors.

She said two State Security agents later went to her home and threatened her with arrest for "civil disobedience" because of her calls to the radios stations.

The U.S. Will Not Be Blackmailed

According to the Miami Herald:

Florida Sen. George LeMieux dropped his opposition Thursday to the Obama administration's new ambassador to Brazil, saying he won commitments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on areas of concern -- including Honduras and Cuba.

The Florida Republican said he secured assurances from Clinton that the U.S. will normalize relations with Honduras and jump-start stalled democracy grants to nonprofits looking to work in Cuba.

As regards the case of an American citizen arrested by the Castro regime for providing information technology to the Cuban people:

LeMieux said he got assurances from Clinton "that we were not going to negotiate away democracy assistance in exchange for this person's return."

Kudos to Senator Lemieux and Secretary Clinton.

Castro's Sex Syndicate?

According to Ghana News:

"The Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Ghana Police Service says the sex syndicate uncovered in Russia is only a tip of the iceberg.

The unit says similar rings exist in Italy, the USA, Cuba, Syria and along the west coast of Africa.

Investigators are working with Ghanaian missions abroad to arrest the gangs involved.

Speaking to Joy News on Wednesday, Head of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit of the Police Service, DSP Patience Quaye, said steady progress is being made in Russia and the other countries to which Ghanaians are sold into modern slavery.

'We've mounted some surveillance, tracking down some of the suspects in Ghana. We know the others are in Russia,' she said and hinted that 'anybody could be trafficked to any country depending on the mission that the person wants to accomplish.'

DSP Quaye cited an incident where a gang which had promised its victims business in the USA, took them to Cuba.

The police has so far ensured the conviction of three persons in connection with human trafficking whilst six other cases are pending before the courts, DSP Quaye stressed."

Castro's Cuba is a totalitarian police state. The regime's secret police and intelligence services are amongst the most sophisticated in the world. They can find a cell phone, computer or thumb drive in the most remote neighborhood, of the most remote city or town in the island.

Therefore, it would be nearly impossible to run a human trafficking operation in Cuba without the knowledge or participation of the regime.

Plus, slavery is not an alien concept to the Castros.

Attorney General's Remarks on Credit Suisse

Thursday, December 17, 2009
Excerpt from Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement:

Today we are announcing the outcome of a major investigation into massive financial misconduct at one of the world's largest global banks, Credit Suisse. In both its scope and complexity, the criminal misconduct perpetrated by Credit Suisse in this case is simply astounding. Indeed, as set forth in the court documents filed today, this case offers a stark and disturbing example of the lengths to which some corporate wrongdoers are willing to go in seeking ill-gotten financial gains.

It is exactly the type of wrongdoing that has led to the erosion of the public's confidence in our financial security and institutions. And it is the kind of financial misconduct we at the Department of Justice will continue to target aggressively. For more than a decade, Credit Suisse did business with and for countries that the United States had specifically banned from our financial systems. The rules that prohibited financial transactions with these sanctioned nations were in place for many years. Credit Suisse, like all other major global banks, knew well that the United States would not process financial transactions from individuals or companies in places like Iran, Libya, Sudan, Burma, and Cuba.

But rather than adhere to the law and decline to serve these customers, Credit Suisse established a business model to allow these rogue players access to U.S. dollars. At one point, the company even developed a pamphlet for its Iranian clients, explaining how to fill out payment messages so as not to trigger U.S. filters. They created a "how-to" book on committing a crime – and it worked well for years.

In another case, a Credit Suisse team leader circulated an email with screen shots of payment applications, showing how to format messages to ensure that they would pass through the United States undetected.

The sanctions put in place against these countries have been deemed appropriate and necessary by numerous Administrations, and are followed by hundreds of financial institutions around the globe. And these rules matter -- they keep dollars out of the hands of countries and individuals that threaten U.S. interests abroad and our national security here at home.

Pro Bono Translation of Travel Lingo

Yesterday, U.S. travel industry leaders met in a Washington, D.C. hotel to listen to a Castro regime official's seductive pitch for business (and plea to lobby in favor of tourism travel to Cuba).

During the event, hosted by the U.S. Tour Operators Association, industry leaders watched promotional videos of Canadian and European tourists on Cuba's beautiful beaches, basking in the sun, while sipping mojitos.

As part of the business pitch, Miguel Figueras Perez, the Castro regime's tourism official, stressed to the group that Cuba was safe, that there were:

"no drugs, no vices, no kidnappings, no crimes against tourists."

Since it was the first time some of these U.S. travel specialists were interacting with officials from the Cuban dictatorship, and therefore may be unfamiliar with some of the code-talk and lingos they use, we felt it would be important to translate just what Mr. Figueras means by this statement.

What he means is,

"no drugs (for narcotics trafficking is the exclusive domain of regime officials), no vices (other than the regime's blind zeal for totalitarian rule and repression), no kidnappings (except for 100 lb female bloggers, and other pro-democracy and human rights activists), and no crimes against tourists (as the regime only beats, tortures, harasses and imprisons the Cuban people)."

Yet, directly or indirectly, repression can be a lucrative business.

Any questions?

Cuban Journalists Under Fire

CPJ's 2009 Prison Census: Freelance Journalists Under Fire

Freelancers now make up nearly 45 percent of all journalists jailed worldwide, a dramatic recent increase that reflects the evolution of the global news business, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, CPJ found a total of 136 reporters, editors, and photojournalists behind bars, an increase of 11 from the 2008 tally. A massive crackdown in Iran, where 23 journalists are now in jail, fueled the worldwide increase.

China continued to be the world's worst jailer of journalists, a dishonor it has held for 11 consecutive years. Iran, Cuba, Eritrea, and Burma round out the top five jailers from among the 26 nations that imprison journalists. Each nation has persistently placed among the world's worst in detaining journalists.

Please take a few minutes to read the plight of some of these imprisoned Cuban journalists:

Pedro Argüelles Morán, Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Argüelles Morán was convicted in April 2003 of violating Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy, which punishes anyone who commits acts "aiming at subverting the internal order of the nation and destroying its political, economic, and social system." He was given a 20-year prison sentence. Argüelles Morán, a cartographer who, in 2003, was working as director of the independent news agency Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes in the central province of Ciego de Ávila, was being held at the Canaleta Prison in his home province, his wife, Yolanda Vera Nerey, told CPJ. The 62-year-old was allowed visits every three months, she said. Vera Nerey told CPJ that her husband was diagnosed with bone and respiratory ailments, and had cataracts in both eyes.

Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, Unión de Periodistas y Escritores de Cuba Independientes
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Arroyo Carmona, a journalist for the independent news agency Unión de Periodistas y Escritores de Cuba Independientes in his home province of Pinar del Río, was handed a 26-year prison sentence for acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" under Article 91 of the penal code in April 2003. Arroyo Carmona was being held at the Kilo 5½ Prison, his wife, Elsa González Padrón, told CPJ. The journalist, who was housed in a hall with at least 130 prisoners, waged a hunger strike in May to protest prison conditions, news reports said. Arroyo Carmona—who had been diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, and pulmonary emphysema—protested a lack of medical attention, unsanitary cell conditions, cruel treatment, and obstruction of his efforts to practice religion. At least three other political prisoners joined the reporter in his protest.

Miguel Galván Gutiérrez, Havana Press
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Galván Gutiérrez, a journalist for the independent news agency Havana Press, was tried in April 2003 under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for acting against "the independence or the territorial integrity of the state." He was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Galván Gutiérrez, 44, was being held in Guanajay Prison, in the western province of Havana, near his home, his sister, Teresa Galván Gutiérrez, told CPJ. Though prison conditions were harsh, she said, they were better than at the maximum-security Agüica Prison, where the journalist was imprisoned until June 2007. Galván Gutiérrez was housed alone in a cell in which, he told his sister, he could read and study, although he said books were hard to come by. The journalist suffered severe joint and back pain, she said.

Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, freelance
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

For 24 years, Gálvez Rodríguez worked for government media. But in March 2003, as he was working as a freelance reporter in Havana, state security agents arrested him as part of the massive crackdown. He was summarily tried that April under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy and given a 14-year prison sentence. The People's Supreme Tribunal, Cuba's highest court, upheld the decision a month later. In 2009, Gálvez Rodríguez, 65, was being held in solitary confinement at Havana's Combinado del Este Prison, his partner, Irene Viera Silloy, told CPJ. She said the journalist was allowed one family visit every two months. Gálvez Rodríguez suffered from high cholesterol, hypertension, and respiratory problems, according to CPJ research. Viera Silloy said he was also diagnosed with pneumonia. Gálvez Rodríguez continued to write from prison, Viera Silloy told CPJ. She said prison authorities briefly revoked the journalist's phone privileges in September after he refused to wear a prison uniform.

José Luis García Paneque, Libertad
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

A physician by profession, García Paneque, 43, joined the independent news agency Libertad in 1998 after being fired from his job at a hospital in eastern Las Tunas because of his political views. In April 2003, a Cuban court sentenced him to 24 years in prison after he was convicted of acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code. García Paneque was being held at Las Mangas Prison in Granma province, according to his wife, Yamilé Llánez Labrada. Although general prison conditions improved in 2009, she said, the reporter still shared a small cell with several other inmates and complained of difficulty sleeping. García Paneque's parents visited him every 45 days, his wife told CPJ; she and her children, who moved to Texas in 2007, talked to him on the phone monthly. García Paneque's health has significantly deteriorated in prison. He has been diagnosed with a kidney tumor, internal bleeding, chronic malnutrition, and pneumonia. Llánez Labrada told CPJ that her husband continued to have digestive problems and had lost all the hair on his body due to malnutrition.

Ricardo González Alfonso, freelance
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

González Alfonso, a poet and screenwriter, began reporting for Cuba's independent press in 1995. He founded the award-winning newsmagazine De Cuba and a Havana-based association of journalists, and then worked as a freelance reporter and Cuba correspondent for the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders. He was taken into custody on March 18, 2003. In April, the Havana Provincial Tribunal found him guilty of violating Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for "acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state," and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. That June, the People's Supreme Tribunal Court upheld his conviction. González Alfonso, 59, was being held at Havana's Combinado del Este Prison, a two-hour car ride from his family home in the capital, his sister, Graciela González-Degard, told CPJ. The reporter's small, windowless cell, she said, was hot and humid, and the prison food was poor. As punishment for his refusal to wear a prison uniform, officials denied him religious assistance, barred his family from bringing him clean clothes, and cut family visitation to once every two months. González-Degard, who lives in New York but visited her brother in August, told CPJ that he was in good health and spirits, though he suffered from hypertension, arthritis, severe allergies to humidity and dust, chronic bronchitis, and several digestive and circulatory problems. During her three-week visit to Havana, she was followed and harassed by state security agents, she said. She also told CPJ that González Alfonso's two teenage sons had lost employment opportunities as a result of his imprisonment.

Léster Luis González Pentón, freelance
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

A court in the central province of Villa Clara sentenced independent freelance reporter González Pentón in April 2003 to 20 years in prison under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for acting against "the independence or the territorial integrity of the state."The youngest of the imprisoned Cuban journalists, González Pentón, 32, was being held in 2009 at La Pendiente Prison in the northern city of Santa Clara, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. González Pentón suffered from stomach problems, according to Laura Pollán Toledo, a human rights activist and wife of imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. He was allowed occasional visits to his home for good behavior, she said.

Iván Hernández Carrillo, Patria
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Hernández Carrillo, a reporter for the independent news agency Patria in the western city of Colón, was sentenced in April 2003 to 25 years in prison under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy. In 1992, he had been given a two-year prison sentence for allegedly "distributing enemy propaganda and disrespecting Fidel Castro." Hernández Carrillo, 38, was being held at Guamajal Prison in Santa Clara province in 2009. He suffered from hypertension and gastritis. On April 14, Hernández Carrillo went on a 10-day hunger strike to protest the conditions of his imprisonment, his mother, Asunción Carrillo, said. Prison authorities encouraged other inmates to harass and attack him, he told his mother.

Alfredo Pulido López, El Mayor
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Cuban authorities arrested Pulido López, director of the independent news agency El Mayor in Camagüey, in March 2003. A month later, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison under Article 91 of the penal code, accused of acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state."In 2009, the journalist was being held at Kilo 7 Prison in his home province along with more than 100 hardened criminals, his wife, Rebecca Rodríguez Souto, told CPJ. The cell's ventilation was poor, and he shared the restroom facilities with the other inmates, she said. She told CPJ that she was able to visit him once a month and take food and medicine to him. Pulido López, 49, suffered from chronic bronchitis, gastritis, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. In 2009, his respiratory ailments worsened significantly from the high humidity and poor ventilation, his wife said. She told CPJ that her husband was receiving medical treatment for his respiratory condition only.

Omar Rodríguez Saludes, Nueva Prensa Cubana
Imprisoned: March 18, 2003

Rodríguez Saludes, director of the Havana-based independent news agency Nueva Prensa Cubana, was arrested in March 2003 and summarily tried in April under Article 91 of Cuba's penal code for "acting against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state." Cuban authorities handed him a 27-year prison sentence. Rodríguez Saludes, 44, was a well-known photographer who also reported and wrote. He was being held at Toledo Prison in Havana, where he was allowed just one visit every month, according to Laura Pollán Toledo, a human rights activist and wife of imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. According to his wife, Ileana Marrero Joa, the journalist had been diagnosed with gastrointestinal problems and hypertension.

Mijaíl Barzaga Lugo, Agencia Noticiosa Cubana
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Barzaga Lugo, a reporter for the independent news agency Agencia Noticiosa Cubana, was arrested in March 2003 and accused the following month of violating Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy. Cuban authorities handed him a 15-year prison sentence. Barzaga Lugo was being held at 1580 Prison in the municipality of San Miguel del Padrón, according to Laura Pollán Toledo, a human rights activist and wife of imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. She said the reporter suffered from skin ailments made acute by prison conditions; he did not receive medical treatment for the problem.

Adolfo Fernández Saínz, Patria
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

In March 2003, Cuban state security agents raided the Havana home of Fernández Saínz, correspondent for the independent news agency Patria, and then arrested the journalist. He was tried under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy in April. In June of that year, Cuba's highest court, the People's Supreme Tribunal, upheld his conviction and his 15-year prison sentence.Fernández Saínz, 60, was being held at Canaleta Prison in central Ciego de Ávila province, 250 miles (400 kilometers) from his home, CPJ research shows. Prison authorities allowed him family visits once every two months. His wife, Julia Núñez Pacheco, told CPJ that traveling to the prison was difficult and very expensive. A one-way bus ticket cost 85 Cuban pesos (US$3.75), a large portion of the average Cuban monthly salary of 480 Cuban pesos (US$21). Conditions in Canaleta Prison were very poor, Núñez Pacheco told CPJ. Her husband was housed in a barracks with roughly 40 other inmates with almost no air circulation and bad hygiene. Food was inadequate and often inedible, she said. He suffered from chronic hypertension, emphysema, osteoporosis, prostate ailments, and four kidney cysts, and received scant medical attention.

Alfredo Felipe Fuentes, freelance
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Fuentes, an economist by training, began working for the Cuban independent press in 1991. On March 19, 2003, he was arrested after a raid on his home in the city of Artemisa. The next month, the freelance reporter was convicted of violating Article 91 of the Cuban penal code, which imposes harsh penalties for acting against "the independence or the territorial integrity of the state." A judge in western Havana province handed him a 26-year prison sentence.The 60-year-old journalist was being held at the maximum-security Guanajay Prison, his wife, Loyda Valdés González, told CPJ. Valdés González, who is allowed to visit her husband only once every 45 days, said conditions at Guanajay were better than those at other prisons where he had been held. Due to his severe back problems, the reporter did not share a cell with other prisoners. Valdés González said her husband suffered from chronic gastritis that caused him to lose significant amounts of weight.Valdés González told CPJ that in December 2007, her husband presented an appeal to Cuba's Supreme Tribunal Court. Because Cuban authorities denied Fuentes access to a lawyer, he did so without benefit of counsel. After two years, the court had still not responded to him, Valdés González told CPJ.

Normando Hernández González, Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Hernández González was arrested in March 2003 as part of the massive crackdown on Cuba's dissidents and independent press. The director of the news agency Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey was sentenced the following month to 25 years in prison under Article 91 of the penal code. Hernández González was held in an isolation cell at the maximum-security Kilo 7 Prison in his home province of Camagüey for much of the year, his mother, Blanca González, told CPJ. He spent all but two hours a week alone, and received family visits only once every 45 days, she said. The journalist was diagnosed with intestinal ailments, and has suffered from pneumonia and knee problems so severe that even standing was difficult, his mother said. In November, doctors also diagnosed Hernández González with several cardiovascular ailments.Hernández González was moved to the hospital at Combinado del Este Prison in late October, said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a formerly jailed journalist. His wife, Yaraí Reyes Marín, told CPJ that she requested medical parole for her husband in July 2006, but Cuban authorities did not respond.

Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

In March 2003, Herrera Acosta was arrested during the massive crackdown on Cuba's dissidents and independent press. A Cuban court sentenced him a month later to 20 years in prison under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy. Herrera Acosta, Guantánamo correspondent for the independent news agency Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental, was being held at the eastern Holguín Provincial Prison in 2009, independent Cuban journalist Miriam Leyva told CPJ. She also said that the reporter was diagnosed with diabetes. His wife, Ileana Danger Hardy, told CPJ that he suffered from psychological ailments. According to Leyva, those problems became more acute over the course of 2009.

José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Izquierdo Hernández, a reporter in western Havana for the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, was sentenced in April 2003 to 16 years in prison for acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" under Article 91 of the penal code. Following an appeal the next month, the People's Supreme Tribunal Court upheld his conviction. In 2009, he was being held at the Guanajay Prison in his home province. Izquierdo Hernández was diagnosed with severe depression, digestive ailments, circulatory problems, emphysema, and asthma, according to Laura Pollán Toledo, wife of fellow imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez.

Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Several state security agents raided Maseda Gutiérrez's home on the second day of the March 2003 crackdown on Cuba's dissidents and independent press. Following a closed-door summary trial the following month, the reporter was charged under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" and Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In June of that year, Cuba's highest court, the People's Supreme Tribunal, dismissed his appeal. An engineer with a graduate degree in nuclear physics, Maseda Gutiérrez began working as an independent journalist in 1995, according to his wife, Laura Pollán Toledo. Maseda Gutiérrez was a founding member of the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro. In 2009, the reporter was being held at the maximum-security Agüica Prison in western Matanzas province, Pollán Toledo said. She said Maseda Gutiérrez was allowed family visits once every 45 days. CPJ research found that he continued to report on jail conditions and human rights violations from prison. In 2008, Maseda Gutiérrez was awarded CPJ's International Press Freedom Award. The 66-year-old reporter, the oldest of the imprisoned Cuban journalists, suffered from high blood pressure and a skin condition, his wife said. The skin problems worsened over 2009, but Maseda Gutiérrez did not receive medical treatment, she said.

Pablo Pacheco Ávila, Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

On March 19, 2003, state security agents raided the home of Pacheco Ávila, a reporter for the local independent news agency Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes, in central Ciego de Ávila. He was convicted in April under Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's Independence and Economy for committing acts "aiming at subverting the internal order of the nation and destroying its political, economic, and social system," and sentenced to 20 years in prison.Pacheco Ávila, 39, was being held at Canaleta Prison in his home province, his wife, Oleyvis García Echemendía, told CPJ. She said her husband was in generally good health despite having been diagnosed last year with high blood pressure, acute gastritis, and kidney problems. He was housed in a barracks with at least 30 other prisoners.On March 20, the sixth anniversary of Pacheco Ávila's arrest, prison authorities granted him a 24-hour home furlough for good behavior. In an interview with U.S.-based Radio Martí, Pacheco Ávila said that while at home, he was able to see his wife and 10-year-old son, and speak by phone with other jailed reporters and family members in other parts of Cuba and abroad.

Fabio Prieto Llorente, freelance
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Prieto Llorente, a freelance reporter in western Isla de la Juventud, was arrested in March 2003 during the massive crackdown on the Cuban independent press. In April of that year, a local court sentenced him to 20 years in prison for violating Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy.Prieto Llorente was being held in solitary confinement at El Guayabo Prison in his home province, his sister, Clara Lourdes Prieto Llorente, told CPJ. In a January 7 letter to Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz, the reporter said his cell measured just 10 feet (three meters) by six and a half feet (two meters), and his meals consisted of spoiled and burned "animal products." According to his sister, the journalist has been diagnosed with allergies, emphysema, back problems, high blood pressure, and depression. He was allowed visits from two family members every two months, his sister told CPJ. In 2009, Prieto Llorente actively reported on and protested prison conditions. His stories, published on overseas news Web sites, detailed such issues as the brutal punishment inflicted on other inmates by prison guards, and the "slave-like" work that authorities imposed on prisoners. In February, he waged a hunger strike to call attention to the situation at El Guayabo, the Miami-based news Web site Payolibre reported.

Omar Ruiz Hernández, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro
Imprisoned: March 19, 2003

Ruiz Hernández, a reporter for the Havana-based independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro in the province of Villa Clara, was arrested on March 19, 2003, during the massive crackdown on the island's dissidents and independent press. He was sentenced in April to 18 years in prison for acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code. The reporter, 62, was being held in Nieves Morejón Prison in the central province of Sancti Spíritus, 40 miles (65 kilometers) from his home, his wife, Bárbara Maritza Rojo Arias, told CPJ. He shared quarters with 11 prisoners in a small barracks, she said. The quarters, which he was rarely permitted to leave, had no ventilation and poor lighting. Rojo Arias said other living conditions—including his meals—improved at the prison over the course of 2009. He was allowed a family visit of two hours every two months, his wife told CPJ.Ruiz Hernández suffered from depression and loss of eyesight. He was also diagnosed with high blood pressure, circulatory problems, and chronic gastrointestinal ailments. Rojo Arias told CPJ that her husband was being treated by prison doctors and that she was allowed to provide him with additional medication.

Oscar Sánchez Madan, freelance
Imprisoned: April 13, 2007

In early 2007, Sánchez Madan was detained twice and warned to stop working for the independent press after he covered a local corruption scandal and social problems in western Matanzas province, where he lived. He was arrested in April 2007 and, after a one-day trial, Cuban authorities convicted him of "social dangerousness," a vague charge contained in Article 72 of the penal code. The reporter was handed the maximum prison sentence of four years. In 2009, the reporter was being held at the maximum-security Combinado del Sur Prison, outside the provincial capital of Matanzas, according to CPJ research. His neighbor, Juan Francisco Sigler, told CPJ that prison conditions were very poor. The reporter's mother was allowed to visit once every 45 days, CPJ research shows. Sánchez Madan continued to report on human rights violations from prison, Sigler said. Prison authorities threatened retaliation, saying they would do everything in their power to keep him jailed if he continued to write, Sigler told CPJ. On at least one occasion, inmates beat the journalist severely at the encouragement of authorities. As further retaliation, the reporter was sent to solitary confinement for weeks at a time, according to Sigler.

Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, Havana Press
Imprisoned: April 18, 2009

Police arrested Du Bouchet Hernández, director of the Havana-based independent news agency Habana Press, while he was visiting relatives outside Havana. Officers alleged that the journalist was shouting antigovernment slogans in the street.In May, Du Bouchet Hernández was convicted in a summary trial on charges of "disrespect" and distribution of enemy propaganda, and sentenced to three years in prison. Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana, told CPJ that the journalist was not allowed a defense lawyer. Miriam Herrera, an independent journalist based in Havana, told CPJ that Du Bouchet Hernández had reported on social issues, which could have upset local authorities. In 2005, Du Bouchet Hernández had been jailed on "disrespect" charges and sentenced to one year in prison after he enraged authorities with his coverage of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society. The two-day gathering, unprecedented in Cuba, brought together 200 opposition activists and guests in May 2005 to discuss ways to create democracy in Cuba. Du Bouchet Hernández was released in August 2006 after completing his sentence.

What Medicine Embargo?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Anti-sanctions advocates repeatedly argue that U.S. policy hurts the Cuban people, claiming that it denies them the ability to purchase and receive medicine and health care equipment.

Even well-intentioned human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, periodically fall into this rhetorical trap.

For its part, the Castro regime -- taking full advantage of this misguided criticism -- has gone as far as labeling U.S. policy "genocidal" -- a tragic irony for a regime that has overseen the imprisonment, execution and disappearance in the Florida Straits of approximately 10% of its population, and the exile of another 10%.

Last week, the AP wrote a story on this issue, which makes two very important points:

First,

U.S. law exempted medicine and health care supplies from the embargo in 1992. It also lifted the ban on agricultural exports in 2000 and is now Cuba's biggest supplier of food — $710 million worth last year.

And secondly,

The U.S. Commerce Department says it takes only about 14 days to get a license to export medical supplies to Cuba — about twice as fast as for ordinary exports to other countries.

That's right, your read it correctly, it says "twice as fast."

Click here for the entire article.

Senator Menendez Discusses TV Marti

State Department on Detained American

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
From the State Department's press briefing with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Ian Kelly:

QUESTION: Ian, can you discuss the case of the American contractor arrested in Cuba apparently distributing electronic devices? Is this sort of standard practice for U.S. officials, and do we always contract such things?

MR. KELLY: Well, we're not going to discuss the details of this case. And I told you why on Friday we're not going to. What I will say is that we, of course, are – first of all, let me just say about consular access, we're trying to get access to the individual involved. And we would expect the Government of Cuba to honor its obligations under the Vienna Convention on consular affairs and grant consular access. So we are calling on the Cuban Government to do that in a very expeditious way. But I don't want to comment on any of the details of this, what would he may or may not have been doing, simply because we don't want to cause any harm, frankly.

QUESTION: How long has the State Department been aware that the guy has – was detained?

MR. KELLY: I believe we were informed on December 5th that he had been detained.

QUESTION: And do you know how long? Was he detained on December 5th or before?

MR. KELLY: It's my understanding that we were informed the same day. It may have been with a day's lag time, but it was fairly quickly after that.

QUESTION: There is any negotiations now with the Cuban Government about him?

MR. KELLY: Any negotiations?

QUESTION: Well, any discussions?

MR. KELLY: Well, we have a – I mean, we have diplomats in Havana, obviously. And we are – right now, we're very focused on the consular access issue of this, trying to get consular officers in to see this individual and ensure that his conditions are appropriate and that his legal rights are respected.

QUESTION: Ian, would you just go through why you don't want to talk about this case? It's kind of – you've talked about a lot of the others ones today so far. Why not this one?

MR. KELLY: Well, it's very simple. I mean, I can talk in general terms about the way that we handle these kinds of cases in terms of consular access. I can talk in general terms about our calls to open up Cuban society, to support democracy in Cuba. We have a number of programs that are very open and are all available on the internet to try and foster the growth of civil society. But as I said on Friday, I just can't talk about the individual details of an American citizen in this case.

QUESTION: Well, but yet you can say that charges that don't yet exist or that you know that – that you don't know yet exist against three Americans in Iran are spurious. You can't say that this guy wasn't doing anything wrong?

MR. KELLY: We haven't had access to this individual to see what kind of public stance that this individual wants us to take on his case. And so until we've had that access, I want to respect his legal right to privacy.

QUESTION: That's – so that's the only reason?

MR. KELLY: That is the only reason.

State Should Issue a Travel Warning

The State Department is obviously concerned about potential threats against Americans traveling to Cuba.

In recent days, State Department officials have sent emails and made telephone calls to NGOs -- that provide democracy assistance to Cuba's independent civil society -- warning them that "American citizens may be at greater risk than third-party nationals" when traveling to Cuba.

The emails conclude by stating: "We recognize that this may lead to the postponement of certain program activities, but we value your safety."

This raises two equally concerning possibilities.

One, that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana has information regarding potential threats to the safety of Americans traveling to Cuba.

If such is the case, it warrants that the State Department immediately issue a general travel warning.

If it does not issue a travel warning, then it raises troubling questions about the direction in which the State Department is looking to take democracy assistance programs.

If such is the case, it would be a great disservice to Cuba's independent civil society to discourage NGOs that provide them assistance from traveling to Cuba, precisely at a time when we are seeing a growing number of public demonstrations.

It would essentially create a new qualifier for travel to Cuba:

Only for those that ignore the plight of the Cuban people.

Clinton on Democracy and Human Rights

Monday, December 14, 2009
This afternoon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a major policy speech on President Obama's "Human Rights Agenda" at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Here are some key (and timely) excerpts from her speech:

This administration, like others before us, will promote, support, and defend democracy. We will relinquish neither the word nor the idea to those who have used it too narrowly, or to justify unwise policies. We stand for democracy not because we want other countries to be like us, but because we want all people to enjoy consistent protection of the rights that are naturally theirs, whether they were born in Tallahassee or Tehran . Democracy has proven the best political system for making human rights a human reality over the long term.

Human rights, democracy, and development are not three separate goals with three separate agendas: that view doesn't reflect the reality we face. To make a real and long-term difference in people's lives we have to tackle all three simultaneously with a commitment that is smart, strategic, determined, and long-term.

We should measure our success by asking this question: Are more people in more places better able to exercise their universal rights and live up to their potential because of our actions?

Our principles are our North Star, but our tools and tactics must be flexible and reflect the reality on the ground wherever we are trying to have a positive impact. In some cases, governments are willing but unable without support to establish strong institutions and protections for citizens, for example the nascent democracies in Africa. We can extend our hand as a partner to help them try to achieve authority and build the progress they desire. In other cases, like Cuba or Nigeria, governments are able but unwilling to make the changes their citizens deserve. There, we must vigorously press leaders to end repression, while supporting those within societies who are working for change. And in cases where governments are both unwilling and unable—places like the eastern Congo—we have to support those courageous individuals and organizations who try to protect people and who battle against the odds to plant the seeds for a more hopeful future.

The challenges we face are diverse and complicated. And there is not one approach or formula, doctrine or theory that can be easily applied to every situation. But today I want to outline four elements of the Obama administration's approach to putting our principles into action, and share with you some of the challenges we face in doing so.

First, a commitment to human rights starts with universal standards and with holding everyone accountable to those standards, including ourselves. On his second full day in office, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting the use of torture or official cruelty by any US official and ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

Next year we will report on human trafficking not only in other countries but also in our own, and we will participate through the United Nations in the Universal Periodic Review of our own human rights record, just as we encourage other nations to do.

Second, we must be pragmatic and agile in pursuit of our human rights agenda, not compromising on our principles, but doing what is most likely to make them real. We will use all the tools at our disposal. And when we run up against a wall we will not retreat with resignation—or repeatedly run up against it— but respond with strategic resolve to find another way to effect change and improve people's lives.

We acknowledge that one size does not fit all. When old approaches aren't working, we won't be afraid to attempt new ones, as we have this year by ending the stalemate of isolation and instead pursuing measured engagement with Burma. In Iran, we have offered to negotiate directly with the government on nuclear issues, but have at the same time expressed solidarity with those inside struggling for democratic change. As President Obama said in his Nobel speech last week, "they have us on their side".

Across our diplomacy and development efforts, we also keep striving for innovative new ways to achieve results. That's why I commissioned the first ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, to develop a forward-looking strategy built on analysis of our objectives, our challenges, our tools, and our capacities to achieve America's foreign policy and national security objectives. And make no mistake, issues of Democracy and Governance -- D&G as they call it at USAID -- are central to this review.

The third element of our approach is that we support change driven by citizens and their communities. The project of making human rights a human reality cannot be just a project for governments. It requires cooperation among individuals and organizations—within communities and across borders—who are committed to securing lives of dignity for all who share the bonds of humanity.

We can give them access to public forums that lend visibility to their ideas, and continue to press for a role for non-governmental organizations in multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the OSCE. We can enlist other allies like international labor unions who were instrumental in the Solidarity movement in Poland or religious organizations like those championing the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa.

We can help change agents to gain access to and share information through the Internet and mobile phones so that they can communicate and organize. With camera phones and facebook pages, thousands of protestors in Iran have broadcast their demands for rights denied, creating a record for all the world, including Iran's leaders, to see. I've established a special unit inside the State Department to use technology for 21st century statecraft.

NGOs and civil society leaders need the financial, technical and political support that we provide. Many repressive regimes have sought to limit the independence and effectiveness of activists and NGOs by restricting their activities—including more than 25 governments that have recently adopted new restrictions. Our funding and support can give a foothold to local organizations, training programs, and independent media.

The fourth element of our approach is that we will widen our focus--we will not forget that positive change must be reinforced and strengthened where hope is on the rise; and we will not ignore or overlook places of seemingly intractable tragedy and despair: where human lives hang in the balance we must do what we can to tilt that balance toward a better future.

These four aspects of our approach—accountability, principled pragmatism, partnering from the bottom up, and keeping a wide focus where rights are at stake—will help build a foundation that enables people to stand and rise above poverty, hunger, and disease and that secures their rights under democratic governance. We must lift the ceiling of oppression, corruption, and violence. And we must light a fire of human potential through access to education and economic opportunity.

In the end, this isn't just about what we do; it's about who we are. And we cannot be the people we are — people who believe in human rights—if we opt out of this fight. Believing in human rights means committing ourselves to action. When we sign up for the promise of rights that apply everywhere, to everyone, the promise of rights that protect and enable human dignity, we also sign up for the hard work of making that promise a reality.

Senator LeMieux on Arrest of U.S. Citizen

Senator LeMieux Criticizes Cuban Regime for Detaining U.S. Citizen

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) today criticized the Cuban regime after learning a U.S. citizen was detained by Cuban authorities. The citizen was detained on December 5th while distributing cell phones, laptop computers and other communications equipment to Cuban citizens. Under Raul Castro's regime, the Cuban people are supposedly allowed to own these communications devices.

Senator LeMieux said:

"This is clear evidence the Cuban regime continues to stifle dissent and oppress the basic human rights of its people. Unfortunately, the dictatorial regime of Raul Castro is choosing to harass and detain American citizens while also limiting the Cuban people's access to digital technology. I am concerned for the health and safety of the detained individual and the U.S. ought to demand his immediate release. Now more than ever, we need to maintain critical democracy funding in the midst of this crackdown by the Cuban regime. Democratic assistance grants play an important role in furthering the cause of freedom for the Cuban people and the regime's reaction clearly shows our efforts are working. This should also serve as a warning to those who advocate increasing tourism travel to Cuba before the regime makes progress on their human rights record."

Senator Bill Nelson on Arrest of U.S. Citizen

Senator: Cuban arrest of U.S. citizen "an outrage"

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As diplomats try to figure out why Cuban authorities arrested an American citizen more than a week ago, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make the case a top priority.

Nelson is especially concerned because Cuban authorities have refused to allow anyone on behalf the U.S. to even visit the individual in custody to check on his well being. Charges against the man are not public yet. Under Cuban law, a citizen or a foreign visitor can be arrested for nearly anything under the claim of dangerousness.

"It is an outrage that the Cuban regime has refused cooperation in this consular matter and that the U.S. citizen remains detained against his will," Nelson wrote in a letter to Clinton late last week. The Florida Democrat kept the letter confidential until the man's plight became public in various news reports over the weekend.

His one-page letter is dated Dec. 10, the day his staff received a briefing on the case from the State Department. "Given the gravity of the situation, I urge you to use all available means to secure this citizen's release and safe return to the United States," Nelson wrote.

A month ago, Nelson and other senators condemned an attack in Cuba on dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez and several colleagues, who were beaten and thrown into waiting cars by plain-clothes state security agents as they walked to join a peaceful march against violence.

Nelson has also been outspoken in urging the White House to ensure that any telecommunications agreements with Cuba don't allow that government to further monitor or control information, as has been the case in China and elsewhere around the globe.

In the latest incident to draw U.S. ire, the arrested man, whose identity is being withheld by the State Department citing federal privacy laws, reportedly was distributing cell phones and laptops in Cuba and trying to help people there connect to the Internet. He works for Bethesda-based Development Alternatives, Inc., the company has confirmed.

Iran Sanctions Target Key Economic Sector

According to The Hill:

House to take up gas sanctions on Iran

The House is slated to vote [this] week on bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation that targets companies supplying Iran with gasoline or helping the country expand its refining system.

Iran is a major oil producer, but imports up to 40 percent of its gasoline because it lacks adequate refining capacity.

The plan is among several under consideration in Congress and the White House to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.

The bill, sponsored by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.), has 343 co-sponsors.

It would allow sanctions against companies that ship gasoline and other refined products to Iran, and also targets related services such as insurance and financing.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We commend Chairman Berman's on-going efforts to target this key sector of the Iranian regime's economy. It is for this reason that we also advocate in favor of tourism-related sanctions towards Cuba, as it targets a key sector of the Castro regime's economy.

On Democracy Programs and Human Rights

Sunday, December 13, 2009
A thoughtful and timely critique in today's Washington Post by Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations:
 
A Nobel winner who went wrong on rights

In accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Thursday, President Obama talked about the quiet dignity of human rights reformers such as Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, the bravery of Zimbabwean voters who "cast their ballots in the face of beatings" and the need to bear witness to "the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran." Earlier in the week, thousands of Iranians did just that, gathering at university campuses in the most substantial demonstrations in the country since the summer, when hundreds of thousands protested Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed presidential election.

But back in June, even as much of the world cheered the Iranian protesters, Obama seemed reluctant to weigh in. "It is not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling," he said at the time. The White House may have feared that public support from Obama would allow the regime to paint the demonstrators as American stooges or might undermine U.S. efforts on Tehran's nuclear program. Such fears seemed to paralyze the administration.

The irony of Obama's Nobel Prize is not that he accepted it while waging two wars. After all, as Obama said in Oslo: "One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek." The stranger thing is that, from China to Sudan, from Burma to Iran, a president lauded for his commitment to peace has dialed down a U.S. commitment to human rights, one that persisted through both Republican and Democratic administrations dating back at least to Jimmy Carter. And so far, he has little to show for it.

The reasons for this shift are complicated. After a number of conversations with current Obama advisers and former White House officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, I've concluded that the president's reasons for demoting human rights may have been well intentioned -- even if the strategy isn't working out as he planned.
 
For one thing, Obama clearly wants to distinguish himself from George W. Bush, who badly tainted the human rights agenda by linking it to the war in Iraq and by adopting an overly moralistic, evangelical tone about democracy. According to administration officials, this desire may have led Obama, early on, to be reticent about forcefully advocating democracy abroad, even as he boosted funding for democracy-promotion programs. But they believe the administration has reversed course, and they say the president is now talking more aggressively about democracy and human rights.

Some officials believe negotiating about human rights behind the scenes works better than bullying in public, since it permits nasty regimes to save face while, at least theoretically, allowing them to quietly make concessions. And some of the administration's top human rights advocates came into office focused, not unnecessarily, on cleaning up America's own abuses, from Guantanamo Bay to our rendition program -- believing that human rights advocacy starts with setting a better example at home.

In other cases, Obama seems to have decided that winning support on challenges such as nuclear proliferation and climate change means treading quietly around human rights. With China, the president may also be hesitant to risk alienating our $800 billion banker. Finally, the president seems to believe that, no matter how brutal a government he is dealing with, he can find common cause.

Yet there is little evidence that his strategy will succeed. Obama may have toned down U.S. rhetoric, but who's to say whether this will propel Iran and North Korea to halt their nuclear programs, or whether China will prove to be an effective partner on climate change. "The harder-to-fathom thing for me is why they think that cutting off support -- rhetorical or material -- to democrats and dissidents in repressive societies will gain the U.S. anything on the other agendas," said Tom Melia, deputy executive director of Freedom House, a global democracy watchdog.

On occasion, the administration has diminished the focus on democracy at some basic institutional levels. Though the Bush administration established a deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy, Obama's National Security Council structure has explicitly downgraded the role of democracy specialists. And some parts of the government seem to be backing away from even the word "democracy." "The USAID Mission in Amman called in all its implementers (grantees and contractors alike) to announce, among other things, that the Democracy and Governance portfolio (and the titles of people in the Mission) would no longer be 'democracy & governance,' " Melia wrote in an e-mail. The United States Agency for International Development did not respond to a request for a comment.

These subtle signals have emerged even from the highest levels of the government: In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton highlighted "three Ds" that would allow the United States "to exercise global leadership effectively": defense, development and diplomacy. Democracy apparently did not make the cut.

The extent of the administration's shift is also visible on the ground -- even if the payoffs aren't. In Egypt, a critical arena for democratization efforts, the United States has cut funding to independent civil society groups that promote democracy and is instead working more closely with government-linked nonprofits, according to several human rights activists who closely follow Egypt. "The administration doesn't want to antagonize Egypt, a major Middle East ally, now that they might need Egypt's help if there is going to be action against Iran," said David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who previously worked on Middle East issues in the Bush administration.

In Sudan, a country whose leader is under indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, U.S. policy now involves closer dealings than in recent years, and the administration's special envoy to the region, Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, has deemphasized human rights abuses there. In September, he told The Washington Post that the United States should be "giving out cookies" to Khartoum, offering inducements for good behavior rather than punishment for bad -- as if a regime accused of genocide were a misbehaving child.

Obama has changed the U.S. approach toward Burma, too. For more than a decade, Washington emphasized the use of sanctions, visa bans and other tools to isolate the Burmese junta, which is accused of overseeing forced labor, mass rape campaigns and other abuses. But the Obama administration has called for direct dialogue with the junta. And although the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, Kurt Campbell, has noted in congressional testimony that the administration maintains sanctions and is not writing the regime a blank check, it's not clear exactly what further bad deeds the junta would have to commit to warrant a more severe reprimand.

Of course, the administration's approach toward China has attracted the most notice. On his recent trip there, Obama was conspicuously silent about human rights in his public statements. At a town hall forum in Shanghai, he responded to a question about the Internet by saying, "I'm a strong supporter of noncensorship" -- a strangely twisted phrase from a normally masterful communicator.

Later, in a joint news conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao (in which the two men took no questions from journalists), Obama said that he "welcomes China's efforts in playing a greater role on the world stage," but he did not criticize Beijing's human rights record or mention its recent crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang. "We were told that the administration privately brought up Uighur issues, but that's it," said Omar Kanat, vice president of the World Uighur Congress, an activist group.

And in October, Obama's administration became the first since 1991 not to meet with the Dalai Lama, even privately, when the Tibetan leader was in Washington. According to Kanat, the administration has also refused any high-level meetings with Rabeeya Kadeer, the most prominent Uighur dissident and a woman welcomed to the White House by Bush. "We've asked for meetings with senior people at the NSC, State, but they always just say they are too busy," Kanat said.

When asked about these points, one administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, replied that the White House has welcomed other dissidents, including several Zimbabwean activists, and said administration officials will try to meet with Kadeer soon.

"Advancing human rights and promoting democratic principles are key tenets of this Administration's foreign policy," said the National Security Council's spokesman, Mike Hammer, in an e-mail. "The Obama Administration will meet with dissidents any time those meetings can serve to advance a just cause. The President spoke in Shanghai to an on-line audience of millions of Chinese about human rights and democratic freedoms as universal values. The President has been interviewed by a Cuban dissident blogger as well as the progressive Chinese Southern Weekly, and he will meet with the Dalai Lama."

On matters of democracy and human rights, past presidents have wielded the bully pulpit to impressive effect, sometimes winning the release of high-profile dissidents. After Bush highlighted the case of Ayman Nour, the most prominent Egyptian dissident, in early 2005, Hosni Mubarak's government released him from jail -- but when attention faded, the regime locked him up again.

Conversely, Obama's approach to Sudan may be encouraging the regime to use even tougher tactics in war-torn southern regions of the country. According to Michael Green, an NSC senior director for Asian affairs under Bush, "Authoritarian states take what leaders say more seriously than what bureaucrats say." In other words, when the president does not make human rights a priority, it becomes easier for Beijing or Khartoum to ignore requests by lower-level American officials.

For all Obama's compromises, the choice between human rights and other priorities may be a false one. Obama may not need to pick between criticizing regimes like those in China and Iran and working with those governments on other challenges. "You can see the Dalai Lama and rhetorically push on human rights and still have the other elements of the relationship with China," said Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch.

Obama's speech in Oslo reminded us why the Nobel committee decided to honor him with the peace prize: This was Obama at the height of his oratorical powers, speaking of war and peace and, yes, human rights, and calling upon mankind to "reach for the world that ought to be." But the committee didn't set out to merely applaud Obama's great rhetoric; it bestowed this honor on him as an aspirational prize, one that would inspire him to even greater actions.

"The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone," Obama said in his speech. ". . . We must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time."

Let's hope he follows through.

Joshua Kurlantzick is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Quote of the Week

"Ironically, despite the fact that President Clinton won substantial international praise for his moral intervention to save 1 million Kosovar Albanians from slaughter, somehow being called a Nixonian realist is a compliment in Democrat-dominated Washington these days."

- James P. Rubin, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, "The Principle of the Thing: How America's Commitment to Democratic Values is Waning in the Age of Obama," Newsweek, December 5th, 2009