The (Self-Appointed) King is Dead

Saturday, January 2, 2010
According to the AP:

A panel of Afro-Cuban priests are predicting a year of social and political unrest, struggles for power, treachery and coups d'etat, and they say the world will see the death of an inordinate number of political leaders in 2010.

In the forecast announced Saturday, they recommended older leaders move aside and make room for the young, a politically delicate statement in a country that has been led by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro for more than half a century.

''The older generations should pass their experience on to young people because times change, and the younger generation is better prepared,'' said Victor Bentancourt, one of the island's leading Santeria priests, or babalawos. ''Time is growing short'' for such a change.

They said the year could be summed up with the saying: ''The King is dead; long live the King'' the traditional shout announcing a monarchical succession.

EDITOR'S NOTE: May Olofi help us.

Confounded by Pope John Paul II

This may not be the most appropriate post during the Christmas season.

However, the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano newspaper recently published an interview with Cardinal Roberto Tucci, who was in charge of Pope John Paul II's numerous (and historic) trips around the world.

Amongst his anecdotes, Tucci recalls a trip to Chile in 1987, where Pope John Paul II became infuriated with former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The Pope had been an ardent critic of Pinochet and did not want to appear in public with him. Yet Pinochet tricked him into appearing together on the balcony of the Presidential Palace in Santiago.

Pope John Paul II's rejection of the Pinochet dictatorship, not to mention his opposition to the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe, is nothing less than admirable.

However, our Cuba-centric focus leads us to ask:

Was Pinochet more of a dictator than Fidel Castro?


Did Pinochet execute more people than Fidel Castro?


Did Pinochet repress religion more than Fidel Castro?

Quite the contrary.

So then, why was the Pope so willing to appear publicly with Fidel Castro during his 1998 visit to Cuba? Was he just older and less confrontational by that time? Or did Fidel trick him also?

Confounding indeed, for a dictator is a dictator.

Relegated to the Dustbin of Despots

Friday, January 1, 2010
From the Editorial Board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Cuba's paranoia

Get caught spreading pro-democracy materials or even humanitarian aid in Cuba and chances are you'll sample the Castros' hospitality behind bars.

The communist island dictatorship that employs one of the most aggressive intelligence networks in the world remains committed against even the lowest level of outside interference -- and is as paranoid as ever.

"If you work for a human rights organization, it's naive to think they don't know who you are," says one expert on Havana's autocracy.

Earlier this month Cuban authorities arrested an American subcontractor for a Maryland economic development firm. Reportedly he was distributing cell phones and laptops in Cuba. President Raul Castro insists the American was supplying opposition groups with satellite communication equipment and accuses the Obama administration of maintaining hostile policies.

Although Raul says he's open to a "respectful dialogue" with the U.S., bitter brother Fidel remains ever critical of the Obama administration.

So much for Washington "recasting" its relationship with Cuba, in part by attempting to soften a 47-year trade embargo. For all its ill-advised efforts the U.S. has done nothing to change a narrow mind-set whose priority remains iron-fisted control.

Nothing will change in Cuba until the brothers Castro are relegated to history's dustbin of despots.

Kudos to the MH Editorial Board

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Cuba's vitriol

OUR OPINION: After 51 years, Cuba's leadership sticks to dictatorial script

As Cubans end 51 years of living under the Castro brothers' rule, the regime continues to crack down on bloggers, artists, dissidents and others who dare question the communist dictatorship.

Sometimes it can seem that little will ever change. But it's clear that a new generation of Cubans raised on the government's anti-U.S. propaganda aren't buying it.

It's clear, too, that efforts in Congress to drop the U.S. travel ban on Cuba have stalled, and for good reason. Even those who have tried to work with Fidel and Raúl Castro to improve U.S.-Cuba relations are questioning the Cuban regime's true intentions.

The latest to do so is four-star retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former White House drug czar and SouthCom commander who has called for lifting the travel ban. He cancelled a Jan. 3-6 trip to the island after Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Ródriguez went on the attack, calling President Obama an "imperial and arrogant liar.''

The general noted that "this type of shallow and vitriolic 1960's public diplomacy makes Cuban leadership appear to be non-serious, polemical amateurs. President Obama is the most thoughtful and non-ideological U.S. chief executive that the Cubans have seen in 50 years. . . . [Rodriguez's] speech probably slammed the window shut on U.S. congressional and administration leaders being willing to support bringing Cuba back into the community of nations.''

Gen. McCaffrey also pointed out that Raúl Castro "mentioned Cuba's recent `war games' to prepare for U.S. invasion. What a laughable assertion of an external U.S. military threat.''

That old Castro script would be laughable, too, if it hadn't caused so much suffering on both sides of the Florida Straits. The general deserves praise for calling it like it is.

Raul's (Greedy) Year in Review

Thursday, December 31, 2009
The year 2009 can be easily summarized for the dictatorship of General Raul Castro:

On the political front, there have been absolutely no reforms. To the contrary, the regime's repression against pro-democracy leaders and human rights activists sharply increased, as documented by the Cuban Committee for Human Rights (CCHR) and Human Rights Watch (HRW).

On the economic front, the regime has cut the importation of foodstuffs and other basic goods (including toilet paper), reduced energy consumption (imposing dramatic shortages), confiscated approximately $1 billion from the bank accounts of foreign businessmen and froze debt payments to creditors.

All of this, courtesy of the political and economic greed of the Castro brothers and a handful of their cronies.

May 2010 witness an end to this obsessive greed.

The Tyrant Two-Step Dance

Dictatorial regimes can be so predictable.

Whenever their victims challenge them, they begin a two-step dance

Step #1 - send in the secret police, preferably dressed as civilians, to violently suppress any demonstrations.

Step #2 - stage a "pro-regime" demonstration to deceive the international community with a "show of popular support."

That is currently the case in Iran, where ABC News is reporting:

"Hundreds of thousands of government supporters flooded the streets of Iran today in a well orchestrated show of solidarity with the regime. State television showed live pictures of people praising the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei and calling for the punishment of opposition leaders."

And just weeks before, it was the case in Cuba, where according to the BBC:

"Cuban dissidents trying to hold a silent march in Havana to mark Human Rights Day were confronted by crowds chanting pro-government slogans."

However, sometimes Step #2 backfires on tyrants.

Remember Ceausescu?

Here's a video reminder:

28 New BMWs for Raul's Potholes

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
El Nuevo Herald newspaper is running an investigative series about Spanish-Venezuelan businessman Ricardo Fernandez Barruecos, who after amassing a billionaire fortune under the government of Hugo Chavez was later imprisoned in Venezuela for bank fraud.

In other words, he bit the crooked hand that fed him.

But the most interesting part of the series, thus far, has been the revelation of 28 BMWs that Fernandez sent from Venezuela to Cuba, in order to gain favor with his friend, General Raul Castro.

Fernandez did so thinking that once Fidel dies and Raul inherits absolute power, he would be positioned to "take advantage of failed companies in Cuba."

In other words, to engage in mafia style acquisitions, similar to those that took place in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union pursuant to the collapse of communism.

Ironically, this revelation was published within days of another story in El Nuevo Herald about the decrepit state of Cuba's streets. According to official statistics, of the 29,600 kilometers of paved roads in Cuba -- the grand majority of which were constructed before 1959 -- almost 60 percent are in dire need of repair.

No wonder Raul needs so many BMWs.

Must be a Flaw in the Polling

Peruvian pollster Sergio Bendixen wrote a piece in The Huffington Post entitled, "The Significance of the Diaz-Balarts' 'Un-Endorsement' of Charlie Crist," in which he discusses -- more precisely, criticizes -- the merits of a recent decision by U.S. Congressmen Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart not to support any candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Frankly, the endorsement issue is not of any interest to us. However, we were intrigued by two tangential observations made by Bendixen in his post.

First, he states that,

"There is little doubt that Lincoln Diaz-Balart is currently the most respected and credible politician among Cuban exiles and that his brother Mario is not far behind in popularity."

A very assertive statement indeed.

But then, proceeds to claim that,

"[T]he hard-line Cuba policy for which the Diaz-Balarts are famous for no longer has the backing of Cuban Americans; nearly three-fifths of them -- 59% -- now support allowing all Americans to travel freely to Cuba according to a poll conducted by my firm in October."

So, here's Bendixen's theory:

Lincoln Diaz-Balart is undoubtedly the most "respected and credible politician amongst Cuban exiles" -- the very same community that (according to Bendixen's polling) opposes Diaz-Balart's views on Cuba policy.

Huh? Why would Cuban exiles support, respect and elect a Member of Congress that they do not agree with? Moreover, how would Diaz-Balart be the most popular politician amongst Cuban exiles?

Does Bendixen believe we're masochists, or somehow ignorant? That's not only absurd, but an insult to Cuban exiles.

There must either be a flaw in his assertion, or alternatively, in his polling.

Judging by the results of last November's Congressional elections -- it's surely the latter.

Carlos Varela's Misguided Criticism

The New York Times ran a story yesterday entitled, "Trying to Sway America's Cuba Policy With Song."

The title speaks for itself, but here's the opening gist:

"When one of Cuba's best-known musicians landed in the United States, his first appearance was not onstage, but on Capitol Hill.

Carlos Varela, often referred to as Cuba's Bob Dylan, had come to remix an album with his good friend Jackson Browne. But he also hoped to help reshape relations between the United States and his homeland.

So before going to Hollywood to work on the album, he stopped in Washington early this month for meetings with legislators and a lunch with a senior White House official. Later he held a jam session in the House Budget Committee meeting room."

It's interesting how the Castro regime granted Varela a "white card" -- an exit permit to travel in-and-out of the island -- yet denied Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez a similar "privilege" to receive Columbia University's Maria Cabot Moore Journalism Prize in New York City just a few months before.

Perhaps there's a criticism levy, or some sort of "standard of conduct." In other words, if a Cuban artist or intellectual is not measured in her criticism, or doesn't overwhelmingly direct her criticism at U.S. policy, then she will not get a "white card" (and get physically assaulted as a bonus).

But that doesn't make Varela a bad person. He is simply another victim of the Castro regime, for the simple fact that a Cuban artist can come to the U.S. and openly criticize U.S. policy -- with no repercussion -- is a testament to the fact that there is no moral equivalency between both governments.

Unfortunately, Cuban artists, including Varela, cannot do the same in their own homeland without the risk of censorship, or even more egregiously, beatings and imprisonment.

Coincidentally, while Varela is amidst his "music-lobbying tour" of the U.S., Cuban artists on the island have been taking a stand against the regime's "silent repression" of cultural expression.

According to the Nuevo Herald newspaper, this week, a group of young artists, academics and intellectuals have written an open letter to the Castro regime "rejecting the current obstructions and prohibitions against cultural and social initiatives," reminiscent of the intense atmosphere of cultural repression that existed in Cuba in the 1970s.

We wish Varela well in his musical collaboration with Jackson Browne.

However, we hope he'll take advantage all of the media attention garnered during his U.S. tour to call attention to this courageous act of dissent by his colleagues on the island, and which The New York Times chose to ignore.

Even if it means risking his "white card."

Has Obama "Dissed" Dissidents?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
In perhaps an overly harsh critique -- as balanced by the next post -- the Wall Street Journal's William McGurn compares President Barack Obama's attitude towards dissidents to that of former President Gerald Ford:

Obama Puts the Dis in Dissident

Here's a timely New Year's resolution the president might do well to deliver to his National Security Council: "When it comes to nasty regimes that brutalize their people, we will never again forget that the most powerful weapon in a president's arsenal is a White House photo-op."

The December headlines remind us that we have no shortage of these nasty regimes. In China, the government sentences Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison for writing a letter calling for legal and political reforms. In Iran, security forces fire on citizens marching in the streets. In Cuba, pro-government goons intimidate a group of wives, mothers and sisters of jailed dissidents—with President Raul Castro characterizing these bullies as "people willing to protect, at any price, the conquests of the revolution."

In all these cases, the cry goes up: Where is the president of the United States?

For a man whose whole appeal has been wrapped in powerful imagery, President Obama appears strikingly obtuse about the symbolism of his own actions: e.g., squeezing in a condemnation of Iran before a round of golf. With every statement not backed up by action, with every refusal to meet a leader such as the Dalai Lama, with every handshake for a Chavez, Mr. Obama is defining himself to foreign leaders who are sizing him up and have only one question in mind: How much can we get away with?

As Yogi Berra put it, it's déjà vu all over again. In his eagerness to downplay freedom in his foreign policy, Mr. Obama resembles no president so much as Gerald Ford. Barely a year into office, President Ford also made a symbolic choice for realism over rights.

The year was 1975. For its dinner in Washington, the AFL-CIO had invited Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Nobel Prize winner exiled from his Russian homeland a year earlier, after publication of the first volume of his "Gulag Archipelago."

Republican senators tried to arrange for a meeting with Ford. Acting on the advice of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Ford nixed it.

The pragmatists thought that having the president get together with Solzhenitsyn would sour efforts for détente in a forthcoming meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. As usual the pragmatists were highly impractical. The refusal to meet Solzhenitsyn made Ford look weak. In many ways, the moment would forever define his foreign policy.

One of the leading critics of President Ford's decision was Ronald Reagan. In his own time as president, Reagan met with dissidents. He quoted Solzhenitsyn often. And when he so famously upset the establishment by referring to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire," Reagan no doubt recalled that night in 1975 at the AFL-CIO dinner—when Solzhenitsyn had referred to the Soviet Union as "the concentration of world evil."

Reagan set a tone that hit the Soviets in their most vulnerable spot: their lack of moral legitimacy. In retrospect, we can more easily see that Reagan's willingness to give voice to freedom-loving dissidents only increased his leverage as president as he dealt with the Soviets and their allies.

George W. Bush also made it a point to meet with dissidents and signal which side America was on. He met with a defector who spent 10 years in the North Korean gulag. He met with persecuted Chinese Christians, marked the 20th anniversary of a famous pro-democracy uprising in Burma by meeting with Burmese dissidents in Thailand, and awarded the Medal of Freedom to a jailed Cuban political prisoner. In 2007, he even spoke to a whole conference of dissidents in Prague organized by another alumnus of the Soviet prison system: Natan Sharansky.

Now it's not easy for a president to meet with dissidents. When you do, some won't think you are strong enough. And even Ronald Reagan was criticized in 1986 for not meeting with Yelena Bonner, wife of jailed Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

More important are the internal pressures—some key trade deal, some delicate negotiation, some huge foreign policy concession your staff has been working on forever. Yet precisely because all the momentum is in the direction of accommodation, it's important for a president to remember the one argument to the contrary. By meeting with some brave soul whom others want silenced, he sends a signal that cuts through the fog, compels respect from his enemies, and will be remembered long after the concerns of the day are forgotten.

Barack Obama has spent his first year as president determined to prove to the world he is not George W. Bush. He has succeeded. Let's hope that in so doing he has not sent the message that he is the new Gerald Ford.

Welcomed Remarks on Iran

Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the anti-regime protests in Iran. In his remarks, the President said:

The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries, and even death.

For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days. And each time that has happened, the world has watched with deep admiration for the courage and the conviction of the Iranian people who are part of Iran's great and enduring civilization.

What's taking place within Iran is not about the United States or any other country. It's about the Iranian people and their aspirations for justice and a better life for themselves. And the decision of Iran's leaders to govern through fear and tyranny will not succeed in making those aspirations go away.

As I said in Oslo, it's telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.

Along with all free nations, the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people.

We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there. And I'm confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.

Spring Breakers Only Need Apply

According to The Oregonian:

"A humanitarian aid group from the First Unitarian Church of Portland was allowed to leave the Havana airport today, after being detained by Cuban authorities.

Nine members of the group were held in the airport overnight for unexplained reasons while five others were sent back Saturday to Cancun, Mexico, where their flight to Cuba originated."

Apparently, the Castro regime was not very accommodating,

"[Carol] Rossio, [a church member], said e-mails from detainees indicated that Cuban authorities appeared to be expecting them and intercepted them as soon as they landed. Some of those detained were in their late 70s, and found it uncomfortable to sleep on the airport's cold concrete floor."

An what was the purpose of this trip by the First Unitarian Church?

"[Rev. Kate] Lore, [the church's social justice minister], said the 14-member group was bringing medical supplies and planned to paint a health clinic."

Moral of the story: Unless your trip produces hard-currency for the Castro regime's apartheid beach resorts, retail stores, nightclubs and restaurants, you are not welcome in Cuba.

From the Alternate Universe

Monday, December 28, 2009
The Spanish news agency EFE reported last week that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who led the Sandinista regime in that country from 1979-1990, was awarded the 2009 Muammar Al Gaddafi Human Rights Award by the Libyan dictatorship.

Past recipients of the award, which includes a $250,000 cash prize, include Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Unfortunately, this is not a joke.

The Twitter Revolution

Pro-Democracy Programs = Solidarity

On Christmas Day, the Washington Post ran a story entitled, "Pro-democracy program in Cuba questioned after man detained."

According to the article:

"Few dispute that tools such as blogs, Twitter and YouTube are cracking the Cuban government's monopoly on information. But the jailing of the American contractor -- who has not been publicly identified -- has highlighted the risk of trying to slip communications technology into police states."

Which leads to the question:

If "few dispute that tools such as blogs, Twitter and YouTube are cracking the Cuban government's monopoly on information," then why dismantle the very programs that help the Cuban people obtain access to these methods of information?

Apparently, because,

"It has also revived a debate over whether the U.S. democracy program for Cuba, like a similar one in Iran, can backfire by exposing dissidents to charges that they are U.S. puppets.

'It taints them. It is almost a gift to the Castro regime to do that,' said Ted Henken, a sociologist at Baruch College who has studied the growing Cuban 'blogosfera.'"

Really? Is that the best they can come up with?

This sociological thesis overlooks the obvious. First of all, information technology is not being forced upon the Cuban people by these pro-democracy programs. They are simply filling a thirst (or should we say, a direct demand) for information technology by the Cuban people.

From humanitarian aid to information technology, it is U.S. policy to provide as much direct assistance to the Cuban people -- key word is direct -- as possible without the control and manipulation of the Castro regime's totalitarian monopoly.

The alternative would be to ignore this direct demand and condemn the Cuban people to the absolute censorship of the Castro regime -- a policy that would border on complicity.

Furthermore, this thesis fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the regimes in Havana and Tehran.

This was recently explained, as regards Iran, by Abbas Milani of The New Republic:

"Will the United States stand on the side of Iranian democracy now? The worry one hears most often in Washington is that such a stand will backfire; it will bolster the mullahs by annoying the innate nationalism of the Iranian people. But this misunderstands the regime. No matter what the United States does -- even if it maintains a studied silence -- the regime will describe its opponents as U.S. tools."

The fact remains that too many courageous Cubans are consciously risking their lives to speak out on behalf of human rights and democratic reform. Many are sacrificing decades in prison for these principles and beliefs. Therefore, they do not deserve to be patronized by foreign academics, or tourists for that matter. They get enough of that from the Castro regime.

These brave activists deserve nothing less than our solidarity.

Quote of the Week

Sunday, December 27, 2009
"Many activities that are legally protected in democratic countries are arbitrarily punished in Cuba, as has been documented in multiple reports by respected human rights organizations."
- Charles Luoma-Overstreet, State Department spokesman on the arrest of an American citizen by the Castro regime for providing information technology to the Cuban people, AFP, December 21st, 2009

Video Clips of Senate Forum

From the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Senate Forum held last Monday: