Race and Class in Cuba

Sunday, January 31, 2010
Dr. Gayle McGarrity is a prominent sociocultural and medical anthropologist, who has written extensively on populations of mixed racial descent in Latin America and HIV/AIDS programs in South Africa.

She recently wrote a self-reflective and analytical article entitled "Race and Class in Cuba," which was published today by the Jamaica Observer.

Dr. McGarrity sets the premise:

"When I first returned to the United States in 1982, after living for a year and a half in Cuba, I was eager to share with my 'comrades' on the left the extent to which racism and class divisions were still a glaring reality in 'Revolutionary Cuba.'"

Then recalls:

"Young idealistic black militants from the United States, who fled racism in their homeland, looking for a more racially just society in Cuba, were treated in a hostile fashion by immigration and other government authorities on the island. These militants, many of whom were hijackers, were firmly immersed in ideas of socialism and world revolution, so it is not as if the government could, in all fairness, categorize them as counter-revolutionaries. However, when I lived in Cuba, and even today, anyone who does not agree with the regime´s policies is branded counter-revolutionary and a danger to national security. I met several of these black Americans while I was living in Cuba and was deeply disturbed by the way in which their spirits had been wounded and their idealism challenged by their treatment at the hands of the Cuban government."

And makes the following important observation:

"I have been motivated to write this article by the words of a black Cuban supporter of the Revolution, Esteban Morales . The latter, in a statement refuting what an influential group of 60 African-Americans were saying about the government's failure to protect the civil rights of blacks on the island, claimed that many blacks lived in inferior situations because they did not know how to transform their situation. "No saben como aprovecharse de las oportunidades que la Revolucion les ha dado" (They don't know how to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Revolution). My position is that the blacks are perfectly able to take advantage of opportunities when they are presented to them. I know too many well-educated blacks, particularly those who studied languages and other careers connected to the tourist sector who have been unemployed for years. It is a well-known fact that the best jobs, in fact almost all of the jobs in the tourist sector, are reserved for whites. When I was visiting the island frequently in the 90s, the argument was that white Cubans had to limit the number of non-whites in the tourist sector because the Spaniards and other Europeans did not like to see them. I would argue quite the contrary, that it is white Cubans who do not want to see them."

To read in its entirety, click Part 1 and Part 2.

A Hard Trade-Off

Saturday, January 30, 2010
Cuba's Generation Y blogger Yoani Sanchez is truly one of our heroes.

We hold her in the highest esteem and wholly agree with her observations regarding Cuba's dictatorship. Nonetheless, we respectfully disagree with her views on U.S. policy.

The following is a thoughtful comment that was posted by a reader of the blog, Penultimos Dias, on the same issue:

I profoundly admire Yoani. I agree with most of what she has to say. And I sincerely hope the Cuban government lifts its embargo on the freedoms of ordinary Cubans.

That said, I think her proposal for unilateral concessions on the part of the U.S. is very risky.

The logic of interest politics in the U.S. suggests that once the embargo ends it will never come back.

What if Raul and his cronies use this opportunity to reform like Vietnam? You might see fast growth, rising standards of living and a postponement of the democracy question for another generation -- a hard trade-off.

Moreover, nobody will care about Yoani in this context, or the dissidents, or prisoners of conscience -- ugly inconveniences on the way to making money. Vietnam and China suggest this.

Yoani's key argument (or hope) is that the unilateral removal of sanctions will undercut the regime's arguments. That may well be true but besides the point when people are busy making money and no longer interested in democracy. Besides, I think it insults Cuban's intelligence to think they still believe the regime's propaganda.

So the key question is this: Will unilateral concessions bring about full democratic transition or a Vietnamese one? The answer is uncertain and open to argument, for sure, but we can begin by assigning probabilities. I put the probability of a Vietnam-like outcome at 50%. I base this on my cursory reading of the historical record.

I guess Yoani thinks the probability is much lower (10%?). I'd be very interested in knowing why she thinks this. On the basis of what arguments and evidence? Believe me, I want Yoani to be right.

The cost of being wrong, however, is very high. It may condemn Cubans to one more generation of "communist capitalism." Cubans might become consumerists like Americans -- with their Levis and iPhones -- but without American's political freedoms. Surely this would be the greatest travesty in the name of "Cuban sovereignty".

I believe Cubans should push -- peacefully -- for the whole cake, while the opportunity lasts. You have nothing to lose. To not do so now is a great risk.

P.S. In passing, there is absolutely no evidence that economic growth leads to democratization, e.g. Singapore, Saudi Arabia, etc. So don't pin your hopes on that either.

Young Venezuelans Demand Freedom

Friday, January 29, 2010
This week, Venezuelan students took to the streets to protest the repressive measures and dictatorial power grab by Hugo Chavez.

The sign below reads, "No More Violence. Chavez, Freedom is Not Negotiable."

This young woman, just attacked with tear gas, has "Libertad" ("Freedom") written on her arm.

Our thoughts and prayers are with these courageous young Venezuelans.

Lessons For 2010

A critical post in The Heritage Foundation's blog, The Foundry:

What Did President Obama Learn About Cuba in 2009?

President Barack Obama launched his Cuban policy with some carrots for Fidel Castro's regime. In April, he moved to lift many of the restrictions which hamper Cuban Americans from visiting and communicating with their families, and to cut through obstacles preventing private telecommunications and satellite radio and television companies from providing services to Cuba.

Only eight months after President Obama offered to lift the restrictions on private communications companies, the Cuban government arrested a 60-year-old social worker and contractor, Alan P. Gross, from the Washington-based firm Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), for assisting several Jewish community groups in gaining access to the Internet. Notably, DAI has been operating with a grant of $40 million in aid from the U.S. government intended for allocation in pro-democracy programs in Cuba. Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón charged that Gross was acting at the behest of"American intelligence services" and "agents, torturers and spies that are contracted as part of the privatization of war."

What can President Obama learn from this harsh action? Perhaps he should recognize that the goal of the Castro regime is not improving relations with the United States, but is truly interested in staying in power. To keep its grip on power, the regime continues to restrict the Cuban people's access to the Internet and the outside world. While speaking on the topic of Google in China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "Countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century … We cannot stand by while people are separated from the human family by walls of censorship."

President Obama and Congress would be wise to apply Secretary Clinton's strong statement on freedom in cyberspace to Cuba as well.

Is Cuba a Cyber-Attack Conduit?

Brahma Chellaney, a former Member of India's National Security Council, wrote an interesting article for the Project Syndicate entitled, "China's Cyber-Warriors."

Chellaney notes that:

"The state-sponsored transnational cyber threat is at two levels. The first is national, with the hackers largely interested in two objectives. One is to steal secrets and gain an asymmetrical advantage over another country. Cyber intrusion in peacetime allows the prowler to read the content and understand the relative importance of different computer networks so that it knows what to disable in a conflict situation. The other objective is commercial: to pilfer intellectual property.

The second level of cyber threat is against chosen individuals. The most common type of intrusion is an attempt to hack into e-mail accounts. The targets also can face Trojan-horse attacks by e-mail intended to breach their computers and allow the infiltrators to corrupt or transfer files remotely.

To be sure, if a cyber attack is camouflaged, it is not easy to identify the country from which it originated. Through the use of so-called 'false-flag espionage' and other methods, attacks can be routed through the computers of a third country. Just as some Chinese pharmaceutical firms exported to Africa spurious medicines with 'Made in India' labels – a fact admitted by the Chinese government – some Chinese hackers are known to have routed their cyber intrusion through computers in Russia, Iran, Cuba, and other countries."

Cuba is a totalitarian country with strict control over all cyber activity. Therefore, it's highly improbable that such attacks could take place from the island without the acquiescence of the Castro regime.

Plus it wouldn't be the first time that Cuba serves as a conduit to stifle dissent in other tyrannies.

In 2003, it was reported that the Castro regime began jamming U.S. government and private Persian-language TV and radio broadcasts into Iran at the behest of that country's brutal mullahs.

A disturbing pattern of cyber collusion.

Picture of the Week

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Patient Death Toll Climbs

Two weeks ago, we expressed concern regarding the death from hypothermia of 26 patients at Havana's Psychiatric Hospital, known as "La Mazorra."
 
We also highlighted the call by some pro-democracy leaders for the prosecution of Castro's Minister of Health for criminal negligence.
 
Yesterday, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) announced that the death toll at La Mazorra is apparently much higher.
 
CCDHRN spokesman Elizardo Sanchez Santacruz told Diario de Cuba that, "we estimate that the number of deaths due to hypothermia, malnutrition and criminal negligence is between 40 and 50."
 
Once again, the dictatorship has a problem with the truth.

Police Crackdown Caught on Tape

"The truth is on the march and nothing will stop it."

- Émile Zola, French novelist and author of the renowned newspaper headline J'Accuse, 1840-1902.

The following short clip exemplifies the repressive reality of daily life for Cuba's courageous pro-democracy advocates.

It shows approximately a dozen activists during a non-violent march demanding "Libertad" ("Freedom") and "Que Vivan los Derechos Humanos" ("Long Live Human Rights"). Almost immediately, a police operation was unleashed against this peaceful expression of dissent.

The person taping the demonstration -- and thereafter, crackdown -- was doing so from within a home with a barred porch. As such, the authorities couldn't enter the home in a timely manner, so they tried to prevent the filming of the violence by holding a sheet over the porch area.

P.S. This is far from Castro's beach resorts and designated tourist zones.

Quote of the Speech

"For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity."
 
- U.S. President Barack Obama, State of the Union, January 27th, 2010.

A Similar Script

According to Reuters:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned on Wednesday that he may quicken his drive to build a socialist state, as he shuffled his cabinet amid opposition demonstrations sparked by closure of a television station.

The leftist leader is already facing a tough start to 2010 with growing complaints over shortages of electricity and water and a sharp currency devaluation that could harm the chances of his supporters in congressional elections in September.

In a sign he may be preparing for a combative year, Chavez has responded to these challenges by designating a vice president known for radical views and pushing the opposition station RCTV off subscription TV networks.

The move against RCTV has sparked opposition protests this week during which two students have been killed.

And here's our favorite line:

"If you're going to head down the path of destabilization, I'm warning you it will yield the opposite result of what you're seeking -- that we may decide to speed up the changes," Chavez, who recently declared himself a Marxist, said in televised comments.

Chavez just "recently declared himself a Marxist"?

A shocking revelation.

So now that he "finally" decided to turn Venezuela into a Marxist dictatorship, it's simply a question of logistics -- timing and implementation.

Why is it that tyrants have such trouble with the truth?


The Cuban Catastophe

Wednesday, January 27, 2010
There's a great piece in The New York Post by its former editor and publisher, Kenneth Chandler, entitled "Cuba: Catastrophe in Waiting."

In it, Chandler correctly recognizes:

Everyone in Cuba knows the status quo can't last. But no one knows how or when it will end. The political structure, like Havana's crumbling buildings, seems to be held up by force of habit and little else.

Read more here.

Setting the Labor Record Straight

A delegation from the group "U.S. Labor for Friendship with Cuba," which included eight labor activists from the Metropolitan Washington Council as well as one each from Miami and St. Louis, was hosted on the island by the Castro regime from January 10-17.

"As workers and individuals, we can be part of a process that brings together people with open hearts. Our visit affirms that by opening lines of communication between people, while honestly and bravely addressing bilateral issues of both historic and contemporary relevance, we will find that we have far more in common than those things that divide us," the delegation said in a laudatory statement, which focused primarily on attacking U.S. policy, and was published by Castro's state media signed by Dena Briscoe (America Postal Workers Union), Carl Gentile and William Preston (American Federal Government Employees, 17).

Cuba's courageous independent labor leaders set the record straight,

City of Havana
January 21, 2010

Mrs. Dena Briscoe
Mr. Carl Gentile
Mr. William Preston

Dear Colleagues,

We were extremely surprised to read your statements published by the official newspaper Trabajadores on January 17, 2010, after completing your visit to Cuba.

We have no reason to trust what was published by the official Cuban Workers Confederation (CTC) newspaper, but since we haven't seen any rebuttal from you, we have to assume you agree with it.

We, the signatories, representatives of the independent labor movement in Cuba, want nothing less than what the organized workers in the US have obtained: freedom of association, autonomy of labor organizations from any parties or government and the respect of human and worker rights.

To visit Cuba with an agenda prepared by the Communist Party and the official CTC, with the purpose of assessing the current situation of the people on the island, is like trying to learn about the living conditions of Cuban political prisoners by only interviewing the Director of Prisons under the Ministry of the Interior.

To be a victim of the old and worn subterfuge upon which all ills are caused by "imperialism" and that the gaps and lacks in education, nutrition and health care are due to the heinous intentions of exogenous forces is a naive blunder.

We would like not know if you had the opportunity of meeting with a farmer, a professional, or an artist, without the presence of a member of the official CTC.

On the other hand, have you asked yourselves how much "sacrifice" the Cuban people have been subjected to in order for the government to maintain propaganda instruments such as the School of Medicine, the Lazaro Peña trade union school, or the Nico Lopez College of the Communist Party, whose primary goals are ideological and political rather than cooperation with other nations as they claim?

We ask ourselves the following: What can the CTC have in common with the US labor movement? Would the US labor movement accept to be an extension of the government or political parties to discipline and repress workers? Would you accept it if Sweeney in the past or now Trumka were appointed by George W. Bush or Barack Obama? We are sure the answer is no.
To state that Cuba has successfully "eliminated hunger, unemployment and illiteracy" after only receiving information from the Cuban bureaucrats, borders on ignorance.

Haven't you asked yourselves why the dissident movement cannot develop? Why are workers who want to organize outside of the official structure imposed by the government being sent to prison, threatened and harassed –violating all conventions of the ILO? Why is there no right to strike? Why do independent unionists remain in prison? Why are artists being incarcerated? Do you think that all political prisoners and the almost 2 million Cubans living in exile are traitors or agents of imperialism? And one last question: Why didn't you try to meet with somebody outside of official circles?

Just as the truth of the United States is not seen from the White House, the Capitol and its surrounding areas, the truth about Cuba is not seen at the headquarters of the Communist Party, the CTC and all the propaganda showcase institutions you stated as having visited.

The truth is that the health care system is in shambles, the education is politicized and deficient, workers are subjected to appalling conditions and miserable wages. Whoever does not follow the guidelines of the party (including the CTC) cannot grow professionally or academically, individually or collectively.

It is true that the "embargo" makes economic trade, investments and the free flow of capital and US tourism difficult, but this is not the main cause for the problems we have in our country. The guilty parties are those inept leaders and their anti-democratic leadership methods. Is it them whom have imposed an economic system with deformed structures and an excess in centralization.

The embargo did not generate the lack of productivity and efficiency in our economy. Those responsible are the capricious old leaders who after 51 years in power continue blaming our powerful northern neighbor.

Cubans do not need guilty parties; we need solutions and radical changes.

We are sure that the majority of the delegation made the trip in good faith and this is why we would like to invite you to see the true Cuba, where we, the signatories of this letter, suffer and truly deserve the solidarity of the well respected and admired US labor movement.

We remain at your entire disposal,

Independent Federation of Cuban Workers
Carmelo Díaz Fernández
Minaldo Ramos Salgado

Independent National Labor Federation of Cuba
María Elena Mir Marrero
Emilio Jerez Oliver

Center for Labor and Trade Union Training
Víctor Manuel Domínguez García

Trade Union Press Agency
Reinaldo Cosano Alén

Castro Turns the Screws on U.S.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady of the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

How come when Hillary Clinton pronounced U.S. disapproval of Internet censorship last week she never mentioned Cuba? Probably because when you are negotiating a hostage release, you try not to aggravate the kidnapper.

Since December 4, Cuba has been holding Alan Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, in a detention center on the island. Cuba has not charged him with any crime but alleges that he was working for American intelligence. The Miami Herald reported on January 14 that anonymous sources told the paper that Mr. Gross had been assisting "two or three Cuban Jewish groups obtain unfiltered access to the Internet."

The U.S. insists that Mr. Gross is not a spy but Cuba has made it clear that it intends to get something for his release. And sadly the Obama administration is signaling that it's ready to deal.

In a report published by Senator Richard Lugar last year, two congressional staffers who visited the island said that when asked what the U.S. could do to improve relations, Cuban officials "expressed concerns" about USAID democracy programs and TV and Radio Marti. Now sources in Washington say that in return for Mr. Gross's freedom, Havana is demanding that the USAID program be shut down. And an email leaked to me that was sent from USAID to its democracy-program contractors on the island suggests Washington may be in a mood to comply. The email asks the contractors whether they could run their democracy programs from the U.S. and cut out travel to the island.

There are plenty of good reasons to shut down USAID but meeting the extortionate demands of Cuba's dictator is not one of them. Repression on the island is said to be at a recent high but reportedly so is dissident activity. One dissident leader told a source here in the U.S. that the movement is stronger than it was even before the regime's March 2003 roundup of writers and political activists. Cuba's economy is on perilously shaky ground. Meanwhile, the government has been cracking down on Internet use. Mrs. Clinton should think twice about giving in to blackmail, as she apparently did when leaving Cuba out of public denunciations of Internet censorship.

History teaches that when the island is ripe for a revolt, the Castro brothers like to release the pressure by unleashing a refugee crisis, especially when facing a weak U.S. president. Think Mariel. If Mr. Obama signals Carteresque tendencies, Fidel Castro will not pass up the opportunity.

Quote of the Week

"So many things the Cuban government does is arbitrary. The Jews of Cuba are not a hotbed of dissent. If you wanted to foment a rebellion in Cuba, you wouldn't go to the synagogue. The whole story doesn't make sense. I don't see that it's so terrible to hook up a synagogue with computers. And why is it so terrible if people in Cuba have satellite phones?"

-- Rick Schwag, a Vermont humanitarian worker with experience in Cuba commenting on the arrest of an American by the Castro regime for helping the island's Jewish community gain access to information technology, Washington Jewish Week, January 20th, 2010.

As Hillary Spoke on Internet Freedom...

...the Castro regime punished two well-known Cuban writers for "inappropriate use of the Internet."

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled her
Internet Freedom Initiative.

Soon thereafter, Castro's cultural monopoly, the National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), expelled writer Manuel Garcia Verdecia from its ranks and novelist Rafael Vilches Proenza from his job.

Garcia Verdecia was accused of "not acting in accordance to his functions" (as a regional Vice-President of the UNEAC) and of "no longer being trustworthy" to the regime.

Meanwhile, Vilches Proenza was "intercepted" by information security officials, who confiscated his flash drives and scoured through emails he'd exchanged with Cuban writers in exile -- what happened to "cultural exchange"?

A tragic irony, indeed.




















Source: Diario de Cuba

Blind Opposition Leader in Peril

Monday, January 25, 2010
Cuban opposition leader Juan Carlos González Leiva, Executive Secretary of the Cuban Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs ("the Council"), has made an appeal for protection to the international community. An alarming wave of repression has taken place this week and several leaders of Cuba's pro-democracy movement have been beaten and arrested.

The Council is a coalition of over 500 human rights monitors representing approximately 70 groups, as well as political prisoners in 50 prisons (of over 250 believed to be in existence). It reports the most egregious violations against citizens and human rights advocates throughout Cuba.

On Wednesday, January 20th, the Castro regime attempted to forcibly transplant González Leiva, a blind lawyer, and his wife, independent journalist Tania Maceda, from Havana to the province of Ciego de Avila, claiming he is in the capital illegally. González Leiva and Maceda resisted, bunkered themselves inside their home and are relying on friends and supporters to bring them food. They vowed to continue working on the Council's 2009 Annual Report of human rights abuses.

In mid-2007, González Leiva had switched his residence to the Havana home of a blind friend, Sergio Díaz Larrastegui, in accordance with laws allowing those assisting the handicapped to live in their homes. Having endured imprisonment, beatings, threats, harassment and abuses by the government for years, González Leiva sought access to Internet from diplomatic missions, greater protection from international journalists stationed in the capital, and greater organizational capacity for the Council. By banishing González Leiva and Maceda to the far-away province, the regime seeks to ostracize them and prevent the Council's reports from being broadcast abroad. Council members throughout the island have been subject to constant harassment, threats, and detentions, their email accounts blocked and tape recorders confiscated.

For more information on the Council, please visit Cuba Archive's "Documenting Inside Cuba."

Castro Smears U.S. Relief Efforts in Haiti

The U.S. Government -- led by its multi-dimensional military -- has undertaken a massive emergency relief effort to provide support to the Haitian people pursuant to the tragic earthquake of January 12th.

Additionally, Americans have generously contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to non-profit efforts; mobilized local and state medical and rescue personnel; and opened their homes to Haitian children orphaned by this catastrophe.

And that's just the immediate relief effort, for the U.S. will be key to the reconstruction process. As Vice-President Joe Biden said, "We are there to rescue. We are there to secure. We will be there to provide. We will rebuild, and we will sustain."

So what does the Castro regime think of U.S. relief efforts in Haiti?

The following is the text of a communique that was distributed by the Cuban Embassy in a Latin American country to the foreign diplomatic corps there. It is believed that all Cuban Embassies in the region have done the same.

The original Spanish text (as received) can be seen below. Here's the translation:

"While it's still impossible to count the total number of deaths caused by the earthquake, the forces of occupation are repressing popular protests in Haiti with arms loaded with rubber bullets and tear gas bombs.

A Cuban television team has captured footage of U.S. troops, which have occupied the International Airport in Puerto Prince, attacking Haitians that were looking for work and a place food to survive.

U.S. soldiers, which control the International Airport in Puerto Prince, Haiti's main airport -- and therefore decide who can enter and leave the country -- are finally allowing the arrival of food with humanitarian aid, after receiving harsh critics for prioritizing military flights.

After the earthquake destroyed the control tower at the airport in Puerto Prince, U.S military personnel took control of its operations, and is therefore responsible for prioritizing the departures and arrivals amidst intense international air traffic, catapulting the tragedy.

The lack of coordination has caused supplies from different parts of the world to become accumulated there, and hundreds of people to flock there looking for work or food for themselves and their surviving relatives.

Due to the U.S. occupation of the the airport, the distribution of food, water and medical equipment was delayed last weekend.

France's Minister of Cooperation, Alain Joyandet, presented a formal protest to the U.S. Government at the Embassy in Paris. "We need to help Haiti, not occupy it," he condemned.

An air logistics expert with the World Food Organization (WFO) also complained that the priority of the U.S. military is to "bring security to the country." "Ours is to feed people. We need to synchronize those priorities," he stressed.

Benoit Leduc, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (DWB), said during a teleconference Monday from Haiti that three planes full of cargo and two planes transporting expatriated personnel from the non-governmental organization were not permitted to land.

Therefore, the five planes had to land in Santo Domingo, which delayed the aid distribution by 48 hours.

After that incident, the U.S. military acquiesced to prioritizing the landing of planes transporting humanitarian aid.

(With information from Cuban television and the IPS)."

Enough Is Enough

Sunday, January 24, 2010
In the upcoming edition of Newsweek, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haas, comes to the realization that the Iranian dictatorship is not a rational partner that can be dealt with through engagement and negotiations.

Haas sets the premise:

Enough Is Enough

Why we can no longer remain on the sidelines in the struggle for regime change in Iran.

Two schools of thought have traditionally competed to determine how America should approach the world. Realists believe we should care most about what states do beyond their borders—that influencing their foreign policy ought to be Washington's priority. Neoconservatives often contend the opposite: they argue that what matters most is the nature of other countries, what happens inside their borders. The neocons believe this both for moral reasons and because democracies (at least mature ones) treat their neighbors better than do authoritarian regimes.

Read his conclusions here.

A Point of Moral Equivalency

This week, the Galveston Daily News ran an editorial favoring the unconditional lifting of sanctions towards Castro's Cuba.

Its rationale is that it would benefit the economy of Galveston County, Texas.

Yet, unlike other publications, which simply rant about Cuban-Americans as "anti-Castro hard-liners," the Daily News was more thoughtful:

"The Florida congressional delegation has fought any move to lift the embargo. It's representing the wishes of many people who fled Cuba when Castro took over. Many of those refugees lost family members -- not just property. You can't blame them for their anger and their bitterness. And you can't blame the Florida delegation for representing constituents who suffered a devastating loss."

Granted, we prefer the descriptive "pro-democracy" and "pro-human rights" -- as opposed to "angry" and "bitter" -- but they were more sensitive than most.

And then, their rationale:

"But how about Texas' congressional delegation, which represents a lot of people who are suffering?

Is it really worth punishing Texans who are suffering economically by continuing an embargo that has failed to produce any meaningful results for almost 50 years?"

Far from being sanctimonious, there is surely a point of moral equivalency in favor of those who have lost their loved ones and are struggling against tyranny, versus a few speculators looking to profit from business with the Castro regime (*if they're lucky not to get swindled).


Or so we hope.

*Read the next post for more context.

A Sense of Poetic Justice

Saturday, January 23, 2010
This is a must-read for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau and anyone else looking to do business with the Castro regime.

With a sense of poetic justice, Cuba's Generation Y blogger Yoani Sanchez explains how the European businessmen that bailed-out the Castro regime in the 1990's have now gotten swindled. Their bank accounts on the island have been frozen by their totalitarian partner and, in exchange, they've gotten "luxury" ration cards.

Here's "El Corralito":

Every night in the cabaret of a luxury hotel a European businessman goes from table to table making an unusual request. He approaches the guests and asks that when their bill comes, they let him pay it with the colored vouchers that he has in his pocket. In exchange, they will give him the amount in convertible pesos, which he can then turn into dollars or Euros which he can take far away. This man is a victim of the financial "Corralito" that prevents many foreign investors from taking their earnings out of the country. So that they don't utterly despair, the Cuban authorities allow them to consume the length and breadth of the Island, paying with pieces of paper lacking any real worth.

Today the frozen funds drama touches many businessmen who, after the 1995 passage of the Foreign Investment Law, were ready to invest in our economy. They enjoyed the privilege of running a company, completely forbidden to those of us born here. They came to be a new business class in a country where the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 had confiscated even the chairs of the shoeshine boys. The huge profits they were managing to extract turned them into very attractive targets for the hustlers, rental house landlords, and members of State Security. Many of them were seen in the most expensive restaurants, choosing appetizing dishes while accompanied by very young women. Others, the minority, gave additional gifts to their employees to compensate them for their low salaries in Cuban pesos paid by the State, through which the foreign companies contracted for their labor.

These representatives of a "corporate scouting party" were prepared to lose a little capital provided they could -- starting now -- be established in a place that one day would be like a pie cut into slices. However, those on the Island who signed contracts and drank the champagne with them, after an agreement, considered them just a necessary and provisional evil, a diversion that would be eradicated as soon as the Special Period ended. After all the guarantees promised a few months ago, they have learned that the coffers are empty, while hearing the repeated, "we cannot pay you." Suddenly, these businessmen have begun to feel the impotence and the scream -- half stuck in the throat -- that we Cubans are burdened with every day. Still, they are so much less unprotected than we are, against the depredation of the State; a passport from another place allows them to get on a plane and forget everything.

Translator's Note: El Corralito was the common name given to the Argentine government's freezing of bank accounts, and most strictly U.S. dollar deposits, between December 2001 and December 2002, when the nation was in a financial crisis. The word comes from the word "corral" which has the same meaning in Spanish and English.

Who do Cuba's Communists "Include"?

Here's an interesting headline from Reuters this week:

Castro Daughter Says Cuba Communists Exclude Gays

HAVANA - Cuban President Raul Castro's daughter accused the ruling Communist Party on Tuesday of discrimination against gays and said she will write a letter to its "top leadership" demanding that it end.

Which leads to the question,

Who do Cuba's Communists "include"?

Hint: Mean-looking guys (pictured below) with white hair and green uniforms.

Is Normalization Effective?

Friday, January 22, 2010
The unconditional normalization of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam began in 1995, when the two sides opened embassies in each other's capitals. Since then, the normalization process has accelerated and bilateral ties have expanded, including the signing of a bilateral trade agreement (BTA), which was approved by Congress in 2001.

So have normalized relations led to democratic reforms, or at least to a greater tolerance for political dissent, in Vietnam?

Apparently not.

According to yesterday's Wall Street Journal, "Vietnam Convicts Prominent Dissidents,"

"Vietnam convicted and sentenced four prominent dissidents to lengthy jail terms Wednesday for attempting to overthrow the government, in a fresh demonstration of how the country's increasingly conservative Communist leaders are stifling dissent—and worrying some of their leading trading partners."

Actually, let us clarify this news item,

"Vietnam convicted and sentenced four prominent dissidents to lengthy jail terms Wednesday for [voicing their opposition to that country's dictatorship], in a fresh demonstration of how the country's increasingly [repressive] Communist leaders are stifling dissent—and worrying some of their leading trading partners [that hope such behavior doesn't cut into their profits]."

From the Washington Post Editorial Board

Cuba's imprisonment of an American is a rebuke to Obama

A FRIEND of Alan P. Gross, the veteran development consultant from Potomac who has been jailed without charge in Cuba, says that Mr. Gross's mistake may have been "not seeing anything wrong with what he was doing." If so, we can sympathize. Mr. Gross was in Cuba to help several Jewish community groups gain access to the Internet, so that they could use sites such as Wikipedia and communicate with each other and with Jewish organizations abroad, according to his employer, Bethesda-based Development Alternatives Inc., and other sources familiar with his work. He reportedly supplied the groups with laptops and satellite equipment for Internet connections.

For this the 60-year-old contractor was arrested Dec. 4 and has been held ever since by Cuba's communist regime, which has accused him of conducting an espionage operation. Only in the ancient, crumbling regime of the Castro brothers could this ridiculous charge be leveled. That's because Cuba is virtually alone, even among authoritarian countries, in trying to prevent most of its population from using the Internet even for nonpolitical purposes.

A State Department democracy program has tried to help Cubans join the 21st century by distributing laptops and cellphones and providing satellite Internet connections. Mr. Gross, who has worked in more than 50 countries during the past 25 years, was assisting with this effort. Yet for this, Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón, another of the regime's dinosaurs, connected Mr. Gross to "agents, torturers and spies that are contracted as part of the privatization of war," adding "this is a man who was contracted to do work for American intelligence services."

It's worth noting that Mr. Gross's arrest came just two weeks after President Obama responded by e-mail to questions from Cuba's renowned blogger, Yoani Sánchez. Mr. Obama praised Ms. Sánchez for her efforts to "empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology." He also said that he was waiting for some kind of reciprocation for the several conciliatory gestures he has made to the Castro regime, including an easing of travel restrictions.

Havana's answer has been the arrest and continued imprisonment of Mr. Gross. For the Obama administration, the message is crystal-clear: Fidel and Raúl Castro have no interest in easing repression or in improving relations with the United States. For Congress, which is considering legislation authorizing another liberalization of travel restrictions, the correct response is also obvious: Cuba should be told that no action will be considered while Mr. Gross remains in prison.

Hillary's Internet Freedom Doctrine

Thursday, January 21, 2010
The following are some noteworthy excerpts from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech today on Internet Freedom at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.:

"On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world's information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Now, this challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to our Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone.

Franklin Roosevelt built on these ideas when he delivered his Four Freedoms speech in 1941. Now, at the time, Americans faced a cavalcade of crises and a crisis of confidence. But the vision of a world in which all people enjoyed freedom of expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear transcended the troubles of his day. And years later, one of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, worked to have these principles adopted as a cornerstone of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They have provided a lodestar to every succeeding generation, guiding us, galvanizing us, and enabling us to move forward in the face of uncertainty.

"As I speak to you today, government censors somewhere are working furiously to erase my words from the records of history. But history itself has already condemned these tactics. Two months ago, I was in Germany to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The leaders gathered at that ceremony paid tribute to the courageous men and women on the far side of that barrier who made the case against oppression by circulating small pamphlets called samizdat. Now, these leaflets questioned the claims and intentions of dictatorships in the Eastern Bloc and many people paid dearly for distributing them. But their words helped pierce the concrete and concertina wire of the Iron Curtain.

The Berlin Wall symbolized a world divided and it defined an entire era. Today, remnants of that wall sit inside this museum where they belong, and the new iconic infrastructure of our age is the internet. Instead of division, it stands for connection. But even as networks spread to nations around the globe, virtual walls are cropping up in place of visible walls.

Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world's networks. They've expunged words, names, and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right 'to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.' With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world. And beyond this partition, viral videos and blog posts are becoming the samizdat of our day.

As in the dictatorships of the past, governments are targeting independent thinkers who use these tools. In the demonstrations that followed Iran's presidential elections, grainy cell phone footage of a young woman's bloody murder provided a digital indictment of the government's brutality. We've seen reports that when Iranians living overseas posted online criticism of their nation's leaders, their family members in Iran were singled out for retribution. And despite an intense campaign of government intimidation, brave citizen journalists in Iran continue using technology to show the world and their fellow citizens what is happening inside their country. In speaking out on behalf of their own human rights, the Iranian people have inspired the world. And their courage is redefining how technology is used to spread truth and expose injustice.

"The final freedom, one that was probably inherent in what both President and Mrs. Roosevelt thought about and wrote about all those years ago, is one that flows from the four I've already mentioned: the freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. Once you're on the internet, you don't need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society.

"We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship. We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them in local languages, and with the training they need to access the internet safely. The United States has been assisting in these efforts for some time, with a focus on implementing these programs as efficiently and effectively as possible. Both the American people and nations that censor the internet should understand that our government is committed to helping promote internet freedom.

You can read the full speech here.

The Wretched State of Cubans

This Tuesday, the Christian Democratic Unity Party (PUDC), a repressed Cuban pro-democracy group, courageously called for the resignation and prosecution of the Castro regime's Minister of Health due to the negligent death from hypothermia of 26 patients at Havana's Psychiatric Hospital.
 
"How can the State sell health professionals abroad like merchandise, and even give away 24 makeshift hospitals to Bolivia, full of medical equipment, while it keeps eleven million Cubans condemned to a wretched state of abandonment and poverty," said Raúl Borges Alvarez, President of the PUDC.

Punk Rock in the PRC

Similar to Cuba's Gorki Aguila and Porno Para Ricardo, China's punk rockers are also challenging tyranny through their hard-hitting lyrics.

One of these bands, Demerit, has a popular anthem of discontent towards China regime, entitled "Bastards of the Nation."

Its lyrics scream:

"Why the f--- am I loyal to you/ We don't wanna be your victim of greed/ Sick of you, no future for us/ How many people die in famine/ No way, no control... Send me to work, send me to war/Send me to waste my life for you/ Hate for you, no future for us/ We are just bastards of the nation."

Make sure to see photographer Matthew Niederhauser's brilliant picture gallery on China's punk rockers in Foreign Policy Magazine.

It's All About 5-Star Hotels

Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The Post-Bulletin of Rochester, MN has a weekly column entitled "Travel Man," where readers ask questions about tourist destinations around the world.

Over the holidays, "Travel Man" was asked:

I've heard some commentators say that we might be able to travel to Cuba soon. True?

To which he responded:

It's all in the hands of our "hard-working and dedicated" representatives in Congress, but there is no question that there is a powerful campaign to allow Americans freedom to travel there.

But don't hold your breath. (I wouldn't go to Cuba for a long time anyway, because tourism facilities there generally are light-years behind the U.S. and there are only a few five-star hotels that I favor.)

Just oozing with compassion for the repressed people of Cuba.

Caveat Emptor

Looking to cut a business deal with the Castro brothers, or with any other ad hoc regimes?

Well -- "buyer beware" -- as these unfortunate British investors in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus learned.

According to yesterday's U.K. Times Online:

Thousands of Britons with holiday and retirement homes in northern Cyprus face eviction after the Court of Appeal upheld a decision that a British couple must surrender disputed land.

David and Linda Orams spent their life savings on a dream villa and pool. They have spent six years fighting the legal battle but must now give back the property to the original owner, Meletios Apostolides, a displaced Greek Cypriot.

About 5,000 Britons live on land in northern Cyprus once owned by displaced Greek Cypriots who fled to the south when Turkey invaded in 1974. The Court of Appeal ruling could open the floodgates to thousands of similar compensation claims.

Some 167,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to leave their homes between 1974-5. Many believe that thousands of Britons who bought land were aware that it belonged to Greek Cypriots but turned a blind eye to secure a cheap deal.

Legal problems with Northern Cyprus property

Britons living in northern Cyprus insist that they bought property in good faith. They say they were assured by local estate agents that it was safe to buy on exchanged land because the Greek Cypriots had been recompensed with land in the south.

This last line should also make investors in "property claim" funds weary -- you know, those looking to cut "debt-for-equity deals" with the Castro regime.

Cuban Cyber-Spies?

The Chinese regime's recent cyber-attack against Google's infrastructure -- targeting information on dissidents and human rights advocates -- has led the tech company to reconsider its business operations in China.

However, cyber-attacks aren't the only way that tyrants target information from tech companies.

There's also espionage.

According to CNET Technology News, "Google's spy case: Not the first, nor the last:"

Google is investigating whether employees in its China office were involved in what looks like a multi-prong attack on the company's network, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Some employees in China were reportedly put on leave. Google has declined to comment on specifics of the investigation.

Installing spies within a target company is another common espionage trick. Sources said Google is looking into whether insiders were involved in the attacks targeting it. Insiders can more easily plant malware and spyware inside a company without having to get past corporate firewalls and they can forward email around without having to hide their identities, experts say.

"There have been several good examples over the years where insiders were caught extracting information, such as foreign nationals working for Cuba and China," including at Motorola, said John Bumgarner, chief technology officer at the government-funded think tank U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit.

A software engineer who worked for eight years at Motorola was accused of spying after she was arrested in 2007 while waiting to board a one-way flight to China carrying more than 1,000 proprietary documents, according to published reports.

First Year in Review

Tuesday, January 19, 2010
From Reuters' "Promises, promises: How Obama has fared," which examines President Barack Obama's first year in office:

TALK TO ENEMIES

Obama pledged to seek engagement with U.S. foes, breaking with the isolation policy of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama made overtures to Iran but it remains defiant over its nuclear program. He also has little to show for outreach to North Korea.
He lifted key restrictions on Americans with families in Cuba, but Havana has given little in return.

Critics say such gestures signal U.S. weakness, but aides insist it has been important to improve the tone of U.S. foreign policy. The White House says it will give Obama greater international leverage if he seeks further sanctions on Tehran this year.

Stop Trivializing Tragedies

It's one thing for advocates of unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro dictatorship to overlook its brutal human rights abuses against the Cuban people, but it's absolutely unconscionable to try to use tragic disasters -- such as Haiti's earthquake -- as a springboard for bilateral relations.

Yet, they've begun to do so.

The tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti is not about U.S.-Cuba relations. The Castro regime's approval of U.S. flights over Cuban airspace, which cuts flying time, is about getting Haitian victims quickly to Miami for treatment, not to Havana.

The Castro regime's role is purely tangential, and that's how it should be treated.

U.S.-Cuba relations should be about the Cuban people and the abuses, injustices and deprivations that they are subject to -- in other words, Cuba's own tragedy. Therefore, it's absolutely shameless to try to use the Haitian tragedy as an excuse to promote U.S.-Castro relations.

Even before the earthquake, the U.S. was, is and will continue to be the world's largest provider of humanitarian aid to Haiti (ironically, it is to Cuba as well). As a matter of fact, the U.S. provides more aid to both of these nations than the rest of the world combined.

So when are we going to hear praise for the unselfish generosity of the U.S.? Instead, all we hear from these folks are echoes of the Castro regime's Granma newspaper, lauding whether Castro has sent doctors here or there, even as dozens of Cubans are dying of "hypothermia" in a Havana hospital. Yes, hypothermia in Havana.

Let's focus on helping the victims of the Haitian tragedy -- the Haitian people.

And when dealing with U.S.-Cuba relations, let's focus on helping the victims of its tragic dictatorship -- the Cuban people (not on the regime that represses them with the sole intent of remaining in power forever).

In the meantime, stop trivializing (and distracting from) these tragedies with ulterior agendas.

P.S. Meet the U.S.N.S. Comfort.

No Cuban Doctors for Ariel

Monday, January 18, 2010
According to Human Rights Watch:

"A boxer and physical fitness instructor, Ariel Sigler Amaya was in excellent shape when he was arrested in the March 2003 crackdown. The leader of an unofficial political group, he was sentenced along with his brother, Guido Sigler Amaya, to 20 years in prison for 'acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state.' By 2009, he said, his illnesses included 'chronic gastritis, pulmonary emphysema, chronic pharyngitis, a bacterium, and gallbladder stones.' Having been moved between at least four different prisons and two military hospitals, at 47 years old Ariel can no longer walk, and is now confined to a wheelchair. 'He already lost feeling in his legs—they are so thin that you can see the bones,' said his brother, Juan Francisco Sigler Amaya, following a February 2009 visit to the military hospital where Ariel was being held. 'He doesn't have mobility in his shoulders and arms. He has lost more than 100 pounds... He is unrecognizable.'"

Yesterday, Ariel stated in a letter:

"Those that have repressed and imprisoned me have now led me to the verge of death. They've turned me into a small pile of skin and bones. Cases like mine abound, of strong people, physically fit and in excellent health, that through the monstrous methods of State Security have perished in its prisons, hospitals and psychiatric centers. If I die, let it be known that there is only one culprit: Cuban State Security, the executioners of the Castro regime's military dictatorship that are tasked with eliminating its adversaries."

Another one of Ariel's brothers, Guido, is also serving a 20-year prison sentence for presiding a pro-democracy movement entitled, Movement for an Independent Alternative (MOIA).

Lesson to be learned:

For the Castro regime, Ariel is a political nuisance.

For those that turn a blind-eye to the Castro's regime repression, Ariel is a political inconvenience.

And without political gain, there are no Cuban doctors.

Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words.

On This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day


Let us remember that,

"The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

Quote of the Week

"This is the kind of thing we do all over the world when we are trying to reach people their governments don't want us to reach. It's naïve to think that if we asked Cuba for permission, we'd get it."

-- Aide to a Democratic Senator, on the importance of U.S. programs that support repressed civil society groups in Cuba, The New York Times, January 12th, 2010

Members Praise Google Decision on China

U.S. Congressmen Chris Smith of New Jersey, Frank Wolf of Virginia, Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan and Bob Inglis of South Carolina, joined officials from Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, and former Chinese political prisoners Harry Wu and Wei Jingsheng at a press conference last week to praise Google for taking bold measures to end its dealings with the Chinese regime that had enabled it to spy on the Chinese people.

They also called on House leaders to finally vote on the Global Online Freedom Act ("GOFA"), a bipartisan bill that passed multiple House Committees in the previous Congress but was not brought up for a floor vote.

Google has now endorsed the GOFA bill, HR 2271.

"Google sent a thrill of encouragement through the hearts of millions of Chinese human rights activists and political and religious dissidents—including, no doubt, many sitting in jail right now for the 'crime' of peacefully expressing their religious beliefs or political opinions on the Internet," said Smith. "Google deserves to be praised for this decision. It is a blow against the cynical silence of so many, including the Obama administration, about the Chinese government's human rights abuses—a blast of honesty and courage from which we can all draw inspiration."

"Google has taken a principled stand, reminiscent of the companies that pulled out of apartheid South Africa and fascist Germany," Wolfe said. "The Chinese government now faces the prospect of either loosening their restrictions on the Internet or angering millions of their own people who use the Google search engine. This courageous step by one American company has far-reaching implications. They found that the Gmail accounts of literally dozens of brave human rights advocates seem to have been routinely accessed. This is unconscionable, but unsurprising given China's long history of cracking down on free speech, human rights and religious freedom. China is increasingly bold in their human rights abuses."

The provisions of the GOFA bill include:

• Prohibits US companies from disclosing to foreign officials of an “Internet Restricting Country” information that personally identifies a particular user except for “legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes;”

• Creates a private right of action for individuals aggrieved by the disclosure of such personal identification to file suit in any US district court;

• Prohibits US Internet service providers from blocking online content of US government or US-government financed sites;

• Establishes a new inter-agency office within the State Department charged with developing and implementing a global strategy to combat state-sponsored Internet jamming by repressive countries;

• Requires the new Office of Global Internet Freedom to monitor filtered terms; and to work with Internet companies and the non-profit sector to develop a voluntary code of minimum corporate standards related to Internet freedom;

• Requires Internet companies to disclose to the new Office of Global Internet Freedom the terms they filter and the parameters they must meet in order to do business in Internet Restricting Countries;

• Requires the President to submit to Congress an annual report designating as an “Internet Restricting Country” any nation that systematically and substantially restrict Internet freedom;

• Establishes civil penalties for businesses (up to $2 million) and individuals (up to $100,000) for violations of the new requirements;

• Mandates a government feasibility study to determine what type of restrictions and safeguards should be imposed on the export of computer equipment which could be used in an Internet Restricting Country to restrict Internet freedom.

It's time to pass the Global Online Freedom Act.

The Spirit of Invictus

Sunday, January 17, 2010
If you haven't seen the movie Invictus yet, please make time to do so.

It is the story of former South African political prisoner-turned-President Nelson Mandela; the 1995 South African World Championship rugby team; and the path to national reconciliation upon the end of that country's apartheid regime.

There were two parts of the movie that were truly poignant for all those that currently struggle for freedom against repressive regimes throughout the world, such as Cubans, the Burmese and Iranians.

The first was when Mandela -- brilliantly portrayed by actor Morgan Freeman -- explained how during his 27-year prison sentence in Robbins Island, he and other inmates would cheer for any team that was playing against South Africa's rugby team, as a way to express their opposition.

This would change upon the end of the apartheid regime. So, as President, when asked about his new enthusiastic support for South Africa's rugby team, Mandela answered:

"If I can't change upon circumstances changing, how can I ask others to change?"

What a day it will be when Cuba's current repressive circumstances change, and upon the island's dictatorship coming to an end, all Cubans can join together in pursuit of national reconciliation.

And what a day it will be when Cuba's Mandela's -- those courageous individuals spending decades in prison for their current pursuit of human rights and democracy -- can participate and lead in a future government.

Until that day comes -- and history has consistently shown that it will come -- we pray that they continue finding the strength to confront and overcome the tragic circumstances they face.

Which leads to the second part -- when Mandela reveals and recites his source of strength during incarceration.

It was the Victoria-era poem, Invictus -- which reads:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

-- William Ernest Henley, British poet, (1849-1903)

A Lesson in Civility

Saturday, January 16, 2010
In case you have any doubt that the United States of America is the greatest experiment in democracy, civility and generosity in human history.


From The New York Times:

A Helping Hand for Haiti

By BILL CLINTON and GEORGE W. BUSH

This weekend, President Obama asked us to spearhead private-sector fund-raising efforts in the aftermath of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that ravaged Haiti. We are pleased to answer his call.

Throughout both our careers in public service, we have witnessed firsthand the amazing generosity of the American people in the face of calamity. From the Oklahoma City bombings to 9/11, from the tsunami in South Asia to Hurricane Katrina, Americans have rallied to confront disaster — natural or man-made, domestic or abroad — with the determination, compassion and unity that have defined our nation since its founding.

After the tsunami, Americans gave more than $1 billion to help the people of South Asia. The recent earthquake in Haiti is estimated to have had an impact on nearly three million people — 30 percent of Haiti’s population. We know the American people will respond again. Just as any of us would reach out to a neighbor in need here at home, we will do everything we can to give aid, care and comfort to our neighbors in the Caribbean, now and in the months and years to come.

With advances in technology, giving to relief efforts is easier than ever before. Organizations like the Red Cross have been stunned at the amount of money pouring in through an innovative fund-raising effort that allows cellphone users to text a $10 donation that will be added to their cellphone bills. The State Department raised more than $1 million in the first 24 hours, with millions more coming in the days since the earthquake. This money is being channeled to reliable charities with long experience in disaster relief, ensuring that Americans’ contributions are put to effective use.

Our first priority will be to raise funds to meet the urgent needs of those who are hurt, homeless and hungry, and to ensure that the organizations and relief workers on the ground have the resources to do their jobs effectively. In the first two weeks, the needs are very simple: food, water, shelter, first aid supplies. Once relief workers have gone through all the rubble and every person — living and dead — has been recovered, once the streets have been cleared and communications and power restored, then Haiti is going to have to get back on its feet again.

It’s a long road to full recovery, but we will not leave the Haitian people to walk it alone. When the rebuilding begins, we will need even more support to make Haiti stronger than ever before: new, better schools; sturdier, more secure buildings that can withstand future natural disasters; solutions that address the inequalities in health care and education; new, diverse industries that create jobs and foster opportunities for greater trade; and development of clean energy.

There are great reasons to hope. For the first time in our lifetimes, Haiti’s government is committed to building a modern economy, and it has a comprehensive economic plan to create jobs. Haitian leaders have shown determination in confronting the challenges of AIDS, with strong support from private organizations and the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Per capita, there are more nongovernmental organizations in Haiti than in any other country except India. The members of the Haitian diaspora, in Miami, New York, Toronto and other cities overseas, are involved in and committed to the future of their native country. And the world’s attention is focused on this tiny island nation that has been overlooked for too long.

Crises have the power to bring out the best in people, and we have seen many examples of this over the years, especially after the tsunami. Conflict in Aceh, Indonesia, was laid to rest while people focused on rebuilding together. In communities along the Indian coast, women who had lost their husbands learned marketable skills like arts and crafts and emerged better able to provide for themselves and their children than they were before the disaster.

We should never forget the damage done and the lives lost, but we have a chance to do things better than we once did; be a better neighbor than we once were; and help the Haitian people realize their dream for a stronger, more secure nation. But we need more than just support from governments — we need the innovation and resources of businesses; the skills and the knowledge of nongovernmental organizations, including faith-based groups; and the generosity and support of individuals to fill in the gaps. Visit here to make a donation and learn more about our efforts. It’s the least we can do, and the least the people of Haiti deserve. At our best, we can help Haiti become its best.

Bill Clinton was the 42nd president of the United States. George W. Bush was the 43rd president.

Celia's Transcending Wisdom

During a 1993 visit to Colombia, Cuban artist (and icon) Celia Cruz coincided in the country with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

The media immediately began peppering her with questions, and in typical Celia fashion, she did not hold back in her response:

"I know you keep asking me these questions to irritate me. So let me put an end to it once and for all, and tell you exactly what I think. I don't understand why you don't ask that man why he had to fly here and waste so much fuel, while the people of Cuba have no fuel to get anywhere. Ask him why he had to fly here with a second plane stocked with food and water from his private stash, while the people of Cuba go hungry and don't even have a decent water supply. Ask him why Cuban exiles have to send money back to Cuba to feed people that are starving on the island. It's ironic, for a couple of years ago, if they caught you with an American dollar in Cuba, you were sent to jail for twenty years. Now that man wants the big, bad exiles, who had to flee with nothing, to send dollars back to feed the people that he can't or won't. The only reason he came here to Colombia is that he's running around begging. He needs money desperately, and he'll do anything to get it. But let's stop there. I've never met that man, and I don't even want to think about him. I left Cuba many years ago to make enough money to send back so that my dying mother could eat lobsters. Lobsters that used to abound in Cuba, but that for some reason have disappeared from Cuban kitchens. Why don't you go ask him what happened to Cuban lobsters? Where have they gone? Are they exported for hard currency that ends up in his pocket? He has plenty of lobsters for himself; that's for sure. Just look at the food he had with him when he arrived. I just want to make it clear to all of you that that man did not allow me to return to my country and visit my dying mother, and although I try to be a Christian woman, I cannot bring myself to ever forgive him for that."

- Celia Cruz, "Celia: My Life, An Autobiography," p. 177.

Trouble From Within Iran's Regime

Friday, January 15, 2010
Ex-Iranian Diplomat in Norway Quit to Support Countrymen

Iran's former Consul General in Norway, who resigned his post to protest his government's treatment of demonstrators, told the Voice of America (VOA) he quit to show his support for his countrymen.

"When I watched what has been happening in Iran … I thought, "I want to join the people of my country, and tell them, inside and outside Iran, that I support them and I am hoping for the same changes they are,'" Mohammed Reza Heydari said in an exclusive interview with VOA's Persian News Network (PNN) in Oslo.

Heydari also called on fellow Iranian diplomats to follow his lead. "They should resign to support the Iranian people," he said. "Our priority should be the best interests of the people, not our own personal interests."

Heydari said he made his decision to resign after watching the Iranian government's recent treatment of demonstrators in Tehran, particularly during the religious holiday, Ashura.

"They decided to use force and brutality against people and recently started to terrorize people with explosions inside Iran," he said.

The (Confucian) Conscience of Experience

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google CEO Eric Schmidt sought to "turn a blind-eye" to China's censorship and cyber-assault on dissident emails.

Apparently, Schmidt believed that this would create goodwill with China's regime and lead them to eventually "open up."

Sound familiar?

Fortunately, Google's co-founder Sergey Brin, whose family escaped from Soviet communism and recalled his childhood experience with repressive regimes, felt differently.

"For the two men, China has always been a sensitive topic. Mr. Brin has long confided in friends and Google colleagues of his ambivalence in doing business in China, noting that his early childhood in Russia exacerbated the moral dilemma of cooperating with government censorship, people who have spoken to him said. Over the years, Mr. Brin has served as Google's unofficial corporate conscience, the protector of its motto 'Don't be Evil.'

Mr. Schmidt made the argument he long has, [according to people familiar with the discussions], namely that it is moral to do business in China in an effort to try to open up the regime. Mr. Brin strenuously argued the other side, namely that the company had done enough trying and that it could no longer justify censoring its search results
."

And how are the Chinese people reacting to Google's decision this week to challenge the Chinese regime?

In an interview today with Marketplace, Google's Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, said:

"Well, we've actually have seen quite an outpouring today of support from Chinese Internet users. Many of them actually showing up at our office and laying flowers down in the front of our office."

Brin was right.

Moral of the Story: Coddling the oppressor never earns you the respect of its victims.

Or as Confucius said,

"To see what is right, and not to do it, is want of courage or of principle."

Negligent Death of "Mental" Patients

Yesterday, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) denounced the negligent death from "hypothermia" of at least 20 patients in Havana's Psychiatric Hospital, commonly know as La Mazorra.

Yes, you read it correctly, "hypothermia" in the tropics.

"The CCCHRN is deeply concerned about the high number of preventable deaths that have taken place this week at the Psychiatric Hospital," the human rights organization said in a statement.

These deaths were also confirmed to the EFE news agency by European diplomats in Havana.

While last week's cold wave did reach Cuba, the temperatures on the island were never freezing and surely manageable with proper care. So what condition must these patients have been left in?

Historically, the Castro regime has been known to confine dissidents in La Mazorra, where they have been subject to electroshock, drugs, and psychological interrogations, in order to gather information on their activities and to spread fear amongst the population.

These barbaric procedures have been corroborated in numerous testimonies.

Are there any limits to the cruelty of this regime?

The Castro's Street Psyche

Thursday, January 14, 2010
Cuban author, former friend and confidant of the Castro brothers, Norberto Fuentes, has written the brilliantly satirical novel, "The Autobiography of Fidel Castro."

In the novel, Fuentes' Fidel makes the following telling observation:

"Almost all civil wars begin as a demonstration that goes out of control," Castro points out. "Controlling the streets," he emphasizes, was the crucial key to his maintaining power. To that end, opponents - or "the enemy," as he puts it - must not be allowed to gather "in groups of more than two or three individuals."

Apparently, Fidel's Iranian cohorts share this psyche, for over New Year's weekend, the Washington Post reported,

TEHRAN - Security forces opened fire at crowds demonstrating against the government in the capital on Sunday, killing at least four people, including the nephew of opposition political leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, witnesses and Web sites linked to the opposition said.

Meanwhile, little brother Raul also exercised precaution, as the Latin America Herald Tribune reported,

No Government Events as Cuba Celebrates 51 Years of Revolution

HAVANA - Cuba celebrated Friday the 51st anniversary of the revolution with austerity and without any government ceremonies planned, though the public's traditional dancing in the main squares of the communist-ruled island to celebrate the occasion were maintained.


Looks like tyrants are looking both ways before crossing.

The Virtual Cost of Repressing Bloggers

The Castro regime is intent on silencing Cuba's pro-democracy bloggers, and consequently their audience, through acts of repression.

Nonetheless, these acts are having the complete opposite effect -- they are only driving more traffic (visitors and interest) to these blogs.

In other words, the repression of Cuba's bloggers comes with an "audience cost" for the regime (in favor of the pro-democracy blogs).

This pattern can be extrapolated from the chart below.

The first bump in traffic was when Cuba's Generation Y blogger Yoani Sanchez was denied an exist visa by the Castro regime to receive Columbia University's Maria Moors Cabot Journalism Award in New York City; the second was when Yoani was abducted and beaten by state security agents; and the third was when Yoani's husband, and a blogger in his own right, Reinaldo Escobar, was assaulted by one of the regime's mobs.

Furthermore, there is a correlation effect across bloggers. As the chart shows, the repression against Yoani and her husband didn't only drive traffic to Yoani's blog, but also to other pro-democracy blogs, such as Claudia Cadelo's Octavo Cerco and Miriam Celaya's Sin Evasion.

As such, the Castro regime would be wise to reconsider its repressive behavior -- but old habits (by old dictators) die hard.

Google Stands Up to China's Regime

Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Today, Google's Chief Legal Officer David Drummond announced a review of whether the company will continue doing business in China.

According to Drummond, the following are the reasons for this principled decision:

"We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

As part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users' computers
.

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."

You can read the entire statement here.

A long overdue decision. Yet, kudos to Google.

Full-Court Internet Press

This morning, The Washington Post reported that,

"An American who has been jailed in Cuba and denounced as a spy is a 60-year-old international development expert from Potomac, [Alan P. Gross], who was working on a U.S. government project to help the island's Jewish community access the Internet, according to former colleagues and other sources."

His "crime"?

"Sources familiar with Gross's work said he was helping Cubans download music, access Wikipedia and read the Encyclopedia Britannica, which was provided on flash drives. The project is also aimed at helping members of the small Cuban Jewish community communicate among themselves and with Jews overseas, the sources said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case."

Meanwhile, the U.S. appears unintimidated in its commitment to Internet freedoms,

"U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce a technology policy next week to help citizens in other countries gain access to an uncensored Internet, a Clinton adviser told Reuters.

Alec Ross, Clinton's senior advisor for innovation, said in an interview that Clinton will unveil a tech policy initiative on Jan. 21. He provided few details except to say it would focus on 'Internet freedom.'

'If you think about Internet freedom from the Caucasus to China to Iran to Cuba and elsewhere, people do not have universal access to an uncensored Internet,' Ross said
."

We pray that Mr. Gross is promptly reunited with his family and that the millions of victims of repressive regimes throughout the world may soon experience -- at the very least -- virtual freedom.

Dieu Bénissez les Personnes Haïtiennes

Our thoughts and prayers are with the good people of Haiti.

Need We Say More on "Trade"?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
We've long argued that it's disingenuous to advocate for "trade with Cuba," as it falsely implies transacting business with the entire country, including its people.

It should instead be referred to as "trade with the Castro regime," the dictatorship that exerts control over every aspect of the Cuban people's lives, or even "trade with Alimport," its monopoly that decides (if and) what the Cuban people can or cannot eat.

But don't take our word for it.

The following report from GlobalAtlanta.com is about a Georgia agricultural delegation that visited the island last month looking for business opportunities.

Ag Exporters Court Cuba's Biggest Buyer: Its Government

Cuba has 11 million people, but Georgia food exporters learned on a recent trip that they only need to reach one buyer to do considerable business in the island nation: its government.

About 15 Georgia legislators, farmers and exporters traveled last month to Havana for an annual trade show hosted by Alimport, a government-run company that buys the communist country's entire imported food supply.

Alimport buys for restaurants and hotels engaged in the tourist trade, Cuba's main industry, as well as for its citizens, who get beans, rice, wheat, poultry and other staples in monthly rations from the government.

Need we say more?

How About the Bread "Laws"?

Yesterday we addressed concerns by opponents of U.S. policy, who argue that U.S. pro-democracy programs should not help the Cuban people gain access to cell phones, laptops and the Internet, for it violates the Castro regime's "laws."

So should the Castro regime's bread "laws" be respected also?

If so, any direct food aid to the Cuban people would have to prohibited.

Obviously, that would be absurd (as are the Castro regime's "laws").

Police try to stop sellers of bread

SANTA CLARA, Cuba, (Yoel Espinosa, Cubanet) – Since the beginning of the New Year, police in Santa Clara have been pursuing private sellers of bread, which is considered a crime.

Police in cruisers and on foot have been seen chasing the vendors, who usually use bicycles. Those who are caught are fined 1,500 pesos, the equivalent of three months' salary for the average Cuban. Police also confiscate their bicycles.

"Each new measure they take is to hurt people who are no longer able to buy bread in the street," said resident Julia Salterio.