The Cuban Rice Party

Monday, May 31, 2010
According to Penultimos Dias, there was a riot in mid-May by Cuban dockworkers who refused to load bags of rice onto a ship destined for Haiti.

In protest, they preferred to throw the bags overboard. They were angry that the Cuban people -- including their famlies -- are kept hungry and in need of food, while the Castro regime focuses on its international propaganda.

Castro's special forces immediately intervened.

One Week Later -- Nothing

According to Reuters:

"Ladies in White" say Cuba prisoner plight goes on

The Cuban government has not yet improved conditions for political prisoners or released any as had been hoped after recent talks between Catholic Church leaders and President Raul Castro, Cuba's "Ladies in White" dissident group said Sunday.

Speaking to reporters after the group's traditional Sunday march protesting the 2003 imprisonment of their loved ones, leader Laura Pollan said they had heard nothing from the government about its plans.

"Here, nothing is known. Everything is a state secret," said Pollan, whose husband, dissident Hector Maseda, is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Catholic officials said Castro promised in a May 19 meeting with Cardinal Jaime Ortega to move prisoners soon to jails closer to home or, if they were sick, into hospitals.

According to some reports, he also signaled the possible release of an unknown number of prisoners.

The high-level talks preceded a mid-June visit to Cuba by Vatican Foreign Secretary Dominque Mamberti.

So far, Pollan said, the only thing certain is that no prisoners have been moved or released.

On This Memorial Day

We honor all of the courageous men and women that have sacrificed their lives for our freedoms.

We will never forget you.

At the Service of Freedom

Sunday, May 30, 2010
On the eve of Memorial Day, please read this inspiring story of an extraordinary young Cuban's sacrifice on behalf of the country that gave him freedom.

You can also watch a video clip here.

From Wisconsin's FDL Reporter:

A Cuban refugee's odyssey to America

When the World Trade Center towers fell, Cuban refugee-turned-American immigrant Norberto Gonzalez Jr. stood up.

The 35-year-old Fond du Lac resident still remembers 9-11 clearly: "I heard about the twin towers and it made me really angry," he said. "Because I thought to myself, 'Somebody wants to take that freedom away from us.'

"That's not happening. Not on my watch … Nobody's going to take my freedom away, the American people's or my family's."

In 2002, Gonzalez exited the U.S. Naval Reserve so he could enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps for active duty.

"To be honest, going through boot camp was exciting. It was great, you know. Putting on that uniform and thinking, 'I'm doing something for my country' — that was the best feeling ever.

"Living in Cuba, I know what it's like to not have freedom," he said. "So I wanted to defend that freedom at all costs."

Gonzalez's neighbor, Eric Berg of Fond du Lac, said he wasn't surprised by that decision, noting that "(Norbert) is the first person to come and give you a hand when you need something.

"To talk to him, you'd think he grew up here," said Berg, a retired Air Force staff sergeant. "… And when 9-11 came up, Norbert figured it was his duty to his new country to stand up and do something after the attacks, which is a lot more than a lot of people did who were born and raised here."

Gunnery Sgt. Earl Budd — then a sergeant and senior drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot-San Diego — identified Gonzalez early on as a stand out.

"Oh yes, he was the most motivated recruit that I had ever had in my nine cycles as a drill instructor," said the man responsible for training nearly 1,000 Marine recruits during his tenure there.

At the end of Gonzalez's training cycle, in an unprecedented and unheard of gesture within the U.S. military, Senior Drill Instructor Budd called him in front of his fellow Marine recruits and bestowed upon Gonzalez his campaign cover, the signature high-crowned, broad-brimmed hat earned and worn only by Marine Corps drill instructors.

"The reason why I gave it to him," Budd said, "is he wasn't a squad leader or a guide because his English comprehension at the time wasn't the greatest; but he was so motivated, and I felt so moved by his story that I wanted to give him something from myself that hopefully he would cherish for the rest of his life, and now I know he does."

Gonzalez earned the respect of his peers as well as his superiors, added fellow Marine Oscar Sola-Vega.

"As a person, Norberto is outstanding," said the Miami resident, also a former Cuban as well as a former neighbor of Gonzalez's when deployed at the Kaneohe Bay base in Hawaii. "When I was deployed in the field, he looked out for my wife if she needed anything. He cares about other people."

If Gonzalez's story were a fairy tale, this would have been the juncture where it ended with the words "happily ever after." But the real world doesn't work that way — and his story would take one more tortuous twist.

Three years into his Marine service, Gonzalez paid the price for his patriotism: He was irreparably injured while serving in Hawaii. In a fluke accident — a fluorescent light bulb struck his right eye, rupturing the globe — he was left in excruciating pain for eight months and, eventually, blinded in that eye for life.

"I don't regret anything," said Gonzalez, who is in the process of being medically retired from the armed forces. "I don't regret anything I've done since I came to this country."

Perhaps that isn't "happily ever after," but for a man who risked life and limb to escape authoritarianism and Communism, it's a potent physical reminder that liberty doesn't come cheap.

"My name is Norberto Gonzalez," a free man declares, fairly beaming through his words. "I was born in Havana, Cuba — and I am an American."

And, for him, that's good enough.

Quote of the Week

"My father was a political prisoner [in Cuba] and I've never had any interest in returning, as I know how difficult it was for my family to leave."

-- Jon Secada, Grammy-award winning singer and songwriter, during a recent interview on his latest album entitled "Clasicos," Hoy, May 26th, 2010.

At Risk of Permanent Disability

Saturday, May 29, 2010
This week, Cuban pro-democracy leader, Juan Carlos González Leiva, warned that as many as 10 political prisoners are at risk of permanently disability due to the lack of medical attention and abuses suffered in the Castro regime's prisons.

Please note that these dissidents were in perfect health at the time of their incarceration.

They are:

Ariel Sigler Amaya, who has been left paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.

Antonio Villareal Acosta, who suffers from psychiatric disorders caused by his confinement.

Normando Hernández González, who suffers from severe intestinal problems.

Pedro Argüelles Morán, who is practically blind.

Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, who suffers various cardiac, respiratory, intestinal and other ailments.

Dr. José Luís García Paneque, who suffers from spinal, kidney and respiratory ailments.

Librado Linares García, who is partially blind and suffers from digestive and respiratory problems.

Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez, who suffers from kidney, circulatory, prostate and intestinal ailments.

Próspero Gainza Agüero, who is nearly blind and suffers from intestinal and kidney problems.

Fabio Prieto Llorente, who is hypertensive and suffers from allergies and digestive and respiratory problems.

Courtesy of Uncommon Sense.

Point of the Week

By New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman:

As Ugly As It Gets

I confess that when I first saw the May 17 picture of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joining his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with raised arms -- after their signing of a putative deal to defuse the crisis over Iran's nuclear weapons program -- all I could think of was: Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table?

No, that's about as ugly as it gets [...]

Turkey and Brazil are both nascent democracies that have overcome their own histories of military rule. For their leaders to embrace and strengthen an Iranian president who uses his army and police to crush and kill Iranian democrats -- people seeking the same freedom of speech and political choice that Turks and Brazilians now enjoy -- is shameful [...]

I'd prefer that Iran never get a bomb. The world would be much safer without more nukes, especially in the Middle East. But if Iran does go nuclear, it makes a huge difference whether a democratic Iran has its finger on the trigger or this current murderous clerical dictatorship. Anyone working to delay that and to foster real democracy in Iran is on the side of the angels. Anyone who enables this tyrannical regime and gives cover for its nuclear mischief will one day have to answer to the Iranian people.

Criticism of "Pedro Pan" Documentary

The Examiner's Blas Padrino pointedly criticizes the bias and inaccuracy of CNBC's documentary, Escape from Havana: An American Story, about the Pedro Pan project, which helped provide refuge to more than 14,000 children that fled Cuba between 1960 and 1962:

The documentary makes a glaring falsification by stating that the Pedro Pan parents sent their children out of Cuba because they were tricked by the CIA. According to [anchor Meredith] Vieira's narrative, the CIA circulated a false document purporting to be a proposed decree about to be enacted by Castro, which would take away parental rights and make children wards of the state. Even if the CIA circulated such a document, that was not the reason for the exodus. The reality was that Castro had already taken steps that threatened parental rights, including the closing of all private schools.

The main motivator of Pedro Pan was the enactment of a decree that made all persons between the ages of 16 and 50 subject to military service and that prohibited all persons subject to military service from leaving the country. Parents were scrambling to send their children out of Cuba before they became subject to that law. Of course, since the parents already were subject to the law, they were prohibited from leaving the country with their children. Under the law, the attempt by anyone of military age to leave the country without authorization constituted desertion, punishable by death. The purpose of Castro's decree was to force a difficult choice on parents who wanted their children to escape the brainwashing and harassment already taking place in the government-run schools. The documentary's failure to mention this detail and, instead blame CIA misinformation, taints the program's credibility.

Vieira also slanted the coverage to show three former Pedro Pan kids who supported an end to the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, but none who supported keeping it in place. Don't expect the bulk of the Pedro Pan kids to have any sympathy for helping out Castro. They suffered considerably on account of his regime.

Similarly, there was no effort to ask any parents of Pedro Pan children about the reasons why they made the decision to send them to the United States. Although Pedro Pan parents still alive are now of advanced age, many eventually followed their children to the U.S. after 1967, when Castro reversed his policy of refusing exit to most adult Cubans and acquiesced in the Freedom Flights program, which brought hundreds of thousands of Cubans to this country. Such interviews would undoubtedly cast doubt on the Vieira-CIA-ruse explanation for the Pedro Pan exodus.

It was also notable that the documentary failed to include perhaps Pedro Pan's best known graduate: former U.S. Senator from Florida Mel Martinez.

Also, the labeling of Pedro Pan as a 'secret' program was inaccurate. Certainly, the Castro regime knew that the children being sent out of the country were not planning to return. Obviously, the reason the children were placed in the 'fishbowl' for hours before departure, within sight of their parents, but forbidden from even waving at each other through the glass – as depicted in the documentary – was aimed at harassing the families. As was the parting shot from the Cuban customs officer as he slammed the exit stamp on the author's passport: "You're leaving without your parents," he growled. "How little they love you."

Finally, the documentary makes no mention of a Cuban heroine: Maria L. "Polita" Grau, niece of former Cuban President Ramón Grau San Martín. Mrs. Grau was the heart and soul of the Pedro Pan effort in Cuba. In 1965, because of Pedro Pan, she was charged with being a CIA agent and sentenced to 30 years in jail. She was released after 14 years of imprisonment and exiled to Miami, where she died in 2000. No account of Pedro Pan is complete without paying homage to Grau's courage and sacrifice.

Obama's National Security Strategy

Friday, May 28, 2010
The White House released its 2010 National Security Strategy entitled:

Advancing Our Interests: Actions in Support of the President's National Security Strategy

There were two sections on Cuba.


Cuba: Fulfilled the President's promise to reach out in support of the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their future, to expand the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people, and to pragmatically engage with Cuban authorities to advance U.S. national interests. Gained hemispheric consensus on resolution highlighting need for Cuba to abide by core democratic and human rights principles as part of any return to participation in the Organization of American States.

Followed by,

Promoting Internet Freedom: The administration has made clear its commitment to global internet freedom, including through the agenda put forward by the Secretary of State on January 21, and established an Internet Freedom Task Force that is working with the private sector on these issues. We have modified our sanctions policy to allow citizens in countries like Iran, Sudan and Cuba to have greater access to relevant technologies.

Lobbying for Repression Profits

Last November, the Washington, D.C.-based "watchdog" group Public Campaign issued a widely publicized report criticizing the political advocacy of the Cuban-American community and its "influence" on U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Yet, today, the AP reported:

Hotel trade group spends $305,000 lobbying in 1Q

The American Hotel & Lodging Association spent $305,000 in the first quarter lobbying federal officials on travel to Cuba, labor and other issues, according to a recent disclosure report.

That's less than the $350,000 the group spent lobbying both in the same period last year and in 2009's fourth quarter.

And last week,

Caterpillar discloses $480,000 in 1Q lobbying

Construction and mining equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. spent $480,000 in the first quarter as it lobbied the U.S. government on issues that included the health care overhaul, financial reform and labor laws.

The Peoria, Ill., company lobbied Congress, the White House, the departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury, and the U.S. Trade Representative.

Caterpillar representatives discussed issues related to health care reform, jobs, financial reform, taxes, tariffs on manufacturing components, defense department appropriations, vehicle technology, clean energy, trade with Cuba, and currency rates.

That's just two entities in the first three months of 2010 alone.

Add to that the expenditures of dozens of other trade associations, farm bureaus and corporations, not to mention the millions of dollars in foundation grants that ideological non-profits receive to lobby for the normalization of relations with the Castro regime, and the Cuban-American community is overwhelmingly stymied in its advocacy.

Apparently though, for Public Campaign, it's perfectly fine to lobby in pursuit of profits from the Castro regime's repression, apartheid tourism industry and slave labor.

However, to condition such profits to the human rights and freedom of the Cuban people is "retrograde."

We'll proudly stick to human rights and freedom.

More Activism (and Repression)

Thursday, May 27, 2010
On Tuesday, representatives of a dozen opposition groups congregated at Havana's Parque Central [Central Park] to honor Cuban pro-democracy leaders, Pedro Luis Boitel and Orlando Zapata Tamayo -- both of whom died from hunger strikes in political prison.

Amongst the participants were representatives of the Partido Pro-Derechos Humanos [Human Rights Party], Movimiento Andréi Sajárov [Andrei Sakharov Movement], Movimiento Pro-Derechos Civiles Rosa Parks [Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement], Liga Cívica Martiana [José Martí Civic League] and the Presidio Político Pedro Luis Boitel [Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prisoner Movement].

The opposition activists held signs and demanded freedom for Cuba's political prisoners.

According to Cuban independent journalist, Carlos Serpa Maceira, the Castro regime's paramilitary "Rapid Response Brigades" surrounded the activists, assaulted them (Serpa himself was almost strangled) and dragged them to a local police station.

They were subjected to threats and abuses at the police station, and were finally released from the holding cells late in the evening. However, independent journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias is still being held at the station, and the authorities are threatening to "deport" him [from Havana] back to the province of Camagüey in central Cuba.

Courtesy of #OZT.

Time for CAMBIO

Despite the constant fear of repression, the Cuban people are unequivocally demanding CAMBIO ("CHANGE").

From the cities:

To the countryside:

In this last picture, the sign indicates a local CDR ("Committee for the Defense of the Revolution") branch -- the Castro regime's "neighborhood watch" authority.

Powerful images.

This is Not a Game of Risk

Each year, Aon's political risk and trade credit experts, together with Oxford Analytica, analyze the political and economic risk climate in more than 200 countries.

Their findings are illustrated in the annual update of Aon's Political and Economic Risk Map. The map is an invaluable tool for anybody with responsibility for political risk assessment and management.

According to the 2010 Political Risk Map, Cuba is ranked towards the bottom as a high risk country.

As Cubapolidata explains, the rating is based on Cuba's risk of currency in-convertibility and transfer; strikes, riots and civil commotion; war; terrorism; sovereign non-payment; political interference; supply chain interruption; and legal and regulatory risk.

In contrast, Colombia and Panama are ranked towards the top as medium-low risk countries.

So why would House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, seek to expand commerce with the high-risk Cuban dictatorship, while simultaneously opposing expanding trade with the much lower-risk democratic nations of Colombia and Panama?

Must have an affinity for high risk.

Unfortunately, this is not a game.

No Due Process for Jailed American

According to AP:

Cuba has yet to open a legal case against a U.S. government contractor from Maryland nearly six months after he was arrested as a suspected spy, the head of the island's high court said Wednesday.

Alan P. Gross was detained Dec. 3 at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport and has been held without charge at the capital's high-security Villa Marista prison ever since.

Formal charges cannot be filed in Cuba without a judicial accusation and the opening of a court case, so it appears unlikely charges against Gross are imminent even as he approaches a half-year in custody.

Here's an emotional appeal by his wife for his release:

Release Them All

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
According to Europa Press:

Cuban independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas says he will continue his hunger strike -- already in its third month -- until the regime of Raul Castro releases "all" political prisoners in need of medical care because his protest "is not just to achieve the transfer" of prisoners to other penitentiaries [closer to their homes] but to "achieve the release of all of them."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Despite the week's speculation, as of tonight, no political prisoners have been transferred or released.

Politico Playlist


From Cuba to Liverpool

If you read into the most-played songs on Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's iPod, you might surmise that this is a man who is always running for office ("I'm a Fool to Want You," "Shelter from the Storm," and 'Twist and Shout" are among his favorites). But what comes through even more in his mix is a love of strong vocals and an eclectic taste for the classics.

Below, Diaz-Balart shares his Top 10 tunes, with commentary, in no particular order:

A Day in the Life (The Beatles): "A masterpiece of a song from a masterpiece album."

Por Si Acaso No Regreso (Celia Cruz): "There will only be one Celia Cruz"

Amazing Grace (The Blind Boys of Alabama): "A Gospel rendition of 'Amazing Grace' to 'House of the Rising Sun' music."

Beside You (Van Morrison): "Comes from the 'Astral Weeks' album, which I believe is one of the best albums of all times."

Twist and Shout (The Beatles): "My four and a half year old son Cristian's favorite song to dance to."

El Cake (Gorki Aguila): "I love his music and admire his courage and love of freedom."

Tabaco y Chanel (Bacilos): "A song that brings back good memories to my wife Tia and me."

Que Bueno Baila Usted (Benny Moré): "A classic. Exemplifies Cuban music."

Shelter from the Storm (Bob Dylan): "I'm a huge Bob Dylan fan. This is just one of the many songs I listen to all the time."

I'm a Fool to Want You (Billie Holiday): "You can always feel her emotions through her music."

From Paris With Love

Is Venezuela a State-Sponsor of Terror?

U.S. Senators Robert Bennett of Utah, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Jim Bunning of Kentucky, John Cornyn of Texas, John Ensign of Nevada, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jon Kyl of Arizona, George Lemieux of Florida, John McCain of Arizona, James Risch of Idaho and Roger Wicker of Mississippi strongly believe so.

They make the case in this letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (click on images to enlarge):

Congressional Dear Colleague

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The following "Dear Colleague" memo was distributed to Members of the U.S. House of Representatives:

Child Prostitution in Castro's Resorts

Dear Colleague,

I would like to bring to your attention the following excerpts from an article appearing in Spain's El Mundo newspaper earlier this month.

Though disturbing, this piece provides a clear window into the ongoing practice of child prostitution in Cuba's tourism industry.

The madame of luxury and her catalog of Cuban women and kids.

She looks like a gentle grandmother…

…Her business is prostitution.

She always carries a black leather folder, and is looking for partying foreigners or Cubans with money that have had too much to drink and which she believes are looking for a hot night. She approaches them politely to offer her services…

…she pulls an album of glossy photos, that no doubt was prepared by a professional photographer, with dozens of boys and girls, depending on the sexual preferences, appear short of clothes and in provocative poses…

…"They are very young, my son, but if you are looking for some 12 or 13 years old, you will have to pay more," says [the madame] in a maternal soft voice.

The madame starts providing prices in a soft voice. "…What I have here is first class. These are shy girls, who are not full-time prostitutes, some are students," she explains while detailing the quality of her "merchandise."

Clients are taken to discreet brothels where they are offered expensive drinks and hors d'oeuvres. The chosen girl is already there
waiting. After having a strong rum drink or a couple of beers with her, they go to an air-conditioned room that has TV an
d music…

Any efforts to increase tourism to Cuba merely enable the perpetuation of this repulsive practice.


Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Ranking Member
Committee on Foreign Affairs

"Political" Art to Cheer

From the NRO's Jay Nordlinger:

I just saw a thrilling picture, resulting from an excellent idea. You know about Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the Cuban prisoner of conscience who died in February after an 83-day hunger strike. Yes, 83 days. According to Yoani Sánchez, the famed blogger, Zapata's death has rallied the opposition on the island. A Cuban-born artist who lives in New Jersey, Geandy Pavón, had the aforementioned excellent idea. He is taking Zapata's picture and projecting it onto the façades of buildings. Just any buildings? No — buildings in the Free World that contain offices of the Cuban dictatorship. He has done this in New York (the Cuban mission to the U.N.). He has done it in Barcelona (the Cuban consulate there). And, on May 20, he did it in Washington, D.C. May 20 is the anniversary of Cuba's independence from Spain.

He projected Zapata's image onto the Cuban Interests Section, at 2630 16th St., N.W. This exercise, as Pavón says, "imposes the face of the victim upon the assassin, using light as an analogy of truth, reason, and justice." For the picture I saw, go here. It must have been all the more thrilling in person. Usually, I'm opposed to stunts, and especially to stunt art. This, I find righteous and wonderful.

The FARC's Geopolitical Base

Colombia's El Espectador newspaper revealed a secret intelligence report documenting the operations of the narco-terrorist group, FARC, in Venezuela and Cuba.

It shows the existence of cross-border guerrilla camps and the strategic triumvirate created to export Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's authoritarian model to Colombia.

In Venezuela's border, there are 1,500 FARC guerrillas spread amongst 28 camps designated to "provide relief to combatants that come from Colombia and to give them first aid." The border area is also used for narcotics air flights.

Furthermore, the report identifies Cuba as a geopolitical and economic center of the FARC's activities.

It describes a visit that FARC representatives, Liliana López Palacio, alias Olga Lucía Marín and Orlay Jurado Palomino, alias Hermes Aguilera, paid last August to Cuba, to discuss the group's international political initiatives.

One of these FARC representatives, Olga Marin, receives a $5,000 monthly stipend through the Cuban bank account of a Venezuelan government entity.

Chairman Castro's Dog

"I was Chairman Mao's dog. What he said to bite, I bit."

-- Jiang Qing (1914-1991), pseudonym of Chinese dictator Mao Zedong's last wife, also known as Madame Mao during her role in the radical political alliance known as the "Gang of Four."

Over the weekend -- and marking Cuban Independence Day (May 20th) -- marches and demonstrations were held on behalf of the Ladies in White and Cuba's pro-democracy movement throughout the world, from Chicago to Milan, Buenos Aires to Paris.

In a demonstration in front of the Cuban Embassy in Oslo, Norway, a Castro regime official came out, began shouting insults at the demonstrators and physically bit the hand of a young woman, Alexandra Joner, who was taping the event.

Obviously, Chairman Castro said bite.

Charlie Crist on Cuba Policy

Monday, May 24, 2010

P.S. During the interview, Sun Sentinel editor Earl Maucker insisted upon the supposed "hypocrisy" of the U.S. having normal relations with totalitarian regimes that are "as bad or worse" than Cuba.

However, he failed to give any examples. That's perhaps because Mr. Maucker is confused as to what a totalitarian regime is.

An authoritarian regime is one in which a single entity monopolizes political power. However, a totalitarian regime does much more. It attempts to control virtually every aspect of social and private life including the economy, education, art and science.

Aside from Cuba, the world's other prominent totalitarian regimes are North Korea and Burma.

Mr. Maucker is apparently unaware that the U.S. doesn't have normal relations with either.

Getting Advice From BP

As predicted two weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would become the new rallying cry for engagement with the Castro regime.

So here comes the Brooking Institution with a "scholarly" report on how to promote "U.S.-Cuba Environmental Cooperation."

What we couldn't predict is that the author of the report would be a retired BP executive who has been advocating for years to drill off Cuba's shores.

Talk about a conflict of interest. Obviously, Brookings is aware of this conflict for they've now conveniently kept the BP part off his bio-line.

That's like asking the Castro regime for advice on human rights.

The fact remains that Cuba has not drilled offshore, and will not be able to drill off shore -- despite years of talk and hype -- due to one reason:

The U.S. embargo makes it economically unfeasible. Period.

However, these "experts" would like for you to believe that lifting the embargo would actually protect Florida's coasts, for American companies would know how to do drill "safely."

If we would have listened to this "advice" years ago, there would have been drilling off Cuba's shores alright -- not to mention a heightened probability for environmental disaster.

And it would have all been courtesy of BP.

A Victory for Zapata, Fariñas & the Ladies

We fully subscribe to the sentiments of the "#OZT: I Accuse the Cuban Government" campaign, which is nearing 50,000 signatures, on the talks between the Castro dictatorship and the Catholic Church:

The willingness of the government to dialogue with the Church comes out of a specific context, which is impossible to conceal. This dialogue has arrived after the supreme sacrifice of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the hunger and thirst strike of Guillermo Fariñas, the marches of the Ladies in White and the Ladies in Support, the effective unity among the opposition, the exile, the Cuban civil society and the international community who joined for a fair demand the release of political prisoners and the respect of human rights in Cuba. Any release that presupposes the fracture of that unity on those factors goes against the interest of those who remain in prison.

Our commitment is with the 26 political prisoners for whom Guillermo Fariñas is carrying his hunger strike as well as with the victims of the Black Spring. But not only with them. Our goal is to not go back to the situation of Cuba in March 2003. The "#OZT: I Accuse the Cuban Government" campaign will last as long as there are political prisoners in Cuba and its citizens are denied the exercise of human rights.

A Hint of Leadership?

Or an effort to regain lost credibility? Time will tell.

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Leadership, at last, for Cuba's people

OUR OPINION: Catholic Church can be a catalyst for change

Finally, after a long silence, Cuba's Catholic Church is taking a stand, calling on the Castro regime to free 26 political prisoners who are in failing health.

About time.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Santiago Archbishop Dionisio García, head of the island's Bishops' Conference, met with Raúl Castro last week -- the first in an expected series of talks to deal with the dictatorship's abysmal treatment of Cubans, in and out of prison. The meeting, the first in five years between the regime's officials and church leaders, comes after the cardinal last month acknowledged in a Catholic magazine that Cuba is in economic crisis and noted that people are desperate for political and social change.

Ladies in White abused

It also comes after Spain, the European Union and many Latin American leaders have challenged the Castro government's mistreatment of the Ladies in White, women who walk peacefully in protest of their loved ones' imprisonment. The Obama Administration and world leaders also condemned Cuba's horrid prison conditions following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after more than 80 days in a hunger strike seeking better treatment of prisoners of conscience. And it's happening as dissident journalist Guillermo Fariñas has made headlines worldwide in a hunger strike calling for the release of the 26 ailing prisoners -- a demand that Gen. Castro labeled "blackmail" in April.

For now the Ladies have resumed their marches, but the Castro regime is pressuring them to split from a group of female supporters who have been walking with them. In typical Orwellian doublespeak the regime claims those supporters "distort" the issue.

Cardinal should speak up

In truth, Cubans have stepped up their quest for rights after 51 years of fear inspired by firing squads and "defense of the revolution" block captains who report to the government on neighbors' every move.

Cardinal Ortega has remained mum for too long. He has tried to collaborate with the regime in hopes of getting an opening, as Pope John Paul II called for during his 1998 visit to the communist island. But even as the world has opened to Cuba with more trade and tourism, Cuba has cracked down on its people, unable to accept dissent without imposing violent consequences.

This would not be the first time Cuba has freed prisoners, of course. The Castro brothers have a long history of making small moves in an attempt to score big points abroad. That's why the cardinal and bishops' efforts are so important. They have to seize this opportunity when key leaders and trading partners with Cuba are watching and demanding action. In a country run by old revolutionaries, stuck in a time warp of failed policies, Cuba's youth are restless.

The Church, as it did in Poland and other nations during the Cold War, can play a pivotal role in being a voice for those the regime wants to silence.

The State-Church Monologue

Sunday, May 23, 2010
A meeting between the self-appointed leaders of the Cuban dictatorship and Catholic Church have brought about much news and speculation.

Nonetheless, this meeting is as noteworthy for those excluded, as for those included.

Cuban-blogger Yoani Sanchez makes the precise point in the Huffington Post:

"There is limited discussion with that very important part of the nation not called to meet: civil society groups and associations. Something that is the responsibility of military and citizens, Catholics and atheists, party supporters and dissidents, should not be discussed only among those in uniform or cardinal's robes. Conspicuous by their absence in these meetings are the spokespeople of the injured people of Cuba, who have sons, husbands and fathers condemned for political reasons. How can you intercede for the injured without giving them, also, a chance to express themselves, without allowing them to be represented there, where their fate is being spoken of."

Fariñas: Ball is on Castro's Court

According to AFP:

Cuban dissident to end hunger strike if others freed

A Cuban opposition journalist said Saturday he was ready to end his nearly three-month hunger strike if the Cuban regime releases 10 political prisoners and agrees to a timeline to free others.

"When the number of those released reaches 10 and the Church tells me there is a timeline for others to be freed, I will end my strike," Guillermo Farinas told AFP via telephone from Santa Clara hospital in central Cuba, where he has been treated with an IV drip since March 11.

He said he had spoken to Catholic Church officials who agreed that "the government must take the first step, which must be the release of prisoners."

In his first ever meeting with Cuba's top two Church officials -- Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Episcopal Conference leader Archbishop Dionisio Garcia -- President Raul Castro said he was ready to consider resolving the thorny issue.

But Garcia said any talk about releasing them was off the table for now.

For a Major League Dream

Saturday, May 22, 2010
For helping Cuban baseball players fulfill their dreams of playing in the Major Leagues, a scout spent 13 years in Castro's gulag.

NPR has his story:

Thanks For Nothing

The visual oxymoron below shows a Cuban ration store with its empty shelves.

On the counter is written:

"Gracias Fidel por todo lo que nos das..."


"Thank you Fidel for everything you give us..."

In other words -- nothing.

Daniel Pearl's Legacy

From the Editorial Board of Jacksonville's Florida-Times Union:

Freedom: Daniel Pearl's Legacy

It's tough to have much freedom of the press when the government monitors Internet use, controls content, restricts information, blocks access to sites, encourages self-censorship and punishes those who dare to express themselves.

That's the situation in China.

It's tough to have much freedom when the government denies peaceful assemblies of more than three persons, including those for private religious services in homes.

That's the situation in Cuba.

The U.S. State Department has been compiling an annual report on human rights for 34 years. It's an effort to keep the nation sensitive and engaged on the basic value of all human lives.

China and Cuba are two of the worst offenders.

This Human Rights Report was beefed up this week when President Barack Obama signed the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act into law. The bill will record how freedom of the press is handled in countries as part of the annual human rights report.

Pearl was The Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and killed in 2002 while reporting on alleged links between the "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and al-Qaida.

Pearl's family has continued the good fight for journalistic rights.

Journalists enter war zones with nothing but their reporting equipment. All too often in recent years, they are targets of harassment and even attacks.

"All around the world there are enormously courageous journalists and bloggers who, at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on the critical issues that the people of their country face who are are the front-lines against tyranny and oppression," Obama said in a prepared statement on the White House website.

Citizens of the United States, especially those in Florida, are fortunate to have a presumption of freedom. When mistakes are made, public opinion generally favors openness. Outrages across the globe are numerous.

Praise to Congress, the president and the Pearl family for beefing up this nation's commitment to the eternal human right to be free.

Mike Pence Remarks on Cuba

Friday, May 21, 2010
Last night, House Republican Conference Chairman, Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN), received the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute's Leadership in Public Service Award.

Here's an excerpt of his remarks on Cuba:

"As many of you know, today (May 20th) marks what would have been the 108th anniversary of Cuba's independence from Spain. Unfortunately, the people of Cuba are still not free. Instead of focusing on the heroes who achieved Cuba's independence, we are drawn to the political prisoners who become Cuba's modern-day heroes.

Political prisoners in Cuba endure brutal conditions in the name of democracy, liberty and freedom. Some of these men spend decades in prison, without a trial, for simply owning a Martin Luther King book or for wearing a white band on their wrists that reads 'Change.'

One of the latest victims of the Castro regime was Orlando Zapata Tamayo. At age 42, he died in the custody of the Cuban regime while serving a 25 year prison sentence. He endured over two months without water and was tortured, beaten and humiliated for the color of his skin and because he believed in democracy.

Make no mistake; this is not an isolated case. It's one of thousands.

The 'Ladies in White' - wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of Cuban political prisoners - gather peacefully to pray for their loved ones. Yet they are harassed, insulted and beaten by Castro's state security.

Ladies in White have been punched, dragged and arrested simply because they walked down the street holding up pictures of their loved ones. These women, and the political prisoners they represent, are truly the courageous agents of democracy and freedom.

The tyranny in Cuba must end. On this Cuban Independence Day, Congress and the Administration should renew our solidarity with the Cuban dissident movement, denounce those who repress and obstruct freedom, and continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Cuba's prisoners of conscience."

Zapata Lives in D.C.

As Cuban Independence Day came to a close tonight, the image of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike, was projected for 30 minutes on to the Castro regime's diplomatic mission ("Interests Section") in Washington, D.C.

Thanks to the creative genius of Geandy Pavon.

On the Senate Floor

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Statement by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida in Honor of Cuban Independence Day

Mr. President, I rise to commemorate the 108th anniversary of Cuba's independence. On May 20, 1902, after a long and bitter struggle, the people of Cuba established a democratic republic. Today, the Cuban people are again fighting for democratic change and independence in their homeland.

On this day, we honor Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died this year after a prolonged hunger strike while protesting his inhumane treatment at the hands of the Cuban prison authorities. We stand in solidarity with the Ladies in White, including Zapata Tamayo's mother Reina Luisa Tamayo, who through their quiet dignity, continue to call the world's attention to the arrests of their fathers, husbands, and brothers for exercising free speech and daring to challenge the regime. We also recognize the contributions of Cuba's journalists, bloggers, and activists, who undertake great personal risk to tell the world about the realities of life in Cuba.

The legacy of Cuban independence endures with these heroes past and present, who fight against the forces of repression and totalitarianism for the promise of a free and democratic society. Now more than ever, the U.S. and the international community must press the Cuban regime to free all political prisoners. On behalf of the people of Florida and all Americans, we stand in solidarity with the Cuban people in their struggle, in the hope that one day, freedom of expression and basic liberty are possible in Cuba without the fear of persecution.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

Like Caged Animals

More evidence of how the Castro regime treats the Cuban people like caged animals.

According to CNN:

Cuban migrants illegal in their own country

"I was caught because I was an illegal," explained a bicycle taxi driver as he gripped the rusted blue handle-bars of his vehicle in Havana's Central Park. "And because I'd been here several times before, I was deported back."

But the driver working his trade in the capital city did not arrive in Cuba from another country. Instead he is among the thousands who have come from rural provinces in search of work and a place to live -- but who have been deported back because of "Decree 217."

The 1997 law restricts rural migration to Havana, making this taxi driver an illegal resident in his own capital city. "If you're illegal you can't be here in Havana," said the driver, originally from Cuba's eastern Holguin province. "You don't have an address here in Havana."

This reminded us of the following impacting quote from a 2007 article in the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph:

"They watch us and we watch them," he said with a resigned laugh as the tourists turned their cameras to capture the image of a young boy optimistically fishing in the oily waters.

"It's a little like being in a zoo," sighed Carlos, a 24-year-old literature student. "But that is the reality of life here. We are caged while the world looks on."

So much for people-to-people travel.

Quote of the Week

"Surely it was due to my non-conformist character and my vocation to become a free citizen, something the Castro brothers don't like. The soldier that processed my petition told me there wasn't any concrete reason for the denial. I insisted on knowing why and was told that's how things are and that the orders came from above."

-- Claudia Cadelo, Cuban blogger, on being denied an exit visa by the Castro regime to attend an international conference of bloggers in Germany, Europa Press, May 14th, 2010.

Kendrick Meek on Cuban Independence

Kendrick Meek on Cuban Independence Day

U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, issued the following statement today in observance of Cuban Independence Day:

Today, we celebrate the independence of Cuba and remember all those who fought against Spanish rule over 100 years ago. Those freedom fighters could have never imagined that future generations would still be struggling for democracy in their homeland. We remember the brave men and women who resist the iron fist of the Castro regime and wish to see a free Cuba in their lifetimes.

We especially honor men like Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who passed away after an over 80 day hunger strike and an eight year prison detention, and women like the Ladies in White, who courageously march every week for the release of their imprisoned loved ones. These brave Cubans stood for freedom in the face of indignity, and their memory will not be forgotten, especially today.

On this Cuban Independence Day, we celebrate the rich cultural and historical heritage of Cuba, and continue the fight for the Cuban people to enjoy the same liberties that we often take for granted.

Senator LeMieux on Cuban Independence

Sen. LeMieux Statement on Cuba Independence Day

U.S. Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) today made the following statement in commemoration of Cuba Independence Day, Thursday, May 20th:

Today we are reminded of the sacrifices made by generations of Cubans, who fought for freedom from Spain and continue to fight for freedom from oppression. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have demanded basic human rights for a half a century and their struggle continues. Today the regime continues to ignore the will of the Cuban people, who are seeking openness in their government and their right to free speech. Now more than ever, we must stand with the Cuban people by providing concrete assistance to bring about positive change in Cuba.

The White House must continue to help advance the goals of the Cuban people urging the leadership of the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees to swiftly approve $20 million in humanitarian assistance to the Cuban pro-democracy movement that have been seriously delayed in Congress. These funds were appropriated in 2009 and will offer humanitarian support for prisoners of conscience and their families, expand and strengthen civil society groups, and increase access to technology and new media in Cuba. We must also ensure the success of American efforts to help Cubans access uncensored information and break the information blockade of the Castro regime.

As long the human rights of the Cuban people is denied, we will continue to fight for their freedom.

On Cuban Independence Day

Wednesday, May 19, 2010
On May 20th, we are all Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Courtesy of Penultimos Dias.

Protest in the Capitol

The Cuban Capitol, that is.

According to a tweet by Havana-based blogger Yoani Sanchez:

Yesterday at 1:00 p.m a group of people displayed signs reading Zapata Vive ("Zapata Lives") on the steps of Havana's Capitol building, they also screamed "Libertad" ("Freedom").

Mariela's "Revolutionary" Sexuality

The Castro regime's totalitarianism is a past and present enemy of diversity, whether political, economic, social, cultural or sexual.

However, with 21st century technology and communications, it can't control its facade as it did during the 20th.

So, in contrast to the regime's elderly, entrenched, military power elite, it has fallen upon Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela -- in her role as head of Cuba's CENESEX, National Sexual Education Center -- to become the (sole) face of intra-revolutionary tolerance.

As such, Mariela is sent around the world to explain her 21st century views on sexual tolerance.

And what exactly are her 21st century views?

She explains during a recent interview with Russia's RISA Novosti:

- What message would you offer the Russian people regarding homophobia and sexual rights?

- First, I'd recommend that the Russian people retake the Leninist path towards socialism and that once they resume that path to start fighting against the prejudices that prohibited them from advancing during their best days of socialism.

Isn't that modern and refreshing?

Of course, she'll stress that long-gone are the days when the Castro regime placed Cuban homosexuals in labor and re-education camps, or when they were arrested as "ideological deviants," and she'll point to her once-a-year, official, May 17th march on International Day Against Homophobia.

But she'll fail to mention that they are now instead charged with "social dangerousness" and that they are strictly prohibited from organizing events independent of Mariela and the regime.

In other words, only obedient, Leninist homosexuals need apply.

The Zapata Project

Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Remember the Varela Project?

It's now time for the Zapata Project.

According to EFE:

Cuba Dissidents Launch Petition to Free Political Prisoners

HAVANA – A dissident group calling itself the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Committee announced a campaign to collect signatures to ask Cuba's National Assembly to free the island's political prisoners.

The group, created after the death of dissident prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike, is appealing to the solidarity of Cubans to defend human rights on the communist-ruled island.

In addition, the group is expressing the urgency of "defending respect for the right to life of those valiant countrymen who believe that the hunger strike is the most efficacious resource to pressure the authorities regarding the dramatic and systematic violation of our rights."

Manuel Cuesta Morua, one of the leaders of the initiative, told EFE that the effort intends to "initiate the collection of signatures to deliver them" to parliament.

The campaign is aimed at securing an amnesty for political prisoners and the ratification of various U.N. rights conventions signed by the Cuban government in 2008.

In addition, it asks for the reform of articles in the Penal Code such as the so-called crime of "pre-criminal dangerousness," a charge often used against government opponents.

It also demands that the creation of the pro-government mobs, officially known as "Rapid Response Brigades," that harass dissidents, be declared "unconstitutional."

The Orlando Zapata Tamayo Committee bases its initiative on Article 63 of the Cuban Constitution, which says that "any citizen has the right to direct complaints and petitions to the authorities and to receive attention or appropriate responses."

Dissident organizations say the Cuban government is holding some 200 political prisoners. Around a quarter of those detainees have been designated by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience.

Steel Industry Supports Cuba Sanctions

Steel Industry Says Lack of Enforcement of Cuban Embargo Hurts U.S. Domestic Industry

In a written statement submitted to the Committee on Ways and Means of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Specialty Steel Industry of North America (SSINA) encouraged stricter enforcement of the U.S. regulations on trade with Cuba, particularly with respect to China. Over the past six years, China has invested heavily in Cuba's nickel development and, according to official trade data, China is now absorbing the overwhelming majority of Cuba's nickel production. Since the principal end use of nickel is the production of stainless steel and China is among the largest offshore suppliers of stainless steel to the United States, SSINA believes that stainless steel containing Cuban nickel has been imported into the U.S. from China, in violation of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

While Cuba is the largest nickel producing country in the world, the Cuban Assets Control Regulations prohibit U.S. manufacturers from sourcing nickel from Cuba. The embargo prohibits the importation of merchandise from third countries that is made or derived in whole or in part of any article which is the growth, produce or manufacture of Cuba. The embargo specifically covers the importation of nickel-bearing materials.

The U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), under the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, has the authority to require that importers of stainless steel certify the origin of the nickel in their products to confirm their compliance with the embargo. OFAC has utilized that authority on previous occasions when it suspected that imports of stainless steel might contain Cuban nickel.

Dr. Sunil Widge, SSINA's Chairman and Chief Technology Officer Emeritus of Carpenter Technology Corporation, says, "A failure to enforce the embargo not only undermines an important U.S. foreign policy objective, it also places the domestic specialty metals industry at a distinct competitive disadvantage by allowing one of its biggest foreign competitors an opportunity to avail itself of the world's largest nickel reserves, while simultaneously denying the U.S. industry the same access. As long as the embargo remains U.S. law, it must be enforced, otherwise U.S. stainless steel producers and producers of other nickel-bearing metals will remain disadvantaged by the failure to apply the embargo."

"The U.S. previously entered into bilateral agreements with respect to stainless steel producers in Japan, Italy and France to ensure that imports from those producers did not contain Cuban nickel," says David A. Hartquist, SSINA's general counsel. "Under the agreements, imports of stainless steel from those countries were permitted subject to the furnishing of certification documents required by Cuban Assets Control Regulations," he explains.

"Despite its power to enforce compliance with the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, to the best of our knowledge, and to the detriment of the domestic industry, no enforcement action has been taken," says Hartquist.

About Specialty Steel Industry of North America

Specialty Steel Industry of North America (SSINA)
is a Washington, DC-based trade association representing virtually all continental specialty metals producers, which include high technology, high value stainless and other specialty alloy products.

SSINA member companies include: ATI Allegheny Ludlum, Pittsburgh, PA, and ATI Allvac, Monroe, NC (both Allegheny Technologies companies); Carpenter Technology Corporation, Reading, PA; Electralloy, Oil City, PA; Latrobe Specialty Steel Company, Latrobe, PA; North American Stainless, Ghent, KY; Outokumpu Stainless, Inc., Schaumburg, IL; Universal Stainless and Alloy Products, Bridgeville, PA; and Valbruna Slater Stainless Inc., Fort Wayne, IN.

Letter to Lula

Monday, May 17, 2010
By British Labour MP and former Minister for Latin America at the Foreign Office, Denis MacShane, in The Wall Street Journal:

Open Letter to the President of Brazil

Why is the Lula da Silva who once stood for human rights now standing with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Caro Lula,

You don't remember me but we met now and then nearly 30 years ago when you were an inspiration to labor movements around the world. Your struggle to create a strong, independent trade union in Brazil helped take your country to its democratic future. I wrote articles about the great workers' rights movement in the ABC region around Sao Paulo, where you organized strikes for fair pay and decent labor conditions [...]

That is why it is with the most profound sadness that I see you embracing the incarnation of everything that denies human rights, social justice and all the good that liberation trade unions stood for. The picture of you alongside the Iranian tyrant, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as if he was the best friend of democratic Brazil, has shocked all democrats around the world. This man presides over a regime that tortures, kills, imprisons and humiliates those of its citizens who dare to call for freedom and democracy. Teenagers are hanged from cranes. Street protesters are killed with impunity. Women are treated as second-class citizens and stoned to death. Writers and journalists are routinely imprisoned, their publications censured, and trade unions do not exist. Iranian gays live in terror that their sexuality will come to the notice of the fanatic, human-rights-hating clerics who rule the country with Ahmadinejad as their puppet [...]

What on earth happened to the Lula I supported and built solidarity for? I never had any illusions about Castro and the decadent, corrupt prison camp that is today's Cuba, where writers rot in prisons and pro-democracy oppositionists like Orlando Zapata are allowed to die in jail. I did once hope that Hugo Chavez would use his charisma to make Venezuela a democracy where social justice would have more say and play. But he's just another populist latter-day Perón. His opponents are often loathsome but his authoritarianism is not the answer.

Your global role as a champion of human rights, though, was admired everywhere. And yet, you stand with Ahmadinejad, who is the negation of everything you once stood for, and everything the democracies of Europe and the rest of the world have built. Why has it come to this?

I enjoy flying in Embraer jets and support better trade and contacts with Brazil. Your great country has much to contribute to a better world, just as you once contributed to its arrival as a full, modern democracy. So why take tea with tyranny and shame your own life story?

Iran's present leadership attacks every decent value you once represented. I still believe in those values that led me to support you against your dictators. I wish you would once again become the Lula who inspired the fighters for democracy and social justice around the world.

The Most Enviable Health Care

It seem the U.N.'s World Health Organization (WHO) is unable to decide whether Castro's Cuba or Kim's North Korea represents "the most enviable health care system in the world."

So much for credibility.

From The Toronto Sun:

In envy of North Korea?

Pyongyang receives unlikely praise for its health-care system

Hold on to your hats, folks, for a weird assessment of North Korea.

The Wall Street Journal warns that the item it published originated from the respected news agency Reuters and not the satirical publication The Onion; Blogger News compares it with Michael Moore's movie Sicko which extols the virtues of Cuba's health care system.

Central to the story is Hong Kong-born Dr. Margaret Chan (Chan Fu-chun), who got her medical degree at the University of Western Ontario (1973-77) and served some 25 years with the Hong Kong department of health before becoming, in 2006, director-general of the UN's World Health Organization (WHO).

Being a citizen of China may or may not have coloured Dr. Chan's view of North Korea, which she recently visited for 2½-days (Monday to Wednesday) at the invitation of the Pyongyang regime.

As a society, North Korea makes the dark side of the moon seem an open book. While acknowledging her visit was tightly controlled, Dr. Chan declared that North Korea's health care system was "something most other developing countries would envy." Wow!

She said North Korea "has no lack of doctors and nurses, as we have seen in other developing countries where most of their doctors have migrated to other places." On average, a "household doctor" attends to 130 families who "do not have to worry about lack of financial resources to access care."

Dr. Chan said North Korea has problems with "malnutrition," but on the positive side, she saw no evidence of "obesity."

It's doubtful Dr. Chan is as naive as her remarks might suggest. One hopes she is not endorsing North Korea's sealed borders, with citizens forbidden to emigrate, as a health care benefit that means lots of doctors and no wait time.

Another "positive" of sealed borders might be that North Korea has no problem with illegal immigrants, like the citizens of Arizona must endure.

Nor is there concern about kids wasting time on the Internet or TV games. In general, no one is allowed to travel or allowed access to outside radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, etc.

If Dr. Chan had thought of it, she might have given credit to Kim Jong Il for reducing obesity by implementing policies that lead to starvation — no fat couch potatoes or overweight kids, as in the U.S. and some Asian countries.

By praising North Korea for being "receptive to engagement with international partners" when if comes to health matters, Dr. Chan is saying that the regime is willing to accept contributions and aid, so long as no strings are attached.

Turn a blind eye to politics; see only what they want you to see.

Perhaps they are chuckling in Pyongyang. Others in WHO should be blushing.

Child Prostitution in Castro's Resorts

The Castro regime's state security can find a UBS memory stick in the most remote dissident's home; it can effectively exclude Cubans from hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and other tourist-only facilities; it can censure all communications, wiretap the population, scramble radio and television transmissions, and even arrest an elderly American for helping connect the Jewish community to the Internet.

Yet, it can't control the overt peddling of child prostitutes within its own state-owned, apartheid, tourist resorts?

Or does is it turn a blind-eye for profit?

Spain's El Mundo newspaper reports on this repulsive practice in Cuba's tourism industry:

Blonds, brunettes, mulatas [mixed-race] and black. "They are very young, my dear, but if you want 12 or 13-year olds, you'll have to pay more," says Ileana in a maternal tone. The madame then recites in a lower voice, "one night, 20 convertible pesos, two lesbians, 20 per head. What I have is first-rate, modest girls that aren't full time whores, some students," she clarifies as she describes the quality of her merchandise.

Courtesy of Castro's totalitarian package.

Fighting Racism in Cuba

Sunday, May 16, 2010
The African-American news portal, The Grio, ran this must-read article on the reality of race relations in Cuba:

The fight against racism in Cuba goes viral

Rosa Parks refused to stand. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. Barack Obama won the presidential election. America' s plight for racial equality has had its struggles, its heroes and its progress. But on the nearby island of Cuba, some say modern-day racism against blacks is blatant, and fighting it isn't as simple as public protest.

According to Afro-Cuban activists, racism against blacks in Cuba is systemic and institutional. They say, to this day, blacks are excluded from tourism related jobs, relegated to poor housing, have poor access to health care, are excluded from managerial positions and are more likely to be imprisoned.

Carlos Moore is an Afro-Cuban activist who has spent his life writing about racial injustice in Cuba and says race is the country's most pressing issue. In 2008, he sent a scathing letter to Cuban leader Raul Castro demanding racial reform. In it, he states: "You are a descendant of Europeans born in Spain; I am a descendant of Africans born in the Caribbean. We are both Cubans. However, being Cuban confers no specific privilege on either of us as human beings".

It was a luxury of civil protest he could only afford to write while exiled in Brazil. According to Moore, "There is an unstated threat. Blacks in Cuba know that whenever you raise race in Cuba, you go to jail. Therefore, the struggle in Cuba is different. There cannot be a civil rights movement. You will have instantly 10,000 black people dead." He says a new generation of Cubans are looking at politics in another way.

Click here for more.

Is China Colluding With Castro's Repression?

From Havana-based independent journalist Juan Carlos Linares in Cubanet:

Cuba Imports More Control and Repression: The Chinese in Villa Marista

Residents of Havana have noticed the comings and goings of Chinese people to and from Villa Marista, the main headquarters of Cuba's political police.

"Chinese from China!" shouted an observer.

Villa Marista inspires fear, not only because it is the most infamous of the Ministry of the Interior's buildings -- more specifically the political police -- or because of the interrogation precincts that await visitors and underground cells; it's that once inside, the judicial system evaporates for those detained. Lawyers, laws and judicial procedures can exert very little influence inside this mansion with a deceptively peaceful facade that swallows its "guests."

In democratic countries, the government guarantees and defends its citizens' safety, even against abuses committed by official institutions. There are laws that defend the individual and commissions formed by parliamentarians, jurists and social activists, that protect the citizen. In Cuba, nothing of the sort exists, and any citizen that enters the building at Villa Marista is completely at the mercy of the sinister political police.

However, the Chinese that enter and exit Villa Marista do not seem to be "guests." Their presence there could be related -- more than to the physical repression of dissidents -- to the technical advice that the Chinese give the Cuban dictatorship on wiretapping, controlling information on the internet, and scrambling foreign radio and TV stations.

It is curious that this past February 24th, several banks and other agencies in the city of Havana, lost their intranet connection. Coincidentally, that day was the 142nd anniversary of the final insurrection against Spain, the 14th anniversary of the shutdown of two civilian airplanes by Cuban military jets in which four crew members were killed and the day before political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died.

As Raúl Castro's government deteriorates, the regime's international image crumbles.

Once again, we shall mention the name of Adrián Leiva, an independent journalist who recently died in Villa Marista after attempting to return to Cuba by sea, after the authorities denied him permission to return to his homeland. This incident has not yet been clarified by the Ministry of the Interior.

The Cuban Revolution is Over

Saturday, May 15, 2010
Don't believe us?

Watch this clip:

We Will Never Forget OZT

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Cuban pro-democracy activist and political prisoner who died pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike protesting the abuses of the Castro regime, would have turned 43-years old today.

We will never forget his life, struggle and sacrifice.

Please join the Zapata Lives campaign!

Yoani Reveals Audio of Kidnapping

Friday, May 14, 2010
From Cuban-blogger Yoani Sanchez:

More than 60 days ago I sent several Cuban institutions a complaint for illegal detention, police violence and arbitrary imprisonment. After the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, successive illegal arrests prevented more than one hundred people from participating in the activities surrounding his funeral. I was among the many who ended up in a jail cell on February 24, when we went to sign the condolence book opened in his name. The level of violence used against me, and the violation of the procedures for detaining an individual at a Police Station, led me to file a claim with little hope that it would be heard in court. I have waited all this time for the response of both the Military Prosecutor and the Attorney General, holding back this revealing testimony, painful evidence of how our rights are violated.

Fortunately, my cell phone recorded the audio of what happened that gray Wednesday, and even after being confiscated it recorded the conversations of the state security agents and the police – who wore no badges – who had locked us up by force at the Infanta y Manglar station. The evidence contains the names of some of those responsible, reveals the background of the police operation against dissidents, independent journalists and bloggers. I have sent copies of this dossier of a "kidnapping" to international organizations concerned with Human Rights, protection of reporters, and all those related to abuse. Several attorneys from the Law Association of Cuba have advised me in this endeavor.

Although there is little chance that someone will be brought to account, at least those responsible will know that their atrocities no longer remain hidden in the silence of their victim. Technology has allowed all of this to come to light.

Please click here to listen to the audio and view the official documents.

Orlando Zapata's Tomb is Desecrated

Does this regime have any shame whatsoever?

Reina Luisa Tamayo is Besieged in Her Home, While Orlando Zapata's Tomb is Desecrated

From the city of Banes in the province of Holguín, Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of prisoner of conscience, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died on February 23, 2010 as the result of an 86-day hunger strike, denounced that Cuban State Security has posted five men at the door of her home, controlling all those who enter and leave the house.

On Tuesday May 11th, Reina Luisa went to the cemetery in Banes and found the engraved inscription on her son's cement tomb had been covered with white paint. In addition, the plastic flowers left by her on the tomb had been removed.

In a recorded testimony of these incidents in Banes, Reina Luisa said of the State Security agents in front of her home:

"Murderers, insolents, go and guard the cemetery… what you should be doing is protecting my son's tomb. I will not allow anyone touching his tomb… Leave the door of my home free for those who wish to enter. If you are truly confident in the people's support, why are you so fearful of anyone from the opposition movement manifesting their solidarity to this Cuban mother?"

According to Reina, her son's tomb was desecrated as a form of manipulation by the authorities to try to intimidate and demoralize her, but she stressed:

"They will not succeed... We will not give up our peaceful struggle against the regime…"

Doing Business With the Devil

Whether it's with Fidel and Raul Castro, or Ali Khameini and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- for some, it's only about profits.

Wonder if Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota will also propose legislation to ease Iran sanctions through the House Agriculture Committee?

According to Bloomberg:

Boeing Co. and Exxon Mobil Corp. are lobbying to fend off tightened sanctions against Iran that business groups say may cost $25 billion in U.S. exports.

Legislation before Congress would expand a 1996 law penalizing foreign companies that invest in that country's oil industry. U.S. firms, already barred from investing there, say their sales worldwide could be hurt by provisions that ban doing business with companies in Europe, Russia or China that trade with Iran.

"We are up on Capitol Hill talking about the collateral damage," William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based group that represents Exxon and Boeing, said in an interview. "There is legitimate, non-Iran business that will be cut off."

The sanctions measure follows President Barack Obama's difficulty in getting members of the United Nations to agree to expanded financial penalties on Iran, which the U.S. estimates may be three to five years from having a nuclear bomb. Lawmakers are trying to work out differences this month between Senate and House versions of the bill.

Cargill Inc., ConocoPhillips, Hannover Re, Bechtel Corp., Halliburton Co. and Siemens AG are among more than 20 companies that have lobbied on the proposed sanctions, according to congressional disclosure forms.

Sound eerily familiar?

160+ Arbitrary Arrests in April

Thursday, May 13, 2010
According to a recently-released report by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), 162 pro-democracy activists were arbitrarily arrested by the Castro regime during the month of April.

These are only cases that have been thoroughly documented, for many more are suspected.

As regards incidents in political prisons, the CCDHRN reports that pro-democracy leader Dr. Darsi Ferrer has been imprisoned in Valle Grande prison for more than ten months without a trial.

Dr. Ferrer initiated a hunger strike on March 20th, demanding medical attention and due process. On April 12th, he abandoned his protest after the Castro regime assured him that he would be brought to trial and seen by a doctor. A month later, he is still awaiting trial.

Finally -- and most tragically -- Pedro Márquez Bell, Lorenzo Pérez Hernández and Alexander Carreras all died in prison pursuant to not receiving adequate medical care.

Cuban Special Forces in Ecuador?

The head of Ecuador's Justice and Liberty Party, Patricio Haro, has denounced the presence of Cuban special forces in the capital city of Quito, where they have been sent to serve as shock troops for President Rafael Correa's "citizen brigades."

Correa is an ally of the Castro brothers and of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Haro has asked Ecuador's Office of the Public Prosecutor to begin an investigation.

Zapata Twitter Campaign

Saturday, May 15th, would have been the 43rd birthday of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in a hunger strike protesting the tortures and abuses of the Castro regime.

On that day, please join the Zapata Twitter Campaign to honor the memory of this courageous, young pro-democracy activist.

Click on the picture to learn more.

Quote (Thought) of the Year

"There is no doubt that the Castro dictatorship will fall. The problem is just how much suffering it will cause, how many more sacrifices it will require -- like a barbaric totem -- prior to falling. A moment of greatness is approaching the Cuban people. One of those historic thresholds that one must know how to cross to earn the future. In our transition (in Spain), we knew how to do it: our entire society knew how to be generous and choose coexistence. We must now support the Cuban people. We must help them untangle themselves as quickly as possible from the bloodied cobwebs of that immoral and scandalously inefficient regime which, for example, just had its lowest sugar production since 1905. And once the bars of that great prison that is the island of Cuba are shattered, they will have to learn to understand and respect each other. It's a crucial moment. Let's not abandon them."

-- Rosa Montero, Spanish journalist and author, in the left-leaning El Pais newspaper, May 11, 2010.

Who's in Charge in Venezuela?

From The Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer:

Hugo Chávez ceding too much control to Cuba

When Venezuela's former ambassador to the United Nations, Diego Arria, learned that President Hugo Chávez had expropriated his ranch, his first reaction was to announce that he would submit a complaint to the Cuban Embassy. That's where the real power in Venezuela lies, he said.

Arria said he would deliver to the Cuban Embassy his farm's property deeds showing that he is the legitimate owner of the 840-acre ranch in the state of Yaracuy. "I'm going straight to those who run this country, the Cubans," Arria told me earlier this week. "Because it's the Cubans who make the key decisions here, and because they are much better organized than the Venezuelan government."

He added that Venezuela officially signed a 2005 contract with Cuba to help manage Venezuela's national identification and public registry services, "which means that all issues on who owns a property are now in the hands of Cubans." [...]

Consider some of the latest headlines in Venezuela:

• Shortly before Arria's statements, Venezuelan Gen. Antonio Rivero said he retired from the army in April because he did not agree with "the meddling of Cuban soldiers" in Venezuela's armed forces. Rivero told reporters that Cubans are now placed "at a high level in vital areas of national security," the Associated Press reported.

• Another former Venezuelan general, Angel Vivas Perdomo, issued a statement April 28 criticizing Chávez's decision to adopt the Cuban armed forces salute "Fatherland, Socialism or Death." Vivas Perdomo is being charged with insubordination for refusing to accept the salute.

• On May 2, Chávez lost his cool when a reporter from Venezuela's Televen network asked him about the growing clout of Cuban advisers in Venezuela. Chávez said that "Cuba is helping us modestly in some things that I won't detail," and went on to lash out against the reporter's television network.

• In February, powerful Cuban vice president and former interior minister Ramiro Valdes visited Venezuela to allegedly help Chávez solve an electricity crisis that had led to growing street protests. Valdes' visit was widely seen as the most telling sign of Cuba's growing role in helping manage Venezuela's government.