Wikileaks Reveals Cuban Espionage Concerns

Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Click here to read the below-mentioned 2010 cable.

According to BBC:

Wikileaks reveal US concerns on Cuba-Venezuela ties

Cuban intelligence agents have deep involvement in Venezuela, according to a 2006 US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.

Then-US Ambassador William Brownfield wrote that Cuban spies had "direct access" to President Hugo Chavez.

Another cable sent in 2010 said Cuban agents controlled spying operations against the US embassy in Caracas.

The left-wing governments of Cuba and Venezuela are close allies and outspoken opponents of the US.

The secret diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks were published by the Spanish newspaper, El Pais.

Similar allegations of Cuban intelligence influence in Venezuela have been made by Venezuelan opposition groups, but US officials have not publicly expressed such concerns.

The leaked cable from Ambassador Brownfield says the ties between Cuban and Venezuelan intelligence are so close that the two countries agencies "appear to be competing with each other for the Venezuelan government's attention".

The ambassador wrote that Cuban spies were so close to President Chavez that they provided him with intelligence unvetted by Venezuelan officers.

"Cuban agents train Venezuelans on both Cuba and Venezuela, providing both political indoctrination and operational instruction".

The ambassador concludes that the Cuban involvement could impact US interests directly.

"Venezuelan intelligence services are among the most hostile towards the United States in the hemisphere, but they lack the expertise that Cuban services can provide".

The level of Cuban involvement in other agencies of the Venezuelan government was harder to confirm, he wrote.

The embassy "had received no credible reports of extensive Cuban involvement in the Venezuelan military", but there were reports that Cubans were training Mr Chavez's bodyguard.

But Cubans were likely to be involved "to a great extent" in agricultural policy, as well as in an identity card scheme.

The ambassador added that it was impossible to tell how many Cubans were working in Venezuela.

Cuba's biggest and most public involvement in Venezuela is in the provision of tens of thousands of doctors and nurses who provide basic health services in poor areas.

In return, Venezuela provides Cuba with subsidized oil.

Rock 'n' Roll Ain't Noise Pollution (or a Crime)

As legendary rock band AC/DC loudly and proudly proclaimed, "Rock N' Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" -- and much less a crime.

Except in Castro's Cuba.

Over the weekend, the Cuban punk rock band, Porno Para Ricardo, were victims of a repressive crackdown by the Castro regime.

The band members were arrested, their equipment confiscated, their request for an exit permit to travel to a cultural event in the U.S. was denied and they were threatened with long prison terms.

Their "crime"? Organizing a local concert with songs critical of the Castro regime.

Ironically, this crackdown comes as the U.S. State Department intensifies its (now farcical) "cultural exchange" policy, which seemingly only grants visas to Cuban artists that praise the Castro regime in Miami, while artists critical of the Castro regime (like Porno Para Ricardo) aren't even permitted to exit the island.

Of course, U.S.-based artists that are critical of the Castro regime need not even apply to play in Cuba.

Since this "one-way cultural" policy -- obviously -- doesn't require any reciprocity by the Castro regime, we hope that -- at the very least -- the State Department and the international community will defend the human right of these Cuban artists to freely express themselves in their homeland.

As Gorki Aguila, the lead singer of Porno Para Ricardo, reportedly told one of his interrogators:

"Why are you so concerned about a little rock group that simply plays songs that you believe have no artistic value? Why are you so concerned about us? We're not armed insurgents. It's only rock n' roll."

"Rock 'n' roll ain't noise pollution
Rock 'n' roll ain't gonna die
Rock 'n' roll ain't noise pollution
Rock 'n' roll it will survive

-- AC/DC, "Back in Black" album, 1980

Jeff Goldberg's Bigoted Labeling of Ileana

Monday, November 29, 2010
Last week, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg accused the "Cuban lobby" of disrupting a supposed rapprochement between Cuba and Israel ("Bibi Apologizes to the Cuban Lobby").

Goldberg was referring to a conversation between incoming House Foreign Affairs Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which she prudently warned him not to fall for Castro's rhetoric after 50 years of anti-Semitic hostility.

Where does Goldberg, who is a seasoned journalist, get off labeling a democratically elected Member of Congress as "the Cuban Lobby"?

Did Goldberg ever refer to current House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) as "the Israel Lobby"?

Or U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) as "the Gay Lobby"?

Or U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) as "the Black Lobby"?

Or U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) as "the Puerto Rican lobby"?

Labeling an elected representative due to their ethnicity, race, gender, constituent makeup or any other reason, is simply inappropriate.

Goldberg owes Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen an apology for his disrespectful (at best) or bigoted (at worst) labeling.

Time to Re-Evaluate Vietnam Policy?

Sunday, November 28, 2010
Needless to say, the U.S. policy of trade, travel and diplomatic relations with Vietnam has not brought greater freedoms, democracy or human rights to the Vietnamese people.

According to The Hill:

Cao vows push for Vietnam sanctions in his final weeks

Capitol Hill's first ethnic Vietnamese lawmaker is spending his final weeks in the House pushing for sanctions against human-rights violators in his home country.

Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-La.) introduced two bills on Nov. 18. The Vietnam Democracy Promotion Act of 2010 provides aid money to promote freedom in the communist nation as well as education and refugee resettlement programs. It also imposes conditions on aid to Hanoi and requires annual progress reports. Cao's other bill, the Vietnam Human Rights Sanctions Act, would impose financial sanctions on, and deny visas to, Vietnamese officials guilty of human-rights abuses.

The sanctions bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the likely incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), who defeated Republican challenger Van Tran in midterm elections but drew criticism for saying "the Vietnamese and the Republicans are, with an intensity, trying to take away this seat."

A companion bill was simultaneously introduced in the Senate by Republican Sens. Sam Brownback (Kan.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Richard Burr (N.C.).

"Vietnam's oppression of its citizens, particularly over the last year, demonstrates the need for more targeted U.S. action," the co-sponsors said in a statement. "The Vietnamese government must reverse course on its human rights record in order to strengthen U.S.-Vietnam relations." [...]

Cao's sanctions bill is modeled after the McCain-Lieberman Iran sanctions legislation, he said, but this is the first time such a bill has targeted Vietnam.

"The transition of the Government of Vietnam toward greater economic activity and trade has not been matched by greater political freedom and substantial improvements in basic human rights for the citizens of Vietnam, including freedom of religion, expression, association, and assembly," the bill states, citing numerous dissidents mistreated by the government for promoting democracy.

"The Government of Vietnam continues to detain, imprison, place under house arrest, convict, and otherwise restrict individuals for the peaceful expression of dissenting political or religious views, including democracy and human rights activists, independent trade union leaders, non-state-sanctioned publishers, journalists, bloggers, members of ethnic minorities, and unsanctioned religious groups."

Cao cites the case of 59 Catholics arrested this spring for trying to bury a woman in the cemetery of a parish that the government had decided to take over. One of the parishioners, Nam Nguyen, died from beatings in custody. Cao, Wolf and Smith all wrote letters to Vietnamese leaders seeking the Catholics' release, but six were convicted late last month, without legal representation, on charges of disturbing social order.

U.S. Taxpayers Relieved by Embargo

Contrary to what the farm bureaus would have you believe, U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba haven't suffered due to U.S. law and policy.

They've suffered because the Castro regime wants U.S. taxpayers to subsidize them.

From The New York Times article, "Cuba-Texas Trade Is Languishing in Poor Economy":

Countries like Venezuela, China, Brazil and Vietnam offer more trade incentives to the Cuban government than the private sector in the United States does, said John S. Kavulich, a senior policy adviser with the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., a nonprofit based in Washington that deals directly with the Cuban government. Cuba is "focusing on countries that will give them substantial government credits that they know they won't have to pay back," Mr. Kavulich said.

According to the economic council's latest report, those countries provide more "favorable payment terms and less publicity when those payment terms are not honored," which is expected given the lack of foreign investment.

"There is absolutely no incentive for the government of Raúl Castro to seek any re-engagement with the United States," Mr. Kavulich said, "because any re-engagement with the United States has one guarantee, and that is uncertainty."

The Absurd U.N. Results Are In

Saturday, November 27, 2010
This past summer, the U.S. volunteered itself for scrutiny by (and legitimization of) the U.N. Human Rights Council, led by such human rights "leaders" as Cuba, China, Iran and Libya.

Here are some of the self-assessments made by the U.N.'s human rights "leaders":

- China claimed that it "adheres to the principle that all ethnic groups are equal and implements a system of regional ethnic autonomy in areas with high concentrations of ethnic minorities" and that its elections are "democratic" and "competitive."

- Cuba claimed its "democratic system is based on the principle of 'government of the people, by the people and for the people.'" Cuba also claimed the rights to "freedom of opinion, expression and the press" are protected.

- North Korea claimed it "comprehensively provides" for fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedoms "of speech, the press, assembly, demonstration and association… work and relaxation, free medical care, education and social security."

And here are their assessments of the U.S.:

- From Cuba came a recommendation "to end the blockade against Cuba, which is described as a crime of genocide… to put on trial the perpetrators of torture… to halt the war crimes of their troops abroad… to put an end to the persecution and execution of mentally ill persons and minors and discrimination against persons of African origin." Additionally, the Cuban delegation insisted the U.S. "ensure realization of rights of food and health of all who live in their territory."

- From Iran was a call "to implement the following recommendations… to halt serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law… Legislate appropriate regulations to prevent the violation of individual privacy… to take effective measures to counter insults against Islam and the holy Quran as well as Islamophobia… and effectively combat violence against women."

- Nicaragua tagged the U.S. with the blame for, well, almost everything: "The United States of America, since its very origin, has used force indiscriminately as the central pillar of its policy of conquest and expansionism, causing death and destruction… The United States of America, which pretends to be the guardian of human rights in the world, questioning other countries, has been and continues to be the one which most systematically violates human rights. Nicaragua therefore makes the following recommendations: To immediately halt the unjustified arms race and to judge those responsible for all war crimes and massacres against unarmed civilians, women and children, as well as torture… Assume its responsibilities which have been caused by capitalism, causing natural disasters, particularly in the poorest countries."

- North Korea: "The DPRK remains gravely concerned by persistent reports of systematic and widespread human rights violations committed by the United States of America, and recommends as the following: Take legislation and administrative measures to address a wide range of racial discrimination and inequalities in housing, employment and education. Prohibiting and punishing the brutality… by law enforcement officials. Take effective measures to put an end to gross human rights abuse, including violence against women."

- Egypt: "We remain concerned about certain U.S. policies and practices in the field of human rights, and therefore Egypt presents the following recommendations to the United States: Review its laws at the federal and state levels with a view to bringing them in line with its international human rights obligations. To devise specific programs aimed at countering growing Islamaphobia and xenophobic trends in society. To end the use of military technology and weaponry that have proven to be indiscriminate and cause excessive and disproportionate damage to civilian life."

- Not to be outdone, China said: "We have also noticed with concern that there are gaps in the U.S. laws protecting human rights… there is also a serious discrimination against Muslims and minority racial groups… in the name of fighting terror. The United States is also monitoring the exercise of its citizens' freedom of expression and the right to free Internet access. We have the following recommendations… ending excessive use of force by law enforcement agents... modify the definition of discrimination in its laws to bring it in line with… international standards."

- Said Libya: "The United States need to accede to international human rights instruments… it should prosecute those responsible for violations of human rights in American prisons."

Somehow, this process is supposed to make tyrants less hostile by showing that the U.S. is "reasonable."

Yet, as abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) wisely wrote:

"With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost."

Cuban Punk Band Detained and Threatened

Cuban punk rocker, Gorki Aguila, and his band, Porno Para Ricardo, have been detained by the Castro regime's police and threatened with prosecution if they proceed with their concert tonight.

As we'd previously posted, Porno Para Ricardo is launching a concert tour tonight of Havana's Committee's for Defense of the Revolution -- taking punk music to the censors.

The regime has threatened prosecution under the infamous Law 88, which is used to imprison dissidents and anyone deemed to "insult the Castro brothers."

Why is Castro afraid of punk rock?

Tyrants Will Never Play Nice

Friday, November 26, 2010
A must-read analysis of the current crisis in the Korean peninsula by B.R. Myers in The New York Times.

Click here for lessons and similarities regarding Cuba policy.

North Korea Will Never Play Nice

WHILE it is cowardly and foolish not to resist an act of aggression, the best way to deal with a provocation is to ignore it — or so we are taught. By refusing to be provoked, one frustrates and therefore "beats" the provoker; generations of bullied children have been consoled with this logic. And so it is that the South Korean and American governments usually refer to North Korea's acts of aggression as "provocations."

The North's artillery attack on a populated South Korean island is now getting the same treatment, with the South's president, Lee Myung-bak, vowing that Pyongyang will be "held responsible" and that "additional provocative acts" will be punished "several times over."

There is no reason that North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-il, should take those words seriously. Mr. Lee made similar noises in March, when the North was accused of killing 46 South Korean sailors by torpedoing a naval vessel, the Cheonan, and what was the result? A pacifist South Korean electorate punished Mr. Lee's party in regional elections, and the attack faded from the headlines.

The North's attack on Yeonpyeong Island has been more shocking to South Koreans, but not much more. At my local train station the morning after the attack, a grinning crowd watched coverage of the Asian Games in China on a giant TV screen. The same ethno-nationalism that makes South Koreans such avid followers of international sports also dilutes their indignation at their Northern brethren. South Korea's left-wing press, which tends to shape young opinion, is describing the shelling of the island as the inevitable product of "misunderstandings" resulting from a lack of dialogue.

Sadly, South Korea's subdued response to such incidents makes them more likely to happen again. This poses a serious problem for the United States; we have already been drawn into one war on the peninsula because our ally seemed unlikely to defend itself.

Unfortunately, Washington shares to a certain degree the South Korean tendency to play down North Korean "provocations." In our usage, the word reflects the America-centric perception that everything Kim Jong-il does is aimed at eliciting a reaction from Washington. His actions are trivialized accordingly, to the extent that our top policymakers have publicly compared him to a squalling, attention-hungry child.

Not surprisingly, then, the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong is seen by many Americans as an effort to force us to make concessions, to reopen negotiations, and so on. Thus we can pretend that simply by leaving sanctions in place, we are really hanging tough, even pursuing a "hard-line" policy.

The provocation view of North Korea's actions also prevents us from seeing them in context. Since a first naval skirmish in the Yellow Sea near Yeonpyeong in 1999, there has been a steady escalation in North Korea's efforts to destabilize the peninsula. In 2002, another naval skirmish killed at least four South Korean sailors; in 2006 the North conducted an underground nuclear test; in 2009 it launched missiles over the Sea of Japan, had another nuclear test and declared the Korean War armistice invalid; and in March the Cheonan was sunk.

This behavior is fully in keeping with the ultramilitaristic ideology of a regime that remains publicly committed to uniting the peninsula by force: "Reunification is at the ends of our bayonets," as the omnipresent slogan in the North goes.

North Korea cannot hope to win an all-out war, but it may well believe that by incrementally escalating its aggression it can bully the South into giving up — or at least sharing power in a confederation.

The provocation view of North Korean behavior also distorts our understanding of the domestic situation. Analysts tend to focus too much on the succession issue; they interpret the attack on the island as an effort to bolster the reputation of Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il's son and anointed successor. Their conclusion is that North Korea will play nice once the young man is firmly in power.

In fact, as both its adversaries and supporters should realize, the North can never play nice. Just as our own economy-first governments must ensure growth to stay in power, a military-first regime must deliver a steady stream of victories or lose all reason to exist.

There is no easy solution to the North Korea problem, but to begin to solve it, we must realize that its behavior is aggressive, not provocative, and that its aggression is ideologically built in. Pyongyang is thus virtually predestined to push Seoul and Washington too far, thereby bringing about its own ruin.

The Chinese should take note of this, since their rationalization for continuing to support North Korea derives from the vain hope that they can prop it up indefinitely. The military-first state is going to collapse at some stage; let's do what we can to make that happen sooner rather than later.

Cardinal Ortega Snubs Prisoners (He Exiled)

Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega was in Spain yesterday, where he met with Foreign Minister, Trinidad Jimenez, and paid a visit to his old partner in Castro negotiations, (dismissed former Foreign Minister) Miguel Angel Moratinos.

As you'll recall, in July, Ortega and Moratinos negotiated the "release" of 52 political prisoners with Cuban dictator, Raul Castro. Yet, Ortega and Moratinos conveniently failed to divulge that the condition for the "releases" would be forced exile to Spain.

Thirty-nine (39) of the 52 accepted this condition and are now in Spain. Thus, they have requested a meeting with Cardinal Ortega during his visit.

Yet, Ortega has arrogantly refused to acknowledge their request.

Apparently, Ortega has no problem negotiating their destiny "from above" -- and dealing with them as captives -- but doesn't want to have to actually listen to their opinions in the free world. That would be "beneath" him.

Meanwhile, almost six months later, 12 of the 52 political prisoners remain languishing in Castro's prisons because they refuse to be forcibly exiled, while only one has been released within Cuba.

That's quite a deal (for Castro).

UPDATE: It appears Cardinal Ortega has had a change of heart.

Was Sending Elian Back the "Right Thing To Do"?

Thursday, November 25, 2010
Today marks the 11th year anniversary of the rescue at sea of Cuban rafter Elian Gonzalez.

As such, the Sun-Sentinel's William Gibson wrote an interesting post about Elian's impact on Florida politics, including this thought-provoking comment:

"Elian's mother had died on the journey from Cuba when their boat sank. For many Cuban-Americans, including some who had risked their lives to come to this country, sending Elian back to Cuba was unthinkable. But to the rest of the country and much of the world, the right thing to do was reunite Elian with his Cuban father."

Was sending a 6-year old back to a repressive regime, where he's had no say about his future, has been isolated in a guarded house that is only accessible by regime officials and solely appears publicly at official events in which he's paraded out in military garb to declare Fidel as his "Father," the right thing to do?

Regardless of what anyone thought back then, it's difficult to argue today that it was "right thing to do."

Ironically, now-a-days, child protection advocates in the U.S. -- many of whom lobbied for Elian's return to Cuba a decade ago -- and even courts of law, consider much less to be "child abuse" (such as feeding children fatty foods at McDonalds).

History has shown that Elian's father -- both the biological and self-imposed dictator -- didn't know best (while tragically, his mother lost her life to no avail).

We Give Thanks

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet, 1803-1882

The Myth of "Raul the Reformer"

By Daniel Allott in The Washington Times:

Premature thanks in Cuba

It has been more than four years since Raul Castro assumed the duties of the presidency of Cuba and more than 2 1/2 years since he officially took over for his older brother, Fidel.

In that time, words like "pragmatic," "practical" and "reformer" have often been attached to Raul as a way of contrasting his governing philosophy with his brother's and to signal that major political and economic reforms may be imminent.

But a sober analysis suggests that meaningful change has not occurred. In fact, given the conclusions of several reports on human rights in Cuba, and based on our conversations with dozens of Cuba experts and Cubans both inside and outside Cuba, it is clear that the regime's tyranny is as entrenched as ever.

The Raul-as-reformer narrative began when he announced modest economic changes early in his reign. These included privatizing some farmland, denationalizing small beauty parlors and taxi-driving enterprises and loosening restrictions on the use of cell phones and other electronics.

Then, in July, the Cuban government announced that it would release the remaining 52 political prisoners it had imprisoned during the "Black Spring," a mass arrest of nonviolent activists in March 2003. As of Nov. 12, 39 prisoners had been released and exiled to Spain.

In September, the Cuban labor federation announced a government plan to fire more than 500,000 state employees between October and March. It would mark the biggest shift of jobs from the public to the private sector in nearly 50 years.

All of this has convinced many of the major players in Cuba's relationship with the outside world that Raul is someone they can work with.

Even before the recent changes, President Obama talked about forging "a new beginning" with Cuba. After a July meeting with Raul in Havana, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos proclaimed the opening of "a new phase in Cuba" and insisted "there is no longer any reason to maintain the [European Union's] Common Position on Cuba," which calls for normalizing relations with the regime once progress is made on human rights and democracy issues.

Even the beleaguered Cuban Catholic Church - whose leaders were given the cold shoulder by Fidel, who preferred to negotiate directly with the Vatican on church matters - sees an opening. Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, announced a "magnificent beginning" to a new relationship with the regime after talks with Raul last spring.

Journalists, too, see change they can believe in with Raul. The prisoner releases promptedNewsweek's Patrick Symmes to write, "A half century of repression [in Cuba] appears to be ending."

Such claims are contradicted by the findings of numerous human rights groups. In a November 2009 study titled "New Castro, Same Cuba: Political Prisoners in the Post-Fidel Era," Human Rights Watch documented more than 40 cases of Cubans imprisoned for "dangerousness" under a Cuban law that allows authorities to imprison persons they suspect might commit a crime in the future.

Scores of other Cubans have been sentenced under Raul for violating laws that criminalize free expression and association. Cubans have been imprisoned for failing to attend government rallies, for not belonging to official party organizations and even for being unemployed.

Non-Cubans are not immune to such treatment. One of this piece's authors, Jordan Allott, was detained briefly and interrogated by Cuban police during a trip across Cuba in 2009 merely for asking a couple of Cubans to talk about the Cuban Revolution on a street in Camaguey.

American contractor Alan Gross has been imprisoned in Cuba for nearly a year. He is accused of trying to provide unauthorized satellite Internet connections to Cuba's tiny Jewish community.

In its report, Human Rights Watch concluded that rather than dismantle Fidel's "system of abusive laws and institutions," Raul "has kept it firmly in place and fully active."

Freedom House's 2010 Freedom in the World survey again designated Cuba as the sole "not free" country in the Americas. It also placed Cuba among its "worst of the worst" countries, which kept it on the shortlist of "the world's most repressive regimes."

In an October 2009 report, the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor rebuked Cuba for its lack of religious freedom. "The Government continued to exert control over all aspects of societal life, including religious expression," the report stated. Violations of religious freedom included efforts to control and monitor religious activities and fines against unregistered religious groups.

The Cuban government continues to be one of the few in the world that prohibit the International Committee of the Red Cross access to their prisons. The condition of those prisons was highlighted in February with the hunger-strike death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Zapata, imprisoned for nonviolent political activism, undertook the strike to protest prison conditions. The international outcry after his death was partially responsible for prompting the regime to agree to release prisoners willing to be exiled.

The continued mistreatment of nonviolent political activists comes as no surprise to those who remember Raul as the official who oversaw thousands of executions of political prisoners in the early years of the revolution.

As with most tyrants, the Castros are skilled at sending mixed signals about their intentions. It was months into the revolution before many democrats realized that Fidel's repeated declarations that his revolution was informed not by Marxism but by democratic and Christian principles were lies.

Last year, the Cuban government invited Manfred Novak, the United Nations' special investigator on torture, to inspect Cuba's prisons. The invitation drew praise from the international community. But the government rescinded the invitation last month, stating that an outside investigation was not needed.

In spring, Raul was lauded for agreeing to end persecution of the Ladies in White, a group of wives, mothers and other female relatives of Cuban political prisoners who were being harassed, beaten and prevented by government security agents from making their weekly peaceful protests.

But the government resumed its harassment in August. It deployed large mobs to intimidate Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of deceased hunger striker Zapata, preventing her from marching and attending Mass.

Even the prisoner releases are less than they appear. The Cuban government pledged to release all its political prisoners without any conditions by Nov. 7. But that deadline has passed, and 13 prisoners who refuse to be exiled from the island remain incarcerated.

Last month, Berta Soler of the Ladies in White accused the government of "applying psychological pressure to those remaining in prison because they want to see them out of the country."

The prisoner releases and economic changes are not meaningful and lasting steps toward reform. Instead, they are short-term measures designed to extract economic concessions from the United States and Europe.

As Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami, put it to us in an interview, "It's wrong to think that [Cuba is] now on this one-way road toward openness and democracy. That's not the case at all. Cuba needs something. What the regime is hoping for is to get some economic help."

Cuba's economy is in abysmal shape. Food production has slowed, and tourism, foreign remittances and subsidies from Venezuela have plunged with the global economy.

The Cuban government is laying off 500,000 workers not because it wants to move toward a free-market capitalist system. It is doing so because it can no longer afford to pay those workers' monthly $20 wages.

Similarly, the regime is exiling some of its political prisoners not because it suddenly has seen the light on human rights and democracy. Rather, it's exiling them because it's desperate for America and the EU to relax economic sanctions, which both have made conditional principally on the release of political prisoners.

The Castro brothers are experts at easing their grip on Cuba just enough and just long enough to get what they want. On many occasions throughout the Castro regime's 51 years, it has freed or exiled political prisoners or made other "reforms" only to reverse course once it got what it needed.

Ms. Kaufman Purcell says, "The way [authoritarian regimes] often work is that when things get bad, when there's a lot of external pressure, what happens is that they release [prisoners], and at some point they get new ones."

Armando Valladares, a Cuban-born former political prisoner and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, told us, "The liberation of groups of political prisoners is a frequent practice in Cuba. It has happened many times for the revolution's interests. [The prisoner releases] absolutely should not be interpreted ... as a change in the tyranny's repressive structure."

After foreign aid from the Soviet Union was cut off with the fall of communism in the early 1990s, the Cuban government loosened controls on private enterprise, allowing 200,000 workers to earn money as street vendors and taxi drivers. But as soon as the economy recovered, many of the new businesses were shut down.

When the government wanted some good publicity ahead of Pope John Paul II's visit in 1998, it released 300 political prisoners. As soon as the press attention subsided, the prisons were filled again with political opponents.

If fundamental political and economic reforms are to be made in Cuba, the government's repressive legal system and security apparatus must be dismantled. That didn't happen for more than four decades under Fidel. And it's not happening under Raul.

Does Obama Administration Support Cuba's Dissidents?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010
From The Daily Caller:

Obama admin accused of not supporting Cuban dissidents, pursuing policy of 'aggressive niceness' toward communist country

The United States has long stood for democracy and freedom, but in Cuba, a dissident who opposes Fidel and Raul Castro's communist regime tells The Daily Caller that he and his compatriots are feeling an icy breeze from the Obama administration. Democracy advocates say the lack of support can be attributed to the Obama administration's strategy of "aggressive niceness" toward the communist country.

Officially, the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba. Instead of an embassy in the country, the United States maintains an Interests Section (USINTS) in Havana, which is part of the Swiss embassy. While official U.S. policy is to promote democracy in Cuba through the USINTS, sentiment in the community of Cuban dissidents, both in Cuba and abroad, is that this is no longer happening.

"Now there is disdain, and bad treatment," said Juan Carlos González Leiva, a lawyer who is a prominent Cuban dissident. "Also there is lots of reluctance, lots of disinterest — no interest in working with the dissidents now. Before, never."

"I had been working very closely with the Department of Press and Culture of the Interests Section and with the office of human rights. I had a strong friendship with all of the officials who passed through," he continued. "It is really inconceivable the extents of disdain and humiliation and poor treatment on the part of the officials towards the Cuban dissidents."

As a result, he says, he no longer goes to the USINTS anymore.

González Leiva told TheDC that the guards outside the USINTS now treat dissidents coming to visit poorly, and in his own case, said that they have kept him waiting a full hour past his appointment time. "They had me there for almost an hour, going through controls and humiliating body checks," he said.

Another time, when he went to the USINTS to discuss ways in which he could work with U.S. officials to promote shared goals, he said "they said that the only thing they could do were some English classes." Ultimately, neither the English classes nor another project he suggested, "a cultural gallery" of Cuban art, ever got off the ground. Additionally, the USINTS did not fix his computer as he requested, though that is a service that the USINTS formerly provided.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, and a member of the board of directors of U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, says this is not an isolated incident.

"The feedback that we continue getting from Cuban dissidents on the island is that essentially the United States Interests Section has become hostile," he said. Dissidents say "they don't even feel comfortable going there anymore, because they just really feel like they're not wanted."

It was not always like this. In 1996, Congress passed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act, which provided for U.S. government aid to Cuban dissidents. According to the act, "the president is authorized to furnish assistance and provide other support for individuals and independent nongovernmental organizations to support democracy-building efforts for Cuba" through distribution of information, "humanitarian assistance," "support for democratic and human rights groups" and monitoring human rights.

But as Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for Free Cuba, says, "personnel is policy, and the same policy implemented by different people sometimes comes out differently." Indeed, the interpretation of the USINTS' role has varied over the years.

From 2002 to 2005, dissidents had a strong ally in Ambassador James Cason, then the lead American official at the USINTS.

"I never got instructions," Cason told TheDC in a phone interview. "I was just told 'you know, what you need to do. Let them know what's going on in the world and let the world know what's going on in Cuba.'"

So, Cason said, "I took my cues from the dissidents. I said 'how can I help you? We can't give you money. That would be counterproductive and besides that's not what you need.' They said to me logistic support and information and moral support."

Cason was very proactive in helping the dissidents and promoting the cause of democracy in Cuba. "The first 3 months, I traveled about 7,000 miles around the island and visited in their homes, and I took them shortwave radios and books and cameras and things — a lot for the independent journalists and the independent libraries," he said.

Cason instituted journalism training for dissidents in the interest of getting information out of the country. In Cuba, the internet is censored, and there is little access, so to enable the dissidents to have access to information, "we put in 24 internet terminals at the Interests Section where they could use them for two hour blocks, and send whatever they wanted to send out and get whatever information they wanted," Cason said. "And that was always solidly booked. We taught them also how to use computers and do research."

Another component of Cason's efforts was getting the international press to pay attention, in order to make the plight of Cuban dissidents known to the world. "Our actual press did not want to cover what was going on in Cuba," Cason said. "They said it was not in the news." So Cason gave them "hooks." He set up elaborate displays of Christmas lights around the USINTS, with images of Santa Claus and the Statue of Liberty. When the Cuban government arrested 75 dissidents, Cason put the number "75" in the lights, which angered the government so much that they put up a row of flags to block the view.

Cason earned the respect and trust of the dissidents. "James Cason is a very good person, and did very good work," González Leiva said.

But Cason corroborates the testimony of Claver-Carone and González Leiva of what happened after he left to become ambassador to Paraguay. Now, he said, "people say, 'well who's the head of the Interests Section these days?' So it doesn't seem as if they at least have the perception that they're as welcome as they were when I was there."

Some of this was personnel change, but according to González Leiva, the situation reached a new low under President Obama. "I have a bad opinion of the office of Interests since approximately two years ago, after Obama took office," he said. Though the situation declined after Cason left the post, González Leiva pinpoints the beginning of President Obama's term as the moment when the situation went from bad to worse.

Ambassador Cason, Calzon, and Claver-Carone, similarly, all cite a point at the beginning of the Obama administration when aides to Republican Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana and Democratic Rep. Howard Berman of California visited Cuba. They spoke to the Cuban government about what could be done to improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and the Cuban government said that the U.S. should stop the democracy programs.

A process, Cason said, "curiously began several months later, and a lot of the traditional groups…who were providing the support that I had were cut off… Lots of the groups were gagged, were all cut off, were no longer funded."

The U.S. State Department says it is still committed to promoting democracy in Cuba.

"We're committed to supporting improved human rights conditions and increased respect for fundamental freedoms in Cuba, including through support for civil society and prisoners of conscience," said a State Department statement dictated to TheDC. "We consistently express our support of the Cuban people and call on the Cuban government to improve its human rights practices and release all prisoners of conscience."

But González Leiva, and democracy advocates like Calzon, Cason, and Claver-Carone, have a different impression. Claver-Carone calls the USINTS's reported unfriendliness toward dissidents an attempt at "appeasement."

"My impression," said Cason, "is that if in fact it's true that it's a distancing, a coldness towards the traditional opposition, that it's because it's a policy position to be nice to the Cubans and remove an irritant."

Calzon and Cason refer to the policy as "aggressive niceness," which Cason defines as "if you're just nice to them, then somehow things will work out, and they'll come around to our point of view."

Neither makes a secret of their feelings about such a policy. "You don't deal with the mafia through 'aggressive niceness,'" Calzon said.

"They have to understand that there's some steel that they cannot ignore."

The Punkest Concert Tour in History

Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Since the Castro regime won't let Cuban punk rock group, Porno Para Ricardo, play concerts in public arenas.

And since the regime's neighborhood watch units, known as Committee's for Defense of the Revolution (CDR), won't let regular Cubans listen to Porno Para Ricardo's music.

Then, Porno Para Ricardo is taking their music to the CDR's.

That's right. This Saturday, Porno Para Ricardo begins a city-wide concert tour of the Castro regime's CDRs -- neighborhood by neighborhood. It's sure to be the best (and longest) concert tour in Cuban history.

It's called the "I'm Breaking My CDR's Heart" tour.

Now that's punk!

Nobody is Safe in Castro's Circle

During last March's hearing in the House Agriculture Committee, U.S. Congressman Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) gleefully stated:

"I, too, have been down there, Mr. Presidents (of the American Farm Bureau and National Farmers Union), both of you. I appreciate that but assume that you know who Mr. Alvarez is. I spent a lot of time with him. I spent quite a bit of time with Mr. Castro. Sometimes we would be entertained. I can tell you about that a little bit."

Mr. Alvarez is Pedro Alvarez, the (now former) head of the Castro's food and trade monopoly, called Alimport.

As the only company in Cuba permitted to transact agricultural purchases from the U.S., Alvarez spent a lot of time wining and dining U.S. Governors, Senators, Congressmen and agri-business executives (while the Cuban people are repressed).

We hope Alvarez had a good time, for he's now been repeatedly detained and is being investigated for corruption.

In other words, he either stopped producing for the Castro brothers, or dipped his hand into their (absolute and whimsical) cut.

Online Poll Doesn't Pass Laugh Test

Monday, November 22, 2010
Proponents of business ties with the Castro regime remain dismayed about the election of Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate, David Rivera to the U.S. House of Representatives and the upcoming Chairmanship of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in the Foreign Affairs Committee.

So we knew it was just a matter of time before they'd conjure up a push-poll looking to lessen the impact of the elections.

Well, here it is. The website, Cuba Standard, has commissioned a poll claiming that Americans support unconditionally lifting sanctions towards the Castro regime.

However, instead of a traditional push-poll -- which we're used to -- they've resorted to an (even more absurd) online poll.

That's right, an online poll. Needless to say, online polls (also referred to as "voodoo polls") don't pass any laugh test.

And if that isn't funny enough, their analysis of the election results is:

"A continuous drop in popularity of the U.S. sanctions, including among Cuban Americans, has begun to erode the hard-line positioning of political candidates, even in Florida. Both Charlie Crist and Joe Garcia relied on fundraising by pro-normalization groups during their campaigns. In June, a Miami-based anti-embargo group raised funds for Crist, and Joe Garcia collected funds from pro-normalizers in Tampa. Neither Crist nor Garcia, though, took a public stance in favor of normalization."

Newsflash: Both Garcia and Crist lost their respective races -- badly -- to candidates with very strong positions in favor of U.S. sanctions policy.

Plus, if they lost -- that badly -- on the mere suspicion of their "soft" positions -- based on campaign contributions -- then imagine how much worse it would have been if they'd actually taken a public stance in favor of unconditional "normalization."

Does Trickle-Down Work in Totalitarianism?

In yesterday's ABC "This Week," billionaire investor Warren Buffet argued:

"The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we'll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you. But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on."

Trickle-down effect is one of the most hotly debated economic theories of the late 20th century -- and obviously the early 21st century, as well.

While proponents and detractors can argue about its effectiveness, they all agree on one thing:

For trickle-down to succeed at any level, it requires the free movement of capital.

Thus, while it is arguable whether trickle-down works in a free market, capitalist society -- it is inarguable, that it does not work in a closed, totalitarian society, i.e., Cuba.

But that hasn't stopped advocates of normalizing trade and tourism with the Castro regime, who like to argue about its potential trickle-down effects. (Ironically, most advocates of trickle-down in Castro's Cuba are critics of the same theory in the U.S.)

As one pro-normalization advocate told The New York Times (about tourism travel to Cuba) this summer:

"Of course it benefits the regime, but it benefits the people more. There is a very clear trickle down, especially in the tourism industry."

So where does all the tourism and other hard currency that enters Cuba end up?

Not with the Cuban people, or even with U.S. farmers (as the Farm Bureau would like for you to believe).

It ends up at the top -- and with its security forces.

Cuba Cuts Workers, Expands Security Forces

Sunday, November 21, 2010
Who's Castro afraid of?

From The Miami Herald:

As Cuba cuts back, security appears to grow

As 500,000 workers are trimmed from Cuba's public payrolls, public security sectors appear to be expanding.

A brutal economic crisis is forcing the Cuban government to lay off half a million workers, slash imports and subsidized food sales and even trim its keystone health services.

Yet the government has given no sign it will reduce its domestic or national security agencies - the Ministries of Interior and Revolutionary Armed Forces - and appears instead to be expanding them [...]

The criminal and traffic police, meanwhile, have launched unusually public recruitment drives, Cuba's defense and security budget has been rising and the government has bought riot-control and light military equipment abroad.

Castro Endorses Homophobic Policy

Whatever happened to Mariela Castro's (Raul's daughter) "efforts" on behalf of Cuba's gay community?

Or Fidel Castro's mea culpa regarding the brutal persecution and internment of gays in concentration camps?

Obviously, it's just more lies and "reforms" you can't believe in.

This week, the Castro regime endorsed an amendment to a U.N. resolution (along with homophobic African and Middle Eastern nations) that exposes gays to arbitrary executions.

The U.S. strongly opposed the amendment.

Here are the details:

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people were once again subject to the whims of homophobia and religious and cultural extremism this week, thanks to a United Nations vote [on an amendment] that removed "sexual orientation" from a resolution that protects people from arbitrary executions. In other words, the UN General Assembly this week voted to allow LGBT people to be executed without cause.

According to the International Gay and Lesbians Human Rights Commission, the UN General Assembly's Third Committee on Social, Cultural and Humanitarian issues removed "sexual orientation" from a resolution addressing extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions this past week in a vote that was overwhelming represented by a majority of African, Middle East and Caribbean [led by Cuba] nations.

Cuba Travel Bill Won't Get Markup in House

Friday, November 19, 2010
From Congressional Quarterly:

Cuba Travel Bill Won't Get Markup in House

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will not mark up a bill this year to allow Americans to travel to Cuba, despite a pre-election statement from Chairman Howard L. Berman, D-Calif, that he was determined to move forward.

Asked Thursday if he still planned to hold a committee vote on the legislation (HR 4645), Berman shook his head and said "no," a decision confirmed by committee staff.

That puts a definitive end to what at one time were high hopes among advocates of engagement with Cuba for this Congress. And with Republicans winning the House in the November elections, and a supporter of the ban, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., expected to take over as chair of the committee next year, the prospects for progress in the new Congress are no better.

Americans are currently restricted from traveling to Cuba, except under very limited circumstances, as part of the nearly 50-year embargo put in place by President John F. Kennedy. President Obama's emphasis on engagement had earlier raised expectations among those seeking to end the embargo both on and off Capitol Hill.

House Agriculture Chairman Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., introduced a bill (HR 4645) and pushed it through his committee in the summer. In the Senate, Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., and Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., said they wanted a 2010 vote on a similar bill (S 428), claiming they had enough votes to pass it over a potential filibuster from opponents.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over Peterson's bill, and Berman sought to mark it up during the September work period. However, he ended up announcing Sept. 28 that he was "postponing consideration . . . until a time when the committee will be able to hold the robust and uninterrupted debate this important issue deserves."

The next day, he told CQ that he remained determined to hold a committee vote during the lame duck session.

Peterson predicted in the fall that if the legislation got through the Foreign Affairs Committee, it could win a House floor vote.

But with the Democratic leadership in both chambers focused on other, more pressing priorities for the lame-duck work period — which has already gotten bogged down in partisan acrimony — there appears to be little reason for the committee to move forward on the divisive legislation now.

Copyright 2010 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.

Lobbying For Castro's Agenda

Many opponents of U.S. policy towards Cuba take offense at being labeled as pro-Castro.

That's a fair criticism.

Truth is there are many well-intentioned opponents of U.S. policy towards Cuba who also oppose -- some just as stridently -- the Castro dictatorship and its brutality.

Furthermore, we all benefit and grow from policy disagreements.

However, its one thing for sanctions opponents (or "pro-normalization" activists, as they call themselves) to organize and influence U.S. policy, and a whole other thing to essentially collude with the Castro regime.

A recent post in the Cuba Standard website announced, "Activists to ponder post-election Cuba strategies in Tampa," in which travel agencies, attorneys and lobbyists that oppose U.S. policy will gather to "brainstorm" on "strategies to influence Congress, the White House, Florida and Tampa."

God bless our democracy -- our freedom to assemble and to express grievances.

But here's the kicker in their announcement:

"On Dec. 3, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington will host a reception for a delegation from Tampa."

For those who don't follow Cuba issues closely, the Cuban Interests Section is the Castro dictatorship's official diplomatic representation in Washington.

So while it's not fair to label sanctions opponents (or "pro-normalization" activists) as pro-Castro -- all labels are inappropriate -- it's at least fair to conclude that they share a similar policy agenda.

How Times Change

Thursday, November 18, 2010
These pictures speak for themselves. Sort of like a before and after.

A Rangel Afterthought

According to Politico:

As Rep. Charles Rangel pleaded for "a drop of fairness and mercy," the ethics committee's top lawyer has recommended a censure of the New York lawmaker, one of the harshest punishments that the House can deliver short of expulsion.

Thus, we couldn't help but wonder.

During Congressman Rangel's multiple visits with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro -- both in Havana and New York -- did he ever plead for "a drop of fairness and mercy" for the millions of innocent Cubans beaten, imprisoned, tortured and/or executed?

They definitely needed his help. But instead, he'd simply turn a blind-eye towards Castro's brutality.

One thing is for sure, the Ethics Committee will be much kinder.

Cuba +5 Diss Nobel Ceremony

According to BBC:

Six states not attending Nobel Peace Prize award

Six countries have declined to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the ambassadors who were not going were from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Morocco, and Iraq.

Cuba Is Militarizing (Not Privatizing)

The Sun-Sentinel's Guillermo I. Martinez asks an important question, which is glossed over by foreign media outlets in Havana:

Is Cuba privatizing the economy, or militarizing it?

If one were to ask me in a survey what I thought of Cuba's economic moves, I would reply quickly and without any reservations, "Mark me as confused."

Many who know much more about what is happening inside the Castro brothers' private island say that we should pay attention to the changes in Cuba. They point to the 500,000 state employees who will lose their jobs; to the end of the rationing card; to the rights now given to Cubans to work for themselves, and even to hire some employees.

They say that Raúl Castro's view that Cuba's economy cannot survive without dramatic changes has prevailed. His older brother Fidel has been relegated to talking and writing about international politics, nuclear holocaust and other lofty subjects.

All this is supposed to be formalized at a congress of Cuba's ruling Communist Party in April. Such meetings are supposed to be held every five years, but the last time the party assembly met was in 1997. In the meantime, Cubans are supposed to abide by a 32-page booklet called "guidelines for economic policy."

Yet, despite all the hoopla, all these changes in Cuba can be reversed just as quickly as they were approved. It has happened before. Most publications mention Cuba's brief flirtation with private enterprises when the Soviet Union stopped sending subsidies to the island in 1991. Back then, Cubans were allowed to rent rooms in their homes to tourists, and to open small restaurants called "paladares."

That opening lasted only until Venezuela began subsidizing Cuba's government. Government regulations then overburdened the private businesses, and soon all that was a thing of the past.

And it had happened before, too. In 1979, Cuba allowed small farmers to sell the products they harvested in small plots of land in open markets. But when farmers began to make money, they were arrested and their properties confiscated.

So you can see why I am confused about all the "new changes" in Cuba. Time will tell if they will last or if they will just be a placeholder until Cuba finds a new "sugar daddy."

There is another change in Cuba that is taking place, however, without much fanfare. The government is accusing civilian government officials who manage government entities of corruption, arresting them and replacing them with military men.

Cuba's armed forces are the most efficient institution on the island. Its holding company, called GAESA, is run by Luis Alberto Rodríguez, who happens to be Raúl Castro's son-in-law. Most of Cuba's state-run enterprises are in the hands of the military.

Some will say Cuba is privatizing its economy. Others might say it is militarizing its most important parts. Take your pick. I'm still confused.

In Denial of Free Elections

It's one thing to be ideological. That's fine.

It's even one thing to be partisan. That's fine too.

But it's a whole other thing to be blindly and absurdly unattached from all reality.

So leave it to Daily Kos to post, "On Cuba policy, Cuban-American politicians are increasingly outside mainstream."

And not just any mainstream -- the Cuban-American mainstream!


Were they on vacation on November 2nd, when a Florida Congressional candidate that supported unconditionally easing sanctions lost the Cuban-American vote by over 50 points? That's right, by over 50 points.

What type of elitism and audacity does it take to state that the elected Members of the Cuban-American community don't reflect the free will of their electorate?

Essentially, the same as it takes to defend a brutal dictatorship that denies its people the fundamental right to express theirs.

Shore Leave in Havana?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
There have been various news stories about the British navy ship, HMS Manchester, which docked in Havana over the weekend to (ironically) foster counter-narcotics cooperation between the U.K. and Cuba.

However, the BBC 's report also included this interesting item:

HMS Manchester, a Type 42 British destroyer, has spent the past six months in the Caribbean working on anti-drug smuggling operations. This led to the seizure of 240kg (530lb) of cocaine off the Colombian coast.

There is a contingent of US Coast Guard aboard since drug arrests at sea are prosecuted under US law.

It is believed that the US government has given them permission to take shore leave.

Shore leave in Havana?

Has Cuba now become a tourist attraction for the U.S. Coast Guard?

Are they also given shore leave after intercepting Cubans at sea (who are fleeing oppression) and returning them to the Castro regime?

We have the utmost respect for the U.S. Coast Guard, but this seems particularly insensitive and irresponsible.

Diaz-Balart Farewell Remarks

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) thanked his colleagues tonight on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for the honor of having been able to serve with them in the U.S. Congress.

Here's the text of his address:

I will leave Congress at the end of this session with a sense of duty fulfilled, having given my all to the people of the 21st District of Florida, who have honored me by electing me and reelecting me to 9 terms in Congress.

I feel deep satisfaction, not only in the achievements of my term of service, such as the codification into law of the U.S. embargo on the Cuban tyranny, requiring the liberation of all political prisoners, without exceptions, and the scheduling of free and fair, multiparty elections in Cuba, before the President of the United States can lift U.S. sanctions, or the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central America Relief Act, which granted legal residency in the U.S. to hundreds of thousands of our Central American brothers and sisters who were previously facing possible deportation.

My most profound satisfaction comes from having given my all, each and every day, to my constituents.

As a private citizen, I will work to help the freedom fighters inside Cuba, who are resisting the brutality of the Castro tyranny with ultimate courage and patriotism; they are my heroes. As Cuban political prisoner Angel Moya wrote from his dungeon in the Castro-Cuban gulag a few days ago: "My spirit is the same, it is full of joy because I am in prison for fighting for the dignity and rights of the Cuban people. I am ready to continue resisting, physically, morally and spiritually."

Mr. Speaker, and I will continue to do all in my power to help in the struggle for Cuba's freedom.

This country, the United States of America, is a miracle, a miracle of generosity of spirit, a miracle of freedom, human dignity, and opportunity. May God forever preserve and protect this great land and people.

For the rest of my days I will feel deeply honored to have been a Member of the Congress of the United States.

To all of my colleagues, those who have helped me, and those who have opposed me, thank you. Thank you for the honor of having been able to serve with you.

Easing Sanctions Would Impede Reforms

Please read the following paragraph from today's Miami Herald very carefully:

Cuba's Raúl Castro says the island "has no alternative" but to embrace the economic changes he has proposed, and claimed they are based on brother Fidel's ideas, according to the Granma newspaper.

Yet, ironically, advocates of unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime have been (counter-intuitively) lobbying for months that the U.S. should encourage economic changes in Cuba by easing sanctions -- in other words, by easing economic pressure.

If even Castro recognizes that economic changes are being proposed solely because the regime has "no alternative," then wouldn't easing sanctions actually become an impediment for the fulfillment of these changes (and for the potential of true reforms in the future)?

That's exactly what occurred in the 1990's -- pursuant to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. -- thanks to the economic lifeline provided to the Castro regime by Canadian and Europeans tourists, and by the (now depleting) oil subsidies of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Maybe advocates of normalizing relations with the Castro regime really don't want to see true reforms take place.

Regardless, the lesson for the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration -- and other well-intentioned actors -- is clear:

If you would like to see true reforms take place in Cuba, then keep sanctions in place.

Cuba Needs Real Liberalization

Says the first (and thus far, only) political prisoner released within Cuba.

According to EFE:

Cuba will continue in a "situation of stagnation" unless there is a "serious, honest liberalization," freed political prisoner Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique said.

A day after his release, Ramos Lauzurique, a member of the "Group of 75" dissidents jailed in March 2003, went Sunday to Havana's Santa Rita Church to meet with the Ladies in White, which comprises relatives of the Group of 75.

In a statement to the foreign media, the 68-year-old economist said that his release was "without conditions" and that he proposes to continue with the same activities he was doing before being jailed.

All of the other political prisoners released by the Cuban government since July were freed only after agreeing to accept what they hope will be temporary exile in Spain.

Ramos Lauzurique is one of the 13 of the 52 remaining Group of 75 prisoners who have spurned exile as a condition for getting out of jail.

Asked if he has noticed any changes in Cuban government policies, he said that up to now he sees "nothing serious."

"Up to now there has not been a serious, honest liberalization – I don't think anything is being done to change the current situation of stagnation," he said.

In his opinion, with the economic measures undertaken by the Cuban regime, such as massive layoffs in the government sector and an increase in self-employment, the country will simply go from "stagnation to chaos."

"Without real economic liberalization – though there should also be political freedom – I don't believe the government can solve its current problems," he said.

With the freeing of Ramos, 12 members of the Group of 75 are still behind bars, one of whom, Luis Enrique Ferrer, will soon be released but will go to Spain.

The other 11 refuse exile.

The Raul Castro government promised in July to gradually free all prisoners in the Group of 75 as part of an unprecedented dialogue with the Catholic Church that had the support of Spain.

While that group has not been entirely freed, other prisoners have been released on condition that they go to Spain, a condition that has been accepted since July by 47 Cubans and their families.

Cuban-American Voters Reject Obama Policy of Easing Sanctions

Monday, November 15, 2010
Cuban-American Voters Reject Obama Policy of Easing Sanctions

Washington, D.C. — The outcome of this month's Congressional elections demonstrate that Cuban-American voters continue to overwhelmingly support candidates who are committed to maintaining trade and travel sanctions against the Castro dictatorship in Cuba.

According to an analysis commissioned by Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, Corp., Florida Senator-elect Marco Rubio and Congressman-elect David Rivera (FL-25) each received at least 70% of the Cuban-American vote. Both Rubio and Rivera have strongly and publicly expressed their opposition to the Obama Administration's policy of unilaterally easing sanctions towards the Castro regime. Meanwhile, Rivera's opponent, Joe Garcia, a former Obama Administration official who is closely identified with its Cuba policy, received less that 18% of the Cuban-American vote.

The data also shows that both Rubio and Rivera defeated their opponents handily in every major Cuban demographic, thus disproving the so-called theory of a "generation divide" amongst Cuban-Americans. In fact, over half of Cuban-American voters were more inclined to vote for Rivera due to his efforts as a FL state legislator to strengthen sanctions.

"The message to the Obama Administration is clear: the Cuban-American community favors the continuation of U.S. sanctions towards the Cuban regime until a process of democratic reform begins," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, Executive Director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy,Corp., which commissioned the analysis. "At a time when the Castro regime is facing unprecedented domestic pressure and challenges, the U.S. should not bail it out," added Claver-Carone.

The analysis was conducted by political science professor, Dr. Dario Moreno, who was responsible for Rubio and Rivera's Miami-Dade polling, and is based on a review of pre-election public opinion polls and a homogeneous precinct analysis of the election results.

A summary of the findings show:

· Marco Rubio won at least 72% of the Cuban-American Vote
· David Rivera won at least 70% of the Cuban American Vote
· Young Cuban-American voters supported Rivera and Rubio only slightly less (-3/-5) than those over 60, indicating no generational divide
· A majority of Cuban-American voters were more inclined to support candidates that favor restricting travel to Cuba

Click here to view the complete analysis.

Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, Corp. is a Washington, D.C.-based independent, non-partisan institution dedicated to the promotion of a transition in Cuba towards democracy, the respect for human rights, and the rule of law.

The Unknown Political Prisoners

Sunday, November 14, 2010
From Take Part:

Political Prisoners

An estimated 2,250 people are in jail for political reasons in Burma alone

Around the world, thousands of people are imprisoned for their beliefs, race, gender, sexuality or for speaking out against their government. These political prisoners are human rights defenders, political figures, labor activists, artists, journalists, and average citizens, and often they are never even charged with a crime.

Some have become icons in their incarceration, such as South African President Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in prison for demanding political change, and Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, locked up or under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years for dissent. But for every standout there are thousands of nameless others locked away around the world, from Iran to Cuba, Vietnam to Zimbabwe, and dozens more countries worldwide.

Political Prisoner Release is Not Enough

Saturday, November 13, 2010
U.S. leaders react to the release of political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, within Burma.

They unanimously -- and rightfully -- feel that the Burmese military needs to do more to prove a willingness to "reform."

We hope the same holds true for the Castro regime in Cuba, which has yet to release any political prisoners within the island.

-- President Barack Obama: "She is a hero of mine and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma and around the world. The United States welcomes her long overdue release. … The United States looks forward to the day when all of Burma's people are free from fear and persecution. Following Aung San Suu Kyi's powerful example, we recommit ourselves to remaining steadfast advocates of freedom and human rights for the Burmese people, and accountability for those who continue to oppress them."

-- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The news that Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from detention is a positive development. The timing is a disappointment, coming one week after an election conducted by the Burmese regime that was neither free nor fair. It also remains to be seen whether conditions have been placed upon her release from detention. It is essential that her full rights be restored so that she can help Burma usher in a new era of respect for democracy and human rights."Continue — Former President Bill Clinton: "I am thrilled by the news of her release. People who love freedom everywhere admire her and the long sacrifice she has made for her people. I was honored to present Aung San Suu Kyi with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000 and I hope this signals a new direction for life within the country and for the country's relations with others beyond their borders. In light of recent elections, I also hope that Aung San Suu Kyi's release will lead to the rapid inclusion of her and the Burmese citizens in governance."

-- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John F. Kerry: "The leadership, grace, and perseverance that she demonstrated during her many years of detention has been inspiring. But the joy of her release is tempered by the continuing hardships confronting the people for whom she has sacrificed so much. I look to the new government of Burma to release the hundreds of other political prisoners who remain unjustly behind bars. And I call on the authorities to allow Daw Suu and other democracy advocates to speak freely and move about the country."

Suu Kyi is Released WITHIN Burma

One of the world's most famous political prisoners, Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, was released today from house arrest, under which she had spent most of the last 20 years.

Suu Kyi refused to accept any type of conditional release. Therefore, she was released within her homeland and has vowed to continue the struggle for freedom and democracy in Burma.

Cuba's political prisoners deserve no less.

Yet, pursuant to a deal struck last July by the Catholic Church and the Castro regime, not a single political prisoner has been released within Cuba. Instead, Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega has sought to convince political prisoners to accept banishment to Spain as a condition of their release.

That, too, is a violation of their fundamental human rights.

Party Like Its 1997

Friday, November 12, 2010
There's been so much reporting -- or hype -- about economic "reforms" and the recently announced VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) that we thought it'd be helpful to recap what the last one, the V Congress of the CCP -- back in 1997 -- is remembered for.

According to the Encyclopedia of Nations:

At the 1997 Party Congress, Castro endorsed policies intended to maintain the status quo for as long as possible. Sheer necessity has forced him to seek foreign investment in state companies and allow some limited self-employment.

Sound familiar? But wait, it gets better.

Here's a summary of the economic targets set forth by 1997 Party Congress:

· GDP to grow 4-6 percent a year
· Sugar output to increase to 7 million tons
· Nickel production to reach 100,000 tons
· Attraction of 2 million tourists, bringing a gross revenue of $2.6 billion
· Oil needs met increasingly through domestic production, conservation, and savings in private consumption and public transportation
· 50,000 dwellings built each year, mostly in the countryside
· Health care to continue to partly rely on traditional and herbal medicine
· State pensions supplemented by individual savings accounts and life insurance
· Income inequalities to be curtailed through taxation

Sound familiar also? Now here's the real tragic part.

Most of the reporting (hype) on the upcoming VI Congress has focused solely on "economic reforms." And there's a reason for that.

During the 1997 Party Congress, most of the focus was also on "economic reforms," such as self-employment, foreign investment and tourism. Why?

So there would be no expectations about political liberalization -- it's a smoke-screen, a diversion tactic.

It was during the 1997 Party Congress that Raul was officially named Fidel's successor, while the economic reality was that the Cuban military would take control of all hard-currency operations.

Same old Party, same old Congress.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

A Great Summary of the Current Standoff

Thursday, November 11, 2010
A great summary of the events leading to the most recent standoff between Castro and Cuba's dissidents:

Cuba Welches on Freedom for Dissidents

by Tim Paynter

Cuba refuses to release 13 dissidents being held in order to silence their voices. The terms of a July 7th agreement are in default. An international human rights advocate says he is going back on a hunger strike that nearly took his life. Through all of this, Cuban President, Raúl Castro remains mum.

Things came to a head for Cuban leadership on February 23rd, 2010, when Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a 42 year old plumber and 'prisoner of conscience', died after a 72 day hunger strike. Tamayo was imprisoned on multiple occasions including once for taking part in a human rights workshop in a Havana park. He was jailed in the 2003 crackdown called Black Spring,

Originally, Zapata-Tamayo was to be imprisoned for 36 months. However, once incarcerated, authorities added additional charges extending his sentence by 36 years.

Cuban President, Raúl Castro, issued a statement expressing regret for the death of Zapata-Tamayo. He then summarily detained over 50 activists, thus preventing them from attending his wake and staging a public protest over the death.

As this most recent crop of dissidents rots in jail, the international community has demanded their release, including dissident Guillermo Farinas who staged his own 134 day hunger strike. First, Farinas won Europe's Sakharov human rights prize in October, a public disgrace for Cuba.

Then, while Farinas lie near death, Castro flinched. The hunger-strike death of Zapata-Tamayo was bad enough. Two hunger-strike deaths was a lot to defend. Cardinal Jaime Ortega of the Roman Catholic Church brokered a deal.

Castro agreed to release all 52 prisoners over a four month period. Most of the dissidents earned freedom because they agreed to leave Cuba and go into exile. However, 13 prisoners have refused to agree to leave after their release. Castro refuses to honor his deal. The final date for their release has passed. Farinas threatens to return to his hunger strike.

"To not release them would be fatal to the promise given to the Church, and a fraud against the international community," Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said hours ahead of the deadline.

"It is not what we thought would happen," Father Jose Felix Perez said after holding mass for the dissident group Damas de Blanco, or "Ladies in White" which is comprised of the family members of the 2003 prisoners, primarily their wives.

Meanwhile, at stake is Cuba's desperate need to normalize relations with democratic countries including the U.S. Castro must weigh which will be more dangerous. Is it 13 dissidents who insist a one party system will not provide reforms, or is it the growing discontent from the Cuban people at being isolated through the hands of the Castro's?

Nothing Has Changed

From Committee to Protect Journalists:

Cuban deadline passes for dissident releases: What next?

Sunday marked the end of the four-month deadline Cuban President Raúl Castro had agreed to with representatives of the Cuban Catholic Church and the Spanish government to free 52 prisoners of conscience who remained in jail since the March 2003 crackdown against dissidents, known as the "Black Spring." The Spanish foreign minister at the time, Miguel Angel Moratinos, said in Havana on July 8 that the move to release the prisoners "opens a new era in Cuba." But have things changed in the EU regarding Cuba? Not really. Has anything changed on the island? Not really. On Monday, at midnight, 13 of the 52 prisoners remained in jailed.

"They are deceiving and have played with the church, the government of Spain, the European Union and with all the international community," the leader of the Ladies in White, a group of relatives of the dissidents, Laura Pollán, told the BBC.

On October 25, in her first appearance at the EU Foreign Affairs Council after her appointment as Spanish foreign minister, Trinidad Jiménez said, "Things in the European Union move slowly." Cuban relations were on her mind, given it was now her turn to speak for the member state, Spain, that has relentlessly advocated for an EU policy change toward the Cuban regime by rejecting the 1996 Common Position, which makes any political dialogue with Cuban authorities subject to democratic reforms and the release of political prisoners.

But on that day, Trinidad Jiménez thought things had changed. The 27 foreign ministers instructed the EU High Representative for External Relations, Catherine Ashton, to contact Cuban authorities to offer the opening of negotiations for a trade agreement. Ashton was given two months to test the Cubans' willingness to enter into such negotiations and report back to the ministers in December. Not a single word in the 1996 Common Position was changed -- there is a solid Sweden-led majority of EU countries reluctant to any modification for now. But many cried for an "opening." Jiménez even called the Common Position "formally dead."

According to several EU sources, not much is expected to change. First, the Cuban regime has rejected for at least three decades all EU offers to join the African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) trade framework, by which Europe grants commercial preferences to exports from former colonies. Second, Ashton has never been to Cuba and has no diplomatic experience in the region. And third, Cuba has already said no to the idea. On October 27, the Cuban foreign minister spoke clearly at the U.N. General Assembly: "The EU is dreaming when they think they can normalize relations with Cuba as long as the Common Position is in place."

One Cuban journalist now exiled in Spain since his release from a Cuban prison in July told CPJ that with the EU-Cuba impasse and with the deadline for releases here and gone, he has little hope for his imprisoned colleagues.

"All those who believed there would be change in Cuba have been mocked," said Ricardo González. Seven of the 13 dissidents still in prison have rejected the regime-church deal because they do not want to leave Cuba. (Seventeen of the journalists released were flown to Spain.) "They should simply open the prison's gates and let those who want to leave the island leave, and those who want to go home, go home," he added.

Tragic (No) Jokes of the Week

First, Iran makes a bid for a seat on the new U.N. Women's Rights Panel. Fortunately, it failed (unfortunately, Saudi Arabia succeeded).

Then, the Cuban dictatorship announces a meeting of its country club elite (a.k.a. VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party) to discuss how to centrally-plan and apportion 125,000 "self-employment" licenses amongst its most well-behaved members.

Meanwhile, Iranians and Cubans keep getting arrested, beaten and tortured for trying to exercise their universal human rights .

It's no joke.

Learning the Hard Way

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
From REJournals:

"We were in Venezuela early," said Equity International's [Chief Portforlio Officer Chris] Fiegen. "We thought (Hugo) Chavez would be normal. When we first met him he was still wearing suits. Four years later he was in a beret and a jumpsuit and flaming balls of debris were crashing through our office building windows. We had invested $75 million in Venezuela. Finding the right partner is essential."