Up to No Good in Havana

Saturday, January 9, 2010
Last week, Libya's Tripoli Post reported that:

"Cuban President Raul Castro received Libyan National Security Adviser Dr. Muatasim Gaddafi, Monday December 28 in the Cuban capital Havana, who is currently on a visit to Cuba."

First of all, allow us to correct the Tripoli Post -- it's Cuban dictator (not President) Raul Castro. Neither of the Castro brothers have ever been elected by the Cuban people.

However, we can't come down too hard on the Tripoli Post, which is a publication of the Libyan dictatorship, for the U.S. media falls into the same disrespectful trap (disrespectful to the Cuban people, that is). Surely, the U.S. media -- a free media -- should know better.

Anyhow, sorry to divert.

So what was the purpose of this meeting in Havana?

It's not clear yet, but they are surely up to no good.

Experts Grade Obama's Foreign Policy

Last week, The National Journal polled a handful foreign policy experts from across the political spectrum and asked them to grade President Obama's foreign policy on an A-to-F scale.

Note that regardless of the grade, from supporters to critics, two concerns transcend: The futility of unconditional engagement with tyrants and demoting the promotion of democracy and human rights.

Here are the responses:

A-: In eight years, the Bush administration was not able to bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice. President Obama was right to reaffirm our commitment to that mission by sending additional troops to Afghanistan; however, we need to be sure this does not turn into another Vietnam... I support the administration's policy of open dialogue with certain countries; however, when these countries -- such as Iran and North Korea -- shut down the dialogue, we need to be very firm in our resolve when dealing with them. At some point, having a dialogue does not work as effectively as doing something.

B+: In the space of a year, he has largely transformed America's tarnished global image through pragmatic engagement... But 2009 has been more of an agenda-setting year for the president than a year of tangible accomplishments. The hardest challenges are yet to come, namely translating newfound goodwill into tangible successes; determining what to do if engagement fails; and maintaining U.S. influence in the midst of a recession.

B-: He has set a more humble, respectful and multilateral tone for America's engagement with the world. He has begun to repair our image and relations with Muslims around the world... On the other hand, I do not see a clear vision or strategy for reshaping the world. I wish the Obama administration were placing a higher priority on the promotion of democracy and human rights. The administration did rescue the Copenhagen talks from complete failure, but the lack of a vigorous strategy going into the talks contributed to the problems.

B-: I support his efforts to break through old diplomatic impasses, and recognize that often the United States has to take the first step. But the meager results of the 2009 U.S. charm offensive suggest some combination of poor execution, poor strategic planning and failure to grasp that some of our conflictual relationships were based on hard interests, not atmospherics or personality... My grade would have been a C without the positive outcome of the Afghanistan policy review. It would have been a B if he hadn't essentially done the review twice in the course of the same year!

B-: The Obama administration has successfully changed the tone of U.S. rhetoric, but it has not shown any real new ideas or initiatives. Policy in the war zones is, perhaps unsurprisingly, mostly continuation of the Bush team's approaches. More unexpected, the lofty promises for major new global development efforts and a stronger partnership with poor countries have almost totally lost steam. Trade policy in particular seems wholly captured by narrow Democratic Party interests. Despite claims of enhanced engagement with critical fragile states, we are seeing, if anything, palpably less attention to countries like Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.

C: Unfortunately for President Obama, the "gentleman's C" may not be good enough. Having raised expectations to unreal heights both during the campaign and in his first days in office, he faces at the end of his first year considerable disappointment on the part of both his core domestic constituencies and, perhaps more importantly with respect to statecraft, audiences abroad... In short, none of these fumbles -- [delayed nomination for USAID administrator and disappointing picks for Sudan envoy and ambassador to the African Union] -- are, in and of themselves, catastrophic. They are typical of new administrations. However, American and international audiences, which were encouraged to expect more than average performance, are justified in feeling more than a wee bit disappointed.

C-: The high marks for me were his decisions to send more troops to Afghanistan (compromised by announcing a withdrawal date), his Noble Prize address and his use of diplomacy instead of confrontation to deal with the slide of Sudan into civil war. On the low side, he seems to continue to believe the naive and silly notion his international persona will alter the essential national interests of U.S. adversaries. That has not happened, and he has wasted a year trying to extend a diplomatic olive branch to states such as Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Russia with no discernible results, except to give the impression of weakness and vacillation.

The poll respondents were, respectively: Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and Freeman Spogli Institute; Rep. Michael McMahon, D-N.Y., a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee; Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Center for a New American Security's Asia-Pacific Security Program; Mauro De Lorenzo, vice president of the John Templeton Foundation and visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; Todd Moss, vice president for corporate affairs and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development; J. Peter Pham, Africa Project director at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy; and Andrew Natsios, former USAID administrator.

In Memory of Gloria Amaya

Friday, January 8, 2010
It's with great sadness that we receive news from Cuba of the passing of pro-democracy leader Gloria Amaya at the age of 81.

Gloria was the quintessential Cuban woman: principled, determined and courageous. Until her very last breath, she fought for the dream of democracy in Cuba. She passed that dream on to her children, three of which have served prolonged sentences as prisoners of conscience. Two of them, Ariel and Guido, remain in a political prison to this day.

May her dream soon come true and her legacy never forgotten.

The following is a tribute to her family that we'd posted last summer.

A Family of Courage

by Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat

Varadero, the most renown of all beaches in a land of beautiful beaches, lies on the northern coast of Cuba, in Matanzas province. If the droves of European, Canadian and Latin American tourists who flock to the tightly-controlled tourist enclaves there dared to venture beyond the invisible but implacable barriers that separate the resorts from the daily travails of Cubans living under the region's longest-lasting dictatorship, they would find that there is far more to Matanzas province than sun and sand.

According to Cuban folklore, Matanzas, which means "slaughter" in Spanish, was the legendary place where in the 18th century Cubans fought off a swarm of demons, driving them deep into underground caves. The angels which aided the denizens of Matanzas in this fight warned them that they should remain ever vigilant, should the demons ever reappear. And so they have.

A mostly flat land of sugar fields, swamps and soft hills, Matanzas' country folk put up a stiff resistance against the Castro's Communist take over. Well into the mid 60's poorly armed guerrillas greatly aided and abetted by the population, persisted in a hit and run war against the Communist forces. Eventually they were overwhelmed by the Russian-armed and advised Cuban military. Few survived. Matanceros still remember how the firing walls worked non-stop in the Regime's assembly-line drive to rid Cuba of its patriots.

Later, after Che Guevara returned from China awed by the Maoist concentration camps, the Castro Regime implemented its own version of forced labor settlements: the infamous UMAPS (Military Units in Support of Production) where among others, seminarians of different denominations, disaffected youth, homosexuals, Jehova's Witnesses and prostitutes were thrown together to be cleansed of their "sins" and re educated along the lines of Guevara's idea of the "new man." The location of the UMAP's? Matanzas province.

However, the Castro dictatorship's bid to crush the province's spirit of liberty failed. Today Matanzas is once again at the center of open resistance against the now 50-year old tyranny.

One courageous family, the Siglers, is at the forefront of the growing civic non violent challenge to the Regime. And they have paid a high price for it.

Gloria Amaya was one of the daughters of Matanzas whose spirit would not be broken. She was too small and frail to take up arms, and she wasn't sent to the UMAP's, but she turned the inside of her home into free territory, raising her children on Christian love, democratic principles and anti Communism. Castro had turned Cuba into a Soviet puppet, Gloria taught her children, but the Sigler Amayas would remain a sovereign family.

So it would be that her young sons would lead a new generation of their fellows in the struggle for freedom.

Ariel Sigler, the youngest of her five children, was a tall, strong young man who excelled in sports and became a regional boxing champion. He was expelled from his job as a physical education teacher because he voiced his discontent with the government. On November 16, 1996 he founded the Independent Alternative Option Movement. He led his brothers and scores of other youths into the sugar fields and the countryside, organizing workers to defend their rights against the State as the sole employer, carrying out public peaceful demonstrations, setting up soup kitchens for the poor and hungry supposedly non existent under a "people"s dictatorship," and establishing an independent library in their family home where the books censored by the government could be accessed by the population.

Emboldened by Ariel's leadership and the unshaking support of his family, dozens of Matanceros joined the movement. Eventually Ariel met and collaborated with Havana-based Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner serving a 20-year sentence in a Castro prison for his commitment to freedom.

The Regime retaliated ruthlessly against the Siglers. A gang of thugs invaded the family home, hurled Gloria Amaya, now more than 80 years old to the floor, and beat her, breaking her ribs. Police repeatedly arrested the Sigler brothers, earning Ariel the recognition of prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. Finally, on March 18, 2003, the Castro dictatorship tried to use the US invasion of Iraq as cover for its attempt to destroy Cuba's civic resistance with one fell swoop. Seventy-five activists were arrested. Ariel and his older brother were sentenced to 20 years each. Weighing 250 pounds at the moment of his arrest, Ariel is now at less than 100 pounds. He lies in a prison hospital suffering from a battery of illnesses he did not have before being imprisoned. His family is convinced that, as has been the case with other Castro opponents in the past, the Regime is using a combination of induced illnesses and medical negligence to get rid of one of its most tenacious foes.

As Ariel Sigler lies dying in a hospital bed for the sole "crime" of refusing to live as a slave, not a word on his behalf has been uttered by, for example, Jose Miguel Insulza and the Organization of American States, which should be looking out for the respect for human rights and democracy in the region. Not one of the Latin American leaders who has stopped by Havana to visit an ailing Fidel Castro has dared to inquire about his health.

Sadly enough, this is not a new thing in Cuban history. It was in Matanzas that the Cuban flag first flew, raised by a band of freedom fighters led by Venezuelan Narciso Lopez who briefly captured the provincial capital from the Spanish before being defeated, captured and garroted, abandoned by the Latin American governments he believed would come to the aid of Cuba's right to freedom. Pedro Luis Boitel, a courageous student leader, was also born in Matanzas. He dared to challenge the Castro picked candidate in elections for the student government of the University of Havana in 1959. Imprisoned and sentenced to 10 years, he died as a result of the same combination of induced illnesses and medical negligence that Ariel Sigler may now be suffering. Boitel was protesting his continued imprisonment after his sentence had been served.

A cry goes out to the international community from Matanzas, one that sun-bathing tourists and Communist apparatchik may not hear: In the name of freedom, let the slaughter of Cuba's best sons and daughters cease, aid Cubans in this new fight against the demons of tyranny.

It's Time for a New Script

The U.K.'s Times newspaper reported today that:
 
A new documentary produced by Iranian state television claims that Ms [Neda] Soltan was an agent of the US and Britain and that her death was a hoax. It suggests that she squeezed fake blood over herself as she lay on the pavement but was then shot dead by her fellow conspirators in the car that took her away — presumably to silence her.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported yesterday that:
 
The leader of the Cuban parliament on Wednesday accused a U.S. government contractor arrested in December of being a spy for American intelligence agencies. 
 
These tyrants need a new script, as no one believes them.  Most notably, their own people.

The Sole Telecom Obstacle

The Council of the America's Christopher Sabatini wrote an article in Foreign Policy about the importance of USAID programs and the arrest of an American citizen by the Castro regime.

While the article misconstrues the Obama Administration's telecom regulations, which we address and clarify in an "Editor's Note" postscript, we've reproduced it in its entirety; for otherwise, it makes very good points:

Our Hapless Man in Havana

For a month, Cuba has detained a USAID contractor for passing out laptops. It's time for the U.S. to send over a whole lot more.

For the last month, the Cuban government has detained an American contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), accusing him of secretly distributing laptops and other communications devices in Cuba and calling it espionage. Unfortunately, the incident has occasioned the usual, tired debate about what the United States is doing in Cuba and why. What this incident really should spark is a close look at Cuba's retrograde political repression and the United States' policy paralysis when it comes to its island neighbor.

The very fact that Cuba arrested the USAID contractor for doing nothing more than handing out laptops says more about Cuban paranoia than U.S. policy. In what other country in the hemisphere would it be considered a crime for a foreigner to give out a cell phone, laptop, or any other modern tool of communication? Brazil? Argentina? Mexico? Venezuela? Of course not. In fact, Americans passing out free cell phones and computers in those countries are called, appropriately, humanitarians. Let's be clear: The Castro regime is isolating its citizens from not just news and information, but from modernity. It is one of a handful of governments on Earth still attempting such a comprehensive level of repression. Sadly, though journalists do report this simple fact, the surreal level of Cuban repression often takes a back seat to criticism of U.S. policy.

In these cases, U.S. articles often insinuate that Washington must be up to something sinister in Cuba when describing such events. Just last week, the hoary commentator on all things Cuba, Wayne Smith, lobbed a predictable partisan criticism. He argued that President Barack Obama's administration is continuing the policies of his predecessor, fomenting rebellion in the communist country while severely restricting trade with the island. (Never mind that the policy of providing assistance to independent civil society groups in Cuba started under Bill Clinton.)

But what's so sinister about a citizen receiving or having a laptop or a cell phone? Nothing -- unless the government is maintaining a chokehold on power by holding its citizens frozen in the past. Now, full disclosure here: I used to be the director for Latin America at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), where I proudly helped distribute basic communications tools to independent-minded citizens and groups inside Cuba. We provided simple things like pencils, paper, and reading materials -- and we're not talking about anti-Castro screeds. We supported the distribution of documents about internationally recognized human and labor rights.

Sadly, rather than lauding the effort to bring change to Cuba, the media harangued NED with constant questions about why we were meddling in another country. It is a question, I hasten to add, that no journalist would have asked when NED provided the same goods to similar groups in Chile under the strong arm of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. But today's Cuba is repressive in a way all Americans should consider shocking. Take, for instance, the "Black Spring" of 2003, when the Havana government arrested 75 dissident leaders and sentenced them to prison terms averaging 18 years for doing nothing more than holding a meeting of like-minded citizens in their homes.

The truth is that the U.S. media too often forgets to ask whether possessing a laptop or a pamphlet merits a decades-long spell in a squalid prison cell. Nor does the media recognize that U.S. programs in Cuba aren't cloak-and-dagger. There is no dagger -- and to consider basic communications tools the legal equivalent of an anticommunist weapon is to take the deranged, power-obsessed, atavistic view of the Cuban government. As for the cloak: The Cuban regime's absurd abrogation of its citizens' rights to information makes it necessary.

Ultimately, though, last month's arrest of the USAID contractor demonstrates the ineffectiveness of Obama's much-heralded April announcement of opening up telecommunications with Cuba. In his speech, Obama called for a change in U.S. policy, allowing private companies to develop direct contacts with the Cuban people. It sounded nice, but unfortunately something got lost in the translation from presidential directive to governmental regulation to reality.

The final regulations that resulted and were released in September did little to advance any of Obama's lofty rhetoric. The sale or construction of telecommunications infrastructure to Cuba by U.S companies -- necessary to allow the famously antiquated island to have digital contact with the rest of the world -- is forbidden. Instead, what is allowed are donations, something Cuba already permits.

Simply put, Obama's plan is not enough to unleash the initiative and potential of private businesses to open up the island. Imagine a board meeting at a telecom company considering Cuba's potential. "Ladies and gentlemen, while we can't sell our equipment to the island, I propose donating cell-phone towers, handsets, routers, and other equipment," the executive might say, "because someday in the unforeseeable future we may be able to invest there -- and in the meantime, we'll give it away."

Even the much-vaunted promise of allowing the laying of a fiber optic cable to Cuba -- which would provide Cubans with access to high-speed Internet -- didn't foresee the infrastructure requirements necessary to make it work on the island. You can't plug a fiber optic cable in like a toaster. The Obama team's sole effective change has been to allow executives to travel to Cuba on telecommunications-related business.

None of this matters for the poor American contractor who spent Christmas in a Cuban jail, a political pawn in a sorry game. That what he did is a "crime" is the fault of the Cuban regime. But the fact that he was tasked with such a low-level activity, handing out communications devices, is the fault of the broader framework of U.S. regulations. I do not advocate a wholesale lifting of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. But, I do believe Washington should create the regulatory scenario in which the U.S. private sector can do its transformative best. Sadly, given the September regulations, we're not there yet.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As previously mentioned, the article misconstrues the Obama Administration's telecom regulations.

According to the Treasury Department's CACR 515.542(b):

"All transactions, including but not limited to payments, incident to the provision of telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba, the provision of satellite radio or satellite television services to Cuba, or the entry into and performance under roaming service agreements with telecommunications services providers in Cuba, by a telecommunications services provider that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction are authorized."

Furthermore, CACR 515.542(d)(1) states:

"Transactions incident to the establishment of facilities to provide telecommunications services linking the United States and Cuba, including but not limited to fiber-optic cable and satellite facilities, are authorized."

As such, these regulations do not prevent U.S. companies from establishing telecom services, laying fiber optic cables, or other telecom-related infrastructure in Cuba -- it's the Castro regime that has directly rejected this possibility.

The Castro regime is, however, coordinating the laying of a fiber optic cable to connect with its protege, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. And just yesterday -- coincidentally -- it declared in the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper that this cable "will improve the quality of communication networks," but that it "will not mean a broadening of the same."

In other words, the Castro-Chavez fiber optic cable will provide the regime and its cronies with quicker and crisper access to the Internet, but continue to deny the Cuban people access.

So despite the easing of U.S. law, the availability of infrastructure, or where it comes from, the Castro regime (and its totalitarian monopoly) is intent on remaining the Cuban people's sole obstacle to telecom.

Fortunately though -- thanks in no small part to USAID programs -- that task is becoming increasingly difficult. The absurd and desperate arrest of this American citizen proves just that point.

Kudos to Australia's Green Party

Thursday, January 7, 2010
According to The Irrawaddy News:

Australian Senator Criticizes Exports to Burma

A senator from the Australian Greens party has called on an Australian company to stop selling high-frequency radio sets to Burma's military junta, saying they are being used by the regime in its operations against ethnic minorities.

Sen. Scott Ludlam of Western Australia said radios sold by Barrett Communications are capable of frequency-hopping and encryption, making radio traffic impossible to intercept. He said this assists the Burmese military in its campaigns against ethnic armed groups and that the exports must be stopped.

"We don't believe there should be two-way trade between Australia and Burma at all … but there certainly shouldn't be two-way trade in sensitive military equipment such as this," he said in an interview with Radio Australia.

"The Burmese regime is a criminal regime, it's entirely illegitimate and it is very inappropriate for Australian companies to be doing business with that regime," he added.

Congressional Trips to Cuba

On Monday, Spanish parliamentarian Luis Yanez was prohibited from entering Cuba by the Castro regime.

The reason for this prohibition was his intention to meet with human rights activists while in Cuba.

However, Yanez is not the first Spanish parliamentarian to be denied entry to Cuba for wanting to meet with human rights activists.

In 2004, another Spanish parliamentarian, Jorge Moragas, was turned back at the airport in Havana (along with two Dutch parliamentarians). In 2005, two others were rejected. And in 2007, over a dozen leaders of a Catalonian political party were prohibited from entering Cuba to visit with the Ladies in White (an organization composed of the wives, mother and daughters of Cuban political prisoners).

There have also been various Eastern European parliamentarians that have consistently been denied entry or expelled from the island for the same reason.

Which raises the following question about trips to Cuba by Members of the U.S. Congress, and their staffs, that periodically travel to the island hosted by the Castro regime or NGO's that oppose U.S. policy:

Do they visit with human rights activists and pro-democracy leaders during these trips? Or is their scope limited to the "dog-and-pony" show approved by the Castro regime?

For example, we know that the regime repeatedly denies a visa to U.S. Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Frank Wolf of Virginia, who every year request to visit with the families of political prisoners, pro-democracy leaders and human rights activists.

So what about those Members that do get visas?

It would be shameful if these trips -- as they appear -- are limited to visiting the Castro dictatorship and its cronies.

Perhaps all of the "vetoed" parliamentarians should ask U.S. Reps. Jeff Flake and Bill Delahunt how to "behave" in order to be allowed in.

Dictatorship Engagement 101

Wednesday, January 6, 2010
From the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

A Cuban Education for Spain's Socialists

Havana once again makes clear that tyrants are just as intolerant of dissent abroad as they are at home.

On Monday, Spanish politician Luis Yáñez-Barnuevo García was expelled from Cuba hours after landing there on a tourist visa. The rebuff of the Socialist Member of the European Parliament has sent Madrid into waves of pique, summoning Cuba's ambassador and demanding an explanation. Strange, given Madrid's closeness to the Castro regime, that it should still require an education on the Communist dictatorship's modus operandi.

Along with many others in the Spanish political elite, Mr. Yáñez has pushed for stronger ties with Cuba. But unlike Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos -- who knew better than to meet with any families of political prisoners, independent journalists, or human-rights organizations when he traveled to Cuba in October -- Mr. Yáñez was reportedly planning to rendezvous with such dissident groups and has harshly criticized civil rights in Cuba. In fact, this is not the first time Mr. Yáñez has been denied entry to the island. Spanish daily El Mundo reports that Mr. Yáñez was refused a visa in July 2008, when he was invited to attend a meeting of the dissident group Arco Progresista.

The Spanish-Cuban fracas is really a case study in Dictatorship Engagement 101, and mirrors Barack Obama's own efforts to draw Cuba closer. Early in his presidency, Mr. Obama offered warm words of a new beginning with Havana. He also loosened travel restrictions and limits on cash remittances to the island. But Washington's failure to ditch funding for anti-Castro radio and TV broadcasts, as well as its continued support of Cuban democracy activists, has stopped the rapprochement in its tracks. Last month an American government subcontractor was arrested in Cuba and is still being held, reportedly after having distributed mobile phones and laptops to Cuban activists. At a meeting of Latin American leftists last month, Raúl Castro affirmed that the "confrontation between two historic forces is becoming more acute."

In other words, it doesn't much matter what Mr. Yáñez, or Mr. Obama, or any other left-of-center politician, has in common with the Castros, or with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or with Hugo Chávez. What matters is whether they ignore their mistreatment of their own people. As Havana has once again made clear this week, tyrants are just as intolerant of dissent abroad as they are at home.

A Ponzi Dictatorship?

As the Castro regime faces few options to economically and politically sustain its struggling dictatorship, a group of off-shore investors sees an opportunity to begin a series of debt-for-equity deals that would make them the new de facto masters of the island.

According to the Miami Herald,

"A group of foreign investors is seeking a U.S. government license to buy claims against Cuba for American-owned properties seized in the 1960s, and then swap them with Havana in a debt-for-equity exchange."

These investors have created a company, Clarinbridge, to acquire these claims. Clarinbridge, in turn, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Siboney Limited, which is based in the off-shore, tax-haven Isle of Man (located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland).

Basically, Clarinbridge wants to acquire a sufficient number of U.S.-based claims in order to place itself in a bargaining position with the Castro regime. Thereafter, it could proceed to negotiate a stake in the island's monopolies hoping that upon the regime's eventual collapse (or per se, default), it would exert control over Castro's most lucrative business sectors.

This strategy is akin to the equity stakes built by Russia's technocrats-turned-oligarchs upon the collapse of communism in the USSR, except that Cuba's new oligarchs would be off-shore foreign investors.

So when do the Cuban people get to weigh-in on these issues?

If the Castro regime and Clarinbridge cut a deal in the short-term -- either too late or never.

Mr. Robinson's (Misinformed) Inconvenience

Tuesday, January 5, 2010
The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson has written an opinion editorial today criticizing the Obama Administration's inclusion of Cuba in the State Department's list of "state-sponsors of terrorism."

His criticism was sparked by the new rules requiring passengers traveling from the four remaining "state-sponsors of terrorism" nations -- Cuba, Syria, Sudan and Iran -- to undergo further screening when traveling to the U.S.

Nonetheless, Mr. Robinson's rationale is both contradictory and misinformed.

For example, he argues against Cuba's designation because,

"Cuba is not a failed state where swaths of territory lie beyond government control; rather, it is one of the most tightly locked-down societies in the world, a place where the idea of private citizens getting their hands on plastic explosives, or terrorist weapons of any kind, is simply laughable."

If that were the litmus test, then only Sudan would be remain on the list, as Syria and Iran are also "locked-down societies" without "swaths of territory beyond government control."

Furthermore, the list refers to "states" that support terrorism, that's why they are called "state-sponsors" of terrorism; not "citizen-sponsors." The Iranian and Cuban people, particularly the younger generations, are quite sympathetic to the U.S. -- it's the oppressive regimes in those countries that are anti-American.

Mr. Robinson then sarcastically remarks that,

"Cuba is on the list because the State Department still considers it -- along with Iran, Sudan and Syria -- to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

Really? Despite the fact that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana was one of the few American diplomatic posts in the world to remain open for normal business, with no apparent increased security, in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks?"


He apparently didn't read the following article last October:

"In the six months after the 9/11 attacks, up to 20 Cubans walked into U.S. embassies around the world and offered information on terrorism threats. Eventually, all were deemed to be Cuban intelligence agents and collaborators, purveying fabricated information.

A White House official complained bitterly and publicly in 2002 that Fidel Castro's agents had tried to send U.S. intelligence on 'wild goose' chases that could cost lives at a time when Washington was reeling from the worst terrorism attacks in history.

But now two former U.S. government experts on Cuba have told El Nuevo Herald that the post-9/11 "walk-ins" were part of a permanent Havana intelligence program -- both before and long after 9/11 -- that sends Cuban agents to U.S. embassies to mislead, misinform and identify U.S. spies, perhaps even to penetrate U.S. intelligence."

Surely, we feel for any time-related inconvenience that Mr. Robinson might encounter during his next trip back from Havana.

But that's no reason to overlook the facts.

Afro-Cubans Demand Civil Rights

Afro-Cuban pro-democracy activists have written a letter in support of the solidarity initiative launched last month by African-American academic, business and political leaders, calling for an end to the hostilities by the Castro regime against human and civil rights advocates in Cuba.

The following excerpt from the letter also addresses those that falsely accuse U.S. policy as the culprit of the Cuban people's deprivations and highlights the detrimental effects of leisure tourists and other foreigners that partake in the regime's propaganda:

"It's very likely that the majority of African-Americans are unaware of the humanitarian aid offered by the government of the United States and other institutions -- including by Cubans living in that country -- to Cuba pursuant to the devastation caused by three recent hurricanes that left the island in shambles. The "humane" government under which we Cubans have suffered for fifty years refused to accept this aid saying it was "blood money" and giving other excuses that we are used to. That aid would have benefited the entire population -- including Afro-Cubans -- and without any other condition than the wish to help a population in need of economic and democratic support. Today we can see the havoc wreaked by that decision, with the black population suffering most as a result.

To those that refute the struggle against racism that since the 1960's our brother-in-exile Carlos Moore has undertaken, we recommend that -- before accusing him -- they come and visit the island for no less than a three month stay. But not to stay in a hotel with a taxi at the door. If they really want to experience first-hand how black people live in Cuba, they should stay amongst us. In other words, in any neighborhood of Havana or of the provinces, to eat what a regular citizen eats, and then -- and only then -- pass judgment on the reality of black people in Cuba without any propaganda or official favoritism telling them what to do or say.

Those of us that sign this letter believe it was an act of courage and altruism for our African-American brothers and sisters to have expressed solidarity with our cause. The signatories of that important document are on the side of truth. Everything they exposed is the reality of the racial challenges and daily abuse directed against black people in Cuba."

Signatories:

Raúl Pérez Díaz, Internal Medicine Doctor
José Idelfonso Vélez, Coordinator of the National Movement for Racial Integration (MIR)
Hildelbrando Chaviano Montes, Attorney, Coordinator of the MIR
Eliozbel Garriga Cabreras, Delegate of the MIR for Pinar del Río
Esperanza Almeira Cordero, Executive Secretary of the MIR
Osvaldo Ricardo Díaz Sánchez, Delegate of the MIR for Villa Clara
Rafael Bueno, Member of the MIR
Aída Chaviano Montes, Activist of the MIR
Manuel Aguirre Lavarrere, Poet and Coordinator of the Afro-Cuba Cultural Movement
Leonardo Hernández Camejo, Activist of the MIR
Yolanda lázara Martínez Vargas, Vice-President of the Afro-Cuban Cultural Movement
Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, President of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement
Heriberto Portilla, Activist of the MIR
Héctor Palacio Ruiz, Sociologist, Member of the MIR
Guillermo Fariñas, Activist of the MIR
Gisela Delgado Sablón, Activist of the MIR
Tania de la Torre Montesino, Activist of the MIR
Juan Goberna, Member of the Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation
Norberto Mesa, Member of the Black Brotherhood
Pedro Luís Sabat, Activist of the MIR
Giselle López Delegada, Member of the Afro-Cuban Cultural Movement
Rubén Carty Lowe, Independent Journalist
Rubén Gonzalez, Member of the Afro-Cuban Cultural Movement
Rosario Morales La Rosa, Activist of the MIR
Jorge Luis García Pérez (Antúnez), Cuban Political Prisoners Party

Quote of the Week

"With Obama's election, it's not that black Cubans became pro-U.S. or pro-Washington, but they said, 'A black man can become elected head of state in a country that we were always told was racist -- but here we are with [a majority] and we cannot come into power.'"
 
- Carlos Moore, Afro-Cuban scholar on the effect of U.S. President Barack Obama's election on the Cuban "street," Los Angeles Times, January 3rd, 2010

Spanish Socialist Dignitary Snubbed

Monday, January 4, 2010
Last month, the Castro regime prohibited at least five U.S.-based religious groups from entering the island to provide humanitarian aid to the Cuban people, as confirmed by the State Department to The Miami Herald.

Advocates of giving the Cuban dictatorship a "free pass" for its repression argued that this was surely due to the arrest of an American citizen for distributing information technology to the Cuban people.

Well, MSNBC is now reporting,

"Spain's Foreign Ministry summoned the Cuban ambassador Monday to explain why a Spanish politician was denied entry and held for a couple of hours before being sent back home.

It was unjustifiable that Luis Yanez, a Socialist who now holds a seat representing Spain at the European Parliament and has served under a previous Spanish government, was not allowed to enter Cuba, the ministry said in a statement."

So why has the Castro regime denied entry to this Spanish parliamentarian?

Please note that this parliamentarian belongs to the same Spanish Socialist Party that has done back-flips to politically and economically appease the regime.

Is it because he planned to visit with dissidents while in Cuba?

Perhaps.

Either way, it highlights the one constant in the Castro regime's behavior:

Only beach-going tourists (and politicians subject to the dictatorship's "dog-and-pony" visits) are guaranteed entry.

If you plan on engaging (or God-forbid, providing support to) the Cuban people, you need not apply.

Caribbean Jitters About Varadero

The Cayman Island's Net News recently published an editorial, "The return of Americans to Cuba," addressing the detrimental effects that U.S. tourism travel to Cuba will eventually have on most Caribbean nations.

Which raises to two questions for policymakers:

Does the U.S. want to critically damage the economies of Caribbean democracies in order to benefit the current owner (and main beneficiary) of Cuba's tourism industry, the Cuban military?

Shouldn't the wealth and income of U.S. tourists go to the Cuban people, when they are freely able to participate in the island's tourism industry, as opposed to financing their oppressors?

The Cayman Net News editorial sets the premise:

"[W]hether American tourists will return to Cuba will hinge on debate in Congress, where opponents say sanctions should not be lifted until Cuba frees political prisoners and undertakes democratic reforms to its one-party state. Whist this may not be an event that our own tourism industry will have to face in 2010, surely such a change in the established order of things is inevitable sooner or later.

There is no doubt that Cuba is the sleeping giant of our region and, compared to the Cayman Islands, has vast resources of raw materials, agricultural products and labor, all at greatly reduced cost in comparison to what is typical here.

Indeed, given the proximity and the historical family and other connections between Cuba and the Cayman Islands, Cuba is far more of a natural trading partner than some Central American countries that have been receiving attention in the past.

To our mind, Cuba therefore represents both an opportunity for increased trade and co-operation, as well as an eventual threat as a competitor for tourism dollars."


And concludes that:

"Clearly, we are not going to be able to compete with the initial novelty value of Cuba as a 'new' vacation destination for Americans but we should be planning for the inevitable and doing our best to profit from it instead of relying on the customary knee-jerk reaction.

The tourism sector in the Cayman Islands has been facing some significant challenges in recent years and will continue to do so in the years ahead. Another strong regional competitor in the shape of Cuba is not going to make life any easier for tourism stakeholders."

The Real "Cuban Mafia"

Sunday, January 3, 2010
According to the Miami Herald:

"A multimillionaire Venezuelan businessman, currently jailed in Caracas on bank fraud charges, had been sent to Cuba by President Hugo Chávez to help the country recover from its economic slump and also to spur economic growth on the island after Fidel Castro dies, according to former employees.

In an initial show of his new responsibility, looking for a personal benefit from future business in Cuba, Ricardo Fernández Barruecos gave the Cuban government a gift of 28 BMW automobiles, his former security consultant Luis Castro said in a sworn statement."

Fraud, mafia-like cartels, blackmail and kickbacks. That's the Castro regime's economic policy.

Is this whom the U.S. wants to reward with billions of dollars worth of U.S. tourism, trade and financing?

Five Decades of Forced Labor

According to Dominican Today:

"A total of 96 illegal Dominican boatpeople who set out on November 13, 2008, for Puerto Rico, are being forced to work in sugarcane plantations in Cuba, family members said.

According to Eriko Cuba, spokesman for the migrants' relatives, the group left on a "yola" from the coast of the northeastern town of Samana but was forced to land in Cuba due to rough weather while crossing the Mona Passage, which separates the Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico.

Eriko said that on Tuesday Wellington Mayobanex Aquino Suarez –one of the illegal migrants– telephoned police in the Dominican town of Villa Riva, where most of the group is from, so officers could inform their relatives of their situation
."

We hope that these Dominican migrants may soon be released and reunited with their families.

Similarly, we hope that Cuba's 11.5 million people may also be freed from the five decades of forced labor that they've been subjected to in Castro's gulag.

A Bargain for the Kim's and Castro's

According to the New York Times:

"North Korea called on Friday for an end to 'the hostile relationship' with the United States, issuing a New Year's message that highlighted the reclusive country's attempt to readjust the focus of six-party nuclear disarmament talks."

Of course, North Korea only did so "while calling for efforts to boost foreign trade." Actually, most of its New Year's message was focused on its beleaguered totalitarian economy.

Sound familiar?

"If the American government really wants to advance relations with Cuba, I recommend they leave behind the conditions of internal governance that they are trying to impose on us," Raul Castro told his National Assembly in December.

Castro made this statement within days of a senior regime official pitching U.S. tourism industry executives (hosted by the U.S. Tour Operators Association) for business in Washington, D.C.

Basically, North Korea's Kim Jong-Il and Cuba's Raul Castro want the U.S. to unconditionally recognize and finance their totalitarian, nepotistic, illegitimate, repressive regimes, so that they can continue terrorizing their populations and fomenting their destabilizing regional agendas without repercussions.

That's quite a bargain for the Kim and Castro families, but at too great a cost for the North Korean and Cuban people, not to mention for U.S. interests.