A Sense of Poetic Justice

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

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

Here's "El Corralito":

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

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

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

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

Who do Cuba's Communists "Include"?

Here's an interesting headline from Reuters this week:

Castro Daughter Says Cuba Communists Exclude Gays

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

Which leads to the question,

Who do Cuba's Communists "include"?

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

Is Normalization Effective?

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

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

Apparently not.

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

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

Actually, let us clarify this news item,

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

From the Washington Post Editorial Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hillary's Internet Freedom Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the full speech here.

The Wretched State of Cubans

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

Punk Rock in the PRC

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

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

Its lyrics scream:

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

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

It's All About 5-Star Hotels

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

Over the holidays, "Travel Man" was asked:

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

To which he responded:

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

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

Just oozing with compassion for the repressed people of Cuba.

Caveat Emptor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legal problems with Northern Cyprus property

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

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

Cuban Cyber-Spies?

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

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

There's also espionage.

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

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

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

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

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

First Year in Review

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

TALK TO ENEMIES

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

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

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

Stop Trivializing Tragedies

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

Yet, they've begun to do so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Cuban Doctors for Ariel

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

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

Yesterday, Ariel stated in a letter:

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

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

Lesson to be learned:

For the Castro regime, Ariel is a political nuisance.

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

And without political gain, there are no Cuban doctors.

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

On This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day


Let us remember that,

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

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

Quote of the Week

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

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

Members Praise Google Decision on China

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

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

Google has now endorsed the GOFA bill, HR 2271.

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

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

The provisions of the GOFA bill include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spirit of Invictus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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