Bring on the Botox

Saturday, February 20, 2010
We are not making this up.

According to the Castro regime's news agency, ACN:

Fidel and Raul: Honorary Delegates to 9th Youth Congress

SANCTI SPIRITUS, Cuba, Feb 20 (acn) Cuban Revolution leader Fidel Castro and President Raul Castro were elected on Friday the first Honorary Delegates to the 9th Congress of the Young Communists League (UJC).

During the provincial assembly of the UJC in Sancti-Spiritus, the First Vice-president of the Cuban councils of State and Ministers, Jose Ramón Machado Ventura, pointed out that this is a well-deserved decision, due to the history of the two leaders.


Please note that the date of this headline is today, February 20th, 2010 -- not 1950.

Therefore, Fidel is 83, Raul is 78 and Machado Ventura is 79. These are the three leaders, in order, of the Cuban dictatorship.

Is that the best they can come up with for a "Youth Congress"?

Needless to say, normalizing relations with this decrepit regime would be a huge step backwards.

Cartoon of the Week

"Place a Firm Hand on Cuba"

From Jay Nordlinger in the National Review Online:
 
I wanted to let you know about Orlando Zapata Tamayo. He is one of those Cuban prisoners of conscience, and he is in very bad shape. As this report tells us, he is "in the 76th day of a hunger strike in protest against beatings, harsh treatment and other abuses he endures as a prisoner under the Castro regime, and demanding respect for his human rights."

His mother said, "I appeal to the world to place a firm hand on Cuba so that my son may not die." An interesting, heartfelt phrase: "place a firm hand on Cuba."

I continue to quote from the report: "Zapata Tamayo's case has received important demonstrations of solidarity in different parts of Cuba, including a national sit-in chain in December and vigils in February, both organized by the National Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front. In recent weeks, several demonstrations and marches took place in Camagüey championing Zapata Tamayo's cause."

More from the mother: "So that the world might hear me, I ask for solidarity from our brothers [fellow Cubans]; that they launch themselves along with this mother; that they call for Orlando Zapata Tamayo's freedom; that they not be afraid of blows, because it is worthier to die upright than to die kneeling."

I have long been of two minds about hunger strikes — about the rightness of them. There are important questions to consider. But I remember reading Armando Valladares's now-classic memoir, Against All Hope (Valladares is sometimes called the Cuban Solzhenitsyn). I saw the effectiveness of hunger strikes then. And I hope Zapata Tamayo lives and prospers, and that the country he obviously loves does too.

U.S. Statement on Migration Talks

Friday, February 19, 2010
From the State Department:

On Friday, February 19, 2010 the United States and Cuba met in Havana to discuss implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. This was the second such meeting since the decision to renew the Talks in 2009. In the course of the meeting, the U.S. team, led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to promote safe, orderly, and legal migration.

The U.S. delegation separately raised the case of the U.S. citizen detained in Cuba on December 4 and called for his immediate release.

Engaging in these talks underscores our interest in pursuing constructive discussions with the government of Cuba to advance U.S. interests on issues of mutual concern. The U.S. delegation highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, while also identifying issues that have been obstacles to the full implementation of the Accords. The agenda for the talks reflected longstanding U.S. priorities on Cuba migration issues, including: ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to operate fully and effectively; ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to monitor the welfare of repatriated migrants; and gaining Cuban government acceptance for the repatriation of all Cuban nationals who are excludable on criminal grounds.

The United States views these talks as an avenue to achieve practical, positive results that contribute to the full implementation of the Accords and to the safety of citizens of both countries.

Detained American's Wife Plea on CNN

Tragic Update From Havana

Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo's situation has gravely worsened. His wife is essentially under siege by Cuban state security and there has been no information regarding her husband's health. The worst is feared.

Meanwhile, Cuban pro-democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" was arrested as he attempted to travel to Havana for a meeting of civil society representatives with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly.

We pray DAS Kelly intercedes on their behalf.

Letter From Maryland Members of Congress

While U.S. and Cuban diplomats meet in Havana for migration talks today, Members of the Maryland Congressional Delegation have sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing their concern over the prolonged arrest -- without charges -- of Maryland resident Alan P. Gross by the Castro regime.

Click on the letter to enlarge and read.

Video From Wife of Detained American

Thursday, February 18, 2010
The United States and Cuba will resume their periodic discussions on migration in Havana tomorrow. This time, the talks will take place more than two months after American Alan P. Gross, a USAID subcontractor, was detained in Havana, where he remains incarcerated at the Villa Marista maximum security prison. The Cuban government has not charged Mr. Gross with any crime.

Alan's wife, Judy Gross, who until now has remained largely silent on the issue, is releasing a video today, asking both U.S. and Cuban officials involved in the talks to agree on a way to resolve her husband's case. Judy also briefly discusses Alan's humanitarian work.

Click "View/Play" here.

Another Glaring Reminder

This week, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued it's yearly report, "Attacks on the Press," which compiles threats to journalists and assaults on freedom of the press throughout the world.

According to the CPJ, Iran, China and Cuba remain the world's top jailers of journalists.

Currently, Iran is holding 47 writers and editors (26 of which have been arrested in the last two months alone), followed by China, which is holding 24 journalists, and Cuba's 22 jailed media workers.

Note that Iran has a population of 72 million and China has a population of 1.3 billion, while Cuba has a population of only 11 million.

Furthermore, Reporters Without Borders has put out an appeal today urging the release of journalist Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso, who is spending his 60th birthday in Castro's political prisons (serving a 20-year sentence) for his writings.

Another glaring reminder of the overwhelming brutality of these regimes.

Question of the Day

Will U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly intercede on behalf of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo during his talks in Havana tomorrow?

Unfortunately, Amnesty International, which has designated Zapata Tamayo as a "prisoner of conscience," has not been allowed into Cuba by the Castro regime to verify his well-being.

Therefore, DAS Kelly will have a unique opportunity to help save this innocent man's life.

According to the Miami Herald:

A Cuban political prisoner who has been on a hunger strike since December is "worsening slowly'' despite a hospital's decision to feed him through intravenous tubes, relatives and others said Tuesday.

Orlando Zapata is "skin and bones, his stomach is just a hole'' and he has bedsores on his legs, said his mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo. He has lost so much weight that nurses were not able to get the IV lines into his arms and are using veins on his neck instead.

"They are feeding him through the IVs because he continues to refuse to eat on his own, but his situation continues worsening slowly,'' said human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz in a telephone interview from Havana.

BRUTAL CONDITIONS

Zapata, 42, has been refusing to eat and drinking water only occasionally since December to protest the brutal conditions at his Kilo 7 prison in the eastern province of Camagüey, according to his mother. Prison guards beat him at least three times in the days before he launched the hunger strike, his mother said, and his back was "tattooed with blows'' by the time he was transferred recently to the Amalia Simony hospital in Camagüey.

"The authorities tell us that he is stable, within the parameters of his grave condition,'' she told El Nuevo Herald in a phone interview, adding that on Tuesday she was given permission to visit him every day for several hours. She had last seen him on Saturday.

"I will continue in this struggle until the seas dry up,'' she declared to supporters in Miami.

"I hold the Cuban government and the organs of State Security responsible if anything happens to my son, or to one of the brothers who is supporting us.''

ARRESTED IN 2003

Zapata, a plumber and bricklayer and member of the Alternative Republican Movement National Civic Resistance Committee, was arrested in 2003 amid a harsh crackdown on dissidents, known as Cuba's Black Spring, that sentenced 75 government critics to long prison terms.

He was initially charged with contempt, public disorder and "disobedience,'' and sentenced to three years.

But he was later convicted of other acts of defiance while in prison and now stands sentenced to a total of 36 years.

Amnesty International declared him a "prisoner of conscience'' in 2003.

51 Years Later

The National Endowment for Democracy's Carl Gershman wrote a great editorial in The Washington Post entitled, "The Dalai Lama's Principled Pursuit of Democracy."

For 51 years, the pursuit of human rights and democracy in Tibet has remained amongst the world's noblest causes.

It has also served as an inspiration for the perseverant struggle of repressed peoples throughout the world, including those who have (similarly) suffered for 51 years under Cuba's dictatorship.

Gershman wrote:

Now that the White House has announced that President Obama will receive the Dalai Lama, it is important that he be welcomed not only as a moral and religious leader respected throughout the world but also as a fellow democrat who shares America's deepest values.

This is not an aspect of the Dalai Lama that is well understood, especially by those who see him as the spiritual leader of a traditional people. Yet he is a devoted democrat who has defended the universality of the democratic idea against the "Asian values" argument of various autocrats and who has tried, even before he fled Tibet in 1959, to modernize Tibet's system of government [...]

President Obama should use the occasion of the Dalai Lama's visit to express America's strong support for him and what he represents: genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people and reconciliation with China, moral courage in the pursuit of justice, and the values of democracy and human liberty. It is not just for the Dalai Lama's sake that he should be welcomed in this manner but also for our own.

Venezuelan Hip Hop Targets Chavez

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Hip Hop music has undoubtedly become this generation's preeminent voice of protest.

We've seen it repeatedly in Castro's Cuba. And now, it has taken form in Chavez's Venezuela.

NK Profeta is a Venezuelan artist who initially supported Hugo Chavez, but has since become critical of his dictatorial power grab.

Here's NK's latest critique (in Spanish) entitled Mr. President:

2 Minutes to Defend Tyranny's Victims

From the Hudson Institute's Anne Bayefsky in the Jerusalem Post:

What a Spectacle

At the UN's Universal Periodic Review on Iran's human rights record, the US's Posner spoke for a grand total of 2 minutes.

The Obama administration revealed a major plank of its Iran plan this week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. While Iranian dissidents are dying on the streets, locked up in torture chambers or corralled into show trials, the president is desperate to seem to be doing something. What better venue for keeping up appearances than the UN? Hence, during a concoction called the "universal periodic review" (UPR), Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner gave a speech on Monday critical of various Iranian abominations – for a grand total of two minutes.

The UPR process is touted as the centerpiece of the operations of the Human Rights Council, the UN's lead human rights body created over Bush administration objections in 2006. Posner did not use the occasion on the world stage to mention by name the American citizens now being held hostage in Iran or to demand their immediate release.

The whole UPR spectacle is structured so as to focus on one country for three hours once every four years. The country under consideration is allotted one of those precious three hours. In Iran's case, the delegation, headed by Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of the High Council of Human Rights, used the UN-provided opportunity to spend over an hour regaling the world about its glorious human rights record. The delegation included two women wearing heavy chadors who were permitted to exalt women's rights in Iran, and a Christian brought in to applaud the situation of non-Muslims.

In addition, 54 states raced through their two-minute remarks, having time to do little else than line up pro and anti the regime's behavior. The regime's apologists had the last word – which was actually met by a round of applause.

Western states managed to list a few problems, like a criminal code which advocates stoning. On the other side, the likes of Sudan, China, Cuba, Syria and Zimbabwe spoke about Iran's commitment to democracy. NGOs were not allowed to speak.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Following this pattern of impunity, yesterday the Burmese junta sentenced four democracy activists to prison terms with hard labor on the same day a U.N. envoy arrived to assess progress on human rights in the country.

Migration Talks This Friday

According to the State Department:

On Friday, U.S. and Cuban representatives will meet in Havana to discuss implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. The discussions will focus on how best to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly will lead the U.S. delegation, which includes representatives of the agencies involved in managing migration issues.

A Military Dictatorship

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience of students at Carnegie Mellon University's campus in Qatar that "Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship."

Clinton later elaborated to the AP, "I'm not predicting what will happen but I think the trend with this greater and greater military lock on leadership decisions should be disturbing to Iranians as well as those of us on the outside."

In other words, that Iran's leadership will soon look like this:

Hopefully, they'll face the same recent fate as Uruguay's Juan Maria Bordaberry.

Learning From Experience

Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The New York Times ran an interesting article today on the limited success (and thus, reassessment) of the Obama Administration's policy of unconditional engagement with rogue regimes.

Here's an excerpt:

[A]dministration officials say, the biggest benefit of Mr. Obama's engagement policy now is not dialogue or understanding with adversaries, but simply a defusing of a worldwide view that the United States is part of the problem, a demonstration that the problem is Tehran's intransigence, not Washington's pique.

"What the president has achieved is that he has outed Iran," a senior administration official said Friday. He said Iran, by refusing to respond positively, had exposed itself as uninterested in a better relationship with the United States.

That is now the central point of the new White House outlook on engagement, and it extends, administration officials say, to Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba as well. Mr. Obama, for instance, was criticized for shaking hands with Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, at a summit meeting in Trinidad and Tobago last year, but White House officials say that gesture has helped with Latin American views of Mr. Chávez's anti-American rhetoric.

In the months ahead, administration officials hope they will benefit from a global perception that Mr. Obama has reached out to North Korea, Cuba and even Syria.

In the case of Cuba, progress has been slower. While Washington and Havana have had some talks on migration issues, and Cuba allowed American medical flights from Haiti to pass through Cuban airspace, there is no sign yet of any real thaw. But there, again, White House officials insist that at least Mr. Obama has not given Cuban leaders the opportunity to hold up the United States as a convenient target.

Geopolitical Pawns

What do these headline have in common?

Just last week,

In Burma, "Burma Court Jails U.S. Man for 3 Years."

And throughout last year,

In Iran, "American Hikers in Iran Accused of Espionage."

In Cuba, "Cuba Accuses Detained U.S. Contractor of Spying."

In North Korea, "North Korea 'Holds U.S. Reporters'"

Rogue regimes, or dictatorships, exert domestic power through the brutal manipulation and repression of their own populations.

In a similar manner, they seek to extract their anti-American, foreign policy agendas by taking hostages -- geopolitical pawns -- when timely and convenient.

These rogue regimes are not vacation destinations.

Cuba Invades Venezuela

Monday, February 15, 2010
According to Newsweek's Wealth of Nations blog:

Cuba Invades Venezuela

Cuba may be a fading star in the socialist firmament and run by a sclerotic dynasty, but don't tell Hugo Chávez. The Venezuelan president is giving the Castro franchise a second life by farming out more and more of his crisis-battered government to Havana.

A growing number of corner offices in Chávez's bureaucracy -- including defense, national security, police, immigration control, and now energy -- are occupied by Castrocrats. Ramiro Valdés, Fidel's former comrade in arms and an ex-interior minister, was recently picked to coordinate Venezuela's response to an energy emergency causing widespread blackouts. (Critics note that Cuba has long been afflicted by power failures.) Chávez's foes suspect that Valdés, famed for policing the Internet in Cuba, was hired to spy on Venezuelan dissidents.

Other Havanians are serving as key advisers in the Defense Ministry and the newly reformed Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, and dealing on Caracas's behalf with trade unions, coffee growers, and hospitals (apparently the final straw for the health minister, who quit on Feb. 10). Chávez argues that no one is better prepared to handle domestic crises than the Cubans. Most Venezuelans shudder for the same reason.

The Sanctions Inference

In a column on the retirement of U.S. Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the Miami Herald's Myriam Marquez encapsulates the framework of current U.S. sanctions towards Castro's Cuba in this manner:

"Led by Diaz-Balart -- probably the man Fidel Castro hates the most -- Congress codified the embargo into U.S. law so it's no longer simply a White House policy. Now Congress has to change the law to end the embargo. Or Cuba has to free all political prisoners; allow political parties, labor unions and a free press; and set a date for multiparty elections for a U.S. president to lift the embargo."
 
So here's the question:
 
If the U.S. Congress were to unilaterally and unconditionally lift sanctions, would it signal that the well-being of Cuba's political prisoners, the survival of its civil society and the future of democracy were secondary to the interests of a morally, politically and economically bankrupt dictatorship?
 
We're afraid it would.

Presidents Day Wisdom

"The power under the constitution will always be in the people. It is intrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and, whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can and undoubtedly will be recalled."

-- U.S. President George Washington, in letter to his nephew Bushrod Washington, November 10, 1787

A Pathetic Excuse

Sunday, February 14, 2010
The Economist's Democracy in America blog responds to the pathetic excuse by autocratic regimes that they block access to the internet because its content is skewed towards American cultural interests.

The obvious question then becomes -- why don't these regimes allow their citizens to freely create, post and distribute the local content they want?

Case and point made here:

Obviously, authoritarian regimes are using concerns over cultural autonomy as a smokescreen for asserting political control. But even this doesn't quite express how off-point [this argument is]. In fact, regimes like China and Iran (and Vietnam, and others) are not unduly worried about English-language content produced in America flooding their countries, because few of their citizens can read English. (It's not even the same alphabet. Cuba, admittedly, may be different.) What really worries such countries is politically independent material produced in local languages. Such countries often allow the English-language websites of, say, the BBC or Voice of America to be viewed unimpeded inside the country. It is the Mandarin-, Farsi-, and Vietnamese-language sites of such news organizations that are blocked.

True, much of the politically sensitive material produced in these languages comes from diaspora communities in America and Europe. But that is precisely because these regimes crack down so hard on locally-produced political content. It's convenient for China and others to claim that cultural anti-imperialism is the reason for their curbs on internet content. If that's true, they can prove it by allowing their own citizens to post whatever they want. Don't hold your breath.

In Support of Democracy

From Andres Oppenheimer's column in the Miami Herald:
 
Chile's new leader vows to speak out for democracy

Chile's president-elect Sebastian Piñera, the right-of-center billionaire who is scheduled to chair the 23-country Rio Group of Latin American nations, sounds like he will not be shy about pushing for the collective defense of democratic freedoms in Venezuela, Cuba and other autocratic countries.

In his first interview with a foreign journalist, Piñera told me that once he takes office on March 11, he will follow Chile's traditional foreign policy of noninterference in other countries affairs, and said his priority will be seeking closer ties with Argentina, Peru and Bolivia.

But when asked if he will be more vocal in speaking out for fundamental freedoms in Venezuela and Cuba, he responded with a resolute "Yes."

"Prudence is a virtue that presidents must practice, but so is frankness," Piñera said. "I believe that Cuba is not a democracy, and I also think that human rights are not respected in Cuba... That's why, as president of Chile, I aspire to do as much as I can to seek that the Organization of American States Charter and the OAS mandate to defend democracy and human rights be made more effective."

Piñera, a Harvard Ph.D in economics who opposed the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, noted the OAS Democratic Charter does not effectively allow member countries' legislative or judicial branches to seek regional support when under assault by autocratic leaders.