The Case Against Unilateral Concessions

Saturday, March 6, 2010
Thesis: Unilateral concessions are counter-productive.

On February 3rd, 2010, the BBC reported:

The US government has asked Syria to approve its nomination for a new ambassador in Damascus [...] The request marks a notable milestone in the re-establishment of official relations between the two countries.


On February 20th, the AP:

The United States has lifted an advisory that warned American travelers about security concerns in Syria, officials said Saturday, as Washington tries to thaw relations with the Syrians, who are seen as crucial to peace in the region. Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, welcomed the decision and said "both sides will start taking practical steps" to improve relations.


On February 24th, the AFP:

The US asked that Syria distance itself from Iran, claiming that the tight relations between the two countries causes problems in the entire region [...] Clinton called on Syria to "begin to move away from the relationship with Iran" and to stop backing Hezbollah.

On February 26th, The Washington Post:

The presidents of Iran and Syria on Thursday ridiculed U.S. policy in the region and pledged to create a Middle East "without Zionists," combining a slap at recent U.S. overtures and a threat to Israel with an endorsement of one of the region's defining alliances [...] But Assad and Ahmadinejad on Thursday emphasized that their countries' relationship had deepened with the signing of an agreement waiving visa restrictions for travel.

And on February 27th, Iran's Tehran Times boasted:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah held a meeting in Damascus on Thursday to discuss regional issues.

Case and point.

Cartoon of the Week

From the cartoonist (in Spanish): "Forgive me, I cannot make jokes, nor laugh, today. They have killed a good man."

He Could Die at Any Time

Friday, March 5, 2010
From Radio Netherlands Worldwide:

Today is the tenth day of Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas' hunger strike. As he is refusing to drink, he could die at any time. He is determined to do so. "Everything that happens to me is the responsibility of the Cuban government," he says from his deathbed.

The 48-year-old journalist and dissident hopes his death will be bring more embarrassment on the Cuban government. Wouldn't he be more useful alive?

"I do think about that, but then I remember a line from the Cuban national anthem: To die for your fatherland is to live."

Intensive care

Mr. Fariñas has just returned from hospital, where his family took him after he went into a coma. He was put on a drip and regained consciousness. But he did not receive further treatment, he says on the telephone:

"The hospital manager Derby Jimenes Serrano told my mother and my wife that the hospital serves the revolutionary citizens who support the revolution. And that it is not for counter-revolutionaries who want to disrupt the country and that they would keep me on the ward for a while but then they would send me back home."

Political prisoners

Last week, political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after 86 days on hunger strike in prison. Four other political prisoners went on hunger strike last weekend, but have since stopped. Guillermo Fariñas has not. His mother, his wife and his colleagues beg him daily to end his hunger strike, because it will kill him. His life has been saved by the hospital drip, but his doctor believes his condition could become critical again after the weekend.

Guillermo Fariñas says he is just as motivated now as when he began and says he will carry on because his demand is a legitimate one: freedom for all political prisoners who are ill and who doctors have recommended for release because their lives are in danger in Cuban prisons.

"First degree murder"

Mr. Fariñas is unable to accept "the deliberate murder of Orlando Zapata Tamayo." "The government should be called to account for this murder in the first degree because that is what it is." He stressed that it is up to the Cuban leaders to make the next move. He has not asked them to hand over power or dissolve the communist party. He is just asking them to follow the recommendations of the Interior Ministry's own doctors, who have asked for the release of 26 political prisoners in poor physical condition.

International community

According to Mr. Fariñas the international community is very important to Cuba, because the country is deeply in debt and the economy is very weak. Governments could put huge pressure on the Cuban government, so that the 26 political prisoners, "who are only waiting for a signature," are released.

But the government is not prepared to make a gesture.

"Since 1959 they have been used to killing people, just killing people. And if you don't want to die you have to leave the country, because this country is their property. And I am not prepared to leave my country. I have never wanted to and that is why they have to let me die here."

Travel Bill Passed Congress

Bet that caught your attention.

A bipartisan travel bill that truly supports the U.S. economy passed the U.S. Congress last week and was signed into law yesterday by President Obama.

It is the 2009 Travel Promotion Act -- aimed at boosting foreign tourism to the U.S. It will create a national tourism promotion organization, which is estimated to attract 1.6 million new visitors and $4 billion in new spending (over a period of 10 years).

Unfortunately, there are Members of Congress that now want to offset this potential economic gain (or worse yet, add to the current deficit) by sending 2 million American tourists to Cuba, while in the process doubling the Castro dictatorship's GDP (in the first year alone).

But that's a whole other debate.

According to The Hill:

Congress gives U.S. travel industry a win

The U.S. travel industry scored a major victory when the Senate passed legislation that could direct hundreds of millions annually to attract foreign visitors.

The legislation overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Thursday, 78-18. It was approved in the House last fall and now heads to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature [...]

The legislation creates a nonprofit corporation with the mission of attracting more foreign visitors to the United States through ad
campaigns and assisting tourists with travel problems. It will be funded with $100 million in contributions from the private sector every year as well as a $10 entry fee for foreign travelers from 35 countries, mostly from Europe, in the visa waiver program that will bring in an estimated revenue of another $100 million per year.

Travel groups see the new corporation as key in providing a tourism boost to the United States. While travel to America has begun to lag behind the rest of the world, the bill should help attract 1.6 million additional visitors and $4 billion in new consumer spending annually, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

Zapata Dies, Fidel Trembles

On September 15, 1981, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro gave the opening speech at the 68th conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which was held in Havana.

In his remarks, Castro marveled over the hunger strikes being undertaken at the time by Irish Republican militants in Northern Ireland:

"In speaking of international politics, we cannot ignore what is happening in Northern Ireland. I feel it is my duty to refer to this problem. In my opinion, Irish patriots are writing one of the most heroic chapters in human history.

They have earned the respect and admiration of the world, and likewise they deserve its support. Ten of them have already died in the most moving gesture of sacrifice, selflessness and courage one could ever imagine.

Humanity should feel ashamed that this terrible crime is being committed before its very eyes. These young fighters do not ask for independence or make impossible demands to put an end to their strike.

They ask only for something as simple as the recognition of what they actually are: political prisoners [...]

According to legend, in its early days, Rome was once besieged. Two young Roman soldiers had been taken prisoner. When, in an attempt at breaking them, the besiegers threatened to burn them alive, they spontaneously put their hands in the flames to show their contempt. It is said that their gestures impressed the enemy so much that the siege of Rome was lifted.

Most tyrants tremble before men who are capable of dying for their ideals, after 60 days on hunger strike! What were Christ's three days on Calvary, an age-old symbol of human sacrifice, compared to their example?

It is high time for the world community to put an end to this repulsive atrocity through denunciation and pressure.
"

Mr. Castro, meet Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

They Will Never be Forgotten

Thursday, March 4, 2010
By columnist Guillermo Martinez in the South Florida Sun Sentinel:

Cuban prisoner's death draws attention to abuses by Castro's regime

The death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, 42, on Feb. 23 after a hunger strike of more than 80 days was publicized all around the world. It has created serious political repercussions for the Cuban government in the United States and in Europe.

Zapata Tamayo was not a violent man, nor one who preached violence against the regime. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience after his arrest in 2003. He was sentenced to three years in jail on charges of contempt, disrespect and public disorder.Once in prison, he repeatedly protested against the violence of his guards, not to mention his protest against his unjust incarceration, and his sentence was increased by 25 years.

Zapata Tamayo was not the first Cuban political prisoner to be criminally denied medical attention during a hunger strike, nor will he be the last to die in Cuba's dungeons.

The list of those who have died while on hunger strikes in Cuban prisons surprised me. Information on these deaths is a closely guarded secret in Cuba. Details were difficult to verify. But now, thanks to an organization in New Jersey, CubaArchive.org, verifiable and trustworthy information is available.

All the names and details in this column come from CubaArchive.org.

I knew of the death of Pedro Luis Boitel at 34 on May 25, 1972. Boitel, a leader in the fight against the Fulgencio Batista regime, was arrested by Castro's repressive internal security forces and sentenced to 10 years in jail. There he was tortured and beaten repeatedly by the guards. They also added years to his sentence. He died after 12 years in jail, the last 53 days on a hunger strike. Even while dying, he was mistreated by his guards.

I did not know the names of others who had suffered similar fates: Roberto López Chávez, Luis Alvarez Ríos, Olegario Charlot Spileta, Enrique Garcia Cuevas, Reinaldo Cordero Izquierdo, José Barrios Pedré, Santiago Roche Valle and Nicolás González Regueiro. CubaArchive.org provides details of their lives and how they died.

These men have not died in vain. They live in the hearts of all of us who someday wish to see a free and democratic Cuba.

The Eagle Has Landed

Cuban punk rocker Gorki Aguila, lead singer of the band Porno Para Ricardo, is now back in Cuba.

He was harassed by Cuban state security at the airport, but is currently safe.

Can't wait for their next album!

Media Group Holds Castro Responsible

CPJ holds Cuba responsible for welfare of jailed journalists

New York — A week after the death of jailed Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a journalist on a hunger strike is seriously ill while health conditions of imprisoned reporters remain dire. As the seventh anniversary of the massive crackdown on dissidents approaches on March 18, the Committee to Protect Journalists renews its call for the Cuban government to immediately and unconditionally release all jailed journalists.

Zapata Tamayo, a dissident jailed in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years on charges of disrespecting authority, died at a Havana hospital on February 23 after refusing food since December to protest prison conditions, the press reported.

Zapata's death, which sparked condemnation from the international community and an unusual statement of regret from President Raúl Castro, highlighted the terrible conditions of Cuban jails and the inhumane treatment of imprisoned dissidents. It also prompted strong reactions from dissidents on the island.

"We urge President Castro to ensure the proper care of all journalists currently incarcerated," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ Americas program senior coordinator. "We hold the Cuban government responsible for the health and welfare of those imprisoned."

Guillermo Fariñas, 48, a Cuban journalist and political activist in the city of Santa Clara, has been on a hunger strike since February 24 to protest Zapata's death and demand the release of more than 20 jailed dissidents -- including several reporters -- suffering serious ailments, his colleague Licet Zamora told CPJ in a telephone interview. He was rushed to a hospital on Wednesday after his condition deteriorated, according to The Associated Press, but was later released.

Fariñas, who almost died in 2006 after an extended hunger strike to protest restrictions on Internet access, hasn't had food or water for a week and was showing symptoms of dehydration, hypoglycemia, and low blood pressure, Zamora said on Monday.

Jailed journalists Pedro Argüelles Morán and Adolfo Fernandez Sainz also reacted to Zapata's death and fasted for three days, Laura Pollán, a leading human rights activist told CPJ.

Pollán, wife of jailed independent journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez -- a 2008 CPJ awardee -- told CPJ that jailed journalists Pedro Argüelles Morán, José Luis García Paneque, Alfredo Pulido López, Adolfo Fernández Saínz, Normando Hernández González, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández, and Fabio Prieto Llorente continue to suffer serious illnesses while receiving inadequate attention.

CPJ research shows that that the health of Cuban journalists has seriously deteriorated amid poor prison conditions and insufficient health care.

Relatives and friends described health problems ranging from diabetes and a tumor to pneumonia and cataracts. In some cases, they say, the journalists have received little medical attention. They say poor and unsanitary prison conditions have exacerbated the medical problems. Pre-existing ailments have worsened in prison, while a host of serious new illnesses have arisen among those jailed.

Cuba continues to be one of the worlds's leading jailers of journalists—behind only Iran and China—with 22 independent journalists currently imprisoned. Twenty of these journalists were jailed during the March 2003 crackdown, known as the Black Spring. After perfunctory, closed-door trials, the journalists were handed prison sentences of up to 28 years in prison on antistate charges stemming from their reporting. The journalists had worked for independent news agencies, filing stories by phone and fax to overseas news outlets and Web sites.

"Journalists in Cuba have paid a huge price solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression," said Lauría.

"Seven years is enough; these sentences are cruel and vindictive. We call on President Castro to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists and grant freedom of expression and information to all Cuban citizens."

Truth About the "Travel Ban"

In today's Miami Herald:

Truth About the "Travel Ban"

BY MAURICIO CLAVER-CARONE

Every day there seems to be a new effort to lift U.S. sanctions toward Cuba, in particular the "travel ban.'' The latest is a bill by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Colin Peterson, of Minnesota, and U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, of Kansas, supposedly aimed at increasing agricultural sales to the Castro regime. But its most dramatic provision would end the "travel ban.''

Tragically, the Peterson-Moran bill was introduced on the same day that 42-year-old Cuban pro-democracy leader and Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience'' Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after an almost three-months'-long hunger strike protesting the brutal beatings, abuses and prison conditions he endured. While supporters of loosening the travel ban make bold predictions and philosophical arguments, few stick to the facts. Consider:

• There is no ban on travel to Cuba -- only a ban on taking an exotic vacation there. The Department of Treasury's responsibility, under the trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA), is to prohibit or regulate commercial "transactions'' related to travel, not travel per se.

Travel to Cuba is authorized for a variety of reasons, ranging from academic, religious and family visits to visits in support of civil society. Tens of thousands of Americans legally travel to Cuba for these purposes every year.

• Tourism is the main source of income for the Castro regime. Cuba's tourism industry is operated and owned by the Cuban military, the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR).

A November-December 2009 article in the U.S. Army's Military Review magazine titled, Revolutionary management, makes the point that Cuba's "Revolutionary Armed Forces transformed itself to one of the most entrepreneurial, corporate conglomerates in the Americas.''

Cuba is one of the world's last remaining totalitarian, command-control economies, alongside North Korea.

Just as the U.S. Congress recently approved sanctions on Iran's petroleum-refining capability, which is that country's foremost source of income, the United States has long imposed sanctions against tourism transactions in Cuba to prevent an exponential increase in funds for the Castro regime's repressive machinery.

Last November's military exercises by the MINFAR in Cuba were financed by the hard currency of Canadian and European tourists. The real purpose of those exercises wasn't, as the Cuban government stated, to prepare against an "ever-looming'' U.S. invasion, but, rather, to remind Cubans of the government's ability to crush its domestic opponents.

It would be much more forthright to label legislation to lift restrictions on tourism to Cuba as the Cuban Armed Forces Stimulus Act.

• We constantly hear the argument that tourism transactions are permitted with other state-sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran, Sudan and Syria, so why not with Cuba? While undoubtedly rich in culture, Tehran, Khartoum and Damascus are not appealing tourism destinations or easily accessible to Americans.

Cuba, with its sunny beaches and proximity, is an appealing vacation destination for American tourists, but so, too, are many other Caribbean islands with democratic governments. Last year, more U.S. tourists visited Jamaica than the African continent or the Middle East. Should U.S. policy beggar friendly democratic neighbors to court an unfriendly repressive neighbor?

• Current U.S. policy toward Cuba has not failed. In order to label a policy as a failure, there needs to be evidence of the success, or likely success, of alternatives.

The fact is that almost two decades of Canadian and European tourism to Cuba has not eased the Castro regime's repression, improved its respect for basic human rights or helped Cuba's civil society gain any democratic space. Even supporters of lifting tourism sanctions concede this. At a CATO Institute forum in December, U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, of Arizona, recognized that "there are no guarantees that this will bring democracy to Cuba.''

What lifting restrictions on tourist travel will guarantee is that the Cuban military will double its income. To spend on what? Guns to rein in civil dissent? Technology to further censor Cubans' access to the Internet? Intelligence assets to support anti-American activities?

The question to be answered by Peterson, Moran, Flake and other supporters of lifting sanctions is: Do they trust the Cuban military with an exponential rise in income?

The answer leads to only one fact, with real consequences:

For Cubans, the consequence of lifting restrictions on U.S. tourism is more repression; for the United States, it's having financed that repression.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and editor of CapitolHillCubans.com.

Please Take a Moment

To read the following tragic account from the blog of Ivan Garcia, an independent journalist who lives and writes from Havana:

Farinas, Ready to Die, Like Zapata

In the poor, out-of-the-way neighborhood of La Chirusa, in the city of Santa Clara of Villa Clara Province, about 185 miles east of Havana, Guillermo Farinas Hernandez, 48 years of age, is quite a character.

When a stranger, asking for directions, asks where Guillermo Farinas lives, all of the neighbors widen their eyes and don't know who you are talking about. But if you ask about "Coco"- the nickname by which he is known - then people smile and say "Coco lives in number 615, he's into human rights, he's a ballsy guy, give him my regards," one of his neighbors says with the straightforward language that is common among humble people.

To get to the small, cramped house of Farinas you have to walk through a maze of passageways where the sewage runs freely. Guillermo Farinas lives in an early 20th century house, with his wife, 8-year-old daughter, and a niece. In a ten-foot-square living room, Farinas is seated in a chair against the wall, facing the front door, wrapped up in a flowered blanket.

About 15 people, relatives and dissidents, chat with him about various issues. Some become emotional and break into silent weeping. "That affects me even more, please, you've got to be strong", says "Coco" without any solemnity.

Farinas must have some sort of unofficial world record when it comes to hunger strikes. The one he started on Friday, February 26 is his 23rd. And it is taking a toll on his body.

Like many dissidents, 'Coco' Farinas used to believe in Fidel Castro's revolution. He risked his hide fighting in the isolated villages of Angola during the 1980s civil war in that African country. He was a member of Castro's elite troops, but in 1989 when General Arnaldo Ochoa was shot, accused of drug trafficking, Farinas began to have second thoughts and unanswered questions.

He has a degree in psychology, and better than anyone else in Cuba, he knows the methods of the political police for breaking those who dissent. Since 1997 this big-eyed mestizo has been one of the heavyweight dissidents on the island.

He writes as a freelance journalist, and an independent library is located in his house. During the strike, many neighbors come by and talk cheerfully with Farinas, giving him encouragement or begging him to stop. To everyone he delivers a speech, without slogans and in everyday language, giving his reasons for continuing the hunger strike. The main reason for this latest and perhaps final hunger strike: the death of the dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23rd.

"I knew him in 1991, when Zapata was a construction worker in a contingent, and was also a member of the Union of Young Communists, something that the government journalists are silent about now that they criticize him. Zapata was part of the rapid response brigades that the government counted on to repress the opposition, but after long talks with the dissidents he began to see that he was wrong. The official media don't want to talk about any of this. I'm also convinced that the death of Zapata was a state crime, an assassination."

The dissident of the Chirusa neighborhood in the city of Santa Clara adds other arguments for continuing his hunger strike to the very end. In a letter sent on February 26 to Raul Castro, he urges him to demonstrate to the world and to his people that his lament to the foreign media was honest, and asks him to release the 200 political prisoners now held in various Cuban jails.

"I am a firm believer that when the government sees that the result of the hunger strikes is dissidents dying like flies, they will sit down and negotiate. These strikes are our weapons of pressure, we have nothing else."

He also asks the Spanish leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to firmly press the Havana regime to introduce political changes. He even believes that His Majesty the King of Spain Juan Carlos I, should comment on the fateful death of Zapata Tamayo.

Farinas receives medical attention every 4 hours. He believes that he will be admitted to the provincial hospital of Villa Clara Arnaldo Milian to receive parenteral alimentation. His lips are dry, as he is not drinking water. His appearance is frightening. Juan Juan Almeida, son of the comandante friend of the Castros, who fought with them in the Sierra Maestra, left Coco's house greatly saddened last Saturday.

In a text message Juan Juan sent to his friends, he said:

"The dissident of the barrio La Chirusa, professed admirer of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, figures beyond right and wrong, believes this is the way to turn the state around and to dream of democracy. 'If I must sacrifice my life to achieve political change, then count on my life,' the Cuban champion of hunger strikes states quietly. This is number 23 and his neighbors and friends suspect this will be the last."

Translated by Gracie Christie (In Solidarity)

Orlando's Death Has Many Culprits

Wednesday, March 3, 2010
By syndicated columnist Miguel Perez:

A Cuban political prisoner starved himself to death last week to protest against the human rights violations of the Castro communist dictatorship, but don't expect the kind of world outrage and condemnation that would have followed if this tragedy had occurred anywhere else.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, 42 — recognized by Amnesty International as a "prisoner of conscience" — was a black man. But don't count on African-American leaders to condemn the Cuban apartheid. Don't count on black world leaders, either, not even Nelson Mandela. After all, from their perspective, challenging the world's anti-American despots is simply not politically correct.

When it comes to Cuba and the atrocities of the Castro brothers, many world leaders are willing to overlook all kinds of cruelty. Propelled by unscrupulous business interests or simply an envy-triggered need to defy the United States, these so-called "progressives" are willing to accept — for the Cuban people — human and civil rights violations they never would tolerate on their own soil.

Their hypocrisy is repulsive.

Zapata went on a hunger strike Dec. 3 to protest against the beatings and other abuses committed by his guards in Cuba's Kilo 7 gulag, where prisoners languish for years for the mere crime of opposing the government.

Arrested in 2003 as part of a government crackdown that sent 75 prominent dissidents to prison, Zapata was charged with "disobedience" and initially sentenced to three years in prison. Yet Feb. 23, when he died after refusing solid food for weeks, he was facing some 30 more years behind bars. That's because his sentence had been extended for more acts of "disobedience" — such as refusing to wear prison garb — while he was incarcerated.

When Cuban dissidents are detained, there is really no way of telling how long the government will keep them behind bars. Sentences are really indefinite. And that's because these Cuban martyrs usually continue their daring activism once they are behind bars. Having no other way to protest, they constantly are going on hunger strikes and refusing to wear the uniforms of common prisoners, thus earning the respect of those who follow their Gandhi-like courage to defy the government.

Under its single-party communist system, the Cuban government doesn't tolerate political opposition. Despite all the evidence gathered by international human rights organizations, the government actually claims it has no political prisoners, because dissidents are considered either common criminals or paid agents of the U.S. government.

In Zapata's case, both of those arguments were made in Cuba's government-controlled news media last week. According to Granma, the Communist Party's daily newspaper, "forces of the counterrevolution" are making a martyr out of Zapata when he was actually a common criminal.

Yet seeing as it is obvious that the Cuban government could have prevented Zapata's death, perhaps the common criminals are those running the Cuban government.

When Raul took over the reins of Cuban power from his brother Fidel, there was widespread speculation that the younger Castro would be much more pragmatic and willing to ease the repressive grip his brother has had on the island for 50 years.

Yet despite U.S. overtures, according to Human Rights Watch, Raul has turned out to be as good a tyrant as his brother, proving what skeptics always predicted: The Castro brothers will resist any change that would undermine their totalitarian authority.

Under Raul, according to Human Rights Watch, "dissidents who try to express their views are often beaten, arbitrarily arrested, and subjected to public acts of repudiation."

Yet their sacrifices are shamefully ignored by apolitical tourists, unscrupulous business tycoons, Hollywood celebrities and U.S. legislators who visit Havana wearing horse blinders and refuse to see the plight of the Cuban people.


Zapata was already in a Cuban prison, considered among the world's worst, when a delegation of mostly Congressional Black Caucus members went to Havana last year, made no effort to meet with imprisoned dissidents and embraced government officials who have blood on their hands. The release of dissidents like Zapata was not something they felt should be a precondition for the United States to re-establish diplomatic relations with the world's oldest dictatorship.

Zapata already was languishing in prison when Colombian pop singer Juanes and a few other useful fools went to Havana last summer to perform in a concert that gave legitimacy to a murderous regime. Zapata's health already was deteriorating as the Obama administration kept making unreciprocated overtures to the Castro tyrants in recent weeks.

Amazingly, Zapata died on the same day that legislation to ease the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba was being proposed in Congress. The bill would end the ban on U.S. travel to the island and make it easier for the Castro regime to buy food from the United States. But it would do nothing to stop Castro's henchmen from continuing to trample over the Cuban people.

When word of Zapata's death began to spread throughout the island last week, the government cranked up its repression machine to squelch possible protests immediately. Authorities reportedly began a new round of dissident detentions, which is standard operating procedure for the most repressive regime in the Western Hemisphere. And when Zapata was buried, access to his hometown of Banes, in Cuba's eastern Holguin province, was limited to prevent a huge funeral.

Nevertheless, five other dissidents, including four currently in prison, reportedly have begun new hunger strikes in a new effort to pressure the regime to release political prisoners.

In the meantime, in Washington, instead of seeking similarly courageous methods to pressure the Cuban regime to act a little more humanely, political observers are worried that Zapata's death represents a setback to U.S.-Cuba relations! Some of them actually look at it from the Cuban perspective, asking whether now it will be possible for Cuba to pressure the United States to lift the embargo. It's nauseating!

The Cuban government allows a dissident to die in a peaceful protest and submits hundreds of others to beatings, humiliation and unjust incarceration, yet there are people still looking for ways to appease the Castro regime.

Count them: The Cuban government; U.S. legislators who, when they go on their Havana junkets, keep embracing Cuban tyrants; the performers who go there and ignore the plight of the dissidents; the tourists who stay in apartheid resorts so they don't have to see the suffering of the Cuban people; the world leaders who befriend the Castro brothers only to defy the United States; the members of the Obama administration who keep making unreciprocated overtures to a regime that deserves only condemnation — in my book, they are all responsible for Zapata's death.

© 2009 Creators Syndicate.

Cuba Policy in the Finance Committee

During a hearing on the Obama Administration's trade policy in the Senate Finance Committee with the U.S. Trade Representative, Amb. Ron Kirk, the issue of agricultural sales to Cuba was raised by U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

That prompted U.S. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey to respond:



It also prompted U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida to respond. Senator Nelson's remarks can be seen here at the 128:20 mark. Senator Lincoln's original comment is at the 100:00 mark.

Americans Support U.S. Policy Towards Cuba

According to a BBC World News America/Harris Poll of 2,050 adults surveyed between January 13 and 15, 2010 by Harris Interactive:

More than two in five U.S. adults (44%) believe it is too soon for normal relations to be restored with Cuba while 38% disagree with that idea.

Furthermore, two in five (40%) say the embargo towards Cuba should remain in effect and 36% say it should not remain in effect any longer.

When he took office, President Obama said he was going to make overtures to Cuba and attempt to better relations between the two countries. So far he has lifted travel restrictions for Cuban Americans to visit the island. Three in ten Americans (29%) say this is not enough of an overture while 35% believe it is enough and 10% say it is too much.

In other words, 45% believe that President Obama has done enough or too much to engage Cuba, while only 29% believe he should engage further.

Please note, this was a national poll of all Americans, not just Cuban-Americans.

The High Stakes of Freedom's Struggle

Spain's El Pais newspaper published a heart-wrenching interview with Cuban independent journalist, pro-democracy leader and current hunger striker, Guillermo Farinas.

Here's an English translation:

Q. What, concretely, is your petition?

A. That the government releases 26 political prisoners that are very ill. The Ministry of the Interior's own medical services agree that they should be released, as they can't survive in prison.

Q. And if they are not released?

A. I will see this through its final consequences.

Q. Do you want to die?

A. (Silence)... Yes, I want to die. It's time that the world woke up to the cruelty of this government. There is a time in the history of nations when martyrs are needed.

Q. Do you consciously want to become a martyr?

A. Even the psychologists in the Ministry of the Interior say that it's part of my profile: I have a higher calling... Orlando Zapata was the first link in the intensification of this struggle for a free Cuba. I simply grabbed the baton he handed over, and when I die, someone else will take it.

Our thanks to Penultimos Dias.

Now That's Punk

Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Cuban punk rocker planning to return to Cuba

MEXICO CITY (AP) - A Cuban punk rocker known for raunchy lyrics criticizing Fidel Castro says he will try to return to the island after an 11-month absence, but fears the communist government may not let him in.

Gorki Aguila of the group Porno for Ricardo says he wants to see his 13-year-old daughter and his friends in Cuba. The 41-year-old Aguila says he will take a flight from Mexico City to Cuba on Wednesday.

During an interview Monday, he wore a T-shirt printed with the words "Che Guevara International Murderer Oppressor of the Cuban People."

More on the "Enslavement" Suit

According to Courthouse News:

Docs Say Cuba & Venezuela 'Enslaved' Them

Seven Cuban doctors and a nurse say their government conspired with Venezuela and its state-owned oil company to hold them in a "modern form of slavery," as Cuba barters their services for cheap Venezuelan oil. The doctors and nurse say they were put into "servitude for debt," with their work used to "to discount ... the commercial debt ... of the subsidized oil supplies provided by Venezuela to Cuba."

The doctors say that faced with precarious conditions and material needs in Cuba, they were deceived and threatened by Cuban authorities and taken by force to work in violent places in Venezuela, including the jungle and the frontier with Colombia.
 

The plaintiffs are a part of a mission called "Barrio Adentro." They say they are held in captivity in crowded lodgings or in houses with families affiliated with the Venezuelan regime. They say they are under strict control, surveillance, and threats by "slave hunters": Venezuelan security officials.

The plaintiffs say they work under an agreement between the two governments, through Petroleos de Venezuela.
 
The "Convenio Integral de Cooperacion" allows forced labor by doctors in exchange for 100,000 barrels of oil a day, according to the complaint.

The doctors point out that Petroleos de Venezuela's U.S. subsidiary, CITGO, sells and refines more than $5 billion a year in oil products.

The plaintiffs say they are "living illegally as prisoners" and work without licenses to practice in Venezuela. If they protest, they are returned to Cuba and suffer severe and permanent consequences, they say.
    
The plaintiffs say they "escaped their bondage n Venezuela, survived a harrowing adventure, and made their way to the United States," and live in Florida. They say they cannot get justice in Cuba or Venezuela, so they sued in Miami.

They demand punitive damages for RICO conspiracy, negligence, false imprisonment and emotional distress.

From Political Prisoner to President

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended the inauguration of Uruguayan President Jose Mujica.

Mujica is a former member of a guerrilla group who spent 14 years in prison and was released in 1985 when democracy was restored to Uruguay after a 17-year dictatorship.

No wonder the Castro regime was so afraid of Orlando Zapata Tamayo -- and there are hundreds, if not thousands, more.

Note that Mujica was part of a group that advocated armed insurrection, as was originally Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

In contrast, Zapata advocated for peaceful democratic change, following the approach of Lech Walesa in Poland and Vaclav Havel in the former Czechoslovakia.

Regardless, the lesson and narrative is clear:

Those looking to normalize relations with the Cuban dictatorship are on the wrong side of history.


Canada's Must-Read Editorial

From the Editorial Board of Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper:

Canadians vacationing in Cuba may be too busy sipping mojitos and frolicking in the ocean to consider last week's tragic death of a Cuban political prisoner. But it is a powerful reminder of the island's repressive underbelly, and illustrates the Cuban government's continued and blatant disregard for human rights and civil liberties.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a 42-year-old carpenter and plumber, stopped eating Dec. 3 to protest the conditions of his detention, and died in a hospital in Havana last Tuesday. He is the first political prisoner to starve himself to death since 1972, when Pedro Luis Boitel, a student leader and poet, suffered the same fatal end.

Mr. Zapata was detained in a 2003 crackdown known as "Black Spring", alongside 75 other opposition activists, who advocate peaceful political change but are seen by the Cuban government as U.S. mercenaries. He was initially jailed for three years for "disrespecting authority"; however, this sentence was increased to 25 years in subsequent trials, after he was charged with disobedience and disorder in a penal establishment.

Amnesty International called Mr. Zapata's death a "terrible illustration of the despair facing prisoners of conscience who see no hope of being freed from their unfair and prolonged incarceration." The human rights group called for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience, and said a full investigation must be carried out to establish whether ill treatment played a role in the case of Mr. Zapata.

Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, and officials from the European Union also condemned Mr. Zapata's death, with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero calling for the release of all political prisoners. Reina Luisa Tamayo accused the Cuban government of murdering her son.

Raul Castro, the Cuban president, took the unusual step of expressing public regret for Mr. Zapata's death. But he used the occasion not to announce a political opening, but to deny that the deceased was mistreated and to attack the U.S. The only torture taking place on the island, Mr. Castro said, is at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, where terror suspects are held.

It is clear that he does not intend to heed the international demand to free all dissidents, or to permit peaceful opposition voices in this country of 11 million.

In fact, Mr. Zapata's death provoked another act of repression, with dozens of his supporters locked up last week to prevent them from attending his funeral in Banes, his home town in the east.

Cuba's opposition believes, however, that the tragedy will galvanize resistance against the government. "I think there is going to be a 'before' and an 'after' in the murder of Tamayo," said Marta Beatriz Roque, a Havana dissident also jailed in 2003 and later released for health reasons.

Historically, the Cuban dissident movement has been weak and fraught with internal conflict. Government control of all media - and the limited access Cubans have to the Internet -has made it difficult for opposition groups to mobilize.

But the movement may find strength and unity from Mr. Zapata's decision to starve himself to death. On Friday, five dissidents, four behind bars, announced they had begun hunger strikes aimed at forcing the government to free all political prisoners. Mr. Zapata was a poor, black man from the countryside - the very sector of society the Cuban Revolution was supposed to help.

As Canadians book their all-inclusive Varadero getaways this March break they would do well to remember that for many, Cuba is no island paradise.

New Hunger Striker in Danger

Concern Over Health of Another Cuban Hunger Striker

HAVANA (EFE) – The health of Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who has been on a hunger strike for five days calling for the release of the country's roughly 200 political prisoners, is worsening and he is showing signs of acute dehydration, his mother said Monday.

"He has symptoms of dehydration, headaches and joint pain," Alicia Hernandez, a nurse by profession, told Efe regarding her son's condition. "He is low in spirits, but he has not lost consciousness nor is he incoherent."

Hernandez spoke with Efe by telephone from the city of Santa Clara, 270 kilometers (167 miles) east of Havana, and said that "every day" she insisted to her son that he stop his fast, but Fariñas, 48, is determined to continue the protest and does not even want to go to the hospital to be examined.

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the unofficial Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Elizardo Sanchez, said that he is afraid Fariñas will suffer an "organic collapse" as early as Monday, given that he has not eaten or drunk anything during the time he has been on the hunger strike.

The dissident's mother said that her son's constitution has been undermined by previous hunger strikes and that now, as on earlier occasions, she will take him to the hospital as soon as he loses consciousness.

Fariñas has undertaken 23 hunger strikes since 1995, the longest of which lasted six months in 2006, when he spent periods of time in the hospital, where he was fed intravenously, and he has engaged in them to demand unrestricted access to the Internet for all Cubans, a demand that remains unmet on the communist-ruled island.

Last Thursday, the dissident sent to President Raul Castro, who formally succeeded ailing older brother Fidel two years ago, a letter in which he asked him to prove to the world that he is not "cruel and inhumane."

Fariñas, a psychologist and independent journalist, told Efe last Friday that he decided to stop eating after being detained and beaten by police en route to the cemetery in the eastern town of Banes for the funeral of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who died last week after an 85-day hunger strike.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 17

Monday, March 1, 2010
From The Miami Herald:

The death of a Cuban political prisoner and the prolonged jailing of a U.S. citizen in Havana appear to have cast a dark cloud over U.S. and Spanish government efforts to engage Raúl Castro's government [...]

Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the pro-embargo U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee, said the Zapata case will "make it very difficult for those who want to engage unconditionally with the Cuban regime."

While many Americans supported Obama's campaign pledge to reach out to Iran, he added, they were outraged when the Tehran government cracked down violently on massive street protests following allegedly fraudulent elections last year. "Americans will always support the underdog," Claver-Carone said.

"And what Zapata did, in a very tragic way, was to put it in their faces that there's an underdog in Cuba... More and more the message today is that there is an opposition in Cuba that is viable... and that is a huge impact."

Who Killed Orlando Zapata?

English translation of Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez's moving editorial in Spain's El Pais newspaper:

The body loses its flesh, the mind goes, the lower limbs begin to distend. A hunger strike causes life to slip away slowly, until the moment that one can no longer make out the face of one's mother seated at the side of the bed and the light coming through window gradually extinguishes itself. Over a period of 86 days Orlando Zapata Tamayo crossed over from desperation to death. Life slipped away from him with a strength of will that has left all his friends in a state of shock and his enemies deeply irritated. Accustomed to do with his body as they wish -- usually in some rickety cell -- Zapata, at the age of 42, negotiated the escape through the one route they could not control: his death.

Following a trial conducted at dizzying speed in March, 2003, Zapata Tamayo was sentenced to the kind of special punishment -- now known as the Black Spring -- that the government of Cuba chose to deal out to opponents. He was the founder of a political party, the Republican Alternative, and an activist in the campaign to free some of his fellow militants. After his own incarceration he was tried and sentenced to 56 years in prison. A supposedly magnanimous gesture subsequently reduced the sentence to 25 years. The whole business resembled more a courts-martial than a civilian trial. After that he had to face isolation in a windowless cell, mistreatment by various jailors, and loss of the illusion that a sentence involving less than the death penalty means that the authorities respect one's right to life.

With the cancellation of the planned visit of the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Torture, many of us have abandoned the hope of being protected from mistreatment as prisoners in Cuba. Taking advantage of its impunity, the guards put Orlando in a tiny cell which he had to share with rats and cockroaches. They shouted insults at him through a tiny iron opening, assuring him that he would never leave alive, as incarcerated as the insects with which he was forced to share his rice.

He refused to wear his prison garb, which brought him physical abuse and the reduction in the number of visits he could receive from his family. When they finally opened the place where he was buried alive, the damage to his body was already irreversible, and his blood splashed over all those in authority, right up to the President of the Cuban Republic.

What killed Zapata Tamayo was not a hunger strike, but the dark forces that shut him up in a hole and the director of the Kilo 8 prison in Camagüey who ordered his additional punishment. His death was also caused by the latex-gloved functionaries who preferred to keep their jobs at the prison hospital rather than to denounce the violence inflicted upon his body.

The maximum responsibility for his death naturally lies with a government that prefers intransigence to modest improvements in Cuba's prison life. Raúl Castro lost a great opportunity to shorten the distance between regretting Orlando's death and asking forgiveness from his family. With a handful of words completely innocent of any suggesting self-criticism, he confirmed what many of us have suspected from the very beginning, namely, that the general himself was far from ignorant of mistreatment, the negligence, the terror that finally brought an end of Orlando's life.

Havanatur's Funds Targeted

Attorneys for Ana Margarita Martinez, the one-time wife of a Cuban spy Juan Pablo Roque, who used her as part of his cover while in the U.S., filed writs of garnishment on eight charter companies in Florida that regularly operate charter flights to Cuba.

In 2001, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alan Postman ordered the Castro regime to pay Martinez $27.17 million for pain and suffering caused to her as a victim of its spy scheme and punitive damages for the sham marriage was used by Roque to help infiltrate the Cuban exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, and orchestrate the murder of four Americans.

Ten years later, the debt remains unpaid.

Martinez's attorneys say they have no choice but to identify money intended for transfer to the Castro regime. As such, charter companies must remit a large percentage of their exorbitant fees to Havanatur, a travel agency owned by Cimex, which is a holding company of the Castro regime.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the charter companies argue that their business is with Havanatur, not the Castro regime. However, not only is Havanatur owned by the Castro regime, but it has even been specially-designated (see page 170) by the U.S. Department of Treasury as such.

Los Angeles Times Editorial Board

Cuba's Deadly Justice

Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in prison, one of scores of political prisoners who are routinely mistreated in the country's jails.

Bricklayer Orlando Zapata Tamayo didn't commit murder. He didn't plot an assassination or the violent overthrow of the government. He was arrested on March 20, 2003, in Cuba, while taking part in a hunger strike to demand the release of political prisoners, and was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of showing contempt for Fidel Castro as well as public disorder and disobedience, according to Amnesty International.

Over the next six years, he is believed to have had eight more hearings and was convicted at least three more times, bringing his total sentence to about 36 years -- a figure his friends say may be inexact because the proceedings were secret. Now Zapata is dead after another hunger strike, this time for 85 days, to protest beatings and other prison conditions.

President Raul Castro should be ashamed. Instead, he is dismissive, asserting that Zapata's death was the fault, somehow, of the United States -- because in the Cuban government's view, all critics are proxies for U.S. subversion. Zapata was neither tortured nor executed, Castro reportedly said. "That happens at the Guantanamo base."

That's right, Mr. President, serious human rights abuses were committed against terrorism suspects held by the United States at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, and they were vociferously denounced by people in this country who felt betrayed and dishonored by our government. But who in Cuba will be allowed to protest Zapata's death? Who will be permitted to examine Cuban jails or challenge your assertion that torture does not take place there?

Amnesty International had counted 55 "prisoners of conscience" in Cuban jails -- make that 54 now. A Human Rights Watch report on Cuban prisoners last year documented how those who criticize the government or report violations are subjected to extended periods of solitary confinement and beatings and denied medical treatment, family visits and telephone calls. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of cases in which prison officials physically abused and humiliated political prisoners. Prison authorities routinely subjected them to solitary confinement in cells described as cramped, squalid, without bedding -- some in total darkness, others with permanent bright lights -- and provided rotting, inadequate food at irregular intervals.

That sounds like torture to us. And although Zapata may not have faced an executioner, he is dead for dissenting.

Indicted Terrorists Plotted From Cuba

According to the AFP:

Spain accuses Venezuela over plot to kill Uribe

A Spanish judge on Monday accused Venezuela of collaborating with Basque separatists and Colombian rebels who allegedly plotted to assassinate Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in Spain.

Judge Eloy Velasco charged six members of the Basque group ETA and seven members of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with involvement in the plot to kill Uribe and other Colombian officials.

The case was based largely on information found in the computer of Raul Reyes, the FARC's former number two who was killed in a Colombian military operation in Ecuador in March 2008 [...]

He called on Spain's foreign and interior ministries to ask the governments of Cuba and Venezuela to extradite some of the 13 suspects who are residing in those two countries.

Other media outlets have reported that 3 out of the 6 indicted Basque (ETA) terrorists reside in Cuba.

The Return of Gorki

Statement from Gorki Aguila's manager, Laura Garcia Freyre:

"After an eleven month stay in Mexico, Gorki Aguila, lead singer of the rock band, Porno Para Ricardo, will return to Cuba.

Despite having met the requirements for entry to Cuba (having made the monthly payments to maintain his legal status on the island), we fear that the Cuban authorities will not allow his re-entry into the country, detain him or take repressive measures.

Therefore, we ask that the media report and monitor the return of Gorki Aguila to Cuba, and of any problems he may face, as this is the only protection that Aguila will have if his rights are violated.

Gorki Aguila will be departing from Mexico City's International Airport on Wednesday, March 3rd, at 8:45 am, on flight #131 of Cubana de Aviacion and will arrive in Havana at terminal 3 of the Jose Marti International Airport at 12:15 pm.
"

Gorki Aguila is Cuba's most renowned rocker. He has been arrested on various occasions by the Cuban authorities for his politically charged lyrics.

Please watch this clip.

Godspeed, Gorki.

Promoting Disrespectful Tourism

On February 25th, 2010, Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo was being buried in Banes, Holguin following an 84-day hunger strike protesting the brutality of the Castro regime.


Meanwhile, just miles away, at the Castro regime's Sirenis Playa Turquesa beach resort in Holguin, here's what Canadian tourists were up to:



Sadly, this footage is tragically real.

Is this the type of "solidarity" that proponents of U.S. tourism travel are looking to extend to the Cuban people?


Is this what Agriculture Committee Chairman Colin Peterson, U.S. Congressmen Jerry Moran, Bill Delahunt, Jeff Flake and other sponsors of tourism travel legislation are looking to promote?

Viva Zapata!

Sunday, February 28, 2010
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the Wall Street Journal:

A Cuban dissident is murdered while Latin leaders schmooze with Castro.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón wore a broad smile as he warmly greeted Cuba's Raúl Castro at the Rio Group summit on the posh Mexican Riviera last week. The two men, dressed in neatly pressed guayabera shirts, shook hands as Mr. Calderón, with no small measure of delight, gestured to his audience to welcome Mexico's very special guest.

A mere 300 miles away, in a military prison hospital in Havana, political prisoner Orlando Zapata lay in a coma. For 84 days the 42-year-old stone mason of humble origins had been on a hunger strike to protest the Castro regime's brutality toward prisoners of conscience. His death was imminent.

Zapata's grim condition was no secret. During his strike, for 18 days, he had been denied water and placed in front of an air conditioner. His kidneys had failed and he had pneumonia. For months human-rights groups had been pleading for international attention to his case.

But over at the Playa del Carmen resort on the Yucatán, Mr. Calderón wasn't about to let Zapata spoil his fiesta, or his chance to improve his image among the region's undemocratic governments. The summit went on as planned with no mention of Havana's human-rights hell. On Tuesday Zapata passed away.
 
Zapata's death while Latin American leaders broke bread with Castro is a coincidence that captures the cowardice and expediency toward Cuban oppression that has defined the region for a half century. Now the Latin gang, with Cuba as a prominent member, has decided to form a new regional body to "replace" the Organization of American States. To make their intentions clear, they banned Honduras's democratically elected President Porfirio Lobo from last week's meeting.
 
The Mexican foreign ministry did not respond to several requests last week for a statement from Mr. Calderón on Zapata's death. Its silence suggests that the only thing the Mexican president regrets is the unfortunate timing of the dissident's demise.

Yet Zapata hasn't gone quietly. His passing has once more elevated the truth about the lives of 11 million Cubans enslaved for the last 50 years under a totalitarian regime. And it has embarrassed the likes of Mr. Calderón. Newspapers across the globe, from Buenos Aires to Madrid, are denouncing the mind-boggling hypocrisy of those who feign concern for human rights while embracing Castro. Like most Cuban dissidents, Zapata did not so much choose his role as martyr as it chose him. Born in the province of Holguin in the eastern part of the country, he moved through the Cuban education system as any ordinary citizen. But the requisite Marxist indoctrination didn't take. Like so many Cuban patriots before him, once his conscience had been awakened no measure of cruelty could stop him from speaking out.

Zapata became part of a wave of peaceful resistance that began to organize and grow bolder in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was detained three times in 2002. According to Miami's Cuban Democratic Directorate, which tracks dissident activity, he was arrested for a fourth time on Dec. 6, 2002, "along with [the prominent pacifist and medical doctor] Oscar Elías Biscet."  Dr. Biscet, a devout Catholic and disciple of Martin Luther King Jr.'s adherence to nonviolence, began opposing the regime when he learned of its policy of suffocating babies who survived abortions. Today he is considered one of the island's most important human-rights defenders. His continuing imprisonment and torture are well documented. It is not known whether Mr. Calderón, who also describes himself as a Catholic, discussed Mr. Biscet's plight with his guest Raúl.

Zapata was arrested again in March 2003 along with 74 others in what the resistance calls the "black spring." This time he was held and in May 2004 he was sentenced to 25 years. But his commitment to his brethren never wavered.

Indeed, it deepened. In July 2005, at the Taco Taco prison, he took part in a nonviolent protest marking the 1994 massacre of 41 Cubans who had tried to flee the island on a tugboat and were drowned by state security. That got him another 15 years in the clink.

Zapata was judged guilty of "disobedience to authority" and was repeatedly tortured. But he died a free man, unbroken and unwilling to give up his soul to the regime, which is more than can be said for Mr. Calderón. Word is that Mr. Calderón noticed the offshore drilling contracts Castro has given to Brazil's Petrobras and is cuddling up to the dictator in hopes that Mexico's Pemex will be next.

As to Cuban freedom, the yearning lives on, and Zapata's death is already serving as a source of renewed inspiration to the movement. The regime knows this, which is why state security put his hometown on lockdown the day of his funeral. Even as Cubans mourn their loss, it is certain that, treasuring his personal triumph over evil and his gift of bravery to the nation, they will not let his death be in vain.

Military Dictatorship on the Spot

By Andres Oppenheimer in The Miami Herald:

Dissident's death will put Cuba on the spot

Cuba's military dictatorship -- that's what it is, by any dictionary's definition -- is in an awkward position following the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata after an 83-day hunger strike, and the decision of four other jailed dissidents to stop eating to demand the release of all prisoners of conscience.

Predictably, the United States and most European democracies issued statements condemning Cuba's human rights abuses. And predictably, many Latin American countries -- including some who claim to champion human rights, such as Argentina and Mexico -- have remained silent, or made wishy-washy statements.

But the big question is how Zapata's death will play where it really counts -- inside Cuba. For the first three days after the death of the Afro-Cuban bricklayer imprisoned since 2003, the regime of Gen. Raúl Castro had not allowed the Cuban media to report it.

Finally, on Saturday, the muzzle was removed.

There are three scenarios about how Zapata's death may impact Cuba.

First Scenario: If the four imprisoned hunger strikers -- plus others who have joined them outside -- continue their protest, there will be growing international pressure on Cuba to free the 200 political prisoners who languish in Cuban jails, or at the very least allow the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Roman Catholic Church to visit them.

Ironically, ICRC missions are allowed into the U.S. detainee camp of Guantánamo to visit suspected terrorists, but they are not allowed into Cuban jails holding prisoners jailed because of their opinions, or for refusing to accept the regime's "ideological rehabilitation'' programs for prisoners of conscience.

Monsignor Emilio Aranguren, the bishop of Holguin, the Cuban province where Zapata was imprisoned, told me in a telephone interview that he requested in 2008 and 2009 to see the prisoner.

"His mother was a member of this diocese, and she had asked me to visit her son,'' the bishop said. "I made the request, but the only answer I got was a verbal statement from one official, who said the prisoner was under disciplinary conditions that did not make it possible to grant such a meeting.''

Second Scenario: Zapata's death will unify Cuba's widely fragmented pro-democracy movement, because it's the first known death of an imprisoned dissident since student activist Pedro Luis Boitel died during a hunger strike in prison in 1972.

Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, head of Cuba's Human Human Rights Commission, told me in a telephone interview that there is a big difference between Boitel and Zapata's deaths.

In the first case, the world didn't hear about it until "months or years later,'' he said. In Zapata's case, his death was reported worldwide almost immediately because his case was being followed by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and the news of his death is beginning to trickle into Cuba through shortwave radio broadcasts from abroad, he said.

"The human rights movement in Cuba has reacted as if we were one single person, with one single voice, condemning Zapata's death,'' Sanchez said.

"There is a lot of discontent here, and this will lead to many more expressions of discontent.''


Third Scenario: Zapata's death will soon be forgotten, like so many other Cuban human rights violations in the past. Cuba's regime will blame the tragedy on "U.S. imperialism'' -- as it already has -- or the CIA, and that will be it.

"Cuba's repressive apparatus will most likely prevent any major protest,'' says Jose Miguel Vivanco of the Human Rights Watch advocacy group. "To get out of this situation, we would need effective international pressure, and I don't see it anywhere.''

My opinion: Zapata's death will not lead to any internal upheaval. At best, it will make it a bit harder for Latin American leaders to pose smilingly for the cameras with a military dictator with fresh blood on his hands, as they did at a Feb. 23 summit in Mexico, or as the president of Brazil did Feb. 24 in Cuba at the very time Zapata was dying in prison. And it may also make it a bit harder for Spain, the current chair of the European Union, to go forward with its plans to normalize Europe's relations with Cuba, as if that country were any civilized democracy.

It is not. The least democratic-minded people everywhere can do is to demand loudly and clearly that Cuba free all political prisoners -- the same way we did when we were lashing out against right-wing military dictatorships.

T-Shirt of the Week

The T-Shirt below reads (in Spanish):

"I may continue to be imprisoned physically, but I am a FREE man in spirit and conscience."

- Dr. Darsi Ferrer

Dr. Ferrer was designated this week as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

New Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience

Cuban human rights activist in maximum security prison must be released

Amnesty International has adopted its 55th prisoner of conscience in Cuba and urged President Raúl Castro to release him immediately and unconditionally.

Darsi Ferrer, Director of the 'Juan Bruno Zayas' Health and Human Rights Centre in Havana, has been detained since July 2009 on spurious charges of receiving illegally obtained goods, an offence usually immediately bailed.

He has not been brought to trial and he's being held in a maximum security prison in Havana intended for inmates who have been convicted of violent crimes.

"The accusation against Darsi Ferrer is clearly a pretext. We believe he was detained as a punishment for his work to promote freedom of expression in Cuba," said Gerardo Ducos, Cuba researcher at Amnesty International.

Although the offence with which Darsi Ferrer is charged would normally be reviewed by a local magistrate, his case is being handled by the General Prosecutors Office, fueling the argument that this case is politically motivated. The activist has been detained many times before in connection with his protest activities.

"Anyone charged with this crime would normally be awaiting trial on bail, not held in a maximum security prison. This is yet another attempt by the Cuban authorities to hinder the work of human rights activist in Cuba," said Gerardo Ducos.

On Monday, Amnesty International's prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after reportedly being on hunger strike for several weeks in protest at prison conditions. He was arrested in March 2003 and was serving a total sentence of 36 years.   

Darsi Ferrer and his wife Yusnaimy were arrested without a valid warrant in Havana on 9 July 2009, hours before they were due to participate in a demonstration to promote freedom of expression.

They were interrogated for several hours and Darsi Ferrer was handcuffed and beaten by eight police officers. They were released without charge several hours later.   

On 21 July 2009 Darsi Ferrer was arrested again and told he was being taken to a police station to answer questions about building materials the police had confiscated during their previous detention. However, he was falsely detained, driven to a maximum security prison on the outskirts of Havana and charged with receiving illegally obtained goods.

Darsi Ferrer claims the building materials, two sacks of cement and some iron girders, were given to him by a colleague who had left the country and had not finished refurbishing his own house. The materials had been on the porch of the house in full view from the street months before the authorities came to confiscate them.

President of the European Parliament

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek on the death of the political prisoner in Cuba

Brussels - The President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek deplored the death of Cuban hunger strike prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamay: "This is a very sad moment when a young man dies because he wants to protest against government abuse. The European Parliament cannot remain silent while it receives numerous human rights appeals denouncing the repeated breaches. This does not help in building a good climate of relations and trust between the European Union and Cuba.

We have to speak to our partners with a clear voice. We have to explain that our values: human rights, freedom and solidarity are values which must be respected at all times. The European Parliament will continue to remind the Cuban government about these important values.

The European Parliament is a champion of human rights legislation around the world. In 2005, we have awarded our human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, to the Cuban protest movement "Damas de Blanco." Disappointingly until today they have been prohibited by the Cuban authorities to travel to Strasbourg to collect the prize."