The Sanctions "Scapegoat"

Saturday, March 13, 2010
Sanctions foes argue that U.S. policy -- or anything short of unconditionally normalizing relations -- gives the Castro regime an effective scapegoat for its failures.

However, that theory overlooks two important facts:

First and foremost, the Cuban people don't believe it.
Overwhelmingly, Cubans have tuned out the absurdities of the Castro regime. Furthermore, they understand that it is Cuba's totalitarian regime -- not "U.S. sanctions" -- that denies their most fundamental human rights, harasses, beats and imprisons them.

Secondly, sanctions or no sanctions, the Castro regime will always try to vilify the U.S. (while brutally repressing the Cuban people). So why multiply its political and economic monopoly?

In an interview with Germany's Deutsche Welle, Chinese dissident (and renowned artist) Ai Weiwei and former Romanian activist (and 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature) Herta Mueller discuss how vilifying the U.S. is simply the modus operandi of tyrannical regimes, whether in Iran, Cuba, China or Romania (during Ceausescu's reign).

Here's an excerpt:

Secret police an integral part of authoritarian regimes

Another picture that Ai Weiwei showed, describing it as his best photographic work so far, was of him in a lift with two police officers that were tailing him, none too subtly. He took the photo with his mobile phone and immediately posted it on the Internet.

As one of the most famous of China's dissidents, Ai Weiwei enjoys a certain degree of protection but it takes courage to confront ones "minders" in such a way.

Herta Mueller can very much empathize with Ai Weiwei's experiences of being spied upon or accused of spying for the West. In her novels and essays, she criticizes the Securitate, Romania's secret police, and depicts the atmosphere of fear, humiliation, and distrust that prevailed in communist Romania.

"This immediate accusation of spying is so typical. I think it exists in every dictatorship. If we look at Cuba or Iran, they always say people are working under the influence of external powers. I heard it all the time. At a factory that I worked in, people would say 'so-and-so is a CIA agent.' They didn't even know what CIA stood for!" she said.

The greatest accusation was that a person was too individualistic, lacked collective spirit and did not display a socialist attitude.
Both Ai Weiwei and Herta Mueller fell prey to this accusation but it did not stop them from taking refuge in art and literature to nurture their individuality.

Herta Mueller saw Romania's brutal regime fall. Ai Weiwei hopes he too will see China's one-party system fall.

Solidarność With Farinas

According to the AFP:

Farinas to Walesa: Lay a wreath for me when Cuba is free

GDANSK, Poland - Cuban dissident hunger striker Guillermo Farinas has asked Polish anti-communist icon Lech Walesa to lay a wreath on his grave when Cuba is free, the former Polish president told AFP.

The two spoke by telephone on Thursday, several hours before Farinas was hospitalized in critical condition after losing consciousness in his third week of fasting to win the release of 26 political prisoners who are in need of medical treatment.

"I was concerned, I tried to convince him to break off the hunger strike. I told him that in order to build a free Cuba they will need people like him alive," said Walesa, who led the Solidarity trade union that defied and ultimately defeated communist rule in Poland.

But Walesa said the 48-year-old cyberjournalist was adamant in continuing his hunger strike.

"He replied: 'if I die, I ask you to lay a wreath on my grave when Cuba is free'."

Farinas, who had steadfastly refused medical treatment, lost consciousness several hours later and was hospitalized in his home town of Santa Clara, around 175 miles east of Havana.

He has vowed to press ahead "to the end" with his protest fast, which he began February 24, the day after political prisoner Orlando Zapata died on the 85th day of his own hunger strike.

Jerry Moran's Exceptionalist Arrogance

Friday, March 12, 2010
From The National Journal:

Moran Takes Flak For Bill To Open Farm Exports To Cuba

Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., made an impassioned case Thursday for a bill to boost U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba and end a ban on American travel to the nation, but he got little support from fellow Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee.

Moran, who is in a primary race with Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., for the Republican nomination to replace retiring Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said at a hearing that the bill he is co-sponsoring with House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson would increase U.S. farm sales to Cuba while the end of the travel ban would serve "a much more noble cause" by allowing Cubans to have contact with Americans and learn about democracy.

"We deal with communist countries and offer them credit," Moran said. "Who is the biggest creditor? China? What a double standard we have created in this country. We don't worry about selling Boeing aircraft to China, but we don't want to sell wheat to Cuba."

Peterson and other Democrats praised Moran for his stand, but House Agriculture ranking member Frank Lucas said he could support agricultural sales to Cuba on humanitarian grounds but would go no further. Cuba is worse than China, Lucas said, because it has maintained government control over the economy while China has liberalized its economy.

Lucas also argued that American tourist spending in Cuba would impede development of Cuba's agricultural sector by helping its centralized economy survive. "Our priority should be finding a way to increase agriculture exports to help meet the food needs of the Cuban people without supporting Cuba's oppressive government," Lucas said.

Other Republicans joined Lucas in opposing any liberalization of American travel to Cuba.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Congressman Moran is obviously unaware that there are hundreds of Cuban political prisoners currently suffering in Castro's jails for their democratic beliefs and thousands more that the regime keeps imprisoned for "dangerousness" (in Cuba, democracy = dangerousness). Surely, they know a thing or two about democracy.

Moreover, there are Cubans resorting to hunger strikes as a weapon to fight against Castro's totalitarianism, hence losing their lives for freedom and democracy.

Mr. Moran, allow us to introduce you to Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Guillermo Farinas.

Are you going to teach them about democracy?

Internet Enemies

Click on the image to read Reporters Without Borders' designation of Cuba as an "Internet Enemy."

"Hearing" Themselves Talk

Yesterday, the House Agriculture Committee held a "hearing" on agricultural sales to Cuba. However, only supporters of expanding business ties with the Castro regime were invited to testify.

No voices of dissent, victims of the regime, nor experts on Cuba's rationing system, trade monopoly or tourism apartheid were invited.

Perhaps they were just trying to emulate the Castro regime's information monopoly.

Here's the witness list:

Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau, Washington, D.C.
Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union, Washington, D.C.
Mike Wagner, USA Rice Federation, Sumner, Mississippi
Jerry McReynolds, National Association of Wheat Growers, Woodston, Kansas
John Wilson, National Milk Producers Federation, Kansas City, Missouri
Barton Schott, National Corn Growers Association, Kulm, North Dakota
Scott Fritz, American Soybean Association, Winamac, Indiana

Shamefully, the hearing took place as Cuban pro-democracy leader Guillermo Farinas collapsed from the hunger strike he is undertaking to protest the captivity of 26 political prisoners in need of medical care.

According to Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, Congressman Jerry Moran of Kansas and the panel witnesses, American tourists need to go educate Cubans, like Guillermo Farinas, about the free market and democracy (while they profit from the Cuban people's suffering and oppression).

We contend that Farinas could actually teach them a thing or two about democratic values, not to mention about compassion and solidarity.

Alimport's Blackmail

Thursday, March 11, 2010
Here's what today's hearing in the House Agriculture Committee on expanding business transactions with the Castro regime's trade monopoly, Alimport, was really all about:

"Alimport reportedly initiated a policy in 2003 that limited or ceased purchases from U.S. companies that did not actively lobby the U.S. government for changes to laws and regulations regarding trade with Cuba. Purchases are also allegedly geared to particular U.S. States or Congressional districts in an effort to heighten local interests in pressing the Administration to normalize trade with Cuba."

p. 2-13, U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), U.S. Agricultural Sales to Cuba: Certain Economic Effects of U.S. Restrictions (Investigation No. 332-489, USITC Publication 3932, July 2007).

State Releases New Human Rights Report

The State Department has just released it annual "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices."

Here's the introduction to the Cuba section:

Cuba, with a population of approximately 11 million, is a totalitarian state that does not tolerate opposition to official policy. The country is led by Raul Castro, who holds the positions of chief of state, president of the council of state and council of ministers, and commander in chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. Although the constitution recognizes the unicameral National Assembly as the supreme authority, the Communist Party (CP) is recognized in the constitution as the only legal party and "the superior leading force of society and of the state." Fidel Castro remained the first secretary of the CP. The January 2008 elections for the National Assembly were neither free nor fair, and all of the candidates had to be pre-approved by a CP candidacy commission, with the result that the CP candidates and their allies won 98.7 percent of the vote and 607 of 614 seats in the National Assembly. Civilian authorities, through the Ministry of the Interior, exercised control over the police, the internal security forces, and the prison system.

The government continued to deny its citizens their basic human rights, including the right to change their government, and committed numerous and serious abuses. The following human rights problems were reported: beatings and abuse of prisoners and detainees, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; harassment, beatings, and threats against political opponents by government‑recruited mobs, police, and state security officials acting with impunity; arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates and members of independent professional organizations; and denial of fair trial, including for at least 194 political prisoners and as many as 5,000 persons who have been convicted of potential "dangerousness" without being charged with any specific crime.

Authorities interfered with privacy and engaged in pervasive monitoring of private communications. There were also severe limitations on freedom of speech and press; denial of peaceful assembly and association; restrictions on freedom of movement, including selective denial of exit permits to citizens and the forcible removal of persons from Havana to their hometowns; and restrictions on freedom of religion and refusal to recognize domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally. Discrimination against persons of African descent, domestic violence, underage prostitution, trafficking in persons, and severe restrictions on worker rights, including the right to form independent unions, were also problems.

The entire Cuba section can be read here.

European Parliament Condemns Castro Regime

Cuba: MEPs condemn "avoidable" death of Orlando Zapata

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Thursday strongly condemning the "avoidable and cruel" death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata and voicing its concern at the "alarming state" of another prisoner, Guillermo Fariñas. Members of the European Parliament ("MEPs") also repeat their call to the Cuban government for the "immediate and unconditional" release of all political prisoners and urge the EU to begin a "structured dialogue" with Cuban civil society. Parliament, which approved the resolution by 509 votes to 30 with 14 abstentions, strongly condemns the "avoidable and cruel" death of political dissident Orlando Zapata, after a hunger strike of 85 days, and expresses its solidarity and sympathy with his family. MEPs also condemn the pre-emptive detention of activists and the government's attempt to prevent the family of Orlando Zapata from holding his funeral and paying their last respects.

The resolution, which was tabled jointly by several political groups in Parliament - the EPP, Socialist, Liberal, Conservative and Reformist, Green and Europe of Freedom and Democracy - calls on the Cuban government for the "immediate and unconditional" release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience and deplores the absence of any "significant signs" of response by the Cuban authorities to the calls by the EU and the international community for all political prisoners to be released and for fundamental freedoms to be fully respected.

MEPs also urge the Council and Commission to step up action to demand the release of political prisoners and safeguard the work of human rights defenders.

Dialogue with Cuban civil society

The resolution calls on the EU High Representative, Catherin Ashton, and Commissioner responsible for cooperation, Kristalina Georgieva, "immediately to begin a structured dialogue with Cuban civil society and with those who support a peaceful transition in Cuba". There are Community development cooperation mechanisms, such as the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, that could help achieve this. Parliament also urges the EU institutions to give their unconditional support and full encouragement to the launching of a peaceful process of political transition to multi-party democracy in Cuba.

The plight of Guillermo Fariñas

In addition, Parliament voices concern at the situation of the political prisoners and dissidents who went on hunger strike following Zapata's death and welcomes the fact that most of them are now taking food again. However, it draws attention to "the alarming state of the journalist and psychologist Guillermo Fariñas, whose continuation of the hunger strike could have fatal consequences".

Lastly, the resolution expresses solidarity with the entire Cuban people and support for them in their progress towards democracy and respect and promotion of fundamental freedoms.

U.S. Senate Honors Orlando Zapata Tamayo

While the Agriculture Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives holds a hearing on business transactions with Castro's repressive dictatorship, the U.S. Senate honors the life and sacrifice of Cuban pro-democracy leader Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

What side do you want to be on?

Click on the images to read the Senate Resolution.

Speaking Truth to the Chamber

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the "Domestic and International Trademark Implications of HAVANA CLUB and Section 211 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1999."

As usual, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce testified in favor of unfettered commerce with Cuba's dictatorship, including recognizing the trademarks it has confiscated, which defies the legal backbone of commerce (but that's another post).

U.S. Representative Darrell Issa of California pointedly responded to the Chamber:

"I believe the Chamber of Commerce, who has come to me over the years asking me to lift the embargo on Iran even though it would endanger Israel, it would endanger the United States, and they continue to try to produce a nuclear weapon -- it's the same Chamber whose answer always is, 'Please let our companies sell all over the world without any restraint.'

Now, I appreciate what the Chamber does a great deal, and I was a board member of the San Diego chamber and an active participant, but at some point our obligation is to say to the companies who would like to sell bulldozers in Tehran or a myriad of products in Cuba that foreign policy, for valid reason, is something we have a constitutional obligation. So I respectfully disagree with the Chamber because I think they're consistent and I'd like to be consistent too.

Reject "Business as Usual"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The question is sometimes asked whether the U.S. should vocally recognize and support Cuba's pro-democracy leaders, or does such recognition further endanger their lives.

Here's the tragic answer:

"In prison, they forced a baton in my anus that punctured my intestines and required emergency surgery [...] When you are not one of the well known [dissidents], undoubtedly the authorities hone in on you to become an informant. It is the 'modus vivendi' of Cuban prisons, which are authentic Nazi-style concentration camps. I can assure you, having been imprisoned three times."

-- Guillermo Fariñas, pro-democracy leader, who is currently on a hunger strike asking for the release of 26 political prisoners in need of medical care, La Voz de Galicia, March 5th, 2010.

Let's help protect Cuba's courageous pro-democracy leaders, not promote "business as usual" with the oppressive Castro regime.

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

Statement from France's Foreign Ministry:

Situation of Guillermo Farinas

We are increasingly concerned about the health status of the Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, who is very weak as a result of the hunger strike that he began in order to demand the release of all political prisoners.

We are issuing a solemn appeal to the Cuban authorities following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo just a few days ago.

The Cuban authorities must urgently release all political prisoners especially those whose state of health has seriously deteriorated.

Learning From Farm Lobby Mistakes

Could the farm lobby have prevented mass murder in Iraq?

Unwittingly, they could have probably even prevented a war or two.

In 1988, the U.S. Congress was considering a sanctions bill against Saddam Hussein's regime pursuant to reports of the mass murder of thousands of Iraqi Kurds.

Unfortunately, the bill was defeated due to the strong opposition of the farm lobby, in particular rice farmers, who were selling over $1 billion in agricultural products to Hussein's regime at the time. Sound familiar?

These lobbyists and their Congressional allies argued that commercial ties would keep Hussein "in check" and help feed the Iraqi people. Sound familiar again?

Tragically, within the Reagan Administration, those concerned that such appeasement would only embolden Hussein were also overruled by those who agreed with the farm lobby, as this State Department memo shows.

(On a side note, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Reagan's former Secretary of Agriculture, John Block, has become a leading advocate of doing business with the Castro regime).

Two years later, Saddam Hussein would invade Kuwait and murder hundreds of thousands more.

Lesson to be learned: Brutal dictators are not rational business (or political) partners.

Please read the following article carefully:

'Idealist' tried to halt Saddam's Kurdish slaughter

(CNN) - Years before the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was slaughtering Iraq's Kurds with bombs, bullets and gas.

The Reagan White House saw it as a ruthless attempt to put down a rebellion by a minority ethnic group fighting for independence and allied with Iraq's enemy, Iran. But Peter Galbraith thought it was something worse. "A light went off in my head, and I said, 'Saddam Hussein is committing genocide,'" said Galbraith, who was on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time [...]

"We could not stand aside and allow Saddam Hussein to commit genocide against the Kurds of Iraq." With the support of his boss, Democratic Sen. Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, Galbraith drafted a bill -- the Prevention of Genocide Act -- that would cut off U.S. foreign aid to Iraq and impose a trade embargo.

"That would have been an appropriate response to a dictator who is gassing his own people," Galbraith said.

"I thought with a name like that it would garner a lot of support." But the compelling name was not enough [...]

The Reagan administration had invested several years cultivating Iraq as an ally against Iran, their mutual enemy, and as a market for U.S. products, including more than $1 billion a year in farm exports. The Prevention of Genocide Act would end the diplomatic courtship and hurt U.S businesses.

"I had a fellow who worked for one of the Louisiana senators call me up really in tears," Galbraith said." And when I talked about genocide against the Kurds, he talked about the genocide that I was committing against the rice farmers of Louisiana."

Although then-Secretary of State George Schultz warned Iraq that use of outlawed chemical weapons jeopardized the two countries' budding relationship, Schultz's spokesman said imposing economic sanctions would be premature.

To Galbraith, "that was a morally repugnant statement." The Reagan administration also claimed Galbraith's bill used "inaccurate terms like genocide." But for Galbraith, this was no time for semantics. "Should we have waited until he used chemical weapons again? Should we have waited until instead of 5 percent of the Kurdish population was murdered -- 10? 15?"

In the end, the House of Representatives killed Galbraith's sanctions bill with backing from the Reagan administration. Politics had trumped principle. Galbraith calls the U.S. policy "appeasement."

"We were not able to modify Iraq's behavior," Galbraith said. "And guess what?"

Two years later, in August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, its oil-rich neighbor to the south. This time, the U.S. compared Saddam to Hitler. And with Kuwait's oil at stake, the U.S finally screamed bloody murder.

Where Are They Now?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Remember the group of seven young Cubans that tried to flee the island last year on a small raft, but instead got stranded on Havana's sea-side thoroughfare, right in front of the U.S. Interests Section?

If you don't remember, refresh your memory here.

The date was June 5th, 2009.

So where are they now?

Still in prison, without charges filed, nor trial.

Courtesy of Penultimos Dias.

Campaign for Alan Gross's Release

From the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

Communications activist silenced in Cuban jail cell

The family of Maryland's Alan Gross is mobilizing the Jewish community in a bid to help secure his release from a Cuban prison.

WASHINGTON - Alan Gross has been about communications all his life: The call-mom-everyday son, the family newsbreaker, the message guy for Jewish groups, the get-out-the-vote enthusiast for candidate Barack Obama, the technology contractor who helped the U.S. government bring the world's remotest populations into
the 21st century.

Now, however, Gross, 60, of Potomac, Md., has been languishing for three months in a Cuban high-security prison and his rare conversations are monitored by Cuban officials [...]

After weeks of taking a quiet approach to secure Gross' release, his family and friends launched a public campaign that is spreading to Jewish communities across the United States, attracting the support of U.S. lawmakers and high-profile media outlets. It kicked off last month when [his wife] Judy Gross issued a video appeal for the release of her husband of 40 years.

Read story here.

Quote of a Lifetime

"Let me tell you that I consider myself to be an authentic patriot. I recognize that the only time I have ever been a mercenary was under your orders at the service of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) in Africa. The fact that you consider my death to be necessary constitutes an honor for me, for as the verse in our national anthem says: 'To Die for the Homeland is to Live.' Under the circumstances that my homeland and brothers in the struggle presently endure, I thank you for allowing me to die for my democratic ideals in the face of national and international public opinion. May God have mercy on our homeland and on your soul."

-- Guillermo Fariñas, Cuban pro-democracy leader, who is currently on a hunger strike asking for the release of 26 political prisoners in need of medical care, "Open Letter to Raul Castro," March 5th, 2010.

Setting the Internet Record Straight

Yesterday's announcement by the Treasury Department that it would issue a general license for the exportation of free personal Internet services, such as instant messaging, to Iran, Sudan and Cuba, has been somewhat misinterpreted by the media.

Some reports have described this announcement as the U.S. "easing sanctions." However, these free Internet services have never been forbidden by U.S. sanctions law.

The handful of Internet service providers that altered their service in sanctioned countries during the last year did so based on their own internal precautions, not because they had been mandated to do so.

The general license was issued in response to inquiries that the Treasury Department began receiving last summer from companies that wanted to ensure they were in compliance with the law.

Therefore, it serves as a clarification -- an important one at that -- but not a change in sanctions law.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Monday, March 8, 2010
According to the AFP:

Cuba rejects hunger striker's 'blackmail'

HAVANA — Cuba assailed the 12-day hunger strike of a dissident journalist as "blackmail" on Monday as it rejected his demand to free 26 political prisoners needing medical care.

But Guillermo Farinas, 48, vowed to press ahead "to the end" with his protest fast, which he began the day after political prisoner Orlando Zapata died on the 85th day of his own hunger strike.

"I say to them: either they free the 26 political prisoners who are the sickest, or nothing. I am going to stick to my position to the end," Farinas told AFP by telephone.

"They say it is unacceptable blackmail, I say it is a gesture of goodwill."

The Communist Party newspaper Granma, the mouthpiece of the Cuban leadership, weighed in for the first time on Farinas's refusal to take food or water, accusing him of being an agent of US and European interests.

"Cuba, which has demonstrated many times its respect for human life and dignity, will not accept pressure or blackmail," the newspaper said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In other words, Granma has declared that the Castro regime will not be blackmailed or pressured into releasing 26 political prisoners that are in need of medical care.

As such, the Castro regime has just conceded the fact that it is holding 26 political prisoners that are in need of medical care.

Farinas has undoubtedly placed the Castro regime between a rock and a hard place.

International Women's Day

On this commemorative day, we would like to honor the women of Cuba's pro-democracy movement, who inspire us with their courage and leadership in the face of great adversity and repression.

Women like Gloria Amaya, who died earlier in the year at the age of 81, but fought for freedom until her very last breath. Three of her sons have endured long terms as political prisoners, two of which remain incarcerated in poor health.

And Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died last month after an 86-day hunger strike. Reina defiantly challenged the regime throughout her son's incarceration and tragic death.

We honor Reina's plea:

"I want to tell the world about my pain. I think my son's death was a premeditated murder. My son was tortured throughout his incarceration. His plight has brought me great pain and has been excruciating for the entire family. Even, as he was transferred to this prison, he was first held in Camaguey without drinking water for 18 days. My son dies after an 86-day hunger strike. In the midst of deep pain, I call on the world to demand the freedom of the other prisoners and brothers unfairly sentenced so that what happened to my boy, my second child, who leaves behind no physical legacy, no child or wife, does not happen again."

Their struggle and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Castro's 100 Basque Terrorists

Spain's Intereconomia published a concerning article on the 100 members of the Basque terrorist group, ETA, residing in Castro's Cuba.

This comes on the heels of a Spanish judge's indictment of six ETA terrorists and seven members of the Colombian narco-terrorist group, FARC, for plotting assassination attempts against prominent Colombian politicians, including President Alvaro Uribe.

Three out of the six indicted ETA terrorists reside in Cuba.

Here's a translated excerpt:

"They are not the 300 Spartan warriors of King Leonidas in the Battle of Thermopylae, but they are the 100 ETA soldiers [gudaris] of Fidel Castro in Cuba. They are not on the island, nor are they exiled, in order to seek a new way of life after renouncing armed struggle. Their economic level is higher than that of the repressed Cuban people and they are not coy about speaking Basque [euskera] on the streets of Havana. They have a direct line with the generals of the [ETA] organization in France and until recently they financed its operations with the income from their small enterprises. Most of them live in the most privileged districts of Havana and maintain excellent relations with the Castro regime's secret services. Agents of Cuba's intelligence, the G-2, even have a house in Vedado, one of the select neighborhoods of the capital, in order to meet with the ETA terrorists. That is the crude reality of the ETA colony in the Caribbean island, even though the Cuban government denies it. Spanish police and the National Intelligence Center (CNI) possess evidence to corroborate it."

For background purposes, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or ETA is an armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization. Since 1968, ETA has murdered over 850 individuals, and has injured and kidnapped thousands. The group is designated as a terrorist organization by the Spanish and French authorities, the European Union as a whole, and the United States.

Free Online Services Licensed

According to the New York Times:

U.S. Hopes Internet Exports Will Help Open Closed Societies

WASHINGTON — Seeking to exploit the Internet's potential for prying open closed societies, the Obama administration will permit technology companies to export online services like instant messaging, chat and photo sharing to Iran, Cuba and Sudan, a senior administration official said Sunday.

On Monday, he said, the Treasury Department will issue a general license for the export of free personal Internet services and software geared toward the populations in all three countries, allowing Microsoft, Yahoo and other providers to get around strict export restrictions.

The companies had resisted offering such services for fear of violating existing sanctions. But there have been growing calls in Congress and elsewhere to lift the restrictions, particularly after the post-election protests in Iran illustrated the power of Internet-based services like Facebook and Twitter.

And according to the Treasury Department:

To qualify for this authorization, the services must be publicly available at no cost to the user. New § 515.578 does not authorize the direct or indirect exportation of services with knowledge or reason to know that such services are intended for a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, as defined in § 515.337 of the CACR, or a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party, as defined in §515.338.

The Imminent Collapse of Cuba's Regime?

An insightful analysis by Jose Ignacio Torreblanca of the European Council on Foreign Relations:

Spain, Cuba And The Death Of Orlando Zapata

The death of Orlando Zapata shows up the extreme fragility of the Cuban regime.

After 50 years of total control of everything in Cuba, the fact that it has to use these means of repression on a bricklayer, whose only form of resistance has been peaceful and verbal, can only mean that the regime fears its citizens as much as they fear the regime – or perhaps a little more.

Intuitions and hunches often amount to wishful thinking. But in the light of what has happened to similar regimes (think of Ceausescu's Romania), a sudden collapse of the Cuban regime could in fact be far more likely than it might seem at first sight. If, as the Cuban government tells us, 65 dissidents can subvert with their dissident talk a regime that claims to represent a people's revolution, what the Castro brothers are telling us is that they are perfectly aware that the heritage of 50 years would hardly last 50 hours, if the regime renounced physical coercion.

By now it is hard to question the fact that the Cuban revolution has led to a tyranny sustained by mere force. But for those who still have their doubts, the case of Orlando Zapata offers a detailed study of how a totalitarian regime bends the will of people. First, three months of prison for publicly complaining of "how bad things were;" then, three years in prison for taking part in a hunger strike; and lastly, once in prison, successive sentences of up to 36 years, and continual beatings and abuse for his refusal to be considered a common criminal. This is why the struggle between Zapata and the Cuban regime was to the death: both knew that when someone resists in this manner (peacefully and to the end), no regime can stand it.

It is true that 50 years of confrontation with the Cuban regime have only strengthened it. But dialogue with the regime, with no conditions attached, which is the other option (favoured by Spain, among others), does not seem to produce results, either. To a political scientist, it is hard to see how such an approach can constitute a "policy." If we understand policy as the application of means to achieve ends (and the successive adjustment of these means in the light of the results obtained) this approach represents the negation of policy. We know what is required, but not how to achieve it.

The fact that Spain lacks a Cuba policy worthy of the name is due to several reasons: firstly, Spain is so historically and emotionally entangled in Cuba that it is hard to start from zero and examine without prejudice the relative merits of all the options; secondly, the lack of internal consensus in Spain on this matter; thirdly, even if Spain had a Cuba policy, its influence on internal events would be small. Meanwhile Brazil and Venezuela, like certain Spanish leftists, still believe that you can be "a friend of the regime and of the Cubans," in spite of the evidence of enmity between the Cubans and their regime.

All this explains why Spain's (non) policy on Cuba simply consists of keeping open the channels for dialogue so as to have early notice of any possible will to change, to intervene occasionally in favour of an individual dissident (while shunning any contact with the opposition) and to offer the regime any available opportunities for increased openness and economic development (including an EU cooperation agreement with no political conditions attached). It is a wait-and-see attitude, and not an absurd one; but we should not use the word "policy" for what is just the sum of a few hopes tenuously threaded together.

This article was published in Spain's El País on 3 March 2010.

Why We Shouldn't Adopt Canada's Policy

Sunday, March 7, 2010
A reminder of why the U.S. shouldn't unconditionally normalize relations -- à la Canada -- with Cuba's brutal dictatorship.

From The Epoch Times:

The Cuban People Need Canada's Support

By Nelson Taylor Sol

The death last month of Orlando Zapata, Cuban prisoner of conscience, reveals once again the intrinsic evil of the Castro dictatorship.

Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have died during the five decades of communist rule in Cuba. Several generations of Cubans have never enjoyed the most basic rights or freedoms. Nevertheless, the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raúl, have not been able to silence the voices of those who, like Zapata, prefer physical death to the spiritual death they feel under communism.

What Cubans want is freedom. What Cubans desire is unequivocal support from the rest of the world in getting that freedom. What good are condolences and demands for change from Canada's head of foreign affairs for the Cuban people? Actually, such actions are negated by Canada's continued trade, investment, tourism, and political ties, which actually have supported the Castro regime. It is difficult to reconcile the principled stand Canada has against the military junta in Burma—or its opposition to the American policy of embargo—with the acceptance given the Castro brothers.

A false nationalism expressed in an anti-American foreign policy undermined the good character of Canada when it decided to accept the Cuban revolution in the first place. Today, 51 years later, Cuba's civil society and members of the opposition movement find it hard to see Canada as a friend.

It's time for our government and the politicians who represent to us to ally themselves with the people of Cuba and to distance themselves from the oppressive Castro dictatorship. What's the point in having so many "experts" in Latin American studies and publicly funded institutions focused on hemispheric affairs, when our parliamentarians are not able to publicly mention the names -- let alone express solidarity -- of so many Cuban prisoners of conscience?

Let's look at the Canada-Cuba Parliamentary Friendship Group. Is it possible that those MPs do not understand that they are calling themselves "friends" of a Cuba that cannot choose its representatives? Their actions don't make them friends, but enemies of Cuba. It is self-deception to believe that a bunch of criminals who usurped power 51 years ago could ever represent the 11 million Cubans stranded in Cuba or the approximate one million who live in exile.

The day will come, in a free Cuba, when people will learn about the dignity of the Czechs and the solidarity of the Poles at a time when support for the Cuban people was needed the most. In an event without precedent in recent parliamentary history, 90 Polish legislators put their differences aside to adopt, symbolically, 90 Cuban political prisoners. They are indeed true friends of Cuba and their gesture will not be forgotten.

Over a century ago, Cuban national hero José Martí, like Orlando Zapata, gave his life for Cuba's freedom at the age of 42. He said, "There are men who live contented though they live without decorum. Others suffer as if in agony when they see around them people living without decorum. There must be a certain amount of decorum in the world, just as there must be a certain amount of light.

"When there are many men without decorum, there are always others who themselves possess the decorum of many men. These are the ones who rebel with terrible strength against those who rob nations of their liberty, which is to rob men of their decorum. Embodied in those men are thousands of men, a whole people, human dignity."

Our eternal gratitude goes today to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Cuba.

Nelson Taylor Sol is Ottawa Representative Director for the Cuban Canadian Foundation (

30 Global NGOs Appeal for Youth Activist

Urgent NGO Appeal for Cuban Human Rights Defender Nestor Rodríguez Lobaina, former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience

Dear Madam High Commissioner (of the U.N. Human Rights Council),

We urge you to intervene with the Cuban government to challenge its unlawful barring of human rights defender Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina from leaving the country and addressing this Monday's 2nd Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy.

As you know, Mr. Lobaina is president of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, and one of the most recognized dissidents in Cuba. He was jailed for more than five years for the crimes of "disrespect," "public disorder," and "damage," and became the object of a worldwide Amnesty International campaign to free him as a prisoner of conscience.

The global civil society organizers of the Geneva Summit invited Mr. Lobaina to be a distinguished panel speaker at their conference. He duly received all necessary approval from the Swiss authorities. However, the Cuban government has refused to grant Mr. Lobaina permission to exit, thereby preventing him from participating at this important gathering of human rights defenders.

Under Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights similarly guarantees that "Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own." This right "shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others, and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Covenant." In General Comment No. 27 (1999), the UN Human Rights Committee established that restrictions on the right to leave must be "provided by law, must be necessary in a democratic society for the protection of these purposes and must be consistent with all other rights recognized in the Covenant." None of these conditions have been met by Cuba's restrictions in the present case.

Article 5c of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, guarantees that "[f]or the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, at the national and international levels [...] to communicate with nongovernmental or intergovernmental organizations."

Travel restrictions such as those imposed on Mr. Lobaina unfairly and arbitrarily impair his ability and the ability of his organization to address international forums about human rights concerns in Cuba.

For these reasons, we urge you to intervene with the Cuban authorities to see that they immediately lift these restrictions against Mr. Lobaina. We also urge you to demand that the Cuban authorities ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders are able to carry out their work without unjustified hindrances.

We look to you and the United Nations to reverse this counter-productive decision to block a human rights defender from conducting his work. We hope this travel ban will be lifted so that Mr. Lobaina can join fellow dissidents this Monday at the Geneva Summit, and thereafter travel without restriction.

Thank you for your urgent attention to this matter.


Paula Schriefer, Director of Advocacy, Freedom House
John Suarez, International Secretary, Directorio
Bart Woord, President, International Federation of Liberal Youth
Tashi Albertini, President, Associazione Ticino Tibet
Hillel Neuer, Executive Director, UN Watch
Maran Turner, Executive Director, Freedom Now
Nazanin Afshin-Jam, President and Co-Founder, Stop Child Executions
Ahmad Batebi, Founder, Human Rights Activists in Iran
Gabriel Salvia, Chairman, CADAL
Gibreil I. M. Hamid, President, Darfur Peace and Development Centre
Jacob Mchangama, Head of Legal Affairs, Center for Political Studies
Phil ya Nangoloh, Executive Director, National Society for Human Rights of Namibia
Harris Schoenberg, President, UN Reform Advocates
Carlos E. Tinoco, President, A.C. Socrates de Venezuela
A. P. Gautam, Member Secretary, Nepal International Consumers Union
Aixa Armas, Secretaria General, Espacio Civil
Omar Lopez, Executive Director, Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba
Theodor Rathgeber, German Forum Human Rights
Catherine Waters, Main Representative, Catholic International Education Office
Jaime Vintimilla, Executive Director, CIDES
Kok Ksor, President, Montagnard Foundation
Anne Shay, Justice Contact, Presentation Congregation
Margarita Lacabe, Executive Director, Derechos Human Rights
Joan Powers, Coordinator, Presentation Sisters Victoria Justice Ministry
Tanja Mirabile, INCOMINDIOS Switzerland
Abdurashid Abdulle Abikar, Chairman, Center for Youth and Democracy
Forum Maghrebin, Pour L'environneùent et Le Développement Morocco
Ted Brooks, Jr., Executive Director, Committee for Peace and Development Advocacy
Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt, Delegate, Vietnamese Writers in Exile Centre
Nguyên Lê Nhân Quyên, Delegate, Vietnamese League for Human Rights
Klaus Netter, Main Representative, Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations
Jeff King, President, International Christian Concern

A Beacon of Middle East Democracy?

Today, Iraqis braved terrorist threats and violence to elect their new Parliament.

On this subject, Newsweek ran an interesting story on whether Iraq has, in fact, become a beacon of democracy in the highly undemocratic Middle East:

Rebirth of a Nation

Something that looks an awful lot like democracy is beginning to take hold in Iraq. It may not be 'mission accomplished' -- but it's a start.

In Iraq, meanwhile, an insurgency was growing, terrorism was spreading, and American forces were in a state of near panic. They had begun rounding up thousands of the Iraqis they had come to "liberate," dragging them from their homes in the middle of the night and throwing them into Abu Ghraib Prison. At the time of Bush's speech, some of those detainees were being tortured and humiliated. Iraq had entered a spiral of gruesome violence that would kill scores of thousands of its people and cost more than 4,000 U.S. military personnel their lives. American taxpayers month after month, year after year—and to this day—would spend more than $1.5 billion per week just to keep hundreds of thousands of beleaguered troops on the ground, fearful that if they withdrew too quickly, or at all, the carnage would grow worse and war, not democracy, would spread throughout the region.

Bush's rhetoric about democracy came to sound as bitterly ironic as his pumped-up appearance on an aircraft carrier a few months earlier, in front of an enormous banner that declared MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. And yet it has to be said and it should be understood -- now, almost seven hellish years later -- that something that looks mighty like democracy is emerging in Iraq. And while it may not be a beacon of inspiration to the region, it most certainly is a watershed event that could come to represent a whole new era in the history of the massively undemocratic Middle East.

Read here in its entirety.