Andy Garcia's Hope for Change

Saturday, March 20, 2010
From an interview in The Toronto Star with Cuban-born actor Andy Garcia:

The other great passion in Garcia's life is his native Cuba. He made his 2006 film, The Lost City, about the period when Castro took over and he's still deeply involved with the fate of those protesting against the current regime.

"Cuba is suffering and will continue to suffer until that regime is out of there and then the rebuilding process can begin. The Cuban people are a beautiful people, but they live in misery there. But I feel the time is coming now for change.

"I'm the lucky one. My parents taught me the pride of being Cuban and my family gives me a sense of purpose and an endless well of strength.

Headline Defies Logic

A recent headline in Cuba's state (and sole permitted) media provides a glimpse at the twisted "logic" of the Castro regime.

It proclaims:

"Cuban Journalists, Stalwart Soldiers of the Revolution"

As such, any journalist that dissents is considered to be a deserter (or AWOL) and sent to prison.

That is why Cuba remains, per capita, the most repressive country in the world for journalists.

Here are some of Cuba's jailed journalists:

Castro's Brutality

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Cuba's Brutality

OUR OPINION: World leaders should back peaceful protesters

In a democracy, people can disagree. They can march to protest their government, they can chastise their elected officials in public forums, they can walk down the street carrying placards voicing their opinions.

They can do all those things and as long as they aren't rioting, the police will respect their fundamental human rights.

Not in Cuba. Never in Cuba.

Once again, the Cuban regime has notched up its police state to break up peaceful protests by the Ladies in White -- the wives, mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters and cousins of political prisoners. Leading the march was the mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, whose son died last month in a hunger strike protesting Cuba's ill treatment of political prisoners.

Remembering `Black Spring'

The Ladies vow to continue their week-long marches in commemoration of the 2003 "Black Spring'' when Cuba's communist dictatorship accused 75 human rights activists and independent journalists and librarians of being in cahoots with U.S. "imperialists'' and sentenced most of them to more than 20 years in prison.

On Thursday, the Ladies were again punched, kicked and dragged to government vans from their walk down the streets of Havana by security agents and pro-regime mob squads yelling, "The streets belong to Fidel. Down with the worms.''

It is Cuba's half-century paradox: a so-called socialist government where the power is supposed to reside with "the people'' has so indoctrinated some folks that they would hand the "people's revolution'' to one caudillo who has not let go in 51 years -- Fidel Castro.

Make voices heard

From Europe to Latin America, several prominent artists who have been sympathetic to the regime in the past have finally spoken up against these latest tactics coming on the heels of Mr. Zapata's death. Their governments need to speak up, too.

Already the European Union has turned down Spain's push to have the EU open up to more trade with Cuba, reasoning that Cuba's brutal response to dissent must not be rewarded. Latin American governments that for too long have ignored the Castros' abuses are losing any credibililty they had with their own people in supporting such brutality.

Only a concerted effort by democratic governments -- from the left and the right -- can show Raúl and Fidel Castro that their free ride of terror is coming to an end.

Quote of the Week

"Freedom is the greatest thing there is. That's why I admire those people in Cuba that are on hunger strikes for freedom. Freedom is consubstantial to humanity."

-- Alexis Valdes, Cuban actor, comedian and television personality, El Nuevo Herald, March, 18, 2010.

Resolution of the Polish Sejm

Friday, March 19, 2010
Resolution of the Polish Sejm (Parliament) on the internal situation of the Republic of Cuba:

The Sejm of the Republic of Poland, representing the Polish tradition of fighting for freedom and recognizing the heritage of "Solidarity", condemns the actions of the Cuban authorities targeting the members of Cuban democratic opposition. Those repressions violate the International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights, which Cuba has once adopted.

Despite the efforts of international organizations, particularly those of the European Union, the situation of over 200 political prisoners inside Cuba remains very difficult. The Sejm of the Republic of Poland expresses its grief over the passing of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after 85 days of hunger strike and appeals to Cuban authorities to release all political prisoners, as requested by Guillermo Farinas.

The Sejm of the Republic of Poland appeals to Cuban authorities to respect the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, reminding that according to the Declaration "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person". The Sejm of the Republic of Poland appeals to Cuban authorities to begin a democratic dialogue with the representatives of opposition, the purpose of which would be the creation of the democratic political system in the Republic of Cuba.

IACHR Concerned About Farinas

IACHR Concerned about Situation of Guillermo Fariñas in Cuba

Washington, D.C.— The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern over the situation of Guillermo Fariñas, a journalist and human rights defender who has been on a hunger strike in Cuba since February 24, 2010. According to the information the Commission has received, Guillermo Fariñas began a hunger strike the day following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died of starvation after a lengthy hunger strike in prison.

The Inter-American Commission sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba on March 12, 2010, requesting that it provide information about Mr. Fariña's situation within a period of five days. However, that time limit has expired, and the Commission has received no reply.

Mr. Fariñas embarked on a hunger strike to demand the release of 26 political prisoners who have serious health problems. The Inter-American Commission has asked the State of Cuba on numerous occasions to release, immediately and unconditionally, the victims in IACHR Case No. 12.476, political dissidents who have been deprived of their liberty since 2003. The IACHR also recommended to Cuba that it overturn the convictions against these persons, inasmuch as they were based on laws that impose unlawful restrictions on their human rights.

The IACHR once again urges the State of Cuba to order the immediate and unconditional release of all the victims in Case 12.476, overturn their convictions, and adapt its legal procedures to applicable international standards for due process, so that those who go before the courts for a determination of their rights and responsibilities can count on the minimum legal guarantees to be able to exercise their defense.

The Commission also reiterates that restrictions to political rights and to freedom of expression and the dissemination of thought, the lack of elections, and the lack of independence of the judiciary create a permanent situation in Cuba in which the fundamental rights of its citizens are violated. The Commission urges the State to carry out the reforms that are necessary in accordance with its international human rights obligations.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who act in a personal capacity, without representing a particular country, and who are elected by the OAS General Assembly.

The Consistency of Bad Actors

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI):

Innospec Inc. Pleads Guilty to FCPA Charges, Defrauding the United Nations and Violating the U.S. Embargo Against Cuba

Innospec Inc., a Delaware corporation, pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $14.1 million criminal fine for defrauding the United Nations, violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and violating the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The charges relate to Innospec's payment of kickbacks to the former Iraqi government under the UN Oil for Food Program and bribe payments it made to officials in the Iraqi Ministry of Oil. Innospec also admitted to selling chemicals to Cuban power plants, in violation of the U.S. embargo against Cuba. According to court documents, Innospec manufactures and sells specialty chemicals and is the world's only manufacturer of the anti-knock compound tetraethyl lead, used in leaded gasoline. In a related matter brought by the United Kingdom's Serious Fraud Office, Innospec's British subsidiary, Innospec Ltd., pleaded guilty in the Southwark Crown Court in London in connection with the corrupt payments to Indonesian officials. In connection with those charges, Innospec Ltd. will pay a criminal penalty of $12.7 million.

Amnesty International on "Ladies in White"

Cuba's 'Ladies in White' At Risk of Beatings and Intimidation, Says Amnesty International

Amnesty International urged Cuban President Raúl Castro to ensure the safety of a group of female relatives of prisoners of conscience ahead of a scheduled demonstration today.

The call came after a protest by the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) was forcibly broken up by Cuban police yesterday, who briefly detained several women.

After the incident, some of the women said they had been beaten by the police. They include Reyna Tamayo, mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died on February 22, 2010, having spent several weeks on hunger strike to demand the release of prisoners of conscience.

"The Cuban authorities must stop repressing legitimate dissent and harassing those who are only asking for justice and exercising their freedom of expression," said Kerrie Howard, deputy director of the Americas at Amnesty International. "Instead, they should review their repressive legislation and release all those who have been detained for years sentenced in summary trials on charges that are often baseless.

"The Damas de Blanco, an unofficial group of women relatives and friends of individuals imprisoned around a major crackdown around March 18, 2003, have organized daily demonstrations in Havana during the week of the seventh anniversary of the arrests. 53 of those arrested in March 2003 continue to be detained.

Since the start of their campaign, members of the Damas de Blanco have been victims of threats and intimidation by Cuban security officials.

On March 15, state security officials visited Soledad Riva's home and advised her against taking part in the events organized by the Damas de Blanco. The officials warned her that if she took part in a demonstration she could risk being beaten and would not see her children again. Her children live abroad and Soledad has been seeking an exit visa to visit them, which so far has not been granted by Cuban authorities.

Soledad Rivas' husband is a former prisoner of conscience Roberto de Miranda Hernández, a demonstrator who was detained in March 2003 but released in June 2004 on health grounds.

On March 16, several members of the Damas de Blanco were intimidated by government supporters during a march they had organized to call for the release of their relatives in prison.

Government supporters shouted insults at them and physically assaulted William Cepero Garcia, a man supporting the protest. Hugo Damian Prieto and Juan Carlos Vasallo, two men who were supporting the demonstration, were detained.

HSBC's Obsession With Tyrants

According to Courthouse News:

A senior vice president says HSBC Bank fired him for objecting to the bank's accepting money that came from "trade with Cuba and Iran."

Tomas Benitez Rionda says HSBC Bank named him its "Hero of the Year" in December 2007, and flew him to Paris to receive the award, then fired him a year ago because he "objected to and refused to participate in HSBC's having customer account relationships that included the proceeds of trade with Cuba and Iran."

In his complaint in Miami-Dade County Court, Rionda, whom HSBC hired in 2000 as a senior vice president, said he noticed that "certain clients were funneling large amounts of money that originated or passed through such countries via their HSBC domestic accounts, in violation of federal law."

Rionda says he informed his supervisor and HSBC's compliance department, and his supervisor told him "to do nothing."

(Literally) Projecting Zapata Tamayo

New York City-based artist, Geandy Pavon, has truly honored the life and memory of Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died last month pursuant to an 86-day hunger strike protesting the abuses of the Castro regime.

Pavon literally projected the image of Zapata unto the facade of the Castro regime's Mission to the United Nations.

It's a brilliant "art protest."

Don't miss the images towards the end of the clip (not to mention Pavon's Porno Para Ricardo t-shirt).

Zapata Resolution Passed by Senate

Last night, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution honoring the life of Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died last month pursuant to an 86-day hunger strike protesting the Castro regime's abuses.

The resolution, presented by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, furthermore:

"Calls on the United States to continue policies that focus on respect for the fundamental tenets of freedom, democracy, and human rights in Cuba and encourage peaceful democratic change consistent with the aspirations of the people of Cuba."

The Plight of Cuba's Hunger Strikers

Thursday, March 18, 2010
By The Guardian's (United Kingdom) John Keenan:

The plight of Cuba's hunger strikers

Cuba's neighbors should tell Castro's regime that if it wishes to avoid isolation it needs to improve its human rights record

Today marks the seventh anniversary of a vicious crackdown on opponents of the Castro regime in Cuba. In the spring of 2003, the news agenda was dominated by the preparations for the US-led invasion of Iraq. In Havana, 90 so-called "agents of the American enemy" were arrested. Among those incarcerated were teachers, doctors, union organizers, journalists, human rights activists and dissidents.

Seventy-five of those arrested were tried in circumstances which fell short of international standards. They were given jail sentences ranging from six to 28 years. As bombs fell on Baghdad, few voices were raised in protest at events in Cuba.

The anniversary this year is likely to receive more attention. One of those arrested in 2003, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died last month following an 80-day hunger strike. Another dissident, Guillermo "Coco" Farinas, who began a hunger strike on February 24, is perilously close to death. A third political prisoner, Ariel Sigler Amaya, who has been in prison for 20 years, is in extremely poor health in a Havana hospital and, according to his family, is receiving inadequate treatment.

These developments have not gone entirely unnoticed. The European parliament has condemned the "avoidable and cruel death" of Tamayo and called on the communist dictatorship to release its political prisoners. Governments closer to the Caribbean island, however, have been more muted in their criticism. Leaders in the region find it more convenient to call for the United Kingdom to cede sovereignty over the Falklands than to denounce the human rights abuses of their neighbor. A new regional grouping, provisionally called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, will hold its first meeting in Caracas next year and has the enthusiastic support of Raul Castro.

There is no chance that this body will speak out against the persecution of Castro's opponents. Latin American leaders are caught in a trap of their own making, believing that to criticize human rights abuses in Cuba is somehow to support Washington's embargo.

The despots in Havana seem to think that they can pursue the "China model" of modern development – reaching out with one hand for economic ties with foreign countries, while crushing internal dissent with the other. Cuba's neighbors need to tell Castro's regime that if it wishes to avoid isolation it needs to improve its human rights record. As the brave Cuban men and women who dare to speak out against their rulers are harassed, imprisoned and worse, the prospect remains shamefully remote.

Letter to Spain's President

CPJ urges EU leader to seek freedom for Cuban journalists

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
President of the Government of Spain
In charge of the presidency of the European Union
Palacio de Moncloa
Madrid, Spain

Via facsímile: 34-913- 900-217

Dear President Rodríguez Zapatero:

On the seventh anniversary of the Cuban government's massive crackdown on dissidents and the independent press, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls on you as leader of the European Union to take the forefront in defending human rights by urging President Raúl Castro to immediately release 22 journalists now jailed in Cuba.

From March 18-20, 2003, Cuban state security agents arrested 75 dissidents, including 29 journalists, in a roundup known as the Black Spring. Within weeks, authorities held summary trials and sentenced these journalists to prison terms of up to 28 years on vague antistate charges connected to their reporting.

The EU imposed diplomatic sanctions against Cuba in response but lifted them in 2008 provided the Cuban government improve its human rights record. Havana has disregarded these conditions. Under the presidency of Raúl Castro, Cuba has continued to jail writers and editors and has failed to reform some the world's most repressive laws on freedom of expression. In letters to European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel on June 25, 2008, and March 17, 2009, CPJ has detailed this unfortunate record and has urged the EU to hold Cuba accountable for press freedom abuses.

Over the past seven years, Cuba has freed a small number of journalists in exchange for international political concessions, but it has released none since February 2008, CPJ research shows. In fact, one additional independent journalist has been imprisoned since 2008. Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, director of the Havana-based independent news agency Havana Press,was sentenced in May 2009 to three years in prison on charges of "disrespect" and distributing "enemy propaganda."

With 22 reporters and editors in prison, Cuba is the third-worst jailer of journalists in the world after Iran and China. These imprisoned journalists are often warehoused in inhumane conditions, deprived of wholesome food and adequate medical care. Their health is worsening, and their families are harassed by authorities, CPJ research shows.

In our annual worldwide survey of press freedom conditions, Attacks on the Press, CPJ has detailed other, significant areas in which the Cuban government denies its citizens the fundamental right of free expression.

In a country where the government has complete control of the media, independent journalists working for foreign-based news Web sites are routinely threatened and harassed by security police. Laws and regulations restricting Internet access continue to be among the most repressive in the world. In a 2009 report on online repression worldwide, CPJ ranked the island nation as the fourth-worst country in the world to be a blogger.

Despite these huge obstacles, Cuban citizens yearn to exercise their right to free expression. A new community of independent bloggers and online journalists has emerged in Cuba in recent years, a 2009 CPJ report found. These bloggers and online journalists face ongoing intimidation and threats.

Under your leadership, the Spanish government has played a key role in helping to secure the release of jailed Cuban dissidents, including a number of independent journalists. While we appreciate your efforts, it is important to note that progress has stalled. As you know, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on March 11 condemning the death in custody of jailed dissident Orlando Zapata, urging the Cuban government to release all political prisoners, and noting the lack of a significant Cuban government response to the EU's calls for reform.

Spanish officials have indicated interest in revising the EU's 1996 Common Position on Cuba. The common position, which was reaffirmed in June 2009, demands improvement in human rights and political liberties in Cuba. CPJ believes the EU's common position must continue to seek demonstrable improvements in human rights. The EU should insist that improved economic and political ties depend on the release of all imprisoned journalists. Cuba must be held accountable for its human rights lapses; it must not be rewarded for pursuing a cynical strategy of releasing a small number of dissidents in exchange for improved
international relations.

Cuban journalists have paid an enormous price for exercising the basic human right of free expression. We call on you as EU leader to work with the other European heads of state and government to urge Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, allow international humanitarian organizations access to Cuban prisons, implement international covenants on human rights signed by Cuba, and grant freedom of expression and access to information online, in print, and on the air.

Thank you for your attention.


Joel Simon
Executive Director

Members of Congress Mark Crackdown

Click on the image to enlarge the Dear Colleague that was sent to every Congressional office today:

Schoolkids Harassed for CAMBIO

One of the latest fads amongst Cuban schoolkids are backpacks engraved with the word CAMBIO ("Change" in Spanish).

Unfortunately, the Cuban authorities are harassing kids caught with these backpacks -- but that's not stopping them.

As one student expressed:

"I use the CAMBIO backpack at school because it looks sharp and it has a nice touch, plus, I like the fact that a backpack is persecuted like if it was a person. That craziness gives it a rebellious vibe, which is super retro."

And here's a tragic glimpse of the abuse:

"I got mine from a friend at school whose parents are against this (regime), so at the school they have the kid squeezed tight. The teachers watch him closely. At the beginning, they would search his backpack to see if he had counter-revolutionary books. If he'd take out a book on human rights, it was as if he'd placed a bomb in Revolutionary Square, the teachers would induce the guard dogs of the FEEM (Federation of High School Students) to embarrass him with insults. They would attack him as if he were some type of delinquent."

In the last few years, hundreds of young Cubans have also been harassed and arrested for wearing white wristbands with the word CAMBIO.

Courtesy of Cuban independent journalist, Aliomar Janjaques Chivaz, in Miscelaneas de Cuba.

Please Sign This Petition

From courageous pro-democracy activists in Cuba, to international political leaders and celebrities, thousands of people have signed the petition for the release of Cuban political prisoners.

Have you?

For the Freedom of Cuban Political Prisoners

For the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuban jails; for respect for the exercise, promotion and defense of human rights anywhere in the world; for the honor and courage of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, unjustly incarcerated and brutally tortured in Castro's prisons, who died while on a hunger strike denouncing these crimes and the lack of rights and democracy in his country; for respect for the life of those who risk death such as Zapata Tamayo to prevent Fidel and Raúl Castro's government from vanquishing their critics and peaceful opponents by sentencing them to up to 28 years in prison for "crimes" of opinion; for respect for the physical and moral integrity of each person; we sign this letter and invite to sign it all those who have chosen to defend their freedom and the freedom of others.

Sign here.

Choking CHANGE

Wednesday, March 17, 2010
This picture is worth 1,000 words.

Cuban state security drags away one of the "Ladies in White" in a headlock. Her white t-shirt has the word CAMBIO (Spanish for "Change") printed on it.

Ladies in White Arrested

Cuban state security has just detained 30 activists as they marched in a protest led by the mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban political prisoner who died in a hunger strike on February 23.

Most of the arrested were members of the "Ladies in White" movement -- mothers, wives and daughters of current political prisoners.

They were marching to protest the 7th anniversary of the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003, which resulted in the arrest of 75 pro-democracy leaders by the Castro regime.

Soon thereafter, they were forced into two buses.

Chavez's 30,000 Cuban Advisers

By the former editor of the Christian Science Monitor, John Hughes:

The Castro-Chávez link: What are 30,000 Cuban advisers doing in Venezuela?

The Obama administration has dismissed Venezuela's Hugo Chávez as a pesky loudmouth. But he imperils regional security and freedom.

While two wars in Southwest Asia and a dangerous confrontation with Iran dominate President Obama's foreign- policy worry list, oil-rich Venezuela, much closer to home, is becoming more than a minor irritant.

To date, the Obama administration has dismissed Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez as a pesky, leftist loudmouth, whose verbal eruptions against the United States pose no threat. But a new era of "Cubanization" in Venezuela should warn of a crackdown against Mr. Chávez's domestic opponents and a stepped-up drive for socialist revolution across Latin America.

Chávez has been importing "advisers" from Cuba. There are now some 30,000 of them, many of them intelligence, security, and political affairs officers, as well as medical personnel.

Chávez's recent installation of Cuban Vice President Ramiro Valdes in a key advisory role in Venezuela is seen by Chávez opponents as a sinister move toward greater "Cubanization" and Castro-style communism. Mr. Valdes is also Cuba's communications minister and ranks third in the Cuban hierarchy. His job in Venezuela is supposedly to handle an electricity crisis – though his qualifications are suspect.

In recent years, Chávez has established alliances with nations that could be counted on to tweak Washington. Russia has engaged in military exercises with Venezuela and signed an agreement to supply up to $2 billion worth of weaponry. China is buying more than 330,000 barrels of oil daily from Venezuela and has signed an investment agreement to develop more. China also has just completed a $400 million communications satellite for Venezuela.

Iran has been Venezuela's most ingratiating suitor. The two nations have signed dozens of agreements in recent years to boost infrastructure, energy, and manufacturing in the South American country. Chávez has visited Tehran often, pledging cooperation with Iran in opposing "US imperialism," liberating countries from the "imperialist yoke," and furthering "Bolivarian socialist principles" in Latin America. Chávez has consistently endorsed Iran's nuclear program.

At home, Chávez lauds Fidel Castro as a political blood brother, and communist Cuba as an example for all of Latin America.

His governance has become increasingly authoritarian, detailed in a blistering report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. It highlights how Chávez has undermined judicial independence, intimidated or silenced opposition media, hobbled elected opposition figures, and criminalized dissidents and human rights groups.

Last week, a Spanish judge accused Venezuela of colluding with terrorist groups including the Basque ETA rebels and the Colombian FARC.

Once lauded by his people as a reformer, Chávez is now the target of angry street rallies, especially as he has rather blatantly plotted to stay president for life.

Cuba depends on Venezuela's cheap oil (the US is also a major buyer) and would be disadvantaged if the Chávez regime fell. Havana may be alarmed by the fissures in Chávez's support and probably welcomed the opportunity to position Valdes in Caracas to bolster Chávez.

Cuba's leaders may also have some concerns about their own country's political stability. Cuban dissidents say word has been passed up the military command that the ailing Fidel Castro may not outlast this year. His succession is by no means certain. Fidel's brother Raúl, currently managing the country while his brother is incapacitated, is credited with being a better administrator than Fidel, but lacks Fidel's charisma.

The Obama administration, beset by major problems at home and challenges abroad, may have thought it could delay confronting lesser problems in Latin America. This may prove to have been an unwise calculation.

Mr. Obama: Don't be surprised by that 3 a.m. call.

Congressional Staff on Cuba Policy

Capitol Hill Pulse periodically polls Congressional staffers to gauge political trends and realities from the people closest to the legislative process.

In its latest poll, there was a question regarding Cuba policy. Judging from the results, it seems there isn't too much optimism or enthusiasm for unilateral changes.

Question 4 - Will the Cuban Embargo change under the Obama Administration?

Total %

% of Democrat Votes

% of Republican Votes

(a) Any changes will be very minor, it will largely remain the same




(b) Family travel restrictions and humanitarian based trade will loosen some, but non-family travel and Cuban exports will continue to be prohibited




(b and c)* Family travel restrictions and humanitarian based trade will loosen some, but non-family travel and Cuban exports will continue to be prohibited AND The Embargo will be lifted and the U.S. will resume normal trade and travel relationships with Cuba




(c ) The Embargo will be lifted and the U.S. will resume normal trade and travel relationships with Cuba




No answer








Torture in Guantanamo

Tuesday, March 16, 2010
The health of another Cuban political prisoner on a hunger strike, Ricardo Galvan Casals, is quickly deteriorating due to the same abuses that led to the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo last month.

Galvan, who is 41-years old and a member of the Youth for Democracy Movement, has been placed in a punishment cell in the Castro regime's Combinado de Guantanamo Prison ("The Real Guantanamo") and denied water for five days, in order to "force" him out of the hunger strike.

He is serving a 3-year prison term for "disrespect."

Statement in Geneva

Statement delivered at the U.N. Human Rights Council by Freedom House, represented by Maria C. Werlau, regarding the situation of prisoners in Cuba:

On behalf of Freedom House, I thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity to speak at this Council.

Cuba has more than 200 political prisoners, 55 whom have been designated prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International – nearly half of those 55 are journalists.

As we meet today, former political prisoner Guillermo Fariñas is in critical condition from a hunger strike.

Cuba's prisoners of conscience

Cuba's prisoners of conscience have historically resorted to hunger strikes to protest abhorrent prison conditions, beatings, malnourishment, denial of medical care, forced labor, unfair punishments, extrajudicial killings by guards, and other abuses.

Moreover, in the last 40 years, twelve individuals have died in Cuban prisons during hunger strikes, including, most recently, Orlando Zapata.

Currently, there are two dozen political prisoners throughout the island who are extremely ill and in danger of dying, including 46 year-old Ariel Sigler.

Countless men and women are also confined for pre-criminal "dangerousness" – an allegation by the government that they will engage in "dangerous" activities such as distributing copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or discussing issues related to human rights.

Prisons are rampant with disease. Inhumane conditions lead to acts of self-mutilation, psychological disorders, and extreme suffering. From 2007 to 2009, there were 99 reported deaths from forced or alleged suicides, medical negligence, and extrajudicial killings; these reports came from just 40 of several hundred prisons.

Mr. President, we recommend, with utmost urgency, that the Council ask:

(1) for Mr. Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur for Torture, and the International Red Cross be allowed to visit Cuba's prisons immediately;

(2) that all political prisoners be unconditionally released, including those held for "dangerousness."

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Spain Loses Policy Battle

Spain Sees No Chance of Short-Term Change in EU's Cuba Policy

MADRID (EFE) – The Spanish government believes it will be virtually impossible to achieve its goal of revising the European Union's relatively tough policy toward Cuba during Madrid's current six-month term in the EU's rotating presidency, foreign ministry sources said here Monday.

The need to achieve unanimity among the bloc's 27 member nations will stall any agreement to change the EU's so-called Common Position, which conditions dialogue with Cuba on improvements in the realms of human rights and democratization.

Changing the Common Position, adopted in 1996, became even more difficult following last month's death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo following an 85-day hunger strike, the ministry sources said.

Despite that, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said in comments to Parliament that Madrid will go on pushing for a change in EU policy toward Cuba.

"Fair Trade" Concerns (and Hypocrisy)

Anyone that saw last Thursday's hearing of the House Agriculture Committee must have thought Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and some of his Cuba bill supporters, were absolute trade fanatics.

Yet, their enthusiasm seems to be limited to Castro's Cuba.

As a matter of fact, Chairman Peterson has opposed every trade agreement during his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives, from Peru, Chile, Central America and the Dominican Republic (CAFTA), to Australia -- all democratic allies we might add.

Peterson has even voted in favor of withdrawing the U.S. from the World Trade Organization (WTO). Why?

"Fair trade" concerns.

Ironically, this weekend The Hill newspaper reported that,

"A free trade agreement with Panama won't happen until the nation's leaders raise tax and labor standards, Democrats and watchdogs say."

Let's assume those concerns are valid.

Why haven't they expressed concern about Cuba's secretive banking system?

After all, it's the banking system of a state-sponsor of terrorism country, to which only the Castro regime's elite and foreign businessmen have access, void of credible supervision and from which billions can be confiscated at whim (as European importers learned this past year).

Apparently, that doesn't faze Chairman Peterson and the co-sponsors of his Cuba bill, who want to establish direct banking relations with Castro.

And what about Cuba's abysmal labor record, which has been continuously condemned in the International Labor Organization (ILO)?

When asked about the pending Panama, Colombia and South Korea trade agreements, National Farmer's Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson suddenly lost his enthusiasm for trade and began to express labor concerns in those countries.

But not in Cuba?

This is particularly disturbing as the whole thrust of Chairman Peterson's bill is to provide a windfall of hard currency to the Castro regime, so that it can -- supposedly -- buy more U.S. agriculture with it.

Even if (and it's a big "if") Castro did use the tourism revenue to buy U.S. agriculture -- as opposed to financing its repressive machinery -- what about the labor standards in Cuba's tourism industry?

Isn't anyone concerned that the Castro regime and foreign investors collaborate in a system of "slave labor"?

By contract, foreign investors must hire Cuban workers through the regime. The foreign investor then pays the Castro regime in hard currency, approximately U.S. $400 a month per worker, while the regime pays the workers in worthless Cuban pesos in what amounts to about $10 per month.

Furthermore, these workers aren't allowed to unionize.

Not so fair, is it?

Warrants for Cuba-Based Terrorists

Monday, March 15, 2010
A Spanish judge requested international arrests warrants for six suspected members of the Basque terrorist group, ETA, and six members of the Colombian narco-terrorist group, FARC.

Three of the six ETA suspects named in the arrest warrants live in Cuba.

On March 1st, they were charged with terrorism and conspiracy to assassinate government officials, including Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, during a trip to Spain.

How will the Castro regime respond?

If history (and the regime's silence) is any indicator, it will continue to harbor terrorists.

February Repressive Arrests Double

According to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), the number of civil society activists arbitrarily arrested in February by the Castro regime doubled to 236.

And these are only arrests they've been able to track down and document. There are likely many more.

The CCDHRN had reported 93 arrests in December 2009 and 113 in January of this year.

Why is the Castro regime so afraid of the Cuban people?

It's No Time for Mixed Messages

From the Editorial Board of The Miami Herald:

Cuba: No more

OUR OPINION: Castros deserve repeated condemnations

With a few outstanding exceptions like Václav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia, Europe's leaders have a deplorable history of painting a smiley face on Cuba's police state.

Not one of them would willingly live under a 50-year dictatorship. Yet faced with the abuses they would never tolerate within their own borders, they have tended to make excuses for the repression, systematic denial of civil liberties and coercive measures used by the Castro brothers to ensure the survival of the longest-lived tyranny ever seen in the Western Hemisphere.

Anyone who still has illusions about the nature of the Cuban regime need only read the State Department's latest human rights report, issued last week. It is a depressing, 12,000-word chronicle describing the many and varied ways by which the state continues to deny Cuba's citizens basic human rights.

Through it all, Europe has taken a markedly soft diplomatic approach to Cuba. Yet last week's 509-30 vote by the European Parliament to condemn Cuba for the death of hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo certainly represents a marked change from the tendency to look the other way when it comes to the Castros' totalitarian behavior.

Could it be that the veil has finally been lifted from Europe's eyes? We won't hold our breath, but Cuban human rights advocate Elizardo Sánchez rightly called it the strongest declaration on Cuba ever issued by European democracies.

Europe's line on Cuba is based on the notion that it would permit the continent's leaders to establish credibility as friends of Cuba in order to nudge the regime toward a democratic political transition. As the shocking death of Orlando Zapata demonstrates, it hasn't worked, and it won't as long as Fidel and Raúl Castro are calling the shots.

If Europe has been late in coming around, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has demonstrated a shocking incapacity to comprehend the plight of the Cuban people. As a former political prisoner, jailed for his labor activism under a military regime in Brazil decades ago, Brazil's president should be able to relate to the misery and pain of Cuba's political inmates. Instead, he has equated them to common criminals in Brazil's prisons. How could he be so wrong?

Perhaps like the Europeans, Mr. da Silva's courtship of the Castro brothers is an attempt to show his independence from the United States and create the opportunity to act as an "interlocutor'' between Cuba and other countries. If so, he's going about it very badly. There is a thin line between "interlocutor'' and "enabler,'' and with his latest comments, Brazil's president has made himself the latter rather than the former.

As this is written,another Cuban dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, is staging a hunger strike to protest the violent and inhuman ways of the Cuban state. At last report, Mr. Fariñas was in frail condition and had been rushed to a hospital after two weeks of refusing food and liquids.

It should not have taken the death by starvation of Orlando Zapata -- and possibly more such deaths to come -- for Europeans to awaken to the reality of Cuba's government. Now that they are on the right track, they should stay the course.

The Castro brothers have only one objective: to remain in power as long as one of them is alive. Only by calling them out for each and every transgression can the leaders of other countries help the Cuban people to achieve liberty.

Spain's Epiphany

"To minimize, or sacrifice, human rights requirements for the sake of an upcoming transition is not only morally unacceptable, but only contributes to that transition not arriving."

-- Editorial Board of Spain's largest (and left-leaning) newspaper El Pais, "Cuba-España-UE," March 13, 2010.

A Lack of Protocol (and Judgment)

Last week, Politico reported that current U.S. Chief of Protocol, Capricia Marshall, was surprised with an unexpected "gift" during a recent Washington, D.C. party.

The "gift" was a picture of Marshall with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The picture was taken in 1994 during the inauguration of South African President Nelson Mandela.

Marshall is the one in a semi-hypnotic state in the center.

The Chief of Protocol is an officer of the U.S. Department of State and is responsible for advising the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State on matters of national and international diplomatic protocol.

We pray Ms. Marshall shows better judgment in her official capacity.

For all those that think meetings and pictures with the Cuban dictator are "cute," we've also included a picture of Reina Tamayo, mother of recently deceased Cuban political prisoner, hunger striker and victim of the Castro brothers, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, holding her son's bloodied t-shirt from one of the savage beatings he received.

Quote of the Week

Sunday, March 14, 2010
"No mercenary dies for his ideas, mercenaries die for money."

-- Guillermo Farinas, Cuban pro-democracy leader and journalist, who is on a hunger strike demanding the release of 26 political prisoners in need of medical care, rejecting the Castro regime's smears that he is a mercenary,, March 14, 2010.

Canadian Spring Break Advisory

If you're a Canadian teenager thinking about spring break in Cuba, consider Miami Beach instead.

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) ran a tragic story about a spring breaker who had an accident on a Cuban beach:

"Teenagers looking for fun in the sun this March break would be wise to pick up travel medical insurance, says an Ottawa mother whose son was in an accident that cost him one of his legs.

Sue Holland's son, Matt, went to a Cuban resort in 2003 with some classmates, the year they were set to graduate from high school. He was playing football and running on the beach when his foot caught a dip in the sand.

'He ended up breaking his leg and severing an artery,' Holland said. Matt was taken to a local hospital and treated for the break. But the leg became severely infected and he was flown to Miami for emergency medical attention.

After a few days, with the infection spreading to the rest of his body, the doctors had to amputate his leg

The mother believes his leg would have been saved if properly treated in Cuba.

Fortunately for U.S. Congressman Jerry Moran, the remaining spring breakers were able to remain on the island to "teach Cubans about democracy." Click here for context.

Time to List Venezuela?

From the Editorial Board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Chavez's terrorist state

A Spanish indictment makes a slam-dunk case for adding Venezuela to the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, which already names Cuba, its de facto conjoined twin, plus Iran, Syria and Sudan.

Spain's anti-terrorism court contends Venezuela's government cooperated with the Basque separatist terror group ETA and the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which have plotted to assassinate Colombia's president. Among those indicted is ETA militant Arturo Cubillas Fontan -- who's also a Venezuelan government official.

Spanish authorities call Mr. Fontan a murder suspect who's been responsible for ETA in that part of Latin America since 1999 and coordinates dealings with FARC. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called him a Ministry for Land and Agriculture deputy director since 2005.

That's about as cut-and-dried a basis for declaring Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism as is possible. Add that to Mr. Chavez's many prior links to FARC, and the question becomes: What's State waiting for?

A U.S. "state sponsor" designation would restrict foreign aid and ban defense exports and sales to Venezuela. Given the threat that both ETA and Chavez pose, it's a label Venezuela richly deserves.

From Fidel's Daughter

In today's Miami Herald:

Unconscionable Imprisonment

By Alina Fernandez Revuelta

Some days ago, the official daily Granma argued why the Cuban authorities should allow the death of Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who's on a hunger strike to push the regime to free two dozen imprisoned dissidents said to be critically ill.

The island's iron-fisted government does not think it proper to force-feed him. "There are bioethical principles that obligate the physician to respect the decision of a person who has decided to initiate a hunger strike," it said. As always, the regime lashed out at the United States, remarking that it is the American authorities who violate the rights of hunger strikers held in the prisons in Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram when they force them to ingest food.

They forget one detail. To begin with, Guillermo Fariñas is not in prison and he's exercising his right to strike from his own home.

The Granma journalist fails to mention that Fariñas is doing that in homage to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who took 83 days to die because he was demanding prison conditions proper for his status as a human being.

These are not conditions that we in the free world consider standard treatment -- even for prisoners deprived of freedom. No, no. According to Omar Pernet, a former fellow inmate at the Gunajay Prison, one of the "treatments" he and Orlando suffered was to walk down a corridor from their cell to another section of the prison.

Along the entire corridor stood 14 soldiers, who punched the inmates on the head, the stomach, the legs and the back as they walked. Blows from everywhere, struck by 14 pairs of arms holding weapons. Systematic beatings, a daily torture made more odious and vicious by the fact that the inmates expected them every day.

A torture foretold. In the hands of your own compatriots, in defense of whose freedom and rights you are there, imprisoned. It is hard to imagine, but it is one of the usual practices in Cuba's ideological prisons.

To say the least, there is a basic difference between Cuba and many other countries and it is that on the island nothing protects the individual against the State. No institution defends a human being against the political machine that could crush it at any moment. A civil lawyer is an obeisant scribe who almost always is more scared than the detainee.

That is why it is all the more surprising that the Cuban authorities know and handle the American judicial system to perfection, in all instances. That is demonstrated by the legal war they waged in a Florida courtroom (and won) in the case of Elián Gonzalez. The photographs of the child, terrified by the police forces around him, were seen worldwide.

The five spies who went to prison after the 14 original Wasp Network arrests have used up all legal recourses and their case has reached the Supreme Court. Should the court accept the five Cubans' plea, it would be the first time in decades that the Supreme Court accepts a case involving the parameters that should be followed to decide a change of venue in criminal cases.

The Cuban regime's knowledge of working the U.S. legal system is not limited to civil or federal cases, because it also extends to the financial-legal system.

How much did the Swiss bank UBS pay as punishment for rerouting more than $3 billion to the island? A $100 million fine. Cuba, which deals in minute detail with U.S. law and defends with ferocity its spies, the boy rafter, and its own multimillion-dollar fortune, justifies itself frivolously when it concedes to its people the right to starve themselves to death.

But isn't this the way we Cubans have lived for more than half a century?

God willing, the voices of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Guillermo Fariñas and now Félix Bonne will weigh on the collective consciousness of the regime's accomplices as a recurrent nightmare.

Alina Fernández Revuelta is the author of "Castro's Daughter: an Exile's Memoir of Cuba."