Cartoon of the Week

Saturday, March 27, 2010
It reads (in Spanish):

Raul yelling at Fidel, "Dammit, she's a nurse! She's not one of the Ladies in White!"


Courtesy of Arroz Con Punk.

More Repression

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

More repression in Cuba

OUR OPINION: Cubans' pent-up frustration met with violence

President Obama's condemnation of repression in Cuba is a welcome if somewhat belated acknowledgment of the campaign of "intensified harassment" that the Castro-run government is directing at Cubans who dare to demand freedom and engage in nonviolent protests.

Such campaigns are business as usual for Cuba's rulers. Fidel Castro's regime is characterized by repression designed to stifle any form of independent activity. At other times, Castro has seized on the pretext of "intervention" from other countries, real or imagined, to tighten the screws on his own people.

The "black spring" of March 2003, when some 75 dissidents were rounded up and thrown in prison for years, was his petulant reaction to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

What is unusual about the current wave of repression is that it responds to a completely spontaneous outburst of pent-up frustration inside the country. More and more Cubans are just plain fed up.

The death of hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo one month ago was the most dramatic example of this, but the courage of the Ladies in White who repeatedly dare to confront Castro's baton-wielding goons may represent a greater threat in Castro's eyes. Their example tugs at the conscience of their countrymen and inspires respect and admiration.

The repression should spur other governments to join with President Obama to demand the immediate, unconditional release of political prisoners in Cuba. Castro's police state is a consistent and unapologetic violator of human rights, abetted in its behavior by all those who turn a blind eye to its crimes.

The death or Orlando Zapata prompted the European Union to suspend efforts to improve relations with Cuba. Its member countries should go further to demand that the Cuban people be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Have You Signed Yet?

Please watch the video below and click here to sign.

Have They No Shame?

In Cuba, pro-democracy leaders are languishing in political prisons and dying in hunger strikes, as their wives, mothers and daughters ("Ladies in White") are violently assaulted for demanding their freedom.


In the Cuban diaspora and international community, hundreds of thousands are gathering in acts of human solidarity with these courageous advocates.


Meanwhile, in Cancun, Castro regime officials, U.S. travel industry executives and U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota (via teleconference), shamelessly gathered to discuss how to double the Cuban dictatorship's GDP, while turning a blind eye to its brutal repression.

Quote of the Week

Friday, March 26, 2010
"I've been crying since yesterday. Today [contrary to what happens in Cuba] I was able to take pictures without any guard approaching me. I am free. My family in Cuba needs the same."

-- Gisel Mena, a 33 year old who arrived from Cuba in 1994, talking about Thursday's South Florida march in solidarity with the "Ladies in White," El Nuevo Herald, March 25, 2010.

My Bet is on the Future

The Castro regime's official media reported today:

"Raul Castro Paid Tribute to Commander of the Revolution Juan Almeida

President Raul Castro paid tribute on Wednesday to late Commander of the Revolution Juan Almeida Bosque in the Tercer Frente municipality of eastern Santiago de Cuba province where his mortal remains rest.
"

Meanwhile, Commander Almeida's son, Juan Juan Almeida, who has been arrested on several occasions for criticizing the Castro regime's abuses, marched last week in Havana with the "Ladies in White."

Talk about a generational contrast.

Please don't miss Juan Juan Almeida's amazing blog, "The Voice of El Morro," which highlights moving testimonies of repression from victims of the Castro regime.

Farinas: Condemn and Isolate Dictatorship

According to Reuters:

Cuban dissidents praise Obama, government silent

Cuban dissidents applauded U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday for denouncing their ill treatment by the Cuban government and said it had helped their cause [...]

Dissident hunger striker Guillermo Farinas, in a telephone interview from his hospital bed in the central city of Santa Clara, said Obama's declaration would not have an immediate effect, but would help isolate the Cuban government.

"That is very important, given that with a dictatorial, totalitarian government as exists here, one must not negotiate. You have to condemn and isolate dictatorships," he said.

Farinas, 48, was in the 29th day of a hunger strike seeking the release of 26 ailing political prisoners. He has vowed to die for his cause if necessary.

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board

Tougher on Cuba: President Obama speaks up at the right time

PRESIDENT OBAMA issued a statement Wednesday that forthrightly described what has become of his effort to reach out to the Castro regime in Cuba. "Instead of embracing an opportunity to enter a new era," he said, "Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist."

It was a good moment for the president to speak out. Cubans have been stirred, and the regime has been rattled, by a new movement of hunger strikers. On Feb. 23, the imprisoned Afro-Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after refusing food for 83 days. The next day, opposition activist Guillermo Fariñas began a strike, demanding relief for 26 political prisoners needing medical attention. He is now reportedly in a hospital near his home in the central Cuba town of Santa Clara and is being fed intravenously. If he dies, other dissidents are ready to replace him.

The response of Raúl and Fidel Castro to the strikers and the international protests they prompted has been uncompromising. They refused to prevent Mr. Zapata's death; last week, a protest in Havana by the Ladies in White, a group of relatives of political prisoners that includes Mr. Zapata's mother, was violently broken up by police and pro-regime thugs.

Mr. Obama noted that he had sought "a new era in relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba." Though he didn't renounce that goal, he said, "Today I join my voice with brave individuals across Cuba and a growing chorus around the world in calling for an end to the repression, for the immediate, unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuba, and for respect for the basic rights of the Cuban people."

Those were the right words; what remains to be seen is whether -- and when -- the administration will follow up on them. Last year the State Department effectively froze $40 million appropriated by Congress to support democracy in Cuba while conducting a review of programs launched by the Bush administration. In official and unofficial contacts, the Castros have been demanding the end of the programs, which have channeled aid to the families of dissidents and provided training and equipment -- including cellphones, laptops and Internet connections -- to civil society groups. An American contractor working in that effort, Alan P. Gross, was arrested by Cuba in December and has been imprisoned -- some would say held hostage -- ever since.

After some sharp questioning by congressional Republicans, the State Department notified Congress this month of its plans to spend $20 million of the money; officials say the programs have been revised so that more is spent on social and civil society groups inside Cuba, and less on political operations outside of the country. That sounds reasonable -- but now Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) has placed his own hold on the funding. A spokesman says he has "a list of questions on the policies, purposes, costs, benefits and modalities of the programs" and that the "review will not be prolonged." We hope that's the case: This is the wrong time for the United States to be holding up support for Cuba's courageous dissidents.

Statement From Shakira

Statement from Colombian, Grammy-winning, pop sensation, Shakira:

Today I join the call to action by Gloria Estefan to support the Ladies In White, who are true heroines of our time, exemplars of female courage and victims of the repression and violation of human rights in Cuba. I hope that this rising up for the freedom of all political prisoners and respect for human rights will reach the very heart of all the tyrants and that above all, plants seeds of liberty in all the young people of the world, because it is us who justice depends on.

In Solidarity

Thursday, March 25, 2010
With Old Havana:


From Little Havana:

Constituent Letter to U.S. Rep. Cleaver

U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II
1027 Longworth House Office Building
Washington DC 20515

Dear Congressman Cleaver,

You may be aware that a Cuban opposition leader, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died during a long hunger strike in Cuba protesting the conditions in which he and his fellow political prisoners were and are kept in all of Cuba's many prisons. The Cuban regime refused to listen, and refused him water for weeks, prompting his death. People were prevented from attending his funeral, and he and his mother have been slandered and libeled by Raul Castro's henchmen.

Subsequently, and as a result of Zapata's murder by the Cuban regime, another opposition leader, Guillermo "Coco" Fariñas has taken up a hunger strike with the same objectives: to force the regime to free its political prisoners and by extension to bring freedom, respect for human rights, justice and change to Cuba. His health is weak, and there is a real possibility that he may die soon since the government refuses to hear and comply with his demands.

Others are also on this path.

And some more are lining up to take up the struggle if these die.
As a District 5 constituent and voter, as a US citizen of Cuban origin, and as a human being who loves justice, respects humans rights and expects these to be afforded to all; I urge you to join the international campaign to free the political prisoners in Cuba by signing this letter today.

Please don't allow any other person to die in the pursuit o respect for what are their God given rights. Do what is correct, and join your voice to those of many thousands, simple citizens and public personalities alike (artists, doctors, economists, politicians, etc) who have already signed this appeal.
Cordially,

Ernesto Ariel Suárez
Kansas City, MO


U.S. Rep. Cleaver (2nd from left) during a press conference in Havana.

Another Cuban Prisoner Murdered

Julio Santos Hernandez, a 31 year-old Cuban prisoner, died yesterday as a result of a brutal beating he received at the hands of military guards at the Provincial Prison of Pinar del Rio (Kilo 5 1/2).

The beating caused fractures in his cervical vertebrae and trachea.

This tragic news was confirmed to Radio Marti by former Cuban political prisoner, Raúl Luis Risco Pérez.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 19

From today's The Miami Herald:

Obama toughens his stance over Cuba's crackdowns

President Barack Obama, in his harshest censure of Cuba's repression of dissent, Wednesday said Havana had used "a clenched fist" against "those who dare to give voice to the desires of their fellow Cubans."

Obama also appeared to hint that his efforts to improve U.S. relations with the Raúl Castro government have lost steam in the face of the recent string of tough actions by Havana.

"During the course of the past year, I have taken steps to reach out to the Cuban people and to signal my desire to seek a new era in relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba," said a four-paragraph statement released by the White House [...]

"With this statement [Obama] has chosen to side with Cuba's future, as opposed to unconditionally embracing the regime that only represents its repressive present and past," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the pro-sanctions U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee.

Cuban-American Members Commend Obama

Diaz-Balarts and Ros-Lehtinen Thank Obama for his Statement in Solidarity with the Cuban People

President recognizes increased repression by the Cuban dictatorship.

WASHINGTON, DC - Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) issued the following statement thanking President Obama for his message of today regarding the human rights situation in Cuba:

"We thank President Obama for his statement in solidarity with the Cuban people and his recognition of the increased repression by the Cuban dictatorship. President Obama called for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuba and for the Cuban people's right to freely determine their future. He also noted the tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the ongoing repression against 'Las Damas de Blanco.' In a moment when the Cuban people are in dire need of support, we express our gratitude to President Obama for this gesture of solidarity. Now more than ever it is time to demand international solidarity and to increase assistance to the brave heroes who struggle for freedom and democracy within Cuba."

Obama Statement on Human Rights in Cuba

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
THE WHITE HOUSE

Statement by the President on the Human Rights Situation in Cuba

Recent events in Cuba, including the tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the repression visited upon Las Damas de Blanco, and the intensified harassment of those who dare to give voice to the desires of their fellow Cubans, are deeply disturbing.

These events underscore that instead of embracing an opportunity to enter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist.

Today, I join my voice with brave individuals across Cuba and a growing chorus around the world in calling for an end to the repression, for the immediate, unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuba, and for respect for the basic rights of the Cuban people.

During the course of the past year, I have taken steps to reach out to the Cuban people and to signal my desire to seek a new era in relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba. I remain committed to supporting the simple desire of the Cuban people to freely determine their future and to enjoy the rights and freedoms that define the Americas, and that should be universal to all human beings.

First Come the Slogans

According to the BBC:

Bolivian army adopts Cuba's revolutionary slogan

Bolivia's army has begun using the revolutionary motto "Fatherland or death, we shall overcome!", angering some conservative former generals.President Evo Morales introduced the slogan, which was popularised by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara - the leaders of the Cuban communist revolution.

It is seen as part of Mr Morales' effort to turn the army into guarantors of his socialist revolution.

Kudos to Google

From Google's Senior Vice-President and Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond:

A new approach to China: an update

On January 12, we announced on this blog that Google and more than twenty other U.S. companies had been the victims of a sophisticated cyber attack originating from China, and that during our investigation into these attacks we had uncovered evidence to suggest that the Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights activists connected with China were being routinely accessed by third parties, most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on their computers. We also made clear that these attacks and the surveillance they uncovered—combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the web in China including the persistent blocking of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger -- had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue  censoring our results on Google.cn.

So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services -- Google Search, Google News, and Google Images -- on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over.

Congressional Leaders Urge Gross's Release

Van Hollen Urges Cuban Officials to Release Alan Gross
 
Joins 40 Members of Congress on Bipartisan Letter to Urge Release of U.S. Citizen
 
 
Washington, D.C. – Today Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined 40 Members of Congress, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), on a bipartisan letter to urge Cuban officials to release Alan Gross. Mr. Gross, a U.S. citizen from the Eighth District of Maryland, was arrested in Havana on December 3, 2009 while doing work pursuant to a U.S. government contract.

The text of the letter is below:

Mr. Jorge Bolanos
Chief of Mission
Cuban Interest Section
Embassy of Switzerland
2639 16th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
  
Dear Mr. Bolanos,
  
We wish to convey our serious concern regarding the arrest and continued imprisonment by your government of an American citizen, Alan P. Gross.  We urge the Cuban Government to immediately release Mr. Gross from custody and return him to his family in the United States.
  
Mr. Gross was arrested in Havana on December 3, 2009.  It is our understanding that at the time of his arrest, Mr. Gross was in Cuba to help the Jewish community improve their ability to communicate with Jews, both in Cuba and overseas.  He was working pursuant to a U.S. government contract.  Mr. Gross's work in Cuba emanated from his desire to make a positive impact for others of his faith on the island. 
  
Mr. Gross is a social worker and a humanitarian.  He has worked in development for over 25 years in more the 50 countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, the West Bank, and Gaza.  He has devoted his career to helping thousands of people around the world.  Mr. Gross is 60 years old and we are concerned for his health, which we understand has worsened recently.  In addition, his 86-year old mother's health has begun to deteriorate rapidly in the past few weeks, due to her son's incarceration.  The Gross family, including his wife and two daughters, miss him terribly and are struggling to get through this ordeal.
  
The arrest and imprisonment of Mr. Gross is viewed with great consternation by the government of the United States, including both Democrat and Republican Members of the United States Congress, whether liberal or conservative.  It has caused many to doubt your government's expressed desire to improve relations with the United States.  We cannot assist in that regard while Mr. Gross is detained in a Cuban prison.  We urge you in the strongest possible terms to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Gross and allow him to return to his family in the United States.
  
Sincerely,
  
Chris Van Hollen                           Steny H. Hoyer
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
 
Lois Capps                                  Sheila Jackson-Lee
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
    
John W. Olver                              Pete Sessions
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
     
Jason Chaffetz                            Gary Ackerman
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
     
Joe Sestak                                  Jan Schakowsky
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
  
John A. Boccieri                           Gene Green
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
   
John Culberson                            C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
     
Peter Welsh                                Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
     
Tim Ryan                                    Lamar Smith
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
 
Bill Foster                                   Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress

Rush Holt                                   Edolphus Towns
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
 
Edward Markey                            Ted Poe
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress

Eliot Engel                                  Brian Higgins
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress

Kenny Marchant                          Ann Eshoo
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
 
Al Green                                     Leonard Lance
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
   
W. Todd Akin                              Paul Tonko
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
 
Michael McCaul                            John Shimkus
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress

Rodney Frelinghuysen                   Elijah Cummings
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress

Adam Schock                              Charlie A. Wilson
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
  
Henry Waxman                            Michael Capuano
Member of Congress                     Member of Congress
   
Kevin Brady
Member of Congress

State Department Honors Dr. Darsi Ferrer

Tuesday, March 23, 2010
From the U.S. Department of State:

Dr. Darsi Ferrer received the 2009 State Department Freedom Defenders Award, Honorable Mention. This award recognized Dr. Ferrer's work and bravery in the defense of human rights in Cuba. He was the only Honorable Mention recipient in the Western Hemisphere. Dr. Ferrer has been imprisoned without charge in a Cuban jail since July 2009. Yesterday, Assistant Secretary Mike Posner had the opportunity to conduct a video teleconference with Dr. Ferrer's wife, Mrs. Yusnaymi Jorge Soca, and the rest of Dr. Ferrer's family to talk about his case. And at the same time, he had the opportunity to speak directly with members of the Damas de Blanco group that has been conducting peaceful protests within Cuba, seeking expanded human rights and freedom of expression.

Gloria Estefan Leads March Thursday

According to NBC:

Estefan to Lead March on Cuba

Rally designed to support the Ladies in White activists in Cuba

After seeing women protesters dragged through the streets in Cuba, Gloria Estefan figured the best way to fight the injustice was to dress in white and carry on the march.

The Cuba native is calling on all Cubans in Miami to come out and rally against the Castro government on Thursday in Little Havana at 6 p.m.

"Cubans and non-Cubans alike that live in liberty need to take the opportunity at this moment in history to come together and show them that we care," Estefan said at a press conference, "We are all united in the love and the need for a free Cuba and freedom for the Cuban people that are enslaved right now on the island."

The march will travel along Calle Ocho and will be led by the Grammy award-winning singer and song writer.

The protest is expected to be just as peaceful as the one held in Havana on March 17, when the Ladies in White were attacked by Cuban police, dragged into buses and hauled away.

Ladies in White, or Las Damas de Blanco as they are known in Cuba, is a group of wives and mothers whose relatives are in prison for opposing Fidel Castro's government.

If you are interested in attending the march, meet at Beacom Blvd., between 7th and 8th Streets, before the start of the march. The march will go from 22nd to 27th Avenues.

From General to General

General Raul Castro has just relieved Military General Juan Escalona Reguera from his position as Attorney General. Cuban state media has cited "health reasons" for this decision.

Escalona Reguera has been replaced by the Head of the Main Military Attorney General's Office, Major General Dario Delgado Cura.

That is how "law" is administered in Cuba's military dictatorship.

Fearsome Ladies

From The Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

Fearsome Ladies

The women who scare Castro.

Thirty women walking with gladiolas don't usually strike a frightening pose -- unless you're the government in Cuba. Last Wednesday, the Castro government broke up such a peaceful march in Havana, lest the courage of the "ladies in white" become contagious.

This month marks the seventh anniversary of the "Black Spring," when Cuban state security rounded up scores of journalists, political dissidents, writers, poets and independent librarians that the regime decided were a threat to the revolution. Seventy-five of them received harsh prison sentences in summary trials.

Many of the wives, sisters and mothers of the prisoners have petitioned the government for improved prison conditions and their release. Dressed in white, they have highlighted their calls by walking each Sunday after Catholic Mass through the streets of Havana. In 2005, they were awarded the European parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The government has alternately ignored or harassed them, but the ladies march on.

Wednesday's procession -- one of seven days of protest to mark the anniversary of the mass arrests -- included the mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the 42-year-old human rights activist who died in a Cuban prison last month. Reina Tamayo is becoming something of a national icon, and she described her Wednesday experience this way to the Cuban Democratic Directorate in Miami:

"They dragged me, I am all bruised. They beat me. They called me a [racial slur; she is black]. They will know this mother's pain. When I get to my home town of Banes in my home province of Holguin they will have to bury me with my son. But my people will remember me. They will remember me... The Castro brothers cannot be forgiven. They cannot be forgiven."

No wonder Fidel is afraid.

The Writing on the Wall

According to The Miami Herald:

Cuban embassy official in Mexico defected

A Cuban diplomat based in Mexico and her husband defected last week, but their whereabouts remain unknown, worried relatives said Tuesday.

Yusimil Casañas, 25, head of the passport section of the Cuban embassy in Mexico City, and her husband, Michel Rojas, 32, disappeared March 17, said her uncle, Esteban Casañas Lostal, who lives in Canada.

Yusimil's mother contacted him to report the defections and ask for his help in case they were detained by Mexican authorities, who may refuse them asylum and force them back to Cuba, Casañas Lostal said.

Casañas previously served in the Cuban diplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York, her uncle said. He had no further information on Rojas, though spouses of Cuban diplomats abroad generally also work in the embassies.

The Cuban embassy in Mexico is one of the largest the island maintains around the world, in part because it's also a base for intelligence, political and propaganda operations against the United States, according to U.S. intelligence experts.

Cuba's Tourism "Entrepreneurs"

This weekend, there will be another "Cuba Travel Summit" -- this one held in Cancun, Mexico.

Apparently, these Summits are a good business in-and-of themselves. Ultimately, their goal is to have Cuban officials seduce the U.S. travel industry with "lucrative" business opportunities, in the hopes that they will ramp up their lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C.

The organizers enthusiastically highlight that, "Cuban participants from previous Summits have included (titles at time of participation)":

Ibrahim Ferradaz, Minister of Tourism
Miguel Figueras, Senior Advisor to Minister of Tourism
Berto Perez, General Director, Havanatur
Antonio Diaz, Vice Director, Havanatur
Pedro Vilches, Chief of Commercial Department, Havanatur
Meise Weis Graibe, President, Habaguanex (Old Havana)
Jesus Calderon, President, ITH (purchases for tourism industry)
Silvio Calves, Ministry of Transportation (cruise ships)
Juan Jose Vega, President, Cubanacan
Maria de la Luz B'Hamel, Ministry of Foreign Trade
Rafael Dausa, Ministry of Foreign Relations (U.S.-Cuba Relations)
Gustavo Machin, Ministry of Foreign Relations
Dagoberto Rodriguez, Chief, Cuban Interests Section, Washington, D.C.
Elvira Castro, Ministry of Foreign Investment

So what do all of these people have in common?

They are all officials of the Castro regime.


But wait, there's more.

Havanatur is part of the Cimex conglomerate, the notorious commercial arm of Cuba's Ministry of the Interior, which runs the country's intelligence apparatus. Meanwhile, Cubanacan is a part of the GAESA conglomerate, the notorious commercial arm of Cuba's military, which is run by Raul Castro's son-in-law, Col. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas.

Those are Cuba's tourism "entrepreneurs."

And that's what it boils down to -- the Castro regime looking for U.S. private entrepreneurs to provide a financial windfall to its aging regime and ensure that its repressive forces are the ultimate arbiters of Cuba's future.

Who loses in this scenario?

The victims of this repression -- the Cuban people.

A Must-Read Excerpt

Dr. Gayle McGarrity, a University of South Florida Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies, published an important opinion piece in The Miami Herald entitled, "Yes, Cuba Has a Race Problem":

It contains this must-read excerpt:

I became familiar with the Ley de la Peligrosidad (Dangerousness Law), which was used to dissuade Cubans from interacting with foreigners, but which disproportionately affected darker skinned Cubans. This law allowed Cuban police to harass, arrest and even imprison anyone whom they deemed to be a potential or actual delinquent.

Although I was treated much better than darker skinned Cubans, I did feel discrimination. When I would attempt to enter places reserved for tourists, I would be questioned and had to make sure that I always had my foreign passport handy.

Reflecting the Views of the U.S. Government

Monday, March 22, 2010
An editorial from the Voice of America:

Cuba Still Fails On Human Rights

One party rule remains the law of the land, and when elections are held they are neither free nor fair.

For 34 years, the United States has reviewed the state of human rights around the world, to provide the U.S. Congress with a record to help it make decisions on U.S. relations with other nations. Human rights begin with a fundamental commitment to the dignity that is the birthright of all people, and the report is a fair measure of assessing how a country measures up to that ideal, in the interests of its citizens and the greater international community. As it has so many times in previous years, Cuba continues to fail in that regard.

Since the 2009 Human Rights report was released, the island nation's government has made no effort to expand political freedoms. One party rule remains the law of the land, and when elections are held they are neither free nor fair. Citizens have no avenues to press for change. There also remain strict limitations on freedom of expression and freedom of movement. Internal travel is restricted and Cuban citizens are selectively denied exit permits to leave the island even for short trips. There is no free press. The government also censors and greatly restricts access to the Internet.

Draconian laws maintain state control, allowing for punishment of any unauthorized assembly of more than 3 persons, including private religious services. The law also provides for imprisonment for vaguely defined crimes such as "dangerousness," a pre-emptive arrest for a crime that hasn't been committed. The government has held numerous opposition leaders on such authority on prison sentences up to 25 years, even for engaging in peaceful political activities.

Underscoring the lack of change in Cuba, the release of this year's Human Rights Report coincides with the anniversary of the 2003 Black Spring crackdown in which 75 activists were arrested. Fifty-three are still jailed. Their imprisonment violates international human rights law, which as a member of the United Nations, Cuba is obliged to respect.

The U.S. again urges the Cuban government to allow the Red Cross and United Nations officials to visit Cuban jails. The necessity for this was sadly demonstrated by the recent death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo. And as always, we urge Cuba to release all of its prisoners of conscience.

Bonus Quote of the Week

"Maybe if North Korea was 90 miles away, we'd have similar rules on them."

-- Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for PBS's Newshour, responding to a guest's comment that allowing travel transactions with North Korea but not Cuba is "illogical," Destination Casa Blanca, March 19, 2010

Is Life Sacred in Cuba?

By Havana-based, Cuban pro-democracy blogger, Claudia Cadelo:

Is Life Sacred In Cuba?

These words of Arlin Rodriguez, from the (Cuban regime's) TV talk show The Roundtable on March 17, thundered in my ears for half an hour. A few days ago I had access to three hundred photos of the autopsies of those who died at the psychiatric hospital in Havana and I cannot imagine how that phrase came out of the mouth of a journalist.

When I opened the little folder called "Mazorra" a series of monstrosities hit me in the face and I couldn't stop looking at the cruel graphic testimony. A friend who is a doctor visited and while he analyzed images I didn't have the courage to look at, expressions like, "Holy Virgin Mary, Blessed God, What in God's name is this?" issued from his outraged throat, mixed with obscure pathologies and the names of diseases both treatable and curable.

Enormous livers, tubercular lungs, and wormy intestines are the proof, Senora Arlin, of the sacredness of life in Cuba. Meanwhile The Roundtable throws a fit because the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo has unmasked a crumbling public health system, and they try to cover up the disgrace of a seeing soldiers dragging and beating a group of women dressed in white with flowers in their hands.

I ask myself, Gentlemen Journalists, when will they explain to Cubans the reasons why twenty-six mentally incapacitated people died in inhumane conditions during their confinement in Mazorra?

Note: I publish this photo with a completely clear conscience; if they were not shown there would be no proof of the suffering that these people were subjected to. If not for the hard photos that denounced the Nazi Holocaust, the genocide of Pol Pot or the tortures in the prisons of Abu Ghraib, they, too, would not have existed.

Dutch Politician Slams Spain's Foreign Policy

Sunday, March 21, 2010
According to Radio Netherlands:

Prominent Dutch politician Hans van Baalen says that Spain supports Latin American dictators.

He made the comments as leader of the world federation of Liberal parties in the European Parliament. He went on to say Spain maintains close ties with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and with Fidel and Raul Castro of Cuba.

He also pointed out that Spain's left-wing Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has still not recognised the results of the democratic elections in Honduras. He says this is hampering the normalization of European relations with the Central American country.

He has called on Spain "to make a clear choice for democracy in Latin America."

In November, Mr van Baalen became involved in a diplomatic row with Nicaragua. President Ortega said he had deported the conservative politician and accused him of seeking to incite a coup d'état. Mr van Baalen said he was in the country to talk with liberals and was only informed of his imminent deportation as he was leaving the country.

Hans van Baalen is a Member of the European Parliament for the conservative VVD.

A Congressman's Poor Judgment

The New York Post ran an interesting piece on U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York (not related to, nor to be confused in any way with, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Florida).

It discusses his relationship with some of the world's most unsavory dictators:

Throughout his political career, Meeks has benefited from a series of high-level friendships and political connections that have drawn scrutiny.

The Democrat also has a curious habit of fawning over brutal world dictators.

In 2006, Meeks visited Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez during a taxpayer-funded trip portrayed as a mission to thank him for providing cheaper home heating oil to Americans.

But a month earlier, Meeks was allegedly asked to use his influence with the dictator on behalf of Allen Stanford, a banker later charged in a massive Ponzi scheme.

More recently he praised homicidal dictator Robert Mugabe, when he met the Zimbabwean strongman last month as part of a Congressional delegation sent to check out humanitarian projects and the country's government.

"As you know, he is a great man and we look forward to continue working with him until we have a relationship that all of us want to have," Meeks told the local press after the 90-minute meeting.

He met with Fidel Castro during a 1999 visit to Cuba, and upon his return urged the US Government to partially lift the blockade against the communist island.


U.S. Rep. Meeks is 2nd from the left in this picture at a Havana news conference with U.S. Reps. Bill Delahunt and Jeff Flake.

The Risks of Virtual Protest

A great article in the online literary magazine, Sampsonia Way, on the courage and challenges facing Cuba's bloggers.

It features Generation Y's Yoani Sanchez, Octavo Cerco's Claudia Cadelo and Boring Home Utopics' Orlando Luis Pardo.

Click on the image to read.

Who are the "Castro Supporters"?

A BBC (and most other major media outlet's) headline on this week's peaceful demonstrations by the mothers, wives and daughters of Cuban political prisoners, known as "The Ladies in White" reads,

"Castro supporters heckle 'Ladies in White' protesters"

So who are these "Castro supporters"?

Essentially, they are workers and Communist Party conscripts -- many not by choice -- that are organized and bused by Cuban state security to stage counter-protests. If they refuse to do so, they risk losing their jobs and face marginalization.

Their goal is to create the farce of "popular support."

This isn't unique to the Castro regime. It's an old tool of dictatorships, long used by tyrants from Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein to more recently, the Ayatollahs in Iran.

Furthermore, these "supporters" are infiltrated by plain-clothes state security agents looking to weed out anyone that is less than enthusiastic about being there.

Therefore, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the same faces keep popping up amongst these "pro-Castro" crowds month after month.

For example, in this first picture, you can see a state security agent, identified as "Rodney," at this week's violent suppression of the Ladies in White march. You can also see him at last November's act of repression against famed Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez's husband, Reinaldo Escobar.


And in this second picture, the blog Penultimos Dias has identified the same person in three different staged operations within the last few months. Apparently, there aren't too many workplaces for them to choose from.

State security agents aside, are all of the people bused to these staged protests "Castro supporters"?

No,
as Mexico's La Reforma newspaper discovered this week. Many simply have no choice, are just curious or even support the Ladies in White (and are immediately weeded out).

As such, the media should be careful in casting the term "Castro supporters" so loosely.