The Gladioli Revolution

Saturday, April 3, 2010
Please read this moving perspective from Havana by Lucas Garve of the Foundation for Freedom of Expression.

It is on the "Ladies in White" and their inspirational struggle, which is clearly reverberating throughout the island.

The Power of Flowers

In the street, many people stopped me to ask me about them for most of this past week. They did so in a low voice, but making their indignation clear, in fact one young woman told me how much she had come to understand the manipulation of the state controlled media by the regime.

The majority of the people declared to me their rejection of the violent methods used by the repressive forces of the regime against this group of women dressed in white who walked though the streets of Havana giving away flowers to bystanders.

The Ladies in White honored their imprisoned husbands for the seven years for which they have endured suffering in Cuba's jails. They had to withstand the frontal attacks by mobs (Or Rapid Response Brigades, dressed in civilian clothing) organized by the repressive apparatus of the regime to make it seem as if though it was the "people themselves who rejected the Ladies in White."

This time, the attacks on the Ladies in White consisted of insults and direct physical violence. Hundreds of television viewers saw on TV the broadcasts of these events from stations in Miami which captured though illegal sources and video everything that occurred in Havana.

Not the Cuban baseball playoffs, not the news about the earthquake in Haiti, nor the newly taken stance of the European Union against the regime, was what was on the minds of those who saw the images on the TV of the regime's brigades against the Ladies dressed in white, at the entrance of the Church of Santa Barbara in the Havana neighborhood of Párraga, suburb south of the capital.

One observer said that the violence was directed not just against the Ladies in White, but also against the residents of Párraga, a poor neighborhood where discontent against the regime is more concentrated than in other parts of the city. The violence, used as a sort of warning against those who would dare to join the Ladies in White in their protest.

One mother said that it was amazing that a government that likes to say that it helps the poor of other countries would commit the brutalities it did against a group of women who only ask for the liberty of their husbands and who give out flowers. The woman was present in Coppelia one day when the Ladies in White appeared giving out flowers to people.

So powerful were the images transmitted by the Television broadcasts that one youth, disgusted by the violence of the government on TV, expressed that: "This illustrates the human degradation to which the government is willing to lower itself to in its desperation."

It is clearly a reflection of the crisis that drowns the lives of ordinary Cubans, governed by an elite that does not cease to dream about a perennial and eternal war (against the US), the only thing they have known how to do well. Because as we know it is easier to make war than to construct peace.

No one filled with this much hate can possibly restore the time lost by so many generations of Cubans. Much less if they are afraid of the power of flowers.

Translated from Spanish by UrbanGypsy.

Quote of the Month

"Political prisoners do not exist in democracies. In a truly free country, no one goes to prison for thinking differently. Cuba can use all of the rhetorical efforts it wishes to sell the idea that it is a 'special democracy,' but each political prisoner is a factual rebuttal of that assertion. Every political prisoner is irrefutable proof of its authoritarianism."

--Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize Recipient, Spain's El Pais newspaper, March 13, 2010.

Images Are Louder Than Words

Friday, April 2, 2010
By columnist Miguel Perez of the Creators Syndicate:

Cuban images louder than words

For many years, Cuba's government-orchestrated protests were good enough to fool some. All over the planet, many fools actually believed that the Cuban people loved their government so much that they would run out of their homes to shout obscenities at anyone with a dissenting opinion.

And for many years, Cuban government propaganda had the world thinking that Fidel Castro's communist revolution had somehow liberated the black people on the Caribbean island. African-American politicians, proud defenders of civil rights in the United States, would go there on "peace and love" junkets — without much concern for the human and civil rights of black Cubans.

It was Cuban theater at its best. No one believed us Cuban-Americans, who had lived behind those theater curtains, when we explained that Cuba had many more black dissidents than it had black government officials. No one listened when we explained that the Castro dictator had special "rapid response brigades," or gangs of government goons, assigned to squash any dissident opposition with anything from verbal abuse to physical violence.

Foreign correspondents in Cuba even have reported that these "spontaneous" mob responses by government "supporters" are usually led by people who carry walkie-talkies and, thus, are obviously government officials.

Even Amnesty International recognized, in a 2006 report, that these "acts of repudiation," in which "large groups of government supporters verbally abuse, intimidate and sometimes physically assault and throw stones and other objects at homes of anyone considered to be counter-revolutionary ... are normally carried out in collusion with the security forces."

I understood why no one listened. It was too fictional, too Machiavellian — the kind of story that would not seem real even in the movies.

Yet, new technology is uncovering atrocities by the Cuban government. Just go to YouTube and search for "Ladies in White" or "Damas de Blanco" and you will see how a group of courageous Cuban women are treated for attempting to march peacefully on the streets of Havana and pleading for freedom for their imprisoned relatives.

In video and still images captured March 17 in Havana, you will see the kind of repression that the Cuban government no longer can hide behind its theater curtains. You will see how Cuban authorities forcibly intervened in a peaceful demonstration and dragged these women into a bus while other Cuban government goons shouted obscenities at them.

Circulated around the world via the Internet, these images have ignited a new wave of condemnation against the Castro regime. That's why thousands of non-Cubans joined with Cuban-Americans in dissident solidarity marches in Miami, Los Angeles and New York last weekend. That's why they were dressed in white.

They have seen the images of peaceful Cuban dissidents being accosted by angry mobs in the same way that a lynch mob would more logically confront a rapist or a serial killer. They have seen how even the relatives of imprisoned dissidents — some black, some elderly and one still mourning the recent hunger-strike death of her dissident son in a Cuban prison — are subjected to all kinds of human rights violations.

After the latest "Ladies in White" repression video, even President Barack Obama, who has been trying to befriend the Castro brothers, was forced to condemn them.

"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," Obama said in a written statement. "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 are strong words from a president who, just last year, froze $40 million that had been appropriated by Congress to support the pro-democracy movement in Cuba. The recent hunger-strike death of dissident prisoner Orlando Zapata and the ongoing hunger strike by dissident Guillermo Farinas are making it hard for Obama to embrace their tormentors.

Yet, although Obama's State Department recently announced that it would defreeze half of the $40 million designated to support Cuban dissidents, a prominent U.S. senator has decided to single-handedly squash the technological support that has begun to give the Cuban people a chance to fight for freedom.

As if the Cuban "rapid response brigades" had members in the U.S. Congress, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., rapidly announced last week that as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was placing the $40 million on "a temporary hold." A Kerry spokesman shamelessly told reporters that the senator needs "assurances that these (pro-dissident) programs have eliminated waste, fraud and abuse" and that he will wait for the State Department to "undertake a review of these programs."

At a time when computers, satellite dishes, cell phones and other forms of new technology are finally exposing the plight of Cuban dissidents, when their struggle for freedom and democracy is finally gaining some world attention, amazingly, some American politicians still are trying to block their way. The Cuban "rapid response brigades" need more people like Sen. John Kerry.

Peterson's Pyramid Bill

During a meeting yesterday with Southern Maryland farmers, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack discussed the possibility of expanding agricultural sales to Cuba, but stated as a caveat:

"As long as it's consistent with our values."


So now here's the question for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, the main sponsor of a bill that seeks to increase agricultural sales to Cuba by doubling the Castro regime's tourism income:

Is providing $1-2 billion in tourism income to the Castro regime's military with the hope (stress the word hope) that it will turn around and purchase more U.S. agricultural products (as opposed to the regime's historic record of strengthening its repressive apparatus with similar financial windfalls, e.g. Soviet and Chavez subsidies) consistent with American values?

Frankly, it sounds like a dangerous pyramid scheme to us.

Failed Cuba Overtures

Thursday, April 1, 2010
In today's South Florida Sun-Sentinel by columnist Guillermo I. Martinez:

Time to admit Obama overtures toward Cuban regime failed

For many years now, maybe even decades, those enamored with the Cuban government repeat as a mantra that the U.S. embargo on the island does not work, that the best way to improve relations with Cuba is to lift all restrictions on travel and trade.

Many of those who oppose the regime admit, albeit quietly, that the embargo has not worked. And that after more than five decades in power, we are no closer to ousting Fidel Castro than we were in the early 1960s. Yet after the Obama's administration's most recent failed efforts at improving relations with the Castro brothers, the least that those who advocate lifting the embargo should do is to admit that their peace offering approach does not work, either.

The Obama administration admitted that much last week after Cuba was condemned internationally. A statement from President Barack Obama was released by the White House Media Affair Office. It said: "Recent events in Cuba, including the tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the repression visited upon La Damas de Balnco, 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."

Seldom in recent times has repression in Cuba brought about such stern rebuke throughout the world. Tens of thousands of Cuban exiles heeded the call of Gloria and Emilio Estefan and gathered in a five block area of Calle Ocho in Miami to silently protest Cuba's repression against those who dare raise their voice in opposition to the regime. Cuban exiles also gathered in other American and European cities. The European Union suspended efforts to improve relations with Cuba. Leftist intellectuals from around the world — including singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez in Cuba — denounced the Castro regime and demanded that change come to the island.

Trying to improve relations with the Cuban government is a no-win proposition. Now that the Obama administration has allowed exiles to travel to visit their relatives, the government has imposed a new levy so more of the money Cubans want to give their relatives winds up in the government coffers.

Let the Cubans seek better relations and admit publicly they are willing to change. Until they do, no matter how big the carrot, Cuba will continue abusing its people.

Silence on Cuban Injustice

By Univision's popular news anchor, Jorge Ramos:

Silence on Cuban Injustice

On Twitter recently, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez asked, "Why do most of Latin America's governments remain silent about what's happening in Cuba? We need their solidarity."

Sanchez posted this question from Havana on her Twitter page (yoanisanchez) March 14.

Up to that moment, all of Latin America's governments, in a guilty and gutless way, had kept quiet regarding the death last month of jailed political dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and about human rights violations in Cuban jails. A lot of time passed before any criticism emerged from the region.

On Feb. 23, when Zapata Tamayo dies in Havana after an 86-day hunger strike, there is a photo of the 32 Latin American and Caribbean leaders at the Cancun Summit in Mexico, all smiling -- including Raul Castro. But not a word is uttered about the life and death of Zapata Tamayo.

Possibly the leaders didn't know at the time that Zapata Tamayo had died. But the press had already reported widely about his precarious state of health.

Then came the worst, and unexpected criticism: from Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on a visit to Cuba, who far from condemning the circumstances of Zapata Tamayo's death, justified them.

"Hunger strikes cannot be used as a human rights' pretext to set people free," he told the press when he returned to Brazil. "Imagine if all thebandits now incarcerated in Sao Paulo started a hunger strike to demand freedom."

Bolivian President Evo Morales was even more explicit. He called Zapata Tamayo a "delinquent" even though Morales himself was once jailed in similar circumstances for his own political way of thinking.

"This is a Cuban internal issue," Morales said, "but it becomes an international scandal when a Cuban on a hunger strike dies."

El Salvador President Mauricio Funes's government could not have chosen a less opportune day to reopen the country's embassy in Cuba. If it had gone without an embassy there for 48 years, couldn't it have waited for a more appropriate moment?

Neither the Salvadoran foreign minister nor first lady Vanda Pignato -- who cut the ribbon at the embassy's opening -- dared even mention Zapata Tamayo or Guillermo Farinas, another dissident who had already commenced his own hunger strike. When Funes visits Havana soon, we'll see if he dares ask for the same freedoms for Cubans as he seeks for Salvadorans.

There are 247 political prisoners in Cuba, according to Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission, a group made up of dissidents opposing the Castro regime.

The majority of Latin American governments, however, have yet to speak up on the subject of Cuba's jailed political dissidents.

The first courageous leader to break the silence was Chile's new president, Sebastian Pinera, who condemned the death of Zapata Tamayo and called for a transition to democracy in Cuba.

The second was Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias.

"Political prisoners do not exist in democracies," Arias said this month.

"Cuba can make all the efforts of oratory it wants to sell the idea that it is a special democracy, but each political prisoner is in practice a denial of that affirmation ... each political prisoner is irrefutable proof of authoritarianism."

Mexico came next: "Mexico exhorts the Cuban government to take necessary action to protect the health and dignity of all its prisoners," declared the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tepidly. The statement was not as forceful as Arias's, but it put Mexican President Felipe Calderon's oft postponed trip to Cuba at further risk.

Other statements -- either weaker or stronger -- came later. But what should be underlined is that two political dissidents, Zapata Tamayo and Farinas, changed the way the world sees Cuba.

Today no one can deny that Cuba is a dictatorship which tortures and kills anyone who dares to think differently and opposes the party line.

What we want, Farinas told me in a phone interview from hospital, is "to show the world the cruelty, the criminal essence of the Cuban government."

Yes, Cuba can change from the inside. That is what Farinas, Zapata Tamayo, Yoani Sanchez and the Ladies in White (a group of women in Cuba who are fighting for the freedom of dissident family members in jail) are demonstrating. When that occurs, Latin America cannot -- must not -- remain silent.

Colombia Si, Castro No

By Ambassador Roger Noriega, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, in Forbes:

Colombia Si, Castro No

As farm-state Congressmen are keeping themselves busy offering trade benefits to Fidel Castro, last week Canada's Parliament announced agreement on an accord with Colombia that could cost American farmers $1.7 billion in exports. Our farmers have a right to ask why some in Washington want to waste precious days on the legislative calendar to hand unilateral concessions to Cuba in the midst of brutal crackdown there while refusing to take the time to push trade accords with three of our staunchest allies.

The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (H.R. 4645), introduced last month, would authorize tourism and ease exports to Cuba. By allowing leisure travel to Cuba without requiring even a hint of liberalization from the regime in Havana, this bill would deliver a diplomatic victory and a windfall of tourist dollars to the Cuban military that runs much of the island's segregated hotel industry.

The fact is millions of non-American tourists have visited Cuba for decades. If anything, the regime has grown more repressive -- strengthening its police state with the precious hard currency raised from tourists. For many years, hundreds of thousands of Americans have gone to Cuba under a dozen different categories of lawful travel. A year ago, President Obama loosened some limits on family travel, but he wisely refused to allow tourism or make further concessions until he saw some sign that the Cuban regime would ease up on its own people.

Our farmers have a right to ask why some in Washington want to waste precious days on the legislative calendar to hand unilateral concessions to Cuba in the midst of brutal crackdown there while refusing to take the time to push trade accords with three of our staunchest allies.

In the last few weeks, our president heard Havana's answer, as dozens of women staging a peaceful protest in the capital city were dragged, punched, kicked and detained by Cuban state security. Prisoners of conscience are staging hunger strikes in the faint hope that the world will stop appeasing the regime that torments them. Orlando Zapata Tamayo died five weeks ago, and 48-year-old journalist and psychologist Guillermo Fariñas is clinging to life right now.

"[I]nstead 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," President Obama responded. Although the president seems more convinced than ever that we must place strict preconditions on any changes in U.S. policy, H.R. 4645 would take that discretion and diplomatic leverage out of his hands.

A second part of this legislation would allow Cuba to obtain routine financing to purchase agriculture goods from the United States. I helped put in place a requirement that Cuba -- one of the world's greatest debtors and credit risks -- pay cash for our farm goods. Foreign diplomats still complain to me that our people are getting cash, while theirs are getting stiffed. I cannot see how we could improve on those terms. And it will not be long before Castro demands that we offer subsidies or credits to his bankrupt regime.

We can do right by our farmers without compromising our values. There are three other trade deals pending in Congress today -- with Colombia, Panama and South Korea -- that would mean much more for American farmers, workers and consumers. Every day that we fail to act on these accords, our competitors can take those markets away from us. For example, last week, Canada's Liberal Party helped broker a deal to advance a similar pact with Colombia. The Conservative government has agreed to reintroduce the measure with a Liberal amendment requiring annual human rights reports, and the trade accord could be approved by a majority in Parliament within two months. U.S. farmers now sell Colombia about $1.7 billion in wheat, barley, beef and pork, but they may lose out to Canadian competitors unless our Congress moves quickly to secure that market.

So what do agriculture sales and tourism to Cuba have in common, anyway? Not much. But hard-left Castro apologists are offering a quid pro quo to well-meaning farm state legislators, hoping that they will ignore the brutality of the Cuban regime and vote to loosen sanctions in exchange for meager sales to a bankrupt economy. The argument they make is that the 50-year-old embargo is only hurting U.S. farmers.

It is true that our policy has yet to produce the change we all want for Cuba. However, resuscitating the man who is the biggest obstacle to political and economic liberty in Cuba makes less sense today than ever. If we want boundless trade with a free, flourishing Cuban economy, we should preserve our upper hand to use it with a post-Castro government -- to press for broad, deep, irreversible reforms so that Cubans can reach their full potential. Making unilateral concessions to a brutal, bankrupt regime drawing its last breaths is a short-cut to nowhere.

Absurdity of the Year

The Sarasota Yacht Club (SYC) spent most of last year (and early this year) lobbying the Obama Administration for approval of a Sarasota-Havana Sailing Regatta.

Fortunately, they were not successful.

Here's how the SYC sought to justify the "humanitarian mission" of this regatta:

Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba Commodore Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich expressed optimism at a press conference Wednesday at Sarasota Yacht Club about the Sarasota-Havana Regatta.

"This year is the 80th anniversary of the first sailing regatta from Florida to Havana," Estrich said through a translator. "The same seas that separate us are the same seas that unite us."

The Sarasota-Havana Regatta is scheduled for May. But the Sarasota Yacht Club Charitable Foundation will need OFAC approval by Feb. 15 and all additional governmental approvals by March 31 to conduct the Sarasota-Havana Regatta. If the yacht-club foundation doesn't receive approval by those deadlines, the race will be rescheduled for May 2011.

Approval will be based on the race's humanitarian mission.

"We're looking at what Cuban children may need to pursue sailing,"
said Sarasota Yacht Club Commodore Kay Goodman.

This comment is not just insensitive, it is blatantly insulting.

Here's what happens to Cubans that try to go fishing (to feed themselves), not to mention risk their lives in makeshift rafts to pursue freedom across the Florida Straits.

Police carry out roundup off the Malecón

HAVANA, (Aleaga Pesant, Cubanet) – Border guards and national police carried out a roundup last Saturday of fishermen, boaters and divers off the Malecón.

The operation started at 4 p.m. and involved the seizure of fish and the sinking of rafts. Those arrested were taken to a police station, where fines of up to 1,500 pesos, the equivalent of more than three monthly salaries for the average Cuba, were meted out.

Two cigarette boats were used in the roundup.

Those who fled on foot were captured by police in patrol cars.

A source related the roundup to the coming ashore last week of rafters on the coast near the U.S. Interests Section. That incident resulted in police swarming the area.

Under Cuban law, fishermen need government permission to fish and to build boats or rafts from which to fish.

Two More Dissidents on Hunger Strike

Wednesday, March 31, 2010
According to the EFE:

Two More Cuban Dissidents on Hunger Strike

HAVANA – Two dissidents, one of them behind bars, have joined Guillermo Fariñas in a hunger strike, the unofficial Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation said Tuesday.

Franklin Pelegrino on Tuesday has been fasting for 30 days at his home in the eastern province of Holguin, while dissident prisoner Darsi Ferrer announced 10 days ago that he was beginning a hunger strike, commission spokesman Elizardo Sanchez said in a statement.

With Pelegrino and Ferrer, now three dissidents are on hunger strikes in Cuba, since Fariñas has been fasting for more than a month to demand that Gen. Raul Castro's government release 26 ailing political detainees.

Fariñas, 48, began his fast on Feb. 24, following the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike.

Zapata's death spurred at least a dozen political prisoners and members of the opposition to begin similar protests, though all of them called off their fasts after a few days.

Pelegrino is a "defender of human rights" who "on Tuesday completes 30 days of a hunger strike, at home, in support of Fariñas' demand," Sanchez said Tuesday.

In the case of Ferrer, a physician, the commission said that he was "recently named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International" and began fasting on March 20 at Valle Grande prison in Havana.

He adds that Ferrer's protest is taking place for the "poor stomatological treatment he receives and the violation of his right to due process, since he has been in jail without trial or any formal charges brought against him since July 21, 2009."

A New 1989?

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa in The Globe and Mail:

Are Cuba's true martyrs a portent of a new 1989?

In a godforsaken corner of the Western Hemisphere, a group of people have decided to die for a cause and harm no one else in the process

Nowadays, most of those who die for a cause either perish for the wrong cause or bring death to innocent people. Islamist and nationalist terrorists have turned the noble concept of martyrdom into the opposite of what we were taught it meant. We have gone from Socrates drinking hemlock in the name of philosophical inquiry to the female bombers who massacred dozens of Russians at two Moscow subway stations.

But in a godforsaken corner of the Western Hemisphere, as if taking it on themselves to restore the old tradition of martyrdom, a group of people have decided to die for a cause and harm no one else in the process. For weeks, the world has followed the drama of the Cuban prisoners of conscience, many of them black, who have started a chain of hunger strikes demanding the liberation of their fellow prisoners. Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a mason who was one of the 75 activists and journalists incarcerated in what is known as the Black Spring of 2003, died in February after a hunger strike that lasted more than 80 days. He was succeeded by psychologist Guillermo Farinas, who has now refused to eat for more than a month. Engineer Felix Bonne Carcasses has said that, if Mr. Farinas dies, he will replace him.

While these men give up their existence for a principle, a group of women symbolically dressed in white are also putting their lives on the line by taking to the streets against the Castro brothers. The Ladies in White – mothers, wives and sisters of the Cuban political prisoners jailed in the 2003 crackdown – have been kicked, punched, dragged through the streets and arrested by government thugs. And they have not flinched.

The international commotion is such that political, civic and artistic leaders who, until recently, turned the other way in the face of half a century of political persecutions in Cuba have felt compelled to express – cough, cough – their discomfort. Even Spain, which was instrumental in blocking efforts by the European Union to defend human rights in Cuba, has belatedly criticized the repression. In Havana, folk singer Silvio Rodriguez, a revolutionary emblem of the nueva trova musical movement, has begun to talk about taking the "r" out of "revolution" and replacing it with "evolution." In Miami, New York and Los Angeles, thousands of people have marched in protest.

Cuban martyrdom is not new – whether we speak of those Don Quixotes who took up arms against the revolution early on, the many would-be Mandelas who rotted in prison or the families who perished on boats fleeing the island, giving a moral meaning to the Spanish word "balsa" (raft).

But this feels different. In his Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion, Robert Wuthnow says "a crescive society, one that is weak but on the rise, produces martyrs like those of early Christianity." Their willingness to die "affirms the priority of culture over nature, law and civilization over biological self-interest."

The gradual rise of a civil society built on the foundations of law and civilization amidst the Communist tyranny is precisely what these men and women are announcing to the world – and to their fellow Cubans, mostly barred from knowing what's happening by a news blockade. What a defining moment for Cuba, comparable to the rise of the civil society that made possible 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I remember my teacher explaining that the Greek origin of the word "martyr" was not directly related to the concept of death. It meant, simply, "witness." Later, the Christian tradition of martyrdom gave it its new meaning; every other religion has its own version. When least expected, it has fallen on a group of valiant Cubans to not only restore the noble tradition sullied in our day by genocidal terrorists but also the original meaning of the word martyr. As witnesses, they are testifying the truth – indeed, a deadly truth.

A Tragic Example of Normalization

The Canadian Parliament provides us with this tragic example of what happens when a country's policy towards the Castro regime is squarely centered around unconditional trade and travel.

Let me know when you hear mention of the Ladies in White, Orlando Zapata Tamayo or Guillermo Farinas.

Should the U.S. Collude With Castro's Laws?

Critics of USAID programs, aimed at supporting Cuba's pro-democracy movement and civil society, argue that they should be eliminated because they violate Cuban "law."

Instead, they believe these programs should be substituted with unfettered tourism travel.

As such, we thought it would be appropriate to reproduce this important opinion piece (first published on March, 18, 1999) by Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer entitled, "Law No. 88. Cuba: Back to Darkness," and ask two questions:

Are these the draconian laws that U.S. policy opponents believe should be respected?

Being that tourist interaction with regular Cubans is in itself a violation of Cuban "law," should the U.S. collude with the Castro regime to ensure that tourists are confined to the island's all-inclusive, apartheid resorts?

Here's Oppenheimer's piece:

Urgent message for Latin American, European and Canadian officials who welcomed Pope John Paul II's 1998 visit to Cuba as a sign of a new opening on the island: You should read Cuba's new gag law against independent thinkers. It's a return to the darkest ages of Soviet communism or European fascism.

The Law for the Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba - better know as Law No 88 - was passed by Cuba's rubber-stamp National Assembly last month, but its full text is only now beginning to circulate among foreign governments and human rights groups.

Judging from a copy I received this week, it's not only directed against Cuba's courageous independent journalists but could be applied to any Cuban who writes a letter abroad complaining about Cuba's problems, or - God forbid - suggesting that the Maximum Leader may be less than perfect.

Among its key provisions:

Article 6: Sets prison terms from three to eight years for those "who accumulate, reproduce or spread material of subversive character from the government of the United States of America, its agencies, dependencies, representatives, officials, or from any other foreign entity.

Target: any publication sent by foreign pro-democracy groups, which often smuggle into the island copies of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, or banned books like George Orwell's Animal Farm and biographies of Martin Luther King and Mohandas K Ghandi.

Article 7: Sets penalties from two to five years in prison for "anyone who...collaborates in any way with foreign radio or television stations, newspapers, magazines or other mass media with the purpose of...destabilizing the country and destroying the socialist state." The penalties rise to three to eight years in prison if such collaboration "is carried out for profit."

Target: Cuba's independent journalists, who are not allowed to work in state-controlled media, and sell their reports to foreign media. Many of them have become a more reliable source of news than the Communist Party's daily Granma or the government's news agency Prensa Latina.

Article 9: Sets prison terms of seven to 15 years to "anyone who...carries out any action aimed at hindering or hurting economic relations of the Cuban state."

Target: Could be applied against any Cuban who complains to a foreigner about the state of the economy, since such information can lead a potential foreign business partner not to invest on the island.

Article 11: Sets prison terms of three to eight years to "anyone who...directly or through third parties, receives, distributes or participates in the distribution of financial, material or other resources, from the government of the United States, its agencies, dependencies, representatives, officials or private entities.

Target: The paragraph is aimed at prohibiting religious or other non-governmental organizations from sending money, computers or fax machines to independent groups or individuals in Cuba.

Conclusion: While Law 88 is ostensibly aimed at countering the "US economic war on Cuba," its real target is not the US government - which has been trying to build bridges to Cuba lately - but Cuba's independent journalists, independent civic groups on the island, and US and European non-governmental organizations trying to help them.

"It's lamentable," Pierre Shori, Sweden's minister of international cooperation, told me in a telephone interview Wednesday. "This kind of free movement of thought should be allowed: It's part of the modern world, No man is an island, and neither can be Cuba."

Castro Regime Hits New Low

Tuesday, March 30, 2010
On Monday morning, state security officials violently arrested Cuban pro-democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," along with his wife, Yris Perez Aguilera, and activist Idania Yanez Contreras, as they tried to visit hunger striker Guillermo Farinas.

During the arrest, Castro's officials managed to injure a five-month old baby.

According to Yanez Contreras, "they hit me with my hands cuffed behind my back. They were military men. Antunez was being placed in the squad car, but managed to get away from the guards to scream and try to defend me. My five-month old son was in Yris Perez Aguilera's arms, when she was pushed, causing my son to suffer a head injury."

Spain Snubbed, Again

It seems the Spanish government is increasingly isolated in its attempt to unconditionally normalize the European Union's (EU) relations with the Castro regime.

According to the AFP:

EU-Cuba meeting postponed: Spanish presidency

A ministerial meeting between Cuba and the European Union scheduled to be held in Madrid next week has been postponed, the Spanish foreign ministry said Tuesday.

It said a new date for the talks, which had been scheduled for April 6, has yet to be decided.

"Following reports appearing in various media about the holding of the next session of EU-Cuba political dialogue at ministerial level," the Spanish foreign ministry "wants to confirm that the said meeting will take place in Spain, at a date still to be decided through diplomatic channels," the ministry said in a statement.

It was not clear why the meeting had been postponed.

Cuban Foreign Bruno Rodriguez and his Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, were to meet to discuss issues including human rights and political prisoners in Cuba.

Moratinos was to have represented EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, after her office said on Monday she was unable to attend the talks.

Spain, which took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU from Sweden on January 1, has been at the forefront of efforts to boost relations with Cuba, a former Spanish colony.

But the EU Commission last month voiced deep regret at the death of leading Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata, who died after a long hunger strike, and called on Havana to improve human rights.

Another Cuban dissident, Guillermo Farinas, has been on hunger strike for the past month. On Monday, he rejected a Spanish government offer to fly him to Spain.

The EU suspended ties with Cuba after a major roundup of 75 dissidents in March 2003, but resumed aid cooperation in 2008. Spain and Cuba renewed ties in 2007.

Spain's Socialist government wants the bloc to modify its 1996 common position on Cuba, which links dialogue to freedoms and human rights on the island, arguing it has yielded few results.

A (Not So) Bold Prediction

Something tells me that this picture will play an important role in Cuban history -- a transformative moment:

The Ladies in White standing together with Cuban bloggers, Yoani Sanchez of Generation Y, and Claudia Cadelo of Octavo Cerco.

Cuban-American Intensity (For Freedom)

Never underestimate the intensity that Cuban-Americans feel for their homeland's freedom.

In 2008, The Washington Post ran a feature article on the Cuban-American community entitled, "New Generation Casts Votes on Immigration, Economic Issues."

This oft-regurgitated title (and theory) speaks for itself.

Contrast that with the front page (below) of last Friday's El Nuevo Herald (Spanish version of The Miami Herald) newspaper.

The headline reads, "Miami Raises Its Voice For Cuba."

And the description reads, "A human wave overruns the emblematic Eights Street of Little Havana in support of the Ladies in White and the freedom of political prisoners in Cuba."

It reminds us that despite the many theories, experts and analyses, there is only one cause (stress the word "cause," not to be confused with "issue") that has consistently inspired an outpouring of activism and support amongst all Cuban-Americans -- only one cause that transcends:

The struggle for a free and democratic Cuba.

Farinas Slaps Spain in the Face

Monday, March 29, 2010
According to Europa Press, Spain's Ambassador to Cuba, Manuel Cacho, offered to send a medical plane to the island in order to transport pro-democracy leader -- and hunger striker -- Guillermo Farinas to Spain for medical care.

Farinas rejected Spain's offer saying, "it would be a shame to waste gasoline on that."

Instead, Farinas suggested that Spain insist on securing the release and transfer of 26 Cuban political prisoners in need of medical care that he's on hunger strike for.

Now let's see just how much influence Spain has over the Castro regime pursuant to its numerous unilateral concessions.

Star Power

Yesterday, thousands of people gathered in Los Angeles, led by actor Andy Garcia and comedian George Lopez, to demonstrate in solidarity with Cuba's "Ladies in White."

The Truth Will Free Cuba

By Fidel Castro's exiled daughter, Alina Fernandez Revuelta, in The Miami Herald:

Reporters as distortion wizards

I suppose, just suppose, that the Ladies in White were at first a group of women burdened by the unfair imprisonment of their loved ones, the harassment of the regime's ideological apparatus, and their difficulties in traveling to the prisons, almost always hundreds of miles away.

I suppose, just suppose, that they began to phone each other, meet each other so they could help one another, and gradually created that palpable network that can only be created by a common cause.

I suppose, just suppose, that their strength was manifested to them little by little; that first they decided to dress in white, that another day they agreed to walk together to church, and another day to walk down some emblematic boulevard in Havana. Thus, little by little, day by day, they have become the face of an island that suffers with dignity without lowering its head, and carries flowers as weapons of war.

The Ladies in White have placed Cuba on the other extreme of the political map. That is their virtue and that is the power they hold.

After half a century of media reverence to the Cuban revolution, the women have situated the observers on the other side of the mirror, on the flip side of the coin. The Ladies in White have challenged not only the passive observers but also those people in charge of informing us about the reality, the news, the truth -- the journalists.

And this is one of the instances where the political tendencies, the sympathies and the ideological baggage become a problem of physiology. Those who write about Cuba either develop gall-bladder trouble or sell out. The dilemma is difficult to solve, particularly for mercenary journalists, meaning the journalists who pay a toll so they can be allowed to remain in place -- in exchange for a promising future for the news agency they represent. Cuba is not the only example but it is the topic that concerns us.

So, how can you write ill about women who have formed a common front out of their love of freedom of thought? How do you negatively report a silent march of barely 40 women carrying flowers? You have to be a communications genius, but it can be done as follows.

"They walked more than a kilometer from the Catholic Church of Santa Barbara, surrounded by residents and plainclothes agents who shouted hurrahs to Fidel and the revolution. Finally, the uniformed police arrived and escorted them to the buses."

According to this BBC correspondent, this wizard of distortion, the police women neither beat nor mistreated their compatriots. Not only did they escort them but also carried them to the buses.

You read that and imagine a bucolic landscape where Superman takes a victim in his arms and whisks her away from the trouble she's in. One might wonder if the women in Cuba's political police feed on Kryptonite, because picking up another woman who doesn't want to be picked up, and then loading her on a bus, is no easy task.

But that's not the worst. The worst is that the same correspondent, 24 hours later, instead of retracting, lays it on thicker. "Until now, the aggression has been only verbal. During the marches, the Ladies in White are protected by civilians with walkie-talkies, possibly members of the Interior Ministry there to impede any physical confrontation."

The correspondent ignored the trip to the hospital some of the women made, and apparently was blinded by the white cast that enveloped the arm of Laura Pollán, one of the worst-treated Ladies in White, whom he interviewed for his report.

Fortunately for all Cubans, and particularly for the Ladies in White, despite the surplus of muddle-headed journalists, thousands of us can step forward on the ladies' behalf, as was evident last Thursday at the Miami march.

"Only the truth will make us free," said Cuban hero José Martí. Amen, and may a snowstorm bury those who have turned the profession of telling the truth into a way to disguise, with scant talent, their lies.

Fill in the Blank

According to the AFP, Brazil's government has discarded interceding on behalf of Cuban political prisoners and dissidents.

Brazilian President Lula da Silva's senior foreign policy adviser, Marco Aurelio Garcia, said, "we have relations with governments, not dissidents."

And here's the kicker, "to weigh-in on behalf of dissidents would be inadequate and counterproductive..."

To what?

Allow us to fill in the blank:

" Brazil's business interests and control of Cuba's biggest port, Mariel, from which we want to monopolize the island's future trade and commerce with the United States. However, this needs to occur before the end of the Castro dictatorship, for we don't want to face the free will of the Cuban people. Thus, our steadfast efforts to push the U.S. to unconditionally lift economic sanctions."

Unfortunately, this is similar to what The New York Times was disingenuously pitching today in its article, "Dreaming of Cuban Profits in Post-Embargo World."

It's too bad the Times couldn't dignify itself to providing similar coverage to Cuba's pro-democracy movement, including its hunger strikers, political prisoners, women dragged through the streets for demanding freedom and the hundreds of thousands that marched in solidarity last week from Miami to Madrid, New York, and Los Angeles.

But that's apparently not as important as a handful of sleazy businessmen colluding with Castro's brutal dictatorship for a profit.

The Bumbling Diplomat

Sunday, March 28, 2010
During an interview with Spain's RTVE, Castro's former Ambassador to the European Union (EU), Carlos Alzugaray Treto, discussed the EU's resolution condemning the Cuban regime for the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

It's fascinating how Amb. Alzugaray seeks to defend totalitarianism and, not surprisingly, how he completely contradicts himself.

Q.: The [EU] resolution also expresses firm support for the dissident movement and condemns the detention of political prisoners.

A.: I wonder if a country has the right to judge another country and tell it that it has political prisoners and must release them. [...] What is not possible is that the [EU's] common stance is based on the assumption that in Cuba there is a problem of democracy and human rights and that it has to improve. There is no dissidence in Cuba. A majority of people support the government. Others don't support the government but uphold the system. Then there are those who call themselves dissidents, who are people whose activity is supported by the United States.

Q.: [Dissident Guillermo] Fariñas has said the regime wants to let him die. In Zapata's case, he died after a long hunger strike. Don't you think the Cuban government should have acted differently in both these cases?

A.: Forced feeding is the subject of much debate, because it is done by violating the right of a person to commit suicide. Almost no one supports hunger strikes; the dissidents themselves say they don't like them. No government is going to release prisoners who were sentenced by the courts just because they stage a hunger strike.


If there are no dissidents in Cuba (as Amb. Alzugaray purports), how could they not "support" or "like" hunger strikes?

Furthermore, if a majority of Cubans "support the government," why not let them express their "support" through an internationally-supervised referendum or pluralistic election?

Farinas' Health Worsens

According to the AFP:

Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, who has been on a full hunger strike for 28 days, has a staph infection and is in the early stages of a battle against septic shock that could kill him, his mother told AFP Sunday.

Farinas is the second case of a recent strike by a political dissident in Cuba, the Americas' only one-party communist regime.

The fate of dissidents has brought an international outcry from Europe and the United States as well as from human rights groups.

"My son is on the verge of a major complication that will put his life in danger. He is very unwell and could go into septic shock," said Farinas' mother Alicia Hernandez, 75, who is a nurse, from her home in Santa Clara 280 kilometers (168 miles) east of Havana.

An independent news blogger and psychologist by training, Farinas, 48, launched his fast the day after political prisoner Orlando Zapata died on the 85th day of his own hunger strike.

Farinas has been protesting the treatment of 26 political prisoners needing medical attention in Cuba; he wants the prisoners freed.

Bonus Quotes of the Week

From last Thursday's South Florida march in solidarity with the "Ladies in White":

"Just shows the pride and love, how people really want change. We're the only voice Cuba has, the only ones who can speak out."

-- Pitbull, Cuban-American hip-hop star.

"This is the moment in which history begins to change.''

-- Amaury Gutiérrez, Cuban singer and composer, who arrived in Miami six years ago.

"We truly are in a new era and it's the young generation with blooming technology in an age of camera phones and Twitter. There is no escaping the truth anymore. We have finally reached a turning point for Cuba, Miami, the movement. This is a turning point in history."

-- Emilio Estefan, Cuban music producer, executive and husband of Gloria Estefan.

Courtesy of The Miami Herald.

More Canadian "Solidarity"

Another reminder of why the U.S. should not mimic Canada's morally bankrupt, tourism and trade, policy towards Cuba:

Cuba, a great place to meet fellow Canadians

I'm always amazed at the number of people who read my weekly travel column. And the proof is in the outcome.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Sandman Signature Hotel in Toronto located near Pearson International Airport.

In the piece, I mentioned the classy hotel is one of the airport area's best-kept secrets.

I've stayed there a half dozen times and it is not only conveniently located minutes from the airport, but the hotel provides free parking for up to a week -- something most Toronto hotels charge an additional $25 or more.

Since the piece appeared, at least a dozen Chatham-Kent residents made reservations at the hotel either prior to their flight or upon their return.

Most were heading off to Mexico, the Caribbean, Jamaica, Cuba or the Dominican Republic.

I also mentioned in last week's column the super deal available in Cuba -- an all-inclusive, one-week stay at Club Rancho Luna Resort in Cienfuegos, Cuba, for a total price of $400.

It sounded too good to be true. But a friend pointed me to the Red Tag Vacation site on the Internet.

Guess where I am today? You're right -- bathing in the warm sunshine on the beach at Club Rancho Luna for $400 Cdn. I couldn't

It marks my third visit to the resort, which is extremely popular with a large group of seniors from Canada's east coast.

I met the friendly group last year around the swimming pool. Most spend their times playing cards under the shade of banana trees or tell far-fetched stories about their childhood days in the Maritimes.

It's great being surrounding by a large group of fellow Canadians at a faraway destination.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Meanwhile, just miles away, the largest -- per capita -- political prisoner in the world is languishing, pro-democracy activists are dying in hunger strikes and women are being dragged through the streets for demanding freedom. Apparently, the screams don't make it past the walls of these apartheid, all-inclusive resorts. Or maybe they do, and they just don't care.