Shining a Spotlight on the Oppressors

Saturday, April 24, 2010
According to Reuters:

Four Cuban American lawyers and a Miami-based television station have launched a campaign to identify and publicly name Cuban state security agents and pro-government militants who attack dissidents on the island.

Called "Cuba, Repression ID," the project that began this week solicits public support from the Cuban exile community in the United States and also from people inside Cuba to identify, through photographs and film footage, individuals seen beating or harassing unarmed critics of Cuba's communist government.

In recent weeks, TV footage of Cuban state security agents and mobs of pro-government supporters heckling, harassing and forcibly breaking up dissident rallies and marches has drawn widespread international criticism of Cuba's rulers and renewed calls for them to free political prisoners on the island [...]

"We're hoping to provide a bit of protection and support to those who are suffering. We also want to make it known to those who abuse defenseless people in Cuba that they can't act with impunity," one of the Cuban American lawyers involved in the project, Wilfredo Allen, told Miami's Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald in comments published on Saturday.

Here are some of those oppressors:

The first picture features State Security Col. Ernesto Samper, who is responsible for organizing operations against the Ladies in White.

The official in the second picture has yet to be identified.



Forgotten Dissidents?

The Wall Street Journal's Bari Weiss takes a critical look at the "distant" approach of the Obama Administration towards dissidents in the world's most oppressive regimes, versus the more "hands-on" approach of the Bush Administration.

Miss Me Yet? The Freedom Agenda After George W. Bush

Dissidents in the world's most oppressive countries aren't feeling the love from President Obama

No one seems to know precisely who is behind the "Miss Me Yet?" billboard—the cheeky one featuring a grinning George W. Bush that looks out over I-35 near Wyoming, Minn. But Syrian dissident Ahed Al-Hendi sympathizes with the thought.

In 2006, Mr. Hendi was browsing pro-democracy Web sites in a Damascus Internet café when plainclothes cops carrying automatic guns swooped in, cuffed him, and threw him into the trunk of a car. He spent over a month in prison, some of it alone in a 5-by-3 windowless basement cell where he listened to his friend being tortured in the one next door. Those screams, he says, were cold comfort—at least he knew his friend hadn't been killed.

Mr. Hendi was one of the lucky ones: He's now living in Maryland as a political refugee where he works for an organization called Cyberdissidents.org. And this past Monday, he joined other international dissidents at a conference sponsored by the Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University to discuss the way digital tools can be used to resist repressive regimes.

He also got to meet the 43rd president. In a private breakfast hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Bush, Mr. Hendi's message to the former president was simple: "We miss you." There have been "a lot of changes" under the current administration, he added, and not for the better.

Adrian Hong, who was imprisoned in China in 2006 for his work helping North Koreans escape the country (a modern underground railroad), echoed that idea. "When I was released [after 10 days] I was told it was because of very strong messaging from the White House and the culture you set," he told Mr. Bush.

The former president, now sporting a deep tan, didn't mention President Obama once on or off the record. The most he would say was, "I'm really concerned about an isolationist mentality... I don't think it lives up to the values of our country." The dissidents weren't so diplomatic.

Mr. Hendi elaborated on the policy changes he thinks Mr. Obama has made toward his home country. "In Syria, when a single dissident was arrested during the administration of George W. Bush, at the very least the White House spokesman would condemn it. Under the Obama administration: nothing."

Nor is Mr. Hendi a fan of this administration's efforts to engage the regime, most recently by deciding to send an ambassador to Damascus for the first time since 2005. "This gives confidence to the regime," he says. "They are not capable of a dialogue; they don't believe in it. They believe in force."

Mr. Hong put things this way: "When you look at the championing of dissidents... and even the rhetoric, it's dropped off sharply." Under Mr. Bush, he says, there were many high-profile meetings with North Korean dissidents. "They went out of their way to show this was a priority."

Then there is Marcel Granier, the president of RCTV, Venezuela's oldest and most popular television station. He employs several thousand people—or at least he did until Hugo Chávez cancelled the network's license in 2007. Now, he's struggling to maintain an independent channel on cable: Mr. Chávez ordered the cable networks not to carry his station in January. Government supporters have attacked his home with tear gas twice, yet he remains in the country, tirelessly advocating for media freedom.

Like many of the democrats at the conference, Mr. Granier was excited by Mr. Obama's historic election, and inspired by the way he energized American voters. But a year and a half later, he's disturbed by the administration's silence as his country slips rapidly towards dictatorship. "In Afghanistan," he quips, "at least they know that America will be involved for the next 18 months."

This sense of abandonment has been fueled by real policy shifts. Just this week word came that the administration cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt by half. Programs in countries like Jordan and Iran have also faced cuts. Then there are the symbolic gestures: letting the Dalai Lama out the back door, paltry statements of support for Iranian demonstrators, smiling and shaking hands with Mr. Chávez, and so on.

Daniel Baer, a representative from the State Department who participated in the conference, dismissed the notion that the White House has distanced itself from human-rights promotion as a baseless "meme" when I raised the issue. But in fact all of this is of a piece of Mr. Obama's overarching strategy to make it abundantly clear that he is not his predecessor.

Mr. Bush is almost certainly aware that the freedom agenda, the centerpiece of his presidency, has become indelibly linked to the war in Iraq and to regime change by force. Too bad. The peaceful promotion of human rights and democracy -- in part by supporting the individuals risking their lives for liberty -- are consonant with America's most basic values. Standing up for them should not be a partisan issue.

Yet for now Mr. Bush is simply not the right poster boy: He can't successfully rebrand and depoliticize the freedom agenda. So perhaps he hopes that by sitting back he can let Americans who remain wary of publicly embracing this cause become comfortable with it again. For the sake of the courageous democrats in countries like Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Colombia, China and Russia, let's hope so.

Two Months Ago Today

Friday, April 23, 2010
On February 23, 2010, Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike demanding an end to the torture and abuses perpetrated against him by the Castro regime.

So how is the Castro regime marking this day?

By sending its State Security forces to surround the home of Orlando's mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, so that she and other supporters cannot walk to the cemetery and lay a wreath on his grave.

Additionally, they have blocked all entry points to the town of Banes, where she resides, so that supporters from others towns and cities cannot join her either.

Are there no limits to the cruelty of this regime?

The picture below is of Orlando's mother, as she holds one of her sons t-shirts, bloodied from a beating he received by Castro's thugs.

Source: Penultimos Dias

This Story Says it All

No comment is needed on this gripping story from Ohio's Toledo Blade.

From political prisoners, to repression, to Castro's food monopoly, it says it all.

Reunited family recalls hardships in native Cuba

FOSTORIA - Dusvany Martinez seems to have gotten used to being teased about his first trip to a U.S. supermarket.

The native Cuban held up a package of meat and exclaimed, "Who will arrest me if I buy this?"

With his wife, two children, and father-in-law at his side at Fostoria High School yesterday, Mr. Martinez laughed as he declared the cases and cases of meat in grocery stores to be the biggest surprise about America to him.

In communist Cuba, he said, people could only rarely purchase meat with their government-issued coupon books. If they bought meat on the black market, they had to hide it and hope no one reported them.

"If you were to take or have a pound of meat, you could spend 10 to 15 years in jail," Mr. Martinez said through a translator.

Stories like his stunned the city government and Spanish students gathered in the school's performing arts center to meet Manuel Diez, 72, who visited the school in 2007 and returned yesterday with his newly arrived daughter, Lisset; her husband, Mr. Martinez, and her two children, Dayanys, 11, and Darian, 6.

Mr. Diez, a former political prisoner in Cuba, had not seen his daughter since he left Cuba in 1987. She was 13 at the time.

"I didn't see him for 23 years, and I actually didn't think I'd get to see him again before he passed away," Ms. Diez said through a translator. "I'm extremely happy."

Her father, who was imprisoned and tortured after refusing to kneel down to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, finally was released under an agreement between Cuba and the United States that permitted political dissidents who had been imprisoned for 10 years or more to be transported to the United States.

"For me, leaving my daughter when she was only 13 was the hardest thing I ever had to do, harder even than being in jail," Mr. Diez said. "I live for her. My whole life is surrounding her, and now I'm not alone anymore."

The Castro-Chavez Military

From the AP:

Ex-general: Cubans involved in Chavez's military

CARACAS, Venezuela — A former Venezuelan army general on Thursday denounced what he called the widespread involvement of Cuban troops in President Hugo Chavez's military.

Former Brig. Gen. Antonio Rivero, who used to head the government's emergency management agency, said his decision to retire from the army this month was motivated mainly by "the presence and meddling of Cuban soldiers" in Venezuela's armed forces.

He told reporters that Cubans are now involved in training troops, including courses for snipers, and are also playing a role in intelligence, weapons, communications and other areas. There was no immediate reaction from Chavez's government.

REMINDER: Earlier this week, a Pentagon report also revealed the operational presence of Iran's paramilitary Qods Force in Venezuela.

Three Strikes and Out

Thursday, April 22, 2010
By the former Foreign Minister of Mexico, Jorge Castaneda, in Newsweek:

The End May Be Near

Cuba is at a critical turning point.

Since 1959, fortunes have been lost betting on the end of the Cuban revolution. Countless books, essays, articles, statements, and resolutions have predicted the fall of Fidel Castro. These false warnings have been a source of endless frustration for those hoping for radical change in Cuba. Despite this record, it's time to raise the question again. Is the Castro regime entering its final days?

Three factors suggest Cuba is at a critical turning point.


First, the economy is in its most severe crisis since the Soviet Union collapsed and stopped subsidizing Cuba in the early 1990s. Last year's fall in the price of nickel (Cuba's largest export) and in tourism, the stagnation of remittances from relatives in Miami, and recent hurricanes have paralyzed the island. Blackouts, terrible deficiencies in health care, food shortages, a housing crisis, and Cuba's suspension of debt payments to its creditors since January 2009 all point to a bleak future. Cuba now relies heavily on subsidies from Venezuela, but they're not enough. Cubans are accustomed to suffering, but their misery is reaching new lows. And it's no longer so easy to blame American imperialism. Barack Obama seems to be hugely popular with ordinary Cubans.

That explains factor No. 2: new signs of public protest. A hunger-strike movement is gathering steam after the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata, a 42-year-old activist who refused food for more than 80 days. Zapata's death dashed any chance of improving relations with the European Union, the United States -- which condemned his death and called for the release of all political prisoners -- and Mexico, which didn't, and whose president had planned to travel to Havana and no longer has the leeway to do so. And it inspired another dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, to launch his own hunger strike, seeking the release of other imprisoned activists. Fariñas has a rare eloquence and altruism, which are winning him a stature few dissidents have ever achieved. If his health starts to fail, events could take an unforeseeable turn.

Meanwhile, women fighting for the release of their relatives from jail, organized as the Ladies in White, are creating another new threat to the regime. For years they have marched in protest and have gone to mass every Sunday, seeking freedom for their loved ones, but suddenly their efforts have gained new momentum. Authorities can no longer prevent the marches, so they have opted, with classic Castro-Cuban skill and cynicism, to organize pro-government crowds to harass the women. Then police escort the ladies away, ostensibly to protect them from the jeering crowd. Photographs of the mob scene have circulated around the world, in the news and over the Internet.

It's not clear how widely those photos, or the news of Zapata's martyrdom and Fariñas's challenge, have circulated in Cuba itself. Cuban authoritarianism has long been able to isolate any opposition and to hold the Cuban population in a state of ignorance. Now, partly due to the tiny opening tolerated by Raúl Castro in allowing cell phones, the Internet, and calls from Miami, as well as to a small increase in visits by relatives from the U.S., thanks to Obama, Cubans may know a lot more than they used to.

That leads to factor No. 3: Fidel Castro, now 83, is ailing and has ceded day-to-day control to his brother Raúl, 78, who is no Fidel. The comandante would have freed Zapata, or executed him, but he never would have backed himself into a corner as his younger brother did. It would have been the same with Fariñas, or with the Ladies in White, especially when these protests were erupting in the midst of an economic debacle. In August 1994 Fidel showed up in a jeep at the Malecón in Havana, in the middle of a mass exodus of boat people, to quiet a boisterous crowd of protesters with the magic of his words and the implicit threat of brutal repression. Raúl Castro is not capable of such a feat. He lacks the political instincts that allowed his brother for half a century to sniff out potential adversaries even before they saw themselves as such.

The field is tinder-dry. Only a tiny spark exists. But the firefighters are exhausted. And the last hope for the Cuban revolution, residing in Caracas, could go under at any moment. This feels like an unprecedented moment in the history of Castroism. It could be just another flare-up, or a perfect storm.

Never Joke About Pigeons

On Saturday, we joked about the Castro regime looking to announce the use of pigeons as its innovative solution for Cuba's slow and restrictive internet connectivity.

This was in jest -- or so we hoped -- pursuant to a BBC news item about a South African IT company that pitted an 11-month-old bird armed with a 4GB memory stick against the broadband service from the country's biggest web firm.

Please read the whole post here.

However, the Castro regime's absurdity knows no barriers.

Today, the Castro regime's state media announced:

Carrier Pigeons : An Alternative Communication Means at Cuban Elections

HOLGUIN, Cuba, (ACN) The use of carrier pigeons as an alternative means of communication in places distant from Cuban urban centers will be crucial in the upcoming elections to be held on Sunday.

Eberto Borges, President of the Cuban Pigeon Federation (FCC) in this province, told ACN that in previous years his organization coordinated the use of the birds in the elections with the municipal commissions to guarantee every Cuban its right to vote
.

Frankly, we're not sure what's more laughable, the use of pigeons or the Castro regime's "election" farce.

Across the Man-Made Causeway

We've consistently expressed concern over the disproportionate (and therefore, detrimental) impact that unlimited remittances to Cuba would have on the island's Afro-Cuban population (see #11 here).

So what impact has tourism travel had?

According to an article earlier this year in the L.A. Times,

"The remittances whites sent to families on the island have widened the income gap between Cuba's blacks and whites, said Mark Sawyer, a UCLA political science professor and Cuba expert who signed the document. So has a preference for hiring whites in a tourist industry that has become more important with the collapse of the government-regulated economy, he said."

(Note to Professor Sawyer: Cuba's tourism industry is not only government-regulated, it's government owned and controlled. Thus, so are its hiring and labor practices.)

Meanwhile, the Castro regime continues to view tourism as its economic lifeline, particularly if U.S. tourism were authorized.

As the Canadian travel website OntheGlobe.com described:

"Over the past two decades along with its foreign development partners the island has ploughed away with the expansion of a network of all-inclusive resorts in Havana, Varadero, the island's northern cays, around the eastern city of Holguin and the southern resort island of Cayo Largo.

For example, take the lush tropical setting of Cayo Santa Maria. This pristine cay at the western end of the Archipelago de Sabana-Camaguey is the idyllic setting of the new frontier of Cuban tourism. Tied to the island by a man-made causeway this is where you find Melia Las Dunas, one of several five-star hideaways set amidst pristine azure-blue beaches."

Unfortunately, for Cubans of all races, it's a tragically different world on the other side of Castro's "man-made causeway."

Single Issue Voters

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Are Cuban-Americans single issue voters?

According to this AP story, they sure seem to be.

Or at the very least, they can be if slighted.

10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on

MIAMI (AP) — It's been a decade since the Elian Gonzalez raid, and most Cuban-Americans in Miami have moved on.

Federal agents seized the 6-year-old Cuban boy from his relatives' home in the Little Havana community 10 years ago this week and returned him to his father in Cuba. Thousands of Cuban-Americans poured into the streets to protest.

Political analysts say the anger over U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno's decision to order the raid cost Al Gore the White House that fall.

Iran's Latin American Revolution

This is why a policy of containment towards hemispheric foes is indispensable. Otherwise, we find ourselves dealing with these dangerous situations.

From today's Washington Times:

Iran boosts Qods shock troops in Venezuela

Pentagon predicts U.S. clash with Islamist paramilitary

Iran is increasing its paramilitary Qods force operatives in Venezuela while covertly continuing supplies of weapons and explosives to Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Pentagon's first report to Congress on Tehran's military.

The report on Iranian military power provides new details on the group known formally as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), the Islamist shock troops deployed around the world to advance Iranian interests. The unit is aligned with terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, North Africa and Latin America, and the report warns that U.S. forces are likely to battle the Iranian paramilitaries in the future.

The Qods force "maintains operational capabilities around the world," the report says, adding that "it is well established in the Middle East and North Africa and recent years have witnessed an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela."

Click here to view the Pentagon's full report.

North Korea-Cuba Hail Military Ties

According to the Chinese regime's state media, Xinhua:

DPRK, Cuban militaries hail development of ties

Chief of the [North] Korean People's Army (KPA) General Staff held talks with a military delegation from Cuba, both hailing the development of bilateral ties, an official newspaper of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) reported Wednesday.

According to Rodong Sinmun, Ri Yong Ho, chief of the KPA General Staff, met with a delegation headed by Alvaro Lopez Miera, vice-minister and chief of the General Staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba on Tuesday.

Ri said at the reception that the Cuban delegation's visit to the DPRK is a milestone in developing the friendly and cooperative ties between the armies of the two countries and the overall bilateral relations.

The Most Hopeless Bill in Congress

Congress.org has profiled ten (10) bills remarkable for "their sheer hopelessness."

"From efforts to return to the gold standard to allowing the president to run for a third term, these bills are truly quixotic, endlessly tilting at legislative windmills," says the website.

The top spot went to Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York's "Free Trade With Cuba Act," an effort to unconditionally lift sanctions towards the Castro regime.

It further notes that "when President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, the future of the trade embargo was in doubt. Rangel went so far as to say it would 'most likely' end in the 111th Congress."

Congress.org seems to disagree.

You Know Things Are Bad in Cuba

When even the OAS expresses concern.

According to EFE:

OAS Chief Asks Cuba to Free Ailing Political Prisoners

MADRID – The secretary-general of the Organization of American States asked the Cuban government on Friday to free ailing political prisoners, as demanded by hunger-striking dissident Guillermo Fariñas.

"There's a hunger strike going on, that of Mr. Fariñas, which is really terrible. I hope this can be resolved quickly," Jose Miguel Insulza told Efe after speaking in Madrid at a seminar about relations between the European Union and Latin America.

The release of "political prisoners who are ill" would be a demonstration of goodwill that would not weaken the Cuban regime," the OAS chief said. "Far from weakening it, I think it would improve its image."

"It's all in the hands of the Cuban government," the former Chilean foreign minister said, adding that in any case, people should not be locked up for their opinions.

Irish Wit (and Truth)

By the Irish Independent's witty columnist, Ian O'Doherty:

But It's a Socialist Paradise?

One of the most baffling shibboleths held dear by people on the Irish Left is their love affair with Cuba.

It is, they assert, a noble statelet which is as close to a socialist utopia as we're going to get in this lifetime and would be even better if those mean Americans lifted their sanctions.

And that's why you get Irish idiots like the reliably befuddled Finian McGrath defending the place and their human rights record, with McGrath going on record to simply assert that: "Cuba is a different-style democracy to Ireland"

And one way Cuba has a different democratic system to ours is the way they treat political dissidents.

Six weeks ago, activist Orlando Zapata died on a hunger strike to protest against the regime's brutal policies and now another Cuban journalist, Guillermo Farinas, is also days from death.

Strangely, Irish Lefties, who normally lionize the IRA hunger strikers, have been notably silent on this one.

What's wrong, lads, cat got your tongue?

The Cuban Cardinal's Conundrum

Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Admittedly, we're no fans of Cuba's Catholic Church. Its hierarchy is a far cry from the courageous spiritual leaders that stood up against Soviet tyranny in Eastern Europe.

We've posted our criticism of Cuba's Catholic Church on various occasions. Most recently, when its hierarchy stood by silently last Sunday as The Ladies in White were prohibited from attending Mass by Castro's State Security.

Yesterday, Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega partially lifted his long-overdue veil of silence in a written interview published by a local Catholic newsletter, Nueva Palabra, conceding that the desire for CHANGE amongst the Cuban people, "has become a form of national consensus, and its delay is producing impatience and unease among the people."

Ortega also -- finally -- found the violence against The Ladies in White to be "distressing" and asked that pro-democracy leader Guillermo Farinas abandon his hunger strike.

Farinas, who is on the 55th day of a hunger strike asking for the release of 26 political prisoners in need of medical care, thanked the Cardinal for his concern, but expressed his disappointment that the Cardinal celebrated a Mass for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's health in 2006, yet did not offer a Mass posthumously upon the death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo (let alone for his health and safety while being tortured in Castro's prisons).

So let's pray this development -- at the very least -- marks an end to the Cuban Catholic Church's official silence.

Post Script: It's important to note that our criticism is aimed at the Church's leadership and bureaucracy, not the courageous, individual priests and nuns that have broken ranks and challenged the abuses of the Castro regime on countless occasions.

Death of a Businessman

From the Santiago Times of Chile:

Death Of Chilean Businessman Highlights Cuba's Disrespect for Human Rights

Says former Senator, Gazmuri

A former senator and friend of Chilean businessman Roberto Baudrand, who was found dead in Havana under suspicious circumstances last week, told Radio Cooperativa this week that Baudrand's death highlights a disrespect of legal rights in Cuba.

Jaime Gazmuri said the businessman was interrogated by members of Cuba'a district attorney's office for more than 11 hours over a two month period. Gazmuri said Baudrand's state of prolonged tension and distress due to the abusive interrogations was most likely responsible for his heart attack.

Baudrand was found dead last Tuesday in Havana. He worked as the general manager of Rio Zaza Food Company, a joint venture between Chilean businessman Max Marambio and the Cuban Government. The press reported Baudrand had been interrogated for alleged business irregularities within the company.

According to Gazmuri, Baudrand was verbally abused, threatened on several occasions with long prison sentences and was forbidden to leave the country.

"The truth of the matter is that the long abusive interrogations do not suggest a criminal justice system that protects the rights of the people," said Gazmuri.

A Cuban autopsy found that Baudrand had died from a shortness of breath. Gazmuri commented that members of Baudrand's family are satisfied with the Cuban autopsy report and ruled out suicide, noting that he had suffered from a heart condition and had previously had a stroke.

Baudrand's body was found on his bedroom floor next to several open boxes of prescribed medical drugs.

The OZT Signature Campaign

Monday, April 19, 2010
By Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez in the Huffington Post:

Never before has a document managed to collect so many signatures calling for improvements in human rights in Cuba. What's more, since the Varela Project - led by Oswaldo Paya - collected almost 11 thousand signatories to demand a democratic referendum in the country, we have not seen an similar flood of people adding their names publicly to a demand for change. The current campaign to demand freedom for political prisoners has been, without a doubt, an acid test for the injured Cuban civil society. With the death of the prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, indignation has united citizens like no other common cause has done before. Even the breach, deepened by official propaganda, between Cubans on the Island and those in exile, has been disappearing with the tragic events of recent weeks.

In recent weeks, the initials of the name of this 42-year-old man from Holguin, dead after an 85-day hunger strike, have filled cyberspace, Twitter and our consciences. OZT is read everywhere and public figures who had once stood in solidarity with the Cuban government, today add their names to the demand for an amnesty. The years of trying to convince international public opinion of the existence of a country that was a reality only in the textbooks of Marxism, have come to an end. Every day more people in the world associate this island in the Caribbean with the word "dictatorship." The imprisonment of people whose only crime has been to express their opinions, confirm this.

So far, the organizers of this campaign have collected more than 50 thousand signatures and surprisingly, many of those who have added their voices have done so from within Cuba. The cycle of silence seems to be coming to an end inside the country, as well.

Please add your name here.

Spontaneous Counter-Demonstrations?

Yesterday, the Ladies in White were once again prohibited from peacefully marching by Castro's State Security and harassed by a mob of regime "supporters."

The Castro regime claims these mobs are spontaneous counter-demonstrators, not organized by State Security.

You be the judge.

Here's the AP's narrative of yesterday's confrontation:

"You have been advised," the [Castro regime] official said, and with that he waved his hand in the air. Within seconds, two groups of counter-protesters descended on the women from both sides of the street, yelling and holding up a large Cuban flag.

"Down with the worms!" "This street belongs to Fidel" they shouted, encircling the women and making it impossible to hear their shouts of "Freedom."

The government claims such "acts of repudiation" are spontaneous expressions of loathing of the opposition, but coordination between state agents and counter-protesters is open.

Clarifying Corruption in Cuba

With recent headlines focusing on corruption in Cuba, we felt it would be important to clarify what this means under the Castro's totalitarian regime.

There are two types of corruption in Cuba.

There's "legal" corruption, which is perpetrated against the Cuban people on a daily basis. This type of corruption is legally sanctioned by the Castro brothers and their absolute political and economic monopoly.

And then, there is "illegal" corruption, which is perpetrated against the Castro brothers themselves. This is unquestionably the gravest of crimes in Cuba. The show trial (and execution) of General Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989, the developing investigation of General Rogelio Acevedo and the current mystery involving a Chilean business associate (and personal friend) of Fidel Castro, are examples of this type of corruption.

Needless to say, "illegal" corruption is not legally sanctioned by the Castro brothers. Or, as in the case of General Ochoa, only becomes "illegal" once the Castro brothers believe they aren't getting enough profits, or that the political costs are too high.

You see, while Cuban socialism is supposed to be a profitless system, there is one exception: the Castro brothers. They believe they are entitled to a piece of all of the island's transactions.

That makes corruption in Cuba a natural consequence of the structure of its economy, as explained in an analysis we posted last week by a former World Bank economist.

Furthermore, that makes corruption ineradicable under Cuba's current regime.

Bottom line: If the Castros truly wants to stamp out corruption in Cuba, they need to first end their totalitarian rule.

Tweet of the Week

"If the dissident movement is so small, as they say in [Cuban state TV's] Mesa Redonda, then why doesn't [the Castro regime] reduce the workforce of its State Security?"

-- Claudia Cadelo, Cuban blogger and pro-democracy advocate, April 17th, 2010, at 1:34 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This same rhetorical question applies to the AP, Reuters and other foreign news bureaus in Havana that oft-repeat this talking point from Cuban state TV.

Is Chavez a Dictator?

Sunday, April 18, 2010
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez does not like to be called a dictator.

Yet, he's arming 35,000 militias -- together with 30,000 Cuban advisers -- to "defend" his regime if September's legislative elections don't go his way.

In other words, if all his fraudulent efforts fail.

That doesn't sound very democratic.

According to Reuters:

Chavez rallies armed youths to defend socialism

CARACAS - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on 35,000 armed militias on Tuesday to defend his socialist revolution with their lives if necessary as he faces a test of its popularity in elections in September.

Young militias raised assault rifles and clenched fists in the air when Chavez entered the parade area in Caracas in an open military jeep for a rally marking the anniversary of an abortive coup that ousted him briefly in 2002.

"You should be ready to take up arms at any moment and give your lives if necessary for our nation's independence and the socialist revolution," Chavez said, unsheathing the sword of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar.


The Iranian Army Dance

According to the AP:

Ahmadinejad extols Iran's military might

TEHRAN - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad extolled Iran's military might during an annual army parade on Sunday, saying the country is so powerful today that no one would dare attack it.

The parade in Tehran showcased Iran's surface-to-surface Ghadr, Sajjil and Shahab-3 missiles, which have a range of up to 1,250 miles, putting Israel and U.S. bases in the region within Iran's reach.


Sound familiar?

Remember Raul's Bastion Day?


Where Tyrants Dictate Human Rights Policy

By Thor Halvorssen and Alexander Gladstein of the Oslo Freedom Forum:

Tyrants Shouldn't Dictate Human Rights Policy

The United Nations Human Rights Council concluded its March 26 meeting by adopting 28 resolutions. Convening in Geneva, the Council is the U.N.'s foremost human rights authority. It was created after the U.N.'s 53-member Human Rights Commission did such an abysmal job that in December of 2004 then Secretary General Kofi Annan called for the creation of a new human rights body. The Council currently has 47 members elected on the basis of "geographical distribution" by simple majority vote of the U.N.'s general assembly. Members have to commit to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights." Annan hailed the new body as a step forward: "I don't think anyone can claim this is old wine in a new bottle," he said after its creation.

The Council's recent work product speaks volumes. Eight of the 28 resolutions passed were criticisms directed at specific governments -- one for North Korea, one for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one for Burma, one for Guinea, and four for Israel. Human rights violations committed by Israel and North Korea were deemed especially "grave".

The Council views the Israeli government's actions as its most urgent human rights concern -- more dire than, for example, the assassination of human rights defenders in Russia; the continuing genocide in Sudan; the 8 million forced-laborers in China's Laogai prisons; the 200 political prisoners in Cuba; the assault on independent media in Venezuela; the persecution of gays in Uganda. Missing from the Council's resolutions are the cruel dictatorships in Vietnam, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Eritrea, and the brutality of Iran's government against its own people.

Undoubtedly there are human rights violations by Israel -- wherever youths are given weapons and a long conflict ensues there will be abuses of power and this needs close scrutiny. But the obsession of the U.N. body with Israel shows a complete double standard. Israel has a robust working democracy, a system of government that features an independent judiciary which tries its own war criminals, and a free press which documents its own government's abuses. The countries mentioned above do not have any of these.

Why did the U.N. not find it important to speak out on behalf of the Tibetans, Uyghurs, Chechens, Cubans, Darfuris, Dalits, or dozens of other oppressed groups? Because the U.N. Human Rights Council includes a dozen dictatorships, counting China, Cuba, Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia as well as a catalog of governments with dreadful human rights records such as Angola, Bahrain, Bolivia, Cameroon, Djibouti, Nicaragua, and Pakistan.

The world's current roundtable for human rights is a tool to whitewash, cover up, and direct attention away from the behavior of its worst member governments. The only working governmental alternative is a body -- in the U.N. or outside it -- composed solely of democratic, open societies applying consistent standards and willing to work transparently to expose and condemn governments that abuse rights. That is why we are convening the 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway. It's time Human Rights became an issue we all take seriously, and put on the forefront of the global political agenda.

Thor Halvorssen is the founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum, a global human rights conference. Alexander Gladstein is its Chief Operating Officer. The Oslo Freedom Forum will convene April 26th - 29th in Norway.