Treatment of Journalist Worsens

Saturday, May 8, 2010
From the Paris-based press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders:

In the latest ongoing wave of repression, it seems the Cuban authorities are bringing more serious charges against Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, the Hablemos Press reporter, who was arrested with force on 23 April while covering an activity commemorating imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death.

Initially charged with "insulting behavior," Martínez is still being held and is now apparently accused of "aggravated violence" against a police officer at the time of his arrest although the authorities have offered no details about what allegedly took place. The vagueness indicates that the authorities themselves are not sure what they are claiming.

During his transfer to Valle Grande prison in La Lisa, on the outskirts of Havana, on 30 April, Martínez insisted that the charges were baseless. "This is an invention designed to stop my work and neither the police nor the prosecutor's office can agree on the lies they are going to use to convict me," he said.

Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate release of Martínez, who has been arrested many times in the past and deported three times to the eastern city of Camagüey, each time in connection with his journalistic work.

The government's treatment of independent journalists has been worsening of late in a new crackdown on anyone trying to express dissident views under a regime marked by a complete absence of civil liberties.

How to Control Pyongyang, Caracas & Havana

Friday, May 7, 2010
By keeping the military elite fat and happy, particularly as crisis and discontent mounts.

In North Korea:

On April 14, Kim Jong Il, North Korea's numero uno, bumped 100 generals up the career ladder. The North's official news agency described the move as a noble gesture to mark the birthday of Kim's deceased father, Kim Il Sung. It was the biggest group of senior officers he has promoted in 13 years.

In Venezuela:

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez on Sunday ordered a 40 percent pay rise for the armed forces, an increase that may help consolidate his support with troops by countering inflation ahead of legislative elections.

And who can forget, the Castro brothers' GAESA.

Power through force, corruption and repression.

Marco Rubio on Cuba Policy

From an interview with Florida U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio in the conservative magazine, Human Events:

HE: When we spoke a year ago, we discussed Cuba. When would you approve of lifting the economic embargo against Cuba?

Rubio: When Cuba joins the rest of the civilized world in how it treats its people. That is freeing political prisoners, it means free and fair elections. They can choose any form of government they like, but they have to have freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of expression. The fundamental rights that we believe are endowed to every human being by our Creator. That's the kind of country that I'm interested in us having a relationship with. And the embargo serves as leverage for us to be able to accomplish that. You have, as we speak right now, a number of dissidents and hunger strikes in Cuba. And their brave wives are marching every Sunday. And they're being beaten, taunted, hassled and harassed. These are women. They're called the women in white. They're providing an extraordinary example of just how repressive this regime is and how it's on the wrong side of history.

HE: So I take it you mean the recognition of the end of the embargo has to come with the end of the Castro brothers?

Rubio: Not only the end of the Castro brothers, but also political reform in the return of political freedom to the people of Cuba. The embargo gives us leverage to negotiate that. Cuba trades with every other country in the world. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. embargo is not the reason their economy is failing. Their economy is failing because they've embraced a combination of socialism and incompetence, which may be an oxymoron because they're both the same thing. The point being that I would love for the United States to have a close economic relationship with a free Cuba. I think we're going to see that very soon, God willing.

HE: Now assuming that free and fair elections were held in this new environment that you described, would you support resuming diplomatic relations before the settlement of Cuban properties.

Rubio: Before the settlement of Cuban properties in terms of their previous owners? I think that's something for the Cuban people to determine through their new political system that's in place. They have the right to that determination and to choose any form of government they please. What I'm interested in is having the United States having strong diplomatic and economic ties to a free and fair Cuba. A lot of times past, the issue of property rights there was going to have to be confronted like it was confronted in Eastern Europe. But I wouldn't impose an external mandate. I think the links between Cuban exiles and their families in Cuba are close enough that they will be able to establish some sort of an orderly process for property rights to be respected, either returned to their rightful owners or paid for their loss.

HE: That leads to another question about the Obama Administration's reverting back to the Clinton-era policy of travel and remittances by Cuban Americans to their families living on the island. Does this help the cause of freedom?

Rubio: It's hard to tell people they can't visit their dying grandmother or dying mom. And I get that and it's sad. By the way, the Bush-era policies allowed people to travel once every three years. Unfortunately, that's not what's happening. What's happening now is that the Castro government is using travel and exile travel as a way to fund its repressive regime. I also think it threatens the immigration status of Cubans. Cubans come to the United States on the basis of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which says that Cubans are exiles. Cubans are here because they have no political freedoms. But it's hard to argue you're in exile when a year and a month after you arrive, you're returning repeatedly to the country you're exiled from. How do you argue that you're an exile when exile is supposed to be people that can't return for political purposes? And after 13 months in the country, you're traveling back? It threatens the exile status of the Cuban community. And it also provides a source of hard currency for the Castro regime. They use the dollars from remittances and from travel to fund their repressive operation. I think it was wrong to lift those travel restrictions.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee's on Message

Thursday, May 6, 2010
With the Castro regime, that is.

Last month, Johana Tablada de la Torre, Castro's Deputy Director of Foreign Affairs, told a columnist with Britain's Daily Mail:

"We believe the U.S. Treasury has more people chasing down transactions related to Cuba than chasing terrorist funding for Al Qaeda."

Now, watch the following clip of U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California questioning U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner during a recent House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.

Didn't miss a beat.

Another 80-Year-Old General

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Yesterday, 79-year-old Cuban General (and dictator) Raul Castro fired his 48-year-old Transport Minister Jorge Luis Sierra.

"The Council of State at the proposal of its President (Raul Castro) agreed to release (Sierra) from his duties due to errors made on the job," reads the official statement.

Sierra, who was a member of the Cuban Communist Party's Politburo and Secretariat, was replaced by General Antonio Lusson.

General Lusson (pictured below) is 80-years-old.

Young civilians need not apply.

Tanner's Stacked Hearing

Last week, U.S. Rep. John Tanner of Tennessee held his first hearing as the new Chairman of the House Ways and Means' Subcommittee on Trade.

He picked U.S.-Cuba Policy as his inaugural issue.

As has become typical of recent Cuba hearings, the witness panel was completely stacked in favor of the Chairman's position to engage in unconditional commerce with the Castro regime.

But we're used to that.

Sadly though, at one point, U.S. Rep. Richard Neil of Massachusetts asked a very good question about the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people.

None of the panelists could answer -- either because they didn't know (doubtful), or simply because they didn't care, for this hearing was all about business.

Not one of them mentioned the struggle of the Ladies in White, the torture and death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the current hunger strike of Guillermo Farinas or the resilience of the largest political prisoner population (per capita) in the world.

One of the panelists did, however, have the audacity to speculate that the Cuban people were "content" -- after all, controversy is bad for business.

None of this seemed to bother Chairman Tanner, who is undoubtedly a good man, a military veteran and -- frankly -- should know better.

We pray he just had (another) temporary lapse of judgment, similar to when he had Cuba's brutal dictator Fidel Castro sign an American flag (below) for him.

The Paris Club's Second Largest Debtor

With a debt of $30.41 billion dollars, the Castro regime ranks second on the Paris Club's updated list of debtor countries.

Castro's unpaid debt represents approximately 10% of the Paris Club's total outstanding claims of $330.2 billion dollars.

The Paris Club is a group of financial institutions from 19 of the world's biggest economies, which provide financial services such as debt restructuring, debt relief and debt cancellation to indebted countries and their creditors.

Click here for the complete list.

No Reciprocated Goodwill

Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Syria, too, has failed to reciprocate U.S. President Barack Obama's initial goodwill gesture.

And the President has acted accordingly.

According to AFP:

Obama Renews Syria Sanctions

President Obama on Monday renewed sanctions against Syria for a year, accusing Damascus of supporting terrorist groups and
pursuing missile programs and weapons of mass destruction.

There had been no expectation that Mr. Obama was ready to lift the measures, but the renewal comes at a delicate time in relations between the United States and Syria, despite efforts by the administration to return an ambassador to Damascus.

The United States also recently expressed concerns after Israel accused Syria of arming Hezbollah with increasingly sophisticated rockets and missiles, which the United States says undermine stability in the region.

Senate (Marti) Report Lacks Credibility

Yesterday, the majority staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), chaired by U.S. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, released a report on U.S. government radio and television broadcasts to Cuba -- known as Radio and TV Marti.

For the record, this is the same SFRC staff that is currently holding up aid for the families of Cuba's political prisoners and pro-democracy movement, and that supports unilaterally lifting sanctions and normalizing relations with the Castro regime.

So how do they feel about the Marti broadcasts?

Three guesses.

Frankly, it's not whether the SFRC staff likes or dislikes the Marti broadcasts that is of concern -- it's their biased standard and lack of credible data that raises eyebrows.

In its report, the SFRC staff concluded that the Marti broadcasts have failed to make "any discernible inroads into Cuban society or to influence the Cuban government."

Let's take the second part first.

Since when has the goal of the Marti broadcasts been to "influence" the Castro regime?

That's a disingenuous statement.

According to the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act, the goal of these transmissions is "to support the right of the people of Cuba to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, in accordance with article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

No has has ever been under the illusion -- except perhaps the authors of this report -- that the Marti broadcasts (or unilateral concessions, for that matter) will influence the irrational and totalitarian behavior of the Castro brothers.

Which takes us back to the first part.

Have the Marti's failed to make "any discernible inroads into Cuban society" (using the SFRC's staff language)?

In order to objectively answer that question, tangible and credible data is required.

But the SFRC's staff has instead (unquestionably) accepted data cited in a 2009 report by the General Accountability Office (GAO), which concluded that "the best available research indicates that OCB's audience size is small."

Here's the kicker: the data cited in the GAO report was from an international survey (poll) conducted through phone calls to the island.

In other words, a Cuban household was blindly called from abroad, despite knowing that their telephone lines are constantly monitored, and the person is asked whether they listen to or watch Radio and TV Marti, which is punishable with severe prison terms by the Castro regime.

Seriously? That is credible data?

If this report were truly objective, the question -- in accordance to law -- should be:

Does Radio and TV Marti "support the right of the people of Cuba to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, in accordance with article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights"?

Unfortunately, the SFRC report never got past its biased standard.

The Return of Inspector Clouseau

One of those "pro-government demonstrators" that, according to the Castro regime, shows up "spontaneously" to shout-down the Ladies in White during their peaceful Sunday marches, decided to don her police uniform this week.

Apparently, she had previously been "undercover."


Here she was "undercover" a few weeks ago:

Her she is "on-duty" this week:

Pictures courtesy of Penultimos Dias.

Narcos, Castro, FARC and Paramilitaries

Monday, May 3, 2010
On this World Press Freedom Day, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB) released its annual list of 40 "Predators of Press Freedom."

They are 40 politicians, government officials, religious leaders, militias and criminal organizations that cannot stand the press, treat it as an enemy and directly attack journalists.

In Latin America, only four made this nefarious list: drug traffickers, the Cuban dictatorship, FARC and the paramilitary groups.

Click here to view in its entirety.

Military Summons for Repression

Castro's Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR) has called young reservists to active duty, in order to organize acts of repression against Cuba's pro-democracy movement.

According to independent journalists on the island, these reservists are being summoned to training camps, where they are given uniforms, badges, handcuffs and batons.

These reservists are also being trained in the handling of attack dogs.

Below is an official summons from one courageous young Cuban, who refused to report for the repressive campaign.

This is yet another example of how GAESA's tourism income is put to use.

So how will these young Cubans react to using brutal force against their friends, families and neighbors?

We pray that their good conscience prevails.

Worst of the Worst

Sunday, May 2, 2010
Last week, Freedom House released its annual report, "Freedom of the Press 2010: A Global Survey of Media Independence."

According to this report:

The world's 10 worst-rated countries are Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens' access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression.

As we commemorate World Press Freedom Day tomorrow, let's not forget the victims of "the worst of the worst."

What is Freedom?

The following is an excerpt from an April 30th speech by Cuban author and scholar Carlos Alberto Montaner upon receiving the "Juan de Mariana Defense of Freedom Award," in Madrid, Spain:

In totalitarian societies, the pain of not being free and moving about in disguise becomes somatic in various ways, from a knot in the throat to a diffuse malaise expressed by assorted neurotic behaviors.

What is freedom? It is the ability we have to make decisions based on our individual beliefs, convictions and interests, without external pressures.

Freedom is choosing the god who best fits our religious perceptions, or choosing no god if we don't feel the spiritual need to transcend.

Freedom is fearlessly offering our affection and loyalty to the people we love, or to the groups with which we feel a kinship.

Freedom is choosing without interference what we want to study, where and how we wish to live, the ideas that best reflect our vision of the social problems or the ideas that best seem to explain them.

Freedom is selecting the artistic expressions that please us the most, or, conversely, rejecting them without consequences.

Freedom is being able to undertake or renounce an economic activity without reporting to anyone, beyond the formalities established by law.

Freedom is spending our money as we see fit, acquiring the goods that satisfy us and disposing of our legitimate properties. Without freedom, the creation of wealth is weakened to the point of misery.

José Martí, the illustrious journalist who generated Cuba's independence, contributed another definition: "Freedom is the right of every man to be honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy."