For the Naïve

Saturday, June 5, 2010
For those that naïvely think the Castro regime would use U.S. tourism income to purchase more agricultural products -- think again.

Here's what the Castro regime does with its limited European and Canadian tourism income.

As China's Xinhua boasts:

Cuban leader calls for strengthening defense capability

Cuban leader Raul Castro called for strengthening the country's military defense and response capability against natural disasters, the official daily Granma reported on Friday.

"As I have said before, the invulnerability is the result of the constant improvement of our defense capability," he told a meeting held at the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

During the meeting, Castro assessed the achievements of the "Bastion 2009" Strategic Exercise.

Castro said the military maneuvers allowed the country to find possible problems in its defensive system.

He also stressed the importance of the capabilities to cope with "the consequences of natural disaster threats," such as hurricanes, earthquakes or tsunamis.

The meeting discussed the "prevention missions to protect the country from the aftermath of incidents such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico," according to Granma reports.

The Strategic Exercise "Bastion" is held every four years. Official data showed that about 4 million Cubans participated in the maneuvers "Bastion 2009," the largest in five years.

Castro +38, Catholic Church 0

Friday, June 4, 2010
Between yesterday and today, 37 dissidents have been arrested by Castro's State Security for trying to attend two organized pro-democracy meetings, the Agenda for a Transition and the Assembly of the National Liberal Union.

Add the arrest we posted yesterday, and that's 38 new imprisonments since the negotiations between the Catholic Church and the Castro regime took place a week and a half ago -- while not a single political prisoner has been released.

Amongst those arrested yesterday is the spokeswoman for Guillermo Farinas, who is on the 100th day of a hunger strike demanding the release of 26 political prisoners in need of medical attention. Her name is Liset Zamora.

Unfortunately, this has become a tragic rout.

Why I'm Skeptical of the Catholic Church...

...as an honest arbiter in dealing with the Castro regime.

First and foremost, because the Cuban Church and State are both non-democratic entities, with non-representative leadership.

Furthermore, this excerpt from a recent interview with the BBC's Havana correspondent Fernando Revsberg is worth pondering, for good and for bad:

"The [Cuban] Catholic Church has bet on Raul Castro since the beginning. You have to keep in mind that all foreign dignitaries that traveled to Cuba prior to Raul Castro assuming his new duties would visit with dissidents. The one who broke this tradition was Cardinal Bertoni, the Pope's envoy. He was the first foreign dignitary that Raul Castro received as President, and he was the first not to meet with dissidents, but instead only dialogue with the regime. From that moment on, every foreign politician and functionary that visited Cuba during 2008 and 2009 ignored the dissidents and dealt solely with the government. Even the criticisms that have appeared in the Catholic Church's magazine have been very respectful and positive towards Raul Castro. Positive in encouraging him to continue his agenda, not demanding anything other than his own set of changes, those Raul Castro promised. The Catholic Church has been gaining more space with the new President, and I think that's a result of the confidence that's been built amongst both sides."

Let's not forget the wise lesson of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner, Elie Weisel:

"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."

Castro +1, Catholic Church 0

Thursday, June 3, 2010
Since last week's negotiations between the Catholic Church and the Castro regime, no political prisoners have been released.

To the contrary, another has been imprisoned.

That's +1 for the Castro regime, 0 for the Catholic Church.

We hope that the Church, media and international community are not too busy speculating about transfers from one repressive facility to another to notice.

From the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders:

Journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias began a hunger strike yesterday, the day he was returned to prison at Havana's Centro Alternativo de Procesamiento de Detenidos (alternative processing centre for detainees). He was protesting about the forced removal of opposition figures to the east of the country.

State security agents arrested the correspondent for Hablemos Press on 25 May while he was covering a demonstration organized by dissidents in the capital. A week went past before the authorities gave any indication of where he was being held. He has since been put in solitary confinement.

The re-imprisonment of Calixto Ramón Martínez brings to 25 the number of journalists being detained in Cuban prisons. We note however that two journalists, Iván Hernández Carrillo and José Luis García Paneque are among six political prisoners who have been moved to jails closer to their families. These two men were arrested during the "Black Spring" of 2003, along with the Reporters Without Borders' correspondent Ricardo González Alfonso.

"This is an import step but it is not enough", said journalist Guillermo Fariñas, who had to be hospitalized as a result of a hunger strike he started last February to press for the release of political prisoners suffering ill health. We continue to demand the release of Cuban journalists imprisoned only for having done their job in defiance of official censorship.

A Flotilla Contradiction

Babalu Blog's Jose Reyes has a great post on the audacity and tragic contradiction behind the Castro regime's recent statement condemning Israel's interception of a flotilla headed for Gaza.

Castro's statement accuses Israeli commando's of "frenetically firing at aid workers" in a "Nazi fascist fury."

Ironically, this is the same regime that brutally murdered 42 men, women and children onboard the "13 de Marzo" tugboat, for simply trying to flee the island in search of freedom.

Quote of the Week

"Transferring the political prisoners from one jail to another is not a big difference. It's like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Instead of taking meaningless steps, the Cuban government should release all political prisoners once and for all."

-- Eliot Engel, Democratic Congressman from New York, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, EFE, 6/2/10.

How to Save Fariñas's Life

According to Spain's El Pais, Cuban pro-democracy leader Guillermo Fariñas, who is on the third month of a hunger strike, is suffering from an acute bacterial infection that is causing extremely high fevers.

Through a spokesperson, Fariñas commented that the recent transfer of six political prisoners to penal facilities closer to their home provinces "was a step forward, but not what he's been asking for."

Furthermore, "if the government wants to save [Fariñas's] life, it must grant parole to at least 10 or 12 political prisoners who are sick."

China's Espionage Facility (in Cuba)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010
U.S. intelligence commentator, Robert Morton, takes a sarcastic swipe at critics of FISA ("Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act") in an editorial entitled, "Let's outsource domestic spying to China!"

While we don't espouse Morton's views on domestic surveillance, he makes an interesting observation regarding Cuba:

In Cuba, China operates a super-secret complex that eavesdrops on our satellite-based military transmissions, the messages contained in our home and business faxes and e-mails... even the toppings we order on home-delivered pizzas!

CIA agents in Cuba grew suspicious when large numbers of names like Yang Chow and Yo-Yo Qian booked into hotels in Havana in the late 1990's. Sure enough, a Chinese electronic espionage facility sprang up. In return, Beijing gave Castro electronic countermeasures to block Radio Marti from carrying pro-U.S. Radio and TV broadcasts into Cuba from Miami.

And here's a picture of that facility:

Picture of the Week

Havana-based blogger Yoani Sanchez has posted on Facebook this picture of a 20 Cuban peso bill she came across.

It has graffitied on the bottom right, "Censura Causa Impotencia."

English translation: "Censorship Causes Impotence."

Chavez's War Against the Jews

The Castro regime has kept an American imprisoned -- without trial or charges -- since December 3rd of last year for helping Cuba's Jewish community connect to the Internet.

Meanwhile, it appears Castro's mentee, Hugo Chavez, has declared a full scale war against Venezuela's Jewish community.

This shocking documentary clip explains:

Putting News into Perspective

From The Associated Press:

HAVANA — Cuba has begun transferring some of the country's 200 political prisoners to jails closer to home, the first sign the government is making good on a deal with the Roman Catholic Church to improve conditions behind bars.

At least seven prisoners were on the move, according to reports Tuesday from Roman Catholic Church officials, human rights leaders and relatives who said they had spoken with jail authorities.

So let's put this into perspective:

Seven out of over 200 internationally-recognized political prisoners (not to mention thousands of others held for "social dangerousness"), who have been unjustly imprisoned for their opinions to begin with, are not being released -- they are simply being transferred from one repressive prison facility to another, only closer to where their families reside.

Out of respect for the families of those seven political prisoners, who are desperate for any glimmer of hope -- and deserve every bit of it -- we will not comment further at this time.

Aid or Undue Influence?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010
You decide.

From The Associated Press:

Cuba sends Venezuela experts to train military, work on security

It's no longer just doctors, nurses and teachers. Cuba now sends Venezuela troops to train its military, and computer experts to work on its passport and identification-card systems.

Critics fear that what is portrayed by both countries as a friendship committed to countering U.S. influence in the region is in fact growing into far more. They see a seasoned authoritarian government helping President Hugo Chavez to protect his power through Cuban-style controls, in exchange for oil. The Cuban government routinely spies on dissidents and maintains tight controls on information and travel.

Cubans are involved in Venezuelan defense and communications systems to the point that they would know how to run both in a crisis, said Antonio Rivero, a former brigadier general whose break with Chavez over the issue has grabbed national attention.

"They've crossed a line," Rivero said in a May interview. "They've gone beyond what should be permitted and what an alliance should be."

Cuban officials dismiss claims of outsized influence, saying their focus is social programs. Chavez recently scolded a Venezuelan reporter on live television for asking what the Cubans are doing in the military.

"Cuba helps us modestly with some things that I'm not going to detail," Chavez said. "Everything Cuba does for Venezuela is to strengthen the homeland, which belongs to them as well."

But the communist government has a strong interest in securing the status quo because Venezuela is the island's principal economic benefactor, Rivero says.

As Cuba struggles with economic troubles, including shortages of food and other basics, $7 billion in annual trade with Venezuela has provided a key boost — especially more than 100,000 barrels of oil Chavez's government sends each day in exchange for services.

Rivero, who retired early in protest and now plans to run for a seat in the National Assembly, said Cuban officers have sat in high-level meetings, trained snipers, gained detailed knowledge of communications and advised the military on underground bunkers built to store and conceal weapons.

"They know which weapons they have in Venezuela that they could count on at any given time," he said.

Cuban advisers also have been helping with a digital radio communications system for security forces, meaning they have sensitive information on antenna locations and radio frequencies, Rivero said.

If Chavez were to lose elections in 2012 or be forced out of office — like he was during a brief 2002 coup — it's even feasible the Cubans could "become part of a guerrilla force," Rivero said. "They know where our weapons are, they know where our command offices are, they know where our vital areas of communications are."

When Can Silvito "El Libre" Play?

Earlier this year, the Havana-based salsa group, Los Van Van, played a concert in Miami amidst great controversy, as they form part of a privileged group of Cuban musicians that -- thanks to their collaboration with the Castro regime -- are permitted to perform and travel throughout the island and internationally.

At the time, the group's U.S. concert promoter minimized the Miami controversy saying:

"The demographic has changed, and that includes the audience and who has the buying power. This new generation of Cubans goes back and forth, and they want to be in touch with their music and culture."

However, last week, it was announced that another Castro-elite performer, Silvio Rodriguez, who in 2003 signed a letter in support of the Castro regime's overnight execution of three young Afro-Cuban men for trying to flee the island, would hold a concert in Orlando instead of Miami.

This time, the very same U.S. promoter backtracked explaining:

"There are a lot of Cubans and Latin Americans in Florida who would like to see Silvio in concert. Although I would have loved to do it in Miami, it would have been too controversial. We need to avoid any type of situation where people think this is a provocation."

So which is it?

Ironically, Silvio Rodriguez's son, the Havana-based rapper known as Silvito "El Libre" ("The Free One"), who -- unlike his father -- has been an outspoken critic of the Castro dictatorship is not allowed to stage concerts in Cuba or to travel abroad, period.

So when will the Castro regime allow Silvito "El Libre" to play concerts in Cuba or anywhere else?

One thing is for sure, Silvito "El Libre" would be welcome with open arms -- not only throughout Cuba -- but in Miami, Madrid, New York or any place a Cuban resides.

Enough to make a father jealous.

Don't miss Silvito's interview below in the documentary "Grandchildren of the Revolution:"

The Cuban Rice Party

Monday, May 31, 2010
According to Penultimos Dias, there was a riot in mid-May by Cuban dockworkers who refused to load bags of rice onto a ship destined for Haiti.

In protest, they preferred to throw the bags overboard. They were angry that the Cuban people -- including their famlies -- are kept hungry and in need of food, while the Castro regime focuses on its international propaganda.

Castro's special forces immediately intervened.

One Week Later -- Nothing

According to Reuters:

"Ladies in White" say Cuba prisoner plight goes on

The Cuban government has not yet improved conditions for political prisoners or released any as had been hoped after recent talks between Catholic Church leaders and President Raul Castro, Cuba's "Ladies in White" dissident group said Sunday.

Speaking to reporters after the group's traditional Sunday march protesting the 2003 imprisonment of their loved ones, leader Laura Pollan said they had heard nothing from the government about its plans.

"Here, nothing is known. Everything is a state secret," said Pollan, whose husband, dissident Hector Maseda, is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Catholic officials said Castro promised in a May 19 meeting with Cardinal Jaime Ortega to move prisoners soon to jails closer to home or, if they were sick, into hospitals.

According to some reports, he also signaled the possible release of an unknown number of prisoners.

The high-level talks preceded a mid-June visit to Cuba by Vatican Foreign Secretary Dominque Mamberti.

So far, Pollan said, the only thing certain is that no prisoners have been moved or released.

On This Memorial Day

We honor all of the courageous men and women that have sacrificed their lives for our freedoms.

We will never forget you.

At the Service of Freedom

Sunday, May 30, 2010
On the eve of Memorial Day, please read this inspiring story of an extraordinary young Cuban's sacrifice on behalf of the country that gave him freedom.

You can also watch a video clip here.

From Wisconsin's FDL Reporter:

A Cuban refugee's odyssey to America

When the World Trade Center towers fell, Cuban refugee-turned-American immigrant Norberto Gonzalez Jr. stood up.

The 35-year-old Fond du Lac resident still remembers 9-11 clearly: "I heard about the twin towers and it made me really angry," he said. "Because I thought to myself, 'Somebody wants to take that freedom away from us.'

"That's not happening. Not on my watch … Nobody's going to take my freedom away, the American people's or my family's."

In 2002, Gonzalez exited the U.S. Naval Reserve so he could enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps for active duty.

"To be honest, going through boot camp was exciting. It was great, you know. Putting on that uniform and thinking, 'I'm doing something for my country' — that was the best feeling ever.

"Living in Cuba, I know what it's like to not have freedom," he said. "So I wanted to defend that freedom at all costs."

Gonzalez's neighbor, Eric Berg of Fond du Lac, said he wasn't surprised by that decision, noting that "(Norbert) is the first person to come and give you a hand when you need something.

"To talk to him, you'd think he grew up here," said Berg, a retired Air Force staff sergeant. "… And when 9-11 came up, Norbert figured it was his duty to his new country to stand up and do something after the attacks, which is a lot more than a lot of people did who were born and raised here."

Gunnery Sgt. Earl Budd — then a sergeant and senior drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot-San Diego — identified Gonzalez early on as a stand out.

"Oh yes, he was the most motivated recruit that I had ever had in my nine cycles as a drill instructor," said the man responsible for training nearly 1,000 Marine recruits during his tenure there.

At the end of Gonzalez's training cycle, in an unprecedented and unheard of gesture within the U.S. military, Senior Drill Instructor Budd called him in front of his fellow Marine recruits and bestowed upon Gonzalez his campaign cover, the signature high-crowned, broad-brimmed hat earned and worn only by Marine Corps drill instructors.

"The reason why I gave it to him," Budd said, "is he wasn't a squad leader or a guide because his English comprehension at the time wasn't the greatest; but he was so motivated, and I felt so moved by his story that I wanted to give him something from myself that hopefully he would cherish for the rest of his life, and now I know he does."

Gonzalez earned the respect of his peers as well as his superiors, added fellow Marine Oscar Sola-Vega.

"As a person, Norberto is outstanding," said the Miami resident, also a former Cuban as well as a former neighbor of Gonzalez's when deployed at the Kaneohe Bay base in Hawaii. "When I was deployed in the field, he looked out for my wife if she needed anything. He cares about other people."

If Gonzalez's story were a fairy tale, this would have been the juncture where it ended with the words "happily ever after." But the real world doesn't work that way — and his story would take one more tortuous twist.

Three years into his Marine service, Gonzalez paid the price for his patriotism: He was irreparably injured while serving in Hawaii. In a fluke accident — a fluorescent light bulb struck his right eye, rupturing the globe — he was left in excruciating pain for eight months and, eventually, blinded in that eye for life.

"I don't regret anything," said Gonzalez, who is in the process of being medically retired from the armed forces. "I don't regret anything I've done since I came to this country."

Perhaps that isn't "happily ever after," but for a man who risked life and limb to escape authoritarianism and Communism, it's a potent physical reminder that liberty doesn't come cheap.

"My name is Norberto Gonzalez," a free man declares, fairly beaming through his words. "I was born in Havana, Cuba — and I am an American."

And, for him, that's good enough.

Quote of the Week

"My father was a political prisoner [in Cuba] and I've never had any interest in returning, as I know how difficult it was for my family to leave."

-- Jon Secada, Grammy-award winning singer and songwriter, during a recent interview on his latest album entitled "Clasicos," Hoy, May 26th, 2010.