State Department on 3rd Migration Talks

Saturday, June 19, 2010
Cuba Migration Talks

Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC

On Friday, June 18, 2010, the United States and Cuba met in Washington, D.C. to discuss the implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. This was the third such meeting since the decision to resume the Cuba Migration Talks in 2009. In the course of the meeting, the U.S. team, led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration. The Cuban delegation was led by Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez Barrera.

The U.S. delegation separately raised the case of Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen detained in Cuba since December 4, 2009, and called for his immediate release.

Engaging in these talks underscores our interest in pursuing constructive discussions with the Government of Cuba to advance U.S. interests. The U.S. delegation highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, while also identifying issues that have been obstacles to the full implementation of the Accords. The agenda for the talks reflected longstanding U.S. priorities on Cuba migration issues, including: ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to operate fully and effectively; ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to monitor the welfare of repatriated migrants; and gaining Cuban Government acceptance for the repatriation of Cuban nationals who are subject to removal from the United States on criminal grounds.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 22

From Tracey Eaton's Along the Malecon:

As for the fate of H.R. 4645 [Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson's bill to allow tourism travel to Cuba], supporters and foes agree it will not pass the House without a fight.

"I don't like to make predictions," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, who writes the Capitol Hill Cubans blog. "I will say this: It's obviously not a slam dunk in the Agriculture Committee, which is probably the easiest."

If the Agriculture Committee approves the bill, it would still be subject to approval by the Foreign Affairs, Financial Services and Rules committees, he said. Those committees can waive jurisdiction, "but committees don't like to do that. You set a bad precedent," Claver-Carone said. "Then you open a door. People will start doing that for other foreign policy issues."

Claver-Carone said he does not believe Peterson will ask for a mark-up unless "he's comfortable that he has the votes. He will only do it if he's 100 percent sure he has the votes."

"It's not impossible," Claver-Carone said. "Nothing in life is impossible, but by far it's not a slam dunk. It's definitely very close."

Dissidents Decry Bill to End Travel Ban

Friday, June 18, 2010
From the AP:

Dissidents decry US bill to end Cuba travel ban

HAVANA — Five days after his release for health reasons, a former Cuban political prisoner added his name to a letter signed by nearly 500 opposition activists decrying proposed legislation that would lift the U.S. travel ban to their country.

The letter, e-mailed to foreign reporters in Havana on Thursday, took the opposite approach of a statement last week supporting the same bill and signed by 74 dissidents, many with international notoriety — including Cuba's top blogger Yoani Sanchez, and Elizardo Sanchez, who is not related to Yoani but heads the island's top human rights group.

The bill in question was introduced Feb. 23 by Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, and would bar the president from prohibiting travel to Cuba or blocking transactions required to make such trips.

It also would halt the White House from stopping direct transfers between U.S. and Cuban banks. That would make it easier for the island's government to pay for U.S. food and farm exports, which have been allowed for a decade, despite Washington's 48-year-old trade embargo.

Thursday's letter said, "to be benevolent with the dictatorship would mean solidarity with the oppressors of the Cuban nation." It featured 492 signers from all over Cuba, but most were little-known, even among the island's small and divided dissident and political opposition community.

One exception was Ariel Sigler, a 44-year-old who is paralyzed from the waist down and who was freed to much fanfare Saturday. He was released to his home in Matanzas province after serving more than seven years of a 25-year sentence for treason.

Sigler was among 75 leading opposition activists, community organizers, dissidents and independent journalists rounded up in March 2003 — when the world's attention was focused on the start of the Iraq war — and charged with taking money from Washington to destabilize Cuba's government. Those imprisoned denied that, as did U.S. officials.

Sigler went to prison a boxer in excellent shape, but became confined to a wheelchair while behind bars.

His release and the recent transfer of 12 other prisoners of conscience to jails closer to their homes is the result of negotiations between the Roman Catholic Church and the government of Raul Castro to improve the plight of political prisoners.

Other signers of the letter include Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, or Antunez, an Afro-Cuban dissident who has used hunger strikes in the past to protest the treatment of political prisoners in Cuba, and Reina Luis Tamayo, mother of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in February after a lengthy prison hunger strike.

While travel to Cuba is technically not illegal, U.S. law bars most Americans from spending money here. Cuban-Americans, journalists, politicians and a few others can visit with special permission from the U.S. government.

Peterson's bill must pass the House Committee on Agriculture before it can go to a vote by the full House, and Thursday's letter was addressed to members of that committee as well as all members of Congress.

A string of similar measures to expand travel to and trade with Cuba have died without reaching a full vote by either the House or Senate in recent years.

494 Dissidents Send Letter Against H.R. 4645

Today, nearly 500 pro-democracy leaders from within Cuba have sent a letter to the House Agriculture Committee in OPPOSITION to Chairman Collin Peterson's legislation, H.R. 4645, which seeks to ease tourism-travel and trade sanctions towards the Castro regime.

"Congressmen/Congresswomen, the cause of liberty, and firm opposition to the oppressive totalitarian dictatorship in Havana, is so sacred that it is above all economic and mercantilist interests," the letter states.

They proceed to stress, "the below signatories believe that the freedom of Cuba will not arrive by means of the pocket-book nor the lips of libidinous tourists, who are aseptic to the pain of the Cuban family... For that reason we suggest that you maintain a firm and coherent policy of pressure and condemnation against the tyranny in Havana."

Please note that these leaders are risking long prison terms for simply drafting and signing this document, as the Castro regime's draconian laws stringently punish any expression of support for U.S. policy.

Amongst the signatories are:

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," a young Afro-Cuban pro-democracy leader, who spent nearly half his life (17 years) as a political prisoner.

Reina Luis Tamayo, member of the Ladies in White and mother of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in February pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike.

Ariel Sigler Amaya, Cuban political prisoner who was released this past weekend. Ariel was imprisoned in 2003 for heading the Independent Alternative Option Movement. At the time of his imprisonment, he was a 250-pound former amateur boxer. He was released a 106-pound paraplegic.

Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, former political prisoner and head of the Cuban Youth for Democracy Movement.

Let's hope Congress listens.

Click here
to read letter and here to view signatures.

Hillary Visits With Alan Gross's Family

Thursday, June 17, 2010
Continued Incarceration of Alan Gross

Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State
Washington, DC

I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet today with family members of development worker and USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, and to express my concern over his continued incarceration in Cuba.

More than six months have passed since Mr. Gross was arrested in Cuba. He is a husband, a father, and a dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to under-served communities in dozens of countries. We are deeply concerned about his welfare and poor health, and we have used every available channel to push for his release.

As I told the family today, we will continue to do so. A delegation from the United States will meet tomorrow with Cuban officials to discuss our Migration Accords, consistent with the Obama Administration's commitment to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States, and we will underscore that the continued detention of Alan Gross is harming U.S.-Cuba relations.

The United States would view favorably the release of Alan Gross so that he can return to his family.

Congressional Dear Colleague

Fidel Castro Compares Israeli Self-Defense to Nazism

Dear Colleague,

On May 31, 2010, Israeli Defense Forces intercepted and boarded Mavi Marmara, a ship attempting to break the naval blockade the Israeli government legally established to protect her citizens from Hamas. The ensuing clash resulted in violence and casualties, as well as hasty condemnations of Israel by much of the world community.

This incident has led to much international discussion and debate. Earlier this week, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced that Israel will begin an internal probe into the events of May 31st. Despite the strong support of the United States for an Israeli-led investigation, many in the United Nation's Human Rights Council continue to push for an additional international investigation into the raid.

The debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council, like so many of its debates regarding Israel, has been biased and shaped by some of the world's worst violators of human rights.

To exemplify this point, we would like to bring to your attention the following statement made by Fidel Castro regarding the United Nation's discussions on Israel's interception of the flotilla to Gaza. In a state-run publication released last week, Fidel Castro stated, "The hatred of the State of Israel against the Palestinians is such that they wouldn't hesitate sending a million-and-a-half men, women and children from that country to the crematoriums in which the Nazis exterminated millions of Jews of all ages. The Führer's swastika seems to be today's new Israeli flag." The Cuban regime's U.N. mission in Geneva widely distributed these remarks to journalists and foreign officials – clearly communicating the regime's anti-Semitic position.

These statements which compare the people of Israel to Nazis are inexcusable. We ask our colleagues to support the pursuit of a balanced United Nations, capable of living up to its charter on universal human rights; we ask our colleagues to work with Israel to reach a peaceful solution for the Israeli and Palestinian people; and we ask our colleagues to thoroughly examine the negative repercussions of offering unilateral concessions to the hostile Cuban regime.


Albio Sires
Member of Congress

Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Member of Congress

Press Freedom in the Americas

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing on "Press Freedom in the Americas."

Here's an excerpt from the testimony of the Committee to Protect Journalist's Executive Director, Joel Simon:

"I would like to talk about Cuba, which is far and away the most repressive environment for the press in Latin America. In fact, Cuba is one of the most repressive countries in the world in this regard.
There are 22 journalists currently jailed in Cuba, which means the country ranks third behind Iran and China. There was some modest hope after Fidel Castro stepped aside in 2006 that conditions for the media would improve, but that has not happened under President Raúl Castro. Cuba has seen the emergence of an incipient blogging culture which, for now, has been tolerated. We commend President Obama for giving an e-mail interview to Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez shortly after she was detained and beaten by Cuban security agents in November. The CPJ report, titled 'Chronicling Cuba, bloggers offer fresh hope,' has been entered into the record.

Efforts by the United States government to protect and promote press freedom are vital because we live in an information society. Those who are deprived of basic information are in essence marginalized. The freedom to seek and receive information is not only a human right it; is a prerequisite for full participation in the global economy."

Amen, Governor Perdue

It's too bad Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue didn't have the courage to make this statement while in Cuba last week, instead of trying to cut a business deal with the repressive Castro regime.

From Baptist Press News:

"The world is tired of phony politicians and phony religion" and wants to see the "authenticity of Jesus Christ," Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue told messengers June 15 at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Fla [...]

"Democracy is sometimes painful to watch, but it's still the best in the world," he said. "I was in Cuba last week and they don't have this kind of discussion in Cuba. So give God the glory we can come together as brothers and sisters and talk about the best direction for Southern Baptists."

Momentum to Pressure the Regime

Wednesday, June 16, 2010
From The Miami Herald:

More Cuban political prisoners put their lives on the line

At least five Cuban political prisoners are refusing food in a spontaneous trend triggered by the February death of a dissident.

Egberto Angel Escobedo completed his 17th year in a Cuban prison last Friday, and his 56th day of a hunger strike. He's at a penitentiary called "Red Ceramic" in Camagüey, where the military keeps him in isolation to prevent other inmates from spreading word of his failing health. Escobedo is one of at least five cases of political prisoners -- down from seven -- who are refusing food, in what experts say is an extraordinary surge of inmates at different Cuban lockups fighting over different causes. Protesting everything from medical care to prison uniforms, they are using an age-old technique that over the years has met with mixed results.

"I don't recall at least in the last decade seeing so many people in jail on a hunger strike," said former political prisoner Ricardo Bofill, who served two stints totaling 15 years. "There is a political context that contributes to all this. They perceive that this is the moment to pressure the government, that there is momentum.''

Read more here.

Political Prisoners Demand Peterson Apology

Over 250 former Cuban political prisoners, who've served a cumulative total of 3,551 years in prison and strongly oppose the unconditional lifting of U.S. sanctions towards the Castro regime, have sent a letter to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson demanding an apology for insulting democracy advocates and trivializing the human sacrifices that have been made on behalf of Cuba's freedom.

In a press release last week, Chairman Peterson -- who has introduced legislation (H.R. 4645) seeking to unconditionally lift sanctions towards the Castro regime -- insultingly stated, "…people who oppose this bill are not speaking on behalf of the Cuban people, regardless of what they say."

These courageous political prisoners, all of which strongly oppose H.R. 4645, remind Chairman Peterson that they are "living testimony of the unspeakable tortures, cruelty and deprivations of the military dictatorship of the Castro brothers," and have asked that he refrain from impugning "their suffering, deeply held beliefs and tragic experiences."

The signatories, which include 27 women, have served political prison sentences ranging as high as 29 years.

As regards H.R. 4645 in particular, the political prisoners stated, "should this legislation pass, Mr. Peterson, we trust that you will be prepared to assume the responsibility for the increased bloodshed it will cause the people of Cuba."

Click here to view the letter.

Wasserman Schultz on Castro's Anti-Semitism

Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Wasserman Schultz Slams Castro Statements Comparing Israelis to Nazis

WASHINGTON - Today, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz strongly condemned anti-Israel statements made by former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Castro's comments, which were distributed by the Cuban government were as follows: "The hatred felt by the state of Israel against the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send the one-and-a-half million men, women and children of that country to the crematoria where millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazis," Castro said. "It would seem that the Fuehrer's swastika is today Israel's banner," he said, referencing Adolf Hitler.

"These outrageous anti-Semitic comments are an insult to the millions of Jews who were systematically killed or tortured by the Nazis," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "To compare the people who survived Nazi death camps, or their relatives, to Nazis themselves shows an inexcusable level of ignorance and insensitivity to the Jewish people."

The Congresswoman noted that in authoritarian Cuba, no statements are released without the implicit endorsement of the state.

"These aren't just the comments of some doddering anti-Semite who is losing his faculties," said Wasserman Schultz. "These malicious comments were officially distributed by Cuba's government. They should be seen as what they are -- an official position of the Cuban government and endorsement of hateful anti-Semitism."

The Congresswoman pointed to this incident as yet another example of the continued abuses of the Cuban government. She cautioned those in Congress who seek to foster relations with Cuba.

"We have already seen -- in the recent beatings of pro-democracy bloggers, or the imprisonment of an American aid worker distributing laptops -- that the Cuban government continues to strike down any expression of dissent," said Rep. Wasserman Schultz. "Now its former president is officially sanctioning anti-Semitism. This is yet another glaring example of why we should not expand relations with the Cuban government."

Castro's comments were made to influence the debate in the United Nations Human Rights Council over Israel's actions to board a ship that had failed to heed a naval blockade preventing the importation of weapons into Gaza. "This was a deliberate attack on Israel's right to self-defense, and showed a shocking ignorance of both history and international law," said Rep. Wasserman Schultz.

"A relationship with America needs to be earned, not given away without regard to actions. The Cuban government has shown no interest in earning an expanded relationship with our country despite overtures from President Obama," the Congresswoman said.

A Bitter Taste of the Peterson Bill

The authors of the letter to the House Agriculture Committee in support of Chairman Collin Peterson's Cuba legislation -- and those that pitched it to a group of dissidents in Havana (withholding important details from many) -- painted quite a rosy (and misleading) picture.

In the letter, they wrote:

"We believe, however, if the citizens of the United States, like those of the rest of the world, increased their presence on our streets, visited the families of political prisoners and other members of the nascent Cuban civil society they could: serve as witnesses to the suffering of the Cuban people; be even more sensitized to the need for changes in Cuba; and offer solidarity and a bridge to facilitate the transition we Cubans so greatly desire."

Doesn't that sound nice?

Unfortunately, though, here's what Chairman Peterson has in mind:

"It will also make it easier for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba, allowing American agriculture producers to more easily conduct business with Cuba and boosting demand for U.S. products in Cuba at the same time."

That was the full extent of Peterson's remarks on travel at a March hearing on H.R. 4645 -- no mention of visiting the families of political prisoners, civil society, solidarity, etc. Only business with Castro.

The authors also forgot to mention (or perhaps are unaware) that current U.S. law already permits (and encourages) travel to support the families of political prisoners and civil society.

But that detail wasn't disclosed.

However, if that isn't [dis]comforting enough, here's what U.S. Congressman Leonard Boswell of Iowa, a co-sponsor of H.R. 4645, had to add:

"I, too, have been down there, Mr. Presidents (of the American Farm Bureau and National Farmers Union), both of you. I appreciate that but assume that you know who Mr. Alvarez is. I spent a lot of time with him. I spent quite a bit of time with Mr. Castro. Sometimes we would be entertained. I can tell you about that a little bit."

Mr. Alvarez is Pedro Alvarez, the head of the Castro's food and trade monopoly.

So did Congressman Boswell visit with the families of political prisoners and civil society while in Cuba?

Unfortunately not.

He was too busy with Messrs. Alvarez and Castro.

And Now, The Real News

Click on image to enlarge.

Travel, Tourism and Trafficking

Monday, June 14, 2010
The U.S. State Department has just released its 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report.

The Castro regime has -- once again -- earned the lowest possible placement (Tier 3), as a country that does not apply minimum standards of protection and is not making any significant effort to do so.

Doesn't that sound like a great place to send U.S. tourists?

Needless to say -- no.

Here's the summary of the Cuba section:

CUBA (Tier 3)

Cuba is principally a source country for children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically commercial sexual exploitation within the country. Some Cuban medical professionals have stated that postings abroad are voluntary and well paid; however, others have claimed that their services "repaid" Cuban government debts to other countries and their passports were withheld as they performed their services. The scope of trafficking within Cuba is difficult to gauge due to the closed nature of the government and sparse non-governmental or independent reporting.

The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. In a positive step, the Government of Cuba shared information about human trafficking and its efforts to address the issue. However, the government did not prohibit all forms of trafficking during the reporting period, nor did it provide specific evidence that it prosecuted and punished trafficking offenders, protected victims of all forms of trafficking, or implemented victim protection policies or programs to prevent human trafficking.

Political Prisoner Released a Paraplegic

Here's why the Castro regime prohibits the U.N.'s Special Investigator on Torture and the International Commission on the Red Cross from entering Cuba (while welcoming foreign tourists with open arms to the regime's apartheid beach resorts).

Ariel Sigler Amaya was a 250-pound amateur boxer when arrested in 2003 for his outspoken criticism of the Castro regime as head of the Independent Alternative Option Movement (IAOM), an opposition group in the western province of Matanzas.

On Saturday, he was released from prison a 106-pound paraplegic.

The picture below speaks for itself.

Here's what Ariel had to say to Spain's EFE:

"I will not stop fighting for freedom and democracy in Cuba. I will continue fighting for the freedom of our remaining brothers in prison."

He then went on to thank "international pressure" for his liberation -- not the Castro regime, concessions, negotiations, nor rapprochement.

"International pressure."


The Last Apartheid Regime

Sunday, June 13, 2010
From Peruvian journalist Fernando Berckemeyer's column, "A Tourist in Cuba":

"At the airport you are received by omnipresent signs, books, songs, pictures and uniforms that serve as a reminder of the romantic legend of the world you are entering (because Castro's Cuba is, like all ancient civilizations, a society based on an original myth): that of young guerrilla fighters disembarking from a beat-up boat that almost didn't make it from Mexico, to begin their revolution against a corrupt dictatorship and install in Cuba a kingdom of equality, solidarity and humanity. Meanwhile, the loudspeakers proclaim: 'with your beloved presence, commander, Che Guevara.'

But as you approach the hotel, it becomes abundantly clear, to the point of grotesque, what you began suspecting from the condition of the construction under the signs. At the hotels, Cubans never stay, the median income is 25 dollars per month, which in these hotels cannot buy you anything more than two lunches. Two lunches that, like the Internet, post-1950's cars, or aspirins, with few exceptions, can only be purchased at the hotels, or in the stores where foreign diplomats and the regime's high-command can purchase in "cucs," the coin invented by the last apartheid regime in the world for tourists and the privileged in Cuba."

Don't Believe the Hype

So where's all the Cuban oil that the experts keep telling us about?

Is this what foreign oil companies are supposedly tripping-over-themselves for?

Whether on-shore or off-shore, it's just part of the hype to try to induce the unconditional lifting of sanctions.

According to Reuters:

Cuban oil production fell 9 pct in 2009

Cuba's oil production fell by almost 300,000 tonnes in 2009 over 2008, while natural gas output stagnated, the National Statistics Office reported on Thursday.

Oil production was 2.73 million tonnes and natural gas output, the equivalent of 1.15 million tonnes, compared with 3 million tonnes and 1.16 million tonnes respectively in 2008, according to information posted on the office's web page.

Energy dependant, Cuba does not report oil production in barrels, but officials state it is between 60,000 and 70,000 barrels per day.

The government gave no reason for the decline, though it coincided with a forced buy-out of concessions owned by Canadian firms Pebercan and Sherritt International.

Pebercan is no longer in Cuba, while Sherritt continues to operate other blocks.

Cuban production is concentrated along the northwest heavy oil belt, an 80-mile (128-km) stretch of coast in Havana and Matanzas provinces which produces all of Cuba's heavy crude with a density rating of 8 API to 18 API and a high sulfur

Most new wells are drilled vertically from the shore from two to seven kilometers out to sea.

Output had stagnated for nearly a decade as old wells were exhausted and new ones did no more than take up the slack.
The poor-quality oil is burned in modified power plants and factories.

Some domestic oil is also processed at a joint venture refinery with Venezuela in the Cienfuegos province, and then exported to area countries.

Since 2006, Cuba has shipped small amounts of the crude to Asia.

Cuba imported 93,000 bpd of oil and by products, with preferential financing, from Venezuela in 2008, the last statistics available, with an additional amount sent to the Cienfuegos refinery.