Another Loss For Chavez

Saturday, June 26, 2010
By Ambassador Jaime Darenblum in The Weekly Standard:

Chávez Loses in Colombia

Chalk up another defeat for Hugo Chávez. Last weekend, Colombian voters delivered a landslide victory to conservative presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos, who clobbered former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus by nearly 42 percentage points.

Always eager to meddle in foreign elections, Chávez had strongly criticized Santos during the campaign, calling him a "threat to the region" and warning that "he could cause a war in this part of the world, upon instructions from the Yankees." On April 25, the Venezuelan dictator said that, while Santos was "trying to dress as Little Red Riding Hood," he was actually "a wolf sent to bomb and invade Ecuador," referring to a 2008 Colombian military operation undertaken while Santos was serving as defense minister. (That operation crossed into Ecuadorean territory, but it resulted in the death of Raúl Reyes, a leading narco-terrorist who had long menaced Colombia by orchestrating kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations.)

Chávez had hoped to dissuade Colombians from electing a conservative security hawk. Yet his remarks backfired completely. Prior to his clumsy intervention in the campaign, Santos and Mockus were running neck and neck in the polls. Some analysts even believed the Green Party candidate might secure a majority in the first round of voting on May 30, and thereby win election. But Chávez proved to be a "game-changer." His attacks on Santos reminded Colombians of the radical autocracy that sits next door -- a government that has sponsored drug-trafficking terrorists in Colombia, has massed troops along the border, and has repeatedly raised the possibility of war.

Mockus also committed a disastrous unforced error on April 26, when he told a Colombian radio interviewer, "I admire Chávez," noting that the Venezuelan leader was democratically elected. This comment caused a media frenzy, and Mockus had to walk it back. "I used the word 'admire' inappropriately," he told another radio station the next day. "I think nobody would have paid attention to this issue if I had just said that I respect the government of President Chávez, who was democratically elected, anyway." But the damage had been done. Anti-Mockus signs reading "I admire Hugo Chávez" began appearing. There's no question that the initial statement did major damage to his election hopes. On May 30, Mockus received only 21.5 percent of the vote, while Santos garnered 46.7 percent. In the runoff election on June 20, Santos routed Mockus by a margin of 69.1 percent to 27.5 percent.

To be sure, Chávez was not the only reason that Santos triumphed. The outgoing president, Alvaro Uribe, whom Santos served under as defense chief from 2006 to 2009, is hugely popular for making Colombia a much safer and more prosperous country. Santos is a fierce advocate of Uribe's "democratic security" policies, which have been tremendously successful, and which voters continue to support. Yet the campaign momentum didn't swing in favor until Chávez intervened and Mockus made his ill-advised comment.

By my count, this is the third Latin American presidential election in which the Venezuelan strongman has played a significant role in driving voters toward a conservative candidate. It happened in Peru and Mexico in 2006, when he supported the left-wing candidacies of Ollanta Humala and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, both of whom were defeated by center-right opponents (Alan García and Felipe Calderón, respectively). In each case, Chávez's endorsement proved wildly counterproductive. Humala and López Obrador were both leading in the polls, and yet both ended up losing. The message was clear: Peruvians and Mexicans do not want their countries to become Venezuelan satellites.

Neither do Colombians, who face a direct security threat from Chávez.
In March 2008, Colombian armed forces recovered documents highlighting Venezuela's extensive links to the FARC, Colombia's deadliest terrorist group. When the Uribe administration publicized the contents of these documents, Chávez called Colombia "a terrorist state," moved Venezuelan tanks and troops to the border, and warned that a military conflict was possible.

We should not take his threats lightly. Earlier this year, Spanish National Court magistrate Eloy Velasco accused the Venezuelan government of conspiring with two terrorist organizations, the FARC and the Spanish ETA, to assassinate Uribe. Venezuela has also been stockpiling a massive arsenal of sophisticated weaponry, much of it purchased from Russia.

Meanwhile, in a brazen display of hypocrisy, Chávez has loudly condemned Colombia's 2009 military-base agreement with the United States. Santos is a prominent champion of that agreement. Now he will be Colombia's president -- thanks in no small part to Hugo Chávez. Perhaps he should send a thank-you note to Caracas.

Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica's ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.

Rock On, G2 (The Punk Band That Is)

Friday, June 25, 2010
By Jacob Katel in Miami's New Times:

Miami New Times
editor-in-chief Chuck Strouse has limited us to six F-words per post (what is he, the state police?), so we'd just like to say fuck communism, fuck Fidel, fuck censorship, fuck political repression, fuck the system, and fuck the tyranny of evil!

Freedom of speech is awesome. Too bad Cuba doesn't have it. Give thanks America does. If you haven't read this week's New Times feature story, "El Tirano's Punks," by Erik Maza, it details the lives and struggles of Gil and Gorki. They're two Cuban punk rock pioneers; the former re-settled in Miami, the latter currently remains en la isla.

We salute the hell out of Gil for using music to take on a murderous dictator. The exile musician's contributions to the writing and performing of anti-conformist, anti-establishment, dissident music while he was living in a country where it can get you locked up or killed are courageous and inspiring. That's more real than anything we've ever done, and his story makes for one hell of a read.

However, the article paints a sad sort of picture of Gil's band, G2, as a weak force in the MIA. It doesn't mention the band's opening slot for UK legends the Vibrators at Churchill's Pub, or the fact that it shared a bill with Marky Ramone.

G2 has also rocked stages with locals like Tereso, Guajiro, AKA, Animals of the Arctic, the Mutiny, and Anger, to mention just a few. It also fails to note G2's awesome America TeVe performance alongside Floyd The Rock Artist on the show Pelliscame Que Estoy Soñando. View that video here below.

Punk ain't dead; hardcore lives. Rock on, G2.

Tripping Over the Same Oil Rig

Advocates of unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime have long-used scare tactics to lobby for U.S. oil companies to be permitted to drill off Cuba's shores.

They argue that the Chinese and others are drilling, which is potentially unsafe, and that therefore, the U.S. should be allowed to compete and "safely" do so.

However, the fact remains that there is currently no off-shore drilling in Cuba, nor is it commercially feasible by the Chinese or anyone else, as long as U.S. sanctions stand in place.

So why would they want U.S. oil companies, many of which have already had assets expropriated by Castro in the past, to expose themselves -- yet again -- to the same regime?

Perhaps it is because they think expropriations are a thing of the past.

Think again.

This week, Reuters reported:

Venezuela will nationalize a fleet of oil rigs belonging to U.S. company Helmerich and Payne, the latest takeover in a push to socialism as President Hugo Chavez struggles with lower oil output and a recession.

A former soldier inspired by Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chavez has made energy nationalization the linchpin in his 'revolution'. He has also taken over assets in telecommunications, power, steel and banking.

The 11 drilling rigs have been idled for months following a dispute over pending payments by the OPEC member's state oil company PDVSA. Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said on Wednesday the rigs, the Oklahoma based company's entire Venezuelan fleet, were being nationalized to bring them back into production.

The Cuban Cost of a Job in Kansas

Famed NYU Economics Professor William Easterly's blog, Aid Watch, has a great post, which puts into perspective one-sided agricultural and shipping industry reports.

It's entitled, "U.S. food aid policies create 561 jobs in Kansas, risk millions of lives around the world."

Sound familiar?

It reminds us of the Texas A&M report (see report here and rebuttal here) on agricultural sales to Cuba that gets cited -- as "balanced fact" -- in virtually every news article regarding efforts to unconditionally lift sanctions towards Cuba.

The post stresses "the First Law of Policy Economics: Every inefficiency is someone's income."

In the case of the Castro regime, it's failed totalitarian policies have destroyed Cuba's economy, not to mention food production.

Thus, an opening for external actors to increase their short-term income at the long-term cost of the Cuban people.

Times Are Changing

Thursday, June 24, 2010
This is the son of Fidel Castro's former confidant and third-highest official in the Cuban dictatorship:

Castro's Debt Crisis Intensifies

According to Reuters:

Cuban payments crisis goes on, businesses in limbo

Many of Cuba's foreign business partners still have money stuck in state-run banks and do not know when they will get it, 18 months after the accounts were frozen by the cash-strapped Cuban government.

The issue is one of several pressing financial problems that are straining Cuba's business ties, in a climate darkened by the government's unwillingness to disclose key information about its economic condition.

Hit by the international financial crisis, U.S. scrutiny of its finances, damaging hurricanes and chronic inefficiencies, the Communist-run nation failed to make some debt payments on schedule beginning in 2008, then froze up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.

It also delayed payments to some joint venture partners and did not honor some commercial paper that came due thereafter.
State-run banks have offered to pay back the frozen accounts at 2 percent annual interest over five years, but sources said progress has been slow.

"From what I can gather they have yet to make good on some 50 percent of the frozen funds," said a European commercial attache, whose estimate was backed by other diplomats and business sources, all of whom asked not to be identified.

The pay-back offer does not apply to Cuba's joint venture partners and foreign companies administering hotels, each of whom are said to be trying to work out their own arrangements to recover funds.

"Everybody I know working on the ground here has around 10 months outstanding payments due, ranging from a million dollars to $50 million," said the foreign administrator of a Cuban hotel.

The Disgruntled Longshoremen

In contrast to the previous post -- adding a twist of irony -- this "libertarian communist" blog highlights the story of a longshoremen rebellion that reportedly took place in Havana weeks ago.

Cuba: arrests following "violent disturbances" as starving dockers refuse to load ship

Reports are starting to emerge of violent clashes last week between dockers and secret police in Havana, Cuba over a shipment of rice bound for Haiti, claiming it should stay on the island instead. Below is a translation of an article - date 16th June - being circulated in Spanish:

In the last few days we have been receiving reports of a serious incident that took place in the loading docks in the port of Havana, in which a large group of dockworkers emphatically refused to sanction the departure of a cargo of rice, bound for Haiti. The dockers protested violently, shouting that they were not prepared to assist the loading of the ship when their children were dying of hunger (rice being effectively unavailable in Havana).

Confronted with the refusal of the dockworkers, "political police" arrived at the harbour and detained the most vocal protesters. According to reports, the ship was finally loaded by reservists from the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

Seeing as how no "independent journalist" (those who report on the "activities of the opposition") has covered this, we had to find our own means of proving it. Today, having consulted various sources - including residents in the neighbourhoods of some of the detained individuals, such as El Calvario - we can confirm it as true.

The tyranny [dictatorship] has taken a lot of care to ensure that this protest does not spread and - as is common practice - it is blackmailing the prisoners' families into silence, promising that if they cooperate, their detained relatives will be treated leniently.

Are There "Good" Communists?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010
By Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe:

There is no 'good' communist

If Jose Saramago, the Portuguese writer who died on Friday at 87, had been an unrepentant Nazi for the last four decades, he would never have won international acclaim or received the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature. Leading publishers would never have brought out his books, his works would not have been translated into more than 20 languages, and the head of Portugal's government would never have said on his death — as Prime Minister José Sócrates did say last week — that he was "one of our great cultural figures and his disappearance has left our culture poorer.''

But Saramago wasn't a Nazi, he was a communist. And not just a nominal communist, as his obituaries pointed out, but an "unabashed'' (Washington Post), "unflinching'' (AP), "unfaltering'' (New York Times) true believer. A member since 1969 of Portugal's hardline Communist Party, Saramago called himself a "hormonal communist'' who in all the years since had "found nothing better.'' Yet far from rendering him a pariah, Saramago's communist loyalties have been treated as little more than a roguish idiosyncrasy. Without a hint of irony, AP's obituary quoted a comment Saramago made in 1998: "People used to say about me, 'He's good but he's a communist.' Now they say, 'He's a communist but he's good.' ''

But the idea that good people can be devoted communists is grotesque. The two categories are mutually exclusive. There was a time, perhaps, when dedication to communism could be absolved as misplaced idealism or naiveté, but that day is long past. After Auschwitz and Babi Yar, only a moral cripple could be a committed Nazi. By the same token, there are no good and decent communists — not after the Gulag Archipelago and the Cambodian killing fields and Mao's "Great Leap Forward.'' Not after the testimonies of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Armando Valladares and Dith Pran.

In the decades since 1917, communism has led to more slaughter and suffering than any other cause in human history. Communist regimes on four continents sent an estimated 100 million men, women, and children to their deaths — not out of misplaced zeal in pursuit of a fundamentally beautiful theory, but out of utopian fanaticism and an unquenchable lust for power.

Mass murder and terror have always been intrinsic to communism. "Many archives and witnesses prove conclusively,'' wrote Stéphane Courtois in his introduction to "The Black Book of Communism,'' a magisterial compendium of communist crimes first published in France in 1997, "that terror has always been one of the basic ingredients of modern communism.'' The uniqueness of the Holocaust notwithstanding, the savageries of communism and of Nazism are morally interchangeable — except that the former began much earlier than the latter, lasted much longer, and shed far more blood.

At this late date, there is no excuse for regarding communism and its defenders with one whit less revulsion than we regard neo-Nazis or white supremacists. Saramago's communism should not have been indulged, it should have been despised. It should have been as great a blot on his reputation as if he had spent the last 41 years as an advocate of murderous repression and cruelty. For that, in a nutshell, is what it means to be an "unabashed'' and "hormonal'' communist.

Anyone who imagines that the horrors of communist rule is a thing of the past ought to spend a few minutes with, say, the State Department's latest human rights report on North Korea. (Sample passage: "Methods of torture . . . included severe beatings, electric shock, prolonged periods of exposure to the elements, humiliations such as public nakedness, confinement for up to several weeks in small 'punishment cells' in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down . . . and forcing mothers recently repatriated from China to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants.'') Communism is not, as its champions like to claim, an appealing doctrine that has been perverted by monstrous regimes. It is a monstrous doctrine that hides behind appealing rhetoric. It is mass crime embodied in government. Nothing devised by human beings has caused more misery or proven more brutal.

Saramago may have been a fine writer, but he was no exemplar of goodness. Good people do not embrace communism, and communists are not good.

The Tyrant's Punks

Don't miss this great cover story in Miami's New Times:

Punk got to Cuba late.

As the Soviet Union was crumbling, young Cubans born after 1959, the children of the revolution, turned to rock and heavy metal to express their anger at the failed promises of El Comandante. But it was punk that would birth their loudest, most aggressive spokesman: a runty, Afro'd agitator named Gorki Aguila.

Before him, musicians bashed the commies at underground concerts that were quickly quashed by state goons, or maybe through folky protest music, using metaphors and allegories to stand in for social problems. But Aguila arrived like a thunderbolt, attacking the regime head first -- with songs like Commie Fatcats, Dissident Pioneers, and El Comandante, where he politely asked Fidel "to suck cock" – and took the dissident movement viral.

This week's Miami New Times cover story, El Tirano's Punks, chronicles the rise and fall of punk in Cuba, from the first punkie, the Iggy Pop-ish Gil Ortiz Pla, to its last, Aguila, still in Cuba, but silenced by his politics and notoriety. They go through the regular beat-downs all rockeros took in the early days, to the birth of Gorki's band and his days in a remote, maximum-security prison in the Cuban boondocks. Instead of defecting, Gorki chose to return in March of this year because that's where he "feels most useful." But he hasn't played a show in two years with his band, and is afraid to rehearse.

Meanwhile, Gil Ortiz traded repression for all the Technicolor promises of exile, and has found it to be a double-cross, full of wounded pride and heartbreak. While in Cuba he was an eminence grise, in Miami he's working as a busboy.

Toiling in anonymity and repression, it's unclear who'll manage the impossible: making people finally listen to Cuban punk.

Read El Tirano's Punks in its entirety here.

RWB Statement on Dr. Darsi Ferrer

From the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders:

Dissident doctor and reporter paroled after nearly a year in pre-trial detention

Darsi Ferrer, a dissident public health activist who contributes to independent news media, was finally tried yesterday on charges of "irregularities" and "assault" and was granted a conditional release after being held without trial since July 2009.

A physician who heads the independent "Juan Bruno Zayas Health and Human Rights Centre," Ferrer upset the authorities by gathering and disseminating information about the current state of the Cuban health system and the situation of political prisoners.

Ferrer had been held in Valle Grande prison, west of Havana, since his arrest on 21 July 2009, for which the official reason was his "illegal" acquisition of building materials to repair his house. Prosecutors requested a three-year jail sentence, but the court sentenced him yesterday to 15 months and said he could serve the remaining four months under house arrest.

"We are obviously relieved by Ferrer's release even if he was finally given a jail sentence to match the time he already had spent behind bars," Reporters Without Borders said. "No one is fooled about the real reason for his detention as this is a country in which the authorities tolerate no public expression of dissenting views. His release was not in any way an act of clemency or, even less so, a sign of an improvement in respect for basis rights and freedoms."

Cuba still has approximately 200 prisoners of conscience, who include 24 journalists. One of them is the Reporters Without Borders correspondent Ricardo González Alfonso, who has been held since the "Black Spring" crackdown of March 2003.

Dissidents continue to be the target of harassment, repression and hate campaigns by the authorities and their supporters. Hablemos Press, a small independent news agency, reported that two more journalists, José Manuel Caraballo Bravo and Raúl Arias Márquez of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña (APLA), were arrested on 21 June.

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal to the community of Latin American countries to intercede on behalf of Cuba's imprisoned journalists and dissidents, some of whom have fallen seriously ill since their arrest.

Dr. Darsi Ferrer's Story in Pictures

Outside of a courthouse in Havana, a crowd awaits the arrival of Cuban pro-democracy leader and political prisoner, Dr. Darsi Ferrer, demanding his release.

The sign reads, "Freedom for Dr. Ferrer."

Surrounded by Cuban state security, Dr. Ferrer smiles at the crowd.

After 11 months of imprisonment without trial, Dr. Ferrer's wife and supporters are relieved by his release and placement under house arrest. The "L" stands for "Libertad" ("Freedom").

According to Dr. Ferrer, his release "is due in large measure to international pressure, to the courage of the opposition, to the overwhelming needs of the Cuban people that don't have the possibility of a dignified life amidst this [regime's] unsustainable failures."

U.S. Rep. Ron Klein on Castro's Anti-Semitism

Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Klein on Post-Flotilla Anti-Semitism

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Ron Klein (FL-22) today released the following statement reacting to anti-Semitic reports in recent days.

"I am outraged, but unfortunately not surprised, at the recent use of anti-Semitism as a political tool. It is deplorable that Fidel Castro likens Israel to Nazis and Hugo Chavez paints Israelis as terrorists while his Foreign Minister walks the line of incitement to violence. Whether it's Castro or Chavez, this rhetoric is unacceptable and lacks the understanding of the complexities in the Middle East.

Comparing Israel to Nazis is a disgusting perversion of history. The Nazis undertook a systematic annihilation of the Jewish people. Nazis committed genocide, and there is no parallel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I strongly condemn Fidel Castro and the Chavez government for continuing their long campaign of double standard against Israel. Their rhetoric tries to excuse the actions of terrorists, which undermines the peaceful goals of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

I call on the world community to denounce Castro, Chavez and any other public figure that attempts to use anti-Semitism as a political tool."

The Catholic Church's Exclusionary Tactics

French journalist Bertrand de la Grange has precisely identified the problem with the Catholic Church's new "self-appointed" role in Cuba.

He argues that instead of facilitating a political dialogue between the Castro regime and the Cuban people, the Church has decided to take the place of dissidents.

Frankly, this shouldn't come as a surprise, for -- repression aside -- both the Castro regime and the Catholic Church are essentially non-democratic, non-representative entities.

Here are some excerpts from de la Grange's opinion piece, "The Opportunism of the Church":

[Fidel's] successor is looking for a dialogue with the Catholic Church so that it can help resolve, without any cost to the regime, the problem of political prisoners. This extended hand has all the signs of being a scheme to win time, while the Vatican has decided to play along with the hope of gaining some future benefit for the Cuban Catholic Church [...]

The Bishops can't do anything to solve [Cuba's] economic crisis. However, they feel they have the moral authority to extend a hand to Raul in the crisis that stemmed from the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, pursuant to his long hunger strike, and by the current three-month hunger strike of Guillermo Farinas, who has survived due to successive perfusions. Both Zapata and Farinas have sacrificed themselves to obtain the release of political prisoners, specially 26 that are in poor health.

Faced with almost unanimous condemnation from the international community and letters of protest from artists, movie stars and intellectuals, including many from the left, the Castro regime has finally gotten the message and is looking for an exit strategy from this mess. However, in order not give the impression of succumbing to the pressure of dissidents, Raul will "bequeath" some prisoners to the Archbishop of Havana, like his brother did in the past to his friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez or to former Presidents Felipe Gonzalez [of Spain] and Francois Mitterrand [of France]. It's a hypocritical and cowardly gesture that reveals the Castro brother's absolute inability to undertake any act of generosity.

It's difficult to criticize any gesture that can result in the release of some political prisoners, who are condemned to long terms in inhumane conditions for having dissented against a totalitarian regime. And that's how many view this, both inside and outside Cuba. However, it's symptomatic that one of the most respected voices of the Cuban opposition, Oswaldo Paya, has denounced this dialogue as marginalizing the dissidence. And Paya is no atheist, he is a militant Catholic, who founded the Christian Liberation Movement twenty years ago and has maintained close relations with the Church.

Paya regrets that "some clergy have assumed the role as sole interlocutors with the Government," for they are "practicing the same conditions of exclusion" imposed by the regime [...]

Amen to that.

Please note that during last weekend's visit to Cuba by the Vatican's Foreign Minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, refused to meet with any dissidents.

Free Dr. Darsi Ferrer

AI on Dr. Darsi Ferrer's "Trial" Today

From Amnesty International:

Cuban prisoner of conscience facing trial: Darsi Ferrer

Cuban human rights defender Darsi Ferrer is due to be tried on 22 June on spurious charges of receiving illegally obtained goods and violence or intimidation against a state official. He has already been in pre-trial detention for 11 months. Amnesty International believes that he is a prisoner of conscience, and is calling on the authorities to drop the charges against him and release him immediately and unconditionally.

Darsi Ferrer is Director of the Juan Bruno Zayas Health and Human Rights Center in the Cuban capital, Havana. He has also worked as an independent journalist, and written articles criticizing the Cuban health system. Since July 2009 he has been in pre-trial detention in a maximum security prison intended for inmates convicted of violent crimes.

In July 2009, Darsi Ferrer attempted to organize a march demonstrating against repression in Cuba. A few hours before the march was due to take place on 9 July 2009, Darsi Ferrer and his wife Yusnaimy Jorge Soca were detained by state security officials and police officers. Darsi Ferrer was handcuffed and beaten by more than eight police officers. They were released without charge a few hours later, but when they arrived home, they noticed that two bags of cement, some iron girders and two window frames, that had been on their property for a few months, were no longer there.

According to neighbors, police officers had taken the construction materials. On 21 July, four police officers went to Darsi Ferrer's home and asked him to accompany them to a police station for questioning about the construction materials. Instead, he was driven to a maximum security prison on the outskirts of Havana and charged with receiving illegally obtained goods and "violence or intimidation against a state official." The latter charge apparently relates to comments Darsi Ferrer was overheard making, saying that an injustice was being committed, that sooner or later things would change in Cuba and this would not happen any more.

Ordinarily, an individual accused of these crimes would be bailed awaiting trial. However, Darsi Ferrer has been refused bail four times. He will be tried before a municipal court, but according to his wife, the presiding judge will be from a provincial court normally dealing with crimes against state security.

Darsi Ferrer has previously been detained and prevented from leading and participating in major human rights events. Since 2006 he has been detained or summoned to a police station around 10 December every year, apparently to prevent him from participating in activities celebrating International Human Rights Day, which falls on that day.

How to Violate Human Rights (Council)

Monday, June 21, 2010
The Latin American and Caribbean regional group of countries, known as GRULAC, has decided to endorse the candidacy of Cuba for the Vice-Presidency of the U.N.'s Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Naturally, Venezuela praised this decision, not to mention the diplomatic trajectory of Cuba's Ambassador to the Human Rights Council, Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez, whom it claims has ample experience on the subject of human rights.

Violating human rights, that is.

From Texas: Don't Aid the Castro Regime

By U.S. Representative Mike Conaway of Texas, a Member of the House Committee on Agriculture, in the San Angelo Standard-Times:

After reading the Standard-Times' recent editorial regarding legislative efforts to lift the travel ban to Cuba, I felt the need to respond. This is an issue that my colleagues and I on the Agriculture Committee continue to examine and in the newspaper's analysis of the issue, I believe some pertinent concerns were overlooked.

The U.S. Declaration of Independence asserts with no equivocation that liberty is an inalienable right, granted to us by our Creator. The government of Cuba unequivocally disagrees with us on this point.

Fidel and Raul Castro have erected, as their own sister once said, "an enormous prison surrounded by water." According to the U.S. State Department, Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism, one of only four in the world.

The Cuban government, along with Syria, Iran and Sudan, has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism and engaged in the trade of prohibited materials with other state sponsors. It has allied itself with Hugo Chavez, FARC rebels in Colombia and Basque separatists in northern Spain, and it continues to harbor U.S. fugitives.

Further, the government of Cuba consistently ranks as one of the most repressive, draconian and abusive regimes in the world.

Our relations with Cuba are not merely an economic question, but a moral question as well.

I support our current agricultural export policy with Cuba because I believe that supplying this nation with foodstuffs lessens suffering among the citizens and drains the Castro regime of funds to spend on more belligerent uses. The humanitarian goal of feeding innocent people and the strategic goal of exhausting the funds of a totalitarian government outweigh the moral hazard of trading with a nation as corrupt as Cuba.

Our agricultural producers should rightly be proud of the role they play and the profits they earn in helping to protect the Cuban people.

However, the question of lifting the travel ban presents a different set of moral concerns. Tourists traveling to Cuba to spend their money will enrich the Castro regime, largely without ever seeing the desperate poverty and crushing oppression that the average Cuban faces. The tourism industry in Cuba is, in fact, run by their military and they will, without question, enact and enforce laws restricting the interaction of the Cuban poor with Americans on travel.

The money American tourists would trade for sandy beaches and quaint, old hotels will be funneled into the state-run business and the Cuban government's coffers, where it can be used for malicious activity.

It is possible that this money could be used to buy food from Texans or Georgians, but the Cuban government has a proven track-record of violent political repression, financing Marxist revolutionary movements in Latin America and arming terrorist organizations.

In your editorial, you cited a letter written by 74 members of Castro's opposition who support lifting the travel ban. It is unfortunate that you were not able to also consider a response letter sent to the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, by several hundred former prisoners of Fidel Castro.

In their letter, they explained to Chairman Peterson: "We are former Cuban political prisoners, who have spent a combined 3,551 years in Castro's gulag. We are living testimony of the unspeakable tortures, cruelty and deprivations of the military dictatorship of the Castro brothers. (E)very dollar (this) legislation seeks to place in the coffers of the Castro regime will only be used to further repress the Cuban people."

The letter is a powerful statement about the true nature of the Cuban government and the lengths to which military dictatorships will go to maintain their grip on power.

As a Christian, I have a deeply held conviction that the oppression of the Cuban people by the brutal Castro regime is morally reprehensible. While I am a strong supporter of existing and improved agricultural export relations with Cuba, lifting the travel ban and opening Cuba to American tourism is an issue separate from those exports. Lifting the ban would strengthen the Castro regime and enrich a state-sponsor of terrorism.

In my travels and meetings in Congress, I have met with many Cuban refugees. I have heard the depths of their suffering and I look forward to the day when all Cubans live in a nation free from fear, repression and retribution.

However, unilaterally lifting the travel ban, with no commitment from the Cuban government to improve its record on human rights, political freedom and economic openness, will not meet this goal.

Our nation should work toward free elections in Cuba with every tool and resource at our disposal. When that day finally does come, Americans and Cubans alike will enjoy the freedom to travel between our countries; but most importantly, Cubans will finally get to enjoy true liberty, a God-given human right.

Who Cares About Egberto Escobedo Morales?

On the morning of February 23rd, 2010, we posted a note entitled, "Who Cares About Orlando Zapata Tamayo?"

It was a desperate plea for the world to focus on the plight of this young political prisoner, who had spent over 80-days on a hunger strike protesting the torture and abuses of the Castro regime, and whose health had quickly deteriorated.

Instead, the international media was focused on "news" of a downturn in Cuban cigar sales.

That afternoon, Orlando Zapata Tamayo tragically died.

We'll never forget the eerie premonition of that post.

Today, not based on premonition, but on the hope that a valuable lesson was learned, we pray that the world's attention turns to Egberto Escobedo Morales.

Egberto, who was arrested in July 1995 and is serving a 20-year political prison sentence, shares nearly the same age -- a young 43-years old -- as Orlando Zapata Tamayo. He is on the 67th day of a hunger strike protesting the inhumane treatment and conditions in Castro's prisons.

Over the weekend, in the exact same pattern that led to Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death, Egberto was urgently transferred from the inmate hospital in the Combinado del Este Prison in Pinar del Rio to the Hermanos Amejeiras Hospital in Havana.

Egberto is a man of extraordinary character and conviction. In a letter to his mother (see below), he wrote:

"Do not allow our situation to be reason for pity and grief. Let it be of encouragement and inspiration to fight for something as dignified as our common freedom, which we all search, need and wish for, so that this dream will one day become a reality."

So who cares about Egberto Escobedo Morales?

Time will tell, but the clock in sadly winding down.

75 Ladies, 75 Fathers

Sunday, June 20, 2010
This Father's Day, 75 Ladies in White, wives and daughters of Cuban political prisoners, marched through the streets of Havana demanding the release of their loved ones.

According to Ladies in White official website, they were joined -- during a portion -- by recently released (and now paraplegic) political prisoner, Ariel Sigler Amaya, and by Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in February pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike.

Both Ariel and Reina were signatories of a recent letter to the U.S. Congress from 494 courageous dissidents opposing the unilateral lifting of sanctions towards the Castro regime.

An Intuitive Senator

William Langer was a prominent American politician from North Dakota. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1940-1959, when he died in office.

His daughter, Mary Gokey, recalled his life this weekend for the The Forum of Fargo. Amidst her fascinating anecdotes, this one jumps out:

She tells of the time her father, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, was excited because he was about to meet the new leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro.

When he came home, he had a different outlook. "That man," he told his family, "is crazy."

U.S. Should Stay The Course

By U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida in The Miami Herald:

While visiting Portugal this month with the Legislators Transatlantic Dialogue, Vitor Escária, Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister, told us: "Joining the European Union meant more wealth for Portugal than all the gold we brought from Brazil when it was our colony.''

After the death of dictator Oliveira Salazar and the fall of his hand-picked successor Marcelo Caetano in 1974, Portugal became a democracy. After its democratic transition, it was allowed to join the European Union, in 1986, a coming of age that accelerated the pace of change as development funds poured in and Portugal scrambled to make up for lost time. Portugal crammed into 10 years social and economic development that had taken other countries decades to accomplish.

Europe also insisted on a democratic transition in post-Franco Spain before allowing that country to join the EU. That policy of solidarity by Europe was decisive in the political openings and democratic transitions that took place in both of those countries that had long been oppressed by dictatorships. Political prisoners were liberated. Political parties were legalized. Long-term exiles, those who had survived, were able to return. And free elections were held. In other words, freedom returned.

That precisely is the goal of our policy with regard to Cuba.

That is why we maintain a trade and tourism embargo on the Cuban dictatorship. That is why we deny the U.S. market to a regime that has kept itself in power through terror and repression for 51 years. Because, first, it is in the national interest of the United States for there to be a democratic transition in Cuba, as it obviously is in the interest of the long-suffering people of Cuba.

Second, just as in the democratic transitions that occurred in Spain or Portugal or Greece, or in those that took place in South Africa or Chile or the Dominican Republic, it is absolutely critical that there be some form of external pressure for a democratic transition to take place in Cuba once dictator Fidel Castro is no longer on the scene. Fidel Castro may have turned over some titles of power to his brother Raúl, but Fidel remains the ultimate power in totalitarian Cuba.

At the time of the disappearance from the scene of the Cuban dictator, it will be absolutely critical for the U.S. embargo to be in place as it is today, with its lifting being conditioned, as it is by law, on three fundamental developments in Cuba. No. 1, the liberation of all political prisoners. No. 2, the legalization of all political parties, independent labor unions and the independent press. And No. 3, the scheduling of free, internationally supervised elections. The exact same conditions that brought about the democratic transitions in Portugal, in Spain, in South Africa, in Chile, in the Dominican Republic and in many other dictatorships.

I would ask those who say that U.S. sanctions "have not worked," to remember what the Cuban dictatorship used to do when it received $5 billion to $6 billion annually from the Soviet Union, an amount similar to what it would receive each year from U.S. tourism. I would ask them to remember the hundreds of thousands of Cuban political prisoners during the Soviet era, and to also remember what Castro did in Grenada, Nicaragua, Angola, Eritrea, etc., when he disposed of billions of dollars in discretionary funds.

I thank Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, Reina Luisa Tamayo, the heroic Sigler Amaya brothers and all of the 494 brave pro-democracy activists who wrote the U.S. Congress on June 14, asking us to continue standing with the Cuban people.

I agree with them that this is not the time to give the Cuban dictatorship countless billions of dollars unilaterally in U.S. tourism and trade credits, while Cuba's prisons remain full of heroic political prisoners and the regime refuses to unclench its totalitarian fist.

On This Father's Day

We honor all of the brave fathers that have been separated from their children -- and remain brutally imprisoned by the Castro regime -- for their dissenting views.

Our heart goes out to their children's pain and suffering.

We pray that their historic sacrifice will soon result in a better future for the entire Cuban family.