Giving Credit Where It Is Due

Saturday, July 10, 2010
By Havana-based blogger Yoani Sanchez in The Huffington Post:

Without diminishing one iota the merit of the mediation mission of the bishops and ambassadors, the release of the political prisoners would not have happened without the death -- on hunger strike -- of the prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February of this year, without the years of peaceful protest carried out with heroic resistance by the Ladies in White, and without the hunger and thirst strike declared by the psychologist and independent journalist Guillermo Farinas.

Minutes before taking his first drink of water, Farinas wrote out, in his own hand, a statement announcing the temporary suspension of his strike, a suspension that will become final if the government fulfills its announced promise of freeing the prisoners within a span of three or four months. In the narrow corridor on the other side of the glass, tormented by the heat expelled by an air conditioner, leaders of various opposition groups, the Ladies in White, independent journalists, bloggers and friends, coming from around the country, read aloud, photographed and dictated into their cell phones the text of the statement. The paper was held against the window from inside by room by another political prisoner, currently paroled, Hector Palacios, who accompanied Farinas in these momentous moments.

Farinas had won one battle but still remains in a fierce war against death, because the land that has seen the action of this singular belligerency is his own body -- ultimately the only space available to him to carry out this campaign. His intestines are now like fragile paper conduits distilling bacteria through their pores, his jugular vein is partially obstructed by a blood clot which, if it detached, could lodge in the heart, brain or lungs; or more precisely, in his heart, his brain or his lungs. He has suffered four staph infections and at night a sharp pain in his groin barely allows him to sleep.

His shriveled esophagus was not ready for that first sip of water. It created such a pain in his chest that for a minute he thought he was having a heart attack, but he endured it in silence. On the other side of the glass, expectantly watching, were those who for days had been keeping a vigil outside the hospital, praying for his life, and others who had come from very far away to ask him to end his martyrdom and to be a witnesses to his victory. Not wanting to dampen the celebration of his jubilant colleagues applauding the triumph of his cause, he managed to turn a grimace into a smile.

Guillermo Farinas' family allowed me to watch over him on this, the first night after the end of his hunger strike, and he allowed me to be a witness his suffering, his occasional crankiness, and his human weaknesses. Only then did I discover the true hero of this day.

America’s Cuba Policy: A 50-Year Failure?

By nationally-syndicated columnist Mona Charen:

After a 134-day hunger strike, Guillermo Fariñas's waist is so small that a dog collar could fit around it. This living skeleton (who has survived this long only because he has taken nutrients intravenously) is now victorious; the Cuban government has announced the planned release of 52 political prisoners. That Raúl Castro appears to have buckled to international pressure is, of course, good news — though it comes too late for Orlando Zapata.

Zapata was a plumber and bricklayer who committed what the Castro brothers consider a treasonous act — he joined a political group that believes in freedom, the Alternative Republic Movement. After his 2002 arrest and conviction for "disrespect, public disorder, and resistance," he was repeatedly abused and beaten in prison. Displaying a flair for irony, he demanded treatment comparable to that which Fidel Castro endured when imprisoned by Fulgencio Batista in 1953. Instead, he was further mistreated and his prison sentence was lengthened from 3 to 36 years. Zapata's only weapon was his suffering, but his demand was not for himself. He fasted for the release of 22 other ill political prisoners. Upon his death in February, at age 42, there was a quick splash of negative headlines, and then he was quickly forgotten. A few weeks later, President Obama lifted the travel ban for those with relatives on the island and lifted other restrictions on contact between Cuba and the United States.

Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist, Cuban army veteran, and political "subversive," took up the gauntlet with his own hunger strike that now seems to have succeeded. "Seems" is the operative word since the Castro regime has often promised reforms without following through. Even by its explicit terms, the government's agreement is to release only five prisoners immediately and the rest over the course of the next three or four months. All will leave the country.

Why the wait? Presumably it's because the regime needs time to make its prisoners presentable. Bruises must heal. Weight must be gained. That sort of thing.

Here is a description of Cuban prison conditions from the Black Book of Communism:

Violence began with the interrogation... Prisoners were forced to climb a staircase wearing shoes filled with lead and were then thrown back down the stairs... Working conditions were extremely harsh, and prisoners worked almost naked... As a punishment, 'troublemakers' were forced to cut grass with their teeth or to sit in latrine trenches for hours at a time.

Cuba is a last redoubt of communism. Because Fidel Castro clings to life and to power, a veil still covers the island. Castro's crimes have scarcely begun to be revealed as he dodders toward a comfortable death in his bed. But enough, more than enough, is known. Between 1959 and the present, more than 100,000 Cubans have suffered in Castro's prisons and camps (some just for homosexuals). An estimated 17,000 were shot. Two million fled. Another 100,000 died attempting to escape.

All of this is known and has been known for decades. And yet the image of Che Guevara continues to sell on T-shirts and posters around the globe.

Now Congress seems poised to lift all travel bans on Cuba and provide a tourism boon to the regime. A broad spectrum of Americans approves the legislation, including Republicans and Democrats, farmers, and business interests. Fine. It may serve the interests of freedom at this point to permit trade with Cuba (though one suspects that the Chamber of Commerce is solely interested in the business angle). What is galling is to hear one and all describe the 50-year embargo as a "failed policy."

In what sense did it fail? We declined to help or support a criminal regime in any way.
Yes, Castro claimed that his island's persistent and desperate poverty was due to the embargo, but so what? Anyone with eyes could see that Castro traded freely with Canada, Latin America, Europe, Russia, China, and virtually everyone else. His special relationship with the USSR, and later Venezuela, is all that kept Cubans from starving like their ideological brothers in North Korea.

The day is coming when the true scope of Castro's reign of terror will be fully revealed. Perhaps then we will take some grim satisfaction in having attempted, however unsuccessfully, to strangle the beast.

© 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Fidel's Fear of Hunger Strikers

This past March, we posted a note on Fidel's fear of hunger strikers.

It seems The Economist agrees:

Hunger strikes force the Castros to release dissidents

Mission accomplished, but at a harsh price

CUBA'S leadership understands only too well how starving to death can help a cause. In 2000 Fidel Castro, who had apparently been moved by the plight of Irish republican hunger-strikers, approved the construction in Havana of a memorial to Bobby Sands and his fellow prisoners. Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein's leader, attended its unveiling.

Now, the same form of protest has been turned on Cuba's rulers. In February Orlando Zapata, a 42-year-old plumber and bricklayer, died after 12 weeks without food. He was demanding better conditions in Cuba's grim prisons. A second hunger-striker, Guillermo Fariñas, is critically ill. Although not in jail, he is calling for the release of 25 ailing prisoners. In an online letter he said dying would be an "honour".

The tactic has worked. On July 7th, Cuba's Catholic church announced that the government had told it that 52 prisoners arrested in 2003 would be freed from jail. Five were set to leave immediately, and the rest are expected to be liberated (but then exiled) in the next few months. If implemented, it will be Cuba's first mass-release of political prisoners since 1998.

The hunger strikes were probably what prodded Raúl Castro, who became Cuba's president in 2006, to act. They were attracting unwelcome attention. In May Jaime Ortega, the cardinal of Havana, negotiated the lifting of a ban on marches by the Ladies in White, a group of wives and mothers of political prisoners, and an end to their harassment by government-organised mobs. He later convinced Raúl Castro to free a paraplegic prisoner, Ariel Sigler.

International pressure also grew stronger. The church called in reinforcements from abroad: last month the Vatican's senior diplomat, Dominique Mamberti, went to Cuba and met the president. That trip was followed on July 6th by a visit from Miguel Ángel Moratinos, Spain's foreign minister. The timing of the prisoners' release -- as well as the decision to send the first five to Spain -- seems to have been aimed at giving Mr Moratinos something to show for his effort.

Official Cuban media damns political prisoners as "mercenaries" in the pocket of the United States. This release will reduce their number by about a third, leaving 100 or so in jail -- half the average of recent years. The outbreak of clemency suggests that Raúl Castro may have decided that exiling dissidents is easier than locking them up: as one Western diplomat in Havana says, the president "seems to view [the prisoners] as an unfortunate inheritance from his brother." Their release will improve relations with the European Union, which will meet in September to discuss Cuba, and encourage those in America who want to loosen trade and travel restrictions on the country.

But Fidel Castro, who is still the power behind the throne in Cuba, may block any attempt to free the remaining prisoners, even if they are sent overseas. In 1955, as a young revolutionary, he was freed from jail by Fulgencio Batista, a dictator, following international pressure. He knows better than anyone what happened next.

Don't Get Ahead of Yourselves

Friday, July 9, 2010
At yesterday's State Department Press Briefing, spokesman Mark C. Toner was asked about the potential release of 52 political prisoners by the Castro regime:

QUESTION: The Secretary spoke about this a bit earlier but a couple of follow ups. Would this be an incident that would start leading the United States to reconsider the embargo, to start considering a lifting of the embargo?

MR. TONER: Well, I think the Secretary welcomed it as a positive or a constructive sign. Really, at the point we're at now, is we've got the announcement by the Catholic Archbishop of Havana, and that's pertaining to five political prisoners that will be released shortly and that others will be released in the coming months. But we're working to confirm right now whether any prisoners have actually been released. So I don't want to get out ahead of where we're at.

Menendez Statement on Political Prisoners

Menendez Statement on Cuba's Planned Release of 52 Political Prisoners

WASHINGTON – With the announcement that the Cuban government intends to release 52 political prisoners, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) released the following statement:

"While the news of an intended release of political prisoners is certainly welcome for these prisoners, their families, and their followers, history has shown that these intentions may not be realized for some time, if ever.

Such statements should not be mistaken for an unclenching of the iron first by which the Castro regime rules. We should not throw a parade for a regime that often says one thing and then does another, to include rearresting individuals it has previously made a great show of freeing.

This is the same regime that imprisoned these 52 individuals for seven years simply because they exercised free speech, the same regime continues to incarcerate many more for exercising their basic human rights, and the same regime that denies all Cuban people the everyday freedoms that we take for granted in our country. We should not believe that anything fundamental has changed when a U.S. citizen remains behind bars in Cuba, and when this action is suspiciously timed to coincide with a new corporate-backed effort in Congress to loosen trade and tourism restrictions.

The only way that the Castro regime can show that it finally believes in freedom would be to free all political prisoners, to grant full human rights to all Cuban people, and to allow the Cuban people to determine their own destiny."

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board

Cuba's marginal gesture

CUBA HAS PLEDGED to let 52 of its prisoners of conscience go. We hope their release happens, and soon. But there should be no illusions that this gesture augurs fundamental political change
on the island that the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raúl, have ruled with an iron fist since 1959. The Castro regime has a long history of tactical human rights concessions -- with the goal of buying time for the regime rather than reforming it. This release would appear to fit the pattern.

Always impoverished and unfree, revolutionary Cuba is in extra-bad shape now. Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the usually discreet archbishop of Havana, recently warned of "a difficult situation" that calls for "quick" changes by the government lest "impatience and ill will" spread. The state-run economy is reeling: Tourism and mineral exports are down, foreign debt is up, and Venezuela is decreasingly able to help because of its own colossal mismanagement. Meanwhile, Cuba's dissidents are gaining in daring and prestige -- domestically and internationally. The death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a 75-day hunger strike, as well as the attacks of government-backed mobs on peaceful demonstrations by wives and mothers of political prisoners, earned global condemnation and set back Spain's efforts to relax the European Union's policy linking economic aid with human rights progress. Dissident Guillermo Farinas is near death on a hunger strike of his own, demanding freedom for 25 political prisoners who are sick.

The regime could ill afford that embarrassment. So the promised release is a victory for Mr. Farinas. And it's no accident that it was coordinated with the Spanish government -- or that it came a week after the House Agriculture Committee had approved lifting the ban on U.S. tourism to the island and easing U.S. food sales. Raúl Castro, who took over day-to-day control from his ailing brother four years ago, undoubtedly hopes to encourage these developments, which promise to relieve his cash crunch.

How should the United States respond? As suggested by the fact that cash-only food exports from the United States make this country Cuba's fifth-largest trading partner, "embargo" is already a misnomer to describe the main U.S. policy approach. In fact, along with Venezuelan petroleum and tourism, cash remittances from Cuban Americans, which President Obama already has eased, constitute one of Cuba's economic pillars. We don't generally approve of restrictions on where Americans may travel. But the Cuba "ban" already includes large exceptions for Cuban Americans, trade delegations and educational missions. Neither those visits nor the influx of Canadians and Europeans have had the effect of liberalizing the regime -- though they have brought in hard currency.

The 52 inmates represent fewer than one-third of Cuba's 167 political prisoners, according to democracy advocate Freedom House. Among prisoners notably not mentioned for release on Wednesday was Alan Gross of Potomac, an Agency for International Development contractor imprisoned in Cuba since December for the crime of distributing cellphones and laptops in Cuba's tiny Jewish community. And the first five prisoners to be freed reportedly are going to be forced into exile as a condition of their release. Mr. Obama has wisely linked major changes in U.S. sanctions to significant movement toward democracy and freedom by Havana. That condition is still far from met.

Meanwhile, Spain's largest newspaper, El Pais, ran a similar editorial -- click here to read it.

Another American Detained in Cuba?

With the foreign media distracted by the Cuban Catholic Church's announcement that 47 political prisoners may be released during the next three to four months, independent journalists in Cuba are reporting raids on opposition activists and the possible arrest of another American.

According to Cubanet, on Monday evening, the Castro regime's secret police raided the home of opposition leader Idalmis Nunez Reinosa of the FLAMUR Movement (Federation of Rural Latin American Women).

During the raid, the regime confiscated 3 color printers, ink cartridges, a photocopy machine and 3 digital cameras.

Nunez Reinosa told the journalists that she had received this equipment earlier that morning with the help of an American visitor, identified as John, whom the authorities notified her had been detained.

On December 3rd of last year, an American citizen, Alan Gross, was detained for helping the Jewish community in Cuba connect to the Internet. He is still being held without charges or trial.

Cubans Know What Democracy Is

Thursday, July 8, 2010
In The New York Times:

Should We Ease Curbs on Travel to Cuba?

To the Editor:

Re "House Panel Votes to Ease Cuba Travel Restrictions" (news article, July 1):

Representative Collin C. Peterson, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, says American travel to Cuba would "show the Cuban people how great democracy can be." But that is not the point.

Cubans know what democracy is. But under totalitarianism, people do not have the means to realize their dreams: almost two million Cuban exiles have fled to democracies. Despite Cuban government censorship, they have learned about democracy from their relatives in exile and American pro-democracy programs.

As a former chief of the American mission in Cuba, and a retired career Foreign Service officer who traveled extensively throughout the island, I'd like to point out that the Cuban security forces control the tourist industry, that most Americans don't speak Spanish well enough to have any meaningful conversation about democracy, and that most Cubans speak only rudimentary English.

Supporters of the bill say that travel will benefit the regime, but that it will benefit the people more. But the security apparatus keeps ordinary Cubans away from tourists while keeping the tourist dollars, prohibiting even hotel employees from meeting with tourists outside the hotels.

There is no trickle-down of tourist dollars, except to the ruling class. Most foodstuffs needed for tourists are produced abroad, not by Cubans. Unlike places like Mexico and Jamaica, few Cuban handicrafts are available, and Cubans who dare to produce items outside of government strictures are persecuted.

I urge Representative Peterson to ask Havana to release all 200 political prisoners, not just the 52 Cuba has said it will release (news article, July 8), and allow them to stay in Cuba if they wish, before we even consider releasing millions of tourist dollars into Cuban government coffers.

And let's not forget Alan Gross, in Cuban prisons since December 2009 for talking about democracy to the Cubans.

James C. Cason
Coral Gables, Fla., July 8, 2010

Important Questions to Ponder

By Dr. Ray Walser in The Foundry:

Release of Cuban Political Prisoners Only Highlights Communist Repression

The announcement that Cuba's communist regime intends to free 52 political prisoners over the next few months raises serious questions that require honest answers by the Cuban government and by those anxious to bestow kudos upon Cuban President Raul Castro for these cosmetic and expedient gestures of leniency.

- How many political prisoners? Prominent U.S. Members of Congress -- Ileana Ros Lethenen (R–FL), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R–FL), and Mario Diaz-Balart (R–FL) -- warn that, by accepting claims that place the number of Cuban political prisoners at less than 200, the U.S. and the international community are being suckered by the Castro regime. The congressmen correctly note that the actual number of "political prisoners" runs in the thousands and includes those jailed for "farcical criminal charges" such as "peligrosidad" (dangerousness) and "desacato a la autoridad" (contempt against authority).

- Is the regime just shifting its pattern of repression? According to Elizardo Sanchez of the unofficial but authoritative Cuban Human Rights Commission, the Cuban communist regime is moving to "low intensity" repression in which the regime resorts to short-term detentions of opposition activists rather than long-term jail sentences. Sanchez reports 802 such detentions took place in the first half of 2010.

-Will the prisoners be forced into exile? It is unclear whether the released prisoners be expelled from Cuba unjustly, compounding the injustice of their imprisonment with an "immoral act" as notes intrepid freedom blogger Yoani Sanchez.

- Will genuine dialogue follow? The release of political prisoners will only have meaning if the Castro regime follows up with a serious dialogue with the Catholic Church, civil society, and all dissidents including those soon to be released. Such dialogue must have measurable outcomes. The objective must be the end of all political repression on the island and the process for opening political and economic space to the genuine protection of human rights and individual liberty.

The releases -- if they occur -- will lead to additional calls from liberal Democrats and other advocates of normalized relations with communist Cuba to end travel and trade restrictions. Such actions are premature and inconsistent with President Obama's promise to promote Libertad [liberty] for Cuba. Permitting a few political prisoners to leave their cells is not necessarily a harbinger of genuine change.

The release of individuals unjustly imprisoned in Cuba's gulags is welcome news. However, if the system, the laws, and the leaders who locked up the innocent in the first place continue wielding unlimited power, dictating what all Cubans can say and do, and dispense political justice as they see fit, little is gained. The status quo prevails and tyranny triumphs.

Quote of the Day

"This is significant, and good news, from the point of view of the prisoners and their families. But it is a political decision of the Cuban government, taken for short-term political motives, to have an immediate effect overseas, not in Cuba itself."

-- Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, in a telephone interview from Havana, on the release and forced deportation of 5 political prisoners and potentially 47 more in the coming months, Washington Post, July 7th, 2010.

The Devil is in the Details

Wednesday, July 7, 2010
No pun intended.

Below is the Cuban Catholic Church's official statement on the potential release -- and forced deportation -- of political prisoners.

Note that the only thing that has been confirmed is the transfer of 6 more political prisoners from one prison to another, and the forced deportation of 5 to Spain.

As for the 47 other political prisoners that are being widely reported in the news, their release is pending for the next three to four months -- and will surely be subject to a number of concessions from the U.S. and the European Union.

Yet it only took the regime one day to imprison them.

Press Release by the Archdiocese of Havana

At noon today, Wednesday 7 July, Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino was received by Cuban President Raúl Castro Ruz. Also participating in the meeting were the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, and the Minister of Foreign Relations of Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla.

Hours earlier, Cardinal Ortega held a joint working meeting with ministers Moratinos and Rodríguez Parrilla.

During those gatherings today, the participants talked about the process begun last 19 May, when President Raúl Castro Ruz received Cardinal Jaime Ortega and the president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba, Monsignor Dionisio García Ibáñez.

Until now, the development of that process has permitted the release of one prisoner and the transfer of 12 others to their provinces of residence.

In the course of the meetings today, and following the continuity of the aforementioned process, Cardinal Ortega was informed that in the next several hours six more prisoners will be transferred to their provinces of residence and five more will be freed and may leave soon for Spain in the company of their relatives.

Cuban authorities also informed that the 47 prisoners remaining from the ones who were detained in 2003 will be freed and may leave the country. This process will be carried out in a period of three to four months from this moment.

This process has taken into consideration the proposals previously expressed to Cardinal Ortega by the prisoners' relatives.

/s/ Orlando Márquez Hidalgo
Havana, 7 July 2010

Liberation or Deportation?

News reports have just begun to circulate regarding the potential release of a number of Cuban political prisoners.

While the details are still unclear, we echo the initial sentiments of Havana-based blogger Yoani Sanchez:

Whispers come and go. In them, the word "liberation" has been stuck to a term with nefarious connotations: "deportation." "They will go directly from the prisons to the planes," a gentleman who keeps his ear glued to the radio told me, based on what he ears on the prohibited broadcasts from the North. Forced expatriation, expulsion, exile, has been standard practice to get rid of dissenters. "If you don't like it, leave," they tell you from the time you're small; "Get up and go," they spit at you if you insist on complaining; "Why'd you come back?" is the greeting if you dare to return and continue to point out what you don't like. The ability to rid themselves of the inconvenient, the skill to push off the island platform anyone who opposes them, this is a talent in which our leaders are quite adept.

[Spain's Foreign Minister M.A.] Moratinos would have to have a very large plane to fit all those who obstruct the island's authoritarians. Not even a jumbo jet could transport all those potentially at risk of going to prison for their ideas or their civil actions. A veritable airline with weekly flights would be necessary to remove all those who don't agree with the administration of Raul Castro. But, as it turns out, many of us do not want to go. Because the decision to live here or there is something as personal as choosing a partner, or naming a child; it is not permissible that so many Cubans find themselves caught between the walls of prison and the sword of exile. It is immoral to force emigration on those who might be released in the coming days.

One question, simple and logical, jumps out at us with regards to this issue: Wouldn't it be better if the ones they carried on this plane were "them"?

Almeida: I'm Demanding My Rights

Don't miss this video clip of Juan Juan Almeida, son of the recently deceased 3rd highest-ranking official in the Castro regime, General Juan Almeida, as he single-handedly undertakes a street protest in Havana yesterday.

Almeida is being denied an exit permit to leave the island and receive medical attention abroad. His sign reads: "On Hunger Strike Demanding My Rights."

It concludes with his arrest at the end.



The music is courtesy of Cuban punk rocker Gorki Aguila.

The Church's Diplomatic Bailout

By Ambassador Armando Valladares:

As the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique François Joseph Mamberti has just made an extensive five-day official visit to communist Cuba on June 16-20.

Already on the first day of his stay, the prelate held a joint news conference with the Cuban Foreign Minister in which he welcomed the "ongoing dialogue" with the regime and expressed his hope that dialogue "will be strengthened" by his visit. He optimistically concluded that positive fruits "can already be seen." However, in his remarks, Archbishop Mamberti refused to include among those "fruits" of the dialogue with the communist regime, meetings with Cuban dissidents and visits to political prisoners. For lack of a better argument, he claimed he was merely carrying out an "official visit."

In short, the Vatican diplomat was all smiles toward the communist regime while frowning on the opposition and, ultimately, on the enslaved Cuban people.

Among the "fruits," the high-ranking prelate appeared to include "mediation" with the regime led by the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, who has a well-known track record as a collaborator of the regime. In fact, the only "fruits" the cardinal seems to have garnered do not go beyond the mere transfer of a dozen sick political prisoners. These were being tortured in prisons far from their homes but are now being tortured near their homes. He also obtained parole (which is not the same as unconditional release) for Ariel Sigler, a regime opponent who was a famous athlete and is now confined to a wheelchair because of privations and torture. Actually, by releasing him, the regime avoids the risk of having such a well-known political prisoner die in jail and become a martyr.

With his trip, statements and silence, Archbishop Dominique François Joseph Mamberti continued the mysterious, enigmatic and baffling collaborationist ritual of high-ranking Vatican officials who have traveled to the island prison over the last decades. These range from the infamous Nuncio, Archbishop Cesare Zacchi, who praised the alleged "Christian virtues" of dictator Fidel Castro, to the steps of his predecessor as Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Agostino Casaroli, who in 1974 said that Cuban Catholics were "happy," all the way to the present Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a strong proponent of "dialogue" with the regime. In this regard, I have often found myself in the painful need of writing articles which are always well-documented yet never contested.

In fact, we are now witnessing more than "mediation." This is literally a "rescue" of the Cuban regime on both foreign and domestic levels, driven by the island's bishops and by Vatican diplomacy. On the foreign level, the European Union is allowing itself to be impressed and stunned by this ecclesiastical "rescue" operation and has thus postponed until September a possible hardening of its stance toward the Cuban dictatorship. Domestically, this "rescue" will demoralize the faithful Catholics of the island and those Cubans who heroically oppose their shepherds' collaboration with the communist wolves.

In this regard, the auxiliary bishop of Havana, Most Rev. Juan de Dios Hernández, during the visit by the Vatican envoy, acknowledged that "resistance" can be found among Catholic Cubans to the said rapprochement between clergy and wolves. He took advantage of the occasion to try to anesthetize the consciences of the faithful by claiming that "we must be patient."

With this diplomatic "bailout," the Holy See and the Cuban bishops not only benefit and contribute to the survival of the Castro regime, but also help, by the principle of communicating vessels, to strengthen the regimes of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, ostensive allies of communist Cuba. In so doing, they also encourage revolutionary radical currents in Brazil and other countries in the region acting as Trojan horses. Accordingly, the responsibility of these churchmen before God and History is far from small. Indeed, at stake is the now over fifty-year regime of slavery of twelve million Cubans, the uncertain future of many countries in the region; and the very future of the continent with the world's largest Catholic population.

Armando Valladares, a former Cuban political prisoner, was U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and author of the book "Against All Hope."

"Unnewsworthy" Prisoners Released

Last week, two Cuban political prisoners, Armando de Jesús Medel Martín y Jorge Ramírez Calderón, were released.

They were not released due to the "newsworthy" intervention of the Catholic Church, the Spanish government or the "goodwill" of the Castro regime, which has -- thus far -- led to the release of one political prisoner (as a paraplegic in a wheelchair) and the transfer of others from one prison to another.

They were released pursuant to completing the entire unjust term they were handed down by the regime.

Medel Martin, a former Cuban intelligence officer, served 20 years for "rebellion."

Meanwhile, Ramirez Calderon served 2 years for "disobedience" due to his participation in the opposition party, Partido Democrático 30 de Noviembre Frank País.

Apparently though, they were unnewsworthy.

Zapata Lives!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010
By Reina Luisa Tamayo in The Huffington Post:

Much has been said in the Cuban regime's official media about my son Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a young black man. Many lies have been told, and it has been said that my son was a criminal, and that he was not simply allowed to die. The truth is that my son was murdered. The truth is that my son was allowed to die on a hunger strike he held to demand respect for his rights, and to demand freedom for his people. Today, I would like to tell you just who Orlando Zapata Tamayo was: a defender of human rights, and my beloved son.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was born on May 15, 1967, a native of Santiago de Cuba. He spent his childhood in Santiago and Antilla in Holguin province, where he went to school through the ninth grade. He never spoke much, but he had a big heart for his family and all those who knew him, always giving the best of himself to his fellow man [...]

Zapata was arrested on December 6, 2002 in Havana's Lawton neighborhood while on his way to attend a meeting with Dr. Oscar Elias Bicet at the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, and he was then imprisoned. He was released three months later, without ever being tried. When he launched a protest fast with Marta Beatriz Roque and other activists against the continued jailing of activists, among them Dr. Biscet, he was arrested in the crackdown known as the Black Spring of 2003. Regime officials tried him based on his first arrest and sentenced him to three years imprisonment for resistance, disobedience and disorderly conduct for his position of opposition to the regime.

While in prison, his resistance led to additional charges with each one adding years to his sentence. Ultimately, the three year sentence was extended to 57 years and six months in prison. He remained a resistor, eating only what his family brought him. He only accepted water in prison, sleeping on the floor with bedding from home. His path through various prisons was one of physical and emotional abuse, which left their marks on his body. He underwent surgery for an intracrinal hematoma produced by a blow delivered by convicted criminals thrown into his sealed, maximum security solitary confinement cell. The prisons he went through were: Cien y Aldaboz, Villa Marista, Quivicán, Guanajay, Taco Taco, Holguín Provincial Prison, Cuba Sí, Kilo 8, and Combinado del Este in Holguin.

In Holguin, he suffered his last beatings, which were intended to end his life, on August 29, September 24, and October 26, of 2009. To demand respect for his rights, he carried out a water-only protest fast in intervals for 18 months. He would be shaved and have his hair cut only by force. He never wore a common prisoner's uniform, the uniform of a convicted criminal. While he was in Holguin Provincial Prison, State Security video taped him often [...]

Zapata began his final hunger strike in order to demand respect for his rights as a political prisoner. He spent one month and three days on the floor. He was denied water for 18 days in an attempt to break his defiance, which provoked two heart attacks while still being held at Kilo 8. Afterwards he was transferred to the Prisoners Ward at Amalia Simoni Hospital. This is when his family was able to see him briefly. They only allowed him one bottle of water, but not the one from which he wanted to drink.

He was transferred to a so-called "Intensive Care Unit" that was cobbled together on the spot exclusively for him, and where he was kept under guard by armed soldiers. This all created a delay that caused his health to worsen. He had to be transferred to the Prisoners' Hospital at Combinado del Este Prison, where his health worsened to a critical point. The authorities knew that the goal was to murder him, to eliminate him. He was then transferred to Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital where he died on February 23, 2010 at approximately 3:30 p.m.

We, Zapata's family and friends, have suffered a great deal of repression since his death. My son died for the sake of his belief in freedom. We have been attacked by groups of people organized by State Security, who want to prevent us from marching to the cemetery after leaving Mass on Sundays. My son's tomb was desecrated by them, the police.

The Castro brothers try to intimidate us, but what they don't know is that this family has never been afraid. This family has never knelt to anyone. Now, with even greater courage, dignity, and principles, we will follow the ideas and words of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who was murdered, who was tortured, and who was denied water for 18 days in order to do away with him. But nobody was ever able to subjugate my son. He never knelt before the dictatorship. He never gave in, and he preferred to die rather than to live on his knees.

This is why we say: Zapata Lives! We shout it in the streets. We shout it wherever we may be. Zapata lives on in our hearts. His example guides the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom.

Only Fidel and Raul Are Responsible

Excerpt from yesterday's statement by Cuban hunger striker, Guillermo Fariñas, who is reportedly near death:

"I'm conscious of my imminent death and I consider it an honor, for I'm trying to save the lives of 25 political prisoners that the homeland needs as leaders. The only ones responsible for my upcoming death are the brothers, Fidel and Raul Castro. I confide in the team of doctors and paramedics that are treating me. It is for this reason that I have rejected multiple offers to receive treatment in other countries. I want to die in my country under the noses of the dictators that possess all of the guns, rifles, cannons and bombs. My values stem from the people I come from, those at the bottom who have been deceived and held hostage for 51 years by those that possess the arms, violence, totalitarian laws and misrule from the top."

Fuzzy (and Dangerous) Math

Let's be absolutely clear -- one political prisoner is one too many.

Every effort must be made to ensure that every single political prisoner is freed -- not just released and forcibly exiled -- by the Castro regime.

Furthermore, every effort must be made to ensure that every Cuban is able to freely express their political views and opinions without the risk or fear of imprisonment.

Therefore, the media must be cautious in making non-factual assertions or to -- even unintentionally -- "gloss over" a single political prisoner.

For example, this headline by Reuters:

Number of Cuban political prisoners lowest since 1959

The number of political prisoners in Cuba has dropped to 167, the lowest total since the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power, a human rights group said on Monday.

The decline comes amid possible signs that the Cuban government is preparing to release more jailed dissidents, said Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights.

The 167 prisoners is a decline from 201 at the end of 2009 and "is the lowest number in 51 years," said Sanchez, who is a former political prisoner.

The commission, which issues a report on Cuban human rights every six months, said Cuba had more than 15,000 political prisoners 45 years ago.

It said the number has steadily dwindled over the past seven years as the government realized "it does not need to have so many political prisoners to maintain almost complete social control."


Yet, according to the State Department's Cuba country report:

The government incarcerates people for their peaceful political beliefs or activities. The total number of political prisoners and detainees is unknown, because the government does not disclose such information and keeps its prisons off-limits to human rights organizations and international human rights monitors. One local human rights organization lists more than 200 political prisoners currently detained in Cuba in addition to as many as 5,000 people sentenced for "dangerousness."

And as Human Rights Watch explains,

Raúl Castro government has relied in particular on the Criminal Code offense of "dangerousness," which allows authorities to imprison individuals before they have committed any crime, on the suspicion that they are likely to commit an offense in the future. This "dangerousness" provision is overtly political, defining as "dangerous" any behavior that contradicts Cuba's socialist norms.

They too are political prisoners and should not be "glossed over."

OZT Campaign Surpasses 50,000 Signatures

Monday, July 5, 2010

On July 4th, 2010, the #OZT I Accuse the Cuban Government campaign surpassed 50,000 signatures, including those of famed artists, intellectuals and political leaders, demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all Cuban political prisoners, and the respect for human rights in Cuba.

The campaign was named after Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the Cuban prisoner of conscience that lost his life on February 23rd, 2010, after an eighty-five day long hunger strike demanding an end to the torture and abuse of the Castro regime, and democracy for his country. It honors the selflessness and courage of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in his pursuit of freedom for the Cuban people.

On July 23rd, 2010, the five-month anniversary of his death, the first 50,000 signatures will be officially delivered within Cuba and to the diplomatic representations of the Cuban government throughout the world.

Have you signed yet?

If not, click here.

Hunger Striker "Close to Death"

According to the BBC:

Cuba hunger striker Farinas 'close to death'

A Cuban political dissident who is on hunger strike is in danger of dying, doctors treating him say.

Guillermo Farinas, 48, has been refusing food since February to demand the release of ill political prisoners.

He is being fed intravenously in hospital, but doctors say he has developed a blood clot that could kill him.

The news was reported in Cuban state media, which usually ignore dissident protests.

The official communist party newspaper Granma published an interview with the doctor leading his treatment, Armando Caballero.

The BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says the article in Granma appears to be aimed at defusing international criticism should he die
[...]

Mr Farinas is a psychologist who works as a freelance journalist reporting on Cuba in defiance of state media controls.

He began refusing food and water on February 28 after another dissident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died while on hunger strike in jail.

He is demanding the release of 26 political prisoners who are ill.

"He would rather die than give up his strike," his mother, Alicia Hernandez, told Reuters news agency.

"His fundamental objective is very clear: free the prisoners who are most ill, otherwise he will go to the ultimate consequences."

Assad Took Castro's Advice to Heart

Looks like Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad took Castro's advice -- and example -- to heart during last week's meeting in Havana.

From The White House:

Statement by National Security Council (NSC) Spokesman Mike Hammer on Syrian Convictions of Human Rights Activists

We join the international community in condemning the recent decisions by the Syrian government to convict and sentence human rights lawyers, 79-year old Haitham Maleh on Sunday, July 4, and Muhanad al-Hasani on June 23 for publicly expressing their views. These actions are part of a worrying trend of actions taken by the government against lawyers and civil society activists. We also condemn the re-arrest of Damascus Declaration's National Council member Ali Abdullah, who was originally scheduled for release from prison on June 18, but now faces new charges.

We call on the Syrian government to meet its responsibilities under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to end its practice of arbitrary arrests and detention and to permit its citizens freedom of expression and association. As President Assad approaches the 10th anniversary of his presidency on July 20, Syria should demonstrate its commitment to international legal norms by releasing Maleh, al-Hasani, Abdullah, and other Syrian citizens who have been imprisoned solely for seeking to exercise their right to peaceful free expression and freedom of association.

The Ladies That Saved Washington

Sunday, July 4, 2010
From Americas Quarterly:

The Fourth of July and Cuban Women

by Frank Calzon

On the eve of this 4th of July, I think about our servicemen and women whose lives are at risk defending U.S. interests and the cause of freedom around the world. I also think about Cuba, so close to the United States, where a despotic regime continues to misrule; and about the Ladies in White, a group of women -- mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives of Cuban political prisoners, punished for desiring the same freedoms that Americans will celebrate this weekend.

Again this Sunday, the Ladies in White will walk together to mass, all dressed in white, calling attention to the plight of their loved ones and the lack of freedom in Cuba. The women have been harassed, spat upon and insulted by mobs organized by the regime. Their mistreatment, detention and abuse by Cuban police has earned the condemnation of world leaders, including the First Lady of France, former Czech President Vaclav Havel and President Barack Obama.

Less known today, although they played a noble role in the war for American Independence, is another group of Cuban women, the "Ladies of Havana," who helped George Washington at a most critical moment.

The battle of Yorktown was about to start, and the British General Charles Cornwallis, believed he would defeat the Americans. According to Washington's aide, Count De Rochambeau, "the Continental troops [are] almost without clothes. The greater number [are] without socks or shoes. These people are at the very end of their resources. Washington will not have at his disposal half the number of troops he counts on having." The story is told by historian Stephen Bonsal in the book When the French Were Here, published in 1945.

In 1781, things did not look good, when General Washington sent French Admiral Francois De Grasse to seek funds in the Caribbean. What happened is told by Charles Lee Lewis, in his Admiral De Grasse and the American Independence, published by the United States Naval Institute.

Unfortunately, as Jean-Jacques Antier writes in Admiral de Grasse: Hero of L'Independence Americaine, when De Grasse got to Havana the Spanish fleet had left for Spain. There was no gold to be had, and the colonial government could not help. The Cubans, however, liked Washington and private contributions flowed in.

"Ladies even offering their diamonds. The sum of 1,200,000 livres was delivered on board,'' Antier wrote. De Grasse sailed back toward Philadelphia, where Rochambeau took a boat to Chester, Pennsylvania, in September 1781.

"We saw in the distance Gen. Washington, shaking his hat and a white handkerchief and showing signs of great joy" when he saw their boat approaching Chester, according to De Rochambeau's account in J.J. Jusserands's With Americans of Past and Present Days. "De Rochambeau had scarcely landed," Jusserand wrote, "when Washington, usually cool and composed, fell into his arms; the great news had arrived, De Grasse had come." And there was enough money to fund to continue fighting.

The campaign in the fall of 1781 -- and the war -- ended with Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown.

As Bonsal noted, "The million that was supplied by the ladies of Havana may be regarded as the 'bottom dollars' upon which the edifice of American independence was erected.''

Back in 1781, there was no United States, no United States Agency for International Development and no Cuba democracy program. While the worthiness of current U.S. efforts to promote a transition to democracy in Cuba are sometimes questioned, on this Fourth of July let's pray for our soldiers abroad, and remember the help given to George Washington by the "Ladies of Havana" so long ago.

Frank Calzon is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, which is based in Arlington, Va.