Don't Cave to Castro's Game

Friday, July 16, 2010
By Amb. James Cason in The Sun-Sentinel:

In 2003, Fidel Castro sentenced to long prison terms 75 dissidents Amnesty International said had not advocated any kind of violence. At the time, I was the chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba, and the regime charged that all of them were mercenaries of the United States.

Now, Raul Castro says they are political prisoners, and has begun to release the 52 still remaining behind bars.

Unfortunately, a measure some construed as the first step in the much-awaited thaw in the regime's relations with its own people turns out to be an effort to consolidate its power at home and abroad.

The regime wants to force them into exile, and the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who defends the regime, says the release will ensure that the European Union ends its common position predicated on substantial government reforms, and Europe's dialogue with the opposition.

Seven years ago, analysts said their sentencing to long prison terms would end Cuba's democratic opposition. Instead, the opposition continued to grow.

Tragically, hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail, and neither the Cuban nor the Spanish governments nor the Catholic Church have said anything about their possible release. Those freed owe their release to the sustained international pressure on Havana, and the steadfastness of the political opposition, which has endured all kinds of abuse.

Without the internal opposition, the engagement by the church or by foreign governments achieves nothing. Aggressive niceness has never moved dictators to make concessions; they only respond when pressured.

What is the price Cuba's freedom fighters have to pay for the release of some of their own? Will they be forced into exile? Will European diplomats snub Oswaldo Paya, Marta Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca, Rene Gomez Manzano and others? Will foreign aid flow into Havana's coffers when Havana is bankrupt and Spanish companies cannot withdraw their money from Cuban banks? Will Cuba be allowed into the Cotonou tariff agreement, without having to fulfill the human rights conditions required from all others that apply for special access to European markets?

While Raul Castro talks with the Spanish and the Vatican, he refuses to engage in the most important conversation: with his own citizens and internal opponents. By leaving the opposition out, the general hopes to delegitimize them and deny them their rightful voice.Castro apologists say Cuba is reforming and there is no need for outside pressure. It's just the opposite; we should stay the course until all prisoners are released and Cuba begins serious reforms. That is the right approach, not acquiescing to the forced exile of the opposition, and certainly not rewarding the regime with millions of American tourist dollars for releasing innocent people who should not have been in prison to begin with.

Ambassador James Cason, a retired career foreign service officer, served as chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana from 2002 to 2005.

FBI Statement on Cuban Spy Sentencing

Former State Department Official Sentenced to Life in Prison for Nearly 30-Year Espionage Conspiracy

Wife of Official Sentenced to Nearly Seven Years in Prison for Her Role

WASHINGTON—Walter Kendall Myers, a former State Department official, and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and 81 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in a nearly 30-year conspiracy to provide highly-classified U.S. national defense information to the Republic of Cuba.

The sentences, handed down today by Judge Reggie B. Walton in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, were announced by David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; Shawn Henry, Assistant Director for the FBI's Washington Field Office; and Ambassador Eric J. Boswell, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security.

On Nov. 20, 2009, defendant Kendall Myers, 73, aka "Agent 202," pleaded guilty to a three-count criminal information charging him with conspiracy to commit espionage and two counts of wire fraud. His wife, Gwendolyn Myers, 72, aka "Agent 123," and "Agent E-634," pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information charging her with conspiracy to gather and transmit national defense information. The defendants, both residents of Washington, D.C., were arrested on June 4, 2009, by FBI agents and have remained in custody ever since.

Both defendants have agreed to the entry of a monetary judgment against them in the amount of $1,735,054. The assets that will be forfeited to the government towards satisfaction of that judgment include the proceeds from the sale of the defendants' apartment and vehicle, and various bank and investment accounts.

"For nearly 30 years, this couple proudly committed espionage on behalf of a long-standing foreign adversary. Today, they are being held accountable for their actions. Their sentences should serve as a clear warning to others who would willingly compromise our nation's most sensitive classified information," said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

"Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers were brought to justice not because they were careless, but because of an extremely well-planned and executed counterintelligence investigation that required the unprecedented cooperation of multiple agencies of the U.S. government tasked with protecting our national security," said Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. "Others like the Myers who are presently betraying the trust that this country has placed in them should know that they are not safe from prosecution regardless of how careful they think they are being. As with Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers, they will be caught and brought to justice."

Shawn Henry, Assistant Director of the FBI's Washington Field Office, said: "The Myers made a conscious decision to betray the United States and its citizens. The FBI, along with its partners in the U.S. Intelligence Community, will continue to aggressively pursue anyone who seeks to cause the same harm."

"Walter Kendall Myers betrayed his country. By committing acts of espionage Myers grievously violated the confidence placed in him by the U.S. Department of State and the American people. Today, he has been rightfully sentenced for crimes against our nation," said Assistant Secretary for State for Diplomatic Security Eric J. Boswell.

Memo to the Chamber of Commerce

When business interests guide foreign policy, the result is rarely good.

According to the AP:

Just as BP stopped oil from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, the company faces unwelcome attention from U.S.Congress on another issue: whether it sought the release of convicted bomber Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi to help get a $900 million exploration agreement with Libya off the ground.

Strengthening Castro's Mafia

Havana-based blogger Yoani Sanchez has an interesting editorial in The Huffington Post about the recent purging of a Communist Party official named Esteban Morales.

It's entitled, "Cuban Higher Ups Charged With: 'Positioning Themselves Financially for When the Revolution Fails.'"

Here's an excerpt:

Esteban Morales, who until recently enjoyed the privilege of appearing live in front of the TV microphones, learned of such semantic mutations by dint of suffering them. A Communist Party member, academic, and specialist on issues relating to the United States, he had the dangerous idea of writing an article against corruption. His questions dealt primarily not with the daily diversion of resources -- as we call stealing from the State -- which is how many Cuban families manage to make it to the end of the month, but rather the ethical decay that has established itself higher up, in the estates of power, where embezzlement and misappropriation reach lavish levels. He had the unfortunate experience of putting into writing that, "there are people in government and state jobs who are positioning themselves financially for when the Revolution falls." It is a conclusion anyone can draw just by looking at the fat necks of the managers, the shiny Geely cars belonging to the officers of CIMEX corporation, or the high railings surrounding the houses of the commercial hierarchy, but Morales committed the audacity of pointing it out from within the system itself.

So here's the question:

Why would the U.S. want to hand over billions of dollars worth -- not to mention future control -- of tourism and investment to these commercial mafias?

The Cuban people deserve all of the fruits of U.S. tourism and investment -- not a potential trickle down, which would be the current best case scenario.

Senator Menendez on Cuba Sanctions

Thursday, July 15, 2010
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) spoke on the floor today in strong opposition to lifting tourism travel restrictions to Cuba:

Mr. President, I have come to the floor many times to speak out about Cuba, and today I come to the floor once again -- this time in strong opposition to any attempt in this Chamber to pass any bill that in any way lifts or lessens the travel ban on Cuba -- any bill that eases regulations on the sale of U.S. products to the island.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I will oppose – and filibuster if need be -- any effort to ease regulations that stand to enrich a regime that denies its own people basic human rights.

Mr. President, I do not wish to obstruct the business of this Chamber, but I know my colleagues on both sides of the aisle are well aware of how deeply I feel about freeing the people of Cuba from the repressive regime under which they have suffered for too long.

The fact is the big corporate interests behind this misguided attempt to weaken the travel ban could not care less whether the Cuban people are free. They care only about opening a new market and increasing their bottom line.

This is about the color of money, not the desire for freedom.

The very fact that a travel bill has moved through the House Agriculture Committee makes one wonder why American agricultural interests would even care about travel to Cuba.

One can only assume it's about generating increased tourism dollars for the Castro regime to buy more agricultural products.

That will serve only to enrich the regime and do absolutely nothing to bring democracy to the island.

Let's be clear, those who believe that increasing travel will magically breed democracy in Cuba are simply dead wrong.

For years, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed.

Millions of tourists from democratic nations have visited Havana and the Castro regime has not loosened its iron grip on its people…

…it has not ended its repressive policies…

…and it has not stopped imprisoning and brutally abusing pro-democracy forces.

Those who lament our dependence on foreign oil because it enriches regimes in terrorist states like Iran, should not have a double standard when it comes to enriching a brutal dictatorship like Cuba right here in our own backyard.

How coincidental that suddenly, now that Congress is considering lifting a travel ban, the Castro regime is hoping the world will believe that it will release 52 prisoners of conscience.

Let's set the record straight.

Many people are wrongly under the impression – reading and watching media reports – that the 52 prisoners have already been released and are free in Cuba.

The fact is only 7 have been released and forcibly deported from their country – another human rights violation – instead of allowing them to stay and peacefully advocate for change.

The remaining 47 prisoners are set to be released but not now, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, but sometime during the next 3 to 4 months – or so the regime says.

According to reports in The Miami Herald, 9 of them have said they will refuse to leave for Spain if released, and the 7 who arrived in Madrid have vowed to continue their activism in exile.

They have told reporters they feel the shock of being forced to leave their country.

Omar Rodriguez Saludes told a reporter he feels "like I was still in prison. I left behind part of my family. I still feel like I have the cuffs on my hands."

The released men said conditions in the prison were horrendous. They shared their cells with rats.

Diseases infested the prison, they said – and told of inmates trying to kill themselves or do themselves harm because of the squalid prison conditions they were forced to endure.

Julion Cesar Galvez, one of the dissidents told reporters: "the hygiene and health conditions in prisons in Cuba are not terrible – they're worse than terrible. We had to live with rats and cockroaches and excrement. It's not a lie."

Galvez, a 66 year old journalist who was sentenced to 15 years in these horrible prisons said: "There were outbreaks of dengue fever and tuberculosis."

He said there were more than 1,500 prisoners in the prison in Villa Clara – 40 prisoners to a cell measuring 32 square feet.

Another prisoner, Normando Hernandez said, "The prisoners are tired of demanding their rights…" They lose all hope. They lose their desire to live and the try to hurt themselves so they will get attended to.

These men were lucky to be released, but they will not give up. They will tell their stories and they will continue to fight for freedom for all Cubans.

Mr. President, it took the regime only one night in March to arrest these 52 people. So we might ask ourselves: Why will it take 4 months to release all of them?

It's not a coincidence that during the next 3 or 4 months there will be members of this Chamber and members in the other body who will be looking to provide the Castro regime with billions of dollars of added tourism revenue.

It's not a coincidence that in September the EU will once again deliberate the wisdom of its remaining sanctions.

The nagging question that lingers in my mind is: Will the 47 ever see the light of day or will they be forcibly deported from their country and another 52 arrested overnight to take their place?

It's possible the regime will never release them, because they don't want the world to see them because of the torture they've been subjected to.

Last month, a man named Ariel Sigler was released from a Cuban prison on the verge of death -- a 100 pound paraplegic who was arrested in 2003 as a 250 pound amateur boxer.

Also last month, the regime – once again – refused to let the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture visit the island which, in my view, speaks volumes about the condition of the thousands of Cubans who have been imprisoned for "dangerousness" and other trumped-up political charges.

If that is what's happening to the 200 internationally recognized and known political prisoners, then how much worse must it be for the thousands of anonymous political prisoners who have not been reported?

According to the State Department, "the total number of 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."

According to the State Department, "One 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.'"

Yet, in the face of this repression, some Members want to provide with its number one source of income – tourism.

Mr. President, this is not about travel.

This is about rewarding a repressive regime.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans travel to Cuba for family, educational, or humanitarian reasons.

Tourism to Cuba is a natural resource, akin to providing refined petroleum products to Iran.

It's reported that 2.5 million tourists visit Cuba – 1.5 million from North America... 1 million Canadians… More than 170,000 from England… More than 400,000 from Spain, Italy, Germany, and France combined – All bringing in $1.9 billion in revenue to the Castro regime – that's 765 convertible pesos per tourist.

And yet nothing has changed in Cuba except the amount of tourism dollars the regime has at its disposal…

…and while the money still comes in, he still rations food keeping Cubans waiting in long lines for a subsistence meal.

That's an irreversible concession to a regime that, this week, arrested a Cuban-American for providing laser printers and ink cartridges to a rural woman's opposition movement in Santiago.

He was interrogated, the head of the movement's home raided by a dozen state security agents, the printer and cartridges confiscated.

He was subsequently released and put on a plane back.

Meanwhile an American remains imprisoned for helping the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet – after six months in jail -- still no trial or charges.

They were looking to help the Cuban people, but the regime doesn't want anyone helping. They want tourists to provide only one thing – hard currency.

Visiting the beaches of Varadero and sipping a Cuba Libre – an oxymoron – provides money to continue repression but won't let the Cuban people sip the sweetness of freedom.

It won't change the plight of the Ladies in White – mothers and sisters who – every week – march for freedom carrying white gladiolas who are beaten and repressed.

It won't change their fate of being imprisoned by the regime, released – only to be re-arrested over and over again.

It won't change the tragic fate of Orlando Zapata Tamayo– deemed a prisoner of conscience Amnesty International -- who died in February after being on a hunger strike for 85 days protesting horrific prison conditions.

It won't end the desire for freedom or change conditions in Cuba for men like Guillermo Farinas who began his hunger strike after the death of Zapata, ending it after he heard of the prisoner release, but vowing that he and other courageous Cubans would join together in yet another hunger strike if the 52 prisoners are not released and back in their own homes by November 7th.

Lifting the travel ban, allowing tourist dollars to flow to the regime will not end any of it. It will not free the people of Cuba.

It will not change the fate of the Ladies in White or the desire for freedom of Guillermo Farinas.

It will only enrich the regime.

Reports this week have pointed out the economic impact opening travel to Cuba will cause to the Gulf states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and our democratic neighbors in the Caribbean.

The dollars that will be transferred from those tourism economies should be for the benefit of a democratic government in a free Cuba – not to bailout the brutal Cuban regime.

The Castros don't deserve it and the U.S. Gulf states and our Caribbean friends can't afford it.

According to Jamaica's Daily Gleaner – "The results of various studies of the likely impact on the Caribbean of the lifting of the US travel ban suggest that Cuba's tourism arrival would surge to full capacity at the expense of other Caribbean destinations…

"…Apart from Puerto Rico and The U.S. Virgin Islands, the most heavily dependent Caribbean destinations on the U.S. and the most vulnerable should the legislation to lift the travel pass include The Bahamas, The Cayman Islands, Cancun, Bermuda, Jamaica, and Belize."

It seems to me, Mr. President, we should be promoting tourism to the beaches along the Gulf Coast -- not to the apartheid beaches of Castro's Cuba.

Allowing the regime to benefit from increased tourism will not change a thing in Cuba.

It will not bring democracy to Cuba.

It will not make conditions for the Cuban people any better or change the history of brutality of the Castro regime – a brutality that continues to this day.

We would do well to recall the words of Armando Valladares, who wrote the prize-winning book Against All Hope.

He was imprisoned in the infamous Isla de Pinos in 1960 for his opposition to communism.

He lived through the hell of Castro's jail, suffering violence, forced labor, and solitary confinement.

His writings were smuggled out, read throughout the world, and he was finally released after intense international pressure, twenty-two years after he was taken prisoner.

Here are some of his memories of captivity at the hands of Castro:

"I recalled the two sergeants, Porfirio and Matanzas, plunging their bayonets into Ernesto Diaz Madruga's body… Boitel, denied water, after more than fifty days on a hunger strike, because Castro wanted him dead; Clara, Boitel's poor mother, beaten by Lieutenant Abad in a Political Police station just because she wanted to find out where her son was buried… Officers… threatened family members if they cried at a funeral.

"I remember Estebita and Piri dying in blackout cells, the victims of biological experimentation… So many others murdered in the forced-labor fields, quarries and camps. A legion of specters, naked, crippled, hobbling and crawling through my mind, and the hundreds of men mutilated in the horrifying searches.

"Eduardo Capote's fingers chopped off by a machete. Concentration camps, tortures, women beaten… And in the midst of that apocalyptic vision of the most dreadful and horrifying moments in my life, in the midst of the gray, ashy dust and the orgy of beatings and blood, prisoners beaten to the ground, a man emerged…

"…the skeletal figure of a man wasted by hunger with white hair, blazing blue eyes, and a heart overflowing with love, raising his arms to the invisible heaven and pleading for mercy for his executioners.

"'Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.' And a burst of machine-gun fire ripping open his chest."

Let us remember these memories of Armando Valladares before we think about rewarding the Cuban regime in any way.

Their sins are too great and they are not a thing of the past. The brutality and repression have been going on since 1959…

…It has never stopped. It has never gotten better. It has never changed, and it never will until Cuba is free.

When I hear my colleagues come to the floor and talk about lifting the travel ban, I'm compelled to ask: why is there such an obvious double standard when it comes to Cuba?

Why are the gulags of Cuba so different from the gulags of the old Soviet Union?

Why are we willing to tighten sanctions against Iran but loosen them when it comes to an equally repressive regime in Cuba – in effect rewarding them?

When it comes to Cuba, why are we so willing to throw up our hands and say: it's time to forget?

Mr. President, it is not time to forget. We can never forget those who have suffered and died at the hands of dictators – whether in Iran, Cuba, or anywhere.

It is clear the repression in Cuba continues unabated, notwithstanding the embargo, notwithstanding calls by those who want us to ease travel restrictions, ease sanctions - notwithstanding calls to step back and – in effect – let bygones be bygones.…

In good conscience, I cannot do that. I cannot and will not step back.

As I said at the outset, I will come to this floor and oppose any attempt in this Chamber to pass any bill that in any way lifts or lessens the travel ban on Cuba -- any bill that eases regulations on the sale of U.S. agricultural products to the island.

As long as I have a voice I will speak out in opposition to any such legislation.

As long as I have a voice I will speak out against the Castro regime until Cuba is free.

Thank you, Mr. President, and with that I yield.

The Bottom Line

"It would be an aberration to end the [European Union's] Common Position, as its objectives have not been fulfilled. Its objectives are for Cuba to respect human rights and the inalienable rights of its people, and that has not been carried out."

-- Normando Hernandez, Cuban political prisoner released this week and forcibly deported to Spain, Noticias de Navarra, July 14, 2010.

Inhumane Prison Conditions

Here's another reason why the Castro regime doesn't allow the International Committee of the Red Cross, nor the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture, to enter Cuba.

From the AP:

Rats and diseases infested Cuban prison cells so badly that some inmates tried to kill themselves and others did themselves harm, according to freed political prisoners who spoke Thursday in Spain.

Those who spoke were among 11 political prisoners released this week and flown to Spain to start new lives. At a press conference in Madrid, they painted a squalid picture of the prison conditions they had endured.

"The hygiene and health situations in prisons throughout the island of Cuba are not terrible, they are worse than terrible," freed dissident Julio Cesar Galvez said."We had to live with rats and cockroaches... with excrement. It's not a lie," he said.

The 11 released this week among 52 activists being released in stages by the Cuban government after being imprisoned in a 2003 crackdown.

A 66-year-old journalist sentenced to 15 years, Galvez said, "There were outbreaks of dengue and tuberculosis."

He said that in the prison of Villa Clara there were more than 1,500 inmates with up to 40 prisoners in cells measuring 3 square meters (32 sq. feet).

Normando Hernandez, 40, another journalist who was freed, said prisoners were so desperate they caused themselves injuries."The prisoners are tired of demanding their rights," he said, "Deaf ears to every type of complaint makes these people lose hope, the desire to live and they end up injuring themselves, and trying to take their lives."

"I saw people stick needles in the dark part of their eye," said Hernandez. "I've seen prisoners roll themselves in foam mattresses and set themselves alight, prisoners who inject excrement and urine into their eyes, prisoners who inject petrol into their private parts and other places just so they will be attended to."

More From the House Floor

Statement by U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL):

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in protest of the Castro regime's intentions to forcibly deport 52 prisoners under the guise of release.

Historically, they have used political prisoners as pawns to extract international concessions and ease criticism. As The Washington Post pointed out in their reporting on the story, this gesture does not represent the fundamental political change.

As more political dissidents die of hunger strikes in Cuba, we cannot allow this hollow gesture to blind us from reality on the ground. In Cuba's authoritarian dictatorship, every dollar that flows into the country props up the Castro regime. In the meantime Alan Gross of Potomac, Maryland, arrested for contributing cell phones to tiny Jewish communities, continues to sit in prison with no hope of release.

A relationship with the United States must be earned. Banishing political dissidents from their homeland hardly meets that test. This trick is surely no solace for Gross or others in jail.

I yield back the balance of my time.

Click here to see video.

Do the Cuban People Believe Fidel?

The Chicago Tribune's Editorial Board makes an interesting observation:

Flush with Cold War nostalgia, Fidel Castro rose from his death bed this week to make an important announcement: The U.S. is dangerously close to nuclear war with North Korea and Iran. Inspired perhaps by last week's '70s-style U.S.-Russian spy trade, the communist icon, now 83, issued that dark warning in an hour-long interview on Cuban television.

Don't feel bad if you missed it. Few are taking Castro seriously — even Cubans seem uninterested. Though Castro clearly still has influence within Cuba's bureaucracy, his people don't seem to hang on his every word these days. Maybe it's because he's been largely absent from public view for four years, since handing the reins to his not-much-younger brother Raul. Maybe the Adidas tracksuit doesn't command the same respect as the old camouflage fatigues. More likely it's because he'd already made a doomsday proclamation last month. And it didn't pan out.

In his regular column on June 27 in Granma, the Cuban government's official newspaper, Castro predicted nuclear war would break out between the U.S. and Iran prior to the World Cup quarterfinals — halting the tournament. The World Cup continued, and no nukes were launched. There is a lesson here for future apocalyptic prophets: When crying "doomsday," don't mention specific dates. "At any moment" is much more ominous, and generously ambiguous.

EDITOR'S NOTE: So do the Cuban people believe Castro when he blames the U.S. and its embargo for the island's ills?

That is, after all, the argument du jour made by opponents of U.S. policy.

The answer is obvious: No.

From the House Floor

Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Today, U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) delivered the following remarks on the House floor:

Biscet (+9) Refuse Forced Deportation

According to The Miami Herald:

Cuba's best-known political prisoner and nine others will refuse to leave for Spain if freed, relatives said, while the seven former prisoners who arrived in Madrid on Tuesday vowed to continue their activism from exile [...]

Although Cuba's leading political prisoner, Oscar Elías Biscet, was not part of the 75, his name has been included in some versions of the lists of dissidents to be released under the Castro-church agreement [CORRECTION: Biscet was part of the 75].

Biscet has already decided not to go into exile and remain in Cuba as a human rights activist if he's freed, his wife of 19 years, Elsa Morejón, told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from Havana.

"He has always said no, and he's still saying no" to leaving the island, added Morejón, who spoke Saturday by phone with Biscet at Havana's Combinado del Este prison. "And I respect his position."

Morejón said Biscet also told her Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega had not phoned him to ask if he wanted to leave the island -- as Ortega has done with most of the others.

Prison authorities also have told him nothing about a possible release.

Biscet, 49, a physician last arrested in 2002 and now serving a 25-year sentence, was detained dozens of times between 1997 and 1999.

From 1999 until today, he was free only 36 days. In 2007, he won the U.S. Medal of Freedom, awarded by the George W. Bush administration.

Morejón identified the other prisoners refusing to go into exile -- all part of the 75 -- as Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, Regis Iglesias Ramirez, Pedro Argüelles Moran, Librado Linares, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Arnaldo Lauzerique, Ivan Hernández Carrillo, Fidel Suarez Cruz and Diosdado Gonzalez Marrero.

Neither Cuban nor church authorities have explained what would happen to the political prisoners who refuse to move abroad once they are freed.

Zapata Outshines Moratinos

The image of Orlando Zapata Tamayo was projected last night onto Spain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid.

A reminder to Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos that Zapata's ultimate sacrifice will never be diminished nor forgotten.

Photo courtesy of Penultimos Dias.

A Gutsy Church

Fortunately, in Latin America, there are still some Catholic Churches that will speak truth to power, in no uncertain terms.

From Venezuela's El Universal:

Neither the criticisms of different government authorities who urged the members of the Catholic hierarchy to limit themselves to do their pastoral work nor the presidential threat to prosecute Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino have intimidated the Venezuelan Bishops' Conference (CEV), which at the end of the Ninety-Fourth Ordinary Assembly reaffirmed its concern about the socialist system promoted by the government.

In its traditional call, the bishops said: "People want to live in democracy, (in a state) under the rule of law, with a real participation of all citizens, in a climate of justice and freedom. That is what the referendum held on December 2, 2007 decided. Therefore, the imposition of a socialist state inspired by the Cuban communist regime that has been enforced through laws and facts that ignore the popular will and the Constitution is absolutely unacceptable."

Let's Focus on Our Democratic Allies

Tuesday, July 13, 2010
This is what happens when the House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), spends his time looking for ways to finance Cuba's brutal (and bankrupt) dictatorship, instead of focusing on pending sales to our democratic allies.

According to the Southwest Farm Press:

The Canadian Parliament has beaten the U.S. Congress to the punch with a free trade agreement with Colombia that could give Canadian wheat producers a decided advantage over U.S. farmers, according to a joint statement by U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) President Alan Tracy and Dana Peterson, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG).

"The Canadian parliament has ratified a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with Colombia that will, when implemented, allow Canadian wheat to enter that country duty free," Peterson and Tracy said in the statement.

"The agreement gives a major wheat-producing competitor an immediate price advantage in a market where U.S. wheat exports had earned a dominant market share," the statement said. The Canadian-Colombian pact could cost U.S. wheat producers $70 million "at a time when they can least afford it. In fact, U.S. farm families now face losing a substantial portion of agricultural exports to Colombia worth nearly $1.7 billion, including $330 million in wheat exports, in 2008. Even more disturbing is the fact that our farmers should never have faced this dilemma."

Firmness and Heroism

From famed Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner's column, "Spain's ignoble mission":

In Cuba, where one is jailed or released for reasons of state, not of law, Raúl Castro has decided to free 52 prisoners of conscience. It's his least-bad option. This time, the opposition defeated him.

The heroic resistance of the Cuban democrats, their relatives and the rest of the dissident movement was destroying the already battered image of the dictatorship. Since 1962, this episode has been repeated with some frequency. The regime fills the prisons and then needs to evacuate them. For half a century, thousands of Cuban political prisoners have been caged without any reason or released for strategic reasons before they could serve their sentences [...]

Raúl has given Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos a counterproductive role. His task is to relieve the international pressures on the dictatorship. Spain gains nothing by that ignoble crusade. Raúl uses the church to begin to solve the problem of the prisoners of conscience, which fundamentally benefits the Cuban democrats, but Moratinos is an instrument to try to persuade the European nations to abandon their common position in the face of tyranny. This damages and delays the process of change.

The diplomat's strange theory is that gentleness in treatment softens the Castros' military dynasty. But he doesn't realize that what has just happened gives the lie to his theory: What opened the cell doors was the firmness of some countries and the heroism of the opposition. Moratinos insists on an error that hurts the Cubans, does not benefit Spain and contradicts the values and legal commitments of the European Union.

Anniversary of a Massacre

"In the early morning hours of July 13, 1994, three boats belonging to the Cuban State and equipped with water hoses attacked an old tugboat that was fleeing Cuba with 72 people on board. The incident occurred seven miles off the Cuban coast, outside the port of Havana. The Cuban State boats attacked the tugboat with their prows, while at the same time spraying everyone on the deck of the boat, including women and children, with pressurized water. The pleas to stop the attack were in vain, and the old boat-named the '13 of March' - sank, with a toll of 41 deaths, including ten children."

-- Ted Koppel, ABC's Nightline.

These were the victims of that brutal massacre by the Castro regime:

Abreu Ruíz, Angel René. Age: 3.
Alcalde Puig, Rosa María. Age: 47.
Almanza Romero, Pilar. Age: 31.
Alvarez Guerra, Lissett María. Age: 24.
Anaya Carrasco, Yaltamira. Age: 22.
Balmaseda Castillo, Jorge Gregorio. Age: 24.
Borges Alvarez, Giselle. Age: 4.
Borges Briel, Lázaro Enrique. Age: 34.
Carrasco Sanabria, Martha Mirilla. Age: 45.
Cayol, Manuel. Age: 56.
Enríquez Carrazana, Luliana. Age: 22.
Fernández Rodríguez, María Miralis. Age: 27.
Feu González Rigoberto. Age: 31
García Suárez, Joel. Age: 20.
Góngora, Leonardo Notario. Age: 28.
González Raices, Amado. Age: 50.
Guerra Martínez, Augusto Guillermo. Age: 45.
Gutiérrez García, Juan Mario. Age: 10.
Levrígido Flores, Jorge Arquímedes. Age: 28.
Leyva Tacoronte, Caridad. Age: 5.
Loureiro, Ernesto Alfonso. Age: 25
Marrero Alamo, Reynaldo Joaquín. Age: 48.
Martínez Enriquez, Hellen. Age: 5 Months.
Méndez Tacoronte, Mayulis. Age: 17.
Muñoz García, Odalys. Age: 21.
Nicle Anaya, José Carlos. Age: 3.
Pérez Tacoronte, Yousell Eugenio. Age: 11.
Perodín Almanza, Yasser. Age: 11.
Prieto Hernández, Fidencio Ramel. Age: 51.
Rodríguez Fernández, Xicdy. Age: 2.
Rodríguez Suárez, Omar. Age: 33.
Ruíz Blanco, Julia Caridad. Age: 35.
Sanabria Leal, Miladys. Age: 19.
Suárez Esquivel, Eduardo. Age: 38.
Suárez Esquivel, Estrella. Age: 48.
Suárez Plasencia, Eliécer. Age: 12.
Tacoronte Vega, Martha Caridad. Age: 35
And 4 more that still remain unidentified.

They will never be forgotten.

Welcome to the Funny Farm

Monday, July 12, 2010
According to CNN:

The United States is pushing for what would become nuclear wars against Iran and North Korea, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said in a rare televised interview Monday.

Castro blamed the United States, not North Korea, for the sinking of a South Korean ship that killed 46 sailors. The incident was orchestrated to stir conflict in the region, Castro said.

The former Cuban leader, who is 83, said he was disappointed that China and Russia didn't veto a U.N. Security Council resolution for additional sanctions against Iran for its alleged illegal nuclear program.

Iran, he said, has been building up for a confrontation for 30 years. If the United States attacks Iran, it will meet a resistance unlike anything it faced in Iraq, Castro said.

"A war there can't avoid becoming nuclear," Castro said.

Ironically, this "warning" comes from the same man who urged former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the U.S. and kill 10 million Americans during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Rest in Peace, Olga Guillot

Cuba has lost one of its greatest voices -- in music and for freedom.

Rest in peace, Olga Guillot.

Castro's Corporate Suitors

Here's a little (not-so-funny) Monday humor for you.

Last November, Public Campaign launched an attack on the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and Cuban-American political donors for helping like-minded federal candidates get elected to Congress.

In its 6 years of existence, the PAC has raised approximately $3 million. That seems pretty impressive, but compare it to the economic prowess of one the loudest (and most powerful) voices lobbying Congress to expand business ties with the Cuban dictatorship.

According to The Hill:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a new fundraising goal for 2010 -- $75 million dollars in contributions, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity. The Chamber had previously pledged to raise and spend some $50 million this election year.

So let me clarify -- $3 million over 6 years vs. $75 million in 1 year alone.

And that's not including the millions from all of the state and federal farm bureaus, agri-business giants, trade associations, travel companies and so on and so forth.

Yet, somehow, articles on Congress's Cuba policy debate always include a snippet about Cuban-American political contributions, while glossing over the enormous sums contributed by -- and the strong arm tactics of -- the Castro regime's corporate suitors.

Click here to see the case and point.

How Many Political Prisoners Are There?

The New York Times explored this issue today.

Here's an excerpt:

Some former prisoners contend that there is a political element to so many detentions in Cuba — and that the government does not allow adequate legal representation to those it wants isolated. They say the real number probably reaches into the thousands.

"If the Castro tyranny really would like to make a good faith gesture, it ought to liberate all those prisoners in its dungeons," said Miguel Sigler Amaya, an activist now based in Miami who spent two years in a Cuban prison for "disobedience" and "resistance," and contends that thousands of fellow Cubans are detained on similarly nebulous charges. One of his brothers, Ariel, a political prisoner, was released last month after suffering health problems in prison, and another, Guido, is among those expected to be released.

The brothers were among the activists and journalists rounded up by the government in March 2003 in a mass crackdown on dissent known as Black Spring. Those detainees were arrested on various charges and convicted after brief, closed trials. Their sentences ranged from six years to 28 years [...]

One reason for the varying figures is the definition of who, exactly, is a political prisoner. Another is that the Cuban government has not allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit its prisons.

Prisoner Release Is No Sign of a New Era

Sunday, July 11, 2010
In his weekly column, The Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer lists four important reasons why "Cuba's Prisoner Release is No Sign of a New Era":

First, Cuba has a long history of using political prisoners as a bargaining chip, releasing a handful of prisoners in exchange for economic or diplomatic concessions, and later rounding up the next batch.

Rev. Jesse Jackson obtained the release of 26 political prisoners in 1984, Bill Richardson got three dissidents out of jail in 1996, Jimmy Carter's visit in 2002 led to the freedom of one prisoner, and Pope John Paul II visit to Cuba resulted in the release of 80 jailed dissidents.

Second, even if Cuba keeps its word and releases the 52 dissidents in an effort to get the European investments it desperately needs, that would only be less than a third of the island's political prisoners.

According to the Havana-based nonauthorized Cuban Commission for Human Rights, there are 167 prisoners of conscience on the island. But international human rights groups believe there are many more, because Cuba does not allow United Nations inspectors to visit Cuban prisons to see who is behind bars, and for what reasons.

Third, we still don't know whether this will be a prisoners' release, or a forced deportation. In the past, Cuba has tended to release political prisoners who agree to go into exile. A Roman Catholic Church statement announcing the prisoners' release last week said they "will be able'' to leave the country, but did not specify what will happen with those who want to stay.

Fourth, and most important, the Cuban regime is not even talking about modifying articles 72 and 73 of its criminal code, an Orwellian legislation that allows it to put people behind bars before they committed a crime on the mere suspicion that they may commit one in the future.

Seven Prisoners Refuse Forced Deportation

Havana-based blogger Claudia Cadelo has reported, via Twitter, that three of the 52 Cuban political prisoners that the regime has "agreed" to release in the coming months have expressed that they will not leave prison, if they are to be forcibly deported to Spain.

The three prisoners -- Pedro Arguelles Moran, Eduardo Diaz Fleitas and Regis Iglesias Ramirez -- are demanding that their release be unconditional.

UPDATE: Laura Pollán, leader of the Ladies in White, told the BBC that four more prisoners have refused to leave the island, including Jesús Mustafá Felipe, Oscar Elías Biscet, José Daniel Ferrer and Arnaldo Ramos Lauzerique.

An Important Fact to Remember

An excerpt from Daniel Wilkinson's "A Deceptive Amnesty in Cuba" in The New York Review of Books:

We've seen such negotiated releases before. Jesse Jackson convinced Fidel Castro to release twenty-six political prisoners in 1984, Bill Richardson secured the release of three in 1996, and Jimmy Carter got one prisoner released in 2002. My colleagues at Human Rights Watch managed to get half a dozen released after six grueling hours of negotiation with Fidel Castro in 1995. The most successful was Pope John Paul II, who obtained the release of more than eighty jailed dissidents in 1998.

Those prisoner releases were also welcome news at the time each occurred. But they did not bring an end to repression in Cuba. The government never stopped locking up its critics and stifling dissent on the island. There is little reason to think this time will be different. Since Raúl Castro took over from his ailing brother in 2006, Cuba has jailed scores of people critical of the government, including journalists, human rights defenders, and ordinary citizens engaged in "counterrevolutionary" activities. None of these newer prisoners are among the fifty-two the government now plans to release.