Iran/Cuba: Hostages For Concessions

Saturday, July 31, 2010
A year ago today, Iranian soldiers arrested three American hikers along the border with Iraq.

So why is Iran still holding these U.S. hikers?

For the same reason the Castro regime arrested an American development worker, Alan Gross, last December in Havana, and is still holding him without charges.

Simply put -- because they seek to exchange hostages for concessions from the U.S.

A catch-22 indeed.

The Christian Science Monitor provides some insight into the tactics and motives of these tyrannical regimes:

The Islamic Republic has a history of using hostages to make political statements, from the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran – when 52 Americans were held for 444 days – to more recent arrests of dual nationals accused of fomenting a Velvet Revolution against the regime.

In the 1980s, the United States engaged in secret arms-for-hostages deals with Tehran – part of the larger Iran-contra scandal – to secure the release of Americans kidnapped in Lebanon. Top Iranian officials have suggested a trade in this case, too, which Washington has dismissed.

"It's evident that the Iranian government sees the three hikers as bargaining chips, but what's frustrating about this case is that it's not precisely clear what the regime wants in return for them," says Mr. Sadjadpour. "Moreover, the US government has always been averse to making deals with hostage takers, fearful that it rewards bad behavior and [gives incentives] to continue such practices."

It's also not clear who on the Iranian side has the power to make a deal, says London-based Iran analyst Alireza Nourizadeh.

"Who is going to decide?" says Mr. Nourizadeh, a frequent critic of the regime. "Is it the Revolutionary Guard? [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad? The Iranian Intelligence Ministry?... Nothing is really clear in Iran now."

The case bubbled to the surface again last month during the bizarre saga of young Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, who apparently redefected to Iran after a year in the US, claiming the CIA kidnapped him. Now back in Tehran, Mr. Amiri asserts that US agents pressed him to agree to be swapped for the three US "spies."

Tehran may be biding its time. "The Iranians believe they may at a later stage get much more than what is on the table now in return for relea­sing these three," says Nourizadeh.

Will Canada "Get Off Its Butt" For Freedom?

Friday, July 30, 2010
Now that Canadian officials were able to successfully secure the release of a young tourist from a Cuban prison by threatening to cut off tourism to the island, will they do the same to help pressure the Castro regime to free the Cuban people from repression and captivity?

From The Toronto Sun:

Feared tourism loss fuels teen's release

It turns out for the Cubans that losing billions of future tourism pesos was not worth keeping a Canadian kid on a phony car-crash rap, after all.

Turns out Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government can be pretty persuasive with foreign governments when it finally decides to engage in these bizarre out-of-country detainment stories.

Turns out the media still has the clout to get politicians moving.

As broken Wednesday night by Toronto Sun reporter Chris Doucette, if all goes well, Cody LeCompte will be back on Canadian soil Tuesday after an agreement for his family to pay $2,000 Cuban pesos (about $2,200) bail was struck Wednesday.

This comes after a series of stories from the veteran cop reporter, stories by QMI Agency reporter Barbara Simpson, of the Simcoe Reformer, and continuous national radio coverage by the legendary Roy Green on the Corus Radio network.

"This occurred because of the commitment of Canadians from coast to coast as well as the dedication of Toronto Sun reporter Chris Doucette," said Green, who has championed the cause. "The federal government also took responsibility. Welcome home Cody. Welcome home."

The truth is this only came about because the heat was on for both governments. Too bad it takes that for common sense to prevail. But it is what it is.

The threat from the Canadian government to Cuba was not even stealthy.

"Canadians have long appreciated Cuba as a tourist destination," said Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas). "The delay faced by Canadians awaiting resolution of such cases could affect fellow Canadians' choice of Cuba as a tourist destination in the future."

This was an ultimatum -- coming from a country that has been very tolerant of Castro's Cuba and unlike the United States, does not partake in an economic embargo.

The message was loud and clear and they heard it in Havana: Simcoe teenager Cody LeCompte is to be promptly released from his tropical detainment or the Canada/Cuba travel relationship that sees more than 600,000 Canadians visit the communist island each year will be put in jeopardy.

Canadians are its biggest tourism base. And Cuba needs that cash.

The island suffers from food shortages and struggles keeping on supply enough oil and resources to keep an island of 11 million running. Cuba recently agreed to free more than 50 political prisoners so it just made sense to not dig in any further on this one.

So why did this happen in the first place? Some saw it as a shakedown or kidnapping.

It may have been some of that but it has more to do with this is how it works in Cuba. You don't have the same freedoms or due process we take for granted. It's a communist dictatorship.

It's just how they do things. If you go there, you ought to know that. It's their pile of sand and they do things how they do things. Communist bureaucracy moves slow. I know Cubans who have waited 20 years for a phone.

But I knew once Kent spoke Wednesday they would respond quickly because at the core of it, Cuban bureaucracy is not normally mean-spirited toward tourists. It's just snail like.

Kent made the point that "while aware that Cuban law allows for a period of lengthy investigation, Canadian officials expressed their concern that the investigation into this matter is taking so long."

It has to be said, though, Canadian officials took a long time to get involved, too.

But it turns out not only can a dictatorship be cajoled to loosen its rigid rules but Ottawa's foreign affairs can get off their butts and make things happen quickly if you put enough pressure on them.

Voters Should Question Castro Dealings

Some important observations in this editorial by former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda:

The significance of the agreement between Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Raúl Castro is modest.

• First, circumstances may change during the four months that will pass before all the prisoners on the list are freed. Meanwhile, the remaining prisoners are still hostage to the Castros' dealings with the church and possibly the European Union.

• Second, an additional 100 political prisoners in Cuba, and perhaps many more, are not included in the agreement. [The government has since indicated it may free all political prisoners, but that has not been confirmed.]

• Third, articles 72 and 73 of the Cuban criminal code, which establish the notion of "dangerousness'' -- an outrageously inexplicit word that has been denounced by Human Rights Watch -- are still on the books.

According to Cuban law, anybody can be jailed at any time, even before committing a crime, if they are perceived to have a penchant for doing so. And political opposition to the regime is a crime.

• Finally, it is unclear whether the 52 dissidents will be freed in Cuba or deported to Spain and elsewhere. Fidel Castro has used expulsion from his homeland as a political instrument for more than half a century, with great success.

Whether the church and Spain should lend themselves to this ploy is debatable. Even "voluntary'' exile is a non sequitur: Asking political prisoners in poor health to sign a statement that they will willingly accept exile is hardly magnanimous or ethical.

Most important, however, is whether small gestures like the new agreement alter the human-rights situation in Cuba and represent the beginning of a transition in Cuban politics.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, hit the mark when he said that he could not congratulate a government for freeing people who should never have been jailed.

The real issue is whether there is any justification for the survival of a regime that acknowledges the existence of political prisoners, uses them as bargaining chips and needs to be forced by dead or dying hunger strikers to liberate any of them. Little can be done to change this situation until the Cuban people decide they have had enough.

Meanwhile, voters should question their leaders' having any dealings with the Cuban regime.

Message From The Hill

By U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) in The Hill:

Lifting the travel ban would prop up Castro regime

The Castro regime is in dire financial trouble. The state-run economy is in crisis, foreign trade declined by a third this past year, the tourism industry is declining and the government is several billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders. Meanwhile, Venezuela -- where despot Hugo Chavez is usually happy to help out Fidel and Raul Castro -- is unable to provide much assistance due to the failings of its own communist rule.

Emboldened by these developments, Cuba's dissidents have grown increasingly active, sensing change is finally imminent.

The Castros, not ones to go down easily, have responded by desperately seeking new sources of revenue
to keep their floundering regime alive. They are hoping to land the big prize — an easing of sanctions by the United States. This would provide the hard currency they need to continue their evil, authoritarian rule.

Unfortunately, on June 30 the House Agriculture Committee played right into the Castros' hands, approving a bill that would lift the travel ban on Cuba and bolster the Castro regime with American tourism dollars.

Why would we lift the travel ban now and let our tourism dollars prop up the Castro regime? Lifting the ban while this regime is on the ropes would just be another bailout -- only this time, we'd be bailing out a brutal dictatorship on the brink of collapsing. Every dollar spent by American tourists in Cuba would help the regime's bottom line, providing the Castros with the resources they need to maintain their army, secret police and political prisons.

According to the State Department, Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism with close ties to Iran and North Korea. The country also provides a safe haven for terrorists from around the world. Lifting the travel ban would funnel American tourism dollars to finance state-sponsored terror and help provide refuge to terrorists, jeopardizing our national security. As a congressman from Florida, I cannot in good conscience support any bill that lets American dollars provide refuge for terrorists 90 miles from the shores of our state.

Shockingly, this bill requires no human-rights concessions from Cuba. The proposal rewards the Castros for decades of human-rights abuses, and it opens relations with a regime that routinely imprisons citizens and journalists who disagree with their government. This bill is a symbolic abandonment of our commitment to the brave pro-democracy movement in Cuba.

According to democracy advocate Freedom House, Cuba holds at least 167 political prisoners. Just a few months ago, political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after a hunger strike. And today, American citizen Alan Gross is being held prisoner without charges for his efforts to help the small Jewish community in Cuba use cell phones and laptops.

Supporters of this bill claim allowing American tourists into Cuba would weaken the regime. History does not support this claim. European, Canadian and Latin American visitors have been visiting the island regularly since the 1990s. While these visits have brought money to support the government, they have done nothing to undermine Castro or improve the lives of Cuban people. In fact, not only has the influx of European and Canadian tourists failed to bring greater freedom to Cuba, the tourism industry has instead become a tool for the Castro regime to expand its control over the Cuban people.

The Castros have used their control over the tourism industry to create a national system of apartheid and segregation.
They forbid Cuban citizens from entering the hotels, resorts, beaches, restaurants and stores where foreign tourists visit. The government sharply limits the interactions tourists can have with the Cuban people. The State Department warns against interacting with Cuban citizens, because any interaction could be monitored by the secret police and can subject that citizen to harassment, detention or other repressive actions. The Castro-run tourism industry abuses the most innocent and defenseless of its population by openly promoting child prostitution.

There is no evidence to suggest liberalizing our travel policies with Cuba would fare any better than the efforts made by Europe or Canada.

Ultimately, we have a choice. We can strengthen the pressure on the Castro regime and help bring about a post-Castro government prepared to leave communism behind. Or we can lift sanctions, give the Communist party the means to persist and legitimize their horrible treatment of the Cuban people over the last 50 years.

I support sending a clear message to the next generation of Cuban leaders after the Castros: They can maintain a defeated evil regime, or be welcomed as a free nation with the United States as partner.

Rep. Rooney serves on the House Agriculture and Armed Services Committees.

Buena Vista Social Rock

Dare to rock in Cuba (watch towards the end, in particular)...

Buena Vista Social Rock from Michael Ensor on Vimeo

A Kathy Castor Challenge

Thursday, July 29, 2010
Last week, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) announced that she would become the only Member of the Florida delegation to co-sponsor legislation that would unconditionally extend billions of dollars in tourism income to bailout the Castro regime in Cuba.

Her rationale for doing so?

To "step up pressure on the Obama Administration to approve charter airline flights from Tampa International Airport to Cuba."

That makes perfect non-sense.

So what about the Cuban people and the cash windfall provided to that brutal regime?

Congresswoman Castor adds to the very end of her statement,

"I also will continue to call for improved human rights in Cuba and believe that improved travel, education and cultural exchanges can provide greater attention to human rights."

Well, we're glad she'll "also" call for improved human rights, which implicitly means it's -- by far -- not her priority.

As for the "continue" part, here's the challenge -- how many statements or floor speeches has Congresswoman Castor given during her tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives regarding Cuban political prisoners or other human rights abuses by the Castro regime?

Let us save you some time -- None.

How Many Political Prisoners in Cuba?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
There's been some discussion lately regarding the exact number of political prisoners in Cuba.

As pro-democracy leader and former political prisoner, Dr. Darsi Ferrer, explains in this interview from Havana -- the numbers are hard to decipher, as are the political circumstances of arrests, but the truth is likely to be shocking.

Q. You've that said you consider Cuba's prisons to be "dens of terror"?

DF: The prisons here are so Dantesque that there aren't words appropriate enough to define their magnitude. Even the word terror is insufficient. That is the reason why the Cuban government will not allow the supervision of the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur Against Torture, Mr. Manfred Nowak. It has so much to hide. The U.N.'s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners are not respected in any way and even national laws are violated there every day.

Q. How many prisoners are presently at the Valle Grande facility?

DF: There are 18 units at that facility with a total penal population of around 2,000. Keep in mind that it is a prison for those awaiting trial and for those preemptively imprisoned under cautionary measures from the Havana province alone. Almost every day 80 to 100 prisoners are brought in, which is incredible. And of course, that doesn't include those already sentenced, which are sent directly to other prison facilities. It's alarming the immense number of Cubans that are imprisoned each day. There aren't 100,000 prisoners as has been speculated, there has to much more than 200,000 prisoners. It's so huge, that the Cuban government must hide it.

Q. So it can be presumed that more than 500 people are imprisoned each week in Havana alone?

DF: I wouldn't say 500 people, I would say many more, for you have to take into account the women's prisons, which are 4 or 5, the prison for young people, and the unknown prison centers dispersed throughout the city and province of Havana. In the Combinado del Este facility alone there are over 5,000 prisoners. That's why I'm calling upon all people and institutions of the world, which focus on this issue, to make an even greater effort to help humanize the Cuban prison system, easing the suffering of hundreds of thousands of prisoners and their families.

Now That's a Cardinal

Defending the human rights of his co-citizens to speak (and criticize) freely within their homeland.

From Catholic News Service:

Venezuelan cardinal defends his right to criticize government

Accepting an invitation to address the coordinating committee of Venezuela's national assembly, the cardinal of Caracas defended his right as a citizen to voice his concern about political issues without being slandered by the nation's president.

Vatican Radio reported that Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino addressed the 15-member committee July 27 after being accused of attacking Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the nation's legislature.

Opening celebrations of Venezuela's bicentennial July 5, Chavez called the cardinal a pig and said "he tries to scare people about communism."

Cardinal Urosa told the committee that in exercising both his rights as a citizen and his duties as archbishop of Caracas, he was giving voice to Gospel values and to "the concerns and interests of the Venezuelan people for peace, encounter, inclusion and for respect for the civil, social and political human rights enshrined in the constitution."

Venezuelan Catholic leaders have been among the harshest critics of the policies of Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and has promised to transform the oil-rich nation into a socialist state. Church officials have accused the Chavez government of violating civil rights, permitting an explosion of crime and weakening democracy. Chavez, in turn, has accused the church leadership of elitism.

Cardinal Urosa told the parliamentary committee that none of his preaching or public statements has ever been motivated by political partisanship, but by concern for democracy, human rights and political pluralism.

"I expressed the opinion that President Chavez wants to lead the country on the path toward Marxist socialism," he told the committee, adding that "this is not news because the president on various occasions has affirmed being a Marxist."

"The Marxist socialist stand is totalitarian because it occupies every sphere, as happened in the countries subjected to a socialist or communist regime such as in Central Europe and the Soviet Union in the past and in Cuba still today," he said.

From The Horse's Mouth

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
According to Reuters:

Legislation under consideration in the U.S. Congress would lift restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and some regulations on the food sales.

A broad coalition of farm, business and human rights groups have backed the bipartisan bill as an important step toward ending the U.S. embargo and promoting trade and change on the island.

Cuban officials have encouraged visiting U.S. trade delegations to work to abolish the travel ban and lift food sale regulations, arguing that boosting American tourism to the island would give Havana more money to buy U.S. goods.

But John Kavulich, who heads up the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said he doubted improved regulations would increase sales due to Cuba's chronic economic problems.

"Changes to the existing laws and regulations governing United States agricultural products and food products will not result in meaningful increases in exports," he said, while not commenting on the travel ban.

In other words, the Castro regime seeks a cash windfall from U.S. tourism travel -- but not to purchase more agricultural products.

Then for what, you may ask?

For its military oligarchs, of course.

As the U.K.'s Telegraph recently explained:

Just as a select few Russians did after the collapse of Soviet communism, well-connected Cuban officials might make fortunes if they are in a position to control the sale of national assets, or hand out contracts for the development of the currently under-exploited, stagnant economy.

Misery Loves Company

At yesterday's Cuba-Venezuela Economic Summit, which was held at the apartheid beach resort of Cayo Santa Maria, Cuban dictator Raul Castro announced:

"We are moving towards the economic union between Cuba and Venezuela."

Castro further elaborated, "it is this new type of relationship that will allow a better management of joint projects and is at the same time, an important step towards the goal of achieving real economic complementarities, based on the optimal use of the infrastructure, knowledge and existing resources in both countries and, above all, the political will of our peoples."


Meanwhile, Venezuela is facing an annual inflation rate of over 31%; gripping power and food shortages (please note there's no "embargo" towards Venezuela); first quarter GDP fell by 5.8%; and investment fell by 27.9% amidst arbitrary nationalizations.

Sounds like a solid economic partnership.

Travel Is About Castro's (Not U.S.) Economy

In their zeal to unconditionally lift sanctions towards the bankrupt Castro regime, its proponents and lobbyists have sought to repackage the travel debate into an agricultural bill and try to make the issue about the U.S. economy.

Therefore, virtually every news article on the travel debate includes the following dicta:

"Last year, U.S. exports to Cuba totaled $528 million. The U.S. could export $365 million more annually if the travel and financial restrictions ended, according to a study by the Center for North American Studies at Texas A&M University."

This Texas A&M report self-admittedly doesn't examine the net effect of Cuba travel on the U.S. economy, which would likely be negative -- as you're simply transplanting an American tourist that would consume in a U.S. beach to one in Castro's Cuba -- but that was already the topic of a previous post.

So here's the question -- if it's about the U.S. economy, then shouldn't Congress be focused on trade deals where tens of billions of dollars are at stake, as opposed to $365 million from Castro (which the U.S. would first have to finance through its own tourists)?

Logically, yes, but we all know it is not about the U.S. economy -- it's about providing a cash windfall to Castro's repressive regime.

Case and point -- according to The Hill:

Trade agreements could mean billions to U.S.

Free trade agreements (FTAs) could boost U.S. exports and the nation's gross domestic product by billions, sixteen Senate Republicans argued in a letter to the White House on Tuesday.

Led by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, lawmakers are pushing for completion of trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia they say would "be the catalyst for significant economic growth and job creation in the United States," in the letter sent to President Barack Obama.

A trade agreement with Korea would help the nation's economy grow by up to $11.9 billion, with exports growing from $9.7 billion to $10.9 billion in agriculture, machinery, electronics and transportation equipment, according to International Trade Commission figures cited by the lawmakers.

Additionally, an agreement with Panama would boost GDP by $2.5 billion, the letter said.

Grazie Italia!

Monday, July 26, 2010
According to Italy's Il Giornale, over 100,000 signatures have been collected for the campaign, "Liberiamo i Prigionieri Politici a Cuba" ("Free Cuba's Political Prisoners").

The campaign was started by famed Italian journalist Aldo Forbice on Radio RAI's popular show, Zapping.

The signatures will be delivered to the Cuban Embassy in Rome, and to Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament.

Time for Some New Sources

Yesterday, the AP reported:

Raul Castro prepares Cuban Revolution Day speech

A spate of appearances by Fidel Castro after four years of near-total seclusion has Cubans buzzing: Could the official Revolution Day ceremony Monday be Fidel's coming out party?

It would be easy for younger brother Raul to make headlines in a major Revolution Day speech in this central Cuban city. All he has to do is bring up the 52 political prisoners he has agreed to release, or discuss plans to open the island's communist economy.

And this afternoon:

Fidel absent, Raul silent at Cuba's Revolution Day

A B-team of socialist speakers spent Cuba's Revolution Day bashing the United States for everything from its drug consumption to the war in Iraq to its military support for Colombia, portraying Washington as the great villain in world affairs.

But the day was more notable for who didn't address the crowd - President Raul Castro never took the lectern, brother Fidel Castro was a no-show and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez canceled his trip to Cuba altogether. It was the first Revolution Day in memory in which neither Castro spoke, leaving some in the crowd and on Cuba's streets disappointed and perplexed. No reason was given.

And needless to say, there was no talk of "bread and butter issues," as CBS News anticipated.

The Farm Bureau's Selfish Rationale

In today's Houston Chronicle, the head of the American Farm Bureau, Bob Stallman, encapsulates his rationale for bailing out the Castro regime as follows:

"This scene remains a hopeful vision for America's farmers and ranchers: American tourists strolling down the paving-stone streets, browsing the colorful shops and enjoying the rustic cantinas of Old Havana. Why, you may ask, would a Texas rice and beef producer care? The answer can be summed up in three words — enhanced agricultural trade."

In other words, he's never cared about the hundreds of thousands of Cubans imprisoned, tortured and executed; the millions who have had everything stolen from them by Castro's totalitarian regime; the constant fear, repression and persecution of an entire population; and the humiliating apartheid they are subjected to for the sake of a foreigner's profit.

In a nutshell, this is exactly why sanctions towards Cuba should not be unconditionally lifted. For regardless of the victims, those lobbying to lift sanctions only care about a recycled profit (our tourist's own money marked-up by the Castro regime).

So let's unselfishly rephrase Mr. Stallman's rationale:

"This scene remains a hopeful vision for the Cuban people: Cubans freely strolling down the paving-stone streets of their own homeland, speaking what is on their mind without being harassed and beaten, being allowed to open a colorful shop and enjoying the fruits of their labor, directly purchasing and eating Texas beef without being dragged to prison for it, and entering a rustic cantina in Old Havana that is no longer reserved for 'tourists-only.'"

What a day that'll be.

However, on that day, the Cuban people will also be able to freely produce and export their own agricultural products as well -- something the American Farm Bureau will surely lobby against.

Guilty Until "Proven" Innocent

This tragic story of a young Canadian tourist, Cody LeCompte, stuck in a Cuban jail provides a (very) small glimpse of the Castro regime's legal standard, where everyone is guilty until "proven" innocent (or until they say otherwise).

If this is what a 19-year-old Canadian tourist is going through, just imagine what regular Cubans -- unprotected by any media or representative government -- face on a daily basis.

As LeCompte's mother discovers about Cuba at the end of the article, "once you get outside the resort, this is a dangerous place."

According to The Toronto Sun:

Trapped in Cuba, Teen Losing Hope

Despite assurances from the federal government that everything possible is being done to bring Cody LeCompte home safely, the 19-year-old still sees no end in sight to his Cuban detention.

And as the Simcoe teen's forced stay in the Communist country enters its 13th week, the psychological and financial toll is mounting.

"He's doing okay physically, I guess, but mentally he's not doing well at all," Danette LeCompte said Friday of her son, careful not to say too much over the phone.

"He's terrified!" she added.

The single mom saved for a long time to pay for the two-week vacation for her and Cody — a reward for his acceptance into college.

But since being involved in a bad crash in a rental car April 29, an accident they claim wasn't Cody's fault, she and another family member have spent more than $30,000 trying to bring her son home.

It's money she doesn't have, nor will she ever get it back.

As the driver, Cuban law requires Cody to stay in the country until he proves his innocence.

But he's never actually been charged with anything [...]

He's been told he faces up to three years in a Cuban prison.

Canada's foreign affairs department claims it is doing what it can to expedite Cody's return, but it won't interfere in another country's judicial process.

Citizens from coast to coast have expressed their outrage over the feds' handling of the situation [...]

Danette said Canadian officials call her every few days for updates, but they have offered little help.

"One suggestion recently was that we find a Cuban family to stay with," she explained.

While that may be cheaper than the $90 a day they are paying to stay at a hotel, Danette said any savings would be lost in the extra costs of travelling in and out of Santa Lucia, which they must do regularly to see their lawyer, among other things.

"And once you get outside the resort, this is a dangerous place," she pointed out. "They just don't seem to get what we're up against here."

Spanish MP: Cuba Has Not Changed

Sunday, July 25, 2010
By Spanish Parliamentarian Jorge Moragas in El Pais:

Cuba has not changed yet

The recent release of Cuban political prisoners belonging to the group of 75 sentenced in kangaroo trials during the Black Spring crackdown of 2003 is great news, but it should not confuse us democrats, and should be analyzed with caution.

1. The release of the political prisoners is taking place under murky circumstances. No amnesty is being granted to these prisoners, nor are they all being fully released. A potential return to their homeland is conditioned upon the future authorization of the Cuban government.

2. We still do not know what the fate will be of those prisoners, such as Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet, who have decided to remain in their country. They currently remain in prison.

3. Even all of the political prisoners were to be released, we should not forget that this measure has been undertaken in the past by the regime, in furtherance of its exclusive propagandistic interest, and has never meant a real opening towards democratic reforms.

4. Law 88, on "the protection of national independence," more commonly known as the "gag law," through which these political prisoners were sentenced for crimes associated with freedom of expression and association, remains in effect, as does the provision on "social dangerousness" enshrined in the Cuban Criminal Code -- each of which the Cuban government can apply at any time.

If, over the coming weeks, these doubts are not assuaged and there is no indication of a genuine political reform process in Cuba, then the inevitable conclusion must be that the optimism of the Spanish [Foreign] Minister [Moratinos] is unfounded and that we are witnessing another tactic by the Cuban government to buy more time and skirt the increased international pressure caused by the death of Orlando Zapata, the hunger strike of Guillermo Fariñas and the historic role of the Ladies in White.

In Spain's Popular Party, we believe that the main objective of the [E.U.] Common Position, which is "to encourage a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as a sustainable recovery and improvement in the living standards of the Cuban people…" remains in force until there is evidence of Cuba's true willingness to change.

If changes were to materialize, the European Union could then explore a new framework for relations with Cuba, consistent with the objectives set forth in the Common Position. Until this happens, it's important to monitor and verify this process of political prisoner releases, to ensure that it's not simply an operation to substitute imprisonment for exile. The European Parliament, under the authority granted to it by the Treaty of Lisbon, should play a leadership role in this verification process. It would be recommendable, in pursuit of this task, to hear testimony from the recently released dissidents, as has been requested by Julio César Gálvez upon his arrival in Madrid.

The European Union should support the dialogue begun amongst Cubans through the Catholic Church, while at the same time remain vigilant that these talks are fruitful and are not used as a distraction tactic to buy time for the regime and divide the Cuban opposition. The Common Position remains the most useful instrument until the Cuban government takes decisive steps towards a process of reform.

We find the arguments of Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos in favor of modifying the Common Position at this time to be inadmissible. His arguments are a display of voluntarism and precipitation, which the oldest dictatorship in the world does not deserve. To avoid confusion -- based on innocence or interest -- regarding these releases, we should allow ourselves to be guided by the moral clarity elaborated by Cuban opposition leader, Oswaldo Payá: "I do not defend the Common Position, it is the Common Position that defends our rights."

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