Welcome to Florida Politics

Saturday, August 7, 2010
By The Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard:

Greene, Scott trip up over Cuba, coffee

I must admit to a certain perverse pleasure seeing the political outsiders of the 2010 campaign stumble over the tripwires of Florida politics.

Republican gubernatorial front-runner Rick Scott figured out this week, hopefully, that drinking a cortadito does not make you simpatico with Hispanic voters. And Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Greene learned the hard way that in certain quarters of Florida, visiting Cuba is akin to high treason.

"Welcome to politics in Florida,'' quipped Radio Mambi host Ninoska Pérez Castellón, during an on-air discussion of Greene's Havana adventure.

One memorable example of an only-in South Florida political gaffe came early in the 2008 presidential campaign. In a speech in Miami, Republican Mitt Romney tried to show he was down with Cuban Americans -- by using one of Fidel Castro's trademark phrases.

He never recovered.

Here's what happened to Greene: A few ex-deckhands on the real estate mogul's yacht let it slip that it docked at Havana's Hemingway Marina in 2007. Greene's initial explanation, during a televised debate in St. Petersburg, was that his visit was a humanitarian mission to the Jewish community.

Except that didn't jibe with what the deckhands described as a "vomit-caked'' party atmosphere aboard the Summerwind. So Greene changed his story. The visit to Cuba was an emergency repair stop between Honduras and the Bahamas, he said. He visited a synagogue, he said, and didn't spend a dime at any of the stores, nightclubs or hotels near the marina.

Greene is really asking voters to take a leap of faith here. (So is his Democratic rival, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, when he explains his efforts to secure federal funds for a Miami developer who had lined his mother's pockets and now faces criminal charges.)

For non-Cuban Americans who don't understand why many exiles get so riled up about a pleasure cruise to the island, a recent Miami Herald story is required reading. Staff writer Fabiola Santiago traveled to Madrid to interview 11 freed Cuban prisoners about their years behind bars.

What they described: a hairy mound of ground pig eyes, cheek, ears, and other unidentifiable parts for dinner. Cramped cells littered with feces, roaches and rats. Little, if any, contact with family.

Remember, these ex-prisoners are journalists and political dissidents, not serial killers.

Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC -- a close Meek ally -- responded to Greene's misadventure by noting that an American development worker, Alan Gross, was arrested eight months ago just for trying to help Jews in Cuba use the Internet.

"While Greene uses Jewish humanitarian work as a cover for his wrongdoing, an American is being detained indefinitely in a Cuban prison for truly helping the Jewish community in Cuba,'' Claver-Carone said. "Greene owes the Cuban and Jewish community an immediate apology.''

He's still waiting.

Scott's fumble came in Monday's debate on the Miami-based Spanish-language television network, Univisión. He was asked how he planned to attract Hispanic voters when his $25 million ad blitz didn't include any Spanish media.

"As you know I've done business in Miami since the 1980s,'' said Scott, who said he was airing his first Spanish radio ad. "I learned how good cortaditos do taste, 'cause I like sugar. And I learned to have dinner later.''

A recent Mason-Dixon poll found Scott six points ahead of rival Bill McCollum but trailing badly among Hispanic voters. I imagine a 10 p.m. serving of arroz con pollo won't help much.

Menendez on Obama's Possible Easing of Cuba Travel

Friday, August 6, 2010
Menendez Statement on Reports of Possible Easing of Cuba Travel Restrictions

Today, US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) released the following statement on reports of possible easing of Cuba travel restrictions:

"This is not time to ease the pressure on the Castro regime -- they have made no significant concessions that should be rewarded. In the last year, a fellow American has suffered and languished in a Cuban cell for the mere fact that he promoted the free exchange of information among Cuba's repressed religious groups. To the horror of the rest of the world, the Castro regime allowed a Cuban dissident to die during his pro-democracy hunger strike. And during the past year another hunger striker has gone on life support, while the 52 political dissidents the regime said it would expelled abroad have not been freed.

Promoting travel and wide-spread remittances will give the regime a much-need infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations. Furthermore, the big corporate interests behind the push to relax the embargo couldn't care less about whether the Cuban people are free or not -- they only care about padding their profits by opening up a new market. Those who lament our dependence on foreign oil because it enriches regimes in places like Iran should not have a double standard when it comes to enriching the Castro regime, simply because Cuba offers white sand beaches 90 miles from our coast."

Message to Tyrants: Grab a Hostage, Get a Concession

In December 2009, an American, Alan Gross, was imprisoned by the Castro regime for trying to help the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet. He is still being held without charges or trial of any sort.

Meanwhile, over a month ago, the Castro regime announced that it would release 52 (out of hundreds or thousands of) political prisoners. Of these 52, 20 were taken from a prison to a plane and forcibly exiled to Spain. Meanwhile, 32 remain rotting away in prison (under abhorrent conditions), particularly those that have refused to be forcibly exiled.

What merits a unilateral concession from the U.S. at this point?

And what message does it send?

According to Bloomberg:

President Barack Obama may ease travel restrictions on Cuba, allowing more Americans to visit the island on educational and cultural trips, said a U.S. official who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the subject.

Obama first loosened travel rules on Cuba last year, making it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to relatives on the Caribbean island in a bid to help "promote the freer flow of information," according to a White House statement. The official didn't give additional details on what the changes would be.

Current rules allow Americans to travel to Cuba on educational and cultural trips if they are students or employees at qualifying universities and meet a set of additional requirements, such as doing research toward a graduate degree. All Cuba travel must be approved by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Cuba Remains a State-Sponsor of Terrorism

Yesterday, the U.S. State Department released its yearly compilation of state-sponsors of terrorism.

Cuba remains on the list, along with Iran, Sudan and Syria.

First and foremost, the Administration should be commended for the appropriate inclusion of Cuba and the sanctions it implies.

Yet, how can the language below claim that "Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America," yet recognize its support for the narco-terrorist insurgency groups, FARC and ELN, in Colombia?

And what about the 30,000-50,000 Cuban personnel in Hugo Chavez's government in Venezuela?

According to the State Department's report:

The Cuban government and official media publicly condemned acts of terrorism by al-Qa'ida and affiliates, while at the same time remaining critical of the U.S. approach to combating international terrorism. Although Cuba no longer supports armed struggle in Latin America and other parts of the world, the Government of Cuba continued to provide physical safe haven and ideological support to members of three terrorist organizations that are designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the United States.

The Government of Cuba has long assisted members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN), and Spain's Basque Homeland and Freedom Organization (ETA), some having arrived in Cuba in connection with peace negotiations with the governments of Colombia and Spain. There was no evidence of direct financial support for terrorist organizations by Cuba in 2009, though it continued to provide safe haven to members of the FARC, ELN, and ETA, providing them with living, logistical, and medical support.

Cuba cooperated with the United States on a limited number of law enforcement matters. However, the Cuban government continued to permit U.S. fugitives to live legally in Cuba. These U.S. fugitives include convicted murderers as well as numerous hijackers. Cuba permitted one such fugitive, hijacker Luis Armando Peña Soltren, to voluntarily depart Cuba; Peña Soltren was arrested upon his arrival in the United States in October.

Cuba's Immigration Department refurbished the passenger inspection area at Jose Marti International Airport and provided new software and biometric readers to its Border Guards.

Dissidents Arrested and Beaten

By Odalys Sanabria Rodríguez in Miscelaneas de Cuba:

Human rights campaigners attacked in Cuba

Once more, State Security officials of the Cuban government attacked members of the Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs in Cuba on July 31, 2010.

Juan Carlos González Leiva, Executive Secretary of this NGO stated:

Since the afternoon of August 1, 2010, our telephone service was interrupted once again and it has not been restored yet. Just minutes after this happened the wife of a delegate of the National Assembly of People's Power appeared in our center and told us that Sergio Diaz Larrastegui, the blind owner of our dwelling, was summoned by authorities. These are the continous acts of terror by the Cuban government so that Díaz Larrastegui is forced to evicts us from his home.

On July 31, 2010, agents of the political police violently assaulted the car in which we traveled: Tania Maceda Guerra, Lázara Bárbara Cendiña Recarde, Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, Carlos Alexánder Borrero Galardi and myself, Juan Carlos González Leiva. Without identifying themselves, military officials in plainclothes suddenly intercepted our car and forced Hugo Damián Prieto to get off and, as he did, he was kicked and punched.

The rest of us followed the political police in spite of the fact that they threatened to destroy our car and to imprison us as they drove off, taking Hugo Damián away. After a relentless persecution, they stopped and arrested us all. Galardi, the driver, was handcuffed, and beaten as he was dragged off. Maceda, Recarde and myself were taken to the detention center of Villa Marista and, without getting us off their Lada automobile we were locked in the car during an hour of intense and suffocating heat. After two hours we were released.

The beatings continued against Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco who remained in a dungeon during 28 hours.

More Absurdities to Come

Thursday, August 5, 2010
As Fidel Castro prepares to address Cuba's National Assembly on the imminence of nuclear war, Hugo Chavez succumbs to necrophilia and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad wants the world to believe he was greeted by a "happiness firecracker."

Are these the "rational" actors that some advocate normal relations with?

From the Financial Times:

How Iranian grenade turned into 'happiness' cracker

Did anyone try to kill Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad?

The mystery dominated the news on Wednesday as conflicting reports emerged about a purported attack on the Iranian president's convoy during a trip to the western city of Hamadan.

Officials were quoted confirming, then denying, the report which curiously appeared first on a website connected to one of the Iranian president's sworn enemies – Ali Larijani, the parliament speaker who was ousted by Mr Ahmadi-Nejad in 2007 as chief security official.

Before the end of the day, the hand grenade that had been hurled at the president had absurdly become a "home-made cracker" thrown in "happiness" at the president's visit.

NSC Statement on Cardinal Ortega

Statement from the National Security Council on Cardinal Ortega's meeting yesterday:

Earlier this afternoon, National Security Advisor General Jim Jones met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega to discuss Cardinal Ortega's recent successful efforts to secure the ongoing release of political prisoners in Cuba. General Jones commended Cardinal Ortega for the role the Catholic Church played in securing the freedom of those jailed standing up for the basic rights of the Cuban people and reiterated the United States government's desire to see all political prisoners unconditionally released from jail in Cuba with the right to remain in Cuba upon release. General Jones also underscored our consistent call for the immediate release of Alan Gross, who has been held without charge since early December 2009.

Jeff Greene Owes an Apology

Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Jeff Greene Owes the Cuban and Jewish Communities an Apology

Lying About Jewish Humanitarian Trip, While an American is in Prison for Helping Cuba's Jewish Community is an Outrage

Florida Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Greene has been caught in a series of untruths regarding a 2007 trip he took on his yacht to Cuba. The trip was first reported in a profile piece in the St. Petersburg Times, where Greene's former deckhand explained:

"Mr. Greene's yacht is known to be a party yacht. When it went to Cuba, everybody talked about the vomit caked all over the sides from all the partying going on."

Greene claimed that he was on a Jewish humanitarian trip to Cuba and now his campaign has admitted that he lied when he made that statement.

Under U.S. law, travel to Cuba requires a proper license from the Treasury Department and his yacht would have required permission from the U.S. Coast Guard.

"Travel to Cuba is legal for a countless number of genuine humanitarian reasons, but drunken party-runs is certainly not one of them," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.

"Clearly, the law has been broken here," added Claver-Carone.

Meanwhile, an American development worker, Alan Gross, was arrested by the Castro regime on December 3rd, 2009, for simply attempting to assist the Jewish community in Cuba connect to the Internet. He is still being held without trial or charges. Just two weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a plea to the Jewish community to help seek Alan Gross's release.

"While Greene uses Jewish humanitarian work as a cover for his wrongdoing, an American is being detained indefinitely in a Cuban prison for truly helping the Jewish community in Cuba. Greene owes the Cuban and Jewish community an immediate apology," said Claver-Carone.

The Cardinal's Misguided Motive & Goal

In an interview with Catholic News Service, the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who is on a 3-day visit to Washington, D.C., revealed the misguided -- and unfortunate -- motive and goal of his "sudden intervention" with the Castro regime:

The stability and improved foreign relations of the Cuban dictatorship.

In other words, to end the courageous opposition movement's activism and simultaneously help the regime cleanse it's repressive image abroad.

As regards his motive of stability:

Cardinal Ortega explained that he asked to meet with Castro amid a crackdown this spring on weekly silent marches by wives and mothers of political prisoners, known as the Ladies in White, who want freedom for their relatives. The usually quiet marches that begin after Sunday Mass were met by counter-protesters -- allegedly brought in by the government -- who shouted and blocked the women, harassing the group for hours.

"It was beginning to look like the time of Mariel," said Cardinal Ortega. "It was causing instability."

As regards his goal of improved foreign relations:

While the government's release of prisoners certainly is popular in Cuba, where dissatisfaction with the economy and other issues has been growing, Cardinal Ortega told Catholic News Service Aug. 2 that the main benefit to the Castro government has been improved foreign relations. Cuba's treatment of political opponents has long been a key element in the nearly 50-year U.S. economic embargo of the nation.

"In the internal life of Cuba, this is not very important," Cardinal Ortega said. "But for foreign relations, it's very important."

Apparently, human rights, freedom and democracy are too much for the Cardinal to handle.

The Cuban people deserve better.

May Justice Prevail for Rep. Maxine Waters

Yesterday, was not a good day for U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California.

According to Politico:

An independent ethics office accused Rep. Maxine Waters of violating House conflict-of-interest rules by intervening on behalf of a minority-owned bank in which her husband held $250,000 worth of stock, according to a report released Monday by the House ethics committee as part of its preparation for a "trial" of the California Democrat.

We strongly believe that Rep. Waters is innocent until proven otherwise, we urge that she have a fair proceeding and that justice prevails.

Ironically though, this is the same Rep. Waters that sent a letter of apology to "Dear President Castro" in 1998, pursuant to a House Resolution that called upon the Cuban regime to extradite cop-killer, Joanne Chesimard.

In 1977, Chesimard was convicted and sentenced to life in prison plus 26-33 years for the execution-style murder (shot twice in the head while wounded and defenseless) of New Jersey State Trooper, Werner Foerster.

In 1979, Cheismard dramatically escaped from prison, eluded the authorities for years, then made her way to Cuba in 1986, where she was granted refuge by the Castro regime.

To this day, Trooper Foerster's family has yet to see justice prevail.

Kudos to Reuters

Tuesday, August 3, 2010
For being the only foreign news bureau in Havana not to completely fall for Castro's self-employment charade.

In a follow-up story today, they correctly noted:

The Cuban government adopted a similar [self-employment] measure in the 1990s when Cuba's economy plummeted after the fall of the Soviet Union, its top ally and benefactor. To stimulate economic activity, licenses were handed out for enterprises ranging from restaurants to clowns, which helped Cubans survive that deep economic crisis known as the "special period."

But as the economy recovered, the government returned to its old ways and many licenses were not renewed.

At the end of 2009, out of 11 million Cubans, there were only 143,800 registered self-employed workers or "cuenta propistas," as they are known.

Castro's Self-Employment Charade

During last Sunday's meeting of the Cuban National Assembly, which was summoned to listen to the Cuban dictator's mandate, Raul Castro announced massive layoffs, gave a staunch warning against dissident activity and announced that it would (once-again) expand limited self-employment.

Castro also rejected the concept of private property for the Cuban people and mocked analysts that anticipated market reforms.

Unfortunately though, the media failed to report on Castro's threats to dissidents, and instead just focused on the charade that is self-employment in Cuba.

Thus, head-scratching headlines like this one by the AFP:

Cuba eyes more self-employment, not market reforms

With government plans afoot to reshape Cuba's work force by cutting the bloat out of some payrolls, President Raul Castro said he would allow more small private businesses.

The economy is 95 percent in state hands at the moment. Castro's move is aimed at limiting the socioeconomic fallout from planned work force shifts that could target one million excess jobs.

Sound familiar? It should.

- Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when faced with economic crisis, the Castro regime has consistently sought to ease domestic pressure by temporarily allowing limited self-employment (which in Cuba's totalitarian economy, is really more akin to a limited partnership with the regime).

Here's Reuters on February 23, 1995:

Self-Employment May Be Answer to Cuba's Problems

Workers here, no longer guaranteed a meal ticket for life in state industry, will have to look increasingly at areas such as self-employment if they want a job, says the country's top trade unionist.

Pedro Ross, president of the Cuban Workers Union and a member of the ruling Communist Party's Politburo, stressed in a recent interview that there was a need for a flexible labor market amid Cuba's current economic reforms [...]

Cuba is facing the obvious headache of what to do with surplus workers as it tries to pull out of deep recession triggered by the collapse of communism in the former Soviet bloc.

Some independent economists have put the number of people who would be shunted out of their jobs in an efficient economy at 1 million or more. Some say this implies a need for more radical reform, including allowing small private businesses and not just self-employment.

- Then, when the regime feels some economic relief, it begins an "ideological offensive."

Here's Reuters on July 7, 1998:

Cuba tightens controls on self-employed workers

Cuba's communist government has tightened official supervision and control of self-employed workers, increasing the state's bureaucratic squeeze on the island's very small private sector.

The tougher rules, outlined on Monday in an official newspaper, appeared to be a continuation of what critics say is an ideologically-inspired offensive by the authorities against Cuba's self-employed workers, whose numbers have dropped to around 154,000 from more than 200,000 three years ago.

- And then, when the regime feels certain economic stability, it completely reverts.

Here's the AP on June 26, 2005:

Cuba revokes licenses of some 2,000 self-employed workers Havana

Cuba's communist government has revoked some 2,000 licenses of self-employed workers across the island, part of an ongoing campaign to reassert state control over the economy, local media has reported.

Those who lost their licenses were violating rules that allow a limited number of Cubans to work for themselves, said Tribuna, a weekly newspaper [...]

The government stopped issuing self-employment licenses last fall for 40 categories of jobs, ranging from computer programming to auto body repair.

Self-employment in these professions was legalized only in 1993 during the severe economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Cuba's biggest source of aid and commerce.

New optimism based on oil prospects off Cuba's northern coast and strengthened economic ties with China and Venezuela has prompted President Fidel Castro to say it's time to recentralize state decision-making and crack down on those working for their own financial gain.

- So let's make sure not to provide the regime economic relief, in order to end its charades once and for all.

Dissidents Are Often Our Conscience

Monday, August 2, 2010
By Anthony Shaw in Helium:

Do political dissidents destroy your peace of mind?

In many ways I find this a strange question.

Why should a political dissident destroy my "peace of mind"? Unless I am a ruthless dictator fearful of the uprising of the masses, or a corrupt leader who has reason that my wrongdoing might be exposed, why should I lose sleep because of them?

Or should I be an overly complacent member of society, who looks out upon my seemingly stable corner of the world, and wish that these misfits would stop spoiling my peace?

As I fit into none of the above categories, the answer is obviously "no". They are, rather, individuals worthy of admiration, often people committed to the greater good in spite of the extreme burdens that are placed upon them for taking their stand [...]

Dissidents are not the proverbial headache. They are often our conscience. They are the people with the courage to take a stand upon important issues, from which we can all benefit. They have many qualities for which we must be thankful, and they will very often serve as our light in a very dark tunnel through their courage, commitment and self-sacrifice. We should be thankful for the risks that they take on our behalf.

Dispelling a Revolutionary Myth

In his new book, The Sugar King of Havana, John Paul Rathbone dispels the revolutionary myth that the Cuban "bourgeoisie" was pro-Batista.

As Rathborne explains to NPR:

"The vast majority of Cubans on the island, including the wealthy and the well-to-do, opposed Batista. And why not? He'd taken power in a coup in 1952; he was corrupt; the mafia was a rising influence; there was not very much that anyone really liked about him. The idea that the upper classes in Cuba were opposed to Fidel Castro, or more accurately, that they didn't want Batista out, is wrong. And there were various ways in which the upper-middle classes supported the rebels."

The Regime's Cynical Ploy

Sunday, August 1, 2010
By Mary O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Zapata Lives

Castro forces dissidents to accept exile as the price of release from his dungeons.

The announcement last month that Cuba would exile 52 political prisoners currently in jail was supposed to help repair the regime's international image in the wake of the death of Orlando Zapata.

It's not working. The 21 who have already arrived in Spain are speaking out about the hell hole run by Castro that is Cuba. And at least 10 are refusing to leave the country. Zapata lives.

In December 2009, Zapata, who had been rotting in a rat-infested prison cell and repeatedly tortured for almost seven years, launched a hunger strike on behalf of Cuba's prisoners of conscience. He was protesting the unjust incarceration of nonviolent dissidents and the cruelty inside the dungeons. The regime desperately tried to break him, even refusing him water for a time. This led to kidney failure and his death on Feb. 23.

Zapata's passing sparked international outrage, and on July 7 the regime yielded to the pressure. It agreed to release the independent journalists, writers and democracy advocates who had been jailed during the 2003 crackdown on dissent, known as the Black Spring.

Yet only the naïve could read Castro's forced acquiescence as a break with tyranny. It is instead a cynical ploy to clean the face of a dictatorship. It is also an effort to reclaim respectability for the world's pro-Castro politicians, including Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos. No one understands this better than the former prisoners.

Those sent to Spain have not hidden their joy about getting out of Cuban jails. "There are no words to fairly describe how amazed and excited I was when I saw myself free and next to my wife and daughter again," Normando Hernández González told the Committee to Protect Journalists in a telephone interview. But Mr. Hernández, an independent journalist, hasn't minced words about Cuban repression either.

In a telephone interview with Miami's Radio Republica, he talked about his "indescribable" time in jail. "It's crime upon crime, the deep hatred of the Castro regime toward everyone who peacefully dissents. It is a unique life experience that I do not wish upon my worst enemy."

The regime tried to spruce up the former prisoners by dressing them in neatly pressed trousers, white shirts and ties. But they brought tales of horror to Spain. Ariel Sigler, a labor organizer who went into prison seven years ago a healthy man but is now confined to a wheel chair, arrived in Miami on Wednesday.

These graphic reminders of Castro's twisted mind have been bad for Mr. Moratinos's wider agenda, which is to use the release of the prisoners to convince the European Union to abandon its "common position" on Cuba. Adopted in 1996, it says that the EU seeks "in its relations with Cuba" 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." Mr. Moratinos's desire to help Fidel end the common position is a source of anger among Cuban dissidents.

The former prisoners also resent their exile, after, as Mr. Hernández puts it, "being kidnapped for seven years." He explained to Radio Republica: "The more logical outcome would be, 'Yes, you are freeing me. Free me to my home. Free me so I won't be apart from my sister, from my family, from my people, from my neighbors.'" Instead he says he was "practically forced" to go to Spain in exchange for getting out of jail, and to get health care for his daughter and himself.

Cuba's horrendous prison conditions are no secret. In his chilling memoir "Against All Hope" (1986, 2001), Armando Valladares cataloged the brutality he experienced first hand as a prisoner of conscience for 22 years. A steady stream of exiles have echoed his claims. But another bit of cruelty is less well understood: For a half century the regime has let political prisoners out of jail only if they sign a paper saying they have been "rehabilitated" or, when the regime is under pressure, if they agree to leave the island. Getting rid of the strong-willed, while being patted on the back for their "release," has been Castro's win-win.

Now some prisoners are refusing to deal. Ten of the 52, including Óscar Elías Biscet, famous for his pacifism, say they will not accept exile as a condition of release. These brave souls remain locked up.

Of course, if they are released and allowed to stay home, the same "crimes" that landed them in prison are likely to do so again. A particular hazard for dissidents is Article 72 of the Orwellian Cuban criminal code, which says that "any person shall be deemed dangerous" if he has "shown a proclivity to commit crimes demonstrated by conduct that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality."

Cuban dissidents claim there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of prisoners locked up for "dangerousness," "contempt" and other crimes of dissent. No one knows for sure. But shipping a few dozen out of the country doesn't qualify as a step toward civilized government. The memory of Zapata demands much more.

Buying The Barbed Wire & Manacles

An "enlightened" column by The Calgary Sun's Ian Robinson:

The cautionary tale of Cody LeCompte

Looking for a vacation spot. Gotta have sun and sand and beaches. Cheap would be good.

Let's see. Is there a repressive police state lacking in anything resembling rule of law as I know it that I could go to?

Some place with a political system endorsed by Hollywood celebrities like self-loathing American Michael Moore and Jew-baiter Oliver Stone?

For tens of thousands of Canadians every year, Cuba is the answer to that question.

One of them is a kid from Simcoe, Ont. who, after three months, is expected to finally be free to leave Cuba Tuesday because he committed the "crime" of being hit by another driver while behind the wheel.

A cousin and his Cuban fiancee were in the vehicle.

Cody LeCompte was driving and the fiancee was injured, but has since recovered. But because a Cuban citizen was injured in the crash, Cuban law says Cody couldn't leave unless he proves his innocence.

Cuban law is weird like that. They even have legislation on the books allowing the government to throw you in prison for "dangerousness."

You don't have to commit an actual crime.

So Cody ran up insane, five-digit hotel bills while he waited for the wheels of Cuban "justice" to turn.

This is kind of ironic, because the trip was a gift from Cody's mom to reward him for getting into college.

So much for the old college fund.

Apparently, he faced the prospect of three years in a Cuban jail.

You do not want to spend time in a prison in Cuba.

According to Human Rights Watch, rape is common, with the full co-operation and connivance of staff. Prisoners in particular disfavour can expect to be deliberately placed in cells with prisoners with contagious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Broken bones go untreated.

Raw sewage runs along the floors and meals are sometimes as meager as a cup of sugared water. Starvation is a weapon used against prisoners as is long-term solitary confinement. In the dark.

For some reason, the political left has long had a love affair with thuggish regimes at war with their own people.

Young folks who can't read or think are still wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the face of Che Guevara, the Cuban doctor turned mass murderer who begged for his life before Bolivian troops turned out his lights. They don't realize celebrating Che is like wearing a T-shirt endorsing Heinrich Himmler.

Cuba is a prison masquerading as a nation and we travel there at our own risk.

It is naive to think that just because they love our travel dollars, they aren't willing to mess us over individually.

It's been reported the only reason Cody's being sprung at all is because the Canadian government reminded the Cubans of that fact.

In the interest of full disclosure, a long, long time ago, I took a Cuban vacation.

My only excuse is that I was young and ignorant and had achieved the political development of a 10-year-old ... which is to say I was still voting NDP — although in my defence at least it was the Ed Broadbent NDP, not Jack Layton NDP.

I didn't realize that when I spent my money in Cuba, I was signing the paycheques for the guards who were raping and abusing political prisoners whose only crime was wanting what I already had... freedom.

I was subsidizing an honest-to-God, old-school police state. I was helping buy the barbed wire and manacles.

I hope Cody gets home safe. I'm thankful he will never see the inside of one of Cuba's prisons.

And I sincerely hope his story serves as a cautionary tale.

If you won't take Cuba off your destination list because the thought of subsidizing torture is abhorrent to you, maybe you'll do it because you're too scared to go there.

The Face (and Body) of Torture

This is what happens to a former 230-pound amateur boxer, when he dissents from the Castro regime and is imprisoned for 7 years.

Meet Ariel Sigler Amaya.

This is also why the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur Against Torture is denied entry into Cuba.

Irresponsible Behavior (and Omission)

Yesterday, The St. Petersburg Times ran a profile piece on Jeff Greene, the billionaire real estate investor running against U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate seat in Florida.

In a section that focuses on the adventures on-board his yacht, Summerwind, the following statement jumps out from one of the former deckhands:

"Mr. Greene's yacht is known to be a party yacht. When it went to Cuba, everybody talked about the vomit caked all over the sides from all the partying going on."

Naturally, this raises questions about whether those traveling on the yacht had proper licenses from the Treasury Department, and whether the yacht itself had permission from the U.S. Coast Guard, for travel to Cuba.

Travel to Cuba is legal for a host of humanitarian reasons, but drunken party-runs is certainly not one of them.

Today, The Miami Herald reproduced the St. Petersburg Times' profile piece on Jeff Greene, yet omitted the paragraph on the trip to Cuba.

Why? Not sure, but it seems irresponsible as well.