Imprisoned for DIRECTV

Saturday, August 14, 2010
The Castro regime has imprisoned four Cubans, including a U.S. resident, for the "illicit economic activity" of selling DIRECTV satellite cards.

Please note -- including a U.S. resident.

They were given prison terms of up to four years.

In Cuba, the Castro regime controls all means of communications and is the sole arbiter of content. The reception of foreign media networks is strictly prohibited.

Needless to say, these arrests were publicized in the state media as a warning to all -- whether Cubans on the island or visitors from abroad.

Fugitives From Terror States

According to Newsmax:

Report: 481 Fugitives From Terror-Linked Nations Now Loose in U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security is trying to hunt down 481 "fugitive illegals" from dangerous countries -- including aliens from four nations designated as state sponsors of terror -- who were arrested and placed in government custody but subsequently released with the United States.

Letting such fugitives loose appears to be routine DHS policy. The releases took place over three years from 2007 to 2009.

According to a CNSNews.com investigation, the missing fugitives were discovered by searching an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) database. The website used a Freedom of Information Act filing to obtain the database.

CNSNews reports nearly 200 of the 481 fugitives are from four nations designated as state sponsors of terror: Cuba (137 fugitives), Iran (29 fugitives), Sudan (14) fugitives, and Syria (13 fugitives). While Cubans who reach America are automatically eligible for refugee status, their eligibility can be revoked if they are convicted of a crime.

Other illegals released came from "countries of interest" including Pakistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia.

ICE declares someone a fugitive when two conditions are met: A final order has been issued for their deportation, and they have eluded apprehension.

The Washington Post on Chavez

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

How Chávez tries to hide the truth about his government

ONE OF the principal goals of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's foreign policy is preventing governments or international organizations from telling the truth about him. Over the past couple of years, captured documents and other evidence have established beyond any reasonable doubt that Mr. Chávez's regime has provided haven and material support to the FARC movement in neighboring Colombia -- a group that is known for massacres of civilians, hostage taking and drug trafficking, and that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the European Union. That places Mr. Chávez in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and, at least in theory, exposes him to U.S. and international sanctions.

Luckily for Mr. Chávez, the Obama administration and other Security Council members have shown little interest in recognizing what, in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism, amounts to a smoking gun. But discussion and debate about the evidence -- such as Colombia's recent presentation to a meeting of the Organization of American States -- makes this ostrich act difficult to continue. So Mr. Chávez has dedicated himself to bullying and intimidating those who dare to speak publicly about what everyone in the Western Hemisphere knows to be true.

His most conspicuous recent target was former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, who ordered the report to the OAS shortly before leaving office. Mr. Chávez's response to the maps, photographs, videos and other documentary evidence laid out by Colombia's ambassador was to immediately break diplomatic relations and to threaten war. When Mr. Uribe's successor, Juan Manuel Santos, signaled that he was ready to address the FARC problem through private discussions, the Venezuelan caudillo instantly reversed himself.

On Tuesday he traveled to Colombia to meet Mr. Santos and agreed to restore relations.

Mr. Chávez also focused his attention on Larry Leon Palmer, the veteran diplomat nominated by the Obama administration as its next ambassador to Venezuela. Some Republicans question whether the United States should retain ambassadorial relations with Mr. Chávez's government, and the nominee received a searching set of "questions for the record" from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's senior GOP member, Richard G. Lugar (Ind.).

To his credit and that of the State Department, Mr. Palmer answered truthfully. He said that he was "keenly aware of the clear ties between members of the Venezuelan government and Colombian guerrillas." He said that he was "concerned" that two individuals designated as international drug traffickers by the Treasury Department "are high-ranking officials of the Venezuelan government." He reported "growing Cuban-Venezuelan cooperation in the fields of intelligence services and the military" and "morale and equipment problems" in the Venezuelan army.

Mr. Chávez once again was quick to respond. On his weekly television show on Sunday, he announced that Mr. Palmer would not be allowed to take up his post in Caracas because "he has disqualified himself by breaking all the rules of diplomacy, by prejudging us." He said that the Obama administration would have to "look for another candidate." The State Department responded that it was sticking with Mr. Palmer. It should. If ignoring the facts about Mr. Chávez is a requirement for sending an ambassador to Caracas, then it would be better not to have one.

Message From Orlando Zapata's Mother

Friday, August 13, 2010
Message from Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in February pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike:

For the past two Sundays the Cuban government has not allowed me or my family and supporters to attend church or to visit the cemetery where my son, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, is buried. The government has sent people to carry out acts of repudiation. They have pushed and shoved us, beaten us. Both my legs have been injured by the physical attacks I have endured. We only want to be able to go to church and to pay our respects at the grave of my son, Orlando Zapata Tamayo. They, however, will not let us.

For five months my house has been surrounded by state security. The government has ordered people to harass and repress us. They have brought weapons with them -- clubs and knives. These people wait until uniformed security agents are watching to push and beat us with the hopes that it will curry favor for them from the government. They hope by doing the bidding of the Castro brothers, the government will overlook how they steal from their workplaces and trade on the black market. The government will not overlook their actions because it a government of assassins!

We have been beaten along with fellow members of the opposition that have stood next to me. My son has been beaten over the head and his back. But we will not give up, we will not kneel to the Castro brothers.

The news media has done nothing to help us. The Catholic Church has done nothing to help us. Cardinal Jaime Ortega has never tried to contact me and has done nothing to stop the beatings we are receiving for only wanting to to go church and visit the grave of my son.

This Sunday, at 8:30 am, I, along with my family and supporters, will once again leave the house and attempt to go to church and visit my son's grave. Whatever happens to any us, I hold the Cuban government responsible!

Courtesy of Babalu Blog

The Truth is Castro's Broke

As the story below indicates, it's not the "burden or complexity" of current U.S. regulations for agricultural exports to Cuba that are hampering sales to the island.

It's simply that the Castro regime is broke.

Therefore, those that seek to ease U.S. sanctions aren't looking to expedite or facilitate agricultural sales, they are -- first and foremost -- looking to economically salvage the Castro regime.

According to the AP:

Cash-strapped Cuba has continued to slash agricultural purchases from the U.S. even as a key bill that would ease Washington's Cuban travel ban and make it easier to sell more food to the island works its way through Congress, according to a report released Thursday.

Imports fell 28 percent through the first six months of the year to about $220 million. That follows a 26 percent slippage to $528 million in 2009, down from a peak of $710 million the year before, according to the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Economic Trade Council.

"There are no indications that the Cuban economy is going to rebound to the extent that the Cuban government will be able to substantially increase its level of purchasing of food and agricultural products to those it reached in years past," John Kavulich, senior policy adviser for the council, said by telephone [...]

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee voted June 30 to lift the ban on American travel to Cuba and make it easier to sell agricultural exports to the island.

While the bill has made headlines because of the travel component, it is backed by farm-state members of Congress hungry for a larger slice of the Cuban market. Unclear is when it will be considered by the full House.

Kavulich said supporters of the measure will use the drop in Cuban imports as evidence U.S. policy needs to be changed to keep from losing Cuban business to foreign competitors offering food exports. Opponents, meanwhile, will say American food sales to Cuba are no longer so potentially profitable.

But, for him, the issue is simply that Cuba is short on funds.

"Why are they buying less? I haven't read one Cuban official saying it's because of U.S. law and policy," Kavulich said. "They say they don't have the money."

Urgent Action for Orlando Zapata's Mother

Amnesty International
UA:174/10 Index:AMR 25/012/2010 CUBA

URGENT ACTION

Mother of Prisoner of Conscience Harassed

The mother of a Cuban prisoner of conscience who died after hunger striking has been repeatedly harassed and intimidated in an attempt to stop her from organizing marches to commemorate her son's death. The next march is planned for 15 August.

Reina Luisa Tamayo is the mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a prisoner of conscience who died on 22 February 2010, having spent several weeks on hunger strike whilst in prison. Since her son's death, Reina Luisa Tamayo has organized weekly marches on Sundays in the town of Barnes, Holguin Province, Cuba, to honor her son's memory.

Relatives and friends accompany Reina Luisa Tamayo on these weekly marches from her home to attend mass at the Nuestra Señora de la Caridad Church, in Barnes and from there to the cemetery where Orlando Zapata Tamayo is buried. Last Sunday, 8 August, the group reported that as soon as they tried to leave Reina Luisa Tamayo's house to start their march, they were confronted a few metres away from the house by hundreds of government supporters who blocked their way and beat some of the participants. They were pushed back to the house and followed into the house's garden. The participants tried twice more to leave the house and resume the march but they were again violently confronted by the government supporters, who stayed outside the house until late in the afternoon. According to Reina Luisa Tamayo, during all this time a police patrol was close to her house watching as the events unfolded and failing to intervene.

The group have reported how prior to 8 August, they have also been confronted by government supporters and state security officials who have gathered around Reina Luisa Tamayo's house and prevented them from marching, sometimes preventing them from reaching the church, the cemetery, or both. They have also reported how state security officials and police officers have set up check points on the routes to Reina Luisa Tamayo's house on the day prior to the march to prevent people from reaching the house and joining the march.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in Spanish or your own language:

- Calling on the authorities to ensure an immediate halt to the harassment and intimidation of Reina Luisa Tamayo by government supporters, and that of her relatives and friends and any other citizens who seek to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association;

- Calling on the authorities to permit Reina Luisa Tamayo and others to march peacefully as is their right on Sundays.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 22 SEPTEMBER 2010 TO:

Head of State and Government
Raúl Castro Ruz Presidente
La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +53 7 8333085 (via Foreign Ministry); +1 2127791697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)
Email: cuba@un.int (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Su Excelencia/Your Excellency

Interior Minister
General Abelardo Coloma Ibarra
Ministro del Interior y Prisiones
Ministerio del Interior, Plaza de la Revolución, La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +53 7 8333085 (via Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
+1 2127791697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Su Excelencia/Your Excellency

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

Additional Information

Reina Luisa Tamayo is one of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), a group of women relatives and friends of prisoners detained during a major crackdown on government critics in March 2003. In 2003, over several days, the Cuban authorities arrested 75 men and women for their peaceful expression of critical opinions of the government. They were subjected to summary trials and were sentenced to long prison terms of up to 28 years. Amnesty International declared the 75 convicted dissidents to be prisoners of conscience, 32 of them remain in prison.

Damas de Blanco organizes peaceful weekly marches in Havana where they distribute flowers and call for the release of their relatives and friends. In March 2010 Damas de Blanco organized a daily march for a week to mark the seventh anniversary of the arrest of their relatives. On 17 of March 2010, their march was forcibly broken up by Cuban police, who briefly detained several women. Some of the women claimed that they were beaten by the police.

Reminder: Political Prisoners Reject Concessions

Petition From the Former Prisoners of Conscience Exiled by Cuba to Spain, to the Foreign Ministers of the European Union, About the "Common Position" Regarding Cuba

Madrid, 19 July 2010
Your Excellencies, the
Foreign Ministers of the European Union

We, the Cuban prisoners of conscience exiled to Spain in recent days, aware of the manifest willingness of some European countries to modify the E.U.'s "Common Position" regarding Cuba, declare our disagreement with an approval of this measure, as we understand that the Cuban government has not taken steps that evidence a clear decision to advance toward the democratization of our country.

Our departure for Spain must not be considered a good-will gesture but a desperate action on the regime's part in its urgent quest for credits of every type.

It is for that reason that we ask the countries of the European Union not to again soften their exigencies intended to achieve changes toward democracy in Cuba and to secure for all Cubans the same rights that European citizens enjoy.

Respectfully,

Ricardo González Alfonso
Mijail Barzaga Lugo,
Normando Hernández González,
Antonio Alonso Villarreal Acosta
Omar Rodríguez Saludes,
Luis Milán Fernández
Pablo Pacheco Ávila
José Luis García Paneque
Julio César Gálvez
Léster González Pentón

You Do the Prisoner Math

Thursday, August 12, 2010
According to independent journalists from Cuba's Hablemos Press (CIHPRESS), the Castro regime arrested at least 88 dissidents during this past month of July alone.

That brings the total number of dissident arrests in 2010 -- thus far -- to 758.

That's right 758.

While most of these arrests were short-term, it highlights how quickly the Castro regime can refill its political prisons, and it puts the "announced" release (during the same month of July) of 52 political prisoners (of which 32 remain in prison and 20 were forcibly exiled) in greater perspective.

Click here to see the name and information on each of July's arrests.

Don't Forget to Read the Fine-Print

Wednesday, August 11, 2010
In a Letter to the Editor in today's Washington Post, Dr. Wayne Smith takes issue with Jackson Diehl's column on Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega's incredulous attempt to convince the U.S. that Raul Castro is some sort of Gorbachev-style reformer.

However, the main contention of Dr. Smith's letter is that, "Mr. Castro has said he will release most, if not all, political prisoners. President Obama had promised significant changes in U.S. policy in response to such a gesture. Where is it?"

The key lies in the fine-print:

"The writer helped negotiate the first major release of political prisoners while serving as director of Cuban affairs in the U.S. State Department from 1977 to 1979."

That's right, Dr. Smith began the trend over two decades ago of granting the Castro regime concessions in exchange for (the forced exile of) political prisoners. Pursuant to that first major release, which was ominously condemned by 138 of the political prisoners of the time, the Castro regime quickly refilled its prisons for the next round of concessions.

And so the vicious cycle began, often repeated throughout the years.

So here were are again, with 52 political prisoners "announced" for release, of which 20 were forcibly exiled and 32 remain in prison.

Will the U.S. look to further embolden the regime with concessions?

Like the 138 political prisoners in the 1970's, the 20 prisoners forcibly exiled last month have also warned against it.

Venezuelan General Accused of Telling Truth

If Chavez is accusing this ex-general of "reveling secrets," for having simply criticized Cuba's infiltration of Venezuela's military, then he's implicitly recognizing the general is telling the truth -- a very concerning truth.

According to AP:

Venezuelan ex-general accused of revealing secrets

A former Venezuelan army general who has denounced growing involvement by Cuban troops in President Hugo Chavez's military appeared before prosecutors Wednesday to respond to charges of insulting the armed forces and revealing military secrets.

Retired Brig. Gen. Antonio Rivero was once the government's emergency management director, but he grew concerned about what he saw as growing Cuban influence in the military and retired early in protest over that and other issues.

He now faces accusations that carry a possible penalty of up to 10 years in prison [...]

Rivero has denounced what he calls a "passive invasion" by Cuban soldiers, saying their influence goes far beyond what should be permitted. He has said Cuban officers participated in high-level military meetings, trained snipers, gained detailed knowledge of communications and advised the military on underground bunkers built to store and conceal weapons.

Rivero has expressed concern the Cuban advisers now know where the Venezuelan military stores weapons and where its command offices are. He also has said the Cubans have been helping with a digital radio communications system for security forces, meaning they have sensitive information on antenna locations and radio frequencies — knowledge that could be used to help secure the status quo in Venezuela in the future.

The Snooty Spanish Government

A delegation from Spain's ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) will be traveling to Cuba on August 31st, but has already announced that it will not meet with the island's dissidents.

During an interview with Europa Press, the Minister for International Politics and Cooperation, Elena Valenciano, and the General Secretary of the PSOE, Leire Pajin, explained that "official" visits to Cuba are negotiated with the Castro regime and that, therefore, visits with dissidents are not on the agenda.

Valenciano sought to justify her snub of Cuba's courageous dissidents by stating that this is similar to the PSOE's practice when traveling to China or Vietnam, as well.

And that, is an example (hopefully The National Review's Mark Krikorian is taking note) of why a transition from Cuba's current totalitarian regime to Chinese or Vietnamese-style market authoritarianism is an unacceptable alternative.

The free-will of all Cubans -- not just a handful of 80-year old dictators -- deserves to be heard and respected. Nothing less.

Quote of the Debate

Tuesday, August 10, 2010
"Sir, your life is a question mark. And everyday we learn about your business dealings and how you treat your employees and how you come up with versions of why you went to Cuba and why you didn't go to Cuba. You have more versions of why you went to Cuba than Baskin Robbins has ice cream."

-- U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL), who is battling billionaire Jeff Greene for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate, on Greene's attempts to justify a tourism junket to Cuba as a humanitarian trip.

Paying Debts in "Marabu" Weed

Here's what American farmers would have to look forward to if U.S. law didn't require cash-in-advance payments for agricultural sales to the Castro regime.

So count your blessings.

According to The Financial Times:

North Korea offers ginseng to pay Czech debt

Pyongyang has offered to settle part of its outstanding debt to the Czech Republic with a large consignment of ginseng in lieu of cash as the totalitarian regime finds itself short of funds.

With the domestic economy crumbling, North Korea is also feeling the pinch of tighter international sanctions imposed over its nuclear and missile programmes and the sinking of a South Korean warship. Its access to global markets is further hindered by outstanding international debts of about $12bn, two-thirds to former communist states.

Czech officials confirmed that Pyongyang had offered to settle 5 per cent of its Kc186m ($10m) in accumulated debt in ginseng, an invigorating root used in dietary supplements and teas that are supposed to improve memory, stamina and libido. Communist Czechoslovakia was a leading supplier of heavy machinery, trucks and trams to North Korea.

Unfortunately, the Castro regime has destroyed the island's famous sugar and tobacco crops. Therefore, those two natural resources are no longer produced in sufficient quantity to offset any substantial foreign debts. Currently, there's only an excess of "marabu" on the island -- a weed that has overrun Cuba's fields.

Orlando Zapata's Mother Brutally Assaulted

On Sunday, the mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban political prisoner who died in February pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike, was brutally assaulted by the Castro regime's thugs in her hometown of Banes.

Orlando's mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, was intercepted and assaulted by state security agents as she tried to attend Sunday Mass along with her family and other pro-democracy activists.

Unfortunately, Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega was too busy lobbying the Obama Administration in Washington, D.C. for concessions for the Castro regime to intervene.

"They'd punch and kick me in the back. They would punch my children to provoke them. My son has a huge bump on his head," said Tamayo.

She's calling upon the international community to scrutinize the Castro regime's repressive actions against herself, her family and other pro-democracy activists in Banes. Otherwise, she fears "many deaths along the Carretera del Embarcadero (the street where she lives)," due to the regime's impunity.

But don't believe us, these pictures speak for themselves.


Quote of the Week

Monday, August 9, 2010
"It is quite interesting that the man who was game to start a nuclear showdown between the U.S. and Soviets is fretting so much about stopping one when North Korea and Iran are potential targets. Hard to believe that's what he devoted his 12 minutes to, not to Cubans losing their factory lunches or ration cards. ¡Imagínate!"

-- Ann Louise Bardach, author of Without Fidel: A Death Foretold, in The Miami Herald's Cuban Colada, August 7th, 2010.

Don't Buy BHP Billiton Stock

Australian mining giant BHP Billiton is looking to tyrannical regimes for some good slave labor.

According to MarketWatch:

BHP's Iran, Cuba activities subject of SEC inquiry

SYDNEY -- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission looked into BHP Billiton Ltd.'s (BHP.AU) activities in Iran and Cuba due to Washington's labeling of the countries as state sponsors of terrorism, according to documents filed with the regulator.

In a document filed June 15, the world's largest miner said that it had earned US$361 million in revenues from Iran in the four years to the end of June 2009 and expected to make a further US$74 million from the country in the most recent financial year.

It had also paid around US$2.3 million to state-owned Cuban nickel and mining research companies for projects in Cuba and Guatemala from 2006-2008, the company said.

Many states and municipalities in the U.S. have passed laws in recent years prohibiting the investment of public funds in corporations doing business with countries on the U.S. government's state sponsors of terrorism list.

Massachusetts last Wednesday passed an Act forcing the state's pension fund to divest its holdings in companies invested in Iran's oil industry.

The SEC occasionally looks into companies doing business in countries on the list to ensure that U.S. investors are fully informed of the level of risk involved [...]

In relation to Cuba, a BHP subsidiary hired state-owned Cuban drilling contractor Cubanex to carry out exploration drilling around its license areas in Guatemala for a contract value of US2.7 million, although only US$2.2 million was spent before the contract was suspended.

A further US$85,000 was paid to state-owned Cuban miner Geominera SA to investigate turning slag into a cement and agricultural additive.

BHP executives in 2006 and 2007 also visited Cuba, meeting the country's minister of basic industry and holding discussions on potential mineral projects, although no agreements were reached and no discussions are now ongoing, the company said.

BHP was also asked about activities in Sudan and Syria, but said it had not had contact with the countries since May 2005.

Not Convinced by the Cardinal

By The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl:

Can Raul Castro modernize and stabilize Cuba?

Cardinal Jaime Ortega's role as a broker of human rights in Cuba began with the Ladies in White. In April the archbishop of Havana was outraged when, for two successive Sundays, thugs of the Castro regime besieged the weekly march of women protesting on behalf of relatives who are political prisoners. Ortega dispatched a letter to President Raúl Castro saying that "for the church to tolerate this in silence would be an act of cowardice," he told me last week.

Ortega and other church leaders had sent many such letters to Raúl Castro and his brother Fidel over the years. What was different about this one, the cardinal says, is that he got an answer. Within a week, Raúl let him know that the Ladies in White would be allowed to continue their marches unmolested. Within a month, Ortega was at his first meeting with Raúl Castro, who began by telling him that he intended to release all of Cuba's political prisoners.

Since then the 73-year-old cardinal has met three more times with the 79-year-old president to talk about the prisoner releases and the possibility of change in Cuba. Not "reform," mind you, and certainly not "democracy" -- Raúl Castro does not like those words. Ortega has nevertheless come away convinced that "this is something new," as he put it to me in an interview. Castro's prisoner releases, he contends, "open possibilities."

What is possible? That has become an important question as Raúl Castro's not-reform creeps forward and as Congress considers legislation that would shred what remains of the U.S. trade "embargo" by lifting all restrictions on travel to Cuba and further liberalizing food exports. So far, two dozen imprisoned dissidents have been released into exile in Spain, the United States and Chile; the regime has publicly committed to free 28 others of the more than 100 who remain. On Aug. 1 Raúl Castro announced that the government would allow more private businesses and self-employment activity, in part as a way to occupy the 1 million workers -- 20 percent of the state labor force -- whom the government plans to lay off.

One view is that this is a replay of the standard Castro strategy for extracting the regime from a bind. The Cuban economy is even worse off than usual: Food production fell 7.5 percent in the first half of the year, and the last sugar harvest was the worst in a century. The last time the island faced such a severe economic crisis, in the early 1990s, Fidel Castro also loosened controls on private enterprise. As soon as the economy recovered, he shut down many of the businesses he had allowed. Releases of political prisoners are also not new: Fidel Castro did it in 1969, 1979 and 1998.

Still, some in and out of Cuba argue that Raúl Castro is up to something different. He understands, they say, that the Stalinist regime cannot survive in its present form, and he wants to modernize and stabilize it before he and his brother pass away. He faces stiff resistance from Fidel Castro -- who, after a four-year absence, began popping up in public within days of the first prisoner release. But Raúl, it is said, is nevertheless determined to methodically press forward with a program of change that will extend for years, rather than months.

Cardinal Ortega seems to subscribe to the rosier view. He was in Washington last week to collect an award from the Knights of Columbus; but it was his second visit in two months, and he has been meeting with officials in the Obama administration and Congress. He suggests that a big part of Raúl Castro's agenda is improving relations with the United States so that Cuba's economy can be revived by U.S. trade and investment. "He has a desire for an opening with the U.S. government," Ortega said. "He repeated to me on several occasions that he is ready to talk to the United States government directly, about every issue."

Does that include the democratic reforms the Obama administration has demanded as a condition for improved relations? "Everything should be step by step," Ortega said. "It's not realistic to begin at the end. This is a process. The most important thing is to take steps in the process."

I don't doubt the cardinal's sincerity. But I also find it hard to believe that Raúl Castro is Cuba's Mikhail Gorbachev. If anything, he resembles Yuri Andropov, one of Gorbachev's aged and ailing predecessors, who knew the Soviet system was unsustainable but lacked the will or the political clout to change it. Ortega may be right that his dialogue with Raúl Castro is something new in Cuba. But the time for real change -- and for deeper engagement by the United States -- has not yet arrived.

Deconstructing Fidel

Sunday, August 8, 2010
A must-read excerpt from The Scotsman's Gerald Warner on Fidel Castro's upcoming "autobiography":

Castro must be the only man on earth more obsessed with his "legacy" than Tony Blair and is equally unlikely to enjoy the esteem of posterity. This memoir comes just three years after the English-language publication of Ignacio Ramonet's hagiography.

If Castro has now decided that, if one wants a job done properly one had better do it oneself, it is certainly not for lack of sycophantic biographers. The Castro myth was created by Herbert L Matthews in three articles for the New York Times in 1957. Since then, inky-fingered useful idiots have never been in short supply.

Castro himself is probably best equipped to confect his own legend: as he disarmingly confessed to a teacher during his schooldays, "it's just that I'm in the habit of lying." When he gave Ramonet his account of the attack on the Uvero barracks on 28 May, 1957, he observed in the measured tones of a military veteran that, if government planes had arrived in support, "we'd (sic) have had to order a retreat, no doubt about it."

In fact, Castro was not there and he did order a retreat even without the intervention of enemy aircraft, but Che Guevara disobeyed him and took the barracks. Castro and his brother Raul arrived after it was all over.

The myth of Castro, second only to the legend of "Uncle Joe" Stalin, was the great socialist PR imposture of the 20th century. Castro executed 16,000 political opponents. His lieutenant Che Guevara enjoyed executions so much he made sure his office window overlooked the prison yard; whenever a distraught mother came to him to beg for the life of her son he would have the young man shot in front of her. The one execution Guevara did not appear to enjoy was his own ("I'm Che! I'm more use to you alive!").

The Maximum Leader's gulag has extended hospitality to more than 100,000 of his subjects in its labour camps. Western journalists who have worn down their fingers writing about Guantanamo do not even know the names of the island's other penal establishments: Kilo 5.5, Pinar del Rio, Kilo 7, the Capitiolo (for enemies of the revolution up to age ten) and others. Two million Cubans have voted with their feet to flee from Castro's socialist paradise, more than 30,000 dying in the attempt.

The (Non) Sympathy Card

Considering the brutality of the Castro regime, which has subjected millions of Cubans to unspeakable tortures, imprisonment, executions and forced exile, one would think that American farmers who want to expand agricultural sales to that regime -- for in Cuba, only the regime is allowed to purchase and distribute agricultural products from abroad -- would at least try to be sympathetic to the plight of the Cuban people.

Well, think again.

According to The Houston Chronicle:

Tributes to Fidel Castro, statues of Che Guevara and photographs of Elian Gonzalez might not line the streets of this rice-growing town, but make no mistake about it: The farmers here are pro-Cuba.

Texas rice farmers have been watching intently as Congress ponders a bill that would lift restrictions of a decades-old trade embargo and allow tourists to travel to Cuba. Passage of the bill also would open the communist island country's market to U.S. agriculture.

Farmers in and around Egypt, a tiny agricultural community near Houston , generally describe themselves as conservative (with a few exceptions), but they are more than willing to speak favorably about opening up trade to a communist country.

"Farmers are bottom line-oriented," said Thomas Wynn, an economist and rice farmer from Egypt.

Former Secs. Albright and Rice Talk Cuba

Last Friday, former U.S. Secretaries of State, Madeline Albright and Condoleezza Rice, participated in a forum at the Aspen Institute.

Amongst the multiple topics, they were asked whether the Obama administration should move toward normalizing relations with Cuba, to which they responded:

Albright said she attempted, unsuccessfully, to cool tensions with Cuban President Fidel Castro early on in her time with the Clinton administration. With Castro's death presumably on the horizon, she applauded President Obama for loosening some travel restrictions to Cuba, and said the U.S. should work to democratize the island nation.

"I think the time has come to really push for more democracy action in Cuba," she said.

Rice expressed disgust with the idea the Cuba may attempt to transfer power to Raúl Castro rather than through an election, called it "criminal," and warned that it may spark internal turmoil there.

"Those that believe that Raúl Castro can assume the mantle of his brother peacefully may be mistaken," she said. "He has been the muscle of the Castro brothers. He has many, many enemies — including in the [Cuban] military."