The Fearless Antunez

Saturday, August 21, 2010
By distinguished career diplomat, Dr. Guillermo A. Belt:

Jorge Luis García Pérez, better known as Antúnez, signing his debut post on Babalu Blog from Placetas, in the center of Cuba, on August 19, defines himself as "an ex-political prisoner who will not be silenced, and who will not leave Cuba."

Arrested for the first time in 1983 at the age of 19, Antúnez was beaten in the public square of his native Placetas for criticizing the government, taken to a police station, beaten again, and then set free with a warning.

In March 1990, again in Placetas' main square, where he and a number of Cubans were listening to a radio address by Raúl Castro, Antúnez said to those nearby: "We don't want Communism." He added: "Communism is a mistake and a utopia. We want and need reforms such as those in Eastern Europe." He was brutally beaten despite the protests of the onlookers, arrested and charged with "verbal enemy propaganda". For this crime – dissent is a crime under Cuban law – Antúnez was sentenced to 5 years.

Thus began a saga of beatings in prison for "spending the day talking about human rights," in the words of the captain in charge; confinement in a cell with known psychopaths, this time for refusing to wear the uniform issued to common criminals; solitary confinement for 9 months in a dark cell: no sun, no medical assistance of any kind, as punishment for his hunger strikes protesting his treatment.

In December 1992 Antúnez went on a hunger strike again, this time together with other political prisoners, demanding an end to repression and the freedom of all political prisoners. Shortly thereafter he was charged with "enemy propaganda" and "attempted sabotage" and sentenced to15 years. He was moved several times from prison to prison, each one worse than the last. He met every abuse, to himself and to others, with his only weapons: the hunger strike and his indomitable will.

In April 2007 Antúnez was finally set free. He had served 17 years, at the end of his ordeal suffering from severe lung and kidney ailments. The onetime "machetero" (sugarcane cutter), construction worker and farmer, who had to forgo his dream of becoming a lawyer in order to support his family, did not give up in prison, and does not give up now in the huge prison that is the island of Cuba for those who share his belief in human rights.

In his post on Babalu Blog, titled "A False and Fabricated Image of Cuba," Antúnez draws the contrast between a falsehood: the Castro regime "engaging in dialogue in order to better the human rights situation in Cuba" and the reality: young activists who on August 16 "stood at the steps of the University of Havana and called on the Cuban people to take to the streets and demand liberty, democracy, and respect for human rights." These young people have disappeared and Antúnez writes that he fears for their safety and their lives. He restates his faith in the eventual liberation of Cuba, which will come about "as the result of actions like the protest on the steps of the University of Havana."

The words of this man deserve to be heard by all who share the convictions for which he was imprisoned, beaten, and broken in body. His spirit unbowed, his faith in the Cuban people unflagging, Antúnez continues to fight, an example to the free, a beacon of hope to the enslaved, in Cuba and everywhere.

Cuban-American Members Write to Obama

Ros-Lehtinen, Menendez Lead Bipartisan Letter to President Obama on Possible Cuba Policy Changes

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Albio Sires (D-NJ) sent a letter today to President Obama expressing their concerns about potential changes being considered by the Administration to U.S. policy toward the Cuban regime and questioning whether the changes might conflict with U.S. statute.

The text of the letter follows:

August 20, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

There have been increasing news reports referencing statements by senior U.S. officials regarding an impending announcement of changes to current U.S.-Cuba policy, primarily, to allow for increased U.S. travel to the island. We are deeply troubled that such changes would result in economic benefits to the Cuban regime and would significantly undermine U.S. foreign policy and security objectives. However, we are also concerned that the reported changes could run contrary to statutory requirements and prohibitions. In that vein, we would like to draw your attention to pertinent provisions of U.S. law and, pursuant to these, respectfully request that your Administration reconsider issuing any determinations altering U.S. policy targeting the Cuban dictatorship.

Reportedly, the measures under consideration would expand the categories of travel, particularly for academic, religious and cultural purposes, and would significantly increase the number of U.S. cities permitted to carry out flights to the island.

While section 515.560 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), currently authorizes certain travel-related transactions for these and other purposes by a general license or on a case-by-case basis by a specific license, any activity considered tourism travel is prohibited by section 910(b) of P.L. 106-387, the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA).

Of particular relevance and importance are the following provisions of P.L. 104-114, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (LIBERTAD Act):

• Section 4 of the Act clearly defines the "economic embargo of Cuba" as "including all restrictions on …travel to or from, Cuba."

• Section 102(h) of the LIBERTAD Act, also known as Helms-Burton, affirms that "the economic embargo of Cuba, as in effect on March 1, 1996" shall remain in effect until the President determines and notifies the Congress that a transition government or democratically elected government, as defined in the Act and as applicable, is in power in Cuba.

• Sections 205 and 206 of the Act outline the specific requirements and factors for the Presidential determination of a transition and democratically-elected government that would permit the suspension of any component of the "economic embargo of Cuba" as defined in the Act.

The law is clear that all, not just some, of the criteria must be met for a determination to be issued, and it is evident that the Cuban regime remains as repressive as when Helms-Burton was enacted and maintains absolute power and control over the political system and people of Cuba.

As such, we believe any effort to further expand U.S. travel, add a significant number of departure cities, or other similar measures could be viewed as violating the tourism-travel related prohibitions in TSRA, as well as the statutory requirements in Helms-Burton pertaining to the continuation of "the economic embargo of Cuba."

The LIBERTAD Act also provides a roadmap of certain steps that the Congress can undertake to ensure full enforcement of the law. As you may know, P.L. 104-114 under section 204 provides for the introduction of a joint resolution of the two Houses of Congress which states "That the Congress disapproves the action of the President under section 204(a) of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 to suspend the economic embargo of Cuba..."

We believe the laws pertaining to U.S.-Cuba policy are clear, providing a concise roadmap of both permissible and prohibited transactions aimed at protecting and advancing U.S. interests. Meanwhile, changes such as those being reported in the media would undermine those priorities, could run contrary to U.S. statute, and would play directly into the hands of the Cuban tyranny.

In light of the concerns and critical issues we have raised, we respectfully ask that you reconsider making any determinations changing current U.S.-policy toward the Cuban regime until the requirements in U.S. law are met.



Cuba Debate in Wall Street

Friday, August 20, 2010
From CNBC's "Squawk on the Street":

A Preview of Things to Come?

Is the first sentence below a preview of things to come?

From The Palm Beach Post:

Cuban Jews' plight is real; Greene's tactic despicable

Political campaigning hit a low point when Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene used religion as an excuse to evade the truth about his yachting trip to Cuba.

Mr. Greene constantly altered his story, first saying he was not on board. He later claimed that he went to Cuba on a humanitarian mission to aid the Jewish community and visit synagogues there.

He, of course, did nothing of the sort. As the evidence now shows, Mr. Greene went to Cuba to party, and he got caught telling a lie in a debate. His falsehoods were repeated in newspaper articles and on TV news reports.

The plight of Cuban Jews - and Cubans in general - is serious. To falsely exploit their situation to gain the trust of Florida's voters is disgraceful. Underlying the lies is a blatant and misleading appeal to Jewish voters, which should also be rejected. With the real needs of Jews in Cuba, not to mention other serious problems such as poverty and suffering of thousands of Holocaust survivors in the United States, it is revealing that Mr. Greene cites no actual good works in support of the needy.

In contrast, as a member of Congress, Kendrick Meek actually has devoted himself to supporting the needs of Holocaust survivors and other impoverished communities. He also has actively supported Israel's security and prosperity, including tough and enforceable sanctions against Iran, and greater Arab responsibility for achieving peace between Israel and its neighbors.


Samuel J. Dubbin, a lawyer, represents Holocaust survivors seeking restitution of looted assets by European insurers and others.

Is Repsol-Spain-Cuba Another BP-Scotland-Libya?

Thursday, August 19, 2010
Ros-Lehtinen: Is Repsol-Spain-Cuba Another BP-Scotland-Libya?

Considers reports of new Repsol deal as two more Cuban political prisoners arrive in Spain

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today questioned if Spain's interest in helping the Spanish oil company Repsol to profit from doing business with the Cuban regime is behind the Spanish government's recent actions involving the Cuban regime and relating to its policy toward Cuba.

Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

"With Spain's Repsol already drilling for oil off the Cuban coast, I am concerned that a desire to help sweeten big-money deals between Repsol and the Cuban regime could be influencing the Spanish government's policy toward Cuba.

We've seen before how corporate considerations can lead to bad policy moves. BP has admitted that it lobbied the British government for the transfer of Lockerbie bomber Megrahi from Scotland to Libya. I think most of us would be unable to keep a straight face if someone suggested that BP's $900 million contract to explore Libya's oil reserves had nothing to do with the horrendous decision to release Megrahi.

Similarly, one can't help but wonder if Spain's role in negotiating and facilitating the release and forced departure of a small number of Cuban prisoners of conscience, which was a superficial public relations coup for the regime, curried Spanish interests a lot of favor in Havana.

Two more political prisoners arrived in Spain today, bringing the number of prisoners sent to Spain under this deal with the Cuban dictatorship to 25. One of the 25 said just this week that 'I think we have been freed because the regime needs to clean up its image internationally.'

Spain came to Cuba's aid when the regime desperately needed to 'clean up its image,' particularly after the tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. One can't help but wonder whether Repsol will be making a few extra bucks as a result."

Note: Repsol began drilling off of the Cuban coast in 2004. According to news reports, Cuba has current plans to drill seven exploratory wells, at least one of which is expected to be drilled by Repsol.

Is the Obama Administration Listening, Pt. 2?

Earlier this week, three Cuban political prisoners banished to Spain sent the international community an important message.

Today, two more banished political prisoners sent the exact same message.

Is anyone listening?

According to the AFP:

Two more political prisoners from Cuba arrived in Spain on Thursday, where they accused the island's communist government of harassing the mother of a dissident who died in a hunger strike.

Herrera and Acosta charged Castro's regime had been harassing [Orlando] Zapata's mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, since his death.

"They won't allow her to walk to church ... to pray for her son," Herrera said.

"That's why we call on the world, the European Union, and the community of democratic nations to speak out against this outrage, this barbarism."

Tamayo told Spain's Europa Press news agency she had only been able to visit her son's grave four times as security services had prevented her "by force" from leaving her home.

Both the journalists also accused Havana of using the release of dissidents to hide the repression of its opponents.

"No one should hope that the Castros are going to make changes," said Herrera.

"The regime will remain the same, corrupt and military," added Prieto.

He said the release of dissidents was merely aimed "easing international pressure" on the regime.

Cuba's "Charm" Farce

The question now becomes: Who will fall for it?

The European Union?

The Obama Administration?

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Cuban regime's rigidity

OUR OPINION: Cuba's "softening'' all offensive and no charm

Cuba's attempt to put a kinder, gentler face on the Castro brothers' hard-line government is beginning to look more and more like a flop. The regime would have the world believe that it has a generous side, allowing some 26 political prisoners to go free in recent weeks as a gesture of magnanimity. More releases are promised. This is all good and well, but meanwhile, in the shadows, the thugs who do the regime's dirty work conduct business as usual. Every whisper of protest is stifled by state-sanctioned repression.

The latest display of intolerance occurred this week when five Cuban dissidents were arrested for demanding freedom while standing on the steps in front of the University of Havana. As Fidel Castro well knows, the university was not only a symbol of intellectual independence in the old days, but also enjoyed autonomy from police intervention and nurtured anti-government dissent.

Castro's revolution put an end to that. No autonomy, no intellectual freedom and certainly no cries for liberty, not in a place fraught with such historic significance and once identified with freedom of thought.

More troubling is the government's shameful harassment of Reina Luisa Tamayo, the outspoken mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a prisoner of conscience who died in February after a prolonged hunger strike in prison.

As reported by Amnesty International, pro-government mobs have surrounded her house in the eastern city of Banes and prevented her and supporters from marching and attending Roman Catholic Mass on Sundays. Ms. Tamayo estimated one mob at up to 700 people. Ms. Tamayo told Amnesty that on Aug. 8 a mob blocked her path and beat relatives and friends who were marching, while police nearby failed to act. She said attacks on her group have become increasingly violent.

"Reina Luisa Tamayo is simply paying tribute to her son who died in tragic circumstances, and that must be respected by the authorities,'' Kerrie Howard of Amnesty International told The AP.

Others have noticed, too. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has asked the government to guarantee the woman's safety. So far, the government has not replied.

Some charm offensive this is.

Repression on the Rise

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
According to Reuters:

Cuban dissidents denounce government harasment

Cuba's Communist government continues to harass critics who publicly express their discontent on the streets even as it releases some political prisoners, Cuban dissidents said on Wednesday.

The number of temporary detention of dissidents and incidents where they are harassed by groups of government supporters is on the rise, dissidents and diplomats said.

"Daily repression appears harsher than ever. There have been more incidents reported since the releases began," said a European diplomat. "The releases do not signal a change in the government's repressive policies."

From The White House

From this afternoon's White House Press Gaggle aboard Air Force One -- en route to Miami, Florida -- with Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton:

Q: Would you say he really needs a vacation?

MR. BURTON: I would say that -- you guys have seen him out on the trail this week. I got a lot of questions this week on whether or not the President enjoys being out on the campaign trail. I think that seeing him at some of these fundraisers, you know the answer to the question. He's clearly having a good time talking directly with the American people about the choice that's before them this November when it comes to the midterm elections. And he's got a lot of hard work to do this year, but he does look forward to the time that he's going to be able to spend with his family.

Q: Brennan is going with him tomorrow?


Q: Will there be more campaign trips like this one after his vacation?

MR. BURTON: Yes. (Laughter.)

Q: Anything locked in yet?

MR. BURTON: Nothing locked in that I know of. I know they're still putting together the schedule.

Q: I heard you say earlier nothing tomorrow morning before leaving?

MR. BURTON: Yes, there's no events tomorrow before leaving.

Q: In Florida, is the President going to sort of put to rest any of the questions about whether or not the White House is fully behind Kendrick Meek at this event? What kind of things are we going to hear from him there?

MR. BURTON: I can't control whether or not people ask questions about the President's strong and unwavering support for Kendrick Meak. He's said that he is his candidate. Florida Democrats know that he is his candidate. He's been down there. He's raised money for the Florida Democratic Party. He's introduced Meek at events as the next United States senator from the state. So given all that, I don't know that people will stop asking questions regardless of what he does.

But Kendrick Meek will be involved in the event today and you will hear from him.

Q: Do you guys envision this as the President's, like, full embrace of Kendrick Meek? I mean, he hasn't done something like this for him before.

MR. BURTON: I think that the President has fully embraced Kendrick Meek. We envision this as going down and helping out Florida Democrats.

Q: Can you say anything about the parent company to Fox News donating to the Republican Governors Association? I mean, the President is raising money for governors on this trip. You guys have obviously had back-and-forth with Fox News. And their reasoning for donating is -- insinuates that Democrats are anti-business, which is something that the President has been talking about.

MR. BURTON: Well, I'm sure it creates a lot of questions. I've seen the report, but I don't have any particular comment on it.

Q: Do you have anything on the fundraiser tonight? Is it all going to Sink, or is it being split --

MR. BURTON: I think it's being split by -- but you should check that with the contact I gave you for Florida.

Q: And there will be nothing on Cuba?


Will Obama Endorse Jeff Greene's Junket?

Yesterday, Florida Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Greene was assailed in Miami's Little Havana for attempting to disguise a party-yacht junket to Cuba as a humanitarian trip.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is considering a series of unilateral measures that would provide Greene with an even broader range of excuses for his next junket.

Makes total non-sense.

According to CBS4:

Greene Tries To Win Over Cautious Cuban Voters

Florida Democratic Senate hopeful Jeff Greene made his requisite trip to Versailles Restaurant in Miami to talk about his policy proposals with Cuban-Americans. But, Greene wasn't able to enjoy an easy day as he was peppered with questions while sipping on his Cuban coffee.

The appearance by Greene comes just days after it was revealed his yacht had spent time docked in Havana's Hemingway Harbor. Greene has offered conflicting accounts of the trip since the details were first revealed.

"You travel to Cuba, you party and your yacht in Cuba where Cubans aren't allowed to go," said a Versailles customer. "You say now that you favor the lifting of the embargo on Cuba and you want to come and have Cuban coffee and get the Cuban vote? I don't think so."

Castro's Five Newest Political Prisoners

Once again, we learn just how quickly -- and tragically -- the Castro regime can readjust its political prisoner math.

According to The Miami Herald:

Five anti-Castro protesters jailed Check Spelling

Five Cuban dissidents remained in custody 36 hours after a rare protest at the University of Havana, an iconic spot for airing grievances before the Castro revolution, activists said Tuesday.

"We are peaceful youths and defenders of human rights, demanding freedom and democracy for our country,'' Sara Martha Fonseca Quevedo is heard saying in a recording of the protest Monday morning before the group broke into chants of "Down with the Castros'' and "Freedom" [...]

Dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez'' identified those arrested as Fonseca, Luis Enrique Labrador, Eduardo Pérez Flores, Yordanis Martinez Carvajal, and Michel Rodríguez Luis.

Dangerous Relations With Iran and Syria

Tuesday, August 17, 2010
An excerpt from The University of Miami's new report, "Cuba's Growing Relations With Iran and Syria":

More worrisome to the United States are reports that "have uncovered covert cooperation between the two countries in the development and testing of electromagnetic weapons that have the capacity to disrupt telecommunication networks, cut power supplies and damage sophisticated computers." Furthermore, Cuba can easily provide Iran with valuable information from its sophisticated espionage apparatus. Iran is also able to obtain information on biotechnology from Cuba. In the late 1990s, Cuba began "transferring (licensing) both its medical biotechnologies and, along with the technical know-how, implicit capabilities to develop and manufacture industrial quantities of biological weapons," creating a significant security threat for the United States and Israel.

Is the Obama Administration Listening?

As the Obama Administration ponders easing sanctions towards the Castro regime, three more forcibly deported political prisoners arrived in Spain with an important message.

According to the AFP:

More Cuban dissidents arrive in Spain, slam Castro regime
Three more Cuban political prisoners arrived in Spain Tuesday, and immediately accused the communist government of using the release of dissidents to hide the "criminal repression" of its opponents.

Marcelo Cano, a 45-year-old doctor, poet Regis Iglesias, 40, and Efren Fernandez, 57, who briefly went on a hunger strike, arrived at Madrid airport accompanied by 15 relatives, a foreign ministry source said.

"These releases do not mean that the regime is opening up, what they have is a strategy to buy time," Fernandez told reporters in Madrid.

"It has been shown in recent days that there is criminal repression against dissidents in Cuba," he said.

Iglesias charged that by agreeing to release the dissidents, Havana is merely seeking to "clean up its image."

An Elections Lesson to Remember

According to The New York Times, the Obama Administration is said to be considering changes to the current regulations regarding educational, religious and other non-tourist travel to Cuba.

The devil is in the details, for in the past, some of these travel categories have served as a facade for tourism-related activities, which represent the Castro regime's foremost source of income.

From a policy perspective, this is potentially scandalous while an American, Alan Gross, is being held hostage by the Castro regime for helping the Jewish community connect to the Internet; while more than half of the 52 Cuban political prisoners announced for release (and forced deportation) remain in prison; and while new arrests have been taking place throughout the island.

Meanwhile, politically, the NYT -- once again -- regurgitated the same baseless theory:

"Those favoring the change said that with a growing number of polls showing that Cuban-Americans' attitudes toward Cuba had softened as well, the administration did not expect much of a backlash."

This reminded us of the NYT's huge (and giddy) spread in 2008, "Will Little Havana Go Blue?," which predicted the defeat of the Diaz-Balart brothers that November due to "the changing dynamics of the Cuban-American community."

Yet despite the huge national Democratic wave in 2008, the NYT's was wrong on those two races -- not because it's a Republican versus Democrat issue -- but because the Diaz-Balart's opponents favored unilaterally easing sanctions towards Cuba, such as those being considered by the Obama Administration.

A lesson to remember.

Barclays Wrong Choice

From Britain's Citywire:

On the face of it, Barclays had a simple choice: do business with the US, the world's largest economy, or seek to make a profit from Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Burma – all countries subject to US sanctions.

The British bank got this choice wrong for over a decade and now it must pay $298 million (£190 million) to the US authorities. It is accused of handling hundreds of millions of dollars in clandestine transactions with banks in the five countries between March 1995 and September 2006 during which the bank allegedly removed details from payments to hide the origin of the countries. The bank was charged with violating the International Emergency Powers Act and another count of 'trading with the enemy'.

Barclays joins Lloyds TSB, which agreed to pay $350 million after accepting deposits from Iranian and Sudanese banks that were banned from interfacing with the US financial system. In a process referred to internally as 'stripping', Lloyds employees removed customer details from payments so that wire transfers would pass undetected. ABN AMRO, Credit Suisse and UBS have all been hit with fines for violating US sanctions.

Pro-Democracy Leaders Arrested at The University of Havana

Monday, August 16, 2010
Diaz-Balarts and Ros-Lehtinen Demand Immediate Release of Cuban Pro-Democracy Leaders Arrested Monday, August 16th After Staging Peaceful Protest at University of Havana

"Where is the world's outrage?"

Congressmen Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Mario Diaz-Balart today publicly demanded the immediate release of Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, Luis Enrique Labrador Diaz, Eduardo Perez Flores, and the other young Cuban pro-democracy leaders brutally arrested Monday August 16, 2010 by the Cuban dictatorship after peacefully staging a pro-democracy protest on the main steps of the University of Havana. Sara Marta Fonseca, of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement, read a statement on behalf of all the young Cuban pro-democracy leaders, members of various organizations which are grouped together in the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Nacional Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front. It is unknown where Sara Marta Fonseca, Eduardo Perez Flores, and Luis Enrique Labrador are being held by the regime. The names of the other pro-democracy advocates are unknown, as are their places of incarceration.

The Diaz-Balarts and Ros-Lehtinen issued the following statement:

"Mr. Moratinos and Mr. Ortega Alamino are constantly chanting praise and worship of the Castro brothers and seeking monetary rewards for the Castros' criminal acts. The Obama Administration is also on the verge of announcing another unilateral weakening of US sanctions on the Cuban dictatorship in order to reward the Castros' actions. Where is their outrage?" asked the three Congressmembers today. "Where is their outrage over the brutal arrests of the young Cuban activists at the University of Havana on August 16th? Where is their outrage over the dictatorship's brutal treatment of Orlando Zapata Tamayo's mother, Reina Tamayo, who in addition to being prevented from even visiting her son's grave, has received grave threats from the regime. It is time for Moratinos, Ortega, President Obama, and the entire world, to demand the immediate release of the Cuban pro-democracy leaders arrested Monday, to demand the immediate release of all Cuban political prisoners, and an immediate cessation to the dictatorship's brutality toward Reina Tamayo and all Cubans", said the three Congressmembers.

More Cubanization of Venezuela

From Human Events:

Cubanization of Venezuela

Hugo Chavez's commitment to the closest possible relations with Cuba was exemplified when he said in April, "I tell you speaking from the heart, I feel like a Cuban, now. I feel like I'm one more Cuban." That greeting to a Cuban medical team freshly arrived in Caracas came on the heels of retired Venezuelan Army Gen. Antonio Rivero announcing that he resigned from the service primarily because of "the presence and meddling of Cuban soldiers".

Although the government refuses to divulge the number of Cubans currently living and working in Venezuela, best estimates approximate 50,000. Their presence is felt across the country, starting with Miraflores, the presidential palace, where the third-ranking member of the Cuban hierarchy, Ramiro Valdes, stays when he is in the country. Having fought and ruled with Fidel Castro since 1953, Mr. Valdes is one of three comrades to hold the title Comandante de la Revolucion and is considered Castro's closest associate. One of his many posts was Interior Minister in 1963, coincidentally or not the year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

It is widely understood Ramiro Valdes has the daunting assignment of lifting the Venezuelan government out of debilitating and dysfunctional disorganization, primarily to protect Cuba's own economic interests. In perhaps the worst economic condition in the 50 years of the Castro regime, Cuba desperately needs to continue receiving 100,000 barrels of oil per day in barter for a variety of Cuban technicians.

Cubans not only comprise medical teams and permeate the ranks of Venezuela's military, they effectively run the country's intelligence and security apparatus. Cuban personnel abound in government areas as diverse as public utilities and communications. The men and women from Havana are widely disliked, including by Defense Minister Carlos Mata Figueroa, who has publicly complained about them. His concerns are amplified by all levels of Venezuelan citizens.

Ramiro Valdes has multiple roles. It appears one is to keep a watchful eye and restraining hand on el comandante, Hugo Chavez, a view that corresponds with one of Washington's most accomplished Cuba watchers.

Dr. Norman Bailey, who served on President Reagan's National Security Council and in the office of the Director of National Intelligence of George W. Bush's Administration, thinks Chavez may not be able to remain in office to run in presidential elections scheduled for 2012. He believes a likely scenario is that Venezuela's closest allies, Cuba and Iran, "will decide at some point Chavez is hopelessly erratic and expendable. They will find another chavista to lead the country and put Chavez on a plane to Havana. They are not going to give up on Venezuela: the Cuban and Iranian regimes have too much to lose."

Havana-Based Foreign Journalists on Vacation

On Friday, we posted a message from Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died this past February pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike.

She called on the international community -- and in particular, foreign news bureaus in Havana -- to monitor the Castro regime's repressive actions against her family, friends and supporters in the province of Holguin.

For five months now, the Castro regime's secret police has surrounded Reina's home, will not allow her to attend Mass or visit her son's grave.

Yesterday, she was -- once again -- repressively prevented from doing so.

However, the foreign news bureaus in Havana failed to take notice.

Either they were too busy reporting on Fidel Castro's absurdities -- which as The Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer explained over the weekend, is a disservice to us all -- or they are on vacation.

For intent's sake, let's sadly hope for the latter.

Please read Babalu Blog's exclusive coverage of Reina's repressive ordeal here.

Cuba's Slave Doctors

Sunday, August 15, 2010
By Maria Werlau in The Wall Street Journal:

Cuba's Cash-for-Doctors Program

Thousands of its health-care missionaries flee mistreatment.

For decades, Cuba has "exported" doctors, nurses and health technicians to earn diplomatic influence in poor countries and hard cash for its floundering economy. According to Cuba's official media, an estimated 38,544 Cuban health professionals were serving abroad in 2008, 17,697 of them doctors. (Cuba reports having 70,000 doctors in all.)

These "missionaries of the revolution" are well-received in host countries from Algeria to South Africa to Venezuela. Yet those who hail Cuba's generosity overlook the uglier aspects of Cuba's health diplomacy.

The regime stands accused of violating various international agreements such as the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and ILO Convention on the Protection of Wages because of the way these health-care providers are treated. In February, for example, seven Cuban doctors who formerly served in Venezuela and later defected filed a lawsuit in Florida federal court against Cuba, Venezuela and the Venezuelan state oil company for holding them in conditions akin to "modern slavery."
Click here to read in its entirety. 

Spain's Weak Foreign Policy

The current Spanish government's weak foreign policy, including it's nonsensical obsession with saving Cuba's dictatorship, is creating vulnerabilities in its own backyard.

According to Time:

Why is Morocco Picking a Fight With Spain?

The financial crisis that has sent Spain's economy into intensive care and its government into internal disarray has sapped much of the nation's clout. "Three years ago, Spain was a model in Europe," says Gustavo Palomares, political scientist and a diplomacy teacher in the Spanish government's foreign affairs school. "But what happened in the economic realm is similar to what is happening diplomatically. We thought our pillars were solid, but history has proven they weren't, and we have lived beyond our means."

Indeed, Spain's turn at the E.U. presidency in the first half of this year was discreet at best. It had planned three headline summits: one with U.S. President Barack Obama, another with Mediterranean heads of state, and a third with Latin American leaders. But only the Lat Am summit happened — and went virtually unnoticed. The other two were cancelled for a number of reasons but among them, analysts say, was the perception that Spain was not ready to catalyze its own ambitious agenda. "Internationally, the perception is that Spain does not have the economic weight or the credibility to play the diplomatic role it wants to," Palomares says.

In Latin American issues too, Spain has disappointed, among others, the Obama Administration, which initially sought the help of Zapatero's socialist government for backdoor diplomacy with Venezuela and Cuba. But no longer, says Palomares, who was involved in the preliminary contacts. Spain also invested much of its diplomatic capital to make Barcelona the headquarters of the Union for the Mediterranean, which brings together 43 countries. But the first summit to officially launch the organization in June was cancelled after Spain couldn't convince Arab countries to sit in the same forum with Israel.

Perhaps the biggest victim of Spain's diplomatic inertia is North Africa, which outside Europe is seen as the country's most important strategic priority, both economically and politically. Over the past few years Spain has set out to improve E.U. relations with the region, especially Morocco, but results haven't followed, Palomares says. Case in point is the dispute over Ceuta and Melilla. Spain has controlled the enclaves for five hundred years, but still Morocco recurrently pressures Madrid on their sovereignty, often by triggering diplomatic incidents. In 2002, Morocco went so far as to send soldiers to a tiny uninhabited island off Ceuta — after negotiations failed, Spain deployed an elite force to retake the island without any resistance.

This time, though, Morocco is putting up a fight. The timing of the food blockade illustrates Rabat's intention to take advantage of a weakened Spain, analysts say. "Vultures swarm when they see weakness, and that is what's happening to Spain," says Vicente Palacios, sub-director of the Spanish Foreign Policy Observatory, a research center of a left-leaning think tank close to the government. Spain's relations with Morocco will likely return to normal soon — but its fading diplomatic luster is a problem that's sure to linger.