Why I Will Not Return to Cuba

Saturday, August 28, 2010
Guest post by Jorge E. Ponce of Burke, Virginia:

Why I Will Not Return to Cuba

At the beginning of this month, I had a conversation with my mother who asked me if I wanted to accompany her to visit her twin sister in Cuba. My mom is 87 years old, and she fears this might be the last time that she sees her sister alive.

I respect my mother's wishes, and I would never disparage her decision.

My response to her was to beg her not to ask me that question again. I told her that it was against my core values to set foot on Cuba as long as there was a government that continued to oppress average Cubans mercilessly for the last fifty-one years.

Only when I am able to drink a Cuba Libre with authentic Cuban rum Bacardi in a Cuba that is truly Libre will I ever consider going back on vacation.

I love my aunt dearly. I was her favorite. My sister visited her last year, and, she spent a great deal of time telling my sister stories about the trouble that I got into when I lived in the island as a youngster. My sister was a bit upset, since she thought that our aunt should have been telling stories about her when she was growing up. Considering that she was the one visiting my aunt, my sister felt a bit slighted.

Nevertheless, I still have scars when we left Cuba and my parents had to turn all their possessions to the Cuban authorities as punishment for emigrating to the evil empire. They made sure that my parents left the island without a cent in their possession. They made us leave as criminals, as indigents, as the scum of the planet. Imagine how heartbroken my sister and I were when we left Havana and visited the Sears in Wisconsin Avenue and saw the plentiful and diverse supply of toys and clothes that we had not seen in Cuba for many years. Yet, our situation was not different than when we lived in Cuba – we belonged to a class that could only look at worldly possessions, but we could not buy or enjoy them.

I could not forget the humiliations that my parents had to go through by coming to a foreign country at age 42, without knowing the language or the culture. I have lived in the United States for 44 years. I've received 90% of my education in this country, and, yet, I've felt discriminated when I speak with a slight accent and have been denied promotions by managers who opine that I must think with an accent. My inconveniences were insignificant compared to the ones that they faced.

I deeply honor my parents for coming to this country, and taking my sister and me away from a Communist Gulag so that we could live in a land of freedom and thrive based on our talents and work ethic.

But I think that I would be too selfish and disloyal to my core values if I limited my magnanimity to my immediate family. You see, I treat all oppressed Cubans as my immediate relatives.

When a political prisoner like Orlando Zapata Tamayo goes on a hunger strike and dies to protest the prison conditions, I grieve for him.

When Tamayo's mother tries to visit her son's grave and is harassed by government-sponsored mobs, I get angry.

When college students launch a march on the steps of the University of Havana to protest the state-sponsored apartheid system that is prevalent in Cuba and they are imprisoned, I realize that things will never change for the better as long as a Castro is in power.

When I think back to the time when HIV+ gay and lesbian Cubans were forcibly quarantined until 1989 to treatment centers, I pray for the dawning of a more civil and tolerant society.

When I see the courage displayed by political prisoners like Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet who has defied the Cuban authorities repeatedly and demanded the restoration of civil rights and liberties to his homeland, I thank God that there are still people left in this world who will stand up to oppression and are willing to die to bring back a Free Cuba. It makes me proud that we have our Frederick Douglas, our Martin Luther Kings, Jr., and our Malcolm X – but with a Cuban flavor.

Thus, I will always love my aunt and honor my mother's decision to visit her one more time. But, I can't be a traitor to my people's suffering. They have no voice in their own country. I, on the other hand, live in a free society where I've used my pen to write prolifically about the injustices that are prevalent in Cuba and about the double-standard that is shown by the world community so often with the Cuban situation.

They ignore it for their own selfish reasons. Some want to invest in Cuba and make a financial killing, others are dying to smoke Cohiba cigars, others praise the Cuban authorities to get back at the injustices that they have suffered in the U.S. – they want to get even. Yet, they don't care about the suffering that goes on in Cuba or about the Cuban people. They are miserable mercenaries that only care about what's in it for them.

I have never lost hope that Cuba will be free again. I am constantly reminded of the famous saying that "evil triumphs when good people do nothing." And there are too many good people who have made a difference. These good Samaritans have come from red states and blue states, from the conservative and liberal aisles of Congress. I believe that no one holds a monopoly on righteousness. To those friends of a Free Cuba, I extend a white rose of solidarity.

I will continue doing my grain of sand by alerting the world to the atrocities that take place in a country that is only ninety miles from Key West – a country in our own sphere of influence; a country that once was willing to launch a nuclear attack to our homeland and obliterate our way of life.

To those who are optimistic by the release of Cuban prisoners recently, I remind them that they have been sent into forced exile for their beliefs. I ask you to think outside the box for a minute and consider how Nelson Mandela would have felt if the price for serving a 27-year sentence at Robben Island had been his banishment from South Africa. What a travesty of justice this evil deed would have been for the reconciliation initiative that he led in his country.

Nothing has changed in Cuba during the last fifty-one years. Nothing will change for the better as long as our government officials turn a blind eye to this suffering and reward the oppressors.

The Chamber's Mercantilist Cuba Policy

Friday, August 27, 2010
From The Hill:

Chamber's Cuba policy amounts to 21st century mercantilism

By Mauricio Claver-Carone

Throughout the 111th Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been obsessed with U.S. policy towards Cuba. Unfortunately, their obsession is not with the freedom of the Cuban people nor the heroic struggle and sacrifice of Cuba's pro-democracy movement. Instead, it's focused on conducting business with that island's totalitarian, repressive regime.

Such a policy amounts to nothing more than 21st century mercantilism.

Modern capitalism is based on the notion of the free market: a free trade and flow in goods, services and ideas. In contrast, mercantilism was the economic system that dominated Western European economic thought and policies from the 16th to the late 18th centuries. It amounted to a state policy of mutual benefit between a merchant class and a government seeking to strengthen itself.

This is exactly what the Chamber is proposing for Cuba.

The Cuban regime explicitly prohibits the Cuban people from engaging in trade or other private commercial activity. This is exclusively reserved - under Article 10 of the Cuban regime's 1976 Constitution - for its rulers. The fact remains that every dollar that has been transacted by over 157 U.S.-based companies since 2001 with Cuba, have only had one Cuban counterpart, Alimport, which is owned and operated by the Castro regime.

Based on this approach, the Chamber has also become a leading advocate of "The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act" (H.R. 4645), which looks to double the Castro regime's income through tourism transactions. The Chamber's calculation is that if the Castro regime has more income, it can purchase more goods. Maybe, but it would surely provide more resources to repress.

The Chamber points to the Castro regime's announced "release" of 52 political prisoners -- of which 26 have been forced into exile in Spain and the other 26 still remain in prison -- as evidence of that regime's "goodwill." Yet the Chamber conveniently fails to mention the five students arrested this month for protesting outside University of Havana and the five leaders of Cuba's Youth for Democracy Movement imprisoned in the easternmost province of Oriente (the pregnant wife of one of these activists, Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, has been sexually assaulted twice by the Cuban authorities in order to further torment him). So much for "goodwill."

These Cuban pro-democracy activists don't need American fanny-packers and spring breakers to teach them democratic ideals. As a matter of fact, they can probably teach the Chamber, and most of us, a thing or two about the importance of freedom and democracy -- not to mention the high cost it entails.

Current U.S. law conditions commercial engagement with the Castro regime to the fundamental recognition and respect for the human, political and economic rights of the Cuban people, including the release of all Cuban political prisoners. Only at such time can trade with Cuba be free and truly benefit the Cuban people.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a Director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and Editor of CapitolHillCubans.com

Wrong Time For Cuba Policy Changes, Pt. 2

Thursday, August 26, 2010
Even those that generally support changes in Cuba policy believe it's currently the wrong time -- albeit for political reasons in this instance.

An excerpt from Michael Tomasky in The Guardian:

But...why now? A president routinely called socialist and communist is going to go out of his way, two months before an election in which his party is likely to get pasted anyway, to announce a new opening with Cuba? What?!?

I smell some serious naivete here. I can hear White House aides saying, but this is a comparatively modest step that has the support of a majority of members of Congress. Right. And remember back when no one objected to the lower Manhattan mosque and Laura Ingraham thought it was a fine idea? You think Rick Scott, the Obama-hating and tea partying GOP gubernatorial nominee in Florida, won't make a little hay with a Castro rapprochement during election season? And you think every other Republican won't follow him?

"While the American economy is going down the chute, Barack Obama has just taken steps to help another national economy...Cuba's." Writes itself.

I really don't understand where these White House people are coming from sometimes.

Wrong Time For Cuba Policy Changes

By Jose R. Cardenas in Foreign Policy:

Obama's ill-timed Cuba move

For weeks now, the Obama administration has been leaking to reporters its intention to modify U.S. travel regulations to Cuba. Reportedly, the administration will announce the policy change during the current congressional recess to avoid political blowback (so much for the courage of their convictions.)

As a policy matter, the move simply returns U.S. travel policy to that which existed under the Clinton administration, fostering "people-to-people" contacts by liberalizing categories of citizens' groups that can legally travel to Cuba. While religious, cultural, and artistic groups will now find it easier to visit Cuba, the changes most assuredly do not open Cuba up to unregulated tourist travel, which is the current Holy Grail of the noisy anti-embargo lobby.

In short, the new policy won't move the needle much on U.S.-Cuba relations or in Cuba itself. It won't translate into an economic windfall the Castro regime desperately needs nor are visits to Cuba by the American Ballet Theater likely to embolden ordinary Cubans to pressure for internal change anytime soon.

The biggest problem with the announcement is the timing is all wrong. Not only are any policy changes that could be construed as lessening the isolation of the Castro brothers' barbaric and unrepentant regime counter-productive at this point, they muddy the real issues at hand.

First, there is the unresolved fate of American Alan Gross, who has been jailed in Cuba without charges since last December. His "crime"? Delivering internet equipment to apolitical Jewish groups in Cuba. The administration has made numerous demands for his release, but undercuts its position by broadening U.S. travel to Cuba at a time when an innocent American remains jailed for reaching out to Cubans outside the control of the regime. The totality of our bilateral relationship should be put on ice until Mr. Gross is unconditionally released.

A second factor contributing to the ill-timing of U.S. policy changes is that, over the past several months, the Castro regime has been under increasing international pressure for its ugly human rights record. Last February, political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died as a result of 82-day hunger strike protesting his unjust incarceration. In addition, a group of Cuban women patriots -- the "Ladies in White," mothers and wives of current political prisoners -- have gained international attention for their weekly marches in Havana in support of their loved ones, despite regular interruption by regime goon squads. It was to distract from these events and other signs of widening public discontent that the regime recently called in the Cuban Catholic Church to broker the release of 52 political prisoners to be exiled to Spain.

Engaging in unilateral policy changes now serves only to assist the regime in changing this negative (and well-deserved) narrative and confuses what should be a stark, black-and-white issue: the regime's unabated, systematic repression and abuse of its own people.

Lastly, by expending political capital worrying about our relationship (or lack thereof) with an unreformed, undemocratic Stalinist regime, we pay short shrift to our real friends in the region, those with whom we do have common interests and who are looking for the benefits of a productive relationship with the United States.

For example, today, there are two Free Trade Agreements pending in the region -- with Colombia and Panama, signed in 2006 and 2007, respectively -- on whose behalf the administration has exerted no political effort to securing approval in the U.S. Congress. These agreements are important to these countries to boost trade and foreign investment. And, just as important, they are demonstrations of U.S. support and commitment in a hemisphere facing Hugo Chavez's unremitting, anti-American propaganda offensive.

To make matters worse, last month, the administration sandbagged another friendly government, Guatemala, by formally charging it with failing to enforce its labor laws under the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (signed by the Bush Administration in 2005). In the first case of its kind brought by the U.S. against a free trade partner, Guatemala -- one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere and under extreme pressure by narco-trafficking syndicates -- must now endure a lengthy process in which it could end up losing benefits under the agreement and be fined up to $15 million. This is not how one treats friends, especially in an increasingly hostile neighborhood.

Clearly, fussing about with Cuba policy at this point sends the wrong message to the regime, the Cuban people, and our true friends in the region. What changes are needed today are in the Castro regime's relationship with the Cuban people. Let's hope the congressional recess passes without any unnecessary U.S. policy moves that serve only to divert the focus to Washington, instead of Havana, where it belongs.

The Chili Salesman

During an interview from Havana with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson made a very revealing statement:

"I am here not as an administration envoy. I'm trying to sell chili, salsa, green chili to the Cuban government, and I have two more days here in my visit."

Sadly, that absurd statement defines the current Cuba policy debate.

In Cuba, only one entity is allowed to engage in international trade and commerce: the Castro regime (through it's commercial arm named Alimport).

Thus, Richardson is -- only -- looking to sell chilies to the Castro regime.

It's a sad statement that Cuba's dictatorship is so absolutist that it must even control "chilies."

So there are essentially two sides to this debate:

One the one hand: Those that are happy to collude in "chili sales" with the Castro regime and, therefore, foment their absolutist control.

An on the other hand: Those that look forward to freely trading chilies with the Cuban people and stand up to the Castro regime's current absolutism.

Needless to say, we know what side Governor Richardson is on.

It'll be interesting to see how many chilies he sells on this trip, for last year Richardson returned to New Mexico with all his chilies in hand.

Urgent Action on New Arrests

Wednesday, August 25, 2010
From Amnesty International:

URGENT ACTION: PRO-DEMOCRACY ACTIVISTS ARBITRARILY DETAINED

Five men, all members of a pro-democracy organization in Cuba have been detained in connection with their political beliefs and activities. They have been held by police since 12 August, and have not had access to a lawyer. It is unclear if they have been charged.

They could be facing an unfair trial.

On 11 August, seven men, members of the organization Youth for Democracy (Jovenes por la Democracia), were holding a meeting at the home of one of their members, Nestor Rodríguez Lobaina, in the town of Baracoa, in Guantánamo province. Two of them, Yordis García Fournier and Eriberto Liranza Romero, went to find out about return tickets at the bus station, but were detained by police soon after leaving the house at around midday. They were held without charge until 16 August.

When the rest of the group at Nestor Rodríguez's home found out their two colleagues had been detained, they hung banners and posters outside the house protesting against their detention. Within a few hours, a group of supporters of the authorities had gathered outside the house, shouting insults and throwing stones, some of which hit members of Youth for Democracy. At around 3 pm, four more members of the organization arrived at the house. When they saw the mob outside the house, they decided to go in through the back door. There, they were questioned by state security agents and taken into detention. They were released two days later, on 13 August.

On 12 August, state security officials entered the house and detained all five members of Youth for Democracy who were there: Nestor Rodríguez Lobaina and his brother Rolando, Enyor Díaz Allen, Roberto González Pelegrín and Francisco Manzanet. They are still in detention and have not had access to a lawyer. They have been told that they will be charged with "public disorder" ("desorden público"), but it is not clear if charges have yet been filed against them. Once they are charged, they could be tried within hours. It appears their detention is politically motivated.

Roberto González Pelegrín and Francisco Manzanet have been on hunger strike since 12 August in protest at their detention, and are held at the provincial hospital in Guantánamo. According to relatives of Nestor Rodríguez, at 7 am on 13 August, state security officials returned to the house and searched it, even though they did not have a warrant to do so. They confiscated items including books, laptops and mobile phones. They spent 12 hours in the house.

Coincidence or Crisis-Management?

The AP is reporting:

Chavez's popularity down in Venezuela, polls finds

President Hugo Chavez's allies launched their campaigns Wednesday for crucial congressional elections that come just as recession, crime and inflation have pushed the socialist leader's popularity to a seven-year low.

A survey by the Venezuelan polling firm Consultores 21 indicates just 36 percent of Venezuelans approve of Chavez's performance, the lowest figure since 2003, when Chavez survived an opposition-led strike that devastated the economy, pollster Saul Cabrera said.

The results suggest Chavez allies could face a difficult struggle to keep control of the National Assembly in the Sept. 26 election.

So naturally it's time for crisis-management,

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived Wednesday in Havana for a publicly unannounced visit with revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his brother and successor, President Raul Castro, according to Cuban state media.

Don't Reward Cuba's Dictators

Excerpt from Jeff Jacoby's column in today's Boston Globe:

Lift embargo on Cuba? Not so fast

Clearly, there are men and women of good will on both sides of this debate. And clearly the end of the Castro reign is a consummation devoutly to be wished. But will that day really be brought closer by allowing American tourists, exports, and cash to pour into Cuba?

The argument might be more plausible if Cuba were a Caribbean North Korea, cut off from contact with the world. It isn't. Ordinary Cubans may live with poverty and repression, but the government has turned the island into a major tourist attraction, complete with deluxe hotels and beach resorts. Some 2.4 million tourists visited Cuba last year, more than 800,000 of them Canadians. For that matter, tens of thousands of Americans make it to Cuba each year, despite the restrictions. Yet for all that exposure to foreign citizens, money, and ideas, the power of the Castro brothers is undiminished.

By the same token, if international commerce had the power to undo the regime, wouldn't it have been undone by now? The US embargo, after all, doesn't stop Cuba from trading with any other country in the world. Indeed, even with the "embargo,'' the United States is one of Cuba's top five trading partners.

The transformative power of free trade is not to be denied, but trade with Cuba isn't free. There is no Cuban parallel to the economic openness and flourishing private sector that has transformed China. Jerry Haar, a dean of business administration at Florida International University, observes in the Latin Business Chronicle that one unavoidable fact of life faces exporters to Cuba: "The entire distribution chain is in the hands of the Cuban military and intelligence services.'' Foreign investors are compelled to deal with the state and its subsidiaries, since they control the "hotels, foreign trade operations, equipment sales, and factories.''

As long as the Castros maintain their stranglehold on the Cuban economy, enriching that economy enriches — and entrenches — them.

The travel ban and embargo have not ended Cuba's misery, but lifting them unilaterally will only make that misery worse. Rewarding the dictators who keep Cuba in chains is not the way to set Cubans free.

Democrats Reject Cuba Travel Junkets

Last night, Florida Democratic voters overwhelmingly elected U.S. Rep Kendrick Meek as their nominee for the U.S. Senate.

Meek trounced billionaire Jeff Greene, who was polling ahead until news broke of a tourism junket to Cuba aboard his yacht.

Greene first tried to disguise this junket as a humanitarian trip and then changed his position altogether to advocate for the unconditional lifting of tourism sanctions to Cuba.

At that point, Meek broke away and never looked back.

Is the Obama Administration paying attention?

Let's hope so -- as they are considering making these Greene-type junkets the norm.

Castro's Eight New Political Prisoners

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
While the media (and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson) has overwhelmingly focused on news that six more political prisoners will be banished to Spain, the Castro regime has added eight new political prisoners to its notorious jails.

Meanwhile, the fate of ten political prisoners "announced for release" by the Catholic Church, but who have refused banishment, remains unknown.

Kudos to The Miami Herald for the following balanced account:

Cuba's Catholic Church on Tuesday said six more political prisoners will be freed and go to Spain, but concern was growing over the fate of 10 others who want to stay and the fresh arrests of eight dissidents.

The church identified the six as Victor Arroyo, 57, serving a 26-year sentence; Alexis Rodriguez, 40, serving 15 years; Leonel Grave de Peralta, 34, serving 20 years; Alfredo Dominguez, 48, serving 14; Prospero Gainza, 53, serving 25; and Claro Sanchez, 56, serving 15.

An additional 26 already have been released and gone to Spain under an unprecedented agreement between the government and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega to free at least 52 political prisoners by the end of October.

The 52 were the last still in jail from a group of 75 rounded up in a 2006 crackdown. One wheelchair-using prisoner, Ariel Sigler Amaya, was freed and came to Miami for medical treatment.

But the government has remained silent on the 10 prisoners vowing to stay in Cuba if freed, said Berta Soler, spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, relatives of the 75. Her husband is serving a 20-year sentence.

Soler said some of the women met with Ortega last week and asked about the 10 as well as the two dozen among the 75 who were previously paroled for health reasons but technically remain under penal sanction.

"The government is aware of our questions, but gives no answers," she said by phone from Havana.

Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez said he suspects the government will keep the 10 in jail until the end of the process, hoping the extra prison time will make them change their minds.

"It shows the government's bad faith," he said.

Sanchez said he's also concerned about the eight dissidents detained this month and still in jail, a shift from the usual government tactic of briefly detaining critics. Only a few dissidents were brought to trial last year, he noted.

Brothers Nestor and Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, Enyor Diaz Allen, Francisco Manzanet Ortiz and Roberto Gonzales Pelegrin were arrested Aug. 12 during a public protest in Cuba's easternmost town of Baracoa. They are under investigation for charges of public disorder.

Manzanet and Gonzalez went on hunger strikes the day of their arrest and are now in a hospital in nearby Guantanamo, the Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directorate said Tuesday. The Lobaina brothers joined the hunger strike Aug. 20 and remain in a Guantanamo jail.

Three other dissidents - Michel Irois Rodriguez, Luis Enrique Labrador and Eduardo Perez Flores - have been held since Aug. 16, when they read an anti-government declaration from the steps of the University of Havana. Sanchez said he has received reports the three also have declared hunger strikes and could be charged with contempt.

South Florida Republican Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Tuesday demanded the immediate release of the three, saying they "face the risk of long prison sentences."

From The State Department

From today's Daily Press Briefing with Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Phillip J. Crowley:

QUESTION: P.J., I am trying to make a follow-up on Bill Richardson's travel to Cuba. Do you have anything on that?

MR. CROWLEY: I could just repeat what I said yesterday. He is on a New Mexico state trade visit. He himself has made one before. I think there have been multiple trade delegations from New Mexico to Cuba. We did talk to him last week, brought him up to date on the case of Mr. Gross, and encouraged him to bring it up while he's in Havana.

QUESTION: Is he also a special envoy of the State Department trying to promote dialogue or so?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I can repeat what I just said more dramatically. He is there on a state trade visit. He is not there carrying a message from the United States other than to encourage Cuba to release Alan Gross.

The Light of Orlando Zapata Tamayo

Yesterday was the six-month anniversary of the death of Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike.

"The Cuban regime murdered my friend and brother, Orlando Zapata Tamayo. It did so in a vile, cowardly, premeditated and deliberate manner. They underestimated the stature of this man, who was tried and sentenced to death for the color of his skin and the color of his ideas. Orlando Zapata has loomed large. He has marked a before and an after. I think it is a light that was turned on in the midst of a dark tunnel."

- Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, Cuban prisoner of conscience recently banished to Spain, PRLatam, 8/24/10

Please see the fitting tribute by Notes From the Cuban Exile Quarter.

C3: Chavez, Cuba and Crime

From The New York Times:

Venezuela, More Deadly Than Iraq, Wonders Why

CARACAS, Venezuela — Some here joke that they might be safer if they lived in Baghdad. The numbers bear them out.

In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.

Even Mexico's infamous drug war has claimed fewer lives [...]

Venezuela is struggling with a decade-long surge in homicides, with about 118,541 since President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a group that compiles figures based on police files. (The government has stopped publicly releasing its own detailed homicide statistics, but has not disputed the group's numbers, and news reports citing unreleased government figures suggest human rights groups may actually be undercounting murders).

There have been 43,792 homicides in Venezuela since 2007, according to the violence observatory, compared with about 28,000 deaths from drug-related violence in Mexico since that country's assault on cartels began in late 2006 [...]

But scholars here describe the climb in homicides in the past decade as unprecedented in Venezuelan history; the number of homicides last year was more than three times higher than when Mr. Chávez was elected in 1998.

Reasons for the surge are complex and varied, experts say. While many Latin American economies are growing fast, Venezuela's has continued to shrink. The gap between rich and poor remains wide, despite spending on anti-poverty programs, fueling resentment [...]

But some crime specialists say another factor has to be considered: Mr. Chávez's government itself. The judicial system has grown increasingly politicized, losing independent judges and aligning itself more closely with Mr. Chávez's political movement. Many experienced state employees have had to leave public service, or even the country.

More than 90 percent of murders go unsolved, without a single arrest, Mr. Briceño-León said. But cases against Mr. Chavez's critics — including judges, dissident generals and media executives — are increasingly common.

Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda, a state encompassing parts of Caracas, told reporters last week that Mr. Chávez had worsened the homicide problem by cutting money for state and city governments led by political opponents and then removing thousands of guns from their police forces after losing regional elections.

But the government says it is trying to address the problem. It recently created a security force, the Bolivarian National Police, and a new Experimental Security University where police recruits get training from advisers from Cuba and Nicaragua, two allies that have historically maintained murder rates among Latin America's lowest.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: By repressing the innocent and manipulating statistics, as noted above].

Regime Resorts to Sexual Sadism

From the Castro regime's "Manual of Repression":

Beating women for peacefully advocating the release of political prisoners. Check.

Assaulting a mother for trying to attend Sunday Mass and visit her deceased son's grave. Check.

And now, sexually violating the wife of a pro-democracy leader. Check.

Last week, the head of Cuba's Youth for Democracy Movement, Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, was arrested -- along with four other activists -- for publicly protesting against the Castro regime.

They remain in prison and now face charges of "disorderly conduct" -- please note that these are 5 new political prisoners.

However, that is not enough for the Castro regime.

In order to further torment Rodriguez Lobaina, the regime's security agents have twice intercepted and arrested his pregnant wife -- without cause -- stripped her naked and forced speculums into her vagina.

Needless to say, her pregnancy is now at risk.

The Marquis de Sade couldn't have contrived it better.

Senator Feingold Doesn't Get It

Monday, August 23, 2010
This week, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) -- once again -- pitched his 41-point plan to cut the U.S.'s $1.3 trillion deficit, which oddly and disproportionally begins with eliminating Radio and TV Marti.

According to Wisconsin's Chippewa Herald:

"Feingold said he's introduced a 41-point bill to control spending. One item would eliminate $30 million for Radio and Television Marti,
U.S. broadcasts aimed at Cuba.

'But nobody can get it,' [Feingold] said of the broadcasts."

Yet, in a moving profile yesterday, Ariel Sigler, a Cuban political prisoner who was arrested for dissent in 2003 -- as a 210-pound amateur boxer -- and released seven years later as a 100-pound paraplegic, discussed his early days as a pro-democracy activist:

"At night, [Sigler] would listen to radio broadcasts from circling U.S. C-130s, which revealed growing acts of dissent around Cuba that the state-run media never reported. He began meeting secretly with like-minded men to talk politics, but also about the struggling economy, the failing medical system, the declining education, even sports."

Clearly, it's Senator Feingold that doesn't get it.

A Popular Letter (or Unpopular Church)

Yesterday, we posted a letter from 165 Cuban dissidents to Pope Benedict XVI criticizing the Catholic Church's negotiations with the Castro regime, which has resulted in the banishment of political prisoners and the marginalization of Cuba's pro-democracy movement.

Thus far, none of the 52 political prisoners announced for release by the Catholic Church has been allowed to remain in Cuba.

Instead, 26 have been banished to Spain and 26 remain in prison -- a posture which dissidents believe only helps the Castro regime.

In a striking critique -- unlike any it has directed towards the Castro regime -- the Catholic Church has publicly declared this letter to be "offensive."

Meanwhile, the number of dissidents adding their name to the letter has quickly doubled to 344.

Must be a popular letter, or an unpopular Church.

Richardson Returns to Rescue Castro

Sunday, August 22, 2010
Less than a year ago, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson traveled to Cuba looking to expand trade relations with that island's totalitarian regime.

Richardson returned from that trip advocating for the U.S. to unilaterally lift sanctions.

But just how much commerce did that trip generate for New Mexico?

Zero.

So Richardson is now -- once again -- looking to dupe the people of New Mexico and is heading back to Cuba for another "trade mission."

Obviously, it's not the people of New Mexico he's looking to benefit from this new mission, it's the regime of the Castro brothers (including some of his "personal friends" in that regime, as he's publicly referred to them).

It's hardly a coincidence that just last week Richardson placed an op-ed in The Washington Post urging the Obama Administration to unilaterally lift as many sanctions as it can -- within the Executive Branch's limitations under U.S. law -- towards Cuba.

Therefore, Richardson is now going to ask his "friends" in the Castro regime to grant him some cosmetic "gesture" -- as usual, the release of an innocent person that was unjustly imprisoned for political reasons in the first place -- and will come back declaring it as a major concession by Castro.

Let's not forget that Richardson has experience with this.

In 1996, the Castro regime released three political prisoners to Richardson. At that time, the regime was under siege from the international community for the murder of four Americans (pursuant to the shoot-down of the "Brothers to the Rescue" civilian planes on international waters) and from the domestic pro-democracy movement (pursuant to the unity meeting of opposition groups under the umbrella movement, Concilio Cubano).

Since then, the Castro regime has imprisoned thousands of more Cubans for their peaceful dissent.

Yet sadly, Richardson still wants to help hostage-taking pay off for Castro.

Here's Richardson's misleading press release:

Governor Bill Richardson Leads New Mexico Trade Mission to Cuba

SANTA FE – Governor Bill Richardson today traveled to Havana, Cuba as part of a mission to strengthen potential trade and cultural partnerships between New Mexico and Cuba. During the visit, Governor Richardson will help market New Mexico commodities and follow up on inroads made on potential trade partnerships during a visit to Cuba last year.

The Governor has made increasing international trade a priority of his administration and the state has seen tremendous growth since 2003. Just this past Friday, Governor Richardson announced he was forming a Task Force on International Trade to look at ways to further expand trade with foreign countries.

This week's mission will include meetings with officials from Alimport, which is the Cuban Government agency responsible for agricultural commerce. Under a provision of the US Treasury Department Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), states are authorized to sell agricultural, medical and IT products in Cuba on a cash basis.

During his visit last year, Governor Richardson called on the U.S. to ease travel restrictions to Cuba, which the Obama Administration appears poised to soon do, as a first-step to improving relations between the two countries which could potentially lead to increased trade opportunities. The connections New Mexico has made with the commerce officials in Cuba during these missions will put the state in a good position to take advantage of those new opportunities.

Accompanying Governor Richardson to Cuba will be state Agriculture Department Secretary Miley Gonzalez and Cultural Affairs Secretary Stuart Ashman.

Governor Richardson and Secretary Ashman will pay for all of their own expenses during the trip. The delegation is set to return to New Mexico on Friday.

Banishment is a Biblical Punishment

Banishment is -- literally -- a punishment of Biblical proportions.

"And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the Garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." Genesis 3:22-24

Surely, the Catholic Church is aware of this.

But just in case -- 165 Cuban dissidents have sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI expressing their concern over the Catholic Church's complicity in the banishment of political prisoners and the marginalization of the island's pro-democracy movement.

The letter states:

"We disagree with the stance taken by the Cuban ecclesiastical hierarchy in its intervention over the political prisoners. It is lamentable and, in fact, embarrassing... A correct mediation on this issue would have implied listening to the grievances on all sides and conciliating them. However, the solution of forced exile -- accepted by those who have been unjustly imprisoned for seven years solely for their ideas -- only benefits the dictatorship."

Furthermore, they poignantly warn:

"The repression, harassment and arbitrary detentions has intensified recently, pursuant to the threats [against dissidents] made by Raul Castro on August 1st. You should ask yourselves: Are they emptying the prisons only to refill them?"

Which leads to an important question on everyone's mind regarding the Catholic Church's negotiated "release" of 52 political prisoners (of which none have been released in Cuba, while 26 have been banished to Spain):

Why hasn't the regime released any of the political prisoners that have refused to be banished?

The Resolve of Ariel Sigler

A must-read story in The Palm Beach Post:

Former Cuban freedom fighter now confined to wheelchair

There's a stranger in the photograph that friends have placed in Ariel Sigler's hospital room.

The muscles in the stranger's shoulders merge with the ones in his neck, and his chest swells through a plain white T-shirt. His eyes are bright, energetic. He looks like a human fighting machine, a man who once was a heavyweight national boxing champion in Cuba.

The man in the hospital bed at Jackson Memorial has deep inkwells for eye sockets, like a man who hasn't seen the sun for years. His sallow skin stretches tight over the bones in his face like a fist through a plastic bag. And it's impossible to reconcile that these two images — the vibrant boxer and the frail, newly released political prisoner — are the same man.

"He was a tronco, a tree trunk of a man," a new friend and Cuban-American blogger, Valentin Prieto, says later.

Cuba trained Ariel Sigler to fight. He learned discipline, endurance, and how to take a punch. But Sigler also learned to think on his own, and that's when the trouble started [...]

It was this resolve that led him to another dissident's house on the morning of March 18, 2003, to witness the secret inauguration of a private library, a collection of contraband such as the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the complete works of Cuban patriot Jose Marti.

Police arrested Sigler that day. He waited 39 days in jail before he was arraigned, tried and convicted of treason — all in the same day. They gave him 20 years in prison. Labeled a traitor of ideas, he was housed alongside rapists and murderers. His first cell, where he spent a year and a half, was a 7-by-5-foot cage with a hole in the concrete floor for a toilet.

He was awakened at night by rats racing across his lap, roaches tickling his face. For 10 minutes a day, he had running water with which to bathe and drink and rinse the rags he had for clothes. He was fed an unwavering diet of rice and a gruel nicknamed patipanza, which literally means "feet and belly," consisting of leftover animal parts, pig eyes and snouts complete with tough, stray hairs.

"Living in one of Castro's jails is a living hell, befitting something less than a human being," he said.