Financing a Military Dynasty

Saturday, October 30, 2010
As we've consistently noted, Cuba's tourism industry is monopolized by the Castro regime's military corporation, GAESA, which is run by Raul's son-in-law, Maj. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez Callejas.

Thus, the following item from China's state media, Xinhua, is concerning:

DPRK vice marshal in Cuba to enhance military ties

Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) started a five-day visit to Cuba Friday to strengthen bilateral military ties.

In case you missed it, General Ri was recently profiled in The Wall Street Journal as the key military figure in the succession from Kim Jong Il to his son, Kim Jong Eun.

In the official North Korean leadership photo (below), General Ri is even strategically seated between Kim Jr. and Sr.

Is this what we want U.S. tourism dollars to finance 90-miles away?

U.S. Public Official Detained in Cuba

Friday, October 29, 2010
From WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee:

The chair of the Knox County Commission is glad to be back on American soil after being detained by Cuban Immigration officials.

The Cuban Government stopped Mike Hammond, along with three others on a [religious] mission trip from leaving the airport or the country. The four Americans declared themselves political prisoners and demanded to speak to the Swiss Embassy.

Hammond believes talking to those Swiss officials got the ball rolling and the group was finally allowed to fly into Mexico before returning to the U.S.

"I understand now what it's like to lose your rights, and to have no rights. when they tell you you can't make a phone call and they've seized your passport. You'll eat when they tell you you can eat and you are confined to an area. That's not a good feeling. I understand now, lack of freedom, and what happens when you don't have freedoms," said Hammond.

The Cuban Cardinal's Richelieuan Tactics

Cardinal de Richelieu -- immortalized as one of the main antagonists in Alexander Dumas' Three Musketeers -- was known as King Louis XIII's "Chief Minister" or "First Minister." As such, he worked tirelessly (and nefariously) to consolidate royal power and crush domestic factions in 17th century France.

Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega appears to have chosen the same path.

We've stressed -- over and over -- that there have been no political prisoners released in Cuba, pursuant to the Cardinal's deal with the Castro regime this past July.

Of the 52 political prisoners originally announced for release, 39 have been banished to Spain, while the other 13 remain unjustly imprisoned for refusing banishment.

Cardinal Ortega has, thus, glossed over those 13 and began approaching other political prisoners -- not on the original list -- who would accept banishment.

Therefore, last week, the Cardinal spoke to Rafael Ibarra Roque -- a Cuban political prisoner held since 1994 for founding the "Frank Pais November 30" opposition movement -- and offered him the possibility of release "only and if he would leave for Spain."

Ibarra responded that he'd obviously like to be released, but that "he would not swap prison for banishment."

The next day, a Cuban State Security officer informed him that the Cardinal's offer had been revoked.

Ibarra denounced the Cardinal's blatant "blackmail" and "collaboration" with the Castro regime.

A Bas Le Roi! Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité!

The Venezuelan Exception

Thursday, October 28, 2010
According to a Pravda analyst:

There will be no full transition to the market economy in Cuba in spite of the fact that the Cuban government takes efforts to attract foreign investments.

The current political regime in Cuba does not mix with market freedom of capitalism, and any reforms towards liberalization will be scrapped before they start to affect the ability of the Castros to hold power on the island.

Legal opportunities of foreign capital in Cuba are restricted as well. Foreigners are allowed to open only joint ventures there.

Citizens of Venezuela make the only exception from the rule. They are allowed to possess their businesses entirely. Strong political ties between Cuba and Venezuela is just another fact to prove that Castro is not going to drastically change the economic structure of his nation.

Snack Break

Welcome to Cuban Miami.

A great video from Plum TV:

(H/T Penultimos Dias)

Bill Richardson's Chili Fibs

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has justified his various trips to Cuba as "trade missions."

During his last trip, Richardson even elaborated that he was going to sell the Castro regime "chilies."

Ironically, it's the Castro regime that has exposed Richardson's fib -- for not only has it not bought a single New Mexico chili -- but it now (awkwardly) wants to sell its own Cuban chilies abroad.

According to Castro's state media yesterday:

Cuba has started to export a species of chili pepper (Capsicum chinense), after selling to Canada the first 27 tons of the crop this year.

Chili peppers are an underestimated crop in the Cuban diet and had nearly vanished from the country's fields until an agricultural enterprise in the municipality of Abreu, Cienfuegos, started growing the crop in cultivation houses covering a total area of barely 4.70 acres.

We always knew that Richardson's trips to Cuba were political and ideological posturing, so it's really no surprise.

However, he does owe New Mexico taxpayers an apology.

Foreign Policy in a GOP House

From The Washington Post:

Four House GOP figures who could be crucial to foreign policy

Congress may not be in charge of making foreign policy, but it sure can influence its implementation. Since taking office in January 2009, members of Congress - drawn primarily but not exclusively from the ranks of the GOP - have slowed the Obama administration's efforts to advance its strategy for dealing with Russia, Syria, Israel, Cuba and a host of other countries. And the midterm elections won't be making things any easier for President Obama.

Republican lawmakers stand to play a huge role in debates next year about the promised July 2011 drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, whether to maintain or increase U.S. foreign assistance packages, and how strongly to press countries such as Russia and China to implement new sanctions against Iran.

If current poll results hold, Republicans will make significant gains in the Senate and probably will take the House, elevating a set of lawmakers to new heights of power and complicating Obama's efforts to execute his foreign policy agenda.

Here's a list of four GOP figures in the House who could be crucial actors on the foreign policy stage when the dust settles after Tuesday's elections.

Eric Cantor

The Virginia congressman, who is the House minority whip, could become majority leader in a GOP-controlled House if Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) is elected speaker. Cantor, who is particularly active in foreign-policy issues involving Iran and Israel, could see his role expand significantly if he is given the power to set the House floor agenda.

That could spell trouble for the administration's foreign operations budget, which funds the State Department and sets levels for U.S. non-military assistance around the world. Republicans are threatening to withhold aid to countries they think aren't wholly supportive of the United States, and Cantor told the Jewish Telegraph Agency recently that the president's proposed budget might have to be rejected outright if Republicans take power - after separating out U.S. aid for Israel.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

If Republicans take the House, Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) is poised to take over the House Foreign Affairs Committee and could drastically alter the administration's agenda. For example, she is likely to scuttle the drive to ease sanctions and travel restrictions on Cuba, which Chairman Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) supports. Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Havana, is an active member of the Cuban American lobby.

Her ascendancy could also spell doom for Berman's bill on foreign-aid reform. She argues often for more vetting of foreign aid in the hope of finding cuts, and she has also introduced legislation to cut U.S. funding for the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority.

A vocal critic of what she considers the Obama team's cool approach to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Ros-Lehtinen could also use the committee as a sounding board for those who want changes in the administration's approach to Middle East peace. "She's no Dick Lugar," said one House aide, referring to her temperate Senate counterpart. "You'll probably see a lot of contentious hearings."

Kay Granger

Although not certain, it's likely that Granger (Tex.) would take over the chairmanship of the House Appropriations subcommittee for State Department and foreign operations if the GOP wins the House. That would give her a large role in writing significant sections of the State Department's funding bill. Although she supported the legislation put forth this year by Chairman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), she criticized the increases for the foreign-ops budget. She's a strong supporter of a balanced budget amendment, which doesn't bode well for foreign-aid funding.

Granger also serves on the defense subcommittee, placing her at the intersection of the debate over how to balance the national security budget and shift resources from defense to diplomacy and development. Here she seems to favor the Pentagon, saying in June, "I want to be sure that we aren't increasing foreign aid at the expense of our troops."

Ed Royce

Royce (Calif.) is symbolic of GOP House members who are active in foreign policy. He could become chairman again of the House Foreign Affairs Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade subcommittee, where his staff could hold hearings on the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan and any other region sensitive to the administration's national security goals.

A Bad Move

Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Particularly in the case of Sudan. Tyrants cannot be trusted.

From Foreign Policy:

On Monday, the Obama administration waived sections of a law meant to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in Africa, paving the way for new military cooperation with four countries with poor human rights records -- despite their use of underage troops.

"I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the [Child Service Prevention Act]," President Obama wrote in a memorandum to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the law, which prohibits U.S. military education and training, foreign military financing, and other defense-related assistance to countries that actively recruit troops under the age of 18. Countries are designated as violators if the State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report identifies them as recruiting child soldiers.

The original bill was actually sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) before being added to a larger bill led by then Senator, now Vice President Joseph Biden. The only countries where the restrictions under this law are still in place are now Burma and Somalia.

The only reason provided in the memorandum was that Obama determined it was in the "national interest" to waive the law for those four countries.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Cable that the Obama administration has decided that working with militaries that recruit child soldiers actually helps solve the problem more than ignoring those militaries would.

Great Interview With Fariñas

A great interview from the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders with Cuban hunger striker Guillermo Fariñas. Those that argue that Cuba's dissidents are relatively unknown on the island should read this very carefully.

Guillermo Fariñas: The Country is at a Crossroads

Winner of the 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Guillermo Fariñas became a dissident in the 1990s and then an independent journalist. As such, he campaigned for Cubans to have unrestricted access to the Internet and went on a series of hunger strikes. The last of these, following fellow dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death at the start of this year, was to demand the release of all the ailing political prisoners.

As the victims of the Black Spring crackdown of March 2003 continue to be released from prison, Fariñas was interviewed by Reporters Without Borders about the prize and about what he thinks is going to happen in Cuba now.

What is your reaction to getting the Sakharov Prize?

I am committed to the cause of democracy in Cuba. I think I have an even greater commitment to my fellow independent journalists who are still in prison, my fellow independent journalists who are in exile, my fellow independent journalists who fight with me here on the streets of Cuba, and my fellow independent journalists who have died and who have not been able to see a democratic Cuba that tolerates an independent press.

I also have a commitment to all those men and women, wherever they are in the world, whose goodwill contributes in one way or another to Cuban democracy, thanks to their solidarity and their attention to what happens in Cuba.

I am proud because the first international prize I received was the Reporters Without Borders prize.

What is your analysis of the current situation in Cuba?

We are living through a very special moment in Cuba, but not a particularly special one for the Cuban government. A million people will soon be unemployed, out of four million workers. This is more than a quarter of the population, almost 30 per cent. There is a significant degree of discontent and anger among the Cuban population.

I have noticed for example that when I go to the hospital, people who never said hello to me out of fear now do say hello. Because they no longer have any work.

We think this is going to swell the ranks of the opposition despite the fact that the government is sending people to Europe in order to have fewer dissidents. As regards our work as journalists, we want to show this reality.

The government wants above all to make changes in the economic domain rather than at the political level. But there is such a degree of discontent about the government's mismanagement at the economic level and such a lack of credibility that there will be a social explosion if the government does not move towards a political relaxation.

Friends of mine I studied with who became doctors (while I became a psychologist), they used to limit themselves to greeting me when we were at the hospital. But now they all want to greet me. Everyone says hello to me in the street, even the president of the CDR [Committee for the Defence of the Revolution], a paramilitary organization.

There is real discontent about the massive unemployment that is coming in Cuba. The people have already been warned and know who is keeping their job and who is not. But nothing has been done yet.

But this is unquestionably a different historic and social moment which we journalists want to experience and show.

Currently there are nine of us and we all write articles. Now it is harder to get the information out because the political prisoners, who were our main sources of information, have gone to Spain and suddenly we are covering mainly social issues. As regards repression, there has not been so much of that as late. But yes, the economic situation is rather precarious. As for ourselves, we have not received any assistance for about five months. The economic situation is very tough.

How is your health after all the hunger strikes you have carried out?

I have two ailments troubling me at the same time. It is a situation that has accumulated.

I had gallstones during the hunger strike. From the moment the gall-bladder was affected, everything was paralysed after 24 days and I had an emergency operation. They thought it was pancreatitis. They were a lot of hypotheses. It got worse. They had to do tests. I have been left with lasting effects. I have diarrhoea whenever I eat.

Automatically, every time I eat.

Fortunately, I recovered.

The other illness is there. It is a thrombosis that is a result of the hunger strike. I have a thrombosis here and a thrombosis there.

The doctors say curing this should be done over a year and a half. You have to go slowly because if you do not, if it is done quickly – and there are drugs that can cure it more quickly – it could damage my heart and lungs, and that would not be helpful.

I was really very lucky because, for example, the doctor who looked after me during the hunger strike has been a family friend for years. He had gone to Venezuela but chance would have it that he came back then. And the doctor who operated on me had also by chance returned from Venezuela. We were friends. We had worked together, he, his brother and I, when I was working in public health. And State Security could not kill me or arrange to have me killed because the doctor on duty was a friend of mine.

Do you think independent journalists can have an influence on the situation in Cuba?

We have no Internet. We have no Internet connection. Most of the Cuban population does not have an Internet connection either.

But, for example, I have ten memory cards and everything we write, I give it to a university academic. And this academic circulates the memory cards throughout the university and people fill them up, they fill them up.

As a result, people are beginning to think, and that is important.

But thanks to universities that have Internet access, such as Havana University, when you travel by train or car or bus, suddenly people tell you, "I know you," or "I liked that article by you" or "I have it here." It is incredible.

Because technology undermines dictatorships.

Political Prisoners Re-Arrested

When it comes to political prisoners, the Catholic Church, the Spanish government and the Castro regime's apologists only count those that have been released and banished to a foreign country.

The rest are insubordinate and, thus, irrelevant to them.

So they ignore the fact that no political prisoners (of those announced for release last July) have yet to be released in Cuba (as is their fundamental human right), and selectively fail to count others that have been arrested since then.

According to the CIHPRESS news agency, four Cuban dissidents, including independent journalist Enyor Díaz Allen, were arrested this past Monday.

Diaz faces a charge of "public disorder" (for walking to a fellow dissident house), while two others, Abel López Pérez and Yoandris Gamboa Beltrán, face charges of "civil disobedience."

The fourth dissident, Yordis García Founier, was arrested for going to the police station to inquire about Diaz.

Three of the four -- Díaz, López and García -- are former political prisoners.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Beware of the "China Model"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Food for thought for proponents of the "China model" for Cuba.

From The Financial Times:

Tight grip ensures China never will be free

Sir, John Gapper asks an excellent question. He wants to know why China's educated elite remain so politically docile. His answer: that in return for a bit of self-censorship, individuals will be able to live a life of comfort ("China's business elite is free enough", October 21). I disagree. Something bigger is going on.

As Mr Gapper reports, China will have 200m college graduates by 2015. As such, these people will form the nucleus of a very solid middle class. Moreover, many of China's graduates have already travelled abroad, living in places such as Canada, the US and Japan; places where freedom has touched their souls.

If these graduates have experienced freedom, I would like to know why don't they want to start a revolution? Why doesn't this middle-class bourgeoisie want to make China a better place for their children? My answer is this: fear.

In China, each working citizen has an employee file; supervisors are free to write what they want to about an employee, yet employees can never see what is written about them. A file will follow an employee from one job to another, and what is written can make or break a person's career. If an employer writes something particularly scathing, an employee could find himself working as a day labourer or a freelance salesman, his career prospects shattered.

In effect, a file introduces uncertainty into an individual's life, and thus fear. It is the glue that binds together China's totalitarian system.

In my opinion, the file system is least prevalent in the western part of China. It is in this area that I believe serious unrest is most likely to flare up. Historically, farmers have not had a file opened on them; however, it is from the west that farmers are migrating.

I believe that by building new cities and opening new factories, China can mop up a number of these migrants and provide some stability in their lives. They can also start a file on them and keep them under constant surveillance – just like China's business elite. China's grip on its society will be that much greater.

China will never have freedom in our lifetime.

Walter Weis,
Forest Hills, NY, US

The Czech Perspective

From The Prague Daily Monitor:

Schwarzenberg: EU not to change stance on Cuba

The European Union will not change its current stance on the Cuban regime though Cuba released some political prisoners in the past weeks, the EU countries' foreign ministers agreed Monday, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has said.

The EU will be willing to negotiate with Cuba only if human rights protection improves in this country, he added.

The EU has practically not changed its stance since 1996 when it adopted a common position on Cuba.

Spain, which wants the EU to normalise relations with Cuba, has criticised this position in the long run.

However, a number of the member states stand up against the Spanish view. The Czech Republic has been among the strongest opponents of softening the EU policy towards the Cuban totalitarian regime.

The Czech Republic and Sweden, with support of Germany, Monday succeeded in persuading most of the EU member states that not even the release of some prisoners of conscience was a sufficient reason to mitigate the stance, Schwarzenberg said.

Last week, the Cuban government approved the release of five political prisoners who, however, do not belong to the group of 52 dissidents arrested, along with another 23 regime opponents, in 2003.

These people are being gradually released prom prison on the basis of the July agreement between the Cuban government and Spain which was mediated by the Catholic Church.

Castro's American Prisoner of Conscience

Judy Gross, the wife of American development worker, Alan Gross, who has been unjustly imprisoned without charges for nearly a year by the Castro regime for helping connect the island's Jewish community to the Internet, has sent a desperate plea (in the form of a letter) to Cuban dictator Raul Castro asking for her husband's release.

Needless to say, we sympathize with the Gross family, particularly as people that have experienced this type of cruelty and injustice for five decades.

Please note the following paragraph in her letter:

"To the extent his work may have offended you or your government, he and I are genuinely remorseful."

Mrs. Gross hit the nail right on the head -- not only regarding her husband's imprisonment, but of the millions of Cubans who have been harassed, imprisoned, tortured and/or executed by the Castro regime.

Alan Gross has been unjustly imprisoned for "offending" the Cuban dictator.

And that encapsulates Cuba's overall tragedy.

Unfortunately, until the Castro brother's martial law ends, and is replaced with a transparent rule of law that serves the Cuban people -- not its rulers -- no person on the island (whose last name doesn't end with Castro), whether Cuban or foreign, will ever experience justice.

We pray that day will soon come.

Sink and Scott Only Agree on Cuba

Monday, October 25, 2010
According to Sunshine State News, during tonight's Florida gubernatorial debate between Alex Sink (D) and Rick Scott (R):

Scott and Sink both agreed that the Obama administration was wrong in trying to lift economic restrictions in Cuba.

Meanwhile, in the Florida Senate race, The Hill notes:

In the Senate race, Cuba has been branded as one of the only issues that candidates Marco Rubio (R), Gov. Charlie Crist (I) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) agree on, with all three supporting the continuation of the trade embargo as long as Cuba remains a communist regime.

Is the White House taking note?

The Price a Hunger Striker Pays

By Dr. Manny Alvarez in Fox News:

The Price a Hunger Striker Pays For His Beliefs

The Mohandas Gandhi famously started a hunger strike in 1932 to protest British rule of India. In the early 20th century, suffragettes resorted to this method as a means of political protest. And recently, a Cuban dissident awarded a European human rights prize, announced he may start a hunger strike if officials refuse to allow him to leave the island to receive the honor.

Guillermo Fariñas, 48, a psychologist and independent journalist, was awarded the prestigious Sakharov prize and more than $60,000 by the European Parliament. No stranger to protest, Fariñas has been imprisoned three times and has staged dozens of hunger strikes in protest of government actions on the communist-run island.

Fariñas' most recent hunger strike, launched in late February, called for the release of all political prisoners in Cuba after a jailed dissident died from his own hunger strike.

During the 135-day hunger strike, Fariñas came close to death several times and spent many days in the hospital where he received nutrition through intravenous tubes.

Hunger strikes are defined as method of non-violent resistance in which the strikers fast in order to achieve a specific goal or change, according to Wikipedia and The Food Museum Online. The strikes are highly-publicized, in order to cause embarrassment to the person or group that they are targeted against, and differ from religious fasts in that they usually last for a much longer period of time.

During a hunger strike, participants typically will consume liquids, but not solid foods. This can have numerous detrimental effects on the body, including the deterioration of vital organs and even death.

In the first few days of fasting, the body still derives its energy from stored glucose. However, after three to five days, a process called ketosis begins, where the liver starts breaking down body fat.

During ketosis, toxic byproducts called ketone bodies are produced. These ketone bodies can build up in the bloodstream, causing ketoacidosis -- a potentially lethal condition that is sometimes associated with diabetes.

The danger really escalates, however, after the third week of fasting. This is when the body enters "starvation mode" and begins to mine muscles and vital organs for energy because the fat stores have been depleted. The body is, literally, consuming itself. At this point, the loss of bone marrow can become life-threatening.

Most experts agree that, without hospital intervention, a healthy adult can last on a hunger strike for about 60 days – but there's no guarantee. In the 1970s, Irish republican Frank Stagg, died after 62 days of striking, and Cuban poet Pedro Luis Boitel, died after 53 days.

But when the striker decides to cut water from his diet as well, death comes much faster. Rasaiah Parthipan, a Sri Lankan, lasted for only nine days when he refused both food and water during his hunger strike.

Even if the strike ends before death, it can still have serious consequences for the rest of the striker's life. Organ damage, including brain damage, can be permanent as a result of a long hunger strike. Other lasting effects include weakened bones, muscle tissue damage, and organ failure.

However, the psychology of many of these men and women is not focused on the potential health dangers of a hunger strike, but more so on their struggle for liberty, democracy and civil rights.

That focus has always superseded in bringing change. As a former Cuban dissident, I am proud of Guillermo Fariñas because he is standing for his rights, and he is also standing for the millions of Cubans that are trapped in that totalitarian regime that Fidel Castro calls a republic.

As a doctor, I can never condone the hunger strike. But as an admirer of democracy, peace and justice, I am very proud and honored to call this man a fellow Cuban.

Dr. Manny Alvarez is a Cuban-American OB-GYN who serves as a senior medical contributor for the Fox News Channel and senior managing health editor of

You Call This "Reform"?

While the Castro regime tries to deceive the world that it's undertaking "reforms" -- and "Cuba experts," journalists and apologists try to help it make the pitch -- the international community has rejected the regime's charade four times this past week.

1. Last Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed doubt that the Castro regime has taken sufficient steps to merit any reciprocity.

2. Last Wednesday, the Spanish government dismissed Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose obsession had become rescuing the Castro regime.

3. Last Thursday, the European Parliament recognized Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas with its 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

4. And today, the European Union's Foreign Minister's refused to scrap the trading bloc's Common Position towards Cuba, which conditions the normalization of relations to the respect for fundamental human rights.

In other words, the message is clear:

Transferring a group of innocent men, which had been unjustly imprisoned for years due to their political beliefs, from a prison cell to forced exile in Spain is not "reform" by any stretch of the imagination.

Particularly, as the Castro regime continues to beat, harass and arrest countless others on the island.

As one of those banished political prisoners, Juan Adolfo Fernandez Sainz, stated in today's Wall Street Journal:

"Until the Castro regime repeals all its laws violating human rights, allows multi-party elections, free trade unions and independent media, and lets Cubans participate fully in our economy and travel freely, any attempt to normalize relations with Cuba would be premature."

Tourists vs. Cubans

Sunday, October 24, 2010
The web periodical, Guama (a satire of Castro's official newspaper, Granma), has put together two great collages contrasting what's on-limits for foreign tourists in Cuba vs. what's off-limits.

For spring breakers and fanny packers:

For the Cuban people:

Europe Shouldn't Normalize Relations

By recently banished Cuban political prisoner Juan Adolfo Fernandez Sainz in The Wall Street Journal:

Free Cuba

Europe shouldn't normalize relations with the Castro regime until it transitions toward real democracy.

The Spanish government believes that by releasing a few political prisoners, Cuba has now made enough advances in human rights and democracy to allow the European Union to normalize relations with the island. Madrid couldn't be more wrong.

Although I was one of the lucky ones to be released and to arrive here in Spain with 38 other former Cuban political prisoners, my home country remains under the stern grip of an oppressive regime. Let me tell you the stories of some of those brave dissidents still left behind.

Among the many victims of the 2003 crackdown on regime critics is Felix Navarro Rodriguez, who was sentenced to 25 years in jail. I knew him for a long time as a peaceful oppositionist with great popular roots in his village, where he had been a high-school principal. We met again in Canaleta prison, where I was serving a 15-year sentence for my fight for democracy. He never even considered leaving Cuba. His daughter, Sayli Navarro, was expelled from university as a further punishment for his "crimes."

Another Castro victim is Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, an economist sentenced to 18 years in jail. At 68 he is the oldest of all the 75 dissidents imprisoned in 2003. He has always said that he wants to die in Cuba. His old and fragile mother is still awaiting his release.

Or consider the fate of Pedro Arguelles Moran, who is 62 and was sentenced to 20 years for his work as an independent journalist. We were both in Canaleta prison, but never in the same section. He suffers from cataracts and when we met at the dining hall, always separated by iron bars, he would recognize me first by my voice. He says no one will ever get him out of Cuba.

Felix, Arnaldo and Pedro are three out of 12 political prisoners who have decided to remain in Cuba. The Cuban regime says it will release all the remaining political prisoners from the group of 75, even those who have no intention of leaving Cuba after being freed. But so far they all still remain in jail.

I respect the mediation of the Spanish government. Partly thanks to Madrid's efforts, I am free today. But the fact that a group of us are now in Spain when a couple of months ago we were in prison, does not mean that the Cuban dictatorship has fundamentally changed.

We were unjustly jailed and arbitrarily condemned in a sham trial with no real access to defense counsel. (I saw my lawyer only once for five minutes just before the hearing.) We were given very harsh sentences—on average almost 20 years—for our peaceful and civic opposition. Searches of our homes produced no weapons, and nothing we wrote contained any incitement to violence.

We were kept under inhuman conditions, in overcrowded cells that we had to share with common criminals. We were locked away far from our families—in my case 777 kilometers from Havana—which, given the difficulties of transportation in Cuba, imposed an additional, cruel punishment on my loved ones.

Spain wants to normalize relations with Cuba because Havana quasi-banished us, with no documentation recognizing that we had been set free, when we should have never been sent to prison in the first place. Even if all political prisoners had been freed in Cuba and given the opportunity to decide their own fate and to continue their struggle in Cuba for democracy and for human rights, it would have been merely a first step. It would have been an indispensable but not sufficient condition to determine that Cuba has started its transition toward democracy.

Until the Castro regime repeals all its laws violating human rights, allows multi-party elections, free trade unions and independent media, and lets Cubans participate fully in our economy and travel freely, any attempt to normalize relations with Cuba would be premature.

By giving the Sakharov Prize last Thursday to Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, who has spent 11 years in jail as a political prisoner, the European Parliament has made a clear statement that the struggle for freedom in Cuba is far from over. What should be on the negotiating table is not a token group of political prisoners, but a real prospect for a democratic Cuba.

Mr. Saínz is a journalist and translator who, in the spring of 2003 was sentenced to 15 years in prison for exercising freedom of expression. Since last August he resides in Spain.

A European Perspective

An excerpt from Spanish newspaper ABC's interview with former Foreign Minister (under the Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez) and current EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana:

Q: The European Ministers of Foreign Affairs will decide tomorrow whether to modify the EU's Common Position towards Cuba, as Spain would like. Has Cuba done enough for it to be modified?

Solana: I would like for Cuba to do, not more, but much more. If some adjustment to the Common Position is possible, it would have to come accompanied by clearer and more direct steps by the regime.

Q: Then, you don't think the release of prisoners of conscience is enough...

Solana: I would like for it to be more than the release of prisoners, which of course, is very important, as there should not be any. However, they should also begin to make economic reforms that are much clearer and quicker. The solution to Cuba's problems requires change, and the sooner they do it, the better.

Meanwhile, Cuba's dissidents -- in near unanimity -- ask the EU not to change its Common Position, which conditions the normalization of relations to the respect for human rights.

Qute of the Day

"He looked like walking death."

-- Judy Gross, wife of American development worker Alan Gross, said of her husband who in almost 11 months of detention (without charges) by the Castro regime has lost 86 pounds, Reuters, October 24, 2010.