Free Elections Have Consequences

Saturday, November 6, 2010
Some people just can't accept democracy, so they resort to political fiction.

That seems to be the case of former Castro regime bureaucrat, now University of Denver doctoral student, Arturo Lopez-Levy.

Still in denial over Tuesday's electoral choices by Cuban-Americans in Florida, he writes this jaw-dropping "Argument" in Foreign Policy:

"The Cuban exile community, in Miami and elsewhere in the United States, has grown apart from the politicians who represent its interests in Washington. Miami's Cubans may keep voting for Ros-Lehtinen and Rubio, but they no longer agree with them."

Newsflash #1 for Mr. Lopez-Levy:

You are no longer in Cuba, where people are forced to "vote" for the Castro regime because they have no other alternative (and would otherwise face repressive consequences). In this country, you are free to vote (without repercussions) for whomever you want. Furthermore, you are free to vote candidates that you disagree (or simply no longer agree) with out-of-office, as happened in over 60 Congressional Districts this past Tuesday.

But even more absurd, is the basis for his thesis -- a 2008 push poll claiming that a majority of Cuban-Americans want to establish relations with the Castro regime.

Newsflash #2:

Push polls, particularly issue polls -- not to mention those conducted by entities heavily invested in procuring a specific result -- are not fact. Furthermore, they can be easily disproven by other polls. However, elections results are fact -- no matter how unpleasant they may be for your views -- and in this case, the Cuban-American community has once again elected candidates that (very strongly and publicly) reject unilaterally easing sanctions towards the Castro regime.

And finally, Mr. Lopez-Levy claims:

"Joe Garcia, a former leader of Mas Canosa's Cuban American National Foundation who has reinvented himself as a Cuba policy reformer, got 42 percent of the vote against Cuba-hardliner David Rivera -- a loss, but in an exile-heavy district and an election year that favored Republicans, a hopeful sign for the future."

Newsflash #3:

Joe Garcia lost to David Rivera by over 10 points. That's almost double his margin of loss from 2008. Furthermore, 42% is essentially the base-bottom for any Democratic nominee in that District (FL-25) based on a straight party-line vote. Whether the Democratic nominee in FL-25 would have been Joe Garcia, Joe Smith, or even Joe Stalin, they'd essentially start with a floor of 35-40% (Cuban-Americans, which comprise a third of FL-25 but are mostly Independents and registered Republicans, account for only a small portion of that). Once again, this is not Cuba, where the Castro regime claims to "win" with 99% of the "vote," and thus 42% might seem impressive to the democratically untrained-eye.

In sum -- elections matter, and in this country, they even have consequences.

Political Prisoners Have Castro in a Pickle

Friday, November 5, 2010
According to FOX News:

They want out of jail, but not out of Cuba.

And that may well be what keeps 13 political prisoners in Cuba behind bars despite indications earlier this year that they could be released by Nov. 7.

Cuban officials have agreed to release other political prisoners in exchange for their agreement to leave Cuba. But some political prisoners have said they will not be "deported" from their own homeland, and some have vowed to continue to press for human rights if they ever regain their freedom.

"The Cuban regime is in a political and diplomatic quandary right now," said Luis Israel Abreu, a former Cuban political prisoner and executive director of the Committee to Aid Cuban Rights Activists.

"It basically promised to release these political prisoners because it hoped to improve its standing in the international community," said Abreu, who lives in New Jersey, "but it does not want them out in the streets again, opposing the regime publicly and organizing dissidents. At the same time, if it keeps them in jail, it will be criticized for continuing to detain people for their political beliefs."

The prisoners were among 75 people who were jailed in 2003 – when Fidel Castro was president -- as part of a massive crackdown on dissidents.

The arrested included human rights activists and independent journalists. Most were charged with treason and conspiring with the United States to destabilize the government, which they denied.

The Cuban government has been releasing the prisoners in piecemeal style, often after arrangements with Havana's Roman Catholic cardinal, Jaime Ortega, and officials of Spain, where Cuban has sent many of them to live.

One of those prisoners, Pedro Pablo Alvarez, who was released in 2008 after agreeing to go to Spain, said that dissidents wrestle with the choice they must make, between leaving the nation they were willing to take great risks for, or staying locked up.

"I did not want to leave Cuba," said Alvarez, who was taken by Cuban authorities straight from the jail to a Spain-bound plane in 2008. "I fought against the regime, the oppression, for more than 40 years, like the dissidents did. You don't devote yourself to the human rights struggle so completely then strike a deal with the oppressors without enormous soul-searching and regret."

Alvarez, who now lives in Miami, said he supports those still in jail who refuse be exiled.

"I wish now that I had stayed, that I had taken the dignified stand that these activists -- each of whom is a close friend, a brother -- are taking," he said. "I don't fault anyone who opts to go into exile, many of the dissidents have families whose lives are upended by their imprisonment. I was older, 60 years old, and that was a reason I chose exile. They said 'We'll release you if you leave the country, otherwise, we keep you behind bars.'"

In July, Catholic Church officials in Cuba said that President Raul Castro, brother of Fidel – who stepped down due to illness – had agreed to release the remaining of the prisoners held since 2003.

The church officials indicated that they believed the deadline for the release was November 7, though Cuban political officials have never publicly addressed the release or a deadline.

The condition for the release, church officials in Cuba indicated to reporters, was that the prisoners were to leave Cuba, most likely to Spain.

A sense of urgency in releasing the prisoners set in after one of them, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died earlier this year following a hunger strike. Although he was not the first political prisoner to die after a hunger strike, in the age of the Internet, news of it made its way around the world immediately, reportedly exasperating Cuban officials.

Another political prisoner, Guillermo Farinas, also staged a 134-day hunger strike, falling critically ill at one point. Farinas, who won Europe's Sakharov human rights award in October, went off the hunger strike, but vows to resume on Nov. 8 if Cuba continues jailing the dissidents who refuse to be exiled.

Observers of Cuban government policies say that Raul Castro seems interested in gaining credibility with the European Union, and perhaps the United States – long an arch-enemy – in order to obtain credit and alleviate Cuba's increasingly ailing economy.

"He seems aware that he must show some good-faith effort to address human rights concerns and the issue of political prisoners if he is going to make gains toward persuading other countries to do business with Cuba," Abreu said.

Efforts to get a comment from officials at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C. were unsuccessful.

Thank You Cardinal

Thursday, November 4, 2010
Raul: Thank you, Cardinal. For all of your help banishing political prisoners abroad and easing domestic and international human rights pressure for me.

Cardinal Ortega: You're quite welcome, Raul.

This is a must-see picture.

How Castro & Chavez Lost the 2010 Elections

By Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post:

Lots of foreign leaders have reason to regret the outcome of the U.S. midterm elections, from the Norweigan Nobel peace prize committee to Russia's Dmitry Medvedev. But if there is one big un-American loser from Tuesday's vote, it's got to be Raul Castro.

For months the Cuban dictator and his semi-retired brother Fidel have been waging a charm offensive aimed at the Obama administration and Congress. They've sent some political prisoners into exile; invited American journalists to Havana; and encouraged Cuba's Roman Catholic cardinal to lobby for them in Washington. Fidel even denounced anti-semitism.

Their purpose has been obvious: to obtain the easing of U.S. sanctions on Cuba at a time when the country's economy is desperately in need of help. In particular, the Castros have been hoping for a lifting of the ban on American tourist travel -- something that they calculate could bring in a flood of U.S. beach visitors and hard currency. Legislation to do just that has been pending in Congress.

Republican gains in the House of Representatives, and Marco Rubio's election as Florida's next Republican senator, almost certainly mean the Castros won't get their wish.

Rubio, the son of refugees from Cuba, promised in his moving victory speech never to forget the exile community he comes from. That probably means that any pro-Castro measure is going to need 60 votes to pass the U.S. Senate.

More importantly, the House Foreign Affairs Committee under Republican rule is likely to be chaired by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a champion of Cuban human rights who was born in Havana. The outgoing chairman, Democrat Howard Berman, decided in September to put off a vote on the bill lifting the travel ban. Under Ros-Lehtinen's leadership, it will almost certainly be buried for good.

The bad news for the Latin left doesn't end there. Ros-Lehtinen has been an outspoken critic of Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chavez and allies like Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Bolivia's Evo Morales. Attempts by the Obama administration to "reset" relations with Chavez and Morales are likely to come under critical scrutiny by the new Foreign Affairs leader.

Meanwhile, some stalwart friends are departing. Foreign Affairs member Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), who has been one of Congress's biggest apologists for Chavez, is retiring. So is Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, a favorite of the Latin left for three decades, who defended Chavez early in his tenure and has been a consistent critic of rival, democratic government of Colombia. Thanks to the congressional shift, Colombia's chance of winning ratification of a free trade agreement with the United States have improved considerably.

The bad news in Washington compounds what has been a months-long losing streak for Chavez, the Castros and their chums. Both Cuba and Venezuela are sinking economically, even as the rest of the region is growing strongly out of the recession. Chavez lost the popular vote and dozens of seats in his own Congress in an election last month. Last week brought the sudden death of former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner, a close ally. And Brazil's presidential election last Sunday replaced the charismatic Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with a charmless technocrat who is unlikely to fill Lula's role as a regional leader.

The much-celebrated surge of the Latin left has been dimming for some time. The new political balance in Washington will ensure that the United States does not recharge it.

Feingold Doesn't "Get" Radio Marti

Throughout his failed re-election bid, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) remained strangely obsessed with defunding Radio Marti. He even held it as a cornerstone of his fiscal discipline plan.

During a campaign interview with a Wisconsin newspaper:

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," he said of the broadcasts.

Yet, the recently released Annual Report by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) includes these two powerful testimonies by Cuban dissidents:

"Radio Marti breaks the information blockade that the Castro dictatorship has on the Cuban people and the internal opposition."

-- Juan Francisco Sigler Amaya, Matanzas Cuba, Alternative Option Board Member.

"If it wasn't for Radio Marti the Cuban people will not know the truth of what goes on in Cuba and the world. Radio Marti is on the Internet and it is the media that we have had throughout many years, the first one that has helped us spread the violations of human rights in Cuba."

-- Alejandria Garcia de la Riva, Member of The Ladies in White, and wife of political prisoner Diosdado Gonzalez Marrero sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Its been a tough week for Senator Feingold, so we'll refrain from a snarky closing comment.

Meet The Chairwoman

Wednesday, November 3, 2010
An informative post by Josh Rogin in Foreign Policy:

Now that the Republicans are projected to take control of the House, we here at The Cable would like to introduce you to the next head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Ros-Lehtinen has been a force on the committee for years as the vocal, passionate, sometimes combative ranking Republican. A Cuban-American lawmaker from a heavily Jewish district, Ros-Lehtinen has staked out firm positions on several issues that stand in contrast to now outgoing chairman Howard Berman (D-CA). Her ascendancy as chairwoman will change the tone and agenda of the committee and will pose new challenges for the Obama administration's efforts to advance its foreign-policy agenda.

Over the mid to long term, Ros-Lehtinen is poised to thwart Obama's efforts to move toward repealing sanctions on Fidel Castro and resist any White House attempts to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She isn't likely to move Berman's foreign-aid reform bill through the committee and she is likely to seek cuts in the foreign-aid budget in her authorization bill.

But most significantly, gone will be the days when the committee deferred to the administration on the order of foreign-policy priorities. The committee will also stop taking the administration's word when it comes to matters of policy oversight.

For example, although Berman and Ros-Lehtinen agreed on the need to push tough sanctions on Iran, Berman delayed action on the bill to allow Obama's engagement effort to play out. Ros-Lehtinen might not be so accommodating.

"The Berman people were ahead of the Obama team on a number of things, but they deferred to the administration on timing. You are going to see more aggressiveness, to push an agenda and not to defer to the administration," said a Republican congressional aide.

A New Generation of Cuban-American Leaders

Last night, the Cuban-American community elected a new generation of political leaders.

And -- once again -- it has disproven the myth of a generational disparity in Cuban-American views regarding U.S. policy towards Cuba.

By overwhelmingly electing Marco Rubio, as their next U.S. Senator, and David Rivera, as their next U.S. Representative, Cuban-Americans have sent a clear message to Washington that it rejects policies of unilateral concessions to the repressive Castro regime.

Together with U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, House Foreign Affairs Chair-to-be Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Albio Sires, they now join the Congressional battle for a free and democratic Cuba.

You simply can't push-poll your way around the voting booth.

Congratulations Marco and David!


The Son of Cuban Exiles

Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Please watch this clip from U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio's "Tribute to Cuban Exiles" upon becoming Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

At the conclusion, he states "that no mater what titles I may achieve in my life, I will always be the son of exiles."

Today, he's likely to achieve the title of U.S. Senator.

And all Cuban exiles are proud.

Show Me The "Reforms"

Over the weekend, Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of deceased Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, was arrested along with 39 other dissidents.

Their crime? Trying to visit Orlando's grave site.

Reina was subsequently released, but most of the other dissidents remain imprisoned and unaccounted for, including some of her children (Orlando's siblings).

Please read this tragic testimony of Reina's weekend ordeal.

Then, ask yourself, is the Castro regime "reforming"?

According to Reina:

"They hit me in the mouth, they gagged me with a rag soaked in gasoline. They've destroyed this mother, and my children are still imprisoned, my daughter-in-law, all of my brothers in the struggle. They're destroying us all.

They didn't even respect the cemetery. They laid me down over the grave site, pulled down my pants, then forced me to the floor and beat me until they broke my mouth. They are a bunch of cynics and murderers, to beat this mother after they murdered her son."

Need we say more?

Le Petit Richelieu Strikes Again

Monday, November 1, 2010
Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega has just issued another press release.

Is it on the 13 political prisoners (of the 52 negotiated for release last July) that refuse to be forcibly banished abroad and, therefore, remain in prison?

Non!

Is it on this weekend's arrest of Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of deceased political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, along with 39 other dissidents (many of whom remain unaccounted for)?

Non!

Since current events (above) have been reflective of the Castro regime's relentless repression (despite the Church's best public relations efforts), the Cardinal immediately announced three other political prisoners who have accepted banishment to Spain.

Undoubtedly, we wish all three well.

Touché mon Cardenal - your diversionary tactics are remarkable.

(Even in Spain) Coddling Castro Costs Votes

An excerpt from The New York Times story, "Europe's Left Offers Few Solutions to Current Crisis":

How do you confront low growth and, according to E.U. figures last week, a new increase in Europe-wide joblessness? Europe clearly does not say the middle-ground left has the answer.

If Mr. Zapatero is a measuring stick, his Socialist Party has only 29 percent support among voters. His own approval ranking is the lowest among Spain's party leaders.

Dangling sales of military aircraft and warships to Hugo Chávez's Venezuela and urging the E.U. to embrace the Castro brothers' Cuba, as it turned out, couldn't secure Mr. Zapatero's leftist base.

The "Crime" of the Newly Arrested 39

Yesterday, Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother deceased Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, was arrested along with 39 other dissidents.

Their crime? Trying to visit Orlando's grave site.

Here's a picture of their "crime."

Now, who has the audacity to call this "reform"?

39 Banished While 39 Brutally Arrested

Yesterday, the Castro regime arrested Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of deceased Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, along with 39 other dissidents who were accompanying her in a march to Orlando's grave site.

Please note -- 39 dissidents arrested in one afternoon.

Yet, it has taken the Castro regime four months to banish 39 other dissidents -- who unjustly served over 7 years in political prison -- to Spain (and zero releases in Cuba).

According to one witness account: "It was horrible, they would unload them from the buses, and as they got off, they were "killing them" -- not beating them -- it was "killing" them. It was heart-wrenching."

They all remain unaccounted for.

Where's the outrage?

Orlando Zapata's Mother Has Been Detained

Sunday, October 31, 2010
Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of deceased Cuban political prisoner and hunger striker, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, has been detained by the Castro regime.

According to Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, she was detained after leading a march of 40 supporters to her son's grave this afternoon.

As of this post, Reina's whereabouts remain unknown.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Time is Ticking for Releases

From AP:

Cuba faces Nov. 7 deadline for freeing remaining 13 dissidents who balk at going into exile

Angel Moya has told relatives he will never stop fighting for political change in Cuba, and hopes to be a thorn in the government's side if he is released from jail. Hector Maseda's wife says he will leave prison only if his freedom is unconditional.

After releasing many of Cuba's best-known prisoners of conscience, the communist government has a week left to make good on a promise to clear Cuban jails of 52 activists, opposition leaders and social critics. Those that remain, however — including Moya and Maseda — may be the toughest releases yet for a government that describes dissidents as subversive U.S. agents bent on toppling the socialist system.

All of those released so far — including 39 dissidents arrested in a 2003 crackdown and eight others arrested separately — have agreed to go into exile in Spain along with their families.

But the last 13 prisoners from the 2003 crackdown seem bent on remaining in Cuba, a direct challenge to a government that would much prefer they take their views elsewhere.

"We want to stay in our homeland," Moya's wife, Bertha Soler, told The Associated Press. "The second he gets out of prison, he will continue his fight for democracy."

Moya, a 46-year-old construction worker who turned to dissent in the 1990s, is serving a 20-year sentence for treason and other charges. Soler is a leader of the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, which is comprised of the wives and mothers of prisoners of conscience.

Laura Pollan, another Damas leader, says she met with her jailed husband, Hector Maseda, on Oct. 17 and he told her that "he will not let anybody throw him out of his country."

She said her husband, who is 67 and also serving a 20-year term, would refuse to leave prison unless he is freed without any conditions.

"We won't accept parole," she said. "We want a pardon."

Cuban President Raul Castro agreed to release the prisoners after a July 7 meeting with Havana's Roman Catholic cardinal, Jaime Ortega, and then Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. Their talks were held a few months after jailed dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo died following a long hunger strike.

At the time, the church said all 52 dissidents still in prison from the 2003 crackdown would be freed "within three to four months from this moment."

The church said the prisoners would be allowed to leave Cuba, but did not say exile was a requirement for release. Since then, family members of the prisoners say they have been contacted by church officials including Ortega himself and asked if they were willing to go to Spain. Those who said no remain jailed.

Cuba has won praise from European leaders for the deal, and even a grudging acknowledgment from Washington that it is moving in the right direction, though not quickly enough.

Now, the government has a tough decision to make before Nov. 7: Go back on its word and lose the international goodwill it has earned, or let the releases go forward and risk giving voice to a more vocal opposition while the country is in the midst of widespread layoffs and difficult economic changes.

While the church's announcement in July didn't expressly set Nov. 7 as the date for the government's promise to be completed, Catholic officials have said privately that they consider it to be the deadline. Dissidents express a similar view.

Guillermo Farinas, a dissident who won Europe's Sakharov human rights prize in October after staging his own 134-day hunger strike in support of the prisoners, told the AP last week that he will stop eating again Nov. 8 if the remaining dissidents are not in their homes.

The Damas de Blanco have also vowed increased activity if the government backs away from its promise.

Beware of The Baroness

From Britain's Daily Mail:

Baroness Ashton's empire: The EU diplomatic army that dwarfs anything our own Foreign Office could muster

The so-called European External Action Service (EEAS) will have an annual budget of £5.8 billion and an army of ambassadors across 137 embassies, with up to 7,000 Eurocrats trained to pursue the EU's foreign policy.

It will be run by Baroness Ashton, the obscure Labour quangocrat and Blair-appointed peer who last year was surprisingly nominated by Gordon Brown to be the EU's foreign secretary – even though she has never been elected by British or European voters.

The former treasurer of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, whose official title is High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, will launch the EU diplomatic corps on December 1 at her sleek new headquarters in Brussels, which will cost £10.5million a year in rent alone.

The new corps – revealed as Prime Minister David Cameron was accused of a 'Vichy-style' betrayal for caving in to a 2.9 per cent increase in the EU's total annual budget – will dwarf Britain's Foreign Office, which employs 4,863 diplomats [...]

But what will Baroness Ashton and her new diplomatic corps do besides spend hundreds of millions while the rest of Europe must cut spending and face austerity?

They will pursue a European foreign policy often at odds with Britain's own foreign interests.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, decisions on a common European foreign policy no longer need to be unanimous, therefore Britain has no veto. The result is that, for example, the EU is isolating Britain's ally Taiwan. The EU embassy there will have just nine members of staff – whereas even Surinam will have 15.

Fears are already being expressed that the EU embassies will drain power from Britain's own embassies

Similarly, the EU is refusing to deal with the anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba. It is alarmingly friendly with the ayatollahs in Tehran and is pumping millions of euros to Hamas.

Indeed, Baroness Ashton has bragged about the 'clout' she enjoys in Gaza because of the £880 million in aid the EU has given to the Palestinians.