Political Prisoner Release is Not Enough

Saturday, November 13, 2010
U.S. leaders react to the release of political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, within Burma.

They unanimously -- and rightfully -- feel that the Burmese military needs to do more to prove a willingness to "reform."

We hope the same holds true for the Castro regime in Cuba, which has yet to release any political prisoners within the island.

-- President Barack Obama: "She is a hero of mine and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma and around the world. The United States welcomes her long overdue release. … The United States looks forward to the day when all of Burma's people are free from fear and persecution. Following Aung San Suu Kyi's powerful example, we recommit ourselves to remaining steadfast advocates of freedom and human rights for the Burmese people, and accountability for those who continue to oppress them."

-- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The news that Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from detention is a positive development. The timing is a disappointment, coming one week after an election conducted by the Burmese regime that was neither free nor fair. It also remains to be seen whether conditions have been placed upon her release from detention. It is essential that her full rights be restored so that she can help Burma usher in a new era of respect for democracy and human rights."Continue — Former President Bill Clinton: "I am thrilled by the news of her release. People who love freedom everywhere admire her and the long sacrifice she has made for her people. I was honored to present Aung San Suu Kyi with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000 and I hope this signals a new direction for life within the country and for the country's relations with others beyond their borders. In light of recent elections, I also hope that Aung San Suu Kyi's release will lead to the rapid inclusion of her and the Burmese citizens in governance."

-- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John F. Kerry: "The leadership, grace, and perseverance that she demonstrated during her many years of detention has been inspiring. But the joy of her release is tempered by the continuing hardships confronting the people for whom she has sacrificed so much. I look to the new government of Burma to release the hundreds of other political prisoners who remain unjustly behind bars. And I call on the authorities to allow Daw Suu and other democracy advocates to speak freely and move about the country."

Suu Kyi is Released WITHIN Burma

One of the world's most famous political prisoners, Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, was released today from house arrest, under which she had spent most of the last 20 years.

Suu Kyi refused to accept any type of conditional release. Therefore, she was released within her homeland and has vowed to continue the struggle for freedom and democracy in Burma.

Cuba's political prisoners deserve no less.

Yet, pursuant to a deal struck last July by the Catholic Church and the Castro regime, not a single political prisoner has been released within Cuba. Instead, Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega has sought to convince political prisoners to accept banishment to Spain as a condition of their release.

That, too, is a violation of their fundamental human rights.

Party Like Its 1997

Friday, November 12, 2010
There's been so much reporting -- or hype -- about economic "reforms" and the recently announced VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) that we thought it'd be helpful to recap what the last one, the V Congress of the CCP -- back in 1997 -- is remembered for.

According to the Encyclopedia of Nations:

At the 1997 Party Congress, Castro endorsed policies intended to maintain the status quo for as long as possible. Sheer necessity has forced him to seek foreign investment in state companies and allow some limited self-employment.

Sound familiar? But wait, it gets better.

Here's a summary of the economic targets set forth by 1997 Party Congress:

· GDP to grow 4-6 percent a year
· Sugar output to increase to 7 million tons
· Nickel production to reach 100,000 tons
· Attraction of 2 million tourists, bringing a gross revenue of $2.6 billion
· Oil needs met increasingly through domestic production, conservation, and savings in private consumption and public transportation
· 50,000 dwellings built each year, mostly in the countryside
· Health care to continue to partly rely on traditional and herbal medicine
· State pensions supplemented by individual savings accounts and life insurance
· Income inequalities to be curtailed through taxation

Sound familiar also? Now here's the real tragic part.

Most of the reporting (hype) on the upcoming VI Congress has focused solely on "economic reforms." And there's a reason for that.

During the 1997 Party Congress, most of the focus was also on "economic reforms," such as self-employment, foreign investment and tourism. Why?

So there would be no expectations about political liberalization -- it's a smoke-screen, a diversion tactic.

It was during the 1997 Party Congress that Raul was officially named Fidel's successor, while the economic reality was that the Cuban military would take control of all hard-currency operations.

Same old Party, same old Congress.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

A Great Summary of the Current Standoff

Thursday, November 11, 2010
A great summary of the events leading to the most recent standoff between Castro and Cuba's dissidents:

Cuba Welches on Freedom for Dissidents

by Tim Paynter

Cuba refuses to release 13 dissidents being held in order to silence their voices. The terms of a July 7th agreement are in default. An international human rights advocate says he is going back on a hunger strike that nearly took his life. Through all of this, Cuban President, Raúl Castro remains mum.

Things came to a head for Cuban leadership on February 23rd, 2010, when Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a 42 year old plumber and 'prisoner of conscience', died after a 72 day hunger strike. Tamayo was imprisoned on multiple occasions including once for taking part in a human rights workshop in a Havana park. He was jailed in the 2003 crackdown called Black Spring,

Originally, Zapata-Tamayo was to be imprisoned for 36 months. However, once incarcerated, authorities added additional charges extending his sentence by 36 years.

Cuban President, Raúl Castro, issued a statement expressing regret for the death of Zapata-Tamayo. He then summarily detained over 50 activists, thus preventing them from attending his wake and staging a public protest over the death.

As this most recent crop of dissidents rots in jail, the international community has demanded their release, including dissident Guillermo Farinas who staged his own 134 day hunger strike. First, Farinas won Europe's Sakharov human rights prize in October, a public disgrace for Cuba.

Then, while Farinas lie near death, Castro flinched. The hunger-strike death of Zapata-Tamayo was bad enough. Two hunger-strike deaths was a lot to defend. Cardinal Jaime Ortega of the Roman Catholic Church brokered a deal.

Castro agreed to release all 52 prisoners over a four month period. Most of the dissidents earned freedom because they agreed to leave Cuba and go into exile. However, 13 prisoners have refused to agree to leave after their release. Castro refuses to honor his deal. The final date for their release has passed. Farinas threatens to return to his hunger strike.

"To not release them would be fatal to the promise given to the Church, and a fraud against the international community," Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said hours ahead of the deadline.

"It is not what we thought would happen," Father Jose Felix Perez said after holding mass for the dissident group Damas de Blanco, or "Ladies in White" which is comprised of the family members of the 2003 prisoners, primarily their wives.

Meanwhile, at stake is Cuba's desperate need to normalize relations with democratic countries including the U.S. Castro must weigh which will be more dangerous. Is it 13 dissidents who insist a one party system will not provide reforms, or is it the growing discontent from the Cuban people at being isolated through the hands of the Castro's?

Nothing Has Changed

From Committee to Protect Journalists:

Cuban deadline passes for dissident releases: What next?

Sunday marked the end of the four-month deadline Cuban President Raúl Castro had agreed to with representatives of the Cuban Catholic Church and the Spanish government to free 52 prisoners of conscience who remained in jail since the March 2003 crackdown against dissidents, known as the "Black Spring." The Spanish foreign minister at the time, Miguel Angel Moratinos, said in Havana on July 8 that the move to release the prisoners "opens a new era in Cuba." But have things changed in the EU regarding Cuba? Not really. Has anything changed on the island? Not really. On Monday, at midnight, 13 of the 52 prisoners remained in jailed.

"They are deceiving and have played with the church, the government of Spain, the European Union and with all the international community," the leader of the Ladies in White, a group of relatives of the dissidents, Laura Pollán, told the BBC.

On October 25, in her first appearance at the EU Foreign Affairs Council after her appointment as Spanish foreign minister, Trinidad Jiménez said, "Things in the European Union move slowly." Cuban relations were on her mind, given it was now her turn to speak for the member state, Spain, that has relentlessly advocated for an EU policy change toward the Cuban regime by rejecting the 1996 Common Position, which makes any political dialogue with Cuban authorities subject to democratic reforms and the release of political prisoners.

But on that day, Trinidad Jiménez thought things had changed. The 27 foreign ministers instructed the EU High Representative for External Relations, Catherine Ashton, to contact Cuban authorities to offer the opening of negotiations for a trade agreement. Ashton was given two months to test the Cubans' willingness to enter into such negotiations and report back to the ministers in December. Not a single word in the 1996 Common Position was changed -- there is a solid Sweden-led majority of EU countries reluctant to any modification for now. But many cried for an "opening." Jiménez even called the Common Position "formally dead."

According to several EU sources, not much is expected to change. First, the Cuban regime has rejected for at least three decades all EU offers to join the African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) trade framework, by which Europe grants commercial preferences to exports from former colonies. Second, Ashton has never been to Cuba and has no diplomatic experience in the region. And third, Cuba has already said no to the idea. On October 27, the Cuban foreign minister spoke clearly at the U.N. General Assembly: "The EU is dreaming when they think they can normalize relations with Cuba as long as the Common Position is in place."

One Cuban journalist now exiled in Spain since his release from a Cuban prison in July told CPJ that with the EU-Cuba impasse and with the deadline for releases here and gone, he has little hope for his imprisoned colleagues.

"All those who believed there would be change in Cuba have been mocked," said Ricardo González. Seven of the 13 dissidents still in prison have rejected the regime-church deal because they do not want to leave Cuba. (Seventeen of the journalists released were flown to Spain.) "They should simply open the prison's gates and let those who want to leave the island leave, and those who want to go home, go home," he added.

Tragic (No) Jokes of the Week

First, Iran makes a bid for a seat on the new U.N. Women's Rights Panel. Fortunately, it failed (unfortunately, Saudi Arabia succeeded).

Then, the Cuban dictatorship announces a meeting of its country club elite (a.k.a. VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party) to discuss how to centrally-plan and apportion 125,000 "self-employment" licenses amongst its most well-behaved members.

Meanwhile, Iranians and Cubans keep getting arrested, beaten and tortured for trying to exercise their universal human rights .

It's no joke.

Learning the Hard Way

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
From REJournals:

"We were in Venezuela early," said Equity International's [Chief Portforlio Officer Chris] Fiegen. "We thought (Hugo) Chavez would be normal. When we first met him he was still wearing suits. Four years later he was in a beret and a jumpsuit and flaming balls of debris were crashing through our office building windows. We had invested $75 million in Venezuela. Finding the right partner is essential."

EU Criticizes Banishment of Prisoners

Yesterday, the European Parliament (EP) issued its first Human Rights Report following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.

The EP report is a response to the European Union's (EU) Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World presented by the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, in June.

According to the Report:

The detention of human rights defenders is a grave human rights violation. Members of the EP therefore call on the government of Cuba "not to exile political prisoners but to give them the freedom to leave and to travel back to Cuba without being arrested."

Record Month For Political Arrests

During the month of October, the Castro regime arrested over 310 dissidents -- albeit for short-terms -- for their political advocacy.

That's almost ten times the number of political prisoners released (and banished) all year. Furthermore, those are only the arrests that are known.

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, that is the highest number of documented arrests for any month in 2010.

Amongst those arrested was Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of deceased Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who is continuously under siege by the regime for trying to visit her son's grave.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Ted Nugent: The Castro Boys Are Punks

Tuesday, November 9, 2010
A great paragraph (although a partisan editorial) from rock n' roll legend, Ted Nugent, in The Washington Times:

Freedom always crushes despots and voodoo punk-led oppression, tyranny and corruption. Far more often than not, those nations that are poor are run by corrupt, power-abusing, anti-freedom regimes that oppress and control their people. There is a reason why people from Cuba risk their lives in rickety boats to get to America and that no one from America, including Michael Moore, is trying to escape America for Cuba. The Castro boys are punks.

Castro Siphoning Off Foreign Aid

By Martin Barillas in EnerPub:

AIDS sufferers denied medication in Cuba

According to CubaNet.com, patients suffering from HIV/AIDS are being denied medications and required dietary supplements by the Cuban government. Robert Tailer, 44, of the town of San Juan y Martinez in Pinar del Rio province said that condoms and medicines donated by foreign charities is being siphoned off by the Castro regime.

Tailer asserts that foreign donations are actually being sold to the general public by Cuba's Comercio Interior, a state-run monopoly. He added that he has been denied a government ration card, and has not been able to buy either foods prescribed by his diet nor ordinary foods other Cubans eat. Said Tailer, "There are 40 of us AIDS patients in this situation in San Juan y Martinez."

Besides systematic torture and imprisonment of political opponents and democracy advocates, Cuba's communist government has long been known for official persecution and abuse of homosexuals.

Pinar del Rio is the western-most province of Cuba and once saw an influx of Filipinos who came to the island on Spanish galleons during colonial times.

Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America.

D.C. Book Signing Today

Politics & Prose Hosts Carlos Eire Reading from "Learning to Die in Miami"

An esteemed religious scholar, Cuban-born Carlos Erie came to the broader public's attention with a 2003 National Book Award for his memoir "Waiting for Snow in Havana." The award winning writer will read from his newest work "Learning to Die in Miami" this Tuesday, November 9 at 7 pm.

The work is a sequel to "Waiting for Snow in Havana." It's 1962 and the two brothers have left Cuba, their parents and the lives they knew. Their new life will be shaped by a new language and a series of foster homes. Along with all immigrants confusion and uncertainty, they must also contend with the transition from childhood to adult responsibility on their own.

Politics & Prose is located at 5015 Connecticut Ave N.W. in Washington D.C.

The Fall of the Wall

Today marks the 21st anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

An important reminder that -- sooner or later -- freedom always prevails.

A Look at "Los Aldeanos" Movement

From Miami New Times:

In the face of Cuba's pathetic, failed socialist experiment is a new revolution, a cultural one, led by the youth of the island. It's nonviolent, it's artistic, and a rap group called Los Aldeanos (the People) stands at the forefront. The collective is virulently anti-government and explicitly anti-Fidel, according to filmmaker Alejandro "Iskander" Moya, who has worked to document the rise of this phenomenon.

"Right now, this is the biggest thing happening in Cuba," Iskander says. "These prolific young composers are mobilizing the youth and changing the national consciousness. Nobody knows what the outcome will be. What's important now is that the people are participating."

Kids across Cuba listen to Los Aldeanos even though the music gets no airtime. The global community watches the crew's videos, but there's no television coverage. Clandestine concerts are held in government-owned venues, but without the state's permission.

Iskander says the band's live experience is so revered that "people wait outside the concert just to hear [what happened] from the people who were inside." And he attributes the viral reach of Los Aldeanos' output to Cuba's "alternative Internet," a hand-to-hand network of secretly exchanged digital media. Loaded on USB jump drives and passed from one person to another and so on, the material eventually finds its way online to the great astonishment of the web's worldwide audience.

Local South Florida artist Arthur Baute, whose father was a political prisoner in Cuba for 12 years, recently heard Los Aldeanos for the first time. "I thought that Cuba was just an island of zombies who were completely brainwashed. I lost hope for the people," he says. "And Americans think that it's not that bad over there, that it's some sort of paradise. To see and hear the people speak out like that ignites a fire that was put out long ago. To see the youth have that level of rebellion against the system is amazing."

So perhaps the only thing some Miami Cubans need to jolt them out of political apathy is the shocking truth of a starving people. And the spark of conviction triggered by Los Aldeanos' musical dissent is undoubtedly real. But the crew doesn't use its influence irresponsibly. Instead, the band promotes a certain kind of peaceful protest, filtering its vitriol through hip-hop's universal language in order to creatively express dissatisfaction with an outmoded Cuba.

"This is the national reality. It's not fabricated by the media," Iskander explains. "It's authentically the youth and their almost-religious devotion to the movement. It is an organization that is happening without a system, and the network that is being established transcends the geography of Cuba."

"In concert, the act is so profound that you don't even know the difference between the artist and the crowd," Moya continues. "Miami is the most important place they can play. If in Cuba they cannot play for the Cuban people, then in Miami they can."

Click here for an even closer look.

The Ladies in White Warn: Dont' Be Fooled

From Argentina's Momento 24:

The "Damas de Blanco" accused the Castro regime of "cheating and playing" with the Catholic Church, the Government of Spain and the international community if they don't promise to release the thirteen political prisoners remaining in jail.

Thirteen political prisoners remain in jail because they refuse to exile from Cuba as a condition of their release.

The Cuban regime has not yet completed the releases promised in July.

The spokesman of the "Damas de Blanco", Laura Pollan, noted that "if they do not release them they are not going to fool us, the prisoners or the people of Cuba as they always do. They are deceiving and playing with the Church as an institution, with the Government of Spain with the European Union governments and the international community."

She further stated that they will not stop fighting, and according to their statements the Embassy of Spain has asked them to "have hope for the release" of what Pollan said "they do not know nothing, they don't know how tight this Government is".

Castro, Cardinal Ortega (or Both) Lied

Monday, November 8, 2010
This summer, amidst increasing domestic and international pressure, the Cuban Catholic Church and the Spanish government took it upon themselves to sideline Cuba's courageous dissidents and begin a series of negotiations with the Castro regime.

These culminated in an announcement, on July 7th, that the Castro regime would release 52 political prisoners (arrested during the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003) within a four-month period.

Last night, four-months passed and the result is clear: 39 of the 52 prisoners announced for release have been forcibly exiled to Spain. Meanwhile, the other 13 remain in prison because they refuse to be exiled abroad.

In sum, no political prisoners have been released in Cuba.

Yet, back in July, Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega referred to exile in Spain as an "option" (not a "condition").

So yesterday, upon it becoming clear that the deadline would pass without the remaining 13 being released in Cuba, Father Jose Felix Perez, who coordinates Cuba's Catholic Bishops Conference, said "it is not what we thought would happen."

Needless to say, either someone is extraordinarily ingenious -- or just lying.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Quote of the Week

"To not release them would be fatal to the promise given to the Church, and a fraud against the international community."

-- Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Havana-based Cuban Commission on Human Rights, on the 13 political prisoners announced for release by the Catholic Church in July who refuse to accept forced exile as a pre-condition, AP, November 8th, 2010

Castro Misses Prisoner Release Deadline

Sunday, November 7, 2010
According to Reuters:

The dissident group "Ladies in White" accused the Cuban government on Sunday of failing to meet a deadline to release political prisoners and vowed to continue their weekly protest marches until all are freed.

They said Sunday was the day by which 52 prisoners were supposed to be released in a July agreement between the state and Catholic Church, but that 13 of those remain behind bars.

"They are deceiving and have played with the Church, with the government of Spain, with the governments of the European Union and with all the international community," Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan told reporters at the group's weekly protest march on Havana's Fifth Avenue.

The Church announced on July 7 an agreement with the government to free 52 prisoners jailed since a 2003 crackdown in process it said would take "three to four months," although it did not set a specific date.

The government, which views the prisoners as mercenaries in the pay of its longtime foe, the United States, has never publicly discussed a deadline for the releases.

As part of the deal, Spain said it would take in the prisoners, who the government wants out of the country.

So far, 39 of the 52 have agreed to go to Spain and been freed, but the rest, who include Pollan's husband Hector Maceda, say they do not want to leave Cuba.

The 52 are husbands and sons of the Ladies in White, who have marched weekly since their arrests demanding that they be freed.

In the meantime, the government has released or agreed to release another 14 prisoners not included in the original 52.

It has told the Church it wants to free all political prisoners, but there is disagreement on who qualifies.

Cuban authorities have reportedly said they did not want to free political prisoners who committed acts of violence, although some of the 14 not included in the original 52 were accused of hijacking and other violent acts.

Pollan said there are at least 33 prisoners who should be released because they committed no acts of violence.

She said the Ladies in White will continue marching until all political prisoners are freed, not just their loved ones.

"The Ladies in White are going to continue fighting while there exist non-violent political prisoners," she said. "We want there to be no political prisoners in Cuban jails."

Orlando Zapata's Mother Arrested, Again

This morning, Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of deceased Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, was once again arrested as she attempted to visit her son's grave in the eastern town of Banes.

According to blogger Yoani Sanchez, the Cuban military has the town under lockdown, and they've threatened to charge her with the infamous Law 88 (attempting against the "integrity" of the Castro brothers).

Note the contrast -- the Castro regime has undertaken a military display of force against the non-violent, moral power of this elderly woman, whose son died in a hunger strike protesting the tortures he was subjected to.

How feeble (and evil) must this regime be?

Will foreign news bureaus in Havana dignify their professions by reporting on this tragedy, or is it somehow fine for a mother to be harassed, beaten and arrested every week for trying to visit her son's grave?

Where is the outrage?

Freedom House Calls For Releases (in Cuba)

According to Freedom House:

Cuba Should Honor its Promise to Release Prisoners

Freedom House calls upon the Cuban government to release all remaining members of the "Group of 75" political prisoners who were imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003.

"The Cuban government should honor the deadline it agreed to earlier in the year and free all Cuban activists from its prisons," said David Kramer, executive director of Freedom House. "These activists have been severely punished for nothing more than expressing their desire for democratic self-governance."

On July 7, following negotiations with the Cuban Catholic Church and the Spanish government, the Cuban government announced its decision to release the remaining 52 political prisoners from the Group of 75 over the course of four months. Since then, 39 members of the Group of 75 have been released, along with several additional prisoners who were not part of the Group of 75.

"While we welcome the release of 46 unjustly held political prisoners over the past four months, we are concerned by reports that 13 members of the Group of 75 still remain in prison because they refuse to accept forced exile from the Cuban authorities," continued Kramer. "The Cuban government should release all political prisoners immediately and respect their right to remain in, or return to, Cuba."

Freedom House consistently ranks Cuba among the world's worst regimes. Cuba is ranked Not Free in the 2010 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, and in the 2010 edition of Freedom of the Press. The island nation received the lowest ranking in Freedom on the Net, a study of internet freedom in 15 countries released in 2009.