Hillary Highlights Role of Ladies in White

Saturday, December 11, 2010
From VOA:

Clinton: 'Every day is Human Rights Day'

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted civil society's role in promoting human rights during multiple events at the State Department Friday in honor of Human Rights Day.

Secretary Clinton said that for the people who strive to promote human rights around the world: "Every day is Human Rights Day."

Sixty-two years after former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt presented the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the United Nations General Assembly, the world remains a challenging place for human rights defenders.

"We have seen increased efforts by governments to restrict civic space, whether in Cuba or China's efforts to somehow divert the world's attention from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony today. We really know that we have our work cut out for us," she said.

Clinton said the U.S. plans to make engagement with civil society a defining feature of diplomacy efforts, and she said embassies have been asked to develop strategies that would help support and protect civil society.

Clinton highlighted the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and the end of Apartheid as achievements that everyday people struggled to make reality.

Clinton said many people continue to put themselves at personal risk in their attempts to bring about positive change.

"In Cuba, the determined women of Damas de Blanco have endured harassment, beatings and arrest as they march every week, as they once again did yesterday, in support of their husbands and sons who are longtime political prisoners. In Zimbabwe, activists have been arrested, abducted or beaten after calling attention to human rights abuses and the plight of the poor. And, unfortunately, I could go on and on."

She praised activists for their bravery. "We remember them every single day, and among them is the Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo, who has now been awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Liu was not there, as you know, to accept the prize, and nor was his wife nor anyone related or connected to him, because he is serving an 11-year prison sentence on charges related to his peaceful advocacy for human rights and democracy," she said.

As Repressive As Always

From AFP:

Dissidents' wives protest outside Cuban prison

Female relatives of jailed political dissidents held an unprecedented protest outside Cuban prisons, angry that the island's communist government has not met its pledge to release 11 political prisoners.

Meanwhile, some 50 political dissidents were briefly arrested late Thursday and early Friday in different parts of the country to prevent protests on International Human Rights Day, said rights leader Elizardo Sanchez.

"These are preventive detentions, lasting just a few hours, but still unacceptable," Sanchez said.

The women, belonging to the Ladies in White group, marched carrying flowers and chanting "Freedom for the prisoners! and "Zapata lives!" -- a reference to Orlando Zapata, a dissident who died in February after an 85 day-long hunger strike.

The women marched unopposed outside two prisons and the national Directorate of Prisons.

While the women were not harassed by government supporters at the prison, late Thursday members of the group were surrounded and heckled by a crowd in downtown Havana.

Under a deal brokered by the Catholic Church, President Raul Castro agreed in July to release 52 of the political prisoners.

Of those, 40 agreed to emigrate to Spain with their families and one stayed in Cuba, but the remaining 11 are still in jail and refuse to be exiled.

The agreed-upon deadline for their release expired on November 7.

"Some prisoners were released but in essence, nothing has changed," said Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan, whose husband Hector Maseda is one of the jailed dissidents.

"The regime remains as totalitarian and repressive as always," she said.

The World's Most Prominent Political Prisoners

Friday, December 10, 2010
In commemoration of International Human Rights Day, Freedom House -- together with Foreign Policy -- has put together a list of 15 of the world's most prominent political prisoners (in addition to Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo of China).

It includes such inspirational figures as Nikolai Avtuhovich of Belarus, U Gambira of Burma, Hu Jia of China, Nasrin Sotoudeh of Iran, Haitham Al-Maleh of Syria and Thich Quang Do of Vietnam.

It's entitled Planet Gulag -- please click here and read all 15 stories.

Meanwhile, there's only political prisoner on the list from the Western Hemisphere:

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet

Óscar Elías Biscet, a physician, is the founder and president of the Cuba-based Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, which advocates for a peaceful transition to a multiparty democracy and the release of political prisoners. Arrested and sentenced during the "Black Spring" of 2003, Biscet is part of the "Group of 75" activists who were punished for defending human rights and democratic values.

This July, the Cuban government announced its plan to release Biscet and several other political prisoners. But after releasing 41 individuals into exile and allowing one detainee to stay on the island for humanitarian reasons, Cuba failed to meet its Nov. 7 deadline for releasing all 52 prisoners. The 11 who remain in prison -- including Biscet -- have refused to accept exile from Cuba.

Ladies in White Attacked Again

From Argentina's Momento 24:

On Human Rights Day, the Ladies in White were attacked

According to what Europa Press reported, "Las Damas de Blanco were attacked on Thursday by dozens of government supporters after they marched through the streets of Havana to celebrate the Human Rights Day."

The same agency adds, "The women left the house of Laura Pollan, one of the leaders of the group, with white gladioli and copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights United Nations in hand with the intention to gather at 18:00 on Thursday about Martin Luther King Memorial in Havana."

"However, shortly before reaching the statue of the American pastor about 80 people began to surround the ladies with the intent to disrupt the march. 'They shouted slogans like "Viva Fidel!, Viva Raul!, Viva Cuba libre!, Here's you respect human rights!' Reina Luisa Tamayo said, mother of a prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata, who died last February."

The woman, who denounced the attacks they suffered when they tried to escape the siege that they had undergone said "We know they were secret police agents of the government because even though they were dressed in plain clothes, sometimes we see them with military uniforms, because we know them."

"A huge mob surrounded us and started to beat, repression was very big and very violent against us, we marched peacefully. They told us horrendous words, there was shoving, hair pulling, kicking and stomping."

Using Children as Tools of Repression

Since adults no longer listen to the Castro regime's absurdities, they've resorted to forcing children to yell insults at dissidents.

According to Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, middle and high school students (including her son) in Havana are being sent to specific locations to protest against the Ladies in White and other dissidents.

The teachers are telling students that whomever doesn't show better have a very good excuse.

Sanchez correctly suggests UNICEF's intervention against forcing children to serve as the regime's "ideological agents."

We won't hold our breath.

On This International Human Rights Day

The Castro regime is determined to show it's one of the world's worst offenders.

Last night, over 50 of the Ladies in White marched to commemorate International Human Rights Day.

In one of the most appalling irony's of the year, upon arriving at Martin Luther King Park in Havana, the Ladies were confronted by a regime mob -- they were harassed and physically assaulted.

Thus, leaving it clear -- once again -- where the Castro regime stands on the issue of human rights and dignity.

Meanwhile, 11 of the 52 political prisoners announced for release in July remain imprisoned (two month's past the November 7th deadline) because they refuse to accept forced exile as a pre-condition.

And Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega is apparently on vacation.

UPDATE: A repressive crackdown on dissent has consumed the island. Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez is compiling a list of all those activists arrested this morning, including Darsi Ferrer and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez."

A Wikileak Worth Reading Very Carefully

Thursday, December 9, 2010
This cable is a must-read for three reasons:

1. Most of Cuba's trading partners believe that the Castro regime's so-called "reforms" are bogus.

2. Some believe that the regime could become insolvent by 2011 -- all believe in 2-3 years max.

3. Even China concurs.

Here are some excerpts:

SUBJECT: KEY TRADING PARTNERS SEE NO BIG ECONOMIC REFORMS IN 2010, AGREE CUBA'S FATE HINGES ON VENEZUELA

1. (C) SUMMARY: There is little prospect of economic reform in 2010 despite an economic crisis that is expected to get even worse for Cuba in the next few years, according to key commercial specialists, economic officers and Cuba-watchers in Havana. Promised structural reforms remain on hold while the Cuban government wrings its hands in indecision, fearful of the political consequences of these long-overdue changes. The one potentially significant reform implemented in 2009, the leasing of idle land, has not been effective. The Cuban government (GOC) could be forced to speed up reforms in the event of a significant reduction of assistance from an increasingly unstable Venezuela. Otherwise, the GOC will continue to prioritize military-led control and aim for a slow, measured pace of reform focused on agriculture and import substitution. The Cuban people have grown accustomed to tough times and will respond to future government belt tightening with similar endurance. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Pol/Econ Counselor hosted a breakfast with commercial and economic counselors from six of Cuba's seven largest trading partners, including China, Spain, Canada,(the U.S.), Brazil and Italy, plus key creditors France and Japan. These countries also represent most of the foreign companies investing in Cuba, with the notable exception of Venezuelan state-owned enterprises.

DIPLOMATS ARE MOSTLY PESSIMISTIC
--------------------------------

3. (C) The global financial crisis and the inability to service foreign debt will make the dire situation in Cuba even worse in 2010, according to EU diplomats. Brazil was a bit more optimistic noting that Cuba can still withstand more economic hardship. All diplomats agreed that Cuba could survive this year without substantial policy changes, but the financial situation could become fatal within 2-3 years. Italy said GOC contacts had suggested Cuba would become insolvent as early as 2011.

STILL DEFAULTING ON TRADE PARTNERS
----------------------------------

5. (C) Payment problems continue for all countries. Despite once again restructuring all of its official debt in 2009, Japan has yet to see any payments. Even China admitted to having problems getting paid on time and complained about Cuban requests to extend credit terms from one to four years. When France and Canada responded with "welcome to the club", China suggested Canada help secure payment from a Cuban joint venture that includes Canadian firm Sherritt International which is now reportedly receiving its share of profits.

AN UNWELCOMING ENVIRONMENT FOR FOREIGN INVESTORS
--------------------------------------------- ---

6. (C) Foreign investors have been treated poorly in Cuba and new investors will demand additional protections and guarantees, according to the French. The Chinese complained that the GOC's insistence on keeping majority control of all joint ventures makes no sense. "No matter whether a foreign business invests $10 million or $100 million, the GOC's investment will always add up to 51%," China's commercial counselor said in visible exasperation. He noted a joint venture to produce high-yield rice that produced a good first harvest but was not sustainable at the GOC-mandated prices. Brazilian investors are taking a longer term view on returns, however, noting some success in raising capital for the refurbishment of the port at Mariel.

MAJOR REFORMS ON HOLD
---------------------

7. (C) Despite the grave analysis, none of our contacts foresee meaningful economic reform in 2010. Immediate reform is neither necessary nor politically advisable since it has the potential of being too politically "destabilizing," said the Brazilian. Even reforms openly supported in the official press late last year (Ref A), such as the ending of the food ration system, are now on hold due to the initial negative public reaction. Any discussions around Chinese-style reforms, particularly regarding foreign investment, have been difficult and "a real headache" according to the Chinese. The French said the GOC will not act until its face is up against the wall and it runs out of options, which is not yet the case in spite of all the challenges. One cited example of the GOC's hesitancy is that all proposals for micro-credit programs coveted by the Ministry of Foreign Investment require the Council of State's approval. To date, only one small project by the Spanish has been approved with little success.

AS VENEZUELA GOES
-----------------

8. (C) The Spanish see future reforms determined by two factors: 1) foreign pressure that is outside of the regime's control; and 2) domestic pressure developed after a consensus is reached through internal discussions. All our colleagues agreed that Venezuela is the most important and "increasingly complicated" foreign variable. Without Venezuelan support, the GOC would have to enact significant reforms similar to those that enabled the regime to survive through the Special Period of the early 1990s (Ref B), according to the Spanish. The view from the French is that Venezuela "es en flames" and a source of serious concern for Cuba.

The Lost Opportunity (for Brazil and Castro)

Last year, Brazil announced it would finance the Castro regime's modernization of the Port of Mariel.

Immediately, advocates of "normalizing" relations began heralding a (supposed) growing trade between Brazil and Cuba, and of course, accuse the U.S. of lost business opportunities, sitting on the sidelines, becoming irrelevant -- you name it, they said it.

The same arguments they make regarding Cuba's much-hyped (yet unmaterialized) oil drilling.

Now, a State Department cable -- revealed by Wikileaks -- shows a conversation between Brazilian President Lula da Silva's foreign policy advisor, Marco Aurelio García, and U.S. National Security Advisor, James L. Jones, in which the Brazilians:

"Noted that their plans to help Cuba construct a deep-water port at Mariel only make sense on the assumption that Cuba and the United States will eventually develop a trading relationship."

In other words, the Brazilians were betting on the U.S. unconditionally lifting sanctions, so they can make money in Cuba.

Thus, the U.S. wasn't missing any opportunities, sitting on the sidelines or being irrelevant.

The U.S. was the opportunity -- for Brazil to financially speculate (and for Castro's economic survival, of course).

South Africans Question Bad Cuban Deal

South Africans are uneasy about their government writing off the Castro regime's huge debt with them -- for nothing in return.

By Walter Muller in The Times of South Africa:

Something fishy about Cuban trip

South Africa reportedly wrote off more than R1-billion (Rand) in Cuban debt during President Jacob Zuma's visit there this week.

It was also reported that our exports to Cuba in 2008 amounted to R81-million.

One of the objectives of the presidential entourage was to foster business with that country.

Based on the above figures, does it pay to do business with a country that fails to pay its debts?

It seems to me that there is something fishy, particularly as the names of the business delegation members have been kept secret.

It's Official!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida has been selected as the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

She is the first woman and Cuban-American (not to mention Hispanic) to hold this prestigious and powerful leadership position.

Below is her full statement:

"It has been a remarkable honor and privilege to serve the American people throughout my time in Congress, and I am truly humbled by the trust bestowed upon me to defend and advance our nation's interest as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In November, the voters made it clear that if we don't take the correct approach to policy by keeping our economy foremost in our decisions, they're going to ship us all out. Republicans got the message and are committed to making 'the people's House' work for the people again. As Chairman of this Committee, I will work to restore fiscal discipline to foreign affairs, reform troubled programs and organizations, exercise vigorous oversight to identify waste, fraud, and abuse, and counter the threats posed to our nation by rogue states and violent extremists.

I have identified and will propose a number of cuts to the State Department and Foreign Aid budgets. There is much fat in these budgets, which makes some cuts obvious. Others will be more difficult but necessary to improve the efficiency of U.S. efforts and accomplish more with less. We must shift our foreign aid focus from failed strategies rooted in an archaic post-WWII approach that, in some instances, perpetuates corrupt governments, to one that reflects current realities and challenges and empowers grassroots and civil society.

I plan on using U.S. contributions to international organizations as leverage to press for real reform of those organizations, such as the United Nations, and will not hesitate to call for withdrawal of U.S. funds to failed entities like the discredited Human Rights Council if improvements are not made.

Finally, my worldview is clear: isolate and hold our enemies accountable, while supporting and strengthening our allies. I support strong sanctions and other penalties against those who aid violent extremists, brutalize their own people, and have time and time again rejected calls to behave as responsible nations. Rogue regimes never respond to anything less than hardball.

When I first came to this country with my family as a young girl, we were fleeing from oppression and seeking an opportunity to live in freedom. In Cuba, human rights activists are condemned to the gulag and denied every basic human right and dignity. In America, I am privileged to serve in Congress and to stand up against those who seek to destroy freedom. The sharp contrast between what free nations do for their people and for the world and what rogue states do to their people and to the world reminds me every day of how important it is to stand unwaveringly on the right side of the fight. I pledge to do all that I can to isolate U.S. enemies while empowering and strengthening our allies, and I will not make apologies for doing either."

The Summit of the Absurd

At last Saturday's XX Ibero-American Summit in Mar de Plata, Argentina, Spanish and Portuguese-speaking nations adopted a provision threatening exclusion for any member country that doesn't abide by democratic process.

The host country's (Argentina) Foreign Minister, Hector Timerman, even stated, "There is no Latin American forum in which you can be a member if you do not respect the democratic order."

Yet earlier -- at the very same forum -- the Castro regime's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla began a tirade about the U.S. and the released Wikileak documents, saying that "behind the words and friendly smiles of the current U.S. president, there has not been any real change of policy or ethics."

Did we miss something?

And here's Bruno in an official Summit picture -- 2nd from the left, 2nd row.

Apparently, they forgot to call security.

Time for Change (Not "Updates")

Tuesday, December 7, 2010
An important article from EFE:

Opposition wants Cuba's socialist model dumped, not updated

Havana - Prominent dissident Guillermo Fariñas and two other members of the opposition presented here Tuesday a document rejecting the Raul Castro administration's plan of adjustments, demanding change rather than a "modernization" of Cuba's socialist economic model.

In a session with foreign reporters, Fariñas, Rene Gomez Manzano and Felix Antonio Bonne Carcasses released the text of "Cuba Es lo Primero" (Cuba First), stating their opposition to the plan of economic reform outlined in the basic document of the 6th Congress of the ruling Communist Party, to be held next April.

Last Wednesday the island saw the beginning of a popular debate of that basic document entitled "Project of Guidelines for the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution."

"We as Cubans disagree and will certainly express our points of view freely," the three opposition members said in their own document presented Tuesday.

Fariñas and his two associates believe that the government's plan of reforms has little credibility and describe as a "lack of respect" for citizens and for the party's own congress the fact that the conclave will only discuss economic subjects, shunting aside "vital" political and social matters.

They also said that the basic document of the congress omits statistics and problems such as the "generalized corruption" and the plan to lay off 500,000 state employees, while its approach could not be more full of party platitudes.

They said that the Cuban model must be totally changed and not "modernized," as proposed by the Communist Party, which they also criticized for dodging the preparation of a "self-critical analysis of the last half century" for the upcoming congress.

In the document, the three opposition members ask respect for human rights on the island, the legalization of dissent, free and competitive elections, and that all political prisoners be freed once and for all "and that there never be any more."

Fariñas, who received the European Parliament's 2010 Sakharov Prize for human rights, said that the Communist Party's reform plan is an interim device to "gain time" and see what happens with the presidency of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, with regard to the subsidies that Caracas gives Cuba.

Fariñas also made a "call for rationality" to the Cuban government in the case of the 11 members of the "Group of 75" dissidents rounded up in March 2003 who remain in jail, two months after the end of the period for freeing them that was agreed upon with the Catholic Church.

He said the government is afraid of what those "leaders" can do, adding that the first condition for any negotiation of the opposition with the authorities is unconditional freedom without exile for all dissidents.

A Nobel Call For Sanctions

Excerpts from today's acceptance lecture by 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient, Mario Vargas Llosa:

In my youth, like many writers of my generation, I was a Marxist and believed socialism would be the remedy for the exploitation and social injustices that were becoming more severe in my country, in Latin America, and in the rest of the Third World. My disillusion with statism and collectivism and my transition to the democrat and liberal that I am – that I try to be – was long and difficult and carried out slowly as a consequence of episodes like the conversion of the Cuban Revolution, about which I initially had been enthusiastic, to the authoritarian, vertical model of the Soviet Union; the testimony of dissidents who managed to slip past the barbed wire fences of the Gulag; the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the nations of the Warsaw Pact; and because of thinkers like Raymond Aron, Jean Francois Rével, Isaiah Berlin, and Karl Popper, to whom I owe my reevaluation of democratic culture and open societies [...]

Latin America has made progress although, as César Vallejo said in a poem, Hay, hermanos, muchísimo que hacer [There is still, brothers, so much to do]. We are afflicted with fewer dictatorships than before, only Cuba and her named successor, Venezuela, and some pseudo populist, clownish democracies like those in Bolivia and Nicaragua. But in the rest of the continent democracy is functioning, supported by a broad popular consensus, and for the first time in our history, as in Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and almost all of Central America, we have a left and a right that respect legality, the freedom to criticize, elections, and succession in power. That is the right road, and if it stays on it, combats insidious corruption, and continues to integrate with the world, Latin America will finally stop being the continent of the future and become the continent of the present [...]

I carry Peru deep inside me because that is where I was born, grew up, was formed, and lived those experiences of childhood and youth that shaped my personality and forged my calling, and there I loved, hated, enjoyed, suffered, and dreamed. What happens there affects me more, moves and exasperates me more than what occurs elsewhere. I have not wished it or imposed it on myself; it simply is so. Some compatriots accused me of being a traitor, and I was on the verge of losing my citizenship when, during the last dictatorship, I asked the democratic governments of the world to penalize the regime with diplomatic and economic sanctions, as I have always done with all dictatorships of any kind, whether of Pinochet, Fidel Castro, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Imams in Iran, apartheid in South Africa, the uniformed satraps of Burma (now called Myanmar). And I would do it again tomorrow if – may destiny not wish it and Peruvians not permit it – Peru were once again the victim of a coup that would annihilate our fragile democracy. It was not the precipitate, emotional action of a resentful man, as some scribblers wrote, accustomed to judging others from the point of view of their own pettiness. It was an act in line with my conviction that a dictatorship represents absolute evil for a country, a source of brutality and corruption and profound wounds that take a long time to close, poison the nation's future, and create pernicious habits and practices that endure for generations and delay democratic reconstruction.

This is why dictatorships must be fought without hesitation, with all the means at our disposal, including economic sanctions. It is regrettable that democratic governments, instead of setting an example by making common cause with those, like the Damas de Blanco in Cuba, the Venezuelan opposition, or Aung San Suu Kyi and Liu Xiaobo, who courageously confront the dictatorships they endure, often show themselves complaisant not with them but with their tormenters. Those valiant people, struggling for their freedom, are also struggling for ours.

From The Washington Post Editorial Board

Cuba's Jewish Hostage

RAUL CASTRO'S attempt to win foreign favor and investment for Cuba's moribund economy took a particularly cynical turn on Sunday, when the dictator celebrated Hanukkah with Havana's tiny Jewish community. Broadcast on state television, the event was designed to prove that the regime doesn't share the anti-Semitism of allies such as Iran and Venezuela. There was just one problem: No mention was made of Alan P. Gross, an American from Potomac who passed the holiday in a Cuban military facility, where he has been imprisoned for a year without trial because he tried to help Cuba's Jews.

Mr. Gross, a 61-year-old specialist in international development, traveled to Cuba under a contract from the State Department's Agency for International Development. His mission was to connect members of the Jewish community to the Internet, using laptops and satellite equipment, so that they could contact other Jewish communities and download information from sites such as Wikipedia. Though that is normal activity in most of the world - and Mr. Gross declared his garden-variety equipment to Cuban customs - he was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009.

Senior Cuban officials claimed that Mr. Gross, who is himself Jewish but speaks little Spanish, was sent to Cuba as a spy. Yet a year later, not a single charge has been brought against him - a violation of Cuba's laws. In that time, the contractor's health has badly deteriorated. According to his wife, he has lost 90 pounds and developed back problems that have caused partial paralysis in one leg. Several months ago, one of his daughters was diagnosed with breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. Because of the loss of his income, his wife has been forced to move from their Potomac home to a small apartment in Washington.

Appeals by the State Department and congressional leaders for Mr. Gross's release on humanitarian grounds - or at least the detailing of charges against him - have fallen on deaf ears in Havana. Instead the regime appears to be intent on forcing an exchange of Mr. Gross for one or more of five Cuban intelligence agents who are serving federal prison terms after being tried and convicted on espionage charges. This makes Mr. Gross not a prisoner but a hostage - one whose continued detention is a flagrant violation of international law and human decency.

To its credit, the Obama administration has put further improvement of relations with Cuba on hold while pressing for Mr. Gross's release.
A statement released Friday said the State Department had "made it very clear to the Cuban government that the continued detention of Alan Gross is a major impediment to advancing the dialogue between our two countries." Raul Castro should know that orchestrated media events like his Hanukkah celebration are no substitute for reversing this wrong.

One-Month Past Deadline, Still Awaiting Releases

On July 7th, the Catholic Church announced that the Castro regime had agreed to release 52 political prisoners from the infamous March 2003 crackdown on dissent, known as the "Black Spring."

While it only took Castro's secret police one evening to round up all 52 and lock them up for seven years -- with no visits or verification by the International Committee of the Red Cross or the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture permitted -- it was announced that they would be released within a four-month period.

By November 7th -- the conclusion of the four-month period -- there had not been a single release within Cuba.

Instead, 40 of the 52 political prisoners were forcibly exiled to Spain -- a condition that the Catholic Church "forgot" to mention at the time.

Today -- one-month past the original deadline -- 11 of the 52 political prisoners remain in Castro's gulag because they refuse to be forcibly exiled to Spain.

There has now been one release within Cuba.

These are the 11 political prisoners (of the 52) who -- five-months later -- are still awaiting their much-heralded (yet still pending) release:

Pedro Argüelles Morán
Oscar Elías Biscet
Eduardo Diaz Fleitas
Jose Daniel Ferrer
Diosdado González
Iván Hernández Carrillo
Librado Linares
Hector Maseda
Felix Navarro Rodriguez
Angel Moya Acosta
Guido Sigler Amaya

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Cuba Should Free U.S. Aid Worker Now

Monday, December 6, 2010
A Voice of America editorial:

Cuba Should Free U.S. Aid Worker Now

The government arrested Mr. Gross and has held him for over a year without any criminal charge.

One year ago this month, an American development sub-contractor named Alan Gross was arrested by Cuban authorities as he was working with a program to bring greater Internet access to civil society groups on the island nation, including Cuba's Jewish communities.

Upset with his efforts to distribute equipment that would allow these groups to better communicate among themselves and with their counterparts around the world, the government arrested Mr. Gross and has held him for over a year without any criminal charge. Despite the pleadings of his family, and the repeated requests of the United States and others in the international community, he remains in jail to this day.

Mr. Gross, 61 years old, works for an American company that was conducting a program in Cuba for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Hardly subversive, its aim is to strengthen civil society organizations and improve the flow of information to and from the island. Cuban President Raul Castro himself launched a somewhat similar effort in 2008 when he took steps to liberalize government policies on goods and services, allowing the private ownership of personal computers.

It is long overdue for Cuban authorities to release Mr. Gross. He has languished in jail for more than a year without charges, a clear violation of international human rights obligations and commitments regarding due process and judicial procedure. The United States is deeply concerned about his welfare and urges again that he be freed on humanitarian grounds. His continued detention is a major impediment to advancing the dialogue between our two nations.

Should the U.S. Collude With Castro's Laws?

Advocates of unconditionally "normalizing" relations with the Castro regime are now -- predictably -- arguing that the imprisonment (for over one-year without any charges or due process) of U.S. development worker Alan Gross is the fault of USAID's democracy programs -- not of the Cuban dictatorship.

They argue that regardless of the fact that Mr. Gross's activities in Cuba were non-violent -- helping the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet -- he violated the Castro regime's laws,
which they believe should respected no matter how ad hoc or absurd.

Yet ironically, these same advocates just spent the last two years lobbying for the lifting of U.S. tourism restrictions to Cuba.

So what did they want American tourists to do while in Cuba?

Apparently, the same thing as the Castros wanted -- for them to shut up, double the regime's income at apartheid resorts and sip mojitos. (And that's keeping it rated PG).

For according to Castro's ad hoc laws (Resolution No. 10 of 2005, Ministry of Tourism), Cuban tourism workers are required to keep their mingling with foreigners to a minimum, prohibiting everything from accepting personal gifts to attending events in the homes or embassies of foreigners without written permission.

In the 1980's, the U.S. correctly rejected colluding with South Africa's apartheid laws. Should the U.S. (or any other democratic nation) now collude with Castro's laws?

Do they believe that foreigners in Cuba should not discuss or distribute uncensored materials by Thoreau, Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King? After all, civil disobedience is against Castro's laws.

Or how about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Cubans go to prison for possessing and distributing copies of this document.

Is that what they're advocating? Is that what they do during their trips to Cuba?

And newsflash: Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship -- thus the only "law" is whatever the Castros decide over cafecito that morning.

Zapata's Mother Arrested, Relatives Missing

Sunday, December 5, 2010
In what has become a despicable weekly ritual of the Castro regime, Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of deceased Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, was -- once again -- arrested today for trying to visit her son's grave.

She was released hours later, but eight of her relatives, who were also violently arrested, remain unaccounted for.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Click here for AFP story.

A Testimony of Torture

Undoubtedly, this is the must-read item of the week.

It's by Cuban journalist Normando Hernández González, who was recently exiled to Spain after spending six years imprisoned by the Castro regime for exercising his fundamental human right of speech.

Trying to Forget: Torture Haunts Freed Cuban Journalist

I long to forget, but cannot. To erase from my memory the murmurs of suffering, the plaintive screams of torture, the screeching bars, the unmistakable music of padlocks, the garrulous sentinels...

I try also to forget the dismal silence of those petrified dungeons. The eternally cold nights spent in punishment cells. The rats, the cockroaches, the spiders...and most of all the swarm of mosquitoes that drained my blood every second of my ephemeral existence in that hell.

I aspire to sleep soundly, without being jolted awake. I aspire to live like a normal person, without daily visits from prison's ghosts.

I suffer when I see my brother for the cause, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, his lips sewn shut with wire to show his jailers that he prefers to die from starvation than to abandon his principles. I see Juan Carlos's eyes, at the edge of insanity, I see his skin, colorless after the suffering he has endured in the punishment cells. I see Juan Carlos and the anguish overcomes me.

I can no longer bear to see the image of Roberto Ramos Hernández -- who was arrested for robbery -- two syringe needles sticking into the dark part of his eyes, or that of him enveloped in a burning foam mattress engulfed in tongues of fire. I don't want to look upon the despair of this man, rendered blind by the negligence of his jailers who provoked his self-assault and then denied him the medical attention he required.

Another man appears to me crying from the pain of his rotting flesh after having injected petroleum into each of his legs. Jorge Ramírez Roja, alias Riquinbili (a motorized bicycle), also makes his way into my hostel room. This paraplegic, charged with robbery, uses a shaving knife to cut his scalp alongside the place where he had cerebral aneurysm surgery, in an effort to get the medicines and specialized medical care he has been denied for over six months. Not to mention the many that file through my nightmares each day with their guts open, with wounds on their arms, thighs, and anywhere else they can inflict injury, a tactic to try to gain prison rights established by law and so often violated with brazen impunity.

Nor do I wish to listen to the sad confessions of the torture victims, to see their tears or to feel, in my own flesh, the cold steel handcuffs pressing their wrists against the bars of their cells. I have even less desire to see them crucified naked on the bars awaiting a coldwater bath at dawn as the mosquitoes stick to their skin and suck, drop by drop, the little blood that is left to warm them.

I detest losing all sensation in my upper and lower limbs, as Amaury Fernández Tamayo--arrested for human trafficking--lost sensation when he was tortured. I detest having my hands handcuffed behind my back and attached to my feet, also handcuffed, and lying for hours on my side on the cold, damp cell floor while insects and rodents walk all over my garroted body being tortured with the technique known in prison slang as "Little Chair."

I want to sleep without enduring the pain caused by a rubber cane or tonfa used to bruise or break my skin.

Why does Roberto Rodríguez, a common criminal, visit me drowning in a pool of his own blood, unconscious, moribund, and denouncing the chief of conduct at the Kilo 7 prison, Lte. Didier Fundora Pérez, who ordered Unit Chief Daniel Primelles Cala to assassinate him? Why won't Roberto let me rest?

I have no desire to taste the burundanga, that main course composed, so they say, of animal guts, but which everyone knows contains skull, brain and even excrement. The dish's rank odor gives these ingredients away. Nor would I like to taste the flavor of rotten tenca, the fish that resembled a magnet covered with pins when it was served to us. I don't care to have the sensation of sandpaper scratching my throat when eating the famous cereal composed of God knows what for breakfast. It's best not to discuss the soups for that would only insult water with not quenching one's thirst.

My pen is still weak with hunger, with the gut-wrenching pain caused by my 19-day hunger strike.

But the hardest to forget is the suffering of my mother, my wife, and my daughter who, at barely one year of age, bit the scourge of treachery of the limitless cruelty of a communist government, just for being a dissident's daughter. Help me, my God. Help me to wipe the slate clean and to rid myself of the passive memory of the past 88 months, to see if I can live.