Spaniards Want Tough Stance Towards Castro

Saturday, December 18, 2010
A public opinion poll by a leading Spanish think tank, Real Instituto Elcano, shows that 79% of Spaniards believe the international community is not doing sufficient to pressure the Castro regime on human rights.

Ironically, this poll was released just days before a Wikileak-released State Department cable discusses the ambivalence of many democracies -- including Spain -- toward the human rights violations of the Castro regime.

Other results show 50% of Spaniards believe the recent release (and forced exile) of some political prisoners does not merit an easing of the European Union's policy towards Cuba, while only 31% believe it does.

Meanwhile, Raul Castro ranks just above Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez as the worst-viewed foreign leaders.

History Will Forget Fidel

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro once stated, "history will absolve me."

Yet it looks like history will just forget him -- a punishment in itself for an egomaniac of his ilk.

As for Raul, history has always passed him over.

The following graph from Google's new feature, Books Ngram Viewer, shows the decline of Fidel and the irrelevance of Raul in the corpus of books from 1950-2008.

Historic karma.

Shameful Behavior by Some Democracies

Friday, December 17, 2010
"For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing."

-- Simon Wiesenthal, Holocaust survivor and human rights advocate.

Excerpts from a 2009 State Department cable -- revealed by Wikileaks -- regarding the collusion of some democratic nations with the brutal dictatorship of Fidel and Raul Castro:

1. (C) Summary. The Cuban Government has been able to stonewall its independent civil society from foreign visitors who have, for the large part, been all too ready to give in to Cuban bullying and give up on these encounters. A series of recent visits has shown the different approaches that foreign governments have taken to highlight, or not, Cuba's sorry human rights record. The Australian Foreign Minister, Switzerland's Human Rights Special Envoy and the Canadian Cabinet-level Minister of the Americas not only failed to meet with non-government Cubans, they didn't even bother to publicly call for more freedoms after visiting Cuba in November. Though also shunning NGOs, recent emissaries from the Vatican and the EU, at least called out publicly for greater rights. Some holdouts remain, refusing to bring anyone of note if the Cubans insist on conditioning access. Regardless of the approach, the result tends to be the same. There is little of substance to be gained from a "friends-at-all-costs" approach to Cuba.

THE "BEST-FRIENDS-FOREVER" APPROACH: DO, SAY NOTHING

2. (C) Practitioners of this approach to Cuba include most countries, including all Latin Americans and Africans, Russians and Chinese, and many Europeans. The Brazilian Polcouns in Havana best summed up this style: "We don't raise (human rights) in public or private." No wonder, the U.K. number-two in Havana grumbled, that "Cuba would love nothing more than to have the same relationship with us that they have with Brazil." Most of these countries would not raise human rights even if the Government of Cuba (GOC) did not object to them doing so. This group apparently now includes the Swiss and Australians.

9. (C) The EU Commission in Havana sits snuggly in the "Best-Friends-Forever" camp. Their functionaries share with us their reproach of the "radical" Swedes and Czechs, with their human rights priorities, and can't wait for "moderate" Spain to take over the EU Presidency. The former Development Commissioner, Louis Michel, keenly followed that line during his visits to Cuba. Not so his successor.

THE "TAKE-YOUR-VISIT-AND-SHOVE-IT" APPROACH: LITTLE LOST

12. (C) Some countries refuse to let the GOC dictate to them when it comes to visitors. Although they will accommodate GOC petulancy by hosting dual national day ceremonies (and spare Cuban officials the "affront" of sharing space with Cubans it deems unworthy) and cordon off their ambassadors from civil society engagement, the holdout countries resist pressure to disengage from civil society altogether. In many cases they have chosen to keep their principals at home if the price is kowtowing to the GOC. Germany, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom may pay a price in terms of lost business and access from their principled stance. Others who stand in this camp have less to lose from sticking it to the Cubans, and include Poland and Sweden.

14. (C) COMMENT. The overwhelming majority of the 100 foreign missions in Havana do not face a human rights dilemma in their dealings with the Cubans. These countries wouldn't raise the issue anyway. The rest, a group that includes most of Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and the United States, claim to employ different approaches to address their human rights concerns in Cuba -- but the truth is that most of these countries do not press the issue at all in Cuba. The GOC does not like to talk about its human rights situation, and even less to be lectured publicly. It deploys considerable resources to bluff and bully many missions and their visitors into silence. For the most part the rewards for acquiescing to GOC demands are risible: pomp-full dinners and meetings and, for the most pliant, a photo-op with one of the Castro brothers. In terms of substance or economic benefits, they fare little better than those who stand up to the GOC.

Free Biscet Campaign Video

Please watch this video and join the campaign here:

Kudos to the State Department

From yesterday's Daily Press Briefing with Assistant Secretary of State, P.J. Crowley:

QUESTION: And then also, are you aware of, at any point in the last two years, Raul Castro, through the Spanish, trying to open up a direct dialogue with the White House and him being basically – or the Spanish being told in return that, no, no, he should go – we've made a number of outreach efforts so far, and he should – if he wants to open up a dialogue with – a direct dialogue with the U.S., he should go through the normal diplomatic channels.

MR. CROWLEY: We have made clear to Cuba that, first and foremost, before we would envision any fundamental change in our relationship, it is Cuba that has to fundamentally change, and that we would respond accordingly to any actions that Cuba undertook to release political prisoners, to fundamentally change its political system. That remains our position. But we still continue to engage Cuba on specific issues, such as migration issues, which has a clear humanitarian issue. We have opened up greater opportunities for travel of family members, which is, again, something that – of a humanitarian nature.

But we are – we will consider changes in our relationship only when we start to see a real change on --

QUESTION: Well, this is --

QUESTION: Well, what is dialogue?

QUESTION: Hold – hold on a second. This is not – this a little more narrow than a change in policy. This is just talking about – I mean, this is Castro seeking a direct contact – seeking direct contact with the White House, not necessarily a change in policy.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I'm just – we have an Interests Section in Havana that operates. We do have specific dialogue with the Government of Cuba. And a broader, higher level dialogue is -- will only be feasible once we see real change in Cuba. As we've said, we're prepared to respond as Cuba changes, but we have not seen anything approaching fundamental change in Cuba at this point.

QUESTION: But why is a broader dialogue only feasible once there's a change in Cuba? I thought this Administration and this President campaigned on engagement with one's enemies in order to change the behavior.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, but we engage at an appropriate level where we see an opportunity. We have limited dialogue with Cuba right now on specific issues -- postal issues, migration issues.

QUESTION: These are small technical issues, though. This President –

MR. CROWLEY: I understand.

QUESTION: No, I believe that this President did campaign on engagement with one's enemies or countries that you don't have – that you don't agree with in order to find areas of – further areas of common interest.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we will pursue our national interest. We are willing to pursue engagement. There's no cookie-cutter approach to this. Our approach to Cuba doesn't necessarily have to mirror our approach to Iran, which doesn't necessarily have to mirror our approach to North Korea. We continue to review our policies with respect to Cuba. We have made, over the past 18 months, some changes to allow certain activities to expand. We continue to evaluate how to increase people-to-people contact between the American people and the Cuban people. But in terms of a broader, higher level dialogue, we've made clear we want to see fundamental changes occur in Cuba, and we will respond as those occur.

The Chilling and Retardant Effect of Fidel

Thursday, December 16, 2010
From a 2007 State Department cable revealed by Wikileaks:

7. (C) Comment: We are missing too many variables to be able to predict accurately how many more months Fidel Castro will live. Frankly, we don't believe anyone, including Castro himself, can state that with certainty. However, while he is still alive, even in a reduced capacity, his presence has a chilling and retardant effect on Cuban society. The high expectations for change are still out there, but are mostly associated with the idea that the dictator has to die first before anything substantial will happen.

Cuban Regime Officials Reject Rabbis

From Washington Jewish Week:

Petitions urge Gross' release

Rabbi David Shneyer, two petitions in hand urging Cuba to release a Jewish American prisoner, led a handful of congregants to the Cuban Interests Section on Friday, but was unable to drop off the petitions.

The reason: He didn't have an appointment.

The petitions -- one signed by about 200 people, most of them local; the other signed by about 40 members of Rabbis for Human Rights -- seek the release of Potomac resident Alan Gross.

Gross, 61, was arrested a year ago, with Cuba calling him a spy. Charges have never been filed. Both his family and the State Department say he was in the country on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to help the Cuban Jewish community with Internet access to communicate with other Jewish communities.

Shneyer, rabbi of Kehila Chadasha and Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Center, where Gross is a member, said he had repeatedly sought a meeting with Carlos Barros Olivera, the Cuban Interests Section deputy chief of mission. It was to Barros that he hoped to deliver the petitions.

The local petition, addressed to the Cuban government, states: "We hope you will let Alan free as a humanitarian act, for the sake of his family and for the sake of creating good will between our peoples."

The petition signed by the rabbis -- including Charles Feinberg of Adas Israel in D.C., Alana Suskind of Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg and Sid Schwarz of Rockville -- is directed to Cuban President Raul Castro. "The equipment he brought was intended for humanitarian purpose, not for the dissident community. Your government has not charged him with any crime," it says. "We urge you to release Alan Gross immediately."

A letter to Castro signed by Shneyer noted that Friday marked the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Rights. "The Cuban Revolution was a struggle for these basic human rights. Article 9 reads 'No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.' His captivity without charge for more than a year is both arbitrary and cruel," he wrote.

Shneyer had met with Barros in February, a meeting he said took several months to arrange. "At that time, he said there was an ongoing investigation," the rabbi said, adding he will continue his efforts to arrange a meeting and deliver the letters. He also said an online petition is in the works.

Cuba, Shneyer complained, "has never said officially what they want from the United States to release Alan."

A spokesperson for the interests section had no comment on Gross, saying the investigation is ongoing.

Being a Cuban Journalist

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Being a Cuban Journalist: Harassed, Repressed, and Jailed

By Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona

The president of the tribunal looked to his right and said, "The prosecutor has the floor." With a serious voice he pronounced the sentence: "The prosecutor ratifies the request for perpetual imprisonment for the accused, Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, for acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the country."

Cuba's Black Spring had claimed its first victims from the westernmost point of the country. I was among the chosen. My actual offense? Having become an independent journalist. My first journalistic efforts--mainly reports on human rights abuses and articles on social and economic issues, were broadcast by radio stations owned by Cubans in exile. The work environment for journalists was difficult and outdated. Our only tape recorder was from the Soviet era. We depended on outside contributions to obtain paper, pens, batteries, cassettes, and other media. A bicycle was our only means of transportation. I still long for the Undergon brand typewriter I inherited from my father, which the political police confiscated during an inspection of my house, where I also did my journalistic work.

The repressive state apparatus used intimidating and aggressive methods. My family suffered reprisals, such as being dismissed from their jobs, prohibited from pursuing higher education, and even prevented from participating in cultural and sporting events.

In mid-1996, my writing appeared for the first time in the print media, published in the Nuevo Herald newspaper and in the magazine Carta de Cuba. In the latter, I published an article that gave an economic and social assessment of tobacco cultivation in Pinar del Río. This provoked a violent reaction on behalf of the regime. I was accused of disrespect and assault, and sentenced to a year and six months in prison.

I was put in a special cell in the high-security section of the Kilo 5 y Medio provincial prison in Pinar del Río. In my cell, I was greeted by Carlos, a highly aggressive, paranoid murderer whose lack of medication made him all the more violent. For six months I lived under ever-increasing stress. As soon as I would fall asleep, Carlos would start his screaming. He even physically assaulted me.

My persistence in sending out accounts of the wretched living conditions and the physical and psychological mistreatment of the prisoners increased my jailers' animosity towards me. On multiple occasions I was taken to the dungeon (the hole) where my food and water was limited as additional punishment.

I served my sentence and was released in April of 1998. Much had changed. Independent journalism was experiencing a surge. Its practitioners had multiplied, grouping themselves in competing press agencies and spending more resources on equipment and financing, which facilitated their journalistic work. I began a period of intense activity associated with the Journalists and Independent Cuban Writers Union (UPECI). I published my first articles on CubaNet and other agencies outside of the country. I continued my radio work and published a regional bulletin called "El Pinareño." Simultaneously, I established a network of contributors in Pinar del Río, Havana, and Matanzas who provided to information.

There were other acts of repression. My telephone line was electrified, disabling my fax machine. Late one night, "unidentified persons" threw glass bottles at my house and my mother's house. The state television repeatedly broadcast insults about me, my family, implicating my youngest son, who at the time was 6 years old.

I was thrown in jail again. This time for six months, accused of the "serious offense" of giving gifts to poor children on the Three Kings holiday, January 6, 2000.

I resumed my journalistic work upon release. Friends outside the country furnished me with a desktop computer, a mobile phone, and the other means necessary to cover multiple news events at once. The repression grew stronger. My wife lost her job as a professor. My daughter, after completing her studies to be a telephone operator, with satisfactory results, never received a job offer.

I centered my reporting on the failings of the regime, principally on the topic of public health, advised by a team of qualified doctors and personnel. We documented cases such as the death of newborn babies and their mothers, the result of inadequate medical treatment. We reported on the abominable hospital conditions and the shortage of essential medicines and equipment. I can't forget the case of Miguel Antonio, a boy who needed a bone marrow transplant and wasn't given adequate treatment, nourishment, or decent housing. I remember Sessia, a paraplegic girl of 7. I wrote a story called "The prince and the beggar" about her. Both died shortly after I was imprisoned for the third time.

By the onset of 2003, I had already accumulated enough "merits" for the Cuban regime to consider me one of its top enemies nationwide. On the night of March 18, 2003, as I was returning from an intense day of work in Havana, I was detained just meters from my house. In the early hours of the 19th, heavily armed agents burst into both my mother's and my homes. The search lasted 12 hours. My family was intimated, humiliated, and psychologically tortured. All of my work equipment and other family belongings were seized. For multiple weeks, police agents stood guard outside my house with a single objective: to scare them.

Those were terrible days. Interrogations, physical aggressions, threats, blackmail, and being thrown into very hot or very cold cells. After 17 days I was judged along with three brothers of the cause. At the same time, 75 innocent men were being sentenced throughout the country.

I was given 26 years in prison and confined to the easternmost point of the country, in the highest security provincial prison, in the province of Guantánamo.

From The State Department

Wednesday, December 15, 2010
From today's Daily Press Briefing with Assistant Secretary of State, P.J. Crowley:

We congratulate Mr. Guillermo Farinas today as he receives the 2010 Andrei Sakharov Prize, which is awarded by the European Parliament. We congratulate Mr. Farinas not only for being selected to receive this award which is given for freedom of thought, but also for his remarkable fortitude and courage in defending freedom of expression, democracy, and human rights in Cuba. Through his actions he has clearly helped draw international attention to the plight of political prisoners in Cuba and eventually led to the release of many of them. And we stand alongside the EU in recognizing Mr. Farinas's outstanding work, and we are disappointed that he was not permitted to attend today's ceremony to receive this prize in person.

Ninety Arrests in One Day

On March 18th, 2003, over 75 Cuban pro-democracy activists were imprisoned by the Castro regime.

It only took one day.

Over seven years later,
on July 7th, 2010, the Catholic Church (on behalf of the Castro regime) announced the release of 52 of these 75 activists.

Today, 158 days after that, 40 of these 52 have been forcibly exiled to Spain, 11 remain imprisoned because they refuse to be exiled and only one has been released in Cuba.

Meanwhile, in the 24-hours leading up to International Human Rights Day, on December 10th, 2010, there were 90 reported arrests of pro-democracy activists.

Also, in one day.

How's that for "reform"?

Here are the 90:

In Guantánamo province, Néstor and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, Lomber López Serules, Isael Pobeda Silva, Yordis García Founier, Rogelio Tavío López, Rosaida Ramírez Matos, Enyor Díaz Allen, Roberto González Pelegrín, Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz, Randi Caballero Suárez, Emilio Almaguer de la Cruz, Redesmeldo Sánchez Torres, Eliecer Aranda Matos, Elisa Milagro Reinier Acosta, Roberto Pérez Alfonso, Rafael Matos Montes de Oca, Òscar Sabón Pantoja and Yanier Jombert Cisneros.

In Velazco, Holguín, Rafael Leiva Leiva, Jonal Rodríguez Ávila, Manuel Martínez León, José Peña Batista, Arisbel Rodríguez Ricardo, Josué Peña Batista, Carlos Peña Ramírez, Marlenis Leiva Leiva, Joan Blanco Suárez and Julio Pérez Zaldívar, who were reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when they were attacked by the regime's paramilitaries.

René Hierrezuelo Arafe and Guillermo Cobas Reyes (de Santiago de Cuba), who were arrested in Havana.

In Havana province, Raúl Velázquez Valdés, Lázaro González Pérez, Dolores Eliene Muñís Vásquez (Artemisa) and Enrique Mustelier Turro (Alquízar), who were detained in their homes.

In Havana, Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, Rodolfo Ramírez Cardoso, Juan Carlos Castellano Zamora, Luz María Piloto Romero, Silvio Benítez Márquez, Lilvio Fernández Luis, Arnaldo Herrera Campoalegre, Hermojenes Inocencio Guerrero, Manuel Guerra Pérez, Lisbey Lora Febles, Reinier Vera, Iván Méndez Mirabal, Orelvis Grillo Castañola, Darsi Ferrer Ramírez, Yusnaimi Jorge Soca, Pedro Moisés Calderín, Rubén Pitrín Perón, Pedro Fontanar Miranda, Juan Mario Guillén, René Ramón González Bonelli, Idalberto Acuña Caraveo, David Águila Montero, Bartolo Márquez Acebo, Frank Díaz Aguirre, Carlos Manuel Pupo Rodríguez, William Prior Peña, Jorge Luis Martínez Graveran, Jorge Luis Espino Rodríguez, Carlos Raiko Pupo Morgado, Miguel Amado Reyes Fonseca, Eduardo Pérez Flores, Michel Iroy, Vladímir Calderón Frías, Nairobi Morales Rodríguez and Julio Beltrán Iglesias.

In Güanes, Pinar del Río, Yisel Cruz Montejo, Hugo Prieto Quevedo, Luis Alberto Hernández Álvarez, Yosvani Alonso Brito, Sandino Antonio Andrés Álvarez López and Julio Adonis Castro Martínez, Denis Díaz González, Nilo Justino Padrón Padrón, Osniel González Cid, Julio Adonis Castro Martínez and Antonio Andrés Álvarez de Manuel Lazo, Lázaro Caridad Porra Vilas and Ernesto Antonio Obregón.

Under house arrest in Havana, Carlos Ríos Otero, Bárbara Sendiña Recarde, Georgina Noa Montes, Marjori Moreno Noa, Vladimir Alejo Miranda, Ernesto Artiles Tosco, Juan Carlos Bous Batista and Armando Santana Cumbrado.

In San Antonio de los Baños, Juan Gilberto Hernández Molina, Irino Morales Gutiérrez, Guillermo Flores Vázquez, Sergio Julia Negrín, Lían Escobar Díaz, Omar Lorenzo Pimienta and Osmani Ramos Vega de Alquizar, Emiliano Vignote Arias, Francisco Rubalcaba Martínez, Eulice Vignote Arias and Damari Martínez Lían.

H/T Uncommon Sense

Empty Chair in Strasbourg

Please note the five pre-conditions Fariñas highlights for an improvement in EU-Cuba relations.

From The European Parliament:

Empty chair in Strasbourg for Guillermo Fariñas

Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, this year's winner of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, had to be represented by an empty chair at the prize award ceremony on Wednesday as he did not receive permission to leave his country and travel to Strasbourg to receive the prize.

"Even though activists like Guillermo Fariñas are persecuted and are imprisoned, their voice cannot be silenced. The role of the European Parliament is to amplify that voice", said European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek.

"The Sakharov Prize is the trademark of the European Parliament in the fight for human rights all over the world. The empty chair for this year's laureate Guillermo Farinas is the best example of how important this fight is", added the president.

Addressing MEPs in a recorded message, Mr Fariñas expressed his gratitude to the European Parliament "for not abandoning the Cuban people in these more than 50 years of the struggle for democracy". He explained that he had accepted the Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought "because I feel myself to be a tiny part of the rebellious spirit that nourishes the people I am proud to belong to."

Mr Fariñas criticised the government in Havana, saying "Unluckily for those who misgovern us in our own homeland the fact that I cannot leave and return voluntarily to the island where I was born is, in itself, the most irrefutable witness to the fact that unfortunately, nothing has changed in the autocratic system ruling my country."

He called on MEPs "not allow themselves to be deceived by the siren songs of a cruel regime practising 'wild communism'" when analysing EU policy towards Cuba.

According to Mr Fariñas, a change of direction in these relations should only occur if the following five pre-conditions are met:

- the release, without banishment, of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, with a public commitment never to imprison non-violent political opponents;

- an end to the violent beatings of and threats to the peaceful opposition;

- an announcement that all Cuban laws that contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be reviewed and repealed;

- granting the means, in daily practice, for establishing opposition parties, mass media not subordinate to the 'State socialism' system, independent trade unions and any other kind of peaceful social bodies;

- public acknowledgment that all Cubans living in the diaspora have the right to take part in Cuba's cultural, economic, political and social life.

Guillermo Fariñas

A doctor of psychology and a journalist, 48-year-old Guillermo Fariñas has denounced the Castro regime. He is the founder of "Cubanacán Press," an independent press agency aimed at raising awareness of the fate of political prisoners in Cuba.

Mr Fariñas has spent years in confinement and has gone on hunger strike 23 times so far as a non-violent means of fighting oppression in Cuba. His efforts to secure free internet for all earned him a Reporters Without Borders Cyber-Freedom Prize in 2006.

In July 2010, Mr Fariñas nearly died after a five-month-long hunger strike he began on 24 February, following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a fellow political activist who passed away after 80 days of hunger strike. He ended the strike after the Cuban government gave in to his plea and released 52 political prisoners (EDITOR'S NOTE: Of these 52, 40 were forcibly exiled to Spain and 11 remain in prison for refusing to be exiled. Only one has been released in Cuba.)

Guillermo Fariñas is the third winner from Cuba to receive the €50,000 prize, after Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas in 2002 and Ladies in White in 2005.

Empty chair ceremony - not the first time in the European Parliament

This is not the first time that the Sakharov Prize has been awarded in the absence of the laureate. In 2008 China's most prominent human rights activists, Hu Jia, was also not able to take part in the ceremony as he was incarcerated, but a video message from his wife Zeng Jinyan was played to MEPs. For other winners, such as Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991 and Damas de blanco (Ladies in White) in 2005, close family members or representatives took part in the ceremony but up to now the winners have still not received the prize in person.

The Sakharov Prize

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named in honour of the Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, has been awarded by the European Parliament every year since 1988 to individuals or organisations who have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy.

Nothing Has Changed

From the AP:

EU human rights laureate calls for change in Cuba

BRUSSELS -- A Cuban dissident has used a video address at the EU's main human rights prize ceremony to call for the release of all political prisoners and for the country to end attacks on peaceful opposition.

Guillermo Farinas was not allowed to travel to Wednesday's ceremony in Strasbourg, France: "Irrefutable testimony to the fact that unfortunately nothing has changed (in Cuba)," he said.

An empty chair, set out for Farinas, sat in the middle of the legislature with a Cuban flag draped over it.

EU Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said the chair signified a "sad day."

Farinas' 134-day hunger strike helped draw attention to the plight of Cuban political dissidents.

Previous winners of the prize include Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela.

Quote of the Week

Tuesday, December 14, 2010
"Nothing has changed in Cuba."

-- Joseph Daul, Member of the European Parliament from France, in response to the Castro regime denying dissident Guillermo Fariñas permission to pick up the 2010 Sakharov Award for Freedom of Thought, AP, December 14th, 2010.

Who Silences Cubans?

Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, had the audacity (and arrogance) this week in Tokyo -- one of her many foreign junkets -- to say that "it makes her laugh" when people talk about freedom of expression in Cuba and (incredulously) asked, "Who silences Cubans?"

An attitude befitting an Emperor's daughter.

The quick and easy answer is: Her family.

However, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez answered her (in detail) through a string of 140-character tweets -- for Mariela's family tries to silence Yoani through all other means of communication and technology.

Here are Yoani's tweets (translation courtesy of Babalu Blog):

Mariela Castro declared that "it makes [her] laugh when they talk about freedom of expression in Cuba." It makes me feel sad, impotent and desirous of change

"Who silences Cubans?" asks Raul Castro's daughter and I'm going to try to answer her 140 characters at a time:

Cubans are silences by the shadows that watch us and tap our phone lines and stigmatize those that are different

The permits for exit and entry to one's own country silence Cubans, buying their muteness with a travel authorization

They attempt to silence us also with repudiation rallies against dissidents, using our own children as shock troops

They silence Cubans when they expel a journalist from a media outlet for writing what he thinks and when they isolate a blogger for same

They silence Cubans when they have supposed calls for debate but then don't include all parties

They silence Cubans with privileges that are really crumbs, with slogans from last century

Those who travel with money from the state's coffers silence Cubans while Fariñas remains here without his travel authorization

They silence Cubans when they hide the fact that we are David and that Goliath is that huge government infrastructure which feeds on us like a vampire

They silence Cubans when they force us into a car, arrest arbitrarily and threaten us with the impunity of a uniform

Those that advocate for the acceptance of sexual differences silence Cubans when they don't recognize ideological and and political plurality

Those that answer a moderate and civilized question with an insult like "insignificant hen" silence Cubans

Those that block websites, censor books and confiscate satellite dishes silence Cubans

Those that inherit the country's government as if it were a feudal estate silence Cubans

Those who make the presidential chair into a genetic monopoly owned by one bloodline silence Cubans

Those who prevent the nonconformist from having a single minute on the radio or on TV or a space in the newspaper silence Cubans

However all the things that silence us are also making us speak, to break the silence

The process of recovering their voice is slow. But what a joy when Cubans won't have someone to silence them.

Foreign Pressure Works

Monday, December 13, 2010
It's ingenious to think -- that after five decades of brutal rule -- the Castro regime wants to undertake genuine reforms or democratize.

They want to keep totalitarian control forever -- or more precisely, for as long as they can.

Thus, the Castro regime only reacts to pressure. In the same vein, once pressure is eased, the regime emboldens and retrenches.

We saw it pursuant to the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1990's, when the regime scrapped its then-new "reforms" (practically the same ones it's purportedly undertaking now) as soon as European and Canadian tourists (and Hugo Chavez's oil subsidies) bailed it out.

Now, it's looking for China to become its piggy back.

Yet, even the Chinese are frustrated with Castro's derelict regime.

Excerpts from The Financial Times:

Cuba bows to pressure to reform its economy

Rising debt charges are forcing Cuba to reshape its Soviet-style economy, with leading creditor China among those cheering on the changes [...]

In a recent closed-door meeting of 500 senior officials chaired by Raúl Castro, president, Cuba's economy minister, Marino Murillo, reportedly stated that mounting debt and the need for fresh credit had left the government no choice but to put its economic house in order.

Cuba last reported its foreign debt at $17.8bn in 2007. Most analysts agree it now exceeds $21bn, or close to 50 per cent of gross domestic product and 30 per cent more than annual foreign exchange revenues. Many creditors have tired of Cuba's debt reschedulings. China is a relatively new member of Cuba's creditor club, having provided billions in loans over recent years. But it is now Havana's biggest creditor and second largest trading partner, after Venezuela [...]

Cuba is counting on China and Venezuela to provide fresh development credit. Some of its debts to Beijing will be backed by Venezuelan oil as collateral. A diplomatic cable, released by WikiLeaks last week, describes a US diplomat's breakfast meeting with the commercial attachés from Cuba's biggest trade partners. "Even China admitted to having problems with getting paid on time," the cable reported. "[Officials from] France and Canada responded with 'welcome to the club'."

From The European Parliament (on Fariñas)

From The European Parliament:

Guillermo Fariñas unlikely to be able to receive Sakharov Prize in person

Guillermo Fariñas is the winner of this year's Sahkarov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The award ceremony takes place, most likely with an empty chair, on Wednesday, 15 December, in Strasbourg. President Buzek deeply regrets that Mr Fariñas has not been given permission to leave Cuba in order to receive the prize in person.

During the opening of the plenary session president Buzek declared the following with regard to this year's winner of the Sakharov prize:

"On October 21 Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas was chosen as the winner of this year's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Regrettably, Mr Fariñas is experiencing problems leaving the country, even though I made a personal appeal in a letter to the President of Cuba, Mr Raul Castro. We expect that Lady Ashton will take due note of these problems and that she will take this into account in future relations with Cuba. If Guillermo Fariñas were to leave in the next few hours, he could still be here in time to receive his prize".

The Sakharov ceremony will take place on Wednesday as scheduled, at 13.00h.

Guillermo Fariñas is the third winner from Cuba to receive the €50,000 prize, after Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas in 2002 and Ladies in White in 2005.

A doctor of psychology, journalist and former soldier, 48-year-old Guillermo Fariñas's has denounced the Castro regime. He is the founder of "Cubanacán Press," an independent press agency aimed at raising awareness of the fate of political prisoners in Cuba.

Fariñas has spent years in confinement and has gone on hunger strike 23 times so far, a non-violent means of fighting oppression in Cuba. His efforts to secure free internet for all earned him a Reporters Without Borders Cyber-Freedom Prize in 2006.

"Guillermo Fariñas was ready to sacrifice and risk his own health and life as a means of pressure to achieve change in Cuba. I hope to hand over the award to him in person, here in Strasbourg, in December, which would be a tremendous moment for the European Parliament and for all Cuban prisoners of conscience," said Mr Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament.

In July, Mr Fariñas nearly died after a five-month-long hunger strike he began on February 24, following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a fellow political activist who passed away after 80 days of fasting. He ended the strike after the Cuban government gave in to his plea and released 52 political prisoners.

MEPs backing Mr Fariñas' nomination said his "struggle has been, and still is, a shining example for all defenders of freedom and democracy." José Ignacio Salafranca (EPP, SP) described Mr Fariñas as "the epitome of someone defending peaceful resistance."

The Impact of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

From Jennifer Rubin's editorial in The Washington Post -- on the potential impact of incoming House Foreign Affairs Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:

Of course, oversight hearings and budgetary control do not guarantee that the Obama administration will shift course on Russia, Cuba or any other country. But Ros-Lehtinen can, and I predict will, make a difference. Nations that have been neglected or undercut by this administration will have a chance to be heard. She, as well as the 2012 presidential candidates, can begin to lay out the case against Obama foreign policy and describe an alternative vision - robust on human rights, supportive of our allies, candid in the description of the war against Islamic jihadism and assertive in advancing U.S. interests rather than the nebulous goal of "engagement." That is no small thing.

Meet Angel Moya and Berta Soler

Sunday, December 12, 2010
There's an extraordinarily inspiring interview (in English) on the blog, Cubanita's Thoughts, with Berta Soler, wife of Cuban political prisoner Angel Moya Acosta (and a leader of the Ladies in White).

Please click here to read the entire interview, entitled "Love, Freedom and Human Rights."

Here's some background:

Angel Moya Acosta is jailed in the Combinado del Este prison in Havana, serving a 20-year sentence. He was arrested on March 19th, 2003 -- during the Black Spring crackdown, where the Cuban government arrested and jailed 75 peaceful dissidents, independent journalists, librarians and human rights activists. He has served 7 years and 8 months of his sentence, is in relative good health, considering the conditions under which the government keeps political prisoners.

He is one of the 11 prisoners of conscience who didn't accept the government's offer to be released if they accepted exile in Spain, which they consider a deportation scam. According to his wife, Lady in White Berta Soler Fernandez, Angel says he respects other political prisoner's decision to accept the government's deal, in order to have every body else respecting his. "He says no one can force him to leave his homeland and if he decides to do at some point in the future, it will be on his own terms, and to the country of his choice."

The Sting of Karma

A 2004 State Department cable -- revealed by Wikileaks -- expresses U.S. concern about the Spanish government's then-developing policy of excluding dissidents from its embassy events in Havana.

Therefore, the Political Officer (Poloff) at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid contacted Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, Pedro Gomez de Olea, and asked him whether this policy was as a result of a meeting with (and reported blackmail by) the Castro regime's Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque.

The cable reports:

3. (C) Poloff inquired about the accuracy of news reports that Cuban FM Perez Roque had told Moratinos in New York that noted political prisoner Raul Rivero would not be released if Spain invited dissidents to its national day event, comments which Popular Party politicians denounced as blackmail. Gomez de Olea scoffed, saying that Perez Roque had not made such a statement, but that in fact his comments were even "more insulting" than those reported. He said Perez Roque demanded not only the lifting of EU measures undertaken in the wake of the 2003 GOC crackdown on dissident, but also the full revision of the EU Common Position to remove all European political conditions on improved ties with Cuba.

Ironically, just a few years later, Perez Roque would be purged by the Castro brothers and hasn't been seen or heard from since.

Today, he dreams of foreign embassies in Havana.

Karma stings -- a lesson in itself.