On This New Year's Eve

Saturday, December 31, 2011
While you're enjoying a sidra, cava or champagne at parties welcoming 2012 tonight, please remember Cuban pro-democracy leader Ivonne Malleza Galano, who is currently on hunger strike in a punishment cell of the infamous maximum security prison of Manto Negro.

Throughout 2011, Malleza, a member of the Ladies in White, has led a series of protests in Havana parks that have been met with great popular support.

That led the Castro regime to brutally arrest her on November 30th (here's a video of the protest and arrest).

Also arrested (and still in prison) was her husband Ignacio Martinez Moreno and fellow activist Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosquera.

Consider dedicating your New Year's prayer and wish to Ivonne's release and to the freedom of all Cubans.

U.S. Calls (Again) for Release of Alan Gross

More rhetorical please, but still no tangible repercussions.

An editorial from Voice of America:

Cuba's "Humanitarianism" Falls Short

The United States is deeply disappointed that the pardon was not extended to Alan Gross.

The government of Cuba says it has pardoned and will release some 2,900 prisoners held in its jails. President Raul Castro called the pre-Christmas announcement a humanitarian gesture that would include women, the ailing, people older than 60, dozens of foreigners and a small number of political prisoners who have served a large part of their sentence with good behavior.

The United States is deeply disappointed that this pardon was not extended to Alan Gross, an American who is unjustly imprisoned in Cuba. The fact that the Council of State did not consider Mr. Gross's deteriorating health and the two years he has already spent behind bars suggests the gesture was a calculated and hollow one indeed.

Sixty-two years old and suffering from arthritis, Mr. Gross is a dedicated development professional who has a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in more than 50 countries. He was a subcontractor working on a project sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development in Cuba helping connect members of civil society to the outside world. For these well-intentioned activities, he was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009, convicted of crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

We continue to call on the Cuban authorities to release Mr. Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs.

A Worsening of Censorship

Friday, December 30, 2011
From the Inter-American Press Association's (IAPA) 2011 review of the state of press freedom:

Together with the impunity surrounding crimes committed in other years and the lack of action on the part of the authorities to deter those who resort to violence a vicious circle has been created that has given rise to high levels of self-censorship. Also noted are the few advances made regarding freedom of the press and of assembly in Cuba, a country where there was a worsening of censorship and violence against dissidents, independent journalists and bloggers.

Fidel Must Know From Experience

This week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wildly accused the U.S. of inducing him and other Latin American leaders with cancer.

Where did Chavez get this crazy idea from?

According to Politico:

Fidel Castro, Chavez said, first alerted him to the alleged cancer plot.

“Fidel always told me, ‘Chavez, take care. These people have developed technology. You are very careless. Take care what you eat, what they give you to eat... A little needle, and they inject you with I don’t know what,’” Chavez said.

Fidel must know from experience -- or had a Freudian slip.

Curiously, this is exactly how many believe the Castro regime induced the death (through some bacteriological agent) of Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan.

An independent journalist investigating these claims has been constantly harassed and arrested on the island.

Quote of the Day

Thursday, December 29, 2011
A tragic truth stands out from this otherwise insensitive Cuba travel chronicle:

I spoke with a young woman, a mother of one, who is employed in the communist system at a ration distribution center by day and works the streets by night. "There are two classes of people here. The government caters to the tourists, but doesn’t care about us," she said. When I asked her if that bothered her, she answered, in Spanish, "How could it not?"

Another Year of Imprisonment

By Guillermo Martinez in Sun-Sentinel:

New year marks another year of imprisonment for Cuba's citizenry

The message came via Twitter. Somebody re-tweeted to me what John Lee Anderson of The New Yorker magazine said about Raúl Castro's decision not to give Cubans the basic right to travel outside the island.

The tweet said: "RCastro's decision not to lift travel restricts a mistake. Most Cubans r young & wish to see world. Most love Cuba & will return. Let em go!"

Anderson's quote made me think of a new year for Cubans; a new year in which they still have to endure a brutal totalitarian regime that has governed the island for 53 years this coming Sunday. This is a regime that had close relations with Libya and still has them with Iran; a regime that decreed three days of national mourning to mark the death of North Korea's "dear leader." A country where the average Cuban earns 20 convertible pesos a month and where people are still beaten and jailed for demanding the most basic of human rights.

I echo Anderson's comments that it is indeed a shame that Cuba's regime did not lift travel restrictions on those who live on the island prison. And I say island prison because, though most countries in the world have restrictions on just who can cross its border to come in, few have such draconian restrictions on who can leave their homeland, as does Cuba.

Most Cubans are not allowed to travel. Those bloggers, like Yoani Sánchez, who oppose the regime are not permitted to travel to receive the international awards they have won. Neither can the majority on the island. Except for those high government officials, the members of a privileged class, most just cannot afford it.

What is inconceivable to me is that writers and others like Anderson are naïve enough to believe in this day and age that Cubans who would leave the island would return. He says the young people love their homeland.

Those of us who left more than five decades ago do so also. Yet the experience is that most that leave don't go back, except to visit. Very few choose to go back to live in a country where there are no freedoms and no rights other than those given to them capriciously by the Communist regime.

My distinguished colleague joins a long list of naive American, European and world leaders who view Cuba with rose-tinted glasses. These lenses block out the the tyrannical nature of its leaders. It is the longest family dictatorship in the world. Millions have left their homeland to live in other countries. Few have ever returned willingly to live there.

It is a regime that has made many promises and kept few. The last time I was allowed to travel to the country where I was born was in 1978. Cuba was about to release 3,500 political prisoners and wanted the world's media, particularly those in South Florida, to know about it.

Since then the jails have been full. The regime is always ready to release a political prisoner to a friendly visitor much as one would give a rose on Valentine's Day to a loved one. Cuba grows prisoners as others do flowers.

Thus on a day they were to have lifted the travel restrictions, they freed another 2,900 prisoners — nobody knows how many were political, for in Cuba the distinction between a political and a common criminal is in the eyes of the regime. Yet, within the past few months, hundreds have been arrested throughout the island. Their crime is their demand for the release of political prisoners and to have the regime recognize the most basic human rights.

Still, people like Anderson, and former President Jimmy Carter, and singer Harry Belafonte and many others believe the regime is good and that Cubans love their leaders.

Last week, fishermen off the coast of Florida found a solidly built boat constructed with an old car's motor. It was seaworthy and would have made it across the Florida Straits if it had not been for the U.S. Coast Guard vessel that intercepted it and its passengers at sea. Little has been said about the would-be refugees, other than they will be returned to the island they were fleeing.

I wonder if Anderson might ask them if they are going back to Cuba willingly.

I also know that hoping that the New Year might bring freedom and liberty to Cuba might be an impossible dream. It is a dream that has been frustrated year after year for more than half a century.

Maybe I should be more modest in what I wish for in 2012. I would be happy to see people like Anderson realize that Cubans live in an island jail and no matter how much we love the place where we were born, both young and old would only want to live there if basic freedoms were respected. Until then, the Castro brothers have to keep the doors shut so prisoners won't all rush out of jail at the same time.

Keeping Anderson Cooper Honest

CNN's Anderson Cooper should be commended for his coverage of the Arab Spring.

In his nightly show, Anderson Cooper 360, he has a segment entitled "Keeping Them Honest," where he's continuously provided a space for pro-democracy activists from Libya to Syria to discuss the realities on the ground and expose the propaganda stemming from those country's dictatorial regimes.

Thus, this month, when Cooper traveled to Cuba (albeit on assignment for CBS's 60 Minutes), we frankly expected a similar opportunity for the island's courageous pro-democracy activists to counter the Castro dictatorship's propaganda.

Sadly, that was not the case.

Instead, Cooper spent his time in Cuba exploring lionfish off the island's coast with the Castro regime's minders (and even gave a nod to Fidel).

So much for keeping them honest.

More Shameless "Purposeful" Cuba Trips

Wednesday, December 28, 2011
By Elliott Abrams in The Weekly Standard:

The Park Avenue Synagogue's Cuba Vacation

The Cuban regime has just announced a prisoner release, at the very end of 2011. This is partly an effort to get some positive publicity before the scheduled visit of the Pope, and partly a cold-blooded move by the regime to release older prisoners who are a burden on their prison system.

Not included in the group to be released is Alan Gross. Here is what the State Department said about that:

We have seen reports that the Council of State of Cuba has announced the release of 2,900 prisoners and Alan Gross is not among them. If this is correct, we are deeply disappointed and deplore the fact that the Cuban government has decided not to take this opportunity to extend this humanitarian release to Mr. Gross this holiday season, especially in light of his deteriorating health, and to put an end to the Gross family's long plight. We continue to call on the Cuban authorities to release Alan Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs.”

Who is Alan Gross? He is a Jewish American social worker, a long-time USAID contractor who was jailed in December 2009. He now completes two years in a Cuban prison. His wife responded to the news that he would not be released:

To receive news in the middle of Hanukkah that the Cuban authorities have once again overlooked an opportunity to release Alan on humanitarian grounds is devastating. Our family is simply heartbroken.”

What was Gross’s crime? What was he doing in Cuba? His job was to connect the tiny Cuban Jewish community to the Internet, and thereby to the global Jewish community.

How has the American Jewish community responded to his two years in prison? There have been repeated protests, for example, from the American Jewish Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Or perhaps one should be more precise: from some parts of the community have come protests. From other parts has come tourism.

It is bad enough to think of any Americans, Jewish or Christian, frolicking in the sun on the Castro brothers’ prison island, drinking rum on the beach while ignoring the truth of what Freedom House calls “one of the world’s most repressive societies” with “the most restrictive laws on free speech and press freedom in the Americas.”

But Jews touring Cuba while Alan Gross sits in prison now for what would be his third year—precisely for working with the Cuban Jewish community? Yet the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, one of the richest and most prestigious congregations in the country, is sponsoring a trip to Cuba in late January. Of course, it is not for mere tourism; the synagogue website calls it an “adult learning trip,” and “an educational and religious mission to learn about how the once-vibrant Cuban Jewish community has sustained itself.”

Now, don’t think Spartan: among the reviews of the Hotel Parque Central, where the Park Avenue synagogue members will stay, we learn that “the hotel has a lovely reception and a roof top swimming pool and bar which boast lovely views of Havana Room was nice and clean and staff friendly. The breakfast buffet has a huge choice of foods and we always ended up eating too much!” and that it’s “the place to spoil yourself and enjoy life.”

Even today, when the Obama administration has liberalized travel to Cuba -- and failed to reverse that liberalization when Alan Gross was imprisoned -- there are limits. So the Park Avenue Synagogue travelers have to check the box on their application that says they aren’t just on a jaunt; instead they must swear that “I am a member or staff of a U.S. religious organization, and my travel is for participation in a full-time program of religious activities in Cuba.” So of course there cannot be time for mere tourism, and that pool at the Parque Central must remain off limits even if the wonderful breakfast buffet is not. Right?

Would it not send a far stronger message to the Cuban regime if all those signed up for this trip -- and the synagogue website reports that “The trip is now sold out” --cancelled and instead marched to the Cuban mission to the United Nations on Lexington Avenue and 38th Street, there to toss their visas into the trash? Judy Gross, Alan’s wife, said this week that “Alan is 62 years old, has lost 100 pounds in captivity, is increasingly mentally weak and depressed, and is losing all hope that he will ever see his mother again.” Will the synagogue group demand to see Gross? Will they march to the prison while in Havana? Or will they forget him?

It is perhaps unfair to pick on the Park Avenue Synagogue, which joins many other college and church groups in touring Cuba nowadays under the looser travel rules. But the Park Avenue group will be going there on January 25, just weeks after those heartbreaking words from Judy Gross and after the Castro regime once again refused to free her husband. So it is seems reasonable to ask, have they no shame at all?

Free Ivonne Malleza Galano

From The Miami Herald:

Activists and groups advocating individual freedom in Cuba denounced the jailing in maximum security prisons of three peaceful opponents, including Ivonne Malleza Galano, who this year carried out a series of daring street protests.

The arrests coincide with the massive amnesty announced by Cuban leader Raúl Castro of about 2,900 Cuban prisoners. Five political prisoners were also released, according to information given on Tuesday by Elizardo Sánchez, director of the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, based in Havana.

“Suddenly the signs are very negative,” Sánchez told El Nuevo Herald. “Because while there is an amnesty of criminal and political prisoners, three people who simply staged a small peaceful protest on the streets without any kind of force or violence are being jailed.” Malleza was transferred to Manto Negro women’s jail in Havana together with dissident Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda. Both could be sentenced to five years in prison. The third opponent jailed is Malleza’s husband, Ignacio Martínez Montero.

Malleza, a member of the group the Ladies in White, began to draw attention in the last few months because of her work in the opposition movement.

Ahmadinejad Heading to Cuba (Again)

During the second week of January 2012, Iranian tyrant Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be traveling to Cuba (once again) to visit with his old friends Fidel and Raul Castro.

He will also be making stops to visit Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

Earlier this month, a Univision documentary revealed how Iran, Cuba and Venezuela planned cyber-attacks against U.S. targets from Mexico.

Is Fulton Armstrong Violating the Law?

This week, former CIA analyst and Senate staffer Fulton Armstrong articulated his infamous disdain for Cuba pro-democracy programs -- and defense of "regime preservation" -- in The Miami Herald.

As expected, Armstrong's editorial was gleefully translated and reprinted in its entirety by Castro's state media.

Throughout the years, we've grown accustomed to Armstrong's attacks on pro-democracy programs, including the exaggerations and untruths he sprinkles throughout.

However, in his zeal to attack these programs, Armstrong seems to have crossed a very concerning line:

First, he provides the Castro regime fodder -- regardless of its veracity -- to continue arresting peaceful opponents and trumping up charges.

Secondly, he appears to be revealing sensitive information on government programs and procedures without prior authorization.

The first is cruel and irresponsible.

The second is potentially illegal.

How Quickly Regimes Can Collapse

Tuesday, December 27, 2011
In an editorial about former Czech dissident turned President Vaclav Havel, Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner reminds us how quickly and unexpectedly dictatorial regimes collapsed in 1989:

In February, the Slovenes — then a republic attached to the Yugoslav federation — created an opposition party. Poland, guided by Lech Walesa and propelled by the massive impulse of the Solidarity labor union, had begun to defeat the dictatorship in the June elections. In August, the three Baltic nations asked for independence from the Soviet Union.

By October, the Hungarian communists had changed their name and accepted the multiparty system. In early November, the Germans knocked down the Berlin Wall. On Dec. 25, the Romanians executed dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wicked wife, the ineffable Elena, to begin the changes. One month earlier, they had elected him unanimously as leader of the Communist Party.

The Czechs, in turn, seemed one step behind. Suddenly, like lightning, freedom struck. On Dec. 29, Havel was elected president by a Parliament that saw no other way out from the crisis. His figure had grown tremendously at the head of the Civic Forum, an organization that basically brought together dissident writers and artists. It was the first country that unequivocally broke the Muscovite chain and began to bury the Marxist superstitions.

Young Cubans Lead Street Protests

On December 23rd, young Cubans took to the streets of Arroyo Naranjo, a municipality of Havana, to protest the Castro regime.

Here's the video (courtesy of Hablemos Press):

And here's video of another protest (on December 24th) in Guines, southeast of Havana:

Shamefully Using Fidel for Business

Former U.S. Congressman-turned-lobbyist Bill Delahunt (D-MA) seems to think highlighting his friendship with brutal Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is good for business.

Frankly, it's shameful.

Then again, after years of pushing within Congress for the U.S. to unconditionally embrace the Castro dictatorship, did anyone ever doubt that there would be a future business angle?

Here's a picture from his lobbying website.

On Delahunt's right is U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO).

Where's the "Reform"?

Monday, December 26, 2011
The foreign media is buzzing today that General (or "President," as they like to call him) Raul Castro is making "more refoms to the retail sector."

Sounds impressive, huh?

Now here's Cuban state media:

"From January 1, 2012, the Cuban government will extend lease options to self-employed workers, including those who work as carpenterss and photographer, according to resolutions published on Monday in the Official Gazette.

The rules of the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Labor and Finance and Prices also include the trades of upholsterer, locksmith, clockmaker, shoemaker, and repairers of jewelry, mattresses and electrical equipment, among other services."

Note the absurdity of such control and micromanagement.

Yet, even among such limited crafts, they stress:

"The buildings and means to be included in contracts will remain state properties."

As always, the Castro regime owns everything.

So where's the "reform"?

Castro's Christmas Gift for Fariñas

From EFE:

Prominent Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas was released without charges several hours after his “violent” arrest in the central city of Santa Clara, his family and colleagues said Monday.

Fariñas was headed for church on Sunday together with a group of 10 opposition members when “three (police) patrol cars blocked their way and the cops began to push and shove them inside,” Ramon Jimenez, spokesman for the dissident group United Anti-Totalitarian Forum, told EFE.

“The police were violent with them and Guillermo was treated worst of all,” Jimenez said.

Fariñas’ mother Alicia Hernandez confirmed Monday the account of her son’s detention and said that, after returning home around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, he had to go to the doctor “because he was in a lot of pain.”

How to Keep Losing Cuban-American Votes

Sunday, December 25, 2011
In today's Miami Herald:

How to keep losing Cuban-American votes

by Mauricio Claver-Carone

During a September round-table with Hispanic journalists, President Obama was asked whether he was concerned about a backlash from his administration unilaterally easing sanctions towards Cuba despite the fact that the Castros’ regime is still holding American development worker Alan Gross as its hostage.

The president replied that he thinks easing sanctions is an “adequate” policy and that it is supported by Cuban Americans. That “support” is frequently reported and talked about in Washington, but it’s never reflected where it counts — the ballot box.

Consider this: President Obama received approximately 30 percent of the Cuban-American vote during the 2008 election, when just about every other constituency was overwhelmingly looking for “change” after eight years of the Bush administration. Obama won Florida by only 2.5 percent. Today, he’s treading on thin ice politically. Thus, any drop in Cuban-American support could easily cost him Florida. Given Florida’s political importance, perhaps the election.

Even so, his misguided response wasn’t particularly surprising. Obama’s political rationale is based on a theory that Cuban Americans — despite consistently voting to support candidates who favor maintaining strong sanctions towards Cuba’s dictatorship — favor more travel to and engagement with the island.

This unfounded theory has been hailed by anti-sanctions advocates and political theorists alike, both unfamiliar with the Cuban-American community and propped up by the push-polls they often commission. It has been going on for decades.

Back on Dec. 5, 1965, The New York Times ran its first story that “the very active anti-Castro groups in Miami have faded into virtual obscurity.”

Then, on Oct. 10, 1974, based on “a series of interviews with members of the Miami exile community” it reported:

“Virtually all of several dozen Cubans interviewed would like to visit Cuba either to see their relatives or just their country, which they have not seen for 10 years or more; and some segments of the exile community, especially young refugees brought up and educated here, are not interested in the Cuban issues.”

Sound familiar? There’s more:

On March 23, 1975: “For the first time significant number of exiles are beginning to temper their emotion with hardnosed geopolitical realism.”

On Aug. 31, 1975: “A majority of the persons interviewed — especially the young, who make up more than half of the 450,000 exiles here — are looking forward to the time when it will be possible for them to travel to Cuba. Even businessmen, who represent a more conservative group than the young, are thinking about trading with Cuba once the embargo is totally lifted.”

On July 4, 1976: “A new generation of professionals between 25 and 35 years of age has replaced the older exile leadership.”

And now, three decades later, Obama has fallen into the same trap. A few days ago, he went as far as threatening to shut down the federal government over a provision in the FY2012 Omnibus Appropriations bill that would have tightened Cuba sanctions.

Here are the facts: The Cuban-American community has never elected a candidate to federal office who has supported lifting sanctions. In the most recent example, during the 2010 congressional race in the heavily Cuban-American 25th District of Florida, Obama’s candidate — an outspoken cheerleader for his Cuba policy — got less than 18 percent of the Cuban-American vote.

During a 2008 campaign speech in Miami, Obama said his policy would be guided by the principle of “ Libertad” (“Freedom”). During his inauguration speech, he even “extended a hand” to tyrants like the Castro brothers in the hopes that they would “unclench their fists.”

Tragically, not only did the Castros ignore Obama’s “extended hand” but it now appears the president’s gesture has also weakened the U.S. hand — proven by the fact that Alan Gross is still in a Cuban prison for helping the island’s Jewish community connect to the Internet. Moreover, the Cuban people have no more freedoms than they did two years ago. In September alone, as the president was discussing the “adequacy” of his policy, the Castro regime arrested 563 people for political “crimes.” That’s the highest monthly number of political arrests in 30 years.

Why does President Obama continue this policy of unilateral appeasement with the Castro brothers? After all, with unemployment in Florida reported to be as high as 11 percent, it would seem that Obama and his re-election campaign don’t have much wiggle room.

But hey, it’s only Florida’s electoral votes that are at risk.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and founding editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington, D.C.

How Many Political Prisoners Are There in Cuba?

Friday, December 23, 2011
According to the Castro brothers, there have never been any political prisoners under its dictatorship.

Everyone knows that's bollocks.

Just a few years ago, 150 was the number commonly cited by the foreign media.

Then, after the banishment of most of the 75 political prisoners of the "Black Spring" to Spain, the Castro regime's D.C. advocates swore that there were hardly any left. Thus, they argued, the U.S. should lift sanctions in response.

Wouldn't that have been irresponsible.

Today, Reuters reports:

Cuba, which is preparing for a visit by Pope Benedict XVI next spring, will release 2,900 prisoners in the coming days for humanitarian reasons, including some convicted of crimes against “the security of the state”, the Cuban government said on Friday.

How could that be? (sarcasm)

The fact is nobody knows the number of political prisoners under Castro's highly secretive and repressive regime.

What we do know is that -- more often than not -- Cuban activists are convicted (as a ruse) of common crimes associated with political acts.

Moreover, that the Castro brothers have always used Cuban political prisoners as geopolitical pawns.

As Reuters also reminds us:

Cuba freed 3,600 political prisoners after then Cuban leader Fidel Castro met with exiles in 1978 during Mr Carter’s presidency.

Of course, the jails were fully restocked quickly thereafter.

For as we've learned (once again) from this record year (2011) of political arrests in Cuba:

The Castros arrest political activists much faster than they release them.

(Nearly 3,500 in the first eleven months of 2011 alone).

Dissidents Mourn Havel, Scorn Kim

Thursday, December 22, 2011
By Mike Gonzalez in The Foundry:

Cuban and Chinese Bloggers Speak on Havel’s Greatness, Kim’s Tyranny

The reaction of bloggers in two remaining communist dictatorships to the recent deaths of pro-freedom crusader Vaclav Havel and his polar opposite, North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Il, tells you all you need to know about why communists can’t hold elections. In the restricted cyberspace afforded to Chinese and Cubans, Havel is being hailed as a hero while Kim is derided for the evil he represented.

In a roundup on Chinese cyber reactions to the two deaths, the BBC observed that contrary to China’s official stance, comments by Chinese microbloggers have been generally pro-Havel, the former dissident and writer who went on to become the leader of a free Czechoslovakia, and anti-Kim Jong-il, the paunchy dictator who inherited power from his father, another despot named Kim Jong-Il.

“When Havel died yesterday, we were very sad. But after Kim Jong-il died, we are celebrating. It’s not because we don’t value life or don’t think life is equal, but that we know better the true value of life. Some people bring nothing but shame to life!” the BBC quoted well-known blogger Yang Hengjun as writing on the blog Sina Weibo.

Liu Chun, vice-president of Chinese internet giant Sohu, wrote, “between the two people who have just passed away, Havel and Kim Jong-il, I cannot possibly like Kim no matter how hard I try, and I cannot dislike Havel no matter how hard I try.”

A third blogger, Zhu Youke, culture editor of the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend newspaper, was quoted by the Beeb as saying: “Compared with Havel’s death, the death of Kim Jong-il was nothing but a senseless epilogue of a farcical performance.”

In Cuba, which has accorded the Orwellian Kim three days of official mourning and which is, like China, another communist dictatorship that remained silent on Havel’s passing, bloggers have also drawn similar contrasts.

The poor Cubans have only a fraction of the cyber freedom than even the Chinese have, but the country’s most famous blogger, Yoani Sanchez, wrote:

"The government of Raul Castro has still not made the most minor public mention of the death of the Czech democrat but has decreed three days of official mourning for the death of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. Of the latter, the official media of his country says he wrote more than 1,500 books in his life, but none of these is read by any of us today. However, the author of The Feast and The Temptation (Havel) is everyday better known and admired by us. Like missionaries of a peculiar relition, many today distribute and propagate his writings throughout the island."

Many other Cuban bloggers echoed these sentiments.

These reactions from Cuban and Chinese dissidents are a far cry from the opinion of Kim voiced by Wendy Sherman, the Obama Administration’s undersecretary of state for political affairs, who called Kim “witty and humorous” and “a quick problem-solver.” Kim, of course, ran a country which Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal referred to this week as “a vast modern-day Auschwitz.”

Mr. Obama, unlike this peers in France, Britain and Germany, has decided to skip Havel’s funeral.

The Shirt Off His Back

Last night, four agents from Castro's secret police physically assaulted Cuban expression artist Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto," and literally tore the shirt off his back.


Because of this beautiful image printed on it:

Who Does Castro Think He's Kidding?

By Dariela Aquique in Havana Times:

Who Do Cuba’s Authorities Think They’re Kidding?

Any moderately intelligent people would soon figure out they were being duped, especially if the device was so obvious to the point of underestimating the reasoning ability of those being “fooled.”

The astute tricks being played by the country’s authorities are obvious. They are absolutely stop gap and respond to today’s Cuba, where expressions of discontent, dissatisfaction and disapproval of the political system are increasing.

In the first place, all of these maneuvers, resolutions, bills or whatever they’re being called are late. They should have been issued years ago, though it would have been better if what is being rescinded had never been issued at all.

Logic dictates that all those prohibitions were unreasonable and harmful to the people and even worse for the nation.

It smells a little strange that after so many taboos, we are now reaching these new levels of openness, and so suddenly, one after another (of course one cannot refuse to believe “in change, human improvement and the utility of virtue,” as Marti once said). But in the case of these regimes, one needs to be suspicious.

The lack of credibility that plagues their actions, the unpopularity of their plans and the level of demystification of their heroes have caused them to gradually condition society by giving Cuba a number of palliatives to mitigate the unbearable pain of its citizens, deprived of political, legal, civic rights.

But those palliatives are only that, painkillers for a condition that continues to exist. The torment will not cease without total removal.

I’ve thought a bit about this and it turns out:

- The Cuba of UMAP (labor camps for anti-establishment individuals in the 1960s), of the ideological “parameters” and witch hunts of the 1970s, is now immersed in a campaign against homophobia (pleasing a social sector that can be quite defiant in extreme situations, and giving the country a new international image).

However, it is being argued that Cuban society is not prepared for the legalization of relations between homosexuals, and marches and ceremonies of groups will be convened only if supervised and permitted by CENESEX and Mariela Castro, the institution and the individual who initiated this crusade.

- The Cuba where Cubans were denied access to hotels and tourist facilities designed for hard currency generation has today opened its doors to everyone (pleasing many people who have pockets deep enough for vacations and stays in these resorts. The tourists don’t ask many questions; the Cuban presence makes for a better picture of the island and its people; and hustlers have an easier time, becoming less hostile in their aggressive interactions with foreigners).

By the way, currency in the hands of nationals is collected and registered in offices and files of such resorts, giving more control with the first and last names of people and their income levels.

- The Cuba that once crucified the words “business” and “private property,” now allows self-employment and small independent enterprises (pleasing a group avid for private enterprise, the government collects taxes at sky-high rates, saves on the payment of wages, doesn't have to secure some jobs and the domestic economy is made to seem to be reviving).

Yet most everyone knows it’s really not like this, but nonetheless resigns themselves to it. By virtue of not having been allowed anything, they now feel like getting whatever they can, and with many people scurrying around — daily — they will be too busy to dwell on certain analyses or engage in any activity that endangers their little business.

- The Cuba where personal property seemed more like the property of the state, is now allowing the sale and transfer of properties such as homes and cars (the government is agreeing to permit owners to sell what belongs to them in the name of facilitating and enhancing the economic and social development of people. However, this is being done for no other reason than to benefit itself, charging a percentage on both sides of the transactions).

By the way, it should be pointed out that these same transactions that were carried out but illegally in the past will not be viewed as legal now, thus causing the beginning of new illegalities. But what will be exposed in the process will be many of these tricks that were carried out by the public through their lawyers and the staffs of Housing Department offices in acquiring and selling their homes and cars.

- The Cuba where freedom of expression was a utopia after 1959, is now advocating the “derecho a la palabra” (the right to speak), criticism by citizens (thus allowing an irrevocable human right). Departments in the provincial headquarters of the Communist Party are now empowered to register people’s concerns and complaints.

Nevertheless, they will not accept proposals for change or questioning under this “permission.” What is demanded in universities is more combativeness against any expression of dissent and increasingly more political discussions at the different educational levels, trying to manipulate the next generation, using history and creating an awareness of the advantages of socialism as a fair and preferable system, and the only one possible in Cuba.

- The Cuba of the absolutely official and centralized press, today is ironically making mention of a free unbiased press (without changing anything here, it’s pure rhetoric) every day waging fiercer wars against independent and alternative journalism, calling it cyber-dissidence, and every day blocking more sites so people are denied use of them, not to mention all the efforts made to postpone and delay access to the Internet by Cubans.

That’s why to me (and for many others) any of the new measures being put in place meet no other goal than to try to divert attention from the real problem: the need for an immediate change of policies and the authorities in place in Cuba.

Their palliatives, in concrete terms, are doing nothing but strangling the real possibilities for growth, prosperity and individual freedoms. Since this heartfelt desire is so exploited, and was abandoned so many years ago, I (and many others) have to wonder: Who are they kidding?

Don't Forget Ivonne Malleza

Wednesday, December 21, 2011
On November 30th, Cuban pro-democracy leader Ivonne Malleza led a protest in Havana's Fraternity Park, which was greeted with popular support by on-lookers.

This led to Ivonne's brutal arrest, as well as that of her husband, Ignacio Martinez, and one of the on-lookers who joined the protest, Isabel Haydee.

All three remain imprisoned in an unknown location. 

Amnesty International and other international human rights groups have expressed concern over their well being.

Please keep spreading the word.

Defraud Medicare and Flee to Cuba

The scheme continues.

From Reuters:

By the time authorities busted a fake AIDS clinic in Miami, it had bilked Medicare of more than $4.5 million (2.8 million pounds). Still, the man behind the scheme remained far ahead of the agents pursuing him.

Michel De Jesus Huarte, a 40-year-old Cuban-American, hadn't simply avoided arrest. He had hatched a plan to steal millions more from Medicare by forming at least 29 other shell companies - paper-only firms with no real operations. Each time, he would keep his name out of any corporate records. Other people - some paid by Huarte, some whose identities had been stolen - would be listed in incorporation papers.

The shells functioned as a vital tool to hide the Medicare deceit - and not only for Huarte. Hundreds of others have used the veil of corporate secrecy to help steal hundreds of millions of dollars from one of the nation's largest social service program, a Reuters investigation has found [...]

To disguise Huarte's role, "straw owners" were paid as much as $200,000 to put their names on Florida incorporation records and bank accounts. In return, some straw owners agreed to "flee to Cuba to avoid law enforcement detection or capture," according to the indictment.

The Little Emperors

By Yoani Sanchez in The Huffington Post:

Kim Jong Un and Alejandro Castro Espin: Destined by Blood to Be Dictators?

A solitary man sweeps the dry leaves on the wide avenue where not one car is traveling in either direction. He lowers his head and avoids talking with the cameraman. Perhaps it's a punishment for not applauding with sufficient enthusiasm at a meeting, or not bowing with theatrical reverence before a Party member. The scene of the sweeper on his desolate street is captured in a documentary about North Korea that has circulated on our alternate information networks. A painful testimony, with people all dressed the same, grey depersonalized buildings, and statues of the Eternal Leader on all sides. Hell in miniature, which leaves us with a sense of relief -- at least in this case -- for not having been born under the despotism of the Kim dynasty.

When Fidel Castro visited Pyongyang in March 1986, almost a million people greeted him, among them thousands of children waving flags with suspicious synchronicity. Cuban television reveled in the chorus that sounded like one voice, in dancers who didn't differ from each other by even a hair out of place, and in those little ones playing the violin with surprising mastery and anomalous simultaneity. Months after this presidential trip, on the artistic stages of Cuban elementary schools they tried to emulate this robotic discipline. But there was no way. The girl next to me threw the ball seconds after mine had already fallen to the floor, and some abandoned shoe was left behind on the stage after every performance. The Maximum Leader must have felt disillusioned by the chaotic conduct of his people, so different from those syncopated genuflections before the Secretary General of the Workers Party in North Korea.

On Monday the images of thousands of people crying in the streets over the death of Kim Jong Il called to mind those perfectly timed children. Although our tropical experiment never managed to "domesticate us" like them, we did copy something in the Korean model. In these parts, as well, genealogy has been more determinate than ballot boxes, and the heritage of blood has left us -- in 53 years -- only two presidents, both with the same last name. The dauphin over there is named Kim Jong Un; perhaps soon they will communicate to us that over here ours will be Alejandro Castro Espin. Just to think about it makes me shudder, as I did one day before those long rows of little girls throwing a ball at the exact same millisecond.

Sex Tourism in Cuba

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
The sick, tragic and disgusting reality that is Castro's Cuba.

A must-see for travel advocates (with a conscience).

The Cuba Prostitution Documentary from Travel Bum on Vimeo.

H/T Penultimos Dias

Intelligence Failures and Absurdities

The New York Times reports on a very concerning intelligence failure:

Kim Jong-il, the enigmatic North Korean leader, died on a train at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in his country. Forty-eight hours later, officials in South Korea still did not know anything about it — to say nothing of Washington, where the State Department acknowledged “press reporting” of Mr. Kim’s death well after North Korean state media had already announced it.

For South Korean and American intelligence services to have failed to pick up any clues to this momentous development — panicked phone calls between government officials, say, or soldiers massing around Mr. Kim’s train — attests to the secretive nature of North Korea, a country not only at odds with most of the world but also sealed off from it in a way that defies spies or satellites.

And from where absurdities prevail, the AP reports:

The Cuban government has decreed three days of mourning for the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

An official statement read Monday on Cuban state television also said the Communist government had ordered Cuban flags to be flown at half staff at public buildings and military installations.

The mourning period begins Tuesday and runs through Dec. 22.

Castro's Geriatric War Against Rock

Last week, the Havana-based punk rock group Porno Para Ricardo was (once again) prohibited from performing a local concert.

Thus, they decided to stage the concert from their home balcony, which led to a confrontation with the Castro regime's snitches, cutting off their electricity and the police arriving.

Notice the age difference between the defenders of the Castro regime and those seeking freedom of speech.

Also, notice their fear of being filmed.

Moral of the story: The Castro regime has no future.

Here's the entire encounter on film:

Must-Read Remarks by Havel

By former Czech dissident, political prisoner and eventual President Vaclav Havel:

Ladies and gentleman,

Allow me to start with a short recollection. Many years ago, when I was behind bars, I needed to see a dentist. There was no dentist in the prison and when the prison authorities realised that I was serious, I was escorted to a civil dentist by a guard.

I was in handcuffs and prison stripes and stared straight ahead of me as I sat between two guards. I was very curious to watch how the other patients around reacted to my presence. Almost none of them displayed any interest, surprise or curiosity. Most of them acted as if they did not see me.

Why am I talking about this? I don’t think we can go to Cuba and lie sunning on the beach, having a good time and enjoying a drink, without noticing what is going on around us. In that country there are informers who are expected – as it was here in the 1950s – to inform on ten other people: building trustees, street committees, families in which husbands where afraid to talk in front of their wives or wives afraid to talk in front of their husbands. It is a country where fear reigns, where political prisoners are locked up for long terms just because they have spoken freely.

And it is us in particular, who have experienced a totalitarian system, who should be conscious of this, be aware and have a special sensitivity towards it. Bad things are happening in Cuba and any of us who go there should remember them, and should not pretend that we do not know in which country we are.

Thank you very much!

H/T Iberosphere

Poetry Behind Bars

An interesting testimonial coinciding with the death of former playwright turned dissident leader (and Czech President) Vaclav Havel.

 From Havana Times:

The saddest thing was seeing how they took Mario Castillo away in handcuffs. But then again, it was also the most beautiful: seeing the firm look on his face, with no hatred for those men who couldn't understand.

On Friday 17 people read poetry in a bar on a corner of Old Havana. It’s one of those poor bars that don’t show up in the “Rutas y Andares” (Routes and Walks) issued by the City Historian’s Office. The reading was sponsored by Critical Observatory in a salute to the Poetry Without End Festival – and it was beautiful.

Mario improvised some moving verses to the sound of a reggaeton rap and a libertarian spirit. Daisy read “El Burocrata” by Roque Dalton, and Marfrey brought his own poems, which shocked everyone.All this was done while being careful to remain properly seated, four people per table, as we were repeatedly requested by the suspicious but friendly manager of the watering hole.

All of this went on while we fulfilled the obligation to “consume” (drink rum) so that they would let us read poetry there.At around 6 pm we left the bar, since some people wanted to conclude the day watching the sunset from the Malecon seawall.

As we said goodbye to the other group out on the sidewalk, a handsome young police officer came up to us asking for our documentation. With no desire to make a scene, we all began handing him our ID cards – except for Mario, who had lost his.

There began the second part of our day.

The officer had been told (we don’t know by whom) that we were having an “unauthorized conversation.” Moreover, according to this rookie cop, non-Cubans were breaking the law by consuming in a facility not designed for tourists.

Of course it was futile trying to explain that our comrades who were visiting us didn’t have the kind of money to pay for drinks in an “establishment for tourists.”The officer didn’t even ask for everyone’s documentation; the fact he had found just one undocumented individual was enough to satisfy him. Therefore he called for a patrol car to come and pick him up and take him down to the police station. The rest of us remained there with Mario on that same corner, where we waited around for two hours.

During that time we ended up drinking the last of rum, while Mario read a little more of his poetry and even talked at length with the officer, who after an hour was replaced by another one.The second police officer explained to me that the first one had only been on the job for a few days. This first policeman had called the station several times to cancel Mario’s arrest, but his higher-ups didn’t accept your request. On one occasion he was heard sighing saying “oh, Cuba…Cuba.”

Our crew had been joined by Javier, a local resident who during our readings had become curious about what we were doing, not to mention his attraction for the rum we were drinking. He stayed with us the entire time, giving us recommendations on how to deal with the police.

People from the Critical Observatory organization who weren’t there also followed the events over the phone and made calls around in search of assistance.

It was dark by the time the patrol car came. After two hours of talking and laughing on the corner with the officers, it was still necessary to frisk and handcuff Mario. Such a ridiculous and embarrassing spectacle filled me with pain. One of the most respected, wise and revolutionary youth I know was being publicly treated like a common criminal.

We walked over to the station on Dragones and Agramonte streets and waited, as a fine rain sprinkling us intermittently without getting us wet. For more than two more hours Mario remained in a cell, unjustifiably held behind bars, waiting for them to give him a simple fine.

Every 20 minutes one of us persistently requested information about our partner. We were never attended in the lobby of the main entrance, where citizens are received; instead, we had to knock on a dark iron door on the side of the police station.

Finally, Mario came out. We hugged and laughed as each of us went back to their home. A simple arrest for being undocumented had caused our poetry reading to take a totally unplanned turn.

Our solidarity was tested for four hours, but it was strengthened. This had been a little training. We came to understand that poetry is not as harmless as it seems, especially when sometimes some people need to put it behind bars.

Obama on Venezuela, Iran and Cuba

Monday, December 19, 2011
From U.S. President Barack Obama's interview today with Venezuela's El Universal newspaper: 

Q. How would you analyze the relationship Venezuela has with its allies like Iran and Cuba and what sort of consequences might this relationship lead to? 

Obama: Venezuela is a proud and sovereign nation with a rich history and historic ties with the Americas and the world. The United States does not pretend to dictate its foreign affairs. I would argue, however, that the Venezuelan government's ties to Iran and Cuba have not served the interests of Venezuela or the Venezuelan people.

With regard to Iran, the international community's concerns are well known. Ultimately, it is up to the Venezuelan people to determine what they gain from a relationship with a country that violates universal human rights and is isolated from much of the world. The Iranian government has consistently supported international terrorism that has killed innocent men, women and children around the world - including in the Americas. It has brutally suppressed the Iranian people simply for demanding their universal rights. And Tehran continues to pursue a nuclear program that threatens the security of the Middle East. Here in the Americas, we take Iranian activities, including in Venezuela, very seriously and we will continue to monitor them closely.

All our countries - including Venezuela - have a responsibility to abide by our international obligations, including full implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions on Iran. The United States has already taken a number of significant and effective steps to indicate our concern to the Venezuelan government, including annual certification of Venezuela for not fully cooperating with anti-terrorism efforts each year since 2006. Most recently, we imposed sanctions on PDVSA for selling gasoline components to Iran.

With respect to Cuba, my policy is clear. Cuba's future must be freely determined by the Cuban people. Sadly, that has not been the case for decades, and it is not the case today. The people of Cuba deserve the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as anyone else. And so the United States is going to continue supporting the basic rights of the Cuban people. At the same time, we'll continue to work with others across the region to defend the shared values that are enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and that belong to all people, whether the live in Cuba or elsewhere in the Americas.

A Tragic Loss

Out thoughts and prayers are with the Czech people on the tragic loss of former dissident leader and President Vaclav Havel.

Havel will go down in history as one of the greatest democrats of the 20th century. His relentless solidarity with pro-democracy movements spanned every continent.

Please watch this video message he sent to the Cuban people:

Good Riddance

Good riddance on the death of one of the cruelest dictators of modern times, North Korea's Kim Jong Il.

Here's the North Korean dictatorship's official statement.

Wanting to keep control within the family -- akin to the Castros' brutal dictatorship -- he will be succeeded by his son, Kim Jung Un.

Rubio to Continue Holding Nominations

Saturday, December 17, 2011
Today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) went to the Senate floor to express concerns about the Obama Administration's Cuba policy and its unwillingness to crack down on travel abuses.

Moreover, Rubio highlighted that he will continue holding Western Hemisphere nominations until these abuses are appropriately addressed:

Brutal Repression Caught on Tape

The following video (taken just last week) shows Castro's state security forces rounding up dissidents, beating them mercilessly and loading them onto a bus to be taken to prison.

Please watch it very carefully.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Kudos to Christian Bale

Friday, December 16, 2011
This week, Hollywood actor Christian Bale was blocked and assaulted by the Chinese authorities for trying to meet with blind dissident Chen Guangcheng.

Danny Glover and Benicio del Toro should take note for their next visit to Cuba.

Here's a clip of the confrontation:

Silence Encourages the Tormentor

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

-- Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate.

Cuba's Castro regime -- like all dictatorships -- strive for the appearance of normalcy and the anonymity of their victims.

They want the the U.S. and other democratic nations to treat them as normal "peers" with unconditional trade, travel and diplomacy. They want Cuban-Americans to vacation in Cuba (only those pre-screened and granted visas by the regime, of course) and pretend nothing is wrong.

Why? Because the more static there is at the top of the relationship, the more repression they can get away with at the ground level.

Since the Obama Administration first eased travel and remittances towards Cuba in April 2009, repression on the island has more than doubled (as has the regime's income).

And why not (Castro figures)? There are no repercussions.

On that note, meet Isabel Álvarez Mosquera. She is 49 years old and has been imprisoned since November 30th for sporadically joining a protest at Havana's Fraternity Park.

Her crime? Demanding freedom for the Cuban people.

Isabel has never formed part of any organized pro-democracy movement. She was walking by and felt inspired by the courage of opposition leader, Ivonne Malleza, who led the peaceful protest (and is still in prison also).

The Castro regime is betting on anonymity to crack down on people like Isabel Alvarez Mosquera and normalcy to repress known activists like Ivonne Malleza.

We should not remain silent.

Must-See: Rubio Slams Obama Travel Policy

Thursday, December 15, 2011

In Very Poor Form

Yesterday, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) posthumously honored the founder of Cuba's Ladies in White, Laura Pollan, with the organization's prestigious Democracy Service Medal.

Past recipients of this award are transformational figures, such as Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa and the Dalai Lama.

The event included Members of Congress from both parties; a direct link from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, where Laura's husband, daughter and the new leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, addressed the attendees; and Cuban singer Amaury Gutierrez unveiled his beautiful new song, "Laura."

During his remarks, the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) -- a staunch critic of sanctions towards Cuba -- correctly noted that yesterday's gathering was not about politics or policies. It was about putting differences aside and honoring the trajectory of Laura Pollan.

Congressman Berman was right. Yet sadly, President Obama failed to take note.

Instead, President Obama decided to engage in pithy politicking and sent a statement to the event addressing a provision being considered in the FY'12 Omnibus Appropriations bills:

"I remain committed to supporting civil society in Cuba, including by protecting the ability of Cuban Americans to support their families in Cuba through unrestricted family visits and remittances."

Thus, the official statement by the President of the United States honoring Laura Pollan will now go down in history with Obama's political nuance.

Both Laura Pollan and the sentiments of the American people (that the President represents) deserved better.

U.S. Troubled by Increased Cuban Repression

Wednesday, December 14, 2011
From the U.S. Department of State:

The Cuban Government Should Respect Human Rights Week

We are deeply troubled by reports of increased repression by the Government of Cuba against Cuban citizens peacefully expressing themselves. Of particular concern are reports that government officials and government-organized groups detained, harassed, and assaulted dozens of human rights activists, journalists, and others to prevent them from marking Human Rights Day on December 10. President Obama has declared Human Rights Week from December 10 to December 17.

Members of the Damas de Blanco, winners of the Department of State's 2011 Human Rights Defenders Award, faced harassment by government officials and pro-government groups over the past week and were arrested after attending Mass on Sunday December 4. Several activists, including one detained November 30 for demonstrating peacefully in a Havana park, have been held without charges or judicial review. Over the last month, dozens of other activists have faced repression throughout the island. Reports put the number of detentions in December at more than 300.

At a time when citizens around the world are marking Human Rights Week, we call for an immediate end to the harassment and violence against Cuban citizens who are peaceful critics of the government.

President Obama has focused our policy toward Cuba on increased engagement with the Cuban people to promote democratic ideals and improve human rights conditions on the island. As he said during his March address in Chile, “Cuban authorities must take some meaningful actions to respect the basic rights of their own people – not because the United States insists upon it, but because this is what the people of Cuba deserve.” We call on the Cuban government to respect all peaceful activities related to the commemoration of Human Rights Week.

A Cuba Omnibus Clarification

The media seems unable to escape hyperbole regarding the Cuba provision being discussed in the Omnibus Appropriations bill.

So without speculating on the end-result, here are some important facts:

First of all, the provision in question was first presented as an amendment to the FY'12 Financial Services Appropriations bill by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and unanimously approved (without objection) during the June 2011 full-committee markup of the bill.

The language of the provision would revert the Obama Administration's April 2009 regulations, which made Cuban-American travel and remittances unlimited (going significantly further than the Clinton Administration's previous one-trip per year limit).

Legally, the provision would restore the Bush Administration's limit of one-trip every three years. However, since the Omnibus is a spending bill with a one-year duration, the practical effect of the provision would be to limit Cuban-American travel to only one-trip in 2012 -- both reasonable and humanitarian (and akin to the Clinton Administration's prior limits).

As for remittances, it would cap the amount of money sent to Cuba (of which the Castro regime takes 30% immediately off the top) at $1,200 per year, which is nearly ten times the average Cuban income. Once again, that is both reasonable and humanitarian, which is the Congressional intent of providing these exemptions in the first place.

From an overall policy perspective, this provision would effectively eliminate a main source of revenue for Cuba's brutal dictatorship. According to the Bank for International Settlements, since April 2009 -- when the Obama Administration first eased these sanctions -- the Castro regime's hard currency deposits in foreign banks have more than doubled from $2.8 billion to $5.8 billion.

Moreover, it would come at a time when repression in Cuba has also more than doubled. In September 2011 alone, the Castro regime arrested 563 known pro-democracy activists for political “crimes.” That’s the highest monthly number of political arrests in 30 years. And in the first two weeks of December, there have already been another 300 political arrests.

Finally, it comes as more than two-years have passed since the Castro regime has taken an American hostage, Alan Gross, without suffering any policy repercussions.

This provision and the consequent flow of unlimited hard currency it eliminates would send a strong message that the Castro regime's profiteering and brutal repression is absolutely unacceptable.

More on the Iran-Cuba-Venezuela Threat

From Venezuela's El Univeral:

The Venezuelan Connection

The onslaught would be against the information technology systems of the White House, nuclear power plants and federal agencies, such as CIA, FBI, the Pentagon and the top-secret National Security Agency (NSA). Some of the meetings were held inside the Venezuelan mission in the Mexican capital city, according to the pseudo-pirates

When the events occurred four years ago, Consul Livia Acosta Noguera acted as the Cultural Affairs Officer at the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico. Ex professors and graduates from the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) who pretended to be hackers or cyber-pirates managed to record several conversations where the diplomat requested information about an alleged sabotage on the United States to submit it to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

"I would like to make emphasis on what you gave me, the last thing (...) the president (Chávez) already had a look at it," the diplomat said, based on the recordings obtained by Univisión Investiga.

In another talk, Acosta commented that General Alexis López, then the head of the presidential guard, presumably provided President Chávez with the information forwarded by her from Mexico. The diplomat also asked hackers for forged information against dissidents of Chávez's government, the students elaborated.

The onslaught would be against the information technology systems of the White House, nuclear power plants and federal agencies, such as CIA, FBI, the Pentagon and the top-secret National Security Agency (NSA). Some of the meetings were held inside the Venezuelan mission in the Mexican capital city, according to the pseudo-pirates.

The students related that the story started in 2006, when young people specialized in information technology were recruited by UNAM Professor Francisco Guerrero Lutteroth to organize a cyber-attack team against US servers from Mexican territory.

One of the recruits, then student Juan Carlos Muñoz Ledo, covertly recorded the meetings when learning that the purpose of the operation was attacking targets in US territory, he told Univisión. Muñoz Ledo was also worried, he added, that, in addition to the cyber-attack, the possibility of physical attacks had been pondered.

"The objectives of the plan discussed were attacking the United States firstly in a cybernetic manner and afterwards, doing it in a physical manner. This is what both the Embassies of Iran and Venezuela particularly wanted, under the aegis of Cuba, obviously," Muñoz Ledo averred.

Muñoz Ledo incorporated other students to help document the presumed conspiracy planned from 2006 to 2010.

"The point is that I made the decision to implement an action, as it were, to substantiate all of it," commented Muñoz Ledo, 33, in an interview with Univisión from Mexico. "It was the right thing," he added.

The operations received the "blessing" of Roy Chaderton, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Mexico in 2007 and 2008, as testified by the very hackers.

The team used tiny audio microphones and hidden video-cameras in order to record dozens of hours of talks, running the risk of being captured.

The embassies of Venezuela, Iran and Cuba took the lead in the scheming, Muñoz Ledo elaborated.

Iranian and Venezuelan diplomats, the expert warranted, took a "very, very active" part in planning the attacks.

In late 2006, Venezuela would have neither diplomatic relations nor an ambassador to Mexico, following an impasse between then Mexican President Vicente Fox and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez. Nevertheless, Professor Guerrero Lutteroth included in the plot Livia Acosta, the Venezuelan Cultural Affairs Officer at that time.

According to Muñoz Ledo, the scholar opted to include Acosta for her closer ties with President Chávez. "And here she came as a direct contact with the Chávez Administration."

Still Looking for Humanitarian Travel

How is this Chamber of Commerce trip humanitarian (and licenseable)?

It's an inherent oxymoron.

From The Bradenton Herald:

Manatee chamber offers cultural trip to Cuba

This spring, a group of local travelers will be walking in the footsteps of Hemingway during the day and practicing their salsa moves at night.

They will be part of a nine-day trip starting April 26 to Cuba offered by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. The trip, with space for 30 people, costs $3,299 per person.

Carey Miller, office administrator at the chamber and trip coordinator, said the tour was picked because of the interest in traveling to the island since the relaxation of the travel and trade restrictions earlier this year.

U.S.-Based Company Aids Cuban Censorship

Tuesday, December 13, 2011
An investigative report by Penultimos Dias reveals that RedSocial, the Cuban version of Facebook on the Castro regime's restricted and closely monitored "Intranet" network, was created by a U.S.-based company.

The U.S.-based company is called YouNet, with offices in Boston, Massachusetts.

Has the U.S. Treasury Department given Younet a license to operate this network for the Castro regime, which is designed to further censor and isolate the Cuban people from the Internet?

Laura Pollan to be Honored on Capitol Hill

National Endowment for Democracy will recognize Ladies in White leader with Democracy Service Medal

WASHINGTON -- Laura Pollan, the late founder of Cuba's Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) , will be honored by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at a Capitol Hill event with a posthumous presentation of NED's Democracy Service Medal. Pollan died on October 14 of this year.

The presentation will take place at 5:30 pm in the House Foreign Affairs Committee Room (Rayburn HOB 2172) and both the committee chairman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and ranking member Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) will make remarks, as well as several other members of Congress, including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Rep. David Rivera (R-FL).

The Medal will be accepted on behalf of the Ladies in White by Yolanda Huerga, a representative of the group who is based in Miami. Another event highlight will be a performance by Latin Grammy award winner Amaury Gutierrez, who will sing his beautiful tribute ballad to Laura Pollan.

"Laura is gone, but her memory lives on in the hearts of Cubans," said NED president Carl Gershman. " Her example of dedication to justice inspires others to fight on. The purity of her motives, the strength of her character, the depth of her integrity, and the force of her fearlessness will light the way forward. Her legacy will help Cubans build a new morality after more than half a century of political bondage, poisonous hatred, and dehumanizing lies."

The medal presentation will be preceded by a panel discussion at 4:00 pm.: The Legacy of Laura Pollan: the Struggle for Democracy and Human Rights in Cuba. Panelists include: Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, Yesinia Alvarez, Pablo Diaz, Janisset Rivera and Barbara Joe, and will be moderated by NED's Miriam Kornblith.

The Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy created its Democracy Service Medal to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the progress of democracy around the world. Past awardees include Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Congressman Tom Lantos and the Dalai Lama.

A Must-Read Story

From The Florida-Times-Union:

Hope Fund: Refugee family enjoys freedom but seeks help for son with cerebral palsy

The family arrived in August and struggle to get established in their new home.

The writing on the black shirts worn by Gerardo Sanchez Ortega’s family and friends as they marched in Havana on Dec. 4, 2007, made their position clear: “I do not cooperate with the dictatorship,” they read. “We want freedom.”

Sanchez had been put in prison for pushing for the re-opening of Cuban universities, and his family and friends were marching to demand his freedom.

The authorities did not react well to the activists. Police entered a church sheltering them, beat the marchers and sprayed them with pepper spray.

Among the activists was Sanchez’s son, Idalberto Sanchez Hechavarria, who was born with cerebral palsy and has difficulty walking and undertaking other tasks.

Seeing how her son was treated enraged Jackelin Hechavarria Salvador, Sanchez’s wife.

“Never in my life, I never thought something like this could occur,” she said in Spanish. “When I saw how they were treating my son I just went crazy. Because they wanted to beat him, and I said they would have to kill me first.”

Despite the risks involved in the protest, both Sanchez and Hechavarria felt Cuba needed to change.

Sanchez, then 35, led the Movement of Cuban Youth for Democracy in presenting a 5,000-signature petition supporting the re-opening of universities free from government control.

That petition closed all employment opportunities for him in Cuba. Sanchez was fired from his clerical job in a government office and labeled untrustworthy and a revolutionary threat.

Four years later, he, his wife and his disabled child left their home country and on Aug. 16, arrived in Jacksonville as refugees.

Despite what the family left behind in Cuba — including their 23-year-old daughter, as well as familiar language and culture — Sanchez remains optimistic. Since arriving in Jacksonville, he has managed to get a construction job at JEA, and the family has received temporary support from World Relief and the Department of Children and Families.

The family receives $315 monthly in food stamps, but Sanchez worries about having enough to make ends meet. Hechavarria briefly worked as a housekeeper at a La Quinta hotel, but was forced to quit to care for her son.

World Relief, a refugee organization, assisted Sanchez with rent payments for three months, and the family also received a few hundred dollars a month in aid through November. The family gets health insurance through Medicaid, but only until May.

Meanwhile, Sanchez has to pay the family’s rent and utilities as well as pay off and repair a car.

On top of its financial struggles, the family also needs help locating a school that will accommodate Idalberto’s physical disability and let him learn English.

Though he can read and speak Spanish, Idalberto’s inability to walk without assistance has prevented him from enrolling in high school.

The family has been unable to take advantage of free English as a Second Language courses offered at the Main Library because of their unreliable vehicle and the difficulty of transporting Idalberto.

Idalberto, 18, becomes extremely nervous when he is left alone due to the violence he endured in Cuba. He lives in fear of the unknown territory his parents have brought him to, a place described in the worst terms in Cuba.

“They will say in the United States they kill people,” Sanchez said, “they come in the houses and take the youths out of their apartments. You don’t know anything and what you do know is a lie.”

Despite being told such things, the family is overjoyed to be here.

They would like to learn English and are looking forward to the day their daughter, who had to file for refugee status separately, can join them in Florida a year from now.

“I’m not here for anyone to maintain me,” Sanchez said. “We are grateful for whatever help we are offered.”

As the family gathered on the couch, Hechavarria put one of her hands in Sanchez’s hand and one over Idalberto’s.

“Smile,” she said. “Because we are in America and at least we are free here.”

Obama Should End Concessions to Castro

Monday, December 12, 2011
By U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY) in The Hill:

The time has come to abandon our conciliatory attitude to the Castro regime

As Americans, we should be outraged by the story of Alan Gross. Mr. Gross is an American citizen and USAID subcontractor. He was arrested nearly two years ago in Havana as he prepared to return home to the United States. In March of 2011, he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on trumped-up charges of subversive activities. Gross was helping members of the Jewish community in Cuba connect to the Internet with computers and satellite phones. Despite numerous appeals and attempted intervention by US officials, his 15-year sentence has been upheld.

Over the last two years, President Obama has attempted a conciliatory approach to Cuba. He has negotiated with a country that has clearly demonstrated an aggressive animosity toward America. As regards the case of Alan Gross, the Obama Administration offered concessions to free a prisoner who had committed no crime. He has softened America’s policy toward our southern neighbor, only to discover that Castro’s Cuba is not interested in working with America any more than it has been for the last half century.

The Cuban government has demonstrated that it continues to be hostile not only to American values, but to the values of all free societies. The Cubans have sent spies into our nation. They have made alliances with Iran and Venezuela, nations firmly and boisterously opposed to America and our ideals. Domestically, the Cuban government has done nothing to loosen its grip on its oppressed people.

As a nation vehemently opposed to human rights violations, America cannot make an exception to Castro’s Cuba. America should not treat the current Cuban government as if it is willing to compromise. America must recognize that Cuba is set in its ways – it is a country desperately in need of a new government and a new way forward.

The imprisonment of Alan Gross should be offensive to all Americans. Alan Gross is one more name on a long list of those who have suffered under Castro’s Cuba. So many Cuban-Americans have a fascinating story to tell, about the oppression they and their family experienced in Cuba and the life they have made in America.

It has been almost two years since Cuban authorities arrested Alan Gross. The time has come to abandon our conciliatory attitude to the Castro regime. We must stand with our compatriot Alan Gross and with all the Cubans we have welcomed to America in condemning Castro’s Cuba for what it is: an oppressive and antiquarian regime that we cannot and must not tolerate.

Buerkle represents New York’s 25th Congressional District. She serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and as a Congressional Representative to the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

People-to-People Trip Glorifies Repression

Here's what former (and reprehensible) San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown had to say about his recent "people-to-people" trip to Cuba:

The Cubans know how to treat tourists right.

Having spent a few days in Havana as a part of a Californians Building Bridges junket, I can report that Cubans are clearly gearing up for the wave of American tourists they expect to hit their shores.

Because if there's one thing the Cuban authorities won't abide, it's people messing with tourists.

I watched the cops bust three guys for hassling visitors on the street, and I do mean bust. Facedown on the pavement.

I said, "My God, this is pretty rough."

"The cops are not as rough as they should be," was my host's reply.

I'm not sure my friends on the left back in the States would have approved. But you can walk anywhere in Havana, day or night, and there ain't nobody who is going to mug you.

As if that wasn't insulting enough, Brown elaborates:

The trip was put together by Darius Anderson, who turns out to be very big in Cuban investments. So big, in fact, that the night he was missing from the group, he was dining with the president.

How was this self-admitted "junket" by Californians Building Bridges approved by State and Treasury?

The group is being escorted around by Castro regime officials, who want ordinary Cubans to be even more severely repressed, and dining with the dictator.

How does this serve any humanitarian purpose?