If People Like Bono Join The Cause

Thursday, June 30, 2011
Cuba will indeed soon be free.

From The Miami Herald:

U2's Bono urged support for Cuban dissident Biscet

Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet says the praise from Bono at a Miami South Florida concert was for the Cuban people overall.

Cuba's leading dissident, Oscar Elias Biscet, said he "was shaking with happiness" as he learned Thursday that rock star and social activist Bono had sung his praises during a jam-packed U2 concert in Miami.

The 73,000-strong audience at the Sun Life stadium roared with delight Wednesday when Bono urged support for the 49-year-old Biscet and declared that "some day soon Cuba will be free."

"As you read me what he said, I was shaking with happiness because it showed it's good when one is chosen as a symbol of his people," Biscet told El Nuevo Herald, which first told him of Bono's comments.

"He's praising not me but all my people, all Cubans," he added in a telephone interview from his home in Havana. "And I agree that Cuba will be free, if people like Bono join the cause" of human rights on the island.

Global Forum Officially Recognizes Cuban Democracy Movement

The Community of Democracies, a global inter-governmental coalition of democratic countries, has just recognized the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Civic Resistance movement as legitimate representatives of the struggle for freedom of the Cuban people and the nomination of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Below is the text of the resolution approved at today's VI Ministerial Conference:

Resolution Presented by U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and Approved by the Parliamentary Forum of the Community of Democracies (CoD)

Vilnius, Lithuania
June 30th, 2011

WHEREAS the Cuban dictatorship over the past 52 years has erected a totalitarian power structure that systematically violates the fundamental human rights of all Cubans both in law and by its actions,

WHEREAS over the past 52 years this dictatorship has engaged in thousands of summary and extra-judicial executions;

WHEREAS hundreds of thousands of Cubans have been imprisoned for their political beliefs;

WHEREAS ever since 1959 there has been a constant resistance to the Communist regime throughout the island and in exile;

WHEREAS the human rights movement grew out of the prisons into a national movement capable of documenting human rights abuses, distributing copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, educating Cubans on human rights, and organizing petition drives to attempt to empower Cubans;

WHEREAS the Regime has steadfastly refused to carry out any kind of political opening or democratic transition, increasing repression in order to tray and repress the freedom movement;

WHEREAS civic resistance is the means currently available to the Cuban people for them to regain their liberty;

WHEREAS Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet was one of the pioneering activists who took to the streets to distribute copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

WHEREAS this civic resistance movement has embraced the nonviolent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.;

WHEREAS Cuban political prisoners Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez and Ricardo Pupo Sierra, in the summer of 2006, issued a call for non-cooperation with the regime;

WHEREAS Cubans in the diaspora answered this call; first by organizing a non-cooperation campaign to spread their compatriots' message, and secondly, on March 18, 2009, forming the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, on the sixth anniversary of the "Black Cuban Spring", with over 50 civil society organizations;

WHEREAS Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez, imprisoned for 17 years and 34 days on the charge of "enemy propaganda" for calling for Eastern European style reforms in 1990, emerged from prison having served his full sentence on April 23, 2007;

WHEREAS Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez on November 3, 2009, along with other resistance leaders from throughout the island, established the National Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front, a movement which has brought together opposition organizations in Cuba whose strategy is civic resistance and civil disobedience;

WHEREAS following the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010 at the hands of the dictatorship, the movement was renamed the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Front for Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience;

WHEREAS the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Front for Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience continues to carry out coordinated protests and civic actions throughout Cuba;

NOW, THEREFORE the Parliamentary Forum of the Community of Democracies recognizes the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Front for Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience as a legitimate representative of the struggle for the freedom of the Cuban people;

FURTHERMORE, we support the nomination of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet for the Nobel Peace Prize, because of his pioneering work on human rights education in Cuba and the example he personifies as a non-violent leader in the struggle for human rights inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Video of Bono's Tribute to Dr. Biscet

Last night, at U2's concert in Miami, Bono dedicated a song to Cuban pro-democracy leader, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.

Here's the (tremendously moving) video clip:

Bono Dedicates Song to Free Cuba

During tonight's U2 concert in Miami, Bono told the story of Cuban pro-democracy leader, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.

On a stage filled with Amnesty International candles, he dedicated a song to Dr. Biscet's struggle for freedom, asked everyone to raise their hands in solidarity and proclaimed, "one day soon Cuba will be free."

From Bono's mouth to God's ears.

Cuba Amongst Top Debtor Nations

Wednesday, June 29, 2011
The Paris Club, a group composed of the world's 19 largest creditors nations, has released its annual list of outstanding claims (debtors).

Its largest debtor is Indonesia, which owes $40.679 billion.

Second is China, which owes $30.573 billion.

Castro's Cuba has the third largest debt of $30.471 billion.

Calculated on a per capita basis -- that's a debt of $23 per Chinese national, $177 per Indonesian and $2,650 per Cuban.

Debt for repression -- that's quite a bargain Castro has made for himself, at the cost of the Cuban people.

Click here for the Paris Club's latest debtor list.

The Reality of Today's Cuban-American Travel

Prior to April 2009, anti-sanctions activists conveniently saw Cuban-American travel as a way to chip away at overall U.S. policy.

They (correctly) felt it was easier to make an emotional case for Cuban-Americans to visit family members, than for spring breakers to party at apartheid-ridden beach resorts.

Thus, they made a compelling argument that Cuban-Americans should not have to choose between visiting a dying relative or attending their funeral afterwards.

Needless to say, this is a legitimate humanitarian concern, which can (and should) be addressed by means of a simple exception.

(In addition to the already existing, generous legislative exception that allows Cubans -- and only Cubans -- to return to their source country of persecution, despite being automatically paroled into the U.S. as refugees.)

Yet, in April 2009 -- instead of focusing on this humanitarian concern -- the Obama Administration decided to unilaterally remove all limits on Cuban-American travel and remittances.

Two years later, Cuban-American travel conjures images of Cubans abusing their refugee presumption (and the generosity of U.S. taxpayer assistance) under U.S. law, as they leisurely commute back-and-forth from the moment their status is adjusted; of Cubans traveling to the island 10-20 times a year as non-humanitarian merchandise-peddling "mules" (see recent New York Times story); and of unscrupulous businessmen using remittances as a loophole to prey on Cubans with their high-cost, high-interest microloan schemes.

Anyone that has traveled through Miami International Airport can attest to this.

Meanwhile, the Castro regime is laughing its way to the bank.

Facing the greatest political and economic crisis of its history, the Castros have exploited this stream of income, which they so desperately needed (as Hugo Chavez's economy tanks), in order to satisfy the basic tenets of totalitarian power: intensifying repression, paying off its cronies and seizing control over the black market.

Today, Cuban-American travel and remittances stands as the Castro regime's main source of income.

As cited in a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) Working Paper:

- The Cuban authorities are poised to benefit from travel for U.S. visitors (and particularly, family travel) in the wake of the 2009 policy changes. This category of tourist has surpassed that of any individual European country to become the second most important source arriving to Cuba after Canada.

- The impact of a natural experiment resulting from policy driven changes in travel costs from the United States to Cuba is also estimated. The results suggest that for Cuba, the loosening of travel restrictions in 2009 helped offset the decline in arrivals from the global financial crisis—a potentially significant external countercyclical source of growth. Capitalizing fully on this countercyclical external demand would suggest revising policies to lower travel costs for persons under U.S. jurisdiction traveling to Cuba, and in particular "family" travel, which are currently a multiple of the costs to travel elsewhere in the region.

So let's work to curb these abuses and close this lucrative loophole -- while forging an exception for humanitarian cases.

Otherwise, in Castro's Machiavellian masterpiece, he's managed for 100,000 or so Cuban-Americans (traveling multiple times a year) to finance the brutal repression of nearly 12 million Cubans.

That is no one's "right."

Raul's Fired!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Earlier this month, the Castro regime denied exit visas to three musicians from the Cuban rock group, Porno Para Ricardo, to perform at the United Islands International Music Festival (June 23-25) in Prague, Czech Republic.

(Only Cuban artists in the "good graces" of the Castro regime get exit visas to perform abroad.)

Fortunately, the group's front man, Gorki Aguila, who has been living in Mexico, was able to attend and perform the group's protest songs accompanied by Czech musicians.

In solidarity with the group's other three members, Czech concert-goers (literally) issued Cuban dictator Raul Castro a "pink slip."

In other words -- Raul's fired!

Don't miss this picture:

Photo courtesy of Jan Sibík, www.sibik.cz

Human Trafficking in Castro's Cuba

The State Department has just released its 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Once again, Cuba received the lowest ranking (Tier 3), as a country that does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Here's the Report's Cuba summary:

CUBA (Tier 3)

Cuba is a source country for adults and some children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Some Cuban medical professionals assigned to work abroad have claimed that their passports were retained as a means of keeping them in a state of exploitation, thus preventing them from traveling freely. Prostitution of children reportedly occurs in Cuba as prostitution is not criminalized for anyone above 16 years old. The scope of trafficking within Cuba is particularly difficult to gauge due to the closed nature of the government and sparse nongovernmental or independent reporting.

The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government did not publicize information about government measures to address human trafficking through prosecution, protection, or prevention efforts during the reporting period.

Now here's a question for the Obama Administration:

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which mandates this Report, countries on Tier 3 may not receive funding for participation by officials or employees of such governments in educational and cultural exchange programs.

In light of the Administration's focus on educational and cultural exchanges with Castro's Cuba -- is this provision being adhered to?

Arrest Warrant Issued For Dictator

Monday, June 27, 2011
From the International Criminal Court (ICC):

Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued three warrants of arrest respectively for Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi for crimes against humanity (murder and persecution) allegedly committed across Libya from 15 February 2011 until at least 28 February 2011, through the State apparatus and Security Forces.

Click here for a copy of Gaddafi's arrest warrant.

Modern Day Opportunists

For those businessmen and activists that unscrupulously promote Cuban dictator Raul Castro's farcical economic "reforms" as an "opportunity."

By Professor Jose Azel in The Miami Herald:

In Cuba, half a loaf is not enough

In the second half of the 19th Century, during the inter-war period between Cuba's Ten Years' War (1868) and its War of Independence (1895), a reformist political movement emerged in Cuba under the rubric of Autonomismo. Frustrated by the failure of the Ten Years' War, and convinced that no other viable options were available, some Cuban intellectuals and businessmen sought to obtain a greater degree of political and economic autonomy from Spain while remaining under its rule. They were encouraged by a measure of tolerance shown by the then-Spanish Captain General of Cuba, Arsenio Martínez Campos.

Some Autonomistas believed that Cubans would be better off as Spanish citizens, but with a greater degree of economic autonomy. Others held that partial reformism was a better alternative to a prolonged struggle for independence from Spain. In any case, they postulated that Autonomismo was not incompatible with Spanish sovereignty and sought to gain political "space" from the Crown.

Although the political stance and ideological elitism of the autonomists disturbed José Marti, who championed Cuba's full independence, autonomists were not traitors or anti-nationalists. Some had fought bravely in the Ten Years' War for independence but were now convinced that times had changed and a new strategy was needed to fight Spanish colonialism.

Fast forward some 130 years and we find a similar divide in the Cuban nation. The label autonomist no longer applies, but the contemporary approaches to Cuba's future correspond with those of the 19th Century.

The "neo-autonomists" of today, both in and out of the island support gradual change that does not alter the command and control structure of Cuba's totalitarian system.

They view the minimalist economic reforms proposed by Gen. Raúl Castro with the same sense of encouragement that the Autonomistas attached to the apparent forbearance of Spain's military commander in Cuba at the time. Some seek to "actualize" the communist system; others see the purported reforms as political space or a strategic opportunity to undermine Cuba's totalitarianism over the long term. Not unlike the frustrated ethos that permeated the Cuban nation following the inconclusive Ten Years' War, "neo-autonomists" They perceive gradual reformism as the only viable course after 52 years of communist rule and many failed efforts to overthrow the dictatorship.

Not unlike the Autonomistas, they will also eventually realize that the Castro government, like the Spanish Crown, has no intention of allowing legitimate reforms that will undermine its totalitarian rule. One of the lessons we have learned in the study of totalitarian systems throughout the world is that such systems do not generate truthful or useful knowledge regarding the causes of their own malfunction. Thus, totalitarian systems are ontologically incapable of reforming themselves. Simply put, Cuban communism is not able to reform. It must be abolished.

The "neo-autonomists", as their predecessors, believe that economic progress is an essential antecedent to civic empowerment and must come first, if at all; popular sovereignty is not a priority. Central to their argument is that change should originate with an enlightened autocratic government and not with the will of the people. The democratic counterargument is that civic empowerment is the foundation of progress and its necessary precondition.

These divergent approaches may seem to differ only in the sequencing and prioritizing of polices. However, the differences are philosophically fundamental. The eradication of personal freedoms is incompatible with human dignity and the pursuit of happiness.

The contemporary Autonomistas look to economic measures undertaken by the Castros without democratic empowerment as useful to foster prosperity. This belief embodies the elitist and despotic notion that the "special knowledge" of the few should rule the activities of the many. This conviction is particularly noxious to Cuba's future, because democracy will fail everywhere when there is no appreciation for its decisive role in good governance.

The citizenry empowerment camp values individual freedoms as essential to living meaningful lives. They do not consider political rights and civil liberties as superfluous luxuries to be perhaps appended following a program of economic reforms. As Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen, an economist from India, has noted, "People in economic need also need a political voice."

In Cuba, that's the reality.

Hunger Striker's Life in Peril

From the International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY):

The IFLRY is deeply concerned for the health of Jorge Cervantes Garcia, a human rights defender in Cuba. Mr. Garcia has been undertaking a hunger strike since the start of June, seeking to call attention to the abuses of an undemocratic regime that continues to repress his country. Like many Cubans, Mr. Garcia has long suffered under a government which does not tolerate dissent or new and innovative ideas.

No longer willing to accept the rule of silence, Mr. Garcia has engaged in this brave but dangerous protest in solidarity with Cuba's many political prisoners.

IFLRY calls for the immediate release of all Cuba's political prisoners. The peaceful protest of repression ought not to be met with yet further repression.

IFLRY also calls upon the Cuban regime to enact serious democratic reforms. By taking steps to conform with democratic best practices and the terms of the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Cuban people will enjoy true freedom - free to determine the fate of their country, and free to choose their form of government. Through such efforts, a society can be forged where individuals like Jorge Cervantes Garcia do not feel compelled to imperil their health in order to have their voice heard.

Libertad y vida. Liberty and life. These are the values for which Mr. Garcia has been protesting; these are the values upon which the Cuban regime must deliver.

Castro's Useful Cardinal

Sunday, June 26, 2011
If you're still unconvinced that Cardinal Jaime Ortega is doing the useful bidding of Cuban dictator Raul Castro -- here's the case and point.

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban cardinal pushed to close critical magazine

A Vatican expert on Cuba told U.S. diplomats in 2007 that Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega had pushed to shutter a highly regarded Roman Catholic magazine that often criticized the communist system, according to a State Department cable made available by WikiLeaks.

Cuba's government had wanted to close Vitral magazine for years but feared a backlash and so "must be happy because the Church did its dirty work for it," the expert noted. The publication wasn't closed, but its editor resigned in a huff and its content was toned down [...]

The cable sent to the State Department by the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican also mentioned previously unconfirmed reports that Vatican officials at times had thought that Ortega, who also serves as the archbishop of Havana, was too friendly with Cuban ruler Raul Castro.

"Vatican officials have hinted in the past that Ortega has become too cozy with Castro," noted the cable, dated May 14, 2007, and classified as "secret."

Welcome to "Havana Real"

Excerpt from The Washington Post's review of Yoani Sanchez's book, "Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today":

[I]t is fitting that the Cuban Revolution's best-known dissident is the anti-Che in almost every respect: a slender, bookish woman who writes "Generation Y," an intensely personal blog that eschews exhortations and absolute truths. Yoani Sanchez has gained an international following by chronicling the lives of those taught as school children to chant "we will be like Che" only to see their existence reduced to working at dead-end jobs, standing in line at half-empty state stores or hustling for enough cash to shop at convertible-currency-only supermarkets.

The contrast between the exalted rhetoric of Cuban communism and the realities of life in Havana has created "new men" (and women), but not in the way envisioned by the bearded guerrillas who came to power in 1959. "Our autocracy produced unexpected results, far from fanaticism or veneration," Sanchez writes in a new collection of her work, "Havana Real." "Instead of stern-faced soldiers, it bred apathy, indifference, people who concealed their true selves, rafters, infidels, and young people fascinated by material goods." The Cubans who populate these blog posts, written from 2007 to 2010, hold out little hope for top-down economic change, having learned the hard way that reform will be followed by the "dreaded rectification." Instead they plot escape plans, leaving those who stay behind, like Sanchez, in the "sad position of having to remake my group of friends."

Speaking Against Brutal Violence

Saturday, June 25, 2011
From Hablalo Sin Miedo ("Speak Without Fear"):

Message from José Daniel Ferrer García regarding violence against opposition members

Listen to the message here.


In Palmarito de Cauto, a policeman by the name of Julio fractured three ribs of opposition member Amado Verdecia with one kick. Doctor says that the fractures have put his life in danger. The agent of repression who injured opposition member Wilbes Aguirre with a machete, has been hunting down opposition member Prudencio Villalon for the past two hours.

Six members of the opposition from Bayamo who were captured and beaten this past Tuesday remain detained.

José Daniel Ferrer García, former prisoner of conscience.

End of message.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Finding Lost Friends

Nearly every Cuban exile has a harrowing story about how they fled Castro's Cuba.

Each journey is full of tremendous risk, pain and sacrifice -- and that's just to leave the island.

Then, there are the challenges of starting a new life in a foreign land.

To help ease this transition, a new website has been launched to help Cubans find their friends and relatives abroad.

It's called Cuban Search.

According to its founder, George Utset (of the blog, The Real Cuba), the response has been overwhelming -- parents looking for children who had left Cuba and they couldn't find, children looking for their parents, brothers, cousins, friends and schoolmates.

You can either search for a particular name, or register and enter the person that you are looking for. You can also search alphabetically, by city, or even by school.

Cuban Search has also teamed up with Cuba Archive Project to provide a database of Cubans who have disappeared at sea trying to escape Castro's Cuba.

It is estimated that as many as 70,000 Cubans have perished at sea in search for freedom.

Thus far, over 900 have been identified.

You can search using their names, aliases, date of departure from Cuba and location.

Another tragic reality in this on-going Cuban saga.

Click here to begin your search.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 32

Friday, June 24, 2011
From Along the Malecon:

Lobbyist: Obama is "bailing out" Cuba

WASHINGTON – Mauricio Claver-Carone, one of America's most prominent pro-embargo lobbyists, gives Barack Obama mixed reviews for his approach toward Cuba.

Americans should be proud, he said in an interview, that the U.S. government hasn't supported the Cuban government's repression of dissidents and others who seek change.

The problem, he said, is that Obama loosened restrictions on travel and remittances so much that he's "bailing out the regime at the worst possible time."

Claver-Carone, 35, doesn't object to Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba for humanitarian purposes.

Obama's "biggest mistake" was allowing Cuban-Americans to visit the island as often as they want, he said.

Some of the travelers have only been in the United States for a year, he said. They emigrate to the U.S. and start collecting government welfare checks. They stay for a year, then begin traveling back to Cuba, where they spend much of their time – and their money.

"You can't be a refugee and then in a year and a day, go back to the source country. That's a problem. We can't have our cake and eat it, too."

"Going to Cuba 10 times a year isn't humanitarian. Our taxpayers are paying for a welfare state within a welfare state."

He also objects to Obama administration rules making it easier for anyone – not just Cuban-Americans – to send money to Cuba.

He said his single biggest criticism of Obama's Cuba policy is the "unlimited nature" of the rules on travel and remittances.

"I disagree with the overall policy changes," he said.

Claver-Carone sits on the board of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which supports a tough stance against the Cuban government. He also edits a blog called Capitol Hill Cubans. He said he often finds himself writing blog posts when most other people are sleeping.

But, he said, "It's worth every sleepless night."

Too often, reporters are wrong about Cuba, he said. They publish stories containing "poorly elaborated facts."

He said he wants to "make them think twice" about what they write.

"Eventually the truth is somewhere in the middle."

He doesn't consider himself a "political philosopher" or a "professional blogger." He's a lawyer and lobbyist first - a "nuts-and-bolts person" who sticks to "what reality is."

Claver-Carone said the "biggest strength of U.S. policy" is that there is no question that the American government opposes Cuba's socialist regime.

"The United States indisputably in all senses – symbolically, economically, politically – is not on the side of the regime. Every Cuban knows that the United States is not on the side of the regime. That's important. We in no way colluded with this dictatorship."

Cubans will remember and be grateful for that in the post-Castro era, just as eastern Europeans were thankful that Americans opposed leaders in Moscow, he said.

"After the fall of the Soviet Union, people in eastern Europe wanted to be U.S. allies. We were on their side and against the Soviets. Cuban people will feel that same way."

Lending any support to Cuba's socialist government would be "beyond grave," he said. "It would be a betrayal" to democracy activists to normalize relations with the socialist government and lift economic sanctions while Cuba's Communist Party is in power. "All international trade and tourism is still controlled by one monopoly."

Claver-Carone said money from trade, travel and remittances inevitably benefits the socialist government, giving it money to buy patrol cars from Russia, police batons from Spain and other equipment.

At least, he said, the U.S. government does not funnel money or supplies to the socialist government, even indirectly.

"The United States can say we didn't finance the repression of the people. We've got it right. We're not supporting a dictatorship. It's not an American baton hitting them over the head."

Claver-Carone supports U.S. democracy programs in Cuba. The Bush administration believed in the programs and "took them to another level."

However, non-profit organizations – not private contractors – should carry out democracy work in Cuba.

"I was an opponent of the contractors from Day 1. I don't like contractors. I'm a huge fan of and have great respect for NGOs like the NDI (National Democratic Institute), NED (National Endowment for Democracy) and IRI (International Republican Institute).

NGOs boost democracy activists, who will someday form political parties that will challenge the socialist government. "That's how campaigns start."

Claver-Carone is also an admirer of the young Cuban bloggers who oppose the socialist government.

"They are getting their feet wet. Our role is to make sure that they have the resources to put out their views. I think there's a real opportunity for the Cuban people to start with a clean slate. We don't want to impose anything on them. We want to help the Cuban people."

Cuban exiles are financially strong and ready to pour resources into Cuba to repair and improve the infrastructure in the post-Castro era.

"Miami was a swamp until Cubans got there. Cubans are very entrepreneurial. The future of Cuba is economically secure. Politically, it's a process."

And change will take time.

Committee Repeals Obama Travel Regs

Thursday, June 23, 2011
The House Committee on Appropriations has adopted language in its must-pass FY'12 Financial Services Appropriations bill, which funds the U.S. Department of Treasury, to repeal the Obama Administration's regulations on Cuban-American travel and remittances, and restore the reasonable caps and limitations in existence prior to April 2009.

This effectively eliminates the single largest source of revenue for the Castro regime and sends a strong message that its brutal repression -- including the taking of an American hostage since December 2009 -- is unacceptable.

Raul's Paranoid Insecurity

How weak, paranoid and insecure must Cuban dictator Raul Castro be that he feels directly threatened by these two peaceful, defenseless, Afro-Cuban, female, pro-democracy activists?

Or conversely -- how powerful is the moral authority of these peaceful, defenseless, Afro-Cuban, female, pro-democracy activists that they threaten Raul Castro's absolutism?

Either way -- it doesn't bode well for Castro's dictatorship.

From Spain's El Mundo:

According to opposition member Sonia Garro, intelligence officials have informed her that a criminal case may be opened against her and the six other women who repeatedly organize peaceful protest marches on the streets of Havana.

Garro said that one of the interrogators, who are agents of State Security, told her that "President Raul Castro himself wants to know who is the woman who is organizing these street protests. Perhaps we will not imprison all seven, but for certain the leader or leaders will go to prison."

Just like the rest of the group, Sonia is a member of the Ladies of Support for the Ladies in White. In addition, she is part of an independent Afro-Cuban organization led by Mercedes Fresneda, another person threatened by the authorities with criminal charges for continuing their anti-government protests.

(Translation by Babalu Blog)

Iran Seeks Closer Ties With Cuba

Wednesday, June 22, 2011
From Iran Focus:

Iran seeks closer ties with Cuba 

Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a telephone conversation with Cuban President Raul Castro expressed Tehran's enthusiasm and willingness to intensify relations with all South American nations in particular Cuba, Iranian state media reported on Wednesday.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran attaches special importance to its relations with the Latin American countries, especially the revolutionary and great state of Cuba, believing that the policy serves the interests of the world's freedom-seeking and revolutionary nations", Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency Fars.

"The two countries are seeking to advance the goals and causes of their revolutionary and independent nations through establishing sustainable relations and adopting shared views", he said.

So Many Syrian Similarities

An excerpt from Nick Cohen's column, "Face the Facts - Syria is an Apartheid State," in The Guardian:

I hope that liberals of my generation who beat their chests as they protested against racial apartheid in southern Africa will soon feel as outraged by religious apartheid in the Middle East. The Syrian opposition has as much right to our support as the African National Congress did because it has not targeted Alawites because of their religion. Indeed, it places its hopes on the Alawite-led army mutinying.

Nor does it want western military intervention. In a discussion of the opposition's needs, the pro-democracy think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, emphasised the modesty of the dissidents' requests. They need encrypted laptops and satellite phones and sim cards to circumvent the regime's media blackouts and so continue the documentation of atrocities, and support from western intelligence services as they seek to persuade sympathetic Syrian army officers to switch sides.

To date, little beyond token sanctions has been forthcoming. Western governments remain lost in the delusion that Assad is a potential reformer rather than an actual monster, on the sole grounds, as far as I can see, that he was once a student in London and that the drooling toadies of Vogue magazine hailed his glamorous wife as "the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies." They still cannot see him as an enemy.

Time Magazine's Cuba Spinster

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
There's nothing worse than a journalist trying to pass off an opinion as fact.

Time's Miami and Latin America bureau chief, Tim Padgett, has long-held biases against U.S. policy toward Cuba and the political leadership of the Cuban-American community.

So it's no surprise that in Time's (appropriately-named) blog, Global "Spin," he writes a multi-layered hit piece on U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Some will argue that Padgett is expressing his opinion in a blog -- not a news story.

However, that's part of the problem -- when journalists pretend to be activist bloggers (and vice-versa).

But that's a bigger philosophical debate.

Here's the immediate issue.

In his critique of Senator Rubio, Padgett makes the following completely unsubstantiated accusation:

Rubio feels that because (USINT Chief Jonathan) Farrar showed himself too soft on the Castros while recently serving as the U.S.'s top diplomat in Havana, he would therefore be too soft on Nicaragua's authoritarian leftist President, Daniel Ortega. (Rubio's assertion that Farrar didn't adequately engage Cuban dissidents, however, is fairly disingenuous given how long Cuban-American leaders once dismissed those dissidents as sell-outs because they didn't advocate violent government overthrow.)

We'd like to challenge Padgett to substantiate his statement about Cuban-American leaders dismissing dissidents that didn't advocate violent government overthrow as "sell-outs."

This biased accusation couldn't be farther from the truth.

Cuban-American leaders have always highlighted and heralded the courageous non-violence and civil-disobedience campaign of Cuba's pro-democracy movement.

Stop the sloppy journalism or blatant untruths.

Letter From Castro's Hell

From the Cuba-based blog, Crossing the Barbed Wire:

At the time of his death, Harol Brito was only 39 years old. He had spent 16 years of his life in prison because of 'disrespect' against the Commander-in-Chief, threat, resistance and disobedience against the authorities. State Security began to investigate him when he was 13 years old due to 'ideological diversion.' While he was serving a sentence in the provincial 'El Tipico' prison of Las Tunas for supposedly robbing someone violently, he died handcuffed in a room of the Che Guevara Hospital at 1:30 pm on February 12, 2011.

Letter from Hell
by Harol Brito Parra

January 26th 2011 - "I, prisoner Harol Brito Parra (number 35166), am locked away in cell # 4 of Hallway H of Detachment #15 of the Provincial Las Tunas Prison for being a political persecuted pacifist who, ever since I was a child, proclaimed myself an enemy of the Castro tyranny which, for 52 years, has oppressed and subdued our Cuban nation, killing, torturing, and terrorizing without the least bit of remorse.

They jail us, they disappear us, they harass us, they insult us, and I really think that there are no words adequate to describe so much criminality. And the nations, governments, and humanity in general, around the world do nothing to put an end to so much pain and suffering.

I am 39 years old, and I have spent my life in prison. I spent approximately 14 years in prisons of maximum security and 2 years in the prisons which apply forced labor. These consisted of subhuman conditions, thriving with diseases such as HIV and Aids, tuberculosis, bronchitis, leptospirosis, bronchopneumonia, as well as famine, rats, cockroaches, fleas, and other bugs. God knows this is true.
The prisons of the Castro tyranny are hell on earth. They refuse us medicines and on top of that they take away our medical attention to hand it out among the terrorist buddies of the Castros throughout various countries of the world. And of course, as the saying goes 'there is no one more blind than he who wishes to not see.' Neither nations nor the world want to take a look at the suffering of the Cuban people. And I am not saying this without facts and proof. I have been victim of everything I said I have suffered, and much more. My intention is not to speak lies, I have much proof to show of what my life has been like, and proving that all I say is true.

In 1996, while I was imprisoned in the punishment cells of Detachment #47 in Combinado del Este in the city of Havana, I became sick due to the excessive humidity and the subhuman conditions. I suffered from bronchopneumonia, and my left lung was heavily damaged, and I am convinced that it was God who saved me. And I say that because the doctors said I was miraculously fine after they saw that the liquid which had gotten into my lung and ribs had disappeared by giving me medicines.

After suffering this disease, my health did not improve, for I never was able to get back to my normal weight. My body has been sick, so much so that words cannot describe it. Last year, in April, I nearly died. Or better said, they did all in their power to let me die.

Thanks, first of all to God and his will, many members of the opposition and many independent journalists worked together to not let me die: Jose Daniel Ferrer, "Papito", Caridad Caballero, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leyva, Alberto Mendez Castello, Ana Belkis Ferrer, Roberto de Jesus, and many other people and various churches from my village (Puerto Padre) prayed for my health, offered me food and medicine, something which the "New Pines" Church, which my mother attends to meet with Jesus Christ, did as well.

When the guards had no other option but to let the doctors tend to me for so many reasons and so much pressure, then they were not able to get pleasure from seeing me die little by little.

I had a very large tumor in my throat and suffered from ganglionic pneumonia which affected all my organs and all my body. Once again they had no other option but to isolate me and give me medicines.

I am writing this letter to denounce to the world that the medicines given to me did not cure my disease. I took the 100 doses given to me during a period of 6 to 20 days, the 60 doses of 14 pills day after day, and the 40 doses of 7 pills on Mondays and Thursdays for 4 months and 20 days. Not once did I refuse those medications. I took all the pills that were given to me. And I am not lying about what I am going to say: They released me without having been cured. On November 4th, the pneumonia specialists told me they were going to take me back to prison.

Since that day, I have been in the prison of Las Tunas living in conditions which are truly subhuman. I have told my relatives, my brother dissidents, the independent journalists, my friends, and everyone that I am fine. Having much faith in God, and confiding in him and trying to prevent those who love me from suffering. But everything has its time and everything under this sky has its day. The time has come to, with much valor, tell the world that I am slowly dying because of my lung disease. And it must also be said that neither the directors of this prison nor the health workers of the prison have done what they are supposed to do and are letting me die. In December, because of my demands, the prison authorities were forced to do a sputum test on me and x-rays. The results of the sputum exam were not shared with me or my family. Why do they hide the results? The x-ray appeared in one of the thousands of drawers of the prison, but not as something that was being filed, but something that was being hidden.

Thank God I was there the moment they took it out, because, thank God I knew that it was there where they were hiding it. Why was it not sent to a pulmonary specialist and why was it being hidden? Why do they hide it? Please, someone on earth, upon knowing of my situation, please intercede for me so that I do not die little by little, like the Castro dictatorship wants.

Is Danny Glover Selectively Color-Blind?

Last week, actor Danny Glover was back in Havana to visit his old friends, Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro, and to attend the opening session of an official workshop entitled, "Cuba and the Afro-Descendant Peoples of the Americas."

Take a close look at the following picture from the workshop.

What's glaringly missing?

Obviously, any Afro-Cubans.

The only person of Afro-descent in the picture is Danny Glover.

Rather than hanging out with Cuba's elitist dictators, who don't allow Afro-Cubans in positions of power (despite their being a majority of the population), Glover should have instead visited with the island's courageous pro-democracy leaders.

They are mostly Afro-Cuban.

Former political prisoners like Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Guillermo Farinas, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" (pictured below) and Angel Moya.

Or women like Yaimara Reyes Mesa, Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera and Donaida Perez Paseiro -- who conduct marches and sit-ins for the rights and freedoms of all Cubans.

Unless, of course, Glover is selectively color-blind.

The Winds of Democratic Change

Monday, June 20, 2011
By Amb. Otto Reich and Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat in Newsmax:

Cuba Change Coming

Winds of change are opening doors that have been closed in oppressed countries for half a century, not only in the near East but also in the Caribbean. In central Cuba, one recent day seemed like any other until those winds blew through the main entrance at government-run Radio Placetas.

The station is owned and operated by the Castro regime, as are all radio stations in Cuba. Consequently, the station transmits only programming approved by Cuba's ruling Communist Party, broadcasting a predictable and monotonous replication of life under a totalitarian regime.

The fresh winds this time took the human form of three young black Cuban women, who opened the doors and demanded to be heard: Yaimara Reyes Mesa, Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera and Donaida Perez Paseiro. Miriam, the station director, rushed to confront them. It is rare for citizens to demand air time in Castroite Cuba. In a calm and respectful voice, the three women insisted that the station air an opinion different from the government's official line about the recent death of dissident Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, who perished at the hands of police in the nearby city of Santa Clara a few days before.

"We are Cuban citizens, we live in this city. Don't we have a right to be heard?" said Yris. "This station only transmits the policies of the Party and the government," replied Miriam, the director, shocked that anyone would dare try to access the microphones of a "public" radio station for any unapproved message. "Then we will remain here until we are heard," countered the dissident Donaida.

Whipped into a fury by the station's ever-present Communist Party delegate, employees surrounded the three protesters with hostile shouts of "Whatever you tell us to do, Fidel, we will do…" (Pa' lo que sea, Fidel, pa' lo que sea). The unlikely heroines were unmoved; "We will not leave until the public knows that Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia was beaten to death by police." And remain they did, until police arrested them.

Yaimara, 29, Yris, 35, and Donaida, 39, are members of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement, a nonviolent protest organization that advocates for the re-establishment of civil rights for all Cubans. They were protesting the death of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, a 46-year old activist and former political prisoner who died after being beaten by police in a park in the provincial capital of Santa Clara on May 8 of this year. The beating took place after dictator Raul Castro sternly warned the illegal but increasingly active opposition groups during the April closing of the Cuban Communist Party Congress: "...it is necessary for us to clarify that we will never deny the people the right to defend their Revolution, since the defense of independence, of the conquests of socialism and of our plazas and streets will continue to be the first duty of all Cuban citizens."

This was Castro's order, in Orwellian doublespeak, to police and paramilitary forces to attack freedom activists anywhere and anytime they saw fit.

After long imprisonments of peaceful dissidents led to international condemnation of the bankrupt, half-century-old Castro dictatorship, and failed to stem the rising tide of public defiance, brutal street violence seems to be the regime's principal recourse to stem a rising tide of popular resistance. The regime has reason to fear: Yris, Donaida and Yaimara are said to be the tip of an iceberg of grassroots opposition to the dictatorship. Young, black and from impoverished provinces, they are representative of the 93.1 percent of young Cubans who, according to a recent public opinion poll commissioned by the International Republican Institute, would vote in favor of changing Cuba from "the current political system to a democratic system with multi-party elections, freedom of speech and freedom of expression."

Shortly after being released from her arrest for the Radio Placetas sit-in, Yris joined other civic activists in a public march in her city. Violently intercepted by Regime police, Yris was thrown to the ground and beaten unconscious. After her release, before the pain of her injuries had begun to fade, she cried: "I will not renounce the struggle for Cuban freedom." The march concluded a twelve-day cycle of protests organized across Cuba by the National Civic Resistance Front (FNRC).

Street protests like those by the FNRC were unheard of in a country where fear has ruled for decades. Their new-found frequency indicates that discontent against the Castro regime is overtaking fear, and motivating veteran activists to find freedom through nonviolent resistance. As distracted journalists and academics focus on Raul Castro and his purported plans of pseudo-reform, they would do well not to ignore Cuba's growing Resistance and its will to bring about democratic change. At this time of year the winds in the tropics can be unpredictable and strong. And after 52 years of abuse, old and weak doors may not stand for long.

Iran and Cuba Force Out Journalists

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Journalists in exile 2011: Iran, Cuba drive out critics

Two of the world's most repressive nations each forced at least 18 journalists to flee their homes in the past year. In exile, these journalists face enormous challenges. A CPJ special report by Elisabeth Witchel.

Nearly 70 journalists were forced into exile over the past 12 months, with more than half coming from Iran and Cuba, two of the world's most repressive nations, a new survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. Iran, which has waged a massive, two-year-long crackdown on the independent press, and Cuba, which freed journalists from prison only to force them to leave their homeland, each sent 18 journalists into exile.

"I feel unstable because there is nothing for us here," said Cuban reporter Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, 59, who served more than seven years in prison on baseless charges before being freed last September and forced into exile in Spain. There, he has experienced significant professional and economic challenges, a common experience among the 67 journalists forced into exile worldwide in the past 12 months. "We don't even have our professional titles," Arroyo Carmona said. "We live in limbo."

Imprisonment, or the threat being jailed, was the leading cause of journalists leaving their home countries during the period examined by CPJ—June 1, 2010, to May 31, 2011—accounting for 82 percent of cases. Another 15 percent fled following physical attacks or threats of violence. Prolonged harassment such as frequent interrogations or surveillance drove 3 percent of journalists in the survey to leave their countries.

At least 649 journalists facing violence, imprisonment, and harassment have gone into exile worldwide since 2001, when CPJ launched its journalist assistance program and began keeping detailed exile records. The large majority, about 91 percent, have not been able to return home. Five countries—Ethiopia, Iran, Somalia, Iraq and Zimbabwe—account for nearly half the total number of journalists driven out of their countries over the past decade. CPJ's survey is based solely on cases it has documented, from which it derives global trends. Other groups using different criteria cite higher numbers of journalists in exile.

Arroyo Carmona said leaving Cuba was very difficult, but he had few options. After seeing his health worsen—he was diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, and pulmonary emphysema while serving his prison term in unsanitary and inhumane conditions—Arroyo Carmona felt compelled to take the government's offer of freedom in exchange for leaving the country. "What I was mostly concerned with was my wife's health and my own health, so I decided to leave," he said.

The Cuban government agreed to release Arroyo Carmona and more than 50 other political prisoners, including numerous journalists, as part of a July 2010 deal brokered by the Catholic Church and the Spanish government. But Havana imposed a high price on most detainees: They would have to leave Cuba for Spain immediately. As was the case with other freed detainees and their loved ones, Arroyo Carmona and his family had little opportunity to prepare for leaving home. "They had been given two hours to pack up our belongings and say good-bye before they were taken to Havana," Arroyo Carmona said of the six family members who left behind nearly everything to accompany him into exile. The family stayed briefly in a military compound before being flown to Spain on September 7, 2010.

Read the entire report here.

R.I.P. Yelena Bonner

Sunday, June 19, 2011
From The Washington Post:

Yelena Bonner dies; Russian rights activist and widow of Andrei Sakharov was 88

Yelena G. Bonner, the Russian human rights activist who was the widow of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei D. Sakharov and came under repression by the secret police, died of heart failure in Boston on Saturday, according to the Associated Press.

Mrs. Bonner, decorated for valor and wounds during World War II, was 88. She had been hospitalized since Feb. 21, her daughter Tatiana Yankelevich told the AP.

Mrs. Bonner was a founder of one of the most active rights groups in the Soviet dissident movement of the 1970s, the Helsinki Monitoring Committee. The organization, which for a time disbanded in 1982 after most of its members were jailed for political crimes against the state, sought to publicize Soviet violations of human rights guarantees made when Moscow signed the 1975 Helsinki Agreement on European Cooperation and Security.

The Helsinki Act recognized Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe in return for Soviet assurance to nurture fundamental freedoms, such as free speech, assembly and religion.

The Helsinki Act caused numerous unofficial rights groups to form, and they became an unusual phenomenon in the life of the Soviet capital in the mid-1970s. There were groups delving into invalids' rights, religious oppression, political abuse of psychiatry, workers' rights and emigration demands.

Mrs. Bonner signed hundreds of zayevlenie, or statements, supporting victims of KGB reprisals. She and her husband traveled through Siberia and remote parts of Russia, visiting courtrooms and jails to aid imprisoned activists.

By the decade's end, however, many activists were in prison or labor camps. The luckier were expelled from Russia or sent into internal exile far from Moscow. Mr. Sakharov was arrested in January 1980, and was confined to Gorky, 250 miles east of Moscow. Mrs. Bonner had a special status as wife of Mr. Sakharov, the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb. She was allowed to travel to Moscow until May 1984, when the KGB detained her in Gorky on allegations she had committed anti-state crimes.

During a period of reform under Mikhail Gorbachev, the couple was allowed to return to Moscow in 1986, where they pressed on with their calls for greater freedom and revived the monitoring committee.

Mrs. Bonner's activism entered a new phase after Mr. Sakharov died in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed two years later.

She went on to promote human rights in the post-Soviet era by challenging President Boris Yeltsin's and President Vladi­mir Putin's government.

When a petition circulated in 2010 calling for Putin to step down, Mrs. Bonner was among the first to sign it.

Name That Dissident

The Miami Herald ran a story today entitled, "Wikileaks: Few Cubans Can Name U.S.-Backed Dissidents."

The title alone indicates heavy spin -- for the "U.S.-backed" label is irrelevant (at best) and malicious (at worst).

Moreover, the facts don't support the title, nor the spin.

The story is about a State Department cable from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (USINT) -- released by Wikileaks -- which analyzes a 2008 unscientific survey conducted amongst a group of Cubans seeking to emigrate.

Over half of those surveyed recognized the name of at least one prominent Cuban pro-democracy leader.

The dissident with the highest name I.D. was Marth Beatriz Roque (43%), followed by Oswaldo Paya (29%) and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" (22%).

It's important to note that those surveyed were merely in the application phase of their migration process and that the first tier of USINT employees they interact with are Cuban nationals contracted from Castro's state-employment agency. Therefore, the numbers are likely to be artificially weighed down by a fear-factor.

Despite this, the fact that over 50% recognized at least one pro-democracy leader is actually quite impressive considering the Castro regime's absolute monopoly over all means of communication.

Remember -- Barack Obama's name I.D. was barely over 50% when he began his 2008 campaign for President of the United States, while enjoying the benefits of a free media.

Thus, imagine the spike in the name I.D. of these pro-democracy leaders as new technologies continue to expand and after the high-profile confrontations of 2010 -- pursuant to the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the hunger strike of Guillermo Farinas.

And if dissidents had access to the island's national media networks -- it would be game over.

Of course, Castro knows that (hence the incessant censorship and repression).

It's too bad USINT and The Miami Herald doesn't.

Illegal Cuba Travelers Beware

Saturday, June 18, 2011
Here's another reason -- other than violating U.S. sanctions law -- why American travelers should think twice before boarding a Cancun-Havana (or other similar third-country) Cubana airlines flight.

Don't miss the video clip below.

From USA Today:

How Safe is that Foreign Airline?

Cuba isn't assessed by the FAA because the United States does not have full diplomatic relations with the nation and doesn't allow direct flights. Many Americans, such as Ronald Howard, a teacher in Atlanta, fly to Mexico or Canada to connect to flights to Cuba.

Howard, who flew to Havana last year from Cancun, Mexico, says he had an unsettling experience on a flight operated by Cubana airlines, the island nation's flagship carrier, which flies to Paris and other major cities.

Howard recalls a white mist spewing into the passenger cabin of the Russian-built Yak-42 aircraft during his flight. The mist, which could restrict visibility during an emergency evacuation, probably was from a faulty cooling and heating system, says John King, a former airline mechanic and safety advocate.

"The plane was smoking white mist all the way. The interior was ice cold, and the emergency exits were rusted," Howard recalls. The jet landed safely in Havana.

USA TODAY e-mailed four contacts listed on Cubana's website but did not get a response.

Cubana's last fatal accident was in 1999, and it has the worst accident rate of any airline from 1986 through 2010, says PlaneCrashInfo.com, a website that compiles accident statistics.

The Reality of the Totalitarian World

Friday, June 17, 2011
A chronicle of Cuban independent journalist and former political prisoner Pablo Pacheco's (who was recently released and banished to Spain) trip to London, where he participated in Amnesty International's 50th Anniversary event:

On Monday, Sue invited me to meet with a group of Amnesty International students, with professors of Henley College and a group of French students. These young students, who are in the process of completing their high school careers and in a few years will be the future of their country, do not know the reality of the totalitarian world; the world of suffering unleashed upon some people through hate, intolerance, thirst for power, disrespect for human rights and the lack of freedoms imposed by those who reside in power.

The questions about Cuba quickly began. The most frequent ones were about education and health care.

I explained that in my country, since children are 6-years old they must shout daily slogans such as, "Pioneers for Communism, we will strive to be like Che" in the mornings. I told them that we Cubans want our children to be whatever they strive to be and not like Che because -- despite the fact that the Cuban dictatorship has sold his image as an example for the world to follow -- this man is not an example worth emulating for kids, for he assassinated many Cubans simply because they were against the communist regime which has ruled Cuba for 52 years. In the same vein, I explained to them how Cuban students are separated from their parents when they become 12-years old and are sent to rural schools to study and work, in addition to receiving communist indoctrination, which marks them for their entire lives and impedes them from personal initiatives and from thinking freely. That is not the kind of free education we want, I affirmed.

Then I detailed how upon students completing their high school careers, in order to enter the university, they must be members of the Young Communist Union. As if that were not enough, those who succeed because of their talent and hard work in school find themselves working for a miserable monthly salary of less than 20 euros.

As far as the "free health care" and the "medical potential" which the regime boasts about, I explained to them how in Cuba tourists are provided with hospitals with technology that is much more advanced than what is found in hospitals for nationals. In fact, in hospitals, I explained, there is apartheid practiced against nationals, for we do not receive the same medical quality or attention that is provided to foreigners who pay with convertible currency. I concluded this point by explaining that the regime pays for the public health service with all of the money it steals from its workers, including doctors.

Lastly, I shared with them what I experienced during the 7 years and 4 months I spent in captivity just for writing what my conscience dictates and for denouncing the cruel reality my people face, which the dictatorship tries to hide through its propaganda and distortions of the truth. In Cuba, the life of an average person is very different from the lifestyle of the leaders of the revolution, who live like aristocrats.

The majority of the students showed concern for the changes my young son has experienced in exile. They asked how he felt in Spain and how he has adapted to this new world. I told them that Jimmy is happy because he recuperated what had been stolen from him - the company of his father, a good morning kiss, the hug before going to sleep, and most importantly, the desire to be a normal kid.

One student said, "From now on, I am going to value what I have much more, such as living in a democratic country and knowing that, despite mistakes of our types of government, there is a sharp contrast between what we live and what your people live. We have options, we are free to express ourselves, and of choosing our own paths. Thank you, Pablo, for making me appreciate what I have."

A knot took over my throat and at the moment, more than ever before, I understood the importance of awaking the conscience of others in regards to Cuba. “Thank you all for sharing this unforgettable moment with me”, I responded.

Release Democracy Funding for Cuba

Thursday, June 16, 2011
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Release democracy funding for Cuba

OUR OPINION: "Hold" by Sen. Kerry undermines worthwhile programs

At a time when Cuba's masters are fighting desperately to avoid an economic and political collapse, Washington is caught up in an increasingly silly and pointless dispute over funds to promote civil society and democracy on the island. This nonsense could not come at a worse time.

Sen. John Kerry has put the brakes on funding previously approved by federal lawmakers without supplying clear reasons for his actions or his intent. This is both a significant departure from the usual script involving U.S. policy toward Cuba and a surprising — and disappointing — role for the senator from Massachusetts.

Cuba policy is a perennial target of controversy inside the beltway, with Democrats and Republicans offering competing visions of the best way to fulfill the U.S. interest in promoting freedom on the island. This time, however, it's a leading Democrat against a Democratic administration. The situation is made even more bizarre because Mr. Kerry has rarely, if ever, evinced overriding interest in Cuba policy and can usually be counted on to act as a reliable ally of the Obama administration on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has put a "hold" on Cuba funds disbursed by USAID, the foreign-aid arm of the State Department, to block $20 million "to support human rights and civil society initiatives in Cuba." These programs cover a wide range of activities. They include the provision of "food stuffs and over-the-counter medicines" to political prisoners and their families, and training for grassroots organizers and "democratic engagement at the community level."

In the past, some federal funds for Cuba have been ill-used or misspent, and the Herald has long called for vigilance in these important democracy-building programs. They should not be exempt from accountability.

But in this case, funds to assist Cubans who dare to dissent are undergoing an unusual and unwarranted level of scrutiny. Neither Sen. Kerry nor members of his staff have produced a "smoking gun" or evidence of wrongdoing. They have demanded answers to intrusive questions, reportedly including the identity of individuals at the ground level in a totalitarian state — information that the administration guards jealously and sensibly because improper dissemination would jeopardize their safety.

That's the hang-up, but it shouldn't be. The principle behind these programs — employed throughout the world — is important and the programs themselves are worthwhile. Their aim is to promote civic engagement and rudimentary forms of participatory democracy. It's easy to see why they frighten the dictatorship, which wants to keep Cubans on a tight leash. The existence of a robust civil society in Cuba would represent a threat to the regime.

If Sen. Kerry has doubts, they should be aired in an open committee hearing. Questions should be asked in public and answers supplied by the administration.

But holding up the expenditure at this stage undermines the entire process. A "hold" by an individual senator — a privilege that, as now, is frequently abused, whether it be for spending money or denying office to a worthy appointee — is a particularly unfair way to go about it.

Sen. Kerry owes it to fellow lawmakers to give a reason for his actions or lift the hold. Blocking approved funding this way is unacceptable. Supporters of programs to aid Cuba's dissidents are frustrated. Meanwhile, in Havana, Cuba's leaders are no doubt laughing.

Another Political Prisoner Near Death

Cuban political prisoner Jorge Cervantes has been transferred to a hospital pursuant to a 16-day hunger strike.

Cervantes, 41, a member of the pro-democracy Christian Liberation Movement, began the hunger strike in protest of his unjust imprisonment.

He's accused of the "crime" of placing anti-government signs in public (Castro's) property (meaning anywhere on the island of Cuba).

His mother, Alba Garcia Verdecia, who was able to see him in the hospital, says he looks "nearly dead."

Let's pray that the world's attention doesn't come too late, as in the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

The striking image below is an older picture of Cervantes pursuant to an attack by the Castro regime's thugs, which thrust asphalt upon him.

Kerry Was For Lifting the "Hold" Before He Was Against It

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Some things never change.

Over the weeked, U.S. Senator Johnn Kerry (D-MA) was for lifitng his "hold" on Cuba democracy programs before he was against it.

Sound familiar?

From The Miami Herald:

USAID requests proposals for Cuba programs

The U.S. Agency for International Development is pushing ahead with Cuba programs worth $21 million, although another $20 million remains blocked after oddly mixed signals by aides to Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

Staffers on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by Kerry, lifted his "hold" on the money Friday but put it back on ice Monday, said several U.S. government officials.

"Something smells bad," Investor's Business Daily wrote in an editorial that quoted unidentified Capitol Hill sources as pointing a finger at a "rogue" committee staffer "with pro-Cuba sympathies."

USAID's public notices Monday requesting proposals on how to spend $21 million were merely a procedural step for future multi-year programs, said the U.S. officials, who asked for anonymity.

Projects listed

The three notices listed $9 million for civil society entities such as cooperatives and church groups; $6 million to expand Cubans' access to information; and $6 million to increase free expression among Cubans aged 12 to 14.

The $21 million has not been approved by Congress. The $20 million being blocked by Kerry is part of $40 million for Cuba democracy programs already approved by the full Congress in 2008.

Cuba has made it illegal to cooperate with the programs and sentenced USAID subcontractor Alan Gross to 15 years in prison for delivering communications equipment paid for by the U.S. government to Jewish groups on the island.

Kerry put a "hold" on the money in April, arguing the programs were wasteful and provocative.

But he seemed ready to give in last week. His committee staffers notified the State Department — which includes USAID — on Friday that the hold was being lifted, but then on Monday it returned, several U.S. officials told El Nuevo Herald.

Committee spokesman Frederick Jones, asked twice on Monday about reports that the Kerry hold had been lifted, replied only that "the status remains the same."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has a second hold on the Cuba money because of questions about the programs, but those are widely expect to be resolved this week.

The Tuesday editorial in Investor's Business Daily, a national business journal, said Kerry is "inexplicably" holding up the $20 million.

The Kerry committee note to the State Department putting the hold on the money asked for the names of all contractors and subcontractors involved in the Cuba programs.

The State Department reply did not provide the names, amid complaints they might be leaked to Havana.

Kerry goals

The editorial added that the Cuban programs hold goes against the interests of Kerry, widely reported to be interested in serving as the next secretary of state.
Kerry's nomination would have to be confirmed by the Foreign Affairs Committee.

But if he leaves the Senate, he is likely to be succeeded as chairman by New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat who strongly favors the Cuba democracy programs.

Kerry's hold also runs counter to an Obama administration "liberation technology" campaign to help dissidents in repressive countries use secretive Internet and mobile phone technologies to sidestep government controls.

The campaign involves an "Internet in a suitcase" and "stealth wireless networks" to allow dissidents in countries such as Iran, Syria and Libya to communicate with each other and abroad, according to a New York Times report published Sunday.

New America Foundation's Conflict (or Bias)

This week, the Director of the New America Foundation's (NAF, D.C.-based think-tank) U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative, Anya Landau French, posted another one of her compulsory critiques about USAID's Cuba democracy programs.

As usual, Landau questions the mission of these programs, her distaste for "regime change" in Cuba (perhaps she prefers "regime preservation" -- we prefer "regime choice" or how about just plain "freedom") and even throws in this insulting observation:

"I'm not convinced USAID can find many Cuban youth interested enough in advocating political rights as per USAID's revamped plans, when what the youth are really looking for is anything but political. (It's the economy, stupid.)"

Sadly, this is the same observation that led Cuban dictator Raul Castro (80-years old) to select successors even older than him -- for he doesn't believe Cuba's youth are "properly prepared" to assume positions of political power.

Instead, Landau takes the elitist stance (à la Raul) of suggesting young Cubans simply want some economic nuggets -- like being able to lease a paladar or fruit stand -- without challenging Castro's totalitarian power structure.

Moreover, Landau assails the Cuba programs for leading to the arrest of American development worker Alan Gross (who was helping Cuba's Jewish community establish Internet networks) and for doing so without the "permission" of the Castro regime.

So imagine our surprise, when we read (in the very same week) the following excerpt in the New York Times about U.S. efforts to set up "shadow" Internet and mobile systems for dissidents in repressive regimes:

Developers caution that independent networks come with downsides: repressive governments could use surveillance to pinpoint and arrest activists who use the technology or simply catch them bringing hardware across the border. But others believe that the risks are outweighed by the potential impact. "We're going to build a separate infrastructure where the technology is nearly impossible to shut down, to control, to surveil," said Sascha Meinrath, who is leading the "Internet in a suitcase" project as director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.

"The implication is that this disempowers central authorities from infringing on people's fundamental human right to communicate," Mr. Meinrath added.


Isn't this contrary to what NAF's U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative advocates?

Or does NAF believe dissidents in every repressive regime -- except Cuba -- deserve such support (à la U.S. Senator John Kerry's hypocrisy)?

The World Needs America

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
An excerpt from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio's (R-FL) maiden speech today on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

America is still the only watchman on the wall of world freedom. And there is still no one to take our place.

What will the world look like if America declines?

Well, today people all over the world are forced to accept the familiar lie that the price of security is our liberty.

If America declines, who will serve as living proof that liberty, security and prosperity can all exist together?

Today, radical Islam abuses and oppresses women. It has no tolerance for other faiths, and it seeks to impose its will on the whole world.

If America declines, who will stand up to them and defeat them?

Today, children are used as soldiers and trafficked as slaves.

Dissidents are routinely imprisoned without trial. They're subjected to torture and forced into confessions and labor.

If America declines, what nation on the earth will take these causes as their own?

What will the world look like if America declines?

Who's going to create the innovations of the 21st century?

Who will stretch the limits of human potential and explore the new frontiers?

And if America declines, who will do all these things and ask for nothing in return?

Motivated solely by the desire to make the world a better place?

The answer is no one will. There is still no nation or institution on this planet that is willing or able to do what America has done.

Waiting For Broadband in Havana

From TelecomTV One:

Cuba's broadband revolution delayed until 'manana'.  In other words, indefinitely .

Cuba is now connected to the rest of the world via a new subsea cable to Venezuela. Its been ready for use since before the events in Tunisia, Egypt, the Yeman, Bahrain and Libya, but it hasn't been lit. Martyn Warwick wonders why:

The last time I was in Cuba, back in the "special economic period" that seems (like the permanent 'state of emergency' that pertained in Egypt under Mubarak), to have lasted for a generation, I interviewed a provincial police commander about telecoms on the island and he demonstrated the reality behind the Party propaganda. It took him, a senior state official, 25 minutes to get dial tone on his 'priority' line. And when he did get it, the call didn't complete, even though Fidel and Che were looking down from big pictures on the walls exhorting revolutionary zeal.

I had never been anyplace, except for sub-Saharan Africa, where the comms infrastructure was in such a parlous state. And so it has stayed since. Apart from a few cosmetic differences and some satellite-based broadband being made available to favored state apparatchiks, Cuba has continued to be a deprived telecoms backwater.

Then, back in February, it was announced that Cuba would be connected to the wide world by a new subsea fiber optic cable running to fraternal revolutionary ally, Venezuela. Hailed by the regimes in both countries (CHC: and by Cuba "experts") as another kick in the goolies for that imperialist aggressor, the United States, Cuba's president Raul Castro says cable will be lit "soon" (or 'manana' as they say in Havana, with all the urgency an immediacy the word implies).

According to the Cuban media, the cable will increase available bandwidth by 3000 per cent.

Sounds great, doesn't it - except that Cuba has an Internet penetration rate of under 3 per cent and the regime is already discounting hopes, raised by the president himself in the autumn of 2010, that ordinary citizens would benefit from greatly improved web access. Instead, priority is to be given to political institutions, public authorities and universities. A few months ago Cuba's rigorously-controlled state media was banging on daily about the benefits the new cable will bring the huddled masses. Then all went quiet as the Arab Spring took hold in North Africa and the Yemen and regimes were toppled, thanks, in great part, to mobile phones, SMS, IM and social networking sites.

The new cable cost US$70 million (paid for by oil-rich Venezuela) and can shift 640Gbits of data per second - and that's enough for 10 million simultaneous full-duplex phone calls. However, the ordinary Cuban won't see any improvement to the current depressing status quo - for political reasons, naturally, but also because the rest of Cuba's creaking and antiquated comms infrastructure hasn't been modernized to be able to cope with the potential traffic increase.

The Party says it hopes to update and replace infrastructure "by 2015" - maybe.

Is Obama's Policy Financing Repression?

The New York Times ran a story on Sunday about President Obama's policy of unlimited travel to Cuba by ("exiled") Cuban-Americans.

The title speaks for itself:

"An Airlift, Family by Family, Bolsters Cuba's Economy"

It features the story of two Cuban-Americans constantly traveling to the island -- 8 times in the past 18 months and 14 times, respectively.

(This highlights the fact that 300,000 Cuban-Americans didn't travel to Cuba last year, as reported -- it's essentially the same 100,000 as before, but traveling multiple times a year -- defying its humanitarian purpose).

But here's the kicker:

A State Department official, who requested anonymity because the policy is politically delicate, said that "additional people-to-people contact and enhanced economic independence from the state" helped to "undermine repression." In an e-mail responding to questions, the official said such benefits outweighed concerns about "the Cuban government profiting indirectly."

"Undermine repression"?

No wonder the official requested anonymity -- for this statement is completely dishonest.

Thus far in 2011, there have been nearly 1,400 known political arrests, which doubles the rate of known arrests from 2010.

(Obviously, this doesn't include the countless unknown incidents of repression).

So if repression has essentially doubled since Obama's new policy -- not to mention the death (murder) of Cuba pro-democracy leaders Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Juan Wilfredo Soto, and an American hostage, Alan Gross -- then it's clear that repression is actually on the rise in Castro's Cuba.

Therefore, Obama's Cuba policy is not undermining repression.

To the contrary -- it's financing it.

Surely that is not President Obama's intention.