We Are All Egyptian

Saturday, January 29, 2011
The only road to long-term peace is through freedom and democracy.

Thus, it's in the best interests of the United States to stand -- unequivocally -- behind the democratic aspirations of all repressed people -- from Cuba to Iran.

No country should be too economically important (China) or geo-strategically important (Egypt) for the U.S. to send mixed messages or distract from the fundamental cause of the world's ills -- tyranny.

Scared of the People in the Streets

Pursuant to this story, Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas was brutally arrested for a third time this week. He has since been hospitalized.

The picture below speaks for itself.

From Reuters:

Prominent Cuban dissident defiant after detentions

A well-known Cuban dissident vowed on Friday to defy the threat of another arrest after he was detained for the second time in less than 24 hours in central Santa Clara province.

Guillermo Farinas, a psychologist and writer, garnered international attention last year by staging a 135-day hunger strike to demand improved treatment for political prisoners and the release of those who he said were ill.

His hunger strike followed the death of imprisoned fellow hunger striker Orlando Zapata. Farinas was eventually hospitalized and fed intravenously but refused to take any solid food until Cuba began to release political prisoners as part of an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church and Spain.

Farinas, the winner last year of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, was first arrested and held for six hours on Wednesday when he and a group of other activists tried to stop the eviction of a family from an abandoned building.

They were arrested again on Thursday as they marched to a local police station where three associates, picked up that morning, were being held.

Despite the detentions, Farinas said he and his fellow activists would march on Friday to a statue of independence hero Jose Marti, ignoring warnings they would be arrested again.

Cuba is currently paying homage to Marti, who was born 158 years ago on January 27.

"I told them (the police) we planned to go out with flowers for Marti and they said they would arrest us for a third time," Farinas said in a telephone interview soon after his release.

He said the protests were aimed at the dire economic and social situation in the communist-led country, which has suffered in recent years from hurricanes, the international financial crisis and economic management problems.

"They (the local authorities) said ... they were not going to let us do anything on the street. In reality they are scared the people will go into the streets," Farinas said.

Castro's 40 Percent Censorship Premium

Friday, January 28, 2011
In 2009, the Obama Administration -- pursuant to its authority under the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act -- expanded the ability of U.S. telecom companies to provide services to Cuba.

Of course, in order to do so, U.S. telecom companies would have to enter into business arrangements with the Castro regime's telecom monopoly (ETECSA) and, thus, be subject to colluding in the censorship of the Cuban people.

Two years before --in 2007 -- the Castro regime and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez announced the construction of a fiber optic cable that would connect Cuba and Venezuela.

The purpose of this cable is to secure communication networks between both of those regimes and to more efficiently censor the Cuban and Venezuelan people.

Some telecom specialists have also suggested that this cable is meant to give the Chinese (who have partially funded the cable) greater capacity for the use of the old Soviet electronic espionage base in Lourdes, located just miles from Havana.

And that's essentially what autocrats do -- they help each other spy, censor and repress.

Yet, Reuters would have you believe that this fiber optic cable was a result of the U.S. somehow being "outfoxed" (that was their headline) by Castro-Chavez. (The article falsely claims that this cable undermines U.S. sanctions -- obviously they haven't read the Cuban Democracy Act).

And this week, Bloomberg absurdly reported that the Castro-Chavez cable was a "lost opportunity" for U.S. telecom companies (to censor Cubans) due to a pricing dispute in 2010 and to President Obama's 2009 telecom initiative not going far enough.

Note to Bloomberg -- the Chavez-Castro cable was announced four years ago -- in 2007.

Do these reporters do any research whatsoever? Or do they just print whatever spin is given to them by so-called Cuba "experts"?

However, it's also worth noting what the Cuba "experts" in the Bloomberg article are specifically upset about.

They're upset that the FCC has yet to authorize a 40 percent maximum rate hike (from 60 cents per minute to 84 cents per minute) for a Miami-based telecom provider, TeleCuba, to offer roaming services, in conjunction with the Castro regime.

In other words, they want to extend the Castro regime a 40 percent premium for the "privilege" of allowing U.S. companies to help censor the Cuban people, in conjunction with Castro's telecom monopoly, of course.

That's definitely not a price worth paying.

What a Day That Will Be

Thursday, January 27, 2011
When the world's remaining dictatorial families suffer a similar fate.

According to France 24:

Tunisia announced Wednesday that it has asked Interpol for assistance to arrest ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, as protesters continued to face off against security forces in Tunis.

Ben Ali, his wife Leila Trabelsi, and eight other family members, face accusations of illegal acquisition of assets and the transfer of funds into foreign accounts during Ben Ali's 23 years in power, Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi said in a press conference.

Tunisian authorities announced that 33 members of Ben Ali's family had already been arrested in the country.

The justice minister also said the head of Ben Ali's presidential security force and five others were being investigated for instigating violence following his ouster.

The justice ministry's announcement was intended "to reassure the population as to the government's determination to break from the past", FRANCE 24's special envoy in Tunis, Pauline Simonet explained.

Why's Hillary Asking for Help on Alan Gross?

This week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Spain's Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez to intervene with the Castro regime on behalf of U.S. development worker Alan Gross.

Gross has been held hostage by the Castro regime without charges, trial or any sort of due process for nearly 14 months.

But how could this be?

Didn't Reuters report that great progress had been made on the Alan Gross front and that he would be home soon?

Or maybe that's just what advocates of unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime (including some U.S. officials) wanted us to believe at the time.

Even Cuba "expert" Chris Sabatini of the America's Society had predicted:

"I would venture a guess that Alan Gross will probably not be in a Cuban jail any longer than the end of this month, and probably will be out sooner than that... The White House couldn't have made these announcements without a Cuban promise to release him."

Well, think again.

The status of Alan Gross remains unchanged and sadly -- yes -- the Obama Administration did ease sanctions on the Castro regime without a promise to release him.

Thus far, it has been all bark (concessions), no bite (tangible pressure) from the Obama Administration in securing his release.

Guillermo Farinas Arrested (Again)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011
More "reform" you can't believe in.

According to AFP:

Cuban dissident Farinas is back behind bars

Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, the 2010 Sakharov rights prize winner, has been arrested and police are holding him in the central city of Santa Clara, his mother and dissidents said Wednesday.

"I spoke with him, and he told me that he is under arrest in the third police unit in Santa Clara, and then he hung up," his mother Alicia Hernandez said by phone from the city located some 240 kilometers (150 miles) east of Havana.

Elizardo Sanchez, of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said the psychologist who went on a high-profile hunger strike last year was detained with 15 other opponents of the Americas' only one-party communist regime.

On December 15, an empty chair draped in a Cuban flag symbolized Havana's refusal to allow Farinas to pick up his prestigious Sakharov rights prize in Strasbourg.

In a recorded message to the European Parliament which gave him the award, left standing on the empty chair, Farinas signed off as "a psychologist, librarian, independent journalist, three-time political prisoner".

A Must-Read Testimonial

The following testimonial by recently-banished Cuban political prisoner, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, was published last week by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Many of you may have already seen it, but in case you missed it -- it's a must-read:

For Cuban dissidents, prison is the only destination

I was born beneath the yoke of a tyranny, now more than 50 years old, in which prison is the only destination for its deterrents. I first came across this destination in 1997, when I was sentenced to five years in prison for the alleged crime of committing an outrage "against state security." In Cuba, besides being a journalist, I was the coordinator of the Cuban Youth for Democracy Movement, an organization that defends the many truncated rights within higher learning institutions, such as a university's autonomy. The answer to our demands? Prison.

I spent four years, seven months, and 27 days in total isolation from the world, in addition to the sad record of 43 sutures on my body, resulting from the beast-like nature of my jailers.

Later, in 2003, one of many miserable springs took place. The Castro regime put 75 opposition members, librarians, and independent journalists behind bars. I was among them. Immediately after a summary trial, a judge sentenced me to life in prison. The funniest thing was that, on the same day, one minute before that (farcical) court hearing began, I met my state-appointed defense attorney for the first time.

I was sent to Kilo 8, a prison nicknamed "I lost the key" after the never-ending detentions endured by the highly dangerous prisoners housed there. Before long I learned that hope is what's really lost there.

We journalists and other prisoners of conscience were put with highly dangerous criminals--murderers, drug traffickers--and there were even informers to keep an eye on us. We were surrounded by well-nourished colonies of mosquitoes, cockroaches, and rodents. They kept us on a diet devoid of proteins and calories. There was no governmental entity to turn to when confronted with the horror of that place; neither the International Red Cross nor the High Commissioner for Human Rights have access.

I sewed my mouth shut, literally, as an act of shame and honor at the same time.

Behind bars, I also saw the spring of 2008 grow dark. On March 12, I received the devastating news that a traffic accident had taken my daughter's life. She was barely 15. Her name was Llanet. Since I was locked up, it had been difficult to be in contact with her and the rest of my family. I was only allowed three visits a year. The prison authorities seized my correspondence, and transferred me to different prisons across the island, like a tourist of the Castros' hells, always far from where my family lived.

In one of these detention centers, I shared my confinement with Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the leader of political dissidence in Cuba. When we saw each other for the first time, we dissolved in a sincere embrace, one that transmitted not only yearning, but also misery.

Last February, his death left me with an eternal sadness, and reminded the world of those Cubans that deny that prison is the only destination.

Spain Sells Nuclear Materials to Castro

Last year, the Spanish government sold over 1.2 million euros worth of "dual-use" military technology to the Castro regime.

This technology included nuclear materials, which can be applied for military use.

While Spain also sold military technology to 47 other countries throughout the world in 2010, Cuba was the only country to which it sold nuclear materials.

Yet the Obama Administration believes that the benefits of providing hard currency to Cuba's totalitarian economy will somehow outweigh the dangers.

We hope they reconsider -- it's only 90 miles away.

Quote of the SOTU

Tuesday, January 25, 2011
"And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people."

-- U.S. President Barack Obama, 2011 State of the Union, 1/25/11

We commend the President for his noteworthy intention.

However, last week's actions -- unconditionally easing sanctions towards the Castro regime and the state dinner for China's dictator -- were poor indicators.

A Poetic, Partisan, Policy Critique

Yet quite thought-provoking.

By Weekly Standard columnist, Rachel Abrams:

[M]r. Obama's efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies continue apace. If the livers of these various imprisoners and slaughterers of freedom-seeking human beings are producing bile rather than foie gras as a result, well, we have "different political systems" at "different stages of development". Decades of U.S. policy are nibbled away or jettisoned altogether to reestablish relations with the penal colony that goes by the name of the Republic of Cuba, and yet Fidel doesn't phone or even write—he arrests a State Department contractor who's down there doing humanitarian work and throws him into one of Cuba's notorious prisons, where he languishes still, more than a month later. The president of Communist China munches on lobster and ribeye in the real peoples' house, and smiles benignly as his pianist countryman Lang Lang subjects the U.S. president—and through him the American people—to a sneering act of anti-Americanism.

And then there's the Iranian answer to our velvet-glove throwdown: On the eve of the latest round of nuclear negotiations, the State Department mouthpiece announces that "we are committed to holding Iran accountable to its international obligations, and will continue to do so until Iran takes tangible steps to resolve international concerns with its nuclear program." Scary—if you're Finland, maybe, but probably not even the Finns take us very seriously any more.

Tearing Down an Autocrat

Egyptian protesters courageously tear down a poster of the country's autocratic leader, Hosni Mubarak.

No ruler should be in power for three decades -- let alone more.

Church (Sadly) Consistent Against Rights

Another recent State Department cable confirms what we've long suspected:

"The Catholic Church has neither the strength nor the inclination to challenge the GOC beyond the occasional criticism when GOC policies conflict with Vatican doctrine on issues such as gay rights. In other words, Cuba's Catholic Church insists on collaborating with the Castro regime and remaining silent on basic human rights."

However, adding insult to injury, it's also made the conscious decision to only speak up -- occasionally -- in order to ensure that other rights are suppressed. In this case, gay rights (although it's hard to imagine how the Castro regime could be any possibly worse on gay rights, without applying Shari'a law, that is).

But at least they're (sadly) consistent against rights.

So why does the Cuban Catholic Church lack such long-term vision?

Whether they like it or not, Cuba will -- in fact -- be a democracy one day (as are the other 34 nations of the Western Hemisphere).

A key question in that future will be church-state relations.

It will be hard for Cuban Catholics to defend the primacy of the Church, state support for religious schools, and avoid the otherwise full separation of church and state -- all institutional issues the Church cares deeply about (whether we agree with them or not) -- when the Church's recent history is one of shameful collaboration.

The fact remains that the Catholic Church is strongest today in those countries where it stood courageously against dictatorships, e.g. Poland, while the opposite is true in those countries where it collaborated with dictatorships, e.g. Guatemala.

As a millenarian institution, the Church ought to have a long-term view (or at least learn from its past experiences).

More "Reform" You Can't Believe In

"Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. In 2010 the government continued to enforce political conformity using criminal prosecutions, beatings, harassment, denial of employment, and travel restrictions."

-- Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011, 1/24/11

Protesting Cuba Policy at the White House

Monday, January 24, 2011
From the St. Petersburg Times:

Rivera brings protest over Obama's Cuba policy straight to White House

Congressman David Rivera tonight brought a complaint over President Obama's just-announced loosening of the Cuba travel policy directly to the Commander in Chief.

Joining Rivera at a White House reception for new lawmakers was Cary Roque, who captured while working for dissidents during the Bay of Pigs invasion and imprisoned by the Castro regime for 16 years. Roque, in an interview after the reception, said she delivered to Obama a letter signed by Cuban exile organizations protesting the new policy.

"I took the opportunity to let him know my feelings," said Roque, 69, who arrived in the U.S. in the late 70s and lives in Miami. "He told me he's trying to get Democracy for Cuba and I responded, 'Be careful because it's not that easy.'"

Many Cuban exiles argue that any assistance the U.S. government tries to give to Cuban residents is merely aiding the Communist government. "Between the Cuban people and his efforts," Rivera said, "stand the Castro tyranny."

But Obama and others, including some Cuban Americans, say the outreach is necessary not just for the Cuban people but for the U.S. economy. Travel is still limited to college students (though not in Florida, because of a state law pushed by Rivera) and religious groups. General tourism remains illegal.

Our Korean War Veterans Deserve Better

There's simply no policy justification for allowing such an insult.

Our Korean War veterans deserve better.

From The New York Post:

Chinese-born pianist Lang Lang gave a musical shout out to America-hating patriots in his homeland when he played at the White House state dinner last week.

During his performance, Lang tinkled the ivories with the famous anti-American propaganda tune "My Motherland" -- the theme song from the Chinese-made Korean War movie "Battle on Shangangling Mountain."

Chinese President Hu Jintao, the guest of honor at the dinner, surely recognized the melody. The song has been a favorite anti-American propaganda tool for decades.
Lang apparently knew exactly what he was playing.

A White House spokesman declined to comment on the song selection, instead directing questions about Lang's performance to the National Security Council staff, which was not available to comment.

The 1956 film "Battle on Shangangling Mountain" depicts Chinese troops pinned down under enemy fire on the mountain. Then reinforcements arrive and the troops attack the US soldiers, whom the Chinese refer to as "jackals."

The song Lang played in front of Hu and President Obama includes the verse: "When friends are here, there is fine wine/But if the jackal comes/What greets it is the hunting rifle."

"Dirty Dancing" in Havana

This feels like a bad scene from the movie Dirty Dancing.

The Obama Administration's new regulations for academic travel haven't even been written yet -- and the junkets are already being announced.

That's right -- for $3,000, American "students" can learn the mambo, rumba and cha-cha-cha in Havana, all while staying at the Castro regime's exclusive, apartheid-ridden Hotel Nacional.

Surely, this will be great for some rhythmless American travelers. But we fail to understand how this helps the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people (thus potentially violating the Congressional intent of the law that authorizes such academic travel, the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act).

Oh, that's right -- supposedly this will benefit the Cuban people, as some "students" might wonder outside the hotel and buy some tourist trinkets from a regular Cuban on the street. In other words, through-trickle down economics.

Ironically, the Obama Administration, which opposes the concept of trickle-down economics when it comes to the U.S. economy (perhaps correctly so), believes trickle-down economics will somehow "empower" the Cuban people.

We don't know whether trickle-down economics work or not -- and frankly, that's not our issue.

However, here's what we do know -- if the effects of trickle-down economics are arguable in an open, capitalist economy, they surely don't work in a closed, totalitarian one.

Thus, the question becomes:

Will the Obama Administration apply the new regulations responsibly, or will "baby be kept in the corner" (tacky line from Dirty Dancing) while American tourists dance the night away in Havana?

If this were an accredited college or university it might even pass the laugh test, but these types of boondoggles are degrading and insulting:

Summer Programs in Havana

Music, Salsa and Folklore
June 26 - July 10, 2011

Popular Music and Percussion Program offers music classes on all instruments, including percussion, drum set, piano, bass, tres/guitar, trumpet, trombone, flute, saxophone and vocals. Four to five hours of instruction daily including classes on your instrument, arranging, rhythm workshops and ensembles. Classes are separated by interest and level, and feature lectures and presentations with local musicians.

Salsa and Afro-Cuban Dance

Beginning to advanced dancers welcome. You can choose to focus on Salsa and other popular dances like Son, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha and Rueda de Casino. OR combine salsa with Afro-Cuban dances like Yoruba, Rumba, ArarĂ¡ and Palo styles.

Afro-Cuban classes have live percussion. Dancers are separated by interest and skill level.

Price: Double $2,750 / Single $2,995

Includes accommodations with breakfast daily, ground transportation to group events, travel license, classes, lectures, parties and performances. Airfare not included.

Humanitarian Aid and Culture
June 26 - July 3, 2011

Features daily excursions to deliver books and medicine to local neighborhood centers, urban community gardens and schools. Evening concerts and performances focus on Cuban music and its cultural significance.

Price: Double $2,150 / Single $2,295

Havana Jazz Festival
December 12 - 20, 2011
(Date Subject to Change)

Join PlazaCUBA for an exciting week of concerts and excursions during Havana's Jazz Festival. Cuban piano legend Chucho Valdes performs and presides over a variety of Latin jazz, pop, timba and straight jazz groups at multiple venues. You will see hundreds of groups from all over the world, featuring Cuba's best musicians, like Harold Lopez Nussa, Bobby Carcasses, Giraldo Piloto, Pupy Pedroso, Joven Jazz, NG la Banda and more!

Accommodations at the Hotel Nacional

Includes accommodations with breakfast at the Nacional, daily excursions and activities, ground transportation, travel assistance and travel license, and jazz festival pass, good for entry to all concerts.

Upgrade to Executive rooms and suites available for additional fee. Airfare not included.

PlazaCUBA is a humanitarian-based arts organization with more than 10 years experience organizing travel to Cuba for music, dance and humanitarian efforts.

Contact us to see how you can travel legally to Cuba as a researcher or under another type of license.

Bipartisan Agreement Against Hu and Castro?

Sunday, January 23, 2011
An excerpt from Rick Robinson's latest column in The Daily Caller:

Left appeasement or national policy shift?

Many Americans are at a total loss to understand the nature of the actions taken this week by the Obama administration towards China and Cuba, two sovereign jails which present themselves to the rest of the world as countries.

Some argue that President Obama is merely appeasing the American left. It has been constantly reported over the last several months that Obama's base is unhappy with his performance. Coddling to the Hu and Castro regimes tosses the left a philosophical bone.

But others perceive that President Obama actually believes that "Communist conciliation" is, in point of fact, the proper approach to get China and Cuba to address the oppressive nature of their respective governments.

I am not sure which argument is more disturbing.

I was in Miami recently when Sen. Marco Rubio addressed the annual meeting of US-Cuba Democracy PAC. His comments that day were aimed at Cuba. But when he spoke of changing American trade policies with Castro, he could have been speaking about American trade policy with China, as well.

Senator Rubio simply stated that it was them (not us) who should be changing policy.

The implicit policy of several prior U.S. administrations has been to keep the pressure on tyrants like Hu and Castro, who chronically violate basic human rights under the guise of governmental autonomy. Obama's switch to a velvet glove approach will not bring reform. It will only embolden them.

Hats off to Congressional leaders (both Republicans and Democrats) who did not attend the state dinner and who pressed President Hu for answers when he attended a session with them on Capitol Hill. I'd bet he understood the questions that time.

This week, Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid hit Hu hard with their rhetoric. Republicans John Boehner and Mitch McConnell snubbed an invitation to break bread with Hu at the White House. Finally, America has the bipartisan agreement it's been seeking from Congressional leadership.

Let's hope that all four maintain a similar common tone when hearings are held, and debate is had, on Obama's easing of economic sanctions on Cuba.

Bob Barr Hearts Dictators (and Cigars)

Former U.S. Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia seems to have an affinity for Latin American dictators.

According to Outside the Beltway:

A former U.S. congressman was among a group of American attorneys accompanying former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier as he spoke in the country's capital Friday.

Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr said he is not serving as Duvalier's attorney, but is in Port-au-Prince to consult, assist and be Duvalier's voice to the international community.

Barr represented Georgia's 7th District in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003, and was the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee in 2008. He currently practices law and runs a consulting firm based in Atlanta.

However, this shouldn't come as a surprise, as just a few months ago Barr was also urging the Obama Administration to ease sanctions against the Castro regime.

His rationale:

"If this results in once again being able to legally purchase Cuban cigars in these United States, then I say such a change cannot come soon enough."

Quite a character.