Tunisia's Orlando Zapata Tamayo

Saturday, February 12, 2011
Fortunately, unlike Cubans, Tunisians didn't have to worry about the Catholic Church inviting itself to become an "interlocutor" on behalf of the regime.

As Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega admitted in an interview last year, he intervened because the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the pro-democracy movement's consequent activism"was causing instability."

From the International Business Times:

The Story of Mohamed Bouazizi, the man who toppled Tunisia

Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26-year-old Tunisian with a computer science degree.

Like millions of angry and desperate Tunisians, he faced the unpleasant combination of poor employment prospects and food inflation. Moreover, the Tunisian government was seen as corrupt and authoritarian.

By December 17, resentment against authorities has been brewing for a while.

To make ends meet, the unemployed Bouazizi sold fruits and vegetables from a cart in his rural town of Sidi Bouzid, located 160 miles from the country's capital Tunis. He did not have a license to sell, but it was his sole source of income.

He then drenched himself in gasoline and set himself on fire outside the governor's office. Bouazizi survived his initial suicide attempt. After being transported to a hospital near Tunis, he was visited by President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali before passing away on January 4.

After his suicide attempt, unrest broke out in Sidi Bouzid. The police cracked down on the protestors, which only fueled the movement. The revolt eventually spread to the capital city.

On January 14, the masses of protestors prevailed as President Ben Ali fled the country amid escalating violence and opposition.

During Bouazizi's funeral, Agence France Presse reported that marchers chanted "farewell, Mohamed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today, we will make those who caused your death weep."


Egypt Through the Eyes of Castro-Chavez

By Anna Mahjar-Barducci in Hudson New York:
 
The Uprising in Egypt as Seen by Caracas and Havana

Venezuela and Cuba blame the US for the uprisings in the Middle East.
The Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that the role and the interference of the US were "shameful." These words, however, came after a conversation with his "friend," the Libyan Leader, Muammar Gaddafi, a champion of violating human rights.
After the turmoil in the Middle East, Chavez was apparently worried, and called his other friend," the President of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, who recently cracked down violently on protesters, himself. In July 2010, Assad for the first time visited Caracas, where he received the warmest welcome. "Viva our brother Assad! May God enlighten him and give him a long life in this battle that he adopted for dignity", Chavez said, presumably more interested in the stability of dictatorships than in the stability of the Middle East.

The Cuban Leader, Fidel Castro, apparently decided to tackle the uprisings in the Middle East in his op-eds, called "Reflections of Fidel." According to Castro, the fate of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, is sealed. Castro then went on to blame the United States for both the fall of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and the mass demonstrations in Egypt. The problem for Castro is that Washington backed the new liberalism in Tunisia and turned Cairo into its principal ally in the Arab world. Further, he accused the US of "Machiavellian conduct," which "includes supplying weapons to the Egyptian government, while at the same time USAID was supplying funds to the opposition." No comments were made on human rights violations in the Middle East, or on the uprisings, perhaps to evade comparisons with the Cuban regime. State-run media in Cuba and in Venezuela have so far given only until limited coverage on the crisis in Egypt and in Tunisia.

Thought of the Day

It's curious how with anti-American dictators (e.g. Castro, Ahmadinejad), the left urges engagement, concessions, negotiations and intra-regime reforms, while the right rejects engagement, concessions, negotiations and intra-regime reforms.

Conversely, with pro-American or American "light" dictators (e.g. Mubarak, Ben Ali), the right urges engagement, concessions, negotiations and intra-regime reforms, while the left rejects engagement, concessions, negotiations and intra-regime reforms.

So let's just come to the center and reject engagement, concessions, negotiations and intra-regime reforms with all dictators.

Demanding an Unconditional Release

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Cuba's Maseda Gutiérrez balks at conditions for freedom

The Catholic Church in Havana announced today that jailed Cuban journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, a CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee would be released after nearly eight years behind bars. But news reports, including one citing the journalist's wife, said Maseda Gutiérrez has balked at conditions placed on his release and at the continued detention of other political dissidents.

In a brief notice posted on its website, the church said Maseda Gutiérrez and dissident Eduardo Díaz Fleitas would be released as part of a negotiated agreement with the Castro government to free all political prisoners still jailed from the 2003 crackdown on dissent known as the Black Spring. News reports said that the two would be released under a form of parole known as an "extrajudicial license."

Laura Pollán, the journalist's wife, told Europa Press that Maseda Gutiérrez objects to parole and has sought a pardon instead. Parole conditions could be used to harass or re-arrest a detainee. The ANSA news agency reported that Maseda is also seeking the release of three other political prisoners in failing health.

Maseda Gutiérrez, 67, has been serving a 20-year sentence following his arrest during massive crackdown on dissidents and the independent press in March 2003. In a closed-door summary trial he was charged under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for acting "against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" and Law 88 for the Protection of Cuba's National Independence and Economy. Maseda Gutiérrez, a founding member of the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, was awarded CPJ's International Press Freedom Award in 2008. Pollán has said her husband suffered from high blood pressure and skin ailments.

On July 7, 2010, the Catholic Church brokered an agreement with Cuban authorities to release the remaining 52 Black Spring detainees "within three to four months," the church said in a statement issued that day. Spanish government officials also participated in the talks. All 17 of the reporters released so far were immediately flown to Spain. (One has relocated to Chile and two have relocated to the U.S.)

Maseda Gutiérrez is one of four journalists imprisoned in Cuba. He along with Pedro Argüelles Morán and Iván Hernández Carrillo are among the nine remaining detainees from the 2003 crackdown who expressed their desire to stay in Cuba upon release, according to the reporters' families. The fourth journalist, Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, was imprisoned in April 2009.

In a letter to Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on Wednesday, CPJ called for Spain's government to push Cuban authorities to fulfill their promise to free all journalists imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown. According to news reports, imprisoned journalists Pedro Argüelles Morán and Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, initiated a hunger strike last week to call attention to their continued incarceration and that of other political prisoners.

Egypt's Future Smiles

Friday, February 11, 2011
Undoubtedly, the picture of the week.

Egypt Makes a Case for Regime Change

According to the Financial Times:

Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak announced on Friday he was stepping down and handing power to the military after an 18-day protest ended his 30-year rule.

Crowds across the country erupted in deafening cheers and chanted "God is great" after the president of 30 years made his statement after an 18-day-old revolt and mounting international pressure for him to step down.

Consequently, an Iranian friend noted on Facebook:

So, now that Regime Change is no longer equated to war and destruction (as in Iraq), can we please go about achieving the same in Iran? No more talk of reform, no more negotiations, no more appeasing the barbaric theocrats in Tehran. Regime Change - an ABSOLUTE end to the Islamic Republic!

Ditto on Cuba.

Attention All Cuba Travelers

For all those well-intentioned (yet unwitting) American travelers encouraged to visit Castro's Cuba under the Obama Administration's new policy, the following is a message from Cuban pro-democracy leader and political prisoner Dr. Darsi Ferrer:

The arbitrary criminal process pursued against an American citizen, Alan Gross, who has been held for the last 14 months in the deplorable conditions of Cuba's prisons, illustrates the risks faced by foreigners that travel to the island. I met various foreigners while I was in prison, all of whom were victims of the absence of legal terms, proceedings, or guarantees of due process. Think about it.

Originally posted on Dr. Ferrer's Facebook page.

That's Quite a Statement

Thursday, February 10, 2011
Below is an excerpt from today's statement by U.S. President Barack Obama on Egypt.

Of course, it comes just weeks after throwing a party in the White House for China's dictator and unilaterally easing sanctions towards Cuba's dictator -- so credibility might be a problem -- but it's quite a statement:

As we have said from the beginning of this unrest, the future of Egypt will be determined by the Egyptian people. But the United States has also been clear that we stand for a set of core principles. We believe that the universal rights of the Egyptian people must be respected, and their aspirations must be met. We believe that this transition must immediately demonstrate irreversible political change, and a negotiated path to democracy. To that end, we believe that the emergency law should be lifted. We believe that meaningful negotiations with the broad opposition and Egyptian civil society should address the key questions confronting Egypt's future: protecting the fundamental rights of all citizens; revising the Constitution and other laws to demonstrate irreversible change; and jointly developing a clear roadmap to elections that are free and fair.

We therefore urge the Egyptian government to move swiftly to explain the changes that have been made, and to spell out in clear and unambiguous language the step by step process that will lead to democracy and the representative government that the Egyptian people seek. Going forward, it will be essential that the universal rights of the Egyptian people be respected. There must be restraint by all parties. Violence must be forsaken. It is imperative that the government not respond to the aspirations of their people with repression or brutality. The voices of the Egyptian people must be heard.

U.S. Intelligence Briefing on Cuba

From today's briefing to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James R. Clapper:

The continued deterioration of Cuba's economy in 2010 has forced President Raul Castro to take unprecedented and harsh economic actions that could spark public unrest over the coming year. Havana announced last September that it will lay off 500,000 government employees by spring, with another 500,000 to follow. The government employs about 85 percent of the total work force of 5.1 million. In a probable attempt to consolidate his reforms, Castro is planning a Party Congress for April, the first in 14 years.

The economic situation is dire. Major sources of foreign revenue such as nickel exports and tourism have decreased. Moreover, a decline in foreign currency reserves forced dramatic cuts to imports, especially food imports, and we have seen increases in the price of oil, food, and electricity. As a result, Havana has become even more dependent on subsidized oil shipments from Venezuela and earnings from over 40,000 health workers, teachers and advisers in that country. We doubt that the Cuban economy can quickly absorb all the dismissed state workers given the many bureaucratic and structural hurdles to increased private sector employment.

There is little organized opposition to the Cuban Government and Cuba's security forces are capable of suppressing localized public protests, although a heavy-handed Cuban putdown of protests could spark wider discontent and increased violence which could lead to a level of political instability.

Watch This Video Carefully

The video clip below captures the violent arrest -- this past Monday -- of Cuban pro-democracy leader, Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera.

It shows the Castro regime deploying five state-security thugs to man-handle one courageous woman.

Her crime?

Perez Aguilera was arrested -- along with five other dissidents -- for visiting Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva, a founding member of the Ladies in White, who is on hunger strike demanding the release of her husband, political prisoner Diosdado Gonzalez.

For those that don't understand Spanish, she's screaming: Down with Fidel!

Where is the international outrage?

Protesting is a Right

Here's the image of the week.

The caption reads: Protesting is not a crime, it's a right.

Courtesy of Tony Garcia.

Time for Spain to Press Castro

Wednesday, February 9, 2011
A letter to the Spanish government from the Committee to Protect Journalists:

February 9, 2011

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
President of the Government of Spain
Palacio de La Moncloa
Madrid, Spain

Via facsímile: 34-913- 900-217

Dear President Rodríguez Zapatero:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed that the Cuban government has yet to fulfill its promise to free all journalists imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown on dissent. We urge your government, which was a key party to the agreement to release the prisoners by November 2010, to hold President Raúl Castro to his word.

We are further concerned by reports last week that imprisoned journalists Pedro Argüelles Morán and Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández have initiated a hunger strike to call attention to their continued incarceration and that of other political prisoners. Argüelles, 63, who has been in prison since 2003, is in poor health.

After negotiations between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church, President Castro's administration agreed on July 7, 2010, to release "within three to four months," all 52 prisoners who were still jailed from the 2003 crackdown, the church said in a statement issued that day. Your government played an important role in facilitating those talks. Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs Miguel Ángel Moratinos announced the same month that "the agreement with the Cuban authorities is that all political prisoners will be released from prison."

CPJ welcomed the subsequent release of 17 journalists, and wishes to thank you and your government for your sustained efforts in securing the freedom of the journalists and in offering them safe harbor in Spain with their families.

However, with nine of the 52 political prisoners still behind bars three months after the deadline for their release, the Cuban government has so far failed to fulfill its commitment.

These detainees have expressed a desire to stay in Cuba upon release and have refused immediate deportation to Spain, the reporters' families told CPJ. Exile from the island was not stated as a condition of the Cuban government's agreement to release political prisoners; however, CPJ research indicates that all of 17 freed journalists were immediately flown to Spain with their families. (At least three have since relocated, one to Chile and two to the United States.)

In July, Moratinos announced in the Spanish parliament that Spain would receive "free people who freely choose to come to Spain," but noted that "the commitment we have from Raúl Castro is that [former prisoners] would be able to return to the island." On Friday, a dissident imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown, Guido Sigler, was permitted to remain in Cuba upon his release, the BBC reported. While CPJ considers this a positive development, President Castro should respect his commitment to release all political prisoners without exile as a condition.

Those still jailed from the 2003 crackdown include three journalists: Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, Iván Hernández Carrillo, and Pedro Argüelles Morán, all of whom suffer chronic health problems. CPJ has also called for the release of Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, who was jailed in 2009 on charges of "disrespect" and distribution of enemy propaganda. Du Bouchet Hernández, who is serving a three-year sentence, has been subjected to beatings in prison.

Three months have passed since the November deadline for Cuban authorities to free the remaining dissidents. Without signs of an imminent release, the journalists in prison are putting their health in jeopardy to draw attention to their plight. The extended delay in their release not only undermines Cuba's credibility; it erodes Spain's grounds for calling on the European Union states to normalize relations with Cuba. CPJ urges you to press President Castro to release all jailed journalists without further delay.

Thank you for your attention on this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

Increased Repression in Cuba

From the University of Miami's Cuba Transition Project:

Recent developments in Egypt where protesters took the streets of Cairo and other cities demanding the removal from office of President Hosni Mubarak, have raised the question whether Cuba would follow its lead. Concerned with this possibility, the regime of Gen. Raul Castro has increased its repressive actions. In the past few weeks, the Cuban security system has increased arrests and repressive activities towards the Cuban population:

- Daneysi Gálvez Pereira, wife of Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina who is the leader of the Movimiento Cubano de Jóvenes por la Democracia (MCJD) and one of the most active dissidents in the eastern part of the island, fears for his life after a group of common prisoners of Combinado de Guantánamo were placed in his prison cell to intimidate and threaten him on a regular basis.

- Damaris Moya Portieles, leader of Coalición Central Opositora, told Radio Martí details of the brutal beating she was given by police and agents of the State Security in the city of Santa Clara on Dec. 31 simply for inquiring reasons why dissident Antúnez was being confined to his residence.

- Independent journalist and writer for Primavera Digital, Adolfo Paul Borraz, was violently arrested by two police officers near his home in Central Havana. During the nearly 10 hours detained, he was interrogated and threatened by officers about his activities as a journalist.

- Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez reported that more than a dozen members of Coalición Central Opositora were beaten by the repressive apparatus in the city of Placetas and were later detained.

- Dissident Ramon Arboláez was beaten and threatened by two State Security officials after he opposed the eviction of a family in Placetas.

- Vladimir Turro Páez, President of the opposition organization Seguidores de Cristo Rey, was arrested when he was on his way to a meeting of Concilio Cubano held in Havana. While detained, Major Jose Manuel Carrillo, head of the unit, threatened to shoot him if he did not remain silent.

- Granma, the official Communist Party's newspaper, reported that Cuban authorities will impose fines and prison terms to people who make or sell illegal satellite television antennas and receivers. The newspaper cited the case of three Cubans who were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 16 months to two years for making and selling parabolic antennas and receiver cards designed for satellite television. They were also charged 50 convertible pesos ($55) per antenna and 30 pesos ($33) per data card.

- Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of the deceased prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo, reported that agents of the State Security apparatus threatened to forbid her future departure from the island, if she continued her Sunday pilgrimages to the cemetery in Banes, Holguín Province, where her son is buried.

- Guillermo Fariñas was detained in Santa Clara along with 15 other people for no apparent reason. While released hours later, that was the second time he had been arrested in a matter of two days.

This report was prepared by Susel Pérez, Program Coordinator, Cuba Transition Project, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.

268 Political Arrests in January

In January 2011, the Castro regime arrested 268 Cuban pro-democracy advocates for their peaceful opposition activities.

That's in one-month alone.

While most of these were short-term arrests, four remain in maximum security prisons awaiting "charges" and "trial."

Another four -- including the head of Cuba's Youth for Democracy Movement, Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina -- were imprisoned in December and are still awaiting "charges" and "trial."

That's eight new political prisoners in the last two-months alone.

Meanwhile, only one political prisoner was released within Cuba in all of 2010 (and another one in 2011).

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Pondering Historic Facts

Tuesday, February 8, 2011
An insightful observation by Michael Rowan in El Universal:

[H]ere are some embarrassing facts for Mubarak, Castro, Chavez, Morales and a handful more like them around the world. Since the time of Bolivar's liberation of Latin America, the people of planet earth have multiplied nine times in number, live three times longer and are twenty-five times richer. These indisputable facts did not occur because of politicians but largely in spite of them. By the knowledge gained from trial and error over thousands of years, humanity coalesced around practices that allowed modernization to occur and human freedom to expand especially at the bottom of the economic pyramid. The politicians that allowed that to happen are true heroes. Those that prevented it from happening - so they could stay in power - are history's goats, captured, as Bolivar wrote near the end for him, "by the triple yoke of ignorance, tyranny and vice." Everything changes - nothing changes.

Jailed Journalists on Hunger Strike

From Reporters Without Borders:

Jailed Journalists on Hunger Strike

Pedro Argüelles Morán, one of four journalists in jailed Cuba, began a hunger strike 1 February to protest against the authorities' efforts to force him into exile as the price for freeing him.

Reporters Without Borders has appealed to him and another jailed journalist Albert Santiago du Bouchet, who has also started a hunger strike, to call off their action.

"At the same time we call on the Cuban authorities to listen to reason and recognize that those journalists still in jail have the inalienable right to live in their own country and to exercise their right to inform there," the press freedom body said.

"This deafness is the more incomprehensible in that one of the 41 dissidents freed, out of the 52 envisaged, has had the right to stay in Cuba given to him.

"The government in Havana, bound by its international commitments in the field of human rights, cannot make its own citizens stateless."

Pedro Argüelles Morán is one of the three journalists behind bars since the "Black Spring" of March 2003, the others being Iván Hernández Carrillo and Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez. Their refusal to leave the country has kept them in jail.

During this time four other prisoners whose names did not originally appear on the list of those who could be freed to go to Spain from July 2010 have agreed to leave shortly for Madrid.

Reporters Without Borders understands that Pedro Argüelles Morán was summoned on 20 January by the director of the prison at Canaleta in the province of Ciego de Ávila, where he is serving a jail sentence of 20 years for his opinions under the false pretext of "espionage."

During the interview the director, aided by two state officials, tried to persuade him to leave the country as a way of getting out of prison. Pedro Argüelles Morán, almost blind and very weak after seven years in detention, refused, repeating that he was innocent, and demanded the right to stay in his country as a Cuban citizen.

He is reported to have refused to take a call from the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who had negotiated the recent liberation of political prisoners with the Spanish government and Cuban authorities.

His hunger strike comes as the first anniversary approaches of the death of the dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in prison from a lack of medical care after 80 days of hunger strike.

In a gesture of respect Albert Santiago du Bouchet has decided in his turn to stop taking food from 1 February for 23 days. He was given three years for "disrespect for authority" in 2009.

Reporters Without Borders called on the two men to stop their hunger strikes.

"The death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which profoundly affected international opinion, was not without influence on the process of the freeing of the dissidents," the press freedom body said.

"A year later, do the authorities want to create other insoluble situations by giving political prisoners the choice between prison and losing their roots?"

Separately, Reporters Without Borders hopes very shortly to know the reasons for the arrest and detention since 11 July last year in Cuba of Sebastián Martínez Ferrate. He is a Spanish former producer and freelance journalist who in 2008 produced a report on child prostitution in Cuba. He ceased his activities in 2009 well before his last visit to Cuba.

"Reporters Without Borders hopes, in the absence of clear explanations on the part of the Cuban authorities, that this detention is not connected to the journalistic work previously carried out by Sebastián Martínez Ferrate," the organization said.

"The Cuban government has, according to our sources, apparently put forward reasons relating to national security. We have not forgotten that this type of argument has regularly been used to send to prison journalists who were only carrying out their duties."

A Benign U.S. Policy

By Amb. Everett Ellis Briggs in the Miami Herald:

American policy toward Cuba is 'oddly benign'

As a retired Foreign Service Officer with a special interest in Cuba, I write to comment on Carlos Saladrigas' Jan. 21 Other Views article Good for the Cuban People. He says that U.S. sanctions against the Castro regime "are more comprehensive than any other U.S. sanctions program in the world, even against America's most virulent enemies'' and that "U.S. policy toward Cuba undoubtedly ranks as the most prolonged foreign-policy failure in this nation's history.''

He is mistaken on both counts. Compare the administration's progressive softening of the so-called embargo on Cuba (which today imports more from the United States than any other country except its ally Venezuela) and its hands-off attitude toward other countries' dealings with the regime with Washington's efforts to rally the international community to impose meaningful sanctions on Iran.

As to Cuba's being our "most prolonged foreign-policy failure,'' Saladrigas needs to visit his public library. The Israel-Palestine problem, to name just one unresolved issue, antedates the Castros by more than a decade, and the threat posed by North Korea has been around even longer. By Saladrigas' formula, everyone who has sought to influence the Castros to relinquish power has "failed,'' including the European Union, whose policy of promoting democracy on the island through "engagement'' has gone nowhere.

As long as Cuba harbors criminals such as cop-killers wanted in New Jersey or those whom it decorated for shooting down civilian aircraft over international waters with the loss of American lives, or imprisons and then exiles against their will its citizens whose only "crime'' was seeking freedom of the press, or continues to hold without charges an American visitor (Alan Gross) for giving a laptop and a cellphone to a Jewish friend, or for other outrages, current American policy toward Cuba seems oddly benign.

Everett Ellis Briggs is a former U.S. ambassador to Panama, Honduras and Portugal.

State Should Issue a Cuba Travel Warning

On January 14th, 2011, the Obama Administration announced the further easing of "purposeful" travel to Cuba.

The stated intent of this policy is to: "increase people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities."

On February 4th, the Castro regime announced that it would seek a 20-year prison sentence against an American development worker, Alan Gross, for "Acts Against the Integrity and Independence of Cuba" -- a catch-all "law" against anything the regime perceives as a threat.

Indeed, this "law" is so arbitrary that anyone traveling to Cuba under the Administration's new measures would be ipso facto in breach of it.

After all, the expressed intent of the new policy, as noted above, is to weaken the control of the Cuban dictatorship over its people -- presumably a mortal threat to any dictatorial regime.

So according to the Administration's rationale, Americans traveling to Cuba on "purposeful" academic and religious travel will (hopefully) take with them copies of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, iPads loaded with uncensored literature and subscriptions to foreign press, smart phones for Cubans to connect with the free world and engage in conversations with dissidents (or discuss current events with regular Cubans on the street).

Faced with this presumed threat, the Castro regime will surely seek to blunt the intended effect of the new policy and make fresh examples of any would-be Alan Gross that gets in its way.

Bottom line: Without legal guarantees and respect for basic human rights, any American traveling to Cuba under the Administration's new policy can be whimsically arrested for an indefinite period.

Indeed, recent Iranian actions against three U.S. hikers show how the arrest of American travelers can become a favorite past time for cruel dictatorships.

Therefore, the State Department should issue a clear travel warning to Cuba. Or better yet, the Administration should revert its new policy until Cuban laws are transparent and, hopefully, more humane.

Otherwise, the Administration's new policy amounts to nothing more than a tourist measure, which would not only be in contravention of Congressional intent, but of U.S. law.

No Prisoner Exchanges

Monday, February 7, 2011
From today's U.S. State Department Press Briefing:

QUESTION: On Cuba, Alan Gross, the American, has been detained there. The Cuban Government is saying that they are going to seek a 20-year sentence. Have you gotten any confirmation on that? And did Alan Gross, in fact, work for the State Department in any capacity in Cuba?

[Assistant Secretary of State, P.J.] CROWLEY: Well, we released a statement on Friday that made clear he was an international development worker in Cuba, providing support to members of the Cuban Jewish community, and that we are disappointed in the intent to seek a 20-year sentence.

QUESTION: Follow-up on Gross again, there's a sense that Cuban Government wants a quid pro quo with the so-called five spies. Your reaction to that, please?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, we want to see Mr. Gross return to the United States. What he did was not a crime. We're not negotiating on his – we'd like to see him released. And his case should not be attached to any other.

Cardinal Ortega Lies Again

Last Friday, the Archdiocese of Havana -- led by Cardinal Jaime Ortega -- put out the following press release:

ARZOBISPADO DE LA HABANA
NOTA DE PRENSA

En continuidad con el proceso de liberación de prisioneros, se informa que otros dos (2) serán excarcelados próximamente. Ellos son:

1- ÁNGEL JUAN MOYA ACOSTA, quien desea permanecer en Cuba, y

2- GUIDO SIGLER AMAYA, quien ha manifestado que desea trasladarse a los Estados Unidos.

Orlando Márquez Hidalgo
La Habana, 4 de febrero de 2011

It says that two political prisoners would soon be released: Angel Moya, who remains in prison, and Guido Sigler Amaya, who was released the following day.

Pursuant to Guido Sigler Amaya's name, it caveats: "who has expressed that he wishes to leave for the United States."

In other words, that Sigler Amaya accepted the Cardinal's banishment condition (a further violation of his human rights), which the Cardinal has successfully pushed on 41 other political prisoners.

So Sigler Amaya set the record straight:

"That is completely false. They are miserable rats. Never at any moment did I speak with them regarding that matter. Cardinal Jaime Ortega on repeated occasions insisted that I abandon my country and accept forced exile, to which I always refused. I remember that on one occasion I told him that only in a casket would I be forced into exile to another country directly from prison, and for them to release me so I could go home since only in liberty can a man decide his destiny, not imprisoned."

Your Eminence: Isn't lying a sin, or at least, unholy?

Here's Another "Reform" Sham

Burma and Cuba are inter-changeable.

From the Washington Post's Editorial Board:

The right way to help Burma's democracy movement

SOME OBSERVERS have hailed the inauguration of a new parliament this week as an augur of a potentially more democratic era for the sad, Southeast Asian nation of Burma (also known as Myanmar). If so, it's an odd sort of democracy.

The session took place in Naypyidaw, the remote and lavish new capital that Burma's ruling generals constructed, at huge expense, reportedly on the advice of astrologers. The city's chief feature is that almost no one lives there, and almost no one who doesn't live there is permitted to visit. Parliamentary rules were consistent with that paranoia. Journalists were barred, as were ordinary citizens, and even parliamentarians were not allowed to bring in cellphones, cameras or recording devices. Any legislator who wants to ask a question has to submit it 10 days in advance, with the regime ruling on its appropriateness.

This would be amusing if it weren't so tragic. The Burmese people have shown, through courageous uprisings in 1989 and 2007, that they are desperate to govern themselves. But unlike in Egypt so far, the Burmese army has proved willing to kill as many civilians as necessary to maintain power. The regime, led by Gen. Than Shwe, is one of the world's most brutal, and it has led the nation of 50 million - once among Asia's most prosperous and educated - steadily downward.

The latest farce of controlled elections to a pseudo-parliament is hopeful in one sense, though: It shows that the generals care enough about global opinion at least to pretend at democracy. That in turn suggests that outside nations could exert some influence if they chose.

Which brings us to the failing policy of the Obama administration, ostensibly a marriage of engagement and targeted sanctions. In practice, engagement has been half-hearted and fruitless - the regime seems uninterested - and sanctions have been allowed to languish. The administration hasn't added a single name to the Treasury Department's Burma sanctions list or cracked down on a single bank doing business with the regime - even as the generals sign multibillion-dollar development deals with companies in China, Thailand and elsewhere.

There's an honest debate to be had about whether sanctions hurt ordinary people more than their rulers. But a focused effort to target the regime and its cronies might leave more room to expand humanitarian aid to the population. Right now, the administration has the worst of all worlds. It's not influencing events, it's not helping the people and it's positioning itself to be blamed nonetheless.

A less honest debate would be one that blames the administration's lassitude on Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma's democracy movement, or argues that sanctions should await a clear pronouncement from her. Though she was recently freed from house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi is not in an easy position; if she did call forthrightly for enhanced sanctions, she would be vilified in the poisonous state-controlled press. The biggest help the West could give the democracy movement would be to freeze the bank accounts of the nation's rulers and their relatives, to keep them from stealing more of their nation's patrimony, and let Aung San Suu Kyi call for relaxation when and if events merit. The opening of a Potemkin parliament wouldn't qualify as one such event.

Hosni Mubarak is a Piker

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the Wall Street Journal:

Will Cuba Be the Next Egypt?

The most striking difference between the two countries is Internet access.

Developments in Egypt over the last two weeks brought Cuba to my mind. Why does a similar rebellion against five decades of repression there still appear to be a far-off dream? Part of the answer is in the relationship between the Castro brothers—Fidel and Raúl—and the generals. The rest is explained by the regime's significantly more repressive model. In the art of dictatorship, Hosni Mubarak is a piker.

That so many Egyptians have raised their voices in Tahrir Square is a testament to the universal human yearning for liberty. But it is a mistake to ignore the pivotal role of the military. I'd wager that when the history of the uprising is written, we will learn that Egypt's top brass did not approve of the old man's succession plan to anoint his son in the next election.

Castro has bought loyalty from the secret police and military by giving them control of the three most profitable sectors of the economy—retail, travel and services. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow to them every year. If the system collapses, so does that income. Of course the Egyptian military also owns businesses. But it doesn't depend on a purely state-owned economy. And as a recipient of significant U.S. aid and training for many years, the Egyptian military has cultivated a culture of professionalism and commitment to the nation over any single individual.

In Cuba there are no opposition political parties or nonstate media; rapid response brigades enforce the party line. Travel outside the country is not allowed without state approval. If peaceful dissidents with leadership skills can't be broken, they are eventually exiled. Or they are murdered.

The most striking difference between Cuba and Egypt is access to the Internet. In a March 2009 Freedom House report on Internet and digital media censorship world-wide, Egypt scored a 45 (out of 100), slightly worse than Turkey but better than Russia. Cuba scored a 90, making it more Net-censored than even Iran, China and Tunisia. Cellphone service is too expensive for most Cubans.

Yet technology does somehow seep into Cuba. When Fidel took the life of prisoner of conscience Pedro Boitel in 1972 by denying him water during a hunger strike, the world hardly noticed. By contrast, news of the regime's 2010 murder of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo hit the Internet almost immediately and was met with worldwide condemnation. The military dictatorship was helpless to contain the bad publicity.

In a similar fashion, when the Ladies in White—a group of wives, sisters and mothers of political prisoners—walking peacefully in Havana were roughed up by state security last year, the images were captured on cellphones and immediately showed up on the Web. It was more bad PR for the Castro brothers and their friends like Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Spanish President José Luis Zapatero.

Technology-induced international pressure is making the regime increasingly reluctant to flatten critics the old-fashioned way. In an interview in Argentina's Ambito Financiero on Jan. 27, internationally recognized Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez said the "style" of state repression has shifted from aggressive arrests and long sentences to targeted attempts at defamation and isolation. Ms. Sanchez also said that uniformed police are "distancing themselves from the political theme, not by orders from above, but because they no longer want to be associated with the repression." Now, she said, the intimidation and arbitrary arrests are largely carried out by the secret police in civilian clothes.

A little more space has emboldened the population. Ms. Sánchez also said in the interview that she is "optimistic about the slow and irreversible process of interior change in Cubans. In that the citizen critic will grow, will have less fear, and will feel that the mask is increasingly unnecessary and that it doesn't any longer translate into privileges and subsidies."

Last week a leaked video of a Cuban military seminar on how to combat technology hit the Internet. It demonstrates the dictatorship's preoccupation with the Web. The lecturer warns about the dangers of young people with an appealing discourse sharing information through technology and trying to organize. Real-time chat, Twitter and the emergence of young leaders in cyberspace—aka "a permanent battlefield"—are perils outlined in the hour-long talk. The lecturer also shares his concerns about U.S. government programs that try to increase Internet access outside of officialdom on the island.

On Friday, the regime further displayed its paranoia by charging U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross with spying. Mr. Gross has been in jail for 14 months for giving Cuban Jews computer equipment so they could connect with the diaspora.

With very limited access, Cubans are already using the Internet to share what has until now been kept in their heads: counterrevolutionary thoughts. If those go viral, even a well-fed military will not be able to save the regime. But for now, Cubans can only dream about the freedoms Egyptians enjoy as they voice their grievances.

Rubio Calls on Obama to Revert Concessions

Sunday, February 6, 2011
Rubio Calls On Obama Administration To Halt "Unilateral Gift To The Castro Brothers"

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio issued the following statement regarding the news that Cuban prosecutors will seek a 20-year prison sentence for U.S. aid worker Alan Gross:

"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the Cuban regime's decision to seek a 20 year prison sentence for Alan Gross. Mr. Gross is simply a humanitarian who was seeking to help the Jewish community in Cuba access the internet. Only the most oppressive, totalitarian regime would seek to jail someone for trying to expand access to information.

I call on the Obama administration to halt the planned implementation of their new Cuba policies that liberalize travel and expand allowable remittances to Cuba. This unilateral gift to the Castro brothers by the Obama administration is totally unwarranted, especially in light of Mr. Gross's case.

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton must readjust their recently announced concessions in light of this disproportionate action against an innocent American citizen."

On a Bipartisan Note

Today, we honor President Ronald Reagan's contributions to human freedom (see post below).

On a bipartisan note, let's also remember -- in light of current events in Tunisia, Egypt, Venezuela and Cuba -- the lasting words of former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), who in May 1974 stated:

"There will be no struggle for personal liberty (or national independence or national survival) anywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America which will not affect American politics. In that circumstance, I would argue that there is only one course likely to make the internal strains of consequent conflict endurable, and that is for the United States deliberately and consistently to bring its influence to bear on behalf of those regimes which promise the largest degree of personal and national liberty…. We stand for liberty, for the expansion of liberty. Anything else risks the contraction of liberty: our own included."

Moynihan went on to warn about those "who know too much to believe anything in particular and opt instead for accommodations of reasonableness and urbanity that drain our world position of moral purpose."

When Cuban-Americans Turned Republican

On President Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday, we honor his unforgettable contribution to the cause of human freedom.

The picture and caption below -- from Corbis Images -- are from May 20, 1983.

President Ronald Reagan's limousine passes through the heart of Miami's Little Havana, where thousands of enthusiastic Cuban exiles waved flags and banners. Reagan was in town to help celebrate the 81st anniversary of Cuban Independence, and charged Cuba's "new fascist regime" with peddling drugs and revolution.