Flake Withdraws Marti Amendment

Friday, February 18, 2011
U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona has just presented and subsequently withdrawn his amendment to eliminate Radio and TV Marti.

Flake filed the amendment earlier this week to the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution.

This is a clear indication of current Congressional opposition to any unilateral changes to Cuba policy.

Furthermore, it reaffirms that such policy changes would send an adverse message amidst the current tide of democracy movements -- from Egypt to Iran.

Orlando Zapata's Mother Beaten and Arrested

February 23rd marks the one-year anniversary of the death Cuban pro-democracy leader and political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, pursuant to an 84-day hunger strike.

As a "present" for this anniversary, the Castro regime decided to violently beat and arrest his 62-year old mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, this morning.

This news (kudos to CNN) comes on the heels of the brutal beating and arrest this week of another courageous pro-democracy leader, Sara Martha Fonseca (not reported by foreign news bureaus in Havana).

Apparently, in their end-of-life crisis, Cuba's geriatric Caligula's enjoy persecuting and beating defenseless women.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

"You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know."

-- William Wilberforce, British statesman and abolitionist (1759-1833)

From Yesterday's Senate Hearing

Under Rubio Questioning, Obama Administration Admits To "Risk" Of Cuba Travel

Washington, D.C. – Today, at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps and Global Narcotics, Senator Marco Rubio challenged the Obama administration's policy easing regulations regarding travel and remittances to Cuba. Questioned by Senator Rubio, Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela admitted both that there are "risks" to American citizens who would travel to Cuba under the Obama administration's new policy – especially in light of the case of Alan Gross – and that the Castro regime would financially benefit from the easing of travel regulations.

Given The Case Of Alan Gross, The Obama Administration Admits Americans Are At Risk Traveling To Castro's Cuba

Sen. Rubio: "But is the State Department prepared to begin advising both Cuban Americans and non-Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba what you just said—that there are risks to traveling in Cuba?"

Valenzuela: "I think that, you know, I don't know whether there's some specific guidance on that, but I think that there is an awareness that there is a risk and that we, you know, institutions that send…I was a professor at Georgetown, and when our students would go down on a license to Cuba, we always were mindful of that fact that they needed to be careful."

Sen. Rubio: "But specifically, based on your testimony and what we've read about in this particular case and others, isn't it wise, or would it be unwise, to advise people looking to travel to Cuba: Be careful how much contact you make because you upset the Cuban government, you may be jailed and face 20 years, and by the way, we might not be able to do much at all. In fact, what have we done with the case of this U.S. citizen?"

Obama Administration Admits The Castro Regime Does Financially Benefit From Easing Cuba Travel

Sen. Rubio: "What I'm trying to get at is that you have to get a Cuban passport, which is money directly to the Cuban government, a source of revenue. Then you got to get a ticket to a charter company, which is the business partner for the Castro government, revenue to the Cuban government. Then when you land, you get hit with an entry fee, which is direct revenue to the Cuban government. Then, they make you change your currency, which they take 20% of, revenue to the Cuban government. Estimates are that about $4 billion a year flow directly to the Cuban government from remittances and travel by Cuban Americans, which is perhaps the single largest source of revenue to the most repressive government in the region."

Valenzuela: "The remittances to Cuba are a large number too, but let me just simply say this—that there may be some ancillary benefits to the Cuban government, but it is our view that to be able to have direct contact with the Cuban people, that Americans have direct contact with the Cuban people, will provide them with a kind of space that will allow them to become much more independent of the regime."

Here's a video clip of the exchange:

Insult of the Week

"One major benefit of not being Cuban in Cuba is that you can eat beef. For cows are sacred animals on this island. Beef appears only on the ration books of pregnant women, growing children and those lucky enough to be on special diets."

-- Conde Naste Digital, "Cuba, Now: Sacred Cows, Spit-roasted Pig and Peso Pizza," February 16th, 2011.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Cubans do not have any religious objections to eating beef. This restriction is purely due to the dictatorial whim and inefficiency of the Castro regime.

Why Cuba Isn't Egypt

By Guillermo Martinez in the Sun-Sentinel:

Cuba isn't Egypt because Cubans have Miami

At one time or another in the past few weeks, there is a particular thought that has crossed the mind of many of the 1.6 million Americans of Cuban heritage who live the United States — regardless of whether they were born in this country to Cuban parents or migrated here.

How could Egyptians peacefully oust a 30-year-old dictatorship, and Cubans have not been able to rid themselves of the Castro brothers 52-year-old tyrannical government?

Many have written about this in the past few days. Some say the Cuban secret police, trained by the infamous East German Stasi, is ruthless and would have no compunctions about shooting at protesters. Cuban officials have done so in the past.

Others say it is because of a lack of Internet access. The Cuban government has historically prevented Cubans from having access to the Web, although on Feb. 11, the regime lifted the ban, at least temporarily. Recently, Venezuela installed a digital cable that will increase Cuba's broadband capability, but the number of Cubans who have access to social sites on the Web is miniscule.

Still others dare say — with a straight face — that Fidel and Raúl Castro are still popular. That is just not true. One does not need to ban political parties or free speech if assured of the support of the people.

Cuba has the most brutal repressive regime in the Western Hemisphere. Its secret police is one of the best trained and equipped in the world. Control of access to the Internet, to Facebook and Twitter is an important factor. And because the number of people who still work for the government is huge, a percentage remains loyal.

Still not even the sum of all of the above can explain why the Berlin Wall fell and Cuba's regime survived. Or why one does not see the popular street protests that have shaken many countries in the Middle East in Cuba.

So, another answer, in a word, is Miami.

Cubans are both blessed and cursed by their proximity to the United States and by the privilege U.S. governments have given Cubans to come to this country, as exiles, refugees, or as winners of a diversity visa lottery program created in 1998.

As long as Cuba can open and close its escape valve and allow its opponents to leave the island, it will be difficult to see a rebellion in the island as the one we witnessed in Egypt.

The "Illegality" of Castro's Self-Employment

Thursday, February 17, 2011
According to Cuba's Office of National Statistics (ONS), at the end of 2010, there were 11,857 registered "legal entities" in Cuba.

That is a 6% decline from 2005, when there were 12,614 registered entities.

Furthermore, the ONS shows a decline in all categories of registered entities, with exception of those directly controlled and operated by the regime, which grew by 20.7%

So where's the explosion of self-employment and entrepreneurial activity that the media exaggerates?

Are they operating without legal recognition (in "illegality")?

Apparently so -- which means they can be shut down overnight without legal explanation.

Bottom line: Castro's so-called self-employment licenses continue to be a temporary charade in order to survive the current economic crisis.

Upon stabilizing, game over. (Thus the U.S. shouldn't be providing a financial lifeline to the regime).

As Havana-based lawyer and blogger Miriam Celaya recently explained in post -- there can be no reforms without legal rights:

For economic reforms to be effective, a new legal system is necessary

The fact that no legal document exists that clearly explains how measures are established for each [self-employment] activity, the particular requirements of each and the obligations and rights of investors, only creates a vagueness and formlessness that favors speculation and corruption on behalf of the regime officials in charge of the process, as well as the defenselessness for those that risk investment in the private sector. To summarize it in a simple phrase: in a State where no citizen rights exist, there are no legal guarantees for slaves that aspire to freedom.

Dissidents Urge "Real" Reforms

Wednesday, February 16, 2011
From EFE:

Cuban dissidents urge "real" economic liberalization

HavanaCautious reforms undertaken by Cuban President Raul Castro are insufficient and a genuine economic liberalization represents the "only and definitive" solution to the crisis affecting the Communist-ruled island, dissidents said Tuesday.

More than a dozen prominent members of the opposition held a press conference in Havana to put forward alternatives to the government's plan to "modernize" the socialist model.

The group included former political prisoners Marta Beatriz Roque and Arnaldo Ramos as well as Vladimiro Roca, son of the founder of Cuba's Communist Party.

"Without wholehearted economic freedom and, with it, the unlimited expansion of the private sector with businesses of all sizes, it will not be possible to resolve the current situation," Ramos, an independent economist, told reporters.

The government plan to expand the scope for self-employment and allow the creation of small enterprises in the hope of spurring productivity "lacks a real basis," according to Ramos, because of excessive regulation and a lack of adequate financing.

In the documents presented Tuesday, the dissidents urge the government to introduce social and political reforms alongside economic changes.

Such an approach could mark a "start on the road to freedom and democracy," the opposition leaders said.

Among other steps, they advocate an end to the requirement that Cubans obtain official permission to travel abroad and an authorization for the open buying and selling of homes an vehicles.

Cuba also needs a new constitution, the dissidents say, as the existing charter "does not permit the social, economic and political development the country requires."

The Economist Needs a Fact-Check

Conventional wisdom has it that The Economist knows what it's talking about (or at least, that it fact-checks).

Apparently, that's not the case.

In an editorial today on Presidential vs. Congressional authority to lift U.S. sanctions towards Cuba, it writes:

[S]ince 1992, when the Cuban Democracy Act effectively codified the various provisions of the then-haphazard embargo into federal law, the assumption has been that the only way to meaningfully end the embargo—barring radical political change in Cuba—would be via a vote in Congress.

First of all, it wasn't the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act that codified sanctions. It was the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act.

Furthermore, it's not an "assumption" that the only way to end the embargo is through a vote in Congress -- that's what the law says (subsection 102(h) in particular).

It continues:

Mr. Obama has already punched some significant holes in the embargo. For example, he has allowed American telecommunications companies to provide data and mobile-phone services to Cuba, although the Cuban government has not shown any interest in taking up the offer. He has lifted all restrictions on the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send to their families back home, and the number of visits they can make.

Note to the The Economist: Both of these actions are specifically authorized (not presumed or extrapolated) by the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act -- the bill you previously thought codified sanctions. So how can these be as a result of Obama "punching significant holes" in the law?

Time to get your facts straight.

Save Yourself the Lawyer's Fees

Realizing that the U.S. Congress is unlikely to unconditionally lift sanctions towards the Castro regime -- and apparently not satisfied with the billions in unilateral concessions that have already been provided by the Obama Administration over the last two years -- advocates of normalizing relations with Cuba have chosen a new strategy:

Telling Congress what it "really meant" when it codified Cuba sanctions into law.

So they hired lawyers to draft a report encapsulating how they would like U.S. law to be interpreted -- as opposed to how Congress wrote it.

In other words, these lawyers (at the request of their clients, the Cuba Study Group) purport to tell Congress, which wrote the law 15 years ago, and the Executive, which has enforced it throughout the same time, that they are wrong.

Next thing you know, they'll produce a poll on what Congressional intent should be -- as opposed to what it actually is.

Here's a novel idea -- instead of bothering with lawyer's interpretations, just read the actual legislative Conference Report (click here).

It'll save you the lawyer's fees.

Wasserman-Schultz Slaps Obama's Policy

Tuesday, February 15, 2011
From the Sun-Sentinel:

Wasserman Schultz slaps Obama's Cuba policy

South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, normally a stalwart fan of President Obama, took a slap on Tuesday at his recent decision to make it easier for many Americans to visit Cuba.

Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Weston, was incensed by word that Cuban prosecutors will seek a 20-year prison sentence for Alan Gross, a contractor from Maryland, who was suspected of spying while in Cuba.

His family says that Gross, who has been jailed since December 2009, was distributing communications equipment to Cuba's Jewish community.

"This affront is magnified by the recent announcement by the Obama administration that the United States will be loosening travel restrictions, which will pump much-needed money into the desperate Cuban economy, boosting the Castro regime," Wasserman Schultz said. "The United States reaches out to Cuba with a carrot, and we get back a stick. And a slap in the face."

"We should not be opening up our markets and our travel before the Castro regime brings true reform to the Cuban people."

Administration officials say that Obama loosened the travel rules – for Cuban-Americans and for those with special reasons to go to Cuba – to reach out to the Cuban people, not their government.

The officials say the advantages of establishing stronger ties to Cubans and fostering communications are more important than whatever money from travel revenue and remittances falls into the hands of the government.

Wasserman Schultz, who represents parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, reflects long-standing efforts by South Florida representatives to maintain the rigid embargo of Cuba to try to force reforms.

Secretary Clinton on Internet Freedom

From U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech today on Internet freedom:

One year ago, I offered a starting point for that vision by calling for a global commitment to internet freedom, to protect human rights online as we do offline. The rights of individuals to express their views freely, petition their leaders, worship according to their beliefs – these rights are universal, whether they are exercised in a public square or on an individual blog. The freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace. In our time, people are as likely to come together to pursue common interests online as in a church or a labor hall.

Together, the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online comprise what I've called the freedom to connect. The United States supports this freedom for people everywhere, and we have called on other nations to do the same. Because we want people to have the chance to exercise this freedom. We also support expanding the number of people who have access to the internet. And because the internet must work evenly and reliably for it to have value, we support the multi-stakeholder system that governs the internet today, which has consistently kept it up and running through all manner of interruptions across networks, borders, and regions.

In the year since my speech, people worldwide have continued to use the internet to solve shared problems and expose public corruption, from the people in Russia who tracked wildfires online and organized a volunteer firefighting squad, to the children in Syria who used Facebook to reveal abuse by their teachers, to the internet campaign in China that helps parents find their missing children.

At the same time, the internet continues to be restrained in a myriad of ways. In China, the government censors content and redirects search requests to error pages. In Burma, independent news sites have been taken down with distributed denial of service attacks. In Cuba, the government is trying to create a national intranet, while not allowing their citizens to access the global internet. In Vietnam, bloggers who criticize the government are arrested and abused. In Iran, the authorities block opposition and media websites, target social media, and steal identifying information about their own people in order to hunt them down.

These actions reflect a landscape that is complex and combustible, and sure to become more so in the coming years as billions of more people connect to the internet. The choices we make today will determine what the internet looks like in the future. Businesses have to choose whether and how to enter markets where internet freedom is limited. People have to choose how to act online, what information to share and with whom, which ideas to voice and how to voice them. Governments have to choose to live up to their commitments to protect free expression, assembly, and association.

For the United States, the choice is clear. On the spectrum of internet freedom, we place ourselves on the side of openness. Now, we recognize that an open internet comes with challenges. It calls for ground rules to protect against wrongdoing and harm. And internet freedom raises tensions, like all freedoms do. But we believe the benefits far exceed the costs.

Tweet Your Mind

An amazing poster on Egypt, Cuba and Twitter:

A (Gross) Foreign Policy Fiasco

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Editorial Board:

Just 90 miles off the U.S. coast, an American contractor unjustly arrested faces a slow death in a Havana prison.

The plight of Alan Gross, 61 and reportedly in declining health, is a stunning rebuke of the Obama administration's foreign policy of deferentialism. Since December 2009, the Maryland resident, working for a State Department contractor in Cuba, has been imprisoned for distributing satellite phones to Jewish groups and others.

Since then Cuba has greeted the Obama administration's open hand -- lifted travel restrictions and the easier transfer of remittances -- with a clenched fist. Now the communist regime is demanding that Mr. Gross be sentenced to 20 years in prison for so-called crimes against "the integrity and independence of Cuba."

And while the U.S. frets that the Gross case makes it "very difficult to move to greater engagement," Cuba responds by planting its thumbs in each ear and wiggling its fingers furiously.

This isn't merely another foreign policy fiasco with the contemptible Castro brothers. It's a signal to world leaders -- and thugs -- of the treatment that this U.S. administration tolerates.

For all its misbegotten overtures, the U.S. continues to play Charlie Brown to Cuba's Lucy as it yanks away the football -- again.

Senate Amendment on State-Sponsor Flights

Monday, February 14, 2011
Senator Rubio Introduces Amendment Targeting State Sponsors of Terrorism

Amendment to FAA bill would prevent expansion of commerce with state sponsors of terrorism

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio announced today that he has introduced an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) re-authorization bill that would prevent the expansion of commerce through direct flights with state sponsors of terrorism. The amendment is co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and marks Sen. Rubio's first filed amendment.

"Increasing direct commercial or charter aircraft flights with state sponsors of terrorism is totally irresponsible and would amount to unilateral gifts to tyrants and regimes that actively undermine America's security," said Rubio. "There is no reason for the United States to help enrich state sponsors of terrorism, especially at a time when free trade agreements with our close allies in Colombia, Panama and South Korea are lingering.

"Instead of doing business with regimes that undermine America's security and routinely violate the basic norms of human dignity, we should be bolstering our democratic allies through deeper economic ties. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this effort to ensure that U.S. policy does not expose our nation to new security risks and increased security costs, while alienating our most trusted allies."

This week, the Senate is resuming consideration of S. 223, the FAA bill. Currently, the U.S. State Department has designated four countries as state sponsors of terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Random Thoughts

- The Miami Herald's Editorial Board ran a good piece entitled, "Cuba is no Egypt."

It concludes, "[U]nlike Hosni Mubarak – and Sadat and Nasser before that – the Castro brothers have foreclosed every avenue of rebellion and taken every conceivable step to stifle the longing for freedom. Like the Sun King, Louis XIV, Fidel Castro has been able to proudly proclaim that he is the state."

Would that then make Cardinal Ortega the Cuban Richelieu? For historical precision, it would actually make him the Cuban Mazarin (Richelieu's protege and successor), but you get the point.

- Doesn't it seem like CNN runs a story about every "Reflection" Cuban dictator Fidel Castro makes -- no matter how absurd it is?

Today, it ran, "Cuba's Fidel Castro Hails 'Egyptian Revolution.'"

So why has the regime gone out of its way to meticulously hide the events in Egypt from the Cuban people?

- And finally, former Castro regime bureaucrat turned University of Denver doctoral student, Arturo Lopez-Levy, writes:

"The fact that Mr. Gross will finally have his day in Court is positive. It brings his situation closer to international standards regarding the human right to legal counsel and a fair and impartial trial."

Seriously?

This must be the only time Castro's "Court" and "fair and impartial trial" have been used in the same phrase -- other than in Fidel's "Reflections," of course.

Meet Walter Kendall Myers

From the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive:

Walter Kendall Myers, a.k.a. Kendall Myers, was arrested in June 2009 with his wife Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers after having spied for Cuba for almost thirty years. In November 2009, Kendall Myers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage. Gwendolyn Myers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to gather and transmit national defense information. In July 2010, they were sentenced to life without parole and 81 months respectively.

This poster cites Kendall Myers himself explaining one of the ways he obtained information to pass to Cuba, and shows the penalty he will pay for doing so.

Obama Should Reinstate Commando Solo

In this weekend's New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof ("What Egypt Can Teach America") suggests important lessons for U.S. policymakers to derive from current events in Egypt.

Amongst them:

- New technologies have lubricated the mechanisms of revolt. Facebook and Twitter make it easier for dissidents to network. Mobile phones mean that government brutality is more likely to end up on YouTube, raising the costs of repression. The International Criminal Court encourages dictators to think twice before ordering troops to open fire.

Maybe the most critical technology — and this is tough for a scribbler like myself to admit — is television. It was Arab satellite television broadcasts like those of Al Jazeera that broke the government monopoly on information in Egypt. Too often, Americans scorn Al Jazeera (and its English service is on few cable systems), but it played a greater role in promoting democracy in the Arab world than anything the United States did.

We should invest more in these information technologies. The best way to nurture changes in Iran, North Korea and Cuba will involve broadcasts, mobile phones and proxy servers to leap over Internet barriers. Congress has allocated small sums to promote global Internet freedom, and this initiative could be a much more powerful tool in our foreign policy arsenal.

Meanwhile, Wired Magazine ("U.S. Has Secret Tool to Force Internet on Dictators") reminded us last week:

The U.S. military has no shortage of devices — many of them classified — that could restore connectivity to a restive populace cut off from the outside world by its rulers. It's an attractive option for policymakers who want an option for future Egypts, between doing nothing and sending in the Marines. And it might give teeth to the Obama administration's demand that foreign governments consider Internet access an inviolable human right [...]

Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, spent years urging the military to logic-bomb adversary websites, disrupt hostile online presences, and even cause communications blackouts to separate warring factions before they go nuclear. What the military can turn off, he says, it can also turn on — or at least fill dead airspace.

Consider the Commando Solo, the Air Force's airborne broadcasting center. A revamped cargo plane, the Commando Solo beams out psychological operations in AM and FM for radio, and UHF and VHF for TV. Arquilla doesn't want to go into detail how the classified plane could get a denied Internet up and running again, but if it flies over a bandwidth-denied area, suddenly your Wi-Fi bars will go back up to full strength.

In 2004-2005, the Bush Administration experimented with the use of Commando Solo to provide weekly transmissions of Radio and TV Marti to Cuba. These efforts proved successful in overcoming the Castro regime's jamming of radio and television signals.

However -- due to cost constraints -- Commando Solo was soon thereafter replaced with a small twin-engine propeller plane, AeroMarti, which transmits TV Marti while flying in a limited capacity over U.S. waters.

With today's technology and transformational power of the Internet, the time is ripe for the Obama Administration to reinstate Commando Solo flights -- even once a week -- and target Castro's censorship and jamming of Internet connectivity for the Cuban people.

Who's Next to Fall (After Mubarak)?

Sunday, February 13, 2011
In Foreign Policy Magazine, Freedom House asks (and suggests):

With Hosni Mubarak stepping down in Egypt, tyrants around the world may be anxiously wondering who will be the next to fall. Here are some gentle suggestions.

The Castros, Cuba

In 1959, the revolutionary Fidel Castro overthrew Cuba's former strongman, Fulgencio Batista, beginning a 50-year transformation of Cuba into a dismal communist state. Although medical issues prompted Fidel to formally hand over the presidency to his brother, Raúl, in 2008, Cuba remains a one-party state in which nearly all political rights and civil liberties are severely curtailed.

Start with political organizing, which is strictly banned outside the auspices of the state's Communist Party. Dissent can result in harassment and long prison terms. Freedom of movement, including the right to leave the island and the right to choose one's residence, are severely restricted. The government maintains strict control over all media outlets, these days also tightly controlling Internet access and content. Academic freedom is nonexistent, and any unauthorized gathering of more than three people may result in fines or imprisonment.

Today, years of economic stagnation have weakened the state services that once provided the regime its sole legitimacy. Under Raúl Castro, very limited reforms have taken place, including modest economic openings and the release of several dozen political prisoners in 2010. Nonetheless, the future of Cuba remains in the hands of an aging set of leaders for whom a true political opening remains anathema.

U.S. Companies Shouldn't Enable Dictators

The following excerpt is from a hearing last week in the House Foreign Affairs Committee:

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ): I'd like to ask you about a very disturbing report that an American company, Narus, has sold the Egyptian Government what is called Deep Packet Inspection technology, highly advanced technology that allows the purchasers to search the content of emails as they pass through the Internet routers.

The report is from an NGO called Free Press and it is based on information that Narus itself has revealed about its business... I would like to know what we know about this company - and it is part of Boeing, recently bought. What can you tell us about Narus and this invasion of privacy in the Internet?

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg: I'm unfamiliar with the company that you have identified but I'd be happy to see what we know about this.

Rep. Smith: Could you dig into that and get back to the committee? It's very important. It goes to the whole issue of increasingly that U.S. Corporations are enabling dictatorships... It is an awful tool of repression and Narus, according to these reports, is enabling this invasion of privacy.

Dr. Biscet Nominated for Nobel Prize

Cuban Human Rights Advocate Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet Gonzalez Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

Washington, D.C. – Freedom Now and the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights are pleased to announce the nomination of Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet González for the Nobel Peace Prize by the Prime Minister of Hungary, members of the Parliament of Canada, members of the United States Congress (see letter here), members of the European Parliament, members of the British House of Lords, and a leading member of another government.

In a letter to Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Norway, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán wrote, "Dr. Biscet is a man of courage and dignity," and asked that the Committee consider Dr. Biscet's "relentless and self-sacrificing struggle for universal human rights and freedom."

The Secretary General of the European People's Party (EPP) and MEP, Antonio López-Istúriz, has said, "Dr. Biscet is one of the most relevant and peaceful voices denouncing the ongoing violation of human rights in Cuba, as a way to advance towards a democratic system in the country. His fight for freedom of speech in Cuba has been recognized internationally since many years. For this reason, I have recently promoted the support for his Nobel Prize candidature also by the European Parliament." Members of the British House of Lords praised Dr. Biscet as a man "distinguished by his extraordinary vision, courage, leadership, and dedication to non-violence in resisting the Cuban government's human rights violations."

Dr. Biscet is a renowned human rights activist who has paid tremendous personal cost for his advocacy since the 1980s. As a medical professional, founder and President of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, and leading organizer of the "Friends of Human Rights" group in Cuba, he has dedicated his life to defending the fundamental rights of the Cuban people. Dr. Biscet was arrested most recently in late 2002 for exercising basic civil liberties, convicted on sham charges, and continues to serve a 25-year prison sentence.

For many years now, Dr. Biscet has repeatedly faced inhumane treatment in prison, including confinement to a punishment cell and denial of food for extended periods of time. Yet, as members of the European Parliament describe in their letter to the Committee, even throughout these horrific times, Dr. Biscet has "continued to call for non-violence, and has called forth the memory of personal heroes such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr."

Members of the United States Congress wrote, "Cuba today is at a crossroads. Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Oscar Biscet Gonzalez—a Cuban human rights defender unalterably dedicated to nonviolent social change—will point the way ahead, toward a constructive future for all of the people of Cuba."

Political Prisoner Has (Been) Dissapeared

On February 5th, 44-year old, Cuban political prisoner Ernesto Borges Perez began a hunger strike demanding the release of 10 fellow prisoners who refuse to accept forced exile as a condition of their release, and of Alan Gross, an American development worker who has been held in a Cuban jail for more than 14 months.

A week after starting the hunger strike, Borges Perez has (or was) disappeared from the maximum security prison of Guanajay in the province of Artemisa, where he had been held for the last 13 years.

Borges Perez is a vice-president of the opposition (and thus "illegal") Christian Democratic Unity Party.

His father, Raul Borges Alvarez, a lawyer and pro-democracy activist in his own right, is calling on the international community to pressure the Castro regime regarding the whereabouts of his son.