Rights Are Not Negotiable

Saturday, February 26, 2011
We pray the President keeps his word -- for the sake of Libyans, Cubans, Iranians and all other oppressed people throughout the world.

"The United States also strongly supports the universal rights of the Libyan people. That includes the rights of peaceful assembly, free speech, and the ability of the Libyan people to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. They are not negotiable. They must be respected in every country. And they cannot be denied through violence or suppression."

-- U.S. President Barack Obama, Remarks on Libya, The White House, 2/23/11

Two National Emergencies

Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama extended the national emergency declared vis-a-vis the Government of Cuba on February 24, 1996.

Click on the letters to read.

Furthermore, President Obama declared a national emergency vis-a-vis the Government of Libya and announced the application of new sanctions.

The Dictator's Useful Idiots

Friday, February 25, 2011
A great column by Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian:

Dictator's useful idiots happy to take his money

It was an iron rule of the Cold War that the more grotesque and horrible the communist regime, the more dedicated and active would be its fan club, its friendship societies and fellow travellers in the West.

This has also been true of Arab and Third World dictatorships. The psychotic murderer Che Guevara is an icon of style chic, even today. Cuba's revolting dictator, Fidel Castro, with his Havana Stalinism, was often touted as a great and wise statesman. Even a year or two ago the intellectual and moral giant Michael Moore paid tribute to Castro's health service without mentioning his gulag of dissidents.

But no devotion was ever stranger than that lavished on the Libyan dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Of course, intellectuals always love money and Gaddafi had plenty of it. There was a period in my life where I couldn't wait each week to visit the big news stand at Sydney's Town Hall to read the new edition of the Workers News. This was the journal of a Trotskyite grouplet, the Socialist Labour League. It was financed in part by Gaddafi's munificence, and I rejoiced at the exotic ideological material it offered. In among the routine denunciations of uranium mining and calls for greater trade union militancy would be a couple of pages extolling Gaddafi's fatuous and incoherent green book and the Libyan revolution.

No intellectual in Western life has had a more doleful influence than that champion of frauds, Edward Said. His animating idea was that all Western scholarship on the Orient, by which he meant the Arab world, was a kind of false consciousness, trapped in a narrative of colonialism and Western superiority.

The silliness of the idea has led to its reverse, a kind of reflexive idealising of "the other", so Arab despots, extremists and millenarian mass murderers are imbued in many progressive circles of the West with all kinds of qualities of wisdom and kindness which they singularly do not possess.

Gaddafi was the most absurd example. He of the 40 virgin praetorian guard, he of the murderous suppression of dissent, he of the dysfunctional sons arrested around Europe for beating up servants, he also of the nuclear weapons program and the sponsor of countless acts of terrorism, this man for a time was a hero to elements of the Western Left, including even parts of the Australian Labor party [...]

My closest encounter with the Gaddafi clan came, however, in 2003, when I interviewed young Saif Gaddafi, Muammar's second son. He was hosted in Australia by the mining industry, which quite sensibly wanted to get involved in exploration and production in Libya. And he was touted as the moderate, humane, reforming version of the Gaddafi family.

But there is something about tyrants' sons. They rarely turn out well. Young Saif entered in a cloud of flunkies, a blonde floozy on his arm, overweight bodyguards everywhere, himself in a white linen suit (he dressed rather like John Pilger) sporting designer stubble and a shaved head.

What's it like being Colonel Gaddafi's son, I asked. Not easy, he said. His father didn't always realise that he was just like any other Libyan who likes to "dive in Australia, ski in France" and generally do the ordinary things that ordinary Libyans like to do.

He was supposed to tell me how the new, modern Libya opposed terrorism. And he started out OK, telling me the attacks on New York on 9/11 were thoroughly opposed by him and dad.

"Of course," he said, "we're talking about the New York bombings, not the Pentagon, that's a military target and we hate that building."
At this point a mining executive leapt forward to say that what Gaddafi meant was that he came with a message of peace. Nonetheless, I persisted and Gaddafi Jr described the Pentagon as "the devil's building" and said it was perfectly OK to attack the Pentagon. On the other hand, the CIA, he told me, his family liked co-operating with. I'm not sure if the CIA was entirely grateful for this encomium.

Like a lot of tyrants' sons, Saif was a multi-talented fellow, acquiring a PhD from the London School of Economics, to which his family contributed generously, exhibiting his paintings in Paris, etc. His brother, Hannibal, was arrested several times in Europe, variously for beating his girlfriend and beating servants. One arrest in Switzerland induced Muammar Gaddafi to demand that the UN dissolve Switzerland.

Another brother was the head of a feared security agency.

The utter, absolute, intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Western activists and intellectuals who embraced these gangster dictators is matched today in the same fatuous calls for dialogue and understanding of Islamist extremism in its many guises. The gullibility of a certain sort of progressive is almost infinite.

Cuba Oil Drilling Delayed (Yet Again)

Thursday, February 24, 2011
How could this be (sarcasm emphasized)?

The "experts" had assured us that Cuba would be drilling for oil in the Florida Straits by 2004. And again by 2010. And now by 2011.

Yet, the great Cuban oil hype continues.

My bet is that whenever (if ever) this rig infamous gets completed, it'll end up in Equatorial Guinea.

Ironically, news of this latest delay came as "experts" released another report insisting that the U.S. help Castro become a petro-dictator (as a opposed to a broke dictator).

From Reuters:

Arrival of Cuba offshore oil rig delayed again

Delivery of a Chinese-built drilling rig that will open the first full-scale exploration for oil in Cuban waters looks unlikely until at least August in the latest delay to beset the project, sources said this week.

They said an inspection of the newly-built, high-tech rig had been ordered to make sure it was in good shape after taking on water in transit from the Chinese shipyard where it was built to Singapore for completion in October.

The rig -- the Scarabeo 9, owned by Italian oil service firm Saipem SPLM.SI -- had been expected to arrive in Cuban waters in late June or early July after several earlier delays postponed its original delivery date of September 2009.

If the inspection turns up problems that need repair, the latest delay could stretch beyond August, sources said.

Targeting Officials Complicit in Abuses

Kudos to President Obama's initiative to single-out, designate and sanction Iranian officials complicit in human rights abuses.

The same should be done with Cuban officials, particularly in light of yesterday's brutal wave of over 130 known dissident arrests.

Another timely action would be to send the names of the two Cuban Air Force pilots (see pictures below) federally-indicted for the murder of three American citizens over international waters to Interpol for a Red Notice of capture.

From The White House:

Statement by the Press Secretary on the Designation of Iranian Officials Responsible for or Complicit in Serious Human Rights Abuses

The historic events unfolding in the Middle East underscore the importance of protecting human rights around the world, which all nations have a responsibility to uphold. In accordance with U.S. law and the Administration's commitment to supporting the universal rights of the Iranian people, the Departments of State and Treasury designated today two Iranian government officials responsible for serious human rights abuses against the people of Iran.

Today's designation of Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran Prosecutor General, and Mohammed Reza Naqdi, commander of the Basij Forces, supplements the list of eight Iranian officials designated in September 2010 for human rights abuses pursuant to the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010, which imposes sanctions against senior officials in the Iranian government who, based on credible evidence, were involved in the commission of serious human rights abuses during or after Iran's 2009 presidential election. The individuals designated will be subject to financial sanctions and visa ineligibilities under U.S. law. The list of names is not exhaustive and will continue to grow based on events in Iran, and as additional information and evidence becomes available.

As President Obama has said, human rights are a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity for the United States. The people of Iran should be able to express their opinions and their grievances without fear of reprisal from their government. The United States reaffirms its support to all those in Iran and around the world who are struggling to have their voices heard and rights respected. We continue to call upon the Iranian government to respect the rights of its people and we will continue to hold accountable those who infringe upon those universal rights.

This Afternoon in Calle Ocho

Honoring the lives of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Armando Alejandre, Jr., Carlos Costa, Mario de la Pena and Pablo Morales.

This picture speaks for itself.

Thanks to our friends at Babalu.

Obama on Anniversary of OZT's Death

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Statement by the President on the Anniversary of the Death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo

One year ago today, the selfless and tragic death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo galvanized the world's attention to the ongoing mistreatment of those unjustly held by Cuban authorities for bravely standing up for the rights of the Cuban people.

The attention brought to the plight of Cuba's political prisoners by Zapata's courageous act and by the peaceful protests of Las Damas de Blanco has helped free a number of his fellow activists through the good offices of the Catholic Church in Cuba. Today, I join the Cuban people in marking this anniversary by again calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuba.

Sadly, the harassment and detention by Cuban authorities of Zapata's mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo and others across Cuba, as they sought to commemorate her son's death, underscores how much of his dream remains unfulfilled.

Since taking office, I have reached out to the Cuban people to support their desire to freely determine their future and enjoy liberty and justice. Today and every day, the Cuban people must know that their suffering does not go unnoticed and that the United States remains unwavering in our commitment to defend the inalienable right of the Cuban people to enjoy the freedoms that define the Americas and that are universal to all human beings.

List of Detained Activists

The following is a list of 46 Cuban pro-democracy activists that have been detained today for publicly commemorating the one-year anniversary of the death of Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Many others still remain unidentified.

1. Raúl Risco Pérez (Pinar del Río)
2. Conrado Rodríguez Suárez (Pinar del Río)
3. Pedro Jesús Callejas Lescano (Pinar del Río)
4. Eriberto Liranza Romero (Ciudad de La Habana)
5. Yadira (Damas de Blanco de Marianao, Ciudad de La Habana)
6. Tania Montoya (detained in La Habana, activist from Santiago de Cuba)
7. Hermógenes Inocencio Rivera Gómez (Ciudad de La Habana), along with 12 other unidentified activists.
8. Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez" (Villa Clara)
9. Damaris Moya Portieles (Villa Clara)
10. Diosiris Santana Pérez (Villa Clara)
11. Yris Pérez Aguilera (Villa Clara)
12. Juan Ariel Rivero Díaz (Villa Clara)
13. René Fernández (detained in Villa Clara, activist from Camagüey)
14. Yunieski García López (Villa Clara)
15. Frank Reyes López (Villa Clara)
16. Meibis Mulet (Camagüey)
17. Yoel Marín Cárdenas (Camagüey)
18. Julio Columbié Batista (Ciego de Avila)
19. Omar Wilson Estevez (Holguín)
20. Anny Sarrión Romero (Holguín)
21. Maritza Cardoso Romero (Holguín)
22. Juan Carlos Vázquez Osorio (Holguín)
23. Edilberto Sartorio (Holguín)
24. Juan Sacarías Verdecia (Holguín)
25. Pedro Gómez Góngora (Holguín)
26. Richard Arias Duputey (Holguín)
27. Caridad Caballero Batista (Holguín)
28. Esteban Sandez Suárez (Holguín)
29. Juan Carlos Verdecia (Holguín)
30. Yoandri Montoya Avilés (Bayamo), along with 14 other unidentified activists.
31. Rigoberto Zamora (Bayamo)
32. Marino Antomarchi Rivero (Santiago de Cuba)
33. Reinier Aroche (Santiago de Cuba)
34. Guillermo Cova Reyes (Santiago de Cuba)
35. Guillermo Espinosa (Santiago de Cuba)
36. Luis Enrique Guivert Martínez (Santiago de Cuba)
37. Rogelio Tabío (Guantánamo)
38. Rosaida Ramírez Matos (Guantánamo)
39. Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina (Guantánamo), along with 4 other unidentified activists.
40. Yordis García Fournier (Guantánamo)
41. Jorge Corrales Ceballos (Guantánamo)
42. José Cano Fuentes (Guantánamo)
43. Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz (Guantánamo)
44. Yober Sevilla Martínez (Guantánamo)
45. Isael Poveda Silva (Guantánamo)
46. Abel López Pérez (Guantánamo)

The following 16 have been placed under heavily guarded house arrest:

1. Sarah Martha Fonseca Quevedo (La Habana)
2. Laura Pollán Toledo (La Habana)
3. Francisco Rangel Manzano (Matanzas)
4. Caridad Burunate (Matanzas)
5. Luis de la Garza (Villa Clara)
6. José Lino Ascencio (Villa Clara)
7. Ana Rosa Arteaga (Villa Clara)
8. Adriano Castañeda Meneses (Sancti Spiritus)
9. Idalmis Núñez Reinosa (Santiago de Cuba)
10. Reina Luisa Tamayo Danger (Holguín)
11. Daniel Mes
12. Cristián Toranzo Fundichely (Holguín)
13. Mildred Sánchez Infante (Holguín)
14. Fidel García Roldán (Holguín)
15. José Antonio Triguero Mulet (Holguín)
16. Ronald Ruz Rojas (Holguín)

UPDATE: The following 10 Ladies in White supporters have also been detained (H/T Penultimos Dias):

1. Blanca Hernández (65 years-old)
2. Yadira Rodríguez Bandino
3. Tania Montoya
4. Tania de la Torre Montesinos
5. Lázara Moreján
6. Inés Antonia Quesada
7. Estrella Arambuzo
8. Serafina Díaz Castillo (Finita)
9. Leidi Coca Quesada
10. Nolvis Otero, whereabouts unknown

UPDATE 2: Guillermo Farinas has been arrested.

According to AFP, police detained former hunger striker Guillermo Farinas as he shouted anti-government slogans from his rooftop on the anniversary of the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata, his mother said.

Menendez On Anniversary of OZT’s Death

Menendez On One Year Anniversary of Orlando Zapata's Death

WASHINGTON – On the one-year anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the Cuban pro-democracy activist and political prisoner who died of a hunger strike in protest of the Castro regime's brutal abuses, US Senator Menendez (D-NJ) released the following statement:

"The story of Orlando Zapata Tamayo is a tragic reminder of the Castro regime's disdain for democracy, free speech and basic human freedoms. It is so opposed to these liberties that it imprisoned and let die this peaceful and principled man one year ago. It is a vivid reminder that the Castro regime's oppression continues. Tamayo sacrificed his life for Cuban freedom. Today, in his memory, and those who languish every day to strive for freedom, we carry on their struggle for freedom and human rights in Cuba. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones."

Castro Unleashes the Hounds

By Mike Gonzalez in Fox News:

In Cuba, Castro Marks an Anniversary By Unleashing the Hounds

As Muammar al-Qaddafi clings to power by ordering his troops to shoot on their Libyan compatriots, across the globe in the Caribbean one of his last remaining global buddies is doing his best to keep the lid on his own victims. Fidel Castro, presiding over the wreckage of what was once the thriving island of Cuba, stepped up repression today, the first anniversary of the hunger-strike death of a dissident leader, lest others take to the streets.

Castro's political police are imprisoning Cuban dissidents to prevent them from marking the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a simple bricklayer who was sent to prison on March 20, 2003, for "disobedience" (yes, an adult person can be so charged in Castro's Socialist paradise for speaking his mind) and died on Feb. 23, 2010 -- after two months on hunger strike.

Blogger Yoani Sanchez, one of a handful of dissidents in Cuba to have access to Twitter, has been sending Tweets all day detailing who has been held under house arrest.

According to Sanchez, such opposition figures as Jose Urbino, Zaldivar Maria Antonia Hidalgo, Caridad Caballer and Luis Felipe Rojas have been surrounded by government goons in the city of Holguin.

Even the "Ladies in White," a group of spouses of political prisoners who meet and march through the streets, their dignity held high in the face of heckles and punching by government goons, are being blocked from meeting today, according to Sanchez. She quotes Lady in White Berta Soler as saying that 13 of her fellow Ladies are being held by police inside a house and that other dissidents have had their ID papers taken away by police.

In an afternoon tweet, Sanchez described how she had called blogger Katia Sonia and could overhear a government-organized crowd sent to Miss Sonia's home in order to intimidate her. But don't let anyone think that Cubans have even the few rights their Middle Eastern counterparts have.

Indeed, the differences are telling. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Twitter, Facebook and mobile phones played a key role in organizing the protests, but in Cuba the vast majority of people are denied access to these modern-day means of communication. Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali and Qaddafi were in power for three decades, an obscene length of time by democratic standards. But they're pikers when it comes to Cuba's self-described Maximum Leader, who has clocked five decades and counting. And, of course, while Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans have lived in political oppression, they at least have private property and the right to sell and buy it. Cubans, however, live in totalitarian communism, with no right to own anything.

"Leftist tyrannies are the worst of all tyrannies," the dissident journalist Jose Antonio Fornaris Ramos told The Heritage Foundation on the telephone. "They own your house, all your goods, your place of employment and all you're given to eat. They're absolute. Everyone is afraid, and they're right to be afraid."

Wednesday's house arrests, he said, "are a violation of our constitution, which says very clearly that only courts can hold you under house arrest."

Commenting on the protest in the Middle East, he said: "What it shows is that democracy is man's best invention. The real statesmen left power voluntarily, like George Washington and Nelson Mandela. Those who hang on to power are dictators."

From the State Department

From the U.S. Department of State:

Today marks one year since the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban political prisoner who died following an eleven-week hunger strike calling for the release of his fellow political prisoners in Cuba. He was a courageous humanitarian who died defending a universal human right -- freedom of expression. We also deplore the continued intimidation and harassment by the Cuban government of activists and their family members, including Zapata's mother Reina Luisa Tamayo, who are working to promote human rights on the island.

We join with both the international and Cuban community in urging the Cuban government to immediately and unconditionally release all remaining political prisoners, not just those arrested in the Black Spring Crackdown of 2003. Mr. Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death highlights the injustice of Cuba's detention of political prisoners who should now be released without delay. We look forward to the day when all Cuban citizens can freely determine their future and express their thoughts and opinions in their country without fear of detention or unjust imprisonment.

We Are All Orlando Zapata Tamayo

One year ago today, Cuban pro-democracy activist and political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike.

He died demanding that his fundamental human rights -- and those of all Cubans -- be recognized and respected.

His selfless and ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Click on the picture to see our archive of statements and editorials from that tragic week in February 2010.

Protests Gear Up in Cuba

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Two important stories in The Miami Herald:

Dozens arrested as protest gears up in Cuba

Cuban security agents begin a crackdown intended to stop protests commemorating a political prisoner's death.

Cuban security agents reportedly arrested about 40 dissidents and put another 50 under house detention Tuesday at the start of a crackdown designed to block protests one year after the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Click here for more.

The mom of Zapata leads battle for freedom in Cuba

The mother of former political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died Feb. 23, 2010 of a hunger strike, has become a dissident activist in her own right.

Reina Luisa Tamayo's country life was simple: she raised animals and kids, worked in cafeterias and bodegas, and did people's laundry.

Now approaching 62, the modest Cuban abuela finds herself catapulted onto an international stage. Her son died after an 85-day hunger strike a year ago Wednesday, and she has taken his public calling on as her own [...]

In the year since her son's death, Tamayo has become one of the most visible members of the Ladies in White group of mothers, wives and female relatives of political prisoners. Harassed relentlessly, the Catholic Church eventually had to intervene and ask the Cuban government to call off its mobs.

"They have pulled my pants down in public. They have tried to suffocate me with a rag soaked in gasoline. They have pushed and dragged me. I have had my breasts exposed in the street. Bloomers have been pulled down in front of the whole neighborhood," she said. "All of that has been done to this family."

At one protest, someone stabbed her daughter-in-law in the breast with a needle.

Click here for more.

Amnesty: Stop Harassing OZT's Family

From Amnesty International:

Cuba authorities urged to stop harassing dead activist's family

Amnesty International has urged Cuban authorities to end the harassment of relatives of a human rights activist who died during a hunger strike last year.

Reina Luisa Tamayo, whose son Orlando Zapata Tamayo died at a Havana prison in February 2010, told Amnesty International she was arrested by state security agents who threatened to stop her and other mourners from commemorating the anniversary of Orlando's death in church, on 23 February.

"The fact that the Cuban authorities have so far failed to initiate an investigation into Orlando's death is outrageous and preventing his family from properly celebrating his life is a scandal," said Javier Zuñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

Tamayo, 72, her husband and another activist, Daniel Mesa, were forcefully detained on Friday 18 February by more than a dozen local security agents as they were walking around their village in Banes, north-west Cuba. Tamayo and her husband were released 12 hours later and Mesa, two days later.

Tamayo said the agents had threatened to prevent her leaving her home and go to the cemetery where her son is buried, in breach of her human rights.

"The recent releases of activists in Cuba, who shouldn't have been put in prison in the first place, will only be meaningful if, once all activists are released, they are able to carry out their legitimate work defending human rights without fear of reprisals," said Javier Zuñiga.

"The harassment suffered by people like Orlando Tamayo's relatives clearly goes to show that things still have not changed in Cuba and the authorities need to do much more to ensure human rights are a reality for all."

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was arrested in March 2003 and sentenced to three years in prison in May 2004 for "disrespect", "public disorder" and "resistance".

He was subsequently tried several times on further charges of "disobedience" and "disorder in a penal establishment" - the last time in May 2009 - and was serving a 36 year-sentence at the time of his death in prison.

Regime Change for Egypt, Reform for Libya?

U.S. President Barack Obama was (correctly) unequivocal in rejecting negotiations, reforms or other compromises that would have allowed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak to remain in power.

So why isn't President Obama being just as unequivocal with Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, who also happens to be one of the world's most nefarious terrorists?

Please watch the video below. It's extraordinarily moving.

The U.S. should be -- unequivocally -- on the side of Libya's courageous pro-democracy protesters.

Their sacrifice should not be in vain -- least of all, for the sake of some cosmetic economic "reforms."

All of this talk of "reforms" by dictators around the world -- after decades of repression and absolute rule -- has become really boring and insulting to their people's intelligence.

From CNN:

Obama seeking reform in Libya, official says

U.S. authorities were keeping a close watch on Libya's rapidly unfolding political crisis Monday, in part to see what possibilities might exist for meaningful reform, a senior Obama administration official said.

Among other things, Washington was taking a close look at a speech delivered Sunday by Saif al-Islam Gadhafi -- Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son -- which included warnings of a civil war if demonstrations in the North African country don't stop.

In the same speech, Saif Gadhafi also acknowledged changing times regionally and proposed "radical" reforms -- like bolstering local governments, relaxing restrictive laws, raising salaries, extending loans, and drafting a constitution, which doesn't now exist.

Is Castro Aiding Gaddafi's Genocide?

Monday, February 21, 2011
Are Cuban pilots flying Gaddafi's military jets, which are being deployed to attack peaceful Libyan protesters?

This wouldn't be surprising, as Libyan pilots are defying Gaddafi's orders to bomb civilian protesters and some have even defected in military jets.

Therefore, Gaddafi is unlikely to trust Libyan pilots any further, as he may very-well become their next target. Amongst Gaddafi's few remaining allies, Cubans and Belorussians are the best trained fighter pilots.

By Hugh Miles in the London Review of Books:

After Gaddafi

Information is patchy as communication networks are down, but reports from Libya all indicate that after 42 years in power, Colonel Gaddafi's time is up. The tribes are heading to the capital en masse, soldiers still answering to the regime are trying to stop them, and the violence is escalating. According to the latest reports the regime has deployed helicopters and jets to crush the uprising, allegedly flown by mercenaries from Eastern Europe, Cuba and elsewhere. Meanwhile, former regime stalwarts have been defecting in growing numbers. The head of Afriqiya Airways, the head of the Libyan Chamber of Commerce and several ambassadors are among those who have resigned or relocated. Many of them are reportedly now in Dubai. Islamic scholars in Libya spoke up today for the first time to rule that fighting Gaddafi was legitimate jihad. The demonstrators are calling for a million people to march tomorrow on Bab al-Aziziya, the fortified military compound where Gaddafi lives in Tripoli. But no one knows where he is now.

Rather than stem the revolution, Saif al-Islam's rambling speech last night made the regime seem desperate. He looked nervous, and his threats only further enraged the people who have waited in vain for him to deliver on the promises of reform he made 11 years ago. In Benghazi people threw shoes at his image on the giant TV screens that have been set up in public places. His speech wasn't live – he gave the game away when he spoke about the 'pre-recording' – and it's thought that he has already left the country. Gaddafi's wife and daughter probably left on Thursday, and are rumoured to be in Germany. For Gaddafi himself, however, there are not many places to go. No African country could afford not to hand him over to face justice, and he can't go to Saudi Arabia, the dumping ground of choice for former dictators, on account of his old feud with the king. Venezuela or Cuba seems most likely.

Even if the regime collapses, more bloodshed is possible. But Saif's predictions of civil war and the 'Somalia-isation' of Libya are implausible, and were immediately undermined by the tribal leaders' calling for unity after his speech was broadcast. Assuming Gaddafi goes, however, it's far too soon to say who or what might replace him, not least because he so effectively suppressed all opposition for so long. Factions from the army, tribal leaders and religious authorities will all want a seat at the table. Whether or not there will be a role for any Libyans currently in exile remains to be seen.

Political Unrest in Cuba

There have been dozens of political confrontations throughout Cuba the last couple of days.

Amongst them are the arrest of Eriberto Liranza, head of Cuba's Youth for Democracy Movement and a siege at the home of pro-democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez".

Other confrontations worth noting:

Fear over fate of arrested protesters in Santiago de Cuba

Yesterday, Cuba's political police arrested an undetermined number of dissidents soon after they staged a peaceful public demonstration in the city of Santiago de Cuba.

The repression was unleashed after several members of the umbrella group Cuban Council ("Concilio Cubano") took to the centric public park Cespedes in the morning hours of Saturday, February 19th. In an unprecedented and courageous public action, the demonstrators cried out for freedom and bore posters with the name Cuban Council and memorializing Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the political prisoner who died in a hunger strike last February 23rd. They also demanded justice for the four Cuban Americans murdered on February 24, 1996, when Cuban MiGS shot down their civilian airplanes, flying for "Brothers to the Rescue," over international airspace.

Among those arrested are Ernesto Vera Rodríguez, former law professor at the University of Santiago, the economist Idalmis Nuñez, and another group leader, Eunice Madaula. Held at State Security headquarters in Santiago, their condition is unknown. Vera's mother, María Rodríguez Vaillant, reported they were charged with "possessing posters and demonstrating publicly", both of which are forbidden in Cuba.

And from the Miami Herald:

Los Aldeanos involved in melee in Cuba

A top Cuban hip hop duo that lashes the ruling system with its lyrics reportedly sparked a clash with police last week when they tried to visit two youths jailed since Dec. 25 for playing their music too loudly [...]

Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz said he had received reports that about 80 people were detained and five were injured, apparently by rocks thrown at police from a crowd of 1,500 youths that had gathered around the Aldeanos.

Responding to a Reader

The following was published as a Letter to the Editor in the Miami Herald:

I read Mauricio Claver-Carone's Feb. 12 Other Views column, Travelers to Cuba beware, with disappointment. I do not support the treatment that U.S. government contractor Alan Gross has received, and I hope that he comes home soon. However, I find Claver-Carone's insinuation that those who travel to Cuba for educational purposes will somehow be subjected to the same treatment off-base.

I have traveled to Cuba twice through such programs. They are supported by the Cuban government-run Cuban Institute for Friendship with the People. Indeed, such programs always begin with a welcome from Institute officials who, surprisingly, are quite frank in their criticism of the status quo in Cuba.

Whether the people-to-people programs are effective in meeting their stated goals is a legitimate debate I look forward to having with Claver-Carone someday. In the meantime, I invite him, and the organizations that he leads, to do some hands-on, face-to-face research with the Cuban people before he makes such dangerously misleading statements.

Chad Purdie, Miami

Allow us to emphasize two sentences:

I have traveled to Cuba twice through such programs. They are supported by the Cuban government-run Cuban Institute for Friendship with the People.

And that, Dear Reader, is precisely the problem -- not to mention the absolute sham -- of such travel to Cuba.

Have no doubt, as long as you continue to travel to Cuba under Castro-vetted, approved and controlled programs, you are in no danger.

However, you are doing nothing to help the Cuban people free themselves from the longest and most repressive dictatorship the Western Hemisphere has ever seen.

To the contrary, you are (perhaps unwittingly) doing exactly what the regime wants.

On this Presidents Day

It's timely to take a look back at part of Cuba's complex history vis-a-vis U.S. Presidents.

The following is an interesting column (from last month) by historian Tom Chaffin in the New York Times.

On the one hand, it explains how U.S. President Abraham Lincoln essentially saved Cuba from being annexed by the South; while on the other hand, how Southern filibusters were the first military challenge to the Spanish crown's rule (leading to independence).

For Congressional buffs, it's also the origin of the word "filibuster."

Abe Lincoln and Filibuster Fever

By Tom Chaffin

These days the word "filibuster" brings to mind long-winded debates and congressional paralysis. But in January 1861, a very different use of the term occupied the mind of Abraham Lincoln.

Descended via the Spanish "filibustero" from the Dutch "Vrijbuiter"—itself a corruption of the English word "freebooter"—filibuster at first referred to English buccaneers, pirates who sailed in search of Spanish gold and silver. But by the mid-19th century, it had come to mean irregular armies from the United States bound for foreign lands and those who joined them. Some enjoyed nod-and-wink approval from federal or state officials, but most acted without governmental authority, even in outright defiance of Uncle Sam.

Although some of America's first filibusters invaded Canada, by the time Lincoln arrived in national politics most were headed toward Latin America. Political and pecuniary motives drove the filibusters and their political supporters; so did a taste for glory. Then and later, many people saw them as a sort of steroidal expression of America's expansionist drive. Indeed, the mid-nineteenth century's popular press romanticized men like Narciso López, William Walker, Henry A. Crabb and Joseph Morehead as "adventurers," and the public devoured tales of their exploits.

What, then, prompted Lincoln to worry about filibusters in early 1861? It was a Jan. 6 letter from Pennsylvania Rep. James T. Hale. Like other Lincoln allies, Hale wrote to suggest legislative actions in the face of Southern secession, primarily compromises that might stanch the Union's bleeding. Hale encouraged Lincoln to support variants of measures that had been associated with the recently defeated Crittenden Compromise. That compromise included a constitutional amendment that would permit slavery in territories below the 36" 30' parallel—something Lincoln had long opposed.

Hale was hardly alone in advising compromise, but his letter seems to have caused an itch that Lincoln couldn't resist scratching. "We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people," the president-elect wrote. "Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten, before we take the offices. In this they are either attempting to play upon us, or they are in dead earnest. Either way, if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government." Worst of all, he wrote, compromise would only beget further demands down the road. "A year will not pass till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they will stay in the Union."

In his reference to Cuba, Lincoln had touched on one of the great, if often downplayed, issues of that day. Most conversations about the future of American slavery focused on the interior of the West—realms already under American title, but in which the "peculiar institution" had not yet been introduced, nor its legal status determined. But at the same time, many Northerners and Southerners alike doubted whether slave-based agriculture could ever be established in the arid West.

Cuba, however, was another story. The island already had well-entrenched, slave-based plantation agriculture. And, with vivid memories of filibusters fresh on his mind, Lincoln wanted Hale to know that Cuba alone furnished ample reason to avoid any talk of 36" 30' as a panacea for the Union's current woes. Restoration of that line, he believed, would give the South a blank check to push for American territorial additions around the Caribbean—especially territory in Cuba.

Going back to the republic's dawn, American political leaders had believed that geographical proximity and shared interests would eventually pull that island colony of Spain into the federal union to its north. As early as 1805, President Thomas Jefferson pondered a military conquest of the island. Presidents James Madison and James Monroe also favored acquisition. Still later Presidents James Polk, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan attempted to purchase the island from Spain.

By the late 1840s, as debates over slavery reached fever levels in the nation's political discourse, American acquisition of Cuba—because the island was a bastion of plantation slavery—had become widely identified with Southern partisans. As a consequence, the quest for Cuba lost much of its national appeal, even as it gained currency in the South.

The appeal was political as well as economic. By the 1840s, the slaveholding states found themselves hopelessly out-numbered in the population-based House of Representatives. And if, as Southern leaders like John C. Calhoun dreamed, Cuba could be brought into the Union as two or more new slave states, the South's number of senators could grow significantly.

And it wasn't just a dream. In late 1848, in the wake of Polk's failed effort to purchase Cuba, many Southerner leaders turned toward a charismatic political exile from Cuba named Narciso López to realize that vision. López had fled Cuba in the summer of 1848 in the wake of a failed uprising against the colonial government. On American soil, López soon committed himself to organizing a new conspiracy. He sought political and financial backers, and soldiers for a filibuster army. And he offered the command of his envisioned army to several prominent Southerners, including John Quitman, governor of Mississippi; Jefferson Davis, then a senator representing Mississippi; and Robert E. Lee, then an Army captain and widely admired for his service in the Mexican War. All declined.

In the end, López, bankrolled by northern and southern business interests, commanded the filibuster himself. Between 1848 and 1851—based successively in New York and New Orleans—he organized four expeditionary armies. Two were thwarted by American military and legal actions. The other two reached Cuba and engaged the island's Spanish garrison.

The first landing ended in defeat, with López fleeing back to the United States. Then, in August 1851, he set off on his final attempt, with about 400 men in tow. It too ended in a rout: but this time, López was captured and publicly garroted in Havana. Another 51 filibusters faced a firing squad, including William L. Crittenden, a nephew of John J. Crittenden, then-attorney general under Millard Fillmore. The rest were all killed in action or captured, imprisoned and eventually released.

The López conspiracy, the first open military challenge to Spain's long dominion over the island, was singed into Cuba's public memory. Indeed, in 1902 the filibuster's flag, with its "lone star" banner, was adopted as the official flag of the newly founded Cuban republic—and remains Cuba's official flag today.

Many Northerners, including Lincoln, condemned the expedition and the South's support of it. During an 1852 lecture in Springfield, Ill. he even defended the legality of executing the 51 filibusters. And, as Lincoln's 1861 letter to Hale makes clear, the intervening years did nothing to diminish his disgust over Southern filibustering.

Lincoln's memory of the South's filibuster fever, in other words, fueled his opposition to sectional compromise. Restoration of 36" 30' as the border between slave and free states, he believed, would allow Southern planter interests—intent on bolstering their political stakes in Washington—unlimited license to hunt for new territories in Cuba and other tropical realms.

Saif (and Raul) "the Reformers"

Sunday, February 20, 2011
For years, the international media has described Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi's son, Saif, as a "reformer" who is "committed to political freedoms and free-market reforms."

The same story line they use about Cuba's Raul Castro.

Well, here's what Saif "the reformer" had to say today:

Kadhafi's son warns of 'rivers of blood' in Libya

AFP - The son of Libya's strongman Moamer Kadhafi warned Monday the country would be destroyed by civil war if protests end his father's rule, in a speech broadcast as bursts of gunfire broke out in Tripoli.

Saif al-Islam Kadhafi offered reforms to end the violent uprising gripping the country, but he warned the protests were a foreign plot and would be crushed in a "bloodbath" if the government's offer was rejected.

Substitute Libya for Cuba

It's an inter-changeable script -- same dictatorial style, tactics and distractions.

The unanswered question remains whether the Castro regime would succumb to lethal force. Everything else is nearly identical.

From the Financial Times:

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organization, said at least 24 people were killed after security forces used live fire in a bid to disperse demonstrators on Thursday, which activists had dubbed a "day of anger", emulating the uprisings that swept from power the presidents of neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.

Amnesty International has accused the Libyan authorities of recklessly shooting at anti-government protesters after the organization learnt that at least 46 people had been shot dead by security forces in the past 72 hours.

Col Gaddafi, who seized power in 1969 and is the Arab world's longest-serving ruler, appears to be responding with the tactics used by Tunisia's Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak – deploying security forces to crack down on activists, mobilizing loyalists to march in counter demonstrations and reportedly offering to double public sector salaries.

On Thursday, he drove through a crowd of flag-waving loyalists in Tripoli, with the images broadcast on Libyan television.

Activists say the pro-regime demonstrators were brought in by bus and paid to take part.

The country had been gradually opening up after years of isolation under sanctions. But dissent is quashed, political parties are banned and public protests are rare. Revolutionary committees, which have their own militias, keep control of towns and villages across the country.

A Nobel Cause

Click on image for more information:

The Militarization of Raul

A great analysis of Raul Castro's three years as Cuba's dictator du jour:

Raúl, three years on

by Ernesto Hernandez Busto

This coming February 24 will mark three years since Raul Castro's election by the deputies of the Popular Power National Assembly as Cuba's President of the Council of State. He succeeded his brother Fidel who had resigned days earlier in an open letter. Beyond any doubts we have about the legitimacy of this process of installation, he has now governed for three years and it is worthwhile to judge those years looking at what happened, and not just on their congenital anomaly.

It has not been a period of immobility, at least among the ruling clique. In these three years officials dismissed or removed for specific reasons, include, at least: Five vice presidents (Carlos Lage, Otto Rivero, Jorge Luis Sierra, Pedro Miret and Osmany Cienfuegos), as well as the Ministers of Education, Foreign Affairs, Sugar, Transportation, Basic Industry, Light Industry, Economy, Construction, Water Resources, Health, and Telecommunications, along with the president of the Institute of Civil Aviation and the Attorney General.

We have no knowledge of similar movements within the Armed Forces, but we do know that many of the new ministers came from there, so one might deduce a certain "militarization" of the structure of power, though it involves an Army that for some years has undertaken the hardly orthodox, but nevertheless agreeable, task of obtaining the greatest return on capital. In the short term, it is a guarantee of control; in the long term it suggests an augmentation of the role of that institution, now becoming more and more intricately intertwined with the government and the economy of the nation.

Read the complete analysis here.

Why Cuba Remains a State-Sponsor of Terror

An excerpt from Jose Cardenas' "It's not time to remove Cuba from the terror list" in Foreign Policy:

This is a regime that since even before it seized power has used terror as an instrument of both domestic and international policy to achieve its goals. At the height of the Castro regime's international influence in the late 1970s into the 1980s, Cuba helped to build up and unify at least 27 different terrorist groups in the Western Hemisphere, totaling about 25,000 armed and trained members by 1987.

Around the same time, the State and Defense Departments estimated that a minimum of 20,000 individuals from around the world, including more than 10,000 Latin Americans, had attended one or more of the more than fifty guerrilla or terrorist training courses offered in Cuban military facilities since Castro came to power (the most infamous of trainees being, of course, Carlos the Jackal).

Nor was the Castro regime content to victimize the unfortunate citizens of Latin America and Africa, as it aiding and abetting terrorist groups operating on our own soil, including the Weather Underground (of Bill Ayres fame) and the militant Puerto Rican group, the Macheteros. Victor Manuel Gerena, a mastermind of the Macheteros' 1983 robbery of a Well Fargo depot in Connecticut, has lived safely in Cuba for decades, joining U.S. fugitives Joanne Chesimard and Charlie Hill, who are wanted in the U.S. for the murders of U.S. police officers, as well as some 70 other fugitives from U.S. justice.

In addition, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Cuban intelligence sent numerous fake tipsters into U.S. embassies abroad to sidetrack and impede U.S. counter-terrorism efforts. (Also, following 9/11, U.S. authorities rolled up the Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes at the Defense Intelligence Agency, not wanting to risk her information being passed on by Cuba to other U.S. enemies.)