Castro Finds Alan Gross Guilty

Saturday, March 5, 2011
UPDATE: Reuters got a bit ahead of itself.

From Reuters:

U.S. contractor found guilty in Cuba trial

U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, accused of illegally supplying Internet gear to Cuban dissidents, was found guilty on Saturday of crimes against the state, Cuban television reported, and faces a possible 20-year sentence in a case likely to worsen U.S.-Cuba relations.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Gross was convicted under the "Law Against the Independence and Territorial Integrity of Cuba," which is also used to prosecute dissidents and anyone else that disagrees with the Castro regime. This "law" is obviously arbitrary, unjust and nontransparent -- except to the trained-eye of Cuba "experts."

"I Will Continue to Fight for Democracy"

From Radio France International (RFI):

"I will fight on for democracy in Cuba," says freed prisoner

A freed political prisoner has vowed to continue campaigning for democracy in Cuba, even though he has been told he will be jailed again if he breaks the law.

Pedro Arguelles is one of five remaining political prisoners from a group of 75 arrested eight years ago.

Arguelles, a 62-year-old journalist who worked for the underground news agency CubaPress, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2003.

"I was freed yesterday around six in the evening under certain conditions," he told RFI.

"If I do not respect the law then I will go back to prison."

But he added, "I want to reaffirm my commitment to democracy in Cuba.

"I will continue my fight even if this means I will return to prison."

Arguelles said that he turned down an offer to go to Spain.

"I was born here and I am going to continue my peaceful battle. I have never agreed to leave."

"I have decided to stay in the country where I was born and where I will die."

Arguelles is the 48th of the 52 prisoners the authorities have agreed to free.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Arguelles is only the 7th political prisoner to be released in Cuba. The remaining 41 were banished to Spain. Also, the "law" means not opposing the Castro dictatorship.

Picture of the Week

Development as Freedom

As the "trial" of American development worker Alan Gross continues in Havana, critics of U.S. policy (as well as defenders of Castro's dictatorship) have (conveniently and expectedly) taken aim at USAID's Cuba democracy programs, arguing that they "violate the norms of international development."

So what is "development"?

Meet Amartya Sen, the 1998 Nobel Prize Winner for Economic Science, and author of "Development as Freedom."

Here's the Oxford University Press on Sen's influential approach to the development process:

In "Development as Freedom," Amartya Sen quotes the eighteenth century poet William Cowper on freedom:

Freedom has a thousand charms to show,
That slaves howe'er contented, never know.

Sen explains how in a world of unprecedented increase in overall opulence, millions of people living in rich and poor countries are still unfree. Even if they are not technically slaves, they are denied elementary freedom and remain imprisoned in one way or another by economic poverty, social deprivation, political tyranny or cultural authoritarianism. The main purpose of development is to spread freedom and its 'thousand charms' to the unfree citizens.

Freedom, Sen persuasively argues, is at once the ultimate goal of social and economic arrangements and the most efficient means of realizing general welfare.
Social institutions like markets, political parties, legislatures, the judiciary, and the media contribute to development by enhancing individual freedom and are in turn sustained by social values. Values, institutions, development, and freedom are all closely interrelated, and Sen links them together in an elegant analytical framework. By asking "What is the relation between our collective economic wealth and our individual ability to live as we would like?" and by incorporating individual freedom as a social commitment into his analysis, Sen allows economics once again, as it did in the time of Adam Smith, to address the social basis of individual well-being and freedom.

Alan Gross's "Subversive" Activities

- An excerpt from Tracey Eaton's Along the Malecon:

William Miller, the Jewish computer tech who admitted meeting with Alan Gross, helped set up a computer laboratory in Santiago de Cuba in December 2009 with the help of ORT, an international charity organization.

Miller's computer skills and contacts in the Jewish community would make him a valuable contact for Alan Gross, now on trial in Cuba for importing illegal satellite communication gear. Miller is the grandson of Jose Miller, who headed the Patronato, the largest synagogue in Cuba, before his death in 2006.

I don't know if Gross's work in Cuba had anything to do with the Santiago de Cuba computer lab. Moving a bunch of old computers to Santiago sure doesn't seem like subversive activity. I haven't seen any evidence that Gross had contact with Cuban dissidents or opposition figures, so where's the threat to the Cuban state?

ORT's website said the computer laboratory in Santiago would be used for IT training and English-language education. The computers were to be available to: 60 Jews in Santiago, 80 in Guantanamo province and 32 in Granma province.

- As for Adel Dworin, leader of Havana's Jewish community, who "suddenly" denied knowing Alan Gross last year:

Dworin added that it's possible she met Gross, but she didn't remember him.

"From October to May, we get hundreds and hundreds of Jewish religious visitors," she said.

A Cuban source who spoke on condition of anonymity questioned Dworin's version of events today and said Dworin knew Gross.

"Adela Dworin herself knew Gross. Perfectly," the source said.

- Welcome to Castro's Cuba, where anyone can become a victim anytime -- at the regime's whim.

Yoani Honored by State Department

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will host the 2011 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony with special guest First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday, March 8.

The prestigious Secretary of State's Award for International Women of Courage annually recognizes women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women's rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk.

The names of this year's honorees follow:

- Her Excellency, Roza Otunbayeva, President of the Kyrgyz Republic;
- Maria Bashir, Prosecutor General, Herat Province (Afghanistan);
- Nasta Palazhanka, Deputy Chairperson, Malady Front (Young Front) non-governmental organization (Belarus);
- Henriette Ekwe Ebongo, journalist and publisher of Bebela (Cameroon);
- Guo Jianmei, lawyer and Director of the Beijing Zhongze Women's Legal Counseling and Service Center (China);
- Yoani Sanchez, Innovator and Blogger, Founder of Generación Y blog (Cuba);
- The Honorable Agnes Osztolykan, Member of Parliament, Politics Can Be Different Party (Hungary);
- Eva Abu Halaweh, Executive Director of Mizan Law Group for Human Rights (Jordan);
- Marisela Morales Ibañez, Deputy Attorney General for Special Investigations against Organized Crime (Mexico);
- Ghulam Sughra, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Marvi Rural Development Organization, (Pakistan)

And here's Yoani's bio:

Yoani Sanchez of Cuba – Unable to attend the ceremony
Innovator and Blogger, Founder of Generación Y blog

Blogger, technological innovator, and emerging civil society leader Yoani Sanchez has attracted an international following for her blog, Generacíon Y, which gives readers unprecedented insight into life in Cuba. She has worked to improve the ability of ordinary Cubans to access and disseminate information, and to expand information flow and free expression throughout Cuba. She has been credited as the "founder" of the independent Cuban blogosphere. Her work has expanded beyond blogging to training and advising dozens of newcomers to the blogosphere, providing a voice for young Cubans and for established civil society leaders.

How Qaddafi (Castro) Hoodwinked Italy (Spain)

Friday, March 4, 2011
There's a great column in Foreign Policy on Qaddafi's relationship with its former colonial power, Italy.

Simply substitute Qaddafi for Castro and Italy for Spain, and note the eerie similarities.

Here's an excerpt:

Roman Ruins

How Muammar al-Qaddafi hoodwinked Italy for decades.

Given all this, you might find it odd -- as I still do -- that Qaddafi's closest European ally is, or was until very recently, none other than the Italian government. During his four decades of rule, the colonel managed to convince Italian leaders not only that their country owed Libya a historical debt, but that Rome couldn't do without Tripoli's help on everything from terrorism to immigration to oil. He extracted huge concessions from Rome and won huge economic windfalls for cronies including Farhat Bengdara, governor of the Central Bank of Libya, who became vice chairman of UniCredit, the biggest Italian bank, in 2009. Perhaps most significantly, he convinced Italy to be an evangelist for Libya's reintegration into the world community. The result is an absurdly asymmetrical relationship between the two countries; Qaddafi was always the winner.

Quote of the Week

An all-too-familiar scenario.

"Under Gaddafi's regime, the rule of law has been absent for 40 years in Libya. There has only been one rule: you don't go against the regime."

-- Najla Abdurrahman, Libyan-American pro-democracy activist, "Interview: Libya's Prospects," National Review, 2/25/11

Clinton on U.S. Hostages in Iran & Cuba

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton comments on American hostages being held by Iran and Cuba:

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, are you concerned about the situation in Libya developing into a long-term, violent civil war that could be disruptive to the region? And do you see any value in Venezuelan mediation on that? And very briefly, what do you hope Iran can do in the case of Robert Levinson. And finally, Alan Gross. Alan Gross is going on trial in Cuba for seemingly innocuous activities that could get him 20 years in prison. If you could address those, please.

SECRETARY CLINTON: First, on Libya, of course we are concerned with the ongoing violence and the actions that are initiated and perpetrated by Qadhafi and his regime against his own people. We are considering a number of ways that we can be of assistance with respect to that.

But we are now focused on the humanitarian situation. At President Obama's direction, USAID has charted additional civilian aircraft to help people from other countries who have fled Libya to find their way home. We have two United States C-130s on their way to Tunisia right now. We have sent humanitarian assistance teams to both border regions with supplies, like water containers, blankets, medical supplies as well. We are closely coordinating with the United Nations and NGOs, and of course, the United States, as is usually the case, is providing a great deal of the resources to provide humanitarian assistance.

We know that there is a lot of confusion on the ground that is often difficult for us to sort through to get to what the actual facts are. But the United States remains deeply concerned about the welfare of the Libyan people, the Libyans and those who are fleeing Libya are the subject of our outreach. And wherever possible, we will be directly providing assistance. And we continue to consult with our NATO allies, our Arab partners, our UN mission, to determine what are productive, constructive ways forward to try to deal with the situation we see developing there.

With respect to the Robert Levinson case, let me say this is an ongoing investigation. I cannot comment any further. What is important is that we work to bring Bob Levinson home safely to his family in Florida. His family misses him dearly. He does have medical issues. And we continue to welcome any help that the Iranian Government can provide in determining Mr. Levinson's welfare and whereabouts, so that he can be reunited with his family as soon as possible.

Now, we also, as you know, are deeply concerned about our American citizen, Alan Gross. He's been unjustly jailed for far too long. We call on the Government of Cuba to release him, and unconditionally allow him to leave Cuba and return to his family, to bring an end to their long ordeal. It is a matter of great personal pain to his family and concern to the United States Government, so we're going to hope that he will be also reunited soon.

More Than 390 Political Arrests in February

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, more than 390 pro-democracy activists were arrested by the Castro regime in February 2011.

In other words, 390 arrests were identified and documented in one-month alone. There may have been many more unknown arrests.

After digesting this disturbing fact, please feel free to (respectfully) regurgitate it any time someone has the audacity to refer to the Castro regime's supposed "reforms" as meaningful.

For the Cuba Skeptics

Almost every day this week there's been a column arguing that Cuba is not Egypt or Libya; and thus, not to expect similar events to unfold.

It's akin to the Castro-required qualifiers for reporting from Havana on Cuba's dissident movement -- that it's "small and unorganized."

Unfortunately, this takes a toll on well-intentioned people, who consequently become skeptical of a forthcoming end to Castro's brutal dictatorship -- which (not coincidentally) is exactly what it wants you to think.

So we urge Cuba skeptics to read the following headline from France24 News:

Preparing for post-Gaddafi: Benghazi rebels organize a transition council

In Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and one of the first to fall under rebel control, dissidents are scrambling to get organized.

Now ask yourself:

Just one month ago, how "large and organized" was Libya's dissident movement? And who foresaw that regime change was imminent there?

Answer:

One month ago, Libya's dissident movement was no larger or better organized than Cuba's. And no one saw it coming.

CAMBIO Hip-Hop Video

Thursday, March 3, 2011
This is a must-see video.

It's the Cuban hip-hop duo, El Primario and Julito.

Julito is the son of courageous pro-democracy leader, Sara Martha Fonseca.

These are the Gorki Aguila's of hip-hop -- hard-hitting and in your face.

Call it CAMBIO ("Change") hip-hop.

The song is called, "No Intenten" ("Don't Even Try It") -- a lyrical protest to the repression their friends and family constantly face from Castro's secret police.

The video is below and an interview with El Primario and Julito can be seen here.

Both are only in Spanish (for now).

The Strength of Hector Maseda

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

After 'trial by fire,' Cuba's Maseda back to journalism

Almost three weeks after being released from jail following eight years of inhumane treatment in Cuba's infamous prison system, CPJ's 2008 International Press Freedom award winner Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez said he is committed to going back to independent journalism. "That's my will, and I have decided to do it here in Havana," Maseda said in a telephone conversation from Cuba's capital.

On January 18, weeks prior to his release, Maseda turned 68 in prison. He was the oldest of the 29 editors and reporters jailed during Cuba's March 2003 Black Spring. Despite his age, however, Maseda was able to overcome harsh prison conditions and remained in impressively good health in comparison to other jailed journalists. On the phone with CPJ on Wednesday, Maseda said that he and the others had gone "through trial by fire" but "we were stronger than the trial."

Maseda's firm belief in his right to freedom of expression and the injustice of his imprisonment were the pillars of his incredible strength throughout the eight years he spent in prison. During that time, Maseda said that he exercised daily, running when he was allowed out of his small cell. He also spent time reporting from prison, and wrote two books that he was able to smuggle out page by page.

His wife, Laura Pollán, the spokeswoman of the Cuban human rights group Ladies in White, was Maseda's rock throughout his ordeal, the journalist said. Support from the international community, journalists worldwide, and CPJ's efforts to campaign for his release were another source of strength. "I received positive energy, and I never felt alone," he told us.

Maseda has once again set up his office in his central Havana home. The last time he had been at the house before his February release, police were rummaging through his papers, books, clothes, and kitchenware, itemizing domestic objects that would be used as evidence in a sham trial weeks later. And yet, after all this, Maseda said he will not be forced to leave Cuba. "The place of a Cuban patriot is in his country," he said, adding that "when faced by an opponent, one has to be stubborn in order to show the strength of one's principles."

The Street Does Not Belong to Fidel

When the Castro regime's secret police organizes counter-protests towards dissidents, it choreographs them to chant the same old elitist motto:

"The street belongs to Fidel"

Or as Jesse Jackson referred to Castro this week - "His Excellency"

However, as Afro-Cuban pro-democracy leader, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" noted this week (after his latest arrest and police interrogation):

"Although the interrogation was ingenuous, it still was very interesting, for it acknowledged that the struggle which irritates them the most is that which is carried out through public protests and actions. They also let me know that the Front has kept them very nervous, and that they do not have the most minimal of desires to cease oppressing any dissenting voices. And that is why we will continue in the streets, because the streets belong to the people, and the government has tried, and continues to try, to steal them from us."

On Jesse Jackson

From Jay Nordlinger's Impromptus:

Alan P. Gross, the American aid worker, has been held by the Cuban dictatorship for a year and three months. Jesse Jackson has volunteered to go win his release. He told the Associated Press, "I am not making a legal case. I am making a humanitarian plea, a moral appeal. I hope that Raúl and the governing officials see the advantage of letting him go. Every time a prisoner is let go, it opens the door for increased dialogue and possibilities."

The point, as far as I can tell, is not that it's wrong to hold an innocent man hostage and prisoner. The point is that there may be an "advantage" to "letting him go." And don't you love the phrase "Raúl and the governing officials"? Such sweet language, to describe the brutes of a dictatorship, holding a people in subjection.

- There is also this article by the reverend — "reverend"! — himself, which begins, "I appeal to His Excellency President Raul Castro to release Mr. Alan P. Gross on humanitarian grounds." I did not want to read after "His Excellency President," but I did. What is excellent about a totalitarian dictator (or even the brother and frontman of the real totalitarian dictator)? Why is this dictator, or frontman, a "president"?

Anyway, Jackson said, "With the assistance of the Catholic Church, you rightly released several Cuban dissidents to Spain last year and I commend you for your courage in doing a difficult but moral thing."

If you know what that means, you are a better Jackson decoder than I am.

- You may recall what the "reverend" shouted on a trip to Cuba some years ago. "Viva Fidel Castro! Viva Che Guevara!" Bill Buckley asked Jackson, on television, whether, when he wished long life to the dictator, he meant, at the same time, to wish short life to his prisoners. (A short life, given the brutality of the Cuban gulag, could be better.)

- If Jesse Jackson's sucking up to the dictatorship, and the dictatorship's sense of PR, springs Alan Gross, I would be all for it. One must be extremely pragmatic in these matters. What counts is the man's release. I felt the same way about Goodman and Syria. Remember when the Assad dictatorship made a gift of that American airman to Jackson? That was in the early 1980s. The Gipper said, "You can't argue with results."

Some conservatives burned — and they had a point — but Reagan was right.

(Incidentally, the brave Robert O. Goodman was black. There was race involved in what Syria and Jackson were doing, as there so often is in life.)

- I wonder if Jackson would consider making a cause out of Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet. He is the Afro-Cuban physician and democracy leader who has been in the Castros' dungeons for a very long time. His models are Gandhi and Martin Luther King. George W. Bush gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom (of course). (Biscet, somehow, didn't show up to accept.)

Do you think Jackson would ever take an interest in him? That would surprise me. I think Jackson's — and the American Left's — attachment to, and affection for, the Communist dictatorship in Cuba is simply too great.

We Finally Agree

Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Needless to say, we don't agree much with anti-sanctions (turn-a-blind-eye to Castro) lobbyists.

But perhaps there's finally a project we can work together on.

Today, Anya Landau of the New America Foundation criticized U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley's (R-IA) questioning of HHS officials on the Castro regime's potential involvement in the billionaire Medicare fraud industry.

Ironically, Anya finds this to be "slim pickins" (as she wrote), despite the fact that South Florida's Medicare fraud industry (money stolen from U.S. taxpayers) is underestimated at $2 billion. Meanwhile, she finds $30 million for Radio and TV Marti to provide uncensored news and information to the Cuban people to be preposterous.

But let's agree to disagree on that point.

Anya concludes her critique by quoting U.S. District Judge, Federico Moreno, from a 2008 Miami Herald story:

Moreno questioned whether the Cuban Adjustment Act -- passed by Congress in 1966 to grant asylum and residency to the first wave of Cuban political refugees -- was being abused by a new generation of Medicare fraud suspects. The judge wondered aloud "whether someone can be categorized as a political refugee when you can pick up and go back."

Anya thinks that is a "good question."

We fully (and finally) agree.

Is Castro Defrauding Medicare?

From The Hill:

Grassley asks HHS to probe whether Castro regime is defrauding Medicare

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) grilled federal officials Wednesday about the Cuban government's possible ties to rampant Medicare fraud in south Florida.

Grassley asked Health and Human Services officials testifying before the Senate Finance Committee whether they were aware of any evidence that Cuba might be involved in fraud schemes against the government program.

He asked HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson to look into any evidence that Cuban officials have been "facilitating" Medicare fraud and to get back to him after coordinating with the Justice and State departments.

Levinson said he'd "have to get back to you on the particulars."

"We wouldn't comment on any particular case in a public forum," Levinson told The Hill after the hearing.

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services released a list of the Top 10 healthcare fraud fugitives, who have defrauded the government of $124 million combined. Seven of the 10 fugitives were of Cuban origin, and six of those are now believed to be hiding on the island.

During the hearing, Grassley referenced a report from the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami raising questions about the involvement of Fidel Castro's regime.

The report paraphrases a "high-level former intelligence official with the Cuban Government" as saying that there are "strong indications that the Cuban Government is directing some of these Medicare frauds as part of a desperate attempt to obtain hard currency."

"The source notes that the Cuban Government is also assisting (while not directing) other instances of Medicare fraud — providing perpetrators with information with which to commit fraud," wrote the report's author, research associate Vanessa Lopez. "The former Cuban official goes on to say that, in the instances where the Cuban Government is not directing or facilitating the fraud, it does provide Cuba as a place for fugitives to flee. This gives the Castro regime a convenient and care-free way to raise hard currency."

Furthermore, according to this source, "any fugitive in Cuba needs to pay astronomically large sums of money to the Cuban Government in order to enter and remain in the country."

Some Cuban-American groups have begun to ask for a congressional probe of Cuba's potential ties to Medicare fraud.

Grassley stopped short of that Wednesday, but his comments raised the level of attention a notch.

"I'm just now getting into this, so I don't really know what the next step is," Grassley told The Hill. "But at least there's one step going on now in regard to the written response that I got from [HHS]."

An Extraordinary Column

By Nikolas K. Gvosdev in The National Interest:

Tripoli Today, Havana Tomorrow?

Is the shift in U.S. rhetoric about Libya indicative of a changed attitude toward other entrenched autocratic, historically anti-American regimes around the world? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quite blunt in laying out her vision for the future of Libya's "Brother Leader" Muammar Qaddafi: "It is time for Qaddafi to go -- now, without further violence or delay." She noted too that the United States will consider all possible options—including military action—to assist the process of regime change in Tripoli and served up the classic Washington formulation that nothing is "off the table"

This, of course, reverses the earlier approach, first embarked upon by the George W. Bush administration and continued by the Obama team, of engagement with Qaddafi. Indeed, two years ago, the president even shook Qaddafi's hand at the G-8 summit in Italy while Denis McDonough, now the deputy national security advisor, defended the outreach by observing that Barack Obama "wants to see cooperation with Libya continue in sectors such as Tripoli's decision a few years ago to give up its nuclear program, an absolutely voluntary decision that we consider positive."

Qaddafi might have believed that his more constructive posture in global affairs—giving up his weapons of mass destruction, trying to make a positive contribution to the Arab-Israeli dispute with his "Israstine" proposal, and opening up Libya's energy industry to foreign companies—would buy him a certain degree of immunity. That calculation has failed. But its failure may also make it more difficult for the Obama administration to sustain support for its efforts to engage constructively with another regime that has been even longer-lived than Qaddafi's: Cuba. Although he stepped down as president in 2008, allowing his brother Raul to succeed him, Fidel Castro, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, has been at the island's helm since 1959—ten years before Qaddafi's coup against King Idris.

The U.S. policy debate on Cuba has grappled with what Donald K. Hansen and Alan M. Marblestone have identified as the "two interrelated questions"; the first being whether the traditional approach of isolation and pressure ought to be replaced with a strategy of engagement, and whether what the Castro brothers have created has any staying power after both men pass on.

Up to this point, the administration seemed to be moving in the direction of accepting that the longevity of the Castro brothers signaled that there was some degree of support for the direction they have taken Cuba. But then seemingly stable and long-lived regimes in the Middle East crumbled away. If Hosni Mubarak's thirty-year presidency could be swept away, should assumptions about Cuban stability likewise be revised?

Over the last year, the Obama administration had been under greater pressure to loosen the decades-old embargo against Havana, on the grounds that since the U.S. has normal trading relations with other communist states such as China and Vietnam, closing off a lucrative market, particularly to U.S. agricultural exports, made no sense. Meanwhile, a growing bipartisan coalition was also arguing that Cold War-era bans on travel to Cuba made no sense. The agricultural lobby has always been a strong supporter of allowing more sales of food and other products to Cuba. Moreover, as Cuba searches for oil in its territorial waters, "if large quantities of commercially viable oil are found, advocates of a hardline stance towards Cuba are likely to face growing opposition from oil lobbyists in Washington."

In January 2011, just before the "Arab Spring" started to bloom in Tunisia, the Obama administration announced that it would work to loosen restrictions on U.S. contact with Cuba. Once implemented, these new regulations would allow religious groups to sponsor travel to the country and academics and students to study and attend conferences and workshops there. Finally, any U.S. citizen—not just someone with close family members are in Cuba—would be permitted to send up to $500 every three months to anyone—as long as they are not senior government officials or high-ranking members of the Communist Party. These steps effectively reverse the measures that were adopted by the Bush administration in 2003 and 2004.

Given the restructuring of the Cuban economy, the changes announced by the administration in essence permit Americans to support "private economic activity" by providing financial support for those who will become self-employed or set up small businesses. While such measures may help to support the long-term trend of liberalization on the island, it also means that the Communist Party has a potential safety net when, as is widely expected, it moves later this year to abandon the commitment to ensuring full employment for all Cubans in the state sector and begins to lay off redundant workers.

But a close analysis of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia indicate that concerns about persistent unemployment and rising food prices were important drivers of the anti-government protests. Those who argue against further openings to Cuba make the case that engagement will only prolong the existence of the Castro government. After the administration announced that it was reversing the Bush-era restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, complained that the new policies "certainly will not help the Cuban people free themselves from the tyranny that engulfs them." And if the lesson being taken from Libya is that energy companies, eager to access Libya's oil and natural gas bounties, lobbied Western governments to let the Qaddafi regime off the hook, then some in Congress are certain to dampen the lure of Cuban offshore oil by forcing energy companies to decide whether to do business in Cuba or in the United States—taking a page from the sanctions which have been imposed, with varying and mixed degrees of success, on Iran.

Administration rhetoric about supporting freedom in the Middle East may also constrain its ability to sustain any further openings to Cuba. It is not accidental that the first wave of op-eds in South Florida are linking developments in both regions, with the argument being advanced that the president's Latin America team is "out of touch" given the developments in Libya.

When Obama lifted some of the Bush-era bans in January, there was optimism that in several months, he might take more steps to end the trade embargo altogether. In light of the protests sweeping through the Arab world, however, that assumption may no longer be valid. Castro survived the 1989 wave that brought down communist regimes in Eastern Europe, but will he and his brother be able to withstand the 2011 iteration blowing from the Levant? All bets are off.

Young Hunger Striker's Life in Peril

Cuban pro-democracy leader and political prisoner Néstor Rodriguez Lobaina has been hospitalized pursuant to a 15-day hunger strike.

Rodriguez Lobaina is the head of Cuba's Youth for Democracy Movement and was imprisoned on December 9, 2010.

Please note that he is one of Castro's newest political prisoners.

News stories out of Havana seem to only focus on the banishment of political prisoners to Spain. Meanwhile, near silence on those imprisoned in recent months.

He's gone 15-days without ingesting food, water or liquids. And he will not accept an I.V.

According to a statement by his brother, "the medical evaluation, confirmed by family members who could see him yesterday afternoon in his room - in his underwear - is very delicate, critical, due to the consequences that not ingesting liquids could bring."

Case & Point: "Reform" You Can't Believe In

The Castro brothers have spent 52 years in totalitarian control of Cuba.

They have ruled through fear, repression and force. They have socially, economically and politically bankrupted an entire nation.

So what's five more years?

The audacity of dictators has no limits.

This absurd revelation should serve as a lesson to those who've believed misleading news stories throughout the last year, which made it seem as if Raul's "economic reforms" were imminent or had already taken place.

From EFE:

Cuba Needs 5 Years to Reform Economy, Raul Castro Says

HAVANA – The economic reforms now under way in Cuba will take at least five years to be fully implemented, President Raul Castro said, acknowledging a delay in the planned elimination of 500,000 positions at state enterprises.

Gen. Castro made the statement last week at an expanded meeting of the Council of Ministers, state television reported late Monday.

Too Little, Too Late

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
These anti-sanctions, business lobbyists are something else.

After consciously bloodying their hands with brutal dictators (for profit), they now purport to repent (as their investments are starting to look uncertain).

From The Hill:

Business groups left in 'highly uncertain' position on Libya as U.S. ties fray

Business groups that have lobbied to lift U.S. sanctions on Libya in the past are now backing stringent measures designed to punish Moammar Gadhafi's regime as the dictator oversees a brutal crackdown on protesters [...]

USA*Engage, a trade group that often battles against unilateral sanctions by the United States, said it is now backing the new penalties imposed by the United Nations and the European Union, calling them "a specific, clear and direct message to the Libyan authorities that the world is watching and is holding them accountable."

The shift shows that a lobbying campaign to reconcile Libya with the West by business groups, oil companies and the country's government is now in danger of falling apart.

Libya, one of the world's biggest oil producers, began a gradual return to the international community in 2003 when Gadhafi abandoned his weapons of mass destruction program. In response, the United States removed the country from its state terrorism sponsor list and began to re-establish diplomatic relations.

That reconciliation has deteriorated markedly in recent days as Gadhafi has killed hundreds of protesters calling for him to leave power.

Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), told The Hill that American business has been left in a "highly uncertain" position by Gadhafi's actions.

"Libya never became the perfect good guy. It has always been a complicated, difficult relationship," Reinsch said. "Doing business there has been an awkward experience. Some went in and got out, and some never went in."

Like USA*Engage, NFTC lobbied to lift U.S. sanctions against Libya after the country dropped its weapons program in 2003. But now the group supports multilateral action against Libya due to its crackdown on the demonstrators.

The unrest in Libya has left U.S. companies wondering what to do next, and many are working hard to get their employees out of the country due to safety concerns.

The upheaval has also put a question mark on what had been a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to transition Libya into a business partner of the United States.

Since 2003, Libya's government has spent more than $9.8 million on lawyers, lobbyists and public-relations experts, according to Justice Department records.

The Truth About Castro's Fiber-Optic Cable

From the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies:

The Venezuelan-Cuban Fiber Optic Cable: A Connection to the World?

The much anticipated fiber optic cable from Venezuela to Cuba finally reached Cuba's shores February 8, 2011. The 4-year project had been announced in February of 2007 and was supposed to be completed in early 2009. The cable cost approximately $70 million dollars and was financed by Venezuela, as part of a joint venture between Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe (TGC - itself a joint venture between Cuba and Venezuela) and Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell (a Chinese subsidiary of a French company). The ALBA-1 Cable is a component of Venezuela's outreach to the island, showcasing Venezuela's "good will" to Cuba and furthering regional integration.

The cable is expected to increase the speed of data, images, and voice transmission by 3,000 times and will be capable of carrying 10 million simultaneous international calls. TGC will also extend the cable to Jamaica.

Although the cable has now reached Cuba's shore, its complete installation throughout the country is not expected to be complete until July of 2011. Noting that the initial project took double the projected time-frame, it is possible that the July date will be postponed.

The Cuban government has made clear that once the cable is fully connected, the Cuban people should not expect a digital revolution. The cable is meant to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness for previously connected individuals and organizations – the less than 3% of the population that has internet access. "Priority will go to improve government, business and social service networks in health and education, according to a computer engineer who is part of a special government group pulled together by the government to build infrastructure and manage the country's new digital wealth."

Although many Cubans hope that this new cable may improve their chances of accessing the internet, it will do little to expand the population's access to the World Wide Web. As Waldo Reboredo, the Vice President of Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe (TGC), stated, what the cable will do, in addition to increasing speed, is provide Cuba with a cheaper alternative to its current system. Reboredo estimates the new cable will reduce costs by twenty-five percent. Whether the Cuban government will reduce the prices paid for internet access by users – primarily foreign businesses, tourists, government officials, and students (who have restricted access) – or if it will maintain prices and pocket the difference, remains to be seen.

The Cuban government is already starting to dampen the population's hopes and making sure the Cuban people have sufficiently low expectations, with the Deputy Minister of Informatics and Telecommunications, Jorge Luis Perdomos, declaring that "'the arrival of the fiber-optic cable is not a magic wand' [as] the country still needs to develop domestic infrastructure…which [cannot] be done overnight."

There is little question that General Raul Castro's regime would like to maintain its iron grip on information technology. After all, there is a reason why Cuba has the lowest rate of fixed broadband connectivity in the Western Hemisphere; it has nothing to do with the U.S. economic embargo, despite the government's attempts to deflect blame. A survey done by Cuba's National Statistics Office puts the figure of those who have direct access to the internet around 2.9%. And most of that 2.9% consists of government officials or others who have restricted access to the World Wide Web from monitored places of employment or education, and not from the privacy of their own homes (even though home internet usage is monitored as well).

The Castro government sees the internet as a dangerous tool to spread foreign propaganda and disseminate information to a population accustomed to hearing little other than the official Communist Party line. A recently leaked video of Eduardo Fontes Suarez, an official in MININT's counter-intelligence apparatus, lecturing uniformed members of Cuba's Armed Forces about the dangers of information technology perfectly depicts the government's fear. Fontes Suarez speaks to the threat posed by the social networks Facebook and Twitter and the dangers of WiFi as well as the peaceful student group Raices de Esperanza which seeks to promote person-to-person contact between Cuban youth abroad and their counterparts on the island. Cuban blogger Claudia Cadelo explains why: "They don't want the social networks to spread because they are aware of the danger that poses to a totalitarian government which hides the truth from its people."

Renowned blogger Yoani Sanchez agrees, recognizing the government's intention behind the cable, saying "this underwater connection seems destined more to control us than to link us to the world." However, Sanchez further writes that she believes that Cubans will be able to circumvent barriers the government will place on internet connections throughout the country, saying "it is quite likely that many of the digital pulses will reach the hands of those who can pay for them. With authorization or without, connection hours will be sold — to the highest bidder — in a country where diversion of resources is a daily practice, a strategy for survival."

While the government is able to use the new cable connection as part of an international public relations campaign to soften its image, the war that it wages on all forms of technological communication is perfectly clear from Mr. Fontes Suarez's leaked security briefing. The fiber optic cable is designed to do little more than increase the speed of already existing connections and reduce costs for the Cuban government. This cable connects Cuba to Venezuela; it will be up to the Cuban populace to innovate ways to connect itself to the world.

Is Castro Gaddafi's Pimp (Literally)?

If this clip from Ukrainian TV is true, then we've seen it all.

According to the translation:

When the leader sleeps, the soldier stays awake, and it's the women who do the fighting. Gaddafi trusts his security to ladies only. The head of the Libyan Jamahiriya has a total of 300-400 girls on his security detail. According to the official story, all of them are virgins.

Selection is done by Gaddafi himself. This whim has an explanation for it: In ancient times, they believed that the best guards were either virgins or lesbians, the underlying belief being that they could sense threats, the so-called wind of death. The girls were even sterilized to make them more aggressive toward men.

There can be different views on these stories, but it was the girls with Kalashnikovs who saved Gaddafis life several times. During the assassination, they shielded him from gunfire and grenades. One died, two others were wounded. The bodyguards are with Gaddafi day and night. Each of them can handle several strong men.
According to some sources, most of the girls are Cuban.

We can't confirm the voracity of this report.

However, Ukrainians have good insight into Gaddafi's eccentricities, as his top nurse was Ukrainian and just fled Libya to Kiev.

She's since explained how Gaddafi does not trust Libyans as nurses, so he probably doesn't trust them as personal guards either.

Therefore, it might very-well be true.

So in addition to close-friend, fellow dictator and repressive ally, that would also make Fidel Castro (repulsively) -- Gaddafi's pimp.

Valenzuela's Defense of "Trickle-Down"

Monday, February 28, 2011
During a Senate hearing two weeks ago, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Arturo Valenzuela, defended the Obama Administration's policy of increased travel and remittances to Cuba (despite the economic benefit to the Castro regime) as follows:

"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."

In other words, Valenzuela holds that the Cuban people will benefit from the Administration's policy through a "trickle-down" effect.

Yet ironically, President Obama has been a vocal opponent of "trickle-down" policies in the U.S.

So how could an Administration that believes "trickle-down" policies are counter-productive in the U.S.'s open, market economy, believe it'll help regular Cubans in Castro's closed, totalitarian economy?

Furthermore, how can Valenzuela describe travel and remittances, which have become one of the Castro regime's main sources of revenue, as "ancillary"?

This policy does not provide ancillary benefits to the Castro regime, it provides primary benefits.

Surely, critics will argue that it should be up to Cuban-Americans (and other authorized travelers) to decide whether to travel and send money to Cuba.

Furthermore, everyone sympathizes with Cuban-Americans that want to visit their family for genuine humanitarian purposes.

However, the 100,000 Cubans in Miami traveling to the island multiple times a year do not have the right to finance the repression of the Castro regime against 11,500,000 Cubans, including our own families and friends.

Thus, no matter how libertarian one might be (or purport to be), no one has the right to finance the repression of innocent people.

Obama's Travel Policy is Bailing Out Castro

The following are excerpts from the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Working Paper, "Recession and Policy Transmission to Latin American Tourism: Does Expanded Travel to Cuba Offset Crisis Spillovers?":

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

- [Family travel] costs in the case of Cuba are five to ten times those in other countries.

- E.g., passport consular fees to Cuba are US$670 for six years; Argentina US$60 for five years, Bolivia at US$85 for six years, Brazil at US$80 for five years, Chile at US$103 for five years, Colombia at US$117 for 10 years, Costa Rica at US$31 for six years, Dominica Republic at US$60 for six years, Ecuador at US$110 for six years, El Salvador at US$60 for five years, Guatemala at US$65 for five years, Honduras at US$75 for ten years, Mexico at US$101 for six years, Nicaragua at US$50 for five years, Panama at US$54 for five years , Peru at US$35 for five years, Uruguay at US$84 for five years and Venezuela at US$80 for five years. Jamaica does not require visas for US travelers up to 180 days.

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

The Title-less Dictator(s)

According to Reuters:

The Cuban Communist Party has moved forward the election of new leadership to a congress in April where longtime party leader Fidel Castro is expected to step down, sources close to the party said over the weekend.

In other words, Fidel is expected to relinquish his title of First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party.

Thus, expect a whole new round of media hoopla -- similar to 2008, when Fidel announced he was "stepping down" as "President" of Cuba (more specifically, of the Council of State and Ministers).

So what does that make Fidel?

It makes him eerily similar to Qadhafi, who today explained that he "cannot step down because he holds no official position like president or king."

That is -- a title-less dictator.

The Cuban Pressure Cooker

From the Prague Daily Monitor:

Czech MEP meets dissidents in Cuba

The atmosphere in Cuba is like a pressure cooker that can explode at any time, Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas told Czech MEP Edvard Kozusnik, who met him briefly after his release from prison last week, Kozusnik said in a report he sent to CTK Sunday.

Last year, Kozusnik successfully nominated Farinas for the Sakharov Human Rights Prize.

The public opinion in Cuba is changing as the public increasingly connects economic problems with the existing regime, Farinas said.

Nowadays people speak about it publicly, which was absolutely unthinkable three years ago, he added.

Kozusnik came to Cuba to support the local opposition in its effort to change the Communist regime.

Earlier this week, Farinas was imprisoned for 36 hours, Cuban dissidents have said.

Another Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya has warned that repressive forces are ready to take any steps in order to keep current Cuban Communist leaders in power.

Paya said Cuban opposition was preparing projects for the transformation of society in the direction of democratic free elections.

Kozusnik said Paya and others had collected the signatures of 40,000 Cubans for the support of the planned changes.

Kozusnik said the campaign was similar to the Czechoslovak Several Sentences petition, launched a few months before the Communist regime's fall in 1989.

Kozusnik gave the dissidents a symbolical chain of keys as a recollection of those that calmly rang the end of the Communist rule.

"I believe that Cubans will soon ring the end of the rule of arrogant despots, dysfunctional economy, demagoguery and hateful propaganda," Kozusnik said.

Trying to "Charm" Obama

In addition to a close friendship (and repressive traits), Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi and Cuban dictator Raul Castro also share talking points (and try to "charm" President Obama):

Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi said Monday that President Barack Obama is a "good man" who may have been given "misinformation" about what's happening inside Libya. (Politico, 2/28/11)

Raul Castro said Wednesday that Barack Obama "seems like a good man" and wished him luck. (AP, 1/21/09)

An opinion piece in the official Communist Party newspaper Granma says [Obama's] statement support of a Cuban political prisoner who died last year after a hunger strike shows he is being manipulated by Cuban-American exiles, uninformed advisors and a biased U.S. media. (AP, 1/25/11)

Reform is NOT an Option

Sunday, February 27, 2011
In protests this past month against dictatorships throughout North Africa, the Middle East, Iran and Cuba, we've seen pro-democracy activists proclaim very simple (yet powerful) messages.

They include:

"Game Over" - "Enough" - "Get Out" - "Down With the Dictator" - "Freedom"

Yet, we have not seen a single activist or protester proclaiming:

"Reform" - "Let's Talk" - "Negotiations" - "Gradual Change"

If you've seen otherwise, please contact us through Facebook and we'll correct this post.

Setting the Standard for a Ruler's Legitimacy

Over the weekend, The White House released a "Readout of President Obama's Call with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany" regarding the crisis in Libya.

In it, President Obama set his Administration's standard for the legitimacy of a ruler:

"The President stated that when a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now. The leaders reaffirmed their support for the Libyan people's demand for universal rights and a government that is responsive to their aspirations, and agreed that Qadhafi's government must be held accountable."

Repression Against Dissidents Intensifies

After reading the news story below, ask yourself two questions:

1. If Cuba's dissident community is so "small" (and therefore "harmless"), then why does the Castro regime spend such extraordinary time, effort and resources to suppress it?

2. How little support must the Castro regime have when it has to succumb to its own elite (such as the son of Cuba's Ambassador to Spain - see picture below) to play the role of "spontaneous pro-government demonstrators" in its repression against dissidents?

From the AP:

Cuba intensifies campaign against dissidents

HAVANA - Cuba stepped up its campaign against the island's small dissident community on Sunday, with pro-government demonstrators screaming insults at the "Ladies in White" opposition group a day after state-television aired a program denouncing them as agents of Washington.

About 100 pro-government demonstrators surrounded the Ladies as they marched in Havana's Vedado neighborhood, shouting slogans like "Down with the Worms!" and "This Street Belongs to Fidel!" as well as some sexually offensive slogans.

The Ladies, mostly middle-aged wives and mothers of political prisoners jailed in a 2003 sweep against intellectuals and opposition figures, wore sweat shirts bearing the image of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who died last year after an 83-day hunger strike.

They stood in the middle of the street and refused to move, until security agents moved in and loaded them onto government buses. It was not clear where they were taken, though in the past the dissidents are usually brought back to their homes.

The ugliness, known as an "Act of Repudiation," is an oft-repeated spectacle in Cuba. The government contends the screaming crowd turns out spontaneously to denounce the opposition, though little is done to conceal coordination with state security agents who are also on the scene.

In past demonstrations, state agents have waved for supporters to come forward once it became clear the Ladies would not heed warnings to halt their march.

The Tyranny of Groupthink

A great column by University of Miami Professor Jose Azel:

Cuba's Internet repression equals groupthink

Cuba remains one of the world's most repressive environments for the Internet and information technologies. The Cuban government has created a dual system with a national intranet and the global Internet. Most Cubans have access only to the national intranet which consists of an in-country e-mail system, a Cuban encyclopedia and websites that are supportive of the government.

Cuba's only two Internet service providers are state owned and surveillance is extensive. Less than 2 percent of the population (mostly government officials) has access to the Internet. Whatever connectivity is available costs about $12 per hour in a country where the average monthly salary is less than $20.

Additionally, Cuban regulations state that e-mail messages must not jeopardize national security; forbid the spreading of information that is against the "integrity" of the people; provide that all material intended for publication on the Internet must first be approved by the National Registry of Serial Publications; and prohibit service providers from granting access to individuals not approved by the government.

The extent of Cuba's political cyber police efforts was vividly captured in a recently leaked video of a 2010 behind-closed-doors lecture to an audience mostly in military uniforms. The lecturer, a counter-intelligence cybernetic specialist, defines the Internet as a field of battle that the government must use to its advantage. He boasts of a new group created within the Interior Ministry to work against bloggers. He warns of the dangers of "classic combat networks" such as Facebook and Twitter and notes how protests in Iran and Ukraine were "created" when social networks were used to incite people to protest.

What must the Cuban leadership be thinking of the events in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere?

The Cuban government has been remarkably successful in sealing the consciousness of the Cuban people from the outside world with a doctrine of intellectual isolationism and an all encompassing revolutionary dogma of intellectual autarky. Fidel Castro made it explicitly clear in a 1961 speech in which he famously warned intellectuals: "Within the Revolution everything, against the Revolution, nothing."

But this intellectual autarky has also produced a classic case of what social psychologist Irving Janis called "groupthink," a type of thought characteristic of cohesive in-groups whose members try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. In a groupthink environment decision-makers ignore alternatives and tend to follow irrational programs of action.

A case in point is General Raúl Castro's new economic program formulated, in his words, "to save Cuba from the economic abyss" and outlined in a 32-page economic platform for the upcoming Communist Party Congress.

A centerpiece of Castro's program is the firing of up to 1.3 million government workers — about 20 percent of the workforce — and allowing them to become self-employed "outside the government sector." In the Cuban version of Orwellian doublespeak, that stands for the unspeakable private sector.

This assumes that everyone is temperamentally suited to become an entrepreneur and to do so without access to cash, credit, raw materials, equipment, or technology. Groupthink is also evident in how those selected for dismissal will be chosen. A commission of experts will decide the optimal number of personnel required for each state entity and workers' commissions will decide the positions to be cut.

But perhaps most illustrative of the Cuban government's groupthink (and as Dave Barry might say, I am not making this up) is the specificity with which the Cuban "reformers" have decided to allow those being fired to solicit permits to become self employed in 178 activities such as:

Trade No. 23, the purchases and sale of used books; 29, attendants of public bathrooms (presumably for tips); 34, pruning of palm trees; 49, wrapping buttons with fabric; 61, shoe shining; 62, cleaning of spark plugs; 110, box spring repairs (not to be confused with number 116); 116, mattress repairs; 124, umbrella repairs; 125, refilling of disposable cigarette lighters; 150, tarot cards fortune telling; 156, dandy (technical definition unknown, male escort?); 158, natural fruits peeling (separate from 142, selling fruits in kiosks).

In his economic dreamland of surrealist juxtapositions, Castro and his team believe that allowing this bizarre list of self-employment activities is the way to save the communist system. This surrealistic disconnect — the product of incestuous intellectual inbreeding — flows from Cuba's doctrine of intellectual isolationism where Cubans are unable to receive information freely and exchange ideas openly.

In Cuba, long-held Marxists-Leninist assumptions will not be swapped for another set of beliefs without a democratic leadership that, inspired and sustained by freedoms of speech, press, assembly, petition, and religion, can defeat the tyranny of groupthink.

Quote of the Week

"If the Internet is the new battlefield in the long, simmering standoff between Cuba and the United States, then jailed American contractor Alan Gross is the conflict's first POW."

-- Nick Miroff, columnist for Global Post, in Washington Jewish Week, 2/23/11

On the issue of Alan Gross, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations have sent a letter to Cuban dictator Raul Castro urging his immediate release.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 25

From The Miami Herald:

Report: Florida at risk from Cuba drilling

A new report says the United States' Cuba policy puts the U.S. -- and particularly Florida -- at risk if planned oil drilling in Cuba results in a spill.

The report by the Center for Democracy in the Americas -- which backs increased engagement with Cuba -- says the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba prevents the island nation from "having adequate access to the range of tools needed to drill safely or respond to emergencies should one develop [...]

But Mauricio Claver-Carone, a director of the pro-embargo US-Cuba Democracy political action committee, called it "ironic and unlikely a coincidence" that the report was released the same week that news reports suggested that the rig's arrival in Cuba has again been delayed.

"Bottom line is that there are no rigs drilling offshore in Cuba, for it remains commercially unfeasible as long as U.S. sanctions are in place,'' he said. "If these lobbyists really want to protect the environment, they should begin by supporting U.S. sanctions."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Click here to further understand "How the Cuban Embargo Protects the Environment."

Time to Declare Cyberwar

By Miguel Perez of the Creators Syndicate:

Watching Others Realize My Dream

When we see people protesting all over the Arab world — liberating themselves from oppressive dictators, using social media to come together and taking amazing risks in order to regain their freedom — most of us cringe a little. We admire their courage and their yearning for democracy, but we worry for their safety.

Not I. I'm a Cuban-American. I've spent most of my life waiting to see a popular uprising on the streets of Havana. I can't think of anything I rather would see than the day of my own people's liberation. When I see people regaining their freedom in other parts of the world, all I feel is envy.

I know our day is coming. But frankly, watching other people realize my dream is very painful, especially when we Cubans have waited longer than anyone else. We are the victims of the world's longest dictatorship — 51 years! — and now it is becoming clearer than ever that it is also one of the world's most repressive.

Let's face it; Cuba is not as free as some of the Arab states with dictatorships. There is repression, and then there is Cuban repression, which is about absolute control and intimidation.

There is repression like the kind we saw in Egypt, where the opposition used computers, mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter to organize massive demonstrations, and then there is Cuban repression, which restricts the people's access to the Internet. And in Cuba, potential organizers of a popular uprising are constantly watched, harassed, physically abused and thrown in jail even for planning a protest.

You've heard of preventive medicine, right? Well, in Cuba, the Castro brothers practice preventive repression. Unlike Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, the Fidel and Raul Castro regime has made limiting the Cuban people's access to the Internet and social networking technology a top priority.

These things are hard to explain to anyone who has not lived under Cuba's Stalinist brand of totalitarian communism. Many of my American friends simply don't understand me when I try to illustrate the reasons the Cuban people have tolerated so many atrocities for so long. And I don't blame them. Unless you have lived in Castro's Cuba, unless you feel the profound fear that has become part of Cuban culture, it's incomprehensible.

But the Cuban people do live in deep fear. They find the Castro brothers much more intimidating than the sharks in the Caribbean. Mind you, if Cuba and the United States were to open the floodgates and allow Cubans to flee from the island on flotillas to Florida — as has occurred in the past — surely thousands would risk their lives crossing the Florida Straits on anything that floats to regain their freedom. And yet they find demonstrating against the government a lot more life-threatening. Doesn't that say something?

No one turned out Monday for a Havana demonstration that was organized from the United States to follow the example of the people of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

It was obviously an underestimation of the absolute control of the Castro regime.

So why, you ask, don't the Cuban people run out to the streets and do what we have seen recently throughout the Middle East and North Africa? Well, first, because most of them have not seen it. The government-controlled Cuban media obviously want to prevent the domino effect from happening and show the Cuban people very little of what is actually happening in the rest of the world.

But even if they had clearly seen the examples of other popular uprisings, Cubans would not take to the streets, because they lack the cell phones, computers and other communication technology that has armed and strengthened other dissidents around the world.

Cell phones were not even allowed in Cuba until 2008, and they are still unaffordable to the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people. Only 14 percent of Cubans have access to the Internet, and most of them are government officials and Communist Party loyalists. When dissidents use social media to organize any kind of protest in Cuba, most of the people they are notifying are Castro's goons.

Cuban dissidents are better-known abroad than they are within Cuba because, though they can communicate with the outside world, they have no way of reaching or mobilizing the masses within the island.

Yet perhaps motivated only by wishful thinking, Cuban-Americans have started Facebook pages calling on their compatriots on the island to heed the call for freedom coming from the Middle East. One page is called "If Egypt did it, why not Cuba?" Another such page, "For the Popular Uprising in Cuba," already has more than 4,500 members, calling for "a popular and peaceful uprising in Cuba, without bloodshed, without violence, with people taking to the streets ... igniting the spark of freedom in order to cause a social and political change that will lead Cuba to a democracy."

As they waited for some kind of news from Cuba Monday and realized that the uprising they expected had failed to materialize, Cuban-Americans sadly began to acknowledge that the conditions for a popular uprising still don't exist in our homeland.

Perhaps the time will come when communication technology can be used to drive the Castro regime out of power, but expecting it to happen immediately — just because other dictatorships have become technologically vulnerable — is extremely naive. It's OK for others to wonder why the Cuban people can't liberate themselves from the choking grip of the Castro brothers. If they have not lived under their regime, the extent of Cuban repression may be hard to grasp.

But Cuban-Americans who know the Machiavellian ways of the Castro brothers should know better. We know they'd do anything to remain in power.

The Arab countries have shown us the weapon that can liberate Cuba — social media — but first we have to find a way to arm the Cuban people. If we want to realize our own dream of freedom, if we want to see our people dancing in the streets of Havana, it's time to declare a cyberwar.