Can the Arab Spring Bloom in Cuba?

Saturday, March 26, 2011
Are you of the opinion that a youth uprising -- similar to those of the Arab Spring -- can't happen in Cuba?

Check out the footage throughout the entire video below (with great hard rock by the band, Puya).

At the very least, it'll get your blood pumping (or your head pounding).

Repression's Antidote: The Panic Button

Speaks for itself.

From Reuters:

U.S. develops "panic button" for democracy activists

Some day soon, when pro-democracy campaigners have their cellphones confiscated by police, they'll be able to hit the "panic button" -- a special app that will both wipe out the phone's address book and emit emergency alerts to other activists.

The panic button is one of the new technologies the U.S. State Department is promoting to equip pro-democracy activists in countries ranging from the Middle East to China with the tools to fight back against repressive governments.

"We've been trying to keep below the radar on this, because a lot of the people we are working with are operating in very sensitive environments," said Michael Posner, assistant U.S. secretary of state for human rights and labor.

The U.S. technology initiative is part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's push to expand Internet freedoms, pointing out the crucial role that on-line resources such as Twitter and Facebook have had in fueling pro-democracy movements in Iran, Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.

The Force of Intimidation

By Czech journalist Eduard Freisler in The Miami Herald:

Haunting Scene in Cuba

We've all watched the TV images as dictators and autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa sent their thugs to the streets to attack pro-democratic protestors. These images have brought back to my memory a scene I witnessed almost five years ago in Cuba. It still haunts me.

They gathered in front of Yamila Llanes Labrada's house around noon. A vitriolic crowd dominated by the town's elders. It was Saturday in the small town of Las Tunas in 2006, and it was very hot, with humidity on the rise. The oppressive weather made the situation even tenser. I had an unclear vision of what was coming.

Yamila and her four kids were, at that time, waiting for her husband, José Luis García Paneque, to come home from prison where he was serving 24 years for dissent. Never giving up, she often looked out the window hoping for his return. José Luis was arrested on March 18, 2003 as part of Fidel Castro's crackdown on 75 members of the Cuban opposition.

I had talked with Yamila in her home the day before Castro's people came. Yamila, a member of the anti-government movement Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco), told me about the mob actions. When I gave her a puzzled look, she said: "A small crowd of people come to my door to verbally harass me. They call me many names. Bitch, worm, garbage, just to name a few. Come and see it with your own eyes."

This was all too familiar to me. I came of age under communism in the former Czechoslovakia where the party leaders and their backers used to treat people who opposed the regime with hatred and disgust.

However, the mob scenes in Cuba were a new thing for me. I accepted Yamila's suggestion to see it for myself. To be sure I could really witness everything, I found a hiding place in the bushes close enough to see the crowd, hoping not to be spotted. If Castro's thugs were to see me inside the house, they would have "proof" that Yamila was "palling around with Western spies." So to protect her and her children, I hid as I watched.

Everything started on a calm note, as if the people coming to Yamila's house were getting together for a picnic. Two men were chatting while smoking cigarettes; an older woman was slowly waving a fan in front of her face. Then, a group of five came to join them. After a while, another six people showed up. Most of the people were well into their 70s. The oldest Cuban generation is the most loyal to Castro because his revolution is their whole life, and they are prepared to defend it.

I counted some 25 villagers gathered outside Yamila's home. They started to shout nasty slurs almost as one. They called Yamila a slut, a terrorist, dirt. After a while, hysteria took hold. People were urging Yamila to leave the country and threatening her with prison. Some were stomping the ground forcefully. Pretty quickly, the scene got a bit hazy because the stomping mob stirred up the dusty road. Even in the haze, the mood became more intimidating. "This street belongs to Fidel," a female voice suddenly cut the air sharply with this verbal assault. It was a high-pitched shriek that gave me a chill. I decided to retreat for my own security.

A few days later, I went to see Oswaldo Payá Sardinas, one of the leading figures of the Cuban opposition. With the scene outside Yamila's home still fresh in my mind, I had to ask him about it. "Castro borrowed these acts from Nazis pogroms against Jews and Mao's cultural revolution," Payá told me in his Havana home. "Castro's thugs harass and beat people because they have been promised a new telephone or have been paid couple of pesos. Some of his adherents throw rotten eggs, vegetables or even animal excrement at the houses of the anti-regime people," he added.

Castro's daughter, Alina Fernández Revuelta, who lives in exile in Miami, is also familiar with these brutal practices. "This is, by all means, one of the ugliest faces of the Castro regime," she told me when I spoke to her in 2006. Fernández also revealed that Castro's thugs had assaulted her a couple of times, even in Miami. "The scenario is always the same. They want you to get scared; they want you to break down."

Fortunately, the Castro regime did not break Yamila's spirit. She and her children got out of Cuba and settled in Texas in 2007. Only now am I writing about what I saw in 2006 because I feared that press exposure could bring them harm. But even though Yamila left, her husband remained imprisoned in Cuba. It was only last summer that he was freed by the Castro regime and sent to Spain.

There he told the press what his family had gone through and he described an incident involving even more ferocious psychological warfare than what I saw. Another time, around 50 of Castro's supporters, this time carrying clubs, started to hurl stones at Yamila's house and threatened to burn it down. Some shouted that they'd kill Yamila and her kids or in their words: "To burn the worms inside to death."

To this day, Damas de Blanco and other Cubans face this torment. Recently, the Cuban government might have started some significant economic reforms, but politically it is still a ruthless regime, ready to unleash its own thugs against pro-democracy people. This force of intimidation still works on most of the Cuban population except groups like Damas de Blanco. They march on...

Castro and Kim Summon Their Favorite President

Friday, March 25, 2011
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is surely a decent man.

But he has a horrible knack of making himself useful to brutal dictators.

From AFP:

Former US President Jimmy Carter will travel to Cuba Monday for a private three-day visit at the invitation of the Cuban government, his non-governmental organization said Friday.

Carter and his wife Rosalyn will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro to discuss ways to improve US-Cuban relations, the non-profit Carter Center said.

Translation: Raul Castro wants Carter to legitimize his cosmetic "reforms."

And from Reuters:

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter plans to travel to North Korea in a private capacity and is not carrying any official message from the U.S. government, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.

Translation: Kim Jong Il wants Carter to ease heightened tensions with South Korea amidst his failing health.

"I'd say that he was the best [U.S.] president of all those I've known, irrespective of the opinion I have of each of the others."

-- Fidel Castro, quoted by author Ignacio Ramonet in the book 'Fidel Castro: My Life.'

Another Congressional Boondoggle to Cuba

According to the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Just back from a trip to Cuba, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth said Friday that it's time for the United States to normalize relations with its island neighbor [...]

Yarmuth and Democratic Reps. Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Donna Edwards of Maryland spent four days in Cuba. They met in Havana and other cities with government leaders, U.S. officials, scholars, economists, foreign diplomats, physicians, artists, farmers and journalists.

The trip was sponsored by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a nonpartisan group whose goal is to open Cuba and improve U.S. relations with that nation and others in Latin America.

First of all, it's always interesting to note the irony of the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), which seeks to recognize and normalize relations with Cuba's Castro regime and Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez -- the Western Hemisphere's antithesis of "democracy."

It's also (tragically) interesting to note that during this most recent Congressional boondoggle, nearly a dozen courageous Cuban pro-democracy leaders were violently arrested.

Did the Members visit (or try to visit) with any of them (or their families)?

Of course not.

Click here to see a pictorial from a 2010 CDA boondoggle with Congressional staffers.

Isn't it nice?

There's a briefing with Castro regime bureaucrats, a visit to the tourist-designated zone around Cathedral Plaza and naturally, a beautiful country-side bohio (Cuban hut), where they can take home a batch of cigars.

Yet, no visits to pro-democracy leaders Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet in the Lawton neighborhood, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" in Placetas, Sarah Martha Fonseca in Boyeros -- where courageous Cuban are confronting the regime's brutal repression on a daily basis -- or even a stop by the notorious Combinado del Este political prison in Pinar del Rio (it's near the bohio with the cigars).

Unfortunately, that reality is only for the Cuban people -- not for regime-sponsored foreign visitors.

Its like visiting Johannesburg during the apartheid-era regime and not visiting the Soweto neighborhood, where regular South Africans were fighting against repression.

There's a saying in Spanish, "Ojos que no ven, corazon que no siente" ("Eyes that don't see, heart that doesn't feel").

From the State Department

From the U.S. Department of State:

Cuba Releases Last Two Political Prisoners from 2003 Black Spring Crackdown

We welcome the release of the last of the 75 peaceful Cuban activists who were unjustly arrested for exercising their universal rights and fundamental freedoms during the 2003 "Black Spring" crackdown.

The release of political prisoners is a step in the right direction. However, human rights conditions in Cuba remain poor. The Cuban government continues to limit fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly.

We urge the Cuban government to release all remaining political prisoners and allow them to choose whether to remain in Cuba. Those who choose to leave Cuba should be free to return if they so desire. We also urge the Government of Cuba to allow access to the U.N. Special Rapporteur and the International Red Cross to its jails so that a fuller accounting of remaining political prisoners can be possible.

President Obama, through his policy framework announced in April 2009 and also through recent regulatory changes, has focused our policy toward Cuba on increased engagement with the Cuban people in an effort to promote democratic ideals and improve human rights conditions on the island. As he said in his recent speech in Chile, "Cuban authorities must take some meaningful actions to respect the basic rights of their own people – not because the United States insists upon it, but because the people of Cuba deserve it."

Are North Korean (Cuban) "Laws" Legitimate?

Thursday, March 24, 2011
Of course not.

Here's a great article for those that keep repeating the same nonsense about American development worker Alan Gross violating Cuban "law" (by helping Cubans connect to the Internet).

Tyrannical regimes -- whether Libya, North Korea or Cuba -- are not ruled by laws, they are ruled by arbitrary, dictatorial decrees.

As Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

In other words, information is a universal human right, which under any interpretation of international law trumps dictatorial decrees.

From Robert S. Boynton in The Atlantic:

North Korea's Digital Underground

To smuggle facts into or out of North Korea is to risk imprisonment and even execution. Yet today, aided by a half-dozen stealthy media organizations outside the country, citizen-journalists are using technologies new and old to break the regime's iron grip on information. Will the truth set a nation free?

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the very archetype of a "closed society." It ranks dead last—196th out of 196 countries—in Freedom House's Freedom of the Press index. Unlike the citizens of, say, Tunisia or Egypt, to name two countries whose populations recently tapped the power of social media to help upend the existing political order, few North Koreans have access to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. In fact, except for a tiny elite, the DPRK's 25 million inhabitants are not connected to the Internet. Televisions are set to receive only government stations. International radio signals are routinely jammed, and electricity is unreliable. Freestanding radios are illegal. But every North Korean household and business is outfitted with a government-controlled radio hardwired to a central station. The speaker comes with a volume control, but no off switch. In a new media age awash in universally shared information—an age of planet-wide instant messaging and texted manifestos—the Democratic People's Republic of Korea remains a stubborn holdout, a regime almost totally in control of its national narrative.

Given this isolation, it's even more remarkable that since 2004, a half-dozen independent media organizations have been launched in Northeast Asia to communicate with North Koreans—to bring news out of the country as well as to get potentially destabilizing information in. These media insurgents have a two-pronged strategy, integrating Cold War methods (Voice of America–like shortwave broadcasts in; samizdat-like info out) and 21st-century hardware: SD chips, thumb drives, CDs, e-books, miniature recording devices, and cell phones. And as with all intelligence-gathering projects, their most valuable assets are human: a network of reporters in North Korea and China who dispatch a stream of reports, whether about the palace intrigue surrounding the choice of Kim Jong Il's successor, or the price of flour in Wŏnsan.

Read the whole article here.

H/T Penultimos Dias.

Socialist Minister: Castro's are "Lost Cause"

From Europa Press:

Spain's former Minister of Finance (PSOE, Socialist Party) Carlos Solchaga affirmed on Thursday that Cuba is "a lost cause" from the point of view of its "internal capacity to transform and evolve towards a democracy."

In his opinion, the only option is to wait for "the slow death of the regime," its "extreme weaknesses" to be exposed, and thus a door for "change" to open without great effort, as occurred in the former Communist regimes of Eastern Europe during the 80s [...]

Solchaga believes the current situation in Cuba is "even worse" than it was in 1993 in terms of "the availability resources, international liquidity, creation of wealth and the level of security."

It is this dire situation which forces the "totalitarian" state to take certain measures [...]

In his opinion, any changes currently being considered in Cuba are "much more the consequence of necessity than due to the will of its leaders."

Here Come the Cyber Warriors

The Castro regime has officially declared war on Cuba's bloggers.

Why are they so afraid of the Cuban people expressing their views?

Because the regime is desperate and feeble.

Plus, it knows that if they are getting beaten by Cuban pre-democracy bloggers -- despite the control and censorship -- the regime would be finished if there was a fair (or even somewhat fair) playing field.

From Melville House Publishing:

Yoani Sanchez, cyber warrior

It seems that Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez (author of Havana Real) really has the Cuban government spooked. What began recently with a leaked video of a Cuban cyber intelligence expert explaining the dangers of social networks used by counter-revolutionary elements like Sanchez has escalated into full on character assassination.

Instead of publicly pretending like she doesn't exist, the Cuban government singled Sanchez out for waging "cyber war" and "demonizing" socialism in a documentary series titled "Cuba's Reasons," according to this report by Sam Jones in the Guardian. It appears the Castro regime has shifted tactics and has decided to single her out, perhaps in the hopes that by being publicly ostracized, Sanchez will tone down her criticisms.

In describing cyberwar as a "new form of invasion that has originated in the developed world," the Cuban government unintentionally lends credence to one of Yoani's regular complaints about the absurd inefficiencies of life on the island. After all, is Cuba not "developed"? Wouldn't admitting that it isn't mean accepting the criticisms of people like Sanchez? But, I digress.

As Jones mentions, the renewed public pressure on Sanchez may signal a warning to her, especially in light of the recent conviction of USAID contractor Alan Gross. It's probably also meant to remind her of the real physical threats and abuse she has endured as a vocal critic of the government through her blog, Generation Y.
Jones doesn't mention this, but the timing is also curious. In mid April, the Communist Party Congress–the first in over a decade–is set to take place in Havana. If the Castro regime wants to marginalize Sanchez, why draw more attention to her now? Do they think she'll shy away from overtures from the international press in town for the Congress?

If her tweets in reaction to "Cuba's Reasons" are any indication of her future attitude, she's not likely to get quiet any time soon:

"I am so happy. Finally the alternative blogosphere on official television, although it's to insult us."

"They don't know what they've done! Pandora's Box has been smashed open!"

"I can't keep tweeting all the texts of support…There are too many of them and I have only 10 fingers!"

The Sound of Cuba's Media Crickets

On Tuesday, foreign news bureaus in Havana got flustered by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who (in an apparent state of dementia) declared that he was no longer head of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

Worst yet, that he hadn't been head of the PCC since 2006.

There were dozens of news stories on Castro's (essentially irrelevant) remarks (which he has now retracted).

Apparently, no one bothered to check the PCC's website, which still has Fidel listed as First Secretary. Oops! [Correction: The AP did note the website contradiction].

Meanwhile, over a dozen Cuban pro-democracy activists were violently assaulted and arrested yesterday, including 2010 Sakharov Prize winner, Guillermo Farinas.

Any stories? Nope.

Also, a prominent Havana neighborhood was essentially overrun by Cuban state security, as a policeman and civilian were killed in a shootout. It's believed the incident was the result of a corrupt, police-related business deal gone bad. Five others have been arrested.

Any news? Nope.

And if that wasn't enough, one of the regime's official journalists (from the Granma newspaper) has been arrested and held in isolation at Cuban state security headquarters for the last two months. He is accused of "counter-revolutionary" activities. Another has been fined and prohibited from using the Internet (reserved for the privileged) for interviewing sports defectors.


Learning the Hard Way

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Hasn't the ball been on Castro's court since April 2009, when President Obama unilaterally eased sanctions the first time?

So when will enough be enough?

By columnist Andres Oppenheimer:

Obama unlikely to make new gestures to Cuba without action from Havana

For a man who prides himself on having taken "unprecedented steps" to try to ease five-decade-old U.S. tensions with Cuba, President Barack Obama did not look eager to make new gestures toward the Cuban military regime when I interviewed him Tuesday.

The ball is in your court, he seemed to be telling Cuba.

Obama, who talked extensively about issues ranging from tensions with Venezuela and Argentina to the pending U.S. free trade deals with Panama and Colombia, said he has made some of the most significant changes in U.S. policy to Cuba in decades but the Cuban leadership has not responded in kind.

"We have expanded remittances, we expanded travel, we have sent a strong signal to the Cuban people," Obama said. "The Cuban government made some gestures about releasing political prisoners and starting some market-based economies with small business opportunities. (But) we haven't seen as much follow-through as we would like."

Obama said that Cuban authorities must take some "meaningful actions," but was not specific when I asked what would be the minimum measures Cuba should take to improve bilateral ties.

Obama did not mention the case of Alan Gross, the U.S. contractor who was sentenced to 15 years in prison this month for taking telephone equipment to Cuba, but other U.S. officials have asked for his immediate release in recent days.

Assad Feels the Heat

At this rate, the Castro brothers will soon be left without tyrannical friends (except for Chavez, of course).

From Time:

The words have been repeated from Tunisia to Egypt, from Yemen to Bahrain. "The people want the regime to fall" - the mantra of revolution. And so, last week, after 15 kids wrote those words on a wall in the agricultural town of Dara'a in southern Syria, the local governor decided to come down hard. The young people - all under 17 - were thrown in jail. The punishment stunned the town and, suddenly, Syria - so confidently authoritarian - got its first strong taste of rebellion in what is called the Arab Spring.

Syria remains a closed and walled-off nation. But descriptions of the uprising in Dara'a were dramatic. The alleged details included dozens of young men pelting a poster - in broad daylight - of a smiling President Bashar al-Assad; a statue of his late father and predecessor Hafiz al-Assad, demolished; official buildings including the ruling Baath Party's headquarters and the governor's office burned down. "There is no fear, there is no fear, after today there is no fear!" hundreds of men chant, captured in shaky mobile phone footage allegedly taken on Monday. Over the weekend, provincial security forces opened fire on the marchers, killing several.

Bendixen Wants to Sell You a Remittance

Normally, Sergio Bendixen wants to sell you a public opinion poll.

However, in yesterday's Miami Herald, Bendixen tries to sell you a remittance.

He argues that based on his work "in more than thirty countries all over the world" remittances are a "virtual river of gold."

That may very well be the case.

The problem is that any positive effects remittances can have in open societies (and economies) are largely muted -- not to mention counter-productive -- if the receiving country is an autocracy. Or even worse, if the receiving country is a totalitarian dictatorship (as in the case of Cuba).

From Franco in Spain (who had arrangements with France and Germany to take up temporary migrants throughout the 60s) to Marcos in the Philippines, dictators have used migration and remittances as a vent for social problems and to keep themselves in power. Indeed, the recent banishment of Cuban political prisoners bears testament to this.

Moreover, to the extent that emigres send remittances to their families, the ruling dictatorship can then concentrate funds on sympathizers -- a dual system of social protection -- that may only foment polarization and prolong the life of the regime.

Money, after all, is fungible. So money emigres send to Cubans in Cuba is money the Castro regime does not have to spend on them. Therefore, they're also likely to be the first to get axed from jobs.

Bendixen concedes this fact, but argues that regardless, remittances "can facilitate the inevitable wrenching transition to alternative employment in the private sector."

Private sector in Cuba?

Leasing limited licenses to a select number of Cubans to exercise one of 178 menial tasks does not constitute a private sector.

The Cuban people are prohibited from owning businesses, not to mention intellectual or tangible property rights of any type.

Therefore, in the best case scenario, remittances to Cuba may help facilitate lessees. But in the worst case, they overwhelmingly enrich the island's sole lessor.

Currently, the worst case scenario is prevailing, which Bendixen also concedes:

"Today, remittance delivery in Cuba occurs within a closed and controlled space... According to Cuban regulations, U.S. dollars sent to Cuba can only be paid out through a limited number of locations, where they are further burdened with heavy foreign exchange taxes."

And thus, why Bendixen resorts to nicely asking (and trying to seduce) the Castro regime to allow the Cuban people to somewhat benefit from remittances also:

"A commitment from the Cuban government to allow all remittances to enter the Cuban economy freely, unburdened by taxes or other cumbersome regulations, could result in remittances reaching $2 billion to Cuba in the coming years."

We can hear Castro laughing his way to the bank.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 26

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
- From The Miami Herald:

Cuba’s Fidel Castro has claimed that he resigned the leadership of the Communist Party after he nearly died five years ago — raising questions about why the change in the nation’s second-most important title was never announced until now [...]

Whatever the reason, “the single most fascinating aspect of Fidel’s announcement is that his dictatorship is so obscure and personalized that only he knew he hasn’t been PCC head for the last five years,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Political Action Committee.

“If true, then he’s following the lead of his friend (Moammar) Gaddafi in Libya, who also claimed this month not to hold any official titles or positions of power,” Claver-Carone added in an email to El Nuevo Herald.

- From AP:

Fidel Castro said Tuesday he resigned five years ago from all his official positions, including head of Cuba's Communist Party, a pre-eminent job in the island's political pantheon that he was thought to still hold [...]

"It shows the absolute lack of transparency because for the last five years everyone in Cuba, everyone in the world, thought he was the head of the Communist Party, so it shows how absolutely closed, totalitarian and personal that dictatorship is," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the Washington-based U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC. "At the end of the day, only he knew he wasn't in power."

- An AP expanded version:

Those who back the decades-old embargo of Cuba were most critical of the announcement, saying it served only to highlight the Cuban government's lack of transparency, since until today most of the world still believed Castro had retained his title as party head.

"These are totalitarian dictatorships, and the titles don't matter. The power is still held by the Castro brothers, whether the name is Fidel or Raul," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.

- Recent post on this issue, "The Title-less Dictator(s)"

On Cuban (and Libyan) Laws

Yesterday, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi cautioned his opponents that, "according to our law, those who protest merit the death penalty."

So should Gaddafi's "laws" be recognized and respected?

Of course not.

It reminds us of the arguments made by some Cuba "experts" that American development worker Alan Gross violated Castro's "laws" by helping the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet and that everyone must respect these "laws" -- no matter how arbitrary or absurd.

The problem is that Cuba and Libya aren't governed by the rule of law -- they are governed by dictatorial decrees.

Gaddafi and Castro have historically used sovereignty as a shield to indiscriminately repress their people. (Just yesterday, Cuba condemned the no-fly zone over Libya as a sovereignty violation).

Sovereignty was similarly used by other notorious tyrants, including Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Milosevic.

However, sovereignty is conveyed to governments by the people. Sovereignty cannot be inherited or seized by force.

For decades, the Cuban and Libyan people have been denied the universal right to freely choose their representatives and leaders.

Only then will sovereignty be genuinely conveyed.

And it can never trump universal human rights.

Obama on Cuba (from Chile)

Monday, March 21, 2011
Excerpt from U.S. President Barack Obama's remarks today at the Palacio de la Moneda in Santiago, Chile:

More than 60 years ago, our nations came together in an Organization of American States and declared -- and I quote -- that “representative democracy is an indispensable condition for the stability, peace and development of the region.” A decade ago, we reaffirmed this principle, with an Inter-American Democratic Charter that stated -- and I quote -- the people of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.”

Across the Americas, generations, including generations of Chileans, have struggled and sacrificed to give meaning to these words -- ordinary men and women who dared to speak their mind; activists who organized new movements; faith leaders who preached social justice; the mothers of the disappeared who demanded the truth; political prisoners who rose to become presidents; and, even now, Las Damas de Blanco, who march in quiet dignity [...]

[J]ust as we defend democracy and human rights within our borders, let's recommit to defending them across our hemisphere. Every nation will follow its own path, and no nation should ever impose its will on another. But surely we can agree that democracy is about more than majority rule; that simply holding power does not give a leader the right to suppress the rights of others; and that leaders must maintain power through consent, not coercion.

Let's never waver in our support for the right of people to determine their own future, and that includes the people of Cuba. Since taking office, I've announced the most significant changes to my nation's policy toward Cuba in decades. We've made it possible for Cuban-Americans to visit and support their families in Cuba. We're allowing Americans to send remittances that bring some economic hope for people across Cuba, as well as more independence from Cuban authorities.

Going forward, we'll continue to seek ways to increase the independence of the Cuba people, who are entitled to the same freedom and liberty as everyone else in this hemisphere. At the same time, Cuban authorities must take meaningful actions to respect the basic rights of the Cuban people—not because the United States insists on it, but because the people of Cuba deserve it.

Finally, the lessons of Latin America can be a guide for people around the world who are beginning their own journeys toward democracy. There is no one model for democratic transitions. But as this region knows, successful transitions do have certain ingredients. The moral force of nonviolence. Dialogue that is open and inclusive. The protection of basic rights, such as peaceful expression and assembly. Accountability for past wrongs. And matching political reform with economic reform, because democracy must meet the basic needs and aspirations of people.

Youth Going Wild (for Freedom)

In North Africa and the Middle East:

Click on the picture to watch video.

And in Cuba:

Keep an Eye on the Castros

The U.S. military intervention in Iraq, which led to the ouster of Saddam Hussein, began exactly eight years ago, on March 20, 2003.

Taking advantage of the international community's absolute focus on this major news event, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro undertook one of the most repressive crackdowns on dissent in modern history.

Between March 18-20, 2003, Castro arrested nearly 100 of the island's most renowned independent journalists and pro-democracy leaders, and sentenced 75 of them to a total of 1,454 years in prison.

This became known as the Cuban "Black Spring."

While most of the 75 have been released (and forcibly exiled) within the last nine months, repression in Cuba is on the rise (as Amnesty International documented last week).

Last month alone, there were more than 390 political arrests. And a new internationally-recognized prisoner of conscience, Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, head of the Youth for Democracy Movement, is awaiting trial and sentencing.

Today, eight years later, the world is similarly focused on military action in Libya and the natural disasters in Japan.

Thus we urge awareness and caution towards the well-being of Cuba's dissidents, new political prisoners and the fate of American development worker Alan Gross.

Unfortunately, the Castro regime has a long history of using major news events as "cover" for its increased repression and mischief.

Message to Tyrants

Sunday, March 20, 2011
"[W]e cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities like Benghazi and Misurata, where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government."

-- U.S. President Barack Obama, remarks on military action in Libya, March 20, 2011