Quote of the Week

Saturday, April 30, 2011
"Tehran and Havana share common views, concerns."

-- Ana Teresita Gonzalez, Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister, Tehran Times, April 29, 2011

In Solidarity With Alan Gross

Note the selfless actions by these courageous Cuban democracy activists.

Tragically, these are the same people that U.S. Senator John Kerry wants the Obama Administration to abandon (in favor of the Castro regime's demands to end U.S. pro-democracy programs).

From Reuters:

Two obscure Cuban dissidents who sewed their mouths partially shut and launched a hunger strike a month ago said on Friday they were prepared to die for their demands, which include freedom for jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross and improved human rights.

Vladimir Alejo Miranda, 48, and Angel Enrique Fernandez Rivero, 45, said they had refused medical aid and would not go to a hospital as their condition weakened.

"Until there's a response in favor of us, of the opposition, in favor of Mr. Alan Gross, we are not going to lift the strike," Alejo told Reuters from a bed at his home in the Havana suburbs.

"If we have to give our life for this demand, we are going to give our lives. We will be a new Orlando Zapata Tamayo," he said, referring to an imprisoned dissident whose death by hunger strike last year provoked international condemnation of the Cuban government.


Here's a picture of Vladimir Alejo Miranda:

Cuba for Dummies

Cuban blogger Alexis Romay has an excellent idea for a new book -- "Cuba for Dummies."

Please make sure to click on the picture below.

The book will teach you how to:

1. Avoid biased NGO's that refer to the Castro dynasty as "leaders."
2. Distinguish between a tyrannical regime and its people.
3. Support the work of human rights activists on the island.

It will be a must-read for many Cuba "experts."

Obama (Finally) Sanctions Syria

Friday, April 29, 2011
It's very concerning that these -- fairly simple -- sanctions hadn't been imposed long ago.

From The White House:

Today, President Obama signed an Executive Order imposing sanctions against Syrian officials and others responsible for human rights abuses, including through the use of violence against civilians and the commission of other human rights abuses.

This Order provides the United States with new tools to target individuals and entities determined to have engaged in human rights abuses in Syria, including those related to repression; to be a senior official of an entity whose property is blocked pursuant to the Order; to have provided material support to, or to be owned or controlled by, persons blocked under the Order.

The United States strongly condemns the Syrian government's continued use of violence and intimidation against the Syrian people. We call upon the Syrian regime and its supporters to refrain from further acts of violence and other human rights abuses against Syrian citizens seeking to express their political aspirations.

In signing today's Order, the President imposed sanctions on the following individuals and entities listed in the Annex to the Order:

· Mahir al-Asad: The brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and brigade commander in the Syrian Army's 4th Armored Division, who has played a leading role in the Syrian regime's actions in Dar'a, where protesters have been killed by Syrian security forces.

· Atif Najib: A cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, Najib was the head of the Political Security Directorate (PSD) for Dar'a Province during March 2011, when protesters were killed there by Syrian security forces.

· Ali Mamluk: director of Syria's General Intelligence Directorate (GID).

· Syrian General Intelligence Directorate (GID): The overarching civilian intelligence service in Syria. The GID represses internal dissent and monitors individual citizens, and has been involved in the Syrian regime's actions in Dar'a where protesters were killed by Syrian security services.

· Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF): Iran is providing material support to the Syrian government related to cracking down on unrest in Syria. The conduit for this Iranian material support to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate is the IRGC-QF. Despite the Government of Iran's public rhetoric claiming revolutionary solidarity with people throughout the region, Iran's actions in support of the Syrian regime place it in stark opposition to the will of the Syrian people. The IRGC-QF is a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is considered the military vanguard of Iran. The IRGC-QF was designated by the Treasury Department in October 2007 for providing material support to terrorist groups around the world, including the Taliban, Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

As a result of this action, any property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the individuals listed in the Annex have an interest is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

Grading Reform (in Syria) and Engagement (with China)

For years, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has been lauded internationally as a "reformer."

So how are his "reforms" coming along?

From the AP:

Falling back on the tactics that have kept his family in power for more than 40 years, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad is gambling that fear — not reform — will break the popular revolt against his autocratic rule.

Al Assad's initial reaction to the uprising that began last month was to couple dry promises of reform with force to quell the discontent and keep his grip on power.

But when protests only grew, he turned to his overwhelming military power, intimidation, and terror — methods perfected by his late father, Hafez, who crushed an uprising in 1982 by shelling the town of Hama. Amnesty International has claimed that 10,000-25,000 were killed, though conflicting figures exist and the Syrian government has made no official estimate.

Meanwhile, China has been praised as a model for engagement (or "business first") with dictators.

So how is engagement influencing its human rights behavior?

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Australia's human rights dialogue with China has achieved little, with Chinese officials laughing off Australian concerns and exhaustively questioning Australia's own human rights performance, according to confidential US diplomatic cables [...]

Australian diplomats said the Chinese employed two tactics: ''First, [Assistant Foreign Minister] He and other Chinese officials would employ the 'You-don't-understand-China' laugh and dismiss Australian information as inaccurate. Second, the Chinese delegation would frequently try to run down the clock with long monologues.''

As a matter of fact, China's regime is currently undertaking one of its harshest crackdown on dissent since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

This has led The Economist to begrudgingly conclude:

"In the short term at least, these troubling developments undermine the comforting idea that economic openness necessarily leads to the political sort."

Final Grade: F on both fronts.

UPDATE
from today's New York Times:

U.S. Envoy Sees ‘Backsliding’ of Human Rights in China

The chief United States representative to human rights discussions with China offered a cheerless portrait of those talks after their conclusion on Thursday, saying the United States was worried by “a serious backsliding” of freedoms in China and at loggerheads with Beijing officials over many aspects of the issue.

The Masters of Hostage Taking

Thursday, April 28, 2011
This week, a Paraguayan businessman who was kidnapped by a guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP, in Spanish), held hostage for 94-days and released pursuant to his family paying a ransom, declared to prosecutors how the EPP revealed their ties with Cuba and Venezuela.

According to the newspaper ABC Digital, the guerrilla leaders bragged about their experiences in Cuba and how they currently purchase weapons in Venezuela.

Predictably, they praised Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez as their role models. 

For Castro and Chavez are -- after all -- the masters of hostage taking.

More Democracy Activists Arrested

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has tweeted that pro-democracy leader Dr. Darsi Ferrer, along with activists, Yusnaivi Jorge, Joaquin Sardi, Juan Mario Rodriguez and Ricardo Aguilar have been arrested this morning by Castro's political police.

Their "crime":  Peacefully demonstrating with signs calling for basic human rights.

Meanwhile, earlier in the week, the current head of the pro-democracy group "November 30th Democratic Party,"  Alfredo Fernandez Silva was also kidnapped by the Castro regime's agents.

The group's leader, Rafael Ibarra Roque, is serving a 17-year prison term for his opposition activities.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

No More Petro-Dictators

A Congressional Dear Colleague sent by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) regarding H.R. 372

Stop the Castro Regime's Drilling

This year, the Castro regime in Havana plans to begin drilling for oil 50 miles off the coast of Florida. I have introduced legislation aimed at blocking Cuba from doing this.

Cuba is working with Repsol on this project. The rig that Repsol will use for this project is being built by the Chinese. Any spills would only take three days to reach the U.S. coast, and Cuba has neither the resources nor the technology to handle a spill. Worse, the United States would bear the brunt of the environmental and economic devastation of such a spill, while receiving no financial benefit from the oil drilling whatsoever.

To prevent the Castro regime from drilling, my bill would give the Department of the Interior the authority to deny drilling permits to companies that do business with countries that the U.S. currently has sanctions or an embargo against. Repsol has previously backed off projects with Iran when faced with similar pressure.

We need to apply similar pressure again in order to get Repsol to back-off this project with the Castro regime.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This legislation, or other similar legislation, would severely impact Repsol's lucrative investments in the U.S. Gulf states and Alaska.

Jeb Talks Cuba Policy on Canadian TV

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush discusses Cuba policy on Canada's Sun News Network.

Click here to watch the interview.

More and More Militarization

From All Things Digital's interview with Cuban blogger Claudia Cadelo:

"It's a fact: This island is governed by madmen," [Cadelo] wrote in reference to the country's effective shutdown to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs. "We Cubans say we are paranoid, and, honestly, if we weren't we'd be really sick, because there is nothing more chilling than to stand on the balcony and see a squad of soldiers screaming obscenities and stomping the ground."

Meanwhile, author Alvaro Vargas Llosa observes in Canada's Globe and Mail:

The Castro brothers, ever the cunning tacticians, are ready to make concessions in many areas. But not on the definitive issue: the monopoly of power. One need only look at the Politburo to see that Cuba is not an ideological dictatorship, but a military one. Raul Castro, who now succeeds his brother as first secretary, has traditionally been the chief of the armed forces. The small clique of old-guard members who have been "elected" to the Politburo have proved their loyalty during decades of collaboration with him in the military.

And finally, Cuban punk rockers Porno Para Ricardo take a jab at Castro's military in their latest video (below), "La Hoz de Guadana."

The chorus is a popular (jovial) chant used by conscripts:

Un, dos, tres, cuatro.
Comiendo mierda y rompiendo zapatos.

One, two, three, four.
Eating shit and breaking my shoes.

(It rhymes in Spanish).

From Slavery to Feudalism

For the last five decades, the Cuban people have been the legal property of the State -- which they are forced to obey.

That's the definition of slavery.

Last week, the Castro regime concluded its VI Cuban Communist Party Congress (CCP).

Pursuant to the CCP (and Raul's "reforms"), the regime will now allow a very small and select number of Cubans to lease some nominal autonomy from the State (in the form of self-employment licenses).

At best, these "reforms" are akin to medieval feudalism, whereby the lord (Castro brothers) holds all land in fief or fee, in exchange for homage and services by the vassals (the Cuban people).

Thus, for 98% of the Cuban people, nothing has changed. Meanwhile, the 2% with nominal autonomy appear to be "progressing" from slavery to feudalism.

Such "progress" might be appropriate for the Dark Ages -- but not in the 21st century.

That's why it's so insulting when media outlets and "experts" laud such degrading "reforms."

As the Corpus Juris Civilis -- the body of law discarded throughout the Dark Ages, but whose re-emergence led to the Enlightenment, the end of feudalism and remains one of the founding documents of western legal tradition -- reads:

Libertas inaestimabilis res est.

That means -- Liberty is an inestimable (beyond all price) good.

Reform #1: Spend More on Parades

The Castro regime has announced another expensive parade -- despite the island's economic woes -- for May 1st ("International Worker's Day").

The theme of the parade -- just two weeks after its April 17th military parade -- will be "to endorse Raul's reforms."

It seems Reform #1 is to cut meager food subsidies from the Cuban people, in order to spend more on expensive political parades.

After all, Raul now claims to believe that 2+2=4.

Jesting aside, the regime is obviously concerned about the negative response it has gotten (even from its usual apologists) pursuant to the farcical VI Communist Party Congress.

Thus, another propaganda parade.

But as The Economist pointedly notes:

[T]here is little doubt that many of the public displays of adulation are manufactured. Those who took part in a march on April 16th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs episode were bussed in. Several admitted that their boss or university professor had ordered them to attend. Many shops in Havana display hand-written signs expressing support for the party congress; scribbled in biro and hastily put up, they look like something done more out of duty than passion. The online comments posted beneath Raúl Castro's speech to the party congress are similarly monotone. (Sample remark: "100 points with stars for Raúl. I expected nothing less.")

Cartoon of the Week

Tuesday, April 26, 2011
From Slate:

To The Point

From NPR's To The Point:

Cuba: A Country for Old Men

Like other dictatorships, the leaders of Cuba face a new generation impatient for less repression and economic freedom. But computers, cell phones, Facebook and Twitter are in short supply in Cuba, as is information about what's happening elsewhere in the world. In 2008, Raul Castro took the Presidency of Cuba from his ailing brother, Fidel. Prior to last week's first Communist Party Central Committee meeting in 14 years, Raul promised economic reforms and what he called "systematic rejuvenation" of Party leadership. But Fidel Castro's chosen successors are as old as he is. What do they mean by economic "modernization?" Is democracy on their radar screen? What's President Obama's view of the US embargo?

Guests:

Ann Louise Bardach: 'Without Fidel'
Mauricio Claver-Carone: Cuba Democracy Advocates
Ted Piccone: Brookings Institution
David Wallechinsky: AllGov.com

Click here (or below) to listen to the discussion-debate:

Where's the "Change"?

Monday, April 25, 2011
An editorial from the Voice of America:
 
Change Still Slow In Cuba

There was no sign of the generational transformation in leadership that many Cubans have hoped for.

Political control remains in the hands of the close circle of Castro allies who have ruled Cuba for 52 years.

For the first time in 14 years, Cuba's ruling Communist Party held a party congress recently to revamp its leadership and endorse new government policies announced since Raul Castro became president in 2008. As evidenced by the long gap between the two party conclaves, change comes slowly in the island nation.

While there was turnover in about half of the members of the Politburo and broader Central Committee, there was no sign of the generational transformation in leadership that many Cubans have hoped for. Political control remains in the hands of the close circle of Castro allies who have ruled Cuba for 52 years, and several are senior members of the army and navy who served with Raul Castro when he was the long-time minister of defense.

Some changes are purported to come at a party conference to be held in January, when the party will review a proposal by the president to impose term limits on all Party, and perhaps government, positions.

Term limits are potentially an important step in the right direction, but this alone will not guarantee that the Cuban people would be able to democratically determine their economic and political future. Many more reforms are needed, and the U.S. is committed to advancing policies that promote such democratic change, while engaging the Cuban government on these and other important issues.

Dr. Biscet on Sanctions

An excerpt from Jay Nordlinger's interview with Cuban pro-democracy leader Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet in the National Review:

It is natural to ask Biscet what he thinks of a contentious issue in the United States: the longstanding sanctions on the Cuban regime, known collectively as "the embargo." He says, "The embargo has helped the Cuban people both politically and morally." He wishes that all "free and civilized countries would boycott Cuba, the way they did racist South Africa." The world made South Africa a pariah state. The American embargo should be lifted, says Biscet, "when the embargo against the Cuban people's human rights," imposed by the dictatorship, "is lifted." He believes that "civilized countries" have given the dictatorship "life" and "oxygen" for the past 20 years — in other words, since the collapse of the Soviet Union. When he says "civilized countries," does he mean Western Europe, which has supplied much cash to Havana? "I mean civilized countries in Europe, Latin America, and North America" (which is to say, Canada and Mexico).

The Washington Post: Raul's All Talk

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Raul Castro's same old Cuba

IT HAS NOW been five years since Raul Castro assumed control of the Cuban regime from his ailing older brother, Fidel. In that time, the younger Mr. Castro — an accurate, if strange, description for a man who will turn 80 in June — has repeatedly reflected on the economic failings of the Cuban Revolution and promised to correct them. Over the past year, in fact, Raul Castro has sounded almost apocalyptic.

"Either we change course, or we sink," he declared in December. "We have the basic duty to correct the mistakes we have made over the course of five decades of building socialism in Cuba." Such rhetoric raised expectations that Raul would at last bring the free enterprise and political opening that Cuba so desperately needs.

But Cuba's Communist Party congress last week, the first such meeting since 1997 and the first ever under Raul's direction, confirmed that talk of reform in Cuba is mostly just that. Instead of liberating the economy, Raul sketched a program of limited privatization that could take "at least" five years to phase in. The most dramatic measure would authorize Cubans to buy and sell houses and cars for the first time since 1959, but Raul provided few details, except to assure Cubans that no one would be allowed to accumulate too much property. The plan calls for more licenses for small service businesses — a measure partly aimed at converting black market enterprises into taxable ones.

Even more disappointing was the lack of political reform — or even a shake-up of the Communist hierarchy. Yes, Raul suggested choosing more non-Communists for government posts, but he offered no plan for elections or actual party competition. Instead, Raul promoted Jose Roman Machado Ventura, a longtime crony and fellow octogenarian, to the No. 2 spot in what is still the "vanguard" Communist party. Nor was there any indication that Cuba plans a conciliatory gesture toward the Obama administration, such as the release of Alan Gross, the 61-year-old U.S. aid worker recently sentenced to 15 years on trumped-up subversion charges.

The Cuban "revolution" has devolved into a confused gerontocracy. Raul ostensibly recognizes that the "mistakes" of the past half-century have left the country nearly bankrupt; yet this clashes with his "firm conviction and commitment of honor that the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party has as his main mission and meaning of his life: to defend, preserve and continue perfecting Socialism, and never allow the capitalist regime to return," as the Cuban state media put it. This is a contradiction that his bid to "update" the Cuban model cannot square — any more than the previous reform campaigns that litter the revolution's history could.

Raul Castro's speeches at the congress were full of the usual attacks on slothful Cuban workers, inefficient party cadre and perfidious U.S. imperalism. But the truth is that Cuba's problems are mostly of the Castro brothers' own making. They may never end until the Castros' regime does.

An Easter Reminder

Sunday, April 24, 2011
No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.

-- William Penn, English Quaker leader and founder of Pennsylvania, an early champion of democracy and religious freedom, 1644-1718

Another Tyrant Bites the Dust

From The Hill:

President of Yemen offers to resign in exchange for immunity

President Ali Abdullash Saleh has agreed to end his 32-year reign as ruled of Yemen after months of political protests in the Arab nation in return for immunity from prosecution for him and his family.

According to reports Saleh accepted a deal brokered by the leaders of neighboring Persian Gulf nations with the opposition, with Saleh scheduled to hand over power to his vice president after 30 days. After one week a transitional government will be formed to hold elections two months later.