Harvard Professor Unfazed by Tyrants

Saturday, May 7, 2011
Harvard University Professor Jorge Dominguez has described Cuban dictator Raul Castro as "a very practical man... a problem solver."

It's mind-boggling how anyone could label General Raul Castro -- the head of Cuba's repressive military apparatus for the last 52 years (and domestic secret police since his purging of the Ministry of the Interior in 1989) -- as "practical."

Perhaps "problem-solver" is more fitting -- but his methods for solving problems are far from "practical." To the contrary, they have been ruthless and reprehensible.

But that doesn't stop Dominguez -- a frequent and unfettered visitor to Havana -- from heralding the farce of Raul Castro as a "reformer."

Yet, to his credit (and detriment), it seems Dominguez is at least consistent -- or maybe his years of "experience" with the Castro brothers have desensitized him towards the brutality of tyrants.

(In non-intellectual speak, that means he drank the "kool-aid.")

Last month, Dominguez traveled to Damascus, Syria to deliver the keynote address for the Harvard Arab Alumni Association's event "under the esteemed patronage of Her Excellency Mrs. Asma al-Assad, The First Lady of Syria."

The event's invitation elaborates:

"In her role as Syria's first lady, Her Excellency Asma al-Assad applies her experience, energy and influence to her country's social and cultural development. Her role reflects the significant economic, political and social change that is happening in Syria today. Asma al-Assad's work supports that of President Bashar al-Assad by fostering the emergence of a robust, independent and self-sustaining civil society."

Isn't that nice?  Another tyrant posing as a "reformer."

Of course, the reality is completely different.

While Dominguez celebrated with Mrs. al-Assad, her husband was busy beating, arresting and murdering thousands of democratic activists throughout Syria.

But hey -- why stop the party (or the "intellectual" narrative).

So Much For Reform

Friday, May 6, 2011
From the Financial Times Editorial Board:

Going from talk to action on Syria

The ferocity of President Bashar al-Assad's assault on the Syrian people means that no one can any longer cling to outdated hopes that he may bring reform to his country. As European leaders belatedly recognise the true nature of Mr Assad's regime, their hand-wringing is finally being replaced by a welcome clenching of fists.

Recent moves towards sanctions on Syria and its leaders may align Europe more closely with the US, which has long taken a tougher stance. The rhetoric of the foreign ministers of the UK, France and Italy has been shifting from calls for dialogue and condemnations of violence to signs of robust action.

For too long, many European leaders saw Mr Assad as a reformist. This vain hope justified pursuing strategic interests without worrying too much about his regime's murderous conduct. It persisted after Mr Assad aborted a thaw in which reformist thoughts were ephemerally allowed to flower. It survived the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, which a UN investigation has linked to the Syrian security apparatus and Mr Assad's family.

It is clear that outsiders cannot hope to influence developments inside Syria militarily in the way they are trying in Libya. But that is no reason to keep the kid gloves on. Tougher sanctions are overdue: since the Assad dictatorship is a commercial enterprise as much as a political one, the international community has ways to make the Assads pay a steep price for holding on to power through murder.

Countries that do not yet impose them should without delay place travel and financial sanctions on the individuals who hold the levers of power in Syria and their main beneficiaries. Those with sanctions in place should toughen them. The US has shown through its sanctions against Iran that it is possible effectively to freeze targets out of the international financial system. The UK and other hosts of major financial centres have a special responsibility in this regard.

The Assads may not be moved by sanctions. Yet even they rely on the support of henchmen. A referral to the International Criminal Court may strain such support, as may charges soon expected from the UN tribunal in the Hariri case.

Western countries responded slowly to the Arab spring. They turned their backs on Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak just in time for his ousting by a popular revolt. They are catching up by calling for Muammer Gaddafi, Libya's leader, and Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president, to resign. It is time to add Mr Assad's name to the list.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011.

Eva Mendes Beats Up Fidel Castro

Don't miss this video from George Lopez Tonight:

Why Castro Thinks Killing Bin Laden Was "Abhorrent"

For most of the world, this week's killing of Osama bin Laden has provided justice, relief and reflection.

For Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, it has been an "abhorrent assassination."

Why?

Most Americans are probably unaware that the scope and ruthlessness of bin Laden's New York terrorism was preceded by another tyrant (that ironically still lives) -- you guessed it, Fidel Castro.

Please read the account (below) of Castro's failed 1962 plot to place bombs and kill innocent civilians throughout Manhattan.

Upon this plot being intercepted by the FBI, Castro shifted his murderous activities to countries in Africa and Latin America. Similarly, after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, bin Laden shifted his focus to Kenya, Tanzania and Yemen.

And throughout the entire time, Castro murdered and repressed his fellow Cubans -- while bin Laden murdered and repressed his fellow Muslims.

The only difference is that bin Laden tragically succeeded in executing a major terrorist attack in New York and Washington.

Yet, if bin Laden would have failed (like Castro), would the U.S. have forgiven and forgotten his multiple other crimes and terrorist activities?

Hardly.

That's why Fidel Castro finds the killing of bin Laden to be "abhorrent" -- for decades ago, it could have been him.

For those that seek unconditional engagement and reconciliation with the Castro regime in its waning days -- it's something to ponder.

Here's an account of the 1962 plot (H/T Penultimos Dias):

On October 3, 1962, a few days before the onset of the crisis, Castro sent one of his trusted men to New York on a key mission. The man chosen for the job was Roberto Santiesteban Casanova, who had just been appointed to a minor post at the Cuban mission to the United Nations. His diplomatic passport identified him as an "attaché" to the Cuban mission. Santiesteban's professional field, however, was not diplomacy. Quite the contrary, he was an expert in terrorist techniques, just graduated from a highly secret school of terrorism and subversion, not far from Havana.

As soon as Santiesteban arrived in New York, he contacted the rest of his team, including José Gómez Abad and his wife Elsa, both attachés at the Cuban mission, and José García Orellana, a Cuban immigrant who ran a costume jewelry shop in Manhattan. FBI estimates of how many others were involved in the plot range from twenty-five to fifty people. The secret mission of the terrorist team was to accomplish Castro's orders to blow up a big portion of Manhattan, including the Statue of Liberty, Macy's department store, several subway stations, the 42nd street bus terminal and Grand Central station, as well as several refineries along the New Jersey shore, including the Humble Oil and Refining Company in Linden. To this effect they stored a huge cache of explosives at Garcia's shop.

But the saboteurs' plan was too ambitious and included too many people, and soon the FBI got word of it and detained the main conspirators. Had their plan worked out the way it had been conceived, it would undoubtedly have ignited American public opinion and prompted retaliation against Cuba. Had it occurred during the tense days of the crisis it may have been taken for a Russian preemptive attack on the United States and may have triggered a spasm-like retaliatory strike on the Soviet Union, with unpredictable consequences.

So Much for Academic Travel

Thursday, May 5, 2011
An American Professor, Ted Henken of Baruch College (CUNY), has been interrogated and banned from Cuba by the Castro regime pursuant to his latest trip (last week).

The reason?  He interviewed bloggers (of all ideologies) and micro-entrepreneurs (self-employment licensees).

Here's Henken's own account of the events that transpired (in Spanish) and a news account (in English).

While we disagree with some of Henken's policy views, his most recent experience on the island is noteworthy -- particularly this paragraph, in which he was scolded by the Castro regime's interrogators:

"Like in any country in the world, you need permission to do these things and you can't do them with a tourist visa.  If you are a tourist, you should be on the beach having mojitos, not visiting paladares and counter-revolutionaries and taking pictures.  Moreover, those are not entrepreneurs, as you say, they are small family businesses."

In other words, only naive, cash-carrying tourists need apply -- which is exactly what the Castro regime wants and (tragically) some lobby Congress to provide it.

Sanctions Have Limited Castro's Arsenal

If the U.S. unconditionally lifted sanctions towards Cuba -- what would the Castro regime do with the billions in tourism, trade and financing it would receive?

According to Russian experts -- it would purchase arms and modernize its military arsenal.

Polina Temerina of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies says the Castro regime has been "very interested" in updating its weaponry, which dates back to the former Soviet Union (and its billionaire subsidies), but it has lacked the money to do so.

"On more than one occasion, Cuba has solicited Russian help in modernizing its arsenals. However, the problem continues to its scarce financial resources," she told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.

Food for thought for those ingenious advocates of lifting sanctions.

Protestant Pastors Detained in Cuba

Wednesday, May 4, 2011
From Christian Today:

Protestant pastors detained and interrogated in Cuba

Three protestant pastors were detained and questioned by Cuban security agents in Camaguey over the past weekend. The pastors are all affiliated with the Apostolic Movement, a network of churches that has come under heavy pressure from the Cuban government over the past few years.

On Saturday 30 April, Pastors Benito Rodríguez y Bárbara Guzmán were picked up by a group of high ranking state security agents and communist party officials. The two were taken to the Palma Street Police Station in Camaguey where they were held for two hours. During their detention the two reported being interrogated and put under heavy pressure to cease holding church services in their home.

On Sunday 1 May, a church service officiated by the two pastors was interrupted by Ms Etael, the head of the Office of Religious Affairs in the Provincial Ministry of Justice. Etael, who was also present at the time of their detention, issued a summons to Pastors Rodríguez and Guzmán to present themselves and proof of their home ownership at the Ministry of Justice on May 6. Pastor Rodríguez, aged 45, has lived in the house for his entire life.

Following Etael's visit, Pastor Bernardo de Quesada Salomón was detained after leaving his house at around 12:45pm. He was taken to a provincial detention centre where he reported being subjected to heavy pressure and threats in an effort to push him to leave his pastoral work.

Pastor Omar Gude Perez, a leader in the Apostolic Movement who is currently serving a six-and-a-half year prison sentence under conditional liberty, told CSW that pressure on the network of churches has intensified. "This is just one of the many occasions on which they have been detained, fined, or threatened by the Castro regime which has not altered in the least its policy of denial of religious liberty to and aggression towards the Apostolic Movement," he said.

Pastor Gude Perez also noted that a number of pastors, including his wife Kenia Denis and Mario Alvarez, a church leader based in San Jose de las Lajas, had recently been denied permission to leave the country to attend religious conferences abroad. They believe that this is due to the fact that they continue to share information about religious liberty violations with international human rights groups and media.

Andrew Johnston, Advocacy Director at CSW, said, "We are deeply concerned at the arbitrary detention and intimidation of Pastors Rodríguez, Guzmán and de Quesada and the more generalized hostility toward churches affiliated with the Apostolic Movement on the part of the government. We call on the Cuban government to cease its harassment of these men and women and to allow these churches to register and operate freely."

In Fear of Yoani

The Quote of the Year is in bold (below).

Yoani Sánchez Awarded Freedom Prize, Cuba Forbids Her To Travel To Copenhagen

Copenhagen, Denmark – Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez was denied permission by the Cuban government to travel to Denmark and collect the CEPOS Freedom Award—a $50,000 prize that she was granted by the independent Danish think tank, CEPOS—at the official award ceremony tomorrow night in Copenhagen. Sánchez, author of the world-renowned blog Generación Y and a speaker at the 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum, was nominated for the award by Human Rights Foundation (HRF) president Thor Halvorssen, who will give the keynote speech at the ceremony in Copenhagen.

"The CEPOS Freedom Award is granted to individuals who demonstrate a principled and steadfast commitment to the values and ideas of individual freedom and basic human rights. Through her blog, which is available in 21 languages, Sánchez exposes the harsh reality of life for everyday Cubans," said Halvorssen.

Sánchez's outspoken criticism of the Cuban dictatorship earned her the 2008 Ortega y Gasset Prize for Journalism and the 2009 Maria Moors Cabot Prize. She was named one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2008, and was selected as a 2010 World Press Freedom Hero by the International Press Institute. On December 17, 2010, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands awarded Sánchez the Prince Claus Fund Award for her role as a "leading figure in the use of social networking technologies to breach imposed frontiers in Cuba." Sánchez was denied permission to be present at that ceremony.

"Cuba's totalitarian dictatorship—with its billions of dollars, guns, secret police, soldiers, tanks, planes, and network of horrible prisons—is so afraid of being exposed that it must keep Yoani Sánchez trapped in Cuba rather than allowing her to speak her mind abroad. All she has are a few books, a blog, and an indomitable will to write about her experience and clamor for her individual rights. Ultimately, her ideas will win," said Halvorssen.

HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. HRF's International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Václav Havel, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Castro Throws Another D.C. Party

Regular Cubans who dare visit the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana -- let alone the residence of the U.S. Chief of Mission -- are labeled by the Castro regime as "mercenaries."

They are subjected to endless harassment and even imprisonment (at the Castro regime's whim).

Yet, the Castros love to -- freely -- throw parties for their friends and allies in Washington, D.C.

The latest will be on the afternoon of Saturday, May 21st.

For this fête, the head of Castro's Interests Section in D.C., Jorge Bolaños Suarez, has sent invitations to Members of the U.S. Congress, their staffs and opinion makers to gather at his fancy home in the wealthy suburb of Bethesda.

The invitation (sent to CHC by an invitee) says it will be "a wonderful occasion to chat, dance or simply listen to Cuban music and taste the Cuban cuisine and drinks."

(Surely "drinks" won't include the coffee-and-peas blend that the regime announced yesterday for the Cuban people).

Moreover, any talk of beatings, torture, imprisonment and other forms of repression must be checked-in at the door -- let alone any talk of an American hostage given 15-years in prison for helping the Cuban people connect to the Internet.

So clearly -- despite the island's economic woes and Raul Castro's supposed fiscal "enlightenment" -- we learn Reform #2: Spend More on D.C. Parties. 

(Last week, we explored Reform #1: Spend More on Parades).

Obama on World Press Freedom Day

Tuesday, May 3, 2011
From The White House:

Statement by the President on World Press Freedom Day

On this World Press Freedom Day, the United States joins with people around the world in reaffirming the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association that provide the foundation for media to operate freely and keep citizens informed. We rededicate ourselves to the basic principle enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that every person has the right "to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." And we recognize the courageous journalists who work every day to give meaning to these rights, often at great risk to their lives, as we have seen most recently with the tragic deaths of journalists in Libya.

Governments have an obligation to protect these rights and freedoms. Yet this year alone, at least 16 journalists have already been killed and more than 145 remain imprisoned around the world, simply for daring to report the truth. Dozens of countries continue to stand in the way of a free press. This includes recent crackdowns on the independent press in Bahrain, threats against and arrests of domestic and foreign journalists in China, political persecution of independent journalists and bloggers in Iran, arrests and detention of international journalists in Syria, and the government takeover of independent media outlets in Venezuela. Countries such as Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan also continue to be notoriously repressive of press freedoms. Freedom of expression is also under attack through criminal violence and impunity in countries like Mexico, Honduras, and Russia.

As we witnessed in the historic events in Tunisia and Egypt, new media tools can also help empower citizens exercise their freedoms of speech and association, yet these same 21st century tools can be used to filter, block, and restrict free expression. That is why we must always stand up for the free flow of information around the world.

History shows that one of the ingredients of successful, prosperous, and stable societies is a free press where citizens can freely access information and hold their governments accountable. On this World Press Freedom Day, we recognize the vital role that journalists play in strengthening democratic governance around the world and we honor all those who have given their lives in courageous pursuit of the truth.

Comforting Guilty Consciences

Last week, we posted (within a broader context) how the sharp increase in repression by the Chinese regime over the last few months 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."

This is such a fascinating quote -- "the comforting idea."

Comforting for whom?

The "idea" that economic engagement (enriching dictators) can somehow lead to a greater respect for human rights and political reform may have been comforting for the guilty consciences of those who have profited from transacting business with brutal tyrants -- but it's surely not comforting for the countless number of Chinese democracy advocates (and their families) imprisoned, tortured and executed over the years.

Yet, sadly, some lobby for the U.S. to adopt this same model in regards to the Castro regime in Cuba.

Instead, why not stress the model that 34 out of 35 countries in this Western Hemisphere enjoy -- representative democracy (consistent with the Inter-American Democratic Charter).

It seems much more fitting -- not to mention humane.

Tools of Online Oppressors

Monday, May 2, 2011
A special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists looks at, "The 10 Tools of Online Oppressors."

It explains:

The world's worst online oppressors are using an array of tactics, some reflecting astonishing levels of sophistication, others reminiscent of old-school techniques. From China's high-level malware attacks to Syria's brute-force imprisonments, this may be only the dawn of online oppression.

So what's the "tool" favored by the Castro regime?

According to the report:

DENIAL OF ACCESS
Key country: Cuba

High-tech attacks against Internet journalists aren't needed if access barely exists. In Cuba, government policies have left domestic Internet infrastructure severely restricted. Only a small fraction of the population is permitted to use the Internet at home, with the vast majority required to use state-controlled access points with identity checks, heavy surveillance, and restrictions on access to non-Cuban sites. To post or read independent news, online journalists go to cybercafes and use official Internet accounts that are traded on the black market. Those who do get around the many obstacles face other problems. Prominent bloggers such as Yoani Sánchez have been smeared in a medium accessible by all Cubans: state-run television. Cuba and Venezuela recently announced the start of a new fiber-optic cable connection between the two countries that promises to increase Cuba's international connectivity. But it's unclear whether the general public will benefit from connectivity improvements any time soon.

The Timing of Bin Laden's Death

Excerpt from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks today:

History will record that bin Laden's death came at a time of great movements toward freedom and democracy, at a time when the people across the Middle East and North Africa are rejecting the extremist narratives and charting a path of peaceful progress based on universal rights and aspirations. There is no better rebuke to al-Qaida and its heinous ideology.

All over the world we will press forward, bolstering our partnerships, strengthening our networks, investing in a positive vision of peace and progress, and relentlessly pursuing the murderers who target innocent people. The fight continues, and we will never waver. Now I know there are some who doubted this day would ever come, who questioned our resolve and our reach. But let us remind ourselves, this is America. We rise to the challenge, we persevere, and we get the job done.

Nobody is Immortal

Excerpts from U.S. President Barack Obama's remarks last night:

Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children [...]

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body [...]

We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.

Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores [...]

And tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Stop Deluding Ourselves About China

Sunday, May 1, 2011
After nine years working with Chinese human rights activists, Kate Krauss of the AIDS Policy Project has come to the following important conclusion in The Washington Post:

Chinese leaders have been in power so long that we may forget that no one elected them. Their regime is no more legitimate than those of Libya or Yemen. If elections were held tomorrow, the leaders might all be swept away. But there are no elections on the horizon. For decades, the U.S. government has aided the regime by supporting China's economic aspirations, including permanent normalized trade relations, which have allowed it to reap huge profits — enriching the Central Committee and the unelected elite.

Many observers believe that China is becoming an economic powerhouse that has no intention of becoming a democracy. In 20 years, China may be emboldened even further to violently repress its own people.

Given this record, at what point do we stop seeing China as a flawed but dynamic nation on the road to democracy and start seeing the Chinese government as a violent, destabilizing, and autocratic regime on the order of, say, Iran?

Where do we, the American people, draw the line?

We have to stop deluding ourselves. China is governed by a violently repressive regime. And the United States, through its economic policies, is helping it stay that way.

Where Protest Signs Are a "Crime"

Last week, Cuban pro-democracy leaders Dr. Darsi Ferrer, Juan Mario Rodríguez, Yusnaimi Jorge, Ricardo Aguilar and Joaquín Sarduy were arrested for demonstrating with signs in front of the Castro regime's ice cream parlor, Coppelia.

(Absurdly enough, Castro expropriated all of the island's ice cream parlors in 1959 and replaced them with only one outlet, the regime-owned Coppelia).

The blog Penultimos Dias has obtained pictures (below) of the peaceful protest.

Their "crime" was carrying protest signs reading:

"We are hostages of the Castros"
"Our freedom is being stolen by the Cuban government"
"I'm a hostage of the MININT" (Castro's repressive Ministry of the Interior).

According to the protesters, as they were being violently apprehended, regular Cubans passing-by would yell insults at the Castro regime's police forces (in solidarity with the protesters).


Wave of Repression Sweeps Cuba

The Castro regime is obviously very afraid of Cuba's pro-democracy leaders -- or otherwise, it is just extraordinarily weak and insecure.

Either way, it doesn't bode well for the future of the dictatorship.

As the regime orders another compulsory (and expensive) parade today to display "support" for its farcical VI Party Congress -- it has undertaken a wave of repression against Cuban democracy activists.

In nearly simultaneous operations, the Castro regime:

- Arrested Sara Martha Fonseca (who was brutally beaten and arrested last week as well), hip-hop artist Rodolfo Ramírez Hernandez (know as "El Primario"), Ernesto Herrera Biel, Jorge Rodríguez Jiménez, Heriberto Liranza Romero and Odalis Sanabria.

- Arrested former Cuban political prisoner -- one of only 12 released in Cuba during the last two years -- Angel Moya, but only after dragging him through the streets and viciously kicking him in the head.

- Arrested and beat Heriberto Liranza Romero, head of Cuba's Youth for Democracy Movement.

- Militarized the town of Placetas (in the Villa Clara province) to prevent pro-democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" and his supporters from leaving their homes.

- Surrounded the homes of various leaders of the Ladies in White to restrict their weekly march.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Rock 'n' Roll is Freedom

Chances are every time you hear one of those classic rock anthems of the 1980's by Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot or Whitesnake -- it's Cuban-born Rudy Sarzo playing the bass guitar.

In a great interview with New Jersey's Star-Ledger, Sarzo explains how his background inspired his (now legendary) craft:

"People ask me why I don't play Latin music. To me, rock 'n' roll — people are born to play it. To me, it's music about longing for freedom; it's music about hope. You know, rock 'n' roll is outlawed in any communist country, any fascist country. It's the ultimate form of expression."