More "Reform" You Can't Believe In

Friday, May 13, 2011
Over a dozen pro-democracy activists were arrested yesterday, as they tried to hold a peaceful vigil in memory of deceased political prisoners Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Juan Wilfredo Soto.

Amongst those arrested were Heriberto Liranza Romero, Yunier and Pedro Arena, Carlos Alexander Borrego, Julio César Peña, Sergio García, Inés Antonia Quesada and Leyvis Quesada.

Also arrested (again) was pro-democracy leader Angel Moya (below), one of the 11 political prisoners released on the island in the last year.

Moya was handcuffed, beaten and placed upside down -- with his head on the floor of the police car -- while the authorities tried to asphyxiate him with a pillow.

Kudos to President Obama for seeing through the charade of Raul Castro's so-called "reforms."

Gerontocracy Equals Oppression

As the Castro regime moves to further concentrate power amongst its octogenarians, it's important to note the correlation between age of leadership and type of governance:

The older the regime, the less democratic.

From Zimbabwean columnist Conway Tutani in Newsday:

A gerontocracy is a society which is dominated by elders. In a gerontocracy, people who are substantially older than the bulk of the population hold most of the political power, and they tend to dominate companies, institutions, and organisations as well.

Gerontocratic leadership was common in communist states in which the length of one’s service to the party was held to be the main qualification for leadership. In the time of the “Eight Immortals of Communist Party of China”, it was quipped: “The 80-year-olds are calling meetings of 70-year-olds to decide which 60-year-olds should retire.” For instance, party leader Mao Zedong was 82 when he died in 1976, while his successor Deng Xiaoping retained powerful influence until he was nearly 90. Other gerontocrats have included Albanian leader Enver Hoxha, who was 76 at death, East Germany’s Erich Honecker, who was 77 when forced out, North Korea’s Kim Il-sung, who was 82 at death, and Romania’s Nicolae Ceauşescu, who was 70 when executed.

One of the issues with a gerontocracy, aside from an unfair balance of power, is that older leaders tend to become very set in their way, and fixated on specific ways of doing and thinking about things, according to Wikipedia. As a result, they are slow to act in response to emerging social trends and global issues. It can also ultimately cause problems, as leaders become inflexible and unwilling to consider the weaknesses of their nations. One oft-cited cause of the “Jasmine Revolution” in the Arab world is the age difference between youthful populations and “grizzled” leaders. Egypt’s average age is 24. President Hosni Mubarak was the fifth-oldest leader in the world before he was toppled aged 82. Such a wide gap is more common in autocracies like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria and North Korea.

Democracies, by contrast, seem to prefer more youthful leaders these days. So there is a correlation between the age of leadership and type of governance – whether democratic or oppressive.

Bipartisan Speeches on Dissident's Death

From U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ):

From U.S. Rep. David Rivera (R-FL):

Obama: Castro's "Reforms" Aren't Realistic

From Poder 360:

Obama says Cuba has to do more

President Obama was interviewed by Univision this week and addressed the issue of reforms in Cuba

Univision asked President Obama about Cuba's recent announcement of reforms and whether he believes that changes are happening in Cuba?

Here's his answer:

"We haven't seen those changes in a realistic way yet. I mean we've heard some talk but the bottom line is political prisoners are still there who should have been released a long time ago who never should have been arrested in the first place; political dissent is still not tolerated. The economic system there is still far too constrained. And so my hope is that Cuba starts moving into the 21st century. If you think about it, Castro came into power before I was born – he's still there and he basically has the same system when the rest of the world has recognized that the system doesn't work. Obviously everything we do as an administration is going to be focused on how do we deliver more prosperity and more liberty for the Cuban people. And I would welcome real change from the Cuban government but we haven't seen them deliver on that change yet."

Kerry Should Support "Regime Choice" for Cuba

Thursday, May 12, 2011
From The Huffington Post:

John Kerry Should Support "Regime Choice" for Cuba

by Mauricio Claver-Carone

The argument du jour for opponents of the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) programs to promote democracy in Cuba is that they violate the island's "sovereignty" by advocating "regime change."

The latest congressional manifestation of this opposition comes from U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who announced last week that he would unilaterally delay the Obama Administration's disbursement of $20 million appropriated by the U.S. Congress for FY 2010.

Never mind that these programs support the families of Cubans jailed for their support of democracy, their loved ones fired from their jobs and their children expelled from school. The programs also provide cell phones, laptops and other basic items that Cuba's bloggers need to break through the regime's censorship and information monopoly in their efforts to build a civil society; and that they provide books to independent libraries, paper and pencils to labor unions and journalists to allow them to exercise their fundamental human right of free expression.

For opponents of these democracy programs, that's all irrelevant. They want the programs scrapped altogether and replaced with ones pre-approved by Cuba's dictatorship.

According to Kerry, "there is no evidence... that the 'democracy promotion' (quotations are his) programs... are helping the Cuban people. Nor have they achieved much more than provoking the Cuban government to arrest a U.S. government contractor who was distributing satellite communication sets to Cuban contacts."

That U.S. government contractor is 62-year-old Alan Gross, who was helping Cuba's Jewish community connect to the Internet -- a fundamental right protected by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which 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.

Kerry also announced that he has requested an investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) "into the legal basis and effectiveness of these operations."

Yet these programs are clearly prescribed in the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD Act). So, is Senator Kerry really responding to complaints raised by the Castro regime? The regime has made it abundantly clear -- most recently to former President Jimmy Carter -- that it considers these programs to be a violation of Cuban "law" (its dictatorial decrees) and views them as a nuisance to its totalitarian rule.

It is hard to imagine that this is the same Senator Kerry who has been a steadfast advocate of "regime change" in Egypt and Libya, and the biggest cheerleader of the Obama Administration's military operation in support of Libya's rebels, which cost $100 million on the first day alone.

Why is Senator Kerry so hostile to the concept of "regime change" in Cuba, but not in North Africa and the Middle East? How can he support financing the violent overthrow of the Gaddafi regime by armed Libyan rebels, but not the distribution of laptops and books for Cuba's opposition movement, which only advocates a peaceful transition to democracy?

As the well-known Washington maxim goes -- "personnel is policy." And in the case of Senator Kerry, the answer can be found in his senior advisor for Latin America, Fulton Armstrong.

Armstrong is a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst with a known history of hindering the execution of U.S. policy towards Cuba. Together with his former colleague at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Belen Montes, Armstrong authored an oft-cited 1998 report that argued that Cuba no longer posed a security threat to the United States. Ironically, just three years later (in 2001), Montes was identified as a Cuban spy, arrested, convicted and is now serving life in a federal prison.

Armstrong's strong opposition to USAID's Cuba democracy programs is widely-known in the halls of Congress and the State Department to be based on his strong personal objection to the concept of "regime change."

Here's a permanent solution to this semantic disagreement:

Let's discard the concept of "regime change" and, instead, coalesce around a new option of "regime choice" for the Cuban people.

Regime choice encapsulates what is surely our shared goal for Cuba -- free and fair multi-party elections. And it is consistent with the LIBERTAD Act, which would consequently consummate (and expire) when Cuba holds free and fair elections.

Free and fair elections are also the only means for the Cuban people to legitimately vest "sovereignty" to Cuba's government; it cannot be inherited or seized by force -- it is only granted to governments by the free choice and will of its people.

So, let's move forward and work together to promote "regime choice" for the Cuban people.

Surely, Senator Kerry would agree.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and founding editor of in Washington, D.C. He is an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has served on the full-time faculty of The Catholic University of America's School of Law and adjunct faculty of The George Washington University's National Law Center.

Blow-by-Blows (Literally) Continue

One would think that last week's murder of Cuban dissident, Juan Wilfredo Soto, who was beaten-to-death by the Castro regime for staging a peaceful protest in a public park, would sober repression -- at least for the short-term.

To the contrary.

In Castro's Cuba, the death-by-beating of one dissident is followed by the brutal beating and arrest of more.

On Monday, 25 pro-democracy activists were beaten -- with rocks and batons -- and arrested in Guantanamo for staging a demonstration in support of Cuban political prisoner, Andy Frometa Cuenca.

Similarly, dozens of activist -- who were protesting the death of Juan Wilfredo Soto -- were arrested in the Villa Clara province.

Meanwhile, in Pinar del Rio, independent journalist, Juan Carlos Fernandez, was arrested and his home searched for over five hours. They confiscated his computer, printer, photo camera and various books and magazines.

He's being accused of "having bought two or three packets of printing paper, four year ago."

(Tragically, this is not a joke).

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Discriminating Against Cuba Programs

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
According to the Wall Street Journal:

Syria's leading activists are going deep into hiding following a relentless and brutal crackdown by the regime, at a time when protest leaders were expected to be emerging into public view, as they did at this stage in Tunisia and Egypt.

But while security forces have curbed the organizational capabilities of protesters against the 11-year rule of president Bashar al-Assad, it hasn't crushed dissent. Supported by Skype, the Internet and satellite phones smuggled into the country, many push forward, monitoring protests and sending out information.

Guess where most of the funding for these "smuggled" satellite phones comes from?

You guessed it.

So where are the investigative reports on the efficacy of Syria democracy programs?

Where are the cries that these violate Syrian law?

Where's the outrage that these programs are promoting "regime change"?

Where are the accusations that they are "covert"?

Where's U.S. Senator John Kerry's (D-MA) information hold on funding for these programs?

After all, advocates of normalizing relations with the Castro regime were incensed that American development worker Alan Gross -- who has been unjustly imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 -- was distributing satellite phone equipment to Cuba's Jewish community.

Are attacks on U.S. democracy programs discriminately focused on Cuba?

It sure seems like it.

Or maybe, the Castro regime just has some really good lobbyists.

Secretary Clinton Talks Cuba Policy

From U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks today at the 41st Washington Conference on the Americas:

Now, we're putting a particular focus on people-to-people connections in Cuba. From the very beginning, the Obama Administration believed that the best way to advance fundamental rights in Cuba – in fact, to advance them anywhere – is to support exchanges and constructive relationships. And there's no better ambassador for our values than a teacher or an artist or a student or a religious leader, a Cuban American who has made a new life in the United States. That's why we have eased our restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. We could do more if we saw evidence that there was an opportunity to do so coming from the Cuban side because we want to foster these deeper connections and we want to work for the time when Cuba will enjoy its own transition to democracy, when it can look at its neighbors throughout the hemisphere and the people in Cuba will feel that they, too, are having a chance to choose their leaders, choose their professions, create their businesses, and generally take advantage of what has been a tremendous, great sweep of progress everywhere but Cuba.

Senator Rubio Talks Cuba Policy

From The Washington Post's interview today with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL):

[Rubio] talks about Israel with emotional intensity and with the sort of clarity that has been utterly absent in this administration. The only subject on which is seems as passionate is Cuba. As an immigrant of Cubans fleeing oppression, he clearly has internalized a view of tyranny and a deep affection for dissidents living under totalitarian regimes. I ask him whether, in the wake of the conviction and imprisonment of American Alan Gross, the administration should rethink its decision to relax sanctions. He says bluntly, "We should never have authorized [relaxation of sanctions]." Dismissive of the administration's seeming lack of comprehension of the nature of the Castro regime, he says, "How many interactions with tyrants will it take?" He spells out what seemingly has eluded the State Department. "Alan Gross is a pawn. They'll release him to get public relations points," he explains, just as "they detain people for the purpose of deterring dissidents." He likewise finds it "an absurdity" to think Cuba is intent on real economic reform. A recent meeting of the Cuban Communist Party, he recalls, looked like something out of "Jurassic Park" — aging tyrants, uninterested and incapable of progress.

Valenzuela Meets Cardinal Ortega (Again)

Last week, Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega secretly traveled to Brussels to pitch the European Union to unilaterally end its Common Position towards the Castro regime, which conditions the normalization of relations to democratic reforms.

According to witnesses, Ortega sought to (shamelessly and selfishly) downplay the role of dissidents during his meetings.

(Yet, for some reason, Ortega found it necessary to "intervene" last year when dissidents cornered the regime pursuant to the tragic death of hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo).

Tragically, while Ortega was busy promoting himself in Brussels as the interlocutor of all things Cuba, the Castro regime was beating-to-death another dissident -- Juan Wilfredo Soto.

We are still awaiting the Catholic Church's reaction to Soto's murder.

Yesterday, Ortega began the second leg of his latest self-promotion tour with a visit to Washington, D.C. -- en route to Nebraska, where he will be speaking at Creighton University.

During his visit to Washington, Ortega met (yet again) with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela at the Vatican Embassy.

(Valenzuela announced that he would be stepping down this summer).

Guess what he pitched?

Who Are Castro's Lobbyists?

According to The Boston Globe:

A Cambridge consulting firm's [The Monitor Group] controversial bid to bolster the image of Moammar Ghadafi and Libya should have been registered with the US government as a lobbying effort, an internal company investigation found [...]

Libya had hired the company, which was cofounded by Harvard professors, in 2006 to produce a strategy for economic reform. Such consulting work does not need to be registered with the federal government.

But at the same time, Libya gave the company $250,000 per month to launch a visitors program aimed at bringing influential "thought leaders" to Tripoli [...]

Internal company memos leaked by a Libyan opposition group in 2009 suggest those visits were mainly aimed at improving Libya's image in the West.

Sound familiar?

Please note that The Monitor Group was only discovered to be working for the Ghadafi regime thanks to documents leaked by Libyan rebels earlier this year.

Otherwise, their work-product would have continued to be (falsely) distributed as intellectual observations by non-partisan academics and "experts."

The Hill elaborates:

As part of its PR campaign, Monitor [Group] also worked to "provide operational support for publication of positive articles on Libya" in several media outlets, such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Sound familiar also?

It makes you wonder about many of the organizations, consultants and "think-tanks" that constantly advocate for unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime and that seek to bolster its image in the U.S.

Despite their clear legislative agenda, not one of them is legally registered to lobby.

As in the case of Libya -- time will surely tell.

Amnesty International on Dissident's Death

Tuesday, May 10, 2011
From Amnesty International:

Cuba must investigate beating and death of dissident

Soto's death takes place amid increasing reports of police beatings of dissidents

Cuba must immediately open an independent and impartial investigation into the death of a dissident that followed a public police beating, Amnesty International said today.

Former political prisoner Juan Wilfredo Soto died in hospital on Sunday in the Cuban city of Santa Clara, three days after he reported being beaten following his arrest by police officers in a park.

"The Cuban authorities need to immediately establish an independent inquiry into the causes of Juan Wilfredo Soto's death. If he ultimately died as a result of a police beating in Park Vidal, those responsible must face justice," said Javier Zuñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

The Cuban government has strongly denied its security forces played any role in Soto's death. Hospital sources have reportedly stated he died from "acute pancreatitis", a condition which can be triggered by abdominal trauma among other things.

Soto belonged to Foro Antitotalitario Unido, an organization led by prominent dissident Guillermo Fariñas, serving as the Secretary for Political Prisoners in Santa Clara. He had previously been imprisoned for 12 years for his dissenting activities.

According to Fariñas, on 5 May at around 9am, two national police officers approached Soto in Park Vidal, asked him for his ID and then asked him to leave the park. He refused to comply and protested verbally against the expulsion. He was allegedly cuffed with his hands behind his back, then beaten with batons because he continued to protest his arrest.

Soto was detained at a police station, then hospitalised that day. He was released from hospital the same afternoon only to return a day later to the intensive care unit, complaining of severe back pain. He died at the hospital on the night of Saturday to Sunday.

A local source told Amnesty International that he bumped into Soto as he was going to the hospital on 5 May. According to the source, upon meeting him, Soto said "I just got a beating in the park with batons and I've got a very sore back. These people killed me."
Soto's pre-existing medical conditions included gout, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

"There are too many unanswered questions. There needs to be a thorough investigation of what happened to Juan Wilfredo Soto in the park, at the police station, and at the hospital," said Javier Zuñiga.

"We are particularly concerned by this case because it takes place against a backdrop of ongoing harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest of dissidents over the past few months, and increasing reports of beatings of dissidents by police."

The Cuban authorities are continuing to stifle freedom of expression on the island in spite of a much-publicised recent wave of releases of prominent dissidents.

Soto engaged in street trading in and around the park Vidal, because his political activism had resulted in him losing his job as a construction worker according to Guillermo Fariñas. It is unclear whether the police officers initially asked him to leave the park because of his activism or his trading activities.

The Devil's Stuck in Raul's Details

For (at least) the fourth time in the past year alone, the media has recycled the same news story about Raul Castro's supposed (and eternally upcoming) "reforms."

First, when the VI Communist Party Congress was announced in April 2008 (and postponed for two-years).

Then, during the Seminar on Project of Guidelines for Economic and Social Policies in November 2010 (when the VI Party Congress was re-announced).

Then, during the National Assembly meeting in December 2010.

Then, during the VI Party Congress in April 2011.

And again yesterday, when the Guidelines were published and (literally) sold by the regime.

So are Raul's "reforms" finally being enacted?


Now we have to wait until December 2011, when the National Assembly meets again.

Then, for the Conference of Cuba's Communist Party in January 2012.

And then, Lord knows what.

At this rate, Raul will turn 91-years old and his supposed 10-year term limit will be up.

Here are yesterday's (almost comical) stories by Reuters and AP -- please focus on the bolded words.

It is evidently clear that the devil is permanently stuck in the Castros' details, for despite the "dog-and-pony" show -- it remains their totalitarian dictatorship.

From Reuters:

Cuba published on Monday economic reform guidelines approved by the ruling Communist Party that include proposals for the sale of homes and cars and possible changes to make it easier for Cubans to travel abroad.

But while the guidelines, endorsed last month by a party congress, were long on promises, they were short on details about when the proposals might become reality or what restrictions would accompany them.

From AP:

Cuba made official on Monday what had been rumored for weeks: It is legalizing the sale of real estate and cars and expanding the ranks of private cooperatives that could serve as engines for the sputtering economy, among other major changes.

The Communist Party's newly released economic guidelines also say the government will study the possibility of letting Cubans travel abroad as tourists, a long-time promise of Cuba's leaders that has yet to be fulfilled.

But the guidelines give few specifics, meaning islanders will have to wait to see the fine print when the strategy is eventually translated into law by Cuba's National Assembly [...]

The 313-point guidelines say the state ought to "establish the buying and selling of homes" for Cuban citizens. There is no mention of how the system will work, what restrictions will be imposed or what taxes might be levied -- all crucial to judging the scope of the changes.

Dissident's Death Must Not Go Unpunished

Monday, May 9, 2011
Cuban pro-democracy activist, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, who died Sunday morning as a result of a brutal beating by Castro's secret police, had ominously warned of threats against his physical safety for engaging in peaceful protests.

In an interview with Radio Marti (listen here or below) last year, Soto denounced the repeated threats he'd received from the Castro regime for his friendship and support of Cuban hunger striker Guillermo Farinas (recipient of the European Parliament's 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought).

He concluded the interview with this tragic premonition:

"I hold Cuban State Security, the government and the repressive police here in Santa Clara responsible for whatever happens to me in the future."

On Thursday of this week, Soto was arrested pursuant to demonstration in a public park and savagely beaten -- while handcuffed on the ground.

He died as a result.

The Castro regime is responsible for his death.

As Cuban pro-democracy leader Guillermo Farinas told the AFP:

"If we do not do something, so that the government changes its stand toward peaceful protestors, we are going to be reporting even more deaths."

For the sake of Cuba's courageous pro-democracy activists -- Soto's death must not go unpunished. 

Another Dissident Murdered

Sunday, May 8, 2011
From AP:

Cuban dissident Juan Wilfredo Soto dies after beating

A Cuban dissident died Sunday following a run-in with authorities at a protest, said fellow government opponents who accused police of beating him and provoking his death.

Juan Wilfredo Soto died early in the morning in the central city of Santa Clara, fellow dissident Guillermo Farinas told The Associated Press in an interview by telephone from a funeral home where he said family members were gathered.

Farinas said Soto was detained and beaten Thursday during an anti-government protest.

On This Mother's Day

We honor all of the courageous and selfless mothers that have made the ultimate sacrifice -- and suffered the unimaginable -- for the cause of freedom and democracy.