What is Courageous?

Saturday, May 28, 2011
Last week, Spain's Foreign Minister, Trinidad Jimenez, once again insisted that the European Union unilaterally lift its diplomatic sanctions against the Castro regime.

During a visit to Brazil, Jimenez not only reiterated Spain's plea to embrace Castro, but (absurdly) stated that Cuban dictator Raul Castro "has been courageous" in adopting certain economic "reforms."

Most observers (including President Obama) have seen right through Raul's farcical reforms.

But even if they were significant -- what is so "courageous" about it?

Courageous means not to be deterred by danger or pain.

Courageous are those Cubans that stand up -- at the risk of beatings, torture and imprisonment -- against the Castro regime's totalitarian control.

Courageous are the women that sustain physical violence and abuse from Castro's secret police for their peaceful pro-democracy activism.

Meanwhile, those that hide behind armed repressive forces to stay in power indefinitely -- and submit an entire population to misery due to their selfishness -- are nothing but ruthless cowards.

It's this type of twisted logic that showed Spain's socialist government the door during last week's local and regional elections -- and will do the same during next March's national elections.

The Latest Tyrant-Turned-"Reformer"

Friday, May 27, 2011
China wants North Korea's Kim Jong-Il to become the latest tyrant-turned-"reformer" -- in the same mold as Libya's Saif Gaddafi, Syria's Bashar al-Assad and, of course, Cuba's Raul Castro.

And just like his tyrannical brethren, Kim is not motivated by a voluntary zeal to provide greater freedoms, rights and opportunities to his people.

To the contrary -- what he seeks are distractions to navigate through North Korea's current economic crisis, so that he (and his family) can maintain their (brutal) dictatorial grip on power.

Just last year, South Korean newspapers wrote:

There has been a lot of activity in the border area between North Korea and China in early December that experts attribute to changes in China's Northeast Development Strategy and North Korea's economic reform. Furthermore, they suggest there have been signals that there will be an economic reform in North Korea that will be launched in earnest starting next year.

One expert in China who has had exchanges with high ranking North Korean officials for the past several years told a Hankyoreh reporter recently, "I have heard that North Korea will announce its plans for economic reform through the 2010 New Year's Joint Editorial." He added, "I have also heard that North Korea's leadership has decided to move up the schedule for economic reform after Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's visit last October."

He continued to say, "The price of goods doubled following the currency reform that happened Nov. 30, but North Korea's government is prepared to release stocked goods when it announces its economic reform." He added, "The economic reform will be North Korean in style, in that it will attempt to maintain an ability to control and lead the market economy."

Doesn't the last sentence sound familiar?

And yesterday, Reuters reported:

China seen nudging North Korea's Kim on economic reform

North Korea's secretive leader Kim Jong-il finished his latest visit to the Chinese capital on Thursday, embarking on the next and possibly last leg of a train journey that Beijing has used as a rolling tutorial in the virtues of economic reform.

Kim's visit to China in August left the "impression that the Chinese were trying to push harder on the North Koreans to move in the direction of undertaking certain kinds of economic reforms," said Scott Snyder, an Washington D.C.-based expert on North Korea at the Asia Foundation [...]

As Pyongyang's ties with South Korea and much of the outside world have soured, Kim has leaned more on ally Beijing for support, which has cost China both in economic aid and in strains with South Korea and other nations alarmed by North Korea's nuclear weapons development and military brinkmanship.

"The main factor is that North Korea, especially the leadership, is hungry for cash and China is the only viable source of cash," said Snyder.

Surely Kim will turn to Raul for advice on his public relations campaign.

New Bill to Deter Cuba Oil Drilling

From The Hill:

House Foreign Affairs chair floats bill to deter Cuban offshore drilling

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) floated legislation Friday aimed at deterring oil-and-gas development off the coast of Cuba.

The legislation, which Ros-Lehtinen introduced in the last Congress, comes as public officials are growing increasingly wary of Cuba's intentions to drill off of its coast, which is less than 100 miles away from the United States.

Spanish oil company Repsol is planning to drill off Cuba's coast, and others are hoping to follow suit. Repsol is set to bring an oil rig to Cuban waters later this year, according to Reuters.

Ros-Lehtinen's legislation, which is co-sponsored by two Democrats and five Republicans, makes it illegal for any U.S. citizen to assist the Cuban government in bolstering its offshore drilling industry. It would also deny U.S. visas to anybody who invests more than $1 million in Cuban offshore drilling.

"Desperate for new channels of funding, the Cuban tyranny will say and do anything to persuade others to invest in its oil sector in order to stay afloat," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement Friday. "It is in our national security interests to deter others from participating in these reckless schemes."

Incessant Activism (and Repression)

Yesterday, the Castro regime arrested 13 pro-democracy activists in the city of Santa Clara, as they held a peaceful march in honor of deceased political prisoners.

Amongst those arrested were Guillermo Farinas (recipient of the European Parliament's 2011 Sakharov Prize), Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (Antunez) and Librado Linares Garcia (one of the 11 political prisoners released within Cuba last year).

Meanwhile, in the town of Placetas, Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera (head of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement), was brutally beaten and arrested along with two other female activists.

Here's an eye-witness account from one of her colleagues, who was subsequently released:

"Yris was the subject of a brutal beating by a State Security official known as 'the weightlifter.' Her hands were numb, she was vomiting, had headaches, dizziness, she's epileptic, has diabetes and asthma. We don't know where they took her. We don't know if she died, or what conditions they left her in."

Perez Aguilera's whereabouts remain unknown.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Must-Read of the Week

In a great interview with BloombergCuban political prisoner Normando Hernandez Gonzalez discusses his banishment to Spain, his experiences in Castro's gulag and his message to President Obama:

Freed from one of Cuba's worst prisons, Kilo 7, after more than seven years, journalist Normando Hernandez Gonzalez arrived in Miami last week after a jarring 10 months at a shabby hostel in an industrial section of Madrid.

On Friday, I met with him at his mother's modest pink home in a section of this city unfrequented by the tanned, oiled and lubricated crowds of South Beach just a few miles away.

Yarai, his wife, and their 9-year-old daughter, Daniela, joined us as we spoke about the terrible last years, a conversation that continued at Bloomberg's offices downtown.

Anna Kushner, a former staff member at the PEN American Center who had been on the case from the beginning, served as interpreter.

Hernandez belonged to a group of Cuban dissidents released last July through the intercession of the Catholic Church and flown to Madrid.

Instead of freedom, he told me, they often found themselves treated contemptuously and sometimes cruelly.

"We had no status in Spain, ninguno," said Hernandez. "Once we arrived, we asked for political asylum. We got no response. By the time I left after 10 months, the Spanish government, in violation of its own law, had still not responded to my petition for political asylum."

Dire Health

Health care was almost as hard to come by as it had been in prison, despite the fact that many of the men arrived severely ill.

"I was in very critical condition," he said. "I weighed only 54 kilos (119 pounds). My body wasn't even able to process baby food. I was very weak and just overwhelmed by a crisis of diarrhea from chronic illness."

The men were among 75 arrested during the "Primavera Negra" ("Black Spring") crackdown of 2003. Hernandez -- a self-taught reporter who had founded a school for investigative journalism in the central island city of Camaguey -- was the youngest of the "criminals."

His crime? Weapons dealing of a sort.

The authorities found the "arms" in the home of the accused: "Folders. Pens. Typewriters. Computers. Magazines. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A fax machine," he remembers.

Bread Crumbs

When the judge at his star chamber trial asked the prosecutor what kind of journalism Hernandez practiced, he replied, "Well, he criticized the quality of bread." Which was true, Hernandez said. The state of bread, made in state-owned bakeries, in Cuba apparently is lousy.

"For telling the truth about the bread, I was sentenced to 25 years in prison, of which I served seven years and four months," Hernandez said.

Last July, it was enough to have been reunited with Daniela and Yarai. (Also exiled with them were an uncle and three cousins.) But the euphoria was short-lived.

"We lived in a permanent state of hopelessness," he said. "The Spanish government and the ones who were truly responsible for us acted in a way that seemed complicit with the Cuban government from the first moment that we arrived."

The examples Hernandez cited included terrible food that was prepared exactly as it had been in prison, the lack of medical treatment and poor housing offered the men and their families.

No Pass

Although they were free to move about the city, they were at the mercy of a capricious system, he said. He was told he could no longer renew his public transit pass, for example, which he used to take Daniela to school. No reason was given.

Why the men were poorly treated remains a puzzle. The official in charge of their case was Agustin Santos Maraver, director of the Cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. He did not respond to several requests for comment.

I first learned of his plight when the PEN American Center awarded Hernandez the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write prize in 2007, designed to spotlight some of the world's most endangered writers.

Did he ever think that he would die in jail?

"You think about everything when you're in prison," he said. "If there's a place to think about things, it's prison. Once, I had a high fever and was delirious and my throat was so dry. I just held out my hand hoping someone would give me some water, and when no one did, I thought, 'This is it, I'm not going to wake up tomorrow.'"

The next morning, when the medical chief of the district asked how he was doing, he replied: "I'm not as well as I'd like to be, but not as sick as you'd like me to be."

'Sick Romanticism'

Hernandez believes American lefties who continue to support the Castro revolution should get over their "sick romanticism." His message to President Barack Obama is not to lift the trade embargo because "it will only benefit the government." He said this after bitterly asking, "What embargo? America is Cuba's fifth-largest trade partner."

Before we returned to the pink house with the parched yard, I asked him if he dreams of going back to Cuba. He answered in Spanish, but his reply was as American as Tom Joad's monologue at the end of "The Grapes of Wrath."

"I haven't left Cuba!" Hernandez said. "I'm physically here, but I'm still in Cuba. I'm standing right there next to the 12 Apostles, who did not accept the condition of leaving. I'm standing right there next to that common prisoner who was forced to commit a crime in order to feed his family. And I'm with my sister, my father, my nephew, my friends, standing right next to everyone. I'm right there."

Wrong Time, Wrong Itinerary

Thursday, May 26, 2011
From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Editorial Board:

Going to Cuba?: The wrong itinerary

Americans pondering a jaunt to Cuba this year under relaxed travel restrictions won't be able to pop in and say "hello" to Alan Gross. Nor will they find him in the isle's nightclubs or smoking one of its famous stogies in a comfortable chaise longue.

No, Mr. Gross, 61, a Maryland subcontractor, is doing 15 years in a Cuban prison on trumped-up charges of conspiring against "the integrity and independence of Cuba" for illegally importing computer gear. The Obama administration's crack foreign policy team has been entirely ineffectual in securing his release. Even Jimmy Carter, on a trip to the communist island in March, couldn't liberal up a pardon -- although an appeal reportedly is pending.

Yet despite Cuba's latest flagrant nose-thumbing, the U.S. is moving ahead with a new travel policy that's supposed to bring everyday Cubans and Americans together, supposedly for mutual understanding.

Even if Mr. Gross is released tomorrow, lifting the travel ban won't sow the seeds of democracy, free enterprise and liberty in the hardened concrete of Cuban communism.

"The only thing it does is provide hard currency for a totalitarian regime," says U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who grew up in a Cuban-exile family.

In fostering "better understanding," we doubt any travel itinerary will include Cuba's despicable accommodations for political prisoners.

Imprisoned for Hip-Hop

Two young Cubans, Marcos Maikel and Antonio Michel Lima Cruz, were sentenced to three and two years in prison (respectively) for "disrespect of patriotic symbols."

Their crime?

Listening to Cuban protest hip-hop
group, Los Aldeanos, and reciting their lyrics in public.

They had been held without charges by Castro's political police since December 25, 2010, which led the hip-hop group Los Aldeanos to travel to the city of Holguin and protest their imprisonment.

Over 1,500 Cubans gathered with Los Aldeanos during their visit to Holguin in support Marco and Antonio Michel -- and were greeted with a violent police crackdown, dozens of beatings and nearly 100 arrests.

"The thing about hip-hop is that it's from the underground, ideas from the underbelly, from people who have mostly been locked out, who have not been recognized."

-- Russell Simmons, hip-hop pioneer and founder of Def Jam records.

Morality Guides the Embargo

Wednesday, May 25, 2011
An excellent rebuttal by attorney Miguel Olivella in the Tallahassee Democrat:

Morality, not votes, guides embargo

Re: "What keeps U.S. and Cuba apart? Well, Florida" (Carl Leubsdorf, May 21).

Carl Leubsdorf advances the notion that the Cuban embargo should be abandoned since it is in place solely due to political considerations that trump "the national interest."

If Leubsdorf had his way, we would lift the embargo to create an atmosphere of change in Cuba that would enable Cuba to join the global democratic revolution.

Leubsdorf appears to suffer from an extreme case of naivete when it comes to the likes of Fidel and Raul Castro. But before presenting my humble opinion as to justifiable reasons for the embargo, let's dispel the premise for Leubsdorf's opinion piece, i.e. that the Cuban-American vote dictates policy positions by Florida politicians.

Recently, Gov. Rick Scott expressed support for the embargo. It is no secret that the governor is pro-business. The business community at large favors a lifting of the embargo because of the obvious trade and financial opportunities. This constituency is much larger than the Cuban-American constituency, and thus Gov. Scott's position on the embargo is clearly a net vote count loss for him.

Even an unabashed Florida liberal such as Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is vehemently opposed to relaxing U.S. policy toward Cuba. The Cuban-American community can hardly be considered Wasserman Schultz voters in light of fundamental disagreement with her overall political philosophy. Moreover, I would suspect that her support of the embargo has cost her votes with her Democratic base.

History also teaches us that the Cuban-American vote does not translate into election victory in Florida. If Cuban-American votes could truly carry an election, President Obama — a vocal proponent of abandoning the embargo — would never have won Florida in 2008.

So why would our pro-business governor and the liberal Wasserman Schultz refuse to sanction a lifting of the embargo? Because they are both guided by a moral compass that will not allow them to reward one of the most reprehensible, Machiavellian regimes of our time with more trade than currently is in place. And, unlike Leubsdorf, they do not suffer from the rose-colored-glasses belief that trade with Cuba will engender democracy.

For some 50 years, the Castro regime has prohibited all political dissent. My fellow countrymen and relatives have been tortured, executed and imprisoned for daring to express any political view that differs from the regime's philosophy. There is no right to free expression, privacy, association, assembly, movement or due process of law. Enforcement of government policy is carried out through surveillance, detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions and dismissals from employment.

Rewarding this conduct with open trade is unconscionable.

As for democracy, Fidel and Raul Castro have perfected a tyrannical system that has made them and their friends inordinately rich. This power structure includes not only human right atrocities, but a complete dominance over the economy, which is in the exclusive hands of the Cuban military and the Castros' circle of friends.

Any company seeking to engage in commerce with Cuba must go through the state, and since the Castros enjoy unfettered control over all aspects of the economy, the only beneficiaries of commerce would be the Castros. No thinking person can possibly believe that the Castros would allow democracy to flourish, since it would jeopardize what they have been zealously protecting for 50 years — lives of privilege and wealth.

If commerce were truly able to sow the seeds of democracy, they would have been sown long ago. Every other country in the world engages in trade with Cuba, and even with the embargo, the U.S. is one of Cuba's top five trade partners.

Travel to Cuba by foreigners will not open the eyes of the Cuban population and cause them to demand democracy. If that were so, the 2.4 million tourists who traveled to Cuba last year along with the hundred thousand or so Americans who made their way to the island should certainly have accomplished this by now. If that many travelers who enjoy freedom of thought and ideas have not sown the seeds of democracy, the lifting of U.S. travel restrictions on Cuba can hardly have any effect.

We should not sanction murder, torture and oppression for the sake of what some profess is our national interest — profit. Our national interest is much nobler than that.

More Beaten Women and Dead Prisoners

Repression in Castro's Cuba doesn't change -- whether Fidel or Raul is in charge.

This week, a courageous Cuban blogger, Luis Felipe Rojas, wrote about the brutal beatings of female pro-democracy activists by the Castro regime's political police.

He highlighted the cases of Yisel Flores, Maria Alfonso Cordova and Elisa M. Reiner in Guantanamo; Caridad Caballero Batista, Martha Diaz Rondon and Reina Luisa Tamayo Danger in Holguin; and Yakelin Garcia Jaenz in Bayamo (see the tragic picture below)

As a result of Rojas's blog post, the regime sent thugs to surround his home and harass him.

Meanwhile, Cuban political prisoners are denouncing the death of another fellow inmate, Salvador Ferrer Rodriguez, pursuant to being beaten and thrown down a flight of stairs by regime officials.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Foreign Oil Companies Sanctioned

Tuesday, May 24, 2011
A message to oil companies (and other energy sector firms) that transact business with state-sponsors of terrorism.

From the State Department:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has decided to impose sanctions on seven companies under the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) of 1996, as amended by the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) of 2010, for their activities in support of Iran's energy sector.

- These companies are PCCI (Jersey/Iran), Royal Oyster Group (UAE), Speedy Ship (UAE/Iran), Tanker Pacific (Singapore), Ofer Brothers Group (Israel), Associated Shipbroking (Monaco), and PetrĂ³leos de Venezuela (PDVSA) (Venezuela).

- These are the first sanctions imposed by the United States for refined-petroleum related activities under ISA since it was amended by CISADA. By imposing these sanctions, the Secretary sends a stern and clear message to companies around the world: those who continue to irresponsibly support Iran's energy sector and help facilitate Iran's efforts to evade U.S. sanctions will face serious consequences.

PetrĂ³leos de Venezuela (PDVSA): PDVSA, the state-owned oil company of Venezuela, has delivered at least two cargoes of reformate to Iran between December 2010 and March 2011, worth approximately $50 million. Reformate is a blending component that improves the quality of gasoline. The sanctions we have imposed on PDVSA prohibit the company from competing for U.S. government procurement contracts, from securing financing from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and from obtaining U.S. export licenses.

Another Dictator Stands Trial

A message to tyrants that violently repress peaceful dissent. 

From Reuters:

Mubarak to be tried for murder of protesters

Hosni Mubarak was ordered on Tuesday to stand trial for the killing of protesters and could face the death penalty, scotching speculation the former leader would be spared public humiliation by Egypt's military rulers.

Mubarak, ousted on Feb. 11 after mass demonstrations demanding he end his 30 years in power, has been questioned for his role in a crackdown that led to the killing of more than 800 demonstrators and has been probed over corruption.

The public prosecutor said Mubarak, who is detained in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, would be tried on charges including "pre-meditated killing", which could be punished by the death penalty.

The Crooks Stealing From Thieves

In 1989, then-Defense (MINFAR) Minister Raul Castro led an operation to purge the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and its lucrative commercial enterprises (e.g. CIMEX).

It resulted in the execution of three senior officials -- including Cuba's most famous officer, General Arnaldo Ochoa -- and the arrest of the Minister of the Interior (who died of a "heart attack" in prison), Jose Abrantes.

They were officially charged with serious acts of corruption, dishonest use of economic resources and abetting drug trafficking.

But in reality -- the operation was designed to centralize all of the island's armed and economic forces under Raul's MINFAR.

Despite this, the Financial Times's Marc Frank writes about Raul's latest "anti-corruption" crackdown:

The crackdown, launched two years ago, has already cost hundreds of senior Cuban Communist party officials, state managers and employees their jobs and sometimes their freedom, as Mr. Castro has struggled to shake-up the country's entrenched bureaucracy and move the country towards a less centralized and more market-driven economy.

Although such campaigns are not new, the intensity of the current drive is unprecedented, as are the number of high level targets and breadth of their illicit activities, Communist party and government insiders said this week.

"Move the country toward a less centralized economy"?



Meanwhile, The Miami Herald's Frances Robles says, this "show[s] how Raul Castro wasn't just paying lip service to cracking down on corruption."

So how do you fight corruption from within a corrupt regime?

Just like in the past -- against even more powerful and senior officials than today (note to Marc Frank) -- the recent purges are simply an attempt to weed-out disloyal regime officials, who are stealing from the Castro brother's totalitarian monopolies.

Thus, the purpose is to further centralize economic power amongst those most loyal to the Castro brothers -- to get rid of the crooks who are stealing from the thieves.

It's Castro's full circle of corruption.

Just Do It!

From The Augusta Chronicle's Editorial Board:

Communism 3.0

Cuban officials 'studying' how not to act like communists. Oh well, it's progress

Cuba has announced it is "studying" ways that Cuban residents can be allowed to travel outside the country as tourists.

Wow. That's a tall order. Let's hope they put the best minds in the Cuban government on this one.

We can imagine what that study committee's discussions might be like.

Chairman: "OK, folks, we've got to figure out ways Cubans can be allowed to travel outside the country for tourism and actually have them come back. And we don't have a lot of time to come up with an answer -- maybe only years, knowing the majestic efficiency of our great revolutionary government comrades!"

Member: "Well, rather than reinvent the wheel, maybe we should look at other countries. Is there any other country that actually allows its people to leave whenever they want, for any reason?"

Silent pause.

"Nahhhhh," the group says in unison.

Don't get us wrong. We appreciate that Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and now president, is loosening things up in Cuba. But the thing that best shines a light on how insane communism is, and how stupid communists are, is how they look when they start trying to weasel their way out of the disaster they, themselves, have created.

So, how do you let Cubans go abroad as tourists?

Well, if you're not worried about whether they return -- and you shouldn't be worried about it, unless you're running a prison rather than a country -- then you just do it !

Castro's "Earned Media" Outlet

Monday, May 23, 2011
The Castro regime can save itself millions -- and earn billions -- in tourism campaigns thanks to the "earned media" it's getting from the Associated Press's (AP) Havana bureau.

Earned media is essentially free and favorable publicity for promotional purposes. In the case of Castro's Cuba, it also ensures foreign news outlets that they don't get booted off the island.

This weekend, the AP ran a story promoting tourism travel to Cuba, which even gives a wink-and-a-nod to breaking the law.

More than "earned media" -- it's irresponsible journalism.

Otherwise, how does the AP come to this conclusion:

Within months or even weeks, thousands of people from Seattle to Sarasota could be shaking their hips in tropical nightclubs and sampling the famous stogies, without having to sneak in through a third country and risk the Treasury Department's wrath.

Despite the fact that tourism travel to Cuba is clearly prohibited by statute, which the AP ignores in the story.

And moreover, as regards educational (people-to-people) travel, the primary regulator (Treasury) clearly states:

The guidelines published by the U.S. Treasury Department say people-to-people tours must guarantee a "full-time schedule of educational activities that will result in meaningful interaction."

Even State, which plays a secondary role, recognizes:

"If it is simply salsa dancing and mojitos, no. That doesn't pass the purposeful-travel criteria," a State Department official involved with the policy said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Solidarity Among Repressed People

Sunday, May 22, 2011
Cuban artist Geandy Pavon has haunted the Castro regime by projecting the image of deceased political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo on the facade of its diplomatic representations in New York City, Washington D.C. and Barcelona.

On Friday, in a selfless display of solidarity with China's courageous pro-democracy activists, Pavon projected an image of renowned Chinese artist and political prisoner Ai Weiwei on the facade of the Chinese Consulate in New York City.

Here are the impressive images:

H/T Penultimos Dias