Chavez in Castro's Magic Mountain

Saturday, July 2, 2011
Great column by former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda:

The secretive guest at Castro's Magic Mountain

Chavez's secret convalescence in Havana gives the countries a chance to work out a Plan B

The news photo is evocative: the ancient Fidel Castro at the bedside of the ailing Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, who is currently convalescing in an extended, secretive stay in a Havana hospital.

Perhaps they are discussing the misdeeds of imperialism and the enduring virtues of Simon Bolivar and Jose Marti.

In any event, the scene brings to mind Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, perhaps the greatest novel of the 20th century. Set in the Swiss Alpine village of Davos on the eve of the First World War, the novel revolves around the illness, recovery or death of a dozen or so patients of tuberculosis or "consumption", all secluded in a sanatorium on the slopes of the magic mountain.

Memorable characters inhabit the novel — Madame Chauchat; the grief-stricken Mexican woman known as Tous-les-Deux; and of course the protagonist, Hans Castorp. But at the novel's core are the endless conversations between two patients, Lodovico Settembrini and Leo Naphta, respectively the Italian idealist and the Jesuit cynic, about war, morality, life, death and the saving of Castorp's soul.

Admittedly it's a leap from Chavez to Castro.

Mr Castro and Mr Chavez are not Thomas Mann's creations, and it is doubtful that their exchanges match the philosophical and historical musings of the German novelist. But what is almost as extraordinary is the notion of two strongmen — one a brutal dictator, the other a wannabe autocrat — incapacitated by old age or ill health in the only place where the nature of their ailments can be kept secret.

There Mr Castro and Mr Chavez can try to deal with the consequences of their own demise, given their mutual dependence. In Mr Castro's case, at least, we know he has been ill for nearly five years, though largely recovered now; he is almost 85 years old and lucid only on and off (according to people who have been with him recently); and he no longer runs Cuba on a daily basis.

We don't know what his prognosis may be or how much influence he wields on his "younger" brother Raul, now 80.

In principle, Raul is committed to significant change in the island's ramshackle economy — while conserving total power.

We know much less about Mr Chavez, which is the whole point of the Havana convalescence. Whatever else may be true, the Venezuelan caudillo's claim that he will spend weeks in Cuba because of an emergency operation on a pelvic abscess is not credible.

Cuba isn't respected for its hi-tech, top-level medical expertise. We can better evaluate Cuban social medicine or its barefoot doctors when international comparisons become possible.

Whatever ails Mr Chavez — from prostate cancer to a minor infection — is a mystery. So the explanation for his undergoing treatment in another country is secrecy.

The only other country in the world where the health of a president remains a state secret is North Korea, a bit far from Venezuela.

If nothing is seriously wrong with Mr Chavez (perhaps aside from an ailment that might cause personal embarrassment, given macho considerations), unpublicised healthcare in Havana will allow him to keep everything under wraps and return home triumphantly, whenever medical and political criteria coincide.

Contrariwise, if Mr Chavez is terminally ill, his Cuban connection will enable him and the Castro brothers to plot a course for the future that hopefully — for the trio at least, if not for the peoples of their two nations — ensures continuity of policy and alliances.

Many bets have been lost in the past half-century over claims that Cuba cannot survive without one or another essential prop. Surely Cuba depends on a massive Venezuelan subsidy — hard currency and cheap oil in exchange for Cuban doctors, athletics coaches and security personnel. The loss of that subsidy could well be an insurmountable challenge to the Castro regime's survival.

Similarly, the very notion of chavismo without Chavez may well be chimerical. He has no viable successor, and all the Cuban intelligence and security agents in Caracas would likely prove unable to put Humpty Dumpty back together again in the form of Mr Chavez's older brother, Adan; or his vice- president, Diosdado Cabello; or his former cabinet minister and head goon, Jesse Chacon.

If that is the case, Havana and Caracas have a problem. Mr Chavez came to power 12 years ago. With the exception of the Castros, he is the longest-standing current chief of state in Latin America.

Presidential elections are scheduled in Venezuela for December next year. But the disappearance of the lieutenant-colonel would either force an early vote or create a power vacuum where anything could happen. The Cubans would have scant influence on the outcome, but their fate may largely depend on it. No wonder the Castros want to keep Mr Chavez alive and under their wing, at least until he recovers, or they all come up with Plan B.

Meanwhile, we can just guess what ails Mr Chavez, and what the tropical Naphta and Settembrini are holding forth about on an island "mountain" that is hardly magical any more.

Alina Goes to Hollywood

From Variety:

'Il Postino' director finds 'Daughter'

Michael Radford to helm Cuban historical drama

Brit director Michael Radford ("Il Postino") will helm Mankind Entertainment's historical drama "Castro's Daughter."

"Daughter" is being produced by Mankind's John Torres Martinez and Joe Lamy. The screenplay was written by Bobby Moresco ("Crash") and centers on Alina Fernandez, exiled daughter of Fidel Castro.

She fled Cuba in 1993 disguised as a Spanish tourist and later wrote her memoir "Castro's Daughter: An Exile's Memoir of Cuba." Fernandez lectures at colleges and appears as a commentator on news shows.

Radford's credits include his adaptation of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty Four."

Filming is expected to take place in Puerto Rico. Casting will begin in the coming months.

Mankind Entertainment is an Austin-based specialty film company founded by Martinez and Lamy. Martinez previously managed a Texas based entertainment law firm and Lamy develops commercial real estate in the Austin area.

Independent Journalists Under Siege

From Reporters Without Borders:

Authorities step up harassment of independent news center

The Cuban authorities are waging a campaign to intimidate Hablemos Press, a Havana-based independent news center, presumably because of its criticism of the government. In the past three months, 14 of its correspondents have been threatened and 10 have been briefly detained on at least one occasion.

According to Hablemos Press director Roberto Jesús Guerra Pérez, the situation began to deteriorate during the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist party in April, when new economic and social measures were announced. Security agents banned journalists from leaving home throughout the congress, Guerra said.

The hounding of Hablemos Press is typical of the plight of independent journalists in Cuba, where civil liberties are universally flouted. A new crackdown has been launched on anyone trying to express dissident views. Journalists are being subject to repeated arrests and brief spells in detention with the aim of reducing them to silence.

"The measures announced during the 6th Congress must be accompanied by an opening-up on human rights and democracy issues," Reporters Without Borders said. "We call for the legalization of independent media that are not controlled by the state, an end to the criminalization of dissident views, access for all Cubans to an unfiltered Internet and the repeal of all laws that restrict media freedom. The government must also honor its international obligations by ratifying the two UN conventions on civil and political rights that it signed in 2008."

"This is a psychological war," Guerra said, referring to the harassment of journalists. "They are trying to silence us by means of death threats, incitement to leave the country with our families, and repeated detention and interrogation, often lasting more than four hours at a stretch."

According to a report that Guerra provided to Reporters Without Borders, the legal basis on which many independent journalists have been arrested and detained is a provision of Law 88 on the Protection of National Independence and the Cuban Economy, also known as the "gag law." Under this provision, anyone who is deemed to have caused serious harm to the economy by cooperating with foreign media can be sentenced to two to eight years in prison. Many journalists were arrested under the same provision during the "Black Spring" of 2003.

Calixto Ramos Martínez Arias, who has been a Hablemos Press correspondent since 2009, was arrested twice in May. The second time he was arrested, on 16 May, he spent 75 hours in police custody on the orders of a state security official, although no grounds were given. After destroying his ID card, the state security official said he would shoot Martínez in the head the next time he saw him in the police station. Martínez was repeatedly deported from Havana to Camaguey in 2010 because of his journalistic work.

Jorge Alberto Liriano Linares, the Hablemos Press correspondent in Camagüey, was physically attacked by state security agents while covering a demonstration organized by the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Human Rights Union in 3 June, suffering bruising to the ribs and cuts to the face and body. He was then held for eight hour in a state security unit, where he received no medical treatment. He says he was subjected to "psychological torture and systematic mistreatment."

Carlos Ríos Otero and Sandra Guerra have been threatened by both state security agents and members of the national police in Havana. Ríos has been arrested twice. Guerra was detained for more than 48 hours in her home by a total of 20 agents. Stones were thrown at the home of Jaime Leygonier Fernández after he wrote an article that was very critical of the government.

Yoandris Gutiérrez Vargas, Enyor Díaz Allen and Raul Alas Márquez have all been detained twice. Gutiérrez was arrested on 17 and 22 June while covering dissident Jorge Cervantes' hunger strike in Santiago de Cuba. Díaz was arrested in Guantánamo, where he was also physically attacked by government supporters during the 6th Congress. Alas was arrested in Cielo de Avila.

Magaly Norvis Otero Suárez, a journalist who works for both Hablemos Press and Miami-based Radio Martí, was insulted on 7 June, She also keeps a blog in which she reports arbitrary arrests and other human rights abuses.

Four prisoners – Alexander Suárez Torres, Carlos Amir Cárdenas Cartava, Jorge Félix Otero Morales and Ramón Arias Acosta – suffered a deterioration in prison conditions after providing Hablemos Press with information. Suárez and Cárdenas were transferred from Havana to prisons in Camagüey. Otero and Arias were confined to punishment cells.

Finally, the dissident cyber-journalist Guillermo Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2010, was detained yet again on 27 May and was held for 12 hours at the provincial police operations headquarters along with 11 other dissidents.

The Cuban people are still denied the right to receive and impart information and several journalists have been forced to leave the country. On World Refugee Day on 20 June, Reporters Without Borders paid tribute to those journalists who, after being forced to flee their country, continue to work as journalists and thereby defy those who tried to silence them.

Freedom First or Business First?

Friday, July 1, 2011
From The New York Times:

Freedom First or Business First?

By Mauricio Claver-Carone

Current U.S. policy toward Cuba conditions economic engagement with the Castro regime on its respect for basic human rights and enactment of genuine political and economic reform.

This policy can be described as "freedom first." It is often labeled a failure by American foreign-policy elites and some in the media because the Castro regime, a brutal and bankrupt totalitarian dictatorship led by a handful of octogenarians, refuses to acknowledge human rights or to accommodate political or economic reforms.

Yet few in the Western Hemisphere — even left-leaning governments — seek to emulate Cuba's political or economic model. Venezuela's Hugo Chávez is, perhaps, an exception, but even he is hamstrung by the Venezuelan people's absolute rejection of Cuba's totalitarianism.

Conversely, the United States' "business first" policy of economic engagement toward China's dictatorship has helped turn what was, in the 1970s and 1980s, a fragile, disoriented and struggling regime desperately seeking a way out of its failed communal agrarian economy, into one of history's most repressive but lucrative dictatorships.

China is now the pièce de résistance in the eyes of the world's tyrants. For the Chinese people, however, things could have turned out better.

Following Mao Zedong's death in 1976, a wave of mostly political — not economic — reform movements spread across China. The Democracy Wall Movement, which began with people spontaneously posting signs demanding political reform and democracy on a Beijing wall, spread quickly. Hundreds of thousands of students and activists took up the cause and courageously pushed the limits of official tolerance with demands for free expression, democratic processes and open criticisms of the Communist Party, a movement that culminated on June 4, 1989, in the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The tepid response from the international community then allowed aspirations for democratic reform to be supplanted by the economic aspirations and priorities of multinational corporations and their "official" Chinese business partners.

Today, the lure of China's $6 trillion economy overshadows that country's dismal human-rights record and has served to consolidate the ironclad, one-party rule.

Now, when the United States wants to effectively defend the basic human rights of the Chinese people, it must first and foremost calculate and consider the potential impact on interest rates in the United States, lest China's tyrants feel slighted and start selling off U.S. Treasury notes.

As it economically holds the United States hostage, the Chinese regime, thus, seems to have it all: a monopoly on power, subservient economic elites, overflowing bank accounts and sovereign funds, and an unchecked right of repression.

None of this could have happened without the complicity of the United States, which generously opened its markets to China's near slave-like labor, helping create a manufacturing powerhouse. The United States is now competing economically with a monster it created and facing blowback when dealing with its national security and foreign policy priorities from Pakistan to Iran.

Worse, the new and growing wealth of China's ruling class has spurred neither democratic reform nor greater respect for human rights. Over the last month, China's regime has undertaken one of the most brutal and widespread crackdowns on dissent since Tiananmen Square. The crackdown has even led the Economist magazine 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."

"Comforting idea"? Comforting to whom? The idea that economic engagement leads to political reform is often and simply proffered to assuage public concerns and the sometimes guilty consciences of those who know they'll profit from transacting business with brutal tyrants. It's not been comforting for the countless Chinese democracy advocates imprisoned and tortured, or to the families of those executed over the years.

So which of the two repressed nations — Cuba or China — is the most likely to emerge a democracy? Or become the first to demonstrate respect for basic human rights?

Will it be the economically powerful Chinese regime, with its dissident movement now desperately struggling to overcome the gargantuan charm of its repressor's wealth thanks to the United States' focus on "business first"? Or will it be the bankrupt, octogenarian Cuban regime of the Castro brothers, with its growing dissident movement led by youthful figures who have managed to garner and hold the world's attention — thanks to the leverage provided by the United States' focus on "freedom first"?

Time will identify the real policy failure. In the meantime, two wrongs won't make things right for any of those oppressed by dictators around the world.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC in Washington and formerly served as an attorney with the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Searching for Sovereignty and Independence

Defenders of the Castro regime -- and the Castro regime itself -- always seek to justify its 52-year totalitarian dictatorship with their favorite argument of "sovereignty and independence."

Yet, Hugo Chavez has been physically "governing" Venezuela from Cuba for the last three weeks and not a peep.

(Castro even set up a remote office for Chavez's cancer announcement yesterday, with a Venezuelan flag, a portrait of Bolivar and all.)

Actually, Castro's been de facto governing Venezuela for almost 12 years and not a peep.

Moreover, Cuba was de facto governed by the Soviet Union for over 30 years (with a formal allegiance "legally" sworn by Castro's 1976 Constitution) and not a peep.

Anyway, you get the point (and hypocrisy).

According to El Universal, here's how Venezuelan's feel about Chavez's remote rule:

About 59 percent of Venezuelans disagree with the fact that President Hugo Chávez is governing from Cuba, according to a poll conducted by pollster Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis (IVAD) between June 16 and June 21.

Yet, the silence is deafening.

If People Like Bono Join The Cause

Thursday, June 30, 2011
Cuba will indeed soon be free.

From The Miami Herald:

U2's Bono urged support for Cuban dissident Biscet

Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet says the praise from Bono at a Miami South Florida concert was for the Cuban people overall.

Cuba's leading dissident, Oscar Elias Biscet, said he "was shaking with happiness" as he learned Thursday that rock star and social activist Bono had sung his praises during a jam-packed U2 concert in Miami.

The 73,000-strong audience at the Sun Life stadium roared with delight Wednesday when Bono urged support for the 49-year-old Biscet and declared that "some day soon Cuba will be free."

"As you read me what he said, I was shaking with happiness because it showed it's good when one is chosen as a symbol of his people," Biscet told El Nuevo Herald, which first told him of Bono's comments.

"He's praising not me but all my people, all Cubans," he added in a telephone interview from his home in Havana. "And I agree that Cuba will be free, if people like Bono join the cause" of human rights on the island.

Global Forum Officially Recognizes Cuban Democracy Movement

The Community of Democracies, a global inter-governmental coalition of democratic countries, has just recognized the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Civic Resistance movement as legitimate representatives of the struggle for freedom of the Cuban people and the nomination of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Below is the text of the resolution approved at today's VI Ministerial Conference:

Resolution Presented by U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and Approved by the Parliamentary Forum of the Community of Democracies (CoD)

Vilnius, Lithuania
June 30th, 2011

WHEREAS the Cuban dictatorship over the past 52 years has erected a totalitarian power structure that systematically violates the fundamental human rights of all Cubans both in law and by its actions,

WHEREAS over the past 52 years this dictatorship has engaged in thousands of summary and extra-judicial executions;

WHEREAS hundreds of thousands of Cubans have been imprisoned for their political beliefs;

WHEREAS ever since 1959 there has been a constant resistance to the Communist regime throughout the island and in exile;

WHEREAS the human rights movement grew out of the prisons into a national movement capable of documenting human rights abuses, distributing copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, educating Cubans on human rights, and organizing petition drives to attempt to empower Cubans;

WHEREAS the Regime has steadfastly refused to carry out any kind of political opening or democratic transition, increasing repression in order to tray and repress the freedom movement;

WHEREAS civic resistance is the means currently available to the Cuban people for them to regain their liberty;

WHEREAS Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet was one of the pioneering activists who took to the streets to distribute copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

WHEREAS this civic resistance movement has embraced the nonviolent teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.;

WHEREAS Cuban political prisoners Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez and Ricardo Pupo Sierra, in the summer of 2006, issued a call for non-cooperation with the regime;

WHEREAS Cubans in the diaspora answered this call; first by organizing a non-cooperation campaign to spread their compatriots' message, and secondly, on March 18, 2009, forming the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, on the sixth anniversary of the "Black Cuban Spring", with over 50 civil society organizations;

WHEREAS Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez, imprisoned for 17 years and 34 days on the charge of "enemy propaganda" for calling for Eastern European style reforms in 1990, emerged from prison having served his full sentence on April 23, 2007;

WHEREAS Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez on November 3, 2009, along with other resistance leaders from throughout the island, established the National Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front, a movement which has brought together opposition organizations in Cuba whose strategy is civic resistance and civil disobedience;

WHEREAS following the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010 at the hands of the dictatorship, the movement was renamed the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Front for Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience;

WHEREAS the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Front for Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience continues to carry out coordinated protests and civic actions throughout Cuba;

NOW, THEREFORE the Parliamentary Forum of the Community of Democracies recognizes the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Front for Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience as a legitimate representative of the struggle for the freedom of the Cuban people;

FURTHERMORE, we support the nomination of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet for the Nobel Peace Prize, because of his pioneering work on human rights education in Cuba and the example he personifies as a non-violent leader in the struggle for human rights inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.


Video of Bono's Tribute to Dr. Biscet

Last night, at U2's concert in Miami, Bono dedicated a song to Cuban pro-democracy leader, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.

Here's the (tremendously moving) video clip:

Bono Dedicates Song to Free Cuba

During tonight's U2 concert in Miami, Bono told the story of Cuban pro-democracy leader, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.

On a stage filled with Amnesty International candles, he dedicated a song to Dr. Biscet's struggle for freedom, asked everyone to raise their hands in solidarity and proclaimed, "one day soon Cuba will be free."

From Bono's mouth to God's ears.

Cuba Amongst Top Debtor Nations

Wednesday, June 29, 2011
The Paris Club, a group composed of the world's 19 largest creditors nations, has released its annual list of outstanding claims (debtors).

Its largest debtor is Indonesia, which owes $40.679 billion.

Second is China, which owes $30.573 billion.

Castro's Cuba has the third largest debt of $30.471 billion.

Calculated on a per capita basis -- that's a debt of $23 per Chinese national, $177 per Indonesian and $2,650 per Cuban.

Debt for repression -- that's quite a bargain Castro has made for himself, at the cost of the Cuban people.

Click here for the Paris Club's latest debtor list.

The Reality of Today's Cuban-American Travel

Prior to April 2009, anti-sanctions activists conveniently saw Cuban-American travel as a way to chip away at overall U.S. policy.

They (correctly) felt it was easier to make an emotional case for Cuban-Americans to visit family members, than for spring breakers to party at apartheid-ridden beach resorts.

Thus, they made a compelling argument that Cuban-Americans should not have to choose between visiting a dying relative or attending their funeral afterwards.

Needless to say, this is a legitimate humanitarian concern, which can (and should) be addressed by means of a simple exception.

(In addition to the already existing, generous legislative exception that allows Cubans -- and only Cubans -- to return to their source country of persecution, despite being automatically paroled into the U.S. as refugees.)

Yet, in April 2009 -- instead of focusing on this humanitarian concern -- the Obama Administration decided to unilaterally remove all limits on Cuban-American travel and remittances.

Two years later, Cuban-American travel conjures images of Cubans abusing their refugee presumption (and the generosity of U.S. taxpayer assistance) under U.S. law, as they leisurely commute back-and-forth from the moment their status is adjusted; of Cubans traveling to the island 10-20 times a year as non-humanitarian merchandise-peddling "mules" (see recent New York Times story); and of unscrupulous businessmen using remittances as a loophole to prey on Cubans with their high-cost, high-interest microloan schemes.

Anyone that has traveled through Miami International Airport can attest to this.

Meanwhile, the Castro regime is laughing its way to the bank.

Facing the greatest political and economic crisis of its history, the Castros have exploited this stream of income, which they so desperately needed (as Hugo Chavez's economy tanks), in order to satisfy the basic tenets of totalitarian power: intensifying repression, paying off its cronies and seizing control over the black market.

Today, Cuban-American travel and remittances stands as the Castro regime's main source of income.

As cited in a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) Working Paper:

- The Cuban authorities are poised to benefit from travel for U.S. visitors (and particularly, family travel) in the wake of the 2009 policy changes. This category of tourist has surpassed that of any individual European country to become the second most important source arriving to Cuba after Canada.

- The impact of a natural experiment resulting from policy driven changes in travel costs from the United States to Cuba is also estimated. The results suggest that for Cuba, the loosening of travel restrictions in 2009 helped offset the decline in arrivals from the global financial crisis—a potentially significant external countercyclical source of growth. Capitalizing fully on this countercyclical external demand would suggest revising policies to lower travel costs for persons under U.S. jurisdiction traveling to Cuba, and in particular "family" travel, which are currently a multiple of the costs to travel elsewhere in the region.


So let's work to curb these abuses and close this lucrative loophole -- while forging an exception for humanitarian cases.

Otherwise, in Castro's Machiavellian masterpiece, he's managed for 100,000 or so Cuban-Americans (traveling multiple times a year) to finance the brutal repression of nearly 12 million Cubans.

That is no one's "right."

Raul's Fired!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Earlier this month, the Castro regime denied exit visas to three musicians from the Cuban rock group, Porno Para Ricardo, to perform at the United Islands International Music Festival (June 23-25) in Prague, Czech Republic.

(Only Cuban artists in the "good graces" of the Castro regime get exit visas to perform abroad.)

Fortunately, the group's front man, Gorki Aguila, who has been living in Mexico, was able to attend and perform the group's protest songs accompanied by Czech musicians.

In solidarity with the group's other three members, Czech concert-goers (literally) issued Cuban dictator Raul Castro a "pink slip."

In other words -- Raul's fired!

Don't miss this picture:


Photo courtesy of Jan Sibík, www.sibik.cz

Human Trafficking in Castro's Cuba

The State Department has just released its 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Once again, Cuba received the lowest ranking (Tier 3), as a country that does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

Here's the Report's Cuba summary:

CUBA (Tier 3)

Cuba is a source country for adults and some children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Some Cuban medical professionals assigned to work abroad have claimed that their passports were retained as a means of keeping them in a state of exploitation, thus preventing them from traveling freely. Prostitution of children reportedly occurs in Cuba as prostitution is not criminalized for anyone above 16 years old. The scope of trafficking within Cuba is particularly difficult to gauge due to the closed nature of the government and sparse nongovernmental or independent reporting.

The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government did not publicize information about government measures to address human trafficking through prosecution, protection, or prevention efforts during the reporting period.

Now here's a question for the Obama Administration:

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which mandates this Report, countries on Tier 3 may not receive funding for participation by officials or employees of such governments in educational and cultural exchange programs.

In light of the Administration's focus on educational and cultural exchanges with Castro's Cuba -- is this provision being adhered to?

Arrest Warrant Issued For Dictator

Monday, June 27, 2011
From the International Criminal Court (ICC):

Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued three warrants of arrest respectively for Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi for crimes against humanity (murder and persecution) allegedly committed across Libya from 15 February 2011 until at least 28 February 2011, through the State apparatus and Security Forces.

Click here for a copy of Gaddafi's arrest warrant.

Modern Day Opportunists

For those businessmen and activists that unscrupulously promote Cuban dictator Raul Castro's farcical economic "reforms" as an "opportunity."

By Professor Jose Azel in The Miami Herald:

In Cuba, half a loaf is not enough

In the second half of the 19th Century, during the inter-war period between Cuba's Ten Years' War (1868) and its War of Independence (1895), a reformist political movement emerged in Cuba under the rubric of Autonomismo. Frustrated by the failure of the Ten Years' War, and convinced that no other viable options were available, some Cuban intellectuals and businessmen sought to obtain a greater degree of political and economic autonomy from Spain while remaining under its rule. They were encouraged by a measure of tolerance shown by the then-Spanish Captain General of Cuba, Arsenio Martínez Campos.

Some Autonomistas believed that Cubans would be better off as Spanish citizens, but with a greater degree of economic autonomy. Others held that partial reformism was a better alternative to a prolonged struggle for independence from Spain. In any case, they postulated that Autonomismo was not incompatible with Spanish sovereignty and sought to gain political "space" from the Crown.

Although the political stance and ideological elitism of the autonomists disturbed José Marti, who championed Cuba's full independence, autonomists were not traitors or anti-nationalists. Some had fought bravely in the Ten Years' War for independence but were now convinced that times had changed and a new strategy was needed to fight Spanish colonialism.

Fast forward some 130 years and we find a similar divide in the Cuban nation. The label autonomist no longer applies, but the contemporary approaches to Cuba's future correspond with those of the 19th Century.

The "neo-autonomists" of today, both in and out of the island support gradual change that does not alter the command and control structure of Cuba's totalitarian system.

They view the minimalist economic reforms proposed by Gen. Raúl Castro with the same sense of encouragement that the Autonomistas attached to the apparent forbearance of Spain's military commander in Cuba at the time. Some seek to "actualize" the communist system; others see the purported reforms as political space or a strategic opportunity to undermine Cuba's totalitarianism over the long term. Not unlike the frustrated ethos that permeated the Cuban nation following the inconclusive Ten Years' War, "neo-autonomists" They perceive gradual reformism as the only viable course after 52 years of communist rule and many failed efforts to overthrow the dictatorship.

Not unlike the Autonomistas, they will also eventually realize that the Castro government, like the Spanish Crown, has no intention of allowing legitimate reforms that will undermine its totalitarian rule. One of the lessons we have learned in the study of totalitarian systems throughout the world is that such systems do not generate truthful or useful knowledge regarding the causes of their own malfunction. Thus, totalitarian systems are ontologically incapable of reforming themselves. Simply put, Cuban communism is not able to reform. It must be abolished.

The "neo-autonomists", as their predecessors, believe that economic progress is an essential antecedent to civic empowerment and must come first, if at all; popular sovereignty is not a priority. Central to their argument is that change should originate with an enlightened autocratic government and not with the will of the people. The democratic counterargument is that civic empowerment is the foundation of progress and its necessary precondition.

These divergent approaches may seem to differ only in the sequencing and prioritizing of polices. However, the differences are philosophically fundamental. The eradication of personal freedoms is incompatible with human dignity and the pursuit of happiness.

The contemporary Autonomistas look to economic measures undertaken by the Castros without democratic empowerment as useful to foster prosperity. This belief embodies the elitist and despotic notion that the "special knowledge" of the few should rule the activities of the many. This conviction is particularly noxious to Cuba's future, because democracy will fail everywhere when there is no appreciation for its decisive role in good governance.

The citizenry empowerment camp values individual freedoms as essential to living meaningful lives. They do not consider political rights and civil liberties as superfluous luxuries to be perhaps appended following a program of economic reforms. As Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen, an economist from India, has noted, "People in economic need also need a political voice."

In Cuba, that's the reality.

Hunger Striker's Life in Peril

From the International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY):

The IFLRY is deeply concerned for the health of Jorge Cervantes Garcia, a human rights defender in Cuba. Mr. Garcia has been undertaking a hunger strike since the start of June, seeking to call attention to the abuses of an undemocratic regime that continues to repress his country. Like many Cubans, Mr. Garcia has long suffered under a government which does not tolerate dissent or new and innovative ideas.

No longer willing to accept the rule of silence, Mr. Garcia has engaged in this brave but dangerous protest in solidarity with Cuba's many political prisoners.

IFLRY calls for the immediate release of all Cuba's political prisoners. The peaceful protest of repression ought not to be met with yet further repression.

IFLRY also calls upon the Cuban regime to enact serious democratic reforms. By taking steps to conform with democratic best practices and the terms of the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Cuban people will enjoy true freedom - free to determine the fate of their country, and free to choose their form of government. Through such efforts, a society can be forged where individuals like Jorge Cervantes Garcia do not feel compelled to imperil their health in order to have their voice heard.

Libertad y vida. Liberty and life. These are the values for which Mr. Garcia has been protesting; these are the values upon which the Cuban regime must deliver.

Castro's Useful Cardinal

Sunday, June 26, 2011
If you're still unconvinced that Cardinal Jaime Ortega is doing the useful bidding of Cuban dictator Raul Castro -- here's the case and point.

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban cardinal pushed to close critical magazine

A Vatican expert on Cuba told U.S. diplomats in 2007 that Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega had pushed to shutter a highly regarded Roman Catholic magazine that often criticized the communist system, according to a State Department cable made available by WikiLeaks.

Cuba's government had wanted to close Vitral magazine for years but feared a backlash and so "must be happy because the Church did its dirty work for it," the expert noted. The publication wasn't closed, but its editor resigned in a huff and its content was toned down [...]

The cable sent to the State Department by the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican also mentioned previously unconfirmed reports that Vatican officials at times had thought that Ortega, who also serves as the archbishop of Havana, was too friendly with Cuban ruler Raul Castro.

"Vatican officials have hinted in the past that Ortega has become too cozy with Castro," noted the cable, dated May 14, 2007, and classified as "secret."

Welcome to "Havana Real"

Excerpt from The Washington Post's review of Yoani Sanchez's book, "Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today":

[I]t is fitting that the Cuban Revolution's best-known dissident is the anti-Che in almost every respect: a slender, bookish woman who writes "Generation Y," an intensely personal blog that eschews exhortations and absolute truths. Yoani Sanchez has gained an international following by chronicling the lives of those taught as school children to chant "we will be like Che" only to see their existence reduced to working at dead-end jobs, standing in line at half-empty state stores or hustling for enough cash to shop at convertible-currency-only supermarkets.

The contrast between the exalted rhetoric of Cuban communism and the realities of life in Havana has created "new men" (and women), but not in the way envisioned by the bearded guerrillas who came to power in 1959. "Our autocracy produced unexpected results, far from fanaticism or veneration," Sanchez writes in a new collection of her work, "Havana Real." "Instead of stern-faced soldiers, it bred apathy, indifference, people who concealed their true selves, rafters, infidels, and young people fascinated by material goods." The Cubans who populate these blog posts, written from 2007 to 2010, hold out little hope for top-down economic change, having learned the hard way that reform will be followed by the "dreaded rectification." Instead they plot escape plans, leaving those who stay behind, like Sanchez, in the "sad position of having to remake my group of friends."