Castro's Defense Minister Dies

Saturday, September 3, 2011
General Julio Casas Regueiro, who replaced current dictator Raul Castro as Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR) and oversaw the Cuban military's lucrative economic conglomerates, died today at the age of 75.

This now raises the important question of who Raul Castro will choose to replace this key confidant, for the MINFAR is undoubtedly the backbone of the Cuban dictatorship's economic and power structure.

With General Juan Almeida's death in 2009 and his brother, Fidel, ailing -- is Raul running out of people to trust?

Or will he succumb to nepotism, with son Alejandro Castro Espin or son-in-law Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas?

Cuba's Brave Ladies in White

From The Charleston Post and Courier's Editorial Board:

Cuba's brave 'Ladies in White'

Raul Castro, Cuba's successor to brother Fidel, has recently unleashed his thugs on women peacefully protesting Cuban human rights abuses. The brutal attacks completely undermine Mr. Castro's attempt to appear moderate and will set back his carefully cultivated relationship with the European Union. Ultimately it could lead to a popular uprising.

The attacks are unconscionable, and betray a realistic fear that the Cuban public is fed up with Castroism and only lacks a spark to rise up against the geriatric dictatorship. The Cuban women's protest movement could supply that needed spark.

Members and supporters of the "Ladies in White" human rights movement attempting to assemble for protests after church services in Santiago de Cuba have been physically attacked by Cuban government agents every Sunday from July 24 through Aug. 28.

The women are expected to exercise their right of peaceful protest again this Sunday.

But don't expect eyewitness reports from the foreign press in Cuba. They are being kept away.

The most detailed account of the beatings is a report by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights on what happened Sunday, Aug. 7, in the vicinity of Santiago. It said state security officials and "Castro supporters" attacked women assembling for a protest march using "sticks and other blunt objects" causing "injuries, some considerable," according to The Wall Street Journal.

The women were forcibly taken by bus to the city outskirts and forced to walk back.

When some attempted another protest march the same afternoon they were again attacked.

Government bullies also broke into two homes of recently freed political activists who refused to be sent into exile as a condition of their freedom. The wife and daughter of former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer and four other people were sent to the hospital with contusions and broken bones, the Federation report said.

According to Cuban dissidents, similar harassments, arrests, beatings and home invasions have been experienced by demonstrators on each of the past six Sundays.

In Havana on Aug. 18, a government-inspired mob punched, slapped and kicked members of a Ladies in White march, spit on them, pulled their hair and ripped clothes. Several of the 42 marchers reported bruises, according to their spokeswoman, Berta Soler, who spoke with the Miami Herald.

The government tactics could quickly backfire. On Aug. 23, a crowd of Cubans gathered in front of the steps of the capitol building in Havana was recorded on video as it booed, hissed and insulted government agents forcibly dragging away four women protesters.

One of the women, Sara Marta Fonseca, a member of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights, told a Spanish newspaper her hope is that "people will cross the barrier of fear and join the opposition to reclaim freedom."

Thanks to the Ladies in White and their supporters, the Cuban people are one step closer to realizing that hope.

Alan Gross Needs a New Lawyer

Yesterday, Alan Gross's lawyer, Peter Kahn, a partner at the D.C. firm of Williams & Connolly, made public some selective excerpts of his client's testimony during his farcical Cuban "trial" months back.

In the released testimony, Gross apologized for having been a "trusting fool."

The widely-respected blog, Penultimos Dias, commented on this news item:

Those who aren't "trusting fools" are the readers of these declarations, who have been following the events of Gross and who know the poor bet his lawyer made in keeping the whole case confidential, first, and then betting everything on the clemency of the Cuban government (later). After many months in Villa Marista [Castro's secret police headquarters], Alan Gross said what he though would please the Cuban government. And it obviously didn't work.

We fully concur.

For nearly two years, Kahn has been playing Castro's charade, withholding information, limiting public outcry and jumping through hoops to win the good graces of Gross's captors.

Although we've always believed this to be a tragic miscalculation of the nature and psyche of the Castro brothers, we've respected his prerogative.

However, it has become increasingly clear that Alan Gross needs a new legal strategy -- or a new lawyer.


CNN Story on Alan Gross

Friday, September 2, 2011

His Eminence is Too Tired

This week, the Ladies in White asked to meet with Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega in order to seek his intervention against the upswing in violence towards Cuba's pro-democracy movement.

Yet, when the Ladies in White arrived for the scheduled meeting, the Cardinal was a no-show.

Instead, they were received by Msgr. Ramon Suarez Polcari and spokesman Orlando Marquez -- as the Cardinal was "recuperating" from a recent trip to Spain.

In other words, the Cardinal was too tired from his visit to Madrid to meet with the Ladies in White, who'd just been brutally beaten by Castro's thugs.

So who really needed "recuperating"?

Peaceful female activists facing down constant physical repression or a Cardinal dealing with jet-lag (and perhaps too much red wine and Serrano ham)?

Of course, The Ladies in White, with the distinction that characterizes them, downplayed the Cardinal's snub.

But it's indicative of where the Cardinal's misplaced priorities lie.

Castro's Terror Smoking Gun

Thursday, September 1, 2011
From Investor's Business Daily:

Cuba's Terror Smoking Gun

For years, Cuba's apologists have debunked U.S. warnings of Havana's sponsorship of terror. It withers in the face of news that Cuba has just set up a Hezbollah base.

According to a report in Italy's respected Corriere della Sera Wednesday, three Hezbollah terrorists operating out of Mexico have left that country to establish a permanent "bridgehead" to the communist island, calling their clandestine operation "The Caribbean Dossier."

Twenty-three other terrorists from the Iran-linked terror group are expected to join the operation, which has a startup budget of more than $500,000. Corriere reported that the mission in Cuba is to provide logistical support for upcoming terrorist attacks planned in the hemisphere.

This is what "state sponsor of terrorism" means, which is how the U.S. accurately classified this odious regime since 1982, even as Cuba's leftist apologists have dismissed it, claiming Cuba is no threat.

Safely ensconced with the Castro brothers' hospitality, Hezbollah's operatives can carry out missions such as acquiring passports, recruiting informants and forging documents.

More disturbingly, they have been tasked to network with Hezbollah's other terrorist cells in Venezuela, Paraguay and Mexico, all in need of logistical support for attacks.

The Italian newspaper reported that Hezbollah might be planning a major attack against Israeli targets in the Western Hemisphere in retaliation for Israel's killing of Hezbollah's chief assassin, Imad Mughniyeh, in Damascus in 2008. Mughniyeh was a Hezbollah terrorist leader implicated in the two huge attacks in Buenos Aires in the 1990s on Jewish targets — strikes that remain unpunished.

But the targets might not all be Latin American. With Hezbollah ordered to meet with, presumably in Havana, Mexico's cartel traffickers that control illegal alien routes into the U.S., it's likely terrorist attacks are in the works for America, too.

That's classic terrorist networking coming into a place before a scourge emerges.

Make no mistake, it's the Castro dictatorship that's enabling Hezbollah. More to the point, it corresponds with the fact that the Castro brothers have always opened the doors wide to terrorist operatives — from Colombia's FARC, M-19 and ELN terrorists, to Chile's leftist terrorists of the Allende era, Nicaragua's Sandinistas and Spain's ETA Basque operations.

The Castro brothers have long been champions of Hezbollah, and there are no more "professionally trained" terrorists capable of carrying out large attacks than Hezbollah operatives.

Against all this, the Cuban regime screams whenever the State Department awards it the designation of state sponsor of terror. Just last week, Cubadebate.com, a Cuban state-controlled media organ, said the U.S. used "old, unprovable arguments" in its annual Country Reports on Terrorism 2010 that gave Cuba the terror title it deserves.

What's outrageous is that the left has consistently echoed this line. Just last year, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote:

"Cuba poses no terror threat. Cuba is not a failed state with territories out of governmental control. The idea that a Cuban citizen could get explosive artifacts or have terror accessories of any kind in the island is simply ridiculous."

Filmmaker Michael Moore, academic Noam Chomsky, Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin and quite a few elected officials have made similar statements.

How are they going to explain away a Hezbollah base in Havana now?

More on Hezbollah's New Cuban Base

Here's an English translation of the original source story in Italy's Corriere della Sera:

Hezbollah Heads to Cuba

There are three men, one of them uses a peculiar nickname: Agave Tequilana. They belong to a division of Hezbollah, the Lebanese pro-Iranian movement, in charge of "external" operations. The three men recently moved from Mexico to Cuba with the objective of setting up an operations center on the island.

Within a few days, another 23 guerrilla fighters chosen by Talal Hamia, a high-ranking Hezbollah official in charge of clandestine operations, will join them. The move by the three men is not temporary. With the approval of Secretary Nasrallah, Hamia has decided to open a "base" in Cuba with a generous budget of more than $1.5 million, which will be called "The Caribbean Case."

The base in Cuba should not come as a surprise. For years now, Hezbollah has been operating on a regular basis in Latin America with the help of Iran. The organization has strongholds in Ciudad del Este (Paraguay) and Brazil, but the extremist organization has also set up operations on many border cities and in Venezuela. They are able to raise funds, travel freely and have lists of cell groups they can mobilize to strike an adversary whenever necessary. With assistance from Iran, Hezbollah has struck Argentina twice: the Israeli embassy, and the headquarters of a Hebrew association.

The Cuban operation will initially provide logistical support. Hezbollah members will be able to develop new contacts, obtain and produce travel documents for various South American countries, recruit informants, and develop relationships with smugglers that move merchandise and are involved in human trafficking.

Translation by Alberto de la Cruz.

A State of Discontent

A must-see short documentary on the state of discontent across all sectors of Cuban society:

Hezbollah Opens Base in Cuba

From Ynet:

Report: Hezbollah opens base in Cuba

Shiite terror group to use operations center to launch attack on Israeli target in South America, Italian newspaper reports

Hezbollah has established a center of operations in Cuba in order to expand its terrorist activity and facilitate an attack on an Israeli target in South America, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported.

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, the attack is meant to avenge the death of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah. The organization alleges that Israel was behind his 2008 assassination.

According to the report, three Hezbollah members have already arrived in Cuba with the purpose of establishing a terrorist cell there. The cell is to include 23 operatives, hand-picked by Talal Hamia, a senior member tasked with heading the covert operation.

The operation, titled "The Caribbean Case," was reportedly allocated a budget of $1.5 million. The Cuba base is to be initially used for logistics purposes, including intelligence collection, networking and document forgery.

Hezbollah has been active in South America for quite some time now, primarily in Paraguay, Brazil and Venezuela, the report notes.

Reporting on Repression, Pt.2

Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Two more Havana news bureaus report on Castro's systemic repression.

From CNN:

Cuba has stepped up its harassment of dissidents in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, with authorities beating, gassing and arresting protesters critical of the Communist government, human rights activists said Wednesday.

From Reuters:

Leaders of the dissident group Ladies in White asked the Catholic Church on Tuesday to intervene with the Cuban government to end what they described as violent acts against them and other human rights activists.

Repression Caught on Tape

The violent arrest of pro-democracy leader, Guillermo Cobas Reyes, in Santiago de Cuba:

New Videos: Protestors Confront Repressors

In Palma Soriano (eastern Cuba):



Attacks on Ladies in White Must Stop

From Human Rights First:

Attacks on Ladies in White Must Stop Immediately

The attacks and detention of human rights activists in Cuba -- including members of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), a group of human rights defenders honored by Human Right First in 2006 -- should stop immediately and those detained should be released, said Human Rights First today. According to reports, members of Damas de Blanco are among the human rights defenders in Cuba who have been targeted in recent weeks by the authorities, and some have been beaten.

“This most recent spate of harassing and intimidating activists has been going on for some weeks now, and dozens remain in detention,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “For the last month, the Ladies in White have been prevented from carrying out their weekly peaceful protest. These brave women have been targeted and physically assaulted by police as they go to and from Mass. We urge that the arrests and violence directed against peaceful human rights activists be halted immediately.”

The Ladies in White trace their roots back to 2003, when the Cuban government arrested and summarily tried and sentenced 75 human rights defenders, independent journalists and librarians to terms of up to 28 years in prison. Many of them were organizers for the Varela Project, a grassroots initiative for constitutional reform. The repressive move was roundly condemned by foreign governments, the United Nations and human rights organizations. Following the arrests, the wives and relatives of those imprisoned in the crackdown formed the Ladies in White. The last of the 75 dissidents was finally released in May 2011. The Ladies in White and other supporters -- Ladies in Support -- continue to peacefully protest for the release of others who they believe have been imprisoned due to their dissident activities. The groups recently spread their peaceful protests to eastern provinces.

For Alejandro, Deborah, Mariela and Nilsa

Those are Cuban dictator Raul Castro's four children.

And Fidelito, Antonio, Alejandro, Alexis, Alex and Angel. (Alina is in exile).

Those are Fidel Castro's children.

And we should also include Raul's racist grandson, Raulito Guillermo.

Of all of these, Alejandro, Mariela and Raulito should take closest note.

By Brian Palmer in Slate:

Son of a ...

What happens to the offspring of deposed tyrants?

Do the children of dictators typically go down with their fathers?

Only if they're in politics. The son of a bloody tyrant can go on to lead a relatively normal, even productive life if he convinces the new government that he had nothing to do with his father's regime. Nicu and Valentin Ceausescu, the two sons of executed Romanian strongman Nicolae, are examples. Nicu was a high-profile participant in his father's government. When the revolution came, he was tried as a member of the regime and sentenced to 20 years. Valentin had nothing to do with the bloody dictatorship, and the rebels let him walk. Today, the "soft-spoken" 63-year-old physicist is the poster child for the surviving offspring of overthrown dictators. There are plenty of other blameless children of dictators who have walked away unscathed. Jaffar Amin, the 10th of Idi Amin's 40-or-so children by seven wives, currently does voice-over work in commercials in Uganda.

Each of Qaddafi's six surviving sons has participated to varying degrees in his government, and there's not a Valentin Ceausescu or a Jaffar Amin in the bunch. The prospects for 39-year-old Saif al-Islam are the most grim, because the International Criminal Court has indicted him as the "de facto Prime Minister" (PDF) of Libya for his role in the attacks against civilians over the past several months. It doesn't look good for Mutassim, Khamis, or Saadi Qaddafi, either. They're all involved in the military and national security, and will find it very difficult to argue that they didn't contribute to the murder of civilians. Saadi, in particular, must be kicking himself. Until the insurgency, he was best known as a soccer player who had a brief and tumultuous stint in Italy's top-flight league. (Critics said he was only in the league because of his father, and he was suspended for failing a drug test.) He would have been much better off had he let that be his legacy. Instead, he returned to lead the special forces after the rebellion broke out, and he's now in rebel hands.

There's another factor working against the Qaddafis-we may be getting tougher on the sons of overthrown tyrants. Consider Vittorio Mussolini. He actively participated in his father's war machine as an air force pilot. He also seemed to share his dad's bloodlust. In his 1957 memoir, Vittorio wrote of dropping a bomb on a group of Ethiopian tribesmen: "[T]he group opened up like a rose. It was most entertaining." After World War II, Vittorio fled to Argentina and opened a chain of Italian restaurants; later, he produced some of Federico Fellini's early films and worked as a film critic. He even wrote adoring books about his father. He died of natural causes in 1997.

These days, rebels will go after the sons of the previous dictator for crimes far less serious than bombing innocent civilians. Alaa Mubarak, for example, is currently facing corruption charges after the fall of his father Hosni's government. Unlike brother Gamal, Alaa didn't seem to play a central role in his father's regime. (Muhammad Qaddafi might want to pay attention to the trial-like Alaa Mubarak, he profited from his father's reign without getting too involved in the bloodletting.) Marko Milošević, the son of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević, has been charged with fraud for siphoning money from the state. Although Interpol has a warrant out for his arrest, Marko convinced Russia to grant him asylum, so he appears to be safe for now. (Marko Milošević is strikingly similar to Hannibal, another Qaddafi son. Both are known for acts of personal violence, but neither is stable enough to lead a government.)

It's rare for a new government to go after the daughter of a deposed dictator, although Saddam Hussein's eldest, Raghad, was indicted for aiding the Iraqi insurgency. Jordan has so far refused to extradite her.

New Video: Another Street-Corner Protest

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
A family gathers outside their home to chant "Libertad" ("Freedom") and "Justicia" ("Justice"):

Reporting on Cuban Repression

The AFP is the first (and apparently only) foreign news bureau in Havana with the journalistic integrity to report on last week's brutal attacks against Cuban pro-democracy activists:

Dissidents Detained in Cuba: Rights Group

Dozens of opposition activists have been detained in Cuba over the past five weeks, an outlawed rights group said on Tuesday, blaming President Raul Castro for the crackdown.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, known by its Spanish acronym CCDHRN, said at least 65 men and women have been arrested by secret police, 29 of whom remain in custody in the Americas' only one-party Communist-ruled nation.

"For five weeks the government has carried out violent political repression against women and other peaceful dissidents" in Santiago de Cuba province in the south of the island, according to a statement signed by the rights group's founder and spokesman Elizardo Sanchez.

"Most were totally unarmed and suffered acts of police brutality," it added.

According to the statement, several members of the "Ladies in White" group comprising wives and relatives of political prisoners were "beaten and arrested" on Sunday to prevent them joining a Mass in Santiago de Cuba.

A Ladies in White leader, Berta Soler, told AFP the group planned to meet Cardinal Jaime Ortega in Havana on Tuesday, and would ask him to intervene on behalf of dissidents, officially considered "mercenaries" in the pay of the US government.

A US State Department spokesman said Washington was troubled by reports of increased violence by government-organized mobs against the Damas de Blanco in Havana and Santiago de Cuba in recent weeks.

"The use of government-organized mobs to physically and verbally abuse peaceful protesters is unconscionable," the US spokesman added, noting: "We call for an immediate end to the harassment and violence committed against the Damas de Blanco."

"We support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their own future," the US spokesman added.

Cuba's Freedom Movement is Growing

By Aramis L. Perez in The Foundry:

Cuba’s Pro-Freedom ‘Resistance’ Movement Is Growing

As attention focuses on the Middle East and North Africa, where protesters have taken to the streets to demand political change, some wonder whether Cuba will follow suit. A closer look at the island, where freedom fighters wage a nonviolent struggle against a regime desperate to conceal the effectiveness such methods have met during the “Arab Spring,” reveals good news: a big story that cuts through the bleak reality of 52 years of totalitarian rule and the media noise fueled by pro-regime talking points.

The island’s growing pro-freedom Resistance, a movement of brave activists who defend Cubans’ basic liberties and fight for democracy, is making gains that are impossible to ignore. Their civic resistance actions, including increasingly bold demonstrations in highly visible public places, are garnering greater support from the man on the street. The Resistance has the courage to speak what is on the country’s mind.

Testimony from longtime activists and new video footage making its way out of the island confirm that something new is happening: more and more, ordinary Cubans are overcoming the climate of fear created by systematic surveillance and repression, firing squad executions, political imprisonment and torture to support Resistance members who proclaim a pro-freedom message on Cuban streets. This is happening in a situation which finds Cubans at a disadvantage in comparison to conditions in some “Arab Spring” countries: Cuba is a single-party Communist state with centralized control over the economy and people’s livelihoods, the regime denies Internet access to all but a chosen elite, mobile phone penetration is very low, telephony is monitored, and all independent media is illegal.

Case in point: a daring protest in Havana on Tuesday, August 23, 2011, first reported by the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, a coalition of pro-democracy groups in Cuba and abroad, and video of which quickly made its way online thanks to independent Havana-based news agency Hablemos Press.

Four women, members of the island-wide National Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front, as well as the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement for Civil Rights, ascended the granite steps of Havana’s historic Capitol Building. It is a majestic, neoclassical structure that housed the Congress of the Republic of Cuba before the totalitarian takeover in 1959.

These valiant ladies, Sara Martha Fonseca Quevedo, Tania Maldonado Santos, Odalys Caridad Sanabria Rodríguez and Mercedes García Alvarez, wore black, a symbol of mourning for their country and those fallen in pursuit of freedom. They paused about one-third of the way up and unfurled a white banner bearing words of hope and courage: “Freedom, justice, and democracy… DOWN WITH THE DICTATORSHIP.”

There, before crowds of Cubans and foreigners making their way through the broad space before the Capitol where tourists often pause for snapshots of bicycle taxis or old American cars, camcorders and mobile phone cameras captured the sight of four Cuban women publicly demonstrating for freedom.

For at least half an hour they made their stand, borne above the crowds by stones that once buttressed Cuban democracy.

We all are the Resistance! The streets belong to the people! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” they chanted, as onlookers watched.

Their actions brought to mind the words of former Czech President and anti-communist resistance fighter Vaclav Havel, who wrote that when a person breaks the rules of a Communist state and does not obey the regime’s demand in silent conformity, he chooses to “live in truth,” an essential step in opposing the crushing power of that system.

As you can see in the accompanying video, after a time, a single man, assumed to be a plainclothes officer of the feared State Security force, attempted to drive the women from their chosen ground, but they clutched their banner and sat.

Real Cuban voices, belonging to persons who chose to live in truth on that sun-drenched morning, shouted at the regime’s man. “Bully, Abuser! Let them go!” Facing a crowd that had suddenly lost its fear, the regime thug balked, and conferred with three additional plainclothes agents, returning after a time with uniformed male officers who manhandled and dragged the women away amid jeers and whistles of contempt for the oppressors from those witnessing the scene.

The women were detained, beaten, and threatened, but vowed to continue their struggle for freedom. The regime, meanwhile, continues to lash out, using systematic violence to maintain its hold on power. It has of late increased its repression against women, including the well-known Ladies in White who march on Sundays after Mass for the release of all political prisoners.

The protest at the Capitol and the people’s support for the activists, are proof that open support for the Cuban Resistance is growing among the people at large. Their strategy, nonviolent civic resistance, has proven effective against oppressive regimes. Their friends and allies abroad work actively to spread news of their struggle and provide support.

The big story in 2011 Cuba is that freedom is on the march, and it is very good news.

Petition for Alan Gross's Release

JCRC of Greater Washington Launches Nationwide On-Line Petition Drive Calling For Alan Gross' Freedom on Humanitarian Grounds

Today the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington launched a nationwide on-line petition drive appealing to Cuba's leadership on humanitarian grounds to free Alan Gross prior to the Jewish high holy days.

The petition is located here.

Judy Gross, Alan's wife, stated "I am incredibly grateful for the support our family is receiving from the Jewish community. We remain hopeful that this petition will inspire the Cuban authorities to release Alan on humanitarian grounds in time for the upcoming high holidays. With this petition I hope we can appeal to President Castro, Foreign Minister Rodriguez, and Ambassador Bolanos, not only as leaders of a sovereign nation, but as fathers and family men who can themselves understand what it would be like to have their family torn apart. We all hope and pray that this year Alan will be back in time to be with our family for the high holy days, and to add his mandolin and strong voice to our services."

Alan Gross, a resident of Potomac Maryland, was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 while working with the small Jewish community there to improve their internet access and to create an intranet for them. He has been incarcerated ever since. He languished in prison for over a year until he was finally charged by the Cuban government. He was convicted by a Cuban court of "actions against the integrity of the State," and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He subsequently appealed his sentence to the Cuban Supreme Court and the court reaffirmed the sentence, exhausting all of Alan's legal remedies. His only avenue left is commutation of his sentence by Raul Castro, President of Cuba.

Alan and his supporters have fervently rejected all accusations that he did anything, or intended to do anything, to harm the Cuban government. Quite to the contrary, his work in Cuba was only to help to improve the Cuban Jewish community's ability to use the internet. The President of the United States, senior Administration officials, Members of Congress, national leaders, and newspaper editorials have all called for his immediate release.

We are urging Alan's immediate release on humanitarian grounds. Since his incarceration, Alan's eldest daughter has been diagnosed with breast cancer and undergone a double mastectomy, his 89-year-old mother is suffering from inoperable cancer, and his wife Judy has undergone surgery for an undisclosed medical issue. Alan has lost approximately 100 pounds since his arrest and is suffering from several ailments.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) is the public affairs and community relations arms of the Jewish community representing over 100 Jewish organizations and synagogues throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

Is Porn a New Cuba Travel Category?

Earlier this year, Miami-Dade County School teacher Michael Loftis was suspended from his duties after his public career in gay pornography was discovered.

The Florida Department of Education, soon thereafter, revoked his teaching certification altogether.

But that's not the point of this post.

In a story about Loftin's career[s], the Miami New Times (disturbingly) side-notes:

"Last week [Loftin] was in Cuba, filming a sex scene involving twin brothers. He bragged on Twitter: 'They actually like touching and having sex with each other :)'"

This further highlights long-standing concerns about Cuba's sex tourism industry.

But moreover -- under what type of license did Loftis travel to Cuba?

Surely, this is not what the Obama Administration had in mind with "people-to-people travel" or "cultural exchanges."

A good question for the Treasury Department.

Remittances Are Pure Profit (For Castro)

Monday, August 29, 2011
By Cuban blogger Ivan Garcia in Desde La Habana:

Family remittances: Cuba’s number one industry

Fidel Castro’s revolution is an ocean of contradictions. It billed itself as a paradise for workers and the humble. Fifty-two years later, those two sectors are precisely the ones who are suffering the most.

Castro attempted to diversify industry, increase agriculture and become a power in the livestock industry. Not one was accomplished. The rulers designed a system where property would be in the hands of the workers. And today those workers continually rob their workplaces in order to compensate for low wages and attempt to live a better life.

The Cuban revolution has ended up hiding in a labyrinth. Even its social, educational and sports advances are in their darkest hour.

In the search of oxygen, and above all not to lose the presidential seat, the brothers Castro have become cross dressers. The luminous Marxist discourse and the fictional philosophy that is scientific communism is bankrupt.

What is left of socialist Cuba is a parody. At the sound of the trumpet, it begins reconverting itself into State capitalism. The military corporations have taken over the principle economic branches. Above all, those that produce money.

The “sacrificing leaders” sleep on plush mattresses. They live in air-conditioned residences with internet, satellite television and cars that always have a full tank of gas. And when summer arrives they leave with their families to Varadero without having to pay one penny.

The almost 2-billion dollars sent by Cubans in the diaspora during 2010 has served to pay for their luxuries and their private clinics.

In Cuba, there are four industries that produce revenue: aeronautics, tourism, telecommunications and family remittances. This last one is number one. There is no need to invest one cent. Everything is profit.

Here is another of the incongruities of the Castros’ island: those who work are paid in a useless currency. And they have to buy cooking oil, toiletries, clothes, shoes and appliances with dollars.

In spite of this arbitrariness, the Cubans do not take to the streets. Discontent in Cuba manifests itself in other forms: routine, laziness, sloppiness, workplace robbery or emigration.

The typical citizen resolves the shortages by picking up the phone and calling his family on the other side of the Florida Straits. “Send me some money that things are bad.” And that family member goes to an agency in Florida and wires them a hundred dollar bill.

Within 24 hours they receive the money at home. They can buy food and powdered milk for their 7 year old son, for the government has decided that at that age, the child no longer needs to drink milk.

In part, he resolved a big problem, at least until next month. And the regime honchos, with big smiles on their faces, watch the digits on their cash registers. Remittances are a lifesaver for the both of them. The government milks exiles as if they were cows. And to amass more dollars, they raise the duty fees on the products sold in dollars.

That hundred dollar bill received by the impoverished and insular family has a tax placed on it of 13%. That goes on top of the 240% markup placed on the items in the “shopping centers” or dollar stores.

One hundred dollars today was 65 dollars ten years ago. All the basic items cost anywhere from 15 to 20% more than they did in 2001. The rulers justify themselves with the Robin Hood theory. According to them, the State can subsidize the rest of the population, the 35% that does not receive dollars, with these taxes. But in practice, that is simply not the case.

The elderly, who gave the best of themselves applauding the cheating bearded one, and those who risked their lives in African wars, live worse than ever in 2011.

Schools and hospitals are deteriorating, and the sports complexes find themselves in similar conditions. Large areas of fertile land are filled with marabu weeds. The construction of 63% of the homes is in bad shape, with many of them on the verge of collapse.

Let’s take out the calculator: Since July of 1993, when the dollar was legalized, at one-hundred million per year in terms of remittances, the government has received 18-billion dollars. Add to that more billions that came from the partnerships in tourism, aeronautics, and telecommunications.

What have the Castro brothers done with all that cash? What have they spent it on? There is only official silence.

A large part of those remittances come in handy for certain olive green corporations to create companies and invest in projects that do not benefit the majority.

But if the family members did not send money, then those 65% who do receive dollars would have had to have taken one of two paths: throw themselves to the sea on anything that floats, or start screaming “liberty” in a public plaza and receive an overabundance of blows by the paramilitary mobs.

You cannot ask the people to adopt a heroic stance. We have never had a calling for martyrdom. In a survey of 30 families that receive dollars, 28 are tired of Fidel and Raul Castro and all their clan.

Family remittances have meant a better life for an innumerable amount of Cubans throughout the island. They eat and dress better, and they have been able to repair their homes. And although some of them continue living behind a mask — they participate in the revolutionary dance and vote in the elections — they are also in favor of political and economic changes.

That they do not protest is easy to understand. In closed societies under the absolute control of secretive services, fear tends to win over the desire for liberty.

But the dollars sent by our relatives strengthens the power of the Castros. It is a truth that is as plain as day.

Translated by Babalu Blog.

Castro vs. The Ladies in White

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Castro vs. the Ladies in White

Rocks, iron bars and sticks are no match for the gladiolas and courage of these peaceful Cuban protesters.

Rocks and iron bars were the weapons of choice in a government assault on a handful of unarmed women on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba on the afternoon of Aug. 7. According to a report issued by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the beatings were savage and "caused them injuries, some considerable."

It was not an isolated incident. In the past two months attacks on peaceful women dissidents, organized by the state security apparatus, have escalated. Most notable is the intensity with which the regime is moving to try to crush the core group known as the Ladies in White.

This is not without risk to the regime, should the international community decide to pay attention and apply pressure on the white-elite regime the way it did in opposition to apartheid in South Africa. But the decision to take that risk suggests that the 52-year-old dictatorship in Havana is feeling increasingly insecure. The legendary bearded macho men of the "revolution," informed by the trial of a caged Hosni Mubarak in an Egyptian courtroom, apparently are terrified by the quiet, prayerful, nonviolent courage of little more than 100 women. No totalitarian regime can shrug off the fearless audacity these ladies display, or the signs that their boldness is spreading.

The Castro brothers' goons are learning that they will not be easily intimidated. Take, for example, what happened that same Aug. 7 morning in Santiago: The women, dressed in white and carrying flowers, had gathered after Sunday Mass at the cathedral for a silent procession to protest the regime's incarceration of political prisoners. Castro supporters and state security officials, "armed with sticks and other blunt objects," according to FIDH, assaulted the group both physically and verbally. The ladies were then dragged aboard a bus, taken outside the city and dropped off on the side of a highway.

Some of them regrouped and ventured out again in the afternoon, this time to hold a public vigil for their cause. That's when they were met by another Castro onslaught. On the same day thugs set upon the homes of former political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer and another activist. Six people, including Mr. Ferrer's wife and daughter, were sent to the hospital with contusions and broken bones, according to FIDH.

The Ladies in White first came on the scene in the aftermath of the infamous March 2003 crackdown in which 75 independent journalists and librarians, writers and democracy advocates were rounded up and handed prison sentences of six to 28 years. The wives, mothers and sisters of some of them began a simple act of protest. On Sundays they would gather at the Havana Cathedral for Mass and afterward they would march carrying gladiolas in a silent call for the prisoners' release.

In 2005 the Ladies in White won Europe's prestigious Sakharov prize for their courage. Cellphones that caught the regime's brutality against them on video helped get their story out. By 2010 they had so embarrassed the dictatorship internationally that a deal was struck to deport their imprisoned loved ones along with their family to Spain.

But some prisoners refused the deal and some of the ladies stayed in Cuba. Others joined them, calling themselves "Ladies in Support." The group continued its processions following Sunday Mass in Havana, and women on the eastern end of the island established the same practice in Santiago.

Laura Pollan, whose husband refused to take the offer of exile in Spain and was later released from prison, is a key member of the group. She and her cohorts have vowed to continue their activism as long as even one political prisoner remains jailed. Last week I spoke with her by phone in Havana, and she told me that when the regime agreed to release all of the 75, "it thought that the Ladies in White would disappear. Yet the opposite happened. Sympathizers have been joining up. There are now 82 ladies in Havana and 34 in Santiago de Cuba." She said that the paramilitary mobs have the goal of creating fear in order to keep the group from growing. But the movement is spreading to other parts of the country, places where every Sunday there are now marches.

This explains the terror that has rained down on the group in Santiago and surrounding suburbs on successive Sundays since July and on other members in Havana as recently as Aug. 18.

Last Tuesday, when four women dressed in black took to the steps of the Capitol building in Havana chanting "freedom," a Castro bully tried to remove them. Amazingly, the large crowd watching shouted for him to leave them alone. Eventually uniformed agents carried them off. But the incident, caught on video, is evidence of a new chapter in Cuban history, and it is being written by women. How it ends may depend heavily on whether the international community supports them or simply shields its eyes from their torment.

Over 50 Pro-Democracy Activists Arrested

Sunday, August 28, 2011
Here's a recap of this weekend's (August 26-28) wave of repression by the Castro regime against unarmed, non-violent, pro-democracy activists:

(These are in addition to the arrests made pursuant to the Capitol building and Cuatro Caminos street-corner protests caught on video earlier in the week).

I.
Ladies in White Caridad Caballero Batista and Marta Diaz Rondon were dragged, beaten, sexually harassed and arrested on Saturday, as they made their way to Palma Soriano for a meeting of human rights activists.

II. Thirteen other Ladies in White, who had gathered in the home of Aimee Garces Leyva, were prevented from attending Mass at the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba on Sunday. They were confronted and beaten by Castro's forces as they tried to walk out to the street. The 13 women were forced onto buses and taken to an undisclosed location. The home of Garces Leyva was, thereafter, ransacked by the authorities. Among the 13 were Belkys Cantillo, Oria Casanova, Yaquelin Garcia, Gisel Escalona and Berta Soler. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

III. Twenty-five human rights activists, who had gathered at the home of Marino Antomarchy, also in Palma Soriano, were brutally beaten by armed riot troops. They were attacked with teargas and violently arrested on Sunday afternoon. Neighbors who tried to help the activist were gassed and arrested as well. Antomarchy's family, including his young daughter, were also victims of this attack. The home was searched and the authorities took a computer, cell phones and documents.

Some of those also arrested were: Ruben Adrobe de Armas, Doraisa Correoso, Marino Antomarchy, Reinaldo Rodriguez, Jose Batista, Yimi Troche, Raumel Vinajera and Jorge Cervantes.

IV. In the city of El Caney, the home of Guillermo Cobas Reyes was surrounded by paramilitary mobs. Cobas Reyes was violently arrested along with Agustin Magdariaga Alvarez. Rusela Vaso and Romel Avila Vaso, the wife and son of human rights activist, Raudel Avila Losada, were also arrested.

V. Cuban pro-democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" has also reported the arrest of activists from the "Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civil Resistance Front" in the Pinar del Rio and Camaguey provinces.

H/T Coalition of Cuban-American Women

Havana News Bureaus Should be Ashamed

This week, four courageous Cuban women stood on the steps of the Capitol building in Havana and demanded an end to Castro's 52-year totalitarian dictatorship.

Their protest was met with solidarity from those in the vicinity, who yelled insults at the repressive forces sent to arrest them.

A few days later, another protest by two other female pro-democracy leaders swelled into a crowd of 300 supporters, who gathered in front of a police station (where the women were subsequently taken) and began chanting "Libertad" ("Freedom").

Video clips of both of these events can be seen here and here.

Yet, foreign news bureaus in Havana do not seems to find these transcendental events noteworthy.

So what have they reported on this week?

The AP put out a story on a 24-fingered man, the AFP on baby pigs that feed milk from a dog and (a bit more newsworthy) Reuters on an unconfirmed tip by a "Western diplomat" that an oil exploration platform was finally on its way to Cuba (for the umpteenth time).

Sadly, this is not a joke.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

The Spark of Disobedience

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

The spark of disobedience

OUR OPINION: Small protest in Cuba brings anti-regime defiance

An extraordinary event occurred in Havana last week. Four women staged a brief protest against the Castro regime on the steps of the Capitol building — unusual in itself — and a host of onlookers quickly gathered. The surprise came when police showed up to arrest the protesters, members of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights, and the crowd suddenly erupted with taunts and jeers against the security agents.

Suéltalas, carajo! (Let them go, damn it!), yelled an angry bystander. Others called the police shameless ( descarados) and hurled epithets. The crowd did not try to stop the detentions, but they had no qualms about calling Castro's thugs by the names they richly deserved — bullies and abusers.

This is something new in Cuba. By the standards of, say, the Arab Spring, the event may not seem like a lot. But by the standards of Cuba, where tension and discontent with a half-century of dictatorship have been unable to find a powerful voice, it represents a daring show of defiance, all the more so because it was a spontaneous reaction from average Cubans.

It is virtually unprecedented for a random group of Cubans to take sides with protesters, openly and fearlessly, when the police make a show of force. The only acceptable role for the people in the Castro playbook is to support the regime, do as they're told, and otherwise be quiet. No defiance is tolerated.

Everyone in Cuba knows that departing from this script can bring the state's wrath down on them and their loved ones.

Precisely because Castro's agents have perfected the police-state tactic of nipping protest in the bud, dousing the spark of protest before it turns into a flame, any open manifestation usually comes to nothing. The regime's durability is a testament to the effectiveness of the brutal police state.

But if the onlookers this time were unwilling to join the protesters' repeated cries of "liberty," they were quick to jump into the fray verbally to support the women's right to express themselves.

Most Cubans may be hesitant to join a protest, but they understand intuitively that everyone has civil rights the state can't deny, including the all-powerful right to voice their ideas openly. In Cuba, where the communist government has robbed people of all their rights, this development is something for the regime to fear.

Also important: The video shows many in the crowd holding up cell phones to record the protest and arrests. As it has done on so many fronts, the regime has been effective in limiting access to the Internet and other technology, but it can't stop progress.

That's the reason that American Alan Gross, who was delivering satellite phone technology to the tiny Jewish community in Cuba, sits in a Cuban jail. Technology is a threat to the dictatorship because it serves as a venue for communication, and the state finds it impossible to impose rigid control. What a nightmare for Fidel and Raúl, because you know what happens when people start talking to each other without Big Brother listening in. Pretty soon they start getting wild notions about freedom and next thing you know...

Cuba may be a long way from there. This was just one small event in Havana. Or not. Maybe, more than 10 years after Pope John Paul II told Cubans not to be afraid, they are finally finding their voice.