Hostages: Two Down, One To Go

Saturday, September 17, 2011
By Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations:

Hostages: Two Down, One To Go

The announcement that the two American hostages in Iran, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, will be released on bail is very welcome. They have been imprisoned since July 2009, and it appears their release is an effort by Iran to eliminate this issue before President Ahmadinejad hits the United Nations in the coming weeks.

But we have not fared so well in Cuba. There, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson’s visit resulted in nothing. He was not even permitted to see the American hostage, Alan Gross, who has been in prison since December 2009. Richardson was invited to Cuba and had every reason to believe Gross would be released to him. But the Castro brothers remain as vicious as ever in their rule and their treatment of prisoners.

The ball therefore bounces back to the U.S. government. What steps will now be taken to put more pressure on Cuba? How about this to start: reverse every move made by the Obama Administration to free up travel to Cuba. Such travel gives the Castros additional hard currency.

A further step: the Administration should publicly appeal to university and church groups, which often sponsor travel to Cuba, to stay home. Visiting Cuba’s beaches while a fellow American is kept prisoner there is unconscionable, and the White House should say so.

No Dictatorship Lasts Forever

By Frida Ghitis in The Miami Herald:

Waiting for revolution in Cuba, Burma and North Korea

For all the luxuries they enjoy, dictators live in a state of constant fear.

Without the trust of their people they must always protect themselves against real, imagined, or even potential plots. They may be paranoid, but they’re right to be afraid. That’s true now more than ever.

These are scary times for tyrants. Some of the world’s most enduring dictatorships, the ones that looked as though they would never end, have met their demise in recent months. For now, the popular revolts have spread only through the Middle East. Unelected governments in other parts of the world are trying to make sure they’re not next.

In countries like Cuba, North Korea and Burma (renamed Myanmar), and others, unelected regimes are raising the walls as they try to keep themselves safe from the very people they claim have nothing but love for their long-time rulers.

As has happened throughout history, information and communications are pivotal to revolutions. That’s why the message, news about what’s happening in places like Egypt, is being either blocked or pre-digested for public consumption.

When Egyptian protesters, fed up with 30 years of Mubarak rule, forced the president out of power, Cuba’s Fidel Castro explained the events as a revolt against America. In his column in the Communist Party daily Granma, the iconic former Cuban president wrote, “After 18 days of harsh battling, the Egyptian people attained an important objective: to defeat the United States’ principal ally in the heart of the Arab countries.”

A similar narrative explained other events in the region. Castro defended Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi until the end, painting the uprising as a brutal NATO onslaught against the defenseless Libyan people, an example of colonialist Western aggression aimed at grabbing Libyan oil.

To protect against other versions, the government ordered CNN’s Spanish language network removed from the foreign programming available only to luxury hotels and foreign companies. The order came in January, as Cairo’s Tahrir Square was boiling with the heat of revolution.

Most Cubans have little if any access to the Internet or other sources of non-government-controlled media.

An American contractor, 62-year-old Alan Gross, was sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison after he was found to have brought equipment to allow Internet access for members of the country’s tiny Jewish community.

Information is even more tightly controlled in other dictatorships. In North Korea, television sets come factory-tuned to government propaganda channels and there is essentially no Internet and virtually no cellphone service. Even so, a report by South Korea’s Institute for National Unification says the North reacted to Arab rebellions with a number of urgent measures to prevent contagion. Police stations, according to INU, were ordered to intensify their ideological indoctrination programs. Other reports say additional security forces were deployed to prevent any trouble.

If any significant uprising happened to occur, there’s little doubt Pyongyang, with more than a million soldiers receiving privileges from their loyalty to the state, would quickly use force to suppress it.

Burma’s rulers have also shown a willingness to use force to stop protests. Long before the Arab uprisings, young Burmese took to the streets to demand democracy. It happened on Aug. 8, 1988 (8-8-88). The military killed thousands of demonstrators and imprisoned their leaders. Buddhist monks launched another protests in 2007. The government again responded with violence, leaving another trail of blood.

Still, the Burmese opposition lives on, and the regime has put on a democracy charade. Fraudulent elections produced a new, supposedly civilian, parliament, in fact dominated by the military. The new prime minister is a former general. But opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, after years under arrest, has been freed.

In an interview with the BBC she told Egyptian demonstrators, “We’re all with you.” But most Burmese find it difficult to get information. The government says 0.8 percent of the country has Internet access. Local newspapers offer a parody of the news. Stories from Egypt during the January uprising, for example, included news of secret chambers discovered in the pyramids.

The real news, of course, is that tyrants can be toppled.

No dictatorship lasts forever. For the people who have struggled against all odds, facing imprisonment and worse for demanding democracy, the truth about what is happening to Middle Eastern dictators will slowly filter in. Their rulers already know the truth. They are watching closely, and they are not sleeping well at night.

Providing Relief to a Repressive Regime

From NED's Democracy Digest:

Cuba trips ‘create relief program for regime’ as 30 dissidents jailed

Cuban authorities have jailed more than 30 dissidents to stop them organizing a protest march. Among those detained was the celebrated opposition activist, Guillermo Farinas.

The arrests detentions were designed to sabotage a proposed “National March for Freedom, Boitel and Zapata Live!” José Daniel Ferrer García, a former political prisoner, told The Miami Herald.

The march was to have started Sept. 8 in easternmost Guantanamo and picked up supporters as it moved west toward Havana... But the plans changed after police from the very first day detained several dozen dissidents in towns like Guantánamo, Palma Soriano, Holguín, Bayamo and Las Tunas. Now dissidents in each town and city are expected to try to stage their own marches, whenever they can and for as long as they can before police break them up.

The marches are to demand the government obey international agreements on human rights, halt the repression against peaceful dissidents, free all political prisoners and cancel all laws that limit dissent.

The communist authorities have intensified their harassment of dissidents over recent months without managing to stifle dissent. The coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, this week called on the regime to hold free elections.

At least seven other dissidents detained at the same time have also been freed and the rest were expected to be released soon,

Short-term detentions were part of a sustained government campaign of intimidation and harassment of pro-democracy activists, Elizardo Sanchez, president of the unofficial Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, some activists are complaining that the Communist regime benefits from newly-permitted trips back to the island.

"We are essentially creating a relief program for the current regime," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Cuban democracy advocate.

The Vietnam Model

Friday, September 16, 2011
Raul Castro has this one down cold.

Prominent Dissidents Arrested

From EFE:

More than 20 Dissidents Detained in Cuba

Prominent dissidents Guillermo Fariñas and Angel Moya are among the more than 20 government opponents arrested in the central city of Santa Clara and other nearby towns, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation said.

In a communique Thursday, the spokesman for the illegal but tolerated commission, Elizardo Sanchez, said that "all the arrests were arbitrary and their purpose was to stop a group of peaceful members of the opposition from meeting in that city."

Sanchez said that at least 27 arrests have been confirmed and that 12 hours after the arrests, none of these prisoners has been reported freed.

Stop Negotiating With Cuba's Hostage-Takers

The logic behind the maxim "don't negotiate with hostage-takers" is simple:

If a government gives in to the demands of hostage-takers, it only encourages more hostage-taking and endangers more lives.

Moreover, it shows them that thuggery works and enhances the standing of the most radical elements.

For nearly two years, the Castro regime has held American development worker, Alan Gross, as its hostage.

While the Obama Administration has condemned this hostage-taking rhetorically, it has nonchalantly continued to provide one concession after another -- easing a host of sanctions on travel and remittances.

Thus, the hostage-taking of Alan Gross by the Castro regime has been tragically inconsequential.

Last week, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson came back from Cuba, where he traveled carrying further concessions from the Obama Administration. Yet, he was publicly snubbed.

Richardson now claims that "there are some hard-line elements in Cuban government that basically don't want to improve the relationship with the U.S."

Well, he's absolutely right.

It's the same radical elements that have ruled over Cuba with a totalitarian fist for 52-years; the same elements that have imprisoned, tortured, executed and exiled millions of Cubans; the same elements that have fomented anti-American violence in three continents.

Their names are Fidel and Raul Castro.

So Richardson shouldn't be surprised by this weekend's snub.

After two years of concessions by the Obama Administration -- despite the holding of an American hostage -- the Cuban government's radical elements have been emboldened.

And guess what? They want more.

It's time to exercise tangible pressure.

Richardson Carried (Concerning) Chits

Thursday, September 15, 2011
From The New York Times:

Bill Richardson had chits to offer Cuban officials in Havana this week if they released Alan Gross, the American contractor serving a 15-year sentence for distributing satellite telephone equipment.

Mr. Richardson, who has negotiated prisoner releases from Cuba to North Korea, had State Department approval to present at least two things, said four people with knowledge of the negotiations. One was a process for removing Cuba from the list of states sponsoring terrorism. The Obama administration was also willing to waive probation for one of the “Cuban Five,” as a group of Cuban agents accused of espionage in the United States are known on the island, so he could go home after he leaves prison next month.

But it was not enough. Mr. Richardson was not even allowed to see Mr. Gross, and when he left Havana on Wednesday, he was angry and disappointed, concluding that elements of the Cuban government “do not seem to really want warmer relations.”

Richardson's New Recommendation to State

Learning the hard way (two years later).

From the AP:

Cuba accused former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson of "blackmail" and slander on Wednesday, denying his claims that he was invited to the island to negotiate the release of a jailed American government subcontractor [...]

An aide to Richardson who was with the governor on the trip took exception to [Cuba's] account, insisting that the American politician was indeed invited to discuss the Gross case.

"The Cubans are making flimsy excuses only after they personally invited Gov. Richardson to discuss the Alan Gross detention and only after they inexplicably stonewalled Governor Richardson," Gilbert Gallegos said in comments e-mailed to AP late Wednesday. He said Richardson would meet with State Department officials and recommend no softening of the U.S. position toward the island until Gross is released.

168 Political Arrests in 12 Days

During the first 12 days of September, the Castro regime has arrested at least 168 pro-democracy activists.

Caveat: These are only the ones that are known and documented.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

The world should know their names and their courage:

September 1st -

Ivonne Mayeza and Ignacio Martínez, in Havana.

September 2nd -

Roberto J. Guerra, in Havana

Roberto C. García, in Ciego de Avila

Jorge J. Cortina, Orlando Billar, Yordis Sofía, Rodolfo Bartelemí and Isael Pobeda, in Guantanamo.

Leuvis Fajardo, Juan C. Vázquez, Maritza Cardosa and Milagros Leiva, in Holguin.

September 3rd -

Nilo J. Padrón, in Pinar del Rio

Iván Méndez Mirabal and Yunier Ramos Morejón, in Havana.

September 4th -

Héctor J. Cedeño, Lilia Castañer, José A. Álvarez, Rita Monte de Oca, Mayra Morejón, Rosario Morales, Ivonne Mayeza, Heriberto Pon, Idania Torres and Caridad Ramírez, in Havana

Julio I. León, Francisco Rangel, Lázaro Díaz and Carlos O. Olivera, María T. Castellano, Mercedes E. García, Caridad Burunate, Marlene Guerra, Yanelys Pérez, Leticia Ramos, Sara M. Fonseca and Laura Pollán, in Matanzas

Reinaldo Rodríguez, in Villa Clara

September 5th -

Nosbel Jomolka, Marielis González, Orlando Alfonso and Enrique Martínez, in Villa Clara

Jorge Cervantes, in Santiago de Cuba

September 6th -

José Díaz, José Díaz Esquivel, Zulema Lay, Orlando Vargas, Joel Arteaga, Mario A. Hernández, Luis J. Gutiérrez and Lázaro A. Pérez, in Havana

September 7th -

Elicardo Freile and Virgilio Mantilla, in Camaguey

September 8th -

Rafael Y. Almansa, in Ciego de Avila

Idalis Ramírez, David Águila, José A. Luque, Pedro P. García, Yunier Laza, Inés A. Quesada, José Díaz, Joel Arteaga, Mario A. Hernández and Neldo I. Echevarría, in Havana

Juan L. Pérez, Maury E. Dupuy, Yoan D. González and Verlay Vejerano, in Camaguey

Rolando Rodríguez, Redesmeldo Sánchez, Niorvis Rivera, Drisis Revé, Daneike Betancourt, María Alfonso, Rafael Matos, Yordis Sofía, Yordenis Mendoza, Osvayemi Gran, Rafael Caballero, Yoandris Beltrán, Eliecer Aranda, Elisa M. Reinier, Roberto C. Miguel, Rosaida Ramírez, Rogelio Tavío, Lázaro Chivas y Bernal Vejerano, in Guantanamo

Laura M. Labrada, Eunice Madaula, Aimeé Garcés, Belkis Cantillo, Tania Montoya, Yuremi González, Mildre N. Sánchez, Milagro Leiva, Julia del Carmen Cairo, Yanelis Elegica, Annie Sarrión, Oria J. Casanova, Doraisa Correoso, Annia Alegre, Yusmila Rodríguez, Mariza Cardosa, Yuvisleibis Rodríguez, Yusisleysis Vázquez, Luz María Parada, Juana I. Parada, Vivian Peña, Guillermo Cobas, René Hierrezuelo, Marino Antomarchit, Julio Cobas, José Batista, José A. Reyes, William Cepera, Prudencio Villalón, Abrahán Cabrera, Yelena Garcés and Héctor F. Labrada, in Santiago de Cuba

September 9th -

Heriberto Pon Ruiz and Caridad Ramírez, in Havana

José D. Ferrer, Raumel Vinajera, Raudel Ávila, Ángel Moya, Tania Montoya, Maximiliano Sánchez and Francisco Castellano, in Santiago de Cuba

September 10th -

Félix Reyes, in Villa Clara

September 11th -

Caridad Caballero, Esteban Sanders, Juan C. Mendosa, José L. Cedeño, Juan Cordero, Carlos E. Cutiño, Ana M. Aguilera, Juan C. Piña, Franklin Pelegrino and Berta Guerrero, in Holguin.

September 12th -

Emilio Almaguer, Anderlay Guerra, Yanier Joumber, Isael Pobeda, Carlos M. Delgado, René Rodríguez, Yordis Fuentes, Keiber Loborí, Raúl de la Cruz, José A. Rivero, Eliecer Palmas, Rolando Rodríguez, Luis Felipe Rojas, Julián A. Moné, Rodolfo Bartelemí, Francisco L. Manzanet, Annia Sarrión, Liurbis Fajardo, Milagro Leiva, Aidé Galván, Keiber Rodríguez, Romarico Lape, Roberto Quiñones, Justo Franco, Euderico Silo and Roberto González, in Guantanamo.

Watch "Cuba's Hope"

Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Don't miss this great new short documentary from In Altum Productions, entitled Cuba's Hope.

Here's the introduction:

In 2008, Fidel Castro handed over control of Cuba to his younger brother, Raul. Since then, experts have predicted significant changes in the lives of the Cuban people -- especially in the lives of young Cubans. While hope springs eternal, the Cuban government's continued use of laws that violate basic standards of international human rights makes it almost impossible for citizens to openly voice their desires for change. Despite the obstacles, many young people in Cuba risk their lives to work for a better, more just future. In the spring of 2011, Livio, an independent librarian and Cuban youth leader, visited five people: a blogger, a student, a professor, a journalist and a musician. Cuba's Hope tells their stories.

Jewish (and Cuban) Voters Rebuke Obama's Policy

Last night, Republican Bob Turner pulled off an extraordinary upset to win the most heavily-Jewish Congressional District in the country, New York's overwhelmingly Democratic 9th Congressional District.

One of the main reasons for this upset was the Jewish community's rejection of President Obama's policies towards Israel.

Yet, for months, pollsters insisted that the Jewish community remained supportive of Obama despite (or due to) his policies.

Sound familiar?

Last year, in the heavily Cuban-American 25th Congressional District of Florida, President Obama's candidate (and strong advocate for his Cuba policy) received less than 18% of the Cuban-American vote.

Some lessons are only learned the hard way.

Bill Richardson's Fruitless Mission

While the Obama Administration keeps expanding travel and hard currency to Cuba, its cash-happy dictatorship remains as brutal and close-minded as ever.

Moreover, it has (dangerously) learned that taking an American hostage is inconsequential.

From EFE:

Richardson leaves Cuba with no progress on jailed American

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said here Tuesday that he is leaving Cuba "very disappointed" after the island's Communist government refused to let him meet with a U.S. aid contractor sentenced to 15 years in prison for subversion.

"I have been here a week and tried through all means - with religious institutions, diplomats from other countries, all kinds of efforts - and I see that this isn't going to change," he said at a press conference in Havana. "So why would I stay?"

Richardson, who vowed last week to remain on the island until authorities allowed him to visit Alan Gross at the Havana military hospital where he is being treated for an unspecified health problem, said he will leave Cuba on Wednesday.

"Perhaps the Cuban government has decided it does not want to improve relations. Perhaps that is the message it is sending," the former governor, lawmaker, ambassador and Cabinet secretary said.

Noting his years of advocating for better U.S.-Cuba ties, Richardson said he was "very disappointed and surprised" by Cuban officials' unwillingness to let him see Gross or even to discuss the case.

Obama Sees Farce of Castro's "Reforms"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011
From BBC:

Barack Obama says Cuba's reforms not aggressive enough

Recent changes in Cuba have not been "aggressive enough" to open its economy or reform its political system, US President Barack Obama has said.

Mr Obama, speaking to Spanish-language correspondents in Washington, said Cuba remained a "throwback" to the 1960s.

Cuba, under a US economic embargo for nearly five decades, has this year moved towards some economic opening.

President Obama said the Cuban authorities had indicated they wanted to make changes to allow businesses to operate more freely.

But, he said, there was no evidence that they had been sufficiently aggressive in doing this.

"And they certainly have not been aggressive enough when it comes to liberating political prisoners and giving people the opportunity to speak their minds", Mr Obama said.

Cuban President Raul Castro has been introducing some changes including allowing Cubans to work for themselves.

The Cuban government this year also freed the last of 75 dissidents jailed during a crackdown on dissent in 2003.

But Mr Obama put the situation in Cuba in the wider international context.

"You are seeing enormous changes taking place in the Middle East just in the span of six months, you are seeing there are almost no authoritarian communist countries left in the world, and here you have this small island that is a throwback to the 60s."

Iran, Hezbollah and an American Hostage (in Cuba)

Monday, September 12, 2011
Last Thursday, Iran's "First Vice President" Mohammad Reza Rahimi traveled to Havana were he met with Cuban dictator Raul Castro, signed five cooperation agreements, extended a $690 million line of credit and agreed to jointly fight against "global arrogance."

Shortly before, Italy's Corriere della Sera reported how the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah has set up an operations center in Cuba to launch attacks on Israeli targets in South America.

All the while, an American development worker, Alan Gross, continues to be held hostage (just ask former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson) by the Castro brothers for helping Cuba's Jewish community connect to the Internet.

Sounds like a troubling trend.

Worst of the Worst Dictators

Sunday, September 11, 2011
From Foreign Policy's list of the world's worst dictators:


After 52 years under the rule of the Castro brothers, Cubans are stirring. On Aug. 23, a group of four women took to the steps of the capitol building in Havana chanting "freedom." The Castro security goons pounced, raining rocks and using iron bars on the unarmed ladies. The crowd that had gathered booed, hissed, and insulted the agents.

Things were already getting hot for Raúl prior to the Arab Spring. Cuba's socialist economy has been in the doldrums. On Sept. 13, 2010, Cuba announced it would lay off "at least" half a million state workers over the next six months and simultaneously allow more jobs to be created in the private sector as the socialist economy struggled to get back on its feet. The plan was part of a pledge to shed some one million state jobs, a full fifth of the official workforce. It increasingly looks like Raúl's plan is akin to Mikhail Gorbachev's "perestroika" -- sans "glasnost."

"Our state cannot and should not continue maintaining companies, productive entities and services with inflated payrolls and losses that damage our economy and result counterproductive, create bad habits and distort workers' conduct," the CTC, Cuba's official labor union, announced. The Castro regime, which has for decades relied on its relatively generous welfare state to retain autocratic rule, will now have to rely entirely on state repression. It's a very fragile arrangement.

We Will Never Forget

On this 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2011, we honor and remember the victims: