Must See: "I Protest"

Saturday, September 24, 2011
A must see video from Cuba's united hip-hop movement.

Three observations:

1. What a great song.
2. Young Cubans are p#*!d off.
3. Note the references to victory for "las Damas," "we are all the Resistance" and the constant barrage against repression.

H/T Penultimos Dias

From Yesterday's Vigil

From yesterday's vigil at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., for the release of the Castro regime's American hostage, Alan Gross:

"His only intention was to help the small Jewish communities in Cuba, nothing more. I believe that the Cubans know this, and we remain hopeful that Alan will be able to come home soon," said his wife Judy Gross.

"I don't know what point the Cuban government is trying to make, but they should understand point, the message they're sending to the rest of the world. And that point is that they fear freedom and they refuse to do the humanitarian thing," said U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

An Imminent Crackdown

From The Miami Herald:

Havana’s patience with protests may be running thin

A decision by Cuban prosecutors to put 11 dissidents on trial and a pro-government blog’s threat against the Ladies in White might signal that the government has lost its patience with a recent wave of protests, activists said.

“State Security agents have told us they prefer to pay the political costs of having new political prisoners than allow the growth of our movement,” said dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, freed this spring after eight years in prison.

Cuban authorities generally prefer to detain dissidents for a few hours to disrupt their plans, rather than risk condemnations by throwing them in jail for long periods. In the past year the government freed 52 dissidents jailed during a mass roundup in 2003.

But this year has seen a wave of activism. Cuban courts have convicted eight dissidents, compared to only two convictions in 2010, and sentenced them to prison terms of up to five years.

The threat of a crackdown against the Ladies in White came in Cambios en Cuba — Changes in Cuba — a pro-government blog that accused the women of trying to provoke a military intervention in Cuba like the NATO attacks in Libya.

The women, all relatives of political prisoners, and their supporters plan to gather for Mass on Saturday at the Church of Las Mercedes to give thanks for the release of the 52 dissidents and pray for the release of all other jailed opposition activists.

“The result of this announced provocation is already predictable: As many times as needed, our youths and women will block the so-called Ladies from [creating] … public disorders. Put simply, they will not be allowed,” the unsigned blog post noted.

Government-organized mobs have broken up attempted protests around Cuba this year with so-called “acts of repudiation” that sometimes involve the use of force and violence against opposition activists.

The blog alleged that the Ladies in White want to be “the little spark that sets off the social explosion that converts Cuba into a NATO shooting range.”

Responding to the blog’s allegations, Berta Soler, Ladies in White spokeswoman, said she did not understand “how some women dressed in white could be a provocation.”

Ferrer said prosecutor Olga Virgen Despaigne Correoso, handling two cases against 11 dissidents in the eastern town of Palma Soriano, had issued written decisions that they should go to trial. Charges of creating public disturbances will be filed against seven men arrested Aug. 28 during an incident in which dissidents alleged that police used tear gas and deployed a riot-control squad to block a street protest by about 30 government critics, Ferrer said.

The four others were arrested Sept. 8 after a verbal street confrontation with a government supporter, he said. They were charged with creating a public disturbance and assault.

Quote of the Last Two and a Half Years

Friday, September 23, 2011
“There’s a substitution of subsidies to the island [Cuba] — from the Soviet Union, then Venezuela and now, from the diaspora.”

-- Dr. Jorge Sanguinetty, economist, during the the annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE), August 4-6, 2011

Syria's James Cason

Thursday, September 22, 2011
The United States need more diplomats like James Cason in Havana (from 2002-2005) and currently Robert Ford in Damascus, who aren't afraid to hold tyrants accountable and openly express support for the democratic aspirations of repressed activists.

The following are excerpts from the Daily Caller's interview with the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford.

On Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad:

The American Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford called Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad evil in an extensive interview with The Daily Caller Wednesday from his mission in the Middle Eastern country.

“Yes, actually I do because what’s happening under his authority in terms of people being tortured to death, people being shot who are unarmed and no one being held accountable for it,” Ford responded following a pause after being asked by TheDC if he thought Assad was “evil.”

“I can understand it if it was against orders and you just were trying to remake a police force or you were trying to remake a prison system and so there are a lot of orders being disobeyed, but you would want people held accountable. But because I see no accountability, I can only assume that on some level that he accepts it if not encourages it. To me that would be evil.”

On Syria's pro-democracy movement:

“I’m sorta amazed that they’re not fucking crazy,” said Robert Ford, America’s chief diplomat in Syria in an atypically undiplomatic moment.

Ford was discussing how impressed he is with those standing up to the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and specifically his amazement at how the “many [who] have been in prison for years and years, often in solitary confinement” have mentally persevered under trials that would have broken lesser men.

“The street protestors and the street protest organizers just amaze me for their sheer courage,” he raved of the regime opponents more generally. “I don’t think Americans can really get a grasp on really how dangerous this is, to go out on these streets with this army and these thugs.”

CABA Holds Capitol Hill Briefing

From Fox News Latino:

Lawyers in Cuba say there will be a peaceful pro-democracy movement on the island that will lead to the same change that took place this year in Egypt and Tunisia.

Speaking to congressional representatives by telephone from Cuba on Thursday during a Washington D.C. briefing on human rights on the island, Rene Gomez Manzano, who was disbarred almost 20 years ago for his criticism of the Castro regime, said:

Lawyers like me are dedicated to the implementation of a democratic government in Cuba, an independent judiciary, and the establishment and respect for the rule of law.”

The briefing was hosted by members of the Cuban American Bar Association (CABA) in Washington, DC. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Rivera, all Republicans from Florida, and New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires, participated in the briefing. All four representatives are Cuban-American.

CABA officers said they wanted the briefing to raise awareness about human rights violations in Cuba.

“We hope to raise awareness, that there’s a place 90 miles away that doesn’t have the rule of law, the opportunity to go to court, or have issues adjudicated,” said Victoria Mendez, president of CABA.

Josefa Lopez Pena, founder of The Ladies in White, a group that formed in Havana in 2003 and consisted of wives and mothers of jailed dissidents, told those at the briefing that a changing mindset was taking hold in Cuba among the people.

“The Cuban people are waking up,” Lopez Pena said. “And it is important to continue to give the dissidents on the island a voice.”

Lopez Pena was forced to leave Cuba in 2006 with her husband, Miguel Sigler Amayo, a political prisoner who was released from jail after completing a 25-year sentence. Lopez Pena affirmed her conviction to continue supporting political dissidents in Cuba and the Ladies in White movement-- albeit from a distance.

“Those are the true heroes,” she said.

The group also spoke by phone with Laritza Diversent, another dissident lawyer who operates a legal clinic known as Cubalex.

“I am dedicated to informing and educating the average Cuban citizen about their legal rights, as well as answering their legal questions,” Diversent said. “The Cuban government will not authorize Cubalex's formal representation of Cuban citizens, as Cubalex is an independent organization.”

Ros-Lehtinen praised CABA and others who participated in the briefing. (In Miami, a group of about 20 CABA members gathered at the law firm of Broad and Cassel to watch the briefing via Skype.)

“It’s great to see a new generation of Cuban-Americans working for “La Causa,” bringing democracy, human rights and freedom of elections in Cuba,” said Ros-Lehtinen.

CABA did not reveal the names of their guests until yesterday for fear they would be persecuted in Cuba.

Countries of Grave Human Rights Concern

Statement by U.S. Ambassador Eileen Donahoe at the U.N. Human Rights Council:

The United States remains deeply disturbed by ongoing human rights violations around the world. As we engage in these discussions in Geneva, people continue to be tortured, killed, arbitrarily arrested, and denied their fundamental rights. The United States will discuss the human rights situations in Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Belarus, Cambodia, and Somalia later in this session. Today I will focus on other countries of grave concern.

• In Iran, we remain concerned by repeated instances of torture, the house arrest of opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Houssein Moussavi, restrictions on the freedom of religious minorities and suppression of all forms of dissent against the state. Authorities recently arrested peaceful protesters and continue to detain, harass and imprison human rights lawyers. We look forward to the first report by Special Rapporteur Shaheed at the next Council session.

• In Burma, the government denies its citizens basic rights, including freedom of speech, movement and association. There are roughly 2,000 political prisoners, and ongoing attacks against ethnic minority populations have resulted in the displacement of millions of people, both internally and in the region, over the past five decades. The newly formed National Human Rights Commission should work closely with the HRC and other bodies to investigate human rights abuses and take concrete steps to begin a national reconciliation process. The United States urges the Burmese government to follow its words and commitments with concrete actions that lead to genuine reform, national reconciliation and respect for human rights.

• The DPRK maintains draconian controls over almost all aspects of citizens’ lives. It denies fundamental freedoms including the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, religion, and movement and fails to respect worker’s rights. The government must immediately take significant steps to end the egregious violations of its people’s human rights.

• China arrests and detains lawyers, activists, and writers for exercising freedom of expression and for defending their internationally recognized rights, and uses extralegal measures to silence even peaceful dissent. The government places tight restrictions on civil society and significantly limits the rights of religious believers to practice their faiths. The government limits freedom of association and imposes forced labor on prisoners. China maintains policies that threaten the Tibetan and Uighur languages, religions, and cultures, and presses other governments to forcibly return Chinese citizens seeking asylum in third countries.

• Cuba uses short-term detention and arbitrary arrests to prevent groups from meeting and disrupt peaceful protests. It deploys increasingly violent government-orchestrated mobs to suppress dissent, most notably against the Damas de Blanco. Media remains under state control, internet access is monitored or blocked, and police routinely intimidate and harass journalists limiting public access to independent sources of information. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Alan Gross, who has been unjustly imprisoned for over 22 months.

• The Venezuelan government has placed severe restrictions on civil society and actively persecutes political opposition, thereby undermining freedom of association and expression, and weakening democratic institutions. Executive interference erodes judicial independence, as the imprisonment of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni demonstrates.

• In Zimbabwe, politically motivated violence and bias of the police, state prosecutor, and military in favor of ZANU-PF and against other political parties remains an obstacle to citizens’ free and equal participation in elections. Without concerted attention to creating the conditions for free, fair, and peaceful elections, the rights of Zimbabweans will continue to be threatened.

The United States stands by the victims of human right abuses around the world and calls on all countries to uphold their human rights obligations.

Cuban Political Prisoner Testimony at Global NGO Summit

Please watch this gripping testimony by Fidel Suarez Cruz (*full bio below), Cuban pro-democracy activist and former political prisoner, at the Global Summit Against Discrimination and Persecution, which was held parallel to yesterday's meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City.

*Fidel Suarez Cruz is a farmer and human rights activist from the Cuban province of Pinar del Río. On March 19th 2003, following a previous house arrest for “disobedience” for fishing in a restricted area, Suarez Cruz was arrested and sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment. He was accused of violating Law 88, the legal instrument used by the Cuban authorities to silence journalists and writers on the island.

From April 2003 until the end of September 2010, he was held in isolation cells. For seven of these years, Suarez Cruz was prevented from any contact with other prisoners. For two years and eight months, he not allowed to receive any sunlight. Suarez Cruz was sent to numerous prisons during his sentence, where he was brutally beaten. From January 1st to February 9th 2005, he received 19 beatings for refusing to wear the common prisoner uniform, shave, or salute the military officials that visited his cell twice a day. On July 27th 2005, he received a terrible beating using a tonfa, a rubber coated steel rod used in Cuban prisons to beat prisoners. Suarez Cruz was also often kept in punishment cells, once for protesting in favor of an ill prisoner who was being denied medical attention, for which he was dragged across prison floors in such a manner that he was unable to breath and nearly suffered from a heart attack.

Suarez Cruz bears the signs of these beatings today. He lost the hearing in his right ear, developed an abnormality of the fifth spinal vertebra, dislocated his right leg, suffered from wrist injuries from handcuffs and had his right knee and first cervical vertebra damaged.

A Lesson for Miami-Dade County

While Miami-Dade County's commissioners continue to grant billions in taxpayer money to Castro's business partners (the Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht), Union City, NJ, stands with the victims of Castro's repressive regime.

From Fox News Latino:

A New Jersey town is canceling a visit by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa scheduled for Friday because of his alliances with leftist world leaders, its mayor says.

"It is evident that President Correa has associated with Fidel and Raul Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela," said Union City Mayor Brian Stack in a statement. "Even associating with such regimes sends a terrible message to the world and condones the many evils that have been imposed on the residents of those nations."

"For these reasons, I refuse to welcome President Correa to Union City."

Declassified DipNote on Cuban Spies

Wednesday, September 21, 2011
As we previously posted, the State Department recently declassified -- pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request -- a diplomatic note (DipNote) on the expulsion of seven diplomats (spies) from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.

Below is the DipNote:

Cable Listing Cuban Spies to be Expelled[1]

Castro Defends Iran's Nuclear Program

According to AP:

Venezuela, Cuba defend Iran

Venezuela and Cuba are defending Iran's right to its nuclear program, while Syria is criticizing Israel at a 151-nation International Atomic Energy Agency meeting.

The two Latin American nations are among Tehran's greatest supporters and Washington's strongest detractors. Syria, too is at odds with the U.S, and is the most vocal Arab critic of Israel.

A Venezuelan statement demanded "that groups of countries stop attacking Iran," which is under U.N. sanctions over fears it might develop nuclear arms. Cuba said Iran is among countries with an "inalienable right" to a nuclear program.

Dr. Biscet's Testimony of Torture

Excerpt from an interview with renowned Cuban pro-democracy leader and former political prisoner, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet:

How do you remember the last eight years [in prison]?

I was mistreated very often. I was tortured. One of the tortures used in the Cuban prisons is solitary confinement in minuscule dungeons, which are totally isolated and dark. They held me there once for five uninterrupted months, without coming out for even one second. I'd have to relieve myself right there, next to the water I drank and the little food I received once a day, barely enough to keep me alive.

What other type of torture were you subjected to?

They would lock me up with mental patients who were deprived of their medication, in order to make them go crazier. There were known cases of these patients killing those with them while in their sleep. I remember it now and it still feels like a nightmare. They would also commonly handcuff men to their hands and feet, thrown face down on the floor for 24 or 48 straight hours… and electric shocks to the genitals.

Cuban Spies Sold U.S. Intel to Iraq

Tuesday, September 20, 2011
The State Department has reportedly declassified -- pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request -- the names of seven "diplomats" (spies) at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., who were expelled in 2003 for providing intelligence to Saddam Hussein's regime about U.S. troop movement and other military activities.

Their names are Cosme Torres Espinosa (First Secretary), Fernando Miguel García Bielsa (First Secretary), José Anselmo López Perera (First Secretary), Juan Hernández Acen (Second Secretary), Raúl Rodríguez Averhoff (Second Secretary) and Jorge Ernesto Autie González (Third Secretary).

These are the types of individuals that "mojito and dine" with D.C. opinion makers; invite Members of Congress and staff to parties (now to their new "Hemingway Bar"); and coordinate moles and activists.

After all, how do you think they get their intel?

Aren't Cubans People Too?

There's a gem of an interview by CNN's Wolf Blitzer with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson on the Castro regime's public rebuke of his effort to free American hostage Alan Gross.

During the interview, Richardson made some very concerning statements.

For example:

- "President Obama has loosened travel restrictions. And on my trip there, Wolf, I saw a lot of increasing travel. That's good for the Cuban economy."

Is the Obama Administration's policy now to strengthen Cuba's totalitarian economy?

Why is the U.S. pursuing policies that strengthen Cuba's totalitarian economy while the Castro regime has dramatically increased its repressive practices and is holding an American hostage?

- "The human rights situation has improved for both sides, and then this dramatic snub of me."

Is Governor Richardson unaware that political arrests in Cuba have more than doubled in the last year?

Is Richardson unaware that on the very same weekend he was in Havana there were over 150 pro-democracy activists arrested?

Is the snubbing of Richardson a bigger "human rights" violation that the brutal beating and arrest of thousands of pro-democracy activists?

- "The Cubans have to realize that if they don't release him soon, that there's going to be a deep freeze."

Deep freeze in what? Richardson himself has confirmed how U.S. policy is helping Cuba's economy.

Where's the pressure?

- "I'm very proud of the State Department that has basically said unless we get this guy out, unless we stand for human rights, we're not going to improve the relationship."

Why didn't the State Department take a stand for human rights while it was easing sanctions towards the Castro regime before -- or even since -- Alan Gross's arrest?

Aren't Cubans people too?

Vigils for Alan Gross

Monday, September 19, 2011
From AP:

Simultaneous vigils are being planned in New York and Washington for an American imprisoned in Cuba for nearly two years.

Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 after he was caught illegally bringing communications equipment onto the island. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail for crimes against the state. Gross contends he was only trying to help the island's tiny Jewish community get Internet access.

A recent trip to Cuba by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who claimed he was invited to the island to negotiate Gross' release, ended in failure.

Now vigils are being planned Friday in front of the Cuban Interests Sections in Washington and the Cuban UN Mission in New York.

Gross' wife, Judy Gross, will take part in the Washington vigil.

Speaking Gibberish (About Despots)

It's facinating how apologists for tyrannical regimes all speak the same language -- gibberish.

From FrontPage Mag:

Sean Stone, who wants to make films in Iran because “I’m very international-minded,” bristled at criticism of the Iranian regime. It’s “like someone coming to your house and saying the father shouldn’t hit the kids. Who are we to tell them how to rule their country?” A closer analogy would be if the father were not only hitting his own kids, but killing the more rebellious ones and then running all over the neighborhood killing other people’s kids as well, especially the Jewish ones. In which case one would be well within one’s rights to tell him he shouldn’t, and then to force him to stop if he persists.

But “Iran is ruled by law,” Stone protests in the interview. Indeed it is – sharia law. The Iranian morality police patrol the streets enforcing Islamic modesty on anyone sporting Western-style haircuts or dress. Adulterers are stoned there. Gays – even teenagers – are hanged – enabling Ahmadinejad to claim this about homosexuality: “In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon.” But perhaps sharia, like Ahmadinejad, is just misunderstood. And hey, who are we to tell the mullahs how to rule their country?

When the Iranian people themselves tried to have a say in how their country was being run, during the Green Revolution of 2009, the regime brutally suppressed them, killing its own people and raping imprisoned protesters. Sean Stone’s take on this? “People don’t like Ahmadinejad, but that doesn’t warrant a war or an uprising.”

He urges patience instead:

"Time evolves everything. Time will bring revolution. Iran will change, but never by military force or being pushed."

For a “very international-minded” guy who studied history at Princeton, Stone is remarkably uninformed about how despots are removed from power. It is almost always necessary to remove them by military force or being pushed, since they tend not to relinquish power simply out of the goodness and generosity of their own hearts.

Iran arrested filmmaker Jafar Panahi and banned him from making films because he criticized the regime. Another Iranian filmmaker, Mazdak Taebi, has been banned from Iran because of his anti-regime statements. Presumably Stone thinks these filmmakers are overreacting and should have waited for the regime to evolve at its own pace. “This is insulting,” Taebi said of Stone’s willful blindness. “So many people have died. People there are shaking. They’re scared. It’s a police system.”

Quote of the Week

"Cuba is only 90 miles from our shores. Working daily to destabilize our hemisphere. Working with the likes of Hugo Chavez, who has direct flights to Iran. Working to destabilize other nations in Central and South America. I think it's a cancerous situation metastasized and that's not something we should reward."

- Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, interview with Univision's Al Punto, 9/18/11

Raul Castro's Personal Nod to Odebrecht

This past weekend, Cuban dictator Raul Castro personally visited (and supervised) the Port of Mariel expansion project being built by the Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht.

During his visit, Castro reaffirmed the importance of this project for his brutal dictatorship.

"This project has extraordinary economic importance, not only for the country's current development but also for the future," said Castro.

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County's Commissioners keep granting billions in taxpayer money (from Castro's victims) to Odebrecht.

When will Miami-Dade County say enough-is-enough to this direct affront by Odebrecht (which has profited for years from the generosity of Cuban-American taxpayers)?

The True "Ambassadors for Freedom"

Sunday, September 18, 2011
This weekend in Cuba, pro-democracy activists have been relentlessly conducting marches across the island nation, while facing down brutal beatings and arrests from the Castro regime.

And needless to say, an American hostage continues to languish in a Cuban prison.

But have no fear (sarcasm), here come President Obama's so-called "Ambassadors for Freedom":

From NBC Miami:

The atmosphere was lively at the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood-International Airport Saturday morning as eager passengers celebrated the return of direct flights to Cuba.

Travelers sported straw hats and danced to live music as they filled the JetBlue Airways terminal before boarding the first direct flight to Cuba in nearly 30 years.

Meanwhile, the Castro regime is also "dancing" its way to the bank.

Could there be a more insensitive affront to Cuba's courageous pro-democracy leaders, who are risking their lives for the freedom of all Cubans?

They, after all, are the true "Ambassadors for Freedom."