Castro Rewards Ukrainian Repression

Saturday, October 22, 2011
The Castro regime has bestowed upon Ukrainian autocrat Viktor Yanukovych the Order of Jose Marti, the highest state award in Cuba, during his official visit to Havana this weekend.

Apparently, this is in honor of Yanukovych's jailing of political opponents, namely former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Just last week, the European Union postponed an economic integration meeting with the Ukraine, in protest over Yanukovych's un-democratic behavior.

But the Castro brothers always reward repression.

Image courtesy of Free Vector.

Political Cartoon of the Week

This cartoon has become very popular throughout North Africa and the Middle East:

Understanding the Cuban Exile Experience

From Naked Politics:

Here's a letter we received from Andy S. Gomez, Assistant Provost & Senior Fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban & Cuban-American Studies.

Disclosure: He's a Democrat:

The Washington Post seems to have very little understanding of the Cuban exile experience and what it means to be an exile. Marco Rubio’s family was forced to stay in America because they refused to live under a communist system. That makes them exiles. It makes no difference what year you first arrived. The fundamental Cuban exile experience is not defined according to what year Cubans left, but rather by the simple, painful reality that they could not return to their homelands to live freely.

Further, The Washington Post falsely and without proof, writes that “being connected to the post-revolution exile community gives a politician cachet that could never be achieved by someone identified with the pre-Castro exodus, a group sometimes viewed with suspicion.”

This is simply false. I have spent my career studying the Cuban exile community and can say with authority that no distinction is made within the exile community between those who arrived in the years leading up to the revolution, and those who came after. They all share the painful heritage of not being able to return home. It's no wonder The Washington Post made this claim without a single bit of proof to back it up. Because it doesn't exist.

In the Cuban exile community, there are many stories like Marco Rubio’s family. Many children of exiles don’t know precisely what dates their parents left Cuba, went back to Cuba or ultimately determined Cuba was heading in the wrong direction under Castro. But they do know that the reason they were born in the United States or now live here is because their parents are exiles because they refused to raise them in Castro’s Cuba.

Gadhafi's Friend(s) to the Death

From CNN:

It was the year 2000. Standing at attention, a relatively unknown Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, only 18 months after taking office, was positioned right next to one of the world's most-controversial dictators.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, then seeking alternative alliances with leaders in other parts of the world, was receiving Chavez with military honors on August 13 of that year. Chavez appeared proud, standing next to his new and powerful friend in North Africa.

The friendship between Chavez and Gadhafi solidified in 2004, when the Libyan leader awarded Chavez the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, an honor he had already given to another Latin American leader, Cuba's Fidel Castro in 1998.

By 2009, the friendship had become very close. On September 1 of that year, Gadhafi welcomed Chavez to Libya with a warm embrace. Chavez was one of various world leaders attending festivities there, held to commemorate Gadhafi's 40 years in power.

Chavez would return the compliment later that month when Gadhafi visited Venezuela, presenting the Libyan leader with a replica of the sword that belonged to South American independence hero Simon Bolivar, one of the greatest honors in Venezuela.

It was Gadhafi's first visit to Latin America in his 40-year rule. Both leaders were photographed greeting supporters on Venezuela's Margarita Island beach resort, a favorite tourist destination.

And just in case there was any doubt about their closeness, Gadhafi named a stadium just outside Benghazi the "Hugo Chavez Stadium." The stadium was renamed earlier this year "Martyrs of February" by Libyan rebels, who would eventually form the National Transitional Council and put an end to Gadhafi's regime.

Chavez learned of Gadhafi's death as he returned Thursday from Cuba, where he's getting cancer treatment.

"I was talking with (Cuban leader) Raul Castro. He was telling me 'Gadhafi is going to get killed for sure,'" Chavez said.

"Regrettably, Gadhafi's death has been confirmed. He was murdered. Well, this is another attempt against life. What else can I say? ... I will remember him all of my life as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr," he added.

In March, after the conflict in Libya had started, Chavez proposed an international goodwill commission to mediate the crisis while accusing the United States and other Western powers of blowing the situation out of proportion to justify an invasion.

Chavez wasn't the only Latin American leader who supported Gadhafi. In a statement dated February 21, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro wrote that he "couldn't imagine that the Libyan leader would ever abandon his country" when fighting broke out. "He would never avoid his responsibilities," Castro wrote.

Finding a Positive in the WashPo's Attack

Friday, October 21, 2011
Like everything in life, it's important to find the positive -- even in the most negative of situations.

So believe it or not, we have found a positive in the Washington Post's baseless, negative and historically naive attack on whether U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is truly a Cuban "exile."

And that is:

We never thought we'd see the day in which the media would consider it so "chic" to be a Cuban exile.

Of course, we always knew.

Remembering Celia

Even though she's no longer physically with us, we remember and honor Cuban icon Celia Cruz on her birthday.

Don't miss this great picture (below).

My Family's Flight from Castro

By U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in Politico:

My family's flight from Castro

The Washington Post on Friday accused me of seeking political advantage by embellishing the story of how my parents arrived in the United States.

That is an outrageous allegation that is not only incorrect, but an insult to the sacrifices my parents made to provide a better life for their children. They claim I did this because “being connected to the post-revolution exile community gives a politician cachet that could never be achieved by someone identified with the pre-Castro exodus, a group sometimes viewed with suspicion.”

If The Washington Post wants to criticize me for getting a few dates wrong, I accept that. But to call into question the central and defining event of my parents’ young lives – the fact that a brutal communist dictator took control of their homeland and they were never able to return – is something I will not tolerate.

My understanding of my parents’ journey has always been based on what they told me about events that took place more than 50 years ago — more than a decade before I was born. What they described was not a timeline, or specific dates.

They talked about their desire to find a better life, and the pain of being separated from the nation of their birth. What they described was the struggle they faced growing up, and their obsession with giving their children the chance to do the things they never could.

But the Post story misses the point completely. The real essence of my family’s story is not about the date my parents first entered the United States. Or whether they travelled back and forth between the two nations. Or even the date they left Fidel Castro’s Cuba forever and permanently settled here.

The essence of my family story is why they came to America in the first place; and why they had to stay.

I now know that they entered the U.S. legally on an immigration visa in May of 1956. Not, as some have said before, as part of some special privilege reserved only for Cubans. They came because they wanted to achieve things they could not achieve in their native land.

And they stayed because, after January 1959, the Cuba they knew disappeared. They wanted to go back — and in fact they did. Like many Cubans, they initially held out hope that Castro’s revolution would bring about positive change. So after 1959, they traveled back several times — to assess the prospect of returning home.

In February 1961, my mother took my older siblings to Cuba with the intention of moving back. My father was wrapping up family matters in Miami and was set to join them.

But after just a few weeks, it became clear that the change happening in Cuba was not for the better. It was communism. So in late March 1961, just weeks before the Bay of Pigs invasion, my mother and siblings left Cuba and my family settled permanently in the United States.

Soon after, Castro officially declared Cuba a Marxist state. My family has never been able to return.

I am the son of immigrants and exiles, raised by people who know all too well that you can lose your country. By people who know firsthand that America is a very special place.

My father spent the last 50 years of his life separated from the nation of his birth. Separated from his two brothers, who died in Cuba in the 1980s. Unable to show us where he played baseball as a boy. Where he met my mother. Unable to visit his parents’ grave.

My mother has spent the last 50 years separated from her native land as well. Unable to take us to her family’s farm, to her schools or to the notary office where she married my father.

A few years ago, using Google Earth, I attempted to take my parents back to Cuba. We found the rooftop of the house where my father was born. What I wouldn’t give to visit these places where my story really began, before I was born.

One day, when Cuba is free, I will. But I wish I could have done it with my parents.

The Post story misses the entire point about my family and why their story is relevant. People didn’t vote for me because they thought my parents came in 1961, or 1956, or any other year. Among others things, they voted for me because, as the son of immigrants, I know how special America really is. As the son of exiles, I know how much it hurts to lose your country.

Ultimately what The Post writes is not that important to me. I am the son of exiles. I inherited two generations of unfulfilled dreams. This is a story that needs no embellishing.

Before Reading a Havana News Bureau Story...

Read this first.

By Yoani Sanchez in Foreign Policy:

Unfit to Print

How the Arab Spring made life even harder for foreign journalists in Cuba.

The bartender winked at the reporter before saying, almost in a whisper, "You're not going to write that I told you this." And the journalist, thinking himself wise, limited himself to citing the date on which he'd talked to an economics graduate who prepared daiquiris in a Varadero hotel.

Weeks later, that same foreign correspondent learned that the bartender had been fired, suspected of collaborating with "the enemy." Meanwhile, his colleagues who continue mixing cocktails learned a permanent lesson: To give an opinion is to give yourself away. The next time some curious guy starts asking questions, they will tell him that everything's fine, that the Revolution is advancing, unstoppable.

For Cuban authorities, any foreign journalist, particularly one from a developed capitalist country, is a potential adversary. This has always been the case, but since recent events in the Middle East and North Africa, the suspicions have intensified. A complicated structure of approvals and constraints tie the hands and feet of anyone with credentials trying to report from inside the country.

The International Press Center (CPI by its Spanish initials) is the agency charged with setting limits and giving correspondents a box on the ears when they cross the line. At stake is a visa to remain in Cuba, and even apparently trivial matters: the ability to import a new car, for instance, or to acquire a home air-conditioner.

The CPI is fickle and worries about almost everything. It will rebuke reporters for straying too far from the official position -- or for coming too close to it. A few years ago a correspondent for a major international agency was called in for having included the phrase, "Cuba, the communist island," in a report. Annoyed, a CPI official, in a gesture reminiscent of the political police, rebuked the young journalist for choosing "an adjective with such a negative connotation" to describe the political system of the Caribbean country. The foreign correspondent left the interview even more confused, and only after several months and diligent effort did he manage to work his way back into favor.

The dilemma of foreign correspondents -- popularly called "foreign collaborators" -- is whether to make concessions in reporting in order to stay in the country, or to narrate the reality and face expulsion. The major international media want to be here when the long-awaited "zero day" arrives -- the day the Castro regime finally makes its exit from history. For years, journalists have worked to keep their positions so they will be here to file their reports with two pages of photos, testimonies from emotional people, and reports of colored flags flapping all over the place.

But the elusive day has been postponed time and again. Meanwhile, the same news agencies that reported on the events of Tahrir Square or the fighting in Libya downplay the impacts of specific events in Cuba or simply keep quiet to preserve their permission to reside in the country. This gag is most dramatic among those foreign journalists with family on the island, whom they would have to leave or uproot if their accreditation were revoked. The grim officials of the CPI understand well the delicate strings of emotional blackmail and play them over and over again.

There are times, however, when these mechanisms of control and coercion fail or when the government itself wants to teach the foreign press a lesson by way of its more audacious members. The most recent case was that of Mauricio Vicent, a correspondent for the Spanish daily, El País, who lost his credentials to work in Cuba in September. The authorities asserted that after 20 years as an accredited journalist, Vicent was biased and transmitting a distorted image of Cuba's reality.

This important reporter's fall from favor is a direct signal to his colleagues. For the government, the issue of information control has become ever more strategic. Since the ouster of dictators during the Arab Spring, the authorities are aware that international public opinion was informed by the flow of dispatches that preceded the fall of those regimes.

Official analysts warn that reports critical of the Cuban situation could feed condemnation at the United Nations and even an armed foreign invasion. A few months ago an editorial in the newspaper Granma suggested foreign interests were making excuses to drop bombs on Havana as happened with Tripoli. On this topic of "information is treason," it is very difficult to maintain journalistic professionalism.

It is an unfortunate time for a media crackdown, for there is much to report at the moment: The opposition is more restless than ever, and not a week passes without some incident in which small groups of nonconformists organize peaceful protests. These events and the repressive acts that follow come to light publicly because every day there are more and more independent journalists and because the protagonists themselves have learned to report them using the most creative tricks imaginable to connect to social networks, especially Twitter.

The new avalanche of information coming from the hands of citizens has also pushed foreign correspondents to address certain topics they've avoided up until now, forcing them to choose between preserving their place while waiting for the great story of the new century, or reporting what is really happening and risking expulsion from the island. And if they choose the former, they risk being scooped by the information interlopers. Opening the world's eyes to the real Cuba, after all, no longer requires a wire service dispatch; it can be done with a cell phone.

"Gotcha" Reporting At Its Worst

Kudos to The Miami Herald's Marc Caputo for setting the record straight:

The Washington Post just released this interesting story headlined "Marco Rubio’s compelling family story embellishes facts, documents show." The paper flagged a clear inaccuracy in his official Senate biography that states the Senator's parents "came to America following Fidel Castro’s takeover.”

That's false. Rubio's parents came to the US before then, in 1956. They remained in the US after Castro took over in 1959. They returned to Cuba for brief stints early on, before the country devolved into Soviet-style totalitarianism.

But the top of the story suggests Rubio himself has given this "dramatic account:" that "he was the son of exiles, he told audiences, Cuban Americans forced off their beloved island after 'a thug,' Fidel Castro, took power."

However, the story doesn't cite one speech where Rubio actually said that.

To back up the lead, the Washington Post excerpts from a 2006 address in the Florida House where Rubio said “in January of 1959 a thug named Fidel Castro took power in Cuba and countless Cubans were forced to flee... Today your children and grandchildren are the secretary of commerce of the United States and multiple members of Congress...and soon, even speaker of the Florida House.”

The catch: If you listen to the speech, Rubio isn't just talking about those who specifically fled Cuba after Castro took power. He doesn't say that his parents fled Cuba. Instead, he was talking about "a community of exiles." That is: He was talking about all the Cubans who live in Miami.

Regardless of when his parents left Cuba, they were exiles because they stayed in the US, specifically Miami, in a community where they soon felt they couldn't go back to their homeland. Though the story said his parents left for economic reasons, it's silent about the fact that the dictator before Castro, Batista, was so brutal that it made Castro look like a good alternative at first. (Insert debate over the fairness of the post-Castro Cuban Adjustment Act here).

The Post also says "the supposed flight of Rubio’s parents has been at the core of the young senator’s political identity." That's a stretch. The actual story of the "flight" is far less emphasized than the fact that Rubio's an Hispanic Republican, an immigrant and an exile.

So to suggest Rubio serially embellished the "dramatic" story of his parents fleeing Cuba could be a little too dramatic itself. And it might be an embellishment as well -- absent more information clearly showing Rubio has repeatedly said his parents fled Castro's Cuba.

Rubio's office has told both the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times and The Miami Herald that his parents came to the United States prior to Castro taking power. And he has said it more than once. In the article we wrote last month about his pending autobiography, Rubio clearly told us his parents came here before Castro took power. He struggled to recall the year (this isn't in the story, it's in my notes) and said it was in "57 or 58 or 59."

When asked pointedly: Was it before the revolution? Rubio said it was before the revolution.

The Washington Post found two examples in FOX interviews where Rubio gave different accounts of the date his parents left the island.

In one interview, he said "my parents and grandparents came here from Cuba in '58, '59." In another interview, he said his parents came over in 1959. He wasn't asked if it was before or after the revolution. Fox Business host David Asman just presumed "they were exiles from Fidel Castro's Cuba after he took over."

Rubio didn't correct him.

So, to a degree, Rubio could be guilty of failing to correct something in the news media that inured to his gain (he and his people are quick to to criticize inaccuracies they don't like almost the second they hit the internet).

Rubio's inability to remember these specific dates isn't much of a surprise. Rubio is sometimes sloppy. When he was in the Florida House, he failed to disclose a loan at one point and fill out his financial disclosures properly. He rung up a host of personal and questionable expenses on a Republican Party of Florida credit card and couldn't show how they furthered party business.

Indeed, the Washington Post story notes that "details have changed in his accounts" of his grandmother's death -- whether it happened when his father was 6 or 9. That's not embellishment. That's evidence of sloppiness.

The controversy over his parents was first printed in the St. Petersburg Times and The Miami Herald because the documents in question were first released by a birther. He says Rubio, though born in Miami, wasn't a "natural-born citizen" because his parents weren't citizens. (What's the guy think about C-sections?)

Heading to Texas

Thursday, October 20, 2011
Click here for more info.

The Future Accounted for the Past

According to Al Arabiya, it was an 18-year old rebel, Ahmed Al Shebani, who found and reportedly killed (probably first shot) Libyan dictator Moammar al-Gaddafi.

Al Shebani says that when he found Gaddafi, the onetime despot was crouching in a hole with a golden pistol.

Thus, after decades of violently squandering the dreams and aspiration of generations of Libyans, it was the future that accounted for Gaddafi's brutal past.

Most importantly -- today all Libyans are celebrating.

Picture of the Month

Libyan rebels show a picture found in Gaddafi's home in Sirtre. It's of the Libyan tyrant with his "dear" friend, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

A Very Bad Day for Brutal Dictators

Fidel and Raul Castro's close friend and ally, Libyan dictator Muammar Al Qathafi, has reportedly been captured and killed.

From Tripoli Post:

The National Transitional military chief, Abdul Hakim Belhaj, has confirmed that former Libyan dictator, Muammar Al Qathafi has died of his wounds after being captured near his hometown of Sirte following a gun battle. As such, Sirte appears to have been, not only been his birthplace, but also his grave.

Meanwhile, NTC chief Mustafa Abdul-Jalil is due to address the Libyan nation shortly, when he is expected to confirm the news.

Muammar Al Qathafi, 69, has reportedly been killed with a shot to the head after fighters surrounded the hole he was found hiding in. They then took him to Misurata to a location that is being kept secret for security reasons, according to an NTC official.

Libya's interim rulers said: "Al Qathafi's body is with our unit in a car and we are taking the body to a secret place for security reasons" most probably for identification.

Belhaj is the highest NTC official to confirm Al Qathafi's death. The former leader had not been seen since NTC fighters seized Tripoli, the Libyan capital two months ago.

Sources told that Al Qathafi's body was being taken to a hospital in Misurata so that the medics could confirm that the dead body truly belongs to the former Libyan leader.

Meanwhile in Benghazi, soon after the reports of Al Qathafi's capture, crowds gathered in the streets started to celebrate. The same in Tripoli, Misurata, and other cities that had suffered so much under the Al Qathafi regime. The sounds of gun shots were heard and people cheered in the street: “God is Great, God is Great, Al Qathafi has been captured.”

Rubio Letter to Secretary Clinton

Wednesday, October 19, 2011
October 19, 2011

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

I write out of deep concern about recent reports that the Administration is considering to dramatically ease United States policy towards the totalitarian regime in Cuba, even as the regime continues to hold a fellow innocent American hostage.

During her testimony before Congress on October 14th, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Sherman confirmed that the Administration had recently met with the Cuban Government to discuss the ongoing imprisonment of Mr. Gross. On the same day, the State Department's spokesperson confirmed other issues of "mutual interest" were discussed, including the possibility of unilaterally easing restrictions by expanding the number of airports authorized to handle U.S. travel to Cuba. Can you provide details about who participated in these discussions on each side and where did the discussions take place? Can you provide a detailed list of actions taken by Administration in the last twenty months to convey U.S. Government displeasure with the unjust imprisonment of Mr. Gross?

I was encouraged to hear that the Administration continues to advocate for Mr. Gross' humanitarian release. However, I am concerned about recent statements by the Department's spokesperson that raised questions about the extent of such commitment. Has the Administration considered or proposed releasing members of the 'Wasp Network' in exchange for Mr. Gross' freedom? Has the Administration considered or proposed releasing any other Cuban nationals in exchange for Mr. Gross' release? Has the Administration considered negotiating Mr. Gross' release under conditions other than an unconditional humanitarian release?

In addition to continuing to hold an innocent American hostage, the Cuban regime's repression of peaceful dissent has reached alarming new levels. According to the Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the regime arrested at least 563 activists for political reasons in September 2011, the highest number in the last 30 years. Yet, media reports indicate that the Administration is willing to reduce U.S. democracy programs in Cuba and end a program that makes it easier for Cuban medical personnel to move to the United States and flee the enslaved labor conditions under which Cuba keeps them in foreign countries. Can you firmly deny that the Administration has ever considered or could consider taking such actions? Does the Administration consider U.S. democracy programs in Cuba a cornerstone of its foreign policy?

Thank you for your attention to this matter. As you know, U.S. policy toward Cuba is of enormous importance to me and many of my constituents, and I look forward to your timely response to these questions.

Marco Rubio
United States Senator

Lady of Valor

From Investor's Business Daily's Editorial Board:

Cuba's Lady Of Valor

Laura Pollan Toledo was a humble schoolteacher who led Cuba's defiant Ladies in White. She died Friday in Havana. But she left a legacy of untold courage that terrified Cuba's long-communist dictatorship.

As surely as the sun will rise, a day will come when Cuba is free of its 52-year Marxist nightmare. And when its history is written, it's likely to begin with the story of Laura Pollan Toledo, the wife of an arrested dissident who shined a light on the totalitarian nature of the regime for all the world to see.

Pollan was a founder of the Ladies in White, the noted group of dissidents' wives who silently walked in procession, wearing white and carrying gladiolus flowers. They attended Mass together at St. Rita's Church to pray for their husbands' return.

They never made public statements, but the Castro regime understood the power of their silent protest and its global impact. For that, they considered Pollan a threat.

Pollan and the others, mostly wives of 75 dissidents arrested in the Black Spring of 2003, were followed, insulted, harassed, threatened, beaten by mobs and menaced for silently witnessing to the truth about Cuba's lack of human freedom.

Pollan died in a Cuban hospital of dengue fever and a viral infection, in the end at the mercy of Cuba's collapsing state health system, refusing transfer to an elite medical facility as the publicity-nervous regime offered.

It's hard to imagine the courage that Pollan's simple act of witness took, in a regime that considers going to church a threat to the state.

In Castro's island hellhole, praised by the Hollywood and congressional left, free speech is forbidden. Calling for elections brings a knock on the door at midnight. Trying to leave the island brings prison — even death.

Yet amid this island prison just 90 miles from our shores, Pollan and her friends stood up for truth.

She died without seeing the free Cuba she longed for. Still, the pure flame of her courage changed Cuba in ways large and small, and helped set it on a path of ultimate liberation. RIP.

The Same "New" Story of Cuba Drilling

Yesterday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on oil drilling in the foreign Outer Continental Shelf.

As expected, Cuba and the heralded (re-)drilling plans of Spain's Repsol with the Castro regime took center stage.

But what really stood out was the testimony of Paul Schuler from the oil spill response cooperative, Clean Caribbean and Americas, who explained:

"In the past 20 years CCA has responded to a number of spills in the Caribbean, Latin America and North America. We have been involved with Cuba since 2001, when we first applied for and received licenses from the Department of Treasury and Department of Commerce to travel to and export our equipment to Cuba. This was in response to drilling that took place by Repsol and Petrobras. CCA staff, including myself, have traveled to Cuba for Contingency Planning, training, and drills and exercises with these companies. With the new round of drilling coming up, we have recently been back to Cuba to work with Repsol and Petronas."

That's right -- since 2001.

So why these "new" (and head-scratching) headlines that the "Embargo Will Limit U.S. Oversight of Planned Oil Drilling Off Cuba Coast"?

Because as Reuters reported back in 2006: "Havana is eager to see American oil companies join forces with the anti-embargo lobby led by U.S. farmers who have been selling food to Cuba for four years."

It apparently works -- we've already seen Halliburton increase its Cuba anti-sanctions lobbying this year.

Let's not forget that -- for over a decade -- the "spectre" of oil drilling has been a geo-political tool used by Cuba's dictatorship.

The Castro regime has used it to extort the Brazilian government into shunning pro-democracy activists and to create a China-drilling scare (which never materialized) in the U.S.

Meanwhile, commercially, Repsol's previous Cuba drilling effort (in 2004) was unsuccessful and the most credible non-U.S. regional oil companies -- Brazil's Petrobras and Canada's Sherritt -- pulled out of Cuba (in 2011 and 2008, respectively) saying it wasn't a viable venture.

But apparently that's "old" news.

Over 20 "Ladies in White" Arrested

Tuesday, October 18, 2011
From The Miami Herald:

Dissidents: 20 women detained on way to Pollán’s home

The women were detained to keep them from meeting about the Ladies in White’s future following the death of the group’s leader.

Cuban police detained 20 members and supporters of the Ladies in White to keep them from participating in a key meeting Tuesday to discuss the group’s reorganization after the death of its leader, members said.

Spokeswoman Berta Soler said police also surrounded the neighborhood and blocked all vehicular traffic on the avenue in front of the Havana house where the women met, the home of their late leader Laura Pollán.

Her death from a heart attack Friday at the age of 63 left the Ladies in White and their supporters wondering about their future, while police apparently saw an opportunity to try to put an end to one of the women’s most singular activities.

Pollán always hosted the women’s monthly “literary tea” on Tuesdays, gatherings where members and supporters talked about their jailed male relatives and sometimes read their letters from prison out loud.

About 20 members or supporters of the Ladies in White were detained Monday and Tuesday as they left their homes or approached Pollán’s to take part in Tuesday’s “Literary Tea,” Soler said.

“The state security agents told them, ‘There’s no Tea. That’s over,’” Soler told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from Pollán’s home.

Some of the women were identified as Mayra Morejón, Rosario Morales la Rosa, Mercedes Fresneda Castillo, Leonor Reino Borges, Yanelys Pérez and Ana Iris Cabrera.

Must-Read: Punk Rockers for a Free Cuba!

A must-read from Punk Outlaw Records:

In December of 2009 I visited Havana, Cuba to help a friend who was working on a documentary film. I brought my own camera, which was pro-sumer, meaning it looked like just a regular personal camcorder any tourist might have but it actually shoots professional video and audio. I wanted to grab some interviews for my own documentary “Punktology… The Worldwide Influence of Punk.”

I had researched and concluded there must be some kind of punk scene there, because the band “Porno Para Ricardo” was making headlines. Turns out the lead member, Gorki Augila was in exile after numerous arrests and harassment by the Cuban government for “social dangerousness” which, according to the website, is behavior that runs contrary to “communist morality” and allows authorities to detain offenders before they commit an actual crime.

I knew if I found any punks willing to speak on camera, I’d have to be careful. I was not a registered journalist and this was my first time in Cuba. If I were to get in any trouble there was no U.S. Embassy there to help me out. Indeed, I had a young filmmaker friend who had died while in Cuba attending the “Havana Film Festival” with his film just a few years before. I had no idea what to expect and I was excited if a bit nervous.

I was with another, more experienced filmmaker, Camilo, a Colombian-American who was bilingual and had agreed to run camera and translate for me while I ran the interviews.

We went to Calle G or G Street, where I had been told the Los Freakies (the freaks) hang out on a nightly basis. Los Freakies were basically the misfits of Havana, a crowd of hundreds of teens and young adults consisting of goth and metal heads, skateboard kids, emos and yes, a handful of hardcore punks, some sporting mohawks and tattoos. It was a surreal scene.

The police were close by but they didn’t seem to really be doing anything but watching the Los Freakies hang out and frankly, they looked really bored. In the U.S. that might mean the cops would be grabbing some coffee & donuts or busting a jaywalker. In Cuba, I was to find out it was a recipe for trouble.

We started pre-interviewing a couple of punks who were very eager to be on camera and tell the world about the punk scene and about life in general in Cuba. But just before the camera started rolling, the police spotted us and headed straight for us.

I thought for sure my camera was going to be confiscated. I was prepared to claim tourist status but that wouldn’t explain the microphone. I was racking my brain to explain the microphone when I realized that instead of questioning Camilo and I, the police had focused all their attention on the punks.

In the end after some very brief questioning they took one of our potential interviewees away in handcuffs to jail. The charge? We weren’t told and were not sure. But it is illegal for Cubans to speak to tourists. How long would he remain in jail? What would happen to him there? None of his friends were sure, but their enthusiasm had vanished and they were much more reserved afterward. We could feel the gloom that had set in and realized this was probably a far more serious matter than an overnight stay in the pokie.

I stayed in Cuba just 8 days, but during this time, I was personally in contact with no less than 3 Cubans who were arrested while I was there for very different minor offenses, ranging from not having their “papers in order” to “tourist harassment”. In Cuba, it appears the police have free reign to arrest first and make charges later.

Eventually we learned to be more covert in our operations and amazingly, even after the arrest of one of their own, I had no problems finding other punks who, though they had heard about the arrest, were still willing and eager to speak on camera.

In case you have never seen it, here is a video compilation that we put together shortly after.

That night in Havana, Cuba has bugged me ever since. I’ve never forgotten the shock of seeing someone hauled away in handcuffs, simply for having a conversation. I felt somewhat responsible for that poor guy’s arrest. Had I not had my camera and been nosing around Calle G he would have never been taken to jail.

The Cuban people are desperately poor and most (that don’t have government jobs) subsist on a sub par diet of rice, beans and potatoes.

The tourists in Havana are extremely important to the very limited economy there. As a result tourist are usually protected at all cost. The joke around Havana was that if a tourist were to stab a Cuban for no reason, well the police would promptly arrest the Cuban for “running into the knife” of a tourist and let the tourist go free.

Good, nutritious food and justice are not the only things missing in Cuba. It’s obvious that freedom of expression is in short supply as well and this, I gathered from our interviews, was the most frustrating part for Cubans.

They felt their leaders were old, backwards, out of touch and basically crazy and they were paying the price. When I looked out into the Cuban harbor, I noticed none of the boats had motors. Only rowboats are allowed for Cubans I suppose. Cuba is such a paradise that the government feels the need to keep people prisoner.

At night, I noticed many families in Cuba watched the local Univision (the Spanish TV network) station from Miami, whose signal bled into Cuba. Even this simple pleasure incurred a risk.

I heard stories of police, undercover government officials and citizen informants roaming the streets at night listening for homes that might have been “illegally” watching TV signals from the U.S.

Internet access was a non existent and when I think about it, I’m really surprised there was a punk scene at all in Cuba. Thanks to bands like Porno Para Ricardo and the punks who bravely spoke out to our cameras, though, I have faith that the punk scene is still thriving in Cuba. As you can see from the interviews, they find ways to get internet, music, clothes, etc. despite the U.S. embargo and a paranoid and repressive Cuban government.

Are there worst offenders of freedom of expression than Cuba? Possibly in the Middle East (Iran, Syria, etc.) or China (where the U.S. doesn’t dare impose an embargo), North Korea or in some African countries. But for a relatively small island country just a few miles off the coast of Florida, it amazes me that this cold war relic of a place can still cause so much misery.

With all that’s going on in the world today, it would be pretty easy for citizens in the U.S. and other parts of the developed world to forget that Cuba even exist.

But having visited the island, I can’t get out of my head the image of the guy being arrested and of his friends’ gloomy dispositions afterward. I can’t help but wonder if the people on camera who told us so candidly how they felt about the Cuban government might also have joined their punk amigos in jail… or worse. I certainly hope not but you never know.

Since my Cuba trip, I’ve traveled to most of Latin America and I’ve been wanting to showcase music from the many excellent punk bands I’ve come in contact with while filming “Punktology”. I was finally able to pull enough music together to put together a compilation.

We’ve decided to name this compilation “Punktology: Volume 1 – Free Cuban Now” in honor of our punk “comrades” in Cuba. We hope to have the compilation out digitally at places like I-tunes, Amazon, etc. by December.

I decided a long time ago that commercial projects in and of themselves were not fulfilling. As the late Steve Jobs said “leave a dent in the universe”. I don’t believe that most people think that freedom of expression should depend on an old dictator finally succumbing to death (and a nice warm place in hell afterward). I believe most people feel that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all mankind regardless of geography.

Other than raise some awareness or make a little noise, I’m not sure what we may accomplish by putting out this compilation, but it is something. And if we do end up actually making any money, well, we’ve pledged support to our buddies at Cuba Skate, a small but passionate start up charity that is working hard to supply skate boarding equipment and better opportunities to Cuban youth

The press release announcing our little venture is below. Please read and if possible, help circulate.

Oh and if you get a chance today, go out and say something controversial or unflattering about your government to a group of people (if your in the U.S. maybe at one of the Occupy Wall Street, etc. events) and enjoy the feeling of walking away free without being thrown in jail. ! Sure feels good doesn’t it?!

Here's the press release:

Punk Outlaw Records' Compilation Says "Free Cuba Now!"

Punk Outlaw Records announced plans to release their first compilation collection, “Punktology Volume 1 – Free Cuba Now!” which will feature independent punk and hardcore music from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The fledgling digital record label’s objective is to showcase a collection of punk music from emerging musicians in Latin America and the Caribbean to North American and European audiences.

The title “Free Cuba Now” was chosen to help bring attention to the fact that Cuban punks, as well as many other subcultures on the island nation of Cuba, still suffer from oppression and suppression in their freedom of expression at the hands of the Cuban police and government.

The musical compilation is the first from the fledgling music label and features artists covered in the documentary “Punktology”, which is currently being produced by Punk Outlaw Productions to showcase the worldwide influence of punk music.

“While working on the documentary, I visited Cuba and witnessed firsthand the incredible lack of basic freedom of expression we take for granted in much of the western world when one of our interviewees was arrested, apparently for simply speaking with us” states Robert Rose, Founder of Punk Outlaw Records and Executive Producer of Punktology.

“I believe Punk music is at its best when it’s railing against injustice. The music comes from a variety of bands from different countries, each with their own issues such as social inequality, government corruption and crippling poverty, but freedom of expression is a basic human right that most enjoy and we think Cubans, and all human beings deserve this right as well.” Rose continues.

Punk Outlaw Records has pledged 25% of the record label’s share of net profits to a U.S. based charitable organization, Cuba Skate ( which provides skateboarding equipment, clothing and works to better opportunities to Cuban youth.

Participating artists for the project include Punk Outlaw artists Los Suziox (Colombia) and Rudos Wild (Uruguay). Other contributing artists include Anti-Everything (Trinidad), Demeter/DMTR (Ecuador), El Terrible Y Los Mongoloides (Peru), Lokekeda (Colombia) and Warning (Guatemala). More announcements are expected in the coming weeks.

The compilation will be released and available for purchase at various digital online retailers including I-tunes, Amazon Music, Zune and more in December 2011.

Obama's Cuba Appeasement

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin on reports that the Obama Administration sought to negotiate away U.S. policy with the Castro regime:

The Administration’s conduct is all the more galling given the behavior of the Castro regime. Our willingness to relax sanctions was not greeted with goodwill gestures, let alone systemic reforms. To the contrary, this was the setting for Gross’s imprisonment. So naturally the administration orders up more of the same.

Throughout his tenure, President Obama has failed to comprehend the cost-benefit analysis that despotic regimes undertake. He has offered armfuls of goodies and promised quietude on human rights; the despots’ behavior has worsened. There is simply no downside for rogue regimes to take their shots at the United States.

Whether it is Cuba or Iran, the administration reverts to “engagement” mode when its engagement efforts are met with aggression and/or domestic oppression. Try to murder a diplomat on U.S. soil? We’ll sit down and chat. Grab an American contractor and try him in a kangaroo court? We’ll trade prisoners and talk about relaxing more sanctions. Invade Georgia, imprison political opponents and interfere with attempts to restart the peace process? We’ll put the screws on our democratic ally to get you into World Trade Organization. The response of these thuggish regimes is entirely predictable and, from their perspective, completely logical. What is inexplicable is the Obama administration’s willingness to throw gifts to tyrants in the expectation they will reciprocate in kind.

Record-Shattering Repression in Cuba

Statement from the Havana-based, Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation:

The Cuban government arrested at least 563 activists for political reasons in September 2011, the highest number in the last 30 years and far above the monthly average of 278 recorded in the previous eight months of this year, as well as the highest number of preventive detentions in Latin America and much of the world. Our Commission is sure that the number of victims of political repression is larger than the number of cases we were able to verify.

As a result of this large number of detentions, in the last five weeks the total number of prisoners for political reasons not only ceased to diminish but has increased by 12 new cases of people who have been taken to high security prisons to wait for trial. We estimate that there are at present about 80 activists already sentenced or under trial for political reasons (17 of them released for reasons of medical incompatibility and 63 in prison).

In September, the same as in previous months, the high level of political repression shows the regime’s absolute lack of political will to improve the civil, political, economic and cultural rights situation for the immense majority of the people.

Meanwhile, the Cuban government keeps sending false signals regarding alleged reforms and making promises that they are ready to break beforehand, and by so doing mocking once again the manifest good will shown by the international community in relation to Cuba.

Honoring Laura Pollan

More statements on the passing of Ladies in White founder, Laura Pollan:

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic received with sorrow the death of Laura Inés Pollan Toledo, founder of the Cuban dissident Ladies in White movement and expresses its deepest sympathy to all bereaved."

-- Slovak Republic

"Laura Pollán gained widespread recognition of the democratic world and will remain an example of the greatest sacrifice for the sake of human rights and basic freedoms."

-- Republic of Poland

"[Pollan] leaves a legacy of determination, courage, and creativity. Her powerful belief in justice was ultimately rewarded when dozens of wrongly imprisoned dissidents and journalists, including her husband, were freed from prison over the last two years, in large part due to her efforts.

-- Committee to Protect Journalists

"For nearly a decade, she helped to stage weekly protests with other wives of political prisoners to press for their release. She never missed a week, regardless of whether it rained or if the island was awaiting the imminent arrival of a hurricane. She also never gave up hope that her voice, and the voices of so many other families, would be heard."

-- International Federation of Liberal Youth

"We are saddened by her death, but we continue to be inspired by her life and by the Ladies in White. We pledge to champion justice and freedom for all who, like Laura, persevere in the face of persistent threats, insults, and government attempts to silence their work.”

-- Human Rights First

"Someday when the walls of the Castro Regime are torn down, Cubans and the rest of the world will recognize Laura Pollan as one of the heroes responsible for that moment."

-- International Republican Institute

"While newspapers around the world reported on the death of Laura Pollan, Granma, the official paper of the Communist Party, and all the papers of Cuba’s provinces remained silent. This reaction is a given, considering the pettiness of a government that cannot feel sympathy at the death of an opponent. The Castro regime has never been able to pause in its belligerence, never been able to offer condolences.

But this silence also stems from its fear of this little teacher of Spanish, the fear that sticks, even now, in officials’ throats. The leader of the Ladies in White is dead, and no one in Cuba will ever carry a gladiolus in his or her hands without thinking of Laura Pollan."

-- Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez in The Washington Post

Here Come "The Ladies in White"

Monday, October 17, 2011
If you think the Ladies in White are going to fade away pursuant to the death of their leader, Laura Pollan, take a look at the picture below.

Consider that this is not including the dozens of Ladies in White and other activists that were arrested and impeded from traveling to Havana to participate in the memorial services.

Castro Arrests His Long-Time Creditors

It's tough to feel sorry for these European and Canadian financiers who for decades have colluded and enabled the Castro's brutal dictatorship.

But it's ludicrous for the media to portray their arrest (simply) as an anti-corruption campaign, when Cuba's corruption begins at the very top.

None of these investment funds operated in Cuba without the partnership of the Castro brothers and the top military brass.

What we're currently seeing is a bankrupt regime unable and unwilling to pay it financial debts.

So how does the Castro regime engage in debt relief, while confiscating billions worth of investments?

Easy -- it arrests its debtors.

Then, it can seduce a whole new crop of unprincipled fools.

From Reuters:

A British investment fund has become the latest company swept up in an investigation by Cuban authorities of corrupt practices among the Communist island's state businesses and their foreign partners.

Police closed the Havana offices of the Coral Capital Group Ltd last week and arrested chief executive Amado Fakhre, a Lebanese-born British citizen, sources close to the company said.

The offices were sealed and cordoned off with police crime scene tape during the weekend.

Andrew Butchers, the fund's finance director, told Reuters from Coral Capital's London office that the company had no comment now but would release a statement soon.

A month ago, authorities shut down one of the most important Western trading companies in Cuba, Canada-based Tokmakjian Group, after doing the same in July to another Canadian trading firm, Tri-Star Caribbean.

The top executives of both companies and a number of their Cuban employees and business partners were arrested.

Just as in the Canadian cases, the precise allegations against Coral Capital are not known and have not been reported in Cuba's state-run media but they are evidence that the government's corruption sweep is widening [...]

The fund diversified into trade financing and importing heavy equipment and other merchandise in recent years and this, rather than its real estate ventures, may have led to its problems, foreign business sources said.

The company represents various international brands in Cuba, among them Liebherr Earth Moving, Yamaha Motor Corporation and Peugeot Motorcycles, according to its Internet site. The site says Coral Capital has invested some $75 million (48 million pounds) in Cuba, with more than $1 billion of projects in the works.

In the Congressional Record

Statement by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida in Honor of Laura Pollán, Founder of "Ladies in White"

October 17, 2011

Mr. President, I rise in recognition of Laura Pollán, who founded the group Damas de Blanco, or "Ladies in White," to protest the Cuban regime's jailing of 75 people in a crackdown on dissidents there in 2003. Many of the imprisoned were married to the "Ladies in White," including Pollán's own husband, Hector Maseda.

Since 2003, Laura gathered the group on most weekends in central Havana – everyone wearing white and holding gladiolas - to stage street marches and demand the release of their loved ones.

Damas de Blanco defied the regime. For its human rights work the European Parliament awarded the group the 2005 Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought. Just this year, the U.S. government gave Damas de Blanco the Human Rights Defender Award for "exceptional valor in protecting human rights in the face of government repression."

Damas de Blanco succeeded earlier this year, when the last of the 75 were finally released in February – including Laura's husband. They had only eight months together before she died of a heart attack last week.

Despite the group's achievement, Laura Pollán lamented earlier this year that "as long as this government is around there will be prisoners. …while they've let some go, they've put others in jail. It is a never-ending story."

Mr. President, it is a never-ending story. And in honor of Laura Pollán, we must not forget the Cuban regime still imprisons its political opponents. It still holds an American citizen there.

We must - like Damas de Blanco now says it will do - continue to challenge the regime, until the day that all the Cuban people are able to enjoy the blessings of freedom.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

Connie Mack Nails It on Cuba Policy

From a Q&A with the Inter-American Dialogue:

Q: In a roundtable discussion, U.S. President Barack Obama told Hispanic journalists Sept. 28 that he will always be ready to change U.S. policy toward Cuba, but added he needs evidence that Havana is ready for reforms. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez dismissed Obama's statements as "old and repetitive." Meantime, 34 U.S. lawmakers asked Spanish oil company Repsol to stay out of Cuban waters, saying the company would be bankrolling a regime "that violently crushes dissent." Will Washington or Havana make a move toward warming relations? Do hazards particular to Cuba's government await Repsol or other companies seeking to do business in Cuba? How much is the United States pressuring companies not to do business in Cuba, and is that likely to change any time soon?

A: Connie Mack (R-Fla.), chairman of the U.S. House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee: "The Cuban regime has historically made opportunistic policy adjustments, like opening up to private investment, when it faces economic hardship. During the 1990s, Cuba was on the verge of collapse due to the end of Soviet subsidies, and the Castro regime had to capitalize on foreign investments (1990), allow the U.S. dollar to circulate within the economy (1992) and free 300 prisoners (1998). Then, as Cuba regained its footing aided by Venezuelan support, we saw one of Cuba's harshest crackdowns on dissidents (2003) and the rejection of the U.S. dollar with a 10 percent tax placed on remittances arriving in dollars (2007). Now that the island's most recent ideological and resource-rich supporter, Venezuela, is struggling to keep its own nation afloat, the Castro regime is back on the scene manipulating the international community in an effort to sustain the communist nation of Cuba. The Cuban government must make serious concessions to ensure freedom and improve human rights on the island. Let us not forget that American Alan Gross has fallen victim to this cruel regime while the Obama administration continues to open avenues of funding to the island from the United States. The United States should only consider relations with Cuba when real democratic reforms are instituted, including free and fair elections, the release of all political prisoners and a free and independent press that is allowed to operate without fear of oppression or violence. Companies like Repsol and others seeking to do business in Cuba should realize they are supporting and propping up the economy of a failed communist regime. The world's democratic nations should come together and unite in denouncing the Castro government's brutal tyrannical ways and to work to bring freedom, security and prosperity to the Cuban people."

Tongue-Tied at State

Sunday, October 16, 2011
Basically, while there's an American hostage being held by the Castro regime, the U.S. is discussing new airports with the Cuban hostage-takers.

That's just scandalous.

From Friday's Daily Press Briefing with State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland:

QUESTION: Okay. So at the risk of repeating the rather unpleasant exchange up on the Hill this morning between Under Secretary Sherman and a member of Congress, what can you tell us about the proposed swap for Alan Gross?

MS. NULAND: First of all, we remain very concerned about the welfare of Alan Gross. We have, and we will continue to use, every available diplomatic channel to press for his immediate release, and we continue to call on the Cuban Government to release him.

I’m not going to comment on our private exchanges with the Cubans. We have talked to them about this issue. But I will certainly say unequivocally that the U.S. is not considering the release of any member of the Cuban Five in exchange for Alan Gross. Alan Gross is not a spy, and he – it is simply not comparable with the crimes of the Cuban Five in any way.

QUESTION: Sorry, just --

QUESTION: What’s not comparable? What he did, or what he’s accused of doing?

MS. NULAND: Exactly.

QUESTION: Just because I was at the White House when a former president said it depends on what the meaning of “is” is – you said the U.S. Government is not considering. Has the U.S Government previously considered releasing a member of the Cuban Five in exchange for Alan Gross, even if it is not currently doing so?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: Did you check?


QUESTION: You did check, and so the answer is no?

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. And when you said that you have talked to the Cubans about this --

MS. NULAND: We have talked to them about Alan Gross’s situation and the importance of releasing him. We also talked to them, as you know, about other matters of mutual concern --

QUESTION: Well, recently?

MS. NULAND: -- including we’ve had recent conversations about their opening of new airports and TSA standards and all those kinds of things.


QUESTION: Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious. I mean, Under Secretary Sherman this morning said that there had been a very recent meeting between the United – quite recent – between the U.S. and Cuba on the Gross matter. Can you shed any light on that, when it – might’ve – but she was unable to say when. Who met whom, when, where?

MS. NULAND: Again, I think I’m not going to get into the details of exactly who met whom, when. I will say that it was within the last month.

QUESTION: And has the U.S. Government considered releasing other Cuban nationals, not those of the so-called Cuban Five, in exchange for Mr. Gross?

MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.

QUESTION: But did you – again, forgive me for asking this, but I – there are times when you have asked and, no, and there are times when you haven’t asked. Did you ask that question, or were --

MS. NULAND: I did ask that question.

QUESTION: And you were told no?

MS. NULAND: As I said, to my knowledge, no. And what I’ve said here about our considering release of the Cuban Five also --

QUESTION: Here’s my problem, though. If you asked the question and you were told, “I can’t tell you that,” you’re knowledge is imperfect, but the answer is not “no.”

MS. NULAND: I understand, Arshad, and I would also say that Under Secretary Sherman endeavored to give more information to our colleagues on the Hill. I think she will be giving more information to our colleagues on the Hill over the next 24 to 36 hours. So if anything emerges as that – those responses are prepared, I will also have it for you here. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay. But my – just so you understand, my problem is that I could not, in a story today, cite you as denying that the U.S. Government may have offered the release of someone other than those five for Mr. Gross, based on your statement not to your knowledge and your response to my follow-up that you asked and I said, well, did – were you told “no,” and you didn’t answer that. So you haven’t denied the possibility that you may have offered to swap somebody else despite repeated opportunities to do so.

MS. NULAND: Let’s start this again. We believe that Alan Gross should be released. We’ve made that point to the Cubans. We’ve also made clear that we are not considering the release of any member of the Cuban Five. I am not aware of any other proposed prisoner swaps. We want the guy out of jail.

QUESTION: The – just another “is” – what the meaning of the word “is” is question, and that is you are not considering the release of any member of the Cuban Five for this, but if a Cuban Five member, say, was released from prison and was sentenced to three years of probation, say, that had to be served in the United States, technically he is not being – would you – he is not being released. But are you saying that a suggestion that that person might be allowed to serve his probation in Cuba instead of in Florida or instead of in the United States, that also is ruled out? That also is not being considered, or was not considered?

MS. NULAND: Again, you’re getting me into all kinds of hypotheticals and if X, then Y.

QUESTION: Well, the story that’s out today is pretty specific, that this guy – I believe his name was Gonzalez – right? – he got out of – served his time, got out and was put on probation. And the story says that the U.S. suggestion was that instead – that you would push for the courts – that the U.S. Government would push before the courts in Florida to allow him to serve his probation time in Cuba instead of in the United States. Okay? So that’s not technically a release, but it is a swap of some kind or at least an offer to. You’re saying that that is not true either?

MS. NULAND: I’m not prepared to go beyond what I’ve said here and also to just reiterate that we have had discussions with the Cuban Government about this case and the importance of releasing him but we need for purposes of diplomatic confidentiality to not go any further here. But we are very firm in reaffirming that we were not looking at the release of any of the Cuban --

QUESTION: You’re talking about the release from –actual release from prison. Is that --

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay, so that does not apply to a release from probation?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not prepared to speak any further about our private diplomatic exchanges with the Cubans except to say that we believe that the guy needs to get out of jail and we want to see that happen.

QUESTION: Okay. Well that is understood. We know that you want Alan Gross out. The question is what you’re prepared to do to – what, if anything, are you prepared to do sweeten the deal or to make a deal with the Cubans for getting that release. And so the question about when you did not – when you say that there – you’re not considering releasing any member of the Cuban Five, does that specifically – that release – does that mean release actual from – from actual incarceration or – and that’s it? Or does it also include a release from some kind of enforced probationary period?

MS. NULAND: Matt, we have parsed this as far as we’re going to parse it today. And I’m at the end of what I have to say on this issue.

QUESTION: I want to follow-up because I believe it’s important. When you say we have not considered the release of any of the Cuban Five –

MS. NULAND: Correct.

QUESTION: -- that statement, to my mind, implies that none of those five individuals, including Mr. Gonzalez, who is cited in the AP story, might be traded for – or if there was any consideration given to trading that person for Mr. Gross. The problem is – and I think it’s an important issue, so I’m not just doing this for grandstanding – you have not, however, made clear that Mr. Gonzalez – that the possibility of Mr. Gonzalez’s being swapped fits into your denial. And the problem with that is, it’s a very disingenuous denial if in fact you are or did consider the possibility of allowing Mr. Gonzalez to serve out his term elsewhere in exchange for the release of Mr. Gross. So I don’t – I want to make very clear my intent is to give you every opportunity, whether now or later if you have to, but to be perfectly forthright in the meaning of your denial. Because to deny something in a way that leaves open the possibility that, in fact, you were considering trading this guy who is out of prison now for somebody else, is, I think, wrong. I just don’t think it’s right to do that from the podium, so I want to make very clear why Matt is pushing this, and why I’m pushing it. I would like to believe that denials of that sort are intended to be not disingenuous but straightforward. And I hope it will be possible for you to clarify whether that denial does indeed apply to the possibility of a swap for Mr. Gonzalez.

MS. NULAND: Well, Arshad, I appreciate the opportunity you are offering me here and I hope you will appreciate that I am not in a position to go further than I’ve gone today on our private diplomatic exchanges with the Cubans.

Obama's Efforts Have Fallen Flat

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Cuba’s escape valve

OUR OPINION: Havana shows it has no intention of respecting human rights, improving relations with the U.S.

As Cuba continues its crack down on dissidents and young Cubans complain of no future, the number of Cubans caught at sea or pleading “dry foot” here or at crossings on the U.S.-Mexican border have doubled from last year.

The Castro brothers’ escape valve is operational again. That’s because pressure from within is mounting for change.

The island’s disastrous economy (despite Venezuela’s oil giveaways) is a strong factor, say opposition leaders on the island and Cuban Americans who have been in contact with the new arrivals.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s attempts to free U.S. Agency for International Development worker Alan Gross (for a “crime” that most everywhere else would have been handled with a fine and a return trip home) have fallen flat.

No surprise there, as Washington has not yet fully understood that Havana has no interest in negotiating better relations with the United States. Its intent remains turning Uncle Sam into the Boogey Man, to take the heat off the regime’s own failings.

Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went to Cuba on an “unofficial” trip looking to bring back Mr. Gross, who’s serving an outrageous 15-year prison sentence. Cuba accuses Mr. Gross, 62 and ill, of being a spy for bringing communications equipment to Jewish groups in Havana.

Predictably, Mr. Richardson returned without him. Just more mind games from a 52-year-old dictatorship worried about the ramifications of the Arab Spring and fearing what technology in the hands of a new generation of Cubans might bring.

Cell phone cameras from Santiago to Havana are capturing growing discontent for the world to see. Brave young women and men are standing on street corners, even on the Capitol steps, to denounce abuses and call for democracy. The protests are gaining in number and in support from average Cubans on the street.

Mr. Richardson maintains human rights are improving in Cuba. It’s a shame he didn’t take a few hours out of his dead-end trip to talk with the Ladies in White, who have been beaten and detained, or to speak with the island’s bloggers like Yoani Sánchez.

In Lima last week, a report issued by the InterAmerican Press Association presented a grim picture regarding the harassment of journalists and bloggers in Cuba and women like 34-year-old independent journalist Sonia Garro. She is among a new generation criticizing the Cuban government’s treatment of Afro-Cubans.

Had Mr. Richardson met Ms. Garro and others who have been beaten, he wouldn’t have expressed surprise that he wasn’t allowed to see Mr. Gross or meet with Raúl Castro.

According to a recent New York Times report, Mr. Richardson was prepared to press the Obama administration to drop Cuba from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terror, as a goodwill gesture in exchange for Mr. Gross.

But Cuba wants the Cuban Five spies returned for Mr. Gross. One already is out on three years’ probation after serving a 13-year sentence.

To compare Mr. Gross’ work to help Cubans connect to the outside world to that of Cuban spies who were nosing around military bases like Homestead’s, looking for U.S. secrets, and responsible for the shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue planes is ludicrous. To talk of removing Cuba from the well-documented list of state sponsors of terror, even more so.