Quote of the Week

Saturday, October 29, 2011
"The big problem is that Cuba wants to negotiate the release of [American Alan] Gross for the five spies and the United States is not willing to do so because Gross was involved in a peaceful and civil activity that did not result in any bloodshed. Meanwhile, in the case of the spies, there's a direct implication in the death of citizens and residents of the United States. The negotiating sides are incomparable."

-- Guillermo Fariñas, famed Cuban dissident and recipient of the 2010 Sakharov Award for Human Rights by the European Union, El Nuevo Herald, 10/28/11

Libyans Shun Castro, Chavez and Ortega

Libya's National Transition Council (NTC) will review its relations with Latin America, but will likely shun Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Castro, Chavez and Ortega were steadfast friends and allies of Libyan dictator, Muammar al-Gaddafi.

According to NTC leader Abdul Baset, "Libya will be open to countries that respect human rights."

Moreover, "countries that supported the Libyan people in their most difficult moment will have a right to direct economic, commercial and diplomatic relations with Libya."

A lesson for those anxious to embrace Cuba's dictatorship.

And the Most Unpopular Leader is...

The firm Latinobarometro has just released its extensive yearly study of public opinion in Latin America.

It's based on over 19,000 interviews in 18 countries throughout the region.

The topics include an evaluation of foreign leaders.

According to the results, the most popular foreign leaders amongst Latin Americans are U.S. President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Roussef.

Meanwhile, the most unpopular is Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, closely followed by his mentee, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Cubans Are Exiles

By Dr. Tania Mastrapa in The Miami Herald:

Recently there has been much ado about the validity of Sen. Marco Rubio’s status as a son of exiles. The controversy mistakenly suggests that to be pro-freedom a Cuban must have left the island within a specific time frame. My family history, like Rubio’s, demonstrates otherwise.

In 1956, Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista’s policemen dragged my mother’s stepfather, Justo, from his workplace and jailed him. He was brutally beaten and later released. He was warned that their next encounter would result in his death. The regime mistakenly believed he was part of the revolutionary movement.

He left the island on a boat to Nassau, Bahamas hoping to return when it was again safe. Police arrived at my family’s home at 3 a.m. They overturned every item in the house looking for Justo’s supposed weapons cache. They found nothing. My then 4-year-old uncle pretended to shoot at the policemen with a toy. One of them hit my uncle on the head and threw him on his bed, threatening to kill both him and my grandmother. No official apology was issued for the egregious error.

In 1958, when it was clear the political situation would remain unstable, my grandmother and uncle left Cuba to Miami where Justo was waiting for them.

At the time of these events my mother was in Spain where my grandfather lived. His life savings were in Cuban banks. His brothers oversaw the family properties on the island. He planned to return to Cuba to live once my mother completed her schooling. Then the new Cuban state imprisoned and executed political opponents, deported the clergy, seized bank accounts and confiscated private property from its citizens and foreigners. After the deception and failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, he sank into a deep depression and retreated to our country home in the mountains, later dying from a massive heart attack. His story was not unique. As a permanent U.S. resident, my grandmother claimed her daughter and in 1962 my mother left Spain and entered this country. My mother joined the legion of others affected by the Castro takeover.

In 1957, two Batista secret police agents knocked on my paternal grandfather’s door at 7 a.m. and demanded that he join them. He was taken to military barracks where his younger brother was waiting inside an office. Together they were interrogated and threatened for several hours. The police claimed that either my grandfather or great-uncle was a revolutionary. In fact, they were shown a picture of a man who possessed an uncanny resemblance to the virtually identical brothers.

The secret police also claimed that they would have shot my grandfather the day before had he not been with my then-12-year-old father. A family contact pulled strings and arranged for the brothers’ release. Immediately my family applied for passports to leave the country. Their passports never arrived.

In January 1959, the family reapplied, fearing the Castro regime that had mercilessly bombed their eastern region and murdered myriad Cubans. Their attorney discovered that their original 1957 applications had been blocked and were sitting in a drawer. The Batista agents were bitter that their authority had been overridden at the barracks. In 1960, my father’s family finally fled Cuba and arrived in Miami, where they would wait to go back home.

Most of our families had migrated to Cuba from around the world seeking economic opportunities, freedom, social mobility and a better life in a Caribbean paradise. Our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents left behind Armenia, Austria, China, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Poland, Spain and many other homelands to establish themselves in the tropics. For most, there was no valid reason to leave Cuba and no desire to do so.

For many, the Batista tumor was unsavory, but the Castro cancer was indigestible. They fled to the United States and other countries seeking temporary lodging until the fall of the regime. It simply has not yet fallen. Date of arrival, visa type and place of departure are irrelevant. Together we continue to wait for freedom because we are all Cuban exiles.

New Cars for Castro's Police

Friday, October 28, 2011
Last month, the media was abuzz with "news" of the Castro regime legalizing auto sales.

This new "reform" would finally allow the Cuban people to barter old Soviet Ladas, while only reserving the "right" to buy new cars for regime officials and its repressive forces.

In other words, it didn't really change anything.

But here comes a new batch of patrol cars.

From Paultan's Automotive News:

According to reports, Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely has exported a second batch of Geely vehicles to Cuba, shipping 1,560 cars to the country last week. It’s the second time the automaker has done so, having exported 1,500 units in 2009, where they were used by government officials and the police, as well as equipping rental car fleets.

Secretary Clinton on Cuba Policy

Thursday, October 27, 2011
From today's hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee:

A Must-Read Obituary

From The Economist:

Laura Pollán

Laura Pollán Toledo, teacher and human-rights campaigner, died on October 14th, aged 63

THE house at 963 Calle Neptuno, in the centre of Havana, was small, but Laura Pollán kept it beautifully. The grey floor-tiles with their snowflake motif were always swept clean, even though her fluffy mongrel terrier shed his long hair everywhere, and though the door was kept open to get some air in from the bike-filled, rowdy, dusty street. In the front living room she had cane chairs with heart-shaped backs, and triangles of lace decorated the shelves. Outside, the tiny back yard was a jungle of pot plants and climbers, with neatly folded washing hung against the ochre walls. And the tower of the Iglesia del Carmen watched over it all.

But her house was also a cell for liberty. The living-room walls were hung with lists of the names of political prisoners, their photos, and a huge chart that showed them bursting from their chains when her group notched up a success. Prisoners’ wives and daughters crowded there for her monthly Literary Teas. She once got 72 women in, under the slowly turning ceiling fan, and put up 25 overnight. They came from all over Cuba: Pinar del Rio, Santa Clara, Las Tunas, Manzanillo (in the east, where she was born), even from the Sierra Maestra, where Fidel Castro had holed up in the mountains to start his revolution. They gathered at her house because she was central, and had a telephone. After 2003 the phone kept ringing, and she would answer it in a whisper, knowing it was tapped; each call would end with “Cuidado”, “Be careful”. A security camera and floodlights appeared outside her front door, supplementing the plain-clothes men who loitered there. Her bookshelf now held a tiny statue of Santa Rita, the saint of the impossible.

What had started all this was the arrest of her husband, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, for “acting against the territorial integrity of the state”. Seventy-four others were arrested with him in that Black Spring of 2003, and given average prison sentences of 20 years. Ms Pollán knew he had done nothing. The picture of him she wore emblazoned on her T-shirt showed a mild, smiling man, an engineer, who kept his glasses on a cord round his neck. He liked to underline phrases in the newspapers and clip pieces out, organising them under “Politics” or “Environment”. She supposed he was just trying to point out contradictions in the government line. They didn’t discuss it, any more than she took part when his friends from the banned Liberal Democratic Party came round to talk. She would disappear to the kitchen then, making coffee, and leave the men alone.

But they were taken away. Husbands, fathers, brothers, disappeared. Ms Pollán came home from teaching evening class to find 12 state security agents invading her house, carrying away the clippings and two old typewriters. One agent stood by even as she and Héctor tried to say goodbye to each other. Two weeks later she started to bring together the women she kept meeting at the Villa Marista barracks and at various government offices, seeking news of their men. They became the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White.

Ms Pollán came brand-new to campaigning. She was a mother (of Laurita), a housewife and a teacher: someone who loved literature and had taught peasants to read in the early years of the revolution. She had never done anything wilder. Short, blonde and stout, she was not cut out to be hauled into a bus by the police. All she wanted was to see Héctor back, and all the others. Her group would meet each Sunday at the church of Santa Rita in Miramar, Havana’s grandest district, say the rosary, hear mass, and then walk ten blocks in silence along Quinta Avenida on the green verges under the palm trees. The women wore white, symbolising pure intentions, and carried gladioli, a single stem each.

Yet politics crept in. At the end of every march the women would chant “Libertad!”—for Cuba as a whole, as much as for their men. They would throw out pencils with Derechos Humanos on one side and Damas en Blanco on the other, hoping that, slowly, people would pick them up. Enemies called them “mercenaries” and “Ladies in Green”, in the pay of the United States, and Ms Pollán had to admit that they did get American dollars and American parcels for their imprisoned men. Shock mobs of other women were especially bused in to attack them, beat them and pull their hair. Ms Pollán could fight back with the best: when a man called her “Puta!” once, she threw her gladioli in his face. In one battle in September she was crushed against a wall, which may have set off the breathing troubles that killed her.

By then, the 75 prisoners they were campaigning for had been released; most by the intervention of the Catholic Church and the government of Spain, but around 20 by their own efforts. Héctor, gaunt and thin, came out only last February. The numbers of Ladies dwindled, to 15 or so, as their work seemed to be done. But for Ms Pollán it was not done. Her Ladies had to go on marching as long as the laws remained that could fill the prisons again. As long as Cuba was not free, she would go on sitting at her computer with her little dog stretched out on the tiles beside her, alert for the telephone, with her front door open and Santa Rita at the ready, and the ceiling fan turning slowly in the smothering air.

Clinton: Castro Should Go

From AFP:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday the United States remained firm that the Castro regime should end in Cuba, despite overtures seeking reform on the communist island.

Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban American and fierce critic of the Castro brothers, told Clinton during a congressional hearing that the administration had a double-standard after using force to remove Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi.

"Our position has been the same for more than 50 years. We think Fidel Castro should go," Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be going anywhere."

The United States first partially imposed an embargo on Cuba in 1960, just after Fidel Castro's revolution. It remains in force, with most trade and travel banned to the Caribbean island.

After taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama eased restrictions on travel and remittances by immediate family members. He has said the United States is ready to change its tough policy if the communist state is ready to reform.

Castro, 85, formally ceded power in 2006 to his younger brother Raul due to health reasons but he has continued in a role as elder statesman.

Despite the absence of diplomatic ties, Clinton said that the United States maintained contacts with Cuban officials on a range of issues such as drug trafficking but also engaged ordinary people on the island.

"It is our view that we should help those who are trying to work toward positive change," Clinton said.

She renewed calls for Cuba to free US contractor Alan Gross, who was arrested in 2009 and sentenced in March to 15 years in prison.

"It is a gross violation of his human rights and a humanitarian abuse that he has not been returned to his family and we would like to see that happen as soon as possible," Clinton said.

Gross was arrested as he distributed cellphones and laptops to members of the island's Jewish community under a State Department contract. Cuba charged him with violating the island's "independence or territorial integrity."

Castro's Seminole Farce

Last week, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., staged another production, in which a variety of unscrupulous business interests paraded through to "kiss the ring" of the brutal Castro dictatorship.

In other words, more of the same.

The one surprise was Richard Bowers, who the Castro regime publicized to be the "Ambassador of Economic Affairs" for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

It was surprising, for the Seminoles have been historically sympathetic to the plight of the Cuban people under Castro's dictatorship.

Yet Bowers spewed all kinds of venomous rhetoric. See his presentation here:

Richard Bowers Jr from Tracey Eaton on Vimeo.

Well, it turns out that Bowers was not who the Castro regime purported he was.

Below is a letter from Seminole Tribe Chairman James Billie clarifying that Bowers is neither a representative of the Seminole Tribe, nor does the position "Ambassador of Economic Affairs" even exists.

As usual with the Castro regime, it was a farce.

Here's the letter from Chairman Billie:

Seminoles -

Many Thanks to UTA

From the University of Texas-Arlington's newspaper, The Shorthorn:

Activist Mauricio Claver-Carone encourages youth to push for ‘cambio’ in Cuba

Mauricio Claver-Carone wants youth to take initiative in politics and speak for what they believe in.

Claver-Carone, executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates in Washington, D.C., spoke to a group of 82 people Wednesday night as part of the Fall 2011 Diversity Lecture Series. He spoke about U.S.-Cuba Policy. In Cuba, 90 miles away from the U.S., a large young population is working toward change, the speaker said.

Cuba is a mystery, and some people only have a certain view of what it is through media, Claver-Carone said. But Claver-Carone spoke about the importance of the power of the youth and how they are providing a voice for the entire population.

One of the most famous campaigns in Cuba was Cambio, which means change in Spanish. Young people would wear white wristbands, T-shirts and backpacks with the word “cambio” on it and would be arrested for wearing such items.

“There was a huge repressive streak of young people, your peers, being thrown in jail for wearing a white wristband with the word ‘cambio’ on it,” Claver-Carone said. “It’s important for people to know what’s going on, for people to relate, for people to understand what future is because one thing we do know is that those young people will be the future leaders of Cuba.”

Anna Quinones, a UT-Dallas political science senior, attended the talk to earn extra credit for her Latin America class.

“I thought it was great. I mean, I’m really glad I came,” she said. “I actually studied in Madrid for a long time — international relations, so I did know a lot about Cuba before. It was enlightening, however.”

Quinones asked Claver-Carone what he thought about the concert Colombian artist Juanes gave in 2009 in Cuba to spread change.

Claver-Carone commented that the artist had a good idea, but he didn’t push hard enough to stand up against the regime. Claver-Carone said the artist instead just gave a concert without incorporating Cuban musical artists.

“I thought it was a political move. I thought it was just to help people forget for a second what was going on,” Quinones said. “But I didn’t think about it that way before. I never thought of Juanes even doing that, calling attention to the government.”

Biology freshman Aiza Daud said she attended the lecture to learn more about her background.

“I’m Cuban, and I’m very interested in learning more about Cuba, especially about the U.S. policy toward Cuba,” she said.

Daud also asked Claver-Carone a question about human rights and how Cuba isn’t able to provide medication for the population. Cuba doesn’t have regard for its people because it is under a dictatorship, Claver-Carone said.

“I went to Cuba when I was 8, and everything he said was right. And I like how he talked about how we should be politically involved,” Daud said. “As a Cuban, I can relate because in the ‘States you can be politically involved. Whereas in Cuba, you get beat up for saying what you think about the government.”

Multicultural Affairs director Leticia Martinez said she hopes students feel inspired by the lecture to vote and make a difference.

“Whenever we do programs for the students, ultimately we are hoping that they’re going to understand their own ability to make a difference in the community,” Martinez said. “So hopefully this was inspirational for the students.”

The Tourism-Repression Correlation

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
According to Castro's state media, at least 2.64 million foreign tourists arrived in Cuba from January to September of this year, an increase of 8.4 percent against the same period in 2010.

In September alone, 142,322 tourists visited Cuba, a 5.8 percent increase over the same period last year.

Meanwhile, there have been at least 2,784 political arrests in Cuba from January to September of this year, an increase of 128 percent against the same period in 2010.

In September alone, there were at least 563 political arrests, a 525 percent increase over the same period last year.

What happened to the argument that an increase in travelers would help protect pro-democracy activists?

It's actually the contrary effect -- their silence (and hard currency) breeds even more oppression.

U.S. Statement at Today's U.N. Vote

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Explanation of Vote by U.S. Ambassador Ronald Godard at the UN General Assembly Meeting on the Cuba Embargo

New York, NY
October 25, 2011

Mr. President,

For yet another year, this Assembly is taking up a resolution designed to confuse and obscure. But let there be no confusion about this: the United States, like most Member States, reaffirms its strong commitment to supporting the right, and the heartfelt desire, of the Cuban people to freely determine their future. And let there be no obscuring that the Cuban regime has deprived them of this right for more than half a century.

At the same time, the United States strongly asserts its sovereign right, on the same basis as other Member States, to determine its bilateral policies, including its economic relationships with other countries, in accordance with its own national interests and values. This includes our economic relationships with other countries. The U.S. economic relationship with Cuba is a bilateral issue, and is not appropriately a concern of this Assembly. The embargo represents just one aspect of U.S. policy toward Cuba, whose overarching goal is to encourage a more open environment in Cuba and increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms - principles to which this organization is also dedicated.

Mr. President,

This annual exercise attempts, to no good end, to obscure some fundamental truths. The Cuban government's own policies - not any action of the U.S. government - are the greatest obstacle to Cuba's economic development. These policies concentrate political and economic decisions in the hands of the few, stifling economic growth. They ignore the basic principle, so effectively demonstrated in many countries, that policies that allow individual freedom unleash the creativity of people, foster innovation and entrepreneurship, and are the best means to achieve sustainable economic development.

This exercise conceals the fact that the United States is a leading source of food and humanitarian aid to Cuba. The United States does not restrict humanitarian aid to Cuba. Cubans receive food, medicine, other forms of assistance, and remittances from the United States. In 2010, the United States government authorized $3.5 billion in total sales to Cuba of U.S. goods. In agricultural products alone, the United States exported $361.7 million in goods to Cuba in 2010, including poultry, soy bean products, corn, wheat, feed products, pork, and other items. Indeed, as the Cuban government itself has repeatedly indicated, the United States has for years been one of Cuba's principal trading partners. In total, the United States in 2010 also authorized $861 million in private humanitarian assistance in the form of gift parcels filled with food and other basic necessities, as well as non-agricultural and medical donations. These figures alone are sufficient to rebut the spurious allegations of genocide against the Cuban people in previous resolutions recalled in the current draft, and to demonstrate that this calumny greatly misuses this important term and insults the true victims of genocide.

Mr. President,

This resolution, and much of the stale rhetoric surrounding it, ignores some basic facts. As President Obama made clear last month, the United States is "open to a new relationship with Cuba" if the Cuban government starts taking proper steps to open up its own country and provide the space and the respect for human rights that will allow the Cuban people to determine their own destiny. The Cuban government also needs to release unconditionally and immediate the 62-year-old American citizen Alan Gross, whom it sentenced to 15 years in prison for the crime of trying to connect Cuba's Jewish communities to the Internet.

The President in January 2011 implemented several significant changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba aimed at increasing people-to-people contact; supporting civil society in Cuba; enhancing the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and helping promote their independence from Cuban authorities. These changes build upon the President's previous actions in April 2009, and demonstrate the strong commitment of the United States to the Cuban people, contrary to the picture painted in this resolution.

The United States looks forward to a still greater broadening of contacts and exchange with Cuba, and it is prepared to do its part to this end. But improving the situation requires efforts by the Cuban government as well. It must ensure that the Cuban people enjoy the internationally recognized political and economic freedoms to which this body is committed, and on which it has insisted with regard to other countries.

Mr. President,

Because this resolution does not reflect present realities, my delegation will vote against it. We strongly believe that this body, instead of engaging in such meaningless exercises, should dedicate itself to supporting the efforts of the Cuban people to freely determine their own future. Only by this course can this body truly advance the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

On the House Floor

An Insult to Dr. Martin Luther King

Yesterday, the Castro regime arrested several pro-democracy activists, including the courageous Sara Martha Fonseca and hip-hop artist Rodolfo Ramirez Cardoso.

Their "crime"?

Trying to hold a peaceful protest marking the "Day of Civil Resistance" at Havana's Martin Luther King, Jr. park.

Throughout the day, the Castro regime's secret police kept the park cordoned off in order to prevent further protests.

An insult to the very essence of Dr. Martin Luther King.

But as Dr. King reminded us, "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

Something which obviously makes the Castro dictatorship very nervous.

How the Embargo Protects the Environment

If you really want to prevent a Castro petro-dictatorship and protect Florida's environment, keep and strengthen sanctions.

Case and point below.

From EFE:

Cuba is blaming the 49-year-old U.S. economic embargo for delaying the start of oil exploration efforts in the Communist-ruled island’s territorial waters.

An article published Monday in the official weekly Trabajadores refers to “countless” cases over the past two decades in which the United States obstructed Cuba’s quest for a domestic oil industry.

The embargo makes it harder and more expensive for Cuba to obtain needed equipment, the magazine said, while also accusing Washington of pressuring and “blackmailing” foreign energy companies interested in doing business on the island.

Cuba needs the latest technology for deepwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, but, because of the embargo, cannot use any equipment that has more than 10 percent U.S. content.

Finding gear that meets both of those requirements is difficult “in a world where the transnationals of that country (the United States) have wide predominance,” Trabajadores said.

See more here.

Quote of the Day

Monday, October 24, 2011
"In all honesty, in Latin American there is only one dictatorship: the Cuban."

-- Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica, Editorial Mexicana, 10/24/11

"Steadfast in Protest" Report

Excerpt from the International Federation for Human Rights and World Organization Against Torture's 2011 report, "Steadfast in Protest":

Three years after Mr. Raúl Castro came to power, the Cuban Government initiated certain economic changes with the aim of improving the difficult situation affecting the Cuban population. However, there were no major reforms agreed during the VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (Partido Comunista Cubano - PCC), held in April 2011 for the first time in thirteen years, during which Mr. Raúl Castro was elected as First Secretary of the PCC, replacing Mr. Fidel Castro.

In 2010 and 2011, the human rights situation in Cuba continued to be worrying and precarious and the Cuban Government remained hostile to any criticism at the national or international level. Within Cuba, political opposition and more generally, freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, continued to be strongly repressed using force, judicial harassment and arbitrary detention.

An international in situ visit on the human rights situation in the island was once again prevented from taking place. In this respect, Mr. Manfred Nowak, then United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, expressed his enormous disappointment that he could not agree on a date with the Cuban Government for his fact-finding mission before the end of his mandate, on October 30, 2010. Added to this, observation of the human rights situation in Cuban prisons continued to be prohibited and was viewed as an act of “treason” or an “attack on Cuban sovereignty”.

The above is particularly alarming taking into account the difficult situation in Cuban prisons. Excessive and abusive imprisonment is one of the main reasons for the massive overcrowding which currently exists in around 200 prisons and labour camps on the island, added to ill-treatment, beatings, humiliation and inadequate nutrition to which prisoners are subjected. Political dissidents, human rights defenders and common prisoners all found themselves in this situation without distinction, and the health of some prisoners was badly affected. This situation causes the death of a number of political prisoners every year in Cuba, due to ill-treatment, illnesses which were not treated and suicides. The indifference with which prisoners’ protests or illnesses are treated, was demonstrated by the death, on February 23, 2010, of Mr. Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political dissident who had been incarcerated since March 20, 2003.

The Other "La Colmenita"

Reasonable minds can surely agree that manipulating children for political propaganda is pretty reprehensible.

Predictably, the exceptions are the Castro regime, the Gilbert Brownstone Foundation and, sadly, some bureaucrats at the State Department.

Last week, a Havana-based children's theatrical group, "La Colmenita" ("the Little Beehive"), was sent on a U.S. tour to deliver politically-charged performances extolling the Castro dictatorship and the case of five convicted Cuban spies.

The tour was subsidized by the Gilbert Brownstone Foundation and was given the "green-light" (visas) by State Department bureaucrats.

However, the exception was also Muammar Gaddafi.

This past July, the late dictator similarly staged performances on his behalf using Libyan children.

See the picture below.

Gaddafi's "La Colmenita" highlighted how education and health care is free in Libya and how it has the highest literacy rate in the region. Thus, it claimed, anti-Gaddafi rebels and NATO were unforgivably risking these achievements.

(The children's performance followed the supposed "one million man" street march in favor of Gaddafi.)

Perhaps with a bit more time and a wealthy U.S. benefactor, they might have even been sent on a U.S. tour. Wonder if the State Department would have given them visas?

Fortunately, instead, they can now be regular children and freely choose their own destiny.

A Dissident's Mysterious Death

Sunday, October 23, 2011
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

A Dissident's Mysterious Death in Havana

Days after a beating by a mob, Laura Pollán fell ill and soon died. She was cremated two hours later.

For more than eight years, the Castro regime tried its level best to silence Ladies in White leader Laura Pollán. Ten days ago Pollán did fall silent. She passed away, after a brief illness, in a Havana hospital.

Hospital officials initially said that she died of cardiac and respiratory arrest. But according to Berta Soler, the spokesperson for the Ladies in White in Havana, the death certificate says that Pollán succumbed to diabetes mellitus type II, bronchial pneumonia and a syncytial virus.

Since there was no independent medical care available to her and there was no autopsy, we are unlikely ever to find out what killed Pollán. We do know that although she was a diabetic with high blood pressure, both were under control and she did not need regular insulin shots. Indeed, she had been healthy only weeks before her death, according to friends and family. We also know that the longer she remained under state care, the sicker she got.

Not surprisingly, the Cuban opposition is suspicious about her demise, and their concerns deserve an airing if only because of the nature of the totalitarian regime. It learned its trade from communist Eastern Europe, where the practice of eliminating enemies while in state custody was refined.

Over the life of the Cuban dictatorship, suspicious deaths (most commonly heart attacks) of otherwise healthy individuals who were considered disloyal to the Castros are not unheard of. The most famous was José Abrantes, a former interior minister and confidant of Fidel, who had a falling out with his boss, was imprisoned, and though known for being fit died of a heart attack in his cell in 1991. More than one defector from inside the regime has claimed that Abrantes was murdered.

Pollán took up her cause when her husband, Hector Maseda, was arrested, along with 74 others, in an island-wide crackdown on dissent in March 2003. Seeking a way to resist the injustice, she joined other women whose loved ones were handed down long sentences in Cuba's Black Spring. Together they organized a simple, peaceful act of disobedience: After attending Mass at St. Rita's church in Havana, they marched in the street, dressed in white and carrying gladiolas. The group was peaceful and nonpolitical. But to the regime it was dangerous. Mobs were unleashed against it.

Beatings, detentions, intimidation and harassment of the group were fruitless. The Ladies repeatedly returned to their "counterrevolutionary" practices: Sunday Mass, silent processions, Wednesday women's "literary teas" held in Ms. Pollán's home, prayer vigils for the persecuted.

The movement took on enormous visual power, and when images of the ladies being attacked in the streets went viral, the dictatorship was humiliated. The Castros were forced to offer the Black Spring prisoners "liberation" through exile with their spouses.

Pollán and her husband refused. Instead she expanded the movement across the country and promised to convert it to a human rights organization open to all women. Speaking from the Guanajay prison as her condition was deteriorating, jailed former Cuban counterintelligence officer Ernesto Borges Pérez told the Hablemos Press that making public those objectives likely sealed her fate.

On Sept. 24, Pollán was attacked by a mob as she tried to leave her house to attend Mass. Her right arm was reportedly twisted, scratched and bitten. This is notable because for more than a year, the Ladies had alleged that when Castro's enforcement squads came after them, the regime's goons pricked their skin with needles. Those same women claimed that they subsequently felt dizzy, nauseous and feverish. Independent journalist Carlos Ríos Otero reported this for Hablemos Press before Pollán was hospitalized.

According to interviews with Pollán's daughter and husband and with Ms. Soler, conducted by the Miami-based nongovernmental organization Directorio, eight days after the Sept. 24 assault Pollán came down with chills and began vomiting. Wracked with pain in her joints the next day, she was taken to the Calixto García hospital. After a battery of tests she was told everything was normal and released. On Oct. 4, she had a fever and shortness of breath. A prescribed antibiotic did not help. On Oct. 7 she was admitted to the hospital, later transferred to intensive care and the next day put on a respirator.

Her family was denied visitation rights until Oct. 10, when only her daughter was allowed to see her. State security agents surrounded her bed and monitored the doctors. On Oct. 12 doctors reported that she had a syncytial respiratory virus, which is otherwise known as a cold. She was obviously much sicker.

On Oct. 14 she died. When the family was allowed to see the body, state security agents were again on hand, as they were at the one-hour wake permitted at midnight. In record time—only two hours later—Pollán was returned to ashes. Who could blame the resistance for its suspicions?

Outrageous Quote of the Day

"Prevention of expressing certain views is not only tolerated but I would say supported by the general population."

-- Arturo Lopez-Levy, University of Denver doctoral student and "former" Cuban Ministry of the Interior official, on the Castro dictatorship's repressive limits on expression, AP, 10/23/11

That's right, freedom of speech -- for what?

Elections -- for what?

Twelve million Cubans don't want freedom of speech or elections.

Says who?

Fidel, Raul and Arturo, of course.

The Racial Tint of Cuba's Repression

By Jon Perdue in last weekend's Miami Herald:

Unlike the pervasive myth of universal literacy and quality healthcare that has gone unchecked and unchallenged for decades, Cuba’s fabled championing of the Afro-Cuban community is one Cuban myth that has been shattered since Fidel Castro handed power to his younger brother Raúl.

Unlike Fidel, Raúl Castro has shown a tin ear about the politics of image making, sending violent mobs to attack peaceful female marchers in an age where every cell phone can be a live broadcasting tool to the rest of the world. Lately, these citizen-held cameras have been broadcasting disturbing scenes of screeching mobs of Castro supporters waiting outside a church for the peace marchers of the “Ladies in White” to exit, where they proceeded to beat, pelt with stones and even smash the ladies against the church walls to prevent their march, leaving several severely injured.

What is most remarkable is that these are not mayimbes, or light-skinned Communist Party elites of Cuban society, but many of these marchers are poor and black. Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, who runs the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement for Civil Rights, is a good example.

Perez Aguilera was leaving her home on Sept. 26 to go to a peaceful march for the freedom of another female prisoner, Sarah Marta Fonseca Quevedo, when she was beaten and forcibly taken away by Castro’s security apparatus. She was kept incommunicado from her husband and children for six days before being released — beaten and bloodied.

Sonia Garro recently became one of many peaceful Afro-Cuban community organizers that have gotten the business end of the Castro regime’s “outreach” efforts to Cuba’s black community.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Garro had protested the Castro regime’s discrimination against the Afro-Cuban community, and had paid dearly. In October of 2010, Garro was taken by Castro security for seven hours, after which she was released — with her nose broken. One of her fellow female marchers, also taken by Castro enforcers, was sent home with a broken arm.

Garro, a woman with little means to support her own family, had committed the offense of building a recreation center in her home for other poor children in the community who have nothing to do but roam the neighborhood unsupervised. One of her goals had been to try to free young girls from having to resort to prostitution, an all-too-common survival occupation in a country that boasts that its governing model provides for all.

Since taking over in 2008, Raúl Castro has continued Fidel’s policy of using female agents to handle the takedown and capture of the female marchers, so as to avoid photos of thuggish male enforcers attacking helpless females who do nothing other than carry flowers and march silently. But that has not lessened the brutality the women receive once they are behind the walls of Castro’s jails.

Aside from many of the Ladies in White and their supporters, two of the most recognizable Afro-Cuban dissidents have been Orlando Zapata and Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, who were arrested together in 2002 during a peaceful protest. Biscet, a medical doctor and disciple of the nonviolence preached by Dr. Martin Luther King, was finally let out of prison in March of 2011 so the regime could let some steam out of the international pressure that was building against it. Zapata was not as fortunate.

Zapata died a martyr on Feb. 10, 2010, 83 days after beginning a hunger strike after he had asked in vain to serve his sentence under the same prison conditions that Fidel Castro had enjoyed when he was imprisoned by the Batista government. When Zapata died, Cuba’s state-controlled newspapers called him a “common criminal falsely elevated to martyr status.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson recently traveled to Havana under the auspices of trying to bring home American prisoner Alan Gross, who was imprisoned for handing out computers to the island’s small Jewish community. When Richardson arrived, he was not allowed to meet with Gross, nor with Raúl Castro.

His biggest failure was not asking to meet with any of Cuba’s political prisoners. Richardson compounded that mistake upon his return by telling CNN that the “human-rights situation has improved” under Raúl — a qualitatively and quantitatively false assertion that will now be regurgitated ad nauseam by the regime in order to dismiss international criticism.

But Richardson’s futile and counterproductive diplomatic freelancing is not the worst of the foolhardy foreign policy actions toward Cuba in recent years.

History may view the repeated junkets taken by members of the Congressional Black Caucus as the most shameful. They treat the Castro brothers as teenage girls would treat the Jonas Brothers, and come back singing the praises of how the “revolution” has been great for Afro-Cubans, without ever asking to check the dissidents’ living conditions in the island’s gulags.

They will, however, shout from the mountaintop about the supposed atrocities taking place on the opposite end of the island at Guantánamo Bay.

Racial solidarity, it seems, stops at the water’s edge.

Jon Perdue is director for Latin America programs at The Fund for American Studies.

From Dictatorship to Democracy

For the first time in 55 years, Tunisians are voting in free, multi-party elections today.

A great day for all freedom loving people.

From the Wall Street Journal:

In Tunisia's first elections since the nation toppled its leader and sparked the Arab Spring uprisings in January, much larger-than-expected crowds turned out to vote in what looks likely to be the freest and fairest elections ever held in the Middle East.

More important than the matter of who wins Sunday will be the process of carrying out a democratic election in a region that has mostly known dictators for decades, a process that Tunisians were proudly willing to wait in long lines to see through.

"Our goal is to join the democratic world," said Walid Sellami, a 27-year-old financial consultant voting in an upscale Tunisian neighborhood. "No one cares about the lines. We're just happy to be voting."

Tunisians will elect a 218-seat constitutional assembly, which will appoint an interim government and have one year to rewrite the constitution. Tunisia's Islamist Nahda Party is broadly expected to win a solid victory.

The election's impact may only be enhanced by the death this week of Moammar Gadhafi, the third and longest-running autocrat to be brought down by the protests that began 10 months ago in Tunisia.

Democracy activists across the region hope that a successful vote here could galvanize pro-democracy movements that have flagged amid violent regime crackdowns, as in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, and by a pushback by old-guard counterrevolutionary forces, as in Egypt.

The Death of Fear and Birth of Freedom

By Fernando Menéndez in Fox News:

What is the value of speaking your mind without fear? For Cuban dissident leader Laura Pollán it was life itself. She died on Monday October 17, 2011, reportedly of respiratory failure in Havana’s Calixto Garcia hospital.

The intrepid 63-year old Pollán, a former schoolteacher, first came to prominence for organizing a group of women whose husbands, brothers, and sons had been condemned to some of the sternest sentences in the regime’s history. The Black Spring of 2003, as it became known, was roundly denounced by supporters of human rights around the world. Former presidents Lech Walesa of Poland and Vaclac Havel of the Czech Republic, themselves jailed for defying dictatorship, raised their voices demanding the release of the 75 prisoners of conscience. In 2003 Pollán, whose husband Hector Maseda was among the political prisoners, organized a weekend march known as the Ladies in White, who dared exercise their right to protest and peaceably assemble presenting their grievances against the dictatorship of the Castro brothers.

The response was rapid and ferocious: the women were repeatedly assaulted by government-organized “shock brigades,” claiming to represent the ire of the popular masses against “counter-revolutionaries, in the pay if the U.S. empire.” These thugs also took up intense harassment, occupying the sidewalks outside Pollán’s home on Havana’s Neptuno Street. During one of the Ladies in White peaceful marches through Havana, video cameras show them being physically attacked before police arrest them, not the attackers, and piling them into a bus to be hauled off to jail. At one point it became unclear whether the police or the mob did more physical harm to the women.

Thanks to the Internet, the world saw for itself who the peaceful dissidents were and where the violence originated.

Asked repeatedly if the attacks would stop the Ladies in White from marching, Pollán merely announced the next march and encouraged more women to join them. And join them they have. Over the years, repudiation has replaced fear as more of Cuba’s women have draped themselves in white and marched, flowers in hand, under Cuban flags to pay homage to fallen comrades like Osvaldo Zapata Tamayo who died in a hunger strike fighting for his right to be a free man.

Pollán and her sisters, like the men who prefer prison to silence, clearly crossed the line set for them by the dictatorship. Dictatorships the world over depend on the people’s fear to keep them in step. Pollán, and increasing numbers of Cubans, have lost fear of the regime and some have even lost the fear of death, leaving the regime with fewer and fewer options. Once people lose their fear, and especially the fear of death, there is little to hold them back.

The history of resistance in Cuba and elsewhere teaches many lessons. First, that freedom is not some abstract term used in philosophical discourse, but rather it is the right to speak one’s mind without fear of reprisals, arrests, or physical harm. Secondly, that we are always free to the extent that we refuse to cooperate with our oppressors provided we are ready to accept the consequences. Finally, as our brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe learned, once we all stop cooperating the forces of repression fall of their own weight like a house of cards.

In Cuba, faced with resistance, the regime usually calls a mass demonstration or a march in which millions walk to the US Interest Section and the same speakers denounce the empire. The marches are a mass catharsis for a population completely alienated from a system that denies them the right to follow their individual dreams and that repeatedly postpones the benefits of the revolution for which they are daily asked to sacrifice. Such marches serve as a collective whistling through the graveyard.

If one wanted to play psychologist, the “rapid response” brigades are taking out their anger against a group of non-resisting women, because they can’t slap the bribe-seeking cop, or strangle the Party hack who checks their child’s education for lack of “revolutionary enthusiasm.” Who knows, maybe a punch at a dissident’s face is a displaced reminder of their own inability to change anything.

In a sublime act of cynicism Stalin once told his associates that the death of single individual was a tragedy, but that the death of millions was merely a statistic. Likewise, being able to mobilize “shock brigades” or massive demonstrations are but statistics, the death of a courageous woman like Laura Pollán is indeed a tragedy.

Fernando Menéndez is an economist and principal of Cordoba Group International LLC.