The AP's "Cynical" Havana Bureau

Saturday, November 5, 2011
Yesterday, the AP's Havana bureau released the following insulting headline and story:

"Cuba reforms convincing island's cynics"

It implies that Cubans weary of Castro's 52-year dictatorship and its so-called "reforms" are "cynics."

After all -- why should Cubans be so distrusting of Castro's brutal regime, which has been lying, stealing, torturing, imprisoning and murdering its own people for over five decades?

Does the AP feel the same about Syrians that are incredulous of the "reforms" of dictator Bashir al-Assad?

Or did it feel the same about Libyans that were incredulous about "reformist" Saif al-Gaddafi?

After all, Syrians and Libyans have been allowed to buy and sell property for decades.

The only "cynics" here are the AP's Havana bureau, which 52-years later still give the Cuban dictatorship the benefit of the doubt.

With "Reformers" Like These...

Friday, November 4, 2011
"Reformist" dictators seem to be the latest (repulsive) fad.

From the U.K.'s Telegraph:

Syria's President Assad: 'I live a normal life - it's why I'm popular'

Three thousand demonstrators have died fighting his rule, but - in an exclusive interview - Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, tells Andrew Gilligan he will not go the way of Gaddafi

When you go to see an Arab ruler, you expect vast, over-the-top palaces, battalions of guards, ring after ring of security checks and massive, deadening protocol. You expect to wait hours in return for a few stilted minutes in a gilded reception room, surrounded by officials, flunkies and state TV cameras. You expect a monologue, not a conversation. Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, was quite different.

The young woman who arranged the meeting picked me up in her own car. We drove for 10 minutes, then turned along what looked like a little-used side road through the bushes. There was no visible security, not even a gate, just a man dressed like a janitor, standing by a hut. We drove straight up to a single-storey building the size of a largeish suburban bungalow. The president was waiting in the hall to meet us.

We sat, just the three of us, on leather sofas in Assad’s small study. The president was wearing jeans. It was Friday, the main protest day in Syria: the first Friday since the death of Colonel Gaddafi had sunk in. But the man at the centre of it all, the man they wanted to destroy, looked pretty relaxed.

He thought the protests were diminishing. After they started, in March, “we didn’t go down the road of stubborn government. Six days after [the protests began] I commenced reform. People were sceptical that the reforms were an opiate for the people, but when we started announcing the reforms, the problems started decreasing... This is when the tide started to turn. This is when people started supporting the government... [but] being in the middle is very difficult when you have this strong polarisation.”

The problems were not mainly political, he thought. “It’s about the whole of society, the development of society. Different problems have erupted as one crisis. We adopted liberal economics. To open your economy without preparing yourself, you open up gaps between the social strata. If you do not get the right economic model, you cannot get past the problem.”

For Assad’s critics – who have expanded steadily over the last seven months to include not just the protesters, but Britain, France, the US, the United Nations and now the Arab League – these statements are simply delusional. “He has been talking about reform ever since he came to office [in 2000], and nothing serious ever happens,” said one of the protest leaders from the key opposition city of Homs. “Killing people is not an act of reform. We aren’t calling for economic or even political reform under Assad, but for the departure of this bloodstained president and free elections.”

The opposition appears, after a dip, to have been energised by Gaddafi’s demise. The death toll on Friday, they say, of 40, was the highest since April. Three thousand demonstrators have been killed by Assad’s security forces since March, according to the UN, a figure that includes 187 children. Yesterday, it was reported, the Syrian army was shelling civilian areas of Homs [...]

Assad lives in a relatively small house in a normal – albeit guarded – street. He believes that his modest lifestyle is another component of his appeal. “There is a legitimacy according to elections and there is popular legitimacy,” he said. “If you do not have popular legitimacy, whether you are elected or not you will be removed – look at all the coups we had.

“The first component of popular legitimacy is your personal life. It is very important how you live. I live a normal life. I drive my own car, we have neighbours, I take my kids to school. That’s why I am popular. It is very important to live this way – that is the Syrian style.”

Don't Miss Voices From Mariel

It will be screening this weekend in Alexandria, VA:

Quote of the Week

"The fact is that more than the power to purchase cars or houses, Cubans need freedom, free elections, respect for individual freedoms... [Castro's economic changes] do not bring freedom nor democracy to a people, and certainly not to a country under an iron tyranny for 52 years."

-- Regis Iglesias Ramirez, former Cuban political prisoner jailed during the 2003 Black Spring and recently banished to Spain, The Miami Herald, 11/3/11

Working Towards a Cuban Spring

Thursday, November 3, 2011
By James K. Glassman in Forbes:

In March 2003, the Cuban regime rounded up 75 journalists, librarians and human peaceful dissidents and quickly hustled them off to prison for lengthy terms on bizarre, trumped-up charges.

For example, Normando Hernandez, who had been writing articles on CubaNet since 1999, was found guilty of reporting on the health, education and judicial systems and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, a surgeon who was hounded from his profession for his political beliefs, was sentenced to 24 years, with 17 months of it in isolation. Ill with pneumonia and a cyst on his kidney, his weight dropped to 90 pounds. Regis Iglesias, a poet, received an 18-year sentence.

All of the 75 Cubans were released by 2010, a few months after an international outcry over the death of imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo. But the releases did not come until many of those jailed in the spring of 2003 — including Hernandez, Paneque and Iglesias — had spent more than seven years in prison, in terrible conditions for alleged crimes that amounted to nothing more than the exercise of “the most elementary of human rights, especially as regards freedom of expression and political association,” as the European Union put it, in a statement denouncing the prosecutions.

For these three and many of the others, however, the privations did not end with release from prison. They were exiled to Spain, where they were denied basic liberties customarily accorded political refugees. In a column in the Wall Street Journal on June 13 of this year, Mary Anastasia O’Grady criticized the Spanish government for “assisting the Cuban dictatorship to disguise the deportation as ‘liberation.’”

Among the readers of the column was former President George W. Bush. The three ex-prisoners learned of his interest, and, on Tuesday, they flew to Dallas to tell their stories to a packed assembly at an event sponsored by the Bush Institute.

The Cubans were accompanied by Jose Maria Aznar, former president of Spain, and Antonio Lopez-Isturiz White, secretary general of the European People’s Party, the pan-European center-right organization that has been looking out for the welfare of the exiles as the Spanish government has shirked its responsibility.

The sad fact is that much of the world is either consciously ignoring or is blissfully unaware of the brutality and repression being exercised by the Cuba regime against citizens simply asking basic freedoms. While global attention has focused on the Arab Spring and the liberation of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, a Caribbean island has remained for more than 60 years in the grip of a family that has destroyed its economy and stripped its people of the most fundamental rights.

What’s the answer for Cuba? Start with an intensification of international pressure on the regime. Certainly, the attitude of the Spanish government will change later this month if, as expected, the Socialist government so friendly to the Castros is defeated.

But international pressure won’t increase unless the world hears the stories of brave Cubans like Dr. Paneque, who told the rapt audience in Dallas about the hell of solitary confinement in a tiny cell. He said that his life would never be the same. You could see the emotional scars.

The Castro brothers probably expected that the experience of prison would chasten or silence the released dissidents – those in Spain or the United States or still in Cuba. But it has not. Hernandez, Paneque and Iglesias remain defiant. They’re telling tales of one of the most repressive governments in the world. “We must seek the truth,” said President Aznar on Tuesday, “and make known the lies of the regime.”

Change in Cuba also requires that freedom-loving Americans – especially high officials — to lend their moral support. Aznar reminded the audience that freedom “will never come from appeasement and complacency.”

When President Bush was in office, he vigorously and publicly put the weight of his office behind hundreds of dissidents and freedom advocates.

He met with Dr. Paneque’s wife and daughter in the Oval Office during the dissident’s fourth year in prison and then, six months later, in the East Room of the White House for a “day of Solidarity with the Cuban People.” The President even helped Paneque’s wife get a better job in Texas so she could be at home with her daughter at night. He mentioned Paneque three times in speeches, including an address to the Cuban people a few days before he left office in 2009.

President Bush also mentioned the jailed Normando Hernandez in three speeches, and Hernandez’s mother joined Mrs. Bush in the First Lady’s box for the 2008 State of the Union address. We know from interviews with other dissidents that word of this kind of support seeps into prisons and gives freedom advocates the courage to struggle on.

Finally, the United States and other nations need to be steadfast in their policies. Any change in relations with Cuba must be predicated on free elections. Freedom won’t come to the nation until the current regime leaves power and the Cuban people themselves are able to choose their leaders.

Perhaps nature will have to run its course, but I hope not. There are non-violent ways to bring freedom to Cuba, and they all come down to helping courageous Cubans like Hernandez, Paneque and Iglesias succeed.

James K. Glassman is the founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute and a former Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy.

Political Prisoners Visit Capitol Hill

From today's visit to Capitol Hill by former Cuban political prisoners (of the Black Spring of 2003) Normando Hernández González, Regis Iglesias Ramírez and José Luís García Paneque:

Iran's Credit Line to Castro

On a day of over-reported stories (Castro's home sales announcement), here's a dangerously under-reported story.

From Tehran Times:

Iran has allocated a credit line for reconstruction of Cuba’s energy system, the Cuban vice president of the National Institute of Water Resources said.

Abel Salas made the announcement in a meeting with the Iran’s deputy energy minister in Tehran on Wednesday, ISNA news agency reported.

Salas expressed hope that a portion of the 500-million euro credit line would be used to reconstruct the Cuban energy system.

Housing Hype Before Disappointment

Last month, the Castro regime's "legalization" of car purchases was announced with great fanfare.

Then, the details of the new regulations revealed that privileges were reserved for Castro's officials and those that work in the regime's "strategic sectors" (e.g. tourism and the police).

Here we go again.

This morning, the AP reported:

"Cuban state media says the government is allowing citizens to buy and sell real estate property for the first time since the early days of the revolution."

They are referring to an article that appeared in Castro's newspaper, Granma, this morning.

(Note to those that like to refer to Cuban "laws" as if they resulted from some legitimate and transparent process: they're based on Castro's whim and distribution in the state media.)

This news will be distributed internationally with great hype and fanfare as more evidence of Castro's "reforms."

Then, the details and implementation will be revealed -- fraught with disappointing caveats and special privileges.

Meanwhile, the month of October 2011 continued the Castro regime's record-setting trend of political arrests and repression.

Yet, Castro's "announcement" will provide weeks (if not months) of distractions from the repressive realities on the ground.

Fariñas Remains Imprisoned

From EFE:

Cuban government opponent Guillermo Fariñas was detained in the central city of Santa Clara while trying to visit a hunger-striking dissident at a hospital, his family and pro-democracy activists said.

"Guillermo went to pay a visit to Alcides (Rivera) at the hospital and they don't want anyone there. The (hospital guards) didn't let him in. They immobilized him, beat him and called the police, who took him to a (police unit)," Fariñas' mother, Alicia Hernandez, told Efe Tuesday.

She said she learned of her son's arrest thanks to an "eyewitness."

Another 18 dissidents who went to the Arnaldo Milian Castro Provincial Hospital Monday to check on Rivera's health were not allowed inside the facility and were detained, although apparently some were released Tuesday, Hernandez said.

Rivera went on hunger strike on Sept. 28 to demand an end to government repression of dissent, activist Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said.

Testimony on Cuban Oil Exploration

Wednesday, November 2, 2011
From today's hearing in the U.S. House of Representative's Committee on Natural Resources:

Testimony on “North American Offshore Energy: Mexico and Canada Boundary Treaties and New Drilling by Cuba and Bahamas

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

It's truly a privilege to be here with all of you today.

My name is Mauricio Claver-Carone and I'm the Executive Director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cuba.

I have held this position for seven years and throughout this time, I have been closely monitoring the plans, developments and geo-political motivations behind the Cuban regime's efforts to pursue offshore oil exploration.

However, it's important to note that despite the broad media attention given to the Cuban regime’s most recent plans, which we are discussing here today, its efforts to conduct offshore oil exploration date back almost 20 years. And ultimately -- all of them have been unsuccessful.

Please allow me to begin with some broader observations.

Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship. It is the sole remaining dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere. Therefore, it should not be viewed through the same lens as its democratic neighbors, the Bahamas and Mexico -- nor should it be treated in the same manner.

The Bahamas and Mexico are allies of the United States. We share a relationship of trust and cooperation with these two friendly nations. Meanwhile, the Cuban regime remains under U.S. sanctions, which Congress codified into law under the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, due to three fundamental reasons: 1. the brutal violations of the Cuban people's human, civil, political and economic rights. 2. its hostile anti-American policies. 3. the illegal expropriation of properties belonging to U.S. nationals.

Moreover, Cuba remains one of four countries designated by the U.S. Government as a state-sponsor of terrorism based on its harboring of fugitives (including the murderers of U.S. law enforcement officials); its unwillingness to cooperate with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts; its intelligence gathering and sharing with other rogue regimes; and its support for foreign terrorist organizations. The other three countries on the state-sponsors of terrorism list are Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Considering the background of Cuba's regime, a strong case can be made that it is not in our national interest to lift sanctions and assist yet another anti-American dictatorship -- and state-sponsor of terrorism -- in its ambitions for oil exploration. To do so would not ease domestic fuel costs or enhance energy independence here at home, which should be the goals of U.S. energy policy. To the contrary, it would add to the extortionate practices that other oil-producing dictatorships have exploited for the last half-a-century.

Furthermore, considering that this same Cuban regime has already expropriated U.S. oil assets in the past (Esso and Texaco), it would send a dangerous message to other hostile governments that -- in this region alone (e.g. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela) -- would like to do the same.

Now, allow me to focus on some of the specifics of the Cuban regime's offshore exploration plans, which unfortunately tend to get overlooked.

Despite the Cuban regime’s highly publicized efforts over the last 20 years, there have been no commercially viable discoveries or extraction of oil in waters off Cuba's shores. Moreover, there is currently no drilling taking place in waters off Cuba's shores.

The Cuban regime first began using offshore-drilling rights to extract political concessions from various nations of the world soon after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which ended that country’s hefty subsidies to Cuba.

According to recently declassified documents by the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, in 1993 the Cuban regime first offered the government of then President Itamar Franco the "most promising" blocks for oil exploration to Brazil's national oil company, Petrobras, in exchange for their shunning of Cuban dissidents on the island and cancelling a meeting with Cuban exiles at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, D.C. The Brazilian government complied with both, only to exit from Cuba empty-handed years later.

The Cuban regime found a new “partner” when Hugo Chavez rose to the presidency of oil-rich Venezuela in 1998. With the backing of Chavez and Venezuela’s state-oil company PdVSA, the Cuban regime resumed its diplomatic offensive signing highly publicized oil-leases with Spain's Repsol, Norway's Statoil, Russia's Gazprom, India's ONGC Videsh, Malaysia's Petronas, Canada's Sherritt, Angola's Sonangol, Vietnam's PetroVietnam and China's CNPC .

Only one company, however, has actually conducted any exploratory drilling -- Spain's Repsol in 2004. It found some oil, but not in any commercially viable quantities. It then pulled out of Cuba.

Similarly, after much initial fanfare, Canada's Sherritt and Brazil's Petrobras -- perhaps the most credible and respected of the region’s oil companies outside the United States -- publicly abandoned their efforts in 2008 and 2011, respectively, stating that Cuba offshore drilling was "not commercially viable" and citing "poor prospects."

Much of this can be attributed to U.S. sanctions, which dramatically drive up costs of production. The Cuban regime has itself admitted that U.S. sanctions make it commercially impractical to produce oil in its territorial waters. Keep in mind that even the largest neighboring foreign oil companies, Mexico's Pemex and Venezuela's PdVSA, refine the majority of their oil in the U.S. and then repatriate it, for they lack the domestic infrastructure to process their own heavy crude and the U.S.’s geographical proximity enhances profitability. As long as U.S. trade sanctions against Cuba’s regime are in place, producing and refining any oil found in Cuban waters in the United States isn’t an option.

That leads to a question: If off-shore drilling in Cuban waters is not commercially viable for the most respectable regional oil companies, which are located relatively close to Cuba and have the most experience in dealing with Cubans, is such drilling really viable for the Angolans, Malaysians or the Chinese? The answer is no.

Initially, we learned this in 2006, when the Cuban regime seemingly had convinced public policymakers in Washington -- including many here in Congress -- that the Chinese were ready to drill off Cuba's shores. The threat never materialized, but it served the Cuban regime’s political interests. As Reuters reported from Cuba at the time: “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."

Last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by BP and the justifiable public outrage that ensued has given the Cuban regime a new and strategic opportunity to use the threat of offshore drilling as a means of forcing the U.S. to unilaterally ease sanctions. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez has confirmed this on various occasions and relayed as much to former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who recently traveled to Havana in an unsuccessful effort to secure the release of American hostage Alan Gross; Gross has been held for nearly two years in a Cuban prison for helping the island’s Jewish community connect to the Internet.

In a flashback to 2004, Spain's Repsol is back in Cuba preparing to drill another exploratory well early next year. This time, the Cuban regime is “threatening” that if Repsol is pressured into abandoning drilling, India’s ONGC Videsh or Malaysia’s Petronas will step forward.

Curiously, this peculiar corporate trio was granted extensive oil-rights last year by Hugo Chavez to develop a block with 235 billion barrels of reserves in Venezuela’s oil-rich Orinoco belt. Reserves in that one Venezuelan block alone are believed to be 50 times greater than the best estimates in all of Cuba’s territorial waters. Some geo-political foul play can surely be deduced from the particularity and timing of this arrangement.

Despite the fact that Repsol still faces exploratory hurdles (and gargantuan production costs if oil is ever found), the United States is erring on the side of caution and licensing specialty oil spill mitigation firms to respond quickly in the case of an accident. This is also not a new phenomenon. The U.S. has been licensing such firms since at least 2001. Moreover, current U.S. law provides all of the necessary flexibility to do so.

While such precautions are necessary, efforts should also be made to prevent the Cuban regime from engaging in offshore exploration altogether. The anti-American nature of the Cuban regime will simply not provide the necessary safeguards regardless of the level of U.S. engagement on this issue. Thus, there is currently legislation filed with this goal in mind, including H.R. 2047, the Caribbean Coral Reef Protection Act, which targets U.S. visas and loans to the Cuban regime's foreign business partners, and H.R. 373, which amends the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to deny U.S. leases to foreign companies that engage in oil exploration with countries under U.S. sanctions, such as Iran and Cuba. Precaution might bring us temporary peace of mind, but prevention would better serve our long-term national interests.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. Again, I truly appreciate the invitation and the opportunity to speak before you and the committee. I will be pleased to respond to any questions.

Famed Dissident Arrested and Beaten

Cuban pro-democracy leader Guillermo Farinas was brutally beaten and arrested yesterday, as he tried to visit with two fellow dissidents on a hunger strike in the central city of Santa Clara.

Farinas was awarded the European Union's 2010 Sakharov Human Rights prize, pursuant to a 135-day hunger strike for the release of Cuban political prisoners.

He was trying to visit with Rolando Ferrer Espinosa and Alcides Rivera Rodríguez, who have been on a hunger strike for more than 32-days seeking an end to the Castro regime's violence against pro-democracy activists.

Is Repsol Violating the Trading With the Enemy Act?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011
November 1, 2011

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are extremely concerned over what seems to be a lack of a coordinated effort by the Administration to prevent a State Sponsor of Terrorism, just 90 miles from our shores, from engaging in risky deep sea oil drilling projects that will harm U.S. interests as well as extend another economic lifeline to the Cuban regime.

Spain’s state-owned energy company, Repsol, has entered into an agreement with the Cuban regime to drill off Cuba’s coast. A Chinese-built deep water oil rig will be used for this project – the Scarabeo 9. Despite the fact that the oil rig has not reached Cuban territorial waters, or the Western Hemisphere for that matter, the Department of Interior has been actively providing assistance, guidance, and technical advice to Repsol. This is inconsistent with numerous U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives with regards to Cuba.

The Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) as implemented by 31 C.F.R. § 515.201, prohibits certain transactions involving property in which Cuba or a Cuban national has any interest whatsoever, directly or indirectly. The support that the Department of Interior is providing to Repsol appears to be in contravention of TWEA, as such assistance will result in a financial windfall to the Cuban regime. It may also facilitate processes that could lead to an environmental disaster off U.S. shores and the greater Caribbean.

The Director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement for the Department of Interior at a recent Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, indicated that Interior, in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, will conduct an examination of the rig just before it enters Cuban waters. However, in conjunction with this examination, we request that the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) also be involved and conduct its own review and inspection to ensure that no U.S. laws or regulations are being violated, including the TWEA and the Export Administration Act (EAA).

We are concerned by reports that the Scarabeo 9 may have been designed specifically to avoid U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. While the EAA and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) generally prohibit virtually all exports and reexports of U.S. – origin goods, software and technology to Cuba, we need clarity on how the Administration is applying the sanctions and EAR to foreign produced items incorporating 10 percent or less controlled U.S. content.

According to press reports, the Scarabeo 9 includes a U.S. origin blowout preventer and may contain other controlled, U.S. origin items, and possible advanced computer software that may be in violation of EAR section 734.4, the de minimis U.S. content rule regarding technology found on this structure. What information or assurances has the Administration sought or received from Repsol to ensure that the oil rig complies with existing U.S. sanctions against Cuba?

Recently, your Administration announced a settlement with a Texas company, Flowserve, for alleged violations stemming from transactions that included, among others, the exports of pumps, valves, and related component parts and supplies from the United States indirectly to Iran. According to the Federal Register notice, several of Flowserve’s foreign affiliates engaged in transactions involving property in which Cuba or a Cuban national had an interest. The company has agreed to remit $2.5 million to BIS to settle apparent violations of the EAR arising from the same course of conduct. We would appreciate additional information about this matter to learn what U.S. oil drilling or related technologies may have made their way to Cuba and if any of this technology could be used for the Scarabeo 9 project.

The Export Administration Regulations clearly state that the only items allowed to be exported to Cuba are donations of medical equipment, agricultural exports, and telecommunications equipment. Thus, even if the de minimis rule does not apply, the broader prohibitions against exports to Cuba must still be enforced.

We are concerned that sensitive U.S. technology can fall in the hands of a regime that supports terrorism and as such, this Committee would appreciate a response to the matters raised in this letter as soon as possible.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)
U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ)
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
U.S. Rep. David Rivera (R-FL)

Standoff in Santa Clara

Over 15 Cuban pro-democracy activists have been brutally beaten and arrested outside of a Santa Clara hospital, where the lives of two hunger strikers hang in the balance.

Last week, Rolando Ferrer Espinosa and Alcides Rivera Rodríguez were taken to a hospital in the central city of Santa Clara, pursuant to more than 30 days on a hunger strike demanding an end to the Castro regime's violence against peaceful protesters.

Pro-democracy activists have been camped out in front of the hospital, day and night, concerned for the well-being of the hunger strikers.

Amongst those arrested were Rivera Rodriguez's own wife, Idania Yánez Contreras, as well as Jorge Luis García Pérez (Antúnez), Yris Pérez Aguilera, Damaris Moya Portieles, Julio Columbié Batista and Yanisbel Valido.

Below (from left to right) Yris, Antunez and Idania:

A Wednesday Hearing

Monday, October 31, 2011

1324 Longworth House Office Building
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
10:00 a.m.


"North American Offshore Energy: Mexico and Canada Boundary Treaties and New Drilling by Cuba and Bahamas"


Panel I

The Honorable Michael Bromwich
Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

Vice Admiral Brian Salerno
Deputy Commandant for Operations
U.S. Coast Guard

Panel II

Mauricio Claver-Carone
Executive Director
Cuba Democracy Advocates

Jorge R. Piñon
Visiting Research Fellow
Latin American and Caribbean Center
Cuban Research Institute

Daniel Whittle
Senior Attorney/Cuba Program Director
Environmental Defense Fund

Caitlyn Antrim
Executive Director
Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans

Common Fears

Here's another thing that former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi had in common with his old friend, Cuban dictator Raul Castro:

The Demystification of Autocrats

An excerpt from Jon Lee Anderson's must-read, "King of Kings, The Last Days of Muammar Gaddafi" in The New Yorker:

Deliberate mystification is a common tactic of autocrats. Fidel Castro had been in power for forty years before his entourage was allowed to divulge the name of his wife, Dalia. There was also the mystery of where he lived; certain people in Havana knew that his home was on the grounds of a former country club, but those who visited never spoke of what they saw. Many Cubans believed that Fidel used underground tunnels that led out from his concealed estate, allowing him to simply appear, as if from nowhere, on the main roads of Havana.

Saddam Hussein also cultivated intense secrecy. Between his defeat in the first Gulf War, in 1991, and his ouster, in 2003, he appeared in public only a couple of times, and then in highly guarded, unannounced ceremonies. He built scores of stone-and-marble palaces around the country, and moved furtively among them, as if in a human shell game. Whenever my regime minders drove me past one, I would ask what the gigantic building was; they would fall fearfully silent, then whisper, “A guesthouse.”

Libyans had learned similar habits of willful ignorance. In the weeks after Qaddafi fled Tripoli, no one, it seemed, wanted to appear too knowledgeable about the workings of the old regime, lest they be accused of having been a part of it. In any case, Qaddafi, a master of obfuscation and conspiracy, had left few clear answers to the most basic questions. Where did he live? What went on inside those confusingly marked government buildings? What happened to all the oil money? And how was it possible that the regime had slaughtered so many political prisoners—including twelve hundred detainees in a single day, at Abu Salim prison, in 1996—and kept it secret for years? No one really knew anything for certain, it seemed, in Libya. Qaddafi had created a know-nothing state, and that, too, he had left behind.

Hunger Strikers in Critical Condition

Cuban pro-democracy leaders Rolando Ferrer Espinosa and Alcides Rivera Rodríguez began a hunger strike over 30 days ago to protest the Castro regime's brutal violence against peaceful activists.

Last week, they were urgently taken to the Arnaldo Milián Hospital in the central province of Santa Clara with bronchial pneumonia. The hospital has since been militarized by state security forces.

Their lives are at risk.

Meanwhile, pro-democracty activists from the nearby provinces have gathered day and night near the hospital.

Rivera Rodriguez is the husband of Idania Yanez Contreras, one of Cuba's leading female pro-democracy leaders and no stranger to the Castro regime's violence.

Here's a picture of their family:

Sundays Are For Protest Marches

From Women's e-News:

For Cuban women, Sundays are for protest marches

Relatives of political prisoners in Cuba -- many of them women -- are fighting to curb abuses they say family members suffer during incarceration. One of the most prominent opposition groups, Ladies in White, meets on Sundays.

Four women stood with anti-government signs in a well-trafficked square in Havana.

They were members of Ladies in White, a group that formed in 2003 after 75 political dissidents were jailed.

Dressed in white -- the color of peace -- they march to Catholic mass to pray for human rights and the release of relatives and loved ones in prison.

The group has been meeting on Sundays across Cuba for years. But this particular small demonstration a couple of months ago -- on Aug. 23 in Havana -- proved momentous. When a plain-clothes police officer came to break up the women, some nearby people defended the women and forced the officer to leave in search of backup.

It wasn't the first time bystanders had aided the women, but because it was in such a busy area, it was the first time such an action was caught on video with cell-phone cameras and uploaded to YouTube the very next day.

"It was visible proof, released to an international audience over YouTube, that there is an increasing support for the resistance movement," said Aramis Perez, a leader of the Assembly of Cuban Resistance, based in Miami, Fla.

Often, he said, reports filed from Havana are censored or written by government supporters and describe activist groups as "small and fragmented."

Two days later Amnesty International, the London-based rights group, published a call to stop the repression of the Ladies in White.

Police and government officials have violently attacked individuals and groups of female political dissidents on at least 25 occasions this year -- sometimes while the women were engaged in nonviolent protest, and other times while they were with their families at home -- according to a report released by the Assembly of Cuban Resistance in August. The report, "Cuba: Violent Aggressions Against Women, Human Rights Defenders," was based on daily communication with activist groups in Cuba.

'A Leading Role'

The resistance movement is carried out by a wide cross-section of Cuban citizens -- urban, rural, farmers, students -- but "women have been playing a leading role," said Perez.

One of those women is Laura Pollan, the leader of Women and White and the recipient of the European Parliament's 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Pollan died on Oct.14 at age 63.

Another is Bertha Antunez who lives in exile in Florida.

She spoke at a meeting last month on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly along with other human rights activists, including Marina Nemat, Iranian author and former political prisoner; Jacqueline Kasha, Ugandan LGBT rights activist and winner of Martin Ennals 2011 Human Rights Defenders Prize; and Rebiya Kadeer, Uyghur dissident and former political prisoner.

Antunez used the podium to urge the international community to help women in Cuba who are working for human rights.

"These women, today, at this moment, risk their lives, put their bodies before the police violence," she told a roomful of people at the forum, organized by a coalition of international nongovernmental groups. "Their voices shout for freedom while they are brutally beaten and they continue to take to the streets."

Antunez said her activism was fueled by prison visits to her brother, released in 2007, after 17 years of incarceration in various prisons, making him one of the longest serving political prisoners in Cuba.

"Soldiers from the prison savagely beat my brother in my presence and in the presence of two children from our family. We were beaten too. On various occasions I had to resort to a hunger strike to save my brother's life," she told the human rights activists, advocates and supporters.

Motivational Visits

In an interview with Women's eNews, Antunez expanded on how those prison visits had motivated her.

"I got firsthand testimony from many prisoners and there were things I couldn't believe" she said. "I never thought these abuses were taking place in my country. I knew there were injustices outside the prison because we are all victims of those; but this was torture."

A Cuban dissident group, the Cuban Democratic Directorate, based in Hialeah, Fla., reports that Antunez's brother, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, was arrested during a demonstration for yelling that communism was "an error and a utopia." His speech was considered "oral enemy propaganda," the report says. His sentence was extended several times for speaking back to guards and continuing to vocalize his political beliefs.

Antunez and relatives of other family members of political prisoners founded the National Movement of Civic Resistance "Pedro Luis Boitel" to fight abuse in prisons.

The group remains active and continues to organize peaceful protests, sit-ins and hunger strikes at prisons across the island.

This year, the incarceration of two of the group's members and other recent crackdowns on dissidents spurred Human Rights Watch to issue a statement in June saying that Cuban laws "criminalize virtually all forms of dissent, and grant officials extraordinary authority to penalize people who try to exercise their basic rights."

In Fear of the Truth

Sunday, October 30, 2011
Fascinating news item of the week.

From the U.K.'s Telegraph:

North Korea bans citizens working in Libya from returning home

North Korea has banned its own citizens working in Libya from returning home, apparently out of fear that they will reveal the extent - and final outcomes - of the revolutions that have shaken the Arab world.

Pyongyang had a close working relationship with the regime of Moammar Gaddafi before the popular uprising that unseated him. That revolution was completed with Gaddafi's death at the hands of insurgents last week - leaving Kim Jong-Il as one of a dwindling band of old-fashioned dictators on the planet.

An estimated 200 North Korean nationals are in Libya and previously worked as doctors, nurses and construction workers, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. They had been dispatched to the country in order to earn the hard currency that Pyongyang requires to fund its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

Yonhap reported that the North Korean nationals have been left in limbo, joining their compatriots who are stuck in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries with orders not to return home.

North Korean media has so far failed to report that Gaddafi is dead and the government has made no moves to officially recognise Libya's National Transitional Council as the legitimate governing authority of the country.

The decision to ban its own nationals from returning indicates just how concerned the North Korean regime is of the news leaking out to its subjugated people.

What Barbara Lee Never Says in Cuba

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has been traveling to Cuba for decades.

During each trip, she meets with Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro, then returns to the U.S. arguing the importance of unconditionally embracing their brutal regime.

Not once has she taken issue with the Castro regime's systemic violations of the Cuban people's fundamental human rights.

Yet, last week, in reference to the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters in her Congressional district of Oakland, she stated what she has never dared tell her friends, Fidel and Raul Castro:

These are peaceful protesters who have a right to petition their government.”

Apparently, for Congresswoman Lee, Cubans don't deserve similar rights.

Only Castro Regime Decides Who Can Return

By Sun-Sentinel Editoral Page Editor, Antonio Fins:

I learned firsthand the true meaning of the word exile — and the status it represents — 19 years ago while sitting in front of a wall-sized poster of Fidel Castro in Cuba's embassy in Mexico City. Between me and the wall was another metaphoric wall, a Cuban bureaucrat impatiently waiting for an answer.

I bring up this encounter because of the political fray over whether U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio embellished his "Cuban exile experience" — a gotcha moment that's been way overblown. To understand why, let me take you back to that embassy interview.

I was in Mexico City with a dean and a group of students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I was a graduate student. We were traveling on a research trip to Mexico and Cuba.

The other students, all U.S.-born Tar Heels, had their visas for the Cuba leg. Mine never showed up, so I went to the embassy to inquire about its whereabouts.

Because I was born in Cuba, the bureaucrat explained, I was being handled separately. Never mind that I left Cuba in 1965 when I was 2, or that I was a U.S. citizen, or that I had spent nearly all of my life in the United States. No, compañero, none of that mattered.

I was Cuban by birth, so Havana considered me a Cuban citizen. But what mattered even more was whether I was an "exile" or not.

Meaning did I support, or at least tolerate, the Castro regime? If so, I was really an immigrant, and I could pay hundreds of dollars for a Cuban passport and head for the airport.

However, if I were an individual who believed the Castro government is a dictatorship, a government that has ruined the Caribbean country, well, then not so fast. I would be regarded as an exile and could forget about going to Cuba.

I fell in the exile category.

Now, the diplomat didn't come out and say that. That's where the Cuban government's plausible deniability comes in. But that was the bottom line.

In case it matters, my family was shown the door in Cuba after my father refused to join the communist party, and was expelled from the university. My own affront to Cuba's government: I dared to believe the country should hold free elections and be a democracy.

Suffice to say, I didn't get my visa, and I didn't go to Cuba. But I walked away with a personal lesson on what makes an exile an exile, which after that encounter, mattered a lot more.

And there's your answer, too, to the Marco Rubio "exile experience" controversy. Because what determines exile status, and the exile experience, is not when you left Cuba, but if you can return. You bet the Cuban government has a big say, too, in whether your life is an "exile" or "immigrant" narrative.

There are many Cubans in the United States. We have come at different points in the past 60 years — yes, 60, because Cuba's run-ins with dictators really started with Fulgencio Batista's 1952 coup. A dictator is a dictator, whether from the right or left.

Today, many Cubans and Cuban Americans still think like "exiles," and many now think like "immigrants," to one degree or another. The common denominator is that the date of departure is seldom the determining factor in that transition.

Regardless of when Rubio's family arrived in the United States, I can guarantee you one thing: The junior U.S. senator is not going to be allowed in Cuba to see the country of his parents' birth.

He'd be deemed an "exile." Just ask the Cuban government.