Rubio to Continue Holding Nominations

Saturday, December 17, 2011
Today, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) went to the Senate floor to express concerns about the Obama Administration's Cuba policy and its unwillingness to crack down on travel abuses.

Moreover, Rubio highlighted that he will continue holding Western Hemisphere nominations until these abuses are appropriately addressed:

Brutal Repression Caught on Tape

The following video (taken just last week) shows Castro's state security forces rounding up dissidents, beating them mercilessly and loading them onto a bus to be taken to prison.

Please watch it very carefully.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Kudos to Christian Bale

Friday, December 16, 2011
This week, Hollywood actor Christian Bale was blocked and assaulted by the Chinese authorities for trying to meet with blind dissident Chen Guangcheng.

Danny Glover and Benicio del Toro should take note for their next visit to Cuba.

Here's a clip of the confrontation:
 

Silence Encourages the Tormentor

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

-- Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate.

Cuba's Castro regime -- like all dictatorships -- strive for the appearance of normalcy and the anonymity of their victims.

They want the the U.S. and other democratic nations to treat them as normal "peers" with unconditional trade, travel and diplomacy. They want Cuban-Americans to vacation in Cuba (only those pre-screened and granted visas by the regime, of course) and pretend nothing is wrong.

Why? Because the more static there is at the top of the relationship, the more repression they can get away with at the ground level.

Since the Obama Administration first eased travel and remittances towards Cuba in April 2009, repression on the island has more than doubled (as has the regime's income).

And why not (Castro figures)? There are no repercussions.

On that note, meet Isabel Álvarez Mosquera. She is 49 years old and has been imprisoned since November 30th for sporadically joining a protest at Havana's Fraternity Park.

Her crime? Demanding freedom for the Cuban people.

Isabel has never formed part of any organized pro-democracy movement. She was walking by and felt inspired by the courage of opposition leader, Ivonne Malleza, who led the peaceful protest (and is still in prison also).

The Castro regime is betting on anonymity to crack down on people like Isabel Alvarez Mosquera and normalcy to repress known activists like Ivonne Malleza.

We should not remain silent.

Must-See: Rubio Slams Obama Travel Policy

Thursday, December 15, 2011

In Very Poor Form

Yesterday, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) posthumously honored the founder of Cuba's Ladies in White, Laura Pollan, with the organization's prestigious Democracy Service Medal.

Past recipients of this award are transformational figures, such as Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa and the Dalai Lama.

The event included Members of Congress from both parties; a direct link from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, where Laura's husband, daughter and the new leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, addressed the attendees; and Cuban singer Amaury Gutierrez unveiled his beautiful new song, "Laura."

During his remarks, the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) -- a staunch critic of sanctions towards Cuba -- correctly noted that yesterday's gathering was not about politics or policies. It was about putting differences aside and honoring the trajectory of Laura Pollan.

Congressman Berman was right. Yet sadly, President Obama failed to take note.

Instead, President Obama decided to engage in pithy politicking and sent a statement to the event addressing a provision being considered in the FY'12 Omnibus Appropriations bills:

"I remain committed to supporting civil society in Cuba, including by protecting the ability of Cuban Americans to support their families in Cuba through unrestricted family visits and remittances."

Thus, the official statement by the President of the United States honoring Laura Pollan will now go down in history with Obama's political nuance.

Both Laura Pollan and the sentiments of the American people (that the President represents) deserved better.

U.S. Troubled by Increased Cuban Repression

Wednesday, December 14, 2011
From the U.S. Department of State:

The Cuban Government Should Respect Human Rights Week

We are deeply troubled by reports of increased repression by the Government of Cuba against Cuban citizens peacefully expressing themselves. Of particular concern are reports that government officials and government-organized groups detained, harassed, and assaulted dozens of human rights activists, journalists, and others to prevent them from marking Human Rights Day on December 10. President Obama has declared Human Rights Week from December 10 to December 17.

Members of the Damas de Blanco, winners of the Department of State's 2011 Human Rights Defenders Award, faced harassment by government officials and pro-government groups over the past week and were arrested after attending Mass on Sunday December 4. Several activists, including one detained November 30 for demonstrating peacefully in a Havana park, have been held without charges or judicial review. Over the last month, dozens of other activists have faced repression throughout the island. Reports put the number of detentions in December at more than 300.

At a time when citizens around the world are marking Human Rights Week, we call for an immediate end to the harassment and violence against Cuban citizens who are peaceful critics of the government.

President Obama has focused our policy toward Cuba on increased engagement with the Cuban people to promote democratic ideals and improve human rights conditions on the island. As he said during his March address in Chile, “Cuban authorities must take some meaningful actions to respect the basic rights of their own people – not because the United States insists upon it, but because this is what the people of Cuba deserve.” We call on the Cuban government to respect all peaceful activities related to the commemoration of Human Rights Week.

A Cuba Omnibus Clarification

The media seems unable to escape hyperbole regarding the Cuba provision being discussed in the Omnibus Appropriations bill.

So without speculating on the end-result, here are some important facts:

First of all, the provision in question was first presented as an amendment to the FY'12 Financial Services Appropriations bill by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and unanimously approved (without objection) during the June 2011 full-committee markup of the bill.

The language of the provision would revert the Obama Administration's April 2009 regulations, which made Cuban-American travel and remittances unlimited (going significantly further than the Clinton Administration's previous one-trip per year limit).

Legally, the provision would restore the Bush Administration's limit of one-trip every three years. However, since the Omnibus is a spending bill with a one-year duration, the practical effect of the provision would be to limit Cuban-American travel to only one-trip in 2012 -- both reasonable and humanitarian (and akin to the Clinton Administration's prior limits).

As for remittances, it would cap the amount of money sent to Cuba (of which the Castro regime takes 30% immediately off the top) at $1,200 per year, which is nearly ten times the average Cuban income. Once again, that is both reasonable and humanitarian, which is the Congressional intent of providing these exemptions in the first place.

From an overall policy perspective, this provision would effectively eliminate a main source of revenue for Cuba's brutal dictatorship. According to the Bank for International Settlements, since April 2009 -- when the Obama Administration first eased these sanctions -- the Castro regime's hard currency deposits in foreign banks have more than doubled from $2.8 billion to $5.8 billion.

Moreover, it would come at a time when repression in Cuba has also more than doubled. In September 2011 alone, the Castro regime arrested 563 known pro-democracy activists for political “crimes.” That’s the highest monthly number of political arrests in 30 years. And in the first two weeks of December, there have already been another 300 political arrests.

Finally, it comes as more than two-years have passed since the Castro regime has taken an American hostage, Alan Gross, without suffering any policy repercussions.

This provision and the consequent flow of unlimited hard currency it eliminates would send a strong message that the Castro regime's profiteering and brutal repression is absolutely unacceptable.

More on the Iran-Cuba-Venezuela Threat

From Venezuela's El Univeral:

The Venezuelan Connection

The onslaught would be against the information technology systems of the White House, nuclear power plants and federal agencies, such as CIA, FBI, the Pentagon and the top-secret National Security Agency (NSA). Some of the meetings were held inside the Venezuelan mission in the Mexican capital city, according to the pseudo-pirates

When the events occurred four years ago, Consul Livia Acosta Noguera acted as the Cultural Affairs Officer at the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico. Ex professors and graduates from the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) who pretended to be hackers or cyber-pirates managed to record several conversations where the diplomat requested information about an alleged sabotage on the United States to submit it to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

"I would like to make emphasis on what you gave me, the last thing (...) the president (Chávez) already had a look at it," the diplomat said, based on the recordings obtained by Univisión Investiga.

In another talk, Acosta commented that General Alexis López, then the head of the presidential guard, presumably provided President Chávez with the information forwarded by her from Mexico. The diplomat also asked hackers for forged information against dissidents of Chávez's government, the students elaborated.

The onslaught would be against the information technology systems of the White House, nuclear power plants and federal agencies, such as CIA, FBI, the Pentagon and the top-secret National Security Agency (NSA). Some of the meetings were held inside the Venezuelan mission in the Mexican capital city, according to the pseudo-pirates.

The students related that the story started in 2006, when young people specialized in information technology were recruited by UNAM Professor Francisco Guerrero Lutteroth to organize a cyber-attack team against US servers from Mexican territory.

One of the recruits, then student Juan Carlos Muñoz Ledo, covertly recorded the meetings when learning that the purpose of the operation was attacking targets in US territory, he told Univisión. Muñoz Ledo was also worried, he added, that, in addition to the cyber-attack, the possibility of physical attacks had been pondered.

"The objectives of the plan discussed were attacking the United States firstly in a cybernetic manner and afterwards, doing it in a physical manner. This is what both the Embassies of Iran and Venezuela particularly wanted, under the aegis of Cuba, obviously," Muñoz Ledo averred.

Muñoz Ledo incorporated other students to help document the presumed conspiracy planned from 2006 to 2010.

"The point is that I made the decision to implement an action, as it were, to substantiate all of it," commented Muñoz Ledo, 33, in an interview with Univisión from Mexico. "It was the right thing," he added.

The operations received the "blessing" of Roy Chaderton, the Venezuelan Ambassador to Mexico in 2007 and 2008, as testified by the very hackers.

The team used tiny audio microphones and hidden video-cameras in order to record dozens of hours of talks, running the risk of being captured.

The embassies of Venezuela, Iran and Cuba took the lead in the scheming, Muñoz Ledo elaborated.

Iranian and Venezuelan diplomats, the expert warranted, took a "very, very active" part in planning the attacks.

In late 2006, Venezuela would have neither diplomatic relations nor an ambassador to Mexico, following an impasse between then Mexican President Vicente Fox and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez. Nevertheless, Professor Guerrero Lutteroth included in the plot Livia Acosta, the Venezuelan Cultural Affairs Officer at that time.

According to Muñoz Ledo, the scholar opted to include Acosta for her closer ties with President Chávez. "And here she came as a direct contact with the Chávez Administration."

Still Looking for Humanitarian Travel

How is this Chamber of Commerce trip humanitarian (and licenseable)?

It's an inherent oxymoron.

From The Bradenton Herald:

Manatee chamber offers cultural trip to Cuba

This spring, a group of local travelers will be walking in the footsteps of Hemingway during the day and practicing their salsa moves at night.

They will be part of a nine-day trip starting April 26 to Cuba offered by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. The trip, with space for 30 people, costs $3,299 per person.

Carey Miller, office administrator at the chamber and trip coordinator, said the tour was picked because of the interest in traveling to the island since the relaxation of the travel and trade restrictions earlier this year.

U.S.-Based Company Aids Cuban Censorship

Tuesday, December 13, 2011
An investigative report by Penultimos Dias reveals that RedSocial, the Cuban version of Facebook on the Castro regime's restricted and closely monitored "Intranet" network, was created by a U.S.-based company.

The U.S.-based company is called YouNet, with offices in Boston, Massachusetts.

Has the U.S. Treasury Department given Younet a license to operate this network for the Castro regime, which is designed to further censor and isolate the Cuban people from the Internet?

Laura Pollan to be Honored on Capitol Hill

National Endowment for Democracy will recognize Ladies in White leader with Democracy Service Medal

WASHINGTON -- Laura Pollan, the late founder of Cuba's Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) , will be honored by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at a Capitol Hill event with a posthumous presentation of NED's Democracy Service Medal. Pollan died on October 14 of this year.

The presentation will take place at 5:30 pm in the House Foreign Affairs Committee Room (Rayburn HOB 2172) and both the committee chairman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and ranking member Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) will make remarks, as well as several other members of Congress, including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Rep. David Rivera (R-FL).

The Medal will be accepted on behalf of the Ladies in White by Yolanda Huerga, a representative of the group who is based in Miami. Another event highlight will be a performance by Latin Grammy award winner Amaury Gutierrez, who will sing his beautiful tribute ballad to Laura Pollan.

"Laura is gone, but her memory lives on in the hearts of Cubans," said NED president Carl Gershman. " Her example of dedication to justice inspires others to fight on. The purity of her motives, the strength of her character, the depth of her integrity, and the force of her fearlessness will light the way forward. Her legacy will help Cubans build a new morality after more than half a century of political bondage, poisonous hatred, and dehumanizing lies."

The medal presentation will be preceded by a panel discussion at 4:00 pm.: The Legacy of Laura Pollan: the Struggle for Democracy and Human Rights in Cuba. Panelists include: Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, Yesinia Alvarez, Pablo Diaz, Janisset Rivera and Barbara Joe, and will be moderated by NED's Miriam Kornblith.

The Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy created its Democracy Service Medal to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the progress of democracy around the world. Past awardees include Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Congressman Tom Lantos and the Dalai Lama.

A Must-Read Story

From The Florida-Times-Union:

Hope Fund: Refugee family enjoys freedom but seeks help for son with cerebral palsy

The family arrived in August and struggle to get established in their new home.

The writing on the black shirts worn by Gerardo Sanchez Ortega’s family and friends as they marched in Havana on Dec. 4, 2007, made their position clear: “I do not cooperate with the dictatorship,” they read. “We want freedom.”

Sanchez had been put in prison for pushing for the re-opening of Cuban universities, and his family and friends were marching to demand his freedom.

The authorities did not react well to the activists. Police entered a church sheltering them, beat the marchers and sprayed them with pepper spray.

Among the activists was Sanchez’s son, Idalberto Sanchez Hechavarria, who was born with cerebral palsy and has difficulty walking and undertaking other tasks.


Seeing how her son was treated enraged Jackelin Hechavarria Salvador, Sanchez’s wife.

“Never in my life, I never thought something like this could occur,” she said in Spanish. “When I saw how they were treating my son I just went crazy. Because they wanted to beat him, and I said they would have to kill me first.”

Despite the risks involved in the protest, both Sanchez and Hechavarria felt Cuba needed to change.

Sanchez, then 35, led the Movement of Cuban Youth for Democracy in presenting a 5,000-signature petition supporting the re-opening of universities free from government control.

That petition closed all employment opportunities for him in Cuba. Sanchez was fired from his clerical job in a government office and labeled untrustworthy and a revolutionary threat.

Four years later, he, his wife and his disabled child left their home country and on Aug. 16, arrived in Jacksonville as refugees.

Despite what the family left behind in Cuba — including their 23-year-old daughter, as well as familiar language and culture — Sanchez remains optimistic. Since arriving in Jacksonville, he has managed to get a construction job at JEA, and the family has received temporary support from World Relief and the Department of Children and Families.

The family receives $315 monthly in food stamps, but Sanchez worries about having enough to make ends meet. Hechavarria briefly worked as a housekeeper at a La Quinta hotel, but was forced to quit to care for her son.

World Relief, a refugee organization, assisted Sanchez with rent payments for three months, and the family also received a few hundred dollars a month in aid through November. The family gets health insurance through Medicaid, but only until May.

Meanwhile, Sanchez has to pay the family’s rent and utilities as well as pay off and repair a car.

On top of its financial struggles, the family also needs help locating a school that will accommodate Idalberto’s physical disability and let him learn English.

Though he can read and speak Spanish, Idalberto’s inability to walk without assistance has prevented him from enrolling in high school.

The family has been unable to take advantage of free English as a Second Language courses offered at the Main Library because of their unreliable vehicle and the difficulty of transporting Idalberto.

Idalberto, 18, becomes extremely nervous when he is left alone due to the violence he endured in Cuba. He lives in fear of the unknown territory his parents have brought him to, a place described in the worst terms in Cuba.

“They will say in the United States they kill people,” Sanchez said, “they come in the houses and take the youths out of their apartments. You don’t know anything and what you do know is a lie.”

Despite being told such things, the family is overjoyed to be here.

They would like to learn English and are looking forward to the day their daughter, who had to file for refugee status separately, can join them in Florida a year from now.

“I’m not here for anyone to maintain me,” Sanchez said. “We are grateful for whatever help we are offered.”

As the family gathered on the couch, Hechavarria put one of her hands in Sanchez’s hand and one over Idalberto’s.

“Smile,” she said. “Because we are in America and at least we are free here.”

Obama Should End Concessions to Castro

Monday, December 12, 2011
By U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY) in The Hill:

The time has come to abandon our conciliatory attitude to the Castro regime

As Americans, we should be outraged by the story of Alan Gross. Mr. Gross is an American citizen and USAID subcontractor. He was arrested nearly two years ago in Havana as he prepared to return home to the United States. In March of 2011, he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on trumped-up charges of subversive activities. Gross was helping members of the Jewish community in Cuba connect to the Internet with computers and satellite phones. Despite numerous appeals and attempted intervention by US officials, his 15-year sentence has been upheld.

Over the last two years, President Obama has attempted a conciliatory approach to Cuba. He has negotiated with a country that has clearly demonstrated an aggressive animosity toward America. As regards the case of Alan Gross, the Obama Administration offered concessions to free a prisoner who had committed no crime. He has softened America’s policy toward our southern neighbor, only to discover that Castro’s Cuba is not interested in working with America any more than it has been for the last half century.

The Cuban government has demonstrated that it continues to be hostile not only to American values, but to the values of all free societies. The Cubans have sent spies into our nation. They have made alliances with Iran and Venezuela, nations firmly and boisterously opposed to America and our ideals. Domestically, the Cuban government has done nothing to loosen its grip on its oppressed people.

As a nation vehemently opposed to human rights violations, America cannot make an exception to Castro’s Cuba. America should not treat the current Cuban government as if it is willing to compromise. America must recognize that Cuba is set in its ways – it is a country desperately in need of a new government and a new way forward.

The imprisonment of Alan Gross should be offensive to all Americans. Alan Gross is one more name on a long list of those who have suffered under Castro’s Cuba. So many Cuban-Americans have a fascinating story to tell, about the oppression they and their family experienced in Cuba and the life they have made in America.

It has been almost two years since Cuban authorities arrested Alan Gross. The time has come to abandon our conciliatory attitude to the Castro regime. We must stand with our compatriot Alan Gross and with all the Cubans we have welcomed to America in condemning Castro’s Cuba for what it is: an oppressive and antiquarian regime that we cannot and must not tolerate.

Buerkle represents New York’s 25th Congressional District. She serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and as a Congressional Representative to the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

People-to-People Trip Glorifies Repression

Here's what former (and reprehensible) San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown had to say about his recent "people-to-people" trip to Cuba:

The Cubans know how to treat tourists right.

Having spent a few days in Havana as a part of a Californians Building Bridges junket, I can report that Cubans are clearly gearing up for the wave of American tourists they expect to hit their shores.

Because if there's one thing the Cuban authorities won't abide, it's people messing with tourists.

I watched the cops bust three guys for hassling visitors on the street, and I do mean bust. Facedown on the pavement.

I said, "My God, this is pretty rough."

"The cops are not as rough as they should be," was my host's reply.

I'm not sure my friends on the left back in the States would have approved. But you can walk anywhere in Havana, day or night, and there ain't nobody who is going to mug you.


As if that wasn't insulting enough, Brown elaborates:

The trip was put together by Darius Anderson, who turns out to be very big in Cuban investments. So big, in fact, that the night he was missing from the group, he was dining with the president.

How was this self-admitted "junket" by Californians Building Bridges approved by State and Treasury?

The group is being escorted around by Castro regime officials, who want ordinary Cubans to be even more severely repressed, and dining with the dictator.

How does this serve any humanitarian purpose?

L'hypocrisie de Sarkozy à Cuba

Sunday, December 11, 2011
Earlier this year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy led NATO's efforts to rid Libya of the brutal Gaddafi dictatorship.

Yet, last week, he sent France's Minister of Foreign Commerce, Pierre Lellouche, to coddle (and cut business deals) with Cuba's brutal Castro dictatorship.

While in Havana, Lellouche went out of his way to reassure the Castro dictatorship that "no political political problems" exist between France and Cuba, and that both countries "share the same passion for sovereignty and national independence."

Seriously?

Sarkozy (rightfully) forgot to mention that to Gaddafi's dictatorship.

So what makes Castro's dictatorship so special?

SEC Asks About "State-Sponsor" Links

From Financial Times:

At least a dozen US-listed companies have been told by securities regulators to disclose business activity in and with Syria, Iran and others deemed "state sponsors" of terror by the State Department.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has written to several companies in the past few months asking why they had not disclosed business dealings in Syria, Iran, Sudan and Cuba. The inquiries are part of SEC reviews of companies’ investment risks to security holders.

Sony, Caterpillar, American Express, Aecom Technology, Iridex, and Veolia Environment are among the companies that received letters from the SEC’s corporate finance division. Their responses show how sales have shrivelled with tighter international sanctions and how some companies, such as Sony, have found middle-men in Dubai and other countries to keep limited supply lines open.

AI Urges Action for Missing Female Activist

From Amnesty International:

URGENT ACTION: Cuban Activist in Incommunicado Detention

The whereabouts of Cuban human rights activist Ivonne Malleza Galano are unknown after police detained her during a peaceful demonstration on 30 November in Cuba's capital, Havana City. Her husband, Ignacio Martínez Montejo, has also been detained after participating in the same protest.

On 30 November, Ivonne Malleza Galano, a member of the Ladies in Support (Damas de Apoyo) to the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco), and her husband Ignacio Martínez Montejo were arrested by police officers while they were staging a peaceful demonstration against hunger and poverty and holding a banner with the slogan “Stop hunger, misery and poverty in Cuba” in Fraternity Park (Parque de la Fraternidad) in Havana City. Ivonne Malleza Galano was handcuffed and pushed into a police vehicle. Two police officers arrived, tried to confiscate the banner and detained her, along with Ignacio Martínez Montejo. Video footage posted on the internet shows Ivonne Malleza Galano being arrested by the police officers at Fraternity Park while the crowd gathered round her and asked the officers to let her go.

The whereabouts of Ivonne Malleza Galano are unknown and the authorities have not told her relatives whether she is still in police custody, whether she is facing charges, and where she is held. Ignacio Martinez Montejo is still being held at the Ninth Police Station (Novena Estación de la Policía) on Acosta Avenue, Diez de Octubre Municipality, in Havana City. It is not known if he has been charged with any offence.

Since the beginning of the year, the Cuban authorities have detained hundreds of people for short periods, to prevent them from taking part in peaceful demonstrations.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Ivonne Malleza Galano is a member of the Ladies in Support (Damas de Apoyo) to the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco). The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) are a group of female relatives of former prisoners of conscience and current political prisoners. They organizes peaceful marches where they distribute flowers and call for the release of those who are still detained. In 2005, the European Parliament awarded The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the Damas de Blanco.

The Damas de Apoyo emerged as a solidarity group who support and participate in activities organized by the Damas de Blanco. Members of the Damas de Blanco and Damas de Apoyo have repeatedly suffered harassment and intimidation during their peaceful activities. On 5 August 2011, Ivonne Malleza Galano was detained by police officers and the security of the state trying to prevent her from leaving her home. Two police officers and two state security officers wearing plain clothes grabbed her and forcibly pushed into a police car. She was released the same day without charges.

Beautiful Graffiti

This week, Cuban expression artist Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto," was (once again) threatened and arrested for his "tags" throughout Havana.

Don't miss this picture of El Sexto's beautiful graffiti: