How Many Political Prisoners Are There in Cuba?

Friday, December 23, 2011
According to the Castro brothers, there have never been any political prisoners under its dictatorship.

Everyone knows that's bollocks.

Just a few years ago, 150 was the number commonly cited by the foreign media.

Then, after the banishment of most of the 75 political prisoners of the "Black Spring" to Spain, the Castro regime's D.C. advocates swore that there were hardly any left. Thus, they argued, the U.S. should lift sanctions in response.

Wouldn't that have been irresponsible.

Today, Reuters reports:

Cuba, which is preparing for a visit by Pope Benedict XVI next spring, will release 2,900 prisoners in the coming days for humanitarian reasons, including some convicted of crimes against “the security of the state”, the Cuban government said on Friday.

How could that be? (sarcasm)

The fact is nobody knows the number of political prisoners under Castro's highly secretive and repressive regime.

What we do know is that -- more often than not -- Cuban activists are convicted (as a ruse) of common crimes associated with political acts.

Moreover, that the Castro brothers have always used Cuban political prisoners as geopolitical pawns.

As Reuters also reminds us:

Cuba freed 3,600 political prisoners after then Cuban leader Fidel Castro met with exiles in 1978 during Mr Carter’s presidency.

Of course, the jails were fully restocked quickly thereafter.

For as we've learned (once again) from this record year (2011) of political arrests in Cuba:

The Castros arrest political activists much faster than they release them.

(Nearly 3,500 in the first eleven months of 2011 alone).

Dissidents Mourn Havel, Scorn Kim

Thursday, December 22, 2011
By Mike Gonzalez in The Foundry:

Cuban and Chinese Bloggers Speak on Havel’s Greatness, Kim’s Tyranny

The reaction of bloggers in two remaining communist dictatorships to the recent deaths of pro-freedom crusader Vaclav Havel and his polar opposite, North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Il, tells you all you need to know about why communists can’t hold elections. In the restricted cyberspace afforded to Chinese and Cubans, Havel is being hailed as a hero while Kim is derided for the evil he represented.

In a roundup on Chinese cyber reactions to the two deaths, the BBC observed that contrary to China’s official stance, comments by Chinese microbloggers have been generally pro-Havel, the former dissident and writer who went on to become the leader of a free Czechoslovakia, and anti-Kim Jong-il, the paunchy dictator who inherited power from his father, another despot named Kim Jong-Il.

“When Havel died yesterday, we were very sad. But after Kim Jong-il died, we are celebrating. It’s not because we don’t value life or don’t think life is equal, but that we know better the true value of life. Some people bring nothing but shame to life!” the BBC quoted well-known blogger Yang Hengjun as writing on the blog Sina Weibo.

Liu Chun, vice-president of Chinese internet giant Sohu, wrote, “between the two people who have just passed away, Havel and Kim Jong-il, I cannot possibly like Kim no matter how hard I try, and I cannot dislike Havel no matter how hard I try.”

A third blogger, Zhu Youke, culture editor of the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend newspaper, was quoted by the Beeb as saying: “Compared with Havel’s death, the death of Kim Jong-il was nothing but a senseless epilogue of a farcical performance.”

In Cuba, which has accorded the Orwellian Kim three days of official mourning and which is, like China, another communist dictatorship that remained silent on Havel’s passing, bloggers have also drawn similar contrasts.

The poor Cubans have only a fraction of the cyber freedom than even the Chinese have, but the country’s most famous blogger, Yoani Sanchez, wrote:

"The government of Raul Castro has still not made the most minor public mention of the death of the Czech democrat but has decreed three days of official mourning for the death of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. Of the latter, the official media of his country says he wrote more than 1,500 books in his life, but none of these is read by any of us today. However, the author of The Feast and The Temptation (Havel) is everyday better known and admired by us. Like missionaries of a peculiar relition, many today distribute and propagate his writings throughout the island."

Many other Cuban bloggers echoed these sentiments.

These reactions from Cuban and Chinese dissidents are a far cry from the opinion of Kim voiced by Wendy Sherman, the Obama Administration’s undersecretary of state for political affairs, who called Kim “witty and humorous” and “a quick problem-solver.” Kim, of course, ran a country which Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal referred to this week as “a vast modern-day Auschwitz.”

Mr. Obama, unlike this peers in France, Britain and Germany, has decided to skip Havel’s funeral.

The Shirt Off His Back

Last night, four agents from Castro's secret police physically assaulted Cuban expression artist Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto," and literally tore the shirt off his back.


Because of this beautiful image printed on it:

Who Does Castro Think He's Kidding?

By Dariela Aquique in Havana Times:

Who Do Cuba’s Authorities Think They’re Kidding?

Any moderately intelligent people would soon figure out they were being duped, especially if the device was so obvious to the point of underestimating the reasoning ability of those being “fooled.”

The astute tricks being played by the country’s authorities are obvious. They are absolutely stop gap and respond to today’s Cuba, where expressions of discontent, dissatisfaction and disapproval of the political system are increasing.

In the first place, all of these maneuvers, resolutions, bills or whatever they’re being called are late. They should have been issued years ago, though it would have been better if what is being rescinded had never been issued at all.

Logic dictates that all those prohibitions were unreasonable and harmful to the people and even worse for the nation.

It smells a little strange that after so many taboos, we are now reaching these new levels of openness, and so suddenly, one after another (of course one cannot refuse to believe “in change, human improvement and the utility of virtue,” as Marti once said). But in the case of these regimes, one needs to be suspicious.

The lack of credibility that plagues their actions, the unpopularity of their plans and the level of demystification of their heroes have caused them to gradually condition society by giving Cuba a number of palliatives to mitigate the unbearable pain of its citizens, deprived of political, legal, civic rights.

But those palliatives are only that, painkillers for a condition that continues to exist. The torment will not cease without total removal.

I’ve thought a bit about this and it turns out:

- The Cuba of UMAP (labor camps for anti-establishment individuals in the 1960s), of the ideological “parameters” and witch hunts of the 1970s, is now immersed in a campaign against homophobia (pleasing a social sector that can be quite defiant in extreme situations, and giving the country a new international image).

However, it is being argued that Cuban society is not prepared for the legalization of relations between homosexuals, and marches and ceremonies of groups will be convened only if supervised and permitted by CENESEX and Mariela Castro, the institution and the individual who initiated this crusade.

- The Cuba where Cubans were denied access to hotels and tourist facilities designed for hard currency generation has today opened its doors to everyone (pleasing many people who have pockets deep enough for vacations and stays in these resorts. The tourists don’t ask many questions; the Cuban presence makes for a better picture of the island and its people; and hustlers have an easier time, becoming less hostile in their aggressive interactions with foreigners).

By the way, currency in the hands of nationals is collected and registered in offices and files of such resorts, giving more control with the first and last names of people and their income levels.

- The Cuba that once crucified the words “business” and “private property,” now allows self-employment and small independent enterprises (pleasing a group avid for private enterprise, the government collects taxes at sky-high rates, saves on the payment of wages, doesn't have to secure some jobs and the domestic economy is made to seem to be reviving).

Yet most everyone knows it’s really not like this, but nonetheless resigns themselves to it. By virtue of not having been allowed anything, they now feel like getting whatever they can, and with many people scurrying around — daily — they will be too busy to dwell on certain analyses or engage in any activity that endangers their little business.

- The Cuba where personal property seemed more like the property of the state, is now allowing the sale and transfer of properties such as homes and cars (the government is agreeing to permit owners to sell what belongs to them in the name of facilitating and enhancing the economic and social development of people. However, this is being done for no other reason than to benefit itself, charging a percentage on both sides of the transactions).

By the way, it should be pointed out that these same transactions that were carried out but illegally in the past will not be viewed as legal now, thus causing the beginning of new illegalities. But what will be exposed in the process will be many of these tricks that were carried out by the public through their lawyers and the staffs of Housing Department offices in acquiring and selling their homes and cars.

- The Cuba where freedom of expression was a utopia after 1959, is now advocating the “derecho a la palabra” (the right to speak), criticism by citizens (thus allowing an irrevocable human right). Departments in the provincial headquarters of the Communist Party are now empowered to register people’s concerns and complaints.

Nevertheless, they will not accept proposals for change or questioning under this “permission.” What is demanded in universities is more combativeness against any expression of dissent and increasingly more political discussions at the different educational levels, trying to manipulate the next generation, using history and creating an awareness of the advantages of socialism as a fair and preferable system, and the only one possible in Cuba.

- The Cuba of the absolutely official and centralized press, today is ironically making mention of a free unbiased press (without changing anything here, it’s pure rhetoric) every day waging fiercer wars against independent and alternative journalism, calling it cyber-dissidence, and every day blocking more sites so people are denied use of them, not to mention all the efforts made to postpone and delay access to the Internet by Cubans.

That’s why to me (and for many others) any of the new measures being put in place meet no other goal than to try to divert attention from the real problem: the need for an immediate change of policies and the authorities in place in Cuba.

Their palliatives, in concrete terms, are doing nothing but strangling the real possibilities for growth, prosperity and individual freedoms. Since this heartfelt desire is so exploited, and was abandoned so many years ago, I (and many others) have to wonder: Who are they kidding?

Don't Forget Ivonne Malleza

Wednesday, December 21, 2011
On November 30th, Cuban pro-democracy leader Ivonne Malleza led a protest in Havana's Fraternity Park, which was greeted with popular support by on-lookers.

This led to Ivonne's brutal arrest, as well as that of her husband, Ignacio Martinez, and one of the on-lookers who joined the protest, Isabel Haydee.

All three remain imprisoned in an unknown location. 

Amnesty International and other international human rights groups have expressed concern over their well being.

Please keep spreading the word.

Defraud Medicare and Flee to Cuba

The scheme continues.

From Reuters:

By the time authorities busted a fake AIDS clinic in Miami, it had bilked Medicare of more than $4.5 million (2.8 million pounds). Still, the man behind the scheme remained far ahead of the agents pursuing him.

Michel De Jesus Huarte, a 40-year-old Cuban-American, hadn't simply avoided arrest. He had hatched a plan to steal millions more from Medicare by forming at least 29 other shell companies - paper-only firms with no real operations. Each time, he would keep his name out of any corporate records. Other people - some paid by Huarte, some whose identities had been stolen - would be listed in incorporation papers.

The shells functioned as a vital tool to hide the Medicare deceit - and not only for Huarte. Hundreds of others have used the veil of corporate secrecy to help steal hundreds of millions of dollars from one of the nation's largest social service program, a Reuters investigation has found [...]

To disguise Huarte's role, "straw owners" were paid as much as $200,000 to put their names on Florida incorporation records and bank accounts. In return, some straw owners agreed to "flee to Cuba to avoid law enforcement detection or capture," according to the indictment.

The Little Emperors

By Yoani Sanchez in The Huffington Post:

Kim Jong Un and Alejandro Castro Espin: Destined by Blood to Be Dictators?

A solitary man sweeps the dry leaves on the wide avenue where not one car is traveling in either direction. He lowers his head and avoids talking with the cameraman. Perhaps it's a punishment for not applauding with sufficient enthusiasm at a meeting, or not bowing with theatrical reverence before a Party member. The scene of the sweeper on his desolate street is captured in a documentary about North Korea that has circulated on our alternate information networks. A painful testimony, with people all dressed the same, grey depersonalized buildings, and statues of the Eternal Leader on all sides. Hell in miniature, which leaves us with a sense of relief -- at least in this case -- for not having been born under the despotism of the Kim dynasty.

When Fidel Castro visited Pyongyang in March 1986, almost a million people greeted him, among them thousands of children waving flags with suspicious synchronicity. Cuban television reveled in the chorus that sounded like one voice, in dancers who didn't differ from each other by even a hair out of place, and in those little ones playing the violin with surprising mastery and anomalous simultaneity. Months after this presidential trip, on the artistic stages of Cuban elementary schools they tried to emulate this robotic discipline. But there was no way. The girl next to me threw the ball seconds after mine had already fallen to the floor, and some abandoned shoe was left behind on the stage after every performance. The Maximum Leader must have felt disillusioned by the chaotic conduct of his people, so different from those syncopated genuflections before the Secretary General of the Workers Party in North Korea.

On Monday the images of thousands of people crying in the streets over the death of Kim Jong Il called to mind those perfectly timed children. Although our tropical experiment never managed to "domesticate us" like them, we did copy something in the Korean model. In these parts, as well, genealogy has been more determinate than ballot boxes, and the heritage of blood has left us -- in 53 years -- only two presidents, both with the same last name. The dauphin over there is named Kim Jong Un; perhaps soon they will communicate to us that over here ours will be Alejandro Castro Espin. Just to think about it makes me shudder, as I did one day before those long rows of little girls throwing a ball at the exact same millisecond.

Sex Tourism in Cuba

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
The sick, tragic and disgusting reality that is Castro's Cuba.

A must-see for travel advocates (with a conscience).

The Cuba Prostitution Documentary from Travel Bum on Vimeo.

H/T Penultimos Dias

Intelligence Failures and Absurdities

The New York Times reports on a very concerning intelligence failure:

Kim Jong-il, the enigmatic North Korean leader, died on a train at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in his country. Forty-eight hours later, officials in South Korea still did not know anything about it — to say nothing of Washington, where the State Department acknowledged “press reporting” of Mr. Kim’s death well after North Korean state media had already announced it.

For South Korean and American intelligence services to have failed to pick up any clues to this momentous development — panicked phone calls between government officials, say, or soldiers massing around Mr. Kim’s train — attests to the secretive nature of North Korea, a country not only at odds with most of the world but also sealed off from it in a way that defies spies or satellites.

And from where absurdities prevail, the AP reports:

The Cuban government has decreed three days of mourning for the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

An official statement read Monday on Cuban state television also said the Communist government had ordered Cuban flags to be flown at half staff at public buildings and military installations.

The mourning period begins Tuesday and runs through Dec. 22.

Castro's Geriatric War Against Rock

Last week, the Havana-based punk rock group Porno Para Ricardo was (once again) prohibited from performing a local concert.

Thus, they decided to stage the concert from their home balcony, which led to a confrontation with the Castro regime's snitches, cutting off their electricity and the police arriving.

Notice the age difference between the defenders of the Castro regime and those seeking freedom of speech.

Also, notice their fear of being filmed.

Moral of the story: The Castro regime has no future.

Here's the entire encounter on film:

Must-Read Remarks by Havel

By former Czech dissident, political prisoner and eventual President Vaclav Havel:

Ladies and gentleman,

Allow me to start with a short recollection. Many years ago, when I was behind bars, I needed to see a dentist. There was no dentist in the prison and when the prison authorities realised that I was serious, I was escorted to a civil dentist by a guard.

I was in handcuffs and prison stripes and stared straight ahead of me as I sat between two guards. I was very curious to watch how the other patients around reacted to my presence. Almost none of them displayed any interest, surprise or curiosity. Most of them acted as if they did not see me.

Why am I talking about this? I don’t think we can go to Cuba and lie sunning on the beach, having a good time and enjoying a drink, without noticing what is going on around us. In that country there are informers who are expected – as it was here in the 1950s – to inform on ten other people: building trustees, street committees, families in which husbands where afraid to talk in front of their wives or wives afraid to talk in front of their husbands. It is a country where fear reigns, where political prisoners are locked up for long terms just because they have spoken freely.

And it is us in particular, who have experienced a totalitarian system, who should be conscious of this, be aware and have a special sensitivity towards it. Bad things are happening in Cuba and any of us who go there should remember them, and should not pretend that we do not know in which country we are.

Thank you very much!

H/T Iberosphere

Poetry Behind Bars

An interesting testimonial coinciding with the death of former playwright turned dissident leader (and Czech President) Vaclav Havel.

 From Havana Times:

The saddest thing was seeing how they took Mario Castillo away in handcuffs. But then again, it was also the most beautiful: seeing the firm look on his face, with no hatred for those men who couldn't understand.

On Friday 17 people read poetry in a bar on a corner of Old Havana. It’s one of those poor bars that don’t show up in the “Rutas y Andares” (Routes and Walks) issued by the City Historian’s Office. The reading was sponsored by Critical Observatory in a salute to the Poetry Without End Festival – and it was beautiful.

Mario improvised some moving verses to the sound of a reggaeton rap and a libertarian spirit. Daisy read “El Burocrata” by Roque Dalton, and Marfrey brought his own poems, which shocked everyone.All this was done while being careful to remain properly seated, four people per table, as we were repeatedly requested by the suspicious but friendly manager of the watering hole.

All of this went on while we fulfilled the obligation to “consume” (drink rum) so that they would let us read poetry there.At around 6 pm we left the bar, since some people wanted to conclude the day watching the sunset from the Malecon seawall.

As we said goodbye to the other group out on the sidewalk, a handsome young police officer came up to us asking for our documentation. With no desire to make a scene, we all began handing him our ID cards – except for Mario, who had lost his.

There began the second part of our day.

The officer had been told (we don’t know by whom) that we were having an “unauthorized conversation.” Moreover, according to this rookie cop, non-Cubans were breaking the law by consuming in a facility not designed for tourists.

Of course it was futile trying to explain that our comrades who were visiting us didn’t have the kind of money to pay for drinks in an “establishment for tourists.”The officer didn’t even ask for everyone’s documentation; the fact he had found just one undocumented individual was enough to satisfy him. Therefore he called for a patrol car to come and pick him up and take him down to the police station. The rest of us remained there with Mario on that same corner, where we waited around for two hours.

During that time we ended up drinking the last of rum, while Mario read a little more of his poetry and even talked at length with the officer, who after an hour was replaced by another one.The second police officer explained to me that the first one had only been on the job for a few days. This first policeman had called the station several times to cancel Mario’s arrest, but his higher-ups didn’t accept your request. On one occasion he was heard sighing saying “oh, Cuba…Cuba.”

Our crew had been joined by Javier, a local resident who during our readings had become curious about what we were doing, not to mention his attraction for the rum we were drinking. He stayed with us the entire time, giving us recommendations on how to deal with the police.

People from the Critical Observatory organization who weren’t there also followed the events over the phone and made calls around in search of assistance.

It was dark by the time the patrol car came. After two hours of talking and laughing on the corner with the officers, it was still necessary to frisk and handcuff Mario. Such a ridiculous and embarrassing spectacle filled me with pain. One of the most respected, wise and revolutionary youth I know was being publicly treated like a common criminal.

We walked over to the station on Dragones and Agramonte streets and waited, as a fine rain sprinkling us intermittently without getting us wet. For more than two more hours Mario remained in a cell, unjustifiably held behind bars, waiting for them to give him a simple fine.

Every 20 minutes one of us persistently requested information about our partner. We were never attended in the lobby of the main entrance, where citizens are received; instead, we had to knock on a dark iron door on the side of the police station.

Finally, Mario came out. We hugged and laughed as each of us went back to their home. A simple arrest for being undocumented had caused our poetry reading to take a totally unplanned turn.

Our solidarity was tested for four hours, but it was strengthened. This had been a little training. We came to understand that poetry is not as harmless as it seems, especially when sometimes some people need to put it behind bars.

Obama on Venezuela, Iran and Cuba

Monday, December 19, 2011
From U.S. President Barack Obama's interview today with Venezuela's El Universal newspaper: 

Q. How would you analyze the relationship Venezuela has with its allies like Iran and Cuba and what sort of consequences might this relationship lead to? 

Obama: Venezuela is a proud and sovereign nation with a rich history and historic ties with the Americas and the world. The United States does not pretend to dictate its foreign affairs. I would argue, however, that the Venezuelan government's ties to Iran and Cuba have not served the interests of Venezuela or the Venezuelan people.

With regard to Iran, the international community's concerns are well known. Ultimately, it is up to the Venezuelan people to determine what they gain from a relationship with a country that violates universal human rights and is isolated from much of the world. The Iranian government has consistently supported international terrorism that has killed innocent men, women and children around the world - including in the Americas. It has brutally suppressed the Iranian people simply for demanding their universal rights. And Tehran continues to pursue a nuclear program that threatens the security of the Middle East. Here in the Americas, we take Iranian activities, including in Venezuela, very seriously and we will continue to monitor them closely.

All our countries - including Venezuela - have a responsibility to abide by our international obligations, including full implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions on Iran. The United States has already taken a number of significant and effective steps to indicate our concern to the Venezuelan government, including annual certification of Venezuela for not fully cooperating with anti-terrorism efforts each year since 2006. Most recently, we imposed sanctions on PDVSA for selling gasoline components to Iran.

With respect to Cuba, my policy is clear. Cuba's future must be freely determined by the Cuban people. Sadly, that has not been the case for decades, and it is not the case today. The people of Cuba deserve the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as anyone else. And so the United States is going to continue supporting the basic rights of the Cuban people. At the same time, we'll continue to work with others across the region to defend the shared values that are enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and that belong to all people, whether the live in Cuba or elsewhere in the Americas.

A Tragic Loss

Out thoughts and prayers are with the Czech people on the tragic loss of former dissident leader and President Vaclav Havel.

Havel will go down in history as one of the greatest democrats of the 20th century. His relentless solidarity with pro-democracy movements spanned every continent.

Please watch this video message he sent to the Cuban people:

Good Riddance

Good riddance on the death of one of the cruelest dictators of modern times, North Korea's Kim Jong Il.

Here's the North Korean dictatorship's official statement.

Wanting to keep control within the family -- akin to the Castros' brutal dictatorship -- he will be succeeded by his son, Kim Jung Un.