On This New Year's Eve

Saturday, December 31, 2011
While you're enjoying a sidra, cava or champagne at parties welcoming 2012 tonight, please remember Cuban pro-democracy leader Ivonne Malleza Galano, who is currently on hunger strike in a punishment cell of the infamous maximum security prison of Manto Negro.

Throughout 2011, Malleza, a member of the Ladies in White, has led a series of protests in Havana parks that have been met with great popular support.

That led the Castro regime to brutally arrest her on November 30th (here's a video of the protest and arrest).

Also arrested (and still in prison) was her husband Ignacio Martinez Moreno and fellow activist Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosquera.

Consider dedicating your New Year's prayer and wish to Ivonne's release and to the freedom of all Cubans.

U.S. Calls (Again) for Release of Alan Gross

More rhetorical please, but still no tangible repercussions.

An editorial from Voice of America:

Cuba's "Humanitarianism" Falls Short

The United States is deeply disappointed that the pardon was not extended to Alan Gross.

The government of Cuba says it has pardoned and will release some 2,900 prisoners held in its jails. President Raul Castro called the pre-Christmas announcement a humanitarian gesture that would include women, the ailing, people older than 60, dozens of foreigners and a small number of political prisoners who have served a large part of their sentence with good behavior.

The United States is deeply disappointed that this pardon was not extended to Alan Gross, an American who is unjustly imprisoned in Cuba. The fact that the Council of State did not consider Mr. Gross's deteriorating health and the two years he has already spent behind bars suggests the gesture was a calculated and hollow one indeed.

Sixty-two years old and suffering from arthritis, Mr. Gross is a dedicated development professional who has a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in more than 50 countries. He was a subcontractor working on a project sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development in Cuba helping connect members of civil society to the outside world. For these well-intentioned activities, he was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009, convicted of crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

We continue to call on the Cuban authorities to release Mr. Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs.

A Worsening of Censorship

Friday, December 30, 2011
From the Inter-American Press Association's (IAPA) 2011 review of the state of press freedom:

Together with the impunity surrounding crimes committed in other years and the lack of action on the part of the authorities to deter those who resort to violence a vicious circle has been created that has given rise to high levels of self-censorship. Also noted are the few advances made regarding freedom of the press and of assembly in Cuba, a country where there was a worsening of censorship and violence against dissidents, independent journalists and bloggers.

Fidel Must Know From Experience

This week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wildly accused the U.S. of inducing him and other Latin American leaders with cancer.

Where did Chavez get this crazy idea from?

According to Politico:

Fidel Castro, Chavez said, first alerted him to the alleged cancer plot.

“Fidel always told me, ‘Chavez, take care. These people have developed technology. You are very careless. Take care what you eat, what they give you to eat... A little needle, and they inject you with I don’t know what,’” Chavez said.

Fidel must know from experience -- or had a Freudian slip.

Curiously, this is exactly how many believe the Castro regime induced the death (through some bacteriological agent) of Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan.

An independent journalist investigating these claims has been constantly harassed and arrested on the island.

Quote of the Day

Thursday, December 29, 2011
A tragic truth stands out from this otherwise insensitive Cuba travel chronicle:

I spoke with a young woman, a mother of one, who is employed in the communist system at a ration distribution center by day and works the streets by night. "There are two classes of people here. The government caters to the tourists, but doesn’t care about us," she said. When I asked her if that bothered her, she answered, in Spanish, "How could it not?"

Another Year of Imprisonment

By Guillermo Martinez in Sun-Sentinel:

New year marks another year of imprisonment for Cuba's citizenry

The message came via Twitter. Somebody re-tweeted to me what John Lee Anderson of The New Yorker magazine said about Raúl Castro's decision not to give Cubans the basic right to travel outside the island.

The tweet said: "RCastro's decision not to lift travel restricts a mistake. Most Cubans r young & wish to see world. Most love Cuba & will return. Let em go!"

Anderson's quote made me think of a new year for Cubans; a new year in which they still have to endure a brutal totalitarian regime that has governed the island for 53 years this coming Sunday. This is a regime that had close relations with Libya and still has them with Iran; a regime that decreed three days of national mourning to mark the death of North Korea's "dear leader." A country where the average Cuban earns 20 convertible pesos a month and where people are still beaten and jailed for demanding the most basic of human rights.

I echo Anderson's comments that it is indeed a shame that Cuba's regime did not lift travel restrictions on those who live on the island prison. And I say island prison because, though most countries in the world have restrictions on just who can cross its border to come in, few have such draconian restrictions on who can leave their homeland, as does Cuba.

Most Cubans are not allowed to travel. Those bloggers, like Yoani Sánchez, who oppose the regime are not permitted to travel to receive the international awards they have won. Neither can the majority on the island. Except for those high government officials, the members of a privileged class, most just cannot afford it.

What is inconceivable to me is that writers and others like Anderson are naïve enough to believe in this day and age that Cubans who would leave the island would return. He says the young people love their homeland.

Those of us who left more than five decades ago do so also. Yet the experience is that most that leave don't go back, except to visit. Very few choose to go back to live in a country where there are no freedoms and no rights other than those given to them capriciously by the Communist regime.

My distinguished colleague joins a long list of naive American, European and world leaders who view Cuba with rose-tinted glasses. These lenses block out the the tyrannical nature of its leaders. It is the longest family dictatorship in the world. Millions have left their homeland to live in other countries. Few have ever returned willingly to live there.

It is a regime that has made many promises and kept few. The last time I was allowed to travel to the country where I was born was in 1978. Cuba was about to release 3,500 political prisoners and wanted the world's media, particularly those in South Florida, to know about it.

Since then the jails have been full. The regime is always ready to release a political prisoner to a friendly visitor much as one would give a rose on Valentine's Day to a loved one. Cuba grows prisoners as others do flowers.

Thus on a day they were to have lifted the travel restrictions, they freed another 2,900 prisoners — nobody knows how many were political, for in Cuba the distinction between a political and a common criminal is in the eyes of the regime. Yet, within the past few months, hundreds have been arrested throughout the island. Their crime is their demand for the release of political prisoners and to have the regime recognize the most basic human rights.

Still, people like Anderson, and former President Jimmy Carter, and singer Harry Belafonte and many others believe the regime is good and that Cubans love their leaders.

Last week, fishermen off the coast of Florida found a solidly built boat constructed with an old car's motor. It was seaworthy and would have made it across the Florida Straits if it had not been for the U.S. Coast Guard vessel that intercepted it and its passengers at sea. Little has been said about the would-be refugees, other than they will be returned to the island they were fleeing.

I wonder if Anderson might ask them if they are going back to Cuba willingly.

I also know that hoping that the New Year might bring freedom and liberty to Cuba might be an impossible dream. It is a dream that has been frustrated year after year for more than half a century.

Maybe I should be more modest in what I wish for in 2012. I would be happy to see people like Anderson realize that Cubans live in an island jail and no matter how much we love the place where we were born, both young and old would only want to live there if basic freedoms were respected. Until then, the Castro brothers have to keep the doors shut so prisoners won't all rush out of jail at the same time.

Keeping Anderson Cooper Honest

CNN's Anderson Cooper should be commended for his coverage of the Arab Spring.

In his nightly show, Anderson Cooper 360, he has a segment entitled "Keeping Them Honest," where he's continuously provided a space for pro-democracy activists from Libya to Syria to discuss the realities on the ground and expose the propaganda stemming from those country's dictatorial regimes.

Thus, this month, when Cooper traveled to Cuba (albeit on assignment for CBS's 60 Minutes), we frankly expected a similar opportunity for the island's courageous pro-democracy activists to counter the Castro dictatorship's propaganda.

Sadly, that was not the case.

Instead, Cooper spent his time in Cuba exploring lionfish off the island's coast with the Castro regime's minders (and even gave a nod to Fidel).

So much for keeping them honest.

More Shameless "Purposeful" Cuba Trips

Wednesday, December 28, 2011
By Elliott Abrams in The Weekly Standard:

The Park Avenue Synagogue's Cuba Vacation

The Cuban regime has just announced a prisoner release, at the very end of 2011. This is partly an effort to get some positive publicity before the scheduled visit of the Pope, and partly a cold-blooded move by the regime to release older prisoners who are a burden on their prison system.

Not included in the group to be released is Alan Gross. Here is what the State Department said about that:

We have seen reports that the Council of State of Cuba has announced the release of 2,900 prisoners and Alan Gross is not among them. If this is correct, we are deeply disappointed and deplore the fact that the Cuban government has decided not to take this opportunity to extend this humanitarian release to Mr. Gross this holiday season, especially in light of his deteriorating health, and to put an end to the Gross family's long plight. We continue to call on the Cuban authorities to release Alan Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs.”

Who is Alan Gross? He is a Jewish American social worker, a long-time USAID contractor who was jailed in December 2009. He now completes two years in a Cuban prison. His wife responded to the news that he would not be released:

To receive news in the middle of Hanukkah that the Cuban authorities have once again overlooked an opportunity to release Alan on humanitarian grounds is devastating. Our family is simply heartbroken.”

What was Gross’s crime? What was he doing in Cuba? His job was to connect the tiny Cuban Jewish community to the Internet, and thereby to the global Jewish community.

How has the American Jewish community responded to his two years in prison? There have been repeated protests, for example, from the American Jewish Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Or perhaps one should be more precise: from some parts of the community have come protests. From other parts has come tourism.

It is bad enough to think of any Americans, Jewish or Christian, frolicking in the sun on the Castro brothers’ prison island, drinking rum on the beach while ignoring the truth of what Freedom House calls “one of the world’s most repressive societies” with “the most restrictive laws on free speech and press freedom in the Americas.”

But Jews touring Cuba while Alan Gross sits in prison now for what would be his third year—precisely for working with the Cuban Jewish community? Yet the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, one of the richest and most prestigious congregations in the country, is sponsoring a trip to Cuba in late January. Of course, it is not for mere tourism; the synagogue website calls it an “adult learning trip,” and “an educational and religious mission to learn about how the once-vibrant Cuban Jewish community has sustained itself.”

Now, don’t think Spartan: among the reviews of the Hotel Parque Central, where the Park Avenue synagogue members will stay, we learn that “the hotel has a lovely reception and a roof top swimming pool and bar which boast lovely views of Havana Room was nice and clean and staff friendly. The breakfast buffet has a huge choice of foods and we always ended up eating too much!” and that it’s “the place to spoil yourself and enjoy life.”

Even today, when the Obama administration has liberalized travel to Cuba -- and failed to reverse that liberalization when Alan Gross was imprisoned -- there are limits. So the Park Avenue Synagogue travelers have to check the box on their application that says they aren’t just on a jaunt; instead they must swear that “I am a member or staff of a U.S. religious organization, and my travel is for participation in a full-time program of religious activities in Cuba.” So of course there cannot be time for mere tourism, and that pool at the Parque Central must remain off limits even if the wonderful breakfast buffet is not. Right?

Would it not send a far stronger message to the Cuban regime if all those signed up for this trip -- and the synagogue website reports that “The trip is now sold out” --cancelled and instead marched to the Cuban mission to the United Nations on Lexington Avenue and 38th Street, there to toss their visas into the trash? Judy Gross, Alan’s wife, said this week that “Alan is 62 years old, has lost 100 pounds in captivity, is increasingly mentally weak and depressed, and is losing all hope that he will ever see his mother again.” Will the synagogue group demand to see Gross? Will they march to the prison while in Havana? Or will they forget him?

It is perhaps unfair to pick on the Park Avenue Synagogue, which joins many other college and church groups in touring Cuba nowadays under the looser travel rules. But the Park Avenue group will be going there on January 25, just weeks after those heartbreaking words from Judy Gross and after the Castro regime once again refused to free her husband. So it is seems reasonable to ask, have they no shame at all?

Free Ivonne Malleza Galano

From The Miami Herald:

Activists and groups advocating individual freedom in Cuba denounced the jailing in maximum security prisons of three peaceful opponents, including Ivonne Malleza Galano, who this year carried out a series of daring street protests.

The arrests coincide with the massive amnesty announced by Cuban leader Raúl Castro of about 2,900 Cuban prisoners. Five political prisoners were also released, according to information given on Tuesday by Elizardo Sánchez, director of the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, based in Havana.

“Suddenly the signs are very negative,” Sánchez told El Nuevo Herald. “Because while there is an amnesty of criminal and political prisoners, three people who simply staged a small peaceful protest on the streets without any kind of force or violence are being jailed.” Malleza was transferred to Manto Negro women’s jail in Havana together with dissident Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda. Both could be sentenced to five years in prison. The third opponent jailed is Malleza’s husband, Ignacio Martínez Montero.

Malleza, a member of the group the Ladies in White, began to draw attention in the last few months because of her work in the opposition movement.

Ahmadinejad Heading to Cuba (Again)

During the second week of January 2012, Iranian tyrant Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be traveling to Cuba (once again) to visit with his old friends Fidel and Raul Castro.

He will also be making stops to visit Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

Earlier this month, a Univision documentary revealed how Iran, Cuba and Venezuela planned cyber-attacks against U.S. targets from Mexico.

Is Fulton Armstrong Violating the Law?

This week, former CIA analyst and Senate staffer Fulton Armstrong articulated his infamous disdain for Cuba pro-democracy programs -- and defense of "regime preservation" -- in The Miami Herald.

As expected, Armstrong's editorial was gleefully translated and reprinted in its entirety by Castro's state media.

Throughout the years, we've grown accustomed to Armstrong's attacks on pro-democracy programs, including the exaggerations and untruths he sprinkles throughout.

However, in his zeal to attack these programs, Armstrong seems to have crossed a very concerning line:

First, he provides the Castro regime fodder -- regardless of its veracity -- to continue arresting peaceful opponents and trumping up charges.

Secondly, he appears to be revealing sensitive information on government programs and procedures without prior authorization.

The first is cruel and irresponsible.

The second is potentially illegal.

How Quickly Regimes Can Collapse

Tuesday, December 27, 2011
In an editorial about former Czech dissident turned President Vaclav Havel, Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner reminds us how quickly and unexpectedly dictatorial regimes collapsed in 1989:

In February, the Slovenes — then a republic attached to the Yugoslav federation — created an opposition party. Poland, guided by Lech Walesa and propelled by the massive impulse of the Solidarity labor union, had begun to defeat the dictatorship in the June elections. In August, the three Baltic nations asked for independence from the Soviet Union.

By October, the Hungarian communists had changed their name and accepted the multiparty system. In early November, the Germans knocked down the Berlin Wall. On Dec. 25, the Romanians executed dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu and his wicked wife, the ineffable Elena, to begin the changes. One month earlier, they had elected him unanimously as leader of the Communist Party.

The Czechs, in turn, seemed one step behind. Suddenly, like lightning, freedom struck. On Dec. 29, Havel was elected president by a Parliament that saw no other way out from the crisis. His figure had grown tremendously at the head of the Civic Forum, an organization that basically brought together dissident writers and artists. It was the first country that unequivocally broke the Muscovite chain and began to bury the Marxist superstitions.

Young Cubans Lead Street Protests

On December 23rd, young Cubans took to the streets of Arroyo Naranjo, a municipality of Havana, to protest the Castro regime.

Here's the video (courtesy of Hablemos Press):

And here's video of another protest (on December 24th) in Guines, southeast of Havana:

Shamefully Using Fidel for Business

Former U.S. Congressman-turned-lobbyist Bill Delahunt (D-MA) seems to think highlighting his friendship with brutal Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is good for business.

Frankly, it's shameful.

Then again, after years of pushing within Congress for the U.S. to unconditionally embrace the Castro dictatorship, did anyone ever doubt that there would be a future business angle?

Here's a picture from his lobbying website.

On Delahunt's right is U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO).

Where's the "Reform"?

Monday, December 26, 2011
The foreign media is buzzing today that General (or "President," as they like to call him) Raul Castro is making "more refoms to the retail sector."

Sounds impressive, huh?

Now here's Cuban state media:

"From January 1, 2012, the Cuban government will extend lease options to self-employed workers, including those who work as carpenterss and photographer, according to resolutions published on Monday in the Official Gazette.

The rules of the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Labor and Finance and Prices also include the trades of upholsterer, locksmith, clockmaker, shoemaker, and repairers of jewelry, mattresses and electrical equipment, among other services."

Note the absurdity of such control and micromanagement.

Yet, even among such limited crafts, they stress:

"The buildings and means to be included in contracts will remain state properties."

As always, the Castro regime owns everything.

So where's the "reform"?

Castro's Christmas Gift for Fariñas

From EFE:

Prominent Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas was released without charges several hours after his “violent” arrest in the central city of Santa Clara, his family and colleagues said Monday.

Fariñas was headed for church on Sunday together with a group of 10 opposition members when “three (police) patrol cars blocked their way and the cops began to push and shove them inside,” Ramon Jimenez, spokesman for the dissident group United Anti-Totalitarian Forum, told EFE.

“The police were violent with them and Guillermo was treated worst of all,” Jimenez said.

Fariñas’ mother Alicia Hernandez confirmed Monday the account of her son’s detention and said that, after returning home around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, he had to go to the doctor “because he was in a lot of pain.”

How to Keep Losing Cuban-American Votes

Sunday, December 25, 2011
In today's Miami Herald:

How to keep losing Cuban-American votes

by Mauricio Claver-Carone

During a September round-table with Hispanic journalists, President Obama was asked whether he was concerned about a backlash from his administration unilaterally easing sanctions towards Cuba despite the fact that the Castros’ regime is still holding American development worker Alan Gross as its hostage.

The president replied that he thinks easing sanctions is an “adequate” policy and that it is supported by Cuban Americans. That “support” is frequently reported and talked about in Washington, but it’s never reflected where it counts — the ballot box.

Consider this: President Obama received approximately 30 percent of the Cuban-American vote during the 2008 election, when just about every other constituency was overwhelmingly looking for “change” after eight years of the Bush administration. Obama won Florida by only 2.5 percent. Today, he’s treading on thin ice politically. Thus, any drop in Cuban-American support could easily cost him Florida. Given Florida’s political importance, perhaps the election.

Even so, his misguided response wasn’t particularly surprising. Obama’s political rationale is based on a theory that Cuban Americans — despite consistently voting to support candidates who favor maintaining strong sanctions towards Cuba’s dictatorship — favor more travel to and engagement with the island.

This unfounded theory has been hailed by anti-sanctions advocates and political theorists alike, both unfamiliar with the Cuban-American community and propped up by the push-polls they often commission. It has been going on for decades.

Back on Dec. 5, 1965, The New York Times ran its first story that “the very active anti-Castro groups in Miami have faded into virtual obscurity.”

Then, on Oct. 10, 1974, based on “a series of interviews with members of the Miami exile community” it reported:

“Virtually all of several dozen Cubans interviewed would like to visit Cuba either to see their relatives or just their country, which they have not seen for 10 years or more; and some segments of the exile community, especially young refugees brought up and educated here, are not interested in the Cuban issues.”

Sound familiar? There’s more:

On March 23, 1975: “For the first time significant number of exiles are beginning to temper their emotion with hardnosed geopolitical realism.”

On Aug. 31, 1975: “A majority of the persons interviewed — especially the young, who make up more than half of the 450,000 exiles here — are looking forward to the time when it will be possible for them to travel to Cuba. Even businessmen, who represent a more conservative group than the young, are thinking about trading with Cuba once the embargo is totally lifted.”

On July 4, 1976: “A new generation of professionals between 25 and 35 years of age has replaced the older exile leadership.”

And now, three decades later, Obama has fallen into the same trap. A few days ago, he went as far as threatening to shut down the federal government over a provision in the FY2012 Omnibus Appropriations bill that would have tightened Cuba sanctions.

Here are the facts: The Cuban-American community has never elected a candidate to federal office who has supported lifting sanctions. In the most recent example, during the 2010 congressional race in the heavily Cuban-American 25th District of Florida, Obama’s candidate — an outspoken cheerleader for his Cuba policy — got less than 18 percent of the Cuban-American vote.

During a 2008 campaign speech in Miami, Obama said his policy would be guided by the principle of “ Libertad” (“Freedom”). During his inauguration speech, he even “extended a hand” to tyrants like the Castro brothers in the hopes that they would “unclench their fists.”

Tragically, not only did the Castros ignore Obama’s “extended hand” but it now appears the president’s gesture has also weakened the U.S. hand — proven by the fact that Alan Gross is still in a Cuban prison for helping the island’s Jewish community connect to the Internet. Moreover, the Cuban people have no more freedoms than they did two years ago. In September alone, as the president was discussing the “adequacy” of his policy, the Castro regime arrested 563 people for political “crimes.” That’s the highest monthly number of political arrests in 30 years.

Why does President Obama continue this policy of unilateral appeasement with the Castro brothers? After all, with unemployment in Florida reported to be as high as 11 percent, it would seem that Obama and his re-election campaign don’t have much wiggle room.

But hey, it’s only Florida’s electoral votes that are at risk.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and founding editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington, D.C.