Congressional Calls for Ivonne Malleza's Release

Saturday, January 14, 2012
Members of Congress Demand Release of Cuban Pro-Democracy Leaders

Calls Arbitrary Detentions Appalling and Unjust

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Rep. David Rivera (R-FL), sent a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to Amnesty International calling for the release of Ivonne Malleza Galano, Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda and Ignacio Martínez Montero. These Cuban pro-democracy leaders were imprisoned for peacefully protesting in Havana in November.

Ros-Lehtinen’s statement:

I call for the immediate and unconditional release of Ivonne Malleza Galano, Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda and Ignacio Martínez Montero. Once again, the Castro dictatorship arrested peaceful protesters without charging them or giving reasons for their continued incarceration.

This unjustified and unwarranted imprisonment of these peaceful dissidents is indicative of the Cuban regime’s blatant disregard for human rights and basic freedoms.

I urge that the Secretary of State, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations worldwide join the call for the immediate release of Ivonne Malleza Galano, Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda and Ignacio Martínez Montero. We must not allow their voices to be extinguished in the abyss of a Cuban prison cell
.”

Diaz-Balart's statement:

The imprisonment of Ladies in White member Ivonne Malleza Galano, her husband Ignacio Martínez Montejo, and pro-democracy activist Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda is another appalling reminder of the marked depravity of the Cuban regime. The United States and the international community should demonstrate unwavering solidarity with the Cuban people and they should show particular solidarity with these brave prisoners of conscience.

Despite escalating repression, the people of Cuba are showing an increasing tenacity in the face of tyranny. In fact, reportedly a crowd of observers to the protest in Havana intervened to try to prevent Castro’s thugs from arresting the activists. Now is the time to support Cuba’s growing freedom movement by calling attention to the injustice of their imprisonment and cutting off the Castro regime from any financial, rhetorical or moral support. The brave opposition deserves our unequivocal commendation for their struggle to secure basic freedoms, and they should have our committed refusal to bolster their oppressors with U.S. dollars and unilateral concessions. Certainly, the Cuban people deserve no less
.”

For a copy of the letter to the Secretary of State, please click here.

For a copy of the letter to Amnesty International, please click here.

U.S. Senator Assails Mercedes-Benz

From Fox News:

Senator Robert Menendez, who chairs the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, assailed the company that manufactures Mercedez-Benz cars for using the image of controversial revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara during a presentation in Las Vegas.

Dieter Zetsche, the head of Daimler AG’s Mercedes unit, used the image of Guevara – with the Mercedes logo super-imposed on his beret – to draw a parallel between the revolutionary and, as Daimler later put it, “the revolution in automobility enabled by new technologies.”

But the company quickly stopped using the image and apologized after a very vocal condemnation by Cuban-Americans, who said it was outrageous of Daimler to highlight a revolutionary who played in central role in executions and the establishment of a regime that has oppressed the people of Cuba for decades.

“The problem is the glorification of Che as a revolutionary in the ad and his remarks,” said Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat whose parents came to the United States from Cuba. “They’re talking about revolution in automobiles, but Che’s revolution killed people.”

“Che in essence was a murderer, and he hated the United States,” Menendez said. “You want to sell your products in the United States and you use that?”

Menendez said he finds it bewildering to see T-shirts with Guevara’s image.

“I say to people ‘The guy killed people,’” Menendez said. “It’s their lack of knowledge of the history, clearly, that has them falling into these circumstances where they think they’re supporting some idyllic romantic hero.”

“It’s like having a T-shirt with an image of Saddam or Hitler.”

Castro's 'New' Reforms are an Old Scam

Friday, January 13, 2012
In The Huffington Post:

Cuba's 'New' Reforms are an Old Scam

by Mauricio Claver-Carone

Around the world, propagandists for the Castro brothers in Cuba are heralding the regime's "new economic reforms." After plundering the island's wealth during 52 years of brutal repression and totalitarian rule, the octogenarian dictators of Cuba are again introducing free-enterprise principles.

With their palms wide open, of course.

Granted 'tis the season of good will, but history suggests skepticism is warranted when dealing with the Castros. For three decades, the Castros raked in subsidies worth billions from their Soviet Union patrons. Cuba received more money from the Soviets than all of Europe received from the U.S. Marshall Plan after World War II. While taking money from the Soviets, the Castros never found anything praiseworthy about the United States or free-enterprise. To the contrary, they imposed communist economic absolutism at home and exported revolution and anti-American violence to two continents.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba lost its subsidies, and the Castros were forced to make a series of economic "adjustments" that are nearly identical to the "reforms" taking place today. Why? Because in today's world, Cuba -- like every other nation -- needs hard currency. The "adjustments" lasted seven years until Venezuela's Hugo Chavez rose to power in 1998 and moved quickly to replace Cuba's lost Soviet subsidies. When that happened, the Castros reversed their "adjustments" and confiscated whatever small sums of wealth Cubans had accumulated. The global financial crisis of 2008, however, led to a sharp drop in oil prices, which constrained Chavez's largess. So, today, the Castros are once again in a mad-dash-for-cash. Accordingly, they dusted off their old playbook and added a few "trick" plays. They have one goal in mind: Regime survival.

Their fundamental survival strategy and oldest play in their book is still simple: Confiscate other people's money. Under the guise of an "anti-corruption campaign," some long-time business partners have now become targets, but their largest gains will doubtless come from new foreign investors.

The Cuban government has frozen hundreds of millions in European business accounts held by Cuba's banks since 2009. As Reuters reported, "the Communist-run nation failed to make some debt payments on schedule beginning in 2008, then froze up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009."

The Castros' next play was to re-launch self-employment licenses that allow Cuban nationals to engage in one of 178 pre-approved trades or crafts, such as making dolls or shining shoes. Some 300,000 Cubans have leased self-employment licenses, but more than 25 percent returned their licenses because of the government's burdensome oversight and predatory taxation.

Their newest play -- and perhaps most "creative" -- was to announce Cubans could sell their homes. Cubans have supposedly owned the property where they reside since 1986, although they couldn't be sold. Cubans dealt with the no-sell edict by "swapping" homes amongst each other and setting up a black market in housing. The government routinely confiscated homes of those who left the island and in 2000 the police cracked down on the swaps and black market transfers. While the announcement last month that sales would be allowed was a surprise, the regulations that followed typify the Castro regime. The first and most notable restriction requires the transaction be made in hard currency and that it be deposited in Cuba's Central Bank, pending the government's approval of the sale and an investigation into the source of the funds. At the time of closing, the Central Bank will issue a check to the seller in non-convertible Cuban pesos.

What's afoot is simple: Because the Obama Administration lifted the caps on remittances Cuban Americans send to relatives in Cuba, the Castro regime expects large flows of new money into the island -- not just a few hundred dollars a month to help loved ones buy food or basic necessities, but tens of thousands of dollars to buy a house or otherwise "speculate" in the country's new real estate market.

By requiring those dollars be deposited in the Central Bank, the regime gets to grab nearly 30 percent in "currency-exchange fees." Sellers will want to exchange the pesos they get for dollars or other hard currency, which allows the government to grab another 30 percent (20 percent if euros or Canadian dollars) in exchange fees. On top of that, the government applies a 4 percent transaction tax and the Central Bank takes a commission.

What then will the seller do? Because the government strictly controls the export of capital, most sellers won't be able to transfer or deposit their proceeds in foreign banks. Worse, they know, whatever -- pesos, dollars or euros -- they deposit in Cuba's Central Bank is at risk of confiscation by the government whenever it wants. So many will choose to invest their proceeds in a self-employment license. Yet, if self-employment earnings exceed 50,000 pesos ($2,000) per year, the regime also requires a checking account be established with the Central Bank.

Thus, the Castros' "reforms" face an old and familiar ending: What the regime giveth, the regime will always taketh away.

Gingrich Reconsiders His Cuba Policy

In an interview yesterday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reconsidered his previous statement of support for the Obama Administration's Cuba policy.

We take him at his word.

But he then goes on to take credit for helping "develop the whole Radio Marti program."

With all due respect, Radio Marti was created in 1983. At the time, Gingrich was a very junior Congressman in the House minority.

So let's set the record straight.

Radio Marti was created at the behest of President Ronald Reagan and thanks to the leadership of some very powerful Members of Congress -- the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Dante Fascell, the Chairman of the Rules Committee Claude Pepper and U.S. Senator Paula Hawkins.

It had nothing to do with Newt Gingrich.

However, we do appreciate his support.

From The Miami Herald:

In a written statement, Gingrich pledged to fully implement the Helms-Burton Act that he helped pass in 1996 to allow people to sue “foreign entities that traffic in U.S. property.” And he said the United States should lift no sanctions until Cuba transitions to a democracy. He also wants to require the U.S. Justice Department to “reassess” the possibility of indicted Fidel and Raul Castro for the 1996 shoot down and “murder” of the Brothers to the Rescue activists.

Lastly, Gingrich said he wanted to re-establish the 2004 Bush Administration travel restrictions and that he wanted to review the decisions of the Obama and Clinton administrations executive orders related to Cuba travel and trade.

That last promise seems to conflict with his answer to Yahoo News in November, when he was asked: “President Obama has opened more air travel to the island. Would you shut down those flights?”

Said Gingrich: “No, but I would very aggressively move towards maximizing dissent inside Cuba. Mostly covert, and also just subsidies. Go back and look what we did in Poland for example when we aggressively supported Solidarity."

Gingrich’s comments led the influential exile blog, Capitol Hill Cubans, to declare that Gingrich was one of the “Weakest Candidates on Cuba Policy.”

Gingrich quickly replied: “I think I’m a long way from being weak on Cuba.”

He noted that he helped pass Helms-Burton and took credit for helping “develop the whole Radio Marti program.”

Some critics have questioned the special immigration rights of Cubans, but Gingrich said they should be allowed to stay.

Fidel, Raul and Mahmoud's Communiqué

During yesterday's visit to Havana, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran and Cuba think alike.

He's right.

And thus, they should be treated alike -- as pariah states.

Statement from the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

Iran, Cuba urge need for convergence among revolutionary states to alter the world's unjust standards

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Cuba's revolution leader Fidel Castro stressed the need for convergence and unity of all the revolutionary nations to alter the world's unjust standards through perseverance against the hegemony of the bullying powers during a visit which lasted more than three hours.

During the meeting which was held Wednesday in local time, the two reviewed major international and regional developments.

“Since capitalism has reached the end of the road, the two great nations of Iran and Cuba now shoulder a heavy responsibility to establish a new world order based on humanity and justice,” the president said.

They said strengthening convergence among revolutionary nations would help change unjust equations and bring about peace to the entire world.

President and revolutionary leader of Cuba also called for strengthening unity among world nations to resist expansionism of bullying powers.

President also called for promotion of Tehran-Havana relations in various fields.

The Cuban revolution leader praised Iran's “outstanding position” in resisting the arrogant powers, and described the Islamic Republic as “the beacon of hope” for the world nations.

Fidel described the management of global monetary system by capitalist powers as “a fraud against other world nations” and argued that imperialism is nearing collapse.

The world is heading towards justice-seeking doctrines and the nations should join efforts to tackle global issues particularly nuclear disarmament of the hegemonic powers, he added.

Concerning Quote of the Day

Thursday, January 12, 2012
"Our positions, versions, interpretations are alike, very close. We have been good friends, we are and will be, and we will be together forever. Long live Cuba."

-- Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after visiting with Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro, Reuters, 1/12/12

Weakest Candidates on Cuba Policy

For months, many have been asking which Republican presidential candidate is the strongest on Cuba policy.

That's tough to answer.

So instead of analyzing who is the strongest, it's probably easier to identify who are the weakest.

There are two.

First, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who supports unilaterally lifting all sanctions towards Cuba and unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro dictatorship.

As Paul selfishly concluded in 2007:

"It's time to stop talking solely in terms of what's best for the Cuban people. How about the wishes of the American people, who are consistently in favor of diplomacy with Cuba? Let's stop the hysterics about the freedom of Cubans — which is not our government's responsibility — and consider freedom of the American people, which is."

And secondly, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has expressed his support for the Obama Administration's policy of unlimited travel and remittances to Cuba (which has more than doubled the Castro regime's foreign currency reserves).

As Gingrich revealed during a November interview with Yahoo News:

"Q. President Obama has opened more air travel to the island. Would you shut down those flights?

Gingrich: No, but I would very aggressively move towards maximizing dissent inside Cuba. Mostly covert, and also just subsidies. Go back and look what we did in Poland for example when we aggressively supported Solidarity.
"

It's a zero-sum proposition (at best) to support dissent, while overwhelmingly financing Castro's repression.

Fortunately, the rest of the field (congruently) supports strengthening the pro-democracy movement, while depriving the dictatorship of the hard-currency it desperately needs.

Ahmadinejad Arrives in Cuba

Wednesday, January 11, 2012
And the picture says it all.

Things Are Changing in Cuba

Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Cuba "experts" and media pundits argue that things are changing in Cuba.

They're right, to a point.


Yesterday, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights announced that December 2011 was the worst month for political arrests in 30 years. Nearly 800 political activists were arrested last month (compared to 200 in December 2010).

Meanwhile, according to Reuters, "[Castro's] reserves at the Bank for International Settlements stood at $5.649 billion in June, double what they were three years ago." In other words, since the Obama Administration lifted travel and remittance sanctions.

And consequently, an American development worker, Alan Gross, has been held hostage for over two-years by an emboldened Castro regime without suffering any consequences whatsoever.

Things are definitely changing -- to the Castro regime's satisfaction.

An Important Reminder

It's important to remember why the Castro regime arrested Cuban pro-democracy leader and member of the Ladies in White, Ivonne Malleza Galano.

It was for staging a peaceful protest, along with her husband Ignacio Martínez Montejo and activist Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda, and holding up a bed-sheet (see picture below) that read:

"Stop lying and deceiving the Cuban people. No more hunger, misery and poverty in Cuba."

For this, she has been imprisoned since November 30th, held in solitary confinement and on a perilous hunger strike.

U.S. Senators Call for Release of Ivonne Malleza

Senators Rubio, Menendez Call for Release of Ladies in White Member Ivonne Malleza and for Political and Economic Isolation of the Castro Regime

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) issued the following statement regarding the Castro regime’s unjust incarceration of Cuban democracy advocate Ivonne Malleza, who was detained on November 30, 2011 for staging a peaceful protest at a Havana park and is now confined to the notorious maximum security Manto Negro prison:

The unjust detention of pro-democracy leader and member of the Ladies in White, Ivonne Malleza Galano, her husband Ignacio Martínez Montejo and activist Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda for staging a peaceful protest in supporting freedom for the Cuban people, once again highlights the abuses of civil and human rights taking place just ninety miles from America’s shores. The unrelenting tyranny of the Castro brothers’ regime led to more than 3,500 political arrests in 2011. We urge the United States and the world community to demand their immediate release; to recognize the abundant abuses of human and civil rights on the island; and to adopt reforms that politically and economically isolate, rather than sustain, this repressive regime.”

No Creativity Among Dictators

Just sheer hypocrisy and brutality.

Following Castro's most recent ruse, now North Korea announces:

North Korea says it will grant an amnesty for prisoners to mark the birthdays of two late leaders.

[State media] said that the amnesty embodied the "noble, benevolent and all-embracing politics of President Kim Il-sung and leader Kim Jong-il".


And remember Assad "the reformer"?

From Time:

Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed Tuesday to respond to threats against him with an "iron hand" and refused to step down, insisting he still has his people's support despite the 10-month-old uprising against him.

Finally, how's the "China model" working?

From LA Times:

Chinese officials love their cars — big, fancy, expensive cars. A chocolate-colored Bentley worth $560,000 is cruising the streets of Beijing with license plates indicating it is registered to Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party headquarters. The armed police, who handle riots and crowd control, have the same model of Bentley in blue.

And just in case it needs to go racing off to war, the Chinese army has a black Maserati that sells in China for $330,000.

A remnant of a decades-old party perks system, the luxe wheels are a conspicuous target of growing public outrage over the privileges of the elite.

New Incarcerations Have Not Stopped

An editorial from the Voice of America:

Human Rights Still Suffer Despite Change In Cuba

New incarcerations for political dissent have not stopped.

In an ideal world, the Cuban government would adopt “respect human rights” as its New Year’s resolution. Alas, the Cuban government remains stubbornly opposed to democratic principles, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.

New incarcerations for political dissent have not stopped. In December 2011, The Government of Cuba used harassment, detention and assault to block dozens of human rights activists, journalists, and others from observing International Human Rights Day. Members of the Damas de Blanco, winners of the Department of State’s 2011 Human Rights Defenders Award, continue to face harassment by government officials and pro-government groups. Despite government claims to the contrary, independent human rights groups estimate that more than 60 political activists remain in Cuban jails.

There have been a few positive glimmers: Cuba’s year-end release of 2900 prisoners and the announcement of some economic measures that could provide a greater degree of economic independence and relief to the long-suffering Cuban people. However, Cuba still has a long way to go. When it comes to human rights, the basic outline of Cuba’s political system has not changed. One party rule brooks no dissent and jail awaits those who dare speak out.

U.S. Green-Lights Rig for Cuba Drilling

Monday, January 9, 2012
The Obama Administration has green-lighted Spanish oil company Repsol's rig to drill for oil off Cuba's coast -- in partnership with the Castro dictatorship.

Ironically, two weeks ago, the Administration also green-lighted Repsol's $1 billion acquisition of 364,000 acres of oil and gas producing areas in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Yet another lost opportunity to exert pressure over Repsol, which already has extensive U.S. exploration rights in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

From the U.S. Department of Interior:

BSEE, Coast Guard Complete Review of Repsol Rig

Personnel from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the U.S. Coast Guard completed a review of the mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) Scarabeo 9 on Jan. 9, 2012, off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago. The review followed an invitation from the vessel’s operator, Repsol. While aboard the Scarabeo 9, personnel reviewed vessel construction, drilling equipment, and safety systems – including lifesaving and firefighting equipment, emergency generators, dynamic positioning systems, machinery spaces, and the blowout preventer – in anticipation of its scheduled drilling operations in Cuba’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the coming months.

The review is consistent with U.S. efforts to minimize the possibility of a major oil spill, which would hurt U.S. economic and environmental interests. The review compared the vessel with applicable international safety and security standards as well as U.S. standards for drilling units operating in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. U.S. personnel found the vessel to generally comply with existing international and U.S. standards by which Repsol has pledged to abide.

BSEE and the Coast Guard exercise no legal or regulatory authority over the MODU or its intended operations in Cuba’s EEZ. Additionally, their review does not confer any form of certification or endorsement under U.S. or international law.

In anticipation of an increase in drilling activities in the Caribbean Basin and Gulf of Mexico, the United States is participating in multilateral discussions with the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico on a broad range of issues including, drilling safety, ocean modeling, and oil spill preparedness and response that are providing valuable information on each country’s plans and capabilities that will improve bilateral and regional cooperation should a major pollution incident occur. The Coast Guard is also working closely with federal, state and local agencies, as well as maritime industry officials to update contingency plans to ensure readiness to respond to any potential oil spills in international waters that could potentially affect U.S. waters and coastline.

At the local-level, Florida Coast Guard Sectors Jacksonville, Miami, Key West and St. Petersburg are updating their Area Contingency Plans, which will provide guidance for near and on-shore response efforts along the coast. In addition, the Coast Guard's Seventh District, headquartered in Miami, is overseeing work on an Offshore Drill Response Plan and Regional Contingency Plan that focuses on response strategies and tactics to combat a spill at sea. More than 80 federal, State of Florida, Florida coastal county and maritime industry representatives held a table top exercise on Nov. 18, 2011, utilizing response plans to address a hypothetical international spill off the coast of Florida. The exercise allowed participants to discuss sensitive environmental areas, planning strategies, likely issues and response coordination principles that responders would face, as well as gather additional information to use in future planning.

The United States remains committed to supporting best practices to prevent and contain oil spills, and is pursuing immediate and long term initiatives that seek to minimize risks to U.S. waters and shores.

The Repression Rundown

The following is a rundown of brutal acts of repression by the Castro regime against pro-democracy activists during the first week of January 2012:

January 1st - In the city of Santa Clara (central Cuba), members of the Rosa Parks Movement, along with members of the Central Opposition Coalition, were assaulted for trying to carry out a peaceful march “for the freedom of Cuba, against impunity, and in support and solidarity with Ivonne Malleza Galano.”

Activists were arrested with brutal force from the home of Idania Yanes Contreras, president of the Central Opposition Coalition. Frank Reyes Lopez, who was filming the attack, was thrown off the roof of the house by Castro's agents and subsequently fractured his right arm. Maria del Carmen Martinez also suffered an arm fracture, while Aramilda Contreras was seriously injured. Robert Alcides Rivera Yanez, the son of Yanez Contreras and a minor, was also beaten and shoved by police officials and suffered injuries and bruises all over his small body. Several neighbors intervened and managed to shelter the child from the police.

Among those arrested were: Ydania Llanes Contreras Damaris Moya, Maria del Carmen Martinez Lopez, Ana Iris Burune Rivera, Yanoisi Contreras Aguilar, Alcides Rivera Rodríguez, Frank Reyes López, Jorge Luis García Pérez ‘Antúnez’, Natividad Blanco Carrero, Aramilda Contreras Rodríguez and Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera.

January 4th - Act of repudiation in Camaguey against the home of pro-democracy leader Virgilio Mantilla Arango from 3 a.m.–2:30 p.m., in order to prevent a group of activists from meeting in a public park in the city of Camaguey. Among the activists who were arrested were: Elizardo Reyes Jimenez, Jorge Luis Suarez Varona, Virgilio Mantilla Arango, and Alexis Sabatelo of the Unidad Camagueyana por los Derechos Humanos.

January 5th - In Havana, independent journalist Dania Virgen Garcia, a member of the Ladies in White, Belkis Felicia Jorrin, and human rights defender Yosvani Martinez Lemus were beaten and arrested. The home of another Ladies in White member, Caridad Burunate, in the city of Colon (Matanzas province), was also subject to an act of repudiation.

January 6th – According to independent journalist Luis Felipe Rojas, Ladies in White member Isabel Peña was attacked by a government thug in Guantanamo (eastern Cuba). In Havana, the political police surrounded the home of another member of the Ladies in White, Anisley Pavon, in the suburb of Marianao. Paramilitary forces of more than 100 agents attacked the home of Maritza Castro in the Havana district of El Cerro with stones, sticks, and bottles. Maritza Castro has been carrying out a hunger strike for almost a month, demanding the freedom of Ivonne Malleza, Ignacio Martinez, and Isabel H. Alvarez. Maritza is a neighbor of Ivonne Malleza and her husband Ignacio.

January 7th – Hot tar was thrown against the front of the home of a member of the Ladies in White, Gertrudis Ojeda, in Banes (eastern Cuba) because she displayed anti-government signs in her home. The tar’s pungent odor is affecting one of her sons who is seriously affected with asthma. According to independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra, Ojeda was beaten and dragged by the paramilitary forces that invaded her home.

January 8th – Pro-democracy activist Prudencio Villalon Rades of the Union Patriotica de Cuba (UMPACU) denounced that the Ladies in White, Annis Sarrion, Milagros Leiva, Maritza Cardosa, Osmeilis Jimenez, as well as her daughter Arianis Gainza Jimenez (12 years old) were all aggressively attacked by a member of the Castro regime's paramilitary forces in Municipio Mella (eastern Cuba). Also, a member of the Ladies in White, Caridad Caballero Batista, and her husband, Esteban Sade, were arrested as they were entering the Church Pueblo Nuevo in Holguin (eastern Cuba). In Holguin, another Ladies in White member, Berta Guerrero, and her husband, Franklin Pellegrino del Toro, were arrested with violence to prevent their assistance to Mass.

Independent journalist, Jose Lino Asencio, reported that in central Cuba, the home of Ladies in White member Yasmin Conyedo Riveron, located at calle Trista 374 entre San Pedro y Virtudes, in the city of Santa Clara, was attacked by a pro-regime mob brought in a bus by State Securiy forces.

In Pedro Betancourt, a town in the province of Matanzas, pro-democracy activist Oscar Sanchez Madan, was violently arrested along with Juan Francisco Sigler Amaya and other human rights defenders, members of the Independent Movement Alternative Option, who were on their way to the cemetery to honor deceased Ladies in White member, Gloria Amaya, an activist and mother of three ex-political prisoners of conscience.

Courtesy of the Coalition of Cuban-American Women.

The Faces of Unreason

How could anyone think these are rational actors that can be reasonably engaged?

The Narco-Ministers of Defense

This weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez named General Henry Rangel Silva as his new Minister of Defense.

In 2008, General Rangel Siva was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for assisting the narco-trafficking and terrorism activities of Colombia's FARC.

Amazing as it sounds -- this isn't unprecedented.

For decades, Cuba's current dictator-in-chief Raul Castro led the island's narco-trafficking activities while serving as Minister of Defense.

Raul (yes, the "reformer") was nearly even indicted in U.S. federal court for trafficking seven and a half tons of cocaine into Florida.

Here's the Treasury Department's 2008 designation of General Rangel Silva:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated two senior Venezuelan government officials, Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios and Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva, and one former official, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, for materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a narco-terrorist organization.

"Today's designation exposes two senior Venezuelan government officials and one former official who armed, abetted, and funded the FARC, even as it terrorized and kidnapped innocents," said Adam J. Szubin, Director of OFAC. "This is OFAC's sixth action in the last ten months against the FARC. We will continue to target and isolate those individuals and entities that aid the FARC's deadly narco-terrorist activities in the Americas."

Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva, the Director of Venezuela's Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services or DISIP, is in charge of intelligence and counterintelligence activities for the Venezuelan government. Rangel Silva has materially assisted the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC. He has also pushed for greater cooperation between the Venezuelan government and the FARC.

On May 29, 2003, President George W. Bush identified the FARC as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker, or drug kingpin, pursuant to the Kingpin Act. In 2001, the State Department designated the FARC as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist pursuant to Executive Order 13224, and in 1997 as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

On the Venezuelan Consul's Expulsion

Sunday, January 8, 2012
The State Department has expelled Venezuela's Consul General in Miami, Livia Acosta Noguera, pursuant to reports of her involvement in a conspiracy (along with Iranian and Cuban intelligence officials) to launch cyber-attacks against the U.S.

The good news is that the Obama Administration has finally taken tangible action.

The bad (scary) news is that it took a television documentary to make them budge.

The Revolving Door of Castro's Prisons

By Jose Gutierrez-Solana in The Huffington Post:

Exemption for Cuban Prisoners

My name is Jose A. Gutierrez-Solana, a former Cuban political prisoner, from January 1961 to January 1971. I was content when I came across the recent announcement made on December 23rd, 2011 by Raul Castro that the Cuban Government pardoned roughly two thousand nine hundred prisoners. However, the media spreads the recent law pardon, as a step towards a more open society, without an analysis of the details behind their penitentiary system and the governing laws.

For starters, according to official reports; only seven of those liberated had been condemned for political reasons. They are: Alexis Ramirez Reyes (completed 12 years in prison), Modesto Alexei Martinez Torres (completed 8 years in prison), Carlos Martinez Ballester, Walfrido Rodriguez Piloto, Yordani Martinez Carvajal, Yran Gonzalez Torna ( completed 21 years in prison) y Augusto Guerra Marquez. Furthermore, the number of prisoners who obtained the law pardon represents only 4% of the total imprisoned population, which fluctuates from 70,000 to 80,000 people, according to some estimates. A very large portion of the Cuban population has gone to prison in the last 53 years under Castro's rule. The mere fact that the influx of new prisoners exceeds the number of ones who received this law pardon demonstrates the decaying state of this once prosperous island.

In any democratic society the exemption of prisoners could be considered a good will gesture from the government throughout the holiday season, but in Cuba this is not the case. It is a political game used to mask the realities of a penitentiary system that is replete of prisoners, lacking the most basic hygienic conditions, and suffering from systematic hunger, as well as physical and psychological torture. This "gracious" law pardoned does not fix the totalitarian law which condemns any commercial activity, such as selling or buying food, construction materials, or any writing that could go against the ideology of the system, such as a pamphlet containing the Human Right's Declaration.

The law pardon that the Cuban regime has propitiated is nothing new, nor original. The system has always dealt this card as an escape valve to control the negative resentment inside the country and as a cosmetic cover-up in front of the world. These prisoners will be out of jail, just to come back to a society that is depleted of democratic rights. Therefore, I believe we need to look at the larger picture of the legal system that controls the society and the complexity of the penitentiary system. Because as long as the individual liberties and civil rights continue to be violated in Cuba there is nothing to brag about, nothing to celebrate.

Must-Read: Political Freedom First

By Professor Jose Azel in The Miami Herald:

Decapitating Cubans’ hope for political freedom

In the study of government transitions, particularly those that took place in Eastern and Central Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a pivotal argument about the sequencing of reforms took the form of a “chicken or the egg” causality dilemma: What should come first, political or economic changes? Since, in most countries economic prosperity is found together with personal freedoms, some postulate that economic reforms cause the advent of political freedoms.

However, the fact that two events are frequently observed together does not mean that one causes the other. Logicians often offer a quotidian example to illustrate the reasoning error: We press the button to call the elevator, wait impatiently, and then press it again. The elevator arrives, and we incorrectly deduce that the second button push is what caused the elevator to come. In logic, the principle that correlation does not imply causation is known as the “ cum hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy, (Latin for “with this, therefore because of this”).

The error of this argument can be readily shown by examining the experiences of China and Vietnam.

China began profound market-based economic reforms in 1978 and Vietnam shortly after. Today, both of these countries are significantly wealthier, but after three decades of economic progress, political reforms have not followed. China and Vietnam remain totalitarian states and classified as “Not Free” in the yearly Freedom House ranking.

What the experiences of China and Vietnam demonstrate is the virtue of free-market reforms and capitalism as engines for economic progress. The experiences of these countries cannot be logically offered as a path to personal freedoms and citizenry empowerment. Note, for example, that China’s new wealthy business class increasingly is seeking to live abroad to be able to enjoy a freedom as basic as having a second child.

This would be a pedantic discussion except that the reasoning fallacy leads many, motivated by high ideals, to embrace coercive polices on humanitarian grounds. Isabel Paterson in her classic 1943 book, The God of the Machine, labels this syndrome “The Humanitarian with the Guillotine.”

In the Cuba policy debate, the humanitarians with the guillotine endorse minuscule and coercive changes by that totalitarian regime as meaningful. For example the Cuban government recently announced, with considerable fanfare, that the number of permitted self-employment activities would be increased from 178 to 181. Now, in addition to being able to baby-sit and shine shoes, Cubans will be allowed to do tile work and become party planners. Humanitarians applaud this humiliating doling out of subsistence.

The most recent reform captures headlines like “Cuba will allow the purchase and sale of properties.” The reality is much more pernicious. The sales will be on a cash basis only since there is no mortgage banking system. Cubans do not have discretionary capital for such transactions, and thus the transactions are likely to be financed with remittances from the Cuban diaspora — hard currency transfers that will strengthen the regime.

In principle, humanitarians and all freedom-loving people would agree that policies that tend to prolong the existence of totalitarian regimes should not be supported. In practice, misled by the “with this, therefore because of this” fallacy, they end up doing just that. In doing so they release the guillotine’s blade that decapitates the hope for political freedoms.

There is a great deal of pain and distress incidental to existence, and the desire to do good for others can lead us to accept change without political freedoms and enforced by compulsion. But, the relief for this existential distress lies, not only in improving material well-being, but in obtaining the personal freedoms that give meaning to human existence.

In the political realm these freedoms are expressed in open debate and via free, fair, and frequent elections that allow a citizenry to change its leadership. These are conditions that do not exist in China, Vietnam or Cuba and are not likely to follow economic liberalization.

Good governance and our pursuit of happiness require political pluralism and an engaged citizenry empowered to change its leaders, as is vividly expressed by the old adage: Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.

José Azel is a senior scholar at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies and the author of the book, Mañana in Cuba.