Dissident’s Death Highlights Repression

Saturday, January 21, 2012
From Human Rights Watch:

Cuba: Dissident’s Death Highlights Repressive Tactics

Stop Threats against Villar Mendoza Family

Washington, DCThe death of the 31-year-old dissident Wilman Villar Mendoza on January 19, 2012 following a 50-day hunger strike highlights the ongoing repression in Cuba, Human Rights Watch said today. The Cuban government should immediately put an end to the threats against his wife, Maritza Pelegrino Cabrales, and the group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), which supports her, and drop any measures that would prevent her and dissidents from attending Villar Mendoza’s funeral.

Villar Mendoza was detained on November 2, 2011, after participating in a peaceful demonstration in Contramaestre, Cuba calling for greater political freedom and respect for human rights, his wife told Human Rights Watch. He was a member of the Union Patriotica de Cuba, a dissident group the Cuban government considers illegitimate because its members express critical views.

“Villar Mendoza’s case shows how the Cuban government punishes dissent,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Arbitrary arrests, sham trials, inhumane imprisonment, and harassment of dissidents’ families – these are the tactics used to silence critics.”

Villar Mendoza was charged with “contempt” (desacato) and sentenced to four years in prison in a hearing that lasted less than an hour, his wife told Human Rights Watch. While she was allowed to attend the trial, dissidents who tried to enter the courtroom were denied access. Villar Mendoza was not given the opportunity to speak in his defense, nor was he represented by a defense lawyer, she said.

His wife said he initiated his hunger strike to protest his unjust trial and imprisonment.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a human rights monitoring group that the government does not recognize, classified Villar Mendoza as a political prisoner in December.

Prison guards placed Villar Mendoza in solitary confinement after he initiated the hunger strike on November 25, his wife said. He told his wife he was stripped naked and placed in solitary confinement in a small, cold cell. The last time she was allowed to visit her husband was on December 29, she said.

His wife also told Human Rights Watch that government officials had repeatedly harassed her for associating with the Damas de Blanco, a human rights group consisting of wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners. She said state security officers explicitly threatened to take away her and Villar Mendoza’s daughters, ages 7 and 5, if she continued to work with the Damas.

According to his wife, Villar Mendoza was transferred to a hospital in Santiago de Cuba days before he died. His wife said authorities had not notified her of his death, and that she had been informed by contacts outside of Cuba, who read the story in the international press. She said she has not yet been allowed to see his body, nor has she been informed about funeral arrangements.

On February 23, 2010, another Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died after an 85-day hunger strike, which he initiated to protest the inhumane conditions in which he was being held and to demand medical treatment.

House Investigates Smithsonian's Cuba Trips

From The Hill:

The Committee on House Administration has initiated an investigation into trips to Cuba sponsored by the taxpayer-funded Smithsonian Institution as part of a cultural exchange program.

On Friday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, praised House Administration Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) for looking into the matter, which she publicly drew attention to earlier this month.

“I commend the Chairman for his leadership and for promptly addressing my serious concerns shared by so many about Smithsonian Journeys’ poor judgment in facilitating trips to the repressed island of Cuba,” she wrote in a statement. “It is my hope that through this investigation, Congress ensures that no taxpayer dollars have been used to promote tourism travel to Cuba.”

Smithsonian Journeys, part of the Smithsonian Enterprises Division, is offering travel packages to Cuba throughout 2012 starting at $5,450, according to its website. The trip includes visits to Old Havana, Matanzas and Santa Clara.

The trips are offered through the organization’s new “People-to-People Cultural Exchange Program,” the site states. “Thanks to a special license issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Smithsonian Institution invites you to participate in this meaningful Cultural Exchange program with the Cuban people who are involved in the arts, cultural traditions, agriculture, natural history and education.”

According to Ros-Lehtinen, however, the Smithsonian is sponsoring trips to “a nation designated by the State Department as a state-sponsor of terrorism.”

“The Smithsonian’s 10-day trips to Cuba will amount to little more than a tropical vacation,” she wrote in a separate Jan. 3 statement. “Americans participating in these trips will not see the brutal reality of the [Fidel] Castro dictatorship.”

“It is deeply disappointing that the Smithsonian Institute, primarily funded by American taxpayers, is facilitating access to U.S. dollars, which enables the Castro regime to make a hefty profit,” Ros-Lehtinen added. “The trips not only illustrate a blatant disregard for human rights conditions on the island by an entity that receives U.S. government funding, but provide the deplorable Havana tyranny a sense of legitimacy.”

Lungren has exercised the oversight of the House Administration Committee by requesting information from the Smithsonian Institution about the trips to Cuba and why they were scheduled, according to Ros-Lehtinen’s statement.

“It is irresponsible and reckless for this entity affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution to act as a travel agent for a brutal dictatorship which is a declared enemy of the United States,” Ros-Lehtinen concluded. “The trips unequivocally send the wrong message to the people of Cuba, will further enrich their oppressors, and undermine efforts to bring about a transition to democracy in Cuba.”

The Smithsonian Institution did not immediately return request for comment.

A Heartbreaking Quote

"[The Castro regime] killed my husband, they orphaned my two daughters."

-- Maritza Pelegrino, wife of Wilman Villar Mendoza, Cuban political prisoner that died this week pursuant to a 56-day hunger strike, Diario de Cuba, 1/20/12

Obama on the Death of Wilman Villar

Friday, January 20, 2012
From The White House:

Statement by the Press Secretary on the Death of Cuban Activist Wilman Villar

President Obama’s thoughts and prayers are with the wife, family, and friends of Wilmar Villar, a young and courageous defender of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba who launched a hunger strike to protest his incarceration and succumbed to pneumonia.

Villar’s senseless death highlights the ongoing repression of the Cuban people and the plight faced by brave individuals standing up for the universal rights of all Cubans. The United States will not waiver in our support for the liberty of the Cuban people. We will remain steadfast in our outreach to the Cuban people through unlimited Cuban American family visits and remittances, purposeful travel, and humanitarian assistance to dissidents and their families in support of their legitimate desire to freely determine Cuba’s future.

Romney on the Death of Wilman Villar

Mitt Romney: "Cuba Will be Free Because of the Courage and Sacrifice of Dissidents Like Wilman Villar"

Boston, MA – Mitt Romney today made the following statement on the death of Wilman Villar:

“The Castro regime is responsible for the death of Wilman Villar, just as it is responsible for the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and countless other brave prisoners of conscience that the world might never know. Those of us who believe in freedom and cherish democracy must do our part to tell Wilman’s story and denounce the injustices and cruelties of the Castro tyranny. Wilman’s ultimate sacrifice requires that we renew our solidarity with Cuba’s heroic pro-democracy movement. Cuba will be free because of the courage and sacrifice of dissidents like Wilman Villar. His young wife and family are in my thoughts and prayers.”

Amnesty: Regime Responsible for Wilman's Death

From Amnesty International:

Cuban Authorities "Responsible" for Activist's Death on Hunger Strike

The death in custody of a Cuban prisoner of conscience after a hunger strike is a shocking reminder of the Raúl Castro government's intolerance for dissent, Amnesty International said today.

Wilman Villar Mendoza, 31, died this morning in Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital in the city of Santiago where he was transferred from prison on 13 January due to health problems allegedly arising from a hunger strike protesting at his unfair trial and imprisonment.

He was serving a four-year prison term on charges related to his participation in a public demonstration against the government.

“The responsibility for Wilman Villar Mendoza’s death in custody lies squarely with the Cuban authorities, who summarily judged and jailed him for exercising his right to freedom of expression,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Adviser at Amnesty International.

“His tragic death highlights the depths of despair faced by the other prisoners of conscience still languishing in Cuban jails, who must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

“The Cuban authorities must stop the harassment, persecution, and imprisonment of peaceful demonstrators as well as political and human rights activists.”

On 14 November 2011, police arrested Mendoza and eight other members of the Cuban Patriotic Union dissident group in the eastern town of Contramaestre for taking part in a protest against the Cuban government.

While he was in detention, police intimidated Mendoza, telling him he would be disappeared or face imprisonment on criminal charges stemming from an earlier arrest if he did not stop his protests and leave the dissident group.

He was released after three days in police custody but was then summoned to Contramaestre Municipal Tribunal on 24 November. Judges tried him in private and refused to accept testimony from his wife or other defence witnesses.

The judges sentenced the activist to four years' imprisonment and immediately transferred him to Aguaderas prison, in the provincial capital Santiago. The same day, he began a hunger strike in protest at the ruling.

As Mendoza’s health deteriorated over recent days, members of the Cuban Patriotic Union and the Ladies in White opposition group organised a vigil outside the hospital. On 18 January, state security officials broke up the gathering and detained more than a dozen people.

Mendoza is not the first prisoner of conscience to die in Cuban custody.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a prisoner of conscience jailed after the “Black Spring” crackdown on opposition groups in March 2003, died in prison on 23 February 2010 after several weeks on hunger strike.

Menendez on the Death of Wilman Villar

Menendez Urges the International Community to Condemn the Castro Regime for the Death of Cuban Dissident Wilman Villar Mendoza

WASHINGTON – US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today released the following statement on the death yesterday of Cuban dissident Wilman Villar Mendoza:

“The death yesterday evening of 31-year old Cuban dissident Wilman Villar Mendoza is a tragic reminder of relentless oppression of the Castro dictatorship, but also of the dedication and commitment of Cuba’s growing dissident community to call the world’s attention to their plight. Mr. Mendoza’s 50-day hunger-strike followed his November 4, 2011 arrest and sentencing to four years in prison for staging a peaceful demonstration against the regime.

Like Orlando Zapata Tamayo who died in 2010 following a 80-day hunger strike to protest the beatings and arbitrary sentence imposed on him, Mendoza hoped that his sacrifice would alight the fire of the international community to the cause of democracy in Cuba, to the suffering of the Cuban people, and to the dreams of ordinary Cubans to live in a free and democratic society.

I urge the international community to condemn the regime that perpetrated Mendoza’s death; to use their voices to demand freedom for the Cuban people; and the power of their governments to insist on the release of all political prisoners and the cessation of violence and arbitrary arrests against peaceful demonstrators.

I honor Wilman Villar Mendoza’s commitment to the cause of democracy and freedom in Cuba. Today, my thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Maritza Pelegrino Cabrales, a member of the Ladies in White, and his children."

Ros-Lehtinen on the Death of Wilman Villar

Ros-Lehtinen Mourns Death of Cuban Democracy Advocate Wilman Villar, Challenges Nations to Call for End to Cuban Tyranny

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released the following statement after learning of the death of Cuban democracy advocate Wilman Villar:

Wilman's death is yet another tragic reminder of the fundamentally evil and brutal nature of the Castro regime, which does not care at all about the well-being of the Cuban people or takes responsibility for its abysmal human rights record.

How many more tragic deaths must occur until the international community wakes up from its comfortable slumber and demands an end of the Castro dictatorship and helps the Cuban people to usher in a new era of freedom, democracy and human rights for their homeland?

As another Cuban patriot loses his life trying to bring attention to the desperate plight of the oppressed Cuban people, we are reminded that we must stand in solidarity with the pro-democracy activists who are yearning for liberty and justice.”

Rubio on the Death of Wilman Villar

Senator Rubio Comments on the Death of Cuban Political Prisoner Wilman Villar Mendoza

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Marco Rubio issued the following statement today following the death of Cuban political prisoner Wilman Villar Mendoza, who was arrested in November 2011 for holding a peaceful demonstration and sentenced to four years in prison. He died yesterday after a 56-day hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment:

"I join the Cuban people in mourning the death of Wilman Villar Mendoza, and I offer my condolences and prayers to his wife and children. The Cuban regime is a callous band of murderers that once again has blood on its hands for unjustly imprisoning this man and allowing him to die from a hunger strike.

Once again, we are reminded of the unintended but negative consequences of this administration's loosened travel and remittance policies. They help deliver more hard currency to the Castro regime, making it easier for them to brutalize and even murder the Cuban people."

Diaz-Balart on the Death of Wilman Villar

Diaz-Balart: The results of Castro’s reforms

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) released the following in response to the death of Cuba’s courageous heroes, Wilman Villar Mendoza. Diaz-Balart comments:

"Today, we mourn the loss of another one of Cuba's courageous heroes, Wilman Villar Mendoza, who died at the hands of the ruthless Castro regime.

Villar Mendoza, part of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, ultimately lost his life for daring to protest the Castro regime's increased repression. After his arrest on November 14, 2011, Villar Mendoza began a hunger strike that lasted more than 50 days. While in a coma, dying of pneumonia in the Juan Bruno Zayas hospital in Santiago, the Castro regime reportedly locked down the hospital to prevent supporters from visiting him and his family until he died.

The Castro regime once again has revealed its true nature and has precious, innocent blood on its hands. It has not yet been two years since the regime murdered another hero, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, for similarly expressing his opposition to repression. These deaths are the results of Castro’s reforms.

Soon, Cuba's real criminals will have to account for these crimes. Until then, President Obama must cease rewarding the regime's human rights abuses with unilateral concessions in the form of eased sanctions that channel hard currency to Castro's thugs. It is shameful that this administration has chosen to assist the Cuban people's oppressors in the face of such relentless, unabashed brutality. When the dictatorship finally fades to a grim aberration in Cuban history -- as it inevitably will -- the Cuban people will remember their friends. Sadly, the current administration is not a friend to the long-suffering Cuban people when it appeases and assists their abusers. Mr. President, the Cuban people deserve better.

My prayers are with Wilman Villar Mendoza, his wife Maritza Pelegrino Cabrales, his young children, and the brave activists that have suffered unspeakable brutality for expressing their solidarity with them. Villar Mendoza forever will be a blessing to the Cuban people in their struggle against tyranny, and we must never forget his sacrifice. God bless his soul.”

Rivera on the Death of Wilman Villar

Congressman Rivera: Wilman Villar Mendoza’s Blood is on the Hands of the Castro Regime

Washington, DC - Congressman David Rivera (FL-25) released the following statement after learning of the death of Cuban political prisoner Wilman Villar Mendoza. The 31 year-old had been on a hunger strike since November protesting his imprisonment by the Castro regime.

“Wilman Villar Mendoza is the latest victim of the Castro regime’s brutal repression. In the eyes of Fidel and Raul Castro, Mr. Villar’s crime was his participation in a peaceful protest. His pacifist opposition to a murderous dictatorship ultimately cost him his life, and he shall be remembered as a hero in the fight for a free and democratic Cuba.

Throughout the more than 50 year reign of the Castro dictatorship, suspicious and untimely deaths of healthy opposition leaders are not unheard of. Now, as the Castro regime attempts to pull the wool over the world’s eyes by releasing non-political prisoners and continuing to imprison and punish those who criticize their oppressive practices, Mr. Villar’s blood is on their hands.”

Cuban Hunger Striker Died Last Night

Thursday, January 19, 2012
This morning, we (once again) warned of the imminent death of 31-year old Cuban political prisoner Wilman Villar Mendoza, who was arrested for staging a peaceful demonstration on November 14, 2011, and sentenced to four years in prison.

Last night, he died pursuant to a 50-day hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment.

Sadly, foreign news bureaus in Havana did not bother reporting on his plight.

Now, it's too late.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Maritza Pelegrino Cabrales, a member of the Ladies in White, and his children.

Romney: Obama Has Failed on Chavez

Mitt Romney: "President Obama Has Failed to Respond With Resolve to Hugo Chavez"

Boston, MA – Mitt Romney today made the following statement on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:

“The new year is young, but Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has wasted no time in continuing his string of outrageous and embarrassing actions. His consul general was expelled from Miami after she was discovered to have plotted cyber-attacks on U.S. nuclear facilities. In response, he disenfranchised thousands of expatriate Venezuelans who oppose him by ordering the closure of the Miami consulate. He hosted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Caracas, and then went to Nicaragua to celebrate the inauguration of Nicaragua's unconstitutional president, Daniel Ortega. He named as his defense minister a recognized drug kingpin. Unfortunately, Chavez is beyond embarrassment. As Chavez deepens relations with the world's most despotic and dangerous regimes, President Obama has failed to respond with resolve. The United States must strengthen ties with our partners in Latin America, shed light on the ills of Chavez's regime and his anti-American allies, and vigorously support political and economic freedom in the region. As president, I will do that.”

Who Cares About Wilman Villar Mendoza?

On the morning of February 23rd, 2010, we wrote a post entitled, "Who Cares About Orlando Zapata Tamayo?," which read:

Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo is reportedly in a coma due to the 80-day hunger strike he undertook to protest the beatings and arbitrary sentences imposed on him by the Castro regime (adding up to 47 years).

Yet, by reading the latest reports out of Havana-based foreign news bureaus, this tragedy is apparently not as newsworthy as the Castro regime's drop in cigar sales, which has gotten extensive coverage this week.

Tragically, Zapata Tamayo died later that afternoon.

History seems to be repeating itself.

A new prisoner of conscience, Wilman Villar Mendoza, who was arrested for staging a peaceful demonstration on November 14, 2011, and sentenced to four years in prison, is currently in a coma pursuant to a 50-day hunger strike.

Yet, for the past week, Havana-based foreign news bureaus haven't bothered to take a break from covering Raul's "reforms."

By the time they decide it's "newsworthy," Castro's dictatorship may have taken the life of another victim.

Here's a picture of Wilman before his arrest:

Cuba Ranks 177 of 179 in Economic Freedom

Despite the rave reviews by Cuba "experts" and Havana news bureaus about Castro's "reforms," Cuba continues to rank third-to-last in the world in economic freedom.

Impressive, huh?

According to the recently released 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, Cuba ranks 177 out of 179 countries in the world.

Only Zimbabwe and North Korea are considered less free in economic terms, which are supposed to be the core of Castro's "reforms."

To be fair, Cuba's overall score has improved by 0.6 from last year.

At this rate, the Castro regime might surpass Iran or the Democratic Republic of Congo in five to ten years.

For over a decade, The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation have tracked the march of economic freedom around the world with the influential Index of Economic Freedom.

The Index covers 10 freedoms – from property rights to entrepreneurship – in 179 countries.

A Fair Assessment of "Reforms"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Foreign Policy magazine has published "The Top 10 Trends in Global Freedom."

Here's #5:

Glimmers of hope for the most repressed. Myanmar, which has for years ranked alongside North Korea as one of the world's most closed societies, is experiencing what might evolve into a major political opening. The new government of President Thein Sein has permitted more public discussion, tolerated a measure of press commentary, freed longtime opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and cleared the path for her party's participation in elections. Cuba, also one of the world's most repressive countries, experienced a small improvement with the limited reduction of economic restrictions by the government of Raúl Castro. Unlike in Myanmar, however, Cuba underwent no political liberalization.

We made a similar point earlier this week.

Tune In to "From Washington Al Mundo"

National Latino Broadcasting Announces First-of-its-Kind Political Programming from Washington DC Targeting US Hispanics

Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio and En Vivo to Include National Coverage of 2012 Election

National Latino Broadcasting LLC (NLB) announced today the roll-out of cutting-edge programming examining current political issues on Cristina Radio and En Vivo, its channels on SiriusXM targeting US Hispanics. NLB has made a commitment to provide extensive and insightful coverage of the 2012 elections from SiriusXM's Washington DC-based studio, where daily original content will be created. The media entity will also broadcast from its Miami headquarters and has established correspondents in major cities across the country with strong Hispanic presence.

"NLB's political programming offers a unique bicultural and bipartisan perspective on American politics and Latino voters, our country's fastest growing electorate. The first of its kind approach provides listeners real insight on the issues impacting the Latino vote through the lens of some of the nation's top Hispanic political strategists," said Nelson Albareda, President and CEO of NLB.

Both En Vivo and Cristina Radio will air political segments and provide election coverage across their entire programming grid, as well as offer listeners specialized shows with live feeds from Washington DC.

Cristina Radio will air From Washington al Mundo, bringing information from the nation's capital on current events in foreign policy. Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Capitol Hill insider, political advocate, and one of the nation's most widely-respected foreign policy commentators, will share his expertise on a broad range of international, political and economic affairs. From Washington al Mundo features interviews and discussions with national and international leaders, policy experts and opinion-makers and airs Mondays and Wednesdays at 4:00 pm ET. Premiering this week, Claver-Carone's special guest is U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Republican Congresswoman from Florida.

Also on Cristina Radio, a new generation of political commentators from opposite sides of the aisle will face off in Power Play. Two fresh voices on the political scene, Republican Bettina Inclan and Democrat Alicia Menendez, serve up a savvy combination of politics, pop culture and social issues with a Latino twist. By sharing their unique perspectives as young Latina political strategists in the world of campaigns and elections, they provide listeners insider access to the 2012 elections and beyond. In addition, Power Play will cover the Republican primaries including broadcasting from some of the key races. A new program airs every Tuesday and Thursday at 4 pm/ET.

En Vivo will air the segments providing insight into the world of politics and election coverage on its morning show, Tu Manana Live, on SiriusXM channel 147 at 6 am/ET.

Cristina Radio, which airs on SiriusXM channel 146, launched last Thursday, January 12th. The channel has been built around media mogul and talk show icon Cristina Saralegui who signed an exclusive radio contract with NLB in May 2011 and is making her satellite radio debut. NLB's other channel, En Vivo, airing on SiriusXM channel 147, is an innovative music channel offering exclusive Latin GRAMMY® related content, also hit the airwaves last Thursday.

In April 2011, NLB was selected by Sirius XM Radio to lease two channels on a long-term basis to air on each of the Sirius and XM satellite radio platforms. It offers listeners a wide array of 24/7 programming on a variety of subjects that include news, entertainment, music, and political issues.

About Mauricio Claver-Carone

Attorney, Washington insider, political power-player, Mauricio Claver-Carone brings over a decade of experience in academia, Capitol Hill, and the Executive Branch. He is one of the country's most respected foreign policy commentators.

About Bettina Inclan

A highly sought-after communications and political strategist, who served prominent roles in both the California and Florida gubernatorial races, where she helped Florida Governor Rick Scott win the majority of the Hispanic vote. Recognized as one of the leading experts in reaching Latino voters, she now serves as the Director of Hispanic Outreach for the Republican National Committee and has previously served as the Executive Director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

About Alicia Menendez

Well-known speaker, writer and television commentator. From Rock the Vote to Democracia USA, her work focuses on engaging more women, Latinos and young people in the electoral process. She is the co-founder of DailyGrito, a top website featuring a Latino take on politics; and DefineAmerican, a non-profit organization dedicated to elevating the national conversation around immigration.

About National Latino Broadcasting, LLC.

National Latino Broadcasting, LLC. (NLB) is a media company focused on serving Latino communities across the United States through the development of compelling entertainment content. NLB's multi-platform distribution channels allow the company to deliver entertaining and informative programming while creating innovative marketing solutions for marketers seeking to engage Latino consumers. The company's flagship media properties include two satellite radio channels on Sirius XM Radio.

For more information on NLB, visit www.NLBlive.com .

About Sirius XM Radio

Sirius XM Radio is America's satellite radio company. SiriusXM broadcasts more than 135 satellite radio channels of commercial-free music, and premier sports, news, talk, entertainment, traffic, weather, and data services to over 21 million subscribers. SiriusXM offers an array of content from many of the biggest names in entertainment, as well as from professional sports leagues, major colleges, and national news and talk providers.

SiriusXM programming is available on more than 800 devices, including pre-installed and after-market radios in cars, trucks, boats and aircraft, smartphones and mobile devices, and consumer electronics products for homes and offices. SiriusXM programming is also available at siriusxm.com, and on Apple, BlackBerry and Android-powered mobile devices.

Castro Regime Murders (Another) Gay Cuban

Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The AP has just reported:

Cuba's first daughter says island lawmakers will consider legalizing same-sex civil unions this year.

Mariela Castro is the daughter of President Raul Castro and a prominent gay rights activist. She says a preliminary proposal to modify the country's Family Code is undergoing legal study and is on the legislative schedule for 2012.

Many gays and transsexuals suffered persecution during the early years after the 1959 revolution, but attitudes have become more tolerant.

Doesn't that sound nice?

Here's what the AP (and Mariela) conveniently left out:

Just yesterday -- that's right, yesterday -- an 18 year-old transvestite, Leidel Luis (knows as Jessica), was beaten to death by the Castro regime at the Guaimaro police station in Camaguey.

According to independent journalists, the young man was intercepted at a traffic stop and randomly detained by the authorities, who called him a "black, disgusting faggot," then beat him to death.

Is this the "more tolerant attitude" the AP is referring to?

Hate and intolerance in Cuba begins at the very top.

Are Burma's Reforms Comparable to Castro's?

Last Friday, the Obama Administration took steps to normalize diplomatic relations with Burma.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the official announcement pursuant to perceived progress by the Burmese regime in its "stated commitment to political reform."

Considering that these reforms have yet to be institutionalized and that the Burmese regime has reneged on past commitments, we believe this measure may be premature.

Yet, predictably, Cuba "experts" are already lobbying the Obama Administration to take similar steps towards Cuba pursuant to Castro's "reforms."

But -- are Burma's reforms comparable to Castro's?

The answer is absolutely not.

Take a look at the Burmese reforms in question:

The Burmese military regime has stepped aside in favor of a civilian government; permitted opposition parties to register for upcoming parliamentary elections; released opposition leader Aung Sun Kyi from house arrest and directly engaged her in a dialogue; legalized independent labor unions and strikes; authorized the creation of an independent National Human Rights Commission; relaxed press and internet censorship laws; released most political prisoners; and most importantly, stopped arresting new ones.

In contrast, Raul Castro's military dictatorship remains completely in tact, political reforms are completely off the table, repression is at its highest levels in 30 years and political arrests have nearly tripled since 2010.

The fact is Castro's "reforms" are limited to a handful of desperate economic measures, mostly recycled from the 1990's, which amount to an "old scam."

If anything, the comparison shows just how brutal, recalcitrant and backward Castro's military dictatorship remains.

The Tragic Case of Wilman Villar

Monday, January 16, 2012
From The Miami Herald:

Jailed Cuban dissident reported near death

Wilman Villar is in a coma after hunger strike and contracting pneumonia

A Cuban political prisoner is in a coma and near death from pneumonia he picked up when he refused to wear a prison uniform and went on a hunger strike, his wife said Monday.

“The doctors told me his death is imminent, that the only thing that can save him is a miracle,” said Maritza Pelegrino, the wife of Wilman Villar, a 30-year-old dissident who was serving a four-year sentence.

He “is in a coma and dying with pneumonia, and breathing only with a machine,” she told El Nuevo Herald by phone from the Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

His case has drawn strong expressions of support from other dissidents and comparisons with Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who died Feb. 23, 2009, after a hunger strike of more than 80 days.

“If this brother dies, the dictatorship will be responsible, just as it was responsible for the death of Zapata Tamayo,” said Jose Daniel Ferrer García, a leader of the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union.

Pelegrino and Ferrer said Villar joined the Union in October and was arrested Nov. 14 during a violent police crackdown on a group of dissidents in his hometown of Contramaestre in Santiago province.

In a closed-door, one-day trial Nov. 24, he was sentenced to four years in prison for disobedience, resisting arrest and contempt and was sent to Aguadores prison near the city of Santiago, his wife said.

Villar launched a hunger strike the next day and refused to wear the prison uniform because he believed he had been railroaded, said Pelegrino, herself a member of the dissident Ladies in White group.

“He has always been healthy, but he stood his ground,” Pelegrino said.

Government officials told her Villar refused treatment during the hunger strike, such as intravenous feedings, she added.

Authorities offered to free Villar if she broke with the Ladies in White, even though he already was in bad health at that point, Pelegrino added. And when she refused, they threatened to take away their two young daughters, she said.

He was transferred to the Zayas Hospital in Santiago only when his health was critical on Jan. 14, added Pelegrino.

“If something happens to him, the only guilty ones are the state security police,” she said.

Pelegrino’s description of her husband’s case showed some parallels with the case of Zapata Tamayo, whose mother alleged that he started a hunger strike to protest a prison beating, was denied water for 18 days and then was rushed to a hospital when it was too late to save his life.

Ferrer, meanwhile, reported that 16 dissidents remained in police custody as of Monday following crackdowns on attempts by the Ladies in White and others to stage a demonstration at the Zayas hospital.

Urgent: Cuban Hunger Striker Near Death

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

-- Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

Cuban political prisoner, Wilman Villar Mendoza, 32, is in critical condition pursuant to a hunger strike that has now lasted more than 50 days.

He is currently unconscious and suffering from pneumonia. Doctors have informed the family that his death is imminent.

Villar Mendoza began the hunger strike in protest for his unjust incarceration. He was arrested for staging a peaceful demonstration on November 14, 2011, and sentenced to four years in prison.

His wife, Maritza Pelegrino Cabrales, is a member of the Ladies in White. Castro's secret police tried to bargain her husband’s release demanding that she stop being a member of the Ladies in White. When she refused, the agents also threatened to take her children away from her.

Please stand against this injustice.

Those Crazy Authoritarians

Sunday, January 15, 2012
By Rick Robinson in The Daily Caller:

Where do totalitarian leaders go for state visits these days?

That was the question recently faced by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And who could blame Ahmadinejad for wanting to get away from Tehran for a while? Sometimes after a tough week of developing nuclear weapons, planning the blockage of international shipping channels and condemning American tourists to death, a tyrannical leader just needs some time to be alone with his thoughts.

But where can despots go to get away from the daily grind of oppression and just hang out with like-minded kooks?

Why, Cuba, of course.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent his Latin American “solidarity” tour to Havana this week shortly after the United States toughened sanctions on his government. It was a whirlwind stop for the president. He dropped by the University of Havana and, after giving a speech denouncing capitalism and America, received an honorary doctorate.

Following his rousing address, “Dr.” Ahmadinejad visited with Fidel Castro for several hours and reportedly said, “It was a great motive of joy for me to find [Castro] sane and healthy” — a statement that makes you wonder who Ahmadinejad hangs out with back home in Tehran.

Imagine the two human rights abusers, lighting up cigars and knocking it back dictator-to-dictator, old-school style. Ahmadinejad probably started with a joke about how he denied the Holocaust. Castro responding by denying the number of Cubans he has killed since coming to power.

Those crazy authoritarians.

Sanctioned soul brothers

It is no coincidence that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad showed up in Havana days after being slapped with additional sanctions by the Obama administration. He went to Cuba for a reason.

Cuba has been dealing with American sanctions since the early 1960s. If you want to laugh in the face of American leaders, head to Cuba. Fidel Castro and his little brother Raul have been thumbing their collective nose at American leaders for a half-century.

Despite 50 years of American sanctions, the Castro boys have killed upwards of 18,000 political opponents. Another 7,000 dissidents have died in Cuban jails. As many as 50,000 Cubans have lost their lives trying to escape. Gay Cuban males have been routinely sent to concentration camps.

An American, Alan Gross, was held in jail for over a year without charges. His eventual conviction in a Cuban kangaroo court would be considered a miscarriage of justice in any country with even nominal respect for the rule of law. In Cuba, the Gross sham was simply business as usual.

This past December, when Raul Castro announced plans to release 3,000 prisoners from Cuban jails, Alan Gross’s name was not on the list.

Despite the continuing heinous conduct of the Castro brothers, the Obama administration cut ties between the American Interest Section in Havana and Cuban dissidents. Then President Obama loosened U.S. sanctions.

The response of the Cuban government … continued human tights violations and a state visit from Iran’s president.

If a world leader wants to flip the bird at America, they go to Cuba. The brothers Castro give lessons on how to do it.

Which country should change?

Yesterday, in a column for US News and World Report, Mort Zuckerman opined that it is time for the United States to change its policy towards Cuba and called for further weakening of economic sanctions. This is the same Mort Zuckerman who two years ago called for tougher sanctions on Ahmadinejad.

But it isn’t America’s policy that must change, it’s Cuba’s. Zuckerman’s description of Raul Castro as a reformer is a farce and insulting to anyone who cherishes freedom and liberty.

Last year, Cuba experienced its highest number of political arrests in three decades. Raul Castro releasing a portion of the political prisoners he sent to jail in the previous year can hardly be considered reform. It is simply a ruse Raul learned from his big brother Fidel, who released prisoners to appease President Jimmy Carter in 1978. After Carter eased sanctions, the arrests started anew.

Try explaining Raul Castro’s “reforms” to the Ladies in White, an opposition group made up of female relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents. Their peaceful marches and protests are routinely met by violence from Raul Castro’s thugs. According to recent reports, attacks against the Ladies in White have increased since the Obama administration weakened sanctions. An attack this month was committed by a pro-government mob sent to a remote section of Cuba on state-owned buses.

Painting Raul Castro as a reformer is like labeling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as pro-Israel.

If anyone is looking for a policy deserving of change, stand at the southernmost point in Key West, Florida and cast your gaze 90 miles south. An American policy demanding recognition of basic human rights and liberty trumps Fidel and Raul Castro’s policy of tyranny and repression every time.

Guantanamo of the New York Times

From The New York Sun's Editorial Board:

Guantanamo of the Times

The 10th anniversary of the Guantanamo detention center is being celebrated at the New York Times with an article suggesting that we could improve the human rights situation in respect of Guantanamo by giving it — wait for it — to the remnant Stalinist dictatorship of Fidel Castro. The author of this brainstorm, Jonathan Hansen, is a professor at Harvard. He sketches what he sees as a negative history of American relations with Cuba going back to the struggle for independence from Spain. He wants President Obama “to acknowledge this history and initiate the process of returning Guantánamo to Cuba.”

Well, wait just a minute. If the professor is going to talk about acknowledging history, let him start by acknowledging the role of the New York Times in this epic. We happen to be sensitive in respect of this point, for we fly the flag of the newspaper that flew — from its offices at 180 Broadway — the flag of Cuba Libre back when that movement was in full struggle against Spain. It was in The New York Sun’s newsroom that the exiled hero Jose Marti himself set up his own office, and the cause of Cuba Libre became the cause of The New York Sun. Where does the New York Times come off lecturing the rest of us in respect of freedom in Cuba?

Back in the day, the New York Times was full of derision for Jose Marti and the cause for which he stood — and fell. We have noted before that on June 1, 1895, after Marti died heroically in battle, the Times issued a dispatch from its special correspondent at Havana. The headline was “Impression of Marti’s Death.” It mocked him as the “so-called President of the Cuban Republic,” saying he’d prepared the revolution “in spite of the little aid which he could find in Cuba every time he had attempted to create a revolutionary movement.” It called him a “commonplace poet and writer, a prolix orator of diffuse style . . .” The separatists, it sneered,”lacking a chief having any prestige at all, gave him their money.”

The Times conceded that it would be “unjust to deny” that Marti “had remarkable tenacity, activity, and perseverance. Perhaps he was also a man of conviction, as his friends assure.” But it said that “he must be severely judged.” The paper complained: “To put into turbulence a country which asked for nothing but peace and work, to expose it to a ferocious race, thinking always of revenge against the whites, to light the fires of civil war, pillage under the pretext of ‘Cuba libre,’ and put obstacles in the way of reforms which had been demanded for years, are not acts that claim indulgence.” The Times went on to gripe about Marti: “To sustain the revolution he had recourse to all sorts of means: lies, false news, calumny.”

Given the New York Times’ own record, where does it come off lecturing the rest of the country about how “an unmistakable message that integrity, self-scrutiny and candor are not evidence of weakness, but indispensable attributes of leadership in an ever-changing world”? The truth is that the Times’ record on Cuba has been a disgrace at every turn, from its coverage of Jose Marti through the correspondence of Herbert Matthews, whose coverage of Castro’s rise led to the National Review’s famous jibe about the dictator, “I got my job through the New York Times.” The long record of Cuba will show that even though it has had far more than any nation’s fair share of injustice, the worst injustice of them all was that perpetrated by the Stalinist dictatorship of Fidel Castro. Why in the world would anyone want to give anything back to a regime that is still under the grip of his communist party?

Stop the Appeasement

By Ray Walser and Jessica Zuckerman in The Foundry:

“Ladies in White” and Obama’s Failed Policy of Cuban Appeasement

They call themselves “las Damas de Blanco” (“the Ladies in White”). They are a prominent group of courageous Cuban women, many of them wives of political prisoners. They have fought not just for the rights of the unjustly imprisoned but for the rights of all the Cuban people to have a voice in the way their country is governed.

Their tactics are entirely peaceful: They take to the streets of Havana and Santiago de Cuba each Sunday and silently march in protest against human rights violations of the Castro regime and the harassment and jailing of Cuban activists and dissidents. Dressed in white and holding red gladiolas flowers, the Ladies in White are enduring symbols of the acute toll of Cuban political oppression.

In July 2010, following the sacrifices of prisoners of conscience, such as hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo (d. February 23, 2010), the Ladies in White achieved their first major victory. In a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish government, 52 activists jailed since 2003 were released, among them the husband of Ladies in White founder Laura Pollan.

But the summer also brought an escalation of attacks against the Ladies in White by Castro thugs and state security goons as the women once again became victims of brutal beatings and attacks at the hands of the regime.

In October, the Ladies in White suffered another blow when Pollan died of a heart attack at the age of 63. Pollan’s leadership in the fight for Cuban freedom was extraordinary. For her determination, she was posthumously awarded the National Endowment for Democracy’s Human Rights Award.

The repression and violence experienced by the Ladies in White is, unfortunately, not unusual. Just this week, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation announced that a record 786 political arrests occurred in Cuba last month. While many are of a short-term nature, they are designed to promote fear and intimidation. These arrests brought the 2011 total to 4,123, compared with 2,074 in 2010.

Yet all too often the media and Obama Administration overlook this continuing wave of repression in Cuba. This inaction, at least on the part of the Administration, is a manifestation of Obama’s flawed foreign policy of engaging with U.S. adversaries such as Iran, Venezuela and Cuba.

Thankfully, some in the U.S. Senate are not inclined to ignore the day-to-day struggle for freedom in Cuba, Most recently, Senators Marco Rubio (R–FL) and Robert Menendez (D–NJ) called for the release of Ladies in White member Ivonne Malleza and activist Isabel Hayde Alvarez Mosqueda.

This is a just demand that the Obama Administration has yet to endorse but is needed to underscore the precarious human rights situation in Cuba.