Miami-Dade Should Support Cuba's Dissidents

Saturday, February 11, 2012
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Miami Herald:

Support Cuba’s dissidents, Commissioners

Among Cubans and Cuban Americans, a number of foreign companies have earned a place in the “hall of infamy” for their outright complicity with the Castro dictatorship. These include Spain’s Sol-Melia hotel chain and Canada’s Sherritt mining company for profiting from long years of the Castros’ apartheid brand of tourism and exploitation of Cuba’s natural resources.

However, Brazil’s Odebrecht construction conglomerate is now placing itself in a reprehensible class of its own. Foreign companies that seek to do business in Cuba generally recognize they must choose either to profit from the monopoly of the Castro dictatorship or from Cuban Americans in Florida’s free market.

In the 1990s, Sol-Melia and Sherritt shamefully chose the Castro dictatorship, giving up opportunities in Florida. Odebrecht feels it is duly entitled to both.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff traveled to Cuba last week to promote the company’s business arrangements with the Castros’ dictatorship. These include enlarging the Port of Mariel, which Raúl Castro considers the single most important project to ensure the economic survival of his regime, and a new 10-year agreement to revitalize the island’s moribund sugar industry. During her trip, Rousseff made a point of shunning Cuban dissidents and even refused opportunities to criticize the Castros’ human-rights record.

Meanwhile, a couple hundred miles to the north, for more than a decade Odebrecht has been seducing Miami-Dade County commissioners, taking in more than $4.8 billion in taxpayer dollars — much of it from Cuban-American victims of its business partners in Havana.

The company has been awarded contracts on projects ranging from the seemingly interminable reconstruction of Miami International Airport, to building the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Art and a no-bid contract to build Florida International University’s stadium — complete with an Odebrecht skybox.

Its seduction has been so effective that Miami-Dade County commissioners jumped through legal hoops last year to give Odebrecht a $57 million contract to strengthen the cargo wharves of the Port of Miami. Commissioners sought to justify the contract by asserting Odebrecht was the lowest bidder. But it wasn’t.

The lowest bidder was actually a U.S. company — American Bridge Company. It didn’t get the contract because of a “local preference” that favored Odebrecht despite the extra expense. How could that be?

Only in Miami-Dade County can a Brazilian company be given preferential treatment (at extra cost to taxpayers) over a U.S. company. It was an award that fuels suspicion and feeds nasty stereotypes. This charade has gone on long enough.

Rousseff, in support of Odebrecht, didn’t hesitate to shun Cuban dissidents seeking political and economic reform. The time has come for Miami-Dade County commissioners — a majority are Cuban-American — to shun Odebrecht in support of those dissidents. As they do so they may find they’re also helping U.S. companies.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, director, U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, Washington, D.C.

Castro Looks to Triple Repression (Again)

Friday, February 10, 2012
The Castro regime conducted 631 known political arrests in the month of January 2012, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights.

In January 2011, there were 268 known political arrests.

Thus, in a continuously growing trend of repression against pro-democracy activists, the Castro regime looks to (once again) triple political arrests in 2012 -- as it already did in 2011.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Press Watchdog Criticizes Rousseff's Silence

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Rousseff quiet as Cuban blogger denied travel to Brazil

The response from Cuban officials did not take anyone by surprise. Prominent Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez had been, once again, denied permission to leave her country after she was granted a visa by the Brazilian Embassy in January to attend a film festival. "I feel like a hostage kidnapped by someone who doesn't listen nor provide explanations. A government with a ski mask and a gun in a holster," tweeted Sánchez on Friday after the Cuban government denied her request to travel to Brazil. It was, according to the blogger, the 19th time Cuban officials have turned down her request to leave the island. As in the past, officials gave no reason for the rejection.

Brazilian filmmaker Dado Galvao announced Tuesday that he was postponing the premiere of the documentary "Connection Cuba-Honduras," a movie about press freedom in both countries, in solidarity with the Cuban blogger, who participated in the film. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who visited Cuba last week and declined to meet with Sánchez or any dissidents, spoke to reporters before Cuba denied the blogger permission to leave the country. "Brazil gave the visa to the blogger. The rest is not a matter for the Brazilian government," Rousseff said at the time.

Sánchez's work is well known outside Cuba. She has received several international awards, including Columbia's University's Maria Moors Cabot Award for excellence in Latin American reporting, and she blogs regularly for the U.S.-based Huffington Post. Sánchez also gained a measure of fame when President Barack Obama responded to a written questionnaire she sent to the White House in November 2009.

Sánchez has not only been denied permission to travel abroad but has suffered official harassment for her work. In early November 2009, Sánchez and two other independent Cuban bloggers were detained, harassed, and assaulted by state security agents on their way to a peaceful march in Havana. Sánchez has also been the victim of smear campaigns in Cuba's state media, which have described her as a "cybermercenary" at the service of foreign governments.

A vibrant and enthusiastic independent blogging community has emerged in Cuba in the past few years, according to CPJ research. The bloggers, who face severe legal, economic, and technological limitations, are mostly young and from a variety of professions. They critically examine the issues that Cubans face daily: food shortages, health care, education, housing problems, and the lack of Internet access, a 2009 CPJ special report found.

Free press advocates and Cuban journalists point to Sánchez as a pioneer in this evolving community. Sánchez, who started blogging in April 2007, was the first to write under her own byline. Her blog, Generación Y, and several other Cuban blogs are hosted by the German-based portal Desde Cuba (From Cuba), a place where, as its introduction says, "citizen journalists" can offer "opinions that don't have room in official Cuban outlets or any other publication that is conditioned by political requirements."

Rousseff's first visit to Cuba as president had raised expectations among some independent reporters, bloggers, and political dissidents that she would speak about human rights on the island. But the Brazilian leader stayed away from the topic, sticking instead to the trip's key mission of developing trade and boosting Cuba's economy. Sánchez wrote a blog entry prior to her visit, in which she expressed hope that Rousseff's behavior would be "consistent with the clamor for democracy, instead of opting for a complicit silence before a dictatorship." But Rousseff's visit learly showed that Latin American leaders are still reluctant to address Cuba's grave human rights violations when they travel there.

Remarks at CPAC

Thursday, February 9, 2012
Introductory remarks at today's CPAC Cuba panel by Mauricio Claver-Carone:

Ironically, as American democracy was being attacked by foreign terrorists on September 11th 2001 -- on that very same day -- 34 out of 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere were signing the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Lima, Peru, which affirmed representative democracy as the pre-eminent value in inter-American relations.

The one exception, of course, was Castro's Cuba. At the time, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez was still pretending to be a democrat -- as Castro had done four decades before him.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter was no small feat in a region that just a decade before was plagued by military dictatorships of the left and the right.

Today, ten years after the signing of this Charter, democracy in the Americas is once again under assault -- this time almost exclusively from the left.

Led ideologically by the Castro brothers and economically by Hugo Chavez, today there is a coalition of socialist governments, which include Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, which are using electoral victories to subvert democratic institutions and fundamental rights once they obtain power.

Upon taking office, the Obama Administration's policy was to befriend -- "extend a hand" -- to Castro and Chavez. This policy seems to have only emboldened their behavior. On the flip side, the Administration has been slow to embrace our strongest democratic allies in the region, as evidenced by the three year delay in approving trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. This has created weariness among our friends.

In addition to a threat to democracy, there is now a national security threat brewing, as the Castro-Chavez coalition has strengthened it ties to other rogue regimes, namely Iran. Just last month, a conspiracy was uncovered -- concerningly, by the media and not by the Administration -- in which Cuban, Venezuelan and Iranian intelligence officials planned to launch cyber-attacks against sensitive US targets. This led to the expulsion of Venezuela's Consul General in Miami, who formed part of this conspiracy.

There's also renewed ties to organized crime. In the same manner as senior Cuban regime officials were accused -- and even indicted -- for trafficking narcotics into the U.S. during the 80s and 90s, Venezuela's new Minister of Defense, General Rangel Silva, is on the Treasury Department's sanctioned persons list for such activities.

On a positive note, during the Republican Presidential debates, two candidates (Governor Romney and Senator Santorum) recognized the Castro-Chavez ties to Iran, terrorism and organized crime as the potential 3 a.m. call of the next Presidency.

Thus, the problems are evident -- at least for those that are paying attention. So what are the solutions? That's the purpose of our discussion here today.

Encouraging Anti-American Autocrats

From CPAC 2012:

Obama’s Policies Encourage Anti-American Left in South America

The anti-American alliance of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez is an important issue that gets “too little attention,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, Executive Director, Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, leading the panel “From Fidel to Chavez: How Do We Stop the Resurgence of Socialism in Latin America.”

“Ten years after Inter-American Charter” Claver-Carone said, “Democracy in Latin America is in peril almost exclusively by the Left led by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.”

Obama’s policy of befriending Cuba and Venezuela has only emboldened their anti-American socialism and the threat to U.S. National Security, he said. He noted the recent cyber attacks which Iran, Cuba and Venezuela launched against the United States.

Congressman David Rivera, R-Florida, hoped that more Americans and the next president would pay more attention to the march of Castro-Chavez anti-Americanism.

“The United States is not paying enough attention to Latin America,” Rivera said. “Looking at Castro and Chavez’s rhetoric, it is always anti-American, their justification for anti-democratic policies is through the prism of anti-Americanism.”

Rivera listed several ways to counter Castro and Chavez: Promote more bilateral and mulitateral trade agreements, relieve the burdensome consular regulations on issuing visas to Latin American businessmen, and support non-governmental organizations in Latin American countries that promote human rights, education and a civil society. “We want Latin American economies to develop” Rivera said because it is not just mutually beneficial for both economies but also it helps stem the anti-American message Castro and Chavez foment throughout the region.

Otto Reich, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, said more Americans should care about the spread of socialism in Latin America because it is not European-style socialism but, rather, a more pernicious Marxist style of socialism.

“Latin America is the soft underbelly of the United States,” Reich said, noting the dangers of human trafficking, drug smuggling and terrorism. Chavez named a Treasury Department-designated drug kingpin as his minister of defense.

“It is in the interest of the United States to live in a peaceful prosperous hemisphere,” Reich said. “We can’t project our values in the Middle East if our own neighborhood is in turmoil.”

Reich spoke of how Chavez opened the door of the hemisphere to Iran and supported Marxist guerillas throughout the region. “I’m concerned about the covert actions and alliance between Iran and Chavez,” he said. Iran recently sent its defense minister to set up a military training center in Ecuador.

Reich said it is time top stop subsidizing Chavez through oil purchases.

In the Q&A session Rivera returned to his argument for supporting NGOs and forming partnerships with the opposition groups on the ground in Venezuela.

Asked what happens after the Castro brothers die, Rivera said “It would be very difficult for someone who doesn’t have the Castro cult of personality to keep the regime intact. Everything changes.”

The "Usefulness" of Barbara Walters

To brutal dictators, of course.

From Politico:

Syrian emails cite Barbara Walters

A group of hackers reportedly leaked hundreds of emails from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s office this week, one of which revealed that in preparation for Assad’s interview with Barbara Walters last year, aides to the president were advised to remind him that the "American psyche can be easily manipulated."

Assad and his advisors apparently learned this lesson from Walters' multiple interviews [and crooning] with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez over the years.

Hopefully, this also serves as a lesson [or at least a conscience call] for foreign news bureaus in Havana.

Cuba Panel at CPAC 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Thursday, February 9th, 2011
Marshall Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, D.C.

12:00 pm - From Fidel to Chavez: How Do We Stop the Resurgence of Socialism in Latin America

- The Honorable Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), United States Representative
- The Honorable Otto Reich, President, Otto Reich Associates, LLC, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Former United States Ambassador to Venezuela
- The Honorable David Rivera (R-FL), United States Representative

Moderator: Mauricio Claver-Carone, Executive Director, Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy

About the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)

Taking place in Washington, DC each year, CPAC brings together nearly 10,000 attendees and all of the leading conservative organizations and speakers who impact conservative thought in the nation. Regularly seen on C-SPAN and other national news networks, CPAC has been the premiere event for any major elected official or public personality seeking to discuss issues of the day with conservatives. From Presidents of the United States to college student leaders, CPAC has become the place to find our nation's current and future leaders.

See the complete agenda here.

"People-to-People" in a Police State

By Emilio T. Gonzalez in Univision:

Illusions of Cuba clash with reality

The Castro brothers are as bad as ever, but some U.S. politicians and government institutions want to give them a free pass.

Of the four remaining Republican presidential candidates, Ron Paul’s foreign policy views really stand out. His libertarian “we love everybody” mentality is naïve at best and dangerous at worst. His Cuba policy is a perfect example.

Rep. Paul easily dismisses serious threats posed by Cuba’s communist dictatorship, which just hosted a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“It’s time to change. The Cold War is over. They’re not going to invade us and I just think that a better relationship and trade relationship,” he said at a recent presidential debate in Florida. “I think the people have changed their mind … I don’t think they see a Jihadist under the bed every night.”

Sadly, he is not alone.

A few weeks ago I received invitations to travel to Cuba by two venerable institutions; the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian Institution. Both offered friendly “People-to-People” tours in accordance with U.S. Department of the Treasury regulations. One tour even offered to take their participants to the site of the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Relations was outraged and rightfully condemned these trips. Chairman Daniel Lungren (R-Calif.) of the House Committee on Administration promised an investigation to find out why the Smithsonian Institution, a tax-payer funded organization, would schedule tours of a country listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the Department of State.

But my dilemma clearly served to highlight that after 50-plus years of dictatorial rule in Cuba, some of our more prestigious institutions and politicians continue to see Cuba as something it’s not.

There is nothing that can be said about the Castro dictatorship that they cannot explain away or ignore outright. Somehow, when it comes to Cuba, normal rational and well-educated people tend to give this particular dictatorship a pass. People who are otherwise horrified at what the Kim’s totalitarian rule has done to North Korea or how China has ravaged and occupied Tibet, think that it is trendy to be seen in Castro’s Cuba.

The saddest part about all of this is that few nations in the past 50 years have been as virulently anti-U.S. and anti-democracy as Cuba. The gerontocracy ruling the island today is, with few exceptions, the same people that came to power in January 1959. This is the same government that:

- Trafficked drugs into the United States.
- Imprisons, executes, and exiles political opponents; real or perceived.
- Does not allow independent trade unions, education, or political parties.
- Forced LGBT people, priests, and other “anti-social” elements into concentration camp-style work brigades.
- Harasses and physically attacks the “Ladies in White” and other peaceful pro-human rights advocates.
- Prostitutes its women and young girls to tourists for foreign exchange.
- Harbors cop-killers from the United States as well as IRA and Basque terrorists.
- Support nations that export terrorism throughout the world.

This could be a very long list. Cuba’s allies are any and all anti-U.S. regimes found around the world, in addition to a few Democratic congressmen in Washington D.C. So, in spite of the mountains of evidence showing that the Castro brothers oversee an undemocratic regime that subjugates, kills, prostitutes, and starves its people, why would anyone think that Cuba is worthy of an excursion? Did they really think that they could conduct real “people-to-people” exchanges in a police state?

Given the circumstances, I have to assume that the Smithsonian and National Geographic Society are also planning tours of other outlaw nations to include North Korea, Myanmar and Iran. Perhaps a lunch on women’s issues with the Taliban or workshops on religious tolerance with al Qaeda are in order. Why not? They hate democracy just as much as Fidel and Raul Castro. Shouldn’t they be worthy of such eminent exposure?

These attempts at making totalitarianism acceptable makes the sponsors look silly; stupid if you will. The organizers of these trips embarrassed themselves by wanting to appear chic by following the latest travel trends.

I’m sure that the Castro brothers are laughing at them right now for being so gullible.

Emilio T. Gonzalez is a Republican business consultant and a commentator for Univision. He served as Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council in the George W. Bush White House and later served as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Fallacy of the Broken Window

By Ernesto Hernandez Busto in Penultimos Dias:

One of the collateral effects of the Raúl Castro regime and its program of economic reforms, is the passion for self-deception it arouses on the other side of the Florida Straits. I recently watched a speech by Carlos Saladrigas and asked myself is there is no one capable of telling this gentleman that his enthusiasm for the Cuban “opportunity” is nothing more than a nostalgic mirage disguised as common sense.

The mirage takes on mutant forms, and the most recurrent in recent months seems to be the argument of money as a liberator. That is, in my judgment, a metamorphosis of the famous Fallacy of the Broken Window, so well explained in “conservative” thought. Let’s see: it all starts with a catastrophe or an act of destruction. In this we see (a posteriori) a future economic benefit. The neighbors who get together to discuss the baker’s broken window look a lot like the lobby that today defends the Cuban crisis as a business opportunity. If you think about it — they assure many entrepreneurs — perhaps the current Cuban disaster isn’t such a bad thing. Because it means that everything needs to be done, that free enterprise is about to substitute for the role of the political authority, and that as a part of this process of state capitalism, Cubans will be able to get dollars, and even spend them, which satisfies those advocates of the perfect investment, for whom the greatest possible freedom is the freedom to invest.

The initial act of thuggery — that is the Cuban Revolution — now begins to be seen as a stimulus to the economy, and self-employment as equal to “job creation,” protocapitalism, “the right path,” etc. All this semi-pragmatic opining, ostentatious or discrete, is nothing more than judging the dismal situation of the island from a moral perspective, instantaneously effective, cheap and abstract. As with the baker in the video, who might well have spent the money on something better than repairing the window broken by the thug, Cuba might better have passed through its own rightful course of history, rather than through the trauma of Castro socialism: more income to spend on goods and services, a decent standard of living, something real to be proud of. To defend the Cuban “opportunity” from the perspective of capitalism-to-come is a logical aberration, because at this point Cubans would not be thinking about starting over but about investing in the world with the capital they have been denied by the Castro regime over the last fifty years.

The hooligan Castro has cost the international community dearly, along with this same Cuban exile that now has to pay, with their remittances, for the “updating of the model” proclaimed by Raul Castro. The physical damage and ruin that these five decades have meant is one of the greatest destructions of wealth we can find in our hemisphere. And now, sated with Utopia, we risk making our debut during one of the worst hazings in capitalism, for the benefit it has given to the children of those who caused the bankruptcy — and three or four unscrupulous entrepreneurs who disguise greed as national salvation.

So when someone asks who is more free, a citizen of Haiti or one of Singapore, it’s a good idea to think hard about it, to discard the perspective of the tycoon who confuses short-term benefit with wealth, and to respond with the only truth inseparable from the facts: “neither of them.”

Spring is Unavoidable in Cuba

By European Parliament Member, Dr. Laima Andrikiene:

Cuban spring 'unavoidable' amid repression

The international community must act against the undemocratic Cuban regime as it increases its repression of dissidents, argues a member of the European Parliament's human rights subcommittee

Who is responsible for the death of the Cuban political prisoner Wilman Villar Mendoza on January 19? Why, on February 3, was blogger Yoani Sanchez refused permission to travel abroad by Cuban authorities for the 19th time since May 2008? Why were opposition group Damas de Blanco – Sakharov prize laureates – not allowed to travel to the European Parliament in Strasbourg to collect that prestigious award for the freedom of thought?

There are so many questions and almost no answers from the Cuban regime. The situation of harassment and repression endangers the lives of Cuban people who defend human rights and civil liberties. We are aware that the regime is directly responsible for the death of four political prisoners – Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, Laura Pollan Toledo and Wilman Villar Mendoza – as well as thousands of arbitrary arrests and hundreds of beatings, assaults, and acts of repudiation.

The death of 31-year-old dissident Wilman Villar Mendoza on January 19 after a 50 day hunger strike highlights the continuing repression in Cuba. Villar Mendoza was detained in November 2011 after participating in a peaceful demonstration in Contramaestre calling for greater political freedom and respect for human rights. He was charged with 'contempt' and sentenced to four years in prison in a hearing that lasted less than an hour. He was not given the opportunity to speak in his defence, nor represented by a defence lawyer.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a human rights monitoring group that the government does not recognise, classified Villar Mendoza as a political prisoner in December 2011. The Cuban regime denies holding political prisoners and said in a statement that Mr Villar "was not a dissident nor was he on a hunger strike". The authorities did not even bother to tell Wilman Villar's wife about the death of her husband, and she was informed by some human rights defenders.

Almost two years ago, political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in similar circumstances, also on hunger strike, with the same demands. Activist Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia died last year after receiving a brutal beating from the political police at Leoncio Vidal Park, in the city of Santa Clara, Villa Clara province. Less than three months ago, Laura Pollan Toledo, leader of the Damas de Blanco, died under mysterious circumstances that have still not been clarified. Numerous reports issued from within the island over the past three months have reported an increase in the regime's violence against opposition – including cases of activists who have suffered fractured skulls after machete blows, and members of the Damas de Blanco who have been pricked with needles containing unknown substances while participating in marches on the streets of Havana.

The regime in Havana and its prisons have a system devised to eliminate those political and common detainees who protest against the injustice and inhumanity of their captors by denying them water and medical care, and confining them in freezing cells. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, deplored the tragic death of Mr Villar and urged Cuba to continue working to make progress on respect of human rights and freedom of expression. "It's the second death in similar conditions in a very short time and it poses doubts concerning Cuban's judicial system and penitentiary," Ashton said.

According to human rights organisations, there is no way to know how many government opponents remain in jail, as independent investigators cannot visit prisons. In 2010, Raul Castro freed 52 prisoners who had been arrested during a 2003 crackdown, but human rights defenders from the island say that those releases have not changed the attitude by the regime towards dissidents and repression continues. Last year the regime decided to release 2,900 inmates, but following human rights defenders information, the dissidents were not released.

Political prisoners must be released immediately. The persecution of people for their legitimate demands for freedom of speech, thought and assembly is unjust. The lack of fundamental rights contradicts the principles of humanity and is a clear infringement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Cuba is a signatory.

One could get an impression that Cuban regime is making free-market reforms which aim at reviving Cuba's socialist economy by boosting private enterprise. But the reality is much darker. So-called free-market reforms will not change much in relations between the state and citizens: the regime will still control 99 per cent of the economy. Moreover, those reforms will not provide Cuban citizens with their fundamental rights, such as freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. It is not a surprise that most Cubans desire economic opportunities and private property ownership, but at the same time they closely tie these economic changes to political changes in the form of free elections, free expression, access to information and the right to dissent.

It is clear that the reality in Cuba is far from the state propaganda of 'reforms' and 'changes'. The regime deserves strong condemnation for these crimes and persecutions of people. The international community should take the necessary steps to prevent the further escalation of the extrajudicial executions by the Castro regime. Any repressive and undemocratic regime is similar to a dead man walking. The Arab spring surprised the world in 2011 throwing away one dictator after another. Spring is unavoidable and inescapable, in Cuba also.

Dr. Laima Andrikiene is an MEP in the European People's Party and a member of the European Parliament's subcommittee on human rights

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for an exclusive interview with the former President of El Salvador Francisco Flores.

In his first radio interview in eight years, President Flores will discuss the threat of narco-trafficking in Central America, the attack on democratic institutions by the Chavez-Castro axis, the effects of CAFTA and dollarization in El Salvador and much more.

"From Washington al Mundo" is broadcast live on Sirus-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST).

Castro-Chavez Defend Syrian Genocide

Tuesday, February 7, 2012
During a summit in Caracas yesterday, the ALBA ("Bolivarian Alliance") led by Cuba's Raul Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez issued a statement "expressing support to the reform program and national dialogue launched by President Bashar al-Assad."

The statement also "condemned the US and its European allies systematic policy against the Syrian people aiming at undermining Syria's stability through supporting the acts of violence perpetrated by the armed terrorist groups."

The statement was reported gleefully by Syrian state media.

The fact remains the Assad dictatorship has murdered over 6,000 pro-democracy activists in the last six months.

No Hope and Change in Cuba

By Andrew Murray in The Foundry:

Despite Castro’s Words, Hope and Change Not Likely to Define Cuba Anytime Soon

Anyone hoping to see serious changes to Cuba’s ruling system was again disappointed on January 28 when Raul Castro spoke. In a speech marking a critical conference, the Cuban leader promised change, term limits, economic reform, and a willingness to move younger party members to a more elevated status. Yet, as Raul Castro made many promises to his people during his 48-minute address, one could not help but notice the disparity between his words and the reality of Cuban life and politics.

At one point, he boasted that Cuba is one of the safest and most peaceful nations in the world “without extrajudicial executions, clandestine jails or tortures…[Cuba has] basic human rights that most people on Earth can’t even aspire to.” He forgot to point out that in a police state, law and order usually reign—at least on the surface.

If Cubans have enviable human rights, then why must the government repress nearly all forms of dissent? Why, according to Human Rights Watch, “does the regime continue to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, forced exile, and travel restrictions”? How does it explain the brutal treatment of Cuban women, “las Damas de Blanco” (“the Ladies in White”) who speak for those unjustly jailed by Cuban authorities? Or why does it still hold American Alan Gross, who was jailed in 2009 after donating computer equipment to Cuban Jews?

Castro railed at corruption but ignored the fact that its causes are rooted in the malfunctioning economy and the bureaucratic tyranny of the totalitarian state. And while he may want to jettison ration books in his “egalitarian” society, he fears letting go of the censorship of books and information or permitting free travel.

He warned party loyalists that “opening up” did not give them a right to “meddle in decisions that should be left up to the government officials.” As for democracy and consent of the governed, Castro justified the 52-year-old dictatorship in the following manner: “to renounce the principle of a one-party system would be the equivalent of legalizing a party, or parties, of imperialism on our soil.”

For Raul Castro and the island’s communist elite, term limits, economic reform, and new faces in high places ultimately mean little when an unelected tyrant still calls the shots.

Obama, Hostages and USAID

In December 2009, an American development worker, Alan Gross, was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Castro regime for helping Cuba's Jewish community connect to the Internet.

Despite this hostage-taking, in January 2011, the Obama Administration rewarded the Castro regime by lifting sanctions related to non-humanitarian travel.

This week, the Egyptian military announced the prosecution of 19 American development workers for supporting human rights and pro-democracy groups in the North African nation.

In response, the Obama Administration is threatening Egypt with repercussions, including cutting off U.S. aid.

Thus, two hostage situations -- one rewarded with concessions, while the other with consequences.

Any bets on which country will release the American development workers first?

Time will tell.

And while we are on this issue, where are all the USAID critics that slammed the Cuba democracy programs after Alan Gross's arrest, arguing that these were "covert regime change" programs and that Castro's absurd "laws" (decrees) should be respected?

Why aren't they making the same accusations about USAID's programs in Egypt? Or in Syria or Iran, for that matter?

A Comprehensive List of Reforms

Monday, February 6, 2012
Attention advocates of Cuban dictator Raul Castro's "reforms."

Check out this comprehensive list of "reforms."

Impressive, huh?

They are from Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Frankly, they make Castro's "reforms" pale in comparison.

Yet, they are both absolutely meaningless in the face of a brutal dictatorship and repression.

From the Syrian News Agency:

2011 witnessed the issuing of a diverse package of decrees, decisions and resolutions in the framework of the comprehensive reform program in all spheres in a way that serves the Syrian people and fulfills their ambitions and national interests.

The following is an overview of the decrees, decisions and laws issued by President Bashar al-Assad during 2011.

13/1/2011: Legislative Decree No. 9 on establishing the National Fund for Social Subsidies for providing aid to individuals and families and empower them in economic, social and educational terms.

16/1/2011: Legislative Decree No. 12 on heating allowance, increasing the amount of heating allowance and adjusting the price set forth in Legislative Decree No. 34 for 2002 from SYP 630 to SYP 1500 monthly.

22/1/2011: Legislative Decree No. 13 on extending a previous decree on the reevaluation of real estate properties and conversion of companies.

15/2/2011: Legislative Decree No. 23 on decreasing consumer-spending taxes on vegetable oil, margarine, animal ghee, unroasted coffee and sugar.

15/2/2011: Legislative decree No. 24 on decreasing rates of optional and compulsory insurance on debts and mortgages, rates of the shares of the holding, joint and limited liability companies, life insurance and others.

15/2/2011: Legislative Decree No. 25 on allowing the authorities to pay the dues of resident Syrian contractors in foreign currency provided that the tender announced should be external and include equipment and materials which will be imported for projects of special nature.

15/2/2011: Decree No. 70 on decreasing the customs duties on powdered milk, yogurt, coffee, tea, rice and bananas.

16/2/2011: Legislative Decree No. 29 on regulating the establishment of all kinds of companies and their legal forms.

22/2/2011: Decree No. 81 on appointing Ahmad Mohammed Diyab as Director General of the Syrian Investment Commission.

7/3/2011: Legislative Decree No. 34 on granting general amnesty for the crimes committed before March 7, 2011.

19/3/2011: Legislative Decree No. 35 issued in on reducing mandatory militarily service to 18 months.

22/3/2011: Law No. 6 on exempting phone subscribers at the General Establishment of Communications from the penalties and interests on debts if they pay their debts within one year.

23/3/2011: Decree No. 120 on discharging Faisal Ahmad Kolthoum from his post as governor of Daraa.

24/3/2011: Legislative Decree No. 40 on increasing monthly salaries and wages of civilians and military personnel in state and public and joint sectors bodies.

29/3/2011: President al-Assad accepts resignation of Mohammad Naji Otri government.

30/3/2011: Legislative Decree No. 44 which amends the first article of Legislative Decree No. 40 on increasing monthly salaries and wages and adding an article for Syrian workers in Syrian embassies and delegations abroad.

31/3/2011: President al-Assad orders establishing three judicial committees to investigate all cases leading to the deaths of citizens in Daraa and Lattakia, a legal committee to prepare a study on lifting state of emergency, and a committee to study the issue of the 1962 Hasaka statistics.

3/4/2011: Decree No. 134 on designating Dr. Adel Safar to form the new government.

3/4/2011: Legislative Decree No. 45 on establishing a Syrian joint-stock company for health insurance, called Cham Health Insurance Company.

3/4/2011: Legislative Decree No. 46 on including all the state, public sector and popular organizations retirees, involving civil and military workers, in health insurance, at the retirees' option. 3/4/2011: Legislative Decree No. 47 on exempting farmers from fines due on them between 1997 and 2000.

4/4/2011: Legislative Decree No. 48 on establishing al-Cham Higher Institute for Religious Science, Arabic Language and Islamic Studies and Research.

7/4/2011: Decree No. 136 on discharging Mohammad Iyad Ghazal from his post as Homs Governor.

7/4/2011: Legislative Decree No. 49 on granting the Syrian Arab Nationality to the people registered in the registries of Hasaka foreigners.

10/4/2011: Law No. 11 which regulates the real estate ownership in the Syrian Arab Republic for non-Syrians.

14/4/2011: Decree No. 146 on the formation of the new government of the Syrian Arab Republic headed by Dr. Adel Safar.

14/4/2011: Decree No. 155 on designating Tayseer Mohammad al-Zoubi as Secretary-General of the Prime Ministry.

14/4/2011: Legislative decree No. 50 on establishing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates.

14/4/2011: President al-Assad orders the release of all people detained in incidents related to recent events as long as they haven't committed crimes against the country and the citizens.

15/4/2011: Legislative Decree No. 52 on establishing the General Company for Agricultural Machinery Manufacturing and Distribution in Aleppo.

21/4/2011: Decree No. 159 appointing Ghassan Mustafa Abdul-Aal as Homs Governor.

21/4/2011: Decree No. 161 on ending the state of emergency.

21/4/2011: Legislative Decree No. 53 on abolishing the Supreme State Security Court.

21/4/2011: Legislative Decree No. 54 on regulating the right to peaceful demonstration as one of basic human rights guaranteed by the Syrian Constitution.

21/4/2011: Legislative Decree No. 55 which provides for the judiciary police or those commissioned to carry out its tasks to be responsible for investigating crimes and hearing the suspects.

4/5/2011: Legislative Decree No. 58 on exempting the indebted subscribers who have financial receivables due to drawing electricity from all the interests, fines and the overdue allowances in 2009 and before if they pay these receivables until 31/12/2011.

9/5/2011: Decree No. 174 on giving an additional examination term for students of public secondary school (high school) for the 2010-2011 school year.

18/5/2011: Decree No. 178 on allowing university undergraduates and students of specialization and qualification studies who exhausted their examination opportunities to participate in the exams of summer semester for 2010-2011.

26/5/2011: Decree No. 203 which provides for conducting a number of amendments on the executive list of University Regulation Law issued by Decree No. 250 for 2006.

31/5/2011: Legislative Decree No. 61 for the year 2011 granting general amnesty for crimes committed before May 31, 2011.

1/6/2011: President al-Assad issued Presidential Decision to form a committee tasked with laying down the bases for national dialogue.

5/6/2011: Legislative Decree No. 62 on full appointment of temporary state employees within a period not to exceed a year.

8/6/2011: Decree No. 64 on settling acquittance of sums owed before this decree comes into force according to paragraph /c/ of the Article /1/ of the Syrian Tax Law no. 341 for 1956 and its amendments. The sums shouldn’t exceed SYP 300 (USD 1 ≈ SYP 47).

8/6/2011: Legislative Decree No. 65 stipulating for terminating the decree No. /1145/ for 1950 and its amendments including the establishment of an ad hoc office affiliated to the Customs Police Council which is called Smuggling Combat Office (the Secret Office).

9/6/2011: Decree No. /218on giving an additional examination term 2010 – 2011, for students of the vocational and hostelry secondary schools and the agricultural secondary school in its branches (agricultural veterinary and agricultural machines) and the vocational secondary school for telecommunications in Damascus, and Aleppo branches, for 2011 session.

9/6/2011: Decree No. /219/ stipulating for the establishment of Administrative Judiciary Court in Aleppo, Homs, and Deir Ezzor Governorates and the Administrative Court in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Deir Ezzor Governorates.

21/6/2011: Legislative Decree No. 72 granting general amnesty for crimes committed before June 20, 2011.

22/6/2011: Decree No. 228 on establishing two new faculties affiliated to Damascus University.

22/6/2011: Legislative Decree No. 73 on allowing licensed language labs to hold courses for foreign languages or any of the other curricula subjects for the basic education and high school stages outside the official working hours.

27/6/2011: Legislative Decree no. 234 on holding an extra course for the 2010-2011 school year for students registered for the exams of the vocational high school diploma for transport.

27/6/2011: Legislative Decree no. 235 on exempting investors and depositors in free zones from the fines and interests included in Decree No. 40 for 2003.

28/6/2011: Legislative Decree No.76 on regulating the work of the General Housing Establishment to meet demographic needs of population, particularly social housing.

2/7/2011: Decree No. 241 on discharging Dr. Ahmad Khaled Abdul-Aziz from his post as governor of Hama.

6/7/2011: Legislative Decree No. 78 on establishing General Commission for al-Badia Management and Development with its headquarters in Palmyra, central Syria.

10/7/2011: Decree No. 254 on appointing Anas Abdul-Razzaq Na'em as Governor of Hama.

13/7/2011: Legislative Decree No. 82 which stipulates for tackling the situation of the goods, cars and vehicles left at the garage of the branches of the General Establishment for Free Zones.

13/7/2011: Legislative Decree No. 83 on exempting businessmen subscribed at the General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI) from all imposed fines due to delay in paying financial obligations.

19/7/2011: Decree No. 277 on amending customs fees for a number of basic materials and goods.

24/7/2011: Legislative Decree No. 286 on transferring Deir Ezzor Governor Hussein Arnous from his post and appointing him as a governor of Quneitra Province.

24/7/2011: Legislative Decree No. 287 on appointing Samir Othman al-Sheikh as a governor of Deir Ezzor.

30/7/2011: Legislative Decree No. 94 on reducing cash payment paid in lieu of military service by persons assigned to military service who have been permanently living outside Syria for no less than four years.

3/8/2011: Legislative Decree No. 99 on Housing Cooperation Act.

4/8/2011: Legislative Decree No. 100 on Parties Law , which was earlier adopted as a draft law by the Government following a series of thorough discussions by law makers, intellectuals and the Syrian citizens.

4/8/2011: Legislative Decree No. 101 pertaining to General Elections Law with the aim of improving the election process, ensuring the right of the candidates in supervising the process and maintaining the judicial supervision.

8/8/2011: Decree No. 307 naming General Dawood Rajiha Minister of Defense.

9/8/2011: Decree No. 301 on establishing a number of faculties at the universities of Damascus, al-Baath, based in Homs, and al-Furat, based in Deir Ezzor.

15/8/2011: Decree No. 321 on appointing Dr. Mwafak Ibrahim Khallouf as Aleppo new governor.

22/8/2011: Decision No. 28 on forming a party affairs committee.

23/8/2011: Legislative Decree No. 107 on the local administration law.

28/8/2011: Legislative Decree No. 108 on Media Law.

12/9/2011: Decree No. 355 on establishing the General Establishment for Electricity Transmission.

13/9/2011: Legislative Decree No. 114 on establishing the Fund for Mitigating the Impact of Drought and Natural Disasters on Agricultural Production.

18/9/2011: Legislative Decree No. 362 on amending customs duties regarding some goods.

19/9/2011: Legislative Decree No. 116 on amending Article 8 of the Basic Law of State Employees No. 50 for 2004.

22/9/2011: Legislative Decree No. 118 on exempting the cinema halls from the customs tariffs imposed on imported equipment, as well as the income tax and the local administration fees for five years.

27/9/2011: Legislative Decree No.120 on exempting the loans provided by the Cooperative Agricultural Bank, for agricultural reasons, from late payment penalties.

27/9/2011: Legislative Decree No. 121 stipulating for re-tabulation of debts and the overdue and unpaid facilitations granted to the industrialists who are defaulters of paying their obligations to the public banks.

28/9/2011: Decree No. 374 on forming the Higher Committee for Elections.

28/9/2011: Decree No. 375 on allowing university students who fail in six courses or less in each academic year to succeed to the next year as they will be excluded from the Executive List of the Universities Regulation Law.

5/10/2011: Decree No.390 stipulating for establishing the Third Law Faculty in al-Quneitra city affiliated to Damascus University.

5/10/2011: Decree No. 391 on specifying Monday, December 12th, 2011 as the date to conduct the elections of Local Councils.

15/10/2011: Presidential Decision No. 33 on forming a national committee for setting the draft project of a new constitution for the Syrian Arab Republic

23/10/2011: Decree No. 421 on the appointment of Yasser Salman al-Shoufi as Governor of Idleb and Hussein Makhlouf Makhlouf as Governor of Damascus Countryside.

5/11/2011: Legislative Decree No. 124 on granting general amnesty to the persons of military service age who defaulted from undergoing the conscription tests or from acceding to the army without lawful excuse.

15/11/2011: Law No. 19 on exempting taxpayers of real profits income tax and its additions from the overdue interests, unpaid fines and late payment penalties for the years 2010 and before if they pay the tax or the fees imposed in the aforementioned years before December 31, 2011.

20/11/2011: President al-Assad issues Decree on forming National Media Council.

4/12/2011: Law No. 22 on supplying the farmers with all the requirements of agricultural production for winter season 2011-2012 by the Agricultural Cooperative Bank regardless of the solvency of the debtors and the guarantees.

4/12/2011: Legislative Decree No. 125 on allowing electors to practice their right to vote in the elections using their identity cards.

7/12/2011: Law No. 23 on amending consumer spending taxes on some products and services.

7/12/2011: Law No. 24 on exempting taxpayers who fail to pay municipal fees, local costs and fines for violating building regulations and municipal rules for 2011 and the years before from the overdue interests, unpaid fines and late payment penalties if they pay the due taxes and fees before April 30, 2012.

8/12/2011: Decree No. 477 on granting MA students in the course stage who failed or exhausted chances of success in the exams of 2010-2011study year one additional examination session, and granting one additional year for MA and PhD students in the dissertation stage who are in their last year starting of March 1, 2011 after extension and suspension.

20/12/2011: Law No. 26 stipulating for a 15-year hard labor penalty for those who have smuggled weapons, and a life sentence of hard labor for those who have smuggled weapons with the aim of trafficking in them or committing terrorist acts. The law also provided for death sentence for whoever distributed amounts of weapons or contributed to distributing them with the aim of committing terrorist acts. The accomplice and whoever involved in this will be also punished with the same penalty.

21/12/2011: Law no. 27 on specifying the general state budget for the fiscal year 2012 with SYP 1326.5 billion.

28/12/2011: Law No. 28 stipulating for imposing a 30% fee on all the goods and materials imported from Turkey to Syria for supporting the reconstruction of the developing villages.

29/12/2011: Law No. 30 on exempting citizens who are underwriting to houses of the General Housing Establishment and are late in paying monthly premiums from the late payment penalties if they pay all their financial obligations starting from the issuance of the Law until 30/4/2012 as a deadline.

Vatican Bestows Impunity Upon Castro

Last week, the Vatican confirmed meetings with Cuban dictators Raul and Fidel Castro during Pope Benedict XVI's March visit to the island.

Meanwhile, Cuba's courageous Ladies in White have been told to stand idly by as the Pope's agenda is "very heavy" (apparently from meeting with dictators).

How has the Castro regime received this news?

With impunity, of course.

On Saturday, Castro's secret police violently arrested numerous Ladies in White in the Eastern cities of Palmarito de Cauto, Palma Soriano, Contramaestre, and Santiago de Cuba. Road blocks were placed on the main road leading to the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity ("El Cobre") to prevent the Ladies in White from attending Sunday Mass.

Among those arrested were Aurora Martin, Niraida Martin, Karina Quintana, Darmis Aguedo, Alina Fonseca, Aliagna Issac, Eduvenia Issac, Yanelis Leiva, Yaima Bejerano, Mercedes Fernandez, Adriana Fernandez, Annia Pecora, Darelis Chacon., Ana Celia Rodriguez Torres, Kenia Legren Elliot, Maria Teresa Darroman Lopez and Araceli Maria Elena.

And on Sunday, eleven other Ladies in White were held under siege in the Church of Santa Catalina de Ricci in the eastern city of Guantanamo.

Meanwhile, in Holguin, Adisnidia Cruz was arrested alongside two activists as they headed the Church of Christ Redeemer ("Cristo Redentor"). Also beaten and arrested were Ladies in White Caridad Caballero Batista, Marta Diaz Rondon, Berta Segura, Gertrudis Ojeda, and Isabel Peña.

Maybe the Vatican will now reconsider and make them "worthy" of a Papal visit.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

With Venezuela's opposition holding primary elections next week to decide who will challenge Hugo Chavez, join us for an in-depth conversation with former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich.

Find out what's currently at stake for Venezuela, the U.S. and the entire Western Hemisphere.

"From Washington al Mundo" is broadcast live on Sirus-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST).

"Reformist" (Brutal) Dictators Are an Oxymoron

Sunday, February 5, 2012
As recently as last Spring, the Obama Administration was still expressing confidence in the "reforms" of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Lesson #1: "Reformist" (brutal) dictators are an oxymoron.

Moreover, since taking office in 2009, the Obama Administration continuously tried to engage the Assad regime through a series of envoys and concessions.

Lesson #2: Concessions to brutal dictators only emboldens them.

Hopefully, the Obama Administration has learned these costly lessons (the hard way).

From The White House:

Statement by the President on Syria

Thirty years after his father massacred tens of thousands of innocent Syrian men, women, and children in Hama, Bashar al-Assad has demonstrated a similar disdain for human life and dignity. Yesterday the Syrian government murdered hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children, in Homs through shelling and other indiscriminate violence, and Syrian forces continue to prevent hundreds of injured civilians from seeking medical help. These brutal killings take place at a time when so many Syrians are also marking a deeply meaningful day for their faith. I strongly condemn the Syrian government’s unspeakable assault against the people of Homs and I offer my deepest sympathy to those who have lost loved ones. Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against his own people now. He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately.

The Syrian people demonstrated in large numbers across Syria yesterday to participate in peaceful protests commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Hama massacre. They labeled the protests, “We are Sorry, Hama – Forgive Us.” We owe it to the victims of Hama and Homs to learn one lesson: that cruelty must be confronted for the sake of justice and human dignity. Every government has the responsibility to protect its citizens, and any government that brutalizes and massacres its people does not deserve to govern. The Syrian regime’s policy of maintaining power by terrorizing its people only indicates its inherent weakness and inevitable collapse. Assad has no right to lead Syria, and has lost all legitimacy with his people and the international community.

The international community must work to protect the Syrian people from this abhorrent brutality. Earlier this week, our Arab partners called on UN Security Council members to take action to support a political solution to the crisis in Syria and stop Assad’s “killing machine.” The Council now has an opportunity to stand against the Assad regime’s relentless brutality and to demonstrate that it is a credible advocate for the universal rights that are written into the UN Charter.

We must work with the Syrian people toward building a brighter future for Syria. A Syria without Assad could be a Syria in which all Syrians are subject to the rule of law and where minorities are able to exercise their legitimate rights and uphold their identities and traditions while acting as fully enfranchised citizens in a unified republic. The United States and our international partners support the Syrian people in achieving their aspirations and will continue to assist the Syrian people toward that goal. We will help because we stand for principles that include universal rights for all people and just political and economic reform. The suffering citizens of Syria must know: we are with you, and the Assad regime must come to an end.