Cuban Pastor Beaten Senseless

Saturday, March 3, 2012
From Pedazos de la Isla:

Cuban Pastor is left with Brain Damage After Violent Beating

Pentecostal Pastor Reutilio Columbie, who was violently assaulted and beaten this past February 6th and later rushed into the emergency room of a hospital after being left for dead, has recently been discharged from the hospital but was left with serious brain damage, which include difficulties with speech.

Columbie was being threatened by Cuban functionaries for numerous weeks after they (the authorities) confiscated his pickup truck, which he used to transport churchgoers to his religious center, the Pentecostal Shalom Church. The Pastor decided to direct himself to provincial and municipal organisms in demand of his rights, affirming that he had paid his car and that the functionaries who took it from him gave him absolutely no explanations.

For this reason, he began to receive phone calls from unknown people who threatened him and his family with violence if he continued voicing his complaints. Regardless, Columbie continued demanding his rights, which culminated in a brutal attack on the morning hours of February 6th in Holguin.

Although no witnesses saw his aggressors, when he was found nearly lifeless on the pavement by a local citizen, the folder which he carried was in tact, except for a document related to his stolen vehicle which he was going to present in a municipal office of Holguin. His attackers did not steal any other document, nor did they steal the 300 pesos he carried with him. The Cuban police has completely ignored the situation.

After having spent several days in the Provincial Hospital of Holguin, the Pastor “has been left in a very critical state…he can’t even organize his own words, and he cannot focus on what he will say or what he is thinking“, according to the independent journalist from Holguin, Caridad Caballero Batista.

One (Una) Cuba

Please sign the One (Una) Cuba Facebook petition here.

To: His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI

Your Holiness,

In his visit to Cuba your predecessor, Pope John Paul II, said that Cuba "needs to open herself to the world and the world needs to draw close to Cuba." At a time when much of the world will have its eyes on your trip, we believe that there is no better way for the world to open its heart to the Cuban people than by you taking the time to meet with some of the island's leading human rights activists such as The Ladies in White, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and Yoani Sanchez. These brave men and women are fighting an uphill battle everyday for the same rights that most of us in the free world take for granted, among these are the freedom of conscience and religion. They are often the victims of beatings, imprisonment and state-organized acts of public repudiation. Yet, they continue to march, organize and inspire—even in the face of these improbable odds.

As the late reverend Dr. Martin Luther King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Your holiness, your visit with these human rights activists would not only bend the moral arc, of which Dr. King spoke, toward justice; it would continue the Church's historic tradition of "undoing the heavy burdens, and letting the oppressed go free."

Respectfully,

The Undersigned

From the State Department

Fran yesterday's State Department Twitter briefing with Assistant Secretary of State Miake Hammer:

MODERATOR: The next question comes from @hbabe242. Why does Hillary not want Cuba to attend the Summit of the Americas in April? What is Obama afraid of? Why are you excluding us?

MIKE HAMMER: OK, thank you for the question @hbabe242. The issue is that at the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec, it was decided by consensus that only democratic countries with democratically elected leaders would be able to participate in the Summit of the Americas process. And the situation is that Cuba is not democratic, and it has not taken measures to work with the OAS to demonstrate that it is interested in allowing free and open political expression, in having a democracy and in bringing an end to repression. So as a result, they are not invited to the summit in Cartagena, Colombia. Thank you very much. Let’s see, next question.

Miami Herald Columnist Should Apologize

Friday, March 2, 2012
Last week, Miami Herald columnist Ana Veciana-Suarez labeled Cuban-Americans that questioned Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to Cuba as "immature," while conversely heralding the "pilgrims" that will be traveling to the island on the Archdiocese of Miami's all-inclusive trip (featuring the Castro regime's 5-star hotels).

Now, nearly 750 leading Cuban pro-democracy activists on the island -- you know, those that suffer daily harassment, arrests and beatings -- have released a letter questioning Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming trip to Cuba.

The letter, which the Vatican's nuncio in Havana has yet to accept, raises concern that the Pope's visit “would be like sending a message to the oppressors that they can continue to do whatever they want, that the church will allow it.”

Does Ms. Veciana-Suarez consider these 750 political prisoners and pro-democracy activists, who courageously put their names and ID numbers on the letter (e.g. Sara Marta Fonseca, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," and Guillermo Farinas) "immature" also?

Or does she consider Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez "immature" for writing in Spain's El Pais that “a dose of national cynicism conspires against any enthusiasm” for the Pope's visit?

After all, they're raising the same concerns as their exile brethren.

How to Free American Hostages

Thursday, March 1, 2012
Just as we had predicted, the American development workers held hostage by Egypt are on their way home.

This is great news.

Meanwhile, two-years and three-months later, American development worker Alan Gross remains a hostage of the Castro regime in Cuba.

Part of this contrast is due to the different tack taken by the U.S. in both cases.

With Egypt, the U.S. threatened to cut off valuable aid.

With Cuba, the U.S. has continued to unconditionally ease sanctions.


So what should the U.S. have done -- long ago -- to secure Alan Gross's release?

As Ralph Grunewald wrote in American Jewish Week:

[T]he following measures would pressure the Cuban government in the only place that really matters: its coffers. As a nation in desperate need of foreign currency, it is time for painful economic measures by against Cuba to bring Alan home.

First, there needs to be a reversal in the ever-increasing amount of remittances to Cubans. As noted on the U.S. State Department Web site, "academic sources estimate that remittances total from $800 million to $1.5 billion per year, with most coming from families in the United States." Earlier this year, the U.S. announced changes permitting unlimited annual remittances to family members in Cuba and to religious organizations, and up to $2,000 annually for nonfamily members to anyone on the island, an increase from the previous $1,200 limit.

Second, direct flights from U.S. airports - now numbering 15 - should be banned. This would mean a return to the status quo ante, when American travelers flew to Cuba from third countries. U.S. carriers are paying millions of dollars for landing rights in Havana, to say nothing of the hundreds of millions of dollars that American tourists are pumping into the government-controlled economy.

Another hard-hitting tactic is to threaten to expel all Cuban diplomats located on U.S. territory, including at the United Nations, until Alan Gross is freed. As we currently have no official diplomatic relations with Cuba, not much will change, and U.S. interests will continue to be handled by the Swiss government in Havana.

An Important Exercise in Freedom

If you can spare 10 seconds today, step outside your home and chant "Freedom!" three times.

Feels good, huh?

Here's what happens when Cubans do the same:

Clinton Contradicts Herself

During yesterday's hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that no deal or concessions have been made with the Castros to free imprisoned American Alan Gross.

Clinton said, in her words: "We've made no deals, we've offered no concessions and we don't intend to do so."

That was during an early part of the hearing.

Then, toward the end of the hearing, when pressed by U.S. Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) on whether she can identify any tangible results from the Obama Administration's policy of unilaterally easing sanctions (a concession) towards the Castro regime, she answered that political prisoners had been released.

(Congressman Rivera correctly pointed out that the released prisoners were actually banished. Moreover, in reality, their release came pursuant to the martyrdom of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and have since been followed by a dramatic increase in other political arrests. And finally, she forgets that historically thousands of political prisoners have been used as pawns by Castro to further concessions by the Carter Administration, the European Union, the Catholic Church and now, the Obama Administration.)

So she implicitly admits that there were -- in fact -- concessions that were reciprocated (in her view).

Of course, her response is nuanced in that the concessions may not have been originally intended to free Alan Gross.

Perhaps.

But they were concessions all the same.

Clinton on Cuba Policy Concessions

U.S. Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) questions Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Clinton on Cuba-Summit of the Americas

Foreign Affairs Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen questions Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at yesterday's Foreign Affairs Committee hearing:

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
The United States is the most powerful actor in international affairs. The Roman Catholic Church is the oldest.

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the foreign policy of the Holy See and Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to Mexico and Cuba with Yale University Professor of History and Religious Affairs, Dr. Carlos Eire.

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

Anti-Semitism, Castro Style

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
From the article "Why Jews Are Fleeing Venezuela" by Amb. Jaime Daremblum:

The mass emigration of Jews from Venezuela is tragically similar to what happened in the Caribbean half a century ago. According to Cuba expert Irving Louis Horowitz, a remarkable 90 percent of Cuban Jews fled the island shortly after Castro took power. For decades to come, Havana would faithfully parrot the steady stream of anti-Semitic propaganda emanating from Moscow. As Horowitz explains, “The Soviets provided Cuba with the model of attacking human rights activities and organizations as a necessary extension of the Jewish Zionist conspiracy.” For that matter, Castro hosted the 1966 Tricontinental Conference, which arguably launched the modern era of international terrorism, and he spent many years aiding Yasser Arafat’s PLO.

On the Embargo

A great interview in Global Voices with Alberto de la Cruz, Managing Editor of Babalu Blog:

Global Voices: The U.S. embargo on Cuba - probably the longest-running economic ban in history - recently turned 50! Supporters see it as a necessary measure against a communist government; critics say that the policy is a failure that is really not hurting the regime, but instead, the average Cuban. Where do you stand on the issue?

Alberto de la Cruz: It is hard to argue the U.S. embargo against the Castro dictatorship hurts the Cuban people when in 2010 (the latest figures available), the Cuban government imported over $400-million in food from the U.S. While the embargo limits trade, it allows food to be sold to the Cuban government on a cash basis. If that food is not reaching the average Cuban and is instead being sent to the Cuban military owned hotels and resorts to feed tourists, that is not because of the embargo, it is because of the Castro regime [which] ultimately controls the distribution of all food on the island. It is interesting to note that none of those who suggest the trade embargo against the Castro dictatorship hurts only the average Cuban can explain why the vast majority of Cubans continue to live in abject poverty when the Castro government, according to their own figures, had over $8-billion dollars in imports in 2010. While Cubans struggle to feed their families, Cuban children are denied milk once they turn six, the most basic items are nearly impossible to find, and ration books are still in use. In Cuba’s tourist hotels and resorts, which again, are owned by the Cuban military, there is no shortage of food, soap, milk, or anything else. If an embargo is hurting the Cuban people, it is the embargo placed upon them by the Castro regime.

What the U.S. “embargo” actually does is prevent the Castro government from adding the U.S. to its long list of debtors who are currently owed billions of dollars with no hope of getting paid in the foreseeable future. From that perspective, the embargo has been a phenomenal success. We are perhaps the only nation in the world that does business with Cuba who is not owed millions of dollars by a regime with a decades-long history of not honoring their financial commitments.

GV: What do you think the embargo has accomplished, if anything?

AdlC: In addition to precluding the U.S. from becoming another victim of the Castro regime’s propensity for borrowing money and not paying it back, the U.S. embargo is the only leverage the U.S. has against the Castro dictatorship. As history indicates, the countries that have normalized relations and business dealings with the Castro government are severely limited in their ability to demand respect for human rights on the island. When these countries have attempted to pressure the Cuban dictatorship into stopping their repressive tactics, their economic interests on the island are immediately threatened. Therefore, their decision to promote respect for human rights in Cuba ceases to be a moral one and becomes an economic decision instead. Since, because of the embargo, the U.S. has zero investments on the island that can be threatened, it can maintain its firm stance on human rights and democracy for the Cuban people.

GV: Do you think the embargo, as it stands now, is doing anything to improve the political or human rights situation in Cuba?

AdlC: In essence, yes. The U.S. embargo has deprived the Castro dictatorship of hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars it can use to maintain and fuel its machine of repression. For the past fifty years, the Cuban regime has used hard currency provided by other countries – beginning with the former Soviet Union and now Venezuela – to fund its brutal, East German Stasi-trained State Security apparatus. By denying the Castro regime U.S. dollars from American tourism, credit, and normalized trade, they have less cash to maintain, strengthen, and expand their repressive policies.

GV: What effect do you think the embargo has had on the Cuban economy and do you see a better alternative?

AdlC: Cuba and its economy are run and completely controlled by a totalitarian military dictatorship. The Castro regime has taken a country and an economy that was once productive and vibrant, and whose standard of living in 1958 surpassed that of some Western European nations, and has turned it into a third-world country. A better question, I believe, would be what effects the economic policies and decisions of the Castro government over the past five decades have had on the Cuban economy.

The only viable alternative that exists is for the Cuban people to rid themselves of the dictatorial regime that enslaves and represses them. History has shown that engagement with this brutal and criminal regime produces zero positive results. The entrenched dictatorship has no interest in true reform or limiting its power, let alone relinquishing it.

GV: How do you feel about the recent lifting of travel restrictions to Cuba and making remittances easier?

AdlC: The lifting of travel restrictions and increased remittances to Cuba from the U.S. [has] been a financial boon for the Cuban dictatorship and has unleashed a wave of repression against Cuba’s opposition movement. In the two years since the Obama administration unilaterally relaxed sanctions against Cuba, the Castro regime’s cash reserves have grown by more than $2-billion, while politically motivated arrests on the island have increased almost threefold. Visiting American tourists on the island are led on Potemkin Village-like tours, denied any interaction with Cuba's democracy activists. In the end, American tourists visiting Cuba will provide the same help in fostering democracy on the island that the 2-million+ yearly tourists from other countries have had, which is to say, none.

GV: What have been some of the “creative” responses to the embargo from Cubans outside the island?

AdlC: Since the Obama administration unilaterally relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba, Cuban exiles no longer have to come up with “creative” ways to evade the law. In the past, however, the most common method of circumventing U.S. travel restrictions was to visit the island through a third country. The most popular were Mexico and the Bahamas, although Cubans living in the northern part of the U.S. could also use Canada as an intermediary stop on their way to Cuba.

GV: Do you think there a generational shift in attitudes about the embargo for Cubans inside and outside the island?

AdlC: In regards to Cubans in exile, for almost two decades now, we have been hearing and reading about this community’s supposed generational shift in attitude regarding the U.S. embargo on the Castro dictatorship. It seems that every year several polls are published showing a softening in the so-called “hard line and intransigent” stance against the Castro regime by Cuban exiles. However, while these polls claim to accurately gauge the sentiment amongst Cubans in the U.S., the most accurate and reliable poll, the voting booth, shows a different outcome. Year after year, election cycle after election cycle, Cuban exiles have overwhelmingly voted for representatives that echo a hard line approach towards the dictatorship in Havana.

In terms of Cubans on the island, I find it difficult to get an accurate reading on their opinions regarding the embargo. Cubans are forced to live in an information-deprived society and therefore, their attitudes are colored by the false reality created by the regime. For instance, the vast majority of Cubans on the island are not aware the U.S. is one of the island’s major food suppliers, mainly because very few of them ever see any of the food shipped to Cuba from the U.S. Through no fault of their own, they are left to formulate opinions regarding the U.S. embargo without knowing the facts. Personally, I would put more stock in any generational shift occurring in attitudes in Cuba towards the embargo if the population had access to all the information it needed to form an educated opinion.

GV: While we're on the topic of access to information, how has the embargo affected the Internet in Cuba?

AdlC: Since all “legitimate” internet access in Cuba is severely restricted by the Castro government, I cannot see how U.S. policy plays any role in average Cubans accessing the internet. Consider the recently completed fiber-optic cable between Venezuela and Cuba offering improved internet access to the island. After connecting the cable, the Cuban regime immediately quashed any hopes of internet access for its citizens by declaring all internet access would be reserved for government entities only. Moreover, in January of 2010, a Miami-based company, TeleCuba, was granted permission by U.S. authorities to lay a fiber-optic cable between Key West and Havana, but according to reports, the Castro regime has refused to strike a deal with this company. Add to this the fact that American aid worker Alan Gross was arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for providing Cubans with unfiltered internet access and the obvious becomes more obvious: The Castro dictatorship is not interested in providing Cubans with unfiltered or unrestricted internet access, regardless of U.S. policy towards the island.

GV: Is the embargo an important issue for you in the upcoming US presidential elections? Why or why not?

AdlC: For me, personally, Cuba is an important issue in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. I would like to see a president that is committed to defending the human rights of the Cuban people and maintains a firm stance against a tyrannical regime just ninety miles from our shores. From a diplomatic perspective, the embargo remains a tool that can help an administration stand up to tyranny and defend human rights.

GV: Who would stand to benefit from a lifting of the embargo? And who would stand to lose?

AdlC: The first and foremost benefactor of any lifting of the embargo would be the Castro dictatorship. Such an act would provide an economic boon to the regime, flushing them with cash and political capital, which history has proven time and again they will use to perpetuate their iron-grip on power and maintain the Cuban people enslaved. The second benefactors would be U.S. corporations who would be given the opportunity to strike deals with the Cuban government that would give them exclusivity in the marketplace and eliminate any competition normally found in a free marketplace. The Cuban consumers, as always, will receive little to no benefit, as the regime’s business deals with the rest of the world have clearly indicated.

The first and foremost loser would be the Cuban people and democracy activists on the island. With the Castro regime given a new lease on life with cash revenues and political clout, the government will be free to repress and quash any dissent with impunity, while maintaining the rest of the population enslaved. If the U.S. finally bowed to the Castro regime and removed the embargo, there would be no leverage left to demand the Cuban government respect human rights. The U.S. would become like Canada, Spain, or the EU: another country or union more interested in protecting its economic interests in Cuba than protecting the human rights of the Cuban people.

Outpacing Raul's Reforms

Last month, Cuban dictator Raul Castro "promised" to consider limiting his personal rule to two five-year terms (until he's at least 91-years old) -- but ruled out any changes to his totalitarian single-party system.

Well, Syria's Bashar al-Assad has outpaced Raul Castro -- yet again.

Yesterday, Assad's Interior Ministry announced that 89.4 per cent of voters had approved a new government-proposed constitution in a referendum that would limit the "presidency" of Bashar al-Assad and impose multi-party elections.

A referendum, implemented term limits and multi-party elections.

These are reforms that -- unlike Bashar -- Raul doesn't even consider worth rigging.

Yet, like one Cuban exile that believes we should get "on board" with Raul's one-way reforms, some similarly believe that:

Syria has a strategic role in the region and it is therefore necessary to help the government of al-Assad to implement the reforms,” said Iran's Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi.

An all around sham.

Castro Wants Tourists, Period.

Monday, February 27, 2012
An Argentine university professor has been barred from visiting Cuba after meeting with dissidents during a previous trip.

(Makes you wonder how subservient U.S. academics that are constantly traveling back-and-forth must be.)

The Argentine professor, Tristán Rodríguez Loredo, has written a fascinating chronicle of his trip in La Nacion newspaper.

He recalls how Castro's secret police reprimanded him:

"Millions of Argentines come here to enjoy the beaches and the beauties of this country and you are an exception that is only interested in speaking with those people (dissidents)."

In his defense, the Argentine professor told Castro's agents:

"Well, we didn't come here to do 'gringo' style tourism of going to Old Havana, dancing salsa, stopping by Varadero and overlooking reality."

Morals of the story:

First, Castro only wants tourists, period.

Second, American "people-to-people" travelers are nothing but tourists, period.


Cardinal Ortega's Meeting With Gingrich

Excerpt from Victor Gaetan's (international correspondent for National Catholic Register) article in Foreign Affairs:

[I]n the end, [Cardinal Jaime] Ortega diluted the opposition's victory with some tough rhetoric. Not long after the prisoner release announcement, he visited Washington to receive a $100,000 prize from the Knights of Columbus. In his acceptance speech, he astounded Cuba watchers by referring to the jailed democracy activists as "convicts," who were -- in words that were clearly soothing to ears in the Castro regime -- "considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International."

Then he did the rounds in Washington. He briefed U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela. The prelate even spent more than an hour in a secret meeting with Newt Gingrich, presumably to press for support and discuss the former speaker of the House's upcoming bid for the White House. Ortega argued that prisoner release should pave the way for closer U.S.-Cuban relations, including lifting the trade embargo. Within six months after his visit, the White House had lifted restrictions on travel for academic, religious, and cultural groups. Through the end of the year, Havana set free more than 100 political prisoners -- provided they accept exile.

Senator Leahy Should be Ashamed

Note the contrast in comments by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chris Coons of Deleware, both Democrats.

While Senator Coons stands for human rights and solidarity with American hostage Alan Gross, Senator Leahy is willing to sweep human rights and Gross aside to pursue an embrace of the Castro dictatorship.

Not only is this shameful, but it's unprincipled and derelict.

Moreover, it dangerously undermines U.S. leverage, the Obama Administration's own stated position and emboldens further hostile acts by the Castro dictatorship.

From The New York Times:

When the lawmakers met with the Cuban foreign minister and the president of the National Assembly, Mr. Coons said, Cuban officials tried to raise other issues, like expanding cooperation on drug seizures, oil exploration, trade liberalization and immigration.

Mr. Coons said he was firm that Mr. Gross’s release must come first. “My message back was before anything else can be discussed, we have to make progress on our humanitarian concerns, and that means releasing Alan Gross,” he said.

But Mr. Leahy said he told Mr. Castro that neither country should let one issue stand in the way of progress because that would let political elements on either side thwart warming ties.

Mr. Coons said the main goal of the talks was to assure Mr. Gross that his case remains the main impediment to diplomatic overtures. Mr. Gross told his visitors that he had walked eight miles that morning, pacing in the limited space he has, and that he does pull-ups on a metal grate in his one hour a day outside.

He gave Mr. Leahy and Mr. Coons bracelets he had woven from small plastic rings he snapped off water bottle tops.

“He wanted us to keep them to remember him by,” Mr. Coons said. “I have mine in my pocket.”


Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for an interview with Emilio Palacio, editor of Ecuador's El Universo newspaper and author of the critical column that became the main target of President Rafael Correa's assault on the media.

Then, former Bolivian Cabinet Minister Carlos Sanchez Berzain will discuss current events in the Andean nation and the autocratic tendencies of its President, Evo Morales.

"From Washington al Mundo" is broadcast live on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST) and rebroadcast Tuesday from 3-4 p.m. (EST).

Church is Doing Castro's Bidding

Sunday, February 26, 2012
By Yale University Professor Carlos Eire in The Miami Herald:

Church in Cuba doing Castros’ bidding

Why is it that the Catholic Church in Cuba is working hand in hand with the Castro dictatorship, even to the point of collaborating in the expulsion of dissidents from the island or of posting statements on its official website that support the current regime?

On the surface, it might seem that the church has taken a pragmatic approach, and one with a very long history: that of lessening overt persecution by any means possible. After all, the Catholic Church over the centuries has often sought to compromise with secular rulers, for one simple reason: Since it has no army, and is officially committed to turning the other cheek, the deck is always stacked against it in serious church-state struggles. The church knows this all too well.

Take, for instance, its experience in 17th-century Japan, where it was totally annihilated after making serious inroads and where believers were horribly tortured before being killed in ways that made crucifixion seem like a light punishment. Or take the case of merry old Elizabethan England, where Catholics were wiped out, too, after the pope excommunicated Good Queen Bess, and where every Catholic priest captured by the authorities was disemboweled, hung, drawn and quartered.

Given such a history, the compromising behavior of the Cuban hierarchy shouldn’t surprise anyone. But the fact is that it does shock many Cubans, because their church doesn’t seem to be turning the other cheek, or even a blind eye: It actually seems to support the ideology and repressive measures of the dictators. Nothing proves this more convincingly than a document issued in 1986 by the National Cuban Church Encounter, which, instead of calling for an end to human-rights abuses on the island called for “reconciliation” with the Castro regime and declared that socialism “helped us to have more regard for human beings... and showed us how to give, because of justice, what we used to give as charity.” Anyone with the slightest exposure to Catholic theology should have no trouble spotting all of the heresies crammed into that statement.

Lately, compromising with dictators has become the hallmark of Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino. To see this first hand, simply visit the website of the diocese of Havana, where he openly displays his commitment to Castroite notions of “social justice,” and defends the legitimacy of the current police state. In the summer of 2010, as he brazenly engineered the expulsion of dozens of dissidents from Cuba, the good cardinal decreed on this website that anyone who worked to undermine the status quo should have no voice in determining the future of Cuba. In other words, the cardinal routinely expresses his ideological commitment to the repressive policies of the Castro regime: all this in the name of “egalitarianism” and “social justice.”

The aims of Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to Cuba are much harder to fathom. In the past five years, some Vatican officials have downplayed human-rights abuses in Cuba, but the Holy Father himself can’t be held responsible for their callousness. And he most probably has his own agenda.

Given his closeness to the late John Paul II, his dislike of liberation theology and his own experiences as a child in Nazi Germany (a “model” state consciously aped by the Castro brothers), he is undoubtedly opposed to the ongoing oppression of the Cuban people. Pope Benedict may be aiming to crack the foundations of the Castro palace through his visit, but may be underestimating the craftiness of the brothers within it, as well as that of his own man in Havana, Cardinal Ortega.

A recent Miami Herald article quoted a Cuba “expert”: “The church is now a partner with Raúl in the search for a more productive, more effective system, and creating a favorable atmosphere for a transition without violence.”

This quote needs some decoding for those who have never lived in Castro’s Cuba. A better way of summing up the current situation is this: The church wants to maintain the status quo, rather than to foster any genuine transition. The only transition they’re looking at is the inevitable death of Fidel and Raúl, and to them “without violence” means “without the two million exiles and without democracy.”

Romancing Raul (Fails Again)

In December 2009, American development worker Alan Gross was arrested by the Castro regime for helping the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet.

Since then, several senior U.S. delegations have traveled to Havana -- and kissed Raul Castro's ring -- in an effort to secure Gross's release.

There have been "missions" led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and most recently U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Yet, none of them have helped one bit.

Moreover, in January 2011, the Obama Administration unconditionally eased "people-to-people" sanctions -- tourism junkets hosted by the Castro regime -- as a further act of "good-will."

Nada.

So how about finally making the Castro regime face some repercussions for its hostile acts?

It might even set an important precedent that taking Americans hostage is unacceptable.

Imagine that.