Cardinal Ortega Chooses Path of Pius XII

Saturday, March 17, 2012
Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega has dishonored the memory of all the courageous priests throughout Eastern Europe, Africa and Central America that have risked and even lost their lives protecting dissidents from tyrants.

Instead, he's chosen the path of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (who later became Pope Pius XII), who signed the infamous Reichskonkordat between the Holy See and Nazi government, which solely guaranteed the "rights" of the Catholic Church in Germany.

According to the BBC:

Catholic dissidents evicted from Havana church

Cuban dissidents who had occupied a church in Havana to demand an audience with Pope Benedict when he visits later this month, have been evicted.

The group of 13 want the Pope to press Cuba's communist government on issues such as the release of political prisoners and an end to repression.

The protesters were removed from the Church of Charity in central Havana late on Thursday at the request of the city's Cardinal [Jaime Ortega].

And almost simultaneously, according to the AP:

The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI will be available should Fidel Castro ask to meet with the pontiff when he visits Cuba later this month.

Asked about a possible Fidel Castro-pope meeting at a media briefing Friday, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said that if Castro "wants to, the pope will be available." Benedict arrives in Cuba from Mexico on March 26.

But not with Cuba's dissidents, of course.

It's clear where the Catholic Church's priorities stand.

No wonder Castro's Ambassador to the Holy See said yesterday that the regime and the Church are "speaking the same language."

Exposing Castro's Prisons

Friday, March 16, 2012
From CNN:

Cuban prisoners make videos exposing prison conditions

Inmates at a prison in Cuba have made a set of hidden-camera videos to expose the conditions there, publicizing the filth and decrepitude of the facilities despite the risk of retribution.

"The conditions here at Combinado del Este are subhuman, and the food is unfit for human consumption," says inmate Douglas Moore, who says he is an American convicted of a drug offense.

Because he is an American, he says in the video, "I am singled out for abuse. I cannot count all the times that I have been chained by my hands and legs and beaten mercilessly, then robbed of my meager possessions by the guardia frontera here at Combinado del Este."

He pulls up his pants to show bruises on his leg, and is seen walking with a cane. He points out his cracked and broken sink, and then shows how his toilet is too broken to sit on, so if he wants to use it he has to place a chair frame over it.

The videos -- obtained by CNN through a dissident journalist -- show derelict cell blocks overlooking a seedy exercise yard. The grime on the walls is so thick that when an inmate wipes it with a napkin, the paper becomes blackened with filth. Some of the toilets shown are barely more than a hole in the floor.

Prisoners, including the narrator, complain in Spanish of dubious food, meager rations, dilapidated cells, moldy walls, overcrowding, and limited exercise hours. They say sewage leaks are persistent.

Combinado del Este is a Cuban maximum security prison about 10 miles southeast of Havana. It is believed to hold both ordinary prisoners, like violent criminals and drug runners, as well as political prisoners jailed for criticizing the ruling Castro brothers.

Representatives of the Cuban government in Havana, Washington, and New York did not respond to requests from CNN for comment.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it is unable to investigate conditions at Combinado del Este. "Unlike in many other countries in the region," said spokesman Steven Anderson, "the ICRC does not have access to prisons in Cuba."

The Constitutionality of FL's Cuba-Syria Law

Last year, the Florida legislature passed a law that divested and prohibited procurement with foreign companies that engage in business with Iran and Sudan.

Is was lauded -- and rightfully so.

Additionally, more than half of the states across the nation have adopted similar laws -- without a problem.

Last week, the Florida legislature simply added the two remaining countries on the U.S. State Department's sponsors of terrorism list -- Cuba and Syria -- to meet the same exact requirements.

Suddenly, the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) is screaming foul play and citing the U.S. Supreme Court case of Crosby v. NFTC, where a Massachusetts law regarding Burma was overturned on the grounds of federal preemption (under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution).

But here are the facts:

State law only violates the Supremacy Clause if the U.S. Congress has affirmatively spoken and the state law conflicts with federal law.

To determine whether a state law is preempted, the “fundamental inquiry... is whether Congress intended to displace state law.” Wardair Can., Inc. v. Fla. Dep’t of Revenue, 477 U.S. 1, 6 (1986).

In contrast, Massachusetts's Burma law in Crosby was held to be preempted by federal law because it "undermine[d] the intended purpose and ‘natural effect’ of existing federal law."

That is clearly not the case with Florida's new law, which is consistent with federal sanctions law toward Cuba.

It even directly refers to federal sanctions law, so that the termination requirements match.

So if Castro's business partners challenge Florida's Cuba law, they'd also be challenging its Iran-Sudan law and similar state laws across the nation.

A tall order.

Allow the Red Cross to Inspect Cuban Prisons

Thursday, March 15, 2012
Excerpts from McClatchy Newspapers:

Despite complaints, no independent inspections of Cuban prisons forthcoming

Ten videos smuggled out the Combinado del Este prison and made public Thursday showed foul toilets, moldy cell walls, leaking sewage and food described as meager and worse than "animal feed."

But comparing Cuban prisons to those in other countries is impossible, because Cuba does not allow the Red Cross, the United Nations or other independent organizations to inspect its prisons.

"We know there are problems in prisons in Latin America, Africa and Asia. But those are publicly known. In the case of Cuba, there is no real information," said Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz.

Although the Cuban government does not make public figures on its prison system, Sanchez's Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation estimates the island has 70,000 to 80,000 inmates in about 200 prisons and labor camps. Cuba had 14 prisons and an estimated 4,000 inmates before Castro's revolution in 1959 [...]

Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas program at Human Rights Watch, said he saw only prison offices when he met 10 political prisoners during a 1995 visit, but the prisoners told him conditions were "absolutely awful, terrible, inhuman."

Much of the information about Cuban prisons in recent years has come from jailed dissidents because common prisoners are usually more afraid of retribution if they go public with complaints, Sanchez said by phone from Havana.

Anderlay Guerra, 33, who served four years for trying to leave Cuba illegally, said that guards at his prison in Guantanamo often beat prisoners and left them for hours handcuffed in a position known as The Rocker - on their stomachs, hands tied behind their backs to the opposite legs.

Another position was called the Shakira because it forces prisoners to shuffle somewhat like the Colombian singer, he told El Nuevo Herald on Thursday by phone from Cuba.

Former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer said he witnessed guards using the Shakira on prisoners for up to three days at a time and taking bribes from inmates. He suffered through bad food, no medicines and hordes of mosquitoes, cockroaches and rats.

Prisoners also mutilated themselves in an effort to obtain medical discharges, according to scores of reports, and complained that corrupt prison officials pocket the salaries they earn by working.

Only the Cardinal's Politics Matter

In response to the dissidents that have occupied a Havana church asking for Pope Benedict XVI to intercede on behalf of the human rights for the Cuban people, the Archdiocese of Havana said in a statement:

Nobody has the right to turn temples into political trenches.”

Yet, just last week, Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega held a Mass in support of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.

So perhaps the Archdiocese should consider clarifying its statement:

"Only the Cardinal has a right to use the temple for his politics."

Raining on the Cardinal's Party

As Pope Benedict XVI's trip nears, Cuban dissidents have peacefully occupied various Catholic churches throughout the island to call attention to their repressive plight.

Previous attempts at sending letters and formal requests for a meeting with the Pope have fallen on deaf ears.

The response of the Catholic Church has not been akin to their teachings.

In the town of Holguin, Bishop Emilio Aranguren even physically assaulted one of the occupiers.

According to Cuban pro-democracy activist Maria Antonia Hidalgo, Bishop Aranguren "behaved worse than a policeman."

Meanwhile, back in Havana, the Church's spokesman put out a statement decrying that "nobody has the right to disrupt the celebratory spirit of the faithful Cubans, and many other citizens, who await with joy and hope the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba."

He's apparently referring to the Cardinal, his entourage and the four planes full of tourists (at $2,000 per person) arriving from the Archdiocese of Miami and the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

Of course, the statement was promptly reproduced by the Castro regime's state media.

Ironically, Reuters reported today that "Cuba is still dotted with abandoned Catholic churches and while the Church says 60 percent of Cubans are baptized as Catholics, it acknowledges that only about 5 percent actively practice the religion."

It's safe to say the insensitivity of the Church's leadership is unlikely to improve upon that.

Free Antunez

Wednesday, March 14, 2012
This past Sunday night, Cuban pro-democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" was arrested near his home in the town of Placetas.

They said he was being detained “under orders from the high command in Havana.”

Yesterday, female leaders of the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights, Donaida Perez Paseiros, Xiomara Martin Jimenez, Yaimara Reyes Mesa, and Yaite Sosa, went to the police station to protest the arrest of Antunez.

They were savagely beaten and arrested as well.

All five remain in prison.

UPDATE: Antunez was released last night.

Occupy the Church

It seems Cuban dissidents are growing weary of the Vatican ignoring their humane requests, while complying with every rule in the Castro regime's playbook.

From AP:

Cuban dissidents hole up in church, ask for audience with pope during upcoming visit

Thirteen Cuban dissidents have holed up in a Roman Catholic church in Havana to press for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI when he visits in two weeks, saying they want to air their grievances about human rights on the island.

Some other dissidents and a church spokesman denounced the move, which was apparently meant to be part of coordinated protests at churches across the island that were later abandoned.

The Church of Charity of Cobre in teeming Central Havana was semi-shuttered Wednesday and only pilgrims visiting an image of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron, were permitted inside. There was no sign of police, and activity appeared normal on surrounding streets.

The dissidents were in an area that is off-limits to worshippers, said dissident William Cepera. He said he spoke with them through a window that was later closed.

“They entered the church last night and stayed. They will not budge from there,” he said.

Cepera added that he and a colleague from their small opposition group, the Nov. 30 Democratic Party, tried to join the group but were not allowed in.

“We would like to talk with the pope and tell him that the government of Fidel and Raul (Castro) has released only some prisoners, but other political prisoners remain,” he said.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who will discuss Iran, Syria and North Korea.

Then, Project 2049's Kelley Currie will discuss the latest developments in Burma and Tibet. Ms. Currie was a Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs and Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues at the U.S. Department of State.

"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).

Challenging Companies Tied to Castro

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
A question for those now trying to make long-shot legalistic arguments against this new Florida law:

Why didn't they oppose an exact same law passed by the Florida legislature last year targeting Iran and Sudan?

From The Miami Herald:

New Florida law prohibits Miami-Dade, other governments from hiring companies tied to Cuba

Florida legislators have voted to restrict state and local governments from inking contracts with companies tied to Cuba or Syria. The measure appeared directed at one of Miami-Dade County government’s largest contractors, Odebrecht USA.

Delving into Miami-Dade’s tricky exile politics, Florida lawmakers passed sweeping but little-noticed legislation this session prohibiting local governments from hiring companies that do business with Cuba.

The law appears to target one of the county’s largest contractors: Odebrecht USA, the Coral Gables-based subsidiary of the giant Brazilian conglomerate. The parent company’s Cuban affiliate is participating in a major expansion at the Port of Mariel.

Miami-Dade legislators, with near-unanimous support of the Florida House of Representatives and Senate, pushed the bill as a way to keep taxpayer dollars out of the hands of repressive regimes. The law also applies to companies that work in Syria, which, like Cuba, is on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

“It puts the decision on the companies that are affected,” said Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors. “Do they want to do business in Florida, or do they want to do business in these countries?”

Yet a major portion of the legislation, which applies to contracts worth at least $1 million, seems likely to face a court challenge for interfering with the federal government’s power to set foreign policy, experts said.

Statutes limiting local governments’ contracting decisions based on the vendor’s international work oversteps a state’s power, said Dan O’Flaherty, vice president of the Washington D.C.-based National Foreign Trade Council, which advocates trade with Cuba.

“It’s unconstitutional,” he said, citing a 2000 Trade Council case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law restricting state businesses from dealing with companies with ties to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

“States are barred by the Supreme Court decision from enacting procurement sanctions targeting companies doing business in foreign country ‘X,’ ” added O’Flaherty, whose organization sent letters to Gov. Rick Scott and House and Senate leaders in opposition.

In general, state and local governments are barred from setting policy that conflicts with federal law.

A Florida House staff analysis suggested Congress has authorized the type of contractual restrictions in the legislation, which takes effect July 1 and is not retroactive. But Miami-Dade has lost past battles over Cuba policy.

In 2007, county attorneys advised that Miami-Dade couldn’t consider contractors’ Cuba ties in awarding the Port of Miami tunnel project. Activists opposed giving work to Bouygues Travaux Publics because an affiliate of the French firm built 11 resorts in ventures with the Cuban military.

And in 2000, a federal judge struck down the county’s “Cuba affidavits,” which tried to deny funding to nonprofits with ties to the island.

Bruce Rogow, who challenged that policy, predicted the new law — if it passes muster with the governor — won’t stand.

“It’s unenforceable,” said Rogow, a constitutional law professor at Nova Southeastern University. “If there is no federal law making it illegal to do business with Cuba or Syria, state law can’t make it so.”

Not so, countered Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of pro-embargo U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee.

“This doesn’t say Odebrecht USA has to leave,” said Claver-Carone, who has criticized the firm on his blog, Capitol Hill Cubans. “They can stay and do private business in Florida. It basically does not allow for public taxpayer money to be used — that is money from many of the victims of the Cuban government.”

Though the new legislation doesn’t name Odebrecht, Claver-Carone called the firm “the most egregious” example of a foreign company doing business in Florida and Cuba through subsidiaries.

Largely by landing lucrative deals with local governments, Odebrecht USA has flourished in Miami for two decades, operating like a homegrown Florida company. Gilberto Neves, the local subsidiary’s president and CEO, is a U.S. citizen and immediate past chairman of the board of the YMCA of Greater Miami.

But another arm of Odebrecht is a prominent player in Cuba. On a visit to the island in late January, Brazil’s leftist president, Dilma Rousseff, touted Odebrecht’s plan to help revitalize sugar production there.

Odebrecht’s success in Miami includes taking part in some of the region’s biggest projects. It is close to finishing the gleaming new $3 billion North Terminal at Miami International Airport and is working on the Metromover link to MIA. Odebrecht was involved in the construction of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the American Airlines Arena and the stadium at Florida International University.

Neves said his company learned of the legislation only Friday, when it passed.

“We are a very good corporate citizen, because we care,” he said of Odebrecht USA. “My kids were raised here. This is home for us, and we’d like to continue that legacy.”

The company already faces opposition from some Miami-Dade commissioners who have signaled they are unlikely to give the Brazilian giant more county work.

Odebrecht has been negotiating more than a year with county aviation officials on a deal to build the proposed Airport City, a massive, $700-million complex including two hotels plus office and retail space on airport grounds. The company envisions a public-private investment in which it would build and operate the facility and pay the airport a share.

According to an economic impact study, Neves said, the project would generate about 5,800 jobs during construction and about 10,000 jobs afterward. “It’s a major, major economic boost for Miami-Dade County,” he said.

The plan, now under Federal Aviation Administration review, would ultimately have to win commission approval.

Last June, when Commission Chairman Joe Martinez asked County Attorney Robert Cuevas for options on contracts with Odebrecht, Cuevas wrote that “state and local governments cannot generally take action’’ on foreign trade matters already subject to federal law.

Nevertheless, when aviation director Jose Abreu mentioned the Airport City project while addressing the commission last month, Martinez told Abreu not to waste his time, indicating the proposal would not move forward because of the firm’s ties to Cuba. In particular, Martinez mentioned Odebrecht’s sugar venture.

There is other dais opposition. Commissioner Javier Souto, a Bay of Pigs veteran, said Tuesday that it would be “horrible” if the commission voted for the Airport City project.

“It would be adding insult to injury,” he said in an interview, adding that the new legislation “takes care of that.”

Last year, Commissioner Esteban Bovo changed his vote on a deal awarding Odebrecht the contract to strengthen the wharves at the Port of Miami, saying he had learned of the firm’s Cuba ties after his vote.

“I don’t think we should be playing the role of hypocrites and saying one thing to our community and then doing something else as a governing body,” said Bovo, who favors the new law.

A separate part of the law restricts state investments, such as those made for pension funds, in businesses linked to Cuba and Syria.

“Why are we going to continue to do business with them?’’ Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, said of the new legislation he sponsored. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Sign the Petition

Click here to sign the One Cuba petition.

Investigate Attack on Cuban Pastor

From Christian Today:

Call for investigation into attack on Cuban pastor

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has called upon the Cuban authorities to investigate an attack that reportedly left a pastor with brain damage.

Pastor Reutilio Columbie was found unconscious in the street several hours after leaving his house in Moa on 6 February.

The pastor had planned to travel to Holguin city to file a complaint against the authorities for confiscating a church vehicle.

The vehicle, bought by Pastor Columbie to transport church members, was seized by the authorities last December without warning or explanation.

It has reportedly been returned to the original owner, who has family ties with an individual in the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

The Central Committee's Office of Religious Affairs oversees the registration of church property and vehicles.

The attack was preceded by anonymous phone calls telling the pastor and his family to stop their challenge against the confiscation of the vehicle, or else face the consequences.

CSW fears that the attack is linked to Pastor Columbie's decision to take action against the authorities.

He cannot remember anything about the attack, but the only thing missing from his possession afterwards were papers related to the vehicle.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, the theft of documentation relating to the ownership of the church vehicle raised questions about the motives behind the violent assault on the pastor.

Pastor Reutilio, 41, is now recuperating at home with his wife Maida Perez and their three children, but still struggles with speech and memory. His daughter says that he is also frequently nauseous and dizzy.

The family initially received assurances of an investigation but has now been told that this will no longer proceed as too much time has lapsed.

"Cuba lacks legislation to protect religious freedom and guarantee church property," said Mr Thomas.

"This, combined with the fact that all religious matters are dealt with by the Office for Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), rather than regular judicial channels, leaves religious groups and leaders vulnerable to abuse and with no means to appeal decisions.

"CSW continues to call for the establishment of a legal framework, independent of the CCP, to regulate religious affairs.”

What Travelers Don't See in Cuba

While the Obama Administration licenses "ropa vieja" tasting tours of Cuba (hopefully OFAC's recent warning will apply), here's what "people-to-people" travelers will not see in their Castro regime-hosted tours.

Cuban pro-democracy activists smuggled a cell phone camera into one of the putrid cells they are placed in for peacefully assembling and protesting.

As a reminder, the Castro regime refuses to allow the International Committee on the Red Cross and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit its infamous prisons.

Here's the must-see footage:

A Warning From OFAC

Monday, March 12, 2012
Let's hope enforcement matches the warning.

From the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC):

[A] requirement of all licenses issued under section 515.565(b)(2) is that each traveler must have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba. Advertising travel that appears to deviate from this requirement may prompt contact from OFAC to ensure that the people-to-people travel meets applicable requirements and thereby complies with current U.S. policy with respect to purposeful travel to Cuba. Advertisements for people-to-people travel that give the appearance that trips will focus on activities travelers may undertake off hours after their daily full-time schedule of people-to-people activities may give an incorrect impression and prompt contact from OFAC that may potentially result in a license suspension while we investigate. OFAC does not authorize transactions related to activities that are primarily tourist-oriented, including self-directed educational activities that are intended only for personal enrichment, as provided in paragraph (c) of section 515.565 of the Regulations. Licensees that fail to meet the requirements of their licenses may have their licenses revoked or be issued a civil penalty, which can range up to $65,000 per violation.

Must Read: Cuba's Shame

By Jacob Mchangama in National Review:

Cuba’s Shame

A regime both oppresses and humiliates.

‘He who loses his honor loses everything.” So states one of the propaganda posters, featuring quotations from Fidel Castro, that are ubiquitous in Cuba. How ironic, then, that Castro’s policies are directly responsible for the daily humiliations suffered by the Cuban people, the supposed beneficiaries of Cuban socialism.

One aspect of this humiliation is the lack of basic human rights, not least the systematic violation of freedom of conscience. The suffocating repression of dissent and pluralism is not immediately visible: A tourist may well enjoy the charming architecture of Old Havana, the cheap rum and cigars, the fabulous weather, the salsa clubs, and the white beaches without encountering any signs of the police state; indeed, European tourists, especially those predisposed by a romantic anti-American admiration for Castro, often come away with positive impressions.

But speak to some of the Island’s dissidents — or earn the trust of ordinary Cubans — and the picture becomes very different. One of the most prominent Cuban dissidents is the blogger Yoani Sánchez, who has used social media to great effect in the cause of dissent. I traveled to Havana to hand Ms. Sánchez the freedom prize my employer, the Center for Political Studies (CEPOS), awarded her last year, since the regime refuses her the right to leave the country and receive the many prizes she has received in places such as Denmark, Spain, and the Netherlands.

The award is a piece of the Berlin Wall framed in metal. Despite its weighing in at 8 kilos, I still managed to get it past Cuban border control and hand it to Ms. Sánchez. She is in many ways an unusual person: a truly independent intellectual. Her bookshelves include not only Mario Vargas Llosa — loathed by many Latin American intellectuals for his opposition to Castro, Chávez, and other caudillos, as well as his defense of capitalism — but also Ayn Rand’s pro-capitalist bible Atlas Shrugged, in both English and Spanish. Because of her increasing international fame, Sánchez has (unlike many other Cuban dissidents) been spared imprisonment and deportation. But she is still closely monitored by the regime, which has people watching her apartment, monitoring her correspondence and mobile phone, and following her around when she ventures outside her flat. She tells me that the Cuban state has successfully managed to silence the vast majority of Cubans through its close but barely visible control of all aspects of Cuban society. More Cubans might defy the official censorship if the consequences were “merely” short-term arrest — a phenomenon that, according to dissidents and human-rights organizations, has increased in the past few years, after the release and deportation of a number of political prisoners.

The repression is not solely legal and official, but also penetrates the social realm. Since almost all Cubans are dependent on the regime for their survival and basic necessities, most are too frightened to speak out, as such dissent can lead to dismissal, loss of benefits, and social isolation. Whole families may be affected by one of their members’ crossing of the blurry red lines of acceptable criticism, and therefore this form of devious social control is very effective. Most criticism of the regime therefore takes place in closed circles, among families or trusted friends, rather than in public.

Another favorite regime tactic against dissidents such as Sánchez is the use of demonization. Sánchez is often portrayed as a CIA-sponsored stooge of imperialism in the national media; because of the regime’s stranglehold on the media — and because Internet access is severely limited and extremely expensive — such narratives are difficult to counter. Accordingly, relatively few Cubans seem to know Sánchez despite her international fame.

Apart from the representatives of the local “Committee for the Defense of the Revolution” — essentially a form of neighborhood watch set up in all residential areas to spy on the activities of citizens — I did not encounter any visible signs of surveillance of Sánchez. But her fears are not a symptom of paranoia. That became clear when I visited another dissident, Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas, the founder and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. Payá was awarded the 2002 Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament for his advocacy of peaceful resistance to the regime based on values of democracy and freedom of conscience. In the 1990s, Payá and others sought to rely on the Cuban constitution, which guarantees the rights of citizens to propose legislation providing 10,000 citizens sign a petition. Payá successfully managed to obtain the necessary signatures, but his initiative was ignored, and in 2003 many members of his movement were imprisoned during the so-called Black Spring. Possibly because of his high profile, Payá, like Yoani Sánchez, has been spared imprisonment, but not the keen attention of the regime: He showed us a hidden microphone found in his telephone some years ago. He also found bugs in his bedroom and living room. Some 20 meters from Payá’s house is parked a shining new car with the green license plates of the Ministry of Interior, which is responsible for state security. Payá views the Cuban regime as a “fundamentalist” one not differing much from other fundamentalist totalitarian dictatorships, whether religious or secular. He echoes Yoani Sánchez’s description of the repression of Cuban society; he and his family have suffered numerous instances of intimidation and humiliations at the hands of government officials and their sympathizers.

The repression suffered by the Cuban people has yet another dimension: The lack of economic freedom and opportunity makes it difficult for ordinary Cubans to get by on the rations and meager salaries paid out by the regime, so many of them are forced to hustle just to make ends meet. This is a tragedy in a country that — though seriously marred by consecutive corrupt and repressive regimes — once was among the richest in the region. In fact, the fertile but mostly uncultivated land, the majestic but often dilapidated buildings, the lack of stores with quality goods other than rum and cigars (and the ubiquitous Che Guevara T-shirts for the historically illiterate), and the general absence of commerce and industry are a testament to the utter failure of Castro’s revolution.

Not only does this result in widespread corruption — as recently acknowledged by Raúl Castro himself — but also in more degrading practices that gnaw away at the moral fabric of Cuban society. According to Oswaldo Payá, these problems are systemic and inherent in the ideological nature of the Cuban regime: Cuban socialism is not just a perverse ideology, it also perverts its victims — forcing them to act against their conscience in order to survive. The best example of this is evident at nighttime, when elderly European men walk around the streets of Havana with young, beautiful Cuban women (sometimes girls). While some of these relationships are based on genuine mutual affection, the vast majority of the girls cozying up to foreigners are jineteras (an informal type of prostitute). Many jineteras are normal girls who go to school or work but need the extra income to supplement the rapidly decreasing rations handed out by the regime.

In Europe, these girls would be dating guys their own age, based on their own preferences, but in Havana “dating” is dictated by the size of the wallet, not looks or personality. I experience this first hand at the Malecón, Havana’s famous coastal esplanade. Since I look like a Cuban — and thus an unlikely source of income — I was spared the attention of the many girls cruising this strip. But the blond Danish photographer accompanying me was constantly besieged by girls and by young men essentially operating as pimps. One local girl — aged 20 — we meet is luckier than most, having been adopted by a European settled in Havana and thus living comfortably compared with most other Cubans. She tells us that most of her classmates have sold sex for cash to foreigners and that the local pimps are often relatives or even the boyfriends of the girls they are trying to sell to tourists. So much for the acclaimed honor of the Cuban revolution, and the governments’ pious lectures to the international community about “social rights.”

Only left-wing American Hollywood actors and authoritarian regimes at the U.N. Human Rights Council could be so blind to these indignities as to characterize Cuba as a success story. The sad truth is that one man’s egoistic pride has resulted in the humiliation of an entire people.

Jacob Mchangama is the director of legal affairs at the Danish think tank CEPOS.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Marketing the American brand abroad.

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the importance of public diplomacy with Michael Gonzalez of The Heritage Foundation and Richard Parker of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

Gonzalez is a former State Department official and former Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal's Asia and Europe editions. Parker is a former Director of Communications for the Peace Corps.

"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).

Just One Minute

Yesterday, the Ladies in White -- once again -- asked Pope Benedict XVI to give them "just one minute" during his upcoming visit to Cuba.

The Ladies in White are the courageous wives, daughters, sisters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners. They are daily targets of the Castro regime's brutal repression.

Yet, while the Pope has no problem scheduling early and lengthy visits with Cuba's brutal dictators, he can't seem to commit to its defenseless vicitims.

So sad.

If this outrages you, please take "just one minute" to sign the One Cuba Facebook petition here.

Castro Remains an Enemy of the Internet

Today is World Day Against Cyber-Censorship.

For this occassion, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has released its yearly Enemies of the Internet list, which features Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Here's the Cuba section of the report:

A digital cold war is being played out against a backdrop of demonizing the Internet and social networks, which are accused of having a destabilising influence and being orchestrated by the American enemy. Will the arrival of the Venezuelan fiber-optic cable call into question the “rationing” of the Internet, which remains out of reach for the majority of the population? The creation of a tightly controlled Cuban Web 2.0 tends to indicate that the regime has no intention of making any concessions with regard to communications.

Pressures and defamation campaigns against critical bloggers

Pro-government bloggers are waging a non-stop battle on the Internet against “alternative” bloggers critical of the authorities. The regime is preventing most of its citizens from gaining access to the Internet and is occupying the field in order to leave no cyberspace for dissidents. However, although less than 2% of Cubans have access to the World Wide Web, a growing number of them have found creative ways to connect with the Internet and visit the social networks.

In March 2011, an official documentary programme named the “Las Razones de Cuba” (“Cuba’s Reasons”) TV series was broadcast which accused critical bloggers, labelled as “cybermercenaries,” of being manipulated by the United States, had been countered by the publication, on Viméo, of a dissident video entitled “Citizens’ Reasons”, in which blogger Yoani Sanchez explained that the “demonization of the Internet” was in full throttle because the government was “frazzled” and fearful that the Internet might play a role similar to that of the Arab Spring. The dissident later stated in an interview granted on 2 January to the Peruvian daily El Comercio that she was very “sceptical” about the likelihood of a Cuban protest movement of the sort observed in Tunisia or Egypt, in view of how “highly fragmented” Cuban society is and the “minimal” mobilisation capacity of its social networks.

Yoani Sanchez founded a school of bloggers to break the tight grip on information imposed by official news sources. Other bloggers such as Claudia Cadelo, Laritza Diversent and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo have also taken the initiative to defend “digital freedoms” and the Cubans’ right to be informed. The coverage of dissident Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia’s death by “alternative” bloggers offended a government already displeased that its official version was being challenged.

The authorities’ strategy about social networks

In November 2011, the whole world witnessed what was probably the first direct confrontation between a member of the Cuban leader’s family – in this case Mariela Castro, Raul Castro’s daughter – and dissident Yoani Sánchez. In a baptism by fire on Twitter, Mariela Castro lost her composure while responding to the arguments of her critics, calling them parásitos despreciables [despicable parasites]. During an interview for BBC, Yoani Sanchez later praised the social networks’ role as a dialogue facilitator: “On Twitter, no one gives lessons to anyone else. Presidents don’t order citizens around and neither do major personalities bully ordinary people. They all learn from each other.” She was once again prevented from leaving the country in February 2012.

On 1 December 2011, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, urged social networks to develop a new strategy which would allow them to rid themselves of the “dictatorship of the sector’s large U.S. groups.” A few days later, the government accused Twitter of having spread rumours about Fidel Castro’s death.

Shortly afterwards, the regime launched RedSocial, a Cuban version of Facebook accessible only via the Cuban Intranet, Red Cubana. Conceived as “a virtual meeting place for Cuban academics,” it is nonetheless a surveillance tool. In order to register, the user must provide his or her e-mail’s password. This “Made in Cuba” social network boasted several thousand registered users by the end of 2011.

The undersea Cable from Venezuela, a new hope?

Much more is at stake now with the arrival of the undersea Alba fiber-optic cable which will link Cuba and Venezuela, multiplying by 3,000 the island’s capacity to connect to the rest of the world. Initially scheduled for the summer of 2011, its implementation was postponed without further explanation. In early 2011, the regime announced that this Web access would be reserved for “social use” by institutions, universities and certain professions such as doctors and journalists. It would also make it possible to continue setting up collective access centres. Contrary to expectations, in late January 2012, the Cuban Communist Party Congress carefully set aside the issue of Internet development.

Although no one is banking on the fact that certain cable fibres will be diverted towards the Internet access black market, others believe that the cable will not create new opportunities for Cubans who wish to connect to the World Wide Web. Since the latter is rationed, as is the rest of Cuba, the cable could only enhance connection quality and bandwith speed for those who already have access. The regime remains ready to crush any attempt to bypass censorship. In November 2011, Cuba accused the United States of bolstering parallel Internet connections on the island by unlawfully importing equipment and making satellite connections available. An American citizen accused of involvement in these clandestine activities was arrested in December 2009.

Quote of the Week

Sunday, March 11, 2012
"Cuba is not excluded from the Summit of the Americas, the one who is actually excluded is the totalitarian Castro regime because it does not represent the Cuban people. The Cuban people are all Cubans, regardless of where we live or how we think. The totalitarian Castro regime represents the unpunished violations of the rights and liberties inherent to the dignity of a person."

-- Pedro Argüelles Moran, Cuban pro-democracy leader and former prisoner of conscience, Hablalo Sin Miedo (translated by Babalu), 3/8/12

Why We Support Sanctions

Excerpt from Humberto Fontova's editorial in The Miami Herald:

Why we remain resolute against traveling to Cuba

“More travel to Cuba means more freedom for Cubans,” goes the anti-“embargo” mantra.

Now here’s what a recent story by Reuters out of Havana said: "Cuba just completed its best year for tourism with 2.7 million visitors in 2011. Hotels are full to the brim and Old Havana, the capital’s historic center, is teeming with tourists from around the world... ‘We are at capacity... totally full,’ said the manager of a foreign hotel company.”

Now here’s a recent report by The Cuban Commission for Human Rights as reported by Marti Noticias: “December 2011 was the worst month for political arrests in 30 years. Elizardo Sánchez said ‘all signs are indicating that... the regime has greatly ramped up its repressive machinery’... This indicates that the regime has granted top priority to the institutions of repression.”

In the 1950s when Cuba hosted an average 200,000 tourists annually, it was billed as a “tourist playground.” Well, for two decades now Cuba has been hosting from five to ten times the number of tourists annually as it hosted in the 1950s. Result?

The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom shows no loosening in Cuba’s repression during this tourism windfall. For over a decade Cuba has consistently ranked as the most economically repressive regime in the hemisphere and among the four most repressive on earth, consistently nudging North Korea for top honors.

“But if Americans can legally travel to North Korea,” comes the reflexive retort, “why not to Cuba?”

Because tourism represents a tiny source of income for North Korea’s terror-sponsoring regime, whereas it represents the main life-support (right behind Venezuelan subsidies) of Cuba’s terror-sponsoring regime. So the United States applies a different type of sanctions to Stalinist North Korea than to Stalinist Cuba.

As shown earlier, the evidence, proof and verdict on Cuba-travel are all in. Rather than soothing the savage beast of Castroism, travel to Cuba enriches, entrenches and thus emboldens the regime to shrug off criticism and sharpen its fangs.

Read the whole editorial here.