Castro Blackmails Mexico's President

Saturday, April 7, 2012
According to Mexico's Proceso newspaper, the Castro regime will release four Mexicans it has held hostage in exchange for Mexico's President Felipe Calderon confirming an upcoming visit to the island.

The four Mexicans were arrested on March 27th and have been held at Castro's secret police headquarters, know as Villa Marista.

They were accused of trying to make contact with the Ladies in White during Pope Benedict XVI's visit.

Two days later, the Mexican government confirmed President Calderon's visit for April 11th, in exchange for their release.

(A good reminder for those who don't believe that the Castro regime places a high value on the legitimacy that visits by foreign dignitaries bestow).

Of course, as part of the agreement, President Calderon will not visit with any pro-democracy leaders on the island, but he will explore various business partnerships with the Castro regime.

That's how Mexico's drug cartels operate, except President Calderon has actually been willing to stand up to them.

Not so with the Castro cartel.

Kudos to the Garcia Family

Andy Garcia’s daughter Dominik Garcia-Lorido (“The Lost City”), has a new show called “Magic City,” premiering tonight at 10/9c on Starz.

The Cuban-American actress gave an interview to The Huffington Post.

Here's an excerpt:

Have you ever been to Cuba?

No, I haven’t. I would love to see it, but when it’s a free Cuba, I will. It’s a respect thing. I have a few friends who have gone with their parents and they just said it was devastating. It’s really just... going while Fidel is in power.

How would your dad (Andy Garcia) feel if you went?

My dad wouldn’t go and I was really raised in that kind of household. And my dad’s been very outspoken against that political regime. I’m just very against the politics down there.

In Memory of Fang Lizhi

A courageous man who spoke out -- in no unqualified terms -- at a time when others chose silence.


Famed Chinese dissident Fang Lizhi dies

Fang Lizhi, a famed Chinese democracy activist, has died in the United States, where he fled in exile more than 20 years ago, fellow activists said.

He was 76.

Fang died Friday in Tucson, Arizona, according to Wang Dan, a prominent student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests.

"My most, most respected teacher Fang Lizhi has died," Wang wrote on Facebook. "I am immensely sad. I hope that the Chinese people will forever remember him, that in our history there was thinker named Fang (Lizhi) who inspired a 1989 generation and awakened the people to aspire or human rights and democracy."

He added, "Sooner or later, there will be a day when China will be proud of Fang Lizhi."

Fang, an accomplished astrophysicist, served as vice president of the elite University of Science and Technology at Hefei, Anhui province. He was dismissed from his job and expelled from the Communist Party in 1987, blamed for sympathizing with student protesters.

He was one of the three noted intellectuals who were publicly criticized during the "anti-bourgeois liberalization" campaign during that time, though Fang continued to speak out for democracy.

In early 1989, he wrote an open letter to Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping, calling for the release of Chinese political prisoners.

After the bloody crackdown during the Tiananmen protests on June 4, 1989, Fang and his wife Li Shuxian sought refuge inside the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

Pope's Trip Leaves Little Hope

By Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

Pope’s visit to Cuba leaves little reason for hope

Barely a week after the pope left Cuba, the grand Oasis of the Seas, on a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Mexico, rescues on the high seas 19 men and four women fleeing from the island in a small boat.

Barely a week after the pope left Cuba, a former Cuban political prisoner in Spain commits suicide, despondent over his inability to support his family in the economically devastated country after he accepted exile as a condition for freedom — a deal between the Catholic Church and the Cuban and Spanish governments.

Barely a week after the pope left Cuba, Easter Sunday will dawn on an island that is no less repressive and no more enlightened than it was after the last pope visited.

Where do we begin?

On the red papal carpet extended before Fidel and Raúl Castro and denied to the virtuous Ladies in White? On the entire hour the pope offered an aging tyrant, while denying even a minute to the brave churchgoing women who walk every Sunday, gladioluses in hand, to protest the lack of freedom?

Or perhaps we should begin with a dash of hope, that most useful of emotions, even when it’s doled out in small doses.

One example: As a line of Cuban bishops paid their respects to Pope Benedict XVI and to Raúl Castro, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez of Santiago broke with protocol and refused to shake Castro’s hand.

It was a rare moment of defiance, like the homily at Havana’s cathedral by Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who spoke about looking to the power of love to counter “people intoxicated with the love of power.” Wenski received a standing ovation.

But mostly, it was a trip long on courtship of the oppressors, lending more years of legitimacy to a ruinous regime, and short on kinship with the true suffering people, some of them jailed to keep them from taking part in the pope’s visit.

“I’m going through a terrible crisis of faith,” says a Miami friend, a practicing Catholic all of his life. “To see Raúl Castro being escorted on a red carpet to an altar and the pope awaiting him was too much.”

Imagine how journalist Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernandez, 52, given the choice of exile with his family in Spain or continued incarceration for disseminating news about Cuba, viewed this visit and how that might have played into his suicide. Imagine the outrage of 115 former political prisoners of conscience like him who were promised refuge in Spain by Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, only to be left to their own devices in a country with astounding unemployment. In the aftermath of a visit historic only for all its shortcomings, we watch and listen for developments on this Friday — declared a holiday for the first time in decades in Cuba, the only concession the regime made to the pontiff.

On the most significant holiday for a practicing Catholic, it’s hard to find in Miami or Havana reasons to believe or to hope on behalf of the Cuban people. The only developments seem to be more repression, more desperate bids to flee.

One of the world’s largest cruise ships rescues 23 people and leaves them in Cozumel to face an uncertain future, a group of humble Cubans still adrift and misunderstood in the unchanged, post-pope world.

A Stark Contrast

An excerpt from "Pope Benedict XVI in Cuba" by George Weigel, famed biographer of Pope John Paul II:

Asked at the end of the visit why the pope had not met with the Ladies in White and other civil-society dissidents, the Holy See’s sometimes-hapless press spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., made matters worse by replying that the Vatican, in planning such a visit, had to take account of the wishes of the public authorities about the pope’s program.

That, however, was not John Paul II’s view of the matter. Prior to the second papal visit to Poland, which took place in 1983 during martial law, the regime insisted that the pope could not meet with Lech Wałesa, the imprisoned Solidarity leader; the pope insisted on the meeting and threatened to leave early if the meeting were not arranged; and the meeting took place. And if it be countered that, well, Benedict XVI is not a Cuban returning to his own country, then it should be remembered that John Paul II did precisely the same thing in Chile in 1987, when, much to the aggravation of the Pinochet regime, he had a lengthy meeting (arranged by local Catholic authorities) with the Chilean democratic opposition.

Florida CFO Supports Cuba-Syria Bill

Friday, April 6, 2012
The following is a letter from Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to Governor Rick Scott in support of CS/HB 959 “State and Local Government Relations with Cuba or Syria”:

CFO Ltr to Gov Scott Cuba-Syria bill 04-2012 -

Remembering Alberto Du Bouchet Hernández

By Maria Salazar-Ferro of the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Remembering Cuba's Du Bouchet Hernández

On Wednesday morning, exiled Cuban journalist Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández took his own life, according to reports in the Cuban exiled media. He was the last of more than 20 Cuban journalists to be released from prison and sent to Spain following July 2010 talks between the government of Cuban President Raúl Castro and the Catholic Church. Du Bouchet Hernández, who reported opposition political news, endured inhumanity at home and, ultimately, suffered hardship in exile.

Du Bouchet Hernández was the director of the Havana-based independent news agency Havana Press. He was jailed twice, in 2005 and 2009, on "disrespect" charges. According to CPJ research, he drew the ire of Cuban authorities after reporting on an unprecedented gathering of hundreds of Cuban opposition activists in 2005. Like most political prisoners, Du Bouchet Hernández was jailed in inhumane conditions that included rotting food and overflowing wastewater.

I spoke to him many times between prison stints. He was determined, and continued working after his initial release. But it was clear from our conversations that he was also deeply affected by the continuous repression he faced from Cuban authorities.

Du Bouchet Hernández was released the second time in April 2011. He initially settled in Madrid with his former wife and son, but then moved to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, where he died. News of his death was first reported by the exiled reporter Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta on Facebook. Herrera Acosta said he did not know precisely what motivated his friend but knew that he had been in pain.

Like most journalists released from Cuban prisons to Spain, Du Bouchet Hernández had a very difficult time adjusting. Economic woes and bureaucratic problems made the transition extremely difficult for many, as my colleague Borja Bergareche reported for CPJ in 2011. At the time, many said Spain would only be a temporary stop. Since then, at least seven journalists, including Herrera Acosta, have moved to the United States by CPJ's count.

A Daughter's Testimony

From Pedazos de la Isla:

New Details Emerge of Leading Dissident’s Kidnapping by State Security

“They took my mother, my father, and all those who were in my house,” declared the daughter of Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia

The daughter of the former political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer and the Lady in White Belkis Cantillo said this Tuesday that she still does not know the whereabouts of her parents, who were arrested yesterday by police agents after they raided their home in the town of Palmarito de Cauto, in the province of Santiago de Cuba.

“The search of the house lasted from 3 PM to 9:30 PM”, declared 14 year old Martha Beatriz Ferrer Cantillo to Cubaencuentro. She witnessed the police search.

The young girl said that her parents were taken without any shoes and with the same clothes they had on at that moment. An aunt of hers was also detained as were other dissidents who were in the house at that time, she explained.

Martha Beatriz noticed what was happening when she returned from school. “I saw police cars in front of the house, and at first I thought there had been an accident, but when I saw the State Security agents I imagined what was happening”, she affirmed. She explained that one of the detained dissidents screamed to her from the police vehicle he was in, saying that her parents had been arrested.

“I started to hit one of the police vehicles. I told them that I wanted to see my mother, and that I wanted to know why they were taking them. One official pushed me, and they dragged me out to the road. They threatened me and told me that they were aware that I was a minor but that, regardless, they were capable of doing anything to me”, narrated Martha Beatriz.

The daughter of the dissidents commented that the police did not let her go inside the house, and when she managed to get in she saw that they were doing a police search.

“When I entered my house, my 63 year old grandmother was screaming. They had pushed her. They [the agents] were in my dad’s room, stealing everything. They told me that it was a search order, but my grandmother told me that they did not show her a single document. She told me that my mother was beaten”, the youth expressed.

Martha Beatriz said that the handle on the front door was broken because, “it seems that they kicked the door open”.

Meanwhile, the Lady in White Tania Montoya Vazquez declared to Cubaencuentro that the police “even took a picture of Laura Pollan” from Jose Daniel’s home, in addition to “books and other logistical belongings” of the dissident.

“They were brutally beaten, dragged, and taken to police vehicles which were stationed outside the house. It is cowardly what they have done here against dissidents who raise their voices for the liberation and democratization of Cuba”, said the activist.

Urgent Action 2: Stop the Crackdown

Thursday, April 5, 2012
From Amnesty International:


Crackdown on Dissidents

The authorities have arrested 43 government critics in the province of Santiago de Cuba. This is a clear attempt to crush the emerging peaceful dissident movement in eastern Cuba.

Cuban security forces detained 43 government critics in three locations in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, in the afternoon of 2 April. Most of the 43 are members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Union Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU). Their homes were searched and office equipment, including computers, was apparently confiscated. Among them are UNPACU coordinator José Daniel Ferrer García, a former prisoner of conscience, and his wife Belkis Cantillo Ramírez, who is a member of the protest group Ladies in White. About 100 officials from the Department of State Security and police officers arrived at their house in Palmarito de Cauto at 2pm. According to local sources, the officers reportedly broke in and arrested Jose Daniel, Belkis and four others. The same thing was seen at the house of UNPACU member Raumel Vinajera Estive in Palma de Soriano, where he and about 15 others were arrested. Others were arrested in El Caney, close to the city of Santiago de Cuba. Ten of those arrested are women, all members of the Ladies in White.

Since shortly before the Pope’s arrival in Cuba on 28 March, the telephone connections of government critics have apparently been blocked by the authorities, making it difficult to identify where the detainees are being held. Some of them are known to be held at the “Micro 9” police station in the city of Santiago de Cuba, but the whereabouts of the majority are still unknown. Amnesty International believes that those detained may be prisoners of conscience. These detentions are a clear attempt by the authorities to crush the emerging peaceful dissident movement in Santiago de Cuba and neighbouring eastern provinces.

Urgent Action for Mass Protestor

From Amnesty International:


Cuban Government Detains Critic

A government critic has been detained, apparently without charge, for more than a week for peacefully expressing his right to freedom of expression.

Andrés Carrión Álvarez was arrested in the city of Santiago de Cuba on 28 March where he was attending an open air mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI. Five minutes before the mass began in Antonio Maceo Square, he apparently shouted, “freedom” (libertad) and “down with communism” (abajo el comunismo).

He was removed by security personnel and was apparently arrested by officials from the Department of State Security. Local human rights organizations have been unable to confirm his whereabouts or whether he has been charged.

Amnesty International believes he may be a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

Little to Celebrate From Pope's Visit

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Little to commemorate, celebrate after pope’s visit

OUR OPINION: Repression continues after Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba

As Christians commemorate Good Friday leading up to Easter and Jews prepare to celebrate Passover, the story of the Exodus, when the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, there’s a communist island in the Caribbean where its people remain enslaved and few days can be called “good.”

Barely a week after Pope Benedict XVI left Cuba, the repression continues. His short visit did nothing to give Cubans hope for a better future. The Vatican will point to the Cuban government allowing its people to not work this Good Friday as a sign that change is coming, if slowly. Yet the pope’s visit was one missed opportunity after another to speak up for Cubans’ basic human rights.

The pope had no time in his busy schedule to meet with the Ladies in White, the mothers, daughters and relatives of those imprisoned for peacefully protesting the Cuban dictatorship. Yet these women have been loyal Catholics, going to mass every Sunday for years. They have been spat on, punched out and knocked down by government-approved mobs. But the pope had no time for them.

In Santiago, there was another powerful missed opportunity when Andrés Carrión Alvárez ran through the crowd during the outdoor church service yelling, “Down with communism!” He was beaten and carted away — but not before getting pummeled on the head with a cot used as a weapon by a Cuban Red Cross worker. From the pope and the Cuban church leadership there was silence. Mr. Carrión, meanwhile, hasn’t been seen since.

In Havana, Alan Gross, an American contractor working for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will “celebrate” Passover in prison. He was arrested in December 2009. His crime? Bringing satellite equipment to Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. For this, he is serving a 15-year prison sentence.

Again, the pope said nothing, at least publicly, to ask for Mr. Gross’ release or to defend the fundamental right of all Cubans to be able to reach out and communicate with the world.

Another pope, John Paul II, asked Cuba to open up to the world and for the world to open up to Cuba some 14 years ago. Since then, Cubans have experienced some small successes — Christmas is now celebrated openly, for instance, in a nation that Fidel Castro had proclaimed to be atheists and remained officially so for decades. But the crackdowns on those who speak out against the regime’s abuses continue to this day.

In preparation for Pope Benedict’s visit, the Cuban regime detained hundreds of dissidents and shut them out of participating in any of the religious observances. They redirected dissidents’ phone lines to state security and claimed a technical glitch cut off Internet access islandwide. Worse still, Cuban Catholic leaders, led by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, turned over several Cubans — who had gone into a Havana church to seek the pope’s attention before his visit — to state security. Disgraceful.

Since the pope’s departure, the beatings and detentions by Cuban authorities continue. Cuban authorities have locked up at least two dozen dissidents, including José Daniel Ferrer Garcia, who was among the 75 detained during Cuba’s Black Spring crackdown of dissidents in 2003, and his wife, Belkis Cantillo. Their small children are now in the care of an aging relative. So much for progress.

The New Pulpit for Tyrants

Has the Catholic Church become the new political pulpit for tyrants?

This is just unbelievable.

From CNN:

Emotional Chavez speaks on cancer at Mass

An emotional Hugo Chavez discussed his struggle with cancer Thursday night, tearing up at times as he spoke at a Mass in western Venezuela.

At a service in his home state of Barinas billed by state television as giving thanks for his health, the Venezuelan president described cancer as "a true threat that marks the end of the path for many people. The end of the physical path, that's the truth."

But Chavez stressed that he was recovering, saying he had "much faith, much hope, much willpower to defeat this threat, as many people have, with the help of God and medical science."

He ended his sometimes somber, sometimes jocular remarks at the Thursday Mass with what he said was his message for God.

"Give me your crown, Christ, give it to me. Let me bleed. Give me your cross, 100 crosses, so I can carry them. But give me life, because I still have things to do for this people and this country," Chavez said. "Do not take me yet. Give me your cross, give me your thorns, give me your blood. I am prepared to carry it. But with life, Christ. Amen."

Kathy Castor's Preference for Dictators

The Castro dictatorship has tragically engaged in record breaking repression and political arrests.

Peaceful pro-democracy activists, particularly women, are being beaten, dragged through the streets and arbitrarily imprisoned.

Most Members of Congress stand in solidarity with Cuba's courageous pro-democracy movement.

But not U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL).

A look back through her schedule shows she has a preference for meetings with the Castro dictatorship:

Wednesday, March 16

4:00 pm - Cuban Interest Section

5:00 pm - Votes

6:30 pm - Telephone Town Hall

Wednesday, January 26

1:15 pm - Votes

2:00 pm - Meeting with Susan Cassidy, M.D., J.D., CEO of ContourMed Inc to discuss Custom Fabricated Breast Prosthetics Act of 2010

3:00 pm - Meeting: Jodi Ray - Florida Covering Kids & Families, USF

4:00 pm - Meeting - Head of the Cuban Interests Section Jorge A. Bolanos Suarez

And, of course, with Castro's business partners:

Monday, February 28

10:00 am - Meeting with John Thorington, Tampa Port Authority, re: Ferry Service

10:30 am - Meeting with Patrick Mantiega regarding Cuba relations

11:30 am - Meeting with Fassil Gabremariam

1:00 pm -Meeting with Joe Garcia regarding Cuba charter flight service

August 26, 2011 (Friday)

10:00 am - Gateway to Cuba Meeting HCC Ybor

Raul Promotes Another General in Junta

General Raul Castro has named General Samuel Rodiles as the new president of Cuba's National Institute for Urban Planning.

Rodiles is 78-years old.

Including Castro himself, that makes nine aging Generals in Raul's ruling junta.

These include the Ministers of Transportation, Economy, Armed Forces, Interior, Information and Communications, Civil Aeronautics and two Vice-Presidents of the Council of Ministers.

Let's call a spade a spade.

From the State Department

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
From today's U.S. State Department press briefing with spokesperson Mark Toner:

QUESTION: The new arrests in Cuba after the Pope’s visit, some people protesting previous arrests. Any comment on that?

MR. TONER: Correct. And I believe some of these arrests and detentions and harassment predated or were in the run-up to the Pope’s visit. No, we’re obviously extremely concerned about the detentions and harassment of scores of civil society activists during the last two weeks, predating the Pope’s arrival in Cuba.

We understand that the wave of detentions that began prior to Pope Benedict’s visit continues with the arrests of dozens of human rights activists and defenders in eastern Cuba in the last couple of days, which is what you just cited. We’re concerned by the Cuban Government’s attempts to silence reporting on these detentions. Apparently there’s been selective shutdowns of human rights activists, cellular and internet connections.

We call upon the Cuban Government to release all peaceful society – civil society activists immediately, and we particularly condemn the fact that most of these arrests took place during the Pope’s visit and with the aim of preventing those arrested from attending the public masses that the Pope officiated.

QUESTION: And if I might, Cuba related --


QUESTION: The president of Ecuador says he’s not going to the Summit of the Americas because Cuba is not invited. Any reaction?

MR. TONER: Well, look – and I think Mike Hammer, assistant secretary, spoke to this a couple weeks ago. Of course, he did it in Spanish. But obviously, he was – he said we would like to see widespread participation by the countries of the hemisphere. We believe the summit offers an opportunity for the leaders to discuss issues that concern all of the citizens of the hemisphere, but ultimately it’s each country’s own decision to decide whether to participate.

QUESTION: So you don’t care?

MR. TONER: It’s their own decision.

Dr. Biscet: No Religious Freedom in Cuba

From Catholic News Agency:

Oscar Biscet says religious freedom does not exist in Cuba

Cuban doctor and former political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet noted that while Pope Benedict's recent visit to the country was a success, religious freedom among the island's people remains stifled.

In an interview with Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, Biscet said the Pope's March 25-28 trip to Cuba was immensely beneficial “from a spiritual and religious point of view.”

But he argued that the Communist regime in Cuba manipulates circumstances in their favor and will most likely “ensure this visit benefited them more than those who are suffering.”

Biscet, who was imprisoned for more than a decade over his opposition to abortion, said that although government has shown a slight amount of “permissiveness” in recent years for Catholics who wish to practice their faith, “you still have to be careful about what you say in church.”

Ultimately, “there is no religious freedom because it is forbidden to preach in public,” he said.

Biscet recalled Blessed John Paul II's visit to the country in 1998, saying that the “government took advantage of it and did not follow through on its word to the Pope.”

“During these fourteen years, the world has opened up to the Cuban government, but this government has not opened up to the world or to its people.”

The Cuban doctor also criticized the Raul Castro government for misinforming the people by claiming there are similarities between Marxism and Christianity, when they are both “polar opposites.”

Communism, he said, “is hatred for religion, for God and for God’s creation. The foundation of Communism is atheism.”

“They claim to be defending the poor and that is totally false,” Biscet continued. “One of the pillars of Communism is taking away the freedom of citizens.”

“If you take human rights and basic freedoms away from citizens, you transgress God, because God is freedom,” he said. “God is total justice, he is love in all it magnitude. Christianity and Communism have nothing in common.”

Biscet was arrested in 1999 for denouncing abortions in Cuba. The practice is legal there in cases of fetal deformation, rape or life of the mother, “but they violate this law and abortion is seen as a contraceptive,” he said.

“I conducted a study on one type of abortion that is performed after the 16th week and in 9 percent of the cases, the babies were born alive and they were killed. I recorded the testimonies of the mothers, I brought them to the government and Fidel Castro became furious.

"One month later he ordered I be put in prison and even claimed I was mentally ill,” Biscet recalled. In 2011 he was finally freed due to the mediation of local Church leaders.

Biscet said that although political change in Cuba is very difficult, advancement for the country is still possible after decades of Communist rule.

“For 53 years fear has been instilled in the people and they have not expressed themselves, but when there is a double mindset: one real and one based on fear, it’s only one more step to freedom and to acquire one’s true personality, because when you know the truth, the truth will set you free. When you know the truth, you change,” Biscet said.

Up to 43 Arrests in Post-Papal Crackdown

There was a crackdown before Pope Benedict XVI's visit, then during and a now one after.

The number of political arrests in this week's post-Papal visit crackdown is up to 43.

Ten (10) of those arrested are Ladies in White and the rest are members of the Cuban Patriotic Union, a group in the eastern provinces led by former Black Spring prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer.

Ferrer and his wife, Belkis Cantillo, were violently arrested last night.

Castro's Un-Holy Week of Violence

For weeks, Cuba's pro-democracy activists tried to get Pope Benedict XVI's attention -- if even for just "one minute."

The fact is that Pope or no Pope, the Castro regime is always going to repress its peaceful critics -- that's just its modus operandi.

Yet prominent international figures can indeed curtail the regime's impunity by simple acts of solidarity with the repressed.

Unfortunately, the Pope's failure to embrace persecuted Cubans, has sent a dangerous message to the Castro regime:

If even the Good Pope won't stand with them -- who will?

The Pope is now gone and a new wave of violence has been unleashed -- ironically, to coincide with Holy Week.

As we posted yesterday, over 25 pro-democracy activists were brutally beaten and arrested for demanding the freedom of Andres Carrion Alvarez, the young protester who yelled for "freedom" at the Pope's Santiago Mass.

Then, Castro's secret police arrested one of Cuba's most respected pro-democracy leaders, Jose Daniel Ferrer and his wife Belkis Cantillo, a member of the Ladies in White. The police dragged them away in front of their young daughter. He is a former political prisoner of the Black Spring.

Meanwhile, the home of female pro-democracy leader, Luz Maria Piloto Romero, was also raided in order to arrest activists gathered there, including members of the group that sought refuge in Our Lady of Charity Church (and whom Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega allowed to be violently forced out).

And finally, Sonia Garro, a member of the Ladies in White and of the Independent Afro-Cuban Foundation, was shot with rubber bullets as Castro's agents assaulted her home last week. Yesterday, she was transferred to the women's prison in Havana and now faces up to a four-year sentence for "disobedience."

A sad couple of weeks.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Last week, due to to the unpredictability of live radio and D.C. traffic, "From Washington al Mundo" was unable to broadcast its exclusive interview with former President Stanislau Shushkevich, the first head of state and chairman of the Belarus Supreme Soviet from 1991 to 1994.

However, it will be played in its entirety today.

In December 1991, Shushkevich signed the historic Belovezha Accords with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine -- Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk -- which officially dissolved the Soviet Union.

He also narrates his impressions of Lee Harvey Oswald, President John F. Kennedy's assassin, whom he met in Minsk during the 1950's.

"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).

Another Reason Why Cuba is a State-Sponsor

Tuesday, April 3, 2012
The State Department's 2008 Country Reports on Terrorism alleged that Cuba “no longer actively supports armed struggles in Latin America and other parts of the world.”


This seems mind-boggling considering Cuba's control over Venezuela's military and intelligence infrastructure.

Fortunately, Cuba has not been given a free-pass for its harboring of terrorists and other fugitives from justice. Thus, it remains on the state-sponsors of terrorism list.

But it should also be held accountable for its role in Venezuela.

For all of Chavez's nefarious activities -- from narcotics trafficking to support for Iran and Syria -- take place under the tutelage of Cuban intelligence.

According to Venezuela's El Universal:

WikiLeaks: Cuban spies support Chávez's regime

Cuban spies with direct access to President Hugo Chávez play a key role in supporting his regime. These spies constantly inform the president on the opposition's moves, any rumors in the barracks and any sign of potential treason within revolutionary lines, say reports from WikiLeaks quoted by the Nuevo Herald.

These reports include information from the United States Department of State and analysis from the private intelligence firm Stratfor. They are proof of Chávez's extremely high dependence on Cuban intelligence services.

According to these cables, Havana strengthened the intelligence services at Chávez's disposal as Head of State by training and indoctrinating his employees. But, in addition, it supplied thousands of agents that operate freely in Venezuela monitoring the opposition and detecting any risk of insurrection within the National Armed Forces. "That is why Chávez owes so much to (Cuba)," stated an analyst from Stratfor.

The Cuban infiltration was also reported by the Embassy of the United States in Caracas, according to another cable.

Listen to William Levy's Story

In tonight's Dancing With the Stars, actor/model William Levy spoke about the realities of life in Cuba, where his step-father was a political prisoner.

Click here to watch:

Free Cubans Know Reconciliation

From 1959 to this very day, each generation of Cuban exiles has consistently opened their homes, schools and businesses to the most recent group of arrivals -- irrespective of their previous social status or political beliefs.

Free Cubans know and understand reconciliation.

But that didn't stop Cuban-American businessman Carlos Saladrigas, delivering remarks in Havana last Friday, from disparaging Cuban exiles as "hysterical" and lecturing that:

"There's no other road than that of reconciliation, respect, inclusion, dialogue, love and peace."

How about freedom?

Not surprisingly, Saladrigas's remarks raised eyebrows among dissidents on the island, including Ivan Garcia, who was present and later wrote:

"It caught my attention that [Saladrigas] didn't question the hundreds of arrests of dissidents during the German Pope's trip or the beating of the man that spontaneously screamed 'Down with Communism' at the Plaza Antonio Maceo of Santiago de Cuba."

Meanwhile, another dissident, Miriam Celaya, questioned why Saladrigas presupposes a "collective responsibility" among all Cubans for the crimes of the dictatorship.

None of this is new.

The strategy of "reconciliation without freedom" is more than three decades old.

It was initially contrived by the Castro regime in the 1970's as a way to discredit and divide the Cuban exile community -- its most persistent source of opposition -- while providing the regime with the ultimate guise of legitimacy.

Back then, the exile proponent was also a Cuban-American businessman, Bernardo Benes.

"I think, as I've thought since 1971, that Cubans here and there should bury the hate to produce a reconciliation of the Cuban nation," Benes told the Chicago Tribune.

And freedom?

What Saladrigas conveniently overlooks today -- similar to Benes 30 years ago -- is that freedom is a prerequisite for reconciliation.

Even the 20th century's greatest proponent of national reconciliation, South Africa's Nelson Mandela, stressed:

"Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts."

So it's no surprise that only self-appointed "leaders" with no constituencies would be insulting enough to propose "reconciliation without freedom."

For no self-respecting free man would ever follow.

In Solidarity With Mass Protestor

Monday, April 2, 2012
Dozens of Cuban dissidents took to the streets of the eastern city of Palma Soriano to demand the release of Andres Carrion Alvarez, the young man that yelled "freedom" and "down with Communism" prior to Pope Benedict XVI's Mass last week.

They were violently assaulted and arrested by Castro's secret police.

Twenty-six (26) of them remain imprisoned.

Meanwhile, similar protests have taken place in El Caney and in the Vista Hermosa neighborhood of Santiago de Cuba.

Awe-inspiring solidarity.

It's Time for Clear Words

From Germany's International Society for Human Rights (ISHR):

Cuban civil rights activists are complaining of the lacking sympathy of the Catholic Church

Wave of arrests continues

The Cuban police tried to silence civil rights activists and dissidents during the visit of the Pope with a new wave of arrests. As the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) reports, the number of known political arrests increased to 177 until Tuesday. Speaker of the Board of the ISHR, Martin Lessenthin, criticizes that, in spite of the obvious violations of the freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly during his visit on the island, Pope Benedict didn't find clear words for the Cuban democracy and civil rights movements. “A false picture of harmony is drawn which contributes to the fact that human rights are still strangled in Cuba”, says Lessenthin.

Cuban civil rights activists are disappointed about the lacking sympathy of the Catholic Church. The Catholic civil rights activist and former political prisoner Oswaldo Payá published a declaration, in which he complained that the Catholic Church doesn't pick out the arrests of dissidents, who couldn't see the Pope “not even from far away”, as a central theme sufficiently and condem them.

Threatening texts and capped telephone wires

Moreover ISHR points out that the Cuban authorities tried to suppress these kind of expression of opinion. Besides the mass arrests, numerous telephone wires had been capped. Other civil rights activists got threatening text messages that they would “disappear” after the departure of the Pope.

Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI. prayed on the 26th of March publicly in the church of pilgrimage El Cobre in the province Santiago de Cuba for “those, who were shorn of their freedom” and argued publicly for a change in Cuba, but the Castro regime set a more clear example during the mass: A young Cuban, who isn't known by name and who began to shout dissident slogans during a mass of the Pope around 100 meters away from the tribune, was beaten and hauled off by Cuban state security officials, reports the ISHR. Also the answer of the political hint came quickly: “There will be no political reform in Cuba”, declared Vice President Mariano Murillo forcefully to the press.

The Speaker of the Vatican, Federico Lombardi, affirms that the numerous petitions for the release of political prisoners “had presence” during the 40 minutes-meeting of Pope Benedict and Raúl Castro, but names and details weren´t mentioned. The wish of the civil rights organization “Ladies in White” for an audience couldn´t be fulfilled due to “time reasons”.

Cuba's Witty Blogger

From The Australian:

Cuba's witty blogger Yoani Sanchez won't be silenced

Yoani Sanchez offers a one-woman free press in a country that enjoys only the most slavish kind of state media.

The outspoken Cuban blogger, who wittily recounts the struggles of daily life in the communist country, has become the voice of a new generation of dissent in the island.

Millions around the world follow her Generacion Y blog; Time magazine named her one of the World's 100 Most Influential People; and US President Barack Obama has posted on her page.

Yet Ms Sanchez, a 36-year-old mother of a teenage son, does not even have internet access in her flat at the top of a Soviet-style block behind the Ministry of Agriculture in Havana.

She goes to a hotel and pays $7.70 - almost two weeks' pay for the average Cuban - for an hour's internet access. Or she visits an embassy that provides internet access.

She has an iPhone, given by a foreign reader, but it does not have data access. She can send text messages, though. She has 238,000 followers on Twitter and each of her blog posts gets a thousand comments or more.

"Using the internet is not a choice. It was the only option in a country where you cannot even get a fragment of a minute on state TV," she said.

"The access of my countrymen to my blog is very limited, but they read it," she said. "I know all the officials read me. That is very important. It influences them."

Ms Sanchez, the daughter of a railway worker, studied philology at Havana University but her academic career ended when she wrote her thesis on Dictatorships in Latin American literature.

She wrote her first post on April 9, 2007, while making an unofficial living teaching Spanish to German tourists.

It reads like an interior monologue on the perversities of life in the communist system. She knows of what she speaks. She has been detained and roughed up, repeatedly banned from travelling abroad and regularly has her phones jammed.

Although she planned to make a 13-hour drive to Santiago de Cuba to hear the Pope speak during his visit last week, she had to cancel the trip when her driver was arrested. It was typical of what she calls the "Raulista" style.

"When Raul Castro came in, there was a change in the modus operandi. You're walking along the street, a private car stops, four men get out and take you to a police station. There is no legal process. Then after 48 to 72 hours they bring you back to your home," she said.

Ms Sanchez says that the government is slowly losing its grip but that it would be wrong to expect a "Cuban Spring".

"I don't think it's the moment," she said. "In North Africa, there is a young population. In Cuba, we have an old population.

"But I have some hope. The incorporation of technology into everyday life is going very fast.

"I have the impression that if the Cuban government does not open up the web, Cubans are going to find a way to connect to the internet."

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for an exclusive interview with the Foreign Minister of Costa Rica, Jose Enrique Castillo Barrantes.

Topics will include the upcoming Summit of the Americas, the threat of narcotics trafficking, the role of its exemplary democracy, boundary disputes with Nicaragua and much more.

"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).

Burma Model vs. China/Vietnam Model

Sunday, April 1, 2012
There's still a long way to go, but the Burma model of sanctions and international pressure seems to be working much better in achieving political reforms than the China/Vietnam model of economic engagement and concessions.

From The Telegraph:

Burma elections: Aung San Suu Kyi set to become MP in historic election

Supporters of Burma's opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi erupted in euphoric cheers after her party said she won a parliamentary seat in a landmark election, setting the stage for her to take public office for the first time. The victory, if confirmed, would mark a major milestone in the Southeast Asian nation, where the military has ruled almost exclusively for a half-century and where a new reform-minded government is seeking legitimacy and a lifting of Western sanctions.

Waiting for the Cries of Regime Change

Kudos to the State Department.

From Fox News:

Clinton details plan to supply Syrian opposition, defends push to pay defectors

The United States is expanding its support for the Syrian opposition, agreeing to supply communications equipment and other aid but stopping short of arming anti-regime forces.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at an international conference in Turkey, joined other countries in pledging a fresh round of aid for the Syrian people, as well as supplies for opposition activists. The announcement signaled a new phase in the push by the U.S. and its allies to pressure Bashar Assad's regime to step aside and abandon its deadly campaign against Syrian protesters.

Clinton, in an interview with Fox News, stressed that the new support would not include "arms" or "military equipment" -- something the Obama administration has been reticent to provide.

But she said the U.S. would be providing communications equipment and opened the door to offering the rebels help on the "intelligence" side as well.

"We've learned that there is a great deal of difficulty for the opposition to communicate with one another inside Syria and from inside to outside Syria to their counterparts who are along the border of Turkey or elsewhere," Clinton said.
"That will facilitate the safety as well as the movements of the people that are on the inside."

Clinton also defended a separate effort by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries to set up a fund to pay members of the rebel Free Syrian Army and soldiers who defect from the regime and join opposition ranks.

Accepting the Dictatorship’s Conditions

By former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart:

The Pope Should Not Have Accepted the Dictatorship’s Conditions

Pope Benedict XVI should never have accepted the terms and conditions insisted upon by the Cuban dictatorship for his trip to Cuba. By strictly following the dictatorship’s conditions, the trip ended up constituting a sad demonstration of lack of solidarity toward the oppression of the Cuban people.

It was inappropriate for the Pope not to visit with the devoutly Catholic “Ladies in White.” It was inappropriate for him not to mention the sacrifice of Zapata, Villar, and Laura Pollán, recent martyrs of Cuba’s struggle for freedom.

It is common knowledge that the Church’s marriage of convenience with the dictatorship was planned and guided by the collaborationist Cuban Cardinal Ortega. But the fact that the (“violently remove the peaceful pro-democracy activists from the church!”) Cardinal may have been the wedding planner, does not justify the marriage.

It seems as though history has repeated itself in Cuba. I recently re-read Jesuit scholar Manuel Maza Miguel’s masterful account of Vatican policy toward Cuba in the 19th Century, “Entre la Ideología y la Compasión.” Leo XIII, an erudite, extremely-respected Pontiff, was an ally of many just causes in his time, but he was no friend of Cuba’s freedom. Maza Miguel describes how Catholic Churches were used as forts by the army of colonial Spain in Cuba. “How can it be explained,” he asks, “that the extraordinary Leo XIII, who showed such solidarity toward the working class, could not understand the justice of the Cuban struggle for independence?” The Jesuit scholar continues, “The measures taken by the Spanish ecclesiastical and civil authorities against those who sought a new direction for Cuba decisively limited the presence and vigor of Catholicism in the Cuban ethos.”

There are many admirable, patriotic Catholics in Cuba, and the Church will survive this difficult test of faith for Cuban Catholics. But history cannot be separated from politics. It is not surprising that, in contrast to many countries in Latin America and Europe, there was never a “Christian Democratic” political party of any relevance during the first Cuban Republic (1902-1958). I believe the Church’s political influence will be even less in the second Republic which is fast approaching despite the cruel lack of international solidarity the Cuban people have had to suffer for over five decades.

A Shout for Freedom

"A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer."

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet and philosopher (1803-1882)

In The Miami Herald:

In Cuba, a shout for freedom brings beating instead

A memorable sidelight from the papal festivities in Cuba — a man calls for ‘Libertad!’ then gets pummeled and hauled away.

He is the man who stood up amid the crowd before a papal Mass in Cuba and shouted “Freedom!”

If his intention was to point out the lack of it, the message was underscored. Security personnel hauled him away, beating him up in the process. Because it happened near a nest of cameras, images were captured and transmitted around the world, a sour sidelight to the pope’s visit last week.

Internal dissident sources have identified the man as Andrés Carrión Alvarez, 38. Along with “Libertad!” (Freedom) he also yelled “Down with Communism!” in Spanish.

The incident took place before the papal Mass at the Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba, in an area close to the platform set up for photographers.

As he was removed from the square, Carrión was slapped and beaten violently with a folded gurney by a group of at least three men, including one wearing a Cuban Red Cross uniform.

Carrión’s personal information was confirmed by dissident Alfonso Chaviano Peláez and by José Daniel Ferrer García, a spokesman for Cuba’s Patriotic Union. In the early hours of Friday, Ferrer reported through the digital site Háblalo sin Miedo (Say It Without Fear) that Chaviano had recognized Carrión “but had not been able to report it, first because he did not have means of communication and because his house was under severe police vigilance.”

Until Thursday the telephones of Ferrer and Chaviano had been blocked. The interruption of the phone service was part of a 24-hour police watch.

Chaviano said he confirmed that it was Carrión after exchanging information with a friend and former co-worker. The woman told Chaviano that she received a phone call from her husband, who lives in the United States, telling her that he thought he had recognized “Andresito” on a television newscast.

Carrión is married to a doctor. The couple have no children.

“I’ve known him for about 10 years. We live in the same neighborhood,” Chaviano said in a telephone interview with El Nuevo Herald.

“He supports the opposition but never had gone public about it,” Chaviano said. “He was always looked as the typical professional, a very reserved man.”

He also said that Carrión has a degree in social and occupational rehabilitation. However, he has been unemployed for months and he looked worried, Chaviano said.

He used to work at the Carlos J. Finlay Clinic.

Chaviano said that the last time he saw Carrión they were in a barber shop. They talked briefly and Chaviano asked him if he had plans to attend the papal Mass. Carrión responded: “I’m going to the Mass and I know what I have to do.”

Next thing Chaviano knew, Carrión was being hauled away.

Carrión was in custody at a State Security operation unit and as of Friday no one had been able to get information about the conditions of his imprisonment or the state of his health.

Carrión’s detention prompted concerns inside and outside the island. Elizardo Sánchez, spokesman of the Havana-based Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission, demanded the government guarantee Carrión’s safety.

In Miami, Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Díaz-Balart and David Rivera, as well as New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires joined demands for Carrión’s immediate release in a news release sent to El Nuevo Herald.

“We call on human-rights organizations such as International Amnesty and Human Rights Watch to monitor this case and to create international awareness of the detention of other activists during the pope’s visit to Cuba,” said the release.

Preliminary reports, including one from the Miami-based Center of Support and Information of the Cuban Resistance Assembly, counted more than 250 dissidents harassed during the week of the pope’s visit.

Ladies in White Violently Stripped

Pope Benedict XVI has left Cuba, but the Castro regime's repression remains just as violent as before and during the Pontiff's visit.

According to Ladies in White leader, Berta Soler, female activists from the group continue to be detained by Castro's secret police and stripped of their white clothes.

Where's the outrage?

Another Protester During Pope's Mass

The world is now familiar with Andres Carrion Alvarez -- the courageous Cuban who yelled "freedom" and "down with Communism" during Pope Benedict XVI's Mass in Santiago.

Yet, there was also a protester briefly caught on tape by Al Jazeera, during the Pope's Mass in Havana.

If Carrion Alvarez remains missing, despite the world's attention, just imagine what this poor man in Havana -- and God-knows how many other unknown Cubans -- must be going through.

You can see him being dragged away at the 1:15 mark: