The Meaning of Reconciliation

Saturday, May 5, 2012
By Yale University Professor Carlos Eire in Babalu Blog:

Here is the crux of the problem: in all of this talk about “reconciliation,” there is little or no talk of repentance or conversion on the part of the authorities in Cuba who are responsible for all of the deep wounds and divisions inflicted on the Cuban people. There is also no mention made of the fact that the creation of two separate Cuban communities – one in exile and one on the island – has been caused by individuals who have no desire to change, much less to repent of their behavior. Most Cubans in both communities have no ill will towards one another and, in fact, need no “reconciliation” at all. Our divisions are not some family feud, but rather the result of the sinful behavior of those who hijacked our nation and turned it into a totalitarian nightmare.

Genuine “reconciliation” in the full Catholic meaning of the term is never unconditional: it requires genuine repentance on the part of all involved, and especially on the part of those who are guilty of sin. When exiles bristle at the mention of “reconciliation” by prelates, then, it is not because they are stiff-necked troglodytes unwilling to love their brethren, but because the word is being used incorrectly. What we are being asked to accept and embrace totally is not our own brethren on the island , with most of whom we have no quarrel and for whom we actually weep. What we are being asked to embrace unconditionally is the godless criminal government that has killed and tortured thousands of us, stolen everyone’s property, deprived us all of our most basic human rights, and is not the least bit willing to repent, make amends, or change its behavior.

Restoring the Miami-Havana ferry and embracing the Castroite status quo is not genuine reconciliation. Far from it.

What is being bandied about as "reconciliation" lately is similar to asking someone whose family is being held captive, tortured, and raped every single day to ignore the torturing and raping, embrace the fiends responsible for all the evil, and allow them to continue abusing their loved ones. In such a case, no reconciliation is possible. In fact, "reconciliation" -- as currently invoked by some Catholic prelates -- would mean tolerance of the cruelty of unrepentant sinners and a betrayal of one's family.

Genuine reconciliation between Cubans will only be possible under two conditions. First and foremost, when the autocratic rulers of Castrolandia repent and free the Cuban people. Until that happens, a second condition is absolutely necessary: the correct usage of the word “reconciliation” by bishops.

In sum, if the leaders of the Catholic Church want Cubans to reconcile, they should lead the way by not speaking of “reconciliation” so carelessly, and in such a divisive way.

The Cardinal Neglects His Flock

By Achy Obejas in WBEZ:

In dissidents' arrest following Pope’s Cuba visit, a Cardinal neglects his flock

Cuban authorities arrested dissidents Vladimir Calderón and Julio Beltrán on April 28. Their crime? The two men were accused of passing out anti-government flyers and organizing an anti-government march on May 1. Both men were publicly beaten as they were arrested.

If anyone should be held responsible should something happen to Calderón and Beltrán while in custody, I point a finger squarely at Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

The crux of this story lies in Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to the island. Dissident groups saw an opportunity to have this self-proclaimed man of peace intercede with the government for them, or at the very least acknowledge them. Many Cuban dissident groups are Catholic, including the country’s best known opposition group, The Ladies in White.

Calderon and Beltrán’s group, the Republican Party of Cuba, is small and mostly unknown. They meet and pray together on the 13th of every month at the Church of the Virgin of Charity in central Havana, a crumbling neighborhood of tremendous poverty and crime just outside the city’s tourist belt.

When they learned of the Pope’s impending visit, they prepared a list of demands they hoped the pontiff would discuss with President Raul Castro. The demands included freedom for political prisoners, a stop to the repression of dissidents, freedom to travel, freedom of association, economic freedom, access to private property, internet access, wage increases, more food for children and a dialogue between the government and its opposition. Pretty standard stuff, at least for those of us living under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Their idea was to deliver the list to the Pope via the Church of the Virgin of Charity. But when presented with the document, the parish priest refused to accept it, thus setting off a complicated back and forth between the dissidents and the archbishop’s office. The dissidents, fearing they’d be victims of a government rapid-response mob outside the church, refused to leave until a church official came to talk to them.

And what did Cardinal Ortega do? He requested that members of the national police force enter the church and forcibly remove the group of 13 men, women and children, sanctuary be damned.

The Pope came and went from Cuba, salsa dancing with the excommunicated Fidel (in 1962), saying not a word about, nor once acknowledging, never mind meeting with, any of the dissidents.

And then the Cardinal went to Harvard.

Ortega said the entire incident, which he described as the “occupation” of the Church of the Virgin of Charity, had been a plot planned by Miami exiles against the government.

And the dissidents? “They were a group that – this pains me a lot – all of them were former delinquents,” said the Cardinal. “There was a former Cuban prisoner who had been returned to Cuba, he had been in prison for six years and was one of the excludable people who were sent to Cuba […] among them were people without any cultural level, some with psychological disturbances.”

The Miami Herald broke down the background of group’s members. They are mostly working class people (one survives by fixing lighters), but several have a college education and professional careers, including Calderón.

The extraordinary thing, to me, in the Cardinal’s declaration, though, is his use of the word “delinquent”: a government favorite to discredit its critics.

And, of course, the Cardinal’s cruel dismissal of the very people that Jesus would have called us to protect: the voiceless and oppressed, the poor and powerless.

Must-Read: Business Does Not Bring Freedom

From an editorial in today's New York Times, "Don't Believe China's Promises," by famed former Chinese political prisoner and pro-democracy leader Wei Jingsheng:

In my time, the Communist Party kept its promise for as long as one year because human rights were directly linked with trade. Now that such international pressure does not exist, the party no longer feels the need to keep its word. The Chinese leadership does not fear the United States government; it only fears the loss of its power.

Human rights have been overpowered by economic interests; the cause is as hopeless as that of the big United States trade deficit with China. With the loss of any viable economic means to pressure and penalize the Chinese Communist Party, one has to ask: On what basis does America believe that the Chinese government will keep the promises it makes?

Quote of the Week

"I feel like I'm a hostage. And they, you know, just one quick thing.

The - the president of the Dominican Republic told me two years ago, when - when he visited. He said, Alan, I hope you realize this is not about you. And at that time, I - I could understand that. I could inte - you know, intellectualize it, that it wasn't about me, that it was an effort on the part of the Cuban government to - to express its disdain to the United States and - and to try to bring about some kind of trade.

But right now, it is about me and it's about my family and it's about my mother. And I'm taking this very personally. And for the Cuban government not to show the respect to respond officially to a letter that was submitted by my lawyer, who works for the same firm that represented Elian Gonzalez, I think is shameful - shameful

-- Alan Gross, American hostage being held by the Castro regime for helping Cubans connect to the Internet, CNN, 5/4/12

Oppenheimer Goes Off the Deep End

Friday, May 4, 2012
We tend to agree with Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer.

However, in his latest piece on Florida's Cuba-Syria procurement law (H.B. 959), he really goes off the deep end.

Oppenheimer argues that the new law, which prevents Florida's taxpayer-funded entities from contracting with Castro and Assad's business partners, actually helps these regimes.


Nevermind that this law forces some of Castro's biggest business partners to choose between profiting from tyranny or Florida's taxpayers.

According to Oppenheimer's illogical theory -- concurred by St. Thomas University economist Tony Villamil -- it serves to help Castro as it gives him an excuse to bash the U.S. further.

That's really deep.

Because, of course, if it weren't for H.B. 959, Castro wouldn't bash the U.S. That's just absurd.

And what law gives Chavez an excuse to bash the U.S.?

These tyrants are going to blame the U.S. regardless. Moreover, no one believes them -- except apparently Oppenheimer and Villamil.

But here's the real kicker.

Oppenheimer argues that this will encourage other states to pass laws giving Castro business benefits.

That might seem logical from his desk at the Miami Herald, but it's void in the real world.

As a matter of fact, other states (e.g. Indiana, Michigan and Arizona) have similar laws to H.B. 959 that include Cuba.

Plus, it's ludicrous to think that any legislature and Governor in the U.S. would pass a law to provide public subsidises for business with Castro or any other state-sponsor of terrorism.

If Oppenheimer and Villamil have no problem giving their hard-earned money to Castro and Assad's business partners, then they should set up a voluntary fund to do so.

However, Florida's taxpayers, through the democratic process, have chosen otherwise.

Whether Ikea, Melia or Odebrecht

As we posted yesterday, former East German Stasi files have revealed how Swedish furniture maker Ikea contracted with the Castro regime to use Cuban political prisoners as slave labor.

Frankly, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Just imagine what will be revealed once Castro's secret police files are opened.

And, one day, they will be.

Moreover, this is not a historic anomaly -- it is a current tragedy.

On this very day, foreign companies like Spain's Melia hotel chain and Brazil's Obdebrecht construction group continue to partner with the Castro dictatorship, exploiting enslaved Cuban workers to reap a hefty profit.

Cuban workers are not free to directly contract and enjoy the fruits of their labor, in violation of their fundamental human rights.

It is for this reason that we will continue to oppose U.S. companies joining these unethical practices and continue to pressure foreign companies that turn a blind-eye.

The Boot-Licking Cardinal

Thursday, May 3, 2012
Excerpt from Guillermo Martinez's latest column in Sun-Sentinel:

The Catholic Church is supposed to speak up, to protect the poor, the oppressed, the dispossessed, the weak and the sick. Thirty-two years ago, Msgr. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, was killed by a sniper at the San Salvador Cathedral. Msgr. Romero was a recognized critic of violence and injustice.

In Chile, while Gen. Augusto Pinochet ruled the country with an iron grip, the church was front and center in defending its people and those persecuted by the regime.

Cardinal Ortega is doing the opposite. He is siding with the oppressors of his people so his church will be given a little more space to work in silence. Cardinal Ortega forgets that early Catholics were persecuted for their faith, and even crucified. Now, he, like Pontious Pilot, washes his hands of the crimes committed by Fidel and Raúl Castro in order to side with the oppressors.

However, his most unpardonable sin was to bring up a private conversation with Bishop Roman, now deceased, in which the former South Florida prelate urged Ortega not to speak about reconciliation in Cuba while in Miami, for his words would not be well-received.

That was decades ago and all who knew Msgr. Román knew he, too, preached reconciliation between Cubans, not with the Castro regime, as Cardinal Ortega now does.

Personally, I am sickened by the actions of Cardinal Ortega and all those who still insist in defending him in order for the church to gain a little more room to preach the gospel of Christ in Cuba providing he continues to praise the Cuban Revolution. A revolution that had firing squads execute hundreds, many of whom yelled "Long Live Christ the King" before dying; a regime that expelled hundreds of nuns and priests; who prohibited Catholics from practicing their faith for decades.

I believe in the reconciliation of Cubans on good faith no matter on which side of the Florida Straits they live. What I will not do is lick the boots that oppress my brothers and sisters. And that is what Cardinal Ortega is doing.

Senator Rubio on FL's Cuba-Syria Bill

Excerpts from The Miami Herald:

Sen. Marco Rubio refutes Gov. Rick Scott on Cuba crackdown law

Sen. Marco Rubio joined the chorus of Republican lawmakers who disagree with Gov. Rick Scott for calling a Cuba-crackdown bill unenforceable and unconstitutional.

“I believe that it’s constitutional,” Rubio told The Miami Herald and WLRN-Miami Herald News, “but I don’t sit on the Supreme Court. So it’s not going to be my decision to make.”

Asked if Congress and the president are needed to act to authorize the controversial Florida law — as Scott believes — Rubio said, “I don’t think so.”

“I think the governor has, from what I’ve read briefly, restated his position in a way that I think is more appealing to people here who are concerned about it,” Rubio said.

Rubio and others say the new Florida law does not conflict with federal law, which holds that Cuba and Syria are state sponsors of terror along with Iran and Sudan.

“When I was the speaker of the House, we passed a bill that divested the state’s investment plan from investments with Iran — a very legitimate position to take,” Rubio said, noting this bill adds Syria and Cuba to the list.

“The criticism has been: ‘states don’t set foreign policy.’ Well, they don’t,” Rubio said. “And I don’t think they’re doing that in this case. They are only reflecting existing foreign policy that says the Syria and Cuba are states sponsors of terrorism.”

The law’s supporters also point to another Cuba-related state law, passed in 2006, prohibiting Florida colleges and universities from using state funds or tapping into their budgets for travel to Cuba and other countries the United States considers sponsors of terrorism — Iran, Sudan and Syria.

The federal courts upheld that law.

Ikea Purchased Slave Labor From Castro

Nothing feeds the bottom line like slave labor. Shameful.

From Daily Mail:

Now Ikea is accused of using Cuban political prisoners to make furniture

Allegations that Ikea used former communist East German prisoners to make its furniture three decades ago have been followed by new charges that Cuban dissidents were also unwilling members of the workforce.

Germany's authoritative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that it has accessed former Stasi secret police files detailing the deal struck between Ikea in Sweden and President Castro's henchmen in Havana.

FAZ reports the deal was sealed in September 1987 after an East German trade mission went to Havana for talks with the Cuban interior ministry.

Files show they met with Enrique Sanchez who headed the Cuban company Emiat tasked with equipping guest houses of the Cuban political elite.

The East German files say Ikea production sites were ‘incorporated in the prison facilities of the interior ministry in Cuba’.

FAZ said a contract was later signed with East Berlin-based ‘Ikea Trading Berlin’ for 4,000 ‘Falkenberg’ three-piece suites, 10,000 tables for children and 35,000 dining tables, all to be made in Cuba.

Problems arose in early 1988, when the first delivery of ‘Falkenberg’ sofas was halted because of poor quality, prompting the East Germans to take another trip to Cuba to ensure production was up to Ikea quality standards. Only then, the documents show, could, ‘a direct shipment from Havana to Sweden be undertaken.’

This news piles the pressure on Ikea in Sweden after a TV documentary aired claiming that East German prisoners were forced to make its products in the 1970s and 1980s.

The deal was sealed in September 1987 after an East German trade mission went to Havana for talks, according to a German newspaper.

Initially the company denied the reports but then said it had requested documents from the Stasi archives and is ‘interviewing people at Ikea who were around back then,’ according to Ikea's social and environmental manager Jeanette Skjelmose.

Lazy Havana Bureaus Strike Again

The media has been (yet again) abuzz with speculation that the Castro regime will end its prohibition on allowing Cubans to freely enter and leave the island.

The AP's Havana bureau reported yesterday:

After controlling its citizens comings and goings for five decades, Cuba appears on the verge of a momentous decision to end many travel restrictions, with one senior official saying a "radical and profound" change is weeks away.

Notice how it doesn't mention when the "senior official" said this?

The senior official is National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon.

And the problem is that while he said changes to travel prohibitions are "weeks away," he made this statement "weeks ago" -- in mid-March to be precise.

It was made during a March interview with a pro-Castro French academic, Salim Lamrani, which he first released on March 26th.

Moreover, Castro's Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez has since denied that such prohibitions will be lifted.

Fortunately, the State Department was up-to-speed during yesterday's Daily Press Briefing, when a reporter asked:

Q. There’s talk that Raul Castro might ease some of the travel restrictions in Cuba. What would this mean? And what good benefits could it also have maybe from U.S. policy side?

State Department Spokesman Mark Toner: Well, I actually looked into that. We don’t have any – we haven’t seen that there’s going to be any announcements, so I don’t know what precisely you’re referring to. I mean, speaking more broadly, you know we would certainly welcome greater freedom of movement for the Cuban public.

Gov. Scott Retracts Signing Letter

Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Governor Scott (finally) does the right thing.

In The Miami Herald:

Gov. Scott retreats from statement calling anti-Cuba law unenforceable

The governor’s office responded to pressure from angry constituents and Miami lawmakers, saying the contentious new law prohibiting governments from hiring companies tied to Cuba and Syria will take effect July 1.

Gov. Rick Scott has started retreating from a controversial statement that a Cuba-crackdown bill he signed the day before was unenforceable.

In a written statement, Scott now acknowledges that the law will go into effect. And he reiterated his support for it — even though he thinks it might not survive a legal challenge.

“Constitutional lawyers have told me that this legislation will be challenged in court. I signed the bill regardless of that fact, and it will become a state law on July 1, 2012,” he wrote. “As Governor, it is my sworn duty to uphold the laws of the state and I will meet any challenge to this law in court as necessary.”

The Truth About the "Cuban Five"

Once again, there's an intensified effort to rewrite history regarding the case of five Cuban spies tried and convicted by U.S. federal courts (with no Cuban-American jurists or jurors) in 2001.

Originally known originally as the "Wasp Network," they are now referred to as the so-called "Cuban Five."

For years, in pursuit of their propaganda efforts, the Castro regime has tried to make them a cause celebre.

This week, its U.S. mouthpieces purchased a full-page ad in The Washington Post.

They try to propel the fiction that the mission of the "Cuban Five" was simply to monitor the activities of supposed "anti-Castro terrorists" in Miami.

They also claim that the U.S. government paid Cuban-American journalists to influence public opinion through Radio and TV Marti. As if non-Cuban jurors sat around Miami all day listening to Radio and TV Marti.


Now, let's look at the facts (courtesy of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive):

In 1995, after obtaining FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court approval, the FBI obtained warrants to surreptitiously search apartments and monitor telephone communications by a group of Cubans who were Cuban intelligence operatives. The group, through its principal agents or illegal officers, communicated directly with the Cuban Government about its activities and received specific missions and taskings from the Cuban Government. The instructions were subsequently relayed to the other members of the spy ring as appropriate.

During the searches, the FBI uncovered and read the contents of the communications from and to the Cuban Government. This information was concealed in hidden files on computer floppy diskettes kept in the residences of three of the principal agents.

At Cuban Government direction, the Cuban spy ring collected and reported information on domestic, political, and humanitarian activity of anti-Castro organizations in the Miami-Dade county area; the operation of US military installations; and other US Government functions, including law enforcement activity. The spy ring also carried out tasks in the United States as directed by the Cuban Government, which included attempted penetration of US military installations, duplicitous participation in and manipulation of anti-Castro organizations, and attempted manipulation of US political institutions and government entities through disinformation and pretended cooperation. The spy ring received financial support from the Cuban Government to carry out its tasks.

An analysis of the communications used by the spy ring revealed that they spoke and addressed each other and their agents as representing the Cuban Government. They referenced decision-making “by the High Command,” referred to individuals as “comrade,” and used names and abbreviations associated with Cuban Government organizations. Communications between the members also referenced the “Intelligence Information Department”; “C.P.” for centro principal or headquarters; “MINIT” for Ministry of Interior—which administers the Cuban Directorate of Intelligence or DI; and “DAAFAR,” a known abbreviation for the Cuban Air Force Command. They also used jargon and abbreviations such as “S.E.E.” (Servicios Especiales Enemigos) that refers to the FBI or CIA.

The spy ring members paid great attention to maintaining secrecy as to their identity and mission and took elaborate steps to evade detection. They called themselves “La Red Avispa”—The Wasp Network. They used code names, including “Giro,” “Castor,” “Lorient,” “Vicky,” “Franklyn,” “Allan,” “Manolo,” “Judith,” “Mario,” and “Julia.” They spy ring also used false identities, including assuming the name, date of birth, and social security number of a deceased person. The ring is viewed as the largest Cuban espionage operation uncovered in the United States in a decade.

On the basis of its investigation and surveillance, the FBI had identified three individuals as the spy ringleaders by 1998. The first was Gerardo Hernandez who had oversight for infiltrating his subagents into US anti-Castro groups in the Miami area. The second leader was Ramon Labanino whose primary task was to penetrate and report on US military installations and activity in the South Florida area, including the Southern Command and the Boca Chica Naval Air Base in KeyWest. The third leader was Fernando Gonzalez, who took over Labanino’s responsibilities, including meeting with subagents when Labanino was tasked with Cuban Government missions outside the Miami area.

Hernandez and Labanino received reports from, and provided payments to, their respective subagents and tasked their subagents based on instructions they received from Cuba. Ricardo Villareal and Remijio Luna also exercised managerial or supervisory functions over subagents at times, but both men left the United States for other operational assignments.

Among the many communication topics between Hernandez and Cuba or his subagents were:

The infiltration of the US Southern Command headquarters in Miami—according to Cuba, “one of the new prioritized objectives that we have in the Miami area.”

• The activities of Cuban exile groups in Miami and tactics to disrupt those groups by, among other things, “creat(ing) animosity” between specified groups and attempting to discredit certain individual leaders.

The activities at the Boca Rica Naval Air Station as well as reports on an apparent military topic identified by Cuba that “continues to be of great importance to our comrades at DAAFAR.”

The manipulation of the media, political institutions, and public opinion, including using anonymous or misidentified telephone calls and letters to media and political figures.

• Specific security precautions to be undertaken to avoid detection.

You can read the entire nine-page summary here.

Governor Spins Back (Yet) Again

In his latest spin, Florida Governor Rick Scott's office is now sending a letter to constituents who contacted him in favor of HB 959 stating that the law will indeed take effect on July 1st:

Thank you for contacting Governor Rick Scott regarding legislation passed by the Florida Legislature during the 2012 regular session. The Governor appreciates your thoughts and asked that I respond on his behalf.

The Executive Office of the Governor follows all bills as they move through the legislative process. Please be assured, Governor Scott carefully considered your comments and those of other concerned citizens regarding House Bill 959, relating to State and Local Government Relations with Cuba or Syria, as he made his decision.

After consulting with all interested parties and thoroughly weighing all sides of this issue, Governor Scott signed House Bill 959 into law on May 1, 2012. The law will take effect on July 1, 2012.

Wonder what he's telling those that opposed H.B. 959.

Gov. Scott Keeps Adding Insult to Insult

Apparently, yesterday's cowardly fiasco by Florida Governor Rick Scott was not enough.

To recap, Scott publicly signed a bill prohibiting taxpayer's money to be spent on foreign companies doing business with Cuba and Syria ("state-sponsors of terrorism"), then one hour later absurdly asserted it wasn't enforceable.

Now, the Governor, through his spokesman Brian Burgess, wants to add insult to insult.

He told the AP:

"The governor made it very clear on the radio that we need a federal partner to be able to enforce this law... He supports the law, he supports the community and he believes these regimes are oppressive. He's frustrated too, but he calls on the Obama administration to allow this law to go into effect."

Does he think his constituents are stupid?

In 2006, Florida passed a law restricting the use of public funds to travel to a country designated as a “state-sponsor of terrorism.”

The state didn't need a "federal partner" to enforce this law.

Moreover, it has been upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Faculty Senate of Fla. Int'l Univ. v. Winn, 616 F.3d 1206 (2010).

Finally, it's fascinating how the Governor is suddenly concerned about the legality of the laws he signs.

Where are the legal concerns in his signing letters regarding urine tests for state employees or his "prayer bill"?

No, Scott's legal concerns are only reserved to help foreign companies that have no moral qualms doing business with murderous dictatorships.

Below is a picture of Governor Scott with Marcelo Odebrecht, the CEO of one of those foreign companies, which is also an $1.058 billion partner of Castro's repressive military.

Fortunately, regardless of the Governor's insults, the bill goes into effect on July 1, 2012.

Gov. "Slick" Rick Tries to Pull a Fast One

Tuesday, May 1, 2012
This morning, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law H.B. 959, a bill that prohibits taxpayer money from going to companies that partner with the brutal Castro and Assad regimes.

During the signing, he was surrounded by former Cuban political prisoners, as well as Cuban-American political, business and community leaders.

The Governor spoke about the abuses of the Cuban and Syrian regimes and how it's important to pressure them through this law.

Yet, he clearly didn't mean a word of what he was saying.

Just an hour later, after mocking the community, the Governor released a signing letter trying to place a caveat on the enforcement of H.B. 959 stating that "it will not go into effect" until the U.S. Congress passes a specific law authorizing it.

The fact remains that the U.S. Congress has already passed comprehensive sanctions toward Cuba and Syria. Thus, H.B. 959 is consistent with federal law.

Moreover, Cuba and Syria belong to the closed-class of "state-sponsors of terrorism" and thus, consistent with recent case law in the 11th Circuit (Faculty Senate of Fla. Int'l Univ. v. Winn, 616 F.3d 1206), Florida can place restrictions on the use of public funds geared towards those regimes.

So whether Governor Scott likes it or not -- the statute trumps his signing letter.

Therefore, H.B. 959 officially goes into effect on July 1st, 2012.

That's the law, period.

And that's just two and half years before his term ends -- on January 6th, 2015.

Unmasking the Cardinal's Lies

Kudos to The Miami Herald for setting the record straight on Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega's vile accusations last week.

In The Miami Herald:

Cuban dissidents say Cardinal Ortega was wrong to call them criminals

The dissidents were part of a group of 13 who occupied a Catholic church to press political demands in March.

Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega has said that the 13 dissidents who occupied a Havana church days before Pope Benedict XVI visited the island had criminal records, were largely uneducated, and that one had mental problems.

But several members of the group contacted by El Nuevo Herald Monday denied they had criminal records. One is an architect and others were educated in a variety of jobs and professions, such as computer technician, sports trainer, bookkeeper and forensic technician.

“I can only say that the 13 are a perfect reflection of Cuban society, in which there is everything,” said Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez, who angrily called Ortega’s comments “incredible.”

Ortega, already branded by critics as too friendly with the Raúl Castro government, sparked a firestorm of controversy last week when he criticized the 13 dissidents during a speech at Harvard University.

“All were old delinquents,” he declared, adding that they “lacked a level of culture.” He described one as suffering from mental problems and another as having been returned to Cuba by U.S. authorities after serving six years in a U.S. prison.

The U.S. “excludable” was Carlos Miguel López Santos, who has claimed that U.S. authorities returned him after mistaking him for another man accused of terrorism, said María López Báez, head of a Havana chapter of the Cuban Human Rights Commission.

Another of the 13 suffers from mental problems, said López by phone from Havana. She added that those problems were created by the government repression.

Ortega’s office in Havana did not reply to an email asking if the information about the group had come from the dissidents themselves or from government officials.

López said 11 of the 13 were members of the little known Republican Party of Cuba (PRC) and two of the Frank Pais November 30 Movement.

They occupied Our Lady of Charity Church in Havana March 13, and Ortega asked the Cuban government to force them out the next day.

El Nuevo Herald reached six of the 13 by phone Monday:

Jennifer Hernandez Piloto, 23, said she had no criminal record and no university studies but earned a diploma as a food preparation technician. She is active in the PRC and the dissident Latin American Federation of Rural Women.

Her brother Yosiel Guia Piloto, 29, said he had no criminal record either. He did not attend college and works as a bricklayer.

Daysi Ponce Arencibia said she graduated from high school, has a certificate as a computer technician and used to work in the Ministry of Health. She added that she now repairs cigarette lighters and has no criminal record.

Ronnier Valentín Aguillón said he played competitive baseball, has a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine and now earns some income as a practitioner of Santeria, one of Cuba’s several African-based religions. He said he was never convicted of anything.

• PRC spokesman Fred Calderon Muñoa said he studied commerce in a university and worked as a bookkeeper in the archives section of a Havana provincial government office.

Madeline Caraballo Betancourt, 42, the only one who acknowledged a criminal record, said she served six months in prison in 2005 for criticizing the government.

Caraballo said she was fired from her job as a forensic medicine technician in Havana after complaining about a blood transfusion that made her HIV-positive. She now buys and sells used clothing and other items.

López said PRC director Vladimir Calderón Frías, 46, is an architect with no criminal record.

Free Jorge Vazquez Chaviano

Monday, April 30, 2012
From Pedazos de la Isla:

An active member of the Central Opposition Coalition, he was arrested on March 27th 2012 when Pope Benedict XVI was still in Cuba. Chaviano was trying to travel from his home in Santa Clara to Havana in order to assist papal mass on the following day. His arrest was very violent.

His wife, Maria del Carmen Hernandez, has said that she will continue demanding freedom for her husband, although she and her two children are going through a very difficult time. In fact, the couple’s youngest son suffers from various psychological issues because he has witnessed countless instances of aggression against his home and his parents, just for being human rights activists. These three were able to see Chaviano recently and have affirmed that the activist continues firm in his convictions, despite the threats and violence against him.

Here's a picture of his arrest:

Rivera Questions Jacobson

In last week's hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere:

Press Freedom Matters

An editorial from the Voice of Americas:

Press Freedom Matters

Press freedom matters because without a free press, few other human rights are attainable.

A strong press freedom environment encourages the growth of civil society, which leads to stable democracies and political and economic development. That’s why the United States is highlighting journalists around the world who are suffering intimidation, imprisonment, and sometimes death for exercising their right to free expression.

Yoani Sanchez is a Cuban blogger who is not permitted to leave the country. She has attracted an international following for her blog, Generación Y, which gives readers unprecedented insight into the harsh realities of life in Cuba. Her work has won numerous awards, including Columbia University’s Maria Cabot prize for journalism, and the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in 2011. But Cuba’s Communist government has refused to allow her to leave the country to accept these honors. Requests by Ms. Sanchez to travel have been denied 19 times.

Freedom of movement is a fundamental human right recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States urges the Cuban government to allow Ms. Sanchez to travel abroad freely and for all governments to stop the use of travel bans against journalists or dissidents for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Elsewhere, Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen has been silenced by the Chinese government. Wangchen was detained by Chinese authorities in March 2008 on charges related to his 25-minute documentary titled “Leaving Fear Behind.” The film is based on 40 hours of footage and over 100 interviews conducted over five months. Filmed in China’s Amdo region (located principally in Qinghai Province), the footage includes interviews with Tibetans who expressed views on a range of issues from the Dalai Lama to the human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China.

Wangchen was reportedly beaten, deprived of food and sleep during interrogations, and held incommunicado for a full year. He was tried in secret in 2009 and is serving a six year sentence in Xichuan Prison, Qinghai Province.

The United States urges the Chinese government to respect the universal human rights of all Chinese citizens.

Press freedom is a fundamental human right that must be respected by all governments. The United States will continue to shine the spotlight of international attention on all those who abuse this basic human right.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for an exclusive interview with one of the greatest Latin American democrats of the 20th century, former Ecuadorian President Osvaldo Hurtado (1981-1984).

And coming up on Wednesday's show, an exclusive interview with Academy-award nominated actor Andy Garcia to discuss his latest movie, "For Greater Glory" ("Cristiada").

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

Cut Cuba-Syria Ties to Receive Public Funds

By Mauricio Claver-Carone in Florida Voices:

With only a single dissenting vote, Florida lawmakers passed and sent HB 959 to Gov. Rick Scott. The legislation prohibits state and local governments from contracting with companies doing business with brutal dictatorships in Cuba and Syria. In 2009, legislators also ruled out public contracting with companies doing business with Iran and Sudan.

The U.S. State Department classifies all four countries as “state sponsors of terrorism” and 24 other states have enacted similar bans against using taxpayer dollars to enrich corporations propping up anti-American dictators. To most Americans, cutting off dollars to terrorist states is a matter of common sense and to many it’s morally unconscionable to finance repressive states that do not respect basic human rights.

The legislation is consistent with the federal government’s sanctions and a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit Court, which upheld a 2006 statute restricting the use of public funds to travel to a country designated as a “state-sponsor of terrorism” -- in Faculty Senate of Fla. Int'l Univ. v. Winn, 616 F.3d 1206 (2010).

Regrettably there are foreign corporations that feel they not only have a right to do business with whatever unsavory dictatorship they choose, but also to do so at taxpayer expense, i.e. to earn billions on tax-funded state contracts while simultaneously working against U.S. national interests. Instead of debating this bill during the legislative process, where it was openly vetted, a secretive lobbying campaign urged Gov. Scott to veto it. It has propagated a phony warning that Florida will lose jobs if the state stops contracting with foreign companies that do business with terrorist states.

“Huh?” is probably the most appropriate response to the claim, but -- for the record -- the substance of that argument couldn’t be farther from the truth. HB 959 is not a “trade bill,” it’s a procurement bill, legislation that defines who we Floridians want to profit from building our highways, bridges, structures and public-service contracts.

Whatever low-bidding company manages a project or service, the jobs at stake are all taxpayer-funded. Moreover, there are plenty of American companies capable of managing Florida-awarded contracts, while even saving taxpayers money in the process. For example, last year Miami-Dade County gave a Brazilian company, Odebrecht, a $57 million contract to strengthen the cargo wharves of the PortMiami. Odebrecht is one of the Cuban military’s closest business partners. The county sought to justify its award by asserting Odebrecht was the lowest bidder. Yet, the lowest bidder was actually a U.S. company -- American Bridge Co.

The good news is that Gov. Scott announced Friday that he intends to sign the legislation on Tuesday and heed Florida’s democratically elected Legislature’s reasoned support of national policy and moral principle in refusing bids from foreign companies doing business with terrorists and their states.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and editor of He is an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has served on the full-time faculty of The Catholic University of America's School of Law and adjunct faculty of The George Washington University's National Law Center.

Remarks at America's Forum Conference

Sunday, April 29, 2012
From last week's Capitol Hill conference on how certain Latin American regimes seek to destroy the independent press:

Final Defiant Words

In The Miami Herald:

An American rebel’s final defiant words before execution by Castro

A newly uncovered letter by an American rebel to his elderly mother on the eve of his execution by Castro shows he had no regrets.

Just one day before his own brutal execution, William Morgan sat in a dingy Cuban prison cell and scrawled his final letter to his elderly mother in Ohio.

Charged with trying to overthrow the Castro government, the man known as el Yanqui Comandante wrote he had no regrets for fighting in a revolution that changed Cuba, defended his role in battling the leaders who seized control, and said he was ready to die.

“And if my life will help the people of Cuba, then I am glad to give it,’’ he wrote before he was hauled before a firing squad [...]

[H]e went on to blast the fledgling government for abandoning the goals of “the Revolucion for which I fought.”

“For no man has a right to impose his will or belief on others,” Morgan wrote. “All men have an in borne right to better themselves and their families. I have spent my time in Cuba trying to help them do just that.”

Romney Urges Protection of Chinese Dissident

Today, Governor Mitt Romney released the following statement on reports that Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng is seeking protection at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, China:

My concern at this moment is for the safety of Chen Guangcheng and his family. My hope is that U.S. officials will take every measure to ensure that Chen and his family members are protected from further persecution. This event points to the broader issue of human rights in China. Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the facts of the Chinese government’s denial of political liberties, its one-child policy, and other violations of human rights. Our country must play a strong role in urging reform in China and supporting those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy.”

Castro is Clearly Worried

Aside from Fidel's usual crazy talk, his "reflections" in this week's state media clearly show that he knows Chavez's day are numbered -- and is worried.

Thus, Castro's trying to set the narrative: Blame the U.S.

Which leads to an interesting question for those who argue that removing U.S. sanctions would end an excuse for the failure of Castro and his brethren.

Last we checked, there were no sanctions on Venezuela, but that hasn't stopped Castro-Chavez from blaming the U.S. for their failures there either.

Not a particularly good argument.

In Bloomberg:

Obama Meddling, Trying to Topple Hugo Chavez, Castro Writes

Attempts by President Barack Obama to bring down the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would result in “a river of blood,” former Cuban President Fidel Castro wrote.

The U.S. government is trying to topple Chavez by promoting the idea of discord within Chavez’s government due to his battle with cancer, Castro wrote in a column published today in Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party.

“It’s worrying that the government of the United States has decided in such circumstances to promote the downfall of the Venezuelan government,” Castro wrote. “An error by Obama, in such circumstances, could result in a river of blood in Venezuela.”