Ridiculous Item of the Day

Saturday, May 26, 2012
During a presentation at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference in San Francisco this week, Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega's spokesman, Orlando Marquez, urged dissidents to abandon "verbal violence."

What exactly is "verbal violence"?

Is he referring to those courageous Cubans who scream "freedom," "down with the dictatorship" and "long live human rights"?

Is he afraid that the Castro regime's feelings will be hurt?

Or is he just afraid that the Cuban people will generally lose fear and speak their minds?

Perhaps Marquez should be more concerned about the physical violence that peaceful pro-democracy activists have to endure for simply trying to exercise what should be a fundamental human right for all human beings -- free speech.

Remembering Reinaldo Arenas

As Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, travels throughout the U.S. under the guise of a "gay rights" activist, trying to cleanse the crimes of her father and uncle, let's remember one of her family's famous victims -- gay poet Reinaldo Arenas.

Take a moment to re-visit Arenas's tragic suicide note:

New York, December 7, 1990

Dear friends:

Due to my delicate state of health and to the terrible emotional depression it causes me not to be able to continue writing an struggling for the freedom of Cuba, I am ending my life. During the past few years even though I felt very ill, I have been able to finish my literary work, to which I have devoted almost thirty years. You are the heirs of all my terrors, but also of my hope that Cuba will soon be free. I am satisfied to have contributed, though in a very small way, to the triumph of this freedom. I end my life voluntarily because I cannot continue working. Persons near me are in no way responsible for my decision. There is only one person I hold accountable: Fidel Castro. The sufferings of exile, the pain of being banished from my country, the loneliness, and the diseases contracted in exile would probably never have happened if I had been able to enjoy freedom in my country.

I want to encourage the Cuban people out of the country as well as on the island to continue fighting for freedom. I do not want to convey to you a message of defeat but of continued struggle and of hope.

Cuba will be free. I already am.

Reinaldo Arenas

And rent the movie "Before Night Falls" over the weekend.

Click here for a preview:

Gay Cubans Tell Truth About Mariela

The Miami Herald reports on the reaction of LGBT Cubans on the U.S. visit of dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela Castro, who purports to be a "gay rights" activist.

"For Mariela Castro, or anybody else under the Castro dictatorship, to say they are representing the rights of anyone is an insult to the hundreds of thousands who have either been killed, jailed or assassinated by their own hands, or the nearly 100,000 people who’ve jumped into the ocean looking for freedom who haven’t made it here," Herb Sosa, executive director of the Hispanic gay rights group Unity Coalition, told the paper.

Pedro A. Romanach also voiced opposition, saying that that all Cubans, gay and straight alike, lack basic rights: "She may be pro-gay marriage, but the very elementary rights Cubans don’t have — freedom of the press, freedom of assembly — gay people don’t have those rights in Cuba. Neither do straights."

He went on, "She doesn’t represent anybody but herself. The real heroes in Cuba are the gay people who are pro-gay and pro-freedom and the anti-communists who aren’t getting any publicity.”

New Cable Solely Benefits Castro Regime

Friday, May 25, 2012
In July 2010, a widely publicized report by the Brookings Institution, Council of the Americas and Cuba Study Group argued that:

"U.S. businesses and investors can act as a powerful engine for increasing the scope of communication tools available to citizens in closed societies like Cuba."

Thus, it urged the Obama Administration to use its rule-making process to:

"...incentivize American [telecom] companies to invest in Cuba."

They argued that such investments would inevitably lead to greater Internet connectivity for Cubans (through some sort of trickle-down effect).

Moreover, they labeled Venezuela's creation of a fiber optic network with the Castro regime as a "huge missed opportunity [for U.S. companies]."

They were wrong -- unless, of course, they meant a "missed opportunity" to further enrich the Castro regime and facilitate them with greater control mechanisms over the Cuban people.

Cable or no cable, Castro's totalitarian dictatorship remains fully in control of the Internet -- and any improvements in connectivity are now solely for the regime's benefit.

From AP:

An undersea fiber-optic cable that was laid last year between Venezuela and Cuba is working, a Venezuelan government official said Thursday.

The cable was rolled out starting in Venezuela and reached eastern Cuba in February 2011. But 10 months after the system was supposed to have gone online, Cuba’s government has not recently mentioned the cable, and the Internet on the island remains the slowest in the Western Hemisphere. The link had been expected to promptly improve the speed of the Internet in Cuba.

Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s science and technology minister, said that “a few months ago we signed all the remaining protocols, all the necessary security measures with the Cuban government.”

“It’s absolutely operational. It will depend on the Cuban government what it uses it for. Of course that’s their sovereign matter, but we know that the undersea cable is in full operation,” Arreaza told reporters.

State Releases Annual Human Rights Report

Thursday, May 24, 2012
The State Department has just released its 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

Here's the Executive Summary of the Cuba section:

Cuba is a totalitarian state led by Raul Castro, who is the chief of state, president of the council of state and council of ministers, and commander in chief of the armed forces. At the Sixth Communist Party Congress held in April, delegates also elected Castro as party first secretary. The constitution recognizes the Communist Party (CP) as the only legal party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” The 2008 legislative elections were neither free nor fair. A CP candidacy commission preapproved all candidates, and all 614 members ran unopposed. Security forces reported to a national leadership that included members of the military.

The principal human rights abuses were: abridgement of the right of citizens to change their government; government threats, intimidation, mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent citizens from assembling peacefully; and a significant increase in the number of short-term detentions, which in December rose to the highest monthly number in 30 years.

The following additional human rights abuses continued: beatings, harsh prison conditions, and selective prosecution and denial of fair trial. Authorities interfered with privacy and engaged in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government also placed severe limitations on freedom of speech and press, restricted freedom of movement, and limited freedom of religion. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to place severe restrictions on worker rights, including the right to form independent unions.

Most human rights abuses were official acts committed at the direction of the government, and consequently the perpetrators enjoyed impunity for their actions.

You can read the entire Cuba section here.

U.S. Fines Ericsson for Sanctions Violations

In Reuters:

U.S. to fine Ericsson in Panama $1.75 million over Cuba shipments

World number one mobile network equipment maker Ericsson's subsidiary in Panama will pay a $1.75 million penalty to the U.S. Department of Commerce for violating U.S. export restrictions on Cuba, a settlement agreement obtained by Reuters showed.

The agreement, which was approved on Thursday but has not yet been made publicly available, showed that the firm's Panama branch operated a "scheme" under which it sent broken equipment from Cuba to the U.S. for repair after masking its origin.

Ericsson de Panama "knew that exports from the United States to Cuba were unlawful because it had been informed by its parent company of the embargo placed on Cuba by the United States," the agreement said. The settlement was signed last week and given final approval by a Commerce Department official on Thursday.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 37

In The Daily Caller:

Castro’s presence in the United States has drawn significant criticism on its own. Some opponents of the Castro regime said that the U.S. should not have granted Mariela Castro a visa.

“It send a horrible message to those courageous pro-democracy activists on the island who are fighting to have their voices heard to grant a visa to current dictator-in-chief Raul Castro’s daughter, so she can further distort their reality,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy.

“She’s currently the regime’s most prominent spokesperson and has been traveling the world defending her family’s repressive dictatorship, calling dissidents ‘despicable parasite’ and defending the taking of American hostage Alan Gross,” he added.

“The Obama Administration should not be facilitating Castro family propaganda tours until Cuban democracy activists are also given the opportunity to freely state their views and American hostage Alan Gross is reunited with his family.”

Call the Embargo Whatever You'd Like

Univision Radio's Fernando Espuelas has written an interesting piece in The Huffington Post entitled, "We Can Free Cuba Now."

In the post, Espuelas criticizes the "embargo," but similarly advocates for a sanctions-based approach to Cuba policy (à la Iran policy).

The facts are really somewhere in the middle, as Cuba sanctions are stricter than he portrays (e.g. banking transactions), while Iran sanctions are looser than he portrays (e.g. foreign companies doing business in the U.S.).

But conceptually, we're 100% in agreement with Espuelas -- call it "embargo" or whatever he'd like.

In The Huffington Post:

So how to apply our successful sanction stranglehold of Iran to Cuba? In concept, it's much simpler than one would think. Forget the 1960s era embargo - it has outlived its usefulness.

Instead, the United States should sanction all companies that do business with the Cuban regime. Canadian, Spanish, and French companies, for example, that operate in Cuba thanks to European Union political and economic policies should have their trading privileges with the U.S. frozen until they pull out. This strategy is working in Iran; it should be even more effective in Cuba.

Banks that directly or indirectly process financial transactions for the Castro regime should be banned from operating in the American financial system. Again, this is a similar sanction applied to Iran that has devastated its critical energy sector.

Foreign airlines that fly European and Latin American tourists to Cuba's foreign-owned hotels should be prohibited from landing in any U.S. airport.

Lastly, suspend "most favored nation" trading status to any country that continues to trade with Cuba. This particular sanction would have the effect, among others, of quickly shutting off Cuba's trade with several Latin American countries that have used their support of Cuba as a metaphorical slap at U.S. claims of regional primacy - even as these countries are themselves critically dependent on access to America's vast market.

By shutting off the Castros' access to foreign capital and services, we will severely destabilize the regime. The Cuban communist aristocracy may have stolen billions of dollars over the decades, they may feel insulated from any sanctions, but a creaky economy being propped up by free Venezuelan oil and generous investments from abroad cannot withstand such a shock. Iran was no economic high flyer before the sanctions, but its much stronger economy has withered under American pressure. There is no reason that Cuba's barely functioning economic system would withstand similar pressure.

It's time to get serious about Cuba - and freeing the Cuban people. We must abandon our failed policies and effectively crack down on the Castros with a new, robust approach. It's time to finally liberate Cuba.

Mariela Castro's Lobbying Stunt

During a speech in San Francisco last night, Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter Mariela accused Cuban-Americans (whom she referred to as the "Cuban Mafia" and "delinquents") of holding the American people "hostage."

All of this courtesy of the Obama Administration's policy, which Castro proudly endorsed yesterday.

Castro made the accusation in the context of tourism travel to Cuba, for the Congressional ban is denying billions of dollars from her family's coffers.

And of course, no one expects Castro's daughter to understand (or want to understand) how representative democracy works.

However, her statement is particularly ironic as it's her family's dictatorship that has been holding the Cuban people hostage for 52 years.

Judging from the sparse crowd at her remarks yesterday (see picture below) -- yet overwhelming media coverage -- it's clear that all of this is just an orchestrated lobbying stunt against U.S. policy.

Is Prostitution Part of Educational Travel?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
The Treasury Department recently gave a group of New York City celebrity chefs an educational travel license (under the Obama Administration's new "people-to-people" rules) to participate in a Havana festival.

As if serving gourmet meals while regular Cubans struggle to serve themselves any meal wasn't insulting enough, at least one of the chefs took the "people-to-people" definition too literally.

As Eater National magazine asks (trying to be cute):

"What happens when you take ten American chefs, mostly from New York, and send them to Cuba for a cooking event? One of them takes two prostitutes home who then rob him blind."

Hilarious, huh?

Even less hilarious was celebrity chef Sara Jenkins of the East Village's Porsena Restaurant, who tweeted:

"So one of the American chefs in Cuba took two whores home with him and then got robbed of all his money #butofcourse #icantsaywho!"

Boy, these "people-to-people" programs are really winning the hearts and minds of the Cuban people.

Could this new policy be any more insulting and counter-productive?

Among the potential culprits are chefs Marco Canora (Hearth Terroir), Mark Ladner (Del Posto), Sisha Ortúzar (Riverpark), Pierre Thiam (Le Grand Dakar), Eduardo Valle (Del Posto) and Doug Rodríguez (Alma de Cuba).

Now let's see if Treasury is serious about their recent enforcement language.

U.N. Torture Committee Wants Answers

In McClatchy Newspapers:

Panel queries Havana on human rights abuses, prison deaths

A U.N. panel on torture Tuesday demanded that Cuba provide information on the deaths of several political prisoners, the repression of dissident groups such as the Ladies in White and the 2,400 arrests of government critics reported last year.

The demand came on the same day that Cuba's Granma newspaper and Prensa Latina news agency published reports defending the island's prison system, which faces allegations of "slave labor" in the 1980s and other current abuses.

Members of the U.N. Committee Against Torture, which is based in Geneva, requested the Cuban government explain the recent deaths of dissidents Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilman Villar after lengthy prison hunger strikes, and that of Juan Wilfredo Soto after an alleged beating by security officials.

Complaints that Cuban prisons are plagued by overcrowding, malnutrition, bad hygiene, and beatings for those who protest and forced exile for others have been received in Geneva, said panel member George Tugushi.

Cuba also has been asked to explain the "aggressions and harassments" against the Ladies in White, bloggers Yoani Sanchez and Orlando Luis Pardo and Zapata's mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, the panel noted during the first day of its two-day hearing on Cuba.

The U.N. committee also asked for explanations of the more than 2,400 short-term detentions of dissidents reported in 2011 by Havana human rights activists, including Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

"We want Cuba to clarify all these cases," said Nora Sveaass, one of the 10 panel members and a Norwegian human rights attorney, according to media reports from Geneva.

The panel, which monitors enforcement of the U.N. Convention on Torture and Other Physical Abuses and Transgressions, reviews the records of several U.N. member nations each year. This year it was Cuba's turn [...]

"Former prisoners... consistently describe deeply inhumane conditions in Cuba's prisons - from overcrowded cells to inadequate food and water, from poor medical treatment to a hazardous lack of hygiene," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch's Americas division.

Sanchez and Vivanco also have noted that Cuba does not allow the Red Cross to inspect its prisons. "If Cuban prisons are model institutions, why prevent people from seeing them?" Vivanco asked.

Cuba now has 57,337 inmates, including 31,494 "in locked conditions," Granma noted, without explaining the meaning of the term.

Sanchez previously estimated the prison population at 70,000 to 80,000.

He noted that before Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, Cuba had 14 prisons and 4,000 inmates in a population of 6 million, or about one inmate per 1,500. Today, the 57,337 inmates in a population of 11.2 million equal one per 195.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with Amb. Stanley Lucas, Senior Advisor to Haitian President Michel Martelly, on the President's first year in office and the challenges ahead.

And Christian Whiton will discuss the U.S. arrival of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng and the complex relationship between China and North Korea. Whiton served as a special advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs and as a Deputy Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea.

"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).

Democrats Agree Castro Visa is Wrong

Tuesday, May 22, 2012
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) agree that granting a U.S. visa to Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter is wrong -- regardless of who the U.S. President is.

And particularly while the Castro regime is holding an American hostage.

See story here.

Romney Statement on Castro Visa

Gov. Mitt Romney today made the following statement on the Obama Administration’s decision to allow Raul Castro’s daughter to travel to the United States:

I am greatly disturbed by the Obama Administration’s decision to allow Mariel Castro, daughter of Raul Castro, to travel to the United States. We shouldn’t be extending an open hand to a regime engaged in the systematic and flagrant denial of basic human rights. While the Cuban regime engages in a fierce crackdown on dissent and continues to unjustly imprison one of our own citizens, Alan Gross, the Obama Administration should not be welcoming the daughter of a dictator. The United States should be standing up for those on the island who are risking their very lives fighting for freedom.”

The Truth About China

An acute observation by The Heritage Foundation's Walter Lohman:

China is a place that has not changed since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 when it comes to respect for the fundamental rights of its people. This is sometimes hard for the diplomats, scholars, businessmen, and tourists who spend time there to believe. Likewise, there are many privileged, worldly Chinese who fail to see it.

The People’s Republic of China is an authoritarian, yes, “communist” nation. This China is Chen’s [Guangcheng] day-to-day reality. And it is a brutal reality for many hundreds of millions more. U.S.–China relations will never be normal as long as the Chinese regime is what it is.

Castro Visa: Wrong Then, Worse Now

Today, national Republicans criticized the Obama Administration for granting a U.S. visa to Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela.

Democrats have responded by pointing to the Bush Administration, which gave Mariela Castro a visa in 2002.

The fact is that two wrongs don't make a right -- both the Bush and Obama Administrations erred in doing so.

But it's actually worse now.

Prior to Raul Castro becoming dictator-in-chief in 2006, few non-Cuba observers even knew that Raul had a daughter (let alone two more, Deborah and Nilsa).

Since that time, the Cuban dictatorship has turned Mariela Castro into its most prominent public relations figure.

She has now been traveling the world defending her family's brutal dictatorship, attacking peaceful pro-democracy activists as "despicable parasites" and justifying the arbitrary taking of an American hostage, Alan Gross.

Just try to stomach this 30 minute interview.

Moreover, to his credit, President Obama announced in August 2011 that human rights would become a central focus of his visa policy -- specifically identifying "prolonged arbitrary detentions" as unacceptable violations (a Raul Castro specialty).

So actions should speak louder than words.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has just denied political asylum to a former Cuban military official that turned on the Castro regime and served almost two decades in prison.

Even worse yet.

For Brookings, Human Rights Are Optional

Last week, we posted how the Brookings Institution seemed to have difficulty differentiating between being a "think-tank" and being "in-the-tank" -- as it hosted Castro's official historian Eusebio Leal (or as regular Cubans call him, Eusebio "el Leal," Eusebio "the loyal one") to promote tourism to the island.

Yesterday, Brookings decided to even further discard its integrity.

It hosted four academics -- two from the U.S. and two from Cuba -- to propose joint recommendations for "improving ties between the two countries."

The panel was entitled, "Overcoming Obstacles to U.S.-Cuba Dialogue: Joint Recommendations from Cuban and American Scholars."

Of course, all four academics were already "in-the-tank" for the Castro regime's talking points, so there was never any real disagreement to begin with.

Their recommendations encompassed five areas:

1. Greater academic collaboration (for the regime's agenda).
2. Expanded travel (for the regime's coffers).
3. More business exchanges (for the regime's military).
4. A dialogue about terrorism (for the regime's absolution).
5. And oil-environmental talks (for they haven't gotten the memo that Repsol's drilling was a bust, again).

Yet, no mention of the only real obstacle to better U.S.-Cuba relations (or more importantly, Cuban-Cuban relations):

The Castro regime's utter disrespect for the fundamental human rights of the Cuban people.

You know, the Cuban people's rights as human beings.

Those encapsulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- that brilliant document which the Castro regime imprisons Cubans for possessing.

But that's not on Brookings agenda.

Castro's Internet Cable Scam

Monday, May 21, 2012
Remember when this was the hottest talking point for the Castro regime and its echo chamber in the U.S.?

That was before the Repsol oil bust, pt. 2.

Didn't the Brookings Institution even form one of its "working groups" to promote this?

Of course they did.

From AP:

It was all sunshine, smiles and celebratory speeches as officials marked the arrival of an undersea fiber-optic cable they promised would end Cuba's Internet isolation and boost web capacity 3,000-fold. Even a retired Fidel Castro had hailed the dawn of a new cyber-age on the island.

More than a year after the February 2011 ceremony on Siboney Beach in eastern Cuba, and 10 months after the system was supposed to have gone online, the government never mentions the cable anymore, and Internet here remains the slowest in the hemisphere.

People talk quietly about embezzlement torpedoing the project and the arrest of more than a half-dozen senior telecom officials.

Perhaps most maddening, nobody has explained what happened to the much-ballyhooed $70 million project.

Castro's "Cheap" Labor Force

In The Miami Herald:

Prison workers used in many Cuban government enterprises

Cuban prisoners earn little to nothing while working for numerous government enterprises.

The Cuban government-owned enterprise Provari is known on the island for making everything from bricks and construction blocks to mattresses, tourist handicrafts and the insecticide Lomaté — I Killed It.

What is less well known is that the vast majority of its workers are prison inmates — what dissidents denounce as “slave laborers” who work with few safety protections and receive meager wages or are not paid at all.

Prison labor in Cuba is extensive yet “like the dark side of the moon, not well known at all,” said Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

A Provari business prospectus claimed it had 150 production facilities around the island in 2001. Sánchez said it operates in virtually all of the estimated 200 prisons and labor camps in Cuba.

Prison labor is common around the world. In the United States, prisoners make license plates, government furniture and much more. Florida state prisons require inmates to work unless they are exempt for medical or other reasons. Most earn nothing, and canteen workers, barbers and a few others get only $50 a month.

“There’s no objection in principle to companies managing factories in prisons,” said Andrew Coyle of the International Centre for Prison Studies in London. But inmates should have equal salaries and work conditions. “This should not be forced or slave labor.”

But Cuba is a dictatorship, Sánchez argued, where the communist government can do anything and keep it secret. That includes exploiting inmate workers at will and punishing anyone who complains.

He added that he was specially concerned about the safety conditions in prison factories and singled out the Lomaté insecticide, manufactured in Havana’s Combinado del Este and other prisons around the island.

Farm workers seldom get special clothing to protect them from chemicals, and cane cutters rarely get proper boots to protect their feet from their machetes, said Joel Brito, a former safety expert in the island’s lone labor union, the Cuban Workers’ Central.

The Interior Ministry (MININT) and Ministry of the Armed Forces, which own a large number of manufacturing and construction enterprises, do not report industrial accidents to the National Statistics Office, Brito noted.

“There are no protective measures because there’s always a shortage of money. And if that’s the case in the general economy, imagine what it’s like for prisoners,” added Brito, who now heads a Miami group that monitors labor abuses in Cuba.

Questions about prison labor in Cuba arose recently amid reports that the IKEA furniture chain and an East German firm had hired the Cuban state-owned company EMIAT to use prison labor to manufacture tables and sofas in 1987.

One Cuban business report says EMIAT imports supplies and commercializes products for government-owned companies, including Provari. EMIAT and Provari — Enterprise for Various Products — share a Havana address in some of the reports.

A man who answered the phone at Provari’s Havana office, asked if the company uses prison labor, said, “Yes, the work is by prisoners.” He also confirmed the firm is owned by MININT, which is in charge of prisons, but declined further comment.

A Cuban government radio report on Provari’s work last summer said it was established 20 years earlier “principally with the objective of offering work to prisoners … and integrating them into work useful for society.”

Many prisoners work for the chance at fresh air and perhaps better food, and to avoid having their records marked “refused to work,” which would dash any hope for an early release, said Luis Enrique Ferrer, a dissident who spent eight years in prison.

Authorities allow only common criminals to work, fearing that political prisoners would publicize the work conditions, he added. Ferrer, who did not work in prison, was freed in 2010 and now lives in Miami.

But dissidents and independent journalists in touch with prisoners have published several reports over the years alleging problems at Provari’s prison workshops.

Journalists Jorge Alberto Liriano Linares reported in 2010 that 16 inmates suffered serious accidents at a Provari factory for construction materials at the Kilo 8 prison in eastern Camaguey Province, where he served part of his own 13-year sentence.

Inmates in “this killer factory” are forced to work without salary, clothes, shoes or gloves, he wrote for the news service Hablemos Press. They work 10 hours a day and handle toxic chemicals “and because of that they suffer respiratory and skin diseases.”

Brito’s International Group for Corporate Social Responsibility in Cuba reported in 2010 that a factory in Prison 1580 near Havana was forcing inmates to work up to 12 hours a day making construction blocks and seldom paying the promised $10 a month.

Its 2009 annual report included complaints that inmates at the Nieves Morejón prison in Sancti Spiritus were paid a mere $2 per month, and that prisoners in Boniato in eastern Cuba were paid $1 per month — plus a promised bonus that was never paid.

Dissident Felix Reyes reported last year that prisoners at the Canaleta prison in eastern Ciego de Avila had complained that the gloves bought for them by the Provari factory there “were rotted and were missing fingers.”

Independent journalist Dania Virgen Garcia, who has written often about prison conditions, told El Nuevo Herald that she knew of prisoners who worked up to 16 hours a day, six days a week, and were paid nothing.

Sanchez and Ferrer said most of the overall prison labor in Cuba involves agricultural work like weeding fields, harvesting vegetables and picking fruit — some for sale, some for the prisons’ own consumption.

Provari uses the prison labor more for manufacturing, said Sánchez and García. It also has subsidiaries that build roads and government buildings, although it is not clear if they use prison labor.

A report last year in the government’s Guerrillero newspaper noted that the Provari branch in the western province of Pinar del Rio had the equivalent of $200,000 worth of sales in 2010, “mostly for products sold locally rather than export.”

The branch’s production included bleach and muriatic acid, beach chairs, cribs and playpens, clay and concrete construction blocks, paint and paint brushes, plastic tubes and ornamental plants, according to the report.

A large shop in a Havana women’s prison sews jeans for export under several brand names, as well as uniforms for the police and the military, García said. Sánchez said the Boniato prison, where he spent time in the 1990s, makes metal chain link fencing.

Other Cuban news reports noted that a Provari unit in eastern Ciego de Avila made 20,000 plastic molds, and that the enterprise and the Ministry of Construction were to provide the materials for a 2010 campaign to step up home construction.

The company also manufactures the Lomaté insecticide as well as lice and tick killers “and other products “for sanitary hygiene,” and was planning to build a 170-liter solar water heater, according to other media reports.

A business prospectus issued in 2001 listed some of Provari’s activities as carpentry using precious woods as well as textiles sold under the OESTE and HERCULES brands and the upholstery of office furniture sold under the brand name of OFIMAX.

The prospectus also said the enterprise was ready to do business “with foreign and national companies,” though the deal with IKEA appeared to have run into trouble.

The first sofas made for IKEA in 1988 reportedly had “quality problems,” and it was not clear if any part of the deal was ever carried out.

On the Senate Floor

By U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL):

Statement for the record in honor of Cuban Independence Day

Mr. President, today I rise to commemorate the 110th anniversary of Cuba’s independence. On May 20, 1902, after a series of rebellions against foreign rule, Cuba finally gained its freedom from the Spanish Empire. I am honored to join with Cubans around the world in commemorating this day.

At the same time, we must remember that the island nation still remains under the tyranny of an authoritarian regime. We can never forget that the Castro regime continues to jail its political opponents, and it still holds an American hostage. Once again, I rise today to urge the Cuban regime in the strongest possible terms to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Alan Gross.

Today, we reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Cuba. Now more than ever, the United States must continue policies that promote respect for the fundamental principles of political freedom, democracy, and human rights, in a manner consistent with the aspirations of the people of Cuba.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with Francis J. Skrobiszewski on the challenges of transitioning from centrally-planned to market economies. Skrobiszewski was a founder of the Polish-American Enterprise Fund (PAEF), Hungarian-American Enterprise Fund (HAEF) and is currently a Director of the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce.

And Leah Soibel of The Israel Project joins us from Jerusalem to discuss Iran and other security challenges in the Middle East.

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).

State's Dangerously Mixed Messages

Last week, it was revealed that the State Department quickly granted U.S. visas (and even distorted U.S. law) to Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela Castro, and her entourage.

Yet, tragically, it has simultaneously denied political asylum to a former senior level Cuban intelligence official, Máximo Omar Ruiz Matoses, who spent 17 years in Castro's prisons for "betraying" the dictatorship.

Ruiz Matoses was arrested in 1990, during the purging of several senior Cuban military officials, after publicly calling for the resignation of Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro.

As former Cuban military defector General Rafael del Pino told the publication Cafe Fuerte:

"Was this the unilateral decision of a USINT bureaucrat or is it the Obama Administration's policy to deny political asylum to ex-Cuban military officials who have opposed the Castro tyranny from within its own ranks, including those who suffered nearly two decades in prison as a result?"

Either way, it sends a dangerously mixed message.

The Killing of a Grandmother

Sunday, May 20, 2012
Last week, the Castro regime ordered a two-day siege of the family home of Cuban pro-democracy leader Idania Yánez Contreras, head of the Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement.

For 48 hours, regime-organized mobs yelled insults and hurled rocks at the home. The family was not even permitted to go purchase food.

As a result, Idania's 94-year old grandmother, Antonia Rodríguez Mirabal, suffered a stroke and died.

The Castros must feel real proud of themselves.

Here's a picture of the mobs at Idania's grandmother's home.

On This Cuban Independence Day

Let's remember the new mambises -- the freedom fighters of the 21st century.

In particular, some of the newest Cuban prisoners of conscience.

People like Jorge Vázquez Chaviano, who was arrested on March 27th as he stepped out of his home in Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara and attempted travel to Havana to attend Pope Benedict XVI's Mass.

See the picture of his arrest below.

Or Bismark Mustelier Galan, who has been on a hunger strike in the Aguadores Prison since May 3rd.

Or the Ladies in White, Sonia Garro Alfonso and Niurka Luque Alvarez, in prison since March 17th with no formal charges filed.

Or Dany Lopez de Moya, who was sentenced on April 19th to 18 months in prison for "disrespect" against the Castro brothers.

We honor their courage and sacrifice.