"Down With Assad, Down With Castro"

Saturday, June 9, 2012
Don't miss this amazing video of Syrian demonstrators with signs reading "Down with Assad, Down with Castro" and showing their solidarity with Cuba's pro-democracy movement.

May freedom and democracy prevail for the Cuban and Syrian people.

Quote of the Hearing

Friday, June 8, 2012
"Policies of appeasement only strengthen the repressive apparatus and the impunity of the aggressors."

-- Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," Cuban pro-democracy leader on the Obama Administration's policy, during yesterday's hearing in the U.S. Senate, 6/7/12

If you were unable to watch the hearing, click here for the full video or here for a great recap (in Spanish).

Democracy, Development and Dignity

Thursday, June 7, 2012
Excerpt from World Bank President Robert Zoellick's speech today on inter-American affairs:

[T]he debate over Cuba at Cartagena sounded like hollow echoes from another era. Look ahead, not back.

Chavez’s days are numbered. If his subsidies to Cuba and Nicaragua are cut, those regimes will be in trouble. The democrats of Latin America – left, center, and right – should be preparing. The calls for democracy – for an end to intimidating thugs, human rights, fair elections, and rule of law – should come from all its capitals.

There will soon be an opportunity to make the Western Hemisphere the first Democratic Hemisphere. Not a place of coups, caudillos, and cocaine -- but of democracy, development, and dignity.

Watch Today's Senate Hearing

If you were unable to watch today's hearing in the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee live, please click here to do so.

Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Marco Rubio (R-FL) challenged Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson's defense of the Obama Administration's policy of unconditional concessions to the Castro dictatorship.

Senators Melendez and Rubio's concerns were echoed by former political prisoner (of the Black Spring's "75") Normando Hernandez Gonzalez and -- in testimony from the island -- by courageous pro-democracy leaders Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez."

A must watch.

What CNN Failed to Ask Mariela Castro

Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Last Sunday, CNN's Christiane Amanpour interviewed Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela.

It was part of Castro's recent propaganda tour, courtesy of the gracious visa and other taxpayer funded services of the State Department.

In response to a question about American hostage Alan Gross, Castro answered:

"Alan Gross has been granted everything that he’s asked for: he has been able to see his wife, he has been able to have matrimonial, conjugal visits, and he has been treated with respect and dignity the way we always treat prisoners in Cuba. We haven’t received the same treatment on the other hand for our five prisoners who have very long sentences that are not right. I think that the six must be released—both the five Cubans and Alan Gross."

Of course, Amanpour could have followed up with a variety of questions, such as:

-- So why doesn't your family allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to enter the island and visit the prisons?

-- So why doesn't your family allow the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture to enter the island (despite falsely promising to do so year-after-year) and visit the prisons?

-- So why did the U.N.'s Committee Against Torture blast your family's regime just last week (see below) for its lengthy abuses towards Cuban prisoners?

But sadly, Amanpour didn't.

Instead, she posted "cute" Castro family pictures on her CNN blog.

In The Miami Herald:

UN panel blasts Cuba on human rights abuses

The U.N. called Friday for an independent body to gather, investigate and report on complaints of human rights abuses in Cuba.

The U.N.’s Committee Against Torture hammered Cuba on Friday for a lengthy string of human rights abuses and repeatedly complained the island had provided few or none of the details about specific allegations of abuses that it had requested.

The panel noted that it was “concerned by reports denouncing the use of coercive methods during (police) interrogations, particularly the denial of sleep, detention under conditions of isolation and exposure to sudden changes in temperatures.”

On Cuba’s prisons, it wrote that it “continues to be supremely concerned by the reports received about the … overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of hygiene and healthy conditions (and) adequate medical attention.”

There have been thousands of complaints of short-term detentions of dissidents, it added, singling out José Luis Ferrer García and Oscar Elias Biscet. And Cuban officials never explained the deaths of dissidents Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Juan Wilfredo Soto García.

Cuba should establish an independent body to gather, investigate and report on allegations of government abuses, and should meet its promise to allow a visit by the U.N.’s top official on several types of mistreatments, the committee noted in a 6,000-word report.

The report summed up the panel’s conclusions after its May 22-23 hearings in Switzerland on Cuba’s compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Marked “unedited,” it was issued by the U.N. media office in Geneva.

Using the U.N.’s typically diplomatic language, the report noted the panel “laments,” “expresses concern,” “still worries,” “disagrees,” “has serious reservations,” “views with concern,” “considers it indispensable” and is “seriously concerned.”

But the report Friday amounted to a harsh and detailed indictment of Cuba’s human rights record, especially in areas that involve physical punishments or abuses, such as the justice and prison systems and the harassment of dissidents.

Cuba’s own report on its compliance with the convention on torture, presented to the panel in May, was more than nine years late and “does not fully meet the guidelines” set by the panel, it noted. The 10-member committee reviews countries’ records on a rotating basis.

In a sharply worded section, the report urged Cuba “to investigate, without delay, exhaustively, without bias and in an efficient way, all deaths of prisoners.” Cuba told the panel that prison officials were not responsible for any of the 202 such deaths in 2010-2011, but gave no further information.

The report also blasted Cuba for the rapid increase in the use of short-term arrests of dissidents without any judicial orders, usually to keep opposition activists away from activities. Cuban officials told the panel last month that all detentions follow due process.

Senate Hearing in the Morning

"The Path to Freedom: Countering Repression and Strengthening Civil Society in Cuba"

U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Global Narcotics

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ)

Thursday, June 07, 2012

10:45 AM

Senate Dirksen 419

Panel One:

The Honorable Roberta Jacobson
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC

Panel Two:

Mr. Normando Hernandez Gonzalez
National Endowment for Democracy, Former Cuban Political Prisoner
Washington, DC

Additional witnesses may be added.

Click here for more info.

Treasury Secretary Geithner on Sanctions

Kudos to Secretary Geithner on a great statement.

Just wish he shared the same passion on sanctions for all state-sponsor dictatorships.

Remarks by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner Before the Frinds of the Syrian People, International Working Group on Sanctions

WASHINGTON – Thank you and welcome.

Thank you to our co-chairs, the Government of Qatar and the Government of Turkey – both leaders in the international community’s response to the crisis in Syria.

This is the second meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People International Working Group on sanctions.

More than 55 nations are represented here today – united in our condemnation of the Assad regime’s brutality.

United in our support for the aspirations of the Syrian people.

Together we seek to hasten a political change that puts an end to 15 months of violence.

We gather in the shadow of a massacre.

Nothing we say can adequately respond to such an event.

Nor can sanctions alone bring about the change we seek.

But sanctions can play an important role.

Strong sanctions, effectively implemented, aggressively enforced, can help deprive the Syrian regime of the resources it needs to sustain itself and to continue its repression of the Syrian people.

Strong sanctions make clear to the Syrian business community and other supporters of the regime that their future is bleak so long as the Assad regime remains in power.

And strong sanctions can help hasten the day the Assad regime relinquishes power.

So we commend the actions of the Arab League to adopt, for the first time in its history, a strong set of economic sanctions.

We commend the actions of Turkey, whose sanctions are of critical importance, given its position as an immediate neighbor.

We are pleased that the Government of Qatar also took action against Syria International Islamic Bank last week.

And we welcome the expansive sanctions adopted by the European Union and by so many other partners.

Now, to those nations that have not yet adopted formal sanctions against the Syrian regime and its supporters, we urge you to move quickly to do so.

We see no justification for allowing senior members of the Assad regime to have the benefit of accessing the global financial system.

We see no justification for allowing unauthorized funds to flow to the Central Bank of Syria, the Commercial Bank of Syria, or any other financial institution that acts on behalf of this regime.

We see no justification for allowing individuals who provide financial support to the regime to be allowed to use foreign banks.

We see no justification for purchasing Syrian oil. Or for allowing financial institutions in any jurisdiction, or ships flagged in any nation, to facilitate the sale, the insurance, or the transport of Syrian oil.

And there can, of course, be no justification for facilitating the sale of arms to the Assad regime.

Our collective financial sanctions are not intended to target the people of Syria.

The greatest threat to the well-being of the Syrian people is the regime in power there today.

And the longer this regime remains in power, the more the Syrian people will suffer.

The longer Assad’s brutality persists, the greater the likelihood of further bloodshed and the greater the risk to a fragile region that is important to the world.

We, the United States, hope that all responsible countries will soon join in taking appropriate economic actions against the Syrian regime, including, if necessary, Chapter 7 action in the UN Security Council, as called for by the Arab League last weekend.

Absent meaningful compliance by the regime with the Annan plan, that is the direction in which we are soon headed.

But in the meantime, we gather here as Friends of the Syrian People.

And as Friends of the Syrian People, our task is to impose maximum financial pressure on the Assad regime and its supporters, as quickly as we can and as effectively as we can, to stop their violence and to yield to conscience and to peaceful political change.

Thank you.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a discussion on Egypt, Yemen and radical Islam with world-renowned expert, Dr. Angel Rabasa of the Rand Corporation.

Dr. Rabasa is the author of numerous books, including The Lessons of Mumbai (2009); Radical Islam in East Africa (2009); The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey (2008); Ungoverned Territories: Understanding and Reducing Terrorism Risks (2007); Building Moderate Muslim Networks (2007); Beyond al-Qaeda, Part 1: The Global Jihadist Movement and Part 2: The Outer Rings of the Terrorist Universe (2006); and The Muslim World After 9/11 (2004).

"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).

Bad and Worse News on Castro's "Reforms"

Tuesday, June 5, 2012
The Castro regime has announced that the average monthly salary in Cuba has pathetically climbed from the equivalent of $16 a month in 2006 to $19 last year.

That's the bad news -- although the Castro regime is trying to spin this as a success of its "reforms" (due to the 17% rise over 5 years).

The worse news is that throughout this time it was generally accepted that the average monthly income in Cuba was $20.

Go figure.

Cuba Poll Results: Soviet Similarities

On yesterday's "From Washington al Mundo," the International Republican Institute's (IRI) Maria Fernandez-Garcia unveiled the results of their public opinion survey within Cuba.

Also on the program was David Satter, who was the former Moscow correspondent for The Financial Times and later for The Wall Street Journal.

Listen to this clip and note the stirking similarities between the current situation in Cuba and the final days of the Soviet Union.

Human Rights Violations Rise in Cuba

An editorial from the Voice of America:

Human Rights Still Suffer In Cuba

Citizens are harassed and intimidated to keep them from speaking out on the island nation’s political conditions.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sent Congress the Department’s assessment of human rights around the world during 2011. The reports, required by law, evaluate the human rights performance of the governments of every country and a number of territories, and lawmakers as well as authorities in the executive branch use the reports to help shape our nation’s foreign policies.

2011 saw some positive trends, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring, held successful, transparent elections for a Constituent Assembly, which in turn elected a former political prisoner as the country’s interim president. In Burma, the government took important steps toward political reform and released more than 200 political prisoners. And in Colombia, the government has been working to improve justice in human rights cases.

But problems persist in many countries and overall there are a number of disturbing trends. Flawed elections, restrictions on the freedom of expression, assembly, or association, censorship or intimidation of the media and attempts to control the activities of civil society and non-governmental groups indicate erosion of respect for human rights in some countries.

As in previous years, human rights conditions in Cuba are a particular concern. Most reported abuses were official acts committed at the direction of a government dominated by the Communist Party, so the perpetrators enjoyed impunity for their actions. Citizens are harassed and intimidated to keep them from speaking out on the island nation’s political conditions. There was an increase in the number of political activists detained for speaking out. The number of short-term detentions in December 2011 rose to the highest level in 30 years.

The Cuban government also placed severe limitations on freedom of speech and press, restricted freedom of movement and limited freedom of religion. Worker rights were restricted as well, particularly the freedom to form independent unions.

The United States is committed to the work of advancing universal rights, building the partnerships that will move us forward, helping every man, woman, and child live up to their potential. In cases of nations such as Cuba, we are also committed to speaking out for those unable to do so for themselves.

Cubans Overwhelmingly Want Change

The International Republican Institute (IRI) has just released its survey of Cuban public opinion. The survey was fielded on the island February 29-March 14, 2012.

A total of 787 Cuban adults were asked questions ranging from access to internet and cell phone usage, to the performance of the current Castro government and expectations for change. The IRI survey also asked Cubans their opinions about economic reforms which have been highly publicized in the international media.

While reports of reforms by the Cuban regime – including the purchase and sales of homes and limited licensing for independent businesses – continue to generate widespread news coverage, IRI’s survey found that 85 percent of Cubans cannot cite any effect reforms have had in their personal lives.

Other interesting results:

- Nearly nine-in-10 adults (90 percent) between 18-29 years of age desire fundamental political change.

- Four-in-five Cubans (80 percent) support greater economic freedom, including private property rights.

- 70 percent do not have confidence that the Castro regime will succeed in resolving those concerns.

- Less than 5% identified U.S. sanctions as the cause of their problems.

The survey was conducted in 14 Cuban provinces and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent, and a 95 percent level of confidence. This survey was the seventh of its kind conducted by IRI on the island since 2007.

See the full survey here.

The Audacity of Odebrecht

Monday, June 4, 2012
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen.

The Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht is so unwilling to end its partnership with Cuba's repressive dictatorship that it has instead decided to use the money it has received from Florida's taxpayers to sue the state -- and undermine the democratic will of its people.

To add insult to injury, it claims to be "remote and distant" from the subsidiary that does business with the Castro regime.

Really? Then why are they suing?

And to add disappointment, Odebrecht's overzealous lawyer, Raoul Cantero, the former Florida Supreme Court Justice, was once the pride of the Cuban-American community.

After being the first Hispanic appointed to the Court and receiving widespread support, Cantero surprisingly decided to step down in 2008 citing "personal reasons."

That is fine -- but it's reprehensible to now go off and represent a company resolute on profiting from his people's repression.

In The Miami Herald:

Odebrecht sues Florida over new law banning government hiring of firms tied to Cuba

The company says in its lawsuit that the new law, scheduled to take effect July 1, is unconstitutional because only the federal government can set foreign policy.

The Coral Gables-based subsidiary of Odebrecht, the Brazilian engineering and construction conglomerate, sued the state Monday over a contentious new Florida law that bans governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba.

The lawsuit, filed in Miami federal court, contends that the law is unenforceable and unconstitutional because it sets foreign policy — a power that the courts have ruled belongs solely to the federal government.

The law would prohibit state and local government agencies from awarding contracts worth at least $1 million to Odebrecht Construction Inc. — among others — because a subsidiary of its parent company is upgrading the Cuban Port of Mariel.

Gov. Rick Scott caused an uproar last month when he signed the law in a ceremony at Miami’s Freedom Tower, only to issue a statement shortly afterward suggesting the law was unconstitutional. The governor later retreated from that stance, saying he backed the law and that his administration would defend it against a likely legal challenge.

A Scott spokesman declined to comment Monday because the governor’s office had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit.

Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah, one of two Miami-Dade Republicans to sponsor the legislation, which received near-unanimous support from state lawmakers, said the court should uphold the law.

“This is not about foreign policy,” he said after learning about the lawsuit from a Miami Herald reporter. “I see it as a states’ rights issue. We have a right to decide who we want to do business with.”

In its lawsuit, however, Odebrecht argues that federal laws “do not authorize states to enforce their own sanctions against Cuba.”

The company also notes that it complies with the U.S. embargo on Cuba and “is remote and distant from, and has no contact with,” COI Overseas Ltd., the company working on the Port of Mariel for Brazil-based parent company Odebrecht S.A. Neither the Cuban affiliate nor the parent company work in Florida, the lawsuit says.

Florida-based “Odebrecht USA does not engage, and never has engaged, in business operations in Cuba,” the company said in a statement Monday in which it lamented having to sue a state agency “with which we have worked so successfully in the past.”

Odebrecht sued Ananth Prasad, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation. Though FDOT has not denied Odebrecht the ability to compete on any bids yet, the agency informed the company that it plans to enforce the new state law when it is scheduled to take effect July 1. Odebrecht intends to bid on approximately $3.3 billion in FDOT contracts this year, the lawsuit says.

Odebrecht is seeking a temporary injunction to forbid immediate enforcement of the law, said the company’s lawyer, Raoul Cantero, a former Florida Supreme Court justice who is now a partner with the Miami law firm White & Case.

“We think the statute is illegal on its face, regardless of anybody bidding on anything,” Cantero said.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on Putin and post-Soviet Russia with the Hudson Institutes's David Satter.

Satter is a former Moscow correspondent for The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of various books, including "Age of Delirium: the Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union," which was recently made into a documentary film.

And Maria Fernandez-Garcia of the International Republican Institute will unveil the fascinating results of their most recent public opinion survey within Cuba.

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 Gave Mariela Castro VIP Treatment

In case you still have any doubt that the State Department knew exactly what it was doing in exempting Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter from the visa ban for senior regime officials, just take a look at the picture below.

Those are State Department Diplomatic Security (DS) special agents flanking her.

In addition to protecting the U.S. Secretary of State and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, DS special agents are also assigned to protect cabinet-level foreign dignitaries who visit the United States.

Thus, Mariela Castro was not merely a sexologist going to a conference in San Francisco.

And State knew that.

A Wonderful Picture

Sunday, June 3, 2012
During his recent trip to the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) met with a group of Cuban special-category residents.

These are Cuban nationals who reside and work at the naval station.

It's a reminder that the Cuban people are one and that there's only one thing separating them -- a brutal dictatorship.

Another Castro Official Purged

Miguel Alvarez, senior advisor on international and political affairs to Ricardo Alarcon, president of Castro's National Assembly, has been reportedly detained.

Alvarez was considered Alarcon’s "right-hand man."

He was also point man of the regime's propaganda campaign for the "Cuban Five" (convicted spies imprisoned in the U.S.)

These types of purges aren't atypical.

In 2009, Castro's economic "czar" Carlos Lage and foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque were essentially disappeared overnight.

Penultimos Dias's Ernesto Hernandez Busto managed to obtain Alarcon's phone number and called to ask about his long-time friend and advisor's arrest.

Alarcon nervously said "absolutely nothing" and hung up.

Listen here.

Picture: Alvarez is the one in the middle.

Raul Turns 81, Younger Than His Succesor

Here's all you need to know about the grim future of Cuba's dictatorship.

From AP:

Cuban leader Raúl Castro turns 81 on Sunday, giving exiles and his countrymen times to reflect on the aging leadership that has ruled the island nation for over half a century.

But even with the actuarial inevitabilities looming, there is no indication that Cuba's leadership is moving quickly to prepare any younger possible successors to assume the mantle of Marxism under which the island has been guided for more than a half-century.

Even Castro's April 2011 proposal to impose term limits on everyone in government including himself has yet to be enacted. His retired older brother Fidel is 85. His two top deputies are 81 and 80.