More Ladies in White Arrested

Saturday, July 21, 2012
From Frontline Defenders:

Cuba: Arrest of human rights defenders and members of the Damas de Blanco

On 18 July 2012, Ms Tatiana López Blanco, Ms Leonor Reinó Borge, Ms Mirta Gómez Colás and Ms Niurkis Rivero Despaigne were detained by Department of State Security agents in Havana.

The aforementioned human rights defenders are all members of the prominent human rights organisation Damas de Blanco Laura Pollán(Ladies in White), which advocates for the release of political prisoners in Cuba.

On 18 July 2012, agents of the Department of State Security went to the homes of Tatiana López Blanco, Leonor Reinó Borge, Mirta Gómez Colás and Niurkis Rivero Despaigne and arrested them in order to prevent them from participating in the monthly Té Literario (literary tea party) organised by the Damas de Blanco which takes place at the home of their deceased leader Ms Laura Pollán.

Previously on 16 July 2012 it was reported that an agent had visited the homes of other members of the human rights organisation, including Ms Ivonne Malleza Galano, nominee for the 2012 Front Line Defenders Award for human rights defenders at risk, Magaly Norvis Otero, Mercedes Fresneda Castillo, Belkis Jorrín Morfa, Belkis Nuñez Fajardo, Raquel Castillo, Zahira Castro and Mayra Morejón, to inform them that the Té Literario would not be permitted to take place and that should they attempt to attend it they would be arrested and held for three days. Ms Omaglis Gonzaléz Leiva and Ms María Elena Matos were detained in Palmarito de Cauto, in the municipality of Santiago de Cuba as they attempted to hold a parallel event.

Front Line Defenders believes that the arrests of the aforementioned human rights defenders, as well as the threats of arrest, are directly related to their legitimate work in defence of human rights. The regular prevention of the peaceful monthly Té Literario by police, who block off access to the home of Laura Pollán on the date of the planned event, constitutes a clear denial of the right to freedom of assembly in Cuba. Members of the Damas de Blanco continue to face harassment and physical attacks from police around the island as they attempt to carry out their legitimate and peaceful human rights activities.

Latest on Cuban Slave Labor Court Case

From CNS:

Court Won't Stay Cuban Workers' Slavery

A federal judge refused to stay a lawsuit in which three Cubans claim a shipyard on the island of Curacao virtually enslaved them to pay off Cuba's debt to the company.

In their 2006 lawsuit, the Cuban workers said they were kidnapped and trafficked to Curacao, where the Cuban government forced them and many others to work for Curacao Drydock in slave-like conditions on ships and oil platforms, for 112 hours a week. The men claimed they were never paid and worked for 15 years to satisfy a debt Cuba owed Curacao Drydock. They eventually escaped and made it to the United States.

After the workers sued the shipyard under the Alien Tort Statute and the RICO Act, Curacao Drydock unsuccessfully tried to move the case to Curacao. The company then abandoned its defense of the lawsuit and lost by default. The district court in Miami ordered Curacao Drydock to pay the plaintiffs $80 million.

In 2010, the plaintiffs sought to add the island of Curacao and the Netherlands Antilles, which owned Curacao Drydock, as judgment debtors.

The Netherlands Antilles was an autonomous Caribbean country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of two groups of islands, one of which included Aruba and Curacao. Aruba seceded in 1986, and the rest of the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved in October 2010. That year, Curacao became a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which inherited the Netherlands Antilles' rights and obligations.

The court refused to add Curacao and the Kingdom of the Netherlands as judgment defendants, but it granted limited jurisdictional discovery to determine if the two countries qualified for immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).

The Cubans had argued that Curacao and the Kingdom of the Netherlands had used assets in the United States to fund and operate Curacao Drydock's commercial activities, which were related to plaintiffs' claims, and therefore were not entitled to sovereign immunity.

Curacao and the Kingdom of the Netherlands asked the court to reverse its order granting jurisdictional discovery, but the court denied its motion and refused to stay the lawsuit pending appeal.

The countries renewed their request last month, but the plaintiffs opposed the stay, arguing that the appeal was frivolous.

Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King agreed that the appeal was premature, because the court had yet to rule on the issue of sovereign immunity.

The judge noted that the court had limited discovery to evidence supporting an exception to the FSIA, as opposed to "general asset discovery," and thus had not infringed on the governments' presumed immunity.

The court has not decided whether it has jurisdiction over Curacao and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the ruling states. King admonished the governments for failing to respond in a timely manner to the Cubans' motion for limited jurisdictional discovery, and noted that the court of appeals "looks disfavorably on 'defendants who abuse the pretrial process through such stalling.'"

Our Thoughts and Prayers

Friday, July 20, 2012
In memory of the victims of today's senseless tragedy in Aurora, Colorado.

Our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones.

It's All About The Regime's Income

On June 1st, we posted a notice from Castro's Customs Office (obtained by the blog Penultimos Dias), which announced new tariffs on food and other inbound items carried by Cuban-American "mules" and other travelers.

Apparently, no one believed us, for it's only now (almost two months later) that the media is abuzz with news and panic about Castro's major tax increase.

And it's major indeed -- just read the previous post.

This week, there's been a story every day on how these taxes will affect the self-employment sector and why Raul Castro would throw this wrench at the economy (as if he cared about the general well-being).

The reason is very simple -- it's all about the regime's income.

The Castro regime doesn't care about the self-employment sector. If it did, it would allow Cubans to actually own (as opposed to leasing from the state) their businesses and free up the wholesale market (controlled solely by the state).

It doesn't care about regular Cubans making money. To the contrary, it seeks a twisted formula whereby Cubans can make as little as necessary to distract and ease discontent, while simultaneously maximizing the regime's income.

Nothing new here. The Castro regime only cares about its own coffers.

That's why its economic strategy is not about growth. It's about regime income.

The Castro brothers knows these taxes will stifle the self-employment sector, but if they don't impose it, their wholesale sector will be wiped out and they'll lose direct income. That's also why the Cuban Constitution of 1976 restricts any Cuban from participating in foreign trade (imports and exports). It's solely in the purview of the state.

Thus, this tax seeks to protect the regime's wholesale markets, while increasing the regime's income -- for some Cuban-Americans and other travelers will all-too-willingly oblige to their new demands.

The media should stop trying to rationalize the Castro regime's policies as if it were a regular, elected government looking to improve its people's lot.

It's a totalitarian dictatorship -- by definition, it's all about them.

Raul Throws Wrench In "Reforms"

Thursday, July 19, 2012
Some informative excerpts from Reuters:

Steep hike in customs fees leaves many Cubans fuming

A sharp increase in customs duties has angered many Cubans and cast a shadow over market-oriented reforms on the communist-ruled island advocated by President Raul Castro.

The move, which raises fees many times over in some cases, is expected to ratchet up prices and decrease the availability of imported merchandise. It also threaten to bankrupt some of the tens of thousands of mom-and-pop businesses that have sprung up in recent years. [...]

The customs regime beginning in August appears headed in the opposite direction, protecting state-run “"dollar stores" from a growing flow of merchandise imported informally by small businesses and residents who hawk clothing and other items door to door [...]

The new duties not only increase fees but also stipulate Cubans traveling abroad more than once a year will have to pay them in a local dollar equivalent called the Convertible Peso (CUC), worth 24 times the pesos they earn from the state [...]

One measure that takes effect next month slaps a 100-percent to 200-percent duty on all new electronic and other big-ticket items valued at more than $50, with the exception of medicines, regardless of whether they are brought in by Cubans, foreign residents or tourists.

Another steep duty applies to “"miscellaneous" goods shipped in through airports, ports and the mail by Cubans living at home or abroad, for example clothing, food, personal hygiene products, makeup and bedding.

A $4.50-per-pound duty goes into effect in September for all shipments weighing more than about seven pounds (3 kg), compared with the current equivalent of $0.25 per pound charged Cubans and the $2 that non-resident Cubans and foreigners pay.

The measure also applies to excess baggage at the airport.

Cubans, trapped in a state-run system that pays them in pesos and charges for imported goods in CUCs, have for years coordinated with family and friends abroad to bring in relatively small amounts of merchandise for sale on the informal market.

A minimum 240-percent markup at the "dollar stores," a lack of diversity, poor quality and peso-priced customs fees drive the "non-state" import trade and a vast network of mainly women who sell clothing and other merchandise door to door.

Assad Rolls Out The Tanks

While the Obama Administration and the rest of the world sit idly by, in order not to offend Russia and China, which in turn want to protect the Assad dictatorship.

And who will protect the Syrian people?

In MWC:

Government troops have stormed a Damascus district with tanks for the first time, five days on from the outbreak of fierce clashes in the capital, a UK-based rights group has said.

"The army stormed the Qaboon district with a large number of tanks," said Rami Abdel Rahman, of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), on Thursday.

Castro's Foreign Propaganda Corp

This week, the Castro regime sent off 32 new Ambassadors to posts throughout the world.

Despite its grave economic troubles, the Castro regime has more embassies throughout the world than any other Latin American nation.

That's because propaganda and intelligence-gathering are key to the regime.

In a ceremony, whereby the new Ambassadors swore an oath to the Castro regime, they were instructed by the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Abelardo Moreno, that the function of a Cuban Ambassador is to "defend national security" and to "focus on spreading information about the rehabilitation of Cuba's economy and to confront all efforts to minimize its extent and depth."

In other words, their focus is to spread propaganda about Raul's so-called "reforms."

Similar to the recently revealed lobbying strategies of Syria's Assad, and Libya's Gaddafi before that, the smoke-screen of "reforms" is used to preserve the repressive apparatus of these regimes.

Sadly, Castro's Ambassadors are already being aided abroad by a handful of so-called Cuba "experts" and even a couple of Cuban-American businessmen.

Tyrant's Washington Lobbyists Revealed

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
In the same way as Gaddafi's lobbyist's were revealed upon his demise, now come Assad's -- and one day we'll know all of Castro's.

Note the media campaign they created around Assad's so-called "reforms."

Sound familiar?

In The Washington Post:

Washington’s Syria lobbyists: ‘Hard power necessary to quell rebellion’

WikiLeaks released the first batch of its Syria-related e-mails today, which, according to embattled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, will prove “embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents.” It has also proved embarrassing to Syria’s surrogates in Washington.

The first release contains communications between the Syrian government and its American-British PR firm Brown Lloyd James (BLJ). The firm, founded by former Beatles manager Peter Brown, has represented a number of undemocratic regimes in the past, included Gabon, China, and Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya, plus it has worked on behalf of supporters of the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group designated a terrorist organization by the State Department.

In a document contained in the WikiLeaks releases, Brown Lloyd James advises the Syrian regime on how to spin its war against anti-Assad dissidents: “If hard power is necessary to quell rebellion, soft power is needed to reassure the Syrian people and outside audiences that reform is proceeding apace, legitimate grievances are being addressed and taken seriously, and that Syria’s actions are ultimately aimed at creating an environment in which change and progress can take place.” The document also advises the creation of a media campaign that would “create a reform ‘echo-chamber’ by developing media coverage outside of Syria that points to the President’s difficult task of wanting reform, but conducted in an non-chaotic, rational way.”

The WikiLeaks document appears to blow a rather large hole in Brown Lloyd James’s previous claim, made to the Hill last August, that “its work for the Syrian government ended in December 2010.” The Syrian e-mail released by WikiLeaks, which contained the BLJ plan as an attachment, is dated May 19, 2011. According to the Microsoft Word document properties, the proposal was written by BJL partner Michael Holtzman on May 15, 2011. The company’s 2011 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings for Syria only say the company was doing business on behalf of the “Office of the First Lady of the Syrian Arab Republic,” remunerated only for its assistance in arranging that now infamous Vogue profile of Bashar al-Assad’s wife, Asma.

Here's the "family-loving" picture of the Assad's in Vogue:

AI: Ladies in White Imprisoned Since March

From Amnesty International:

URGENT ACTION

Cuba: Protesters detained without charge

Ladies in White Niurka Luque Álvarez and Sonia Garro Alfonso, and Sonia’s husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, are believed to have been detained without charge since March.

On 17 March in the Cuban capital, Havana, the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) were demonstrating peacefully to commemorate the anniversary of the 2003 crackdown on dissidents, when 18 of them were arrested and taken to police stations across the city. All but Niurka Luque Álvarez, were released a few hours later.

The following day, Lady in White Sonia Garro Alfonso, and her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, were arrested at their home in Havana: around 50 police forced their way into the house and fired rubber bullets at them. According to her sister, Sonia Garro Alfonso was wounded in the foot by one of these bullets.

Since then the two women have been sent to various detention centres, and are now held in Guatao women's prison in the outskirts of Havana. Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González is being held in Havana's Combinado del Este prison. Both women are reported to be in poor health. Sonia Garro Alfonso was suffering a kidney problem before her arrest that may require surgery. According to her daughter, Niurka Luque Álvarez regularly suffers epileptic fits. The women are allowed visits every week, and Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González every two weeks.

Although all three have access to a lawyer, it is not clear what they have been charged with. Relatives told Amnesty International that the authorities have accused Sonia Garro Alfonso of attempted murder and public disorder, but none of them has been formally charged. They have yet to be told if or when they will be put on trial. They think they were arrested because of the visit of the Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba in March 2012 and their activism with the Ladies in White, and that it is intended to intimidate other government critics.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for an exclusive interview with the former Prime Minister of Belize, Said Musa, who served from 1998-2008 and was a leading figure in the Central American nation's independence from Great Britain in 1981.

Then, Joel Hirst of the Bush Institute, and formerly of the Council on Foreign Relations, will discuss the latest on Venezuela's upcoming elections and U.S. President Barack Obama's recent assessment that Hugo Chavez does not represent a U.S. national security concern.

TIME UPDATE: You can now listen to "From Washington al Mundo" seven-days a week on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST) and again at midnight (EST).

Senate Report Highlights Cuba Transactions

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
From the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation's report, "U.S. Vulnerabilities to Money Laundering, Drugs, and Terrorist Financing: HSBC Case History":

Transactions Involving Cuba

Internal bank documents indicate that, from at least 2002 through 2007, HSBC Bank USA (HBUS) processed potentially prohibited U.S. dollar transactions involving Cuba. HSBC affiliates in Latin America, in particular, had many Cuban clients and sought to execute transactions on their behalf in U.S. dollars, despite the longstanding, comprehensive U.S. sanctions program and the OFAC filter blocking such transactions.

In August 2005, a month after HSBC Group issued its new GCL policy barring HSBC affiliates from engaging in U.S. dollar transactions in violation of OFAC prohibitions, HBUS circulated an email identifying correspondent relationships that would be affected.

The email stated: “An overriding observation is that the revised policy will most significantly impact the Cuban and Sudan correspondent bank relationships.” It also observed: “For Sudan and Cuba, most of our business is conducted in USD and the discussions already initiated with the affected banks will dictate the extent of our ongoing relationships.”

In September 2005, HSBC Group Compliance head David Bagley told HSBC Group CEO Stephen Green that they had closed “a number of USD correspondent relationships with Cuban... banks.”

On October 3, 2005, Mr. Bagley sent an email to Matthew King, then head of HSBC Group Audit, that Mr. Green was “particularly concerned” about ensuring the 2005 GCL was “properly and fully implemented across the Group.”

Mr. Bagley asked Mr. King to use HSBC’s internal audits to help gauge compliance with the new GCL. Mr. King relayed the request to various HSBC auditors and, in response, learned from HSBC Mexico (HBMX) Compliance that the OFAC list had not been fully integrated into HBMX’s monitoring system and would not be for another six months, until April 2006.

HBMX reported that, pending the systems integration, it had set up “manual controls” in several divisions to implement the new GCL, but “no automated means exists to ensure that these controls are properly being carried out.”

HBMX explained further that its “greatest exposure” was “the volume of business historically carried out by HBMX customers with Cuba in US dollars.”

Mr. King responded that the HBMX transactions raised two sets of concerns, one with respect to the U.S. dollar transactions involving Cuba being run through HBMX’s correspondent account at HBUS, and the second with respect to non-U.S. dollar transactions being “transmitted through the HBUS TP gateway,” referring to a U.S.-based server that handled transfers from Mexico and South America.

Since the United States prohibited transactions involving Cuba, both types of transactions raised questions about whether they ran afoul of the OFAC list and the 2005 GCL. Mr. King responded:

I note HBMX continues to process USD payments involving Cuba. It is very important that is stopped immediately as the regulators are getting very tough and the cost to the Group could be considerable if a breach occurs, both in terms of the fine and the rectification work which is likely to be a pre-requisite to any settlement.

With regard to non-USD payments as described above, GHQ CMP [Group Headquarters Compliance] are urging HBUS to screen out these transactions to avoid any risk, and HBMX would have to put measures in place to p[re]-empt customer dismay
.”

HSBC affiliates from outside of Latin America also occasionally sent potentially prohibited transactions involving Cuba through their HBUS accounts. For example, in December 2006, a payment for $15,350 that had been sent by an HSBC affiliate in the Asia-Pacific region was blocked by HBUS, because the transaction documents referred to “Air Tickets Moscow Havana Moscow 3Pax."

In 2007, an internal HSBC document entitled, “Information Requested in Connection With: (North Korea, Cuba, and Myanmar),” revealed that, as of May 2007, HSBC affiliates in Mexico and Latin America were still providing U.S. dollar accounts to Cuban clients, in apparent violation of HSBC Group GCL policy and OFAC regulations.

The document indicated that HBMX had 23 Cuban customers with U.S. dollar accounts containing assets in excess of $348,000, and 61 Cuban customers holding both U.S. dollar and Mexican peso accounts with assets totaling more than $966,000.977 In addition, the report disclosed that HSBC affiliates in Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama were also providing U.S. dollar accounts to Cuban nationals or the Cuban Embassy. The document also indicated that arrangements had been made to “cancel all business relationships with” Cuban clients, in relation to U.S. dollar accounts or commercial relationships for the entire region.

These steps were being taken almost two years after the July 2005 GCL had prohibited HSBC affiliates from executing U.S. dollar transactions involving OFAC sensitive persons.

A Letter to Cuba’s American Prisoner

By Armando Valladares in The Daily Caller:

A letter to Cuba’s American prisoner

Alan P. Gross
Havana, Cuba

Dear friend:

That is how I am compelled to address you, because even though we have never met, we share a common bond: I too lived behind the iron bars now surrounding you in Cuba — in my case for 22 years.

Like you, I was convicted by the Cuban authorities without a single shred of evidence against me.

I know the anguish of interminable days and endless nights, the feeling of helplessness when you know yourself to be innocent. I also know the painful sense of the lack of solidarity from outside the prison walls.

I have no doubt that your greatest pain right now must be the realization that the U.S. government has turned its back on you. There was a time when the words “I am an American citizen” meant something. They meant all the more when the individual declaring that was the target of abuse outside of the United States. It meant: “I have rights and they are recognized by the government of my country and they will ensure that you, too, respect my rights.”

It gives me great sadness to say that inside the Communist boot that now tramples upon your dignity is the foot of the American president, Barack Obama.

The more Castro’s thugs oppress you and make your family suffer, the more your jailers torture you, the harder things get for you — the more this administration seeks to reward them with new concessions. How is it that in 53 years of Cuba’s brutal dictatorship it was only months after Obama came to the presidency that the Castro brothers first decided to take an American citizen hostage?

How is it possible that the American administration has turned its back on you?

The pronouncements by the U.S. Department of State that U.S. officials are doing “everything they can” to secure your freedom are absolutely false. They are hypocritical statements not backed by any real action. Under any previous U.S. administration, Democrat or Republican, you would not still be in jail.

Your case has no precedent in the history of the United States. You are in prison because of the supreme cowardice of the American president and his secretary of state. Whether they know it or not, the key to your cell is inside President Obama’s pocket.

The White House has abandoned you. It does not matter to them that you may be very ill and slowly dying.

It does not matter to them that your daughter has cancer, or that your wife, too, is ill.

The American president, who has made a habit of publicly bowing to foreign powers, bows to your torturers and would-be executioners. Meanwhile, the adult daughter of Cuba’s dictator recently visited the U.S. to applaud and show her support for President Obama. She receives a visa to come to the United States and a Secret Service escort. And you? You suffer the torture of imprisonment.

The Obama administration must step up its efforts to press for your release through its diplomatic channels. Should those diplomatic efforts fail, then they must be followed by real action, including the suspension of flights and remittances to Cuba until such time as you are allowed to return to the United States. If the Obama administration even threatened to do this it is my considered judgment that you would be on the next flight back to your home in Washington, D.C.

Only with real action will your freedom be secured.
Unfortunately, if past is prologue, such action is unlikely to ever happen with this administration.

After I was released from prison, President Ronald Reagan appointed me as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. During my tenure at the U.N., we managed to expose to the world, for the first time, Cuba’s systematic violations of fundamental rights and freedoms. You know these violations all too well. They are now marked on your own flesh. You will have your day in the international court, too. You will have the opportunity to expose your jailers and the suffering they have imposed on 11 million people for more than half a century.

Please do not lose faith. You are not alone in that cell. God is there with you, along with the love of your brave wife and the firm commitment of those of us who continue to fight for your freedom. Do not give in to despair or to the treachery of those who have abandoned you. I am convinced, from my own experience, that you will return home, against all hope.

You are always in my prayers.

Armando Valladares

Editor’s Note: The author was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. He was later awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal.

AP Tries to Pass Castro's Piñata For Rentals

The AP ran a story today entitled, "Havana's historic quarter begins small-biz rentals."

It's about how Castro regime official Eusebio Leal, known in Cuba as Eusebio "el Leal" (the "loyal one" -- due to his allegiance to Cuba's dictators), is now leasing government-owned buildings in old Havana to a handful of "private small businesses."

Translation to reality: On behalf of the Castro brothers, Eusebio Leal is using his official position as "Historian of Havana" to preferentially lease space in previously confiscated buildings in prime locations in Old Havana to five Castro loyalists (including Fidel's former chef).

Therefore, Castro's mafia can continue to enrich themselves.

It's called the piñata.

Must Watch: Why Do You Fight?

Monday, July 16, 2012
It's extraordinarily challenging to dissent in Cuba.

Those who courageously do so are subject to violent repression and harassment.

So Cuban blogger and activist Luis Felipe Rojas asked various leading Cuban dissidents: Why do you fight?

Their responses were captured in the following short documentary (with English subtitles).

Please click below to watch.

Be prepared to be inspired -- for it's clear who is on the right side of history.

A Bucket of Cold Water

In The New York Times:

Cuba Hits Walls in 2-Year Effort at Privatization

Nearly two years into the Cuban government’s economic overhaul aimed at slashing public payrolls and bolstering private enterprise, the reforms have slowed so much that many Cuban entrepreneurs and intellectuals are questioning the aging leadership’s ability — or will — to reshape one of the world’s last Communist systems and shift nearly half of the island’s output to private hands.

Those awaiting measures to create even more opportunity for private business got the opposite last week, when news spread of a little-advertised government decision to charge steep customs duties on the informal imports, from Miami and elsewhere, that are the lifeblood of many young businesses.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the regional importance and impact of Turkey with G. Lincoln McCurdy of the Turkish Coalition of America.

Then, Dr. Aristides Hatzis, professor of law and economics at the University of Athens and editor of GreekCrisis.net, will discuss the political ramifications of the European debt crisis.

TIME UPDATE: You can now listen to "From Washington al Mundo" seven-days a week on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST) and again at midnight (EST).

From Political Prisoners Banished to Spain

Sunday, July 15, 2012
From a hunger strike by several former Cuban political prisoners of the "Black Spring" who were banished to Spain.

The sign reads:

"To (Cuban) Cardinal Jaime Ortega:

It would be good for you to visit Madrid, so you can see the web that the Castro dictatorship, (former Spanish President) Zapatero and you, coward and traitor, have weaved for us here in Spain, where we have been thrown into the streets with children, women and our sick elderly
."

Congressman Murphy Tells Truth About Cuba

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, was recently on C-SPAN discussing health-care when a caller brought up Cuba.

Don't miss his answer here.

While We Were Away

By Juan Williams in The Wall Street Journal:

Castro & Co. Are Best Kept at Arm's Length

Economic growth in Latin America is at risk if tyrants are welcomed as legitimate leaders. As my family learned in Panama, poverty and tyranny go hand in hand.

April's Sixth Summit of the Americas generated salacious headlines about Secret Service agents and prostitutes. There was less attention to news that will have lasting impact on regional economies -- the struggle over U.S. opposition to inviting Fidel Castro and Cuba to join the summit. The president of Ecuador boycotted the summit because of the U.S. stand. The presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua are threatening to boycott the next one.

There is a temptation for U.S. policy makers to just give in on inviting Cuba. Fidel Castro is old and in poor health. The Cold War is over. Despite the official U.S. ban on travel to Cuba, American academics and tourists romanticize Cuba's revolutionary past and visit in growing numbers.

But it will be a mistake for the U.S. to welcome a nondemocratic nation run by a dictatorship to join the summit, which was first held in Washington in 1994 and brings together leaders from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Economic growth in Latin America -- a region that is the U.S.'s fastest -- growing trade partner -- is at risk if dictators are welcomed as legitimate leaders.

Secure markets are necessary for successful trade policy, and investment cannot take root when dictators can usurp property rights. Real, vigorous trade also leads to global investors and an educated workforce -- all of which threaten dictators' power. That is why the U.S. stance on Cuba is so important for the region.

This spring brought a personal reminder of how important it is. I was born in Panama, in a poor city, Colon. For my birthday this year, I walked around there for the first time since my mother brought three children, including me (as a 4-year-old), to Brooklyn, N.Y. No joke, we came to this country as added freight on a banana boat.

I was never quite sure why I waited so long to go back to Colon. My wife and sons also accompanied me and, ever wiser than his old man, my youngest son, Raffi, said my reluctance to visit might have had something to do with the fear of the intense, ugly poverty that eats up people.

There is a lot to fear about Colon. Crime and drugs are common. People live camped out on balconies. Huge bugs and vermin scurry down trash-strewn streets. I visited the apartment building where my mother took me as a newborn. It now looks like a jail: Iron gates cover individual apartment doors to stop robbery.

The Panamanian economy is growing but not fast enough to lift the people of Colon out of this crushing poverty. There's a widespread belief there that the government has given up on the city and would just as soon bulldoze whole sections so they can rebuild on top of the ruins. In fact, Panama has less poverty than most Latin nations. But even here economic hopelessness has a history of being a breeding ground for dictators playing to the frustrations of the poor.

The reason my father insisted that my mother take the children out of Panama in the 1950s was fear of a Castro-like, populist dictator, Arnulfo Arias. A Nazi supporter during World War II, Arias later took businesses away from U.S. and European investors by insisting on Panamanian ownership. He profited from stoking racial antagonism against Asian and black immigrants who built the canal and made Panama a center of international trade. Arias even tried to divest black West Indians, such as my father, of Panamanian citizenship.

Panamanian dictators Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega followed Arias's phony populist politics to enrich themselves. Noriega's corrupt regime encouraged the drug trade even as he denounced capitalism.

The U.S. Panama free trade agreement passed by Congress last year lowered tariffs to create new investment opportunities for American businesses. The agreement helps Panama by improving the local job market and it helps the U.S. by opening markets to American goods.

Even in Colon, with all of its problems, people see hope in capitalism. The local economy is helped by the commerce that comes with sitting on one end of the Panama Canal Zone. That free-trade zone is the largest free port in the Western Hemisphere and the second-largest in the world.

My life's major turn away from poverty came thanks to my father's vision of his children escaping a despot like Arias. That dream of a better life is alive throughout Latin America. To romanticize any dictator is to kill those dreams by condemning poor kids in Latin America, like me, to tyrants and the burden of limited education and economic opportunity.

When we Americans have the opportunity to help neighbors prosper while standing for freedom, we ought to take it. Global capitalism and defiance of dictators are not mutually exclusive ideas. In fact, they work best when they work together.