What a Small World (of Castro's Thugs)‏

Saturday, August 4, 2012
From The Editor:

Last week, when the Castro regime organized the "mea culpa" at its Ministry of the Interior for the Swedish survivor of the car crash that killed Oswaldo Paya, I knew the official sitting next to him looked familiar.

The Swede, Aaron Modig, kept nervously looking over to the official for guidance during his testimony.

The Castro regime official was Gustavo Machin Gomez. He served as first secretary of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C. from 1997-2002, until he was finally expelled for his involvement with the infamous Cuban spy at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Belen Montes.

But he jogged my memory, as on April 14th, 2000, Machin was one of nearly two dozen Cuban "diplomats" that violently assaulted a small group of peaceful demonstrators -- including myself, as a young law school student at the time -- outside the Cuban Interests Section (CUBINT) on 16th Street.

That's right, it was an attack by the Castro regime's thugs on U.S. soil against American citizens. As the police arrived on the scene that evening, the "diplomats" rushed back into the CUBINT, under the diplomatic cover of the Government of Switzerland.

Here's a detailed report of the incident, for which criminal indictments remain outstanding for five Castro regime officials.

Machin is a Colonel in Castro's Intelligence Directorate and has served in a variety of diplomatic covers throughout the world since then, including as Ambassador to Pakistan. He's now based in Havana and is tasked with the regime's media operations.

Honoring Cuban Pro-Democracy Leaders

Friday, August 3, 2012
The following Cuban pro-democracy leaders were honored this week on Capitol Hill as the recipients of the 2012 Boitel Award, for their extraordinary courage and commitment to the cause of human freedom:

1. Julio Columbié Batista, was very involved in collecting signatures for the Varela Project and emerged as a pioneer of public protests against Cuban prisons. He is the founding Director of the National Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Orlando Zapata Tamayo Front and later restructured the historic Pedro Luis Boitel National Civic Resistance Movement.

2. Blás Augusto Fortún Martínez, spent time in a forced labor camp in his late teens, afterward becoming involved with the Cuban Nationalist Movement Party and then with the Pedro Luis Boitel National Civic Resistance Movement. He continues to play an important part in public protests throughout the country.

3. Damaris Moyas Portieles, co-President of the Central Opposition Coalition in Villa Clara and chairwoman of the Rosa Parks Women's Movement for Civil Rights. She has become well known for her role organizing protests and hunger strikes.

4. Donaida Pérez Paseiro, first became linked to the opposition in 2007 as a freelance journalist. She joined the independent press agency, Laureles Press, and was involved in the creation of the National Front and the Rosa Parks Movement.

5. Marta Díaz Rondón, one of the main coordinators of the Eastern Democratic Alliance and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civic Resistance Front. She is a Dama de Blanco and Vice Chair of the Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement.

6. Jorge Olivera Castillo, writer, poet, editor and television journalist. He joined the opposition in 1993 and initially worked as part of the independent union, Confederation of Democratic Workers of Cuba (CTDC). Beginning in 1999 and up until his arrest during the Black Spring of 2003, he was the director of the independent news agency, Habana Press. He was released in 2004 on medical parole due to health issues. Currently he is an independent journalist and president of the Writers Club Cuba, an entity that seeks a space for all Cuban writers committed to the defense of freedom of thought.

Free Pussy Riot!

If you are offended by this post, our apologies. The intent is not to be vulgar.

It's an important statement in favor of free speech and against the regime of Russia's Vladimir Putin.

Pussy Riot is a Russian punk rock group composed of three courageous young women, critical of Putin's autocracy.

Think of them as Russia's version of the Cuban punk rock band, Porno Para Ricardo.

They have been in prison since March for performing a song criticizing President Vladimir Putin in one of Moscow's renowned cathedrals.

The song was called "Mother Mary please drive Putin away."

This week they went to trial and are facing seven-year sentences.

Punk rock was at the forefront of the freedom movements that brought an end to Soviet rule during the Cold War.

Read this 1986 report from Radio Free Europe on the (later fulfilled) threat punk rockers posed to Soviet leadership.

We stand on the side of punk rock.

Need to Know Fact About Raul's "Reforms"

Below is a revealing chart regarding Cuban dictator Raul Castro's so-called "reforms."

It is courtesy of Castro's own National Statistics Office.

Since 2007, the number of "business organizations" formed in Cuba has decreased by 11%.

Thus, all of the subgroups of "business organizations" has dropped -- from cooperatives ("cooperativas") to self-financed state-owned enterprises ("empresas").

With one exception.

The only subgroup that has actually grown -- and by 11% -- are state-owned enterprises endowed by the regime's official budget ("unidades presupuestadas").

In other words, the only type of "business organization" that has grown between 2007 and 2011 are enterprises run by Raul's cronies, which he subsidizes with the state's income (from travel, foreign investments and selling doctor's abroad).

Can you say "piñata"?


Chart courtesy of Diario de Cuba.

How Castro's Blackmail Works

Thursday, August 2, 2012
Aron Modig, the Swedish survivor of the car crash that killed Cuban pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, has arrived in Stockholm.

However, he will not be speaking publicly about the incident, in order to try to protect his Spanish colleague, Angel Carromero, who is being held hostage by the Castro regime.

In a written statement though, Sweden's Christian Democratic Youth League has said that Modig remains committed "to the fight for freedom and democratic rights.. beyond Sweden's borders."

An implicit retraction of Modig's (obviously forced) apology in Havana for supporting Paya.

Meanwhile, Paya's family has stated that they do not accept the Castro regime's version of the crash and will not press charges against Carromero.

Yet, Castro seems poised to do so on his own, in order to force Carromero -- and blackmail Modig -- into silence.

Menendez Calls For UN Investigation on Paya's Death

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) took to the Senate floor to ask for a U.N. investigation on the tragic (and mysterious) death of Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.

Click here to watch:

AI: Castro Must End Ongoing Harrassment

From Amnesty International:

Cuba must stop ‘cat-and-mouse game’ with political activists

The latest arrest and short-term detention of José Daniel Ferrer García continues the Cuban authorities’ cat-and-mouse game with political dissidents and human rights activists

The Cuban authorities must end their ongoing harassment of political and human rights activists, Amnesty International said today after a former prisoner of conscience was released following his latest arrest and detention in a police station for 36 hours.

José Daniel Ferrer García, coordinator of the organization Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU), was set free on Wednesday, two days after police arrested him in the eastern province of Holguín.

He was not charged with any crime. His family had no idea of his whereabouts until he was returned home by the authorities on Wednesday afternoon.

Ferrer’s latest arrest follows three days he spent in detention after being arrested in Havana in February 2012 and a 27-day detention for “public disorder” in Santiago de Cuba two months later. These repeated, short detentions are in line with a pattern of harassment by the Cuban authorities against UNPACU members and other political dissidents.

“The latest arrest and short-term detention of José Daniel Ferrer García continues the Cuban authorities’ cat-and-mouse game with political dissidents and human rights activists,” said James Burke, Campaigner on the Caribbean at Amnesty International.

“This practice – used as a form of harassment and intimidation to repress legitimate, peaceful activism and freedom of expression – must come to a halt.”

UNPACU was formed in mid-2011 as an umbrella group of Cuban dissident organizations in and around the province of Santiago de Cuba who seek democratic change by non-violent means.

Since its creation, the Cuban authorities have used arbitrary detention and other measures to harass and intimidate its members. One member, Wilman Villar Mendoza – whom Amnesty International named a prisoner of conscience – died last January on a hunger strike to protest his four-year prison sentence after a summary trial.

UNPACU coordinator Ferrer García served eight years of a 25-year jail sentence for his political activism before being granted conditional release in March 2011.

He was among 75 Cuban dissidents arrested during the so-called “Black Spring” crackdown in March 2003. Amnesty International adopted all 75 as prisoners of conscience after they were jailed for the peaceful expression of critical opinions of the government.

Ferrer García was among those targeted in part for his participation in the Varela Project, which called for a national referendum on democratic reforms in Cuba.

Following his conditional release last year, police in Santiago de Cuba re-arrested Ferrer García on 2 April 2012 along with 42 other activists – most of them UNPACU members.

All the rest were set free, but police held Ferrer García on a “public disorder” charge for a further 27 days, before releasing him on the condition that he renounce his political activism.

Following his release, José Daniel Ferrer García told Amnesty International that the authorities had arrested him to prevent him from travelling to the capital, Havana where he had planned to hold meetings with other government critics who are peacefully seeking greater respect for civil and political rights in Cuba.

He said the ongoing campaign of harassment would not deter him or his colleagues from continuing with their activism: “Our goal in Cuba is to establish true rule of law in Cuba where freedom of expression, freedom of association – all fundamental freedoms – are respected, and until we do so, we will continue our peaceful struggle.”

The Place Where Superman Cries

In Diario de Cuba, there's a must-read description of Castro's detention center at "100 y Aldabo."

This is the detention center where Castro's European hostage, Angel Carromero, has been held for the past week. He's now being charged with the crash that killed Cuban pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero.

Here's the description:

"100 y Aldabo, like other centers of the Department of Technical Investigations, is a place conceived to weaken the character and destroy morale. This police center can only be compared to the Operation Centers of Cuban State Security, counterpart to the Stasi and KGB."

Or as Alvaro Prendes, a former Cuban Air Force colonel, who fell from grace with the regime and was first detained at "100 y Aldabo" before being sent off to prison for three years:

"It's the place where Superman cries."

Here's a picture of this infernal facility:

It's All About Freedom

"No matter what I carry across (the river in 1992), it is better than anything I leave at home. Because people don't understand, it is not about economics, it is not about a better life. It is about freedom. Across the river, maybe I am the most poor man in the world, but I can express I am the most poor man, and if I don't like the president."

-- Yin Alvarez, step-father of U.S. Olympic gymnast and bronze medalist Danell Leyva, who escaped Cuba by swimming across the Rio Grande with his clothes in a bag during a visit to Mexico in 1992, USA Today, 8/1/12

Where's Castro Stashing His Cash?

In The Miami Herald:

Cuban bank deposits abroad plummet from $5.65 to $2.8 billion

A new report shows that Cuba’s bank deposits have fallen from $5.65 billion at the end of September 2011 to $2.8 billion at the end of March.

Cuban bank assets deposited in an international group of financial institutions showed a second stunning plunge in a row, with the total nose diving from $5.65 billion on Sept. 30 to $2.8 billion at the end of March.

“Two consecutive quarters of massive bank withdrawals signal a drastic policy change in Cuba that is not the result of temporary factors,” wrote Luis F. Luis, a former chief economist at the Organization of American States who has been monitoring the deposits.

The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) regularly reports banking statistics, such as deposits by Cuban banks, from 43 major Western and emerging economies and offshore financial centers around the world.

Countries, such as Cuba, usually keep deposits in BIS member banks and other financial institutions to pay for or guarantee the purchases of goods abroad.

A BIS report on June 4 showed Cuban bank deposits in BIS member institutions had plunged from $5.65 billion on Sept. 30 to $4.1 billion on Dec. 31. The latest BIS report showed they dropped to $2.86 billion at the end of March.

“What appears to be going on is a major portfolio reallocation of Cuban international reserves and assets away from Western financial centers and possibly into banks in countries such as Venezuela and China which do not report to the BIS,” Luis wrote.

What Really Happened to Paya?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012
By former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega in Fox News:

What Really Happened to Cuban Dissident Oswaldo Payá?

What kind of regime could be suspected of engineering a car accident to kill an opponent? The kind that made a “criminal” out of a man like Oswaldo Payá.

This weekend, the widow of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá rejected the Castro regime’s assertion that the July 22nd automobile crash that claimed her husband’s life was the result of reckless driving.

After hearing of Payá’s untimely death, his family members explained that he received persistent threats during two decades of political opposition.

Their suspicions were raised in the week after the incident because Cuban authorities had detained two European pro-democracy activists who were in the car during the crash that killed Paya and a Cuban colleague, Harold Cepero Escalante.

On Monday, in a session with reporters organized by the internal security agency, the Spanish citizen who was driving the car took responsibility for the accident; he faces charges in Cuba’s Orwellian justice system. His Swedish colleague issued an obligatory confession for supporting Payá’s “illicit” activities.

The two men looked more like hostages than witnesses, and both pleaded with the international community to get them out of Cuba.

I had the privilege of meeting Oswaldo Payá, a soft-spoken, courageous man of faith, during a rare visit to Washington, DC. A devout Roman Catholic, he reminded me of the many church laymen I met during my earlier visit to Cuba. Like them, he seemed liberated by his faith – exuding a self-confidence and decency that the regime considers dangerous.

Payá was the tireless advocate of the “Varela Project” – a remarkable initiative that invoked Article 88 of Castro’s Soviet-era constitution to require the Cuba national assembly to debate a host of political freedoms. Of course, the Castro regime regarded Payá’s activism as a challenge to its legitimacy. It is less well-known that some anti-communist foes criticized the petition drive precisely because they thought it might legitimize the government and its constitution.

The Varela Project drew new energy and inspiration from Pope John Paul II’s 1998 pilgrimage to Cuba. For years, Payá and his network of supporters worked to gather more than the requisite 10,000 signatures and, in 2002, he presented the petition to authorities.

The regime rejected the Varela petition and, instead, amended the constitution to reaffirm Cuba’s “socialist” system. It also launched one of its infamous crackdowns on dissidents, with dozens of Varela activists, other dissidents, human rights activists and independent journalists arrested, tried and sentenced to dozens of years in prison. Payá was never imprisoned, perhaps because he earned international prominence – and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2002 – for his peaceful activism.

In the long four years since Raul Castro took over for his older brother, his ruthlessness has suffocated any wishful thinking about a Cuban glasnost. He has preserved the police state apparatus that treats 11 million Cubans as traitorous criminals. More than twice as many opposition figures were detained per month in 2011 as in the year before. Keeping up a brutal pace, several dozen of mourners at Paya’s funeral were detained by Cuban security agents. And, the regime has imprisoned American democracy worker Alan Gross since 2009 on trumped-up espionage charges.

So what does Raul Castro have to say in the wake of the untimely death of Oswaldo Payá? This weekend he offered a dialogue with the United States – “a conversation between equals.” Setting aside the staggering delusion that Castro considers his regime equal to any decent democracy, such a dialogue must be among the Cuban people about the future they deserve.

Payá knew this.

Until that process is begun in earnest, the United States should reverse recent unilateral concessions and reserve robust economic and political relations for a government in Havana that is accountable to its people.

Was Payá a victim of a ham-handed plan to silence him?

Even if he was, the thugs of the regime must know that there is no hope of quelling the wellspring of decency that Payá, his movement and his faith represented. The fact that they know that is Payá’s remarkable legacy.

Castro Chooses Cash Over Culture

In Reuters:

Cultural center raid surprises patrons and staff

The Cuban government has closed a privately run cultural center, causing consternation among artists and intellectuals in what is shaping up to be the latest test of President Raul Castro's loosening of controls over everyday life.

A week ago government inspectors burst into the El Cabildo cultural center to the shock of patrons, artists and staff attending musical performed by its theater company, the "Opera in the Street."

The local authorities, citing a recent Reuters story on the center that mentioned a cover charge for customers, took away El Cabildo's license on the grounds of "illicit enrichment."

The vast majority of El Cabildo's clients were Cuban, paying a 50-peso cover charge, the equivalent of $2, while foreigners paid more.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on Chinese and Indian engagement in Latin America with Margaret Myers, Director of the China and Latin America Program at the Inter-American Dialogue.

And The Enough Project's Executive Director John Bradshaw will discuss the latest on the crimes against humanity taking place in Sudan and Congo.

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 Unanimously Passes Paya Resolution

Last night, the Senate unanimously passed S.R. 525, a resolution honoring the life and work of deceased Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.

The final co-sponsors of the resolution were U.S. Senators Bill Nelson, Menendez, Rubio, Lieberman, Durbin, Lugar and Kerry.

Click here to view the final resolution.

Event Honoring Cuban Democracy Leaders

The Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, which is a coalition of over 50 civic organizations advocating respect for human rights inside and outside the island, in conjunction with the International Republican Institute and the Center for Freedom and Democracy, is hosting an event entitled, "Pro-Democracy Movements in Totalitarian States.”

The event will occur on Thursday August 2nd, from 12:00 PM until 2:30 PM at the Congressional Meeting Room North in the Capitol Visitor Center.

Program:

Presentation and coordination of program: Mauricio Claver-Carone, Cuba Democracy Advocates

Moment of silence for victims of Castro Regime, including the most recent

Welcome and Introductory Remarks: Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) (confirmed)

András Bácsi-Nagy
Chargé d'Affaires of the
Embassy of Hungary

Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat,
Cuban Democratic Directorate (Directorio)

Carl Gershman, National Endowment for Democracy

Lincoln Diaz-Balart, White Rose Institute

I. The State of Resistance and Repression in Cuba

Moderator: Alex Sutton, IRI

12- 1pm

"IRI Opinion Poll in Cuba" presenter: Erika Rubino

Video on Resistance and Repression in Cuba (5 mins.)

"The State of Resistance in Cuba": Janisset Rivero, Directorio

Berta Antunez, Rosa Parks Feminist Movement

"Patterns of Repression and Human Rights Violations in Cuba"
John Suarez, Directorio

"External Support for the Internal Resistance" Sylvia Iriondo,
M.A.R. por Cuba

"The Moral Imperative of International Democratic Solidarity," Marc Wachtenheim, Center for Freedom and Democracy

II. The Presentation of the Annual Boitel Award to key activists in Cuba by Members of Congress and the Senate

Moderator: Sylvia Iriondo

Key note presentation of awards:

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)
Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs (confirmed)

(Senator Bob Menendez)

(Senator Marco Rubio)

Congressman Albio Sires (confirmed)

David Rivera (R-FL) (confirmed)

"La Solidaridad de la Resistencia Cubana" - Horacio Garcia, Proyecto Pro Cambio

III. An NGO panel on civic initiatives in support of democratic change in totalitarian states and democratic transition in Cuba

Introductory remarks/Moderator:

Carl Gershman, NED

Panelists:

"Civil Society solidarity with Cuba"
Carlos Ponce, General Coordinator, Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy

"Human Rights Advocacy for Cuba Internationally"
Frank Calzon, Center for a Free Cuba

"Support and Solidarity for Cuba's Independent Labor Movement"
Anibal Cabrera, Grupo Internacional de Responsabilidad Social Corporativa
en Cuba

"The importance of international solidarity for Cuban dissidents"
Darsi Ferrer, MD
Recently exiled Cuban dissident leader

Ted Cruz to Become 3rd Cuban-American Senator

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Ted Cruz has just won the Republican primary in Texas.

As such, he's poised to become the 3rd Cuban-American Senator in November, along with U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Former U.S. Senator Mel Martinez was the first in 2004.

Absolutely amazing.

Cuba Remains a State-Sponsor of Terrorism

The U.S. State Department has just released its yearly "Country Reports on Terrorism" and has re-designated Cuba as a state-sponsor of terrorism.

The other countries on the list are Iran, Syria and Sudan.

The report cites Cuba's continued support for terrorist groups, including Spain's ETA and Colombia's FARC; its support for fugitives from U.S. justice; and its unwillingness to abide by international money laundering standards.

A wide-range of sanctions result from this designation.

The report forgot to add Cuba's continued support for other state-sponsors of terrorism, including Iran and Syria, and its continued hostage-taking practices.

It's Official: Castro Will Keep His Spanish Hostage

The Castro regime has formally charged Spain's Angel Carromero with vehicular manslaughter for the crash that took the life of Cuban pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero.

The charges come one-day after his "mea culpa" in a video presentation hosted by Castro's nefarious Ministry of the Interior.

Carromero has been detained since the crash and has only been allowed one visit this past week by Spain's Consul in Havana.

It appears he will not be allowed to speak freely for years to come, courtesy of the Castro regime.

Meanwhile, the other survivor of the crash, Sweden's Aron Modig offered his "mea culpa" in person (at a Ministry of the Interior press gaggle) and even apologized for aiding Cuba's peaceful democratic opposition.

During Modig's presentation, which was later played on state media, you can see him constantly looking nervously for guidance from the Ministry of the Interior "escort" sitting to his left.

According to the Castro regime -- after judging his performance -- Modig is now "free" to leave the island, but has not yet been actually allowed to do so.

In sum: Just over a week ago, two European democratic politicians traveled to Cuba to provide support to the island's peaceful dissidents in their struggle for freedom and democracy. Upon a tragic (and mysterious) accident that killed two of these prominent dissidents, they have been held virtually incommunicado. Suddenly, they have publicly "confessed" and "apologized" to the dictatorship. One will now purportedly be allowed to leave, while the other will remain hostage for security.

Prominent U.S. Diplomats Endorse "Commitment to Cuban Freedom"

Prominent U.S. Diplomats Endorse "Commitment to Cuban Freedom"

A dozen former U.S. diplomats have joined in support of the "Commitment to Freedom" letter released by Cuban-American business leaders warning of Castro's "cosmetic reforms" and urging solidarity with Cuba's pro-democracy movement.

Washington, D.C. - A dozen former U.S. Ambassadors and foreign policy makers with a background in Latin American affairs have announced their endorsement of the document entitled "Commitment to Freedom," rejecting business ties with Cuba while the island remains under totalitarian rule.

The document "Commitment to Freedom" was signed last month by over a dozen Cuban-American business leaders, former Fortune 500 senior executives, and warns against the Castro regime's deceptive campaign to secure U.S. capital and bank credits. It also urges greater support for the pro-democracy movement that is rapidly spreading throughout the island.

The former diplomats concur that the current relaxation of U.S. policy toward Cuba has been subsidizing the Castro regime and emboldening its rulers to demand more concessions from Washington, while holding American development worker Alan Gross hostage, brutally cracking down on peaceful human rights activists and providing support to the Caracas-Tehran axis.

The virtually bankrupt Castro regime is at a critical crossroads. It is unable to sustain its inefficient and corrupt totalitarian system, but continues to block a true economic and political opening. What the Castro brothers are now seeking, with false promises and veiled threats, is a U.S. bailout.

The former U.S. Ambassadors and foreign policy makers endorsing the "Commitment to Freedom" are:

Lew Amselem, former Alternate US Representative to the Organization of American States, retired career Foreign Service Officer

John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations

Ted Briggs, former US Ambassador to Honduras, Panama and Portugal

Ludlow "Kim" Flower, former Director for Latin American Affairs, National Security Council, Former Charge d'Affaires, US Embassy Caracas, Venezuela

Tony Garza, former US Ambassador to Mexico

Lino Gutierrez, former US Ambassador to Argentina

Philip Hughes, former Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Former Executive Secretary of the National Security Council

George Landau, former US Ambassador to Venezuela, Chile and Paraguay

Otto Reich former US Ambassador to Venezuela, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

Mike Skol, former US Ambassador to Venezuela and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere

Jose Sorzano, former US Ambassador to the United Nations and former Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

James Cason, former US Ambassador to Paraguay

Dennis Hays, former U.S. Ambassador to Suriname


The original letter:

COMMITMENT TO FREEDOM

We, the undersigned, Cuban exiles with deep roots in U.S. and international corporations, institutions and business communities, wish to convey our great concern regarding the Castro regime's deceptive campaign aimed at securing much-needed financial resources to prolong its iron grip over the people of Cuba.

The regime is facing the severest financial crisis since the early 1990s, compounded by the possible loss of its Venezuelan life line. But instead of ushering in a true economic and political opening that would unleash the entrepreneurial skills of the Cuban people and attract foreign capital, it has only introduced non-systemic, heavily-taxed, revocable reforms with no legal protection or investment return. To stay afloat, the regime is pursuing a three-pronged strategy:

First, it is trying to induce the U.S. to lift or further weaken the embargo to funnel tourist dollars and bank credits to the bankrupt island--a bailout under the guise of constructive engagement.

Second, it has apparently enlisted the support of the Catholic Church hierarchy in Cuba to promote "reconciliation" under the current totalitarian system, while continuing to hound, beat and arrest peaceful opponents and human rights activists across the island.

Third, it is seeking to divide and neutralize the Cuban-American community, and lure some of its businessmen, by selling the fallacious concept that there is no solution to Cuba's predicament other than supporting cosmetic reforms without liberty and democracy.

We reject that outrageous proposition, since for us, and for most Cuban-Americans, there is no substitute f believe that, absent the dismantling of the totalitarian apparatus on the island, along with the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the restoration of fundamental human rights, there should be no U.S. unilateral concessions to the Castro regime.

The future of the island-nation lies not with the current failed, octogenarian rulers, but with the leaders of the growing pro-democracy movement. They, and not their oppressors, are worthy of receiving international recognition, financial resources and communications technology to carry out their heroic struggle.

We pledge our continued support to them--the vanguard of the emerging civil society--and look forward to helping in the reconstruction of the island where we were born, but only when the Cuban people can enjoy the blessings of freedom we cherish and they deserve.

SIGNATORIES OF "COMMITMENT TO FREEDOM"

Manuel Jorge Cutillas, Fr. Chairman and CEO, BACARDI

Sergio Masvidal, Fr. Vice Chairman, AMERICAN EXPRESS BANK

Enrique Falla, Fr. EVP and CFO, DOW CHEMICAL

Eduardo Crews, Fr. President, Latin America, BRISTOL-MEYERS SQUIBB

Emilio Alvarez-Recio, Fr. VP. Worldwide Advertising, COLGATE-PALMOLIVE

Néstor Carbonell, Fr. VP International Government Affairs, PEPSICO

Alberto Mestre, Fr. President, Venezuela, GENERAL MILLS

Rafael de la Sierra, Fr. VP International Coordination WARNER COMMUNICATIONS
(now Time Warner)

Eugenio Desvernine, Fr. Senior EVP, REYNOLDS METALS

José R. Bou, Fr. VP Primary Products Operation, MARTIN MARIETTA ALUMINUM

Alberto Luzárraga, Fr. Chairman, CONTINENTAL BANK INTERNATIONAL

Remedios Diaz-Oliver, Fr. Director of U.S. WEST and BARNETT BANK

Leopoldo Fernández-Pujals, Chairman, JAZZTEL; Founder, TELEPIZZA

Jorge Blanco, Fr. President & CEO, AMEX NICKEL CORPORATION.

Carlos Gutierrez, Fr. U.S. SECRETARY OF COMMERCE

Mel Martinez, Fr. U.S. SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT

CDC Issues Cuba Travel Notice

Monday, July 30, 2012
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel notice to Cuba due to the cholera outbreak affecting the island.

See the notice here.

Confessions of a Hostage

It is difficult to quantify the extraordinary courage of Cuban pro-democracy activists, who are subject to constant threats, harassment and torture.

But maybe today, the international community can at least have a better perspective.

A few hours ago, foreign correspondents in Havana were summoned for a highly unusual press conference by the Castro regime (specifically, by its Ministry of the Interior).

During the press conference, Angel Carromero and Aron Modig, the Spanish and Swedish survivors of the car crash that claimed the lives of Cuban pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, fully "confessed" responsibility for the incident.

But they didn't stop there. Both Carromero and Modig, who have been detained by the Castro regime since the crash and have been denied diplomatic visitations since Monday of last week, also apologized for supporting Paya's Cristian Liberation Movement (MCL).

In their own words:

I ask the international community to please focus on getting me out of here and not use a traffic accident, which could have happened to anyone, for political purposes.”

-- Angel Carromero

I understand that these activities are not legal in Cuba and I would like to apologize for having come to this country to realize illicit activities.”

-- Aron Modig

This is not a criticism of either Carromero or Modig, who justifiably want to escape from this nightmare and be reunited with their loved ones -- in the same manner as American hostage Alan Gross, who has been held hostage since 2009.

But it definitely offers perspective of what those who have no escape constantly endure.

McDonald's Does Not Bring Democracy

You've heard the argument a thousand times about the supposed "democratizing" power of McDonald's, TGI Friday's, et al.

Of course, it's usually made by those interested in conducting business with dictatorships and their surrogates.

So why do we bring this up?

Today, the BBC's John Sweeney presented a fascinating report on Belarus entitled, "Torture in the 21st Century."

It describes the horrible abuses by the Lukashenko regime.

For example:

"Opposition activists both inside and outside Belarus have claimed they were tortured at KGB headquarters in central Minsk. The building is known as the "Amerikanka" and is said to be named after a 1920s design for a Chicago prison. People who say they have been tortured in the Amerikanka include the opposition figures Vlad Kobets and Natallia Radzina, the presidential candidates Andrei Sannikov and Ales Mikhalevich, the poet Vladimir Neklyayev, and others still in Belarus. They say that in December 2010, after a bitterly disputed election, victims were forced to strip naked and stand in stress positions while masked guards swished electric batons. Icicles hung from open windows and the temperature outside was -20°C."

In the audio report, Sweeney ironically highlights the location of Lukashenko's KGB headquarters, which is also described in this report:

"Karl Marx Street happens to be the swankest in the capital. Lined with expensive bars and boutiques that overreach in their attempts at continental chic, it runs parallel to Nezavisimosti Avenue, a popular shopping thoroughfare where one can eat at McDonald's or TGI Friday's within view of the Belarusian KGB headquarters."

So much for the "democratizing" power of McDonald's.

The Useful Idiots

An interesting read.

Many policymakers suffer from a similar idiocy regarding the Castro brothers.

By Noah Glyn in The National Review:

Assad’s Useful Idiots

American policymakers tried to negotiated with the Assad regime for too long.

How to depose Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in a clean fashion has become a pressing question for the international community. How strange that, not so long ago, the question for them was how to convince Assad to join forces with the West. Along the way, many American policymakers worked strenuously to bring him into the fold, as they heaped praise befitting a statesman on the brutal tyrant.

In a recent column, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens recounted some of the paeans to Assad: In a March 2011 interview, Hillary Clinton implied that Assad was a “reformer.” In 2007, Nancy Pelosi, over strong objections from the State Department, visited Syria, and said, “The road to Damascus is a road to peace.” Senator John Kerry predicted that “Syria will change as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States.”

The record of American policymakers’ failures to talk the Assad regime out of its iniquity is long indeed.

After a three-hour meeting with Assad during her 2007 trip, Pelosi told the world that Syria was ready to negotiate with Israel. That was technically true, but the precondition Syria set was that Israel would have to agree to return the strategically important Golan Heights, the mountainous region from which Syria had launched attacks on Israel before the Six-Day War of 1967.

Syria, of course, was and remains a sponsor of Hezbollah, which had initiated a war with Israel the year before Pelosi’s meeting with Assad. Pelosi, who had visited Israel before her trip to Syria, surprised Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert when she told Assad that Olmert was willing to begin peace talks with him. This could be interpreted, charitably, as miscommunication between the Californian congresswoman and the Israeli prime minister. More likely, it was a matter of her being overzealous.

Pelosi’s reason for ignoring the Bush administration’s objections and going to Syria is worth recalling. “The meeting [between Pelosi and Assad] was an attempt to push the Bush administration to open a direct dialogue with Syria,” according to an AP report at the time. She was joined in that effort by Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem. “These people in the United States who are opposing dialogue, I tell them one thing,” he said. “Dialogue is... the only method to close the gap existing between two countries.”

Still foreign minister, Moallem has emerged as the chief apologist for Assad, having defended the regime’s crackdown in which thousands of civilians have been killed since the beginning of the year. He has warned those who might be inclined to intervene, asserting that the government would “take tough measures against any country that recognizes [the rebels’] illegitimate council,” the Syrian National Council.

Representative Tom Lantos (D., Calif.), who accompanied Pelosi on her trip, doubled down on the significance of the Pelosi-Assad meeting: “This is only the beginning of our constructive dialogue with Syria, and we hope to build on this visit.”

John Kerry has been a frequent traveler to Syria, meeting with Assad five times from 2009 to 2011. Like Pelosi and Lantos, the former presidential candidate sought to promote peace talks between Syria and Israel. A WikiLeaks document revealed that Kerry told the emir of Qatar in November 2010 that Assad is a man who “wants to change” and that Israel should cede the Golan Heights to the Syrians “at some point.”

After a “long and comprehensive” meeting with Assad in April of that year, Kerry described it as “a very positive discussion.” A month later, Kerry was back in Syria. His spokesman, insisting that “Syria can play a critical role in bringing peace and stability if it makes the strategic decision to do so,” asserted that Kerry had “emerged as one of the primary American interlocutors with the Syrian government.” Despite the senator’s interlocutions, Assad, it appears, has made the wrong “strategic decision.”

In 2009, George Mitchell, then the Obama administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, visited Syria to convince Assad to support Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. “Syria has an integral role to play in reaching comprehensive peace,” he said, affirming that he and Assad sought “to build on this effort to establish a relationship built on mutual respect and mutual interest.”

As secretary of state under the Clinton administration, Warren Christopher visited Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father, over 20 times in an effort to forge peace in the Middle East. On one visit in April 1996, the elder Assad kept Christopher waiting all day before meeting with him. The administration chalked up the delay to Assad’s busy schedule and his desire to closely examine the latest American peace proposal.

Hafez Assad, like his son, was no boy scout. He was responsible for ordering the 1982 Huma massacre, in which Syrian forces killed 20,000 citizens. “Assad goes beyond the point of no return,” read the headline in the Guardian. Not for certain American policymakers, apparently.

Democrats are not the only such policymakers to have met with Bashar Assad; Colin Powell, for example, visited Assad in Syria in 2003 to discuss the Iraq War. That meeting, however, was before the Bush administration cut ties with Syria for its role in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri, who had resigned from office to protest Syrian intervention in Lebanon.

In an effort to open negotiations between the U.S. and Syria, Representative Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) met with Assad one day after Pelosi’s time with him. Issa told reporters afterward that President Bush’s refusal to speak with Syrian leaders was the wrong policy. “That’s an important message to realize,” he said. “We have tensions, but we have two functioning embassies.”

Assad’s murderousness is now a banner headline, but his past crimes, and those of his father, were never truly hidden. On the contrary, anyone with a clear moral compass would have recognized them for who they are: dictators heading an evil regime intent on spreading terrorism across the globe. It reflects poorly on the political judgment of certain politicians that they thought the Assads could be changed or honestly negotiated with.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with author Benedict Rogers on his new book, "Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads," published this month by Random House.

Rogers is a human rights activist with Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Deputy Chairman of the U.K. Conservative Party's Human Rights Commission.

And former Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Otto Reich, will discuss reports of Iranian money laundering in Ecuador's banks.

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).

Update on Castro's European Hostages

Sunday, July 29, 2012
Here's the latest on Angel Carromero and Aron Modig, the Spanish and Swedish survivors of the car crash that claimed the life of Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya:

- Carromero has been transferred to the Department of Technical Investigation of the nefarious Ministry of the Interior in Havana, where he remains detained.

- Spanish diplomats have been prohibited from seeing Carromero since Monday of last week -- the day after the accident.

- The Swedish government has officially stated that Modig's continued detention in Havana is unjustified.


Meanwhile, Paya's widow has rejected the Castro regime's "official" report, which blamed the accident on driver error and stated:

"Until I'm able to speak with Angel and Aron, the last two people who saw my husband alive, have access to the expert reports and have the advice of people independent of the Cuban government, I can't have an idea of what really happened that day."

On U.S. Policy

"US assistance and trade policy can help democracies in Latin America to provide an answer to populist dictators. At the same time, we must speak out for dissidents – from Cuba to Venezuela to Nicaragua."

-- Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, Financial Times, 7/26/12

"With Romney there would be a more sensible policy that foments and supports democratic countries and market economies, and a firmer and more significant opposition against Chavez and Castro."

-- Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor, EFE, 7/27/12

Statements on Odebrecht Walkout

U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) released the following statement after walking out on the opening of Miami International Airport’s new Metrorail station:

American aid worker Alan Gross is being held hostage, numerous pro-democracy activists have been murdered, and it is just days after the violent death of Oswaldo Payá. I will not sit idly listening to the representative of the company that profits from Castro’s blood money.”

And House Foreign Affairs Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL):

"I'm hopeful that under Mayor Gimenez's leadership, the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars will not further flow into the pockets of a company that refuses to sever its economic ties with the blood soaked Castro regime. Along with my Congressional colleagues, I walked out in protest of the company's business dealings with a tyrannical dictator. Using taxpayers' money to pay companies that deal with Castro's dictatorship means that Americans are being forced to fund unethical behavior against their will."

Members Walk Out on Odebrecht CEO

At this morning's ceremony for the opening of Miami International Airport's new Metrorail station, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and U.S. Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) walked out when Odebrecht USA's President and CEO Gilberto Neves got up to speak.

The walk-out was in protest of Odebrecht's unwillingness to break ties with the brutal Castro dictatorship, where it has partnered with the Cuban military in a commercial venture to expand the Port of Mariel.

As the people of Florida have clearly expressed through their elected representatives, U.S. taxpayer money should not be flowing to companies that conduct business with the brutal dictatorships of Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan.

Odebrecht's partnership with the Castro regime was revealed last summer.

Kudos to these Members of Congress for standing clearly on the side of principle and of their constituents will.