Political Arrests Top 5,000

Saturday, November 24, 2012
Is this what Spanish President Mariano Rajoy is advocating in the European Union as a "positive evolution" in Cuba?

Fortunately, those who aren't being blackmailed by the Castro regime in Europe aren't as willfully blind.

(The Castro regime is currently holding Spanish youth activist Angel Carromero hostage.  He was accused of vehicular manslaughter in the crash that killed Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.  Paya's family has not pressed charges.)

From the U.K.'s Institute for War and Peace Reporting:

Political Detentions in Cuba Top 5,000

Some await trial, while many are detained for shorter periods to disrupt their work as journalists or rights activists.

More than 5,600 Cuban dissidents, journalists and rights activists were detained or arrested between January and the start of November, a leading human rights group reports.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, CCDHRN, recorded 520 detentions in October alone, bringing the total for the year to 5,625. The figures were “consistent with the high level of political repression in Cuba over recent years”, the group said.

The Hablemos Press Information Centre, CIHPRESS, gave a lower figure of 4,542 for the same ten-month period, although its records do not cover all of Cuba’s provinces.

The two groups targeted most were Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) – women campaigning for the release of relatives imprisoned in the “Black Spring” of 2003 – with 23 detentions in October; and the Patriotic Union of Cuba with 28.

CIHPRESS noted 22 cases where independent journalists and bloggers were detained in the same month.

One reason for the high number of detentions is the Cuban authorities’ tactic of using repeated short-term internment to harass anyone who criticizes the system.

For example, Yoani Sánchez, perhaps Cuba’s most famous blogger, was arrested on October 4 en route to attend a trial, held for 30 hours and then released.

Sánchez had been following the trial of Spanish politician Ángel Carromero, who was charged in connection with the death of Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in a car crash in July. On October 15, Carromero was found guilty of manslaughter while driving, and sentenced to four years in prison.

Similarly, journalist Yosbel Ramos Suárez was detained twice in October, once to prevent him visiting human rights defender Vladimir Alejo, and again to stop him attending a church service.

But not all detentions end quickly. Four dissidents were convicted in October – Emilio Plana Robert and Rafael Matos Montes were given three-and-a half and two-and-a-half years respectively; Reinaldo Castillo Martínez was sentenced to a year and Alberto Ramos Prados to a year-and-a-half.

CCDHRN notes that six individuals arrested in September are still awaiting trial, including independent journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Árias. He is accused of “disrespecting” Cuba’s present and former leaders Raúl and Fidel Castro – a criminal offence that can carry a three-year sentence. (See Cuban Journalist Faces Charge of Insulting Castros on his case.)

A number of political prisoners were also released.

Damas de Blanco member Niurka Luque Álvarez and 17 others from the group were freed on October 5 after being held since March. And Amnesty International reported that Antonio Michel Lima was released on October 26, two years and a day after he and his brother were arrested for the crime of listening to hip hop music with lyrics criticizing the lack of freedom of expression.

Assad and Castro Reaffirm Ties

Despite the slaughter of over 35,000 civilians by Assad in the past year.

From Syria's state media:

A message from President Bashar al-Assad to President Raul Castro of Cuba, conveyed by Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister Fayssal al-Mikdad to the Cuban First Vice President José Ramon Machado Ventura who renewed his country's support to Syria.

During the meeting held in Havana on Tuesday, Ventura affirmed that Syria steadfastness is a guarantee for the states which defend their independence and sovereignty all over the world.

Ventura expressed President Castro's thanks for President al-Assad's message and the information that included a brief on the situation in Syria, showing Cuba's readiness to offer help and support to Syria during the difficult stage it is passing through.

He appreciated Syrian people's struggle and their steadfastness which foiled the western plots.


Must-Watch: Journalist Embeds With Cuban Opposition

Friday, November 23, 2012
An undercover journalist from Al Jazeera embedded himself with Cuban pro-democracy leaders to experience first-hand the constant repression they face.

It features former political prisoner Ivan Hernandez, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and the currently imprisoned Antonio Rodiles.

Kudos to Al Jazeera, which no longer has a Havana correspondent for this courageous piece of journalism.

The networks with Havana bureaus, AP, Reuters, CNN and NBC should be ashamed for not making a similar effort.

Click below to see the entire episode of Al Jazeera's Inside Story.

Or here to read the transcript.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on U.S.-Mexico relations with the head of the Mexican Senate's Commission on Foreign Affairs, Senator Gabriela Cuevas Barron.

Then former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State , Ambassador Otto Reich, will discuss next year's Presidential elections in Honduras and much more.

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).

As We Celebrate Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 22, 2012
Let us not forget those who are suffering under a brutal regime 90 miles away.

Young pro-democracy leaders like Antonio Rodiles, who remains beaten and battered in one of Castro's prison cells for his peaceful activism.

And independent journalists like Calixto Martinez Arias, who is being held naked in a cold punishment cell for daring to report on the reality of Cuba.

Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Thanksgiving

For each new morning with its light, 
For rest and shelter of the night, 
For health and food, 
For love and friends, 
For everything Thy goodness sends.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882

To Change Cuba, Stick With Burma Model

Wednesday, November 21, 2012
As President Obama returns from a trip to Burma this week, we thought it'd be timely to re-post this editorial from earlier this year.

It's both a message of hope and caution.

By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Hill:

To change Cuba, stick with the Burma model

Advocates of “normalizing” relations with Cuba’s Castro regime continue to cite China and Vietnam as models of what can be gained by changing U.S. policy. Their argument is: Economic reform leads to political reform and America should be doing business with Cuba as nonchalantly as we do with China and Vietnam.

Ironically Cuba’s dictator du jour, Raul Castro agrees, albeit his rationale is a bit different: Vietnam and China are “model states” proving that economic stability can be attained while preserving political absolutism.

The time has come for reasonable people to admit that the China and Vietnam models have failed completely in achieving political reform and protecting the human rights of the repressed populations of both nations.

There is, however, another Asian model that does seem to be working.

In a key test of introducing political reform, Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been resoundingly elected to that nation’s parliament.  Her National League for Democracy (NLD) claims 40 of 45 elected seats across Burma, in spite of her being held under house arrest since 1989.  Some caution is warranted because the NLD will control only a tiny fraction of the 664 seats in the Burmese parliament, and the military is guaranteed a quarter of the seats.

Even so, this Burmese election represents political reform that is leaps and bounds ahead of anything attempted by China or Vietnam, two countries that have benefited from friendly U.S. political and economic policies. Tellingly, it is Burma that has been subjected to stiff U.S. sanctions, which could not be lifted until certain conditions are met:

- the release of all political prisoners;

- a demonstrated respect for freedom of speech, press, association, and the peaceful exercise of religion; and

- an agreement by the military government with democratic opponents, led by the NLD and Burma’s ethnic nationalities, to the transfer power to a civilian government accountable to the Burmese people through democratic elections and a rule of law.

Do these conditions sound familiar? They should. They’re very similar to those put forth for lifting U.S. sanctions applied towards the Castros’s regime by the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD).

For the United States, the policy challenges posed by Burma and Cuba are very similar. In Burma, the impact of U.S. sanctions was weakened and circumvented over the years by investments from regime-friendly neighbors in China, India and Thailand. In Cuba, the same thing has occurred courtesy of Venezuela, Canada and Spain. Yet none of those investments in the ruling military juntas of Burma or Cuba has eased repression, increased political dialogue or brought political reform. Sadly enough, Cuba’s dictator Raul Castro still has a long way to go to catch up with the political reforms made in Burma.

In addition, to releasing opposition leader Aung Sun Kyi from house arrest, directly engaging her in a dialogue and allowing the NLD to participate in the parliamentary elections, the Burmese military made a number of other changes. It has:

- stepped aside in favor of a civilian government;

- legalized independent labor unions and strikes;

- authorized the creation of an independent National Human Rights Commission;

- relaxed press and internet censorship laws;

- released most political prisoners and, equally important, halted new political arrests.

In contrast, Raul Castro's military dictatorship remains completely intact, political reforms have never been on the table, repression is at its highest level in 30 years and political arrests have nearly tripled in the last year.

Meanwhile, Castro's economic "reforms" are limited to a handful of self-employment measures, mostly recycled from the 1990's with the regime retaining ownership rights. They don’t nearly approach the economic latitude allowed by its professed allies in Vietnam and China. That’s unfortunate.

Judging by history and the recent results in Burma, U.S. policy in Cuba clearly remains the right policy. In fact, I’ll happily wager with anyone that Cuba will make the transition to democracy before China or Vietnam. And when Cuba’s pro-democracy activists Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Berta Soler and Jose Daniel Ferrer do win election to Cuba’s parliament, they will surely underscore the value of pressure. Then, the world can turn its attention to correcting the failing policies toward China and Vietnam.

Easing Sanctions = More Repression

Tuesday, November 20, 2012
By Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Easing Restraints on Castro Dictatorship Has Meant More Repression

Damien Cave of The New York Times has written an article titled "Easing of Restraints in Cuba Renews Debate on U.S. Embargo" The essence of the anti-sanctions position in the story is made by Carlos Saladrigas:

“Maintaining this embargo, maintaining this hostility, all it does is strengthen and embolden the hard-liners,” said Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban exile and co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group in Washington, which advocates engagement with Cuba. “What we should be doing is helping the reformers.”

The thesis put forth by Mr. Saladrigas is that lifting sanctions would weaken and dissuade hardliners while helping reformers. Over the past four years the Obama Administration has loosened economic sanctions in Cuba. If  Mr. Saladrigas's argument is correct then one should see that reformist elements in the regime are asserting themselves and winning policy discussions. That has not been the case. On the human rights front the situation has deteriorated.

Furthermore looking beyond Cuba to China, Vietnam and Burma one is presented with a cautionary tale on lifting sanctions unconditionally. In China and Vietnam the United States lifted sanctions unconditionally and have de-linked human rights considerations from economic considerations. The result has been a deterioration of human rights standards in both countries. On the other hand in Burma where sanctions were maintained the military junta, after years of trying to manipulate its way out from under them has had to recognize the political opposition and provide a space for them in Burma's parliament. Things are still far from perfect but there is hope that serious and permanent reforms are underway. The ability of Aung San Suu Kyi to travel in and out of her country and run for public office is a positive sign. The ability for an independent press to begin to operate in Burma following decades of systematic censorship and control is another positive sign.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been clear about the importance of sanctions and of confronting those that would engage the dictatorship of Burma at the expense of the human rights of the Burmese people:

Investment that only goes to enrich an already wealthy elite bent on monopolizing both economic and political power cannot contribute toward égalité and justice — the foundation stones for a sound democracy. I would therefore like to call upon those who have an interest in expanding their capacity for promoting intellectual freedom and humanitarian ideals to take a principled stand against companies that are doing business with the Burmese military regime. Please use your liberty to promote ours.

What have we witnessed in Cuba over the past four years? The death under suspicious circumstances of national opposition figures such as Laura Inés Pollán Toledo on October 14, 2011 and Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas on July 22, 2012. Increased violence and detentions of nonviolent activists. An American citizen arrested and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for attempting to provide internet access to the local Jewish community in Cuba. The Obama Administration has continued its policy of extending a hand to the Cuban regime and has little to show for it except more repression and the deaths of high profile activists. There is no reason to suppose that further unilateral concessions will lead to a different outcome.

Prominent Cuban American businessmen have spoken out against unconditionally lifting sanctions in Cuba stating "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." They share the same position as Aung San Suu Kyi which is that it is unprincipled for companies to do business with a dictatorship. Things are improving in Burma on the human rights front while worsening in China and Vietnam. Linking human rights with economic engagement has been a winning formula in Burma and can be so as well in Cuba.

Alumni Cuba Travel Scam

By Javier Garcia-Bengochea in Durnham's Herald-Sun:

Duke heading backward with alumni trips to Cuba

I am a Duke alumnus and Cuban exile, one of more than a million people forced to flee Cuba virtually penniless since 1959 as well as one of 14 million Cubans in Cuba and worldwide collectively robbed of their property, rights, freedoms and heritage as Cubans. Fortunately, I was not one of the hundred thousand who died trying to escape Cuba.

As you read this, Duke returns from another alumni trip to Cuba, exploiting a loophole in U.S. law. Travel to Cuba is chic. “Everybody” is doing it and so, too, is Duke.

Yet, this is not an innocent enterprise. Time has passed, but not as a catalyst for change in Cuba. Cubans continue to be denied property rights, including their civil rights and vote and are more repressed each year. Americans speciously believe that exposing Cubans to them will bring change. For Duke this “opportunity to learn” and be part of “the conversation about Cuba” occurs entirely in a vacuum.

The isolation of Cuba over five decades extends well beyond the U.S. embargo, which has obscured what Cuba is, an international pariah due to perpetually hostile policies towards her people and her partners, past and present.

Since the Cuban missile crisis exposed Fidel Castro as the most dangerous figure since Stalin, democratic nations have spent trillions of dollars fighting Cuban aggression on every continent. Cuba has been a haven for terrorist groups, including the PLO, ETA, FARC and probably al-Qaeda. Cuba seeks our enemies for alliances.

The Castro regime has defaulted on more than $75 billion of international debt, excluding several hundred billion dollars in damages to former property owners in Cuba. Cuba continues to expropriate foreign assets in Cuba without compensation. Cuban agents rob U.S. taxpayers through Medicare fraud estimated to be billions of dollars and facilitate drug trafficking. Cuba is unrepentant for taking an American, Alan Gross, hostage. These are only a few of their sins.

The result has been the systematic destruction of virtually all material and social value in Cuba. Only the vices, the pre-revolutionary past, Cuba’s natural resources and the indomitable spirit of the Cuban people remain to be exploited. Tourism, the regime’s last hope for hard currency, will eventually exhaust these, too.

Duke, in its complicity, contends Cuba travel is an academic exercise. Really? These trips are entirely scripted and choreographed by the Cuban state or, more precisely, the oligarchs who control the Cuban economy. These elites select the hotels, restaurants, and events, even supplying the “dissenting” voices aimed to bamboozle Duke alumni that Cuba tolerates free speech. Duke accepts this indoctrination without question. Such bias in the work of any Duke student would be categorically rejected. As an academic and intellectual exercise, these trips are pure fraud.

Duke never considered that the majority of the items and venues in their November trip, “The Art & Architecture of Cuba,” are stolen, not only from Americans and Cubans in exile, but from the millions of Cubans still living in Cuba.

And the money paid to travel agents (yes, selected by the regime) and spent in Cuba? Into private corporations managed by the oligarchs, many of which are registered in other countries. These control the tourist industry, stores and medical services for foreigners and Cuban elites, which exclude ordinary Cubans. Not one Duke dollar funds the purported social benefits of the revolution, which have become illusory.

Duke dismisses that until recently it was illegal for most Cubans to visit the tourist hotels, restaurants and stores, mostly because these Cubans were stereotyped as black, panhandlers and prostitutes. That they are mostly black and the elites who host Duke are mostly white is no coincidence and is emblematic of “Cuban socialism.”

To wit: Cuba’s two-currency system of the convertible peso (CUC) and the traditional peso (CUP). Duke pays the Cuban tourist enterprise in CUCs (~US$1), the legal tender for foreigners, while Cuban workers are paid in CUPs (~US$0.04), the legal tender for Cubans, by the Cuban entity as if the two were equal. Duke is indifferent to this fact.

Discrimination is, therefore, maintained through poverty. The two-currency system is outright theft from ordinary Cubans and is legal and institutional apartheid; it is slavery. Apparently this offends no one at Duke, not even within the Gang of 88.

Duke’s Cuba travel only strengthens the real embargo of Cuba: the internal embargo of goods and services between these oligarchs -- Cuba’s 1 percent that consumes resources, produces nothing and, most perniciously, is accountable to absolutely no one -- and the Cuban people.

Ironically, this disgraceful situation coincides with Duke’s capital campaign targeting its prosperous alumni, made so by strong property rights and the rule of law, which Duke disparages for Cuba. Such naiveté and hypocrisy occurs to the delight of their Cuban hosts. Duke Forward? Evidently not.

Dr. Javier Garcia-Bengochea y Bolivar is a neurosurgeon and 1981 Duke graduate. Born in Havana, Cuba, he lives in Jacksonville, Fla.

Spain's Hypocrisy

For over two decades, Spanish companies -- with the blessing of both socialist and center-right Spanish governments -- have been trafficking in illegally confiscated properties in Cuba.

To this day, U.S. Presidents -- both Democrats and Republicans -- have waived Title III of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act ("Helms-Burton"), which allows suits in U.S. courts against foreign companies that traffic in illegally confiscated properties in Cuba, due to the European Union's threat of retaliatory action.

Yet now Spain is on the receiving end in Argentina and what do they do?

From Reuters:

Spain court considers Repsol lawsuit against Chevron: source

A Spanish court has agreed to consider a lawsuit by Repsol against U.S.-based Chevron Corp. over its cooperation agreement with Argentina's YPF, a source with knowledge of the matter said on Monday.

Repsol had threatened legal action against companies that invest in YPF after Argentina seized control of the Spanish firm's majority stake in the energy company in April.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on President Obama's trip to Burma, women in Afghanistan, U.S. democracy promotion and much more with former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Ambassador Paula Dobriansky.  Amb. Dobriansky is presently a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Then Haim Yalin, head of Israel's Eshkol Regional Council, which borders Gaza, will give a first-hand account of the daily rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups that his region is suffering.

And Middle East analyst Julian Schvinderman will discuss potential solutions to the escalation of the conflict in Gaza.

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).

Quote of the Day

I think the overwhelming majority of the opposition is against giving more space to the Castro tyranny. This mandate can be seen as a betrayal of Cuba's citizenry and peaceful opposition.
-- Guillermo Fariñas, Cuban pro-democracy leader and past recipient of the European Parliament's Sakharov Award, on the European Union's decision to explore an agreement to "normalize" relations with the Castro regime, El Nuevo Herald, 11/20/12

What's State Thinking?

Monday, November 19, 2012
See the two pictures below.

The first is of Cuban dictator Raul Castro's granddaughter, Vilma Rodriguez Castro, drinking and dancing the night away in New York City last week.

Vilma is the daughter of Deborah Castro Espin and Col. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez Callejas, Chairman of the Castro business conglomerate GAESA, which controls the island's tourism industry and just about everything else.

Thus, Vilma's Rolex and Louis Viutton are courtesy of all those generous Cuba travelers.

The second  picture is of a badly beaten Antonio Rodiles, the young Cuban pro-democracy leader and founder of the civil society group Estado de Sats, who was imprisoned last week.

What was the State Department thinking in granting Vilma Rodriguez Castro a visa to party in Manhattan, while young Cubans are being beaten and arrested by her family?

Will the U.S. also be granting visas for the Assad clan to party in South Beach, while young Syrians are being slaughtered on the streets of Damascus?

Is the goal to demoralize young pro-democracy leaders?

If so, great job.


Normalizing Repression

Here's how dictatorships thrive off unconditionally "normalizing relations" with the U.S.

It's what many advocate for regarding Cuba policy.

In CNN, internationally-renowned artist and Chinese pro-democracy leader Ai Weiwei reflects on the U.S. Presidential election:

For all the tough talk about China during the presidential debates, Romney and Obama evaded any mention of China's suspect human rights record, corruption, and rule of law.

By not tackling these controversial topics, the candidates are protecting a strategic partnership with China at the expense of essential human values and beliefs.

(If you haven't seen it yet, don't miss the award-winning documentary on his life, "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.")

A Serious Policy Lapse

Why are Castro's repressors getting U.S. visas?

For those arriving "legally", the State Department and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana should undergo a review of its procedures for granting visas to Cuban nationals.

We say "legally" because  it throws a bucket of cold water on President Obama's Presidential Proclamation 8697 of August 2011, which supposedly sought to "close the gap" in granting visas to foreign nationals affiliated with human rights violators -- and singling-out "prolonged arbitrary detentions" as a main violation.

For those arriving "illegally", Congress should consider a reform of the Cuban Adjustment Act in order to exempt Castro's repressors from its generosity.

However, this current policy lapse is unacceptable.

In The Miami Herald:

Cubans lament dirty pasts of hundreds living safe in exile

Hundreds of Cubans with dubious pasts, including State Security officers and snitches, have moved to Miami, much to the disgust of those they tormented.

Havana activist Elizardo Sánchez says he bears no ill will for the Caamaños, neighbors who collaborated with State Security agents to harass him for years. After all, he heads the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

But his sister Marcela, who lives with him, has no problem denouncing the two Caamaños and a son-in-law, who now live in Miami.

“The first thing I would do is bring them back,” she said. “It is not a grudge. But it is a lot of pity for the many people suffering here, while they live without any kind of problem over there.”

Former Cuban provincial prisons chief Crescencio Marino Rivero made headlines over the past month amid allegations that he abused some prisoners and ordered guards to abuse others before he moved to Miami two years ago.

But uncounted hundreds of other Cubans with nasty pasts are also living here, including State Security officers, snitches and collaborators, judges, policemen and members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the neighborhood watch groups [...]

Frank Parodi, a retired official of the human rights violators’ unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that after the arrest of one Cuban abuser was announced in 1992, his office received 250 tips and leads about other abusers in Miami. He was transferred to Washington afterward and does not know what happened to those tips.

Elizardo Sánchez said “hundreds upon hundreds” of full-time officers of State Security, the Interior Ministry branch in charge of political repression, moved to the United States in recent years.

Must-See: More Evidence of Repression

The following picture was filtered out of the prison where Cuban pro-democracy leader and Estado de Sats founder, Antonio Rodiles, is being held.

The massive bruise speaks for itself.