How Badly Does Castro Need Chavez?

Saturday, December 15, 2012
So badly, that in a remarkable exercise in cynicism -- even for the Castro brothers -- they sent military officials to Mass to pray for Chavez's health.

See the picture below.

Of course, these are the same military officials that presided over the beating and arrest arrest last week of nearly 80 peaceful female activists -- from the Ladies in White organization -- as they sought to attend Mass.

And these are the same military officials, who on the very same day, allowed an armed mob to assault the Infanta and Santa Maria Temple, with over 20 worshipers (including children) inside.

Foreign Relations Shuffle

In The Chicago Sun-Times:

Source: Obama has chosen John Kerry as Secretary of State

President Barack Obama has chosen Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to be the next secretary of state, a source has told Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed.

His replacement as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Sneed source said.

Our Great Challenge

By Cuban pro-democracy leader Antonio Rodiles:

Our Great Challenge

The arbitrary arrest of the lawyer Yaremis Flores on November 7 was followed by two waves, one repressive, taken to the extreme by the regime against numerous activists of civil society, and the other, impressive and appreciated by us, of solidarity with the victims. Personally, what happened reaffirmed my vision of the fundamental challenge that we face as a country: the articulation of all of its parts in order to transition into a democracy in which the entire nation participates.

Visualizing and working in support of a transition towards democracy in the convoluted scenario in which we live is a process that implies, above all, political and intellectual maturity, honesty, and a high level of civic awareness. We need to understand that such dynamics would not involve just one axis, just one angle. It is impossible to imagine a transition that does not take into account Cubans in Cuba today who hold different points of view. And a transition without full participation of those Cubans outside the Island, who constitute an essential part of our nation, is also inconceivable. It is not possible to outline a transition without the workers, intellectuals, professionals and entrepreneurs both inside and outside the country.

To think that change in our country will happen magically, that in the blink of an eye we will generate a modern society, a state of rights, is too simple and deceitful a fantasy. We, the totalitarian regime’s opposition, have the duty and responsibility to show all segments of society the nature of the plural and inclusive country we are advocating and what we expect of democracy.

The strategy of the regime has always been the same. It has systematically tried to prevent by all possible means the growth of a civil society. Intimidation, repression, imprisonment, bleeding the country, generating mistrust within the opposition, creating internal conflict to undermine our work, “distracting” us so as to leave us little time to effectively advocate in society, is a strategy that has always borne fruit and should be dismantled now. We have to fix our ethics, our suppositions, our rhythm.

To responsibly work on a transition implies a true knowledge of the scenario confronting us in which are manifested the particularities of groups and individuals from a global perspective. To guarantee this range of interests and visions it is necessary they every Cuban enjoy his or her fundamental rights, thus the importance of the campaign “For Another Cuba” and our request for support from all Cubans and international public opinion.

Facing this peaceful citizen initiative, the government has responded by intensifying the repression and  excessive use of violence, slamming the door on yet another civic proposal. Nevertheless, this violent scenario begins to profile factions in society; on the one hand there are those who, although inside the system, believe a prosperous nation is possible, one where political and ideological differences are part of everyday life, where respect and decency are paramount; on the other there is a rarefied segment, formed by mixed interests, cynicism, and low ethical morals, which tries, with its irresponsible and arrogant acts, to lead us down a bruised path at the hands of violence and brutality.

It is time for Cubans to decide which side we are on, from which perspective we wish to advocate and act.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

CHC: Antonio Rodiles was beaten and imprisoned for 20 days last month.

Our Thoughts and Prayers

Friday, December 14, 2012
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and survivors of today's horrific elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

From a Friend of Alan Gross

We couldn't agree more.

A Letter to the Editor of The Washington Post:

Helping Alan Gross vs. Hurting Cuba
 
Thanks for the Dec. 6 editorial “No deal with Havana,” about how the Obama administration should clamp down on the Cuban government for keeping my friend, Alan Gross, in prison for three years now. I have known Alan for more than 20 years. He is and always has been a selfless humanitarian worker trying to help underprivileged people, whether as a social worker in the United States or as an international development consultant working with Africans in Gambia (where I first met him 23 years ago) or with Palestinians on the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip.

The Obama administration should tighten the U.S. trade embargo, stop allowing any kind of tourist flights to Cuba and do everything legally possible — even work with Congress, if necessary — to tighten the financial and administrative regulations against any individual American or U.S. firm that wants to do business with Cuba until Alan Gross is released — unconditionally — and can come home to his wife, Judy, his ailing mother and his two daughters.

Tom Herlehy, Arlington

Interview With President Obama

Transcript of interview with U.S. President Barack Obama by Univision's Alina Mayo Azze:

AMA: Mr. President, regarding the past election, were you surprised that a lot more Cuban-Americans voted for you than in the previous election and to what do you attribute that?

PBO: Well, I obviously am very pleased to have won Florida although I do want to get the results sooner next time. So that's something I want.

AMA: But the Cuban American vote.  

PBO: Yes, we have seen a steady increase in support for the -- in the Cuban-American community since 2008. I think the outreach that we've done, some of the steps we've taken, for example, to allow remittances back to Cuba while still holding a firm line that we have to make sure that political prisoners are freed and that freedom of speech and religion takes place inside of Cuba. I think that that approach, that practical common-sense approach to a Cuba policy is something that the Cuban-Americans definitely care about. And I also think the Cuban-American community understands, the same way most Americans understand, that we're a nation of immigrants, that we should embrace our diversities, that we should pass comprehensive immigration reform, that we should make sure that our economic policy is focused on middle-class families, and not just those at the very top. So a lot of the issues that are important to all Americans are also important to Cuban-Americans.

AMA: One issue that Cuban-Americans are worried about is, they believe that you favor a socialist model for our country. Cubans and Venezuelans especially because of what they have gone through. What do you think of that?

PBO: I don't know that there are a lot of Cubans or Venezuelans, Americans who believe that. The truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican. I mean, what I believe in is a tax system that is fair. I don't think government can solve every problem. I think that we should make sure that we're helping young people go to school. We should make sure that our government is building good roads and bridges and hospitals and airports so that we have a good infrastructure. I do believe that it makes sense that everyone in America, as rich as this country is, shouldn't go bankrupt because someone gets sick, so the things I believe in are essentially the same things your viewers believe in.

AMA: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is in Cuba, had surgery and has already named a successor. What message do you have for the Venezuelan people, in Venezuela and Miami, regarding the future of their country without Chavez possibly?

PBO: The most important thing is to remember that the future of Venezuela should be in the hands of the Venezuelan people. We've seen from Chavez in the past authoritarian policies, suppression of dissent. I won't speculate on what the medical condition is, but what our policy is constantly designed to do is to make sure that you have the voices of ordinary Venezuelans expressing themselves that they have freedom, that they're able to if they're working hard to succeed in that country, and we would want to see a strong relationship between our two countries, but we're not going to change policies that prioritize making sure that there's freedom in Venezuela.

Cuba to Strengthen Ties With Iran

Iran's state media made the following announcements today:

Cuba backs Iran’s nuclear program

At a meeting with Ali Asghar Khaji, the Iranian deputy foreign minister for Europe and Americas, in the Cuban capital city of Havana on Thursday, Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, hailed Iran-Cuba ties as “strategic” and voiced his country’s support for the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program.

He expressed Havana’s preparedness to enhance bilateral ties with Tehran in high technology and exchange experience to counter the effects of the “plots and sanctions [imposed on both countries] by the common enemy.”

Cuban President to Visit Iran Next Year

Cuban President Raul Castro, who has on many occasions lauded Iran's campaign against imperialism, is scheduled to visit Tehran next year, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez announced on Thursday.

Quote of the Day

Thursday, December 13, 2012
They want to regulate everything: the bread we eat, the music we listen to, the websites we visit, the ideology in which are kids are educated.
-- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger, on this week's session of the Castro regime's "parliament," Twitter, 12/13/12

So Much For Raul's Migration "Reforms"

In The Santiago Times:

Cuba denies visa for opposition leader wanting to study in Chile

The Cuban government denied the request Tuesday of opposition movement leader Rosa María Payá to leave the country to study in Chile.

Payá, who became the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement in July following the death of her father and previous leader Oswaldo Payá, was granted a visa and scholarship to study political theory and public management at Universidad Miguel de Cervantes in Santiago and was due to begin in January.

Mijail Bonito Lovio, a Cuban expat and the secretary of international relations for the Chilean chapter of the Independent and Democratic Cuba Party (CID), decried the Cuban government’s decision.

“It is the second time this year that the Cuban government denied the travel permit to Rosa María Payá,” Bonito Lovio told The Santiago Times. “The reason is very simple: Cuban dissidents on the island suffer repression and their statements abroad could cause the Cuban government to lose the image of sanctity it still has in many parts of the world.”

“(Her trip) threatened to show the world that Cuban dissidents are articulate young idealists and not the criminals that the Cuban government wants us to think,” he said.

No Easy Exit for Educated Cubans

By Osniel Carmona Breijo for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting:

No easy exit for educated Cubans

Although the Cuban authorities have announced the easing of travel restrictions by dropping the requirement to apply for an exit permit, some of the most anxious to emigrate are learning that they've been excluded from the streamlined process.

In order to prevent an exodus of qualified professionals, the government has decided that anyone with a university degree will have to wait five years before they can emigrate. Migration Law 1312, announced on Oct. 16 and due to take effect on Jan. 14, allows Cuban nationals to travel abroad freely as long as they have obtained the latest version of the passport. They no longer need to go through the onerous process of applying for permission to travel, or to produce a letter of invitation from someone living in their chosen destination. In addition, the authorities have abolished a law that stripped permanent emigrants of their rights and assets.

However, graduates will be barred from immediate travel, in order to "maintain a qualified workforce for the country's economic, social, scientific and technological development," the law says, noting that the waiting period reflects the time needed to "train a substitute." An editorial in the official Communist Party newspaper Granma said the measure was imposed in response to U.S. policies which encouraged a brain drain in Cuba.

Benigno Guerra, 58, has a degree in biology and has been teaching for 38 years.

"After so many years working in education on a measly salary, I'm planning to move to Germany with most of my family. But I'm going to have to be patient and wait for five years to see whether they give me approval to leave," he said.

Guerra says he understands the government's reluctance to allow the best and the brightest to leave the country.

"It's a step based on fear, to protect against the brain drain," he said. "They know that when (the borders) are opened up, most qualified personnel will leave in search of job markets with fairer wages." Jose Fornaris, an independent journalist and head of the Association for Freedom of the Press, said the easing of emigration rules will mean little to most people.

"Free entry to and exit from a country is a right recognized by the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Cuban government signed on Feb. 28, 2008, but still hasn't ratified," Fornaris said.

Of course, Cubans intent on leaving the country are still resorting to home-made boats and rafts to illegally sail to the United States and Central America, whether emigration rules are eased or not.

"It isn't known - and never will be known - how many people have lost their lives crossing the Florida Straits, because there are no normal options for emigrating," Fornaris said.

Osniel Carmona is an independent journalist in Cuba.

Is Castro Taking Aim at Cell Phones?

This month, the Castro regime was finally able to block -- for now -- Hablalo Sin Miedo (Speak Without Fear), a 911-type hotline that allows dissidents to call-in reports on arrests and abuses.

In a cat-and-mouse game, the regime had been chasing Hablalo Sin Miedo's numbers abroad for a long time and trying to block them on the island.

Now, Cuban state media has released the following:

"Commenting on the management report, officials from the Ministry of Informatics and Communications announced the reduction of the access to mobile phone services by the population."

This was part of a presentation to Castro's Parliament by the Minister of Informatics and Communications, Maimir Mesa, where he also stated that Internet access will remain restricted for the "collective benefit."

In other words, it will continue to be reserved for the regime.

This, despite the infamous fiber-optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela, which Cuba "experts" has originally lauded as transcendental and believed would surely have a some sort of "trickle down" effect.

They were wrong.

The cable is now a state-secret, which no one talks about, and for the regime's benefit only.

Apparently, foreign news bureaus in Havana, which usually waste no time reporting snippets from Castro's official media, missed this one.

Castros Take Hostages, U.S. Serves Castros Pate

Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Can someone at the State or Treasury Department please explain how this "people-to-people" trip to Havana by a group of California gourmet chefs benefits the Cuban people?

Because it's absolutely clear how it benefits the Castro regime.

Moreover, is this appropriate behavior towards a dictatorship that is holding an American hostage and imprisoned over 100 peaceful activists on Human Rights Day alone?

According to AP:

"In the last week, members of the "Planting Seeds" delegation have held give-and-take seminars in Havana with chefs and culinary students about slow food. They also put on two massive dinners, including a five-course, five-star meal at the privately run Le Chansonnier, which drew culinary, artistic and influential leaders like President Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela. A 100-person bash was held at a state-run restaurant for luminaries such as Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, California state Sen. Loni Hancock and senior Cuban officials who are in position to affect agricultural policy."

Of course, the Castro regime's elite is delighted to have a new pate variety:

"Luis Ramon Batlle, for one, has seen plenty of guava during his long cooking career, but never thought to combine it with rabbit-liver pate atop a crispy wafer.

'The cracker is practically neutral. The pate gives you all the classic flavor of liver, a little acidic. But at the end you sense the guava as a very subtle, very delicate touch,' said Batlle, who is head chef at Divino in Havana."

Perhaps this is some new and sophisticated "pate diplomacy" we're unaware of.

Free Calixto Martinez Arias Now

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

From Cuban prison, reporter speaks out

Cuba, historically one of the world's worst jailers of journalists, has returned to CPJ's prison census after a one-year absence. Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, a reporter for the independent news agency Centro de Información Hablemos Press, was imprisoned in September after he started looking into why an international shipment of medicine was allowed to go bad, according to news reports.

In this recorded phone conversation with Hablemos Press (in Spanish), Martínez Arias describes the inhumane conditions in the Havana jail where he is being held. He spent the first few days of his imprisonment sleeping on the floor of a 14-by-6 meter cell that was packed with more than 30 other inmates.

Cuban authorities have talked about reform and, in fact, they have mostly abandoned the long-term imprisonment of prominent journalists. But a 2011 CPJ special report found that authorities have simply changed tactics--using short-term detentions and ongoing harassment of journalists--to achieve the same strategic goal--silencing dissent and independent reporting.

Martínez Arias had done the sort of nuts-and-bolts reporting that everyone around the world should be able to count on from journalists. In 2009, for example, he helped expose a cholera outbreak in Granma province.

Recently released prisoners told Hablemos Press that Martínez Arias is now kept in solitary confinement as punishment for a hunger strike he began in November. In the phone recording, Martínez Arias calls on Cuban authorities to declare the jail uninhabitable.

To his appeal, we'd like to add one more: Free Calixto Ramón Martínez Arías now.


Before Embracing Castro on any "Agenda"

During a presentation at the Council of the Americas in New York City, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson, stated that there’s "no chance" for a broadening of U.S.-Cuba relations until Castro releases American development worker, Alan P. Gross.

Frankly, the State Department should have adopted this position since December 2009, when Gross was first taken hostage. Instead, they inexplicably chose to proceed with a new round of sanctions easing in January 2011.

Better late than never.

However, Jacobson then proceeded to say:

While we really wished that we could have moved forward with a broader agenda with the Cuban government, it is the Cuban government that has made that extremely difficult... There is a very easy way to resolve that part of the agenda and that is to release Alan Gross... just to be home with his mother, who has cancer, and his daughter, who went through breast cancer last year.”

Undoubtedly, the release of American hostage Alan Gross should be the priority of the U.S. government.

There's no argument there.

However, before rushing (at any point) to embrace the Castro dictatorship on a "broader agenda", we urge Secretary Jacobson to also consider the innocent Cubans being harassed, beaten and imprisoned on a daily basis by the regime.

For example, just this weekend, 95 members of the Ladies in White were violently beaten and arrested for peacefully demonstrating.

That's 95 mothers, daughters and sisters who were brutalized the Castro regime's thugs.

Below are their names as a reminder.

We should not be embracing the Castro regime on any "agenda" until the fundamental human, civil, political and economic rights of the Cuban people are recognized and respected.

Sandra Guerra Pérez
Aimé Cabrales Aguilar
Aniuska Fuente Arceo
Belkis Felicia Jorrín Morfa
Magela Lizama Roja Delgado
Gesica Casternao Jorrín
Victoria Díaz Morfa
Tatiana López Blanco
María Cristina Labrada Varona
Berta Soler Fernández
Laura María Labrada Pollán
Magaly Norvis Otero Suárez
Belkis Núñez Fajardo
Nancy Despaigne
Yamilé Garro Alfonso
Zahira Castro Casal
Deisis Ponce Arencibia
Barbará Remón Rivera
Lourdes Esquivel Vieto
Blanca Hernández Moya
Sonia Piña González
Yusmaris Martínez
Yosleidis González Martínez
Leonor Reinó Borges
Mirtha Gómez Colas
Yadira Rodríguez Bombino
Leydi Coca Quesada
Inés Antonia Quesada Lemus
Lilían Castañer Hernández
Julia Estrella Aramburu Taboas
Rosario Morales La Rosa
Mercedes Fresneda Castillo
Ivón Lemus Fonseca
Melkis Faure Hechavarria
Tania Maceda Guerra
Elianni Jiménez
Dora Martín Ricardo
Yaquelin Boni Hechavarria
Anisley Pavón Goberna
Alejandrina García de la Riva
Jani Mairelis Piloto Mirabal
Eralidis Frometa
Raquel Castillo Urquiza
Lazara Mitjans Cruz
Cecilia Guerra Alfonso
Niurka Luques Álvarez
Mari Blanca Ávila Esposito
María de los Ángeles Rojas Pereira
Yarisbel Aguilera Ramos
Barbará Cruz Proreira
Idania Álvarez Pérez
Mariely Jacomino Martínez
Yaquelin Morales
Yanelis Pérez Red
Hayme Moya Montes de Oca
Lisandra Farray Rodríguez
Marbelis González Reyes
Liliana Campo Bruzón
Nelda Molina Leiva
Adriana Aguilera Piña
Bárbara Bauza Drigg
Noemí Cecilia Hidalgo Gómez
Danay Mendiola Duquerme
Marlenis Abreu Almaquer
Gertrudis Ojeda Suárez
Gliselia Piña González
Eleiny Viamontes Cardoso
Romelia Piña González
Berta Guerrera Segura
Noralis Martin Hernández
Olga Lidia Torres Iglesia
Caridad Peinado Gutiérrez
Belkis Pérez Pérez
Amparo Milagro
Belkis Cantillo Ramírez
Aimeé Garcés Leiva
Yelena Garcés Nápoles
Kenia Fernández Rodríguez
Marta K. Martínez Labrada
Yurisleydi Peralta Alvares
Milagro Leiva Ramírez
Taimí Vegas Biset
Annia Alegre Pécora
Tatiana Martínez Rodríguez
Eduviges Isaac Rodríguez
Yanelis Elegica Despaigne
Vivian Peña Hernández
Yarisel Figueredo Valdez
Karina Salcedo Céspedes
Yuleidis Girón Ortiz
Yilka Ríos Rodríguez
Yailin González Lemes
Odalys Jardines
Ana Celia Rodríguez Torres
Liudmila Rodríguez Palomo
Ivonne Malleza Galano
Maira Morejón Hernández

Obama: U.S. Recognizes Syrian Opposition

Once again, better late than never.

From Politico:

The United States will recognize a Syrian opposition group as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people," President Obama said in an interview Tuesday, ratcheting up pressure on besieged leader Bashar al-Assad.

"We've made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," Obama told ABC News's Barbara Walters in the White House.

Time to Rethink U.S.-Cuba Migration Policy

Tuesday, December 11, 2012
By Angel Castillo in The Sun-Sentinel:

Castro policy will push more Cubans to South Florida

Cuba, which had a net population loss of 83,991 this year, is about to lose more residents starting next month.  Most of them will end up living in South Florida.

Cuba now has 11,163,934 inhabitants; at the end of 2011, it had 11,247,925.

The two main reasons for the decrease are that fewer people want to give birth to babies on an impoverished island that has no prospect of improvement, and that some 38,000 Cubans on average have been moving out of the island each year.

Faced with the stark reality that his country is full of unhappy people and that his bankrupt government can't provide for even their basic needs, dictator Raul Castro has come up with a desperate plan to further reduce the population.

In a purported "liberalization" of travel rules to take effect on Jan. 14, Castro has thrown open the doors of the island gulag to just about every Cuban who can get a tourist visa from any country that will issue them, including the United States.

There's no real "liberalization." The Castro regime will retain the absolute and unreviewable authority to prohibit the departure of many people, in violation of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Technicians, professionals, members of the armed forces, doctors, scientists, and "vital" athletes and coaches will be among those not allowed to leave.

You don't have to be an immigration expert to foresee that most Cubans who can obtain visas are not going to return to the island. Or that most of them will leave with the intention of making their way to the United States, directly or indirectly.

A stealth influx of Cubans to the United States is thus about to be launched by Castro, although lacking the drama and numbers of 1980's chaotic boatlift to Miami from the port of Mariel.

For instance, a Cuban who can obtain a tourist visa next year to visit Mexico or a Central American country will almost certainly try to cross the Mexican frontier into the United States, and then seek permanent resident status under the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act of 1966.

Under that law's "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, any Cuban who is not stopped from entering the United States while at sea and who actually enters the country is allowed to stay as a permanent legal resident after a one-year stay.

President Obama has not yet announced whether the rules for Cubans to receive U.S. tourist visas, or the numbers of such visas to be issued in Havana, will change in response to Castro's new policy.

Obama also has not disclosed whether he will seek modification or outright repeal by Congress of the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act — or whether he intends to take any other action.

There are about 1.8 million Cubans living in the U.S. today, of whom 1.2 million live in Florida. Expect a considerable increase of Cubans living in the state during 2013. And a further decline in Cuba's population.

Angel Castillo Jr., a former reporter and editor for The New York Times and The Miami Herald, practices employment law in Miami.

How Independent Journalists Are Harassed

By Laura Paz in The Institute of War & Peace Reporting:

Cuban Journalist Accused of Spreading "False News"

Yaremis Flores Marín’s arrest sparks two days of protests.

Independent Cuban journalist Yaremis Flores Marín has described how she was held for three days last month threatened with charges of spying and spreading false information.

Police accused her of being behind an article that she did not actually write.

Flores Marín is a lawyer by profession who also works as a journalist, collaborating with news websites like CubaNet, Diario de Cuba and Primavera Digital.

When she was freed on November 9 after 72 hours in detention, she described her experience.

“I was taking food to my dad, who had a suspected case of dengue fever, and when I arrived at Alamar Road, I saw a patrol car facing in the opposite direction on the road. Suddenly I heard a car braking behind me. Then officer Tomás came up to me and said, ‘You have to come with me.’”

Over the next three days, the authorities tried to portray Flores Marín as a counterrevolutionary. She was assigned a criminal record number and taken to the prison most feared by Cuban dissidents, 100 y Aldabó, located on the south side of central Havana.

She experienced first-hand the methods used against dissidents.

“They accused me of spreading false news because of [an article on] dead prisoners in Mar Verde,” she said, referring to a prison in eastern Cuba which was badly hit by rain and wind during Hurricane Sandy in late October.

“They showed me an article which was signed not by me, but by the editors [of Cubanet] who published it,” she said.

The authorities also accused Flores Marín, who set up the Cubalex project offering legal advice to people in need, of unlawfully publishing information about court cases.

According to Flores Marín, Officer Tamayo, who is in charge of her case, told her that this court information was classified so her actions therefore constituted “espionage”.

When Flores Marín was detained, other independent journalists, bloggers and activists tried to get information on what was happening to her from the State Security service’s Department 21, which deals with the press, in the Habanero de Marianao municipality.

This resulted in a wave of further detentions. Among those detained were Flores Marín’s husband Veizant Boloy, who is a lawyer as well; Laritza Diversent, journalist and co-founder of Cubalex; and Antonio Rodiles, founder of the independent television programme Estado de Sats.

Boloy and Diversent were released the next day.

Diversent refused to sign a record of her arrest, which said she was accused of counterrevolutionary activity. She says the authorities were “really annoyed” at having people turn up so quickly to ask about Flores Marín.

Rodiles was held until November 26, when a charge of resisting arrest was dropped and he was fined of 800 pesos, about 32 US dollars.

On November 8, a demonstration took place outside a police station in Havana in protest at the arrest of both Flores Marín and Rodiles. Well-known blogger Yoani Sánchez was among those detained; others in the group were beaten.

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the average number of arrests since 2010 to date has tripled.

Laura Paz is an independent journalist in Cuba.

How Important is Tourism to the Castros?

It's so important, that they have:

Prostituted two generations of young Cuban women (and men) -- in order to satisfy the sexual whims of foreigners.

Institutionalized a system of tourism apartheid, relegating Cubans to second-class citizens -- in order to "cleanse" the ambiance.

Focused their family's business empire (GAESA, Inc.) on the travel sector, with Raul's son-in-law at the helm -- in order to pocket the profits.

And now, exposed the Cuban people to a deadly disease -- in order to ensure that the profits keep coming.

(Not to mention imprisoned independent journalist Calixto Martinez Arias -- to punish him for exposing the regime's cover-up.)

From The Miami Herald:

Cholera outbreak in Cuba kept mostly quiet

Cuban dissident Walter Clavel says that when he took his 2-year-old son to a hospital Wednesday with a case of diarrhea, the boy was tested for a sometimes fatal disease that the government is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge - cholera.

Nurses told him the test was negative, and the boy was not quarantined in the three wards reserved for cholera patients at the North Pediatric Hospital in eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, Clavel said.

Cuba, especially the eastern third of the island, is suffering an alarming outbreak of cholera, brewed in its decrepit water and sewer systems and fueled by Hurricane Sandy's floods, according to residents.

More than a dozen deaths have been reliably reported. Hospitals and prisons have been quarantined at times. Schools have been shut down, and so have restaurants and street kiosks selling juices and others products made with water.

Government buildings have established hand and shoe disinfecting stands at their entrances. Some public health officials have gone door to door asking if anyone is suffering from diarrhea, vomiting or fevers, and others distributed water purification tablets.

Cuba's government has said nothing publicly about cholera since Aug. 28, when it announced that an outbreak in the eastern city of Manzanillo - the first in a century - had ended after 417 confirmed cases, three fatal.

Police stationed at hospitals are telling visitors to keep quiet about the cholera and other diseases, Clavel said - apparently to avoid upsetting the Caribbean island's $2.5 billion-a-year tourism industry.

"We have to question whether the Cuban government today prioritizes their need for tourism... more than local public health demands," wrote Sherri Porcelain, a public health expert at the University of Miami and researcher at its Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies.

From The State Department

Monday, December 10, 2012
From the U.S. Department of State:

Scores of Cuban Democracy Activists Detained on the Eve of Human Rights Day

We are deeply concerned by the Cuban Government’s repeated use of arbitrary detention and violence to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly, and intimidate independent civil society.

We understand that across Cuba, 94 members of the peaceful pro-democracy group - The Ladies in White - were reportedly beaten and detained on December 9. Just ahead of Human Rights Day, the women had used their weekly gathering, church attendance, and peaceful march to focus attention on continued human rights abuses in Cuba.

We call on the Cuban Government to end the increasingly common practice of arbitrary and extrajudicial detentions, and we look forward to the day when all Cubans can freely express their ideas, assemble freely, and express their opinions peacefully.

Attacks on Human Rights Day

From Human Rights First:

Ladies in White Attacked, Detained on Eve of Human Rights Day

Washington, D.C -- Human Rights First today condemned the Dec. 9 attack on 94 members of the peaceful pro-democracy group Damas de Blanco – The Ladies in White. On the eve of Human Rights Day, the women were reportedly beaten and detained as they gathered to attend church and participate in their weekly march to highlight Cuba’s ongoing human rights abuses.

“These women should be freed and permitted to hold their weekly march,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “Yesterday’s attacks mark the most recent movement to silence the Ladies in White. For years, these brave women have been targeted and physically assaulted by police as they go to and from Mass. We urge that the arrests and violence directed against peaceful human rights activists be halted immediately.”

The Ladies in White trace their roots back to 2003, when the Cuban government arrested and summarily tried and sentenced 75 human rights defenders, independent journalists and librarians to terms of up to 28 years in prison.  Many of them were organizers for the Varela Project, a grassroots initiative for constitutional reform. The repressive move was roundly condemned by foreign governments, the United Nations and human rights organizations.

Following the arrests, the wives and relatives of those imprisoned in the crackdown formed the Ladies in White. Every Sunday, dressed in white, the women meet at mass in the Santa Rita church and then walk down Fifth Avenue in Havana in silent protest of the unjust incarceration of their relatives. The last of the 75 dissidents was finally released in May 2011. The Ladies in White and other supporters—Ladies in Support—continue to peacefully protest for the release of others who they believe have been imprisoned due to their dissident activities.  The groups recently spread their peaceful protests to eastern provinces.

Human Rights First honored the Ladies in White during its 2006 human rights awards dinner for their persistent and peaceful demands that the Cuban government respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Since the organization was founded, the Cuban government has tried to force them to abandon their protests, but the Ladies in White have remained unrelenting in seeking the unconditional release of all political prisoners.

Quote of the Day

A presidential election must be held within 30 days if Chavez is gone... The regime is already preparing a false-reform ‘dawn’ that will try to bolster its chances. They will release all political prisoners, they will invite back some exiles, and they will loosen some controls. But in reality it will be all be for show.
-- Thor Halvorssen, head of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation on what will happen in the event Hugo Chavez dies soon, National Review, 12/10/12

MH: No Deal for Spies

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

No deal for Cuban spies

OUR OPINION: There is no parallel between Alan Gross and Cuba’s espionage agents

It was reassuring last week to hear from a ranking official of the State Department that there is no plan in the works, and none foreseen, to engage in a spy swap with Cuba that would involve trading U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross for five Cuban spies convicted in Miami.

Four of them are still serving time and another is serving a three-year parole somewhere in the United States. The Obama administration official, speaking anonymously but clearly reflecting administration policy, said such a trade would be unacceptable.

No deal: That should continue to be the standard reply from Washington to Havana whenever the topic comes up.

Trading spies for hostages is a bad policy under any circumstances, especially when dealing with a cynical and corrupt regime like the one in Cuba.

Last week, Mr. Gross, 63 and in deteriorating health, completed three years in a miserable Cuban jail, denied basic services and needed medical attention because the Cuban government is trying to use him as bait to get their spies back to Havana. The Cuban government and its sympathizers say Cuba is merely seeking some sort of “humanitarian” exchange as part of this deal, but no one should be fooled by such spurious reasoning.

As the State Department official rightly pointed out: “There is no parallel between the two cases.”

The unfortunate Mr. Gross, of Potomac, Md., became a pawn in Cuba’s sinister spy games when he was arrested in Havana on Dec. 3, 2009 after delivering three satellite telephones for use by members of Cuba’s isolated Jewish community so they could have access the Internet and contact people abroad without using the government’s tightly monitored telephone monopoly. It was part of a U.S. government pro-democracy program designed to reach out to the Cuban people.

For that, Mr. Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison for acts against Cuba’s “independence or territorial integrity.”

That borders on the absurd. This kind of activity may have violated some Customs rules, but it’s perfectly legal anywhere in the world except in totalitarian regimes with arbitrary judicial systems and laws that can be twisted to achieve political objectives. And it certainly doesn’t rise to the level of “espionage” by any customary definition.

Meanwhile, the so-called “avispa” (Wasp) network of Cuban spies engaged in a series of actions that clearly violated U.S. laws. They spied on military facilitees and infiltrated anti-Castro groups with the aim of obtaining intelligence that could be useful to the Cuban government.

Of the four who are still imprisoned, one is serving two life sentences on murder-conspiracy charges for helping Cuban warplanes shoot down two civilian airplanes in 1996, killing all four South Florida men aboard.

The Obama administration reportedly will continue its policy of trying to engage with ordinary Cubans — it has lifted most restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances. But, as the State Department official told The Herald, it is “very hard to see us making progress in bilateral relations while he is in jail.”

If Cuba is serious about wanting to improve relations with the United States, as it has repeatedly claimed of late, the first step must be the release of Alan Gross. The Obama administration must make it clear that this is a pre-condition for any movement. Until he is released, relations will remain frozen.

Nearly 80 Ladies in White Arrested

The Castro regime has violently arrested nearly 80 members of the peaceful pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, today.

Forty-five of them were beaten and arrested as they marched down Havana's Quinta Avenida, pursuant to attending Mass.

Among those arrested is Havana was the leader of The Ladies in White, Berta Soler, as well as, Magalis Norvis, Caridad Peinado, Belkis Pérez Pérez, Amparo Milagros, Donaris Martín, Olga L. Torres, Lisandra Farray, Malbey Glez, Aimé Moya, Tatiana López, Aimé García Leiva, Aniuska Fuente, Sandra Guerra, Belki Cantillo, Aime Garcel and Vivian Pena.

Another twelve Ladies in White were arrested in the eastern province of Holguin.

Among those arrested in Holguin were Bárbara Pausa, Gertrudis Ojeda, Berta Herrero, Segura Liliana Campos, Marlene Abreu, Griseldis Peña, Romelia Piña, Nelda Molina, Mercy Glez, Noemí C Hidalgo.

Also, sixteen we arrested in Santiago de Cuba, five in Pinar del Rio and one is missing in the Matanzas province.

And in a touch of cynicism, Castro's state security has announced that they were arrested for "not respecting the grief of the Cuban people over Chavez's health."

More "reform" you can't believe in.

AP's Sloppy Reporting on Cuban-American Electorate

The AP's Miami bureau has a sloppy story today regurgitating the same narrative about the "changing" Cuban-American electorate.

We've literally seen variants of this story since The New York Times first wrote on December 5th, 1965:

The very active anti-Castro groups in Miami have faded into virtual obscurity.”

Today's AP story contains only one fact, which it got wrong:

"Exit polling showed that 49 percent of Cuban-Americans voted for the Democrat, roughly the same percentage as four years ago."

Even though analysis-after-analysis has shown that President Obama got approximately 35% of the Cuban-American vote in 2008, the AP's exit polls had him getting 49% four years ago.

It obviously wasn't true then, and as precinct analyses have shown since the 2012 election, it's not true this year either. 

The rest of the story is all narrative by the AP's reporter, Christine Armario.

It is based on four "analysts" -- all of whom have lobbied (in some fashion or other) for unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime.

Thus, their spin that Obama has some sort of a mandate to further ease whatever remaining sanctions he can (within the legal confines of the 1996 and 2000 codification by the U.S. Congress).

Even the AP's Havana bureau tries to show a bit more balance than this -- and that is saying a lot.

Why didn't they ask any Obama campaign officials why they so effectively wedged Paul Ryan's past support for lifting the travel ban and embargo against Romney?

The Financial Times responsibly asked and here's what they told them:

"Paul Ryan, Mr Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, had voted a number of times to end the longstanding US embargo on communist Cuba, which had been in place for decades since Fidel Castro came to power.

'That did their ticket a lot of harm with Cubans and allowed us to at least get a hearing with them about many other economic issues,' said an Obama campaign official in Florida."

But, of course, that would go against the AP's narrative.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Japan with Bruce Klingner of The Heritage Foundation. Klingner is a former Chief of the CIA's Korea Branch.

Then, Reggie Littlejohn of Women's Rights Without Frontiers will discuss China's intra-party transition of power and the regime's brutal "One-Child Policy."

And Karl Altau of the Joint Baltic American National Committee will discuss the U.S. Congress's adoption of permanent normal trade relations with Russia and its accompanying Magnitsky Human Rights Act.

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).

Castro's Bogus Economic "Reforms" Exposed

Sunday, December 9, 2012
Think about it.

If this is the sector that has supposedly seen the most "liberalization," then what does it say about Castro's other so-called economic "reforms."

From today's New York Times:

President (CHC: Dictator) Raúl Castro has made agriculture priority No. 1 in his attempt to remake the country. He used his first major presidential address in 2007 to zero in on farming, describing weeds conquering fallow fields and the need to ensure that “anyone who wants can drink a glass of milk.”

No other industry has seen as much liberalization, with a steady roll-out of incentives for farmers. And Mr. Castro has been explicit about his reasoning: increasing efficiency and food production to replace imports that cost Cuba hundreds of millions of dollars a year is a matter “of national security.”

Yet at this point, by most measures, the project has failed. Because of waste, poor management, policy constraints, transportation limits, theft and other problems, overall efficiency has dropped: many Cubans are actually seeing less food at private markets. That is the case despite an increase in the number of farmers and production gains for certain items. A recent study from the University of Havana showed that market prices jumped by nearly 20 percent in 2011 alone. And food imports increased to an estimated $1.7 billion last year, up from $1.4 billion in 2006.