WaPost: Who Will Extract the Truth From Cuba?

Sunday, March 31, 2013
By The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Oswaldo Payá’s death must not be squelched

WHAT WAS it about a simple petition drive more than a decade ago that so frightened Fidel Castro? Cuba’s constitution provides that a law may be proposed by citizens if 10,000 people or more sign a petition. The dissident Oswaldo Payá and others gathered 11,020 signatures by May 2002 on the petition of the Varela Project, what Mr. Payá said was “a citizens’ movement for peaceful change,” demanding guarantees of political freedom in Cuba. Then Mr. Castro’s state security went into overdrive. In what was called the Black Spring in 2003, some 75 of Mr. Payá’s friends and colleagues were rounded up and imprisoned, including 29 journalists. Many served years in squalid jails before being released.

They suffered for a document that is elegant and logical on its face but that profoundly threatened the Castro regime. First, the petition demanded guarantees of free speech and association. It declared, “These rights and all human rights existed before anyone formulated them or wrote them down; you and all your fellow men have these rights because you are people, because you are human. Laws do not create these rights, but they must guarantee them.” Next, the petition called for amnesty for political prisoners. A third section authorized private enterprises. Mr. Payá understood that economic and political freedom went hand in hand. Lastly, the petition called for competitive elections and candidates elected directly by popular vote, breaking the hold of the one-party state.

In the end, Mr. Castro squelched the Varela Project. But the timeless goals of the petition are still relevant in the search for truth about the deaths of Mr. Payá and activist Harold Cepero last July in a car crash in eastern Cuba. To read the Varela document again today is to see that Mr. Payá struck where the regime is most vulnerable: at its legitimacy to rule from above. Mr. Payá insisted that legitimacy came from below, from “the participation of citizens in the political, economic and cultural life of the country as free people.” Perhaps that is why, although not imprisoned, Mr. Payá had been subjected to death threats for so long.

The suspicious circumstances of the deaths of Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero demand an investigation that won’t be tainted by the Cuban authorities. That investigation must address serious questions about whether the car in which the men were riding was rammed from behind by a vehicle with government license plates, as the car’s driver, Ángel Carromero, said in a recent interview published on the opposite page.

On Thursday, the United States joined calls for such a probe, which have also been made by 10 U.S. senators and Mr. Payá’s family. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “The people of Cuba and the families of these two activists deserve a clear, credible accounting of the events that resulted in their tragic deaths.” The next question is who will have the principled courage of Mr. Payá and lead an investigation to extract the truth from Cuba.

Castro's Launch Racist Attack Against Berta Soler

The Castro regime has released a racist video, where it depicts the leader of The Ladies in White, Berta Soler, who is Afro-Cuban, as some sort of "ignorant gorilla" character.

The Ladies in White are a peaceful democracy movement composed of the wives, daughters, mothers and relatives of Cuban political prisoners.  Many of its members are Afro-Cuban.

This video (below)  is part of the Castro regime's efforts to smear courageous pro-democracy leaders Berta Soler and Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez.

This racist video should be condemned internationally.

H/T Enrique del Risco.

Yoani: Cuba is Safeguarded by Its Exiles

Saturday, March 30, 2013
By Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez in The Huffington Post:

Finding Cuba Outside of Cuba, My Nation Safeguarded by Its Exiles

I've found a Cuba outside of Cuba, I told a friend a few days ago. He laughed at my play on words, thinking I was trying to create literature. But no. In Brazil, a septuagenarian excitedly gave me a medal of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre. "I have not been back since I left in 1964," she confirmed as she handed me this little gem that had belonged to her mother. During my stay in Prague, a group of compatriots living there seemed to be more aware of what was happening in our country than many who vegetate, inside it, in apathy. Amid the tall buildings of New York a family invited me to their house and their grandmother made a "coconut flan" in the style of our traditional cuisine, so damaged on the island by the shortages and scarcities.

Our diaspora, our exile, is conserving Cuba outside of Cuba. Along with their suitcases and the pain of distance, they have preserved pieces of our national history that were deleted from the textbooks with which several generations have been educated or rather, raised to be mediocre. I'm rediscovering my own country in each of these Cubans dispersed around the world. When I confirm what they have really accomplished, the contrast with what official propaganda tells me about them leaves me with an enormous sadness for my country. For all this human wealth that we have lost, for all this talent that has had to wash up outside our borders and for all the seeds that have germinated in other lands. How did we allow one ideology, one party, one man, to have felt the "divine" power to decide who could or could not carry the adjective "Cuban"?

Now I have proof that they lied to me, they lied to us. Nobody has had to tell me, I can grasp it for myself on seeing all this Cuba that is outside of Cuba, an immense country that they have been safeguarding for us.

Must-Read: In Solidarity With Cuba's Voices of Freedom

By U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) in The Miami Herald:

In solidarity with Cuba’s voices of opposition to Castro’s tyranny

As we celebrate Passover and Easter, we cherish the freedom to practice our beliefs and express our views, but are also reminded of those 90 miles away who suffer under an evil communist dictatorship. As the beacon of democracy, we stand with pro-freedom activists in Cuba who are struggling to achieve those same essential liberties.

On Monday, South Florida will have the opportunity to hear, once again, the tragic story of an oppressed people under the thumb of a despotic regime. Yoani Sánchez uses social media to shine a light on the dark rule of the Castro brothers. Through her blog and writings, Yoani reveals the plight of the Cuban people to the international community, raises awareness on the extent of the regime’s brutality, and gives voice to those silenced by oppression.

During her recent visit to Washington, we, along with our congressional colleagues, discussed with Yoani the ongoing dire situation in Cuba. This event illustrated the bipartisan and bicameral support for the cause of democracy in Cuba. We discussed the gross human-rights violations on the island as Yoani conveyed the atrocities committed against the Cuban people and the denial of their rights of free speech, press, and assembly. We expressed to Yoani that, even if we do not agree on every point, we stand in solidarity with the opposition voices in Cuba and reaffirmed that they are not alone in their struggle.

This month, we remember the 2003 Black Spring crackdown in Cuba where 75 dissidents were unjustly imprisoned. Unfortunately, little has changed since that time. The Ladies in White continue to be harassed, kicked and beaten by Castro’s state security agents just for marching in peace to church. The Castro regime has the blood of pro-democracy advocates on its hands, and we remain deeply concerned for the health and lives of those brave activists who continue to speak out.

During the years of the Obama administration alone, pro-democracy leaders Orlando Zapata Tamayo (d. Feb. 23, 2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto García (d. May 8, 2011), Laura Pollán (d. Oct. 14, 2011), Wilman Villar Mendoza (d. Jan. 19, 2012), Harold Cepero (d. July 22, 2012) and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (d. July 22, 2012) have lost their lives at the hands of the Castro dictatorship. These deaths underscore the grave risks assumed by pro-democracy activists such as Antonio Rodiles, Sara Marta Fonseca, Yoani Sánchez, Jorge Luis García Pérez (“Antunez”), José Daniel Ferrer García, Marta Beatriz Roque, Berta Soler, Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and many others when they simply express their views.

We also cannot forget the appalling case of Alan Gross, a U.S. humanitarian aid worker who was arrested in December 2009 and remains in prison for the “crime” of helping Cuba’s small Jewish community access the Internet. He is reportedly in poor health after having lost 100 pounds in prison while his daughter and mother are both battling cancer in the U.S.

According to the Human Rights Watch 2013 World Report, “Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. In 2012, the regime . . . continued to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile.” Numerous NGOs have documented the sharp rise in detentions, arrests and other acts of repudiation in Cuba, but the numbers could actually be higher due to many who are imprisoned on trumped-up charges that are difficult to document. For example, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported that there were 6,602 documented political arrests in 2012, which was markedly up from 4,123 in 2011 and 2,074 in 2010.

Unfortunately, many in the international community fail to acknowledge the Castro regime’s egregious human rights record and brutal suppression of fundamental liberties. However, with the help of Yoani and other pro-democracy advocates, the Castro brothers have failed to silence the Cuban people who are increasingly demanding real change.

Cuba’s growing opposition movement is more united than ever. Due to its heroic efforts, democracy will prevail on the island. May it be soon.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart are Republican members of Congress representing South Florida.

The State of Cuba in 2013

A great summary by John Suarez in the Estonian magazine, Maailma Vaade (in English here):

The state of Cuba in 2013

Cosmetic reforms are a distraction 

In the midst of the first serious Cholera outbreak to hit Cuba since the late 19th century and a massive crackdown on human rights the international media has focused on cosmetic reforms by the Castro regime.

On August 8, 2012 BBC News reported that the Castro government's ban on anti-Castro musicians had been quietly lifted. Others soon followed reporting on the news. The stories specifically mentioned Celia Cruz as one of the artists whose music would return to Cuban radio. On August 21, 2012 an e-mail by Rolando Álvarez, the national director of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión (ICRT) was made public and confirmed that the music of the late Celia Cruz would continue to be banned.

On October 16, 2012 the regime in Cuba announced a new migration law that took effect on January 14, 2013. The white card that Cubans had to obtain to be able to exit their homeland was retired but new restrictions were placed on being able to obtain a passport and the cost nearly doubled. Some dissidents have been told that they will be able to travel while others have been refused the new passport.

The Castro brothers are masters of distraction and these so-called reforms are the latest manifestation of this practice. This leads to the question what is actually taking place on the island in 2013? What is the state of Cuba now and where is it headed?

The Dictatorship

Between 1959 and 2006 Fidel Castro had all power concentrated in his hands and due to a serious illness turned it over provisionally to his brother, General Raul Castro, who had previously been Minister of Defense. On February 24, 2008 the 597 members of the rubber stamp assembly unanimously elected a 31 member Council of State that in turn elected Raul Castro “president” at the Palace of Conventions in Havana, Cuba.

In 2009, Raul Castro conducted a purge of leadership positions in the regime. Fidel Castro emerged on the public scene to criticize the Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Cuban Vice-President Carlos Lage and both promptly resigned and apologized for their indiscretions. This was followed later in 2009 by a wider purge of top regime officials.

The aftermath of this leadership shake up is a dictatorship where four of the seven “Vice-Presidents” are also military generals in control of all aspects of the economy. The regime in Cuba since 1959 has engaged in numerous tactical changes in the service of one overriding objective: continuing and maintaining the underlying totalitarian nature of the dictatorship in the island and the continued rule of the Castro brothers. The Cuban Ministry of the Interior (G2) founded in 1959, was trained and advised by the East German STASI intelligence service and adopted many of its tactics and remains an effective pillar of the dictatorship.

The Cuban economy remains militarized. This is a trend that stretches back to the special period in the early 1990s. The Empresarial Administration Group [Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A.] (GAESA) that in 2008 controlled 25 percent of Cuba’s economy and foreign exchange earnings is run by Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja, which is controlled by Castro's Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR), headed by General Leopoldo Cintas Frias. Another large chunk of the Cuban economy is the company Gaviota that deals with tourism is controlled by the MINFAR and Castro’s Ministry of the Interior (MININT) that runs a hotel chain, an airline, taxi company, marinas, shops, restaurants and museums and is under the control of another general. The tourist group Cubanacán was founded at the beginning of the 1980s and is also under military control.

The political and economic reality of the Castro regime in 2013 is that it is a totalitarian military dictatorship that maintains political and economic control of Cuba. The regime elites are wealthy and want to maintain their status and look to China, Russia and Vietnam as models. At the same time the deterioration of the infrastructure, endemic corruption, cronyism, and rising expectations of change with the expected death of Fidel Castro threaten its survival.

The Human Rights Situation in Cuba

Human Rights Watch in their 2013 World Report succinctly summed up the human rights situation on the island: “Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.”

Over the past three years new and troubling trends have appeared on the human rights front in Cuba that have been downplayed internationally while focus has shifted to cosmetic reforms. Beatings and mutilations of activists and their sympathizers have coincided with a massive rise in arbitrary detentions that reached 6,602 in 2012. There has been a rise in the suspicious deaths of human rights defenders in and out of custody of state security. Over the past two years figures with great international prestige have died under strange circumstances. There are new prisoners of conscience which remains part of a status quo that some had prognosticated would change under Raul Castro.

The February 23, 2010 death of human rights defender Orlando Zapata Tamayo attracted international attention after his previous seven years in prison as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and a prolonged hunger strike failed to generate sufficient outrage to save his life. Denied water, in an effort to break his hunger strike, his kidneys failed and he died. He had been tortured throughout his incarceration.

Civic activist, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, was approached by two national police officers in Leoncio Vidal Park on May 5, 2011 who asked him for his ID and then to leave the park. After protesting verbally against the expulsion, he was cuffed with his hands behind his back then beaten with batons. He died on May 8, 2011 of pancreatitis. This was followed by a regime effort to deny the circumstances surrounding Juan Wilfredo’s death and the dictatorship's complicity by intimidating the family of the victim.

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, one of the founders of the Ladies in White in March of 2003 and its chief spokeswoman was widely admired inside of Cuba and internationally. She fell suddenly ill and died on October 14,2011 within a week in a manner that a Cuban medical doctor described as "painful, tragic and unnecessary." Just days after the Ladies in White declared themselves a human rights organization dedicated to the freedom of all political prisoners, not just their relatives.

On January 19, 2012 Cuban prisoner of conscience and opposition activist Wilmar Villar Mendoza died after his kidneys and other organs failed. He died the result of a prolonged hunger strike provoked by outrage over his unjust imprisonment and four year prison sentence issued in a closed-door sham trial on November 24, 2011. Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience and Human Rights Watch documented that Wilmar was a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

On July 22, 2012 Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) died in a suspicious car accident while traveling through Bayamo, Cuba. The circumstances surrounding the deaths need to be properly investigated. Another vehicle had targeted Oswaldo and his wife, Ofelia Acevedo, 20 days earlier while he was in Havana. Oswaldo Payá was the author of the Varela Project, a citizen initiative that in 2002 had forced the dictatorship to change the Cuban Constitution. In the months prior to his death he had denounced the ongoing campaign by the regime to engage in a fraudulent change, the military’s control of the economy, the collaboration between elements of the Church hierarchy and certain Cuban exile businessmen with the regime and he was naming names. On the day of his death he was visiting the province that had been hard hit by a Cholera outbreak that the dictatorship was trying to downplay.

Beatings and mutilations 

Berenice Héctor González, a 15-year old young woman, suffered a knife attack on November 4, 2012 for supporting the women's human rights movement, The Ladies in White. News of the attack only emerged a month later because State Security had threatened the mother that her daughter would suffer the consequences if she made the assault public.

Marina Montes Piñón, a 60 year old woman and longtime opposition activist, was beaten with a blunt object by regime agents on December 15, 2012 in Cuba. The end result was three deep wounds in the skull and a hematoma in the right eye. She needed nearly thirty stitches to patch up the wounds.

New prisoners of conscience

Cuban labor union activist Ulises González Moreno was sentenced on November 28, 2012 to two years in prison for his labor organizing activities under the charge of "dangerousness" in a trial whose outcome had already been decided beforehand. A day prior to the trial state security agents offered him his freedom in exchange for becoming an informant spying on his fellow labor organizers. He turned down their offer. The sentence was ratified on December 20, 2012 Calixto Ramon Martinez, a co-founder Hablemos Press, was arrested near José Martí International Airport in Havana on September 16, 2012 where he was reporting on two tons of medicine and medical equipment that had been damaged, according to Committee to Protect Journalists sources and news reports. Amnesty International has recognized him as a prisoner of conscience.

The State of Civil Society and the outlawed Democratic Opposition 

The nonviolent civic movement on the island has increased in numbers and activism despite the increase in arbitrary detentions, acts of violence and deaths perpetrated by agents of the government. Regional movements such as the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and Central Opposition Coalition (CCO) and national movements such as the Ladies in White and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Front for Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience are respectively coordinating and impacting Cuba with regional and national street protests.

Currently the democratic opposition has three different initiatives underway gathering signatures throughout Cuba.

The People’s Path, a project presented on July 13, 2011 by the martyred Oswaldo Payá calls for: “1. Changes in the laws that guarantee freedom of speech, press, association and religion, the right of Cubans to settle in any part of our country where they prefer to live, the right of Cubans to freely leave and enter Cuba freely, the right of all Cubans to have business and private enterprise in our country, all workers' rights, the right of Cubans to elect and be elected to public office by a new electoral law, the end to all discrimination against Cubans in their own country and the release of all those jailed for political reasons. 2. Achieving spaces that open participation with these changes in law and practice in respect of the rights of citizens, to convene a national dialogue and free elections for all offices and for a Constituent Assembly. 3. All Cubans without exclusions, without hatred, or vengeance, to make this transition in the way of truth and with transparency, reconciliation, liberty, solidarity, fraternity and peace, building a more humane and more just society in our sovereign and independent Homeland.”

The Citizen Demand for Another Cuba was made public on June 15, 2012 it calls on the Cuban government to: “immediately implement the necessary legal safeguards and policies devised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that it ratify the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations, signed by the Cuban Government on February 28, 2008 in New York City.”

On January 9, 2013, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, of the Lawton Foundation, unveiled Project Emilia, which in addition to affirming the demands of the previous two petitions also provides a mechanism for achieving change that goes beyond petitions and dialogues recognizing that “Cuba's communist regime has not conceded even one atom of freedom and has rigidly and arbitrarily resisted any changes that would ensure a decent life for our people. Consequently, we have no alternative but to launch the non-violent political challenge to realize the freedom of our people.” These three initiatives complement each other and demonstrate the common strategic nonviolent framework in which Cuba’s democratic opposition is working while having tactical differences about working within and outside the regime’s institutions.


Opposition to and frustration with the current system in Cuba is rising. A manifestation of this is the worsening human rights situation; the deaths of opposition leaders; the increased violence; and the explosion in the numbers of arbitrary detentions. This is a battle of wills between a dictatorship that wants to hang on to its privileges and justify the past 54 years of totalitarian rule and a democratic opposition that represents a population that is tired and frustrated with the systematic rights violations and the lack of options in Cuba. International solidarity with human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists will be a critical factor in determining whether the regime will achieve and maintain its succession or whether the democratic opposition will achieve a transition to democracy.

From The State Department

Thursday, March 28, 2013
During today's State Department Daily Press Briefing, spokesperson Victoria Nuland began by stating:

First of all, with regard to Cuba, the United States supports the calls for an investigation with independent international observers into the circumstances leading to the deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in Cuba. The people of Cuba and the families of these two activists deserve a clear, credible accounting of the events that resulted in their tragic deaths. The United States will continue to advocate for the rights of all Cubans to speak out in defense of human rights and democracy.

Then, in a follow up:

QUESTION: On Cuba, is this a new policy, that you support an investigation into the deaths of Mr. Paya and the other gentleman, or is that a longstanding position?

MS. NULAND: We have been supporting this privately. It had been an – we had not had a chance to make a public statement that we are supportive of this. As you know, a number of human rights groups are coming out publicly. We thought we should add our voice to it as loudly and clearly as possible.

Cuban Bullies at the U.N.

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Cuban Bullies at the U.N.

More than a half century after the triumph of the Cuban revolution, the image of Fidel Castro in battle fatigues remains a symbol of the military dictatorship's machismo. But last week when Cuba's most famous dissident blogger, who looks like she could be blown away by the wind, showed up at the United Nations to give a press conference, the Cuban tough guys had a meltdown.

Yoani Sánchez was scheduled to speak to the U.N. Correspondents Association. What she would say was not much of a mystery. For almost six years she has been surreptitiously posting, from Havana, biting observations about daily life in the revolutionary paradise on her Generation Y blog. Ms. Sánchez is a gifted writer who describes how it feels to be a mother who cannot get milk for her child or a young person who is forbidden to speak of a dream not approved by the state or even to connect to the internet. She is not shy about describing the high-life hypocrisy of the apparatchiki either. It's little wonder that when the Cuban mission at the U.N. found out that this nonconformist would have an audience with journalists at Turtle Bay it went ballistic.

Cuba had organized protests in Brazil against Ms. Sánchez during her visit there earlier in the month. And it was suspected of doing so at other venues in New York where she had appeared. But according to the Miami Herald complaints from Cuban diplomats at the U.N. "marked the first time that officials of Cuba's communist-run government are confirmed to have tried to disrupt a Sánchez public appearance."

Proof of that effort was reported by AFP, which said it had obtained a copy of a protest letter sent to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon from Cuban Ambassador Rodolfo Reyes. Mr. Reyes wrote that Ms. Sánchez's press conference would be "anti-Cuban" and, according to AFP a "'grave attack' on the cooperative climate of the United Nations." The secretary general should "not allow the organization's spaces to be tarnished and their use manipulated by spurious interests," the letter reportedly said.

The sabotage was only partly successful. Ms. Sánchez was blocked from appearing in the large auditorium where news conferences are normally held and was instead banished to a cramped area unsuited for the size of the crowd that came to hear her. But she was not deterred. "If this meeting was being held in the bottom of an elevator shaft, we would have more freedom than in Cuba," she said. "I am proud that my first time in this very significant U.N. building is with my journalism colleagues."

She also had some choice words for the U.N. According to the Herald, Ms. "Sánchez denounced the Cuban complaints during her news conference and said that it's time for the United Nations to 'come out of its lethargy and recognize that the Cuban government is a dictatorship.'"

Obama Administration Joins Calls for Paya Probe

In The Hill:

Obama administration joins congressional call for probe into deaths of Cuban activists

The Obama administration supports the growing calls for an international probe into the deaths of two Cuban democracy activists last year, the State Department said Thursday.

The declaration follows growing pressure from Congress for an investigation into the death of Oswaldo Payá, who was killed along with fellow activist Harold Cepero in a July 22 car wreck. The driver, Spaniard Ángel Carromero, was charged with vehicular manslaughter before being released to Spain; he has since declared that he was forced off the road by a car with government license plates.

“The United States supports the calls for an international investigation with independent international observers into the circumstances leading to the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero in Cuba,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday. “The people of Cuba and the families of these two activists deserve a clear, credible accounting of the events that resulted in their tragic deaths. The United States will continue to advocate for the rights of all Cubans to speak out of defense of human rights and democracy.”

Eight senators from both sides of the aisle sent a letter to the Organization of American States last week urging such a probe.

“Oswaldo Payá was a brave man trying to peacefully advocate for greater political freedom for his fellow Cuban brothers and sisters,” the senators wrote in a letter to Emilio Álvarez Icaza, the executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “It increasingly looks like he paid for that effort with his life. His memory and his family deserve an honest and independent accounting of what happened.

“We urge you for your consideration and stand ready to work with you on this important matter.”

Separately, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging an investigation two weeks ago after meeting with activist Yoani Sánchez on Capitol Hill.

LBA President on Odebrecht's Partnership With Castro

Kudos to Bernie Navarro and the Latin Builders Association.

By Bernie Navarro, President of the Latin Builders Association:

Dear Friends:

As President of the Latin Builders Association I was invited to participate in [Odebrecht's April 1st presentation of its Airport City proposal]. I can assure you that the LBA will not help Odebrecht in their continuous pursuit of Airport City.

Let me be crystal clear, Gilberto Neves, the President of Odebrecht, is a community leader and a friend -- he is a class act. His actions and respect for this community are not the same as those of his corporate parent.

We must be steadfast in our resolve for our brothers in Cuba. We can’t allow Odebrecht to traffic with our suffering. Our position is not negotiable. Or you do business here or you can do business in Communist Cuba? It is a choice. It can’t be both ways.

Now more than ever our brothers within the Island need our solidarity. What is going on all over the world with the travels of opposition leaders is unprecedented. In the heart of my hearts, I believe for the first time that a real change is coming to our imprisoned Country. We may be seeing the beginning of the “Cuban Spring.”

To add insult to injury, Odebrecht has decided to do this [presentation] on the same date and time that Yoani Sanchez addresses the exile community in Miami at the Freedom Tower. Their insensitivity to our community could not be greater.

I call upon all of you to join me in solidarity for our people.

Four Years Later: Race and Remittances

On March 31st, 2009, in a summary of recommendations to a then-new Obama Administration and U.S. Congress ("Do's and Don'ts of U.S. Policy Toward Cuba"), we wrote:

11. DON’T Allow Unlimited Remittances to Foment Segregation and Disparities 

Unlimited remittances to the island risks dividing Cuba's democratic opposition, pitting Cubans with relatives in the United States against Cubans with no relatives living abroad. Many early exiles living in the United States today are white and have prospered. Much of Cuba's population today and many of the courageous leaders of the democratic opposition to the Cuban regime are of African or mixed-race descent; and they do not have relatives in the United States. Even with the current monetary limitations of $300 per quarter, white Cubans receive up to 250 percent more in remittances from family abroad than their Afro-Cuban compatriots. Growing income disparities may in turn become a stumbling block upon future efforts for “national reconciliation” amongst all Cubans, regardless of race, whether they remained on the island or in exile abroad.

This week, Roberto Zurbano wrote in The New York Times ("For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn't Begun"):

Most remittances from abroad — mainly the Miami area, the nerve center of the mostly white exile community — go to white Cubans. They tend to live in more upscale houses, which can easily be converted into restaurants or bed-and-breakfasts — the most common kind of private business in Cuba. Black Cubans have less property and money, and also have to contend with pervasive racism. Not long ago it was common for hotel managers, for example, to hire only white staff members, so as not to offend the supposed sensibilities of their European clientele.

Today's reality is even more dire than Zurbano depicts.  

Just ask Afro-Cuban pro-democracy activists.

Freedom Must Come First

By Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of deceased Cuban pro-democracy leader, Oswaldo Paya:

Economic reforms that do not give autonomy to the citizens, nor come accompanied by recognition of civil and political rights of the people, do not guarantee or facilitate a democratic transition. We are not talking about the recognition of private enterprise, but at concessions that the government offers to a few privileged people and that they use to show international public opinion an image of openings that is not real. It’s worth mentioning that at the same time we are seeing an increase in repression against pro-democracy activists on the island.

First people must be free, and then decisions can be made about what to do with the economy. On respect for the law and the practice of human rights guarantees that in all sectors of society we will have the opportunity to participate in and construct the real transition that leads to democracy. It is a task for Cubans themselves to discern and define the future of our country and to seek the prosperity of our nation.

My father taught us that neither the state nor the market can be above the decisions of the people and the rights of citizens. For the sovereignty of these decisions and respect for these rights my father and Harold Cepero gave their lives and it is for these objectives that the Cuban democracy movement continues to work.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

ICRC to Visit Cuba

Wednesday, March 27, 2013
The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- that is.

Meanwhile, the last time the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was allowed by the Castro regime to inspect conditions in Cuba's prisons was in July 1959.

From AFP:

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday it had sent a delegation to check conditions at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, where over two dozen "War on Terror" detainees are on hunger strike.

"The ICRC initially had planned to start visiting individuals detained at Guantanamo from April 1, for a period of two weeks," spokesman Bijan Farnoudi told AFP.

"But in order to better understand the current tensions and the ongoing hunger strike, we decided to bring it forward by a week," he said.

Lesson of the Day: On State-Sponsors of Terrorism

Under the statutory criteria of Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, in order to remove a country from the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list, the President must certify to the U.S. Congress that:

"[T]he government concerned has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future."

Thus, in 2008, U.S. President George W. Bush certified to Congress that North Korea's leaders had provided such "assurances" prior to removing it from the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list.

Fast-forward to this morning's headline:

"North Korea’s military said it put all its missile and artillery units on 'the highest alert' on Tuesday, ordering them to be ready to hit South Korea, as well as the United States and its military installations in Hawaii and Guam."

Lesson of the day: The "assurances" of brutal totalitarian dictators are absolutely worthless.

WaPost: Paya's Case Must Not Be Closed

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Eight senators demand investigation of Payá’s death

THE CAR crash that killed dissident Oswaldo Payá and the youth activist Harold Cepero in eastern Cuba last July was on a rural road. As with any wreck in which passengers die or are knocked unconscious, there was some confusion. In the front of the rental car, on the passenger side, sat Jens Aron Modig of Sweden, president of the youth league of Sweden’s Christian Democratic Party. He has said he was asleep at the moment of impact. The driver, Ángel Carromero, a leader of the youth wing of Spain’s ruling party, has told us the car was hit from behind by a vehicle bearing Cuban government license plates. They both survived; Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero, in the back seat, did not. Mr. Carromero said that after the crash he was imprisoned and subjected to intimidation and threats by Cuban authorities, who attempted to cover up their role in the deaths. Cuba convicted Mr. Carromero of vehicular homicide, transferred him to Spain and declared the case closed.

But it must not be closed. Mr. Carromero and Mr. Modig carried cell phones. Text messages were sent to friends and relatives abroad immediately after the wreck. These messages cannot be manipulated or suppressed. Although not the whole story, they must be taken seriously as important contemporaneous evidence. The text messages are one reason why the questions about Mr. Payá’s death will not go away.

It is not known precisely what happened on the road, but the messages offer clues. One was sent from Mr. Modig’s phone to a recipient in Sweden, according to screenshots provided to us. It says: “We’ve crashed. Traveling in an ambulance now. I do not have my passport. Not in grave danger.” A subsequent message reports that Mr. Modig and Mr. Carromero are in a hospital in the town of Bayamo “and OK.”

Then Mr. Modig adds: “Ángel said that someone had tried to run us off the highway.”

Who? And why? If the wreck was — as Cuba has claimed — an accident caused by reckless driving, why would one of the survivors have said they were run off the road? These and other suspicions about the death of Mr. Payá need to be addressed. Mr. Payá’s family, including his daughter Rosa Maria, have demanded an international and independent probe.

On Monday, eight U.S. senators from both parties asked for such an investigation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States. The signers are Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) They say Mr. Carromero’s account has raised “deeply troubling questions that Payá’s car was deliberately targeted by Cuban government officials well known for their harassment of Payá.” Only a serious investigation will put this matter to rest. It seems like the very minimum necessary for a man who championed the cause of freedom in Cuba.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with Ambassador Miguel Diaz, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, on Pope Francis, the Vatican and Latin America.

Then, Ambassador Otto Reich, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, on the upcoming election in Venezuela.

Eric Trager, of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, on the latest in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood.

And Douglas Paal, Vice-President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on Sino-Russian relations.

You can 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).

Political Arrests and Violence on the Rise

Tuesday, March 26, 2013
By Camilo Ganga of the Insitute for War and Peace Reporting:

Cuba: 500 Detentions in February

Rights group also says political prisoner died after hunger strike.

Two Cuban human rights groups that report on arbitrary arrests recorded an increase in politically-motivated detentions in February compared with the previous month.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, CCDHRN, said there were 504 arrests of this kind, 140 more than last month, while noting that the true figure could be higher given that comprehensive information is hard to come by.

The Hablemos Press Information Centre, CIHPress, whose data do not cover all of Cuba’s provinces, reported 471 arrests and detentions, 169 more than its January figure.

The high number recorded each month stems from the repeated use of short-term detention as a form of intimidation, as well as arrests that lead to prosecution and trial.

CCDHRN recorded the death of political prisoner Antonio Ribalta Junco, 44, on February 16. He had spent 38 days on hunger strike protesting his innocence.

More broadly, the group said 20 inmates of Cuban prisons had died in the last five months. Such deaths could, it said, “on occasion constitute homicide through negligence”.

Journalists, bloggers and photojournalists are at particular risk of being detained.

Independent journalist Héctor Julio Cedeño Negrín was held for 13 days and has not yet recovered from the effects of the hunger strike he undertook.

Another journalist, Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, has spent the last six months in jail, and the authorities have yet to give his lawyer access to his case files.

On February 28, writer Angel Santiesteban Prat was sentenced to five years in prison for assault. CIHPress believes the real reason he was imprisoned was his criticism of the government.

CIHPress reports that a number of foreign nationals were detained on February 14 for taking photos of a political protest in a central Havana park. On February 24, a Brazilian journalist was detained in the Miramar neighbourhood for photographing members of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) movement.

The authorities also harasses activists and dissidents by keeping them and their families under surveillance, and orchestrating “acts of repudiation” in which crowds surround and attack their homes.

Hugo Damian Prieto, a member of the Hard Line and Boycott Movement, suffered nine such attacks on his home in Havana in under 72 hours. This came soon after he and other dissidents put up a poster bearing the name of Orlando Zapata, a political activist who died in prison after an 80-day hunger strike in 2010.

Camilo Ganga is the pseudonym of a journalist living in Havana, Cuba.

Castro Triggerman Gets U.S. Visa

Why is the State Department giving U.S. visas to egregious human rights violators, such as Reynaldo Perez Iglesia, from Cuba's Castro regime? 

In August 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama issued Presidential Proclamation 8697, which supposedly sought to "close the gap" in granting visas to foreign nationals affiliated with human rights violators.

Yet, despite this, Reynaldo Perez Iglesia, a triggerman for the Castro dictatorship, was recently given a U.S. visa and has been in the U.S. for the last three weeks.

He is a known official of Castro's State Security apparatus in the town of Jovellanos, province of Matanzas.

Perez Iglesia is responsible for the arrest, torture and long-term imprisonment of numerous peaceful opponents of the Castro dictatorship.

He was commonly known as “Papa Tira Tiro” ("Daddy Triggerman"), as he once shot two young boys (age 13) for taking fruits for their sick mother from a local farm run by Cuban State Security.

Perez Iglesia also contributed to the torture and execution of young men at the Baseball Stadium of Jovellanos. The blood was extracted from these young men prior to their public execution.

Ironically, Perez Iglesia is now in the U.S. to receive medical attention.

What type of message does this send to the living victims and the families of those killed by this repressor?

Moreover, it sends a dangerous message of impunity to other human rights violators.

His U.S. visa should be revoked.

Has The Miami Herald Heard of Sonia Garro?

The Miami Herald's Mimi Whitefield has penned a story today about the one-year anniversary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba.

It was a selfish portrayal of the emotional experience of some exiles and their starry-eyed views about the Catholic Church in Cuba.

Shamefully, neither Whitefield, nor any one of the interviewees, had the decency to raise the one tangible remnant of Pope Benedict's visit -- the continued arrest of Sonia Garro.

Sonia Garro, a member of The Ladies in White pro-democracy movement, has been imprisoned by the Castro regime -- without trial or charges -- since March 18th, 2012.

In the wave of repression leading up to Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Cuba, Castro's secret police raider her home, shot her with rubber bullets and imprisoned her.

She has been repeatedly abused and beaten in the infamous Manto Negro women's prison.

Garro's husband, Ramón Muñoz González, was also imprisoned on that day. He is being held -- without trial or charges -- in the Combinado del Este Prison.

In The Miami Herald story, one of the interviewees even said, "in a way, this trip made me more committed to the freedom of Cuba."

Really? How about starting with Sonia Garro?

For that matter, why has the Church remained so silent about her continued imprisonment?

Quote of the Day

When we used toilets we were not allowed to flush down toilet paper, to prevent sewerage blockages. We would throw the... paper in a bucket, which was collected once a day. On several occasions we were served leftovers which we had left in our places the previous day. This food would be collected from the tables and stored in the fridge.
-- Shannon Moodley, South African medical student in Cuba, who quit program after not being informed of poor living conditions, iAfrica, 3/25/13

Bipartisan Senators Call for Investigation of Paya's Death

Monday, March 25, 2013
A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, led by U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), have called for an investigation into the death of Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.

Other signatories include U.S. Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Mark Kirk (R-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Warner (D-VA).

The full text of the letter is below:

Emilio Álvarez Icaza
Executive Secretary
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Organization of American States
889 F Street NW
Washington, D.C., 0006
United States of America

Dear Secretary Icaza:

We write to request that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights undertake an investigation into the troubling death of Cuban political reformer Oswaldo Payá, who, along with youth activist Harold Cepero, was killed in a suspicious automobile accident on July 22, 2012, in Bayamo, Cuba. Recent published interviews (included) with the Spanish driver of the vehicle, Ángel Carromero, raise deeply troubling concerns that Payá's car was deliberately targeted by Cuban government officials well known for their harassment of Payá.

In 2002, Payá pioneered the Varela Project, a petition drive that peacefully sought greater political freedom on the island of Cuba.  At the time, the Constitution of Cuba guaranteed the right to a national referendum on any proposal that achieved 10,000 or more signatures from Cuban citizens eligible to vote.  In May 2002, the Varela Project delivered 11,020 signatures from such eligible citizens to the Cuban National Assembly, calling for an end to four decades of one-party rule.  The Cuban government cynically responded by beginning its own referendum that made Cuba's socialist system "irrevocable," even after an additional 14,000 signatures were added to the Varela Project petition. Payá and his colleagues faced sustained harassment, and as many as 25 of its leaders were jailed.

Payá's nonviolent effort to seek political change in Cuba was respected around the world.  He received the Sakharov Price for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 2002 and the W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award from the US National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in 2003 and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by former Czech President Václav Havel in 2005.  In July 2012, the United States Senate unanimously approved a resolution honoring the life and legacy of Oswaldo Payá.  That resolution included a call for the "Government of Cuba to allow an impartial, third-party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo Payá Sardinas."

On March 5, 2013,, the Washington Post published an interview with Ángel Carromero, vice general secretary of Spain's ruling Popular Party, indicated that the car carrying Mr. Payá was rammed from behind by a vehicle with government license plates.  He said,

"…And then another, newer car appeared and began to harass us, getting very close. Oswaldo and Harold told me it must be from "la Comunista" because it had a blue license plate, which they said is what the government uses.  Every so often I looked at it through the rearview mirror and could see both occupants of the car staring at us aggressively.  I was afraid, but Oswaldo told me not to stop if they did not signal or force us to do so.  I drove carefully, giving them no reason to stop us.  The last time I looked in the mirror, I realized that the car had gotten too close — and suddenly I felt a thunderous impact from behind….

The next time I awakened, I was on a stretcher, being carried into a hospital room.  The first person who talked to me was a uniformed officer of the Ministry of the Interior.  I told her a car had hit our vehicle from behind, causing me to lose control.  She took notes and, at the end, gave me my statement to sign.  The hospital, which was civilian, had suddenly been militarized….

They began to videotape me all the time, and they kept doing so until the last day I was jailed in Cuba.  When they questioned me about what happened, I repeated what I told the officer who originally took my statement.  They got angry.  They warned me that I was their enemy, and that I was very young to lose my life.  One of them told me that what I had told them had not happened and that I should be careful, that depending on what I said things could go very well or very badly for me. …

Then came a gentleman who identified himself as a government expert and who gave me the official version of what had happened.  If I went along with it, nothing would happen to me.  At the time I was heavily drugged, and it was hard for me to understand the details of the supposed accident that they were telling me to repeat.  They gave me another statement to sign — one that in no way resembled the truth.  It mentioned gravel, an embankment, a tree — I did not remember any of these things….

The most important thing for me is that the Payá family always has defended my innocence, when they are the most injured by this tragedy.  That's why, when I met Rosa Maria [Payá's daughter] this week, I could not hide the truth any more

On March 13, 2013, Payá's daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, appeared before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.  She presented an appeal signed by 46 activists and political leaders from around the world, urging the United Nations to launch an independent international investigation into her father's death.  She was interrupted by the Cuban representative, who accused her of being a "mercenary who has dared to come to this room."  Payá and his legacy deserve better than this.

Oswaldo Payá was a brave man trying to peacefully advocate for greater political freedom for his fellow Cuban brothers and sisters.  It increasingly looks like he paid for that effort with his life.  His memory and his family deserve an honest and independent accounting of what happened.  We urge the Commission to undertake this investigation without delay.

We thank you for your consideration and stand ready to work with you on this important matter.


Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Marco Rubio
United States Senator

Benjamin L. Cardin
United States Senator

Mark Kirk
United States Senator

John McCain
United States Senator

Bill Nelson
United States Senator

Robert Menendez
United States Senator

Mark Warner
United States Senator

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a discussion with Cuba Archive's Maria Werlau on the Cuban regime's efforts to block blogger Yoani Sanchez's visit to the United Nations last week.

Then, author James Rickards on his new book "The Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis."

From The London School of Economics, Dr. James Ker-Lindsay on the Cypriot deposit tax and the Mediterranean island's financial crisis.

And Mark McKinnon, Global Vice-Chair of Hill & Knowlton Strategies and founder "No Labels," an NGO that seeks for Republicans and Democrats to come together to solve the nation's fiscal problems.

You can 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).

Does AP's Havana Bureau Need a New A/C?

Sunday, March 24, 2013
Eager to remain in the good graces of the Castro regime's International Press Center (IPC), the AP's Havana bureau has zealously released a "story" advocating for the removal of Cuba from the U.S.'s "state-sponsors of terrorism" list.

The Castro regime has been demanding its removal from the "state-sponsor of terrorism" list for years, which would represent a major unilateral concession from the U.S.

(Background on the jestful title of the post: The Castro regime’s controls on foreign journalists are wielded through its IPC, which not only issues the press accreditation required to report from Cuba, but also approves the necessary paperwork for these journalist to enjoy some basic comforts, such as air conditioners and refrigerators, or being able to import or purchase a car.)

Of course, the AP's piece is full of glaring omissions and oversights.

First, the oversight.

"U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry must decide within a few weeks whether to advocate that President Barack Obama should take Cuba off a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a collection of Washington foes that also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan... U.S. officials agree the recommendation, which Kerry must make before the State Department’s annual terror report is published April 30, has become ensnared in the standoff over Gross."

Great story line -- except that the statutory criteria for removing a country from the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list (under Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act) requires that:

"[T]he President submits to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the chairman of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate—

(B) at least 45 days before the proposed rescission would take effect, a report justifying the rescission and certifying that..."

Thus, the math doesn't appear to be on their side.

Now, the glaring omissions.

"Ostensibly, Cuba has been designated a terror sponsor because it harbors members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group, the Basque militant organization ETA and a handful of U.S. fugitives, many of whom have lived here since the 1970s.... But much has changed in recent years."

Gotta love their use of adverbs.

First of all, it's a fact that Cuba harbors FARC and ETA terrorists.  

Moreover, both of these groups continue to be officially-designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) by the U.S. Government.  

Thus, nothing has changed.

Also, the are not just a "handful" of U.S. fugitives in Cuba.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there are over 70 American fugitives from justice receiving safe-harbor from the Castro regime in Cuba. These include murderers, kidnappers and hijackers, including the notorious killers of New Jersey and New Mexico State Troopers.

The AP then proceeds to argue that the Castro regime has also "changed":

"Under President Raul Castro, Cuba has freed dozens of dissidents and has begun opening its economy and society, though it remains a one-party political system that permits no legal opposition."

Of course, the AP purposefully omits (for they have the information) that political repression has spiked under Raul Castro, that last year alone there were over 6,600 political arrests and that long-term imprisonments are also on the rise.

Not to mention concerning new nformation regarding the Castro regime's role in the murder of Cuban democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.

But hey, give the AP a break -- it gets really hot in Havana during the summer.

Must-Read: Yoani Takes the U.N.

By Maria C. Werlau of Cuba Archive:

Cuban blogger "citizen Yoani" takes the UN

She came in through the visitors’ entrance after passing the security check. When she pushed through the revolving door into the grand hall, standing there alone, I greeted her with pretended formality: “Welcome to the United Nations.” The hall was packed with Model UN students. A distance back, an unofficial “welcome committee” stood by: Tuyet Nguyen, correspondent for a German news agency, who had come to escort us in on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), and three guests. Two media crews filmed her entry; no one seemed to notice.

She was delayed from filming a last-minute CNN interview, so I was anxious to rush her through the next steps. Passes were secured at the information desk --she used her Cuban passport as ID and was photographed like any other visitor. We hurried downstairs and through the basement parking lot to the Library building where journalists’ and UNCA offices are located during the main building renovation. As we walked fast and through successive security points, I told her the Cuban government had blocked our plan and we would have to improvise. We agreed it did not matter, she was at the UN and she was going to speak regardless. Just minutes before, I had read on my phone that the tantrum had played out at the highest levels; Cuba’s Ambassador had filed an official protest asking the UN Secretary General to call off the “grave attack.” 

Cuba is very influential at the UN, it has one of the largest and most active representations. China, Russia, Iran, and the likes are strong supporters, plus it exerts great influence over many other governments --many opportunely host Cuban medical missions or share "revolutionary" sympathies, others just want to avoid trouble. Cuba’s diplomats are known for expertly working the UN bureaucracy and rules. The room change was the least of my worries. At any moment, I feared, we could be stopped at a security check, escorted out of the building, or attacked by Cuba’s diplomat-thugs. These things have actually happened at the UN in New York and Geneva.

The briefing was planned weeks earlier for the Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium, a large and elegant venue with the necessary audio equipment. But, the day before, the UNCA liaison mentioned “certain problems.” The auditorium would not be available and we would not have equipment for the simultaneous interpretation. I imagined great pressure was at play. Fortunately, with a few UN battles under my wing, I had asked that this be kept from Yoani’s official schedule until the invitation had been sent out. It would be harder to dismantle an event announced to UNCA members, 200 correspondents from all over the world.

Cuba had complained that UNCA was being “manipulated by spurious interests,” but the truth is much less sinister. I represent a tiny human rights’ group with the most meager of resources; most of our work is volunteer. Familiar with UNCA, I knew it hosts press briefings with newsworthy sources and freely decides who to invite. So, when I asked them if they would like to host Yoani Sánchez, they immediately answered yes --I assumed because she is a world-famous blogger and journalist. After details were agreed on, I contacted the person handling Yoani’s schedule (a mutual friend volunteering his efforts). Once a time was agreed, I sent UNCA her biography and suggested media advisory. Then, I hired an interpreter. It had all been simple and transparent.

The briefing would now be at “UNCA square” within the journalists’ temporary area during the remodeling. To my dismay, when we arrived we found it was just an opening within a hallway surrounded by offices. Immediately next to a large copying machine was a tiny table with three small chairs crammed behind it. To the side, another small table had refreshments. In the middle, there were no more than ten chairs. Most people had to stand in the hallway and adjoining offices. We looked at each other puzzled, so I pointed Yoani and the interpreter to the chairs, leaving the third one for the UNCA host. Though the designated moderator, I stepped aside --there was no room and no need for another person. Having seen her over the previous days in New York and Washington, I knew all we needed was to let Yoani speak.

A few film crews and correspondents from news agencies and several countries were there. Italian journalist Stefano Vaccara explained to me that no biographical commentary was needed, as everyone knew who she was, and proceeded with a heartfelt introduction. She delivered her remarks with no notes, as usual. She delivered her remarks with no notes, as usual, her voice strong despite no microphone (unfortunately not the interpreter’s). Orlando Luis Pardo, the Cuban blogger/photographer traveling with Yoani, Mary Jo Porter, the Seattle engineer who founded a volunteer translating service to support Cuban bloggers, and I, sat on the floor --there was no space elsewhere.

Yoani began by saying she was proud that her first time at the U.N. was “with my journalist colleagues.” Though clarifying that she came as a citizen and joking about being used to working in small spaces, she pulled out all the works. She called on the United Nations to support human rights in Cuba and declared it was time it “came out of its lethargy and recognized that the Cuban government is a dictatorship.” She asserted: “Cuba is not a government or a political party and much less the fiefdom of one man.” Further, she called for UN support of an international investigation of the suspicious death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá.  (See 3:30 min video clip in Spanish here.)

During the Q & A, the correspondent for Cuban news agency, Prensa Latina, asked two questions. Unsurprisingly, they were from the “40 questions for Yoani” that Cuban regime supporters have trailed her with wherever she goes. He sounded pretty silly and he must have known it, as his hands were shaking. She dispatched them quickly, ably, and with aplomb. When it was all over, she filmed a quick interview with The New York Times and rushed to the airport for the next leg of her trip. We left the building relieved to find no hecklers or attackers on the street.

It’s remarkable that a 37 year-old petite and unassuming woman blogger took to the United Nations headquarters in defense of fundamental rights bearing no more than her determination and the strength of her word. The poised and eloquent “little person,” as she calls herself, made a mighty military dictatorship of over five decades run scared to stop her from speaking. Forced into a cubicle, she could not be silenced. Word spread quickly throughout the world not only of her message, but of the vicious will to stop it. This story captures the exhaustion of a regime whose tactics become futile before the force of a peaceful rebellion that will not be stopped.

Only five hours after the briefing, a Google search produced four pages of links to news stories from around the world in Spanish alone --all highlighted the Cuban government’s bully tactics. The regime had actually generated the lead to a great story, made themselves look like fools, and allowed Yoani to shine brighter!

Recapping the event with Carmen Rodríguez, UNCA member from Radio Martí, she recalled José Martí’s words: “A just cause coming from the bottom of a cave is more powerful than any army.” At the UN, Yoani had given it a singular twist: “If we were holding this meeting in the bottom of an elevator shaft, we would have more freedom than in Cuba.” From start to finish, her UN foray could not have been more perfect or poetic.

U.N. Must Investigate Oswaldo Payá’s Death

By U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) in The Miami Herald:

U.N. must investigate Oswaldo Payá’s death  

Like so many of her followers, we’ve been watching Yoani Sánchez’s international speaking tour. Just this month, the well-known Cuban opposition blogger came at my invitation to our nation’s capital, where, in a rare appearance, she shared her views on life inside today’s Cuba. During her hour-long visit, she met with members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle.

And her message was bell-clear: The Cuban people are still struggling for freedom and democracy — and, they need our help.

Despite Cuba’s incredibly restrictive laws governing free speech and freedom of the press, Yoani has found a way to stay connected with the world, via the Internet. Millions of people now follow her on Twitter and read her blog, Generation Y.

She’s illustrative of how the social media are slowly overtaking the repression and control of authoritarian regimes everywhere, including communist Cuba. Sánchez fittingly summarized the situation last week, saying: “It took me a full 10 years to see images from the fall of the Berlin Wall. But my son was able to witness the images from Tahrir Square almost exactly as they were happening.”

Still, we must remember that some of her fellow dissidents have been silenced — some forever.

It was just 10 years ago this month that the regime conducted one of its severest crackdowns of democracy activists and journalists, known as Cuba’s “Black Spring.”

And, of course, there’s still one of our own — Maryland native [and USAID worker] Alan Gross — languishing in a Cuban jail for nearly four and a half years now. We must remain unrelenting in our calls for his release and safe return home.

More recently, new details emerged in The Washington Post regarding the death last summer of popular Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá. From the safety of his native Spain, Ángel Carromero, the driver of Payá’s car the day Payá died, finally gave his version of events leading up to the mysterious crash that killed Payá and fellow Cuban activist Harold Cepero.

Their vehicle, according to Carromero, was being followed by another car with government plates, before it was suddenly hit with a “thunderous impact from behind” and run off the road. Payá, the man who had orchestrated the largest democratic petition drive in Cuban history, was killed. Carromero’s detailed account of the July 22 crash matches that of other witnesses.

Given this new information, and my discussion with Yoani Sánchez, I have now asked the head of the United Nations to direct a thorough independent investigation of the events leading up to Payá’s death. Such an investigation should begin immediately.

Payá will forever be remembered as one of Cuba’s best known dissidents. But the causes that he championed — freedom of speech, press and enterprise — continue to elude the Cuban people. That’s why this investigation is critical. Without it, further reform is easily undermined or avoided, altogether.

Meantime, Yoani’s visit to the United States is a welcome development that indicates some seeds of change are beginning to take root on the island.

On an 80-day world tour of a dozen countries, after a decade of being barred from leaving Cuba, Sánchez next plans to visit Miami. On April 1, she’ll speak at the iconic Freedom Tower — significant because that’s the site where many Cuban exiles were processed upon their arrival in the United States.

I’m planning to join her there in support of her call for democratic reforms in Cuba. These, I believe, must include the release of Gross and the investigation into Payá’s death.

Meet Cuba's 14-Member Military Junta

Who really holds power in Cuba?

Roberto Alvarez Quniones explains in Spain's ABC:

The real power does not rest in the Politburo of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), as per the Constitution. It rests in a small group of Generals, some of whom are not even in the Politburo. They compose a military junta invisible to the international community and to a majority of the Cuban people, as they operate behind the scenes and are not mentioned by the media. [The new Vice-President of the Council of State] Miguel Diaz-Canel does not belong to the "creme de la creme" that controls the country and that has 14 members.

Headed by the Castro brothers and by the "Comandante" (today equivalent to the rank of a General) Machado Ventura, the select group includes the island's four most powerful Generals: Leopoldo Cintras Frías, Minister of Defense; Abelardo Colomé, Minister of the Interior; Alvaro López Miera, First Vice-Minister of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; and Ramón Espinosa, Vice-Minister of Defense. Also, "Comandante" Ramiro Valdés and Colonel of the intelligence services, Marino Murillo, the Vice-President in charge of the "actualization" of socialism. They are all members of the Politburo.

The non-members of the Politburo are General José Amado Ricardo, Executive Secretary of the Council of Ministers (akin to the functions of a Prime Minister, the position formerly held by Carlos Lage); General Carlos Fernández Gondín, First Vice-Minister of the Interior; General Joaquín Quintas Solá, Vice-Minister of Defense; and Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, son of the dictator-in-chief and head of the Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence Units of the Ministries of Defense and Interior. The final member has been -- until recently -- Colonel Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, ex son-in-law of Raúl Castro, in charge of the Ministry of Defense's businesses. However, after his divorce from Deborah Castro Espín, it is unknown whether he will continue in this privileged position.

These are Cuba's 14 most powerful men, whom together with the Castros, make the most important decisions. This is similar to the parallel governing structure imposed by Fidel, who created the all-powerful Coordination and Support Group of the Commander-in-Chief, which for decades was the real executive branch of the nation, beyond the Council of Ministers, State and the Communist Party.

Moreover, 8 of the 15 members of the Politburo are currently from the military (the majority), while 4 of the 7 Vice-Presidents of the Council of Ministers are from the military.

Thus, Cuba is the only country in the world that presents its military ruling class as civilian, and is accepted as such. When a General is the President of a nation without having ever been elected by a democratic vote, and governs surrounded by Generals, that is called a military dictatorship. Except in the case of Cuba, which now even presides the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Before It Was Called "the China Model"

Saturday, March 23, 2013
It was called fascism.

From Bloomberg:

The ranks of China’s ultra-wealthy in its legislature swelled 20 percent this year, highlighting the vested interests that may oppose any measures by incoming President Xi Jinping to reduce the nation’s wealth gap.

Ninety members of the National People’s Congress are on a list of China’s 1,000 richest people published by the Shanghai- based Hurun Report, up from 75 last year, according to a review of the data by Bloomberg News.

Everyone on the Hurun list had a fortune of at least 1.8 billion yuan ($289.4 million), more than former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

On the Idiotic Posthumous Cult of Hugo Chávez

By Bernard-Henri Lévy in The Daily Beast:

On the Idiotic Posthumous Cult of Hugo Chávez

Leaving aside his anti-Semitism and his dictator allies, why would the left celebrate a man who repressed his people and wrecked the economy? It’s an insult to Venezuelans.

The death of Hugo Chávez, followed by his elaborate funeral, has unleashed a wave of political idiocy, and thus of disinformation, of a magnitude not seen in some time.

I will not dwell—because this much is well known—on Chávez the “friend of the people” whose closest allies were bloody-handed dictators: Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Fidel Castro, and, formerly, Gaddafi.

Nor will I dwell long, because this, too, is public knowledge, on the Chávez whose pathological anti-Semitism over his 14-year rule drove two thirds of Venezuela’s Jewish community into exile. (It is hard to image that this Chávez is viewed by a minister in François Hollande’s government in France as a “cross between Léon Blum and de Gaulle.”) Was not Chavez the devotee of the conspiracy theories of Thierry Meyssan, the disciple of Argentine Holocaust denier Norberto Ceresole, who professed his surprise that Israelis “like to criticize Hitler” even though they “have done the same and perhaps worse”? How was a Jew in Caracas expected to react upon seeing his president stigmatize a minority made up of “descendants of those who crucified Jesus Christ” and who had, according to Chávez, “made off with the world’s wealth”?

What is less known, something that we will regret overlooking as the posthumous cult of Chávez swells and grows more toxic, is that this “21st-century socialist,” this supposedly tireless “defender of human rights,” ruled by muzzling the media, shutting down television stations that were critical of him, and denying the opposition access to the state news networks.

What is less known, or deliberately not mentioned by those who would make of Chávez a source of inspiration for a left that seems to lack it, is that this wonderful leader, seemingly so concerned with workers and their rights, tolerated unions only if they were official. He allowed strikes only if controlled or even orchestrated by the regime. And, up to the end, he prosecuted, criminalized, and threw into prison independent trade unionists who, like Ruben Gonzalez, the representative of the Ferrominera mineworkers, refused to wait for Bolivarism to be fully realized before demanding decent working conditions, protection against mining accidents, and fair wages.

May Chávez the man rest in peace. But to pretend that the overall record of Chavezism has been positive is an insult to the Venezuelan people.

What has been omitted from most of the portraits broadcast during these sessions of global mourning—and what must be remembered if we want to avoid seeing post-Chavezism turn into an even worse nightmare—is the repression of the Yukpa Indians of the Sierra de Perija, carried out in the name of “cultural integration”; the targeted assassinations, covered up by the regime, of those of their chiefs who, like Sabino Romero in 2009, refused to bow down to Chávez; and, generally, the putting to sleep of democratic and popular movements that did not have the good fortune to be on Chávez’s agenda. Take women’s issues. It must not be forgotten that the rights of women suffered dramatic regressions during El Comandante’s reign. And would it be unfair to the deceased leader to observe that two provisions of family law—one protecting women victims of domestic violence; the other, divorced women—were repealed by the regime for being too petit-bourgeois by the standard of the prevailing machismo?

As for the good souls who remind us that Chávez’s national populism had “at least” the benefit of feeding the hungry, caring for the most vulnerable, and reducing poverty, they neglect to mention that these reforms were made possible only by budgetary recklessness, itself funded by colossal oil revenue inflated by the high price of crude. The result has been that the real economy of the country, the modernization of its infrastructure and equipment, and the formation of businesses capable of creating sustainable wealth were heedlessly sacrificed on the altar of a form of Caesarism designed more to buy social peace than to build the Venezuela of tomorrow.

Chávez imported, for a king’s ransom, tens of thousands of Cuban mercenary doctors—but let Venezuela’s hospitals die.

Rather than take the trouble to expand domestic production, he imported 70 percent of the bread he distributed to the people, without ever wondering what might happen if the price of a barrel of crude, now about $110, were to fall back down to near $20, where it was the year he came to power. This is the policy of the ostrich or the cicada. Very simply it is a policy of mortgaging the future.

And although the regime indeed provided work for many of those who had none, it has run up against that iron law of economics, which penalizes systems based on rent-seeking, widespread corruption, clientelism on a grand scale, and, last but not least, the creation of artificial wealth. Increases in the minimal wage, today about $250 a month, have, over 14 years, been overtaken by inflation. Half of the active population still just scrapes by, often by doing odd jobs on the margin of the formal economy. As a result, it is not unlikely that this long decade of oil-supported socialism will show a net deficit for those segments of the population who were supposed to benefit most (if at the price of renouncing freedoms that, like cancer, were supposedly imperialist exports) from the manna rained down on them by the profligate dictator.

May Chávez the man rest in peace.

But to pretend that the overall record of Chavezism has been positive is an insult to the Venezuelan people.

Young Cuban Rapper Kidnapped by Authorities

From Pedazos de la Isla:

Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, independent rapper best known as “El Critico de Arte” from the hip-hop duo “Los Hijos Que Nadie Quiso” (‘The Unwanted Children’), based in the city of Bayamo, was brutally assaulted by political police agents on the night of March 21st. 

He was beaten and attacked with tear gas when agents broke in to the home of his aunt, Jaquelin Garcia, a member of the Ladies in White pro-democracy movement. During the raid, children also received physical blows at the hands of the officials. The whereabouts of Remon Arzuaga remain unknown.

“I witnessed how Yunier was taken from here and he was being choked, they hit him a lot…they shoved him into the cop car and he had about 4 uniformed agents on top of him”, said a desperate Jaquelin Garcia in an audio published on the YouTube channel of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a pro-freedom group which Angel Yunier also belongs to.

“I am very worried about Yunier, I don’t know where he has been taken to”, added Garcia.

Meanwhile, Jose Daniel Ferrer García, leader of UNPACU, explained on his Twitter account that “the police agents searched Yunier’s home... they took books, camera chargers and other objects.”

“Yunier’s mother suffered an epilepsy attack after witnessing the police violence against her son”, said another tweet by Ferrer.

The dissident adds that the brutality took place after the rapper handed out pro-freedom pamphlets in a popular avenue of Bayamo.

The young musician’s life runs danger, just because he has chosen to make rap without censorship and to fight for the rights of all Cubans.

Here's an interview with Remon Arzuaga from last year -- he's the second one from the left:

R.I.P. Bebo Valdes

Friday, March 22, 2013
I will not return to Cuba because I don't support dictatorships.
-- Bebo Valdes, Cuban pianist and former director of Havana's famous "Tropicana" nightclub, Dagens Nyheter, (1918-2013)

African Politicians Laundering Money Through Cuba

Letter to the Editor in the Zambian Watchdog:

Kabimba went to Cuba to open plunder accounts as M’membe gets diplomatic passport

Dear Editor,

I wish to bring to your attention of the mass plunder of our economy that is happening in this corrupt PF government.

Firstly, the PF leaders including their puppet master Fred Namakando M’membe are busy shipping hard currency to CUBA. Fred himself is flying to Havana with suitcases of Dollars at least twice a month using a diplomatic passport, so he cannot be searched at the airport.

Recently, Wynter went to CUBA to formalise the operations of his and his bosses’ bank accounts (remember the Trafigura Oilgate 'commissions' have be deposited somewhere) where illicit funds can be easily laundered.

These plunderers because they know that plundered funds deposited even in secret accounts in Swiss banks or any other off shore havens are extremely difficult to access (Frederick Chiluba failed to access the funds he had stolen, hence died a pauper). The CIA, the FED etc with our agencies will not allow access AFTER leaving the presidency. And the crooks in government know it (after all they were in charge of prosecuting chiluba and gained ‘valuable’ lessons on how to conceal and how not conceal plundered funds), hatched a scheme to hide these resources to ‘safe havens’ like Cuba and North Korea, Sudan and Iran. How do you think the increased closeness of the PF hierarchy and their friends towards Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Sudan and to some extent Zimbabwe?

Odebrecht Rooting for Maduro in Venezuela

On Miami-Dade County's biggest partner for non-transparent, back-room deals, with taxpayer's money -- the Brazilian firm Odebrecht.

Odebrecht is also Cuban dictator Raul Castro's most important foreign strategic partner.

So much so, that they are legally challenging the will of Florida's taxpayers -- who have stated unequivocally through the ballot box and the legislature -- that they don't want their money going to Castro's business partners.

From today's Reuters:

If Brazil's business leaders could vote in Venezuela's election next month, they would cast their ballots for Hugo Chavez's political heir, acting president Nicolas Maduro.

They never supported the anti-capitalist bluster of Chavez, who died of cancer last month, but they hope to hold on to lucrative contracts for food exports and construction projects that he signed with Brazil's former leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor, Dilma Rousseff.

"In the near term, a Maduro win would be best," said Jose Augusto de Castro, head of Brazil's Foreign Trade Association [..]

Key infrastructure projects launched during the 14 years of Chavez's government, from the Caracas metro expansion to bridges across the Orinoco river that divides Venezuela, are run by Brazilian firms like Odebrecht.

Chavez's close ties with Lula protected Brazilian firms from Venezuela's frequent nationalizations, foreign exchange controls and barriers to repatriating profits that scared competitors out of the oil producing OPEC nation.

Odebrecht's presence is so strong that Chavez even joked that he had tried to convert the firm's president to socialism. The company has 8,000 employees in Venezuela, with nine projects, including a 2.15 megawatt dam in the Amazon.

Definition of Fraudulent Change

Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Oswaldo Paya's Christian Liberation Movement:

FRAUDULENT CHANGE.  Economic changes without rights so that the military caste and its accomplices can become richer, while the people remain poor and repressed.