Take a Look at This Picture

Saturday, January 26, 2013
The following picture was taken on Monday, January 21st, 2013.

That day, The Ladies in White pro-democracy movement -- the wives, daughters, sisters and other relatives of current and former Cuban political prisoners -- planned a gathering at their headquarters in Havana.

They sought to commemorate the legacy of U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and the first anniversary of the death -- pursuant to a 50-day hunger strike -- of Cuban political prisoner Wilman Villar Mendoza.

Yet instead, dozens of these female activists were intercepted, beaten and arrested by Castro's male thugs.

See for yourself below.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Courtesy of Pedazos de la Isla.

CFR's Cuba "Expert" Outdoes Herself

Friday, January 25, 2013
In an interview today, The Council of Foreign Relations' (CFR) Julia Sweig dropped this gem:

"Cuba doesn't have a military junta running the country."

Believe it or not -- this is the CFR's "Director of Latin American Studies" making this incredibly ignorant statement.

Note to Dr. Sweig:

Cuba is currently run by General Raul Castro.

In addition, four out of Raul's seven "Vice-Presidents" (and the most senior) are also generals:

General Ramiro Valdes Menendez (in charge of all basic industries and telecommunications).
General Ulises Rosales del Toro (in charge of agriculture and food services).
General Antonio Enrique Luzon Batle (in charge of transportation and infrastructure).
General Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez (in charge of the economy and finances).

Meanwhile, the powerful Executive Secretary is General Jose Amado Ricardo Guerra and the Communist Party's Politburo is run by Raul's "untouchables," General Ramon Espinosa Martin and General Alvaro Lopez Miera.

Furthermore, over 50% of the Cuban economy in controlled by GAESA, S.A., headed by Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja, which is the all-powerful business conglomerate of Cuba's Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR), headed by General Leopoldo Cintas Frias.

And approximately another 30% of the Cuban economy is controlled by companies under the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, headed by General Abelardo Colome Ibarra.

The remaining 20% of the Cuban economy is controlled by smaller companies under other specialty ministries -- the most important of which are also under the control of military officials -- including the Ministry of Tourism under Colonel Manuel Marrero Cruz, the Ministry of Heavy Industries under General Salvador Pardo Cruz and the Ministry of Transportation under General Cesar Ignacio Arocha Masid.

Is Cuba run by a military junta?  Obviously.

As The Financial Times wrote today, "Mr. Castro is a throwback to the Latin America of sunglass-wearing generals."

CFR should be ashamed to have such misinformed "experts."

Cuba Must Earn Place in Regional Fora

A few years ago, during remarks at a Washington International Trade Association (WITA) conference, we argued:

"Thirty-four (34) out of the thirty-five (35) nations of this Western Hemisphere are democratic.  Granted, we have better relationships with some than with others, and frankly, some are outright hostile to the U.S.  However, we cannot afford a return to the dictatorships -- whether of the left or of the right -- that ruled Latin America for most of the 20th century.  Some may have appeared to be good for business at the time, but they are all damaging to the 21st century national interests of the U.S.  Normalizing relations with Cuba's dictatorship would open a Pandora's Box that might lead to history repeating itself.  And trust me, there are plenty of leaders with authoritarian tendencies ready to take advantage of such a moment."

Today, The Financial Times' Editorial Board has expressed a similar concern:

Silly in Chile

A worthy EU-CELAC summit marred by outdated politics

It would be comic if it was not so tragic. This month, the 33-country Community of Latin American and Caribbean states, a regional grouping that lists democracy, human rights and prosperity among its core values, will swear in its new chairman: President Raúl Castro of Cuba. Yet Cuba has not had free elections or a free press for more than 50 years, and Mr. Castro is a throwback to the Latin America of sunglass-wearing generals. The 81-year-old communist will then become Latin America’s official spokesman in its trade talks with the EU.

His swearing-in will take place after this weekend’s two-day CELAC-EU summit in Chile. Among the heads of state present will be Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. The economic rationale for their trip is clear. Much of Latin America is booming, and Europe remains the region’s largest trade partner and investor. Politically, it is also better to engage with pariah states such as Cuba than exclude them, as Myanmar’s democratic transition shows. Still, the prospect of the German chancellor standing next to Mr Castro in the summit photograph beckons awfully. Perhaps the Europeans, so keen on human rights elsewhere, will avoid shaking his hand. That will show them.

Read the rest here.

Wasserman-Schultz Says Embargo Still Needed

From AP:

Wasserman-Schultz says Cuban embargo still needed

The leader of the Democratic National Committee says reforms in Cuba have not been substantial enough to call for an end to the embargo.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was asked about U.S.-Cuba policy during an appearance before the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches on Friday.

The DNC chair says there is so much "unbelievable oppression" in Cuba that it doesn't make sense to lift the embargo.

The Great Cable Mystery Solved

Thursday, January 24, 2013
This week began with an Internet analysis firm, Renesys, detecting data traffic stemming from Castro's infamous ALBA-1 fiber-optic cable linking Cuba and Venezuela.

This cable was completed two-years ago at a cost of $70 million and shrouded in secrecy.

Due to the Renesys report, the Castro regime found itself forced to release a statement about the cable.

According to the regime's statement, through its telecom monopoly ETECSA, the detected data traffic stemmed from a "testing" process.

After all, they need greater capacity, as two governments are now being run from Havana.

Moreover, for Cubans not to expect to be allowed connectivity, as:

"When the testing process concludes, the submarine cable being put into operation will not mean that possibilities for access will automatically multiply," said the statement.

And, of course, that the regime need more money, for this will be a socialist cable (for "social aims" only):

"It will be necessary to invest in internal telecommunications infrastructure."

So what have we learned?

That the Castro regime is in full control of the cable.

That its function will be subject to absolute secrecy.

That Cubans will continue not to have access to the Internet.

That the Castro regime wants hard currency.

Elementary, Dr. Watson.

Must-See: Chairman Menendez's Cuba Remarks

During today's confirmation hearing for U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) for U.S. Secretary of State.

See here for more context.

Menendez Response to Flake's Cuba Insult

The incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) responded to U.S. Senator Jeff Flake's insulting comment that "spring breakers" in Cuba would somehow challenge the Castro regime:

I had no intention of raising it, but, you know, to suggest that spring break is a form of — a form of torture to the Castro regime — unfortunately, they are experts about torture, as is evidenced by the increasing brutal crackdown on peaceful democracy advocates on the island just in the last year, over 6,600 peaceful democracy advocates detained or arrested.

Just this past Sunday, the Ladies in White, a group of women who dress in white and march every Sunday with a gladiolus to church, tried to come together to go to church this past Sunday. And the result of that — these are individuals who are the relatives of former or current political prisoners in Castro’s jails — the result is that more than 35 of the Women in White were intercepted, beaten with belts, threatened to death by agents aiming guns at them and temporarily arrested.

And then we have a United States citizen who all he tried to do is give access to the Internet to a small Jewish population in Havana and has been languishing in jail for nearly four years. That’s real torture.”

You can see it here starting at the 3:59:00 mark.

Also, during this time, in response to Chairman Menendez, U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) gave his commitment in favor of democracy programs throughout the world.

Senator Tweets His New Brand: Cuba Flake

Apparently, U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) got so caught up in his role this morning of arguing to unconditionally embrace the Castro regime, that he branded himself: 

Cuba flake

True story.

He would later delete this post, but it can be seen here.

Jeff Flake Insults All Cubans

During today's confirmation hearing for U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) as the next U.S. Secretary of State, newly elected U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) brought up his obsession for easing sanctions towards the Castro dictatorship.

He did so by joking that the Castro's haven't faced a challenge akin to dealing with "spring breakers."

This is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of Cubans that have been tortured, jailed and executed by the Castro's dictatorship.

It's an insult to the million Cubans that have faced exile.

It's an insult to the courageous women that face-down violence every week to try to attend religious services.

It's an insult to the mothers, children and siblings of Cubans seeking to have their loved one's released from political prisons.

It's an insult to the families of those courageous pro-democracy leaders who have lost their lives struggling for the freedom of all Cubans.

It's an insult to the 7,000 Cubans that were arrested last year for political reasons.

It's an insult to the dignity of all Cubans.

To insinuate that Cubans can somehow learn democracy from "spring breakers" is an insult to all of those who have spent decades in prison and given the ultimate sacrifice seeking democracy.

To insinuate that "spring breakers" will somehow pose a formidable challenge to the Castro brothers is an insult to those courageous Cubans who risk their well-being on a daily basis, as well as that of their families, demanding freedom.

Want to know how Castro would deal with U.S. "spring breakers"?

The same way it deals with Canadian and lascivious European tourists to this day -- profiting from them.

Jeff Flake had the opportunity to enter the U.S. Senate and be a statesman.  

Instead, he chose to be petty and offensive.

Fortunately, Senator Kerry ignored his disrespectful comment.

20 Years Later: Cuba Travel History Repeats Itself

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
In December 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed -- ending the massive subsidies ($6 billion per year) that had propped up the Castro dictatorship since its inception.

The next year, the U.S. adopted a ''two-track'' approach pursuant to the 1992 Cuba Democracy Act. While this law closed important loopholes in U.S. commercial sanctions, it simultaneously eased U.S. travel regulations to encourage "purposeful" contact with the Cuban people, a term once again at the forefront of the policy debate.

President George H.W. Bush authorized a slew of new "purposeful" travel categories, including educational activities, religious activities, activities of non-profit organizations and activities for the importation or exportation of informational materials.

(We can generally agree upon these, so long as they are not rife with loopholes, as they quickly became).

Thereafter, these categories were continued and expanded by President Bill Clinton until they were codified (frozen by Congress) into law in 2000 -- along with a ban on tourism travel.

Thus, the U.S.'s response to the end of the Castro regime's first major historic subsidy -- the Soviet Union -- was to ease travel sanctions.

Fidel Castro stood that U.S. goodwill gesture on its head -- along with a new windfall of Canadian and European travelers -- by creating hard currency enclaves and using the increased flow of dollars to finance his security apparatus and anti-American efforts abroad -- specifically Hugo Chavez's rise to power in Venezuela.

Today, with the imminent demise of Hugo Chavez, the Castro dictatorship's second major historic subsidy ($10 billion per year) is in peril.

And once again, the U.S.'s "purposeful" travel policy is coming to the rescue -- this time, courtesy of President Barack Obama.

According to the Cuban regime's Office of National Statistics and Information (ONEI) -- published by Cafe Fuerte -- between 2006 and 2011, the number of yearly U.S. travelers* to Cuba has increased by 250,000.

*Most of these are travelers taking multiple trips per year pursuant to a policy that eliminated yearly caps.

Meanwhile, during the same period of time -- mostly due to the economic crisis in Europe -- the number of yearly European travelers to Cuba has decreased by nearly 200,000.

Thus, U.S. travelers are now supplanting the deficit left by European travelers.

Following his brother's footsteps, Raul Castro is once again re-shuffling Cuba's totalitarian economy -- not to make substantial and irreversible political and economic reforms -- but to absorb every last penny of incoming hard currency.

And repression?

Remains unchecked -- through the roof -- thanks for asking.

Note to Treasury: Tourism to Cuba is Against U.S. Law

Can someone explain how elitist art patrons -- paying $8,000 per person -- to cruise Cuban ports is not tourism?

Moreover, how this helps "promote the [Cuban people's] independence from the authorities," which is the stated purpose of the Obama Administration's "people-to-people" trips?

Also, since when are foreign cruise ships "authorized Cuba travel providers"?

And whom does this trip benefit?  Other than the Cuban military's Cimex and Cubanacan corporations, which own and operate all of the island's cruise facilities and which, last we checked, were on Treasury's "specially designated nationals" list.

As a reminder, according to Section 910 of the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSREEA):


(1) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of law or regulation, the Secretary of the Treasury, or any other Federal official, may not authorize the travel-related transactions listed in paragraph (c) of section 515.560 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, either by a general license or on a case-by-case basis by a specific license for travel to, from, or within Cuba for tourist activities.

How is this not a tourist activity?

From the Detroit Free Press:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art just posted a trip, “Havana and Beyond Aboard Sea Spirit” on two dates -- April 5-15 and April 15-25 -- that has a twist not seen before in fledgling U.S.-Cuba tourism ventures.

Not only does it provide the “people to people” itinerary allowed by the U.S. government since 2011, it features a small ship cruise. Travelers will board the Sea Spirit in Montego Bay, Jamaica, then sail to various ports in Cuba such as Maria la Gorda, Isla de la Juventud, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba and Havana.

The trip starts at $7,995 per person.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with Richard Blanco, the inaugural poet for U.S. President Barack Obama's second swearing-in ceremony.  He is the fifth poet to read at an inauguration in U.S. history.

Then, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Otto Reich, discusses the latest events in Venezuela and Colombia.

Also, a talk with former U.S. Congresswoman Linda Smith (R-Wash.), who is the founder of Shared Hope International,  a non-profit organization dedicated to the eradication of sex-trafficking.  She is the primary author of "From Congress to the Brothel: A Journey of Hope Healing and Restoration" and co-author of "The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking."

And, The Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Benjamin Weinthal discusses the story of an Egyptian woman, Nadia Mohamed Ali, sentenced with her seven children to 15-years in prison for converting to Christianity.

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).

Why Obama's 'Extended Hand' is Counter-Productive

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Hill:

Why Obama's 'extended hand' is counter-productive
In the 19th century, U.S. abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison astutely observed, “With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.”

Garrison recognized something in the psyche of tyrants that withstands the test of time.

In the last century, Western leaders failed to heed Garrison’s advice and, as a result, opened the flood-gates of two of the greatest tragedies in modern history -- fascism and communism -- at tremendous human cost and suffering:

In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany in hopes of appeasing Adolf Hitler’s aggression. Then in 1945, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chamberlain’s successor, Winston Churchill, conceded to a Soviet Union sphere of political influence in Eastern and Central Europe believing Joseph Stalin could be reasoned with.

At the time Churchill even remarked, "Poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler. He was wrong, but I don't think I'm wrong about Stalin." He lived to regret his serious miscalculation.

Unfortunately, U.S. President Barack Obama began his 21st Century presidency, also failing to heed Garrison’s advice, offering an “extended hand” to the rogue regimes of our time. During his inaugural speech in 2009, Obama famously stated, "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

The results have been counter-productive; the more so because the president prematurely “extends his hand” before tyrants give the slightest indication of “unclenching their fists.”

In Iran, Obama ignored the calls for freedom by the Green Movement in 2009, when thousands risked (and many lost) their lives to protest that country’s brutal regime, and sent a letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seeking to improve relations. The result has been a more belligerent Iran – one intent on fomenting terrorism and building nuclear weapons.

In Syria, the president bet that tyrant Bashar al-Assad was something of a “reformer.”  In 2011, as Syrians in their quest for freedom took to street demonstrations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doubled down on Obama’s bet apparently thinking we could reason with Assad. The result has been 50,000 civilian deaths and a threat to unleash chemical weapons on his own people and, perhaps, even his neighbors.

In Cuba, Obama eased travel and remittance sanctions almost immediately upon taking office as a “good-faith gesture”. The response has been the taking of an American hostage, Alan P. Gross, who recently began his fourth year in one of Castro’s prisons, and the sharpest spike in repression since the 1960’s. Last year alone there were over 6,250 documented political arrests by the Castro regime against peaceful democracy activists.

Finally, in North Korea, Obama continued the path of his predecessor, George W. Bush, in seeking fruitless aid-for-moratorium deals, with the boyish new dictator Kim Jong Un. These were answered with two dangerous rocket launches in 2012 -- a failed one in April and a successful one in December.
Obama is now trying to correct his positions issuing stronger sanctions toward Iran, granting diplomatic recognition of Assad’s opposition and warning North Korea of serious "consequences" if it fires another missile. Not as regards Cuba. Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication, Ben Rhodes, reiterated again this month that Obama is still willing to “extend a hand” to Castro’s brutal regime.

That’s not very strategic.

Why is Obama’s “extended hand” so counter-productive in dealing with these tyrants? Advocates for “normalizing relations” with these regimes can't deny these policies fail, instead they say brutal regimes need an “enemy abroad” to blame for their failures. It is a pompous rationale, which assumes residents of these countries are ignorant or impervious to who is beating, torturing, imprisoning and executing them.

Hint: It is not the United States.

The reason why the “extended hand” policy is so counter-productive is -- as Garrison warned long ago -- tyrants are not reasonable and view an “extended hand” as a sign of weakness and, seeing no risk of consequences, ratchet up their criminal behavior.

Obama understands this in dealing with Al Qaeda, which happens to be his greatest foreign policy success. The President should apply a similar rationale to dealing with the Ahmadinejads, Assads, Castros and Kims of the world.

Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and host of "From Washington al Mundo" on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio. He is an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has served on the full-time faculty of The Catholic University of America's School of Law and adjunct faculty of The George Washington University's National Law Center.

Long-Term Political Imprisonments on the Rise

In 2011, the Castro regime banished most of the 75 political prisoners it had arrested during the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003.

Apologists of the Cuban dictatorship are still heralding this banishment, which in itself was a violation of international law.

Today, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights has released a list of 90 long-term political prisoners being currently held by the Castro regime.

Note that this doesn't include the nearly 7,000 democracy activists that were arrested for shorter-periods throughout 2012.

And these are only the ones that have been thoroughly documented.

Thus, the number of political prisoners in Cuba has actually increased -- despite the banishment -- since 2011.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Does Castro Control Colombia's FARC?

Not even the most purposefully ignorant can today deny that the Castro dictatorship controls Venezuela's government.

In the same vein, does anyone really believe it doesn't also control Colombia's FARC terrorists?

As a reminder, in 2011, the FARC named Timoleon Jimenez, a hardliner known as Timochenko, as its new leader.

Timochenko, who received military and political training in Cuba, has always been considered among the most uncompromising FARC leaders, according to Colombian intelligence services.

Chavez's treatment and the so-called FARC peace negotiations -- both in Havana -- are more than mere coincidences.

They are about power and control by the Castros.

Some habits die hard.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Colombia's FARC Rebels Blow Up Pipeline

Colombia's largest rebel insurgency blew up an oil pipeline in the south of the country, an attack that underscored the end Sunday of a two-month unilateral cease-fire declared by the guerrilla group during peace talks with the government that could end five decades of bloody conflict.

An official with state-run oil firm Ecopetrol SA said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the Spanish acronym FARC, were likely behind the attack against the Transandino pipeline, which can transport 46,000 barrels a day and is located in the southern province of Putumayo.

The bombing against the pipeline, which took place Sunday evening, is an opening salvo that marks the end of two months of relatively few military actions by the FARC. The guerrilla group declared a unilateral cease-fire in November during peace negotiations with the government that are taking place in Cuba.

The government has been girding for what it says could be a wave of attacks by the guerrillas designed to strengthen their position in the negotiation table now that the cease-fire is over. Attacks against the country's shaky oil-transportation infrastructure can be especially damaging to the Colombian economy, which relies heavily on oil exports.

A surge in bombings against oil pipelines is one of the main reasons for why the country's oil production slowed in 2012 and was unable to keep up with the double-digit growth seen in previous years.

Castro's Golden Goose Not Going Quietly

Monday, January 21, 2013
By Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post:

Chavez is not going quietly
Imagine that Barack Obama failed to appear for his swearing-in Monday — and had not been seen or heard from in a month. Imagine that Vice President Biden informed the nation that Obama, though sequestered in a foreign hospital, would remain president and would be sworn in at some unspecified date. Suppose that requests by Republicans for information on the president’s condition were rejected, even as Biden and leading Democrats huddled with foreign leaders to discuss a possible transition.

It’s impossible to imagine a political situation so lawless, scary and downright surreal — unless you are a citizen of Venezuela, where the apparent death throes of Hugo Chavez are unlike anything that even the continent of magical realism has ever seen before. Monday marks the 42nd day since Chavez departed for Cuba, saying he was to undergo new surgery for the cancer he has battled for more than 18 months; it will be the 11th day since his presidential term expired and he failed to appear for the inauguration of a new one.

During that time Venezuelans have heard and read no words and seen no photographs of their ruler — not even a tweet. But his closest aides have been regularly trooping to Havana for meetings with Raul and Fidel Castro, who are openly steering Venezuela’s crisis. Last week Chavez’s vice president, Nicolas Maduro, produced what he said was a Chavez-signed decree appointing a new foreign minister, prompting a furious debate about whether the purported signature — the closest thing to a Chavez sign of life since Dec. 10 — was authentic.

All this would be more amusing if the stakes were not so high. The demise of Chavez — if that is what is to happen — could open the way to epochal change in a region that for a decade has been divided, and sometimes polarized, between rapidly growing and modernizing democracies such as Mexico, Chile and Brazil and a bloc of authoritarian-minded, anti-American, populist throwbacks led by Venezuela. To be sure, the modernizers won the ideological battle long ago — Chavez’s popularity ratings among Latin Americans are lower than any leader in the hemisphere other than Fidel Castro.

But thanks to Venezuela’s oil wealth, Chavez has managed to hold together a bloc that includes Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and, to a lesser degree, Argentina. Their leaders have followed his lead in entrenching themselves in power, persecuting opponents and forging alliances with Iran. They are well compensated for their trouble: Daniel Ortega receives and personally disposes of $500 million a year from Chavez, an amount equal to 7 percent of Nicaragua’s gross domestic product. Then there is Cuba: Chavez supplies the Castros with 100,000 barrels of oil a day and a total subsidy worth more than 5 percent of Cuba’s GDP. Without that lucre, the communist regime might finally collapse.

No wonder the Castros are doing their best to keep their golden goose alive — and to try and install another when he goes. Chavez’s last public act was to name as his successor Maduro, who has been a Cuban protege since his post-high-school days. If the regime has ignored the Venezuelan constitution, which calls for the National Assembly president to take over when the president is incapacitated, it’s because that would promote an alternative: Diosdado Cabello, who is closer to the Venezuelan military than to Havana.

The likely Cuban strategy is to wait for Chavez’s death, then hope that Maduro can, by hook or crook, win the snap presidential election required by the constitution. It’s a slightly dangerous strategy: Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who won 45 percent of the vote in October’s presidential election, has polled higher than Maduro in the past. But Brazil and the United States have warned the regime against trying to avoid an election, and Maduro will be able to count on Chavez sympathy votes immediately after his death.

The Obama administration appears to have joined much of the region in betting that Chavez’s regime will outlive him. Senior State Department officials already have been in touch with Maduro to discuss ways to improve relations. When Panama’s representative to the Organization of American States used a plenary session last week to denounce the manipulations that have kept Chavez in office, U.S. Ambassador Carmen Lomellin replied that the United States would not interpret the Venezuelan constitution.

An opposition upset might cause upheaval in Cuba, and the dissolution of the populist bloc. But it might not save Venezuela from chaos. Whoever succeeds Chavez will be cursed by his 13-year legacy: a 50 percent drop in the oil exports that supply 94 percent of Venezuela’s foreign earnings; severe shortages of consumer goods; inflation that has reached an annual rate of 48 percent; a quintupling of murders that has made Venezuela more dangerous than Iraq; and hemorrhaging foreign reserves that will soon force a painful currency devaluation.

Tragically, Chavez may be dying just in time to shift the blame for these disasters onto his successors — and ensure that he, like Argentina’s Juan Peron, haunts his country long after his demise.

A Powerful and Important Statement

A powerful and important statement by U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who as vice-chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, spoke at today's ceremony:

Today we praise the American tradition of transferring or reaffirming immense power as we inaugurate the President of the United States.

We do this in a peaceful, orderly way.

There is no mob, no coup, no insurrection.

This is a moment when millions stop and watch.

A moment most of us always will remember.

A moment that is the most conspicuous and enduring symbol of our democracy.

How remarkable that this has survived for so long in such a complex country with so much power at stake—this freedom to vote for our leaders and the restraint to respect the results.

Last year, a tour guide at Mt. Vernon told me that our first president, George Washington, posed this question: ‘What is most important of this grand experiment, the United States?’

And then Washington gave this answer: ‘Not the election of the first president, but the election of its second president. The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world.’

Today we celebrate, because this is the 57th inauguration of the American President.

Find the Good and Praise It."

Quote of the Inauguration

We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.
-- U.S. President Barack Obama, second inauguration address, 1/21/13

May Democracy and Civil Rights Prevail

Today, Americans celebrate the peaceful and democratic swearing-in of U.S. President Barack Obama, our nation's first African-American President, for a second term.

We also celebrate the memory and legacy of our nation's great civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Honoring these rich traditions -- as Americans of Cuban descent -- let us also take a minute to remember some of the victims of tyranny just 90-miles away.

In particular, we remember Sonia Garro, an Afro-Cuban member of The Ladies in White pro-democracy movement, who 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.

Garro's husband, Ramón Muñoz González, was also imprisoned on that day.

We pray for a Cuba in which democracy and civil rights can one day prevail.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

-- Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929-1968)

The Ladies in White: Belted, Threatened to Death and Arrested

Every Sunday, The Ladies in White, a pro-democracy organization composed of the female relatives of current and former political prisoners, attempt to attend Mass as a group.

And every Sunday, they they are brutalized by the Castro regime's secret police for attempting to do so.

Today, over 35 of the Ladies in White were intercepted, beaten with belts, threatened to death by agents aiming guns at them and temporarily arrested.

The leader of The Ladies in White, Berta Soler, has correctly denounced this as "state terrorism." 

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for the latest on the conflict in Mali and the hostage crisis in Algeria with Sudarsan Raghavan, Africa bureau chief for The Washington Post.

Then, The Heritage Foundation's Brian Riley will discuss The Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation's new 2013 World Index of Economic Freedom.

Also, The Honorable Sophie in 't Veld, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of its Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, on the European Court of Human Rights' recent ruling on religious and gay rights.

And, Eran Shayson of The Reut Institute will discuss tomorrow's general election in Israel.

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).