An Act of Terrorism

Saturday, February 23, 2013
Seventeen-years later -- justice awaits.

From the final judgment by Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence King in the civil lawsuit against the Castro regime and the Cuban Air Force (FAR):

The government of Cuba, on February 24th 1996, in outrageous contempt for international law and basic human rights, murdered four human beings in international airspace over the Florida Straits. The victims were Brothers to the Rescue pilots, flying two civilian unarmed planes on a routine humanitarian mission, searching for rafters in the waters between Cuba and the Florida Keys.

As the civilian planes flew over international waters, a Russian built MiG 29 of the Cuban Air Force, without warning, reason, or provocation blasted the defenseless planes out of the sky with sophisticated air-to-air missiles in two separate attacks. The pilots and their aircraft disintegrated in the mid-air explosions following the impact of the missiles. The destruction was so complete that the four bodies were never recovered.


As regards the criminal case:

In August 2003, a federal grand jury returned the indictment against General Ruben Martinez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez. The defendants were charged with four counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and two counts of destruction of aircraft.

And Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro admitting they gave the order:

AI on Cuba’s Repressive Legal Framework

From Amnesty International's periodic review, which was released last week:

Promotion and protection of human rights

With respect to advancing the promotion and protection of human rights, Amnesty International notes that Cuba’s repressive legal framework - limiting the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement - remains unchanged.

Cuba has also yet to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which Cuba signed in February 2008. At the time of the Human Rights Council’s adoption of the outcome of Cuba’s first review, Cuba noted that it needed sufficient time to assess the provisions of the Covenants and its own political and judicial system to ensure their compatibility.

In practice, Amnesty International has noted that respect for fundamental human rights has not progressed in Cuba since its first review. In fact, during this period, repression of the peaceful exercise of civil and political rights has increased. Independent journalists, human rights activists and political opponents have often been harassed by state security services, and some have been detained and sentenced. Moreover, there has been a steady increase in the number of arbitrary detentions since 2009.

Cooperation with UN special procedures and treaty bodies

Regarding the recommendation supported by Cuba to strengthen its cooperation with UN Special Procedures and treaty bodies, Amnesty International acknowledges Cuba’s efforts to submit periodic reports to the treaty bodies.

However, Cuba has shown no commitment to working with UN Special Procedures; a visit of the Special Rapporteur on torture was agreed in 2009, but has not yet gone ahead. So far, Cuba has failed to issue an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and assembly, who requested to visit in 2003 and again in 2011, or to the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, who requested to visit in 2006.

Application of the standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners

Amnesty International receives regular reports that could indicate a breach of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, including ill-treatment of common and political prisoners. The organization has concerns based on interviews with former prisoners of conscience who were released between 2009 and 2011; however, it is unable to verify the validity of current reports first hand. For this reason, Amnesty International believes that it is paramount that Cuba allows the Special Rapporteur on torture to visit the country and have unrestricted access to the prison population.

Pro-Castro Group Takes Aim at Menendez

Friday, February 22, 2013
This morning, journalist Tracey Eaton wrote a post in his blog, Along the Malecon, about Dr. Salomon Melgen and the Federal Aviation Administration.

It was clearly an indirect hit-piece on U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

There was no mention of Cuba or Cuba policy, which is the focus of Eaton's blog.

Eaton is a generally thoughtful person.  He's done some great interviews with Cuban pro-democracy activists on and off the island. However, his main focus (or target) are democracy programs, which he feels are secretive and he's strongly opposed to.

We disagree, but fair enough. Yet, today's post seemed out of his usual context.

Then, a few hours later, the weekly "news blast" from The Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) came out.

Curiously, in a week full of interesting Cuba news -- Senator Leahy's delegation in Havana (and an Iranian one), blogger Yoani Sanchez's trip to Brazil, human rights activist Rosa Maria Paya's speech in Geneva, the state-sponsors of terrorism debate -- it was focused on Dr. Melgen and the FAA (FAA).

And then, the kicker:  "In 'Doctor now flying under the radar,' Tracey Eaton, an investigative reporter with whom our organization is working, has posted a detailed piece about Dr. Melgen..."

The Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) is a Washington, D.C.-based group, with "unique" access to Castro regime officials, which hosts trips to Cuba for Members of Congress and their staff. They also serve as a public relations tool for the Cuban dictatorship, whether in leading effort to release the so-called "Cuban Five," to unconditionally normalization relations, to sweeping human rights abuses under the rug.

By the way, we don't use the "pro-Castro" label loosely -- here's CDA's Assistant Director lauding Fidel Castro "as an inspiration for developing countries," praising Che Guevara as "Latin America's greatest 20th century hero," validating Castro's "elections," explaining how to "revitalize" socialism in Cuba and inviting everyone to join the "Bolivarian Revolution."

They are now obviously targeting Senator Menendez, who is a strong opponent of Castro's dictatorship.

Now back to Tracey.

Why not disclose to your readers that you are working with this pro-Castro group on Menendez hit pieces?

You don't have to.  After all, it's a free country and -- as a private citizen -- you can write, disclose or not disclose, whatever you'd like.

But then spare us the sanctimony.

UPDATE: Tracey Easton has posted a clarification here.

Paya's Widow Receives Death Threat

Ofelia Paya, the widow of Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya, who died in mysterious car crash last year, is having her life threatened by the Castro regime's secret police.

According to her daughter, Rosa Maria, who was in Geneva earlier this week denouncing the human rights violations of the Castro regime:

Tweet of the Week

By famed Brazilian author Paulo Coelho:

Prominent Dissidents Differ From Yoani on Sanctions

Thursday, February 21, 2013
In an interview today from Havana, two prominent Cuban pro-democracy leaders -- and former political prisoners -- differed from renowned blogger Yoani Sanchez, who they respect and consider a friend, in her critique of U.S. sanctions toward Cuba.

Hector Palacios, who has previously supported easing some purposeful travel and remittance sanctions, urged caution:
I think the first reform that any Cuban who leaves the island should ask the world is to demand that the Cuban government recognizes the opposition.  If the Cuban opposition is not recognized, there can't be a dialogue, so there's no use in talking about lifting the embargo. [Yoani] would need to have spent some time in political prison to understand that it would be of no use for the U.S. to lift its embargo toward the Cuban government, unless beforehand, the regime lifts its embargo toward the Cuban people.  
And Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who has consistently opposed unilaterally lifting any sanctions toward the Cuban regime stated:
The lifting of the embargo would only benefit the dictatorship -- it would strengthen it.  During the Soviet years, the Cuban government received between $5-6 billion per year, while Cubans still lived in misery.  It is not due to stubbornness [that I've reached this conclusion], but because my life experience has demonstrated to me that is the case.

Council of the Americas Inconvenienced by the Rule of Law

Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama stated in an interview with New Republic:

"I continue to believe that whenever we can codify something through legislation, it is on firmer ground. It's not going to be reversed by a future president. It is something that will be long lasting and sturdier and more stable."

President Obama is right.

It is for this reason that -- in 1996 and 2000 -- the U.S. Congress codified clear conditions on human rights, democratic reform and the dismantling of the Castro regime's repressive apparatus before any trade and travel sanctions can be lifted.

The Council of the Americas' "Cuba Working Group" disagrees.

In a "white-paper" this week, the Council of the Americas urges the President to disregard codification and unilaterally change U.S. law.

According to its author,"[O]ur hands are tied by an antiquated law that’s being too strictly interpreted."

Wonder if he feels the same way about the U.S. Constitution?

Since 1996, State, Treasury and Congressional lawyers have all agreed on the codification of U.S. sanctions and the explicit limits placed on the Executive Branch's authority to suspend or terminate it without Congressional approval.

Why? Because the codification language is very clear.

Moreover, if any doubts remain, there is a pesky bit of American jurisprudence called legislative intent to confirm it.

(For non-lawyers, legislative intent is the design, plan or purpose that the legislature had in drafting, and enacting a particular statute.)

It states:

"It is the intent of the committee of conference that all economic sanctions in force on March 1, 1996, shall remain in effect until they are either suspended or terminated pursuant to the authorities provided in section 204 of this Act (requiring a Presidential determination that a democratic transition is under way in Cuba)."

And what are these sanctions?

"The committee of conference modified the definition of 'economic embargo of Cuba' to include all statutes or regulations relating to trade, travel, and transactions involving Cuban assets imposed under section 620(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, section 5(b) of the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, section 902(c) of the Food Security Act of 1985, or any other provision of law. It is the intent of the committee that this definition be interpreted broadly, in part, in order to ensure that the suspension or termination of any economic sanctions on Cuba be pursuant only to the authority granted in section 204 of this Act."

And if you still have some doubt, ask the original conferees of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, who are still in Congress today -- namely, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), U.S. Rep Peter King (R-NY) and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

Not so, says the Council of the Americas.

Thus, their crackpot team of unnamed lawyers have assembled a whole new interpretation (17-years later) that incredulously gives the President the authority to create new travel categories and commercial exceptions -- thereby terminating existing prohibitions.

As a reminder to these legal phenoms, the last travel and commercial exception created (post-codification) was in 2000, when agriculture and medicine sales (and travel related to these sales) were authorized.

This was done through an Act of Congress -- the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSREEA). 

Why?

Because codification required it.

President Bill Clinton would have liked to do it himself at the time, but he did not have the legal authority to do so.

Bottom line: If the Council of the Americas or anyone else wants to change U.S. law, then persuade Congress to do so.

It's that simple.

We live in an open and democratic system that grants us that right.

But apparently that's too burdensome for them, as it requires too much discourse, debate and hard-work.

So instead -- why not just ask the President to twist and bend the law? 

That's something more worthy of a Chavez, Correa or Morales.

Whatever happened to the Council of the Americas "commitment" to the rule of law in the Western Hemisphere?

Is that also open to a new interpretation?

It seems that in the Council of the Americas' zealousness to change U.S. policy toward Cuba -- recall its founder David Rockefeller has wined and dined Cuban dictator Fidel Castro -- it has sadly lost its way.

WH: No Cuba Policy Changes Under Consideration

From today's White House Press Briefing with Jay Carney:

Q. Jay, the Boston Globe had a story today that the State Department is considering taking -- reviewing whether or not Cuba should be on the terror list.  What’s the White House’s discussions on that?

MR. CARNEY:  We have no changes in our approach or policy to Cuba to announce or under consideration that I’m aware of.

Q . Are you saying, then, that there’s not consideration of --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, not that I’m aware of.

Q . -- of taking Cuba off of the terrorism list?

MR. CARNEY:  That’s right.  I’m not aware of any.

Q . Has the White House or NSC?

MR. CARNEY:  Correct.

Q.  Okay.  And have you had any conversations with Senator Leahy, who’s been down in Cuba, and his delegation had met with the detained American, Alan Gross?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t know that -- I certainly haven’t and I don’t know if anybody in the administration has.  The President, as you know, has followed Mr. Gross’s case with concern and urges his release.  The Cuban government should release Alan Gross and return him to his family where he belongs.

Mr. Gross is in his fourth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba.  He was arrested on December 3, 2009, and later given a 15-year prison sentence by Cuban authorities for simply facilitating communications between Cuba’s Jewish community and the rest of the world.

Mr. Gross is a 63-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in more than 50 countries.  Again, we call on the Cuban government to release Mr. Gross.

State: No Current Plans to Remove Cuba From Terrorism List‏

From today's State Department Daily Press Briefing with Spokesperson Victoria Nuland:

QUESTION: There are reports today that Secretary Kerry is in discussions on possibly removing Cuba from the state sponsor terror list. Can you comment on that?

MS. NULAND: I saw that report. Let me say firmly here it is incorrect. This Department has no current plans to remove Cuba from the state sponsor of terrorism list.

QUESTION: And why not?

MS. NULAND: We review this every year, and at the current moment we – when the last review was done in 2012, we didn’t see cause to remove them. We’ll obviously look at it again this year, but as I said, we don’t have any plans at the moment.

QUESTION: Sorry, really quick, can you just give a little bit more of an explanation of what exactly are the – what makes a country – I mean, what are the specifications for a country being on the state sponsor of terror?

MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve talked about this before here. There’s a limit to what I can get into because it takes me into intelligence. But we do – we are required to look at these lists every year and to judge countries individually against the standards in the legislation. And we did that in 2012. We’ll obviously have to do it again in 2013.

Another "Quid Pro Nihilo" For Castro?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013
If a report in The Boston Globe is true, the Obama Administration is preparing another "quid pro nihilo" ("something for nothing")  to reward the Castro regime's criminal behavior.

The Obama Administration's response to the hostage taking of American development worker, Alan Gross, in December 2009 has been high-level negotiations -- first a trip by then Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson -- and then a unilateral easing of travel sanctions in January 2011.

More than three years later, Alan Gross remains in a Cuban prison.

Yet, according to The Boston Globe, the Obama Administration is now considering removing Cuba's designation as a "state-sponsor of terrorism."

That would be another major unilateral concession for the Castro regime, which in addition to holding an American hostage, has also dramatically increased its repression against Cuban democracy activists.

Of course, much of the information in The Boston Globe's story comes from Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA),  whose name was infamously found all over FARC terrorist computers by the Colombian government -- so he's not the best judge of what entails terrorism.

And note that the State Department's unnamed "source" covers his/her rear by stating:

"US officials emphasized that there has not been a formal assessment concluding that Cuba should be removed from the terrorism list and said serious obstacles remain to a better relationship, especially the imprisonment of Gross."

Such a unilateral concession would be scandalous.

Ironically, the comparison being given for taking Cuba off the "state-sponsor of terrorism" list is the Bush Administration's mistake of delisting North Korea in 2008.

Because apparently that has worked wonders in tempering the North Korean regime's criminal behavior.

Yoani is Not Infallible

Yoani Sanchez is a talented and courageous democracy activist and journalist.

Her compelling critiques of the Castro dictatorship have even awakened the most virulent anti-American left to consider Cuba's tragic reality.

That is great news for the cause of freedom.

Yoani deserves our respect and admiration.

However, her words are her testimony -- a powerful one at that.  

They are neither scripture nor heresy.

As Professor Andy Gomez of The University of Miami said in today's Miami Herald, "She’s not a politician; she’s not an academic; she’s not a public figure by design and people abroad have made her into a public figure. She’s one of the many — many dissidents on the island. I hope she doesn't burn out."

Of course, opponents of U.S. policy towards Cuba -- both the well-intentioned and the Castro apologists -- are (once again) trying to use her opposition to sanctions to further their agenda.

They did the same thing in 2010 when Congress was considering legislation to ease travel and agricultural financing sanctions toward Cuba (the "Peterson-Berman bill").

At the time, they procured a letter from Yoani and 73 other dissidents opposing sanctions.

This letter was countered by another one signed by nearly 500 dissidents on the island supporting sanctions.

That didn't turn Yoani and the 500 dissidents that publicly disagreed with her into foes. To the contrary, when Yoani has been in trouble, they have sought to help her -- and vice-versa.

That's democracy in a bubble. It's a respectful disagreement among colleagues.

Today, in Brazil, Yoani extended a flawed rationale for lifting sanctions -- that it gets rid of an "excuse" for Castro -- to releasing five Cuban agents serving time in U.S. federal prison for conspiracy to commit murder and espionage.  She was also cornered into advocating for the closing of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo.

Policy-making is not about getting rid of "excuses" for tyrants, for they will simply come up with another one.  Moreover, such decisions have serious implications and deserve more than a frivolous rationale.

Yoani's comment regarding the five Cuban spies was particularly ill-timed, as February 24th is the 17th anniversary of the shoot-down of two civilian planes by Castro's MIGs, which pulverized four young pilots. Some of the convicted spies were implicated in these murders.

As a mother herself, Yoani should know better. The mothers of those four young pilots lost their sons forever.

Perhaps Yoani will reconsider. Give her some time. She's not infallible.

UPDATE:  In a message to The Miami Herald, Yoani has just written, "At no time in Brazil did I ask for the liberation of the five members of (Castro's) Ministry of the Interior. I was using irony to make the point that if they were freed, then Cuba would save the millions it wastes on [the "Free the Five"] campaign that's been ongoing for fifteen years. If my irony didn't work, if my nervousness or my terms didn't make the message clear, please forgive me. My position remains that they are not innocent. Hugs from Sao Paulo, Yoani Sanchez."

Kudos.

A Third Paya Confidant Killed in a Car Crash

Antonio Rodriguez, a leader of Cuba's opposition Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) and confidant of its deceased leader Oswaldo Paya, was killed in a mysterious car crash yesterday.

Traveling with him were two Jesuit priests, who survived the crash and are currently in stable condition.

Last year, Oswaldo Paya, founder of the MCL, and activist Harold Cepero, were also killed in a mysterious car crash.

As Paya's daughter denounced yesterday in Geneva:

"My dear father, Oswaldo Payá, and my young friend Harold Cepero gave their lives fighting peacefully against "Fraudulent Change" and for the freedom of all Cubans.  My family, the MCL and many people do not believe that their deaths were accidental.  My father received many death threats during his life, which increased in the last months of his life.  We received a mobile text message from Madrid that told us that his car was hit by another car.  And much of the information suggests that their deaths were provoked intentionally.  We are asking for your support of our request for an international investigation into their deaths."

As the old saying goes, "Two is a coincidence. Three is a trend."

Rest in Peace.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on drones with John McLaughlin, former Acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Then, a look at the upcoming Italian elections with the Christian Science Monitor's Nathan Gardels.

Dr. Hubertus Hoffman, author of "The Keeper of the Holy Flame: The Legacy of Pentagon Strategist and Mentor Dr. Fritz Kraemer," on his latest book.

And Birgitta Jonsdottir, Member of the Icelandic Parliament, on the Nordic country's proposal to ban Internet pornography.

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).

Leahy Leaves Cuba "Empty-Handed"

Reuters' headline speaks for itself:

"U.S. congressional delegation leaves Cuba empty-handed"

Not really though.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and his snowbird colleagues escaped the cold, got to have some fancy meals in the regime's finest restaurants and gave General Raul Castro another great photo-op (below).

Sure sounds a lot like Senator Leahy's February 2012 pilgrimage to Havana.

Here's the full story:

A U.S. congressional delegation left Cuba on Wednesday after meetings with President Raul Castro and other top officials, but no sign the countries had resolved their latest dispute: the fate of imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross.

Delegation members and their staff said they were encouraged by the relaxed tone of their meetings and indications the Cuban side wanted the dialogue to continue.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont canceled a news conference scheduled for Wednesday morning before taking a stroll with his wife in downtown Havana then leaving for Haiti.

"We met with President Raul Castro and discussed the continuing obstacles and the need to improve relations between our two countries," he said in a brief statement.

What the Leahy Delegation Chooses to Ignore

Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Today, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) met -- once again -- with Cuban dictator Raul Castro.  

First by himself.  Then, with the rest of the Congressional delegation joining him.

The meeting was encapsulated in a press release by the Castro regime, which aimed to show how these American visitors went to Cuba to pay him homage and to unconditionally improve relations with his dictatorship.

Ironically, also today, Cuban pro-democracy leader Antonio Rodiles and the Estado de Sats civil society project released an analysis of the human rights situation in Cuba during the last five years.

(Of course, the Leahy delegation has no made time to meet with Rodiles, The Ladies in White or any other courageous pro-democracy activist on the island.)

Thus, the following paragraph in Estado de Sats's analysis couldn't be more timely and appropriate:

"It is incomprehensible how democratic governments can embrace a totalitarian regime principally responsible for the disaster that our nation is living. The Cuban people have the right to live -- to live and to feel proud about their homeland. Why not listen to them? Why allow the repression and national ruin caused by this regime to be covered by a cloak of absurd and outdated rhetoric?"

Fancy Lunch for Leahy Delegation

According to AP:

[U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy] and other members of the delegation were seen entering an upscale restaurant in Old Havana along with [Cuban] Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Tuesday.

How much do you want to bet that one of the delegation members will come back and discuss how they dined at a "private" restaurant to showcase Raul's "reforms"?

What they won't tell you is that the restaurant is likely owned by a regime official, particularly in Old Havana, where every enterprise must be personally "approved" by Castro bagman, Eusebio Leal.

Must-Read: Speech by Oswaldo Paya's Daughter

Remarks today by Rosa Maria Paya at the 5th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy:

My country is in a deteriorated and unstable situation. My people have suffered the lack of human rights for many decades already. My family has been directly affected and attacked; I think is time to stop. It is time to change and an every day there is a growing group of Cubans working to make change a reality.

At the same time, the Cuban government has developed a series of legal reforms and public messages designed to preserve its power and authority.  These reforms do not guarantee citizen's rights.  Thus, this is "Fraudulent Change."

I want to be clear about something: the lack of human rights is the principle reason for the suffering, poverty and social problems of our people. Cubans, like all human beings, need to be free to be prosperous. Europe is the proof that a country doesn't have to choose between being economically successful or being a state of rights. And Cuba is neither of the two things.

In 2007, my father and the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL, in Spanish) delivered a legal initiative called the Heredia Project to the National Assembly (the Cuban Parliament).  This project, as well as the Varela Project (which is supported by more than 25,000 citizens), calls for fundamental rights that are grounded in a few articles of the Cuban Constitution, but are violated in law and practice.

Now, The Christian Liberation Movement which is our movement, as well as other organizations in the opposition, are collecting signatures in support of the Heredia Project's call for legal changes.  Coincidentally, some of the reforms which the government promotes are precisely in some of the areas in which the Heredia Project has called for reform. In each case, the new laws, far from giving power to the people, have been designed so that the government retains the last word.  These laws, not only confirm the government's control, they also maintain the discrimination against the Cuban citizens.

For instance, the reform of the immigration laws eliminated the exit permit (permiso de salida), but added a list of requirements to receive the actualized passport.  The government continues deciding who may enter or leave the island.  So it is a procedural change and not an actual recognition of the right to travel that all people have because of their human condition. And this is just one representative example. This time, I could get out, but other Cubans couldn’t and still can’t.

The Heredia Project has hundreds of activists in different provinces of the country and from different organizations of the opposition.  It forms part of the Path of the People, which is a proposal that is welcomed and supported by the majority of the Cuban democratic movement.  The Path of the People demands fundamental rights which the Cuban people lack and suggests steps to obtain them.  It also expresses the fact that the opposition in Cuba is united in its objectives.

As the vision of the Path of the People states: “it is only up to us Cubans to define and decide what changes our society needs and to accomplish our national project.” As my father said: Nobody, not a state, nor a market, could take precedence over the freedom of a person and the decisions of a people.

We don´t want and we don’t need to depend on anybody.  Not on Venezuela, not on the United States.  What we need is to be free.

Free to dream, free to decide, free to love, free to make, free to build with our imaginations and our efforts the society that we, the Cuban people, choose.

The Path of the People also says: Yet, for our citizens to truly design, decide and build their future, their rights must be guaranteed by law and a trustful and respectful environment must be attained. Only by doing so, will we engage in a genuine national dialogue and launch an inclusive process of legal reform to preserve the advances that the people have achieved and to exercise the people’s sovereign right to change that which the people decide to change.

So, our demand is for the right of all Cubans to exercise their fundamental rights and to have free elections.  We need political support for these and the other demands which are contained in the Path of the People and this is the support that we expect from all of you.

Otherwise, the Cuban Government will continue to increase its repression against political activists. The leaders of the Heredia Project in the whole country are always under the watch and oppression of State Security. Other opposition groups and independent journalists are also suffering the government's hostility. The Cuban Democratic Movement is entirely peaceful and it is being confronted by force and in many cases with violence.

As my father said: The heroic Cuban civic fighters, the citizens who signed the Varela Project, are not carrying arms. We do not have a single weapon. We are holding out both arms, offering our hands to all Cubans, as brothers, and to all the peoples of the world. The first victory we can claim is that we do not have hate in our hearts. We therefore say to those who persecute and try to dominate us: you are my brother, I do not hate you, but you are no longer going to dominate me through fear, I do not want to impose my truth, and I do not want you to impose yours, let us seek the truth together.

My dear father, Oswaldo Payá, and my young friend Harold Cepero gave their lives fighting peacefully against "Fraudulent Change" and for the freedom of all Cubans.  My family, the MCL and many people do not believe that their deaths were accidental.  My father received many death threats during his life, which increased in the last months of his life.  We received a mobile text message from Madrid that told us that his car was hit by another car.  And much of the information suggests that their deaths were provoked intentionally.  We are asking for your support of our request for an international investigation into their deaths.

I have fear, but my fear will not dominate me and I trust and know that more Cubans feel the same way. We have a path, so we have a hope.

U.S. and Iranian Delegations in Havana Today

A high-level Iranian delegation has arrived in Havana today to meet with Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

Considering the make-up of the Iranian delegation, it looks like some money-laundering is in the works. 

Meanwhile, a U.S. Congressional delegation led by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) is also in Havana today to meet with Cuban dictator Raul Castro. 

Guess who the joke is on?

From Iran's state media:

Iranian Vice-President for International Affairs Ali Saeedlou left Tehran for Havana on Tuesday in a bid to discuss expansion of bilateral ties with Cuban officials.

Saeedlou, heading a high-ranking delegation, is slated to meet Cuban President Raul Castro and other senior officials to discuss the issues of mutual interest and follow up on the economic projects and deals signed by the two countries' presidents. 

Several Iranian deputy ministers and bank managers are accompanying Saeedlou during his visit to Cuba.

From NK to Cuba: How to Embolden Tyrants

Last week, it was revealed that senior U.S. administration officials traveled to North Korea in 2012 to hold secret talks with the new regime of Kim Jung Un.

Apparently, they thought young Kim was a "reformer" and wanted to engage him in negotiations.

The result?

Long-range missile launches and North Korea's third nuclear test.  Not to mention unchanged brutality and repression.

Now, we have a U.S. Congressional delegation in Cuba -- led by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) -- looking to do the same with Raul Castro.

Of course, a Congressional delegation is different from an Administration delegation, for it's not necessarily empowered with negotiation authority (per se).

But the result is the same.

It emboldens the criminal behavior of these tyrants.

Want to "pressure" the Castro regime to release American hostage Alan Gross?

Then just cut off the non-essential travel spigot.

Yes, some "people-to-people" travelers would have to miss their salsa lessons and mojito binges -- but it would be worth it.

Senator Leahy's Winter Pilgrimage to Havana

Monday, February 18, 2013
After a visit to Havana in February of last year, which accomplished absolutely nothing (other than a great photo-op for General Raul Castro), U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) is back in Cuba today. 

This time, he's accompanied by the leading Republican advocate for unconditionally embracing the brutal Castro dictatorship, U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

Also joining Leahy are snowbird Senators Sherrod Brown from Ohio, Debbie Stabenow from Michigan and Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, as well as the FARC's favorite Congressman Jim McGovern from Massachusetts and Chris Van Hollen from Maryland.

Once again, they'll do the same thing Leahy, Flake and McGovern have done on multiple other visits:

They'll meet with Cuba's repressors -- through which they legitimize and further embolden their beatings, kidnappings, torture, hostage-takings and murders -- then take another picture.

All while accomplishing absolutely nothing for the Cuban people.

But at least its warmer than in Vermont, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island or Washington, D.C.

Yoani Ready for "Information War"

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Free to embrace ‘shower of democracy’

OUR OPINION: Cuba’s most famous blogger, Yoani Sánchez, arrived in Brazil ready for ‘information war’

After 20 unsuccessful tries in five years, Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s most famous blogger, is free.

She is among the first opposition journalists to be approved for travel under Raúl Castro’s new rules that eliminated the exit permit, which until last month had been required of all Cuban citizens by Fidel Castro’s revolution for five decades. Of course, Cuban authorities aren’t giving the green light to all Cubans. The dictatorship can still nix travel plans for certain Cubans, such as doctors, claiming it’s a matter of “national security.”

Indeed, several other Cuban dissidents and opposition leaders have not been allowed to travel outside Cuba. But Ms. Sánchez’s international acclaim — she has won various prestigious awards for her blog posts about life in Cuba, including named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2008 — made it tough for Cuban officials to turn down her request to travel. It would have once again exposed the blunt fine print in Cuba’s so-called liberalized travel rules.

So now Ms. Sánchez has a three-month permit to travel. For the first time, she will be able to post her blog without having to send it surreptitiously to friends abroad for posting to bypass the Cuban government’s censors. On arrival in Brazil, she was embraced by supporters and predictably blasted by pro-Castro leftist protesters.

No matter. Ms. Sánchez, who lived for a short time in Switzerland in 2002 where she learned computer science before returning to Cuba to find she couldn’t leave again, sent out a tweet Monday after arriving in the northeastern city of Recife and later Salvador, Brazil:

“At the arrival many friends were welcoming me and other people yelling insults. I wish it would be the same in Cuba. Long live freedom!” she told her 409,000-plus followers on Twitter. (The irony is not lost that her followers are abroad because Cuba blocks her posts so that Cubans cannot see them.)

She called the protests, which some Brazilian newspaper reports say are being coordinated with the Cuban regime, “a shower of democracy and pluralism,” once again focusing on what makes a nation free: the power of the individual to protest.

“The Recife airport was a place for embraces,” she wrote on Twitter. “There were flowers, gifts and even a group of people insulting me which, I confess, I really enjoyed, because it allowed me to say that I dream that ‘one day people in my country will be able to express themselves against something publicly like this, without reprisals.’

“Later I also looked at an Internet so fast I could barely understand it, without censored pages and without officials looking over my shoulder at the pages I visit.”

There will be many stops ahead for the 37-year-old activist-writer who has made her Generation Y blog an international phenomenon. From the Czech Republic and Spain to Mexico and Peru, with New York and Florida on the itinerary, too, Ms. Sánchez is well-prepared for the protesters trying to defame her by suggesting she is “financed by the CIA.”

Asked about copies of U.S. dollar bills thrown at her by protesters and their cries of alleged CIA links — all coordinated by Cuban diplomats, according to a story published by Brazil’s influential magazine, Veja — Ms. Sánchez took it in with her usual calm.

“That doesn’t surprise me, it’s part of an information war,” she said.

Cuba’s most famous blogger knows of what she speaks.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with Steve Finch, The Diplomat's Asia correspondent, on the widespread crackdown on dissent in Vietnam.

Then, Victor Gaetan, The National Catholic Register's international correspondent, on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

Kate Brannen, Politico's Defense reporter, on President Obama's announced plan to withdraw 34,000 troops from Afghanistan this year.

And Ivan Osorio, The Competitive Enterprise Institute's editorial director, on the prospects for a United States-European Union free trade agreement.

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).

Quote of the Month

Unfortunately, in Cuba you are punished for thinking differently. Opinions against the government have terrible consequences, arbitrary arrests, surveillance... There is a difference between the reforms we dream of and the reforms that are being carried out. We dream of freedom of association, freedom of expression, but it does not look like we will get this too soon.
-- Yoani Sanchez, renowned Cuban blogger during her visit to Brazil, Reuters, 2/18/13

A Sober and a Drunken Letter to the Editor

Sunday, February 17, 2013
A sober Letter to the Editor of The Boston Globe:

I do not doubt that the Feb. 9 editorial on Cuba and Fidel Castro is well intended (“Cuba’s reforms pave way for new US policy, too”). But it only covers one side of the picture. The editorial seems to forget Castro is a criminal who has imposed an iron rule in Cuba for more than 50 years. Many thousands of innocent people have been imprisoned or killed, and the economy of this beautiful island has been destroyed.

Further, Castro has constantly attempted to export his communist revolution to other countries, such as Venezuela. Castro’s first attempts were thwarted, but recently, under Hugo Chavez, Venezuela is short of becoming a Cuban colony. Through Chavez, Castro also has his hands in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, and is developing dangerous ties with Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

This should worry the United States, but apparently there are still people who support the opening of relations with Castro. I say yes to Cuba, but no to Castro.

Eduardo J. Santaella
Boston

And a drunken one (from a "people-to-people" traveler oblivious to Cuba's repressive reality, aka, the "mojito" view):

As I sat in an old hangout of Castro and Hemingway, the El Floridita bar, smoking one of their finest cigars and sipping a Mojito, I had to wonder: How different are we all really? And why can’t we get beyond our 1950s mentality toward a former enemy and start to do what is right to make positive changes for Cuba and America?

Stephen M. Berniche
Winchester, N.H.

Quote of the Week

Ironically, Fidel Castro knows more about our president than the Venezuelans do.
-- Federica Romer, 19, a Venezuelan university student who has been among those protesting outside the Cuban embassy in Caracas, AP, 2/17/13.

Cuban Prisoner Dies in Hunger Strike

Cuban democracy activists are denouncing the death of Roberto Antonio Rivalta Junco, who had been on a 38-day hunger strike protesting his imprisonment.

Rivalta Junco had been held without judicial proceedings.

Until yesterday, he had been secluded in a small punishment cell, where he was denied medical treatment.

Such cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners is the reason why the Castro regime doesn't allow the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Organization Against Torture to inspect Cuba's prisons.

To add insult to injury, three democracy activists have just been arrested for trying to attend Rivalta Junco's funeral service.  They are Damaris Moya , Yanoisi Contrera and Maday Garcia.

Image of Beaten Female Dissident

Below is a picture of Gladys Escandell Martinez, an independent librarian and member of the opposition Rural Women's Federation (FLAMUR), who was brutally beaten by the Castro regime for participating in a peaceful protest this week.

More "reform" you can't believe in.