Castro's Official Violence Against Women

Saturday, March 9, 2013
Remember these five cases the next time you read a ridiculous story or report praising the Castro regime for its "great strides" on gender equality.

Courtesy of the Free Cuba Foundation:

1. Yris Perez, Damarys Moya, Yanisbel Valido, Natividad Blanco and Ramona Garcia were beaten and arrested in Santa Clara for marching on March 7, 2013.  Yris Perez Aguilera had been beaten so badly that she lost consciousness and had to be admitted to a hospital. When she regained consciousness, despite still being in a bad state, she was discharged on orders of State Security. Due to the multiple beatings she has received from government agents, Yris Perez Aguilera has developed a cyst on the top of the spine where it meets her head.  She frequently suffers migraines, dizziness spells and other sharp pains due to the repeated attacks, which she has not been able to tend to medically. The man who assaulted Yris on March 7, 2013 is Eric Francis Aquino Yera, the same official who, in 2012, threatened to rape the 5-year old daughter of Damaris Moya- Lazara Contreras.

2. Marina Montes Piñón, a 60-year old woman and long time 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.

3. 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 her mother that Berenice would suffer the consequences if she made the assault public.

4. Damaris Moya Portieles, a human rights activist and member of the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights, denounced on May 3, 2012 that in addition to having been the victim of a violent arrest along with other dissidents the previous night, State Security and political police agents threatened to rape her 5-year old daughter. According to Portieles, the main culprit of this threat was the State Security agent Eric Francis Aquino Yera.

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

The Castro-Chavez Family Fortunes

From Newsmax:

The Chavez Frias family has “amassed a fortune” comparable to that of Cuba’s Castro brothers, according to Criminal Justice International Associates, a risk assessment and global analysis firm in Miami, Fla.

“The personal fortune of the Castro brothers has been estimated at a combined value of around $2 billion,” Jerry Brewer, president of CJIA told News From Venezuela. 

“The Chavez Frias family in Venezuela has amassed a fortune of a similar scale since the arrival of Chavez to the presidency in 1999,” Brewer said in an analysis.

Hugo Chavez died Tuesday, after a two-year battle with cancer. His death ends 14 years of rule, but leaves the socialist party firmly in control of the nation.

Cuba is receiving close to $5 billion a year from the Venezuelan treasury and in oil shipments and other resources, Brewer estimates.

He says that organized Bolivarian criminal groups within the Chavez administration have been responsible for taking nearly $100 billion out of the nearly $1 trillion generated in oil income made by Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA) since 1999.

Punk Rocker Gorki Aguila Violently Arrested

Punk rocker Gorki Aguila, founder of the famed band Porno Para Ricardo, was violently arrested today as he planned to unveil his new album, "Maleconazo Ahora," referring to the massive 1994 protests in Havana's waterfront promenade.

Gorki was planning to unveil his new album tonight at his home, accompanied by an exhibit courtesy of graphic artist El Sexto.

Two police cars and two motorcycles were waiting for him as he left his girlfriend's home. They threw him up against the car and drove him away.

Here's a video from Gorki's new album:

Did U.S. Government Subsidize Cuba Travel Firm?

Albeit indirectly, apparently so.

Moreover, the firm of a Cuban official who publicly declared that, "I love Fidel like my father."

From South Florida Business Journal:

Cuba travel agency hit with foreclosure by Citibank

A Coral Gables travel agency that specialized in trips to Cuba has been hit with a foreclosure lawsuit and a U.S. government agency could be on the hook.

C & T Charters’ website proclaims that it’s “Your bridge to Cuba” and offers both academic and family travel there. The Miami Herald reported in November that Cuba suspended the company’s charter-flight permits. C & T Charters has operated since 1991. Its phone lines didn’t work.

The timing of Cuba’s decision was most unfortunate for Citibank and, ironically, the U.S. government. In July 2012, the bank (NYSE: C) made a $1.5 million first mortgage and a $1.2 million second mortgage to JGAJ Associates, managing member John H. Cabanas and C & T Charters. The second mortgage was assigned to the U.S. Small Business Administration through Florida First Capital Finance Corp.

Yes, a U.S. government agency subsidized a mortgage for a travel agency promoting trips to communist Cuba.

Quote of the Week

We don't want the [Cuban] government to auto-reform, we want it to abandon power.
-- Eliecer Avila, young Cuban pro-democracy activist, became famous for challenging Ricardo Alarcon during a Q&A at the University of Computer Studies (UCI), Diario de Cuba, 3/8/13

Honoring The Ladies in White

Friday, March 8, 2013
From Christian Solidarity Worldwide:

On International Women’s Day, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) commends the courage of the Ladies in White, the Cuban women’s non-violent protest movement.

The Damas de Blanco (Spanish), or Ladies in White, is an opposition movement in Cuba comprising the wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents. Every Sunday the women attend Mass dressed in white, to symbolize peace, and then walk silently through the streets of their town or city. They are often harassed or arrested on their way to Mass, and members of their group have been threatened.

The Ladies in White movement was formed in 2003, just two weeks after the Black Spring, the Cuban government’s mass crackdown on dissidents and journalists, which resulted in 75 being detained. Since 2010, all of the Black Spring prisoners have been released, mostly into exile in Spain, following dialogue between the government and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. However, there are still political prisoners in Cuba and the Ladies in White are still active and growing in number.

In 2005 the Ladies in White were jointly awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, along with Reporters without Borders and Nigerian human rights lawyer Huawa Ibrahim. The Cuban government barred the group’s leaders from travelling to France to accept the award.

In 2012, one of their members, Caridad Caballero, a journalist and activist, sought refuge in the United States following months of harassment by the Cuban authorities. She was also arrested on a number of occasions. The authorities particularly targeted her religious faith, blocking her from participating in any religious activities at Jesus Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood of Holguin.

Caballero and other members of the Ladies in White were among hundreds of Catholic dissidents who were imprisoned for the duration of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba in March 2012. CSW documented a dramatic increase in violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba in 2012. While Roman Catholic churches reported the highest number of violations, mostly involving the arrest and arbitrary detention of parishioners attempting to attend church activities, other denominations and religious groups were also affected.

Cuban Journalist on Second Hunger Strike

By Roberto de Jesus Guerra for Institute of War and Peace Reporting:

Cuban journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias began a hunger strike on March 6 to demand his immediate release.

News of his hunger strike reached the outside world via political prisoner Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, held at the same jail, who telephoned the Hablemos Press agency on March 8.

Martínez Arias has been in jail since September, accused of insulting Raúl and Fidel Castro, the current and past presidents.

His first hunger strike began on November 10 and ended 33 days later only because his family begged him to stop. He was demanding to be treated as a political prisoner.

At the end of January, Martínez Arias was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. His case was submitted to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on December 12.

On March 16, Martínez Arias will have been in jail for six months, still with no date set for a trial.

How Castro Defines Gender Equality

The Castro regime believes that female democracy activists should be beaten with the same force and violence as male activists.

That's how it defines gender equality.

We see this every week, as the Ladies in White, the mothers, wives and daughters of Cuban political prisoners, try to attend Mass and demonstrate in the streets of Havana.

As a result, they are intercepted by Castro's security forces, insulted, belted, beaten and arrested.

Similarly, yesterday morning, Yris Perez Aguilera, head of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement and wife of pro-democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (Antunez), was beaten unconscious by male security agents.

Perez Aguilera was left beaten and unconscious -- like some sort of dead animal -- on the street.

She was later taken to a hospital -- only to be kicked out by officials.

That's gender equality, Castro-style.

Texas Company Fined for Sanctions Violations

From the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC):

EGL, Inc. Settles Potential Civil Liability for Alleged Violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations: EGL, Inc. (now part of the CEVA Logistics group of companies) (“EGL”), Houston, TX, has agreed to pay $139,650 to settle potential civil liability for alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515 (the “CACR”) and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 560 (the “ITSR”).

The alleged violations of the CACR occurred  from on or about April 19, 2005, to on or about December 15, 2008, when EGL’s foreign affiliates engaged in 280 transactions in which they provided freight forwarding services with respect to shipments to and from Cuba.

Stupidest Chavez Sendoffs

A great compilation by Michael Moynihan in Daily Beast:

(1) The most astonishing entry comes from New York University professor Greg Grandin, writing in The Nation, who allows himself to “be perverse and argue that the biggest problem Venezuela faced during his rule was not that Chávez was authoritarian but that he wasn’t authoritarian enough.” If nothing else, one must give Grandin points for honesty and for bolstering Polish historian Leszek Kolakowski’s theory that such regimes must resort to authoritarianism to survive.

(2) In an unbylined piece at The Huffington Post, readers are told that “Hugo Chávez was a man of many talents: he played ball, sang songs, pulled out pistols, and got down and groovy—and that is precisely how we’ll remember the Venezuelan leader.” One can debate whether drawing a firearm counts as a talent, but The Huffington Post might want to remember Chávez’s reign, which was, in the words of Human Rights Watch, “characterized by a dramatic concentration of power and open disregard for basic human-rights guarantees.” How very groovy.

(3) The indefatigable British-Pakistani chávista Tariq Ali, writing in The Guardian, blubbered that Chávez “appeared as an indestructible ox, speaking for hours to his people in a warm, sonorous voice, a fiery eloquence that made it impossible to remain indifferent. His words had a stunning resonance. His speeches were littered with homilies, continental and national history, quotes from the 19th-century revolutionary leader and president of Venezuela Simón Bolívar, pronouncements on the state of the world and songs.”

And those watching television and listening to the radio, as noted above, had no choice but to listen. One can only imagine what Ali would have said if, during the 1980s, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in her plummy and sonorous voice, commanded all media outlets to carry her speeches or risk being shut down. That would be fascism—but the “eloquent” and literate cadena is freedom.

4) Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) eulogized Chávez both on Twitter and in a press release: “He believed that the government of the country should be used to empower the masses, not the few. He understood democracy and basic human desires for a dignified life. His legacy in his nation, and in the hemisphere, will be assured, as the people he inspired continue to strive for a better life for the poor and downtrodden.”

Congress is clotted with buffoons, so it’s not surprising that the media often fails to give Serrano his due. Nor is it surprising that a man who once refused to acknowledge that Cuba isn’t a democratic country (“I don’t know ... I don’t live there”; “It’s a sovereign country”; “It’s a country with a different system than ours”), and who claimed that Castro’s one-party state indeed allowed freedom of speech, would lament the passing of el comandante.

5) And finally, instead of the predictable nonsense from Joe Kennedy, Oliver Stone, and Sean Penn, let us turn to one of Venezuela’s many authoritarian allies. PressTV, the reliably insane news service of the Iranian regime, speculated that Chávez was offed by the CIA’s give-cancer-to-Latin-American-leftists unit. The report, from former academic (and current Holocaust denier!) Kevin Barrett, isn’t without a qualification, though: “Am I 100% certain that the CIA killed Hugo Chávez? Absolutely not. It could have been non-governmental assassins working for the bankers.”

Tweet of the Day

Wednesday, March 6, 2013
-- Dr. Jay Ulfelder is a political scientist and expert on failed states.

The Truth of Paya's Murder on Display

By The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

IN OCTOBER 2003, the Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá wrote a letter from Havana to his mentor Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president and one-time dissident playwright who fought to throw off communist rule. At the time, Mr. Payá’s hopes for greater freedom in Cuba were being crushed by Fidel Castro in a wide-ranging crackdown. Dozens of his friends and colleagues were being thrown in prison. “I still live in an environment formed by the culture of fear that the communist regime generates throughout society,” Mr. Payá lamented in his letter.

Nearly nine years later — on July 22, 2012 — Mr. Payá, 60, was killed in a car accident in Cuba’s eastern Granma province near the town of Bayamo, along with another activist, Harold Cepero. Both were passengers in the back seat of a rented vehicle. Mr. Payá’s family has challenged the official version of the crash: The car was speeding and skidded into a tree. Today, we publish answers to questions we posed to the man who was at the wheel that day, Ángel Carromero, who was imprisoned and convicted of vehicular homicide in Cuba after the crash. Mr. Carromero, 27, vice general secretary of Spain’s ruling Popular Party, was released to Spain in December to serve out his term, and he speaks out here for the first time since leaving Cuba.

His words are a testament to Cuba’s enduring “culture of fear.” Mr. Carromero offers a grim, detailed account of how the car was rammed from behind by a vehicle bearing Cuban government license plates; he says this caused the fatal crash. Mr. Carromero alleges that he was then drugged and interrogated and his life was threatened. Under duress, he appeared in a video made by Cuban authorities. “No other vehicle hit us from behind,” he said on the tape. But the video was a sham. Mr. Carromero says he was repeating words written in a notebook by a Cuban officer for him to read and that he was forced to sign a confession that bore no resemblance to what happened.

The Carromero story is a nightmare: a sudden impact from behind, mysterious injections, incarceration in a cell infested with cockroaches and stern warnings to repeat official lies. Mr. Carromero says he had gone to Cuba on his own and was driving that day to help a human rights champion, Mr. Payá, who had won the European Union’s Sakharov Prize and was nominated by Mr. Havel for the Nobel Peace Prize. Now Mr. Payá’s family has asked Mr. Carromero to speak out. “When they asked me for the truth, I didn’t want to hide it,” he told us. His decision is a courageous tribute to the principles of Mr. Payá.

FROM HIS youth, Mr. Payá was independent of mind and spirit. He declined to become a member of the Communist Youth League and in 1968 was alone in his class in refusing to support the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to put down the Prague Spring. That cost Mr. Payá three years in a labor camp, but he never failed to be inspired by the example of Czechs and Slovaks, as well as Poles and Hungarians, who resisted oppression. An engineer and a Catholic, he visited Prague years later, after the end of Soviet domination, and he recalled in the letter to Mr. Havel, “It was like traveling to the future and finding proof that liberation is possible.”

In search of that liberation, Mr. Payá pioneered the Varela Project, a petition in 2002 seeking a national referendum to guarantee freedom of expression and association, amnesty for political prisoners and free elections. The petition drew more than 11,000 signatures and shook Mr. Castro’s regime to its core — resulting in a crackdown in which dozens of signers of the petition were sent to dungeons. Mr. Payá was not imprisoned then, but his family recalls he was under constant surveillance. Just two months before he died, there was another suspicious accident in which a car came out of nowhere in Havana and hit theirs. Mr. Payá was injured slightly.

Last summer, when the car Mr. Carromero was driving went out of control, the Cuban authorities must have concluded that they had finally silenced Mr. Payá and would hear no more about him. They probably figured they had intimidated the young Spaniard into silence, too. But they failed. We now have an eyewitness account that strongly suggests Mr. Castro’s agents sought to kill Mr. Payá and then attempted to cover up the murder.

The only proper course of action is to convene an international investigation that can be truly independent and untainted by the Castro regime’s thuggish ways. The legacy of Mr. Payá must be to expose the truth of his death, and to put that truth on display for all to see, especially the people of Cuba, for whom Mr. Payá aspired to nothing less than the right to live free from tyranny.

Cuba’s Coup de Grâce in Venezuela

By U.S. Ambassador Roger Noriega in Fox News:

For two long years, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez’s Cuban medical team perpetrated a colossal deception of the Venezuelan people and the world about his bout with terminal cancer. According to knowledgeable sources, Cuban doctors botched the initial treatment that doomed Chavez, manipulated his anxiety and paranoia so he would settle for substandard medical care in Havana, and pushed him back on to the campaign trail despite the impact on his health.

Quite plainly, the Cuban regime traded Chávez’s life for its own survival – knowing that its bankrupt economy depends on Venezuelan generosity. Unfortunately, the Cubans are not done administering to Venezuela – putting that country’s constitution under the knife.

Article 233 of that charter says, in part, “When an elected president becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new president, the president of the National Assembly shall take charge of the presidency of the Republic.”

After years of ignoring Chávez’s authoritarianism, the international community might finally muster the courage to speak up to prevent bloodshed.

Today, Chávez is as “permanently unavailable to serve” as president of Venezuela as anyone can be.  He was out of the country and unable to take the oath of office on Jan. 10, when his new term should have commenced; the cronies on his supreme court pushed back his inauguration to a time convenient to the president. So, he was never inaugurated and never will be. A plain reading of Article 233 makes National Assembly chief Diosdado Cabello the custodian of the presidency until new elections can be held. But Havana does not like Cabello, and the feeling is mutual.

Havana favors Nicolas Maduro, whom Chávez named late last year as vice president. If Chávez had taken the oath of office and initiated his new term, Maduro might have some claim to succession. However, Chávez’s term was never inaugurated, so there is no mandate for Maduro to claim. Indeed, the moment Chávez died, Maduro became no one’s vice president.

The Cubans have no choice but to run the risk of awakening Venezuelan nationalism. Not only did they essentially sequester another country’s president for the last 90 days, they even summoned Venezuelan ministers to Havana to hold imaginary cabinet meetings. In recent weeks, university students have protested Cuban interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs.  Nationalistic military officers – most of whom favor the veteran Cabello and were trained to oppose Cuban communism – have grumbled about Havana’s heavy-handed stage-managing of a succession that favors Havana’s selfish interests.

According to sources in Venezuela, the country’s security forces are divided – with most of the military muscle lining up behind Cabello.  However, with 30,000 Cubans – including disciplined mobile hit squads – roaming the streets and monitoring the movements of every Venezuelan military officer, Havana will put up a fight. If that sparks a civil war in which thousands of Venezuelans might die, so be it.

After years of ignoring Chávez’s authoritarianism, the international community might finally muster the courage to speak up to prevent bloodshed. The solution appears to be fairly straightforward:  a constitutional succession and new elections to choose a president.

If Maduro wants to be president and defender of the Venezuelan Constitution, he can play by the rules and compete for the job. Of course, before the democratic opposition hits the campaign trail yet again, they are insisting on simple but profound reforms to ensure a level playing field and a fair process in which all the votes are counted. These concepts might be alien to a bunch of thugs from Cuba, but Venezuelans have gotten fairly used to elections of one sort or another.

If Havana gets its way on interpreting the Venezuelan Constitution in a manner that hands power to its puppet, who can object when Cuba vetoes new elections? And if new elections are held, does anyone expect the Castro brothers to risk holding a freer or fairer process?

In recent months, the U.S. State Department has found itself in the awkward position of favoring Havana’s hand-picked candidate, holding secret talks with Maduro beginning last November aimed at normalizing bilateral relations. Yesterday, Maduro rewarded the naïveté of U.S. diplomats by expelling two military officers assigned to the U.S. Embassy for allegedly destabilizing Venezuela; he also suggested that Chávez might have been poisoned.

As of this morning, it is not too late for Washington to be as effective as Havana when it comes to defending our values and interests.  By this afternoon, the Cubans’ coup de grâce against Venezuela’s constitution may be irreversible.

Castro's Worst Week Ever

Tuesday, March 5, 2013
First, allegations against Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), are proven to be false.

Then, a key eye-witness confirms the Castro regime's role in the murder of internationally-recognized Cuban democracy leader, Oswaldo Paya.

And finally, Castro's financier of nearly $10 billion in yearly subsidies, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, dies.

Fidel and Raul Castro are having the worst week ever.

A Page From Castro's Playbook

From The Wall Street Journal:

Hours before announcing that Hugo Chávez died, Venezuela's government resorted to one of the late president's favorite ploys to try to unite his supporters: Talk of an alleged conspiracy by the U.S. to destabilize the country.

Vice President Nicolás Maduro kicked out two U.S. military attaches for allegedly plotting against Venezuela and even suggested that Washington may have been behind Mr. Chávez's cancer [...]

Mr. Maduro's rhetoric is similar to the kinds of conspiracy theories that Mr. Chávez wove during his 14 years in power, and which Mr. Chávez seemed to have adopted from his political mentor, Fidel Castro, who has long rallied support among Cubans by portraying viewed the U.S. as an implacable foe.

"This has all the fingerprints of being 'Made in Cuba,'" said Moises Naim, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It's like something out of the 60s or 70s, blaming the CIA for poisoning a head of state, but they don't seem to mind trying this in the 21st Century."

Chavez is Dead

From AP:

Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro says President Hugo Chavez has died.

Alert: Carromero Tells-All About Paya's Murder

From The Washington Post:

Ángel Carromero, a leader of Spain’s ruling party, was visiting Cuba last July when a car he was driving crashed, killing Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero. Mr. Carromero was convicted of vehicular homicide; in December, he was released to Spain to serve out his term. This week he agreed to be interviewed by The Washington Post about the crash. Mr. Carromero, 27, holds a law degree and has taken a business course at Fordham University in New York.

What happened that day?

Oswaldo Payá asked me to take him to visit some friends, since he didn’t have the means to travel around the island. There were four of us in the car: Oswaldo and Harold Cepero in the back, [Jens] Aron Modig [of Sweden] in front, and me driving. They were following us from the beginning. In fact, as we left Havana, a tweet from someone close to the Cuban government announced our departure: “Payá is on the road to Varadero.” Oswaldo told me that, unfortunately, this was normal.

But I really became uneasy when we stopped to get gas, because the car following us stopped, waited in full view until we were finished and then continued following. When we passed provincial borders, the shadowing vehicle would change. Eventually it was an old, red Lada.

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.

I lost control of the car, and also consciousness — or that is what I believe, because from that point my memories are unclear, perhaps from the medications they gave me. When I recovered consciousness, I was being put into a modern van. I don’t know how it had gotten there, but neither Oswaldo nor Harold nor Aron was inside. I thought it was strange that it was only me, and I figured that the rest of them didn’t need to go to the hospital.

I began to yell at the people driving the van. Who were they? Where were they taking me? What were they doing with us? Then, woozy, I again lost consciousness.

What happened after that?

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. I was surrounded by uniformed soldiers. A nurse told me they would put in an IV line to take blood and sedate me. I remember that they kept taking blood from me and changing the line all the time, which really worried me. I still have the marks from this. I passed the next few weeks half-sedated and without knowing exactly what they were putting in me.

Some text messages were sent from the scene, and there have been reports of others, not yet disclosed. Do you know about them?

They took away my mobile phone when they took me out of the car. I was only able to use Aron’s mobile phone the time we were together in the hospital. I didn’t remember the messages until I arrived in Spain and I read them, asking for help and saying that our car was hit from behind.

How was your statement obtained?

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 hit from the back when we left the road didn’t need to be hard, because I remember that there was no curb or incline. The pavement was wide, with no traffic. I especially did not agree with the statement that we were traveling at an excessive speed, because Oswaldo was very cautious. The last speed I saw on the speedometer was approximately 70 kilometers per hour [about 45 miles per hour]. The air bags did not even deploy during the crash, nor did the windows shatter, and both I and the front-seat passenger got out unhurt.

A video of you describing the accident was shown to journalists by Cuban authorities. Under what circumstances was it made?

Once I left the hospital, they took me to a jail in Bayamo. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever lived through. I was held incommunicado, never seeing the light of day. We walked among cockroaches until they put me in the infirmary cell, along with another Cuban prisoner. The conditions were deplorable. A stream of water fell from the roof once a day, the toilet didn’t have a tank, and you could use it only when you had a bucket of water that you could throw afterward into the bowl. The cell was full of insects that woke me up when they fell on my body. Although I remember almost nothing specific from those days, images come to me — and I only wish they were nightmares, and not memories.

The video that the authorities made public was recorded under these conditions. As viewers can see, my face and my left eye are very swollen and I speak like I am drugged. When an officer gave me a notebook in which the official Cuban government account was laid out, I limited myself to reading statements from that notebook. In fact, you can see me reading Cuban expressions I didn’t know, like “transit accident” (in Spain it’s “traffic accident”) , and you can see me direct my gaze to the right corner, which is where the officer stood who held the notes. I hoped that no one would think that the video was freely recorded, or that what I said there corresponded to what really happened.

Who sent you to Cuba? Why did you travel there?

Nobody sent me to Cuba, and I didn’t even tell my boss about my trip. I traveled there during my summer vacation, like so many other supportive people — because I admire the peaceful defenders of liberty and democracy like Oswaldo, who is very well known in Spain.

What do you think about the trial in Bayamo?

The trial in Bayamo was a farce, to make me the scapegoat, but I had to accept the verdict without appeal in order to have the minimal possibility to get out of that hell. However, I decided at the last minute to not declare myself guilty, thinking of Alan Gross [an American contractor sentenced to 15 years in prison for bringing communications equipment into Cuba illegally].

As for the Spanish authorities, I can only thank them for managing to repatriate me. I don’t want to cause any more problems. I want to get my previous life back. I even understand that, even though I am innocent, I have to continue with my liberty restricted due to the bilateral accord between Cuba and Spain. I only hope that this unjust situation will not last for long.

Despite the accusations to which I am daily subjected by the press and by the defenders of the Castro dictatorship, it’s not my intention to go on talking about this traumatic experience. I’ve received death threats in Spain, and I have had to testify before a notary so that at least the truth would be known if something happened to me.

Why are you speaking out now?

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. I am not only innocent — I am another victim, who might also be dead now. I know that this decision could result in more brutal media attacks against me from Cuba, but I don’t deserve to be considered guilty of involuntary homicide, and, above all, I could not live, being complicit through my silence.

I don’t know what they gave me in the intravenous line, but I continue to have large memory lapses. What they didn’t manage to make me forget is that Oswaldo is one of the people who most impressed me in my life. He is the true protagonist of this nightmare. He was an exceptional person, and I will never forget him.

Over 500 Political Arrests in February

The Castro regime arrested more than 500 democracy activists for their peaceful opposition activities during the short month of February.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation documented 504 of these political arrests.

And those are only the arrests that are known.  Many more believed to have taken place.

Moreover, there has been a worrying trend of over a dozen young prisoners suffering "preventable deaths" in custody during recent months.

Among these are:

Antonio Ribalta Junco (44), Ramon Aguilera (30), Alfonso Fonseca (34), Rogelio Abreu, Gabriel Cárdenas (27), Yordanis Ballagas (27), Didier La O Socarrás (21), Yasmani Calderón (34), Denis Mena Pérez (40), Lázaro Rodríguez (51), Alexander Soto (30), Roberto Aguilar (41) and Rey Despaigne (46).

More reform you can't believe in.

Reality of Cuba Exposed Abroad

Monday, March 4, 2013
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

How Cubans' Travel Rattles the Regime

To persuade the world it is reforming, the regime lets more people travel. What they say isn't reassuring.

Cubans have been prohibited from traveling abroad legally for more than five decades. Recently, the Castro regime decided to issue travel permits as part of an effort to convince the world that the country's promised reform agenda is real. That decision is now seriously complicating Cuba's attempt at an image makeover.

The trouble is that the more Cubans travel, the clearer it becomes to the wider world that life on the island is primitive and degrading and changing hardly at all.

A direct hit comes from Rosa María Payá, the 24-year-old daughter of the late dissident Oswaldo Payá. Armed with an exit visa, she went to Madrid to interview Spanish national Ángel Carromero, the driver of the car that her father was riding in on July 22, 2012, just before it crashed and Payá died.

The Cuban regime blamed Mr. Carromero for Payá's death and the death of another passenger, dissident Harold Cepero. He was imprisoned on a manslaughter conviction and not permitted to speak to the Payá family. But in December he was paroled and allowed to return home. In a written text delivered for a press conference held on Thursday in Madrid, Ms. Payá said that her own investigation—including a review of text messages sent from the phone of one of the other passengers—concluded that what happened to her father was "no accident." The car "was intentionally rammed from behind by another car but the ramming did not cause the death of any of the passengers."

Ms. Payá said in the prepared text that "neither survivor recalls any spin out or crash against a tree." What is more, according to the text, "the two foreigners [Mr. Carromero and a Swedish human-rights activist] were immediately taken from the scene by the men in the other car" but that "we don't know what happened with my father and his friend," Mr. Cepero. Ms. Payá noted that there had been previous attempts on her father's life and she calls his death "a probable murder."

This is a major embarrassment to the regime and illustrates the problem that Havana faces in trying to maintain a totalitarian state while allowing international travel. To be convincing when it claims that the country is opening up, Havana has to grant permission to more than just the Cubans who want to go to Miami and buy things that they can't get in the revolutionary paradise, like toilet paper and soap.

The government has already turned down a number of important dissidents but it obviously felt compelled to let others go. Among the highest-profile ones is blogging sensation Yoani Sánchez, who is now on a world tour. Her first stop was Brazil, where local supporters of Cuba's military dictatorship turned out to jeer her. This was supposed to prove the enduring popularity in Brazil of Cuban oppression. But two things went horribly wrong.

First, the Brazilian magazine Veja reported that the protests were anything but spontaneous. According to the magazine, a consultant to the office of President Dilma Rousseff, members of her Workers Party, and the Cuban ambassador in Brazil had conspired to discredit Ms. Sánchez in the eyes of Brazilians and disrupt her public appearances. If the Veja account is true, and it sounds plausible since Brazil admitted that Cuba gave it a "dossier" on Ms. Sánchez, the "reforming" Cuba remains a sneaky practitioner of spying, propagandizing and agitprop. Rehab for the dictatorship doesn't seem to be going well.

Ms. Sánchez reacted to the protesters' taunts by saying how much she respects and admires a country that defends the right of free speech. Her Brazilian critics were left looking small and intolerant.

Ms. Payá's European sojourn also included a stop in Switzerland, where she delivered a powerful speech in English to the 5th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. Stressing her commitment to a peaceful transition in her country, she described Cuba's "reforms" as "fraudulent change" that is "designed to preserve [the regime's] power and authority."

As an example, Ms. Payá noted that while the need for an "exit permit" had been eliminated, there is now a new "list of requirements" to get a passport. "The government continues deciding who may enter or leave the island," she said. "This time, I could get out, but other Cubans couldn't and still can't."

Whether the articulate and passionate Ms. Payá and others like her will be allowed to come and go from Cuba or whether the regime will keep them on a tight leash will be telling. Simply painting advocates of liberty as stooges for the U.S. won't be effective if the regime's ability to isolate the Cuban people comes to an end.

"We don't want, and we don't need, to depend on anybody," Ms. Payá said in Geneva. "Not on Venezuela, not on the United States. What we need is to be free."

WP: Menendez Allegations Are False

From The Washington Post:

An escort who appeared on a video claiming Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) paid her for sex has told Dominican Republic police that she was instead paid to make up the claims in a tape recording and has never met or seen the senator before, according to court documents and two people briefed on her claim.

The woman identified a lawyer who approached her and a friend to make the videotape, according to affidavits obtained by the Post. That man has in turn identified another lawyer who gave him a script for the tape and paid him to find women to fabricate the claims, the affidavits say.

Now, the question remains (as journalist Tracey Eaton posed in an effort to provide balance after collaborating with a pro-Castro group that was targeting Senator Menendez):

If the informant [using the pseudonym "Peter Williams"] is lying about Menéndez, he has done a serious injustice to the senator and should be punished. American authorities should track him down and prosecute him for making false statements to a federal agency. That is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Senator Leahy Equivalates Cuba to U.S.

Sunday, March 3, 2013
In U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) yearly pursuit to unconditionally embrace -- à la Dennis Rodman -- Cuba's Castro dictatorship, he made the following jarring statement on PBS's Newshour:

"I mean, Cuba doesn't expect to change our form of government. We don't expect to change theirs. But I think that it's an anomaly that we have the kind of relationships or lack of relationships between our two countries."

Note to Senator Leahy:

Cuba is ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship that maintains absolute power through sheer force and terror.

The U.S. is a model of freedom and democracy throughout the world.

Moreover, Cuba is the only country in the Western Hemisphere that is a dictatorship.

Cuba is an anomaly in the Americas, where 34 out of 35 nations are democracies, pursuant to the terms of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Why wouldn't we expect Cuba to abide by the same democratic standards as the rest of the Western Hemisphere?

Why are you opposed to allowing the Cuban people a chance to decide their own destiny and freely choose their leaders?

Such a statement is not worthy of a democratically-elected representative of the freest country in the world.

"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

-- Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor.

What Rodman and McGovern Have in Common

They think dictators that brutalize their own people are reasonable and trustworthy negotiating partners.

And that their criminal behavior is the U.S.'s fault.

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un:

[He’s] only 28 — 28. He’s not his dad. He’s not his grandpa. He is 28 years old. … He’s very humble. He’s a very humble man. … He don’t want war – that’s one thing he don’t want. … He loves power. He loves control, because of his father, you know – stuff like that. But he’s just — he’s a great guy. He’s just a great guy. You sit down and talk to him.

Pressed by ABC's George Stephanopoulos on North Korean in prison camps, Rodman said:

We do the same things here.”

U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) on Cuban dictator Raul Castro:

"I think the time has come for us to re-evaluate our policy. We ought to have a more mature policy. We've got to be thinking about normalizing relations between our two countries, tearing down these barriers that create paranoia."

Pressed by CNN's Soledad O'Brien on Castro's American hostage Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, McGovern said:

"Well, we have in jail, in U.S. prisons across the country, five Cubans who are allegedly spying, relaying information back to the Cuban government on the activities of Cuban-Americans here in the United States. One of them has a sentence that carries a life term with it."

Quote of the Week

Almost nothing has changed.  They are only returning some of the crumbs from the bread they stole from us more than half a century ago.
-- Rebeca Monzo, Cuban artist and blogger, Twitter, 3/1/13

One Year Later: Still Imprisoned Without Trial

On March 2, 2012, Rogelio Tavio Lopez and Niorvis Rivera Guerra were imprisoned and accused of "public disorder" for their opposition activities with the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), a prominent dissident group.

They have been imprisoned for a year, at the infamous Combinado de Guantanamo prison, without being brought before a judge or granted access to a lawyer.

Rivera Guerra had a baby that was 20 days old at the time of his arrest.

They will not be forgotten.

In the first picture Tavio Lopez is standing on the left. The second picture is Rivera Guerra.