Tweet of the Week

Saturday, March 16, 2013
"Castro supporters can demonstrate in Spain, U.S. and Brazil. Castro opponents can't demonstrate in our own homeland."

-- Jose Daniel Ferrer, Cuban pro-democracy leader, Twitter, 3/16/13

Child-Sex Tourism in Cuba, Pt. 2

Part Two of the joint investigative report by The Toronto Star and The Miami Herald:

Foreign tourists, especially Canadians and Spaniards, are travelling to Cuba in surprising numbers for sex — and not just with adult prostitutes. They are finding underage girls and boys, a joint investigation by The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald has found.

Havana’s conspicuous scenes of street-level prostitution are the outward face of a hidden prostitution trade in minors, some as young as four, some with families complicit in their exploitation, the newspapers found.

Cuba holds unique allure for Western sex tourists. It is closer and cheaper than other sex destinations, such as Thailand. And HIV rates are lower than in other Caribbean sex tourism hot-spots, such as the Dominican Republic or Haiti.

While the size of the island’s underage sex market remains a mystery — the communist government denies it is a problem and fosters the image of an island free of the social ills that plague other nations — it clearly goes on.

• A confidential Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) report in 2011 showed Cuba was one of the main destinations in the Americas for Canadian sex predators, along with the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Brazil and Mexico. More than one million Canadian tourists visited Cuba last year.

• Cuba’s government “made no known efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex,” noted the 2012 version of the U.S. State Department’s annual report on global Trafficking in Persons (TIP).

• The 2003 version noted that some officials of Cuban state enterprises such as restaurants and hotels “turn a blind eye to this [child] exploitation because such activity helps to win hard currency.”

• A dispatch by U.S. diplomats in Havana in 2009 noted that “some Cuban children are reportedly pushed into prostitution by their families, exchanging sex for money, food or gifts,” but gave no overall numbers.

Pimps, cabbies and tourist hotel staffers can procure discreet meetings with underage prostitutes, according to the RCMP report.

“That’s prohibited here in the hotel,” a security chief at a Havana hotel told a journalist posing as a tourist in search of underage girls. But, he added helpfully, they can be found “in houses waiting for the call from pimps.”

Clients can take them to private homes, known as “casas particulares,” the security man noted, where tourists can rent rooms for $10 a night and do “whatever you want. Orgies, anything.”

Cuba: Most Popular Destination for Child-Sex Tourism

"The job of keeping track of child-sex tourists is becoming even more challenging as new destinations such as Cuba emerge, eclipsing hot-spots in southeast Asia. An internal Royal Canadian Mounted Police report, released to The Star under Access to Information legislation, cited Cuba as the most popular destination in the Americas for child-sex tourism — and the Americas’ most visited region for Canadians traveling abroad for sex with kids."

From The Miami Herald:

James McTurk: Portrait of an alleged sex tourist in Cuba

Canadian James McTurk, 78, is one of a very small group of Canadian men to face charges for the crime of child-sex tourism. He is accused of taking several trips to Cuba, where some of his alleged victims were as young as 4. 

James McTurk is 78. He has wispy white hair and glasses, and speaks with a soft Scottish accent. He lives on a pension — and in a jail cell.

He has been twice convicted on child pornography charges, and his legal troubles have just intensified: McTurk could become the first person in Canada to be convicted of sex tourism in connection with the abuse of children in Cuba.

He is now one of a very small group of Canadian men to face charges for the crime of child-sex tourism.

McTurk does not travel to Cambodia or Thailand, destinations of choice for those who seek sex with children. All of his known and alleged victims have been Cuban girls. All were young, and some were very young — as young as 4.

McTurk has spent several years on Canada’s sex offender registry, but he was able to make repeated trips abroad until he was caught last summer, almost by accident. He was arrested at Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson airport, returning — once again — from Cuba.

According to court documents — and to McTurk himself, in interviews with police — he travels there frequently [...]

10 Years After Black Spring: Repression Continues

Friday, March 15, 2013
From Amnesty International:

10 years on from crackdown on dissidence, fundamental freedoms still lacking in Cuba

On 18 March 2003, a group of 75 political dissidents were detained across Cuba in an unprecedented crackdown on spurious charges related to state security and, following summary trials, they were sentenced to long prison terms of up to 28 years.

They were subsequently declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International as they had been imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of fundamental freedoms.

In July 2010, following the intervention of the Cuban Catholic Church, the Cuban authorities agreed to release those of the 75 who remained in prison. However, the majority of them were forced into exile in Spain.

Those who refused to leave Cuba were kept in prison until early 2011. Although they were allowed to remain on the island their release was conditional - their prison sentences hang over them even though they are no longer confined.

Their release has not heralded a change in human rights policy in Cuba. The authorities remain determined to contain government critics with new tactics, including intimidation, harassment, multiple short-term detentions and restrictions on movement to stop them from carrying out their activities or as retaliation.

In spite of recent changes to the migration law which makes travel abroad easier for Cubans, the Cuban government continues to maintain a swathe of laws aimed at preventing political dissidents and human rights defenders from exercising their freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Quote of the Week

I want to ask all of the heads of state to take a hard-line against the Castro regime.
-- Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White pro-democracy movement, Onda Cero, 3/14/13

Must-Watch: Spain's Conspiratory Silence

During a parliamentary hearing with Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Garcia-Margallo, a member of Spain's UpyD Party (Union, Progreso y Democracia), Irene Lozano, asks whether the Spanish government would support an independent investigation into the death of Cuban democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.

The Spanish Foreign Minister angrily responds, making it abundantly clear that it is being blackmailed by the Castro regime into a conspiratory silence.

The video in is Spanish.

Urgent Appeal for Calixto Martinez Arias

Thursday, March 14, 2013
From Amnesty International:

CUBA: Prisoner of Conscience on Hunger Strike: Calixto Martinez Arias

Date: 14 March 2013


Independent journalist and prisoner of conscience Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias is on hunger strike to protest against his detention in Cuba. As a result, he has been placed in solitary confinement in a punishment cell.

On 6 March, journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias went on hunger strike to protest against his detention in Combinado del Este prison on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba. He was consequently transferred by the prison authorities to a punishment cell. According to his relatives, the small cell where he is now held has no light, toilet facilities or bedding, and he is not permitted to leave the cell to exercise in the open air. These kinds of punitive measures are typically used by the Cuban authorities against prisoners on hunger strike.

Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias works for the unofficial news agency, Let’s Talk Press (Hablemos Press). He was arrested in Havana on 16 September 2012 by the Cuban Revolutionary Police (Policía Revolucionaria de Cuba) at José Martí International Airport in Havana. He had been investigating allegations that medicine provided by the World Health Organization to fight the cholera outbreak (which began in mid-2012) was being kept at the airport instead of being distributed. Since then, he has been detained in various detention centres. He has been held at Combinado del Este prison since November 2012.

Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias is yet to be formally charged by the public prosecutor, and according to his relatives he is reportedly being accused of “disrespect” (“desacato”). Amnesty International believes Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias’ detention is politically motivated and related to his peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.

An Open Letter to Michelle Obama

The Honorable Michelle Obama
First Lady of the United States of America
The White House
Washington, D.C.


For more than a half-century – 54 years – my country Cuba has suffered under one of the cruelest communist tyrannies, headed by the Castro family. From 1959 to the present day, there has not been one single day of liberty on the island. Prisons filled to capacity, torturous repression, political assassinations, and the lack of liberties have been the daily routine for everyone on the island.

The racial problem in Cuba increased with the Castro brothers taking power. In my country, women and men are beaten viciously on a daily basis regardless of the color of their skin. But the hatred the regime spews with the most animosity is reserved for black women, as evidenced in recent days with the beating of opposition member Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera.

This coming March 18th will mark one year since opposition member Sonia Garro Alfonso and her husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz have been imprisoned without a trial or sentence handed down. She suffers from a cyst on her kidneys and is gravely ill. He suffers from an ulcer. Nevertheless, Cuban authorities have prohibited their family members from taking them food and medication in prison. Her daughter, who is a minor, has had to move in with an aunt who has three children of her own and has been subjected to merciless repression by Castro agents.

Madam, you are a mother, a woman, an African American. You understand the significance of reaching the presidency in a country that demands the respect of all rights because that is how your husband became president of this great country and you became first lady. Meanwhile in Cuba, Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and Jorge Luis Pérez García, also known as Antúnez, were imprisoned for dreaming of the liberty and democracy found in your country. Both of these men are black.

As Cubans, we need the U.S. government to stand united with the Cuban people, that it support Cubans like this with its words and actions. We need your government to speak their names and offer public support so the world can learn who they are and they can be liberated. So at last, the apartheid against the Cuban people can end, just as it ended in South Africa.

The Castro regime has initiated ridiculous and cosmetic reforms to keep itself in power. It is nothing more than a ploy to buy more time, as we have seen take place with other dictatorships. These reforms should not be considered real changes. Under the Castro tyranny, I do not believe there will be changes that benefit the Cuban people. While some are allowed to travel, others are imprisoned and some are even prohibited from leaving their own homes.

Today, Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White, is traveling outside of Cuba. She is an incredibly valiant woman, a black woman, who knows firsthand the cruelty of repression and of racism. Her husband, Angel Moya, a former political prisoner and active opposition member, has been denied permission to leave the country. You should meet with Berta Soler, you should speak to her face to face and support her. You should also meet with Reina Loina Tamayo who has been living in the U.S. for months now and is the mother of martyred Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo. This is what is expected from individuals who, as you yourself have said, have come from humble beginnings and have accomplished what you and your husband have accomplished with the support of the majority of the American people.


Zoé Valdés
Cuban Writer in Exile

Translation courtesy of Babalu Blog.

WaPo: Obama Should Push for Paya Probe‏

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Obama administration should urge a probe of Oswaldo Payá death
NELSON MANDELA was locked up on Robben Island. Andrei Sakharov was exiled to Gorky. Vaclav Havel was thrown into a Prague jail cell. Aung San Suu Kyi was repeatedly placed under house arrest. All of these courageous, dissident voices were muffled at some time by authoritarian regimes, but in the end, they found their way back to freedom. Oswaldo Payá of Cuba never got that chance.

Mr. Payá, who pioneered the Varela Project, a petition drive in 2002 seeking the guarantee of political freedom in Cuba, was killed in a car wreck July 22, along with a youth activist, Harold Cepero. The driver of the vehicle, Ángel Carromero, a Spaniard, was convicted and imprisoned on charges of vehicular homicide; in December, he was released to Spain. He told us in an interview published on the opposite page last week that the car carrying Mr. Payá was rammed from behind by a vehicle with government license plates. His recollections suggest that Mr. Payá died not from reckless driving but from a purposeful attempt to silence him — forever.

On Wednesday, his daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, appeared before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. Speaking for the group U. N. Watch, Ms. Payá presented an appeal signed by 46 activists and political leaders from around the world, urging the United Nations to launch an international and independent investigation into Mr. Payá’s death. The signatories declared, “Mounting and credible allegations that the Cuban government may have been complicit in the murder of its most prominent critic, a leading figure in the human rights world, cannot go ignored by the international community.”

The Varela Project was summarily and arbitrarily crushed by Fidel Castro. Ms. Payá told the council that Cuban authorities imprisoned the majority of its leaders. She said that Yosvani Melcho Rodriguez, 30, has spent three years in prison as punishment for his mother being a member of the movement with Mr. Payá.

Ms. Payá was interrupted in Geneva by the Cuban representative, who accused her of being a “mercenary who has dared to come to this room.” His attempt to silence her drew support from China, Russia, Pakistan, Nicaragua and Belarus. The U.S. representative spoke up for her right to address the group. She was then allowed to finish.

After Mr. Payá’s death, the White House paid tribute to him, saying, “We continue to be inspired by Payá’s vision and dedication to a better future for Cuba, and believe that his example and moral leadership will endure.” When pro-democracy activists were arrested and beaten at his funeral, the White House again spoke up. But in the past week, since Mr. Carromero’s interview was published, the administration has not uttered a word. What if it had been Sakharov, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mandela or Havel who was run off the road? Would it have said nothing? At this critical juncture, with new information at hand, the United States ought not to be complicit in silence about who killed Oswaldo Payá.

Vigilia Mambisa's Big Mistake

Vigilia Mambisa, an organization that is opposed to the Castro regime, has announced a protest against Cuba blogger Yoani Sanchez, who is also opposed to the Castro regime, during her visit to Miami at the end of this month.

Surely, they are free to do so in this great democracy -- but it's a big mistake.

In the past, Vigilia Mambisa has held protests against Castro regime officials and artists who defend Cuba's brutal dictatorship.

Fair enough.

But Yoani Sanchez is neither a Castro regime official, nor a defender of Cuba's brutal dictatorship in any way whatsoever.

To the contrary, she has been an effective critic of the crimes and injustices of Castro's dictatorship.

So what's the point of the protest?

Don't agree with Yoani's opposition to U.S. sanctions policy toward Cuba?

Neither do we.  

More importantly, neither does Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, or prominent Cuban opposition leaders such as Antonio Rodiles, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" and Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.

As a matter of fact, in 2010, Yoani signed a letter that was distributed in the U.S. Congress asking for the lifting of some sanctions.

Nearly 500 other pro-democracy activists within Cuba disagreed with Yoani and sent a letter countering her views.

However, that didn't make Yoani and the signatories of that letter foes.

You've never seen Antonio Rodiles, Berta Soler, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet or any other leading dissident that disagrees with Yoani on U.S. sanctions policy, protest her?

To the contrary, they watch each others back.

They remain colleagues in pursuit of a common goal: a free and democratic Cuba.

You don't have to agree with everything Yoani says -- for she in not infallible by any means  -- but leave protesting her to the Castro regime and its proxies.

EU to Maintain "Common Position" Toward Castro

From EFE:

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo on Wednesday assured the leader of the Cuban dissident movement Ladies in White that the European Union will maintain its tough "common position" toward the regime in Havana.

That is what Berta Soler told Efe after meeting Wednesday with Garcia-Margallo, to whom she expressed her concern that the common position was "weakening."

The foreign minister assured her that the common position "will continued to be maintained until in Cuba" there is official respect for human rights and democracy is installed, Soler said.

The common position, agreed to by the EU in 1996, establishes that the level of European cooperation with Cuba will depend on the advances that country makes in democracy and political openness.

On her first trip outside Cuba, Soler, who supports the maintenance of the U.S. embargo against the Communist island, is denouncing repression in her country and asking for an increase in international pressure on the Castro regime.

Dignitaries Seek U.N. Probe of Paya's Death, Pt.2

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Appeal for International Inquiry into the Death of Oswaldo Paya

An open letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, and Ambassadors of all Member States

12 March 2013


We urge you to support our demand for an international and independent investigation into the alleged murder of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, a world-renowned figure and recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, who died in a car crash in Bayamo, Cuba, on July 22, 2012, together with fellow activist Harold Cepero.

In dramatic new testimony by the driver of the car, Ángel Carromero describes, in a Washington Post interview dated 6 March 2013, how their vehicle was followed, harassed and ultimately rammed from behind by a car bearing government license plates. Mr. Carromero further alleges that, following the crash, he was drugged, mistreated and coerced by Cuban authorities into making a false confession.

The new revelations corroborate the claims made by the families of the victims and other witnesses, as well as the report by Spain’s ABC news agency about text messages sent contemporaneous with the incident from the mobile phones of Mr. Carromero and another passenger, Aron Modig, indicating that their car was chased and then hit, causing the crash.

Significantly, according to the family of Oswaldo Payá, state security agents had repeatedly threatened to kill him.

Mounting and credible allegations that the Cuban government may have been complicit in the murder of its most prominent critic, a leading figure in the human rights world, cannot go ignored by the international community.

The families of the victims, and the people of Cuba, have a right to know the truth, and they have a right to justice. This can only happen with the creation of an international and independent inquiry. We therefore respectfully urge you to support our call.


Armando Calderon Sol, former President of El Salvador
Luis Alberto Lacalle, former President of Uruguay
Alejandro Toledo, former President of Peru
Edward McMillan-Scott, Vice-President of European Parliament
Markus Meckel, , former Foreign Minister of Germany
Zbigniew Romaszewski, former Speaker of Polish Senate, a founder of the Solidarity movement
Stanislav Shushkevich, former president of Supreme Soviet of Belarus, a current opposition leader in Belarus
Arnold Vaatz MP, Deputy Leader CDU, Germany
Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, former Foreign Minister of Iceland
Mantas Adomênas MP, Lithuania
Laura Alonso MP, Argentina
Mbarka Bouaida, former MP, Morocco
Philip Claeys MEP
Michael Danby MP, Australia
Mátyás Eörsi, Secretary-General of Parliamentary Forum for Democracy, former MP, Hungary
David Kilgour, former MP, Canada
Adam Lipinski MP, former State Secretary of Poland
Martin Palouš, former Ambassador, Czech Republic
Marija Aušrinė Pavilioniene MP, Lithuania
Marco Perduca, Italian Senator, co-vicepresident of Nonviolent Radical Party
Janelle Saffin MP, Australia
Egidijus Vareikis MP, Lithuania
Renate Wohlwend MP, Lichtenstein
Emanuelis Zingeris MP, Lithuania, President of Parliamentary Forum for Democracy
Algis Chaste MP, Lithuania
Rimantas Jonas Days MP, Lithuania
Corina Fusu MP, Moldova
Tadeusz Iwinski MP, Poland
Vytautas Juozapaitis MP, Lithuania
Liutauras Kazlavickas MP, Lithuania
Valeriu Munteanu MP, Moldova
Victor Popa MP, Moldova
Paulius Saudargas MP, Lithuania
Valeriu Saharneanu MP, Moldova
Werner Schulz MEP, Germany
Aurelija Stancikiene MP, Lithuania
Povilas Urbsys MP, Lithuania
Fabian Hamilton MP, United Kingdom
Patricio Walker, Senator, Chile
Hillel Neuer, Executive Director, United Nations Watch
John Suarez, International Secretary, Cuban Democratic Directorate
Carl Gershman, President, the National Endowment for Democracy
Ken Wollack, President, National Democratic Institute
Zohra Yusuf, Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Yang Jianli, President, Initiatives for China
Carlos E. Ponce, General Coordinator, Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy
Faisal Fulad, Secretary General, Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society
Art Kaufman, Senior Director, World Movement for Democracy, National Endowment for Democracy
Alessandro Pettenuzzo, European Union of Public Relations
Lehlohonolo Chefa,  Executive Director, Policy Analysis and Research Institute of Lesotho
Anki Flores, Former Secretary-General of the Antiracism Information Service, Geneva
Shauna Leven, Director, René Cassin organization
Bhawani Shanker Kusum, Executive Director, Gram Bharati Samiti, India
Duy Hoang, Spokesperson, Viet Tan
Dickson Ntwiga, Executive Director, Solidarity House International Foundation
Nazanin Afshin-Jam, President, Stop Child Executions
Atamao B T Kane, President, Southpanafrican International
Okay Machisa, Zimbabwe Human Rights Association
Obinna Egbuka, President, Youth Enhancement Organization
International Multiracial Shared Cultural Organization
Zofia Romaszewska, one of the founders of Solidarity movement, Polan

U.S. Intelligence Director: Castro Urgently Needs Hard Currency

Tuesday, March 12, 2013
The U.S. should not lift sanctions and economically rescue the Castro dictatorship.

By Admiral James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, during today's hearing of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

Cuban President Raul Castro is proceeding cautiously with economic reforms to reduce the state’s direct role in the economy and diversify trade relations, while preserving socialism and the regime. Measures implemented since 2011 to expand self-employment, permit sales of vehicles and property, and lease state lands to farmers are generally popular but have failed to produce much growth. With their primary patron Hugo Chavez’s death, Cuba’s leaders are urgently trying to attract foreign investment partners and increase their access to hard currency and foreign credit.

A priority for Cuban leaders is ensuring that economic reform does not increase pressure for a political opening and greater individual rights. There is no indication that Castro’s efforts, including his stated interest in laying the groundwork for a generational transition in leadership, will loosen the regime’s grip on power. The stiff prison term imposed on USAID subcontractor Alan Gross for facilitating uncensored Internet connectivity demonstrates the Castro regime’s sensitivity to public access to technology and information beyond its control. Indeed, harsh government repression of peaceful protests and an upswing in short-term arrests of dissidents indicate economic changes will not be coupled with political changes.

Havana recently announced a new travel and migration policy for most Cubans that will no longer require exit permits and extends the time Cubans can remain abroad without forfeiting property and other rights. The new policy has thus far only prompted a modest boost in US visas. The US Interests Section in Havana recently implemented process improvements that dramatically reduced wait times for nonimmigrant visa appointments. Countries around the region are watching for any indication of significant increases in Cuban nationals arriving under the new travel policy, but to date they have seen no such increases.

Dignitaries Seek U.N. Probe of Paya's Death

From AFP:

UN must probe death of Cuban dissident Paya: petition

The United Nations should investigate the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, his daughter said Tuesday, handing over a petition to the world body and claiming her father had been murdered by the Cuban regime.

"They say that my father died in a car accident, but we have confirmed ... that they were actually crashed into and run off the road by another vehicle," Rosa Maria Paya told reporters in Geneva.

She was in the Swiss city to address the UN Human Rights Council Tuesday and to hand over an open letter and petition addressed to UN chief Ban Ki-moon and his human rights chief Navi Pillay demanding "an international and independent investigation" into Paya's death.

"Mounting and credible allegations that the Cuban government may have been complicit in the murder of its most prominent critic... cannot go ignored by the international community," read the petition, signed by 46 politicians, members of parliament and human rights activists from around the world.

Among the signatories are the former Presidents of El Salvador Armando Calderon Sol, of Uruguay Luis Alberto Lacalle and of Peru Alejandro Toledo.

Senator Rubio: Cuba is Not a Zoo

In The Hill:

Rubio: Tourists, senators treat Cuba like a 'zoo' or 'field trip'

Sen. Marco Rubio on Friday blasted those who vacation in Cuba, accusing those who visit the homeland of his parents — including some of his Senate colleagues — of exploiting those who live under the Communist regime and misunderstanding the politics at play.

“Cuba is not a zoo where you pay an admission ticket and you go in and you get to watch people living in cages to see how they are suffering,” Rubio said at a luncheon for the Cuba-Democracy PAC, video of which was posted Monday by The Shark Tank. “Cuba is not a field trip. I don’t take that stuff lightly."

Rubio said visitors propped up the Castro regime by aiding the economy of the island nation, inadvertently aiding those who oppressed the Cuban people.

"You just went to Cuba and to fulfill your curiosity — which I could’ve told you about if you’d come seen me for five minutes — you’ve left thousands of dollars in the hands of a government that uses that money to control these people that you feel sorry for," Rubio said.

Rubio took particular exception to his colleagues in the Senate who visited Cuba or argued that the embargo against the country implemented during the Cold War should be repealed.

“The thing I really get a kick out of is every year without fail three or four of my colleagues in the Senate will travel to Cuba — they’ll have their yearly meeting with Raul Castro or whoever is there and then they come back with the same story,” Rubio said.

The Florida lawmaker proceeded to imitate his colleagues.

"'Oh, we really have our finger on the way to change policy toward Cuba. What we have today is a relic of the Cold War.' That’s what they say. It is a relic of the Cold War but our policy is not the relic. The relic is the Cuban government — that’s the relic," Rubio said.

Last month, a delegation of five senators and two House members took a three-day trip to Cuba. The group was led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.); the only Republican traveling with the group was Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). In 2012, Leahy met with Cuban president Raul Castro and other Cuban officials.

Quote of the Week

I have been kidnapped, beaten until left unconscious, tortured and arrested over a hundred times for exercising my job as a journalist. 
-- Roberto Guerra, Cuban independent journalist, via video testimony to the OAS's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Diario de Cuba, 3/12/13

Must-Read: Antonio Rodiles on Cuba Sanctions

Monday, March 11, 2013
By young Cuban intellectual and pro-democracy leader, Antonio Rodiles (founder of the Estado de Sats civil society project):

For the Cuban government, the need for a Plan B is urgent, and all eyes immediately turn to the United States.

The Cuban Government’s Plan B

The Cuban government would need, at the very least, a relaxation of economic sanctions. Only now is the government aware of the magnitude of the mistake it made in imprisoning Alan Gross. The release of the contractor would send the worst possible message to all Cuban secret agents, but would at least guarantee the start of a more fluid process of exchanges, with the final objective of relaxing the embargo. Everything seems to indicate that the old tantrums don’t have the same impact.

Within Cuba, great expectations created by Raul Castro are fading and the government needs to take steps so that Cubans can breathe a little more freedom. Relaxing the controls of the iron-fisted travel and migration policy, in hopes of easing the growing shortages suffered by Cubans, is one of the more “audacious” steps taken by the totalitarians.

The naming of new figures to fill the senior government posts occurred within this scenario. Esteban Lazo, named president of the National Assembly, symbolizes everything about the system that is old and unworkable. He will take the reins of an assembly that has never had a divided vote, not even on the very trivial issues which they discuss. Lazo represents a retaining wall to block any initiative that might arise or come to this governing body.

Substituting Miguel Diaz-Canel for José Ramón Machado Ventura – as first vice president, and presumptive heir – is an attempt to provide a needed succession. Diaz-Canel, younger, obedient, non-charismatic, lacking his own popularity, got the call. A person who will depend entirely on the willing consent of a military apparatus that has strengthened its influence in recent years, indicating that this is the social design intended to be perpetuated. I do not think that these designations generate new dynamics. The elite only intends for these people to execute the plan designed to their and their heirs’ specifications.

The opposition, then, begins to play an interesting role. The collaboration among different groups is ever more articulated. Work in recent months has been woven around the campaign “For Another Cuba,” which demands the ratification and implementation of the United Nations covenants on human rights as a road map for a process of transition, thus signalling that it is possible, here and now, to find a viable path. Civil society is prepared to take bolder steps and we hope this will be the case for all actors.

What can we expect in the short and medium term?

The Government will continue to assign key positions to its most reliable cadres, people who will guarantee that “neo-Castroism” is set in stone. They will also gather a set of bodies who will be allowed to show a certain “renewed” face to the world, and so try to relaunch and normalize their international relations.

This new design requires an economy that can afford it, this is the critical point: How can a completely disjointed and broken economy be made viable? This can be achieved only with an injection of capital, an injection that today could come only from our northern neighbor. Nobody wants to invest in a country that doesn’t pay its debts.

The U.S. embargo and the European Community Common Position are key pieces in this political chess game. If the government receives an infusion of resources in the current, unchanged, situation, it would enable it to keep its hyperatrophied repressive apparatus intact and we could say goodbye to our democratic dreams for the next 20 to 30 years. When I hear several pro-democracy actors advocate for the immediate and unconditional end to the embargo, I perceive a lack foresight with regards to the possible political scenarios. Are they unaware of previous experiences in other regions? Are they unaware of the famous phrase, “economic opening with political opening”? Is the massive debt we have already left to our children and grandchildren not enough?

If the democratic community signals the totalitarian government that ratification and implementation of the fundamental rights set out in the UN Covenants is the only path to a solution to the Cuban dilemma, and if it conditions any measure relaxing the economic sanctions to the fulfillment of those international agreements, it will not take long for us to see results.

The Cuban government has not been and is not reckless, still less so in the current context. It is illogical that the elite would want to pass on a time bomb to their family and close associates. The opposition, for its part, in its vast majority, is promoting peaceful change.  Changes that transition us to a true democracy with the full and absolute respect of individual liberties, and not the typical totalitarian monstrosity of failed nations. A monster that in the medium term, totally secure, would be burdened with more corruption, more insecurity and more social conflicts.

It is extremely understandable that the Cuban people desire the opportunity to live in peace, to be prosperous, to enjoy their families and their land. We need to leave behind this whole nightmare of warnings of combat, wars of the entire people, territorial militias, socialism or death, and impregnable bastions. We need to overcome crazy ideas like the Havana cordons, microjet bananas, “open airwaves,” battles of ideas, guidelines, and this string of stupidities and mediocrities. Things that have plunged us into this disaster which today we all, absolutely all of us, have the inescapable obligation to overcome. We urge another Cuba.

Read the whole analysis here.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

Ladies in White Leader Supports Sanctions

From EFE:

"Repression has worsened" in Cuba and the regime is acting "with impunity in the streets, is beating us, is dragging us away, is taking us to jail," said the spokeswoman for the Cuban dissident group Ladies in White in Madrid on Monday.

In an interview with Efe, Berta Soler said that she supports the maintenance of the U.S. embargo on Cuba and is even asking that greater international pressure be brought to bear on the Communist regime.

She attributes to international "pressure" the fact that the government of Raul Castro decided to grant passports to Cubans and allow them to leave the country, including herself and opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez.

The Ladies in White was formed after the imprisonment of 75 dissidents in 2003 during the so-called "Black Spring" crackdown to call for their release.

All of those dissidents have been released from prison and many went into exile in Spain. Three of those who remain on the island, including Soler's husband, have now been denied passports.

The dissident said that "there is no immigration change or immigration reform... While it's partially politicized, the government will have its filter to decide who's going to have a passport."

She also said that "the Cuban government - Raul Castro, Fidel Castro - is holding onto power and won't let it go. They are gaining time with little immigration and economic reforms that are not going to solve the problem of the Cuban people."

The Ladies in White are continuing their Sunday marches and have not stopped attracting new members. Now, they have delegations across Cuba, Soler said.

She said that on many Sundays "paramilitary mobs" are brought to Havana in buses to provoke the Ladies in White and the mob members even beat the group's members.

Remarks by Senators at U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC

Sunday, March 10, 2013
On Friday, March 8th, 2013, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC honored history's four Cuban-American U.S. Senators: Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

There have only been eight Hispanic Senators in U.S. history, four of which have been Cuban-American and elected within the last decade.

Among the highlights:

"The three of us may not all agree on the issues of the day, but when it comes to U.S.-Cuba policy, we are a band of brothers that are inseparable in our fight for Cuban freedom," said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Cuba is not a zoo where you pay an admission ticket and get to watch people living in cages, to see how they are suffering. Cuba is not a field trip. To fulfill your curiosity, you've left thousands of dollars in the hands of a government that uses that money to control the people you feel sorry for," said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.

"We cannot allow Cuba to become a carbon-copy of what Russia is today, a country where those who were the generals and the oppressors are now the big-deal businessmen, multi-millionaires and oligarchs that are running the country for their personal economic benefit," said former U.S. Senator Mel Martinez.

"We need a President who will stand up today and say: Mr. Castro, let the Cuban people go. Mr. Castro, open up the ballot box. Mr. Castro, empty the jails. Mr. Castro, allow free speech and let freedom glisten," said U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

Click below to see each of their full remarks: