Imprisoned Democracy Activist Near Death

Saturday, April 27, 2013
Imprisoned Cuban democracy activist, Luis Enrique Lozada, is on the 18th day of a hunger strike protesting his unjust detention by the Castro regime.

Lozada is a member of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), which is led by Jose Daniel Ferrer.

He is not consuming food or water.

Tragically, Lozada is being held in the same isolation cell -- and under the same inhumane conditions -- as former political prisoner Wilman Villar Mendoza, another UNPACU activist who died from a similar hunger strike in January 2012.

Currently, over 60 democracy activists from the UNPACU in eastern Cuba have also begun public hunger strikes demanding Lozada's release.

Here is a picture of Lozada and his family before his imprisonment:

Tweet of the Week

The Greatness of Our Democracy

In a picture:

AP Sort-Of Corrects Mariela Castro Story

Yesterday, we posted how the AP had incorrectly reported that Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, had no "officials links" to her father's regime.

Today, the AP issued the following correction:

In an April 25 story about Mariela Castro being denied permission to visit Philadelphia, The Associated Press erroneously reported that she has no official link to the Cuban government other than kinship. She was elected as a deputy in Cuba’s parliament in February.

That's half-right.

Mariela is now part of her father's rubber-stamp National Assembly.

But "elected"?  Seriously?  By whom?

Her father?

The Damage Done by Castro's Biggest Spy

By Frank Calzon in The Miami Herald:

The Obama Administration soon will be releasing its list of countries that support international terrorism. Currently on the list are: Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba. Cuba has been listed since 1982 but Reps. James P. McGovern, D-Mass., and Kathy Castor, D-Fl., propose to remove Cuba from the list. They argue that because Raúl Castro has taken control of the island from his brother Fidel, Cuba no longer poses a threat to the United States.

An article appearing in Sunday’s [April 21] Washington Post presents a less benign appraisal of Cuba’s intentions. The author, Jim Popkin, focuses on the career of a Pentagon intelligence analyst, Ana Montes, who for 17 years fed highly classified information about the U.S. military to the Cuban government, which the Castro brothers routinely shared with their anti-American allies. The unrepetant spy is serving a 25-year sentence in a U.S. penitentiary.

Nevertheless, some say Havana is still listed as a terrorist state because the United States is “locked in a Cold War time warp.” They ignore that it is Raúl and his ailing brother, Fidel, who refuse to change. Repeatedly, President Obama has tried to extend a U.S. “hand of friendship,” inviting Cuba to open its angry fists. Neither Fidel nor Raúl respond. For example, four years ago when Cuba was mired in economic crisis, Obama lifted restrictions on remittances, a flow of millions into the island from Cuban Americans to their relatives. Obama suggested Havana respond by lifting its confiscatory taxes on this person-to-person assistance. Cuba ignored Obama’s entreaty.

Can we learn from the past? A previous administration tried “to improve relations” with North Korea by removing that country from the list. The gesture emboldened that government’s belligerence and tensions between us are now greater.

To remove any government from the list, the president must receive and then send assurances to Congress from the listed government that it no longer engages in or supports terrorism. If President Obama has received such assurances, they remain his secret.

The Washington Post article reports that “U.S. military and intelligence agencies spent years assessing the fallout from Montes crimes.” Last year they told Congress that Montes was “one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history” passing information that “likely contributed to the death and injury of American and pro-American forces in Latin America.” One tidbit of evidence discovered was a “thank-you” note to her for giving the regime the name of an undercover agent working in Cuba, “We were waiting here for him with open arms.”

Montes’ Defense Intelligence Agency briefing to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council asserted that Cuba was no longer a threat or even capable of harming the United States. Whether one wants to believe that or not, Cuba remains a strong, steadfast ally of North Korea, Syria and Iran. It also has links with ETA, the separatist-Basque terrorist organization, and with similar groups worldwide.

President Obama vowed to “bring to justice” anyone responsible for the Boston Marathon terrorist attack. President Bill Clinton pledged in 1996 to bring to justice those responsible for shooting down two, small and unarmed, American planes over the Straits of Florida, killing four men. We know the names of the Cuban MIG pilots, the spy who provided information as to when and where the Miami-based Brothers to the Rescue would be flying over the Straits of Florida searching for rafters. And the name of the man who ordered the shoot-down: Raúl Castro, then head of the Cuban military, now Cuba’s president.

In 40 years, Raúl has never repudiated Fidel’s warning: “If the Cuban state were to carry out terrorist acts and respond with terrorism, we believe we would be efficient terrorists. Let no one think otherwise. If we decide to carry out terrorism, it is a sure thing we would be efficient. That the Cuban revolution has never implemented terrorism does not mean that we renounce it.”

There is good reason to continue listing Cuba as a state supporting terrorism, and good reason for Washington to seek justice for those Americans murdered in the Straits of Florida and for Cubans who have been killed for their quest for freedom.

Ladies in White Leader on U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

Friday, April 26, 2013
The real embargo is that of the Castro regime against the Cuban people.  My position, and the position of The Ladies in White, is that the [U.S.] embargo should remain until Cuba is free.
-- Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White, Cuba's largest and most prominent opposition group, briefing on Capitol Hill, 4/26/13


Another Cuban Spy Revealed

Thursday, April 25, 2013
From The Department of Justice:

Unsealed Indictment Charges Former U.S. Federal Employee with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage for Cuba

A one-count indictment was unsealed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging Marta Rita Velazquez, 55, with conspiracy to commit espionage, announced John Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; and Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

The charges against Velazquez stem from, among other things, her alleged role in introducing Ana Belen Montes, now 55, to the Cuban Intelligence Service (CuIS) in 1984; in facilitating Montes’s recruitment by the CuIS; and in helping Montes later gain employment at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).  Montes served as an intelligence analyst at DIA from September 1985 until she was arrested for espionage by FBI agents on Sept. 21, 2001. On March 19, 2002, Montes pleaded guilty in the District of Columbia to conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of Cuba. Montes is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence.

The indictment against Velazquez, who is also known as “Marta Rita Kviele” and as “Barbara,” was originally returned by a grand jury in the District of Columbia on Feb. 5, 2004. It has remained under court seal until today. Velazquez has continuously remained outside the United States since 2002.  She is currently living in Stockholm, Sweden. If convicted of the charges against her, Velazquez faces a potential sentence of up to life in prison.

Velazquez served as an attorney advisor at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and, in 1989, she joined the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as a legal officer with responsibilities encompassing Central America.  During her tenure at USAID, Velazquez held a Top Secret security clearance and was posted to the U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua and Guatemala. In June 2002, Velazquez resigned from USAID following press reports that Montes had pleaded guilty to espionage and was cooperating with the U.S. government. Velazquez has remained outside the United States since 2002.

The indictment alleges that, beginning in or about 1983, Velazquez conspired with others to transmit to the Cuban government and its agents documents and information relating to the U.S. national defense, with the intent that they would be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of the Cuban government.

As part of the conspiracy, Velazquez allegedly helped the CuIS spot, assess and recruit U.S. citizens who occupied sensitive national security positions or had the potential of occupying such positions in the future to serve as Cuban agents. For example, the indictment alleges that, while Velazquez was a student together with Montes at SAIS in Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s, Velazquez fostered a strong, personal friendship with Montes, with both sharing similar views of U.S. policies in Nicaragua at the time.

In December 1984, the indictment alleges, Velazquez introduced Montes in New York City to a Cuban intelligence officer who identified himself as an official of the Cuban Mission to the United States.  The intelligence officer then recruited Montes.  In 1985, after Montes’ recruitment, Velazquez personally accompanied Montes on a clandestine trip to Cuba for Montes to receive spy craft training from CuIS.

Later in 1985, Velazquez allegedly helped Montes obtain employment as an intelligence analyst at the DIA, where Montes had access to classified national defense information and served as an agent of the CuIS until her arrest in 2001. During her tenure at the DIA, Montes disclosed the identities of U.S. intelligence officers and provided other classified national defense information to the CuIS.

During this time-frame  Velazquez allegedly continued to serve the CuIS, receiving instructions from the CuIS through encrypted, high frequency broadcasts from her handlers and through meetings with handlers outside the United States.


Note to AP: Mariela Castro is a Cuban Regime Official

The AP has reported that Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela Castro, has been denied permission by the U.S. State Department to attend a conference in Philadelphia.

Kudos to the State Department.

The story correctly notes that "U.S. rules prohibit Communist Party members and other high-ranking Cuban government officials from entry without special dispensation."

But then it states, "Castro has no official link to the government aside from kinship."

Wrong.

Mariela Castro -- in addition to being one of the most cynical voices of the dictatorship, who outwardly defends repression against dissidents and the violation of the Cuban people's fundamental human rights -- was appointed by her totalitarian father to his rubber-stamp National Assembly of People's Power.

Thus, Mariela is a Cuban government official. 

What Castro Does to His Own People

By Rosa Maria Paya in The New York Daily News:

What Cuba does to its own people

The daughter of pro-democracy activist Oswaldo Payá tells the story of his death at the hands of state security

On July 22, 2012, Cuban pro-democracy activists Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero of the Christian Liberation Movement were killed in a car crash near the town of Bayamo as they and two European visitors were traveling to visit fellow dissidents. Although Cuban authorities claimed the crash was an accident, one of the survivors, visiting Spanish politician Ángel Carromero, later confirmed that government functionaries ran the car off the road — and subsequently coerced him to sign off on their version of events. Oswaldo Payá’s daughter, Rosa María, has called for an independent investigation by the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Below is her account of the events surrounding her father’s death:

I knew right away that the deaths of my father and Harold were not an accident. Text messages sent by the two survivors of the crash to Madrid and Stockholm saying that they had been rammed and pushed off the road were our first clue. And earlier death threats on the part of the Cuban government’s state security services were all at once solidified in our minds.

As the days passed, information started to come in from various sources. There were affidavits of witnesses read by the police captain, Fulgencio Medina, on the night of July 22 in front of my friends saying that there was at least one other car involved (a red Lada). There were tweets posted by state security officials in which it was clear that they had been following my father since the morning of the crash.

Then I met with the young Spaniard, Ángel Carromero, who was driving that car. He confirmed to me that they were constantly being followed by state security cars and that, at one spot on the road, a car intentionally rammed them from behind.

When Ángel managed to stop the car, the people who came out of the red Lada hit Ángel and Aron Modig (a Swedish politician) — and then they were taken away to a hospital.

Since then, our efforts have been directed at clarifying what happened. We have the right to know the truth. We are not looking to heal past wounds, but rather to make sure that what happened to my father and Harold does not happen to anyone else in Cuba.

It is urgent because the same oppressors who threatened to kill my father now call my family’s home in Havana to say, “We are going to kill you.”

It is urgent because arbitrary arrests, beatings and intimidation against the democratic opposition have been rising on our island.

For several years, the Castro regime has been trying to sell a series of minor reforms that, in truth, do not give citizens any of the serious rights that my father and others demanded. Every reform works as one more way to control citizens, rather than as a real tool of empowerment for Cubans or a way to strengthen civil society.

My father and Harold strongly denounced this fraudulent change by Cuban authorities to improve their image and standing on the world stage — and to keep their grip on the island. Through the Varela Project, they pushed for real democracy, for the kind of freedom we have been long promised and long denied.

I only hope that the international community and people of conscience around the world support my call for truth from the Cuban government and press it for the reforms my father believed were essential. This is urgent. We are running out of time.

Payá Acevedo is a youth activist with the Christian Liberation Movement of Cuba. She spent most of March and April of this year in Europe and the United States advocating for an independent investigation into the crash described above — and for the recognition of basic human rights in Cuba.

Why the U.S. Embargo Remains Necessary

By former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart in The Miami Herald:

At this time, when the democratic opposition within Cuba is acquiring greater strength and showing extraordinary political maturity, I believe it is important to remember the reasons for the existence of the U.S. embargo and the three conditions for its lifting.

When I arrived in the U.S. Congress in January 1993, I was able to confirm that U.S. law did not prohibit trade and financing with the Cuban regime by the great majority of U.S. corporations. I was truly impacted by the fact that U.S. law only prohibited trade and financing with the Cuban regime by foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies, but not by U.S. companies inside the United States (in other words, the overwhelming majority of U.S. firms).

Mass U.S. tourism to Cuba was also not barred by law. All existing sanctions at that time were contained in executive orders that, of course, could be lifted by other executive orders, at any time, by any president.

Since I was convinced that no dictatorship in history has ever given anything to the democratic opposition in exchange for nothing, and since I did not have confidence that the President of the United States would insist that a genuine democratic transition for the Cuban people be underway before lifting the embargo on the regime, I decided to codify — to enact into law — those executive orders: the prohibitions on commerce, on financing, and on mass U.S. tourism to Cuba. And to condition the lifting of those sanctions (commonly known as the embargo) on three conditions within Cuba: 1) the liberation of all political prisoners, without exceptions; 2) the legalization of all political parties, without exceptions, of the independent press and free labor unions; and 3) the scheduling of free elections with international supervision for the Cuban people.

In March 1996, with the decisive help of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. Bob Menéndez, I achieved codification passed by Congress. All the executive orders that constituted the embargo were made part of U.S. law, as well as the three conditions for their lifting. I believe it was the most important achievement of my 18 years in the U.S. Congress.

I was convinced then, and I continue to believe, that the U.S. embargo and the conditioning of its lifting — upon the requirement that a genuine democratic transition based on the three conditions be underway in Cuba — constitute instruments of great importance in the hands of the Cuban opposition.

U.S. Rep. Castor Relies on Spy's Report in Letter to Obama

Oh the irony.

On the very same weekend that The Washington Post's Magazine runs a cover-story on infamous Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) writes a letter to President Obama citing a report written by Montes for the Defense Department (while serving as a Cuban spy) as part of her rationale for wanting to normalize relations with the Castro regime.

Rep. Castor writes to President Obama that "no evidence exists that Cuba remains a state-sponsor of terrorism" because (citing an old report from the Council on Foreign Relations) "in 1998, a comprehensive review by the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Cuba does not pose a threat to U.S. national security."

If Rep. Castor would have picked up The Washington Post this weekend, she might have learned that the "comprehensive review" she is citing was led by Ana Belen Montes, a former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) senior analyst, who is currently in a federal prison for serving as a spy for the Castro regime.

As The Washington Post reported, "Montes had succeeded beyond the Cubans’ wildest dreams. She was now briefing the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council and even the president of Nicaragua about Cuban military capabilities. She helped draft a controversial Pentagon report stating that Cuba had a 'limited capacity' to harm the United States and could pose a danger to U.S. citizens only 'under some circumstances.'"

And that, "... intelligence experts consider [Montes] among the most harmful spies in recent memory."

Oops.

That's what happens when a Member of Congress, who is not on any foreign-policy related committee, is advised by unscrupulous business interests, U.S.-based groups with an ideological affinity to the Castro dictatorship and a four-day propaganda trip to Cuba overwhelmingly focused on meetings with regime officials (while ignoring courageous pro-democracy leaders).

However, this isn't the first time Rep. Castor steps in it since her return from Cuba.

She also came back expressing great concern about Cuba's offshore oil drilling and the need for the U.S. to engage with the Castro regime on this effort.

Apparently, Rep. Castor didn't get the memo that Castro's offshore drilling dream is a bust and that even its near-shore drilling effort has now been called off.

Actually, the title of The Washington Post's feature this weekend was quite fitting:

"Ana Montes did much harm spying for Cuba. Chances are, you haven’t heard of her."

There are obviously a lot of things about Cuba that Rep. Castor hasn't heard of -- or simply chooses to ignore.

Ladies in White Leader on Capitol Hill Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Cuban American Members of Congress, U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Joe Garcia (D-FL) will host a briefing with Berta Soler, the courageous leader of The Ladies in White in Cuba. 

The Ladies in White is an opposition movement in Cuba consisting of wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents. The women protest the imprisonment of their loved ones and demand freedom for all Cubans by attending Mass each Sunday wearing white dresses and then silently walking through the streets of cities throughout the island. The color white is chosen to symbolize peace.

These women face constant violence and repression from Castro's brutal military dictatorship, which stops at nothing to hold on to power and squash any and all dissent against its 50 plus year dictatorship.

The briefing will be held Friday, April 26th at 8:30 am in Room 2200 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Must-Read: Cuba's Oil Bust

Wednesday, April 24, 2013
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Remember all the hype about Cuba drilling for oil in Caribbean waters and American companies missing out on the bonanza because of the U.S. embargo? Well, like all the other Cuban get-rich-quick schemes of the past 50 years, this one seems to have flopped too.

Last week, Florida's Sun Sentinel reported that "after spending nearly $700 million during a decade, energy companies from around the world have all but abandoned their search for oil in deep waters off the north coast of Cuba near Florida." Separately, CubaStandard.com reported on Friday that "the shallow-water drilling platform used by Russian oil company OAO Zarubezhneft will leave Cuban waters June 1, to be redeployed to Asia."

According to the Sun Sentinel story, Jorge Piñon, an oil-industry guru who had been cheering Cuba's exploration attempts, said "Companies are saying, 'We cannot spend any more capital on this high-risk exploration. We'd rather go to Brazil; we'd rather go to Angola; we'd rather go to other places in the world where the technological and geological challenges are less.'"

It wouldn't be the first time the dictatorship thought it had found a short cut to wealth. In 1970 it put all its faith in the "ten-million ton harvest," which promised to get the nation off Soviet dependency by forcing every Cuban to work in the cane fields. It failed.

Then there was that cow, Ubre Blanca, literally "white udder" in Spanish. She was a cross between two breeds and in 1982 Cuba claimed that she produced a world-record of 24 gallons of milk in one day. When she died, in 1985, Fidel Castro instructed Cuba's genetic scientists to get to work on making more of her. Almost 30 years later Cuban researchers were still at it. In June 2002, the Telegraph reported that "Dr Jose Morales, the head of the White Udder cloning project, is confident that a breakthrough is imminent. 'We're very close,' he said. 'We have big things coming. This project is very important to Comandante Castro.'"

Then came promises of an oil boom and last week the predictable bust. The Brazilian state-owned Petrobras had given up on deep-sea drilling in Cuban waters in 2011. Repsol  gave up in May 2012. The deep water platform it was using was then passed to Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, which also came up empty. Venezuela's PdVSA had no luck either. In November Cuba announced that the rig that had been in use would be heading to Asia. Last week came the end of shallow-water drilling.

The loss to the regime is not just about the foreign exchange that oil implied. The threat of spills, as well as lost opportunity for American companies, were ways for Cuba to engage the U.S. and perhaps even get the embargo lifted without having to make any human-rights concessions. Some Democrats, whose party is more often found in opposition to oil exploration, tried to help. At a House subcommittee hearing in November 2011 on the matter, Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) argued that "companies like Exxon Mobil,  Chevron and the ConocoPhillips should be doing the "first drilling" in Cuban waters. "I would hope that the Majority's opposition to lifting the embargo against Fidel does not outweigh their fidelity to creating more jobs for American businesses and American workers in our own country."

For now Mr. Markey's dreams of helping the dictatorship are, at best, on hold. And Cuba remains a tropical backwater whose only claim to fame is its large collection of political prisoners.

PODCAST: Interview With Problem Kids

Dissident Nearly Beaten to Death

The tense standoff continues between Cuban democracy activists and Castro's security forces in eastern Cuba.

There are now over 50 activists from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), led by Jose Daniel Ferrer, on hunger strike demanding the release of 40 of their colleagues from prison.

On Monday, Rubilandis Avila Gonzalez, an UNPACU activists, was intercepted by security forces, arrested and nearly beaten to death. 

Avila was later taken to a local hospital as a result of the beating, where he was left semi-unconscious, weakened from excessive bleeding and has received numerous stitches to head lesions.

He remains in a critical state. 

Below is a picture of the UNPACU activists on their public hunger strike:

A Seven-Year March From Havana to Brussels

Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Excerpt from the remarks by Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, during today's Sakharov Prize Award Ceremony for the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White):

You are used to long marches. You are courageous and perseverant women. This march from Cuba to Brussels has taken quite a long time: more than seven years!

I am very happy that the day we can host you at the European Parliament has come.

Today, you, Damas de Blanco, are able to receive the well deserved Sakharov Prize.

Allow me to pay tribute through this ceremony to Laura Inès Pollan Toledo, co-founder and former President of the Damas de Blanco, who died in October 2011.

Dear Berta, ten years ago, when your husband, Angel Moya and Laura's Husband, Hector Maseda Gutiérrez, were detained during the black Spring both of you  decided to protest peacefully against these arbitrary detentions. You were immediately joined by many wifes, sisters, mothers and daughters of activists. You marched and continue to do so every Sunday down Havana's streets calling for the release of all political prisoners.

From that day, your peaceful struggle became the symbol of Cuban resistance for freedom and dignity.

Your cause is shared by thousands well-known or anonymous Cubans living in or outside Cuba. Allow me to pay tribute to two of them, dear to our hearts, Oswaldo Payà and Guillermo Farinas, Sakharov Prize in 2002 and in 2010.

Last year Oswaldo Paya passed away in car accident but his ideas will survive and continue to inspire generations of Cuban activists. Let me also mention the courage of Guillermo Farinas who conducted over 20 hunger strikes and protest against the regime and in support of all political prisoners.

State Department Highlights Imprisoned Cuban Journalist

In the weeks leading up to World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the U.S. Department of State highlights emblematic threats to journalists while continuing to call on all governments to protect the universal human right to freedom of expression.

Today it highlighted the case of imprisoned Cuban journalist Jose Antonio Torres.

Here's the report:

For today’s Free the Press Campaign case as we continue our walk-up to World Press Freedom Day in Costa Rica next week, we’d like to highlight Jose Antonio Torres, a journalist for the official Granma newspaper in Cuba.

He was arrested in February 2011 after Granma published his report on the mismanagement of a public works project in Santiago, and subsequently sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of spying.

The United States calls on the Government of Cuba to release him.

The Cuban Spring is Almost Here

By Vanessa Garcia in The Huffington Post:

As someone who writes about ABCs (American Born Cubans), Cuba, and Cuban-Americans, people often ask me the following question: "If it's so bad in Cuba, why don't Cubans revolt?" Why don't the people inside the island pour out into the street and lift their fists into the air, burn effigies, call out for freedom?

Images of the Arab Spring, blooming across our multi-media screens, have brought this question further to the forefront in recent years.

In the past, others have tried to answer this question by claiming that Cuba is too insulated to revolt. That not enough information seeps into the island to empower its people. Another answer is that hungry generations have been more busy figuring out how to eat than how to dethrone the government that was responsible for their stomach's growl.

But there's more. My response is as follows: If you are asking this question -- if you are sitting back, chewing a stick of gum, and asking yourself why Cubans don't act, then you're not paying close enough attention.

There is an uprising surging from Cuba -- voices coming up from cyberspace, like that of dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, who since 2007 has been clacking away at her computer, sending messages across continents and nations, one byte at a time. For years she has been saying, in her blog Generation Y: This is Cuba -- when we rise up, they jail us; when we strike against injustice, they let us die of hunger. As they let prisoner of conscience, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, die during a hunger strike while imprisoned in 2010.

Zapata Tamayo was imprisoned, according to Amnesty International, "solely for having peacefully exercised [his] rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly."

Meanwhile, Berta Soler, who leads the Ladies in White -- a group that has been protesting against the imprisonment of their loved ones since 2003's Black Spring -- continues to march.

During 2003's Black Spring, the Castro regime arrested 75 human rights activists, journalists, writers, and librarians for threatening the "territorial integrity of the state." Since then, and on every Sunday, the Ladies in White rally down Fifth Avenue in Havana, making their presence and demands known, despite harassment and threats. They want their husbands free; they fight for the same rights their friends, lovers, and husbands were jailed for -- what the Varela Project demanded: democratic and constitutional reform for Cuba.

The Varela Project, launched in the late '90s by Oswaldo Payá, proposed freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, free elections, free enterprise, and the release of political prisoners. Payá died last year in a car accident -- an accident that his daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, has bravely claimed was no accident at all.

"Today," she said to the UN in March of this year, "we urge the United Nations to launch an independent investigation into the death of my father. The truth is essential..." In her speech, she implicated the Cuban government in the murder of her father. She ended her speech by asking: "When will the people of Cuba finally enjoy basic democracy and fundamental freedoms?"

These women, Sanchez, Soler, and Payá, write, march, speak, and protest. They have traveled outside of Cuba and have, as best they could, tried to spread the word that Cuba and Cubans are ready for change.

These women are, in short, the representatives of a rising up from silence. This may not be the kind of revolution we've seen from the Arab Spring, not yet, and perhaps (though of this we cannot be sure) not ever, nor is it the kind of revolution that got Cuba in trouble to begin with -- not the green-fatigued cry of their forefathers.

This is a revolution of pens, sharp as their wits; of wills, strong as their desire for justice and democracy; of voices and words that beg for change. This is Civil Disobedience. If 2003's Black Spring was a wilted one, left to rot enclosed in cells, un-watered, then 2013's spring, ten years later, is a stronger spring -- the nearly full-grown bloom of a long, hard, and labored planting and irrigation season.

The Cuban Spring is almost here. Now all we have to do is listen closely and respond.

How Shady Are Odebrecht's Business Deals?

So shady that the Brazilian government has decided to officially "classify" documents related to Odebrecht's current business dealings with the Castro regime until the year 2027.

This is an unprecedented move, considering their heavy reliance on public financing from the Brazilian government.

Brazil's Folha de Sao Paulo reported this month that documents related to Odebrecht's business deals in Cuba will be considered a "state secret" due to strategic considerations until 2027.

Odebrecht has partnered with the Castro regime to expand the Port of Mariel for the Cuban military's trade monopolies; to create a "maquila-style" manufacturing zone to exploit Castro's slave labor; and to revive the regime's struggling sugar industry.

These are obviously very strategic sectors -- for the Castro regime, that is.

To add insult to injury, this week it was announced that Odebrecht would also also be tasked with remodeling airport terminals in Havana and other Cuban cities.

Meanwhile, ironically, Odebrecht also continues to be the darling of Miami-Dade County, where they also engage in closed-room deals, non-transparency, revolving doors and stifling competition  -- all at a cost to the taxpayers.

Odebrecht is the Halliburton of Havana and Miami-Dade County.

Say NO to Odebrecht!

Monday, April 22, 2013
By Anolan Ponce in Diario las Americas:

(Translation by Alberto de la Cruz)

Damsels, Dragons, and Commissioners: ‘Say NO to Odebrecht!’

Dissident voices from a generation born under the communist dictatorship in Cuba are being heard in international forums and garnering attention. All of the sudden, the world is listening!

Yoani Sanchez, the tireless blogger, dismantles the myth of the Castro Revolution with a thoughtful speech. Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, confronts Castro agents in Madrid with a “Cuba si, Castro no!” Rosa Maria, the young daughter of Oswaldo Paya demands justice for her father. They are three women, three damsels who have escaped from their prison to desperately plea for help in liberating their enslaved people.

But as they gain valuable ground in their battle wielding virtual swords on the Internet, gladiolas, and a demand for justice, members of the Miami-Dade County Commission are getting ready to vote on a decision that can reward Odebrecht, the huge Brazilian conglomerate that is currently modernizing the Port of Mariel and which the Cuban regime is depending on to survive and reinvent itself.

This company is not just remodeling the Port of Mariel to turn it into one of the major seaports in Latin America and the largest commerce center in the Caribbean, but they are also building a Special Development Zone adjacent to the port: a free trade zone that will facilitate commerce. Odebrecht, whose projects in Cuba are financed by the Brazilian government, has also just signed a 10-year agreement to revitalize Cuba’s sugar industry.

This multinational company depends greatly on its U.S. subsidiary, Odebrecht USA. In the past, it has received $4.8 billion from county taxpayers through contracts awarded by the County Commission. The Adrienne Arsht Center, the remodeling of Miami International Airport, the docks at the Port of Miami, and the construction of the FIU stadium are just a few of the examples of Odebrecht’s eternal presence in Miami.

However, what is on the table now and the County Commissioners must decide with a vote coming up soon is the granting of a juicy contract to Odebrecht for the construction of Airport City, an enormous tourist complex at Miami International Airport at a cost of $512 million. Odebrecht will finance the construction themselves and Miami-Dade County will receive in return a portion of the profits over 50 years in addition to rent paid on the 33 acres of county land where it will be built.

Odebrecht has become an obscene word in the lexicon of the majority of exiled Cubans because its mention evokes memories of the abuses, deaths, imprisonment, beatings, starvation, intolerance, and a nation subjugated by a dictatorship for more than fifty years. Because of this, the vote by the County Commission’s Cuban-American members, who are a majority, should be a resounding “NO.”

But this should also be the case with the non-Cuban American commissioners. This past November, 62% of county voters voted against granting contracts to companies who do business with countries listed on the State Sponsors of Terror list. Since 1982, Cuba has been one of those countries.

The commissioners should not turn their backs on Yoani, Berta, and Rosa Maria, those valiant damsels who at great risk to their lives will return to Cuba to face abuse. Their courage deserves to be rewarded. The dragon that breathes life into their repressors should be rejected!

Say NO to Odebrecht!

MH: Raul's Piecemeal and Illusory Changes

By The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

The State Department’s latest report on human-rights practices effectively puts the lie to the idea that the piecemeal and illusory changes in Cuba under Gen. Raúl Castro represent a genuine political opening toward greater freedom.

If anything, things are getting worse. The report, which covers 2012, says the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation counted 6,602 short-term detentions during the year, compared with 4,123 in 2011. In March 2012, the same commission recorded a 30-year record high of 1,158 short-term detentions in a single month just before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

Among the many abuses cited by the 2012 report are the prison sentences handed out to members of the Unión Patriotica de Cuba, the estimated 3,000 citizens held under the charge of “potential dangerousness,” state-orchestrated assaults against the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), the suspicious death of dissident Oswaldo Payá and so on.

As in any dictatorship, telling the truth is a crime: Independent journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, the first to report on the cholera outbreak in Cuba, was jailed in September for the crime of desacato (insulting speech) and remained there until last week.

The regime is willing to undertake some meek economic reforms to keep people employed. It has even dared to relax its travel requirements to allow more Cubans to leave the country if they can get a passport.

Both of these are short-term survival measures, designed as escape valves for growing internal pressure. But when it comes to free speech, political activity and freedom of association — the building blocks of a free society — the report is a depressing chronicle of human-rights abuses and a valuable reminder that repression is the Castro regime’s only response to those who demand a genuinely free Cuba. Fundamental reform? Not a chance.

Seven-Years Later: Ladies in White Receive Sakharov Prize

2005 Sakharov Prize Handed to Damas de Blanco After Seven Years

Over seven years after they were awarded the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought by the European Parliament, the Cuban "Ladies in White" (Damas de Blanco) will be able to receive their award. European Parliament President Martin Schulz will hand over the award at a special ceremony on Tuesday 23 April, during a joint meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on Development and the Subcommittee on Human Rights.

Damas de Blanco will be represented by Berta de los Ángeles Soler Fernández - President, Belkis Cantillo Ramírez and  Laura María Labrada Pollán.

Damas de Blanco was formed in early 2004 in Cuba as a spontaneous movement of wives and female relatives of jailed dissidents. They are not a political party or bound to a political organisation of any type. They wear white to symbolize innocence and purity. They were awarded the Sakharov Prize In 2005, but were not allowed by the Cuban authorities to leave the country to receive the Prize in Strasbourg.

Don't Miss Problem Kids on FWAM Today

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for an exclusive interview with the hip-hop group Problem Kids on their song, "Useful Idiot," dedicated to Jay-Z and Beyonce's trip to Cuba.

Check out the song here.

Also, Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez will discuss the latest developments in Venezuela and The Washington Post's Max Fisher takes a look at the Boston terrorist attack from China's perspective.

You can listen to "From Washington al Mundo" 7-days a week on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST).

Only Communist Dictatorships Get a Pass

Sunday, April 21, 2013
Mary Anastasia O'Grady makes a very true (and very tragic) point in today's Wall Street Journal:

As Latin American governments rushed to endorse the so-called election of Hugo Chávez acolyte Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela last week, the ghost of Gen. Augusto Pinochet must have been regretting that he hadn't ruled as a Stalinist. Latin American leaders are apparently fine with military governments—as long as they are communist dictatorships.

Serving Up U.S. Students on a Platter

This weekend's must-read feature story in The Washington Post Magazine on Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes, the highest-level breach of U.S. intelligence services in modern history, notes:

"Sources close to the case think that a friend at [Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies] served as a facilitator for the Cubans, helping to identify potential spies. Cuba considers recruiting at American universities a “top priority,” according to former Cuban intelligence agent Jose Cohen, who wrote in an academic paper that the Cuban intelligence service identifies politically driven students at leading U.S. colleges who will 'occupy positions of importance in the private sector and in the government.'"

This task is currently easier than ever for the Castro regime.

With the Obama Administration's expansion of academic travel to Cuba, whereby thousands of students are undertaking "study abroad" programs on the island, the Castro regime no longer has to spend time, effort and resources recruiting students at colleges in the U.S.

For now, U.S. students are served up to them on a platter in Havana.

Why Cuban Resorts Don't Have Wi-Fi

Note all resorts in Cuba are owned by the Castro regime's military.

Excerpt from a story on "Cuban resorts" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"Is Wi-Fi available in our rooms?" We thought it was a reasonable question since wireless Internet access is common in resorts and hotels worldwide.

The manager laughed and replied, "Sorry. The government doesn't allow it. Local residents might pick up the signal."