A Cuban Prisoner's Desperate Cry

Saturday, May 25, 2013
By Cuban political prisoner Ángel Santiesteban-Prats writing from Prison 1580:

Prison Diary XX: With his mouth sewn shut and smeared with excrement, a young man demands his rights.

I found myself, like most of the time, writing on my bed when I heard the call, “Political, Political”; and they came to me in haste. Outside, they told me, there was a man who sewed his mouth shut with wire, come.

Really, to think about the scene makes me bitter. “I’m not a maxillofacial doctor, why, then, my presence?” I said, trying to avoid it. It was he who was calling, they told me, “He wants to talk with you.” Then, I couldn’t stay away. As I approached I heard his desperate voice, calling me, between lips barely open.

To describe the horror in a way that someone who hasn’t seen it can imagine it, is not possible: he stopped in front of the patio door that leads to my hut, his body smeared with fecal waste, holding a pail of dung with the aim of evading the guards who didn’t dare to force him back to his cell. The worst were his lips sewn with wire. The first question I asked myself was what level of desperation, helplessness and sadness could have forced him to commit such a folly, because by his aspect he doesn’t seem to be mentally ill.

With difficulty I could understand that he was desperate because the guards did not want to hear his being right. They just threatened and beat him every time he demanded his rights, and this had led him to take that step. Several times he assured me he wasn’t crazy: he tells me that if the Rapporteurs of the Commission of Human Rights come to see me, don’t be afraid to tell the truth.

I nodded my head in agreement, I’m always overwhelmed by the anxiety of my powerlessness to help. I wouldn’t have minded touching and cleaning those lips that were beginning to show signs of infection, a reason for their taking him to the nurse in those conditions.

I swore that within my humble means, I would inform international public opinion, and if the Rapporteurs came to Cuba, I would talk to them about him.

Before he left I tried to convince him that he had accomplished his purpose; the prison and its leadership felt the guilt of not having listened, the other inmates as well, so I asked if it made sense to continue in such conditions, to the point of putting his life in danger. He said, “Yes, Political, don’t think that I came to you without knowing who you are, in the cell told me how they force-fed you, if you weren’t there or in the hospital.”

I could only ask God to protect him.

Finally he responded to the constant order of the guards to continue to his cell.

“Don’t forget me, Political,” he said, and I couldn’t stop my eyes from tearing up. In those few minutes we had shared between us a solidarity and brotherhood which rose above the difficult situation in which we live.

“I embrace you,” he said. “I you, as well,” I responded and he walked proudly to the dirty and dark recesses of the punishment cells.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

Castro Regime Official Visits Washington, D.C.

Friday, May 24, 2013
The State Department has confirmed that Josefina Vidal, a senior Cuban Foreign Ministry official, was in Washington D.C. this week.

During her visit, Vidal met with U.S. State Department officials, reportedly including the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson.

Among the issues discussed was the arbitrary detention of American development worker, Alan Gross, whose release the U.S. has officially stated remains a top priority.

We commend the State Department for prioritizing efforts to release Mr. Gross. Mr. Gross has been held hostage by the Castro regime since 2009 for helping the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet. He should be immediately and unconditionally released.

However, we also hope the State Department included in its agenda the fundamental right of the Cuban people to live in freedom and the increased repression against them by the Castro dictatorship.

Moreover, that any bilateral talks between the U.S. Government and the Castro dictatorship be publicly disclosed.

We make this last point, as yesterday, State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell seemed a bit coy during the Daily Press Briefing.

When asked about the meeting between Vidal and Jacobson, Ventrell answered:

"I’m not sure if it’s happened. We always raise the issue of Alan Gross and we make our case very clearly and consistently to the Cubans on Alan Gross. But I’ll have to check about details of that meeting."

Another Senior Regime Official Dies

Cuban state media has announced the death of senior Castro regime official, Jaime Crombet, 72.

Crombet was a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist party since 1975.

He served as Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Vice President of the National Assembly, positions he held since 1990 and 1993, respectively.  He was officially replaced last year.

Crombet's daughter, Tania, is married to former Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque, who was purged by Raul Castro in 2009.

Regime Official Pitches Golf Resorts as People-to-People Travel

It is abundantly clear that the Castro regime is desperate for U.S. tourists to salvage its dictatorship.

This week, in pitching the Castros' new golf project, Jose Tova-Pineda, director-general of the Varadero golf course, stated:

"Americans may have a problem with us, but we have no problem with Americans, the more who visit us, the better."

Of course, U.S. tourism to Cuba is illegal (was codified into law as such in 2000) and the U.S. Congress is unlikely to unilaterally change that policy.

So Tova-Pineda aimed his pitch at the Obama Administration instead, hoping to package its new resorts as "cultural tours" for so-called "people-to-people" travelers:

"Our resorts will be at historic cross-centers across the country. That way people get their suntan, enjoy our country and learn about the culture."

Any bets that a "golf itinerary" will soon find its way to OFAC for "people-to-people" approval?

Castro Needs U.S. Tourists to Survive

From The Economist's "Why is playing golf a revolutionary pursuit in Cuba?":

[T]he main reason for the sudden enthusiasm for pitching and putting is a need to attract more tourists. The island pulled in 2.8m visitors last year, far fewer than the 4.6m who flocked to the Dominican Republic, its smaller neighbour. Cuba faces the disadvantage that America, which lies only 100 miles away, makes it very difficult for its own citizens to holiday on the island (try searching for flights to Havana on an American website and you will have no luck, wherever you are from). Now, unstable regional politics make it more crucial than ever for Cuba to pep up income from tourism. Venezuela, whose petrodollars have propped up the Cuban economy for years, is ploughing into an economic crisis. Its new president, Nicolás Maduro, has pledged loyalty to the Castros but is far less popular at home than his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Meanwhile, recent attempts to find oil in Cuban waters have drawn a blank.

The revolution therefore needs golfers.

Latest Cuba Opinion Survey: Repression High, Reforms Weak

Thursday, May 23, 2013
The International Republican Institute (IRI) has just released its yearly public opinion survey conducted within Cuba between January 20 – February 20, 2013.

Among the key findings:

- Repression of free speech and civil liberties remains high. A majority of respondents (69 percent) answered that in the last two years it has not gotten easier to speak one’s mind in public without retribution.

- Cuts in government jobs and the lack of private sector opportunities are driving Cubans into the informal/black market economy to survive. Despite government claims that the private sector is expanding, responses suggest that employment in this sector increased by only three percent from last year. In contrast, respondents who claimed to work in the informal sector expanded by nine percent.

- Hesitancy to respond to sensitive, politically-oriented questions persists; 15 percent of respondents refused to answer whether they think Cubans should vote to choose their president, and 20 percent did not answer when asked if, under certain circumstances, the government represses its own people.

- Cubans seem optimistic about economic reforms implemented over the last six years and believe them to be important. However, 64 percent say they are not benefiting from these reforms directly. Those who say they benefit are mostly concentrated in Havana and the western provinces of the island.

- Despite reports of increased access to the Internet on the island and the connection of the island’s first fiber optic cable, only four percent of respondents reported having access to both Internet and email.

See the full survey here.

A total of 688 Cuban adults were asked questions ranging from access to Internet and cell phone usage, their outlook on their economic future and the state of repression against Cubans by the Castro government. The survey was conducted in 14 Cuban provinces and has a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percent, and a 95 percent level of confidence. This survey was the eighth of its kind conducted by IRI on the island since 2007.

Venezuela Launches Cuban-Restored Missile

Yesterday, the Venezuelan government conducted the test launch of an Otomat missile, model MK2.

Eighteen of these missiles have been restored, thanks to Cuban specialists, for use by Venezuela's Bolivarian Armed Forces.

Venezuela's appointed leader, Nicolas Maduro, announced the launch (and Cuba's support) with much fanfare, as well as the upcoming restoration of AMX 3 light tanks and EE-11 Urutú armored personnel carriers.

What exactly is Cuba's dictatorship arming Venezuela (which currently even has shortages of toilet paper) for?

Two Months Later: Cuban Rapper Remains Imprisoned

Wednesday, May 22, 2013
This week, Beyonce and Jay-Z released a set of new, stylish pictures of their trip to Cuba.

(Apparently, the pictures were meant to market some of the clothing she was wearing.)

In an interview in "Good Morning America", Beyonce recently said she was "shocked" by the criticism of their trip.

Because apparently, traveling to totalitarian dictatorships should be a normal thing.

Why aren't they "shocked" by the fact that fellow artist, Angel Yunier Remon, a young Cuban rapper remains in prison?

He was arrested over two moths ago for his opposition to Castro's regime.

Yunier, from the rap duo "The Children That Nobody Wanted," remains imprisoned without trial or charges at Las Mangas, a prison in Bayamo.

Who will speak out for Angel Yunier Remon?

Obviously, not any people-to-people travelers.

Tweet of the Day

Incredible that the trial against ex-dictator Rios Montt in Guatemala has been reversed.  The place for dictators is jail. 

Amnesty International: Repression in Cuba Increases

Amnesty International has just released its 2013 Annual Report on the state of the world's human rights.

Its Executive Summary on Cuba says it all:

Repression of independent journalists, opposition leaders and human rights activists increased. There were reports of an average of 400 short-term arrests each month and activists travelling from the provinces to Havana were frequently detained. Prisoners of conscience continued to be sentenced on trumped-up charges or held in pre-trial detention.

The AP's Havana Bureau is "Out-of-Touch"

The AP's Havana bureau ran a story today about U.S. diplomat Conrad Tribble's efforts to interact with some of the Castro regime's official bloggers.

Of course, no story from the AP's Havana bureau is complete without taking a shot at Cuba's courageous dissidents.

(And its apparent hope that U.S. diplomats are diverting their focus from supporting dissidents to "seducing" their harassers.)

Thus, the AP writes:

"Washington is eager to reach a more diverse audience, as shown by a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable published in 2010 by WikiLeaks that described the small opposition as aging, ineffective, torn by infighting and hopelessly out of touch with most Cubans."

Here's the cable referred to in the AP's story.

Can someone pinpoint where it says that Cuba's dissidents "are hopelessly out of touch"?

Let's save you some time.

It doesn't.

How about "ineffective"?

No, doesn't use that term either.

These terms were courtesy of the sensationalist editing of the AP's Havana bureau, in order to keep its hosts (and biases) happy.

However, the cable does say that Cuba's dissidents are "comparatively old" (not sure to whom) and that they lack "unity of purpose" (a ridiculous claim).

In this regards, the cable (written by former USINT principal, Jonathan Farrar) was plain wrong -- and time has proven it.

In the last few months, the world has witnessed first-hand the young, united and dynamic faces of Cuba's pro-democracy movement.

Do these people (picture below) seem old and lacking "unity of purpose" to you?

(From left: Antonio Rodiles, Roberto de Jesús, Laritza Diversent, Mirian Celaya, Eliecer Ávila and Yoani Sánchez.)

And that's not to mention Jose Daniel Ferrer, Sara Marta Fonseca, Rosa Maria Paya, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" and all of these young women that strike fear into Castro's regime.

If anyone is old and out-of-touch, it's the octogenarian Castro regime -- and the AP's Havana reporting.

Quote(s) of the Day

I used to think that people could be defended from within the system, but then I experienced the other side.
-- Eliecer Avila, young Cuban democracy activist, during a panel presentation in Sweden's parliament, 5/21/13
What some see as lack of unity in Cuba's opposition is, in fact, its diversity and the richness of its positions.
-- Miriam Celaya, young Cuban blogger and democracy activist, during a panel presentation in Sweden's parliament, 5/21/13

The Ladies in White Are True Heroes

By Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

Damas de Blanco are true heroes

Whether in the streets of Cuba, at international forums — or now in Miami before they return to the island — these brave women are a peaceful but powerful force to behold.

Las Damas de Blanco.

Ten long years ago they came together after the government crackdown on dissidents and independent journalists known as Black Spring, when 74 men and one woman were thrown in prison and handed long sentences.

The men were their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. The Ladies in White became their voices on the outside.

To this day, despite beatings and detentions, in Havana and eastern Santiago de Cuba, they silently march together to church on Sundays wearing white and carrying gladioli to call the world’s attention to the regime’s repression and abuses.

“The love of family,” the women say, united them and fueled a movement that despite the increasing repression, the brutal beatings by police and paramilitary thugs, the suspicious death of their founder, Laura Pollán, and the incarceration of members, is growing.

In temporary freedom in Miami — where as Belkis Cantillo, leader in Santiago de Cuba puts it, “we feel at home” — they tell their story with simple but effective words.

The Cuban regime’s brutes — grown men with closed fists — beat them and drag them from the street into buses to keep them away from public view.

One of those men who hit and dragged her into a bus was a 26-year-old named Norberto.

Cantillo told him: “You really don’t want to hit us, but you’re doing it for the jaba,’’ the bag of needed supplies with which the government rewards loyalty.

He lowered his head, Cantillo says.

Later, Norberto asked one of the two nurses the Cuban government has on hand — to make sure the women don’t die from a public beating — how Cantillo was feeling.

Cantillo told him: “Isn’t the real question here, how hungry are you?”

And so, the Damas carry on their work, spreading their message of peaceful change toward freedom and democracy.

Cantillo shared the stage Monday at the landmark Freedom Tower with María Labrado Pollán, daughter of the late founder of Las Damas de Blanco, and with Berta Soler, the group’s current leader.

“Guardians of freedom,” Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón called them.

Theirs are no small acts of heroism. Not when you consider that one of their members, Sonia Garro, has been imprisoned by the Cuban government since March 18, 2012. More than a year later, she hasn’t been charged, nor has there been a trial.

What was her crime? Expressing her desire for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, who made time to see both the Castro brothers but had no time for the church-going Ladies in White.

Garro and her husband, Ramón Muñoz González, were arrested as part of a massive sweep to keep dissidents away from the events surrounding the pope’s trip to Cuba.

Human rights organizations have denounced that police raided her home, shot her with rubber bullets and took her away to Manto Negro women’s prison, where she is being held with criminal and insane inmates. Her husband was sent to Combinado del Este, where he also remains without charges or trial.

Despite the lack of intervention on their behalf by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, these women express nothing but love of God and church, and mention generous parish priests who support them.

“We love Christ and we’re not going to fight with the church,” Soler says.

Theirs are no small acts of heroism when one takes into account that Laura Pollán was taken to the hospital by Soler to be treated for shortness of breath and a diabetic imbalance — and Pollán never made it out alive.

Labrado says that she was so sure her mother was going to recuperate that, when the hospital called and asked her to come, she took the time to make cafecito to share with the people who had been there all night.

“They thought that, without Laura, Las Damas were going to dissolve, to disappear, but instead we’re growing and will continue to grow,” Labrado says. “Laura Pollán lives through us, and we’re not afraid because the freedom of Cuba is worth it.”

When the history of 21st century women’s movements is written, Las Damas de Blanco will merit an extensive chapter.

As they begin the return to their homeland, they deserve the world’s vigilance, support, and protection.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Fidel's Philosophy Revealed

Tuesday, May 21, 2013
A scandal is brewing in Venezuela pursuant to yesterday's release of a recording of conversations between Chavez's main media figure, Mario Silva, and the head of Cuba's intelligence apparatus in Venezuela, Lt. Col. Aramis Palacio.

In the recording, Silva reveals:

"My Comandante Fidel [Castro] told me on one occasion, and he has to remember, because that was one of the meetings I had with him. He said he did not understand why Comandante Chavez still was not finished with bourgeois elections.

Because the people make mistakes and I absolutely agree. I absolutely and totally agree. The elections here, as currently set up, can become a real pain, and destroy the Revolution."

And there you have it.

Fidel is afraid of elections because "the people make mistakes."

In other words, he knows the people would "get it right" and have booted him out long ago.

Thus, the Castro brothers have ruled for over five decades through a totalitarian dictatorship, in which the people are coerced through fear and force.

And he wanted Chavez to do the same.

Cuba Violates Religious Freedom

Today, the U.S. Department of State released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2012.

According to the Executive Summary of the Report:

In Cuba, the Communist Party, through its Office of Religious Affairs, continued to monitor and control most aspects of religious life. Although many religious groups reported reduced interference from the government in conducting services, importing religious materials, receiving donations from overseas, and in traveling abroad, serious restrictions to the freedom of religion remained. The government regularly prevented peaceful human rights activists, including members of the Ladies in White, from attending religious services, and routinely used government-sponsored protest groups to assault or detain them. Before Pope Benedict XVI’s visit, authorities arrested many members of the peaceful political opposition or prevented them from leaving their homes to participate with the Pope in celebrating mass. A number of religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, continued their years-long wait for a decision from the Ministry of Justice on pending applications for official recognition.

May 20th: An Unforgettable Day

Monday, May 20, 2013
By Cuban journalist and former prisoner of conscience, Normando Hernández, in The Bush Institute's Freedom Collection:

In his book Cuba: Early Years of Independence (1911), Rafael Ortiz writes that on May 20th, 1902 in Cuba, “The joy was general and it was legitimate; Cubans were touching their dreams … all parties held up until ‘then’ had been pale compared to those celebrated on that memorable date.” Nothing else could be expected from Cubans after four centuries of Spanish colonization and three years of U.S. occupation.

It wasn’t just the Cuban diaspora celebrating the birth of the new republic. Tampa’s newspaper, The Morning Tribune, in a review entitled “The Cuban Citizens Hail Their New Republic,” reported: “There were few houses in Ybor City and West Tampa that did not join the consecration of Cuba Libre (Free Cuba). Homes and businesses of Cuban residents in Tampa were festooned with flags and portraits of Cuban heroes… American merchants, also enthusiastic, showed their joy decorating their businesses with the colors of Cuba. Sponsored by the National Cuban Club, there were several functions with music, speeches, fireworks, parties and religious services, which made this Cuban ’4th of July celebration’ in Tampa impossible to forget for Cubans and all other citizens.”

Unfortunately, in Cuba these celebrations only lasted 57 years. The Castro brothers came to power in 1959 and rejected May 20th as a holiday. Thankfully, Cubans haven’t allowed anyone to snatch their history from them. They continue to celebrate May 20th in Cuba under Castro’s repression. Those living in the diaspora, like their predecessors in 1902, celebrate it as well.

Americans continue to celebrate with them. We cannot forget the solidarity of President George W. Bush, who during his eight years in office, never let May 20th pass without sending messages of support to Cubans on this significant date. We recall that on May 20th, 2007, President Bush publicly announced shipments of cell phones to Cuba to help break through the regime’s monopoly on information. Moreover, we remember his Initiative for a New Cuba , the Commission for Supporting a Free Cuba and his proclamation of a day of solidarity with the Cuban people.

We hope that one day soon, with continued solidarity between Cubans and Americans, Cuba can once again celebrate new freedoms, as it did in 1902. For that, we continue our struggle. As President Bush said: “We do not wait for the day of freedom in Cuba; we work for the day of freedom in Cuba.”

Amen.

Important Quote of the Day

The Cubans make the decisions within [Venezuela's] General Directorate of Military Counter-Intelligence.  A great deal of attention is given to the suggestions and comments they make.  They are the ones that design the plans and manage the type of action that counter-intelligence is going to take against the opposition, students and anyone else.
-- Venezuelan intelligence official, told El Nuevo Herald under condition of anonymity, 5/20/13

Raul's Bogus Reforms Exposed

As we've long argued -- and every Cuban pro-democracy leader has recently confirmed -- the so-called "reforms" by Raul Castro are simply a scam for the regime to buy time and extend its rule.

However, none of the reforms are substantial.

The proof is in the pudding.

After years of Raul's hyped agricultural "reforms," here are the results:

During the 1st quarter of 2013, the production of crops outside of the sugar sector have decreased by 7.8%; among which vegetable production has decreased by 20.8%. 

Great job, Raul.

Meanwhile, as regards the so-called "self-employment" sector, the Castro regime's inspectors have been raiding kiosks throughout Old Havana.

They have told licensed "self-employed" vendors that they can only sell products from within their own homes.  Moreover, that they can only sell artisan products they have made themselves.  In other words, they cannot sell foreign clothing or brands, nor any product acquired from the state's wholesale markets (the only ones that exists) or sold in a state store.

As one "self-employed" vendor stated, "with these people nothing is for sure, they take one step forward and two steps back."

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Where Dictators Should Die

General Jorge Rafael Videla, head of the military junta that ruled over Argentina from 1976-1983, died last week at the age of 87.

He died where all dictators should die -- in prison.

Videla was serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.

It shouldn't be forgotten that during its rule, Videla's brutal regime found Cuba's Fidel Castro to be its biggest protector from international scrutiny.

In the study, "Unusual Alliance: Cuban-Argentine Relations in Geneva, 1976-1983," Kezia McKeague documents how the Castro regime provided cover for the Argentine dictatorship at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

In part, it was to protect themselves from human rights criticism, but also as thanks for the Argentine regime's grain shipments to the USSR, which sought to circumvent U.S. sanctions at the time.

At the end of the day, dictators have no ideology -- just a zeal for absolute power.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Cuban Artist's Paintings Confiscated

Sunday, May 19, 2013
Yesterday, the Castro regime's secret police burst into the home of famed Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado (known as "El Sexto").

El Sexto was arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned overnight.

All of his work was seized, along with his camera and laptop computer.

After a night of interrogations, while his home and belongings were meticulously searched, El Sexto was released this morning.

But any art deemed to have a "political reference" was confiscated.