What is it With Celebrities and Dictators?

Saturday, June 29, 2013
From The Human Rights Foundation:

Jennifer Lopez Celebrates Turkmenistan’s Dictator

Sings for Human Rights Violator-in-Chief Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov

American pop singer Jennifer Lopez headlined yesterday’s 56th birthday celebration of the President of the Republic of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 2006. His family and friends exert complete control over politics, economics, and society, and his cult of personality is extreme.

“Lopez obviously has the right to earn a living performing for the dictator of her choice and his circle of cronies, but her actions utterly destroy the carefully-crafted message she has cultivated with her prior involvement with Amnesty International’s programs in Mexico aimed at curbing violence against women,” said Human Rights Foundation (HRF) president Thor Halvorssen. “What is the next stop on her tour, Syria? The dictator of Kazakhstan’s birthday is July 6, maybe she will also pay him a visit?” Halvorssen asked.

Freedom House ranks the Berdymukhamedov dictatorship as one of the nine "worst of the worst"; Transparency international ranks it as a bottom-seven country in their Corruption Perception Index; Reporters Without Borders classifies him as a "predator of press freedom" and ranks Turkmenistan as the world’s third-worst place for journalists, between Syria, North Korea, and Eritrea; HRF considers it one of the world's most totalitarian regimes. Berdymukhamedov was re-elected with 97% of the vote in 2012. The vote was so obviously fraudulent that the OSCE declined to even send observers.

Lopez, whose management and back-up singers were enthusiastically tweeting their presence in Turkmenistan, are surely ignorant that social networks like Twitter and Facebook are banned, and the country’s only ISP is controlled by the regime. The government relies heavily on surveillance of telephone and electronic communications. Political opposition to the government is considered treason, and torture is widespread. Homosexuality is illegal.

Lopez’s performance for this government included a concert as well as a special “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” performance where she donned regional garb. HRF has previously publicized similar celebrity endorsements of dictators ranging from Hilary Swank’s disastrous celebration of Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov’s birthday to Julio Iglesias’s recent visit to Equatorial Guinea to perform in a production of the Obiang family that has ruled the African country for more than 40 years. According to sources inside her own production team, Lopez received a seven-figure payment for her presence routed through a Chinese corporation.

“It is astonishing, given the public humiliation endured by Hilary Swank just recently, that Lopez’s management and the singer herself would be so obtuse and insensitive to human rights concerns,” said Halvorssen. Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Beyoncé and 50 Cent were disgraced after singing for Muammar Gaddafi’s family and earning millions of dollars for it. All of these performers were shamed into donating their performance fees for having entertained dictators.

More U.S. Citizens Imprisoned in Cuba

This story raises an interesting question:

Are these imprisoned U.S. citizens Cuban-Americans, who are renting cars to visit family members?

Or are they "people-to-people" travelers, who are supposed to be on sponsored "full-itinerary" travel?

If the latter, then it's further proof that "people-to-people" trips are increasingly (illegal) tourism junkets.

From The Miami Herald:

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana issued a warning Friday that traffic accidents involving U.S. citizens are on the rise, and noted that seven Americans are currently unable to leave the island because of such accidents.

“We urge you to take extra safety precautions when driving to avoid problems during your stay in Cuba,” the mission, officially the U.S. Interests Section, said in English and Spanish-language statements posted on its Web page and sent to journalists.

Two U.S. citizens were jailed for accident-related offenses during recent months, two others are under house arrest and three more are not being allowed to leave the island because of accident-related offenses, according to the statement.

Prison sentences for car accidents can run up to 10 years, the statement noted, and witnesses and even some people who require emergency medical treatment abroad have been forced to remain in Cuba while their cases are investigated.

Castro's Troika + Russia to Discuss Snowden

According to EFE, diplomats from Russia, Cuba, Venezuela y Ecuador (the last three being "Castro's troika") will gather in Moscow on Monday to discuss the situation of U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden.

A spokesman for the Public Chamber of Russia, which is part of the Kremlin, said Castro's troika would meet with "human rights activists" there in order to make a "social evaluation of the situation."

Snowden has officially sought asylum in Ecuador.  However, if Snowden were to take a commercial flight, he would have to stop over in either Cuba or Venezuela.

Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro stated that it is “almost certain” he would grant asylum to Snowden, if officially asked.

Meanwhile, Snowden still has treasure trove of U.S. national security information at his disposal, which Russian and Cuban intelligence is eager to get its hands on (if it hasn't already).

North Korea and Cuba: "In the Same Trench"

From AFP:

North Korea's army chief of staff said Friday in Havana his country is "in the same trench" as Cuba, local television reported.

General Kyok Sik Kim, who arrived a day earlier in the Americas' only Communist-run nation, said he was there "to find colleagues in the same trench: the Cuban comrades."

The general laid a wreath at the tomb of independence hero Antonio Maceo and visited a tank unit, accompanied by his local counterpart General Alvaro Lopez Miera.

Notable Quotes: Guillermo Fariñas in Washington, D.C.

Friday, June 28, 2013
Some noteworthy quotes by Cuban democracy leader Guillermo Fariñas on Capitol Hill yesterday:

On Cuban-Americans:

"All of you have lost your geographic homeland, but you haven't lost your spiritual homeland.  So long as you don't lose your spiritual homeland, the Castro's cannot win."

On the U.S. embargo:

"The overwhelming majority of dissidents on the island do not support the lifting of the embargo. There are those who do support its lifting, and we respect their criteria, but they are mostly intellectuals who do not have a membership base behind them."

On tourism travel:

"As spokesman for the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), the largest organized opposition group on the island (with over 5,000 active members), we oppose tourism travel to Cuba by Americans."

-- The Florida House, Washington, D.C., 6/27/13.

Happy Birthday, Babalu!

Our tireless friends and trailblazers at Babalu Blog are celebrating their 10th anniversary.

It was the first Cuban blog in history.

Today, 28,000 posts and over 7 million unique visitors later, they still share the same passion and patriotism.

As renowned Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has recognized, they are "the grandfather of Cuban blogs."

Make sure to read today's feature on Babalu in The Nuevo Herald (Spanish) here.

Freedom Shall Always Prevail

Thursday, June 27, 2013
This is such a powerful image.

It is of U.S. President Barack Obama, as he looks out of the "door of no return" during a tour of Goree Island in Senegal.

Goree Island is the site of the former slave house and embarkation point built by the Dutch in 1776, from which African slaves were brought to the Americas.

The "door of no return" was the entrance to the slave ships.

Over 235 years later, an American of African descent is the President of the most powerful country in human history.

It goes to show that freedom shall always, eventually, prevail.

Raul Searches for Bailout, Cuba's Opposition Unites

Wednesday, June 26, 2013
The Spanish newspaper ABC has an interview with Dagoberto Valdes, a respected Catholic intellectual and editor of the magazines Vitral and Convivencia.

(Vitral was shut down by the Castro regime, with the help of Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, in 2007).

You can read the whole interview (in Spanish) here.

The following are some key quotes:

"[T]he strength and unification of the civil society has opened a new stage in the balance of powers towards the government.  In the last fourteen months, opposition groups have entered into a process of unity in diversity, such as the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), with José Daniel Ferrer as its leader, Félix Navarro, Guillermo Fariñas... But it's also taking place at the provincial level.  In Pinar del Rio, for example, all of the groups have united as the Pinareña Democratic Alliance, which supports UNPACU. They're unified in their diversity, which is a qualitative change in the civil society."

"[The civil society] is no longer nascent.  It is growing and sufficiently united by a set of common values​​, in order to set aside the circumstances and details that separate us until the moment democracy and a parliament arrive."

"Unfortunately, Cubans still do not have economic reforms that legally recognize and protect entrepreneurship. The self-employment trades are a list of 'medieval crafts.' They don't affect, in any way, the big companies that decide the Cuban economy, which are all in the hands of the state. Nearly seven years after the change from Fidel to Raul Castro, the economy -- rather than progress -- has worsened."

"The political and economic stability of Venezuela has a determining influence on the present and future of Cuba. The Cuban government is not preparing with urgency and with the substantial political decisions that should be taken: a structural economic reform that recognizes private property, free enterprise and foreign investment, including Cuban exiles. This must be accompanied by a structural political reform with political pluralism, democracy and the rule of law, and a reform of the media, which will recognize freedom of expression, press freedom and free competition among diverse sources."

"[The upcoming U.S.-Cuba migration talks] demonstrate the urgency and need of the Cuban government to establish relations with the United States and the European Union, as alternative partners for its economy, due to the uncertainty about the future of Venezuela."

More Jedi Mind Tricks

U.S. travel to Cuba hurts the Castro regime, say Castro regime advocates.

No really.

From Wall Street Journal:

There are no direct commercial flights between Russia and Ecuador. The whistleblower could conceivably travel through Venezuela or Cuba. But Cuba's Raúl Castro is hoping to increase tourism from the U.S. and may not be eager to have him pass through.

Meanwhile, AFP reports that the Spanish hotel company Meliá will open one of the biggest yacht marinas in the Caribbean, in partnership with the Cuban military's holding company Gaviota, in the beach resort of Varadero:

"The Meliá Marina Varadero will be built in partnership with the state tourism company Gaviota at tip of the Península de Icacos, one of the closest points on the island to Florida, United States."

Senator Nelson: I'd Only Travel to Cuba to Visit Dissidents & Alan Gross

The Obama Administration should require a similar, principled standard for its "people-to-people" travel -- or eliminate the junkets altogether.

From U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL):

Anti-Castro, Pro-Embargo Lawmaker Open to Cuba Trip Focused on Jailed American

Washington, D.C. - Two leading Cuban dissidents, in a meeting with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson here today, invited the Florida Democrat and outspoken opponent of the Castro regime to come to Cuba to see first-hand that the people there continue to be denied human rights and personal freedoms by a Communist regime bent on maintaining power.

Nelson, who remains one of the strongest supporters of the decades-old U.S. economic embargo against the tiny island nation, said for the first time that he would in fact consider such a visit – if it was focused mainly on helping to free a U.S. aid worker who was arrested and imprisoned there more than three years ago as well as directly visiting with courageous dissidents on the island.

“If I were to go to Cuba, I would want to see Alan Gross and do what I can to get him home,” Nelson told the anti-Castro dissidents, adding, “it would be on a humanitarian mission to visit with pro-democracy groups and opposition figures.”

The Florida lawmaker has taken an increasingly active role with Cuba’s leading opposition figures lately, including meeting with famed-Cuban opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez, and the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, Rosa Maria Paya, and the two dissidents he met with today, Guillermo "Coco" Farinas and Elizardo Sanchez.

Castro's Terrorism Pupil Gets Life Sentence

It goes to show you that -- despite the wishes of some U.S.-based advocates of the Castro regime -- there's no statute of limitations for murder and terrorism.

On a side note, Carlos is still using the same rhetoric that the Castros taught him.

From France 24:

Paris court upholds ‘Carlos the Jackal’ life sentence

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, who is best known by the name ‘Carlos the Jackal,’ lost his bid on Wednesday to appeal a 2011 decision sentencing him to life in prison for masterminding a string of deadly bombings in France during the 1980s.

Carlos the Jackal, once one of the world’s most wanted criminals, lost his appeal of a guilty verdict for deadly bomb attacks in France three decades ago, as a Paris court on Wednesday reaffirmed a life sentence in prison.

The Venezuelan defendant, 63, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, had appealed a guilty verdict handed down in December 2011 for masterminding four separate attacks on two trains, a train station and a Paris street that killed 11 people and wounded about 150 more.

Before the verdict, the Marxist militant and self-dubbed “elite gunman” who became a symbol of Cold War anti-imperialism delivered a four-hour rambling monologue touching on everything from U.S. foreign policy to Basque separatism and Hezbollah.

“I have fought all my life against terrorists,” Ramirez said. “We are not terrorists, we are freedom fighters!”

If Castro Says So, Then It Must Be True?

After 50 years of lies, one would be hard pressed to find anyone that finds the Castro brothers to be credible.

Except for some Cuba "experts" here in the U.S., of course.

Despite the Castros' historic (and absurd) "promises" of free elections, "guarantees" that there have never been political prisoners in Cuba and "assurances" that no Cuban has ever been tortured, there are still those eager to take them at their word.

Thus, the echo chamber begun yesterday by The Havana Note's editor, Anya Landau French, who wrote that NSA fugitive Edward Snowden would not go to Cuba because:

"In the State Department's 2006 report detailing why it would continue to list Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, it noted that Cuban authorities had given assurances they would no longer accept 'new' U.S. fugitives (whether their crimes were considered political or not). Allowing Snowden to transit Cuba would be a break of faith from that assurance given."

(On a side note, The Havana Note is no longer a project of the New America Foundation, which now receives USAID funds to promote freedom of information and democracy in Cuba -- kudos to them.  Instead, The Havana Note has now become a project of Wayne Smith's program at the Center for International Policy.)

We hate to break it to those too excited by this "revelation," but the Castro regime has already broken this "promise" as well, in the form of numerous Medicare fraud fugitives in Cuba since 2006.

Some of these new fugitives, still at-large, include Manuel Aneiros Lopez, Maricel and Eugenio Hernandez, Pedro Perez and Jorge Caro.

In another example of a whopper, just last month, the Castro regime announced:

"The territory of Cuba has never been used and never will be to harbor terrorists of any origin, nor to organize, finance or perpetrate acts of terrorism against any country in the world, including the United States."

Really?

Just ask Castro's favorite pupil, Carlos "the Jackal" -- or ETA, FARC, ELN, PLO, M-19, Medellin Cartel, Montoneros, Macheteros, FLN, EGP, MIR, IRA, FALN, NLF, MRTA or PFLP, just to name a few.

But if Castro says so, then it must be true?

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Cuban Military Misappropriates Foreign Aid

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
For those who ingeniously believe a "trickle-down" effect is possible in totalitarian Cuba.

In The Miami Herald:

Outspoken Cuban priest Jose Conrado Rodriguez alleged that foreign aid sent to his native Santiago de Cuba province after Hurricane Sandy last year was diverted to government, military and tourism facilities but denied to private homes.

“The situation in Santiago is very grave” because many of the more than 100,000 homes damaged by the storm have not been repaired, Rodriguez told El Nuevo Herald on Tuesday. “The aid has not reached the people.”

Rodriguez first made the allegations in a public letter to the head of the Communist Party in the province, Lázaro Expósito, urging him to crack down on the diversion of the aid and “the corruption that surrounds you.”

“We have watched with astonishment the theft of the assistance that so many countries sent to our people,” he wrote, “how that aid was sold … at inflated prices in flagrant violation of the intentions of the donors.”

“We have watched with astonishment as government or armed forces installations were repaired in record time, while the people remain without roofs,” he wrote in the letter, dated June 16.

French News Agency Omits Castro's Larceny

The AFP, which stands for Agence France-Presse, has run a story regarding a dispute between the European Union and the U.S. over a trademark law "affecting the rum business."

The story explains how, "the battle centers on a 1998 law which allows a US brand of rum to use the 'Havana Club' name despite it already being owned by a company based in Cuba, which is in business with France's Pernod Ricard group."

Moreover that, "the 1998 law banned Havana Club Holdings, a joint venture between Pernod Ricard and Havana Rum and Liquors of Cuba, which owns the Havana Club trademark, forcing it to defend its business in US courts against the Bacardi-Martini group."

Doesn't that sound nice?

Now here's what the AFP conveniently omits, in order to cover the predatory actions of its fellow Frenchmen at Pernod Ricard.

The trademark law in question simply prohibits the recognition of stolen brands in the U.S.

The Havana Club brand was stolen, without compensation, from its rightful owners by the Castro regime in 1959.

The Castro regime then took the stolen brand and illegally sold it to France's Pernod Ricard, which apparently has no problem trafficking in stolen property.

As such, the U.S. does not recognize the Castro regime or Pernod Ricard as the rightful owners of the brand Havana Club.

Larceny is a terrible thing to omit.

Fariñas: U.S. Must Not Lift Embargo Until Cuba is Free

Great interview with Cuban democracy leader and Sakharov Prize recipient Guillermo Fariñas in Fox News Latino:

Cuban Dissident Famous For His Hunger Strikes Tours The U.S.

Fariñas is best known for waging hunger strikes in his fight for liberty in Cuba.

Over the past few years, hunger strikes have become an anti-establishment tactic that has been used frequently in Cuba, above all after cases like that of Fariñas, who holds the record with more than 24 hunger strikes.

Some of his hunger strikes have lasted for so long – 134 days, for example – that his condition has turned grave at times, even causing a potentially a fatal blood clot in his neck at one point.

Why does he do it?

“You have to keep fighting,” he told Fox News Latino in an interview Friday. “Someone has to fight this struggle to free Cuba. The love for my country is what keeps me going.”

Cuban government security forces have pressured Fariñas to tone down his opposition to the regime. They have threatened him, and thrown him in jail three times.

The first time, in the mid-1990s, he was in jail for almost two years. The second time it was three years, and the third time it was seven years.

“They were more aggressive when no one really knew me outside Cuba,” said Fariñas, a soft-spoken, tall, lanky man who is a trained psychologist and freelance journalist. “Now it’s more restrained, but still persistent and very concerted. They’re just more careful about not beating or doing anything too overt because there’s more international awareness about me now, so they know that anything they do will become known outside Cuba.”

Still, like other vocal dissidents, Fariñas concedes he is not immune to feeling afraid of the regime.

“I’ll be honest, I am afraid often,” he said, “but I overcome it. The government has to know by now that what it does to me, I have countermeasures to fight them. If they push too hard, I will go on a hunger strike. It’s my way of fighting them, in the hope that they’ll reconsider what they’re doing to me or other opponents.”

On Jan. 14 a new law took effect scrapping the permit known as the "white card," which Cuba routinely denied to those it considers "counterrevolutionaries" working for foreign interests and bent on undermining the communist government.

That is what paved the way for dissidents like Fariñas and Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, denounced by the regime as traitors to the Cuban revolution, to be able to leave the island to visit other nations.

Sanchez came to the U.S. in February and went back to Cuba after four months, and Fariñas said he will return home in July.

He said he has no intentions of trying to stay in the United States.

"Cuba does not belong to Fidel or Raúl, it belongs to all Cubans of all different viewpoints," he said. "I am Cuban and I have a right to live there, in freedom."

He favors the embargo, because he said that to lift it would be to "provide oxygen to the regime."

"The U.S. must not lift the embargo in the absence of any real move by the Cuban government to make democratic reforms," he said.

Like other dissidents who have been in the United States on travel visas, Fariñas said the fact that he and other government critics have had the rare chance to leave Cuba this year should be interpreted as a new openness by the regime of Raul Castro.

"The Cuban government does these things to make it seem like it's softening," he said, "so that the European Union and the United States can extend it [financial] credit."

One of the highlights of his travels in the United States has been to meet Cuban exiles for the first time.

"I'd only spoken to them on the telephone," he said. "While I've opted to stay in Cuba and fight for liberty there, I do not fault the fellow Cubans who came here and stayed here. They are in the world superpower, they have succeeded, they have all they need, all the comforts, and yet they continue to fight for liberty in Cuba, they do not forget their homeland."

"And I am so heartened and proud to see that they are passing on their love of Cuba and devotion to seeing it free to the younger generation of Cubans here."


Why Did Infamous U.S. Fugitive Promote Travel to Cuba?

The case of NSA fugitive Edward Snowden has various news sites recapping the lives of other infamous U.S. fugitives that have fled to Cuba.

Among these was Philip Agee, a former CIA officer, who would become a Cuban intelligence asset and reveal the identities of hundreds of U.S. agents throughout the world.

The summary below reminds us how, from 2000 until his death in 2008, Agee opened a Havana-based travel agency, named Cubalinda, which helped Americans skirt sanctions and travel to Cuba.

Why would Agee, a close collaborator of Castro's intelligence services, promote travel to Cuba?

Haven't "experts" assured us that travel to Cuba somehow hurts the Castro regime?

Or is this another one of those sophisticated "Jedi mind-tricks"?

From Fox News:

Philip Agee: A former CIA agent whose 1975 book "Inside the Company: CIA Diary," named American intelligence operatives and cited alleged misdeeds against Latin American leftists, Agee died in Havana in 2008 at the age of 72. While never prosecuted in the United States, Agee was denied a U.S. passport in 1987 over alleged links to Cuban intelligence. He lived underground in France and Germany, but in his later years spent most of his time in Havana, even opening a travel agency dedicated to helping Americans visit the island despite the U.S. embargo.

Tweet of the Week

About Shortages and Political Discontent

For Spanish speakers.

A great parody by a Cuban woman -- about shortages and political discontent -- of the Ana Gabriel and Vikki Carr song "Amiga":

Will Cuban Workers Ever Get Back Their Right to Strike?

Monday, June 24, 2013
By young Cuban writer, Isbel Diaz Torres, in Havana Times:

Will Cuban Workers Ever Get Back Their Right to Strike?

Cuban workers do not enjoy the right to strike. This right, which is elementary in any country which considers itself democratic, is nowhere mentioned in the current (and out-of-date) Constitution of the Republic of Cuba. The Constitution, however, doesn’t explicitly deny workers this right either.

Some friends have told me the Cuban government, which has, of late, been impelling certain forms of economic organization that are by definition exploitative, may officially acknowledge the right of workers to strike.

According to Diario de Cuba, the Cuban government has affirmed: “Nothing would impede Cuban workers from organizing a strike should they ever decide to resort to such methods,” pointing out that the country’s legislation “includes no prohibition in this connection (…) nor does the penal code establish any sanction whatsoever for exercising such rights.”

All of us know, however, that, in practice, this is a lie. With the aid of the State Security apparatus, management personnel deploy every mechanism at their disposal to prevent disaffected workers from organizing to protest, no matter what the issue.

The fear of being stigmatized, manipulated, associated with an imperialist plot or the United States and others cloud the minds of Cubans and keep them from taking a step in any direction. What’s more, the institution officially designed to “channel” such discontents is the Federation of Cuban Workers (CTC).

To date, the CTC has been the only institution entitled to represent workers before the Cuban government, a right conferred upon it by Article 61 of Decree Law 67, passed in 1983. Such an official designation tacitly rules out the existence of other, alternative labor organizations.

Last year, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) asked Cuban authorities to modify this article with a view to guaranteeing trade union pluralism.

The ILO also called on the Cuban government to “expressly” acknowledge the right of Cuban workers to strike, “in order to safeguard the legal certainty” of those workers who chose to exercise this right.

To no avail. As far as we know, the draft of Cuba’s new Labor Law does not include any of the suggestions made by the ILO.

The history of Cuba’s workers movement is rich in episodes of trade-union activism. To mention one example, four general strikes, involving the most renowned anarchist leaders of the time (Marcelo Salines and Alfredo Lopez), were organized in Havana during 1918 and 1919.

One of these strikes left Havana without newspapers. President Mario Garcia Menocal had no choice but to intervene, and the workers obtained the pay hike they were demanding.

In 1925, the Cuban National Workers’ Confederation (CNOC) was founded. The right of Cuban workers to strike, which was ultimately included in the Constitution of 1940 (Article 71), was one of the more important rights obtained by the confederation.

Will Cuban workers continue to wait for help from the CTC, which has swept away this entire tradition? The CTC approved a motion to make the communist affiliation of its Secretary General mandatory, allowed for changes to the country’s Social Security Law, made in 2008, which added five years to the minimum retirement age, supported the laying off of “superfluous” workers and, lastly, is devoting efforts to place the new class of private business owners in the same, administrative category as State employees.

In view of this, one cannot help but find a touch of irony in the news broadcasts by Cuban television, which show workers from around the world (including countries belonging to the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) organizing strikes to protest the abuses of their employers and governments.

To add insult to injury, Article 13 of Cuba’s current Constitution “offers asylum to those who are persecuted for their ideals or their participation in struggles for democratic rights (…) for the rights and demands of workers, peasants and students.” This means that foreign workers have more rights, in Cuba, than we Cuban workers do.

Do we need to remind Cuban authorities that the State isn’t putting food on our tables, that we are the ones who are putting food on their tables?

Cuba May Not Pass Snowden's "Democracy" Laugh-Test

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has tweeted: "The Government of Ecuador has received an asylum request from Edward J. #Snowden."

WikiLeaks, the organization that released classified American diplomatic cables, said in a statement that it “assisted Mr. Snowden’s political asylum in a democratic country, travel papers.

Apparently, Cuba may not even pass Snowden and Wikileak's "democracy" laugh-test.

However, Castro's close ally, Ecuador, just might.

Similar to Castro, this is an opportunity for Ecuador's leader, Rafael Correa, to portray himself as a champion of "freedom of speech," while he cracks down on press freedom in his own country.

Moreover, it's a bonanza for Cuban intelligence to have privileged access to Snowden's stolen information.

Ironically, both Bush and Obama officials have believed -- throughout the years -- that they could seduce Correa to become a U.S.-ally through intense diplomacy.

Wishful thinking.

Memo to Snowden: Don't Try This in Cuba, Ecuador or Venezuela

Excerpt by Jill Lawrence in National Journal:

Memo to Snowden: Don't Try This in Ecuador (or Russia or Cuba or Venezuela or Hong Kong)

The countries on his itinerary wouldn't meet his standards or treat him very well.

Edward Snowden is trying to escape the long arm of U.S. law by flying in and out of countries that clearly don't mind annoying us, and just as clearly are not the exemplars of democracy, transparency and civil liberties he wishes his own country to be.

Snowden's itinerary appeared to be evolving throughout much of Sunday. He left Hong Kong, landed in Russia and was reportedly bound for Cuba and then Venezuela. Later, the foreign minister of Ecuador tweeted that his country had received an asylum request from Snowden.

So say you're a citizen of Cuba, Venezuela or Ecuador, and you want to protest against your government, maybe even leak some big secrets. What kind of conditions and treatment might you expect? Nothing close to Snowden's standard for his own country, that's for sure. Here's what Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch conclude in their 2013 world reports:

CUBA: Human Rights Watch calls Cuba "the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent" and says it does so using "short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile. "The government continues to sentence dissidents to one to four-year prison terms in closed, summary trials, and holds others for extended periods without charge," the group says.

Amnesty International noted that Antonio Michel Lima Cruz, released in October after a two-year sentence, had been convicted of "insulting symbols of the homeland" and "public disorder" for singing anti-government songs. An opposition blogger was blocked from leaving the country for a conference. In addition, "access to information on the Internet remained challenging due to technical limitations and restrictions on content."

VENEZUELA: The power amassed by the government under the late president Hugo Chavez has enabled it to "intimidate, censor, and prosecute Venezuelans who criticize the president or thwart his political agenda," writes Human Rights Watch. Reprisals against government critics have unnerved judges, journalists and human rights defenders. Chavez adopted laws that "dramatically reduce the public's right to obtain information held by the government." In addition, he packed the Supreme Court, which "has largely abdicated its role as a check on executive power." Voters narrowly chose a hand-picked Chavez ally to succeed Chavez in a disputed April election.

ECUADOR: This is the country that gave asylum last summer to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. He is now advising Snowden from inside the embassy of Ecuador in London, where he has been for a year.
Human Rights Watch in its latest annual report notes that journalists and media figures who criticize the government are subjected to "public denunciation and retaliatory litigation." In addition, it says, "Corruption, inefficiency, and political influence have plagued Ecuador's judiciary for years."

The group cites a "terrorism and sabotage" section of the criminal code that it says authorities are using against people protesting about issues like the environment. There's also a 2011 decree from President Rafael Correa allowing the government to monitor the activities of all international NGOs with offices in Ecuador, and rescind their authorizations to operate if, among other things, they resort to "political interference" or "attack public security and peace." And just last week, Human Rights Watch scored Ecuador for a new law it termed an "assault on free speech."

Like the other nations on Snowden's sanctuary search, this does not seem like his type of place.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Quote of the Day

Sunday, June 23, 2013
He compromised our national security program. The freedom trail is not exactly China-Russia-Cuba-Venezuela, so I hope we’ll chase him to the ends of the Earth, bring him to justice and let the Russians know there’ll be consequences if they harbor this guy.
-- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), on NSA fugitive Edward Snowden, Fox News Sunday, 6/23/13

Why Snowden May Be Cubazuela Bound

News reports indicate that Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor wanted for stealing U.S. government property and espionage, is currently in Moscow and headed to Cuba (then Venezuela).

Obviously, Cuba remains a safe haven for fugitives from U.S. justice. The FBI believes over 70 fugitives from U.S. justice are currently being harbored by the Castro regime.

Meanwhile, Venezuela's government is controlled by the Castro regime, so it's the same thing.

Snowden is the Philip Agee of his time.

Agee was a former CIA officer who revealed the names and other sensitive information regarding hundreds of U.S. intelligence operatives -- putting their lives at risk -- throughout the world.

His actions led Congress to pass the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, which made it a crime to intentionally reveal the identity of intelligence officers.

Agee was harbored by the Castro regime and died in Cuba in 2008.

For China and Russia, Snowden in Cuba or Venezuela is a win-win -- for they can just as easily extract information they want from him without any of the diplomatic hassle.

China and Russia may even pay cash-strapped Cuba and Venezuela a steep premium for such a "service."

Of course, the irony remains that Snowden, who claims to be protesting against government snooping, may be headed to a totalitarian police state -- proof that this is not about "freedom of speech," as some of his supporters claim.

As for the Castro regime, it has concluded it has nothing to lose.

It has yet to suffer any repercussions for the hostage-taking of American development worker Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned since 2009.

Moreover, it allows the Castro regime to distract from its repressive actions by parading Snowden as a hero of "freedom of speech."

The Castro regime has lost ground among the international left in recent years, particularly as a result of the stinging critiques by Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez.

Thus, it may seek to portray Snowden as the anti-Yoani.

Finally, Snowden gives them an even higher-profile chit to play against the U.S., in order to coerce further concessions on sanctions or to barter in exchange for convicted Cuban spies imprisoned in the U.S.

Bottom line: Whether in Havana or Caracas, Snowden will be in the hands of the Castro regime and U.S. national security jeopardized.

NSA Fugitive Heading to Cuba

From Euronews:

The man on the top of the USA’s most wanted list, whistleblower Edward Snowden, has fled to Moscow, with reports that an ongoing flight to Cuba and then Venezuela is booked.

He left Hong Kong after the authorities there ruled that the American extradition demand had been incorrectly filed and did not comply with the law.

The local press reacted with shock as many had expected the former National Security Agency contractor, who revealed the extent of covert American spying around the world, including illegal hacking of individuals, companies, and governments, would stay and fight extradition. It has been described as the biggest security leak in history.

From L.A. Times:

NSA leaker Edward Snowden is flying from Hong Kong to Havana via Moscow, a Russian Foreign Ministry official said Sunday.

The former National Security Agency contractor is expected to land in Moscow at 5 p.m.  Sunday, a Foreign Ministry official told the Los Angeles Times on condition of anonymity. 

The next flight to Havana is Monday afternoon so Snowden most likely will spend his time in the transit zone of Moscow Sheremetyevo airport, he said. 

“Snowden doesn’t have a Russian visa and he can’t get outside the transit area of the airport,” the official said. “Even if there is an Interpol warrant for his arrest, of which we are not aware, our law enforcement agencies won’t be able to do that in the transit area.”