Note to AP: Censorship (and Dictatorship) is Shameful in Any Language

Saturday, August 10, 2013
There are plenty of newsworthy stories involving Cuba this week.

For example, the Castro regime's silence regarding the explosives and live munitions found on-board the North Korean vessel caught smuggling Cuban fighter jets and missile components; or

New information regarding the Castro regime's potential political assassination of renowned Cuban democracy leader Oswaldo Paya; or

The arrest of over 100 peaceful pro-democracy activists during the first five days of August alone; or

The Castro regime's epidemiologic silence and cover-ups (which shamefully took a courageous Cuban independent journalist, who was later imprisoned, to first discover); or

The ongoing attacks against The Ladies in White by state security forces in the Matanzas province.

Yet -- unable or unwilling to conduct investigative journalism -- the AP Havana bureau's "Big Story" this week is instead about a new English-language bookstore in Cuba.

"Anglophones, rejoice," the story begins.

"Cuba's first English-language bookstore, cafe and literary salon opened in Havana on Friday, offering islanders and tourists alike a unique space to converse, thumb through magazines and buy or borrow tomes in the language of Shakespeare."

Isn't that exciting?

Except, it consists of "mostly books such as translations of the writings of Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and pro-government works denouncing the United States."

And the owner, an American ex-pat who is probably also a tour guide for "people-to-people" trips praising Castro's dictatorship, states that she is "not in the business of offering anything that could be considered 'counterrevolutionary.'"

So what exactly is the AP "rejoicing" about?

Censorship (and dictatorship) is shameful in any language.

L for Libertad

H/T @Cubannator

Congratulations to Arturo Sandoval

Last week, President Barack Obama named sixteen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Among the announced recipients were former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey -- and our very own, Arturo Sandoval.

According to The White House's statement:

Arturo Sandoval is a celebrated jazz trumpeter, pianist, and composer.  Born outside Havana, he became a protégé of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and gained international acclaim as a dynamic performer. He defected to the United States in 1990 and later became an American citizen. He has been awarded nine Grammy Awards and is widely considered one of the greatest living jazz artists.

Congratulations!

Cuban Independent Labor Leader at Risk

From the International Group for Social Corporate Responsibility ("GIRSCC"):

Urgent Alert: Ivan Hernandez Carrillo 

The Castro regime's repression against independent labor leader, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, has increased to the point that we fear for his life. State security agents have even claimed that they are awaiting orders to kill him.

On July 14, Ivan was brutally assaulted by political police agents, beaten mercilessly with rubber batons and injected with an unknown substance in his right shoulder. Later he was driven to a deserted area and left there without medical care, despite being severely wounded and bleeding.

On August 4, Ivan was attacked even more viciously: a group of agents threw him in a pool of sewage, then kicked him in the stomach to silence him. "Punches, kicks, scratches, bloody knees and elbows...," he tweeted. "I was punched on the mouth as I yelled Down with the dictatorship! Down with repression! Cease the violence!"

This past month, he has been beaten and detained every Sunday.

Please follow Ivan’s Twitter account (@ivanlibre) for updates.

Here is his biography:

Ivan Hernandez Carrillo (Colón, May 24, 1971) is an independent labor union leader, general secretary of the CTIC (Confederation of Independent Workers of Cuba) and spokesman for the Independent Trade Union Coalition of Cuba (CSIC). He was one of the prisoners of conscience (“Group of 75”) of Cuba's Black Spring.

Prior to his imprisonment in March 2003, when he was unjustly sentenced to 25- years for his activism, Ivan had been widely regarded as one of the key youth leaders of the Cuba's civic opposition.

After enduring 7-years in prison in inhuman conditions, isolated cells, constant beatings and all sorts of deprivations, Ivan was released on February 20, 2011 under “extrapenal parole” -- but only after courageously refusing to accept forced exile abroad.

Ivan has been a key source of information for the reports on the Cuban government's labor violations published by the ILO’s Committee of Freedom of Association.

He is a recipient of the 2009 Democracy Award by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

U.S. Should Press Harder on Paya’s Death

By Andres Oppenheimer in The Miami Herald:

U.S. should press harder on Payá’s death  

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power deserves credit for asking Cuba’s foreign minister to launch a credible investigation into the suspicious death of leading Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, but she should have gone a step further.

Early last week, Power tweeted that she had just raised with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez the need for a serious investigation into the mysterious 2012 car accident in which Payá lost his life.

The prominent Cuban dissident, founder of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement, was known worldwide for having organized a petition that gathered more than 25,000 signatures on the island asking for a referendum on whether the Cuban government should allow freedom of speech, and a multi-party democracy.

Payá, who I had the honor of interviewing many times, was Cuba’s Mahatma Gandhi. He never raised his voice, and consistently preached a message of non-violence and national reconciliation. Many of us saw him as Cuba’s best hope for a post-Castro era.

His death took place on July 22, 2012, after the car in which he was traveling crashed against a tree in Cuba’s countryside.

Payá, 60, and fellow Cuban Harold Cepero, 32, both of whom were in the back seat, were pronounced dead hours later. The car’s driver, Spanish Popular Party politician Angel Carromero, 27, and Swedish political activist Jens Aron Modig, who was seated next to him, survived the wreck.

Carromero was arrested on charges of “vehicular homicide,’’ spent five months in a Cuban prison, and was released on condition of serving the remainder of his sentence in Spain.

After the crash, Payá’s daughter Rosa María Payá told reporters that a Cuban government car had been following the group and repeatedly slammed into Payá’s car from behind, driving it off the road and into a tree. She said the two European visitors had sent text messages to friends in Europe from the site of the accident, telling them that their car was being followed.

But her story was hard could not be backed up by hard evidence at the time. The two Europeans were kept at a Cuban prison, away from reporters, and Carromero had signed a Cuban government affidavit backing the government’s version of events.

Worse, Carromero had a history of bad driving: he had accumulated 45 traffic tickets in Spain over the 15 months before his trip to Cuba. And Modig, after being released from prison in Cuba, told reporters that he had been asleep when the accident occurred.

But the Payá family’s story began looking much more credible a few months later when, back in Spain, Carromero told The Washington Post on March 5 that he had signed the Cuban affidavit under duress, and that Cuban secret police cars — with their blue license plates that characterize them — “were following us from the beginning.”

Carromero said that the last time he had looked back in the mirror before losing consciousness, “I realized that the car had gotten too close — and suddenly I felt a thunderous impact from behind.”

In a subsequent interview with the Spanish daily El Mundo last week, Carromero said that Payá and Cepero had survived the crash and were taken to a hospital, where “Cuba’s secret services killed him.”

Adding to the latest revelations, El Mundo published pictures of the original text messages sent by the two Europeans from the site of the accident. Payá’s daughter Rosa María posted the pictures at her father’s website, OswaldoPayá.org.

In a telephone interview, Rosa María Payá told me that her family has requested an international investigation by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extra-Judicial Killings, and the Organization of American States’ Human Rights Commission. It is also pursuing the case in Spanish courts, since Payá also held Spanish citizenship.

Asked about Power’s request to the Cuban foreign minister, Rosa María said it’s a “good first step, but the Obama administration should take the petition to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and to the U.N. Special Rapporteur of Extrajudicial Killings. As far as I know, they have not done that yet.”

My opinion: I agree. Power should be commended for raising this issue. But instead of requesting a credible investigation to the Cuban foreign minister — we all know how that will end — she should take it to the U.N., the Organization of American States and other international institutions. There are now too many pieces of evidence, including the original text messages and two eyewitnesses — to close the book on the highly suspicious death of one of Latin America’s biggest civil rights heroes.

HuffPost: Not Surprised by Cuba's Weapons Smuggling to North Korea

Friday, August 9, 2013
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Huffington Post:

Not Surprised by Cuba's Weapons Smuggling to North Korea

A lot of people were baffled -- although it's not clear why the befuddlement -- that Cuba's Castro brothers were caught red-handed smuggling fighter jets, radar and missile components, and other weaponry to Kim Jong-un and North Korea in violation of the U.N. Security Council's arms embargo.

It was no great surprise to those who've watched the defiant dictators of Cuba. We know the Castros don't think with their brains first. Instead they remain obsessed with flashing their cojones. What's baffling is that year after year they still get with away with it.

It can't be a surprise either that the world's remaining totalitarian states pursue their own survival, mutually assisting each other politically, economically and militarily. Apparently neither wants the dubious honor of becoming the world's sole remaining totalitarian state.

Throughout their long rule in Cuba, the Castro brothers have acted illegally and irresponsibly with brawn -- even when it's borrowed at the time from allies-of-convenience. It's a "machismo" thing that they enjoy practicing at home, as for example, their use of brute force against the Havana democracy advocates known worldwide as "The Ladies in White."

In 1962, Fidel Castro was lusting over the nuclear missiles of the Soviet Union. He provoked the "Cuban Missile Crisis" and then urged Nikita Khrushchev, then-Soviet premier, to push the button and launch a nuclear strike against the United States. The Castro objective was: Kill tens of millions of Americans. Khrushchev wrote about the incident in his memoirs concluding that Fidel Castro is crazy. Apparently Fidel and Raul didn't care that the United States would retaliate and obliterate the island of Cuba.

The Castros' power fantasies and fallacies don't seem to fade. In the 1980s, Fidel's ego took a beating and Cuba's economy foundered under the weight of his ill-considered military adventures in Africa, which became deeply unpopular in Cuba. To keep playing on the world stage, the Castros are always searching for "hard currency" and the Angola war was one way to extract it from the Soviet Union.

As Soviet cash dried up, the Castros turned to courting Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, opening Cuba's ports to the cartel for trans-shipping narcotics. To Fidel, who considers the United States his arch enemy, this too was an entirely sensible policy: If he couldn't nuke his capitalist American enemies, or run 'em out of Africa, he'd ship 'em drugs and Americans would poison themselves. What's to lose?

When the United States turned up the heat on drug smuggling, Fidel and his brother Raul, then-head of Cuba's armed forces, identified Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez as their scapegoat. Cubans in general held Ochoa's legendary courage in the African wars in high esteem. To the Castros that made him a potential rival. In quick order, Ochoa was accused of drug trafficking, given a televised Stalinist-style trial and executed.

Several months later, the United States invaded Panama and arrested its leader Manuel Noriega for selling "safe passage" through the Panama Canal to the Medellin Cartel. Noriega was hauled off to Miami, tried and convicted. Testimony and evidence gleaned in that trial led U.S. prosecutors, in 1993, to prepare a racketeering indictment naming Raul Castro and 12 other high-ranking officers in Cuba's armed forces as drug-trafficking conspirators with the Medellin cartel. The Clinton administration later chose not to pursue the charges.

Economic depression gripped Cuba in 1996, which the Castros named "the Special Period." The suffering populace was unhappy and 130 opposition groups, banded together as Concilio Cubano, announcing a February 24th "unity rally" demanding free elections. To thinking people, the date might have been a good time for the Castro government to announce political and economic reforms. Instead Raul Castro rolled out his guns and ordered Cuban Air Force MIG fighters to shoot down a couple of civilian-American Cessna's flying over international waters in the Florida Straits in search of Cuban rafters to rescue. Four men died when the small planes were shot down. There was an international outcry and investigation that pinned responsibility on Raul. World attention was diverted from the rally in Havana, and the protesting dissidents arrested and jailed.

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, famously called out the Castros for their criminal acts: "This is not cojones, this is cowardice."

Now, Panamanian authorities have found an arsenal of Cuban weapons loaded onto a North Korean ship, the Chong Chon Gang, and hidden by bags of sugar, all loaded in Havana. Ironically the Panamanians had stopped the ship expecting to find drugs. In the last few years, five other ships have set sail from North Korea, docked in Havana and then returned directly to North Korea via the canal. Who knows what else has passed through the canal? Kim and the Castros know, but those addicts of power, force and flouting impunity are not gloating... yet.

Concern Over Health and Safety of Cuban Political Prisoners

This week, there's been intensified concern over the health and safety of various Cuban political prisoners:

1. Sonia Garro is an Afro-Cuban member of The Ladies in White, who has been unjustly imprisoned since Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Havana on March 18th, 2012.  Independent journalists have reported that Garro was brutally beaten by guards this week in the Prison of El Guatao, where she is being held without trial or charges.

2. Angel Yunier Remon is a Cuban rapper, from the duo "The Kids Nobody Wanted," imprisoned for his critical lyrics. He has recently contracted cholera at the prison of Las Mangas in Bayamo and is very ill.

3. Angel Santiesteban is a renowned Cuban author, who was arbitrarily sentenced to a 5-year prison term in 2012.  This week, he was secretly transferred to a small military facility, where he is being held in complete isolation.

Free Ivan Fernandez Depestre

Thursday, August 8, 2013
Ivan Fernandez Depestre, a young Afro-Cuban democracy activist, was arrested on July 30th for participating in a peaceful protest in the town of Placetas, Villa Clara.

A few days later, in an arbitrary process, he was handed a 2-year prison term under the Castro regime's preemptive "social dangerousness" decree. This is a common ruse used to imprison peaceful democracy activists in Cuba.

As Cuban democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" explained to The Miami Herald's Editorial Board today, the Castro regime's aggressiveness toward Depestre is enhanced by the fact he is relatively unknown.  In other words, he doesn't have "international protection."

Let's make sure the world learns about Ivan Fernandez Depestre and his unjust imprisonment.

U.S. Had Evidence of Cuba's Missiles to North Korea

A Letter to the Editor of The Wall Street Journal:

Missile Crisis Wasn't End of Cuba's Missiles

The U.S. government has had evidence of missiles in Cuba—particularly North Korean—for at least two decades.

Mary O'Grady well reminds us of the criminal nature of the Cuban dictatorship, caught smuggling banned missiles and weapons to North Korea through the Panama Canal ("The Castro Brothers Get Caught in the Act," Americas, July 29). Aside from other important threats Cuba poses to our security, the U.S. government has had evidence of missiles in Cuba— particularly North Korean—for at least two decades.

In 1991, it was reported in the media that U.S. spy satellites had discovered at least one, and possibly several, banned SS-20 missiles in Cuba, a finding that was under top-secret White House scrutiny.

In 2003, David Kay, special adviser on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, publicly stated that evidence had been found in Iraq "of North Korean missiles going to Cuba." A few days later, Fox News (Oct. 23, 2003) reported that Hwang Jang Yop, former secretary to North Korea's main decision-making body, the Central Committee, who defected in 1997, had information on "extensive exchanges" of weapons and information between North Korea and Cuba.

Maria Werlau
Executive Director
CubaArchive.org
Summit, N.J.

MH: Interview With Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez"

Below is the video of today's Q&A (in Spanish) of Cuban democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" with The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Congressmen Linked to Illegal Lobbying Against Sanctions

Wednesday, August 7, 2013
How could this be?

Haven't the "experts" assured us that anti-American dictators thrive off sanctions?

So why spend millions lobbying against them?

In the same vein, why has the Castro regime spent billions of its scarce hard-currency in "quid pro quoagreements with U.S. farm bureaus and companies, whereby agricultural purchases are conditioned on their lobbying for lifting sanctions?

From ABC7 Chicago:

Prominent Illinois politicians linked to illegal Africa lobbying

Several prominent Illinois politicians have been linked to an illegal African lobbying effort.

The federal investigation has resulted in charges against two Chicago men.

Longtime Chicago Congressman Danny Davis is seeking legal counsel because he was lobbied by one of those charged in Tuesday's federal case.

Davis and Congressman Bobby Rush are among four Illinois politicians wrapped up in an effort to lift U.S. Economic sanctions against the African nation of Zimbabwe.

Longtime Chicago political activist Prince Asiel Ben Israel is charged with accepting nearly $3.5 million from Zimbabwe officials to help dictator Robert Mugabe shake American trade sanctions. Charged with the 72-year-old Ben Israel is C. Gregory Turner, a Chicago business developer who is 71 years old.

According to federal charges, the men arranged trips by U.S. government officials to meet with Mugabe; and that afterward Illinois officials promised to deliver information to then president-elect Barack Obama about lifting the economic sanctions. They lobbied a caucus of state legislators on behalf of Zimbabwean officials and did so having failed to apply for a Treasury Department license to engage in lobbying.

Raul's "Cooperatives" Ruse Revealed

An excerpt from Haroldo Dilla's "Should We Finally Take Cuba’s Reform Process Seriously?" in Havana Times:

Ms. Grisel Trista Arbesu is the head of the Improved Business Management Group of the Permanent Implementation and Development Commission, a long title which, if referring to anything factual, surely entails significant responsibilities and skills.

According to Mrs. Trista, 124 cooperatives were created around the country, most of them out of previously existing State entities. “With this measure,” she said, “we are hoping to place inefficient State activities under cooperative management. In addition, this allows the State to gradually unburden itself of matters that are not essential to the country’s economic development.”

That is to say, in this public official’s view, cooperatives (and all small-scale private enterprise, I would imagine) are there to do the State’s dirty work, to shoulder the “inefficient” sectors which the State doesn’t want to deal with anymore and, what’s more, aren’t really important.

A singular perspective, not only with respect to cooperatives and the private sector, but also regarding what’s important for the country. For, if memory serves me right, I believe the strategy the government has adopted to overcome Cuba’s serious food deficit is to put food production in the hands of private businesses and cooperatives.

The creation of urban cooperatives stems, in fact, from issues related to the management of agricultural and livestock markets. So, for this government official, producing food and administering how the population accesses such food is an issue of secondary importance, not a strategic priority, one could say.

At the end of her explanation, to my even greater surprise, Ms. Arbesu clarified that cooperatives “are being called on to occupy an important place within the country’s economy,” but not (to be sure) because this is a process of privatization.

“Cooperatives,” she said, “aren’t the result of a process of privatization. Rather, they administer State property, which is, ultimately, the property of the people.”

Well, there you have it. Should we take this seriously?

Self-Employment Licenses Reserved for "Loyalists"

By Cuban independent journalist, Osniel Carmona Breijo, of The Institute for War & Peace Reporting ("IWPR"):

Cuban Dissidents Shut Out of Job Market

Regime opponents struggle to find means of earning a living.

Cubans marked out as dissidents say it is nearly impossible to find work because of state controls over all areas of employment.

For decades, the Cuban state was the sole employer, and despite recent reforms allowing for limited private enterprise known as “cuentapropismo,” getting an operating license still entails vetting by the authorities.

Renato Olazábal was designated a “counterrevolutionary” after an unsuccessful attempt to escape to the United States on a “balsa” or home-made raft in 2006.

Olazábal, a 38-year-old English graduate, said that afterwards, he found it next to impossible to find work, and was turned down for five public-sector jobs.

He said that even when candidates fulfilled the criteria for a particular job, they still had to be cleared by State Security and Military Intelligence before being offered the job.

The vetting process involves quizzing candidates’ neighbors about their political views, and inquiries among local officials from Committees for Defense of the Revolution – a nationwide neighborhood surveillance network – the Communist Party, the armed forces and the interior ministry.

“They are very interested in whether you’ve taken part in elections, the May 1 parade and things like that,” Olazábal said. “Also, they ask people whether they consider you to be a revolutionary or not.”

Olazábal now supports his family by selling handicrafts, risking prosecution since he does not have a trader’s license.

Independent journalist and veteran opposition member, José Fornaris, says the job market is part of a police state.

The government is “the owner of businesses, factories, institutions – of every type of employment in general,” he said. “For people to exercise their right to work and maintain their dignity, they have to submit to the conditions and blackmail of the regime”.

After Fornaris joined the Cuban Committee for Human Rights in 1988, official harassment forced him to leave his work as a journalist and presenter at the National Radio Progreso station.

In 1990, he found work as a manual labourer, only to be fired after a fellow-worker denounced him, accusing him of conspiring against then President Fidel Castro.

“They wanted to incriminate me, claiming that the United States Interests Section [unofficial diplomatic mission to Cuba] had given me some explosives to assassinate the then leader of the regime,” said Fornaris. “They were trying to prosecute me as a terrorist, without any coherent motives.”

After being cleared of the accusations, Fornaris became a leading voice within the opposition movement.

He recalled being contacted by a Cuban security officer known as “Sol”, whose job was to monitor staff at the Cuban Institute for Radio and Television. The officer promised to get him reinstated at Radio Progreso, and later a promotion to a managerial job in the institute.

The price was that Fornaris should abandon his political activities and collaborate with the regime. He turned the offer down.

He recounts the story as an clear example of “the extent to which the intelligence agencies are involved in making decisions about who is suitable to work in this country”.

After the laws on private business were relaxed, Fornaris applied for a “cuentapropista” license to sell second-hand books.

The official handling his application assured him the license would be issued quickly, as this type of permit was not often requested.

When his application was rejected, the official was surprised, embarrassed and unable to offer a logical explanation as to why it had happened, Fornaris recalled.

Fornaris now heads the Association for Freedom of Press, an organisation which is not recognized by the government and which aims to help improve journalism and promote media freedom in Cuba.


Menendez Praises Call for Paya Investigation

Chairman Menendez Praises Ambassador Power’s Call for Cuba to Investigate Death of Oswaldo Payá

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the statement below applauding U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power for calling on Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla to investigate the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá.

"The new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, has delivered a forceful message in support of freedom and human rights in Cuba by calling on the Cuban government to conduct an independent investigation into the death of democracy activist Oswaldo Payá," said Senator Robert Menendez. 

"I fully support Ambassador Power's request as the Cuban government has done everything possible to distort and cover up the facts around his death. Angel Carromero, the Spanish citizen that was driving with Payá on that fateful day in July 2012, has insisted repeatedly that the car they were in was intentionally forced off the road. The questionable circumstances around Payá’s death demand answers from the Cuban government, and the attention of the international community. The Payá family deserves truth and justice, not distortions and lies."

Over 100 Political Arrests in 5 Days

Cuban independent journalists (from the Hablemos Press news agency) have documented over 100 political arrests conducted by the Castro regime during the first five days of August.

That's nearly half the tally (in just five days) of the 255 political arrests documented throughout the entire month of July.

There's one irrefutable change that is currently taking place in Cuba: an increase in repression.

Kudos to U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power

Tweet from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power:

HRF: Stop Attacks Against Ladies in White

From Human Rights Foundation ("HRF"):

HRF Condemns Ongoing Attacks Against The Ladies in White

The Human Rights Foundation ("HRF") condemns the ongoing attacks made against the Cuban civil society group the Ladies in White. The most recent incident occurred on July 14, as the group performed a peaceful Sunday march for freedom and human rights after visiting the church of San José de Colón in Matanzas Province. A group of government supporters cut off the protest and proceeded to beat and harass the group members, striking and shouting insults at the 12 female members of the group.

Sayli Navarro, a group member who took part in the march on July 14, stated that after the mob attacked the peaceful protest, the Ladies took refuge in the home of one of the group members, where “the mob gathered outside her house” and “they began to carry out an ‘act of repudiation,’” throwing objects at the women and shouting insults.

On August 4, the Ladies in White asked Dionisio García Ibáñez, the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, to intervene on their behalf and request that the Cuban government stop the regime’s repressive actions against them.

That same day, while a group of Ladies attended mass in the southeastern city of Cárdenas, a crowd of government supporters gathered outside the church and waited for the members to come out. However, the Ladies were able to elude the mob and return to their homes unharmed.

“These recent events remind us that the campaign of harassment, persecution, hostility, and threats against the Ladies in White is an ongoing pattern of militant behavior sponsored and directed by the Casto regime,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “These brave women face persecution, attacks, and arrests every Sunday during their peaceful protest. Their deplorable treatment at the hands of the government and its supporters underscores the fact that the story of ‘reform’ peddled by the Cuban government is fiction circulated by the Castro brothers.”

The Ladies in White (“Las Damas de Blanco”) is a Cuban civil society organization founded by the wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters of political prisoner jailed during the Castro regime’s “Black Spring” crackdown in 2003. Group members wear white to symbolize their commitment to a peaceful struggle for freedom. Despite repeated arrests and beatings by Cuban authorities, the group marches every Sunday in different locations around Cuba to protest human rights violations under the Castro dictatorship. Berta Soler has led the group since the death of founder Laura Pollán in 2011.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Image of the Day: From Pyongyang

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un, welcomes Cuban dictator Raul Castro's envoy, Jose Ramon Balaguer, to discuss "closer cooperation."

AI: Cuba Must Release Prisoners Immediately

From Amnesty International:

Cuba: Release five prisoners of conscience immediately

The Cuban authorities must immediately and unconditionally release five men who have been named prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

The cases of the five men – Rafael Matos Montes de Oca, Emilio Planas Robert and the brothers Alexeis, Diango, and Vianco Vargas Martín – are indicative of the continuing repression of freedom of expression on the island, the organization said.

“These five cases are only the tip of the iceberg for Cuba’s repression of free speech,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor for Amnesty International.

“The only progress made by the Cuban government has been the reform of the Migration Law earlier this year. It allowed many people including human rights defenders and government critics to travel abroad. Much more needs to be done to guarantee civil and political liberties in the country.”

Emilio Planas Robert and Rafael Matos Montes de Oca Both have both been found guilty of peligrosidad (dangerousness, or “special proclivity to commit crimes”) and sentenced to medidas de seguridad predelictivas (“security measures”), even though no evidence was presented against them in court.

“The use of this particular legislation, which allows the government to jail its citizens on the slightest evidence because it believes they may commit a crime in the future, is a flagrant violation of international standards and must be immediately repealed,” said Javier Zúñiga.

“This Orwellian law is being used as a pretext to jail government critics,” he added.

Amnesty International believes the conviction is politically motivated, as both men are members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU), a civil society organization which advocates for greater civil liberties on the island.

Alexeis Vargas Martín and his 17-year-old twin brothers, Diango and Vianco Vargas Martín – all members of UNPACU – have been accused by the police of using violence or intimidation against a state official (atentado). They have not been formally charged and their lawyer has not been granted access to their case-files. They are being held at different prisons in Santiago de Cuba province.

“Repression of independent journalists, opposition leaders and human rights activists increased last year in Cuba, and show no sign of abating,” Javier Zúñiga added.

“In recent months, we have received scores of reports of people who were arbitrarily arrested and even imprisoned on ludicrous charges that violate international standards.”

By the end of June this year, 2,143 people are reported to have been subject to short-term arrests in Cuba.

There were reports of an average of 400 short-term arrests each month during 2012 and activists travelling from the provinces to Havana were frequently detained. The independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported 6,602 detentions of government critics last year, compared to 4,123 in 2011 and 2,074 in 2010.

Castro Works Overtime Against U.S. Interests

This week, the Castro regime has been working overtime against U.S. interests.

It began by welcoming Russian warships to Havana, as Moscow granted temporary asylum to U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

Then, Castro's Vice-President (and longtime intelligence official) Ricardo Cabrisas traveled to Iran, where the two dictatorships are working to "expand ties."

Meanwhile, senior Cuban official (and Raul's confidant) Jose Ramon Balaguer traveled to Pyongyang to foment "closer cooperation."

Apparently, smuggling Cuban weapons to North Korea, in violation of the U.N. Secretary Council's arms embargo, is not "close" enough.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

People-to-People Trip: Corrupt Politicians, Salsa & Mojitos in Cuba

Can the U.S. Treasury Department explain how these trips support "civil society" or promote the Cuban people's "independence from the authorities," which is President Obama's stated purpose for these trips?

From CalWatchDog.com:

Senator Under FBI Investigation Traveled to Cuba with Lobbyist

State Senator Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, whose offices were raided by FBI agents in June, traveled to Cuba during the legislature’s spring break with Sacramento’s “best connected” lobbyist, state campaign finance disclosure reports have revealed.

Calderon was one of eight state legislators that secretly traveled to Havana with Darius Anderson, the founder and president of the powerhouse lobbying firm Platinum Advisors. 

Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, another Cuba trip participant, told the San Luis Obispo Tribune that the trip included a tour of a castle, afternoon salsa lessons and rooftop cocktails, among other activities. 

Under the Calfiornia Political Reform Act, legislators and their staff cannot accept gifts worth more than $10 per month from a registered lobbyist. However, campaign accounts provide legislators with an easy vehicle for circumventing these strict limits on lobbyist gifts. Lobbyists can direct their clients to donate to a member’s campaign account. Then, the member can use the campaign account to pay for personal expenses, including foreign travel. 

Calderon wasn’t the only legislator to be identified through the most recent campaign disclosure reports. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, also joined the lobbyist-organized trip to Cuba during the Legislature’s spring break. She reported $2,400 in Cuba trip expenses, according to her most recent campaign finance report. 

Campaign watchdog groups have criticized the practice of using campaign funds for personal expenses, such as travel junkets. 

As of July 31, CalWatchdog.com has identified six of the eight-member legislative delegation to Cuba. Other attendees include: Achadjian, Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins, D-San Diego; Assemblymember Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles; and State Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston.

In order to comply with the U.S. State Department’s ban on travel to Cuba, the trip was arranged by Californians Building Bridges, a non-profit organization controlled by Anderson. In 2011, the only year for which the organization filed a tax return, it spent $94,586 on travel-related expenses of $136,476 in overall expenses.

Cuba's Silence is Dangerous to Your Health

By Sherri Porcelain, a global public health expert, for the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies ("ICCAS"):

Cuba's Silence is Dangerous to Your Health

After a century hiatus, cholera, malaria and dengue have returned to Cuba. This is no surprise since Cuba’s deteriorated water, sewage, sanitation and housing systems all create the ideal environment for rapid disease spread. Dengue, a mosquito borne viral disease, and cholera, a bacterial infection contracted by drinking water or eating food contaminated with a strain of cholera, present threats to both the local population and tourists visiting the island.

Luis Suarez Rosas, a physician with Cuba’s National School of Medicine, accurately captures the paradox of Cuban health care today in using the term epidemiologic silence to describe Cuba’s official position on disease outbreak information. Cuba is a unique case study because of its long history of highly trained infectious disease specialists as seen in the yellow fever response in the early 1900s, and the prominence of the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute founded in 1937. Yet, today, the policy to call dengue euphemistically as a febrile illness or cholera as a gastrointestinal illness represents an unethical national public health policy affecting individuals beyond their national borders. This choice to withhold information derails global public health goals to inform and protect travelers; it also encourages rumors and creates confusion. Suarez Rosas, using dengue as a recent example, explains how this artificial epidemiologic silence does not help patients, nor does it address the risk or the perception of the severity of the disease. Additionally, it does not respond to the culprit, the aedes aegypti mosquito, which also carries the yellow fever virus.

While both the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) provide health alerts and identify health problems, their information often relies upon the official reporting of information. However, the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED), operating under the International Society for Infectious Disease, is an internet-based information system created in 1994 with the purpose of sharing emerging and re-emerging infectious disease information. ProMED mail welcomes all sources of information, including independent journalists who have reported outbreaks long before the Cuban government forced to make an official statement. ProMED continues to share information about the re-emergence of cholera in Cuba’s Manzanillo (Granma) Province in 2012 that spread through eastern provinces, and reached the western capital of Havana.

In June 2013, an independent journalist from Hablemos Press reported approximately 30 cases of malaria in Cuba. The Cuban government claimed these cases are imported by tourists or from returning residents that traveled to an endemic area. Imported cases of malaria are not new; however, the history of Cuba’s denials of other re-emerging diseases compels one to question the veracity of the government’s official report.

Malaria expert John Beier, Professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, states that Cuba is receptive to malaria since the mosquito has not been eliminated. It is also important to acknowledge that local pocket of transmissions can exist through imported cases from other areas in the region, such as Hispaniola where malaria is known to exist. During rainy season, and when vector population increases, the risk of transmission increases as well. Still no official government report exists.

Sharing good epidemiologic evidence in a timely fashion is a reasonable expectation for global public health cooperation to be maintained. Promoting global health security begins with greater transparency on potential health threats. These are not state secrets as proposed during the 1980s and 1990s denial of Cuba’s dengue re-emergence, along with the incarceration of health professionals who released such data.

Cuba’s policy to withhold information on infectious disease threats for the purpose of protecting their health image, or their tourism industry is unacceptable in an era where rapid and frequent transport across borders occurs. International travelers and concerned citizens everywhere must realize that mosquitoes and microbes do not require their own passport stamp for entry into the United States, and the intrepid stowaways may arrive with their presence undetected.

Based upon what we know and don’t know-

We need to:

1. Promote greater awareness about mosquito avoidance and cholera, dengue and malaria prevention for travelers to Cuba. While other countries may have higher reported cases, their risk is documented through transparency in their reporting. On June 27, 2013 the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba posted an alert message for U.S. citizens regarding road safety and traffic related deaths and injuries. This is an important health and safety message, so why not extend this to other public health issues such as dengue, malaria, and cholera?

2. Become more proactive and use Rapid Diagnostic Kits (RDK) for early identification of diseases such as dengue and malaria. This could be especially important to Travel Medicine Clinics where licensed and trained health professionals have the ability to do accurate testing and patient histories. Dr. Kunjana Mavunda, Medical Director and Tropical Disease Specialist at International Travel Clinic in South Miami, Florida supports this approach. “I’ve been looking at these rapid diagnostic kits as part of the patient care and it is important that you get a good history of the patient and identify potential exposure risks.” She indicated that Cuba’s neglected infrastructure makes it ripe for potential disease spread.

3. Generate a wider dialogue concerning Cuba’s epidemiologic silence. Notwithstanding the issues surrounding dengue, malaria and cholera, a bird flu spread remains a possibility. The 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus scare originated in South China and today the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), another coronavirus, lurks nearby. Will anyone hold Cuba accountable for failure to report early outbreaks? What about possible impact in South Florida?

Global health security depends upon the rigor of good science, the willingness of nations to uphold policies to protect both their citizens and visitors, and the timely reporting of potential health threats. A world that is forced to rely on rumors puts everyone at risk. Consequently, silence is dangerous to your health.


Castro's Conniption Over Young Leaders Group

Last week, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC announced the creation of its Young Leaders Group ("YLG").

The next day, the Castro regime issued a rant against the YLG, which was published in every state newspaper and website.

Apparently, the Cuban dictatorship doesn't approve of young people organizing to voice their opinions and challenge its propaganda.

It only approves of young people who are indifferent.

Judging by the interest and feedback the YLG has been generating, the Castros have a lot  more displeasure coming.

You can follow the YLG in Facebook and Twitter.

Cuba Sees Closer Cooperation With North Korea

You can't make this stuff up.

From AFP:

Cuba Sees Closer Cooperation with N. Korea

Cuba said Tuesday it was looking forward to closer cooperation with North Korea after "favorable" talks in Pyongyang.

The positive assessment of relations between the two communist-ruled states comes three weeks after the seizure in Panama of a North Korean cargo ship loaded with undeclared Cuban arms, including two MiG-21 fighter jets.

Prensa Latina, the state-run Cuban news agency, said the talks in Pyongyang were held on the sidelines of recent celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.

"I have an extraordinarily good impression of the exchange of views, which will make possible the consolidation of ties and a broadening of mutual cooperation," Jose Ramon Balaguer, head of international relations of the Communist Party of Cuba, was quoted as saying.

"The dialogue with the leader of the Workers Party of Korea on issues of common interest was favorable for both political organizations," he said.

Balaguer is a veteran of the 1959 Cuban revolution and a member of the party's secretariat.

He made no mention of the controversy over the Chong Chon Gang, a North Korean freighter that was seized July 16 as it attempted to cross the Panama Canal with assorted weapons systems hidden in a cargo of sugar.

Cuba: 255 Political Arrests in July

Monday, August 5, 2013
Cuban independent journalists (from the Hablemos Press news agency) have documented over 255 political arrests during the month on July 2013.

These are only political arrests that have been documented. Many more are suspected.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Carromero: Cuba's Secret Services Murdered Oswaldo Paya

Sunday, August 4, 2013
In an exclusive interview with Spain's El Mundo, Angel Carromero, the young Spaniard driving the car carrying Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya, which was rammed off the road by Castro's secret police, states unequivocally:

"Cuba's secret services murdered Oswaldo Paya."

In the interview, full of details about that tragic afternoon, Carromero explains:

"I'm sure he survived the accident. The nurses and a parish priest assured me that all four of us were admitted to the hospital."

Upon the crash, Carromero recalls:

What happened next, as I remember, was, like, men carrying me to a van with sliding doors like the ones used by Cuba’s State Security, and I screamed, ‘Who are you and what have you done to us.’ Then I lost consciousness again. I think they hit me with a rifle butt because I had a gap on my head.”

The other two were Swedish activist, Aron Modig, who survived, and Cuban youth leader, Harold Cepero, who was killed.

When Presented With the Facts About Cuba

After being presented with the facts about Cuba, its totalitarian regime and business monopolies, Puerto Rican industrialists decide its best to wait until freedom and democracy prevail.

See the story in Puerto Rico's El Nuevo Dia here (in Spanish).

Amnesty International: Five New Cuban Prisoners of Conscience

Amnesty International has released two alerts this week designating five imprisoned Cuban democracy activists as "prisoners of conscience."

Here is the first alert:

URGENT ACTION

Three Brothers Detained for Dissent

Three brothers who are members of a dissident organization are being detained on trumped-up charges. Amnesty International believes them to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Alexeis Vargas Martín and his two 17-year-old twin brothers, Vianco Vargas Martín and Django Vargas Martín have been detained, charged by the police with using “violence or intimidation” against a state official (atentado). The brothers, who live in the neighborhood of Veguita de Galo in the city of Santiago de Cuba are all members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU).

In the afternoon of 27 November 2012, Alexeis was returning to his house where a government-sanctioned demonstration (acto de repudio, see background information) was underway at the time. The house was surrounded by government supporters as his mother, Miraida Martín Calderín, a member of the Ladies in White protest group, was meeting with other members of the same organization. Alexeis was refused entry to his own home and arrested by police and officials from the Department of State Security. On 2 December, Vianco and Django Vargas Martín - then only 16 years old - went with friends to protest outside the Micro 9 police station in the city of Santiago de Cuba against the detention of their brother. They were arrested and also charged by police with "atentado."

The three brothers have yet to be formally charged by the public prosecutor and their lawyer has been refused access to their case-files. Amnesty International believes that their arrest and detention is in response to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and that it is intended to send a message of intimidation to other government critics, particularly other members of UNPACU. For this reason the organization has adopted them as prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

Here is the second alert:

URGENT ACTION

Government Critics Jailed for Speaking Out

Two government critics are serving prison sentences in Cuba on politically motivated charges, following summary trials. Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Emilio Planas Robert and Rafael Matos Montes de Oca were arrested in the city of Guantánamo in Guantánamo Province on 23 and 27 September 2012 respectively by Cuban police and officials from the Department of State Security. The men, who are both members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU) were charged with “dangerousness” (peligrosidad), a pre-emptive measure defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes”. Behaviour such as drunkenness, drug-addiction and “antisocial behavior” is criminalized under this legislation. However, it is also used as a pretext to imprison political dissidents, independent journalists and government critics. Emilio Planas Robert was sentenced to three-and-a-half years' imprisonment and Rafael Matos Montes de Oca to two-and-a-half years following summary trials on 5 and 15 October 2012 respectively.

The authorities had accused them of putting up posters in Guantánamo city with “anti-government” slogans such as “down with Fidel” (abajo Fidel) and “down with hunger” (abajo la hambre). According to their families, no incriminating material was found at their houses and none was presented at their trials.

Amnesty International believes these sentences are politically motivated, relating to the two men's peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, and that it is intended to send a message of intimidation to other government critics. Therefore the organization considers them prisoners of conscience.