Ten-Years Later: Young Cubans Serving Life Sentences for Seeking Freedom

Saturday, September 7, 2013
Translated from Diario de Cuba:

"They take them to their visits shackled by the hands and feet, with a German Shepherd dog at their side."

Sick and in solitary confinement, two men who were condemned to life in prison in April 2003 for hijacking a ferry to leave the island that left no casualties and which resulted in the execution by firing squad of three of their friends.

Harold Alcala and Maikel Delgado Aramburo are cousins who share a small confinement cell and various diseases at Havana's Combinado del Este Prison. Over ten years ago, they were sentenced to life-in-prison for participating in the hijacking of a ferry to try to leave the island.

Although the incident resulted in no casualties, the regime of Fidel Castro decided to make an example of them. The main organizers - Copeyo Lorenzo Enrique Castillo , Barbaro Leodán Sevilla García and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac were executed pursuant to a summary trial in April 2003, just days after the imprisonment of 75 leading dissidents.

Ten years later and despite international condemnations, the regime continues wanting to make an example of Harold Alcala, now 34, Maikel Delgado, 40, and the others sanctioned for the hijacking. In January 2012, the Cuban government rejected a petition, brought by their relatives, to review the case. Meanwhile, the prisoners acquire diseases resulting from the horrible prison conditions.

Harold "has respiratory failure, chronic giardiasis, erythematous gastritis, dermatitis and needs medication for heart conditions," his mother, Julia Estrellea Aramburo, a member of The Ladies in White, told Diario de Cuba.

"My nephew Maikel has a chronic venous insufficiency. His veins are clotting, he has a thrombosis in one leg and may end up disabled," she added.

The prison authorities "do not give him the medicines he needs. He needs elastic bandages and they won't give him any," she denounced.

The cell they share is located in Area 47 of the Combinado del Este Prison, reserved for those facing the death penalty and in punishment cells.

"They do not have a chair to sit on when they eat," said the member of The Ladies in White. "Their only contact with other prisoners is by screaming from cell to cell, they do not see anyone (...) it has been months since they have been in the sun ( ... ) They see the television by standing at the door of their cell."

"They take them to their visits shackled by the hands and feet, with a German Shepherd dog at their side," said the woman, 55, who can see her son every two months and who has assumed the defense of her nephew after her sister's death.

"My sister couldn't take it anymore," she said.

She described as "inhumane" the conditions of the cell that the two men share.

"There is an outbreak of cholera at this time at Combinado and they are quarantined, but the rats walk around inside the water pipes and that is the water they have to drink," she lamented.

"They are surrounded by rats and roaches. They defecate in a hole, above which there is a little hose that is used to drink water," she said.

She also denounced several episodes of harassment against the prisoners .

The head of Area 47, Major Denis, has "threatened to kill them," she said. "He said he was going to take them to commit suicide, and if any of them remained alive, he would take a gun and kill them."

"I complained to the warden and State Security, because this guard would even threaten them with a scalpel. Since my complaint, the threats have improved a little," she said .

According to The Ladies in White member, more than five months ago, the authorities determined that Harold Alcala and Maikel Delgado should be moved to less severe cells. "However, they remain under the same conditions."

Julia Estrella Aramburo said the prisoners had "planted" ("plantado") themselves recently in protest over the prison conditions and she held a hunger strike to demand medical care for her son.

Harold Alcala was taken to the National Hospital and then returned to prison after a few days.

In addition to the cousins​​, in April 2003, Yoanni Henry Gonzalez and Ramon Thomas Grillo were sentenced to life-in-prison, while Ledea Wilmer Perez was sentenced to 30-years in prison.

Three women were also tried in the same case and sentenced to between two and five years in prison.

The relatives of the prisoners with the most severe penalties have made numerous efforts to obtain clemency from the regime.

Last May, Julia Estrellar Aramburo sent a letter to Pope Francis, asking him to intercede with the Cuban authorities and also wrote to Fidel Castro's wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, from "mother-to-mother."

"I have great faith that it is possible. I will continue to do everything within my power to help them, and the others sentenced to unjust life sentences, to have their convictions lessened," said the member of The Ladies in White, who accused Fidel Castro of  "cruelty."

"Everyone here knows that they were imprisoned for no reason, that they did not kill anyone," she said.

Pictured below: Copeyo Lorenzo Enrique Castillo , Barbaro Leodán Sevilla García and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, who were executed by firing squad in April 2003.

Cuban Baseball Needs a #HomeRunofSilence

Cuban blogger and democracy activist Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo recently tweeted:

After so many state-sponsored killings, forced exile and violation of everyone's human rights, Cuban baseball needs a #HomeRunofSilence

The idea stems from Amnesty International's campaign in Chile, "Gol de Silencio" (see video below), which urged its national soccer team to not outwardly celebrate its first goal last night during its game at the National Stadium.

Instead, it urged Chile's players to hold a moment of silence for the victims of Chile's dictatorship (on the 40th anniversary of its military coup), some of which were detained at the National Stadium where the game was being played.

It didn't work, as Chile's players celebrated the first goal as usual.

But it's a great idea -- and with so much talk about the recent Industriales reunion game in Florida and so many high-profile Cuban baseball defectors, it's an important one to remember.

It's time for a Cuban #HomeRunofSilence for the victims of Castro's dictatorship.

Image: "Anti-Imperialists" Take a McDonalds Break

Contradiction caught on film:

After a tiring day of protesting against U.S. imperialism, militants from Chavez-Maduro's PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) need a McDonalds break.

Corruption Leaves Venezuela in the Dark

Excerpt by Alek Boyd in Spain's El Pais:

Venezuela is a country with some of the largest water resources in the world. The confluence of the Orinoco and Caroni Rivers give Venezuela one of the most potent orographic basins in the wold, and the Guri Dam is the third largest hydroelectric power station in the world. Additionally, [Venezuela] has the largest oil resources in the Western Hemisphere. And yet, despite all of this, a blackout [this past] Tuesday left the country in the dark. How can this event be explained?

Answer: Corruption, pilfering, mismanagement and Cuban colonialism.

Justice is Timeless

Friday, September 6, 2013
From BBC:

'Dirty War' judge Romano extradited to Argentina

A former Argentine judge has been extradited to face charges of human rights abuses during the 1976-1983 military rule.

Otilio Romano arrived from Chile late Wednesday in the north-western city of Mendoza and was taken into custody.

He has been accused in Argentina of complicity in forced disappearances, torture and illegal raids.

Mr Romano fled to Chile when the allegations emerged two years ago.

He used to work as a state prosecutor in the city of Mendoza.

There he allegedly committed more than 100 human rights crimes, including false arrest, disappearances, torture and denial of justice.

Young Female Dissident Expelled From University #StandWithSayli

Thursday, September 5, 2013
A young female democracy activist, Sayli Navarro, has been expelled from the University of Matanzas for her political views.

Saily is a young member of the Ladies in White.

Below is a picture of Sayli being arrested last week for peacefully marching with the Ladies in White after attending Mass.

She is the fourth one -- so admirably poised and confident -- making the "L" sign with her hand.

That's "L" for Libertad.

We proudly #StandWithSayli

Must-See: Cuban Doctor Addresses Brazil's Congress

Yesterday, a Cuban doctor exiled in Brazil was invited by opposition legislators to address Brazil's Congress.

(If you understand Spanish, you'll understand his Portuguese.)

It's a must-see:

Good Questions on Cuban Doctors

From a Letter to the Editor of The Toronto Star:

Re: Brazil brings in first of 4,000 Cuban doctors, Aug. 31

A friend in Cuba once told me that doctors are the No. 1 Cuban export. Apparently, this is so if 4,000 of them are available for sale to Brazil. I am fascinated that this article looks at this transaction from the perspective of the Brazilian citizen and politician, the American academic and the profit to the Cuban government, but completely fails to say how this will affect the Cuban doctors themselves.

Are they indentured and required to return to Cuba? Will they be free to accept a position in Brazil and apply for citizenship at the end of their contract? Will they be compensated at the same level as a Brazilian, Argentine or Uruguayan doctor and allowed to keep that compensation for themselves? Will they be free to travel away from the community into which they have been installed? Will their families in Cuba face consequences if they do not choose to return to Cuba?

Granted, practically any foreign opportunity is a good opportunity for a Cuban. But the whole situation smacks of modern-day slavery if the conditions of the deal do not clearly benefit the doctors who are involved. I would have liked to know this side of the story and feel that it is unbalanced without it.

Fiona Hill, Burlington

Rousseff Says No to U.S. Visit, Yes to Cuba

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff is cancelling preparations for her upcoming visit to the U.S. in protest over a report (leaked by Edward Snowden) that U.S. intelligence allegedly targeted her communications.

Yet, Rousseff has had no problem visiting Castro's Cuba multiple times, embracing its totalitarian dictatorship (together with its violations of universal human rights), providing it with taxpayer-funded financial credits, colluding to violate international refugee law and even contracting its slave labor.

From AFP:

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff has cancelled early preparations for a US visit, a spokeswoman said Thursday, September 5, amid a row with Washington over reports she was a target of US electronic espionage.

A spokeswoman for Rousseff said a trip by a Brazilian delegation to prepare for the president's October 23 visit to Washington "was cancelled."

The spokeswoman did not say why the trip was cancelled, but it comes after Brazil demanded explanations from Washington for reports that US intelligence spied on her communications.

Why We Support the Syria Resolution

From U.S. President Barack Obama's press conference today in Stockholm, Sweden:

[T]he question is how credible is the international community when it says this is an international norm that has to be observed? The question is how credible is Congress when it passes a treaty saying we have to forbid the use of chemical weapons? And I do think that we have to act because if we don’t, we are effectively saying that even though we may condemn it and issue resolutions and so forth and so on, somebody who is not shamed by resolutions can continue to act with impunity.

And those international norms begin to erode and other despots and authoritarian regimes can start looking and saying that’s something we can get away with, and that then calls into question other international norms and laws of war and whether those are going to be enforced.

We couldn't agree more.

Iran and Cuba's Joint (Propaganda) Campaign for Syria's Assad

Iran and Cuba have begun a joint propaganda campaign to warn the U.S. about the "consequences" of military action against Assad's regime and shift the blame for the use of chemical weapons to the "foreign-backed Syrian opposition."

Of course, they make no mention of Hezbollah and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard training and leading Assad's troops.

From Iran's state media:

Iran, Cuba warn of fallout of Syria attack

Iran and Cuba have expressed concerns about the consequences of any foreign military action against Syria, stressing a political approach to resolve the crisis in the Arab country.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his counterpart Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla expressed their deep reservations about the threats of military action against Syria in a telephone conversation on Wednesday.

During their conversation, Zarif and Parrilla reviewed the latest developments in Syria, highlighting the need for a political settlement of the conflict in the country.

Zarif further censured any use of chemical weapons and urged the international community to pay more attention to the destructive role of the terrorist and Takfiri groups in the region, particularly in Syria.

Parrilla also noted that any use of force against Syria is doomed to fail, saying a political solution is needed in the war-ravaged country.

The top Cuban diplomat also congratulated Zarif on his appointment and subsequent approval by the Majlis as Iran’s foreign minister.

The rhetoric of war against Syria first gained momentum on August 21, when the militants operating inside the Middle Eastern country and the foreign-backed Syrian opposition claimed that over a thousand people had been killed in a government chemical attack on militant strongholds in the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar.

Damascus categorically rejected the accusation.

Image: Cuban Dissident Sends Clear Message of Change

Cuban democracy activist (member of the Ladies in White), Ivis Maria Rodriguez, paints the following message onto her home in Guanabacoa:

The people of Cuba are hungry
but they are also afraid;
When the fear ends
so will the hunger.
Freedom.
Change.
No more lies.
Nor more hunger.
Say yes to change.

See the image below.

Returning Guantanamo to (a Free and Democratic) Cuba is Already U.S. Policy

Tuesday, September 3, 2013
An upcoming academic paper by the former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Michael Parmly, argues that the U.S. should return the naval base at Guantanamo Bay to Cuba.

"The current partisan tensions on the (Capitol) Hill ensure that it would be an uphill climb, but it is the thesis of this paper that a similar bold step, akin to the Panama Canal, is called for regarding Guantanamo," Parmly told Reuters.

The paper has yet to be released, so the details remain unclear.

But perhaps Mr. Parmly is unaware that, according to Section 201 of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, it is already the policy of the United States:

"To be prepared to enter into negotiations with a democratically elected government in Cuba either to return the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo to Cuba or to renegotiate the present agreement under mutually agreeable terms."

The key phrase there is "with a democratically-elected government in Cuba."

If Parmly's goal is to return Guantanamo to a "democratically-elected government in Cuba" -- then it's already U.S. policy.

However, it appears Parmly's goal is to hand over Guantanamo to Cuba's dictatorship -- so the Castros have another prison to fill up with dissidents, or a more convenient base from which to smuggle weapons to North Korea and conduct its rogue activities.

That's just plain naive.

And wait -- here's the best part:

"Parmly, who now lives in Geneva, said the U.S. and Cuban governments could agree that 46 'problem cases' [terrorists] remain at a U.S.-run jail even after operational control of the base is transferred."

So hand over 46 international terrorists to a state-sponsor of terrorism?

Huh?

Or alternatively, have the U.S. run a jail within Castro's dictatorship?

Seriously?

One thing is for sure, Parmly's "uphill climb" on Capitol Hill is much steeper and less "partisan" than he thinks.

Over 478 Political Arrests in August

Cuban independent journalists (Hablemos Press) have documented over 478 political arrests by the Castro regime in the month of August 2013.

This is the highest monthly tally of the year.

Thus far, over 2,775 political arrests have been documented throughout 2013.

As a reminder, these are only political arrests that have been thoroughly documented. Many more are suspected.

Click here to see the details and some pictures (like the one below) of August's arrests.

Did You Know Cubans Can't Board This Vessel?

By Cuban blogger and democracy activist Yusnaby Perez:

Did you know Cubans can't board this vessel simply because they are Cuban?  Only foreigners can in #Cuba. 

Castro Asks U.N. Security Council to Protect Assad

Monday, September 2, 2013
The Castro regime has called on the U.N. Security Council to prevent the U.S. from launching a punitive military strike against Syria's Assad regime for its illegal use of chemical weapons.

According to a statement from Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a U.S. military strike against Assad's regime would be against international law.

Ironically, this comes from a regime that recently got caught smuggling weapons to U.N. Security Council-sanctioned North Korea -- a blatant violation of international law.

Moreover, the Castro regime makes no mention of Assad's use of chemical weapons, which is a vile violation of international law.

Then again, the Castros are no strangers to the use of chemical weapons themselves.

And, of course, the Castros include their usual rhetoric that a U.S. military strike would be against the "sovereignty, independence and self-determination" of the Syrian people.

Yet, no Syrian has ever elected Assad (as no Cuban has ever elected Castro).

And what about the universal right of their people not to be arbitrarily imprisoned, tortured and slaughtered (not to mention, gassed)?

Guess it shouldn't be a surprise to see these "two-bit dictators" (as Secretary of State Kerry correctly referred to Assad) stick together.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 46

From today's story in The Washington Post on the future of TV Marti:

“No one dislikes TV Martí more than the Cuban government,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, the Washington director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, a group that lobbies for stronger measures against the Castro regime. “Do we therefore, essentially, give in to those efforts by the regime and do their job for them?”

EDITOR'S NOTE: The usual critics of TV Marti argue that it has "no audience." Yet, if there was no demand for TV Marti, then why does the Castro regime spend its very scarce resources trying to jam it? If there was no demand for TV Marti, the Castro regime simply wouldn't care.

Moreover, today's critics of TV Marti were yesterday's critics of Radio Marti. Yet, today, it's undeniable that Radio Marti is widely listened to on the island, so instead of eliminating TV Marti, we should be working on innovative ways to break the Castro regime's jamming (like we have successfully done with Radio Marti) -- not permanently jam it for them.

Video: Secret Police Tries to Impede "Estado de Sats"

The video below shows Castro's secret police trying to impede Saturday's meeting of the independent think-tank, Estado de Sats.

Note how the plain clothes (secret police) officials order the uniformed officers around.

A couple of weeks ago, they also tried to impede a screening of the documentary, "Never Sorry," about Chinese artists and dissident Ai Weiwei.

(Another) Strange Death in Cuba

By Jay Nordlinger in National Review:

Some friends of mine have a question: “Isn’t it curious” that the Cuban general in charge of the Castros’ air force and air-defense systems dies in a car crash in the very week that U.N. inspectors seek to travel to Cuba, to interview him about the fighter jets and defense systems intercepted on their way to North Korea?

Yeah, it’s curious, I’ll say. Inconvenient people have a way of dying in car crashes in the Castros’ land. (Oswaldo Payá, the great democracy leader, was one of them.)

For more on this, go here and here.

Media Concerned About Swimmer, Ignores Repression Against Dissidents

Foreign news bureaus in Havana have spent all day concerned about American long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad and her fifth attempt at swimming across the Florida Straits.

Sighs of relief could be sensed through the news bureaus when her personal physician wrote on Facebook, "she's doing very well."

Yet, not a word about the 18 Ladies in White who were arrested yesterday in the Matanzas province for trying to march peacefully after Mass.

Not a word about the 10 male activists, including three former political prisoners from the "Black Spring" of 2003, who were violently placed in choke-holds, dragged away and arrested.

Not  word about Elizabeth Pacheco Lamas, a member of the Ladies in White in Cardenas, who was chased by a regime mob wielding knives.

Not a word about the arrested Ladies in White being rubbed with cotton swabs by the secret police, so the regime can store their scent for the dogs in the future.

Not a word about the two attempts against the life of democracy leader Sara Marta Fonseca.

Sadly, these peaceful victims of the Castro regime "are not doing so well."

However, the Havana news bureaus have expressed no concern about their well-being.

The pictures below are from the arrests yesterday.



Lifting Sanctions Would Only Benefit Cuba's Military Oligarchs

By Dr. Javier Garcia-Bengochea in The Florida Times-Union:

(*Below is the full version of the letter submitted to The Florida Times-Union, which was severely edited by the newspaper.)

Recently, this newspaper misquoted my position on the Cuban embargo. I ardently support the embargo. Abused and weakened, it needs renewed commitment.

The embargo debate often hinges on misinformation, ignorance and emotion rather than the critical principles it represents. Those who understand the situation in Cuba, including Cubans, support the embargo.

The embargo began as an executive order in October 1960 after the confiscation of American and Cuban property in Cuba. It is now codified U.S. law establishing sanctions until Cuba resolves these property claims, adopts democratic reforms and respects human rights.

Cuba has yet to indemnify Americans and refuses to compensate Cuban nationals.  Undeniably, most property in Cuba is stolen.

The embargo represents sanctions against Cuba for many hostilities over 5 decades. During the Cold War, Cuba, through Soviet subsidies, fought the U.S. from Vietnam, to the Congo, to the Americas, costing the U.S. trillions of dollars. Coupled with the threat of nuclear holocaust, the embargo was never seriously questioned.

The collapse of the U.S.S.R. exposed the abject failings of Cuban socialism. Only the vices, the pre-revolutionary past, the island’s beauty and the indomitable spirit of Cubans remained.

To exploit these and finance what is essentially terrorism against the U.S. (Medicare fraud, alliances with our adversaries/terror groups, narcotics trafficking, harboring American fugitives, hostage taking, etc.), Cuba resuscitated the tourist industry.

Rather than apply leverage and negotiate firmly with a vulnerable, yet hostile regime, U.S. sanctions were relaxed, bowing to critics arguing the failure to bring democracy as justification for lifting the embargo, claiming commerce with Cuba would bring change. Through intense lobbying, special interests received exceptions in travel, remittances, and no-bid, “cash up front” agricultural and medical sales.

We are now one of Cuba’s largest partners, joining the 200 countries already trading with Cuba. Yet, poverty and repression worsen. Why?

Unfortunately, trading with Cuba is trading with Cuba’s ruling oligarchs, the military dictatorship that literally owns the tourist industry. U.S. trade doesn’t support the purported (now illusory) gains of revolution or Cubans, only the oligarchs.

Prosperity stems from property rights, which include civil rights, define human rights and promote competition though non-violence. The rule of law is maintained through contract sanctity, an independent judiciary, and transparent enforcement and regulatory agencies. These protect clear title to property, the sine qua non of capitalism. These don't exist in Cuba.

International condemnation of the embargo is baffling considering Cuba’s 30 and 75 billion dollars in outstanding and defaulted debt to these nations. Over half of the 400 foreign businesses have left Cuba. Arbitrary confiscation of foreign assets and incarceration of foreigners continues today. Thankfully, the embargo has protected American businesses.

That lifting the embargo will foster the necessary conditions to bring democracy, protect property and promote commerce is illogical.  Abandoning sanctions does precisely the opposite: it explicitly forgives and condones theft, trafficking in stolen property and corruption.

This harms everyone except Cuba’s oligarchs, who manipulate unprincipled U.S. politicians and public opinion. These oligarchs are not committed to protecting property, save their own, much less rights. They are completely unaccountable; except to sanctions.

Finally, Cubans understand what prohibits their free speech, assembly, travel, access to the tourist sector replete with American goods and robs their work product: Cuba’s military dictatorship, not the embargo. Repression is required to defend the unjustifiable.

Cubans also realize U.S. trade benefits their repressors, strengthening the real embargo of Cuba: of rights, goods and services by these oligarchs against the Cuban people.   

Sanctions are critical diplomatic tools. Steadfastly applied, as with Burma and South Africa, they work. Defending the rule of law, not capitulating with dictators, will bring prosperity for Cuba.

Tweet of the Week

By Cuban blogger and democracy advocate, Yusnaby Perez:

It's curious how a country that boasts and exports its health system is in a state of national alert for #Cholera. #Cuba

Sunday Special: Economic "Reforms" in Cuba

Sunday, September 1, 2013
El Nuevo Herald has published a Sunday special (Séptimo Día) about the Cuban economy and Raul Castro's "reforms."

It includes essays (in Spanish) by:

Carmelo Mesa-Lago;
Carlos Alberto Montaner;
Mauricio Claver-Carone;
René Gómez Manzano;
Pedro Roig;
Maria Werlau;
Tania Mastrapa and
Armando H. Portela

You can view the entire special edition here.

Mauricio Claver Carone's "Inversión extranjera hoy en Cuba," can be viewed here.

Attempts Against Female Democracy Leader's Life

In Havana today -- on two occasions -- a modern light blue car has tried to strike renowned Cuban democracy leader, Sara Marta Fonseca.

Inside the car were four men with walkies-talkies.

Fonseca is best known for the courageous protest she led on the steps of the Capitol building (see video here).