European Parliament Calls for Paya Death Investigation

Saturday, December 14, 2013
This week, the European Parliament called for an "independent and international investigation" into the death of Cuban pro-democracy leader, Oswaldo Paya.

Paya died in a mysterious car accident last year, pursuant to being followed and harassed by vehicles of Castro's secret police.

In a motion, the European Parliament asks the European Union's High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, to pursue such an investigation with the United Nations.

The motion passed by a vote of 588-34.

Faces of Cuba's Pro-Democracy Movement

Courtesy of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Young Leaders Group:

Check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

Similarities: South Africa's Apartheid Regime and Cuba's Dictatorship

By Cuban journalist and author, Carlos Alberto Montaner:

Obama, Raúl Castro and South Africa

Granma did not print Barack Obama's speech in South Africa. It was humiliating for Raúl Castro. After the formal handshake, Obama explained that Mandela's name should not be invoked in vain. It wasn't acceptable to celebrate the life and work of the late leader while persecuting those who hold ideas different from the official views. That's called hypocrisy.

While reading his speech, Raúl unwittingly proved Obama right. Without a blush, he celebrated diversity as if he presided over the Helvetic Federation. While he spoke, repression hardened in Cuba against the democrats, in the form of blows, kicks and jail cells. The spectacle embodied the platonic idea of hypocrisy.

To understand Cuba, it is reasonable to take a close look at South Africa. There are many similarities between the late apartheid and the Castros' dictatorship. The two systems were erected on harebrained theories that led to abuse and authoritarianism.

The South African apartheid fed from the shameful U.S. tradition of racial segregation, built on the sophism of “two equal but separate societies,” a model that originated in the alleged superiority of whites and was forged in the abundant “Jim Crow” legislation. When the National Party of South Africa adopted that philosophy in 1948 and later fragmented the country into bantustans, it poured the foundations for horror.

The Cuban dictatorship, in turn, feeds from the superstitions of Marxism-Leninism. The communists have the exclusive privilege of organizing Cuban coexistence. Even the Constitution says that. The island's rulers are backed by the certainty of “scientific” superiority. No other voices may exist because they, through the Party, are the vanguard of the proletariat, that class on which depends – no one knows why – the outcome of history.

That infamous South Africa, happily gone, was basically divided into two racial castes: on one hand, the whites, with all the rights and privileges; on the other, the blacks and half-castes, second-rate subjects (they weren't even citizens.)

Cuba is divided into two ideological castes: the communists and their “revolutionary” sympathizers, who enjoy all the rights, and the indifferent citizens and the oppositionists, branded as worms or scum and treated and maltreated with the greatest contempt. They're even barred from university studies because of the insistent proclamations that “the university is for the revolutionists.”

The defenders of racial segregation and apartheid in South Africa legislated on the feelings of persons. No one could love a person of another race. Couldn't have sexual relations with him or her. Interracial marriage was not possible. Not even caresses and kisses.

The defenders of the dictatorship in Cuba decreed that no one could have affectionate ties with exiles, political prisoners or oppositionists. The  ties between parents and children, siblings and friends were broken. Sometimes, couples were broken up. Marriage with foreigners was frowned upon.

The odd category of “disaffected” people was created. The political police watched the wives of the communist leaders, civilian or military, to notify the husbands of any adulterous relationship. The revolution owned women's pudenda.

Facing the horror of apartheid, numerous countries began to pressure for a change of regime. It had to be done. It was the decent thing to do, to end that viscous rot and replace it peacefully with a pluralistic system based on consensus, democracy and equality before the law. To achieve this, an economic embargo was instituted, sponsored by the United Nations.

Besieged by other nations, the white government of Pretoria screamed in protest and invoked its peculiar laws and Constitution. It exercised its sovereign right to self-determination but to no avail. Above that vile “nationalistic” alibi rose decency. White rulers could not maltreat the black population with impunity as if it were composed of animals.

The United States, which hesitated cowardly during the international embargo against South Africa (in the end, it joined it), is one of the few countries that -- in the case of Cuba -- puts pressure on the economic sector to replace a totalitarian and unjust regime with a democratic, pluralistic and inclusive government.

That is the coherent thing to do: to contribute to Cuba's self-liberation, as happened in South Africa. I suppose that, according to Obama, that's the best way to honor Mandela.

Must-Read: CNN Reporter Describes Interview With Elian

Friday, December 13, 2013
By CNN Espanol reporter, Andres Lopez, on his interview this week with Elian Gonzalez:

From the beginning of the interview, every question and respective answer was carefully monitored by a "chaperone" who would not leave Elian's side. She would nod her head affirmatively as the young man answered. And that's how the interview "flowed."

As I listened, I must confess that I wasn't impacted by Elian being a "convinced" revolutionary. That was to be expected. What really impacted me was when I asked him about his mother: The person who 15 years ago fled Cuba, risked everything, who probably even denied herself air to save his young life.

Elian responded with no emotion whatsoever. He said his mother died like many others and that's it. He said it like someone who learns a "truth" by memory.

I immediately asked myself whether the principles of the Cuba revolution had hardened Elian's heart. I'd like to believe that deep down Elian faces an existential dilemma: To whom does he owe his loyalty? To the revolution or to his mother's love?

I hope that with time he inclines the scale in favor of the person that gave him life and even died for him.

Cuban Band That Partook in Repression Should Not Get U.S. Visa

The bipartisan delegation of Cuban-American Members of Congress have sent a letter to the State Department asking that the Cuban music band, "Arnaldo y su Talisman," led by Arnaldo Rodriguez , be denied a visa to visit and perform in the U.S.

On Tuesday, "Arnaldo y su Talisman," participated in repressive mob acts against Cuban pro-democracy leader, Antonio Rodiles.

Tragically, this group is apparently scheduled to perform in Miami in the near future.

The State Department should not issue visas to persons that participate in human rights violations.

This band should not be rewarded for its reprehensible acts.

Here is the letter:


Image of the Week: A Mother Tries to Help Her Repressed Son

The mother of Cuban democracy leader, Antonio Rodiles, tries to help her son as he's being dragged away by Castro's secret police:

Must-See: "Ladies in White" Beaten and Stripped Naked

The following disturbing image is of Marina Paz, a member of the pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, being beaten and stripped of her white clothes (the group's signature garb) by the Castro regime:

Female Dissident in Intensive Care After Beating

Arlenis Perez Alarcon, a member of the pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, was rushed to emergency surgery in Santiago's military hospital due to a brutal beating she received from Castro's secret police on Tuesday.

Perez was one of over 150 dissidents targeted by the Castro regime for commemorating International Human Rights Day (December 10th).

According to witnesses, Perez was punched and kicked ruthlessly by Castro's agents.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

State Department Condemns Castro's Repression

From the U.S. Department of State:

We deplore the Cuban government’s harsh tactics to impede Cuban civil society’s peaceful recognition of Human Rights Day.

On December 10 and 11, Cuban authorities violently detained dozens of independent Cuban academics, journalists, and civil society representatives, including members of the Ladies in White and the Patriotic Union of Cuba.

The United States looks forward to the day when every Cuban, regardless of political opinion, can express themselves freely without fear of harassment or physical violence from their government.

The White House on the Obama-Castro Handshake

From The White House's Daily Press Briefing with Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest:

Q. What I wanted ask about was the famous handshake with Raul Castro.  And I’m wondering -- we all saw the President exchanged some words with Castro.  I’m wondering what those words were, and did the name Alan Gross, the American political prisoner being held in Cuba, come up?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s my understanding -- I obviously wasn’t there. That's why I’m not sleep deprived today. It’s my understanding, based on people who did talk to the President after his speech, that they didn't have a robust, substantive conversation about policies, but rather exchanged some pleasantries as the President was making his way to the podium. So there was not an opportunity for the President to chronicle his many concerns about human rights abuses on the island of Cuba.

The President did not have the opportunity to say to him directly something that he said many times, which is that Alan Gross should be released. So they did not have an opportunity to have a robust exchange of ideas.  Rather, they had an opportunity to exchange pleasantries.

Q. So you said the President has said many times that Alan Gross should be released?

MR. EARNEST:  He’s said it before.  Maybe it’s not many times, but he has said before that Alan Gross should be released.  I think we put out a statement from the President just a couple of days ago on this topic.

Q . And what -- so I understand he’s there, he passed -- I know this was not a prearranged handshake. But obviously, you knew that Castro was going to be up there on that stage.

MR. EARNEST:  That's correct.

Q. Was it discussed beforehand what to do when the two would inevitably come face to face?

MR. EARNEST:  Not to my knowledge.  Not to my knowledge.

Q. And can you -- you’ve seen some of the criticism.  John McCain actually compared this to Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Hitler.  What’s your response to all that criticism, that people say that the President shouldn’t have given Castro the opportunity to have a handshake with the leader of the United States?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, first of all, the President shook hands with everybody who was on the stage, and Mr. Castro was one of those individuals who was on the stage.

The second thing I’d point out is, I think even in the few number of times that I’ve stood at this podium, I’ve been asked about other people who have tried to draw connections between recent political events and the terrible reign of Adolph Hitler.  That is a dangerous and usually unwise thing to do in public.

The third thing I guess I would say is that there used to be a pretty important principle that originated in the Republican Party, I believe, that partisan politics should stop at the water’s edge.  And it’s unfortunate that we did see a number of Republicans yesterday who criticized the President for a handshake at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.  That is I think an important progression in a number of politicians’ views on that topic.

Q. Is there anybody that the President would not -- is there any world leader the President would not shake hands with? If Assad had been on that stage, Kim Jong-un had been on that stage -- I mean, is there -- I’m trying to gauge the principle. He shook hands with everybody on the stage. I mean, is there anybody he wouldn’t?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a difficult hypothetical to entertain, and I decline to do it at this point.

So Much for "People-to-People"

Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Professor Jaime Suchlicki of the University of Miami:
So Much for “People to People”

Last week, I hosted at the University of Miami a group of 15 students from Wabash College in Indiana as they returned from a three day visit to Cuba.

During their stay in Cuba, they were “escorted” by a lady working for ICAP, National Institute for Friendship with the People, an organization that belongs to the Ministry of the Interior, Cuba’s security and espionage organization. “Her presence,” complained one of the students, “was overwhelming.” The only time she was not with the students was during their visit to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

The visit was totally programmed and scrupulously organized to prevent any free time or contact with ordinary Cubans. The students were ushered to various government departments and institutes and received the usual tours to museums, libraries, etc.

The students and the faculty that accompanied them were disappointed that they were totally constrained in their activities. While some wanted to visit some dissidents, the schedule “did not permit it.”

The idea that this type of program called “People to People” is having an impact on Cuban society is ludicrous. The only benefit is to the Cuban government who receives U.S. dollars and is able to impact the students with their anti-embargo propaganda. “What we heard constantly,” said another student, “was that the ‘blockade’ was the cause of Cuba’s problems.”

Let’s get real. Unless this program is modified to make it effective in penetrating Cuban society, Americans traveling to Cuba are only serving the purpose of Cuba’s regime.

WaPo Editorial Board: Obama Should Extend Hand to Brave Cubans

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

President Obama should extend a hand to brave Cubans

President Obama's homage to Nelson Mandela on Tuesday was moving and heartfelt. He celebrated a “great liberator” who demonstrated the power of words, ideals and actions to change history. But the president added an awkward footnote to his tribute in Soweto by stopping to shake hands with Raúl Castro, a man whose regime, led for a half-century by his brother Fidel, has bashed heads and broken arms to stifle freedom.

A handshake is a gesture, in this case one freighted with symbolism that cannot be ignored. Tuesday marked the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations. On the streets of Havana and other cities, a crackdown on civil society was underway. Mr. Castro’s goons showed that they have not lost their taste for violence and coercion to extinguish even the slightest protest or expression of free will.

We called attention two days ago to the work of Antonio Rodiles, a democracy activist who announced his intention to hold a human rights conference in Havana on Tuesday. In a letter to Mr. Castro, he described a litany of harassment and abuse directed at him by Cuba’s security forces and thugs under their control, who threatened retaliation if the conference went ahead. Sure enough, the authorities followed through on their threats. The home of Mr. Rodiles was cordoned off, and most of those who came to participate in the conference were barred from entering. Then Mr. Rodiles and several colleagues were arrested Wednesday.

According to a Reuters dispatch, about 20 members of the dissident group Ladies in White “were pounced upon and quickly shoved into waiting vehicles by security personnel and government supporters” when they arrived Tuesday at a busy Havana intersection. The Miami Herald reported that the group’s leader, Berta Soler, and her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya, “were hauled off by plainclothes police as they headed” to the planned protest. Security officials also blocked the telephones of several dissidents in an apparent effort to silence news of other arrests. The popular blogger Yoani Sánchez tweeted Tuesday morning, “Like in a bad horror movie, I am losing communication with . . . activists.”

Elsewhere on the island, there were reports that independent journalists, filmmakers and writers were arrested. The Herald reported that police left 16 dissidents bleeding and that six others were arrested when they raided the home of Roger Curbelo, a member of the opposition Christian Liberation Movement in the town of Puerto Padre. The movement was once led by Oswaldo Payá, the dissident who was killed last year in a suspicious car wreck.

While Mr. Obama was shaking hands with Mr. Castro, courageous people attempting to uphold Mr. Mandela’s ideals were suffering beatings and arrests. The president ought to follow his handshake with a loud and unambiguous salute to the real champions of human rights — those fighting for it on the streets of Cuba.

Quote of the Day: On a Gross-for-Cuban Spies Trade

If [Castro's government is] still at Gross for the Cubans in a four-for-one trade, the administration has made it clear that that ain’t gonna happen.
-- Dan Restrepo, former Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council under President Obama, The Daily Beast, 12/11/13

Over 150 Dissidents Arrested on Human Rights Day

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban dissidents say police detained more than 150 on Human Rights Day

Cuban police carried out more than 150 detentions of dissidents Tuesday on International Human Rights Day and followed up Wednesday by carting off the founder of a group that was holding a rare human rights congress, according to activists in Havana.

Antonio Rodiles, founder of the group Estado de SATS, was taken away by police Wednesday around 11 a.m. as he watched a group of children write graffiti on the sidewalk in front of his home, activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz said.

Dissident blogger Regina Coyula, who was in Rodiles’ house participating in the First Congress for Human Rights, told reporters that Rodiles was detained when he intervened with police who were harassing his girlfriend for taking photos of the children.

Yohandry Fontana, a pro-government blogger widely believed to be a State Security official, tweeted Wednesday: “I confirm the detention of Antonio Rodiles for attacking and insulting children.”

Estado de SATS and two other independent groups sponsored the Congress, which started Tuesday on the anniversary of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights and was to end Wednesday night with a musical concert.

Sanchez Santa Cruz, head of the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said he had information on more than 150 detentions on Tuesday and was still receiving new reports as of Wednesday evening.

All but a handful had been released by Tuesday night after so-called “short-term arbitrary detentions for political motives,” usually designed to intimidate or harass dissidents and keep them from attending opposition gatherings.

“That’s not counting the harassment and other acts of vandalism because there was a lot of violence by the forces of repression along the entire country,” Sanchez Santa Cruz said by phone from Havana.

Reports of more detentions were still arriving at his Havana office Wednesday because government security forces shut down the cellular and home phones of several hundred activists for much of Tuesday, he said.

The dissident group Ladies in White said its members alone suffered about 130 detentions as they tried to stage street protests — not tolerated by the government — in downtown Havana and the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city.

Others were detained as they tried to reach Rodiles’ home to participate in the two days of panel discussions, video programs and art shows, according to dissidents. Also detained were several members of the Cuban Patriotic Union, an opposition group most active in the eastern part of the island.

UNPACU founder Jose Daniel Ferrer said more than 130 UNPACU and Ladies in White members were detained Tuesday in eastern Cuba alone amid a string of protest meetings, marches and distributions of anti-government leaflets and posters.

Several dissidents were injured when government-organized mobs and State Security agents threw rocks at them, Ferrer said. Mob members and police also made off with cameras, cell phones and cash taken from many of the opposition activists.

Treasury Fines Bank for Sanctions Violations

Not only do Iran, Sudan, Burma and Cuba share brutal dictatorships. Not only are they among the world's worst violators of fundamental human rights. But they also share the same unscrupulous business partners and practices.

It isn't a coincidence that banks and companies caught by Treasury violating Iran, Sudan and Burma sanctions (not to forget Syria and North Korea sanctions), are usually also violating Cuba sanctions. It's actually a cause for even greater concern.

From the U.S. Department of the Treasury:

Treasury Department Reaches $33 Million Settlement with the Royal Bank of Scotland plc

As part of a combined $100 million settlement with federal and state government agencies, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today announced a $33 million agreement with the Royal Bank of Scotland plc (RBS) to settle its potential liability for apparent violations of U.S. sanctions regulations.  Today’s settlement resolves OFAC’s investigation into apparent violations by RBS of U.S sanctions programs relating to Iran, Sudan, Burma, and Cuba.

From 2005 to 2009, RBS engaged in payment practices that interfered with the implementation of U.S. economic sanctions by financial institutions in the United States.  Those practices included removing material references to U.S.-sanctioned locations or persons from payment messages sent to U.S. financial institutions.  With respect to Iran, for example, RBS accomplished this by developing written procedures to send payments that omitted information about the Iranian nexus in cover payments sent to U.S. financial institutions.  The procedures instructed employees to list the actual name of the Iranian financial institution rather than the Bank Identifier Code in the beneficiary bank field of the payment instructions.  Doing so prevented the RBS payment system from automatically including references to the Iranian bank or Iran in related cover messages and resulted in the omission of that data from instructions sent to U.S. clearing banks.  While the instructions were developed to handle payments involving Iran, RBS identified that similar methods were used for certain payments involving Sudan, Burma, and Cuba as well.

Obama Defies Dictators in Mandela Speech

By Frida Ghitis in CNN:

Obama defies the dictators at Mandela service

Nelson Mandela managed one more victory in death: subjecting a who's who of the world's dictators to the indignity of sitting through a memorial service that overflowed with praise for the principles of democracy, freedom and equality.

It's a pity that so many are focusing on a handshake between President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. They are missing the much more poignant events that unfolded during Tuesday's memorial service in South Africa.

Sure, the handshake was noteworthy, maybe even meaningful. But any satisfaction Castro might have found in the gesture, any comfort authoritarian regimes might have drawn from the moment of politeness toward a dictator, dissolved in the far more powerful message of the entire event -- and of Obama's own resonant speech.

You can blame Obama for other things, but don't deny this was a piercing speech, a full-throated defense of democracy and freedom.

That rainy morning in Johannesburg brought no joy to tyrants.

Obama paid homage to Mandela, "Madiba," his tribal name, as "the last great liberator of the 20th century," who "showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals." And he reflected on the human traits that made Mandela special. "I'm not a saint," Obama quoted Mandela saying, "unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."

Everyone in the audience could nod, recognizing the struggle to persevere in their own lives.

But Obama came not only to praise a man; he came to shine a light on the values that made him worthy of admiration and the causes that made his struggle reverberate the world over. It was a moment for stony discomfort among those who traveled to South Africa representing undemocratic, repressive regimes.
 Obama pays homage to Mandela

"Like America's founding fathers," Obama noted, "[Mandela] would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations, a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power."

Consider who was sitting in the stadium listening to this tribute to rule of law and democracy, to handing power to an elected successor. It wasn't just Castro, who along with his older brother Fidel has ruled Cuba for more than half a century without permitting a democratic election, while engaging, according to human rights organizations, in "repression of independent journalists, opposition leaders and human rights activists."
Along with Castro in the VIP stand, ostensibly honoring Mandela's legacy, sat countless dictators and their right-hand men.

It included the likes of Swaziland Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini, representing the small kingdom described by Freedom House as "a failed feudal state," where the king uses photos of beautiful girls to attract tourists, "distracting outsiders from Swaziland's shocking realities of oppression, abject poverty, hunger and disease."
Freedom House says that in the past 40 years, "two despots have used Swaziland for their personal purposes while ignoring the needs of the Swazi people and their legitimate rights to have a say over how they are governed and how the country's resources are used" -- the very antithesis of Mandela's struggle.
Mandela was, indeed, human and flawed. But there were aspects of his life that seemed superhuman. Among them was his ability to forgive his former enemies. That was a part of Obama's message that should have made some of the visiting VIPs cower in shame.

Obama quoted Mandela's words during his 1964 trial, when he said, "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination." Citing those particular words was like unleashing daggers against the likes of Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe since 1987, who sat in the audience along with scores of celebrities and foreign dignitaries.

Like Mandela, Mugabe led his country to victory over white rule. But unlike his neighbor, Mugabe grasped for power without letting go, and engaged in a vindictive campaign against white Zimbabweans that wrought misery for blacks and whites.

In his speech, Obama didn't leave his audience to unpack the condemnation of the hypocrites that he brought thinly wrapped in praise for Mandela.

He unpacked it all himself and placed it in the center of the arena: "There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom but do not tolerate dissent from their own people," a truth as piercing as the blaring vuvuzelas from South Africans celebrating the life of their beloved hero.

You could list the men, the countries, the regimes, that should have felt directly attacked by Obama's words in a crowd that included envoys from China, Saudi Arabia, Chad, Jordan and many other states whose leaders are not popularly elected and the many others guilty of repression and human rights violations.
Obama called out the hypocrisy, although the truth is that it was inescapable in many of the comments that followed news of Mandela's death.

If we had a prize for the most brazen display of duplicity following Mandela's passing, we would have fierce competition but one indisputable winner.

That would be the Syrian dictator, President Bashar al-Assad, whose statement of condolence was posted on the Syrian Presidency's Facebook page, calling Mandela "an inspiration to the all the vulnerable peoples of the world, in the expectation that oppressors and aggressors will learn..." The statement elicited bitter laughter around the world.

Mandela was not perfect, but there is a reason why his life inspired billions of people and his death brought what might have been the largest gathering of world leaders in modern history. He stood for values and principles that have gained universal legitimacy. Those include the right to fair and equal treatment for all and the right of all people to choose their own government.

The way Mandela lived his life was a call to forgiveness and reconciliation.

It was U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who called Mandela "one of our greatest teachers." Like all the best teachers, Mandela managed one more lesson during his memorial service, and it was Obama, the professor, the man whose own career might not have reached the pinnacle, who served as Mandela's principal assistant that day, imparting a much-needed lesson for despots.

Senator Cruz Walked Out on Castro Speech

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
From CNN:

Sen. Cruz walks out on Castro speech at Mandela memorial

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, part of a Congressional delegation at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, walked out of the service Tuesday while Cuban President Raul Castro delivered his speech.

"Sen. Cruz very much hopes that Castro learns the lessons of Nelson Mandela," his spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, said.

"For decades, Castro has wrongly imprisoned and tortured countless innocents. Just as Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, Castro should finally release his political prisoners. He should hold free elections, and once and for all, set the Cuban people free."

Human Rights Day: Handshake in South Africa, Repression in Cuba

Tuesday, December 10, 2013
There's been no shortage of coverage (and speculation) regarding U.S. President Barack Obama's handshake with Cuban dictator Raul Castro during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

We believe this encounter was unfortunate and untimely -- albeit inconsequential.

It was unfortunate and untimely, as simultaneously in Cuba, democracy activists were being brutally repressed for trying to commemorate International Human Rights Day (December 10th).

On the eve of International Human Rights Day, over 100 peaceful activists were beaten and arrested by the Castro regime.

Then yesterday, over 130 members of the peaceful pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, were alone arrested throughout the island.

Additionally, dozens of other democracy activists are currently missing or imprisoned.

Information has been slow to trickle out, as the Castro regime intercepted the cellphones of independent journalists, bloggers and other human rights observers.

But the handshake is over and The White House has itself dismissed it as inconsequential.

So how about focusing all that coverage on the repressed now?

For International Human Rights Day.

Here are some images of dissidents being dragged away by Castro's secret police today:

Kerry Recognizes Imprisoned Cuban Rapper

From U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's statement commemorating Human Rights Day 2013:

Around the world, the fundamental struggle for dignity – for economic justice, political freedom, and personal expression – continues every day and in many forms. I’ve seen firsthand what can happen when we work together to change things for the better. As a young Senator visiting Manila, I saw tears of joy in the eyes of a Filipino woman who emerged from a voting booth casting her ballot for the first time after 17 years of dictatorship. As Secretary of State, I’ve seen pride on the faces of young girls in Afghanistan, who would have been denied an education under the Taliban. And I’ve seen the courage of Libyans who filled Freedom Square – first to bring down a dictator and then to let Libya’s democratically elected government know their demands. Just in recent days, I've seen Ukrainians peacefully fill the city squares in Kyiv and across their country to demand that their voices be heard loudly and clearly.

Across the world, the struggle is not over; the march of human dignity is not complete. More than six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are still working to ensure that the rights set forth in it become “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

Making this vision a reality requires both the persistent protection of governments as well as the active participation of citizens. Nothing can match the power of grassroots movements. In my own generation's struggle, I saw vividly how activists came together to change our nation through movements committed to advance labor rights, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, the rights of the disabled, the environment and peace. America grew stronger because courageous citizens were willing to take a stand to fight for the things they believed in, willing to risk their lives on picket lines and voting lines and even go to jail for justice, to help their country live up to its ideals.

Around the world today, some of today’s greatest advocates for change – from Gao Zhisheng of China to Ales Byalyatski of Belarus to Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga of Cuba – sit in prison simply because they fought for the rule of law and the right of human beings to express themselves.

There are many whose names we will never know, whose courage goes unremarked but is all the more remarkable because they put their lives on the line in the face of beatings, imprisonment, and even death in the near certainty that their sacrifice will be anonymous.

On this Human Rights Day, the United States honors the courage and commitment of men, women, and children around the world who risk their lives to secure universal rights for all.

Today and every day, we will continue to support their efforts to achieve a world that is more just, free, peaceful and secure.

On Today's Repression in Cuba

A great summary in The Miami Herald:

Cuban police detain dozens of dissidents on human rights anniversary  

Cuban police detained dozens of dissidents, beat up others, blocked their telephones and sealed off their homes Tuesday to forestall a string of protests and other gatherings planned to mark International Human Rights Day.

Among those detained were the leader and more than 20 members of the Ladies in White, who tried to gather in a popular corner of Havana. Another 30 activists were also detained in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, according to dissident reports.

And police left 16 dissidents bleeding and arrested six others when they raided the home of Roger Curbelo, a member of the opposition Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) in the eastern town of Puerto Padre, according to MCL activist Ramón García.

“All of us are full of blood,” Garcia said of the 16 activists who remained holed up in the home late Tuesday. Some were hit with police batons and others with rocks thrown from a mob of about 1,000 government supporters that harassed the home, he added.

Security officials blocked the telephones of several dissidents in an apparent effort to silence reports of other arrests, and Havana blogger Yoani Sanchez tweeted Tuesday morning that “Like in a bad horror movie, I am losing communication with… activists.”

Although most of the detainees were expected to be released soon, the crackdown appeared to be one of the broadest in years because of the increased activities planned by the opposition for the anniversary of the U.N.’s Universal Human Rights Declaration.

Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya, were hauled off by plainclothes police as they headed to a protest planned by the women’s group in front of Havana’s popular Coppelia ice cream shop, according to independent journalist Manuel Guerra.

At least another 20 Ladies in White and two men were detained, some with force, as they arrived in groups of twos and threes and dressed in their traditional white clothes, according to an eyewitness report by the Agence France Press news agency.

As the women were detained, some shouted “Freedom” and a pro-government mob gathered near the shop held up posters of Fidel and Raúl Castro and shouted “filthy rats,” “death to the Ladies in White,” Spain’s Efe news agency reported.

Also harassed by police, State Security agents and mobs was Estado de SATS, directed by Antonio Rodiles, which on Tuesday launched its two-day First International Conference on Human Rights in Rodiles’ home without government approval.

Rodiles said police had sealed off his entire city block and were arresting or turning away supporters who turned up for the gathering. Ten to 15 supporters slipped into his home before the barricades went up, but he had been expecting 80 to 200 to attend.

Among those detained were two Argentines, Pedro Robledo and Valentina Aragona, who travelled to Cuba to participate in the gathering, Rodiles added. They were to be deported, according to the blog Diario de Cuba blog.

Security officials also organized block parties around Havana and the rest of the island, delivering beer and rum and blaring revolutionary music to celebrate what are Cuba’s claims of achievements inhuman rights, such as health and education.

Other detentions were reported in western Pinar del Rio Province and Matanzas east of Havana, although no details were immediately available. Some dissidents also were warned to stay at home Tuesday or face arrest, according to Rodiles.

Dissident leader Jose Daniel Ferrer said police also detained 23 Ladies in White and sealed off another 22 in the Santiago home of Solange Claramunt to disrupt their plans for a street protest in Cuba’s second largest city.

Six men were also known to have been arrested in the region, and many others could not be reached because of the blocked phones, added Ferrer, who helped found the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), one of the island’s most active dissident groups.

But police only monitored and did not confront about 15 dissidents who marched through the streets of his hometown of Palmarito de Cauto and nearby Palma Soriano, he said.

In another contrast with the crackdowns elsewhere on the island, Guillermo Fariñas, one of the best-known dissidents said that Tuesday was the first time since 2002 he was not arrested when he tried to mark human rights day in his hometown of Santa Clara.

Farinas said police did not interfere as he led 45 members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and three Ladies in White on a two-mile walk to a local cemetery to pray at the tomb of Juan Wilfredo Soto García, a dissident who died in 2011 after an alleged police beating.

Police nevertheless detained about 20 other dissidents in the region as they tried to mark the human rights day, said Fariñas, who won the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize for freedom of human conscience in 2010.

“Don’t think that the repression has changed,” he cautioned. “The intolerance continues.”

Kerry: No Change in U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

From The Hill:

The leading Cuba hawk in Congress slammed President Obama for shaking the hand of the communist island's leader during Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa on Tuesday.

“Sometimes a handshake is just a handshake,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). “But when the leader of the free world shakes the bloody hand of a ruthless dictator like Raúl Castro it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant. Raúl Castro uses that hand to sign orders to oppress and jail democracy activists.”

Ros-Lehtinen made the remarks during a House Foreign Affairs panel hearing where Secretary of State John Kerry was discussing the nuclear deal with Iran. She asked Kerry to reassure her that the handshake doesn't indicate a weakening of U.S. policy vis-à-vis Cuba.

Kerry said nothing has changed.

Tweet of the Day

By Cuban blogger and democracy leader, Yoani Sanchez:

#Cuba What happened today? Raul Castro bid farewell to #Mandela, shook hands with his "enemy" and tightened repression in #Cuba

From The White House: On Obama-Castro Handshake

Obama's handshake with Cuba's Raul Castro was not planned, the two did no more than exchange greetings, was not a substantive discussion... As the President said, we urge leaders to honor Mandela's struggle for freedom by upholding the basic human rights of their people.
-- Senior Administration Official, The White House, 12/10/13

Quote of the Day: Obama at Mandela's Memorial Service

Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love...There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
-- U.S. President Barack Obama, remarks at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in Johannesburg, South Africa, 12/10/13

MH Editorial Board: Alan Gross Should Not Be Swapped for Cuban Spies

Monday, December 9, 2013
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Cuba’s American Hostage

OUR OPINION: Alan Gross should not be swapped for Cuban spies

Alan Gross began his fifth year as a prisoner of Cuba’s unjust “justice” system last week, a symbol of the continuing estrangement between that island nation and the United States, and, more important, the fundamentally unchanged nature of the governing regime.

Mr. Gross, for anyone who needs reminding, is a 64-year-old husband and father who was surprisingly detained in December of 2009 by Cuban authorities. He was summarily tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison for the “crime” of delivering a portable computer and a cellphone to Cuba’s small and isolated Jewish community, an action not normally considered a crime except by a handful of repressive regimes around the world, including, of course, Cuba.

Since his arrest, Mr. Gross has lost more than 100 pounds. He suffers from degenerative arthritis and his health continues to deteriorate. Even worse is the emotional toll that four years of incarceration and separation have taken on him and his family. For these reasons — and because his severe punishment is in no way commensurate with his alleged transgression — he should be released immediately and unconditionally.

On the anniversary of his arrest, Mr. Gross’ wife, Judy, made a dramatic plea for President Obama to “do whatever it takes to bring Alan home.” The Obama administration, for its part, has said, without releasing details, that it is holding behind-the-scenes talks with the Cubans on the topic, even though officials have repeatedly called for his release without the need for negotiations.

Unfortunately, the Cuban government has other plans. Where the rest of the world sees a victim of an arbitrary and unfair government, Cuba’s leaders see a human pawn that can be used to advance their own selfish political objectives.

The regime said last week that it was ready to hold talks over Mr. Gross’ freedom, but that any such dialogue must include the situation of the four imprisoned spies who have been held in this country since 1998. In fact, the Cuban government has repeatedly declared that it would be prepared to exchange Mr. Gross for the four so-called “anti-terrorist fighters” in U.S. jails.

The Obama administration would be wrong to give in to this blackmail because the two cases are totally distinct. Alan Gross is a hostage; the Cubans committed espionage. The four Cuban spies (a fifth was released after completing his sentence and now lives in Cuba) were sentenced for spying not on Cuban exile organizations, but on U.S. military installations and for their part in the downing of airplanes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue in 1996.

Mr. Gross, in contrast, was arrested when he was sent as a private contractor by USAID with equipment that could be used by Cuba’s tiny Jewish community to connect to the Internet. The Cubans were involved in espionage activities that had fatal consequences. Alan Gross was part of an effort to increase the freedom of communication — which may be a crime in Cuba, but not in the rest of the civilized world. The two cases could not be more different.

Mr. Gross’ wife has pleaded that he should not be left to die in prison. Releasing him would be the humanitarian thing to do, especially considering he committed no crime. It’s up to the Cuban government to demonstrate that it’s capable, just this once, of doing the right thing.

WaPo Editorial Board: Antonio Rodiles Boldly Confronts Castro Regime

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Antonio Rodiles boldly confronts the Castro regime

A human rights conference is scheduled to open Tuesday in Havana, the capital of a regime with one of the world’s worst human rights records. A driving force behind the conference is Antonio Rodiles, a democracy activist trained in physics and mathematics who has been working for years to create more space in Cuba for open debate. That space usually has been in his house, which he has turned into a kind of think tank and creative performance center for intellectuals, artists and human rights activists.

Mr. Rodiles, who left Cuba in 1998 and returned in 2007, has been a critic of the regime and has suffered for it. He was arrested, beaten and held without charge for 19 days in November 2012. Last summer, he and others started a movement, Citizen Demand for Another Cuba, urging the government to ratify and implement two U.N. covenants on human rights. Now Mr. Rodiles has organized a conference marking the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But the regime of Fidel and Raúl Castro does not lightly tolerate such challenges to its authority.

In a letter to Raúl Castro dated last Friday, Mr. Rodiles said his activism continues to be met with threats from Cuban state security. His car tires were punctured and a “chemical liquid with a fetid smell was poured on its seats.” After that, urine was poured on the car seats. On Monday, we are told, Mr. Rodiles was confronted anew by state security.

“The situation in which we live is untenable,” Mr. Rodiles wrote in his letter. Anyone who disagrees with the regime “is destined to be treated in a humiliating and degrading way.” Cuban citizens are kept in “a total state of defenselessness” by the abusive state. “It is impossible to remain indifferent to a power that systematically steps over the dignity of citizens and its own laws with total impunity,” he wrote, “a power that orders its representatives to act as common criminals.”

We are reminded of similar calls to action a decade ago by the courageous dissident Oswaldo Payá, who sought a referendum on democracy in Cuba and who died in a suspicious car wreck on the island in 2012, along with another activist, Harold Cepero. Their deaths still cry out for independent investigation. Mr. Payá was subject to harassment similar to what Mr. Rodiles endures today.

No doubt, the Castro brothers have calculated that the oppressive power of their state apparatus will be sufficient to intimidate or overpower a handful of people at a homespun human rights conference. They are wrong. From such living rooms grows immense change. Recall that Andrei Sakharov once began a lonely quest like Mr. Payá and Mr. Rodiles, speaking out against repression when it was dangerous and only a few would dare. Mr. Rodiles has done no less, and his voice must be heard.

Letter From Rodiles to Raul

Letter from Antonio G. Rodiles to Raul Castro

Havana, December 6, 2013

Mr. Raúl Castro Ruz,

My name is Antonio Enrique González-Rodiles Fernández, Cuban citizen, resident of Ave 1ra. Number 4606 in the municipality of Playa, Havana. I studied physics at the University of Havana and later earned the titles of PhD Candidate in Physics and Masters in Mathematics from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Florida State University, respectively. After 12 years living outside my country, I decided to return with the idea of being part of a process of change that will help us out of the disastrous situation in which we live.

In the summer of 2010, as a result of these concerns and with a group of friends, artists, intellectuals, activists, Estado de SATS was developed, a civic and cultural project that proposes through art and thought a public space for free debate of ideas and views about our nation.

The project has been carried out in my own home for three years, given the impossibility and refusal of the authorities to accommodate it in a public space or institution. Since its inception, dramatic police operations around my house, accompanied by beatings and arbitrary arrests against the attendees, have been a constant.

My family and I have received multiple threats and pressure including my being beaten by several State Security agents and detained this November for 19 days for the supposed crime of resistance. The authors of this violation continue to commit the same abuse with impunity.

Last week two of the tires on my car were punctured and a chemical liquid with a terrible stench was poured on the seats, as stated in Complaint number 66804 filed on November 26 at the 5th Station of the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR) in the municipality of Playa.

Just two days ago urine was thrown on the front seats and, to all of this, is added the warnings that we have been sent of possible acts of repudiation to block an event we are going to hold on December 10 and 11, celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as part of a campaign asking for the ratification and implementation of the UN Covenants.

This event will have the same characteristics as all those we have developed previously, where a plurality of opinions and full respect for others have been our premises.

The situation we are living in is unsustainable, after 54 years of running the country on whims, violations and abuse, the result screams before our eyes. Every individual who dares to publicly express their disagreements is destined to be treated in a degrading and humiliating way with no possibility of appeal to any authority.

The deplorable acts of repudiation, managed through groups of vigilantes, all the abuses of power and the legal violations committed, keep Cuban citizens in a state of total defenselessness. The great irresponsibility and excessive ambition of those who now govern will lead our nation to an even greater debacle.

With this I mean not only to emphasize the complex situation in which we live, but to make clear my total commitment to the construction of a nation based on respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Cubans. It is impossible to remain indifferent before a power that systematically ignores the dignity of its citizens and its own laws, with total impunity. A power that orders its representatives to act as common criminals.

Those who have the reins of power in their hands also carry the major responsibility for the course of coming events. It is impossible to remain indifferent to the violations and abuse.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

Foolish to Think Castro Would Sacrifice His Holiday Bonanza

As we predicted last week, the Castro regime has just announced the extension of its consular services in the U.S. until February 2014.

According to the regime, M&T Bank has decided to "extend" its deadline for terminating Cuba's banking services.

However, we don't know whether this is indeed true, whether it results from U.S. government pressure or whether February 2014 was the actual deadline all along.

What we did (and do) know is that the Castro regime was never going to sacrifice the hundreds of millions it reaps from holiday travel to Cuba.

But it was an opportunity to try to coerce the U.S. government that it couldn't pass up.

Note to State: Want to see American hostage Alan Gross immediately released?

Here's how.

From Cuban state media:

Cuba Announces Reestablishment of Consular Services in the US till February

The Cuban Interests Section in Washington announced the reestablishment of consular services until February 17.

According to an announcement published on Granma newspaper, on December 6, the M and T Bank informed the Interests Section of its decision to extend till March 1, 2014 the deadline of the definitive closing of the banking account of the Cuban office, explaining that the deposits for consular services will still be received until February 17, 2014.

The Cuban Interests Section continues to look for a new bank that takes its banking operations to definitively normalize its consular services. The office regrets any inconveniences brought about by the suspension of consular services on November 26, 2013 either for Cuban or US citizens, the announcement reads.

Cuban LGBT Activist Nearly Beaten to Death

Last Thursday, Cuban LGBT rights activist, Mario Jose Delgado, was kidnapped by three men and savagely beaten.

As you can see from the picture below, he's lucky to be alive.

Delgado believes the three men were Cuban state security agents, who wanted to disrupt a gathering of the LGBT rights group he leads.

Moreover, he had just published an article in the magazine of the famed "Revista Hispano-Cubana," where he criticizes the racism and homophobia of the Castro regime.

The attackers took his cell phone and a USB flash drive he had on him, which contained all of the information regarding the upcoming gathering and its scheduled participants.

Tweet of the Day

From Cuban blogger and democracy leader, Yoani Sanchez:

#Cuba What a coincidence! An exercise "against social indiscipline" by the #CDR [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution] has been scheduled for Human Rights Day [December 10th]!

Meet the American Hostages

Sunday, December 8, 2013
The Daily Beast has a feature this weekend (below) on American hostages being held by the world's rogue regimes:

(Note: We have omitted North Korea's Merrill Newman, who was unconditionally released by North Korea over the weekend.)

Americans Locked Up Abroad: Who They Are, What They Did

On the fourth anniversary of his imprisonment in Cuba, American Alan Gross wrote a desperate letter to President Obama. But a wider look at the many U.S. citizens detained abroad shows just how difficult it can be to negotiate their release.