Remembering Angel Yunier Remon

Friday, December 27, 2013
During the holidays, let's continue to highlight some of the current political prisoners that the Castro brothers would like the world to forget.

Today, we remember 30-year old dissident rapper, Angel Yunier Remon, who just spent his first Christmas in a political prison.

Yunier Remon, whose stage name is "el Critico del Arte" ('The Art Critic'), was attacked with tear gas and arrested on March 21st, 2013, for his criticism of the Castro regime.

In prison -- where he is being held without charges or trial -- Yunier has been continuously beaten, contracted various diseases, denied family visits and held naked in a punishment cell.

He has undertaken several hunger strikes to protest his cruel and arbitrary imprisonment.

Demand his freedom.

How Castro's Repressive Apparatus Works

The case of Andrés Carrión provides a great illustration of how a regular Cuban felt the need to speak the truth and how Castro's repressive apparatus works -- exerting unbearable pressure on Carrión and his family.

From The Miami Herald:

Andrés Carrión says security agents threatened to kill him, fired his wife, forced them out of their home and sent two snitches to get close to him.

Andrés Carrión Alvarez says he knew it would be up to him to shatter the image of peace and order clamped on Cuba by government security agents when then Pope Benedict XVI said Mass last year in Santiago de Cuba.

“I could not allow the international news media there to think everything was OK,” said Carrión, the man seen in a memorable video shouting “Down with communism!” before the Mass and then being pummeled and hauled away by plainclothes agents.

Carrión, 41, and his wife, physician Ariuska Galán, 38, received U.S. refugee visas and arrived Nov. 21 in Chattanooga, Tenn., where they have been filling out papers for work permits, Social Security numbers and medical checkups.

[I] am breathing freedom, an incredible sense of freedom,” Carrion told El Nuevo Herald in his first interview since leaving Cuba.

That was not what he was breathing in Cuba after his notorious outburst minutes before Benedict began the Mass in Santiago on March 26, 2012, on the first leg of a three-day visit to Cuba, the first papal tour of the communist-ruled nation since John Paul II visited in 1998.

Government officials threatened to kill him, fired his wife from a public clinic and evicted them from their apartment above the clinic. Two State Security infiltrators tried to get close to him. And an Interior Ministry car seemed to try to run him over, he said.

Carrión said he was not active in dissident groups before his outburst. A physical therapist who lived with his wife quietly in Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city, he had been dismissed from his job as part of a government belt-tightening, and was unemployed.

I was a normal person, with some political worries, but then little by little came an increase in my political consciousness,” he said in a telephone interview.

He realized he would have the perfect opportunity to attack the government publicly when it was announced that Benedict would say Mass in Santiago — an event sure to be attended by the international news media and Cuba’s ruling elites, but not by dissidents.

Carrión was right. Following past procedures, police detained hundreds of dissidents and blocked their phones during Benedict’s visit to make sure they could not get anywhere near the pope in Santiago and Havana.

“I took advantage of that moment because I was a person unknown in the political world,” he said. “If not, I could not have reached that spot.”

What Castro and al-Qaeda Have in Common

Thursday, December 26, 2013
They are both holding elderly, Jewish, American development workers hostage in order to coerce the U.S. into unilateral negotiations and concessions.

In other words, they both employ terrorist tactics.

Read carefully.

From AP:

A 72-year-old American development worker who was kidnapped in Pakistan by al-Qaida more than two years ago appealed to President Obama in a video released Thursday to negotiate his release, saying he feels "totally abandoned and forgotten."

The video of Warren Weinstein was the first since two videos released in September 2012. Weinstein, the country director in Pakistan for J.E. Austin Associates, a U.S.-based firm that advises a range of Pakistani business and government sectors, was abducted from his house in the eastern city of Lahore in August 2011.

"Nine years ago I came to Pakistan to help my government, and I did so at a time when most Americans would not come here, and now when I need my government it seems that I have been totally abandoned and forgotten," Weinstein said during the 13-minute video. "And so I again appeal to you to instruct your appropriate officials to negotiate my release."

Sound familiar?

From NBC:

Alan Gross, the 64-year-old American contractor imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, has written a letter pleading with President Obama for his "personal involvement" to secure his release.

"With the utmost respect, Mr. President,” wrote Gross, who was arrested in Havana four years ago today, “I fear that my government-- the very government I was serving when I began this nightmare-- has abandoned me."

The letter comes as Gross’s wife, family and supporters stage a vigil outside the White House to mark the anniversary and call on President Obama to appoint a special envoy to negotiate for his release. His supporters have also released new photos of Gross in his Cuban prison, where he has lost 110 pounds, according to a family spokeswoman.


Quote of the Day: A Stark Reminder of Cuba's Tragedy

While the fate of the people may never be known or what happened to them, our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones during this difficult time. For those who know of a loved one attempting to make the illegal voyage across the Mona Passage, do your best to reason with them. Tell them to not go out to sea, to not entrust their lives to a smuggler, and to not attempt the treacherous voyage. In doing so, they risk losing their lives.
-- U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Drew Pearson, pursuant to calling off the search for six Cubans (three men, three women) feared dead at sea, The Miami Herald, 12/26/13

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Remembering Sonia Garro

During the holidays, let's highlight some of the current political prisoners that the Castro brothers would like the world to forget.

Today, we remember Sonia Garro, who is currently spending her second Christmas in a political prison.

Sonia Garro, a member of The Ladies in White pro-democracy movement, has been imprisoned by the Castro regime -- without trial or charges -- since March 18th, 2012.

In the wave of repression leading up to Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Cuba, Castro's secret police raider her home, shot her with rubber bullets and imprisoned her.

She has been repeatedly abused and beaten in the infamous Manto Negro women's prison.

Garro's husband, Ramón Muñoz González, was also imprisoned on that day.

He is being held -- without trial or charges -- in the Combinado del Este Prison.

Demand their freedom now.

Eight Americans to Remember This Christmas

By Brett Schaefer in Heritage's The Foundry:

8 Americans to Remember This Christmas

Christmas is a time for celebration and family. It should also be a time for reflection, appreciation for all we have, and remembrance of those who are in need.

While most of us are gathering with loved ones, there are Americans being held prisoner in repressive countries around the world—often for doing nothing more than practicing their faith, aiding the poor, giving voice to the voiceless, or serving their country. Here are some of their heart-wrenching stories:

Saeed Abedini, an American pastor, was arrested in 2012 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard while visiting his family. He had worked for years to set up churches in Iran. He is serving an eight-year prison sentence on charges related to practicing his Christian faith.

Kenneth Bae was arrested in North Korea in November 2012. Bae was conducting visiting tours of North Korea and working quietly as a missionary to spread Christianity, which is prohibited in North Korea. He was convicted of committing hostile acts against North Korea and sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

Bowe Bergdahl, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, is a POW in Afghanistan. Sergeant Bergdahl was captured by militants belonging to the Haqqani terrorist network in June 2009. His captors have released several videos of Bergdahl since his capture to demonstrate that he was alive and healthy. The Pentagon believes that he is being held in Pakistan.

James Foley is a U.S. journalist who disappeared in northeast Syria in November 2012. Foley was in Syria to cover the civil war for Agence France-Presse. His family has had no contact with him since his disappearance, but he is believed to a prisoner of the Syrian government.

Alan Gross, a 64-year old U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. Gross was arrested by the Cuban government for fulfilling a USAID contract to distribute communications equipment to the Cuban Jewish community. He was convicted of crimes against the Cuban state and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He recently sent a letter to President Obama pleading for the Administration to take stronger steps to obtain his release.

Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine and decorated war veteran, was arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned in Iran while visiting his grandmother in 2011. He was sentenced to death by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard for allegedly spying for the CIA—a charge overturned by Iran’s Supreme Court and ordered for retrial.

Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, has been missing since 2007. Levinson is believed to have been kidnapped and detained by the Iranian government. He is currently the longest-held hostage in U.S. history. Recent news reports indicate that Levinson may have been working with the CIA.

Austin Tice, former Captain in the United States Marine Corps and recipient of the 2012 George Polk Award for War Reporting, disappeared in Syria in August 2012. Tice was in Syria as a freelance journalist to report on the civil war. The Czech ambassador to Syria stated that his sources indicate that Tice is alive and in the custody of the Syrian government. Tice’s parents recently traveled to Syria to try and raise awareness about Austin.

At Christmas, it is appropriate for Americans to remember their fellow citizens in distress abroad.

We should also take a moment to appreciate how fortunate we are to live in a country that respects our rights and freedoms. Totalitarian governments around the world torture and imprison thousands of people for opposing the government, practicing their religion, or simply expressing their thoughts and opinions. The U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012 details arrest and arbitrary detention of political prisoners, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture in many countries, including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Zimbabwe.

It is a good time to remember these victims in our prayers, urge our government to try and help them, and support organizations that raise awareness of their plights.

Must-Read: The Myth of the Reformer Dictator

Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Michael Moynihan has a great piece in The Daily Beast entitled, "Kim Jon Un & The Myth of the Reformer Dictator"

Read the whole thing here, but we've highlighted the Cuba section below:

Snap out of it, folks—tyrants don’t change their stripes. North Korea’s murderous boy king should crush that misguided hope forever.

Here is what we know about Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s fatheaded boy tyrant: he studied in Switzerland, is a fan of the Chicago Bulls, and excels at purging disloyal apparatchiks from his politburo (a required skill for every Juche dauphin). These minor biographical details were vigorously picked over when Kim replaced his father in 2012, with those first two data points—a love of basketball and a European education—frequently offered as evidence that the most illiberal society on Earth just might turn towards a path of liberalization.

Let’s acknowledge that the North Korea analyst has the least enviable job in political punditry, simply because there is so little information to analyze. So if not scrutinizing Kim’s teenage habits in an attempt to divine political intent, then what else?

Combine this with the almost universal hope that the Kim family’s private concentration camp might be limping towards reform, liberalization, or slow-motion de-Stalinization. But the North Korean leadership has a 60-year record of dashing such hopes. Indeed, it turns out that while Kim Jong Un is interested in professional basketball, he has also proved quite adaptive to the role of capo di tutti capi of Asia’s most brutal crime family.

Not surprising, that. But the trope that exposure to Western values and love of Western pop culture insulates one from personal fanaticism is favorite of journalists. We’re baffled as to how those swaddled in privilege and protected by democracy—if, as in Kim Jong Un’s case, only briefly—could end up choosing totalitarianism [...]

It’s no surprise that Kim Jong Un continues the legacy of his father and grandfather—no signs of reform in sight—because we have played this game a million times before. The world was long ago promised that Zimbabwean thug Robert Mugabe would be a great reformer. (In 1983, the Christian Science Monitor told readers that Zimbabwe’s “small but economically productive white community, which once dreaded Mugabe’s rise to power, now respects and even admires him.”) When writing a story on the naive and silly politics of the travel guidebooks, I came across this prescient passage in Lonely Planet’s guide to Syria and Lebanon: “Reforms by the young president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, may not have been as wide-ranging as many might have hoped, but there is certainly a feeling of optimism in the capital.” And remember the special case of Muammar Gaddafi, a discotheque-and-plane-bombing psychopath who later became a “reformer”—before his subjects protested the languid pace of change by murdering him.

But for those of us skeptical of wishful predictions of reformist dictators, there is no better example than the Cuban dictatorship, which has been said to be reforming every year since 1959.

In 1984, the Associated Press (AP) excitedly wrote that “visitors to Havana…note a new candor in the press—open criticism of unproductive factories, poor restaurant service and similar problems.” In 1990, the AP reported that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba was giving its “first hint of making some reforms.” (There’s that word hint again.) In 1993, the AP again reported that Cuba was “open[ing the] economy with new reforms,” as the “nation moves farther from socialism.” In 1994, the Washington Post reported that new reforms would “improve Cuba’s economy,” while “blackouts lessen [and] tourism revives.” In 2008, the New York Times told us that Raul Castro was “nudg[ing] Cuba toward reforms.” And in 2012, the normally sober editorialists at The Economist indulged in some wishful thinking: “Under Raúl Castro, Cuba has begun the journey towards capitalism.”

One would assume with all of these reforms, Cuba would have by now morphed into a tropical facsimile of Norway. But Raul Castro’s “reforms” have been about as impressive as Gaddafi’s or Mugabe’s (they never include elections, do they?), yet one still can’t avoid the excited press notices that change is afoot in Castroville.

Last Sunday, the New York Times revealed that “in Cuba’s press, streets and living rooms” there were “glimmers of openness to criticism.” This new openness apparently lasted two days. Because on Tuesday, the AP reported that “Cuban government agents…detained about 20 dissidents arriving for an International Human Rights Day march, halting the demonstration before it started.” And a week later, the AP threw more cold water on the idea of reform with the following headline: “Raul Castro Issues Stern Warning to Entrepreneurs.”

For reasons that will forever confound me, Cuba has—and always will—maintain a dedicated following of fellow travellers and dim-witted sycophants; those who believe that preventing free elections and a free press is a reasonable price to pay for universal, undersupplied, and substandard health care. But it appears that the only person left on Earth who believes North Korea is on the precipice of change is former basketball star Dennis Rodman. On his latest visit to Pyongyang, Rodman told reporters that despite the summary executions, drumhead courts, labor camps, and frequent bouts of mass starvation, “it’s all love, it’s all love here.”

And reform is just around the corner.

State's Response to Raul

Monday, December 23, 2013
The United States government is open to forging a new relationship with Cuba when the Cuban people can enjoy the protection of their fundamental human rights and the ability to freely determine their own political future.
--Senior State Department official, in response to Cuban dictator Raul Castro's call for the U.S. to recognize and "respect" his totalitarian regime, AFP, 12/23/13

Petition UNICEF Against Cuba's Political Exploitation of Children

Please sign the following petition here.

To the Executive Board of UNICEF:

On December 9th, 10th and 11th, 2013, Cuban authorities laid siege to the home of peaceful activist Antonio G. Rodiles, leader of the civic group Estado de SATS, to prevent a meeting celebrating Human Rights Day.

Access to Rodiles’s house was cut by the political police (State Security) beginning at sundown on December 9th, and all those who tried to reach it were detained. Dozens of elementary and secondary education (high school) students were pulled from their classrooms and transported to the area on December 10th and 11th to take part in an improvised “cultural activity” designed to sabotage the human rights commemoration with loud music from their speakers.

The Cuban government had planned these acts of political mobilization in anticipation. During the month of November, fast action groups were created under the leadership of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (surveillance and control institutions on every block) and the collaboration of other official institution. The campaign began precisely on December 9th, and will continue until December 22nd.

On December 11th, Rodiles, and other activists who ventured outside the home were violently arrested in front of the minors that were on the streets. Rodiles was arrested under the false accusation, launched by official accounts of the regime on different social networks, that he had assaulted a minor. No such incident ever happened. However, in a video filmed by Estado de SATS, a police woman can be seen pushing a boy who falls to the ground (minute 3:08). Later on, high school students formed a celebratory conga line in front of Rodiles’s house.

As it is usual in these cases, the minors’ parents were not notified in advance of the activities in which their children were forced to take part. 

We ask UNICEF to demand from the Cuban government respect for children’s rights, that it stops exploiting children for political purposes, and that it does not use them again in acts of repression against the Cuban opposition.

Sincerely,

Sign Here

U.S. Court Indicts FARC Terrorists in Cuba

Sunday, December 22, 2013
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has indicted two regional leaders of Colombia's narco-terrorist guerrilla group, FARC.

According to El Tiempo, the indicted FARC leaders are Omar de Jesus Restrepo Correa, alias "Olmedo Ruiz," and Adan de Jesus Jimenez Garcia, alias "Conejo."

They are facing terrorism and narcotics trafficking charges.

Both terrorist leaders have been residing in Cuba as part of the FARC's (curiously large and non-essential) "peace talks" delegation.

But it's increasingly clear that they are simply being harbored by the Castro regime.

Quote of the Month

The most important source of income for the [Castro] regime are the family remittances and money that we emigrants leave when visiting Cuba. It's time to demand something in exchange for the money with which we sustain the dictatorship. Enough with the fear that they will no longer let us enter the island, for they need us to continue going and leaving our money earned abroad. Bury that fear. Otherwise, another 50 or 100 years of jineterismo, communism and governmental reggaeton await us.
-- Boris Larramendi, young Cuban rocker exiled in Spain, Diario las Americas, 12/22/13

Over 3,000 Cuban Doctors Defected From Venezuela

In 2013, over 3,000 Cuban doctors have defected from Venezuela.

According to El Universal, this represents a 60% increase from 2012, which illustrates the rapidly declining state of affairs in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan government pays the Castro regime $6,000 per doctor.  

Meanwhile, each Cuban doctor only receives $300 -- which represents a 95% profit margin for the Castro brothers.

Raul's Hand

A political cartoon that needs no translation.

By Garrincha in Marti News:

Castro Wants U.S. to "Respect" His Totalitarian Dictatorship

Emboldened by an unmerited handshake with President Obama, Cuban dictator Raul Castro has called for the U.S. to unconditionally recognize and "respect" his totalitarian regime.

In remarks today to his puppet "National Assembly," Castro said:

If we really want to move forward in our bilateral relations, we have to learn to mutually respect our differences and become accustomed to peacefully living with them.

In other words, Castro wants the U.S. to recognize and "respect" his totalitarian dictatorship; his violation of the Cuban people's fundamental human, civil, political and economic rights; his beating, torture and harassment of peaceful opponents; his political prisoners; his regime's extrajudicial killings and disappearances; his violence against female activists; his subversion of democracy in the Western Hemisphere; his taking of American hostages; his weapons smuggling; his violation of international sanctions; his larceny of the Cuban people's assets; his military's business monopolies; his harboring of terrorists and fugitives; his intelligence sharing with fellow terrorist regimes; his use of children in acts of repression; his suppression of independent labor unions; his persecution of independent media; his censorship of information; his blockade of the Internet.

And while we're at it, the U.S. should throw away the Inter-American Democratic Charter, with its silly embrace of "representative democracy" in the Americas.

Just 'cos Raul says so.

Quote(s) of the Day: Raul and Response

We’re not ignorant of the fact that those pressuring to move faster are moving us toward failure, toward disunity, and are damaging the people’s confidence and support for the construction of socialism and the independence and sovereignty of Cuba.
-- General Raul Castro, Cuban dictator, on his slow, cosmetic and retracting economic "reforms," AP, 12/21/13
Change? What change? What I want is to get out of here. My mind’s made up, and I'm desperate.
-- Orlando Rivera, a 28-year-old unemployed Havana resident, AP, 12/20/13

The Silent Mariel Continues

From Cafe Fuerte:

According to official [Cuban government] statistics, a total of 184,787 Cubans were able to travel abroad during 2013 and more than half (55.2%) have not returned.