Saturday, June 26, 2010

Is another hunger striker going to die?

The mother of hunger striker Guillermo Fariñas is asking Pope Benedict XVI to pray for her son's life because he is "on the verge of death," according to a Twitter message.
Marc Masferrer, whose blog Uncommon Sense is dedicated to Cuba's political prisoners, writes that Fariñas is reportedly "unconscious and suffering from high fever."

Three big fish

Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada. Esteban Lazo Hernandez. Ramiro Valdes Menendez.

Pros and cons of lifting ban on travel to Cuba

Cuban countryside

Here are some talking points prepared by anti-embargo activists:

For fifty years, U.S. policy toward Cuba – diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions – has failed to advance our goals for human and political rights on the island while also harming the U.S. national interest. That is why retired U.S. military leaders, respected human rights advocates, former political prisoners and dissidents on the island, and growing majorities of Americans and Cuban-Americans want all U.S. citizens to have the right to travel to Cuba as part of a new policy based on engagement with the Cuban people.

1. Retired senior officers of the U.S. armed forces affirm that Cuba is not a security threat, that the current embargo in fact strengthens the Cuban government, and that allowing the freedom to travel to Cuba offers real benefits to the Cuban people.

• In a letter to President Obama, twelve high-ranking retired military officers said that “Cuba ceased to be a military threat decades ago… (but) the current embargo serves more to prop up the Castro regime.” Advocating for the freedom to travel, these esteemed military leaders said “By sending our best ambassadors – the American people – to engage their Cuban neighbors, we have a much better chance of influencing the eventual course of Cuban affairs” and promoting a more pluralistic and open society. – Letter from retired military officers to President Obama, April 13, 2009.

• General James T. Hill, a U.S. Army Retired Four Star General, and former Combatant Commander of U.S. Southern Command, has argued that engagement with Cuba would provide the island with an important alternative to Venezuelan and Russian influence. He has also written “Our national policy toward Cuba, to encourage democracy and the overthrow of Fidel’s communist government through sanctions, has failed miserably.” – “9 Ways for US to talk to Cuba and for Cuba to talk to US,” The Center for Democracy in the Americas, 2009.

• The strategy of starving the Cuban government by restricting U.S. travel is ineffective since Cuba is steadily building beneficial economic and diplomatic relationships with other countries throughout the world such as Venezuela, Brazil, China, Russia, among others.

2. Enforcement of the ban against travel to Cuba wastes U.S. tax dollars and diverts them from real threats, which compromises the security of all Americans.

• In a 2008 report, the GAO found that after 2001, OFAC opened more investigations and imposed more penalties for embargo violations, such as buying Cuban cigars, than for violations of other sanctions, such as those on Iran.

• The GAO also found that the Treasury Department’s disproportionate focus on enforcement of the rules against travel and trade with Cuba "have strained C.B.P.'s [Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security] capacity to carry out its primary mission of keeping terrorists, criminals and inadmissible aliens from entering the country.”

3. Ending the travel ban would be good for the U.S. economy; it would expand demand for U.S. products, help the tourist travel and airline industries, and create much-needed American jobs.

• U.S. economic output would increase by between $1.18 billion and $1.61 billion a year and create 16,888 to 23,020 new jobs if current restrictions on travel to Cuba were lifted, according to an independent study conducted in 2002 by the Brattle Group, a respected economic forecasting firm.

• According to the Brattle Group report, increased demand for air travel alone would generate significant economic activity due to the corresponding increase in demand for inputs to airline service and the ripple effect on consumer spending. Applying a multiplier estimate of 2.6 to capture these “indirect” and “induced” spending effects, the total impact would range from $650 million to $1.08 billion a year in additional U.S. output and the creation of 9,285 to 15,417 new jobs.

4. A majority of Americans and Cuban Americans support unrestricted travel to Cuba for all.

• A recent Ipsos poll taken April 23-27 finds that 67% of all Americans want the right to travel to Cuba, and 72% of respondents said it would have a positive impact on the island.

• According to a Bendixen and Associates poll taken April 14-16 this year, two-thirds (67%) of Cuban and Cuban-American adults support the lifting of travel restrictions for all Americans so that they can also travel to Cuba freely.

5. Prominent U.S. human rights organizations have called for an end to the travel ban concluding that it does nothing to improve the human rights situation on the island.

• “…this policy [the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba] has proved completely ineffective when it comes to pressuring the Cuban government to dismantle its repressive machinery. The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act is a necessary first step in replacing an ineffective, unilateral policy toward Cuba with a more targeted, multilateral approach.” - José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director, Human Rights
Watch, 2009.

• “It is well past time to reassess a policy that impedes the ability of American citizens to freely interact with Cubans on a large scale and thus expose them to unfettered information about the outside world. We call on the incoming administration of Barack Obama to reexamine the embargo and to immediately lift the restrictions on remittances and travel to and from the island.” – Jennifer
Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House.

• “Improving the lives of the Cuban people and encouraging democracy and human rights in Cuba will best be advanced through more, rather than less, contact between the Cuban and American people.” - Most Reverend Howard J. Hubbard, Bishop of Albany, Chairman Committee on International Justice and Peace, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, endorsing The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.

6. Political dissidents in Cuba want engagement with the U.S. and the freedom to travel for American citizens. They prefer the U.S. approach toward the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the Cold War, supported by Presidents of both parties, to encourage unrestricted travel so that we could share our ideas, values and culture.

• Dissidents and former political prisoners in Cuba recognize this fact and have repeatedly urged the United States to lift restrictions on Americans’ travel to Cuba, and especially for an end to restrictions on family travel:

“We fully support lifting all restrictions on Americans to travel to Cuba. It would contribute to better knowing and understanding the realities in our countries. Even by a simple conversation, sharing everyday experiences, Americans would be demonstrating how your society is capable of constantly
deepening and improving democracy, and could help our own efforts for democracy.” - Miriam Leiva, Independent Journalist and Human Rights Activist; Oscar Espinosa Chepe, prisoner of conscience, sentenced to 20 years on March 2003, on conditional release due to serious health problems, April
2009.

"I would love to think that this is the year that the embargo ends. The United States government has to reframe its policy towards Cuba, which has not worked for all these years. Trapped in the middle of the rivalry between governments are the Cuban people and I wish that we were the center of
priorities for our government and for the United States." Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban philologist and blogger who is under permanent surveillance by Cuban government officers, April 23, 2008

"Lifting the embargo won't solve the problems of the Cuban people. Maintaining it is no solution, either." - Oswaldo Payá, Cuban dissident and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Miami Herald, August 2000.

7. Travel restrictions are inconsistent with U.S. policy on citizen travel to other countries.

• U.S. citizens, barred from traveling freely to Cuba, are allowed to travel to other communist nations, including North Korea, China, and Vietnam. With the recent end to the ban on travel to Libya, Cuba is the only country in the world to which U.S. citizens cannot travel without special government permission.

8. Allowing Americans to travel to Cuba will send an important signal to Latin America as a whole. Currently every nation in the hemisphere - except the U.S. - has full diplomatic relations with Havana. An end to the travel ban would signal a shift in the U.S. approach to Cuba and demonstrate to our democratic allies in the region that we are respecting their concerns while continuing to adhere to our goals for opening political space in Cuba.

• Most other governments have normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, engage with Cuba in other multi-lateral bodies, address concerns about human rights in the context of ongoing dialogue, and place no limitations on the right of their citizens to travel to Cuba.

• At a December 2008 summit in Rio De Janeiro, the leaders of every Latin American country called on the U.S. to end the embargo against Cuba. An end to the ban on travel would be a modest step that would respond to the calls of our friends in the hemisphere.

• In an historic agreement at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on June 2, 2009, foreign ministers agreed by consensus to end Cuba’s suspension from the body, imposed in 1962 at the height of the Cold War. After rounds of tough negotiations, the U.S. agreed to the language, showing flexibility and a willingness to listen to
regional partners. The final statement set no preconditions, but rather ended the suspension on Cuba and proposed a mechanism for discussion with Cuba if it requests re-admission.

Source: The Center for Democracy in the Americas (www.democracyinamericas.org), the Latin America Working Group (www.lawg.org), the Lexington Institute (www.lexingtoninstitute.org), the New America Foundation (www.newamerica.net) and the Washington Office on Latin America (www.wola.org).

Here is a paper suggesting that economic sanctions remain in place:

Do’s and Don’ts of U.S. Policy Towards Cuba

Summary of White Paper Recommendations to the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress

By Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, Corp.

March 31st, 2009

1. DO Support a “Bottom-to-Top” Model of Change

The most successful transitions to democracy in modern history have been the result of bottom-to-top change. Democratic transitions from Eastern Europe to South Africa, where grassroots movements were grounded on international recognition and support, stand in stark contrast to many of those in the former Soviet Union, where a top-down approach simply resulted in a new version of authoritarianism and repression. U.S. support for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement -- a bottom-to-top approach -- is critical to exerting the type of pressure that can bring about genuine democratic change. The recent leadership purge by Raul and Fidel Castro, which politically decapitated former Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque is yet another reminder of the unlikelihood of a succession of power to a new generation within the current regime. Foreign leaders and policy observers had believed the aforementioned would be capable of initiating slow but controlled changes within the regime. Reminiscent of Soviet Stalinism, the Castro brothers’ latest action demonstrates that the regime is incapable of transforming itself.

2. DO Maintain Human Rights & Democracy as the Cornerstone of U.S. Policy

U.S. policy towards Cuba should remain focused on supporting the Cuban people in their struggle for fundamental freedoms and democratic change. It’s imperative for U.S. policymakers and diplomats to stress the unconditional release of all Cuban political prisoners; the recognition and respect for the human, civil and political rights of the Cuban people; and the development of a pathway towards internationally supervised free and democratic elections.

3. DON’T Bet on Raul Castro Being the Pragmatic Reformer

Despite overwhelming expectations, Raul Castro’s first year as Cuba’s official leader, and previous two years as “de facto” leader, demonstrate a stubborn unwillingness to undertake any significant steps towards political and economic liberalization.

4. DO Support the Inter-American Democratic Charter as a Roadmap

At the upcoming 5th Summit of the Americas (“Summit”) and thereafter, U.S. diplomatic initiatives should focus on the need to ensure that Cuba commits to and adheres to the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter (“Charter”), which highlights the region’s commitment to representative democracy and was signed in 2001 by 34 out of the 35 nations in the Western Hemisphere. President Obama and U.S. allies in the region should seek a consensus at the Summit and at the Organization of American States (“OAS”) firmly establishing the Charter as the roadmap for Cuba’s official reintegration into the inter-American system. The OAS and the Summit process should develop a strategic plan to assist Cuba in this process.

5. DO Support a Transformative Dialogue Amongst Cubans

The Administration should focus its support on a potentially transformative dialogue between the Cuban authorities and all sectors of Cuban civil society, including the island’s pro-democracy movement. Unfortunately, dialogue focused on the U.S. and Cuban governments will not alter conditions on the ground for the Cuban people

6. DO Increase Support for Cuba’s Pro-Democracy Movement & Civil Society

Since the 1990s, Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society has grown exponentially and demonstrated tremendous resiliency. In closed societies, where the State exercises all political, economic and social control, from employment to information, it is extremely difficult for civil society to communicate amongst itself, much less organize. Simply compare the relative strength of civil societies in Burma or Belarus to those in North Korea in order to understand the significance of international support. For Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society to have the tools necessary to effectively make its case to the Cuban people, increased assistance, support and solidarity from the U.S. and the international community is necessary. The U.S. should particularly work in conjunction with the governments and non-governmental organizations (“NGO’s”) of former communist countries in Eastern Europe to develop a “toolbox” of democratic transition experiences that they can share with Cuba’s pro-democracy leaders.

7. DO Encourage the Use of Technology

The U.S. has been an advocate for global internet freedom. Nothing in current U.S. law prohibits transactions intended to provide internet connectivity to the Cuban people. The Administration should use the existing authority to issue specific licenses to U.S. carriers wishing to provide service to Cuba, as long as a fair market price is negotiated and the transaction benefits the Cuban people. Moreover, the Administration should eliminate license requirements for NGOs working to provide everyday technology, such as cell phones, DVDs, camcorders, computers, flash drives and printers, to support civil society. The Administration should also provide a general license for U.S. relatives of Cuban nationals to pay for the internet and satellite services of their family in Cuba, as well as to send them applicable technological equipment.

8. DO Diplomatically Engage the International Community

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should immediately reach out to Central and Eastern European nations, other EU Members, and Latin American allies to discuss a strategy that promotes solidarity for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society, while simultaneously pressing for economic and political reforms that pursue a pathway towards democratic change. EU Common Policy and the U.S./EU Summit Declarations provide a good framework to build upon.

9. DO Use Sanctions as Leverage for Change

Sanctions are an important tool of leverage for democratic change, particularly in a post-Castro era. In the interim, sanctions have the effect of denying funds to the Cuban regime’s repressive apparatus, which it would otherwise use to exert further economic and political control over the Cuban people.

10. DO Challenge the Regime to Repeal 20% Charge on Remittances

The Administration should challenge the regime to stop exploiting Cuban families and repeal Cuban laws that confiscate 20% of every dollar a U.S. relative sends to the island. Ending this profiteering would yield genuine practical effects on how much assistance Cuban families effectively receive. Cuban families already have to convert their U.S. dollars to a Cuban Convertible Peso (“CUC”), at which time the Cuban regime charges a 10% exchange fee. Therefore, the Cuban authorities immediately take 30% of every U.S. dollar that enters the island.

11. DON’T Allow Unlimited Remittances to Foment Segregation and Disparities

Unlimited remittances to the island risks dividing Cuba's democratic opposition, pitting Cubans with relatives in the United States against Cubans with no relatives living abroad. Many early exiles living in the United States today are white and have prospered. Much of Cuba's population today and many of the courageous leaders of the democratic opposition to the Cuban regime are of African or mixed-race descent; and they do not have relatives in the United States. Even with the current monetary limitations of $300 per quarter, white Cubans receive up to 250 percent more in remittances from family abroad than their Afro-Cuban compatriots. Growing income disparities may in turn become a stumbling block upon future efforts for “national reconciliation” amongst all Cubans, regardless of race, whether they remained on the island or in exile abroad.

12. Don’t Allow Unlimited Cuban-American Travel to Subsidize the Regime

The Administration should clarify family travel regulations to prevent “unlimited” lengths of stay, which only risks channeling U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Cuban regime. Allowing U.S. retirees, to, in effect, permanently relocate to Cuba under the guise of family travel and receive their Supplementary Security Income would undermine all sanctions and allow the regime to directly take 20% of those taxpayer funded checks.

13. DO Support Greater Flows of Information to Cuba

While the Berman Amendment exempts informational material from the scope of U.S. sanctions, the Cuban regime insists on its absolute control over information. Cuba continues to rebuff U.S. efforts to establish regular postal mail service between the two nations. The Administration should reinitiate efforts to establish regular mail service with Cuba. The U.S. should also consider other ways to increase the flow of information to the island, such as airborne broadcasts in international waters and support for TV and radio satellite receivers and subscriptions. An independent Board on Cuba Broadcasting should be overhauled and reinvigorated to enhance the quality of programming for Radio and TV Marti. Furthermore, the Administration should take all necessary steps to help achieve third country broadcasting into the more extreme and isolated parts of Cuba.

14. DO Support Direct Humanitarian Assistance to the Cuban People

The U.S. is currently the largest provider of humanitarian aid to the island and its principal food supplier. Last year, the U.S. even offered more than $6 million in unconditional disaster relief directly to the Cuban regime after the devastating effects on Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, and offered to send a Disaster Assessment Relief Team that would have ultimately generate millions more in U.S. assistance. The rejection of this offer demonstrated the regime’s complete disregard for the well being of the Cuban people and the need to find creative ways to channel support through NGOs and private relief groups. The U.S. must be careful that any humanitarian assistance is not used as a political tool to reward regime loyalists and/or punish non-conformists.

15. DON’T Allow Exploitation of Educational, Religious, & Humanitarian Travel

The U.S. should support travel to the island for educational and humanitarian purposes that genuinely forge substantial contact between U.S. and Cuban citizens. Unfortunately, educational, religious, and humanitarian travel to the island is all-too-often used as a guise for tourist travel. Principled travel should not become a loophole to circumvent sanctions.

16. DO Support Programs Facilitating Training and University Studies Abroad

The U.S. should support discrete programs that facilitate professional training and university studies abroad for Cuban students. The U.S. should support efforts by formerly totalitarian countries and those undergoing democratic transitions to attract Cuban students to their university programs.

17. DO Support Reciprocal Diplomatic Measures Affecting USINT

U.S. Interests Section (“USINT”) diplomats in Havana should enjoy the same rights and restrictions as Cuban Interests Section diplomats in Washington, D.C. The U.S. should challenge the regime to allow U.S. diplomats in Cuba to travel freely within the island, interact with Cuban citizens, conduct their own hiring of USINT personnel and purchasing, and end all interference with USINT facilities, including the diplomatic pouch.

18. DON’T Allow U.S. Taxpayers to Subsidize the Regime

The Administration should reject attempts to alter regulations governing agricultural purchases, the “cash-in-advance” rules, which would have the effect of indirectly financing Cuban government purchases. Similarly, allowing private credit for the bankrupt Cuban regime would place U.S. taxpayers in the position of bailout agent for U.S. banks and agricultural when the Cuban government defaults on its commitments, as it consistently has with all other international debtors.

19. DON’T Politicize the State-Sponsors of Terrorism List

The Bush Administration’s failed negotiations with North Korea demonstrate the folly of using the state-sponsor of terrorism list as a negotiation tool to improve relations with rogue nations. Instead, Cuba should be required to take the actions necessary to be removed from the list, such as resolving all acts of state terrorism against American citizens and returning all of the fugitives from U.S. justice it is harboring. Furthermore, before any delisting of Cuba is contemplated, the Cuban regime must make full restitution and compensation to the families of the victims of the shot-down Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996, which resulted in the murder of three American citizens over international waters.

20. DO Consider Revising U.S. Migration Policy

U.S. migration policy towards Cuba, including wet foot/dry foot, should be reviewed to ensure that political refugees are treated properly and that family reunification is prioritized. Under the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans picked up at sea and found to have a well-founded fear of persecution are sent to Guantanamo Bay for years-on-end until a third country decides accept them. Ultimately, the U.S. should aim to close all refugee camps in Guantanamo and develop a more credible process to ensure that all migrants picked up at sea or on land get a genuine interview, evaluating their particular circumstances to determine if they have a well-founded fear. Cubans that reach U.S. soil are permitted to stay in the U.S. and adjust their legal status pursuant to the Cuban Adjustment Act (“CAA”). Although the reasons that led Congress in 1966 to pass CAA have not fundamentally changed, sharp increases in Cuban American travel to the island will raise questions concerning the Act’s continued viability. With respect to the 1994 Migration Accords (“Accords”) negotiated by Clinton Administration, the Cuban regime has failed to fully implement their commitments. The regime continues to persecute Cuban citizens that attempt to flee the island; they deny USINT personnel access to migrants after repatriation; and they fail to issue exit permits for Cuban citizens that have been given visas by USINT to migrate to the U.S. The U.S. should express its intention to withhold its commitment to issue 20,000 yearly visas until the Cuban regime complies with the Accords.

Fidel Castro as a teen-ager

Fidel Castro and a female friend.

Shielding Posada Carriles jurors is like playing "hide the football," lawyer says

A U.S. court in El Paso recently unsealed a transcript in the Posada Carriles case. It covers fairly routine court business - the length of the trial, how to handle protesters, identification of jurors, etc. A prosecutor said he'd have witnesses coming in from all over the United States and overseas. Lawyers in the case estimate the trial will last from one to eight weeks.
Arturo Hernandez, a lawyer for Luis Posada Carriles, congratulated the court for changing or keeping secret the date of jury selection in the past so that the public - including protesters - would not know when to show up to the court.

Hernandez said:
...we played around with the date of when jury selection was going to take place pretty much to a hide the football kind of thing so we could get the jurors in and out.
Here's the context of that quote:
MR. HERNANDEZ: Yes, Judge, I want to -- I wanted to, again, perhaps sensitize the Court to a potential issue before we leave the question of voir dire and jury selection because it's -- it's related. And that is, that we have information that there will be protestors during the jury selection procedure. I recalled at -- the last time we were here we did have protestors. And the Court I think, intelligently changed the date or did not publish the date. I don't remember exactly. But we played around with the date of when jury selection was going to take place pretty much to a hide the football kind of thing so we could get the jurors in and out.
It is obviously more of a concern for us than anyone else about jury contamination that underlied our reasons for filing the pleadings that we filed.

What I have is an article from the AP about a group called the Committee for the Release of the Five cuban Spies, who are incarcerated, who, in their web sites have also been talking about having protests at or near the courthouse. What I would ask -- and we spoke about this the last time that we were here back in 2007, that some procedure be thought of that would accommodate for the jurors -- the flow in and out of the building in a way that does not expose them to these protestors. I have no idea whether they're going to show up, have posters, what those posters are going to say. But we did discuss it last time. And the Court did, if my memory serves me correctly, did devise some procedure for the jury meeting somewhere at a different location and then being bussed all together into the courthouse through either the sally port -- I don't recall exactly. But I know that we did have those discussions in chambers. Perhaps the Court recalls. I anticipate the same kind of environment is going to be replayed. And I just wanted to bring that to the Court's attention and see what the Court's thoughts are on that. Basically, that's it.

THE COURT: Mr. Hernandez, again, I appreciate the -- the concern. As you know, we have talked about the high profile nature of this case. The Court does intend to implement procedures to protect the integrity of the trial.
Those procedures, as you saw this morning, have pretty much been put in place. We're having sealed hearings in just a minute. I want to assure you that we are going to make sure that there's no problems with the jury, jury selection or actually once the jury is seated.
And at this point, I haven't decided fully. I'm consulting with the Marshals to make sure how we're going to handle everything. I assure you, you and the Government will be fully informed once those decisions are made. I can't make them in a vacuum. I want to make sure we're fully apprised of everything.

MR. HERNANDEZ: Great. Great. Thanks so much.

THE COURT: You're welcome.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Guillermo Novo: Freedom fighter or lawbreaker?

A story citing portions of my recent interview with Guillermo Novo appears on several Cuban websites. That version, posted here, contains some conclusions and characterizations that I did not make.
The full story is below in case there is any confusion or misunderstanding about what I wrote. My goal is to tell this story in a straightforward, factual way, using as sources the taped interview with Novo, court documents and declassified memos, most of which I found at this excellent website about Novo and others who have fought against Cuba's socialist government.

By Tracey Eaton
Most Cubans have turned into “zombies” and are no longer willing to sacrifice their lives in the fight to topple the socialist government, said the former leader of a Cuban nationalist group.
“You don’t win your homeland by talking,” Guillermo Novo said. “The United States didn’t gain independence by talking to England. People fought. It’s the only way for people to become independent.”
Novo, 65, of Miami, led the Cuban Nationalist Movement in the 1960s and ‘70s. He has been linked to a string of high-profile incidents, including a 1964 bazooka attack at the United Nations in New York, the 1976 car-bomb murder of a former Chilean ambassador and a November 2000 assassination plot against Fidel Castro in Panama.
While Novo was in custody in Panama, Cuban authorities requested his extradition and accused him of plotting to kill Castro in 1997, 1998 and 2000.
In an interview with CubaNews, Novo did not admit involvement in any attempts to murder Castro. But he said he had no regrets about choosing confrontation over negotiation.
“I continue to think that that is the way…Maybe I wouldn’t do some things in the same way that I did. But I don’t take anything back.”
Novo said he’s disappointed that no one has managed to kill Castro and other leaders of the revolution by now.
“They should have been violently executed by the Cuban people because that’s the only way to pay for treason. I feel bad because we’re going to go into history as a people who put up with more than a half century” of socialism.
He sees the dissident movement in Cuba as weak.
“There’s no spirit of sacrifice – I die or I conquer my homeland.”
Dissidents “are somewhat confused,” he said. They live with “constant brain-washing and aren’t exposed to other ideas.”
As a result, he said. most dissidents aren’t radical enough. They continue trying to change the system from within, which suggests they agree with some aspects of socialism, he said. “But for me, nothing about the system has been good, not education, nothing.”
Novo does admire some opposition figures, including Jorge Luis García Pérez, nicknamed “Antúnez,” who spent more than 17 years in jail before his 2007 release.
But he believes most dissidents are too timid.
Novo also criticizes Barack Obama’s approach toward Cuba.
“I don’t think he’s looking out for the best interests of the United States. He doesn’t know how to deal with Cuba and the rest of the world.”
And Obama shouldn’t expect economic sanctions alone to force the Castro brothers from power, he said.
“I don’t think the blockade exists. It’s an embargo and it’s very mild.”
Novo is a controversial figure. Some researchers have linked him to Operation 40, described as a secret CIA assassination squad.
Novo was born in Cuba in 1944. His father, Ignacio, sold cosmetics for Max Factor & Co. in Havana.
Ignacio Novo’s parents moved to Cuba from Majorca, off the coast of Spain. The family settled into Marianao, southwest of Havana.
Tragedy struck in 1952, Guillermo Novo said.
“A neighboring family…had a small workshop. They made glue for shoe soles. Their son had increased the power of the boilers to show buyers the production capacity and the boilers exploded.”
Novo said his father, nicknamed Pipo, had been in the living room watching television.
“A mosquito bit one of my sisters and Pipo told her, ‘I’m going to get alcohol for the bite’ and he went toward the back of the house. The explosion happened when he was in the kitchen.”
The explosion killed Novo’s father. No one else was hurt.
“I was at my grandmother’s house. My brother told me, ‘Let’s go. Come with me.’ When we got there I saw the fire,” Novo said.
His mother took him and her four other children to the United States two years later.
“We had an uncle who had come to New York in the 1940s and my mother decided we’d have a better future if she brought us to the United States,” Novo said.
Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Early on, Novo supported the revolution. “I thought it would be good for Cuba.”
He said he began questioning the revolution in 1960 when its supporters seized the Diario de la Marina newspaper in Havana.
“I remember that impacted me. That fact and seeing that they were expropriating people’s businesses…people struggle and you get there and take their business. Forget the ‘revolution is for the people’ slogan.”
By 1961, Novo said he and his older brother Ignacio had joined the Cuban Nationalist Movement.
In 1964, someone fired a bazooka at the United Nations building in New York while Ernesto “Che” Guevara was inside. The shell missed its target, landing in the East River.
New York police arrested the Novo brothers, saying Guillermo Novo had bought the weapon at an Eighth Avenue shop for $35 and used it in the attack.
But the charges against the brothers were dropped because they were not properly advised of their rights, a 1979 FBI report said.
Ignacio Novo vowed to step up the fight against Fidel Castro. In 1968, he defended the bombings of government tourism offices that do business with Cuba. He also talked about executing “representatives of the Cuban government outside of Cuba.”
The FBI suspects that the Novo brothers were involved in killings and bombings into the 1970s.
In 1976, Ignacio Novo told an interviewer, “There have been ships blown up, Cuban property blown up, Cuban trade missions blow up…That kind of action.”
He also credited his group with assassinating Cuban ambassadors or agents.
“Yes, that is all we can do at the moment. That is our only road.”
In 1978, the FBI arrested and charged the brothers in connection with the murder of Orlando Letelier, a former diplomat and activist who supported Salvador Allende, Chile’s former Marxist president. Letelier’s assistant, Ronni Moffitt, was also killed.
In a March 23, 1979, statement, Guillermo Novo said:
“I have not committed any crime…any injustice. I had absolutely nothing to do with the death of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt. We’ve been used as scapegoats in the Letelier case.”
U.S. officials wanted to discredit the Cuban Nationalist Movement, Novo said, because they planned to normalize relations with Cuba.
Guillermo Novo was convicted of murder and conspiracy charges in 1979. His lawyer appealed, saying some testimony against him had been improperly introduced. A jury agreed, reversing the conviction, but finding the Novo brothers guilty of lying to a grand jury.
Asked about these past troubles, Guillermo Novo said:
“I’ve broken the law and when you break the law of this country or any other and they catch you, then you’ve got to pay and that’s what I did.”
Novo said he certainly has no animosity toward the U.S.
“I love this country very much. I’m an American citizen. I’ve been in this country since I was 15. I’ve lived here practically my entire life.”
In 2000, Novo and three others – Luis Posada Carriles, Gaspar Jimenez and Pedro Remon – were accused of trying to assassinate Fidel Castro in Panama.
Police said they had planned to plant explosives at the University of Panama where Castro was speaking. Cuban security agents uncovered the plot and alerted Panamanian authorities. They captured the four men and seized a duffel bag containing 33 pounds of explosives.
Posada Carriles received an eight-year jail sentence. The others got seven years.
Two of Novo’s brothers – Ignacio and Reinaldo – died while Novo was in prison. “That was one of the most difficult moments of my life,” he said.
In August 2004, Mireyas Moscoso, then president of Panama, pardoned Novo and the other three men.
Novo returned to the U.S., where the FBI told him they believed Cuban agents were planning to kill him.
Novo displayed the business card that Special Agent Cesar Paz left at his Miami home in November 2004. It read: “Guillermo, please call this number. It’s a matter of great urgency.”
Novo’s friends feared for his life. They worried Cuban agents would try to hunt him down. They urged him to put iron bars on his windows and doors and stay inside his house.
Novo said he took some precautions, but figured there wasn’t much he could do, short of crawling inside an army tank – and he didn’t want to do that.
Later he heard that the FBI had picked up two Cuban suspects and deported them. Novo said he rested easier after that.
He continues hoping that the socialist government will fall. He said he doesn’t believe much has changed in the country even though Raul Castro has taken his older brother’s place.
“I don’t see any difference,” Novo said. “It’s the same. The power structure is the same.”
He remains friends with Posada Carriles, who is scheduled to go to trial on perjury and other charges in El Paso in January.
“He wears an ankle bracelet. He can’t leave Miami without permission,” Novo said. “I talked to him the other day. He has tremendous enthusiasm. He’s a cheerful fellow.”
Cuban officials accuse U.S. authorities of protecting Posada Carriles. Nova disputes that, saying American officials have hounded Posada Carriles.
“There’s nothing more they do to him. He hasn’t violated any laws here. He hasn’t done anything. The only thing they accuse him of now is lying to the FBI.”
Federal authorities accuse Posada Carriles of entering the U.S. illegally in 2005. He says he crossed at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. Authorities say he entered Florida by boat with the help of friends.
Novo said he doesn’t believe Posada Carriles should be charged.
“How many Cubans come here illegally and get political asylum the next day?” he asked.
Some Cuban and U.S. officials believe that Posada Carriles helped plan a series of bombings of hotels in Havana in 1997.
An Italian tourist was killed in one of the bombings after fragments from an ashtray hit him.
“That poor man…had his jugular vein cut and bled to death and died,” Novo said. “But it seems that the intentions of the people who did it were to disrupt tourism in Cuba. I don’t think the intentions were to kill because if you’re going to kill, you put a bomb inside a restaurant at lunchtime. From what I’ve read, the bombs weren’t powerful enough to cause massive damage.”
He believes the attacks were only meant to make noise and create a mess.
Some investigators also link Posada Carriles to the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane that killed 73 people.
Novo said he doesn’t believe Posada Carriles had anything to do with it. Nor does Novo endorse killing civilians.
“I don’t agree with blowing up a plane full of civilians or putting a bomb in a movie theater or a school or on a bus or attacking innocent people. The things we’ve done, whether many or few, have all been direct targets - the enemy.”
Supporters of the Castro brothers are the enemy, Novo said, and he doesn’t believe they’ll give up power without a fight.
“Talking with them won’t resolve anything. Fidel Castro has never taken part in a dialogue with anyone in his life. It’s always ‘me, me, me.’ It’s their mentality. There’s nothing to negotiate.”

Bike riding at dusk in Cuba

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cubans sell vintage books at open-air market

A sampling of the books at the Plaza de Armas in Old Havana.

Flashback: When camels roamed Havana

In Havana, Chinese buses have replaced these big hulking vehicles, which Cubans call Camellos, or camels.
These photos give you an idea of what Camellos look like inside and out. Last year, I believe I saw some Camellos in use in the countryside. I don't know if they've since been phased out there.
Some Cubans dread them because they get so crowded and all kinds of things happen, from fondling to petty theft. Riding the Camellos, they say, is like an R-rated movie because they're full of sex, violence and adult language.
But on the day I took these pictures, the ride was uneventful.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cuban belly buttons, Tweety Bird and the American flag

These young people were enjoying a night baseball game in Havana.

Cato Institute: Helms-Burton Act may hinder democracy in Cuba

A new 2001 Cato Institute report picks apart the Helms-Burton Act. Earlier today, I called this a new report. A reader kindly pointed out that it's almost 10 freakin' years old.
Sorry about posting old info, folks. I've really got to get some new glasses...
On the plus side, the gist of the report is as valid today as it was in 2001.
Mark Groombridge writes:
Helms-Burton has antagonized our allies, further isolated ordinary Cubans from the influence of American ideas, and strengthened the hand of the very government the policy was supposed to undermine. The United States stands alone in its attempt to isolate Cuba. Attempts by the United States to draw our closest allies into the fray have not been successful, and, in fact, have backfired. European officials routinely point to Helms-Burton as a turning point in U.S.-European trade relations, and U.S. intransigence helps to make a mockery of some of our valued international institutions, notably the WTO. This policy greatly disrupts our relations with our most valued allies. Nor is there evidence to suggest that Helms-Burton will advance the cause of Cuban democracy. Indeed, there is strong reason to believe that it will do the opposite.
Helms-Burton ties the hands of the American president and prohibits him from responding to fluid situations. There is, of course, no one blueprint for successful democratization. As things stand now, it appears that the inevitable regime transition in Cuba will be gradual. It is time for U.S. policy to reflect that reality. Cuba will undergo a major transition shortly, given Fidel Castro’s age. And while capitalism and money will not be the final arbiters of Cuba’s democratic fate, the United States can position itself more effectively by promoting investment in Cuba, as our allies are attempting to do. Such ventures will help to get capital into the hands of the Cuban people, a prerequisite for an effective civil society—one that will play an important role after Castro is gone, whether through death, revolution, or peaceful political transition.
Download report here.

Cuba is No. 13 on list of 20 best travel deals

Scene from Varadero.  Rear-end of a tourist, heck, maybe a Canadian.

Arthur Frommer lists Cuba as No. 13 on his list of 20 best travel deals, at least for Canadians. Here are the details:

Cuba: $535 for most departure dates in September, $645-$675 in July and $755 in August, from Signature Vacations, including round-trip airfare from Toronto and all taxes and fees, for a full week of all-inclusive arrangements (room, meals, drinks and sports) at a Varadero Beach hotel. In July and August, you’ll receive a standard but comfortable room for seven nights at the beachside Hotel Club Kawama (in a breathtaking seaside setting). In September, on weekend departures, Signature Vacations will provide airfare, hotel, meals, fees and taxes for $535 per person, but at the 242-room Sunbeach Varadero. The 35-year-old Signature Vacations, a division of Sunwing Tours, is reached at 800-268-7074. Keep in mind that Cuba now requires you have a medical insurance policy.

Oil spreads south to Cuba

"There are now reports of an oil sheen just offshore of Cuba," says Channel 10 in Tampa.
Ann Louise Bardach writes about the possibility of oil diplomacy here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A chance encounter with Carlos Alberto Montaner

Carlos Alberto Montaner. Source of photo: Liberal International

I am in Miami doing some interviews about Cuba. Last night, my dinner date told me we were going to a birthday party at Montaner's apartment.
She assumed that meant Carlos Alberto Montaner, the Cuban writer and author of several dozen books, including "Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution."
So we headed toward a Miami high-rise along Brickell Avenue. On the way, my date's friend, a Cuban who arrived eight years ago, said she was nervous about meeting someone of Montaner's stature.
"I've got butterflies in my stomach," she said. "People say Montaner's going to be the next president in a reorganized Cuba. That's what I've heard."
We reached the exclusive high-rise and pulled up to the gate. I told the security guard we were going to Montaner's apartment.
The guard asked for our names and gave us a valet parking ticket.
We left the car and proceeded to the 24th door.
I knocked on the door and a man answered.
I had never met Montaner, but I could tell right away it was the author. I shook his hand and introduced myself, my date and her friend.
I glanced into the apartment and could see there was some kind of gathering going on.
Montaner smiled warmly, but hesitated to let us in.
"And who invited you?" he asked politely.
"Nelson Rubio," who hosts a Miami radio show, we told him.
No, there must be some mistake, he said.
That's odd, we thought, so we called Nelson's cell phone to find out what was going on.
We quickly found out the problem: We had the wrong Montaner! Our party was on the 18th floor.
Yikes. I gave Montaner my business card anyway and shook his hand again. Then we headed to the 18th floor, where a party for Nelson's 44th birthday was underway.
This time, we got the right apartment.

Friday, June 18, 2010

U.S. officials' statement on migration talks

Cuba Migration Talks

Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC
June 18, 2010

On Friday, June 18, 2010, the United States and Cuba met in Washington, D.C. to discuss the implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. This was the third such meeting since the decision to resume the Cuba Migration Talks in 2009. In the course of the meeting, the U.S. team, led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Craig Kelly, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration. The Cuban delegation was led by Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez Barrera.

The U.S. delegation separately raised the case of Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen detained in Cuba since December 4, 2009, and called for his immediate release.

Engaging in these talks underscores our interest in pursuing constructive discussions with the Government of Cuba to advance U.S. interests. The U.S. delegation highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, while also identifying issues that have been obstacles to the full implementation of the Accords. The agenda for the talks reflected longstanding U.S. priorities on Cuba migration issues, including: ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to operate fully and effectively; ensuring that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana is able to monitor the welfare of repatriated migrants; and gaining Cuban Government acceptance for the repatriation of Cuban nationals who are subject to removal from the United States on criminal grounds.

# # #

Cuban diplomats report progress on migration issues after meeting with U.S. officials

Cuban officials say their meeting Friday with U.S. diplomats took place "in an atmosphere of respect."

Here is the full text of the Cuban government statement:

Press release issued by the Cuban delegation to the migration talks with the United States, Washington, June 18, 2010.

On June 18, 2010, a Cuban delegation headed by the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dagoberto Rodríguez, attended a new round of migration talks with the United States Government. The U.S. delegation was headed by Craig Kelly, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

The meeting took place in an atmosphere of respect. Both delegations evaluated the evolution of the migration accords in force between the two countries. They also held a fruitful discussion on the establishment of more efficient mechanisms of cooperation to combat illegal alien smuggling. The Cuban delegation suggested to organize workshops between experts of both countries to cope with the use of false traveling documents.

Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodríguez expressed: “During this round, progress was made in the identification of aspects that will allow us to enhance the combat against aliens smuggling, which validates the usefulness of these meetings.”

Likewise, the Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister reiterated that human smuggling could not be eradicated nor a legal, safe and orderly migration between the two countries could be achieved as long as the Cuban Adjustment Act and the wet foot/dry foot policy remain in force.

The Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister further added that “these components of the U.S. migration policy towards Cuba contravene the spirit and the letter of the Migration Accords. They are also the main incentive to illegal departures from Cuba and the trafficking in persons, since they ensure that all Cuban citizens arriving illegally in U.S. territory are automatically accepted in that country, regardless of the ways and means used in the pursuance of this objective, which may include the use of violence and the risking of the lives of persons by unscrupulous traffickers.”

The Cuban delegation invited the U.S. delegation to continue holding these discussions in Havana by the end of 2010.

John McAuliff: U.S. ought to stop "semi-covert" regime-change campaign

Havana

John McAuliff, founder of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, called for the release of development worker Alan Gross and said the case could undermine progress in talks about illegal migration, drug smuggling, preventing and cleaning up oil spills, hurricane monitoring and other issues. He wrote:
An honest public dialogue is overdue of the reasons Havana arrested Gross and the steps that Washington will take to prevent the same thing from happening again.
The State Department's USAID and its contractor Development Alternatives Inc. put Gross in legal jeopardy and should honestly acknowledge what he was doing rather than hiding behind a cover story that he was an innocent aid worker only helping the Jewish community. Cuba should bring its six month investigation to a close, issue a public account of the laws he violated and release him for time served.
It is preferable that the US openly regret employing Gross and announce it will no longer use semi-covert government funding to support civil society in Cuba in violation of the normal diplomatic protocol of host country approval. Absent that, common sense dictates that in practice no more taxpayer monies be wasted to refill Alan Gross's prison cell.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hillary Clinton's Cuba strategy could backfire

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday met with the family of Alan P. Gross, the U.S. subcontractor detained in Cuba.
The meeting took place on the eve of a meeting between U.S. and Cuban officials. At Friday's scheduled meeting, Clinton said:
We will underscore that the continued detention of Alan Gross is harming U.S.-Cuba relations.
OK, so tell me this, Secretary Clinton, how exactly does the subcontractor's jailing harm U.S.-Cuba relations?
Consider the following:
  • The U.S. and Cuba are barely on speaking terms.
  • The economic embargo is aimed at making Cubans so desperate, poor and hungry that they'll rise up and topple their government.
  • Under the Helms-Burton Act, the American government can't lift economic sanctions against Cuba until regime change is in motion.
  • So what is there about U.S.-Cuba relations that needs to be protected from harm, Secretary Clinton? The U.S. government in recent years has taken practically every measure it can against Cuba short of another invasion.
  • How effective is it to threaten Cuba with worsening relations when those relations are already in the toilet?
  • How often in the past 50 years has the big stick of U.S. diplomacy actually succeeded in the case of Cuba?
Clinton's public campaign for the subcontractor's release might even backfire. That's because Clinton's public stand only makes Gross more valuable to the Cubans.

Gross, at left, is a lottery prize for the Cubans and they are not going to let him go without some big-time concession from the U.S.
It may not be announced. It may be secret. The public may not learn what really happened for months or years. But Cuban officials are not going to free Alan Gross just because Hillary Clinton - or even Barack Obama - asks for it.

Federal judge: Unveiling Posada Carriles documents would threaten national security

Havana billboard, 2004

Federal Judge Kathleen Cardone said earlier this month that disclosure of classified government documents in the Luis Posada Carriles case "could be expected to cause serious damage to national security."
So she will keep the documents private.
National security concerns outweigh the right of the public and the defendant to see the material, which the prosecution presented to the judge behind closed doors.
Cardone's June 3 ruling said it would be "impractical" to make public "meaningful redacted materials" because even that would "divulge classified materials."
In other Posada Carriles news,  prosecutor Rebekah Lee Sittner is no longer on the case. She asked the court to allow her to withdraw from the case on June 8 and Cardone granted her wish.
A court document said Sittner was transferred to the Office of Law and Policy in the DOJ's National Security Division and was no longer assigned to the Posada Carriles case. The document said:
The United States is still represented by and through Michael J. Mullaney, Acting U.S. Attorney, and T.J. Reardon III, Jerome J. Teresinski, and Paul Ahern, Trial Attorneys, Counterterrorism Section, National Security Division, United States Department of Justice.
That's four prosecutors. Another seven prosecutors are listed on the court docket. Glancing at that earlier, I had the mistaken impression that the prosecution team was almost a dozen strong.
But evidently many of the lawyers still listed aren't on the case anymore.
One is David Deitch. I Googled his name and discovered he left the case in 2007. In an interview with NPR, he expressed some frustration over the U.S. government's inclination to favor domestic spying and intelligence gathering over prosecutions and indictments. He told NPR:
There were certainly times when you felt like you were at loggerheads.
Sometimes, he said, the FBI was unwilling to declassify information. He said:
...that could be a stumbling block and sometimes an insurmountable one to going forward with a prosecution.

Tight view of Hotel Nacional

Hotel Nacional, Havana

Nobody's getting his goat

Villa Clara, Cuba

Photos of Martha Beatriz Roque at home


Martha Beatriz Roque is among those dissidents who did not sign a letter supporting H.R. 4645, a bill aimed at lifting the ban on travel to Cuba.


Photos taken in July 2004

Cuban dissidents to U.S.: Keep the pressure on the Castro brothers

Tug of war over U.S. policy toward Cuba

Nearly 500 dissidents in Cuba have signed a letter opposing a House proposal to lift the travel ban, Capitol Hill Cubans reports.
The blog said those signing the letter include:
  • Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," a young Afro-Cuban pro-democracy leader, who spent nearly half his life (17 years) as a political prisoner.
  • Reina Luis Tamayo, member of the Ladies in White and mother of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in February pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike.
  • Ariel Sigler Amaya, Cuban political prisoner who was released this past weekend.
  • Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, former political prisoner and head of the Cuban Youth for Democracy Movement.
According to Capitol Hill Cubans, the letter they signed read:
...Freedom of Cuba will not arrive by means of the pocket-book nor the lips of libidinous tourists... For that reason we suggest that you maintain a firm and coherent policy of pressure and condemnation against the tyranny in Havana.
Dissidents who support U.S. policy risk landing in jail in Cuba. I respect their willingness to state their beliefs despite the perils.
That said, I wonder if any dissidents support U.S. sanctions because the American government pays them or gives them some kind of economic or material aid via private companies or non-profits that have U.S. pro-democracy contracts.
Pardon me if that's a cynical view, but the thought occurred to me.
I also wonder if some small percentage of the signers are actually undercover state security agents who back U.S. sanctions as a way of bolstering their credibility as dissidents.
Whatever the case, it's clear there are divisions in the dissident movement in Cuba. This only hurts their overall cause, making it easier for Cuban authorities to play them off each other and undermine their activities.
End result: The U.S.-Cuba grudge match goes on with no end in sight.

Postscript: The Associated Press played down the importance of the letter, saying of the signers, "most were little-known, even among the island's small and divided dissident and political opposition community.

Link:
The Cuban Liberty Council published a press release about the letter and the list of 494 dissidents and pro-democracy activists who signed it. A copy of the release and list is here.

Push for H.R. 4645 now or kiss it adios

Old Havana

If you'd like to see the travel ban lifted in 2010, now is the time to pressure U.S. lawmakers, anti-embargo activists say.
The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, or H.R. 4645, would allow Americans to travel to Cuba without any restrictions. Its supporters hope to get a vote on the bill before lawmakers take their July recess.
If that doesn't happen, the fight is only going to get "harder and harder" in the future, said Mavis Anderson, senior associate at the Latin America Working Group. That's because the November elections are approaching and many candidates are going to feel pressure to take a tough stance on Cuba, she said.


Congressional elections are set for November 2010, and 36 of the 100 seats in the Senate and all 435 seats in the House are up for grabs.
The race is also on for governor in Florida, where Cuba is often treated as a domestic political issue.
H.R. 4645, meantime, sits in the House Committee on Agriculture. Staffers said they had no word on whether there would be a committee vote - or mark-up, in Washington lingo - on the bill.
Anderson said she hopes for action sometime this month. Key to the cause, she said, is a letter signed by 74 Cuban dissidents in support of H.R. 4645.
The June 9 letter is proof that dissidents are against the very economic sanctions aimed at helping the political opposition in Cuba, Anderson said.
"It tears a big gaping hole in all the arguments of the status quo," she said of the letter. "This is a big opportunity to make some progress."
Among the signers:
  • Award-winning blogger Yoani Sanchez
  • Hunger striker Guillermo Fariñas
  • Human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez
  • Miriam Leiva, a founder of Las Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White, representing the wives, mothers and other relatives of jailed dissidents.
Pro-embargo forces released a letter of their own. It is addressed to Collin Peterson, chair of the Agriculture Committee. It criticizes Peterson for saying that people who oppose his bill "are not speaking on behalf of the Cuban people."
"Not only is your statement untrue, but also profoundly insulting to us," said the letter, signed by more than 250 former political prisoners.
"We are former Cuban political prisoners who have spent a combined 3,551 years in Castro's gulag. ...You have never taken the time to meet with any of us, nor have you invited us to testify before your committee. Mr. Peterson...you owe us an immediate apology..."


Pro-embargo activists also question the June 9 letter. They say that some of the 74 dissidents were pressured into signing the letter, which they describe as a creation of U.S.-based anti-embargo groups.
Hardliners have reacted to the June 9 letter with "a mix of repudiation and condescension," Cuba expert Phil Peters wrote on his blog, the Cuban Triangle. But, he says, people should not dismiss the letter. In a June 16 post, he wrote:
  • If the point of U.S. policy is to help Cubans, what could possibly be wrong with learning what Cubans in Cuba think?
  • If unrestricted travel is such a bad thing, why is there no effort – none whatsoever – by the Cuban American community or its representatives to stop their own people from traveling to Cuba?
  • Why should it be surprising that Cuban dissidents, who view freedom to travel as a universal right, would argue that no government – in Havana, Washington, or anywhere – has any business abridging that right?
  • And why should it be surprising that dissidents would argue that an end to U.S. restrictions would destroy the “spurious justification” that Cuban officials use to support Cuba’s restrictions?
  • Politics aside, can anyone imagine any group of Cubans, open and friendly by nature, saying they want foreign visitors kept out of their country?
  • Are we to expect that Cubans, alone in history among all peoples who have lived under communism, yearn for their country to be cut off from the outside world.
As for the fate of H.R. 4645, supporters and foes agree it will not pass the House without a fight.
"I don't like to make predictions," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, who writes the Capitol Hill Cubans blog. "I will say this: It's obviously not a slam dunk in the Agriculture Committee, which is probably the easiest."


If the Agriculture Committee approves the bill, it would still be subject to approval by the Foreign Affairs, Financial Services and Rules committees, he said. Those committees can waive jurisdiction, "but committees don't like to do that. You set a bad precedent," Claver-Carone said. "Then you open a door. People will start doing that for other foreign policy issues."
Claver-Carone said he does not believe Peterson will ask for a mark-up unless "he's comfortable that he has the votes. He will only do it if he's 100 percent sure he has the votes."
"It's not impossible," Claver-Carone said. "Nothing in life is impossible, but by far it's not a slam dunk. It's definitely very close."
A list of the fence-sitters on H.R. 4645 is here. Anderson said she encourages people to call them and send them letters.
"Seeing the bill pass in the House this year would be incredible," she said. "There's no question we have the votes in the Senate."


Note: I spoke to Mavis Anderson at the CubaCon 2010 conference in Provincetown, Mass. Havana Journal publisher Rob Sequin organized the event, which brought together all kinds of interesting folks who are passionate about Cuba. Rob is already talking about doing another conference next year. Having been to CubaCon 2010, I'd definitely consider going in 2011.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cuban official: Human trafficking accusations a "shameful slander"


U.S. authorities say the Cuban government has not done enough to stop human trafficking.
Josefina Vidal, chief of the North America Department at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, denied that in the following statement:
Cuba categorically rejects as false and disrespectful the allegations in the State Department report on trafficking in persons and the irrational inclusion of Cuba as the worst in its category.
This shameful slander deeply offends the Cuban people. In Cuba there is no sexual trafficking of minors, but rather an outstanding performance in the protection of children, youth and women. Cuba does not qualify as a country of origin or transit, and destination of this scourge. The legislation and the measures taken in this area places us among the countries of the region with the most advanced standards and mechanisms to prevent and combat trafficking.
The inclusion of Cuba on the State Department list:
...can only be explained by the desperate need for the U.S. Government to justify, under any pretext, the persistence of his cruel policy of blockade, overwhelmingly rejected by the international community.
The State Department report, released Monday, said Cuba was "principally a source country for children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically commercial sexual exploitation within the country."
The report continued:
Some Cuban medical professionals have stated that postings abroad are voluntary and well paid; however, others have claimed that their services “repaid” Cuban government debts to other countries and their passports were withheld as they performed their services. The scope of trafficking within Cuba is difficult to gauge due to the closed nature of the government and sparse non-governmental or independent reporting. The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. In a positive step, the Government of Cuba shared information about human trafficking and its efforts to address the issue. However, the government did not prohibit all forms of trafficking during the reporting period, nor did it provide specific evidence that it prosecuted and punished trafficking offenders, protected victims of all forms of trafficking, or implemented victim protection policies or programs to prevent human trafficking.

Male models on display at a fashion show in Havana

After shooting these photos, I spoke with some of the models and a fashion show director. The director told me he faces shortages of fabric and other materials when designing and making clothes for his shows.
Speaking of shortages, it occurred to me that some of these male models might be sharing sunglasses.