Monday, February 28, 2011
HAVANA — The Cuban government released a political prisoner even as some
200 pro-government activists harassed the wives of other jailed
dissidents at a protest march.
"Get out, get out, you pack of worms," were among insults pro-government
activists chanted at the Ladies in White group pushing for the release
of their loved ones by the only one-party communist regime in the Americas.
The Ladies, winners of the 2005 Sakharov rights prize from the European
Parliament, were marching in white as they do most Sundays when they
were targeted by counter-demonstrators.
The pro-government crowd also chanted at the second secretary at the US
Interests Section, Lowell Dale Lawton, who was following the Ladies'
protest at a distance.
"Come pick up your rats!" the Cuban government supporters chanted at the
"They were out marching ... and now that mob has them surrounded," said
Angel Moya, a former political prisoner freed just 10 days ago.
Meanwhile, Cuba on Sunday also freed dissident Diosdado Gonzalez, 48, an
electrician by trade, was one of six dissidents left from a group of 75
imprisoned in a 2003 crackdown.
Gonzalez, who is a member of the outlawed Peace, Democracy and Freedom
Party, went on several hunger strikes while in prison, according to his
wife Alejandrina Garcia, a member of the Ladies in White.
The harassment of the women's group came less than a day after state
media revealed that it had been infiltrated by a state security agent
posing as a friendly, independent journalist.
The agent, Carlos Serpa, claimed the Ladies in White were funded by
anti-Castro groups in Miami and the US diplomatic mission here. A US
Interests Section functions in place of an embassy as the two countries
do not have full diplomatic ties.
February 28, 2011 11:52 A.M.
By Jay Nordlinger
In the past couple of weeks, I have had occasion to write about actos de
repudio — "acts of repudiation," in which vicious Cubans do terrible
things to decent Cubans. The vicious Cubans, of course, are servants of
the Castro dictatorship. They help keep anyone with any independent
ideas in line, or cowed.
Yesterday, the Associated Press circulated an article, written by
Anne-Marie Garcia and Paul Haven. It begins, "Cuba stepped up its
campaign against the island's small dissident community on Sunday, with
pro-government demonstrators screaming insults at the 'Ladies in White'
opposition group a day after state television aired a program denouncing
them as agents of Washington."
The Ladies in White are the wives and mothers of political prisoners,
who walk through the streets on a Sunday, in solidarity with their
jailed and tortured loved ones. They received the Sakharov Prize for
Freedom of Thought (given by the European Parliament) in 2005.
The AP article continues, "About 100 pro-government demonstrators
surrounded the Ladies as they marched in Havana's Vedado neighborhood,
shouting slogans like 'Down with the Worms!' and 'This Street Belongs to
Fidel!' as well as some sexually offensive slogans."
Oh, yes — the sexually offensive slogans are de rigueur. So is the
epithet "worms," or gusanos. It has always been applied to Cuban
democrats, anyone who dares oppose the dictatorship. I first heard the
word in my hometown of Ann Arbor, long ago. Free World supporters of the
dictatorship mouth the lingo of the Cuban Communists themselves.
More from the AP: "The ugliness, known as an 'Act of Repudiation,' is an
oft-repeated spectacle in Cuba. The government contends the screaming
crowd turns out spontaneously to denounce the opposition, though little
is done to conceal coordination with state security agents who are also
on the scene.
"In past demonstrations, state agents have waved for supporters to come
forward once it became clear the Ladies would not heed warnings to halt
I am quite amazed that this report came from the AP. For years, there
were two correspondents in Havana who filled Cuban democrats with
bewilderment and disgust. One worked for the AP; the other worked for
CNN. Cuban democrats maintained that these two — both women — were
virtually spokesmen for the dictatorship, and poison to the opposition.
The CNN lady left for al-Jazeera several years ago. About the AP lady, I
As a rule, honest foreign correspondents don't last very long in a
totalitarian dictatorship. If you report honestly — you're booted. Of
course, worse things can happen too. Remember when that CNN executive
said that his people had refrained from reporting human-rights abuses in
Saddam Hussein's Iraq? And you know that Ted Turner, CNN's founder, has
boasted of his friendship with Castro, one of the real monsters of
Anyway, these matters are too big and important for a mere blogpost. I
just want to say I'm grateful for yesterday's AP report: an honest
account of life in Cuba, from an unexpected source.
Mon Feb 28, 2011 3:04pm EST
HOLGUIN, Cuba (Reuters) - The Cuban Communist Party has moved forward
the election of new leadership to a congress in April where longtime
party leader Fidel Castro is expected to step down, sources close to the
party said over the weekend.
Castro, 84, previously handed over most of the responsibilities as first
secretary but kept the title. His official departure from his last
leadership position would be a symbolically important step toward a new
era for the island he ruled for 49 years.
President Raul Castro, as second secretary of the Communist Party, is in
line to succeed his older brother as its top leader, just as he did when
Fidel Castro resigned the presidency in February 2008.
But because there are currently no other Castro family members in
leading positions, the second secretary spot likely will be filled by
someone without Castro as a last name for the first time since the party
was created in 1965.
As first and second secretaries, the Castro brothers lead the party's
guiding Central Committee, for which elections originally were expected
to be held at a party conference at the end of this year. But the vote
has been moved to April because party statutes say it must be done at a
formal congress, sources said.
The Central Committee chooses the party's powerful Political Bureau and
its executive Secretariat, where numerous changes are also expected,
Governments, Cuba watchers and the local population hope changes in the
top party ranks will shed light on who might replace the Castro brothers
and other aging leaders who first came to power in the 1959 revolution
in which Fidel Castro took over the Caribbean island.
At stake is the future leadership of the country as it undergoes
important economic reforms that President Castro, 79, says are necessary
to keep the communist system alive.
MODERNIZE THE ECONOMY
He has said that the primary task of the April congress, the first since
1997, is to officially adopt reforms that modernize Cuba's Soviet-style
economy. The Communist Party is the only legal political party in Cuba
and the country's constitution says it is "the highest directing force
of the society and state."
Despite widespread expectation that he will resign, Fidel Castro, who
has been in the background since he was stricken with an intestinal
disorder in July 2006, still has supporters who think he should stay as
Both he and Raul Castro are among those who have been nominated in the
local party elections.
"There are many people in the party who want Fidel to continue on, but I
think in the end some sort of new position will be created for him," one
party insider said, asking his name not be used.
The 2006 illness required emergency surgery and led to complications
that Castro has said nearly killed him.
When he resigned as president, Fidel Castro said he was no longer in
condition to run the daily affairs of the country.
But he regularly writes columns for local media and the Internet and is
consulted on important matters of state. He is still a member of Cuba's
parliament, but has not attended its twice-yearly meetings since falling
After four years out of public view, he reappeared last summer and since
then has held sporadic public encounters with groups of local
professionals and visitors, videos of which are sometimes broadcast by
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Cynthia Osterman)
By KEITH MORELLI | The Tampa Tribune
Published: February 28, 2011
Updated: 04:20 pm
Noted Cuban dissident Jorge Luis Gonzalez Tanquero was released in July
after serving a seven-year term in a Cuban prison and part of what kept
him going was one day being reunited with his wife, Marlenes. At his
urging, she and the couple's daughter, Melissa, left the country and
moved to Tampa.
But a month before the release, Marlenes Gonzalez Conesa suffered a
massive stroke and remains in a coma. The situation resulted in an
expedited process to get him admitted to the United States and he
arrived two weeks ago.
Over that time, he has visited his stricken wife every day. She is
unable to speak or communicate; the dream of a reunion dashed.
The last time he saw her was before his 2003 arrest. His crime:
presiding over the Carlos Manuel Cespedes Movement that challenged the
Cuban regime's policies.
As Gonzalez Tanquero languished in Las Mangas prison in western Cuba,
his wife continued her fight against communism in her homeland from her
new home in the United States. Three years ago, Gonzalez Conesa and
Melissa met with then President George W. Bush in the White House. Bush
recognized her husband as a political prisoner.
But, in June, Gonzalez Conesa's struggle changed from opposing Castro
and freeing her husband to drawing breaths.
Though Gonzalez Tanquero was released from prison a month after his
wife's stroke, he was exiled to Spain. There, he began the process of
entering the United States to be with his family. He was allowed entry
to the United States on Feb. 11 and has been visiting his stricken wife
in the Town & Country Hospital every day.
A spokeswoman for the hospital did not return a telephone call for comment.
The outlook is grim, said Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez, who is helping
the family at no charge. His first task is to arrange for insurance to
cover the woman, whose long-term care hinges on that, he said.
She had worked for a Tampa business and had been covered on a health
insurance policy though her work. Fernandez's firm and the hospital had
shared her health insurance premium costs, but for some reason, the
insurance had begun denying coverage two weeks ago. Attorneys for
Fernandez's firm were looking into that this week.
Gonzalez Conesa is a member of the Ladies in White, a group of women in
Cuba opposed to the communist regime, Fernandez said. Prior to the
prison sentence, the two Cubans worked together in opposition to the
When he was imprisoned eight years ago, it was the last time he saw his
wife healthy. Seeing her again was part of what kept him going.
"It was a dream of coming together that was shattered," he said through
an interpreter in a recent interview. "God didn't see it that way and we
have to accept it."
He is cautiously optimistic, but knows the seriousness of the situation,
he said. Still, there is some hope.
Fernandez is helping the family because Gonzalez Tanquero is a modern
day hero to many Cubans opposed to the Castro regime.
"It's an obligation," he said. "It's a privilege as well for me to be
afforded this opportunity."
He said he plans to mount a fundraising campaign so that Gonzalez Conesa
can get the proper care and he hopes to invite former President George
W. Bush attend one such event in the future.
"This is a really moving story with a really unhappy ending," Fernandez
said. "We are going to see if American generosity can change the course
of this family's story."
He's worried about Melissa, the teenage daughter.
"This little girl had a mother and no father," Fernandez said, "and now
she has a father and no mother."
He said he will stir support among Cuban-Americans, particularly those
opposed to Castro's rule. Already, he said among Cuban-Americans in
Tampa, he has mustered some support.
"I'm going to make sure every Cuban-American in the country is aware
that a Lady in White needs them" he said, "and likewise they need her."
28 February 2011
Havana, Feb 27 (CTK) - The atmosphere in Cuba is like a pressure cooker
that can explode at any time, Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas told
Czech MEP Edvard Kozusnik, who met him briefly after his release from
prison last week, Kozusnik said in a report he sent to CTK Sunday.
Last year, Kozusnik successfully nominated Farinas for the Sakharov
Human Rights Prize.
The public opinion in Cuba is changing as the public increasingly
connects economic problems with the existing regime, Farinas said.
Nowadays people speak about it publicly, which was absolutely
unthinkable three years ago, he added.
Kozusnik came to Cuba to support the local opposition in its effort to
change the Communist regime.
Earlier this week, Farinas was imprisoned for 36 hours, Cuban dissidents
Another Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya has warned that repressive forces
are ready to take any steps in order to keep current Cuban Communist
leaders in power.
Paya said Cuban opposition was preparing projects for the transformation
of society in the direction of democratic free elections.
Kozusnik said Paya and others had collected the signatures of 40,000
Cubans for the support of the planned changes.
Kozusnik said the campaign was similar to the Czechoslovak Several
Sentences petition, launched a few months before the Communist regime's
fall in 1989.
Kozusnik gave the dissidents a symbolical chain of keys as a
recollection of those that calmly rang the end of the Communist rule.
"I believe that Cubans will soon ring the end of the rule of arrogant
despots, dysfunctional economy, demagoguery and hateful propaganda,"
Sunday, February 27, 2011
The Castro dictatorship may have duped me, but I will never forget
I will never forget Carlos Serpa Maceira.
At one time, that was because of what I believed was his outstanding
work as an independent journalist in Cuba, informing the world about the
activities of Cuban groups and individuals struggling against the Castro
dictatorship, work that many times landed him in trouble with the
Now, it's because he duped me and many others.
A special on Cuban state television Saturday revealed that Serpa and
another supposed anti-government activist were, in fact, Castro agents,
assigned to infiltrate and spy on the opposition.
I have to admit, Serpa was very good. He not only produced compelling
reports on opposition activities, he many times was arrested because of
what he reported and wrote.
His work, and what was happening to him, were frequently topics of posts
on this blog. Punch "Carlos Serpa" into the search field on the left and
more than 60 posts will come up as results.
For that, I apologize to my readers, for I was duped.
And for that, I will not forget Carlos Serpa Maceira.
I suspect those who were sources for his stories and who supported him
in his own "confrontations" with the dictatorship, will not forget him,
Like his spymasters, he one day will pay for his crimes.
Counterintelligence is ever alert, one agent says
Cuban counterintelligence "outed" two of its undercover agents on
Friday, during a televised exposé of dissident groups that tracked
(fot1) the links between them and their "masters" in the United States.
The program, titled Pawns of the Empire, was broadcast on Cubavisión and
can be seen in the official website Cubadebate.
The two "burned' agents were identified as Moisés Rodríguez (aka "Agent
Vladimir," above) and Carlos Serpa Maceira (aka "Agent Emilio").
Interviewed on camera, Rodríguez said he had infiltrated the Cuban
Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an illegal but
tolerated organization directed by Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz.
Serpa said he had infiltrated Ladies in White, pretending to be an
independent journalist and serving as one of the group's contacts with
the U.S. media. Much of the program was devoted to his activities, and
the newspaper Juventud Rebelde on Saturday published an interview with
him (click here for the English version).
Presumably, both men had extensive access to the inner workings of the
two groups, knowledge that could be useful in a possible crackdown by
the Castro government. Both described how money and supplies from
supporters in the U.S. reach the dissidents through the U.S. Interests
Section in Havana.
The comings and goings of dissident leaders and their followers were
captured in surveillance film. Several of the photographs (fot4) were
made inside the U.S. mission.
"There are those who continue to underestimate us, but one thing is very
clear," Serpa says in the newspaper interview. "The organs of Cuban
[State] Security have been, are, and will be present at the right place
and time. The enemies of the Revolution [...] have just not learned the
Cuba to release political prisoner Diosdado Gonzalez
Alejandra Garcia, wife of jailed Cuban dissident Diosdado Gonzalez,
wearing a T-shirt demanding his release. Mr Gonzalez's wife Alejandra
Garcia is a founding member of the "Ladies in White"
The Roman Catholic Church in Cuba says the government has agreed to free
a political prisoner, Diosdado Gonzalez, who had refused to go into exile.
His release would leave just five of 52 prisoners the communist
authorities agreed to free last July still in jail.
The church said another eight prisoners who were not part of that group
were also going to be released.
The US and EU have made the release of all political prisoners a
condition for closer ties with Cuba.
"In continuation of the process of liberation of prisoners, we inform
that the release from jail of Diosdado Gonzalez has been arranged," said
Orlando Marquez, a spokesman for the office of the archbishop of Havana.
Mr Gonzalez, 48, was arrested in 2003 in a crackdown on opposition
activists and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
His wife Alejandra Garcia is a founding member of the the Ladies in
White opposition group that has been campaigning for the release of all
She said the head of the Catholic Church in Cuba, Cardinal Jaime Ortega,
had telephoned to say Mr Gonzalez would soon be returning to their home
in the city of Matanzas.
"I feel nervous like a young woman waiting for her boyfriend to visit,"
she told reporters. "It has been eight years since my husband set foot
in this house".
Ms Garcia added that she had spoken to her husband in prison and he had
told her he was determined to stay in Cuba and continue to campaign for
In a deal brokered by the church in July, Cuban president Raul Castro
agreed to free all 52 of the dissidents still behind bars after the 2003
Most were released in the following weeks and sent into exile in Spain,
but 11 - including Mr Gonzalez - stayed in jail because they refused to
leave the island.
But earlier this month the authorities began releasing the remaining
dissidents without insisting they go into exile.
In a separate announcement, the church said another eight prisoners who
were not part of the agreement - including some convicted of violent
crimes - were going to be released and sent into exile.
The Cuban government, which regards dissidents as criminals or US
mercenaries working to undermine the communist state, rarely comments on
On Thursday US President Barack Obama urged the immediate and
unconditional release of all jailed dissidents in Cuba.
Cuba's Internet repression equals groupthink
By José Azel
Cuba remains one of the world's most repressive environments for the
Internet and information technologies. The Cuban government has created
a dual system with a national intranet and the global Internet. Most
Cubans have access only to the national intranet which consists of an
in-country e-mail system, a Cuban encyclopedia and websites that are
supportive of the government.
Cuba's only two Internet service providers are state owned and
surveillance is extensive. Less than 2 percent of the population (mostly
government officials) has access to the Internet. Whatever connectivity
is available costs about $12 per hour in a country where the average
monthly salary is less than $20.
Additionally, Cuban regulations state that e-mail messages must not
jeopardize national security; forbid the spreading of information that
is against the "integrity" of the people; provide that all material
intended for publication on the Internet must first be approved by the
National Registry of Serial Publications; and prohibit service providers
from granting access to individuals not approved by the government.
The extent of Cuba's political cyber police efforts was vividly captured
in a recently leaked video of a 2010 behind-closed-doors lecture to an
audience mostly in military uniforms. The lecturer, a
counter-intelligence cybernetic specialist, defines the Internet as a
field of battle that the government must use to its advantage. He boasts
of a new group created within the Interior Ministry to work against
bloggers. He warns of the dangers of "classic combat networks" such as
Facebook and Twitter and notes how protests in Iran and Ukraine were
"created" when social networks were used to incite people to protest.
What must the Cuban leadership be thinking of the events in Tunisia,
Egypt and elsewhere?
The Cuban government has been remarkably successful in sealing the
consciousness of the Cuban people from the outside world with a doctrine
of intellectual isolationism and an all encompassing revolutionary dogma
of intellectual autarky. Fidel Castro made it explicitly clear in a 1961
speech in which he famously warned intellectuals: "Within the Revolution
everything, against the Revolution, nothing."
But this intellectual autarky has also produced a classic case of what
social psychologist Irving Janis called "groupthink," a type of thought
characteristic of cohesive in-groups whose members try to minimize
conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and
evaluating ideas. In a groupthink environment decision-makers ignore
alternatives and tend to follow irrational programs of action.
A case in point is General Raúl Castro's new economic program
formulated, in his words, "to save Cuba from the economic abyss" and
outlined in a 32-page economic platform for the upcoming Communist Party
A centerpiece of Castro's program is the firing of up to 1.3 million
government workers — about 20 percent of the workforce — and allowing
them to become self-employed "outside the government sector." In the
Cuban version of Orwellian doublespeak, that stands for the unspeakable
This assumes that everyone is temperamentally suited to become an
entrepreneur and to do so without access to cash, credit, raw materials,
equipment, or technology. Groupthink is also evident in how those
selected for dismissal will be chosen. A commission of experts will
decide the optimal number of personnel required for each state entity
and workers' commissions will decide the positions to be cut.
But perhaps most illustrative of the Cuban government's groupthink (and
as Dave Barry might say, I am not making this up) is the specificity
with which the Cuban "reformers" have decided to allow those being fired
to solicit permits to become self employed in 178 activities such as:
Trade No. 23, the purchases and sale of used books; 29, attendants of
public bathrooms (presumably for tips); 34, pruning of palm trees; 49,
wrapping buttons with fabric; 61, shoe shining; 62, cleaning of spark
plugs; 110, box spring repairs (not to be confused with number 116);
116, mattress repairs; 124, umbrella repairs; 125, refilling of
disposable cigarette lighters; 150, tarot cards fortune telling; 156,
dandy (technical definition unknown, male escort?); 158, natural fruits
peeling (separate from 142, selling fruits in kiosks).
In his economic dreamland of surrealist juxtapositions, Castro and his
team believe that allowing this bizarre list of self-employment
activities is the way to save the communist system. This surrealistic
disconnect — the product of incestuous intellectual inbreeding — flows
from Cuba's doctrine of intellectual isolationism where Cubans are
unable to receive information freely and exchange ideas openly.
In Cuba, long-held Marxists-Leninist assumptions will not be swapped for
another set of beliefs without a democratic leadership that, inspired
and sustained by freedoms of speech, press, assembly, petition, and
religion, can defeat the tyranny of groupthink.
José Azel is a senior scholar at the University of Miami Institute for
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies and the author of Mañana in Cuba.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Published on February 26, 2011
HAVANA - The Roman Catholic Church says Cuban authorities are preparing
to release another prominent political prisoner and have also agreed to
send eight prisoners in jail for other offences into exile in Spain.
The release of Diosdado Gonzalez means just five of 75 peaceful
activists, social commentators and opposition figures jailed in a 2003
crackdown on dissent remain behind bars.
Cuba has agreed to free them all. It is also ridding its jails of other
prisoners whose crimes — some of violent — had some political motivation.
Church spokesman Orlando Marquez announced the releases in a statement
Travel | Feb 26, 2011 3:39 PM CST
If someone is responsible, it is me" Fidel Castro admitted to Mexican
newspaper La Jornada in August 2010, when discussing the "injustice"
that was years of government persecution suffered by the LGBT community
under his Communist regime.
After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the government arrested homosexuals and
shipped them off to brutal "re-education" labor camps, where many
disappeared. Being gay was illegal for many years, and anti-gay purges
Government sanctioned discrimination and hatred was not significantly
reduced until the mid-1970s.
Fast forward to 2011, and a Cuban NGO headed up by Fidel's niece (and
current President Raul Castro's daughter), Dr. Mariela Castro Espin,
will be playing host to North Americans interested in learning about
LGBT issues in Cuba.
The tour runs from May 7 to May 15, 2011 and includes visits with Dr.
Espin, a renowned sexologist and advocate for LGBT rights, meetings with
various LGBT activists, a trip to the ballet, a fashion show, and a
visit to an eco-community and urban farm.
The promotional tone of the tour is certainly cheery and positive--
there is not a single reference to the handful of shameful decades of
persecution against gays, lesbians, and transgendered people. According
to their website:
Cuba regards homophobia, not homosexuality, as the problem. Its
efforts to remove legal and social barriers impeding dignity and parity
for sexual minorities are exemplary. Cuba is the benchmark for LGBT
freedom in Latin America and a global leader in gender and sexual equality.
While homophobia is certainly a problem, so is historical amnesia. There
is no indication in their materials that there will be any discussion of
the country's embarrassing past. Also, if any country deserves to be the
benchmark of LGBT rights in the Americas, it is Argentina, as unlike
Cuba they have already extended full marriage rights to their citizens.
Cuba should be applauded for making many positive legal and social
changes to benefit the gay and transgendered community, including free
sex change surgery, but the country still has room for improvement.
Glossing over the past will not help the country move towards permanent
The existence of an LGBT tour highlights some of the broader changes
that are occurring in Cuba following Fidel's decision to step down.
Fidel recently admitted that "the Cuban model doesn't even work for us
anymore" in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic. Since
power has been transferred to Raul, there have been incremental changes
signaling that the country may be moving more towards capitalism, and
While at first glance the LGBT tour may seem a bit manufactured, the
opportunity to visit a politically unique country on the precipice of
major change should not be missed.
The move aims to discourage anti-Castro protesters and dauntless
boatsmen looking for forbidden thrills
American yachtsmen thinking of sailing southward from Key Str West
should think again.
A notice from President Obama reminds adventurous seafarers that "on
March 1, 1996 [...] a national emergency was declared to address the
disturbance, or threatened disturbance of international relations caused
by the Feb. 24, 1996 destruction by the Cuban government of two unarmed
U.S.-registered civilian aircraft in international airspace north of Cuba."
Because "the Cuban government has not demonstrated that it will refrain
from the use of excessive force against U.S. vessels [...] that may
engage in memorial activities or peaceful protest north of Cuba [...]
the unauthorized entry of any U.S.-registered vessel into Cuban
territorial waters continues to be detrimental to the foreign policy of
the United States.
"Therefore," Obama says, "I am continuing the national emergency with
respect to Cuba and the emergency authority relating to the regulation
of the anchorage and movement of vessels."
The New York-based Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish
Organizations and its 51 member groups on Friday sent an appeal to Raúl
Castro to release Alan P. Gross from prison on humanitarian grounds.
"Mr. Gross has long been an active and committed member of the Jewish
community in the United States. He has lived his life (fot2) following
the Jewish teachings of tikkun olam ('repairing the world'), as
demonstrated by the multiple humanitarian projects he has developed
around the world – from the Middle East to Latin America," wrote
Conference chairman Alan Solow and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein.
"His work has touched and improved the lives of thousands of people.
When Mr. Gross was arrested, he believed he was advancing his
humanitarian work in Cuba," the letter continued. "If his work had any
political implications this was something he did not, or could not,
The letter also says that Gross has lost 90 pounds and is suffering from
serious physical ailments and extreme mental stress and anguish.
"Mr. Gross was held in prison for nearly 14 months before being charged.
Should he be convicted in his upcoming trial, we hope that President
Castro will release him for time served," said Solow and Hoenlein.
Interview With Ex-Prisoner's Sister
By Nieves San Martín
SAN FELIU DE LLOBREGAT, Spain, FEB. 25, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Teresa Galbán
lives in Spain now -- her friendships and experiences from her years as
one of Cuba's Ladies in White are fresh memories, and her confidence in
the Church is unfailing.
Teresa is a sister of Miguel Galbán Gutiérrez, one of the Cuban
political prisoners released thanks to negotiations by the Church. The
Galbáns and other members of their family agreed to come to Spain in
exchange for Miguel's freedom.
Exile hasn't been easy -- though a neonatology nurse, Teresa cannot find
word because paperwork is lost somewhere in Cuban, or Spanish, bureaucracy.
In this interview with ZENIT, Teresa speaks about the efforts of the
Ladies in White and the difficulties and joys of her new life in Spain.
ZENIT: When did you decide to form part of the Ladies in White?
Galbán: When my brother was arrested I knew nothing about politics or
law. Outside Villa Marista in Havana, the headquarters of the general
prison of the regime's political police, I began to communicate with
many of the relatives of those who were held in that dark place. We met
there during visits every week that lasted 10 minutes. Back then we
talked with one another and observed each other. I saw that some of them
were brave, and that also began to give me some courage.
So that's how we began to interact with one another. I understood that
just because a human being wished to express himself freely he should
not have to be imprisoned, and much less sanctioned with a long prison term.
The Ladies in White spoke with me from the time the group was
established, but it was difficult for me to attend their activities,
because I had a young daughter who today is 9 years old, and I lived 55
kilometers (34 miles) from the capital, the place where they began to meet.
Added to this was my mother's situation who, because she didn't
understand the unjust imprisonment of my brother, whom she could not see
because he was in a prison that was 200 kilometers (124 miles) from our
home, was determined to do everything possible not to continue living in
Added to this was the regime's greater repression in areas outside of
Havana. At times, surmounting all these inconveniences, I took part in
Literary Teas and other activities. After the death of my dear mother,
which occurred in October of 2008, I began to attend the church of St.
Rita, with the difficulties of getting back home, since transport in
Cuba is very lacking, and even more so on Sundays.
These impediments never stopped me from expressing my concern over the
inhumane conditions in the prisons, outstanding among which were the
lack of light, water, hygiene, poor food, as well as the ill treatment
my brother was receiving from officials, from the state security
officer, and from the prison guards of Agüica.
ZENIT: What was it like being part of the Ladies in White?
Galbán: I remember the Literary Teas, which are held on the 18th of
every month in Laura Pollán's home, our headquarters. We spoke there of
the prisoners, of their situation, letters were read, poems that some of
them wrote to us, we agreed on forthcoming activities; we prayed and
encouraged one another.
It was admirable in the sense that we consoled one another, shared our
relatives' letters, and gave strength to each other. That grief at the
same time formed a group; we all became friends. In the midst of this
suffering I had the possibility to get to know excellent people, very
battle-hardened, such as Laura, her daughter, Julia Núñez, Bertha Soler,
Loyda Valdés and Reyna Luisa Tamayo, Mirian Leyva, Darelys Velázquez,
Yamilka Morejón, Amanda Hernández e Iraida de la Riva, all whom I admire
and esteem very much.
Another happening that I also recall is when we walked on the streets of
5th Avenue, adjoining the church of Saint Rita, the place where we met
every Sunday, to pray to the Virgin, defender of impossible causes, to
intercede for the liberty of our relatives. And we felt voices that said
"you are very courageous, go on, we are with you." Also, when we
received the news of the release of some of our relatives from prison.
A sad experience was the sacrifice of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, may he rest
in peace. [Zapata died Feb. 23, 2010, of a hunger strike protesting the
prison conditions]. We lived that step by step with much torment, the
moment that Reyna Luisa [his mother] with great sorrow showed us the
blood-stained T-shirt from the beatings of her murdered son; I will
never forget that moment.
ZENIT: Do you think Christians have supported you? To what degree?
Galbán: What better example than the mission that was headed by the
archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who acted as intermediary
before Raúl Castro's government, not only to obtain the release of 52
political prisoners of the so-called Black Spring of 2003, but also when
the Ladies in White were being threatened outside the church of St. Rita
by the state security forces and groveling mobs of "Street Dogs"
(persons of the worst kind).
Now they are free men and Guillermo "Coco" Fariña is alive, thanks to
the intervention of the Catholic Church, which we thank as the only
organization on the island that does not bow to any political tendency.
In my case, from the first moment of my brother's arrest, I cherished
the moral, spiritual and solidaristic support of the parish of my place
of residence, San Julián de los Güines, both of its priest as well as of
the faithful, as well as of the Religious Daughters of Charity, who had
a center in my municipality.
ZENIT: What is the ultimate objective of the Ladies in White?
Galbán: The objective of the Ladies in White, who are a group of women
who dress in the color of peace, visit churches and walk weekly on the
streets of Havana, is to demand from the Communist government of the
Castro brothers, the liberty of their husbands, fathers, brothers and
sons, unjustly arrested in the famous raid known as "Cuba's Black Spring."
ZENIT: How have you been doing in Spain and what support have you received?
Galbán: I am living in San Feliu de Llobregat, Barcelona, with my
brother, my husband and daughters, and the rest of the family, thank
God. Exile is sad; I dream of the day that my homeland will be free and
that I will be able to return to it, where all Cubans will be able to
live in peace.
Since our arrival, we have been greatly supported and backed by the
Spanish people, including support for the cause of liberty and democracy
in Cuba, and this brings us joy. We spent more than seven and a half
years enduring all types of reprisals by the island's political authorities.
In regard to support, we are grateful to the Spanish government for
having brought us to this country with several relatives. Sadly, after
we landed, we have not had any contact with the official authorities,
they placed us at the mercy of an NGO, the Spanish Red Cross, which says
it knows nothing about what we were assured in Havana by officials of
the Spanish Consulate, before getting on the plane that brought us as
exiles to the motherland.
Every day we get up hoping that the government will reflect on its
position and tell us something different from what is happening at present.
ZENIT What would you like to do professionally? What are the obstacles
in your way?
Galbán: I would like to dedicate myself to my nursing profession, to
which I have dedicated 23 years of my life, 14 of them as a specialist
At present I have not been able to get my studies accredited because the
Cuban authorities only sent my title and grade certificate, which were
legalized before the Spanish Consulate in Havana. In this country we are
also asked for the transcripts. I have been waiting for several months
for the official response to this situation.
At present, sadly, I have not found any employment, or studies of
formation, not even in private health establishments.
The Miami Herald
Nineteen eighty-nine was a good year for freedom. Only in China did the
Communist Party crush the protesters who slowly took possession of
Tiananmen Square from April 14 on. When the tanks and soldiers rolled in
on June 3-4, there was hardly any concrete to be seen on the square. Up
to 1,500 people were massacred.
Even so, Tiananmen left us an image of hope: the man who repeatedly
blocked a tank while the soldier driving it never ran him over. Internet
searches for "tank man" in China come up empty. One here will get you
nearly nine million results. The man's defiance and the soldier's
refusal to kill him still threaten the Chinese leadership.
In Eastern Europe, communist regimes fell like dominoes. Mikhail
Gorbachev's "Sinatra Doctrine" — Moscow would no longer intervene to
prop them up — left the region's communist leaders to fend for
themselves. When citizens took to the streets, all but Romania's Nicolae
Ceausescu blinked rather than give the order to fire.
Cuba had its own 1989. In June, a group of military and state-security
officers were arrested and tried for drug trafficking. Four were brought
before firing squads. Perhaps these men were also involved in reform
efforts. No matter, it is still crystal clear that the scandal bared a
Fidel Castro's demand for unconditional elite loyalty required a high
degree of tolerance for wide-ranging elite behavior. Whether or not he
knew about the officers' activities, full responsibility fell on his
governance style. Havana, however, blamed a few bad apples even if two
of the men executed — Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and Colonel Antonio de la
Guardia — had long been close to Castro.
Today we are witnessing young people in the Middle East march for
freedom. Unlike Eastern Europe, however, Middle Eastern regimes sprung
from within and, in that sense, are more akin to China. Autocracies in
Egypt and Tunisia withered away with little bloodshed. Not so in Libya
where Moammar Gadhafi has unleashed loyal troops, foreign mercenaries
and air strikes against the people. Hundreds have already died and the
regime no longer controls eastern Libya.
After 1989, Cuba was thought to be next. Bumper stickers proclaiming En
el noventa, Fidel revienta! (In 1990, Fidel will burst!) were widely
seen in Miami. George H.W. Bush thought freedom would come to Cuba under
his watch. Castro, however, stood fast and survived to transfer power to
Raúl in 2006.
Be that as it may, the elder Castro's leadership style is still the
heart of the matter. Fidel always preferred governing on his own than
through even undemocratic institutions. It took Raúl Castro a while to
put the house in order. Now he and his elderly cohorts are trapped.
On the one hand, the thought that they would be the ones to lose power
keeps them awake at night. On the other, they are committed to saving
Fidel's legacy which is also their own. Still, Castro's unwillingness to
put the interests of ordinary Cubans at the center of his rule has made
Raúl's task all the harder. Too much time has been lost and the costs
now are even steeper.
Cubans are facing layoffs to the tune of 1.8 million over four years.
Though there are conflicting reports on whether the first round of
500,000 has even started in earnest, the mere announcement of layoffs
suggests a new social contract. "You're on your own," the leadership is,
in effect, saying.
What's happening in Libya might be especially troubling for the Cuban
leadership. Fidel Castro and Gadhafi once had close relations. We don't
know how much Cubans know about Libyan developments. Elites in the
military, the state and the party, however, are well aware of the
defections among their Libyan counterparts.
Would young Cubans be willing to risk the regime's wrath by taking to
the streets? Would the regime give the order to fire on them? Would the
officers and soldiers pull the trigger? These aren't idle questions.
Incipient reforms are already shaking up Cuban society, and that's the
place to look for change.
Posted on Sat, Feb. 26, 2011 01:10 AM
BBC ends Spanish radio broadcasts for Latin America
The BBC has ended its radio broadcasts in Spanish for Latin America, 73
years after they first went on air.
The radio service has been closed as a result of cuts to the World
Service budget, but the BBC's Spanish-language website, BBC Mundo, will
The BBC Serbian and Portuguese for Africa services have also been closed.
BBC managers say they have had to make tough choices because of a 16%
cut in the British government's funding for the World Service.
The BBC Latin American service was launched on 14 March 1938 to counter
propaganda from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on the eve of World War II.
It faced its greatest challenge during the Falklands War between Britain
and Argentina in 1982, when its journalists were determined to maintain
objectivity in the face of pressure from the British government.
But radio output had been substantially reduced in recent years in
favour of the internet, with the remaining broadcasts mainly intended
BBC Mundo editor Hernando Alvarez said the end of Spanish-language radio
was a sad moment, but the BBC's journalism would still be available to
audiences in Latin America via the internet and mobile phones.
The Portuguese for Africa service has also been broadcasting since the
It was an important source of news during the conflicts in Mozambique
and Angola following their independence from Portugal, and has closed
with a record audience of 1.5 million listeners.
The BBC's English language radio service for the Caribbean will stop
broadcasting on 25 March after 72 years on air.
By The Associated Press (CP)
MADRID — Around 50 anti-Castro protesters have rallied outside the Cuban
embassy in Madrid to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of a
dissident hunger striker.
The political exiles gathered behind a banner reading, "Cuba, democracy
now!" and held aloft photographs of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died on
Feb. 23, 2010, following an 83-day hunger strike.
In the absence of any reaction from within the embassy the protesters
shouted at the building's security cameras.
"You've still got time to quit," bellowed protest leader Yuniel Jacomino
Martinez at the unseen diplomatic staff inside. He said Saturday that a
similar rally was also being held outside the Cuban consulate in the
northeastern port city of Barcelona.
By Gord Henderson, The Windsor Star February 26, 2011
'Hard times. Big smiles." One of our Cuban hosts, a young guy sporting a
perpetual 1,000-watt grin, offered up that simple but telling line to
explain how his people, scratching out a living in one of the poorest
corners of a desperately poor country, maintain their dignity and
immense passion for life under circumstances most of us couldn't begin
You could call it Cuba's back of beyond. Tucked away in the far
southeast, hemmed in by the Sierra Maestra mountains where Fidel Castro
and his guerrilla comrades ignited a revolution, is a land where time
has reversed itself. Where diesel-spewing Russian tractors once
prevailed, teams of oxen now plow fields. Horsepower means literally
that. Ridden by expert horsemen or pulling a bizarre array of
load-bearing contraptions, horses rule the ravaged roads from Manzanillo
Airport down through the hills to the fishing village of Marea del
Portillo where a three-star government resort catering to budget-minded
Canadians is the only real industry.
For anyone seeking glitz and glamour, big-name entertainers and gourmet
meals, this would be disaster. But if you're content with clean rooms,
simple but appetizing meals, outdoor adventure and opportunities to
befriend Cubans, all for a ridiculously low price, this can't be beat.
How isolated is it? Each morning a rickety old propeller plane flies
over the village and drops mail and newspapers and then sputters off
down the coast.
You either love it or hate it, and with 70 per cent return business
Marea has clearly won the hearts of a lot of Canadians. We were lucky.
We travelled with pals from Hamilton, James Elliott and Irene Reinhold,
whose annual holidays, like those of many Cubabound Canadians, double as
foreign aid expeditions.
They cram their suitcases with supplies ranging from clothing to
toothpaste for friends they've made in the village. You should have seen
the grins last week when James and Irene unpacked hard-tofind items like
baseball gloves, guitar strings and vegetable seed packs.
This year, thanks to the generosity of Hamilton area medical staff and
help from the nice folks at Sunwing, they brought four extra suitcases
stuffed with much-needed medical supplies for a threadbare hospital in
the nearby town of Pilon.
This was a far cry from most gated all-inclusive holidays. With little
or no crime, we were free to wander where we pleased. Unannounced, we
landed in on several families. And yes. The poverty is obvious in these
simple houses with metal or thatched roofs and concrete walls. But so is
the pride. In each case the house was spotless, kids were neatly dressed
and laundry was dangling from clothes lines.
Flowers and cactus adorned exterior walls. People beamed as they pointed
to thriving crops of onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes and pineapples.
Pigs, chickens and goats roamed the streets. It proves one thing. You
can be poor. But you need not live in squalor.
We saw plenty of the former and none of the latter and that speaks
volumes about Cubans. So does the warmth of their personalities. Forget
handshakes. It's all hugs and kisses when you meet these folks.
A horseback expedition into the mountains included sphincter-tightening
trails over canyons, a swim at a waterfall and a hearty lamb stew lunch
with a local family. All that for $30. By lucky coincidence we
encountered a cattle drive, with several hundred horned Brahman-type
cattle thundering down a dustenveloped road.
A scuba trip, down 23 metres in astonishingly clear water, erased a
ghost that had haunted me for decades. And the fishing? Life doesn't get
any sweeter than grouper and lobster cooked over an open fire on a
deserted island and washed down with icy Bucanero beer.
But this isn't some Cuban Shangri-La. Far from it. The economy is a
self-admitted mess. There are major shortages and bottlenecks. Cars are
priceless. A man with a 1980s Lada is king of the road. If it weren't
for the underground economy and barter system, people would be in even
Now comes the big leap into the unknown. The government, which employs
the vast majority of Cubans at an average monthly wage of about US$20,
announced last year that 500,000 will be chopped from the public payroll
and given incentives to go into business.
Even at this remote resort, with no other jobs around, at least 50
workers are getting pink slips. Where will they go? What will they do?
That was the burning issue among resort employees. People recognize that
the socialist status quo, which protects the lazy and incompetent, is
But they're nervous about the radical change that is free enterprise.
What will happen to this paradise for penny-pinching Canadians over the
next year as the ground shifts? I can hardly wait to find out.
Lawyer for jailed American in Cuba also advocates case of Cuban spies
jailed in the U.S.
Attorney for American on trial in Cuba Friday has a connection to five
spies jailed in the U.S.
By Frances Robles
An American government contractor whose family and government contend is
being unjustly held behind bars in Cuba goes on trial Friday.
His defense attorney: Nuris Piñero Sierra, who also represents the
families of five Cuban intelligence agents who Havana says are being
unjustly held in U.S. federal prisons.
"What a coincidence!" said Wilfredo Vallín, president of an opposition
lawyers association in Cuba.
The selection of Piñero to defend American Alan Gross has raised
eyebrows among Cuba-watchers, who suspect the veteran attorney was
chosen to strategically place her where she could play a key role as an
intermediary brokering a prisoner swap for her other clients. Experts in
the Cuban legal field say the world-traveled lawyer will nonetheless do
her best to defend the 61-year-old ailing American — who stands little
chance of getting a fair trial on charges of acting against the state.
"Having her as Mr. Gross' defense attorney is significant," Vallín said.
"She will defend him without limit — guaranteed. They have to at least
give the appearance of giving him a fair hearing."
Gross was a subcontractor for Maryland-based Development Alternatives
Inc., which had a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to
promote democracy and communications on the island. The U.S. government
has said Gross had gone to Cuba to help bring the Internet to Jewish
He was allegedly caught with satellite phones, and Jewish community
leaders in Havana told The Associated Press they never heard of him.
Another leader told CBS News this week that he met Gross a few times,
but already had web access and didn't need his help.
Prosecutors recently announced they are seeking a 20-year sentence
against Gross for crimes against the integrity of the state. His wife,
Judy Gross, hired lawyers in both Washington and Havana.
"The intent has to be — and I don't blame her — of trying to make some
kind of swap," said Cuba specialist Andy Gomez, a vice provost at the
University of Miami. "It's the only angle to explain why Alan Gross'
wife would want this."
The U.S. government has said emphatically that Gross will not be traded
for any of the so-called "Cuban Five," Cuban intelligence agents
arrested more than a decade ago and convicted of spying. Heroes at home,
the men infiltrated exile community groups and tried to snoop on
An unending media campaign in Cuba and the United States was launched on
their behalf. Piñero was often the spokeswoman for the spies' relatives
in Cuba, several of whom were denied U.S. visas to visit their jailed
family members. She has appeared on Cuba's government TV news program
Round Table, and is often quoted in the state media blasting the
American legal system.
She's known as an accomplished administrator and public face of the Cuba
legal team. Piñero appears to be working hard and visits her client
regularly, Judy Gross told The Miami Herald in November.
Paul McKenna, attorney for convicted spy Gerardo Hernández, insisted
that Piñero is an excellent attorney who will put on the best defense,
no matter the political overtones.
"She's not a commie robot who's going to screw an American because
somebody told her to do it," McKenna said. "She has integrity, as hard
as that is for people in Miami to believe. I don't vouch for Cuba's
legal system. I vouch for her."
McKenna said he spent "hundreds of hours" with Piñero during the more
than a dozen trips he took to prepare his case a decade ago. A warm,
funny grandmother, she wasn't afraid to butt heads with authorities who
put up bureaucratic obstacles. Her cases ranged from complicated
contracts to probate and criminal defense, he said.
She lives in a comfortable home in Havana's Marianao suburb, near the
famed Tropicana nightclub, McKenna said.
"The one good thing you could say about Alan Gross' situation is the
lawyer he has," McKenna said. "She's a lawyer's lawyer."
Foreigners in legal trouble in Cuba are required to pick a defense
lawyer from the Guild of Specialized Legal Services, a government
cooperative that handles international cases. For years, Piñero has run
that cooperative, which has several dozen attorneys.
The family's D.C. attorney, Peter Kahn, declined to comment for this
report. Through a family spokeswoman, Judy Gross issued a statement
saying she was anxious for her husband's return, but she did not address
the questions relating to how she chose Piñero.
"I am increasingly worried about the impact the incredible emotional
pain and stress he is enduring will ultimately have on Alan's own
health," she wrote.
Piñero did not return messages left by telephone and email.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said consular officials provide jailed
Americans with a list of local attorneys but do not make recommendations.
In court, defense attorneys in Cuba are allowed to present witnesses,
who testify before a panel that includes a judge and two civilians.
Trials usually last no more than two days and are open to the public,
but political cases are sometimes closed to the media.
"The two civilians will be two old geezers who are asleep," said Juan
Ignacio Hernández Nodar, a Cuban-American baseball agent who stood trial
in 1996 for "inciting" players to defect. "After holding me for two and
a half months, they came to me one day and said I would have a trial in
two days. On Sunday, they gave me a brand new uniform, and on Monday I
testified for four hours. A month later, they told me I'd been sentenced
to 15 years."
He was freed in October 2009.
"The whole thing is a circus," said Hernández, who now lives in the
Dominican Republic. He acknowledged that his attorney — who worked at
Piñero's collective — worked hard for him.
"She's going to fight like the devil for him," Hernández said. "He'll
get a high sentence anyway, because that's already been decided by
somebody else, and she will use that to pressure the United States to
trade him. This is a person who is super-committed to the Cuban state.
If she's defending the 'five compatriots,' what kind of power must she
have with the Cuban government? They don't give that job to just anybody."
Camilo Loret de Mola, who represented Hernández in the 1996 trial, said
he doubts Piñero will litigate the case herself. She's more likely to
contact the family and consular officials, visit Gross in jail and give
press conferences, he said.
"She coordinates, organizes, makes decisions, bills the clients and
hands money over to the government," said Loret de Mola, who defected
seven years ago. "She's not a litigator. She can't be his attorney. It
doesn't make sense."
He agreed with other experts who said the lawyer will put on a good defense.
"They know it will be pointless and fall on deaf ears anyway," he said.
Cuba frees another prominent political prisoner
By PAUL HAVEN
HAVANA -- Cuba has agreed to free another prominent political prisoner
and send eight other inmates into exile in Spain, the Roman Catholic
Church announced Saturday.
The release of Diosdado Gonzalez means just five of 75 peaceful
activists, social commentators and opposition figures jailed in a 2003
crackdown remain behind bars.
Cuba has told Catholic leaders it plans to free them all, and it is also
ridding its jails of many other prisoners whose crimes - some of them
violent - had some political motivation.
Church spokesman Orlando Marquez announced the releases in a statement
Gonzalez, a 48-year-old electrician and farmer, is the husband of
Alejandrina Garcia, a leader of the Ladies in White opposition group,
who briefly launched a hunger strike last month to demand his release.
Reached by the Associated Press at her home in a small village in
central Matanzas province, Garcia said she has been walking on air since
receiving word she would soon have her husband home again.
"Can you imagine!" she said. "I am as nervous as a young girl waiting
for her boyfriend to arrive."
Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in July to free all 52 prisoners
remaining from the 2003 sweep following a meeting with Catholic Cardinal
Jaime Ortega. At the time, the clergyman said the deal called for the
men to be out within four months, or by November.
Authorities quickly released 41 prisoners, sending all but one into
exile in Spain along with their families. But the process stalled as
those who remained behind bars refused to leave, and many vowed to
continue to press for democratic political change once free.
But pressure has been building on the government to make good on the
agreement, and in recent months it has begun to release the rest of the
men and let them stay in the country. Gonzalez has indicated he has no
intention of leaving the island, a stance reiterated Saturday by his wife.
Garcia said she had spoken to her husband in prison and "he affirmed
that he wants to stay in Cuba to continue his fight."
"I respect all of his decisions because they are just, he has his
motives and he thinks he must be here to keep up the peaceful struggle,"
The Cuban government had no immediate comment on the releases.
Authorities rarely acknowledge the dissidents, except to say they are
all common criminals and stooges paid by Washington to destabilize the
In addition to Gonzalez, the church announced the release of eight
prisoners jailed for a variety of offenses, including hijacking and
trying to leave the country illegally. All will be allowed to go to
Spain along with their families.
Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia contributed to this report.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Cuba criticizes Obama, US media
By PAUL HAVEN
HAVANA -- Cuba on Friday denounced U.S. President Barack Obama as a copy
of his conservative Republican predecessor, and said he gave more
credence to Cuban-American exiles than his own diplomats.
An opinion piece in the official Communist Party newspaper Granma
criticized Obama for supporting dissidents on the island and called for
Cuba to release all political prisoners. It said the president's
Wednesday statement shows he is being manipulated by exiles, uninformed
advisors and a biased U.S. media.
Obama's call came on the one-year anniversary of the death of Orlando
Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who died after an 83-day hunger strike.
Obama termed Tamayo's death "selfless and tragic" and said it brought
the world's attention to the mistreatment of prisoners unjustly held by
Cuban authorities for standing up for the rights of the Cuban people.
Tamayo's mother was briefly detained in Cuba over the weekend, an action
Cuba has said its doctors did all they could to keep Tamayo alive. It
maintains he and all other dissidents are common criminals, and says his
jail term was extended because of poor behavior behind bars.
The Granma piece refers to a secret diplomatic cable sent out in 2009
over the signature of Jonathan Farrar, America's chief diplomat in
Havana, which describes Cuban opposition groups as petty, fractured and
out of touch. The cable was revealed by WikiLeaks late last year.
The article says Obama's statement made clear he had ignored his chief
"The White House is giving more attention to pressure from Miami and its
mafia in the capital then it is to its own diplomats," the article says,
adding that Obama's emotional statement "emulated his predecessor George
W. Bush in its abuse of adjectives."
The article was published next to a series of altered photos showing the
face of former President George W. Bush gradually turning into that of
The newspaper also had harsh words for Cuban bloggers and the U.S.
media, particularly The New York Times - the latest in a series of
official articles criticizing the American press.
"In an era where newspapers are filled with more lies than
advertisements ... it is hard to tell who got the president so worked
up, the New York Times or an adviser on the National Security Council,"
Granma also carried an article denouncing The Wall Street Journal for an
editorial that drew parallels between Cuba and Egypt, where a popular
uprising forced former President Hosni Mubarak to step down. Cuba has
been led by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro since 1959.
The article said the newspaper's "image of sobriety and power cannot
hide fanaticism and hate."
The articles come days after Cuban media lashed out at CNN's
Spanish-language network for reporting that an opposition demonstration
was going to take place in Havana. The protest never occurred.
Cuban state cable providers last month removed CNN's Spanish network
from a package of channels provided mostly to hotels, foreign companies,
and diplomats on the island, though no reason was given.
Police released dissident and former hunger striker Guillermo Farinas on
Thursday after a 27-hour detention for shouting anti-government slogans
from his rooftop.
Farinas, the 2010 Sakharov rights prize winner, has been detained by
police and released several times this year by the Americas' only
one-party communist regime.
He climbed on to his rooftop on Wednesday, the anniversary of the death
of political prisoner Orlando Zapata after an 11-week fast to protest
"I was released around 7pm (0000 GMT yesterday), I just got home,"
Farinas said from the city of Santa Clara, 280km east of Havana.
"I believe that the best tribute we can give to Zapata was for the
government was forced to mobilize its repressers," Farinas said.
Zapata, a 42-year-old construction worker, died on February 23, 2010 in
a Havana hospital from complications resulting from his hunger strike.
His death has helped rally the opposition.
He had been jailed since 2003, along with dozens of other Cubans
demanding greater freedoms. His death drew international outrage.
Exactly one year ago, Farinas began a 135-day hunger strike demanding
the release of all political prisoners. The hunger strike ended only
after President Raul Castro authorized the release of 52 political
prisoners in a deal negotiated by the Roman Catholic Church.
After Farinas's latest arrest, a bus stopped outside his home and some
40 people got out and spent more than an hour chanting pro-government
At least 183 people were detained in connection to events linked to the
Zapata anniversary, according to the banned but tolerated Cuban Human
Rights Commission. Most of those people have been released but 65 are
still being held, according to the group.
The government considers Farinas and other dissidents, such as the
Ladies in White - a rights group of female relatives of political
dissidents - "mercenaries" on Washington's payroll.
Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez is impersonated on Twitter
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
The tweets sent by Cuba's Yoani Sanches were bizarre, not at all in line
with the acerbic blasts at the government usually posted on the popular
Generation Y blog.
"The revolution continues,'' said one Tweet. Added another: "Seems it's
illegal to ... make counterrevolution. Ha Ha. As long as I am paid, I
It was only after another Tweet asking for "money to connect to the
Internet'' that the real Yoani Sánchez — Sánchez with a Z, not with an S
— alerted her more than 100,000 Twitter followers Wednesday to the scam.
"My false profile on Twitter ... has my photo and asks for money ...
Everything a lie!,'' she messaged.
Sánchez also alerted that pro-government tweeters were using the hashtag
#OZT — Orlando Zapata Tamayo — to insult the former political prisoner
who became an icon of Cuba's human rights struggle when he died a year
ago Wednesday from a hunger strike.
So, who's Sanches with an S? That's unknown, but there are plenty of
suspects within the Cuban government, which clearly views the
independent blogosphere as a threat to the Castro revolution.
"One must always suspect the government, but it also could be the work
of its most entrenched supporters," said Reinaldo Escobar, an author,
independent blogger and husband of the real Yoani Sánchez.
On Feb. 4, a video leaked on the Internet showed a computer expert in
the Cuban intelligence services lecturing on the dangers presented by
bloggers like Sánchez and young exiles in Internet contact with their
counterparts on the island.
Five days later, however, the government stunned Sánchez and other
independent bloggers when it unblocked access from inside Cuba to her
Generation Y blog and more than 40 other Internet sites usually highly
critical of the communist system.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Cuba dissident clampdown
Dissidents placed under house arrest, intimidated to avoid marking
Zapata Tamayo's death
By JUAN O. TAMAYO
Cuban security officials tightened an already harsh clampdown on
dissidents Wednesday, detaining and putting under house arrest well over
115 to block any possible protests on the one-year anniversary of
Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death.
The round-up hit across the island and virtually all top government
critics: the Ladies in White, Guillermo Fariñas, Martha Beatriz Roque,
"Antúnez'' and an official of Elizardo Sánchez illegal but
long-tolerated human rights group.
The worst single incident came when police chased and often pummeled
about 15 women as they walked toward the Havana home of Ladies in White
leader Laura Pollán to join in a rosary in Zapata Tamayo's memory,
Some of the so-called Ladies in Support sought refuge in nearby homes
but were tracked down by security agents and virtually all were believed
to have been arrested, Alejandrina García, one of the Ladies in White,
told El Nuevo Herald.
A mob of about 300 people organized by the government then laid siege to
Pollán's home for more than five hours, Roque said by telephone from the
house. They threw rocks and eggs at the building and chanted, "Machete,
because they are few."
The incident spread when some of the women in Pollán's house went out to
help the Ladies in Support and were themselves attacked, Roque said.
García said she was punched in the face by someone in the mob. Roque
said she was hit in the arm by a state security official and Blanca
Hernandez went to a hospital with a bloody nose.
Sánchez said he had confirmed reports of at least 104 dissidents
detained or ordered to stay home in the past 48 hours — and expected the
totals would double as word from the provinces reached him — in what he
called "a wave of preventive repression."
"We've seen ugly things today. But careful, nothing like Libya. This
government retains a great capacity of control, and even more of
intimidation," added the head of the Cuban ommission for Human rights
and National Reconciliation.
President Barack Obama, in a rare comment on the island, issued a
statement calling for "the immediate and unconditional release of all
political prisoners in Cuba'' and noting the death of Zapata Tamayo — a
political prisoner who died Feb. 23, 2010 after an 83-day hunger strike
to protest prison abuses.
"Sadly, the harassment and detention by Cuban authorities of Zapata's
mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo and others across Cuba, as they sought to
commemorate her son's death, underscores how much of his dream remains
unfulfilled," Obama added.
Dissidents have been trying to organize large-scale protests to mark the
death, but never announced their exact plans to throw off security
agents who regularly detain opponents, for hours or days, to avert
gatherings. It was not clear how many of those detained in recent days
remained in jail as of late Wednesday.
One of the few dissidents not harassed Wednesday was Zapata Tamayo's
mother, who was allowed to march to his grave in the eastern town of
Banes along with 12 relatives despite what she called "a big police
"We prayed, put down flowers, observed a minute of silence and shouted
'Zapata Lives!''' she told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from Banes.
Tamayo said she was pleased but surprised that her group was allowed to
walk to the grave, because authorities have barred her from doing so
several times in the past year and moved harshly to stop others from
marking his death around the island.
Havana bloggers Yoani Sánchez and Claudia Cadelo and the Miami-based
Cuban Democratic Directorate sent a steady stream of Tweets reporting on
the day's events. But few could read them in Cuba, which has the
region's lowest Internet penetration rate.
Opposition activists reported street protests in the towns of Sancti
Spiritu, Bayamo, Santa Cruz del Sur and Ciego de Avila. But there was no
way to independently confirm how many people participated or exactly
In Ciego de Avila, in eastern Camagüey province, dissidents reported
police deployed riot-control vehicles and groups of government
supporters, some armed with rocks, sticks and iron bars. There were no
reports of injuries.
Among those reported detained and pummeled was Jorge Luis Pérez Garcia,
known as Antúnez, who spent 17 years in prison and regularly defies
authorities in his hometown of Placetas, as well as his wife. His
phones, like those of many other dissidents, did not seem to be working
Police also picked up Guillermo Fariñas, a leading dissident who staged
a lengthy hunger strike last year to press for the release of 26
political prisoners, as he left his home in the central city of Santa
Clara, apparently headed for a protest. He won the Sakharov human rights
prize awarded by the European Parliament last year.
Sanchez said Wednesday's arrest of a member of his commission, Juan
Goberna, was rare because his group limits itself to reporting on human
rights violations and does not join protests or other political activities.
Ladies in White spokesperson Berta Soler reported during the morning
that security officials had visited several group members at home and
warned that if they joined any anti-government protests Wednesday they
could jeopardize the release of more political prisoners.
Raúl Castro's government has freed about 60 political prisoners since
July but still holds an estimated 100, including seven of the 75
peaceful dissidents arrested in a 2003 crackdown known as Cuba's Black
Dissidents also reported four activists detained and one under house
arrest in Guantánamo; seven more under house detention in Havana,
Holguín and Santa Clara; and three picked up by police in the western
city of Pinar Del Rio and the towns of Las Mercedes and La Florida in
In the central city of Santiü Spiritu, a mob of 300 government
supporters armed with rocks and steel rods broke down the door to the
home of dissident Adriano Castañeda and pummeled him and two other
dissidents, according to the Democratic Directorate.
One Bayamo dissident reported the protest march there and his own arrest
by cell phone — from the local jail, the Directorate noted.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement Wednesday noting that the
anniversary of Zapata Tamayo's death "highlights the injustice of Cuba's
detention of political prisoners."
"We also deplore the continued intimidation and harassment by the Cuban
government of activists and their family members, including Zapata's
mother Reina Luisa Tamayo, who are working to promote human rights on
the island," the statement added.
Statement issued Wednesday by President Barack Obama:
One year ago today, the selfless and tragic death of Orlando Zapata
Tamayo galvanized the world's attention to the ongoing mistreatment of
those unjustly held by Cuban authorities for (bo) bravely standing up
for the rights of the Cuban people.
The attention brought to the plight of Cuba's political prisoners by
Zapata's courageous act and by the peaceful protests of Las Damas de
Blanco has helped free a number of his fellow activists through the good
offices of the Catholic Church in Cuba.
Today, I join the Cuban people in marking this anniversary by again
calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political
prisoners in Cuba.
Sadly, the harassment and detention by Cuban authorities of Zapata's
mother, Reina Luisa Tamayo, and others across Cuba, as they sought to
commemorate her son's death, underscores how much of his dream remains
Since taking office, I have reached out to the Cuban people to support
their desire to freely determine their future and enjoy liberty and justice.
Today and every day, the Cuban people must know that their suffering
does not go unnoticed and that the United States remains unwavering in
our commitment to defend the inalienable right of the Cuban people to
enjoy the freedoms that define the Americas and that are universal to
all human beings.
February 24, 2011
HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 24 – Housing construction has nosedived in Cuba since
2006, when 111,373 new homes were built, according to a report by the
National Office of Statistics (ONE). In 2010 barely 34,014 homes were
built, reported IPS.
Cuba was hit by three major hurricanes in 2008 and the subsequent
priority shifted to repairing and rebuilding destroyed housing and
infrastructure, debilitating the new housing program. A shortage of
building materials is another factor.
The housing shortage is one of the biggest problems facing the Cuban
population, especially felt by the youth who find it nearly impossible
to live independently.
Published February 24, 2011
Fox News Latino
Brothers to the Resue says it aims to rescue Cuban rafters making their
way to the United States. The Cuban government accuses them of entering
Cuban airspace and of terrorist acts.
Brothers to the Resue says it aims to rescue Cuban rafters making their
way to the United States. The Cuban government accuses them of entering
Cuban airspace and of terrorist acts.
Memorials will be held in Miami today over the 15th anniversary of the
Brothers to the Rescue tragedy -- when the Cuban military's shot down
exile planes dropping pro-democracy leaflets over Cuba.
Four members of the organization were killed.
Outrage among Cuban exiles over the 1996 shooting halted the Clinton
administration's tentative efforts to reach out to the communist
government and paved the way for the Helms Burton Act, which turned the
U.S. embargo to Cuba into permanent law. Previously it had been
maintained under an executive order that a president could rescind at
Relatives and supporters planned to join survivors and other members of
the Brothers to the Rescue group at the Opa-locka Airport from where the
planes took off in 1996 and later at a memorial in Hialeah Thursday
afternoon. The group had been warned about flying over Cuban airspace
but says its pilots were not over Cuban airspace when they were attacked.
During the 1990s, the group also helped identify and rescue Cubans
fleeing the island by boat through the treacherous Florida Straits.
The Hermanos al Recate anniversary comes one day after the first
anniversary of the death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata
Tamayo following an 83-day hunger strike. He was imprisoned for
Zapata's death drew worldwide attention to the plight of the island's
dissidents in advance of that anniversary, the Cuban government detained
Zapata's mother for 12 hours.
On Wednesday, the U.S. issued a statement condemning the treatment of
Zapata's mother and commemorating his death. The statement did not
include any reference to the Brother to the Rescue anniversary.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Venezuela and Cuba set up a mining joint venture company that will
function within the ALBA trade and integration agreement, according to a
decree published Wednesday by Venezuela's Gaceta Oficial.
Mineralba is 50.5-percent owned by Venezuelan state company CVG Compañía
General de Minería de Venezuela; 49.5 of the shares are held by
Geominera SA, a subsidiary of the Cuban Basic Industries Ministry.
Mineralba, based in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, will provide ALBA member
nations with exploration, geological research, production, processing
and distribution of minerals.
Venezuela and Cuba aside, ALBA includes Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, St.
Vincent and Grenadines, Antigua & Barbuda, and Dominica.
US says Cuba has set date to try detained American
By PAUL HAVEN
HAVANA -- An American contractor jailed since December 2009 on suspicion
of spying will go on trial in Cuba on March 4, U.S. diplomats and
state-run Cuban media said Thursday, in a case sure to have profound
ramifications for relations between the two Cold War enemies.
Cuban prosecutors are seeking a 20-year prison term for Alan Gross, a
61-year-old native of Potomac, Maryland, who was working for a firm
contracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was
arrested and sent to Havana's high-security Villa Marista prison.
The U.S. government and Gross' family say he was distributing
communications equipment to the island's Jewish community when he was
arrested. Cuba says he was part of a multimillion-dollar plan to
destabilize the government, and charged him with "acts against the
integrity and independence" of the country.
Cuban officials informed the U.S. State Department of the trial date on
Wednesday, Molly Koscina, a spokeswoman for America's diplomatic mission
in Havana, told The Associated Press. She added that Gross has also been
notified that a trial date has been set.
"The Office of Cuban Affairs in Washington DC was informed yesterday,"
Koscina said. "The Cuban government has said that the family can travel
and that U.S. officials can attend."
Cuban state-media confirmed the trial date, and said the proceedings
would be held at Havana's Popular Provisional Tribunal.
"This information was transmitted through diplomatic channels to the
United States government, which was also notified that consular
representatives, family members of Mr. Gross and his family lawyers can
participate in the trial," said a report on the state-run news Website
Judy Gross, Alan Gross' wife, said in an e-mail to the AP that she
understands the trial is likely to last one or two days, but she said
she has not yet decided if she will attend. The couple's 26-year-old
daughter is currently recovering from surgery for breast cancer, and
Alan Gross' mother was just diagnosed with lung cancer, making travel
"Now, more than ever, I beg the Cuban government to let Alan come home
on humanitarian grounds. He has already served a 15-month prison
sentence," she wrote.
She said she is worried about her husband's ability to "sustain the
emotional pain and stress he is under," as well as his health. He has
lost more than 90 pounds since being imprisoned.
News that a date would be set for Gross's trial came first in a Twitter
posting sent from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, though he did
not state the date.
Crowley said in the Twitter posting that the U.S. hopes Gross will
receive a fair trial and can be allowed to come home. He said what Gross
did "is not a crime."
Relations between Cuba and the United States have reverted to their icy
norm after a brief period of optimism following the election of U.S.
President Barack Obama that the countries could put away their decades
On Wednesday, Obama denounced Cuba's human rights record and called on
President Raul Castro's government to release political prisoners and
stop harassing the mother of a Cuban hunger striker who died last year.
While Obama's administration has taken several steps to loosen some
travel and financial restrictions on Cuba, U.S. officials have said
repeatedly that relations cannot improve in any meaningful way while
Gross remains in custody.
The United States has maintained a 48-year trade embargo on Cuba.
As recently as January, a senior State Department official was allowed
to meet with Gross in custody, and U.S. officials were voicing optimism
he would soon be released.
One scenario mentioned privately at the time was that the American might
be convicted, sentenced to time served and deported. But that was before
Cuban prosecutors announced earlier this month that they would seek such
a lengthy jail term.
The project Gross worked with was part of a $40 million-a-year USAID
program to promote democracy and political change on the island.
U.S. officials have defended the program and said they will never stop
supporting democracy and openness in Cuba. Detractors of the Cuba
project have criticized it as ineffective and counterproductive.
While Gross claims to have been working with the 1,500-strong Jewish
community, the leaders of the island's two main Jewish groups have said
they had nothing to do with him.
Associated Press reporter Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to
Exiles march in support of Cuban dissidents
By LUISA YANEZ
About 3,000 people crowded a stretch of Southwest Eighth Street in
Little Havana Thursday to mark the 15th anniversary of the shoot-down of
four Brothers to the Rescue fliers and call for the release of political
prisoners in Cuba.
Waving Cuban flags and placards with the image of Cuban dissident
Orlando Zapata Tamayo -- who died a year ago following a hunger strike
-- marchers called for "Liberty for political prisoners" and a "Free
Cuba." Among the marchers were numerous community activists and
political leaders, including Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and
Congressional Reps. David Rivera and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
The march on Calle Ocho, between Southwest 4th and 13th Avenues, was
expected to continue through late afternoon.
The fliers being honored are: Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Alberto
Costa, Mario de la Pena and Pablo Morales . They were shot down by Cuban
MiGs on Feb. 24, 1996, while flying near Cuba. A vigil also is scheduled
to take place Thursday evening in Hialeah.
On Thursday, Congressman David Rivera called for the indictment of Fidel
and Raul Castro.
"Fifteen years ago, Raul Castro gave the order that brought down the
Brothers to the Rescue planes, and he faced no consequences. For the
last 14 months he and his brother have held an American citizen, Alan
Gross, hostage for distributing humanitarian assistance on the island.
Instead of being penalized for repeated attacks on American citizens and
residents, the Castro brothers have most recently been rewarded through
unilateral concessions from the Obama administration in the form of
relaxed restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba,'' Rivera said in
a prepared statement..
"The Obama administration needs to do more, beginning with revoking the
recent concessions given to the Castro dictatorship and indicting the
Castro brothers for their murderous role in the Brothers to the Rescue
shootdown. This will send a clear message that acts of terror and
repression are not acceptable or tolerable,"
at 11:07 PM Monday, February 21, 2011
Are Cuban pilots flying Gaddafi's military jets, which are being
deployed to attack peaceful Libyan protesters?
This wouldn't be surprising, as Libyan pilots are defying Gaddafi's
orders to bomb civilian protesters and some have even defected in
Therefore, Gaddafi is unlikely to trust Libyan pilots any further, as he
may very-well become their next target. Amongst Gaddafi's few remaining
allies, Cubans and Belorussians are the best trained fighter pilots.
By Hugh Miles in the London Review of Books:
Information is patchy as communication networks are down, but reports
from Libya all indicate that after 42 years in power, Colonel Gaddafi's
time is up. The tribes are heading to the capital en masse, soldiers
still answering to the regime are trying to stop them, and the violence
is escalating. According to the latest reports the regime has deployed
helicopters and jets to crush the uprising, allegedly flown by
mercenaries from Eastern Europe, Cuba and elsewhere. Meanwhile, former
regime stalwarts have been defecting in growing numbers. The head of
Afriqiya Airways, the head of the Libyan Chamber of Commerce and several
ambassadors are among those who have resigned or relocated. Many of them
are reportedly now in Dubai. Islamic scholars in Libya spoke up today
for the first time to rule that fighting Gaddafi was legitimate jihad.
The demonstrators are calling for a million people to march tomorrow on
Bab al-Aziziya, the fortified military compound where Gaddafi lives in
Tripoli. But no one knows where he is now.
Rather than stem the revolution, Saif al-Islam's rambling speech last
night made the regime seem desperate. He looked nervous, and his threats
only further enraged the people who have waited in vain for him to
deliver on the promises of reform he made 11 years ago. In Benghazi
people threw shoes at his image on the giant TV screens that have been
set up in public places. His speech wasn't live – he gave the game away
when he spoke about the 'pre-recording' – and it's thought that he has
already left the country. Gaddafi's wife and daughter probably left on
Thursday, and are rumoured to be in Germany. For Gaddafi himself,
however, there are not many places to go. No African country could
afford not to hand him over to face justice, and he can't go to Saudi
Arabia, the dumping ground of choice for former dictators, on account of
his old feud with the king. Venezuela or Cuba seems most likely.
Even if the regime collapses, more bloodshed is possible. But Saif's
predictions of civil war and the 'Somalia-isation' of Libya are
implausible, and were immediately undermined by the tribal leaders'
calling for unity after his speech was broadcast. Assuming Gaddafi goes,
however, it's far too soon to say who or what might replace him, not
least because he so effectively suppressed all opposition for so long.
Factions from the army, tribal leaders and religious authorities will
all want a seat at the table. Whether or not there will be a role for
any Libyans currently in exile remains to be seen.