Human Rights in Cuba

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Daily Archives: April 7, 2013

Cuba, An Island of the Aged / Ivan Garcia
Posted on April 6, 2013

The statistics are troubling. For more than thirty years the average
Cuban woman has given birth to less than one daughter during her entire
reproductive life. A population that does not regenerate gets old. And
decreases. This means that in absolute terms Cuba has begun to lose

There was a report issued by the National Office of Statistics in 2011
which notes that the cumulative age of the country's three strongmen -
Fidel Castro, his brother Raúl and José Machado Ventura – is 250 years.

More dramatically, more than twenty thousand people between the ages of
10 and 45 emigrate each year. One of the government's solutions to
counteract the aging and decline of the population has been to raise the
retirement age to 60 for women and 65 for men.

A pension in Cuba – between 150 and 300 pesos (6 to 12 dollars) — barely
covers even 25% of a retiree's basic needs. If a citizen hopes to have
breakfast and two decent meals a day, he will need at least 2,600 pesos
(100 dollars) a month.

Added to this is the serious housing problem. Some 62% of homes in Cuba
are in a fair to poor state of repair. Three or four generations must
live together under the same roof. When more space is needed, it is
often the aged person who is displaced. The best option is for
grandparents to live with their grandchildren. The worst is for families
to send them to some decrepit state institution.

With its lack of sanitation, poor treatment and even worse food, death's
worst waiting room is a state-run hospice.

By 2012 more people were dying than were being born in the country. The
weak economy does not guarantee a comfortable life for the two million
people over the age of sixty. Today the median age is 38 years. By 2025
it will rise to 44 and almost 26% of the population will be over the age
of 60. By 2030 more than 3.3 million people will 60 or older.

Currently, the percentage of Cubans over the age of 60 is 17.8%. The
segment of the population 14 years or younger is 17.3%. The ideal
solution would be to adopt policies that encourage women to have two or
more children.

European countries with a welfare state pay a stipend to mothers who
have more than one child, but public funds for this in Cuba are minimal.

Since Raúl Castro inherited power from his brother, the number of
construction projects that do not turn a profit, such as social service
and leisure facilities, has declined to almost zero. Investments are
made only in buildings that generate hard currency, like those in the
tourism industry, or which are strategically important, such as
petrochemical plants and waterworks projects in the eastern region.

We should not have to wait for a session of the one-note national
legislature to announce financial incentives to encourage women to have
more than one child. Otherwise, Cuba's accelerated aging problem will be
an issue that a future government will have to address.

Life dictates that by 2025 the Castros will be either resting in some
mausoleum or will be two very sickly old men nearing the century mark.
In addition to encouraging spectacular economic growth, the next
president will also have to renegotiate the country's external debt and
try to create a coherent, inclusive and democratic society

All such efforts will have to be taken up with an aging human capital. A
growing segment of women, both professional and non-professionals, are
postponing starting families due to material shortages. Convincing them
that Cuba needs to rejuvenate itself by increasing the number of girls
will be a vital task.

It is yet to be seen if within ten years leaving for Florida will still
be the chief priority for many Cubans. We hope not. Otherwise, if you
are the last one to leave, please turn out the light in El Morro.*

Iván García

Photo from 100 Photos of the Older Generation

*Translator's note: The iconic lighthouse at the Morro fortress
overlooks the Havana harbor.

2 April 2013 Continue reading
Prison Diary XI: A. Santiesteban: "I Refuse to be Transferred to
Salvador Allende Military Hospital" / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on April 6, 2013

I just got this telephone message from Angel Santiesteban-Prats in which
he informed me that they wanted to take him to the Salvador Allende
military hospital against his will. I am making this communication
public right now in hopes of what the response has been of those who are
supposed to transport him.

I hope to have more information in the coming minutes.

Message from Angel Santiesteban

I've never been in favor of sensationalist or tabloid news, so I've
preferred to remain silent until now, when the circumstances warrant
making it known.

With 10 days of finding myself in prison dark spots began to appear on
my face, which I only paid attention to when they also appeared on my
arm. I went to consultation of the prison doctor who sent me to the
dermatologist who gave me an appointment for the next day at the
surgery, where the doctor applied a substance to the marks causing
burns. The specialist explained to me this is the procedure for this
type of skin cancer that usually appears in white skinned people after
40 years. Days later the scabs were falling off leaving a pink colored area.

Today, April 5, they sent for me from the medical station to inform me
that they would be taking me to the Salvador Allende hospital for a
checkup, particularly for these spots that were treated. I refused
outright, I will not go to any military health center and my position is

They also told me that Antonio Rodiles cannot visit me any more, as he
has on two previous visits. When asked the reason they said he wasn't
family, nor is he a friend who ideologically makes "a positive
contribution to the revolutionary process." I let them know that I was
here precisely for my ideas which agree with those of Rodiles, and the
officer shrugged, a gesture which implies that there are "orders from
above," where a General, not a Captain, rules.

Now I'm waiting for them to come and hospitalize me. I don't know what
will happen in the face of my refusal to go with them and what their
reaction will be.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

La Lima Prison, Guanabacoa, 1:00 PM Continue reading
Disabled Minor Receives Donation from Cuban National Council of Churches
/ Ignacio Estrada
Posted on April 6, 2013

Havana, 5 February 2013. Last Sunday, February 3, the disabled minor
Keylis Caridad Alemán Rodríguez, received as a gift a donation made in
the name of the Cuban National Council of Churches.

The donation was given to the minor in the presence of her mother
Yamayki Rodríguez, the same day her daughter turned sixteen. Keylis
could get the gift of a new wheelchair; alleviating her lack of one will
allow her to resume her daily activities.

The donation was possible because of the efforts of the organization the
Cuban League Against AIDS with the Cuban Council of Churches, an
institution that did not hesitate for a second in facilitating the
acquisition without any cost to the child.

The new wheelchair was received by the disabled child with joy and she
gave thanks for the gift with tears in her eyes, grateful that her
situation — which was so dire — was improved.

Yamayki said she was thankful for what her daughter received, and at
that moment remembered everything that Keylis had had to deal with since
she was very little, describing everything from her heart surgery to the
malformations in her hips, knees and ankles.

Keylis sent a recorded message of thanks to the Cuban Council of
Churches and I cite it: I thank this institution for allowing me to
navigate again… a message that ended with tears in her eyes.

Keylis Caridad Alemán Rodríguez lives at No. 38 Agramonte Street in the
municipality of Santo Domingo in the province of Villa Clara.

7 February 2013 Continue reading
Beyonce ignores poor blacks
Posted by or from a variety of publications on on
April 6, 2013 in Global News and Views, News of the Day, Society

This is a tale of two black women in Cuba… One a victim of apartheid in
Cuba, the other a beneficiary of apartheid in Cuba.

The first is Sonia Garro, born and raised in Cuba. She is currently
residing in a Castro prison for the crime of demanding respect for human
rights and the freedom to express her views. After being violently
arrested, she and her husband (who is also black) have been held for
more than a year by the Castro dictatorship without charges and without
a trial. The world for the most part does not know who she is and there
has been little to no outcry for the injustice she is suffering.

The second black woman is Beyonce Carter, an American music superstar
born and raised in the United States. She is currently vacationing in
Cuba with her husband, music mogul Jay-Z, as VIP guests of the apartheid
dictatorship of the Castro family. She is enjoying the luxuries offered
in Cuba only to foreigners, which is staffed by the slaves owned by the
Cuban regime, the majority of which are Afro Cubans. The world has been
enthralled by the stories and pictures coming out of Cuba of her and her
husband strolling the streets of Havana accompanied by bodyguards and
handlers from the Castro dictatorship. For the most part, there has been
little to no outcry over their incredibly insensitive and idiotic
decision to vacation in Cuba and provide support and publicity for a
racist regime that would have imprisoned her and her outspoken husband
if they had the misfortune of being born in Cuba.

Now imagine how a black Cuban woman like Sonia Garro must feel after
hearing that a prominent and influential black American woman has
visited her country and instead of advocating for and demanding her
release and the end of the apartheid system in Cuba, she is instead
partying with regime officials and enjoying amenities not only built and
maintained by enslaved blacks in Cuba, but denied to them as well." Continue reading
US Lawmakers Express "Concern" Over Jay-Z, Beyonce Cuba Trip
April 5, 2013 | 9:50 pm
By the Caribbean Journal staff

Two United States lawmakers are expressing "concern" over a trip to Cuba
this week by music stars Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles-Carter.

The two reportedly traveled to Cuba to mark their fifth wedding anniversary.

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Congressman Mario
Diaz-Balart have written a letter to Adam Szubin, director of the United
States' Office of Foreign Assets Control, seeking information on the
type of licence the pair of stars received for their travel to Cuba.

US citizens are permitted to travel to Cuba only under certain licences,
such as people-to-people travel or educational endeavours.

"We would like to respectfully request, within all applicable rules and
guidelines, information regarding the type of licence that Beyoncé and
Jay-Z received, for what purpose, and who approved such travel," the
lawmakers wrote.

"If these individuals were given people-to-people licenses, we would
like to bring to your attention the Cuba Travel Advisory issued by OFAC
on July 25, 2011 which states, 'OFAC only licenses People-to-People
Groups that certify that all participants will have a full-time schedule
of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful
interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba,'" they wrote.

Both Members of Congress have been longtime critics of Cuba's government.

The two said that, because Cuba's tourism industry is "wholly
state-owned," "US dollars spent on Cuban tourism directly fund the
machinery of oppression that brutally represses the Cuban people." Continue reading
Legislators take secret trip to Cuba with Sacramento lobbyist
April 5, 2013
By John Hrabe and Katy Grimes
Ag Day 2013.thumbnail

At least two California state legislators secretly traveled with
Sacramento's "best connected" lobbyist to Cuba during the legislature's
spring break, an exclusive investigation has revealed.

State Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, and Assemblyman Katcho
Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, confirmed through their offices that they
spent the spring holiday in Cuba with lobbyist Darius Anderson.

The founder and president of the influential lobbying firm Platinum
Advisors, Anderson and his firm agreed in 2010 to pay out half a million
dollars to settle pay-to-play allegations.

Both legislators' offices said the elected officials paid their own way
on what one Capitol source described as a "super-secret trip." The
source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that participants
"shredded their itineraries when they landed."

"He went on the annual trip to learn and study about Cuba," said Craig
Swaim, Achadjian's chief of staff.

"Sen. Galgiani did travel to Cuba on the Darius organized trip," said
Trent Hager, the senator's chief of staff. "As opposed to other trips,
the costs for this one are fully borne by the participants."

Anderson did not respond to requests for comment regarding the trip.
Nonprofit: "Wholly-owned subsidiary of lobbying firm"

One ethics expert said that the trip raised multiple ethical questions,
including why legislators were traveling with lobbyists, the true
purpose of the nonprofit and why officials felt compelled to hide the
trip from the public. "It absolutely raises ethical questions when
lobbyists travel with elected officials," said Jessica Levinson, a
Loyola Law school professor who specializes in campaign finance issues.
"We want elected officials to hear from all of us, not just those who
are taking trips."

In order to comply with the State Department's ban on travel to Cuba,
the trip was arranged by Californians Building Bridges, a shadowy
non-profit organization controlled by Anderson.

In addition to Anderson, the nonprofit's board of directors includes
Holly Fraumeni and Melinda McClain, both of whom are registered
lobbyists with Platinum Advisors. Only two other individuals serve on
the board of directors, Kevin Murray, a former state senator and
lobbyist, and James Bruner, the director of Orrick's Governmental
Affairs Practice Group in Sacramento. The foundation shares the same
phone number with Platinum Advisors.

The organization's website was registered by Fraumeni in August 2010 and
the provided contact information was for Platinum Advisors.

That information, Levinson believes, raises the question of whether "the
nonprofit is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the lobbying firm."
CA Building Bridges: "Renowned artists, fine arts museums & fabulous
home restaurants"

In June 2012, the Sonoma News described a trip organized by the
California Building Bridges Foundation, which served as a raffle prize
for the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art:

"'This really opens it up to the community,' says Kate Eilertsen,
museum director. 'Imagine, a chance for two people to spend a week in
Cuba, seeing renowned artists in their studios, visiting the Rum and
Fine Arts Museum, and dining in the fabulous home restaurants – all for
a $100 ticket.

"Travel plans also include a two-day side trip to 16th-century tiny
Trinidad with its Valley of Seventy Sugar Mills and French-inspired

A 2011 San Francisco Chronicle column by former Assembly Speaker Willie
Brown described a similarly lavish trip. "Having spent a few days in
Havana as a part of a Californians Building Bridges junket," Brown
wrote, "the trip was put together by Darius Anderson, who turns out to
be very big in Cuban investments. So big, in fact, that the night he was
missing from the group, he was dining with the president."

However, federal charitable tax documents and the group's website
present a very different mission for the 501(c)3 organization. "The
organization's primary purpose is to assist other charitable
organizations in expediting projects, setting priorities and achieving
goals," the group stated as its charitable mission on tax forms.
"Californians Building Bridges will develop humanitarian programs that
help volunteers and corporate partners alike make a useful connection to
a world in need."

In 2011, the only year for which the organization filed a tax return, it
spent $94,586 on travel-related expenses of $136,476 in overall
expenses. The organization's mission also listed as a priority, making
"one-time financial grants and donations of supplies and materials to
charitable organizations that lack their own resources or do not qualify
for assistance through existing agencies and organizations in their region."

Yet, in 2011, it paid out $0 in domestic and foreign grants, according
to the group's tax return. The organization's tax return raises
questions about whether the group is meeting its tax-exempt mission
statement. Contributions to Anderson's non-profit organization are tax
deductible, according to an IRS database.
Conflicting history of group's operations

According to his biography on the Platinum Advisors website, "Through
Californians Building Bridges, Darius founded Project Havana, a
humanitarian project dedicated to making a difference in the lives of
the Cuban people through providing grants and donations of supplies to
charitable organizations that lack their own resources. For the past 10
years, Darius and CBB have led over 50 missions to Cuba."

Yet, according to the organization's website, it did not receive a
license to legally operate in Cuba until 2011. "On March 29, 2011,
Californians Building Bridges (CBB) was granted a license by the United
States Office of Foreign Assets Control, License # CT-16606, to travel
and engage in transactions directly related to a new humanitarian
project in Cuba," the organization states under "Project Havana," one of
only four pages on its website. Guide Star, the independent organization
that tracks nonprofit financial information, lists the organization's
founding and ruling year as 2012.

Only one tax return, filed on October 30, 2012, was publicly available.
Well-connected lobbyists

According to state disclosure reports, Anderson's firm is the lobbyist
of record for thirty-four government organizations and special interest
groups, including Anthem Blue Cross, AT&T, California Thoroughbred
Breeders Association, Clear Channel Communications, Station Casinos,
LLC, Sutter Health, United Food and Commercial Workers, UPS, and the
counties of Alameda, Napa, Orange and San Bernardino.

In 2009, Anderson was voted by state legislators as the "best connected
lobbyist," according to a survey of all 120 legislators conducted by
Capitol Weekly. In 2010, Anderson and Platinum Advisors "paid $500,000
to settle claims by New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo stemming from a
yearlong investigation into so-called pay-to-play practices in city and
state pension fund investment partnerships," according to the Los
Angeles Times.

Following the settlement, Dan Schnur, then chairman of the state's Fair
Political Practices Commission, appointed Anderson to serve on the
Chairman's Task Force on the Political Reform Act. The appointment was
criticized by Common Cause.

The past three consecutive years, Anderson has ranked in Capitol
Weekly's Top 100, the list of the most influential people in state politics.

"Darius Anderson rose to prominence during former Gov. Gray Davis'
administration, handling fund-raising chores, then expanded his contacts
and influence dramatically," read Capitol Weekly's 2012 profile, when
Anderson ranked 76th on the list.

In November 2012, Anderson and former Democratic Rep. Doug Bosco were
among a group of investors that purchased the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Cuba trip: One of three spring junkets contacted every member of the state Senate to confirm
their whereabouts over the spring holiday.

Thirty-one offices confirmed that their bosses did not participate in
any foreign travel over the holiday. Only the offices of four state
Senators, Ron Calderon, Hannah-Beth Jackson, Curren Price, Jr. and Rod
Wright, would not definitely confirm that their bosses did not
participate in any trip to Cuba. Two state Senate seats are vacant.

State Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Senate Republican leader
Bob Huff of Diamond Bar were participating in a separate junket to
Eastern Europe, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, was
"sponsored by the California Foundation on the Environment and the
Economy, which is bankrolled by groups lobbying the Legislature,
including PG&E, Chevron, the International Brotherhood of Electrical
Workers and Southern California Edison, among others." was unable to reach all members of the State Assembly. Continue reading
April 7, 2013

Complicity in Murder: Shades of Cuba in Benghazi
By Janet Levy

Almost seven months have passed since the attack on the Benghazi
consulate building and nearby CIA annex by al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar
al-Sharia, in which four Americans were murdered, including U.S.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Despite demands for further information
into why the Obama administration and the military failed to act to
defend and protect the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya even as they had
intelligence of increasing Islamic violence, no answers have been given.
Many Americans rightfully wonder whether or not the truth will ever
come out about the murders at the American diplomatic mission in Libya.

The American public, in fact, has been shamefully left before without
answers in the face of obvious government failures, as illustrated by
the shoot-down 17 years ago by Cuban military jet fighters of two
civilian planes and the deaths of four Cuban-Americans rescue pilots.
Like the Benghazi attacks, no answers were ever given about the murder
of four members of the activist group Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR), and
the lack of action by U.S. military and government authorities to defend
and protect them.

According to an in-depth interview with Jose Basulto, BTTR founder, and
the examination of official documents and other sources, here is what
occurred in that earlier example, on Feb. 24, 1996, of governmental
failure. It serves as a reminder that until we demand a full accounting
and require action on the part of our government and military, Americans
will be left unprotected and vulnerable, even in mortal danger, by
government authorities who fail in their duties to protect and defend
while, in effect, even engaging in deathly complicity with our own

Brothers to the Rescue

In 1991, after learning of the death of a 15-year-old Cuban rafter who
died following his rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard, Cuban-American Jose
Basulto decided that it was time to act. That same year, Basulto, well
aware of the desperate situation faced by citizens of Castro's
repressive regime and their dangerous journey to freedom on flimsy rafts
through the Florida Straits, founded Brothers to the Rescue (BTTR). The
group, a humanitarian search-and-rescue mission, would directly save
over 4,000 lives.

Basulto's efforts to free his beloved Cuba date back to his return to
the island from college in Boston to join pro-democracy groups opposed
to Castro. Later, as a Cuban exile, he was part of the failed Bay of
Pigs 1961 invasion of Cuba. Decades later, with the founding of BTTR,
Basulto saw another avenue to help his beloved, besieged country of origin.

BTTR volunteer pilots, from 19 different nationalities, patrolled from
the skies for desperate Cubans seeking to escape the brutal Communist
government and risking their lives in makeshift rafts and boats without
adequate food and water, exposed to the elements. Later, BTTR dropped
leaflets over Cuba, sending messages of hope and information about
peaceful resistance. Their activities embarrassed the Cuban government,
puncturing the myth of a socialist paradise. Castro clearly worried
about their potential to cause internal problems and, on occasion,
threatened to shoot down BTTR planes.

Not surprisingly then, BTTR was infiltrated by a former fighter pilot
and member of the La Red Avispa ("Wasp Network") Cuban spy network, Juan
Pablo Roque, who staged his defection from Cuba in 1992. That year,
Roque swam to the U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (GITMO) and sought
asylum. Earlier, fellow La Red Avispa member and BTTR infiltrator Rene
Gonzalez had "defected" in Florida by "stealing" a plane from a Havana
airfield. At some point after his arrival, Roque became a paid FBI
informant, although the Bureau was apparently aware of his membership in
the subversive Cuban group, and his actions were suspect, viewed as an
attempt to infiltrate the agency.

U.S. Political Situation

Around the same time as BTTR was active, President Clinton was
"normalizing" the U.S. relationship with China -- which included
providing 11 million pages of classified data for the Chinese to
modernize their missile and nuclear technology -- and also trying to
engage Castro. The president met in Martha's Vineyard with author and
Castro emissary Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who relayed that the Cuban
dictator wanted an end to negative publicity from the balsero crisis --
the torrent of Cubans desperately taking to the high seas in barely
seaworthy crafts to seek freedom in America. BTTR, which had a
reputation of goodwill among Cubans, was viewed as a serious threat to
Cuban government stability. Besides rescue operations, BTTR was
introducing principles of strategic nonviolent action and attempting to
unite Cuban citizens with Cuban exiles to overthrow the repressive
regime and usher in a return to democracy.

Events Leading to Shoot-Down

In 1995, then-Clinton confidant and U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson
(D-NM), a frequent envoy for Clinton's various foreign policy missions,
was asked by Castro to visit Cuba. Richardson, following a briefing by
Richard Nuccio, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and
Clinton's adviser on Cuba, traveled there in January 1996. Richardson
met Castro and other Cuban officials and, allegedly, negotiated the
release of American political prisoners in exchange for a U.S. promise
to end BTTR missions to Cuba.

A CNN report published shortly after the incident stated that Castro
issued the order to take action against Brothers to the Rescue after two
anti-Castro leaflets drops over Cuba the month before. Castro admitted,
"We gave the order to the head of the air force. They shot the planes
down. They are professionals. They did what they believe is the right
thing. These are all people we trust, but I take responsibility for
what happened." Cuban MiGs began test firing air-to-air missiles and
practicing attack maneuvers against slow-moving aircraft similar to the
Cessnas flown by BTTR. Although U.S. government officials obtained
radar evidence of these practice runs, BTTR was not informed.

In early February 1996, U.S. Navy Admiral (ret.) John Shanahan -- who
would later advocate reduced U.S. defense spending, including the demise
of the F-22 program -- hosted a delegation of diplomats and retired
Pentagon officials to Cuba. The U.S. contingent was directly and
shockingly asked by Cuban intelligence and military heads how the United
States would respond if Cuba shot down BTTR planes. Upon their return
here, the delegation discussed this threat with officials from the U.S.
State department, the Center for Defense Information and Defense
Intelligence Agency (DIA), but again neglected to inform BTTR.
Allegedly, no U.S. response to Castro was given, which could have led
him to conclude that no significant repercussions would be forthcoming.

The Day of the Shoot-Down

The BTTR flight of Feb. 24, 1996 began like most of their others, as a
planned search-and-rescue operation in international airspace following
all established protocols. On Feb. 23, the day before, double-agent
Roque suddenly and suspiciously returned to Cuba. Although the state
department was aware of his departure, it was never communicated to
BTTR. Also, that same evening, U.S. radar and monitors had been placed
on alert to follow the scheduled BTTR flights the next day. Local
military had also been alerted to coordinate flight plans and departure
times with the watch supervisor and to trace BTTR transponder codes for
as long as possible.

On Feb. 24, BTTR flight plans filed for a 10:15 a.m. takeoff were
transmitted to Miami and Cuba. Circumstances delayed the BTTR flight
until the late afternoon, yet a Cuban military commander reported that
Cuban MiGs were nonetheless sent out at BTTR's anticipated arrival time
to intercept three unidentified aircraft violating Cuban airspace. The
U.S. commander in charge ordered a military aircraft response in
accordance with standard operating procedures, and the MiGs returned to

Inexplicably, however, U.S. reports did not show any unidentified
aircraft or Cuban military aircraft activity during that time interval.
As he flew his Cessna on that day, Basulto reported detecting aircraft
north of the 24th parallel, the line which marks the U.S. airspace
boundary. He also crossed paths with a U.S. Navy Orion aircraft,
something he had never seen before during any of his missions. Per
protocols and well-established procedures followed over the previous
five years and 1,800 search-and-rescue missions, Basulto notified Havana
of a five-hour stay in the area once he arrived at his airspace destination.

Meanwhile, in California, senior detection systems specialist Jeffrey
Houlihan, with the U.S. Customs Service Domestic Air Interdiction
Coordination Center, saw something amiss as he read and interpreted
information from multiple antennae and Aerostat balloons. A seasoned
radar and air weapons control expert and former Air Force pilot,
Houlihan became alarmed as he observed Cuban interceptors operating
without transponders, flying at high speeds, and making rapid maneuvers
in and out of radar range. Much to his astonishment soon thereafter, he
detected Cuban MiGs far out in international airspace flying directly
above BTTR. Armed with the knowledge that an emergency response could
be forthcoming from Tyndall Air Force Base in South Florida, he made a
frantic call for help. Momentarily satisfied by the information that
the Air Force base had been briefed and was handling the situation,
Houlihan returned to his watch. As he continued to monitor the
situation, he was astonished to see that no American interceptor
aircraft showed up in the area to protect BTTR from attack, which would
have been in accordance with standard operating procedures.

Little did he realize at that time that he was to witness the senseless
murder of four dedicated BTTR pilots. Houlihan later recounted that the
Air Force Base had been on battle stations alert at the time of his
"911" call. The alert was inexplicably lifted at some point shortly

The shooting down of BTTR planes without warning began with Cuban MiGs
reporting visual contact and confirming planes registrations with
Havana. As documented as part of an investigation conducted by the
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), no warning passes or
redirecting or escorting procedures, required by international law for
civilian aircraft, were attempted. According to Basulto's account,
later denied by U.S. authorities, after shooting down the two planes of
his fellow pilots, the Cuban MiGs chased Basulto for 53 minutes over the
24th parallel within three minutes of U.S. airspace. Upon Basulto's
safe landing back in Florida, U.S. Custom officials' top priority was to
obtain the video and audiotapes made by Basulto of his flight, which
they demanded immediately. Later investigations revealed that the
Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force and Navy were all
on alert and had monitored the events of that fateful day.


For his humanitarian efforts, Basulto incurred accusations by Castro of
"being involved in terrorist acts" and "subverting the internal order
of the island." In an interview with television journalist Dan Rather,
the Cuban dictator admitted to planning and ordering the shoot-down and
misled the American public with false statements that BTTR had committed
"serious terrorist actions" and had been warned on several occasions
about flying in Cuban airspace. Basulto was punished by the U.S.
government, losing his pilot's license for six months. Plus, he was
censured, discredited, and misrepresented as an agitator.

Following the BTTR shoot-down, U.S. policy on balseros underwent a
dramatic change. In the year of the shoot-down, Clinton's Attorney
General Janet Reno warned that rafters discovered in the Florida Straits
by the U.S. Coast Guard would risk being stopped and prosecuted by the
U.S. government. A serious indictment of the Castro regime was that
refugees reported preferring their internment at GITMO to the oppressive
life in their native land.

By 1995, U.S. policy toward the balseros became more restrictive, and
the Clinton administration began sending them back to Cuba if they
failed to reach dry land. The U.S. resolved to curtail exile
demonstrations thought provocative to Castro and sought a reduction of
hostile rhetoric between the two countries.


In early 1998, the Pentagon released a report concluding that Cuba "does
not pose a significant military threat to the U.S. or to other countries
in the region."

Yet, later that year, a mere two years after the shoot-down, The Cuban
Five, part of La Red Avispa, were arrested in Miami. Their arrests shed
light on their activities: the successful infiltration of the U.S.
Southern Command (SEADS) and Cuban-American groups. Their subversive
activities contributed to the BTTR shoot-down, and the five were viewed
as national heroes in Cuba.

It is also worth noting that on the day of the BTTR shoot-down,
convicted Cuban spy Ana Montes was the senior intelligence expert on the
Cuban military at the Pentagon. According to Scott Carmichael, a senior
security and counterintelligence investigator for the DIA, military
officials looked to Montes, as the designated Cuban expert, for answers
on the day of the shoot-down. Thus, she was in a prime position to
provide false information and pass military plans onto the Cuban
government (True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana
Montes, Cuba's Master Spy, Scott W. Carmichael, Naval Institute Press,
Annapolis, Maryland, 2007).

According to a December 24, 2000 article by Knight Ridder reporter Gail
Epstein Nieves, who reported on the spy trials of the five, "[t]he FBI
intercepted clandestine communications between Havana and its South
Florida intelligence agents that forecast a potentially violent
confrontation between Cuba and Brothers to the Rescue more than a week
before the planes were shot down[.]"

One of the intercepts instructed the two BTTR Cuba spies, Roque and
Gonzalez, to refrain from flying on particular days. Former Clinton
Cuba advisor Nuccio, although admitting to concerns about a shoot-down
by Cuba, said there was no "hard evidence" of an impending attack and
claimed ignorance on the intercepts. Yet Nuccio wrote an e-mail on the
day before the shoot-down to Clinton's national security adviser Sandy
Berger warning of a possible incident.

Today and Conclusions

The events that took place around the shoot-down of two BTTR rescue
planes on February 24, 1996 amounted to a cover-up of major proportions.
Despite significant prior information and forewarning, the Clinton
administration's failure to warn BTTR, a civilian search-and-rescue
operation and peaceful advocate of democratic change in Cuba, was an
unconscionable travesty resulting in the tragic loss of four lives.
Furthermore, the decision not to initiate a defensive military response
-- the ordering of a military stand-down -- smacks of complicity in this
egregious incident.

This was indeed puzzling in light of previous U.S. government assistance
to BTTR. During the Bush Sr. administration, the Coast Guard provided
cover from above for a rescue mission in the water and, on another
occasion, called on defense forces to rescue BTTR from a potentially
dangerous situation.

Today, Obama has liberalized travel to Cuba and allowed religious,
university, and cultural groups to visit the island. He has lifted
restrictions on remittances to the island. In addition, he has failed
to challenge efforts by the successors and allies of Castro and Hugo
Chávez, enemies of the free world, to expand their sphere of influence
in Latin America.

Despite mainstream media portrayals that herald Cuba under Raul Castro
as leading to economic reform and political liberalization, Cuba ranks
next to last, just above North Korea, on the Heritage Foundation's
latest index of economic freedom. This is "exactly where Cuba's has
been since Raul's 'reforms' commenced," said Cuban-American author
Humberto Fontova, who agrees with the ranking.

"In fact, Cuba is currently undergoing a wave of terror, a 20-year high
in political beatings and arrests. This wave of terror and repression
coincides with record tourism to the island," Fontova says.

Benghazi Parallels

The lack of action and the outright dissembling of information so
prevalent in the BTTR shoot-down appear to have been at play in
Benghazi. Although officials at the Pentagon, U.S. State Department,
FBI, and other government agencies were almost immediately informed that
the jihadist group had perpetrated the attack, the Obama administration
initially credited it to a spontaneous eruption of anger against an
anti-Muslim film posted on the internet. This charade was maintained
for several weeks, with the U.S. government going so far as to place
$70,000 worth of apology ads on Pakistani TV and for then-Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton to extend duplicitous words of comfort to the
father of a fallen Navy SEAL with "We'll make sure that the person who
made that film is arrested and prosecuted."

Following the attack, it was revealed that the late Ambassador Stevens
repeatedly pleaded for extra security personnel, citing a "troubling
increase in violence and Islamist influence," but was denied additional
support by the state department. Tragically, American drones were
overhead at the time but did nothing to stop the attack, in deference to
the political expediency of Obama's pre-election portrayal of a
successful U.S.-led operation toppling the Libyan dictator and
furthering the "Arab Spring." Later revelations uncovered that Stevens
was aiding Syrian rebels, including al-Qaeda operatives, and supplying
them with weapons to fight Bashar al-Assad's regime as part of a
U.S.-sponsored operation.

Curiously, FBI investigators arrived at the attack site almost a month
later and spent only three hours collecting evidence. At this point, 33
survivors have not yet been heard from, and some speculate that they
have been silenced by threats.

The Benghazi attacks may well come to parallel the BTTR shoot-down.
More than 17 years after that incident, the use of misinformation, the
unavailability of potential witnesses, and the omission of vital
evidence to perpetuate a cover-up of massive wrongdoing still haunt the
survivors of this tragic event. Continue reading
Posted on Saturday, 04.06.13

Uniting what Castro has divided

The Cuban exile community used to be referenced by my father, Jorge Mas
Canosa, with a simple phrase, "We unite all that Castro has divided."
The truth of this statement must have resonated loud and clear a few
evenings ago in the ears of a young Cuban lady, fresh from the
pervading, ratcheting, command of "fatherland or death" of the Cuba run
by the Castro brothers.

The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC), an independent,
non-partisan, service organization founded by my father with Clara and
Mario del Valle, and others in 1992, invited Yoani Sanchez to face the
scrutiny at the Coral Gables Country Club of a wide cross-section of
what, for much of her young life, had been referred to as the "
gusanera" (worms) or the "mafia" of Miami. Yoani, armed only with a
fine, cultured intellect and a sharp, precise vocal expression, accepted
the challenge of facing the questions of over 700 inquisitive Cubans in

Soon after the questions, many not easy; some answers not too pleasing,
it became obvious that what Mas Canosa used to say was taking hold. That
evening, in that hall, what Castro had been dividing for over five
decades — what forced hatred had separated — mutual understanding and
unimpeded love of country was uniting.

Exhausted from a prolonged isolation, Cubans on the island are clamoring
to be heard, to tell of the cruel reality of their lives. Cubans in
exile are equally exhausted of being defamed, caricatured and ostracized
by Castro's cruel propaganda. That evening both sides coincided and came
to understand each other.

We must congratulate FHRC, its past chairman Javier Soto, chairman Pedro
Rodriguez and Tony Costa for a successful experiment in mutual
understanding. In the coming weeks, if the door that opened is not shut,
there will be other Yoanis, male and female, activists or bloggers like
her coming to Miami. Berta Soler, another extraordinary personality,
leader of the brave Ladies in White, will be coming soon. Let us repeat
once and again that evening of understanding and mutual support, let us
embrace them, understand them and send them back with the firm
conviction that they are not alone.

We at FHRC will continue to provide substantial financial, material and
technological support to the brave men and women developing an
independent civil society. As they become more knowledgeable and
efficient in their strategic non-violent actions and follow others that
have broken the chains of oppression, their movement will continue growing.

"We are one people" (" somos un solo pueblo") has been the CANF mantra
for over two decades. Fear and a lack of communication among the exiles
and those on island have crippled us for much too long. Although we in
South Florida have witnessed these messages of Cuba's reality, the same
cannot be said for our compatriots on the island as Yoani and so many
others recognize their message is not known throughout the island.

Our challenge is: How do we break the monopoly of information the regime
has on its people?

Although technological advances and increased assistance has helped, it
is not enough. We must continue to support the growth of independent
journalists in Cuba. Support the mission of Radio Marti that through new
media initiatives is reaching an unprecedented number of the Cuban
people. We must seek innovative solutions so the Cuban people can seek
the truth and share without fear their aspirations for a better future.

We must challenge ourselves to communicate more frequently with our
compatriots on island and support policies and initiatives that open
Cuba to the world even with the virulent opposition of the Castro
regime. We must break the status quo for the benefit of the Cuban people.

Change in Cuba will not come out of the hands of Fidel or Raúl or their
heirs and minions. Change will only come from the decision of the Cuban
people to be free.

Yoani, Berta Soler, Jose Daniel Ferrer and many others have already made
that decision. Let us accompany them in their journey. Together we will
achieve Cuba's freedom.

Jorge Mas Santos is the chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation.

Read more here: Continue reading
Posted on Saturday, 04.06.13
The Oppenheimer Report

AP should not stop with 'illegal immigrants'
By Andres Oppenheimer

The fact that the Associated Press news agency decided to ban the term
"illegal immigrant" and replace it with "undocumented immigrant" last
week is a big victory for fairness in journalism, but there are other
terms used daily in the media that should be revised as well.

Before we get to them, let's make it clear that we are talking about
expressions that should be used in straight news stories, as opposed to
opinion columns — such as this one — where journalists should enjoy a
greater flexibility to play with words to express their personal feelings.

As we have been writing here for several years, the term "illegal
immigrant" is unfair and demeaning, because no human being is "illegal."
A driver who speeds is not an "illegal driver," nor is a person who
doesn't pay the rent an "illegal tenant." At long last, the new AP
Stylebook recognizes that there are illegal actions, not illegal people.

Even worse is the use of the word "illegals" as a noun, which
dehumanizes undocumented immigrants and paints all of them as dangerous
criminals. Fox News and other immigrant-allergic news outlets still use
"illegals'' all the time.

"There are other terms, such as "chain migration,'' or "'anchor
babies,'' or "'the flood of immigrants,'' that are used every day in the
press, despite the fact that the number of undocumented immigrants has
fallen in recent years,'' says Kathryn Vargas, a spokeswoman for the
National Immigration Forum advocacy group. "These terms are loaded with
hostility, and take the human face out of the immigration debate."

But there are other terms that are used daily in the media, such as "gun
control,'' that also deserve closer scrutiny.

When we in the media publish headlines about the "gun control" debate,
we are indirectly buying the National Rifle Association (NRA) pro-gun
lobbying group's argument that all proposed gun regulations to reduce
mass killings are efforts to violate the U.S. Constitution's second
amendment, which guarantees people's right to bear arms.

Instead of talking about the "gun control" debate, we should be talking
about the "gun violence" debate. Incidentally, the U.S. Constitution
guarantees the right to bear arms, but it doesn't say we have the right
to have semi-automatic rifles.

Or take a much more common journalistic practice: identifying all
presidents, including dictators who have not allowed a free election in
decades, as "President," or "leader."

I have always wondered why we insist on describing Cuba's dictator Gen.
Raúl Castro, or North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un, as the "Cuban
leader," or the "North Korean leader," just like I never understood why
we kept calling late Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet during his
years in power as "the Chilean leader."

There is no dictionary in the world that would not define these three
characters as dictators. For the record, my Google dictionary defines
"president" as "the elected head of a republican state," and dictator as
"a ruler with total power over a country."

(I'll tell you a little secret: many U.S. news organizations won't call
ruling despots as "dictators" until they die, because they don't want
their reporters to be denied visas to enter these totalitarian states.)

Which brings me to the mother of all contentious terms, which is not
being questioned by virtually anybody in the United States, but has long
generated a lot of resentment from Latin Americans and Canadians — the
term "America."

"America,'' or "the Americas,'' is the Western Hemisphere. When Columbus
discovered the New World, his first stops were The Bahamas and Cuba, not
Boston. In fact, the first known references to the term "America''
referred to South America, in honor of explorer Americus Vespucius.

When I mentioned this to my friend Edward Wasserman, dean of the
University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, he
laughed and recalled that his Spanish teacher in Argentina used to
object even to his use of the term "norteamericano,'' and urged him to
call himself ''estadounidense."

"You are right, the term ''American'' has overtones of cultural
arrogance,'' Wasserman said. "We don't even have a term for
'estadounidense' in English."

My opinion: We should not move toward an overly politically correct
journalistic lingo that ends up depriving most terms of much of their
meaning (I still prefer "handyman" or "handywoman'' to "handyperson.'')
But language defines the message, and language is an evolving phenomenon.

It was about time that the AP — where I worked for several years —
adopted "undocumented immigrants." I don't think I will see the AP
replacing "America'' with "the United States,'' or "USA,'' in my
lifetime, but I would be content if I see it at least moving from "gun
control'' to "gun violence'' in the near future.

Read more here: Continue reading
Posted on Saturday, 04.06.13

Blogger Yoani Sánchez gets by with a lot of help from her friends

For more than six weeks, dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez has
crisscrossed the Atlantic, making a splash and garnering accolades as
she hopscotches between high-profile events in Brasilia and Amsterdam,
Mexico City and New York, Washington, D.C. and Miami, with an eloquent,
unvarnished plea for freedom of expression in her homeland.

But how has this woman with limited Internet access at home in Havana,
few high-powered connections, no organization and limited financial
resources pulled off a grueling, attention-grabbing itinerary across
three continents that would challenge even the most savvy road warrior?

As it turns out, the same way she has managed to make a living in Havana
and cultivate hundreds of thousands of Internet and Twitter followers
around the globe: by plugging into an extensive, informal network of
dedicated supporters who for years have translated her blog and helped
Sánchez get her reports on life under communism out to the world — and
also by improvising like mad.

In Brazil, where she launched her world tour on Feb. 18 after the Cuban
government granted her permission to travel, pro-Castro protesters threw
fake dollar bills at the blogger and shouted she was being underwritten
by the CIA. Others claimed she was being paid thousands of dollars a
month by the Inter-American Press Association, a Miami-based
organization that advocates for freedom of the press in Latin America.
IAPA officials roundly deny the claim.


The reality appears to be far more prosaic.

Sánchez, whose husband and teenage son stayed at home, has no entourage,
no minder, no professional travel planner. She has done nearly all her
international flying by herself, friends and supporters say.

Some of the stops on Sánchez's tour have been the result of
seat-of-the-pants planning undertaken by her grass-roots supporters, who
helped her take advantage of longstanding invitations from colleges and
universities, human-rights groups, journalism organizations and tech
conferences to cobble together a schedule and find funding for plane
tickets and hotels.

Her flight from Havana to Brazil was covered by business supporters of a
film festival that planned to screen a documentary in which she
appeared. Another film festival took her to Prague. A Mexican university
paid for her travel to Mexico City. The IAPA put up Sánchez, volunteer
chair for Cuba of the group's Freedom of the Press Committee, at its
three-day conference in nearby Puebla, IAPA Director Julio Munoz said.

Her flight from the Netherlands to Miami? Paid for by her sister Yunia,
a pharmacy tech who emigrated from Cuba two years ago, friends and
supporters said. Her Miami point person? Her brother-in-law, José
Antonio García, who does have some local connections because he works
for the Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, an independent
spinoff of the Cuban American National Foundation, though leaders say
neither group funded her visit.

"There was no grand plan or scheme going on here,'' said Maria Werlau, a
Cuban exile activist in New Jersey who hosted a dinner for Sánchez and a
group of her collaborators, most of whom had previously met only on the
Internet. "Everything was pretty much put together on the fly.

"She does not have a staff. She could probably use one,'' Werlau said,

It was Werlau who helped organize one of the highlights of Sánchez's
tour — her visit to the United Nations, where a protest by the Cuban
delegation forced the blogger to meet the U.N. press corps in a cramped
hallway. Werlau said she set it up by cold-calling the U.N. news
correspondents' group, which eagerly took up the offer to have Sánchez

"She is a celebrity in some circles,'' Werlau said.

Sánchez, who has often fielded skeptical questions during public
appearances about how she managed to finance and organize the tour, has
been emphatic in saying she hasn't taken any government money.

In fact, says Ted Henken, who coordinated her New York and Washington
visits, he advised another Cuban blogger , Orlando Luis Pardo, who
accompanied Sánchez on part of her itinerary, to say no to a Washington
tech conference co-sponsored by the State Department because it would
have covered his expenses.

But because some of the institutions and organizations that hosted
Sánchez may receive government funding, Henken, a professor of Latin
American Studies at Baruch College in New York, said it's impossible to
say categorically that absolutely no public funds have gone into
underwriting her tour.

But, he added, "To the extent that she can prevent it, she doesn't take
any government money.

"We care about image and we care about reality,'' said Henken, who is
also president of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Lost in the mail

Henken turned to the Cuba Study Group, which supports a peaceful
transition in Cuba and has previously aided the association in funding
U.S. visits by Cuban scholars, for financial help. Study Group
co-chairman and Miami businessman Carlos Saladrigas said some of his
members came up with $6,000 to $7,000 for a car and driver in New York
and Washington and some lodging and air fare. The Cuba Study Group, he
said, receives no U.S. government funds.

So careful has Sánchez been about the source of trip financing that she
demurred upon learning that a Miami event to which she was invited was
being billed as a fundraiser for the Foundation for Human Rights in
Cuba, the group that employs her brother-in-law and receives U.S.
government funds. She agreed to attend only after the event, at the
Coral Gables Country Club, was scaled down and attendees, including Bay
of Pigs veterans and CANF members, were asked to pay only the cost of
putting it on, organizers confirm.

Mary Jo Porter, a Seattle transportation planner who has been
translating Sánchez's popular and award-winning Generacion Y blog into
English for five years, laughs at claims that the U.S. government is
paying for her translation work or the tour.

The job of translating the blog into more than a dozen languages, she
said, is done by volunteers such as a couple in Japan who own a
furniture shop, a Dutch lawyer and a Polish woman living in California.
A couple living outside Montreal, former Cuban journalist Aurora Moreira
and her husband, Chilean-born Camilo Fuentes, run and maintain Sánchez's
blog site, Henken said.

"We're all waiting for our check from the CIA,'' joked Porter, who flew
to New York last month at her own expense to meet Sánchez for the first
time. "It's been lost in the mail for five years.''

Though Sánchez has been repeatedly awarded international prizes and
frequently invited to speak at conferences and academic institutions
around the world, the Cuban government had consistently denied her
permission to travel. That changed with recent immigration and travel

Henken said he contacted Sánchez as soon as she tweeted that she had
received her passport, asking where she wanted to go and what she wanted
to do. She relayed a list of goals that included visits to colleges and
universities, news organizations and Washington. Also on the list: a
visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

New invitations soon began pouring in from all over the world, he said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Cuban-American Democrat, and Democratic Sen.
Bill Nelson were the first to invite Sánchez to visit Congress, but she
insisted on seeing a bipartisan group, Henken said.

Henken and other volunteers began blocking out a schedule around planned
events sponsored by groups that had long sought Sánchez's participation,
including an Amnesty International film festival in the Netherlands, a
Manhattan symposium on the impact of digital technology on Cuban society
that was jointly sponsored by the New School and New York University,
and the IAPA's Puebla conference.

Tech groups and conferences in particular have asked her to speak on her
use of Twitter and other cyber-tools to spread news and information and
circumvent official censorship.

"You notice she is crossing the Atlantic over and over,'' said Porter.
"That's because the way the whole trip came together was based on other
people's dates on events they had planned. That's why she's not making a
logical progression around the world. It's exhausting for her.
Everything was so crazy and last-minute and unplanned.''

So exhausting was the pace, in fact, that on Thursday Sánchez canceled
public appearances in Miami, tweeting that she had lost her voice.

During the New York and Washington visits, meals were often on the run,
Porter said — including a plateful of cheese and crackers someone
grabbed for Sánchez during an interview at CNN so that she could eat in
the car en route to another appointment. Often they did not sit down to
eat until evening, usually at a supporter's home or at a thrown-together
event such as a dinner at the D.C. home of the editor of Foreign Policy
magazine, which has published many of her pieces.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that also published a long
piece by Sánchez and had previously invited her to speak, scrambled to
host her on short notice too, Porter said. "They literally changed
people's schedules to do it,'' she said. "A lot of this for Yoani was
also honoring the people who were working with her all along, all these
people who have been working and working and working to make the reality
of Cuba visible.''

Sánchez also wanted to visit groups that had awarded her prizes,
especially the ones that came with cash attached, Henken said.

Her first stop, Brazil, was selected because she had a long-standing
invitation from Brazilian filmmaker Dado Galvão to appear at a screening
of his documentary, Conexão Cuba-Honduras. A group of Brazilian
businessmen supporting the festival where the film was to be screened
covered her airfare and picked up her food and lodging, said Galvão. He
also raised additional funds through his blog.

After protesters harassed her at the airport when she arrived in Brazil,
and later forced the cancellation of the film screening, a Brazilian
hotel association presented her with a couple of nights of free lodging
at a Rio de Janeiro hotel, Sánchez said during an appearance at Miami's
Freedom Tower. A Cuban in Salvador gave her an iPad3.

Two Brazilian legislators invited her to speak before an ad hoc
committee in the Chamber of Deputies. The National Congress paid for her
ticket from Salvador to Brasilia and then from Brasilia to São Paulo,
said Deputy Otavio Leite, who extended the invitation to Sánchez along
with Sen. Alvaro Dias. In São Paulo, Sánchez stayed at the home of Jaime
Pinksy, head of the publishing house Editora Contexto.

In the United States, some logistics and support came from Raices de
Esperanza (Roots of Hope), a privately funded group that seeks to
empower young people in Cuba. Its members sponsored a breakfast and
reception while Sánchez was in New York and also organized a Miami event
with the Knight Foundation, where she answered questions that arrived
via Twitter.

"We haven't directly financed her trip or travel. We just took on the
costs of the events,'' said Raul Moas, executive director of Raices de

Intense itinerary

After a couple of needed rest days with her sister's family in Miami,
Sánchez revved up again. García, her brother-in-law, put together an
intense itinerary that included a meeting with Miami Herald and El Nuevo
Herald editors and reporters, her Miami coming-out at Miami Dade
College's Freedom Tower, and a tech talk at Florida International

"Much like Yoani's message, which is viral and organic, so too were the
logistics for her visit, which were coordinated through a handful of
regular, everyday people,'' said Juan Mendieta, a spokesman for the
college, in an email. "It was very grass-roots, and we're extremely
pleased with how everything turned out."

Next up: Peru and after that, possibly, Argentina. Then it's off to
Europe for the third time before her expected return to Cuba in mid to
late May, supporters say. "The trip is still evolving,'' Porter said.

During the Freedom Tower talk, Sánchez addressed her funding and said
money and prosperity are sensitive topics for the Cuban government.

When a Cuban, through talent or solidarity with others, starts to move
beyond the "survival level,'' she said, "that starts to bother the
government and it starts questioning the integrity and moral ethics of a

"The Cuban government says I am a millionaire — yes, a millionaire in
friends," she said.

McClatchy correspondent Vinod Sreeharsha contributed to this story from
São Paulo.

Read more here: Continue reading
Posted on Saturday, 04.06.13

Beyoncé and Jay-Z in Havana another calibrated Cuba plot
By Myriam Marquez

Beyoncé and Jay-Z trotted around their mothers in Havana for the
couple's fifth anniversary, posing with cute Cuban schoolchildren,
dining at a famous paladar — the royal couple of hip-hop-pop creating
the predictable paparazzi buzz and Cuban exile lament.

The calibrated juxtaposition of BeJay's arrival in La Habana late last
week with Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez's departure from Little Havana has
served the regime's propaganda purposes quite well: See, we let Yoani go
to you. If only the U.S. lifted that silly embargo, you americanos could
be here, too, spending time with BeJay and company in our island
paradise of quaint little poor people staring down from their crumbling
balconies. How Third World chic!

BeJay's tourist excursion in a forbidden land also picks at that always
oozing exile scab that Yoani's visit here had started to heal: the
passions surrounding 52-year U.S. trade embargo of Cuba and the travel ban.

Under current rules, Americans are banned from traveling to the island
unless they go as part of a cultural, educational, religious or other
civil-society-building excursion. The policy in effect has allowed the
Castro regime to control the itinerary for those groups, hide the
people's despair and slap an exotic veneer of harmlessness on a 54-year

Internationally renowned Yoani has argued for removing the regime's
excuse for all its failures on the embargo by lifting it — but also for
a responsible, "humanitarian" tourism, one that understands the
information "blockade" that Cubans face without a free press, one where
a conscientious visitor will drop off a memory stick, a cell phone, a
laptop before departing. That's what happened to her when she served as
a tour guide for Germans visiting Cuba.

The blogger's support for lifting the travel ban implies that there is
safety in numbers. If Cuba is flooded with clueless American tourists
the likes of BeJay, then the "humanitarian" tourist will have less
chance of getting caught and imprisoned (as USAID subcontractor Alan
Gross has been since 2009) for providing technology that the regime
deems to be spyware.

Nothing happens coincidentally when it comes to Cuba. The regime knows
when to turn over the tortilla, as they say in Spain, for its benefit.

So Yoani calls for Cubans on both shores to unite and tweets photos from
Miami with crooners Willy Chirino and Lissette Alvarez, with actor Andy
Garcia, and Emilio and Gloria Estefan, all those local Cuban kids done
good, gone international stars.

And — poof! — when photos of BeJay's Havana adventure hit the
twitterverse, the Cuban diplomat in Washington, Jose Cabanas, tsks-tsks
to a group of foreign and U.S. journalists: "Too much attention has been
devoted to this lady, taking a lot of attention from the most important
. . . news that has been happening these days in regards to Cuba.
Including the presence of Beyoncé, the singer, who is today in Havana,
enjoying a lot of attention from the public, but it's not covered by the
media — incredible."

Yes, well, let's ignore "this lady" Yoani, one of the world's most
talented award-winning writers who's breaking barriers with new
technology to bust open a totalitarian regime's abuses day after day.
Let's instead focus on two American celebrities whose knowledge of Cuba
amounts to mojitos and Cohibas.

At least Beyoncé and Jay-Z seem more like tontos utiles (useful idiots,
their star power used by the regime) than star apologists for a
murderous violator of human rights, a la Danny Glover or Sean Penn.

Soon to arrive in Miami will be Berta Soler, who now heads the Ladies in
White, a group of women who have peacefully marched in defense of Cuba's
political prisoners for a decade now. Perhaps Cuban American rapper
Pitbull could set Beyoncé and Jay-Z straight about how Cuba's regime
mistreats Afro Cubans, starting with Berta Soler and her family. Or how
it beats women who criticize the regime's treatment of blacks like Yris
Aguilera, who runs the Rosa Parks Movement in Cuba.

From Havana, the regime will try to incite exile boycotts and protests
against Beyoncé, who'll be singing in Miami soon — anything to make
Cuban Americans look as inflexible and dogmatic as the island's masters,
anything that makes us look like kooks.

Except the reactionary forces failed to stir exiles against Yoani. She
was embraced because her insights from Cuba are raw truth. Whatever
difference of opinion on the embargo or travel ban seems inconsequential
when weighed against her work (and that of other dissidents like Soler
and Rosa María Payá) to expose Cuba's reality to the world.

Still, expect the usual hypocritical skirmishes to continue about an
embargo so porous that the U.S. now serves as Cuba's biggest supplier of
food. The local Cuban-American pols will proclaim once again their
pro-embargo hardline against tyranny even as Cuban-American industry
barons quietly visit the country of their birth to explore the
possibilities of a fast-approaching future without the Castros.

Who's turning the tortilla now?

Read more here: Continue reading
Mario Vargas Llosa: A Nobel Long Overdue / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on April 6, 2013

The literature of Mario Vargas Llosa has prompted several key turning
points in my life. The first was 17 years ago, in a summer of blackouts
and economic crisis. Under the pretext of borrowing "The War of the End
of the World," I approached a journalist expelled from his profession
for ideological problems, with whom I still share my days. I keep that
copy with its yellowed cover and detached pages, because through it
dozens of readers have discovered this Peruvian author censored in the
official bookstores.

Then came university, and while preparing my thesis on the literature of
the dictatorship in Latin America his novel "The Feast of the Goat"
appeared. The inclusion in my analysis of that text about Trujillo did
not sit well with the panel evaluating me. Nor did they like that among
the characteristics of American caudillos, I highlighted exactly those
also flaunted by "our" Maximum Leader. Thus, for the second time, a book
by the now Nobel Prize winner in Literature marked my existence because
it made me realize the frustration of being a philologist in Cuba. Why
do I need a title, I told myself, that announces I am a specialist in
language and words, when I can't even freely unite phrases.

So Vargas Llosa and his literature are responsible, in a direct and
"premeditated" way, for much of what I am today: from my matrimonial
happiness and my aversion to totalitarianism, to my having reneged on
philology and turned to journalism.

I am prepared now, because I fear the next time one of his books falls
into my hands its effect will last another 17 years, or once again slam
the door on a profession. Continue reading
Prison Diary X. The "5″ (Sybarites) Don't Like Chicken / Angel Santiesteban
Posted on April 6, 2013

The prisoners I share this barracks with tell me they read in the
newspaper Granma that the 5 spies condemned in the U.S. complained
because their jailers had offered them chicken twice. That is, they were
protesting because they repeated the menu.

When I was free, I always heard these comments that seemed absurd and I
immediately looked for a way to find someone on the internet to verify
with. Now, in the conditions in which I survive in this prison it's
impossible to verify anything.

The truth is that it makes me laugh the way the prisoners here with me
hear the news. I've heard several times, and I always have to laugh:
this repetition of chicken that the spies complain of would be a reasons
for a celebration among the inmates in this prison.

Some Fridays, on a holiday, they deliver what is normally recognized as
a fourth of a chicken. That day the dining room is full. The other days
it's preferable to be on hunger strike. I myself, for example, spent
five days without going to the dining room. I prefer to survive on
cookies and toast that my family brings and that I keep, like a
treasure, in a sack.

I have also read the statements of the Spanish political, Angel
Carromero, who was driving the car in which we lost Oswaldo Paya and
Harold Cepero. He said that his six months of imprisonment in Cuba was
enough to leave him traumatized and needing medical help.

We have to remember that Carromero was held in a special prison for
foreigners, that he also had the oversight of the embassy, and the
obvious treatment of the political police to "sweeten him up," so that
the real version of what happened that fateful day won't come to light.

We should ask, regardless of any prison, wherever it is, it's always
difficult to face and endure, what's left for us who are in these
inhumane prisons, with almost no food and with the extra weight of the
known evil prosecutions for justice?

Neither the 5 spies nor Carromero know what a prison really is.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

La Lima Prison. April 2013.

5 April 2013 Continue reading
Zapata lives
Zapata lives
No place to live
No place to live