For World’s Democracy Campaigners, Obama’s Cuba Move Means Crackdowns 9

Cuban repressionBy The Investors Business Daily‘s Editorial Board

President Obama claimed his move to normalize relations with Cuba was a means of nudging the military dictatorship toward democracy. He was wrong. The regime is cracking down on dissent harder than ever.

In what ought to be called Crackdown Tuesday a large group of prominent Havana dissidents — activists, civil society advocates and independent journalists — were arrested as they headed for a pro-free speech soapbox “speaker’s corner” event put on by Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguero, whose group is #YoTambienExijo, or “I also demand.”

Among the arrested were prominent blogger writer Yoani Sanchez; her husband Reinaldo Escobar, who edits, an online dissident publication; Eliecer Avila, a prominent democracy activist; and members of the Ladies in White group, mostly wives of political prisoners. Bruguero herself was hauled off by the Cuban secret police and held incommunicado for more than a day until she was released. She said Wednesday they tried to force her to sign a confession, but she refused.

So much for “promoting positive change,” which is what the White House claimed would be the result of its move toward normalization. Fact is, the Castro regime sees normalization of U.S. ties as a green light to step up the barbarism.

It’s not just attacks against high-profile dissidents. The Miami Herald reported earlier this month that the regime rammed and sank a boat of more than 30 refugees fleeing the island, killing one and jailing the men in the group as they were dragged back to shore.

And that underlines the naivete of the Obama administration. “We are separated by 90 miles of water, but are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba,” the White House website reads.

Brought together through the desire to promote democracy? Not according to his new partner, dictator Raul Castro, who put on his military uniform and warned Cubans not to get any ideas from this move, defiantly warning that the communism that has so failed the country would remain in place.

There’s little doubt he knows what he’s doing.

Commentary continues here:  Obama Outreach Intensifies Repression



Biden to Cuban Media: Alan Gross Detention a Key Obstacle in Diplomatic Relations 1

Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden

By Dana Davidsen CNN

(CNN) – Vice President Joe Biden sat down with a Cuban media outlet – a significant move given the decades-long tension between the United States and Cuba since the countries ended diplomatic relations more than 50 years ago.

In the interview published Tuesday, Biden cited the detention of Alan Gross, an American serving a 15-year sentence as a key obstacle in improving relations.

Biden made his comments to 14ymedio, a recently launched digital newspaper created by Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban blogger and fierce critic of the governments of Raul and Fidel Castro.

“I cannot emphasize enough that Cuba’s continued detention of Alan Gross is a major impediment to improved relations between the United States and Cuba,” Biden said, according to a translation provided by his office.

Gross was convicted in 2011 for bringing satellite communications equipment into the country as part of his work as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

U.S. officials have said Gross was simply trying to help Cubans bypass their government’s stringent restrictions on Internet access.

“We can be as creative as we like with our policy, but Alan’s case remains at the top of our list for resolution. He deserves to come home, and should be released on humanitarian grounds,” Biden said.

President Barack Obama also answered questions from Sánchez in 2009, which she posted to her blog.

In that interview, Obama responded to a question regarding allegations that his administration was attempting to undermine Cuban authority, throwing cold water on the notion that the United States had plans to invade the island.

“I can give you the simplest of answers, and that answer is no. Just as President Obama said,” Biden said when asked about those concerns. “These accusations are a relic of the distant past. They are being used to strike fear into the hearts of decent Cubans who might otherwise focus on problems closer to home.”

Sánchez’s journalistic venture was, until Sunday, blocked by users in Cuba. Since the publication’s launch last week, for a few days, users were redirected to website apparently dedicated to slamming Sánchez and government dissidents, according to the Miami Herald.

The interview with Biden took place in April, as Sánchez notes in the article, while she was in Washington.

Further stoking fears in the Cuban government that Washington is trying to subvert its authority are accusations that the U.S. government tried to flood communications networks with the creation of a cell phone-based “Cuban Twitter,” known as ZunZuneo.

The program, which ended in 2012, allowed Cubans to message each other free of Cuban government restrictions on communications and allowed U.S. government officials to send mass messages to Cubans.

Blogger Yoani Sánchez Says Comment on ‘Cuban Five’ Was Ironic, Misunderstood Reply

By Juan Carlos Chávez,

Opposition blogger Yoani Sánchez stirred controversy in Brazil on Wednesday when she made a ironic comment about the Cuban government’s misuses of money, time and resources in an international campaign for the release of five Cuban spies. She had said that if that they were freed, the Cuban government would save millions of dollars. Hours later, Sánchez clarified her position through several messages sent through social media.

The five men were convicted in 2000 of spying on anti-Castro groups in Miami. As part of a spy ring called the Wasp Network, they were linked to the Cuban government’s 1996 shoot-down over the Florida Straits of two planes carrying members of the exile group Brothers to the Rescue. Four South Florida men were killed. Cuba has waged a relentless campaign for the release of the men known as the “Cuban Five.’’ “The amount of money that my country’s government is spending on this worldwide campaign, on [ad] space of international media by the Interior Ministry, the number of hours spent in schools talking about those five people, in order to bring that campaign to an end, they should free them,’’ said Sánchez, 37. “I’m worried about my country’s coffers and would prefer their release to see if they save more [money] because there are more issues on the table.”

Hours after the story was published in El Nuevo Herald, she sent posted this comment on the paper’s home page: “At no moment in Brazil did I ask for the five members of the Cuban Interior Ministry to be free. I was using irony to express my views that if they’re free right now, the government would save millions of dollars that it is now paying in this campaign that has lasted for 15 years. “If the irony didn’t work, if the words that I used weren’t the right ones, I apologize. My position is the same: They’re not innocent.” Sanchez also Tweeted several messages that underscored this view.

Sánchez is the creator of the blog Generación Y, a columnist for foreign newspapers, and a prolific user of social media to shed light on life in Cuba. She made her remarks Wednesday during a visit to the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies in Brasilia. Her initial comments spread quickly on the Internet and in South Florida after they appeared on the Viewpoint blog of journalist Joan Antonio Guerrero Vall, a collaborator of Martí Noticias. In her meeting with Brazilian lawmakers, Sánchez also had criticized the U.S. trade embargo, saying it was “interventionist” and has not worked. “As a pressure method, it is a failure. The third reason, and not in order of importance, it should end as soon as possible is that it is used by the Cuban government as the fundamental reason to explain its economic failure and political and social repression,” she said.

Sánchez had been denied permission to travel abroad for a decade by the Cuban government, but under a new travel and migration policy Cuba enacted last month, Cubans no longer need an exit visit to leave the island. The blogger quickly took advantage of the new policy and accepted invitations to speak in Latin America, Europe, and the U.S.

She is scheduled to speak at Miami’s Freedom Tower, a former processing center for Cuba refugees, on April 1 and receive the Miami Dade College Presidential Medal for championing human rights. Asked if the college had a response to the future honoree’s remarks in Brazil, Juan Mendieta, MDC’s director of communications, said, “We’re focused on our event. We’re not going to get into this debate.’’

Miami Herald reporters Mimi Whitefield and Luisa Yanez contributed to this report.

Yoani Sánchez Calls for the Release of 5 Cuban Spies and End to Embargo 1

By Juan Carlos Chavez,

Arguing that Cuba’s government wastes money, time and resources in an international campaign for the release of five Cuban spies, opposition blogger Yoani Sánchez said Wednesday in Brazil that she would support their release. The five men were convicted in a highly-publicized trial in Miami in 2000 for being part of the Wasp Network, the largest the biggest Cuban spy ring known to have been dismantled in the U.S.

“The amount of money that my country’s government is spending on this worldwide campaign, on [ad] space of international media by the Interior Ministry, the number of hours spent in schools talking about those five people, in order to bring that campaign to an end, they should free them,’’ said Sánchez, 37. “I’m worried about my country’s coffers and would prefer their release to see if they save more [money] because there are more issues on the table.”

Sánchez is the creator of the blog Generación Y, an award-winning journalism and human rights blog published in various countries. She is in Brazil as part of an 80-day trip outside of the island and was received on Wednesday at the Chamber of Deputies in Brasilia where a documentary titled, Cuba-Honduras Connection was screened. The film was supposed to be shown on Monday in the northeastern city of Feira de Santana but was canceled due to violent demonstrations and protests by Cuba government supporters.

In his meeting with Brazilian lawmakers, Sánchez also criticized the U.S. trade embargo. She referred to it as “interventionist” and said that it has not worked. “As a pressure method, it is a failure. The third reason, and not in order of importance, it should end as soon as possible is that it is used by the Cuban government as the fundamental reason to explain its economic failure and political and social repression,” Sánchez said. Sánchez’s remarks began to spread quickly on the Internet. The remarks were first reported in the Viewpoint blog of journalist Joan Antonio Guerrero Vall, a collaborator Martí Noticias.

One of the five spies is serving two life sentences on charges of conspiracy to murder and help Cuban warplanes shoot down two civilian planes in 1996, killing the four crew members from Miami who were aboard. Three others are still in prison and the fifth finished his 13-year prison sentence last year and is now completing three years of probation. Trial evidence showed that ring members, some using fake identities, tried to infiltrate U.S. military installations and Cuban exile groups in an effort to feed military and political information back to Havana.

Sánchez arrived Monday in Brazil and was met with protests by supporters of the Cuban regime at airports in Recife and Salvador, but the most serious incident occurred in Feira de Santana, where a larger group interrupted the scheduled Monday night documentary with shouts of “Long live the revolution” and “Cuba yes, Yankees no.” Brazilian Senator Eduardo Suplicy, the ruling Workers Party (PT), who participated in the act, tried in vain to mediate between the protesters and the blogger, who could only speak a few minutes in an impromptu debate. Deputy Mendonça Filho, of the Democrats opposition party, also asked the Federal Police to take charge of Sánchez’s safety while in Brazil, the first stop in the blogger’s visit to a dozen countries.

Sánchez, who is scheduled to visit Miami on April 1, had been denied permission to leave Cuba 20 times in six years. Her trip was approved by Cuban authorities under new immigration reforms that took effect in January.

Havana’s Smear Campaign Against Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez Follows Her To Brazil Reply

BY Ryan Villarreal, International Business Times

Cuba’s most prominent dissident Yoani Sanchez has described the ridicule she encountered upon her arrival in Brazil by pro-Fidel Castro leftists as an extension of Havana’s “information war” against her. Waving Cuban flags, protesters called Sanchez a “mercenary” for the U.S. government and tossed photocopied dollar bills at her she passed, flanked by her own supporters, through the Guararapes International Airport in northeastern Brazil Monday morning.

“On arrival many friends welcomed me and other people shouted insults. I wish in Cuba we could do the same. Long live freedom!” Sanchez wrote in a post on her Twitter account, which has been blocked by the Cuban government for the few Cubans that have access to the Internet. Later in the evening, more protesters showed up in the city of Bahia to picket the screening of a documentary featuring commentary from Sanchez, titled “Connection Cuba-Honduras,” forcing the event to be cancelled. Sanchez, who was in attendance, attempted to open a dialogue with her detractors but was ignored and shouted over. “They repeated a hackneyed, identical script without any intention of listening to my response,” Sanchez wrote in her latest blog entry. “They responded to orders … I could see the long arm that moves from the Revolution Square in Havana.”

The Brazilian magazine Veja first reported that the Cuban government was coordinating a local defamation campaign against Sanchez through its diplomats. “The plan to spy on and embarrass Yoani Sanchez was drafted by the Cuban government, but will run with the knowledge and support of the PT (Workers’ Party), the party activists and at least one employee of the Presidency,” wrote Veja reporter Robson Bonin. The presidential employee, Ricardo Martins Poppi, an aide to Gilberto Carvalho, chief minister in President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet, told Veja he had attended a clandestine meeting on Feb. 6 which discussed migration policy and Sanchez’s upcoming trip.[emphasis added] “That doesn’t surprise me, it’s part of an information war,” Sanchez said in her initial response, the Miami Herald reported.

Sanchez, 37, has gained international recognition for her blog Generation Y, established in 2007 and in which she has written about her experiences living in Cuba. Her writing, which has been critical of the Cuban government at times, has gotten her blacklisted. Her blog has been blocked and she is only able to publish it through the covert help of supporters who can transfer her entries from her portable hard drive onto the Internet. In the past five years she has been denied an exit visa to leave the country over 20 times until the travel restriction was universally lifted last month. Sanchez has also reported multiple instances of harassment, intimidation and physical abuse from Cuban police and Castro supporters, though she has never been arrested. [emphasis added]

One of Sanchez’s supporters, Sebastian Arcos, a Cuban exile and Associate Director of Development at the School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University, said the Cuban government is threatened by her because she was born and raised in Cuba, a product of the education system and therefore her criticisms are rooted in the genuine experiences of a Cuban citizen. Aside from two years Sanchez spent studying in Switzerland from 2002 to 2004, she has spent the rest of her life in Cuba.

“They see her as an internal threat and she has been able to disarm them by engaging them in a civilized way,” Arcos said. “There is nothing more dangerous to a totalitarian regime than a well-educated, articulate and civilized opponent.” Arcos added that Sanchez is considered even more threatening because her writing is not overtly political. “She is not an active member of any dissident movement,” he said. “She is a human being, and she has political opinions, but her primary goal is free expression in its purest form.”

Sanchez has embarked on a three-month world tour, making her first stop in Brazil among roughly a dozen countries, including the U.S., Mexico and Spain.

Expelled Senior Spy Assails Washington’s Unchanging Foreign Policy 2

Cuba Criticizes President Obama, Says Island is Changing While US Policy is Not

AP Updated: Friday, February 1, 2:58 PM

HAVANA — A senior Cuban official sharply criticized U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday for suggesting Cuba was stuck in the past, saying the only anachronistic element of the relationship is Washington’s half-century-old economic embargo.

Josefina Vidal, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs division, said Obama was poorly informed if he thought Cuba had not changed in recent years. She said her country has always been willing to negotiate improved relations with the U.S.

“It’s unfortunate that President Obama continues to be poorly advised and ill-informed about the Cuban reality, as well as the sentiments of his own people who desire normalization of our relationship,” Vidal said in a statement sent to foreign media on the island. She said Cuba was “changing and advancing,” a reference to economic and social reforms enacted in recent years under President Raul Castro.

In an interview with the Spanish news channel Telemundo broadcast Wednesday, Obama said his administration is open to better ties but that “it’s got to be a two-way street.” He said Cuban jails are still filled with political prisoners and that the island’s leaders are clinging to a failed model. “It’s time to join the 21st century,” he said. “It’s one thing to have cars from the 1950s. It’s another thing when your whole political ideology .. is 50 years or 60 years old and it’s been proven not to work.”

In recent years, Cuba has allowed for limited capitalism and legalized the real estate market, among other reforms, while insisting the changes did not constitute a break from its socialist model. Among the measures getting the most attention was last month’s lifting of a longstanding requirement that islanders ask the government’s permission to travel abroad.
Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez’s request for a new passport was granted on Thursday. Last year she was denied a “white card,” or exit permit, when she tried to travel to Brazil for a film festival, something she says has happened to her about 20 times in recent years. “Visas for (hashtag)Brazil and for the (hashtag)Schengen agreement nations arranged, they will be delivered to me next week,” Sanchez said on Twitter on Friday. The “Schengen area” is a region in Europe within which there are little or no border or visa controls between Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany and France.

But Sanchez and others bemoaned the denial of passports to two other government opponents. Dissidents Angel Moya and Jose Daniel Ferrer were turned down under a clause that lets the government withhold travel papers to people facing legal cases, or for reasons of national security or public interest. The men were among the 75 activists jailed in the 2003 “black spring” crackdown on dissent. While they were later freed, their release was conditional and technically are still serving long sentences.

Mixed in with the mutual recriminations between Obama and Vidal were the usual conditional affirmations of openness to dialogue. In her rebuttal of Obama, Vidal says America “can always count on the willingness of the people and government of Cuba to work to advance bilateral relations.” Obama, in his Telemundo interview, said that he could foresee improved ties during his second term if Cuba meets him half way.

Editor’s Note: Josefina de la C. Vidal Ferreiro left the US in May 2003 when her husband, Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera; and 13 other spy-diplomats were thrown out of the United States. Vidal and Maria Cristina Delgado Suarez (wife of expelled spy Raul Rodriguez Averhoff) both left the country voluntarily. That said, both women were known to US authorities as Cuban intelligence officers and this fact played into the selection of their husbands for expulsion.

Cuba Critics Look to Test Government on Travel Law 1

PETER ORSI | Huffington Post

HAVANA — For years, Cuban dissidents say, authorities’ message to them has been the same: Sure, you can leave the country. Just don’t expect us to let you come back. Now, two prominent and outspoken government opponents say they’ve been told they can come and go freely under a new law that eliminated decades-old travel restrictions on nearly all islanders.

It’s a calculated risk that potentially enables the dissidents to become high-profile ambassadors for change in the communist-run country, traveling abroad to accept awards and slamming the government back home in speeches to foreign parliaments. At the same time, it blunts one of their main criticisms of Cuba’s human rights record, that it effectively held them and others hostage by restricting their movement. “Previously the policy was just to get them out of the country, which really, really did work for the maintenance of the Castro government,” said Ann Louise Bardach, a longtime Cuba analyst and author of “Cuba Confidential.” “But if they are allowing them to come back, we are looking at a game-changer of sorts because that could usher in the first embryonic state of some democratic process,” Bardach said. “If people can go abroad, criticize the government and return, that’s a new day in Cuba.”

The government faces some of the same pluses and minuses with all Cubans traveling abroad, showing that it is being more open by letting its citizens leave more easily, but taking the risk that some won’t come back. Travelers seeing the world for the first time are apt to experience things that could give them cause to clamor for more freedoms or material goods back home, or it could make them more grateful for basic guarantees like free health care and education. Some will surely have both those reactions.

Cubans of all political stripes lined up outside travel agencies and migration offices when the law scrapping the country’s exit visa requirement went into effect Monday, looking to book flights, renew expired passports or just get information about how the measure would affect them. Among them was Yoani Sanchez, a dissident blogger who has garnered fame overseas for her writings about the frustrations of daily life. Sanchez says she has been turned down 20 times when she asked for permission to travel abroad to accept awards or attend conferences, and authorities told her she would only be allowed out if she was leaving for good.

It’s a practice that has been used to rid the island of a number of people considered troublemakers, including dozens of activists who were imprisoned in 2003 during a notorious crackdown on dissent. Under an agreement brokered by the Roman Catholic Church, many of them accepted exile in Spain as a condition of their release in recent years, although some holdouts were freed and allowed to stay in Cuba.

Sanchez said that to her surprise, an official told her Monday she will be able to leave and return once she has her new passport, a process that should take around two weeks. Shortly before turning in that night, she tweeted enthusiastically about her intention to visit friends in Canada: “I will dream of embraces, walls that fall and borders that dissolve.” Sanchez will apparently be the first dissident to test the government’s word, but she’s not alone.

In interviews with The Associated Press, several others confirmed plans to travel in the near term, including two recent winners of the European Union’s Sakharov prize who were denied permission to collect the award in person. They include Berta Soler, a leader of the Ladies in White protest group, who hopes to organize a delegation of the women to travel to Strasbourg, France, to pick up their prize from 2005. Guillermo Farinas, a noted hunger striker and 2010 Sakharov winner, said state security agents took the trouble of driving out to his home in the central city of Santa Clara to let him know he’ll be allowed to travel and return.

Both Farinas and Soler would presumably use the opportunity as a bully pulpit to bash their home country, seek support from sympathetic groups and lobby foreign governments to press Havana on human rights and democracy. “My position will be the same wherever I am. I will say the same thing anywhere,” Farinas said. “I believe the Cuban government should be replaced by a democratic government, and it is up to the Cuban citizenry to put another government in place or ratify the one that’s there.”

Story continues:–travel/?utm_hp_ref=media&ir=media

Fidel’s “Revolutionary Collective Surveillance” Neighborhood Spies Create Social Violence and Hatred 2

By Yoani Sanchez

Posted: 09/28/2012 2:52 am

The stew was cooked on firewood collected by some neighbors, the flags hung in the middle of the block and the shouts of Viva! went on past midnight. A ritual repeated with more or less enthusiasm every September 27 throughout the Island. The eve of the 52nd anniversary of the founding of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the official media celebrate on its commemoration, a song intended to energize those who are a part of the organization with the most members in the entire country, and to dust off the old anecdotes of glory and power.

But beyond these formalities, which are repeated identically each year, we can perceive that the influence of the CDR in Cuban life is in a downward spiral. Gone are the days when we were all “CeDeRistas” and the acronym — with the figure of a man brandishing a machete — still shone brightly on the facades of some houses.

Amid the ongoing decline of its prominence, it’s worth asking if the committees have been a more of source of transmission of power to the citizenry, than a representation of us to the government. The facts leave little room for doubt. Since they were created in 1960, they have had an eminently ideological base, marked by informers. Fidel himself said it during the speech in which he announced their creation:

“We are going to implement, against imperialist campaigns of aggression, a Revolutionary system of collective surveillance where everybody will know who lives on their block and what relations they have with the tyranny; and what they devote themselves to; who they meet with; what activities they are involved in.”

These words from the Maximum Leader are now difficult to find reproduced in full on national websites and newspapers. In part because, despite the unconditional support for the Commander in Chief, the current editors of these spaces know very well that such language is totally out of sync with the 21st century.

Read the entire feature here: