Thursday, August 28, 2008

You Know They're Sweating

They're smiling now, but I just noticed this post on the Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog. Lesley Clark, Washington correspondent for the Herald, points to a recent poll conducted by Survey USA which reports that the race for US Congressional District 21 [map] (represented by Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and challenged by Raul Martinez) is very close. And, Martinez is ahead by 2 points!

Clark reports: "The poll of 632 likely voters was taken Aug. 24 to 26 for Roll Call by Survey USA, an automated opinion research firm. Voters were allowed to respond in English or Spanish. It has a margin of error of 4 percentage points."

In my opinion, the sample is small, but you never know. The photo above also shows Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (on the right) who's being challenged in November by Joe Garcia. Other recent polling shows that the Diaz-Balart brothers are facing a very tight race. And, other demographic factors in South Florida could tilt against the Republican party in the coming national elections.

[Here's the link to the questions, methodology, graphs and results.]

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

GOP Platform Against Cuba

Both Phil Peters, from the Cuban Triangle, and Alejandro Armengol, from Cuaderno de Cuba (in Spanish), have given readers a heads up on the recently released draft of the 2008 Republican Party Platform, and its mention of US policy towards Cuba.

The Republican Platform Committee is currently meeting in Minneapolis to debate the final draft to be presented next week at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. So far, it's being reported that the draft has several differences with Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain's policy positions. But, it seems that some question the relevance of the Party Platform in effecting the Presidential campaign. Debates of the Republican Platform Committee are currently being shown live on C-Span2.

The Cuban Triangle has very good commentary in response to several points made in the draft GOP Platform, so I'll direct readers there. But, I wanted to highlight one sentence in the draft that I feel reveals a great ignorance in US policy towards Cuba. The lines goes:

"Looking to the inevitable day of liberation, we support restrictions on trade with, and travel to, Cuba as a measure of solidarity with the political prisoners and all the oppressed Cuban people."

From my reading of news from Cuba, it's become more apparent than ever that the people of Cuba are mostly opposed to US policy towards the island, and that includes the Cubans who form the internal opposition.

- Oswaldo Paya, perhaps the most well-known dissident in Cuba, has been opposed to US policy for a long-time. He even knows that some exiles in Miami have boycotted his statements. Hosts on Radio Mambi have qualified Paya as a "traitor."

- Miriam Leiva, one of the founders of the Ladies in White has also come out strongly opposed to US policy towards Cuba. She even stated in 2004 that "[t]he majority of dissidents [in Cuba] do not support the embargo or any measures to tighten it." I've even uploaded audio from a 2006 interview with Leiva where she states her opposition to increased US funding of Cuban opposition groups because they allow those groups to be targeted by the Cuban government.

- Martha Beatriz Roque, a favorite Cuban opposition figure of the US, has also recently come out in opposition to the new travel and remittance restrictions on Cuban families. Despite being a current supporter of the US economic sanctions on Cuba, back in 2001, Martha Beatriz Roque told a PBS documentary crew: "I'm against the embargo. I would like that the embargo will be lifted."

And, perhaps there are more Cuban dissidents who feel the same way about US policy towards Cuba. Just last month, another well-known dissident inside Cuba came out in opposition to US policy: Dr. Darsi Ferrer.

According to a letter by Ferrer posted at Miscelaneas de Cuba, he opposes the US restrictions on Cuban family travel and remittances because they "harm the development of family connections" and "in most cases, [Cuban families] survive on the money sent by [families in the exterior]."

Ferrer also opposes the US embargo because the Cuban government uses the sanctions "to justify the failings of their totalitarian model." [These opinions by Ferrer have been ignored by the Babalu Blog who frequently refer to Ferrer, but only when it benefits US policy.]

One certainly should ask if anyone in the Republican party is actually listening to these voices of the Cuban opposition. The same goes for the Democrats. Where's the "measure of solidarity"? How much longer will these opinions (of brave men and women) be set aside by policy-makers in the US?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back to Court (Part 2)

I'm very happy to see that the immigration case of Luis Posada Carriles is getting new attention because sometimes in Miami all one hears are the same voices when it comes to Posada: local Spanish-language media outlets, the Miami Herald or long-time anti-Posada activists. The atmosphere tends to create familiar echo chambers around the case. Well, yesterday legal news publication Texas Lawyer gave us a very insightful and objective report.

Senior reporter John Council gives a brief summary of the recent ruling by the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals that reversed last year's court decision allowing Luis Posada Carriles to walk free, and includes many important interviews with other experts of immigration law. Among the experts are: David Deitch, a former prosecutor of the Justice Department; Kathleen Walker, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA); and Michael A. Olivas, an immigration law professor at the University of Houston Law Center. Council also includes an interview with a criminal law attorney, Robert Webster, concerning the Posada case which can be viewed on YouTube here.

Not surprisingly, ALL the persons interviewed by Council point out that "Posada is not the average immigrant who applies for naturalization," and thus concerns about government abuse of authority in Posada's immigration case must be held to a different standard. "It's a horse of a different color," explains Michael Olivas to Texas Lawyer.

While some may easily view this as prejudicial or discriminatory, the recent ruling by the US Fifth Circuit makes it very clear that no established rules or procedures were broken in the Posada case, and that Posada was provided all his rights under due process. The ruling further casts serious doubts about last year's opinion (by Judge Kathleen Cardone) which accused the US government of "fraud, deceit and trickery," and using Posada's naturalization process as "a pretext for a criminal investigation."

John Council's report for Texas Lawyer sums up well the Fifth Circuit's ruling, so I encourage people to take the time to read it (if you prefer it over the 35-page court document[PDF]). But, I will point out what I thought were the strongest points in the decision.

- The ruling points out (with precedent) that the US government DOES have the power to conduct both civil and criminal procedures without violating a person's right to due process. Though, this power has its limits, and each case must be reviewed carefully.

- Posada was not "tricked" in his naturalization interview because "[the US] government] did warn Posada (in the presence of Posada’s lawyer) at the beginning of the interview that, among other things, he could exercise his right against self-incrimination if he thought that an answer would incriminate him, lying could subject him to criminal penalties, and any statement he gave could be used in any legal or administrative proceeding."

Furthermore, "Posada, not the government, triggered with his naturalization application a civil adjudicatory process that, by regulation, calls for both an investigation of the applicant and an interview."

- Suspicions that Posada was being setup by the US Justice Department are also unfounded because all evidence indicates Posada was given a fair immigration proceeding. The Fifth Circuit countered the description of Posada's "anomalous" two-day interview:

"More to the point is the undeniable fact that, given his history and notoriety, Posada was a highly unusual applicant. There is simply no reason to expect his naturalization interview to approximate that of a 'typical' applicant."

There are other excellent points in the Fifth Circuit's ruling describing Posada's immigration process as "bona fide" and an appropriate examination of the applicant's "moral character." But, the best part was the opinion showing that the interview transcripts and tapes has no reason to be thrown out from the original trial. According to the Fifth Circuit:

"It was not permissible for the district court [under Judge Kathleen Cardone] to suppress Posada’s statements at the interview unless translation errors affected the crucial questions and answers relevant to the false statements charged in the indictment in such a way that these statements, as a matter of law, may not form the basis for a false statements conviction. Otherwise the matter of Posada’s understanding of the questions should have been left to the jury."

Plain and simple, Judge Cardone basically ignored the basis of the 7-count criminal indictment against Posada which were found in the tapes and transcript, well translated and understood by Posada and the interpreter during the naturalization interview. The basis of those criminal indictments will be discussed here on Mambi Watch soon.

Anyway, John Council for Texas Lawyer gives us an indication that Posada's legal team will have a very tough road ahead as they attempt to take this case to the Supreme Court. But, as noted, most of the legal experts quoted in the article don't believe this particular case has a chance.

But, with Luis Posada Carriles, you never know what's going to happen next. In the meantime, expect Posada and his supporters to continue collecting funds for his legal expenses. But, since the negative reaction from his last public appearance, its seems that Posada may now keep a low profile.

[Photo above by C.M. Guerrero/El Nuevo Herald]

[Part 1]

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Have You Visited Yet?

If you haven't yet visited, take the time to check out the Along the Malecon blog. It's written by Tracy Eaton, a veteran journalist of 25 years and former news bureau chief in Havana, Cuba, for the Dallas Morning News from 2000 to 2005.

Eaton has plenty of pictures to share from Cuba, and plenty of stories to tell.

Today, Eaton mentions other photographers who work, or have worked, in Cuba, such as Rob O'Neal of the Key West Citizen. Eaton links to a new article by O'Neal on his recent trip to Cuba. It's pretty good, and again highlights US travel restrictions to Cuba. O'Neal mentions the story of the person he sat next to on the plane:

"I can't remember her name, but I found myself sitting next to a lovely lady whose parents live in Trinidad. Her father has Alzheimer's and she and her daughter had finally gotten a visa to see them. To this day, it amazes me that our government goes to such lengths to keep Cubans from their families all in the name of "propping up" the Cuban regime. Have you ever heard of China? There's still nothing like a good, old-fashioned American double-standard, is there? With the exception of dire medical emergencies, Cubans are allowed only one visit every THREE years. We impose that law on no other nationality, and that's a fact, Jack."

O'Neal recounts other interesting events on his 19th trip to Cuba. And, he ends with this:

"On the way back to Jose Marti International Airport the next day, I found it hard to believe another 10 days of adventure, camaraderie and virtually non-stop photography was coming to an end, again. I wondered how much longer it would be before the people of these neighboring countries [US and Cuba] could join again. The Cuban people have so much to offer, I hope someday you can see this for yourselves."

Many who support American restrictions on travel to Cuba are certainly wrong to prohibit people from experiencing a visit to the island. The right to travel must be distinguished from the right to protest. Just as all have the right to protest the Cuban government by voluntarily not traveling to Cuba, one should also have the right to protest and still travel to Cuba. Nobody should be coerced by the state to choose certain methods to fight for a cause.

Many who vehemently support travel restrictions to Cuba believe these methods will bring attention to their cause. But, the use of force, through imposed sanctions or travel restrictions, is not an honest way to call for or organize a movement for freedoms.

Freedom means granting people to the right to choose their fights and how to fight them. If one want to travel to Cuba and fight for human rights there, they should be able to. If one want to do nothing about a free Cuba, then so be it. That's freedom. But, it seems some people don't understand that.

[Photo above of Pinar Del Rio, Cuba]

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back to Court (Part 1)

Last week, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled against last year's release of Luis Posada Carriles from US custody.

When Posada was released last year, some news reports (including the Miami Herald) included a PDF link to the 38-page decision by the court judge, Kathleen Cardone. But, this recent appeals court ruling did not receive the same treatment, despite it being about the same length: 35 pages. Instead, the recent Herald report (by Alfonso Chardy) used a link to highlight an older Herald article, and not the relevant appeals court ruling. Well, I took the time to find the unpublished opinion at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals website, and found the ruling to be very informative. Read it here [PDF] at your leisure.

I also discovered that this ruling got less coverage in general than last year's ruling by Judge Cardone. Perhaps because it wasn't so surprising and sudden as Judge Cardone made it out to be. But, be assured that this recent appeals court ruling is incredibly informative and a sobering opinion that counters every argument that allowed Luis Posada Carriles to be released in the first place.

But before reviewing the Fifth Circuit Court's opinion, I want to quickly go over some of last year's reactions to the release of Luis Posada Carriles.

Posada was released on May 8th, 2007 by Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso, Texas. By May 11th, some opinions in the mainstream media surfaced. Columnist Eugene Robinson expressed his surprise, highlighting the inconsistency of waging a "War on Terror":

"I'll wager that the evidence against Posada, which I find compelling, is more solid than the secret evidence against most of the detainees at Guantanamo. But Posada's alleged crimes were against the Castro regime."

Columnist Rosa Brooks for the LA Times (also a law professor) had similar thoughts:

"So for now, Posada's a free man — even though the administration has sufficient evidence to arrest him for his role in either the 1976 airliner bombing or the 1997 Havana bombings. For that matter, Posada easily could be detained under Section 412 of the Patriot Act, which calls for the mandatory detention of aliens suspected of terrorism."

But, the editorial staff at the Miami Herald took a more nuanced position, mostly supportive of the decision by Judge Cardone, whom they described as a "courageous judge":

"The reason this case has attracted so much attention is that Mr. Posada is not just another Cuban immigrant. To his supporters, he is a genuine hero of the anti-Castro cause. To his detractors, he is a vicious terrorist. To Judge Cardone, he was like any other defendant who is entitled to certain rights under the U.S. Constitution."

The Herald editorial ends with: "The alternative [for the US prosecution] is to come up with evidence that Mr. Posada is a terrorist and present it before an impartial judicial forum. If it can't do this, the government should leave him alone."

This position by the Herald is quite odd, especially now that Judge Cardone's decision has been reversed. I would understand this bold position by the Herald if it had come AFTER the appeals court had sided with Judge Cardone, but instead it seems that the Herald was easily swayed by their "courageous judge." This is clearly a sign of bias by the editorial staff at the Miami Herald.

The Herald's editorial basically stands with every important argument made by Judge Cardone, leaving no room for doubt. But, there were people with doubts about the decision.

A very objective and informed opinion was expressed by Kevin Jon Heller, a professor of law in New Zealand, expert on international criminal law, and writer for the Opinio Juris blog. Jon Heller expressed his thoughts about the Posada case the day after Posada's release, and raised FOUR good points about Judge Cardone's decision. Those four points coincided (almost identically) with the opinion of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It was certainly prophetic.

So the doubts were there at the time, and they were good ones. How unfortunate that the Herald editorial staff didn't take a more cautious position.

Let's review the opinion of the Fifth Circuit.

[Part 2]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I'm Back!

Well, let's get the ball rolling again.

Honestly, I don't know if I will be able to post as often as I would like, but I feel the need to write about certain events that have occurred recently concerning US-Cuba relations, and would finally like to get those thoughts out. In which case, this blog can again serve some purpose. (I'm telling you, it just pulls you back in.)

It's been about 5 months since I last posted, so let's quickly review some missed events.

Last March I highlighted some prognostications made by two Cuba experts, Phil Peters (from the Lexington Institute) and Andy Gomez (from the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies), basically believing that Cuban President Raul Castro would soon make some economic changes.

Peters believed that the Cuban government had given some indication for reforms, and thought that those reforms would come "within a year." And, Raul Castro made those changes a lot faster than anticipated. Peters made these comments while interviewed on the Spanish-language show Maria Elvira Live last September (watch the interview on YouTube, courtesy of Harmonious Howl). Maria Elvira was skeptical of Raul Castro making any economic reforms, but publicly invited Phil Peters to come back a year later if those changes had occurred.

Maria Elvira, its time to schedule Peters back on the show for next month.

Andy Gomez from ICCAS made similar comments in a PBS interview more than a year ago, giving Raul Castro six months to a year to make "minimal economic reforms." Gomez stated in the interview that he feared a "large migration out of Cuba" if Raul didn't make those changes. Gomez happened to be partially right. Raul Castro made minimal reforms, but there is still a large number of Cuban immigrants coming to the US illegally. But, not at the dire level Gomez was fearing.

Furthermore, there are no signs of a significant internal instability in Cuba (a scenario the US Defense Intelligence Agency was keeping its eye on for "six or seven months" starting last February). Especially, one that would immediately threaten the power of the Cuban government. And, despite the public denouncements of continued repression against the internal Cuban opposition (which should be a great cause of concern to defenders of human rights), a general state of stability, nevertheless, remains around the island.

In the following posts I will return to some past moments (such as the Chris Simmons controversy), especially since I believe more commentary and facts went ignored, but I'm also happy to again contribute to the diversity of opinions being made in the blogosphere concerning the case of US-Cuba relations.

Thanks to all who have linked to this blog. I am humbled and honored.