Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Prize for Yoani's Bruises

Alex, from A Grand Illusion blog, has a great post about how Cuban exile hard-liners may be "deadly scared" about the moderate political views of Yoani Sanchez, the famous Cuban blogger. In his post, Alex highlights Yoani's past moderate viewpoints and mainly responds to Mauricio Claver-Carone, from Capitol Hill Cubans, who earlier this week tried to convince Yoani that those 178 U.S. Representatives who support the lifting of travel restrictions to Cuba are really trying "to take advantage of our [Cuban] family's diversity, in the hopes of hindering our united purpose."

This desperate attempt to deceive Yoani with a tale of Congressional conspiracy absolutely reveals that hard-liners, like Claver-Carone, ARE afraid of Yoani's moderate views, and the global attention they may generate.

So how are hard-liners going to deal with Yoani? Very carefully. This means they will emphasize Yoani's criticism against the Cuban government, acts of repression against her, but when it comes to her views on U.S. policy towards Cuba, she will have no voice. This has been the pattern with all other dissidents, many of whom do not support many aspects of U.S. policy.

If you don't believe me, here's a good example. The Cuban Liberty Council (CLC), one of Miami's most powerful Cuban exile organization, awarded Yoani Sanchez their "Heroes of Freedom" prize last Saturday. The award comes after Yoani has been blogging for about two years, has already gained worldwide attention, and her blog recognized with several international awards.

Why did it take so long for the CLC to award Yoani?

Simple, she's not hard-line enough. Like Alex showed in his post, in the past Yoani has not shown to be a hard-liner or militant. At least not as hard-lined as previous winners of the "Heroes of Freedom" prize, such as Roger Noriega, Mel Martinez or Carlos Gutierrez [full list of previous winners, PDF]. So, the CLC, like other organizations, kept their distance, suspicious of her authenticity.

So what made the CLC change it's mind? Answer: Yoani got beat up by Cuban state agents on November 6th.

After being violently attacked by Cuba's repressive machinery, Yoani recieved her bona fides for the CLC. You see, Yoani's writings were not enough, it took bruises and trauma for the hard-line to embrace Yoani because she now shared their pain. But, most of all, now the CLC had good propaganda: Yoani's traumatic experience would be used as proof of the evil Cuban government.

So why do I think this is what ultimately convinced the CLC?

After the violent incident on Nov. 6th, hard-liners on Radio Mambi (and other media outlets) seemed vindicated. Armando Perez-Roura, programming director of Radio Mambi, gave increased attention to Yoani Sanchez, reading her account of the incident on Radio Mambi, even quoting her entire blog post about the incident in his weekly column for Libre magazine. A rare move.

It was finally reported on November 17th that the CLC would award Yoani Sanchez the "Heroes of Freedom" prize for "her valor, her defense for the civil liberties of the Cuban people, and for the violent attacks she fell victim to, she deserves [the prize], but mostly for knowing how to get the attention of the world with her novel cybernetic struggle." The day of the award ceremony would fall on November 21st, the same day CLC would hold their annual fundraising dinner originally titled "A Cuban Evening with Albita" (Note that this post of the event from Nov. 11th had no mention yet of the award to Yoani, possibly meaning that CLC had not yet reached a consensus to award her).

On November 19th, CLC President Diego Suarez explained to Diario Las Americas (Ena Curnow) that they contacted Yoani "close to about 15 days" ago regarding giving her the prize. That estimate falls very close to the day Yoani was violently assaulted. According to Suarez, Yoani responded by saying it would be "a great honor."

On November 21st, the CLC fundraiser and award ceremony was attended by Diego Suarez, Ninoska Perez-Castellon, Luis Zuniga, Manuel Alzugaray, the new Mayor of the City of Miami, Tomas Regalado, and (of course) Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart.

All names above support U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba.

Yoani Sanchez does not support U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba.

But the CLC does not care.

[Photo by Sergio Alsina. (Left to right) Ninoska Perez-Castellon, Alberto Hernandez, Diego Suarez]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ileana Still Needs to Apologize

So I was watching online yesterday's hearing at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Committee met to hear witnesses and discuss (and sometimes debate) current U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba, which currently prohibits American tourism. I haven't yet finished watching the entire three hour meeting, but had to comment on something I saw that bothered me.

When I have more time I will try to summarize and comment on the other speeches given yesterday. But, if you haven't heard or read by now, yesterday's hearing had one moment that became "highly-charged" as they say [video excerpt above]. This happened when Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [FL-18] directed some controversial comments towards one of the invited witnesses, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey. It should be noted that Gen. McCaffrey is a highly decorated 32-year U.S. Army veteran (three times wounded in action) who also served as "Drug Czar" during the Clinton administration. But, this didn't stop Rep. Ros-Lehtinen from mocking his title, repeatedly interrupting him, and completely misquoting him.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen began by indicating that she would be quoting from Gen. McCaffrey's statements from an April hearing at the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. After first deriding with a sarcastic "woo" cheer Gen. McCaffrey's mention that he met Mr. Castro, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen posed several questions aimed to cast doubt on Gen. McCaffrey's professional assessment that Cuba does not pose a serious threat to U.S. national security. At the April hearing, Gen. McCaffery argued strongly that Cuba and the U.S. should be cooperating in matters to combat drug and human trafficking, and terrorist threats. He even mentioned peacebuilding efforts that would consider the training of Cuban officers in order to carry out these cooperative efforts.

But, of course, cooperation with the Cuban government in any fashion (even to protect U.S. interests) is considered heresy to militants like Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. Therefore, yesterday Rep. Ros-Lehtinen had all intentions to ridicule Gen. McCaffrey and his comments from April. But, in the end, just makes a total fool of herself. Lets review.


Rep. Ros-Lehtinen misquotes Gen. McCaffrey from the April hearing where he asserts that the Cuban government is not directly involved in drug-trafficking and drugs that wash up on the shores of the island. She reads a quote that goes:

"... but it was clear to me that they [drugs] were not on a government basis, but part of an international conspiracy to threaten the regime and to threaten their sense of communist morality."

This is what Gen. McCaffrey REALLY said:

"... but it was clear to me that they were not on a governmental basis and part of an international conspiracy. It would threaten the regime, and it'd threaten their sense of communist morality."

[Extended audio excerpt from April, MP3]

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's inaccurate quote makes Gen. McCaffrey appear to make a defensive argument. But instead he is making an assessment based on his professional review of the intelligence (mentioned in the April hearing), followed by a description based on his several meetings with Cuban officials.


Aside from the several attempts to disparage Gen. McCaffrey's professional expertise, and the reported disrespect by addressing him as "sir" instead of "general," Rep. Ros-Lehtinen displayed a complete lack of respect towards an invited committee witness with repeated interruptions, and making mockery of his title. Below is the heated exchange (Gen. McCaffrey in italics):

- I'm offended by your deliberate marginalization of my viewpoints. And let me go on to say that it is clear in my mind...

- Just quoting you sir.

- It is clear ...

- Are those not quotes sir? Are those quotes, yes or no?

- I'm offended by your language.

- You're offended by your quotes?

- Let me go on to continue to respond by telling you...

- What part of the quotes offend you? Your quotes offend me.

- Are you going to let me answer or you gonna...

- I have my five minutes. I can do with my five minutes what I wish "general."

The lack of respect is shocking. There is no question that Gen. McCaffrey as an invited witness still deserves an apology from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Her show of contempt yesterday was a poor example of how an elected U.S. Representative should act, and she should take immediate steps to apologize for her behavior, if she hasn't already.

(Speaking of apologies, has she ever apologized to Dollan Cannell, the filmmaker who caught her saying something on camera that she later denied and accused Cannell of manipulating?)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Have You No Conscience?"

That's Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart [FL-21] from last Monday. It seems that our favorite Congressman from Miami took the time on the House floor to remind everyone of Cuba's oppressed Cuban dissident movement, and comparing their repression to Jewish persecution, and shaming members of the American press for not doing enough to shed light on this genocide.

Rep. Diaz-Balart centered his speech on the health of political dissident Martha Beatriz Roque, who last week was described as gravely ill due to a hunger strike. But, Rep. Diaz-Balart on Monday declared that Roque was "close to death." Yesterday, Roque revealed herself to reporters in Havana who instead described her as "unsteady but far from death."

Huh? This is what happened...

Late last week, Miami Herald reporter Juan O. Tamayo reported about the deteriorating health of Martha Beatriz Roque during a hunger strike which began around Tuesday. (Local Spanish-language news stations America Teve and Telemundo51 also reported on the health of Roque.) The reports described Roque's condition jumping from extremely grave to stable based on examinations by an ambulance crew and one doctor. Tamayo's only source seemed to be political dissident Vladimiro Roca, who was also protesting alongside Roque. Then, on Sunday Roca reported [audio by Radio Marti] on Roque's latest diagnosis by one doctor. The diagnosis included a "sudden case of decompensation" (heart dysfunction by overload), "tachycardia" (abnormal rapid beating of the heart), paleness, sweating, and loss of consciousness.

By Monday morning, Marc Masferrer from the Uncommon Sense blog was convinced that "Cuban Dissident Martha Beatriz Roque is Dying." Masferrer wrote to his readers that this was "not a dramatic exaggeration" but "an accurate assessment of facts on the ground." By Monday evening on the House floor, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart was also convinced that this was the case. (Rep. Diaz-Balart also clearly exaggerated the number of dissidents on a hunger strike with Roque as "dozens" when all reports indicate less than ten) Therefore, he wondered why there was no media coverage about the dying Roque and asked:

"Members of the press, have you no conscience? Do not continue to treat the suffering, oppressed people of Cuba, and their heroes, as non-persons. Please do your duty."

I agree, the press must do its duty. Yesterday, after appearing before reporters Martha Beatriz Roque refused to answer specific questions about her health. Reporters must not allow the rumors of her health go unaccounted for. Did she, Vladimiro Roca, or any doctor exaggerate her condition for increased media coverage? Did their hunger strike end because of Rep. Diaz-Balart's inaccurate public statements?

Cuba's dissidents cannot allow their credibility to be tainted. Their actions must be transparent and without doubt about their goals advocating human rights. Neither should their actions be concerned with politicians who exploit their suffering for selfish gain.

... And Still the Same U.S. Policy [Updated]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has just released an new 123-page report on Cuba focused on its systematic (and often violent) repression of dissent inside the island. In sum, the report calls for a multilateral policy towards Cuba, rejecting the U.S. embargo, and placing maximum pressure on the Cuban government for the release of political prisoners and a change to its repressive laws.

This new report is based on "more than 60 in-depth interviews [from June and July 2009] with human rights defenders, journalists, former political prisoners, family members of current political prisoners, members of the clergy, trade unionists, and other Cuban citizens." It is an impressive report [summary and full report], here's a sample:

"Raúl Castro’s government has relied in particular on a provision of the Cuban Criminal Code that allows the state to imprison individuals before they have committed a crime, on the suspicion that they might commit an offense in the future. This “dangerousness” provision is overtly political, defining as “dangerous” any behavior that contradicts socialist norms. The most Orwellian of Cuba’s laws, it captures the essence of the Cuban government’s repressive mindset, which views anyone who acts out of step with the government as a potential threat and thus worthy of punishment."

"Imprisonment is only one of the many tactics the Cuban government uses to repress fundamental freedoms. Dissidents who try to express their views are often beaten, arbitrarily arrested, and subjected to public acts of repudiation. The government monitors, intimidates, and threatens those it perceives as its enemies. It isolates them from their friends and neighbors and discriminates against their families."

I also noticed that some bloggers have already mentioned some points like the above, but have not yet gotten to the other important part of the report: the recommendations.

It should be first noted that a multilateral policy towards Cuba has been dismissed for years by hard-liners and militants who instead desire an overthrow of the Cuban government through unilateral pressure (or intervention) from the U.S. government. So, some are going to ignore or reject the recommendations by HRW.

According to HRW: "The embargo imposes indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole, and has done nothing to improve the situation of human rights in Cuba. Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States, enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad while simultaneously alienating Washington’s potential allies."

Therefore: "To remedy this continuing failure, the US must end its failed embargo policy. It should shift the goal of its Cuba strategy away from regime change and toward promoting human rights. In particular, it should replace its sweeping bans on travel and trade with Cuba with more effective forms of pressure."

HRW recommends a multilateral policy that includes 1) a firm committment from "[the European Union], Canada and Latin American allies" to demand the "immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners" inside Cuba; 2) the commitment must include an agreement on the definition of "political prisoner"; 3) provide a six-month deadline that includes punitive measures (such as targeted sanctions) if the Cuban government does not comply; and 4) once this committment is secured, the U.S. must end its embargo towards Cuba

If the Cuban government does not release its political prisoners, the multilateral coalition must impose its targeted sanctions policy. If all political prisoners are released then the coalition should continue with a strategy to pressure Cuba to change its repressive laws on dissent.

The recommendations are bold and its application a moral imperative. I see no reason to ignore or dismiss the recommendations, given the facts of the report.

--- [Update] ---

The Cuban Interest Section in Washington D.C. has already responded to the HRW report saying:

"HRW is an organization that analyzes this issue from a discriminatory, selective and above all politicized perspective. Its evaluation of human rights in Cuba is illegitimate and illegal."

"The presentation of this report in a news conference precisely today has no other intention than to divert the public's attention from the hearing by the international relations committee of Congress on the elimination of restrictions on Americans' travel to Cuba. That audience will be tomorrow. No doubt, a strange coincidence!"

It should be reiterated that HRW, along with Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, has called for the end of the U.S. embargo repeatedly and consistently, including U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba.