Friday, January 20, 2012

Wilman Villar Mendoza (1980-2012)

"Villar Mendoza was charged with 'contempt' (desacato) and sentenced to four years in prison in a hearing that lasted less than an hour, his wife told Human Rights Watch. While she was allowed to attend the trial, dissidents who tried to enter the courtroom were denied access. Villar Mendoza was not given the opportunity to speak in his defense, nor was he represented by a defense lawyer, she said. His wife said he initiated his hunger strike to protest his unjust trial and imprisonment."

[Video of demonstration that landed Villar in jail, courtesy of Directorio Cubano Democratico]

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Newt Gingrich Interview on Radio Mambi [Updated]

Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich arrived in South Florida last Thursday just in time for an evening fundraiser in Coral Gables. The following day, Gingrich visited Little Havana where he pledged a hard-line policy towards Cuba in a written letter to Miami's most intransigent Cuban exile organization, Unidad Cubana. While Unidad Cubana seemed very pleased by Gingrich's promise, they were probably even more pleased that a Presidential candidate had actually endorsed such an extremist policy. The letter, undoubtedly written in Miami and not by Gingrich, has now raised policy expectations by the most hard-line in Little Havana.


Thursday's fundraiser was held at the luxurious Biltmore Hotel where Gingrich met up with Rep. David Rivera (FL-25) who, surprising some, is strongly endorsing and accompanied Gingrich while in Miami. Rep. Rivera was recently named one of the "most wanted corrupt politicians in Washington," and, according to Politico's Alex Isenstadt, accepting Rivera's endorsement shows Gingrich in a "scramble to put an organization in place" before the Florida primary. But, in Miami, Rivera is untouchable.

For years, David Rivera has been consistent with his hard-line policy towards Cuba (e.g. supporting 2006's Florida academic travel ban to terror-sponsoring nations like Cuba [now heading to the Supreme Court], proposing legislation to reform the Cuban adjustment act in order to punish Cubans in Miami who dare return to their homeland, and welcoming alleged criminals to Miami like Luis Posada Carriles). And, this is why Rivera still has many strong supporters in Miami, namely Cuban exile political leaders and other supporters of a "free Cuba."


Perhaps knowing that Newt Gingrich was "scrambling" for support in South Florida, hard-liners in Miami most likely saw an opportunity to raise the political stakes and asked Gingrich to accept their extremist positions on Cuba in exchange for the coveted Cuban-American vote.

Disguised as a letter written by Gingrich himself, the four points outlined describe traditional and recent frustrations from hard-line exiles in Miami. Keeping the U.S. embargo towards Cuba is standard, while full implementation of Helms-Burton has been a long-time grievance in Miami, but frustrated due to international pressure on Washington. Seeking criminal indictments of Fidel and Raul Castro was proposed by Rivera earlier this year, but has been part of the Cuban American National Foundation's policy recommendations for years, and a local project headed by Cuban exile militant Santiago Alvarez at least since 2010. And, reversing the Obama administration's relaxed travel restrictions for Cubans would be a tremendous relief for hard-liners who find it outrageously immoral to see Cubans traveling back and/or sending remittances to Cuba. (In reality, the new Obama travel policies are very popular in Miami, but hard-liners don't care.)


Before the interview on Friday morning, Newt Gingrich and David Rivera held a press conference inside the Univision Radio offices (Univision 23 report). Surrounded by the press, and various members of the hard-line Cuban exile community, Gingrich officially presented his so-called Cuba policy letter to Unidad Cubana, Miami's most intransigent Cuban exile organization. At the table, Gingrich sat next to Armando Perez-Roura, chairman of Unidad Cubana and programming director of Radio Mambi. Also nearby were members of Vigilia Mambisa, such as Laura Vianello and Miguel Saavedra.

Once ready inside the studio of Radio Mambi, Perez-Roura began by expressing his pleasure with the Gingrich pledge to fulfill the initiatives outlined in the letter. But, besides the outlined policy, Gingrich hardly had any other original ideas. Following his answer regarding Cuba travel restrictions, Gingrich added his idea of a "very aggressive public relations policy" which would include a "daily report" about human rights abuses and other violations by the Cuban government. The purpose of course would be to convince the world about the evil nature of the Cuban regime. But, I seriously doubt any country would use these reports to change their long-established relationships with Cuba.

When asked what he would do about the Alan P. Gross case, Gingrich gave no practical solution and instead suggested something similar to his "public relations policy" from before. Then, as if related in some way, Gingrich proposed implementing a "much more effective program" of intelligence and counter-intelligence "against pro-castro infiltrators." Of course, this is a nod to espionage cases like Ana Belen Montes and the Myers. But, with the U.S spending about $80 billion (!) on intelligence services, I'm confident that those agencies are doing just fine without Gingrich proposing a "more effective program" for them.


After leaving Miami, Gingrich's Cuba policy certainly lifted spirits and expectations, like that of Manuel Malgor. Besides being a member of AMCVA, Malgor is also active in other local political organizations that focus on Cuba, and he "couldn't find a single defect in what [Gingrich] said" concerning Cuba.

Armando Perez-Roura has told listeners that he now expects to receive a similar pledge from Mitt Romney upon his next visit to Little Havana. It will be very interesting to see how Romney's advisors can top the letter to Unidad Cubana. As a reminder, Perez-Roura has translated Gingrich's letter for the recent publication of Libre Magazine. (It is the only Spanish version since the Gingrich campaign forgot to translate it for their Spanish-language website.)

Little Havana is certainly looking forward to seeing Mitt Romney's Cuba policy.

[Newt Gingrich Interview on Radio Mambi]

Newt Gingrich Interview on Radio Mambi by Mambi Watch

Panama Ratifies Sentence Against Posada

I first heard this on Radio Mambi during today's noon news program. According to Spanish news agency EFE, the Second Appellate Court in Panama has ratified sentences imposed against Luis Posada Carriles and five other accomplices from 2004. The sentences stem from charges of "threatening public security and falsifying documents" after their arrest in Panama in 2000. This recent ruling paves the way to formally extradite Luis Posada Carriles to Panama. Armando Perez-Roura read the report on Radio Mambi and indicated forthcoming updates on mobilizing the community against the ruling.

Luis Posada was arrested in Panama in 2000 for what looked like another attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro. Posada and five others were found guilty on several charges. In April 2004, Posada was sentenced to eight years in prison for "threatening public security and falsifying documents." But, in August 2004, Posada was pardoned (along with his accomplices) by then-President Mireya Moscoso as she left office. The government of Cuba responded by cutting diplomatic ties with Panama.

The president that followed, Martin Torrijos, sought improved relations with Cuba (he traveled to Havana in 2005 to re-establish diplomatic ties) and his administration also attempted to rectify what it thought were corrupt practices during the Moscoso administration (recent Wikileaks cables described several complaints of bribery to the U.S. embassy).

In 2008, the pardons by Mireya Moscoso were targeted. Those who collaborated with pardoning Luis Posada Carriles were charged for abusing their authority, and in July 2008 Panama's Supreme Court overturned 182 pardons* granted by Moscoso, including Posada's.

This confirmation of Posada's sentence from 2004 opens the door for his possible extradition to Panama. Currently, Venezuela also has an extradition order for Posada related to his alleged involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian airplane, and other investigations related to torture as a Venezuelan intelligence officer. If granted, Panama would become the second country with an extradition order for Posada related to an act of terrorism.

According to the EFE report, Julio Berrios was identified as representing the plaintiffs in this case that confirmed Posada's sentence, and Rogelio Cruz was Posada's lawyer. (In case you didn't know, Berrios is one of Manuel Noriega's lawyers in Panama after Noriega's recent extradition from France.) And, according to Prensa Latina, Berrios will be joined by a grassroots organization called ULIP (Union de Lucha Integral del Pueblo) to file for an extradition order.

*[Wikileaks: Details of Pardon Revocation for Posada and 181 Others]

Friday, January 13, 2012

Archdiocese of Miami's Pilgrimage to Cuba

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski will be making a pilgrimage to Cuba for Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the island scheduled for late March, the Archdiocese said in a statement Thursday.

Benedict's trip, scheduled for March 26-28, will be the first by a pope since John Paul II's visit in 1998. It comes as Cuban Catholics celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of the Virgin of Charity, patroness of Cuba.

[Video and story courtesy of NBC 6 Miami]

[Excerpt from the official statement by Archbishop Thomas Wenski from the Archdiocese of Miami]

"Why are we going? The Cuban bishops have said: 'The Cuban people are one – wherever they are'. The Pope is traveling to Cuba to honor Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, during the jubilee year of the 400th anniversary of her presence on the island nation. We travel in solidarity with the Church in Cuba – and in response to their invitation to share with them this historic event."