Monday, August 27, 2007

Cuban Custody Battle Gets Heated in Miami

Sounds like an another interesting day down at the Miami Courthouse in the custody trial of the 4-year old Cuban girl that is finally beginning to get some press attention.

In early action, Florida prosecutors got berated by the Judge for trying to argue that a 4 year-old child would be "irrevocably harmed" by being reunited with his father in a small town in Cuba - something both the father and mother desperately want.

The center of the case now seems to lie on whether Rafael Izquierda, the 4-year old girl's biological father, lost his rights by not acting like a good father. His fault seems to be that he allowed his child to go to the United States with his mother seeking a better life for his child. How was he supposed to know it would lead them to ruin and result in this needless custody fight? After all, he hears the same propoganda we all do about the American Dream.

There was an interesting disclosure about why there is no written documentation of the birth mother's (Elena Perez) supposedly having given up custody of her child in Feb. 2006. It is apparently because the previous judge - Spencer Elg, who represented the Miami relatives of Elizan Gonzales 7 years ago - did not sign the needed paperwork. The current Judge Cohen, tried to minimize the issue by saying Elg could just sign a document saying it happened exactly like the State says. I would no imply that the current Judge could be influenced by her predecessor's conflict of interest. But as the Miami Herald reports, this certainly got things cookin':

That prompted a tense hourlong argument with lawyers for the girl's birth parents. Cohen at first declined to discuss the missing documents.

"Can we be heard?'' asked Ira Kurzban, a lawyer for Rafael Izquierdo, the girl's birth father. "This is outrageous. This is Alice in Wonderland.''

Cohen read long passages from the transcript of the Feb. 21, 2006, hearing, in which Perez described in detail her struggles in the United States after she legally emigrated from Cuba with her two children.

''I was coming here with great ideas, thinking only positive things for me and my children,'' she said, according to the transcript.

But as soon as Perez arrived at Miami International Airport her husband, Jesus Melendres, abandoned her. ''My dream [was] to stay in the U.S.,'' Perez said. His desire [was] to go back to Cuba.''

With the help of Catholic Charities, Perez said, she resettled in Houston, where she found a job at a shampoo factory. Months later, struggling for work and help with the children, she returned to Miami.

Perez said she called 911 because she desperately needed help. ''I did this looking for protection for my children,'' she said.

Both Kurzban and Greer Wallace, Perez's lawyer, said the transcript shows Perez did not give up custody voluntarily. For one thing, they said, Perez did not have a court interpreter. A relative of Perez's estranged husband, who may have had motives of his own, they said, translated.

The transcript shows Perez appeared confused: ''It's just that I don't understand,'' she said at one point.

Wow! So the State of Florida is arguing it is ok to take the custody away from a woman (and father) based on the fine print of a conversation that took place with a crooked would-be translator? Someone needs to tell the Judge that the United States says you must disregard anything said without a a Grade A plus official Government translator is null and voice - so much that it compells us to release known terrorists.

But how about the situation of poor Mrs. Perez. Granted we don't know the whole story, but the fact that her husband left her and then goes BACK to Cuba is astounding. So is her opinion of the American Dream. But as that does not fit in the narrative Mr. Cubas is so known for.

This case appears to be going the way of justice, probably the reason why the Cuban press (and Fidel) have so far been silent about the case. But the silence of the US media speaks volumes about how stories that don't fit the mold of the "American Dream" get treated (only the Post, NPR, a few papers and local Florida media have really covered the story thus far, but I sense a surge gathering).


US-Cuba Custody Battle Heats Up - Elian Pt II?

Joe Cubas - infamous "sports agent" specializing in bribing Cuban baseball players to defect for promises of corvettes, blonds and millions. He's since had to quit that gig after he was found to have abused the very players he was supposed to "help."

Rafael Izquierdo, a part-time fisherman and malanga farmer who wants his child back in Cuba. The mother agrees. This should be an open and shut case. But with Cuba, it never is. And when money and power are against you, you can never trust the law.

Expect this case to heat up in the media now that a gag order was lifted by the judge in the case. Beyond the blatant injustice involved, where a mother and father lose their rights to act in the best interests of a child, I was struck by this quote from the mother of the children, who left Cuba in 2005: “I know it goes wonderfully for some people, but I’m very disenchanted in this country,” Ms Pérez said. “My experience here has been abysmal. My two children and I experienced nothing but hard times.

Judging from some comments from the Miami Cuban exile community, it appears they have learned their lesson about looking like anti-family extremists in front of the nation. Unfortunately the State of Florida has not.

Times UK - August 28, 2007
Cuban fisherman fights celebrity sports agent for tug-of-love daughter
James Bone in New York

A Cuban man’s struggle to retrieve his young daughter from a prominent Cuban-American foster father in Miami threatens to start a new tug-of-war between the two nations, reminiscent of the battle over Elian González.

Rafael Izquierdo, 32, a part-time fisherman who farms malanga and other crops in the small town of Cabaiguán, went to court in Miami yesterday to seek the return of his four-year-old daughter, who was taken to America by her mother.

But the state of Florida argued that the girl should remain with her foster father, Joe Cubas, 46, a controversial former sports agent who made a career out of representing defecting Cuban baseball stars.

The custody battle had been proceeding quietly in family court until the judge lifted a gagging order on both sides before the trial. “It’s going to explode,” Judge Jerri Cohen said. “I know that as sure as I sit here. I can’t prevent that.”

Mr Izquierdo’s daughter arrived in Florida in 2004 when her mother, Elena Pérez, won a visa lottery allowing her to move to America with her son and daughter, each of whom has a different father. Both fathers gave their permission for their children to go with Ms Pérez, but she lost custody of them when she was taken to hospital after a suicide attempt in December 2005.

“I know it goes wonderfully for some people, but I’m very disenchanted in this country,” Ms Pérez said. “My experience here has been abysmal. My two children and I experienced nothing but hard times. One horrible night, I decided that my kids would be better off without me and did something stupid. I’m not crazy. I have been depressed and had many sleepless nights, but I’m fine.”

The two children ended up in foster care with Mr Cubas, who became something of a folk hero in Miami’s “Little Havana” because of his career. He reportedly lost his certification as a sports agent in 2005 after one defector accused him of refusing to return his immigration papers unless he paid triple the standard fee. Mr Cubas now works in real estate. Ms Pérez agreed to allow the Cubas family to adopt her son, now 13, but not her daughter.

Mr Izquierdo says that he will not return to Cuba until he can take his daughter back home, where she has a room with a bed and toys waiting for her. “When I let her come, it was with the understanding that she was coming with her mother. Now she belongs with me,” he told reporters.

Mr Cubas insists that the two half-siblings should remain together. The state of Florida agrees. Florida officials have filed court papers alleging that Ms Pérez told fellow residents in Cabaiguán that Mr Izquierdo beat her, including once with a coat hanger, and “did not want Ms Pérez to carry her pregnancy to term”. Ms Pérez denies that she was the victim of abuse.

The Cuban exile community in Miami is bracing itself for the little girl to be sent back to the communist island, as Elian González was.

“If the mother is saying she should be with the father, and the father is saying he wants his daughter, it would be very difficult for her not to go with him,” said Ninoska Pérez Castellón, a popular local Spanish-language radio host. “Cubans understand that the right of parents should be above all.”


Friday, August 24, 2007

Viva Fidel Castro: Why America Hates Cuba

As the (probably wrong once again) rumors fly in Miami, perhaps it is time to reflect on why the United States has always hated Fidel Castro Ruz. The answer is simple, and serious US foreign policy documents have always been clear about this. The risk is that the very existence of the regime, by not subordinating itself to the world power just 90 miles away, is just an unacceptable defiance for the rest of the world.

Let us hear what someone else has said on the matter

What is Cuba’s sin? What honest person has any reason to attack her?

With their own blood and the weapons seized from the enemy, the Cuban people overthrew a cruel tyranny with 80,000 men under arms, imposed by the U.S. government.

Cuba was the first territory free from imperialist domination in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the only country in the hemisphere, throughout post-colonial history, where the torturers, murderers and war criminals that took the lives of tens of thousands of people were exemplarily punished.

All of the country’s land was recovered and turned over to the peasants and agricultural workers. The natural resources, industries and basic services were placed in the hands of their only true owner: the Cuban nation.

In less than 72 hours, fighting ceaselessly, day and night, Cuba crushed the Bay of Pigs mercenary invasion organized by a U.S. administration, thereby preventing a direct military intervention by this country and a war of incalculable consequences. The Revolution already had the Rebel Army, over 400,000 weapons and hundreds of thousands of militia members.

In 1962, Cuba confronted with honor, and without a single concession, the risk of being attacked with dozens of nuclear weapons.

It defeated the dirty war that spread throughout the entire country, at a cost in human lives even greater than that of the war of liberation.

It stoically endured thousands of acts of sabotage and terrorist attacks organized by the U.S. government.

It thwarted hundreds of assassination plots against the leaders of the Revolution.

While under a rigorous blockade and economic warfare that have lasted for almost half a century, Cuba was able to eradicate in just one year the illiteracy that has still not been overcome in the course of more than four decades by the rest of the countries of Latin America, or the United States itself.

It has brought free education to 100% of the country’s children.

It has the highest school retention rate –over 99% between kindergarten and ninth grade– of all of the nations in the hemisphere.

Its elementary school students rank first worldwide in the knowledge of their mother language and mathematics.

The country also ranks first worldwide with the highest number of teachers per capita and the lowest number of students per classroom.

All children with physical or mental challenges are enrolled in special schools.

Computer education and the use of audiovisual methods now extend to all of the country’s children, adolescents and youth, in both the cities and the countryside.

For the first time in the world, all young people between the ages of 17 and 30, who were previously neither in school nor employed, have been given the opportunity to resume their studies while receiving an allowance.

All citizens have the possibility of undertaking studies that will take them from kindergarten to a doctoral degree without spending a penny.

Today, the country has 30 university graduates, intellectuals and professional artists for every one there was before the Revolution.

The average Cuban citizen today has at the very least a ninth-grade level of education.

Not even functional illiteracy exists in Cuba.

There are schools for the training of artists and art instructors throughout all of the country’s provinces, where over 20,000 young people are currently studying and developing their talent and vocation. Tens of thousands more are doing the same at vocational schools, and many of these then go on to undertake professional studies.

University campuses are progressively spreading to all of the country’s municipalities. Never in any other part of the world has such a colossal educational and cultural revolution taken place as this that will turn Cuba, by far, into the country with the highest degree of knowledge and culture in the world, faithful to Martí’s profound conviction that "no freedom is possible without culture."

Infant mortality has been reduced from 60 per 1000 live births to a rate that fluctuates between 6 and 6.5, which is the lowest in the hemisphere, from the United States to Patagonia.

Life expectancy has increased by 15 years.

Infectious and contagious diseases like polio, malaria, neonatal tetanus, diphtheria, measles, rubella, mumps, whooping cough and dengue have been eradicated; others like tetanus, meningococcal meningitis, hepatitis B, leprosy, hemophilus meningitis and tuberculosis are fully controlled.

Today, in our country, people die of the same causes as in the most highly developed countries: cardiovascular diseases, cancer, accidents, and others, but with a much lower incidence.

A profound revolution is underway to bring medical services closer to the population, in order to facilitate access to health care centers, save lives and alleviate suffering.

In-depth research is being carried out to break the chain, mitigate or reduce to a minimum the problems that result from genetic, prenatal or childbirth-related causes.

Cuba is today the country with the highest number of doctors per capita in the world, with almost twice as many as those that follow closer.

Our scientific centers are working relentlessly to find preventive or therapeutic solutions for the most serious diseases.

Cubans will have the best healthcare system in the world, and will continue to receive all services absolutely free of charge.

Social security covers 100% of the country’s citizens.

In Cuba, 85% of the people own their homes and they pay no property taxes on them whatsoever. The remaining 15% pay a wholly symbolic rent, which is only 10% of their salary.

Illegal drug use involves a negligible percentage of the population, and is being resolutely combated.

Lottery and other forms of gambling have been banned since the first years of the Revolution to ensure that no one pins their hopes of progress on luck.

There is no commercial advertising on Cuban television and radio or in our printed publications. Instead, these feature public service announcements concerning health, education, culture, physical education, sports, recreation, environmental protection, and the fight against drugs, accidents and other social problems. Our media educate, they do not poison or alienate. They do not worship or exalt the values of decadent consumer societies.

Discrimination against women was eradicated, and today women make up 64% of the country’s technical and scientific workforce.

From the earliest months of the Revolution, not a single one of the forms of racial discrimination copied from the south of the United States was left intact. In recent years, the Revolution has been particularly striving to eliminate any lingering traces of the poverty and lack of access to education that afflicted the descendants of those who were enslaved for centuries, creating objective differences that tended to be perpetuated. Soon, not even a shadow of the consequences of that terrible injustice will remain.

There is no cult of personality around any living revolutionary, in the form of statues, official photographs, or the names of streets or institutions. The leaders of this country are human beings, not gods.

In our country there are no paramilitary forces or death squads, nor has violence ever been used against the people. There are no executions without due process and no torture. The people have always massively supported the activities of the Revolution. This rally today is proof of that.

Light years separate our society from what has prevailed until today in the rest of the world. We cultivate brotherhood and solidarity among individuals and peoples both in the country and abroad.

The new generations and the entire people are being educated about the need to protect the environment. The media are used to build environmental awareness.

Our country steadfastly defends its cultural identity, assimilating the best of other cultures while resolutely combating everything that distorts, alienates and degrades.

The development of wholesome, non-professional sports has raised our people to the highest ranks worldwide in medals and honors.

Scientific research, at the service of our people and all humanity, has increased several-hundredfold. As a result of these efforts, important medications are saving lives in Cuba and other countries.

Cuba has never undertaken research or development of a single biological weapon, because this would be in total contradiction with the principles and philosophy underlying the education of our scientific personnel, past and present.

In no other people has the spirit of international solidarity become so deeply rooted.

Our country supported the Algerian patriots in their struggle against French colonialism, at the cost of damaging political and economic relations with such an important European country as France.

We sent weapons and troops to defend Algeria from Moroccan expansionism, when the king of this country sought to take control of the iron mines of Gara Djebilet, near the city of Tindouf, in southwest Algeria.

At the request of the Arab nation of Syria, a full tank brigade stood guard between 1973 and 1975 alongside the Golan Heights, when this territory was unjustly seized from that country.

The leader of the Republic of Congo when it first achieved independence, Patrice Lumumba, who was harassed from abroad, received our political support. When he was assassinated by the colonial powers in January of 1961, we lent assistance to his followers.

Four years later, in 1965, Cuban blood was shed in the western region of Lake Tanganyika, where Che Guevara and more than 100 Cuban instructors supported the Congolese rebels who were fighting against white mercenaries in the service of the man supported by the West, that is, Mobutu whose 40 billion dollars, the same that he stole, nobody knows what European banks they are kept in, or in whose power.

The blood of Cuban instructors was shed while training and supporting the combatants of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, who fought under the command of Amilcar Cabral for the liberation of these former Portuguese colonies.

The same was true during the ten years that Cuba supported Agostinho Neto’s MPLA in the struggle for the independence of Angola. After independence was achieved, and over the course of 15 years, hundreds of thousands of Cuban volunteers participated in defending Angola from the attacks of racist South African troops that in complicity with the United States, and using dirty war tactics, planted millions of mines, wiped out entire villages, and murdered more than half a million Angolan men, women and children.

In Cuito Cuanavale and on the Namibian border, to the southwest of Angola, Angolan and Namibian forces together with 40,000 Cuban troops dealt the final blow to the South African troops. This resulted in the immediate liberation of Namibia and speeded up the end of apartheid by perhaps 20 to 25 years. At the time, the South Africans had seven nuclear warheads that Israel had supplied to them or helped them to produce, with the full knowledge and complicity of the U.S. government.

Throughout the course of almost 15 years, Cuba had a place of honor in its solidarity with the heroic people of Viet Nam, caught up in a barbaric and brutal war with the United States. That war killed four million Vietnamese, in addition to all those left wounded and mutilated, not to mention the fact that the country was inundated with chemical compounds that continue to cause incalculable damage. The pretext: Viet Nam, a poor and underdeveloped country located 20,000 kilometers away, constituted a threat to the national security of the United States.

Cuban blood was shed together with that of citizens of numerous Latin American countries, and together with the Cuban and Latin American blood of Che Guevara, murdered on instructions from U.S. agents in Bolivia, when he was wounded and being held prisoner after his weapon had been rendered useless by a shot received in battle.

The blood of Cuban construction workers, that were nearing completion of an international airport vital for the economy of a tiny island fully dependent on tourism, was shed fighting in defense of Grenada, invaded by the United States under cynical pretexts.

Cuban blood was shed in Nicaragua, when instructors from our Armed Forces were training the brave Nicaraguan soldiers confronting the dirty war organized and armed by the United States against the Sandinista revolution.

And there are even more examples.

Over 2000 heroic Cuban internationalist combatants gave their lives fulfilling the sacred duty of supporting the liberation struggles for the independence of other sister nations. However, there is not one single Cuban property in any of those countries. No other country in our era has exhibited such sincere and selfless solidarity.

Cuba has always preached by example. It has never given in. It has never sold out the cause of another people. It has never made concessions. It has never betrayed its principles. There must be some reason why, just 48 hours ago, it was reelected by acclamation in the United Nations Economic and Social Council to another three years in the Commission on Human Rights, of which it has now been a member for 15 straight years.

More than half a million Cubans have carried out internationalist missions as combatants, as teachers, as technicians or as doctors and health care workers. Tens of thousands of the latter have provided their services and saved millions of lives over the course of more than 40 years. There are currently 3000 specialists in Comprehensive General Medicine and other healthcare personnel working in the most isolated regions of 18 Third World countries. Through preventive and therapeutic methods they save hundreds of thousands of lives every year, and maintain or restore the health of millions of people, without charging a penny for their services.

Without the Cuban doctors offered to the United Nations in the event that the necessary funds are obtained –without which entire nations and even whole regions of sub-Saharan Africa face the risk of perishing– the crucial programs urgently needed to fight AIDS would be impossible to carry out.

The developed capitalist world has created abundant financial capital, but it has not in any way created the human capital that the Third World desperately needs.

Cuba has developed techniques to teach reading and writing by radio, with accompanying texts now available in five languages –Haitian Creole, Portuguese, French, English and Spanish– that are already being used in numerous countries. It is nearing completion of a similar program in Spanish, of exceptionally high quality, to teach literacy by television. These are programs that were developed in Cuba and are genuinely Cuban. We are not interested in patents and exclusive copyrights. We are willing to offer them to all of the countries of the Third World, where most of the world’s illiterates are concentrated, without charging a penny. In five years, the 800 million illiterate people in the world could be reduced by 80%, at a minimal cost.

After the demise of the USSR and the socialist bloc, nobody would have bet a dime on the survival of the Cuban Revolution. The United States tightened the blockade. The Torricelli and Helms-Burton Acts were adopted, both extraterritorial in nature. We abruptly lost our main markets and supplies sources. The population’s average calorie and protein consumption was reduced by almost half. But our country withstood the pressures and even advanced considerably in the social field.

Today, it has largely recovered with regard to nutritional requirements and is rapidly progressing in other fields. Even in these conditions, the work undertaken and the consciousness built throughout the years succeeded in working miracles. Why have we endured? Because the Revolution has always had, as it still does and always will to an ever-greater degree, the support of the people, an intelligent people, increasingly united, educated and combative.

Cuba was the first country to extend its solidarity to the people of the United States on September 11, 2001. It was also the first to warn of the neo-fascist nature of the policy that the extreme right in the United States, which fraudulently came to power in November of 2000, was planning to impose on the rest of the world. This policy did not emerge as a response to the atrocious terrorist attack perpetrated against the people of the United States by members of a fanatical organization that had served other U.S. administrations in the past. It was coldly and carefully conceived and developed, which explains the country’s military build-up and enormous spending on weapons at a time when the Cold War was already over, and long before September 11, 2001. The fateful events of that day served as an ideal pretext for the implementation of such policy.

All said by Fidel Castro himself in a speech in 2003


Monday, August 20, 2007

Cuban Activists Gathering Signatures to Change Cuba Law on Hard Currency

A "dollar store" (that no longer takes dollars) in Havana.

The Associated Press
Friday, August 17, 200
HAVANA: A little-known group of rural Cuban woman said Friday it has gathered more than 6,000 signatures petitioning lawmakers to study the possibility of a law closing the gaps in a dual economy they say hurts the island's poorest people the most.

The petition asks the government to allow the use of standard Cuban pesos — the currency of state employee salaries — in upscale stores, restaurants and hotels that only accept the convertible Cuban peso, whose value is linked to the U.S. dollar.

Crowded into the tiny living room of a modest Havana apartment, a half-dozen members of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women told journalists that they launched their campaign, called "With the Same Money," a year ago and still need 4,000 more signatures to present them to the Cuban parliament, known as the National Assembly.

Sounds like a basis for an interesting discussion, though at first thought it perhaps seems to defeat the very purpose of having "hard currency" stores. But I wish them luck.

At least that was my sentiment until I clicked on the link and immediately saw mentions of a tribute to Brothers to the Resuce, releasing "political prisoners," an "independent library" and other Miami fingerprints. So I did of quick bit of googlng and found that FLAMUR was started by a Mrs. Magaedilia Hidalgo" - who is from Las Tunas but now lives in Miami. She was an "independent journalist" for the US Government funded Cuba Free Press association and also ran an independent library out of her home. The video of a FLAMUR meeting, begins with thanking Freedom House - another US Govt funded anti-Cuba org. There are other links to a Polish "Solidarity with Cuba" group, who just met with US "Transition Coordinatory" Caleb McCarry... alltogether not the best company for a group trying something like this. Why is it always the same story?

One might also wonder why a "rural" group would be concerned about shopping at hard currency stores since they are mostly in urban areas?


Obama Calls for Easing Anti-Cuba Restrictions

So Barack Obama has taken the bold step into Cuban-American politics. He is set to release an op-ed announcing his intention to reverse a couple mean-spirited Bush policies that affect Cuban-Americans ability to travel and send money to relatives.

Obama's move is a modest and politically popular position - even in most Miami neighborhoods. Still, to be the first to stake out this easy position was politically very smart. It could help him in the Florida (and NJ) primaries. If someone wanted to trump him, and get help in the farm states, they'd pledge to also end the senseless agricultural restrictions (on payment and just doing business). If convictions trumped politics, they'd pledge to also end the travel ban.

I find the hardline response in the Herald (from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Claver-Carone) to be completely uninformed: "It (Obama's as yet unknown op-ed) entrenches the regime at this historic time."

Havana already knows the their prospects in Washington are better than at any time in recent history. As long as they don't make any mistakes, Cuba will be in a position to negotiate (behind the scenes) with the next Admin successfully. I think Raul has been trying to make that clear. Cuba could care little about reversing these stupid Bush policies. They will wait until they get a just return from the US in return for any planned reforms. Perhaps a grand bargain - property claims cancel out embargo damages. End of embargo for certain political or economic adjustments that give the US political cover. The path seems to be getting clearer as Cuba's relative strength increases. Obama however, is not to blame - Bush's stupid policies and Cuba's relative strength and stability are.

UPDATE: The editorial is online now and while it predictably talks a lot about what Cuba must do, it also talks about positive steps an Obama Administration is willing to do to at the same time to eventually, hopefull, drop the embargo.

Obama's piece blends nicely with what is coming out of Havana in terms of a view towards an endgame negotiated settlement. The following paragraph, to me, is more significant than any appeal to drop a couple anti-family Bush provisions. It is the first time I've heard a serious candidate talk about moving concurrently with Cuba, rather than wait for some unrealistic moving target of Western style markets and democracy in Cuba.

Accordingly, I will use aggressive and principled diplomacy to send an important message: If a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change, the United States (the president working with Congress) is prepared to take steps to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has governed relations between our countries for the last five decades. That message coming from my administration in bilateral talks would be the best means of promoting Cuban freedom. To refuse to do so would substitute posturing for serious policy -- and we have seen too much of that in other areas over the past six years.


Cuban Five Appeal Begins in Atlanta

Today a US federal appeals court began reconsidering whether the "Cuban Five" - 5 Cubans convicted of spying on violent Miami exile groups - are going to get a new trial. They were arrested in 1998 and given long sentances (including 3 life terms), by a Miami area jury, which was later (unprecidentedly) found by an Court to be fatally biased and unfair. This same court later overruled that decision, bringing us here to deal with the trial's other serious problems...

In Cuba, the Five are considered hereos for infiltrating groups connected to terrorist groups who were placing bombs in hotels in Havana in the mid 1990s and were planning more. The Cuban government says the trial was political and accuses the US of double standards in the fight against terror (particularly coming a few days after one of the actual terrorists were let out early from jail after doing jsut 22 months).

The court in Atlanta is hearing oral submissions on defence claims about lack of evidence and the length of the sentences. It must then decide if there are grounds for a retrial.

The 5 men's lawyers are arguing that no evidence was produced in the courtroom that proved the prosecutors chief accusation - that they were guilty of obtaining and transmitting US military secrets to Havana. The prosecution broke Court rules in making this accusation and numerous improprieties were observed in the closing arguments. Numerous ex-high ranking US officials who viewed the evidence said in Court, that it showed no secrets or sensitive information was comprimised. The 5 were using 100% open sources like newspapers and flight patterns.

Defense lawyers will also argue the 3 life terms, 12 and 19 year sentences were unduly harsh, considering similar cases. An American agent of Sadaam Hussein was given only 4 years for doing similar work for Iraq. Also, the very fact that the US sees it their right to work covertly in other countries to thwart terrorism. Why can't Cuba???

Meanwhile, the US press continues to misrepresent the case, calling them spies in their headlines. The Miami Herald reports on opening arguments on Day 1.

There are more than 300 chapters of "FREE THE FIVE" groups worldwide, yet few Americans know about the case. The head of the gruops said, ''If the American people only knew of the mission of these men, they'd call for their freedom immediately,. They fought terrorism peacefully. They only monitored and reported. And that's what's so egregious about this case.'


Friday, August 17, 2007

Unfree Markets = Increased Latin American Prosperity

The normally half-way decent Economist magazine published a totally dishonest piece this week trying to spin a story about the growing middle class in Latin America TOTALLY to the right. While the UN (ECLAC) report the piece is supposedly based on it upbeat, it says nothing to support the thesis that moderate market friendly policies are finally paying dividends for the poor. They focus (conveniently) on Mexico and Brazil, though the data points toward Argentina leading Venezuela registering the most significant drops in poverty. Of course those 2 countries are doing exactly what the US and neo-liberal concensus deplore - increasing State control over natural resources and monetary policy.

I wrote about this particular media crime over at BloggingsbyBoz:

Yeah, the macro economic snad social situation is much improved today versus just 5-6 years ago. But the region is only finally getting to the point where they were in 1980. We all know what kind of reforms characterized the period of 1980-2002. We all know the trends since then...

Unconscionably, in a piece obsencibly about poverty reduction, not one mention is made of the place where rates have fallen the fastest, and most impressively = Venezuela. HH poverty rates have gone from 55% in 2003 to 30.1% in 2006 - a more dramatic decline than in even Argentina since their collapse.

Meanwhile, the stats regarding the "golden boys" of Mexico and Brazil had to be cherry picked from other sources to sound convincing. The reality is that Brazil has seen a miniscule decrease in poverty rates since '99 (1.5% points), and Mexico barely moved under Fox. Likewise "market friendly" Costa Rica, Panama and Peru recorded the largest poverty INcreases in that time frame. Conversely, the biggest employment boosts in the last 3 years came in Argentina, Uruguay, Panama and Venezuela. The report takes a special look at Argentina and concludes the ("peronist") economic growth of the last few years resulted in hugely better employment and wage results than during even similar growth periods during the "macroeconomic reforms" of decades previous (pg 120).

It is true that informal and temporary employment continues to rise at the expense of permanent private and State jobs. But this is nothing to applaud, as wages, labor rights, stability and social security all go out the window. The ability of States to fund retirees is becoming in serious doubt. In Brazil and Mexico, fewer workers have SS coverage than in 1990. In fact, in only four countries (Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru) did the
purchasing power of wages actually fall during the period. In Mexico the real minimum wage also fell.

The simple fact is that Brazil and Mexico lag well behind the pack in nearly every measure, while Venezuela and Argentina strongly lead. To say, market reforms are "FINALLY bearing some fruit" is more than a little digingenous. Shameful.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cuba: Hope or No Hope After Raul's Big Speech?

After the historic speech by Raul Castro 2 weeks ago, one might wonder how Cubans are reacting. One might even wonder how the same old official half-dozen "dissidents" are feeling. Do they feel "hope" or not. Well it depends, as we see through the magic of google. 2 good ole non idiological reporters reach 2 totally opposite opinions based on almost the exact same content. This is the type of sh*t Cuba watchers like me have to deal with in the US.

Hint: read the headlines of the top 2 stories carefully.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

22 Cubans on anti-US Hunger Strike - At Gitmo

As a 22 person hunger strike continues on American soil, only the AP (outside of Miami) has written or said anything on this sad story in the US press. A total of 16 newspapers of the thousands around the globe Google brings together have found space for it. As a comparision, hundreds of Western newspapers reported last year on one Cuban hunger striker (who wanted free internet access).

The sadness and irony of this affair is perhaps too much for American newsrooms. I don't know what it is, but this story should be news. The American public should know that 1) we are keeping supposed refugees behind bars for years at a place with not the best reputation, 2) that they are being mistreated and given the run around for 1-2 years, and 3) supposedly persecuted Cubans are actually saying 'no thanks' to offers to go to 3rd countries like Hungary - and feel so strongly that they are hunger striking. Something about beggers and choosers comes to mind, but that should be obvious. The absurdity of the US turning away supposedly presecuted refugees but taking in any Tom or Jose who washes up on Florida beaches (or gets caught crossing the Mexican border) should be obvious...

Phil Peters gives some fine background and analysis.

Mostly, when we hear of the wet foot/dry foot policy, it’s when migrants are intercepted at sea and returned to Cuba. Others, however, are sent to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo because when they are interviewed on the Coast Guard vessels, their statements indicate that they might qualify for refugee status because they establish a well founded fear of persecution if they were to be returned to Cuba.

In Guantanamo they are interviewed further, and a final decision is made. If they do qualify, the United States finds a third country to accept them for resettlement. That way, the thinking goes, the United States honors its obligation not to return people to a place where they face persecution, and at the same time avoids sending a signal to Cubans that getting picked up by the Coast Guard is the first step to gaining entry to the United States. (The U.S message is that rather than take to sea, they should go to the U.S. consulate in Havana where they can be receive a refugee visa to come to the United States if they qualify.)

The problem for those in Guantanamo is that, as Wilfredo Cancio reports in today’s El Nuevo Herald, the process takes a long time – he interviews one Cuban who has been at the base for more than two years; another has been there one year and three months. 22 of the 44 Cubans on the base are now in the tenth day of a hunger strike, Cancio reports, protesting the length of their stay and their treatment by U.S. authorities.

Representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an organization that helps to resettle refugees around the world, assist U.S. authorities at Guantanamo.

One of the hunger strikers and his pregnant wife were offered resettlement in Hungary. But for “reasons of idiosincracia” and the language barrier, Cancio reports, they declined to go to Hungary and at that point the IOM apparently withdrew its sponsorship of the couple.

The article does not tell if any other protesters have rejected similar offers of resettlement.

I don’t blame anyone for wanting to come to America. And maybe, as the protesters allege, they are mistreated at Guantanamo. But if the real grievance is that they oppose resettlement in third countries, then I find it hard to side against the U.S. government on this one. There are about ten million refugees in camps and holding centers around the world, and millions more who are displaced within their own countries. Very few receive offers of resettlement; the United States, for example, only admits about 50,000 refugees per year. Hungary, in the scheme of things, is not a bad option.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Cuban boxers who Defected are 'Repentant,' Want to Return to Cuba

An amazing turn of event here. I wonder how they will be recieved back in Havana? Probably as heroes - in the streets if not by the regime. They will probably be given opportunities to speak frankly to the Cuban people about temptations and what is really important in life (perhaps it is not money after all)?

Rio de Janeiro - Two Cuban boxers who were arrested in Brazil after defecting during last month's Pan American Games told police they are "repentant" and want to "return home," authorities said Friday. Erislandy Lara and Guillermo Rigondeaux were staying at a hotel in the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area, whose name was not made public for security reasons. They are no longer under arrest but being kept under surveillance because they are in Brazil illegally, police commissioner Felicio Laterca said.

Rigondeaux, 25, and Lara, 24, were found Thursday in Araruama, in the north-west of the state of Rio. The two boxers disappeared during the games on July 21 and reportedly signed contracts with Germany's Arena Box-Promotion.

The two boxers told police they left the Pan American Village in the company of two businessmen - a German and a Cuban citizen - who promised to take them to Europe to embark on a professional career.

But they have since apparently changed their minds, saying they regretted the defection and hoped to return to Cuba. The sportsmen rejected the assistance of lawyers who said they had been sent by the businessmen.

Police said the two Cubans were identified Thursday because they spoke no Portuguese and had no money or papers on them.

Brazilian daily O Globo reported that they had spent the past few days with two Europeans and three prostitutes in a hotel, and were expecting forged documents from Germany in order to leave Brazil.
Whole thing