Friday, March 21, 2008

Cuba Releases "Political Prisoner" Who Smuggled Guns for Insurrection

Here is another sad example of the types of people labled "political prisoners" by Cuba's highest profile opposition group. Nevermind the actual charge was entering a county with high-powered weapons at the service of a US based terrorist group (who calls themselves insurrectionists, just in case there was any doubt). A respected press organization (AFP) goes along with the charade.

HAVANA, Cuba (AFP): Cuba has freed a Cuban-American political dissident for health reasons, a human rights activist said Thursday, adding that he was the 10th dissident released in Cuba so far this year.

Adalberto Ramos Monteagudo "was released from jail ... because he suffers from prostate and bladder cancer and his condition is very delicate," Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Committee member Elizardo Sanchez told AFP.

Ramos was sentenced in 1991 to 24 years behind bars for illegally entering Cuba bearing weapons, under orders from the Miami-based, anti-Castro National Insurrection Directory group.

Fellow conspirator Alexis Lozano was sentenced together with Ramos, but was later released for undisclosed reasons and allowed to return to the United States, Sanchez said.

Ramos, he added, has chosen to remain in Cuba.

Sanchez said Ramos was is the 10th political prisoner to have been freed so far this year from Cuban jails, where his group calculates more than 230 political prisoners still linger.

Cuba earlier this year swore in a new president, Raul Castro, brother of Fidel Castro, who retired at 81 in poor health after ruling the country for nearly 50 years.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cuban Alexei Ramirez Makes the White Sox Roster

After weeks of speculation and showing one's worth, Cuban baseball find Alexei Ramirez appears to have won a starting role on the White Sox 25 man roster. Sox manager Ozzie Guillen confirmed his place on the team today, but whether he will start at 2b is another matter all together.

Alexei Ramirez has the possibility of being a real major league star in his first year. He is batting .381 this spring, with tons of runs, RBIs and a home run yesterday. Today he comes off the bench and delivers a clutch 2 out RBI single and went 4/5 in his first game of the year. Alexei led the Cuban league in hits and HR last year and shows good speed, athleticism and ability to make solid contact and hit to the opposite field.

Ramirez was signed by the White Sox in November, months after he left Cuba to gain residence with his Dominican wife. Many other clubs passed on him, including the Cubs, not trusting the Cuban pedigree.

Utiility man Pablo Ozuna is set to start opening day versus left hander CC Sabathia, against who he has had luck. Juan Uribe, last years's 2b, has been placed on waivers, while back-up Danny Richar is opening the year on the DL. Uribe may very well stay on the team after the dust settles, but it appears unlikely at this point.

As someone who watched Alexei slam a line drive off the wall vs. Japan's Dice-K last year in the World Baseball Classic in San Diego, I hoped the White Sox would pick him up. Then, despite the heavy odds of being shipped down to AAA, I hoped he would make the team. Now I just hope he gets the necessary at bats to learn and show his stuff. Alexei is not afraid to have a good time on the field, smile and bring some flash to the clubhouse. His attitude and abilities should be a joy to watch this year. I can't wait.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Truth About the Jailed Cuban Journalists

On this 5th Anniversary of the largest arrest (75 people) in recent Cuban history and the Iraq War, human rights groups like Amnesty Intl and Reporters Without Borders took pains to treat the two issues equally. I need not remind readers about the humanitarian toll inflicted by US agression in Iraq, including the dozens of journalists killed there. The conflation of the two issues is just another example of the misguided approaches that exist inside these two organizations.

Cuban side of the jailed writers story
The Guardian, Wednesday
March 19 2008

The distinguished writers who protest at the treatment of their Cuban colleagues (Letters, March 18) have every right to voice opposition to a government that limits freedom of expression. However, the cause of the writers for whom they are campaigning is not as clearcut as they suggest. Those imprisoned in 2003 were convicted of being paid agents of the US, and the evidence against them was convincing.

The Cuban government made a huge effort to show exactly what these people were up to, and yet its side of the story is ignored. The writers were convicted under laws brought in after the Helms-Burton law in the US was passed in 1996. This gives millions of dollars (this year $45m) to groups that foster opposition in Cuba. This money goes to pay people to write hostile stories that are then posted on websites sited in the US.

To combat this the Cuban government passed laws to prohibit people from taking money and aid from the US in order to subvert the political process. The people jailed were even going so far as to entering the US Interests Section to use computers inside. Some were appearing regularly on radio programmes beamed from Miami. It is hard to believe that any government would tolerate such a level of interference in its internal affairs by a foreign power.

To protest the plight of these prisoners while ignoring the role they were playing in this ongoing confrontation between Washington and Havana is disingenuous and does not serve the purpose of trying to reach a peaceful resolution that will see all political prisoners eventually released.

Professor Patrick Pietroni
International Institute for the Study of Cuba, London Metropolitan University

And here is my own letter to RSF and AI:

I was disappointed to check both of your websites (AI and RSF) yesterday and note the coverage given to the plight of the so-called Cuban "dissidents" arrested 5 years ago this week. As someone who was in Cuba during that time, and also remembers the start of the Iraq War at the same time, it was highly shocking for me to see the equal play given the two milestones and the disregard for facts given to the Cuban issue.

In Cuba, the arrests were widely publicized, as was the evidence against the original 75 arrested in March 03. Speaking to dozens of everyday Cubans that week, there was universal agreement that those arrested deserved no sympathy at all. After all, Cubans work hard for little pay and here was 75 people making a fine living (in dollars) writing slander and extremely non-journalistic (biased) articles for foreign entities, often funded by the US or other Foreign Governments (ie. Cubanet, Radio Marti) and written and sent from the offices of the US Embassy.

I hope I need not remind anyone that the US Government has had a hostile policy of regime change and embargo for nearly 50 years - condemned by 180 countries every year. Literally thousands of acts of violence and subversion have been planned from Washington DC. When, in 1996, the US Congress passed a law that authorized payments to "dissidents" in order to speed the downfall of the Cuban Revolution (a Law condemned by almost every US ally), Cuba had no option but to respond making such cooperation illegal. In Cuba there is no laws against speaking out or writing. No one is in jail for just expressing themselves. The 58 who remain in jail are guilty of associating with the US Government and participating in its regime change plans for profit.

Why do these essential facts not make it into ANY of the piles of literature AI and RSF produce on the Cubans? As organizations who must rely on your integrity, I find the exclusion of the mountains of Cuban evidence (available to all on the internet) on each of those in prison highly irresponsible. These were not fly by night arrests. They were only arrested after years of disregarding repeated warnings to end their relationship with the US and its funded groups. I find myself questioning all of AI and RSF advocacy work, just because I happen to know most about the Cuban issue. As someone who is generally supportive of your advocacy, this should be highly problematic for your mission.



Wednesday, March 12, 2008

UNESCO Ends Relationship with RSF Over Web Freedom

Once again, the political agenda of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) organization has been embarrased and exposed. The respected United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) withdrew its official support for their "Online Free Expression Day" - a day to shame certain countries they claim blocks free expression online. UNESCO was sufficiently embarrassed that the also ended all future cooperation with the group.

UNESCO removed their "patronage" officially because they said RSF put UNESCOs name on statements and materials that they "had not been informed of and could not endorse." But UNESCO sources quoted in the Cuban press say RSF demonstrated a "lack of ethics" in its attempts to discredit a given number of countries. The source said UNESCO's purposes are not in line with RSF's penchant for sensationalist interest nor it is acting as a court of inquisition for developing nations.

The virtual protest consists of RSFs website being turned into a space where people are encouraged to don an avatar and hold a virtual sign with one of five "approved" messages. I wanted to make my own protest, but apparently free expression does not apply in this virtual protest for freedom of expression on the internet... how could they be so blind to the hypocrisy?

There was no space to inform readers that the United States has shut down several hundreds foreign websites that deal with Cuba (see below). Nothing about the web surveilance the US secretly carries out in Europe under its Echelon program. There are no criticisms of the US or any EU countries; After all, the EU and US help to fund the organization (with more than a million dollars since '05).

There was no ability to let "protesters" know that regulation of private access to Cuba’s internet is based on the fact that the US blocks their access to a fiber-optic connection, which would provide a faster and more efficient connection. If everyone was allowed access, the result would be pure net gridlock (it is already too slow in Cuba). No space to say that the so-called cyber-dissidents in Cuban jails were actually arrested for taking payments from organizations funded (and often set up) by the US Government. No room for anything about the propoganda the US Govt. pumps into Cuba using illegal means.

The French non-government organization has been frequently accused of having close ties with the US Central Intelligence Agency. Canadian journalist Jean-Guy Allard has written several articles and a book denouncing that RSF is being funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy.

By the way, for a Government that supposedly prevents critical messages appear on their press - online or otherwise - the Cuban web is full of stories about the RSF charges.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela Make Nice, But Who Won?

Watch the hug

What a surreal scene down in Santo Domingo, DR. One minute the Ecuadorian, Venezuelan and Colombian Presidents (Correa, Chavez and Uribe) are enchanging insults, the next they are shaking hands. What the hell happened over lunch?

My guess is that crisis fatigue wore on. All involved realized they had made their points and there was nowhere else to go but to back down nice and east with all egos in check.

The tone was perhaps set by the prior night's announcement by Ecuador that they had raided and caught FARC rebels (the 47th such camp they have raided under Correa). Hugo Chavez was also quoted earlier in the day as calling for peaceful discussions and a racheting down of the crisis. Uribe continued his attacks, but Rafael Correa got the loudest applauses with his reasoned and principled stand.

Who wins, who loses? I think all win with their domestic constituencies. Correa, like Uribe, was supported by 80% plus of his countrymen during the crisis, but he probably boosted his standing in Latin America and the world the most. Chavez should also get a bump, though his enemies are inclined to see only bluster and not appreciate what he did for a little country by sticking his neck out there. He stood up to creeping aggression but eventually knew when to back off and take at least a partial victory.

Colombia had to apologize and say they will never do it again, pleasing Correa and Chavez. The concensus in the room on that was just too strong. Uribe was terribly isolated. But Colombia will probably end up getting some better cooperation on border issues from Ecuador and Venezuela. Hopefully progress on the hostages and Colombian peace process will also get back on tgrack, but I doubt it.

So the biggest losers of all this appears to be the families of the FARC hostages. Uribe could change and create the conditions for negotiation and progress, but I doubt it. But there may perhaps not be a better time for serious talks. Let us hope.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

US Shuts Down Cuba Travel Websites

A Wave of the Watch List, and Speech Disappears

Steve Marshall is an English travel agent. He lives in Spain, and he sells trips to Europeans who want to go to sunny places, including Cuba. In October, about 80 of his Web sites stopped working, thanks to the United States government.

The sites, in English, French and Spanish, had been online since 1998. Some, like, were literary. Others, like, discussed Cuban history and culture. Still others — and — were purely commercial sites aimed at Italian and French tourists.

“I came to work in the morning, and we had no reservations at all,” Mr. Marshall said on the phone from the Canary Islands. “We thought it was a technical problem.”

It turned out, though, that Mr. Marshall’s Web sites had been put on a Treasury Department blacklist and, as a consequence, his American domain name registrar, eNom Inc., had disabled them. Mr. Marshall said eNom told him it did so after a call from the Treasury Department; the company, based in Bellevue, Wash., says it learned that the sites were on the blacklist through a blog.

Either way, there is no dispute that eNom shut down Mr. Marshall’s sites without notifying him and has refused to release the domain names to him. In effect, Mr. Marshall said, eNom has taken his property and interfered with his business. He has slowly rebuilt his Web business over the last several months, and now many of the same sites operate with the suffix .net rather than .com, through a European registrar. His servers, he said, have been in the Bahamas all along.

Mr. Marshall said he did not understand “how Web sites owned by a British national operating via a Spanish travel agency can be affected by U.S. law.” Worse, he said, “these days not even a judge is required for the U.S. government to censor online materials.”

Whole thing

Monday, March 03, 2008

Colombia Commits Crime, Chavez Defends Latin Dignity

So for 12 hours, the world has been told (by everyone from CNN to my local LA news channel) that South America is on the brink of war. Why they mouth this lie is beyond me, but probably is an indication of how messed up American media views on that Continent have become.

Chavez is certainly bold, and he has chosen to put Venezuela's arm around its hermano Ecuador. It is a gesture that is not without risks but I feel Colombia will get the intended message - don't dare try that foolishness again. Sovereignty is the one thing everyone understands in Latin America. Even "moderate" "US friendly" folks like French Pres. Sarkozy called the death of Reyes "bad news," while Chilean Pres. M. Bachelet is "demanding and explanation."

The timing of the assault was probably not related to the military action nearby in Colombia, as Uribe's Govt. claims. Are we to believe that FARC would suddenly be that stupid to endanger an important leader by the need to take pot shots at aircraft at least a mile away (and with what weapons) and then go to bed (all killed were in their skivvies)?

Reyes was probably found by the US (or US equipment) and the attacks were related to the recent release of 4 more (quite important) hostages, orchestrated (without uribe's permission) by Chavez. This news increased the pressure by the hostage families on the Uribe Govt. to negotiate with FARC in order to get more of the releases (and even a peace agreement) they've dangeled out there.

But Uribe has no desire for an end to the status quo, where (right wing) narco para-militaries get (at worse) a negotiated couple years in plush facilities and get to keep control of the drugs, money and power - while the left is systematically mowed down. Meanwhile, Uribe has thetop Judge investigating it all (probably killing any he chance for a US Congressional approval of their pending free trade deal).

Uribe has a criminal mentality. No regard for law, which is explicit about armed incursions into another country - let alone unleashing the devastation he did. Need proof? Read any of the previous buried stories I featured here. You can find that 1) Uribe's campaign manager was the country's top importer of cocaine's principal chemical, 2) there are pictures of his brother with one of the leading narcos of the time, 3) his father's helicopter was found at a cocaine lab, 4) the FBI wanted him, 5) there are even very serious accusations of him being instrumental in Escobar getting his hands on airplanes and aviation licenses as head of that Ministry in the 80s... but he's the good duy in Latin America we are told.

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