Friday, February 26, 2010

Marines Sweep for Taliban Fighters in Marja

United States Marines and Afghan soldiers began a sweep on Thursday to clear an area of Marja.
Photo: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Venezuela Blasts Report Citing Human Rights Violations

Thursday, February 25, 2010

CARACAS, Venezuela —  Venezuela disputed on Thursday a hemispheric group's report citing human rights violations and political repression under the government of socialist President Hugo Chavez.
Local rights activists, conversely, applauded the 300-page account issued by the human rights committee of the Organization of American States, saying it sheds light on widespread rights violations the international community has largely ignored.
The report released Wednesday by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights strongly cites a lack of independence of Venezuela's judiciary, the closing of news media outlets that are critical of the government and political discrimination and repression under Chavez.
"We don't recognize the commission as an impartial institution," said Gabriela Ramirez, Venezuela's top rights guarantor. Ramirez said the report incorrectly concludes that "the Venezuelan state threatens democracy and human rights."
The report condemned the procedures for appointing and removing judges in Venezuela, saying the regulations "lack the safeguards necessary to prevent other branches of government from undermining the Supreme Court's independence."
Government opponents have long complained that the Supreme Court — whose members are appointed by the predominantly pro-Chavez National Assembly — has been packed with the president's allies, giving him nearly unlimited power. Chavez, however, denies holding sway over justices.
The OAS commission also called attention to an increase in sanctions against news media, singling out the case of Globovision, a television news network that is fiercely critical of Chavez.
Globovision has been repeatedly fined for allegedly violating broadcast regulations, and Chavez has threatened to shutter the defiant network.
"It is of particular concern," the rights commission said, "that in several of these cases, the investigations and administrative procedures began after the highest authorities of the state called on public agencies to take action against Globovision and other media outlets that are independent and critical of the government."
The report strongly condemned what it called "a trend toward the use of criminal charges to punish people exercising their right to demonstrate or protest against government policies," adding that more than 2,200 people have been indicted on criminal charges stemming from their participation in protests in recent years.
Carlos Correa, a leader of the Venezuelan human rights group Espacio Publico, welcomed the report, saying "it makes the violations that are occurring in Venezuela more visible" and should attract the attention of the international community.
The report carries more weight than statements from independent rights watchdogs, Correa said, because it "comes from an institution made up of the hemisphere's own states."


Qaddafi Calls for Jihad on Swiss for Minaret Ban

Thursday, February 25, 2010

TRIPOLI, Libya —  Libya's leader called for a jihad, or holy war, against Switzerland on Thurday because of its ban on mosque minarets — escalating a long-running diplomatic feud between the two countries.
Muammar Qaddafi also urged Muslims everywhere to boycott Swiss products and to bar Swiss planes and ships from the airports or seaports of Muslim nations.
"Those who destroy God's mosques deserve to be attacked through jihad, and if Switzerland was on our borders, we would fight it," Qaddafi was quoted by Libya's official news agency JANA as saying. He spoke before a gathering marking the birthday of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel declined to comment on Qaddafi's call for a holy war against the neutral Alpine republic.
In November, Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on minarets, in a controversial decision that put Switzerland at the forefront of a European backlash against a growing Muslim population.
Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad condemned the vote as biased and anti-Islamic and business groups warned that the decision could damage relations with Muslim nations and wealthy Islamic investors who bank, travel and shop there.
Any Muslims who deal with Switzerland are "apostates," Qaddafi added.
Muslims comprise about 6 percent of Switzerland's 7.5 million people. Many are refugees from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and about one in 10 actively practices the religion, the government says.
Anxieties about growing Muslim minorities have rippled across Europe in recent years, leading to legal changes in some countries. France has banned headscarves in schools and is considering legislation to ban head-to-toe coverings for women. Some German states have introduced bans on head scarves for Muslim women teaching in public schools.
But the Swiss ban on minarets was one of the most extreme reactions.
Relations between Libya and Switzerland turned icy after Qaddafi's son, Hannibal, and his wife were arrested in a luxury hotel in Geneva in 2008 for allegedly beating up their servants.
Qaddafi was released after two days, but Libya retaliated by recalling diplomats from Switzerland, taking its money out of Swiss vaults and interrupting oil shipments to the Swiss.
In 2009, former Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz apologized in Libya and agreed to possible compensation claims. But Switzerland backed out of the deal after two Swiss businessman were blocked from leaving Libya. One left earlier this week after more than 19 months in the Swiss Embassy in Tripoli. The other has been convicted of violating residency laws and remains in Libyan custody.
Earlier this month, Tripoli responded to a Swiss travel ban on Qaddafi, his family and ministers by banning citizens of 25 European countries from traveling to Libya.
The visa restrictions threatened lucrative work for Europeans in Libya's booming oil and gas industries, but mediation from Italy and Spain has eased the constraints.

Iraq to reinstate 20,000 Saddam-era army officers

  • 11 votes
Iraq's PM Maliki addresses tribal leaders from Salahuddin province during a rally promoting the candidates of State of Law coalition in Baghdad Reuters – Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (C, at podium) addresses tribal leaders from Salahuddin province …
BAGHDAD – The Iraqi military will reinstate 20,000 Saddam Hussein-era army officers who were dismissed from their posts after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion for serving under the former dictator, an Iraqi defense spokesman said Friday. The announcement, a little over a week before the March 7 parliamentary elections, immediately raised questions about whether the move was timed to pump up votes for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said the move was not related to the balloting, but was simply a matter of timing because funding for the jobs became available. "This measure has nothing to do with elections, rather it is related to budget allocations," he said. But that explanation held little sway with Sunni lawmakers who called it a blatant ploy by al-Maliki to win more votes. "No doubt, this move is related to the elections and it aims at gaining votes," said Maysoun al-Damlouji, a candidate from a secular block headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, a fierce critic of al-Maliki. A defense ministry statement said the rehired officers would be reinstated as of Sunday. Although they're already allowed to vote, critics contend their new jobs might influence who they vote for on March 7. What to do with officials from the ruling Baath party has been a key cause of concern for post-war Iraq. Hundreds of thousands were purged from government jobs under a controversial program by the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority and Saddam's army was disbanded, decisions that were widely blamed for setting in motion the Sunni insurgency. Although many were allowed to return to government service in 2008, the treatment of former Baath party members has increasingly become a source of tension as the election approaches. At the same time the officers are being rehired, there has been a controversial purge of more than 440 suspected Saddam loyalists, mostly Sunnis, from the upcoming ballot. That purge was ordered by a committee led by two prominent Shiite lawmakers who are believed to have ties to Iran and also are running in the election. One of those was prominent Sunni lawmaker, Saleh al-Mutlaq. He announced Thursday that his party, the National Dialogue Front would rejoin the parliamentary elections, less than a week after pulling it from the race in protest over the ban. The decision effectively lifts the lingering threat that minority Sunnis would boycott the vote, which the U.S. hopes will bolster national reconciliation efforts and pave the way for American combat forces to go home. In yet another twist on Friday, the spokesman of the Shiite-led political vetting committee that drafted the blacklist, Mudhafar al-Batat, said the committee would file a lawsuit against al-Mutlaq for his alleged involvment in attacks and killings carried out by insurgent groups linked to Baath party. The Sunni lawmaker, who heads an 11-member block in the outgoing legislature, has repeatedly denied any links to the insurgency and claimed he quit the disbanded party in the 1970s.

A Must-Read Statement

Friday, February 26, 2010
U.S. Addresses Death of Cuban Dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo at OAS Permanent Council

At a special session of the OAS Permanent Council on childhood education, the United States addressed the death of prominent Cuban dissident and political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo who died in a Cuban prison on February 23 following a hunger strike to protest repeated beatings and human rights violations by the Cuban government.

The remarks, delivered by Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative W. Lewis Amselem, were also in response to comments by one of the panelists in attendance at the meeting who used the venue to praise Cuba's dictatorship:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States assigns high priority to early childhood education as a foundation for life-long learning. Deputy Assistant Secretary Lombardi's presentation speaks for our government's delegation on this very important topic, and I won't repeat what she said.

We were very interested to hear that Dr. Sachs plans on starting community-based education projects in Haiti. We would humbly suggest that he consider partnership with the Pan-American Development Foundation, which has a long-standing community-based development program and has a large number of staff who speak Creole.

We would encourage all the panelists keep in mind that the Inter-American Social Protection Network provides a useful mechanism for exchanging best practices on poverty alleviation. This Chilean initiative adopted and endorsed by the Summit of the Americas was launched at a conference in new York City at the invitation of Secretary Clinton and with the participation of Presidents Bachelet and Uribe.

On a less positive note, I was surprised to hear a political pitch from one panelist praising the Cuban system and the Cuban dictator himself. When I hear praise such as this, I have to wonder about that speaker's partiality, judgment, and credibility. I also have to wonder if in a different time and place he wouldn't have come forward to praise Mussolini's handling of the Italian railroads and Hitler's construction of the autobahn.

We hear statistics thrown about re the Cuban education system; we, for example, hear about the high degree of literacy in that country. I am reminded of similar expositions on the glories of Soviet education and medicine. As we all know, when the fall fell and the Soviet system collapsed, these claims turned out to be false.

As to Cuban education, what do we really know? We know that the statistics are produced by a totalitarian regime that lies - it "cooks the books." What we do know if that people who can read in Cuba can read GRANMA and that's about it.

We also know that yesterday, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, whose case was raised in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, died in a Cuban prison. His crime? Daring to think and speak on topics not approved by the "educators" of the Castro regime.

I am sure that the police who arrested him, the judges who sentenced him to 36 years in prison, and the guards who watched him die in agony all could read and write the reports on his death by starvation - not unlike the "well-educated" police, judges, and guards of the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships.

Thank you.

February 26, 2010

Prison inmates are mistreated in U.S. too, Granma charges, in an apparent backlash

Seemingly out of nowhere and for no stated reason, Granma on Friday published an unsigned article denouncing "The shame of the U.S. government" – the mistreatment of inmates in American prisons. Among the article's major points:
(pic) • One of every 15 black adults, and one of every 36 Hispanics, is in prison. Two thirds of all lifers are black or Hispanic.
• Every year, 7,000 inmates die in American prisons; "many are murdered or commit suicide." In the past five years, 72 persons died in migrant detention centers.
• In California in 2006, 426 inmates died "because of belated medical treatment." Sixty-six of those deaths were either preventable or possibly preventable. Granma cites the case of a 41-year-old diabetic Hispanic who died after "the prison officials did not provide him with medical treatment, even though they knew his condition."
• The article also points out a high incidence of mental illness, sexual abuse and AIDS affliction among inmates, and states that "brutality and torture are endemic in U.S. prisons."
• Most prisoners in solitary confinement have been in that situation for more than five years, the newspaper alleges.
The Granma article may be an implementation of the statement attributed to Raúl Castro to the effect that the Americans "can inquire or ask any questions about Cuba, but we have the right to ask about all the problems of the United States." (See our Feb. 25 blog item "Castro: We, too, have lost many Cubans" and other items related to prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo.)
–Renato Pérez Pizarro.

February 25, 2010

Cuba says it gave Zapata all necessary aid

The Cuban government "guaranteed [Orlando Zapata] all the necessary medicines and treatments until his death," says a statement from the Cuban Embassy in Madrid, cited by the Europa Press news agency.
(photo) Zapata went on a hunger strike on Dec. 18 and "refused to receive medical attention," the statement goes. Despite his refusal, he was taken to the prison hospital in Camagüey and from there to the Camagüey Provincial Hospital and the Inmates Hospital in Havana.
He died at the renowned Ameijeiras Brothers Hospital (in photo), where he was taken on the eve of his death.
"Everywhere, he underwent clinical studies and was given all necessary medical attention, including intermediate and intensive therapy, and voluntary feedings by parenteral (intravenous) and enteral (nasal tube) means, something that was acknowledged by his own mother," the statement said.
On Feb. 3, Zapata experienced fever that "disappeared" in 24 hours, but later he was diagnosed with pneumonia "which was treated with the most advanced antibiotics and procedures." Because both lungs were affected, "he was aided with artificial respiration until his death."
The embassy's version aims to contradict claims by the Cuban dissident movement that the authorities contributed to Zapata's death by not providing him with proper medical treatment.
–Renato Pérez Pizarro.
Posted by Renato Perez at 04:59 PM in Dissidents, human rights, Science
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S: Cuban Colada 

Atrocities in Cuba: No regret, no justice

In light of the MSM's continued coddling of brutal dictators, even going so far as to circulate without question raul castro's "regret" for a death he himself is responsible for, (to understand the degree of insult and pain this cruel parroting inflicts on survivors and their families, imagine how Jews would feel if say the NYT's had quoted a similar response from Hitler upon the liberation of the camps).
I think it's time for a reminder of exactly who raul castro is, and that there has never been any statements expressing "regret" for these crimes against humanity. Neither has there been justice for the victims.
From the Cuban Archive:
February 24, 2008.
Summit, New Jersey. The Cuban National Assembly has named longtime Minister of Defense, Raúl Castro, President of Cuba. As second-in-command of a 49-year old dictatorship, he is directly responsible for crimes against humanity on countless thousands in Cuba and worldwide.
 Raúl Castro, as longtime member of Cuba’s Council of State, has been signing execution orders for years. But, his killing career began early on. In 1956, while in exile in Mexico, he murdered a former comrade. During the revolutionary struggle in the mountains, he executed deserters and informants. In the early days of the Revolution, while in charge of the Oriente province, he had hundreds of men killed. In one day alone, he ordered at least 72 men executed without trial in the city of Santiago. All throughout the night of January 12, 1959 and into the following day, successive groups of men were lined up in front of ditches at San Juan Hill and shot by firing squads. Raúl is reported to have gleefully delivered the coup d’grace on a few. Afterwards, a bulldozer was brought in to cover the mass graves. Among the victims was policeman Benito Cortés, an American citizen born in Puerto Rico and father of five. In 1966, Raúl had the bodies exhumed, encased in concrete, and dumped into deep waters off the coast of Cuba.
 Cuba Archive has documented dozens of people, including many children, killed attempting to escape Cuba with Raúl in a leading role. His Air Force carried out the Canimar River Massacre of July 6, 1980, when dozens were murdered. Many more unarmed civilians are believed to have suffered similar fate at the hand of special Air Force units dedicated to spotting and sinking rafts. Like countless others, on January 19, 1994, two young men -Iskander Maleras and Luis Angel Valverde- were killed by Cuban border guards stationed around the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo operating under Raúl’s direct orders to shoot. He rewarded their deed with medals and promotions. 
 As Defense Minister, Raúl Castro is responsible for war crimes in and out of Cuba. During the rural uprising of the sixties, his armed forces set fire and executed hundreds of prisoners on the spot. During the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, five prisoners were executed shortly after their capture; nine were deliberately asphyxiated in a trailer truck. The toll of victims multiplies over the course of decades with Cuba’s international military incursions in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Intentional attacks on civilian populations in Angola are part of his legacy.
 That Raúl’s promotion happens on the anniversary of one of his noteworthy crimes is not without significance. On February 24, 1996, as dozens of members of Cuba’s peaceful opposition were rounded up, Cuban MIGs shot down two unarmed civilian airplanes in international airspace while flying a humanitarian search and rescue mission for the non-profit group “Brothers to the Rescue.”  Three U.S. citizens, including a Vietnam War veteran, and a young man formerly rescued by the group perished. The incident was condemned by the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal and the Cuban government was found by a U.S. Superior Court to have committed premeditated murder.
 For more information on victims of the Cuban Revolution, see

S: babalú

Cuba dissidents: Dead hunger striker not forgotten

  • 0 votes
An image of Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo hangs on a wall during a vigil AP – An image of Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo hangs on a wall during a vigil in Havana, Thursday, …
HAVANA – Cuba's opposition community pledged Thursday to seize upon the international outcry over a hunger-striking dissident's death in prison and increase pressure on the communist government to improve its human rights record. But whether the tiny and divided activist groups can have any real effect on the daily lives of ordinary Cubans remains to be seen. Relatives and a few supporters attended a sunrise funeral for Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a 42-year-old plumber and carpenter who had been jailed since 2003 on charges including disrespecting authority. Zapata Tamayo died Tuesday after accepting only water and liquid nutrients since Dec. 3. His death has been condemned by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top officials from European governments. On Thursday, Spain's socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, called for the release of all island political prisoners. "We must demand that the Cuban regime restore the freedom of prisoners of conscience and respect human rights," he told Spain's parliament. The Roman Catholic Church of Cuba issued a statement calling the death a tragedy and asking authorities "to take appropriate measures so that situations like this are not repeated." President Raul Castro took the unprecedented step of expressing public regret for Zapata Tamayo's death. But he adamantly denied the prisoner was mistreated and used his comments to take a shot at Washington, saying the only torture taking place on the island is at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, where terror suspects are held. Cuba dismisses dissidents like Zapata Tamayo as paid U.S. agents out to topple the government. A blog posted on a government Web site described Zapata Tamayo as a common criminal, and accused the opposition and the international news media of falsely turning him into a martyr. "Zapata was murdered by the counterrevolution," wrote the blogger, longtime state essayist Enrique Ubieta. Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Havana-based Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said that police and dozens of plainclothes state security agents watched but did not intervene in Zapata Tamayo's funeral service, held in his native Banes. Banes is a sugar town in Cuba's east that housed employees of the Boston-based United Fruit Company before Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Sanchez said at least 100 activists, many from nearby, eastern locales, were detained and held just long enough to prevent them from attending the funeral. "This is going to galvanize resistance against the regime," he said. Dissidents plan to use Zapata Tamayo's death to shed more light on what they say is their government's blatant disregard for human rights and civil liberties. "I think there's going to be a 'before' and an 'after' in the murder of Tamayo," said Martha Beatriz Roque, a state-trained economist and veteran Havana dissident who drove more than 1,100 miles roundtrip to attend Zapata Tamayo's wake. But the opposition is small and largely ignored on the island, and its members have long been vexed by internal bickering and infiltration by government agents. "It's a challenge for the opposition," said Roque, one of 75 noted dissidents jailed during a government crackdown on the opposition in March 2003. Roque was granted provisional parole for health reasons and herself has staged several lengthy hunger strikes. "We have to better coordinate our activities," she said. Many of the 75 activists jailed during what they refer to as the "Black Spring" issued a joint statement saying they know "the suffering, injustices, humiliations, punishments and poor treatment committed against those human beings in the prisons of Cuba merely for having the dignity and honor to defend our rights." Others have initiated small acts of protest. Vladimiro Alejo, 46, a former employee of a state-run factory that made keys, served two years in prison for disrespecting authority. Upon his release in October, he painted his pumpkin-orange home in Guanabacoa, outside Havana, black in protest, scrawling "Viva Cuba Libre!" across the facade. After Zapata Tamayo's death, he added a cardboard sign reading, "We are in mourning for Orlando Zapata Tamayo." "I didn't know him personally, but I was in the same jails, a political prisoner like he was, so I know what he suffered," said Alejo who, together with about 15 supporters, declared a four-day mourning period. Alejo, his teenage son and six others share their wind-swept home with four sickly mutts who live in a cardboard box under their 1960s Eastern Bloc television. The walls are adorned with bumper stickers and placards reading "Change" and other anti-government slogans. He and the others went on the porch Thursday and yelled "Down with Fidel Castro! Down with Raul Castro!" There was no reaction on the street, but Alejo was not perturbed. "I don't live for my neighbors," he said. "Some people support me. Some people don't."

Free political prisoners, Spain tells Cuba

Madrid, Feb 26 : Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has demanded that Cuba's communist government release its 'prisoners of conscience' and respect human rights following the death of a Cuban political prisoner on hunger strike.

The death Tuesday of Orlando Zapata Tamayo resulted in the most direct call to date on the Castro regime by Zapatero's Socialist administration.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Thursday that dialogue with the current Cuban government is the best way to move forward on the subject of respect for human rights on the Caribbean island.

The move closer to the Havana government and the dialogue process have been the traditional pillars of Zapatero's diplomatic efforts toward Cuba, but Madrid, the current holder of the European Union's rotating presidency, is taking into account the opinions of those within the EU who want a tougher policy toward the Castro regime.

On Wednesday, at the inauguration of the 4th Congress against the death penalty in Geneva, Zapatero urged all states to respect "until the last instant the life of each and every one of their citizens".

Although he did not name Cuba directly, sources within the Spanish executive branch said that the phrase was specifically linked to Cuba and to the death of Zapata after an 85-day hunger strike.

On Thursday, Zapatero was very direct in the Spanish parliament during the inauguration of the meeting of chairpersons of legislative foreign affairs committees of the EU member countries.

"We can imagine the suffering of the Cuban political prisoners and from here we must demand of the Cuban regime that it return freedom to the prisoners of conscience and respect human rights," the Spanish premier emphasized.

This is, he said, a "fundamental demand of the international community".

His words were echoed immediately in Madrid by the Cuba Democracia Ya organization of Cuban exiles, who applauded Zapatero's firmness.

Spanish Socialist members of the European Parliament also Thursday demanded the release of all prisoners of conscience in Cuba, and they expressed solidarity with the Cuban people "on their road toward democracy".

At Thursday's gathering of EU lawmakers in Madrid, Moratinos said that Madrid's "demanding" dialogue policy with Cuba "has its difficulties", while hastening to add: "does the policy of embargo and sanctions or non-involvement with the Cuban authorities give better results?"

Orlando Zapata, 42, was one of 75 government opponents rounded up and jailed in spring 2003 on charges of conspiring with the US to undermine the Cuban Revolution. While some of those dissidents have since been freed on medical grounds, more than 50 remain behind bars on the communist-ruled island.

Officials added years to Zapata's original sentence because of his repeated protests over prison conditions.

He stopped eating in December with the aim of pressuring authorities to acknowledge his designation by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.

Last week, officials at the penitentiary in the eastern city of Camaguey grew alarmed about Zapata's condition and transferred him to a prison hospital in Havana, from where he was later taken to the military clinic where he died.

Spain makes unusual criticism of Cuba

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain's Socialist government on Thursday voiced criticism of Cuba after the death of a hunger-striking dissident, a departure from usual Spanish policy of calling for closer relations with the communist island. Speaking in parliament, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called on Cuba to free political prisoners and respect human rights. Political prisoner Orlando Zapata, 42, died at a Havana hospital on Tuesday after refusing food for 85 days to demand better prison conditions. Zapata was jailed in 2003 for crimes including resisting the communist government. Spain has made improving ties with Cuba one of the objectives of its six-month European Union presidency and has argued Europe should not demand progress on human rights and improving democracy as conditions for normal diplomatic ties. Spanish companies have been among the most prominent foreign investors in Cuba. Zapatero was criticized in Spanish media for failing to refer to Zapata's death in a speech at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday. (Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz and Jason Webb; Editing by Janet Lawrence)