Monday, March 1, 2010

Castro: the terrorist next door

| by Paul Crespo

In the rash to pursue terrorists in far-flung places such as Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf region, let's not overlook another terrorist on our doorstep -- Cuba's Fidel Castro, a dictator with a bankrupt economy, a long history of ties to terror groups, hatred for the United States and a biowarfare capability.
In 1959 Castro expressed his passionate belief that he was destined to lead an anti-American crusade. "I am going to launch another much longer and bigger war against them. I realize now that this is going to be my true destiny" he wrote.
Castro's myriad of agents operating in the United States include a military-spy ring known as the "Wasp" network, recently uncovered in Miami. That group had a dramatic addition on Sept. 22 with the arrest in Washington of a senior U.S. intelligence officer -- the Cuba analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. She is the highest-ranking officer ever accused of spying for Castro and had considerable input into recent Defense Department reports minimizing the Cuba threat.
Some argue that the aging Castro now is more interested in the tourism trade than the terror business, but this is a dangerous delusion; he is interested in both. Castro may be less active, but Cuba still is one of seven nations (along with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea and Sudan) on the State Department's list of terrorist states. This status is well deserved. In 2000, the State Department reported, "Cuba continued to provide safe haven to several terrorists and U.S. fugitives." Afghan nationals detained in the Cayman Islands in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks reportedly transited through Cuba; two others detained in Panama for their possible financial connection to Osama bin Laden's terror network reportedly were en route to Cuba.

Castro never has wavered in his ideological rampage against the United States, even as he has wooed Western investors. Recently he has been organizing a new "anti-Western alliance" of rogue states (including Hugo Chavez's Venezuela). In 2001 Castro visited Libya six times. As recently as May 2001 Castro toured Syria, Libya and Iran to garner support for this effort. On May 10 in Tehran, Castro stated, "Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees."
The intelligence threat posed by Castro is real. He reportedly supplied intelligence on U.S. military activities to Saddam Hussein during the Persian Gulf War -- information gained through Cuba's Soviet-built, Russian-financed signals-intelligence facility in Lourdes capable of eavesdropping on phone calls in Washington and from spies in the United States. The Russians pay him more than $200 million a year in much-needed hard currency for access to his intelligence. We can only speculate how much bin Laden and Iraq may be paying.
The Chinese also have built an electronic-espionage complex in Bejucal, Cuba, operating under the cover of "Radio China/' The Federal Communications Commission has stated that the Chinese are capable of interfering with U.S. communications and air-traffic control. On May 13, the Chinese reportedly sent a message to New York air-traffic control falsely identifying themselves as a U.S. military transport plane -- a chilling foretaste of things to come. More worrisome is Castro's potential chemical- and biological-weapons development and proliferation. He long has been suspected of hiding a chemical/biological-weapons program within his sophisticated, Soviet-created "biotechnology" industry.
In May 1998, secretary of defense William Cohen testified before Congress that Cuba possessed advanced biotechnology and was capable of mass-producing agents for biological warfare. High-level Cuban defectors, as well as Col. Ken Alibek, former deputy chief of the former Soviet Union's biological-warfare program, support that assessment. Castro also may be exporting this capability to his rogue friends. In 2000, Cuban officials inaugurated a new "biotech-research" plant near Tehran.
Castro's continued anti-American fervor, close intelligence links to rogue states and terrorists, and bio-warfare capability make him a dangerous neighbor.
What should the United States do? First we should clearly tell China and Russia that we no longer will allow Cuba to be used as an intelligence-collection or subversion site against the United States and demand they withdraw their advisers and technicians immediately. At minimum we also should demand that Castro shut down these facilities and allow for independent inspection and verification.
We also should demand to inspect all suspected chemical/biological-research (weapons) sites on the island. Finally, we should redouble and refocus our intelligence efforts to verify and confirm the details of Cuban complicity with terrorist groups, and we should tell Castro in no uncertain terms that we will not tolerate Cuba being used as a haven for international terrorists. Castro is a player in this global terrorist network and should be treated as such.
Paul Crespo, a former Marine Corps combat-arms and intelligence officer, served as a naval attache in the Balkans, Persian Gulf and Latin America. He is a counterterrorism consultant and a member of the Council on Emerging National Security Affairs in Washington.

Nov 5, 2001 |

S: Insight on the News

Two blasts hit Afghanistan's Kandahar, six dead

During a medevac mission by the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne, or Task Force AP – During a medevac mission by the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne, or Task Force Pegasus, U.S. Marines carry …
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Two blasts hours apart killed at least six people on Monday in Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban whose fighters are being targeted in a renewed push by NATO-led troops. Afghanistan's spy agency on Monday also banned media from covering Taliban attacks without its permission, saying such coverage only emboldened the Islamist militants. NATO-led troops are trying to drive the Taliban out of their strongholds as part of a plan to hand control of the country to Afghan forces before a planned U.S. troop drawdown in July 2011. In Monday's first blast, a suicide bomber blew up a car as International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops passed in convoy on a road several miles from Kandahar airport. "Four civilians were killed and one wounded in the attack," said Mohammad Ibrahim, a doctor in a Kandahar hospital. Several soldiers were wounded. The Taliban said in a statement the explosion killed at least 11 foreign soldiers but NATO said only one was killed. A coalition helicopter evacuated the wounded, and a bridge close by was badly damaged, a Reuters journalist said. The airport is a key base for a major offensive by ISAF and Afghan forces launched in neighboring Helmand province two weeks ago to retake the town of Marjah and the surrounding district. The Afghan civilians were killed after they pulled their car to the side of the road, a common act in rural areas to allow convoys of foreign forces to pass, witnesses said. Hours later, a car packed with explosives blew up outside the main police station in Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban in Afghanistan and next expected target of NATO troops. The second Kandahar blast killed one police officer and wounded 16 people, including nine police, said Fazl Ahmad Sherzad, deputy police chief for Kandahar province. A Reuters reporter at the scene saw at least six vehicles badly damaged. Shattered glass littered the area and several buildings nearby were destroyed. MEDIA BAN In the past week, the Taliban have carried out four big attacks killing at least 29 people and wounding scores more. An explosion at a busy bus stop near a government building in Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah, killed 7 people and wounded 14. On Friday, two suicide blasts and a two-hour shootout between Afghan forces and the Taliban rocked the capital Kabul, killing 16 people and wounding 37. Among those killed were Indian government employees and an Italian diplomat. On Monday, the chief spokesman for Afghanistan's National Department of Security (NDS) summoned journalists to announce the agency's decision to ban media from covering such Taliban attacks across the country. The ban includes live broadcasts even from a distance, spokesman Saeed Ansari said. Journalists will be allowed to cover the aftermath of the Taliban attacks only after NDS clearance, he said. Violators will have their equipment confiscated. Taliban fighters have made a comeback, operating out of strongholds in the south into the east and north, and are resisting efforts by President Hamid Karzai's government to impose control. (Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul, Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Paul Tait)

Promoting Disrespectful Tourism

Monday, March 1, 2010
On February 25th, 2010, Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo was being buried in Banes, Holguin following an 84-day hunger strike protesting the brutality of the Castro regime.

Meanwhile, just miles away, at the Castro regime's Sirenis Playa Turquesa beach resort in Holguin, here's what Canadian tourists were up to:

Sadly, this footage is tragically real.

Is this the type of "solidarity" that proponents of U.S. tourism travel are looking to extend to the Cuban people?

Is this what Agriculture Committee Chairman Colin Peterson, U.S. Congressmen Jerry Moran, Bill Delahunt, Jeff Flake and other sponsors of tourism travel legislation are looking to promote?

What do these signs indicate?

By Reinaldo Escobar
In the last days of February 2010, there have been very clear signs that there is not the slightest intention on the part of the government to release its stranglehold on political control of the nation. They seem like isolated events but it would be hard not to see the thread that connects them.
The most notorious was the death of the prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which occurred on the eve of the second anniversary of General Raúl Castro’s assumption of the presidency. To leave someone to die, to allow them to die, not to do something to prevent the death of a person who is the exclusive responsibility of a penal establishment is, anywhere in the world, a very serious thing. As serious, I would say, as letting patients in a psychiatric hospital die of cold and hunger.
Then when, in a peaceful and civilize way, some people tried to sign the book of condolences, they were brutally repressed and detained in police stations. At about the same time the Cuban delegation to the Spanish Language Academy’s Fifth Congress announced they would not attend because unsuitable people had been invited (by whom they meant the writers Jorge Edwards and Mario Vargas Llosa and the Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez). In the same edition of the newspaper Granma where the note from the academics appeared, it was announced that Cuba would not participate in the Central American Games to be held in Puerto Rico, because they had not complied with all of the demands made by the Cubans.
In the meantime State Security—how do they get anyone to actually work for this institution?!—visited dozens of citizens to intimidate those of us who had signed an initiative called “Candidates for Change” whose purpose is to nominate people who would be inclined to introduce economic, political and social changes demanded by the opposition and even by some government sectors.
Finally, February was not yet over and in a motion picture event known as the Exhibition of Young Filmmakers, they prevented a group of young people who are filmmakers, but not government addicts, from attending.
Right now other opponents, some in prison and some free, have started new hunger strikes. In the provinces in the interior of the country they have not ceased the arbitrary detentions: the Council of State ombudsman’s office cannot cope with all the citizen complaints. The discontent, the repression, those inseparable brothers at each others’ throats threaten to raise their visibility.
Are all the events mentioned here isolated incidents? Are they unequivocal signs that the revolution is stronger than ever and that the construction of socialism is advancing smoothly? Or perhaps they are indications that the days when no one listened, no one saw, no one understood what was happening, are coming to an end?

S : babalú


Friday, February 26, 2010

Odds and ends

  • La Jornada: Following the death of prisoner Orlando Zapata, Cuba’s Catholic Church calls for dialogue and calls upon the government to “take adequate measures” so such a death cannot be repeated.
  • Cuban Colada translates some of the church statement cited above, and also has more extensive quotes from Raul Castro yesterday, and a Cuban government statement on medical attention given to Orlando Zapata before his death.
  • CNN: an exchange between Senator Menendez and Secretary Clinton regarding the USAID Cuba program.
  • Remember this case of a Briton who showed up at Washington’s Folger Shakespeare Library with a 17th century book, claiming he obtained it in Cuba? He goes on trial in June in Britain and just entered a not guilty plea. AP story here.

LPP Archive...Scrolldown for more...

Farewell Fidel: The man who nearly started World War III

Last updated at 10:10 20 febrero 2008

Fidel Castro announced his retirement yesterday after nearly 50 years as Cuba's Communist dictator - prompting speculation that he was close to death.

His decision ends an era in which the 81-year-old Leftist icon survived more than 600 CIA-backed assassination attempts, frustrated ten U.S. presidents and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war with the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
Castro, who swept to power in 1959 with Che Guevara fighting by his side, was the world's longest-serving head of state.
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Loathed and loved: Cuban leader Fidel Castro
He has not appeared in public for 19 months since undergoing stomach surgery amid rumours of cancer.
His brother Raul, 76, the defence minister, has been running the country since July 2006.
The National Assembly is expected to rubberstamp Raul as the new president on Sunday.
For Cuba, the end of Fidel Castro's rule came 50 years too late.
He seized power in a relatively prosperous country, which was then as wealthy as Italy, and left it yesterday - nearly half a century later - in ruins, with its income per head much less than a tenth of Italy's.
Seventy per cent of the Cuban population has known no other rule than his, and no political system other than that of this capricious and verbose dictatorship.
Castro has bequeathed a political and economic legacy that will take many decades and much wisdom to overcome.
But his name is inscribed on the history of the 20th century, from which it can, unfortunately, never be erased.
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Weakened: Castro has been looking frail in recent months
Fidel Castro has more web pages devoted to him on the internet than Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung combined.
At 55,000,000 such pages, he has only 10 per cent fewer than Adolf Hitler.
If his goal was to achieve mythical status in his own lifetime, he succeeded.
No other Latin American dictator - and Latin America has known a few - ever achieved a fraction of his world-fame or notoriety.
According to a story Castro himself told, he wanted to go to school when he was seven years old. His father, Angel, would not let him, and so the young Fidel threatened to burn down his parents' house.
His father gave in, and sent him to school.
The story doesn't have the ring of truth.
Castro's father, after all, was a tough Spanish immigrant to Cuba who arrived in the country as a penniless soldier, and ended up a millionaire, owning 26,000 acres, and who was therefore not the kind of man to be intimidated by a mere child.
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Victory: From having just three men and two rifles when he first landed in Cuba, he went on to seize control of the country in 1959
But Castro evidently believed the story reflected well on his own character.
As I was to discover when I visited Cuba at length to research a book on Communism, he was his own greatest admirer.
True or not, the story captures an essential truth about Castro: for him, his ego was more important than the fate of anything in the world, or indeed of the entire world.
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In 1962, he was furious with Nikita Khrushchev when, without consulting him, the Soviet leader negotiated an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis with President Kennedy.
Castro had permitted the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles on the island, just 90 miles from the coast of Florida, which was bound to alarm the United States.
Castro would have preferred a nuclear war to a compromise solution, even though it would have meant the death of every last Cuban.
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Flashpoint: Castro permitted the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles on the island, just 90 miles from Florida
As he put it in a speech three years later: "The Cuban people did not hesitate to face the dangers of thermo-nuclear war, of a nuclear attack against us." It goes without saying that Castro did not invite the Cuban people to express an opinion on the matter of their own total incineration by nuclear bombs.
The Romans said: "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall."
Castro, in effect, said: "Let the world end, so long as I play an important part in it."
His willingness to approve an apocalypse for his own people was paralleled only by that of Hitler.
When the Russians ignored Castro in their negotiations with the Americans, he felt deeply humiliated by his own insignificance in the larger scheme of things.
The extent of his moral frivolity was demonstrated by the fact that he was reconciled with the Russians a year later after a long tour of the Soviet Union, during which the Russians feted him as they had never feted anyone else.
But no man could have come to power as Castro did, and remained a dictator for nearly half a century, in defiance of the U.S., without having remarkable, if not necessarily desirable, qualities.
The first of these was utter self-belief, irrespective of any disasters that befell him.
Although Castro was only 32 when he overthrew the government of the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, he had a long history behind him of violence and ridiculous, though catastrophic, failure.
At the University of Havana, where Castro studied law, political gangsterism was rife.
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Common cause: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is another key Cuban ally and vocal leftist Latin American leader
He is thought to have shot a student leader of an opposing faction, through the lung, leaving him for dead.
When he was 21, he joined an ill-fated expedition by boat to liberate the nearby Dominican Republic from its dictator, Rafael Trujillo.
The expedition, which had been badly organised, was intercepted by the Cuban authorities, and Castro swam through nine miles of shark-infested waters to escape capture.
A year later he was in Bogota, Colombia, when the worst outbreak of rioting the city had ever known broke out, and in which Castro took part. The city was left in ruins.
In 1953, aged 27, after a very brief career as a lawyer, he organised a quixotic attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, Cuba's second largest city.
Of the 153 participants, three were killed during the attack, 68 were captured and executed, 32 (among them Castro and his brother, Raul) were captured and imprisoned, and 50 got away.
By a strange irony, Castro owed his life to the archbishop of Santiago, who persuaded the army to stop executing the conspirators.
Castro was released early from prison in 1955, a mistake he would not make with his own political prisoners.
He went to Mexico, where he organised an invasion of Cuba by sea in a leaky boat called the Granma.
The boat landed in a swamp, and of the 82 men who got ashore, at least 64 were killed or captured.
You might have thought that Castro would lose confidence in himself. After all, more than 100 people had been killed under his leadership, and nothing at all achieved.
Not a bit of it: he was still utterly self-assured.
The men who survived the landing were scattered in inhospitable terrain, unaware of how many they were, hungry and thirsty, defenceless against the soldiers who surrounded them, and bombed by government aircraft.
Castro had only three men with him and a total of two rifles and 127 bullets when he said: "The Revolution has triumphed."
A little later, he entered the isolated hut of an astonished peasant and said "Don't worry, I am Fidel Castro," as though his name alone were a guarantee of safety.
Astonishingly, Castro's self-confidence proved to be justified. The Revolution really was about to triumph.
This was because of his second quality, an ability to persuade some people to follow him blindly and to instil them with faith in his vision and destiny.
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Dubious ally: Revered for standing up to America, Castro aligned himself with many of the West's most vocal critics - including Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe
As a young man, he could keep people spellbound with his talk, and he liked nothing better than to harangue hundreds of thousands of Cubans in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion for several hours at a time (attendance was compulsory).
A British diplomat in Havana told me that he had once dined with Castro, who had spoken uninterruptedly for seven hours, pausing only briefly to take eat and drink.
For Castro, the main point of other people was to provide him with an audience and to obey his orders.
He was also a master of deceit.
When he was a guerilla up in the mountains in 1957, he duped the correspondent of the New York Times, Herbert Matthews, into believing he had many more men under his command, simply by making the same men march past Matthews several times, and by having another approach him to tell him that a second column of his soldiers, which did not exist, was on its way. Matthews's article, implying that Castro could not be defeated, was a great propaganda blow.
Castro was a master at manipulating the opinion of western intellectuals, many of whom supported him unconditionally, though his first act on reaching power was to execute 600 men summarily.
His creation of an utterly servile Press and suppression of all liberty of opinion did not bother those intellectuals either.
The combination of his rebellious rhetoric and defiance of the U.S. more than compensated them for the dilapidation of Cuba, the tyranny, and the large numbers of political prisoners.
Castro knew how to get the most out of foreign interviewers.
His technique was to keep journalists waiting for days, or even weeks, so that their tension mounted, and then suddenly call them at 3am.
Their sudden relief was so great that they were disarmed, and susceptible to Castro's magnetic charms.
How could they then write critically when he had been good enough to spend so much of his precious time with them?
Like dutiful propagandists, they would trot out Castro's achievements in health and education, which were said to counterbalance the food rationing that was to last for more than 40 years, the deterioration of the housing stock and the complete absence of the most elementary freedoms.
Castro never carried any money, for three reasons.
The first is that he had an intellectually primitive and stupid distrust of money.
The second was that he was a monarch who owned all he surveyed, and could have anything he wanted merely by giving orders.
And although he never lived in luxury by western standards, he was extremely comfortable by the very low Cuban ones he had established.
The third reason was that, thanks to Castro, money in Cuba not only would not buy you love, it would not buy you anything else either because there were very few goods to be bought.
Castro's private life was tangled, but he was able to enforce total silence about it in Cuba.
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Collapse: Castro shocked onlookers when he fell during a speech in 2004 and broke his kneecap
He was highly attractive to women, of whom, however, he was at first very shy, and whom he tended to bore on dates with his political speeches.
His first marriage was to Mirta Diaz-Balart, the daughter of one of the richest men in Cuba, by whom he had a son, Fidelito, who became a nuclear physicist.
Politics was always more important to Castro than human relationships, and the couple ended up divorcing.
He had a daughter, Alina Fernandez, by Natalia Revuelta, the wife of a wealthy doctor.
Alina inherited Castro's temper, and once shouted at him: "You're a mediocrity!"
Although this sounds absurd, given Castro's extraordinary career, it contains a profound truth: for all his ebullience and activity, his ideas never rose above the level of cliche, and usually mistaken cliche at that. Castro had another son, Jorge, by an unknown woman, and five sons by Delia Soto del Valle, to whom he is said to have been married for 30 years.
Castro himself was born illegitimate.
Angel Castro's first wife, by whom he had two children, died, and Angel took up with his servant, Lina Ruz, by whom he had seven further children.
It was only after Castro was sent to a Jesuit school, where he was taunted because he was not baptised, that his parents got married.
Very few people in the world have lived so much by their own lights as Castro was able to do.
It would be difficult to think of anyone more egotistical, and he was not the kind of man to share glory with anyone.
The revolution Castro led was an upper-middle-class revolution, in that all its leaders and the vast majority of its participants were of that class.
But they carried it out in the name of the poor, and thus fooled their equivalents in many countries of the West.
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Brothers in arms: Castro with his friend and ally, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara
When Castro said that his revolution was "by the humble, for the humble" no one laughed, though everyone should have, so absurd was this statement.
If there is one adjective that does not capture Castro's personality, it is "humble".
But the world proved bigger than Castro's ego, and he could not remake the world, or even Cuba, as he wished.
The centralised economy he established did not work because such economies cannot work.
Havana, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is now crumbling into dust through lack of maintenance.
Hundreds of thousands of people inhabit the ruins of a previous civilisation.
If it weren't for the warmth of the climate, the people would have risen up long ago against so total a tyranny.
The only institution that functions in Cuba with anything approaching efficiency is the secret police.
There could be no more fitting memorial to Castro than a pile of rubble flying a skull and crossbones.
• Anthony Daniels is author of The Wilder Shores Of Marx: Journeys In A Vanishing World.

638 ways (not) to kill a dictator

Castro once said: "If surviving assassination were an Olympic event, I'd win the gold medal."
His bodyguard Fabian Escalante went back through his records and counted 638 attempts to kill the Cuban leader. Many of them were confirmed in CIA files which were declassified last year.
President Kennedy was said to have asked James Bond creator Ian Fleming for tips on how to wipe out Castro - and many of the attempts to kill or discredit him seem more appropriate to a bad Bond spoof than real life. They included:

• The exploding cigar - a scheme to pack one of his favourite Cohiba Esplendidos with enough explosive to blow his head off after a couple of puffs.

• The poisoned cigar - another Cohiba laced with botulinum toxin, one of the deadliest natural substances in the world.

• The infected diving suit - Castro was a keen undersea explorer and CIA agents arranged for Cuban exiles to dust the inside of his suit with powder containing a deadly fungus.

• The exploding sea shells - packed with booby traps and plastic explosives, they were placed in one of Castro's favourite dive areas.

• The femme fatale - Marita Lorenz, one of Castro's many mistresses, was persuaded by the CIA to try to smuggle a jar of cold cream containing poison pills into his room. Castro rumbled the plot, thrust a pistol in her hand and told her to kill him face to face. Her nerve failed.

• The poison pen - a ballpoint containing a tiny, spring-loaded hypodermic syringe filled with poison. It was supposed to prick Castro and kill him when he picked up the pen to write.

• The mind-bending radio studio - not so much an assassination as an attempt to humiliate Castro by pumping an LSD-type gas into a studio during a live broadcast so that he would make a fool of himself on air.

• The beard-wilter - Castro was always proud of his bushy facial hair so the CIA planned to make his beard fall out, again causing him to be ridiculed. Bizarrely, the plot involved putting hair removal powder in his shoes.

• Despite the ludicrousness of some of the operations against him (and his beard), Castro took the threat seriously. Delphin Fernandez, his former personal assistant, says he regularly had all his underwear burned after wearing it, so it could not be laundered with deadly chemicals.

Encourage change from within

Published: Thursday, February 25, 2010 12:00 pm By: FRANCISCO ``PEPE'' HERNANDEZ

These are days of profound reflection for the Cuban-American exile community. Two days ago the brave prisoner of conscience, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died in Castro's notorious prisons, a victim of the regime's brutality and its disdain for human life.

Wednesday, we commemorated another anniversary of that dark day when four defenseless Brothers to the Rescue pilots were mercilessly killed by Castro's henchmen while flying over international waters on a humanitarian rescue mission. Feb. 24 also has been designated International Day of the Cuban Exile.
These events, the remembrance of the pain and suffering endured for more than 50 years, give us the opportunity to renew the promise many of us made when we embarked on the journey to freedom: to help restore democracy for the Cuban people. We have a duty to look introspectively at our own actions and how those actions have, thus far, failed to meet the challenge of supporting real change on the island.
Today, after long and arduous efforts, most of us have arrived at a consensus that change will come only from the direct action of the Cuban people firmly, albeit nonviolently, demanding their rights.
In addition to increasing purposeful people-to-people and family-to-family interaction, which is essential to the overall effort, we must demand of the U.S. government the immediate and effective restructuring of two of our strongest vehicles for helping Cubans to promote change on the island: Radio and Television Martí (Office of Cuba Broadcasting, OCB) and the U.S. Agency for International Development's Cuba Democracy Program.
Rather than focusing on the mission of effectively transmitting news and information to the Cuban people and hiring qualified personnel able to utilize modern technology and messaging, OCB's decision-making has been ruled by nepotism and political cronyism the past several years. As a result, Radio and Television Martí are failing to meet their mandate of providing objective news and information to the Cuban people.
OCB has virtually eliminated programs that incorporated the participation of Cuban dissidents and has done away with full television newscasts, opting to transmit novelas. Apparently Spanish-language soap operas hold transformative powers we don't know about.
Delays in Washington's distribution of funds to USAID's Cuba Program can be attributed in large part to the agency's need to find ways to prevent the rampant misdirection of funds allowed to perpetuate for over a decade. The lack of clear rules allowed some of USAID's grantees to spend 95 percent of the millions of dollars they received to cover salaries, office overhead and attend international conferences, while Cuba's dissidents were left with crumbs.
Many of those USAID grantees had funding automatically renewed without the benefit of competition or an assessment of the impact their programs were having on the ground in Cuba. Nearly all have failed to meet USAID's cost-share requirement, instead relying solely on U.S.
So here we are, at a crossroads, in need of some urgent decision-making:
Do we focus our individual and collective efforts in providing robust support for those brave voices inside of Cuba fighting for change?
Will we take the responsibility of salvaging Radio and TV Martí?
Do we demand that our elected leaders fight for the transparency and oversight needed to make the USAID Cuba Program work?
Our answer should and must be a collective Yes.
Francisco ``Pepe'' Hernandez is president of the Cuban American National Foundation.

Cuban dissidents 'declare hunger strike'

Protest in Madrid at death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo 24.2.10
Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death sparked protests around the world
Several Cuban dissidents say they will refuse food in protest at the death earlier this week of a jailed government opponent.
Opposition group the Cuban Commission for Human Rights said four jailed dissidents would reject solid food.
Another anti-government activist, who is not in jail, has said he is also giving up food and drink.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on Tuesday in a hospital in the capital Havana after a hunger strike of 85 days.
His death triggered international protests and Cuban President Raul Castro issued an expression of regret.
The four jailed dissidents planning to begin a hunger strike are Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, Diosdado Gonzalez Marrero, Nelson Molinet Espino and Fidel Suarez Cruz, the commission said.
Guillermo Farinas, an activist and journalist who lives in the city of Santa Clara, has said he is already refusing food and is experiencing headaches as a result.
"The reason for my [hunger] strike is so that the government will not cause the murders of political prisoners as it happened with Zapata," Mr Farinas told Spanish news agency Efe by telephone.
"It is also a tribute to him," he added.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo (file image)
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was arrested in 2003
Mr Farinas has held more than 20 hunger strikes since 1995.
Zapata, who was 42, was arrested in 2003 in a crackdown on opposition activists and was initially jailed for three years.
However, this was increased to 25 years in subsequent trials after he was charged with disobedience and disorder in a penal establishment, London-based rights group Amnesty International said.
Amnesty, which considered Zapata a "prisoner of conscience", said "a full investigation must be carried out to establish whether ill-treatment may have played a part" in his death.
President Castro said he "lamented" Zapata's death but insisted no-one on the island had been tortured.
The US said it highlighted "the injustice of Cuba's holding more than 200 political prisoners" and said they should be released "without delay".
The Cuban government says it holds no political prisoners.
S:BBC News

Efforts to engage Cuba founder over death of dissident

 By Juan O. Tamayo | Miami Herald

The death of a Cuban political prisoner and the prolonged jailing of a U.S. citizen in Havana appear to have cast a dark cloud over U.S. and Spanish government efforts to engage Raul Castro's government.
"We still believe engagement is the right way, but the death of Orlando Zapata was a punch to the gut,'' said an aide to a U.S. Democratic congressman who favors easing sanctions on Cuba.
"There's no doubt this incident will put a very important, if not formidable, obstacle'' in the way of Spain's efforts, said Joaquin Roy, a University of Miami expert on European Union issues.
The U.S. and Spanish efforts were not faring well even before the Dec. 3 arrest of U.S. government contractor Alan P. Gross and the Feb. 23 death of Zapata, who starved himself to death to protest prison conditions.
Castro had made no significant counter-gestures after President Barack Obama lifted or eased several sanctions on Cuba last year. A bill before Congress allowing unrestricted travel to Cuba appeared to have stalled, and was recently reworked as part of an agriculture bill.
At the EU, former communist-ruled nations were opposing the campaign by Spain's socialist government to persuade the regional body to abandon its Common Position on Cuba, which essentially conditions EU relations on Cuba's human rights record.
But the Zapata and Gross cases undermined the argument that since the Cuban government has made no concessions, the United States and EU should take unilateral steps to engage with the Cuban people, said sanctions supporters. They also raised the question of whether Cuba was intentionally trying to torpedo the U.S. and EU efforts at rapprochement.
"There's proof that each time we try to promote an increased free flow of people and information, the Castro regime digs in,'' the EFE news agency quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as telling Congress last week.
"The Cuban government has been using the issue of the Common Position to justify, or invent, that there's an aggressive attitude toward Cuba by the EU and Spain,'' said the Spanish-born Roy. "It's the same logic as the U.S. embargo. I have never believed that Cuba truly wants the embargo to end.''
In the U.S. Congress, Cuba's detention of Gross since Dec. 3 -- without charges -- for delivering satellite communications equipment to Jewish groups has dealt a blow to the efforts to ease sanctions on Cuba, several knowledgeable aides said.
"The tipping point on Cuba is the Gross issue. It's a hot potato,'' said a senior staffer to a senator who favors lifting travel restrictions.
"As bad as the Zapata case is, the Gross issue is the one that has a greater reach here.''
Even Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who opposes the U.S. ban on tourist travel to Cuba, blasted Cuba's handling of the Zapata case, saying it ``should have intervened earlier to prevent this tragedy. His death is on their conscience.''
"First Gross and now this. The timing could not be worse,'' said a top aide to a House Democrat who favors lifting all sanctions on Cuba.
The congressional staffers and aides all requested anonymity because they were not authorized to make public comments on the issue.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the pro-embargo U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee, said the Zapata case will ``make it very difficult for those who want to engage unconditionally with the Cuban regime.''
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