Thursday, March 4, 2010

LPP Top News...

Deadly Attacks Mar First Day of Voting in Iraqi Elections

Hadi Mizban/Associated Press
Iraqi security forces inspected the scene where an explosion killed seven people in Baghdad on Thursday.

BAGHDAD — Iraq opened its polls early on Thursday for tens of thousands of soldiers and police officers and other security workers, but a series of attacks in Baghdad aimed directly at them marred the first day of voting in the country’s parliamentary elections.

 The Mood in Iraq Ahead of Parliamentary Elections
Helmiy al-Azawi/Reuters
Iraqi security forces at the site of one of the series of bombings on Wednesday in the city of Baquba northeast of Bagdhad.
The attacks killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more, according to preliminary reports from Iraqi officials.
The attacks occurred despite the overwhelming presence of Iraqi security personnel on the streets in Baghdad and in cities across the country. The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who faces a fierce contest to win a second term, declared a holiday from Thursday to Sunday, allowing security officials to vote early so they would be free to work on Election Day.
Two suicide bombers struck two different polling stations at schools in the center of Baghdad, killing seven soldiers and wounding at least 35 other people.
Those attacks followed another involving a hidden bomb, which struck a school in northern Baghdad. That school will also be a polling station on Sunday, but early voting was not taking place on Thursday. That blast killed at least five people and wounded 22.
Iraqi official and United States commanders have braced for violence, imposing strict controls on vehicles and cordoning off entire streets around polling sites. Thursday’s attacks made it clear there are still gaps in security, but on the streets of Baghdad, where lines of soldiers and police officers formed as soon as voting began at 7 a.m., there was also a sense of defiance.
“The last two or three months we’ve been receiving warnings about violence around the elections,” a senior federal police commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of orders from the Ministry of the Interior. “And we know that even after the elections, until they form a government, we have to worry about attacks.” He received a text message on his telephone about the first bombing and then vowed not to let violence disrupt the election, which is widely viewed a pivotal moment in Iraq’s history seven years after the American invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
“Even if they hit a polling station somewhere,” he said, shortly before two suicide bombers did just that, “we will have it open within 30 minutes and people will continue to vote.”
The latest violence came the day after a large coordinated attack in Baquba, the provincial capital of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, killed at least 31 people.
In Baquba on Thursday, a group of police officers at one polling station began to dance elatedly: several of them had survived a suicide attack on the city’s hospital.
“They promised each other to dance in front of every one of the polling stations,” Ibrahim Said, a colleague, said as he watched.
Thursday’s early voting also included prisoners and patients at the country’s hospitals. In addition to the bombings, problems also emerged with the voting itself, a potentially ominous signal ahead of Sunday’s vote, which many candidates have said could be tainted by confusion or fraud.
In Baghdad, Anbar and other provinces there were numerous reports that Iraqi soldiers and police officers could not find their names on the voter rolls at the polling stations. An election official promptly appeared on television and noted that voters could cast provisional ballots, which would be counted in their proper districts. No results from the early voting will be announced until after Sunday’s election.

Iraqi Employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Falluja, Baquba and Samarra.

Dubai death: 'The last assassination of its kind'?

Dubai seeks Israeli PM's arrest over hotel murder AFP/Dubai Police/File – A collection of photographs released by the Dubai police shows suspects in last month's killing in …
JERUSALEM – The killing of a Hamas operative in a Dubai hotel may signal the end of an era: the moment when modern technology finally caught up with the cloak-and-dagger world of disguised assassins and fake passports. "The last assassination of its kind," said a headline in the Israeli daily Haaretz. Some believe the fallout — the killers whose faces and aliases were made startlingly public, their movements gone from state secrets to YouTube favorites — could mean a permanent change in the murky world of espionage. The hit team got into the Persian Gulf city undetected, pulled off the highly complex killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, and escaped unscathed: mission accomplished, or so they must have thought. But then the photos on their doctored passports were released by Dubai police and published worldwide. So were their 26 aliases, more than half of which turned out to belong to real-life dual nationals living in Israel, whose Mossad agency is widely assumed to have been behind the killing. Israel saw several of its important friends, including Britain, Ireland and Australia, express displeasure with the killing and the abuse of their passports. Terry Pattar, a security consultant for IHS Jane's in London, said the details that became public "might represent an unexpected operational risk that had not been planned for." In the future, he told The Associated Press, "They will have to decide if the probability of high levels of media coverage after the event is an unacceptable risk that outweighs the potential benefit from a successful assassination." The spread of technology of the kind that uncovered the Dubai operation has permanently altered the rules, wrote Yossi Melman, Haaretz's intelligence correspondent. "The conclusion could be that the era of heroic operations in the style of James Bond movies is close to its end." Inspired by Dubai's success, neighboring Abu Dhabi announced Wednesday that it would spend more than $120 million to blanket the city with surveillance cameras. Today, said Gad Shimron, a field operative for the Mossad in the 1970s and 1980s, agents risk leaving electronic footprints everywhere: credit card charges, passport information in airport computers and easily traced cell phone calls. As Dubai demonstrated, they must also plan for the possibility that law enforcement will be able to put the pieces together. And if the current complications seem daunting, Shimron said in an interview, agents will soon face even greater challenges with the advent of biometric passports, which can feature fingerprint, facial and iris recognition, making them far harder to forge. But if the spy's world has become more complicated in some ways, it has become simpler in others, Shimron said. A few decades ago carrying communications equipment would have been a sure giveaway; today cell phones and tiny computers arouse little suspicion. The Dubai operation shows not that 21st century spies have been vanquished by technology, he said, but that they have accepted the ways it restricts them while taking advantage of the ways it can help. "The new world definitely limits things," said the former Mossad man, "but history shows that every time someone invents something, someone else invents something else to bypass it." Jonna Mendez, who spent some of her 27 years in the CIA as the agency's chief of disguise, believes the Dubai perpetrators took the fallout into account, all of it: the TV footage, the blown aliases and the head shots. The agents, she said, clearly knew they were under surveillance — they had simply decided it was unavoidable and a price worth paying. "You can be sure they knew they were being surveilled. Likewise, they would assume that the documents they were using would be made available after the fact," said Mendez. "What does this mean? It means it didn't matter. The faces and the documents that were captured by the cameras will probably never be seen again." The fact that the perpetrators had to take the identities of real people rather than simply invent false identities is a symptom of the new world facing modern-day spies, one of databases and traceable passport information, she said. The real agents likely don't resemble the faces in the photos, she said: "Bald? Not really. No facial hair? Not normally. Blonde? Are you kidding," Mendez said. And if they do, plastic surgery, dental implants and hair grafts can ensure they are unrecognizable afterward. "Steal the identity, disguise the participants, be ready on the other side with another set of identities and documents, and embrace and conceal the protagonists on their return," she said. "With that goal in mind this may, in fact, be the operation of the future."

Haitian family survives 2 big quakes in 2 months

Haitians Pierre Richard Desarmes, left, Philomene, center, and Jean Mary chat AP – Haitians Pierre Richard Desarmes, left, Philomene, center, and Jean Mary chat with their family members …
SAN BERNARDO, Chile – The Desarmes family left their native Haiti two weeks after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, joining the eldest son in Chile for what seemed a refuge from the fear and chaos of Port-au-Prince. Their sense of security lasted barely a month. It was shattered at 3:43 a.m. Saturday when one of the most powerful quakes on record shook a swath of Chile. All the Desarmes' immediate family survived both quakes. But twice cursed, the family now sleeps in the garden of a home that the eldest son, Pierre Desarmes, found for them just south of the Chilean capital of Santiago. They fear yet another temblor will strike. "I left my country and came here because of an earthquake," Seraphin Philomene, a 21-year-old student and cousin of Desarmes, said Wednesday. "And here, the same thing!" "My God, I left my country and I didn't die, but I'm going to die here!" Pierre Desarmes, 34, managed to get his family out of Haiti thanks to personal contacts at the Chilean Embassy in Port-au-Prince and the Chilean armed forces. Nine members of his family — his parents, two brothers and their families, and three cousins — arrived in Santiago on a Chilean air force plane Jan. 23. Desarmes, the lead singer of a popular Haitian reggaeton band in Chile, still gets choked up when he recalls seeing his family for the first time stepping off the plane. "I saw them but I didn't believe it. I said, 'My God, they're here.' It was a very difficult moment," he said, speaking in French in the garden of the house the family now calls home. "Each time I think about it, I get sad, because I realize I was able to do this because I was here. But there are so many people who are there and I don't know what's going to happen to them." His relatives had to leave Haiti with only hours' notice, receiving instructions on where to go via cell phone text messages from a relative in the United States who was in contact with Desarmes in Santiago. Philomene didn't even have time to pack, dashing to the Chilean Embassy when she received word the family had been cleared to fly out. Saturday's earthquake has made a difficult transition even more traumatic. "When the aftershocks come, they refuse to stay in the house," Desarmes said, sipping a Coke at a table in the garden, his relatives sitting nearby. "I have to talk to them all day long telling them: `There are no problems, it's a country that's prepared for earthquakes, it'll pass, it's not so bad.' But they don't hear me. Psychologically for them, they're still really affected by it." Desarmes' brother, Stanley Desarmes, 32, is deeply unsettled. The father of a 2-year-old girl, Nelia, who plays in the yard, he worries for his family's safety and is thinking about uprooting them again to move somewhere with less danger of earthquakes. "I don't know what I can do, but staying isn't possible," he said. "I could die and I could lose my family. I have to leave. I don't know where, I don't know how. But I don't want to die with my family here." Philomene, his cousin, plans to stay, hoping to bring the rest of her family to Chile. She was the only member of her immediate family to get out because she was living with the Desarmes in the Haitian capital to finish her studies. Her mother, father, two sisters and a brother are still in Cap-Haitien, a town in northern Haiti about 90 miles from the capital. "I've had no news from them," she said, choking up. Reached late Wednesday by The Associated Press in Cap-Haitien, Philomene's father, Luigene Philomene, was elated at the news that his daughter was safe. He said he hadn't heard from her since before Chile's earthquake and had been trying to reach relatives in Port-au-Prince for an update. The elder Philomene said when he heard that his daughter had been in the Chile earthquake he thought of a Haitian saying that loosely translates as "we saved her from the river and she ended up in the sea." Now he feels she has divine protection and the 43-year-old said he would eagerly join his daughter in South America if he could. "God is looking for out for us," he said. "Our family didn't die in Haiti so they aren't going to die in Chile either." Francius Pierre, a cousin of Seraphin's in Port-au-Prince, had already learned from a brother that his relatives in Chile survived. Pierre, a university student who injured his knee in the Haitian quake, said Seraphin and his other relatives moved from Haiti for safety. "If they knew something like this could happen again they never would have gone," he said. ___ Associated Press Writer Ben Fox in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.

Truth About the "Travel Ban"

Thursday, March 4, 2010
In today's Miami Herald:

Truth About the "Travel Ban"


Every day there seems to be a new effort to lift U.S. sanctions toward Cuba, in particular the "travel ban.'' The latest is a bill by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Colin Peterson, of Minnesota, and U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, of Kansas, supposedly aimed at increasing agricultural sales to the Castro regime. But its most dramatic provision would end the "travel ban.''

Tragically, the Peterson-Moran bill was introduced on the same day that 42-year-old Cuban pro-democracy leader and Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience'' Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after an almost three-months'-long hunger strike protesting the brutal beatings, abuses and prison conditions he endured. While supporters of loosening the travel ban make bold predictions and philosophical arguments, few stick to the facts. Consider:

• There is no ban on travel to Cuba -- only a ban on taking an exotic vacation there. The Department of Treasury's responsibility, under the trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA), is to prohibit or regulate commercial "transactions'' related to travel, not travel per se.

Travel to Cuba is authorized for a variety of reasons, ranging from academic, religious and family visits to visits in support of civil society. Tens of thousands of Americans legally travel to Cuba for these purposes every year.

• Tourism is the main source of income for the Castro regime. Cuba's tourism industry is operated and owned by the Cuban military, the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR).

A November-December 2009 article in the U.S. Army's Military Review magazine titled, Revolutionary management, makes the point that Cuba's "Revolutionary Armed Forces transformed itself to one of the most entrepreneurial, corporate conglomerates in the Americas.''

Cuba is one of the world's last remaining totalitarian, command-control economies, alongside North Korea.

Just as the U.S. Congress recently approved sanctions on Iran's petroleum-refining capability, which is that country's foremost source of income, the United States has long imposed sanctions against tourism transactions in Cuba to prevent an exponential increase in funds for the Castro regime's repressive machinery.

Last November's military exercises by the MINFAR in Cuba were financed by the hard currency of Canadian and European tourists. The real purpose of those exercises wasn't, as the Cuban government stated, to prepare against an "ever-looming'' U.S. invasion, but, rather, to remind Cubans of the government's ability to crush its domestic opponents.

It would be much more forthright to label legislation to lift restrictions on tourism to Cuba as the Cuban Armed Forces Stimulus Act.

• We constantly hear the argument that tourism transactions are permitted with other state-sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran, Sudan and Syria, so why not with Cuba? While undoubtedly rich in culture, Tehran, Khartoum and Damascus are not appealing tourism destinations or easily accessible to Americans.

Cuba, with its sunny beaches and proximity, is an appealing vacation destination for American tourists, but so, too, are many other Caribbean islands with democratic governments. Last year, more U.S. tourists visited Jamaica than the African continent or the Middle East. Should U.S. policy beggar friendly democratic neighbors to court an unfriendly repressive neighbor?

• Current U.S. policy toward Cuba has not failed. In order to label a policy as a failure, there needs to be evidence of the success, or likely success, of alternatives.

The fact is that almost two decades of Canadian and European tourism to Cuba has not eased the Castro regime's repression, improved its respect for basic human rights or helped Cuba's civil society gain any democratic space. Even supporters of lifting tourism sanctions concede this. At a CATO Institute forum in December, U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, of Arizona, recognized that "there are no guarantees that this will bring democracy to Cuba.''

What lifting restrictions on tourist travel will guarantee is that the Cuban military will double its income. To spend on what? Guns to rein in civil dissent? Technology to further censor Cubans' access to the Internet? Intelligence assets to support anti-American activities?

The question to be answered by Peterson, Moran, Flake and other supporters of lifting sanctions is: Do they trust the Cuban military with an exponential rise in income?

The answer leads to only one fact, with real consequences:

For Cubans, the consequence of lifting restrictions on U.S. tourism is more repression; for the United States, it's having financed that repression.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and editor of

Please Take a Moment

To read the following tragic account from the blog of Ivan Garcia, an independent journalist who lives and writes from Havana:

Farinas, Ready to Die, Like Zapata

In the poor, out-of-the-way neighborhood of La Chirusa, in the city of Santa Clara of Villa Clara Province, about 185 miles east of Havana, Guillermo Farinas Hernandez, 48 years of age, is quite a character.

When a stranger, asking for directions, asks where Guillermo Farinas lives, all of the neighbors widen their eyes and don't know who you are talking about. But if you ask about "Coco"- the nickname by which he is known - then people smile and say "Coco lives in number 615, he's into human rights, he's a ballsy guy, give him my regards," one of his neighbors says with the straightforward language that is common among humble people.

To get to the small, cramped house of Farinas you have to walk through a maze of passageways where the sewage runs freely. Guillermo Farinas lives in an early 20th century house, with his wife, 8-year-old daughter, and a niece. In a ten-foot-square living room, Farinas is seated in a chair against the wall, facing the front door, wrapped up in a flowered blanket.

About 15 people, relatives and dissidents, chat with him about various issues. Some become emotional and break into silent weeping. "That affects me even more, please, you've got to be strong", says "Coco" without any solemnity.

Farinas must have some sort of unofficial world record when it comes to hunger strikes. The one he started on Friday, February 26 is his 23rd. And it is taking a toll on his body.

Like many dissidents, 'Coco' Farinas used to believe in Fidel Castro's revolution. He risked his hide fighting in the isolated villages of Angola during the 1980s civil war in that African country. He was a member of Castro's elite troops, but in 1989 when General Arnaldo Ochoa was shot, accused of drug trafficking, Farinas began to have second thoughts and unanswered questions.

He has a degree in psychology, and better than anyone else in Cuba, he knows the methods of the political police for breaking those who dissent. Since 1997 this big-eyed mestizo has been one of the heavyweight dissidents on the island.

He writes as a freelance journalist, and an independent library is located in his house. During the strike, many neighbors come by and talk cheerfully with Farinas, giving him encouragement or begging him to stop. To everyone he delivers a speech, without slogans and in everyday language, giving his reasons for continuing the hunger strike. The main reason for this latest and perhaps final hunger strike: the death of the dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23rd.

"I knew him in 1991, when Zapata was a construction worker in a contingent, and was also a member of the Union of Young Communists, something that the government journalists are silent about now that they criticize him. Zapata was part of the rapid response brigades that the government counted on to repress the opposition, but after long talks with the dissidents he began to see that he was wrong. The official media don't want to talk about any of this. I'm also convinced that the death of Zapata was a state crime, an assassination."

The dissident of the Chirusa neighborhood in the city of Santa Clara adds other arguments for continuing his hunger strike to the very end. In a letter sent on February 26 to Raul Castro, he urges him to demonstrate to the world and to his people that his lament to the foreign media was honest, and asks him to release the 200 political prisoners now held in various Cuban jails.

"I am a firm believer that when the government sees that the result of the hunger strikes is dissidents dying like flies, they will sit down and negotiate. These strikes are our weapons of pressure, we have nothing else."

He also asks the Spanish leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to firmly press the Havana regime to introduce political changes. He even believes that His Majesty the King of Spain Juan Carlos I, should comment on the fateful death of Zapata Tamayo.

Farinas receives medical attention every 4 hours. He believes that he will be admitted to the provincial hospital of Villa Clara Arnaldo Milian to receive parenteral alimentation. His lips are dry, as he is not drinking water. His appearance is frightening. Juan Juan Almeida, son of the comandante friend of the Castros, who fought with them in the Sierra Maestra, left Coco's house greatly saddened last Saturday.

In a text message Juan Juan sent to his friends, he said:

"The dissident of the barrio La Chirusa, professed admirer of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, figures beyond right and wrong, believes this is the way to turn the state around and to dream of democracy. 'If I must sacrifice my life to achieve political change, then count on my life,' the Cuban champion of hunger strikes states quietly. This is number 23 and his neighbors and friends suspect this will be the last."

Translated by Gracie Christie (In Solidarity)

Postponed Cuba Conference [Updated]

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was very upset this afternoon on Radio Mambi. He called Ninoska Perez-Castellon and appeared on her 3pm show today telling listeners that the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce needs to apologize to Cuban exiles in Miami.

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce (GMCC) has a Cuba Committee that every year presents a report on trade possibilities with Cuba. Along with a report, it also conducts conferences about Cuba and related issues. Last year's report was a significant departure from earlier hard-line attitudes, and included trade possibilities with an unchanged Cuban government. Trading with Cuba they argued was "potentially perhaps one of the greatest if not the greatest economic opportunity that Miami has or will have." This year, the GMCC was planning to hold its Cuba Conference on March 16th. But, they recently had to postpone the date.

Today it seems Radio Mambi and Rep. Diaz-Balart found out about this event. Even though they were slightly satisfied that it was postponed, they found it appalling that such an event would occur at the Freedom Tower, and sponsored by Miami-Dade College. They saw the Cuba Conference as a great insult, and demanded explanations and an apology from the GMCC.

But, one of the scheduled speakers at the conference really bothered Perez-Castellon and Rep. Diaz-Balart: Martin Aragones, representing Sol Melia, the Spanish hotel chain that currently operates 24 resorts in Cuba. They see Sol Melia as an accomplice to human rights violations in Cuba.

Several other speakers were scheduled to appear at the Cuba Conference, including Florida Governor Charlie Christ, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and former Governor Jeb Bush. Of course, these speakers got a pass from Radio Mambi because they are likely ignorant of what the Cuba Conference is all about. Sure.

According to the GMCC website, the Cuba Conference was postponed due to "scheduling issues by key presenters" and "will be restructured and held later this year." It will be interesting to see how this conference changes in the future.

--- [Update: 3/3/10] ---

One thing that had me wondering when I first heard about this event was the reason Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was suddenly on Radio Mambi. Was this such an outrageous event that he was compelled to call his favorite AM station in Miami? Or is Radio Mambi at the beck and call to whatever is on the mind of Mario Diaz-Balart?

Rep. Diaz-Balart occasionally appears on Radio Mambi, but usually when he has lots to say, such as on U.S.-Cuba policy or other national issues. He rarely (if ever) appears for short periods to express his outrage over domestic issues in Miami.

But, I recently became aware of possible reasons this Cuba Conference was such a thorn in the side of Mario. It was so obvious.

Miami Dade College, sponsors of the GMCC Cuba Conference, depend on the Diaz-Balarts (and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) for crucial federal grants. For years (ever since Mario Diaz-Balart was Chairman of Florida's Senate Ways and Means Committee in the mid-90s) Eduardo J. Padron, President of Miami Dade College, has depended on Mario, Lincoln and Ileana for government funds.

Just last year, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart presented Padron a $142,500 federal grant for the Kendall campus. It was only one part of federal appropriations obtained for the College, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also obtained a $95,000 grant for the Medical Center Campus. Rep. Lincoln-Diaz-Balart helped too, obtaining a total of $900,000 for both the Hialeah Campus, and the historic Freedom Tower, which Miami Dade College now owns. Of course, there have been other ways these three Florida legislators have helped Eduardo J. Padron.

So, it seems clear why Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart suddenly called Radio Mambi to voice his outrage at the Cuba Conference (sponsored by Miami Dade College). It is also no surprise why he was demanding an explanation from Eduardo J. Padron, whose name was specifically mentioned:

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart believes he has done a favor for Eduardo J. Padron, and therefore Miami Dade College should return the favor and grant him tacit allegiance to his hard-line attitude towards Cuba.

Looks like that federal grant came with baggage.

[Article on U.S.-Cuba trade possibilities]
[Tampa Chamber of Commerce cancels trip to Cuba]
[Photo above of the original title of the Cuba Conference]

Generation Y is a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start with or contain a "Y". Born in Cuba in the '70s and '80s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons, illegal emigration and frustration. So I invite, especially, Yanisleidi, Yoandri, Yusimí, Yuniesky and others who carry their "Y's" to read me and to write to me.

By  Yoani Sanchez

In the Corridor of Those Condemned to Stay


The lady raises the stamp and brings it near the paper, then finally sets it off to the side without having stamped your permission to leave.  “You are not authorized to travel,” she says, and the whole office hears the phrase that condemns you to remain confined on this Island.  At other tables the applicants look at their feet to avoid meeting your eyes looking into theirs, searching for solidarity. The soldiers passing by scrutinize you from above with the reproach of those who think, “She must have done something, not to be allowed to leave.”
Until this last minute you thought that maybe the archives of the Ministry of the Interior would not be too well organized and your history of nonconformity would not come to light. You often imagined that a secretary would go for pizza at the exact moment she checked your file and the rumblings of her stomach would make her put it, as quickly as possible, in the pile of those approved. You know well the effect that melted cheese and tomato sauce can cause in a bureaucrat who looks at her watch at three in the afternoon.
But the option of state negligence didn’t work this time. They uncovered your case from the moment you presented the first papers for a trip south. Some boss with the rank of lieutenant colonel would have smiled on seeing you were finally in his hands. After you believed you could act like a free man, speaking your mind loudly and publishing articles without a pseudonym, you had reached the point where you would feel all the walls, all the bars, all the locks.
You have no criminal record, have never been found guilty by a court, and your most frequent offenses consist of buying cheese or milk on the black market. Nevertheless you have just verified that you are suffering a punishment. Your sentence is to remain behind the bars of this archipelago, confined by this band of sea which some in their naïveté consider a bridge and not the uncrossable moat it really is. Nobody will let you out because you are a prisoner with a number stuck to your back, even though you think you are wearing the blouse you took from the closet this morning. You are in the dungeon of the “immobilized pilgrims,” in the cell of those forced to stay.
Through the window a voice berates you for not having shut up, faked it a little… worn the mask to be able to travel. You will not see the light until the entire prison is torn down.
Marzo 1st, 2010 | Category: S: Generation Y | 96 comments


Bacardi's fight to retain Havana Club name resurfaces in Congress

A House panel heard arguments from both sides over a measure that critics say benefits Bacardi.

A years-long battle over a famous Cuban brand -- Havana Club rum -- resurfaced on Capitol Hill on Wednesday as liquor giants Bacardi and Pernod Ricard tussled over an obscure -- but potentially lucrative -- provision in federal law.
The measure -- better known as Section 211 -- has been under fire from the World Trade Organization, which in 2001 found it violated trade treaties and ordered the United States to revise it.
Since then, a series of Florida lawmakers have proposed bills aimed at satisfying the WTO by tweaking the legislation. But critics say the entire provision should be scrapped because it benefits a single company -- Bacardi -- and could hurt the ability of other U.S. companies to protect their trademarks.
``In order to live up to our treaty obligations, and indeed honor our reputation and history of leadership when it comes to defending intellectual property rights and the rule of law,'' the provision should be repealed, Mark Esper, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Intellectual Property Center, told the House Judiciary Committee.
Bruce Lehman, a former assistant secretary of commerce and expert counsel for Bacardi, told lawmakers that the provision -- which he said applies to companies beyond Bacardi -- is ``easily correctable'' and that repealing it would ``send a terrible signal to those throughout the world who wish to devalue intellectual property rights.''
And he told lawmakers that opponents of the embargo against Cuba have seized the issue to push for changes in U.S.-Cuba policy. The bill that would do away with the Bacardi provision -- sponsored by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York -- would also lift the travel ban to Cuba.
The goal of pushing Cuba toward a free-market economy, he said, ``is not advanced by giving effect to Cuban confiscatory measures in the United States.''
At issue is the right to the Havana Club name. Bacardi says it purchased the rights to the name in 1997 from the rightful owner, the Arechabala family, which says the trademark was seized from it without compensation when Fidel Castro took power in Cuba.

But Cubaexport, a Cuban government company that partners with French liquor giant Pernod Ricard, argues it has title and that the family failed to renew its rights to the brand in 1973. Pernod Ricard sells rum under the Havana Club name in Cuba and around the world -- but not in the United States because of the trade embargo against Cuba. It did secure a U.S. trademark for the name for future opportunities in case the embargo is lifted and accuses Bacardi of looking to stifle competition.
The tussle dates back more than a decade: Bacardi scored a major victory when former Florida Republican Sen. Connie Mack tweaked a spending bill to include language that essentially grants Bacardi the U.S. rights to the name by preventing U.S. courts from enforcing trademarks confiscated by the Cuban government.

William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, argued in favor of scrapping the provision, saying the issue would be better resolved by the courts. He warned that U.S. companies looking to enforce their trademarks could run into ``the ill-begotten progeny of Section 211 -- `zombie trademarks.' ''
Legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, a fierce defender of the embargo against Cuba, would tweak 211 by ensuring that it would apply to all parties claiming rights in confiscated Cuban trademarks, regardless of nationality.
``This hearing boils down to one issue,'' she said. ``Whether our nation will continue to uphold the principle that trademarks stolen in another country will not be recognized in the United States.''

LPP Archive...

Swine flu: my Cuban holiday hell

Instead of enjoying the beaches and bars of this Caribbean island, Isobel Ramsay spent most of her time in hospital.

Swine flu: my Cuban holiday hell
'We were all told to wear our masks except when we were eating, which meant that we sat in the dining area infecting each other as we struggled with the beans' Photo: GETTY
Flying across the Atlantic, taking full advantage of Air France's in-flight entertainment, little did I know that instead of the week's beach holiday I had planned in Cuba with my boyfriend, I would spend most of my time lying in a hospital bed, staring at a damp patch on the ceiling.
Two days in, exploring the streets of Havana, I began to recognise the signs of travellers' diarrhoea and, as I tore back to our hotel, regretted my choice of "fish stew" the previous evening.
Still, being a veteran of such ailments, I decided to fill myself with Dioralyte and soldier on to Viñales, a small town next to a national park (and Unesco World Heritage site) three hours south-west of Havana.
Here the trouble really started. I spent a morning lying on the tiled floor of our bedroom, trying to cool down. Feeling better by the afternoon, I ventured out to a nearby hotel pool. But an attack of the shivers in the 100F (38C) heat prompted a swift return to our casa particular, the private house that is the staple of budget travel in Cuba.
Despite our landlady's lack of English and our dismal Spanish, I could tell she was not pleased to see me. She seemed unconvinced when I assured her that, as a fifth year medical student, I did not require un medico. But at dinner, faced with a large pile of battered plantains, nausea took hold and the landlady insisted I see a doctor. In no state to protest, I was bundled into a car and taken to the local clinic.
I had read somewhere that, considering the dire state of Cuba's economy, its health care system is pretty good. My clinic visit, at least initially, seemed to support this hypothesis. The doctor saw me immediately. The conversation, in broken English and Spanish, went as follows:
Doctor: Name? Age? Occupation?
Me: Isobel. 23. Medical student (a claim that produced hilarity among most of the doctors I was to meet).
Doctor: Fever?
Me: Yes
Doctor: Cough?
Me: No
Doctor: Runny nose?
Me: No
Doctor: Any respiratory symptoms at all?
Me: No
A thermometer confirmed the fever. The doctor scribbled something on a piece of loo roll and handed it to me, indicating it was for my temperature, and pointed me in the direction of two nurses. Expecting to be given some paracetamol and sent home, I was unprepared for the unbelievably painful injection into my left buttock which followed and caused me to black out.
I was put in a room decorated with peeling wallpaper and a poster featuring a few pearls of wisdom from Che Guevara. Several hours later, a consultant epidemiologist appeared, giving me the first inkling that I might be in more trouble than I had previously thought. I tried desperately to convince her that I merely had an upset stomach. No such luck. A phone call to the local hospital seemed to have set off more alarm bells. So, it was into an ambulance and off to the hospital where I was met by a couple of exhausted emergency doctors who told me they were putting me in quarantine for suspected swine flu and said that if I remained at large I was possibly in breach of international law. Preferring Cuban hospital to Cuban jail, I was stuck.
Shepherded down unlit corridors, I was surprised to find, as we arrived at the isolation unit at 3am, that the entire ward seemed to have got out of bed to form a welcoming party. I discovered later that this was because each of them spoke about three words of English and only together could they occasionally form a sentence.
Locked in and consigned to a two-bed bay, I prepared myself for a long stay. That it would not be a particularly comfortable one was apparent the following morning when my request for a breakfast of bread, butter and orange juice yielded wafers, salad cream and a litre carton of fruit purée for vitamin-deficient six-month-olds. Initially, lunch looked more promising. In my few days of freedom I had not managed to sample the local delicacy, moros y cristianos – a combination of rice, black beans and garlic. By the time I had eaten this for lunch and dinner four days in a row, I was feeling remarkably unchristian.
As the days passed, I became accustomed to the routine. Twice a day the nurses would appear to give me Tamiflu and perform an inventory of the bed linen: (two sheets, one towel, one loo roll). A doctor visited me briefly each day and asked if I had any symptoms, to which the answer was always no. They had all vanished as I was taken into quarantine.
The nurses' understanding of the word quarantine was intriguing. We were all told to wear our masks except when we were eating, which meant that we sat in the dining area infecting each other as we struggled with the beans (four of my fellow inmates tested positive for swine flu). When the doctors weren't looking, they would let us speak to visitors through a grille.
My companion in the bay was a female Cuban expat from Miami whose English consisted of frequent cries of "Oh my Gaaad", usually in response to the arrival of the wafer and salad cream combination. One "Oh my Gaaad" moment was particularly memorable. The nurses usually took our blood pressure and temperature at around 4am. This time they left a couple of small bottles, saying they were "for the bathroom". How kind of them to bring bath salts, I thought drowsily (not that there was a bath). When I woke up I found an empty bottle of antibiotics and it gradually dawned that this was probably meant to be for a urine sample. Hearing another "Oh my Gaaad" from across the bay, I learned that it was indeed a sample pot, but not for urine. The logistical challenges this presented were too much for us and we managed to get away with hiding the pots in a cupboard until the nurses forgot about them.
The other inmates were mainly teenage boys who relieved their boredom by attempting to kill members of a bat colony which would fly in from their roost outside, with a piece of wood. I gained some satisfaction by standing next to the window as the bats flew in at dusk and glaring at any would-be bat murderer until they gave up.
By my third day, my supply of holiday reading was beginning to run out and I sent my boyfriend, who had parked himself in a nearby hotel, to find some more, which he did by bribing the local librarian to let him "borrow" an eclectic collection of Kipling, Updike and Faulkner. These he delivered – along with a supply of biscuits – through the grille.
I finally escaped five days after I had been admitted when my results came back as "swine flu negative". We had already missed our flight back, but the doctors and nurses sorted everything out with immigration on our behalf and we managed to get home without further mishap.
Despite the feeling of being in a story by Kafka, I was impressed with the professionalism of doctors who do their best with meagre resources and chastened by the thought that they earn a mere $30-$40 (£18-£24) per month. I won't be complaining about junior doctors' pay for a while.

 by Nik Steinberg

February 27, 2010

Under Cuba's "dangerousness" law, authorities can imprison people who have not committed a crime on the suspicion that they might commit one in the future. "Dangerous" activities include handing out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, writing articles critical of the government and trying to start an independent union.
Nik Steinberg
Click. And then silence.
It was the sound I dreaded in my calls to Cuba. As I gathered testimony from relatives of political prisoners, I never knew what an abrupt end to the call meant.
Had the Cuban intelligence services cut the line, or was it just the shoddy phone system? I would call back immediately, often getting a busy signal or a recorded message that the number was not in service. If I found out what had happened, it was usually days or weeks later.
"A neighbor dropped by to check on me, someone sospechoso."
"I don't know, my phone just stopped working."
For months I made -- and lost -- these calls. Because Cuba does not allow visits from human rights groups, we are forced to gather information from phone interviews, reports from local groups and the rare copies of prison sentences smuggled out by visiting relatives.
For nearly five decades, Fidel Castro silenced virtually all forms of dissent in Cuba, locking up anyone who dared to criticize his government. After ailing health forced him to hand control to his younger brother in 2006, many hoped that repression would ease. But Raúl Castro has allowed scores of political prisoners arrested under Fidel to languish. One of those, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died last week after an 85-day hunger strike, which he had undertaken to protest the conditions in which he was held.
Raúl Castro has also incarcerated scores more political prisoners, such as Ramón Velásquez, who completed a three-year sentence in January, but was reportedly detained again following Zapata Tamayo's death. I first spoke to Ramón's wife, Bárbara, on the phone last March. She told me how on Dec. 10, 2006, they had set out with their 18-year-old daughter, Rufina, on a "march of dignity" across Cuba to call for respect for human rights and freedom for political prisoners.
They marched silently, from east to west, sleeping on roadsides or in the homes of people who took them in. Along their way, police detained them, they were attacked and cars even ran them off the road. They kept marching. In January 2007, more than 185 miles from where they started, Ramón was arrested. He was accused of "dangerousness," tried in a closed hearing and sentenced to three years in prison.
Under Cuba's "dangerousness" law, authorities can imprison people who have not committed a crime on the suspicion that they might commit one in the future. "Dangerous" activities include handing out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, writing articles critical of the government and trying to start an independent union.
Bárbara and I spoke several times over the following months about her trips to visit Ramón in prison; about her son René, who took care of her; and about how Rufina had fled to the United States after her father's arrest.
My organization repeatedly sought permission to visit Cuba but never received a response. Eventually, we decided to go anyway. To minimize risks, we told no one we were coming. Last summer a colleague and I rented a car in Havana and drove east, conducting interviews along the way. We stayed nowhere for longer than a day.
When we arrived at the Velásquez home on the outskirts of Las Tunas, only René was there. Bárbara was on her way back from visiting Ramón in prison, he said.
We sat in a small kitchen with a dirt floor. Inside were two small chairs, a worn wooden table and a single-burner gas stove. A door opened on a room just big enough to fit a mattress and a dresser.
René told us he had not been on the march and did not consider himself political. But shortly after his father's arrest, he came home to find "Death to the worms of house 58," his family's address, spray-painted on the nearby bus stop. A week later, he was fired from his longtime hospital job. Members of the local "revolutionary defense committee" -- the neighborhood association connected with the Communist Party -- insulted him in the street and tried to pick fights. A man was assigned to watch him and his mother; he stood on their corner and followed them as they came and went.
René's girlfriend stopped talking to him on her parents' orders. So did most of his friends, who were warned by police that they would find themselves in trouble if they kept hanging around a "counterrevolutionary."
"It's like having someone plant a boot right in the middle of my chest and applying so much pressure I can hardly breathe," René told us. "Some days I wake up and I think: I have nothing. I am nobody. I have no dreams left for my future." We encountered this profound sense of isolation time and again in visits with the families of political prisoners.
Soon Bárbara arrived from her five-hour journey. Exhausted, she talked for a few minutes and then went to lie down.
"For weeks after they arrested my father, she didn't leave that bed," René whispered. The upside, he said, laughing, was that he'd been forced to teach himself to cook.
When we left, René insisted on walking us to our car. We headed down the dirt road outside their home, past neighbors who stopped their conversations and stared, and past the man on the corner, who trailed a few yards behind us. When we reached the car, René hugged us and asked us to pass a message to his sister, to whom he hadn't spoken in months: "Tell her we're fine -- not to worry."
As we drove away, I looked in the rearview mirror. René turned around and walked home, past the watchful gaze of his neighbors.

What about The Human Rights?...

Respecting Human Dignity in Cuba

Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, ...
Wed Mar 3, 11:24 AM ET
Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, delivers his speech during the 13th session of the UN Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, March 3, 2010.
(AP Photo/Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

Mr. President;
It took 60 million deadly casualties during World War II to develop the concept of human rights, particularly the right to life and human dignity.
Much progress has been made in developing the human rights concept; very little has been done to guarantee its implementation. This issue has become one of the fundamental pillars of the United Nations, as well as international development, peace and security. However, this is the area where the ideological manipulation, political hypocrisy and double standards of industrialized countries have caused most ravages.
Those who take upon themselves the role of watchdogs of human rights and attempt to question others, are precisely the ones who are directly responsible for the most serious, systematic and flagrant violations of human rights, particularly the right to life.
They were the ones who masterminded the colonial system that was imposed to plunder the countries of the South and doom them to live in underdevelopment. They are the ones who bear responsibility for the present international economic order that silently murders tens of millions of human beings who fall victims of starvation, poverty and preventable and curable diseases. They are the ones who impose the modern wars of conquest that kill millions, mostly civilians, whom they amazingly call “collateral damages.”
They are also the beneficiaries of single thought, exclusive models and values, media warfare, the creation of immanent truths, the subculture of commercial advertisement, the imposition of conditioned reflexes, the deceitful, docile, stultifying embedded press that justifies or conceals massacres.
The US and its European allies resorted to the manipulation of terrorism to launch the wars whose aim was to control and conquer the energy resources in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have taken a toll on two million human lives and also served to justify involuntary disappearance, torture, secret renditions and detention centers where there is no recognition for International Humanitarian Law or the human being condition. It was the pretext to pass laws such as the “Patriot Act” whose implementation has just been extended by the US government, which encroaches on the liberties and guarantees conquered by the civil rights movement after several centuries of struggle.
Who will take responsibility for the brutal acts committed in Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo and other centers of torture and death? When will the responsible face trial, thus putting an end to impunity?
Who will take responsibility in European countries for the secret renditions, the clandestine prisons in these territories and their involvement in acts of torture?
This morning, the Deputy Foreign Minister from Sweden made a curious and arrogant speech that included critical judgments about nine countries. However, he did not say a word about the complicity of the Swedish government with secret renditions that made a stopover in his country while transferring kidnapped persons. We hope that his prolonged investigation of the matter would conclude some day and that he would deign to share the results with this Council.
What has been happening in Palestine for years is a true genocide. Thousands of Palestinians have lost their lives as a result of the indiscriminate military attacks and the tight sieges and blockades that deprive them from the most elemental means of subsistence.
The military dictatorships in Latin America, which have been imposed and propped up by the US for decades, have murdered hundreds of thousands of persons. Only in Cuba they caused the death of 20 000 people.
The right to life is continuously violated around the world. The very existence of the human species is being seriously jeopardized by climate change. The ones who have historically been and still are responsible for it are the same who unleash and conduct the wars of conquest. The shameful Copenhagen meeting, with all its deceitful and exclusive practices, was an act against the right of humanity to life and survival.
Mr. President;
For half a century Cuba has been a victim of US aggressions and terrorist actions. Five thousand five hundred and seventy seven Cubans have either lost their lives or have been left maimed.
The perpetrators of the blowing up in mid-air of a Cubana de Aviacion airliner in 1976 enjoy impunity and are being protected by the US government. A dengue epidemic that resulted from a bacteriological attack caused the death of 101 Cuban children. One of the several bombs that were planted in Havana in 1997 killed an Italian youth.
The so-called Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet foot/dry foot” policy encourage illegal migration and take a toll on human lives.
The economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed against Cuba is an act of genocide, defined as such in subparagraphs b) and c) under Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and is a mass, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights.
The US policy against Cuba, that the Government of President Obama has kept unchanged, is taking a toll on the lives of Cubans.
A new escalation of subversion, with broad media coverage, has been launched against Cuba. In no way has there been any respect for any ethical principle. An attempt is being made to make the mercenaries appear like patriots and make the US paid agents in Cuba appear as dissidents.
The powerful machinery of the empire did not hesitate to use a reoffender inmate, who was tried in court in accordance with due process of law for having committed common crimes -and later on recruited while in prison- to make him appear as a human rights fighter. In order to obtain spurious political dividends he was thrust into death, despite the thorough medical assistance offered to him. It was an unfortunate event, as was expressed by President Raul Castro. He was yet another victim of the subversive policy of the United States against Cuba.
Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, there has never been in Cuba a single case of assassination, torture or extrajudicial execution; there has never been a “death squad” or an “Operation Condor”. When it comes to the protection of the right to life, Cuba’s slate has been meritorious and impeccable, which includes its altruistic cooperation beyond its borders.
Mr. President;
I would have wished to refer to concrete aspects related to the serious work carried out by this Council; I would have liked to address this agency’s review, which is due to take place next year, in order to condemn the attempts to subdue it, modify its composition and procedures with the aim of forcing on the Council certain political interests. I would have wished to refer to the Universal Periodic Review, which proved to be a useful exercise, despite its imperfections and the lack of self-criticism on the part of the powerful who were showed up. I would have liked to defend the Council and outline the importance of preserving it free from politicization, discrimination, selectivity and double standards.
I can assure you that Cuba will continue to contribute its efforts and determination so that the Human Rights Council can preserve its independent course and cooperation is further consolidated as a true way to promote and protect human rights in the world.
On behalf of the heroic and noble people of Cuba I should proclaim that there would be no campaign that could make us drift away from our ideas of independence and freedom.
Thank you, very much.