Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Campaign for Alan Gross's Release

From the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

Communications activist silenced in Cuban jail cell

The family of Maryland's Alan Gross is mobilizing the Jewish community in a bid to help secure his release from a Cuban prison.
WASHINGTON - Alan Gross has been about communications all his life: The call-mom-everyday son, the family newsbreaker, the message guy for Jewish groups, the get-out-the-vote enthusiast for candidate Barack Obama, the technology contractor who helped the U.S. government bring the world's remotest populations into
the 21st century.

Now, however, Gross, 60, of Potomac, Md., has been languishing for three months in a Cuban high-security prison and his rare conversations are monitored by Cuban officials [...]

After weeks of taking a quiet approach to secure Gross' release, his family and friends launched a public campaign that is spreading to Jewish communities across the United States, attracting the support of U.S. lawmakers and high-profile media outlets. It kicked off last month when [his wife] Judy Gross issued a video appeal for the release of her husband of 40 years.

Read story here.
S: Capitol Hill Cubans

LPP Archive...

Torture in Castro's Cuba

by Armando Valladares  (July 30, 2000)
(Address of Ambassador Armando Valladares', Chief of the United State's Delegation to the United Nations Human Rights' Commission. Geneva, Switzerland, February 23, 1988)

Mr. Chairman, I am not a career diplomat, and I am not an expert on the technical aspects of this organism. I will not speak in a detailed manner on the reports and topics submitted under point 10. There will be other interventions during which we will listen to opinions on those important matters.

Mr. Chairman, today I want to speak about torture, about what it means for a human being to be tortured, to be humiliated, or what may be even worse, to watch a friend, a companion, or a relative being tortured.

As many of you know, I spent twenty-two years in prison for political reasons. Perhaps, I am the only delegate in this Commission who has spent such a long time in prison, although there are several persons here who have known in their own flesh the meaning of torture. I do not care about their political ideology, and I offer to you my embrace of solidarity, from tortured to tortured.

I had many friends in prison. One of them, Roberto López Chávez, was just a kid. He went on a hunger strike to protest the abuses. The guards denied him water, Roberto lay on the floor of his punishment cell, agonizing, deliriously asking for water. water… The soldiers came in and asked him: "Do you want water?"… The they took out their members and urinated in his mouth, on his face… He died the following day. We were cellmates; when he died I felt something wither inside me.

I recall when they kept me in a punishment cell, naked, with several fractures on one leg which never received medical care; today, those bones remain jammed up together and displaced. One of the regular drills among the guards was to stand on the steel mesh ceiling and throw at my face buckets full of urine and excrement.

Mr. Chairman, I know the taste of the urine and the excrement of other men… that practice does not leave marks; marks are left by beatings with steel rods and by bayonet thrusts. My head is still covered with scars and you can feel the cracks.

But, what can inflict more damage to human dignity, the urine and excrements thrown all over your face or a bayonet's blow? Which is the appropriate article for the discussion of this subject? Under which technical point does it fall? Under what batch of papers, numbers, lines and bars should we include this trampling of human dignity?

For me, and for innumerable other human beings around the world. The violation of human rights was not a matter of reports, of negotiated resolutions, of elegant and diplomatic rhetoric, for us was a daily suffering.

For me (it meant) eight thousand days of hunger, of systematic beatings, of hard labor, of solitary confinement, of cells with steel-planked windows and doors, of solitude.

Eight thousand days of struggling to prove that I was a human being. Eight thousand days of proving that my spirit could triumph over exhaustion and pain. Eight thousand days of testing my religious convictions, my faith, of fighting the hate my atheist jailers were trying to instill in me with each bayonet thrust, fighting so that hate would not flourish in my heart [Editor's Note: Atheism has nothing to do with torture -- as evidence the Inquisition by the Church]. Eight thousand days of struggling so that I would not become like them, rejecting torture as a mean to fight, forcing myself to forgive, rejecting the thoughts of revenge, reprisal and cruelty.

And when cruelty is extended to one's family, does not it become a means of torture? My father is an elderly man, he is very ill; he too suffered political imprisonment. Because he is my father he is not allowed to leave the country. For two years now, the authorities are preying on him as reprisal for my activities. They do not beat him, but they tell him that he will be leaving the country on the following day. My father travels to the Capital full of illusions. And when he is about to board the plane, they tell him that it was a bureaucratic error that he most goes back to his hometown. They do this to him every two or five weeks. They are damaging his mind, in the same manner that they destroyed my sister's, who is currently undergoing psychiatric treatment.

Occasionally, the world of the grieving has poetic traits. I think it was a book by Victor Frankel, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, where I read that in the midst of the total disheartenment in which they lived, they were kept alive by a violinist. A fellow prisoner invariably played a classical piece on his violin at sundown and they all turned silent to listen him. That violin, pulling notes from its strings in the midst of their suffering was a secret ray of hope.

Bertold Brecht, the German playwright, tells a similar story in a moving monologue. It tells of two Jewish teenagers imprisoned at a hard-labor camp. They are a girl and a boy, and a fence keeps them apart. They have never spoken but their eyes crossed and they are in love. Daily, at the fence that separates them, each one leaves a flower pulled among the weeds as a testimony of their love. One day, her flower is missing. The following day his is gone. Hopelessness killed them both.

The arbitrariness of tyrants reduces their victims to the condition of mere beasts… dehumanizes them. In the same manner that animals are tied down, locked up or beaten without explanation, totalitarian regimes treat their adversaries as beasts. And there are times, when one is being treated like a beast, that the only thing that saves us from the most degrading humiliation, the only thing that keeps us firm, is to know that somewhere else there is another soul that loves us, that respect us and that is fighting for the return of the dignity that has been snatched from us.

I had the luck, Mr. Chairman, of having people who was fighting for my freedom, and of having my wife who went from country to country, knocking on every door and on every conscience, on people and governments, pressuring them for my freedom. But the majority of those who suffer the violation of their human rights have one sole hope the international community. Against all hope, they only think of you, they only hope in you.

Unfortunately, I have some first-hand experience on these grieves. Many years, maybe twenty years ago, a political prisoner named Fernando López Toro came near my cell and told me in a disheartened voice that what hurt him the most about our torments, the beatings inflicted upon us, the hunger we suffered, was to think that our sacrifice was useless. Fernando was not broken by the pain but by the futility of the pain. I tried to explain to him that in the face of total ignorance and indifference from the rest of the world, our suffering still had an ethical sense and carried valuable transcendence, but I think I did not get through to him. A few years later, prisons apart, I heard that Fernando could not hold on any longer and took his own life.

Months later I learned the details. Because of other inmates in his cell were too weak and distraught, and practically annihilated because of the physical cruelties inflicted upon them, they stood motionless, and Fernando was able to climb up on his bunk bed, wrap a dirty rag around his neck, cut it open with a piece of sharpened metal, with his fingers feeling for the jugular vein; then with one stroke, slashed it. He died within minutes.

It is always said that his jailers were directly responsible for his death, but I know that Fernando was also the victim of general apathy and lack of solidarity, of silence, of that terrible soundless universe where so many worthy men and women continue to die in this century of horrors and tramplings.

Torture and violations of human rights, come from where might, are an aggression against all mankind and we must fight back with all our strength. There lies, precisely, the efficacy of our message.

International denouncements achieve their objective. They are the only means of pressuring the torturers, the only means to force them to free prisoners for the sake of public image, to save face, to be more careful, to transgressing less.

Denouncing the criminal does not guarantee his punishment but it may deter him from continuing the practice. We must raise our voices without fear and use all resources available to defend the persecuted, the tortured of the world. We must shout their suffering for them and fearlessly denounce their henchmen.

We must enter the cell of every Fernando López del Toro in the world, embrace him in solidarity and tell them to their faces, "do not take your life, there are men of good will who are standing by you, your dignity as a human being will prevail. In remembrance, there will always be a flower, the notes of a violin, the saddened voice of the so-called brothers who grief with you and defend you. Look, you are not a beast. Do not take your life. Freedom will never disappear from the face of the Earth."

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Armando Valladares, is a Cuban poet released (because of international pressure) from Castro's political dungeons in 1982 after serving 22 years of a 30 year sentence for publicly opposing the Communist take over of the Cuban Revolution. President Reagan

“The US economic, financial, and commercial blockade against Cuba is “torture”,” says Miguel Bose

But...but..but it's simply about THE MUSIC! About PEACE! About LOVE!---Politics has NOTHING to do with our (Juanes) Concert!"...

Remember that monotonous little song from this summer?....
Well, now the swine Bose oinks the truth..(which is to say what all intransigents and "hate-mongers" knew and said all along--indeed from the 'freakin instant that concert was announced!)
Recalling the concert at the Revolution Square in Havana, the Spanish singer said it had generated many threats, referring to intimidation from a minority of the Cuban community in Miami.
Entire article here.
And to oink about a lack of commercial credit (genuine nature of "blockade", as we all know) as "torture" at a time of genuine torture, of beatings and hunger strikes....well--again: intransigents saw through this pig from day one.

Odds and ends

  • Herald: Hunger striker Guillermo Farinas will not take up an offer to go to Spain, preferring to stay in Cuba and carry out his protest. An earlier AP interview with him here.
  • Cuban television is running an eight-part series on the history of attempts on Fidel Castro’s life.
  • Reuters: Beginning in May, visitors to Cuba will be required to buy health insurance to cover the time of their stay. So far, none of the reports say how much it will cost.
  • Herald: “La Entranable Lejania” (“The Closest Farthest Away”), a play featuring bot Cuban and American actors, opens in Miami Beach.

US Lifts Iran, Sudan, Cuba Internet Services Export Ban

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The U.S. Department of the Treasury has loosened controls on the export of Internet-based communication services to Iran, Sudan and Cuba, in an effort to spread free-speech freedoms to those countries, the agency said Monday.
U.S. companies can now export instant messaging, e-mail and social-networking tools, blogging software, Web browsers and photo and movie sharing software, as long as the software is publicly available at no cost to the user, the Department of Treasury said in a press release.
"Consistent with the [President Barack Obama] administration's deep commitment to the universal rights of all the world's citizens, the issuance of these general licenses will make it easier for individuals in Iran, Sudan and Cuba to use the Internet to communicate with each other and with the outside world," Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin said in a statement. "Today's actions will enable Iranian, Sudanese and Cuban citizens to exercise their most basic rights."
Instant messaging, e-mail and other Internet communications programs will enable the "free flow of information" in the three countries, he added.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in January that her agency will launch several new initiatives focused on fighting Internet censorship, including working with businesses and other groups to develop mobile applications that help residents of countries with repressive governments report problems.
The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a digital rights group, praised the decision to loosen the export controls.
"It's a really great first step toward making sure that free expression and access to information on the global Internet isn't actually chilled by our own export control policies," said Cynthia Wong, a CDT staff attorney.
However, U.S. lawmakers have expressed recent concerns about U.S. technology being used to block access to the Internet or conduct surveillance on residents of countries such as Iran, Wong noted. The U.S. government should consider stronger export controls on some kinds of Web filtering and surveillance tools, she said.
Berin Szoka, director of the Center for Internet Freedom at free-market think tank the Progress and Freedom Foundation, also praised the change.
"I'm delighted to see that the Treasury Department is implementing Secretary Clinton's pledge to make it easier for citizens of oppressive, undemocratic regimes to use Internet communications tools like e-mail and social networking services offered by U.S. companies," he said. "It has been no small tragedy of mindless bureaucracy that our sanctions on these countries have actually hampered communications and collaboration by dissidents -- without doing anything to punish ruling regimes."
But Szoka said he was "at a loss" to explain why the waiver was limited to no-cost software.
"The U.S. has long objected when other countries privilege one model of software development over another -- and rightly so, for the proper policy position between open source and closed source, and between free and paid is one of simple neutrality," he said. "Why should we allow dissidents to download free 'Web 2.0' software but not paid ones? Not all mass-market tools dissidents would find useful are free."
Many applications that are free to download require payment to get full functionality, sometimes including privacy and security features, Szoka said.
"If Treasury is worried about creating a loophole that could allow evasion of U.S. sanctions, surely there are better ways to prevent such abuse than simply continuing to ban even small software purchases, especially since the dollar amount for 'freemium' apps is often just a few dollars," he added. "Or the U.S. Government could even negotiate a blanket license for all downloads from embargoed countries with software developers to ensure that our export controls do not prevent dissidents from getting the best tools available."
A Treasury Department official said presidentially or congressionally ordered trade sanctions remain in place against all three countries, meaning sale of many U.S. goods and services into all three countries is still illegal.

Cuba blasts foreign press for dissident coverage

  • 15 votes
Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas speaks during an interview with The Associated AP – Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his home in …
HAVANA – Cuba on Monday strongly criticized foreign press coverage of a dissident hunger striker as part of a campaign to discredit the island's political system. Guillermo Farinas, a freelance opposition journalist, has refused food and water since Feb. 24 to protest the death of another hunger striker and demand the release from jail of some 26 political prisoners said to be in poor health. "Cuba will not accept pressure or blackmail," proclaimed a red-letter headline in the Communist Party daily Granma, which said, "Important Western media groups are again calling attention to a prefabricated lie." It was the first time Cuba's state news media had mentioned the hunger strike. Several foreign media organizations, including The Associated Press, traveled to Farinas' home in the central city of Santa Clara last week to interview him about his protest. Farinas told AP he was not demanding the overthrow of the government or greater freedom of expression. He said he would give up his fast if the ailing political prisoners are released, but vowed to otherwise continue until his own death. Farinas passed out last week and relatives took him to a hospital, where doctors administered fluids intravenously. A family spokeswoman said Monday he is extremely weak. "His eyes are sunken and he is more dehydrated," Licet Zamora told AP by phone. Granma said Farinas' legal troubles began because of a physical altercation with a female co-worker — not politics — and described him as a paid agent of the United States and employee of the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains in Cuba instead of an embassy. Cuba has long described dissidents as "mercenaries" and claimed they get money from Washington. Farinas denies receiving funds from the U.S. government. The Cubanacan Press news agency that he works for operates on a free Web log hosting service and on Facebook, where posts also are free. Other than a full shelf of books, there are no obvious signs of wealth in Farinas' concrete two-story house, which has cracks in its crumbling facade and simple wooden furniture inside. The Granma article disavowed any government responsibility for Farinas' fate. "It is not medicine that should resolve a problem that was created intentionally to discredit our political system but rather the patient himself, unpatriotic people, foreign diplomats and the media that manipulates him" Granma wrote. "The consequences will be their responsibility, and theirs alone." Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Havana-based Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said in a statement that the article in state-media meant that the government was "laying the groundwork to justify the eventual death" of Farinas. Granma said that Cuban doctors have repeatedly intervened to save the man's life in the 22 other hunger strikes he has launched over the past 15 years. It also noted that hunger strikes put governments in a difficult position, since many countries consider force feeding a violation of human rights. It said such measures could only be taken once "a patient is in shock." Farinas' relatives say they will continue to bring him to the hospital and allow doctors to intervene each time he loses consciousness, meaning his hunger strike could go on for some time. The death of the first hunger striker, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, sparked condemnation of Cuba in Washington and several European capitals. Unlike Farinas, Zapata Tamayo was in prison and was listed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. President Raul Castro said he regretted the man's death but denied he was tortured and blamed problems on the island on Washington's 48-year trade embargo.

Cuba rejects hunger striker's 'blackmail'

  • 0 votes
Cuba rejects hunger striker's 'blackmail' AFP/File – A Cuban flag hangs near an old building in the island state's capital Havana. Cuba has denounced …
HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba has denounced the 12-day hunger strike of dissident journalist Guillermo Farinas as "blackmail" as it rejected his demand to free 26 political prisoners needing medical care. But Farinas, 48, vowed to press ahead "to the end" with his protest fast, which he began the day after political prisoner Orlando Zapata died on the 85th day of his own hunger strike. "I say to them: either they free the 26 political prisoners who are the sickest, or nothing. I am going to stick to my position to the end," Farinas told AFP by telephone. "They say it is unacceptable blackmail, I say it is a gesture of goodwill." Farinas also said he had rebuffed an offer of asylum from Spain and that he told Spanish ambassador Carlos Perez-Desoy that "the invitation should be extended to the 26" detainees seeking medical care. He said Perez-Desoy visited him Monday for a second time in four days and indicated that the Cuban government had asked Madrid to accept him. The Communist Party newspaper Granma, the mouthpiece of the Cuban leadership, weighed in for the first time on Farinas's refusal to take food or water, accusing him of being an agent of US and European interests. "Cuba, which has demonstrated many times its respect for human life and dignity, will not accept pressure or blackmail," the newspaper said. It equated the Farinas case to that of Zapata, who died last month during a hunger strike. Granma called Zapata a victim of "manipulation" by opponents of Cuba in Washington. Farinas fainted and was taken to hospital on Wednesday, two days after two government doctors and a nurse found him to be very dehydrated during a medical visit. But the dissident has refused treatment, saying he is ready to die for his cause. After Zapata's death, international human rights groups called on Cuba to release all political prisoners. But Granma said: "In this case, it is not medicine that must resolve a problem created with the intent to discredit our political system but the patient himself and the stateless people, foreign diplomats and the media who manipulate him. "The consequences will be his responsibility, and his alone." Farinas said the Granma article was an attempt to discredit him by claiming that "the one who is going to die is not a pro-democracy revolutionary but a revolutionary who has been tricked and changed under the direction of a foreign power." Meanwhile, 43 Cuban political prisoners released a statement saying they were "profoundly touched" by Farinas's sacrifice. "If the regime lets him die, it will show its complete contempt for justice and respect for human rights," they said. Dissident economist Oscar Espinoza said Granma's response to the hunger strike was "irresponsible." The head of the outlawed Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission, Elizardo Sanchez, said: "It leaves the impression that the government dreams of letting Farinas die, just as it did with Zapata." If Farinas does die, "it would complicate our relations with Cuba," a European diplomat said on condition of anonymity. The European Union restored relations with the communist island in 2008 after a five-year break prompted by a wave of arrests of opposition activists, but the relationship has been a difficult one. Meanwhile, Cuba's perennially adversarial relations with the United States, which has imposed a trade embargo on the island for 48 years, appeared to ease last year with President Barack Obama's arrival in the White House. But tensions resurfaced in December with the arrest of an American contractor accused of trying to overthrow the regime by supplying communications equipment to the opposition.

Dissident's death spurs new protests in Cuba
Updated 1h 39m ago
Physician Ismely Iglesias checks Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas' blood pressure last week. Farinas has since been taken to the hospital by relatives.
By Franklin Reyes, AP
Physician Ismely Iglesias checks Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas' blood pressure last week. Farinas has since been taken to the hospital by relatives.
Dissidents are going on hunger strikes in Cuba after the death of a prisoner of conscience in an attempt to bring global attention to the oppression of the Castro regime, dissidents and rights groups say.
"If they allow me to die, it will demonstrate to the world that there have been political executions here in Cuba from 1959 until the present day," said Guillermo Fariñas, referring to the more than 50 years that Cuba has been under communist control.
Fariñas, 48, went on a hunger strike Feb. 24, a day after the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Tamayo, 42, died after refusing food and water for 82 days.
Two other prisoners — Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia and Evan Hernandez Carrillos — have also announced hunger strikes, according to the Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directorate, which tracks opposition figures in Cuba.
Fariñas, who spoke last week from his home in Santa Clara, has since been taken to a hospital by relatives. He said Tamayo's death has energized Cuba's dissident movement.
"It has really touched the opposition," Fariñas said. "Everyone wants to show support."
The movement comes as the United States and Europe have been softening their stances toward Cuba. The Obama administration lifted restrictions on travel to the island by Cuban Americans and toned down the language on Cuba in the annual State Department terrorism report.
In Congress, bills have been filed to ease restrictions further. The European Union lifted diplomatic sanctions, and Cuba's suspension from the Organization of American States has been ended as well.
Some Cuba experts see the hunger strikes as a gamble as a way of trying to prompt change.
"Once these people lose their life, it does not help the opposition movement," said Juan del Aguila, an associate professor at Emory University in Atlanta who has studied the Cuban opposition. "It is clearly a sign of desperation, no question about it."
About 200 Cubans have been imprisoned for crimes such as criticizing the government's economic policies to passing out pamphlets against abortion or on the United Nations Bill of Rights.
As many as 5,000 Cubans served sentences for "dangerousness," without being charged with any specific crime, according to the State Department. Prisoners are beaten on a near-daily basis in cells infested with vermin and lacking water, according to the department's human rights report.
The International Committee of the Red Cross regularly visits prisons to check on conditions, including the U.S. facility for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay. It has been refused access to Cuba's prisons. "It's been a long time since we've been able to visit Cuban prisons," says Marçal Izard, an ICRC spokesman.
There was hope things would change when Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raúl, but Human Rights Watch says Raúl Castro has locked up scores of people for exercising their fundamental freedoms. The group says Raúl Castro has used the courts to silence free speech, quash labor rights and criminalize dissent. Human rights defenders, journalists and others have been given sham trials and imprisoned for lengthy terms, the group says.
Tamayo had been imprisoned since 2003 on charges that include "disrespecting authority." Government media denounced him as a "common prisoner."
Fariñas' first arrest came as a journalist for reporting on hospital corruption. He has since served 11 years for a variety of offenses. On Monday, Cuba denounced him in the Gramma newspaper and said it "will not accept pressure or blackmail."
Fariñas said he recognizes that he is in a showdown and that Raúl Castro is not likely to give in.
"I don't plan on giving up, either," Fariñas said.

TODAY - March 09, 2010

Pacific Ocean (Getty Images/Brian J. Skerry)

 Growing low-oxygen zones in oceans worry scientists

WASHINGTON — Lower levels of oxygen in the Earth's oceans, particularly off the United States' Pacific Northwest coast, could be another sign of fundamental changes linked to global climate change, scientists say. They warn that the oceans' complex undersea ecosystems and fragile food chains could be disrupted. In some spots off Washington state and Oregon , the almost complete absence of oxygen has left piles of Dungeness crab carcasses littering the ocean floor, killed off 25-year-old sea stars, crippled colonies of sea anemones and produced mats of potentially noxious bacteria that thrive in such conditions. Areas of hypoxia, or low oxygen, have long existed in the deep ocean. These areas — in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans — appear to be spreading, however, covering more square miles, creeping toward the surface and in some places, such as the Pacific Northwest , encroaching on the continental shelf within sight of the coastline. "The depletion of oxygen levels in all three oceans is striking," said Gregory Johnson , an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle . In some spots, such as off the Southern California coast, oxygen levels have dropped roughly 20 percent over the past 25 years. Elsewhere, scientists say, oxygen levels might have declined by one-third over 50 years. "The real surprise is how this has become the new norm," said Jack Barth , an oceanography professor at Oregon State University . "We are seeing it year after year." Barth and others say the changes are consistent with current climate-change models. Previous studies have found that the oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. "If the Earth continues to warm, the expectation is we will have lower and lower oxygen levels," said Francis Chan , a marine researcher at Oregon State . As ocean temperatures rise, the warmer water on the surface acts as a cap, which interferes with the natural circulation that normally allows deeper waters that are already oxygen-depleted to reach the surface. It's on the surface where ocean waters are recharged with oxygen from the air. Commonly, ocean "dead zones" have been linked to agricultural runoff and other pollution coming down major rivers such as the Mississippi or the Columbia . One of the largest of the 400 or so ocean dead zones is in the Gulf of Mexico , near the mouth of the Mississippi . However, scientists now say that some of these areas, including those off the Northwest, apparently are linked to broader changes in ocean oxygen levels. The Pacific waters off Washington and Oregon face a double whammy as a result of ocean circulation. Scientists have long known of a natural low-oxygen zone perched in the deeper water off the Northwest's continental shelf. During the summer, northerly winds aided by the Earth's rotation drive surface water away from the shore. This action sucks oxygen-poor water to the surface in a process called upwelling. Though the water that's pulled up from the depths is poor in oxygen, it's rich in nutrients, which fertilize phytoplankton. These microscopic organisms form the bottom of one of the richest ocean food chains in the world. As they die, however, they sink and start to decay. The decaying process uses oxygen, which depletes the oxygen levels even more. Southerly winds reverse the process in what's known as down-welling. Changes in the wind and ocean circulation since 2002 have disrupted what had been a delicate balance between upwelling and down-welling. Scientists now are discovering expanding low-oxygen zones near shore. "It is consistent with models of global warming, but the time frame is too short to know whether it is a trend or a weather phenomenon," Johnson said. Others were slightly more definitive, quicker to link the lower oxygen levels to global warming rather than to such weather phenomena as El Nino or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a shift in the weather that occurs every 20 to 30 years in the northern oceans. "It's a large disturbance in the ecosystem that could have huge biological changes," said Steve Bograd , an oceanographer at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Southern California . Bograd has been studying oxygen levels in the California Current, which runs along the West Coast from the Canadian border to Baja California and, some scientists think, eventually could be affected by climate change. So far, the worst hypoxic zone off the Northwest coast was found in 2006. It covered nearly 1,200 square miles off Newport, Ore. , and according to Barth it was so close to shore you could hit it with a baseball. The zone covered 80 percent of the water column and lasted for an abnormally long four months. Because of upwelling, some of the most fertile ocean areas in the world are found off Washington and Oregon . Similar upwelling occurs in only three other places, off the coast of Peru and Chile , in an area stretching from northern Africa to Portugal and along the Atlantic coast of South Africa and Namibia . Scientists are unsure how low oxygen levels will affect the ocean ecosystem. Bottom-dwelling species could be at the greatest risk because they move slowly and might not be able to escape the lower oxygen levels. Most fish can swim out of danger. Some species, however, such as chinook salmon, may have to start swimming at shallower depths than they're used to. Whether the low oxygen zones will change salmon migration routes is unclear. Some species, such as jellyfish, will like the lower-oxygen water. Jumbo squid, usually found off Mexico and Central America , can survive as oxygen levels decrease and now are found as far north as Alaska . "It's like an experiment," Chan said. "We are pulling some things out of the food web and we will have to see what happens. But if you pull enough things out, it could have a real impact." ON THE WEB The Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Oregon State University's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences MORE FROM MCCLATCHY As oceans fall ill, Washington bureaucrats squabble Asia -produced ozone making its way to U.S., study finds An El Nino winter has consequences