Friday, March 12, 2010

Cuba rebuked by European Parliament over Zapata Tamayo's death

The European Parliament voted Thursday to condemn Cuba by a crushing margin over a hunger striker's death, and Spain's ruling Socialists later hinted they might trim back their bid to improve European ties with Havana.
The 509-30 vote drew an angry retort from Havana, saying it was the result of a "dirty debate" and "profound cynicism" by rich nations that opt for "consumerism" while Cuba helps poor nations like Haiti.
"A condemnation so discriminatory and selective can be explained only by the failure of a policy incapable of bringing a heroic people to its knees," declared Cuba's legislature, the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas was rushed to a hospital Thursday, his 16th day of refusing food and liquids to demand the release of political prisoners. Fariñas fainted around 2 p.m. while friends and journalists were visiting him, and was taken by private car to the Arnaldo Milian Castro hospital in his hometown of Santa Clara, said his wife, Clara Pérez.

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EU slams Cuba for rights violations



STRASBOURG, France — The European Parliament voted Thursday to condemn Cuba for the "avoidable and cruel" death of a dissident hunger striker, prompting the communist regime to vow it will not bend to international pressure.
The Parliament called on Cuba to immediately release its political prisoners and urged Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign and security affairs chief, to push the dictatorship headed by the Castro brothers toward a peaceful transition to multiparty democracy.
The vote, adopted 509-30 with 14 abstentions, follows the Feb. 23 death of jailed Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after an 83-day hunger strike in protest of the way dissidents are treated in the jails.
Another opposition member, freelance journalist Guillermo Fariñas, has been on a hunger strike since Feb. 24 and vows to continue it until dissidents are released.
Cuba, which had hoped for improved relations with Europe following Spain's ascension to the EU presidency in January, blasted the EU vote as hypocritical and wrong.
"Following a sullied debate, the European Parliament has just passed a condemnation resolution against our country, manipulating sentiments, distorting facts, deceiving people and obscuring reality," Cuba's National Parliament declared in a statement.
"Cubans find it offensive, this attempt at teaching us lessons," the parliamentary declaration said.
On Thursday, Fariñas lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara, his second trip to the hospital since he began the fast. He was previously given intravenous fluids.
Fariñas says he will continue his protest unless Cuban President Raúl Castro's government agrees to release 26 ailing political prisoners. Castro was handed power by his brother Fidel, who has been sick.
The EU Parliament said it was particularly concerned about Fariñas, calling his condition "alarming."
"We cannot afford another death in Cuba. We call for the immediate release of all political prisoners," said Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European assembly.
Buzek said Cuba has ignored appeals for increased democracy from around the world.
The Caribbean island has been ruled by the Castro brothers since 1959. There are about 200 political prisoners in Cuban jails, according to human rights groups such as Amnesty International.
Cubans can be jailed for lengthy prison terms for crimes such as criticizing the government's economic policies or passing out pamphlets 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 U.S. State Department. Prisoners are beaten on a near-daily basis in cells infested with vermin and lacking water, according to a department human rights report.
"We need action," Buzek said. "The Cuban government must respect fundamental freedoms, especially the freedom of expression and political association. Freedom of movement must also be respected."
Cuba "rejects impositions, intolerance and pressure" from abroad, the Cuban parliamentary statement said.
It said Europe is in no position to judge Cuba given Europe's poor treatment of immigrants and the unemployed and its alleged complicity with the United States' treatment of al-Qaeda terror suspects.
The Cuban government considers the dissidents to be paid stooges of Washington, and says most — including both Zapata Tamayo and Fariñas — are common criminals.
In Brazil, presidential spokesman Marcelo Baumbach said Thursday that the government had received a letter from imprisoned Cuban dissidents asking President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to intercede with Raúl Castro to revise their sentences.
Baumbach said Lula had not read the letter. The five-page letter was signed by 50 Cuban dissidents. They asked for Lula's help in getting their sentences reduced.

EU condemns Cuba for rights violations

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STRASBOURG, France – The European Parliament voted Thursday to condemn Cuba for the "avoidable and cruel" death of a dissident hunger striker, earning a stinging response from Havana, which said it did not appreciate the lecture and would not respond to international pressure. The European assembly called on Cuba to immediately release its political prisoners and urged Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign and security affairs chief, to push the totalitarian, Communist-run island toward a peaceful transition to multiparty democracy. The vote, adopted 509-30 with 14 abstentions, follows the Feb. 23 death of jailed Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who succumbed after an 83-day hunger strike. Another opposition member, freelance journalist Guillermo Farinas, has been on his own hunger strike since Feb. 24. Farinas lost consciousness Thursday and was rushed to the hospital in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara on Thursday, his second trip to the hospital since he began the fast. Licet Zamora said Farinas passed out just after midday. On the seventh day of his fast, Farinas also passed out and was taken to the hospital, where doctors hooked him up to an IV and administered eight liters of fluids and nutrients. Farinas says he will continue the protest until his death unless Cuban President Raul Castro's government agrees to release 26 ailing political prisoners. The EU parliament said it was particularly concerned about Farinas, calling his condition "alarming." "We cannot afford another death in Cuba. We call for the immediate release of all political prisoners," Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European assembly, said. Buzek said Cuba has ignored appeals for increased democracy from around the world. The Caribbean island has been ruled by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro since they ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. There are some 200 political prisoners in Cuban jails, according to human rights groups. "We need action," said Buzek. "The Cuban government must respect fundamental freedoms, especially the freedom of expression and political association. Freedom of movement must also be respected." Cuba, which had hoped for improved relations with Europe following Spain's ascension to the EU presidency in January, blasted the EU vote as hypocritical and wrong. "Following a sullied debate, the European Parliament has just passed a condemnation resolution against our country, manipulating sentiments, distorting facts, deceiving people and obscuring reality," Cuba's National Parliament declared in a statement later Thursday. "Cubans find it offensive this attempt at teaching us lessons," the parliamentary declaration continued. It said Europe was in no position to judge Cuba given Europe's poor treatment of immigrants and the unemployed and its alleged complicity with America's treatment of al-Qaida terror suspects. Cuba "rejects impositions, intolerance and pressure" from abroad, the Cuban parliament statement said. The Cuban government considers the dissidents to be paid stooges of Washington, and says most — including both Zapata Tamayo and Farinas — are common criminals. In Brazil, presidential spokesman Marcelo Baumbach said Thursday the government had received a letter from imprisoned Cuban dissidents asking President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to intercede with Raul Castro to revise their sentences. Baumbach said Silva had not read the letter. It was unclear when the letter arrived. The five-page letter was signed by 50 Cuban dissidents who asked for Silva's help in get their sentences reduced. Baumbach confirmed receipt of the letter two days after Silva told the AP: "I don't think a hunger strike can be used as a pretext for human rights to free people. Imagine if all the criminals in Sao Paulo entered into hunger strikes to demand freedom." ___ Associated Press writer Paul Haven in Havana contributed to this report.

King: Cuba needs ‘biological solution’

Blog post by Philip Brasher • pbrasher@dmreg.com • March 11, 2010
An effort is underway in Congress again to ease restrictions on trade with Cuba to boost U.S. farm exports, but farm-state lawmakers are split over whether it’s a good idea to allow Americans to more freely travel there. Farm groups argue that easing the embargo and promoting U.S. tourism in Cuba will improve America’s image there and undermine the Castro regime.
Rep. Steve King, R-Ia., doesn’t buy it. He said at a House Agriculture Committee hearing Thursday that  the United States should wait for the “biological solution,” referring to the demise of the Castros.
“I want to wait out this biological solution,” he said.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has introduced a bill, H.R. 4645, that would lift transaction restrictions on Cuban purchases of U.S. food and end limits on American  travel there. The embargo means U.S. farmers are losing sales to competitors in Brazil and elsewhere, he said. He released letters from Human Rights Watch and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supporting the legislation. Having “more, rather than less, contact” with Cubans will improve their lives, the bishops said.
“We’re just spiting ourselves not to take advantage of this market,” said Iowa Democrat Leonard Boswell, who is co-sponsoring the bill.  He went on, “Dammit, it’s time to do this.”
Farm groups say that U.S. food exports to Cuba could double, given Cuban demand for  pork, chicken, beans, rice and other commodities. Easing restrictions on transactions would boost Cuban purchases of dried distillers grains, a source of livestock feed that is a byproduct of ethanol production, the National Corn Growers Association said. Last year, Cuba bought $528 million in U.S. agricultural products.
Previous efforts to ease the embargo have met strong resistance, and Republicans on the House committee are split over whether the restrictions on travel should be changed.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said that allowing for U.S. tourism in Cuba would encourage Cubans to view the United States more favorably.
An GOP co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jerry Moran, said the United States has a double standard toward China and Cuba, he and seemed to chide some of his critics back home in Kansas.
“In Kansas, we would not object to selling Boeing aircraft to China, yet we are worrying about selling wheat to Cuba.” Increasing food sales to Cuba takes money from the Cuban government and puts “it in the pockets of American farmers and agribusiness,” he said.
But Republicans such as King are cool at best to the legislation, or at least oppose an easing of travel restrictions.”We have invested a full half a century into waiting out the biological solution in Cuba,” King said.
Rep. Mike Conway, R-Texas, questioned whether the regime could be easily weakened. “There’s not enough misery in the system for them to rear up against the totalitarian government they are living under.” Other Republicans said U.S. tourism dollars would wind up with the government, not the people.
Congress last year rolled back a restriction on exports to Cuba imposed by the Bush administration in 2005, requiring that food shipments be paid for in cash before they could leave a U.S. port. Farm groups say more needs to be done.
 S:DesMoinesRegister.com