Sunday, July 11, 2010

Work on new cap for Gulf oil leak moves ahead

In this image taken from video provided by BP PLC, the arm of a 
remotely operated vehicle works at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site 
in the Gulf of AP – In this image taken from video provided by BP PLC, the arm of a remotely operated vehicle works at the …
NEW ORLEANS – Work on a new cap for the gushing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has outpaced officials' expectations so far, with robotic submarines completing most of the removal work necessary on the broken well.
Overnight, a top flange on the leaking well was removed. That equipment has to make way for a new flange spool, a piece that will connect the new cap to the well.
The old cap, which allowed some oil to keep pouring into the Gulf, came off Saturday. That allowed millions of gallons of oil to pour almost unimpeded into the water, but officials say the new cap will form a perfect seal.
BP and Coast Guard officials hope the work can be done within three to six days.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Work on a new cap for the gushing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has outpaced officials' expectations so far, with robotic submarines completing most of the removal work necessary on the broken well.
Overnight, a top flange on the leaking well was removed. That equipment has to make way for a new flange spool, a piece that will connect the new cap to the well.
The old cap, which allowed some oil to keep pouring into the Gulf, came off Saturday. That allowed millions of gallons of oil to pour almost unimpeded into the water, but officials say the new cap will form a perfect seal.
BP and Coast Guard officials hope the work can be done within three to six days.

Giving Credit Where It Is Due

Saturday, July 10, 2010
By Havana-based blogger Yoani Sanchez in The Huffington Post:

Without diminishing one iota the merit of the mediation mission of the bishops and ambassadors, the release of the political prisoners would not have happened without the death -- on hunger strike -- of the prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February of this year, without the years of peaceful protest carried out with heroic resistance by the Ladies in White, and without the hunger and thirst strike declared by the psychologist and independent journalist Guillermo Farinas.

Minutes before taking his first drink of water, Farinas wrote out, in his own hand, a statement announcing the temporary suspension of his strike, a suspension that will become final if the government fulfills its announced promise of freeing the prisoners within a span of three or four months. In the narrow corridor on the other side of the glass, tormented by the heat expelled by an air conditioner, leaders of various opposition groups, the Ladies in White, independent journalists, bloggers and friends, coming from around the country, read aloud, photographed and dictated into their cell phones the text of the statement. The paper was held against the window from inside by room by another political prisoner, currently paroled, Hector Palacios, who accompanied Farinas in these momentous moments.

Farinas had won one battle but still remains in a fierce war against death, because the land that has seen the action of this singular belligerency is his own body -- ultimately the only space available to him to carry out this campaign. His intestines are now like fragile paper conduits distilling bacteria through their pores, his jugular vein is partially obstructed by a blood clot which, if it detached, could lodge in the heart, brain or lungs; or more precisely, in his heart, his brain or his lungs. He has suffered four staph infections and at night a sharp pain in his groin barely allows him to sleep.

His shriveled esophagus was not ready for that first sip of water. It created such a pain in his chest that for a minute he thought he was having a heart attack, but he endured it in silence. On the other side of the glass, expectantly watching, were those who for days had been keeping a vigil outside the hospital, praying for his life, and others who had come from very far away to ask him to end his martyrdom and to be a witnesses to his victory. Not wanting to dampen the celebration of his jubilant colleagues applauding the triumph of his cause, he managed to turn a grimace into a smile.

Guillermo Farinas' family allowed me to watch over him on this, the first night after the end of his hunger strike, and he allowed me to be a witness his suffering, his occasional crankiness, and his human weaknesses. Only then did I discover the true hero of this day.

America’s Cuba Policy: A 50-Year Failure?

By nationally-syndicated columnist Mona Charen:

After a 134-day hunger strike, Guillermo Fariñas's waist is so small that a dog collar could fit around it. This living skeleton (who has survived this long only because he has taken nutrients intravenously) is now victorious; the Cuban government has announced the planned release of 52 political prisoners. That Raúl Castro appears to have buckled to international pressure is, of course, good news — though it comes too late for Orlando Zapata.
Zapata was a plumber and bricklayer who committed what the Castro brothers consider a treasonous act — he joined a political group that believes in freedom, the Alternative Republic Movement. After his 2002 arrest and conviction for "disrespect, public disorder, and resistance," he was repeatedly abused and beaten in prison. Displaying a flair for irony, he demanded treatment comparable to that which Fidel Castro endured when imprisoned by Fulgencio Batista in 1953. Instead, he was further mistreated and his prison sentence was lengthened from 3 to 36 years. Zapata's only weapon was his suffering, but his demand was not for himself. He fasted for the release of 22 other ill political prisoners. Upon his death in February, at age 42, there was a quick splash of negative headlines, and then he was quickly forgotten. A few weeks later, President Obama lifted the travel ban for those with relatives on the island and lifted other restrictions on contact between Cuba and the United States.

Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist, Cuban army veteran, and political "subversive," took up the gauntlet with his own hunger strike that now seems to have succeeded. "Seems" is the operative word since the Castro regime has often promised reforms without following through. Even by its explicit terms, the government's agreement is to release only five prisoners immediately and the rest over the course of the next three or four months. All will leave the country.

Why the wait? Presumably it's because the regime needs time to make its prisoners presentable. Bruises must heal. Weight must be gained. That sort of thing.

Here is a description of Cuban prison conditions from the Black Book of Communism:

Violence began with the interrogation... Prisoners were forced to climb a staircase wearing shoes filled with lead and were then thrown back down the stairs... Working conditions were extremely harsh, and prisoners worked almost naked... As a punishment, 'troublemakers' were forced to cut grass with their teeth or to sit in latrine trenches for hours at a time.
Cuba is a last redoubt of communism. Because Fidel Castro clings to life and to power, a veil still covers the island. Castro's crimes have scarcely begun to be revealed as he dodders toward a comfortable death in his bed. But enough, more than enough, is known. Between 1959 and the present, more than 100,000 Cubans have suffered in Castro's prisons and camps (some just for homosexuals). An estimated 17,000 were shot. Two million fled. Another 100,000 died attempting to escape.
All of this is known and has been known for decades. And yet the image of Che Guevara continues to sell on T-shirts and posters around the globe.

Now Congress seems poised to lift all travel bans on Cuba and provide a tourism boon to the regime. A broad spectrum of Americans approves the legislation, including Republicans and Democrats, farmers, and business interests. Fine. It may serve the interests of freedom at this point to permit trade with Cuba (though one suspects that the Chamber of Commerce is solely interested in the business angle). What is galling is to hear one and all describe the 50-year embargo as a "failed policy."

In what sense did it fail? We declined to help or support a criminal regime in any way.
Yes, Castro claimed that his island's persistent and desperate poverty was due to the embargo, but so what? Anyone with eyes could see that Castro traded freely with Canada, Latin America, Europe, Russia, China, and virtually everyone else. His special relationship with the USSR, and later Venezuela, is all that kept Cubans from starving like their ideological brothers in North Korea.

The day is coming when the true scope of Castro's reign of terror will be fully revealed. Perhaps then we will take some grim satisfaction in having attempted, however unsuccessfully, to strangle the beast.
© 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Source: Capitol Hill Cubans

Video of the Day

An editorial from the Los Angeles Times:
Of course we welcome the release of the dissidents, who were arrested during a government crackdown in the spring of 2003, even as we question why the Cuban government needs three to four months to free them, and why the prisoners apparently must trade jail for exile. Furthermore, Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, has identified another 115 political prisoners who will not be released. That may be fewer than at any other time since the 1959 revolution, as Sanchez says, but it is still unacceptable.
So too are the laws and lack of due process that landed the dissidents in jail, and the conditions in which they are held. The prisoners are critics of the government, not violent plotters. And it’s too easy for the government to refill the jails; that’s what happened the last time it freed scores of detainees, following Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to the island. As Amnesty International stated in a report published last month, “Those who voice views beyond those permitted by the authorities continue to be intimidated and harassed, arbitrarily detained or imprisoned after unfair, often summary, trials.”
  • The European Union will revise its “Common Position” which conditions the position of the community over links with Cuba about the human rights situation on the island. [Clarín]
  • Cuban Catholic Church and the Spanish government set up mechanism to free Cuban political prisoners. [El País]
  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is “hopeful” after prisoners release and welcomes agreement between the Cuban Catholic Church and Cuban government. [IPS]
  • Despite the liberation of some Cuban dissidents, many stay in prison. [Human Rights Watch]
(Image: Diplomacy board game from Avalon Hill.)

July 11, 2010

Spy couple ask judge for nearby prisons

A Washington, D.C., couple who spent 30 years spying for Cuba is asking a judge to recommend they be incarcerated near each other – but not in Florida, where they say the federal prisons ``will likely have populations of Cuban Americans who might react strongly to their offense.''
Walter and Gwendolyn Myers pleaded guilty in November to (fot) sending secrets to the United States' longtime antagonist and are scheduled to be sentenced Friday before U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton.
The pair is asking that Walton recommend to the Bureau of Prisons that they be sent to facilities near each other, to allow their siblings, their six children, and seven grandchildren to visit them. They suggest placing Gwendolyn Myers in a facility in Lexington, Ky., and Walter Myers nearby.
Or alternatively, that Walter Myers be placed at the U.S. penitentiary for male inmates in Atwater, Calif., and Gwendolyn Myers at the Federal Correctional Institution for women in Dublin, Calif.
``Such proximity also means something to Dr. and Mrs. Myers personally: both will derive some comfort from knowing the other is not physically far away,'' the attorneys wrote.
For the full story, click here.
Posted by Renato Perez at 07:35 AM in Security, U.S.-Cuba relations
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LATimes wants travel, trade limits lifted

In an editorial Sunday, the Los Angeles Times "welcome[s] the release of the dissidents [...] even as we question why the Cuban government needs three to four months to free them and why the prisoners apparently must trade jail for exile."
But the newspaper points to 115 other political prisoners who will not be released and calls the situation "unacceptable."
"And it's too easy for the government to refill the jails," it adds.
Still, "the Spanish government argues that engagement is more productive than confrontation, and we agree. That's why we urge the U.S. Congress to pass a bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee last week to repeal a ban on American travel to Cuba and weaken other Cold War sanctions.
"It should do so not because Cuba deserves it, or has earned it by freeing 52 prisoners, but because the 50-year-old trade and travel prohibitions have failed to bring about democratic change in half a century."
To read the entire editorial, click here.

July 10, 2010

Fidel Castro appeared in public this week for the first time since falling ill in 2006

The accompanying photo and a couple of others appeared Saturday in the website of Bloggers and Correspondents of the Revolution, under the headline "Fidel visited the National Center for Scientific Research."
(pic) The blogger, Rosa C. Báez, wrote the following description:
"Today, we had the honor of Fidel's surprise visit to the center and, when he left we bade him good-bye. The people found out and we waited in the lobby. They didn't allow us to enter or be near him, but when he went in the direction of the exit the people could stand it no more. I stood three meters in front of him.
"He is thin but looks good and, according to our director, is very well, mentally. He stopped, waved, threw kisses, and so on. I enclose some pictures taken with a cell phone. Their quality is not very good, but it's something.
"This was on 7 July 2010, when Fidel visited the National Center for Scientific Research. It is the first visit of this type that he has made since 2006."
For more details, in The Miami Herald, click here. Other photos, made by Fidel's son Alex,  appear in the Cubadebate website.
Posted by Renato Perez at 08:55 PM in Fidel Castro
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S:Cuban Colada

Cuba starts releasing group of political prisoners

HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba has begun releasing a group of ailing political prisoners as part of a landmark church-brokered deal to free 52 dissidents, relatives of three freed inmates have told AFP.
If all 52 activists are freed, it would be the largest prisoner release since President Raul Castro took Cuba's reins permanently from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008.
After a politically embarrassing hunger strike to near death by dissident Guillermo Farinas, the government and church struck a deal.
The first three dissidents freed Saturday were taken to undisclosed locations and were reportedly among a group of 17 of the dissidents who plan to go to Spain.
Dissident Jose Luis Garcia Paneque phoned his family to tell them he was being transferred from the Las Tunas provincial prison to a location in Havana, according to his cousin Raul Smith.
The wives of dissidents Pablo Pacheco and Luis Milan received calls from other inmates telling them that their husbands had been released.
Sources close to the process told AFP the departure for Spain would be early next week. The Archbishop's office said it would leave it to Cuban authorities to identify prisoners being released or who may emigrate.
Under the agreement, 52 political prisoners will eventually be freed, but the initial release had been expected to include just five detainees.
Thursday, the church had announced that five prisoners would be freed imminently, but none was apparently set free until the announcement of the first three releases on Saturday.
Several families of imprisoned dissidents told AFP they had been contacted by authorities and told to be prepared to travel after their relatives were released.
On Saturday, the Archbishop of Havana said in a statement that another five detainees would be "leaving soon to Spain" as part of "the continuation of the process of prisoner releases."
The unusual prisoner release was announced earlier this week after unprecedented talks between Cardinal Jaime Ortega and President Castro, who leads the only one-party communist regime in the Americas.
All 52 were part of a group of 75 dissidents rounded up in 2003 and sentenced to jail terms of between six and 28 years.
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who was in Cuba this week to participate in the negotiations, said Madrid was willing to receive all the freed prisoners.
But the church said prisoners will not be forced to go to Spain, calling it a "proposal" and not "exile," as some in opposition activists charge.
The release agreement prompted opposition activist Guillermo Farinas, a psychologist and online journalist, to abandon his dramatic 135-day hunger strike in Santa Clara protesting the treatment of political prisoners.
The dissidents expected to emigrate to Spain are Luis Milan, Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, Pablo Pacheco, Antonio Villarreal, Lester Gonzalez, Ricardo Gonzalez, Normando Hernandez, Omar Ruiz, Julio Cesar Galvez, Mijail Barzaga, Arturo Perez, Jorge Luis Gonzalez, Manuel Ubals, Alfredo Pulido, Blas Reyes, Ricardo Enrique Silva and Jose Izquierdo.
Some dissidents want to seek medical care in Spain before returning to Cuba; others expect to stay in Spain, according to Elizardo Sanchez, of the outlawed Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
"What most worries the Ladies in White (activist family members of ailing political prisoners) is that they telephoned some prisoners, who said they would not leave the country. So what is going to happen to them?" asked Laura Pollan, leader of that group.
Moratinos said Castro pledged that the dissidents would be allowed to return to Cuba with special permits, and would not lose their property in Cuba, as is normally the case for those who emigrate.
The Cuban government is keen to avoid the political embarrassment of a dissident's death, as it desperately seeks closer international ties to improve its grim economic situation.
Farinas launched his protest at the end of February, a day after another dissident, Orlando Zapata, died following an 85-day hunger strike.
His death sparked an international outcry and a rare reference to dissent in official Cuban media, which denied claims by Zapata's mother that her son was denied proper medical care and was effectively "killed."