Friday, September 23, 2011

Cuba's opposition tries to plot fresh course

HAVANA (AP) — When dozens of Cuban intellectuals and commentators were jailed in a notorious crackdown on dissent, their wives united in 2003 to form the Ladies in White, a dissident group focused on a simple, compelling goal: freedom for their loved ones.
Every week since then, the Ladies have marched through a leafy Havana neighborhood after Sunday Mass, wearing white and holding up gladiolas. They have been met, on some occasions, by rowdy pro-government crowds shouting caustic insults.
The ground shifted under the Ladies and the broader Cuban dissident movement when a deal between President Raul Castro and the Roman Catholic Church freed the last of their husbands this year and sent many into exile in Spain. It cleared Cuban jails of peaceful political detainees designated by Amnesty International as "prisoners of conscience."
It was the Ladies' greatest victory, but it also robbed them of their founding cause and removed many of the opposition's most important voices from the island.
Now, the Ladies and the rest of the island's dissident community stand at a crossroads, as they struggle to redefine themselves and connect with a public that has never appeared particularly receptive to their message.
In interviews with The Associated Press, opposition leaders acknowledged the obstacles, but said they intend to keep pressing for greater freedom, and are even raising the stakes by expanding their activities outside the capital.
"We are going to continue. We are fighting for freedom and human rights," said Ladies founder Laura Pollan.
The small, fractured Cuban opposition has been unable to duplicate the popular uprisings rocking the Arab world, or even the street protests jolting developed countries such as Greece, Spain, and Britain. And while political freedom may still be lacking in Communist Cuba, which has been ruled by one Castro or another for more than 50 years, the government has undercut the opposition movement by allowing increased economic opportunities and promising more reforms.
"The opposition finds itself in a process of redefinition, and frankly it has been a chaotic process but not a failed one. What they lack is a model, an overarching program," said Manuel Cuesta, a historian and longtime opposition activist. "The opposition has a challenge, not only to have a plan for the country, but to connect with the people."
Cuesta said some opposition leaders have started to refocus on a political plan. Oswaldo Paya, for one, issued a manifesto in July calling for a national dialogue and a multiparty political system.
"It is a conspiracy to say the dissidents don't have a plan," Paya told the AP. "We do."
But whether their message will resonate with ordinary Cubans is another question.
While people on nearly any street corner will admit they're unhappy with everything from the lack of housing to the government, few speak of the dissidents as a viable alternative.
"I don't think that there could be an Arab Spring in Cuba," said Ricardo Gonzalez, one of the political prisoners freed in 2010 after he accepted the government's deal to go into exile in Spain along with his family. "Every region and every country is different."
Even the United States has expressed frustration with Cuba's opposition, which it has long sought to bolster. A U.S. diplomatic cable from April 2009 revealed by the group WikiLeaks described the Cuban opposition as old, riven by petty rivalries and hopelessly out of touch.
The opposition can also point to few concrete successes in changing government behavior, although the freed dissidents credited their wives with helping push for their release.
An informal survey by the AP this week of 30 Cubans in the capital found that only five, or 17 percent, could identify Ladies in White founder Laura Pollan. Faring little better was Guillermo Farinas, who spent 134 days on a hunger strike last year that garnered international media attention and won him Europe's most prestigious human rights prize. Only nine Cubans asked said they knew who he was.
Three people surveyed knew the name of Yoani Sanchez, who has gained a following for her searing blog about life on the island and is perhaps the best known opposition figure outside Cuba.
Human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, a de facto spokesman for the opposition, acknowledged the movement remains marginalized and unknown to most Cubans, a fact he blames on the state. Cuban authorities exert a tight grip on the media, and while some form of Internet access is theoretically possible, most Cubans cannot afford it.
"The government controls all the newspapers, all the radio stations and all television, and it has an enormous ability to control society," said Sanchez, who is unrelated to the blogger. "When we try to establish a connection with the people, the electrician comes, that is to say the government, and cuts the wires."
In recent weeks, the Ladies in White have focused their protests on the eastern part of the country, including Cuba's second-largest city, Santiago, prompting confrontations and dozens of short-term detentions.
Sanchez said there were 2,221 short-term detentions in the first eight months of 2011, nearly double the same period in 2010. The numbers were impossible to independently verify, and the government had no comment. State-run news media has routinely accused the dissidents of exaggerating about action taken against them.
A report on state website Cubadebate this month noted that several names on Sanchez's list of detained dissidents in fact belonged to Bolivian and Peruvian sports personalities, as well as an 18th century painter. Sanchez acknowledged the mistakes, but said his people were tricked by security agents posing as members of the opposition. The government considers all dissidents to be mercenaries paid by Washington to stir up trouble.
Sanchez says the opposition has moved east in search of what could be a more receptive audience, due to worse economic conditions than in the capital. He likened the discontent there to dry grass waiting for a spark.
The next flare-up could come Saturday, when Catholics honor the Virgin of Mercedes, the patron saint of prisoners, which has traditionally been a day of protest in Cuba. The dissidents say they will march.
Already, pro-government blogs have denounced the planned demonstrations. One, Cambios en Cuba, called on pro-government youth to confront the Ladies, whom it calls the "the tip of the spear for invasions and massacres" orchestrated by the U.S.
As the Ladies have stepped up their activities in recent weeks, they have focused their message on a demand that about 50 other prisoners be freed. Most of these lesser-known detainees were arrested for politically motivated but violent crimes such as sabotage and hijacking, which disqualifies them from consideration by Amnesty as "prisoners of conscience."
Pollan, the Ladies' founder, told the AP that the group will keep marching until every prisoner is free.
"As long as this government is around there will be prisoners," she said. "Because while they've let some go, they've put others in jail. It is a never-ending story."
Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana and Jorge Sainz in Madrid contributed to this report.

US vigil urges release... Breaking News...

US vigil urges release of American held in Cuba

WASHINGTON (AP) — The wife of an American subcontractor imprisoned in Cuba for nearly two years remains hopeful her husband can return home soon, even though a recent high-profile mission to bring her husband back failed.
Judy Gross spoke Friday at a vigil for her husband, Alan Gross, outside the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, which Havana maintains instead of an embassy. About 50 supporters stood in the rain for the hour-long vigil, holding sunflowers and signs in English and Spanish that read "Free Alan Gross Now!"
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson visited Cuba in early September, telling reporters he had been invited to the island to negotiate Gross' release. But Cuban officials ultimately rebuffed his efforts, and he went home without meeting officials or seeing Gross.
Judy Gross said Friday she had not spoken to Richardson since the trip. She said her husband is suffering every day "mentally, physically and spiritually." But she also read part of a recent letter of his where he asked supporters to "keep it positive, as I do."
Gross, 62, was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 after being caught illegally bringing communications equipment onto the island while on a USAID-funded democracy building program. In March of this year he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against the state.
Cuban officials including President Raul Castro accused him of spying, but Gross says he was only trying to help the island's tiny Jewish community get Internet access.
"His only intention was to help the small Jewish communities in Cuba, nothing more. I believe that the Cubans know this, and we remain hopeful that Alan will be able to come home soon," Judy Gross said at Friday's vigil.
Since Alan Gross' imprisonment his family has had a series of health problems. His wife has had surgery, his mother has inoperable cancer, and the older of his two daughters has undergone treatment for breast cancer. Judy Gross said Friday that when her husband learned his daughter had cancer he pleaded with Cuban officials for a brief release.
"He begged the Cuban government to let him be by her side and promised to return to Cuba after her surgery was over," Judy Gross said.
Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen also spoke at the vigil, saying that relations between the United States and Cuba would not improve until Gross is released.
"I don't know what point the Cuban government is trying to make, but they should understand point, the message they're sending to the rest of the world," said Van Hollen, a Democrat who represents a district where Gross lived. "And that point is that they fear freedom and they refuse to do the humanitarian thing."
A telephone number for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington rang unanswered Friday, and an e-mail message was not returned.
Rafael Correa is not welcomed in Union City, New Jersey
Sept. 21 - Mayor Brian Stack called a press conference across the Union City Town Hall Thursday afternoon regarding the controversial upcoming visit by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who is scheduled to visit Union City High School on the evening of Friday Sept. 23 in an event announced by the Ecuadorian Consulate in New York City.
Mayor Felix Roque of West New York and Mayor Richard Turner of Weehawken were also present at the press conference.
A press released by Mark Albiez, Mayor Stack’s spokesman, said the following: “Last week my office was notified that President Rafael Correa would be visiting Union City High School to attend an arts and culture show on Friday, Sep. 23. As always I was supportive of any organization wishing to utilize a public facility. However, many local organizations contacted my office to express their strong opposition to President Correa’s visit, as a result of his association with other heads of state whose ideologies promote violence and oppression. Specifically, it is evident that President Correa has associated with Fidel and Raul Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chaves of Venezuela. Pictures of their meeting are easily accessible in publications on the internet. Local residents are justifiably alarmed at this association, as many local residents have fled both Cuba and Venezuela to escape the oppressive conditions that were posited by Castro and Chavez… While I’m fully supportive of free speech, I cannot welcome any sentiment that runs counter to the ideals of freedom and liberty that are both taught and celebrated at the very institution that was suggested as the host site.”
During the press conference Mayor Stack mentioned that he spoke with the Ambassador and Consul of Ecuador and that they understood his concerns. Mayor Stack said he didn’t expect President Correa to show up at the event.
“We’ll deal with it when it comes, should he decide to show up,” he said. Read More

Judge Alex Ferrer: A debt I can't repay
Sept. 21 - I am Cuban. I feel I have to say that right off the bat because so many people, when they first learn that I was born in Havana, are stunned. I guess a lot of people expect that Cubans all speak and act like Ricky Ricardo. But I came to America as a very young child, so assimilation has never been a problem. My family moved to the U.S. in the 60's when Americans, once again, generously opened their arms to yet another wave of immigrants, as they had done so many times before in our country's history. My parents, who were well off in Cuba, had to start over like so many other immigrants, working two jobs each for minimum wage. But through hard work and perseverance, they were able to claw their way up so that we once again had a comfortable lifestyle. Not rich. But comfortable.
Sure, it was difficult, and I remember signs in some of Miami's downtown restaurants that stated "No Cubans Allowed," but the opportunity was there. And so I learned early on from my parents that, through hard work, in America anything was possible. That's how a Cuban born child who fled communism and came here with his immigrant parents became an American citizen, a cop, a lawyer, a judge and now the host of a successful, nationally syndicated television court show--"Judge Alex."
I started working at 15 and became a police officer when I was just 19 years old, working as a cop to support myself and pay my way through college and law school. Full time student by day, full time cop by night. Easy? No. But it was do-able and I didn't have any other options so I did what I had to do. Along the way, I become the youngest cop and the youngest judge in Miami, the first Cuban born attorney elected to Miami's Circuit Court, and now a member of a very small fraternity of TV judges. I would say that no one handed me anything; that I had to work hard for everything I obtained--but that would not be true.
The reality is I was given the most critical key to my success: the opportunity that America provides. This truly is the Land of Opportunity. I sometimes wonder what would have become of my life if Americans had not welcomed us into their country. I would have lived under communist rule in Cuba, barely getting by, no freedom to express my opinions in private, let alone in public, without being beaten and arrested. The government would have made me work at the career they chose for me and, even if I was lucky enough to be selected to be a doctor rather than a ditch-digger, the pay in Cuban pesos would be so inadequate that some doctors in Cuba drive taxis on the side in order to have enough money to feed their families. No. I was given the invaluable opportunity to become successful and live a great life through the unparalleled generosity of the American people.
And, try as I might, that is a debt I can't repay. Huffington Post

A Spanish judge has released the left today arrested a Cuban citizen...

In freedom the Cuban arrested in Spain accused of being member of Al Qaeda

 A Spanish judge has released the left today arrested a Cuban citizen on Tuesday by the Civil Guard in the Spanish island of Mallorca accused of the crime of belonging to Al Qaeda, glorifying terrorism and threats, legal sources said.
The magistrate  of the Audiencia Nacional Fernando Andreu keeps the imputation of detainee, identified only by the initials of his name as Jefman for crimes of terrorism and has imposed the obligation to report daily to the police or court nearest to your home, the sources added.
The detainee had experienced a process of radicalization in recent years and had reached hang on where he managed several internet-Youtube-up channels 1120 videos radicals, mostly produced by himself, reported Spanish Interior Ministry.
Defender of the thesis and the purpose of jihad (war holy) Global advocated by Al Qaeda, the arrest developed internet via a radical indoctrination work on other individuals, adds the source.
In the search of his home is involved several laptops, external hard drives digital memories and data cards whose contents, according to sources  consulted in the National Court, is being considered by the researchers.