Wednesday, October 12, 2011

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Inspired by Cuba's Pro-Democracy Leaders

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
In today's The Hill:

Inspired by Cuba's Pro-Democracy Leaders

By Mauricio Claver-Carone

What could be more pompous (and insulting) than the argument that American and foreign tourists can "inspire" the Cuban people to seek democracy? Not much.

Well, on second thought, maybe Republican Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York calling their bill to sweep away all remaining restrictions on American travel to Cuba, the "Export Freedom to Cuba Act."

Or, the Obama Administration, which rejects American exceptionalism everywhere else in the world, arguing that American travelers (that have been carefully screened for entry by the Castro regime) are our best "Ambassadors of Freedom" to the Cuban people.

Their argument is that Cubans, upon seeing spring breakers and tourists enjoying luxury "people-to-people" tours and Cuban-American "mules" peddling flat-screen TV's, will suddenly realize what they're missing under the Castros' totalitarian dictatorship, as if Cubans don't already know what's missing, and life under a brutal regime was their voluntary choice.

The argument further holds that American travelers are different from the throngs of Canadian snowbirds and the European sex tourists visiting the island for the last two decades, frequently degrading the Cuban people while bankrolling the repressive regime.

American travelers, in other words, will be "truly inspirational."

Americans are undoubtedly the kindest, noblest and most charitable people in the world. But it's extraordinarily arrogant to argue that any foreign tourist is needed to inspire or empower the Cuban people, when some of the most courageous and inspirational people in this world are living in Cuba.

Meet Ivonne Mayeza Galano.

Last month, this amazing woman stood alone on the steps of the Capitol building in Havana. Knowing the brutality of the repression that awaited her, she nonetheless, peacefully held up a sign reading:

"Cambios en Cuba Sin Dictadura" ("Change in Cuba Without Dictatorship")

She was promptly arrested, stripped naked, searched and violently interrogated.

Two weeks later, four other women, Sara Marta Fonseca, Mercedes García Álvarez, Tania Maldonado Sánchez and Odalys Zurma González, continued her protest. Predictably, they too were arrested, but this time it took Castro's security forces 40-minutes to drag them away, as a gathering crowd of bystanders began to heckle the oppressors.

Or how about Iris Perez Aguilera?

This Afro-Cuban pro-democracy leader is the founder of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights. She undertakes weekly protests and sit-ins. As a result of these, Castro's secret police, on numerous occasions, has abused and brutally beaten her -- to the point of hospitalization.

Or how about Iris's husband, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez?"

Antunez, often referred to as Cuba's Nelson Mandela, spent 17-years as a political prisoner for protesting in the public square of his hometown. Today, still a young 46-years old, he is the leader of Cuba's civil disobedience movement.

Or how about Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet?

A charismatic physician, he spent nearly 11-years in political prison for his democratic advocacy as head of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights. At a recent concert, U2's Bono honored Dr. Biscet as a true inspiration.

Or Marcelino Abreu, who has spent over 100 days on a hunger strike, protesting his unjust four-year prison-sentence. His crime was refusing to show a police officer identification after walking nearby the Castro regime's tourist-only Hotel Nacional. Abreu still holds that Cubans should be free to walk on the public streets and enter the public buildings of their homeland. Cuban authorities disagree.

Or the young rappers and rockers that defy the Cuban dictatorship through their lyrics and whose concerts and music festivals are under constant siege by the "Ministry of Culture" backed by the regime's armed police.

Or the bloggers and social media activists who brave the Castros' censors to inform the world of the harsh brutality and injustices the Cuban people face.

How can foreign travelers —ignorant of life under tyranny and repression– represent democratic ideals better than these icons who have spent years in political prison, and brave daily violence and beatings, to express their democratic aspirations and promote change in Cuba?

Let those of us who live in the United States stop insulting courageous pro-democracy leaders in Cuba with talk of "inspiring" them. The Cuban people don't need to be "inspired" by people abroad. They need our unwavering support for their struggle and for tangible pressure against the dictatorship that represses them.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and founding editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington, D.C. He is an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Another Spy Arrested For Targeting Exiles

Will Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover and pro-regime activists in the U.S. argue that this newly arrested spy was protecting Syria against "terrorist activities"?

After all, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad claims that anti-regime protestors are actually "criminals" and "terrorists."

Or do they reserve those absurdities exclusively for Cuba?

From Politico:

A Syrian-born U.S. citizen was indicted Wednesday for spying on American activists who are opposed to President Bashar Assad’s regime, and providing information to Syria’s intelligence agencies.

Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, a resident of Leesburg, Va., has been indicted by the Department of Justice for conspiring to collect information on individuals in the U.S. and Syria who were protesting Assad’s regime, the Justice Department said in an announcement.

The indictment further alleges that Soueid was an agent working for the Syrian intelligence agencies, known as the Mukhabarat. He is said to have passed on at least 20 audio and video recordings, which depict American protests against the Syrian regime. The Assad regime is known to have violently repressed anti-government protesters in Syria.

PICTURED BELOW: Actor Danny Glover with convicted Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez.

Capitol Hill Cubans
Euromoney magazine’s Country Risk ranks Cuba, followed by Antigua, as the worst financial haven in Caribbean region in its 3Q study. [Royal Gazette]


October 10, 2011

New independent news agency forms in Cuba

Cuba's independent journalists have always been close to my heart.
And not just because I am Cuban and I am a journalist.
They are deserving of respect and admiration because without their reports from Cuba and from the front lines of the struggle for liberty, the world would know far less about the reality of life on the island today.
And this blog, which relies heavily on those reports, would not be possible.
Cuba's independent journalists, as individuals and as a group, have paid a heavy price, with arrests, beatings and worse, but they persevere and they thrive, ever more committed to their vocation and to the cause they serve.
So it was heartening to learn that another independent news agency, made up of some of Cuba's best known journalists and other activists, has organized in eastern Cuba.
Pedazos de la Isla has the story:
In an island where its rulers try to control the flow information with an iron grip, another important step towards freedom was taken on Tuesday October 4th, in the city of Guantanamo, Cuba, when activists from the Eastern Democratic Alliance launched ADO-Press, an independent news agency of this opposition group.  This agency, with its headquarter in Eastern Cuba, joins the group of various independent news agencies that report what truly occurs in the country.
Independent journalist and blogger and also member of this new agency, Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal was present and reported that there were 18 activists in the home of Isael Poveda Silva, where the event was held.
According to Rojas, who in addition serves as a correspondent for ADO-Press, “the first objective of the organization is to let everyday Cubans know the reality of what occurs in Cuba, without ideological inclinations, considering that the state-run media responds only to one political party and does not respectfully represent the people“.  The activist added that in order to be that voice the agency will report news about social problems that directly affect ‘everyday’ Cubans, such as issues of housing, jobs, health, education, along with the human rights crisis on the island which also affects all inhabitants.
Read the rest here.

Spy Swap: the Reality Show Washington and Havana Have Yet to Learn

This April 7, 2010 file photo shows posters with portraits of five Cubans jailed in the United States - Rene Gonzalez Sehwerert, Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo, Fernando Gonzalez Llort, Ramon Labanino Salazar and Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez, dispayed in front of the Cuba's Consulate during a demonstration in support of Cuban revolution in Sao Pablo, Brazil. (Nelson Almeida-AFP-Getty Images)

During the Cold War, spy swaps were seemingly commonplace. Iconic, in fact: countless movies of the era use scenes of spooks and dissidents being exchanged at Checkpoint Charlie. And we still do it: just last year, the U.S. sent 10 arrested Russian agents home while Russia in turn let go four prisoners accused of espionage whose releases were sought by Washington.
So why are the U.S. and Cuba – whose relations are hopelessly mired in a cold-war time warp – so bad at this cold-war ritual? Case in point: the dysfunctional drama surrounding U.S. contract aid worker Alan Gross, who has been sitting in a Cuban jail for two years, and Cuban agent René González, who was freed from a U.S. prison this morning after serving 13 years.
Gross, 62, was arrested in 2009 and later convicted on subversion charges for bringing satellite communications equipment to Cuba's Jewish community, under a State Department pro-democracy program, without permission. Though he insisted his work was purely humanitarian and not espionage, a Cuban court sentenced him to 15 years. The punishment is widely considered Cuba's retaliation for the 2001 conviction of five Cuban operatives arrested in Miami, including González, for spying and failing to register as foreign agents. (One of the men was also convicted of conspiracy in the deaths of four Cuban exiles whose small, unarmed planes were shot down in 1996 by Cuban fighter jets for allegedly violating Cuban airspace.) The spies, known as the “Cuban Five,” claimed they were simply working to thwart exile terrorism plots against communist Cuba, but their sentences ranged from 15 years in González's case to life in prison.
González, 55, is the first to be paroled, but a judge recently denied his request to return immediately to Cuba and his family, insisting he has to serve three years' probation in the U.S. For weeks now, speculation has been rampant that the Obama Administration would find a way to send González home as a means of prodding Cuban President Raúl Castro to release Gross – who has lost 100 lbs (45 kg) in prison and whose 27-year-old daughter has breast cancer – as a humanitarian gesture, something Castro has said he's willing to do.
But whether because of election-year pressure from politically powerful Cuban-Americans like U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami – the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week called González “an enemy of America” who must be kept under watch during his probation – or because of Castro's apparent refusal to accept the waiver of González's probation as sufficient reason to free Gross – former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson was rebuffed when he reportedly conveyed that offer from Obama during a visit to Cuba last month – no such swap appears to be in the works. And neither the U.S. nor Cuba will come out of this looking good to the world. “It's an international black eye on both our houses,” says Anya Landau French, director of the New America Foundation's U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative in Washington.
(See "The Alan Gross Affair: the U.S. and Cuba Begin Their Dysfunctional Dance")
The U.S.'s p.r. shiner will stem from the impression that it's done comparatively little to secure Gross' freedom after moving so quickly last year to win the release of Russian prisoners who weren't even Americans. Nor can the U.S. really argue that keeping González in country for three additional years serves that many national security interests. Many also feel the State Department bears a large share of the blame for Gross' situation, since according to his family and lawyers he wasn't aware that the USAID program he was serving, via a non-governmental contractor, was financed by U.S. legislation whose aim is regime change in Cuba. (Others question whether Gross really could have been that naive.) At the same time, while the U.S. says Gross did not receive a fair trial in Havana, Cuba complains that the Cuban Five themselves were tried in the prejudiced exile atmosphere of Miami.
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Agent
Cuban spy free from Florida jail
MARIANNA, Fla. - A Cuban agent jailed for spying on Cuban exiles in Florida was freed from a U.S. prison on Friday but must remain in the United States for three years on probation, a condition Cuba says puts his life in danger. Rene Gonzalez, 55, the first to be freed of the so-called "Cuban Five" espionage agents arrested in 1998, left the Marianna prison in Florida's northwest Panhandle at around 4 a.m. EDT and was reunited with his two daughters, father and brother, attorney Philip Horowitz told Reuters. "He was in great spirits, very happy to see his family, to be out, he had a smile on his face," Horowitz said. Gonzalez had served 13 years of a 15-year sentence. Horowitz said he would renew an appeal against the requirement that Gonzalez, who has dual U.S.-Cuban citizenship, spend three years of supervised release in the United States.
http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com

NO airport approved for Cuba air service

(AP)  KENNER, La. — Officials at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport say the airport has received approval for direct flight service to Cuba.

Travel to Cuba will still be highly restricted. Passengers must have close relatives in Cuba or must be involved in the medical or agricultural business sectors. The Cuban government also will be allowing travel for education and religious activities.

The U.S. government gave approval for the flights in March. The latest action involves Cuba allowing non-stop flights from New Orleans to land.

But the service is far from being started. Airport spokeswoman Michelle Wilcut said Tuesday that the airport will need either an airline or an approved charter operator to make the flights.

                                                

How Americans Can Travel to Cuba: A CBS Early Show Report

How Americans Can Travel to Cuba: A CBS Early Show Report

  • October 11, 2011 2:10 pm

For years Cuba has been a forbidden country for Americans, only assessable to travelers willing to risk losing their passport in the process. But this year, thanks to changes in policy implemented by the Obama Administration, the first group of Americans were able to travel legally to the country. On the...
                   




Informant posing as drug cartel member foiled Iranian plot


By Liz Goodwin | The Lookout – 5 hrs ago

Arbabsiar (AP)

A government informant posing as a member of the feared Zetas drug cartel in Mexico helped foil an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States on American soil, the Justice Department says. The informant "posed as an associate of a sophisticated and violent international drug trafficking cartel" who was willing to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador, according to the complaint. Government sources told ABC News that the cartel in question was the Zetas. The Zetas have been behind some of the worst violence in Mexico's grisly drug war, including mass beheadings, arson in a Monterrey casino that trapped and killed 52 people and the murder of a U.S. immigration agent.
The complaint says the informant was busted on a narcotrafficking charge in the past and then was flipped by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a source who has helped them make arrests in other drug cases.
Manssor Arbabsiar, a 56-year-old naturalized American citizen who also had an Iranian passport, is accused of approaching the source thinking he was a member of the drug cartel on the direction of the Iranian military.
He wired the source $100,000 to a U.S. bank account as a down payment for assassinating the Saudi Arabian ambassador, and said he would pay the rest of the $1.5 million fee later. The government says Arbabsiar said he didn't care if as many as 100 civilians were killed along with the ambassador in the explosion. He traveled to Mexico several times to meet with the informant.
Tim Padgett at Time Magazine argues that Arbabsiar, who used to live in Corpus Christi, Texas, would have had to be pretty stupid to think the Zetas would bomb an American target for only $1.5 million. "The Zetas, after all, are part of a Mexican drug-trafficking, kidnapping and extortion industry that rakes in as much as $40 billion a year," he writes. "To risk that kind of cash flow by carrying out a five-alarm international hit for a million and a half bucks seems a non-starter. It also seems an organization like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, for whom the Justice Department says Arbabsiar may have been working, should know better. Arbabsiar, who lives near Mexico in Corpus Christi, Texas, certainly should have been wiser."
Middle East expert Juan Cole speculates on his blog that Arbabsiar's patron, allegedly a member of the Revolutionary Guards, may have had a side business in drug trafficking. Cole thinks the plot seemed so amateur that it makes it more sense that it was the work of an Iranian drug cartel angry over the Saudi war on drugs than Iranian government operatives. The Iranian cartel may have been hoping to find new markets for Iran's opium and heroin supply that typically go through Afghanistan
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American arrested on allegations of spying on Syrian dissidents in U.S.

By Laura Rozen | The Envoy – 3 hrs ago
A Syrian-born American man in Virginia was arrested Tuesday on charges of spying on Syrian dissidents in the United States for the Syrian regime, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid, a.k.a. "Alex Soueid," 47, a resident of Leesburg, Va., was indicted for acting as an unregistered agent of the Syrian intelligence agency, the Mukhabarat, for providing false statements on a firearms purchase, and for providing false statements to federal law enforcement.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison on the foreign agent charges, 15 years for the firearms charges and 10 years in prison on the false statement charges,  the Justice Department said Wednesday in a statement on the case.
Syrian dissidents and exiles in the United States have repeatedly claimed their relatives in Syria were being persecuted because of their appearance at pro-democracy events in American cities. The State Department has repeatedly raised the charges, which have been vociferously denied by the Syrian ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustafa.
Soueid "is accused of providing the Mukhabarat contact information, including phone numbers and email addresses, for protestors in the United States," according to the Justice Department statement.  It continues:
In a handwritten letter sent to [undercover confidential source] UCC-1, Soueid allegedly expressed his belief that violence against protestors—including raiding their homes—was justified and that any method should be used to deal with the protestors.  The indictment alleges that Soueid provided information regarding U.S. protestors against the Syrian regime to an individual who worked at the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Soueid was scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday afternoon in Alexandria, Virginia.


'Underpants bomber' Abdulmutallab pleads guilty

Court sketch of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab  
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty to eight charges, including terrorism
 
A Nigerian accused of trying to bomb a US-bound flight on Christmas Day 2009 has told his trial in Detroit that he is pleading guilty to all charges.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 24, told a judge he was admitting all eight counts against him, including terrorism and attempted murder.
Abdulmutallab was badly burned when a bomb sewn into his underwear failed to detonate fully, prosecutors say.
Almost 300 people were on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
Abdulmutallab will be sentenced on 12 January 2012 but the BBC's Jonny Dymond, in Washington, says this is now a formality - Abdulmutallab will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Al-Qaeda links US Federal Judge Nancy Edmunds verified that Abdulmutallab understood his right to silence before asking him if he wished to make a plea.
"Do I understand correctly that you wish to waive that right [in order] to plead guilty to all the charges in the indictment?" she asked.

Analysis

This is a good result for an administration that has long battled to bring such cases into the civilian, federal court system. But officials will still struggle to convince doubters. This was an exceptional case: the perpetrator was caught in the act, with physical evidence on and around his body, and confessed repeatedly to bystanders and security officials. Most national security cases are not so cut and dried.
Abdulmutallab's impact is difficult to discern. The body scanners that were hurried into service following his novel method of smuggling explosive on board are now part of the furniture of American airports - an accepted irritant to most fliers here.
What many will hope to be the biggest change will be co-ordination between US security agencies. Abdulmutallab's father reported his suspicions about his son and his intentions to the CIA well before the bombing. But once again, dots were not connected and other relevant agencies remained in the dark about the man who would try and turn himself into a human bomb.
"Yes," the defendant replied.
He told the court the bomb was a "blessed weapon to save the lives of innocent Muslims".
"The US should be warned that if they continue to kill and support those who kill innocent Muslims, then the US should await a great calamity... or God will strike them directly," he said.
Abdulmutallab was representing himself, with a standby lawyer appointed by the court to assist with his defence.
He sacked his original legal team, also appointed by the court, in September 2010.
"We wanted to continue the trial, but we respect his decision," said standby lawyer Anthony Chambers outside the court on Wednesday.
US Attorney General Eric Holder welcomed the guilty plea, saying it showed the courts were "one of the most effective tools we have to fight terrorism".
In a statement, he said: "Our priority in this case was to ensure that we arrested a man who tried to do us harm, that we collected actionable intelligence from him and that we prosecuted him in a way that was consistent with the rule of law.
"We will continue to be aggressive in our fight against terrorism and those who target us, and we will let results, not rhetoric, guide our actions."
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen, said it was behind the attack on 25 December 2009.
US investigators have said Abdulmutallab told them he was working for AQAP and had received the bomb from them, as well as training.
US and Yemeni officials have linked Abdulmutallab to radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whom he is said to have met while in Yemen before the attack.
Map

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