Tuesday, July 31, 2012

United States' Michael Phelps waves after finishing first in the men's 200-meter butterfly swimming semifinal at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Monday, July 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa De Olza)

EYES ON LONDON: Big night approaches for Phelps

LONDON (AP) — Around the 2012 Olympics and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of the games to you:
After missing the medal podium in his first swim in London and taking a surprising silver in the 4x100 freestyle relay, Michael Phelps is back for two more shots at another gold medal on Tuesday. He will try to defend his title in the 200-meter butterfly and also swim in the 4x200 freestyle final.
Phelps had the fifth-fastest time in the 200 fly preliminaries on Monday, and he feels ready to go again.
"I'm pretty happy with that swim," Phelps said. "That's all I needed it to be."
— Beth Harris — Twitter http://www.twitter.com/bethharrisap
"In this system it's a shame that the all-around champion doesn't get to compete in the finals at the Olympics because of a stupid rule." — John Geddert, coach of reigning world champion Jordyn Wieber, who will miss a shot at Olympic gold in Thursday's Olympic gymnastics all-around finals because international rules allow only two competitors per country.
— Will Graves — Twitter http://twitter.com/WillGravesAP
Marti Malloy earned the second-ever Olympic judo medal for an American woman, and she was ready.
She proudly displayed the bronze prize for photographers and offered to strike the traditional pose.
"I've been working on my bite," she said Monday night. "I'm not sure if it should be mean or happy."
The 26-year-old Malloy got into judo when her parents enrolled her in a free class on a military base when she was growing up in Oak Harbor, Wash. She went on to compete at San Jose State University, and 92-year-old coach Yoshihiro Uchida made the trip to London to see her big win.
Malloy's three brothers also learned judo when they were kids, and she said she felt fortunate to be involved with the sport.
"Judo is one of those sports that in the U.S. obviously isn't very well known but is the thing that will teach you the most about discipline, respect, hard work, dedication," she said. "I know all sports are like that but judo especially, those are the ideals that the sport is built around."
— Jay Cohen — Twitter http://twitter.com/jcohenap
The Nielsen company says 36 million people watched NBC's Olympic coverage Sunday night, the biggest audience for the second night of a non-U.S. summer Olympics competition since TV began covering them in 1960.
Counting the opening ceremonies on Friday, an average of 35.8 million people have tuned in for the three nights. That's well above the 30.6 million who watched the first three nights in Beijing in 2008 and considerably more than the 24 million who saw the first three nights of the Athens games of 2004.
— David Bauder — Twitter http://twitter.com/dbauder
Talk about strict parenting.
New Zealand kayaker Mike Dawson made the semifinals of the kayak slalom at the Olympics despite being given a two-second penalty by his mother Kay — who is a judge at the games.
Dawson touched gate five when going down the 18-gate Olympic course on Sunday, and his mother didn't hesitate to penalize her son. It was one of two two-second penalties Dawson received, but he still advanced to Wednesday's semis.
Dawson joked in an email to The Associated Press on Monday that he was tempted to get his coach to put in a protest "about that particular judge."
It would have made dinnertime at the Dawsons even more awkward. His coach is father Les.
"That would've had all sorts of ramifications after the Olympics and besides, I like mum's cooking too much!" Dawson joked in his message to AP.
The Twitter insult against British diver Tom Daley has attracted the attention of police.
Daley's father died of brain cancer a year ago and the 18-year-old Olympian had hoped win a medal "for myself and my dad." But he finished finishing fourth, out of medal contention, in the 10-meter synchronized platform with teammate Pete Waterfield.
Afterward, Twitter user (at)Rileyy69 sent him this message: "You let your dad down i hope you know that."
Dorset Police tweeted tonight: "Regarding tweets to (at)tomdaley1994 - we are aware of the issue and we are actively looking into it."
In Britain, tweeting messages considered menacing, offensive or indecent can lead to prosecution.
— Cassandra Vinograd — Twitter: https://twitter.com/CassVinograd
We know that FLOTUS (first lady of the United States Michelle Obama) has cheered on the Olympians from the stands in London. But what about POTUS (president of the U.S.), who stayed home?
The White House couldn't say Monday whether President Barack Obama has been watching but thought it likely.
"I know that he was looking forward to the Olympics starting so I'd be surprised if 72 hours into it he hadn't seen it yet," deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said as Obama flew Air Force One to New York for an evening fundraiser. Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki joked that the Olympics would be forced on to all the plane's TVs to improve the odds.
Here's what could be seen in the back cabin: Korea v. Denmark in handball, and weightlifters from Indonesia and Turkey. No word on what Obama was doing up front.
— Nancy Benac — Twitter https://twitter.com/nbenac
Nick Thoman almost left swimming after 2008, thinking then it might be time to try something else.
Now an Olympic silver medalist — he and Matt Grevers went 1-2 in the men's 100 backstroke for the United States on Monday night — Thoman is headed to school again, starting next spring.
"I didn't actually graduate college," Thoman said. "So I'm going to go back to school and get my degree so that I can do something with my life."
Do something with his life? Did he not notice the silver medal dangling from his neck? Everyone in the room giggled anxiously, waiting to see if Thoman would provide the punch line.
And he did.
"Something else," Thoman said, as the giggles turned into full-blown laughter.
— Tim Reynolds — Twitter http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds
When the public address announcer at the Horse Guards Parade beach volleyball venue wants to get the crowd riled up, he reminds them that the prime minister's residence is virtually next door.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," he told the crowd at 10 p.m. during a break in the second of four Monday night matches, "I've just heard that prime minister David Cameron, or Dave as I call him, is trying to get a good night's sleep at 10 Downing Street."
The crowd booed.
He added: "He's just checked into a hotel."
— Jenna Fryer — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennafryer
Happy Gilmore, you have your archery equivalent.
British archer Larry Godfrey delighted the crowd Monday as he celebrated reaching the men's individual 70-meter quarterfinals at Lord's cricket ground.
Adorned in aviator shades and bleached highlights, Godfrey emulated batting a six — the equivalent of a home run in baseball — after advancing.
"I thought it would be a bit of fun," he explained.
The 198-year-old venue is considered "The Home of Cricket."
The Bristol-based archer is hoping that home soil will be the trick for his first medal in three Olympics.
— Paul Logothetis — Twitter http:/twitter.com/PaulLogoAP
EDITOR'S NOTE "Eyes on London" shows you the Olympics through the eyes of Associated Press journalists across the 2012 Olympic city and around the world. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item, and get even more AP updates from the games here: http://twitter.com/AP_Sports

July 31, 2012

July 29, 2012

July 28, 2012

Friend says Cuban dissident Harold Cepero 'paid the ultimate price for liberty'

Harold-ceperoHarold Cepero
Much has been written about dissident leader Oswaldo Paya, and rightfully so, since his death July 22 in a car crash in eastern Cuba.
But there was a second man who died in the crash, Harold Cepero, leader of the youth wing of Paya's Christian Liberation Movement.
Yuri Perez-Vazquez, a Cuban exile working as an intern at the Cato Institute, remembers his friend:
Harold Cepero was a young man full of good intentions and with strong commitment toward his fellow man. I met him because we share many things in common, but one marked our lives forever. As with many other idealistic young Cubans, we were expelled from the university due our passion for freedom. Although we just wanted to have fun, improve ourselves and our Cuba, we faced the intolerant rule of the Castro brothers, the Cuban Communist Party, and the covert action of their secret police. Several requests directed to Cuban authorities, UNESCO and the OAS Inter-American Commission of Human Rights did not succeed in our efforts to go back to university. In fact, Cuban authorities stood by their discriminatory policy against “non-revolutionaries.” UNESCO sided with the Cuban government, despite recognizing human rights violations, and we are still waiting for the Inter-American Commission. (See here and here.)
In a country where young people are forced to adore the Castros’ revolution, are forbidden to think, and if they think, they cannot speak and act accordingly, we made the right choice. Harold had a gracious girlfriend, played soccer, and strived for a better future. He collected signatures for the Varela Project, a citizen initiative led by Paya to promote a peaceful transition to democracy that gained the support of thousands of fellow citizens. After being expelled from university, he decided to give himself to the service of the others and became a Catholic seminarian. However that was not his vocation, and Harold paid the ultimate price for liberty: he ended sacrificing his life on a very different altar.
In this tragic moment I recall images of their beloved families. Oswaldo Paya’s wife, Ofelia and their children, and Harold Cepero’s parents and brother. The immense grieving for the loss of these great Cubans is not only theirs, but also belongs to every freedom lover. As Jesus Christ, Paya’s and Harold’s teacher said, “There is no greater love than this to lay one’s life down for a friend.”
Uncommon Sense

Obama Plans to Lay Out 'Specific Agenda' for 2nd Term

President Obama tonight hinted that his re-election campaign will transition to a more positive and forward-looking message by the end of next month and into the fall.
Obama told a group of high-dollar donors at a New York City fundraiser that he intends to spend "a lot of time talking about the specific agenda that I intend to pursue in the second term."
Obama has faced criticism from some members of his party and key constituencies for not laying out clearly enough what his priorities will be if he's re-elected. He has also taken heat for running a predominantly negative, anti-Romney TV ad campaign in battleground states.
"This phase of the campaign I think you're seeing a lot of negative ads and a lot of contrast ads, although when people start saying how terrible it is I just have to remind them to take a look at what Jefferson and Adams had to say about each other, and democracy has always been pretty rough and pretty messy," Obama said.
"There is going to be, though, as the summer winds down and we get into the fall, the need for voters in these swing states to know not just what they're voting against but also what they're voting for," he said. "And so we'll be spending a lot of time talking about the specific agenda that I intend to pursue in the second term, which I think will make sure that this economy is going full guns.
"So the upshot is if the election were held today, I think it would be close, but I think we'd win. And we now have 99 days left. If I can say that every single day for the next 99 days, then we will be able to embark on the next phase of this journey."
Obama spoke before 60 supporters who paid $40,000 apiece to mingle with the president inside the NoMad Hotel in Manhattan. The event was expected to raise more than $2.4 million for the 2012 campaign, according to figures provided by the Obama campaign.

Lech Walesa, Polish Nobel Peace Prize winner, backs Romney

Polish Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President Lech Walesa encouraged Mitt Romney, while the Polish Solidarity movement distanced itself.

Lech walesa romney poland solidarity july 30 2012
Republican presidential candidate and former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney (R) and his wife Ann (L) hold the hands of former Polish President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa (C), during a meeting at Artus Court, in Gdansk, on 30, 2012. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrived in Poland on Monday, where he received encouragement and what effectively amounted to an endorsement from the country's former president, Lech Walesa, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Walesa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the co-founder of the Solidarity labor movement in Poland, lauded Romney through a translator.
"Poland and many other countries will certainly do their best for the United States to restore its leadership position," said Walesa, according to the LA Times. "And after our conversation, I'm quite confident that you will be successful in doing that."
"I wish you to be successful because this success is needed to the United States, of course, but to Europe and the rest of the world, too. Governor Romney, get your success, be successful!" Walesa said, according to The Washington Post.
Romney responded, "Thank you so much. I appreciate your invitation and I'm glad to be here with you," said the Post.
Yahoo News noted that Romney' made his visit to Poland on an invitation from Walesa. The Obama administration's relationship with Poland has been strained since 2009, when the administration canceled plans for an air missile defense system to be built in Poland, according to Yahoo News. Poland viewed the move as a concession to Russia.
Romney also met with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk earlier in the day.
Solidarity, the trade union movement that was co-founded by Walesa, distanced itself from Romney, lamenting that he supported attacks on unions in the United States, according to Reuters.
In a statement, the movement said, "Regretfully, we were informed by our friends from the American headquarters of (trade union federation) AFL-CIO, which represents more than 12 million employees...that Mitt Romney supported attacks on trade unions and employees' rights."
"Solidarity was not involved in organizing Romney's meeting with Walesa and did not invite him to visit Poland," it added, according to Reuters.
Romney was on the third and last leg of his international tour, which included earlier stops in London and Israel.

Dissident Oswaldo Paya's widow rejects Cuban report on car crash

Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya's widow has rejected an official report that said driver error caused the car crash that killed her husband.
Oswaldo paya funeral arrests
Ofelia Acevedo, widow of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, mourns during his funeral, at Salcador del Mundo church in Havana. (ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
What do you think?

The widow of well-known Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya has rejected a government report that said driver error caused the car crash that killed her husband a week ago, the Spanish news agency Efe reported.
Ofelia Acevedo said she “in no way accepted” the official line that excessive speed caused the car to spin out of control after it reached an unpaved stretch of road near Bayamo, 500 miles east of Havana.
More from GlobalPost: Cuba: Activists arrested after Oswaldo Paya funeral
Acevedo said she has been denied access to “information” the Cuban Interior Ministry used in its investigation into the crash – and is demanding to meet with the driver, Spanish politician Angel Carromero, who survived, along with another passenger.
The report said Carromero was driving at more than 75mph when he made an “incorrect decision” to abruptly apply the brakes on a slippery surface, the BBC reported.
The vehicle then hit a tree. While Carromero and a Swedish passenger in the front seat, politician Aron Modig, suffered only minor injuries, Paya and another opposition activist, Harold Cepero, were killed.
Released on state television Friday, the report said both victims were seated in the back of the car and were not wearing seat belts.
Acevedo told Efe: "Until I'm able to speak with Angel and Aron, the last two people who saw my husband alive, have access to the expert reports and have the advice of people independent of the Cuban government, I can't have an idea of what really happened that day.
"I learned of the official version of the events on television. The right thing would have been to inform the family beforehand so I could express my doubts.”

Cuba dissident Paya's death accidental: witnesses

The car crash that claimed the life of leading Cuban opposition figure Oswaldo Paya was accidental, two Europeans who were in the vehicle at the time said at a press conference Monday.
Cuba's dissident community suspected another vehicle might have forced the one carrying Paya off the road, but the two surviving occupants told reporters that no other cars were involved.
"There was no other vehicle that struck us from behind," Spaniard Angel Carromero said in a video shown at the press conference organized by Cuban authorities.
Carromero was at the wheel at the time of the accident, which also killed a fourth occupant in the car, in addition to Paya.
"I was driving in an area (of road that was) in bad condition," and lost control, he said, despite "taking all the precautions that a driver should take under such circumstances."
The other crash survivor, Swedish political activist Jens Aron Modig, backed up that story in a live interview before reporters.
"I don't recall there being a second vehicle involved in the accident," he said.
Carromero also appealed to the international community to help him leave Cuba, where he and Modig have been detained since the accident.
"Beyond this prepared statement, I ask the international community to please focus on getting me out of here, and not to use a traffic accident that could have happened to anyone for political ends," he said.
He faces charges of traffic violations resulting in death, which can carry up to 10 years in prison under Cuba's penal code.
The rental car crashed in Bayamo, in eastern Cuba, on July 22, slamming into a tree.
Paya, 60, a leading opponent of the one-party rule of the Cuban Communist Party, was the 2002 recipient of the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov prize, which is awarded for defending human rights and freedom of thought.
His widow, Ofelia Acevedo last week rejected a government report that blamed the car crash on the driver. She also criticized officials for not allowing her to talk to Carromero and Modig, who had been kept in custody.
Paya's relatives had said they believed the rental car had been forced off the road by another vehicle.

Monday, July 30, 2012

24/7 News

Key role for Bill Clinton at Democratic convention

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton will have a marquee role in this summer's Democratic National Convention, where he will make a forceful case for President Barack Obama's re-election and his economic vision for the country, several Obama campaign and Democratic party officials said Sunday.
The move gives the Obama campaign an opportunity to take advantage of the former president's immense popularity and remind voters that a Democrat was in the White House the last time the American economy was thriving.
Obama personally asked Clinton to speak at the convention and place Obama's name in nomination, and Clinton enthusiastically accepted, officials said. Clinton speaks regularly to Obama and to campaign officials about strategy.
Clinton's prominent role at the convention will also allow Democrats to embrace party unity in a way that is impossible for Republican rival Mitt Romney.
George W. Bush, the last Republican to hold the White House, remains politically toxic in some circles. While Bush has endorsed Romney, he is not involved in his campaign and has said he does not plan to attend the GOP convention.
Clinton will speak in prime-time at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 5, the night before Obama formally accepts the party nomination. While the number two on the ticket often speaks that night, the Obama campaign has instead decided that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will speak on the same night.
Biden will speak before Obama on Sept. 6, in front of tens of thousands of people expected to fill an outdoor stadium in Charlotte, and millions more on television.
The vice president's speech will focus on outlining many of the challenges the White House has faced over the past four years and the decisions Obama made to address them, officials said.
"To us it's about deploying our assets in the most effective way," Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said. "To have President Clinton on Wednesday night laying out the choice facing voters, and then having Vice President Biden speak right before the president in prime time on Thursday, giving a testimony to the decisions the president has made, the character of his leadership and the battle to rebuild the middle class that's so central to our message."
Clinton's role at the convention was to be formally announced Monday. It was first reported by The New York Times.
Clinton spoke at the 2008 convention, part of a healing process for the Democratic party following the heated primary battle between Obama and the former president's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Since then, the ties between Obama and Bill Clinton have strengthened significantly. Obama has called on the former president for advice several times during his term and the two have appeared together this year at campaign fundraisers for Obama's re-election bid.
Associated Press writer Beth Fouhy in New York contributed to this report.

Swimming showdown looms, weather, transport fine

LONDON (Reuters) - Swimming's biggest names slug it out in the men's 200 metre freestyle on Monday as the weather stayed cool but sunny and London's transport system defied predictions of gridlock on the first regular working day of the Olympic Games.
London's transport bosses expect an extra three million journeys per day on top of the usual 12 million during the Games, an Olympian test for an underground train network that first opened in 1863 during the reign of Queen Victoria.
But on the first morning rush hour since the Games opened on Friday night, commuters said buses, trains and the metro were working surprisingly smoothly with a few hiccups, and roads were generally clear.
"It's nothing like they warned it would be," said Letizia, an Italian living in London, at London Bridge station. "They said we'd have to queue thirty minutes just to get on the Tube but I ended up getting to work an hour early."
The city has implemented Olympic-only traffic lanes for the exclusive use of athletes and officials and set traffic lights to stay red for longer.
At Olympic venues, a scandal over empty seats showed no immediate signs of abating. Sports fans all over Britain who tried and failed to get tickets to the Games have been angered by television footage of empty seats at some of the hottest events, including tennis, swimming and gymnastics.
Organising committee chairman Sebastian Coe said the missing spectators were mostly officials from sports federations, other Games officials or their families and friends.
Ticketing confusion also led to the opposite problem - overcrowding - in at least one instance on Monday. Dozens of angry ticketholders trying to get into the men's 10m air rifle competition at Royal Artillery Barracks were turned away because the venue was too full.
A venue manager said the problem was that ticketholders did not understand that their "general admission" tickets meant that seats would be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Later on Monday American Ryan Lochte, Sun Yang of China and France's Yannick Agnel were due to chase a second London gold in one of the most anticipated races in the pool, the 200 freestyle.
Lochte won gold in the 400 individual medley, trouncing his compatriot Michael Phelps, Sun triumphed in the 400 freestyle and Agnel beat Lochte to clinch a shock gold for France with a devastating surge on the last length of Sunday's 4x100 relay.
Monday's race also includes world record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany and South Korea's Park Tae-hwan, a line-up that could decide bragging rights over who is the best male swimmer at the Games.
Also up for grabs are the men's 100 backstroke, where Matt Grevers of the U.S. qualified fastest, the women's 100 backstroke where Australia's Emily Seebohm almost broke the world record in qualifying, and the women's 100 breaststroke in which 15-year-old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte leads the field.
On Sunday, South Africa's Cameron Van der Burgh and American Dana Vollmer set world records in the men's 100 breaststroke and women's 100 butterfly respectively, both erasing times set in 2009 before buoyancy-boosting polyurethane bodysuits were banned.
Van der Burgh became the first South African male to win individual Olympic swimming gold.
Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, trying to become the first male swimmer to win gold in the same event at three successive Olympics, could only finish fifth.
There was a further pool gold for France when top-ranked Camille Muffat won the women's 400 freestyle.
Phelps's silver in the relay was his first in these Games, which along with his 14 previous golds and two bronzes left him one shy of the all-time record of 18 medals held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
The weather early on Monday was cool with only a 20 percent chance of rain - happy odds for Britons who have suffered one of their worst summers in years, including the wettest June in a century.
British cyclist Lizzie Armitstead maintained that it was the rainstorms on Sunday afternoon that helped her land the host nation's first medal of the games, a silver.
"What a ride by Lizzie, she was doing a rain dance this morning, praying for rain. You think I'm kidding - she really was," Team GB performance director David Brailsford told reporters.
The race was won by favourite Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, who was desperate for road gold after finishing second in the last five road race world championships.
Overall, China took a commanding early lead in the rankings with 12 medals, six of them gold, ahead of the United States on 11 medals including three golds.
China's Guo Wenjun retained her Olympic title in the 10 metre air pistol shooting on Sunday while compatriots Wu Minxia and He Zi took their expected easy gold in the women's synchronised three-metre springboard diving.
The Chinese team can expect to add another gold by Yuan Cao and Yanquan Zhang in the 10-metre synchronised platform diving on Monday and the squad will also try to challenge the American favourites for the men's gymnastics team gold.
The latest U.S. basketball "Dream Team", this time featuring LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, began their title defence with a slick 98-71 defeat of France, drawing 'oohs' from the crowd with no-look assists, thunderous dunks and sublime handling.
South Korea's women extended their domination of Olympic archery by winning a seventh straight team gold although they needed a near-perfect nine from their last arrow to overcome China who took their third successive silver.
But there was nothing close to perfection from U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber, the world champion who fled from reporters as her dreams of landing the all-round Olympic crown were shattered.
A scrappy floor routine and a far-below-par balance beam display meant it was her team mates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman who qualified instead for the individual final.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Update on Castro's European Hostages

Sunday, July 29, 2012
Here's the latest on Angel Carromero and Aron Modig, the Spanish and Swedish survivors of the car crash that claimed the life of Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya:

- Carromero has been transferred to the Department of Technical Investigation of the nefarious Ministry of the Interior in Havana, where he remains detained.

- Spanish diplomats have been prohibited from seeing Carromero since Monday of last week -- the day after the accident.

- The Swedish government has publicly stated that Modig's continued detention in Havana is unjustified.

Meanwhile, Paya's widow has rejected the Castro regime's "official" report, which blamed the accident on driver error and stated:

"Until I'm able to speak with Angel and Aron, the last two people who saw my husband alive, have access to the expert reports and have the advice of people independent of the Cuban government, I can't have an idea of what really happened that day."

On U.S. Policy

"US assistance and trade policy can help democracies in Latin America to provide an answer to populist dictators. At the same time, we must speak out for dissidents – from Cuba to Venezuela to Nicaragua."

-- Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, Financial Times, 7/26/12

"With Romney there would be a more sensible policy that foments and supports democratic countries and market economies, and a firmer and more significant opposition against Chavez and Castro."

-- Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor, EFE, 7/27/12

Statements on Odebrecht Walkout

U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) released the following statement after walking out on the opening of Miami International Airport’s new Metrorail station:

American aid worker Alan Gross is being held hostage, numerous pro-democracy activists have been murdered, and it is just days after the violent death of Oswaldo Payá. I will not sit idly listening to the representative of the company that profits from Castro’s blood money.”

And House Foreign Affairs Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL):

"I'm hopeful that under Mayor Gimenez's leadership, the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars will not further flow into the pockets of a company that refuses to sever its economic ties with the blood soaked Castro regime. Along with my Congressional colleagues, I walked out in protest of the company's business dealings with a tyrannical dictator. Using taxpayers' money to pay companies that deal with Castro's dictatorship means that Americans are being forced to fund unethical behavior against their will."

US, Amnesty International criticise Cuba

Thursday, July 26, 2012 » 02:15pm

Cuba was criticized by the U.S. government and Amnesty International on Wednesday over the brief detention of dozens of dissidents after they attended a prominent opposition leader's funeral.
A few hundred people had gathered at a Havana church the previous day to pay respects to Oswaldo Paya, who died Sunday in a car crash, when a scrum broke out outside between dissidents yelling 'freedom!' and state security agents.
Police herded more than 40 people onto buses, according to noted dissident hunger-striker Guillermo Farinas. They were taken to police stations and released within hours.
Cuba, which considers members of the island's small dissident community to be 'counterrevolutionaries' bent on undermining the government, has cleared its prisons of internationally recognized prisoners of conscience in recent years. Dissidents say authorities have since turned to brief detentions such as those seen Tuesday.
The short-term arrests 'aim to produce physical and psychological wear and tear among the opposition,' said Farinas, who like Paya is a past winner of the European Union's Sakharov human rights prize.
Dissidents accused police of rough treatment, but there were no reports of any serious injuries.
The White House said in a Wednesday statement that the detentions 'provide a stark demonstration of the climate of repression in Cuba.'
'We look forward to the day when the Cuban people can live in the free society Oswaldo Paya worked so hard to bring about throughout his lifetime,' it read.
Human rights group Amnesty International also criticized the arrests.
'Tuesday's events follow the pattern of short-term detentions and imprisonments we've seen the Cuban authorities carry out time and again as a form of intimidation against dissidents and human rights activists,' said Gerardo Ducos, Amnesty's Cuba researcher.
There was no word of the detentions in Cuban state media, which rarely mention dissidents except to accuse them of being paid stooges of the U.S. government. Island newspapers have reported Paya's death, but without mentioning his opposition activities.
A rental car carrying Paya, another Cuban dissident, and two Europeans crashed Sunday in the eastern province of Granma, killing Paya and the other Cuban.
State media said the accident happened when the driver of the vehicle lost control and hit a tree.
A member of the Spanish conservative ruling party's youth wing was apparently behind the wheel. Both he and a Swede belonging to a political youth organization suffered minor injuries. They made statements to police and were being assisted by officials from their respective embassies, but have not spoken to the news media.
There have been some conflicting accounts of the crash including speculation it could have been intentional, and dissidents demanded a transparent investigation.
'We will clear up and seek justice for the violent death of my father,' daughter Rosa Maria Paya said Tuesday at the church.
Paya, 60, was a leading government opponent who in the late 1990s and early 2000s headed up the Varela Project, which gathered thousands of signatures calling for political and economic change.

Cuba dissident's widow rejects death report

The widow of leading Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya has rejected a government report that blamed the car crash that killed her husband on the driver, saying she had been denied access to information.
Ofelia Acevedo criticized officials for not allowing her to talk to the survivors, Spanish driver Angel Carromero and Swedish political activist Jens Aron Modig, who have been kept in custody since the July 22 incident.
"I reject this report because it is the official report of the government of Cuba and because I have not had access to this information that they say they have," she told AFP. "I have no reason at all to believe this version of events."
The government insists Paya, 60, a leading opponent of the one-party rule of the Cuban Communist Party, was killed when Carromero lost control and the rental car struck a tree.
In a lengthy report Friday, the interior ministry said the Spanish political activist lost control of the vehicle when he abruptly hit the brakes on the slippery surface of an unpaved section of road while speeding.
Paya's family, however, has said it has information that the rental car was forced off the road by another vehicle.
Acevedo said she had not yet been able to talk to Carromero or Modig, both of whom have been kept in custody since they were discharged from hospital after being treated for injuries sustained during the crash.
"They were the last people who saw my husband alive and they have to know a lot more than I do so far," she told AFP.
Acevedo said she did not believe the government's account of what Carromero said about the accident.
"He has not had access to the communications media, outside the presence of state security, which has had him sequestered since he came out of the hospital," she told AFP.
Paya's widow said she had asked the ambassadors of Spain and Sweden to arrange for her to speak to Carromero and Modig, but "not even they have been able to speak with them without the presence of state security."
Carromero, who is being held by police in a southeastern town close to where the crash occurred, faces charges of traffic violations resulting in death, which can carry up to 10 years in prison under Cuba's penal code.
In Madrid, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo confirmed that Carromero was still being held in Cuba and said he could possibly be charged on Monday or Tuesday once the investigation was over.
"If he were to be charged, we would like him to be staying in our embassy," the minister said, adding that the most important thing was to bring the 27-year-old Spanish national home.
Also killed in the crash with Paya was a fellow Cuban dissident, 31-year-old Harold Cepero Escalante.
Paya, a fervent Catholic, is best known for presenting the Cuban parliament in 2002 with a petition signed by 11,000 people demanding political change in Cuba.
Known as the "Varela Project," the initiative was instrumental in opening debate in Cuba on the direction of a communist regime dominated for more than half a century by Fidel Castro and his brother Raul.
Paya was the 2002 recipient of the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov prize, which is awarded for defending human rights and freedom of thought.
His death was keenly felt among Cuba's dissident community, and authorities have been quick to respond to any sign of protests.
About 50 people were arrested on Tuesday after they emerged from Paya's funeral in Havana shouting anti-government slogans. Most were later released without charge, activists said.
In an impassioned statement delivered at his funeral, Paya's 23-year-old daughter Rosa Maria said her skepticism of the government version was based on "repeated threats against the life of my father and our family."
The United States on Wednesday urged communist Cuba to launch a thorough, transparent probe into the circumstances of the accident and condemned the arrest of the dissidents at Paya's funeral.
Swedish foreign ministry spokesman Anders Jorle said there was no reason that 27-year-old Modig, who is being held in an immigration detention center in Havana, should not be allowed to go home.
Both Modig and Carromero were in Cuba on tourist visas.