Sunday, June 3, 2012

24/7 FrontLine Results - LPPNEWS

Cuba high-speed Internet dreams fade

A ship rolls out the cable off the Venezuelan coast that was supposed to speed up Internet access.

Havana -- It was all sunshine, smiles and celebratory speeches as officials marked the arrival of an undersea fiber-optic cable they promised would end Cuba's Internet isolation and boost Web capacity 3,000-fold. Even a retired Fidel Castro had hailed the dawn of a new cyber age on the island.
More than a year after the February 2011 ceremony on Siboney Beach in eastern Cuba, and 10 months after the system was supposed to have gone online, the government never mentions the cable anymore, and Internet here remains the slowest in the hemisphere. People talk quietly about embezzlement torpedoing the project and the arrest of more than a half dozen senior telecom officials.
Perhaps most maddening, nobody has explained what happened to the much-ballyhooed $70 million project.
"They did some photo-op ... and then that scandal came out, and then it just disappeared from human consciousness," said Larry Press, a professor of information systems at California State University Dominguez Hills, who studies Cuba, referring to foreign media reports and whispers by diplomats that several executives at state phone company Etecsa and the two senior officials in the Telecommunications Ministry were arrested last year.
The cable was strung from Venezuela with the help of key ally Hugo Chavez. Government officials said from the start that the bandwidth boon would be prioritized for hospitals, universities and other usage deemed in service of the common good; the legions of Cubans with little or no access to the Internet from their homes would have to wait.
But a dozen employees of public institutions said they have seen no noticeable improvement in their work connections. If anything, they say, download speeds have even gotten a little slower.
Going online in Cuba will try the patience of anyone who's ever had a taste of high-speed DSL connections.
The problem is that connection speeds here are still Web 1.0, while the world has moved on to fancier, bandwidth-hogging platforms like Flash. YouTube is irrelevant on Cuban dial-up and barely useable on the rare broadband connections. Want to watch the latest episode of "Mad Men"? At 3-5 kilobytes-per-second dial-up transfer speeds, a 500-megabyte video file would theoretically take somewhere between 28 and 46 hours to download from iTunes.
Artists and photographers say it's nearly impossible to view others' work online. People swap digital pictures in person on memory sticks rather than simply sending them as e-mail attachments. Students have difficulty accessing research databases.
One doctor in Havana said she only has access to Cuba's domestic intranet, a bare-bones internal network of island-hosted sites that also lets users get e-mail. Moreover, her institution recently began cracking down on the few who do have full Internet access, ordering them not to use sites like Facebook under threat of punishment.
"I had high hopes, great expectations for the cable. ... For me, doing a postgraduate degree, (the intranet) is no good. It's too basic and poor for our needs," she said. "They haven't given us any explanation."
She and the others spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of getting into trouble with their state employers.
Multiple attempts to get Cuban and Venezuelan government officials to comment were unsuccessful.
The Venezuela branch of Paris-based Alcatel-Lucent, which was contracted to lay the cable, referred questions to the Cuban-Venezuelan joint venture Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe, where an official said he would need approval from Venezuela's science and technology ministry to talk about the project. The ministry did not respond to requests to interview officials.
Diplomats in Havana privately tell consistent stories of reported corner-cutting on the project that let corrupt officials skim millions of dollars from its budget.
A senior French official said that Alcatel had upheld its part of the contract and whatever problems exist must be on land with the network it was meant to be attached to.
The lack of transparency is not unusual for Cuba, where all media is state run and tightly controlled. But it flies in the face of Castro's own enthusiastic words about the cable and the transformational power of the Internet.
"Secrets are over. ... We are facing the most powerful weapon that has ever existed, which is communication," Castro told Mexican daily La Jornada in an August 2010 interview in which he hailed the coming cable.
While some hold out hope that faster Internet has merely been delayed, others interpret the government's long silence as a sign Cuba's broadband dreams will be the latest grand pronouncement to end in disappointment.
"I have no expectations for the cable," said Marlene Blanco, a 25-year-old independent worker. "Nothing is going to change for ordinary Cubans. So why talk about it?"

Another Castro Official Purged

Sunday, June 3, 2012
Miguel Alvarez, senior advisor on international and political affairs to Ricardo Alarcon, president of Castro's National Assembly, has been reportedly detained.

Alvarez was considered Alarcon’s "right-hand man."

He was also point man of the regime's propaganda campaign for the "Cuban Five" (convicted spies imprisoned in the U.S.)

These types of purges aren't atypical.

In 2009, Castro's economic "czar" Carlos Lage and foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque were essentially disappeared overnight.

Penultimos Dias's Ernesto Hernandez Busto managed to obtain Alarcon's phone number and called to ask about his long-time friend and advisor's arrest.

Alarcon nervously said "absolutely nothing" and hung up.

Listen here.

Picture: Alvarez is the one in the middle.

Cuba has a totalitarian system...EFT (Research Alert Group)...

Cuba has a totalitarian system. It is no democracy. It tries to display some formal elements of democracy (elections, trade unions, NGO's,...), but once on looks beyond the surface it becomes clear that Cuba is no democracy.

The constitution defines Cuba as "an independent and sovereign socialist state of workers" (article 1of the 1976-1992 constitution). By this definition it already limits the options of it's citizens to select the socio-economic system under which they want to live. Similarly the freedom of expression is made subordinate to the socialist system: "Citizens have freedom of speech and of the press in keeping with the objectives of socialist society. " (article 53).  Any and all expression of dissent is prohibited and  a set of state run institutions are set up to control the people while claiming to exclusively represent their interests: "The Cuban socialist state recognizes and stimulates the social and mass organizations, which arose from the historic process of struggles of our people. These organizations gather in their midst the various sectors of the population, represent specific interests of the same and incorporate them to the tasks of the edification, consolidation and defense of the socialist society." thereby excluding all others (article 7)
Education also is totally subordinated to Marxist principles "the state bases its educational and cultural policy on the progress made in science and technology, the ideology of Marx and Martí" (article 39) and exclusive reserved to the state which promotes "the patriotic and communist education of the new generations" with freedom of expression limited by the requirement that "the content is not contrary to the Revolution".

Within this framework a system of "total social control" is set up that dominates all aspects of life of Cubans. Access to even the most basic of elements of life is controlled by organizations that are intertwined and exchange information.
"For this reason Maida Donate-Armada (1996) says that “perhaps the greatest contribution (of the CDRs) to the history of world espionage may be to have raised to the level of counterintelligence the daily gossip (chismes) and disagreements (bretes) that go on at the neighborhood level. Citizens must be careful of their actions and of what they say, as they are being constantly monitored by the block CDR. "

From the schools with their ""Cumulative School File." over the CDR with their files on all Cubans and records from work and from the state controlled organizations a detailed and comprehensive set of information is available to the Cuban regime.
This information controls a large part of the every day lives of the Cuban people. A "bad mark" is a constant threat to getting housing, a job, education, ...
The sheer absurdity and extent of this system is illustrated by the following anecdote:
"... the most popular TV programme in Cuba, Parabailar (for Dancing) which is a dance contest, requires that in order to participate you must participate in voluntary labor and belong at least to the CDR, or other so-called mass organizations, or the Communist Youth. [9]"

Given all these pressures and the oppressive legal environment it is no surprise that Cubans try to avoid at all cost to get noticed by the regime. They aim to "stay under the radar".

Those that do face severe repression and a life of hardship. Children are ejected from schools or refused education. People lose jobs. It takes a lot of courage and stamina to stand up to a system that has such a pervasive grip on people's lives.

The best known pro-democracy project is the "Varela project" . In March 2001, "Todos Unidos" as a group begins the collection of signatures for the  Proyecto Varela. It is seen as a plan for transformation and change they wanted to put jointly to the Cuban people. The principles of The Varela Project were seen as the first steps to create the necessary space for all Cubans be able to freely participate in the economic and political life of Cuba. The Varela Project hoped, through a legal and constitutional process, to put into law rights afforded to Cuban citizens in the Cuban constitution which are currently ignored. As always it ended in repression with some of its leaders like Leonel Grave de Peralta Almenares ending up in jail.

No freedom of speech. No free expression of the will of the people. No democracy in Cuba. That is the reality that the apologists of the Cuban regime deny.

Opinions about Cuban democracy:
United States:

U.S. State Department: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: "Candidates for provincial and national office must be approved in advance by mass organizations controlled by the government. In practice a small group of leaders, under the direction of the president, selected the members of the highest policy-making bodies of the CP, the Politburo, and the Central Committee."

"In 2003 there were national elections in which 609 candidates were approved to compete for the 609 seats in the National Assembly. The CP was the only political party allowed to participate in the elections. A small minority of candidates did not belong formally to the CP but were chosen through the same government-controlled selection process. The government saturated the media and used government ministries, CP entities, and mass organizations to urge voters to cast a "unified vote" where marking one box automatically selected all candidates on the ballot form.

During the year there were elections for nearly 15 thousand local representatives to the municipal assemblies. After the first run-off election, the government reported that 96.6 percent of the electorate had voted. While the law allows citizens not to vote, CDRs often pressured neighborhood residents to cast ballots. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, the government blacklisted those who did not vote. Although not a formal requirement, in practice CP membership was a prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional advancement."

Since 1976, official European Union policy towards Cuba has stated an objective "to encourage a process of transition to a pluralist democracy via constructive engagement with the Cuban Government." This goal is shared by all member states. The E.U. describe the Cuban decision-making process thus: "Elections for the National Assembly, where only candidates approved by the local authorities can partake, take place every five years. When the National Assembly, which meets twice-yearly, is not in session the 31-member Council of State wields legislative power. The Council of Ministers, through its 9-member executive committee, exercises executive and administrative power. Although the Constitution provides for independent judiciary, it explicitly subordinates it to the National Assembly and to the Council of State. Involvement in decision-making and implementation through non-political actors has been institutionalized through national organizations, linked to the Communist Party, representing farmers, youth groups, students, women, industrial workers, etc."

"Public political opposition in Cuba is not allowed, and political dissidents are pursued by the authorities. The Constitution and the Penal Code allow for severe sanctions against exercising freedom of expression if the activities of individuals are deemed to be "counter-revolutionary" or a "threat to national security". The human rights situation in the island continues to cause major havoc in its international relations. The EU has issued in the past demarches on concrete human rights issues in Cuba, e.g. death penalty, the trial of dissidents, the "acts of repudiations" against dissidents or families of political prisoners and so forth. Public political opposition in Cuba is not allowed, and political dissidents are pursued by the authorities. The Constitution and the Penal Code allow for severe sanctions against exercising freedom of expression if the activities of individuals are deemed to be "counter-revolutionary" or a "threat to national security."

Organization of American States

Cuba has been suspended from the Organization of American States (OAS) since 1962. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an organ of the OAS, reported in 1997: "It should also be noted that the major criterion for preparing this report has been the lack of free elections in accordance with internationally accepted standards, thereby violating the right to political participation set forth in Article XX of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which states textually that: Every person having legal capacity is entitled to participate in the government of his country, directly or through his representatives, and to take part in popular elections, which shall be by secret ballot, and shall be honest, periodic and free."

"The nomination of candidates for election to the Municipal Assemblies is done by nominating assemblies, in which all voters are entitled to propose candidates. In practice, however, these district assemblies are usually organized by the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution or the Communist Party, which makes the selection of an opponent of the regime most unlikely."

"THE CUBAN COMMUNIST PARTY AND ELECTORAL POLITICS:ADAPTATION, SUCCESSION, AND TRANSITION", William M. LeoGrande, Cuba Transition Project, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.

Views from non-governmental organizations.

In 1999, the non-governmental organisation Freedom House initiated "the Cuban Democracy Project". The project was set up to support and encourage Cuban independent journalists, human rights activists, independent political parties, trade unions, and other organizations. Freedom House is solely responsible for the objectives and planning of the project and for its administration. Freedom House has also given Cuba the lowest rating in its: "Freedom in the World 2005" report for political rights, and the lowest rating in its "electoral democracy" category.

The Freedom House 2005 report states: "Cubans cannot change their government through democratic means. Fidel Castro dominates the political system, having transformed the country into a one-party state with the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) controlling all governmental entities from the national to the local level. Castro is responsible for every appointment and controls every lever of power in Cuba in his various roles as president of the Council of Ministers, chairman of the Council of State, commander in chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), and first secretary of the PCC. In October 2002, some eight million Cubans voted in tightly controlled municipal elections. On January 19, 2003, an election was held for the Cuban National Assembly, with just 609 candidates - all supported by the regime - vying for 609 seats. All political organizing outside the PCC is illegal. Political dissent, spoken or written, is a punishable offense, and those so punished frequently receive years of imprisonment for seemingly minor infractions."

In 2002 former U.S. President Jimmy Carter spoke in Havana with support from Human Rights Watch and representing the Carter Center. Whilst calling for democratic change, Carter also stressed that he was not using a U.S. definition of "democracy." he explained that "the term is embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba signed in 1948. It is based on some simple premises: all citizens are born with the right to choose their own leaders, to define their own destiny, to speak freely, to organize political parties, trade unions and non-governmental groups, and to have fair and open trials."

The 2006 report from Human Rights Watch states: "Cuba remains a Latin American anomaly: an undemocratic government that represses nearly all forms of political dissent. President Fidel Castro, now in his forty-seventh year in power, shows no willingness to consider even minor reforms. Instead, his government continues to enforce political conformity using criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, police warnings, surveillance, house arrests, travel restrictions, and politically-motivated dismissals from employment. The end result is that Cubans are systematically denied basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of law."

Human Rights Defenders in Cuba from Human Rights First states: "Cuba remains the only country in the Western Hemisphere to reject democracy and effectively outlaw peaceful advocacy for human rights and democratic reforms. Independent civil society in Cuba – including human rights defenders, democracy activists, and independent journalists and scholars – are the targets of constant persecution. The universally-recognized rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are systematically violated by the State and victims have virtually no means of redress within the judicial system."

Cuba's supporters argue that the Cuban system is more democratic than that used in multi-party democracies, but without freedom of speech no true democracy can exist.

Whatever the merits of the system for electing the National Assembly, that body is itself a facade for the reality of PCC rule in Cuba. The Assembly meets only twice a year for a few days. The 31-member Council of State, in theory elected by the Assembly but in practice appointed by the PCC, wields effective state power, and the PCC Politburo, as in all communists states, is the ultimate political authority. Although the Assembly has eight standing committees, they do not exercise any effective authority over legislation. During its biannual plenums, the Assembly plays a passive role as audience for various government speakers. Once the Council of State's legislative proposals have been presented, they are summarily ratified by unanimous or near unanimous vote of the Assembly.

"Local elections candidates are nominated in open meetings run by the CDR (Committees to Defend the Revolution) that are closely linked to police and security forces. They report and sanction dissent. Prison terms of 4 years threaten those that openly oppose the regime in that public meeting filled with informants. People not supporting can be threatened with losing their home and jobs."


Egypt prosecutor to appeal Mubarak trial verdicts

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's top prosecutor is appealing the verdicts in the trial of Egypt's ousted president and others, acquitting Hosni Mubarak and his two sons on corruption charges and clearing senior police officers of complicity in killing protesters, an official said on Sunday.
Under Egyptian law, the prosecutor must appeal the entire verdict, which also included convictions and life sentences for Mubarak and his former security chief for failing to stop the killing of protesters in the uprising that ousted him last year.
Six top police commanders, who faced the same charge of complicity in killing protesters, were acquitted for what the judge said was lack of concrete evidence.
The official, who is at the prosecutor's office, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
The verdicts triggered a wave of street protests on Saturday. Tens of thousands took to the streets in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt. They chanted slogans against the generals who took over from Mubarak when the popular uprising forced him to step down 15 months ago.
The demonstrations also touched on the runoff election this month for a president to replace Mubarak, pitting Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi against Ahmed Shafiq, who was Mubarak's last prime minister.
Some demonstrators tore billboards bearing the image of Shafiq, who, like his mentor Mubarak, was a career air force officer.

Syrian President Assad on Houla massacre: ‘Not even monsters’ would have carried out killings

Assad addresses parliament on June 3, 2012. (AP)
Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Sunday that, despite deep suspicion from the United Nations, the Syrian government had nothing to do with last week's massacre in Houla, where more than 100 people--many of them children--were killed.
"Truthfully, not even monsters would carry out [the crimes] that we have seen, especially the Houla massacre," Assad said in a televised speech to the Syrian parliament in Damascus, his first public comments since the massacre. "There are no Arabic or even human words to describe it. The criminal or criminals who committed this crime and others are not criminals for an hour or criminals for a day, they are constant criminals and are surely planning other crimes."
Assad blamed foreign terrorists for the killings.
"At this time, we are facing a war from abroad," he said. "Dealing with it is different from dealing with people from inside."
"If we don't feel the pain that squeezes our hearts, as I felt it, for the cruel scenes--especially the children--then we are not human beings," Assad continued.
More from the Associated Press transcript:
"We will not be lenient. We will be forgiving only for those who renounce terrorism. ... When a surgeon in an operating room cuts and cleans and amputates, and the wound bleeds, do we say to him, 'Your hands are stained with blood?' Or do we thank him for saving the patient? ... Today we are defending a cause and a country. We do not do this because we like blood. A battle has been forced on us, and the result is this bloodshed that we are seeing."
Adib Shishakly, a Saudi-based member of the Syrian National Council opposition group, called it a "a desperate and silly speech that does not merit a response," according to the AP.
Assad's comments came on the heels of a meeting with United Nations peace envoy Kofi Annan, who said he delivered a blunt message to the Syrian leader: "What is important is not the words he uses but the action he takes--now," Annan said on Saturday at a meeting with the Arab League, according to Reuters. "He must make bold and visible steps immediately to radically change his military posture and honor his commitment to withdraw heavy weapons and cease all violence."
Annan added: "The specter of all-out civil war, with a worrying sectarian dimension, grows by the day."
According to Reuters, at least nine people were killed and 42 wounded over the weekend "in clashes between Assad supporters and opponents who fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at each other in neighboring Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli."
Annan warned that the violence in Syria was spilling over to other Middle East countries.