Saturday, July 7, 2012

News 24/7 Update & More...

London police make seventh arrest in terrorism probe

LONDON (Reuters) - Police investigating a potential terrorist attack said they had arrested a seventh person, a 22-year-old woman, in east London on Saturday.
Police are on high alert ahead of the London Olympics but said the latest arrest and those of a woman and five men in London earlier this week were not linked to the Games.
All seven suspects have been held on "suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism", police said.
Britain has spent millions of pounds beefing up security in preparation for the Olympics.
Security chiefs have said repeatedly that they have no information that the Olympics are being targeted, but Jonathan Evans, head of the domestic intelligence agency MI5, has said the Games present an attractive target.
In a separate operation this week police arrested seven men on suspicion of terrorism after weapons were found in a vehicle stopped on a motorway in Yorkshire, northern England.
A police source said that in that case too, there was nothing to suggest any link with the Olympics, which start on July 27.
In both cases security sources have said the suspects were linked to militant Islamism, but that it remained unclear what was planned. The London suspects were arrested when their plotting was at an early stage, the sources added.
In a sign of heightened vigilance ahead of the Games, armed police closed the M6 motorway near Birmingham, in the Midlands, for four hours on Thursday after a man was reported acting suspiciously on a coach heading to London.
It later emerged the alert was caused by a passenger using an electronic cigarette.
Security authorities have assessed the national threat level at "substantial" - meaning that an attack is a strong possibility - but that is one level lower than it has been for most of the time since the July 7, 2005 suicide bomb attacks in London which killed 52 people.
(Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Tim Pearce)

The Hard-Liners

Tuesday, July 3, 2012
On the eve of July 4th, we thought it would be appropriate to reproduce the following opinion editorial (and important reminder):

Are Cuban-Americans "Hard-Liners"?
by Mauricio Claver-Carone
The Washington Times
May 21, 2008

The nation's mainstream media and political pundits rarely miss an opportunity to attach the label of "hard-liner" to Cuban-American critics of the dictatorship.

That begs a question: Are Cuban-Americans fairly labeled as "hard-liners"?

Indisputably, the Cuban-American community has maintained its uncompromising support for complete political freedom and democracy in Cuba. Cuban-Americans have consistently and ardently opposed any political or commercial engagement with Cuba's regime until it meets conditions set out in the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act passed by Congress in 1996. Those essentially are: Immediate release of all political prisoners; recognition and respect for fundamental human rights set out by international accords; and legalization of opposition political parties, an independent news media and independent labor unions.

HBO's popular new TV series, "John Adams," about our nation's Founding Father and second president, offers some significant historical perspectives on what "hard-liners" can achieve.

The enlightened and inspiring debates of the Second Continental Congress of 1775 included the likes of such "hard-liners" and "radicals" — as some historians now refer to them — as John Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Adams and Jefferson, who became our third president, adamantly rejected all negotiations with the British monarch until the God-given freedoms of the American people were fully recognized.

Those early debates also provide some perspective about the "moderates" of the time, such as John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and John Rutledge of South Carolina. They advocated dialogue and reconciliation as embodied in the "Olive Branch Petition" — also known as the "Humble Petition" — to King George III. The petition sought only limited economic and political concessions, rather than absolute emancipation. The British monarch's rejection of the petition allowed the "hard-line" views of Mr. Adams to prevail and led directly to the democratic underpinnings of this great society.

During the course of the American independence movement, a "hard-line" approach also developed and became the basis for the 19th Century abolitionist movement that sought the immediate and absolute emancipation of all slaves. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who founded the abolitionist periodical "The Liberator" in 1839, was white and drew upon his deeply religious convictions. Frederick Douglass, who founded "North Star" in 1847 was a former slave, who drew upon personal tragedy and a lifetime of resolute resistance. While the two only differed in their backgrounds and the source of their inspiration, both were vitriolic in their opposition to slavery and uncompromising in their support for emancipation.

Douglass summarized his political philosophy as follows: "If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will."

Garrison concluded: "With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost."

It is inarguable that after Fidel Castro took control of Cuba, his tyranny trampled the fundamental human rights of the people of Cuba. Today the Cuban people do not have the benefit of free press that Garrison and Douglass placed at the service of the abolitionist cause. Neither do the Cuban people have the ability to somewhat gather as America's Founding Fathers did to debate the form of government and rally popular support for independence. Yet Cubans share the same goal and desire for freedom and political rights.

Americans of all origins should find it fair and easy to conclude that not only are Cuban Americans uncompromising "hard-liners" on the issues of freedom and full emancipation of Cuba but also that there is no reason to back away from that hard line.

It is, after all, a most American tradition.

CHC: The following short clip brilliantly re-enacts one of the debates between the "moderate" John Dickinson and the "hard-liner" John Adams.

Please watch:
Cubans forced to go to Spain are now camping outside the Spanish Foreign Ministry
July 4 -The following photos were sent to me by Francisco Ardois Jr. They were taken on June 25 of this year by his cousin while visiting Spain.
They show former Cuban political prisoners, who were forced to go to Spain as a result of an agreement between Cuban dictator Raúl Castro, Cardinal Jaime Ortega and former Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.
After suffering all kind of tortures and hardships inside Castro's Gulag, these Cubans have now been abandoned by all those who sent them there.
Their suffering is compounded by the fact that they traveled with their relatives, who depend on them for their subsistence.
Here is a report in the Latin American Herald Tribune published on July 4:
 Forty former Cuban political prisoners who arrived in Spain in 2010-2011 following an agreement between Havana and Madrid have been camping outside the Foreign Ministry here to demand a solution to their financial woes.
They say they are among a group of roughly 80 Cuban exiles and their relatives who will likely face homelessness once they are cut off from an 18-month financial assistance program.
“We expect the rest of our countrymen, who are already in our predicament in many cities throughout Spain and won’t have anywhere to live when they can no longer pay their rent, will be joining us little by little,” Juan Antonio Bermudez, one of those affected by the economic hardship, said Wednesday..
Like Bermudez, Osbel Valle Hernandez and Oswaldo Gonzalez Montesinos, who arrived in Madrid from the regions of Asturias and Valencia, asserted their right to dignified employment and said if they can’t find it in Spain they should to allowed to travel to other EU countries.
“We didn’t ask to come here. We didn’t know about this crisis. We understand there are 5 million people unemployed and it’s difficult, but they have to do something to help us. We don’t want to be taken care of but they can’t leave us in the street,” Valle said, referring to a years-long Spanish economic slump.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, said it is not just the former political prisoners who are suffering, “but also the women, children and elderly” who traveled to Spain in search of “freedom that now doesn’t do us any good.”
“What good is it for us to be out of prison if we don’t have enough to live on? If I’d known this before, I’d have stayed in prison fighting for my people and my family. At least they’d have a home and the support of those who stayed there,” he said.
The Cuban dissidents said they will continue to camp outside the ministry as long as necessary to resolve their situation, while one demonstrator said he is willing to launch a hunger strike “if that’s what’s needed.”
The former political prisoners said they are unsure if Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s administration will seek a solution to the “chaos” they are now enduring.
The dissidents came to Spain under an agreement between the Communist regime in Havana and the administration of Rajoy’s predecessor, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
“We understand this was inherited from the previous Spanish government, but we hope the new foreign minister and Mr. Rajoy come up with a solution to our problem,” Bermudez said.   Read more
Cuba's official media confirms there is a cholera outbreak in Manzanillo; 3 dead over 1,000 affected
July 3 - This is very sad news for me, since I was born and lived all my life in Manzanillo until I left Cuba.
My translation of an article in El Nuevo Herald confirming what was first reported by Cafe Fuerte last week: The Ministry of Public Health of Cuba confirmed in a statement the outbreak of cholera in the municipality of Manzanillo, in the eastern province of Granma, which has hospitalized more than fifty people and caused three deaths of "elderly persons with a history of chronic diseases," according to a report on Granma this Tuesday.
"In the total patients that have been hospitalized, different bacteria have been identified and in 53 of the cases the diagnosis of Vibrio cholerae has been confirmed, including the 3 patients who died 95, 70 and 66 years old with a history of chronic diseases," said the statement published in Granma.
"In recent weeks there have been reports in some areas of an increasing trend of diarrheal diseases, which has been influenced by high temperatures and heavy rains," it added.
The newspaper said that "one of the provinces with the highest incidence recorded is Granma (about 800 miles southeast of Havana), with a majority of cases occurring in the municipality of Manzanillo, where there was an outbreak of gastrointestinal infection, as a result of polluted water from several local supply wells."
"Approximatel 1,000 patients have been treated so far, which has positively affected the active screening conducted to more than 98% of the population of the municipality," the newspaper said. El Nuevo Herald
Cuban political prisoner rushed to hospital after a long hunger strike
July 3 - Dissidents in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba reported Monday that jailed activist Frank Montero, who has been on a hunger strike for more than 30 days, was rushed to a hospital over the weekend.
Authorities have refused to inform Montero’s relatives about his health or whereabouts after he was removed from the Aguadores prison on Saturday, said Rolando González, like Montero a member of the opposition Cuban Patriotic Union.
Montero went on a hunger strike 36 days ago to protest his arrest on Feb. 19, along with his twin brother Daniel, on charges of trying to leave Cuba without the required permits ailing, González said. The brothers claimed they were going fishing.
Daniel Montero, who was also being held in Agujadores, told relatives Sunday by telephone that his brother had been rushed to a hospital. The brothers, who are 29 years old, are from the city of Santiago de Cuba.
Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez said he first heard of Montero’s hunger strike about 19 days ago.
The deaths of political prisoners Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilman Villar Mendoza amid lengthy hunger strikes — Zapata in 2010 and Villar early this year — sparked broad condemnations of Cuba’s human rights record.
A member of the Ladies in White dissident group, meanwhile, alleged that police beat and humiliated her to block her from attending Sunday mass at the El Cobre Basilica of Our Lady of Charity in Santiago province.
“My whole body is black and blue,” a sobbing Yaqueline García said in a declaration recorded for Hablalo Sin Miedo, or Say it Without Fear, a Miami-based facility that receives and disseminates reports of human rights abuses on the island.
García said police detained her Saturday on her way to the shrine, dragged her in a police station until her pants almost came off and then released her late Sunday on a remote farm road after throwing her personal belongings at her feet .
Dissident José Daniel Ferrer García said police checkpoints established Saturday on the main road in the Santiago region, the Central Highway, detained or turned back about 20 Ladies in White as they tried to reach the El Cobre shrine for Sunday mass. Read more
Human rights activists use their bodies to block Castro's military vehicle

July 1 - Members of UNPACU (Unión Patriótica de Cuba) in Palmarito de Cauto, Santiago de Cuba, used their bodies to block a military jeep carrying soldiers who were trying to arrest other members of the organization.
How dirty money went from banks in Canada and Trinidad to Castro's banks
July 1 - Oscar Sánchez, the man charged with laundering Medicare money and diverting it to Cuba, may be just one player in a very large web, authorities say.
Oscar L. Sánchez, a Cuban immigrant with little education, helped revolutionize Miami’s Medicare rackets through a storefront check-cashing business that enabled various criminals to launder $63 million from the United States through a web of overseas accounts into Cuba’s national bank, authorities say.
Sánchez allegedly plotted with Medicare fraud offenders and other criminals to divert the dirty money through more than a dozen shell companies’ bank accounts in Canada and Trinidad. The laundered money was ultimately funneled in transfers of $100,000 or more from a Trinidad bank’s Havana branch into the Banco Nacional de Cuba, according to federal authorities.
FBI agents and prosecutors are trying to figure out who received the money in Cuba — Medicare fraud fugitives, other criminals, government officials or all of the above? Or was the money moved offshore again to other countries? As authorities try to trace the money, they’re putting the squeeze on Sánchez to flip on other possible co-conspirators who collaborated with him in South Florida, Canada, Trinidad and Cuba.
Sánchez was charged last month with conspiring to launder millions of Medicare funds for 70 South Florida healthcare companies in an unprecedented indictment that shook Miami, Washington, D.C. and Havana. Sánchez, 46, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lived with his wife in Naples, pleaded not guilty and was ordered detained before trial.
Sánchez’s defense attorney, Peter Raben, described his client as “a simple, hard-working guy.”
“The likelihood that he revolutionized anything is less than zero,” Raben told The Miami Herald.
The Sánchez case has revealed deep flaws in the Medicare program and the international banking system. The defendant is accused of conspiring with a “syndicate of international money launderers” that used fraudulent Medicare profits as collateral to pay South Florida healthcare scammers cash and also move money into Cuba’s banking system to hide it.
What drove this underground banking syndicate? Since the mid-1990s, waves of Cuban migrants have learned myriad ways to fleece the taxpayer-funded healthcare program for the elderly and disabled. Meanwhile, about 150 suspects have fled back to the communist island and other parts of Latin America to evade prosecution, according to the FBI and court records.
A former Miami federal prosecutor who helped lead the crackdown on Medicare fraud in recent years said fugitives flee to Cuba because its government never turns over criminals to U.S. authorities. And because the fugitives can protect their Medicare millions.
“The money trail ends there,” said Washington, D.C., attorney Ben Curtis.
Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuba and Cuban-American Studies, echoed that view, saying that “once the money gets to Cuba, it goes into a black hole.”
Gomez, like many others, believes the Cuban government extorts the criminals who go back and forth between South Florida and the island. But he also now believes the Sánchez case shows that Cuba has been “directly involved” in the money laundering of Medicare millions.
“Sánchez didn’t have the sophistication and knowledge to run this operation,” said Gomez, who speculated that a Cuban intelligence handler must have met with him and given him instructions. “He couldn’t do this on his own.”  Read more

AP Photos: Cuba as seen on a people-to-people tour

HAVANA (AP) — Girls dressed in ruffled layers for a quinceanera. American cars, from the Eisenhower era, in tropical colors. A hand-hewn carousel with peeling paint. Young fans cheering at a baseball game.
These are some of the scenes of everyday life I observed on a recent people-to-people tour of Cuba. These tours allow Americans to travel to Cuba as long as they go with a group licensed by the U.S. government to provide a "full-time schedule of educational activities." (The U.S. government forbids unrestricted travel to Cuba, but in addition to people-to-people tours, travel is permitted for certain other groups, including Americans with relatives there, religious organizations and academics.)
Most people-to-people trips have a themed itinerary like music or food. Some are offered by large travel companies, others by small nonprofits. I joined 21 artists, writers, filmmakers and photographers on a trip organized by a small group from Minnesota that traveled to four cities: Havana, Bayamo, colonial Holguin, and Santiago de Cuba, home of Cuba's historic summer carnival, birthplace of Cuban musical legends and gravesite of national hero Jose Marti.
People-to-people tours are not typical vacations. Structured itineraries include daily meetings with government-sponsored organizations and tours of schools and other institutions. Some meals were in dreary government cafeterias, but we also ate well in paladars, which are intimate restaurants in private homes. You're not supposed to spend the day at the beach the way Canadian and European tourists do, but we did get some free time, and occasionally participants ditched the schedule to explore on their own.
Our program included sightseeing and encounters with artists, writers and filmmakers, but politics was never far away. Political billboards are everywhere in Cuba, on roads, streets and in classrooms and even hand-painted on private homes, and many pay homage to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, the Argentine revolutionary who helped Castro take power in 1959.
But no effort was made to shield us from unpleasant realities, like the sight of crumbling buildings or women begging for money to buy milk for their children. And the tours do guarantee opportunities to meet ordinary Cubans, whose warmth, friendliness and outgoing nature leap across the boundaries imposed by the decades-long political cold-shoulder between the U.S. and their tropical island nation. When we asked about censorship and other sensitive issues, they sometimes turned our questions around to point out inconsistencies in our own government. But they also acknowledged everyday hardships, like struggling to feed their families and coping with shortages. Those connections created a travel experience that surpassed my expectations, offering glimpses of ordinary life that tourists don't often experience.
Here is a gallery of photos from the tour.

Syria's fighting spills into Lebanon, five killed

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's conflict spilled further into Lebanon on Saturday when mortar fire from President Bashar al-Assad's forces hit villages in the north, killing five people after rebels crossed the border to seek refuge, residents said.
Rebels fighting to unseat Assad have used north Lebanon as a base and his forces have at times bombed villages and even pursued insurgents over the border, threatening to stoke tension in Lebanon, whose sectarian rifts mirror those in Syria.
Residents of Lebanon's Wadi Khaled region said several mortar bombs hit farm buildings five to 20 km (3 to 12 miles) from the border at around 2 a.m. At midday villagers reported more explosions and said they heard gunfire close to the border.
In the village of al-Mahatta, a house was destroyed, killing a 16-year-old girl and wounding a two-year old and a four-year old, family members told Reuters. A 25-year-old woman and a man were killed in nearby villages, residents said.
Two Bedouins were killed in the village of Hishe, which straddles a river demarcating the border, when two rocket-propelled grenades fired from within Syria hit their tent, according to local residents.
Lebanon's army confirmed one of the deaths and said several Syrian shells had landed in Lebanese territory, but had no further information. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman issued a statement regretting the deaths and promising an investigation.
Syria's bloodshed has also encroached on Turkey, a much bigger, more powerful neighbor that once backed Assad but turned against him over his violent repression of unrest.
Turkey has reinforced its border and scrambled fighter aircraft several times since Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet on June 22 over what Damascus said was Syrian territorial waters in the Mediterranean. Ankara said the incident occurred in international air space.
The diplomatic stalemate that has frustrated international efforts to bring about a peaceful transition in Syria persisted on Saturday as China joined Russia in rejecting a U.S. accusation that Beijing and Moscow were obstacles to a solution.
In Syria, the army bombarded towns across northern Aleppo province on Saturday in a concerted effort to root out insurgents who have taken control of some areas, the anti-government Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
"The bombing is the heaviest since the start of military operations in rural Aleppo in an attempt to control the region after regular Syrian army forces suffered heavy losses over the past few months," the British-based activist group reported.
It said three people had died, including two rebels.
The official Syrian news agency SANA said troops foiled infiltration attempts by armed men from Turkey and Lebanon on Friday. It said one clash "resulted in the killing, injury of dozens of the infiltrated gunmen".
In Idlib province, SANA said, an armed terrorist group was prevented from infiltrating from Turkey in Harem region. It quoted a source as saying a number were killed "while the rest managed to flee back into the Turkish territories".
The Observatory said many families had been displaced and water, electricity and medical supplies were running short.
Aleppo, Syria's second largest city and commercial hub, has been largely spared of the violence. But the outskirts of the city and the wider province have seen rebels gaining territory since the uprising began 16 months ago.
SANA reported a clash "with an armed terrorist group in Azaz area north of Aleppo as it was attacking the citizens and perpetrating killings". It said eight gunmen were killed and six cars equipped with machineguns plus a stolen ambulance were destroyed. The agency named the dead.
Opposition activists say at least 15,000 people have been killed since the uprising began. Assad says the rebels are foreign-backed terrorists who have killed thousands of army and police troops in hit-and-run attacks and roadside bombings.
The Observatory said 93 people, mostly civilians, were killed across Syria on Friday, when protesters took the streets to call for a "people's liberation war."
Syria's crisis began with street protests against Assad and evolved largely into an armed insurgency after he tried to crush unrest by military force. It has become increasingly sectarian in nature with rebels from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority pitted against Assad's minority Alawites, a branch of Shi'ite Islam, dominating the military and security services.
Russia and China have repeatedly used veto power at the U.N. Security Council to block international attempts to push Assad to relinquish power to make way for a democratic transition in the pivotal Arab country.
At a "Friends of Syria" meeting grouping Assad's Western and Arab opponents, Clinton urged them to make Russia and China "pay a price" for helping the authoritarian leader stay in the office he, and his late father before him, have held for 42 years. ID:nL6E8I62J4]
On Saturday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin shot back: "Any words and deeds that slander China and sow discord between China and other countries will be in vain."
Russia and China say they are committed to the peace plan of U.N. envoy Kofi Annan that prescribes national dialogue, but reject the position of Western powers and their Gulf Arab allies that Assad must step down to enable reform in Syria.
Annan told French daily le Monde in an interview published on Saturday that Western criticism of Russia was diverting attention from the role of other countries in backing Assad and arming his soldiers, notably Iran.
"Russia has influence, but I don't think that events will be determined by Russia alone. What strikes me is that there is so much talk about Russia and much less about Iran, and little is said about other countries that are sending money and weapons," he said.
"All of these countries say that want a peaceful solution, but they undertake individual and collective actions that undermine the very meaning of (U.N.) Security Council resolutions," he added.
Assad has been Shi'ite Iran's main ally in the Arab world.
Annan conceded that U.N. efforts to resolve the crisis so far had been a failure. "Clearly, we have not succeeded. And maybe there is no guarantee that we will succeed," he said.
News on Friday that one of Assad's personal friends had defected and was headed for exile in France was hailed by Clinton as proof that members of the Damascus leadership were starting to "vote with their feet" and leave a sinking ship.
Manaf Tlas, a Republican Guard brigadier and son of the longtime defence minister under Assad's father Hafez, has yet to surface abroad or clearly to throw his lot in with the rebels.
But his desertion, leaked by family friends, was confirmed by the French government, giving a boost to the "Friends of Syria" conference it hosted in Paris where participants agreed to "massively increase" aid to Syria's opposition.
(Additional reporting by Roula Naeimeh and Nazih Siddiq in Beirut, Nicholas Vinocur in Paris; writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Mark Heinrich)