Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cuba's Repression Escalates: The loosening of travel restrictions by the U.S. is read as weakness in Havana

The Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2011

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson returned home from an attempted hostage-rescue mission to Cuba last month empty-handed and "still scratching [his] head" as to why the Castro regime double-crossed him. What is truly baffling is why Mr. Richardson expected anything different from a dictatorship operating in extreme-repression mode. In a Sept. 14 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Mr. Richardson said he had been invited to the island to discuss the release of U.S. Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross. Mr. Gross was arrested in December 2009 and is serving a 15-year sentence.

Civil rights protester Sonia Garro after a seven-hour interview with Cuban state security.

Mr. Richardson admitted that he got stiffed by Cuba's "foreign ministry, which a lot of the people there I know and have been friends" with. What he could not grasp is why those "friends"—a strange designation for individuals who might one day be hauled before an international human-rights tribunal—don't appreciate the Obama administration's outreach. Yes, they are "hardliners," he admitted, but they ought to understand that the White House has been bending over backward to get along.
Actually they do understand, and that's why they treated him so badly. Mr. Richardson told Mr. Blitzer that he was "flabbergasted" when, after a "delightful" three-hour lunch discussing how U.S.-Cuba relations might be improved—including, he told me by phone Friday, the possibility of removing the country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism after the release of Mr. Gross—the foreign minister "slammed me three ways: one, no seeing Alan Gross; no getting him out; and no seeing Raul Castro." What happened was very predictable. The "loosened travel restrictions" and increased "remittances [from] Cuban-Americans" that Mr. Richardson cited as signs of Mr. Obama's willingness to deal are read as weakness by the bullying regime. It has something, i.e., somebody, the U.S. wants back very badly, and the administration acts as if it is powerless. Why should Castro deal?
Mr. Richardson did even less for Cuba's dissidents. One Richardson pearl of wisdom, shared on CNN, was that Cuba's "human-rights situation has improved." In fact, human rights in Cuba are rapidly deteriorating. To claim otherwise is to abandon the island's brave democrats when they most need international solidarity. Ask Sonia Garro, pictured in the nearby photo. For years Ms. Garro has denounced the regime's discrimination against Afro-Cubans. Despite her own poverty, in 2007 she created a recreation center in her home for poor, unsupervised children, according to a report by an independent Cuban journalist. One of her goals: to get young girls out of prostitution. Ms. Garro is also a member of Ladies in Support, a group that pledges solidarity to the Ladies in White, which was founded by the wives, sisters and mothers of political prisoners in 2003 to work for their liberation.
In October 2010, Ms. Garro was detained by state security and held for seven hours. She emerged from the ordeal with a broken nose. Another woman taken into custody with Ms. Garro had her arm broken. The nongovernmental organization Capitol Hill Cubans has reported that in the first 12 days of September, authorities detained 168 peaceful activists. These "express detentions" are designed to break up dissident gatherings, which risk spreading nonconformist behavior. Locking up offenders for long periods would be preferable, but the regime wants people like Mr. Richardson to go around saying that human rights have improved. The regime is also making greater use of civilian-clothed "rapid response" brigades that are trained, armed and organized to beat up democracy advocates.

Mr. Richardson told me he considers Cuba's record improved because 52 political prisoners were sent to Spain in 2010. Yet exiling promising opposition leadership hardly qualifies as a humanitarian gesture. Nor are gruesome Cuban prisons anything to ignore. Last month in a speech in New York, one former prisoner, Fidel Suárez Cruz, described his seven years and seven months of solitary confinement, including two years and eight months in a cell with no windows, ventilation or artificial light. One favorite pastime of his torturers: Four military men would pick him up and then drop him on the floor. His testimony, posted on Capitol Hill Cubans website, is required viewing for anyone who doubts the evil nature of this regime.

Nevertheless, Cuba's dissidents remain relentless, and there are signs that the regime is giving up on the express-detention strategy. Fearless democracy advocate Sara Marta Fonseca and her husband Julio León Pérez have been in jail since Sept. 24. Ms. Fonseca's son has seen her and says she is black and blue all over and has an injury to her spinal column. Word is the regime is preparing to charge the couple; 11 other dissidents are awaiting trial. Meanwhile, Yris Pérez Aguilera, the wife of the prominent dissident Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez," and two peers were detained on Sept. 26. Their whereabouts are unknown. Any hope of protecting these patriots lies in international condemnation. Mr. Richardson could help by returning to CNN to correct the record.
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Cayman Immigration holds 19 Cubans after boat runs aground

Cayman News Service, October 8, 2011

The Cayman Islands authorities have confirmed that they are holding 19 Cuban migrants on Cayman Brac after their boat reportedly ran aground off the Sister Island yesterday evening. Government officials said that the migrants are being temporarily housed under immigration control, and several other government as well as private sector agencies are helping meet their immediate needs. A spokesperson from government said that the group were expected to be transferred to Grand Cayman early next week for processing. No information was given regarding the sex or age of the latest group of refugees from Cayman’s northern neighbour. Although, Cuban boat people have frequently landed on Cayman the migration via Cayman had stopped throughout 2010 but this is now the fifth vessel that has passed through local waters this year. Cayman policy dictates that Cuban migrants cannot be assisted by the Cayman Islands if they wish to continue with their journey. If they request help, even food, water and fuel, they are taken into custody and eventually repatriated to Cuba. If the migrants choose not to be deported they must leave Cayman waters unassisted. In circumstances such as these if the boat is not seaworthy the refugees face enforced repatriation unless they claim political asylum.

Founder of Ladies in White, Laura Pollan is hospitalized

HAVANA — The founder of a prominent Cuban dissident group, the Ladies in White, was hospitalized for acute respiratory problems and was in intensive care Saturday, family members and associates said. Laura Pollan went to a hospital Friday and was in serious condition the following day, though stable and showing signs of improvement. "She is very, very grave," said Bertha Soler, another member of the group. "They told us she has an acute respiratory deficiency," and the doctors "think the cause is viral." Pollan fell ill and was vomiting last weekend, and was seen by doctors twice this week before going Friday to the hospital, where she was intubated to help her breathe, Soler said by phone from the medical center.

Pollan's daughter, also named Laura, said her condition was still being studied but she has begun a treatment with antibiotics. Doctors told the family to expect that she will remain in intensive care for at least a week, said dissident Elizardo Sanchez, who was with them at the hospital. Pollan also has diabetes. The 63-year-old formed the Ladies in White in 2003 along with other wives of 75 activists, social commentators and opposition leaders who were arrested that year. Pollan's husband, Hector Maseda, was among those sentenced to 25 years in prison.
For years the Ladies pressed for their release by staging weekly marches through the streets of the capital, wearing white and holding gladiolas. On occasion, they have been met by rowdy pro-government crowds who surround the women, shouting insults and revolutionary slogans. The government accuses the Ladies in White and other dissidents of being mercenaries in the service of Washington. The last of those jailed in the 2003 crackdown have been released over the past year under a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church, and many went into exile with their families.
However the Ladies have continued to march and even expanded their activities outside the capital. They said they were refocusing their demands on the release of about 50 other, lesser-known prisoners. Most of those were arrested for politically motivated but violent crimes such as sabotage and hijacking, which disqualifies them from consideration by Amnesty International as "prisoners of conscience." "We are going to continue," Pollan told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "We are fighting for freedom and human rights." In 2005 the European Union recognized the Ladies in White with its top human rights distinction, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, angering the Cuban government.

Source: Huffington Post

Cuba to Graduate 22,000 Foreign Physicians in 2011

Saturday, 08 October 2011

Havana, Cuba, Oct 8.- Cuba expects to close 2011 with almost 22,000 physicians from 65 countries graduated with similar study plans to those applied in the Caribbean nation that emphasizes health prevention, press reported on Saturday.
The figure also includes the first graduation of physicians in Venezuela in December with Cuban professors and methods, Granma newspaper stated after reporting the graduation so far of about 13,600 physicians from other countries. About 10,000 students have studied at the Havana-based Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), founded in 1999 to train youth from Central America, devastated by Hurricane Mitch the year before. Then, the initiative by the leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, was expanded to other Latin American, Asian and African countries, and even to poor U.S. communities.
About 21,000 scholarships from 113 nations have been enrolled in Cuban medical universities, more than 1,700 study in their countries the last year of the career. Also on the list are other 134,000 youth trained by Cuban teachers in Guinea Bissau, Timor Leste, Gambia, Tanzania, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Bolivia, Nicaragua, South Africa, Guyana and Venezuela. (Prensa Latina).