Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was born 88 years ago today

"Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it."  Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Oslo (1964)

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was born 88 years ago today but never saw his 40th birthday because he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. A little over a year before his untimely death the nonviolent icon made an important speech at Stanford University which is worth listening to and studying that remains relevant today not only in the United States but also in Cuba. The full speech is available above and there are movies about Reverend King's life that are worth seeing.

Excerpts from Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s The Other America Speech at Stanford on April 14, 1967:

Nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to the oppressed"Let me say as I've always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I'm still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve." 
Time is neutral. "Now in order to develop these massive action programs we've got to get rid of one or two false notions that continue to exist in our society. One is the notion that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. I'm sure you've heard this idea. It is the notion almost that there is something in the very flow of time that will miraculously cure all evils. And I've heard this over and over again. There are those, and they are often sincere people, who say to Negroes and their allies in the white community, that we should slow up and just be nice and patient and continue to pray,  and in a hundred or two hundred years the problem will work itself out because only time can solve the problem. I think there is an answer to that myth. And it is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. [...] And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words of the bad people and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time. Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals. And without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must help time, and we must realize that the time is always ripe to do right."

Martin Luther King Jr (1929 - 1968) engaged in nonviolent action

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Setting the record straight on the Cuban Adjustment Act and "Wet Foot Dry Foot" policy

Shutting the door on Cuban refugees and opening it to their oppressors

Closing the door on the victims of communism in Cuba 
Over the past eight years the Obama Administration has been making major concessions to the Castro regime with little in return or worse responding to blackmail. At the same time the human rights situation in Cuba has worsened, trade between the two countries has collapsed and there is a massive exodus of over a 100,000 Cubans.  The latest episode in this ongoing process is the further gutting of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act and the chief beneficiary will be the Castro regime sadly one of the potential big losers is South Florida.

Past is prologue
However it is important to review recent history to understand the full significance of what is taking place and how terrible it is for both US national security interests and that of free Cubans. The Obama Administration claims to have opened a "new chapter" on Cuba, but in reality it is a reboot of the worst aspects of the Carter and Clinton Administration's Cuba policies that prolonged the life of the Castro dictatorship while creating humanitarian tragedies during both their Presidencies with Mariel (1980) and the Rafter Crisis (1994 - 1995).  The Cuban Adjustment Act was in effect from 1966, to address a previous migration crisis but there was not a constant exodus of Cubans. Under the Nixon, Reagan and Bush 41 and Bush 43 presidencies there was not a single Cuban migration crisis. This leads to the question if it is not the Cuban Adjustment Act what other factor could explain the reason for these different migration waves? Under Carter, Clinton and Obama there were overarching efforts to normalize relations, even at the expense of US national interests. Two possibilities that are not mutually exclusive emerge: 1) Cubans believe that the free world will no longer be in solidarity with their desire to be free and in despair they flee. and 2) The Castro regime believes that it can use migration as a weapon to extract concessions from a White House that they perceive as weak and vulnerable.

With regards to the Cuban Adjustment Act one needs to look closely at the events during the Clinton Administration and how they set up the latest chapter of the gutting of the Cuban Adjustment Act by the Obama Administration on January 12, 2017.

How the Clinton Administration began to undermine the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1994 
The first effort to gut the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act  was initiated by President Bill Clinton who on August 19, 1994 stopped bringing Cuban refugees picked up on the high seas to the United States and took them to improvised camps on the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base. This was followed on May 2, 1995 with a further break in past practice when his Attorney General Janet Reno announced: "Effective immediately, Cuban migrants intercepted at sea, attempting to enter the United States or who enter Guantanamo illegally will be taken to Cuba." Never before had U.S. ships returned Cuban refugees to communist Cuba.  

This re-interpretation of the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1995 was done without consulting Congress, without changing the law and was the result of joint agreements between the United States and the Castro regime made public in a joint statement supposedly "to regularize further their migration relationship." This is how the highly irregular Wet Foot Dry Foot policy came into effect gutting the original intent of the Cuban Adjustment Act.  Before this day, the U.S. Coast Guard would rescue fleeing Cuban refugees who entered U.S. territorial waters and bring them to the United States. With the Wet Foot Dry Foot the U.S. Coast Guard began to to return those same fleeing Cubans to their captors. Six day later on May 8, 1995 a flashpoint of anger over the repatriations of Cuban refugees emerged with hundreds of Cuban exile shutting down the Port of Miami in protest over the arriving cruise ship Majesty of the Seas who had handed over Cuban refugees to the Coast Guard for "repatriation." The demonstrations would continue for weeks paralyzing highways and main intersections across Dade County, but "Wet Foot Dry Foot" continued.

How the Lottery benefits the Castro regime
But that was not all. As they say the devil was in the details. The agreement with the Castro dictatorship opened up a lottery for Cuban nationals between 18 and 55 years of age in which according to a 2009 report authored by Ruth Ellen Wasem, a specialist in immigration policy at the Congressional Research Service titled "Cuban Migration to the United States: Policy and Trends" they must answer "yes" to "two of the following three questions. Have you completed secondary school or a higher level of education? Do you have at least three years of work experience? Do you have any relatives residing in the United States?" If they win the lottery they must have a medical examination and are "given parole status with a visa that is good for six months." According to the above mentioned report by the Congressional Research Service: "Over the years, there have been reports of barriers the potential Cuban parolees face, such as exorbitantly priced medical exams, exit visa fees, and repercussions for family members who remain in Cuba."  Not stated is that the Castro regime could turn this lottery into a reward mechanism for Cubans loyal to the Castro regime while blocking those who are politically persecuted by the regime. Up to 20,000 Cubans a year can be granted visas through this lottery that has been in place since 1995.

Visas for Cubans during the Obama Presidency
The Obama Administration has made a point that now Cubans with visas who arrive in the United States will be able to enter and benefit from the Cuban Adjustment Act. The next question raised is who is being granted visas to come to the United States? The answer is troubling with regards to Cuba. The Obama Administration during its first term (August 4, 2011) announced a ban on visas for people who the State Department finds have been involved in human rights violations. Nevertheless, Juan O. Tamayo reported in the The Miami Herald on November 18, 2012 that human rights violators from Cuba are not only getting visas but residency in the United States: 
"Former Cuban provincial prisons chief Crescencio Marino Rivero made headlines over the past month amid allegations that he abused some prisoners and ordered guards to abuse others before he moved to Miami two years ago. But uncounted hundreds of other Cubans with nasty pasts are also living here, including State Security officers, snitches and collaborators, judges, policemen and members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the neighborhood watch groups."
The U.S. Embassy in Havana has denied visas to Cuban dissidents, such as poet Rafael Alcides, because since they are critical of the dictatorship they are viewed as a higher risk to stay in the United States than a loyal communist apparatchik. Therefore on one hand the victims of communism are less likely to find refuge in the United States while their oppressors get to retire in sunny Miami with great benefits. In 2013 Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela Castro, a regime apparatchik and ardent communist was granted a visa to the United States. This is not the Cuban Adjustment Act but the perversion of it by the Clinton and Obama Administrations that are well on their way to shutting the door on Cuban refugees but leaving it open to their oppressors.

Shutting the door on Cuban doctors who are victims of trafficking
An estimated 31,000 Cuban doctors are sent by the Castro regime on "international missions." Other Cubans, who are not doctors, have been sent abroad to work and provide hard currency for the Castro regime and are working in inhumane circumstances. Cuban doctors in Cuba make approximately $25 dollars a month in salary. In 2008 The Miami Herald reported that "more than 31,000 Cuban health workers -- most of them doctors -- who toil in 71 countries brought in $2.3 billion last year, ..., more than any other industry, including tourism. Most of them are paid $150 to $375 a month, a small percentage of the cash or trade benefits the Cuban government pockets in exchange for their work." To place it into perspective, North Koreans working abroad are making between $120 and $150.

Juan Alfonso, a Cuban doctor, now living and practicing medicine in Chile, was interviewed by the PanamPost on October 15, 2015 and explained why he had to flee his homeland, "I will tell you something: I would have liked to stay in Cuba. I left because I could barely afford to buy a single egg to eat a day." The New York Times is trying to spin that Cuban doctors are fleeing to the United States because of the Cuban Adjustment Act and a special immigration program. Perhaps they should talk to this Cuban doctor who can offer an alternative explanation:
 "I was told that during a meeting of the [Communist] Youth, an Olympic athlete stood up and said he thought doctors should work extra shifts for free. The whole world applauded, and the motion passed unanimously. There is no union to defend doctors in Cuba. Many of us would wake up around midnight from hunger pains, and no one ever gave us anything; maybe a slice of bread, at the most."
The Cuban Medical Professional Program was established on August 11, 2006 to provide Cubans healthcare professionals in a third country conscripted by the Castro regime the ability to enter the United States. 

How the Obama Administration continued to undermine the Cuban Adjustment Act in 2017
Once again, as President Clinton did in 1995, the Cuban Adjustment Act was altered by President Obama without consulting with Congress that passed the law, but in secret negotiations with Castro regime. The Joint Statement of the United States and Cuban governments, signed on January 12, 2016 with reference to migration not only further guts the Cuban Adjustment Act but ends the practice of granting refuge to Cuban healthcare professionals trafficked to third countries and exploited by the Castro regime.
"In this framework, the United States of America shall henceforth end the special parole policy for Cuban nationals who reach the territory of the United States (commonly referred to as the wet foot-dry foot policy), as well as the parole program for Cuban health care professionals in third countries. The United States shall henceforth apply to all Cuban nationals, consistent with its laws and international norms, the same migration procedures and standards that are applicable to nationals of other countries, as established in this Joint Statement."  
Now for the most part, only Cubans granted visas, will be able to apply for residency in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Unfortunately, based on the practices of the U.S. Embassy in Havana this means that many communist apparatchiks will be getting visas to the United States while the victims of the communist regime will find it more difficult to obtain visas the United States, much less apply for residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act. There is much cause to worry where this policy will lead but one thing is certain this has been underway for some time and already caused harm to this community and trends with this new policy will only make it worse.

This is both a shameful and harmful legacy.

The best way for friends of freedom in the incoming Administration to deal with it is to scrap both what the Clinton and Obama Administrations have  done to undermine the Cuban Adjustment Act, which is the law of the land and restore its original intent with a view towards looking out for both US national interests and the aspirations of Cubans seeking freedom while at the same time draining the swamp that has filled South Florida with human rights repressors, spies, and criminals working for the Castro regime. 

From the Archives:

The Miami Herald
Published: 05/08/95
Section: FRONT

Page: 1A



Hundreds of Cuban exiles turned Sunday into a day of protests, venting their wrath at the Clinton administration by blocking the road to the Port of Miami with trucks and sit-ins and scuffling briefly with police.

The demonstrations were a desperate gambit, a last-ditch effort to dissuade the government from plans to return to Cuba 13 rafters rescued by a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

"Where are our brothers?" demonstrators chanted, referring to the 13 rafters.

It was not clear if the cries of dismay were heard at the White House.

U.S. authorities remained tight-lipped about the rafters' fate. The Coast Guard, which took the rafters off the cruise ship Majesty of the Seas late Friday, said it was still awaiting instructions from Washington on where to take them.

There were many forms of protest Sunday.

Amid threats by exiles to use boats to shut off Government Cut, the only route in and out of Miami's port, the Coast Guard stepped up its presence in the channel, escorting departing cruise ships out to sea.
Some demonstrators had vowed to block the cut at 5:30 p.m. as the Majesty of the Seas headed back out on another weeklong cruise. But only two small motorboats flying Cuban flags waited at the mouth of the channel, and they never approached the massive ship. On the South Pointe pier, about 20 people waved flags and booed the passing liner.

A representative of the Archdiocese of Miami, the Rev. Francisco Santana, read a statement to reporters condemning the decision to repatriate Cubans. The statement was issued by Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman, long a champion of Cuban refugees and the archdiocese's highest-ranking Cuban exile priest.
And pilots for Brothers to the Rescue flew to within 20 miles of the coast of Cuba, trying but failing to locate the Coast Guard cutter carrying the rafters. The pilots had hoped to photograph the cutter if and when it turned over the 13 men to Cuban authorities.

The biggest and most visible action took place in the heart of downtown Miami, within sight of thousands of tourists.

Starting at 7 a.m., a crowd of as many as 500 people intermittently cut off access to the port -- where the Majesty of the Seas docked at dawn Sunday -- by blocking the road leading to it with vehicles and their own bodies. During the six-hour demonstration, they succeeded in shutting down the road several times for a total of about a half hour.

Dozens of Miami and Metro-Dade police officers were on the scene, and 10 people were detained. At least two were charged with failing to obey the directions of police officers and obstructing justice, but others were released without charges. Those arrested were later released without having to post bail.
Demonstrators collected money to help pay fines and towing charges.

At one point, demonstrators crashed through a metal barricade keeping them off the port road. There was brief struggle involving about 10 officers and 20 demonstrators. But in general there was little confrontation, and there were no injuries.

After the scuffle, demonstration leaders and Miami Police Assistant Chief Raul Martinez, a Cuban American, came to an agreement. The next two times the demonstrators blocked the street, the police allowed them through the barricades without resistance. On those two occasions, the demonstrators cleared the road voluntarily after about 10 minutes.

Miami Police Chief Donald H. Warshaw said his officers were getting ready for more demonstrations during the next several days if the rafters are returned to Cuba.

Leaders of Sunday's protest said they planned to meet today to plan further action.
A survey released by Spanish-language WLTV-Channel 23 showed the demonstrators' concerns were shared by many of Dade County's Hispanic adults. According to the three-day poll, two- thirds of them disagreed with the administration's decision to repatriate rafters.

But the poll also indicated Dade residents are sharply divided on the issue. Three-fourths of blacks and non-Hispanic whites support the new policy.

Under Clinton's toughened policy, negotiated in secret with the Cuban government, the 21,000 rafters held at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay will be granted entry into the United States, but all rafters picked up at sea will be repatriated.

Herald staff writers Elaine De Valle, Ana Menendez, David Hancock and Frances Robles contributed to this report.

JEFFERY A. SALTER / Herald Staff
CRIES OF DISMAY: Exiles angered over the new Cuba policy block a truck attempting to enter the Port of Miami, where the Majesty of the Seas docked Sunday. The demonstration lasted six hours.
JEFFERY A. SALTER / Herald Staff
© 1996 The Miami Herald.

Churchill's Pub hosts Castro Death Fest to celebrate Fidel Castro's death through heavy metal

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time-a tremendous whack.” - Winston Churchill

Live heavy metal band plays build up

Churchill's Pub is a British punk rock landmark in the heart of Miami's Little Haiti but over the past year on two occasions it seemed to be channeling Little Havana. Six heavy metal bands organized a Death of Castro Fest held on January 13, 2016 to celebrate the death of the Cuban tyrant who died on November 25, 2016. This festival once again demonstrates the level of rejection of Fidel Castro regardless of age.

The Miami New Times reported on the Death of Castro Fest and David Rolland promoted the event in its pages as follows.

Death of Castro Fest Celebrates Fidel's Demise Through Heavy Metal

By David Rolland, Miami New Times

Nowhere outside of Cuba did the November 25 death of Fidel Castro have a bigger impact than in South Florida. Many Miamians will always remember where they were when they heard of Castro's death, just as they recall their whereabouts during the 9/11 terror attacks, the JFK assassination, or the OJ Simpson car chase "I was in Orlando when I heard Castro died," Ruben de la Rosa, guitarist of Hialeah metal band Nekromaniak, tells New Times. "When I drove back to Miami and saw all of SW Eighth Street closed, that was what really confirmed it." 
De la Rosa, like many South Floridians, was a generation or two removed from being personally affected by Castro. "My grandfather had his plantation taken away. I always heard stories about people disappearing, the execution squads."
Though his band consists of three Cuban-Americans, it was the one member with the most tenuous connection to Cuba who came up with the idea to commemorate Castro's death with a show. "Our singer Paul [Balthaser], we call him the last American in Hialeah. He said, 'You guys are always talking about Castro being bad news.' He said we should do a death-of-Castro festival in the middle of Hialeah. We talked about it, but it didn't seem logical to do it in Hialeah with all the bands who wanted to be a part of it."
We talked about it, but it didn't seem logical to do it in Hialeah with all the bands who wanted to be a part of it." With the help of Alex Marquez, who drums with the band Thrash or Die, they decided to throw the Death of Castro Fest this Friday at the more central location of Churchill's Pub. The lineup is packed with metal bands, but don't expect the show to be heavy and morbid. 
Cover photo for Miami New Times article
With the help of Alex Marquez, who drums with the band Thrash or Die, they decided to throw the Death of Castro Fest this Friday at the more central location of Churchill's Pub. The lineup is packed with metal bands, but don't expect the show to be heavy and morbid.
"We don't wish death on anyone," de la Rosa insists, "but Fidel Castro brought a lot of death and poverty. This gig is a thank-you to all the people who struggled because of Castro, to let them know their struggle wasn't in vain coming over here from Cuba. It's a celebration for all the stories we grew up hearing from our parents and grandparents about executions and coming here on rafts for freedom."
Though the main attraction will be the heavy metal, the organizers wanted to make sure this was also a fiesta involving Cuban culture, de la Rosa says. "We're going to have pastelitos, domino tables, and a piñata shaped like Castro's head. A lot of people have called dibs on beating the hell out of the Castro piñata," he points out.
"We invited a lot of older folks who might not be into the music but went through a lot of stuff to come [to the States]. We want to bring some happiness back to Miami. Even though his brother is still in power, we're hopeful Castro's death is a sign of a democratic wave in their future since Castro's way hasn't worked for the last 50 years."
One of the bands de la Rosa wanted to make sure was on the bill was Escape, a metalcore group that got its name through personal experience. The band was formed in 2000 in Havana, where with limited resources the group was able to record five albums and even produce award-winning music videos. Escape was able to re-form in Miami because many of its members were able to defect.
De la Rosa isn't sure how political the night will get, though he is hopeful a song he co-wrote with Thrash or Die will make the cut. Its title: "Death of the Tyrant."
"I wrote it two years ago as a song about the hardships Castro caused to the Cuban people. We should play it since the song title became a reality," he says.''
But the purpose of the night isn't to discuss politics. It's to provide closure and a way to blow off steam that's been building for more than 50 years in an exile community.
"We want to encourage older folks to come. I know all the bands playing are heavy, but once people learn what the festival is about, hopefully they'll put up with some noise for a few hours."
Death of Castro Fest
With performances by Thrash or Die, Nekromaniak, Riot Agents, Double Barrel Justice, and Apocalyptic Assault. 9 p.m. Friday, January 13, at Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-757-1807; Admission costs $5.
David Rolland is a freelance music writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His mornings are spent educating his toddler daughter on becoming a music snob. His spare time is spent dabbling in writing fiction and screenplays whose subjects are mostly music snobs.
Roland's article ended just above and below my commentary returns. Less than a year ago on March 5, 2016 the proudly Anti-Castro punk band Porno para Ricardo rocked Churchill's Pub getting a positive buzz from those who saw them in concert. We need to follow their lead and reach out to those who have never heard of the struggle for Cuba's freedom in new and innovative ways.. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Response to President Obama's Statement on Cuban Immigration Policy

Obama's shameful legacy in Cuba 


On December 17, 2014 when President Obama announced his new Cuba policy I wrote that Obama's legacy would be one of normalizing relations with an abnormal regime. Over the course of eight years the marginalization of dissidents would result in the extrajudicial deaths of high profile dissidents such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and escalating violence against Cubans unhappy with the dictatorship. The end result, not surprisingly, is another Cuban exodus. We'd seen this before with President Carter and President Clinton, but the Obama Administration has gone further ironically going along with discrimination against Cuban Americans until it became an embarrassment in the media this past year.

They come not seeking the American dream but fleeing the Cuban nightmare
 The Office of the Press Secretary at The White House on January 12, 2017 released a "Statement by the President on Cuban Immigration Policy" that does two concrete things further restricts the Cuban Adjustment Act and ends the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program.

Once again the Obama administration secretly negotiated with the Castro regime and did not consult with Congress in restricting the Cuban Adjustment Act, which is US law. This is the second time that it has happened. From 1966 until 1995 The Cuban Adjustment meant that if a Cuban touched US territorial waters the Coast Guard would pick them up and take them to shore and they would obtain residency. Bill Clinton in 1995 reinterpreted the law to mean that Cubans had to touch land (dry feet) or be deported if caught in the water (wet feet). Now Obama has re-interpreted the law a step further saying that he will deport all Cubans who arrive in the US without a visa. This is a narrower interpretation of the law by the Executive branch without consulting with Congress.

Cubans, despite the rhetoric, do not have a special privilege but rather special circumstances that led to the Cuban Adjustment Act that unfortunately are not historically unique. The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act  was not the first such measure, the Hungarian Escape Act of 1958 granted Hungarians refugee status predates it by eight years. Nor was it the last, the Indochina Migration and Refugee Act of 1975 granted refugees from the conflict in South East Asia special status.

The Castro regime has long standing demands that both be repealed and this is the latest round of concessions to the dictatorship that will harm Cubans and will create chaos in South Florida because Cubans will continue to flee and go underground to avoid being deported to Castro's Cuba.
"Today, the United States is taking important steps forward to normalize relations with Cuba and to bring greater consistency to our immigration policy. The Department of Homeland Security is ending the so-called "wet-foot/dry foot" policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era.  Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities.  By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea."
 The claim made by the Obama Administration that this is another step to "normalize relations" and that Cuban migrants will be treated just like any other migrant ignores the fact that Cuba is not a normal country but a totalitarian dictatorship. It also ignores the uncomfortable truth that medical doctors are treated like chattel by the dictatorship, sent on foreign missions that pay large sums to the dictatorship and a pittance to doctors.

Cuban doctors trafficked and exploited by the Castro regime
This is why so many of them have fled the dictatorship and sought a new life in the United States. The Obama Administration has also made this a much more difficult prospect to satisfy the demands of the Castro regime but cover up this cruel reality with the same type of propaganda spouted by the Caribbean dictatorship
"Today, the Department of Homeland Security is also ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program.  The United States and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people.  Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals."
Sorry Mr. President but you mistake your new chapter with Cuban dictator Raul Castro with the Cuban people. The sad reality is that you have closed the door on Cubans seeking freedom. This also includes Cuban doctors wanting to free themselves of being trafficked for profit by Havana around the world while they and their families do without. 

This is a shameful legacy. 

Human Rights and Rising Repression in Cuba

"The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the US government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages". - Rosa María Payá, addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on February 3, 2015

Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet arrested this morning in Havana

This morning at 10:15am received the following e-mail from Marcell Felipe of the Inspire America Foundation:
Cuban State Security has just taken Dr Oscar  Elías Biscet into custody. Dr Biscet is the a Nobel Prize Candidate and was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush. A contingent of 6 men including 4 police operatives and 2 state security agents took Dr Biscet into custody in patrol car 228, about an hour ago just outside of his home, and would not say where he was being taken. His whereabouts are unknown. We are monitoring the situation and will place updates during the day at Thanks for sharing this news it may well save a life.
The publication Diario de Cuba reported an escalation in repression in  Havana, Pinar del Río and Santiago de Cuba today and The Miami Herald reported on the arrest of dissidents and the home of an independent journalist searched by State Security for "nearly four hours." This past Sunday Diario de Cuba reported that more than 50 Ladies in White were detained in Cuba while trying to attend Mass and peacefully march afterwards.

This is a continuation of the deteriorating human rights situation in Cuba over the past eight years of the Obama Administration. Tragically the Obama Administration's marginalization of dissidents that began in 2009 was deadly. Rosa María Payá, who was forced into exile following her father's extrajudicial killing on July 22, 2012 and death threats directed at her afterwards, addressed the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on February 3, 2015:
 "On 22 July 2012, Cuban State Security detained the car in which my father, Oswaldo Payá, and my friend Harold Cepero, along with two young European politicians, were traveling. All of them survived, but my father disappeared for hours only to reappear dead, in the hospital in which Harold would die without medical attention.  The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the US government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages. While you slept, the regime was conceiving their cleansing of the pro-democracy leaders to come. While you sleep, a second generation of dictators is planning with impunity their next crimes."
The claim made by William LeoGrande in Huffington Post on January 9, 2017 that the "human rights situation in Cuba has not improved for dissidents, but it has improved for everyone else" is absurd. First the situation for dissidents has worsened with increasing violence against activists and secondly Cubans, who are not dissidents, have been shot and killed trying to leave Cuba as recently as 2015.  

Diosbel Díaz Bioto and Yuriniesky Martínez Reina both killed trying to leave
The December 17, 2014 announcement of normalized relations was also surrounded by violence and death against Cubans by the Castro regime. Just a day earlier on December 16 the Cuban coast guard rammed and sank a boat with 32 refugees. One of them, Diosbel Díaz Bioto, went missing and is presumed dead. The rest were repatriated and jailed. Less than four months later Yuriniesky Martínez Reina (age 28) was shot in the back and killed by state security chief Miguel Angel Río Seco Rodríguez in the Martí municipality of Matanzas, Cuba on April 9, 2015 for peacefully trying to leave Cuba. A group of young men were building a boat near Menéndez beach to flee the island, when they were spotted trying to leave and were shot at by state security. 

If the human rights situation for everyone else in Cuba was improving there would not be a new exodus of tens of thousands of young Cubans fleeing the island. The claim by Professor LeoGrande that Cubans can start their own businesses does not track with what happened to Saul Berenthal, a Cuban American who had planned to open a factory to manufacture tractors in Cuba. President Obama had highlighted the proposal in 2016. However Mr. Berenthal made a mistake when he regained his Cuban nationality that sunk his deal with the Castro regime.  According to The Miami Herald, Cuban law restricts Cubans living on the island from starting their own companies:
Private sector workers in Cuba, known as cuentapropistas (self-employed), are licensed only to work for themselves and cannot legally establish companies to expand their work beyond a small scale. Larger enterprises are allowed only for the government and foreigners. According to a report on the foreign investment law produced by the National Organization of Cuban Law Firms, “Cuban citizens residing in the country cannot participate as partners in a joint venture.” The report added: “This law is designed to favor 'foreign investors' or Cubans living outside the country.”

Read more here:
Professor LeoGrande tried to tie the freedom to own computers and cellphones to the December 2014 policy change, but that is untrue. It is true that the Castro regime had a strategy in the past of restricting internet access using extreme measures including outlawing the ownership of personal computers from 2002 until 2008, but the re-legalization of computer ownership took place in the last year of the Bush Administration. Furthermore, it was the Bush White House that began promoting the shipping of cell phones to the island. Finally, Yoani Sánchez started up her independent blogging anonymously in 2004 and began to sign her posts in 2008 ending her anonymity. Prior to December 2014 the proliferation of independent blogs and digital media sites critical of the Castro regime had already taken place with the launch of 14 y Medio on May 21, 2014. Even the loosening of travel restrictions, that can be rescinded at any moment, was announced in 2012 and began in 2013.

Sirley Ávila León lost her left hand, knees slashed, right arm nearly severed in 2015 attack
The claim that human rights have improved for most Cubans since December 2014 rings hollow on all fronts. The escalation of politically orchestrated violence by state security and the brutality visited on nonviolent dissidents such as Sirley Ávila León, the victim of a brutal machete attack in May of 2015 that left her crippled or the murder of Yunisledy Lopez Rodriguez in May of 2014.  

Thanks to a rapid mobilization over social media and in the press by the end of the day there was some good news. Marcell Felipe sent me another e-mail at 4:10pm announcing that Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet had been freed:
Doctor Biscet has been released. Thank you to everyone who moved quickly through the appropriate channels and the media who took interest in his story. I spoke with Doctor Biscet a few minutes ago at his home. While in custody he was told to give up his work and that he was getting old and that he was being watched and would go to prison if he continued. Dr Biscet had recently renewed and increased efforts to promote his trademark Emilia Project and many of his colleagues have said 2017 is a definitive year, making the already failing regime all the more concerned; proof of how a man of peace can threaten one of the world's fiercest totalitarian state.
However prisoners of conscience remain behind bars in Cuba today. Danilo Maldonado, an artist has been imprisoned since tagging a wall with the phrase "Se fue" [he left] referring to the death of Fidel Castro on November 26, 2016 and Amnesty International has recognized him as a prisoner of conscience and has an urgent action campaign for his release. Prison officials would not allow the young artist a sweater or a blanket in El Combinado prison despite a cold front. 

Also arrested in the aftermath of Fidel Castro's death was Eduardo Cardet, the spokesperson of the Christian Liberation Movement. Cardet who is also a beloved medical doctor and family man respected in his community. While traveling abroad his wife was detained and warned that upon his return they would lock him up for 15 years in prison for having met the wrong people during his travels. Despite the threat Eduardo Cardet returned home on November 30, 2016 to a brutal beating, incarceration and trumped up charges. Relatives report that Dr. Cardet  has been told that he can go home if he abandons his democratic convictions. More disturbingly prison officials have spread the rumor that Eduardo Cardet is making calls to denounce the criminal rackets of the inmates making him the target of physical assaults from other prisoners. 

Additionally, Carlos Alberto González Rodríguez, age 48, who painted "Down with Castro" graffiti in Las Tunas was sentenced to two years in prison under the charge of "Peligrosidad Social Pre-Delictiva” (Pre-Crime Social Dangerousness). Likewise a show trial was scheduled to be held yesterday (January 11, 2017) for a family that had been the victim of an act of repudiation for their dissent on November 27, 2016. The accused are Maydolis Leyva Portelles and her children Adairis, Anairis Miranda Leyva, and Fidel Batista Leyva.

One need not be a political dissident to get into trouble in totalitarian Cuba. Darío Pérez Rodríguez, age 49, resident in the Eastern city of Holguín who on January 4, 2017 was sentenced by the municipal tribunal to a year prison for "defaming the martyrs of the Homeland", a crime found in Article 204 of the Penal Code. What did he do? He refused the order issued at his workplace to watch Fidel Castro's funeral on television.

Cuba remains a totalitarian regime where human rights are systematically violated and repression is on the rise after 58 years of dictatorship.