Archive for March, 2013

The grotesque circus of Yoani Sanchez

March 28, 2013

- yoani on tour

by Helen Yaffe

International prize-winning Cuban opposition ‘blogger’, Yoani Sanchez, is touring 12 countries over three continents in 80 days. She plays the lead in a grotesque circus performance which sees a handful of counter-revolutionaries jet-set to high-profile platforms, mainly in the US and Europe, to call for ‘regime change’ in Cuba. Others include Berta Soler, from the Ladies in White, and fellow ‘blogger’ Eliecer Avila. This follows the relaxation of Cuban migration legislation earlier this year (see FRFI 230). The tours are exposing the hypocrisy of these so-called champions of human rights and their links to imperialist interests. Helen Yaffe reports.*

Sanchez’s blogging activity was evidently conceived as part of a renewed strategy by US imperialism and its allies to generate a viable opposition in Cuba. The socialist Revolution had survived the economic crisis of the Special Period and was forging new anti-imperialist alliances in Latin America. The existing opposition in Cuba had no relevance to ordinary Cubans. In March 2013, 75 so-called ‘dissidents’ had been arrested and were subsequently tried and imprisoned for breaking Cuban laws and assisting the US programme of ‘regime change’. Sanchez spearheaded the formation of a new group of mercenaries to be seen as politically less crude, technologically more modern and financially less overtly linked to US imperialism.

In 2002, despite already being married to a Cuban man, Yoani Sanchez married a German citizen and emigrated to wealthy Switzerland. Citing ‘economic difficulties’ in Switzerland as her motive, Sanchez returned to Cuba just two years later; a place she called ‘an immense ideological prison’, where ‘shadowy figures feed off our human joy, terrorising us with violence, threats and blackmail’. Her blog Generation Y began in 2007. The following year, Sanchez won numerous international journalism and ‘human rights’ awards, despite being unknown and with no track record, ‘from countries that have actively pursued polices of usurping Cuban sovereignty’ (Willis and Alfonso, ‘The Curious Case of Yoani Sanchez’, Counterpunch, 20 March 2013). These prizes earned her over $320,000, equivalent to 1,488 years of the minimum salary in Cuba. Sanchez also receives a monthly salary of $10,000, paid by SIP IAPA (a group of Latin American big media corporations) and the Spanish daily El Pais. In 2008 Time magazine listed Sanchez among its top 100 most influential people.

Sanchez cites denial of access to the internet as among the violations of human rights in Cuba. She blames the Cuban government, not the US government whose blockade prohibits Cuba connecting to 30 optic fibre cables which circle the island. Yet Sanchez blogs daily. Her blog accepts Paypal, displays a copyright notice and registers a domain through a US company – ‘freedoms’ prohibited to most Cubans by the US blockade. Sanchez frequently uses the US and other embassies to access the internet. Her blog is available in 18 languages: ‘No other website in the world – not even the sites of important international agencies, such as the UN, the World Bank, the IMF…offer this degree of linguistic support…Who finances the translations?’ asks Salim Lamrani, a lecturer in Paris and specialist on Cuba-US relations. Even more fantastic, Sanchez has 400,000 followers on Twitter (just 100 of them in Cuba) and follows 80,000 Twitter users. She claims to tweet via SMS connection without internet access. Her 400 messages a month in 2011, costing $1.25 each, cost Sanchez $7,000 in one year of tweeting alone. reveals that 50,000 of Sanchez’s followers are ‘ghost accounts’. ‘Who financed the creation of fictitious Twitter accounts?’, Lamrani asks.

Prolific she may be, but Sanchez does not blog about her regular meetings with US and European diplomats in Havana. Wikileaks revealed that Sanchez met secretly with US Assistant Secretary of State Bisa Williams in Havana in September 2010 and that former head of the US Interest Section in Havana, Michael Parmly, stated ‘I would be very distressed if the many conversations I have had with Yoani Sanchez were disclosed. She could suffer the consequences her entire life.’

On tour in 2013, Sanchez’s first stop was Brazil, where she was greeted at the airport and in the auditorium by protesters accusing her of being a CIA agent. Her visit was financed by the US embassy, sections of the Brazilian right and major media corporations. Next, in the Czech Republic, Sanchez met up with Eliecer Avila. This part of the tour was financed by People in Need, an organisation created and financed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a front for the CIA, which is funded largely by the US Congress under the budget for USAID. Between 2006 and 2011, People in Need received over $675,000 from NED to disseminate material and organise events against Cuba. To avoid the protests that occurred in Brazil and threaten to undermine the circus, the university meeting in Prague was a closed event. Nonetheless, supporters of the Cuban Revolution were among the 50 participants and challenged Sanchez and Avila.

Protests followed Sanchez to Spain, where the meeting she addressed was almost empty and so many thousands of people tweeted critical questions that her links to the CIA became a ‘trending topic’. In Mexico, she was met by protesters on arrival at the meeting with SIP IAPA, who pay her $6,000 a month. Whilst appealing to the Mexican government to push Cuba on the question of human rights violations, she refused to meet the families of murdered Mexican journalists.

In New York in mid-March Sanchez was met by protests in the public meetings she addressed. In the New School, fed-up with the filtering of pre-written audience questions, protesters chanted, threw US dollar bills printed with Sanchez’s face on them and held up placards which were ripped up before protesters were physically removed. About her security on return to Cuba, Sanchez said ‘I’m sure the defamation, the firing squad, surveillance, control over my phone line, the oppression on my family will increase, but it was worth it.’ Ironically, the safest place for Sanchez is clearly in Cuba where she is paid little attention and attracts no protests.

In Mexico Sanchez had complained that: ‘Any opponent was dismissed as a US agent, a mercenary recruited by the CIA or the Pentagon’. In Washington, she demonstrated just how close she is to the imperialists. Sanchez visited the US Congress to a ‘rock star reception…worthy of a foreign dignity’ (Miami Herald, 19 March). She was received by TV cameras, and Cuban-Americans, Democrat Joe Garcia and Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, both arch-imperialists and supporters of terrorism who advocate tightening the illegal US blockade of Cuba. Earlier in her trip, Sanchez said the US blockade of Cuba should be ended; it served as an excuse by the Cuban government for its failings. Once in front of US lawmakers, however, she did not make this demand, but instead requested an increased US commitment to regime change: ‘we need you to rebuild our country’ she said. She said nothing about the one place in Cuba where human rights violations, including torture, are systematic – Guantanamo Naval Base, territory illegally occupied by the United States since 1903, where over 100 detainees are currently on hunger-strike. The Miami Herald reported that on 20 March Sanchez would meet with Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio and members of the US government State Department. Appropriately, on April Fool’s Day she will take her diatribe against Cuban socialism to Miami’s Freedom Tower, the place where the Cuban bourgeoisie who fled into exile from revolutionary Cuba in the 1960s were received. The Sanchez circus will continue until late May.

Between 1 October 1995 and 30 September 2011, the US Congress allocated $205 million for programmes to overthrow the Cuban Revolution. In recent years these have been focussed on ‘information technology, particularly on supporting independent bloggers and developing social networking platforms on the island’ (US Government Accountability Office report ‘Cuba Assistance Democracy’, 25 January 2013). Yoani Sanchez is a beneficiary of this policy and she must be exposed as such.

* Thanks to Salim Lamrani from whose ‘40 questions for Yoani Sanchez’ this borrows heavily. See

Return Guantánamo to the Cuban People

March 26, 2013


How Guantánamo Can Improve U.S. Relations with its Latin Neighbors

To restore good relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, damaged by several years of neglect, is one of many difficult tasks now facing the Obama administration. A measure that could have far-reaching consequences and notably improve the U.S.’ battered image in the continent would be to return Guantánamo to the Cuban people.

Guantánamo has a convoluted history. Initially, the U.S. government obtained a 99-year lease on the 45 square mile area beginning in 1903. The resulting Cuban-American Treaty established, among other things, that for the purposes of operating naval and coaling stations in Guantánamo, the U.S. had “complete jurisdiction and control” of the area. However, it was also recognized that the Republic of Cuba retained ultimate sovereignty.

In 1934, a new treaty reaffirmed most of the lease conditions, increased the lease payment to the equivalent of $3,085 in U.S. dollars per year, and made the lease permanent unless both governments agreed to end it or the U.S. decided to abandon the area.

In the confusion of the early days of the Cuban revolution, Castro’s government cashed the first check but left the remaining checks un-cashed. Since these checks were made out to the ‘Treasurer General of the Republic’, a position that ceased to exist after the revolution, they are technically invalid.

The U.S. has maintained that the cashing of the first check indicates acceptance of the lease conditions. However, at the time of the new treaty, the U.S. sent a fleet of warships to Cuba to strengthen its position. Thus, a counter argument is that the lease conditions were imposed on Cuba under duress and are rendered void under modern international law.

The U.S. has used the argument of Cuban sovereignty over Guantánamo when denying basic guarantees of the U.S. Constitution to the detainees at that facility by indicating that federal jurisdiction doesn’t apply to them. If the Cuban government indeed has sovereignty over Guantánamo, then its claims over the area are legally binding and the U.S. is obligated to return Guantánamo to Cuba.

Since 1959, the Cuban government has informed the U.S. government that it wants to terminate the lease on Guantánamo. The U.S. has consistently refused this request on the grounds that it requires agreement by both parties.

Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, an American lawyer and professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, has noted that article 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states, “A treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.”

He also believes that the conditions under which the treaty was imposed on the Cuban National Assembly, particularly as a pre-condition to limited Cuban independence, left Cuba no other choice than to yield to pressure.

A treaty can also be void by virtue of material breach of its provisions, as indicated in article 60 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. According to the original terms of the lease agreement, the Guantánamo Bay territory could only be used for coaling and naval purposes.

However, the use of the Guantánamo facility as an internment camp for Haitian and Cuban refugees — or, even more ominously, as a demonstrated torture center by the U.S. military — indicates a significant breach of that agreement, fully justifying its immediate termination.

President Jimmy Carter courageously returned the Panama Canal to the Panamanians, thus setting an important precedent in international relations. President Carter did what was legally right, and lifted U.S. prestige not only among Panamanians but throughout the hemisphere.

It can be said that the proposal of returning Guantánamo to Cuba is hopelessly naïve, since it would give an unnecessary boost to the Castro brothers. However, this would be balanced by a wave of goodwill and respect towards the U.S. throughout Latin America. In addition, returning Guantánamo to Cuba will allow the U.S. to close one of the most tragic chapters of its legal and moral history, and it will compensate Cubans for the miseries they have had to endure due to the U.S. embargo and the stubbornness of the Cuban leaders.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.,


Deep Analysis in Cuban Worker’s Plenary

March 26, 2013


Salvador Valdes Mesa concludes his duties as secretary general of the National CTC. Carmen Rosa Lopez, second secretary, will be in charge of the tasks of the organization until the conclusion of the 20th Congress. Urge for converting this May Day into an act for the working class, the family and all the people

Deep discussion and objective analysis of the problems currently afflicting union work occupied the attention of the participants in the plenary of the National Council of the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), which met yesterday in the capital, reported AIN.

The discussions took place with the presence of Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and Vice President of the Council of State.

In this scenario he insisted that the union is all the member workers, not just the union secretariats.

The fight against formalism in meetings and how to achieve real and greater worker participation in the discussion of the budget of the companies were other topics covered in full.

Salvador Valdes Mesa emphasized that unionization is the first task in the political and ideological work with workers. You have to get to the man, to the person, we must convince them, persuade them, he added. We are going to defend the unions and in Cuba they will always be voluntary, conscious, unlike in some capitalist countries, he said.

He also stressed that one of the most debated topics is wages, but insisted that to achieve their growth is necessary to reduce costs and expenses, gratuities and achieve the necessary production efficiency.

He said that another important task which should be given more support is savings, “our greatest source of resources,” and it is essential to define the action plan that should exist in every workplace and that this should be controlled, in which the government and union leaders should both be involved.

He stressed that the process of preparing for the 20th Congress of the CTC is moving along favourably, and emphasized that this May Day be characterized by the mass mobilization and militancy of the working class, the family and all the people, to reaffirm support for the Revolution.

Meanwhile, Machado Ventura said that the country’s leadership is aware of the difficulties, especially in wages and product prices, and said it is working to find solutions for the short, medium and long term.

The also Hero of the Republic of Cuba said that nothing is being forgotten, but the agreements must be met. No more freebies, complacency, paternalism, we need to increase production, become more efficient, save more, and that is in our hands, he said.

He also stressed the importance of custom work and direct contact with the people.

The second secretary of the Party Central Committee reported on the conclusion of Salvador Valdes Mesa’s functions as general secretary of the CTC, due to his recent election as vice chairman of the State Council. From his new position, Valdés Mesa, as a member of the Politburo and his instructions, will give priority attention, “almost exclusively” to the CTC and its unions, Machado explained. Carmen Rosa Lopez, second secretary of the organization, will be in charge of the duties of the CTC until the 20th Congress in November this year, when the new leadership will be elected.

from juventudrebelde Translated by ESTI

The Last Letter

March 24, 2013

To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

To read Chris Hedges’ recent interview with Tomas Young, click here.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.,

Sentencing variations show U.S. bias against Cuban Five

March 23, 2013


Sentencing variations show U.S. bias against Cuban Five
by Tom Whitney

Defenders of the Cuban Five political prisoners see their convictions and
sentencing as evidence of extreme prejudice. To compare sentences they received
with sentences handed out to those who actually spied on the U.S. government may
serve as corroboration. Prior to September 12, 1998 when they entered prison
Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Fernando González, and René
González were in Florida monitoring groups carrying out anti – Cuban terror

The future trial of Benjamin Bishop, arrested March 15 in Hawaii, may provide an
opportunity for comparison. He is accused of spying on the U.S. government for
China. The retired Army officer worked as a private contractor for the U.S.
Pacific Command.

Bishop reportedly was romantically involved with a Chinese student residing in
the United States. As reported on, “Bishop provided the woman
with information relating to nuclear weapons, including intelligence on how the
U.S. detects low- and medium-range ballistic missiles and information on
early-warning radar systems.”

An AP story claimed his contact quizzed him on U.S. knowledge about “operation
of a particular naval asset of People’s Republic of China.” U.S. authorities
searching his house in Honolulu turned up documents marked “secret.” Bishop had
held a top secret security clearance for over 10 years, but was not authorized
to take classified material home.

The charge against Bishop calls for up to 20 years in prison. The number of
years of his potential sentence may serve as objective verification of U.S.
prejudice against the Five, especially when contrasted with the prison years
they face.

Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino each received life sentences
on the charge of conspiracy to commit espionage. Gerardo Hernadez received a
second life sentence on the widely disputed charge of conspiracy to commit
murder. Fernando Gonzáles and René Gonzáles were sentenced to 19 and 15 years,
respectively, on minor charges. The first three prisoners will spend from 10 to
18 additional years in prison on those same lesser charges.

Benjamin Bishop’s likely punishment, if convicted, will probably be in line with
sentences given others in similar circumstances. Except for one convicted of
conspiracy, they all spied on U.S. government agencies. These are their stories:

a.. Khaled Abdel-Latif Dumeisi, Jordanian, was convicted of spying for the
Iraqi Government and not registering as a foreign agent. In 2004 he received a 3
year, 10 prison sentence.

a.. Leandro Aragoncillo, U.S. citizen, in 2007 was convicted of passing 800
classified documents to the Philippine government. He received a 10 – year
prison sentence.

a.. Michael Ray Aquino, Filipino citizen and colleague of Aragoncillo,
received a 6 year, 4 month prison sentence.

a.. Gregg Bergersen, U. S. citizen, gave U.S. defense information to Taiwan
and in 2008 received a 4 year, 9 month prison sentence.

a.. James W. Fondren Jr., U. S. citizen, gave classified Defense Department
documents to the Chinese government. He received a three – year prison sentence.

a.. Col. Lawrence Anthony Franklyn, U.S. citizen, gave classified national
defense information to Israel. In 2005, he received a 12 year, 7 month prison

a.. José Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to
commit terrorist acts against the United States and conspiracy to commit murder.
He received a 17 year, 4 month prison sentence.

The fact that on appeal life sentences for Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino
were reduced to 21 years, 10 months, and 30 years, respectively, takes little
away from marked discrepancy between long sentences awarded the Five and
sentences like those given to convicted spies or the one Bishop may receive. The
contrast is all the more stark given, one, that the Cuban Five monitored private
organizations, not the U.S. government and, two, they were not convicted of

The factual basis of prejudice against the Five is hardly confined to numbers.
Part of the reality includes 17 months the Cuban Five spent in solitary
confinement after being arrested, U.S. subsidies for journalists to influence
their jury through the media, and nullification of their convictions by an
appeals court panel on grounds of Miami-area prejudice, later overturned.

Persecution of the Cuban Five is so extreme as to revive the perennial question
of why Cuba. Foremost among possible explanations would be the vigor and long
duration of Cuba’s struggle for independence from U.S. domination.

A chain of resistance began with Jose Marti’s 19th century campaign against U.S.
and Cuban annexationists. It continued with an anti-racism movement violently
repressed by U.S. troops in 1912, anti-imperialist upsurge in the 1930’s, and
the present revolutionary government in power since 1959. That was the big fish
that got away.

Humor Takes no Prisoners: the Cartoons of Gerardo Hernandez

March 22, 2013


by Jessica Ellen Monk

“Someone once said that “humor liberates” ( …and if nobody said that, I will say it now…) and for me it is something that “gets us out” for at least a few moments from behind the walls where we have been unjustly imprisoned for almost 15 years”

Humor from my Penez’s wry political cartoons remind us that “humor is liberating” – and Gerardo should know. He has been imprisoned by the US Government, along with the other Cuban spies known collectively as the Cuban Five, since 1998. In his statement about the exhibition “Humor from my Pen”, delivered in a snatched moment of communication with the outside world after a month of prison lockdown, he describes humor as “something that “gets us out” for at least a few moments.”

But this humor is not just a game, the stakes are high for the Cuban Five and Gerardo’s cartoons are satirical, stridently patriotic and demanding of fair play from the US. This is not an encounter with the sleepy Cuba of the American tourist’s imagination, it is a view from the frontline of US/Cuban relations, that ‘takes no prisoners’ (if the phrase fits..). Gerardo riffs on barbed wire, terrorism, the cocktail ‘Cuba Libre’ and the constant bitter reminder that counter-terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles, who was responsible for the loss of Cuban lives, walk free while he and the rest of the Cuban Five languish behind bars.

Nancy Kohn is a member of the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five and one of the people who have helped to bring Gerardo’s cartoons to Somerville. Nancy and Gerardo first began corresponding when a friend suggested that Gerardo would enjoy her account of what it was like to follow a baseball game in Puerto Rico without Spanish. Her most recent letter to Gerardo was one of condolence – not because of a legal defeat or blow to the Cuban Five’s cause, but because the Cuban baseball team got knocked out of the World Baseball Classic. This week, Dominicans are celebrating their victory at the competition, but Gerardo, a “total baseball fanatic”, will have to rely on fellow baseball nut Nancy Kohn’s account of their victory.

Since the Five’s imprisonment – which began with 17 months in Solitary before they were even brought to trial, then later spluttered and stalled with the overthrow of a decision by appeals justices that they should get a new trial – their drawn-out ordeal has unsurprisingly made them heroes and martyrs in Cuba: men whose ‘sacrifice’ has been buoyed up on a scale so great that Nancy remembers seeing posters about them everywhere on her first visit to Cuba in 2006. When Nancy speaks at schools about the Five’s case and her friendship with Gerardo, Cuban schoolchildren eagerly compete to have their picture taken with her. Nobel laureates (Nadine Gordimer; Desmond Tutu), Hollywood actors (Danny Glover; Susan Sarandon) and politicians have all come to their own conclusions about the case, signing letters to President Obama and in the case of Noam Chomsky and Lawrence Wilkerson, authoring articles and giving talks.

“I think that people who don’t necessarily support Cuba but want our judicial system to be seen as more just, call into question, well wait, on appeals, three justices said it should be overturned…”

“People sometimes shut down when it’s about Cuba because it’s such a hot button issue in this country” says Nancy. “Where I come from I think that people who don’t necessarily support Cuba but want our judicial system to be seen as more just, call into question, well wait, on appeals, three justices said it should be overturned…”

The Cuban Five were intelligence agents who were gathering information for the Cuban government on the activities of counter-revolutionaries based out of Miami. Counter-revolutionaries had attacked Cuba in the past, resulting in loss of lives, and Cuba appeared to be acting in its own national security interests by sending agents to report on their activities.

When a Brothers to the Rescue plane was shot down by the Cuban government with U.S. Citizens on board, Gerardo Hernandez, as the leader of the Miami intelligence group, was held indirectly responsible for supplying information to his own government that allegedly led to the shootdown.

Thus he was slapped with a conspiracy to commit murder charge and a double life sentence. Former chief of staff to Colin Powell Lawrence Wilkerson has said that the five were “at the very worst… “foreign agents operating on U.S. soil”, an offense warranting 18 months in jail under U.S. law.”

Not only that, but after a trial that took many months, the Jury made their decision in a matter of hours, and members of the Jury were found to have connections with people on the plane that had been shot down. In 2010, evidence came to light that journalists commenting negatively on the case were paid by the US government.

When the case was finally re-tried, it was moved outside Miami, where fraught relations between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary Cubans were believed to have led to a miscarriage of justice. The five’s convictions were overturned, but this outcome was then mysteriously reversed.

Nancy admits: “I’m the first to say that I don’t feel like I’m completely objective about this, having met the mothers of the Five, and Gerardo’s wife who’s become a friend” Yet, after years of passionate involvement, she is also deeply knowledgeable about the details of the Five’s case.

It’s a good thing that the exhibition of Gerardo’s cartoons will be at The Armory for a final marathon run from 9 : 30 to 9 : 30 this Saturday, because Nancy and her co-workers are brimming with stories of the five, the background of the case, the films made about it and the activists’ own experience. There will also be English translations available.

“they’re not just political figureheads, they’re real men who’ve sacrificed enough”

No one, it seems, can predict that they will embark on such a cause, so the sacrifices that are made afterwards are both par for the course and life-changing. “I don’t want this to be about me” Nancy cautions, after explaining how she’s at risk of losing her passport every time she makes a trip to Cuba.

But she does think that for people who can’t agree with the politics or see why this case is such a big deal, she can help them to see that the suffering caused by these men’s incarceration is real and personal.

“I just want them to become real people.” She says of the Five. “You know that’s what this is about for me – that they’re not just political figureheads, that they’re real men who’ve sacrificed enough”

“Adriana and Gerardo really wanted to have kids…but now that’s probably a biological impossibility” she says.

Adriana Perez was granted a Visa under the Bush Administration only to be stopped and questioned, before being sent home – a bitter blow for both her and Gerardo.

The denial of Visas for the wives to visit their husbands is one of the things that Amnesty International deems most inhumane about the Five’s predicament.

To expand on this personal element, Nancy will be making her letters with Gerardo, Antonio and Fernando available to visitors to the gallery.

Does Nancy think that this will be the Cuban Five’s Year?
She is optimistic that pressure has gathered from so many quarters, that their case may finally be decided fairly.
But back to baseball; back to the winning and losing battle of getting by day to day: Nancy encourages people to write to the Five, because even if they don’t write back she says “I think the mail they get helps their mental health.”

It may even keep them safe in prison, she suggests, as the guards will take special care of prisoners who seem to get so much attention.

“Most of our letters are about baseball.” Nancy says of her correspondence with Gerardo. “He gets all these letters from people about the case, so he needs some reprieve from that…”
All might not be fair in love and baseball, but they’re two things that the US and Cuba can at least agree upon. To come to an agreement on the most ordinary things in life is perhaps to see that behind perceived threats are human beings like Gerardo – human beings who can make a case for justice with the most ordinary instruments: a pen and a sense of humor.

“Humor from my Pen” is open this Saturday 23rd at the Gallery in the Armory from 9: 30 to 9:30,

British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirms UK Government is monitoring the case of the Miami Five

March 21, 2013


Press release
21st March 2013

British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirms UK Government is monitoring the case of the Miami Five

Foreign Secretary William Hague – in correspondence with Harriet Harman MP regarding visitation rights for the wives of the Miami Five – has admitted that “the British Embassy in Washington continues to monitor the situation closely”.

The Miami Five are five Cubans unjustly tried and imprisoned by the United States government. Two of the prisoners’ wives, Olga Salanueva and Adriana Pérez, have been denied visitation rights and refused visas to visit their husbands on ten separate occasions.

Human rights organisations have condemned the trial and the treatment of the families, with Amnesty International describing the treatment of the Miami Five as “contrary both to the standards for the humane treatment of prisoners and to a states’ obligation to protect family life.”

Mr Hague said, “We are aware of the concerns here in the UK regarding access for Mrs Perez and Mrs Salanueva”.

In correspondence with a constituent, Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman said the treatment of the Miami Five and their families was “a particularly sad and difficult case” and said she appreciated Mr Hague’s response “may be disappointing”.

Already 126 UK MPs have signed a parliamentary motion (EDM 497) calling for visitations rights to be granted to Olga and Adriana. Every single political party sitting in the House of Commons is represented and this motion is the ninth most supported out of over 1,200 similar motions active in this parliamentary session.

Rob Miller, Director of Cuba Solidarity Campaign said
“The motion again illustrates the level and breadth of support within the UK for justice for these five brave men and their families. We hope that President Obama will do the right thing and put an end to this flagrant denial of basic human rights perpetrated in the name of the United States”

Notes for editors:
Full list of MPs that have signed EDM 497:
EDM 497 campaign website:
William Hague letter:

Contact: Natasha Hickman 07813 689777

The Curious Case of Yoani Sanchez

March 20, 2013

- yoani on tour

The Cuban Blogger and the “Big Bad Wolf”


Yoani Sanchez’ long-awaited arrival to the United States has been heralded as a victory for the opposition in Cuba and an example of how citizen journalists, armed with social media, can bring about democratic change in authoritarian societies. However, a closer look at the circumstances of her international journey and the difference of the receptions she has had so far in the United States and the rest of the world generates far more questions than it does answers.

Yoani’s meteoric rise as “award-wining” blogger has drawn as much suspicion as it has admiration. Her blog, Generación Y, has been championed by some members of the Cuban exile community and by certain opportunistic academic and journalistic circles because of her constant criticism of the Cuban government and its control over freedom of expression and assembly. Her confrontational discourse and blunt condemnation of Cuba’s official line is “red meat” for a great part of the exile community while her call for freedom of expression is an easy bandwagon for liberals to jump onto. However, not all of the historic exile community is in favor of her statements. The most recalcitrant faction has strenuously disapproved of the comments she has made from the beginning of her journey.

An historical understanding of Cuba’s reality in general, and its current and past relationship with the United States in particular, has led several intellectuals, journalists, and common citizens to question her motives and her resources. Hardly ever before has somebody with so little experience and output garnered so many international accolades so fast. The fact that so many of these awards come from countries that have actively pursued policies of usurping Cuban sovereignty only adds to the intrigue of Yoani’s legitimacy.

Salim Lamrani published “40 questions for Yoani Sanchez on her World Tour” in Opera Mundi on February 19th and many of them are exactly the type of queries that one must ask if one is to understand how Yoani could create so much of an international presence from a country that she repeatedly claims has such limited access to the internet. Here are some of the questions posed by Lamrani:

13. How can your blog accept Paypal, a payment system not available to any island resident because of economic sanctions that affect, among other things, e-commerce?

16. How are you able to register your domain through the U.S. company GoDaddy when this is formally forbidden under current economic sanctions?

17. Your blog is available in 18 languages including; English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Lithuanian, Czech, Bulgarian, Dutch, Finnish, Korean and Greek. No other Web site in the world, not even the sites of important international agencies, such as the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, OECD or the European Union offers this degree of linguistic support. Not even the U.S. State Department or the CIA offers this degree of access to non-English speakers. Who finances the translations?

18. How is it possible that the site that hosts your blog offers bandwidth 60 times greater than the Internet access service Cuba offers to its users?

24. In 2011, you published 400 messages per month. The price of sending one SMS message from Cuba is $1.25. So, you spent $7,000 in one year of Twitter use. Who pays for this?

When asked about this list during her visit to Columbia University’s School of Journalism she joked that when she was in Brazil the list had grown to fifty questions and that she had already answered all of them. These questions though are not just for Yoani to brush off but are rhetorical questions that thinking people ought to ask when looking at her website and the production methods of “Team Yoani”.
Indeed, the first stop on her 80-day Phineas Fogg-like trip produced plenty of questions and Yoani’s answers belied the fact that maybe she wasn’t exactly “ready for primetime.”

Upon her arrival in Brazil, Yoani was greeted by the stark reality that many global citizens do not agree with her narrative. She was challenged by Brazilian journalists, students, and other citizens about her description of Cuban reality and her answers to three questions in particular caused her to backtrack almost immediately.

When asked about the U.S. embargo against Cuba, Yoani stated unequivocally that it was an interventionist policy and was a justification for the failings of the Cuban government. Most importantly she emphasized that this policy of economic strangulation was a “relic of the Cold War” and needed to be abandoned as soon as possible (“Ya!”). She also called upon the closing of Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Not the detention center that has brought so much infamy to the United States government and has challenged our notion of due process, but the actual base which is a violation of Cuban sovereignty. Lastly, she called for the release of the Cuban operatives known as the Cuban Five arguing that the Cuban government has spent an unnecessary portion of its budget to campaign for their release.

When confronted by Miami Cubans who were incensed by such commentary Yoani began to backpedal by saying that her comments about the Cuban Five were “ironic” and that she believes that they are not innocent. This rationalization poses a problem for the legitimacy of her position.

For example, now that she has arrived in the United States her position towards the embargo and Guantanamo has been mitigated to a milquetoast generalization that there should be a “dialogue” about these issues. Why is she advocating for dialogue now instead of demanding for the termination of unilateral sanctions as she did in Brazil? Why does she not also decry the interventionist nature of USAID programs that are specifically aimed at “regime change” in Cuba? Why are these questions not being asked in New York, or more pointedly, why aren’t the institutions and academics not letting them be asked? The “guardians” at NYU and Columbia have shown a tendency to “cherry-pick” the questions directed towards Yoani. Why, in what is supposedly the freest nation on earth, is this happening? There have been protests and outbursts in her meetings but no direct challenge has been allowed that would put her in a position of explaining her vacillating views on such important topics.

Now, she has expounded on her desire to establish an independent online newspaper upon her return to the island. On the surface, this idea seems laudable and is far overdue to empower civil society in Cuba. But if one stops and ruminates upon what the basic necessities for setting up an organization like this entails then several more questions arise that must be added to the already long list for Yoani.

One person in New York held up a sign that read “Press isn’t free, It’s just cheap.” We are in an age where almost every “newspaper” on the planet is struggling to survive and where hegemonic corporate ownership of the airwaves, webpages, and what’s left of print media is almost complete. The few independent news sources remaining rely heavily on donations and subscriptions from their supporters and consumers. Also major funding comes from federal grants. Even Wikileaks and Counterpunch depend on donations. There is nothing wrong with this type of support but in the case of Cuba there simply isn’t the financial resources for this type of publication to operate with domestic funds. Most likely, she won’t receive any help from the Cuban government. So, in other words, the idea of an independent news source in Cuba, by default, has to be funded by foreign investment. Therefore, from the inception of such a project, “independent” is a questionable qualifier. Donations are a legitimate source of income for such an enterprise as long as they don’t come with strings attached.

Is Yoani so independently wealthy from the monetary awards that she is going around collecting on this trip that she can bankroll such an operation? The regulations of the U.S. embargo wouldn’t allow corporate control from the U.S. and would seriously deter a foreign corporation from backing the digital publication because of the extraterritorial ramifications of the Helms-Burton Act.

In an ironic twist of fate, will she have to depend on absolute communism for such a newspaper to succeed? Will her employees and associates work full time for free in order to bring such an ambitious project to fruition? Only in communist Cuba could that happen.

This past Tuesday Yoani was invited to Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress and speak at the Cato Institute, where she again reiterated the need to end the embargo. But instead of making the obvious case that the embargo was a determent to the development of her people, she called it an “excuse” and stated at the Cato Institutue that: “I would love to see how the official propaganda apparatus would function without this big bad wolf. I doubt that it could.”

The reference to the “big bad wolf” may remind the reader of the fact that he was not the fictional wolf in the tale of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” but a dangerous menace who repeatedly came to destroy the homes and lives of the three little pigs. That is exactly what the embargo has done. It has destroyed the lives, homes, and infrastructure of the Cuban nation while mockingly espousing that it fosters “democracy” and is intended to “help” those it harms.

If this cynical reasoning is what it takes to dismantle the embargo, then more power to her. The embargo may be a crutch for the Cuban government to lean upon but it also has had very real effects on the island’s populace and Yoani can’t claim to be a spokesperson for her people if she can’t articulate that very obvious fact.

Despite her tepid argument for lifting the embargo, she was more than pleased to have met with the very members of the Cuban-American faction of the House that have done everything in their power to continue that policy, who were more than happy to fawn over her in return. Their visceral hate for the Cuban government is enough for them to overlook the fact that they disagree about the “effectiveness” of the embargo. Will Yoani demand that the United States lift the embargo and stop financing regime change operations that put ordinary Cuban citizens in peril for the remainder of her trip? Will she call on president Obama to remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list while in the U.S.?

In April she is scheduled to be in Miami where a tribute will be paid to her work. She will be presented with a medal and will speak at the questionably named Torre de la Libertad (Liberty Tower). Will she exercise her freedom of speech and tell an audience that will include the most hardcore anti-Castro Cuban-Americans that the embargo is an interventionist policy and has to be lifted Ya!, that the Cuban Five be liberated, and that the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo be shut down and the land that it occupies given back to Cuba? Will she speak out against the historical oppression of diversity of thought within that same community towards notable figures such as the recently deceased Francisco Aruca, a victim of bomb threats and other heinous violence and character assassination? Will she denounce the violence that has been perpetrated by the radical factions within Miami’s exile community such as the bombing of Cubana flight 455 in 1976 and the other blatant acts of terrorism that have been linked to such vile characters as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles? Will she ask Marco Rubio if he was serious when he compared Cuba to a zoo?

Will she plead for a Miami that allows pluralism and freedom of expression with the same conviction that she does in Cuba? Or, will she be a victim of her own self-censorship?

Benjamin Willis is a musician.

Maria Isabel Alfonso, PhD. is Associate Professor at St. Joseph’s College in New York. They are married and raising their nine-month old son in Queens on malanga, Los Van Van, and baseball. They are founding members of CAFE, Cuban Americans for Engagement.

Without Culture there will be no Prosperity or Sustainability

March 19, 2013


Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermúdez, first vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers, spoke with members of the AHS National Council on the role of the young intellectuals in the country’s development

By: José Luis Estrada Betancourt

We have to build a socialist society, prosperous and sustainable, as expressed by Raul Castro Ruz. But there will be no prosperity without culture or possible sustainability. It is therefore vital that young Cuban writers and artists, brought together in the Hermanos Saiz Association (AHS), are aware of their responsibility to the future.

So said Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, first vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers, on Saturday in the exchange of ideas that he held with members of the AHS National Council, meeting in the Pavilion Cuba prior to the start of the process of balances of the organization, starting in the country on Wednesday and which has, as the climax, the Second Congress, scheduled to be held from October 16 to 18 this year.

At the meeting, which was also attended by Yuniasky Crespo, first secretary of the UJC National Committee, and deputy ministers of Culture Julián González and Fernando Rojas, Council members presented the main issues that today affect production and promotion of young art and the challenges that face the Association and the cultural institutions to meet the needs of the creators.

Luis Rivas Morlote, national president of the AHS, said just now is the beginning of the process of assessment, with section assemblies for artistic expression in all provinces and municipal cells. He insisted that “we have the challenge that ours will become the conference of all young writers and artists in the country, not just of our membership.”

The relationship with cultural institutions in the territories, the emergence of new artistic practices, autonomous production strategies, art education and promoting the work of novice creators in the media were some of the issues raised in the meeting.

In the dialogue with the artists and writers who currently lead the AHS, the also a member of the Politburo Miguel Diaz-Canel invited the evaluation process to be as broad as possible, taking into account all views, approaches, suggestions, and analysing creatively.

“The AHS has reached a point of maturity in performance. There is an established thought, an agenda, a projection, a social recognition. The congress that you will be holding will be developed as the country is improving and updating its economic model. Young writers and artists can make an important contribution to the spiritual life of Cubans; in fact they are already doing so. The noblest feelings, spirituality, culture, must continue to distinguish us as a nation, as a people,” he stressed.

Translated by ESTI

Cuba’s Human Development Level is High, says the UNDP

March 16, 2013


Cuba obtained in 2012 the High Human Development category, and classed among the first countries in the world with high values in this indicator, as informed on Thursday by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Its report on Human Development 2013, “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World,” was presented in Mexico City by UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The text acknowledges that the high index of 0.780 shown by the island in human development (HDI) is due to the great social investment carried out by the country throughout the years, particularly in health and education.

Cuba also heads the list of the first five countries of the high human development group showing the greatest increase in the HDI, along with Algeria, Kazakhstan, Iran and Venezuela, adds the document.

With respect to this indicator, the Caribbean nation is second in the region, according to the report released by the Regional Office of the UNDP for Latin America and the Caribbean.


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