Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cuba intensifies campaign against dissidents

The Ladies in White surrounded by the "spontaneous" mob.
Cuba stepped up its campaign against the island's small dissident community on Sunday, with pro-government demonstrators screaming insults at the "Ladies in White" opposition group a day after state-television aired a program denouncing them as agents of Washington.

About 100 pro-government demonstrators surrounded the Ladies as they marched in Havana's Vedado neighborhood, shouting slogans like "Down with the Worms!" and "This Street Belongs to Fidel!" as well as some sexually offensive slogans.

The Ladies, mostly middle-aged wives and mothers of political prisoners jailed in a 2003 sweep against intellectuals and opposition figures, wore sweat shirts bearing the image of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who died last year after an 83-day hunger strike.

They stood in the middle of the street and refused to move, until security agents moved in and loaded them onto government buses. It was not clear where they were taken, though in the past the dissidents are usually brought back to their homes.

The ugliness, known as an "Act of Repudiation," is an oft-repeated spectacle in Cuba. The government contends the screaming crowd turns out spontaneously to denounce the opposition, though little is done to conceal coordination with state security agents who are also on the scene.

In past demonstrations, state agents have waved for supporters to come forward once it became clear the Ladies would not heed warnings to halt their march.

The women began their march outside a church in the leafy Miramar section of town at midday, as they have done every Sunday since 2003. The demonstration went off quietly, but when the Ladies showed up later in the day in Vedado, the crowds were waiting.

The incident came a day after Cuban television broadcast a program about the Ladies it said showed they were interested in getting money from the United States. Cuba maintains the relationship shows them to be mercenaries and common criminals.

The program, which included taped phone conversations and grainy images of opposition figures meeting with U.S. officials, also revealed that a man thought to be allied with the dissidents, Carlos Serpa, was really a state security agent.

Serpa even allowed himself to be filmed calling in a false report of mistreatment to the U.S. government backed Radio Marti in Miami, then showed how the false report went out on the air a short time later. The program said it was an example of how disinformation is spread.

Cuba is in the midst of releasing the last of the dissidents arrested in 2003, with just five remaining in jail. While most accepted exile in Spain, those released more recently have refused to go and been allowed to return to their homes. Many have vowed to continue fighting for political change, a direct challenge to a government ruled since 1959 by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro.

Tension has been particularly high in the past week because Wednesday was the anniversary of Zapata's death. Dissidents and a human rights official say some 46 opposition figures were detained in the days surrounding the anniversary, though were quickly released. The Ladies in White did not march on the anniversary, but a pro-government crowd showed up outside the home of one of the group's leaders nonetheless, shouting and throwing eggs at 17 women who were gathered inside.

By ANNE-MARIE GARCIA and PAUL HAVEN

From: Chron


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  • Saturday, February 26, 2011

    In Cuba, would soldiers pull the trigger on protesters?

    Cuban police.
    Nineteen eighty-nine was a good year for freedom. Only in China did the Communist Party crush the protesters who slowly took possession of Tiananmen Square from April 14 on. When the tanks and soldiers rolled in on June 3-4, there was hardly any concrete to be seen on the square. Up to 1,500 people were massacred.

    Even so, Tiananmen left us an image of hope: the man who repeatedly blocked a tank while the soldier driving it never ran him over. Internet searches for “tank man” in China come up empty. One here will get you nearly nine million results. The man’s defiance and the soldier’s refusal to kill him still threaten the Chinese leadership.

    In Eastern Europe, communist regimes fell like dominoes. Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Sinatra Doctrine” — Moscow would no longer intervene to prop them up — left the region’s communist leaders to fend for themselves. When citizens took to the streets, all but Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu blinked rather than give the order to fire.

    Cuba had its own 1989. In June, a group of military and state-security officers were arrested and tried for drug trafficking. Four were brought before firing squads. Perhaps these men were also involved in reform efforts. No matter, it is still crystal clear that the scandal bared a regime predicament.

    Fidel Castro’s demand for unconditional elite loyalty required a high degree of tolerance for wide-ranging elite behavior. Whether or not he knew about the officers’ activities, full responsibility fell on his governance style. Havana, however, blamed a few bad apples even if two of the men executed — Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and Colonel Antonio de la Guardia — had long been close to Castro.

    Today we are witnessing young people in the Middle East march for freedom. Unlike Eastern Europe, however, Middle Eastern regimes sprung from within and, in that sense, are more akin to China. Autocracies in Egypt and Tunisia withered away with little bloodshed. Not so in Libya where Moammar Gadhafi has unleashed loyal troops, foreign mercenaries and air strikes against the people. Hundreds have already died and the regime no longer controls eastern Libya.

    After 1989, Cuba was thought to be next. Bumper stickers proclaiming En el noventa, Fidel revienta! (In 1990, Fidel will burst!) were widely seen in Miami. George H.W. Bush thought freedom would come to Cuba under his watch. Castro, however, stood fast and survived to transfer power to Raúl in 2006.

    Be that as it may, the elder Castro’s leadership style is still the heart of the matter. Fidel always preferred governing on his own than through even undemocratic institutions. It took Raúl Castro a while to put the house in order. Now he and his elderly cohorts are trapped.

    On the one hand, the thought that they would be the ones to lose power keeps them awake at night. On the other, they are committed to saving Fidel’s legacy which is also their own. Still, Castro’s unwillingness to put the interests of ordinary Cubans at the center of his rule has made Raúl’s task all the harder. Too much time has been lost and the costs now are even steeper.

    Cubans are facing layoffs to the tune of 1.8 million over four years. Though there are conflicting reports on whether the first round of 500,000 has even started in earnest, the mere announcement of layoffs suggests a new social contract. “You’re on your own,” the leadership is, in effect, saying.

    What’s happening in Libya might be especially troubling for the Cuban leadership. Fidel Castro and Gadhafi once had close relations. We don’t know how much Cubans know about Libyan developments. Elites in the military, the state and the party, however, are well aware of the defections among their Libyan counterparts.

    Would young Cubans be willing to risk the regime’s wrath by taking to the streets? Would the regime give the order to fire on them? Would the officers and soldiers pull the trigger? These aren’t idle questions. Incipient reforms are already shaking up Cuban society, and that’s the place to look for change.


    Marifeli Perez-Stable

    From: KansaCityStar


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  • Thursday, February 24, 2011

    Appreciating Cuba's Clichés: Rampant Capitalism on Varadero's White Sand Beaches


    With President Obama working to lessen Cuba Travel restrictions, the island risks getting caught up in a hurricane of clichés. Thinking travelers aren’t generally fooled by the shiny veneer of places plugged in a Lonely Planet, but don’t discard Cuba’s clichés. They’re what make this intriguing country so exotic, so vibrant and so darned colorful. A Jaunted special secret correspondent discovers the best of each, all this week. 

    If you want to go to Cuba without going to Cuba, you have two choices: Guantánamo or Varadero. It's a toss-up for me; Guantánamo gets a bad press, it's true, but I suspect the north coast beach resort of Varadero only gets good write-ups because tourist dollars depend on it.

    There's a rumor that Cubans are not allowed in Varadero, but that's not true. There are plenty of Cubans, serving the food and cleaning the bathrooms in the vast resort hotels plonked side by side along the skinny white sand peninsula that pokes out into the Atlantic like a knobbly twig. The issue is that ordinary Cubans can't afford to stay there.

    I did what you're not supposed to do, and stayed in a casa particular (guest house). You're not supposed to do it because casas particulares in Varadero are strictly only for Cubans, which is why they are located in the shabbier end of town. But I didn't know this when I arrived late on a cronky bus one evening and found there was no room at the inn. This was January—high season—and the Canadians and Eastern Europeans were out in force. In Cuba, if you speak a little Spanish and have a few Convertibles (the stronger of the country's two currencies, equivalent to a US dollar), you can always find a way.

    There's a $5 open-top tourist bus that trundles up and down the peninsula's only road, stopping at all the hotels because there's nothing else to see. You can't even see the ocean, because there are too many hotels in the way.

    I confess I'm not one for beach holidays and have never done an all-inclusive vacation package, so I don't know if this is normal, but all the guests were wearing mint green or baby pink hospital bracelets. At first I suspected they were medical tourists, come for a boob job or a face lift (some of them really didn't look real). But then I understood. They'd jiggle the bracelets at the waiter and out would pop a 'free' plastic cup of watery Tango with a miniature cocktail umbrella bobbing listlessly at the top.

    I, of course, didn't have a hospital bracelet, but I'd rather drink a gallon of sea water than that small cup of chemical cocktail.

    Varadero is the exception that proves the rule in Cuba. The shops are a little better stocked and a lot more over-priced. If you pay the all-inclusive rate, you can eat beef, and other food that isn't rice, beans and pork. The buildings are new and shiny, ugly hotels, not beautiful and old, crumbling mansions.

    And as for Cuban principles of equality, fraternity and socialism...nada. In Varadero it's rampant, sunburned and rather tipsy capitalism that reigns supreme.

    by femmefatale 

    From: Jaunted


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  • Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    In Cuba, Castro Marks an Anniversary By Unleashing the Hounds


    As Muammar al-Qaddafi clings to power by ordering his troops to shoot on their Libyan compatriots, across the globe in the Caribbean one of his last remaining global buddies is doing his best to keep the lid on his own victims. Fidel Castro, presiding over the wreckage of what was once the thriving island of Cuba, stepped up repression today, the first anniversary of the hunger-strike death of a dissident leader, lest others take to the streets.

    Castro’s political police are imprisoning Cuban dissidents to prevent them from marking the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a simple bricklayer who was sent to prison on March 20, 2003, for “disobedience” (yes, an adult person can be so charged in Castro’s Socialist paradise for speaking his mind) and died on Feb. 23, 2010 -- after two months on hunger strike.

    Blogger Yoani Sanchez, one of a handful of dissidents in Cuba to have access to Twitter, has been sending Tweets all day detailing who has been held under house arrest.

    According to Sanchez, such opposition figures as Jose Urbino, Zaldivar Maria Antonia Hidalgo, Caridad Caballer and Luis Felipe Rojas have been surrounded by government goons in the city of Holguin.

    Even the “Ladies in White,” a group of spouses of political prisoners who meet and march through the streets, their dignity held high in the face of heckles and punching by government goons, are being blocked from meeting today, according to Sanchez. She quotes Lady in White Berta Soler as saying that 13 of her fellow Ladies are being held by police inside a house and that other dissidents have had their ID papers taken away by police.

    In an afternoon tweet, Sanchez described how she had called blogger Katia Sonia and could overhear a government-organized crowd sent to Miss Sonia’s home in order to intimidate her. But don’t let anyone think that Cubans have even the few rights their Middle Eastern counterparts have.

    Indeed, the differences are telling. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Twitter, Facebook and mobile phones played a key role in organizing the protests, but in Cuba the vast majority of people are denied access to these modern-day means of communication. Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali and Qaddafi were in power for three decades, an obscene length of time by democratic standards. But they’re pikers when it comes to Cuba’s self-described Maximum Leader, who has clocked five decades and counting. And, of course, while Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans have lived in political oppression, they at least have private property and the right to sell and buy it. Cubans, however, live in totalitarian communism, with no right to own anything.

    “Leftist tyrannies are the worst of all tyrannies,” the dissident journalist Jose Antonio Fornaris Ramos told The Heritage Foundation on the telephone. “They own your house, all your goods, your place of employment and all you’re given to eat. They’re absolute. Everyone is afraid, and they’re right to be afraid.”

    Wednesday’s house arrests, he said, “are a violation of our constitution, which says very clearly that only courts can hold you under house arrest.”

    Commenting on the protest in the Middle East, he said: “What it shows is that democracy is man’s best invention. The real statesmen left power voluntarily, like George Washington and Nelson Mandela. Those who hang on to power are dictators.”

    By Michael Gonzalez

    From: Fox News


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  • Tuesday, February 22, 2011

    Qaddafi's Friends in Cuba

    A friend in need is a friend indeed?

    With the unrest in Libya and particularly with his recent public relations debacles, leader Muammar Qaddafi is rapidly losing any remaining fans. Yet down in South America, apparently, a few stalwarts remain.

    Fidel Castro penned a column in Cuba's Granma, warning of Libya's appeal to the United States because of it's vast petroleum reserves. "For me it is absolutely evident that the United States is not worried about peace in Libya, and will not hesitate to give NATO the order to invade this rich country maybe in a matter of hours or very few days," he wrote. Perhaps tellingly, though, while the two leaders have been allies at times, Castro was reticent with outright support for Qaddafi, noting that "we have to wait the necessary time to know with rigor how much is fact or lie."

    In a look at the history of Qaddafi's relationship with Venezuela, Caracas daily El Universal reported that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez proclaimed his support for Qaddafi in 2009, claiming that "Qaddafi is to Libya as [Simon] Bolívar is to us." Simon Bolivar was involved in the liberation of much of Latin America from colonial rule. The superlatives didn't end there, Chavez calling Qaddafi a "revolutionary soldier," "a leader of of the Libyan revolution," and a "leader of all of Africa as well as Latin America."

    Chavez and Qaddafi, both leaders of oil-rich nations, have had an unlikely relationship blossom between them in the past few years. El Universal reports that Chavez has visited Libya five times. Libya awarded Chavez with the "Qaddafi Human Rights Prize" in 2004. In March 2009, Qaddafi named a football stadium in Benghazi after Chavez. On his end, Chavez made Qaddafi the special guest at a conference between African and Latin American countries held on Venezuela's Isla Margarita later that year, where he also presented Qaddafi with a replica of Simon Bolivar's sword. Rumors were swirling as recently as last night that the Libyan strongman had made his way to Venezuela to seek shelter.

    By Eli Rosenberg

    From: The Atlantic Wire


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  • Sunday, February 20, 2011

    PRESS STATEMENT FROM "POR EL LEVANTAMIENTO POPULAR EN CUBA" ("FOR THE POPULAR UPRISING IN CUBA")


    Please note that during the days of 21 to 26 February, will be performed a variety of individual and collective manifestations throughout the world (see list here: >http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=156452414409238

    Throughout these days will be displayed in a peaceful manner, the support of Cuban exile to the protests to be held in Cuba around the same time, through this week, and namely on the 23rd - one-year anniversary of the death of the political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

    The initiative "For the popular uprising in Cuba" appeared in FACEBOOK http://www.facebook.com/pages/Por-el-levantamiento-popular-en-Cuba/173839132658920 and has more than 3900 followers (by February 20) in several countries and has resulted in the organization of a wave of protests in cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Santiago de Compostela, Sevilla, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Berlin, Milan, Stockholm, Paris, Portland, Washington, Miami, Tampa, Los Angeles, Alberta Canada and several other countries, including Cuban cities we for obvious reasons did not quote, except Havana, where we have received confirmation of time and place for the protests against the Cuban dictatorship, in sharp challenge to the regime's repressive forces.

    We insist on the entirely peaceful nature of the protests although it is likely to produce violent reactions from Cuban officials used to suppress with force any activity for the freedom of Cuba and they have demonstrated this on several occasions at the consulates in Paris, Barcelona, Madrid and Norway; last year the Cuban Vice Consul bit a young demonstrator in Sweden.

    We inform you our determination to exercise our right to manifest for the end of the oldest dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere, which consistently violates human rights and keep in prison journalists and dissidents, despite the best efforts of the EU to help to bring democracy to Cuba.

    We ask everybody to cover these activities and help us to follow these days of protests.

    Here are video links and links with the media impact of this initiative in various publications throughout the world.

    CNN
     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dv9FBdXeyLw
    TELEMUNDO
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-ayUAWpnCg
    BAYNEWS 9
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rptI-42njXM
    Diario “El Mundo”
    http://www.elmundo.es/america/2011/02/02/cuba/1296604782.html
    Diario “Nuevo Herald”
    http://www.elnuevoherald.com/2011/02/03/880321/grupo-de-facebook-trata-de-alentar.html
    Radio Nederland Internacional
    http://www.rnw.nl/espanol/bulletin/crean-el-sitio-del-movimiento-popular-en-cuba
    ANTENA 3
    http://www.antena3.com/videos-online/noticias/mundo/cuba-quiere-evitar-levantamiento-ciberdisidentes_2011021600007.html

    From “Por el Levantamiento Popular en Cuba”.
    Contact: levantamientoencuba@yahoo.com
    Twitter: @levanta_cuba

    Note from the Admin: Please, forgive the English mistakes, this statement appears this way on the group's page.


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  • Saturday, February 19, 2011

    Cuba frees another political prisoner

    Iván Hernández Carrillo
    Cuba has freed another political prisoner, leaving only six still behind bars from a group of 52 that President Raúl Castro has promised to release, the Catholic Church said.

    The latest was Iván Hernández Carrillo, who had been jailed since a 2003 government crackdown on opponents and was serving a 25-year sentence.

    Castro has said he wants to clear all political prisoners from Cuban jails in an apparent attempt to end one of Cuba's thorniest international issues as it moves into a new era of economic reform.

    In a deal brokered by the Church, Castro agreed in July to free the 52, those remaining in jail after 75 were arrested in the 2003 crackdown, which drew wide condemnation of the communist-led government.

    Hernández, 39, told reporters from his family's home in Colón, 135 miles (220 km) southeast of Havana, that he was "very happy to be in my house, sharing freedom with my family and friends."

    He vowed to resume his work as an independent journalist, which led to his imprisonment in 2003, and fight "for freedom of expression, for respect for human rights."

    Castro wanted the freed dissidents to go to Spain, which agreed to take them, and most have. But the last prisoners, including Hernández, have refused to go and will be allowed to stay in Cuba.

    Cuba views dissidents as mercenaries who work for the United States.

    It is not clear how many more political prisoners Cuba has, but it has been releasing most of those who jailed for committing crimes either while trying to flee Cuba or during activities against the government.

    The Church said in a separate announcement that six other prisoners not included in the group of 52 would be freed soon and sent to Spain.

    Source: Buenos Aires Herald


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  • Friday, February 18, 2011

    The Protests in Cuba Are As Feared As in Egypt

    One of the posters calling for the uprising in Cuba.
    Protests in Egypt and the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak has raised concerns that Cuba would follow suit, which has moved the government of the Caribbean nation to increase the repression, according to a report released last week. The report of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS by its initials in English), from the University of Miami, says that in recent weeks the security forces of Raúl Castro's regime have increased arrests and repressive actions against the Cuban people.

    Titled “Increased repression in Cuba” the report quotes arrests, temporary detentions, beatings and intimidation of at least 34 activists and independent journalists, and also fines and jail therms for those who build or trade antennas and satellite television receivers. Among the cases is the dissident Lobaina Nestor Rodriguez, leader of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy (MCJD, initials in Spanish), who fears for his life and was placed with ordinary prisoners in the prison of  El Combinado de Guantanamo, where he is intimidated and threatened, reported his wife Daneysi Galvez Pereira.

    Black Spring Independent journalist, Adolfo Paul Borraz, was arrested for 10 hours at his home in Centro Habana, interrogated and threatened for his journalistic activities. Jorge Luis Antunez reported that more than 12 members of the Central Opposition Coalition were beaten by members of  the Castro's repressive apparatus in the city of Placetas and arrested later.

    Stirring to start a social media revolution in Cuba, organizers of a Facebook group calling for a popular uprising on the island have called for Cubans to gather for a demonstration on Feb. 21 in Havana.

    The protest will be to "demand the freedom and democracy that have been taken from us," states a message on the group's Facebook page.

    The message calls for Cubans to gather at 5 p.m. outside the old presidential palace in Havana, which is now the "Museum of the Revolution."

    In Cuba, as in Egypt, Iran and elsewhere where this kind of activity is not well received by the autocrats in power, this is a dangerous business, making it vital for those of us who share the same ideals of freedom, do our part to support them.

    Facebook page for the popular uprising in Cuba







    Pamphlet guide to revolution in Egypt: How to protest intelligently

    The San Francisco Indymedia site (www.indybay.org) has published a translated nine page Guide to intelligent protesting, which was distributed widely on the streets of Egypt. The guide shows how to non-violently defend yourself from riot police. As this Blog article states, we shouldn't just be cheering on the Egyptian revolution but learning from it. This was one of the biggest non-violent uprising's in history and given that we are all facing the same neo-liberal policies and all governments inevitably turn to batons and beatings to keep us down, these tips will definitely come in handy. 

    From the Egyptian Revolutionary Guide
    Below is an excerpt from the article Tactical Gems from the Egyptian Revolution outlining some creative democratic ways of operating with mass crowds.

    "How to make demands from a giant crowd: Now that Tahrir Square has proclaimed itself an “autonomous republic,” and demands are flying from every corner of Egyptian society, not to mention every foreign government, the crowds whose effort has made change possible are trying to articulate their demands. Here’s how:

    In Tahrir, the square that has become the focal point for the nationwide struggle against Mubarak’s three-decade dictatorship, groups of protesters have been debating what their precise goals should be in the face of their president’s continuing refusal to stand down.

    The Guardian has learned that delegates from these mini-gatherings then come together to discuss the prevailing mood, before potential demands are read out over the square’s makeshift speaker system. The adoption of each proposal is based on the proportion of cheers or boos it receives from the crowd at large.

    Delegates have arrived in Tahrir from other parts of the country that have declared themselves liberated from Mubarak’s rule, including the major cities of Alexandria and Suez, and are also providing input into the decisions.

    “When the government shut down the web, politics moved on to the street, and that’s where it has stayed,” said one youth involved in the process. “It’s impossible to construct a perfect decision-making mechanism in such a fast-moving environment, but this is as democratic as we can possibly be.” (“Cairo’s biggest protest yet demands Mubarak’s immediate departure,” Guardian, February 5)

    The article has some other good tips too. Check it out. Bring on the GLOBAL revolutions. Down with all the tyrants who only serve the big business, the IMF and Washington. Don't forget that Wikileaks showed us recently that our politicians take orders straight from Washington too!

    Source: CoffeToday and The Wire

    Pictures from Egypt showing some protester's "equipment" for self protection.

    The plastic bottle helmet.


    Brick-hat, very strong.
    Bucket-helmet.
    Cooking armor.
    The box-helmet. Not very strong, but light.
    The pita helmet. Wonderful!


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  • Thursday, February 17, 2011

    Cuba: Cyberwar? Video Sparks Debate, Anger, Skepticism


    A video posted February 1st on Vimeo features a 52-minute presentation on new information technologies and a “ciberguerra” allegedly being waged on Cuba by the United States government and US-based NGOs. The man delivering the presentation has since been identified as Eduardo Fontes Suárez, a cyber security official at Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior (MININT). Initial reports called this a classified government video that had been leaked, but some bloggers (on and off the island) are questioning this assertion.


    La Ciberpolicia en Cuba



    You can watch the video here or go directly to: 
    La ciber policia en Cuba on Vimeo.

    The full transcription in English is available at Translating Cuba.

    Posted by Coral Negro, a Vimeo account holder who offers no profile information of any kind, and has posted no other material, the video has ignited an international debate about its origin and its content. An original transcript of the video can be found at Café Fuerte [es], and an English translation can be found at Translating Cuba. The presentation provides a detailed description of US government efforts to establish unauthorized Wi-Fi connection spots on the island, with the help of dissidents and representatives from US-based NGOs, mainly the International Republican Institute. Fontes indicates that Alan Gross, the jailed USAID worker who was arrested in December of 2009 for illegally distributing IT equipment to Cubans, was involved with Washington’s project to establish these hot spots.

    He describes bloggers such as Yoani Sánchez as counterrevolutionaries who, with the support of the Spanish and US governments, are attempting to use new technologies in order to spark a popular uprising against the Castro government. He also discusses the Cuban government’s latest plans for ICT use on the island, and the benefits of certain technologies, remarking on Hugo Chávez’s use of Twitter as a political tool.

    Penúltimos Días [es], a Cuba-focused blog based in Spain, reposted the video, and soon thereafter a former (and now exiled) high school classmate of Fontes’ identified him and posted photographs of Fontes as a teenager in the late 1980s. On Cuban exile community blogs such as Babalú [es], readers seemed to delight in ridiculing Fontes, calling him a “cíberesbirro” or “cyberthug.” Fontes’ Facebook page has been deactivated since he was identified on Penúltimos Días. His Twitter account remains active, but he has not tweeted since December of 2010.

    It is clear that Fontes is a real official of Cuban intelligence. What remains unclear is whether his presentation and the leak were “real” as well.

    Regina Coyula, a former employee of the counterintelligence unit at MININT who is now the author of La Mala Letra [es] believes the video is authentic, and has denied another blogger’s accusation that she herself leaked the video. She reasons that the video contains far too much information about the power of ICTs to be a fake. She writes:
    [L]a conferencia [es] un tanto didáctica. Así me entero de unidades satelitales wi-fi de alta velocidad como parte de un módulo que incluye blackberries y notebooks destinadas a blogueros…y contrarrevolucionarios tradicionales; me entero de que a través de ese servicio cualquier persona de pronto pudiera tener en su pc el mensaje de estás conectado; [Fontes] reconoce que es peligroso que la gente se conecte por la libre, y admite que nadie beneficiado va a quejarse ni a averiguar.
    [T]he conference [is] quite didactic. Through it I learn of high-speed Wi-Fi satellite units as part of a module that includes blackberries and notebooks intended for bloggers…and traditional counterrevolutionaries. I learn that, through that service, any person could suddenly get the “You are connected” message on their PC; [Fontes] recognizes the dangers of people’s freedom of Internet access, and admits that nobody who benefits from this will either complain or inquire about where the connection came from.

    Yoani Sánchez [es] was unequivocally certain that much of what Fontes said was untrue. But she wondered whether it was he, or someone above him, who was responsible for this misinformation.
    ¿Usted es de los que fabrica las mentiras o de los que se cree las mentiras? Me gustaría hacerle esta  pregunta al ponente que despliega una complicada teoría de la conspiración en este video. Si se trata de alguien que sólo transmite un mensaje, entonces la respuesta es sencilla: la falsedad se cuece más arriba y él es apenas un emisario. Pero me temo que parte de lo que expone frente a esos adustos militares –que exhiben una constelación de estrellas en sus uniformes– es de su propia cosecha, se ha gestado en su interior.
    Are you one of those who fabricates lies? Or one of those who believes them? I would like to ask this question to the speaker who deploys a complicated conspiracy theory in this video. If it’s someone who is just sending a message, then the answer is simple: the falsehood is concocted higher up and he is just the messenger. But I fear that part of what he is expounding in front of those grim soldiers — with a constellation of stars on their uniforms — is  his own production, cooked up by himself.

    Sánchez also pointed out that Fontes' description of social media platforms reflected a limited understanding of their applications. Reinaldo Escobar (who blogs at Desde Aquí), wrote in an article on Diario de Cuba [es] that the content of the presentation had to have been fabricated. He referred specifically to Fontes’ claim that bloggers like Yoani Sánchez (Escobar’s wife) have been “created” and supported by the US government.
    Si [Fontes] miente por iniciativa propia de presentarse como…imprescindible ante sus jefes, o si miente cumpliendo estrictas orientaciones de una mano tenebrosa, eso no puedo saberlo. Pero sé que miente. Me consta. La blogosfera alternativa cubana no es una creación del imperialismo norteamericano sino fruto de una conjunción de factores entre los que se destacan el fracaso del sistema socialista, la inconformidad ciudadana, especialmente entre los más jóvenes, y el desarrollo de la tecnología a nivel mundial.
    Whether [Fontes] lied on his own initiative, […] wanting to appear talented and indispensable before his bosses, or if he lied to satisfy the strict demands of a dark hand, I can’t tell. But I know he’s lying. I know. The alternative Cuban blogosphere is not a creation of U.S. imperialism, but the fruit of a [combination] of factors among which are the failure of the socialist system, public discontent — especially among young people — and the worldwide development of technology.” [Translation courtesy of Translating Cuba.]

    The Cuban Triangle’s [en] Phil Peters believes that the video was created and intentionally released (under the guise of a leak) in order to send a message. He reasons that, unlike a typical leak, the video appeared to have been edited thoroughly, and was conspicuously devoid of information that could harm the Cuban government.
    There is nothing in the briefing that is remotely inconvenient to the Cuban government; nothing that compromises an operation or breaks an important secret…[M]uch of the video conveys messages that Havana would probably want to present to international audiences. The cachet of a “leak” from the heart of a communist security apparatus ensures that those messages fly farther and wider than would words on paper.
    Whether or not the video is “real,” US officials and IRI have firmly denied Fontes’ claims regarding WiFi connection spots. But regardless of whether it is entirely true or not, the message Fontes communicates here is clearly aligned with recent ICT policy directives of the Cuban government, which have focused closely on the nation’s “ciberguerra” against the United States.

    A coincidence?

    The Cuban novelist and blogger Zoe Valdés, who now lives in Paris, shares Peters’ contention. It is not a coincidence, she suggests, that the video surfaced at the height of the popular uprising in Egypt, given the critical role of social networks and ICTs in the movement. News from Cairo has prompted many journalists and bloggers to wonder whether, given the gradually increasing number of ICTs in Cuba, Parque Central could become the next Tahrir Square.

    Valdés also points to “Por un levantamiento popular en Cuba,” a Facebook group created last week by members of the Cuban exile community in Spain, urging Cubans to follow the example of Egypt and rise up against the Castro government.

    Valdés writes that while this is troubling, she believes that the Cuban government chooses to openly condemn bloggers because they are an easy target.
    [E]llos prefieren a disidentes cibernéticos …frente a justicieros callejeros que podrían multiplicarse por miles en mínimo tiempo. Los primeros no son considerados peligrosos, los segundos sí, y mucho. La propia Yoani Sánchez ha declarado que su blog no se ve en Cuba,* así que muy poca gente lee sus crónicas dentro de la isla.
    […]
    Ese video, entonces, forma parte de la nueva estrategia del raulismo light, ignorar a los que son realmente dañinos a la dictadura ha sido siempre la elección de los castristas. Ellos saben que mencionar es reconocer, y que ignorar es desaparecer, fulminar, borrar.
    They prefer cybernetic dissidents to those who fight for justice in the streets, who can multiply by miles in little time. The first group is not considered dangerous, the second is, and very much so. Yoani Sánchez herself has declared that she can't see her blog within Cuba,* so few people read her chronicles on the island.

    […] That video, then, forms part of the new raulismo light strategy. Ignoring those who are truly harmful to the dictatorship has always been the way of Castrists. They know that to mention is to recognize, and that to ignore is to disappear, to fulminate, to erase.

    Her point about “raulismo light” does well to elucidate important intricacies in how Cuban state intelligence works. But while Valdés implies that there lies a clear distinction between dissidents in virtual and real space, the powerful online presence of dissident groups like the Damas de Blanco and the OZT Yo Rechazo movements disprove this—they demonstrate how this distinction is increasingly blurry, if not indecipherable.

    In sum, it seems that whether or not the presentation was “real,” and whether or not it was a true leak, the video (if not entirely truthful) gives the world a rare, intimate window into the thinking and dialogue on ICTs and blogging that is happening within Cuban intelligence. However uncertain its origins, it holds valuable information for all those who have a stake in the future of ICTs in Cuba.

    *Sánchez's blog became accessible in Cuba on February 8, 2011.

    By Ellery Biddle

    From: Global Voices


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  • Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Cuba fights latest U.S. "invasion" — on the Internet


    It is 50 years since the last U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba but the island's communist leaders believe another one has begun — not on the shores of the Bay of Pigs as in 1961, but in the virtual world of the Internet.

    Cuba fears "cyberdissidents" could use Twitter, Facebook and other online social networks to undermine the government. Its concern has taken on added significance since the same communication tools were used by protesters in Egypt to help topple longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak last week.

    A leaked video recently posted on the web shows a Cuban intelligence Internet expert telling interior ministry officials that the new cyber opposition is a more serious threat than the island's traditional dissidents.

    The authorities are worried about people like Claudia Cadelo, a frail-looking 27-year teacher of French who created Octavo Cerco, one of about 30 blogs critical of the government written inside Cuba.

    "Social networks have become a new weapon for civil society," she told Reuters in an interview. "They don't want the social networks to spread because they are aware of the danger that poses to a totalitarian government which hides the truth from its people.".

    Given Cuba's low rate of Internet connectivity, the tweets Cadelo types into her mobile phone don't reach many Cubans. But that could change as Cuba gains access to broadband Internet and mulls the pros and cons of granting wider access.

    After initially blocking public access to some critical websites, the Cuban government has switched strategy and unleashed an anti-dissident counter-attack by a legion of some 1,000 pro-government "revolutionary" bloggers.

    From his office in the headquarters of Cuba's state telephone company ETECSA, journalist and blogger Manuel Henriquez is on the front lines of that official offensive.

    "There is evidently an intention to attack Cuba through the Internet. And of course Cuba has the right to defend itself," said the 47-year-old author of the blog Cambios en Cuba.

    "It is an old war and this is its latest expression. What these (opposition) bloggers are looking for is to demonize the country, create an image of a repression that doesn't exist and later on allows justifying laws and blockades."

    Bloggers like Henriquez take aim at Cuba's cyberdissidents, led by prominent critic Yoani Sanchez and her Generacion Y blog. They accuse the critics of being financed by the U.S. government, Cuba's ideological foe, and often post damaging rumours about their personal lives.

    LOW CONNECTIVITY


    Experts say the Internet is offering Cuban dissidents unprecedented room for political debate, but that the transforming potential of Twitter and other social networks depends heavily on connectivity levels.

    In Tunisia, the cradle of recent protests that have rocked the Arab world, 19 per cent of the population was on Facebook, but Internet access in Cuba is restricted by the government.

    "It's worth asking what per cent of Cubans have regular Internet access. Access to mobile phones. If those numbers are low, it's unlikely these are the most effective organizing channels," said Ethan Zuckerman, senior researcher at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

    Wilfredo Cancio, a Cuban exile journalist who publishes a Cuban affairs web site Cafe Fuerte in Miami sees a "Cold War" mentality in the Cuban government's declared digital offensive against cyber opponents.

    "I think the government is betting on winning this battle, above all from the control perspective," he said.

    Cuba, the Caribbean's biggest island, has a population of 11 million, and last reported 1.6 million people online, but they mostly only have access to a government-sanctioned intranet that does not permit links to Twitter or Facebook.

    Mobile telephony has grown dramatically since it was legalized three years ago, but costs are high for ordinary Cubans. Cadelo says she pays the equivalent of $1 every time she tweets by sending a text message to a number in Britain.

    A fiber-optic submarine cable hooking Cuba to its socialist ally Venezuela could soon increase the island's data transfer speed by 3,000 times.

    Cuba's government says the long-standing U.S. embargo has been the main obstacle to Internet penetration and that there are no "political obstacles" to opening up the Internet to the broader public. But they say for the time being they cannot afford to install the needed wider infrastructure.

    Ted Henken, a Cuba analyst at City University of New York, thinks Cuban authorities may try to emulate the Chinese model of opening up the Internet while controlling information flow.

    "Using these technologies to spark antigovernment protests is impossible now given the low penetration, access and use . . . But this is likely to change in the future as the government tries to benefit economically from broadband," he said.

    On the leaked government video, the Cuban Internet expert said the United States was smuggling satellite phones into Cuba to provide dissidents with unrestricted access to the web.

    Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor held in Havana and accused of introducing such devices into Cuba, is awaiting trial and faces up to 20 years in jail on charges of "crimes against the security of the state."

    In the video, the Cuban official called Gross a "mercenary", comparing him to the CIA-backed Cuban exiles who invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961.

    Henriquez, the pro-government blogger, says the United States is trying to export a cyber rebellion model promoted in places like Iran. "But it isn't going to work whether there is Internet or not. A Twitter message isn't itself a reason to mobilize," he said.

    Cadelo, however, says it is just a matter of time. "The Internet is going to get to the people. They can't avoid that. A war against the Internet is a lost war," she said.

    Esteban Israel

    From: The Gazette


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  • Sunday, February 13, 2011

    Viva la revolucion? Cuba to remove sugar subsidies


    In another measure designed to reduce the state’s control of the economy and promote private enterprise, the Communist government of Cuba announced it will liberalize the sale of sugar, after subsidizing its price for decades.

    According to Juventud Rebelde, the state-controlled newspaper, sugar will "gradually" be sold in shops and supermarkets where it can fetch a higher price.

    "The liberalized sale of sugar, both in its refined and raw variety, is an expected and necessary decision, above all for the successful development of the self-employed sector," Juventud Rebelde stated.

    In addition, the price of imported rice will climb by more than 40 percent.

    Phasing out of food price subsidies will relieve the burden of the cash-poor government. (Ironically, governments in several Arab nations, including Jordan, are increasing such subsidies to appease their people).

    President Raul Castro (Fidel’s brother) has ushered in a series of sweeping economic changes since last summer, including the layoff of 1-million public sector workers and liberalization of rules governing small businesses and self-employment. As a result, thousands of Cubans have applied for licenses to establish their own businesses.

    From: IB Times


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  • Friday, February 11, 2011

    US-Cuban Relations Ease Another Notch


    Cuba has stopped flying black flags in front of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, the latest step towards dismantling an in-your-face confrontation that arose around the building during the George W. Bush administration and brought always-contentious relations between the two countries to the breaking point.

    Former Cuban President Fidel Castro ordered the parking lot in front of the U.S. Interests Section dug up and the 100-foot-high flags installed in 2006.

    The action came after the United States turned on a five-foot-high news ticker that ran across 25 windows on the outside of the fifth floor of the mission on Havana's busy seaside Malecon Drive.

    The Times Square-style ticker streamed news, political statements and messages in crimson letters blaming Cuba's problems on the country's communist system and socialist economy.

    The dozens of huge black flags, which Cuba said represented more than 3,000 of its citizens killed over the years by U.S. inspired violence, effectively blocked it from view.

    The bizarre scene, as the two old nemeses symbolically squared off in Havana, became a tourist attraction and barometer of the rising level of hostility between them.

    The two countries do not have full diplomatic relations, but maintain lower level interests sections in each other's capitals.

    "They stopped flying the flags completely at least two weeks ago," a U.S. diplomat said, adding he had no idea if the measure was permanent.

    The Cuban government hasn't commented on the flags disappearance. The huge -- and now barren -- field of flag poles remains standing and at the ready where cars once parked just yards from the building's front door.

    Soon after the Obama administration took over in Washington, anti-Bush billboards around the building, depicting the former U.S. president as Dracula, Hitler and a terrorist, were taken down.

    The news ticker went dark in June 2009 and the government of Raul Castro, who replaced his brother in 2008, responded by reducing the size and number of flags, but still kept some flying.

    From: 1250 WTMA


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  • Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Cuban artists expose revival of racism on the island

    The Raft (2010), ARMANDO MARIÑO.
    Rebellion is in the air. Whether in the cities of Africa and the Middle East, or within disparate communities of artists, people are examining the current status of human rights and finding it lacking.

    While street crowds are forcing political change, the liter­ati are prodding more benign conversation about perceived inequities.

    A case in point is the taboo-bashing exhibition "Queloides: Race & Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art" at the Mattress Factory. "Queloides" translates as "keloids," protruding scars caused by trauma, which exhibition curators apply to the wounds racism has inflicted upon the body politic.

    This show, which opened last year at the prestigious Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam in Havana, hit a nerve within the island's bureaucracy, which projects an image of social harmony. When Pittsburgh-based co-curator Alejandro de la Fuente tried to visit family in June, he, his wife and child were turned back at the airport by Cuban authorities.

    The exhibition can be seen on multiple levels dependent upon one's familiarity with Cuban culture, history and contemporary politics. But none of that is necessary to be seduced by the effervescent artworks that herald it. In the museum parking lot is Armando Marino's classic 1950s Plymouth, its chassis replaced by multiple pairs of bare-footed, dark-skinned legs. Elio Rodriguez's inflated black protuberances -- a cross between alien invasion and suggestive body parts -- wind across the roof and upper story of the satellite gallery at 1414 Monterey. Both are startling, a bit surreal, and certain to stimulate the imagination -- vintage Mattress Factory.

    The socialist state declared an end to racism as a part of the reforms instituted during the 1960s revolution. But whatever progress had been made disappeared in the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed, reducing funding to Cuba and resulting in the economic crisis of "The Special Period." As opportunities dried up, the already disadvantaged tended to suffer the most, an observation that makes the exhibition broadly applicable as economies shrink globally.

    Artists who were educated in the egalitarian era before the turmoil began to reflect the issue of racism in their work. The first two "Queloides" exhibitions were held in Havana in 1997 and 1999. The time felt right for a third edition to Dr. de la Fuente, an authority on race in Cuba and a University Center for International Studies professor of history and Latin American studies at the University of Pittsburgh. A 2007 conversation with co-curator Elio Rodriguez sparked the process.

    Enter the Mattress Factory, which has a history of giving voice to artists who would otherwise be unheard, from Eastern Europe to East Asia. In 2004-05, the museum presented "New Installations, Artists in Residence: Cuba," which included work by two artists in the current show, Meira Marrero and Jose Toirac, who collaborated with Loring McAlpin.

    "In every country, artists are addressing issues of fairness and social justice ... . They give a visibility to hidden problems in a way that affects one on a visceral level," write museum co-directors Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk in the exhibition catalog.

    Ironically, the Bush administration denied visas to the artists of the 2004 show, so their "residency" was virtual and physical works were completed per instruction by Mattress Factory staff. The 2010 artists were permitted to travel to Pittsburgh to create additional works for this venue.

    The 2010-11 "Queloides" comprises video, installation, painting, photography and works on paper by 13 artists, five of whom have been represented in all three shows. All were Cuban-born, but several now live and/or work outside Cuba. Two are deceased, Pedro Alvarez and Belkis Ayon.

    The Cuban cultural authorities at first approved the Havana show, but later tried to rescind their decision. To save it, Dr. de la Fuente agreed not to attend the exhibition even as he encouraged the artists to carry on. It was the month after the show closed that he tried to re-enter Cuba.

    There were three guidelines thought important for the current show: That it open in Cuba, that it travel outside the country, and that it be accompanied by a catalog. The latter has significance in that it documents all of the "Queloides." The previous shows had been ignored by the Cuban art world and press and thus lost to memory.

    As fascinating as is the context, the work carries the exhibition, suspending the viewer between visual language that is familiarly contemporary and more exotic references.

    Mr. Marino's "The Raft" gains dimensionality if read as commentary on, perhaps, the exploitation of blacks in the Cuban labor market, Cuba's economic plight which keeps consumer goods out of the reach of many, or the various means islanders have employed in often failed attempts to reach the U.S. mainland (www.floatingcubans.com).

    Mr. Rodriguez's "Black Ceiba" conflates the Ceiba tree -- sacred to religious practices of indigenous peoples and Afro-Cuban syncretic cults -- with stereotypes of black sexuality and violent behavior.

    Other senses come into play via the acrid smell of charred wood in Roberto Diago's solemn "Ascending City," and the kitchen sweetness of the walls of brown sugar bricks in Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons' transporting "Guardarraya." In this multimedia piece, viewers are guided to a projection that distorts like fun-house mirror reflections over a rectangle of refined white sugar on the floor. The video, and one on the wall, shows images of two women, one black and one white, embracing and exchanging a bouquet of flowers. Its sensuality is heightened by images of fruits, including several split pomegranates, a traditional symbol of feminine fertility in Western art.

    As "Guardarraya" obliquely references the grassy passageways between thickly planted fields of sugar cane, Douglas Perez's imposing five-panel "Ecosystem" takes form from the large centipedes that populate those fields. But a closer look reveals rows of brown figures, some sporting clothing with brand logos, that morph into sickly and then skeletal shapes.

    Fruit is one of the subjects that appears throughout the exhibition -- symbolic of Cuba's tropic lushness, of Latin stereotypes, of the offerings made by followers of Afro-Cuban religions. Alexis Esquivel designed tongue-in-cheek "Urban Sarayeye VAPROR -- 2059, Automatic Vehicle to Collect Religious Offerings," a robot to whisk away spoiling fruit left by devotees in public places more clinically than sanitation personnel who risk being accused of religious bias.

    Religion is another thread that manifests through the exhibition. Marta Maria Perez Bravo uses her body as prop for powerful photographs that channel the mystical aura of Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion that combines Yoruba, Roman Catholic and Native Indian traditions.

    In the stone-lined lower gallery is Mr. Toirac and Ms. Marrero's "Ave Maria," a table holding several versions of Cuba's patron Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, seemingly afloat on a blue sea of carpet. The statues, which range from kitsch to antique, each depict the Virgin Mary and the three Juans -- a Creole, an Indian and a slave -- that she saved during a storm, a display of folk belief that doubles as a plea for unity.

    Manuel Arenas and Rene Pena more pointedly address race and the outsider status of the black male. On the far wall of Mr. Arenas' minimalist white cubical space are the words "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?," a phrase employed by the American abolitionist movement. Mr. Pena's photograph "Samurai" graces the catalog cover. The artist, nude save for a hat, holding a sword, and in a pose that references Donatello's "David," plays between Renaissance ideals of self-awareness and beauty, and cultural notions of blacks as threatening and unattractive.

    There is more to explore, not the least being the many references to U.S. politics and culture that suggest Cubans are a lot more cognizant of what's happening here than we are of a country so near.

    This "Queloides" continues a pluralistic and inclusive conversation on "racism, nation, history, and Cubanness" that began a dozen years ago, Dr. de la Fuente writes in the catalog. "From the island, some intellectuals cum bureaucrats are now trying to monopolize this conversation, to encapsulate it in sterile official commissions, and to hide it behind the mediocrity of patriotism and insularity. They are wasting their time.

    " 'Queloides' proves it."

    By Mary Thomas

    From: Post-Gazette


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  • Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    Forbidden Cuba now open to students

    The Havana University.
    Lehigh students, along with college students across the country, are now able to visit the one island previously off limits to Americans - the once forbidden Cuba is now an option for study abroad.

    On Jan. 14, the Obama administration lifted the restrictions on college study abroad programs to Cuba. In 2004, President George W. Bush put limits on college students traveling to the island, but now new programs will be created, and old programs can be restored for interested students.

    The U.S. has not decided if tourism or vacationing in Cuba will be an option any time soon, so college students are among the few who get the chance to visit the country at this time.

    "The new regulations open up the door for a better knowledge of the situation in Cuba by U.S. students and academics," said Antonio Prieto, director of Latin American Studies and a native Cuban. "The change is a throw back to the status quo before the Bush administration, where academic travel was indeed exempt from the economic embargo against Cuba."

    The Office for Study Abroad at the University of Iowa is creating a winter program in Cuba that would be its first program back in the country. Its newspaper also reports its hope to have an official Cuban program by next year.

    The only problem at Lehigh is it has never had strong programs such as the one at University of Iowa in the past, so it would need a large interest to develop anything new.

    "Here at Lehigh, we haven't had a strong student or faculty push/interest in going to Cuba in the past or currently," said Katie Welsh Radande, associate director of International Programs. "Should we receive such interest, we would look into options/possibilities and issues to be considered."

    Katie Costello, '14, said she doesn't believe studying in Cuba would be of interest to her.

    "I would have to turn down the opportunity to go to Cuba if it were offered as a study abroad destination," she said. "Although I am minoring in Spanish and would love the opportunity to travel to a Spanish-speaking country, I would feel more secure spending time in a well-established and secure location - a place where Lehigh students have been travelling to for years."

    However, Prieto said he believes there will be students who will begin to express an interest in studying in Cuba because of the regulation changes.

    "We have at least two courses dedicated solely to Cuba, one in sociology and one in Spanish," he said. "In the past, I had students in my course on Cuba travel there after taking the course."

    Twenty-seven universities, including the University of Iowa, signed a letter with the Association of International Educators in October of 2010, asking President Barack Obama to allow students to travel academically to Cuba. This push from many academic institutions has fueled the legislature change, but politicians believe the change is really for Obama to win the 2012 Florida vote.

    An argument from many Cuban exiles is that it is wrong for students to travel to the country until the Castro family government is gone. They believe that by traveling there, the U.S. is just giving money to "Castro's regime." However, many professors counter that argument by saying they are instead simply allowing for interaction of college students with the history and people of a different country.

    Prieto sides with the second group and has an entirely positive outlook on the new regulations.

    "I would most certainly recommend it," he said. "Not only would it help the Cuban people by bringing much-needed economic resources, but it would also expose the students to a unique political system in Latin America and to a vibrant culture, not to mention the warmth of the Cuban people and the natural beauty of the island."

    Mark Schied, president of Butler University's Institute for Study Abroad, agreed that the important factor in this decision is not money.

    "I don't think you're going to find that putting college kids on campus in Havana is going to make a significant impact on the island's economy," he said.

    According to the Student Free Press Association, Scheid and Butler University sent 130 students to Cuba in 2003, all of whom were required to be fluent in Spanish. This trip provided a great experience for the students, and he argued that it is more important than everyone's worries about students helping the Cuban economy.

    "I think the benefits for both countries far outweigh the negative, if there are any, of putting college students together," Scheid said.

    Roger Noriega, the former ambassador to the Organization of American States, argues another negative aspect of the new regulations. Noriega said the 2004 limitations on study abroad in Cuba were put it place to prevent cases where students would attend a seminar or course in Cuba in order to just go partying in the capital of Havana. He said students weren't using the country as an educational trip, but instead for partying vacations.

    Although no one is sure just yet what will happen with these new programs, the general feel is that students will go for their genuine interest in the country, and not the partying scene it provides.

    Lehigh will not have its own program until interest is sparked, but it does support third-party program providers who have sent students to Cuban programs in the past and hope to start them up again.

    "We work with The Center for Cross-Cultural Study to send students on semester programs in Seville, Spain and also for our Lehigh in Spain winter program," Welsh Radande said.

    That company expects to have the new license with the government in place by summer 2011 allowing Lehigh students could be enjoying the history and culture of Havana, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    By Kathryn Suma



    From: The Brown and White


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  • Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Cuba "fears Internet, social media"


    Cuba fears the United States is encouraging dissent through social media such as Facebook and Twitter with the goal of toppling the government, according to the video of what appears a meeting of Cuban officials posted on websites this week.

    The 50-minute video apparently is a presentation given by an Internet expert to officials of Cuba's Interior Ministry last June.

    A link to the video at http://vimeo.com/19402730 was posted on several blogs, including that of Cuban anti-government blogger Yoani Sanchez, and on the website of the Miami Herald. It is not known how the video was obtained.

    The expert, whose identity is not disclosed, told the officials the United States is promoting use of Facebook and Twitter to foment dissent similar to ways it was used in insurrections in the Ukraine in 2004 and in Iran in 2010.

    He also said the US government is financing the introduction into Cuba of satellite communications equipment to create secret points of WiFi access.

    In communist-led Cuba, Internet access is limited and content largely controlled by the government.

    The lecturer mentioned US aid contractor Alan Gross, who has been detained since December 2009 on suspicions he illegally supplied satellite phones to Jewish groups for Internet access. Gross is described in the video as a “mercenary.”

    “The idea is to create a technological platform away from control of Cuban authorities that permits the free flow of communication between Cuban citizens selected by (Cuban enemies) and the world,” he said.

    Cuba said on Friday that Gross, 61, will face trial soon on charges of crimes against the security of the state and that prosecutors would seek a 20-year sentence in the case that has been a stumbling block for US-Cuba relations.

    The lecturer said the US-supplied satellite equipment seeks to spread the voice of a new wave of anti-government bloggers such as Sanchez.

    “A virtual network of mercenaries is organizing that are not the traditional counter-revolution. We are talking about young people, people who can have an attractive discourse, young people who hang out with our children and our brothers,” the expert said.

    He said the United States is dedicating more money to finance “cyber dissidents” than to the island's traditional opponents.

    According to a US State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published in December, Washington is losing confidence in the older dissidents and giving more credence to bloggers and intellectuals.

    In the video, the expert said Cuba should try to neutralise the dissident bloggers by countering with its own.

    “Being a blogger is not bad. They have their bloggers and we have ours. We're going to fight to see which of the two turns out stronger,” he said.

    by Esteban Israel

    From: Independent Online


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  • Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Two dissidents start hunger strike in Cuba

    Two dissidents refusing to be forced into exile took on the Cuba's Communist government anew, launching hunger strikes to press their demand to be freed in their own country.

    The two are among 11 high-profile political dissidents who rejected a deal for foreign exile as pushed by Havana.

    Their move was rain on the political parade of the Americas' only one-party Communist regime, which -- by releasing prisoners to church officials -- is trying to portray itself as making progress on human rights even as it forces its opponents to emigrate.

    President Raul Castro's government, in desperate economic straits and seeking international cooperation, faced embarrassment and international outrage last year after a prominent dissident died following his hunger strike.

    Hunger strikers seem to be particularly noisome for Havana. Cuba maintains it has no dissidents, and calls most political opponents pawns in the pay of the United States.

    But more than 100 political prisoners remain in the Caribbean nation -- down from 201 in January 2010 -- according to Elizardo Sanchez, who leads the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

    And the strikers' move Wednesday came just as the local Roman Catholic Church said Cuba would release four other prisoners charged with piracy and send them to Spain.
    Pedro Arguell

    The hunger strikers are part of a group of 52 political detainees who were to be freed in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church with Castro in July.

    Of the group, 40 agreed to emigrate to Spain with their families and one stayed in Cuba, but the remaining 11 are still in jail and refuse to be exiled.

    The agreed-upon deadline for their release expired on November 7.

    Sanchez identified the hunger strikers as Diosdado Gonzalez and Pedro Arguelles -- both considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

    The pair, who began a hunger strike Tuesday, has turned down the offer to move to Spain and is demanding to be released in Cuba.

    Gonzalez and Arguelles's protest is in solidarity with Gonzalez's wife Alejandrina Garcia, who has only been drinking water since Friday.

    "I will not stop this hunger strike until he is released," Garcia told AFP in a phone call from her home in central Cuba.

    Diosdado Gonzale
    "The government has made a mockery of these 11 men."

    Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White -- a group of relatives of the jailed dissidents -- visited Garcia, a 44 year-old agronomist, on Wednesday. She said she failed to dissuade her from continuing the hunger strike.


    "The government has raised false expectations, because it said that everyone in the group would be released, including those who reject leaving the country, but that has all been a lie," said Pollan.

    Pollan's husband Hector Maseda is one of the jailed dissidents.

    The four prisoners heading to Spain face piracy charges and do not belong to the original group of 52, according to a note from the office of the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

    Sanchez says the men are accused of using violence to hijack vessels in failed attempts to flee Cuba, as well as other acts of violence.

    "We are happy about to learn about the prison releases, but the government is using Spain's open door to get rid of prisoners that it does not want, while 11 prisoners of conscience remain in prison," Sanchez argued.

    Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov prize in October after his latest hunger strike, following the February death of fellow dissident Orlando Zapata.

    Zapata's mother charged government officials with allowing her son to die, which the Cuban government took the unusual step of denying repeatedly, and detailing the medical care he received.

    Farinas, who ended his latest hunger strike, was not allowed to travel to pick up the prestigious Sakharov prize.

    From: Capital News


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  • Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    The Tunisian Revolution As Seen By Cuba

    Game over for Ali. Who's next?
    The Tunisian Revolution did not echo only in the Arab world, but also in Latin America. After the fall of the former Tunisian President Ben Ali, the Mexican paper "La Mañana" wrote that this was a "clear message to the other authoritarian leaders in the world: a dictator fell and sooner or later the other dictators will also follow the same fate. The op-ed stresses that regimes such as the one in La Havana are now feeling uncertain, and anxious that similar protests could also explode in their countries. Cuban dissidents, too, see many similarities, especially between the Castro regime, in power for more the fifty years, and the dictatorship in Tunisia, which for 23 years had been pillaging the country.

    In Tunisia, as in Cuba, there are more than a million exiled people, and a frustrated youth with high-education, but no employment. In Tunisia, there are pockets of real poverty, particularly in the interior regions, such as Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine, where the revolt started. The unemployment rate is 14.7%, for a population of ten and a half million. Further, salaries for manual labor are unbearably low: having a job does not always avoid having a miserable life.

    In Cuba, with a population similar to Tunisia's -- around 11 million, -- an administrative chaos reigns. Even though, as the Associated Press reports, unemployment is minuscule -- it has not risen above 3% in eight years -- the official data ignore "thousands of Cubans who are not looking for jobs that pay monthly salaries worth only $20 a month on average."

    Tunisia was a police state, as Cuba still is. During Ben Ali's regime, policemen in plain clothes and network of spies were everywhere. Outside a supermarket in Tunis, you could even see a shoeshine pull out a big walkie-talkie, like those in use with the police, and talk to somebody clearly not his wife. After a while, in Tunisia, you are under the impression that Big Brother is always watching you.

    In Cuba, it is the same. As reported on the State Department website: "Cuba is a totalitarian police state which relies on repressive methods to maintain control. These methods include intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Cuban citizens and foreign visitors."

    Further, in Tunisia, as in any dictatorship, public order was implemented with force -- all too often excessive force - without taking into account torture practices used behind closed doors and in prisons, as many witnesses have recounted during the last few days. Once, you could even seen a beggar without legs being harshly taken away, and the person who accompanied him being repeatedly punched in the head. Such unnecessary violence was a standard practice.

    In Cuba, Human Rights Watch reports, conditions in prisons are inhuman, and political prisoners suffer additional degrading treatment and torture. The dissident website Cubanet writes that "day and night, the screams of tormented women [in prison] in panic and desperation who cry for God's mercy fall upon the deaf ears of prison authorities. They are confined to narrow cells with no sunlight called 'drawers' that have cement beds, a hole on the ground for their bodily needs, and are infested with a multitude of rodents, roaches, and other insects".

    Tunisia, like Cuba, was also a country with no freedom of press. One of the main dailies, in French, La Presse, contained only a list of presidential activities and praise and applauses for the regime's personalities. Even the foreign press was kept under control. There was also the problem of corruption -- that does not exempt the Socialist Cuba. In Tunisia, not only there was a rampant corruption from the members of the government-for-life, but even the President's family was one of the main actors in robbing the country. The President's wife, Leila Trabelsi, fled Tunisia after having taken 1.5 tons of gold from the Central Bank; and her family had been borrowing money from the bank at an interest of 0.25 per thousand (not per cent, which would already be negligible, but per thousand).

    The only difference from Cuba is that Tunisia was considered by many Western governments as a "moderate" country, seen as a buttress against Islamism. Although Ben Ali himself used religion to give credibility to his regime, under his dictatorship Islamism grew as it represented the only real and strong opposition. Cuba instead lives under an embargo.

    In the meantime, while the Tunisians are still fighting for their freedoms, hoping that the future will not be uncertain, in Cuba the opponents to the regime write that the "Jasmine Revolution" has renewed their hopes.

    This new hope is why the Cuban government pretends that almost nothing has happened in Tunisia: it fears similar protests. The media outlet, Diario de Cuba, writes that every year Ben Ali would send messages to La Havana to congratulate it for the anniversary of its triumphant Revolución. Even this year, in the midst of the protests, on January 6, Ben Ali expressed his desire to serve the interests of these two friendly countries. However, "there was not even one line in the Cuban press on the fall of the 'friend' Ben Ali. And until now, we could not enjoy one of those farsighted 'reflections'[1] by Fidel Castro illustrating the subject. What a pity!"

    [1] Op-eds that the Cuban leader writes almost weekly, under the title Reflexiones de Fidel

    by Anna Mahjar-Barducci

    From: Hudson New York


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