Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hero, traitor, lost legend

Rigondeaux: Vancouver director brings boxer's life to screen.

Guillermo Rigondeaux.

It isn't often that the story of a film being made is as interesting as the subject itself - but in the case of Brin-Jonathan Butler's attempt to tell the story of Guillermo Rigondeaux and Cuban boxing, this is very nearly the case.

But not quite. Clearly, the story of two-time Olympic boxing champion Rigondeaux is one of human bondage, in more ways than one, and as such clearly carries the day.

But what Vancouver's Butler - a grad of Lord Byng Secondary School - has been through in trying to get this project done is remarkable in itself.

Along with his co-producers - Michael Collins, Brent Cowell and Vancouver-based lawyer Ronin Reinart - Butler first started to learn about Cuban boxing when, as an amateur fighter himself, he figured he could avail himself of some of the best training in the world in that country for as little as $6 an hour.

He ended up hiring Hector Vinent, a two-time Olympic champion, and, one day in 2007, when training in Havana's Rafael Trejo gym, Rigondeaux walked in, looking like a street kid.

Vinent introduced Rigondeaux as "the greatest boxer who ever lived," but by then Rigondeaux had already been kicked off the Cuban team and declared a traitor by Fidel Castro for having gone missing at an international event.

Butler took an interest in Rigondeaux. At that point in Cuba, you could be declared a traitor for something that the state thought you might be thinking of doing, and as such Rigondeaux was left with no option but to defect - which he did by hopping onto a smuggler's boat in February 2009 - and turn pro.

"Since then I've been following his career closely and I've been at all his pro fights, but the story is about far more than just boxing," says Butler, who was encouraged to make the film because of the access he had to all the Cuban legends - as well as to people such as Freddie Roach, at whose Los Angeles gym Rigondeaux began his U.S. training.

"Because he had to leave his wife and two children at home, and he can't go back until there is a regime change, his life has been devastated for a lot of different reasons we explore in the film.

"I wanted it to look past boxing and into the person and the toll it's taken on him, the Cuban system and really into the American system as well - and this guy has been through hell."

The movie is called Hero, Traitor, Madness. Butler, who now lives in New York, is three months away from completion and he's had some sniffs from HBO.

He's also had a big boost from Leon Gast, Oscar-winning director of When We Were Kings, who said about Butler's film, "It's something special and worth the wait."

Given Butler has never worked on a film before, he was more than flattered by the compliment and has two versions of the work planned - one that could fit a one-hour format for TV, the other a full-length feature that can be taken on the festival circuit.

The story has so much you can't even begin to scratch the surface here, but it explores Cuban boxing thoroughly and includes interviews with Teofilo Stevenson, the longtime Olympic heavyweight champion who was offered $5 million to defect and fight Muhammad Ali.

Stevenson chose instead to remain in Cuba where, despite what Butler describes as a significant drinking problem, he now claims to be happy.

Rigondeaux is currently the interim WBA bantamweight champion. But while Roach calls him "the most talented fighter I've seen," he rarely fights - in part because he's not a huge draw due to his style, but mostly because of a mountain of legal wrangling about who owns his promotional rights.

He's scheduled to fight on another Manny Paquiao undercard in November against Rico Ramos, but the way his career has gone since defecting, who knows what will happen next.

"As it stands now, Guillermo is heavily in debt and pretty disillusioned with having come to the U.S. to pursue the dream," says Butler. As for the film, "We look at a lot of different issues and I think we'll be pretty happy with it when it's finished."
By Tony Gallagher

Source: The Province 

Hero Traitor Madness: The Guillermo Rigondeaux Story - OFFICIAL TRAILER

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  • Sunday, August 28, 2011

    Why the Left Loves Castro, Guevara, and Chavez

    Those we look to as heroes speaks volumes about whom we are, and our character. Most of us identify heroes who exhibit qualities of character that we admire and we desire to emulate ourselves. Such character is manifest by actions, and what our heroes do to deserve such respect and veneration.

    The passing of the dictatorial baton in Cuba from Fidel Castro to his equally totalitarian brother Raul provides a case study in hero worship. Fidel was the revolutionary who deposed Cuba’s corrupt dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Yet Castro became much worse than the ruler he led a revolution against, torturing and executing more than five times as many Cubans as his predecessor. He nationalized business interests in the country, abolished freedom of religion, took over the media, erased free speech, and turned the tropical island into a totalitarian “paradise” stripped of human rights and freedom. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Cuba trails only China in the number of journalists and reporters behind bars.

    Political prisoners are beaten, starved, denied that acclaimed Cuban medical care, locked in solitary confinement, and forced into slave labor. Castro long ago eliminated due process of law, and the right to leave the country.

    Freedom House, the international human rights watchdog, rates Cuba with the lowest possible rating for civil liberties and political rights. It shares that inauspicious ranking with North Korea and Sudan as the most repressive regimes.

    In short, under Castro, a once-flourishing island paradise has been transformed into a poverty-stricken, desolate hellhole where basic human liberties do not exist.

    In spite of all this, American media and the Hollywood left heaps praise and adulation on Fidel. Norman Mailer, for example, proclaimed him “the first and greatest hero to appear in the world since the Second World War.” Oliver Stone has called him “one of the earth’s wisest people, one of the people we should consult.”

    The paragon of objective documentarians, Michael Moore, holds up Castro’s health care system as the preeminent example. I guess if you don’t mind being stripped of all liberties and can survive the firing squads, the Cubans have something to look forward to.

    Why is it that to the left a ruthless mass-murderer and totalitarian dictator would be so adored and worthy of emulation?

    For that matter, why is Castro’s primary executioner of the revolution, Che Guevara, still lionized by the left? Even today, kids wear t-shirts with his gnarly image emblazoned on them. Even Angelina Jolie has a Che tattoo, which is immensely ironic considering she travels the world denouncing violence as a U.N. ambassador of good will.

    Che longed to destroy New York City with nuclear missiles. He promoted book burning and signed death warrants for authors who disagreed with him. His racism against blacks makes Jeremiah Wright’s racism against whites pale by comparison, yet he’s a hero to Jesse Jackson. He persecuted homosexuals, long-haired rock and rollers, and church-goers. Daniel James writes that Che himself admitted to ordering “several thousand” executions during the first few years of the Castro regime. He carried out Castro-ordered executions on a more expansive scale per capita than Hitler’s Nazi Germany did, prior to implementation of the Final Solution.

    We can even lump Hugo Chavez into the mix, for he is well on his way to doing to Venezuela what Castro did to Cuba, and he is receiving the characteristic leftist praise for it.

    When analyzed logically, the left in America should hate Guevara, Castro, and Chavez. After all, they did all the things they accuse George Bush of doing: torture, capital punishment, imprisonment without due process, elimination of freedom of speech and the press. They’re probably fine with the elimination of freedom of religion.

    So why is he so adored by them? What is it about Guevara, Castro, and Chavez that captures the left’s imagination like none other?

    There are two possibilities. All three revolutionaries hate, or hated in the case of Guevara, the United States. In 1957, Castro wrote in a letter, “War against the United States is my true destiny. When this war’s over [the revolution], I’ll start that much bigger and wider war.” Maybe the reason the radical left loves those murderous dictators and Castro’s executioner is because they share a disdain for this country.

    The other possibility is that the left more frequently judges people for their intent than their actual accomplishments. The current presidential campaign illustrates this aptly, as Clinton’s “experience” seems to have no match for Obama’s “hope.” It doesn’t matter that neither one has really accomplished anything of substance, it’s their intent that matters most.

    We are left to conclude that the radical left is totally ignorant of history, and devoid of logic, or their mutual contempt of the United States trumps all else.

    Apparently the Obama campaign was attracting that type of ideologue. When his campaign office was opened in Houston before the Texas primary, the volunteer director had a Cuban flag with the image of the Communist mass murderer Che Guevara’s face printed on it. I can only pray that that’s not an omen. And next time you see someone with a Che shirt on, ask them why. Their answer may be illuminating.

    By Richard Larsen

    Source: Larsen Financial

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  • Friday, August 26, 2011

    Would-be Cuban defectors from Guyana face tough times- Wikileaks

    Several Guyana-based Cuban doctors, who wanted to defect to the United States, had fled the airport and gone into hiding, fearing that Guyanese and Cuban officials would have tracked them down and return them to Cuba, a cable released by Wikileaks has revealed.

    Having worked for meagre salaries and unable to save enough, they usually have to endure months of waiting to know whether their parole applications are approved.

    Six Cuban doctors had gone into the United States embassy and were interviewed for Signficant Public Benefit Parole under the Cuban Medical Personnel program.

    “Three of the pending applicants are in hiding, reporting that they cannot move freely for fear that Guyanese police or Cuban embassy personnel may apprehend them and repatriate them to Cuba,” the cable stated back then.

    One of the doctors complained that the Cuban government canceled his passport after he refused to board a plane to ostensibly accompany a six doctor back to Cuba. He told the US embassy that he felt that he was being tricked after Cuban authorities might have been informed that he had visited the American embassy here to request parole.

    “The applicant refused to board the plane because of a hunch that he was being tricked into repatriating himself. Subsequently, Cuban Embassy authorities told him that his passport would be canceled immediately. They also removed him from the medical brigade and labeled him a deserter,” the cable states.

    The Wikileaks cable also reveals that Cuba had dispatched a new manager to Guyana in December 2006, aimed at cracking down on Cuban medical personnel who have intentions to request parole or flee Guyana.The revelation, which is contained in a March 30, 2007 cable from the US embassy here to the State Department, appears to confirm previous news media reports that the Guyana government has taken a policy not to grant citizenship to Cuban doctors who refuse to return to Havana even if they marry Guyanese. The embassy reported to the State Department that the renewal of the doctor's visa is done done six months prior to the conclusion of their medical mission so that the termination of their legal status will coincide with their repatriation to Cuba.

    The cable notes that Cuban medical personnel who apply for parole are ostracized. Any Cuban medical professional who maintains communication with parole applicants is at risk of losing his/her legal status in Guyana and job with the medical brigade.

    The embassy said three of the parole applicants told the Consular Officer that upon arrival in Guyana members of the Cuban Medical Brigade are forced to surrender their passports and they are returned just before they are about to board the plane to return to Cuba at the end of their two-year stint. Those who went to the embassy with their passports said they fled the Cheddi Jagan International Airport and went into hiding after they were chased.

    “The applicants that came to the Embassy with their passports risked arrest by fleeing from the airport rather than returning to Cuba. They reported that "official-looking" people chased them as they ran to a taxi and drove away from the airport. They went into hiding until they felt safe enough to come to the U.S. Embassy to file an application for parole,” states the cable.

    The embassy told the State Department that the Cuban doctor who was approved for parole was hesitant to travel because he feared for the safety of his female colleagues whose applications had been still pending. Three of the pending applicants had been in hiding and had reported that they could not have moved freely for fear that Guyanese police or Cuban embassy personnel might have apprehended them and repatriated them to Cuba.

    “All of the parole applicants expect their families in Cuba to be targeted for reprisals because of their failure to return to Cuba after the completion of their mission,” the cable added.

    The embassy said that Cuban applicants for parole told them that the only reason that the US embassy in Guyana does not receive many more parole applications is that they are terrified of being seen entering the U.S. Embassy. Consular Officers, according to the cable, sense that Cuban medical personnel are willing to take the risk of requesting parole; however once they do, they are faced with months of delay and uncertainty. “Since many applicants are requesting parole after they have completed the medical mission, they are no longer legally employed and unable to subsist on their meager savings while awaiting a decision from the Department of Homeland Security that can take months to process.

    Against the backdrop of meager funds on which to live, the cable states Cuban medical personnel who have applied for parole rely on former colleagues for assistance. “Presently, they rely on the assistance that some former colleagues are willing to give them at much risk to their own status.”

    “Local charities can offer very little assistance to political refugees. Moreover, every time the applicants have to leave their hiding place to ask for assistance, they risk detention and deportation because of their lack of status,” the cable adds.

    Cuban medical personnel, the cable states, receive very low wages compared to their Guyanese counterparts, and their contracts require them to relinquish fifty percent of any overtime pay to the Central Unit for Medical Cooperation (UCCM) in Havana. The Cuban doctor's monthly salary is equivalent to US$500 from which US$100 is deducted on a monthly basis and contractually remitted back to the UCCM. Overtime is accumulated at the rate of US$1.25 per hour, and doctors on the overnight shift make US$2.50 per night. In comparison, Guyanese doctors typically make US$1,500 per month.

    Source: Demerarawaves

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  • Wednesday, August 24, 2011

    Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Libya… Is Cuba next?

    With the global financial crisis, ongoing Arab Spring and now the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s in Libya, there must be a collective worry for the world’s last remaining dictators and authoritarian governments.

    Since free or cheap goods and money from other countries to dictatorships are in short supply and with the Internet being a collective unifying force that appears to be more powerful than many military governments, no leader in any repressive country can wake up in the morning without wondering if their country will be next to see an uprising.

    The world’s people are demanding their freedom. People are tired of living under repression and now they can easily organize online.

    With the spreading of the Arab Spring, I feel compelled to write this article posing the question… Is Cuba next? First, let me explain my reasons for posing this question.

    The Arab Spring Contagion

    Samia Nakhoul of Reuters from Beirut writes “The implosion of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year-old rule will put a new spring in the step of the Arab revolutions and demonstrate once again that these entrenched autocratic governments are not invincible.”

    Rami Khouri, a Middle East analyst said this Arab Spring is an important development because “it shows there are different ways in which Arab regimes will collapse. It just shows once you get a momentum developing and the right combination—a popular will for change and regional and international support—no regime can withstand that.”

    Today President Obama said “The people of Libya are showing that the universal pursuit of dignity and freedom is far stronger than the iron fist of a dictator.”

    David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy writes about the Conclusions and implications of the fall of Gaddafi.

    Many people, including myself, have given up trying to predict the end of the Castro regime but I think we can all agree that it is not a matter of IF the Castro’s Communist regime will end, it is a matter of WHEN it will end. Fidel and Raul must be feeling international political and economic pressures to give the Cuban people more freedoms and human rights respect. Yes, Raul has proposed many economic reforms but VERY FEW political reforms. That might work for China but Cuba is NOT China.

    Will the Arab Spring affect US Cuba policy?

    Also, worth mentioning here, will President Obama change his Cuba policy from the current approach of allowing more Americans to travel to Cuba to a more, hard-line approach as President Bush tried… and failed. With justice served to Osama bin Laden, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and now with Gadaffi on the run, will President Obama take credit for the downfall of these men and set his sights on the Castro brothers regime? I doubt it but since President Obama wants to win in November 2012, his vision and motivation may be corrupted by hard line, selfish advisers from Miami. Hopefully he will not start taking advice from the selfish politicians like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and Senator Menendez… all who have been wrong about Cuba for their entire political careers. Sanctions do not work against Cuba and they will never work but I’ll save that argument for another article.

    I hope President Obama elects to engage the Castro’s rather than to try to alienate them. Regarding Chavez in Venezuela, President Obama should play hard ball with him since he is trying to destroy Venezuela as Fidel Castro did to Cuba.

    Cuba - A State Sponsor of Terrorism

    Agree or not, Cuba is on the US state sponsor of terrorism list. I think that Cuba’s place on the US state sponsor of terrorism list is more political than based on any facts that Cuba actually sponsors terrorists. Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria are all on the list but North Korea is not? How about Pakistan since that’s where Osama bin Laden was living for years and that government didn’t know about it? What a joke...

    Gaddafi coming to Cuba?

    On August 4, I wrote an article about the Finance Secretary from Libya making a visit to Cuba. I found it odd at the time and now have to wonder if the Finance Secretary may have been asking Raul Castro if he would accept Gaddafi should he have to flee Libya. Interesting right? I would hope that Raul would have the sense to not allow Gaddafi to seek exile in Cuba.

    If Gaddafi did land in Cuba, I see that as being more of a Fidel Castro move than a Raul Castro move. Gaddafi in exile in Cuba would certainly be a financial and cultural disaster for Cuba so I don’t think that Fidel is in charge that much where Raul would let him ruin everything that Raul has started. A younger Fidel would probably welcome Gaddafi and that brings me to Hugo Chavez. I can definitely see Chavez taking Gaddafi as an a “victim of US imperialism”.

    Gaddafi coming to Venezuela?

    According to The Telegraph, Gaddafi could flee to a country not signed up to the International Criminal Court such as Venezuela or Cuba.

    A source told The Telegraph that Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela was looking the most likely destination if Gaddafi were able to, and chose to, flee Libya. Hugo Chavez has condemned NATO operations in Libya as an attempt to seize control of the country’s vast oilfields. “Chavez would take him as a victim of Western Imperialism,” the source said.

    As recently as this morning, Chavez is supporting Gaddafi. If Chavez welcomes Gaddafi, you can expect democratic governments to condemn Chavez and bring all kinds of political pressure on him. Chavez will probably love the attention but this ultimately would be terrible for Cuba.

    More Freedoms

    I am no great political thinker, writer or analyst but I can’t help but to speculate on how people want their freedoms today in a collective way. The internet enables people to be free in many ways. Facebook and Twitter allow people to unite or at least find like minded people and that freedom of assembly can give way to hope for a change in one’s government and ultimately the hope for a better future.

    Even in the US, we have the Tea Party (a movement I support) where millions of people have “assembled” online and at the voting booth to demand more freedom and less intrusion from our own government. In the US, we don’t need to take up arms and fight the government with bullets, we fight within the political process of freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of the press and free elections.

    Now I know this is a reach but hear me out… Hewlett Packard has decided to get out of the computer manufacturing business. How the hell is this relevant you ask? Apple, Google, smartphones… these are the rebels fighting against the desktop computer and software that is only available on one computer. Today we want to be free from the computer for information and free from software that lives on one device. Microsoft. Are you listening?

    Gene Marks of Forbes writes about Google buying Motorola Mobility where he compares Microsoft to the Roman Empire, a truly repressive government. He speculates that Microsoft (sort of a repressive regime since they USED TO own all computer operating systems and force us to do things there way).

    He goes on to talk about how Google/Motorola/Android and Apple are freeing people from the desktop computer and Microsoft’s empire so oddly enough, I think his story is relevant to the Arab Spring uprisings. We all want to be free from any authoritarian regime. We are smart enough to make good decisions for ourselves.

    So, is Cuba next?

    Unfortunately not.

    1. The Castros, by design, control all communication in Cuba. All the press is controlled by the government. All the radio and TV is controlled by the government. The Internet is by design slow and restricted. (Don’t let anybody tell you the US Embargo is to blame for any of this). The Castros do not want people to communicate because they know what can happen. When people communicate they can share ideas and find like-minded people and then assemble and then demand freedoms… way too risky for a failed political experiment called, oddly enough “La Revolucion”. Fidel and Raul do not want to have another Revolution in Cuba.

    2. The Committee for the Defense of the Revolution is a Cuban government operation which is like having a Resident Assistant in every college dormitory. Every neighborhood has an active CDR staffed with people loyal to the Cuban government. It is their job to spy on their neighbors and to report any suspicious activity to the Cuban government. They get rewarded for reporting all of their neighbors’ “suspect” activities… and you would be surprised what is considered a “suspect” activity.

    3. Since most all activities are illegal in Cuba, MOST Cubans have to break some law every single day of their life just to survive. The Castros have locked down the entire country in what many call and “island prison”.

    In summary, I wish Democracy minded rebels well in their quest for freedom and democracy and I sincerely hope this ultimately leads to a new Cuban government where the Cuban people can enjoy a political process of freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of the press and free elections.

    By Rob Sequin

    Source: Havana Journal 

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  • Monday, August 22, 2011

    Is the people who are changing things. Tyrants beware!

    gadhafi skerrit jong-il
    chavez mugabe raul
    The above leaders have all pledged support for Gadhafi. Who's next?

    To say that uprising in Libya and Syria is a foreign plot is an insult to people who are fighting for their freedom

    Last Tuesday, in a joint statement, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez denounced what they called the West's “imperialist aggression” in Libya and Syria.

    It is a wonder they did not try and get Cuba’s retired President Fidel Castro or Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to endorse their condemnation. They would have certainly obliged. Back in March, Castro’s verdict on the Libyan uprising was that it was an American plot. Just over a week ago Mugabe called NATO “a terrorist group” because of its airstrikes against Qaddafi’s forces.

    The notion that the uprisings in Syria and Libya are a Western plot is not merely a gross distortion of the truth; it is a vicious slap in the face of ordinary Syrians and Libyans. They are the authors of the uprisings, not the Americans or the French or the British. The hundreds of thousands of Libyans who rose up against Qaddafi's iron grip on power and the young Libyans fighting, and dying, to free their country did not do so because of a foreign plot. They did so because they wanted to be free and were inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. They took their destiny into their own hands. It has been the same for the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets of Syria's cities, willing to die for freedom and, in some cases, doing so. The suggestion that they are agents in a plot devised by NATO and the CIA is an insult to them and the memory of the thousands who have been killed.

    In any event, if it were an American plot, it was one for which the Americans should be congratulated for getting their Middle East policies right for a change and doing something that was genuinely in tune with mass public sentiment.

    The fact that men like Chavez trot out this lie says everything about them and their politics and nothing about reality. They have a world view that is hopelessly outdated — a world divided into thieving imperialists and, battling against them, anti-colonialist liberation movements led by themselves. That has long gone. The world has moved on. But it is a vision these dictators are desperate to retain. It is their justification for their dead hand on the levers of power.

    The same was said by the ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak of the protests in Egypt before he fell; they were organized by outsiders, he said. Qaddafi and Assad have come up with different villains behind the opposition to them — they accuse hard-liners — but the thinking is the same. They need someone to blame for the crisis and refuse to admit they are the problem.

    For all their populist rhetoric and their glorification of their “people's struggle” against “imperialism,” it is their own people that the likes of Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Qaddafi and Assad fear their most. So they come up with nonsense about foreign or terrorist plots.

    No one is taken in. The Syrians and the Libyans, like the Egyptians and the Tunisians beforehand, know that their uprisings are their alone, not something cooked up in the Pentagon. Others may support them, morally or with money or even arms and air raids, but the Arab Spring is a genuine Arab affair. Those who have to pretend otherwise show how little they understand the momentousness of what is happening.

    Source: Albawaba

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  • Saturday, August 20, 2011

    Celebrating Life in Union

    A story of resilience and brotherhood.

    Our Story

    Celebrating Life in Union is a 90-minute documentary (in post-production) of human resilience, community, and brotherhood. It follows a group of former Cuban political prisoners through their memory of imprisonment, physical and mental tortures and their half-century fight with the aging Castro regime. Having developed a strong community for themselves that now crosses three generations in Union City, NJ they struggle with the realization that their own mortality may come before they can return to their homeland.

    Our intension is to give a platform to this group of courageous men and to send a message to the world that human rights and, and freedom of speech are a priceless commodity that should never be lost under any circumstance.

    What We Need & What You Get

    We have shot over 30 hours of footage in Union City New Jersey with these courageous men, their community, friends and families. We are in the post-production stage of the documentary. For this particular campaign we are trying to raise $3,500 for the post-production of the documentary.

    Each supporter that gives $1,000 will receive a single credit thank you title in the credits of the film, and a copy of the edited documentary.

    A $100 dollar donation gives each supported a copy of the edited documentary an invitation to events related to the documentary

    Supporters from $50 and up will receive a copy of the edited documentary.

    Supporters from $25 and up will receive special thanks from the producers, and information about the events related to the documentary.

    Other Ways You Can Help

    Please, please donate and get the word out. We need all the help we can get to finish and help. 

    Go to Campaign Home

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  • Thursday, August 18, 2011

    A Cuban Slap on the Wrist: The Alan Gross Case

    The Obama Administration has in recent months made efforts to improve relations with Cuba contingent upon the release of Alan P. Gross. A subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Gross was arrested in December 2009 for making the Internet available to members of Cuba’s minuscule Jewish community. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in March 2011. A couple of weeks ago, Cuba’s highest tribunal listened to an appeal of his conviction and a plea for release.

    In Cuba, free circulation of ideas is forbidden. The State defines truth, not the individual. Free exchanges of information are viewed as subversive and undermining the authority of the State. A combination of siege mentality and decades-old thought control keep the island locked in the grip of the regime’s repressive informational stranglehold.

    A window for potential clemency in the Gross case opened when Cuba’s highest court took up the Gross case. The court could have voided Gross’s 15-year sentence. Expectations were not high. Cuba is a country where justice is always political, and the judiciary looks over its shoulder for cues from the political hierarchy.

    Fidel and Raul Castro could have used the moment to signal a modest change of heart. Or, as The Washington Post notes, they could have demonstrated that Cuba is “remotely interested in better relations with Washington.” They did not. Cuban paranoia prevailed. The court rejected Gross’ appeal. The Castro brothers opted to continue to punish Gross—now America’s most prominent political prisoner—throwing it in the face of the Obama Administration and the United States.

    Cuba’s aging dictatorship, slumping economy, scattershot economic reforms and resort to acts of repression constitute a desperate spectacle. Cuba has put out the welcome mat for cancer-stricken Hugo Chávez. His health crisis looms large as Venezuela provides an indispensable lifeline of support to the regime. The role U.S. travel and remittances play in propping up the economy is taken as a given.

    In the twilight of its tyranny, the Castro regime is determined to show it can still play hardball with the life and liberty of a single American citizen and show that the Obama Administration is unable to do little more than bluster.

    Former diplomat and democracy expert Elliott Abrams is right: The next step for the Administration to take is to use diplomatic channels to inform the Castro brothers that unless their “clemency” is exercised, the relaxation of travel restrictions will be reversed and greater pressure will be brought on the government of Cuba.

    Ray Walser

    Source: The Foundry 

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  • Monday, August 15, 2011

    Ladies in White brutally attacked once more

    This is the fourth Sunday in Eastern Cuba since July 24, 2011, that numerous “Ladies in White” accompanied by female supporters in white attire are arrested after suffering violent physical and verbal assaults by forces of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior. Government sponsored mobs besieged the homes of human rights defenders in different towns of the province of Santiago de Cuba to curtail any acts of solidarity with the Cuban women.

    According to Belkis Cantillo, wife of Cuban ex-political prisoner of conscience, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, she and all the women traveling with her to attend mass at the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba were forced down with punches from a truck in the city of “El Cristo” where authorities had set up a control point. More than 50 women dressed in military uniforms beat and pushed them into police cars where Cantillo says she was beaten once more and her hair was pulled.

    Around twenty women were arrested. Advocates of the Ladies in White: Maria Elena Matos, Annia Alegre and Adriana Nunez were threatened with German shepherd dogs during their detention. Ms. Nunez had to be hospitalized due to the ill treatment she suffered. The police cars eventually abandoned the women in the outskirts of their home towns.

    Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia informed that the home of Rene Hierrezuelo Arafe in the town of ‘El Caney’ was attacked while ‘Palma Soriano’ and ‘Palmarito de Cauto’ were militarized by Rapid Response Brigades. Some of the activists besieged in El Caney were: Agustin Magdariaga, Reinier Arocha Tellez, Eliecer Consuegra Velazquez, Pavel Arcias Cespedes, Guillermo Cobas Reyes, Yimmy Eduardo Arocha Montoya, Henry Perales Elias.

    In ‘Palma Soriano’ the home of Marino Antomarchy was surrounded by mobs with sticks, stones, and metal rods. Rolando Reyes and Miguel R. Cabrera were arrested and Jose Antonio Zulueta was injured when authorities slammed him against a wall.

    As the Ladies in White in Cuba vow to continue their peaceful struggle on behalf of the freedom of all Cuban political prisoners, and as long as the human rights activists continue to defend fundamental rights in the island, the Coalition of Cuban-American Women will persist in demanding international solidarity for the leaders of the civil resistance in Cuba. We make an urgent call to women in positions of leadership in religious, political, educational, social, and cultural institutions, in NGO’s, and in the press to denounce the increase of these cruel and degrading acts committed by the Cuban government against their own people.

    Source: Canada Free Press

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  • Sunday, August 14, 2011

    Cuba celebrates its first transgender wedding

    Same-sex marriage banned on island, but bride legally a woman after undergoing first state-sanctioned sex change.

    A gay man and a transgender woman have married in a first-of-its-kind wedding for Cuba.

    Ignacio Estrada, 31, and Wendy Iriepa, 37, tied the knot as a transexual couple on Saturday at a government marriage office, where they signed a marriage certificate, exchanged rings and kissed before a state official.

    Same-sex marriage is banned in Cuba but the couple's union did not break the law. Iriepa, the bride, is legally a woman after undergoing the country's first state-sanctioned sex change operation in 2007.

    "This is the first wedding between a transsexual woman and a gay man," Estrada said.

    "We celebrate it at the top of our voices and affirm that this is a step forward for the gay community in Cuba."

    The wedding, held on Fidel Castro's 85th birthday in what the couple had called a "gift" to the former leader, was aimed at advancing homosexual rights in Cuba.

    Some of Cuba's best-known dissidents participated and US diplomats attended in a public show of support.

    The bride arrived in a 1950s Ford convertible, sitting up on the backseat and holding a gay pride flag.

    "I'm very happy and very nervous," Iriepa said as she stepped down from the car. "This is really the happiest day of my life."

    More tolerant

    Many gays and transsexuals have been fired from government jobs, jailed, sent to work camps or left for exile.

    That climate of persecution was famously chronicled by exiled writer Reinaldo Arenas' autobiographical Before Night Falls: A Memoir, later a feature film starring Javier Bardem - Before Night Falls.

    Today, even if deep-seated macho attitudes toward homosexuality have not entirely disappeared, the island and its government are much more tolerant.

    The country's most prominent gay rights activist is Mariela Castro, Fidel Castro's niece and President Raul Castro's daughter.

    She heads the National Sex Education Centre and is firmly established in Cuban officialdom.

    On arriving, Estrada said he was happy and nervous, but that the day's importance extended beyond him and his bride.

    "This is a step forward for the gay community in Cuba," he said.

    The couple met three months ago and fell in love, said Estrada, who has AIDS.

    Source: Aljazeera

    Gay man marries transexual in Cuba

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  • Friday, August 12, 2011

    CUBA: The Disaster of Castro's Revolution

    This book, "CUBA: The Disaster of  Castro's Revolution", analyses the current situation existing in Cuba and describes in detail the real disaster caused in every aspect of Cuban life by the so-called revolution of Fidel Castro, including how it has affected the different components of Cuban society

    The author gives detailed summary of the main indicators of the Cuban economy and society before 1959, when Fidel Castro took power, indicating how they compared favorably at that time with other countries of the world, including many which are considered part of the developed world in our days. 

    The book demystifies numerous aspects of Castro's propaganda that his followers have considered as great achievements of his government and puts them in perspective in regard to what Cuba could have had nowadays if it had been ruled by democratically elected governments. The book profusely documents the system of corruption and privilege established in the island and analyses the obscure role of Castro in a number of important events related to the United States, including references to his links with drug traffic, money laundry and the promotion of terrorism activities, among other criminal activities. 

    One of the aspects the book describes in more detail is the lack of political freedom and the repression of independent thinking and free expression existing in the island, which is part of the overall control on everybody's life established by Castro, which is implemented by a gigantic machinery of terror and survelliance.

    The book describes the role of Cuban military and intelligence in numerous important events of world politics during the past five decades, including their role in Africa, Latin America and other regions of the world and it includes some questioning about the possible role of Castro in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It considers Castro's interpretation of foreign policy and the way he has disregarded all norms of international behavior. 

    The book also discusses the case of the enormous debt accumulated by Castro's government and how many of these resources have been deviated to well camouflaged foreign accounts and investments by Castro and some of the top people around him. 

    One of the interesting things about this book is the analysis it makes about the situation of youth, women and blacks within the present Cuban society and the detailed description about how the people in general live and how this has evolved under Castro's tyranny

    It also includes an analysis of the exiled Cuban community. Andres Solares discusses the real facts behind Castro's long tenure of power and shows the contradictions between what he and his supporters say and the crude reality of what happens in Cuba. His book also enters in details about the degrees of decomposition existing at all levels of the political establishment of this obsolete communist regime

    The book describes the enormous damage caused by Castro's policies to the environment of the island and the state of destruction of all the main networks of services, as well as the stagnant conditions of the economy. It includes the author's views on the different possible scenarios for Cuban political future, once Castro and his brother, one way or another, are no longer able to control Cuba. 

    This book is a strong denounce of the longest dictatorship that has existed in America and it serves as an eye opener for all those who ignore the crude reality of what happens in that beutiful country. It is also a moral message of hope for a better future for the Cuban people

    Mr.Solares has used his professional and personal experience, together with his direct knowledge of the Cuban society and economy, to give us a very intersting account of the situation in his country, which will serve those who read it to comprehend better what we can expect there.

    Available on Amazon: 


    About the Author

    Andres Solares is a former Cuban political prisoner, who was imprisoned for trying to create a new political party in the island to oppose Fidel Castro's policies. He was freed thanks to a worldwide campaign promoted by Amnesty International, America's Watch and Of Human Rights, the personal intervention of Senators Robert Dole and Edward Kennedy and the requests of the American Congress and British authorities. He is a Civil Engineer specialized in Economics in Great Britain and he lectured post-graduate courses on these subjects in Cuba. He has carried on and published numerous studies on Cuban matters. He lives in Miami with his wife Adriana and their children and family.

    Repression never stops in Cuba. Detention of the dissident Ivonne Mayesa Galano

    On Aug 5, 2011, Ivonne Mayesa Galano was detained (video) when she was heading to a meeting with other dissidents. She was beaten and kept in the Police Station for several hours without any formal charges. She was detained and beaten again last Monday, Aug 8.

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  • Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Corruption in Cuba - Telephone executives arrested

    ETECSA executives arrested, one defected in Panama. 

    A new large-scale corruption scandal involving yet another Cuban government ministry, Informatics and Telecommunications, is unfolding in Havana, reported Reuters.

    While no statement has been forthcoming from offical Cuban sources, several executives of ETECSA, Cuba’s monopoly telecommunications company, including its President Maimir Mesa, are under arrest, states Havana based journalist Marc Frank on Tuesday.

    Reuters further reported:

    “Five or six department directors and deputy directors, and maybe a vice president, have been arrested so far and the vice president of logistics, who was in Panama when the investigation began, decided not to return.”

    “But the investigation has just begun and many more people might be involved,” the noted the news agency, adding that a retired company vice president was brought to Havana for questioning.

    The sources told Reuters that two separate investigations underway, one at ETECSA, involving its booming cellular phone business, and the other into a submarine fiber optic cable financed largely by Venezuela that links Cuba to that country.

    The cable reached Cuba in February but has yet to become operative with the online date pushed back from July to September or October. It is unknown whether the corruption case has anything to do with the failure to meet its widely-touted startup date.

    The government of Raul Castro has already prosecuted and sentenced dozens of officials and executives for charges and the president says he will continue to come down hard on abuses found.

    Soon after succeeding his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, Castro created the Office of the Comptroller General and put the comptroller on the ruling Council of State.

    Hundreds of senior Cuban Communist Party officials, state managers and employees have lost their jobs and often their freedom in the shake-up that has followed.

    It has included the breaking up of high-level organized graft in the civil aviation, cigar and nickel industries, and at least two ministries and one provincial government.

    Sources: Reuters and Havana Times

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  • Monday, August 8, 2011

    Fake report of Fidel Castro's death leads to malware attack

    Be on your guard if you receive an email seemingly from Chile's "24 Horas" news website announcing the death of Fidel Castro, the former dictator of Cuba.

    The spammed out messages, which are written in Spanish, look like the following:

    The messages have a subject line of
    Murio Fidel Castro
    and the text inside the emails claims that the longtime Cuban dictator died in the afternoon at his home, and that officials claim that he was taken ill a few days ago after suffering a sudden heart attack.

    Recipients are urged to click on the image to see a breaking news video report about Fidel Castro's death.

    Of course, if Castro was really dead (it's believed that he has been in very poor health for some years) then it would be headline news on the likes of the BBC and CNN. But I haven't seen any reports from those news outlets.

    So don't be fooled into clicking on the links in this email, as they will take your computer to a Trojan horse (which Sophos detects as Troj/DwnLdr-JGW) that in turns downloads further malicious code (Troj/Agent-SYF) onto your Windows PC.

    As a sidenote, this isn't the first time that the Castro name has been associated with cybercrime. Two years ago, it was revealed that Antonio Castro Soto del Valle, Fidel Castro's son, found himself tricked into revealing personal information to a virtual woman in an online love sting.

    by Graham Cluley 

    Source: Naked Security

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  • Saturday, August 6, 2011

    Cuba's Liberation at Hand

    The liberation of Cuba has begun.  Not by invasion, but from within.  Communism has failed, and the people of Cuba are demanding freedom.  Including the revolutionary right to buy and own their own homes.

    Fifty-two years ago, Fidel Castro, posing as a reformer, seized power in a revolution promising "change," social justice and a redistribution of wealth.  He attacked the rich, the owners, the employers.  He was celebrated in leftist circles around the world as a herald of a new and better society.  His 1960 visit to New York set off waves of joy and adulation.

    When Castro plastered the walls of Havana with the slogan, "Socialism or Death," most Cuban employers fled, often with only the clothes on their backs.  Factories, farms, businesses, homes, cars with tail fins—all left behind, all confiscated by the state.  Private property was abolished.  All would be equal.  Cubans who stayed realized how equally poor they all quickly became.

    For longer than most Americans have been alive, Castro and his Communist elite have controlled every aspect of every Cuban's life.  They turned one of the most beautiful countries on Earth, "The Pearl of the Antilles," blessed with fertile soil, abundant water and numerous natural resources, and inhabited by some of the happiest, most fun-loving people in the world, into one big gray poor gulag.

    Since the Castro revolution, the Free World has surged ahead, producing a higher standard of living for more people than any period in human history.  Wealth in free countries was not "spread around," it was created and multiplied, causing what Jack Kennedy called a rising tide to lift all boats.  Many thousands of Cubans, fleeing Castro's tyranny, have prospered in freedom in the U.S. and other countries.

    Modern communications have made it inevitable that despite state censorship, Cubans increasingly recognize the failure of communism, that confiscation has not produced "fairness" and that the state-run economy has not produced prosperity. They recognize and demand change.  The kind of change that toppled the failed Communist states all over Europe.  The kind of change that is bringing prosperity to China.

    Fidel nearly died in a botched operation by Cuban doctors (remember Michael Moore's praise of the Cuban state-run medical system?) and had to call in a Spanish doctor from a private clinic in Madrid to save his life.  Ditto Hugo Chavez.  His cancer was treated in Cuba, but by private doctors from Spain.  Cubans saw and reacted.  "Socialism or Death" for the common folk, but free-market doctors for the Communist elite.

    The everyday Cuban has long depended on an illegal black market to survive.  Doctors drive cabs, engineers fix 1950s cars, illegal restaurants spring up in a cook's living room, money changes hands so someone can illegally get a better apartment, college grads wait tables at the few tourist hotels allowed by the regime.  People get by doing what they have to do.

    In the last few years, Cuba has allowed more foreign investment, primarily to develop tourism, but more recently to exploit offshore oil deposits in the Gulf of Mexico that Americans have been forbidden to touch.  More Cubans are coming into contact with foreigners.  More jobs are being created by foreign investment

    Cubans want more.  The Castro regime is on the defensive.  Self-employment rules have been loosened in the last year and cell phone ownership is increasing.  Buying and selling cars will soon be allowed.  The dam is cracking, the river of freedom will be restored. 

    Starting at the end of this year, the regime has promised that Cubans can buy and own their own homes.

    Private property is the cornerstone of capitalism.  It's the talk of Havana.  After making the promise and raising expectations, the regime is widely predicted to hem in private ownership with regulation and taxation.  New owners might be limited to one home or apartment, forbidden to resell for a number of years, and be required to live there full-time.

    Nonetheless, in a country where all the land and buildings are owned by the Castro State, the restoration of the concept of private property ownership is a big (Biden) deal.

    A (freer) market in housing faces challenges created by 60 years of communism.  Private classified ads, for example, are forbidden.  How do you let buyers or renters know you want to sell or rent?  Brokers, cell phones and pads in hand, comb the streets of Havana listing availabilities and preparing to put buyers and sellers, renters and landlords, together.  Wait until they get the Internet!

    The government-owned housing stock is a wreck, with too many people jammed into small, deteriorating units.  There is no construction industry, no materials industry.  As in other collapsing socialist states, such industries will spring up to meet demand if the regime allows it.  They will allow it because the Cubans will demand it.

    Financing the recreation of a freer property market is the easy part. 

    Those prosperous Cubans who fled Cuba already legally pump more than $1 billion a year into the Cuban economy (and black market) through remittances to family members.  Cubans from Miami, hearing of the potential for private ownership, have already staked out their favorite homes, farms and apartments to buy either directly or through family members.

    Defenders of the Castro regime, especially the Left in the U.S., criticize the new reforms.  "Experts" fear, says the Los Angeles Times, a re-stratified society, the reemergence of the haves/have notes divide, the horror of "gentrification."  Yup, freedom and opportunity could be a downer.

    For the people of Cuba, these reforms are but a taste of the life they yearn for, the life of hope and opportunity they see people enjoying in other countries, a life forbidden to them by the Castro regime for all these years.

    What must the average Cuban, who has experienced not a "lost decade" but a lost lifetime, think of the U.S., the beacon of freedom and prosperity, turning now to national health care, government confiscation of private property, our President demonizing wealth creators and employers as the evil "rich."  Making the same mistakes, falling for the same propaganda that has enslaved Castro's Cuba.

    Pay attention to Cuba.  Know its history under Castro.  Or be condemned to repeat that history here.

    by Roger Hedgecock 

    Source: Human Events 

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  • Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    In Cuba, capitalism thrives on Craigslist-like sites

    Even as the Cuban president, Raúl Castro, fumes over stumbling blocks placed by his own party bureaucracy to economic reforms, the internet is beginning to remove them one by one.

    Castro appears to be meeting resistance from communist diehards – or more likely old-fashioned stick-in-the-muds – to his proposals that would allow private ownership in homes and cars, for example on the Communist island.

    That simply is not a problem for a handful of internet sites that are, in effect, putting the reforms into practice.
    One site, www.sepermuta.com, has been operating for some years, apparently from a base in Miami, and seems to be tolerated by the Cuban government. The site is based on the “permuta”, or “swap”, system.

    All housing in Cuba is state-owned but swaps are allowed, as long as no money is exchanged. It has been an open secret for years in Havana, however, that often large sums have changed hands under the permuta system.

    By allowing home ownership, Castro’s reforms will in effect legalise the black market in housing. But sepermuta.com has been quoting prices for years.

    When beyondbrics checked out sepermuta.com, several of its features were unavailable because of “database errors”, whatever they might be. But some users’ comments were interesting.

    One woman wrote that it was a wonderful site and “something I never imagined that ever existed in Cuba”. Where might she have been all those years?

    Another pointed to the reality of any internet project in Cuba: access to the population is very restricted. “It’s really difficult to find someone where I work who has internet access and lets people like me get into the site,” wrote one.

    Yet another reflected the absence, through unfamiliarity, of market tools that are normal in other countries but not in Cuba. “In Cuba we don’t seems to understand that ads for apartments should specify their size in floor space,” one cybernaut wrote.

    “There are ads with five-bedroom apartments that turn out to have only 100 square meters. These must be just cubby holes, not bedrooms,” he or she snorted. “And there are other apartments of 200 square meters with only two bedrooms. Now that is really spacious but you wouldn’t know the difference from the ads.”
    However, sepermuta.com is tame by compared with www.revolico.com, the market leader in every sense of the word. In Cuban Spanish a “revolico” is a bit of a mess. The anonymous organisers of the website admit that it is a mess, “but an organized mess”.

    Revolico, which is also based in Miami and has frequently been blocked in Cuba, offers a market in everything from homes, cars, casual sexual encounters, language classes … you name it.

    Most of what is on offer is not legal – not yet anyway – though some is tolerated. A photo of a $30 a night apartment on offer to foreigners in central Havana gives a glimpse of a comfortable lifestyle not shared by the Cubans whose rather spartan homes that a beyondbrics correspondent visited on his last trip to the island.
    Meanwhile, Raúl Castro appears to be exasperated at the internal opposition to his reforms. In a televised speech on Monday, after days of confabs with party and government leaders, he berated the “psychological barrier to change that is created by inertia”.

    And he added: “Not for the first time, I’d say that our worst enemy isn’t imperialism, much less those who get paid within Cuba by the imperialists to do their work for them. The worst enemy is failing to correct our very own errors.”

    Maybe Castro could click on a couple of links to see how it’s done. Or maybe he already has.

    by Ron Buchanan

    Source: beyondbrics

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  • Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    Russia's Gazprom Neft gains stake in four deepwater blocks offshore Cuba

    With the approval from the Cuban authorities, Russian firm Gazprom Neft has gained interest in four deepwater oil and gas exploration blocks offshore Cuba.

    Gazprom Neft, Cuba's national oil company Cubapetroleo (Cupet) and Malaysia's national oil company Petronas have signed a Supplementary Agreement to the Production Sharing Contract (PSC) on four blocks in the Gulf of Mexico offshore Cuba.

    Through the agreement, Gazprom will now hold a 30 percent stake in deepwater Blocks 44, 45, 50 and 51 of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cuba. Petronas holds the remaining 70 percent interest in the project.

    According to Oil & Gas Journal, the blocks are located 100 to 200 miles west of Havana.

    Cuban Timeline

    To date, 2D seismic has been performed across the acreage, and as of November 2010, an exploration well was scheduled for drilling in 2011.

    In addition to the exploration and development of the blocks, the agreement allows for the production of oil through 2037 and the production of natural gas through 2042.

    Petronas signed the PSC with the government of Cuba in 2006, and in October 2010, Gazprom Neft and Petronas signed a farm-out agreement and a Heads of Joint Operations Agreement on the leasehold.

    After receiving approval from the Cuban authorities, Gazprom Neft and Petronas signed a Deed of Assignment, as well as a Joint Operating Agreement in July 2011.

    “This partnership with Petronas will help Gazprom Neft to enforce its competence in the sphere of deepwater development and expand its expertise in projects outside of Russia,” said Alexander Dyukov, chairman of Gazprom Neft. “By 2020, we plan to have about 10 percent of our overall production from overseas projects.”

    International Interest Offshore Cuba

    While US firms are prohibited from operating in Cuba, many international oil and gas producers are eager to explore the Gulf of Mexico offshore Cuba. 

    Following an oil discovery in 2004, Spanish operator Repsol has contracted the newbuild deepwater semisub Scarabeo 9 to drill for oil offshore Cuba. The rig constructor Keppel FELS reported that the rig is nearly ready.

    Having drilled in Cuba before, Brazilian major Petrobras (NYSE:PBR) has also signed a joint oil and exploration production agreement for Block 37 offshore Cuba, and Venezuela's state-run firm PDVSA has also said that it will explore offshore Cuban waters for oil and gas.

    By Phaedra Friend Troy

    Source: PennEnergy

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