HRF Chairman Writes About Castro's Gulag in Today's Wall Street Journal
By ARMANDO VALLADARESMarch 5, 2007; Page A16
Like thousands of other Cubans, I was arrested in the middle of the night. Fidel Castro's police raided my parents' home, stuck a machine gun in my face and took me away. It was 1960 and I was 22 years old.
The news that the Cuban dictator is gravely ill floods my mind with memories of my years spent in captivity. I believe that those of us who were political prisoners know his legacy better than anyone. For 22 years, I was an inmate in his vast prison system, mostly confined to an island gulag, for crimes I did not commit.
Like the majority of Cubans in 1959, I cheered Castro's victory over Fulgencio Batista, a dictator on friendly terms with the U.S. Castro called himself the enemy of all dictatorships; he had a cross hanging round his neck and he swore that there would be free and fair elections. But as his near five decades of uninterrupted power proved, he tricked everyone and replaced the dictatorship of Batista with his own bloodier version.
In a famous 1959 appearance on "Meet the Press," Castro answered a question put to him by Lawrence Spivak, "Democracy is my ideal, really . . . I am not communist . . . There is no doubt for me between democracy and communism." Once Castro began making his sympathies overt, I began speaking out against his ideological shift amongst the people in my workplace, the postal savings bank.
At the time, the government was distributing placards with the slogan: "If Fidel is a communist, then put me on the list. He's got the right idea." The phrase was ubiquitous, from decals to billboards. When officials in the bank demanded that I put the slogan on my worktable, I refused. When they asked if I had anything against Fidel, I told them that if he was a communist, then, yes, I did. I had no desire to become a symbol of political dissidence. That decision was made for me that day.
Thirteen days after my arrest, I was tried on charges of threatening the powers of state security, even though there was no evidence against me. The justice system under Castro was a mockery of the rule of law; members of my tribunal were Communist Party apparatchiks who sat with their boots up on tables, smoking cigars and reading comic books. Their very presence was but a formality; the verdicts had already been decided. I was not permitted an attorney.
I received a 30-year prison sentence as a potential conspirator. Two men in the same court room falsely accused of shooting at a government spokesman were executed by firing squad. When their defense attorney (whom they had met just minutes before) pleaded with the prosecutor to reduce the sentence, the prosecutor responded that he had received orders to have them shot, no matter what, as a means of social prophylaxis.
Once in prison, if the guards felt like punishing us, they would put us in cages, with mesh roofs, and walk along the edge while pouring buckets of urine and excrement all over our bodies. Sometimes, guards would shoot prisoners for target practice. That is how they killed Alfredo Carrion and Diosdado Aquit. Many of the men whom Castro had imprisoned, tortured and killed had been his comrades in overthrowing Batista. But most of them were innocent people eliminated in Ernesto "Che" Guevara's psychotic quest for what he and Castro called the "new man."
The impunity of Castro's dictatorship was marked by its cruelty. A prisoner in my block, Julio Tan, once refused an order by a prison guard to dig weeds. The guard struck him with his bayonet, another hit him with a hoe, and a gang of guards beat him until he bled to death in just a matter of minutes. My friend Pedro Luis Boitel, a student leader and courageous opponent of Batista, went on a hunger strike in 1972 to protest his treatment. On the 49th day of the strike, Castro personally ordered that Boitel be denied drinking water. Boitel died of thirst, in horrific agony, five days later.
Terror was Castro's main tool. The tactics used for enemies of the regime included the exploitation of phobias such as reptiles and rats; the use of drugs so as to have prisoners lose all notion of time and place; blindfolding prisoners, hanging them by their feet, and then lowering them into wells they were told are filled with crocodiles; the use of guard dogs that had their teeth removed and which were set upon prisoners with hands tied behind their backs. Usually, these dogs attacked the genitals first. All of this was investigated and extensively documented by a visiting delegation from the United Nations. The evidence can be found in Geneva.
The legacy of Castro for Cuba will be much like that of Stalin in Russia, Pol Pot and Ieng Sari in Cambodia and Hitler in Germany. It will be the memories of the unknown numbers of victims, of concentration camps, torture, murder, exile, families torn apart, death, tears and blood. Castro will go down in history as one of the cruelest of all dictators -- a man who tormented his own people.
But his poisonous legacy will also include the double standard by foreign governments, intellectuals and journalists who fought ferociously against the unspeakable violations of human rights by right-wing dictatorships, yet applauded Castro. To this day many of these intellectuals serve as apologists and accomplices in the subjugation of the Cuban people. Rafael Correa, the recently inaugurated president of Ecuador, has declared that in Cuba there is no dictatorship. Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, considers Castro his mentor and has already shown that he is willing to silence his own critics at the point of a gun. Venezuela, once a democracy, is the new Cuba, replete with a growing population of political prisoners.
Castro hemmed and hawed in the early 1960s, concealing his ideological allegiance to the most murderous system of government humanity has ever experienced. Today's Latin American caudillos openly express their allegiance to communist ideals. "I am very much of Trotsky's line -- the permanent revolution," Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said in January.
If we have learned anything from Fidel Castro, it is that the totalitarian impulse outlives even its most hardened -- and ruinous -- practitioners.
Mr. Valladares, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, is chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and author of "Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro's Gulag" (National Book Network, 2001).Contact Human Rights Foundation, Sarah Wasserman, (212) 246.8486, email@example.com View this article online at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117305309297526471.html
Human Rights Foundation350 Fifth Avenue, #809New York, NY 10118 Phone: (212) 246-8486Fax: (212) 643-4278 firstname.lastname@example.org
"Nobody is in agreement…It’s that, no one says it and no one takes the risk to say it, to speak the truth. That’s what is happening. In other words, one of the foundations, of what are the regimes in the entire world, in all of history, has been fear and lies. In other words, once you are in fear that's when you don’t take a risk, where you collect yourself and don’t unite…understood? To be in fear is not to offer help to anyone because that signifies risk." -Gorki Águila Carrasco, lead singer, guitarist of the music group Porno Para Ricardo and political prisoner
"Socialist ideology, like so many others, has two main dangers. One stems from confused and incomplete readings of foreign texts, and the other from the arrogance and hidden rage of those who, in order to climb up in the world, pretend to be frantic defenders of the helpless so as to have shoulders on which to stand." --Jose Marti
View Che Guevara's Forgotten Victims on Scribd
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
HRF Chairman Writes About Castro's Gulag in Today's Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
No doubt that Michael Moore is a lightning rod for controversy. Moore in reference to Cuba has in the past not been any less controversial in his remarks. (Click here for his comments concerning Cuban exiles calling them nutty and even making remarks similar to Hitler's comments about how Jews are involved, at least in the background, in various nefarious events). It is obvious that Moore has, as a human being, let alone an American, the right to travel where ever he damn well chooses. But it is even more obvious that he has the right to speak saying things that many find repugnant. Freedom for the thought many hate is important to ensure our rights are not violated. However his right to speak also permits the rights of others to criticize his positions on politics. This includes but isn't limited to, his apparent defense of Cuba's dictatorial system. Michael Moore like many pro government characters, just don't get it when it comes to Cuba; here's an article from NATIONAL REVIEW:
May 22, 2007 12:00 AM
Michael Moore's sickness.
By Rich Lowry
Is all that ails the U.S. health-care system that it’s not run by a Communist dictatorship? That has long been a premise of apologists for Fidel Castro who extol the virtues of medical care on his totalitarian island nation.
Left-wing documentary filmmaker Michael Moore is reviving this Cold War relic of an argument in his new movie on health care, Sicko, which premieres in a few weeks and favorably compares the Cuban health-care system to ours. Moore ostentatiously took a few sick 9/11 workers to Cuba for care. “If they can do this,” Moore told Time, referring to the Cubans, “we can do it.”
All that the Cuban government has done, however, is run a decades-long propaganda campaign to convince credulous or dishonest people that its health-care system is worth emulating. These people believe — or pretend to believe for ideological reasons — that a dictatorship can crush a country’s economy and spirit, yet still deliver exemplary medical care.
Cuban health care works only for the select few: if you are a high-ranking member of the party or the military and have access to top-notch clinics; or a health-care tourist who can pay in foreign currency at a special facility catering to foreigners; or a documentarian who can be relied upon to produce a lickspittle film whitewashing the system.
Ordinary Cubans experience the wasteland of the real system. Even aspirin and Pepto-Bismol can be rare, and there’s a black market for them. According to a report in the Canadian National Post: “Hospitals are falling apart, surgeons lack basic supplies and must reuse latex gloves. Patients must buy their sutures on the black market and provide bed sheets and food for extended hospital stays.”
How could it be any different when Cuba embarked on a campaign of economic self-sabotage with the revolution of 1959? It went from third in per capita food consumption in Latin America to near the bottom, according to a State Department report. Per capita consumption of basic foodstuffs like cereals and meat actually has declined from the 1950s. There are fewer cars (true of no other country in the hemisphere), and development of electrical power has trailed every other Latin American country except Haiti.
But the routine medical care, we’re supposed to believe, is superb. The statistic frequently cited for this proposition is that Cuba has the lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America. Put aside that the reflexively dishonest Cuban government is the ultimate source for these figures. Cuba had the lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America prior to the revolution and has lost ground to other countries around the world since. It also has an appallingly high abortion rate, meaning most problem pregnancies are pre-emptively ended.
Other countries in Latin America have made advances in health without Cuba’s vicious suppression of human rights (which, no doubt, contributes to the island having the highest suicide rate in Latin America). The way public health works in Cuba was nicely illustrated by the case of Dr. Desi Mendoza Rivero, who complained of an outbreak of dengue fever that the regime preferred to ignore in the late 1990s, and was jailed for his trouble.
As is always the case with Cuba, anything that’s wrong is blamed on the United States. If there is a shortage of medicine, well, that’s because of the U.S. embargo. But the United States is not the only country in the world that sells drugs. Cuba could buy them from Europe or elsewhere, and the U.S. embargo makes an exception for medicines.
The only reason to fantasize about Cuban health care is to stick a finger in the eye of the Yanquis. For the likes of Michael Moore, the true glory of Cuba is less its health care than the fact that it is an enemy of the United States. That’s why romanticizing Cuban medicine isn’t just folly, but itself qualifies as a kind of sickness.
© 2007 by King Features Syndicate
Well we've found another article showing the hypocrisy of the US government in reference to Cuba. Cubans deserve the right to access products and the governments of the world (Cuba and the US) need to get out of the way of the people in their attempt to access products that will improve their lives:
A Look at US Brands Found in Cuba
Yahoo! News. By The Associated Press, May 14, 2007.
Common US Brands Sold in Communist-Run Cuba Despite Embargo
A look at some U.S. brands sold in communist-run Cuba:
What: Mickey Mouse Fire Truck battery operated toy
Where: Galeria Comercial, Comodoro Hotel, Havana
How Much: 5.15 Cuban Convertible Pesos ($5.55)
Made In: China
Also Available: Mickey Mouse plastic mirrors and combs; wrapping paper with various Disney characters -- all with Disney copyrights and logos
U.S. Corporate: Disney Consumer Products, part of The Walt Disney Company, Burbank, Calif.
And ... Fire trucks appear to have been shipped directly from China: Each box is sealed with a yellow-and-red "Certificate of Qualification (sic)," complete with Chinese characters and an inspector number.
What: Nike Air Force I sneakers
Where: Manzana Gomez shopping center, off Havana's Central Park
How Much: 129.40 Cuban Convertible Pesos ($140)
Made in: China
Also Available: Nike Max Air 180s
U.S. Corporate: Nike Inc., Beaverton, Oregon.
And ... "Come back after the weekend and we'll have more," a salesman said. "They are always bringing more Nikes."
What: Bausch & Lomb ReNu Plus "No Rub" Multi-use Solution for soft contact lens
Where: El Almendares Optician, along Obispo Boulevard on the fringe of Old Havana
How Much: 120-mililiter bottle for 15.50 Cuban Convertible Pesos ($16.75).Made in: USA
Also Available: Bausch & Lomb Simplus for gas permeable and hard contacts
U.S. Corporate: Bausch & Lomb Inc., Rochester, New York
And ... Some stores sell samples of various Bausch & Lomb solutions that are distributed in Mexico and read "Free" on the side, but sell for 12.25 CUC ($13.25).
What: Rubbermaid Water CoolerWhere: Galerias Cohiba, Melia Cohiba Hotel, Havana
How Much: 148 Cuban Convertible Pesos ($160)
Made in: USA
U.S. Corporate: Rubbermaid Home Products, Wooster, Ohio. Part of Newell Rubbermaid Inc., Atlanta
And ... If there is a run on these circular, orange-and-white plastic coolers, Cuba is ready. One store had no less than six in-stock.
AGAIN THE US GOVERNMENT SHARES DRINKS WITH CUBAN MILITARY WILL TELLING AMERICANS AND CUBAN EXILES THAT THEY WILL NOT BE CIVIL AS LONG AS CUBANS ARE ENSLAVED NOR WILL ANYONE DO BUSINESS WITH CUBA ON THEIR WATCH.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Cuba Stocks US Brands Despite Embargo
May 14 02:53 PM US/EasternBy WILL WEISSERTAssociated Press Writer
HAVANA (AP) - The golden arches are nowhere to be found. There's not a single Starbucks or Wal-Mart, and no way to buy a Budweiser, a Corvette or a Dell. But even in Cuba, you can get a Coke.
Despite the U.S. Trading With the Enemy Act, which governs Washington's 45-year-old embargo, sales on Fidel Castro's island are lining the pockets of corporate America.
Nikes, Colgate and Marlboros, Gillette Series shaving cream and Jordache jeans—all are easy to find. Cubans who wear contact lenses can buy Bausch & Lomb. Parents can surprise the kids with a Mickey Mouse fire truck.
Dozens of American brands are on sale here—and not in some black- market back alley. They're in the lobbies of gleaming government-run hotels and in crowded supermarkets and pharmacies that answer to the communist government.
The companies say they have no direct knowledge of sales in Cuba, and that the amounts involved are small and would be impractical to stop. But it's hard to deny that a portion of the transactions wind up back in the United States.
"We try and do what we can to police ... but in a globalized economy, it's impossible to catch everything," said Vada Manager, director of global issues management for Nike Inc.
Trade sanctions bar American tourists from visiting Cuba and allow exports only of U.S. food and farm products, medical supplies and some telecommunications equipment. But wholesalers and distributors in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Canada routinely sell some of America's most recognizable brands to Cuban importers.
Cuba has for years sought out American goods as a way of thumbing its nose at the embargo. Officials at three foreign-owned import companies operating in Havana, who refused to have their names published for fear of economic repercussions, said the communist government itself still imports the vast majority of American goods.
Christopher Padilla, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for export administration, said from Washington that Cuba even sends delegations on "buying missions," hunting for specific American products in third countries for resale back home. Cuban press authorities did not make relevant officials available to discuss the practice.
In a country where tourism is the leading revenue source, stocking American brands helps reassure visitors, according to Daniel Erikson, a Cuban economy expert at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.
"People, average Cubans included, would rather have Coca-Cola than a no-name generic soda they're not familiar with. That means the government can charge more," Erikson said. "And obviously for the tourist industry it's important for the foreigners who visit Cuba to see products that they know and trust."
All American products are sold in Cuban convertible pesos, considered foreign currency and worth $1.08 apiece—about 25 times the island's regular peso. Although government salaries have increased in recent years, the average monthly pay is still around $15, meaning few Cubans can afford U.S. goods.
But last month, Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said 57 percent of the population has access to hard currency—dollars or convertible pesos—either through jobs in tourism or money from relatives abroad. A 2004 report by the U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba estimated that remittances from the United States alone total $1 billion a year.
The influx of American brands began in earnest in 1993, when Cuba scrapped laws that had made it illegal for its citizens to possess dollars. Cubans know the products, despite an almost complete lack of advertising on the island. Angel Hernandez, a 62-year-old retiree, didn't hesitate when presented with a pair of "Air Jordans."
"That swoosh. That's Nike," he said. Like most Cubans, he pronounces the company name with a silent "e" as in "Mike."
Made in China, brick-red Nike Air Max 90 sneakers sell for 129.40 convertible Cuban pesos—about $140—at a store off Havana's Central Park. High-priced fakes also abound. Several stores, including one inside the Havana Libre Hotel—the Havana Hilton before Castro's 1959 revolution—offer authentic-looking Max Air 80s, but Nike makes no such product.
At the Comodoro Hotel, a boutique wants $40 for assorted small gym bags with pastel or silver swooshes. Their tags read "Made in Indonesia" in Spanish and "Nike de Mexico," providing a hint of their route to Cuba.
Manager said all Nike products for sale in Cuba are probably knockoffs. He conceded, however, that legitimate distributors outside the U.S. could be selling products to Cuban importers—and that Nike could make money off such sales.
"But what you're talking about is such a small volume there," he said. "And if we are able to detect where ... the products came from, that distributor or retailer runs the risk of having their account discontinued with us."
John Kavulich, senior policy adviser for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc. in New York, said "in no way should it be said that this is an end run by U.S. business around U.S. restrictions, because it's not."
"It's almost impossible for American companies to stop," Kavulich said. "Of course, at some point in the transaction, at the very beginning when the legitimate distributor bought the product from Nike, or any company, money went to the U.S."
Kavulich estimated the value of U.S. brands sold in Cuba as "probably $20 million or less on an annual basis," but noted that less than 5 percent of that amount likely represents combined profit for American companies, given all the layers of transactions the products go through to get to the island.
Decades-old Walt Disney cartoons air on state television every afternoon and stores have Mickey Mouse toys and wrapping paper and Snoopy products.
In Havana's Vedado district, fishing supply store DSY offers goods made by U.S. supplier Seachoice Products. A "Heavy Duty Waterproof Flashlight" from the company proudly proclaims "Made in USA."
Saleswoman Dayne Barrios said the products were shipped from Florida to a Mexico distributor, which sent them to Cuba through a government importer. Calls to Seachoice offices in Pompano Beach, Fla., were not returned.
At least two Havana clothing stores call themselves Jordache, one even using the company's horse head logo on its marquee. The shelves inside are crammed with jeans, shirts and blouses with Jordache labels.
Steven Nakash, director of licensing for Jordache Enterprises in New York, said the company heard about unauthorized use of its brand in Cuba several years ago but took no action because "an American company dealing with a foreign territory and battling it out on foreign soil is very, very hard."
Nakash, a member of Jordache's founding family, said the company has international distributors but also licenses its brand to manufacturers, including one in Mexico. He said he was unsure where the products in Cuba came from.
"Is any of the revenue from Cuba coming back to me? Certainly not," Nakash said.
Even after Castro took over, more than 100 U.S. corporations—including Ford Motor Co.—obtained licenses to operate here through foreign subsidiaries.
The U.S. Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 made such third-country transactions illegal, while also authorizing the export of U.S. medicines. Eight years later, the U.S. Congress allowed direct sales to Cuba of food and farm goods, everything from rice, ice cream and livestock to wood products, down feathers and cigarettes.
Since then, Heinz ketchup, Tabasco Sauce and Tyson's chicken have been sporadically available at Cuban government supermarkets, and the United States has become the island's leading supplier of food and farm products.
Prices can be about twice as much as in U.S. stories. Tubes of Colgate toothpaste start at $4.85. You can also find products including shampoo, conditioner and anti-bacterial soap from New York-based Colgate-Palmolive Co. A shaving "mousse" from Gillette Series, distributed by Procter & Gamble Zurich, costs $4.80 a bottle.
Could those items be considered medical supplies? Not likely, say U.S. officials.
But pinpointing whether any American product is in Cuba legally is difficult because the U.S. Treasury Department does not disclose who secures export licenses, citing trade secrets acts.
No American brand is more prevalent in Cuba than Coke, but the Atlanta, Georgia-based Coca-Cola Co. has not sought Cuban export licenses—even though its product would qualify as food.
Bottled mostly in Mexico, Coke goes for $1 at stores—about the same price as at a U.S. convenience store—and up to four times that at touristy restaurants.
Charles Sutlive, a Coca-Cola spokesman in Atlanta, said the company has not authorized any bottler to sell or distribute any of its finished products in Cuba. But he added that the company "does not have the authority to prevent these type of activities in countries where Cuban import-export companies are free to operate."
Indeed, distributors of American goods operating in other countries often insist they are doing nothing wrong—and can even be fined by their own governments for refusing to export to Cuba.
Mexico fined the Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel in Mexico City in 2005 after it bowed to U.S. Treasury Department pressure and evicted Cuban officials staying there. In January, a Norwegian hotel owned by Hilton Hotel Corp. sparked an uproar when it refused to book rooms for a Cuban delegation, citing the American embargo.
The Commerce Department's Padilla said the U.S. sanctions have international reach, applying to American products anywhere in the world.
"If companies knowingly sold to a Cuban importer, they can be prosecuted," he said. "Willful blindness is not an excuse to violate the law in these matters."
Despite potential legal hot water, Nakash confessed a certain pride that his brand has cracked Havana.
"I can very much appreciate seeing a Jordache shop there," he said. "I, as an American, can't go to a country like Cuba. But our brand can."
Thursday, May 3, 2007
The ministry blamed U.S. policies that the communist government says encourage Cubans to emigrate to the United States and also said it was a result of Washington's tolerance of violence against Cuba.
The incident began before dawn when the fugitives commandeered a regular city bus near the airport and forced it to drive inside and onto the tarmac of terminal 2, which services charter flights between the Cuban capital and the United States. The exact destination of the plane in the United States not known, but most charter flights out of Terminal 2 fly to Miami.
Army Lt. Col. Victor Ibo Acuna Velazquez was killed aboard the plane but there were no crew members or passengers on board at the time, the ministry statement said.
"Despite being unarmed, he heroically tried to prevent the commission of the terrorist act," the ministry statement said of officer killed.
The other passengers on the commandeered bus were unharmed and the two fugitive soldiers were arrested.
The incident comes amid an ongoing political campaign by Havana accusing the U.S. government of protecting its archenemy, Luis Posada Carriles. Cuba alleges the 79-year-old Cuban militant of involvement in a deadly airline bombing three decades ago and a string of Havana hotel bombings in the late 1990s.
Hundreds of thousands of people marching in Havana on Tuesday to mark May Day protested against the recent release from U.S. custody of Posada Carriles.
"The responsibility for these new crimes lies with the highest-ranking authorities of the United States, adding to the long list of terrorist acts that Cuba has been the victim of for nearly half a century," the ministry statement on Thursday said.
Caridad Carbonel, who has lived in the shadow of Havana's airport for 34 years, said she was awakened by gunfire and saw a vehicle roll onto the tarmac through a side checkpoint.
"Last night, there was a terrible shootout," the 68-year-old said, adding that she saw ambulances swarm the area and had heard about the death of a military officer several hours before Cuba's government confirmed it Thursday evening.
The two soldiers arrested were among three who escaped with automatic rifles from their military base on Sunday after killing a fellow soldier and wounding another. The statement said the third soldier who fled was captured earlier, but it did not say when.
There had been a massive manhunt under way for the three. The Defense Ministry over the weekend distributed wanted circulars around Havana, describing the fugitive soldiers as armed and dangerous and saying they were sought for abandoning their posts. Some circulars were displayed in public places, including post offices.
The men, all from the eastern province of Camaguey, were identified as Leandro Cerezo Sirut and Alain Forbus Lameru, both 19, and Yoan Torres Martinez, 21. It was not immediately clear which two were involved in the attempted hijacking.
Throughout the day Thursday, there were rampant rumors of a shooting at the airport but the Cuban government and its official media were silent.
Several baggage handlers told an Associated Press reporter who visited the airport that police had told them to tell anyone who asked to say that nothing had happened there that morning. Even so, none of them had appeared to have heard or seen the pre-dawn incident.
Later Thursday, all was calm and there was no increased police presence at the airport's Terminal 2.
About 150 people who lined up outside the terminal for their outgoing flights, or waited for loved ones to arrive from the United States, seemed oblivious that anything may have occurred there earlier.
Two departures for Miami and one to New York later in the day were listed on time, as were the scheduled arrivals from those cities.