Saturday, May 29, 2010

Eastern Market Physician, Please Contact me, Movement on Cuban Political Prisoners

This post is reaching out to the young physician, mother of small children, visiting Eastern Market today. I’d sold all the books I'd brought, but told her a little about my book and about the Honduras medical brigades of International Health Service of Minnesota. She sounded as though she might be interested in participating, but I failed to get her name and contact information. She spoke some Spanish. She said she worked in a city clinic offering services to low-income Latino patients, but I don’t recall the name. I gave her a card for my book, showing this website address, so I do hope she will log on, see this appeal, and get back to me via my e-mail address, shown above. I was in a rush because my brother had just come into town, visiting from Florida.

Doctora, I’d like to tell you more about the brigade and you can read about it here and see photos, by going back to April 12. It takes some patience, clicking always on “older post,” to see all the photos from that trip and, before that, a narrative. ( I need a class in blogging!) So, please e-mail me if you see this notice—no obligation to attend an IHS brigade, I’d just like to tell you more about it. Sometimes, volunteers come for less than 10 days. This year, the dentists stayed only one week, for example.

With all quiet on the Honduras political front, this blog has turned temporarily almost into a Cuba blog because of events occurring there, Cuba being another country that I've visited several times and that's close to my heart.
Human Rights Watch researcher and a co-author recently wrote a candid report on a Cuba visit published in the New York Review of Books.
Since I published something on Cuba in that same review years ago, I can attest to the close, word-by-word, vetting of anything that goes into that publication.

Cuba to transfer political prisoners
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO, May. 24, 2010

The Cuban government has promised to move sick political prisoners to hospitals, and other jailed dissidents closer to home, in a stunning concession to the recent avalanche of criticisms of its human rights record, an independent journalist said Sunday.

Guillermo Fariñas, who has been on a lengthy hunger strike demanding the release of 26 ailing political prisoners, said Havana Auxiliary Bishop Juan de Dios Hernández told him the changes would begin Monday, and that eventually some jailed dissidents could be freed.
Catholic church officials have been regularly keeping Fariñas and the Ladies in White protesters abreast of their negotiations with Cuban leader Raúl Castro on the fate of the political prisoners, currently estimated at about 190.

Cuba’s government remained silent on Fariñas’ comments, but Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez said he had received reports from jailed dissidents that prison directors already had told some inmates to pack their personal items. The government’s gesture toward the prisoners, if true, would mark a rare gesture of good will by Cuba’s communist rulers, who are facing a barrage of domestic and foreign attacks on the country’s human rights record sparked by the February death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata after a nearly three-month hunger strike.

Fariñas told El Nuevo Herald by telephone from his hospital bed in Santa Clara, where he has been receiving intravenous nutrition to make up for his refusal to eat or drink, that Hernández gave him the information during a visit Saturday. Hernández told him that Homero Acosta, executive secretary of the ruling Council of State, telephoned church officials Friday and told them the government would begin on Monday to shift all the seriously ill jailed dissidents to hospitals, and others to prisons closer to their homes, Fariñas added.

Fariñas has been demanding the release of 26 political prisoners he says are so ill that they require hospitalization, but he said a separate church list of ailing prisoners of conscience contained 37 names.

Among the 190 political prisoners are 53 of the 75 dissidents sentenced to long prison terms in a 2003 crackdown known as Cuba’s Black Spring. Twenty-two of the 75 have been released, mostly for health reasons, and 17 of those still jailed are in prisons far from their families, Fariñas said. Hernández also said that Castro and Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who met for four hours last week, expect to meet again late this week “to discuss the release of some political prisoners,” according to Fariñas.

An Associated Press dispatch quoted Orlando Marquez, spokesman for the Havana archdiocese, as confirming that government officials had told the church that some prisoners would be moved to jails near home, but giving no further details.

One senior church official in Havana told El Nuevo Herald that he could not confirm all the details that Fariñas said he had obtained from Hernández, but added: “Wait for Monday.”
Fariñas said the Castro government’s decision to improve its treatment of jailed dissidents was “an attempt to dampen” the recent torrent of criticism of its human rights record that included strongly worded statements from European and Latin American leftists who traditionally support the island’s policies.“They don’t want to give credit to the peaceful opposition at home,” he said, referring to the Ladies in White’s Sunday protest marches and his hunger strike. “So they are negotiating with the church.”

Fidel Castro’s government freed about 300 political and common prisoners shortly after Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998, when he urged officials to release dissidents jailed only for publicly criticizing the regime. Cuban officials regularly deny the country has any political prisoners, and brands them as “mercenaries” who have accepted U.S. funds to work toward undermining or overthrowing the government.

Elizardo Sánchez said he remained skeptical of the government’s intentions, and described the apparent agreement to ease the conditions of some political prisoners as a “mere gesture of condescension.”

Ladies in White spokeswoman Berta Soler said church officials had told her group only that Ortega had asked Raúl Castro to move the ailing political prisoners to hospitals and the others to prisons in their home provinces. “We were not told of any answers, but we are full of faith and hope,” she told El Nuevo Herald from Havana. “We hope that the answers will be positive.”
Fariñas, a 42-year-old psychologist and independent journalist, has lost more than 70 pounds since he launched his hunger strike Feb. 23, one day after Zapata died. A third dissident has vowed to refuse all food and drink should Fariñas die.

Although Raúl Castro had hinted that his government would allow Fariñas to die, saying it would not bow to “blackmail,” the dissident has been treated in an intensive-care ward of a government hospital, and is regularly allowed to give interviews to foreign reporters on the hospital’s phone.

He also has allowed the Ladies in White, so called because they wear all-white clothes, to stage their usual Sunday protest marches in Havana for the past three weeks, after several weeks in which State Security officials and government-organized mobs forced them to call of their protests.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 26 Book Reading, Mia Farrow on Sudan, Cuba & the Catholic Church

About a dozen people attended my book reading last night at Riverby Books, a local bookstore. Wine snacks, and strawberries were served. I reconnected with a couple of old friends in the neighborhood. Three people bought my book and one bought another book for sale at the store. Two of my books had been sold there prior to the event, for a total of five, so far. A couple of attendees already had the book. It was fun, but this is a slow way of selling books and, of course, the bookstore takes its cut.

On Sat., May 22, my daughter Melanie called me to say that her father-in-law, diagnosed with liver cancer just last January, had died at noon. Melanie and her husband took his 9-year-old daughter, for whom he had custody, to live with them.

My brother Bob from Florida, his girl friend, and her cousin will be visiting for Memorial Day weekend, which should be a pleasant respite from my usual frenetic routine. I will have to take at least some “down time” while they are here.

Not too sound too self-congratulatory, but the gulf oil spill reinforces my decision not to own a car and to rely on public transportation, though sometimes that’s time-consuming and inconvenient.

African hopes are fading as the U.S. lets President Omar al-Bashir escape justice. So says Mia Farrow in an op-ed in the Wall St. Journal (May 25, 2010). She reports that the people of Darfur’s high hopes when Obama was elected have faded.

A correspondent concerned with Cuban labor rights has suggested that Pope Benedict make a visit there, something the Cuban government would probably welcome, despite reservations, because of the revenue it would bring in. When John Paul II went to Cuba in 1998, it caused quite a stir. Even Fidel attended Mass. It would be good if Pope Benedict could go now, though he’s not as popular as John Paul. Maybe it would help his popularity, both in Cuba and abroad, if he did, though he might not want to be a copycat.

Here’s an observation from my Cuban correspondent regarding negotiations on the freeing of ill political prisoners there (Fariñas, the man he refers to, has been on an extended hunger strike to promote their release). The Catholic Church is coordinating the negotiating positions of Fariñas and the Damas de Blanco and neither of them is willing to do anything that might create difficulties for the Church's negotiating position. As for possible negotiating links between the Church and the US government, the basic objective of the Cuban government is using the imprisoned dissidents to swap for the five Cuban spies and it is highly improbable that it would pay that much attention to the Cuban Catholic hierarchy if it did not believe that it could somehow contribute to that goal.

This logically requires the Catholic Church (Cuban , US or Vatican or all of the above) to somehow be an intermediary or a mediator in the indirect negotiations between the Cuban and US governments that are probably going on. All this is, of course, speculation, but it is not totally illogical speculation. In short we will soon see what are the results of the negotiations that are obviously going on!

He adds this: In Cuba, the Catholic Church’s role was minimized by the Castro government, which took away its schools, many of its properties, and deported or exiled a great proportion of its priests and made believing in God a disadvantage in life. Cardinal Ortega himself was subject to persecution. In his youth he was accused of being a homosexual and sent to UMAP camps.

Regarding a possible prisoner swap between Cuba and the U.S., another correspondent says,
A precedent of releasing the Cuban spies in the US could be an election problem as I see the voters. Perhaps, improving their conditions in prison would be much better and could be worked out. Setting a precedent of releasing Cuban spies poses other problems for the US over the long term. What if now we catch Pakistani spies or others? Could be a bad double standard to set.

I agree, letting the "Cuban Five" go before the elections, if at all, would be problematic. I just had an inquiry, asking why the wives of the five have not been given visas to let them visit their husbands in prison? It does seem that could be granted, although, of course, they would also speak out about their husbands' innocence in a way that the wives of political prisoners in Cuba cannot.
Cuban cardinal wants political prisoners freed

By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press,Thursday, May 20, 2010

HAVANA -- Cuba's Roman Catholic cardinal called for the liberation of some of the island's 200 political prisoners on Thursday after a rare sit-down with President Raul Castro, and said he thought his encounter with the Cuban leader was a "magnificent start" to serious dialogue.
"The church is interested in an alleviation of the situation (of the political prisoners) - the liberation of some of them, for example," Cardinal Jaime Ortega said, a day after he and another church leader, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia, held a four-hour discussion with Raul Castro at the Palace of the Revolution, the seat of Cuba's government. The church has called previously for freedom for the island's prisoners of conscience, but doing so right after such a high profile meeting was unusual.

Ortega said in a news conference that he had also brought up the government's decision to bar the dissident Ladies in White from holding weekly marches. The group - comprised of the wives and mothers of jailed political prisoners - were stopped from protesting for three straight weekends in April and pro-government counter-protesters were brought in to shout abuse at them. The standoff ended after Ortega's mediation, when the government agreed to allow the quiet protests to resume in return for assurances the women would not expand their activities.
The cardinal made clear that no deal on any prisoner releases or easing of measures against the opposition had been struck. "We are not talking about any commitments. We are talking about conversations with the government, conversations that had a magnificent start yesterday (Wednesday) and that ought to continue in the near future," Ortega said. The meeting was a sign of the church's growing influence on the island.

Garcia, who is archbishop of Santiago and leader of the Conference of Bishops of Cuba, said it was the first time the head of the bishops' group has met with the country's leader in five years, when Fidel Castro was still in charge. Fidel stepped down formally in 2008, turning power over to his brother. "It was a very positive meeting," he told The Associated Press.

Garcia said that he thought "that there was good will" on the part of the government on the issue of dissidents. A photo of a beaming Raul Castro with the two church leaders was printed on the front page of Thursday's Communist-party daily Granma, but the caption said little about what was discussed and made no mention of dissidents or political prisoners.

The government denies it holds political prisoners, and says dissidents are paid mercenaries of Washington, which has been at odds with Cuba since shortly after Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencia Batista in 1959.

Ortega has waded into politics several times in recent months, telling a church magazine in April that Cuba was in its worst crisis in years and that its citizens were clamoring for political and social change sooner rather than later.

The meeting between Castro and the church leaders comes a month before Vatican Foreign Minister Dominique Mamberti is scheduled to visit Cuba for talks on the island's economic challenges and the effects of emigration and the families torn apart by it. Mamberti is the first top Vatican official to come since Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state to Pope Benedict XVI, visited Cuba in February 2008.

Relations between the church and Cuba's government have often been strained. Tensions eased in the early 1990s when the government removed references to atheism in the constitution and allowed believers of all faiths to join the Communist Party. They warmed more when Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998.
Editorial, Miami Herald, May 24, 2010
Leadership, at last, for Cuba's people
OUR OPINION: Catholic Church can be a catalyst for change

Finally, after a long silence, Cuba's Catholic Church is taking a stand, calling on the Castro regime to free 26 political prisoners who are in failing health.
About time.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Santiago Archbishop Dionisio García, head of the island's Bishops' Conference, met with Raúl Castro last week -- the first in an expected series of talks to deal with the dictatorship's abysmal treatment of Cubans, in and out of prison. The meeting, the first in five years between the regime's officials and church leaders, comes after the cardinal last month acknowledged in a Catholic magazine that Cuba is in economic crisis and noted that people are desperate for political and social change.

Ladies in White abused
It also comes after Spain, the European Union and many Latin American leaders have challenged the Castro government's mistreatment of the Ladies in White, women who walk peacefully in protest of their loved ones' imprisonment. The Obama administration and world leaders also condemned Cuba's horrid prison conditions following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died after more than 80 days in a hunger strike seeking better treatment of prisoners of conscience.

And it's happening as dissident journalist Guillermo Fariñas has made headlines worldwide in a hunger strike calling for the release of the 26 ailing prisoners -- a demand that Gen. Castro labeled ``blackmail'' in April.

For now the Ladies have resumed their marches, but the Castro regime is pressuring them to split from a group of female supporters who have been walking with them. In typical Orwellian doublespeak the regime claims those supporters ``distort'' the issue.

Cardinal should speak up
In truth, Cubans have stepped up their quest for rights after 51 years of fear inspired by firing squads and "defense of the revolution'' block captains who report to the government on neighbors' every move.

Cardinal Ortega has remained mum for too long. He has tried to collaborate with the regime in hopes of getting an opening, as Pope John Paul II called for during his 1998 visit to the communist island. But even as the world has opened to Cuba with more trade and tourism, Cuba has cracked down on its people, unable to accept dissent without imposing violent consequences.
This would not be the first time Cuba has freed prisoners, of course. The Castro brothers have a long history of making small moves in an attempt to score big points abroad.
That's why the cardinal and bishops' efforts are so important. They have to seize this opportunity when key leaders and trading partners with Cuba are watching and demanding action.

In a country run by old revolutionaries, stuck in a time warp of failed policies, Cuba's youth are restless. The Church, as it did in Poland and other nations during the Cold War, can play a pivotal role in being a voice for those the regime wants to silence.

Read more:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Reminder for DC folks: Book reading Wed. May 26, 7pm

Yesterday, when I posted an extensive blog entry, forgot to include a reminder that I’m giving a talk about Peace Corps and my book at Riverby Books. See notice below:

WED. MAY 26, BOOK READING ON CAPITOL HILL, for the regular A Space Inside series. Reading and discussion by 40-year Hill resident Barbara Joe, author of award-winning memoir, Triumph & Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras, 7-8:30 pm, at Riverby Books, 417 E. Capitol St. SE, (202) 543-4342, Books will be for sale at discount and signed by the author (also available on Author’s proceeds help fund Honduras education and health projects. Even if you already have the book, tell your friends, and join in the discussion (and have wine and cheese).

Just a couple items from local Spanish-language newspapers that come out today. One says that Manuel Zelaya has proposed a plan of reconciliation that recognizes the election of Porfirio Lobo (last Nov.) and also asks for the resignation of those involved in the “coup” that removed him from office. Additionally, an editorial in Washington Hispanic labels the little girl, who mentioned to Michelle Obama that her mother has "no papers," as "symbolic of immigrant children," in that many kids born in this country have undocumented parents and experience the same fears as that child. Homeland Security, reportedly, is not going to be looking for the mother to deport her.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hamlet, Oliver, Immigration court, Amazon rankings, Sudan, Innocent Priests, Transvestite Beauty Salon, Spanish Artists for Cuba, Dania Garcia, Damas

A diversity of topics this time, but hope you find something of interest. Please excuse the long interval since the last blog entry.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to take time-out to recharge the personal batteries. I’ve done that during the last couple of weeks, first by attending a superb performance of “Hamlet” at the nearby Folger Theatre, a physical reproduction of the theater where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, then on Mother’s Day weekend, on the annual House & Garden tour to benefit the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. Hamlet, which I hadn’t seen for some years, is overloaded with phrases that have entered common parlance in the English language, most notably “To be or not to be.” The actors, including “Hamlet” himself, have been seen dining and drinking coffee at local venues. As for the house and garden tour, next-door neighbors Carol and Joe had their rear garden featured on the tour, a project that Carol works on tirelessly. On Mother’s Day evening, my Kenyan housemate Nancy and I went to see a local production of “Oliver,” very well done, all the more challenging, as it involved singing by child performers, including “Oliver.” I could not help viewing the familiar tale of Oliver Twist from the vantage point of Honduras, where abandoned street children still abound in cities, many involved in pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, and petty theft, not unlike kids in early 19th-century England. The human energy in a live performance is exhilarating. It’s kind of like interpreting: no revisions or retakes.

Earlier this week, I appeared as one of two personal witnesses in immigration court in Arlington, Va., on behalf of a couple I know. That’s the court where I first started out as a Spanish interpreter in 2004 after returning from the Peace Corps. I soon switched from immigration court to hospitals, schools, and social service settings, more line with my experience and preferences. The couple appearing were David and Hloni, she a native of Swaziland where David, a nurse, worked for six months in AIDS treatment and prevention for Catholic Relief Services or its affiliate. David had been one of my housemates before I joined Peace Corps. Apparently, an immigration interviewer had been suspicions about the validity of their marriage, not only because of their racial difference, but because Hloni is 35 years younger than David—she is only 29, with a 9-year-old son, Lethu, who lives with them also. Not to keep you in suspense, the case was decided in their favor and Hloni and Lethu can now stay in this country, but why it ever had to go to court is the question. The case caused them considerable anxiety, not to mention costs in lawyer’s fees. I would hope that any immigration reform package would address roadblocks, as well the status of those who have entered illegally simply to avoid such roadblocks, many of which are arbitrary and counterproductive, as in this case.

Libraries, I’ve already mentioned as natural venues for my book. Book clubs are another. I’m trying to think of what sorts of groups might want to be better informed on the dual themes of themes of Peace Corps service for more seasoned folks and Honduras, one of the lesser known countries in the hemisphere, which has just undergone a political crisis and seems to be coming out the other side. And there’s the sheer value of service abroad, even of a lesser duration, such as with medical brigades, Habitat, or other non-profits, which I also promote.

I entered the simple term “Peace Corps’ in Amazon’s book site and my book came up as #34. A really terrible Peace Corps memoir that I’d reviewed for PC Writers ranked #21. I don’t know how those rankings are made, not alphabetically, not according to the number of positive reviews, maybe according to their online sales? If so, perhaps friends and relatives of the terrible book’s author flooded the system with purchases.

It’s not surprising that a main opposition figure has been arrested in Sudan, but distressing to see the progression of Bashir’s very predictable scheme of preventing the secession of south Sudan from going forward next year. On these pages, I’ve already expressed my concern about Sudan, where President Bashir has not only eluded the International Criminal Court, but just pulled off his own big “win” in a fraudulent election, trying to create an aura of legitimacy to his rule. Next year, as per an accord signed with southern rebels in 2005, South Sudan’s voters will have a chance to vote to secede and create an independent country, which 99% of them will want to do. That was evident to me even back in 2006 when I visited the south. Bashir is not going to let the south and its oil wealth slip out of his grasp, so he will preside over another fraudulent vote, a referendum in which the south seems to reject secession. And the US, in a bow to the realpolitik that has become the Obama administration’s hallmark in foreign affairs, is going to allow that to happen—at least that is the likely outcome. Meanwhile, the rebel groups are probably not going to stand still for such a Bashir double-cross and the country will be plunged again into civil war, after all the progress that has been made so far. Perhaps the Obama administration's tactic will be to try to minimize bloodshed by giving Bashir some of the cover he needs. Certainly the return to decades of civil war is not desirable and neither the US, the African Union, nor anyone else has an appetite for intervention and nation-building in Sudan. Iraq and Afghanistan have proved the difficulty of doing that. The US cannot set things right everywhere in the world and must choose its battles. This is one where we will express moral support for the right course, but probably not put any muscle behind it.

As one of my correspondents observes: Bashir is such a loose cannon and such a total barbarian that at this point (when we can't go in and occupy the country), the best we can hope to do is make him look respectable enough to forestall another bloodbath…Doesn't do much to improve the Darfuris' day-to-day prospects, but I do think it's the best they're going to get.

Heard a public radio program, Interfaith Voices, exploring a topic that has had little publicity, namely that a minority of priests accused of pedophilia are probably actually innocent. But even when civil authorities have found no evidence, the Catholic Church hierarchy has been reluctant to return them to ministry. One of the interviewees on the program, a priest from Sri Lanka working here in the US, was at a school function, with many people present, when he helped a girl trace her name in his native language, Tamil, on a blackboard by guiding her hand. Her mother lodged a criminal complaint of inappropriate touching that was dismissed by the police after an investigation. Yet, he is still not restored to his priestly functions because the church is so skittish about any such complaints. Some cases, it was suggested by an expert on the subject, may have been motivated by the large financial settlements being acquired by victims.

One of the more bizarre sights in Chitre, Panama, which I neglected to mention when writing up my Feb. trip report, was of the transvestite beauty salon on a busy corner, where patrons could be observed having hair straightened or curled, dyed, teased, interwoven with wigs, and decorated with artificial flowers and jewelry in anticipation of the upcoming pre-Lenten carnival. I watched in fascination, not wanting to appear too curious as I lingered near the open doorway, but those inside didn’t seem to mind. After all, their hairdos and clothing were designed to call attention.

The next two items are on the same subject.

Spanish artists launch 'platform for democracy' in Cuba
(AFP) – May 12, 2010

MADRID — Spanish artists and intellectuals, including Oscar-winning film-maker Pedro Almodovar, Wednesday launched an initiative to press for democracy in Cuba.
"The Platform for Spaniards for the Democratisation of Cuba" aims to defend "the basic and essential human rights" of the people of the communist-ruled island and help them choose between "democracy and totalitarianism."

"We Spaniards well know that nothing can justify lack of freedom," the manifesto said, referring to the 1939-75 dictatorship in Spain of Francisco Franco. The initiative came just days before an EU-Latin America summit in Madrid during which the question of Cuba will be discussed.
Signatories to the platform called on the Spanish government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to drop its policy of rapprochement with Cuba, which they said had led to "no result." Spain, which holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, has been at the forefront of efforts to boost relations with Cuba, a former Spanish colony.

Spain's Socialist government wants the EU to modify its 1996 common position on Cuba, which links dialogue to freedoms and human rights on the island, arguing it has yielded few results. The EU suspended ties with Cuba after a major roundup of 75 dissidents in March 2003, but resumed aid cooperation in 2008. Spain and Cuba renewed ties in 2007.

Besides Almodovar, other celebrities signing the manifesto were Spanish-Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa and Spanish actress Victoria Abril. The new platform "may seem like a small gesture but for those who resist the dictatorship in difficult, even heroic, conditions, it is something very important," Vargas Llosa told a news conference called to launch the initiative.
Artists, Writers Protest for Democracy in Cuba
Latin American Herald Tribune, May 13, 2010

MADRID – So that Cuba can achieve democracy “as soon as possible,” a group of outstanding writers, intellectuals and artists including Mario Vargas Llosa, Pedro Almodovar, Antonio Muñoz Molina and Rosa Montero on Wednesday demanded the solidarity of Spanish and Latin American societies.Madrid was the stage for the presentation of a manifesto supported by 62 artists, writers and intellectuals aimed at mobilizing society in favor of the democratization of the communist-ruled island.Attending the event, in addition to Vargas Llosa and Montero, were actress Aitana Sanchez Gijon, the former president of the Spanish Film Academy, and moviemaker Fernando Trueba, among others. Vargas Llosa asked the Spanish government, the current holder of the European Union’s rotating presidency for the first half of this year, for “solidarity for those in Cuba who are asking for what Spain and Europe have, and not a policy of complicity.”The novelist recalled that what the Cuban dissidents are asking for is “democracy, freedom, for their citizens’ rights to be acknowledged: the right to dissent, to criticize, to organize politically, to elect their own leaders, to travel, to work in freedom.”The initiative was presented just days before the holding of the summit between the EU and Latin America and the Caribbean in the Spanish capital. The manifesto, which citizens can join on the Web at, emphasizes that the Cuban case is a question of “basic and essential human rights” and that the choice “is simply between democracy or totalitarianism.”Malena Aznarez, the vice president of Reporters Without Borders, recalled that at this time “in Cuba there are 25 journalists imprisoned for having tried to do their jobs.”Aznarez said that the Cuban regime, after the death of Orlando Zapata Tayamo in February after being on a hunger strike for 85 days, “has increased the campaign of harassment of journalists and bloggers who try to be independent, with serious risk to their lives and freedom.”

Finally, last but not least, the arrest of Dania Garcia, new limitations on Women in White
I mentioned previously that Dania Garcia, a sympathizer of the Women in White, had been arrested. Well, it turns out she was arrested after her adult daughter accused her of throwing the daughter out of their home, apparently because the latter strongly supports Fidel and disapproves of her mother’s activities blogging on behalf of the Women in White. Now, after international pressure, Dania has been released pending appeal. We shall see what happens. The Cuban government is sensitive to international disapproval, but, at all costs, wants to avoid having dissidents spread their message to the Cuban population. After an agreement brokered by the Cuban Catholic Church, the women will still be allowed to march, provide they keep to their original trajectory next to the church where they attend Sunday Mass (“Cuba frees backer of dissident group amid appeal,” By WILL WEISSERT, AP- May 10, 2010). Thus, my previous US-based Cuban commentator seems to have predicted correctly, that the women will be allowed to march, provided they do not stray into areas where numbers of Cuban citizens may see them.

My Cuban commentator says that the agreement between the Cuban government and Catholic Church specifies the following:

The conditions for allowing the Damas de Blanco to march at all was that they: 1- Could only march on Sundays. 2- Could only do so four blocks in the Quinta Avenida area. 3- Would not be allowed to have non-family members of the March 2003 political prisoners march with them. 4- Would be granted this permission conditionally based on the fulfillment of these previous conditions and that the government reserves its right to cancel this agreement if any of them are not met.

While it is true that the agreement limits the Damas’ activities, the very fact that the government negotiated with the church seems to be an important step.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Happy Mother’s Day, Review in Hill Rag, Talk May 26, Meeting w PC Director, Honduran Truth Commission, Please Help Promote Book for 3 Kids' Ed

Happy Mother’s Day to all my readers who are mothers, Feliz Dia de la Madre.

The May issue of a local paper, the Hill Rag, has a nice review of my book and an announcement of a talk and reading at Riverby Books, 7 pm, May 26, 417 E. Capitol, (202) 543-4342.

Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez reports that he already has 100,000 Twitter followers and he hopes to add his mentor and role model, Fidel Castro, to that list.

In Honduras, a Truth Commission has been set up with US and other international support to investigate the ousting of President Manuel Zelaya last June. Zelaya supporters have dubbed the commission a farce and have vowed not to cooperate.

My interpretation work continues to be a source of energy, concern, and enlightenment. One of my unemployment appeal clients (himself here legally under Temporary Protected Status) was worried about his teenage son, who had come to this country illegally because of fear of being forced to join a gang in his native El Salvador. Now the son is scheduled to appear before a judge in immigration court, who is likely to send him back. The father, now jobless, does not have the means to hire a lawyer to help defend his son.

In a child welfare case where the Spanish-speaking mother could only visit her four children, now in foster care, once a week at a public agency, I had an experience that was a first for me. The three younger children were bilingual, but the oldest, who was deaf, knew only English sign language. So imagine a scene where I am there as a Spanish-English interpreter and the older daughter has a sign-language interpreter in the same room. The mother could only communicate with her older daughter via the two of us. Oh, and a social worker was also present who needed to know what everyone was saying. My head was spinning after two hours of that.

As long as Honduras was in throes of the Zelaya affair, I wasn’t sure what my future relationship with that country would be. But now that matters seem to be settling down, I want to move forward, using book proceeds to help finance my Honduras projects.

As most blog readers already know, I’ve been back to Honduras six times since I left at the end of 2003, helping out with a number of medical brigades, including International Health Services of Minnesota, Operation Smile, and several others. The school for the blind in Teguc and the adult center for the blind in Santa Lucia, as well as the rehab center in Choluteca, are Honduran facilities that I regularly visit and assist both financially and with material donations.

Bessy, a paraplegic woman living in Gausaule, at the Nicaraguan border, is someone else I have assisted, although she caught me unaware last time, reporting that a footrest had fallen off her wheelchair (the one we got for her with Timoteo, as in my book) and she couldn’t go out any more. When she told me about the problem, the temp was 103F, with no light inside her hut (see my earlier photo on this blog), and Rev. Daniel was standing outside, perspiring heavily and waiting impatiently. I couldn’t think of what to do except press a few bills into her hand, which was no solution, and I doubt that she or her family can solve the problem themselves or they would have already done so. And now, with Daniel back in Guatemala, I don’t know what I will be able to do next time I go, because he had a vehicle, however, old and rattling, which he was willing to put to my service if I paid for fuel. I am wondering now if Bessy could have had her feet tied together somehow onto the remaining footrest and gone around like that. She does have sufficient arm strength to propel the wheelchair. But that possible temporary solution did not occur to me at the time.

So, next time I go, probably not until Feb. 2011, I will have to do something about Bessy. But I sincerely hope that she will figure something out herself and not remain for a whole year without leaving her hut, lying in bed, reading the Bible to herself aloud, as when I first found her before we got her the wheelchair. But, of course, this is seven years later and it was a used wheelchair to begin with, so it’s not surprising that something gave out. However, even as disabled as she is and without any income except what her mother earns by selling produce at the border, she needs to try to think about a solution for herself and not wait passively for someone else to figure it out for her. A problem with all these folks for me is that I have no communication with them until I can actually locate them in person—no phone, no Internet, no mail. I never know how I will find them next time—or even whether I will find them. Santos, the elderly man with Parkinson’s, has completely disappeared. Where did he go, did he die? I just don’t know and his former neighbors seem not to know either. I have come to rely on technology for communication since I live at such a distance from Honduras. But that doesn’t work with many of these folks.

I have plenty to do already every time I go to Honduras, but next time, I would like to add an education project, that is, paying higher education fees for three young people graduating from high school this coming November. They are all age 17 and all have been mentioned in my book and on this blog. I tried to interest Kiwanis in helping them, but was told that the organization is pulling back, not adding new commitments. I serve on the board of an organization that has been working in education in Honduras and Kenya, but the director and founder now prefers to focus exclusively on Kenya. I had hoped my book might sell better than it has, allowing me to realize this education plan, but, so far, although the book has received high praise, that has not translated into big sales. On Sun. May 2, for the first time, I sat out all day at a table outside Tortilla Cafe near the Eastern Market, selling my book with the permission of the Salvadoran proprietor. How many books did I sell? A grand total of two. At this rate, it will take years to move the inventory still being held in boxes in my living room.

So I’m asking my blog readers, most of whom I hope are also readers of my book, that if you liked it, please help promote it among your family and friends, ask them to order it on to give as a gift to their college, association, or public library, or to their mother or grandmother for Mother’s Day, because Mom and Grandma can be Peace Corps volunteers too, just as I was. Let’s get this ball rolling!
Here are the three prospective high school grads whom I hope to help by paying their education fees directly to the facility where they will enroll, because I don’t want their very needy families to talk them out of the money and prevent their realizing their dreams and potential.

First is Jorge, an ill-fated young man living with his family in Choluteca, whose left-hand fingers were amputated some years ago, as you already know from my book. When I saw him last Feb., he confessed a desire to learn computer science after he graduates from high school. He is a bright kid, understandably sensitive about his missing fingers, which he hides as much as possible. He also gave me a marijuana plant amulet, which I didn’t recognize as such! His mother died and his father remarried and now has several younger children.

Second is Neris, whose photo with me years ago adorns the lower right-hand corner of my book’s cover. Her farewell letter to me is also reproduced after the end of the book. Last I saw her, you will recall from my recent Feb. trip blog, her mother had moved out of their home in El Triunfo to be with a new boy friend, leaving Neris in charge of the family’s shop, as well as her younger siblings. That Neris has continued in high school despite these new responsibilities is a real tribute to her.

And, finally, there’s Marciel, one of 11 children, whose mother was at the Choluteca hospital during my last visit, staying at the bedside of a brother badly burned by firecrackers that had gone off in his pocket. I hope that he survived. Marciel herself has facial scars from earlier burns from an overturned kerosene lamp. After being self-conscious about attending school because of her scars, she is now reportedly doing well in her studies.

If the book should really take off, I’d also like to provide more educational help to Sandra and Arcenia, two of my ortho patients, whose photos have appeared in my book and who have been mentioned on this blog. But let’s start first with the three already mentioned, who, at least, will have finished high school by the time I plan to go again to Honduras in Feb 2011.

Their photos are shown above, Jorge, R, with his father and Rev. Daniel, L; Marciel cooking in her mother's stead; and Neris with Daniel and her pet cat.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cuba and Sudan Again, Hugo Chavez on Twitter

Recently, I mentioned the murder of a fifth Honduran journalist this year so far. Make that six now, as per a report in the local Spanish-language press. It was also reported that Hugo Chavez is now using Twitter. He first twittered to let people know about his upcoming visit to Brazil.

OAS Secretary General Insulza, perhaps reacting to criticisms of his human rights record and his very partisan support of Cuba, is now calling on Cuba to release ill political prisoners. He points out that the death of an imprisoned hunger striker in Feb. damaged Cuba’s image abroad. Good for him and let’s see if it has any affect on Cuban authorities.

As for Sudan, whose so-called presidential election was mentioned last time, it’s a country that barely bobs above the surface of the news these days. Too much else is going on and most people seem to have forgotten all about Darfur. The next goal for Bashir is to make sure the south does not secede when allowed to vote on that next year, something, no doubt, that 99% of southern residents want and will vote in favor of, provided their votes are fairly counted, which now looks doubtful. The US rep overseeing that whole process, reportedly is not very capable or tuned in--or so I've heard.

A friend has mailed me a short article from the Wall St. Journal (April 27, 2010), saying that Dania Virgen Garcia, a blogger who has supported the Damas, but who did not have anyone in prison herself, has been arrested. She was a member of a group calling itself "Ladies in Support." A blogger, she reportedly was given a sentence of one year, eight months.

Cuba human rights supporters in Madrid are planning to march in front of the Cuban Embassy on May 22, calling it a World March for Cuban Liberation and asking other countries to follow suit.

I’ve mentioned before that I am volunteer Caribbean Regional Action Network Coordinator for Amnesty International USA, a region that includes Cuba, a country I have visited several times and have many connections with. So I ask my blog readers’ indulgence in my posting information about Cuban human rights from time to time and of the following Amnesty items on Cuba. Please consider writing a letter to Cuban authorities regarding the Women in White, if you feel so inclined (see next two items).

29 April 2010

UA 98/10 - Fear for safety

CUBA Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White)

Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), a group of women relatives and friends of prisoners detained during a major crackdown on government critics in March 2003, plan to protest on 2 May through the streets of the Cuban capital, Havana to call for the release of their relatives. Amnesty International believes they are at risk of harassment and intimidation.

Damas de Blanco have carried out a weekly march every Sunday since they formed in 2003. The group march through the streets of Havana, starting at the Santa Rita Church, where they attend mass. Although the group reported harassment and intimidation in the past, they have stated that during the last few weeks, harassment by government supporters, the police and state security officials has increased. During their weekly marches, government supporters have amassed to shout insults and police and state security officials have broken up some marches by force.

At the beginning of April, state security officials visited around 30 members of Damas de Blanco at their homes in Havana to inform them of new regulations applying to their Sunday marches. They are now required to apply for authorization from the police at least 72 hours before each march. The marches must be limited to only five blocks within Havana and there are restrictions on the number of supporters allowed to march in solidarity with them. This was the first time Damas de Blanco were made aware of such regulations and the officials failed to notify them in writing of the regulations. Damas de Blanco have rejected the legitimacy of these restrictions and refuse to comply with them as they see them as unreasonable and an attempt by the authorities to prevent them from expressing their views and continuing with their peaceful activities.

Following the imposition of these new regulations, it has become increasingly difficult for the Damas de Blanco to march on Sundays. On Sunday 25 April, only six members of Damas de Blanco were allowed through a police check point to reach the Santa Rita Church. When they started to march after the mass they were confronted by two police officers and a state security official who reminded them of the new regulations and their lack of a permit to march. The Damas de Blanco ignored this warning and continued with their march. They were soon surrounded by dozens of government supporters who started to intimidate them by shouting insults and making noise with cooking pots and banging hoes. The Damas de Blanco were penned in and not able to move for almost eight hours until police officials intervened and took them home.

In 2003, over several days, the Cuban authorities arrested 75 men and women for their peaceful expression of critical opinions of the government. They were subjected to summary trials and were sentenced to long prison terms of up to 28 years. Amnesty International declared the 75 convicted dissidents to be prisoners of conscience, 53 of them remain in prison.

Damas de Blanco organize peaceful marches where they distribute flowers and call for the release of their relatives and friends. In 2005, Damas de Blanco was awarded The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.

In March 2010 Damas de Blanco organized a daily march for a week to mark the seventh anniversary of the arrest of their relatives. On 17 of March 2010, their march was forcibly broken up by Cuban police, who briefly detained several women. Some of the women claimed that they were beaten by the police. They included Reyna Tamayo, mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a prisoner of conscience who died on 22 February 2010, having spent several weeks on hunger strike whilst in prison.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:
- calling on the authorities to cease immediately the harassment and intimidation of the Damas de Blanco and any other citizens who seek to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
- Calling on the authorities to permit the Damas de Blanco to march peacefully on Sundays without unreasonable restrictions.


Head of State and Government
Raul Castro Ruz Presidente
La Habana, CUBA
Fax: 011 53 7 8333085 (via Foreign Ministry)
1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)
Email: (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Su Excelencia/Your Excellency

Interior Minister
General Abelardo Coloma Ibarra
Ministro del Interior y Prisiones
Ministerio del Interior, Plaza de la Revolucion, La Habana, CUBA
Fax: 011 53 7 8333085 (via Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
1 2127791697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Su Excelencia/Your Excellency


Cuba has no embassy in the US at present. To contact its interest in the US, write to:

Embassy of Switzerland
Cuban Interests Section
2639 16th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
Fax: 202 797 8521

Check with the AIUSA Urgent Action office if sending appeals after 10 June 2010.
Amnesty International--Cuba urged to respect press freedom as repression of journalists intensifies
30 April 2010
Amnesty International Press Release: Amnesty Internation al today called on the Cuban authorities to end harassment of independent journalists following a month in which several reporters were arbitrarily detained and intimidated for criticizing the government.

“Journalists who try to work independently of the state-owned media outlets in Cuba are being targeted with repressive tactics and spurious criminal charges - and this clampdown on freedom of expression appears to be intensifying,” said Susan Lee, Amnesty International's Americas Director, ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.

Journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias remains in detention after being arrested on 23 April by security officials who broke into the house where he was covering a memorial service for a prisoner of conscience. Orlando Zapata Tamayo had died two months earlier after several weeks on hunger strike in protest against the plight of prisoners of conscience in Cuba.

Another journalist described the campaign of intimidation waged against him as “psychological torture”. Yosvani Anzardo Hernández, the director of an online independent newspaper, was detained on 24 April and questioned for over six hours over anti-government graffiti found in the city of Holguin.

Meanwhile, news agency director Carlos Serpa Maceira was subjected to intimidation and harassment by the Cuban authorities when he tried to cover the weekly march by the activist group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) on three consecutive weekends in April. Members of the Damas de Blanco have been repeatedly harassed and intimidated by government supporters, and their weekly demonstrations were forcibly broken by police on at least two occasions.

"Criminal charges, or other forms of harassment and intimidation, must not be brought against independent journalists, human rights advocates or political dissidents as a result of their legitimate exercise of freedom of expression," said Susan Lee.

There are currently 55 prisoners of conscience detained in Cuba, most of them serving long sentences for criticizing the Cuban government and advocating basic human rights. Among them are several independent journalists. Several articles of the Cuban Constitution and Penal Code are so vague that the authorities have been able to use them in a way that infringes freedom of expression. The Cuban State also maintains a total control of broadcast media and the press, while access to the internet is heavily restricted.

"As a result of these restrictions on freedom of expression, Cubans are unable to share independent information without facing direct repression from the authorities," said Susan Lee. "Restrictions on access to the internet should be lifted and censorship of websites containing information and views contrary to government policies must be eliminated."

Amnesty International has urged the Cuban authorities to review all legal provisions that unlawfully limit freedom of expression and to release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.
Cuba's mobile phone boom sees few calls but plenty of chatter
Rory Carroll in Havana ,, Sunday 25 April 2010

Once illegal gadget is now ubiquitous, despite prohibitive costs, and is loosening the regime's grip on information. Roberto Machado tapped his pocket with a smile and with some ceremony fished out the phone: a Sony Ericsson, vintage 2003. For its new owner this was no clunky relic. It was beautiful. Machado, a 31-year-old artist, recently received it from an aunt in Spain and was enchanted. "I love it. I tell you, with this life isn't the same."

The age of the mobile phone has reached Cuba. Since being legalised by the communist government the phones, once a forbidden badge of foreign consumerism, have become a ubiquitous sight across the island. Clipped to belts, worn around necks, endlessly fiddled with, you see them everywhere. There is, however, a Cuban twist: very few use the phone to talk.

Machado looked aghast at the idea. "Speak? As in a conversation? Never. Not once. You would have to be crazy or desperate." Calls are too expensive so the phones are used as pagers. Instead of answering, Cubans note the incoming number and call back from a landline.

Such are the calculations wrought by an impoverished, centrally planned economy where the average monthly wage is $20 (£13). Calls between mobile phones cost 65 cents a minute, and slightly more from a mobile to a landline. Even texting, at 17 cents a message, is considered pricey. A minute-long call to Europe costs $5.85.
It takes enormous sacrifice – or a foreign benefactor – for Cubans to afford the $60 handset sold in government stores and a further $50 to activate the line with Etecsa, the state telephone company. Even so, there is always a queue outside Etecsa's store on Obispo street in Havana. Many are youths in sunglasses and designer jeans – part of a generation as obsessed by brands as their western peers. "We're catching up," said Miguel, a 19-year-old.

All in the queue – faces pressed against the store window – appeared giddy at the prospect of imminent cellular connection. "They've been waiting for this a long time," said a uniformed guard at the shop entrance. Cuba still has the lowest mobile phone use in Latin America but the number is rising fast, with 480,000 handsets for 11.2 million people, according to officials.

On one level this represents success for President Raúl Castro's promise to ease the hardships and petty restrictions which stoke resentment among Cubans at the 51-year-old revolution. Bans on DVDs and computers have also been lifted. From the government's viewpoint, however, there is a catch. These consumer goods fan a different, rival revolution – in information. Cubans yearn for news other than state media propaganda. "I'm sick of being treated like a 10-year-old who lives on another planet," one tourism worker put it.

A gossip grapevine nicknamed Radio Bemba (Radio Lip) is the traditional way to supplement official information. The new gadgets – phone cameras, flashcards, DVDs and the occasional internet link – are now multiplying that informal network. The state monopoly over news is history.

"Even if it is not always immediately visible the arrival of new technology brings changes which bubble under the surface," said Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst and Cuba expert at the University of Miami. Cubans are better informed than ever before, said Ruben Polanco, 29, an IT worker with a state bank. "With this," he said, indicating the camera on his Motorola phone, "the truth gets out."

Three recent examples show the technology's impact. Last month a baseball game between Industriales and Sancti Spíritus turned into a riot. Police waded into players and spectators – including a communist party chief – with batons and pepper spray. In the past the incident would have been the stuff of rumour, at most, but this time the brawl was captured on mobile phones, loaded on to flashcards, played on computers and DVD players across the island and uploaded to YouTube. "Everyone was talking about it, saying did you see the guy in the headlock," said Polanco.

Another clandestine video hit was a protest at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) in Havana where dozens of students protested over foul food and other grievances.
A third case has fuelled anger over a scandal at the main psychiatric hospital where at least 26 patients died during freezing weather in January. The authorities admitted a blunder, promised an investigation and hoped to move on. Instead, autopsy photographs showing emaciated, apparently bruised corpses were leaked. "It's one thing to hear and another to actually see," said Antonio Gonzalez-Rodiles, 37, a scientist who received the images on a flashcard. "The bodies were skin and bone, like something out of a concentration camp. It's really, really upsetting."

Unlike in Burma, Iran and other countries with repressive regimes, Cuba remains calm and stable. There are no uprisings, no mass demonstrations, so information technology poses no immediate risk to the government. Over time, however, the technology is likely to present an increasingly fraught challenge. The sea still surrounds it, but Cuba is ever less an island.
Bloggers critical of the government, such as Yoani Sanchez, have attracted wide followings overseas and admirers at home, despite internet restrictions. Secret police have struggled to winkle out satellite TV dishes hidden in water tanks, among other places.

Cuba's government retains formidable control but a battle with information technology is likely to be a battle lost, said Dianna Melrose, the British ambassador in Havana. "They are trying to do a King Canute, they are fighting an impossible tide.

Here is a letter from a Cuban living in the US, reacting to the Cuban government’s suppression of the Women in White (DB, Damas de Blanco):

What else could the government authorities do? They harassed and threatened the DB but continued to tolerate their marching just as long as they did so 5 blocks down Quinta Avenida because they were relatively isolated and the rest of the citizens of Havana were not aware of their activities. In this case the unfavorable foreign propaganda of interfering with their marches was considered worse than allowing them to continue. However, once they began to march down the different sections of Havana they began to be noticed by the habaneros and they broke the government’s monopoly of information. From that day on the internal cost of allowing them to continue outweighed the external cost of taking actions to stop their marches.

How has the totalitarian government gone about it trying to stop these marches? I believe very intelligently and effectively by doing everything possible except using physical violence against the DB. First taking using carrot and stick measures against their husbands, boy friends, fathers, brothers, sons who are in jail in accordance whether their wives and other female family members participate in the marches or not.

For example, in accordance with their family member's behavior, placing the political prisoners in jails closer or further from Havana and offering them worse or better detection conditions or shortening or lengthening their sentences. Offering their wives jail and conjugal visits on Sundays so that they would be unable to march.

Also creating new regulations to be able to prohibit or to limit their family members from marching such as:

1- Forcing them to ask for permits 72 hours before allows the authorities to be able to prohibit them at will from marching at all.
2- When the marches are permitted to limiting them marches to a short section of Quinta Avenida around the Santa Rita church that could be blocked off to isolate them from the residents of Havana and reduce the effectiveness of their dissident propaganda.
3- Not allowing them from taking advantage of sudden incidents of public unrest to go out and fan the flames.

These regulations could be efficiently enforced by imposing sanctions that could be raised for each renewed violation and that could be expected to eventually extinguish such behavior such as fines or house arrest. Imprisonment and physical punishment would not be used to avoid arousing the sympathy of Cubans and foreigners for the DB.

Also before having to apply even these relatively light sanctions pro-government crowds would be used to surround the DB for long periods of time and stop them from marching. The police would of course surround the DB to protect them from abuse by the hostile crowds and would then take them to their homes in buses for the same reason.

The authorities will use such tactics for some time before escalating to sanctions of fines and house arrests. By such methods the DB would be forced to stop the marches without the security forces having to appeal to violence and creating an anti-government backlash!

It is foreseeable that Castro is going to instruct the security forces to use non-violent methods to paralyze non violent opposition tactics. The SOB is planning to out Gandhi and out Martin Luther King the DB.

Please do not get me wrong. My heart is with the Damas de Blanco and they are the best effort and have had the greatest success the opposition has enjoyed in 50 years. But I am a short-run pessimist.

While Fidel Castro is alive, it will be extremely difficult to gain much leverage against his dictatorship within Cuba where that matters. The guy is a political genius, an evil one to be sure but still a genius.

Some adverse noise can be made outside the island of course. But until an effective way is found to infiltrate information into Cuba, all that is just preaching to the choir and will have very limited adverse influence within Cuba. Progress within Cuba will begin to be made once the information enters and/or the Beard is gone.

This does not mean that I am in favor of doing nothing against him now. By all means carry on because it will be a long cumulative effort and if a year of opposition propaganda can shorten the Cuban regime's grip on power by even one day, I think it will be worth it.

But do not kid yourself! We are throwing rocks at Morro Castle for the time being and will probably continue to do so while Fidel Castro is alive. If the story about his Chinese pet turtle turns out to be true, it will be a long grind, so let's not have any false hopes about the DB and learn to be patient! If any changes occur in Cuba soon, it will be not because of the DB but because of the debates that are raging inside of Cuba because of the obvious failure of 52 years of Fidel Castro's rule.