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Cuba: Twilight of the regime

Posted on Sunday, 04.03.11

Cuba: Twilight of the regimeBy CARLOS ALBERTO

Jimmy Carter went to visit Raúl Castro. The initiative was Raúl's. He wanted to let Obama know that everything is negotiable, including the release of Alan , an American sentenced on the island to 15 years' imprisonment for handing out computers and communications equipment so that uninformed Cubans might have access to the . For the moment, he has not freed Gross, but that will happen. It's a matter of time.

It is not at all clear why Raúl Castro does not turn to the American diplomats who are accredited in Cuba to send his messages, but he probably doesn't trust Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department. Accustomed as he is to making the important decisions as his brother did, he doesn't understand the institutional functioning of the United States, nor does he realize that Cuban affairs are barely important to the White House tenant.

What does Raúl Castro want in exchange for his hostage? Basically, his objectives are two: that the White House eliminate restrictions on Americans so the annual number of tourists who visit the island — about two million — doubles or triples swiftly; and that Washington permanently interrupt the economic aid and distribution of electronic equipment to the Cuban opposition. In any case, that aid remains detained today by legal obstacles raised by Democratic Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Does Raúl have anything else to offer, other than Gross' ? He has little, and it's hardly elegant: basically, it's a change in the repressive strategy. In short, he mistreats his compatriots with less cruelty. By stages, he has freed the 75 democrats imprisoned during the so-called "black spring" of 2003, deporting most of them to , and it is possible that he will continue to gradually liberate the hundred or so political prisoners who remain in .

He no longer sentences the dissidents to long terms. He infiltrates their ranks to learn their movements, beats them, intimidates them and detains them for brief periods. When they gather or go out on the street, he launches against them mobs directed by the political , in what are called "acts of repudiation." Raúl has learned that to keep society scared and in his grasp, to prevent power from slipping through his hands, those coercive measures are enough. It is not necessary to jail his adversaries. Terrifying them is enough. Fidel was exaggeratedly punitive.

But that's not all. It is also possible that Raúl will open his economic hand a little more at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party that will be held in April. He knows that the huge majority of Cubans wish to be able to buy and sell their homes and that there's no reason to keep the absurd rules that prevent that.

Nor is he unaware that the wish of Cubans to freely leave or enter Cuba transcends the ideological issue: communists, anticommunists and those who are indifferent agree that the government has no right to prohibit the free movement of people. To eliminate that exit and entry permit would be extraordinarily welcome by the entire population, and he would be acclaimed without the need to make any transcendental change. Sotto voce, Cubans usually point out that Raúl Castro has no moral standing to complain that the U.S. president doesn't allow Americans to travel to the neighboring island when he himself keeps his own people hostage.

Will there be a substantial change in U.S. policy toward Cuba after Carter's visit? I don't believe so. The general perception in Washington, judging from the WikiLeaks, is that the Cuban regime is in a final phase of demoralization and erosion, and it makes no sense to do anything that halts or reverses that trend. Corruption is rampant, the children of many leaders are leaving the country discreetly and the state of mind that prevails among the mid-level cadres is that of an end-of-regime. Raúl is not unaware of this but has no way to prevent it, as long as he insists in maintaining a one-party collectivist regime that demands total obedience.

On to defeat always, general.

Cuba’s dissidents are not alone

Posted on Thursday, 03.31.11

The Miami Herald | EDITORIALCuba's dissidents are not alone

OUR OPINION: Carter's visit brings hope and recognition

When former Jimmy Carter last visited Cuba, in 2002, he delivered a remarkable speech via the state-run media that criticized the Castro dictatorship and exposed listeners to the truly revolutionary idea that it's up to the Cuban people, not the one-party regime nor any foreign government, to determine Cuba's future.

Naturally, his visit raised hopes that this might represent an ever-so-small but significant breakthrough for democracy. Within months, dashed those hopes. The Cuban "black spring" of March 2003 saw the round-up and imprisonment of 75 dissidents on flimsy, capricious charges designed to stifle any hint of political or accommodation. It was a vicious blow to the aspirations of millions of Cubans and a testament to the enduringly repressive and capricious nature of the hard-line Castro regime.

Mr. Carter's trip made sense back then, and so does his latest journey. Neither visits by a former U.S. president nor even by the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church can change Cuba, but the visits are worthwhile.

Although he was unable to secure the release of detained American Alan , which was never in the cards, Mr. Carter was able to meet with this imprisoned victim of Cuban state security and raise the issue with Cuban officials.

His meetings with Cuba's brave band of democracy advocates also deserve commendation.

Such meetings give the dissidents the imprimatur of recognition by an individual who won the Nobel Peace Prize. It means they are not alone, that their struggle has the support of all who fight for peaceful change on behalf of political and around the world. It gives the dissidents hope, something always in short supply in Cuba. It means their sacrifices are honored. It puts the government on notice that the world is watching and will condemn any punishment that comes their way from the repressive security apparatus.

This is especially important at a time when the Cuban people show signs of growing impatience with the gerontocracy that rules the island and, in particular, with Fidel Castro's long good-bye. Change in Cuba will come at its own pace and will be determined by the will and circumstances of its own people, but it will assuredly come. Until then, those who aspire for a better Cuba deserve encouragement and support. To that end, visits like Mr. Carter's are helpful.

What is decidedly not helpful, though, are comments by Mr. Carter favoring the release of five Cuban spies held in American prisons. The implicit quid pro quo is their release in exchange for the freedom of Mr. Gross. This would be an unqualified mistake. There is no equivalency whatsoever in these two cases. None can be acknowledged nor implied.

The Cuban spies were convicted of charges related to spying in an open trial, with their case reviewed (twice) by a federal appellate court. They had the benefit of lawyers committed to giving them the best defense possible. Contrast this with Mr. Gross, who is no one's idea of a spy. His "crime" was to bring unregistered communications equipment onto the island for the use of marginalized groups.

For this, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to 15 years in by a judicial authority that works hand-in-gloved fist with the totalitarian government. That's justice, Castro-style.

The Obama administration has made overtures to the Cuban government. But as long as Mr. Gross remains in prison, all moves toward better relations will be frozen. Only by Cuba's actions can there be a thaw in relations.


Canada’s Dilemma With Cuba

Canada's Dilemma With CubaBy Nelson Taylor Sol Created: Mar 31, 2011 Last Updated: Mar 31, 2011

This month Dr. Oscar Biscet was released from a Cuban jail, a move that could mark a turning point in the country.

Detained during the "Black Spring" of March 2003, Dr. Biscet and 74 other members of the opposition movement were considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, drawing international condemnation, including a common European Union stance against Castro's regime.

Carefully planned to decapitate Cuba's growing opposition movement at a time when the world's attention was focused on the outset of the Iraq war, the now infamous crackdown saw dozens of journalists, librarians, and activists rounded up, summarily tried, and sentenced for up to 28 years in jail.

In Cuba, as is always the case in communist countries, the flow of information is totally controlled by the government. That is more or less the case for locally based foreign media, aware that whatever is reported to their home countries, is closely scrutinized by Cuban censors. However, this time around, the charges of "agents of the USA" on which Dr. Biscet and the rest of the activists were sentenced, somehow didn't find the usual indifference that the cause of in Cuba normally faces.

Dr. Biscet, a 49-year-old medical doctor, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the Prime Minister of Hungary, members of the United States Congress, members of the European Parliament, members of the British House of Lords, and members of the Parliament of Canada. Their open letters to the Norwegian Committee (Canadian MPs requested that their identities not be publicized) outlined the importance of honouring Dr. Biscet, a human rights defender of universal stature, as a way of recognizing his selfless struggle for human dignity.

Dr. Biscet's story of opposition started earlier in the 80s, but it wasn't until 1997 that he really irked the government (see for further reference) by conducting a clandestine ten-month research study at the Hijas de Galicia documenting unofficial statistical data on abortion techniques.

During this study, many Cuban mothers testified that their newborn babies were killed right after birth, a common practice in hospitals throughout the island. The research study, "Rivanol: A Method to Destroy Life," was officially delivered to the Cuban government in June 9, 1998, along with a letter addressed to accusing the Cuban National System of genocide. Needless to say, that was the end not only of Dr. Biscet's medical career but also his wife's career as a nurse.

Dr. Biscet's mere nomination [for the Nobel prize] helps to lessen the degree of ostracism the regime uses to stifle Cuban dissidents. In addition to the regular beatings and subhuman conditions suffered by Cuban prisoners of conscience, the psychological tortures inflicted upon these men and women include prolonged periods of solitary confinement, the prohibition of literature, and forced separation from their families. The main goal of this is to break their spirits. A frequent script used by interrogators and jailers is: "While you rot in here, life continues outside, and the fact is that in the so-called free world, nobody cares whether you live or die."

By recognizing Dr. Biscet's struggle, the opposition movement gains the legitimacy that most in the free world have exclusively granted to the regime. Through Dr. Biscet, we see a solidarity that up to now was accustomed to a world seemingly mesmerized by the charms of a despot.Canada's Role

Canada has consistently been a major facilitator of the Cuban regime's survival ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union. When it comes to liquidity contribution via trade, investment, and , Canada leads the world by providing the cash that the Castro family desperately needs to stay in power. This occurs regardless of which party has the most seats in Parliament.

The apparent secret bond between Canada and the regime, which is common knowledge among human rights activists in Cuba, has also damaged Canada's reputation internationally. A Toronto Star article published on December 17, 2010, states: "Canada is one of several countries that has stopped pressuring Cuba on human rights to gain business favours from Havana, according to confidential U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks."

With critical events unfolding sooner rather than later, perhaps it is about time to realize that turning our backs on the people of Cuba and failing to openly denounce the ongoing human tragedy in that country will eventually backfire. Canadians should question the risks of dealing with the worst tyranny ever to take hold on the western hemisphere for two reasons: First, its practicality if the explosive socio-economic context is considered, and second, the long-term moral consequences of propping up a criminal regime in the heart of the Americas.

Nelson Taylor Sol is the Ottawa representative director of the Cuban Canadian Foundation and a Cuban expatriot. His address is Further information can be seen at"

Quota for Revolucionaries, or "If you have to do it, you have to do it."

Quota for Revolucionaries, or "If you have to do it, you have to do it."Miriam Celaya, Translator: Norma Whiting

of Havana. Photograph from the

If someone had told us in the distant 70's that the day would come when attendance at a march or other event in support of the revolution would be guaranteed by assigning quotas, I'm sure we would have made a face, incredulous. However, what back then would have been unthinkable is today a palpable reality.

Just a few days ago, the official press announced the forthcoming implementation of a parade to mark the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the socialist character of the Cuban revolution and the victory at Bay of Pigs to be held on April 16th with the massive participation of children and the young in the municipalities of Havana "on behalf of the Cuban people." What the press did not report is they had begun a process of selection in primary schools, secondary technical schools and colleges days before, pledging a fixed number of potential participants to ensure a respectable attendance at the event. A similar process has been taking place at universities and workplaces, where grassroots committees of the UJC (Communist Youth League) have had to mandatorily meet a quota to pay tribute at the parade. This is not really very difficult, given that the capital has a population of two million people and the event will begin with a military parade, which will swell the march.

It seems clear that the authorities know the lack of spontaneity of "the people" when holding the ceremonies of the revolutionary anniversaries. In previous years, many study centers were not limited to collecting lists of the disposition of their young to march in different events, but they were coerced into taking part in the ritual using resources previously unimaginable. For example, the of Stomatology used a procedure sui generis for a more massive achievement at the March of the Torches — a fashion reminiscent of the Brownshirts youth of Nazi — which in Cuba ends before the Marti's Flame. The repressor-wannabes of that university faculty have established, throughout the course of that march, three control points to which each student must report, preventing the classic dispersing into side streets after the young people leave the march starting point: the aforementioned faculty is located at Carlos III and G Streets. I heard that other schools are using the same method as the only resource for the parade to be sufficiently attended.

The procedure for the allocation of quotas has become widespread and in a way that even the repudiation rallies have had to appeal to it. At the March 18th march, the Ladies in White were the target of further harassment by pro-government mobs that prevented a march of remembrance for the crackdown of the Black Spring. The repressive forces were ordered to deploy an operation to block the exit from Laura Pollan's and Hector Maseda's house, and from Neptune, a main street. Meanwhile, they several people who were preparing to participate voluntarily and spontaneously in the march.

They also mobilized their hordes of people to keep the participants at bay, hordes that were maintained throughout the day on Friday the 18th and Saturday the 19th shouting pro-government slogans and yelling insults. To achieve this, they rely on the quota system. This is why every base committee of the UJC at all campuses in the capital and the suburbs had to allocate at least one militant for such an bothersome mission. Since Friday, for example, 18 young CUJAE (Technical University) militants had to guarantee the ones who would concentrate the next morning at Parque Trillo, Centro Habana, to go to "repudiate" outside the home of Laura and Hector. The operation, of course, was a "success."

According to reliable sources, this has led to the establishment of a sort of lottery, through which militants that are called raffle off "the package." There are discussions among those who already participated "the last time" and who wield in their defense the phrase "I already did it." A total aberration of what once was a true and enthusiastic support for the revolution and its leaders.

Having learned about such unorthodox procedures to force young people into shameful practices, I feel even more contempt for the system that turns people into beasts and more compassion for the unaware youths that lend themselves to such a degrading service. Poor rookies, who condemn themselves to have to hide, tomorrow, such a mean and cowardly attitude!

Translated by Norma Whiting

March 21, 2011

Cuba reforms: Small businesses spring up in Havana

26 March 2011 Last updated at 00:51 GMT

Cuba reforms: Small businesses spring up in HavanaBy Michael Voss BBC News, Havana

Something is happening on the streets of Havana that hasn't been seen for years.

Small businesses are starting to appear everywhere.

It is part of the first major shake-up of Cuba's struggling Soviet-style economic model since the 1960s, and private enterprise is no longer a dirty word.

In communist-run Cuba, 85% of the population is employed by the state.

But now the government is issuing 250,000 licences to would-be entrepreneurs and the interest is enormous.

Lazara Barreras used to work in the accounts department of a state enterprise. Now she has a small market stall selling bootleg DVDs and CDs.

"I'm never going to be a millionaire but it's enough to get by on," Ms Barreras says.

All the films and albums she is selling are pirated copies of the originals.

Boosting employment appears more important than copyright for the state, though the authorities would argue that it is all down to the US trade since they are not allowed to import them anyway.Street of sellers

Ms Barreras is working out of the front porch of a house on 114th Street in the Havana district of Marianao.

There is a large opposite, so it is a busy street that has always had a mix of small shops, stands and homes.

Being allowed to rent space in your home to these small businesses is another new development.

Eddy Callejas proudly shows off his first ever rent book. He is one of three people on this block who are leasing their front porches or verandas to street sellers.

"It's just a start. Now you can rent space for people to sell their merchandise. Perhaps later I can offer a better set-up, creating new facilities to benefit both the landlord and the tenants," Mr Callejas says.

He has two tenants, Ms Barreras the DVD seller and Daely Asan whose stall offers everything from plastic hair bands to scouring pads and batteries as well as a range of cheap costume jewellery.

"It gives me a lot of options I never had before. You have your own work and keep your social security. It counts towards my pension. I think it's a very good option," says Mr Callejas.

Since the beginning of the year, 10 new private businesses have sprung up on this one block alone.

These include a watch repair man, a barber shop, a stall selling new and used plumbing supplies along with a second DVD/CD stand and another mixed plastic goods stall.

There are also two tiny cafes. One is a hole-in-the-wall snack bar selling sandwiches and soft drinks through a window that fronts onto the street. The other sells some cakes and pastries as well.

They are competing side by side with subsidised state shops. The biggest queue on the street is at a state-owned food outlet selling cheap, freshly made and very tasty-looking cheese pies.

Competition in this new mixed is likely to be fierce.Big shift

Taxes are high and there remains a lot of red tape. Under the new rules people can even hire a limited number of workers, though to do so they have to pay a hefty fee to the state.

So far, promised bank micro-credits and access to wholesale supplies have yet to emerge.

In developed market economies, roughly half of all new start-ups fail in the first year. The figure is likely to be higher here.

But it does signal a significant ideological shift from the past.

"The vast majority of Cubans have never met a Cuban capitalist or a small businessman because they were born under this system," says Rafael Hernandez, editor of Temas, an official magazine which covers issues relating to culture, ideology and society.

But Mr Hernandez believes that it is time "to re-think our socialism and give the non-state sector the importance they deserve. They are part of us."

Shortly after the revolution in 1959, started expropriating all the major industries, banks and farms, many of them American-owned.

Ten years later he went further, nationalising almost all jobs from barbers to bricklayers and everyone from doctors to street cleaners were paid the same.

The aim was to create a new man, based on moral not monetary incentives. It has proved a costly experiment.

Today wages are low, barely $20 (£12) a month. In return, the state takes care of everything from , and to a ration book with heavily subsidised food.

Without incentives, productivity is low and in these tough economic times the government can no longer afford such a generous welfare state.First shoots

Once before, after the collapse of their main benefactor, the Soviet Union, the Cuban authorities allowed a limited number people to open small family businesses, mainly restaurants and guest houses catering to tourists.

But they were treated as necessary evils and many were forced to close once the economy picked up.

This time Cuban Raul Castro says it will be different.

"The Communist Party and Government need to facilitate their work rather than generate stigmas and prejudices against them, much less demonise them," President Castro said in a recent televised address to the National Assembly or parliament.

Encouraging self-employment is part of a broader reform package aimed at kick-starting the island's struggling state-run economy.

The first Communist Party Congress for 14 years is due to take place in April to ratify the changes, some of which will be painful, that Mr Castro is proposing.

Subsidies, including the ration card, are being phased out, and more than a million workers could lose their state jobs.

The lay-offs, however, have now been delayed. The government appears uneasy about potential social upheaval and does not have its alternatives in place.

The original aim was for many of those laid off to become self-employed.

So far, the majority of the people who have applied for licences are pensioners, housewives and those who were already working for themselves on the black market. They have now been legalised and made to pay tax.

The proposed changes are a long way short of 's free market reforms. Raul Castro has pledged that this is not a return to capitalism.

But as 114th Street shows, the first shoots of a market economy are starting to grow.

US hails Cuba releases, but rights still ‘poor’

US hails Cuba releases, but rights still 'poor'(AFP)

WASHINGTON — The United States said Friday that conditions under Cuba's communist regime remain "poor" despite Havana's recent release of the last members of a group of dissidents detained eight years ago.

"We welcome the release of the last of the 75 peaceful Cuban activists who were unjustly for exercising their universal rights and fundamental freedoms during the 2003 'Black Spring' crackdown," Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement.

The release marked "a step in the right direction," he said.

"However, human rights conditions in Cuba remain poor. The Cuban government continues to limit fundamental freedoms, including of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly," said Toner, adding that Washington urges Havana to "release all remaining political prisoners."

He also pressed Cuba to allow the United Nations and Red Cross access to the country's jails, "so that a fuller accounting of remaining political prisoners can be possible."

On Wednesday the government released Felix Navarro and Jose Ferrer, the last from the 2003 group.

But Cuba's opposition movement stresses that the prisons are not empty of dissidents, with one activist noting on Wednesday that there are some 60 people currently held on political charges.

Last July, the Catholic Church struck a deal with the state to have the 2003 group's remaining 52 imprisoned dissidents freed and allowed to go into exile in , in the biggest release since Raul Castro formally took power in 2008.

But only 40 agreed to leave Cuba, and the remaining dozen insisted on staying, leading in some cases to months-long delays in their release.

Toner said US President Barack Obama has focused "on increased engagement with the Cuban people in an effort to promote democratic ideals and improve human rights conditions on the island."

On Monday in a speech in , Obama urged Cuban authorities to "take meaningful actions" to improve the rights of Cubans.

Ties between Washington and Havana, which have had no formal relations for more than 50 years, thawed slightly when Obama took office.

But Washington was incensed when in December 2009 Cuba arrested an American contractor, Alan , for delivering communications equipment on the island.

On March 12 he was sentenced to 15 years in for "acts against the independence or territorial integrity" of Cuba.

Tag: human rights

Cuba to release last two prisoners of its "Black Spring"

Cuba to release last two prisoners of its "Black Spring"Mar 22, 2011, 17:40 GMT

Havana – Cuban authorities are to release the last two dissidents who remained in out a group of 75 in the so-called 'Black Spring' of March 2003, the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba said Tuesday.

Felix Navarro and Jose Daniel Ferrer, regarded as political prisoners by Amnesty International, refuse to leave Cuba once they are released. They were both serving 25-year prison sentences after being convicted of being 'mercenaries' in the service of the United States.

The Archdiocese of Havana also announced the release of 11 other prisoners who are to to once they leave prison. Five of these are on a list of political prisoners drafted by the umbrella organization Cuban Commission of and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) and were serving 4-30 year prison sentences for crimes like 'terrorism,' 'contempt' or 'disobedience.'

In July, Cuban bishops and the government of Cuban finalized a deal for the release of 52 prisoners of the group of 75 imprisoned in 2003 who remained behind bars at the time. Of these, 40 have already travelled to Spain with their families, while 12 rejected exile but were also released.

The Black Spring arrests prompted a wave of international criticism on communist Cuba and led the to call off cooperation with the island, which was only officially relaunched in 2008.

In light of the Roman Catholic mediation effort, scores of other prisoners have also travelled to Spain with their families after being released in recent months.

According to the Archdiocese of Havana, so far 114 prisoners have accepted the proposal to leave prison and travel to Spain since July.

The CCDHRN says there are around 50 political prisoners left in Cuba, about a quarter of the number in January 2010.

The Cuban government denies holding any political prisoners, insisting that they have all been tried and convicted of common crimes.

Cuban Ladies in White harassed by pro-Castro hecklers

Monday, March 21st 2011 – 07:34 UTC

Cuban Ladies in White harassed by pro-Castro hecklers

Cuban government supporters harassed a group of dissidents who met at a home in Havana to commemorate the eighth anniversary of a sweeping crackdown on dissent.

Hundreds of mostly young counter-demonstrators gathered Friday outside the home of Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White organization that comprises relatives of dozens of government opponents and given long terms in 2003, the vast majority of whom have since been released.

Twenty-seven dissidents met at the residence, including members of the Ladies in White and Guillermo Fariñas – both winners of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for of Thought – as well as recently released Amnesty International-adopted prisoners of conscience Hector Maseda and Angel Moya.

The dissidents were marking the eighth anniversary of the Black Spring crackdown of 2003, when 75 independent journalists and democracy activists were rounded up and sentenced to prison terms of between six and 28 years.

They were accused of conspiring with the United States to undermine the independence of the state and "the principles of the revolution."

On Friday, the large pro-Castro crowd forced the Ladies in White and the other dissidents to remain inside the home and shouted slogans in support of the government and against the dissidents, whom they denounced as "traitors."

They also hung a large Cuban flag from a rooftop and with a directional speaker at full volume played the national anthem and music by Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez.

A contingent of and state security agents also had been deployed to the area surrounding the home and several streets were blocked off to traffic.

Tensions flared at one point during the hours-long "" against the dissidents, when one member of the Ladies in White tried to leave Pollan's home to hold a peaceful march on the street.

The government supporters prevented her from doing so and pushing and shoving erupted between the two sides.

Shortly afterward, plainclothes security agents arrived and helped one of the Ladies in White who felt ill, escorting her away from the crowd in a vehicle.

In statements by phone early in the day, Ladies in White spokeswoman Berta Soler had vowed that the harassment would not prevent her group from commemorating the anniversary of the Black Spring.

For his part, Fariñas, a psychologist, and frequent hunger striker said the years since the 2003 crackdown have been ones of "resistance, civic struggle and perseverance."

This year's anniversary comes at a time when most of the Group of 75 prisoners have been released following Spanish-supported talks last year between Raul Castro's government and Cuba's Catholic hierarchy.

Castro supporters jeer Cuban dissidents

Castro supporters jeer Cuban dissidentsReuters March 19, 2011

Supporters of Cuba's communist government harassed Cuban dissidents on Friday as they tried to mark the anniversary of a 2003 crackdown that sent 75 government opponents to for long sentences.

About 100 people surrounded the home of Laura Pollan, head of the Ladies in White group, shouting "this street belongs to Fidel (Castro)" and calling the dissidents "worms."

The harassment prevented the Ladies in White from marching in the streets, as they have on March 18 in years past to remember the crackdown, which is known as Havana's "Black Spring."

A leader of the women's group, Bertha Soler, told Reuters there were about three dozen people in the house, including several recently released political prisoners.

"The government is impotent. They don't know how to stop peaceful women and because of that they bring these mobs to attack us with words," she said by telephone.

The Black Spring arrests arose from the government's belief that dissidents are mercenaries working for the United States.

The crackdown, which resulted in jail sentences of up to 28 years for the accused, prompted criticism of Cuba's and damaged its international relations.

In a deal brokered by the Catholic Church, agreed last July to free the 52 prisoners who remained in jail from the crackdown.

All but two have been released and most sent to exile in , which agreed to take them because Cuba wanted them out of the country.

Cuba releases another "Group of 75" dissident

Cuba releases another "Group of 75" Published March 18, 2011EFE

Havana – Cuban authorities have released the dissident Librado Linares, one of 75 government opponents sentenced to lengthy terms in a 2003 crackdown, according to the opposition member himself, who said he intends to continue working for and democracy in Cuba.

"Human rights are intrinsic to everyone and no government can either give them to us or take them away," Linares told Efe in a telephone conversation from his home in the central province of Villa Clara, where he returned Thursday afternoon after eight years in jail.

The dissident said he was "very moved" and "feeling the impact" of being once more with his family, friends, neighbors and fellow dissidents who were waiting to welcome him home.

Linares, who led the Cuban Reflection Movement at the time he was and sentenced to 20 years in prison during the Black Spring of 2003, confirmed his intention to continue at the head of the organization, and did not rule out the possibility of transforming that project into another much bigger.

The release of that dissident, announced Wednesday by the island's Catholic hierarchy, leaves two members of the Group of 75 still in prison: Felix Navarro and Jose Daniel Ferrer.

Spanish-supported talks between and Cuba's Catholic hierarchy led last summer to a government pledge that the 52 Group of 75 prisoners who then remained behind bars would be released within four months.

All of the members of that group were adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International and Havana was under international pressure to release them after one Group of 75 member, Orlando Tamayo, died following a lengthy hunger strike in February 2010.

Forty of those dissidents were freed after accepting exile to , but getting out of prison has taken much longer for those who refused to leave the country, as in the case of Linares.

Since last October, the Cuban government has extended its freeing of prisoners on condition of exile to Spain to another kind of convict, those sentenced for crimes against state security, though the internal opposition does not acknowledge many of the latter to be active dissidents.

The island's Communist government does not recognize that it is holding political prisoners, saying imprisoned dissidents are mercenaries working with the United States to undermine the revolution.

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HRF demands amnesty for Oscar Elías Biscet and all paroled prisoners of conscience

Cuba's Black Spring:HRF demands amnesty for Oscar Elías Biscet and all paroled prisoners of conscience; After his release, Biscet tells HRF he's in a bigger now

NEW YORK (March 14, 2011) – Following the release of of conscience Oscar Elías Biscet from prison, the Foundation (HRF) demands amnesty for him and for all the prisoners of conscience of Cuba's Black Spring who have rejected exile to and have instead been released on parole in Cuba.

"I know I'm leaving a small prison for the big prison that is Cuba. Yet I'm very happy and very thankful to God, because after so many years, I go back to my wife here at home," said Biscet during a telephone call with HRF on March 13.

Last Friday, after eight years of imprisonment, Biscet was released under an "extra penitentiary license"—a form of parole established in Cuba's Criminal Code. According to this provision, Biscet will continue to serve his 25-year sentence outside of prison, as long as he shows "good conduct."

"I am a defender of life and liberty, and on those two values I base all that I do," Biscet told HRF. "I refused to leave Cuba because I've pledged never to abandon it until I achieve my objectives—democracy and for Cuba."

Between February 1998 and November 1999, Biscet was detained 27 times by state agents in Cuba. In 2003, during what would be remembered as Cuba's Black Spring, Biscet was detained, summarily tried, and sentenced to 25 years in prison for engaging in "acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state."

"Prisoners of conscience are not criminals. They are courageous men and women who have been imprisoned for peacefully defying a despotic government," said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. "A common criminal may be granted parole to serve the remainder of his sentence out of a prison cell. But a 's only crime is refusing to bow before a . They all deserve amnesty," Halvorssen stated.

On February 13, 2011, prisoners of conscience Héctor Maseda and Ángel Moya, who also rejected forced exile to Spain, were released on parole in Cuba. They are, respectively, the husbands of Laura Pollán and Berta Soler—both of whom are leaders of the Ladies in White.

"I will continue doing what I've done until now—I'm a , I'm an independent , I oppose this government and I will not stop opposing it," said Maseda on the day of his release. "The fight will continue. If we have to go to prison, we will return there because we're fighting for a just cause. We are not criminals, or drug dealers—we're peaceful fighters striving for freedom," Moya stated that day.

According to Cuba's Criminal Code, if the Cuban government were to grant amnesty to all prisoners of conscience, as HRF demands, they would become legally free, as this measure would "extinguish" their "criminal responsibility," as well as "the sentence and all its effects."

"The stance taken by Maseda, Moya, and Biscet, raises a profound feeling of admiration in all of us. Yet, it doesn't surprise us," said Halvorssen. "A conditional release is better than jail for almost everyone, except for prisoners of conscience. For these heroes, a totalitarian society is already a prison, and jail is a price they are willing to pay in order to gain their freedom."

In 2003, Burmese Nobel Peace Laureate and prisoner of conscience Aung San Suu Kyi said, "It is ironic, I say, that in an authoritarian state it is only the prisoner of conscience who is genuinely free. Yes, we have given up our right to a normal life. But we have stayed true to that most precious part of our humanity—our conscience."

As he closed his call with HRF, Biscet said, "We ask the international community, and all persons living in free and democratic countries, to help us pressure the Cuban government so that Daniel Ferrer, Librado Linares, and Félix Navarro can also be released."

Ferrer, Linares, and Navarro are the three Black Spring prisoners of conscience that remain incarcerated in Cuba. As of today, eight have been released on parole after rejecting exile. They are Pedro Argüelles, Diosdado González, Iván Hernández, Guido Sigler, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, Héctor Maseda, Ángel Moya, and Oscar Elías Biscet.

In September 2010, HRF released an exclusive video of the Ladies in White that relates the story of how the group formed following the Black Spring government crackdown, and discusses events that have brought international attention to Cuba's prisoners of conscience.

HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF's ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone . HRF's International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Václav Havel, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Contact: Pedro Pizano, Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486,

Does last Black Spring journalist’s release mark turning point for free expression?

Does last Black Spring journalist's release mark turning point for free ?Published on Monday 7 March 2011.

The last journalist detained since the March 2003 "Black Spring" crackdown, Pedro Argüelles Morán, was released from a in Ciego de Ávila, his home town, on the evening of 4 March and was reunited with his family, concluding a sad episode in Cuba's history for Reporters Without Borders.

There is now only one journalist in prison in Cuba. It is Albert Santiago Du Bouchet, who was given a three-year jail sentence in April 2009 on a charge of "disrespect for authority." Reporters Without Borders hopes he will be released soon.

So the Cuban government kept its word. The release of the 52 remaining Black Spring detainees, mediated by the Cuban Catholic church and the Spanish government, is now virtually complete. Only four are still waiting to be freed.

The end of the Black Spring will inevitably raise retrospective questions about the purpose of this crackdown and the seven years of and hate propaganda against its victims and their defenders. Neither the 40 who were forced into exile nor those who were allowed to stay – including Argüelles and two independent journalists released previously – had their sentences annulled.

Most of the crackdown's victims, who just demanded the right to express their views freely and to report news and information, were absurdly convicted under Law 88, which punishes threats to Cuba's "territorial integrity."

The end of the Black Spring could be the start of a new situation for civil liberties in Cuba if the authorities are prepared to learn all the lessons from it. Gestures have recently been made in the form of unblocking certain websites and blogs. But more physical repression was used to prevent a tribute to the Orlando Tamayo on 23 February, the first anniversary of his death in detention.

Such a situation is no longer tenable. The government, which is clearly worried by the current revolutions in the Maghreb and Middle East, should accept pluralism as the way forward. Choosing this option would require a dialogue with civil society and legalization of independent news media that are not controlled by the state.

It would also eventually entail the rehabilitation, or at least an amnesty, for prisoners of conscience and permission for exiles to return. Finally, the Cuban authorities must also honour their international obligations by ratifying the two UN conventions on civil and political rights which they signed in 2008.

The international community, for its part, must take note of the progress that has been made. Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the lifting of the unfair US of Cuba that has been in place since 1962. It also urges the to review its common position, under which normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba is conditioned on respect for .,39686.html

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