Most recently, on October 11th, Amado Fakhre, a British citizen and the head of Coral Capital, an investment fund, was woken at dawn and taken for questioning by state security agents. He has been held without charge ever since. His company owns Havana’s poshest hotel in partnership with the government, and hoped to win a $400m contract to build homes around a golf course. Its Havana office has been closed and declared a crime scene.
Two Canadian executives, Sarkis Yacoubian and Cy Tokmakjian, have met a similar fate. Their questioning has gone on for months, again without charge. Their companies imported cars (including the president’s fleet of BMWs) and machine parts destined for nickel mining.
For more than eight years, the Castro regime tried its level best to silence Ladies in White leader Laura Pollán. Ten days ago Pollán did fall silent. She passed away, after a brief illness, in a Havana hospital.
Hospital officials initially said that she died of cardiac and respiratory arrest. But according to Berta Soler, the spokesperson for the Ladies in White in Havana, the death certificate says that Pollán succumbed to diabetes mellitus type II, bronchial pneumonia and a syncytial virus.
Since there was no independent medical care available to her and there was no autopsy, we are unlikely ever to find out what killed Pollán. We do know that although she was a diabetic with high blood pressure, both were under control and she did not need regular insulin shots. Indeed, she had been healthy only weeks before her death, according to friends and family. We also know that the longer she remained under state care, the sicker she got.
Here’s how it happened,
On Sept. 24, Pollán was attacked by a mob as she tried to leave her house to attend Mass. Her right arm was reportedly twisted, scratched and bitten. This is notable because for more than a year, the Ladies had alleged that when Castro’s enforcement squads came after them, the regime’s goons pricked their skin with needles. Those same women claimed that they subsequently felt dizzy, nauseous and feverish. Independent journalist Carlos Ríos Otero reported this for Hablemos Press before Pollán was hospitalized.
According to interviews with Pollán’s daughter and husband and with Ms. Soler, conducted by the Miami-based nongovernmental organization Directorio, eight days after the Sept. 24 assault Pollán came down with chills and began vomiting. Wracked with pain in her joints the next day, she was taken to the Calixto García hospital. After a battery of tests she was told everything was normal and released. On Oct. 4, she had a fever and shortness of breath. A prescribed antibiotic did not help. On Oct. 7 she was admitted to the hospital, later transferred to intensive care and the next day put on a respirator.
Her family was denied visitation rights until Oct. 10, when only her daughter was allowed to see her. State security agents surrounded her bed and monitored the doctors. On Oct. 12 doctors reported that she had a syncytial respiratory virus, which is otherwise known as a cold. She was obviously much sicker.
On Oct. 14 she died. When the family was allowed to see the body, state security agents were again on hand, as they were at the one-hour wake permitted at midnight. In record time—only two hours later—Pollán was returned to ashes. Who could blame the resistance for its suspicions?
a week after she was admitted to a Havana hospital suffering from a respiratory infection and complications of her diabetes. While hospitalized, she also was diagnosed as suffering from dengue fever, a too common illness on the island.
For eight years, Pollan was kept apart from her husband Hector Maseda, one of the Group of 75 dissidents arrested and imprisoned during the “black spring” of 2003.
For eight years, Pollan and other Damas De Blanco — made up of the wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and other family members of the Group of 75 — marched peacefully through the streets of Havana, bearing witness on behalf of their loved ones and against their captors. They braved the worse the dictatorship could throw against , up to and including outright assaults and arrests, but they persisted, motivated by their love for their imprisoned men and as time passed, by the support of many of their fellow Cubans and of admirers overseas inspired by their example.
The Damas, with Pollan at the forefront, were among the brave Cubans who after the murder of prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo eventually convinced the regime last year that the continued imprisonment of the Group of 75 was no longer tenable. The Spanish government and the Catholic Church claimed the credit for the eventual release of those prisoners still in jail, but it was the Damas and other Cubans — like Zapata and Guillermo Farinas — with the courage to take on the Castros, who made it happen.
Even after Maseda and others were released, Pollan remained a leader, expanding the Damas’ efforts to demand the release of other political prisoners and to other parts of Cuba
Recently she was violently attacked by the Communist regime’s thugs, yet she never gave up the daily struggle for freedom.
Myanmar’s government released pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi after more than seven years of house arrest, offering a glimmer of hope for opposition groups that have been trying to unseat the country’s harsh military regime for decades.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners noted that more than 2,200 political prisoners continue to be held in Myanmar and released a statement, “Unlike Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, the door to freedom will not be opened wide with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, indeed, it will not even be opened a crack.”
In the natural sciences, the Nobel Prize committees have been awarded to people who have done meaningful work that changed the study of science; however, in literature and the “peace” categories, they have shown themselves totally irrelevant.
As Mr. Vargas Llosa wrote in his 2001 essay about literature, “Nothing better protects a human being against the stupidity of prejudice, racism, religious or political sectarianism, and exclusivist nationalism than this truth that invariably appears in great literature: that men and women of all nations and places are essentially equal.”
This year’s citation for Vargas Llosa says that he got the prize for “his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” This points to a focus on individual rights which is central both to simple humanitarianism and also — though European Leftists would disagree — market-led neoliberalism.
In making this choice, for this reason, the Academy seems to have done just what is expected of it, which is not to go by rumours and prejudices, but to look at the work itself. And as an example of why Vargas Llosa is fascinating, there is not just all his considerable body of work over the years, but also his most recent book, published this year, which has not been translated from Spanish, but whose subject matter signals its exceptional interest.
The selection of Liu Xiabo for Peace Prize is even more striking: China is furious, making this onerous statement,
In recent years, relations between China and Norway have maintained favorable development, which is in the basic interests of the two countries and their people. The Nobel committee’s award to Liu Xiaobo is completely contrary to the objective of the Nobel Peace Prize, and will bring harm to the China-Norway relationship.
Text-messaging on mobile phones is not immune from censors, either. A Shanghai-based netizen, @littley, tweeted his unfortunate experience: “My SIM card just got de-activated, turning my iPhone to an iPod touch after I texted my dad about Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize.”
While no Iranian government officials commented on the Brazilian president’s plea, Jahan News, an ultraconservative news service in Iran that is regarded as credibly reflecting the government’s thinking, said Sunday that it was a “clear interference in Iran’s domestic affairs.”
Rather than kill an innocent woman by stoning,
Sakineh Ashtiani, 43, might not be stoned to death because Iran’s judiciary was reviewing the lower court’s sentence. She could be hanged instead.
Meanwhile, her lawyer has gone into hiding after his wife and brother-in-law were arrested without a reason.
Zapata’s passing sparked international outrage, and on July 7 the regime yielded to the pressure. It agreed to release the independent journalists, writers and democracy advocates who had been jailed during the 2003 crackdown on dissent, known as the Black Spring.
Yet only the naïve could read Castro’s forced acquiescence as a break with tyranny. It is instead a cynical ploy to clean the face of a dictatorship. It is also an effort to reclaim respectability for the world’s pro-Castro politicians, including Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos. No one understands this better than the former prisoners.
Those sent to Spain have not hidden their joy about getting out of Cuban jails. “There are no words to fairly describe how amazed and excited I was when I saw myself free and next to my wife and daughter again,” Normando Hernández González told the Committee to Protect Journalists in a telephone interview. But Mr. Hernández, an independent journalist, hasn’t minced words about Cuban repression either.
In a telephone interview with Miami’s Radio Republica, he talked about his “indescribable” time in jail. “It’s crime upon crime, the deep hatred of the Castro regime toward everyone who peacefully dissents. It is a unique life experience that I do not wish upon my worst enemy.”
The regime tried to spruce up the former prisoners by dressing them in neatly pressed trousers, white shirts and ties. But they brought tales of horror to Spain. Ariel Sigler, a labor organizer who went into prison seven years ago a healthy man but is now confined to a wheel chair, arrived in Miami on Wednesday.
These graphic reminders of Castro’s twisted mind have been bad for Mr. Moratinos’s wider agenda, which is to use the release of the prisoners to convince the European Union to abandon its “common position” on Cuba. Adopted in 1996, it says that the EU seeks “in its relations with Cuba” to “encourage a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as a sustainable recovery and improvement in the living standards of the Cuban people.” Mr. Moratinos’s desire to help Fidel end the common position is a source of anger among Cuban dissidents.
The former prisoners also resent their exile, after, as Mr. Hernández puts it, “being kidnapped for seven years.” He explained to Radio Republica: “The more logical outcome would be, ‘Yes, you are freeing me. Free me to my home. Free me so I won’t be apart from my sister, from my family, from my people, from my neighbors.’” Instead he says he was “practically forced” to go to Spain in exchange for getting out of jail, and to get health care for his daughter and himself.
Cuba’s horrendous prison conditions are no secret. In his chilling memoir “Against All Hope” (1986, 2001), Armando Valladares cataloged the brutality he experienced first hand as a prisoner of conscience for 22 years. A steady stream of exiles have echoed his claims. But another bit of cruelty is less well understood: For a half century the regime has let political prisoners out of jail only if they sign a paper saying they have been “rehabilitated” or, when the regime is under pressure, if they agree to leave the island. Getting rid of the strong-willed, while being patted on the back for their “release,” has been Castro’s win-win.
Now some prisoners are refusing to deal. Ten of the 52, including Óscar Elías Biscet, famous for his pacifism, say they will not accept exile as a condition of release. These brave souls remain locked up.
Yesterday Congressman Licoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) wished Cuban political prisoner Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet freedom on Dr Biscet’s birthday,
The world, and especially the press and the media in the United States, continue to treat the political prisoners in the gulags of the Cuban dictatorship as “non-persons”.
The most well-known and respected political prisoner in Cuba is Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. He has been in the gulags of the Castros for a decade due to his peaceful pro-democracy work inside that enslaved island. Dr. Biscet is the “Mandela of Cuba.”
Today is his 49th birthday. I wish him Godspeed and freedom. And freedom for Cuba.
To the press, I ask: How long do the heroes of Cuba have to suffer before you acknowledge their existence?