May 10, 2006

The Miami Herald

U.S. senators condemn beating

Several U.S. senators blasted the attack on Cuban dissident Martha Beatriz Roque and demanded that Cuba allow its citizens to exercise their rights.

By Oscar Corral, [email protected] Posted on Tue, May. 09, 2006.

Pushed by a hotel lobby of a different kind, several U.S. senators -- including two who are considering running for president -- on Monday condemned Cuba for the ''beating and intimidation'' of well-known dissident Martha Beatriz Roque in late April.

The effort began in Coral Gables' Biltmore Hotel, where -- in separate visits -- many of the senators got word of the attack on Roque from activists including Ana Navarro, the former Nicaraguan ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, whose boyfriend, Gene Prescott, is the hotel's proprietor.

''It was all a matter of coincidence and really talking to them with the truth,'' Navarro said. "When policy makers are faced with the truth, they take action.''

U.S. senators Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Bill Nelson of Florida led the charge to introduce a resolution Monday blasting the attack on Roque and demanding that Cuba allow its citizens to exercise their rights. Also listed as co-sponsors are potential presidential candidates Democrat Joseph Biden and Republican John McCain.

''The Senate condemns the brutality of the regime of Fidel Castro toward Martha Beatriz Roque, a 61-year-old woman in frail health,'' the resolution reads. It also says the Senate "calls on the regime of Cuba to release the hundreds of political prisoners still held today and to stop the intimidation of dissidents and their families.''

If approved, it would be a rare boost to an individual in Cuba's dissident movement, said Mauricio Claver-Clarone, director of the anti-Castro U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.

''Few people outside of Miami can name a leading Cuban dissident,'' said the Washington, D.C.-based Claver-Clarone. "The hope here is to personalize it.''

The push for the resolution started with a quick hallway rendezvous at the Biltmore.

Late last month, Nelson, who is up for reelection, was there for a meeting, Navarro said, when she and several members of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC pulled him aside in a hallway and told him about Roque. ''He was immediately supportive and promised to do something,'' Navarro said. "He understood the need to express solidarity and was touched by this woman's story.''

A few days later, Lieberman met with members of the PAC at the Biltmore, where they informed him about Roque, Navarro said. Lieberman, a supporter of U.S. sanctions against Cuba, also sat next to Navarro on his flight back to Washington, and got an earful about Roque, she said. Last week, Biden was at the Biltmore, when Navarro brought up Roque, she said.

Roque was leaving her Havana home April 25 to meet with Michael Parmly, head of the U.S. Interests Section, when a mob of Cuban government supporters swarmed her, knocked her down, punched her and dragged her.

During a call to a Miami radio station after the incident, Roque made an emotional plea for international support.

''They kicked me, a strong young man punched me in the eye with his fist,'' she said. "I thought my eye had popped out. They knocked me down and dragged me . . . The world must know this. To my brothers and sisters in Miami, please let the world know.''

Cuba wins seat on U.N. Human Rights Council

By Pablo Bachelet, [email protected] Posted on Tue, May. 09, 2006

WASHINGTON - Cuba on Tuesday secured a seat on the new U.N. Human Rights Council, which replaced an agency where abusers were often members, obtaining the seventh spot out of eight reserved for Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Cuba's candidacy was viewed as a test case for the seriousness of the new Council. Other nations with questionable rights records that were elected at a U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York included Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.

But General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, who oversaw the negotiations that created the new council, downplayed the election of some nations accused of rights abuses, saying it was nonetheless a ''truly historic occasion'' and a ''new departure'' for human rights work worldwide.

Venezuela failed to obtain a spot on the 47-member body, which will start its sessions June 19 amidst expectations that it will mark a departure from its discredited and defunct predecessor, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

The other Latin American nations that secured seats, in the order of votes obtained, are Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Uruguay and Ecuador. Brazil, the top vote-getter in the group, garnered 165 votes. Cuba obtained 135 votes.

Nations needed at least 96 of the 191 General Assembly votes to get elected.

Cuba's election to U.N. rights panel stirs emotion

Cuba was elected to a seat on the newly created U.N. Human Rights Council, despite its record.

By Pablo Bachelet, [email protected] Posted on Wed, May. 10, 2006

WASHINGTON - Cuba and four other nations accused of widespread human-rights abuses won seats Tuesday on the U.N. Human Rights Council, newly created to replace a controversial agency where abusers were often members.


Cuba's candidacy was viewed as a test case for the fairness of the future council. Other nations singled out by human rights groups as being unworthy of membership yet still elected were Russia, China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

U.N. General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, who oversaw the negotiations that created the 47-member council, downplayed the controversy, saying the council was nonetheless a "truly historic occasion.''

But critics were unconvinced. Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said calling the new council an improvement was ''farcical'' and its composition "irresponsible.''

''Like a juvenile delinquent with indulgent parents, the U.N. will persist in its course toward destruction until it is decisively held to account,'' she said.

The council replaced the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, where violators such as Cuba, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Libya regularly got themselves elected and then worked from the inside to block commission condemnations of their abuses.

Cuba won the seventh spot out of eight reserved for Latin American and Caribbean nations during the the new council's first membership vote at a General Assembly meeting in New York. The other Latin American nations that secured seats were Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Uruguay and Ecuador. Brazil, the top vote-getter in the group, garnered 165 votes. Cuba obtained 135 votes.

Venezuela got 101 votes but finished out of the running in 10th place. Nations needed at least 96 votes to get in.

The council had been criticized by the Bush administration and some members of Congress as a lukewarm compromise that did not ensure rights abusers were kept out. After the vote, Rick Grenell, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said membership had improved somewhat over the previous body.

''But we still have certain members that are troublesome on the council,'' he added.


The U.S. government, which will supply more than one-fifth of the council's financing, was one of three nations opposing its creation in a March U.N. vote. The Bush administration declined to run for a seat but has said it will cooperate with the new body, while keeping a watchful eye on its work.

The Cuban foreign ministry posted a statement on its website calling the vote a defeat of Washington's efforts to stop Cuba from gaining a seat and "irrefutable proof of Cuba's international prestige.''

Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, said that while the council's imperfections don't "guarantee that the council will be a success . . . it is a step in the right direction.''

Supporters say that under the council's new rules, its members will be the first to have their rights record reviewed. This would mean an automatic review of the Cuban government, a one-party communist system that regularly jails dissidents and monopolizes the mass media.

''It opens up a whole new avenue for those of us who work in human rights,'' said Eric Olson, the acting director for government relations with Amnesty International, who added that ''you can bet your last dollar'' that Amnesty will be lobbying heavily for a reprimand of Havana.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based group that monitors U.N. performance, said non-democracies in fact were a majority in the new body, meaning the touted review would probably boil down to "a few softball questions lobbed Cuba's way.''

14 join Nelson bid to bar Cuban oil search off Keys

Lawmakers joined a bid to prevent Cuba from drilling for oil near the Keys as Congress looked eagerly at opening Florida waters to energy exploration.

By Lesley Clark. [email protected] Posted on Sat, May. 06, 2006

WASHINGTON - With efforts to open Florida's coast to energy exploration gaining momentum, more Florida lawmakers are turning their sights south, filing legislation aimed at blocking Cuba from drilling for oil near the Florida Keys.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, and 14 other House members -- 11 of them from Florida -- Friday joined in introducing a bill that would deny visas to any employees of a company or entity that "contributes to the development of Cuba's oil-exploration program.''

Their bill, a companion to Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson's Senate bill filed earlier, would also impose sanctions on any individuals -- or companies -- who invest $1 million or more to help Cuba develop its oil and natural gas resources.

''My colleagues and I have been working tirelessly to prevent our own companies from ruining Florida's pristine beaches and delicate ecosystem by exploring and drilling for oil off our coast,'' Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "To now have this murderous and totalitarian regime say it wants to drill just 45 miles from Key West is beyond the pale and totally unacceptable.''

Her co-sponsors include U.S. Reps. Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Mario Díaz-Balart, both Miami Republicans; Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and Mark Foley, R-Palm Beach County; Katherine Harris, a Senate candidate, and Jim Davis, a Democratic candidate for governor.

With the exception of food and medicine, U.S. companies are barred from doing business with Cuba. But the Cuban government -- which does not have the technology for deep-water drilling -- has entered into agreements with several companies in countries including Spain, China and Canada.

Ros-Lehtinen suggested the congressional measures could create enough uncertainty among the foreign companies to affect Cuba's nascent energy exploration program.

''This could have a chilling effect on anyone who wants to have further entanglements with Castro,'' she said. "Had it not been for [the embargo against business with Cuba] there would be far more investment there.''

Nelson and most of the Florida delegation have long opposed energy exploration in Florida waters, contending that a spill could wreak havoc with Florida's beach-dependent tourist economy.

But pressure to open Florida waters is building as fuel costs rise. Senate Republicans -- anxious over sliding poll numbers -- are expected to push to open up a large swath of the Gulf of Mexico south of Pensacola to drilling.

At a Senate hearing Thursday, that bill's sponsor, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., told Dirk Kempthorne, President Bush's nominee to be Interior secretary, that the nation's energy needs are greater than any state's concerns.

Environmentalists have criticized the effort to drill, saying it would be better spent on conservation, including higher fuel economy standards.

But U.S. Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., may revive his attempt to lift the ban on drilling for natural gas off the Outer Continental Shelf.

Peterson has criticized the Florida delegation for its insistence on blocking drilling. He criticized the legislation targeting Cuba, too.

''If we spent as much time and effort trying to address our own nation's energy supply issues as we did trying to address Cuba's, our current energy crisis would be a whole lot easier to fix,'' Peterson said.

Ros-Lehtinen, however, said some of the potential exploration sites off Cuba are within 50 miles of Key West.

War of words: website can't define Cuba

What's a neutral point of view? The Cuba entry in the online reference site Wikipedia shows just how difficult it is for the volunteer-run website to tackle politically charged subjects.

By Pablo Bachelet, [email protected] Posted on Wed, May. 03, 2006.

WASHINGTON - One editor complained that Havana sympathizers were transforming a scholarly enterprise into ''their own private Fidel Castro fan page.'' A user was tossed out after threatening to sue another for libel.

The fuss is over the Cuba entry in Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia created, edited and administered entirely by volunteers with the altruistic purpose of becoming a Web-based knowledge repository for humanity.

But the Cuba entry, like those on President Bush and abortion, has been snared in intense political divisions over everything from the impact of U.S. sanctions on the communist-ruled island to whether it should have a separate section on its human rights record. Russia and North Korea do not.

There have been so many dueling edits -- 30 entries on April 27 alone -- that the article has been placed off-limits to first-time or unregistered users. The article has notices alerting readers that the neutrality of four sections is under dispute.

A central tenet of Wikipedia is that articles must be written in a neutral point of view. But, as the debate on the talk page attached to the Cuba article demonstrates, neutrality is often in the eye of the beholder.

The debate over Cuba turned intense after Adam Carr, who identifies himself as having a Ph.D. in history from the University of Melbourne in Australia and a gay rights activist, introduced this sentence high in the article: "Cuba is a socialist republic, in which the Communist Party of Cuba is the sole legal political party, and is the only state in the western hemisphere that is not a democracy.''


This prompted responses that went from scholarly citations of political scientists with definitions of democracy, to accusations of not-so-hidden political agendas.

Bruce Hallman wrote that calling Cuba undemocratic is a ''logical fallacy'' because it applies ''capitalistic values'' in the context of a socialist society. 'Might it be possible to write the article without using the word 'democracy' at all?'' he suggested.

''Sorry, comrade, no dice,'' answered Carr, one of the few writers who posts a description of himself. "These comments show quite clearly that you are a communist, or at least someone who actively supports the Castro dictatorship, not just . . . someone who is naïve about the realities of Cuba.''

With neither side giving in, on April 15 a ''mediation cabal'' -- an informal mediator -- joined the discussion. The cabal suggested citing reputable sources to back the Cuba-is-not-a-democracy sentence.

''If we need a citation that Cuba is not a democracy, then maybe we need citation that Cuba is in Latin America,'' retorts CJK, another user.

''Cuba is a dictatorship, plain and simple,'' says Carr, calling Castro's foreign supporters "gullible idiots.''

Failing to produce an agreement, the cabal departed after complaining that several editors were being rude.

Others argued that if the article discusses human rights in Cuba, then it should also point out U.S. human rights abuses. ''We will not be distracted by the well-known communist diversionary tactic of playing bogus moral equivalence games,'' Carr responded.

Scott Grayban, a talk page writer who claims to be a U.S. Air Force veteran, calls Carr ''nothing more than a pro-Bush hate-Cuba type person'' and in a separate e-mail threatened to sue Carr for libel. An administrator promptly banned Grayban for life from editing Wikipedia.

Other users also have been banned, including ''Comandante,'' who has changed the Cuba article more than 700 times. Another participant wrote that Comandante's Internet address suggests he lives in Cuba.


A few years ago, online discussions of this sort would have gone unnoticed. But Wikipedia is now the 17th-most-visited site in the world, according to Alexa Internet, a Web-ranking outfit owned by

Created by Web entrepreneur Jimmy Wales, who today heads the foundation that oversees the site, Wikipedia is an example of ''social computing'' -- the ability of users to create their own content without relying on the filters of newspaper or hard-copy encyclopedia editors.

Wikipedia has had some stumbles. A hoax entry wrongly implicated journalist John Seigenthaler in the JFK assassination. Several U.S. congressional staffers have been caught altering their bosses' entries.

There are now 900 volunteer administrators patrolling the site to keep troublemakers at bay, as well as formal arbitration mechanisms.

Most articles are uncontroversial, says Kat Walsh, an administrator for Wikipedia. But ''where people are out fighting in the real world, they're going to have differences of opinion on Wikipedia as well,'' she said.

On the Web | Cuba entry on Wikipedia

Workers join in May Day rallies to call for changes

May Day rallies were mostly peaceful, but there were tense protests in the Philippines and Belarus.

Associated Press. Posted on Tue, May. 02, 2006.

Workers around the world held May Day rallies Monday to press for better factory conditions and higher wages in mostly peaceful marches. In Havana, Fidel Castro used the occasion for criticism of the United States while activists in the Philippines and Belarus used the holiday to show their opposition to their governments in tense protests watched by police.

In Cuba, more than 1 million workers in red T-shirts distributed by the government crowded into Havana's Plaza of the Revolution and adjacent avenues, and listened as President Fidel Castro said recent U.S. military maneuvers in the Caribbean were aimed at intimidating Cuba and its ally, Venezuela.

In Santiago, Chile, police used water cannons to disperse dozens of rock-throwing demonstrators, injuring at least four people. More than 30 demonstrators were arrested, authorities said, and two police officers and two photographers were injured.

In Caracas, Venezuela, thousands of workers took part in rival marches -- with supporters of President Hugo Chávez praising a recent minimum-wage hike and opposition unions calling the increase insufficient.


About 100,000 workers took to the streets across Indonesia, protesting a labor law that would cut severance packages and introduce more flexible contracts that would chip away at worker security.

Most rallies across Europe were peaceful, although tensions were evident in Belarus, where about 2,000 opposition supporters marched in Minsk in a show of defiance, days after the authoritarian government of President Alexander Lukashenko tried to stop an unprecedented series of demonstrations by throwing protest leaders in jail.

In Russia, about 25,000 people gathered in Moscow opposite the mayor's office in the warm spring sunshine to hear speeches from trade union leaders and the mayor and listen to a concert, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

In Istanbul, Turkey, police fired tear gas and pepper spray at demonstrators shouting slogans against the United States and the International Monetary Fund, and detained 40.

In the Philippines, government troops and police with batons and shields turned away hundreds who tried to approach the presidential palace to demand a wage increase and the ouster of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In Cambodia, thousands of police brought the capital of Phnom Penh to a virtual standstill during a clampdown on an unauthorized May Day demonstration. ''Cambodia still lacks real democracy. There is no real respect for human rights,'' opposition leader Sam Rainsy said.

Thousands of garment factory workers rallied in Bangladesh to demand the United States and Europe drop tariffs on their products, saying they could bring the industry down.


In Bosnia, residents marched down Sarajevo's main street, demanding new elections and the resignation of the government, which they claim is not doing enough to lower the unemployment rate, which has been above 40 percent for years.

Thousands marched in central Athens to protest the war in Iraq and the Greek government's economic policies. Aleida Guevara, the daughter of Latin American revolutionary icon Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara, was among 6,000 marching to the U.S. Embassy -- a traditional target of many Athens protests.

Women on airwaves setting the agenda on Cuba issues

From sunrise past sunset on Miami's Spanish- language radio, women often set South Florida's agenda on Cuba.

By Oscar Corral, [email protected] Posted on Mon, May. 08, 2006.

Miami's Spanish-language AM radio can wake you up with a strong dose of anti-communist rhetoric, serve up a midday jolt of local political hijinks and even feed the exile soul with ''Daddy Dearest'' bashing from Fidel Castro's daughter.

But who can sleep soundly without capping the night with a take-no-prisoners harangue by the Queen of the Night, whose 1960s theme song, A Summer Place, belies the political machinations of the day?

The women of Spanish-language radio -- all of them professionals with a loyal following -- are not faint of heart: They're strong-willed and plain-spoken, can turn paupers into kings, poison the opposition and sweeten the stakes for their causes.

With a loyal following, they set the agenda for a city where politics rule and nostalgia for Cuba remains palpable. ''This was a medium that at one point was dominated by men,'' said WQBA's Bernadette Pardo, who has a daily morning call-in show on 1140 AM. "I just think women in Miami are pushier than other Hispanic women around the world.''

Unlike her counterparts, Pardo doesn't expound her views on the air. She has to remain objective for credibility as a reporter for radio and for Channel 23.

The other commentators vary from moderate to conservative, but most are card-carrying Republicans.

Their influence has manifested itself clearly over the last month, as undocumented immigrants and their supporters across the country marched for rights and legalization. The most influential Spanish-language radio commentators -- in the top-rated programs -- not only didn't support the plight of undocumented immigrants, but often criticized them.

''Illegal immigrants have no rights,'' said Lourdes ''D'Kendall'' Bertot on the air Monday morning as thousands of immigrants gathered around Miami-Dade County. "They shouldn't come here illegally.''

Bertot's nickname is a product of her ''discovery.'' She spent years calling in to radio shows to give her opinion, always describing herself as Lourdes de Kendall, noting where she lived. In the early 1990s, one of the radio stations gave in and tapped her for her own show.

Bertot focuses on South Florida issues, often criticizing local officials considered off limits to other commentators. For example, she ripped Miami City Manager Joe Arriola and Mayor Manny Diaz for their role in the fire fee fiasco. Her show is weekday mornings 10 to 11 a.m.

Raquel Regalado's show also targets local issues. On the radio for 30 years in Miami, Regalado, who is married to Miami Commissioner Tomás Regalado, has her own show on WWFE-AM (670) La Poderosa, from 10 to 11 a.m. and from 1 to 2 p.m.

''Being women, we've had to empower ourselves by appearing tougher,'' said Regalado, who has three grown children. "I could have had a much more distinguished career if I had dedicated more time to it, but my family has always been my first priority, so it has been difficult.''

Working on AM radio in Miami has special challenges, said Sasha Tirador, 32, a former radio commentator who was pressured to resign from La Poderosa four years ago for what she says were political reasons.

Tirador said listeners often don't get the whole story, particularly when dealing with local issues.

''When you work for a station you have to abide by their rules, and the rules are dependent on who is friends with the station manager,'' Tirador said. "When they talk about public corruption, for example, you don't get the whole story if there are certain lobbyists involved that the managers are friends with.''

Marta Flores, Radio Mambí's Reina de la Noche -- Queen of the Night -- pocketed thousands of dollars from campaigns in the 1990s from her advertising agency, MarFlo, a practice considered unethical, but not illegal. She said at the time that it never influenced her coverage. Flores, who has a show from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. every night on Radio Mambí, said she was the first woman on Spanish-language radio in Miami on WMIE in 1959. Everyone from Gov. Jeb Bush to State Rep. Marco Rubio has visited her studio.

''I am a Republican, but before I'm a Republican, I'm Cuban,'' Flores said. "I admire a lot of Republican policies in many aspects, but when I have to criticize them, I do it because inside the Republican Party there have been many errors, and you can't ignore that. What I do believe is that neither Republicans nor Democrats have given Cuba that final push [to freedom].''

On any given night, Flores, who hosts somewhat of a variety show, might talk about pets or parties or politics. Recently, music guru Emilio Estefan dropped by to sing her praises.

Alina Fernandez Revuelta, daughter of Fidel Castro from his relationship with Cuban socialite Natalia ''Naty'' Revuelta, also has a sort of variety show on WQBA in the evenings, from 6 to 7 p.m. Fernandez left Cuba 15 years ago in an elaborate ruse that included wearing a wig to board a plane with false papers. She settled in Miami four years ago.

''Being on the radio is a great medium. It carries enormous responsibility,'' she said. "In Cuba, they don't have freedom of speech or the press, so it's not something I take lightly.''

While all of these women criticize the communist Cuban government for human rights abuses, none do so as fervently as Ninoska Pérez Castellón, who hosts a show on Radio Mambí every morning with station director Armando Perez-Roura.

As a former spokeswoman for the Cuban American National Foundation and now for the hard-line Cuban Liberty Council, she is unrelentingly virulentagainst Castro. She is also a loyal Republican who seldom attacks her party.

''I don't think it has anything to do with being a man or a woman, it's about doing a good job,'' Pérez Castellón said. "The wonderful thing about radio in Miami is that it continues with the same intensity 47 years after the Cubans got here and started using the microphones to denounce the situation in Cuba.''

"Some people say what are you going to do when Castro dies and you have nothing to talk about? I'll just talk about other things.''

Link to Oscar Corral's blog, Miami's Cuban Connection, at or


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