Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Journal of a Nicaraguan girl in Prague: A Day for Cuba

These days in Prague, as I am pursuing my quest for learning about democracy, I met a group of Cubans who were invited by the Czech NGO People in Need (PIN) and the Human Rights Commission of the Evangelical Church to participate in a march to express support for the Ladies in White, a group of ladies that advocate for upholding human rights and release of political prisoners in Cuba.
As we walked out of the church Martin ve Zdi, located close to the Wenceslas square and the Old Town Square, every participant grasped a white umbrella and a white balloon, as well as banners with slogans requesting an immediate release of one of the most recent political prisoners known for his artistic name “El Sexto” (“The Sixth”) who was detained as he was attempting to give a performance that he did not succeed to orchestrate. Consequently, his name was added to the long list of Cuban prisoners who remain in jail accused of crimes they did not commit.
onia Garro with young Cuban activists by Nina Barrios
Sonia Garro with young Cuban activists by Nina Barrios
The march started with a modest group of Czechs and Cubans. However, as we were walking across the Charles Bridge, the group grew in number. The emotions erupted when the young Cuban activists started to shout: “What do we want?” “Freedom,” “Down with the Castros!,” “Freedom for Cuba!.” As I was taking pictures of this event, I realized that, through their smiles and shouts, I was probably witnessing their first opportunity to exercise the freedom of expression that bears no consequences.

There is no doubt that this white, human wave of solidarity demonstrated that Prague is a great place for multicultural encounters in which people are made aware of nations, such as Cuba, that have been oppressed and disrespected by one of the most fierce communist regimes – the one of the Castro brothers.
“This is for me a very liberating moment… if you participate in a similar march in Cuba, the only response you will get is beating. And here we are invited to an official event where the participants appreciate and congratulate us.. Prague has treated us so well,” one Cuban activist said.
“How well it feels to experience the freedom of expression for real. While here in the Czech Republic we can shout out demanding our rights and we are treated well after the march, in Cuba the response would be a police stick and probably a detention too, “ other Cuban activist confided.
A similar march took place last year and the participants were demanding release of the Lady in White, Sonia Garro. After almost three years in prison in Cuba, she was able to participate in this demonstration and, during a debate with the Czech civil society, she narrated her extraordinary story of resistance experienced in the Cuban prison.
“In Cuba if you participate in the human rights advocacy movement, there is always a possibility that you will be detained without having committed any crime. The treatment in the prisons is worse for political prisoners. Without giving you a reason, they close you up to for 3 or 4 months in a small cell, they serve you non- potable water, the food is spoiled.. That is why I was infected with two dangerous bacteria and, as a result of that, my health condition has gotten much worse… They [political prisoners] also receive smaller portions of food and visits of family members are routinely suspended,” said Sonia Garro.
Special ending:
After and intensive debate on the political panorama of Cuba, Sonia Garro received a gift- biography of Vaclav Havel – from the Human Rights Commission of the Evangelical Church. The Ambassador Milan Jakobec surprised everybody with a song that he composed and dedicated to Sonia. His small performance ended up being one of the most special moments of the evening. The young Cuban activists sang along and enjoyed together this expression of appreciation and affection.
The participants at the panel discussion were Daniel Herman, the Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic, Simon Panek, PIN’s Director, and Ondrej Jurik, Head of PIN’s Latin American Section.

Oppenheimer: In Venezuela Elections, Too Many Dead Vote

By Andres Oppenheimer

MIAMI -- While U.S. and Latin American officials say that Venezuela’s political crisis should be solved through upcoming legislative elections, recent testimony before the U.S. Senate raised many questions: It said Venezuela’s voting registry includes the names of so many dead, many states have more registered voters than people.

In March 17 testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Russ Dallen, editor in chief of the Caracas-based Latin American Herald Tribune, said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government is overseeing a voting process that almost guarantees electoral fraud in the legislative elections tentatively scheduled for September.

Before we get into whether that’s true — some U.S. experts and Venezuelan opposition figures dispute it — let’s take a look at Dallen’s figures.

According to his testimony, Venezuela’s voting registry has been manipulated by the Venezuelan and Cuban regimes since late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez contracted Cuban companies to run Venezuela’s passport and identification agencies.

In 2003, when Venezuela’s opposition launched a campaign for a referendum to revoke Chavez’s term, Venezuela had 11.9 million registered voters. Chavez managed to delay the vote for a year and a half, which gave him time to add more than two million voters, and by 2004 Venezuela had 14 million registered voters, Dallen said.

Angered by his defeat in a 2007 referendum to change the constitution and allow him to run indefinitely, Chavez once again ramped up registration of names, and added several million new registered voters. By the time of the 2013 elections, which the government-controlled National Electoral Commission awarded to Maduro by 1.5 percent of the vote, the registry had 18.9 million eligible voters.

“So, the voting registry increased by almost 60 percent in 10 years. Quite a population boom!,” Dallen said in his prepared testimony.

He added that a 2013 study by Venezuela’s Andres Bello Catholic University, UCAB, found that 14 out of 24 states had more registered voters than people. “One of the poorest states, the rural Delta Amacuro, for example, has 122 percent more registered voters than its estimated population,” Dallen said.

Asked about these figures, the Carter Center’s Americas Program director Jennifer McCoy, who has led several electoral observation missions to Venezuela, told me that the Carter Center and previous UCAB studies “do not find significant voter registry over-inflation, nor states with more registered voters than population.”

A Carter Center 2012 report on Venezuela’s election system said that “no voting registry is perfect. International norms accept a certain degree of inaccuracies, up to perhaps 3 percent” of the voting registry, as long as they do not help any particular political party.

It added that a 2012 UCAB study had found that while Venezuela has a high percentage of registered voters — 97 percent of the voting age population — “that’s in accordance with that of comparable Latin American countries.”

Venezuela’s opposition coalition, known by its acronym MUD, said before the 2013 elections that while the number of Venezuelans aged 18 and over had grown by 4.3 percent durin the previous three years, the number of registered voters had risen by 7.3 percent. But MUD had found the overall voting registry “acceptable,” the Carter Center Report said.

After the 2013 elections, however, the opposition coalition reported that almost 300,000 votes were cast under the names of people who were dead. That amounted to 1.5 percent of the voting registry.

The Carter Center report concluded that despite the absence of evidence of massive voting registry fraud, international observing missions from the Organization of American States, the European Union and the Carter Center “have long recommended a wide audit of the voting registry.”

My opinion: If Maduro wants to prove to the world that this year’s legislative elections will not be a sham, he should appoint a credible National Electoral Tribunal — one of the main demands of the student protests that left 43 dead last year — allow an audit of the voting registry, and give opposition candidates equal time on television.

That may be too much to ask to a president who has arrested Venezuela’s top opposition leaders, including democratically elected Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez, on bogus charges that are hard to take seriously.

But if the Obama administration and Latin American countries are serious when they say that Venezuela’s crisis should be resolved at the ballot box, they should start demanding Maduro take these steps to clean up the election process —and they should do it now.

Andres Oppenheimer, considered one of the leading reporters on Latin America, is a syndicated Miami Herald columnist and a member of The Miami Herald team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. He also won the 1999 Maria Moors Cabot Award, the 2001 King of Spain prize, and the 2005 Emmy Suncoast award. He is the author of Castro's Final Hour; Bordering on Chaos, on Mexico's crisis; Cronicas de heroes y bandidos, Ojos vendados, Cuentos Chinos and most recently of Saving the Americas and Crear o Morir.


From Havana to Tehran

An Information Service of the
Cuba Transition Project
Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies
University of Miami

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Issue 241
March 30, 2015

Jaime Suchlicki*

From Havana to Tehran:
The strange love affair between a theocracy and an atheistic dictatorship**

On Dec. 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced a dramatic change in the United States’ policy toward Cuba, heralding the end of a Cold War-era conflict that had begun to look increasingly anachronistic. The benefits of the two longtime foes’ new and improved relationship remain to be seen — but the contradictions involved are already obvious. Over half a century of pursuing an aggressive anti-American foreign policy, Cuba has made plenty of friends whom the United States considers enemies, and Havana is unlikely to easily let go of its longtime allies. These include Russia, Venezuela, and a variety of Arab dictators, Islamic fundamentalist movements, and anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. The list of Cuba’s unsavory friends also includes Iran — a relationship of particular salience on the world stage today.
Communist Cuba’s alliance with the Iran of the Ayatollahs dates to 1979, when Fidel Castro became one of the first heads of state to recognize the Islamic Republic’s radical clerics. Addressing then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, Castro insisted that there was “no contradiction between revolution and religion,” an ecumenical principle that has guided Cuba’s relations with Iran and other Islamic regimes. Over the next two decades, Castro fostered a unique relationship between secular communist Cuba and theocratic Iran, united by a common hatred of the United States and the liberal, democratic West — and by substantial material interests. (In the photo, Iran’s Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi and Cuba’s Vice Foreign Minister Marcos Rodriguez attend a wreath-laying ceremony on Revolution Square in Havana on Sept. 7, 2011.)
In the early 1990s, Havana started to export biopharmaceutical products for the Iranian health care system and trained Iranian scientists to use them. By the end of the decade, it had moved beyond simple exports to transferring medical biotechnology and, along with the technical know-how, capabilities for developing and manufacturing industrial quantities of biological weapons. In addition to training Iranian scientists in Cuba and sending Cuban scientists and technicians to Iran’s research centers, the state-run Center for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering established a joint-venture biotechnology production plant near Tehran at a cost of $60 million, with Cuba providing the intellectual capital and technology, and Iran providing the financing. This facility, now under Iranian control, is believed to be “the most modern biotechnology and genetic engineering facility of its type in the Middle East.”
Iran has also benefited from its friendship with Havana in more aggressive ways. Geographically, Cuba’s strategic location enabled the Islamic Republic, on at least one occasion, to clandestinely engage in electronic attacks against U.S. telecommunications that posed a threat to the Islamic regime’s censorship apparatus. In the summer of 2003, Tehran blocked signals from a U.S. satellite that was broadcasting uncensored Farsi-language news into the country at a time of rising unrest. Based on the satellite’s location over the Atlantic, it would have been impossible for Iranian-based transmissions to affect its signals. Ultimately, the jamming was traced to a compound in the outskirts of Havana that had been equipped with the advanced telecommunications technology capable of disrupting the Los Angeles-based broadcaster’s programming across the Atlantic. It is well known that Cuba has continuously upgraded its ability to block U.S. broadcasts to the island, and hence, conceivably, to jam international communications. Although the Cuban government would later claim that Iranian diplomatic staff had operated out of the compound without its consent, given that Cuba “[is] a fully police state,” as Iran expert Safa Haeri has noted, “it is difficult to believe the Iranians had introduced the sophisticated jamming equipment into Cuba without the knowledge of the Cuban authorities,” much less utilized it against U.S. targets without the knowledge of the Castro regime.
In return for its services, Iran has compensated the Cuban government directly. During the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), Tehran offered Havana an initial 20 million euro annual credit line. Following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, Iran expanded this credit line to 200 million euros for bilateral trade and investment projects. At the same time, Havana was spearheading a campaign within the Non-Aligned Movement to legitimize Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear program as an “inalienable right” of all developing nations. In June 2008 Ahmadinejad approved a record 500 million euro credit for the Castro regime. From Iran’s perspective, Cuba deserves to be rewarded for its “similarity in outlooks on international issues.”
In total, Cuba has received the equivalent of over one billion euros in loans from Tehran since 2005. With this financing, Cuba has begun to make critical investments in the rehabilitation of dilapidated Soviet-era infrastructure. Iran is funding some 60 projects ranging from the acquisition of 750 Iranian-made rail cars to the construction of power plants, dams, and highways. This infusion of Islamic capital has strengthened the Cuban regime’s stability and reduced the risk of economic collapse by adding a fourth financial pillar alongside oil from Venezuela, bilateral trade credits from China and Russia, and corporate capital from Canada, Latin America and the European Union.
The election of the apparently more moderate Hassan Rouhani, the reduction in the price of oil, and Iran’s involvement in the Middle East have precluded additional credits to Cuba. Yet the relationship, as evidenced by visits, cooperation in international organizations, and joint support for Venezuela, has continued.
Tehran’s and Havana’s shared interest in Venezuela is another source of potential concern to the West. Venezuela’s strategic position and considerable resources make it a potentially greater threat to U.S. interests in the region than the one posed in the 1960s by the Castro regime. Venezuela’s alliances with Iran, Syria, and other anti-American countries and its support for terrorist groups, while representing a smaller threat, are as formidable a challenge as the Cuba-Soviet alliance. And while Cuban support for the regime in Caracas is fairly well known, Iran, too, has been offering Venezuela technical assistance in the areas of defense, intelligence, energy, and security. Iranian as well as Cuban personnel are advising, protecting, and training Venezuela’s security apparatus.
Of more strategic significance is the possibility that Iranian scientists are enriching uranium in Venezuela for shipment to Iran. Venezuelan sources have confirmed this possibility. Foreign intelligence services consulted by the author acknowledged these rumors but are unable to confirm them. If confirmed, these actions would violate U.N. sanctions as well as U.S. security measures.
If the United States really intends to expand its relations with Cuba, Washington needs to address Havana’s troublesome alliances with rogue regimes — above all, its friendship with Tehran. These alliances — as well as the desire of the Cuban military to remain in power and transfer control to younger, but still conservative, anti-American leaders — are a troubling sign that internal liberalization will be slow and difficult. No matter how much Washington may want to see a new and friendlier Cuba, the island nation’s choice of allies says more about the future of this relationship than any number of well-meaning declarations.
*Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Moreau Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to the Rise of PAN, now in its second edition and the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba.
**Previously published in Foreign Policy on March 27, 2015. The article is based on a presentation about Iran and Cuba at a seminar organized by the Center for Hemispheric Policy, University of Miami, January 6, 2015.
The CTP can be contacted at P.O. Box 248174, Coral Gables, Florida 33124-3010, Tel: 305-284-CUBA (2822), Fax: 305-284-4875, and by email at ctp.iccas@miami.edu. The CTP Website is accessible athttp://ctp.iccas.miami.edu.


Israel Convicts ‘Father’ of Hamas Rocket Program

Dirar Abu Sisi in an Israeli court. (Flash90)
Dirar Abu Sisi in an Israeli court. (Flash90)
One of Israel’s most dangerous enemies, a senior Hamas official and terrorist commander, is being sent to prison for his direct involvement in terror.
Hamas rocket
Hamas terrorists show the M-75 home-made rocket in a military parade. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)
Israel’s Beer Sheva Regional Court convicted senior Hamas official and Izzadene al-Qassam Brigades military academy commander Dirar Abu Sisi of crimes against Israel’s security on Sunday. Abu Sisi is notorious for his part in developing and engineering Hamas rockets, which earned him the nickname “father of the rockets.”
Abu Sisi agreed to a plea bargain under which he admitted to five of the nine charges against him. The prosecution is demanding a 21-year prison sentence for him.
According to the indictment, Abu Sisi was appointed by Hamas military wing leaders Mohammed Deif and Ahmed Jabari—who was later assassinated by Israel—to establish a Hamas military academy. As part of this task, he created a training program for Hamas operatives. He also developed several types of rockets and mortars and worked to expand the range of Hamas rockets into Israel.
Media reports claim Abu Sisi was apprehended by Israel while he was in Ukraine with his wife.
By: JNS.Org

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Israeli Security Forces Arrest Jerusalem Arab Who Joined ISIS

Islamic State Terrorists. (Photo: news.vice.com)
A man recently arrested by Israeli security forces upon his return from Syria represents a growing trend among young Israeli Arabs to join Islamic State terrorists.
An Arab resident of Jerusalem with Israeli citizenship was arrested for joining the Islamic State (ISIS) terror organization and illegally traveling to Syria, the Shin Bet (Israel’s Security Agency) announced Monday.
The aspiring terrorist, Halil Adel Halil, 25, worked as an auxiliary at a hospital near Jerusalem.
He admitted in his investigation to joining the terrorists with a colleague, Muhammad Sami al-Aziz Abu Snina, after being impressed by online ISIS propaganda.
Halil also confessed to working on his physical fitness at the Jerusalem University gym before leaving for Syria.
He told his family and employers that he was leaving on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, while in fact he boarded a flight to Turkey, concealing his ultimate destination from the monitoring security forces.
Halil and his friend arrived in Istanbul in January and contacted ISIS online. They were directed to a relaying point in Turkey where they met others with similar ambitions, some from Bangladesh and two others from Israel, before being spirited into Syria to join the ranks of ISIS.
Halil returned to Israel after a few weeks in Syria and was subsequently arrested by the Shin Bet at the beginning of March.
On Monday, he was indicted at the Jerusalem District Court on charges of attempting to join an illegal organization, attempting to contact a foreign agent and illegally exiting the country.
The Shin Bet stressed that the incident demonstrates “the security threat posed by Israelis joining ISIS after being exposed to propaganda distributed by the organization, primarily online. Their return to Israel, after having gained knowledge and experience in terror and warfare, constitutes a serious threat of terror attacks within Israel’s borders.”

A Mounting Threat to Israel?

IDF soldiers in training. (IDF)
IDF soldiers in action. (IDF)
Halil is one of several Israeli Arabs who joined or attempted to join ISIS.
In February, the Shin Bet announced the arrest of an Israeli Arab from Nazareth upon his return from Syria and Iraq, where he had been fighting alongside ISIS.
In January, a security official announced that Shin Bet had successfully apprehended an ISIS terror cell in northern Israel. Security forces took down an ISIS cell in Hebron in November and yet another group of terrorists upon their return to Israel from Syria in October.
By: World Israel News Staff

Hacker Group Anonymous Threatens Israel With ‘Electronic Holocaust’

Anonymous Israel Palestine
The masked figure from Anonymous delivers a statement warning of an "Electronic Holocaust" against Israel.
FILED UNDER: WorldIsraelCyber Warfare
Cyber activist group Anonymous has released an internet video which threatens Israel with an “electronic Holocaust” on April 7, in a massive cyber attack planned to fall just over a week before Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 16, known in Israel as Yom HaShoah.
The video shows a masked figure in a suit and tie delivering a prepared statement, warning that the group will eradicate Israel from cyberspace “for... crimes in the Palestinian territories”.
“We will erase you from cyberspace in our electronic Holocaust,” says the video’s masked figure. "As we did many times, we will take down your servers, government websites, Israeli military websites, and Israeli institutions."
“A message to the youth of Palestine, you are a symbol of freedom, resistance and hope: we are with you and will continue to defend you,” the electronic voiceover adds. “Our message to the foolish Benjamin Netanyahu and all leaders in the Zionist entities, we will continue to electronically attack until the people of Palestine are free.”
Delivered in English and with Arabic subtitles, the video shows Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sitting with members of his cabinet and military leaders, coupled with images from the Gaza conflict, including ones showing the air strikes on the enclave during the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Operation Protective Edge last summer and Gazans running with injured children.
Previous targets of the hacker group’s operations have been websites of the Israeli prime minister’s office, the IDF, the Bank of Israel and the Embassy of Israel to the United States.
Benjamin T. Decker, senior intelligence analyst at Tel Aviv-based geopolitical risk consultancy The Levantine Group, says that the hacker collective makes the threat every year and, thus, Israel has acclimatised to the cyber threat, with less damage done with every year.
“For the most part, this is posturing. This is actually the fourth year that Anonymous has carried out this Op Israel attack and called on their supporters to erase Israel from the internet,” he says.
“As the years have progressed we have seen that, despite their increasing sophistication in hacking techniques, we have seen less damage against Israeli cyber infrastructures, largely due to Israel’s pioneering of most cyber warfare tactics, both offensive and defensive.”
Last year, during the Gaza conflict, the ‘hacktivist’ group pledged that the #OpSaveGaza campaign against Israel would “expose their terrorist activity to the world”, referring to Israel as ‘Israhell’. 
Isaac Ben-Israel, a technology and security expert at Tel Aviv University toldThe Times of Israel that cyber attacks against Israel increased nine-fold during the battle between the IDF and Palestinian militant groups. “Instead of the usual 100,000 attacks we get each day, we were now getting a million such attacks from all over the Arab and Muslim world,” he claimed.
In last summer’s 50-day conflict, over 2,100 Palestinians—at least 1,585 civilians of which 530 were children—were killed, according to UN and Palestinian accounts, and 72 Israelis—all but five soldiers—were killed, according to Israeli accounts.

Netanyahu: Obama’s Iranian Nuclear Deal Worse Than Feared

MARCH 29, 2015 7:25 AM
(Newsmax) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned on Sunday the framework Iranian nuclear agreement being sought by international negotiators, saying it was even worse than his country had feared.
Israel has mounted what it terms an “uphill battle” against an agreement that might ease sanctions on the Iranians while leaving them with a nuclear infrastructure with bomb-making potential. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful.
“This deal, as it appears to be emerging, bears out all of our fears, and even more than that,” Netanyahu told his cabinet in Jerusalem as the United States, five other world powers and Iran worked toward a March 31 deadline in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Noting advances made by Iranian-allied forces in Yemen and other Arab countries, Netanyahu accused the Islamic republic of trying to “conquer the entire Middle East” while moving toward nuclearization.
“The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is very dangerous to humanity, and must be stopped,” he said.
Netanyahu’s campaigning against the nuclear negotiations crested on March 3 with his speech to the U.S. Congress at the invitation of its Republican speaker, John Boehner, that angered President Barack Obama and many fellow Democrats.
The right-wing prime minister, who won a fourth term in a March 17 election, said on Sunday he had spoken to senior U.S. lawmakers from both parties “and heard from them about the steadfast, strong and continuous bipartisan support for Israel”.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli official who has been spearheading efforts to lobby world powers against the Iran deal, voiced cautious hope that the negotiations would collapse as they have in the past.
“We may still have a chance. We are not alone. There are still great doubts in the United States as well as in France, even in England,” Steinitz told Israel Radio, referring to disputes with Iran over the scope of nuclear projects it might be allowed to retain.
But Steinitz said Israel, which is not a party to the talks and whose hardline demands have not been welcomed in Western capitals, was in an “uphill battle”.
Another senior Israeli official, Security Cabinet Minister Gilad Erdan, saw a “good chance” of the powers and Iran reaching a framework deal by the Tuesday deadline, after which they would turn to the end-of-June target date for a comprehensive accord – a final stretch in which more counter-lobbying could be mounted.
“This is not over yet. There’s the Congress, and also the players involved in the negotiations themselves have not agreed on all terms,” Erdan told Israel’s Army Radio. “There is still a great amount of room in which to operate diplomatically before the final accord.”