Edward Snowden and Ecuador press freedom

Amnesty International has issued a statement protesting the charges brought against Edward Snowden under the US Espionage Act. "No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations by the US government," said Amnesty's international law director Widney Brown. "Such disclosures are protected under the rights to information and freedom of expression." Snowden (now without a valid passport) is apparently at the Moscow airport, awaiting a flight to (depending on the account) Ecuador, Venezuela or Cuba. There is a delicious irony to countries usually portrayed as authoritarian offering refuge while the ostensibly "democratic" United States is thusly chastised. "Regardless of where Snowden ends up he has the right to seek asylum," said Brown. "Even if such a claim failed, no country can return a person to another country where there is a substantial risk of ill-treatment. His forced transfer to the USA would put him at great risk of human rights violations and must be challenged."

US lets 'spy' serve probation in Cuba

In a sharp reversal of its previous policy, the US government has decided to let René González, one of five Cuban men convicted of espionage in 2001, serve out the remainder of his probation in Cuba. González, a US citizen of Cuban origin, was released in October 2011 after spending 13 years in prison, but US officials initially turned down his request to serve his remaining three years' probation in Cuba. In 2012 the US let him visit the island for two weeks to see his brother, who was ill, and in April this year he was allowed another visit to attend the funeral of his father, who died on April 1. On May 3 US district judge in Miami Joan Lenard granted González's request to stay in Cuba; she said the US Justice Department now had no objection to the arrangement. Apparently the only condition was that he would need to renounce his US citizenship.

Assata Shakur: don't believe the 'terrorist' hype

Why now? On May 2—the 40th anniversary of the New Jersey Turnpike gun-fight that landed her in prison—the FBI made veteran Black Panther Assata Shakur the first woman on its "Most Wanted Terrorists" list, doubling the reward for her capture to $2 million. Shakur is in exile in Cuba, and Cuba's own right-wing exiles in Miami have campaigned for her extradition. But it's the NJ State Police that seem to have brought the pressure, with Trenton putting up the extra million dollars. "She continues to flaunt her freedom in the face of this horrific crime," State Police superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes said at a press conference, calling the case "an open wound" for troopers in New Jersey and around the country.

Yoani Sánchez speaks in New York City

Dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, who has won world fame with her Generación Y webpage, spoke March 15 at a conference entitled "The Revolution Recodified: Digital Culture and the Public Sphere in Cuba," at New York University. One lone protester stood across the street from the auditorium overlooking Washington Square Park, while the hall was filled with hundreds, all eagerly engaged. Sánchez opened with the assertion that digital technology is "bringing about a democratic, pluralistic Cuba," opening a new space in a country where "the press is a private monopoly of the Communist Party." She said a "slow, timid process of opening dissent from below" is underway, emphasizing that it is neither a reform imposed by foreign designs, nor the "formal limited reform" being advanced by the regime. She explicitly repudiated notions of militant opposition, saying she rejects the "cycle of violent revolution."

Cuba: documents describe US 'transition plans'

New information about the inner workings of the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program (CDCPP)--a multimillion-dollar program administered by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) ostensibly to promote democracy in Cuba—were made public on Jan. 15 when a major USAID contractor filed program-related documents in federal court in Washington, DC. The documents are being used in an effort by Maryland-based Development Alternatives Inc (DAI) to win the dismissal of a $60 million lawsuit against it and USAID by the family of US citizen Alan Gross, a DAI subcontractor now serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for his work there for the CDCPP. The DC-based research group National Security Archive posted the documents on its website on Jan. 18.

Cuba: imprisoned Spanish rightist is sent home

Spanish national Angel Francisco Carromero Barrios, sentenced to four years in Cuba after being convicted of causing an automobile accident that killed Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero on July 22, was flown from Havana to Madrid Dec. 29 accompanied by four Spanish Interpol agents. Carromero will serve out his sentence in Spain under a 1998 agreement between Cuba and Spain. Another Spanish citizen, Miguel Vives Cutillas, was with Carromero on the flight; under the same agreement Vives will stay in Spain for the remaining 14 years of an 18-year sentence imposed by a Cuban court for drug trafficking.

Latin America protests attack on Gaza

In a Nov. 17 statement the leaders of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), a trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay (suspended), Uruguay and Venezuela, expressed their "strongest condemnation of the violence unleashed between Israel and Palestine" and their "concern with the disproportionate use of force" since Israel began a military offensive against Gaza on Nov. 14. Mercosur also expressed "its support to the request from the state of Palestine to obtain the status of [United Nations] observer member."

Caribbean: will Sandy force real discussion of climate change?

Although the worst damage from Sandy took place in Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, the storm also affected other parts of the Caribbean. One man died in Juana Díaz in southern Puerto Rico on Oct. 26 when he was swept away by a river swollen because of rain from the edges of the storm, and 3,500 homes were damaged in the Dominican Republic. Sandy hit the Bahamas after leaving Cuba, and one man was killed there. The total number of deaths from Sandy in the Caribbean islands was at least 68. (AP, Oct. 28, via Miami Herald) [The reported death toll in the US, which Sandy struck starting on Oct. 29, was 110 as of Nov. 4. (CNN, Nov. 4)]

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