Friday, July 22, 2016

Remembering Cuba's martyred democrats Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero four years later

Remembering the words of Cuba's martyred human rights defenders Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante

Christian Liberation announces month in memory of Oswaldo and Harold
Today, July 22, 2016 marks four years since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante were killed in Cuba under suspicious circumstances that have led to demands for an international investigation, a report that points to the involvement of state security, and survivor testimony that points to murder. Today family, friends and admirers will celebrate their lives while praying for them as we continue to mourn their passing. The Christian Liberation Movement a month ago requested those who knew the two men to write an article or chronicle about them.

Although I have been blessed to meet Oswaldo's and Harold's friends and family members over the years, fate did not allow me to meet them but on a couple of occasions speak with them over the phone. Nevertheless the words and actions of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, founding leader of the Christian Liberation Movement captured my imagination and admiration when I first heard of him in 1990. The Christian Liberation Movement's nonviolent vision of change is a radical rejection of the violence and hatred that define the ideology and political vision embraced by the Castro brothers and the dictatorship's iconic figure Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The violence visited on Werlando Leyva Batista, a 30 year old member of the Christian Liberation Movement in Holguin, Cuba attacked with multiple machete blows by one of the Castro regime's paramilitary on June 8, 2013 has been part of a pattern of worsening violence by the dictatorship that continues to be defied nonviolently.

In remembering both martyred activists the words of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante must be remembered and their nonviolent legacy and example shared with others.
"How close you and "Solidarity" have been to us in these years. Receive our fraternal greetings. I write on behalf of the Christian "Liberation" Movement. We are a Christian and patriotic movement that by peaceful means are working for freedom and democracy in our nation. ... I hope this gets to you and that the Poles might know of our struggle inspired by the Gospel. I cannot conclude without expressing our gratitude to you, the Movement "Solidarity" and all the Polish people that knew how to open the path of freedom for subject peoples. As Catholics we feel that we are in communion with you and that overcomes the difficulties of communication." - Oswaldo Payá, October 1, 1990   

"A few days ago, bombs exploded in two hotels in Havana. Neither the perpetrators nor the objectives of these terrorist acts have identified themselves. But in any case, such acts are reprehensible. We reject them and they should not serve to confuse Cubans. When defending their human rights, proclaiming the truth and proposing a peaceful transition to democracy, many of our fellow countrymen have endured threats, discrimination, acts of harassment, arbitrary incarcerations, beatings and cruel treatment by repressive agents, and political and judicial authorities. However, neither we nor any of our brothers have renounced a peaceful transition through civic means." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, July 22, 1997

"Furthermore, those who in the prisons receive serious mistreatment have not voiced words of hatred against their abusers, because for us the peaceful approach is not a tactic but something that arises out of a spirit of reconciliation and liberation which has prompted us to begin our struggle. No one can justify terroristic violence and attacks on defenseless human beings with any kind of reasoning, and much less by pretending to defend freedom and justice. Anyone who hides cynically to make attempts against human life violates the dignity of the human being and conspires against freedom and justice. The end does not justify the means. Lies and terror lead to death and fear. Truth and love produce freedom and life." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, July 22, 1997  
"Expelling us is not the solution neither for them or for us, it would be better to ask yourself why are there young people who are filled with concern and worry for the welfare of the country. It would be good that they explain to the students and to the people what the Varela Project is, what does it ask, and so give everyone the right to think and choose." -  Harold Cepero Escalante, November 3, 2002
"Today we are kicked out of the university for this. Tomorrow it could be one of you for just being different, for permitting yourself to think." -  Harold Cepero Escalante, November 3, 2002
"They are wanting to perpetuate something that it is not even known if it is fair, and in this manner they are denying the progress of a society that wants something new, something that really guarantees a dignified place for every Cuban. They are pressuring people or preventing them from expressing their true feelings, they are cultivating fear in the nation." -  Harold Cepero Escalante, November 3, 2002
"Under the pretext of defending freedom they are attacking it. Martí would say it like this: "The knife that is stabbed in the name of freedom is plunged into the chest of freedom". They should think if at the bottom of this attitude there is a real respect for freedom, because to say freedom, to be free, is not to snatch the freedom of others. I therefore ask that before they expel us ask themselves how long can they keep silent the mourning and the reality of Cuba, and remind them that the damage they can do to us is damage that they do to themselves. And more: it is a direct threat to every Cuban." Harold Cepero Escalante, November 3, 2002

"Those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves." Harold Cepero Escalante, November 3, 2002 
"The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized." - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002

"The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: ‘You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together’." - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002

"We now know that any method or model which purportedly aims to achieve justice, development, and efficiency but takes precedence over the individual or cancels out any of the fundamental rights leads to a form of oppression and to exclusion and is calamitous for the people." - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002

"We wish to express our solidarity with all those who suffer from any form of oppression and injustice, and with those in the world who have been silenced or marginalized." - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002

"It's obviously a matter of shame that our land is being used for that purpose, having foreign prisoners brought to Cuba. Even if they are terrorists they deserve respect. Their human rights should be respected." - Oswaldo Paya, December 18, 2002 (on arrival of Taliban prisoners to Guantanamo )

"It's difficult to say exactly what the offences are but it can be just for being critical of Fidel Castro. More than 20 leaders of our movement [the Christian Liberation Movement] are in prison and many other activists from other movements. The repression against the Varela Project [named after Felix Varela, a nineteenth-century Cuban independence advocate] is because they understood that people had lost their fear so we became a symbol of hope." - Oswaldo Payá, August 4, 2006

"Many Cubans see powerful things in this regime or are concerned that they will be trapped. The solution cannot be a violent one because that will only bring more violence."  - Oswaldo Payá, August 4, 2006

"I have been told that I am going to be killed before the regime is over but I am not going to run away."- Oswaldo Payá, August 4, 2006  

"We thank all those heroes who on one day were abducted from their homes unjustly imprisoned solely for defending human rights. The people of Cuba and all who love justice must be grateful to those Cubans who have been symbols of dignity and hope shining from the shadows."  - Oswaldo Paya, October 7, 2010
"We don't want savage capitalism; we already have savage communism. Please, no more savage things." - Oswaldo Payá, November 20, 2010 

There is a real “moral inversion,” in what the foreign media, intellectual circles, ecclesiastical circles, diplomats and politicians are doing against the people of Cuba and against the dissident right now. They judge the persecuted, the poor, those who are silenced, but they do not dare to judge the government. - Oswaldo Paya, October 3, 2011

Our Movement denounces the regime's attempt to impose a fraudulent change, i.e. change without rights and the inclusion of many interests in this change that sidesteps democracy and the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The attempt to link the Diaspora in this fraudulent change is to make victims participate in their own oppression.  - Oswaldo Payá, March 30, 2012
“Already many Cubans have discovered and soon all of them will discover that this oppression, that this imposed lie, can be overcome recognizing ourselves as brothers to conquer our rights peacefully. So there is hope.” - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas,  Somos Liberación Havana, Cuba, July  2012.
The extrajudicial killings of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012 was not only the murder of two good men but the Castro regime's attempt to murder the future of a free and democratic Cuba. Today is a day that all friends of freedom should say a prayer for these two activists, their friends, families, and for Cubans in general. Tonight at 8:00pm at Our Lady of Charity (Ermita de la Caridad) located at 3609 South Miami Ave Miami, FL. 33133 a Mass to give thanks for the lives of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante who sacrificed so much for Cuba's freedom will be held.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

One year after changing U.S. - Cuba Policy course to the wrong direction: Marginalizing democrats; embracing dictatorship

Changing course to go in the wrong direction is not progress.

From meeting with opposition leaders (2003) to shunning them (2015)
Today the White House tweeted "One year ago, we changed course in Cuba" and claimed to have achieved "progress." Over the past year human rights have worsened in Cuba and overall situation has deteriorated. Unfortunately, the Obama administration's passivity before regime demands is partly to blame.

One year ago today the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C. was formally re-designated the Cuba Embassy with Secretary of State John Kerry in attendance.  Later on that same day the significance of this new relationship with the Castro regime was made evident in the treatment accorded to Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo.

On  July 20, 2015 at the State Department, Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo attended a press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry and Castro's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez. Rosa Maria had proper accreditation as a member of the press. She has had articles published in news publications such as The PanAm Post and her own blog. This did not stop Rear Admiral John Kirby, who was transferred from the Pentagon and in May of 2015 became the new State Department spokesman, from taking Rosa Maria aside and warning her that she would be physically removed if she asked any questions or caused any kind of disturbance.

Cecilia Bradley of NBC6 captured a blurry image of when Rosa Maria Payá was taken aside. The young activist tweeted a photo of Rear Admiral Kirby with the following text: "John Kirby kindly told me if I caused disturbances during the conference security would remove me." In a later tweet Rosa Maria reported that "Mr. Kirby asks me not to ask questions at John Kerry's press briefing or they would use force to expel me."

The United States Department of State in the space of  twelve years has gone from Secretary of State Colin Powell receiving Cuban democratic opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas to threatening his daughter with force if she dared to ask a question at a press conference in which Secretary of State John Kerry took questions with the Cuban dictatorship's Foreign Minister. The same dictatorship that martyred her father three years earlier.

Is this what is now celebrated as progress by the Obama administration?

A day later when  Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo attempted to present a letter to the Cuban embassy requesting her father's autopsy report she was not allowed to turn in the letter and a patrol car was called. Since 2012 the Payá family has been requesting Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's autopsy report from the dictatorship and has yet to be given a copy as they are entitled by law. This is not how the embassy of a country behaves, but it is how a totalitarian dictatorship does. This is why South Florida residents protested placing a Cuban Consulate here earlier this year.

President Obama changed course on Cuba from Secretary of State Powell receiving a Cuban democratic opposition member in 2003 following a petition drive signed by more than 20,000 Cuban nationals demanding democratic reforms to the Secretary of State's spokesman threatening an accredited reporter with physical removal from the State Department because her father was martyred by the dictatorship (this administration normalized relations with) to prevent her asking a question at a press conference to the foreign minister of that regime.

Diminishing the moral stature of the United States government is the opposite of progress. Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo in a tweet summed up this new reality perfectly:  "I didn't think I would receive in the State Dept the same kind of coercive warning security at the Panama airport gave me."

Neither did I.

Election 2016: A Reflection

 Failure of the political and media elite fuel Trump and Sanders phenomenons in both parties

Anti-system candidates: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders
Donald Trump officially won the Republican nomination for President of the United States last night in Cleveland. The question many are asking is: How did the country get here? Consider the following facts and the reasons for the political earthquake become clear.

A silent epidemic
African Americans in the United States can expect to live until age 76, while white Americans are likely to live until age 79, on average there is a 3.4 year difference. This is an improvement over previous years with both African Americans and Hispanic mortality rates steadily dropping. However since 1995 white mortality rates have dropped at a slower rate when compared to other groups. Worse yet between 1999 and 2014 mortality rates among middle class whites have actually increased while that of other racial groups have continued to decline. Main causes of this increased mortality are: suicide, chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis, alcohol and drug poisoning.

This trend is not being repeated in other European countries. According to a December 2015 Princeton study this "silent epidemic" has claimed half a million lives and can be traced to distress in the population with the inability to find work a major factor. There is also new data that points to increasing mortality not only among middle age but also young whites. How does all this relate to the 2016 presidential election? According to Jeff Guo in The Washington Post on March 4, 2016 Donald Trump performed the best in places where middle-aged whites are dying the fastest.

Economic distress

The official government unemployment figure is 4.9% but other reliable and more accurate statistics range between 6.3% on the low end to  the U6 unemployment range which is 9.9%. More controversial but accepted in some quarters is John Williams' Shadow Government Stats that places June 2016 unemployment at 22.9%. These numbers provide plenty of room for despair. First is the fact that official numbers promoted in the mass media are not necessarily accurate.

Secondly, the disappearance of higher paying manufacturing jobs has been the result of trade agreements that have negatively impacted U.S. workers but at the same time has benefited and enriched a powerful few.  Most of U.S. manufacturing ended up in mainland China and has assisted in modernizing that country and its military which is now expanding in the region and making itself felt worldwide to the detriment of U.S. national and security interests. How has this bipartisan China policy benefited the average American? This is not being discussed on the national stage.

If the political and media elite are unwilling even to address the problem with accurate statistics then what hope is there of solving the problem?  This is why the Trump and Sanders phenomenons erupted on the national political scene. Voters are frustrated.

Exacerbating racial tensions
Meanwhile rather than having this national conversation the debate has been returned to the old obsession and the so-called "original sin" of the United States: Race.

Consider for a moment that according to The Washington Post 990 people were killed by police officers in 2015 out of  a total of 12.2 million arrests with nearly half of all killed being white non-hispanics followed by a little over a quarter that were African American and 17%  who were hispanic.  A disturbing subset of data was the statistical breakdown of 93 unarmed individuals killed by the police in 2015 with four out of ten being African American followed by three out of ten being white non-hispanics and nearly two out of ten hispanics. Meanwhile there were 42 police officers shot and killed in 2015.

There is a problem that needs to be addressed but it has been magnified and distorted by the media and political actors to create the sensation of a clear and present danger for African Americans when being stopped by the police facing a great risk of being killed. The high profile killing of police in the Unite States in reaction to a media campaign demonizing the police will also have an impact in the presidential election.

It is interesting that those publicly mentioned as possibly funding Black Lives Matter have an interest in maintaining the status quo on trade and globalism in the United States and avoiding a national conversation on these two subjects. This brings us to a topic that the political and media elite are at odds with the majority of the citizens of the United States and that is immigration.

Illegal immigration and changing the political culture
Fredo Arias-King served as senior adviser to the National Action Party of Mexico during its presidential campaign in 1999–2000.  In July of 2006 he wrote an important paper for the Center for Immigration Studied titled "Immigration and Usurpation: Elites, Power, and the People’s Will" about the disconnect between public opinion and elite actions in the United States with regards to illegal immigration.

Arias-King speculated in this paper what motivated U.S. politicians to tolerate and even encourage the phenomenon of illegal immigration and where it could eventually lead predicting the rise of a Trump-like candidate that could seize the immigration issue to respond to the demands of a populace outraged at the lack of response from the political class.
Samuel Huntington speculated that the American "creed" (values and beliefs) cannot be used to openly oppose mass immigration.16 That may change. So far, the immigration debate has centered on the immigrants themselves—whether they are worthy or unworthy. This debate is a red herring, since average Americans are unusually kind and restrained in the face of mass immigration, something that cannot be said about other nations (including Mexico).17 Recent poll findings from Zogby challenge the popular belief that the average American somehow has negative or overtly prejudicial feelings toward Mexicans in particular.18 However, Huntington did not take into account the possibility that the debate could yet be framed in terms of potential usurpation from the political class using immigration as a tool. If an organizeable mass of Americans comes to suspect that mass immigration from Latin America is being used by the political class to undermine their democracy and as a tool to liberate the political elites from the Jeffersonian and Madisonian constraints, then indeed we may witness a reaction—but hopefully not against the immigrants themselves, as they are also objects of elite manipulations in more than one country. The Founding Fathers also prescribed a cure for usurpation. Hopefully the American people will not apply it so literally, for the sake of those legislators.
The conclusion reached by the author that the American political class was using mass immigration to to change the electorate in order to make the citizenry more malleable and thus politicians being able to get away with being less accountable was a controversial proposition in 2006 but seems much less so today. The loss of faith in governing institutions in the United States by large sectors of the electorate is behind the success of Donald Trump, a business man with no political experience and Bernie Sanders, a socialist with a communist background who honeymooned in the Soviet Union in 1988. However Sanders was against open borders and globalization but his support for an amnesty for 11 million in the United States probably cost him the nomination.

Shadows in the Fall: Foreign policy
Foreign policy failures are felt here in the United States. The argument that we fight them over there to avoid fighting them over here rings hollow in the electorate who are now backing a candidate who opposed the war in IraqTerror attacks linked to Islamic extremism have impacted across the nation in recent years: Orlando, Florida (2016),  Chattanooga, Tennessee (2015), San Bernardino, California (2015), and Boston, Massachusetts (2013). Meanwhile events in Turkey point to an ominous new turn with Erdogan's consolidation of power, purges, and crushing of the military following what appears to have been a coup with a counter-coup underway that could lead to the rise of a fully Islamic regime in NATO. The cry of "who lost Turkey?" may become a theme in the foreign policy debate in the presidential election in the United States this fall. There are other hot spots in the world and Libya can be blamed directly on Hillary Clinton.

These are trying times for the American Republic and the social, political, and media elite had best wake up, look out for the interests of their fellow citizens, and how to rebuild the middle class or get out of the way.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Captive Nations Week: Masses in Memory of Two Cuban Human Rights Heroes Martyred on July 22, 2012

July 17 through July 23, 2016 is Captive Nations Week and it coincides with the fourth anniversary of the extrajudicial killings of Cuban pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012. Both were leaders in the Christian Liberation Movement. Last month this movement issued a call for those who knew them to share their memories of Oswaldo and Harold:
In this month in memory of Oswaldo and Harold we invite those who knew them to send an article or chronicle with anecdotes related to them (between 260-400 words long). 

 The first Captive Nations Week was in 1959 and President Eisenhower issued a proclamation that announced in part:

Whereas it is appropriate and proper to manifest to the peoples of the captive nations the support of the Government and the people of the United States of America for their just aspirations for freedom and national independence; and
Whereas by a joint resolution approved July 17, 1959, the Congress has authorized and requested the President of the United States of America to issue a proclamation designating the third week in July 1959 as "Captive Nations Week," and to issue a similar proclamation each year until such time as freedom and independence shall have been achieved for all the captive nations of the world.
Cuba remains a captive nation in 2016 along with China, Laos, North Korea, Vietnam and too many others.On July 13 in front of the Cuba Embassy in Washington, DC and at Florida International University activists held a 13 minute moment of silence in memory of martyrs Oswaldo, Harold and 37 tugboat massacre victims all murdered by the Castro regime in the month of July.

On July 22nd in Miami, FL USA; Madrid, Spain and Santiago, Chile masses will be held in memory of two victims of communism Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante murdered on that day four years ago.

Whether or not you are in the area please say a prayer for Cuban martyrs Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante. If you are in the area then join in a Mass for the memory of these two Cuban martyrs for freedom.

In Madrid on July 22, 2016 at 20:40 in the Church of San Fermín de los Navarros there is a Mass in memory of Oswaldo and Harold.

Church of San Fermín de los Navarros
In Miami, Florida on July 22nd at 8:00pm at Our Lady of Charity located at 3609 South Miami Ave Miami, Fl. 33133 there is a Mass in memory of Oswaldo and Harold.

Our Lady of Charity (La Ermita) in Miami, FL
In Santiago, Chile on July 20 at 19:00 in the Latin American Parish on Avenida Bustamante 180 Providencia there is a Mass in memory of Oswaldo and Harold.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Captive Nations Week: Reagan 1988 versus Obama 2016

Some years ago, two friends of mine were talking to a refugee from Communist Cuba. He had escaped from Castro. And as he told the story of his horrible experiences, one of my friends turned to the other and said, ``We don't know how lucky we are.'' And the Cuban stopped and said, ``How lucky you are? I had some place to escape to.'' - President Ronald Reagan, July 13, 1988, Remarks on Signing the Captive Nations Week Proclamation 

President Ronald Reagan on July 13, 1988 issued his final Captive Nations Week proclamation in the last year of his presidency with an inspiring call for freedom and solidarity with the victims of communism  that contrasts dramatically with the final proclamation issued by President Obama today
in the last year of his presidency. The excerpt below from 1988 is clear in its denunciation of totalitarianism while at the same time offering specificity:
The citizens of the captive nations daily hear the mighty call of freedom and answer it boldly, sending an echo around the globe to remind totalitarians and all mankind that their voices cannot be quelled -- because they are the voices of the human spirit.

Across the continents and seas, the cry for freedom rings out and the struggle for its blessings continues, in the republics of the Soviet Union, in the Baltic States and throughout Eastern Europe, in Cuba and Nicaragua, in Ethiopia and Angola, and in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It also continues in Afghanistan, despite initial Soviet withdrawal, because the Najibullah regime imposes its will upon the Afghan people. We in America, who have held high the torch of liberty for 2 centuries and more, pause during Captive Nations Week to express our solidarity with those who strive at great personal risk and sacrifice to win justice for their nations. We commemorate as well the many freedom fighters and individuals such as Polish Father Jerzy Popieluszko and Ukrainian poet Vasyl Stus who have given their lives in the imperishable cause of liberty. We cannot and will not shirk our duty and responsibility to insist on the speediest end to subjugation, persecution, and discrimination in the captive nations. We repeat our call for all governments to respect and honor the letter and the spirit of the United Nations Charter and the Helsinki Accords.
Whereas President Reagan highlighted specific countries under the grips of communism in 1988 the current occupant of the White House offers no such details with the exception of Cuba and there is no inspiring call for freedom or solidarity with or naming of the victims.
"It also means discussing our differences with nations more directly. And we have opened a new chapter in our relationship with Cuba, which includes direct engagement with their government on human rights and steps to empower and create opportunity for the Cuban people."
No mention of the victims of communism in Cuba during President Obama's watch.  Why not commemorate those Cubans such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Harold Cepero, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and others who gave their lives in the cause of freedom in Cuba while the Obama Administration pursued detente with the Castro regime who played a role in their deaths?

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero murdered four years ago on 7/22
No mention of the crisis underway in Venezuela where a communist regime is being imposed in slow motion and where the results are hunger riots, political repression, the imprisonment of democratic opposition leaders such as Leopoldo Lopez and the murder of student leaders by the Maduro regime's agents.

President Reagan addressed the legacy of communism in 1988 in clear terms that are needed today to avoid having others fall under the siren call of communist apologists who promise an earthly paradise but time and time again deliver Hell on Earth.
We cannot forget decades of tragedy, the tens of millions of lives lost, or the enormity of the suffering inflicted on the innocent. We applaud the courage and faith that have sustained countless people and kept alive the dream of freedom against unthinkable odds. Despite starvation, torture, and murder, the indomitable human spirit will outlast all oppression. We continue to stand ready to cooperate in meeting the just aspirations of the oppressed and needy of the world. We will remain forever steadfast in our commitment to speak out for those who cannot, to seek justice for those to whom it is denied, and to assist freedom-seeking peoples everywhere. 
28 years ago Ronald Reagan made his final remarks after signing the Captive Nations Week Proclamation and today he is honored and remembered in countries that are now free across the world. Unfortunately, all indications are that President Obama will not repeat this legacy.

The author in Poland next to a statue of Ronald Reagan