Saturday, September 22, 2018

From the Archives: Former Cuban Political Prisoner Denounces Human Rights Violations at UN Council

José Gabriel Ramón Castillo (age 61) passed away on July 16, 2018 from a cirrhosis of the liver product of a hepatitis infection contracted while imprisoned in Cuba as a prisoner of conscience during the 2003 Black Cuban Spring. In 2009, shortly after his release from prison he addressed the UN Human Rights Council. Below is the statement and press release published in 2009 by the Cuban Democratic Directorate.

Geneva. June 10, 2009. Cuban Democratic Directorate. Former Cuban political prisoner José Gabriel Ramón Castillo addressed the 11th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday June 10, in order to denounce human rights violations on the Island.

“In the name of those thousands of Cubans who have been repressed and tortured, and whose fundamental rights are violated, I ask the Council to do justice for the Cuban people,” concluded Ramón Castillo’s remarks before the Council.

The statement, referred to as an intervention, took place during the open debate on the human rights situation on the Island, after the presentation of the final report on the Universal Periodic Review process carried out at the beginning of February, 2009

“The interventions by Ramón Castillo as well as by the representative for Human Rights Watch were critical and persuasive, despite the allegations against them before the Council made by the Havana regime’s ambassador,” stated John Suárez, director of International Relations for the Cuban Democratic Directorate (Directorio) who is attending the session in Geneva.

The activists were able to participate in this international forum thanks to the support of the Centrist Democrat International. The representatives of the cause for human rights in Cuba also held a press conference previous to the presentation in the Council chamber.

“It has been a marvelous experience to participate in this international dialogue where, once again, the regime resorted to rhetoric and its claims were laid bare thanks to the remarks we made and those by Human Rights Watch. It makes no sense for the regime to speak of human rights if it has not adhered to the covenants on civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights,” stated former political prisoner José Gabriel Ramón Castillo by telephone to Directorio.

José Gabriel Ramón Castillo met President Havel in 2009

 Below is the full text of José Gabriel Ramón Castillo’s statement before the Council:

June 2009.

Thank you, Mr. President:

My name is José Gabriel Ramón Castillo. I was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, and I testify before this forum as a victim of repression in Cuba. I will refer concretely to two points contained in the Responses provided by Cuba on the recommendations listed under paragraph 131 of the report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba (A/HRC/11/22) Adopted during the Fourth Session of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review.

The ratification of the International Covenants on Civil, Political, Social, Economic, and Cultural rights is still a pending matter. My question concerning this- Will it be possible to put a date on definitive adherence to these Covenants? As long as Cuba does not ratify these Covenants, the human rights situation will continue to depend on the political will of the Government, and there is no guarantee whatsoever that the current situation will change.

On page 2, the aforementioned document indicates that “Cuba is a State Party to the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments or punishments (CAT) from May 17, 1995 assures respect for the physical and spiritual integrity of persons. In the country there are no existing practices of torture or of other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments or punishments. Cuba has the effective national resources to ensure the rigorous application of the CAT.”

The reality is that in Cuba there are hundreds of political prisoners recognized by Amnesty International. Many are ill and do not receive treatment. Human rights defenders enter prison healthy and in a short time suffer serious illnesses as in the cases of, among others, Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, Librado Linares García, Normando Hernández González, and Ariel Sigler Amaya, who has been left an invalid. In Cuba, there is physical and psychological torture, and I am a direct victim of these practices.

On page 8, the aforementioned document speaks of the self-determination of peoples, and economic, social, and cultural rights are mentioned. Nevertheless, the self-determination of Cuban workers is not respected in Cuba. Workers lack the right to organizer labor unions independently of the state, and 5 Cubans are currently in prison for attempting to organize independent labor unions. This has been well documented by the relevant international institutions.

The Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs of Cuba has documented 21 deaths in prison in 2009 due to denial of medical attention and/or psychological harassment. There have been 500 cases of arbitrary arrests and 26 imprisonments of human rights activists. Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, executive director of the Council, as well as Julio Romero Muñoz of the Free Expression Solidarity Movement, have been persecuted for sending reports to the Universal Periodic Review Committee.

Mr. President, in the name of those thousands of Cubans who have been repressed and tortured, and whose fundamental rights are violated, I ask the Council to do justice for the Cuban people.

Thank you.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The failure of the UN Human Rights Council with regards to assessing human rights in Cuba

Exhibit A and B

Exhibit A

Exhibit B of the failure of the UN Human Rights system has been the failure of its mechanisms to provide an accurate assessment of the dismal human rights situation in the island.  Nor is there any mention of the Cuban government's involvement in gross and systematic human rights violations in Venezuela and Nicaragua. The final outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba will be discussed and adopted on September 20, 2018 at the 39th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. The next time that such an examination of the island nation will take place will be in 2023. This examination will not reflect the human rights situation in the island. The Cuban government has corrupted and abused the process turning it into a circus. The Cuban government has flooded the compilation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with front groups celebrating the dictatorship's "human rights achievements" and drowned out the reports by legitimate NGOs.

The compilation provided by United Nations agencies is little better with organizations such as UNESCO providing praise for the dictatorship without taking a closer look at official claims on education and healthcare.

Finally the review itself is loaded up by the most repressive states in the world crowding out as much time with praise for the Cuban dictatorship in what amounts to a mutual protection society of the worse of the worse.

If one looks beyond the propaganda and diplomatic maneuvers to the facts then one finds that the government of Cuba has had and continues to have a terrible human rights record in the island.

Over the past four years that the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba carried out at the UN Human Rights Council should be reviewing that countries human rights record: students and professors have been expelled and fired for their political beliefs, non-violent dissidents have been imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression or refusing to mourn the death of Fidel Castro, the Cuban human rights group, the Ladies in White, have been regularly harassed and physically abused for trying to exercise their right to freedom of association and other dissidents, including a blind dissident, have been victims of brutal violence, with the May 2015 machete attack of Sirley Avila Leon being one of the most dramatic. Not to mention that extrajudicial killings are still taking place.

Alejandro Pupo Echemendia beaten to death on August 9, 2018
Mr. Alejandro Pupo Echemendia was beaten to death by a government agent on August 9, 2018 while in police custody at the Placetas police station, in Las Villas Cuba. Family members were able to photograph the body of the victim at the General Hospital of Placetas "Dr. Daniel Codorniú Pruna". An eye-witness, human rights defenders, and family members have come forward to demand justice, and have been subjected to police harassment, threats, and arbitrary detentions by Cuban State Security to get them to change or withdraw their testimony. 

Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción, successor to martyred founding leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, and unjustly jailed since November 30, 2016 was badly beaten, stabbed twice by three prisoners on December 19, 2017, and subjected to a political show trial, sentenced to three years in prison on March 20, 2017. The December attack with a sharp object was most probably engineered by Castro's State Security in order to permanently silence him. The seriousness of the attack was only learned on January 15, 2018 when his wife was finally able to visit him in prison and see the extent of his injuries.  His health has been worsening and he had been refused religious assistance.
Dr. Eduardo Cardet and his wife Yaimaris Vecino

On May 26, 2018 the Cuban government suspended visits to prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet, and his wife Yaimaris Vecino protested at the time: 
"Today, May 26, we went to the prison in Cuba Si, it was the visit that Eduardo's mother, his sister, my children and I scheduled, and they prevented us from seeing him, the prison authorities alleging  that Eduardo has given "false information" that according to them, the family is spreading and in retaliation suspended visits for six months." Yaimaris went on to say that "this is a new arbitrariness against Eduardo and I seriously fear for his physical integrity."
Thanks to the intercession of the Bishop of Holguin, Eduardo Cardet's family was able to finally visit him on September 13, 2018.  Four months without a visit and weeks without a phone call due to the Cuban government's efforts to silence Dr. Cardet's family's campaign for his release.

It is important to look back beyond the past four years and place them in context, and one should also look beyond the island.

This regime's bad actions extend to the international sphere at high profile venues such as the old United Nations Human Rights Commission and in the present United Nations Human Rights Council. The consequences of the regime's actions extend beyond Cuba and has had an impact on international human rights standards.

ARTICLE 19 and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) condemned a resolution that passed on March 28, 2008 which amended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, as per proposals from the Organisation of Islamic Congress (OIC) and the Cuban delegations eroding and undermining freedom of expression. Both NGOs condemned "the repeated misuse of the Human Rights Council (HRC) process to push for an agenda that has nothing to do with strengthening human rights and everything to do with protecting autocracies and political point scoring."

Consider how the Cuban government has dealt with dissenting voices. Frank Calzon, a Cuban national exiled in the United States, was Freedom House's Washington DC Representative at the UN Human Rights Commission from 1986 to 1997. The Cuban government slandered his good name accusing him repeatedly of being a CIA agent. This continued after Mr. Calzon left Freedom House.

In 2004 Freedom House denounced that "a Cuban delegate punched Mr. Calzon, knocking him unconscious. UN guards reportedly protected him from further assault by additional members of the Cuban delegation. The attack occurred shortly after the Commission passed a resolution critical of Cuba's human rights record." Other members of Freedom House had been subjected to threats and harassment at the UN Human Rights Commission.

If this is what Cuban diplomats do with the eyes of the world on them then what do you think they are doing to Cuban dissidents on the island away from the glare of the cameras?

Perhaps, one day when the current Human Rights High Commissioner is no longer occupying that post these realities will be taken into account instead of the $1,900 dollar donation that earned the dictatorship a positive plug on social media.

This will necessitate understanding how the idea of human rights transitioned from a call for individual liberty from despotic rule to an instrument to white wash tyrannical rule and oppressive regimes.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

International Day of Democracy: The Worst Form of Government

"Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…" - Winston Churchill, 11 November 1947
The International Day of Democracy has been celebrated by the United Nations every year since 2008 with today marking one decade of observing this day on September 15th. Democracy has been in retreat worldwide throughout these 10 years. Freedom House in its 2018 Freedom in the World Report subtitled it Democracy in Crisis, and the facts paint a somber picture.
"2017 was the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2017, with only 35 registering gains. Once-promising states such as Turkey, Venezuela, Poland, and Tunisia were among those experiencing declines in democratic standards. The recent democratic opening in Myanmar was permanently damaged by a shocking campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority."
 Part of the crisis is due to the failure of democracies to distinguish between dictatorship and democracy. When the European Union describes the totalitarian communist dictatorship in Cuba as a "one party democracy" there is a big problem of fundamental understanding or a willful blindness to what is democracy. Cuba has a "parliament" that in practice is a rubber stamp of the Castro regime and not a deliberative or democratic body.

There is also a continuing romance with the lie that dictatorships can deliver better services to their population than democracies. For example, many cite the Castro regime's  healthcare system but fail to mention that Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, and Colombia have better healthcare than Cuba and did not have to sacrifice their democracies to provide it to their citizens. Furthermore, unlike Cuba where there is no independent press, in these other countries their healthcare systems are scrutinized, criticized, and subject to more accountability than they are in the Castro dictatorship.

Western Democracies made the decision to heavily invest in Communist China over the past thirty years and today the same Chinese dictatorship that killed over 45 million of its own people in the 20th Century has achieved great economic growth while maintaining its despotic nature and modernizing it for the 21st century. Empowering a brutal dictatorship, history has shown, is never a good idea.

There is another inescapable reality, that among the 20 countries with the highest standards of living in the world: 19 of them are full fledged democracies.  Churchill was right. Democracy is a terrible form of government except for all others.  (The United States ranks down at 17th on this list with Canada in first place).

Democrats need to remember the important of institutions, accountability and a free press as bulwarks of democracy and a free society. At the same time Democrats also need to be more discerning when dealing with dictatorships.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Ortega's hooded police wielding AK-47s arrest, hold incomunicado Amaya Coppens, a human rights defender and medical student in Nicaragua.

Family fears for her life.

Medical student Amaya Coppens arbitrarily detained in Nicaragua
Daniel Ortega's Sandinista regime in Nicaragua is murdering hundreds and is backed by the dictatorship of Cuba and Venezuela.  Torture is widespread, and a high ranking perpetrator is being promoted and given new responsibilities. The numbers are overwhelming and numbing. This is why it is necessary to focus on individuals such as Amaya Coppens.

Amaya Coppens, a fifth year medicine student at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de León in Nicaragua has been arrested and accused of "terrorism."

Amaya stands accused of having set fire to the university facilities known as the CUUN, which occurred on April 20. They also hold her responsible for attacking National Police officers with firearms, as well as for the burning and destruction of the Germán Pomares Ordoñez complex, a building in León where a delegation of the Attorney General's Office operated, the intendancy of the property and a winery of the Fotestal Agricultural Ministry. She was detained on Monday night, September 10, along with Sergio Alberto Midence Delgadillo by hooded police that used violence to detain them, and take them away in a van.

This is a fabrication.

Her real "crime" is being outspoken against the violence visited on peaceful protesters and belonging to the University Coalition for Democracy along with the Justice (CUDJ) and the Civic Alliance and Social Movements Network. She is the eighth member of the CUDJ to be arbitrarily detained in what is a campaign of harassment and repression against a dozen university organizations working together at the national level for a free Nicaragua.

The charges against Amaya are a smoke screen to cover up the serious crimes against humanity committed by the Ortega regime against scores of Nicaraguans.   

Amaya Evans Coppens is a human rights defender who is both Nicaraguan and Belgian.  Friends and family are concerned because her whereabouts are unknown. A slogan in Spanish reads: "Viva se la llevaron, via la queremos!" - Alive you took her, alive we want her back!  Sadly, since April 18, 2018 hundreds of Nicaraguans have been extrajudicially executed by Daniel Ortega's Sandinista regime, and thousands more mistreated and tortured.

This is another sign of the Cubanization of Nicaragua. The imprisonment of a medical student for her human rights activism is reminiscent of the case of medical doctor and family man, Eduardo Cardet jailed in a Cuban prison since November 30, 2016 for his support of a nonviolent democratic transition in Cuba and outspoken criticism of the legacy of Fidel Castro in that island nation. Dr. Cardet is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.  Amnesty International should look into the plight of Amaya Evans Coppens and past the smoke screen erected by the Ortega regime.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Nicolás Maduro ‏celebrates and embraces the legacy of Mao Ze Dong, the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century

Ideas have consequences. - Richard Weaver

Conservative estimates place the number of killed under Mao Ze Dong at 45 million
Venezuela since 1999 with the rise of Hugo Chavez has been on the path to Socialism of the 21st Century. Socialism of the 21st Century in practice looks a lot like Communism of the 20th Century. Chavez died in 2013 and was replaced in the Venezuelan Presidency by Nicolas Maduro who continued the project of turning Venezuela into a communist dictatorship. On September 9, 2018 over twitter Maduro praised the late Mao Ze Dong and embraced his legacy declaring "We shall prevail."

Mao Ze Dong "dignified the people of the countryside" by killing an estimated 45 million of them in his communist project throughout his dictatorial rule.  Ideas have consequences when they are turned into action and that is what we are witnessing in Venezuela today under the Maduro regime which has embraced the murderous legacy of the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century.

Human Rights Watch reports that "over 2.3 million Venezuelans out of an estimated 32 million total population have left their country since 2014, according to the UN."