Sunday, August 9, 2020

Truth and Justice for Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros: Providing context to his death on hunger strike in Cuba

"To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” - Elie Wiesel, Night

Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros died on hunger strike on August 7, 2020
Long time Cuban dissident Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros died on Friday, August 7, 2020 in Cuba while in police custody following a 40 day hunger strike. He had been jailed on false charges in the Kilo 8 prison of Camagüey. His body was quickly cremated by the dictatorship.

Yale professor and author Carlos Eire writing in Babalu Blog highlighted Yosvany's untimely passing and placed it in context:
It’s happened again. Another Cuban dissident has died in prison. Strangely, unlike previous hunger-striking political prisoners who received international attention, Yosvany Arostegui was barely noticed in social media and totally ignored by the world’s news outlets. He joins a long list of hunger-strikers who have been pushed to their deaths by the Castro regime. May his self-immolation in prison be the last, and may he rest in peace and eternal freedom.
Exiled Cuban lawyer and human rights defender Laritza Diversent over Facebook wrote:
I feel deep sadness and pain. I imagine how lonely he felt and how convinced he was that he preferred to exhaust his body until it was turned off. His death reminds me of the thousands of people who, in Cuban prisons, use their body to protest against unjust criminal proceedings. It makes me more aware of all the activists who, like Silverio Portal, are locked up as punishment for exercising their rights to free expression, criticize, protest, meet and associate.
Particulars about Yovany's case are now emerging and being reported on, but it is important to remember that the Castro regime's repressive practices have led to several hunger strike deaths over the years along with efforts to slander the dead, and cover up what happened.

However there are two cases that the Castro regime failed to silence that aroused international attention and concern within the Cuban diaspora.

Pedro Luis Boitel was a student leader who fought by Fidel Castro's side to bring an end to the Batista dictatorship and restore Cuban democracy. However as Castro came to impose a communist regime on Cuba and abolished academic freedom and independent student activism at the University of Havana dissidents emerged. One of the most well known and popular among students opposing the new regime was Pedro Luis and he was sent to prison for 11 years in 1961. He served his sentence, but the dictatorship refused to free him. This drove Pedro to start a hunger strike that ended in his death on May 25,1972 after 53 days.  

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was by vocation both a brick layer and a human rights activist. He gathered signatures for the Varela Project, a citizen initiative to amend the Cuban constitution with the objective of bringing Cuba in line with international human rights standards. Orlando was repeatedly arrested for his human rights activism on July 3, 2002, October 28, 2002 and in November 2002. 

Orlando was rearrested on March 20, 2003 while nonviolently protesting for the release of other dissidents. Amnesty International reported that on October 20, 2003 Orlando was dragged along the floor of Combinado del Este Prison by prison officials after requesting medical attention, leaving his back full of lacerations. Orlando managed to smuggle a letter out that was published in April of 2004:
"My dear brothers in the internal opposition in Cuba. I have many things to say to you, but I did not want to do it with paper and ink, because I hope to go to you one day when our country is free without the Castro dictatorship. Long live human rights, with my blood I wrote to you so that this be saved as evidence of the savagery we of the Pedro Luis Boitel political prisoners [movement] are subjected to and are victims of."*
On May 18, 2004 Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Virgilio Marante Güelmes, and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo were each sentenced to three years in prison for contempt for authority, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in a one-day trial. This did not silence him. When prison officials chose to attack his human dignity, and engaged in acts of physical and psychological torture, Orlando Zapata would respond with nonviolent defiance. He carried out hunger strikes within the prisons he was transferred to. The regime's response to his nonviolent defiance was to pile on prison years to his sentence. Between May 2004 and December 2009 they carried out nine trials without due process guarantees for a total sentence of 25 years and six months. 

Cuban human rights defender Orlando Zapata Tamayo's hunger strike in 2009-2010 placed a national and international focus on human rights in Cuba that within two years led to the release of 75 other Cuban prisoners of conscience arrested along with him in March of 2003. Efforts by the Castro dictatorship to slander the martyred prisoner of conscience failed.

International media gave a great amount of coverage around the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010 but scant coverage around the January 19, 2012 death of prisoner of conscience Wilman Villar Mendoza who left behind a wife and two little girls 

Wilman Villar Mendoza was arrested on November14, 2011 during a violent crackdown by the political police on nonviolent Cuban democrats. Wilman and the others had engaged in a public protest in the town of Contramaestre in Santiago, Cuba on November 2, 2011. Ten days later in a closed-door, one day sham trial on November 24 Wilman was sentenced to four years in prison for disobedience, resisting arrest and contempt and was sent to Aguadores prison.
Outraged at the injustice committed against him Wilman launched a hunger strike on November 25, 2011 and refused to wear the uniform of a common prisoner. There was little press coverage or official protests regarding his plight until his death appeared imminent.

Ladies in White and other opposition activists marched and demonstrated on his behalf suffering brutal beatings and detentions but the international press remained silent. Now that he has died, as was done in the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010, some in the international media reported on it, but not to the degree that hey had with Orlando's case.

Plaque in memory of Roberto López Chávez
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has documented other Cuban political prisoners who have died on hunger strike on Cuba that little to nothing is known about:
  1. Roberto López Chávez, 25 years old, died on December 11, 1966 in Isla de Pinos prison on hunger strike without medical assistance. Armando Valladares, in his prison memoir, Against All Hope described the circumstances surrounding his death: “When Roberto López Chávez, went on a hunger strike to protest the abuses in the prison, the guards withheld water from him until he became delirious, twisting on the floor and begging for something to drink. [...] He died the next day.”
  2. Carmelo Cuadra Hernández, died in La Cabaña prison in April of 1969 on hunger strike, after suffering mistreatment and torture over eight and a half months, without receiving medical care and was the third political prisoner that has died on a hunger strike.
  3. Olegario Charlot Pileta, died in the infamous "Escaleras" (staircase) of the Boniato prison, in of January 1973 during a hunger strike, without medical assistance and is described in documents as a “black youth.”
  4. Enrique García Cuevas died on a hunger strike, without receiving medical care, in cell No. 4 of the new Provincial Jail of Santa Clara, on June 24, 1973.
Sadly there have been others such as Luis Alvarez Ríos (1967), Reinaldo Cordero Izquierdo (1975), and  José Barrios Pedré (1977) that we know less about.
Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros joins a long list known and unknown of dissidents who have died on hunger strike protesting their unjust imprisonment and terrible prison conditions. 

Keilylli de la Mora Valle: Life in danger in Cuba
 There is also continuing great concern for  a young activist and political prisoner Keilylli de la Mora Valle who has been on and off hunger strikes protesting her unjust imprisonment and terrible conditions. 

Silverio Portal, prisoner of conscience, going blind in a Cuban prison
We are also concerned for the life of Silverio Portal, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience who is losing his eye sight and is in poor health.

These cases need to be looked at within the larger context of the prison system in Cuba today.
Cuba in 2020: World's largest per capita prison population.

Cuba, under the Castros, continues to be the one country in the Americas that has not allowed the Red Cross in to inspect its prisons since 1989, and Amnesty International is barred by the dictatorship from visiting the island.

There is one spot in Cuba that has not escaped scrutiny, but that is because it is a U.S. military base.

The world knows of the human rights situation in the prisons at the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base because access has been granted. The reason that so much is known and documented is because the International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the Guantanamo detention facility over 100 times since 2001 when the United States government began housing detainees.

Over that time there have been zero visits by the International Red Cross to Cubans prisons, and what we do know is limited and incomplete, but should arouse deep concern.

According to a January 13, 2020 report in The New York Times a former high-ranking judge in Cuba provided documents which "showed that approximately 92 percent of those accused in the more than 32,000 cases that go to trial in Cuba every year are found guilty. Nearly 4,000 people every year are accused of being “antisocial” or “dangerous,” terms the Cuban government uses to jail people who pose a risk to the status quo, without having committed a crime." Furthermore, the article says that "records show that Cuba’s prison system holds more than 90,000 prisoners. The Cuban government has only publicly released the figure once, in 2012, when it claimed that 57,000 people were jailed."

Based on the Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research, according to the January 13, 2020 article by EuropaPress, Cuba today has the largest per capita prison population in the world.
There is cause for great international concern. Consider that there are: no legal guarantees to a fair trial, fundamental rights trampled upon, no outside scrutiny from the Red Cross and a communist dictatorship along with a huge prison population and political prisoners have been dying on hunger strikes for decades.

Let us hope that the untimely death of  Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros draws calls for the International Committee of the Red Cross to be given access to all prisons in Cuba. 

Below is a video in Spanish of Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer announcing the death of Yosvany, and denouncing the slanders of the regime.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

When secret police in plain clothes shot into crowds of non-violent protesters with live ammunition and the world looked the other way

"Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future." - Elie Wiesel 

    Secret police in plain clothes firing live ammunition at protesters

26 years ago on August 5, 1994, a thousand Cubans marched through the streets of Havana chanting "Freedom!"and "Down With Castro!" They were met with brutal repression, including regime agents dressed in plain clothes shooting live rounds at unarmed demonstrators.

Cubans chant "Freedom" and "Down with Castro" on 8/5/94 in Havana

In 2013 photographs taken by Karel Poort, a Dutch visitor, were made public and confirmed the anecdotal accounts of that day. Cuban dissident Regis Iglesias described how the dictatorship militarized the streets in an effort to terrorize the populace: 
A convoy of trucks crammed with repressive special troops and a vehicle with a 50 caliber machine gun on top patrolled up and down the long street.
Little has been reported on this, but some of the images and sounds remain. This combined with testimony of those who were there provide a better idea of what took place.

What happened?
Five hundred of the Cubans had arrived at the Havana sea wall (El Malecon) to board a launch that was rumored was going to be taken to Miami.  These people were not seeking to overthrow the dictatorship but did want to live in freedom.

They were met by the Castro dictatorship's secret police who told the crowd to disperse.

Instead of diffusing the situation another 500 Cubans joined in and  they began to march along the Malecon chanting "Freedom!"and "Down With Castro! After marching for a kilometer, a hundred Special Brigade members and plain clothes police confronted the protesters firing live rounds into the crowd.

   Secret police aiming handgun at protesters on August 5, 1994

26 years later and the full details of what transpired remains mostly silenced despite the pictures of regime officials pointing their handguns at the demonstrators combined with reports of the sounds of gun shots and wounded protesters echoing down through the years in anecdotal stories about that day. 

Eyewitness account 

Martínez Montero

Ignacio Martínez Montero posted on la Voz del Morro a first hand account of what happened that day that is translated to English below:
Then came the year 94 One hot August of that year's day, I'd arrived at my mother in laws home in Cuba and Chacón in the heart of Old Havana, near the Malecón, for that reason alone, after visiting my mother in law, I sat , like many, on the wall of the bay, very close to where still today the famous Casablanca launch travels in and out. That year was turbulent, constantly talking about boats diverted to Miami, and the tugboat. Maybe that's why the special brigade trucks arrived and attacked all of us who were sitting. 
Our response to this aggression was only to clamor for freedom. It has been said that we threw stones; but all that is a lie, the truth was that we were tired of so much aggression and without agreeing to we began to walk together screaming, Enough, Down with the revolution ... And before reaching Hotel Deauville, a battalion waited for us that attacked us with sticks and iron rods. It was they who made the big mess. They broke my left eyebrow and left me semi-lame. Yes, there were assaults and the aggressors had guns, but not among the civilians. One of the boys who went with us, who was called the Moor, even while handcuffed, they shot him in the torso and it was a miracle that he did not die. Who do you think paid for that? No one. 
They put us in a truck where they received us with beatings only to convince us to scream "Viva Fidel." They took us to the police station located at L and Malecon. Hours later I was taken to Calixto García hospital. There they attended to my foot and I treated the eyebrow wound; the medical certificate, never appeared. From there we boarded another bus and were taken to the prison 15/80, I could say "kidnapped" because nobody knew where we were. Some kids and nephews of my dad, who were with us, were released immediately. A boy could not take it and ended up hanged. No one learned of this; but we are many the witnesses who know what really happened that August 5th 1994, the day of Maleconazo.
Twenty six years later and the Castro regime in power terrorizing, beating, torturing and murdering nonviolent dissidents, and shooting young black men in the back, but Progressive Americans want to apply Cuban style policing in the United States, and claim that there is a lot we can learn from them.

 Hansel E. Hernández shot in the back by police in Cuba on 6/24/20

We saw what the future holds when the Cuban approach is applied at CHOP/CHAZ in Seattle, Washington where the police were driven out along with Constitutional safeguards and revolutionaries began policing several blocks in an American city.

At least two young black men killed during CHAZ/CHOP protests in June 2020: Horace Lorenzo Anderson (age 19) on June 20 and Antonio Mays, Jr (age 16)on June 29th. Will there names be remembered or will they be erased from the narrative like Castro's victims?
God help us if this comes to pass.

Uniformed and plain clothes police detaining a protester

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Remembering John Lewis, the non-violent movement, and the principle of Satyagraha that changed America for the better

"John Lewis called what we did the nonviolent movement of America. Not the CRM. I think we need to get the story straight because words are powerful" - James Lawson, Ebenezer Baptist Church, July 30, 2020
Remembering John Lewis's nonviolent legacy.

John Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020 after a long illness. He was the last living member of the Big Six civil rights leaders. The other five were: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr; Whitney Young of the National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph of the Negro American Labor Council; James L. Farmer Jr., of the Congress of Racial Equality; and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP.

Today, the funeral of John Lewis was held in Atlanta, Georgia at Ebenezer Baptist Church.   Civil rights leaders and friends of John Lewis gathered to celebrate his life and remember this nonviolent icon and public servant.  Among them were: Bernice King, an activist and Martin Luther King Jr.‘s daughter, civil rights pioneers Xernona Clayton, James Lawson, and John Lewis's niece Sheila Lewis O’Brien. 

John Lewis on the steps of the Capitol on evening of July 28, 2020
On July 27, 2020 Congressman Lewis was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state at the US Capitol Rotunda, according to congressional historians. Prior to John Lewis, two Black Americans had lain in honor: civil rights icon Rosa Parks and Officer Jacob J. Chestnut Jr., a Capitol Police officer killed in the line of duty.

Due to the pandemic, Congressman Lewis following laying in state in the Capitol Rotunda was moved outside to the steps of the U.S. Capitol where thousands socially distanced, and made the line to pay their respects.  I paid my respects on the evening of July 28th.

Today, we listened to eulogies that highlighted the nonviolent legacy of John Lewis. Reverend James Lawson gave an overview of the Nonviolent movement that between 1953 and 1973 changed America for the better. At the same time, Reverend Lawson in his prophetic role critiqued a capitalism that views persons as commodities and not children of God. The alternative to this is not communism, both John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. rejected this ideology for sound reasons.

However, what they did embrace, Satyagraha is rarely heard in popular culture, but is of great importance, and worthy of a deep dive. The alternative is the belief in power and violence that has too often won the day at the nation state level, but also at the grassroots level with disastrous results

100 years after the term was coined, on September 11, 2006, Mohandas Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi, joined together with John Lewis and other nonviolent activists at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. It was there that Arun declared, "we have to stop this madness and the only way is to adopt non-violence." ... "Let us follow the path Gandhi showed us 100 years ago on this very a path of non-violence to right wrongs." Congressman Lewis called on nations "to push for peace and lay down their tools and instruments of violence and war."

This is not just a question for the United States and India, but as John Lewis observed for activists and nations around the world. It is for this reason that if you want to effect positive change, as John Lewis did, then you must study the origins of the word and concept of Satyagraha.

Gandhi in South Africa photo taken from here.

On September 11, 1906 in South Africa Mohandas Gandhi coined the term Satyagraha which brought together truth and firmness into one word defining the essence of nonviolent resistance.

On September 11, 2001 the United States was attacked and 2,977 men, women, and children were murdered and over 6,000 wounded in terrorist attacks planned by Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.

The date September 11 was picked by the terrorists because it marks the September 11, 1683 defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Vienna. It turned the tide of Islamic conquest in Europe.

Humanity faces a stark choice defined and marked by the chasm between the strong and courageous Satyagraha of Mohandas Gandhi and the weak and frustrated nihilism of terrorists. Will hope or terror triumph? In the text below Gandhi describes the meeting where the word Satyagraha came into existence and with the life he lived gave the answer to the question. Other continued his path, and demonstrated the strength and truth of nonviolence.
Martin Luther King Jr., James Lawson, and John Lewis chose the path of Satyagraha and followed in the footsteps of Mohandas Gandhi, and changed America for the better. Their nonviolent legacy needs to be fully explored, along with the Indian independence leader that inspired them.

The young Mohandas Gandhi

Gandhi, M.K., Satyagraha in South Africa (Ahmedabad, 1928 (revised 2nd edition, 1950) pp. 95-102)  

The meeting was duly held on September 11, 1906. It was attended by delegates from various places in the Transvaal. But I must confess that even I myself had not then understood all the implications of the resolutions I had helped to frame; nor had I gauged all the possible conclusions to which they might lead.

The old Empire Theatre was packed from floor to ceiling. I could read in every face the expectation of something strange to be done or to happen. Mr Abdul Gani, Chairman of the Transvaal British Indian Association, presided. He was one of the oldest Indian residents of the Transvaal, and partner and manager of the Johannesburg branch of the well-known firm of Mamad Kasam Kamrudin. The most important among the resolutions passed by the meeting was the famous Fourth Resolution by which the Indians solemnly determined not to submit to the Ordinance in the event of its becoming law in the teeth of their opposition and to suffer all the penalties attaching to such non-submission.

I fully explained this resolution to the meeting and received a patient hearing. The business of the meeting was conducted in Hindi or Gujarati; it was impossible therefore that any one present should not follow the proceedings. For the Tamils and Telugus who did not know Hindi there were Tamil and Telugu speakers who fully explained everything in their respective languages.
The resolution was duly proposed, seconded and supported by several speakers one of whom was Sheth Haji Habib. He too was a very old and experienced resident of South Africa and made an impassioned speech. He was deeply moved and went so far as to say that we must pass this  resolution with God as witness and must never yield a cowardly submission to such degrading legislation. He then went on solemnly to declare in the name of God that he would never submit to that law, and advised all present to do likewise.

Others also delivered powerful and angry speeches in supporting the resolution. When in the course of his speech Sheth Haji Habib came to the solemn declaration, I was at once startled and put on my guard. Only then did I fully realize my own responsibility and the responsibility of the community. 

The community had passed many a resolution before and amended such resolutions in the light of further reflection or fresh experience. There were cases in which resolutions passed had not been observed by all concerned. Amendments in resolutions and failure to observe resolutions on the part of persons agreeing thereto are ordinary experiences of public life all the world over. But no one ever imports the name of God into such resolutions.

In the abstract there should not be any distinction between a resolution and an oath taken in the name of God. When an intelligent man makes a resolution deliberately he never swerves from it by a hair's breadth. With him his resolution carries as much weight as a declaration made with. God as witness does. But the world takes no note of abstract principles and imagines an ordinary resolution and an oath in the name of God to be poles asunder. A man who makes an ordinary resolution is not ashamed of himself when he deviates from it, but a man who violates an oath administered to him is not only ashamed of himself, but is also looked upon by society as sinner. This imaginary distinction has struck such a deep root in the human mind that a person making a statement on oath before a judge is held to have committed an offence in law if the statement is proved to be false and receives drastic punishment.

Full of these thoughts as I was, possessing as I did much experience of solemn pledges, having profited by them, I was taken aback by Sheth Haji Habib's suggestion of an oath. I thought out the possible consequences of it in a moment. My perplexity gave place to enthusiasm. And although I had no intention of taking an oath or inviting others to do so when I went to the meeting, I warmly approved of the Sheth's suggestion. But at the same time it seemed to me that the people should be told of all the consequences and should have explained to them clearly the meaning of a pledge. And if even then they were prepared to pledge themselves, they should be encouraged to do so; otherwise I must understand that they were not still ready to stand the final test.

I therefore asked the President for permission to explain to the meeting the implications of Sheth Haji Habib's suggestion. The President readily granted it and I rose to address the meeting. I give below a summary of my remarks just as I can recall them now:
"I wish to explain to this meeting that there is a vast difference between this resolution and every other resolution we have passed up to date and that there is a wide divergence also in the manner of making it. It is a very grave resolution we are making, as our existence in South Africa depends upon our fully observing it. The manner of making the resolution suggested by our friend is as much of a novelty as of a solemnity. I did not come to the meeting with a view to getting the resolution passed in that manner, which redounds to the credit of Sheth Haji Habib as well as it lays a burden of responsibility upon him. I tender my congratulations to him. I deeply appreciate his suggestion, but if you adopt it you too will share his responsibility. You must understand what is this responsibility, and as an adviser and servant of the community, it is my duty fully to explain it to you. 
"We all believe in one and the same God, the differences of nomenclature in Hinduism and Islam notwithstanding. To pledge ourselves or to take an oath in the name of that God or with him as witness is not something to be trifled with. If having taken such an oath we violate our pledge we are guilty before God and man. Personally I hold that a man, who deliberately and intelligently takes a pledge and then breaks it, forfeits his manhood.

"And just as a copper coin treated with mercury not only becomes valueless when detected but also makes its owner liable to punishment, in the same way a man who lightly pledges his word and then breaks it becomes a man of straw and fits himself for punishment here as well as hereafter. Sheth Haji Habib is proposing to administer an oath of a very serious character. There is no one in this meeting who can be classed as an infant or as wanting in understanding. You are all well advanced in age and have seen the world; many of you are delegates and have discharged responsibilities in a greater or lesser measure. No one present, therefore, can ever hope to excuse himself by saying that he did not know what he was about when he took the oath.
"I know that pledges and vows are, and should be, taken on rare occasions. A man who takes a vow every now and then is sure to stumble. But if I can imagine a crisis in the history of the Indian community of South Africa when it would be in the fitness of things to take pledges that crisis is surely now. There is wisdom in taking serious steps with great caution and hesitation. But caution and hesitation have their limits, and we have now passed them. The Government has taken leave of I all sense of decency. We would only be betraying our unworthiness and cowardice, if we cannot stake our all in the face of the conflagration which envelopes us and sit watching it with folded hands.
"There is no doubt, therefore, that the present is a proper occasion for taking pledges. But every one of us must think out for himself if he has the will and the ability to pledge himself. Resolutions of this nature cannot be passed by a majority vote. Only those who take a pledge can be bound by it. This pledge must not be taken with a view to produce an effect on outsiders. No one should trouble to consider what impression it might have upon the Local Government, the Imperial Government, or the Government of India. Every one must only search his own heart, and if the inner voice assures him that he has the requisite strength to carry him through, then only should he pledge himself and then only will his pledge bear fruit.
"A few words now as to the consequences. Hoping I for the best, we may say that if a majority of the Indians pledge themselves to resistance and if all who take the pledge prove true to themselves, the Ordinance may not I be passed and, if passed, may be soon repealed. It may be that we may not be called upon to suffer at all. But if on the one hand a man who takes a pledge must be a robust optimist, on the other hand he must be prepared for the worst. Therefore I want to give you an idea of the worst that might happen to us in the present struggle.
"Imagine that all of us present here numbering 3,000 at the most pledge ourselves. Imagine again that the remaining 10,000 Indians take no such pledge. We will only provoke ridicule in the beginning. Again, it is quite possible that in spite of the present warning some or many of those who pledge themselves may weaken at the very first trial. We may have to go to jail, where we may be insulted. We may have to go hungry and suffer extreme heat or cold. Hard labour may be imposed upon us. We may be flogged by rude warders. We may be fined heavily and our property may be attached and held up to auction if there are only a few resisters left. Opulent today we may be reduced to abject poverty tomorrow. We may be deported. Suffering from starvation and similar hardships in jail, some of us may fall ill and even die. In short, therefore, it is not at all impossible that we may have to endure every hardship that we can imagine, and wisdom lies in pledging ourselves on the understanding that we shall have to suffer all that and worse.

"If some one asks me when and how the struggle may end, I may say that if the entire community manfully stands the test, the end will be near. If many of us fall back under storm and stress, the struggle will be prolonged. But I can boldly declare, and with certainty, that so long as there is even a handful of men true to their pledge, there can only be one end to the struggle, and that is victory.
"A word about my personal responsibility. If I am warning you of the risks attendant upon the pledge, I am at the same time inviting you to pledge yourselves, and I am fully conscious of my responsibility in the matter. It is possible that a majority of those present here may take the pledge in a fit of enthusiasm or indignation but may weaken under the ordeal, and only a handful may be left to face the final test. Even then there is only one course open to some one like me, to die but not to submit to the law. It is quite unlikely but even if every one else flinched leaving me alone to face the music, I am confident that I would never violate my pledge.
"Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying this out of vanity, but I wish to put you, especially the leaders upon the platform, on your guard. I wish respectfully to suggest it to you that if you have not the will or the ability to stand firm even when you are perfectly isolated, you must not only not take the pledge yourselves but you must declare your opposition before the resolution is put to the meeting and before its members begin to take pledges and you must not make yourselves parties to the resolution.
"Although we are going to take the pledge in a body, no one should imagine that default on the part of one or many can absolve the rest from their obligation. Every one should fully realize his responsibility, then only pledge himself independently of others and understand that he himself must be true to his pledge even unto death, no matter what others do."
I spoke to this effect and resumed my seat. The meeting heard me word by word in perfect quiet. Other leaders too spoke. All dwelt upon their own responsibility and the responsibility of the audience. The President rose. He too made the situation clear, and at last all present, standing with upraised hands, took an oath with God as witness not to submit to the Ordinance if it became law.  

I can never forget the scene, which is present before my mind's eye as I write. The community's enthusiasm knew no bounds. The very next day there was some accident in the theatre in consequence of which it was wholly destroyed by fire. On the third day friends brought me the news of the fire and congratulated the community upon this good omen, which signified to them that the Ordinance would meet the same fate as the theatre. I have never been influenced by such so-called signs and therefore did not attach any weight to the coincidence. I have taken note of it here only as a demonstration of the community's courage and faith. The reader will find in the subsequent chapters many more proofs of these two high qualities of the people. The workers did not let the grass grow under their feet after this great meeting. Meetings were held everywhere and pledges of resistance were taken in every place. The principal topic of discussion in Indian Opinion now was the Black Ordinance.
At the other end, steps were taken in order to meet the Local Government. A deputation waited upon Mr Duncan, the Colonial Secretary, and told him among other things about the pledges. Sheth Haji Habib, who was a member of the deputation, said, 'I cannot possibly restrain myself if any officer comes and proceeds to take my wife's finger prints. I will kill him there and then and die myself.'

The Minister stared at the Sheth's face for a while and said, 'Government is reconsidering the advisability of making the Ordinance applicable to women, and I can assure you at once that the clauses relating to women will be deleted. Government have understood your feeling in the matter and desire to respect it. But as for the other provisions, I am sorry to inform you that Government is and will remain adamant. General Botha wants you to agree to this legislation after due deliberation. Government deem it to be essential to the existence of the Europeans. They will certainly consider any suggestions about details which you may make consistently with the objects of the Ordinance, and my advice to the deputation is that your interest lies in agreeing to the legislation and proposing changes only as regards the details.'

I am leaving out here the particulars of the discussion with the Minister, as all those arguments have already been dealt with. The arguments were just the same, there was only a difference in phraseology as they were set forth before the Minister. The deputation withdrew, after informing him that his advice notwithstanding, acquiescence in the proposed legislation was out of the question, and after thanking Government for its intention of exempting women from its provisions.

It is difficult to say whether the exemption of women was the first fruit of the community's agitation, or whether the Government as an afterthought made a concession to practical considerations which Mr Curtis had ruled out of his scientific methods. Government claimed that it had decided to exempt women independently of the Indian agitation. Be that as it might, the community established to their own satisfaction a cause and effect relation between the agitation and the exemption and their fighting spirit rose accordingly.

None of us knew what name to give to our movement. I then used the term 'passive resistance' in describing it. I did not quite understand the implications of 'passive resistance' as I called it. I only knew that some new principle had come into being. As the struggle advanced, the phrase 'passive resistance' gave rise to confusion and it appeared shameful to permit this great struggle to be known only by an English name.

Again, that foreign phrase could hardly pass as current coin among the community. A small prize was therefore announced in Indian Opinion to be awarded to the reader who invented the best designation for our struggle. We thus received a number of suggestions. The meaning of the struggle had been then fully discussed in Indian Opinion and the competitors for the prize had fairly sufficient material to serve as a basis for their exploration. Shri Maganlal Gandhi was one of the competitors and he suggested the word 'Sadagraha,' meaning 'firmness in a good cause.' I liked the word, but it did not fully represent the whole idea I wished it to connote. I therefore corrected it to 'Satyagraha.' Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement 'Satyagraha,' that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase 'passive resistance,' in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word 'Satyagraha' itself or some other equivalent English phrase.

This then was the genesis of the movement which came to be known as Satyagraha, and of the word used as a designation for it. Before we proceed any further with our history we shall do well to grasp the differences between passive resistance and Satyagraha, which is the subject of our next chapter.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

From Batista to Castro: Transition from authoritarian to totalitarian dictatorship

From bad to worse

"We are Continuity" (Meme by Center for a Free Cuba )
Today, the Castro regime, its fellow travelers and agents of influence will continue the lie that something positive occurred on July 26, 1953.  The only way that they can accomplish this exercise is by rewriting and omitting history. Here is some of what they won't tell you.

July 26, 1953 was a tragic day when Cubans killed Cubans in a failed attempt to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista with an attack on the Moncada Barracks.

Aftermath of the July 26, 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks
Between 1902 and 1950 with moments of great glory and great shame the Cuban Republic transited through 17 democratically elected presidents. One of them, Gerardo Machado elected in 1925, despite constitutional prohibitions, he had the constitution modified and ran for re-election in 1928. Like Hugo Chavez decades later in Venezuela he became a despot, and was removed from office by force in 1933. This led to a return to democracy.

Some accomplishments of Republican Cuba that the Castro regime has tried to keep memory holed.

McGuire and Frankel in their paper “Mortality Decline in Cuba, 1900-1959: Patterns, Comparisons, and Causes” found: Cuba led all Latin American countries at raising life expectancy and reducing infant mortality between 1900 to 1960 during the Republic.  From 1960 to 1995, by contrast, it came in fourth and fifth respectively.” In Cuba's history two doctors ( Carlos Finlay & Agustin Walfredo Castellanos ) were nominated for the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work in pre-Castro Cuba.

In 1959, the island already had decent education, according to U.N. statistics, and its rising literacy rates tracked with the rest of Latin America. Costa Rica achieved the same results without dictatorship and firing squads.

“According to the 1953 Cuba census, out of 4,376,529 inhabitants 10 years of age or older 23.6% were illiterate, a percentage lower than all other Latin American countries except Argentina (13.6%), Chile (19.6%), & Costa Rica (20.6%) ... Factoring only population 15 years of age or older, the rate is lowered to 22.1%.” This means that 77.9% of Cubans fifteen years and older were literate six years prior to the Communist takeover.

In addition to its successes on the healthcare and education front the Republic had advanced human rights on the international front through the Organization of American States and the recently created United Nations.

Tragically, this democratic republic was brought to an end on March 10, 1952 by Fulgencio Batista. Batista was a military man who had entered the presidency in free and fair elections in 1940 ( in coalition with the communist party) and left office in 1944. He returned to Cuba under the presidency of Cuba's last democratically elected president, Carlos Prio and within days of the next presidential elections carried out a successful coup against the democratic order that had existed from 1902 - 1952.

Was the Republic perfect? No it was not, but then what country is? Was it a country that was able to feed its own populace? Yes. Did it have a vibrant civil society that resisted the Batista dictatorship? Yes.

No doubt, regime apologists will dismiss these claims because they come out of the Cuban exile quarter. However, would they dismiss what Fidel Castro said at his trial on October 16, 1953 and became known as the "“History Will Absolve Me” speech?
“Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time there was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its freedoms, a President, a Congress and Courts of Law. Everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with complete freedom." …"Public opinion was respected and heeded and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, radio and television debates and forums of public meetings. The whole nation pulsated with enthusiasm.”
The promise made by the July 26 Movement was to restore the pre-existing democratic order along with reforms. The Castro revolution ended a seven year authoritarian dictatorship, and replaced it with a communist dictatorship that has ruled over Cuba for 61 years and counting.  The Castro dictatorship was not a break from Batista but a continuity into more profound tyranny that continues to kill Cubans and has already, at a conservative estimate, killed tens of thousands of Cubans..