Thursday, July 24, 2014

Show trial underway in Venezuela: Leopoldo López and Venezuelan Students targeted

"I'd rather explain to my children why I am a prisoner, then to explain to them why they have NO COUNTRY." - Leopoldo López Mendoza on June 2, 2014

Free Leopoldo and Free the Students

Merriam-Webster has two definitions for a show trial
: a trial in a court of law in which the verdict has been decided in advance.
: a trial (as of political opponents) in which the verdict is rigged and a public confession is often extracted 

Opposition leader Leopoldo López and four students:  Marco Coello, Christian Holdack, Demian Martín, and Ángel González are being subjected to a political show trial. The verdict has been decided in advance and can only be altered by political considerations due to changing circumstances that impact the executive branch. Judicial independence and the rule of law are non-existent in Venezuela. This "trial" is an exercise in power politics and public relations.

However in this rigged trial a confession has not been extracted. At the end of the hearing today Leopoldo López reiterated that he did not have confidence in the judiciary and that he "is kidnapped" and petitioned for the students to be freed. Leopoldo went on to say "It is a political trial because on at least 16 occasions Maduro threatened me that I had to go to prison and February 12 was only an excuse."

Marco Coello, 18 year old college student jailed since February 12, 2014
 The show trial began today, July 23, 2014, and Marco Coello an 18 year old undergraduate student detained since February 12, 2014 who should never have been arrested was granted a conditional release today. He must return to face trial with Leopoldo Lopez and three other students on August 6 when the trial reconvenes. For example Christian Holdack, a 34 year old computer technician and design student has also been jailed since February 12, 2014 and was not granted conditional release and is a prisoner of conscience.

Christian Holdack, a 34 year old design student jailed since February 12, 2014
 Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas division for New York-based Human Rights Watch, which has produced reports on Venezuela's judicial system told the Wall Street Journal:
"It's hard to imagine how Lopez could possibly get a fair trial from a justice system that lacks any real independence. After keeping him locked up for months without providing credible evidence to justify his detention, the judiciary is now refusing to let his attorneys present evidence in his defense."
The obvious question that arises: What would happen to the presiding judge,  Judge Susana Barrientos, in this case if she exercised judicial independence and tried the case fairly? 
Judge María Lourdes Afiuni jailed on December 10, 2009
The case of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni provides a chilling answer for members of the judiciary. Judge Afiuni ruled that a near three year pretrial detention ran afoul of the two year limit prescribed in Venezuelan law and authorized the conditional liberty of Eligio Cedeño, a banker accused of corruption on December 10, 2009.  The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions had already declared Cedeño's detention arbitrary. The judge was detained that same day, ironically on human rights day, and jailed. 
Prisoner of conscience: Judge María Lourdes Afiuni.
 The next day President Hugo Chávez called the Judge a "bandit"who should be imprisoned for thirty years. Days later Chávez reaffirmed that Judge Afiuni was "correctly jailed" and advocated that she be sentenced to 35 years in prison. She was charged by prosecutors in January of 2010 with "corruption, abuse of authority, and “favoring evasion of justice.” Prosecutors provided no credible evidence to substantiate the charges." She was held for over a year in prison during which "Judge Afiuni was raped and suffered physical and psychological violence, including death threats from other inmates." She was then transferred to house arrest. In June of 2013, Judge Afiuni was released on bail, while her trial, which began in 2012, continues. 

Free the Caracas Six: Unjustly deprived of their freedom
 The bottom line is that judges will do as they are told or will suffer grave consequences if they choose to follow the law. Whatever small vestiges of judicial independence there were in Venezuela died with the imprisonment and rape of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni.  To save Leopoldo López Mendoza,Marco Coello, Christian Holdack, Demian Martín, Ángel González and the scores of other prisoners of conscience in Venezuela will necessitate national and international campaigns on their behalf to shift the political calculations of the regime in Venezuela. Despite the loud claims of the Maduro regime, the present government in Venezuela is not a democracy. Leopoldo López Mendoza at his June 2, 2014 hearing: "Only in dictatorship is it a crime to say there is insecurity, shortages and thousands of reasons to protest."

Sairam Rivas is a 20 year old college student at UCV jailed since May 8, 2014
Only in a dictatorship are the murderers of nonviolent student demonstrators allowed to walk free and nonviolent protesters jailed for six months and counting. On March 23, 2014 Adriana Urquiola was shot twice and killed. She was 5 months pregnant. Three months later and her killer remains free. Seven of the eight accused of murdering Bassil da Costa on February 12, 2014 will be judged in freedom.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero and the arc of the moral universe

"I have not lost faith. I'm not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven't lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." - Martin Luther King Jr., Ebenezer Baptist Church April 30, 1967

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante
Two extrajudicial killings on July 22, 2012
Today marks two years since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante were last seen alive before a car crash at 1:50pm Eastern Standard Time on July 22, 2012 on  a Sunday afternoon involving a second vehicle driven by Cuban state security. The moment that I learned what happened is burned into my memory as if it had just happened.  Over the past two years the Payá family and members of the Christian Liberation Movement have sought through all channels available to push for an international investigation into the deaths of these two activists.

The Washington Post editorial board on the eve of the two year anniversary published what is now known publicly:
The car spun out of control after being rammed from behind by a vehicle bearing state license plates, according to Mr. Carromero. While he and the associate from Sweden survived, Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero were killed. Mr. Carromero says he was then coerced to confess and subjected to a rigged trial in order to cover up what really happened. Mr. Carromero’s videotaped “confession,” broadcast on television, was forced upon him; he was told to read from cards written by the state security officers. He was sentenced to four years in prison for vehicular homicide and later released to return to Spain to serve out his term.
The cover up of this extrajudicial killing carried out by the Cuban state security service has crumbled and eventually a regional or international human rights body will produce a credible and independent report on the events that transpired on July 22, 2012 and hold the Cuban government responsible.  The facts surrounding what happened is in the public domain. It is only a matter of time before it is legally analyzed and judged on the merits. Respected international leaders, Nobel prize winners Desmond Tutu and Lech Walesa among them, have called for an international investigation.

It won't be the first time. 

"13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre investigated
Nine days ago the world marked twenty years since the attack and sinking of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat on July 13, 1994 that claimed 37 lives.  There was an investigation on the merits. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in a report released on October 16, 1996 concluded that what transpired that early morning “was not an accident but rather a premeditated, intentional act” by agents of the Cuban government and held the Cuban State responsible for violating the right to life of the 37 people who were shipwrecked and perished as a result of the sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo", which events occurred seven miles off the Cuban coast on July 13, 1994. 

Nevertheless two decades later the men responsible, despite being identified, have not been held accountable in a court of law.

Brothers to the Rescue shoot down investigated
Three years later the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on September 29, 1999 released a report on the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down concluding that: " Cuba is responsible for violating the right to life (Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man) to the detriment of Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre, who died as a result of the direct actions of its agents on the afternoon of 24 February 1996 while flying through international airspace." The Cuban state lost a civil judgement to the families of the victims in the U.S. courts and a Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez arrested in 1998 was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder for his role in the shoot down. 

Nevertheless the men who gave the orders and pressed the trigger that blew to civilian planes out of the sky have yet to be held accountable in a court of law 18 years later.

Paying homage and remembering
In the mean time Cubans and friends of freedom from around the world are remembering the legacy of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante. Masses are being organized in Havana, Madrid and Miami to give thanks for their lives and a nonviolent legacy that continues to demonstrate that love is stronger than hate.  Across social media people of goodwill are making the sign of Liberation and displaying two candles in memory of Oswaldo and Harold. 
Image taken from the Christian Liberation Movement

Impunity breeds more violence
Despite the harassment and death threats against the Payá family that forced them to seek refuge in exile and rising repression, including machete attacks, against members of the Christian Liberation Movement - the movement has continued on the island to carry on Oswaldo's legacy of nonviolent resistance. The Payá family and the Christian Liberation Movement in the diaspora have continued together to support their counterparts in Cuba and lead the struggle for justice for Oswaldo and Harold.

Justice delayed but achieved is still justice
 It is said that justice delayed is justice denied and where a statue of limitations is involved that may be true, but when it comes to murder only a few countries such as Colombia and until recently Japan have an end date to pursue murderers. Cuba does not have such a provision. Breaking the cycle of impunity with justice is itself a good that can also reduce violence.

In the case of the Czech Republic one of the most notorious cases that of  Milada Horakova who was hanged with three others in Prague’s Pankrac Prison as a spy and traitor to the Communist Czechoslovakian government on June 27, 1950 following a show trial, saw the prosecutor who presided over it placed on trial for murder 57 years later, found guilty and jailed in a fair trial. 

The arc of the moral universe
Reverend King is right "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." History has already condemned these crimes and it is highly probable that a court of justice will eventually do so as well. Keep the faith, do not despair, and continue to show your solidarity with victims of repression.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Oswaldo's and Harold's Nonviolent Legacy in Cuba: Demonstrating Love is Stronger than Hate

“The people will follow me in life, worship me in death but not make my cause their cause.” - Mohandas Gandhi, taken from Gandhi's poignant legacy
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante

Marking two years since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were physically taken from their families, friends and country presents an opportunity to reflect on their lives and the nonviolent example that they leave behind and the cause for which they gave their lives. Oswaldo's widow, Ofelia Acevedo on what would have been the Cuban opposition leader's 61st birthday addressed this legacy in an essay titled Fellowship of Truth:
"Oswaldo and Harold are no longer physically with us, and I remember now those words Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero prophetically uttered one day, knowing he was threatened with death: I will resurrect in the people. The same will happen here sooner rather than later. They and others who generously have lost their lives in this struggle for rights and democracy for Cuba, will be resurrected in her people. But his message of love is alive."
This nonviolent legacy continues on in Cuba and offers a hopeful vision of the future. Oswaldo outlined it in a 1990 Christmas Message from the Christian Liberation Movement:
"The rifles will be buried face down, the words of hatred will vanish in the heart without reaching the lips. We'll go out into the street and all of us will see in the other a brother, let us look to the future with the peace of he that knows that he forgave and he that has been forgiven. Let there be no blood to clean or dead to bury, the shadow of fear and of catastrophe will give way to the reconciliatory light, and Cuba will be reborn in every heart, in a miracle of love made by God and us." 
In January of 2014 following a brief interview Ofelia Acevedo pulled out a copy of this message and read it to me demonstrating its continued relevance to the Payá family. Both Oswaldo and Harold understood the risks and sacrifices in undertaking this struggle. Harold Cepero summed it up in concrete terms in 2012, the same year he was killed: 
"Christians and non-Christians who have the courage and the freedom to consider the peaceful political option for their lives, know they are exposing themselves to slightly less than absolute solitude, to work exclusion, to persecution, to prison or death." 
Presently in Cuba there are dueling legacies that run throughout Cuban history one is profoundly violent and embodied in the current political system and another one which is nonviolent and is a deep current that runs through the culture but not nearly as high profile. The nonviolent legacy that Harold and Oswaldo shared revolves around two key ideas:
• We are not against other people, only what they are doing. 
• Means are ends in the making; nothing good can finally result from violence .
On December 17, 2002 in Strasbourg, France receiving the Sakharov Prize from the European Union Oswaldo explained what motivated the choice to embark on a nonviolent struggle:
"We have not chosen the path of peace as a tactic, but because it is inseparable from the goal for which our people are striving. Experience teaches us that violence begets more violence and that when political change is brought about by such means, new forms of oppression and injustice arise."
Currently, there is a debate underway both in Cuba and in the diaspora of how best to confront the dictatorship. There is a general consensus that the struggle must be nonviolent but on the issues of strategy there are differences, which within a democratic movement is only natural. 

 However, taking into consideration the history of the ongoing struggle in Cuba and the dynamics of nonviolent resistance a number of considerations should be taken into account when formulating a strategic vision.  While reading Michael N. Nagler's new book, "The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action"  a passage that struck me with regards to the struggle now taking place in Cuba is critical to seeing where things stand: 

"Conflicts escalate when they are not resolved, and if they are left untended they can rapidly get out of control." From the nonviolence point of view, the intensity of a conflict is not necessarily a question of how many guns or how many people are involved (the same metric would work for a quarrel between lovers as between nations); it is primarily about how far dehumanization has proceeded. If someone no longer listens to you, is calling you names or is labeling you, it’s probably too late for petitions. In terms of knowing how to respond, we can conveniently think of this escalation in three stages that call for distinct sets of responses. Let’s call these three stages Conflict Resolution, Satyagraha (active nonviolent resistance), and—hopefully this is rare, but it helps to know it exists—Ultimate Sacrifice.
Conflict resolution works if when you register a complaint the other side listens to you and although not sympathetic to you, recognizes your shared humanity. The next stage, active nonviolent resistance, is necessary when one can not reach one's adversary through reason, and involves taking on suffering: civil disobedience, strikes, standing up to physical abuse, and the full gamut of nonviolent tactics.  Unfortunately, in the Cuban scenario the conflict has escalated to the level of "ultimate sacrifice." The Castro regime labels opponents as worms (gusanos) and mercenaries refusing to except the existence of opposition parties as a matter of law and fact.  

Both Oswaldo and Harold understood this and did not back down, because "if we cannot live with an injustice, we can risk our lives to correct it." The cause that both these men have laid out to followers and adversaries alike is that love is stronger than hate and in the end will triumph over violence and lies. It is a cause worth fighting for using the nonviolent tactics and moral principles they lived by.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Light two candles and make the sign of liberation for Oswaldo and Harold

Hope is credited for every candle lit for our HEROES. - Christian Liberation Movement
Regis Iglesias issues a call to honor Oswaldo and Harold
 In just four days it will be two years since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante were killed in Cuba. Masses in their memory will be held in Cuba, Spain and the United States on July 22, 2014.  The Christian Liberation Movement is calling for friends of the movement to remember the two martyred human rights defenders in an online campaign taking photos with two candles lit while making the sign of Liberation as in the picture above:
"We ask all of our Cuban friends and friends of the world to join us in remembering Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero between now and next July 22 taking pictures with two candles and the sign of Liberation, the sign of the Freedom of Cuba, for which they generously gave their lives." - Regis Iglesias Ramirez, Christian Liberation Movement spokesperson in Europe, over Facebook
Remembering Oswaldo and Harold

Thursday, July 17, 2014

AMIA: 20 years later still no justice for victims of terrorist attack that killed 85 people

20 years of impunity in Argentina
AMIA cultural center bombed in Buenos Aires in 1994
Within the span of a week in July of 1994 two acts of terrorism murdered more than 122 Latin Americans. Thirty seven Cubans were murdered by agents of the Cuban government on July 13, 1994 in what amounted to an act of state terrorism and eighty five Argentinians, many but not all Jewish, in an act of terrorism carried out by Hezbollah  five days later on July 18, 1994. Over the past week much has been written about the victims of the "13 de Marzo" massacre but today on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association  (AMIA ) building in Buenos Aires the fact that justice has still not been achieved requires speaking out. 

What happened?
A siren sounded at the precise time the bomb exploded on July 18, 1994 at 9:53am (1253 GMT) and reduced the seven-story Jewish-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) community centre in Buenos Aires to rubble reported the BBC.

85 people were murdered ranging in age from 5 years old to 67 years old and more than 300 hundred wounded. 20 years later those responsible for this act of terrorism remain at large. A movement to pay homage to the victims of this crime continues to remember and demand justice two decades later.

Photos of AMIA victims

 The names of the 85 victims:
Silvana Alguea de Rodríguez, Jorge Antúnez, Moisés Gabriel Arazi, Carlos Avendaño Bobadilla, Yanina Averbuch, Naum Band, Sebastián Barreiros, David Barriga, Hugo Norberto Basiglio, Rebeca Violeta Behar de Jurín, Dora Belgorosky, Favio Enrique Bermúdez, Romina Ambar Luján Boland, Emiliano Gastón Brikman, Gabriel Buttini, Viviana Adela Casabé, Paola Sara Czyzewski, Jacobo Chemauel, Cristian Adrián Degtiar, Diego De Pirro, Ramón Nolberto Díaz, Norberto Ariel Dubin, Faiwel Dyjament, Mónica Feldman de Goldfeder, Alberto Fernández, Martín Figueroa, Ingrid Finkelchtein, Leonor Gutman de Finkelchtein, Fabián Marcelo Furman, Guillermo Benigno Galarraga, Erwin García Tenorio, José Enrique Ginsberg (Kuky), Cynthia Verónica Goldenberg, Andrea Judith Guterman, Silvia Leonor Hersalis, Carlos Hilú, Emilia Jakubiec de Lewczuk, María Luisa Jaworski, Analía Verónica Josch, Carla Andrea Josch, Elena Sofía Kastika, Esther Klin, León Gregorio Knorpel, Berta Kozuk de Losz, Luis Fernando Kupchik, Agustín Diego Lew, Jesús María Lourdes, Andrés Gustavo Malamud, Gregorio Melman, Ileana Mercovich, Naón Bernardo Mirochnik (Buby), Mónica Nudel, Elías Alberto Palti, Germán Parsons, Rosa Perelmuter, Fernando Roberto Pérez, Abraham Jaime Plaksin, Silvia Inés Portnoy, Olegario Ramírez, Noemí Graciela Reisfeld, Félix Roberto Roisman, Marisa Raquel Said, Ricardo Said, Rimar Salazar Mendoza, Fabián Schalit, Pablo Schalit, Mauricio Schiber, Néstor Américo Serena, Mirta Strier, Liliana Edith Szwimer, Naum Javier Tenenbaum, Juan Carlos Terranova, Emilia Graciela Berelejis de Toer, Mariela Toer, Marta Treibman, Angel Claudio Ubfal, Eugenio Vela Ramos, Juan Vela Ramos, Gustavo Daniel Velázquez, Isabel Victoria Núñez de Velázquez, Danilo Villaverde, Julia Susana Wolinski de Kreiman, Rita Worona, Adehemar Zárate Loayza.
Over the past twenty years much has been written about this crime and on the 20th anniversary interviews, articles and events have and will be carried out to recall that terrible day on July 18, 1994 and the need for truth and justice. Below is a playlist of videos related to the July 18, 1994 AMIA terror attacks.

 Please share this with others and join in remembering and demanding justice.