Saturday, December 16, 2017

Remembering some of the victims of Cuban communism: Three young black men executed by firing squad in 2003

"Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world." - Mishnah  (1135-1204) 

Lorenzo Enrique Copello, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla and Jorge Luis Martínez
Some psychologists argue that as the number of victims increase into the hundreds, and thousands that compassion collapses out of the human fear of being overwhelmed. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin put it more succinctly: "When one man dies it's a tragedy. When thousands die it's statistics." In the case of Cuba the communist regime has killed tens of thousands, and many have become numb in the face of this horror. Therefore on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first communist regime in Russia, that caused so much harm around the world, will focus on an infinitesimal sampling of some of the victims of Cuban communism.  

The eleventh entry remembers three young black men executed by firing squad in 2003 for having hijacked a ferry in an effort to reach the United States.

Previous entries in this series were about Cubans trying to change the system nonviolently, Cubans who tried to leave the island, a student shot to death for walking down the wrong sidewalk in Havana, and thetenth entry was a young Ethiopian woman murdered in a red terror in her homeland for unknown reasons in 1978.

Three men, Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla García and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, were among a group who hijacked a Cuban ferry with passengers on board on April 2, 2003 and tried to force it to the United States. The incident ended without bloodshed, after a standoff with Cuban security forces. They were executed nine days later, following a summary trial, by firing squad.

Eleven individuals attempted to hijack the small ferry “Baraguá” that covered a route between Havana and the neighboring town of Casablanca with the goal of arriving in the United States, but it ran out of gas. Officials were able to retake the vessel without loss of life or injury to the fifty passengers on board. Within a week the three men were condemned to death for committing "acts of terrorism" in a summary trial that lasted less than a day.

They did not have a political agenda. Their only goal was fleeing Cuba to the United States.  Questions were raised at the time that if they had been white and not black they would not have been executed.

ID of defense attorney Jorge R. Betancourt Ortega
 Defense attorney's testimony
In October of 2014 Jorge R. Betancourt Ortega, one of the government appointed defense attorneys of the executed men, spoke of the irregularities surrounding the case including that the three men had been executed before the defense received the result of their appeal to the Supreme Court affirming that "there was no time," in an exclusive interview with El Nuevo Herald.

"The trial was Tuesday, April 8th and the appeal, Wednesday the 9th. I didn't go to work on Thursday and on Friday arrived at the Supreme Tribunal and the secretary told that they had a sentence. I swear to you I never imagined that they would do that. I went quickly to look for the decision and it was the ratification of the death sentence, something strange because death sentences need to be ratified by the Council of State," told Betancourt who was an attorney of the Collective Law firm of Old Havana and assigned to the case "ex officio" to El Nuevo Herald's Nora Gámez Torres in 2014.

Betancourt continued: ""I went crazy, I almost got hit by a car. When I arrived at the office, I told the director 'today is Friday and look what they have given me here. This is a bomb, what am I going to do now? Do I call the relatives? I'm not going to send the relatives to the office because it would generate a conflict here 'and he said' do not worry much, they shot them at dawn.'"

Ramona Copello mourns the execution of her son Lorenzo Enrique in 2003
 Mother of one of the men executed spoke out
On April 12, 2003 the Spanish newspaper El Pais  published an interview with Ramona Copello, the mother of Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, who affirmed that she had not been able to speak to her son before his execution. "I felt tremendous feelings for the Comandante, I even loved him, but I do not love him anymore because he murdered my son," she told several foreign journalists at her home in the Mantilla neighborhood. She added that she had been told that her son was already buried. "They gave me a card with the number of the vault so I know where he is buried," she added. "I was revolutionary and now I'm not," said Ramona, who said she was "willing to do everything for my son that they shot." Lorenzo Enrique was 31 years old and left behind a widow and an 11 year old daughter, who last saw her dad on April 10, 2003. He worked as a caretaker in a health center.

Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla executed in 2003
Disturbances and police mobilized
El Pais also reported in the same article on how another family reacted. "According to eyewitnesses, in the neighborhood of Central Havana, where Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla lived, who was 21 years old, some incidents were recorded when the execution was reported to his family. Sevilla's mother suffered a nervous breakdown upon hearing the news and went out of the house shouting against the government and crying, to which dozens of neighbors joined. The police arrived to control the situation and kept the area cordoned off all day long."

On April 25, 2003 Fidel Castro appears on television to defend the three executions, and show trials against nonviolent dissidents that had taken place in parallel. The official transcript leaves out unscripted comments by the old dictator who referred to the three executed men as the "tres negritos" which translates into English as the "three pickaninnies."

Friday, December 15, 2017

Two nephews of Nicolas Maduro's wife caught and convicted of trying to smuggle 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the USA

Venezuela's first family implicated in cocaine trafficking

Efrain Antonio Campo Flores & Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas with police
Reuters reported "[t]wo nephews of Venezuela’s first lady were sentenced to 18 years in prison on [December 14, 2017] following their convictions in New York on U.S. drug trafficking charges." The New York State attorney reported on the conviction over twitter.

The two men were arrested in Haiti and yesterday found guilty of trying "to smuggle 1,700 pounds (800kg) of cocaine into the United States."

Providing context
There have been numerous news reports about the Venezuelan regime's links to international drug trafficking, and that U.S. investigations point to high ranking  officials in Venezuela turning the country "into a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering," but little is said about the Castro regime's decades long involvement in it that still continues.  Panamanian police seized more than 400 kilograms of cocaine in a Cuban ship on its way to Belgium in April of 2016

Venezuela: Global hub of drug trafficking Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post reported on the Venezuela, FARC, Cuba trafficking axis on May 24, 2015 in the article "A drug cartel’s power in Venezuela":
Ever since Colombian commandos captured the laptop of a leader of the FARC organization eight years ago, it’s been known that Chávez gave the Colombian narcoguerrillas sanctuary and allowed them to traffic cocaine from Venezuela to the United States with the help of the Venezuelan army. But not until a former Chávez bodyguard [ Leamsy Salazar] defected to the United States in January did the scale of what is called the “Cartel of the Suns ” start to become publicly known. [...] The day after Salazar’s arrival in Washington, Spain’s ABC newspaper published a detailed account of the emerging case against Cabello, and last month, ABC reporter Emili Blasco followed up with a book laying out the allegations of Salazar and other defectors, who say Cuba’s communist regime and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah have been cut in on the trafficking. That was followed by a lengthy report last week in the Wall Street Journal that said Cabello’s cartel had turned Venezuela into “a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering.”

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Obama's Cuba policy legacy three years later: brain damaged diplomats, microwaves and the sounds of crickets

2014 Change in policy worsened relations with Cuba.

President Barack Obama with General Raul Castro in 2016
President Obama announced his new Cuba policy on December 17, 2014 to great fanfare but downplayed commuting the sentences of three Cuban spies, including Gerardo Hernandez who was serving a life sentence for his role in a murder conspiracy that claimed four innocent lives in 1996 and freed them the same day. 

The argument at the time was that this opening would lead to normalized and improved relations between Cuba and the United States.

On May 29, 2015, despite a long history of sponsoring terrorism, the Obama State Department removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In November of 2017 former Cuban diplomat, Jose Antonio "Tony" Lopez was linked to terrorists responsible for the June 17, 2017 bombing in Bogota, Colombia that killed three and injured nine according to prosecutors in the South American country. A mother of one of the accused denied her son's involvement in the attack but confirms the link with the former Cuban diplomat.

Commerical center in Bogota, Colombia where bomb went off in June 2017
Human rights violations escalated over the remainder of the Obama Administration and trade between the two countries collapsed. Three years later the U.S. Embassy in Havana is mothballed and two dozen diplomats have been seriously injured. 

The Obama Administration's Cuba policy marked two years on December 17, 2016 and  American diplomats had already been suffering brain injuries. U.S. diplomats in Havana started being harmed in attacks in November of 2016. Despite that on December 7, 2016 the United States and Cuba held their fifth Bilateral Commission meeting where they celebrated progress on U.S.-Cuba relations, and signed 11 non-binding agreements on health, the environment, counter-narcotics, and other areas of cooperation.  

No word on these attacks. On January 2, 2017 Cuban troops in Havana marched in a parade over which Castro presided chanting that they would repeatedly shoot President Obama in the head so many times that they would make a “hat of lead to the head.” Despite that on January 12, 2017 the Obama Administration provided further concessions to Cuba gutting the Cuban Adjustment Act and ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program that had bothered General Castro for years.  

On January 16, 2017 the Obama State Department issued a statement that "the United States and Cuba [had] signed a bilateral Law Enforcement Memorandum of Understanding to deepen law enforcement cooperation and information sharing." American diplomats were suffering serious harm, including mild traumatic brain injury, permanent hearing loss that included loss of balance, headaches, and brain swelling. Yet, according to The Wall Street Journal no complaint was made until February of 2017 but the attacks on American diplomats continued until August 2017. Cuban officials at first said they did not know what was going on, and later claimed that the noises were crickets and the injuries imaginary.
Medical experts discovered changes in the brains of US and Canadian diplomats.
However the injuries are very real. "Medical experts discovered changes in the brains of US and Canadian diplomats, which fueled growing skepticism that some kind of sonic weapon was involved. Medical testing revealed the embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts." Professor James Lin, an expert in Electrical Engineering, at the University of Illinois at Chicago,  made the case that weaponized microwaves may be behind the attacks in Cuba.

This raises some difficult questions. Did the Obama Administration by downplaying the past crimes of the Castro regime lead the regime to calculate that it could get away with attacking or allowing diplomats to be attacked? Did downplaying the attacks on diplomats in Cuba in November and December of 2016 lead to others being harmed in 2017? 

Microwaves going through walls

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

There is a dictatorship in Venezuela but there is also a democratic opposition struggling to be free

Venezuela's democratic opposition honored by the European Union

Earlier today, Julio Borges, head of the opposition-led National Assembly upon receiving the European Union's Sakharov Prize on behalf of the entire Venezuelan democratic opposition warned "[t]he regime has kidnapped democracy, and installed hunger and misery." On December 10, 2017 Venezuelan strong man Nicolas Maduro announced that main opposition parties would be banned from participating in the 2018 presidential elections.

"Since the beginning of [2017], more than 130 opponents have been murdered and more than 500 have been arbitrarily imprisoned [in Venezuela]" reported the European Parliament.

Brief Background on Venezuela
Venezuela overthrew a military dictator on January 23, 1958, a transition government prepared elections that were held in December 1958. On February 13, 1959 social democrat Rómulo Betancourt took office and served out a full term leaving on March 13, 1964.

Including Betancourt eight different presidents representing three different major opposition parties that had competitive elections in Venezuela ruled the country from 1959-1999. There was one failed and bloody coup attempt in 1992 led by Hugo Chavez that was put down. 

Hugo Chavez won the presidency of Venezuela in 1999 and began dismantling Venezuela's democracy. Survived a military coup attempt in 2002, but died in office in 2013. Chavez's successor Nicolas Maduro outlawed opposition parties and has erected a full blown dictatorship.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Democratic Cuba's forgotten role in lobbying for and drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Democratic Cuba's leadership in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and lobbying for the establishment of a UN human rights commission in 1945.

One of the great lies of the Castro regime, and there are many, is the claim that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains rights that are alien to Cubans. Fidel Castro claimed that "[y]our political concepts of liberty, equality, justice are very different from ours. You try to measure a country like Cuba with European ideas. And we do not resign ourselves to or accept being measured by those standards." However the Cuban dictator failed to mention that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was an initiative led by Latin Americans, and Cubans in particular. Furthermore that language placed in the Declaration was taken from the 1940 Cuban Constitution. Cuban diplomats invited Winston Churchill to lunch at the Cuban Embassy in London in December of 1945 and proposed the creation of a human rights commission for the United Nations. Beginning in 1945 Cuba took part in the drafting of the declaration and submitted nine proposals of which five made it into the final document.

The late Bishop Agustín Román on December 16, 2006 spoke of this chapter in Cuban history and "the important role the delegation of the Republic of Cuba to the United Nations in 1948 in the drafting and promulgation of the Universal Charter, particularly by Drs. Dihigo Ernesto, Guillermo Belt, and Guy Pérez-Cisneros is a historical fact."

The final draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 was recognized by these Cuban diplomats as one that would have been “accepted by that generous spirit who was the apostle of our independence: Jose Marti, the hero who -- as he turned his homeland into a nation -- gave us forever this generous rule: ‘With everyone and for the good of everyone.’”

This morning in The Miami Herald's letters to the editor section, Pablo Pérez-Cisneros Barreto, the son of Guy Pérez-Cisneros y Bonnel, wrote of this family and national legacy that is bound up in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    My late father believed that the declaration is the fruit of the great efforts of our civilization and human progress, a unique moment in which humanity came of age in its civic education; that it is also a source of inspiration for the formation of today’s citizens, and not cause for divisions among them. [...] Cuba had the distinction of being the country that proposed the finished declaration be put up for its final UN vote on Dec. 10, 1948. Hard to believe now but Cuba was once a leader when it came to human rights. And it is important to note that nine initiatives proposed in 1945’s Cuba became part of the final declaration, and that Cuba was the country that entrusted the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in San Francisco to prepare the declaration as early as 1946. The third preamble of the declaration is a copy of one of the articles of the famed 1940 Cuban Constitution, and Cuba had the initiative to include in the declaration the right to honor one’s human rights and reputation, as well as protect citizens against arbitrary government interference in their private lives.  Cuba presented the first amendment to the draft declaration which was accepted, adding the right of citizens of any member country to follow the vocation they choose. Cuba presented a second amendment which was also accepted — the right of every worker to receive an equitable and satisfactory payment for their work.
In December of 2008 at the offices of the Cuban Democratic Directorate we met with Pablo Pérez-Cisneros Barreto, who discussed his father's role in the drafting of the declaration in the later 1940s. This history is not well known.

The Castro regime claims to be a nationalist regime proud of Cuba's accomplishments, but when it comes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the role played by a democratic Cuba in 1948 in its drafting, it is silent.

Activists arrested in Cuba on human rights day in 2015 for peacefully assembling
Furthermore the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is banned in Cuba. Possession of the human rights declaration has been presented in evidence against nonviolent dissidents and human rights defenders in Cuba. Copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been burned.

December 10th, the day it was signed and that is observed around the world as Human Rights Day, in Cuba is a day of heightened surveillance and repression. 

Agents cover Lázaro Yuri Valle's mouth to stop him shouting Viva human rights!
There are two traditions competing for control in Cuba. One tradition, embodied by the Castro regime, based on violence and the destruction of the other has dominated Cuba's political discourse for over half a century. It views dissent as treason and demands unanimity; the only acceptable ideas are the regime's. The second, an older tradition that built the institutions of Cuban democracy in the 19th Century using civic means, who founded companies with a social conscience such as Bacardi that contributed to the common good until forced out of their homeland, and of the democrats who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

This is the reason why the Castro regime has sought to bury this human rights legacy of the Cuban Republic and why it is so hostile to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.