Saturday, November 21, 2015

In Solidarity with Mohammed Al-Maskati: Appeal for his freedom and personal safety

"Solidarity is no longer a question of altruism but of survival." - Rosa María Payá Acevedo

Human rights defender Mohammed Al-Maskati (Frontline Defenders)
Yesterday, received a shock while looking for a report on Cuban human rights defenders on the website Frontline Defenders a familiar face appeared on their website. It said that Mohammed Al-Maskati was facing an upcoming verdict on December 22, 2015 for illegal assembly.

 I'd met Mohammed, then President of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, in Egypt during the parliamentary elections back in January of 2012 and recorded two statements: one in solidarity with free Cubans and another outlining the situation in Bahrain at the time. Frontline Defenders provided the following background information on Mohammed's current plight:
Mohammed Al-Maskati has been repeatedly subjected to harassment and intimidation in relation to his human rights activism and Front Line Defenders has previously issued a number of urgent appeals on behalf of him. The human rights defender received death threats in 2011 and 2012. On 22 October 2013, the Ministry of Interior accused him of “inciting hatred against the regime” in relation to a speech he made on 8 September 2013 in the city of Jidhafs in which he discussed human rights and international legal mechanisms. He was released on the condition that he sign a declaration stating that he will present himself before the public prosecutor at any time.
In his message to Cubans Mohammed expressed his solidarity for Cubans and a revolution that would do away with the Castros and usher in democracy, freedom and justice.

Below he described the situation in Bahrain which included that the regime was killing and torturing the opposition and he made a call for concrete action by people of good will around the world.

Recalling Jan Patočka's observation that "the solidarity of the shaken can say ‘no’ to the measures of mobilization that make the state of war permanent" I strongly condemning the upcoming sentencing of Mohammed Al-Maskati, whose conviction is solely in retaliation to his nonviolent human rights activism and defense of human rights in Bahrain. and expresses its deep concerns at the systematic intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders in Bahrain. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

International Human Rights Organization Frontline Defenders calls attention to arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment in Cuba

Text below taken from Irish human rights NGO Frontline Defenders:
18 November 2015
Cuba: Ongoing arbitrary detention of human rights defender Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco amidst arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment of peaceful demonstrators
Mr Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco has been arbitrarily detained since 25 October 2015 and is now facing charges of public disorder linked to his participation in peaceful demonstrations in Cuba. Human rights defenders Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza are also currently under detention following their arbitrary arrest on 5 November 2015 and a summary trial on 6 November 2015 in which they were sentenced to 6 months imprisonment.
Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco
This is an example of several cases of arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment against defenders in Cuba in the past months. Amongst them, the case of human rights defenders Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” and Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera, both of whom were arrested on 11 November 2015 and released the following day.
Geovanys Izaguirre and Laudelino Rodriguez
Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez, Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza and Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez" are members of Frente de Acción CívicaOrlando Zapata Tamayo(Civic Action Front Orlando Zapata Tamayo- FACOZT). FACOZT is an organisation that fights for the release of political prisoners in Cuba and reports human rights abuses committed by police forces against peaceful demonstrators in the country. Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera is the president of Movimiento por los Derechos Civiles Rosa Parks (Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement), which is a feminist movement fighting to end the repression against human rights defenders and for the release of political prisoners. 

Human rights defender Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco has been detained since 25 October 2015 when he was arrested while on his way to participate in the demonstration “Todas Marchamos” (We all March), organised by the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) movement. He is being detained at the Fifth Unit of the Municipality Playa (Quinta Unidad del Municipio Playa), in Havana. The human rights defender is facing charges of public disorder linked to his participation in a demonstration at the premises of the Attorney General's office on 22 October 2015 demanding that all human rights defenders detained during the Pope's visit to Cuba should be released.

Human rights defenders Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza were arrested on 5 November 2015 and taken to the police station in the city of Palma Soriano. In the morning of 6 November 2015 both human rights defenders were subjected to a summary judgement and sentenced to six months imprisonment. They were both convicted of failing to pay a fine of $15,000.00 (Cuban pesos) for allegedly making anti-government graffiti in the city of Palma Soriano. The graffitti read "Queremos Cambios" (We want change), "No más hambre" (No more hunger), "No más desempleo" (no more unemployment).
On 11 November 2015, at approximately 7am, members of the regime’s special brigade broke into the home of Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” in Camaguey and arrested him along with his wife and fellow human rights defender Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera. The arrests happened one day after Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” launched the campaign “No, no and no” (“No, no y no”) asking the government to free Messrs Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza. Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” and Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera were released the following day, but their home was seized by the police and their computer was taken along with some documents.
Front Line Defenders has received recurrent reports on arbitrary detentions conducted against human rights defenders in Cuba. The human rights organisation Information Centre “Let's Talk” Press (Centro de Información Hablemos Press - CIHPRESS) has recently issued a document reporting 1021 arbitrary and politically motivated arrests in Cuba in the month of October 2015 alone. The alarming number of arbitrary detentions in Cuba shows that human rights defenders who speak out against the regime continue to be targets of systematic repression. In this context, one of the most vulnerable group of human rights defenders are the women from Damas de Blanco since they are frequently subject to harassment during their weekly protests in Havana and other Cuban cities. This group of women has seen an increased pattern of arbitrary detention against them, where the government detain them for a few hours and re-arrest them the following week.
Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned at the arbitrary arrests and detentions of human rights defenders in Cuba, intended to silence all dissenting voices. Further concern is expressed at the continuous acts of violence and human rights violations committed against those who fight for the implementation of human rights in the country.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Cuba to:
  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, and drop all charges against him, as Front Line Defenders believes that he is being held solely as a result of his legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;
  2. Immediately and unconditionally quash the sentence of Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza and ensure their release from detention, as Front Line Defenders believes that their summary trial did not allow them to exercise their right to defence and that they have been sentenced solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful human rights work as radio journalists; 
  3. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez”, Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera, Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza;
  4. Return the computer of Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” and Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera confiscated during the raid, as they are manifestly not linked to any criminal activity;
  1. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of members of Damas de Blanco and their right to carry out peaceful demonstrations without fear of reprisals; 
  2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Cuba are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.
En castellano.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Remembering the meeting with Václav Havel and Oldřich Černý at Forum 2000 in 2009

"The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility."- Václav Havel IHT (21 February 1990) 

Six years ago in October of 2009 together with former prisoner of conscience José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, Czech journalist Carlos González Sháněl, political analyst Javier Loaiza, Tamara Suju Roa and  Former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga met President Václav Havel and Forum 2000 Executive Director Oldřich Černý at the Forum 2000 on the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.

It was at this event that President Havel made some profound observations that now and hindsight speak volumes at the challenges currently faced in a deteriorating international atmosphere.
At the time President Barack Obama had backed out of meeting with the Dalai Lama due to an upcoming trip to China, Vaclav Havel explained the importance of such "small compromises" on October 12, 2009 at Forum 2000:
I believe that when the new Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize postpones receiving the Dalai Lama until after he has accomplished his visit to China, he makes a small compromise, a compromise which actually has some logic to it. However, there arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises.
Both Václav Havel and Oldřich Černý have passed away and are greatly missed, especially in these difficult times when moral clarity and discernment are greatly needed. The video below was made by journalist Carlos González.

At the gathering above President Havel signed a petition calling for the release of 305 Cuban political prisoners. Cuban democrats should honor and remember the dissident who became a prisoner of conscience who became a president and later a private citizen and through out this trajectory maintained his solidarity with the victims of repression around the world. On the 26th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution the legacy of Václav Havel and Oldřich Černý lives on in the free society they struggled to bring into being.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Brief reflection on U.S. - Cuba Policy and Migration

Truth is what stands the test of experience. - Albert Einstein (1950)

Some of the activists killed by the Castro regime during the Obama Administration

Obama Cuba Policy: The third Time repeating and doubling down on failure

On December 17, 2014 President Obama made a general observation in his statement on changing U.S. Cuba policy: "I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result." The president should have looked back to the previous two attempts to normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship in the 1970s and 1990s to understand that Cuba policy has not been static over the past five decades. Understanding the reasons for the policy he has sought to replace may have saved lives.

 First Time
The Carter Administration was the first to lift the travel ban and hold high-level negotiations with the Cuban dictatorship, and both sides opened Interest Sections in their respective capitals between 1977 and 1981. Then from 1981 to 1982, the Castro regime executed approximately 80 prisoners, which was a marked escalation when compared to 1976. Furthermore, during the Carter presidency, Fidel Castro took steps that resulted in the violent deaths of US citizens.  

Mariel followed President Carter's efforts at normalization with Castro
During the Mariel crisis of 1980, when over 125,000 Cubans sought to flee the island, the Cuban dictator sought to save face by selectively releasing approximately 12,000 violent criminals or individuals who were mentally ill into the exodus. This first attempt at normalizing relations saw a worsening human rights situation and migration crisis.

Second Time
The Clinton Administration in 1994 initiated regular contacts between the U.S. and Cuban military that included joint military exercises at the Guantanamo Naval base. Despite this improvement of relations the 1990s saw some brutal massacres of Cubans that are rightly remembered such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. The shoot down involved two planes blown to bits over international airspace by Cuban MiGs killing three American citizens and a Cuban resident who were engaged in the search and rescue of Cuban rafters 

Balsero crisis 1994
The worsening human rights situation was a contributing factor in the August 1994 rafter crisis in which 35,000 Cubans fled the country. Experts have identified that this was a migration crisis engineered by the Castro regime. The Cuban dictatorship did this because it successfully reasoned that it could coerce the Clinton Administration to the negotiating table to obtain concessions which indeed it did and prolonged the life of the dictatorship for another twenty years.

Third Time
The Obama Administration beginning in 2009 loosened sanctions on the Castro regime. On his watch concluding on December 17, 2014 the Obama administration freed all five members of the WASP spy networ, including Gerardo Hernandez -- who was serving two life sentences, one of them for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue murdered during the previous attempt at normalizing relations during the Clinton Administration. They de-linked the pursuit of full diplomatic relations from the rise in human rights violations in Cuba and in the region by Cuban state security. The Obama administration has doubled down in concessions even were the Clinton administration did not ignoring the Castro regime's continuing sponsorship of terrorism and smuggling of weapons to sanctioned countries in order to take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. President Obama is following through on his pledge made at the State of the Union to work for the lifting of economic sanctions on the dictatorship. On his watch human rights are worsening with an escalation in arbitrary detentions, violence against activists and prominent opposition leaders who would have been critical for a democratic transition killed in what appear to have been state security operations.

Cuban migration crisis in 2015
Once again the worsening human rights situation, and the belief that the Obama Administration can be coerced is leading to a migration crisis where tens of thousands of Cubans are fleeing the island. The objective of the dictatorship is crystal clear in exchange: end economic sanctions that protect U.S. taxpayers and limit their ability to make mischief and secondly end the Cuban adjustment Act in order to leave Cubans more firmly in the dictatorship's control without an avenue of escape.

Cuban terrorist spy who conspired to murder these four freed by Obama Administration
Hopefully the price in blood and treasure expended for the third time will persuade future occupants of the White House not to make the same error. Three times that American presidents have been perceived as weak by the Castro regime have ended in mass migrations and loss of life. Three presidencies have pursued openings with the Castro regime with disastrous results in terms of U.S. interests and human rights. You can't keep doing the same thing over three presidencies and expect a different result. It is also interesting to note that under presidencies perceived as tough on foreign policy, Ronald Reagan (1981 - 1989), George H.W. Bush (1989 - 1993), and George W. Bush (2001 - 2009) did not have these type of migration crisis with the Castro regime.

World War III, Syrian Refugees and Prudence

"Prudence is not only the first in rank of the virtues political and moral, but she is the director and regulator, the standard of them all." - Edmund Burke

Christians are being targeted for genocide but U.S. State Department silent
Pope Francis on September 13, 2014 declared that World War III was already underway and that it was "one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction." His Holiness also declared the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris a part of this war.

The United States is already engaged in this war with troops on the ground in Syria that predate the November 13th attacks and that will now be intensified. Patrick J. Buchanan in an important column outlines what has been going on in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS):
The President’s strategy is to contain, degrade and defeat ISIS. While no one has provided the troops to defeat ISIS, the U.S. is using Kurdish and Yazidi forces, backed by U.S. air power, to degrade it. And recent months have seen measured success. The Kurds have run ISIS out of Kobani, captured much of the Turkish-Syrian border, and moved to within 30 miles of Raqqa, the ISIS capital. Yazidis and Kurds last week recaptured Sinjar in Iraq and cut the highway between Mosul and Raqqa. The terrorist attacks in Paris, the downing of the Russian airliner in Sinai, the ISIS bomb that exploded in the Shiite sector of Beirut, are ISIS’s payback. But they could also be signs that the ISIS caliphate, imperiled in its base, is growing desperate and lashing out.
Now there is a debate raging in the United States concerning what to do about Syrian refugees fleeing from the Islamic State. This requires both courage, prudence and a recognition of the realities on the ground over there and over here.

First, the United States does not have its borders under control and terrorist cells are probably already in the United States. At the same time American intelligence services have, following the September 11, 2001 debacle, had a decent record in stopping terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Secondly, ISIS has been engaged in all out genocide against religious minorities in the territory it occupies targeting Yazidis, Christians, and Turkmen. Christians in the Middle East, especially with the start of the second Iraq war have been victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide, but this has been ignored by both the Bush and Obama administrations. This could be the end of Christianity in the Middle East and the U.S. State Department refuses to recognize this ongoing situation.

Back in April 2015, I met with the president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, Juliana Taimoorazy, and blogged about this issue which predates the Iraq war with the Armenian genocide that began a hundred years ago in 1915 that ended in 1923 targeting Christians.
In the 1930s the failure of Western Democracies to take in Jewish refugees highlighted in the disgraceful episode of the SS St. Louis Voyage of the Damned in 1939 sent a signal to the Nazis that they could do what they wanted with the Jewish population in Europe without any consequences.

Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen are being targeted for extermination and need to be given refuge. This should be done in a prudent manner, taking safeguards, but remembering that the lesson of the Good Samaritan in the Bible calls out to us to protect and assist refugees. Father Longenecker offers the following counsel, although his scope is narrower than mine:
..."Christian charity demands that we welcome the stranger and give solace to the homeless where we are able. We are the richest and most prosperous and bountiful country in history. We can, and should make room for the homeless and those displaced by war–especially as our own involvement in the Middle East has contributed to the mess. We have meddled in the countries of the Middle East–in their politics, their economics, their wars and their military coups. We’ve propped and then toppled their dictators. We’ve invaded their countries and bombed their people. Of course we should take in their homeless refugees. On the other hand, when you see the hordes of fit young men streaming across the European borders you can’t help but suspect that these are not refugees but an invading army. Should we open the borders to just anyone? Of course not. Why can’t anyone use common sense? ... Furthermore, why not be even more selective and take only family groups with husband, wife and children or one parent and their children or family groups with extended family members like grandparents? Are there single people who need help? Accept women and their children. Accept old people. Accept the disabled, the poor and blind. In that way we offer loving Christian charity to those in need while excluding those who might be a risk."
Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen should be provided refuge and measures set up to avoid taking in terrorists disguised as refugees. Senator Cruz's call to give a priority to Christian refugees entering the United States should be rooted in the recognition that they are the largest group in the area targeted for genocide. Shiite Muslims have Iran as a nearby sanctuary. At the same time it is imperative to get the borders and ports of the United States under greater control to prevent the incursion of more terrorists.

It is also important to remember that not all Christians and Yazidis are leaving, some have stayed to fight and take their last stand against ISIS. A friend of mine Jordan Allot, who made a documentary on Cuban prisoner of conscience Oscar Elías Bicet in 2010, traveled to Iraq and Syria with an Assyrian-American school teacher from New York to raise awareness about the plight of the Christian communities there and made the documentary Our Last Stand.

The threat of terrorism remains and we are in the midst of a terrible global conflict but we should not lose our humanity in confronting it or showing solidarity with its victims, but we must do so prudently in order not to compound the present evils.