Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Undermining the integrity of the Trafficking in Persons Report of the State Department

 Obama administration's Orwellian standard on Cuba

The Obama administration apparently is continuing to pay off the Castro regime for agreeing to normalize diplomatic relations by whitewashing the dictatorship's record first on terrorism and now on human trafficking by the State Department is upgrading Cuba's status after 12 years from tier 3 to tier 2 in its Trafficking in Persons Report. Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (Atest) expressed concern:
“We are very surprised by this year’s report, which seems to be making blatantly political decisions that we consider will have a really detrimental impact on both the integrity of the report and progress in the global fight to end modern slavery."
Kimberly A. McCabe in her book "The Trafficking of Persons: National and International Responses" wrote the following on Cuba:
"Cuba is a source country for women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced child labor and has been identified as a destination for sex tourism. Cuban adults and children are also trafficked for forced labor in commercial agriculture, such as tobacco farming. There are also reported cases of Cubans being trafficked to the United States for debt bondage. Cuba's thriving sex trade caters to thousands of tourists every year from Europe, Latin America, and North America and involves not only the young boys and girls who are victims of abuse but also the state-run hotel workers, cab drivers, and police officers who may identify the commercial sex areas for those interested in participating in sexual exploitation. There appears to be little in terms of governmental help or nongovernmental organization initiatives to end human trafficking, especially sex trafficking, in Cuba. Again because of the closed nature of the government, the prevalence of human trafficking is unknown."
The Castro regime has been directly linked to exporting slave labor to the Curaçao Drydock Company in a court of law (outside of Cuba) in 2008.Conditions inside of Cuba for workers are not much better.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Fake change in Cuba: totalitarian regime maintains travel controls

"The government of the military regime has denied Cubans the universal right to freedom of travel for more than half a century and continues denying this right without any transparent prospects of change. With the greatest cruelty, it has torn millions of Cuban families apart and it still continues doing it." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas Enough of deceptions, FREEDOM NOW, April 19, 2012

The infamous white card, an exit visa, that Cubans needed to exit their own country was replaced in 2013 with new more stringent requirements for the passport. Travel in and out of Cuba is administered by the Ministry of the Interior and professionals such as medical doctors do not have freedom to travel. 

Travel into and out of Cuba remains under totalitarian control and dissenters continue to be punished. The case of Antonio Rodiles and his wife Ailer González who are not being allowed to travel out of the island is a case in point. They have not been charged with anything nor are they on parole, but the dictatorship has decided for the time being that they cannot travel. In the past the Cuban dictatorship used the white card now they use the passport as the control.

Between 70,000 and 300,000 Cubans are banned by the Castro regime from returning to their homeland reported The Miami Herald on August 15, 2011 in an article titled Many Cuban expatriates can't go home again.  A friend, born in Cuba, that I went to college with was not able to travel to Cuba when her grandmother died. It wasn't the US embargo that stopped her but the Castro regime that denied her request. No reason given.

This migration "reform"is an example of what the late dissident leader Oswaldo Payá referred to as "fraudulent change." Giving the image of an opening while the Stalinist character of the dictatorship remains intact thus benefiting it from the image makeover in order to provide decreased international scrutiny and increased legitimacy. Sadly, the reality is very different. Cubans are no freer to travel now than before January 1, 2013  it remains up to the whims of the dictatorship. 

Oswaldo knew this first hand having been "permitted" to travel out of Cuba in December 2002 to attend the Sakharov Prize ceremony in Strasbourg, France. Days prior to being granted the white card to travel, on December 13, 2002 his home was trashed and death threats were left everywhere. Oswaldo Payá was able to return home to his family in February of 2003. Dissidents in smaller numbers when politically expedient for the regime were traveling in and out of Cuba long before 2013.

Despite the so-called 2013 travel reform Cubans living abroad were still banned from returning home because they had nonviolently dissented from the official line. One high profile example was that of Blanca Reyes. In August of 2013, Blanca Reyes made public that she was denied the right to enter her country, Cuba, to visit her 93-year old dying father. On October 15, 2013 over twitter Blanca reported that father and daughter were never again to be reunited in life:"My father died today in Cuba. I did not see him for nine years, the Cuban government stopped me. HOW MUCH LONGER MY GOD?" 

One concrete change is that the cost for a Cuban national to travel out of Cuba has increased in cost from 300 CUCs ($300) which included in the past the passport, white card and associated paperwork to 500 CUCs ($500) now for just the passport when the average Cuban earns 20 CUCs working for an entire month. This means that under this so-called reform for a Cuban to obtain a passport needs to spend twenty five months salary.

Cuba remains the only country in the Western Hemisphere in which nationals do not have the right to enter and exit their own country. It is for this reason that the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) remains needed. The dictatorship in Cuba remains a totalitarian regime. Stories in the media have misrepresented it as some sort of "perk" but that is not the case. However since one of the long term goals of the Castro dictatorship has been to get rid of CAA which sets Cuba apart from the rest of countries in the hemisphere then this type of media campaigns should not be a surprise.

At the same time one cannot ignore that the dictatorship in Cuba is also a state sponsor of terrorism and that a small number of individuals who have engaged in human rights violations and atrocities against Cubans have been rewarded by the Cuban regime with residency in the United States. At the same time the president of the United States has said that those engaged in serious human rights violations should be barred from entering the United States and on August 4, 2011 issued a presidential proclamation to that effect that states under Section 1:
The entry into the United States, as immigrants or non-immigrants, of the following persons is hereby suspended:
(a) Any alien who planned, ordered, assisted, aided and abetted, committed or otherwise participated in, including through command responsibility, widespread or systematic violence against any civilian population based in whole or in part on race; color; descent; sex; disability; membership in an indigenous group; language; religion; political opinion; national origin; ethnicity; membership in a particular social group; birth; or sexual orientation or gender identity, or who attempted or conspired to do so.
(b) Any alien who planned, ordered, assisted, aided and abetted, committed or otherwise participated in, including through command responsibility, war crimes, crimes against humanity or other serious violations of human rights, or who attempted or conspired to do so.
Instead of replacing the Cuban Adjustment Act another approach, that underscores Obama's above stated presidential proclamation, would be to push for legislation that bars Cuban human rights abusers from entering the United States. The bill would place visa bans and asset freezes on Cuban officials involved in human rights abuses and could be patterned after the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act that was passed in 2012 that targets Russia. In addition to Cuba the new bill could also include Belarus, China, North Korea, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe and be an opportunity for unity between freedom movements.

Maintaining the Cuban Adjustment act as it is while applying the presidential proclamation and pushing for the Magnitsky Act to be expanded to include Cuba to target those who have committed serious human rights violations in Cuba seems an approach that both takes into account the systematic violation of human rights suffered by Cubans and the need to hold Cuban human rights violators accountable. Doing otherwise would be a surrender of fundamental democratic values.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Unilateral concessions that empower the dictatorship in Cuba is not a negotiation but a surrender

The truth shall set you free.
On July 22, 2015 at 7:05pm the NTN24 television program La Noche (The Night) aired an important segment titled "The diplomatic cards of the United States with Cuba and Venezuela" was aired live. In the space of a half hour this program managed to give an overview of the Obama administration's Cuba policy and its shortcomings. The program also showed the mass arrests that took place in Cuba on July 19, 2015. It also reported how Rosa María Payá was aggressively stopped by Cuban embassy officials from entering the diplomatic office to turn in a letter requesting that the regime send her family the autopsy report they've been requesting for the past three years.

Other things have gotten worse, specifically the continuing and escalating violence against activists in Cuba that was highlighted in the case of Sirley Ávila, a former regime official turned opposition activist, who was machete attacked on May 24, 2015. This was a month after President Obama shook hands and met with Raul Castro and the State Department announced that Cuba would be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism despite its continuing bad acts. The attack was so brutal that Sirley had her left hand hacked off, her body sliced up all over, and she still faces the danger of losing her right arm.

During the debate it was pointed out that in the negotiations with the Castro regime that the Obama administration was at a disadvantage with re-designating the Interests Sections in Havana and Washington DC. This allowed the Castro regime to layout various demands as bargaining tools: freeing the remaining WASP network spies, taking Cuba off the list of terror sponsor states, return Guantanamo naval base to Cuba, along with several others.

La Noche broadcast a portion of Cubanet's June 16, 2015 video interview with Sirley Ávila and gave her plight much needed visibility. It seems that what happened to her does not fit in with the current narrative being put out by The White House and other entrenched interests pushing for the new Cuba policy.

Earlier that same day, in the morning, the Human Rights Foundation released an important and detailed report surrounding the July 22, 2012 deaths of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero. The report concludes that the evidence suggests the Cuban government killed Oswaldo Payá. Javier El-Hage, a co-author of the report summarized some of the most pertinent points of the report on the NTN24 program explaining the absence of an independent judiciary and the reality that "lawyers in Cuba don't defend the accused but the government."  Javier also gave an overview of the case and the Castro regime's wholesale obfuscation of what really happened to Oswaldo and Harold while violating international standards of due process to do so.

Also brought up during the program was the question of how this new policy would likely impact human rights activists and the dissident movement. Unfortunately the mistreatment suffered by Rosa María Payá at the hands of the spokesman at the State Department who pulled her aside and threatened to have her physically removed if she tried to ask a question during the Q&A with Secretary Kerry and the Castro regime's foreign minister on July 20, 2015 is symbolic of the position dissidents have been placed in. This action demonstrates that the State Department's priority is engaging the regime not the dissident movement. This treatment in 2015 stands in stark contrast to the reception Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas got in a meeting with Secretary Powell in 2003. This demonstrates that the policy in action is between states and will not advance human rights in Cuba or a process of national reconciliation. Unilateral concessions that empower the dictatorship in Cuba is not a negotiation but a surrender of fundamental American values.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Human Rights Foundation report: Evidence suggests Cuban government killed Oswaldo Payá

Cuba: HRF Report on Oswaldo Payá’s Death; Evidence Suggests Government May Have Killed Him

Full report available online in pdf format

NEW YORK (July 22, 2015) – To mark the third anniversary of the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) published a legal report today highlighting the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of the official government investigation following Payá’s death in 2012. HRF has documented numerous due process violations, including damning witness accounts, a grossly inadequate autopsy examination, and other key pieces of evidence that were overlooked by the Cuban judicial system. HRF’s report concludes that the “evidence, which was deliberately ignored, strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident, but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the state.” HRF will present the report today at Georgetown University. Payá’s daughter, Rosa María, will be in attendance.

“Oswaldo Payá was the most prominent Latin American pro-democracy activist of the last twenty five years and he was killed under suspicion of foul play in the Western Hemisphere’s only totalitarian country. Yet, few mainstream politicians, media, and NGOs around the world have cared enough to insist on an independent investigation into Payá’s death,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “With the publication of this thorough report, which brings to light evidence that has been purposefully obscured by Cuba’s repressive apparatus, HRF hopes to fill this vacuum and help the Payá family in their search for truth and justice,” said Halvorssen.

The driver of the vehicle carrying Payá, Spanish national Ángel Carromero, was immediately taken into custody at a hospital, and later transferred to prisons in Bayamo and Havana. On October 15, 2012, he was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. On December 29, 2012, Carromero arrived in Spain under an agreement brokered by his government, and soon after retracted all statements he made under duress in Cuba. Carromero eventually told his full story in a book entitled, “Death Under Suspicion.” After analyzing all the evidence that emerged in the months that followed Payá’s death, HRF’s legal report concludes that Carromero was forced to record a self-incriminating video that was broadcast domestically and internationally, and that the Cuban prosecution ignored the complaints made by the Payá family and barred them from the court proceedings.

HRF’s report also found that Carromero did not have access to an attorney for several weeks after the accident, and later had no choice but to hire members of the only lawyers guild allowed by the Cuban government. Members of this guild are legally compelled to “defend the Revolution” and perform their duties “inspired by the example set by the Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro Ruz.” Finally, the report found that the prosecution did not allow Carromero access to the case file or to the evidence on which the accusation was based; his attorneys could not present new evidence; none of the allegations made for each one of these violations was investigated or clarified by the Cuban authorities; and that, “to date, the victims’ next of kin don’t know the full, complete, and public truth as to what happened to their relatives.”

“The best available evidence, which was deliberately ignored by Cuba’s judiciary, strongly suggests direct government responsibility in the deaths of Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero,” said Javier El-Hage, general counsel of HRF. “Specifically, the evidence suggests that their deaths were the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the state, acting with the intent to kill Oswaldo Payá and the passengers in the vehicle he was riding, with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm to them, or with reckless or depraved indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to their lives,” said El-Hage.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Taken from: http://humanrightsfoundation.org/news/cuba-hrf-report-on-oswaldo-payas-death-evidence-suggests-government-may-have-killed-him-00446

Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero's nonviolence message

 "The true Liberation is to always remember that humanity is not orphaned because we are all brothers, we are all children of God." - Oswaldo Payá

Mass tonight at La Ermita at 8pm
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante defied a totalitarian dictatorship using nonviolent means and just as importantly refused to hate their adversary. On the third anniversary of their untimely passing what they stood for needs to remembered, honored and their example followed.
"We Cubans have a right to our rights. Why not rights? It's time. That is the peaceful change that we promote and claim. Changes that signifies freedom, reconciliation, political pluralism and free elections. Then the Diaspora will cease being a Diaspora, because all Cubans will have rights in their own free and sovereign country. That is why we fight." - Oswaldo Payá, March 30, 2012

"Under the pretext of defending freedom they are attacking it. Martí would say it like this: 'The knife that is stabbed in the name of freedom is plunged into the chest of freedom'."  - Harold Cepero, November 13, 2002

The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: “You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together.” This is the liberation which we are proclaiming.  - Oswaldo Payá, December 17, 2002
Those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves.
- Harold Cepero, November 13, 2002

"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." - Oswaldo Payá, December 25, 1990

"They should think if at the bottom of this attitude there is a real respect for freedom, because to say freedom, to be free, is not to snatch the freedom of others." - Harold Cepero, November 13, 2002