Sunday, February 1, 2015

Free Cuba Foundaton featured in Huffington Post on Obama Cuba Policy

Proud to be one of the signers of the Free Cuba Foundation's "Not in our name" statement protesting Obama Cuba policy published in the Huffington Post. Reproduced below. 

Not In Our Name 

On 17 December 2014, President Barack Obama announced a change in U.S. Cuba policy and the Free Cuba Foundation feels the need to make its position clear in the following statement:

The Free Cuba Foundation (FCF) was founded at Florida International University in 1993. Throughout its history, FCF has been a steadfast and independent voice in favor nonviolent resistance to injustice and tyranny.

We agree with President Obama on one general observation from his December 17 statement: that one cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. Unfortunately, the efforts of the Clinton Administration to engage the Castro dictatorship as well as loosen sanctions before and after 1996 went unmentioned in President Obama's comments. President Clinton began joint military exercises with the Castro regime in 1994 in pursuit of normalized relations. The shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes on February 24, 1996, by Castro regime MiGs -- which killed Armando Alejandre Jr. (age 45), Carlos Alberto Costa (age 29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (age 24) and Pablo Morales (age 29) -- led to the passage and signing of The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act by Congress as an alternative to military action in an election year.

The attack took place on a day that a national gathering called Concilio Cubano was to have started. A massive crackdown had been underway for days attracting international press attention. Despite this act of state terrorism against Americans, President Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro in 2000 and loosened sanctions that opened cash and carry exports from American corporations to the Castro regime. This turned the United States into one of the top five trading partners of the Castro regime.

Economic sanctions were not designed to overthrow the dictatorship but were part of a policy of containment to prevent the spread of its totalitarian model. The rise of Hugo Chavez and the spread of Cuban influence in Venezuela began during Bill Clinton's presidency and are now harming the entire region undermining the democratic gains of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Despite this disaster, the Obama Administration began in 2009 to loosen sanctions on the Cuban dictatorship. The Castro regime's response was to take Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen, hostage. The Obama administration remained very low key about Gross's arrest, and it was 25 days before U.S. diplomats even saw this jailed American. FCF believes that this lack of concern sent a message to the dictatorship that they could continue to arbitrarily detain Gross and use him as a bargaining chip in their goals to secure the release of five Cuban spies captured in 1998. These five had not only engaged in spying on U.S.-military facilities but planned terrorist acts on U.S. soil and were criminally involved in the February 24, 1996 shoot down.

As was the case in 1996, this policy of appeasement had dire consequences for the democratic opposition in Cuba, which suffered several setbacks over the next four years. Prisoner-of-conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on hunger strike under suspicious circumstances in 2010; Ladies in White founder Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died from a suspicious illness in 2011; and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero died in the summer of 2012, under circumstances that point to a state security killing. Rising violence against opposition activists, including machete attacks, is a new and disturbing phenomenon.

FCF is concerned that releasing the three remaining spies, including Gerardo Hernandez -- who was serving two life sentences, one of them for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue in exchange for Gross and an unknown Cuban intelligence operative -- may lead to the Castro regime murdering more innocents inside and outside of Cuba. We also know, as does the regime, that due to short-term economic interests that economic engagement with the dictatorship will not be seriously impacted by whatever new atrocities are committed.

Additionally, the hostage demand having been met by the United States government also sets a dangerous precedent for Americans traveling abroad. Add to this the normalization of diplomatic relations and the further loosening of sanctions and the signal sent to the hardline elements within the regime is clear: operating with criminal impunity delivers results. This was the same message sent by President Clinton in 2000.

FCF and its members are disturbed by the President's statement on December 19,2014 that the 1996 shoot down was not a premeditated move by Castro but a "tragic circumstance." This statement was deficient on two basic points. First of all, two planes were shot down over international airspace not one as he stated in the press conference. More importantly, the president's statement ignored documented evidence as well as court decisions and investigations by international human rights bodies that have concluded that the attack was indeed a premeditated extrajudicial execution.

Every year since the week following the 1996 shoot-down, FCF members have joined together to hold a silent vigil at Florida International University on February 24th between 3:21pm and 3:27pm at the times both planes were blown up by Castro's MiGs in remembrance of Armando, Carlos, Mario, and Pablo who gave their lives in service to others in a continuing demand for justice. This tradition has been maintained for the past 18 years and next year on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 3:21pm we will gather with the families of the four martyrs.

We the present and former members of the Free CubaFoundation say to the United States government and the Castro regime that the fruits that have emerged thus far from these negotiations point to the impure means upon which they were founded and will only lead to more grief. Therefore, with great respect we say, not in our name!

Signed by:

Brian Alonso
Grace Cuelez Droblas
Oscar Grau
Yosvani Oliva Iglesias
Robert Linares
Neri Ann Martinez
Augusto Monge
Susana Navajas
Cindy Rodriguez
Raisa Romaelle
Pedro M. Ross
Juan Carlos Sanchez
Harold Alexander Silva
John Suarez
César Vásquez

This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called "90 Miles: Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations." The series puts the spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.

If you'd like to contribute your own blog on this topic, send a 500-850-word post to (subject line: "90 Miles").

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Freedom in the World 2015: A Reflection on the Freedom House Report

"I am an irrepressible optimist, but I always base my optimism on solid facts." - Mohandas Gandhi 

Freedom House in its 2015 reports distressing news: for the past nine years freedom has been in retreat around the world. According to Freedom House
"More aggressive tactics by authoritarian regimes and an upsurge in terrorist attacks contributed to a disturbing decline in global freedom in 2014, according to Freedom in the World 2015, Freedom House’s annual report on the condition of political rights and civil liberties."
In concrete terms of the 195 countries Freedom House assessed: 89 (46 percent) were rated Free, 55 (28 percent) Partly Free, and 51 (26 percent) Not Free. Less than half the world is currently living in freedom.

On two previous occasion addressing the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy in 2010 and again in 2013 the global deterioration of human rights has also been painfully evident and reflected upon. A possible answer was ventured citing the martyred Cuban democratic opposition activist, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who when awarded the Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought on December 17, 2002 observed that:
“The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized.”
 Although this is part of the answer, it is not the complete answer. Over the past decade two approaches towards confronting grave injustices have been tried and found wanting: war with and/or appeasement of tyrants.

Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya to overthrow cruel and unjust regimes have led into spirals of violence that have destabilized entire regions making the situation worse. On the other hand cruel and unjust regimes such as North Korea, the Peoples Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Vietnam and now in Cuba have and continue to be appeased out of fear, greed, and perceived self interests. 

In either case human rights has worsened. Neither has worked.

The one approach that has achieved progress over the past century and when failing has not worsened the situation compared to what existed before is nonviolent resistance.  Resisting injustice without committing new injustices or accepting existing injustices to avoid new challenges or losses in the profit and loss column. Tragically in the case of Syria what was initially a nonviolent uprising shifted to violent resistance when elements of Assad's military defected to the opposition thinking it would speed up victory. It had the opposite effect. 

On February 24, 2015 the Seventh Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy will convene placing a spotlight on the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria when one of the escaped students will speak out for the first time. She will be joined by dissidents from Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Ukraine and China. 

Speaking truth to power and engaging in effective nonviolent campaigns that topple entrenched dictatorships does not cost billions of dollars. Appeasing tyrants have generated great profits for industries in the past as has going to war against them. This is the tragedy of nonviolence but at the same time the great opportunity it provides to the powerless majority but the secret is that it requires training, learning tactics and having a strategy.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Remembering Gandhi 67 years after his assassination

Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities." - G.K. Chesterton What's Wrong With the World

Gandhi spinning cloth with a symbol of national resistance
67 years ago today Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated but his nonviolent legacy remains intact and continues to inspire others. Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948 while on a walk at Birla Bhavan by Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse.  He was 78 years old at the time of his death. Below are ten quotes to read and reflect on from this nonviolent practitioner:
"No people have risen who thought only of rights. Only those did so who thought of duties."

"Appeasement has become a word of bad odor. In no case can there be any appeasement at the cost of honour. Real appeasement is to shed all fear and do what is right at any cost."

"I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power that can move the world." - Young India Journal, September 1920

"It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings."

"Terrorism and deception are weapons not of the strong but of the weak."
"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."
"A saint who considers himself superior to a sinner forfeits his sainthood and becomes worse than the sinner, who unlike the proud saint, knows not what he is doing."
"Centralization as a system is inconsistent with non-violent structure of society."
They say, 'means are, after all, means'. I would say, 'means are, after all, everything'. As the means so the end.
"The truth is that cowardice itself is violence of a subtle type and therefore dangerous and far more difficult to eradicate than the habit of physical violence." - Mohandas Gandhi

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Appeasement has two definitions: One honorable and one dishonorable

"Appeasement has become a word of bad odor. In no case can there be any appeasement at the cost of honour. Real appeasement is to shed all fear and do what is right at any cost." - Mohandas Gandhi, 1945

"I do not believe that we can make progress in European appeasement if we allow the impression to gain currency abroad that we yield to constant pressure." - Anthony Eden, 21 February, 1938

The Obama Administration has shifted from a policy of sanctions on the Castro regime to one of yielding to constant pressure and undermining the rule of law which in concrete terms means losing national honor. Taking an American citizen and arbitrarily detaining him for five years while demanding the release of men who planned terrorist acts on U.S. soil and in the case of one was found guilty of conspiring in the murder four human beings is blackmail. Giving in to this dictatorship's demand is shameful. This is a description of what is popularly known as a policy of appeasement. This definition gained currency in the 1930s following the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain government to Hitler's Third Reich which was to "buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles."

Winston Churchill in a speech in Harrow, England on October 29, 1941 provided an alternative: "Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense."

However, there is an older definition of appeasement that predates Chamberlain and is reflected in the quotes by Mohandas Gandhi and Anthony Eden at the top of the page. This older definition stretches back five centuries and means "to bring to peace, pacify, quiet, or settle."

Orwell's whose essay Politics and the English Language should be required reading to anyone writing in the English language also described in an appendix to his novel 1984 titled "The Principles of Newspeak" explained how words could become the opposite of their original meaning. This is apparently what took place with the word "appeasement."

The policy by the Chamberlain government towards Nazi Germany that led through giving into constant pressure and making immoral compromises laid the ground work for World War II is now known as appeasement. This culminated in the 1938 Munich Pact in which the British prime minister made a deal with Hitler in a series of meetings handing over territory of Czechoslovakia while giving the Czechs the option to accept the deal or face the Nazis on their own, ignoring previous security arrangements.

Winston Churchill reacted to Chamberlain's agreement with Hitler stating: "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war."

Yet, as originally defined, in terms of actually achieving peace and settlement, as Gandhi described it above real appeasement "is to shed all fear and do what is right at any cost." This is the opposite of what Chamberlain did in his negotiations with the Nazi leader.

Tragically, it is also the opposite of what the Obama Administration has done in its negotiations with the Castro dictatorship. When democrats morally compromise themselves with tyrants it begins a process where everything is on the table including morality and national honor. Castro regime's new demands are out of a very old playbook.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shakes hands with Hitler

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Liberation of Auschwitz 70 years ago today: A Reflection

It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere. - Primo Levi, 1986 The Drowned and the Saved

Seventy years ago today on January 27, 1945 the concentration/extermination camp known as Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops. Today 300 survivors of this death camp together with world leaders gathered there to remember. This day is now recognized by the United Nations as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and is observed around the world but not in Israel. In Israel in 2015 Holocaust Day (Yom HaShoah ) will be observed on April 15 at sundown.

Today the world remembers the role Soviet troops played in liberating the camp, but without the Soviet Union's actions in 1939 the atrocity in Auschwitz may have never happened. Auschwitz came into existence on May 20, 1940 when the Nazis and Soviets were still allies. This event took place following the August 23, 1939 Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact which included secret protocols to divide up Poland through military conquest. Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the West on September 1, 1939. The Soviet Union invaded Poland from the East on September 17, 1939. The two armies met and marched together in Brest-Litovsk, Poland on September 22, 1939. Russian revisionists would like to rewrite this history.

Unfortunately, the Russians are not the only ones that would like to forget what really happened. American corporations played a role in making the Holocaust possible. For example, beginning with the National Socialists arrival to power the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) provided the Nazis with ground breaking technologies, precursors to computers, that were used to identify and categorize holocaust victims. According to an October 8, 2002 article in The Village Voice "the infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number.

IBM engineered a strategic business alliance with Nazi Germany and provided the punch card technology that would be used in managing the vast apparatus of the Nazi death camps. Equally troubling is that the NAZIS were able to arrive in a town with lists of names of people identified as being Jewish to round them up. Where did they get the data? From IBM Germany's census operations and similar advanced people counting and registration technologies. IBM technologically enabled the Holocaust.

Henry Ford of Ford Motors, in addition to himself personally being extremely antisemitic, had extensive relations and investments in Nazi Germany. This included factories assisting the Nazi war effort that continued through World War 2.

This blog is based out of the Cuban exile quarter which is in Miami, a city shared with a large Jewish population. Holocaust survivors are present here among us with the tattoos on their wrists bearing silent testament to this great crime. Sadly, Cubans too bear responsibility for Jewish suffering. May 27 through June 6, 1939 spanned the period when corrupt Cuban officials extorted desperate Jewish refugees aboard the SS St. Louis fleeing Nazi Germany and then thanks to popular anti-immigrant fervor refused to grant them safe harbor leading the ship to try its luck with the United States only to be denied and forced to return to Europe where many of the passengers would later perish in the gas chambers of the holocaust.Nor is it a coincidence that Jewish refugees were not let into Cuba in 1939 and a  Jewish man was not allowed to leave Cuba in 2009 but rotted for five years in prison for trying to help Cuban Jews.

S.S. St. Louis docked in Havana Harbor in 1939
A Cuban exile sculptor, Tony López, worked on The Holocaust Memorial located on Miami Beach which is a powerful work that preserves memory for future generations of this terrible crime. We will never forget this horrendous crime or remain silent before future injustices.