Thursday, March 21, 2019

Judge Afiuni sentenced to five years in prison nearly 10 years after show trial that demonstrated the rule of law had died in Venezuela.

Judge Afiuni is innocent and was imprisoned for following the law and not the whims of a dictator.

Judge Afiuni jailed for exercising her judicial independence and respecting the rule of law.
Judge María Lourdes Afiuni was imprisoned on December 10, 2009 for doing her job. She observed the rule of law and followed both the laws of Venezuela and international law. This is why Hugo Chavez slandered, imprisoned and tortured her. Despite the horrors visited upon her she refused to be silent and continued to speak for human rights and the rule of law. This is why today in a mockery of justice she was condemned by a "judge" following the orders of Nicolas Maduro and his Cuban handlers to five years in prison.

It is important to remember what happened nearly a decade ago, and how this criminal regime attacked, imprisoned and terrorized this good and courageous judge.

Judge María Lourdes Afiuni ruled that a near three year pretrial detention of Eligio Cedeño, a banker accused of corruption, ran afoul of the two year limit prescribed in Venezuelan law and authorized his conditional liberty on December 10, 2009.  The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions had already declared Cedeño's detention arbitrary. 

The judge was detained the same day, ironically on human rights day, and jailed.

The next day President Hugo Chávez in an appearance before government officials, broadcast on national television and radio, he called Judge Afiuni a "bandit"who should be imprisoned for thirty years, "even if new legislation was required to achieve that result." He instructed the Attorney General and the President of the Supreme Court to punish Judge Afiuni as severely as possible to prevent similar actions by other judges.

Days later Chávez reaffirmed that Judge Afiuni was "correctly jailed" and advocated that she be sentenced to 35 years in prison. 

On December 16, 2009 decrying what they termed “a blow by President Hugo Chávez to the independence of judges and lawyers in the country,” three independent United Nations human rights experts "called for the immediate release of a Venezuelan judge arrested after ordering the conditional release of a prisoner held for almost three years without trial." The experts warned that “[r]eprisals for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed functions and creating a climate of fear among the judiciary and lawyers’ profession serve no purpose except to undermine the rule of law and obstruct justice.”   The UN experts also said that the "immediate and unconditional release of Judge Afiuni is imperative.” 

This did not happen. The Chavez regime doubled down and subjected her to a political show trial.

Judge María Lourdes Afiuni imprisoned 2009 - 2013
Judge Afiuni 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 2011 Noam Chomsky, a Chavez ally, lobbied for the Judge's release and criticized Hugo Chavez for having her arrested, but to no avail.

In a 2011 interview with The Guardian Judge Afiuni spoke plainly:  "There is no judicial independence. I'm here as the president's prisoner. I'm an example to other judges of what happens if you step out of line."  She was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and in February 2011, following cancer surgery, placed under house arrest.

Hugo Chavez died of cancer on March 5, 2013 and Judge Afiuni was released from house arrest on June 14, 2013. Foreign Policy, in a 2013 article, described the conditions set forth for her release from house arrest. 
"Even though she has never been tried or convicted for any offense, and in spite of the prosecutor’s lack of any evidence against her, she will have to appear in court every fifteen days. She is also banned from traveling abroad or speaking to the media."
Judge María Lourdes Afiuni was called to attend a sentencing hearing on March 20, 2019 and is still being harassed and threatened by the Maduro regime. This afternoon she was informed by her attorney that she had been sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Nearly a decade later it can be said that December 10, 2009 was the day the rule of law died in Venezuela. Since then judges and legal professionals know what the consequences are of exercising their constitutionally guaranteed functions and respecting the rule of law: being publicly slandered, imprisoned, and subjected to torture.
The Venezuelan Attorney General who slandered Judge Afiuni's good name and took part in her persecution fled into exile and denounced the Maduro regime in 2017.  A Venezuelan supreme court justice defected in January of 2019. They know what are the consequences of exercising independence of thought, much less action.

Please share the hashtags: #AfuiniIsInnocent and #AfiuniEsInocente over social media. Visibility and attention can offer her some protection from this cruel regime.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Political Prisoners in Nicaragua: the revolving door

Cuban style regime tactics in Nicaragua

Nicaraguan youth protesting for release of political prisoners
 On March 15, 2019 the Ortega regime said that it had "freed" 50 opposition leaders from prison and placed them under house arrest. The failure to release all political prisoners in Nicaragua had led to the dialogue between the government and the opposition becoming stalled.

Peaceful opposition march for the release of political prisoners was violently broken up by the government on Saturday.

Peaceful protester being taken away by security forces.
Euronews reported today that more than fifty anti-government protesters were arrested on Saturday, March 16, 2019. The protesters were demanding the release of all political prisoners in Nicaragua.
However Ryota Jonen of the World Movement for Democracy reported over twitter last night that the number was more than 80.

Euronews also reported that "[s]ince November, police have enforced a ban on streets protests that first erupted in April 2018 when the government of President Daniel Ortega moved to reduce welfare benefits. They've since escalated into a broader opposition movement."

Fifty released from prison to house arrest while another eighty or more are jailed for demanding the release of what was estimated to be 288 political prisoners in Nicaragua.

This is not progress on human rights in Nicaragua, but a revolving door with an increasing number of political prisoners.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

SOS Venezuela Worldwide Protest: Report from the streets of Washington, DC

In solidarity with free Venezuelans.

Free Venezuelans gather in front of the White House on Saturday, March 16, 2019
This morning in Washington, DC joined with Free Venezuelans in a protest next to the White House in support of Juan Guaidó, the interim president of Venezuela, and to explain the current situation in the country. Speakers called for three steps to normalization: 1) end Maduro's usurpation of the country, 2) a transition government, and 3) free and fair elections.

Free Venezuelans and their allies face off with pro-Maduro protest.
I carried a poster with the images Geraldine Moreno and Génesis Carmona, two Venezuelan martyrs killed in February 2014. They were murdered by Maduro's security forces, trained by Castro's intelligence services.

Génesis Carmona, a local beauty queen, was just 22 years old and nonviolently expressing her desire for a better Venezuela when she was shot in the head on February 18, 2014 and died a day later.

Geraldine Moreno was shot in the head with buckshot on February 19, 2014 in Tazajal, located in Naguanagua, in the state of Carabobo while taking part in a protest and in one of her last tweets on February 17th explained what motivated her to take part in the demonstrations: "No one sends me I go because I want to defend my Venezuela." She died from her injuries on Saturday, February 22, 2014. She was 23 years old.

Sadly, there have been many other young Venezuelans murdered at the hands of Maduro's security services and it is still happening.

We also peacefully faced off with supporters of the Maduro dictatorship, who had been organized by the Answer Coalition, that included violent communist revolutionaries.

During the pro-Maduro demonstration U.S.Hands Off Venezuela, a Chavista from the Answer Coalition attacked a Venezuelan who was filming in the area.  Some Venezuelan activists were surprised by the violence. They shoudn't have been. One of the organizing groups of the pro-Maduro protest is the Workers World Party (WWP), a revolutionary Marxist–Leninist political party that by definition believes in violent proletarian revolution.

Despite repeated provocations we maintained our non-violent discipline, and carried out the objectives of the protest.

We protested for a free Venezuela, supported President Juan Guaidó, called for Cuba Hands Off Venezuela, for humanitarian aide to be allowed in, and for Maduro and his criminal lackeys to be out of power.

Free Venezuelans face off with Pro-Maduro protersters

Venezuelan protesters made it clear that the goal of the democratic opposition is the completion of a democratic transition with free and fair elections that restores the rule of law and freedom for Venezuelan citizens.This means that millions of Venezuelan exiles will be able to return home, and all political prisoners will be freed.

Venezuelan activists also called on those who wanted to know more about what is transpiring in Venezuela to ask a Venezuelan.

Organizers also explained that the humanitarian crisis in the country remains grave, and the refusal of the Maduro regime to allow humanitarian assistance into Venezuela is aggravating already existing famine conditions in the Venezuelan populace.

Another important theme repeatedly heard throughout the day was "Cuba Hands Off Venezuela!"

This SOS Venezuela protest in Washington DC was but one of many that took place around the world today in more than 200 cities and in Venezuela itself with hundreds of thousands participating.

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Reflection on Terrorism and Evil: Mosques attacked by terrorist in New Zealand

"Evil is an anti-life force and if we start going out to kill it, exterminate it we then become contaminated by it because we become killers." - M. Scott Peck , The Open Mind, PBS 1983

Christchurch shootings: 49 are dead, 39 injured
Places of worship have been targeted by terrorists in recent years: a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; churches in Alexandria, Egypt and  Charleston, South Carolina, and today mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. People gunned down while engaged in prayer.

Terrorism is the "calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear)."

What took place in New Zealand was an act of terrorism carried out by Brenton Tarrant, a self described terrorist. He was inspired by the evil done by other mass murderers, and embraced an ideology that viewed the other as evil. This was also the case with those who targeted other places of worship mentioned earlier.

These were evil acts and worthy of both condemnation and deeper reflection.

Christian apologist C.S. Lewis in his 1952 book Mere Christianity made the following observation: “Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, that we are better than someone else - I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. ...“For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” One could add that it would also apply to those who have replaced a religious life with a secular/ideological substitute.

American psychiatrist Morgan Scott Peck, who wrote People of the Lie: The hope for healing human evil, interviewed in this 1983 video about the book on PBS in the program The Open Mind observed that: "Evil is an anti-life force and if we start going out to kill it, exterminate it we then become contaminated by it because we become killers."

According to Peck, an evil person:
  • Is consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self-image of perfection
  • Deceives others as a consequence of their own self-deception
  • Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets, scapegoating others while appearing normal with everyone else ("their insensitivity toward him was selective") [10]
  • Commonly hates with the pretense of love, for the purposes of self-deception as much as deception of others
  • Abuses political (emotional) power ("the imposition of one's will upon others by overt or covert coercion") [11]
  • Maintains a high level of respectability and lies incessantly in order to do so
  • Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency (of destructiveness)
  • Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim
  • Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury
Evil people exist, but the question is how to combat them without becoming an evil person in the process? All too often those consumed by the evil done by other terrorists and mass-murderers can be led to commit such acts themselves and as M. Scott Peck would say cross the line and slide into evil.

There is a way to fight evil and that is to be able to spot it in yourself and struggle against it to be a better person and externally use nonviolence to combat it. Mohandas Gandhi issued a challenge when he said that "Nonviolence does not signify that man must not fight against the enemy, and by enemy is meant the evil which men do, not the human beings themselves." 

The aim is not to destroy the evil doer, but stop them from doing evil, while seeking where possible not to do them harm by recognizing their humanity. I say this today about Brenton Tarrant as I did about  Omar Saddiqui Mateen in 2016. 

Requiescat in pace to those murdered today in the Mosque attacks.

إنا لله و إنا إليه راجعون

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Truth Matters: Meet the Castro regime's architect who built the totalitarian cage to house Venezuela

"Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela." - U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, March 11, 2019

Cuban Comandant Ramiro Valdes and President Hugo Chavez
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo  on March 11, 2019 addressed the role played by agents of the Castro regime in Venezuela:
"Yet it’s Cuba that’s trained Venezuelans’ secret police and torture tactics, domestic spying techniques, and mechanisms of repression the Cuban authorities have wielded against their own people for decades. Members of the Cuban military and intelligence services are deeply entrenched in the Venezuelan state. Cuban security forces have displaced Venezuelan security forces in a clear violation of Venezuelan sovereignty. I even hear that Maduro has no Venezuelans around him. Many of his personal security and closest advisors are acting not at the direction of the Venezuelan people, and frankly, perhaps not even at the direction of Maduro, but rather at the direction of the Cuban regime. They provide physical protection and other critical material and political support to Maduro and to those around him. So when there’s no electricity, thank the marvels of modern Cuban-led engineering. When there’s no water, thank the excellent hydrologists from Cuba. When there’s no food, thank the Cuban communist overlords"
This led to official denials and complaints by officials of the Castro regime. Bruno Rodríguez, the Castro regime's Foreign Minister rejected and denounced Secretary Pompeo's assessment of the role played by the Castro regime in Venezuela over twitter.
 "Cuba categorically rejects lies by US government that Cuba has "between 20 and 25 thousand troops in Venezuela" and any insinuation that there is some level of political subordination." ... "Cuba doesn't interfere in Venezuela's internal affairs just as Veneszuela doesn't interfere in Cuba’s. It is absolutely not true that Cuba is engaged in FANB (the Venezuelan armed forces) or Venezuela Security Services operations. These are slanderous rumors disseminated by US government with aggressive political purposes."
On March 8, 2010 in Geneva, Switzerland giving the opening address at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy discussed the deteriorating human rights situation around the world and focused on what was then happening in Venezuela.

"In Venezuela, the government response to those Venezuelan citizens protesting against the Chavez regime shutting down independent media outlets is to denounce those using twitter and text message as terrorists; police firing tear gas at students and a call for government supporters to prepare for battle.

In the midst of all this President Hugo Chavez continues to demonize the opposition and welcomes into his ranks a high ranking Cuban official: Commander Ramiro Valdes, "a historic leader of the revolution" to address the energy crisis in Venezuela currently suffering power outages.

Valdes is the Vice President of the Council of State and Minister of Communications in the Cuban government. He doesn’t know much about electricity but knows how to set up the repressive apparatus of a totalitarian police state which is what he did in Cuba.

Ironically, the man Hugo Chavez does not want to visit Venezuela with much experience in electricity is Lech Walesa who he has barred from entering the country.

In addition to being an electrician Lech Walesa knows a thing or two about defending human rights and democracy. A skills set that Mr. Chavez views as a threat.

At the same time a Spanish court offers an insight into terrorism in Venezuela but twitter/text messages sent by students are not the object of the inquiry but Mr. Chavez’s ties with terrorist groups ETA and the Colombian FARC and apparent plans to assassinate the Colombian head of state."
Nine years later and the Geneva Summit for Human Rights is still gathering annually, Hugo Chavez is dead, replaced by Nicolas Maduro and the Castro regime continues to dominate Venezuela.  This leads to an obvious question.
Nicolas Maduro and electricity expert Ramiro Valdes
Who is Ramiro Valdes and what was he really doing in Venezuela?

Commander Ramiro Valdes is "a historic leader of the revolution." He is the founder of the Castro regime's feared Ministry of the Interior and was the head of the organization between 1961 and 1968. Ramiro Valdes is an architect of Cuban totalitarianism's repressive apparatus of control.

He went to Venezuela in 2010 supposedly to address the then already existing electricity crisis . In February of 2010  Ramiro Valdes, then age 77, was hired "as a consultant for that country's energy crisis" but his expertise is not in energy. He is viewed by some Cuba experts as "the No. 3 man in the Cuban hierarchy."

Valdes in 2010 was the Vice President of the Council of State and Minister of Communications in the Cuban government. His role in Communications was figuring out in 2007 a way to muzzle the internet, what he called a "wild colt of new technologies." Afro-Cuban scholar Carlos Moore offered the following observation on Commander Valdes in 1961 and in 2010:
Ramiro Valdes was an inflexible, totalitarian and brutal person. He was the most feared man in Cuba. The repressive policies of the regime were crafted by him. Valdes struck fear into the hearts of Cubans (even revolutionary ones). Today, he apparently continues to be the same dogmatic, sectarian and brutal person he was at the height of his power, but he is no longer the powerful figure that he used to be.
In 2013, Juan Juan Almeida, the son of another commander of the revolution, listed some of his nick names:  "The Master of Censorship; The Prince of Terror; The Cuban Dzerzhinsky; … and in his native district he is known as the Butcher of Artemis."

Despite the claims made by the Castro regime's Foreign Minister, the communist regime beginning in 1959 spent years trying to violently overthrow Venezuela's social democracy, and finally succeeded with Hugo Chavez.

Fidel Castro greets Hugo Chavez in Cuba on December 13, 1994
In 1992 Hugo Chavez was involved in a failed coup against the Andres Perez government. Pardoned by Andres Perez's successor, Rafael Caldera, in March 1994 Hugo Chavez made his way to Cuba later that same year where he was received by Fidel Castro as a hero not a failed coup plotter.

Four years later, in a reaction to generalized disgust with the corruption endemic to the Venezuelan democratic order epitomized by the Carlos Andres Perez administration the former coup plotter was elected president.

President Caldera, who had pardoned Chavez, handed power over to him in 1999. Together with Fidel Castro, as a mentor, Chavez began the process of turning a flawed democratic order into the totalitarian regime it is today.

In 2007 Chávez had declared that Cuba and Venezuela were a single nation. “Deep down,” he said, “we are one single government.”  

Ramiro Valdes was busy at work in Venezuela by 2010 to address the "electricity crisis". The crisis in Energy did not improve but the descent of Venezuela into totalitarianism did accelerate.

When Hugo Chavez died in 2013 the succession was planned in Havana.

Official channels announced that Hugo Chavez died on March 5, 2013 and that he would be succeeded by Nicolas Maduro, a hardcore communist, an individual who spent a lot of time in his early 20s in Cuba being trained by the Union of Young Communists and Pedro Miret, an official close to Fidel Castro.  

Nicolas Maduro and Raul Castro
In addition to domestic repressive forces there is a foreign presence heavily embedded in the Venezuelan military and intelligence services. The head of the opposition National Assembly of Venezuela on May 15, 2016 complained, over social media, of the presence of 60 Cuban officers. This included a Cuban general, who he identified by the last name Gregorich, who had a leadership role that included issuing orders to Venezuelan troops. Capitol Hill Cubans identified the Cuban General as Raul Acosta Gregorich. 

On July 19, 2017 the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro testified before US lawmakers that “[t]here are currently about 15,000 Cubans in Venezuela ... It’s like an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela.” 

This is Cubazuela, a term that has been used by mainstream press publications such as The Wall Street Journal. The consequences for the people of Venezuela are now well known. Violence has escalated during the Chavez-Maduro era to levels never seen before. There is widespread hunger now in Venezuela. Civil liberties and the rule of law are rapidly disappearing, replaced by the Cuban model. 

(Left) Tons of aid blocked from Venezuelans. (Right) Tons of aid sent by Maduro to Cuba

Meanwhile, Maduro continues to ship oil and humanitarian assistance to Cuba while Venezuelans are in the midst of a famine.  On  February 4, 2018 Maduro shipped 100 tons of aid to Cuba while Venezuelan children are dying of hunger and on February 6, 2018 Maduro, once again, ordered humanitarian shipments of aid to be blocked from entering Venezuela.

Finally, the country has been plunged into darkness in a five day black out due to a collapsing power grid. Commandant Valdes's stay in Venezuela did not solve the energy crisis, but the police state is rounding up journalists to blame for the black out, there are at least 288 political prisoners, many Venezuelan protesters killed and Venezuelans are living in fear.

This is the Venezuelan regime that Ramiro Valdes helped to build and it looks remarkably similar to the dystopian regime he helped to create in Cuba.

Down with Cuban imperialism in Venezuela. Cubans go home!