Saturday, May 23, 2015

Venezuela's deteriorating human rights situation: Where is Leopoldo?

 Bad news on human rights in Venezuela

Leopoldo Lopez imprisoned for over a year now faces  new threat reports his wife
It wasn't supposed to be this way. The reset on Cuba by the Obama Administration was supposed to lead to improvements not only in US-Cuba relations but across the hemisphere. Six months later in the human rights situation in both Cuba and Venezuela have worsened. The Summit of the Americas was a disaster that saw the dictatorship flexing its repression in Panama.  In the case of Venezuela democratic opposition leaders arbitrarily detained last year during anti-government protests, relatives fear, are being transferred to violent prisons where their physical security cannot be guaranteed. Today over twitter Lillian Tintori denounced not being able to see her husband, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

At 4:36pm she tweeted "Before the absence of proof of the physical integrity of at this hour 4:06pm I am NOT moving from Ramo Verde." She went on tweeting: "We denounce the precarious condition that is in at this moment. No more Abuses!" Nearly an hour and a half later she tweeted: Already 5:56PM time is up for visit to Ramo Verde and I couldn't confirm Leopoldo's status, nor were his lawyers able to pass! Going home where my children need me, with the fear that he will be transferred. She concluded with the ominous tweet:  "They told me not to come tomorrow that they will NOT let us pass."

In 2015 students continue to be shot and killed by agents of the Maduro regime in Venezuela. As has been the case in Cuba, the Venezuelan regime is killing the future. Prison conditions in Venezuela are notoriously unsafe with scores of extrajudicial killings reported in 2015.

Radical appeasement of the Obama Administration on Cuba is emboldening tyrants in the Americas. The events in Venezuela are an emblematic demonstration of this and of the overall decline of human rights both regionally and internationally over the past decade.

Arbitrarily detained and lives endamgered:  Daniel and Leopoldo

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Czech NGO reports on rigged votes in Cuba that try to pass for elections

No tangible results with Raul Castro's so-called "reforms"

Elections In Cuba: The Dictatorship Lives On

Over the past few weeks, the international press has been all eager to inform the world that, for the first time in the history of Cuba (after the Revolution), two candidates of the opposition, Hildebrando Chaviano and Yuniel Lopez, stood as candidates in the election of delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power held on April 19. Recent thaw in relations with the United States has brought Cuba into spotlight and potential changes in the island’s governance toward a more democratic model certainly seem very appealing to foreign governments and investors from all over the world.

However, People in Need would like to draw attention to the Cuban electoral system, which hasn’t changed: it continues to be a hollow mechanism whose sole purpose is to ensure continuity of the one-party system. Despite the fact that every two years and a half there are elections with new candidates, we mustn’t forget that the elected delegates are at the lowest level of the strongly hierarchical system of government. As such, they are obliged to comply with the directives from the upper echelons of power.

There’s no denying that any citizen can propose a candidate for a delegate to any of the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power in Cuba. Elected delegates then choose the Presidents of People’s Council and these, in turn, elect the Chairman of the Municipal Administration, who must be a member of the Communist Party of Cuba and whose decisions are governed by the Municipal Secretary of the Communist Party. However, none of the candidates elected to posts at any of the levels will be able to defend any social or economic political program: they are all supposed to work in concert to implement the directives approved by the Communist Party, which is, in contrary to the principle of popular sovereignty, the actual governing power in Cuba under Article 5 of the Cuban Constitution.

On the other hand, it’s clear that two opposition candidates (both standing for election in Havana) in the mass of over 27,000 official candidates for delegates cannot, by any means, be thought to represent the Cuban society as a whole and its desires. Rather, they can be seen as a minor concession – an attempt to try to improve the semblance of an electoral system in which citizens’ votes lack real value. In addition, when the CVs of the candidates were published on April 1, 2015, those of Chaviano and Lopez contained information that the two men were related to “counter-revolutionary” groups. Although the Municipal Electoral Commission had previously warned them that this word will appear in their CVs, it wasn’t able to explain what the term “counter-revolutionary” meant.

Another interesting factor in the context of Cuban elections is that citizens vote for CVs, not for political projects. They give their votes to candidates judging on their merits, not on what they intend to do for the community. Thus, the act of voting in Cuba is not an entitlement to choose, but an obligation to participate in elections, which are a way of keeping the system going. Cuban citizens have become used to the fact that their vote has no real impact and that it cannot contribute to any kind of change. Some of them have even lost their fear and refused to go to the polls.

As far as the opposition is concerned, many of its members decline to participate in the elections because they see them as a way of legitimization of the regime. Then there are others, such as members of the platform known as “Candidatos por el Cambio” (“Candidates for Change”), which seeks to promote democracy from below – from the basic structures of State administration. These, on the other hand, believe that the 400 votes Chaviano and Lopez obtained are like 400 blows given to Raul Castro’s dictatorship, even though they didn’t win in the end.

In any case, so far there haven’t been any tangible results with regard to the reform of the electoral law. We should bear in mind that if a new electoral law is introduced one day, the change it will produce will be totally inadequate because free elections are impossible without freedom of expression, association and the press, which Cuba still lacks. Citizens can never be able to freely vote in a country where members of the Ladies in White movement continue to be assaulted every Sunday when marching to the Mass, a country where the graffiti artist El Sexto remains in jail for having tried to do an artistic performance, a country listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the 10th most censored state in the world. 

Graffiti artist El Sexto remains jailed in Cuba

People in Need - Human Rights and Democracy - rewriting Cuba,

Elecciones en Cuba: la pervivencia de la dictadura

La prensa internacional se ha volcado durante la últimas semanas en mostrar al mundo cómo por primera vez en la historia de Cuba (después de la Revolución) dos candidatos de la Oposición, Hildebrando Chaviano y Yuniel López, se presentaban a las elecciones de delegados a las Asambleas Municipales del Poder Popular que tuvieron lugar el pasado 19 de abril. El comienzo del deshielo entre Cuba y EEUU ha puesto a la isla en el punto de mira, y la idea de que Cuba está cambiando hacia un modelo de gobierno más democrático es muy atractiva para gobiernos extranjeros e inversores de todo el mundo.

Sin embargo, desde People in Need queremos llamar la atención sobre el sistema electoral cubano, que continúa siendo un mecanismo hueco con el único objetivo de asegurar la continuidad del partido único. Aunque nuevos delegados sean propuestos y votados cada dos años y medio, no son más que la base de un sistema fuertemente jerarquizado, y están obligados a cumplir las directrices que les llegan desde las altas esferas del poder.

En Cuba, es cierto, existe la posibilidad de proponer a cualquier ciudadano como delegado de una Asamblea Municipal del Poder Popular. Los delegados que ganan eligen a los Presidentes de Consejo Popular y estos a su vez al Presidente del Consejo de la Administración Municipal, este ya miembro del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC), cuyas decisiones están subordinadas al Secretario Municipal del PCC. Sin embargo, ninguno de los elegidos a los distintos niveles defenderá ningún programa político económico y social, pues se supone que todos van a trabajar para aplicar los Lineamientos aprobados por el PCC, que es el que dirige la nación por encima de toda soberanía popular,según el artículo 5 de la Constitución de Cuba.

Por otro lado, dos candidatos de la oposición (ambos en La Habana), entre más de 27.000 candidatos a delegados, no puede suponer en ningún caso una cifra representativa de la sociedad cubana y sus deseos, sino más bien una cuota marginal para intentar “lavar la cara” de un sistema donde el voto de los ciudadanos carece de valor real. Además, el 1 de abril de 2015, cuando se colgaron las biografías de los candidatos, en las de Chaviano y López se especificaba que estaban relacionados con grupos “contrarrevolucionarios”. La Comisión Electoral Municipal había avisado previamente a los dos candidatos de que esta palabra iría en sus biografías, pero no supieron explicarles qué significaba el término “contrarrevolucionario”.

Otro factor interesante de las elecciones cubanas es que los ciudadanos votan biografías, no proyectos políticos; votan a una persona según sus méritos, y no por lo que tenga pensado hacer por la comunidad. Así, el acto de votar en Cuba no responde al derecho de elegir, sino a la obligación de participar para mantener el sistema, y los ciudadanos cubanos ya están acostumbrados a que su voto no tenga ninguna repercusión real ni pueda generar algún tipo de cambio. Por eso, algunos de los que van perdiendo el miedo dejan de votar.
Respecto a los opositores, muchos se niegan a participar de las elecciones porque las ven como una forma de legitimar el sistema. Otros, por el contrario, como los Candidatos por el Cambio, plataforma que busca promover la democracia desde las estructuras de base del Estado Cubano, afirman que aunque esta vez Chaviano y López hayan perdido, los 400 votos que recibieron son 400 golpes a la dictadura de Raúl Castro.

En todo caso, tenemos que ser muy conscientes de que por mucho que el gobierno cambie la Ley Electoral, sería un cambio del todo insuficiente. Sin libertad de expresión, de asociación y de prensa, como no las hay en Cuba, no es posible que haya unas elecciones libres: no es posible que voten con libertad los ciudadanos de un país donde las Damas de Blanco siguen siendo agredidas cada domingo al desfilar hacia misa y donde el grafitero El Sexto sigue en la cárcel por intentar hacer una performance; un país que es considerado por el Comité para la Protección de Periodistas como el el décimo país con más censura del mundo.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Political exiles and the right to return

Defending a fundamental right
Blanca Reyes: Denied entry to Cuba in 2013 to visit her dying dad
The premise made by the Castro regime in its effort to assassinate the character of Rosa María Payá Acevedo recently when she returned to Cuba is both self serving and false. Here is what they said in the Castro regime's website Yoanislandia:
"In the case that a person has the condition of a refugee  or a political exile in any country in the world they are not permitted to enter the country that they fled for mistreatment, threats, persecution, etc ..."
The trouble is that the claim is not true. Chinese pro-democracy activist Yang Jianli in 2004 was sentenced to five years in prison after having been detained in 2002 and this is a more detailed account of what happened:
In 2002, after completing his Doctorate in Political Economy at Harvard, Dr. Yang returned to China to help the labor movement with non-violent struggle strategies. He was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment for “spying”.  Following an international outcry for his release, including a UN Resolution and a unanimous vote of both houses of the United States Congress, Dr. Yang was freed in April of 2007.
Jianli was a long time US resident. Another example, former Chinese political prisoner and current political exile Harry Wu has returned a total of five times to continue his struggle for a free China on the mainland. He succeeded in entering and exiting the country while on other occasions he has also been caught and imprisoned by Chinese authorities. Others are trying to get in but have been denied entrance to their country, even if willing to risk prison.

In the case of Burma (Myanmar) the military junta denied Aung San Suu Kyi the right to leave and return to her own country or allowed her dying husband to enter the country to say goodbye to his wife. They had not been able to see each other for the three years prior to his death.Her children were also denied visas to visit their mother. Suu Kyi understood that if she traveled outside of Burma to visit her family that she would not be allowed back in.

What Rosa María Payá, Yang Jianli, Harry Wu and other activists claim is that they have a fundamental right to enter and exit their own homeland. Their claim is backed under Article 13 subsection 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  "(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."

Unfortunately, regimes such as Burma, Cuba, China, Iran, North Korea, and Vietnam ignore this right and determine who can or cannot enter their own country based on arbitrary decisions of the dictatorships in those countries. The claim made by the Castro agent that political refugees and exiles "are not permitted" to enter the country they fled under threat is just not true. Rights are not existent in those countries and are subject to political whims.

Furthermore, if people of good will fell into the trap of believing this argument, they would only be serving the interests of these dictatorships in permanently keeping dissenters, who had to flee for their safety at a particular moment, from exercising their right to return.

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?"

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lessons for Cuba: James Lawson on the power of nonviolence

From Havana, from the world, from memory, from the future, from the Cuban heart #AFlowerforPaya - Rosa María Payá, over twitter from Cuba on May 15, 2015

Rosa María Payá in Cuba leaving a flowers at her father's tomb
We are witnessing the power of nonviolence on display now in Cuba with Rosa María Payá Acevedo's return to the island demanding justice and freedom for Cubans. Reverend James Lawson, a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr., was the man who trained youth in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins that between February 13 to May 10, 1960 challenged segregation in eating establishments. In the video below Reverend Lawson talks about the importance of Gandhi and the power of nonviolence to effect change in the video below.

Also important to remember that the adversary is not static and will take measures to neutralize your nonviolent action. For example today Sayli Navarro reported over twitter that in Cuba, "the 'authorities of the cemetery' have given the order not to permit taking photos in pantheon where Paya's remains rest."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Daughter of Oswaldo Payá holds Mass in Cuba for her dad and Harold Cepero

Rosa María Payá continues in Cuba demanding justice for her dad and Harold

Rosa María Payá in Cuba continuing to demand justice for her dad and freedom for Cubans
On May 13, 2015 at 4:30pm a mass was celebrated at the Church of the Pasionistas in Havana, Cuba with the presence of Rosa María Payá. Rosa arrived in Cuba on May 11, 2015 and laid a flower at her father's tomb. Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were killed on July 22, 2012 under circumstances that point to an extrajudicial killing carried out by state security.

At the mass on May 13 activists from the Ladies in White,  Antonio Rodiles and Ailer González of Estado de Sats, Manuel Cuesta Morúa,  of Arco Progresista, along with members of the Christian Liberation Movement, among others. Cubanet published a video of the mass and interviewed Rosa Maria.

Ofelia Acevedo, mother of Rosa Maria and widow of Oswaldo Payá,spoke out on America Teve on the program El Espejo (The Mirror) May 13th expressing her concerns with her daughter's visit and the reasons behind it.

Rosa's mom pointed out that her daughter wanted to return to Cuba before the two year mark was reached because that is when, under current Cuban law, her right to return would expire for being out of the country longer than permitted. She would then have to request permission and a visa to return to her homeland, something that the dictatorship could deny in an arbitrary fashion.

Last month, following her arbitrary detention, Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo was criticized, her mistreatment questioned, and dissidents in general were described as a "rats and a mercenaries" by Giovanni Montano, of the Student Federation of Cuba in an interview with NexTV. This discourse that dehumanizes an adversary should be of concern to people of good will everywhere. The best way to combat it is by recognizing the humanity of all parties and challenging these assumptions using nonviolent means.

Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo has asked over twitter to continue to express messages of support through social media using the hashtag #UnaFlorParaPaya ( #AFlowerForPaya). Please continue to follow her on twitter and encourage others to use the before mentioned hashtag. My prayers and thoughts are with her and the Payá family.