Monday, July 6, 2015

Two violent assaults in Cuba and two radically different media responses

Violence escalates in Cuba. 

Two high profile dissidents in the past two months have been victims of violent attacks. A former academic turned dissident was badly beaten up on July 5, 2015. A Former government official machete attacked a month and a half ago that took her hand and may yet claim her life.

Antonio Rodiles attacked by State Security agents on Sunday
Yesterday opposition activist Antonio Rodiles was badly beaten up by state security agents who broke his nose and big toe leaving him bloody while he was on his way to join the Ladies in White on their weekly Sunday march following Mass in a peaceful demand for the release of political prisoners. The courageous activist denounced the attack shortly after returning from the hospital describing in a video with detail the beating and choke hold he was placed in while peacefully dissenting and the news has been covered widely in the international media as it should be.

Sirley Ávila León: Holds state security responsible for May 2015 machete attack
In contrast, on May 24, 2015 Sirley Ávila León was brutally attacked with a machete by a husband and wife team in a state security coordinated assault. She lost her left hand and may still lose her right arm. She went on record, before a camera to denounce the attack. She is a former delegate to the so-called "People's Assembly" who disenchanted with the regime shutting down a school in her district and without avenues to address it ended up joining the opposition. This made her a target of escalating harassment that ended in the brutal machete attack earlier this year. However the international has by and large ignored her plight. She was sent home from the hospital in mid June while still in a critical state.

The situation in Cuba for nonviolent dissidents is deteriorating and requires international attention and solidarity. Over the past 12 Sundays in Cuba hundreds of activists have been violently arrested for exercising their fundamental rights.

Hopefully the international media will pay more attention to their plight.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Examining Cuba and North Korea healthcare claims

"Communist political violence flowed from a utopian vision of the future, from the great goals pursued, and from the intolerance the service of these ideals inspired, as well as from an intense attachment to power. The means had to be subordinated to historically unparalleled ends that require extraordinary measures." - Paul Hollander, The Distinctive Features of Repression in Communist States

Regimes in Cuba and North Korea are totalitarian allies

Both Cuba and North Korea are totalitarian dictatorships that have made claims of great achievements in the area of healthcare over the course of the past month.

On June 19, 2015 the regime in North Korea said that it had "created a wonder drug which not only cures AIDS, but also eradicates Ebola and cancer."  At the same time North Korea has approximately 10.2 million North Koreans currently facing famine.

On June 30, 2015 the World Health Organization said that the regime in Cuba had "became the first country in the world to receive validation from WHO that it has eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis." This is the same regime in Cuba that tried to cover up or under report dengue and cholera outbreaks jailing doctors and reporters who warned of the outbreaks at the time in order to preserve a false image of its healthcare system. The dictatorship has not reported any new cholera cases since September 2014 but according to the Public Health Agency of Canada the government of Canada reported a case of cholera in a traveler who returned from Cuba in January of 2015. Tourists have been stuck with the bill in Cuba after contracting cholera on vacation.

When evaluating the above claims by both dictatorships it is important to recall the nature of these type of regimes. The website Boundless which seeks to provide a "cloud powered education" gives a complete definition of totalitarianism which includes the following observation:
"Totalitarian regimes stay in political power through all-encompassing propaganda campaigns (disseminated through the state-controlled mass media), a single party that is often marked by political repression, personality cultism, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of speech, mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror"
Now the claim made by the regime in North Korea was ridiculed by the mainstream press and shows that the regime is not as sophisticated in its propaganda messaging as their Cuban counterparts.

The regime in Cuba used the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote a false narrative of the Cuban healthcare system exploiting a misleading validation process which the WHO described on their website:
"As treatment for prevention of mother-to-child-transmission is not 100% effective, elimination of transmission is defined as a reduction of transmission to such a low level that it no longer constitutes a public health problem. An international expert mission convened by PAHO/WHO visited Cuba in March 2015 to validate the progress toward the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. During a five-day visit, members visited health centers, laboratories, and government offices throughout the island, interviewing health officials and other key actors. ... The validation process paid particular attention to the upholding of human rights, in order to ensure that services were provided free of coercion and in accordance with human rights principles."
Before anyone travels to a totalitarian regime they should first read Paul Hollander's Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society if they do not want to be manipulated.  This book studies and catalogs the strategies and tactics that these regimes use to control what one sees visiting their respective countries and what the unintended consequences are for its victims: i.e. the people who have to live there. Katherine Hirschfeld, an anthropologist, in Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898 who spent a lot longer than five days in Cuba studying the healthcare system, contracted dengue while there experiencing first had the 'discrepancies between rhetoric and reality,' She observed a repressive, bureaucratized and secretive system, long on 'militarization' and short on patients' rights

These false or exaggerated healthcare claims are a central element to both totalitarian regimes' justification for continuing their repressive systems and hanging on to power using "extraordinary measures." 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Wife of Jailed Venezuelan Opposition Leader Addresses U.N.

Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader and prisoner of conscience Leopoldo Lopez, testified this week before the UN Human Rights Council. 

Testimony of Lilian Tintori before UNHRC, 30 June 2015

Thank you, Mr. President.

My name is Lilian Tintori and I am Venezuelan. I have the honor to make this declaration on behalf of UN Watch.

Article 2 of the Durban Declaration prohibits all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on political or other opinions.

I am here for all the names I have on my chest and my back. They are tortured, persecuted and killed. My husband Leopoldo Lopez, opposition leader in Venezuela, unjustly in jail, is only one of many cases. I speak in his name and in the name of all those silenced, like Geraldine Moreno, assassinated in close range, and Jose Manuel Carrasco, raped with a weapon in his anus, both by state security forces.

My husband Leopoldo is in jail for speaking out against the human rights violations that occur in our country, the right to life is violated every 20 minutes, homicides last year were above 25,000, inflation, medicine and food scarcity is more that 72%. Leopoldo has been in jail for 16 month, 9 of which in solitary confinement, with inhuman treatment and torture. In 2014, there were more than 3700 arbitrary detentions. I am here as a wife, as a mother that is raising her two children alone.

My husband and opposition leaders are in jail for demanding democratic change through constitutional, non-violent methods. They have not committed any crime. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Leopoldo had been detained in violation of international law, as did the Committee Against Torture, the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur Against Torture.

The Venezuelan government must respect the rights of all people. Today there are 75 political prisoners that should be liberated. Isolation should stop. The Tumba, a white torture center, has to be closed. The Red Cross should have access to prisons and we have to put an end to impunity.

Venezuela continues to be a member of this Council, when it violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We dream and work for a positive change for all Venezuelans. I ask this Council to demand the liberation of all political prisoners in Venezuela.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Holding the Castro regime accountable by bearing witness

"State crimes are never an issue exclusive to the families of the victims." - Rosa Maria Payá over twitter, July 10, 2014  
Remember and demand justice for them

Although July is the first full month of summer. For Cubans it is overshadowed by recent crimes that darken what should be a sunny and joyous time. The Castro dictatorship's long and bloody history stretches back from 56 years to the present. Two awful days will be observed this month: First, 21 years ago on July 13, 1994 Castro regime agents killed 37 Cubans trying to flee Cuba. Fifteen years later human rights champion Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas reflected on the significance of this crime:
Behind the Christ of Havana, about seven miles from the coast, "volunteers" of the Communist regime committed one of the most heinous crimes in the history of our city and of Cuba. In the morning, a group of seventy people in all, fled on a tugboat, led by the ship's own crew; none was kidnapped, or there against their will. They came out of the mouth of the Bay of Havana. They were pursued by other similar ships. When the runaway ship and its occupants stopped to surrender, the ships that had been chasing them started ramming to sink it. Meanwhile, on the deck, women with children in their arms begging for mercy, but the answer of their captors was to project high pressure water cannons against them. Some saw their children fall overboard under the murderous jets of water amid shrieks of horror. They behaved brutally until their perverse mission was fulfilled: Sink the fleeing ship and annihilate many of its occupants.
Second, three years ago on July 22, 2012 on a stretch of road in Eastern Cuba, State Security agents rammed the car Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were traveling in. Both bodies appeared later.

 The Obama administration will announce later today that the United States and Cuba will re-establish normal diplomatic relations. Normalized relations with an abnormal regime are a contradiction. At the same time the U.S. State Department human rights report recognized the suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths of Oswaldo and Harold:
By the end of the year, the government had not responded to calls for an international investigation into the 2012 deaths of opposition activists Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero. The government claimed that the two died in a car accident, although in October the driver of that car, Angel Carromero, publicly reiterated his allegation that the car crash that led to their deaths occurred because state security forces followed Paya’s vehicle too closely, struck the car, and forced it off the road.
By the end of the year, the government had not responded to calls for an international investigation into the 2012 deaths of opposition activists Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero. The government claimed that the two died in a car accident, although in October the driver of that car, Angel Carromero, publicly reiterated his allegation that the car crash that led to their deaths occurred because state security forces followed Paya’s vehicle too closely, struck the car, and forced it off the road. - See more at:
Despite the ongoing attempt at the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States the level of violence and harassment of opposition activists have increased and there continue to be prisoners of conscience there.  The criminal nature of the dictatorship remains the same.

 The sinking of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat has been investigated and the crime documented but the case of Oswaldo and Harold still demands a transparent and international investigation. What plans do you have to honor the memory of these Cubans killed during July?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Cuban women told not to dress in white if they want to attend Mass

"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:10, New American Bible

Ladies in White marching in Matanzas, Cuba
Eight ladies dressed in white were expelled from the Catholic parish in Aguada de Pasajeros in Cienfuegos by Father Tarciso. The priest who removed them from the Church told them, "you can continue coming to Church because this is God's house, but wear another color." The women are members of a human rights movement known as the Ladies in White who in recent months have faced rising repression at the hands of the Cuban dictatorship.

Unfortunately, one cannot expect much in the way of assistance appealing to the Cuban Cardinal for help in this matter. On June 5, 2015 Cardinal Jaime Ortega in a radio interview claimed that there were no political prisoners remaining in Cuba. Following the announcement by human rights groups in Cuba that at least 71 political prisoners remained in prisons there, the Cardinal requested that a copy of the list be given to him. News of the Cardinal's statements are now circulating in the United States painting him in a negative light.

These are difficult times for Cuban Catholics and for Christians generally in Cuba.