Monday, May 23, 2016

Why are some folks not blessing Obama's trips to Cuba and Vietnam?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. - Matthew 5:9

Reverend King has the answer to the question
David Beeson over twitter asked an important question: "Blessed are the peacemakers, we're told. Obama has been to Cuba and now to Vietnam. So why aren't his Bible-thumping critics blessing him?"

The trip to Vietnam is still ongoing, but there are already shadows on the visit that would give peacemakers pause. First rescinding a decades-old ban on sales of lethal military equipment to Vietnam is not a nonviolent act or the action of a peacemaker. The response by China, warning the White House to not spark a “regional tinderbox” is ominous pointing to an arms race or even conflict.

In answering the question with a focus on the Cuba half  there have been a couple of months since the visit and time to further reflect on it.

First, since the December 17, 2014 announcement by President Obama and General Castro the level of repression in Cuba has grown exponentially.

Secondly, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has compiled figures that  reveal a tenfold increase in religious repression in Cuba with 2,300 separate violations recorded in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.

Cuban Americans warned that this would happen in an open letter in February of 2015 published in The Washington Post but were completely shut out and ignored.

Furthermore, the Obama administration signed off with Carnival on an agreement with the Castro regime that discriminated against Cuban Americans that prompted mass protests.

Obama in Cuba and in Vietnam being photographed in front of communist icons
Lastly, the visit to Cuba in and of itself had some very troubling aspects that could prolong the life of the dictatorship and send the wrong message internationally on the figure of Che Guevara. Within the context of the Cuba visit being photographed in front of the Ministry of the Interior with image of the Argentine guerilla in the background is unfortunate.

Now in Vietnam, President Obama is photographed in front of the statue of the murderous Ho Chi Minh. That the U.S. ambassador would also be hanging out in the Vietnamese regime's Ministry of Public Security in a smiling photo opportunity with the head of that organization, despite that buildings history of persecuting and torturing dissidents, is again unfortunate.

Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security To Lam and US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius
The Obama administration's Cuba policy has reduced tensions between the United States and Cuba but it has not addressed the presence of injustice or the fact that it has increased during this time of reduced tension. The failure of this policy can be measured by the tens of thousands of Cubans voting with their feet and leaving the island. This is a dramatic increase over previous years and can only be compared with other attempts to reach an accommodation with the Castro regime.

It is important to recall that the United States lifted economic sanctions on Vietnam on February 3, 1994 and normalized relations on July 11, 1995. Twenty two years later the Obama administration has opened the sale of weapons to Vietnam, but unlike in Cuba that still has economic sanctions, President Obama was not able to meet with Vietnamese dissidents in a scheduled meeting.

Ending sanctions reduces leverage and normalizing relations with abnormal regimes such as Vietnam and Cuba leads the United States in being complicit with the injustice taking place there. Perhaps that is why some Americans guided by biblical principles are so upset.

Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth tweeted the following caricature summing up President Obama's visit to Vietnam.

There is an alternative and it is the road less traveled of nonviolence which has a great record of success. Unfortunately, neither the Bush policy of preemptive wars or the Obama policy of neo-appeasement follows this path.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lessons from Cuba and Vietnam

Vietnam and Cuba remain totalitarian regimes 

President Obama has arrived in Vietnam for an official visit, hopefully it will be more productive than his visit to Cuba. As was the case during the Cuba visit, public protests in Vietnam have been put down with force by the regime's security.

Human Rights Watch reports that Vietnam's human rights record remains dire in all areas. This in spite of the United States lifting economic sanctions on Vietnam on February 3, 1994 and normalizing relations on July 11, 1995.

US companies are investing in Vietnam and doing business with the Vietnamese dictatorship. Its totalitarian nature has not changed, but there is now a possibility of the United States selling weapons to this regime that represses its own people.

For example, Amnesty International reported on October 29, 2012 that two Vietnamese songwriters faced prison for writing songs criticizing their government. Vo Minh Tri, known as Viet Khang, 37, and Tran Vu Anh Binh, known as Hoang Nhat Thong, 41 were both held in custody since late 2011. According to Amnesty International both stood accused of "conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of Viet Nam’s Criminal Code – an offense that carries a sentence of up to two decades." On October 30, 2012 Tran Vu Anh Binh (aka Hoang Nhat Thong) and Vo Minh Tri (aka Viet Khang) were sentenced to six and four years in prison respectively.

Young man arrested and throttled in Saigon for peaceful protest

Tri, a.k.a. Viet Khang, was freed on December 13, 2015 and driven by police escort to his family’s home outside of Ho Chi Minh City. Tran Vu Anh Binh a.k.a. Hoang Nhat Thong who was jailed at the same time remains in prison.

There are many other political prisoners in Vietnam just as there are still many in Cuba.

Cuba, like Vietnam, also has a law 88 that carries up to a 20 year prison sentence. The fact that the laws and even the article numbers are the same may be a sign that Cuba and Vietnam are collaborating and sharing worse practices to maintain repression in their respective countries.William J. Dobson has described how this process occurs in his book, The Dictator's Learning Curve.

This leads to the conclusion that economic engagement with the United States has not led to political liberalization in Vietnam and it will not do so in Cuba. Meanwhile the sanctions policy on Burma did play a role in generating reforms.

Questions about violent repression in Vietnam against peaceful protesters
Human Rights Watch is calling on President Obama to press the regime in Vietnam to end its crackdown on peaceful activists and to hold free elections.  Amnesty International is calling on the U.S. President to urge the Vietnamese communist dictatorship to free over 80 political prisoners during his visit to the country.

2016 Oslo Freedom Forum: Catalysts

"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." - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002

 "A single spark can start a raging fire, which is why this year, the Oslo Freedom Forum is dedicated to catalysts: women and men who have realized that while individuals can’t change the world on their own, the world can’t change without individuals. That even if you are the first person to stand up, you won’t find yourself standing alone for long."
The 2016 Oslo Freedom Forum for the seventh time brings together human rights activists for a three-day summit (May 23 - 25) to promote human rights worldwide. Since 2009 Oslo Freedom Forum has been a gathering point for grassroots activists, policy makers and artists with themes focused on advancing human rights and freedom for all. In 2012 the Václav Havel Prizes for Creative Dissent was inaugurated at the Oslo Freedom Forum. The Oslo Freedom Forum has an archive of past presentations of all the Freedom Forums available online.

The event will be broadcast live over Livestream.

Two Cuban speakers will be addressing the Oslo Freedom Forum this year:
Rosa María Payá, daughter of the deceased democracy activist Oswaldo Payá, is one of Cuba’s most vocal political dissidents. Payá serves as the president of the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, and is a member of the Cuba Decides campaign. In April 2014, Payá was detained in Panama before the Summit of the Americas in what has been criticized as a move of political intimidation. Since her father’s passing in a mysterious car accident in 2012, Payá has repeatedly called for a formal investigation into his death, speaking around the world on his behalf and addressing a public letter to President Obama following the change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in 2014.

Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado is a Cuban graffiti artist and activist whose public work has subjected him to ongoing repression and imprisonment at the hands of the Castro dictatorship. A target of the Cuban government, he has been detained numerous times for his protest art. In December 2014, El Sexto was arrested on his way to put on a performance art piece called "Rebelión en la Granja," with two pigs decorated with the names “Fidel” and “Raúl.” El Sexto was charged with contempt and imprisoned for 10 months without a trial. He was finally released on October 20, 2015, following pressure from international human rights groups.

Oslo Freedom Forum 2016 events are underway and can be followed over twitter.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

North Korean, Cuban and Chinese military forces in Venezuela

"Our government, our people, our party, in addition to condemning any imperialist attack, will fight with Venezuelans to safeguard the Bolivarian Revolution" - North Korean Ambassador Jon Yong Jin, 10/3/13 

A report appeared on May 18, 2016 that North Korean Special forces and the Chinese People's Liberation Army are in Venezuela conducting military exercises with their Venezuelan counterpart. Days before the head of the opposition National Assembly of Venezuela on May 15, 2016 was complaining, 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.

Considering the promise made above by the late North Korean Ambassador these two bits of information may give Venezuelan democrats cause for alarm. 

Providing some context

In March 2016, the same month that President Obama visited Cuba, the Castro regime signed a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement with North Korea reports the Paris based publication Intelligence Online. The Cuban dictatorship, under Raul Castro, has had extensive relations with the Hermit Kingdom that has included violating international sanctions to smuggle tons of weapons.

North Korea reopened an embassy in Venezuela on June 20, 2014 following a high level meeting in October 2013 with North Korea's ambassador to Cuba Jon Yong Jin who was executed in a purge in December of 2013.  Venezuela recognized North Korea in 1974 but due to North Korea's economic crisis in the 1990s it shut down its embassy in Venezuela at the time.  Venezuelan officials who met with the North Korean diplomat showed an interest in grafting elements of the North Korean governing philosophy onto the Bolivarian Revolution.

The official claim by the Maduro regime is that all this is being done to combat the threat of U.S. imperialism, but the reality appears that this has more to do with maintaining and consolidating control over Venezuela. 

Chinese military commandos in Venezuela (2015)

Kim Jung-un comes to Maduro's aid

Intelligence Online, Issue No. 759 dated May 18, 2016

Observers are wondering just how involved the North Korean Praetorian Guard that Pyongyang has sent to assist Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro will become. Hugo Chavez’s successor has declared a state of emergency in the country while anti-government protests continue to mount. The man behind the 'loan' of North Korean troops is General Kim Yong-chol, who is close to the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un. The general is both head of the special forces and the United Front Work Department, or Tongil Chonsonbu, the intelligence service in charge of relations with friendly political movements.

North Korean special forces are training with their counterparts of Venezuela’s Grupo de Acciones Commando (GAC) and Chinese troops of the 21st Armed Group of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Caracas this month.

Back in March, Pyongyang also signed a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement with Cuba, even though the latter is in the midst of a reconciliation process with the U.S.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cuban Independence Day: 1902 vs 2016

A sobering reality

Cuba 1902: On the path to freedom and independence

“Bringing down the American Flag and Raising the Cuban Flag in Havana, May 20, 1902

Tomas Estrada de Palma becomes the first president of Cuba
One hundred and fourteen years ago today at noon the flag of the United States was brought down and the Cuban flag raised over Havana as Cuba became an independent republic and its first president, Tomas Estrada de Palma, took power and would serve four years and leave office. Prior to the Castro brothers taking over, the Cuban Republic had 12 presidents over its first 58 years which averages out to 4.8 years in office per president. Meanwhile since 1959 two brothers have run Cuba into the ground through an absolutist, totalitarian, communist dictatorship.

Cuba 2016: Over a half century under communist tyranny

Former prisoner of conscience and independent journalist Iván Hernández Carrillo tweets: "Another May 20th without a Republic, without freedom and with a dictatorship in the hands of some tyrants perched in power."

Why have United States presidents only visited dictators and strongman in Cuba and not their democratic counterparts while in power? President Coolidge visited Dictator Machado in 1928 and President Obama visited Dictator Castro in 2016.

Last month the tyrants presided over another rubber stamp session of the Communist Party Congress with the two brothers now in their 57th year of absolute power.

Tyrants Fidel and Raul Castro now in their 57th year of presiding over Cuba's destruction
  Hopefully one day soon Cubans on the island will regain their popular sovereignty and once again proudly declare their freedom.