Thursday, May 5, 2016

Human Rights in Cuba: Some new numbers give cause for concern

Things are getting worse

UNPACU activist and political prisoner, Jacqueline Heredia in San José prison
The human rights situation in Cuba remains dire with a regime that is capable of using the appearance of domestic violence to cover up an extrajudicial execution. However there are some facts that are more difficult to coverup. For example, Christian Solidarity Worldwide compiled data that is not exhaustive but  reveals the level of freedom of religion violations, a tenfold increase - with 2,300 separate violations recorded in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.

The number of short term arbitrary detentions has exploded to levels not seen in decades with monthly detentions increasing from an average of 718 in 2015 to 1,337 on average in the first four months of 2016.  

There are new long term political prisoners in Cuba being added to the existing list of 93. Capitol Hill Cubans provided the following information in English on the newest political prisoners:
Among the newest prisoners of conscience are Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda, Yunet Cairo Reigada and Jaqueline Heredia Morales, who were arrested on 15 April for staging a pro-human rights demonstration in Havana’s Central Park. They were held at a police station jail without charges for a while before being transferred to a long-term prison, while still in limbo concerning specific charges. According to Arcelio Molina, a member of the dissident organization UNPACU, Jacqueline Heredia (pictured below) has been transferred to San José prison, where all AIDS-infected Cubans are taken, and Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda and Yunet Cairo have been taken to the women’s prison at Guatao. A fourth dissident arrested the same day at Havana’s Central Park, Marieta Martínez Aguilera, remains jailed at the Departamento Técnico de Investigaciones jail known as “la Quinta.”
Meanwhile the policy of engagement with the Cuban government potentially will have the unintended consequences of turning Major League Baseball into an accomplice in worker exploitation by the Castro family. The Cuban regime has announced that workers will be able to work on cruise ships. Salaries will be paid to the Castro regime and a small pittance turned over to the Cuban workers.

According to Freedom House out of the 50 countries designated not free in Freedom of the Press in 2016 out of the ten worse of the worse Cuba came in sixth place on the planet.

These data should give policymakers cause for concern as the human rights situation in Cuba continues to deteriorate.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

GOP's future Cuban-American debacle will be a repeat of losing the Asian American vote

Betraying Asian anti-communists costs the GOP big time but no one wants to talk about it

Yesterday commented on the upcoming loss of the Cuban-American vote by the Republican Party if Donald Trump continues backing the Obama administration's Cuba policy of normalizing relations with the Castro regime. This includes not only dismantling the Cuban embargo but the Cuban Adjustment Act as well. This will not be the first time that an ethnic minority, successful in the private sector, and united by a visceral anti-communism due to having to flee their homeland will leave the Republican Party and go solidly Democrat.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s spending time with Chinese Americans I sensed their feeling of betrayal in 1989 when the Bush administration failed to back up the Tiananmen Square protesters because of economic interests. The bipartisan consensus on China has been a disaster for human rights in China. It also ended a clear contrast in policy that led to a favorable outcome for Democrats.

Vietnamese exiles would feel a similar sting of betrayal when Republicans defected to the Clinton side in 1995 and backed the normalization of relations with communist Vietnam.

The American Conservative, with its anti-sanctions agenda, can't see that the GOP's Asian American fiasco is due to the abandonment of the anti-communist cause.  Although they basically laid out the argument as follows:
Moreover, that many Asian-Americans trace their roots to countries that have been and still are under the control of Communist regimes that had repressed their families should have been another reason for many of them to vote for the party of Ronald Reagan and the other Republican Presidents with impressive anti-Communist credentials. And, indeed, during the post-1945 era the majority of Asian-Americans voters that included refugees from Communist-ruled China, Korea and Vietnam tended to identify with the conservative and anti-communist agenda of the Republican Party.
It is true when analysts claim that anti-communism is no longer an issue to galvanize Asian voters but this is not because communism is no longer a looming menace, but because the Republican Party abandoned them assuming the same weak position as the Democratic Party on the issue. Now when the slave labor and poor working conditions in these communist regimes take good paying jobs from Americans, instead of framing it within an anti-communist freedom agenda the rhetoric is anti-immigrant and Asia bashing further hurting electoral prospects.

Ronald Reagan, a principled conservative and staunch anti-communist got 70% of the Asian vote to Walter Mondale's 30%. In 1992 George H.W. Bush got 55% of the Asian vote with a 15% drop in support against Bill Clinton in 1992.

The anti-communist factor is purposefully left out these analysis because it goes against corporate interests. When the Republican Party abandons anti-communism in favor of Rockefeller internationalism it hurts the GOP with anti-communist ethnic groups. Hawaii had a Republican Senator of Chinese descent, Hiram Fong, in office from 1959 to 1977. Even today the issue of how a candidate addresses the issue of the struggle for freedom in China has an impact. Twenty eight Chinese pro-democracy groups issued a public statement which in part stated:
"We are appalled by Donald Trump’s remarks about the Chinese government’s 1989 massacre during the 12th Republican presidential candidate debate last Thursday, in which he called the heroic pro-democracy protest in Beijing a “riot”, and praised the Chinese government’s response as “strong.” Trump’s comments show not only a lack of moral orientation, but also show a complete disregard for the hundreds if not thousands of innocent lives lost when the Chinese government butchered unarmed students and citizens in Tiananmen Square on June 3-4, 1989."
In the Cuban case "pollsters" claimed that supporting the Cuban embargo was no longer helpful to candidates in obtaining the Cuban vote. Charlie Crist believed the pollsters and flip flopped on the embargo issue and announced that he wanted to go to Cuba as he ran for governor of Florida. By June of 2014 it was obvious that the flip flop was effecting him negatively and he changed his mind on going to Cuba. The American Spectator reported the outcome:
Crist erred early on when he said he wanted to visit Cuba during the campaign. This drew the predictable outrage from Florida’s Cuban Americans. Crist quickly ditched the idea after the blowback. But he did poorly among Cuban-Americans Tuesday, while doing better with other Hispanics.
In a tight election with an unpopular Republican governor this was a factor that cost Charlie Crist the governor's mansion.  Mr. Trump should listen to Governor Rick Scott because the Cuba embargo issue was one of the reasons he got re-elected.

By removing Cuba as an issue in the 2016 election with both Clinton and Trump backing Obama's policy one will find Cubans streaming to the Democratic Party.  No doubt the usual suspects will try to spin it as inevitable and due to Trump's xenophobia, but it will have more to do with abandoning an anti-communist policy towards the Castro regime. Senator Jesse Helms visited Little Havana in Miami, Florida on April 17, 1995 where he was wildly cheered by Cuban exiles who gave him a hero's welcome for his anti-communist Cuba policy.  In 2011, Senator Marco Rubio expressed his admiration for the late Senator Jesse Helms. This was probably due to the well of positive feelings in the Cuban American community for the later Senator of North Carolina.

Looking at the long term, a question for my Republican friends. The Cuban-American factory worker in Hialeah who is just making ends meet and has been voting Republican since he became a citizen. Do you think its because of lowering the top marginal tax rate or because Republicans have been associated with an anti-communist policy that keeps sanctions on the Castro regime?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cuba: 23 year old woman murdered in 2014 under suspicious circumstances

Was an extrajudicial killing by Cuban state security covered up as a crime of passion?

Yunisledy Lopez Rodriguez: Brutally murdered at age 23
Yunisledy Lopez Rodriguez was just 23 years old, the mother of two small children and she lived in Vista Alegre, in the Municipality of Majabiquoa in Las Tunas, Cuba.

Yunisledy had suffered harassment, state security agents had wanted to evict her and her children from their home for her activism in the Civics and Truth movement.

She found out that her then current boyfriend "Ruber" had been given the order to kill Sirley Avila Leon.  Yunisledy immediately informed Sirley Avila Leon of the danger and on May 21,  2014 when Sirley's home was set on fire formally complained to the police. She reported that her partner had told her that he would murder Sirley and that through the above action had attempted to carry it out. The police never made a pronouncement on the matter and did nothing. Afterwards "Ruber" threatened Yunisledy and told her that if she did not want to be killed that she should join him in Camaguey where he had been given the possibility to work as a "cuenta propista"  as a reward for carrying out his murder attempt against Sirley Avila Leon and to give the impression that he was in a prison elsewhere.

She  denounces the new threat to the police and no action taken against him and he went away. After two months approximately September 20-21, 2014 the father of her young son appears at her home and tells her that he'll kill her. But instead rapes her in front of her children and leaves.

Immediately she went to the police and made a complaint because was supposedly a prison escapee, but the police take no action. They tell her not to worry that he is already back in prison. Yunisledy calls Sirley on September 24, 2014 and tells her that they both knew why he was being sent to kill her. Yunisledy asks Sirley to please care for her children because she had no police protection.

On September 26, 2014 while preparing food for her children the individual known as "El Tejon" entered the house and stabbed her 18 times in front of her two children. This was done to give the appearance of a crime of passion.

Cuban human rights defender, Sirley Avila Leon, was the target of a brutal machete attack on May 24, 2015 that she miraculously survived  in order to provide the information about what happened to this young women.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Republican's potential loss of the Cuban-American vote has the making of a Greek tragedy

How to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy

Donald Trump is likely taking bad advice on Cuba policy from Jorge Perez
 The Republican party's potential loss of the Cuban-American vote has the making of a Greek tragedy. Pollsters have been predicting for more than a decade that the continuing influx of Cuban refugees combined with that of younger Cuban Americans with voting tendencies more in line with the general population would lead to a shift in voter demographics harmful to the GOP.

In response to this perceived threat, it appears beginning with Congressman David Rivera in 2012 there has been an effort to gut the Cuban Adjustment Act, under the guise of reforming it, to avoid this outcome.  Worse yet, the claim that because President Obama has sought to normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship, that somehow the regime has changed and the Cuban Adjustment Act is no longer needed, will do more harm to the Republican brand among Cuban American voters.

Local Cuban-American elected officials remain overwhelmingly popular because of their principled Cuba policy stance. The Miami Herald reported that a poll conducted by Dario Moreno, a Coral Gables pollster found that "Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Senator Marco Rubio all have approval ratings of more than 70 percent among Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade, the only Florida county Rubio won as a presidential candidate."

This will change dramatically if and when the Cuban Adjustment Act is ended, especially if local members are perceived as having had a roll in its end. Cuban-American support for the Republican party centers around Cuba policy and the marked contrast between the anti-communist position taken by Republicans supporting economic sanctions and a principled human rights first policy.

The case of Donald Trump, who publicly supports President Obama's failed Cuba policy, should be a cautionary tale for Republicans. According to the Moreno poll "37% of respondents supported Trump, a number that is still higher than the 31% who backed Clinton — but also 'the lowest in history that any potential Republican candidate polls among this traditionally loyal demographic.'"

This should not be a surprise. Winning Democrats historically have known to take a hard line on Cuba to get into and stay in office. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ran supporting economic sanctions on Castro and a human rights first policy. Candidate Obama in 2008 in Miami flip flopped from a previous position stating:
“Don’t be confused about this. I will maintain the embargo,” Mr. Obama said. “It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: If you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations.”
 It was only after both Clinton and Obama were re-elected that they shifted full speed on a normalization policy with the Castro dictatorship.

Hillary Clinton is openly supporting President Obama's Cuba policy but does not have it as a big negative because her likely Republican opponent, Donald Trump, has the same position that alienates him from Cuban-American Republican voters.

The Castro regime for decades has wanted the end of the Cuban Embargo and Cuban Adjustment Act in order to legitimize and consolidate its rule. Thanks to Ronald Reagan the effort of Jimmy Carter between 1977-1980 to normalize relations with Castro was undone and replaced with a principled human rights first policy highlighting the Cuban democratic resistance.

Ending the Cuban Adjustment Act would assist the Castro regime in achieving a long term goal that is part of the normalization process being advanced by the White House. The Obama administration's non-enforcement of the embargo and turning a blind eye to abuses seeks to obtain the overturning of the Cuban Adjustment Act without having to get their hands dirty, with Republicans taking the hit with their Cuban American base after the consequences of ending it become evident.

The belief that newly arrived Cubans would overwhelmingly register to vote Democrat will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and political suicide for South Florida Republicans. The way to avoid this is to contrast the Obama administration's failed Cuba policy with a principled one that looks out for American taxpayers, U.S. national security and human rights in Cuba.

If Donald Trump wants to obtain more than 37% of the Cuban-American vote he needs to stop listening to Jorge Perez and other shills for doing business with the Castro regime then listen to Cuban American members of congress that have 70% approval ratings.

Read more here:

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Reflections on the Free Cuba Protest Flotilla

 "Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals." - Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1964 

Freedom Flotilla protests discriminatory visa policies of the Castro regime
Active non-violence is not easy but it beats violent resistance in two areas: 1) There is a higher cost in responding to nonviolent resistance with violence and repression. 2) Committing violence exerts a greater psychological toll that makes it more difficult to mobilize large numbers of persons compared to nonviolent action.

However, despite these two advantages nonviolence is not a magic bullet. Active non-violence needs the development of tactics and strategy to be successful. You can't beat a plan without a plan. The first step is to have a vision of where you want to go.

In the campaign generated over the Carnival Cruise to Cuba, that initially accepted discriminating against Cuban-borns, refusing to sell them tickets to satisfy the demands of the Castro regime. Ramon Saul Sanchez of the Democracy Movement has a vision of where he wants to go: "I'm sure that someday all the walls will come down and new bridges will be built, and Cubans will be able return to their homeland," said Ramón Saul Sánchez.

Mass protests, law suits and negative press led to Carnival first backing down and selling tickets to Cuban-borns stating that if the Cuban government did not allow this group of travelers to enter Cuba because of their national origin then the cruise would be called off on May 1st.  A short while later the Castro regime announced that it would permit Cuban-borns to travel to Cuba on the cruise ship ending this discriminatory practice.

Prior to all this the Democracy Movement had announced a "protest flotilla" against Carnival for discriminating against travelers of Cuban origin. However when Carnival changed its stance the tone and mobilization of the protest was lessened.

Nevertheless the protest continued, although no longer directed at Carnival, but to highlight the continued discrimination by the Castro regime. Ramón Saul Sánchez called on the Cuban dictatorship that in the same way that they ended "the discriminatory regulation that impeded a Cuban to enter or exit by sea that they now take a second step" and end the obligation of Cubans to obtain a visa explaining that "they are instruments to get money and to discriminate."

The challenge was then made that if the discriminatory practice were not repealed, Miami exiles would organize a larger protest flotilla with the objective to reach the coasts of Cuba.

Shift in tone after Carnival's change