Thursday, May 6, 2010

From Cambodia to Cuba: Reconciliation & Justice

"Reconciliation should be accompanied by justice, otherwise it will not last. While we all hope for peace it shouldn't be peace at any cost but peace based on principle, on justice." - Corazon Aquino

"It is essential that justice be done, and it is equally vital that justice not be confused with revenge, for the two are wholly different." - Oscar Arias Sanchez

Between 1975 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot slaughtered one third of the entire population of Cambodia. Imagine for a moment 1 in 3 Cambodians extrajudicially executed by their own government in the course of 3 years, 8 months and 20 days. The end of the regime was a civil war and invasion by neighboring Vietnam. Thirty years later the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. A Cambodian court with international participation is seeking to apply international standards while having to recognize national realities. The world is monitoring the proceedings and although imperfect 7 out of 10 Cambodians believe that some measure of justice is being achieved as a small number of Khmer Rouge members are brought to justice.

Meanwhile in Cuba between 1959 and the present date the Castro brothers have erected a regime that has driven two million Cubans into exile; systematically denied human rights to the entire Cuban populace; unjustly imprisoned tens of thousands; executed thousands; along with an even greater number of extrajudicial executions throughout a half century. There is much pain and thirst for justice which when denied can easily be translated into revenge and intolerance which can lead to outbreaks of violence.

Totalitarian regimes thrive on violence born of frustration in the populace. These regimes typically obtain power through violence and the propagation of hatred for different groups in the country in the process demonizing and liquidating them. Successful opposition to these regimes has been demonstrated with great creativity, discipline, and a systematic rejection of violence and hatred even of one's political adversary as a profound rejection of the foundations of totalitarianism that seeks to turn the "mass man" into a citizen of a republic or a subject in a constitutional monarchy.

"The Women In White" screening at Los Angeles Press Club from Rouslan Ovtcharoff on Vimeo.

A free society cannot long exist where impunity thrives. To end impunity requires that both justice and memory be investigated, honored, and upheld. Corazon Aquino, who led the people power movement that ousted the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos expressed a profound truth that a lasting national reconciliation can only be achieved with justice and sound principles.
Today, Cuba's prisoners of conscience, behind bars, and their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers in the Ladies in White are demonstrating the power of demanding justice and an end to impunity. A civic nonviolent movement has despite brutal repression created a space for itself that challenges the totalitarian regime. This is the basis for the Cuban democracy of tomorrow.

Cuban cultural icons in the island such as Carlos Varela are beginning to speak out more clearly both in their music and in their public statements.

This is a positive development and appears to be a gesture of principled reconciliation. An end to the structural injustice and violence that the dictatorship has imposed on the island for a half century is a necessary step for reconciliation to flourish and survive.

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