Monday, July 26, 2010

How to celebrate the 26th of July: Render a guilty verdict against a communist war criminal

Is it a Coincidence or Synchronicity? Cuba and Cambodia now share July 26 as a historic date

It matters little if they condemn me, even to the heaviest sentence.” Kaing Guek Eav “Duch” (2010)

“Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.” – Fidel Castro (1953)

The Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) today found KAING Guek Eav alias Duch guilty of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and sentenced him to 35 (thirty-five) years of imprisonment.

Kaing Guek Eav a.k.a. "Duch" tortured and murdered thousands

Today, July 26, 2010 there are two events that although causally unrelated occurring together on the same day gives both added meaning: the guilty verdict of Cambodian war criminal Kaing Guek Eav whose revolutionary name “Duch” was obtained in the 1970s with the Khmer Rouge condemned to 35 years in prison by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura’s speech today in observance of the July 26, 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks.

Although there is no causal relationship between these two events they do have a shared meaning. Beyond the same basic Marxist-Leninist ideological framework one finds in both actions an attempt to defend the indefensible when now viewed through the prism of time. This is an example of what Carl Gustav Jung described as Synchronicity which he defined over the years as the "temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events"; an "acausal connecting principle"; a "meaningful coincidence" and "acausal parallelism" or it could just be one huge coincidence.

This connection between events in Cuba and in Cambodia during revolutionary communist regimes is acausally linked again by the documentary, Enemies of the People, opening in New York City four days from now on July 30, 2010 at the Quad Cinema. The documentary is the winner of the 2010 Human Rights Watch Film Festival Nestor Almendros Award for Courage in Film making. The award is named after famed filmmaker Nestor Almendros, born in Spain raised in Cuba, who co-directed two important films about human rights in Cuba: Mauvaise conduite aka “Improper Conduct” (1984) about the persecution of gay people in Revolutionary Cuba and Nadie escuchaba (1987) aka "Nobody Listened" about the human rights situation overall under the Castro brothers.

The connection between Fidel and Raul Castro and genocidal war criminals is well documented such as their close relationship with Ethiopian war criminal Mengistu Haile Mariam not to mention criminal practices in Cuba and the demonizing of dissenting Cubans with dehumanizing rhetoric which is one of the eight stages of genocide.

Raul Castro & Fidel Castro with close ally Mengistu Haile Mariam

In the case of Marxist ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam or as Fidel Castro referred to him "Comrade Mengistu" there is a lot of information demonstrating the close working relationship between Mengistu and both Castro brothers. Cuba sent the first wave of what would become 5,000 Cuban troops to fight government rebels in December 1977-January 1978. In September of 1978 Fidel Castro arrived in Ethiopia to address both Ethiopian and Cuban troops and claim both victory and the Ethiopian revolution's popular support:

"Comrade Cubans, I can recall those days of December 1977 and January 1978 when we said farewell to the first Cuban internationalist combatants who were leaving for Ethiopia. [...]Eighteen months later we have returned to a Ethiopia which is victorious be cause of its combative sons' heroism and the support of international solidarity, as Comrade Mengistu stated 2 days ago. Moreover, it is also an already powerful Ethiopia. Tuesday's popular parade confirmed the enormous popular support for this revolutionary change. Yesterday's military parade tells us of the degree of organization and discipline achieved by the combative and courageous fraternal Ethiopian people. The rapid revolutionary offensive of the Ethiopian and Cuban troops practically annihilated the enemy. [...]Ethiopian brothers, together with you we have fought and we have won. Together with you we are ready to fight again and to win again. Together with you we pledge: Fatherland or death, we shall win!

Castro's September 1978 speech places Cuban combatants on the ground in December of 1977. The importance of these dates will become evident later on. The next excerpt is from a conversation with the then East German dictator Erik Honecker discussing the situation in Ethiopia and Fidel Castro's assesment of Mengistu in February of 1977 following a visit and meeting with him:

Mengistu strikes me as a quiet, serious, and sincere leader who is aware of the power of the masses. He is an intellectual personality who showed his wisdom on 3 February. The rightists wanted to do away with the leftists on 3 February. The prelude to this was an exuberant speech by the Ethiopian president in favor of nationalism. Mengistu preempted this coup. He called the meeting of the Revolutionary Council one hour early and had the rightist leaders arrested and shot. A very consequential decision was taken on 3 February in Ethiopia. The political landscape of the country changed, which has enabled them to take steps that were impossible before then. Before it was only possible to support the leftist forces indirectly, now we can do so without any constraints.

Fidel Castro with close ally Mengistu Haile Mariam

The dates are important because it coincides with the beginning of the "Red Terror" in which 2,000 Africans were slaughtered. This was a purge of political opponents. According to press accounts: "Suspects were rounded up, some shot, others garrotted. The bodies were thrown on the streets." There would be a Cuban military presence on the ground until 1988. In December 2006 Ethiopia's former dictator was found guilty of the extrajudicial killing of thousands of political opponents and his involvement in a famine which killed one million people and found guilty of genocide in absentia. A Reuters video report on the 2006 trial is available below:

Video of the international tribunal announcing the guilty verdict on July 26 of war criminal Kaing Guek Eac, otherwise known as "Duch" can be heard with English translation here and is available below in Khmer:

Below is reproduced the statement of the international tribunal regarding the guilty verdict and sentence for Kaing Guek Eac, otherwise known as "Duch":

Subject: Kaing Guek Eav convicted of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949

Date: 26 July 2010

The Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) today found KAING Guek Eav alias Duch guilty of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and sentenced him to 35 (thirty-five) years of imprisonment.

KAING Guek Eav, the first person to stand trial before the ECCC, served as Deputy and then Chairman of S-21, a security centre tasked with interrogating and executing persons perceived as enemies of Democratic Kampuchea by the Communist Party of Kampuchea. S-21 was operational between 1975 and 1979. The Chamber found that every individual detained within S-21 was destined for execution in accordance with the Communist Party of Kampuchea policy to “smash” all enemies. In addition to mass executions, many detainees died as a result of torture and their conditions of detention. Although finding a minimum of 12,272 individuals to have been detained and executed at S-21 on the basis of prisoner lists, the Chamber indicated that the actual number of detainees is likely to have been considerably greater.

The Trial Chamber found that KAING Guek Eav acted with various individuals, and through his subordinates, to operate S-21 and S-24: an adjunct facility used as a re-education camp, and where a minimum of a further 1,300 individuals were detained. It further found that KAING Guek Eav possessed and exercised significant authority at S-21 and that his conduct in carrying out his functions showed a high degree of efficiency and zeal. He worked tirelessly to ensure that S-21 ran as efficiently as possible and did so out of unquestioning loyalty to his superiors. The Chamber found that KAING Guek Eav therefore not only implemented but actively contributed to the development of Communist Party of Kampuchea policies at S-21.

KAING Guek Eav had also been charged with national crimes of premeditated murder and torture, punishable before the ECCC under Article 3 (new) of the ECCC Law. The Chamber, in a separate decision also issued today, disagreed on whether responsibility for these crimes had already been extinguished before the ECCC investigation of the Accused commenced. The absence of a required majority prevented the Chamber exercising its jurisdiction in relation to these national crimes. This decision had no impact on sentence.

KAING Guek Eav was convicted of crimes against humanity (persecution on politicalgrounds) (incorporating various other crimes against humanity, including extermination,imprisonment and torture), as well as numerous grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, for which, by a majority, the Chamber imposed a single, consolidated sentence of 35 (thirty-five) years of imprisonment. In deciding on an appropriate sentence, the Chamber noted a number of aggravating features, in particular the gravity of the offences, which were perpetrated against at least 12,272 victims over a prolonged period.

The Chamber decided that there are significant mitigating factors that mandated the imposition of a finite term of imprisonment rather than one of life imprisonment. These factors include cooperation with the Chamber, admission of responsibility, limited expressions of remorse, the coercive environment in Democratic Kampuchea, and the potential for rehabilitation.

Following an earlier decision of the Chamber of 15 June 2009, the Chamber considered that a reduction in the above sentence of 5 (five) years was appropriate given the violation of KAING Guek Eav’s rights occasioned by his illegal detention by the Cambodian Military Court between 10 May 1999 and 30 July 2007. KAING Guek Eav is further entitled to credit for time already spent in detention, under the authority both of the Cambodian Military Court and the ECCC.
In its judgement, the Trial Chamber declared 66 Civil Parties either to have established their claim to be immediate victims of S-21 or S-24, or to have proved the existence of immediate victims of S-21 or S-24 and close kinship or particular bonds of affection or dependency in relation to them. They have further shown that the death of these victims caused demonstrable injury and that this harm was a direct consequence of KAING Guek Eav’s offending. The Chamber granted the request of these Civil Parties that their names be included in the judgement. The Chamber rejected all Civil Party claims on the grounds of lack of specificity, for as being beyond the scope of available reparations before the ECCC. However, it ordered the compilation and publication of all statements of apology made by the Accused during the trial.

The substantive part of the trial against KAING Guek Eav commenced on 30 March 2009. Closing arguments ended on 27 November 2009 after a total of 72 trial days, during which 24 witnesses, 22 Civil Parties and nine experts were heard. More than 28,000 people followed the proceedings from the public gallery.

Hopefully one day soon the war criminals responsible for mass murders in Cuba such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre will be brought to justice before an international tribunal inside of Cuba. It would be wonderful if it happened as it has happened today on July 26, 2010 in Cambodia. Whether justice is obtained in Cuba in the future or continues to slog its way through in Cambodia will be up to primarily but not only for Cubans and Cambodians in their respective countries but also the international community. Amnesty International has called today's conviction a first step towards justice for the nearly two million killed by the Khmer Rouge and called for more prosecutions of those responsible for the Cambodian genocide. Let us pray and do our part to see that justice is done.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The difference between a prisoner of conscience and a political prisoner

We have set up an office in London to collect information about the names, numbers, and conditions of what we have decided to call "Prisoners of Conscience;" and we define them thus: "Any person who is physically restrained (by imprisonment or otherwise) from expressing (in any form of words or symbols) any opinion which he honestly holds and which does not advocate or condone personal violence." We also exclude those people who have conspired with a foreign government to overthrow their own. – Peter Benenson, Appeal for Amnesty, 1961

Prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo on the left and political prisoner Nelson Mandela on the right. How are they different?

The headline on the Associated Press article published in The Washington Post reads “Number of political prisoners in Cuba still murky.” There are two reasons for this. First the Cuban government has not allowed independent international human rights and humanitarian organizations access to Cuba’s prisons since 1990 that includes the International Committee of the Red Cross. The second reason is that there is confusion between the terms “prisoner of conscience” and political prisoner which are often used interchangeably by the press and the public but are not the same.

Political prisoner

A political prisoner is described by Amnesty International as "any prisoner whose case has a significant political element: whether the motivation of the prisoner's acts, the acts themselves, or the motivation of the authorities." Some political prisoners who were not prisoners of conscience because they advocated or participated in violence are: Nelson Mandela , Fidel Castro, and Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo. A political prisoner can be violent or non-violent. An armed struggle in which soldiers and civilians are targeted as took place in Cuba during the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship (armed opposition political violence beginning on July 26, 1953 with Fidel Castro's assault on the Moncada barracks) would be an example of a violent political action. Those captured would be political prisoners not prisoners of conscience.

There are two examples of American political prisoners that are often called prisoners of conscience but considering Amnesty International's definition of the term are the opposite of that: Mumia Abul Jamal and Assata Shakur. Both were members of the Black Panther Party which as a Maoist revolutionary movement advocated carrying rifles and shotguns in public demonstrations, and whose members on numerous occasions engaged in shoot outs with the police. Both Mumia Abul Jamal and Assata Shakur were arrested, tried, and convicted for murder for the shooting deaths of police officers: Daniel Faulkner and Werner Foerster respectively. Assata Shakur escaped to Cuba in 1979 and is still exiled their a fugitive from justice, but on her website continues to advocate revolutionary violence. She has reproduced on her website the Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerilla by Carlos Marighella which has a chapter on terrorism and in its 1969 introduction states:

The accusation of "violence" or "terrorism" no longer has the negative meaning it used to have. It has acquired new clothing; a new color. It does not divide, it does not discredit; on the contrary, it represents a center of attraction. Today, to be "violent" or a "terrorist" is a quality that ennobles any honorable person, because it is an act worthy of a revolutionary engaged in armed struggle against the shameful military dictatorship and its atrocities.

The Cuban dictatorship published copies of the Mini-Manual in numerous languages and distributed copies worldwide in an effort to encourage urban guerrilla action and terrorism. Thats not to say that there have never been prisoners of conscience in the United States. For example during Woodrow Wilson's presidency and especially during WWI one finds that freedom of speech and association were under assault and numerous Americans were arrested for exercising their basic rights. Today, Travis Bishop, a sergeant in the US army and a conscientious objector is serving a one year prison sentence for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan because of his religious beliefs. Travis is recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience in the United States along with Victor Agosto who is now free but served 30-day sentence in August of 2009.

Prisoner of conscience

A prisoner of conscience is anyone imprisoned for the non-violent exercise of their beliefs. Independent journalists, human rights activists, and Project Varela petitioners currently imprisoned in Cuba are prisoners of conscience. According to Amnesty International, the human rights organization founded in 1961 a "prisoner of conscience" is someone imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs. The term was coined by Amnesty International's founder, civil rights lawyer Peter Benenson. For example in South Africa Steve Biko was identified by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience whereas Nelson Mandela was not. Amnesty International representative's explanation in 1994 is pertinent to the present analysis:

Amnesty International adopted Nelson Mandela as a "forgotten prisoner" following his arrest and conviction in 1962 for alleged passport violations. In 1964 he spoke in his own defense at the famous Rivonia Trial and explained why he had chosen to organize an underground army (MK) and plan a campaign of violence directed towards the end of overthrowing the apartheid regime. Mandela's open avowal of chosing to use violence to further political ends caused a split within the ranks of Amnesty International, which at the time was very much smaller than it is now. One group advocated continuing to work unconditionally for Mandela's release, while the other urged that AI should adhere to its own principle and restrict it's efforts for unconditional release only to those political prisoners which they termed "prisoners of conscience" -- those who had neither used nor advocated violence. This would exclude Mandela from POC status, but would enable AI to continue to work on his behalf in terms of fair trial, and against the possibility of the death penalty.

This issue was debated at length at the 1964 congress in Canterbury England, and it was decided there in favor of the second position -- that is, not to make an exception for Mr Mandela. I would recommend that readers interested in the details and in the early history of Amnesty International should get ahold of a copy of Egon Larsen's --A Flame in Barbed Wire -- (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979). By the way, Amnesty International takes no official position on the justification of the use of violence. It only makes a distinction between those political prisoners who do and do not use or advocate its use as concerns its internal program of action on their behalfs.

President Mandela has long since acknowledged that Amnesty made its decision in good faith, and has thanked the organization for its work on behalf of thousands of other South African prisoners and detainees.

Amnesty has identified Cuban prisoners of conscience and repeatedly called for their release. Many of them arrested in the Cuban Black Spring of 2003 are now being forced into exile. The Cuban Spring documentary (available above) interviewed many of them prior to their 2003 imprisonment and their family members afterwards.

Today, Cuba's Doctor Oscar Elias Biscet and Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi are two high profile examples of prisoners of conscience. Another, also from Cuba like Dr. Biscet, was Orlando Zapata Tamayo who died on February 23, 2010 on a water only hunger strike. Efforts by the dictatorship to rewrite his prison record following his death to present him as a common criminal failed because the charges and convictions were already public record. Amnesty had published years earlier the circumstances surrounding previous arrests and the final arrest that placed Orlando Zapata Tamayo in prison until his untimely death:

Most recently, he was arrested on the morning of 20 March 2003 whilst taking part in a hunger strike at the Fundación Jesús Yánez Pelletier, Jesús Yánez Pelletier Foundation, in Havana, to demand the release of Oscar Biscet and other political prisoners. He was reportedly taken to the Villa Marista State Security Headquarters. He has not been tried yet, but the prosecutor is reportedly asking for three years’ imprisonment for desacato”, “desordenes publicos”, “public disorder”, and “desobediencia.
Organizing teach-ins, engaging in a sit-in and taking part in a hunger strike demanding that your friends still imprisoned from the sit-in be released can send you to a maximum security prison in Cuba and lead you to be recognized as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. This was the case with Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who unlike Nelson Mandela neither participated in or personally advocated violence.

Therefore, every prisoner of conscience is a political prisoner, but not every political prisoner is a prisoner of conscience. It is a narrower definition that applies to individuals exercising their fundamental rights to effect change or simply exercise their freedoms through non-violent means nor advocating the use of violence. One can be non-violent but advocate or personally condone violence and because of that be denied recognition as a prisoner of conscience.

Human Rights vs. National Security Interests

Now governments delight in declaring dissidents traitors and mercenaries in pay to foreign governments and interests, but there are international standards that indicate what a legitimate claim of treason is and what is illegitimate.

A 1995 international conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, drafted a set of principles that provide guidance regarding permissible justifications for restricting rights known today as the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. These principles invoke legitimate reasons to invoke national security interests which are: "protecting a country's existence or its territorial integrity against the use or threat of force, or its capacity to respond to the threat or use of force, whether from an external source, such as a military threat, or an internal source, such as incitement to violent overthrow of the government."

The International Consensus

The Johannesburg Principles also outline illegitimate justifications for invoking national security interests which are: "protecting the government from embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing, or to entrench a particular ideology, or to conceal information about the functioning of its public institutions, or to suppress industrial action."

Finally the Johannesburg Principles specify that certain types of expression should always be protected, including criticizing or insulting the government and its symbols; advocating nonviolent change of the government or policies of the government; and communicating human rights information to the outside world. Human Rights Watch in their 1999 report Cuba's Repressive Machinery and in their 2009 report New Castro, Same Cuba find that Cuba's state security laws violate these principles, illegitimately restricting fundamental rights both in the phrasing of the laws themselves and in their application against nonviolent dissidents.

The Cuban government's attack on foreign funding by either government or non-governmental funding of domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is not unique the Russians and Venezuelans are passing or trying to pass laws to cut off outside funding streams to civil society. While in the Cuban case dissenting from the official government line means in most cases losing your job and in some cases also being kicked out of your home it is easy to see that the policy is to only permit the existence of pro-government voices.

The debate on the objectivity of NGOs receiving foreign government money in a democratic context such as Israel where Canadian government funds are supporting Palestinian non governmental organizations is to have an open and frank dialogue between NGOs not to lock up Palestinians for receiving money from Canada. Another example, similar to Cuba, is Burma where the opposition faces brutal repression and the cutting off of domestic resources and thus needs to look for support from abroad.

Regimes, like the ones in Cuba and Burma, are desperate to suffocate all voices of dissent by demonizing, imprisoning, exiling, or killing them. Amnesty International's identification of prisoners of conscience is an important indicator of the presence or absence of basic freedoms in a country. The Johannesburg Principles exposes regimes, that hide behind the national security facade to impose a climate of fear, for what they are brutal dictatorships that systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens.

There is a big chasm between an individual advocating the violent overthrow of a government and using the force of arms to lash out against representatives of those in power and individuals exercising their fundamental human rights to achieve nonviolent change. The first is a political prisoner and the second is a prisoner of conscience. The question now is will you join with the regime in a complicity of silence or speak out on behalf of those trying to improve human rights standards through non-violent means and make some noise?

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. - Elie Wiesel

Friday, July 23, 2010

Orlando Zapata Tamayo and his ongoing nonviolent victory

A nonviolent moment that shook the dictatorship and exposed its repressive nature to the world.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo

July 23, 2010 marks exactly 5-months since Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after 83 days on a water only hunger strike in which prison officials for more than two weeks denied him water in an effort to break his will and failed. He was protesting the systematic denial of human rights and horrible prison conditions which recently freed prisoners described as subhuman. On February 24, 2010 the New York Times reported on how Orlando Zapata's death had ignited protest actions, among them Guillermo Fariñas.

Five months later the dictatorship's smear campaign continues against Orlando but only succeeds in exposing its own reprehensible nature. The latest Mariel Castro, Raul Castro's daughter, interviewed in Der Spiegel on July 21, 2010 led the interviewer to correct her on the facts. recognition of what he has accomplished is being reported around the world. At first media focus was on the role of the Catholic Church and the Spanish foreign minister, but over time it has shifted especially when taking into account what has brought about the largest release of Cuban political prisoners since Pope John Paul II's 1998 visit. The role of the Ladies in White was highlighted in a previous posting and should not be underestimated. In the video below CNN describing the release of prisoners into exile Orlando Zapata Tamayo's hunger strike and death is referenced:

On July 22, 2010 the Chicago Reader published The Martyr and the Stool pigeon where the author Michael Miner described "Orlando Zapata Tamayo as Cuba's Bobby Sands" and a martyr. Although both men were willing to defend fundamental principles putting their own lives on the line there is a crucial difference between Orlando Zapata and Bobby Sands: Sands advocated political violence in an "armed revolution" and Zapata rejected it embracing nonviolence as practiced by Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Despite Bobby Sands and the Irish Hunger strikers attracting greater international press attention at the time Orlando Zapata Tamayo was able to achieve concrete results that eluded the Irish hunger strikers namely the release of Cuban political prisoners. Orlando Zapata Tamayo also exposed the structural violence undergirding the Cuban dictatorship to the world. This was achieved because, unlike Bobby Sands who had advocated revolutionary violence, Orlando Zapata Tamayo had died has he had lived a practitioner of nonviolent resistance and a human rights defender.

The facts about the kind of man he was can be gathered by information, provided by Amnesty International when declaring Orlando Zapata Tamayo a prisoner of conscience in January of 2004, described his history of activism as follows:

Orlando Zapata Tamayo is a member of the Movimiento Alternativa Republicana,Consejo Nacional de Resistencia Cívica, National Civic Resistance Committee. Alternative Republican Movement, and a member of the

He has been arrested several times in the past. For example he was temporarily detained on 3 July 2002 and 28 October 2002. In November 2002 after taking part in a workshop on human rights in the central Havana park, José Martí, he and eight other government opponents were reportedly arrested and later released. He was also arrested on 6 December 2002 along with Oscar Elías Biscet, but was released on 8 March 2003.

Most recently, he was arrested on the morning of 20 March 2003 whilst taking part in a hunger strike at the Fundación Jesús Yánez Pelletier, Jesús Yánez Pelletier Foundation, in Havana, to demand the release of Oscar Biscet and other political prisoners. He was reportedly taken to the Villa Marista State Security Headquarters. He has not been tried yet, but the prosecutor is reportedly asking for three years’ imprisonment for “desacato”, “desordenes publicos”, “public disorder”, and “desobediencia”.

He has reportedly been moved around several prisons, including Quivicán Prison, Guanajay Prison, and most recently, Combinado del Este Prison in Havana. According to reports, on 20 October 2003 he was dragged along the floor of Combinado del Este Prison by prison officials after requesting medical attention, leaving his back full of lacerations.

Before moving on it is necessary to revisit Orlando's December 6, 2002 arrest. Amnesty in an earlier report offered more details on what happened:
On 6 December 2002 Oscar Elias Biscet González, president of the unofficial Fundación Lawton de Derechos Humanos, Lawton Human Rights Foundation, was detained with 16 other dissidents after they attempted to meet at a home in Havana to discuss human rights.(15) This meeting was reportedly part of an effort by Dr. Biscet to form a grassroots project for the promotion of human rights called "Friends of Human Rights." When police prevented them from entering the home, Oscar Biscet and the others reportedly sat down in the street in protest and uttered slogans such as "long live human rights" and "freedom for political prisoners." They were then arrested and taken to the Tenth Unit of the National Revolutionary Police,Décima Unidad de La Policía Nacional Revolucionaria (PNR), in Havana.
The attempts to smear Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the pro-democracy movement in general is part of a desperate attempt by the dictatorship to diminish the moral authority of the opposition. The regime understands its own shortcomings. Miner went on to describe, in the before mentioned article The Martyr and the Stool pigeon, one of the Cuban agents who infiltrated the dissident movement, Manuel David Orrio, as a "stool pigeon" explaining that this word is a close approximation of the Spanish word "chivato" and quoted The Chicago Tribune's Gary Marx's observation that Orrio seemed kind of "despicable" and "someone with no moral compass." The contrast between Cuban human rights activist and prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the snitch of a brutal dictatorship Manuel David Orrio could not be more stark as laid out in an article of an "alternative weekly."

Orlando Zapata Tamayo posthumously won an important nonviolent battle that along with the Ladies in White and the opposition in general placed the dictatorship on the defensive. It pressured the Castro brothers into the current round of releasing political prisoners. That is not just the opinion of the author of this article but the reported analysis of the BBC, the New York Times, The Guardian, AlJazeera, and many more cite Orlando Zapata Tamayo by name as a major factor leading to the prisoners release.

The MettaCenter reproduces the definition originated by Yehudhah Mirsky of a nonviolent moment:
[A] climactic event in a campaign when all of the resistors’ forces are pitted against all of the oppressor’s forces in an open confrontation. The oppressor has two choices: escalate the oppression in a way that is repugnant to the rest of humanity, or back down and concede. Historical examples include the Dharasana Salt Raid during India’s anti-colonial struggle, the EDSA confrontation during the Philippines People Power movement, and Dr. King’s Selma march. Whether or not a nonviolent moment succeeds depends on numerous factors, some of which can be learned and practiced, such as the strategic efficacy of the resistors. However, not all factors are controllable and sometimes you can miscalculate, as in the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The Cuban dictatorship was faced in early 2010 with two nonviolent moments where it decided to ignore international opinion and escalated its brutality. One was to deny Orlando Zapata Tamayo water during his water only hunger strike and refuse to meet his demands leading to his death and the second was a month later when the regime organized mobs that beat up Cuban women seeking to march peacefully to demand their loved one's freedom.

Five months later the dictatorship is refusing to allow Reina Luisa Tamayo Danger, Orlando Zapata Tamayo's mother, to attend Mass and peacefully march in remembrance of her son and has resorted to acts of repudiation and violence. Yesterday, Reina was able to text blogger Yoani Sanchez the following message which Yoani tweeted on her account:


If this escalates , and the opposition is able to maintain its nonviolent discipline, then another nonviolent moment may emerge where the regime either escalates repression that will generate international and national repugnance or back down.

However, just because the regime has lost a battle does not mean that it will not seek to recoup its losses and maintain power. That is to be expected, and the opposition in the island and friends of freedom everywhere need to be prepared for the next battles in the ongoing struggle for fundamental human rights and freedoms to be restored and respected in Cuba. Nevertheless Alvaro Vargas Llosa is correct when he observes that: "The Black Spring heroes and their Ladies in White have revealed to us, against all odds, that the Castros are not invincible. "

Thank you Orlando Zapata Tamayo. My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family especially today.

Update: This afternoon learned that despite increased repression, detentions and death threats Reina Luisa Tamayo Danger was able, along with about twenty others, to march from her home to the cemetary in Banes, Cuba where her son is buried and honor her son's memory. Audio above provided by the Cuban Democratic Directorate.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Welcome to Spain, Suckers...

Carlos Eire, Yale University professor, Cuban exile and award winning author wrote this for Babalú readers which offers an excellent summary of what the former Cuban prisoners of conscience are now experiencing and calls us to action to keep them together and improve their conditions. It is being reproduced here in an effort to get the word out.

By Carlos Eire

When it comes to news from Castrolandia, which always stinks to high heaven, the deeper one digs beneath the surface, the worse the stench becomes. In the case of the recently released prisoners, the rottenness of the deal struck by Raul Castro and Miguel Angel de Moratinos and the stench generated by it, have reached toxic levels, enough to qualify as poison gas.

The Spanish newspaper ABC has revealed in a recent string of articles that the ex-prisoners are being harassed in a number of ways, almost as if the hand of the Castro regime were still pulling the strings. None of this information has surfaced yet in English-language reports.

The most significant points are these:

  1. The Spanish government has lodged the released prisoners on the outskirts of Madrid, in Vallecas, at the very remote and prison-like Welcome Hostel, which Spanish authorities use as a shelter for illegal aliens.Their isolation is easy to detect on Google Maps, which allows you to view the entire neighborhood at street level. It is a largely industrial area, and the hostel is completely surrounded by warehouses, other large industrial buildings, and vacant lots. Getting back and forth from this remote location is extremely difficult. In one of the articles, one of the wives complains about how isolated they are. Central Madrid is full of cheap hostels which cost less than the one they've been sent to. (Rooms rates at the Welcome Hostel)Come to think of it, this is double exile — not in Cuba, not really in Madrid either.
  2. The hostel at Vallecas has no private bathrooms. One of the prisoners is suffering from chronic diarrhea and has to use the bathroom constantly. He had this to say: “I don’t have the privacy that I need after being tortured for seven years in Castro’s prisons… It is very hard for me to share a collective bathroom with others, given my illness… We are not asking for a five-star hotel, only for something that meets our most basic needs.”
  3. Even though the ex-prisoners have begged to remain together, the Spanish government is hell-bent on splitting them up, claiming that they don't have enough resources in Madrid to take care of them.

    Some will be sent to Valencia, others to Malaga. And you can bet they will not lodge them in a central location. At Malaga, they will be housed at a shelter for illegal African immigrants. In Valencia, they will also be housed at a public shelter (centro de acogida). Julio César Galvez, one of the prisoners, had this to say: “All of us want to stay together, but I have no say about my own fate here in Spain. I am in a prison without bars.”

  4. The Spanish government has only committed to offering aid to the prisoners for 24 months. Spain has unemployment rates of over 20%. Buena suerte ...adiós.
  5. The ex-prisoners are painfully aware of the fact that they are in a “legal limbo” of sorts, since the Minister of Exterior Affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos has classified them as “immigrants” rather than refugees. Yesterday, July 15, they asked at a news conference to be treated with more dignity. One of them, Ricardo González, said : “It is obvious that we are not criminals and that we didn’t come here because of poor economic conditions in our country; we are being persecuted for our ideas.”Another ex-prisoner, Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, said: “If the Zapatero administration has agreed to receive us in Spain, I think that they should at least have the decency of granting us the status and the living conditions that we deserve.”

So, things are really far from hunky-dory. All of these items indicate that the Spanish authorities are complicit in a very heavy-handed attempt to dilute their presence and their impact abroad, and to demoralize them and keep them out of the public eye.

Carlos Herrero at ABC apologizes to the ex-prisoners for the deal struck between Moratinos and Castrolandia, and for the way in which they have been forced into exile. Herrero points out that none of the leading lights of the Left in Spain have come forward to greet the ex-prisoners, even though they are always grandstanding about “prisoners of conscience” elsewhere. He sums up the whole deal by saying: “Welcome to Spain, anyway, and enjoy the sacred right of freedom. Our government is full of cretins, but here, at least, you can’t be thrown in jail for saying that.”

This information needs to be broadcast far and wide.

And... an international campaign needs to be mounted so the freed prisoners can all stay together.


The British Ambassador to Cuba's Reality Check

Before Moratinos arrived on the scene between March 18, 2003 and December 2004 fourteen prisoners of conscience were released while EU sanctions were in place along with Spain backing greater international pressure on Cuba. The British Ambassador to Cuba until 2004, Paul Webster Hare, in the essay below observes that since the dropping of EU sanctions there were no other mass releases of prisoners until July 2010. This underscores the case that it was the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo after 83 days on hunger strike combined with Ladies in White marching for 7 days on the 7th anniversary of the March 18, 2003 crackdown that brought the dictatorship to the point of being willing to release the remaining prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown.

Former British ambassador to Cuba Paul Webster Hare


It took more than dialogue to free them

Cuban political prisoners are being released because of dialogue, Spanish Minister Moratinos is telling the European Union. He is claiming the Spanish government's approach is vindicated and that the EU Common Position on Cuba should now be abandoned. There is a ``new era'' in Cuba.

The promised release (or exile) of 52 political prisoners is welcome news, but how really did it happen and how should the international community now engage with Cuba?

Dialogue with Cuba is nothing new to the EU. Since the Common Position was agreed upon in 1996, scores of EU ministers from member countries have visited Cuba, and many Cuban government officials have visited Europe. The EU has sponsored major cooperation programs with Cuba and exchanges in science, education, sport and culture. EU tourists and foreign investment have followed. The objective is to promote greater political and economic openness from within Cuba.

This EU dialogue and engagement with Cuba has been achieved with a Common Position. Indeed such instruments are widely used to coordinate EU foreign policy. The EU and Cuba opened a formal EU Commission office in Havana in March 2003 and the Cuban government was delighted.

However, five days later, when the eyes of the rest of the world were on Iraq, the EU reacted to Cuba's crackdown and jailing of the 75, whose releases we see now. The EU imposed diplomatic sanctions on Cuba and invited the dissidents and their families to their parties, alongside members of the government. Fidel Castro was furious, staging massive rallies against the Spanish and Italian embassies and freezing diplomatic contacts. The British embassy received a bomb threat. The solidarity which the EU fostered helped the formation of the Damas de Blanco group. They and Oswaldo Paya have both won EU Parliament prizes. All this was under the Common Position.

Moratinos came to office in 2004 and proposed a radical shift in EU policy. He questioned the purpose of the sanctions, arguing the Common Position stood in the way of ``a serene and confident relationship'' between the EU and Cuba. Moratinos set about negotiating the sanctions away.

Fourteen prisoners were released by December 2004 (while the EU sanctions were still in place) including prominent figures like Raul Rivero, Martha Beatriz Roque and Oscar Espinosa Chepe. Since the dropping of the EU sanctions there were no other mass releases of prisoners -- until July 2010.

Moratinos' diplomacy has involved regular contact with the Cuban government. Yet when in Havana he has refused to meet opposition figures and did not question the Cuban government's record on human rights. In 2009 Moratinos said that the scrapping of the Common Position on Cuba would be a centerpiece of the Spanish EU presidency in the first half of 2010.

Why? Because it was disrespectful to the Cuban government and stood in the way of a ``normal'' relationship between Cuba and the EU.

As often in Cuba policy, events have intervened. Five years after the EU dropped its sanctions, Yoani Sánchez was being attacked, the Damas de Blanco were being harassed and threatened and Orlando Zapata Tamayo had died for the cause of the dissident prisoners. On March 11, the European Parliament condemned the Cuban government for Zapata's death and called for renewed EU attention to human rights. On March 24, President Obama echoed the same sentiments. In April 2010, Cardinal Jaime Ortega gave his now famous, forthright interview to the Catholic Church's Palabra Nueva, and respected Cubans like Silvio Rodríguez and Carlos Varela criticized repression in Cuba.

The prisoner releases are not then simply attributable to ``dialogue.'' The EU has had to play a more versatile role as Cubans themselves have been emboldened. The church's assertiveness followed EU and international outrage and showed what many suspected -- that the church had long underused it potential for political influence.

The church has now embraced the dissidents' cause and wider frustrations. Combined with the opposition's own courage they have forged an effective alliance. But the EU has also continued to focus on Cuba. Its tourists, investment and cooperation are still there. But it refused to abandon the Common Position in June 2010 as Moratinos wanted, postponing their review until September. We see the results today.

Moratinos can claim credit for keeping the EU's attention on Cuba but the firmness of the collective EU in denouncing Cuban repression has surely proved more valuable since 1996. It has helped to produce more than dialogue for its own sake. The EU should heed these lessons when it reviews Cuba policy -- and the continued lack of basic freedoms on the island -- in September.

Paul Webster Hare was British ambassador to Cuba from 2001-04 and was in Havana at the time of the jailing of the 75 political prisoners in 2003. He is also the author of Moncada: A Cuban Story

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cuban Blogger: Concessions, Convenience, & Exits Disguised as Dialogue

This entry is a double copy. The following text was written by Claudia Cadelo and translated to English by good Samaritans at and reproduced by Marc Masferrer on his blog Uncommon Sense which inspired me to do the same. She has summed up in a mere 498 words the zeitgeist of the moment in Cuba. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and I hope that it is taken in that spirit.

"Don't believe, don't fear, don't beg."
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The last days have been dizzying, torn between joy and uncertainty. I didn’t say goodbye to Pablo Pacheco because he sneaked out of the country, I haven’t been able to talk with Pedro Argüelle and I still have my eyes fixed on the image of Fariñas, frozen in the moment when the grimace on his face proved that to take a sip of liquid was, for him, Pure Misery.

I felt a little disconnected, running here and there, from Pinar del Rio to Santa Clara, finding out about everything going on through a flow of text messages that we managed to keep going between some friends. I have seen many people with the faith that one day we will live in a free country, I was struck by the network of solidarity outside Coco’s hospital, a score of his loyal friends and colleagues desperately watching the ups and downs of his health, turning to the clueless, like me, who arrived three hours before the visit, bringing everything they have, and that is: almost nothing. I sincerely regret that not a single journalist has taken the trouble, until now, to talk with these people who for four months, silently, have cared for the life of the freest man in Cuba.

It is sometimes unsettling to see so much courage and the kindness in people, like the mother of Fariñas, and so much indolence and hypocrisy in articles like this*. There are times when it is preferable not to connect to the Internet.

It bothers me deeply, horribly, to see the sleight of hand that has been shown to the voices of civil society in pursuit of a policy so opportunistic towards those who live in my country today: the release of the innocents. At what point in history was the dialog between the Church and the Cuban government, and with Moratinos left as mediator? When will the prisoners who want to live in Cuba be released? Why, in an international airport, don’t “free people” board the plane like the rest of the passengers? If they can come to Cuba whenever they want, why couldn’t they say goodbye to their friends today, or stop and have a cup of coffee at home before leaving the island?

Today for the first time I saw José Luis García Paneque’s face in a photo on the Internet, my feelings are indescribable, this post would become absurd if I indulged all my questions. I hate to say this, but so far only one word describes the achievement of this unique dialog that excludes the protagonists and victims of one of the two parties: Exile.

When at least one of the ex-prisoners of conscience released in Madrid puts his feet on Cuban soil again, when Pedro Argüelles, Eduardo Díaz and Regis Iglesias are in their homes, when the laypersons Dagoberto Valdes and Osvaldo Payá are invited to the negotiations between the government and the Catholic Church, and can express their opinions on equal terms, then we will be engaged in DIALOGUE; until that time we are only talking about concessions, convenience and emergency exits.

* Translator’s note: The link is to an article, in Spanish, titled, “Dissident Cubans in Spain Face an Uncertain Future”