Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Cuban Resistance and the Occupy Movement: Seeking justice on parallel paths

Divide et impera [Divide and conquer] - Julius Caesar
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere - Martin Luther King Jr.

Civic Resistance in Havana in 1994 and Occupy Wall Street in New York City in 2011

Today and tonight the world knows about arrests and demonstrations broken up by the police with reference to the Occupy movement but how many know about what has taken place in Cuba, just 90 miles away from US shores at the same time? New bureaus in Cuba are intimidated by the regime authorities into not fully reporting what is taking place because if they do they face expulsion from the country. The main way to learn what is taking place in Cuba is to follow Cuban activists and bloggers over twitter and that is still limited.

Two activists have been on hunger strike in Cuba since September 28, 2011 protesting the violence and increasing repression against activists by the dictatorship. Their names are Alcides Rivera Rodríguez and Rolando Ferrer Espinosa and they are both in critical condition. Alcides was admitted to the Hospital Arnaldo Milián Castro. At 4:00pm today activists who where at the hospital to support and accompany Alcides Rivera Rodríguez were beaten and arrested by State security units. There whereabouts are unknown. The activists who were assaulted and violently arrested in the hospital are Jorge Luis Pérez “Antúnez”,Yris Pérez Aguilera. Outside the hospital engaged in a sit-in, and also violently arrested were Damaris Moya Portieles, Idania Yánez Contreras, Julio Columbié Batista and Yanisbel Valido.

The reason the activists were present at the hospital is that human rights defenders have been known to die mysteriously from what amounts to purposeful medical neglect as appears to have been the case On October 14, 2011 with Laura Pollan and in 1997 with Sebastian Arcos Bergnes. On February 23, 2010, Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after 83 days on a water only hunger strike protesting torture and ill treatment. Prison authorities contributed to his death by denying him water on and off over a period of 18 days in an effort to break him.

The Occupy movement has a twitter account keeping a running count of arrests. As of October 31, 2011 at 10:00pm the number stood at 2,976. Over the course of 2011 until September 23 conservative estimates placed the number of Cubans arrested at Cuba at 2,221. Other estimates place the number of arrests at over 3,000. In Cuba, a number of the arrests are preemptive. State security agents arrest activists that the authorities believe will take part in a nonviolent protest sometime in the future and hold them until after the demonstration has taken place. The population of the United States is approximately 307 million and the population of Cuba is approximately 11.2 million.

Demonstration by Ladies in White violently broken up by state security agents (March 2010)

The comparison between the two is made here because today in a reply to an article in Women's E-News on women marching and protesting in Cuba there was a comment left that sought to down play what was taking place in Cuba drawing comparisons with the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS). The OWS doesn't need anyone to explain to it how an adversary will attempt to slander and libel a movement, but the Cuban democratic opposition has been the victim of a specially heinous campaign.

When 24-year old Scott Olsen had his skull fractured by a projectile in Oakland, California in the midst of the police breaking up an Occupy Oakland protest on October 25 ,2011 the news was broadcast throughout the country and around the world and widely denounced. But what of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia who was beaten up by the political police for speaking out in a public park on May 5, 2011, required hospitalization, then died three days later. The news circled the world but was blacked out in Cuba.

Occupy Wall Street, Miami, FL in 2011

There are similarities between the Occupy movement and the civic movement in Cuba. Both are confronting injustices in their respective societies and both have opted to resist using nonviolent means. Activists in Cuba are holding workshops on nonviolence and discussing the ideas of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. One of them is Librado Linares, a former prisoner of conscience and member of the Cuban Reflection Movement. The same is being done within the Occupy movement and also over the internet with brief 140 character long rules for activists. One example are the 8 Rules authored by nonviolent action advocate Cynthia Boaz:
1) Nonviolent action AND speech, no matter what. Zero tolerance for violence.
2) Unity of message across orgs & people. Consistent demands, all should know them.
3) There must be a long-term and coherent strategy, not just tactics & actions.
4) Police should be seen as potential recruits to movement, not enemy.
5) Keep national/international audience in mind when framing. Goal is win people over.
6) Defensive strategies never win. Don't respond to attacks using their language.
7) Claim victory whenever possible. Important for morale.
8) Keep anger in check with solidarity actions & humor.
In both instances what is taking place transcends the ideological divide and is a question of basic rights. In both instances the adversary has sought out the age old strategy to divide and conquer while using fear as a wedge. Not to mention using agent provocateurs to discredit the movement.

End the Fed, New York City , NY in 2008

Nevertheless, while there is life there is hope and activists can learn from past mistakes. How to respond constructively to violent repression and maintain the movement whole in order to achieve desired change. One lesson learned time and again over the years is the need to at least speak out against injustice wherever it is present and when possible take action against it. This requires both solidarity and empathy with people of good will from around the world.

Uprising at the Seawall, Havana, Cuba 1994

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