Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Economist remembers Laura Pollán

Laura Pollán Toledo, teacher and human-rights campaigner, died on October 14th, aged 63

THE house at 963 Calle Neptuno, in the centre of Havana, was small, but Laura Pollán kept it beautifully. The grey floor-tiles with their snowflake motif were always swept clean, even though her fluffy mongrel terrier shed his long hair everywhere, and though the door was kept open to get some air in from the bike-filled, rowdy, dusty street. In the front living room she had cane chairs with heart-shaped backs, and triangles of lace decorated the shelves. Outside, the tiny back yard was a jungle of pot plants and climbers, with neatly folded washing hung against the ochre walls. And the tower of the Iglesia del Carmen watched over it all.

But her house was also a cell for liberty. The living-room walls were hung with lists of the names of political prisoners, their photos, and a huge chart that showed them bursting from their chains when her group notched up a success. Prisoners’ wives and daughters crowded there for her monthly Literary Teas. She once got 72 women in, under the slowly turning ceiling fan, and put up 25 overnight. They came from all over Cuba: Pinar del Rio, Santa Clara, Las Tunas, Manzanillo (in the east, where she was born), even from the Sierra Maestra, where Fidel Castro had holed up in the mountains to start his revolution. They gathered at her house because she was central, and had a telephone. After 2003 the phone kept ringing, and she would answer it in a whisper, knowing it was tapped; each call would end with “Cuidado”, “Be careful”. A security camera and floodlights appeared outside her front door, supplementing the plain-clothes men who loitered there. Her bookshelf now held a tiny statue of Santa Rita, the saint of the impossible.

What had started all this was the arrest of her husband, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, for “acting against the territorial integrity of the state”. Seventy-four others were arrested with him in that Black Spring of 2003, and given average prison sentences of 20 years. Ms Pollán knew he had done nothing. The picture of him she wore emblazoned on her T-shirt showed a mild, smiling man, an engineer, who kept his glasses on a cord round his neck. He liked to underline phrases in the newspapers and clip pieces out, organising them under “Politics” or “Environment”. She supposed he was just trying to point out contradictions in the government line. They didn’t discuss it, any more than she took part when his friends from the banned Liberal Democratic Party came round to talk. She would disappear to the kitchen then, making coffee, and leave the men alone.

But they were taken away. Husbands, fathers, brothers, disappeared. Ms Pollán came home from teaching evening class to find 12 state security agents invading her house, carrying away the clippings and two old typewriters. One agent stood by even as she and Héctor tried to say goodbye to each other. Two weeks later she started to bring together the women she kept meeting at the Villa Marista barracks and at various government offices, seeking news of their men. They became the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White.

Marching through Miramar

Ms Pollán came brand-new to campaigning. She was a mother (of Laurita), a housewife and a teacher: someone who loved literature and had taught peasants to read in the early years of the revolution. She had never done anything wilder. Short, blonde and stout, she was not cut out to be hauled into a bus by the police. All she wanted was to see Héctor back, and all the others. Her group would meet each Sunday at the church of Santa Rita in Miramar, Havana’s grandest district, say the rosary, hear mass, and then walk ten blocks in silence along Quinta Avenida on the green verges under the palm trees. The women wore white, symbolising pure intentions, and carried gladioli, a single stem each.

Yet politics crept in. At the end of every march the women would chant “Libertad!”—for Cuba as a whole, as much as for their men. They would throw out pencils with Derechos Humanos on one side and Damas en Blanco on the other, hoping that, slowly, people would pick them up. Enemies called them “mercenaries” and “Ladies in Green”, in the pay of the United States, and Ms Pollán had to admit that they did get American dollars and American parcels for their imprisoned men. Shock mobs of other women were especially bused in to attack them, beat them and pull their hair. Ms Pollán could fight back with the best: when a man called her “Puta!” once, she threw her gladioli in his face. In one battle in September she was crushed against a wall, which may have set off the breathing troubles that killed her.

By then, the 75 prisoners they were campaigning for had been released; most by the intervention of the Catholic Church and the government of Spain, but around 20 by their own efforts. Héctor, gaunt and thin, came out only last February. The numbers of Ladies dwindled, to 15 or so, as their work seemed to be done. But for Ms Pollán it was not done. Her Ladies had to go on marching as long as the laws remained that could fill the prisons again. As long as Cuba was not free, she would go on sitting at her computer with her little dog stretched out on the tiles beside her, alert for the telephone, with her front door open and Santa Rita at the ready, and the ceiling fan turning slowly in the smothering air.

The case of Laura Pollán: Death by Purposeful Medical Neglect

A medical analysis of the painful, tragic and unnecessary death of Laura Pollán

by Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet

Photo from September 24, 2011 of Laura Pollán being scratched during protest

On several occasions I visited in solidarity with the Lady in White Laura Pollán and to present my condolences to her family. During these visits, some dissidents raised concerns to me for the beginning and the fatal outcome of her disease. They wondered if it was possible that the disease had been caused by a bite or scratch by someone. This extreme but real and justified suspicion, by the Cuban opposition is based on the intense and constant repression of a Stalinist Castro police acting with the cruelty and cowardice of terrorists.

The Cuban democratic opposition is subjected to continuous and prolonged stress as a mechanism of destabilization of the political police. This type of stress leads in the human person to an imbalance of their state of health, both physically and mentally. Neutralization is one of the basic techniques in the work of agents of the regime that kill, eliminate or get rid of political opponents, such as forcing an organization to cease their activities or disintegrate completely.

During our turbulent past, the Castro regime has committed multiple extrajudicial political killings that it has disguised as accidents, false legal proceedings, and even street fights, and even diseases without reason or apparently accurate medical diagnosis.

Now, if the Castro government decided to kill with impunity the leader of the Ladies in White it could not have done it with chemicals that trigger the process of poisoning by ingestion, inhalation or skin contact. The reason is that these products are only in the hands of the state and the family access to the corpse, the felony would have been discovered.

The most suitable way the regime would have had to commit this morbid crime would have been through diseases caused by elements within the broad field of biotechnology in the country. To the point, that the government of Cuba has been included in several lists of the Department of State of the United States as a bioterrorism threat to the free world.

It is common knowledge that Laura Pollán was bitten and scratched by a State Security agent on September 24 of this year and eight days later fell ill in critical condition. As a physician, immediately I asked myself the following questions: Which diseases can be transmitted by direct contact from person to person? Were the scratches caused by human nails or sharp objects? What is the epidemiological state in the region and the nation?

The transmission of disease through a human bite is rare not only in Cuba but also in the world. This should at least meet two characteristics, namely that the bite lacerate the human skin and infected salivary secretions of the perpetrator come in contact with her, or that the bite lacerate the human skin and that the aggressor have lesions in the buccal mucosa allowing offender's blood to make contact with the wound of the victim.

In both cases there are few diseases described that can be transmitted this way. One is human rabies, which is a very rare disease. In fact, it has only confirmed that it occurred when checked for in corneal transplants of persons who have died of a undiagnosed central nervous system disease. In some regions where the disease is endemic, human autopsies show evidence of rabies as low as 1 to 2%. The animals are the reservoir of the disease, especially dogs, cats, bats and nearly all mammals. In Cuba, for example, there are no diagnosed cases of human transmission.

Actinomycosis is another rare disease transmitted by the bite of a human being. Its natural reservoir is man. The infectious agent Actin-mycesisraelii is an anaerobic organism that produces a chronic infection localized of granulomas strongly indurated of purulence and fibrosis. They are located in the abdomen, chest and jaw. In these cases septicemia spread may occur with a generalized infection.

There are other human infectious diseases that are transmitted through blood and saliva. Needles, syringes and other instruments contaminated from intravenous use is another common means of spread of infectious entities. In some cases the infection can be spread by contamination of wounds or lacerations, as well as mucous membrane exposure to infected blood and blood products.

On the other hand, there are diseases such as hepatitis B and C, AIDS, infectious mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus infection, syphilis, Ebola-Marburg and others that could be transmitted by infected blood contact with wounds or skin lacerations. Although in reality, the medical literature contains no specific examples of these processes cases transmitted by human bites. For its part, infectious mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus and hepatitis B are infectious in human saliva and one of the routes of infection is the kiss. It is also possible that skin wounds in contact with contaminated saliva but not in the medical literature there are recorded cases of human bites.

Also, through sharps all the diseases described in the previous paragraph can be transmitted. But this does not seem to have been the method used to attack Laura. The scratches were made by human hands, in medical literature, does not know of any disease that has been transmitted in this way. In the case of shigellosis bacteria may be present in the nails of individuals but their way of transmission is by direct or indirect fecal-oral route.

What is definitely motive for concern is the epidemiological state in the island. In our country there are several infectious processes that trigger epidemics in several provinces, especially in Havana. These epidemics are those of the H1N2 influenza virus, the respiratory syncytial and dengue. The first two were publicly acknowledged by the government authorities in the Saturday October 12, 2011 edition of Granma newspaper. The dengue epidemic remains hidden so as not to alarm foreign tourists and threaten desperately needed foreign exchange.

However, in the course followed by the disease in Laura Pollán there existed things that caught my attention as a physician and that led me to an early diagnosis. Vomiting, chills, joint pains, severe weakness, fever and shortness of breath are associated with an epidemic of dengue. Incredibly, the patient's skin was not reviewed to discover escarlatiforme or maculopapular, or the presence of petechiae that are unmistakable signs of this process, nor indicated the loop or tourniquet test that is done at the foot of the bed.

Nor were immunological investigations performed for the diagnosis of dengue in the health center where she was treated. Four days after admission to the intensive care unit of Hospital Calixto Garcia, precisely because of the orientation of an independent physician and friend of the family, it is decided to search in the skin of the patient and verify the presence of petechiae on the chest.

Before being admitted the hemoglobin was at 12g/l and two days after admission to hospital 6g/l, because there was a bleeding that was never reported to the family. Even transfused 500mm/l of blood, increasing hemoglobin 8.6g/l. Arterial blood pressure was 74/57 that constitutes a low differential pressure. So, the patient is in a serious state, I would say in an irreversible vascular shock, which went from a moderate awareness to stupor and finally coma.

This alteration of consciousness was not communicated to the family. The proof is that while they had their eyes occluded with moist gauzes, method utilized in comatose cases, in the medical reports limited themselves to saying that they had her sedated. Hemoglobin dropped from 12 to 6 g/l. Why? For post-hemorrhagic anemia due to hemolytic anemia. This last factor explains the final diagnosis that they gave the patient of an acute respiratory failure because of the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

But there was no jaundice of skin or mucosa, or other hemolytic sign. But when I saw the skin of the corpse during the course of the funeral it was translucent and white. As could be described as pale alabaster skin that is caused by acute hemorrhage and contrasts with hemolytic anemias where the skin takes on a yellowish color. There was also a generalized edema that deformed her, defining feature of renal failure, improper RSV and very common in hemorrhagic dengue fever/dengue shock syndrome (DHF/DSS).

Dengue viruses include immunological types 1, 2, 3 and 4 and are flaviviruses, which are transmitted by arthropods, generally the mosquito Aedes aegypti. These same viruses cause hemorrhagic dengue fever. In rare cases, primary infections with dengue virus cause a syndrome of hemorrhagic fever (HF). Although most frequent to the onset of HF is the previous infection with heterologous dengue predisposes.

However, the patient Laura Pollán's was misdiagnosed with the illness of respiratory distress or acute respiratory failure because of the respiratory syncytial virus. This is a negative RNA virus of the paramyxovirus family. The largest number of affected is between infants and children that in certain environments such as nurseries, approaches 100%. At the age of two years most children will have been infected. And it is the cause of 25% of hospitalizations for pneumonia in infants and young children and 75% of cases of bronchiolitis in this age group.

In older children and adults the disease is milder than in infants. In adults, it appears as a common cold. In the elderly, often in patients admitted to health facilities, and patients with immunodepressive process or treatment serious infections appear of the lower portion of the airways. None of these symptoms is unrelated to the physical condition of the patient who, though a person who started the third age and suffered from chronic but compensated illnesses, behaved like a healthy person. This patient presented failures in all vital organs: lung, brain, heart, liver, pancreas, kidney and hematopoietic system observed in hemorrhagic dengue fever and not in respiratory failure by syncytial virus.

Nevertheless dengue can cause hemorrhagic shock syndrome or disseminated vascular coagulation. Both processes can cause acute respiratory failure, which would justify its severity and death. There is concrete evidence that the closest relatives, friends and dissidents expressed suspicions about a possible assassination by the communist regime's political police. Now, what has been proven over and over again is the stubborn nature of the regime at this sad, tragic and unnecessary death.

Original Spanish text available here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Silicon Valley Standard

A Magna Carta for the Internet Age?

One of the objectives of the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference is the creation of a Silicon Valley Standard (SVS). This is a principled statement incorporating the issues discussed at the 2011 Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference. The document includes 15 principles based on the 15 workshop topics covered at the conference.

The document is designed to complement other existing frameworks and uses the international human rights framework as its foundation. These principles served as a useful basis for discussion during the panels and represent a standard, which we hope the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector will use after the conference.

1. Technology and Revolutions: Technology companies play an increasingly important role in enabling and supporting the end user’s capacity to exercise his or her rights to freedom of speech, access to information, and freedom of association. ICT companies should respect those rights in their operations and also encourage governments to protect human rights through appropriate policies, practices, legal protections, and judicial oversight.

2. On Human Rights: In both policy and practice, technology companies should apply human rights frameworks in developing best practices and standard operating procedures. This includes adhering to John Ruggie’s Protect, Respect, and Remedy framework outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

3. Frontline Lessons from Other Sectors: Technology companies should look to the innovative examples and incorporate important lessons from other sectors, such as the apparel and extractive industries. The experiences of these sectors can and should guide them as they develop their human rights policies. These must be reflected in their operating practices in a transparent and accountable manner.

4. On Internet Regulation: To ensure innovation and the protection of human rights, internet regulation should only take place where it facilitates the ongoing openness, quality, and integrity of the internet and/or where it enables or protects users’ ability to freely, fully, and safely participate in society. To achieve this end, it is critical that ICT corporations engage in multistakeholder dialogue.

5. Human Rights by Design: During the research, development, and design stages, technology companies should anticipate how and by whom their products and services will be used. Developing a human rights policy and engaging in due diligence at the earliest stages helps companies prevent crises, limit risk, and enable evidence-based assessment of company activities and reporting.

6. Encryption of Web Activity: Effective internet security is essential to ensuring freedom of speech, privacy, and the right to communicate. Technology companies must provide a basic level of security (e.g., HTTPS and its improvements) to their users by default and resist bans and curtailments of the use of encryption.

7. Getting Practical: Technology companies should implement human rights-respecting policies and practices in their day-to-day operations. These companies should utilize multi-stakeholder and cross-sector dialogues to review challenges faced within their markets with a view to improve their best practices.

8. Coding for Human Rights: Recognizing the human rights implications in code, engineers, developers, and programmers should ensure that technology is used in the exercise of fundamental freedoms, and not for the facilitation of human rights abuses. Technology companies should facilitate regular dialogue between engineers, executive leadership, and civil society to ensure that all parties are informed of the potential uses and abuses of their technologies.

9. Social Networking: Social networking platforms are both increasingly important to their users’ capacity to communicate and associate online and are most used when customers trust the service’s providers. When companies prioritize the rights of their customers, it is good for the long-term sustainability of their business, their brand, and their bottom line.

10. Intermediary Liability: In an era of computer-mediated communications, freedom of speech, association, and commerce increasingly depend on internet intermediaries (e.g., broadband service providers, web hosting companies). These intermediaries should not be required to determine the legality of, or held liable for, the content they host.

11. Legal Jurisdiction in a Borderless Virtual World: To foster the continued growth of an open and interconnected internet, technology companies should work alongside governments and civil society to ensure that users’ rights are protected to the fullest extent possible. Governmental mandates that infringe upon freedom of expression and other human rights should be interpreted so as to minimize the negative impacts of these rules and regulations.

12. Visual Media and Human Rights: Technology companies should pay special attention to the unique human rights challenges of visual media technologies and content — especially on issues such as privacy, anonymity, consent, and access.

13. Social Media in Times of Crisis: Technology companies should resist efforts to shut down services and block access to their products, especially during times of crisis when open communications are critical. Blanket government surveillance of corporate networks should be resisted. Moreover, the burden of proof for privacy-invasive requests should lie with law enforcement authorities, who should formally, through court processes based on probable cause and rule of law, request a warrant for each individual whose information they would like to access.

14. Privacy: Technology companies should incorporate adequate privacy protections for users by default. Furthermore, technology companies should resist over-board requests from governments to reveal users’ information, disclose no more information about their users than is legally required, and inform their users so that they can choose to legally respond to these requests. Furthermore, technology companies should be transparent about how user data is collected, processed, and protected — including disclosures of unauthorized access to user data.

15. Mobile and Telcos: Telecommunications companies must protect their users’ fundamental human rights, including support for the protection of human rights in their operating licenses, and ensure that the free flow of communication is not curtailed or interfered with, even in times of crisis.

Access is an international NGO that promotes access to the internet as a means to free, full, and safe participation in society and the realization of human rights. To learn more, please visit: or email:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The new human right that defends old human rights: internet access

Reflections from the live stream of the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference

2011 will hopefully be looked back as the year when both the right to internet access and the threat to internet freedom were both recognized and tech companies collaborating with human rights organizations set out standards to address the problem and uphold a fundamental right. Only time will tell if human rights defenders working with tech companies can ensure that the internet be a space where freedom of expression exists along with a right to privacy. Today, both are under serious assault.

On May 16, 2011 Frank LaRue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, presented a report that recognizes:
While blocking and filtering measures deny users access to specific content on the Internet, states have also taken measures to cut off access to the Internet entirely. The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In the map above from AccessNow there is one country in the Western Hemisphere that selectively filters political content that has been identified and that is Cuba. In addition the regime has done everything possible to limit access to the populace.

The first lesson is that technology today is neutral. The same face book page that assists activists in organizing can also assist repressive regimes in both identifying them and where they can put their hands on them. Until now, for the most part, the technologies that human rights defenders have used on the internet were not specifically designed with human rights in the minds of the developers.

Hopefully, that will change. Today there are companies that have and are collaborating both with human rights activists and human rights violators. There are companies that develop software to spy on citizens and censor internet content. Human rights defenders have been identified by some of these companies for repressive regimes leading to their detention, imprisonment, torture and death. Other companies have completely cut off service and sent out threatening messages for the regime in power at a moment of crisis.

For example, in Egypt Vodafone complied with Egyptian government demands to cut off internet access and sent out pro-regime text messages during the uprising there. Anti-virus and filtering software company McAfee (now owned by Intel) worked hand-in-hand with the ben Ali regime in Tunisia to help it block unwanted websites. In China, Yahoo offered information on Chinese dissidents that led to their imprisonment. Cisco provides some of the critical technology behind the Great Firewall of China, the filters that blocks citizens from reaching the uncensored Internet and is in talks to provide the networking equipment that will enable an extensive surveillance system in China that will employ hundreds of thousands of cameras.

Video streaming by Ustream
Panel on Visual media technologies, content and human rights at Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference

Over two days on October 25th-26th, 2011 at the Mission Bay Conference Center, San Francisco the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference was held with both the sponsorship and participation of Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Mozilla, Skype and other technology companies. Summaries and some of the videos of the various workshops are available online and are required viewing both for techies and human rights defenders.

Brett Solomon, executive director of Access Now, the New York nonprofit that organized the Conference was cited in the San Francisco Chronicle laying out whats at stake:
"One of the key things we're trying to do is to put a name on this issue, to recognize that companies' technologies and platforms have human rights implications. ... They have to fully recognize in advance that they can't make decisions without considering how these technologies are going to play out in people's real lives. ...Sometimes it can be a question of life or death."
Over the course of the two days there were a lot of panels that focused on defense: protecting privacy, ethical business practices, informing users of the dangers of having their identities and locations exposed to human rights violators and technologies used to spy on and censor them. However, one panel that caught my attention because it went on the offensive was the one on Visual media technologies, content and human rights. Panelists included: Sam Gregory : Program Director,,Thor Halvorssen : Founder, Oslo Freedom Forum, Hans Eriksson : Founder/ Executive Chairman, Bambuser, Sameer Padania : CEO, Macroscope (moderator) and Steve Grove : Head of News and Politics, YouTube.

An excerpt of the conversation transcribed by Katherine Maher is reproduced below:
Sam Gregory: A lot of video shot on mobile leaks a lot of information about where people are. And there were Egyptian activists who chose to show their locations–Wael Abbas (@waelabbas) wanted people to see his location, so he could demonstrate where there were roadblocks. There is a flip side. You know, if you’re in Syria, you don’t want to be geolocated, you might not want to be visible in the frame, and you might not want to have the background imagery in the frame. We know there are 5 people who want to be seen but a ton of people who do not want to be seen on youtube. And with certain things, like anonymizing your IP address, is easy, but anonymizing video is a big challenge. You have to go into your FinalCut Pro and try to obscure the identities. This is a major challenge. As Alaa (@alaa) highlighted in opening speech, the activist from Egypt said, activists are only 1% of the users, but these issues should be relevant for the other 99%. For those not in Syria, those who might not be out, those who are subject to domestic violence, for example and don't want to have their images shared all over the net.


Eriksson: We don’t force people to give away information whatsoever when registering and broadcasting. But the challenge is, how do you educate the user? For example, Egypt again - Ramy Raoof (@ramyraoof) did tremendous work creating manuals in Arabic about how to be safe using Bambuser, and distributing this in all possible ways. We want you to be safe using Bambuser. I don’t know if it is relevant to users in North Africa or the Middle East, but we’re a Swedish company, and we have fair legislation, we’re a democracy, and our servers are protected under Swedish law. Its a difficult question you want to get it out and be anonymous at the same time. One request we’ve had from quite a few is that, they have poor connections, or no connections, but we want to use Bambuser. We do live broadcasting, but now, starting next week, we’ve created an offline opportunity for recording and uploading. And really, this is 99% percent in response to our users in North Africa and the Middle East. We are a private company want people to see Bambuser as a full video service, whether you have a data connection or not.

Thor Halvorssen: One of the main problems is a resource problem. Witness puts cameras everywhere, but of course, there are a number of places they cannot put cameras, they can’t fund being everywhere. There are 6 or 7 countries that have no internet whatsoever. A great example of places to have cameras would be Cuba, another great example is North Korea. Sometimes video takes months to travel out, and it become difficult to know who actually took the video, and what you’re really looking at specifically other than a human rights violation. What do we do with this? So one suggestion for what companies can continue to do might be to start assigning by topic–for instance if a general election is going to take place next year in 3 different countries in Africa and 2 countries in Latin America this is something that from a human rights perspective is absolutely essential. To be able to have citizen journalists rather than electoral observers. If it can be put together, rather than curating a whole bunch of news, the elections in such and such a place, just have a place for raw footage from a certain location, like elections. So rather than look at things like armed conflict, which is difficult to look at, video, and Transparency brought by this is far beyond what international observers can do in regards to instantaneous attention. A 5 minute clip from one country, can end up opening a Pandora’s Box questioning about what really happened that puts aside political considerations of international observers. If we declare this election fraudulent we are going to have fighting in the streets. What are we going to do? This were the crowd is much wiser than some appointed political actors.


Thor Halvorssen: People who go on the streets, and are willing to die, often say, by all means, go put my image out there, I’m willing to to this. And if the Bahraini government goes ahead and persecutes them, it gives us yet another opportunity to highlight that hypocrisy and violence. I’m a believer of the more, the better–when you start using the argument of privacy, that’s the same opportunity that governments user to censor. more information may be messy, but censorship is invariably messier.

Hans Eriksson: Of all the hundreds of thousands of videos from the Arab Spring on Bambuser, we yet to have one take down request. It’s possible many people don’t know they’re on video. But this is where the importance of education comes in. The cameras are all around, they’re closer than you think.

Gregory: People choose to take risks, but at the moment, they don’t really have options about how to take them. It’s important to remember that the Arab Spring is really just the tip of the iceberg on human rights. Sex workers fighting police violence in Macedonia, elderly who face physical abuse, sexual violence in South Africa–these are the other stories. I think people need additional controls of how these images are used. I do agree, in the broader sense, that more cameras are good. And that informed consent and privacy are inversely proportional to power.

This is just one small excerpt there was much more that is worth reviewing and reflecting on over the two days of the conference.

The consequences of recognizing the right to internet access as a fundamental human right and the decision of some members of Silicon Valley to commit to taking human rights into account while developing products can have a huge impact. It wouldn't be the first time. The personal computer pioneered by the likes of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple Computer, in the mid 1970s took computing power that had been for decades controlled by government and large corporations and turned it over to individuals in their homes. Witness was founded in 1992 by Peter Gabriel with the aim of turning the cameras around on Big Brother and monitoring those in power and the abuses they commit against the individual by empowering individuals with cameras. Both decisions to take action on behalf of the individual by a small group of individuals changed the world for the better. Let us hope that it is now repeated in 2011.

The stakes are high. Although the international community recognizes the right to internet access. It is endangered around the world with governments using the internet to spy on citizens, setting up firewalls to censor what users have access to and using kill switches to turn off internet access in the midst of a political crisis. Will tech companies assist in defending the right to uncensored/unmonitored internet access or continue in business with those who seek to undermine what is now recognized as a human right? The Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference offers hope that a number of technology companies are willing to take human rights into consideration.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Courageous Cubans crushing Castro's propaganda offensive with the facts

"In all honesty, in Latin American there is only one dictatorship: the Cuban." -Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica, Editorial Mexicana, 10/24/11

Despite their best efforts to spin and manipulate the media in order to cover up the dismal human rights situation on the island the facts are overshadowing the dictatorship's "good press." The ability of Cuban activists to tweet what is happening in Cuba in real time is circumventing both the official press and the cowed international bureaus in the island.

Late yesterday afternoon at the same time that state security carried out an operation against activists gathering at a park in Havana, Yoani Sanchez reported about it first tweeting, "Something is happening right now at the Martin Luther King park on 23 St in Vedado. Huge police operation, I'll find out the details!" In a follow up tweet she fulfills her earlier promise explaining: "Several civic activists prepared a meeting today at the park, but were prevented by the [state security] operation from reaching it. There were many detainees" In a final tweet on the subject Yoani identifies: "Detention confirmed of activists Sara Martha Fonseca and Rodolfo Ramirez to impede them arriving at the park."

Martin Luther King Jr. park in Havana, Cuba

In less than 420 characters over three tweets the world learns that Cuban state security has engaged in an act of repression detaining many Cuban civic activists and the names of two of the detainees: Sara Martha Fonseca and Rodolfo Ramirez. Sara Martha Fonseca's son, Julio León Fonseca confirms the names of the two identified detainees in Havana over the phone with the Cuban Democratic Directorate.

The ability to inform both via twitter and telephone is not due to the authorities reducing limits on criticism but rather activists circumventing censors and controls. They have paid a steep price for informing the world. Yoani Sanchez has been kidnapped and beaten up. Julio León Fonseca has suffered physical violence and arrest at the hands of state security trying to obtain information on the whereabouts of Cuban civic activists.

Cuban civic activists using the internet to inform the world have been vilified in the official media and are threatened with prison creating what human rights organizations have described as a climate of fear. Human rights defenders have suffered libel, threats and imprisonment in order to document and report what is happening. In the past, a founding member of the Cuban Committee of Human Rights, died of medical neglect after a long and unjust imprisonment.

Nevertheless, courageous Cubans continue to speak out and risk all to get the facts out to the world and the dictatorship can try to hide its true nature but fewer and fewer are falling for the regime's lies.

Monday, October 24, 2011

2011 "Steadfast in Protest" report: Cuba excerpt

Excerpt on Cuba taken from the 2011 report, "Steadfast in Protest" by The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint program created in 1997 by the International Federation for Human Rights and World Organization Against Torture) officially released today at 2:15pm.


Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Annual Report 2011

In 2010, the Cuban Government released a number of political prisoners, including human rights defenders who had been in prison since March 2003. Nevertheless, in 2010 and 2011, low profile harassment continued against human rights organisations, as did obstacles to freedom of assembly and police repression of peaceful demonstrations in which human rights defenders participated.

Political context

Three years after Mr. Raúl Castro came to power, the Cuban Government initiated certain economic changes with the aim of improving the difficult situation affecting the Cuban population. However, there were no major reforms agreed during the VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (Partido Comunista Cubano - PCC), held in April 2011 for the first time in thirteen years, during which Mr. Raúl Castro was elected as First Secretary of the PCC, replacing Mr. Fidel Castro.

In 2010 and 2011, the human rights situation in Cuba continued to be worrying and precarious and the Cuban Government remained hostile to any criticism at the national or international level. Within Cuba, political opposition and more generally, freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, continued to be strongly repressed using force, judicial harassment and arbitrary detention.

An international in situ visit on the human rights situation in the island was once again prevented from taking place. In this respect, Mr. Manfred Nowak, then United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, expressed his enormous disappointment that he could not agree on a date with the Cuban Government for his fact-finding mission before the end of his mandate, on October 30, 2010. Added to this, observation of the human rights situation in Cuban prisons continued to be prohibited and was viewed as an act of “treason” or an “attack on Cuban sovereignty”.

The above is particularly alarming taking into account the difficult situation in Cuban prisons. Excessive and abusive imprisonment is one of the main reasons for the massive overcrowding which currently exists in around 200 prisons and labour camps on the island, added to ill-treatment, beatings, humiliation and inadequate nutrition to which prisoners are subjected. Political dissidents, human rights defenders and common prisoners all found themselves in this situation without distinction, and the health of some prisoners was badly affected. This situation causes the death of a number of political prisoners every year in Cuba, due to ill-treatment, illnesses which were not treated and suicides. The indifference with which prisoners’ protests or illnesses are treated, was demonstrated by the death, on February 23, 2010, of Mr. Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political dissident who had been incarcerated since March 20, 2003.

Release of human rights defenders

In 2010 and 2011, the Cuban Government released a number of political prisoners, including human rights defenders, as part of an agreement with the Catholic Church. This was achieved following media coverage after the death of Mr. Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the actions of Mr. Guillermo Fariñas, a journalist and human rights activist, founder of a centre for civil training and an independent press agency. Mr. Fariñas began a hunger strike the day after Mr. Zapata’s death, which lasted for 135 days, to demand the release of all political prisoners in a precarious state of health.

The agreement with the Cuban Government in 2010 and 2011 included the release of 52 people who were still in prison and who were among the 75 people arrested and sentenced in March 2003 during the “Black Spring”, when a large number of defenders and political opposition members were arrested and faced summary trials. Of the 52 people freed between July 7,2010 and March 23, 2011, forty were obliged to leave Cuba immediately for Spain and only twelve stayed in Cuba, as they refused to leave the country as a condition to leaving prison.

Among these 52 people are Messrs.Normando Hernández González, Director of the Camagüey College of Journalism (Colegio de Periodistas de Camagüey), and Oscar Elias Biscet, Founder and President of the Lawton Foundation (Fundación Lawton), a non-governmental organisation that promotes the study, defense and reporting of human rights in Cuba. In addition, throughout 2010 and 2011, other human rights defenders were released, including Messrs. Juan Bermúdez Toranzo and José Luis Rodríguez Chávez, National Vice-President and Vice-President respectively of the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights (Fundación Cubana de Derechos Humanos), imprisoned in 2008, Mr. Julián Antonio Monés Borrero, President of the “Miguel Valdés Tamayo” Cuban Movement for Human Rights (Movimiento Cubano por los Derechos Humanos “Miguel Valdés Tamayo”), imprisoned in 2008, Mr. Ramón Velázquez Toranzo, a journalist from the independent agency Libertad, imprisoned in 2007, Dr. Darsi Ferrer Ramírez, Director of the “Juan Bruno Sayas” Centre for Health and Human Rights (Centro de Salud y Derechos Humanos “Juan Bruno Sayas”), imprisoned in 2009, and Mr. José Agramonte Leyva, observer-visitor with the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional - CCDHRN), imprisoned in 2010.

Continuous acts of “low profile” harassment and repression against human rights defenders Human rights defenders continued to suffer from “low profile” repression, including constant harassment and surveillance, detentions lasting hours, weeks or days, and short interrogations accompanied by ill-treatment, intimidation in defenders’ workplaces or meeting places, confiscation of work material and threats.

One example of this repression was the harassment against the Cuban Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs (Consejo de Relatores de Derechos Humanos de Cuba - CRDHC) in 2010 and 2011. On January 11, 2010, a State security official arrived at the CRDHC building and asked its owner, Mr. Sergio Díaz Larrastegui, to appear that same day before the political police force and the chief of police in La Habana, threatening to use force if he did not so. Later, on April 8, 2010, the independent journalists and members of CRDHC, Mr. Juan Carlos González Leiva, Ms. Tania Maceda Guerra and Ms. Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, as well as the activist Mr. Julio Ignacio León Pérez, were held under arrest for five hours in the seventh unit of the national revolutionary police, in the municipality of La Lisa, and their telephone books were confiscated.

Likewise, on July 31, 2010, agents from the political police force stopped the vehicle that Ms. Tania Maceda Guerra and Mr. Juan Carlos González Leiva and others were travelling in. All of the occupants of the vehicle were threatened and held under arrest for several hours. Finally, on January 19, 2011, a delegate from the local Government, a State security official and a lieutenant colonel from the Interior Ministry entered the offices of CRDHC’s information centre, where they found Ms. Maceda Guerra, Ms. Odalis Sanabria Rodríguez, and Messrs. Juan Carlos González Leiva, Pedro Enrique Machado and Raúl Borges Álvarez, members of CRDHC’s information centre, and remained there for forty minutes. During this time the State agents threatened the defenders with death, physical aggression and sanctions against themselves and against Mr. Díaz Larrastegui. None of these events were denounced before the authorities for fear of reprisals.

Obstacles to freedom of peaceful assembly

Defenders who attempted to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly were threatened and harassed on a number of occasions. Repression against freedom of assembly even reached the point of disrupting meetings in private houses, arresting and threatening those who attempt to meet there.

Within this context, on a number of occasions the Cuban security forces prevented the “Ladies in White” (Las Damas de Blanco), a group composed of wives and other family members of prisoners of conscience on the island, from peacefully demonstrating for the release of incarcerated dissidents. Habitually, they do these peaceful demonstrations after mass every Sunday. The Ladies in White were victims on a number of occasions of acts of intolerance, insults and threats.

Among these incidents, on October 7, 2010, Ms. Sonia Garro Alfonso and Ms. Mercedes Fresneda Castillo, part of the support group of the Ladies in White, were held under arrest by police officers in the area of El Vedado and driven to the 21 and C unit of the national revolutionary police, where they were severely beaten for having demonstrated against racism in Cuba.

In light of Mr. Zapata Tamayo’s delicate health condition, on February 3, 2010, a large protest was organised outside the hospital where he was being treated. The protesters continued with a peaceful, public march through the main streets of the city of Camagüey. The march was repressed by a political police operation, during which 24 protesters were violently arrested.
Some of those arrested were beaten, suffered ill-treatment, were insulted, and crammed into a car which transported them to different detention centres where they were held under arrest in deplorable and overcrowded conditions. Among those imprisoned was Mr. Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, who was taken to an isolation cell in State security operational headquarters. The authorities did not inform his family of his whereabouts until February 7, 2010. Finally, the charges against Mr. Rodríguez Lobaina were not filed and he was released on February 7. However, as of April 2011, the case still remained open.

In response to the repression carried out during the demonstration of February 3, 2010, several members of the Camagüey Human Rights Unit (Unidad Camagüeyana de Derechos Humanos) responded to the appeal of Mr. Zapata Tamayo’s mother to hold a protest on February 4, 2010. The protesters were arrested and transferred to the third unit of the national revolutionary police force in Camagüey. On February 8, 2010, the detainees from both demonstrations were released without charge, except for one person. Additionally, on March 16, 2011, Mr. Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina was arrested again in the province of Guantánamo in order to prevent his participation in the commemoration of eight years since the “Black Spring”. He was released without charge on March 21.

[In the original document you will find sources and footnotes as well as a chart on page 203 outlining four urgent interventions issued by the Observatory between January 2010 and April 2011.]

Open Letter from Cuba's Ladies in White

Ladies in White rename themselves Ladies in White "Laura Pollán" Movement

Berta Soler at La Merced church entrance in Sept 2011

We hereby declare that:

On October 18, 2011, the day that Literary Tea # 101 was held, The Ladies in White there agreed with the following:

First, For respect and honor of Laura Pollan, begin to identify the feminist group Ladies in White "Laura Pollan" Movement.

Second: Maintain discipline, courage, dignity and peaceful struggle for freedom of political prisoners and the defense and promotion of human rights.

Third: To ratify as representatives of the group Ladies in White "Laura Pollan" Movement

- Blanca Reyes Castañón -In Europe, Spain
- Yolanda Huerga Cedeño - In U. S.
- Berta Soler Fernández - In Cuba

They remain authorized for all matters relating to the Ladies in White "Laura Pollan" Movement.

Given in Havana, Cuba on the 18th day of October 2011.

Ladies in White "Laura Pollan" Movement.
Berta Soler Fernández

Original hand written letter in Spanish. Text reproduced below:

Por este medio hacemos constar lo siguiente:

El día 18 de octubre del 2011, día que se realizó el Té Literario #101, Las Damas de Blanco allí acordaron con las presentes:

Primero: Por respeto y honor a Laura Pollán, comenzar a identificar la agrupación feminista: Mov. Las Damas de Blanco “Laura Pollán”

Segundo: Mantener la disciplina, valor, dignidad y pacifismo en la lucha por la libertad de los presos políticos cubanos y defensa y promoción de los Derechos Humanos.

Tercero: Ratificar como representantes del Mov. Damas de Blanco “Laura Pollán”

- Blanca Reyes Castañón- En Europa, España
- Yolanda Huerga Cedeño - En E.U.
- Berta Soler Fernández - En Cuba

Quedando autorizadas ellas para todo lo relacionado con el Mov. Damas de Blanco “Laura Pollán”.

Dado en La Habana, Cuba a los 18 días del mes de octubre del 2011.

Mov. Las Damas de Blanco “Laura Pollán”
Berta Soler Fernández

Taken from the official Ladies in White website

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Honoring Laura Pollán while seeking a full accounting around circumstances surrounding her death

To honor, brings honor. - Jose Marti

Today as 50 Ladies in White marched through the streets of Havana, Cuba and only three Ladies marched through Santiago de Cuba (several other women were detained to prevent them from attending a Mass for Laura Pollán in the Cuban province) in Tampa, Florida first at 10 am at Al Lopez park and later at Casa Cuba, people of good will gathered to pay homage to Laura Pollán.

Marc Masferrer of Uncommon Sense, pictured above at the Silent Walk in Honor of Laura Pollán provides additional photos, commentary and context on the activity held at 10:00am.

Meanwhile across town at Casa Cuba at 1:30pm Cuban exiles gathered for a day of music and food but first held a moment of silence for the recently deceased leader of the Ladies in White.

Since her death on October 14, 2011 there have been a number of activities both inside and outside of Cuba and numerous essays honoring the life of Laura Pollán and her achievements as a human rights defender. At the same time a number of articles have been written questioning the circumstances surrounding her death. Today the Wall Street Journal's Mary O'Grady has cataloged and provided context to these questions in her essay A Dissident's Mysterious Death in Havana:

Over the life of the Cuban dictatorship, suspicious deaths (most commonly heart attacks) of otherwise healthy individuals who were considered disloyal to the Castros are not unheard of. The most famous was José Abrantes, a former interior minister and confidant of Fidel, who had a falling out with his boss, was imprisoned, and though known for being fit died of a heart attack in his cell in 1991. More than one defector from inside the regime has claimed that Abrantes was murdered.

Pollán took up her cause when her husband, Hector Maseda, was arrested, along with 74 others, in an island-wide crackdown on dissent in March 2003. Seeking a way to resist the injustice, she joined other women whose loved ones were handed down long sentences in Cuba's Black Spring. Together they organized a simple, peaceful act of disobedience: After attending Mass at St. Rita's church in Havana, they marched in the street, dressed in white and carrying gladiolas. The group was peaceful and nonpolitical. But to the regime it was dangerous. Mobs were unleashed against it.

Beatings, detentions, intimidation and harassment of the group were fruitless. The Ladies repeatedly returned to their "counterrevolutionary" practices: Sunday Mass, silent processions, Wednesday women's "literary teas" held in Ms. Pollán's home, prayer vigils for the persecuted.

The movement took on enormous visual power, and when images of the ladies being attacked in the streets went viral, the dictatorship was humiliated. The Castros were forced to offer the Black Spring prisoners "liberation" through exile with their spouses.

Pollán and her husband refused. Instead she expanded the movement across the country and promised to convert it to a human rights organization open to all women. Speaking from the Guanajay prison as her condition was deteriorating, jailed former Cuban counterintelligence officer Ernesto Borges Pérez told the Hablemos Press that making public those objectives likely sealed her fate.

On Sept. 24, Pollán was attacked by a mob as she tried to leave her house to attend Mass. Her right arm was reportedly twisted, scratched and bitten. This is notable because for more than a year, the Ladies had alleged that when Castro's enforcement squads came after them, the regime's goons pricked their skin with needles. Those same women claimed that they subsequently felt dizzy, nauseous and feverish. Independent journalist Carlos Ríos Otero reported this for Hablemos Press before Pollán was hospitalized.

According to interviews with Pollán's daughter and husband and with Ms. Soler, conducted by the Miami-based nongovernmental organization Directorio, eight days after the Sept. 24 assault Pollán came down with chills and began vomiting. Wracked with pain in her joints the next day, she was taken to the Calixto García hospital. After a battery of tests she was told everything was normal and released. On Oct. 4, she had a fever and shortness of breath. A prescribed antibiotic did not help. On Oct. 7 she was admitted to the hospital, later transferred to intensive care and the next day put on a respirator.

Her family was denied visitation rights until Oct. 10, when only her daughter was allowed to see her. State security agents surrounded her bed and monitored the doctors. On Oct. 12 doctors reported that she had a syncytial respiratory virus, which is otherwise known as a cold. She was obviously much sicker.

On Oct. 14 she died.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A vigil for Laura Pollán in Coral Gables one week after her passing

“If we must give our own lives in pursuit of the freedom of our Cuba that it be what God wants.” (September 24, 2011)

Vigil for Laura Pollán in Coral Gables at Merrick Park on October 21

Last night in Coral Gables on the one week anniversary of her death there was an act of remembrance for Laura Pollán and in solidarity with the Ladies in White who continue the nonviolent struggle for freedom in Cuba. An account of her final days was presented followed by readings of quotes by Laura from different women. Recorded messages from Bertha Soler and Sara Martha Fonseca for the activity were played and the event concluded listening to a past recording of Laura Pollán speaking.

Below are photos and video excerpts taken at the vigil. Along with quotes by Laura.

They tried to silence 75 voices, but now there are more than 75 voices shouting to the world the injustices the government has committed. (2004)

"We fight for the freedom of our husbands, the union of our families. We love our men." (2005)

Physically, I am tired. But I am still fighting, as long as I am alive and my husband is jailed, I am going to keep fighting. – Laura Pollan (2006)

“We are calling for freedom for all political prisoners.” (2006)

"They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens." (2010)

"We are going to continue. We are fighting for freedom and human rights.” (September 24, 2011)

"As long as this government is around there will be prisoners because while they've let some go, they've put others in jail. It is a never-ending story." (2011)

"We are not going to stop. If you have imprisoned our sisters thinking that we would give up, they are mistaken. We are very united (...) all the women's movements are very close." (October 2, 2011)

“We ask on this Christmas Day for freedom for our political prisoners and for the Cuban people to have a better future.” (2005)

In the same manner that the vigil concluded with the words of Laura so does this blog entery.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Laura Pollán and The Ladies in White one week later

"We plan to march tomorrow on Fifth Avenue like we do every Sunday. It will be a special march for Laura." - Bertha Soler

Hector Maseda and Laura Pollán in 2011

Laura Pollán passed away one week ago tonight at 7:50pm in Havana, Cuba after being hospitalized for one week. Her death has impacted the entire world. In the United States and Spain high ranking officials honored her memory and struggle. In Poland, Nobel Prize winner and former President, Lech Walesa sent a letter of condolence to Hector Maseda, Laura's husband and himself a former prisoner of conscience now free thanks in no small part due to his wife's efforts.

Gdańsk, 17 October 2011

Mr. Héctor Maseda

Havana, Cuba

Dear Sir,

I was deeply saddened to receive the information about the passing of your wife, Laura Pollan.

The tragedy, you are experiencing now, is affecting all of us – those to whom close were the values Laura Pollan believed in. She managed to inspire not only her compatriots but also the international society to defend the democratic activists who were unfairly sentenced and imprisoned for their beliefs. The cause of a free and democratic Cuba became our common dream and aim. Ladies in White, the movement founded by Laura Pollan, has been the evidence that peaceful struggle and determination brings always the victory.

Please accept my sincere condolences and assurance of my continual support of the mission initiated by your wife.

Yours faithfully,

Lech Wałęsa

While she lived the dictatorship treated her shamefully wrote journalist and writer Achy Obejas describing how on:
One Sunday, Pollan withstood hours of screaming in her face without saying a word, stuck in a park and unable to get home. Less than a month ago, state security blocked Pollan’s street, filled it with government supporters and blocked her door, making it impossible for the Ladies to attend a mass for the patron saint of prisoners.
Yoani Sanchez writing in The Washington Post described Laura's final days:
Given the seriousness of her condition, government officials asked her family if the patient could be transferred to a luxury clinic designed for the military. But Pollan herself said, before losing consciousness in an induced coma, "I want to stay in the hospital of the people." And there she died Oct. 14, after a five-day delay in diagnosing dengue fever, in a country that has been experiencing an intense outbreak of the disease for months now.

Though newspapers around the world reported on the death of Laura Pollan, Granma, the official paper of the Communist Party, and all the papers of Cuba's provinces remained silent. This reaction is a given, considering the pettiness of a government that cannot feel sympathy at the death of an opponent. The Castro regime has never been able to pause in its belligerence, never been able to offer condolences.

But this silence also stems from its fear of this little teacher of Spanish, the fear that sticks, even now, in officials' throats. The leader of the Ladies in White is dead, and no one in Cuba will ever carry a gladiolus in his or her hands without thinking of Laura Pollan.

Following her death the reaction of the dictatorship, to use the death of Laura Pollán to crush the Ladies in White, has also been in evidence along with the courage and ingenuity of the women to circumvent the crackdown. First the Ladies in White marched on the Sunday following her passing despite a nationwide crackdown. On Tuesday, state security agents detained 20 women going to attend the Ladies in White customary literary tea. “The state security agents told them, ‘There’s no Tea. That’s over,’” said Lady in White Berta Soler on what detained women where told. In both cases, despite many women being detained, many still managed to carry out both activities and denounce the repression.

Over the past week the world has learned who Laura Pollán was and that the Ladies in White that she founded are still today struggling for the day when there are no more political prisoners in Cuba.

Despite the immediate family of Laura Pollán indicating that she received adequate treatment at the hospital some dissidents have expressed their suspicions surrounding her death. Juan Manuel Cao, a former political prisoner and human rights defender now a journalist in exile, wrote a column explaining the historical context that gives a grounding to their suspicions. He cites the history of the intelligence services that trained the Cubans. Both the East German Stasi and Soviet KGB were known to use poisons and other instruments to induce death and illnesses that led to death. He also wrote about previous Cuban cases and asked:
"Who killed Sebastian Arcos Bergnes? The opposition leader and prisoner of conscience who from his cell complained for at least two years about a pulsating pain that would come down his leg and would not allow him to sleep. The regime ruled that he was faking it; they made a political diagnosis instead of a clinical one."

Sebastian's son, Sebastian Arcos Cazabon, has spoken on the record about what was done to his father.

A half century old dictatorship with a long litany of crimes against the people of Cuba is what is behind the suspicions and distrust raised by elements of the Cuban opposition. Sadly, these suspicions are not unfounded.

However once again tonight in Coral Gables as has been done repeatedly over the past week in Miami, Madrid and Havana there will be an act of remembrance for Laura Pollán and in solidarity with the Ladies in White who continue her struggle in Cuba today.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Libya and the Big Lie: Denying Qaddafi's Human Rights Atrocities

'To witness a crime in silence, is to commit it.' - Jose Marti

Libyan burning image of Qaddafi (2011)

The end of the Qaddafi regime in Libya is a bloody and disastrous affair for the Libyan people and the new regime appears to have embraced some of the sordid practices of the old regime. The decision of the opposition to embrace violence and invite NATO intervention guaranteed that the struggle for a free Libya would become far more difficult and fraught with even more danger to the populace. As of today one could credibly make the argument that it has been a failure.

At the same time deniers of Moammar Qaddafi's bloody reign have emerged claiming that the Libyan tyrant had not been engaged in the systematic gross human rights violations that invited condemnation from the United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations Security Council. Furthermore that organizations and individuals that signed an Urgent Appeal to Stop the Atrocities in Libya calling for the condemnation of the dictatorship at the United Nations and its expulsion from the UN Human Rights Council are liars who are responsible for this conflict.

The chief villain according to the defenders of Qaddafi is the Libyan League for Human Rights. They fail to mention that one of the founders of the group, Mansour Kikhia, was abducted in Cairo on December 10, 1993 and taken to Libya where he was executed on Qaddafi's orders. According to The Washington Post: "Kikhia, who defected to the United States in 1980, served as Gadhafi's foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations before turning into a sharp critic of the regime." Nor do the apologists mention "the Abu Salim Prison killings in June 1996, when the security forces allegedly killed up to 1,200 inmates" reported by Amnesty International in its 2011 annual report (which covers 2010). There are many more atrocities committed by the Qaddafi regime prior to the crisis of 2011 that are well documented prior to the "fog of war" which requires greater discernment.

However, the document makes no mention of the numerous reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch denouncing mass killings and systematic human rights abuses by Qaddafi's regime in Libya. For example on February 18, 2011 Amnesty International reported at least 46 people shot dead by security forces over the previous 72 hours. Two days later on February 20, Amnesty International called on the Libyan leader to "end the spiraling of killings," stating that “[l]arge numbers of people are being killed and the situation is escalating alarmingly. More than one hundred have been killed so far.”

Amnesty International on February 23rd accused both the Security Council and the African Union of failing the people of Libya referencing and describing the above speech: "Colonel al-Gaddafi gave a speech in which he called protesters 'cockroaches' and 'rats', and compared the situation to China, saying that national unity had been “more important than the people of Tiananmen Square." Also in the course of the speech Qaddafi threatened to “cleanse Libya house by house”. Human Rights Watch documented beginning on February 17, 2011 on how Qaddafi's forces had opened fire on peaceful demonstrators and disappeared scores of people.

On February 25, 2011 Amnesty International called on the Security Council to refer Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court. In the video below Philip Luther outlines the egregious acts of Al-Qaddafi and Western complicity in torture:

On March 2, 2011 Libyan medical teams attempting to treat the wounded reported to Amnesty International that they were being targeted by Pro-Qaddafi forces. On March 21, 2011 Amnesty presented a fact sheet on what had turned into a conflict between pro and anti-regime forces.

The regime of Moammar Al-Qaddafi systematically violated human rights and engaged in mass atrocities. It is a pity that the opposition to the Al-Qaddafi regime would use the same methods as the dictator to dislodge him from power. It does not bode well for the new government in Libya. Early on in the conflict when the resistance chose to embark on the path of violence I wrote about the negative consequences of such a course of action and involvement of NATO forces only compounded that opinion.

Nevertheless, if I had it to do over again I would not remain silent and would once again sign the document calling for the international community to condemn the atrocities being committed against the Libyans. At the same time refusing to remain silent today when the new government commits human rights violations against former regime officials and African immigrants. To remain silent when a crime is being committed is to be complicit.

Photograph of Castro and Qaddafi. Taken from Libyan despots residence

The Libyan episode has only further proven the need to speak out in a timely manner and to also call on opposition movements to reject violence and embrace strategic non-violent conflict strategies to end brutal dictatorial regimes increasing the probability of a lasting victory.