Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Government of Cuba's shameful role at the UN Human Rights Council

"Let me tell you China, Russia and Cuba do not belong as world judges on human rights when they not only enable mass murder in Syria but also systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens. It's a sick joke they shouldn't be there." - Hillel Neuer of UN Watch on CTV News on February 28, 2012

Bashar al-Assad and Raul Castro

The regime in Cuba has a long and shameful history with regards to the United Nations Human Rights Council without even mentioning its human rights record on the island which is dismal. The 19th session of the UNHRC began on Monday, February 27, 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland. Nevertheless during the first 48 hours of the session the regime's dismal behavior continues unchanged. The Castro brothers over the past half century have defended genocidal regimes of all ideological stripes in Argentina, China, Ethiopia, Libya, Sri Lanka, Syria and Zimbabwe just to list a few. They are also enemies of free expression. They are adding more chapters of infamy to the regime's long and dark record of violating human rights and making common cause with the worse human rights violators on the planet.

Bashar al-Assad and Fidel Castro, Damascus May 16, 2001

First the Castro regime's diplomatic delegation was defending the murderous government in Syria as it carried out a ground assault on the Syrian city of Homs the Castro regime boycotted a special hearing then later at the ongoing 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council tacitly tolerated the slaughter on the grounds of sovereignty. The Castro brothers have a long and special relationship with the Assad family in Syria.

Defending the regime in Syria that has since March 2011 slaughtered more than 7,500 of its own people should dispel any illusions that the Raul Castro regime is nothing more than a continuation of the brutal regime his brother established with him in 1959 and like the Assads wish to perpetuate regardless the costs in human lives. When the High Commissioner for Human Rights was addressing the situation in Syria the Cuban dictatorship's diplomats interrupted her raising a point of order.

Secondly, the Castro regime's diplomats used a point of order to also interrupt the discussion on freedom of expression on the internet. Reporters Without Borders listed the government of Cuba as one of 13 enemies of the internet. According to wikileaks, Raul Castro's regime is terrified of bloggers.

Hillel Neuer of UN Watch on CTV on February 28, 2012 on atrocities in Syria and Cuban regime's enabling of the slaughter there.

Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch (a non-governmental organization established in 1993 based in Geneva whose mandate is to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter), in an interview on CTV addressing the atrocities committed by the Assad regime in Syria also touched on the nefarious role of the Cuban government on the UN Human Rights Council and his organization's call for China, Russia and Cuba to be taken off the Council explaining that:
"[O]n these issues you have to lead the way, speak the truth and you never know when it will be implemented. Let me tell you China, Russia and Cuba do not belong as world judges on human rights when they not only enable mass murder in Syria but also systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens. It's a sick joke they shouldn't be there."
The Castro regime's behavior is garnering attention and outrage. Inside of Cuba voices are speaking out through cyberspace and denouncing the government's behavior. One of these voices Yoani Sanchez, on February 29, 2012 over Twitter expressed: I feel profound shame at the attitude taken by the government of Cuba to what happens to the people of Syria. -

Outside of Cuba, the actress and humanitarian Mia Farrow on February 28, 2012 over Twitter
took the Cuban regime's argument in favor of the Syrian regime to task tweeting: Sovereignty MUST come with responsibilities MT : : Reiterate rejection of any attempt to undermine sovereignty of Syria.

The times are changing and they do not favor totalitarian regimes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Amnesty International Urgent Action for José Daniel Ferrer García

UA: 60/12 Index: AMR 25/005/2012 Cuba Date: 23 February 2012
Former prisoner of conscience José Daniel Ferrer García’s whereabouts are unknown following his alleged arrest in central Havana, Cuba, on 21 February.

José Daniel Ferrer García

Former prisoner of conscience José Daniel Ferrer García, who is on conditional release from prison, is believed to have been re-arrested in central Havana on 21 February. He had travelled to Havana from Santiago de Cuba province to meet with diplomats, human rights activists and dissidents in connection with his work as the coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU), an umbrella group of dissident organizations based in eastern Cuba.

On 21 February, José Daniel Ferrer García was travelling by taxi with Elizardo Sánchez, coordinator of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation (Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional, CCDHRN), whose office he had just visited. Elizardo Sánchez exited the taxi in the central neighbourhood of Vedado and five minutes later received a text message from José Daniel Ferrer García which stated he was being detained by police. On 22 February, the Elizardo Sánchez contacted the police information service and was informed that there was no record of José Daniel Ferrer García being held in any detention facility.

There has been no news of his whereabouts since then.

José Daniel Ferrer García was granted conditional release in March 2011, having served eight of his 25 year sentence. Under the terms of his release, he could be sent back to prison to serve out the remainder of his sentence - 16 years. Amnesty International believes his arrest is an attempt to repress the peaceful dissident activities he and members of UNPACU are undertaking in eastern Cuba.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

Calling on the authorities to provide information as to the circumstances of José Daniel Ferrer García’s arrest on 21 February and immediately reveal his current whereabouts;

Urging them, that if detained, to immediately release José Daniel Ferrer García, unless there is sufficient evidence to charge him with an internationally-recognizable criminal offence;

Urging them to immediately cease the harassment and intimidation of members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and all other citizens who seek to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association.


Head of State and Government
Raúl Castro Ruz
Presidente de la República de Cuba
La Habana,
Fax: +53 7 83 33 085 (via Foreign
Ministry); +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban
Mission to UN)
Email: (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)

Salutation: Your Excellency
Interior Minister
General Abelardo Coloma Ibarra
Ministro del Interior y Prisiones
Ministerio del Interior,
Plaza de la Revolución,
La Habana,
Fax: +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)

Salutation: Your Excellency
And copies to:
Attorney General
Dr. Darío Delgado Cura
Fiscalía General de la República,
Fiscalía General de la República,
Amistad 552, e/Monte y Estrella, Centro
La Habana, Cuba

Salutation: Dear Attorney General

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:
Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation
Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.


Prisoner of conscience José Daniel Ferrer García was granted conditional release in March 2011 following eight years imprisonment. He was one of 75 people who were arrested and sentenced following a crackdown on Cuban dissidence in March 2003. All 75 were adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, as they had acted non-violently and were imprisoned under Cuban legislation which illegitimately criminalizes political dissent. José Daniel Ferrer García was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in relation to his participation in the Varela Project, which aimed at requesting a national referendum on democratic reforms. Article 31.1.4 of the Cuban Criminal Code states that conditional release allows a prisoner to see out the remainder of their sentence outside prison provided they demonstrate “good behaviour” (“buena conducta”).

The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) is an umbrella group of dissident organizations, based primarily in Santiago de Cuba, but also in neighbouring provinces of eastern Cuba. UNPACU seeks democratic change in Cuba via non-violent means.

Since UNPACU’s creation in mid-2011, its members have faced constant harassment and intimidation form the Cuban authorities, including arbitrary detention. One of UNPACU’s members, prisoner of conscience Wilman Villar Mendoza died in January 2012 following a hunger strike in protest at his four-year prison sentence following a summary trial. This repression is part of a general crackdown against dissidents in the eastern provinces of Cuba which has gathered pace since mid-2011.

Name: José Daniel Ferrer García
Gender m/f: m
UA: 60/12 Index: AMR 25/005/2012 Issue Date: 23 February 2012

Amnesty International: Castro regime blocks Ladies in White from honoring OZT

Cuban authorities prevent activists from commemorating death of dissident

The "Ladies in White" were gathering to mark the anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. © Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images

by Amnesty International

Authorities in Cuba are preventing members of the women's organization “Ladies in White” from entering a building in downtown Havana for an event commemorating the second anniversary of the death of activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Several "Ladies in White", who campaign for the release of political prisoners, already assembled in the building told Amnesty International they fear they may be detained if they try to leave.

“It is unacceptable that the Cuban authorities would not allow human rights activists to remember one of their colleagues in peace,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

Women have travelled to Havana from across Cuba to attend the event.

According to information gathered by Amnesty International, the Cuban authorities have diverted traffic from passing in front of the headquarters and have stationed police officers on the four corners of the block where they are located. They are checking the identification cards of all pedestrians passing through the area.

“Authorities must urgently stop harassing activists and preventing any of the ‘Ladies in White’ from celebrating the memory of Orlando Zapata,” said Javier Zúñiga.

Prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on 23 February 2010 after an 86-day-long hunger strike.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A 24 hour Fast & Six minute Silent Vigil for Justice

"To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” - Elie Wiesel, Night

Silent vigil at FIU main fountain

Reading the blog entry A Call to Take Actions for Wilman Villar Mendoza, Orlando Zapata & Brothers to the Rescue Martyrs published by the Free Cuba Foundation inspired me to propose an action on behalf of Wilman Villar Mendoza, Orlando Zapata, Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre Jr. that involves resolving to fast for 24 hours and engaging in a six-minute silent vigil for justice.

The fast will begin at 3:00pm on February 23, 2012 that marks the moment two years ago when Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after 83 days on hunger strike. It will end 24 hours later on February 24 moments before the moments 3:21pm and 3:27pm when two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down out of the sky in international airspace on orders of the Castro brothers extrajudicially killing Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre Jr.

Silent vigil at UM at the Rock

On February 24 between 3:21pm and 3:27pm wherever you are in the world take part in a silent vigil for justice. Either joining together with others at a public location or individually wherever you are in the world to remember this injustice and offer your prayers in solidarity and for justice for these victims of oppression.

If you wish to take part then just tweet, e-mail, and blog about your intention to do this and invite others to take part. Please use the tag #fast4justice or #ayunoporlajusticia in Spanish and if you plan on taking part in the vigil then help spread the word with the tag #silentvigil4justice or in Spanish #vigiliaporlajusticia.

If you are in Miami, Florida then you can join members of the FIU community in a silent vigil at the main campus on 107th Avenue and SW 8 Street at 3:15pm sharp. In the evening at 7:30pm at St. Brendan Catholic Church you can join with family members of the Carlos, Pablo, Mario, and Armando in a special Mass.

Silent vigil at FIU on February 24, 2011

Memory, truth and justice are necessary components for national reconciliation and liberation. Join in these acts of remembrance that demand justice and in doing so provide a small pebble in the edifice of a future free Cuba.

The late Czech President Vaclav Havel observed in 1968 that: "Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance." History proved him right three decades later. Do your part. Be the change that you want to see in the world.

German NGO: Escalating repression on eve of Pope's visit to Cuba

Republic Cuba
Arrests of dissidents are escalating before the visit of the Pope

ISHR: Nervousness of the Cuban regime increases

Havana/ Frankfurt am Main (20th of February 2012) – As the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) reports, around 30 members of the prisoner relief association “Ladies in White” were arrested on the 19th of February in the Eastern Cuban cities of Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo, in order to prevent them from participating in the Sunday Mass and from doing protest marches for the release of political prisoners. Sara Marta Fonseca, of the “Ladies in White” and of the “Pro Human Rights” party that was forbidden by the regime, was arrested on her way to Mass in Havana, 12 members of the oppositional “Patriotic Union of Cuba” were arrested in Palma Soriano, only two protesters have already been released. ISHR sees a direct relationship between the new wave of political arrests in Cuba and the planned visit of the Pope from the 26th until the 28th of March.

According to ISHR, 16 “Ladies in White” managed to get from their hometown Palma Soriano to El Cobre – despite all the reprisals of the Castro regime – in order to take part in the Sunday Mass of the church of pilgrimage El Cobre and to pray for the release of all political prisoners like every Sunday. But when they got the message that civil servants of the state security were waiting on their way back for them, in order to arrest them – 14 “Ladies in White” stayed in the church and went home hours later accompanied and under protection by representatives of the Catholic Church.

Ladies in White marching on February 19, 2012.
Photo by Ivan Hernandez Carrillo

Authorities inhibit meeting between bishop and “Lady in White”

The independent journalist and “Lady in White” Caridad Caballero Batista and her family were - by her own account – prevented from participating in the mass, threatened, maltreated and arrested by civil servants of the Cuban state security on six Sundays in a row. To end these reprisals, Caballero Batista arranged a meeting with the bishop of the Eastern Cuban city of Holguín for the 17th of February. On this day, her house was observed till the early morning and policemen prevented her from going on the street. Moreover a meeting of the “Ladies in White”, that had been planned for this day, couldn't take place.

New “fireworks of hope” on the occasion of the visit of the Pope

ISHR sees the increase of the arbitrary arrests in Cuba as a sign of weakness and nervousness of the Cuban regime before the visit of the Pope. “Furthermore the installation of monitoring cameras and the imposing of a curfew in the city El Cobre, which is said to be the destination of the visit of the Pope, shows the fear of the regime of protests. That exile Cubans are reportedly planning a new “fireworks of hope” in international water, enforces this fear”, says ISHR.

According to ISHR, the Castro regime is afraid of negative press reports more than ever. Amongst others the telephone line of the independent journalist and former political prisoner José Daniel Ferrer García, member of the UNPACU, was lopped, in order to prevent him from sending reports about human rights violations in Cuba to media abroad. The former political prisoner and doctor Dr. Oscar Elías Bíscet demanded in an interview with the department for foreign relations of the US-House of Representatives on Pope Benedict XVI., to use his power and position to point at human rights abuses in Cuba and at the political repression of the Castro regime.

More information about the human rights situation in the Republic Cuba:

Facebook-page of the International Society for Human Rights:

Translation to English from the original German by Christine Pierk

Sunday, February 19, 2012

February in Cuba: Month of Martyrs

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living." - Cicero

"To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” - Elie Wiesel, Night

People ask what is one to think of changes in Cuba? One change that has taken place over the past two years is the rising body count of nonviolent dissidents dead under sinister circumstances.

The month of February is particularly poignant this year:


One month ago today Cuban pro-democracy activist Wilman Villar Mendoza age 31, husband to Maritza Pelegrino Cabrera and father of 2 little girls died on hunger strike in Cuba. He was a prisoner of conscience, but the regime as it had done earlier with the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo carried out a campaign to slander the martyred activist.


Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a human rights defender, died two years ago on February 23, 2010 after being systematically tortured and driven into a hunger strike as a last recourse to save his life and dignity. During the water only hunger strike prison officials took his water away contributing to his death. The dictatorship then engaged in an international slander campaign against him and his family.


Laura Inés Pollán Toledo would've turned 64 years old on February 13 but instead she died, under what her husband Hector Maseda described as strange circumstances, on October 14, 2011. Laura Pollán was one of the founders of the Ladies in White, a movement that forced the Cuban government to the negotiating table to release their loved ones beginning in July 2010. Laura had the leadership skills to be an alternative to the Castro brothers.

Armando, Mario, Carlos and Pablo

Finally, the 24th of this month marks the day sixteen years ago that two Brothers to the Rescue planes, part of an organization that saved thousands of fleeing rafters, were shot down over international airspace on the orders of Fidel and Raul Castro killing Armando Alejandre Jr. (age 45), Carlos Alberto Costa ( age 29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (age 24), and Pablo Morales (age 29). This act of state terrorism was achieved thanks in part to intelligence gathered by a Cuban spy network codenamed "Avispa" which means "Wasp" in English.

People of goodwill have an obligation to remember the victims of injustice and speak for those who no longer can in demanding justice. Join the call to action.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Oscar's Testimony before Congress

On Thursday, February 16 Cuban human rights defender Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet testified by phone from Havana, Cuba to a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by Congressman Chris Smith of the fourth district of New Jersey. Below is an English translation of Biscet's testimony that is also available in the original Spanish.

Dr. Biscet and Rep. Smith

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet
President, The Lawton Foundation for Human Rights
February 16, 2012
House Committee on Foreign Affairs,
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights

I'm Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.

Internal Medicine Specialist First grade.

President of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights.

Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.

The testimony that I expound here before the Subcommittee on Africa, General Health and Human Rights of the House of Representatives of the United States of America, and in the presence of the Biblical God, is only the truth of the facts of what has occurred.

I express my gratefulness for this invitation to my compatriot and great defender of freedom of the Cuban people Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen, and my admiration for the selfless work in the cause of Cuba of Cuban-American Congressmen Mario Diaz-Balart, David Rivera, Albio Sires, Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio. Cordial salutation to all the most excellent personalities gathered here today.

The Cuba I live in is a society of fear. This is led by a totalitarian regime of communist Stalinist type since 1959. This regime has as its essential characteristics of being: anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-black. Their stay in power is due to the use of state terror and extreme police control of the citizens.

The dictatorship of the Castros commits gross and systemic human rights violations of the Cuban people. The lack of basic freedoms in the society motivated me to become a human rights activist, and to conquer those rights for the Cuban people through nonviolent resistance.

These humanitarian objectives led me to pass through serious vicissitudes imposed by the political police of the Castro government. The most terrible events were:

When I presented at a conference on the right to life to my colleagues, a mob of Communist Party members interrupted it and violently expelled me from the Maternal Child classroom at the Hospital "Tenth of October", in 1998. From this date I have never been able to exercise the noble medical profession by prerogative of the communist government of Cuba.

Also, in those days, my wife and son were threatened and blackmailed to leave me. Their firm decisions to remain at my side have cost my wife her expulsion from work and my son the inability to begin his studies at the university. We were all evicted from the house, - doctor's office that my wife worked with an exemplary attitude as a graduate with a degree in nursing. During that period I had been detained more than two dozen times. I had been placed in walled in cells together with murderers with personality disorders who had just committed acts of blood.

The political police have beaten me, have disfigured my face and provoked a dental fracture. On another occasion they fractured my right foot. These agents in compliance with the orders of the dictatorship sought to coerce and intimidate me through torture and cruel and inhuman treatment with the goal that I desist from my humanitarian activism.

Failing to achieve their objectives they imprisoned me for nearly twelve years. However, if these acts were performed only on my person then they would have no historical significance. The big problem is that these aberrations and violations of human dignity are committed against the general population and those detained in the prisons of the country.

The Cuban socialist prison system does not meet the minimum requirements for inmate care provisions of the United Nations. In this they tortured me but also especially my family.

But more troublesome is that three inmates on different occasions attempted to murder me, two of which were hired by military functionaries of the interior.

Some of the torture and cruel or inhuman treatments observed or suffered in the socialist prisons are:

Persons prone with hands handcuffed to their back with their feet. Kept in this position for more than twelve sometimes even more than twenty-four hours. Handcuffed hands with arms outstretched overhead and toes slightly supported off the ground. The time duration equal to the previous cited case. The use of tasers as weapons of psychological and physical torture.

For searches the prisoner was stripped in the group without any regard to human decency.
Denial and use of health care as a retaliation against inmates. Of these there are many cases but will discuss only two that impressed me as a human being who knows the medical sciences:

I was in the punishment cells of the prison “Cuba Si”, of the Holguin province in 2002. An inmate in protest against the prison authorities introduced an object, cutting himself, in the abdomen. He spent two days in that state until I became aware of the case and made a strong protest and they took him to the hospital; was operated on for acute peritonitis.

A young inmate with chronic but not transmittable diseases: asthma and heart valve pathologies. He was compensated but had a turn with the doctor. They did not take him and he demanded to be taken. This request was denied and they beat him so intensely that they killed him. This occurred in the second floor of the first building of the “Combinado del Este” prison in 2010.

The stay of prisoners are in cells under inhuman conditions: no natural light or at times artificial, no drinkable water, no ventilation, overcrowding, living with vectors and others.

The dozens of political prisoners suffer the same human miseries even worse coexisting with common offenders utilized by the prison authorities to break their position of contestation.

I want to take this opportunity to greet two patriots and freedom lovers of humanity to testify in this committee. The former Cuban political prisoner of the cause of the 75 of the Black Spring in 2003, Norman Hernandez and Indiana Representative Dan Burton; promoter with Senator Jesse Helms of The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996. This magnificent political and legal instrument applied all chapters and articles to persuade and encourage all free nations to solidarity and the pursuit of changes that lead to freedom and democracy to the Cuban people.

The dictatorship of the Castro brothers have been in every shameful and reprehensible world events but will only make some references: unconditional support for the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet imperialism in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979. Also in this century, at the end of its first decade, the expansionist Russian invasion of Georgia. Unlimited defense of the despotic regimes of S. Milosevic, S. Hussein, and M. Gaddafi. Military training and logistical support to the narco-guerrillas in Colombia and the presence of bases of operations of Muslim extremists from Hezbollah and Hamas in Cuba.

To continue this policy of indifference and coldness to the Cuban Communist hierarchy, I fear that before long we will have a new missile crisis, in the style of October 1962. But now the actors would be Cuba-Venezuela, Iran and the United States.

Tomorrow we will celebrate with pride the fourth anniversary of the independence of Kosovo. Five years ago you the Americans promised Kosovo Albanians your decided support for their independence. They did so with so much firmness, honor and love that many countries joined this just cause and succeeded. This is the support that I ask of you that my people be free and sovereign.

Thank you very much.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Following in Gandhi's footsteps: Nonviolence pilgrimage in Johannesburg

"It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings." - Mohandas Gandhi

Gandhi: Prisoner of Conscience exhibition at Old Fort Prison Complex

Walking into the Old Fort Prison Complex on Constitution Hill that housed Mohandes Gandhi and stepping into his cell in number four prison. Listening to the description from the tour guide of how prisoners were treated over the years is something that one will not soon forget. Gandhi was first arrested on January 10, 1908 for refusing to carry an identification card also known as a "pass" in South Africa. It was not the last time he would be arrested in South Africa.

Open toilets that faced the common eating area at the prison

The common eating area facing the public toilets which inmates were required to look at while eating their meals is an indication that the agenda was not merely incarceration but an attempt to inflict humiliation. Gandhi was also required to wear the uniform of a common prisoner. All attempts by prison authorities to humiliate Gandhi failed.

Part of the Gandhi Exhibition at Prison #4 at the Old Fort Prison Complex

The popular imagination places Gandhi's struggle in India, but often forgets that his apprenticeship in nonviolence began in South Africa not India. Arriving there in 1893, he would spend a total of 21 years in South Africa before returning to India in 1914. On February 16, 1903 he moved to Johannesburg. The word Satyagraha invented by Mohandas Gandhi and his movement on September 11, 1906 was announced to the world at the Empire Palace of Varieties Theater in Johannesburg, South Africa. Gandhi gave an account of how it came about:
Shri Maganlal Gandhi was one of the competitors and he suggested the word 'Sadagraha,' meaning 'firmness in a good cause.' I liked the word, but it did not fully represent the whole idea I wished it to connote. I therefore corrected it to 'Satyagraha.' Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement 'Satyagraha,' that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase 'passive resistance,' in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word 'Satyagraha' itself or some other equivalent English phrase.
The theater was later torn down and the Ferreira House Apartments are now there on the corner of Commissioner, Fox & Ferreira Streets. A century later in South Africa the one hundredth anniversary of Satyagraha was celebrated with lectures, workshops and the opening of exhibitions.

At the entrance to the Old Fort Prison Complex

Mohandas Gandhi in his Autobiography titled "My Experiments with Truth" described how he responded to being denied service at a barbershop in South Africa that gives an insight into the man:
I once went to an English barber in Pretoria. He refused to cut my hair. I was deeply insulted, but decided to buy a pair of scissors and cut my own hair in front of the mirror. I more or less managed to cut the front of my hair, but made a real mess of the back. My friends in court almost doubled up with laughter. "What on earth has happened to your hair Gandhi? Have rats been at it? "No", I said, "the white barber did not want to stoop so low as to handle my black hair. I decided, therefore, to cut it myself, regardless of the results." My answer didn't surprise my friends. The barber couldn't be criticized for refusing to cut my hair. He would have lost customers, had he cut the hair of coloreds. We (Indians) also do not allow our barbers to touch the hair of our untouchable brothers. I paid the price for this in South Africa, not once, but often, and the belief that this was the punishment for our own sins prevented me from being annoyed.
South Africa was Gandhi's training ground both inside and outside of prison.

Gandhi’s Johannesburg – "Birthplace of Satyagraha is a permanent exhibition at Museum Africa in Newtown. The museum, at 121 Bree Street, is open from Tuesdays to Fridays, from 9am to 5pm. Entrance is free and there is parking in Mary Fitzgerald Square."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Remembering Laura on her birthday

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

Laura Pollán should have turned 64 today in Cuba

Cuban Lady in White co-founder Laura Inés Pollán Toledo was born in Cuba on February 13, 1948 and died under mysterious circumstances on October 14, 2011 in Havana. Laura's husband former prisoner of conscience Hector Maseda tweeted today:

"Se está celebrando ahora en sede oficial ldb (Las Damas de Blanco) el 64 aniversario natalicio Laura Pollán Toledo su lider quién falleció octubre 2011 en extrañas circunstancias. Desde Maseda"
The English translation is:

"Celebrating now at the official headquarters of the LDB (Ladies in White) the 64th anniversary of the birth of their leader, Laura Pollán Toledo, who died under strange circumstances in October 2011. From Maseda"

She would have been 64 years old today. A good day to remember her words and actions. Meanwhile state security has surrounded the Ladies in White and detained women trying to honor Laura Pollán Toledo. Even in death they still fear her.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

February 11: Day of Symbolism for South Africa and Egypt

A friend from Zimbabwe spoke about the importance of symbols and symbolic dates pointing out the importance of today, February 11. 22 years ago today in 1990 a decrepit old man was released from prison after 27 years of incarceration. An entire country celebrated with joy and hope for the future. Just four years later this old man would be elected president of South Africa. His name is Nelson Mandela. At the same time one year ago today another old decrepit man was driven out of power by mass demonstrations and a disgruntled military. Egypt celebrated with joy and hope for the future. Today that same old man faces trial for the murder of hundreds of demonstrators. His name is Hosni Mubarak.

The main difference between the two men? One was freely elected and left power voluntarily respecting the country's constitution and the other made himself president for life and tried to set up his son as a successor. Nelson Mandela understood that "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." South Africans have deep gratitude for the example he set in the presidency.

Mandela has his faults. His loyalty to past supporters of the African National Congress such as Charles Taylor, Muammar Gaddafi, and Fidel Castro are shadows on the otherwise bright legacy of his presidency. Unfortunately, even great leaders do not always live up to their own principles. At the same time unlike the dictators he has legitimized Nelson Mandela left office after five years in power.

Two old men are similar images but how they dealt with power makes them profoundly different symbols. Hosni Mubarak for all his political talents is another African despot who tried to be president for life while Nelson Mandela is the man who defended democracy in South Africa and left office after serving a five year term in office.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rafael Ibarra Roque: A profile in courage and perseverance

Rafael Ibarra Roque released on February 9, 2012

Rafael Ibarra Roque was falsely imprisoned on June 24, 1994 for a crime he didn't commit, and spent over 17 years and 8 months in different prisons to block his opposition activities. He refused an offer by the dictatorship in 2010 to be released into exile.

On February 9, 2012 when he finally walked out of the Combinado del Este prison in Havana, Rafael Ibarra Roque spoke to the Cuban Democratic Directorate and made the following statement:
"We have to persevere until the last days of our life and that is the message that I say not only to the brothers in struggle but to the entire Cuban people. That we have to liberate ourselves of this tyranny that during 53 years has punished our people taking them to so much misery, so much desolation and that sooner rather than later the moment will arrive when we will be free."
On Radio Republica he expressed that he was “very thankful for all the solidarity and fellowship that I always felt from one of you from the exile and here in Cuba from all the brothers." In an interview with El Nuevo Herald Rafael Ibarra said that his daughters Gladys and Rosalía, both in Miami, were trying to get to Cuba to reunite with their father.

Rafael Ibarra Roque with his daughters Gladys and Rosalía prior to his imprisonment

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Castro regime fears nonviolence

Castro agents mounted a huge operation with political police and mobs to prevent 20 women in Havana, Cuba from taking part in a workshop on nonviolence. Nevertheless six of the women managed to get through and the workshop went on. Above Dagoberto Valdez is giving a presentation on nonviolent civic struggle.

The Castro regime fears knowledge of nonviolent civic action being delivered to Cuban activists. It relies on the discourse of war, hatred and incitement to violence to maintain power. The dictatorship knows that nonviolent civic resistance is an existential threat to tyrannical totalitarian regimes because it empowers people and assists them in overcoming their fears.

The dictatorship should be afraid.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Don't end economic sanctions on Castro regime

The 50th anniversary of the establishment of US sanctions by President John F. Kennedy on the Castro regime in Cuba is an excellent moment to reflect on whether they should be maintained, changed, strengthened or abolished. The argument made below in 2003 holds true today but unfortunately the trade embargo on Cuba for all practical purposes was ended in 2000. Economic sanctions remain but since 2001 there has been over $3.5 billion dollars in trade between American businesses and the Cuban dictatorship. The human rights situation on the island has not improved.

President John F. Kennedy signed a decree broadening trade restrictions with Cuba on February 7, 1962


Feb 13, 2003

Don't end embargo on Cuba trade

By John J. Suarez Guest Columnist

There is a tragic sham that harms Americans, but it is not the trade embargo on communist Cuba. Rather, it is the cliche that "to pull down barriers," by ending trade sanctions on a ruthless communist dictatorship and provide it with subsidies would bring political reforms.

The sham seen today in China is proof that such a policy would also be a disaster in Cuba, and only serve multinational interests and Cuba's communist regime.

America normalized relations with Beijing in 1979. The belief then was that normal relations would lead to more human rights and a peaceful transition to democracy. The opposite has been the case.

In the Soviet Union, confrontation and economic isolation led to a relatively peaceful implosion of the regime. In China, the policy of trade and political engagement has led to a thriving economic system under communist control, and modernization and expansion of the military and state security apparatus.

In Cuba today, political opposition is growing, and human-rights abuses although systematic and pervasive have in practice declined in numbers. This is not due to the good will of Fidel Castro's regime, but a lack of resources.

The 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre revealed the failure of engagement. Still, economic engagement was not suspended but intensified afterward.

Amnesty International said in 2001 that, "thousands of people (in China) were arbitrarily detained for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or religion. Torture and ill treatment of prisoners continued to be widespread. The limited and incomplete records available showed that at least 1,511 people were sentenced to death and 1,000 executed; the true figures were believed to be far higher."

Chinese pro-democracy leader Wei Jingsheng describes the result of current U.S. policy in China: "There is active cooperation with the Chinese oppressors, extending aid to the tune of tens of millions of dollars; on the other hand, assistance to the democracy movement in China is very limited. . . . It does seem to be fashionable now to assist the henchmen who are engaged in butchering the people."

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, describes how American taxpayers subsidize China's dictatorship: "China . . . receives the largest amount of money from the Export-Import Bank. There is $5.9 billion that has been granted to the Chinese."

According to Paul, China has used export-import funds to build nuclear power plants, expand its airline and build steel factories. U.S. taxpayer money is being used to modernize the Chinese military and its apparatus of repression. Castro is broke. Subsidized trade is what the majority of the anti-embargo lobby is after.

Chinese human rights activist Harry Wu announced his support for the Cuban embargo December 10, 2002 at Florida International University, while denouncing the lack of such a policy toward China. According to Wu, the majority of the profits have been funneled directly to "dying Communist institutions," thus prolonging their lives, he said.

Increasing trade with China has not and will not improve human rights. Cuba is no different.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- -----

Suarez is the coordinator of the Free Cuba Foundation based at Florida International University in Miami.!NEWSROOM/opedstoryA43665A.htm

Monday, February 6, 2012

Amnesty International on Yoani Sánchez being denied right to travel 19 times

Update: February 7, 2012 Amnesty International issues Urgent Action for Yoani Sánchez: UA: 38/12 Index: AMR 25/003/2012 Cuba Date: 7 February 2012

6 February 2012

Cuban blogger blocked from travelling to film premiere in Brazil

by Amnesty International

The Cuban government must reform an arbitrary exit permit scheme that affects all Cubans and is used to punish freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today after a prominent blogger was again blocked from travelling abroad.

On Friday, Cuba’s migration authorities denied blogger and activist Yoani Sánchez an exit permit (white card or tarjeta blanca) for the 19th time in four years. As on previous occasions, no reason was given for the decision.

The well-known author of Generación Y had been invited to speak at the premiere screening in Brazil’s Bahía state on 10 February of a documentary on freedom of expression in Cuba and Honduras. Brazil had already issued her a visa to enter the country.

“The Cuban government’s repeated denial of exit permits to critics like Yoani Sánchez can only be seen as retaliation for the expression of their legitimate political views and activism,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor to Amnesty International.

“Those fighting for freedom of expression, association, and movement must be authorized to leave and re-enter the country without arbitrary restrictions, and the Cuban authorities must end other tactics used to clamp down on peaceful dissent.”

Cuban President Raúl Castro has yet to follow through on changes to migration policies promised as part of a series of reforms announced in 2011.

Yoaní Sánchez’s blog covers daily life on the island and the many restrictions placed on Cubans’ enjoyment of political and civil rights.

Her peaceful political activism is highlighted in Brazilian filmmaker Dado Galvão’s new documentary Connection Cuba-Honduras.

After the Cuban authorities’ most recent decision to prevent her from travelling, Yoani Sánchez expressed her frustration via Twitter:

“I feel like a hostage kidnapped by someone who won’t listen or give explanations. If all this effort helps to shine a light on the migratory absurdity we Cubans are trapped in, then it was worth it.”

The blogger’s work has earned her numerous prizes overseas, but the Cuban authorities have repeatedly blocked her from attending the award ceremonies.

On 20 January, Amnesty International wrote to Brazil’s Minister of External Relations, urging him to intervene to ensure Yoani Sánchez would be allowed to leave Cuba.

On a state visit to Cuba last week, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff mentioned that the blogger had been granted a visa to enter Brazil, but fell short of pressing the Cuban government to allow her to leave.