Monday, May 28, 2012

Viva Cristo Rey: Mexico 1929 and Cuba 1959

For Greater Glory (2012)



The cries of Viva Cristo Rey were heard in Mexico between 1926 abd 1929 by Mexicans fighting and dying for religious freedom and in Cuba beginning in 1959 when young Catholic activists fighting against the imposition of a communist dictatorship faced the firing squad.

Anyone interested in understanding a hidden chapter of Mexican history and also what is taking place in Cuba should go and see the film "For Greater Glory" that opens in theaters around the United States on June 1, 2012. The Cristeros War (1926-1929) in Mexico offers some lessons for Cuban democrats both in international and domestic terms.



The debate now over the role of the Catholic Church in public life in Cuba and its relationship with the current dictatorship has eerie parallels with Mexico in 1929. Estimates place the number of Catholics killed by the Mexican revolutionary government at 10,000 dead. Donald J. Mabry  in his 1978  article "Mexican Anticlerics, Bishops, Cristeros, and the Devout during the 1920s: A Scholarly Debate" published in the Journal of Church and States said that:
The Catholics lost because the United States government decided that Mexico needed peace and that peace was best obtained from the existing revolutionary government. The Vatican and finally the hierarchy recognized reality and agreed to the compromises arranged by the apostolic delegate Morrow, and Calles. The league and the cristeros were ignored. They were told to accept the decision of the elites. The government agreed to the compromise (the arreglos) because it appeared to be the best way out of an increasingly difficult situation.
Mabry concluded that "[the Cristeros] did not so much lose the fight as the Vatican and the hierarchy abandoned them." The struggle for religious freedom is now being waged in the United States whereas in Cuba the struggle for its restoration continues to the present day.

In Mexico, the film is called Cristiada and is subtitled, "The history of Mexico that they wanted to hide." For additional information on this important film visit: http://www.forgreaterglory.com/

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pedro Luis Boitel: Cuba's martyr for academic freedom and human rights

"Life on earth is a hand-to-hand mortal combat ... between the law of love and the law of hate." - José Martí (1881)
Pedro Luis Boitel Abraham  (1931 - 1972)

Pedro Luis Boitel was born in Cuba to a family of modest means of French origin. He studied at the University of Havana while working as a radio technician. Opposing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista he joined the July 26 movement led by Fidel Castro. The majority of the movement's members like Pedro were anti-communists.

Once Batista left for exile and Fidel Castro took control the anti-communist members of the July 26 movement became an obstacle to absolute power. Following the revolution, Boitel returned to University were his fellow students nominated to run for the presidency of the Federation of University Students in 1960.  Fidel Castro personally intervened to remove him from the presidency. Pedro Luis Boitel's threat to the emerging communist regime was that he refused to betray the Federation of University Students and sought to maintain academic freedom and autonomy.

As time went on and the dictatorial nature of the Castro regime became more apparent, the student leader became an opponent to Fidel Castro. Condemned to a decade in prison in 1961 he served the cruel and unjust sentence but as the date of his release came and went prison officials refused to free him. In response to the years of cruelty, torture and now denial of his freedom he went on hunger strike on April 3, 1972. Pedro Luis Boitel died forty years ago today on May 25, 1972 after 53 days on hunger strike in Havana in the Castillo del Principe. Academic freedom and autonomy ended in 1960 replaced with fear, repression, and ideological litmus tests to attend university. It has still not been restored today.



The first time I heard about Pedro Luis Boitel was in the 1987 documentary Nobody Listened. The image and testimony of his mother who looked forward to death to be reunited with her son is heart breaking. 

Over the past few days in Geneva there was a review of the current regime in Cuba by the Committee Against Torture. Representatives of the Castro dictatorship made the claim that since 1959 there had been no instances of torture. They say this because, since 1959 the International Red Cross has only been able to obtain access to examine Cuban prisons only once over a small window of time in 1989 out of the 53 years the government has been in power.  Amnesty International has not been able to visit Cuba since 1990. 

The world knows about Pedro Luis Boitel because his mother, Clara Abrahante Boitel, fought to save her son and make known the atrocities committed against Pedro Luis regardless of the threats visited upon her.  The same holds true in the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo where his mother Reina Luisa Tamayo spoke up for her son in defense of his rights regardless the cost. 

However in addition to Pedro Luis Boitel and Orlando Zapata Tamayo the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has documented additional Cuban political prisoners who have died on hunger strike both before and after Pedro Luis Boitel's May 25, 1972 death:
  1. Roberto López Chávez, 25 years old, died on December 11, 1966 in Isla de Pinos prison on hunger strikewithout medical assistance. Armando Valladares, in his prison memoir, Against All Hope described the circumstances surrounding his death: “When Roberto López Chávez, went on a hunger strike to protest the abusesin the prison, the guards withheld water from him until he became delirious, twisting on the floor and begging for something to drink. [...] He died the next day.”
  2. Carmelo Cuadra Hernández, died in La Cabaña prison in April of 1969 on hunger strike, after suffering mistreatment and torture over eight and a half months, without receiving medical care and was the third political prisoner that has died on a hunger strike.
  3. Olegario Charlot Pileta, died in the infamous "Escaleras" (staircase) of the Boniato prison, in of January 1973 during a hunger strike, without medical assistance and is described in documents as a “black youth.”
  4. Enrique García Cuevas died on a hunger strike, without receiving medical care, in cell No. 4 of the new Provincial Jail of Santa Clara, on June 24, 1973.
International media gave a great amount of coverage around the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010 but scant coverage around the January 19, 2012 death of prisoner of conscience Wilman Villar Mendoza who left behind a wife and two little girls
Remember Pedro Luis Boitel's life and sacrifice today but also remember that as long as this dictatorship is allowed to operate with impunity that others will continue to suffer the horrors that Pedro Luis Boitel suffered in defense of human rights, dignity and liberty.


Carlos Alberto Montaner, who briefly shared the same prison with Pedro Luis Boitel, speaks about the young man he knew at a May 2011 presentation.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Norwegian Girl of Cuban descent on mom's side number eight with a new single on Norway's music charts

Two years after "diplomatic" incident, singer and entertainer Alexandra Joner has a hit single "Sunrise"

Update (November 28, 2012): Alexandra Joner voted Sexiest Woman in Norway

Alexandra Joner, a Norwegian girl of Cuban descent on her mother's side (age 21) has a hit single "Sunshine". Two years ago she was attacked by Cuban diplomat, Carmen Julia Guerra, as she video taped her mom holding a nonviolent demonstration at the Cuban embassy in Oslo for Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban political activist and Amnesty prisoner of conscience who died during a hunger strike in a Havana prison on February 23, 2010.
Wonderful news from Norway, Alexandra Joner now has a new hit single "Sunshine" that is number eight in Norway that was released the weekend of May 12, 2012. Writers with insight into the intricacies of pop music say that her single "may be a calling card for a much bigger look worldwide." The new single is accompanied by the video below:

Alexandra Joner, the now 21 year old Cuban-Norwegian girl who was physically assaulted by a Cuban diplomat two years ago on May 22, 2010 in Oslo in an incident that made news around the world, and  is found described in an online biography on LastFM as follows:
In 2010, in an odd turn of events, Joner was threatened and bitten by a Cuban diplomat, Carmen Julia Guerra, while outside of the Cuban embassy in Oslo. She was partaking in a non-violent demonstration in remembrance of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a Cuban political activist who died during a hunger strike in a Havana prison.
The reason that the attack became worldwide news was that it was captured on video. The image of the violent and aggressive undiplomatic diplomat, Carmen Julia Guerra, rushing across the street hurling insults as she sought to wrest away the camera from the young woman.



In the Hip Hop Magazine XXL Alexandra Joner discusses her background and the importance of her mom:
My mother is Cuban and my father is Norwegian, actually half Norwegian, half Latvian if you want to be exact. I sing and dance. I’ve been performing since I was nine. It started with ballet, then I got into hip-hop when I was 14 and I stuck to that.I live with my mom now and she definitely pushes me. When she was younger she was a salsa dancer and she played the violin. I just got a manager here in Norway and we’re trying to find that hit single.
At 2:13 in the video below Alexandra discusses her Cuban, Norwegian and Latvian heritage:



Keep an eye out for this young woman, Alexandra Joner just may conquer the pop music world. Not to mention that friends of freedom everywhere should demonstrate their solidarity for a rising artist who just two years ago was attacked for exercising her rights by purchasing her music.

Two (of the many) misstatements by the Castro regime at the Committee Against Torture

 
Rafael Pino Bécquer, Deputy Attorney General of Cuba, in his presentation of the report on Cuba before the Committee Against Torture made a number of statements that are inaccurate. However  for the sake of brevity will focus on two of the most egregious statements made by the Cuban Deputy Attorney General.

First false statement, the claim that "the persons mentioned in these questions and the rest of the list of questions are supposed 'human rights defenders', do not qualify as established in the The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations" on December 9, 1998 citing article 3. However, Article Three states the following:
Article 3
Domestic law consistent with the Charter of the United Nations and other international obligations of the State in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms is the juridical framework within which human rights and fundamental freedoms should be implemented and enjoyed and within which all activities referred to in the present Declaration for the promotion, protection and effective realization of those rights and freedoms should be conducted.
The Cuban Black Spring of 2003 in which the majority of the organizers of the Varela Project, an initiative that sought to reform the current Cuban constitution to bring it into line with international human rights obligations, were imprisoned and sentenced in summary trials to up to 28 years in prison for engaging in a legal right recognized by the Constitution. The claims made by Rafael Pino Bécquer are demonstrated as patently false by the above mentioned crackdown and the numerous cases of dissidents being imprisoned with the sole purpose of the dictatorship enforcing political conformityThe Cuban Constitution under Article 61 demonstrates its incompatibility with the UN Charter and the Cuban regime's international human rights obligations stating: 
None of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens may be exercised contrary to what is established in the Constitution and the law, or contrary to the existence and objectives of the socialist state, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and Communism.  Violation of this principle is punished by law.


Amnesty International reports on routine repression in Cuba on March 22, 2012

The other charge typically made by the Cuban dictatorship is that the opposition activists are mercenaries in service to foreign powers because they accept funds from abroad. Failing to mention that in many cases when one is a dissident the regime first eliminates them from their place of employment and blacklists them from finding work. However, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders recognizes the right "To solicit, receive and utilize resources for the purpose of protecting human rights (including the receipt of funds from abroad)."

Second false statement, the regime's representative claims that the facts have been misrepresented in order to serve a shadowy conspiracy. At the same time the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture was formally invited by the regime on January 28, 2009 and  to the present day  the dictatorship has not agreed on a date for the visit. International human rights organizations have requested permission to visit the island and be able to study the situation on the ground to be able to arrive at their own conclusions on the human rights situation, but the Cuban regime has denied  them all permission to visit the island. Human rights organizations are relying on reports from human rights groups operating inside and outside of Cuba that are slandered and libeled by the dictatorship. Human Rights Watch in their 2009 report New Castro, Same Cuba reports that:
The Cuban government aggressively works to prevent Cubans from documenting human rights abuses and sharing information with the international community. Nearly all dissidents’ trials are closed to independent observers, journalists, human rights defenders, and foreign diplomats. The individuals detained, prosecuted, imprisoned, or subject to any other disciplinary action are consistently denied documentation of their cases.
This leads to one conclusion: The Cuban dictatorship rejects transparent human rights monitoring by independent human rights organizations because it is engaged in the systematic violation of the human rights of Cubans on the island in order to maintain itself in power as it has now for 53 years. There have been many victims and they have given their testimony. One of them is José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience whose health was destroyed in a Cuban prison following years of torture and neglect. Will you listen?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Amnesty International State of the World Report 2012: Cuba






CUBA
REPUBLIC OF CUBA
Head of state and government: Raúl Castro Ruz
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 11.3 million
Life expectancy: 79.1 years
Under-5 mortality: 5.8 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 99.8 per cent

The last 11 prisoners of conscience detained during the March 2003 crackdown were released in March, along with 62 other political prisoners. However, government repression continued, resulting in hundreds of short-term arrests and detentions. Journalists and political dissidents faced harassment and intimidation by security officials and government supporters acting with government acquiescence.

Background

The Cuban authorities continued to stifle freedom of expression, association and assembly, in spite of the much publicized releases of prominent dissidents. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists and dissidents suffered harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest.

In April, the Cuban Communist Party held its first congress since 1997 and adopted a package of more than 300 economic reforms that were due to be introduced gradually.

However, no resolutions were adopted granting Cubans greater enjoyment of civil and political rights or proposing legislative reforms to allow greater political freedom on the island. During the year, the Cuban government introduced minor economic reforms authorizing the sale of cars and houses, and permitting some income-generating activities outside its direct control.

Alan Gross, a US citizen arrested in December 2009 for distributing telecommunications material in Cuba, was sentenced by a Cuban tribunal to 15 years in prison for crimes against the security of the state. US officials and personalities attempted to secure his release on humanitarian grounds but were unsuccessful.

Freedom of expression, assembly and association

The authorities continued to severely restrict the freedom of expression, assembly, and association of political dissidents, journalists and human rights activists. They were subjected to arbitrary house arrest and other restrictions on their movements by the authorities and government supporters which prevented them from carrying out legitimate and peaceful activities. All media remained under the control of the Cuban government.

Repression of dissent

In February, the authorities detained more than 100 people in a single day and placed over 50 people under house arrest in a pre-emptive strike designed to stop activists marking the death of activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died in 2010 following a prolonged hunger strike while in detention. Reina Luisa Tamayo, Orlando Zapata’s mother; her husband, José Ortiz; and Daniel Mesa, a human rights activist, were arrested on 22 February by about 15 state security agents as they left their home in Banes, Holguín province. The arrests were intended to prevent them from undertaking any activities in memory of Orlando Zapata on the first anniversary of his death on 23 February. All three were released 12 hours later.

In June, Reina Luisa Tamayo went into exile in the USA with her family. Prisoners of conscience

In March, the Cuban authorities completed the release of the prisoners of conscience detained during the March 2003 crackdown, as well as political prisoners, some of whom had been imprisoned since the 1990s. The release of the last 52 prisoners of conscience started in July 2010 following an agreement with the Spanish government and dialogue with the Catholic Church. Most of the former prisoners and their relatives were forced into exile and only a few were allowed to remain in Cuba.

Nestor Rodríguez Lobaina, president and co-founder of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, was forced into exile in Spain; he was a prisoner of conscience. He had been arrested in December 2010 and spent four months in detention without trial in connection with a meeting he organized at his home and anti-government banners he displayed outside his home in August 2010. Nestor Rodríguez Lobaina had served a six-year prison term between 2000 and 2005 for contempt for the authorities.

Arbitrary detention

The authorities continued to use arbitrary detention in an attempt to silence critics of government policy.

The Ladies in White, relatives of former prisoners of conscience from the 2003 crackdown, and their supporters repeatedly faced arbitrary arrest and physical attacks as they staged protests in several towns in Cuba. In August, five Ladies in White living in the city of Santiago de Cuba were arrested before they could reach the cathedral from where they planned to begin their march. Nineteen members of the group were rearrested a few days later and 49 Ladies in White and their supporters were prevented from carrying out a protest in central Havana in support of their members in Santiago de Cuba and other eastern provinces. On several occasions, the Ladies in White reported that they were subjected to physical and verbal aggression from government supporters during peaceful marches.

In October, 26 members of the Ladies in White were briefly detained by the authorities to prevent them from participating in a meeting following the death of their leader Laura Pollán in October. In July, more than 20 members of the Support Group of the Ladies in White were detained the day before a march called by the Ladies in White at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba province. Dissidents on their way to the church were also detained and prevented from taking part in the peaceful march.

The US embargo against Cuba

In January, the US government announced minor changes to the embargo, allowing greater travel to Cuba for educational, cultural, religious and journalistic activities. In October, for the 20th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on the USA to lift its economic and trade embargo against Cuba, in place since 1961.

UN agencies working in Cuba, such as the WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA, continued to report the negative effects of the US embargo on the health of the population, particularly members of marginalized groups. Access to specific commodities, equipment, medicines and laboratory materials remained scarce as a result of restrictions imposed on the importation of items manufactured by US companies and their subsidiaries or produced under US patents.

Amnesty International visits/reports

The Cuban authorities have not granted Amnesty International access to the country since 1990.

Full report available in pdf format online at:
http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/air12-report-english.pdf

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

United Nations Begins Examination of Torture in Cuba


A definition of torture
For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. 
Taken from Part I, Article 1, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment(1984)
Ariel Sigler Amaya, who entered Cuban prison a strong athletic individual, pictured above upon his release in June of 2010.
The Castro dictatorship's official news media published an article today titled "Cuba: Over 50 Years without Tortures or Abuse to Prisoners." The article claims that torture had been widespread prior to 1959 with the worse of it occurring during the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista (1952 - 1959).

The reason for the article is that the regime in Cuba is being subjected to a review by the United Nation's Committee Against Torture. The review started today and ends tomorrow. The regime and its apologists are doing all they can to hide their dismal record on torture and human rights behind the smokescreen of biased international reporting and slandering authentic Cuban human rights defenders.

 It is true that acts of torture had taken place during the dictatorships of Gerardo Machado (1924 - 1932) and at a greater level under Fulgencio Batista, but both regime's pale when compared to that of Fidel and Raul Castro (1959 - Present). The number of the victims of torture continues to increase.

The Cuban regime had extended an official invite on January 28, 2009 to the Special Rapporteur on Torture only to fail to provide a date for the visit. Three years have passed and prior to 2009 no invitation had ever been extended. What are they hiding?



Torture victims such as Amado Rodriguez and Ariel Sigler Amaya may have the answer.
 Ariel Sigler Amaya was arrested on March 18, 2003 in what became known as the Black Cuban Spring. It was not his first arrest. On another occasion, he had been arrested on December 15 for celebrating International Human Rights Day on December 10. Following the 2003 arrest Ariel Sigler Amaya was sentenced to 20 years in prison. During the course of his imprisonment he suffered ill treatment that led to a steady deterioration of his health placing his life in jeopardy. He was released in June of 2010 an emaciated, wheel chair bound ghost of his former self.  Amado Rodriguez recalled, at a meeting co-hosted by Amnesty International and the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture in Miami on June 25, 2010, the torture techniques the prisoner of conscience endured over the 23 years he was unjustly imprisoned in Cuba.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dublin: Human rights defenders from Malawi, Cuba, Syria, Egypt and Vietnam shortlisted for 2012 Front Line Defenders Award


JURY OF IRISH PARLIAMENTARIANS ANNOUNCES SHORTLIST OF 5 NOMINEES FOR 2012 FRONT LINE DEFENDERS AWARD SELECTED FROM LIST OF 107 NOMINEES FROM 46 COUNTRIES

Every year the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk is awarded to one individual, or group of individuals, who has made an outstanding contribution to the cause of human rights. This year the Front Line Defenders Award received a total of 107 nominations from 46 countries.
The jury consisting of: Mr Pat Breen TD, Senator Averil Power, Minister for Education Mr Ruairi Quinn TD, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr Simon Coveney TD and Ms Noeline Blackwell Director, FLAC (Free Legal Aid Centres) today announced the list of the five human rights defenders who have been shortlisted for this year's Award. The overall winner of the Front Line Defenders Award 2012 will be announced at a ceremony in Dublin's City Hall on 08 June.
The shortlisted nominees for the 2012 Front Line Defenders Award are:
Cuba: Ms. Ivonne Mallezo Galano
Malawi: Mr. Rafiq Hazat
Vietnam: Dr Cu Huy Ha Vu
Egypt: Ms. Mona Seif
Syria: Ms. Razan Ghazzawi
”The stories of individual courage and the utter dedication of these brave and determined human rights defenders who risk their freedom, their livelihoods and even their lives in defence of the rights of others challenge us to live up to their example”, said Mary Lawlor Executive Director of Front Line Defenders in Dublin.
The winner will receive €15,000 to enable them to continue their vital work for human rights. It is also hoped that winning the Front Line Defenders Award will act as an additional form of security and help them to develop their network of media and advocacy contacts.
“Front Line Defenders is proud to recognise these brave and dedicated individuals all of whom remain at grave risk today because of their legitimate human rights work” added Ms Lawlor.
The winner of the 2012 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk will be announced on June 8th in Dublin. Stay up to date on the work of these and other human rights defenders around the world at www.frontlinedefenders.org

BIOGRAPHIES OF NOMINEES SHORTLISTED FOR 2012 FRONT LINE DEFENDERS AWARD FOR HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AT RISK
Rafiq Hajat, Director of the Institute for Policy Interaction (IPI), is one of the leading human rights defenders in Malawi where the Government has been seeking to repress protests and silence all critical voices. On 3 September 2011, at 1 am approximately, a petrol bomb was thrown through the window of the IPI office in the Chichiri area of Blantyre, following which the front room of the building caught fire resulting in extensive damage. Rafiq Hajat has been publicly accused by former President Bingu wa Mutharika of being an enemy of the state and he has been forced to go into hiding. However, in spite of the threats against him he has continued to speak out about human rights violations in Malawi.
In Cuba, Ivonne Mallezo Galano has been repeatedly detained by the authorities for promoting human rights and democracy. On 30th November 2011 following a peaceful protest in the Fraternidad Park in Havana where she was part of a group that displayed a white sheet that read: “Down with Hunger, Misery, and Poverty”. She was subjected to 51 days of cruel and degrading treatment in prison before her release on January 20, 2012. Two days after her release in January she was back together with the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanca) participating in their regular Sunday march on 22nd January in the streets of Havana. During the recent visit of the Pope to Cuba, Ivonne was one of the human rights defenders rounded up and detained throughout the pontiff’s visit.
Dr Cu Huy Ha Vu was sentenced to seven years in prison in April 2011 following an unfair trial on charges of “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam." He had been arrested on 4 November 2010 and held incommunicado following his involvement in a number of high profile legal cases including two cases against the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in relation to bauxite mining in Vietnam’s Central Highlands as well as a case relating to the arrest of a number of Catholic church members who were participating in a funeral procession on disputed land. Both lawsuits against the Prime Minister were posted on the Bauxite Vietnam website and reposted on several others.
When former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after weeks of mass public protest, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt (known as SCAF) assumed power. After being part of the Tahrir protests, Mona Seif, normally cancer research lab worker, started a movement taking on the SCAF and its widespread use of military trials of civilians. The 'No Military Trials' movement has been a galvanising force among Egyptian revolutionaries, but has also taken on the challenge of exposing the SCAF regime’s crimes against detainees. Through written and video testimonies, her Tahrir Diaries blog seeks to reveal the military’s abuses against the revolution they once claimed to be saving.
Razan Ghazzawi is a tireless defender of human rights, not only in her native Syria but throughout the Arab world and beyond. She is an active blogger who also works for the Syrian Centre for Media and Free Expression advocating for journalists and bloggers under threat in Syria and the rest of the region. For this she has been detained and is currently facing trial. She has stood up for minority rights, including equal rights for Palestinians. Most recenty she has worked documenting abuses by the Syrian Government. She was first arrested in December, when she was on her way to a regional meeting on media in the Arab world hosted in Amman.  Following a grassroots social media campaign, she was released shortly afterwards.  In February, the Syrian authorities raided the offices of the SCM and arrested Razan and her colleagues.  They currently face a military trial in an attempt to crackdown on free speech activists and restrict the flow of information out of Syria.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cuba in 2012: What would José Martí say?

"There is no forgiveness for acts of hatred. Daggers thrust in the name of liberty are thrust into liberty's heart." - Jose Marti


Two deaths on May 19 separated by 117 years

José Martí was killed in battle against Spanish troops at the Battle of Dos Ríos, near the confluence of the rivers Contramaestre and Cauto, on May 19, 1895. He is buried in the Santa Efigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Cubans the world over honor his memory and Cuban independence follows a day later. Seven years and one day after Martí's death Cuba formally obtained its independence on May 20, 1902.

Cubans across the ideological divide claim José Martí as their own. The claims of the dictatorship led by the Castro brothers that Martí is the intellectual author of their political project is ironic considering that the life and writings of this Cuban patriot is the antithesis of the Castro regime.

117 years after his death in battle, the regime that claims him as their inspiration sent thugs to surround the home of a nonviolent activist, Idania Yánez Contreras, carrying out an "act of repudiation" in an act of psychological terrorism against her and her family. It was too much for Idania's grandmother, Antonia Rodríguez, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on May 18 due to a drastic rise in blood pressure and died the following day on May 19. These violent acts by the dictatorship started on Wednesday, May 16, 2012  under the direction of the Lieutenant Colonel Regino, along with other agents. The soldiers made obscene gestures and shouted obscenities. Jorge Luis García Pérez ‘Antúnez’ (@antunezcuba) tweeted what was taking place as it happened and published the photos via twitter. The photos showed officials grabbing their genitals and screaming insults at the women gathered there. In addition to the psychological assault the mob began throwing rocks at the home and one of the rocks made it inside hitting Idania's mother, Aramilda Contreras.

The life and death of the Cuban poet, journalist, and independence leader who proclaimed that "It is necessary to make virtue fashionable," would have condemned the behavior of these regime agents.  José Martí believed that "Peace demands of Nature the recognition of human rights." A 53 year old dictatorship that rejects fundamental human rights is the antithesis of what he fought and died for.

Furthermore, he proclaimed the idea that "One just principle from the depths of a cave is more powerful than an army." A principle shared not only by dissidents in Cuba but also echoed by Vaclav Havel one of the dissidents who had an important role in ending Communism in Eastern Europe in the1989: "I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions."

In José Martí's writings the reader finds a man who loved freedom, rejected hatred -even of one's enemy- and only embraced violent conflict as a last resort. One wonders if instead of riding into battle on horseback if he would've been the trailblazer of nonviolent resistance. What would have Cuba's political culture been like if as in the case of Havel the Cuban poet and writer would've lived to have been president and guide the new republic in the first years of its existence?

In this thought experiment of one thing we can be sure, José Martí and his later political disciples would not be sending soldiers to grab their genitals, throw rocks at elderly mothers, and precipitate a grandmother's death by stroke after days of terrorizing her and her family. Both the persons who order these despicable actions and those who carry them out degrade and debase themselves in performing hateful and evil acts. The diabolical goal of this behavior beyond the obvious terrorism is to implant hatred into the adversary.

Its been said that when a friend betrayed him to the police José Martí sent him the following poem:

Cultivo una rosa blanca
En julio como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.


Y para el cruel que me arranca

El corazon con que vivo,

Cardo ni ortiga cultivo,
Cultivo una rosa blanca.  

It translates to English as follows:

I cultivate a white rose 
In July as in January 
For the sincere friend 
Who gives me his hand frankly. 

And for the cruel person who tears out 
The heart with which I live, 
I cultivate neither nettles nor thorns: 

I cultivate a white rose.

Antonia Rodríguez and José Martí died on the same day 117 years apart under different circumstances that highlight the fact that Cuba in 2012 is not the Cuba that the Cuban independence leader bled and died for in 1895.

Solidarity with Cuba

The Heritage Foundation and The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation  co-hosted a Cuba Solidarity Day Event on May 18, 2012.



 

Click the following links to read the translated statements of José Daniel Ferrer , Berta Soler , and Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez  

May 20 marks the 110th year of Cuba’s achievement of independence from its Spanish overlords. Yet, the struggle to realize the full blessings of independence so fiercely desired by the Cuban people remains incomplete. Individual rights and liberties are callously denied by a communist dictatorship that has ruled with absolute authority for over 50 years. Rights of speech, travel, association, and access to information as well basic economic and personal freedoms are denied in ways inconsistent with universal values and fundamental human rights. For this reason, May 20 remains a day closely associated with the thwarted aspirations and shattered hopes of the Cuban people, especially for those who courageously resist the regime’s cruel and arbitrary demands for obedience and silence.

In May 2008, people around the world observed the first Solidarity Day with Cuba – the purpose of which was to “shine a bright light on the Castro regime's abuses” and “call on the Government of Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience.” In 2012, in the final hours of Castroism, the challenge remains to demonstrate support for the growing number of ordinary Cubans who reject a mere succession scenario and demand a genuine transition to a post-Castro Cuba where individual rights, political freedom, consent of the governed, and economic freedom prevail. It is their story, struggle and hope, Cuba Solidarity Day celebrates.

Celebrating José Martí and Cuban Independence at the San Carlos Institute

Men of action, above all those whose actions are guided by love, live forever. Other famous men, those of much talk and few deeds, soon evaporate. Action is the dignity of greatness. - José Martí 

If what we do for Cuba, we do not do for love, better not do it. - Bishop Agustin Roman


The San Carlos Institute Celebrates the Life of Jose Marti and Cuba’s Independence 
May 17th – 20th, 2012

The San Carlos Institute of Key West invited the community to a four-day program in tribute of Jose Marti, Cuba’s founding father, journalist, and poet, and to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Cuba’s independence from Spain. There is a still an opportunity to attend the final day of this outstanding program celebrating a Mass for Monsignor Agustin Roman.

The San Carlos Institute, founded in 1871, served as cradle of Cuba’s independence movement.  Jose Marti launched the final drive for Cuba’s independence from the San Carlos and affectionately referred to it as “La Casa Cuba.” (The Cuba House)

Highlights of the program thus far have included the following:


Musical performances by “La Coral Cubana,” a 40-voice choir, tracing the history of Cuba through its music, renowned soprano Virginia Alonso and violinist Andres Trujillo, and the 13-member band Tradicion Caribe.



The San Carlos also hosted the world premiere of Jose Marti: A Musical Tribute, with pieces selected by Emilio Cueto, and performed by Jose Ramos Santos, a distinguished Puerto Rican pianist and professor at The Catholic University of America. Ramos Santos was accompanied by two vocalists: mezzo soprano, Anamer Castrello and tenor, Eric Gramatges. The tribute was divided into two main themes: Music inspired by Marti's life and work and music with the texts by Marti.

There were also special viewings of the WPBT award-winning 2002 documentary Jose Marti: Legacy of Freedom" by film director Joe Cardona on Saturday, May 19.


Distinguished guests included former Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, and U.S. Congressman David Rivera, among many others.


The full program is available online but the remaining program for today, May 20, Cuban Independence Day is reproduced below.



Sunday, May 20
1:30 PM: Mass at San Carlos  in memory of San Carlos’ Board Member,  Bishop Agustin Roman, who passed away on April 11th of this year.
3:00 PM: Jose Marti: A Musical Tribute  The concert includes pieces inspired by Marti, as well as pieces about some of his most famous poems. Emilio Cueto, a Washington, D.C.-based independent scholar, has conducted the research and selected the compositions, spanning over one hundred years and several countries. Jose Ramos, a distinguished Puerto Rican pianist and professor at The Catholic University of America, and two singers from the University Doctoral Program will perform the musical selections. (Admission: $25 per adult and $10 for students and children). (Admission: $25 adults/$10 students and children)
5:00 PM: Musical celebration of Cuban Independence Day by the 13-member band, Tradicion Caribe. Duval Street will rock to the best of Cuba's music.

When: Sunday, May 20, 2012
Where: The San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval Street, Key West, Florida
Tickets:  www.keystix.com
Transportation: 305-810-8454

The San Carlos Institute is a Cuban heritage center and museum founded in 1871 by Cuban exiles who came to Key West to plan the campaign for Cuba's independence from Spain. The San Carlos Institute is a not for profit organization maintained by private donations and the work of volunteers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

R.I.P. Carlos Fuentes: Mexico's Gentleman of Letters

“There must be something beyond slaughter and barbarism to support the existence of mankind and we must all help search for it.” ― Carlos Fuentes



Carlos Fuentes died Tuesday at age 83 in Mexico City. A man of letters and a patriotic Mexican he was a difficult man to pin down in anyone ideological camp. Early on he supported the revolution in Cuba but broke with it when he experienced first hand its Stalinist nature:

"Since 1966, when Pablo Neruda and I went to a PEN Writers Conference in New York. Arthur Miller had obtained visas for writers and intellectuals from the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. Neruda and I celebrated this as a triumph. Immediately the Cuban union of writers published a ferocious letter denouncing Neruda and myself as enemies of socialism, signed by a long list of Cuban writers. It was absolutely dirty, because later we found out that they had not been consulted. In Cuba, there was a kind of tropical Stalinism in the realm of culture and literature. So I never went back to the island."



"Desde 1966, cuando Pablo Neruda y yo fuimos a la Conferencia del PEN Club en Nueva York. Arthur Miller había obtenido visas para escritores e intelectuales de la Unión Soviética y el bloque oriental. Neruda y yo lo celebramos como un triunfo. De inmediato el sindicato cubano de escritores publicó una carta feroz denunciándonos a Neruda y a mí como enemigos del socialismo, firmada por una larga lista de escritores cubanos. Fue absolutamente sucio, porque más tarde averiguamos que no habían sido consultados. En Cuba, había una suerte de stalinismo tropical en el ámbito de la cultura y la literatura. Por eso nunca volví a la isla."

Traducción tomado de:  http://www.cubanet.org/CNews/y04/may04/19o9.htm

Orlando Zapata Tamayo born 45 years ago today martyred on February 23, 2010

Orlando Zapata Tamayo
Human Rights Defender
May 15, 1967 - February 23, 2010

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was born 45 years ago today in Cuba on May 15, 1967. A bricklayer and carpenter with a heightened sense of dignity he became a human rights defender. He gathered signatures for Project Varela, a citizen initiative to reform the Cuban system and bring it into line with international human rights standards. Orlando was arrested with Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and other activists in December of 2002 for gathering to discuss how to empower Cubans with knowledge about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and nonviolent resistance. Released in March of 2003, he would be rearrested for engaging in a fast demanding the release of Dr. Biscet and his other imprisoned colleagues that same month. Amnesty International recognized Orlando Zapata Tamayo as a prisoner of conscience.

He would spend the last seven years of his life in Cuban prisons suffering beatings tortures, and constant assaults on his human dignity. Orlando Zapata was defiant until the end demanding his right to be treated like a human being. His struggle ended after a prolonged hunger strike on February 23, 2010. Cuban officials, in an effort to break his spirit, had denied him water for days to force him off the water only hunger strike. They contributed to his death.

Following the international outcry Orlando's extra-judicial killing generated, agents of the Castro regime engaged in a campaign of slander against the dead human rights defender in a crude attempt to deny his history of activism.



They have failed because people were paying attention and refused to remain silent. In Canada, a punk rock band composed and played a song titled Orlando Zapata that placed his death in context. The video above was edited by the Free Cuba Foundation, a student group formed at Florida International University in 1993.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo should have been 45 years old today but his physical life ended at 42. What the dictatorship did not count on was that his courage and sacrifice would live on. He is now a symbol of resistance in the defense of human dignity and freedom.

Orlando Zapata Vive!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothers Day in Cuba: Cuban Women Defy Government Repression

"We are not going to stop. If they have imprisoned our sisters thinking that we would give up, they are mistaken." - Laura Pollán
Ladies in White march on Mother's Day despite repression in honor of Laura Pollán, along with Laura's widower, former prisoner of conscience Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez
On Mothers Day in Cuba the Ladies in White,  paid tribute to Laura Pollán, one of the founders of the organization who died under mysterious circumstances on October 14, 2011. Despite threats, harassment, and scores of women detained by State Security 68 Ladies in White following mass walked through Fifth Avenue in the west of Havana. They marched and chanted Viva Laura Pollán!" and "Freedom for the political prisoners!"

Literary Tea on Saturday in Havana

Berta Soler, the current leader of the Ladies in White, described how the homage for Laura Pollán began the day before on Saturday with a literary tea at the home of the deceased founding leader. The home located in central Havana, thanks to Laura's widower, has now been turned into the organization's  headquarters. She also described how the regime had organized a "party" for Mothers Day on Saturday just outside of the home to disrupt their activity describing it as a provocation.


Video from Pedazos de la Isla

More sinisterly scores of members of the Ladies in White were taken by State Security into detention their whereabouts unknown over the past week and including today. Sara Marta Fonseca managed to tweet at 8:48am on Mothers Day: "They take me away detained." This latest wave of detentions started days ago, in anticipation of Mothers Day.


 Ladies in White marching on Sunday

Jose Daniel Ferrer tweeted on Friday, May 11 that  Ladies in White, Alina Fonseca and Milagros Leyva were still jailed in Santiago de Cuba for attempting to travel to Havana. Alina had been detained since May 7, 2012. On May 8, 2012 Jose Daniel reported that a Major in State Security (G2) going by the name "Dorky" told various Ladies in White that they would only allow five of them to arrive in Havana for the Mothers Day activities. State Security mounted an operation to harass, block and detain women trying to leave to Havana to join up with the Ladies in White. Nevertheless 23 women arrived in Havana from Santiago to take part in the activities.

Later today, tweets appeared concerning some of the women who had been detained and were left by State Security up to 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from their homes to find their way back in a country in which it is notoriously difficult to get around.  The names of two subjected to this mistreatment were tweeted by Hablemos Press: Sandra Guerra and Claribel Rodriguez.

The treatment of Cuban women under the Castro regime has been and continues to be shameful. On May 3rd a Cuban mother was threatened over several hours by thugs, instigated by State Security, that her 5 year old daughter would be raped.



It is also important to remember that Cuban mothers are spending Mothers Day in prison for defending the human rights of the Cuban people. Two of them: Sonia Garro and Niurka Luque have been in prison since March 2012.  Cuban mothers are forging the path to a free Cuba one step at a time walking for their children's freedom.