Saturday, June 30, 2012

Raul Castro's International Relations: Europe's Last Dictator & Sri Lanka's Genocidal President

"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." - Václav Havel, October 1989

Sharing Havel's worldview is the reason that while observing the situation in the world one is compelled to offer an opinion and when circumstances demand it to repeat it and act on it. This is the situation with regards to the regime operating in Cuba that makes a negative impact not only on the lives of Cubans in the island but around the world in places like Belarus, China, Iran, Libya, Sri Lanka and Syria.

Many of these tyrants, like their Cuban counterpart, share Havel's view, but whereas he expressed this statement with hope and optimism, they view it with fear. It is for that reason that these dictatorships attack freedom of the press and freedom of expression because they view both as an existential threat.

Raul Castro and Alexander Lukashenko

The past two weeks have once again demonstrated its defense of dictators and genocidal regimes with visits from heads of state from Belarus and Sri Lanka leaders to Cuba. At the same time in Geneva at the U.N. Human Rights Council its efforts to silent critics while defending brutal dictatorships demonstrates the horrid nature of the regime.

Alexander Lukashenko is the last dictator of  Europe and has the prisoners of conscience. He has been the "president" of Belarus since 1994. His official visit to Cuba on June 24, 2012 was not his first. Both Lukashenko and the Castro brothers have a lot in common in persecuting dissidents and stifling freedom of expression and association.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka and Raul Castro

In the case of Sri Lanka, in 2009 the Cuban government's diplomats took the lead in blocking efforts to address the wholesale slaughter taking place in Sri Lanka. The Foreign Policy Association reported at the time that:
As expected, Cuba’s seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council has already become an obstacle to the process of investigation and recognition of gross human rights offenses. Yesterday Cuba succeeded in blocking debate on abuses in Sri Lanka, which many countries have pushed for after the extreme violence that rocked the country earlier this month.
Amnesty International said that “[t]he vote is extremely disappointing and is a low point for the Human Rights Council. It abandons hundreds of thousands of people in Sri Lanka to cynical political considerations.” In 2011 the regime's diplomats opposed a reopening of the Sri  Lanka case which many have called a genocide. The official visit to Cuba of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president of Sri Lanka (considered by many to be a war criminal) should dispel the illusion that Raul Castro is any different than his predecessor.

Some on the Left that recognize this loathsome behavior attempt to minimize it within a cold war paradigm but to do so they must ignore the Castro regime's strategic embrace of the Argentine military junta in the 1970s that disappeared 30,000 leftists. Not to mention its initial reception to the Bush Administration shipping prisoners to Guantanamo.

The choice is simple and clear it is not one of being right or left but whether you believe that human beings have dignity and fundamental rights that you are willing to recognize and defend or you don't.  In Cuba, under the Castro brothers the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered a subversive document. It is for these reasons that the dictatorship in Cuba and its ally Venezuela have no place on the U.N. Human Rights council. The effort to remove or keep out of the membership these kind of regimes from the Council is not done out of small mindedness but out of a desire to save it from irrelevance.

At the same time it is up to all of us wherever we are to speak out when we have the opportunity for those who are being silenced in solidarity with them.

Friday, June 29, 2012

UN Watch Offensive Throws Castro-Chavez Alliance on Defensive

Banging on table, Cuba, China, Russia & Pakistan lash out after call to exclude Chavez, other abusers from UN rights council

Concerted U.N. speeches slam Chavez bid for rights council seat;
Dictatorships urge "striking NGO statement from the record" 


 GENEVA, June 28 - UN Watch's "Stop Chavez" campaign heated up today when Cuba, Russia, China and Pakistan lashed out at concerted speeches by high-profile guests Eligio Cedeno and Thor Halvorssen, in what one observer called a "major take-down" of Venezuela's Chavez regime and its bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council. (See video at mark 27:20.)
UN Watch, which heads an international campaign of parliamentarians and human rights groups opposed to Venezuela's candidacy, organized the speech today by Eligio Cedeno, Venezuela's most-wanted man (photo below). The banker and former political prisoner, who escaped the clutches of Hugo Chavez for asylum in the U.S., confronted his oppressor in a powerful plenary statement.

Exercising its right of reply, Venezuela's representative called Cedeno a "terrorist and criminal who fled justice." The Chavez diplomat falsely accused the U.S. of having invited Cedeno to the council, which he said was "to smear the reputation of my country." He also accused UN Watch of being a U.S. "lackey.“ (See video at mark 1:55:30)

And in a concerted effort with UN Watch, Thor Halvorssen, the Venezuelan-born head of the Human Rights Foundation -- whose mother was shot by Chavez forces -- also took the floor to challenge Venezuela's credentials, as well as those of existing members Cuba, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Click here for speech.

Thor Halvorssen of the Human Rights Foundaiton

Shouting repeatedly for the U.N. chair to stop the speech, the Cuban delegate flew into a range, fists banging on the table, and knocked over his chair.

Cuba insisted that non-governmental activists taking the floor at the U.N. “cannot question the hopes and aspirations of states to become members of the Human Rights Council, or their right to be members. You cannot say that my country does not have a right to be a member of this council.” Havana's delegate demanded that Halvorssen’s statement be “struck from the record.”

Russia and Pakistan similarly claimed that Halvorssen spoke out of turn. China said that activists at the U.N. “are not entitled to challenge the right of a country to become a member of the council.”

However, UN Watch director Hillel Neuer said that a quick intervention by the U.S. apparently convinced the chair to let the statement stand.

"Today was a rare moment at the U.N.," said Neuer. "We succeeded in putting Chavez -- who throws independent judges in jail, persecutes student activists, and aids mass murderers like Ahmadinejad and Assad -- on the defensive."

When Halvorssen referred to “authoritarian” regimes, Cuba interrupted again, calling this a “disrespectful term,” and asked the chair to prohibit him from speaking. China also objected, saying no one at the U.N. human rights council has a right “to label a sovereign state, to point a finger at a country that is a member, or which wishes to become a member.”

This was reported in the Canada Free Press.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lessons from the Embargo on Apartheid South Africa for Castroite Cuba pt. 2

 Unfortunately one of the new lessons from the campaign to impose an embargo on the South African Apartheid regime is that that since 2000 with the Supreme Court decision citing the Supremacy clause in Crosby versus National Foreign Trade Council which means that relations or trade with a foreign country is governed by the federal government and that state and local governments can no longer place their own sanctions on foreign regimes unless it is in accordance with federal government policy. In 2000 the Supreme Court forced Massachusetts to do business with companies that had done business with the military junta in Burma. According to constitutional scholar Sanford Levinson in the Fordham Law Review the Crosby decision compels state and local governments to cooperate with evil.

In recent days it appears that this sordid practice may be repeated in Florida where a Brazilian multinational is suing over a state law that bans companies that do business with the regimes in Cuba and Syria. The Miami Herald in a June 5, 2012 editorial stated that:
The U.S. Constitution does not give states the right to conduct their own foreign policy — indeed, imagine 50 states conducting their own foreign affairs; that would be disastrous. The Civil War clarified where “states’ rights” stop.

Read more here:
The Miami Herald got it wrong, the history of the United States indicates just the opposite. Governors of states are considered subnational foreign policy actors pursuing commercial agreements on behalf of their respective states. Would the Miami Herald call on the governor of Florida along with other state and local officials not to pursue commercial opportunities for their respective state and local governments? Furthermore, the rights of states and local governments to impose restrictions on nefarious regimes and unjust practices has a long history. John Kline from Georgetown University in a paper titled "Continuing controversies over state and local foreign policy sanctions in the United States" exposes the inaccuracies in The Miami Herald's editorial:
Recent state and local government sanctions on business with Burma and certain Swiss banks renews a debate over foreign policy powers in federal systems that operate in an integrated global economy. International business promotion has become an accepted function of state and local governments. More controversial is the imposition of foreign policy sanctions, where economic involvement becomes a lever to pursue political goals rather than an objective in itself. When compared with past cases, including South Africa and the Arab boycott, recent state and local initiatives demonstrate both continuity and fresh departures in federalism's evolving adjustment to the global economy. These developments can be used to examine theoretical concepts such as constituent and multilayered diplomacy. They also argue for improved practical cooperation among the multiple and diverse actors engaged in foreign policy issues.
That is to say that the tactics and strategies used by the anti-Apartheid movement to organize a grassroots campaign that obtained national sanctions against the South African government by first passing sanctions at the local and state level to build momentum nationally would be impossible today thanks to the already mentioned 2000 Supreme Court decision. Grassroots activists and US citizens have been stripped of that power while corporations in business with despicable and brutal regimes such as Burma, China, Cuba and Syria have been empowered.This is another example of the centralization of power in the central government that in fact undermines federalism,

Nevertheless citizens and activists can still impact federal policy via a successful strategy executed by the anti-Apartheid movement in the 1980s that overrode a presidential veto:
Our three-pronged strategy had worked: first, consult with grassroots activists and provide them with the grounds from which to press in congressional districts for the most principled position possible – in this case,complete disinvestments and embargo, second, work with willing national organizations to generate a lobbying presence on behalf of bold government action – maximum sanctions, in the case of apartheid – always creating pressure to move the middle to the left, third, engage congressional colleagues and educate them about the issues and the pathways for change.
At the same time people power, one of the most potent tools in the arsenal of anti-apartheid activists is still available today despite the Supreme Court decision. During the struggle against Apartheid it had a huge impact:
 Among the most sustained campaigns, involving national organizations as well as providing a target for local demonstrators, was the campaign to boycott Shell that paralleled campaigns in Europe directed at the same multinational company. Beginning with a sit-in by the Free South Africa Movement at the Shell offices in Washington, DC,159 the campaign gained support not only from the United Mine Workers, but also other unions, including the AFL-CIO trade union federation. And it tied the action to support of the National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa. Desmond Tutu joined the press conference launching the boycott, and churches joined actively in the coalition. The Interfaith Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) added Shell to its list of 12 key corporate ‘partners in apartheid’ targeted for divestment actions.
 The lesson here is clear a coordinated targeting of companies doing business with repressive regimes such as Cuba targeting them with boycotts, protests, sit-ins and peaceful invasions of said companies until they divest from the Castro regime. Its worked before and it can work again today.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Commitment to Freedom

This document was first published today in Capitol Hill Cubans and favorably cited in The Foundry by the Heritage Foundation's Latin America expert Ray Walser:

Prominent Cuban Exile Corporate Leaders Warn of Castro’s “Cosmetic Reforms” 

Over a dozen former Fortune 500 senior executives and other multinational business leaders urge support for the Cuban pro-democracy movement and reaffirm their commitment to help the economic reconstruction of a free Cuba.

Washington, D.C. - Prominent Cuban exile business and corporate leaders released today a document entitled “Commitment to Freedom”, rejecting business ties with Cuba while the island remains under totalitarian rule. However, they are committed to helping in the reconstruction of their homeland when freedom dawns.

The signatories are former senior executives from Dow Chemical, General Mills, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Colgate-Palmolive, Bacardi, American Express Bank, PepsiCo, Warner Communications, Reynolds Metals, Continental Bank International, Martin Marietta Aluminum, Amex Nickel Corporation, as well as the head of Jazztel and other distinguished business leaders. 

The signees of the document warn against the Castro regime’s deceptive campaign to secure U.S. capital infusion and bank credits, and lure some Cuban-American businessmen, without ushering in a true economic and political opening. The reforms introduced so far are mostly cosmetic, heavily-taxed and revocable, and offer no legal protection or investment return.

To neutralize the opposition, both inside Cuba and abroad, the signers assert that the regime is promoting “reconciliation”, with the apparent backing of the Catholic Church hierarchy, but only as a smokescreen to intensify repression. Peaceful human rights activists are systematically harassed and arrested.

Instead of bailing out the failed and ruthless regime, the document calls for support of the leaders of the growing pro-democracy movement in Cuba. They, and not their oppressors, should receive international recognition, financial resources and communications technology to carry out their heroic struggle.

Here is the letter:


We, the undersigned, Cuban exiles with deep roots in U.S. and international corporations, institutions and business communities, wish to convey our great concern regarding the Castro regime’s deceptive campaign aimed at securing much-needed financial resources to prolong its iron grip over the people of Cuba.

The regime is facing the severest financial crisis since the early 1990s, compounded by the possible loss of its Venezuelan life line. But instead of ushering in a true economic and political opening that would unleash the entrepreneurial skills of the Cuban people and attract foreign capital, it has only introduced non-systemic, heavily-taxed, revocable reforms with no legal protection or investment return. To stay afloat, the regime is pursuing a three-pronged strategy: 

First, it is trying to induce the U.S. to lift or further weaken the embargo to funnel tourist dollars and bank credits to the bankrupt island--a bailout under the guise of constructive engagement.

Second, it has apparently enlisted the support of the Catholic Church hierarchy in Cuba to promote “reconciliation” under the current totalitarian system, while continuing to hound, beat and arrest peaceful opponents and human rights activists across the island.

Third, it is seeking to divide and neutralize the Cuban-American community, and lure some of its businessmen, by selling the fallacious concept that there is no solution to Cuba’s predicament other than supporting cosmetic reforms without liberty and democracy. 

We reject that outrageous proposition, since for us, and for most Cuban-Americans, there is no substitute for freedom. We believe that, absent the dismantling of the totalitarian apparatus on the island, along with the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the restoration of fundamental human rights, there should be no U.S. unilateral concessions to the Castro regime.

The future of the island-nation lies not with the current failed, octogenarian rulers, but with the leaders of the growing pro-democracy movement. They, and not their oppressors, are worthy of receiving international recognition, financial resources and communications technology to carry out their heroic struggle. 

We pledge our continued support to them--the vanguard of the emerging civil society--and look forward to helping in the reconstruction of the island where we were born, but only when the Cuban people can enjoy the blessings of freedom we cherish and they deserve. 


Manuel Jorge Cutillas, Fr. Chairman and CEO, BACARDI
Sergio Masvidal, Fr. Vice Chairman, AMERICAN EXPRESS BANK
Enrique Falla, Fr. EVP and CFO, DOW CHEMICAL
Eduardo Crews, Fr. President, Latin America, BRISTOL-MEYERS SQUIBB
Emilio Alvarez-Recio, Fr. VP. Worldwide Advertising, COLGATE-PALMOLIVE
Néstor Carbonell, Fr. VP International Government Affairs, PEPSICO
Alberto Mestre, Fr. President, Venezuela, GENERAL MILLS
Rafael de la Sierra, Fr. VP International Coordination WARNER COMMUNICATIONS (now Time Warner)
Eugenio Desvernine, Fr. Senior EVP, REYNOLDS METALS
José R. Bou, Fr. VP Primary Products Operation, MARTIN MARIETTA ALUMINUM
Remedios Diaz-Oliver, Fr. Director of U.S. WEST and BARNETT BANK
Leopoldo Fernández-Pujals, Chairman JAZZTEL; Founder of TELEPIZZA
Jorge Blanco, Fr. President & CEO, AMEX NICKEL CORPORATION.
Carlos Gutierrez, Fr. U.S. SECRETARY OF COMMERCE

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mother ends hunger strike after 19 days

School official guarantees physical safety of her daughter who had been threatened with rape by state security agents
Damaris Moya Portieles
Damaris Moya Portieles initiated a hunger strike on June 3, 2012 demanding that her 5-year old daughter, Lazara Contreras Moya, be kept safe. This was because state security agents made graphic rape threats to the mother concerning about her five year old daughter. The worse of the perpetrators was Eric Francis Aquino Yera.

State Security Agent Eric Francis Aquino Yera threatened mother that her 5 year old girl would be raped.

Today, June 22, 2012 she ended the hunger strike after the director of the education center Lazara attends said that she would guarantee her physical safety. Below, in Spanish, is an audio declaration by Damaris Moya Portieles outlining the circumstances that led her to end her hunger strike on day 19 followed by the precautionary measure emitted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR):

PM 163/12 – Damaris Moya Portieles and daughter, Cuba

On June 12, 2012, the IACHR granted precautionary measures in favor of Damaris Moya Portieles and her daughter, 5 years old, in Cuba. The request for precautionary measures alleges that Damaris Moya Portieles is a human rights defender, and that she had been deprived of her liberty several times as a result of her participation in demonstrations in her country. The request also alleges that on May 2, 2012, during a vigile organized for freedom in Cuba, agents of the Security police again deprived her of her liberty, beat her, and threatened with raping her daughter. The IACHR requested the State of Cuba to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the life and physical integrity of Damaris Moya Portiele and her daughter, to adopt the measures in consultation with the beneficiary and her representatives, and to inform on the actions taken to investigate the facts that led to the adoption of precautionary measures.

Damaris Moya Portieles and her daughter Lazara Contreras Moya,

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi's Speech at University of Oxford, 20 June 12

The reason why I've emphasized the rule of law so much in my political work is because this is what we all need if we are to really proceed towards democracy. - Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi delivers her acceptance speech upon receiving her honorary degree from the University of Oxford at the June 20, 2012 Encaenia ceremony. This took place in the midst of her first visit to Europe in 24 years following being released from years of unjust imprisonment.

Original link at .

While in London, Suu Kyi also had a private meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. On June 21, 2012 she delivered a speech in the British parliament.

Remembering Neda Agha-Soltan

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." - Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture 1986

 Neda Agha-Soltan January 23, 1983 –  June 20, 2009
 Three years ago today in Tehran, in the midst of the Green Revolution an agents of the Iranian regime shot and murdered Neda Agha-Soltan. She was just 26 years old and aspiring singer.  Her death was captured on video and went viral across the internet providing a brutal image that brought home the reality of the violent crackdown visited on the nonviolent Green movement.

In Iran, the contested June 2009 election sparked an unprecedented wave of state-sponsored violence and repression. Thousands of peaceful protesters were beaten, arrested, tortured, and killed. One of them Neda Agha-Soltan, age 27, was shot and killed on June 20, 2009 during the protests denouncing election fraud. Her fiancé, Caspian Makan, is with us here today, and will address the Summit tomorrow. Neda’s death was captured on video and in those terrible moments reflected the great crime committed by the Iranian government against the people of Iran. Official numbers place the number of killed at 36 during the protests but the opposition places the dead at 72. In 2009 at least 270 people were hanged and in 2010 at least 12 so far. 4,000 have been arrested including journalists and reformist politicians.

Three years later those responsible for this crime have yet to be brought to justice and the regime that carried out this brutal crime along with many others remains in power.  It is precisely for these reasons that we must remember and continue to protest wherever and whenever possible to demand justice.  

Help spread the word to those who may not know what happened and let memory and truth continue to empower the protest against this injustice. Speak out on behalf of those silenced in Iran.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Time to vote for youth in action

The World Youth Movement for Democracy are pleased to announce the 15 semi-finalists of its 2012 Global Photo Contest “Youth in Action: A Snapshot of Democracy!” The semi-finalists were selected from entries from all around the world by a committee of independent judges from the WYMD network. Now, it’s your turn to pick your top favorite entry. Vote now!

We are pleased to present the semi-finalists of the 2012 World Youth Movement for Democracy’s Global Photo Contest “Youth in Action: A Snapshot of Democracy.” In less than a month's time, we received a great number of strong entries from all around the world. These semi-finalists have been selected by a committee of independent judges from the WYMD network to go on to the voting stage of the competition.
Now, it’s time for you to pick your favorite entries. Vote in All Three Categories!
Voting ends June 27, 2012. (Please vote only once per category.)

For more information on the World Youth Movement for Democracy and the photo contest, please visit

This Photo Contest is supported by the Hurford Foundation.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi visits Europe for first time in over two decades

"It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it." - Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear

Aung San Suu Kyi will be celebrating her 67th birthday outside of Burma on June 19, 2012. Her last birthday was her first in freedom in over seven years. Before that she had celebrated her birthdays under house arrest or in prison. Now she is an opposition member of parliament traveling and giving thanks to those who have demonstrated their solidarity and asking for additional assistance for the people of Burma to achieve their freedom.

Beginning her visit to Geneva, Switzerland in 30 years at the start of a visit to European capitals to discuss the situation in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi addressed a plenary session of the International Labour Organization on June 14, 2012.

A day later she arrived in Oslo, Norway and met with the Prime Minister and on the following day gave her Nobel Lecture, 21 years after having been awarded the prize. She also gave thanks to the Norwegian people at an open venue in downtown Oslo on June 16.


 On her final day in Norway she shared the stage with U2's Bono at a Peace Forum.
 On June 18 she visited Dublin and gave thanks to the Irish people for their solidarity and support. In the evening a special concert was held in her honor titled Electric Burma where Bono presented her with Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience award which she had won in 2009.

The Ambassador of Conscience is Amnesty International's highest honor. The Secretary General of Amnesty International was in Ireland to present the award. Suu Kyi addressed the audience in attendance.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mother remains on hunger strike in Cuba after 14 days

Damaris Moya Portieles is protesting rape threats against her six-year old daughter by Castro agents.

Damaris Moya Portieles and her six-year-old daughter Lázara Contreras Moya

You live in a police state under a one party dictatorship in which government agents operate with complete impunity. The last time you were detained the secret police and their agents spent hours describing in detail how they would brutally rape your 5 year old. What would you do? What could you do?

Damaris Moya Portieles has been on hunger strike for the past 14 days demanding justice. She began the hunger strike on June 3, 2012.  She is protesting the rape threat against her six-year old daughter made by Castro regime agents. Now the dictatorship threatens to prosecute Damaris for not sending her daughter to school. This despite the fact that she fears to  send her child there while the Cuban regime agents that threatened to rape her daughter have not been held accountable. Its been more than month since the threats were made.

A mother's plea for her daughter calls for solidarity

On Sunday, June 17 in a video posted on youtube her mother, Bárbara Moya Portieles,  made an impassioned plea for help and solidarity from the international community for her daughter's life explaining that she is fearful for her daughter and knows that State Security oversaw the deaths on hunger strike of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilman Villar Mendoza and will do the same with Damaris.

The Inter American Commission on Human Rights on June 12, 2012 released a precautionary measure for  Damaris Moya Portieles and her six-year-old daughter Lázara Contreras Moya It calls for taking the necessary measures to protect the life and physical integrity of the mother and daughter while at the same time calling for an investigation.
At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on June 7, 2012 Jorge Garcia Perez "Antunez" reported that Ms. Damaris Moya Portieles is on a hunger strike because the political police threatened to sexually abuse and rape her six-year-old daughter Lázara Contreras Moya

Human rights activist and member of the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights, Damaris Moya Portieles, denounced on the morning of Thursday, May 3rd 2012 that in addition to having been victim of a violent arrest along with other dissidents during the previous Wednesday night, State Security and political police agents threatened to rape her 5 year old daughter. 
According to Portieles, the main culprit of this threat was the State Security agent Eric Francis Aquino Yera. “The worst part of the entire night of my detention was when State Security officials and penal guards started to shout insults at me, among them saying that my 5 year old daughter, Lazara Contreras Moya, was going to be raped”, said Moya Portieles upon being released, “They told me, ‘Damaris, we are going to rape your daughter’. I cannot repeat the very cruel words they used, but they told me: ‘We are going to stick a penis up the behind of your daughter’,‘Your little girl is skinny, we can easily crack her’ and ‘We are going to rape her whether it be by the back or by the front’. 
This is the most horrible thing that a mother could hear about one of her children”, she affirmed. Upon being released at around 11:00am, the first thing that Moya Portieles did was to head to the school where her daughter studies and took her home. The activist explained that she feels lots of fear, not for her, but for her child. For this reason, Moya made a decision to not allow her daughter to go to school until the repressor, Eric Francis Aquino Yera, is taken before a tribunal and faces charges for threatening to rape a minor.
Damaris Moya and her husband explained that they were on their way to the Public Prosecutors Office of Santa Clara to present their demands and complaints, and that they would later travel to the capital- Havana- to complete the rest of the denouncement process, despite the fact that both dissidents feel that such efforts will be in vain.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

21 years later: Nobel Lecture by Aung San Suu Kyi

Photo: Htoo Tay Zar, OpenMyanmar Photo Project Creative Commons Attribution-Share alike 3.0

Aung San Suu Kyi, awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, is finally in Oslo, Norway, to deliver her Nobel Lecture.

Burmese democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest and unable to collect the award in 1991. The Nobel Lecture will be delivered on Saturday 16 June 2012, at 7:00am EST. Watch the lecture live below. 

 Nobel Lecture by Aung San Suu Kyi, Oslo, 16 June, 2012

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Dear Friends,

Long years ago, sometimes it seems many lives ago, I was at Oxford listening to the radio programme Desert Island Discs with my young son Alexander. It was a well-known programme (for all I know it still continues) on which famous people from all walks of life were invited to talk about the eight discs, the one book beside the bible and the complete works of Shakespeare, and the one luxury item they would wish to have with them were they to be marooned on a desert island. At the end of the programme, which we had both enjoyed, Alexander asked me if I thought I might ever be invited to speak on Desert Island Discs. “Why not?” I responded lightly. Since he knew that in general only celebrities took part in the programme he proceeded to ask, with genuine interest, for what reason I thought I might be invited. I considered this for a moment and then answered: “Perhaps because I’d have won the Nobel Prize for literature,” and we both laughed. The prospect seemed pleasant but hardly probable.

(I cannot now remember why I gave that answer, perhaps because I had recently read a book by a Nobel Laureate or perhaps because the Desert Island celebrity of that day had been a famous writer.)
In 1989, when my late husband Michael Aris came to see me during my first term of house arrest, he told me that a friend, John Finnis, had nominated me for the Nobel Peace Prize. This time also I laughed. For an instant Michael looked amazed, then he realized why I was amused. The Nobel Peace Prize? A pleasant prospect, but quite improbable! So how did I feel when I was actually awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace? The question has been put to me many times and this is surely the most appropriate occasion on which to examine what the Nobel Prize means to me and what peace means to me.

As I have said repeatedly in many an interview, I heard the news that I had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on the radio one evening. It did not altogether come as a surprise because I had been mentioned as one of the frontrunners for the prize in a number of broadcasts during the previous week. While drafting this lecture, I have tried very hard to remember what my immediate reaction to the announcement of the award had been. I think, I can no longer be sure, it was something like: “Oh, so they’ve decided to give it to me.” It did not seem quite real because in a sense I did not feel myself to be quite real at that time.

Often during my days of house arrest it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world. There was the house which was my world, there was the world of others who also were not free but who were together in prison as a community, and there was the world of the free; each was a different planet pursuing its own separate course in an indifferent universe. What the Nobel Peace Prize did was to draw me once again into the world of other human beings outside the isolated area in which I lived, to restore a sense of reality to me. This did not happen instantly, of course, but as the days and months went by and news of reactions to the award came over the airwaves, I began to understand the significance of the Nobel Prize. It had made me real once again; it had drawn me back into the wider human community. And what was more important, the Nobel Prize had drawn the attention of the world to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma.

We were not going to be forgotten.

To be forgotten. The French say that to part is to die a little. To be forgotten too is to die a little. It is to lose some of the links that anchor us to the rest of humanity. When I met Burmese migrant workers and refugees during my recent visit to Thailand, many cried out: “Don’t forget us!” They meant: “don’t forget our plight, don’t forget to do what you can to help us, don’t forget we also belong to your world.” When the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to me they were recognizing that the oppressed and the isolated in Burma were also a part of the world, they were recognizing the oneness of humanity. So for me receiving the Nobel Peace Prize means personally extending my concerns for democracy and human rights beyond national borders. The Nobel Peace Prize opened up a door in my heart.

The Burmese concept of peace can be explained as the happiness arising from the cessation of factors that militate against the harmonious and the wholesome. The word nyein-chan translates literally as the beneficial coolness that comes when a fire is extinguished. Fires of suffering and strife are raging around the world. In my own country, hostilities have not ceased in the far north; to the west, communal violence resulting in arson and murder were taking place just several days before I started out on the journey that has brought me here today. News of atrocities in other reaches of the earth abound. Reports of hunger, disease, displacement, joblessness, poverty, injustice, discrimination, prejudice, bigotry; these are our daily fare. Everywhere there are negative forces eating away at the foundations of peace. Everywhere can be found thoughtless dissipation of material and human resources that are necessary for the conservation of harmony and happiness in our world.

The First World War represented a terrifying waste of youth and potential, a cruel squandering of the positive forces of our planet. The poetry of that era has a special significance for me because I first read it at a time when I was the same age as many of those young men who had to face the prospect of withering before they had barely blossomed. A young American fighting with the French Foreign Legion wrote before he was killed in action in 1916 that he would meet his death:  “at some disputed barricade;” “on some scarred slope of battered hill;” “at midnight in some flaming town.” Youth and love and life perishing forever in senseless attempts to capture nameless, unremembered places. And for what? Nearly a century on, we have yet to find a satisfactory answer.

Are we not still guilty, if to a less violent degree, of recklessness, of improvidence with regard to our future and our humanity? War is not the only arena where peace is done to death. Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages.

A positive aspect of living in isolation was that I had ample time in which to ruminate over the meaning of words and precepts that I had known and accepted all my life. As a Buddhist, I had heard about dukha, generally translated as suffering, since I was a small child. Almost on a daily basis elderly, and sometimes not so elderly, people around me would murmur “dukha, dukha” when they suffered from aches and pains or when they met with some small, annoying mishaps. However, it was only during my years of house arrest that I got around to investigating the nature of the six great dukha. These are: to be conceived, to age, to sicken, to die, to be parted from those one loves, to be forced to live in propinquity with those one does not love. I examined each of the six great sufferings, not in a religious context but in the context of our ordinary, everyday lives.

If suffering were an unavoidable part of our existence, we should try to alleviate it as far as possible in practical, earthly ways. I mulled over the effectiveness of ante- and post-natal programmes and mother and childcare; of adequate facilities for the aging population; of comprehensive health services; of compassionate nursing and hospices. I was particularly intrigued by the last two kinds of suffering: to be parted from those one loves and to be forced to live in propinquity with those one does not love.

What experiences might our Lord Buddha have undergone in his own life that he had included these two states among the great sufferings? I thought of prisoners and refugees, of migrant workers and victims of human trafficking, of that great mass of the uprooted of the earth who have been torn away from their homes, parted from families and friends, forced to live out their lives among strangers who are not always welcoming.

We are fortunate to be living in an age when social welfare and humanitarian assistance are recognized not only as desirable but necessary. I am fortunate to be living in an age when the fate of prisoners of conscience anywhere has become the concern of peoples everywhere, an age when democracy and human rights are widely, even if not universally, accepted as the birthright of all. How often during my years under house arrest have I drawn strength from my favourite passages in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
……. disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspirations of the common people,
…… it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law . . .

If I am asked why I am fighting for human rights in Burma the above passages will provide the answer. If I am asked why I am fighting for democracy in Burma, it is because I believe that democratic institutions and practices are necessary for the guarantee of human rights.

Over the past year there have been signs that the endeavours of those who believe in democracy and human rights are beginning to bear fruit in Burma. There have been changes in a positive direction; steps towards democratization have been taken. If I advocate cautious optimism it is not because I do not have faith in the future but because I do not want to encourage blind faith. Without faith in the future, without the conviction that democratic values and fundamental human rights are not only necessary but possible for our society, our movement could not have been sustained throughout the destroying years. Some of our warriors fell at their post, some deserted us, but a dedicated core remained strong and committed. At times when I think of the years that have passed, I am amazed that so many remained staunch under the most trying circumstances. Their faith in our cause is not blind; it is based on a clear-eyed assessment of their own powers of endurance and a profound respect for the aspirations of our people.

It is because of recent changes in my country that I am with you today; and these changes have come about because of you and other lovers of freedom and justice who contributed towards a global awareness of our situation. Before continuing to speak of my country, may I speak out for our prisoners of conscience. There still remain such prisoners in Burma. It is to be feared that because the best known detainees have been released, the remainder, the unknown ones, will be forgotten. I am standing here because I was once a prisoner of conscience. As you look at me and listen to me, please remember the often repeated truth that one prisoner of conscience is one too many. Those who have not yet been freed, those who have not yet been given access to the benefits of justice in my country number much more than one. Please remember them and do whatever is possible to effect their earliest, unconditional release.

Burma is a country of many ethnic nationalities and faith in its future can be founded only on a true spirit of union. Since we achieved independence in 1948, there never has been a time when we could claim the whole country was at peace. We have not been able to develop the trust and understanding necessary to remove causes of conflict. Hopes were raised by ceasefires that were maintained from the early 1990s until 2010 when these broke down over the course of a few months. One unconsidered move can be enough to remove long-standing ceasefires. In recent months, negotiations between the government and ethnic nationality forces have been making progress. We hope that ceasefire agreements will lead to political settlements founded on the aspirations of the peoples, and the spirit of union.

My party, the National League for Democracy, and I stand ready and willing to play any role in the process of national reconciliation. The reform measures that were put into motion by President U Thein Sein’s government can be sustained only with the intelligent cooperation of all internal forces: the military, our ethnic nationalities, political parties, the media, civil society organizations, the business community and, most important of all, the general public. We can say that reform is effective only if the lives of the people are improved and in this regard, the international community has a vital role to play. Development and humanitarian aid, bi-lateral agreements and investments should be coordinated and calibrated to ensure that these will promote social, political and economic growth that is balanced and sustainable. The potential of our country is enormous. This should be nurtured and developed to create not just a more prosperous but also a more harmonious, democratic society where our people can live in peace, security and freedom.

The peace of our world is indivisible. As long as negative forces are getting the better of positive forces anywhere, we are all at risk. It may be questioned whether all negative forces could ever be removed. The simple answer is: “No!” It is in human nature to contain both the positive and the negative. However, it is also within human capability to work to reinforce the positive and to minimize or neutralize the negative. Absolute peace in our world is an unattainable goal. But it is one towards which we must continue to journey, our eyes fixed on it as a traveller in a desert fixes his eyes on the one guiding star that will lead him to salvation. Even if we do not achieve perfect peace on earth, because perfect peace is not of this earth, common endeavours to gain peace will unite individuals and nations in trust and friendship and help to make our human community safer and kinder.

I used the word ‘kinder’ after careful deliberation; I might say the careful deliberation of many years. Of the sweets of adversity, and let me say that these are not numerous, I have found the sweetest, the most precious of all, is the lesson I learnt on the value of kindness. Every kindness I received, small or big, convinced me that there could never be enough of it in our world. To be kind is to respond with sensitivity and human warmth to the hopes and needs of others. Even the briefest touch of kindness can lighten a heavy heart. Kindness can change the lives of people. Norway has shown exemplary kindness in providing a home for the displaced of the earth, offering sanctuary to those who have been cut loose from the moorings of security and freedom in their native lands.

There are refugees in all parts of the world. When I was at the Maela refugee camp in Thailand recently, I met dedicated people who were striving daily to make the lives of the inmates as free from hardship as possible. They spoke of their concern over ‘donor fatigue,’ which could also translate as ‘compassion fatigue.’ ‘Donor fatigue’ expresses itself precisely in the reduction of funding. ‘Compassion fatigue’ expresses itself less obviously in the reduction of concern. One is the consequence of the other. Can we afford to indulge in compassion fatigue? Is the cost of meeting the needs of refugees greater than the cost that would be consequent on turning an indifferent, if not a blind, eye on their suffering? I appeal to donors the world over to fulfill the needs of these people who are in search, often it must seem to them a vain search, of refuge.

At Maela, I had valuable discussions with Thai officials responsible for the administration of Tak province where this and several other camps are situated. They acquainted me with some of the more serious problems related to refugee camps: violation of forestry laws, illegal drug use, home brewed spirits, the problems of controlling malaria, tuberculosis, dengue fever and cholera. The concerns of the administration are as legitimate as the concerns of the refugees. Host countries also deserve consideration and practical help in coping with the difficulties related to their responsibilities.

Ultimately our aim should be to create a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless, a world of which each and every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace. Every thought, every word, and every action that adds to the positive and the wholesome is a contribution to peace. Each and every one of us is capable of making such a contribution. Let us join hands to try to create a peaceful world where we can sleep in security and wake in happiness.

The Nobel Committee concluded its statement of 14 October 1991 with the words:
“In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize ... to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour this woman for her unflagging efforts and to show its support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means.” 
 When I joined the democracy movement in Burma it never occurred to me that I might ever be the recipient of any prize or honour. The prize we were working for was a free, secure and just society where our people might be able to realize their full potential. The honour lay in our endeavour. History had given us the opportunity to give of our best for a cause in which we believed. When the Nobel Committee chose to honour me, the road I had chosen of my own free will became a less lonely path to follow. For this I thank the Committee, the people of Norway and peoples all over the world whose support has strengthened my faith in the common quest for peace.

Thank you.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2012