Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Call for Justice on what should have been the 61st birthday of Oswaldo Payá

"They have told me that they will kill me before this regime ends, but I will not flee." - Oswaldo Payá
Oswaldo Payá and his family celebrating
Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas was born in Havana in the neighborhood of the Cerro 61 years ago on February 29, 1952. He should be celebrating his 61st birthday today surrounded by friends and family but his life was cruelly taken away on July 22, 2012.

Despite the Orwellian efforts of the Castro regime to cover up the extrajudicial killings of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero Escalante, the truth has a way of coming out. Regime agents had spent decades threatening to kill him and had told Oswaldo that he would not live to see the end of the dictatorship. They kept their promise. Now they try to silence Oswaldo's family threatening them with death if they do not let go of the effort to discover what really happened to their loved ones, but they refuse to be silenced.

The Cuban intelligence service, trained by the East German Stasi, has a track record of using car accidents to target activists and those that it disagrees with. Today, Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo, after meeting with one of the survivors of the incident, Angel Carromero, confirmed that the car crash in Bayamo on July 22, 2012 was not a car accident and that a second car was involved.

Furthermore that both Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero Escalante survived the accident. The Cuban government's version is that Oswaldo Payá died immediately and that Harold Cepero died later at the hospital. The dictatorship put on a Stalinist show trial and found the Spanish driver guilty of causing the accident that led to the two Cubans deaths.

Through a series of diplomatic maneuvers the Spanish government reached an agreement with their Cuban counterpart and Angel Carromero is back in Spain completing the prison sentence imposed by a Cuban court under dubious circumstances by a legal system that is neither impartial or independent of the political will of the regime.

Therefore the Spanish government has one option open to obtaining justice for all parties involved. End its agreement with the Cuban government and investigate the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, gathering evidence, identifying those responsible and holding them accountable before a court of law that is impartial and provides justice. Does the death of a human being and the mistreatment of a Spanish citizen in what appears to be a conspiracy by a dictatorship not matter to the government of Spain? Impunity cannot be allowed to prevail in the case of Oswaldo and Harold.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Brothers to the Rescue Shootdown: 17 years later

"The history of man is the history of crimes, and history can repeat. So information is a defense. Through this we can build, we must build, a defense against repetition." - Simon Wiesenthal

Today marks seventeen years since that terrible day when Armando, Carlos, Mario and Pablo were murdered. Family members held a Eucharistic celebration in memory of the four men on Sunday, February 24, 2013, at 3:00pm at St. John the Apostle Catholic Church located at 475 East Fourth Street Hialeah. The Mass was presided over by Rev. Msgr. Oscar F. Castañeda.

Mass for Four Brothers to the Rescue shoot down vicctims

The regime, their apologists and agents of influence have attempted to cover-up the facts surrounding the shoot down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes on February 24, 1996 in international airspace since the first day.

Therefore it is necessary to remind others of what happened on that day.

Seventeen years ago over the Florida Straits a brutal crime was committed by the Cuban government against civilians aboard three planes who were hunted by Cuban MiGs and in the case of two of the planes were blown to bits by air-to-air missiles fired by a Cuban MiG-29 at 3:21 p.m. and 3:27 p.m., respectively, in international airspace destroying two civilian light aircraft.

This led to the extra-judicial killings of Armando Alejandre Jr. (age 45), Carlos Alberto Costa (age 29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (age 24), and Pablo Morales (age 29).  

Documents revealed in a 2009 CBS4 investigative report demonstrate that two other Cuban MIG's pursued Brothers to the Rescue founder Jose Basulto's small plane to within three minutes of Key West before breaking off pursuit

This was an act of state terrorism carried out by a regime with a long history of such practices. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Amnesty International Assessment of Cuba's implementation of recommendations from previous UPR



In its submissions for the UPR, Amnesty International endeavours to assess the level of
implementation of some of the recommendations, made by other states in the previous UPR cycle, that the organization considers to be of the greatest importance in terms of improving the human rights situation in the countries reviewed. The information in this document is drawn from the submissions made by Amnesty International for the 16th session of the UPR Working Group on the following countries: Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Germany, Russian Federation, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The UPR modalities stipulate that, from the second cycle onwards, the reviews should focus, inter alia, on the implementation of the preceding review outcome.1 Amnesty International considers that this aspect of the UPR is crucial if the UPR is to fulfill its key objective of improving the human rights situation on the ground. Amnesty International urges all states participating in the UPR to raise the issue of implementation of previous recommendations during the interactive debate in the UPR Working Group, including exploring obstacles to implementation and options for cooperation and sharing of good practice in the respective area.



At the time of its first Universal Periodic Review in February 2009, Cuba accepted 60 recommendations of the 89 commendations made to it by other States.27 Most of the recommendations accepted by Cuba concerned economic and social rights policies that had already been implemented.28 However, Cuba also accepted several recommendations on issues that Amnesty International believes are key to improving the human rights situation in the country, including as regards the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms,29 the death penalty,30 cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms,31 and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.32 

Promotion and protection of human rights 

With respect to advancing the promotion and protection of human rights, Amnesty International notes that Cuba’s repressive legal framework - limiting the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement - remains unchanged.
Cuba has also yet to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which Cuba signed in February 2008. At the time of the Human Rights Council’s adoption of the outcome of Cuba’s first review, Cuba noted that it needed sufficient time to assess the provisions of the Covenants and its own political and judicial system to ensure their compatibility.33
In practice, Amnesty International has noted that respect for fundamental human rights has not progressed in Cuba since its first review. In fact, during this period, repression of the peaceful exercise of civil and political rights has increased. Independent journalists, human rights activists and political opponents have often been harassed by state security services, and some have been detained and sentenced. Moreover, there has been a steady increase in the number of arbitrary detentions since 2009.

Abolition of the death penalty
During its first review, Cuba accepted a recommendation to refrain from applying the death penalty, and took under consideration a recommendation to reduce the number of criminal offences punishable by the death penalty, or to take measures towards its abolition.34 In setting out its view on the recommendations taken under consideration, Cuba noted that it was “philosophically” against the punishment and in favour of “eliminating [the death penalty] when conditions are right”. However, Cuba also stated that it needed to maintain the death penalty in its legislation in order to defend its national security against terrorist attacks.35
In 2010, the People’s Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of the last two political prisoners on death row.36 At the time of this writing, Amnesty International believes that no prisoners are on death row.
Cooperation with UN special procedures and treaty bodies
Regarding the recommendation supported by Cuba to strengthen its cooperation with UN Special Procedures and treaty bodies, Amnesty International acknowledges Cuba’s efforts to submit periodic reports to the treaty bodies.37 However, Cuba has shown no commitment to working with UN Special Procedures; a visit of the Special Rapporteur on torture was agreed in 2009, but has not yet gone ahead. So far, Cuba has failed to issue an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and assembly, who requested to visit in 2003 and again in 2011, or to the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, who requested to visit in 2006.

Application of the standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners
Amnesty International receives regular reports that could indicate a breach of the Standard
Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, including ill-treatment of common and political prisoners. The organization has concerns based on interviews with former prisoners of conscience who were released between 2009 and 2011; however, it is unable to verify the validity of current reports first hand. For this reason, Amnesty International believes that it is paramount that Cuba allows the Special Rapporteur on torture to visit the country and have unrestricted access to the prison population.
Shortcomings in Cuba’s first universal periodic review
In Amnesty International’s view, Cuba’s first review in February 2009 was highly politicized and resulted in a weak review of Cuba’s human rights record. With few exceptions, most of the recommendations made by other states did not address the human rights situation in Cuba.
Amnesty International also regrets that Cuba rejected some of the recommendations by claiming that existing national institutions and legislation offer full protection of human rights and do not require further change. On these grounds, Cuba rejected the need to establish a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles38 and refused to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.39 Cuba also rejected a recommendation to provide full access to the International Committee of the Red Cross to prisons,40 and to establish a system of review of its prisons by the UN and other international observers.41


1 Human Rights Council resolution 5/1, Institution-building of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Annex, paragraph

27 Human Rights Council, Report of the Human Rights Council on its eleventh session, A/HRC/11/37, 16 October 2009, paragraph 410 (A/HRC/11/37).
28 Several recommendations called on Cuba to extend its solidarity programmes or share its experience on promoting the right to health and education. Although Amnesty International acknowledges Cuba’s international cooperation programmes in promoting access to health and education in developing countries, the organization does not monitor Cuba’s solidarity programmes or to what extent its knowledge-base on health and education has been shared with other states, and therefore cannot comment on whether these recommendations have been implemented.
29 Human Rights Council, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic review on Cuba, A/HRC/11/22, 29 May 2009, recommendation 130.4 (Jamaica), (A/HRC/11/22).
30 A/HRC/11/22, recommendation 130.42 (Brazil).
31 A/HRC/11/22, recommendations 130.34 (Brazil) and 130.37 (Chile).
32 A/HRC/11/22, recommendation 130.45 (The Netherlands).
33 Human Rights Council, Informe del Grupo de Trabajo sobre el Examen Periódico Universal, Adición, A/HRC/11/22, 29 May 2009, Add.1, page 2 (A/HRC/11/22).
34 A/HRC/11/22. Cuba accepted recommendation 130.42 (Brazil), and took under consideration recommendation 131.13 (Italy).
35 Human Rights Council. Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba – Addendum. A/HRC/11/22/Add.1, 29 May 2009, page 10 (A/HRC/11/22/Add.1).
36 In December 2010, the People’s Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of Salvadoran nationals Raúl Ernesto Cruz León and Otto René Rodríguez Llerena to 30 years in prison. They were both convicted of terrorism charges in 1999. On 28 December, Humberto Eladio Real Suárez, a Cuban national sentenced to death in 1996 for the killing of a police officer in 1994, had his sentence commuted to 30 years in prison.
37 At the time of writing, Cuba has overdue reports only on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the initial report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (overdue since June 2010).
38 A/HRC/11/22/Add.1, paragraph 6.
39 A/HRC/11/22/Add.1, paragraph 3.
40 A/HRC/11/22/Add.1, paragraph 10.
41 A/HRC/11/22/Add.1, paragraph 14.

Three years ago today, Orlando Zapata Tamayo died

"Orlando Zapata Tamayo, dear brother, we will continue the fight, without hatred, but determined that until Cuba is free and Cubans are no longer suffering this shameful humiliation that is to live subdued by fear to a lie." -  Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, February 23, 2010

Two years and just one day shy of seven months after Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, expressed his sorrow and solidarity with the martyred Orlando Zapata Tamayo, he too along with Harold Cepero Escalante became a martyr in the struggle for Cuban freedom. 

The struggle for justice requires memory and the pursuit of the truth wherever the facts lead. At the same time days such as this must be remembered, the victims honored, and those responsible held accountable.

Within the parameters of nonviolent struggle there are a number of actions that one can take to honor a nonviolent martyr.  In the case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo who defended human rights and spoke out for his fellow humans despite the consequences; his courageous example needs to be honored. The fact that he died while on hunger strike protesting the torture and ill treatment he was being subjected to provides one avenue in which to honor him. 

Fasting for 24 hours is a limited way to step, albeit briefly and incompletely, into Orlando Zapata Tamayo's shoes. Beginning the fast at 3:00pm on February 23 and completing it on February 24 at 3:00pm just in time to honor and remember the four members of Brothers to the Rescue seems an appropriate way to pay homage.

What do you think? Will you also be fasting today? Where were you the day Orlando Zapata Tamayo died?


Seven months after Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's suspicious death his widow recieves a death threat

"The greatest incitement to guilt is the hope of sinning with impunity."- Cicero 

Rosa Maria and her mom Ofelia
Rosa Maria Paya Acevedo over facebook and twitter on Friday, February 22, 2013: "Ofelia Acevedo threatened with death 'Daughter of a bitch, we are going to kill you,' they said by telephone. These are common threats against our family and Oswaldo Paya received many until they ended his life and that of Harold Cepero 7 months ago. The Cuban regime is responsible for what may happen to our family."

Josefina Paya

Seven months after Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's and Harold Cepero's suspicious deaths Oswaldo's widow recieves a death threat. Josephina Paya, Oswaldo's aunt, also received a death threat via telephone, according to a publication made by members of the Christian Liberation Movement on their website reported Pedazos de la Isla.

The failure of the international community to unite in demanding justice for these families has dire consequences. Impunity only encourages more crimes and injustices not less.

Whether you are an elected official, a representative of a non-governmental organization, or a citizen there is always something you can do to denounce injustice.

Please take action before its too late.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cuban dissident Regis Iglesias at 2013 Geneva Summit for Human Rights

Yes, Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were killed, they were victims of an attack that cost them their lives and this we know from the first day by the reports that both victims and witnesses made reached their friends in and out of the island. - Regis Iglesias

Regis Iglesias
Spokesman of the Christian Liberation Movement


In May 2002, for the first time since the dictatorship of Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, more than 11, 020 Cubans legally demanded a plebiscite for their rights to be recognized.

I was one of those Cubans who signed and gathered the necessary signatures, as established by the Cuban Constitution, to make valid the citizen petition to the authorities.

I was one of the managers of the Varela Project and was privileged with Oswaldo Payá and Antonio Diaz to present this demand at the headquarters of the Cuban Parliament.

In Cuba the right of citizens to freely express their thoughts, or to associate freely according to their interests is not respected. Not even economic freedoms, despite cosmetic measures that as a concession, not as a right established and guaranteed, authorities now announce to the world and are nothing more than fraudulent change to maintain the privileges of a caste in power.

In Cuba there are no free elections and what the Cuban regime calls "participatory process" is simply the ratification of 612 individuals selected by organizations related to the dictatorship, to fill the 612 seats of national Deputies.

For this we,75 leaders and activists for the rights and freedoms of Cubans, were abducted and sanctioned in a grotesque judicial farce.

We were arrested and stayed for 30 days in sealed cells, hot and crowded with individuals charged with drug trafficking. In 30 days I was only able to see the sun once and was constantly subjected to interrogations in air conditioned offices with low temperatures, to intimidate me and in vain try to make me confess to the infamous calumnies with which our captors accused us.

Later, we were transferred hundreds of miles away from our homes and jailed with common criminals in prisons across the island. We were nearly not allowed visits or communication with our families, our correspondence was violated, we were not allowed in those first years to read the Bible or books about the history of Cuba and everything else.

More than a few of us were victims of savage beatings by our jailers. Our food was meager and of very poor quality. Insects, rodents and the stench swarmed in those unsanitary conditions constantly exposing us to all kinds of diseases.

Eventually something changed, although very little this shameful punishment, but for some of our colleagues in the same case the extreme conditions of detention remained almost unchanged.

Finally for many of us there was no choice but to decide at the request of our exhausted families in 2010 to go into exile. They too were also victims of inhuman treatment by having to move in the difficult conditions of public transport in Cuba, hundreds of kilometers to be able to see us and bring books, pens, some food and medicine. Our families were also mistreated and humiliated by our captors.

The promises of change by the regime, until now, are nothing but another farce to try to gain time and consolidate oligarchic privileges.

What, if not, is this supposed "freedom of travel" that still leaves to the Cuban political police to deliver the final decision to the person who intends to travel, the passport authorizing or not to do so? Blackmail, one more method of selective repression based in the regime's interests and in many cases does not depend on the benefits or lack of benefit to the individual.

Same goes with the measures to revive the broken economy and agriculture of the island. It is ultimately State Security who decides whether the person can engage in a small business of services or have a lease for a limited time of some parcel of land to make produce.

Oswaldo Payá fought against this fraudulent change, as he called it and as we call it. He fought against the perpetuation of the oligarchy that maintains the Cuban people subject.

This honest and consistent position of the founding leader of the Christian Liberation Movement was shrill to the ears of the island’s Military-Economic Junta and the interests of those both inside and outside the island who are interested in pacts of privileges and not rights.

This is why they killed him together with Harold Cepero on Sunday July 22, 2012 while traveling with two youths in solidarity from Spain and Sweden who had gone to the island to explore the feelings and aspirations of the Cuban people.

Yes, Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were killed, they were victims of an attack that cost them their lives and this we know from the first day by the reports that both victims and witnesses made reached their friends in and out of the island. These facts we have been able corroborate with surviving witnesses to this crime. With them, who they have tried to impose a fierce gag upon even when they are out of Cuba but remain hostage to the dictatorship’s blackmail of their governments, democratic governments, that are silent and try to silence the truth they have known from the first moment of the incident.

We therefore call upon the international community, and people of goodwill to support us in creating an independent commission to investigate the events of July 22, 2012 and bring to light the truth that we have known and has been confirmed by all the witnesses.

Oswaldo and Harold on that day were visiting leaders and activists in the east of the island that are distributing and working on The People’s Path initiative.

This proposal, which has been signed by over 2,000 activists from more than 70 organizations working to defend human rights, most of them on the island, is the response of Cuban democrats to these attempts of fraudulent change that ignore the people's rights and tries to ignore and disparage the nonviolent Cuban opposition.

We want our democratic brothers in the world to know this, know that in Cuba in the midst of the most terrible repression they are working, without hatred but without fear, for real changes that bring closer the day of freedom.

We want you to listen to us, that solidarity go to that incipient civil society that grows and multiplies, that is able to agree on the essentials for our people: civil, economic and political liberties, social justice first and free elections. This is the change that we are working for, the change that many Cubans have already offered, in over half a century of dictatorship, their generous lives.

It cannot be either in America or Europe the prerogative of a party, or government the quotas of solidarity with the Cuban people, or at what moment it is more appropriate according to their own national interests to be supportive or not. We do not need this hypocritical exclusivity.

We want as an independent nation, that we be supported in a timely and sincere manner to return our sovereignty, kidnapped by a tyranny, to the Cuban people, as we ourselves design our own present and future project.

We want our friends around the world to join us on the path that we have designed and that we are already walking the People’s Path.

We Request Solidarity with our Liberation.

Thank you. 

Discurso original en castellano

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy: What remained unsaid…

If one is the last speaker at the end of a long day of panels, and speeches followed by question and answer sessions then the need to balance the desire to relay information with that of not exhausting the patience of the audience becomes a challenge. In this exercise painful sacrifices of content are made but with the world of blogging it is no longer lost on a note pad. 

Below are some observations that were not included in the closing statement of the Geneva Summit. Their omission is due solely to the desire to keep the remarks at less than eight minutes. To achieve this half the original content was cut. Otherwise it would have been a 20-minute long presentation. The odds and ends have been refashioned into the essay below. 

One objective of the Geneva Summit over the past five years has been to give voice to victims of the world’s worst human rights abuses and in bearing witness hold the perpetrators of such atrocities accountable. If not today in a court of justice then tomorrow in the court of history with the facts and evidence documented for posterity. The program throughout the day has made its contribution to this ambitious and just goal.

It seems providential that Rosa Maria Payá and Regis Iglesias Ramirez would be addressing a gathering that in the recent past had been co-chaired by both Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa. Two men that had a profound influence on the life of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and who considered the Cuban human rights defender a friend.

Lech Walesa had been exchanging letters with Oswaldo since the late 1980s and the Christian Liberation Movement was greatly influenced by the Polish Solidarity movement. Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright and dissident who helped usher in the Velvet Revolution in his country engaged Oswaldo in a dialogue of letters and along with Lech Walesa and others had a role in seeing that the Cuban dissident leader win the European Union’s Sakharov Freedom of Thought Prize in 2002 and his later nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thanks to the solidarity and pressure of world leaders, such as Vaclav Havel and Jose Maria Aznar, that Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was able to travel to Strasbourg to receive the Sakharov Prize in December of 2002.

Sadly, Vaclav Havel is no longer with us. He passed away on December 18, 2011, but his contributions and good works live on. Today in the Czech Republic activists, intellectuals and politicians still gather to reflect on and discuss challenges facing humanity today seeking solutions at the Forum 2000. His physical presence may be gone but his words live on. For example in his 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless he made the following observation that was being echoed today by many gathered here: 
"When I speak of living within the truth, I naturally do not have in mind only products of conceptual thought, such as a protest or a letter written by a group of intellectuals. It can be any means by which a person or a group revolts against manipulation: anything from a letter by intellectuals to a workers' strike, from a rock concert to a student demonstration, from refusing to vote in the farcical elections to making an open speech at some official congress, or even a hunger strike, for instance." 
The exercise of moral conscience in the sphere of concrete action or inaction as circumstances may demand is a necessary good in scarce supply in today’s world. That today, here at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Oswaldo’s daughter, Rosa Maria, and his right hand man Regis Iglesias are demanding justice and concrete solidarity for this martyred Cuban human rights defender is Havel’s Power of the Powerless in action.

Lech Walesa, who thankfully is still with us, has spoken out on the death of his comrade in nonviolence:
“No words can express the pain I felt when I learned of the sudden death of one of the leading democratic activists, the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas - my friend. … “Oswaldo Payá will remain in my memory as a man of courage, determination and extraordinary fighting spirit. He was one of the most important voices of freedom in Cuba - and therefore incessantly spoke of the need to initiate political and economic reforms and to recognize the general human rights of every person.”
The Solidarity leader and former president of Poland on July 31, 2012 joined the cause of learning the truth about what happened in Bayamo, Cuba when Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were taken from this world in a letter in which he stated:
 “It's hard to calm the pain and be resigned to the loss of a loved one. It is difficult to understand the meaning of this suffering, when the family is denied the truth about the circumstances of the death of someone close. The lack of official information, the denial of contact with the participants of the accident, raises questions about the version of events presented in the mass media in Cuba. That is why I am supporting your efforts and those of the MCL for an open transparent investigation and to convene an international commission to investigate the circumstances of the accident.”
The past three years have been difficult ones for human rights defenders in Cuba. We heard today about Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero but also in 2012 there was Wilman Villar Mendoza, and in 2011 Laura Pollan and Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, and in 2010 Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Hopefully the human rights bureaucracy at the United Nations and the countries involved in this year’s peer review of Cuba will ask the regime’s representatives about these victims. Unfortunately, all too often even people of good will in order to avoid an inconvenient situation avoid asking the tough questions.

Vaclav Havel on October 12, 2009 at the Forum 2000 Conference he had organized spoke out on the dangers of small lapses of principle and cited President Obama as an example
 I believe that when the new Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize postpones receiving the Dalai Lama until after he has accomplished his visit to China, he makes a small compromise, a compromise which actually has some logic to it. However, there arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises. 
The choice that each and every one of us faces today is the choice of living an integrated life within the truth backing it up with action or passively accepting the lie propagated by those in power. It may not serve one’s self-interest and it may not seem logical in the world of Machiavellian political power calculations, but it is necessary if human civilization is not only to survive but thrive.

 “We wish to express our solidarity with all those who suffer from any form of oppression and injustice, and with those in the world who have been silenced or marginalized.” - Oswaldo Payá, December 17, 2002

5th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy: Closing Statement

The 5th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy today is an opportunity for reflection. Unfortunately, the human rights situation around the world has not improved over the past five years and in many instances worsened.  The question is why?

Cuban democratic opposition activist, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, when awarded the Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought on December 17, 2002 observed that “The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized.” The past decade has demonstrated that he was right.

Freedom House in its 2013 report “Freedom in the World” documents the seventh consecutive year in which there have been more declines than gains in freedom worldwide. Worse still the report demonstrates that there is “a stepped-up campaign of persecution by dictators that specifically targeted civil society organizations and independent media.”

These have been years of challenge for human rights and democracy activists around the world. Listening to the testimony today, in 2013, from journalists, human rights activists and victims of rights violations in Cuba, Iran, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Mauritania, Morocco, North Korea, Russia, Sudan, Syria, and Tibet should shock the conscience of any reasonable person.

Elie Wiesel’s aphorism: "For the dead and the living we must bear witness" has been put into practice over the course of these five summits and especially today: genocide, slavery, concentration camps, extrajudicial killings, brutalization of women, rape as a military weapon, and the silencing of dissenting voices.

At the same time, despite the horrors there is cause for hope. During the first session this morning “Women’s Rights: The Struggle for Human Dignity” Marina Nemat , a former prisoner of conscience in Iran who had been repeatedly tortured and raped made an observation that went to the heart of the challenge for human rights when she remarked that “Victim-hood is not a perpetual state. A victim can become a torturer and a torturer can become a victim. The tables can be turned. They will turn for me. One day they will place the cable in my hand and I will put it down. Justice and revenge are two very different concepts.”

Too many believe that immoral and unjust means can lead to moral and just ends.  This is the key idea that combined with the impulse for revenge can lead a victim to become a torturer in a cycle that generates greater levels of barbarism and inhumanity.

Breaking the cycle of bloodshed and revenge involves pursuing justice and accountability, in other words ending impunity.  To do this the right for victims and their loved ones to know the truth is a fundamental concern to end impunity.  This is a theme that has been heard throughout the day and especially from Marina Nemat, Colette Braeckman, and Mukesh Kapila.

Mukhtar Mai, the first speaker this morning outlined her harrowing account overcoming great horrors including being sentenced to gang rape and managed to build a school to educate hundreds of women; and she continues her struggle for justice, not revenge, stating “If a woman’s life is in danger, we can help them out. I want to make a change, and this will happen with education.”

This is part of what activists for nonviolence call a constructive program. The other common point heard throughout the day is that “military solutions are not real solutions.” Syrian activist Randa Kassis explained that in Syria: “a military solution is not a real solution. There is only one real solution and that is a political solution.” Marina Nemat repeated several times that the primary problem in Iran was not the nuclear program but the systematic violation of human rights and that she was against military action in Iran. Former Cuban prisoner of conscience Regis Iglesias explained that he did not hate the dictatorship in Cuba but at the same time he did not fear it and was seeking change using nonviolent means.

Rosa Maria Payá, whose father, Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas, died under suspicious circumstances along with Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012, recognized the commonality between the different activists who had spoken earlier in the day in favor of nonviolent change. During her presentation she quoted her father from his Strasbourg Address to the European Parliament in December of 2002, “The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: ‘You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together.”

Another theme during the Summit is the importance of citizenry to be active and vigilant. Marina Nemat explained the importance of holding politicians accountable, “If you don't maintain democracy it is going to die. It is up to every single one of us to pressure politicians to do the right thing.” Dicky Chhoyang of the Central Tibetan Administration called on free peoples to “Have the courage to stand and be the change we want to see happen.”

This leads inevitably to the need for freedom of expression and critical voices to expose injustice and hold the politicians accountable. The Moroccan blogger Kacem El Ghazzali outlined the importance freedom of expression and of religion within the Islamic world and the challenges still faced in Morocco.  Pyotr Verzilov, the husband of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova one of the jailed pussy riot musicians also spoke about the madness of Putin’s Russia, the absence of freedom of expression, and the linkage between the Russian Orthodox Church and the authoritarian regime in Russia. Lukpan Akhmedyarov has offered a vivid example of the denial of freedom of expression in Kazakhstan and the consequences of authoritarianism.

Marina Nemet is right; silence is a weapon of mass destruction as is indifference to injustice. However the opposite is also true making noise and denouncing injustice using nonviolent means and not succumbing to hate is a weapon of mass construction.

However, throughout the day we have heard from speakers of different parts of the world and of different religious traditions or even non-religious traditions that injustice and human rights violations need to be confronted by nonviolent means without succumbing to hating one’s adversary.

Therefore Regis, Rosa and I invite you to sign a petition demanding an independent and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012. The document is available in draft form for your signature.

Thank you very much.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rosa Maria Payá: What we do need is to be free.

Presentation of Rosa Maria Payá at the 2013 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

We want our freedom now!

By Rosa Maria Payá

I want to thank to the first two speakers, because I realize that we are here today and we are working for the same things: we are working for pacific solutions and we are expecting that the international community recognize our realities. I also want to thank to the organizer of this Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, It is my pleasure to thank all the friends whom worked to make this meeting possible, to facilitate my travel here and to all of you joining us here today.

My country is in a deteriorated and in an unstable situation. My people have suffered the lack of human rights for many decades already. My family has been directly affected and attacked; I think it is time to stop. It is time to change and every time a growing group of Cubans is working to make that change true.

At the same time the Cuban government has developed a series of legal reforms and public messages designed to preserve its powers and authority. These reforms do not guarantee the citizen rights: this is the Fraud Change.

I want to be clear about something: the lack of human rights is the principle reason, for the suffering, poverty and social problems of our people. Cubans, like all human beings, we need to be free to be prosperous. Europe is the proof that a country doesn’t have to choose between being economically successful or to be a state of rights. And Cuba is neither of these two things.

In 2007, my father and the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL in Spanish) delivered a legal initiative called the Heredia Project to the National Assembly (which is our Parliament).  This project, as well as the Varela Project (which is supported by more than 25,000 citizens), and you cannot imagine how difficult it is to collect the signatures of thousands of people living in fear. This project calls for elemental rights which are grounded in a few articles of the Cuban constitution, but are violated in the law and in the practice.

Now, The Christian Liberation Movement which is our movement, as well as other organizations in the opposition, is collecting signatures in support of the Heredia Project´s call for legal changes.  

Coincidentally, some of the reforms which the government promotes are precisely in some of the areas in which the Heredia Project has called for reform. In each case, the new laws, far from giving power to the people, have been designed so that the government retains the last word.  

These laws, not only confirm the government´s control, they also maintain the discrimination against the Cuban citizens.  For instance, the reform of the immigration laws eliminated the exit permit (permiso de salida), but added a list of requirements to receive the actualized passport.  The government continues deciding who may enter or leave the island.  So it is a procedural change and not an actual recognition of the right to travel that all people have because of their human condition. And this is just one representative example. This time I could get out but other Cubans couldn’t and still can’t.

The Heredia Project has hundreds of activists in different provinces of the country and from different organizations of the opposition.  It forms part of the Path of the People, which is a proposal that is welcomed and supported by the majority of the Cuban democratic movement.  The Path of the People demands fundamental rights which the Cuban people lack, and suggests steps to obtain them.  It also expresses the fact that the opposition in Cuba is united in its objectives.

As The Vision of The Path of the People says: “it is up to only us Cubans to define and decide on the changes our society needs and to accomplish our national project” and as my father said: Nobody, not a state, neither a market could be over the freedom of the persons and the decisions of the peoples.

We don´t want and we don’t need to depend of nobody, not of Venezuela, not of United State.  What we do need is to be free.

Free to dream, free to decide, free to love, free to make, free to build with our imaginations and our efforts the society that we, the Cubans, choose.

The Path of the People also says: Yet, for our citizens to truly design, decide and build their future, their rights must be guaranteed by the law and a trustful and respectful environment must be attained. Only by doing so will we engage in a genuine national dialogue and launch an inclusive process of legal reform to preserve the advances the people have achieved and to exercise the people’s sovereign right to change that which the people decide to change.

So, our demand is for the right of all Cubans to their fundamental rights and to free elections.  We need political support for these and the other demands which are contained in the Path of the People and this is the support that we expect from all of you.

Otherwise, The Cuban Government have continued and have raised the repression against the political activists. The leaders of the Heredia Project in the whole country are always under watch and oppression of the State Security. Other opposition’s groups and independent´s journalists are also suffering the government hostility. The Cuban Democratic Movement is entirely peaceful and it is being confronted by the force and in many cases with violence.

As my father said: The heroic Cuban civic fighters, the citizens who sign the Varela Project, are not carrying arms. We do not have a single weapon. We are holding out both arms, offering our hands to all Cubans, as brothers, and to all the peoples of the world. The first victory we can claim is that we do not have hate in our hearts. We therefore say to those who persecute and try to dominate us: you are my brother, I do not hate you, but you are no longer going to dominate me through fear, I do not want to impose my truth, and I do not want you to impose yours, let us seek the truth together.

My dear father, Oswaldo Payá, and my young friend Harold Cepero gave their lives fighting peacefully against the Fraud Change and for the freedom of the Cubans.  My family, the MCL and many people do not believe that their deaths were accidental.  My father received many death threats during his life, which increased in the last months of his life.  We received a mobile text message from Madrid that told us that his car was hit by another car.  And much of the information suggests that their deaths were provoked intentionally.  We are asking for your support of our request for an International Investigation into their deaths.

I have a fear, but my fear will not dominate me and I trust and I know that more Cubans feel the same way. We have a path, so we have a hope.

All Cubans

All brothers

and now, freedom!

God help us all

Thank you all

Regis, John and Rosa Maria signing for Liberation

Original text taken from:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day in Cuba: State Security imprisons 63 women for honoring Laura Pollan

Ladies in White spokeswoman Berta Soler at the far right in the Cubre Terminal

Tonight, Angel Moya, a former prisoner of conscience and husband of Ladies in White spokeswoman Berta Soler tweeted: "63 Ladies in White arrested in 32 hours by DSE repressive forces, some Ladies in White were arrested several times." Valentine's Day in Cuba takes on its original meaning: the power of love resisting brutality and injustice in the worse of places.

Why did State Security engage in a crackdown against so many nonviolent women?

There are two fundamental reasons. First, they can get away with it. The international media has been mostly silent during this crackdown. They would prefer to report on who is able to obtain a passport and who is being denied one by the dictatorship as they pursue the Castro regime's spin trying to sale cosmetic changes as real reforms. Secondly, the dictatorship fears the power of these women exercising nonviolent resistance and they still fear its founder the martyred Laura Pollán.

February 13, 2013 was the 65th anniversary of Lady in White founder Laura Pollán's birth in Cuba. The Ladies in White are a non-violent human rights movement established in March of 2003 in the midst of a massive crackdown in which their loved ones were unjustly imprisoned for exercising their fundamental human rights.  The first spokeswoman of the Ladies in White was Laura Pollán whose leadership forged a national movement that was also known and respected internationally. She died on October 14, 2011 following a mysterious illness and medical neglect.

The Ladies in White renamed themselves after Laura Pollán and have carried on defending human rights and calling for the release of all of Cuba's political prisoners. Its thanks to their courageous stand that Angel Moya is not in prison today. He was arrested on March 18, 2003 and condemned shortly afterwards in a summary show trial to 20 years in prison along with 74 others who faced stiff sentences of up to 28 years in prison. Thanks to the Ladies in White, not one of them is in prison today.

Yesterday, the Ladies in White gathered on Neptune Street in Havana, Cuba at what had been Laura Pollán's home when she was still alive to honor her and celebrate her life.

State Security mounted a huge operation detaining, beating and harassing the women trying to attend the gathering.  At the end of the day when members of the Ladies in White sought to leave Havana and return to their home provinces they were rounded up. Among those detained was the new spokeswoman Berta Soler who spent the night with her compatriots in detention and Angel Moya.

She got home three hours ago, and her husband Angel Moya tweeted the news: "Berta is already at home, State Security threatens to open a case against her."

Still trying to get news about the remaining women who were unjustly detained for trying to pay their respects to a nonviolent martyr on her birthday and have spent St. Valentine's Day behind bars.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

65th Anniversary of Lady in White founder Laura Pollán's birth observed today in Cuba

Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return. - Genesis 3:19

Ladies in White gathered in Havana on Calle Neptuno at the headquarters of their organization in order to observe the 65th anniversary of the birth of one of its founders,  Laura Inés Pollán Toledo who died under suspicious circumstances on October 14, 2011.

Today, was also Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent,which  also underscores human mortality and the beginning of a period of fasting and repentance. 

It was also a day in which the dictatorship mobilized its political police and state security apparatus in an effort to block, repress, beat up, and humiliate women attempting to reach Laura's home which is now the headquarters of the Ladies in White.

Sara Marta Fonseca, who appears in the photo above, directly behind Laura, on one of the walks of the Ladies in White tweeted how she was mistreated, roughed up and  beaten as she tried to attend the Literary Tea on Neptune Street to honor Laura's memory today:
Ladies in White Yanelys Cabrera and I, Sara Martha Fonseca, arrested when trying to participate in the literary tea at the headquarters of the Ladies in White. Patrol 570 left me on a deserted road stranded in the Lisa municipality. Hold State Security Department responsible for what may happen to me. Heading back to Ladies in White head quarters. I received blows to the head, back, arms, and back. I'm dizzy but will exercise my right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Yanelys and I arrested again heading to the Ladies in White headquarters.
Around the world human rights defenders remembered Laura Inés Pollán Toledo on the anniversary of her birth. The Human Rights Foundation tweeted in Spanish "Today is the 65th birthday of Laura Pollan see the interviews granted to HRF in 2010" and posted them in their twitter stream.

Yoani Sanchez over twitter described the atmosphere on Neptuno Street as a "tense situation throughout the day around the Ladies in White headquarters with a great police cordon and numerous arrests."

The home was surrounded by political police, state security agents and rapid response brigades. Women were threatened, detained, beaten up and dragged away told not to go to pay homage to the late Laura Pollán on the anniversary of her birth or accompany her daughter Laurita and husband Hector Maseda on this difficult day.

The tally at the end of the day tweeted by Angel Moya summed it up succinctly an hour ago: "Ladies in White homage for Laura Pollan ends in Havana, results 50 Ladies in White from different provinces present while 36 were arrested."

The dictatorship in Cuba thought when they arrested 75 activists 10 years ago on March 18, 2003 and sentenced them to long and unjust prison terms in show trials that they had crushed the opposition.  Instead Laura Pollan and the Ladies in White who had previously not been politically active mobilized to free their unjustly imprisoned loved ones. Over time what had been a narrow campaign to release their family members became a broader cause to free all of Cuba's political prisoners. 

Laura and the Ladies in White were first tested with brutal force by the regime's state security apparatus. Broken bones, and bloodied by rapid response brigades did not silence or detain these women. The release of all of their loved ones after the brute force failed to break them did not lead them to end their cause. 

Finally, the violence returned and a mysterious illness followed by medical neglect lead to Laura's death on October 14, 2011 but the Ladies in White continue to march for human rights and freedom. 

Tyrants may study how other freedom movements succeeded in overthrowing their allies of yesteryear and they may murder the Vaclav Havels and Corazon Aquinos of Cuba but what they fail to learn is that as long as a people are enslaved they will struggle to be free. 

Furthermore, despots fail to understand that our time here on Earth is short and we must make the best of it. One way to engage in a worthwhile existence is to spend it resisting tyranny and struggling for justice. Laura Pollán demonstrated this throughout her life and her memory is and will continue to be honored precisely because of that struggle to make Cuba and the world a better place. Human beings come from dust and will end up as dust, but human actions will determine what will become of human souls.