Saturday, June 27, 2015

Cuban women told not to dress in white if they want to attend Mass

"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:10, New American Bible

Ladies in White marching in Matanzas, Cuba
Eight ladies dressed in white were expelled from the Catholic parish in Aguada de Pasajeros in Cienfuegos by Father Tarciso. The priest who removed them from the Church told them, "you can continue coming to Church because this is God's house, but wear another color." The women are members of a human rights movement known as the Ladies in White who in recent months have faced rising repression at the hands of the Cuban dictatorship.

Unfortunately, one cannot expect much in the way of assistance appealing to the Cuban Cardinal for help in this matter. On June 5, 2015 Cardinal Jaime Ortega in a radio interview claimed that there were no political prisoners remaining in Cuba. Following the announcement by human rights groups in Cuba that at least 71 political prisoners remained in prisons there, the Cardinal requested that a copy of the list be given to him. News of the Cardinal's statements are now circulating in the United States painting him in a negative light.

These are difficult times for Cuban Catholics and for Christians generally in Cuba.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cuban mother denounces her disabled son's unjust imprisonment as blackmail by Cuban regime

"There are political prisoners in Cuba; the son of a member of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) was sentenced to 12 years in jail for the sole reason of being the son of a MCL member."- Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, September 23, 2011 interview

Rosa María Rodríguez Gil addresses the UNHRC in Geneva

One day a secret policemen approached Rosa María Rodríguez Gil and demanded that she become an informant spying on other members of the human rights group of which she is  a member. She rejected their offer saying that she would not be subjected to blackmail. They warned her that her learning disabled son, Yosvani Melchor Rodríguez, would pay. Three days later he was arrested on March 19, 2010 and held in custody for nine months then subjected to a show trial and given a 12 year prison sentence. 

Rosa responded by denouncing the blackmail and demanding the immediate release of her innocent son. Two years later and her son is still unjustly imprisoned and international attention draws some attention to his plight. Early one morning her sister, Dalia Margarita Rodríguez, who is a cancer survivor, gets a phone call they ask her if she is related to  Rosa and they ask Dalia her son's name. She answered all their questions truthfully and then they tell her to talk to Rosa and to take care of her son or that he would end up the same way.

 
Now more than five years after his arrest on June 24, 2015 with her son still in prison, Rosa María Rodríguez Gil addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and called for her son's freedom denouncing Yosvani's unjust imprisonment. In the video above beginning at 2:28:20 you can watch what transpired and below is a transcript of her statement before the Council:


Thank you very much Mr. Chairman,

My name is Rosa Maria Rodriguez Gil, I am a member of the Coordinating Council of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) and I live in Havana, Cuba.

For my activism and commitment to the MCL and Oswaldo Payá, who with Harold Cepero died in circumstances that have not been cleared up; because I refused to collaborate with the Cuban political police, my son Yosvani Melchor Rodriguez, a young man with psychological problems, was arbitrarily arrested, subjected to a show trial, where the prosecution was unable to demonstrate evidence of an alleged crime of trafficking in persons that he did not commit, they sanctioned him to 12 years in prison and he has spent 5 years in the prisons of Cuba.

My son is being punished as a vendetta for my participation in the civic and constitutional campaign for a referendum where the people can freely decide whether if they want democracy.

Not content to kidnap my son, the Cuban authorities denied Yosvani even the right to parole, that all inmate has on the island once they have passed the half way point of the sanction imposed, in this case unjustly.

I come before this honorable forum to ask for justice and that my son Yosvani Melchor Rodriguez be released immediately, that the blackmail and threats against me and against all Cubans who peacefully work for human rights and real change to democracy with the people's participation cease.

Thank you very much.

In an interview on the same day with Radio República she described how the dictatorship's diplomat interrupted her, along with several anti-democratic states, questioning her credentials when she addressed the Council and how she was able to finish her statement. Rosa María also recalled how others in the council chamber approached her to express their admiration for her courage, some taking pictures with her.

Unjustly imprisoned: Yosvani Melchor


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cuban woman mutilated in deadly machete attack holds State Security responsible

Former People's Assembly delegate pays high price to live free in Cuba

Sirley Ávila León, age 56, mother of two brutally attacked
What happened
Sirley Ávila León, age 56, was gravely wounded in a machete attack on May 24, 2015 at 3:00pm by Osmany Carrión who had been "sent by state security thugs" and that she is sure that the aggression "was politically motivated." The attack was severe enough that she suffered deep cuts to her neck and knees, lost her left hand and could still lose her right arm. Although Carrión was the principle assailant, his wife threw her into the mud after he cut off her hand compounding the injury with infection. It was a coordinated attack. Sirley has not recovered from her injuries, her life hangs in the balance but she has been sent home in this critical state without the proper medication. 
"She has still not recovered and could lose her right arm." - Hablemos Press
The 56 year old mother of two, small farmer and opposition activist has charged Cuban state security of being behind the deadly attack. She says that they are trying to be rid of her.  Furthermore that prior to this attack some of her cows and pigs were attacked with machetes, which she then added “I reaffirm that this is something that was prepared against me for some time.”


Background
Sirley Ávila León, an ex-delegate of the People’s Assembly (Poder Popular) of Majibacoa, a relatively sparse area of Cuba did something highly unusual in Cuba that got her in trouble. She had represented her community not the dictatorship and been re-elected for three terms. She had gotten the government to establish an elementary school for the few students who lived there. Otherwise they would have had to travel several kilometers daily to get to a school. At the same time transportation in Cuba is also a complicated affair to get around. When in 2012 the regime wanted the school shut down and Sirley began a protracted struggle to keep the school open she was confronted initially by the refusal of anyone to meet with her or the state controlled press to report on what was happening. She broke a taboo when she appealed to the international media and then tried to run in the rubber stamp elections which she then lost after maneuvers by the regime.

 
Joining the opposition 
Sirley crossed another line when she joined the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU in Spanish) which is part of the democratic opposition. In 2013 reports emerged that her son (an ex-official of the counterintelligence) was told by state security to tie her down, declare her insane for dissenting from the system, and have her shipped of to an psychiatric institution. He refused. Sirley denounced this in an UNPACU video on April 14, 2013. The Castro regime has a long track record of using psychiatry as a political weapon and these institutions have also had a record of neglect in which patients have died from exposure. The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba published in 1992 documented the interrelationship between Cuban psychiatry and the Cuban State Security apparatus to target dissidents.

In August of 2013 Sirley was able to document on video harassment from the national revolutionary police when she tried to sell mangoes. She has a small farm and was producing food. A neighbor appeared on camera to defend Sirley and denounce the heavy handedness of the regime while it ignored far more serious crimes. She denounced further harassment and threats on November 8, 2013. At the same time her activism, distributing literature and advocating a democratic transition made her a priority target of the political police who placed eight common prisoners around her home to spy on her while they are supposedly cutting invader species of plants.

Rising repression and violence
Other activists have been the victims of politically motivated machete attacks and women have been targeted with extreme violence by state security. This latest attack is an escalation in the level of violence and points to an ominous trend.

"Sending her home endangers her life further." - Hablemos Press
Will you help her?
Sirley Ávila León is a courageous woman who despite being in great distress continues to demand justice and is asking the international community to help. First, the medical attention has been deficient and she reports that the doctor prescribed medicines that are unavailable on the island and she is asking for help from abroad to get them and food. The principle aggressor has been detained due to the attention brought to the attack, but his wife who also participated in the attack is still free. She believes that the political nature of the attack will make it impossible to obtain judicial defense for the case. "Here they do not want to do anything, that is why I am asking for international help from some lawyer who can advise me "

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why US ‘Engagement’ With Cuba Has Been Deadly for Human Rights Activists

Published in The Daily Signal 

Rosa María Payá denounces international indifference
 President Obama’s engagement policy with the Castro regime, announced in 2009, has led to a massive increase in arbitrary detentions, violence against activists and the deaths of high-profile opposition leaders under circumstances that point to extrajudicial executions carried out by Cuban state security.

The White House not only began to loosen sanctions on the Castro regime in April 2009, but also refused to meet in June 2009 with the winners of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Award, who happened to be five Cuban dissidents that year.

It was the first time in five years the U.S. president did not meet with award laureates. In December 2009, the Castro regime responded to the outreach when it took Alan Gross hostage and the Obama administration responded with initial silence. It took American diplomats 25 days to visit with the arbitrarily detained American.

These signals would have deadly consequences for the Cuban democratic opposition. Rising levels of violence against nonviolent activists and the suspicious deaths of human rights defenders, such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo (2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (2011), Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (2011), Wilman Villar Mendoza (2012), Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (2012) and Harold Cepero Escalante (2012), followed promptly.

The administration responded to the taking of Gross (2009) and the death of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo on Feb. 23, 2010, by further loosening sanctions on Cuba in January 2011. The number of high-profile activists who died under suspicious circumstances after the second round of loosening of sanctions should give engagement advocates pause in their optimism with the new policy.

Machete attacks by regime officials against activists began in June 2013, the same month as secret negotiations between the Obama administration and the Castro regime started.

On Feb. 3, 2015, Rosa María Payá, in testimony before a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued an indictment on the indifference of the US government and the international community:
On 22 July 2012, Cuban State Security detained the car in which my father, Oswaldo Payá, and my friend Harold Cepero, along with two young European politicians, were traveling. All of them survived, but my father disappeared for hours only to reappear dead, in the hospital in which Harold would die without medical attention. The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the U.S. government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages. While you slept, the regime was conceiving their cleansing of the pro-democracy leaders to come. While you sleep, a second generation of dictators is planning with impunity their next crimes.
Two months later Rosa María Payá, and other activists were harassed first at the airport by Panamanian officials and later at the VII Summit of the Americas because the United States, along with the democracies of the region, invited Raul Castro to the summit. Castro arrived with a huge entourage of state security agents, then proceeded to interrupt and shut down official civil society gatherings at the summit to silence dissent. Cuban pro-democracy activists were physically assaulted in a public park when they tried to lay a wreath before a bust of Jose Marti suffering broken bones and black eyes.

Meanwhile, President Obama shook hands with Raul Castro and declared the goal of regime change in Cuba was no longer U.S. policy. Now, violence in Cuba escalates each Sunday as men and women of the democratic resistance suffering brutal beatings and detentions.

Original version: http://dailysignal.com/2015/06/15/why-us-engagement-with-cuba-has-been-deadly-for-human-rights-activists/

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Varela Project: Cuba's Great Charter

To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice. - Magna Carta,  June 15, 1215


Today the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta is being observed in the United Kingdom and it is important to look at societies where authoritarian or totalitarian dictatorships continue to systematically deny freedom and how citizens in those societies have appealed for change echoing elements of "The Great Charter." In Cuba, the Varela Project, under the dictatorship of the Castro brothers to date is the most serious challenge where more than 25,000 Cubans petitioned the regime to reform itself in 2002-2003.  This led to the dictatorship altering the constitution to prevent amendments that would reform the system, imprisoning scores of petition organizers in March of 2003, and on July 22, 2012 extrajudicially killing Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante of the Christian Liberation Movement who had led the initiative. This citizen's demand remains active and like the Magna Carta was not a single event but a process that is still underway. Below is a translated excerpt of the Varela Project.

CITIZEN PETITION: SUPPORTED IN OUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

The undersigned at the end of this text, solicit the National Assembly of People's Power to submit to popular consultation, by means of a referendum, each of the following five proposals:

That the necessary changes to the laws are made for preserving the common good and respect for universally recognized human rights and human dignity, guaranteeing citizens:

The right to associate freely according to their interests and ideas, so that they can legally form associations and social, political, economic, cultural, labor, student, religious, humanitarian and other organizations, respecting the principle of pluralism and diversity of ideas present in society.

The rights to freedom of speech and press, in a manner so that people, individually or in groups, can demonstrate and express their ideas, beliefs and opinions through the spoken and written word and by any means of communication and expression.


The laws that guarantee these rights must be implemented no later than sixty days after this referendum is realized.That an amnesty for all detainees is decreed, for those punished and imprisoned for political reasons that have not participated in actions that directly endangered the lives of others. This amnesty law will go into effect no later than thirty days after this referendum is realized.That the necessary changes be made to the laws that guarantee citizens the right to establish both individual private enterprises such as cooperatives, to develop economic activities that can be productive and of service, since they can establish contracts between workers and companies for the operation of these companies, under just conditions, in which no subject can earn income from the exploitation of others' labor.  

These new laws should also ensure respect for the rights of workers and citizens, and the interests of society. These new laws should enter into force no later than sixty days after this referendum is held.

   Runnymede, England 1215               Havana,Cuba 2002      

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Magna Carta 800 years later

The Great Charter of 1215 that established the Rule of Law

The Magna Carta
On June 15, 1215 40 barons pressured King John into affixing his seal on The Great Charter (Magna Carta in Latin) at a field in Runnymede, England. This document placed the sovereign under the rule of law and established this principle among English speaking peoples. The Nobles had risen up against the King and through peace negotiations sought this limitation of royal power in response to King John arbitrarily seizing properties and holding nobles hostage in order to raise funds in a failed attempt to take Normandy from the French. The document was originally written in Latin, then translated into French and finally into English.

The U.S. Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights were directly influenced by this document. A full English translation is available online and below are some key excerpts still relevant in today's British law that resonate the world over:
(1) FIRST, THAT WE HAVE GRANTED TO GOD, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired. That we wish this so to be observed, appears from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak of the present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by charter the freedom of the Church's elections - a right reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance to it - and caused this to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III. This freedom we shall observe ourselves, and desire to be observed in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity.  TO ALL FREE MEN OF OUR KINGDOM we have also granted, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs: 

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
King John had no intention of honoring the Magna Carta but thanks to the work of religious scribes, copies of the document were made and distributed. However, the King appealed to Pope Innocent III who nullified the agreement three weeks later. The Great Charter was issued in 1216 after King John's death by King Henry III. It was not called Magna Carta until 1217 when it was part of a peace treaty agreed at Lambeth. Eight hundred years later the world returns to reflect on what took place at a field in Runnymede where the King sat down with Barons and sealed a charter that would change the course of history.

It is a day also to be dreaded by anyone in a position of power who abuses his authority, of tyrants both petty and grand around the globe because it is a day to reflect on the idea that no one is above the law and that everyone has rights. These principles established among English speaking peoples on June 15, 2015 that today extends to between a fourth and third of humankind living on the planet remains relevant giving hope to the oppressed and worry to the oppressors.

Friends of freedom tomorrow is a day to give a toast in celebration of the 800th anniversary of this important charter of liberty and to our British cousins who brought it into existence while at the same time studying this document and the continuing struggle to preserve our freedoms and extend them where and when possible.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Carter's embrace of Castro in the 1970s cost American lives

Careful when Castro praises you
Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter in Cuba in 2002
 Fidel Castro in 2011 had words of praise for former President Jimmy Carter upon his second visit to Cuba describing him as someone with “enough serenity and courage to deal with the issue of relations with Cuba” and continued:
“His administration was the only one that took some steps to lessen the criminal blockade imposed on our people.” ...“The Revolution always appreciated his valiant gesture. In the year 2002, it received him warmly. Now, I reiterated to him its respect and esteem.” 
Castro also claimed that it was the  “extreme fascist right in the United States” that led to President Carter’s Cuba policy failing at the time. However, a book written by his chief body guard, Juan Reinaldo Sánchez Crespo, gives a better insight as to how Castro viewed President Carter and how he applied this knowledge at the time.

Book written by Castro's chief body guard
Brian Latell, a former U.S. intelligence analyst and presently an academic at the University of Miami, in a June 8, 2015 oped in The Miami Herald giving an overview of the above book focused on how Castro dealt with the Mariel boatlift during the Carter presidency:
For me, Sánchez’s most appalling indictment of Fidel concerns the chaotic exodus of more than 125,000 Cubans in 1980 from the port of Mariel. Most who fled were members of Cuban exile families living in the United States. They were allowed to board boats brought by relatives and to make the crossing to South Florida.
But many of the boats were forcibly loaded by Cuban authorities with criminals and mentally ill people plucked from institutions on the island. Few of us who have studied Fidel Castro have doubted that it was he who ordered those dangerous Cubans to be exported to the United States. He has persuaded few with his denials of any role in the incident.
Yet Sánchez adds an appalling new twist to the saga. We learn that prison wards and mental institutions were not hurriedly emptied, as was previously believed. Sánchez reveals that Castro insisted on scouring lists of prisoners so that he could decide who would stay and who would be sent to the United States. He ordered interior minister Jose Abrahantes to bring him prisoner records.
Sánchez was seated in an anteroom just outside of Fidel’s office when the minister arrived. The bodyguard listened as Fidel discussed individual convicts with Abrahantes.
“I was present when they brought him the lists of prisoners,” Sánchez writes, “with the name, the reason for the sentence, and the date of release. Fidel read them, and with the stroke of a pen designated which ones could go and which ones would stay. ‘Yes’ was for murderers and dangerous criminals; ‘no’ was for those who had attacked the revolution.” Dissidents remained incarcerated.
A number of the criminal and psychopathic marielitos put on the boats to Florida went on to commit heinous crimes — including mass murder, rape, and arson.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article23537077.html#storylink=cpy
This episode was a contributing factor, along with a terrible economy, the hostage crisis in Iran that led the American public in 1980 to elect Ronald Reagan president who reversed Carter's policies on Cuba. What should worry citizens of the United States is that Obama's new Cuba policy is a sequel to Carter's 1970s Cuba policy.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports on reforms in Cuba that undermine property rights

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has released a report documenting a worsening situation with regards to religious freedom in Cuba that has been picked up in the media. However,  reading through their report one finds that what many Cuba experts have been heralding as one of Raul Castro's reforms has a sinister underbelly that further undermines the already weak area of property rights. Even graves are not protected. The Miami Herald reported on June 9, 2015 that Cuban-American investor José Valdés-Fauli found when he visited the tomb of his maternal grandfather, Jacinto Pedroso, a Cuban businessmen and founder of the Pedroso Bank who had died in 1955 that his mausoleum had been sold, his remains thrown into a mass grave some time after 2013. Below is the excerpt of the Christian Solidarity Worldwide discussing this new legislation that negatively impacts property rights. The added bold for emphasis is mine.


New legislation, Legal Decree 322: the General Law on Housing, was announced on 5 September 2014 and came into force on 5 January 2015.1 The law is meant to regulate private properties, mostly homes, and enforce zoning laws. However, it has reportedly been used by government officials to claim the right to seize church properties and to force the churches into the role of paying tenant. Cuban lawyers have told CSW that although the law does not specifically mention religious groups, government officials have claimed it gives them the authority to expropriate property when they deem it ‘necessary.’ One legal expert linked to the Cuban Council of Churches and speaking anonymously told CSW that churches of all denominations and in multiple provinces are affected:
“They are applying the law rigorously. In the case of the churches it is worse. They propose to convert the church into a tenant. This has consequences. For example, the ‘new owner’ is able to decide what the church can or cannot do in this place. That is to say they lose autonomy. They cannot accept this. The situation is complicated.”1
The legal expert added that the most vulnerable churches are those to which the government has refused to issue a licence recognising them as a registered place of worship.2 However, at least one historic church property was targeted in the first half of the year. In May 2015 the leadership of the Maranatha First Baptist Church, in the city of Holguin, was informed by provincial Communist
Party and Housing Ministry officials that their property is to be confiscated and their status changed from owners to tenants. The church is affiliated with the Eastern Baptist Convention of Cuba, and over 800 people worship there on a weekly basis. It has held title to the property since 1947 and was officially registered in May 1954. Government officials threatened to confiscate the church property once before in 2011, but backed down after a high profile campaign; now, it seems, they may be attempting to apply the new legislation to justify their actions. Leaders of the church have published an open letter calling for support as they resist government attempts to seize their
property. Other churches have also reported threats of confiscation or destruction of property, which appear to be related to the application of Legal Decree 322. In May Reverend Fausto Polemo was informed by local authorities that his church in the city of Santiago de Cuba would be confiscated and demolished, and that he was prohibited from holding any more services. The church belongs to the Assemblies of God denomination, which is registered and recognized in Cuba. Similarly, Pastors Osmel and Madeleine de Calderón were told that their church in Loma Blanca, Upper Mayarí, Santiago Province and affiliated with the Apostolic Movement,3 must stop holding services. Members of their church have also been approached by government officials, warned to stop attending the church, and told to distance themselves from the couple. Reverend Alain Toledano, another Apostolic Movement leader, was told that his property in the city of Santiago would be confiscated. He has continued to make public calls for the government to clarify the status of his
property.

In May, a Request for Precautionary Measures was filed with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission on behalf of Reverend Yiorvis Bravo, another Apostolic Movement leader. In 2013 a Camaguey court sanctioned a government move to expropriate his home, which is also the meeting place of his church. While the case predates the enactment of Legal Decree 322, the tactics
appear identical. Reverend Bravo was approached by Ministry of Housing officials in 2013 who offered to allow him and his family to remain in the property as tenants, if they agreed to submit all church activities for approval in advance. Reverend Bravo refused to comply and remains in the home, but while government officials have not yet made any move to evict the family, they have continued to maintain that the property is now theirs and they reserve the right to evict or relocate the family at any time.

1 More information on the law can be found at www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2014/09/24/cuales-son-las-principales-modificaciones-a-la-ley-general-de-la-vivienda/#.VXCxNM9Viko (Spanish)

2 Because the government has allowed only a handful of new church buildings to be built since the 1959 Revolution, despite massive growth in the churches through the 1990s and 2000s, a huge proportion of Protestants and some Catholics meet in what are usually referred to as house churches. This name is applied to any building where religious services are held and which is not legally registered as a place of worship. While the government mostly tolerated these house churches for
many years, it made it difficult and often impossible to register the buildings as places of worship. This meant that they were technically illegal and always vulnerable to harassment, fines and forced closure.


3 The government has refused to register the Apostolic Movement and considers it to be illegal.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Iraqi Christian Relief Council hosts two screenings of "Sing a Little Louder"

This True Story Connects the Lessons of History, Religious Freedom, and the Fight against ISIS



WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, June 9, 2015 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Iraqi Christian Relief Council, Catholic Witnesses, and Movie to Movement are hosting two screenings of "Sing a Little Louder," a film about genocide, people of faith, and the mute acceptance of evil.

Juliana Taimoorazy, founder and president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, will offer a short briefing on the current plight of Christians targeted by ISIS.  Ms. Taimoorazy grew up in Tehran, is a Fellow for the Philos Project, and is an Executive Producer on this film.

SING A LITTLE LOUDER is a 12-minute film based on the true story of an old man who remembers witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust, and the passivity of his parents, pastor, and fellow Christians in the face of ultimate evil. The movie serves as eloquent commentary today, when Christians themselves are the victims of genocide throughout the Muslim world—to the silence of Christians in the West who are privileged with influence, wealth, and power.

Congressman Frank Wolf (Ret.), champion of religious freedom, said, "'Sing a Little Louder' uses a moving personal narrative to convey a powerful message—namely that when confronted with evil in its many manifestations, good people must act. To do otherwise is to be complicit in the suffering of innocents."  He added, "We must examine our conscience when confronted with this injustice…"

Executive Producer Jason Jones (Bella, Crescendo, The Stoning of Soroya M.) added, "We must speak out for the vulnerable, wherever they are, whoever they are.  Our mission in Movie to Movement is to produce and promote films that highlight the dignity and sacredness of the human person, through the medium of beauty. 'Sing a Little Louder' is a powerful, unforgettable film that does just that."

The Iraqi Christian Relief Council (www.victimsofisis.org) coordinates desperately needed relief for persecuted Assyrian Christians and other minorities menaced by ISIS and other jihadists.
    Please join us:

    WASHINGTON, D.C.

    Place:   National Press Club, 524 14th Street NW
    Date:   Wednesday, June 10
    Time:  2:00 – 3:00PM EST

    NEW YORK CITY

    Place:   CapitalHQ, 340 Madison Avenue
    Date:   Thursday, June 11
    Time:  12:00 – 1:00PM EST

    RSVP:  Rebecca Karabus rkarabus@capitalhq.com

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Carlos Alberto Montaner's seven warnings concerning Obama's Cuba policy

What the mainstream press is missing in the Cuba policy debate


Seven final warnings about Obama's new Cuba policy
By Carlos Alberto Montaner, Cuban academic and author

The first warning is that the government of the Castro brothers maintains in 2015 exactly the same vision of the United States that it had when the guerrillas came to power in January 1959.

To them, the huge and powerful neighbor and its purported predatory practices in the economic field are at the root of mankind's basic problems.

The second warning, a consequence of the first, is that that regime, wholly consistent with its beliefs, will continue to try to affect the United States negatively in all instances that present themselves.

Yesterday, it placed itself under the Soviet umbrella. In the post-Soviet era, it built the foundation for the São Paulo Forum and later for the circuit known as 21st-Century socialism, which extended to the countries of the so-called ALBA. Today, it allies itself firmly with Iran and is lining up with the Sino-Russian side in this new and dangerous Cold War being gestated. To the Castros, anti-Americanism is a moral crusade that they'll never renounce.

The third one is that the Cuban dictatorship has not the slightest intention to begin a process of liberalization that might allow political pluralism or freedoms, as these are known among the world's most developed nations.

Opposition democrats are tolerated so long as their movements and communications can be regulated and watched by the political police.

The regime perfectly dominates the techniques of social control. Aside from the conventional police to keep the opposition in check, it has at least 60,000 counterintelligence officers under the MININT [Interior Ministry] and tens of thousands of collaborators. To them, repression is not a dark and shameful behavior but a constant and patriotic task.

The fourth is that the economic system being erected by Raúl Castro has not been conceived to nurture a civil society, a society that someday will magically overthrow the dictatorship. Instead, it is a model of Military Capitalism of State (MCS), whose backbone consists of the Army and the Ministry of the Interior, institutions that control most of the country's productive apparatus.

Within that scheme, as can be surmised from the words of official economist Juan Triana Cordoví, the State (in reality, the military sector) reserves for itself the management and exploitation of the country's 2,500 medium and large businesses, leaving to the self-employed entrepreneurs a large number of small activities that it doesn't care to sustain.

Contrary to the thinking in Washington and among the nongovernmental Cuban sectors that support those economic reforms, Raúl Castro and his advisers assume, correctly, that the self-employed entrepreneurs will be a source of stability for the Military Capitalism of State, not because of ideological affinity but because they don't want to lose the small privileges and advantages they gain.

The fifth one is that the Castro brothers' regime is not at all interested in propitiating the enrichment of foreign businessmen. They despise the capitalists' zest for profiting, which they find repugnant, although they themselves practice it discreetly, somehow.

Investments from abroad will be welcome only and solely if they contribute to strengthen the Military Capitalism of State that they are forging. To the Cuban government, those investments are a necessary evil, like someone amputating his own arm to save his life.

If anybody thinks that that regime will permit the emergence and growth of an independent entrepreneurial fabric, it's because he has not taken the trouble to study the writings and speeches of the officials of the regime or even to examine their behavior.

Real-estate investor and renowned millionaire Stephen Ross was absolutely right when, after returning from a trip to Cuba, he declared that he had not seen on the island the tiniest serious opportunity to do business. In reality, there is none, except in those activities that provide a clear profit for the government or those that are absolutely indispensable for the survival of the regime.

It is obvious that the Castros' priority is to cling to power and not develop a vigorous entrepreneurial fabric that will bring Cubans out of misery. To explain their shortfalls, they have created the alibi of revolutionary austerity and criticism of consumerism (people's attraction to “junk”) as a heroic and selfless form of confronting poverty.

The sixth warning is that, in the face of this depressing picture of abuse and insistence on the usual blunders, Washington's rejection of containment and its substitution by engagement (plus cancelling the objective of trying to promote a regime change, as Obama announced in Panama) is a dangerous and irresponsible hastiness that will harm the United States, encourage its enemies, dishearten its allies and affect very negatively the Cuban people, who desire freedoms, real democracy and an end to their misery.

What's the sense of the United States -- and the Catholic Church -- helping to strengthen a Military Capitalism of State, a foe of freedoms including economic freedom, a violator of Human Rights that perpetuates in power a collectivist dictatorship that has destroyed Cuba and today contributes to destroying Venezuela, because it cannot show anything other than what it has done for 56 years?

The seventh warning is that the democratic opposition has never been more fragile and less protected than today, despite the impressive number of dissidents and the heroism they display. It has never been more alone.

Why would anyone take that opposition into account when the United States has renounced regime change and is willing to accept the Cuban dictatorship without demanding anything in exchange?

The United States has renounced to indicating to Havana clearly that true change begins at the moment when the top level of the dictatorship accepts that the first step is to dialogue with the opposition and admit that societies are pluralistic and harbor differing points of view.

What argument can be wielded now by the silent and always cowed reformists in the regime to ask -- sotto voce -- for political and economic changes from the Castros' government when nobody else demands them?

In sum, Obama has made a serious mistake by separating himself from the policy followed by the 10 presidents, Democratic and Republican, who preceded him to the White House.

Nobody can state by decree that his enemy has suddenly turned into his friend and has begun to think along one's lines. That's childish.

It is not a question of criticizing Obama for having essayed a new policy. The problem is that it is a bad policy.

You cannot ignore reality without paying a high price in the end. What's sad is that we Cubans will pay that price.
----
Excerpts from the lecture Relations Between the United States and Cuba at the New Stage of the Thaw: Common Sense or Irresponsible Hastiness? delivered by Carlos Alberto Montaner at the Interamerican Institute for Democracy in Miami on June 4, 2015.

Translation by Capitol Hill Cubans

Monday, June 8, 2015

We are coming across: Film review and reflection on the plight of Falun Gong

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.  - Elie Wiesel


This past Saturday evening the important new documentary, We Are Coming Across, on the plight of Falun Gong in mainland China premiered at the Women's International Film and Arts Festival and the director, Mei Lei, held a question and answer session following the film.

The documentary takes the viewer on a personal journey from the perspective of a young woman becoming aware of the horrors committed against those who practice Falun Gong in mainland China ranging from: imprisonment, extreme torture, extrajudicial killings, and organ harvesting of living "donors."

Falun Gong are a religious minority that in mainland China have been brutally persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party since July 20, 1999.

Unfortunately since China is a major trading partner these days the practices that go on there are downplayed. Nevertheless they are still reported. For example The Economist on March 14, 2015 in an article titled Spare the Bullet reported: "Transplant operations in China have long relied on organs taken from executed prisoners, a practice that has led to such abuses as the timing of executions to meet organ demand, with no notification of relatives. As by far the world’s biggest user of the death penalty, China could count on an abundant—if still far from adequate—supply."

According to The Daily Mail in their April 8, 2015 article titled, Livers, kidneys and even corneas removed from 11,000 live political prisoners WITHOUT anaesthetic every year in China, claims documentary, also reported that Falun Gong were frequent targets of this practice.   This "business" allegedly nets the Chinese government $1 billion dollars a year.

Equally as disturbing has been Bodies: The Exhibition where serious allegations have been raised that the bodies put on display are executed political prisoners and Falun Gong members.

My own experience at the UN Human Rights Commission where I was stopped from walking into main chamber of the meeting because I had a copy of a flier of a Falun Gong event spoke volumes to me about the power and influence of the Chinese communists in that organization.

Little wonder that as Communist China has become the number one economy in the world and a superpower that international human rights standards have been in decline over the past decade. It is surely not the only reason why, but definitely a contributing factor.

Another factor is the silence of so many before these crimes.



Sunday, June 7, 2015

More than 70 activists violently arrested in Cuba today and why you should care

"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

Lady in White Ada María López Canino badly beaten today
 More than 70 dissidents were violently arrested today in Cuba. Strangle holds were used against nonviolent activists. Lady in White Ada María López Canino was so badly beaten during her arrest by state security that they knocked out one of her teeth. She is a mother of three boys and two girls. The artist, Tania Bruguera, who was accompanying the Ladies in White on their Sunday march was also roughed up during her detention and the marks are visible in the photo below.

Tania Bruguera left bruised by state security
Yesterday, hundreds of Cuban exiles and friends of freedom came out to show their support for Cuba's democratic resistance and opposition to Obama's disastrous Cuba policy in a freedom caravan. Some may question the strategic effectiveness of protesting after 56 years, but they should ask themselves the question: "What is the alternative? Silence?"

Elie Wiesel in his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture made the case that one cannot remain silent before injustice, and that it is necessary to protest. The Nobel Laureate continued the logic of this line of reasoning:
We may be powerless to open all the jails and free all the prisoners, but by declaring our solidarity with one prisoner, we indict all jailers. None of us is in a position to eliminate war, but it is our obligation to denounce it and expose it in all its hideousness. 
Fifty six years is a long time to protest, and that can be tiring and frustrating but the alternative which is to remain silent before injustice would be terrible. The words of a great Cuban writer and poet speaks to those who would remain silent from across the span of more than a century: "To see a crime calmly is to commit it."

Friday, June 5, 2015

Tank Man: 26 years later

The power of one person to make a difference
Fuller picture of column of tanks one person stopped on June 5, 1989

Tiananman, China June 5, 1989 The killing had started on the night of June 3rd and intensified in the early morning hours of June 4, 1989 with tanks running over demonstrators. It was bikes versus tanks and the tanks always won.

Until June 5, 1989 when Tank Man appeared and with his moral courage and outrage stood down a column of tanks. 26 years later, we still don't know his name or what happened to him. But we remember how he gave us hope with the power of one person to say: Enough! Stop!

The 2004 Frontline Documentary TheTankMan explores the significance of this act, and attempts to discover what happened. Below the documentary available online:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

26th Anniversary of June 4th Tiananmen Square massacre

Never forget. Never give up.

Today across the world friends of freedom are gathering to remember and honor those who perished in what became known as the Tiananmen Square massacre. In Hong Kong there is a live feed of the event there that starts at 5:00am EST. More information is available here.

Hong Kong university students hold vigil on Tiananmen Square anniversary
Another event starts at 10:30am EST at the Victims of Communism Memorial located on Massachusetts and New Jersey Avenue, Northwest, Washington DC where there is a bronze facsimile of the papier-mâché “Goddess of Democracy” statue that the protestors erected over the course of those fateful days. Dr. Yang Jianli (Initiatives for China) and Marion Smith (Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation) will make remarks and guests are invited to come lay a wreath or flowers to honor the memory of those lives cut short in June of 1989 by the Chinese People's Liberation Army on the orders of the one party dictatorship that still remains in power there today. 

Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington DC
Below is a playlist of videos beginning with a song by Chinese rocker Cui Jian who played a concert for the students in Tiananmen Square during the protests and prior to the crackdown. Following the music video is the documentary Tankman, then a live feed to the candlelight vigil in Hong Kong finally the documentary, The Gates of Heavenly Peace (both in English and Chinese).


In memory of those who stood up for their rights, lost their lives and for those still unjustly imprisoned today in China.

Abbreviated Time line of the June 1989 crackdown and massacre
 30 May 1989 - Goddess of Democracy is unveiled: During the previous night, students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts assemble the 37-foot-high statue of the Goddess of Democracy, built in two days out of plaster and styrofoam. It stands opposite the giant portrait of Mao Zedong.
 

2 June 1989 - Hunger strike by Capital Joint Liaison Group: The Liaison Group, now composed solely of intellectuals, decides to stage a series of 72-hour hunger strikes to show the students that others too are ready to put their lives at risk. Literary critic Liu Xiaobo, rock star Hou Dejian, and economist Zhou Duo are among the first to start fasting.


- Communist party elders approve plan to put down the protests by force

The Goddess of Democracy

3 June 1989 - Troops are ordered to reclaim Tiananmen Square at all cost. They begin to open fire upon people blocking the advancement of the army and also on people who are just shouting at the troops. Tanks and armored vehicles move towards the center of the city. An unknown number of Beijing citizens die, succumbing to gun shots—sometimes at point blank—or crushed by tanks and armored personnel carriers. In angry retaliation, civilians throw stones at the soldiers, who shoot back. Some soldiers are attacked and beaten up. Buses and cars are set on fire.

Victims of the massacre
4 June 1989 1:00 a.m. The troops have blocked off all approaches to Tiananmen Square. Various people who witnessed the killings of civilians report to the BWAF and to the students’ Command Headquarters, urging them to withdraw.
3:00 a.m. Liu Xiaobo, Hou Dejian, Zhou Duo and a fourth men who began the second hunger strike negotiate with the troops to allow the students to leave the Square.
4:00 a.m. On the square the lights go off. The statue of the Goddess of Democracy is toppled by a tank.
4:30 a.m. The tanks and the troops stationed in the north corner of the Square begin to move forward. Students vote and eventually agree to leave. The soldiers shoot out the students’ loud speakers. Led by the Command Headquarters, the students walk away from the Monument to the People’s Heroes toward the southeast part of the square. A row of armored vehicles moves slowly toward the monument. Other troops arrive from the west, squeezing the crowd. As the students leave, army tanks crush tents on their way. The student guards are the last to leave, with soldiers about 18 feet behind them firing warning shots.
5:00 a.m. As the students pass Qianmen, residents line the streets and applaud. The army throws tear gas and shoots at students and citizens near the square and in other areas of the capital. Some people are crushed under tanks. The number of victims is not known.
6:20 a.m. Tanks crush retreating students.

5 June 1989 - Final act of defiance. An unarmed men blocks a column of tanks as they rolled towards Tiananmen Square. He's taken away by men in plainclothes. 22 years later his identity remains unknown.

Tankman

Cuba 2015: State security still murders fleeing refugees

 Totalitarian terror remains unchanged in Cuba

Yuriniesky Martínez Reina, in orange, with his dad and son (L). Shot in the back (R)
An extrajudicial execution 
On April 9, 2015 a group of men in their 20s and 30s were building a small boat to escape Cuba when they were shot at by the head of state security, Miguel Angel Río Seco Rodríguez, in the municipality of Martí in the province of Matanzas in Cuba. Shot in the back and left for two days in a lagoon, before being found by his brother, was 28 year old Yuriniesky Martínez Reina. Unlike the families of many other victims who are intimidated into silence, Yuriniesky's family spoke out, identified his killer and demanded justice in a video published on April 27, 2015 by Libertad Press.


 
Not the first time
The extrajudicial killing of fleeing refugees has been an ongoing practice of the dictatorship in Cuba. Well documented cases, prior to this one, included a formal complaint in 1993 by the United States government.

Cuban gunboat patrolling waters near Guantanamo, Cuba
Long term pattern of killing and cruelty
U.S. soldiers patrolling the perimeter of the Guantanamo naval base had been surprised by the sounds of explosions then horrified by what they observed. This led to a formal diplomatic note to the Cuban government by the Clinton Administration. This in turn led to a front page story in The Miami Herald on July 7, 1993 which described what the soldiers had witnessed:
Cuban marine patrols, determined to stop refugees from reaching the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, have repeatedly tossed grenades and shot at fleeing swimmers and recovered some bodies with gaff hooks, U.S. officials charged Tuesday. At least three Cubans have been killed in the past month as Cuban patrol boats attacked swimmers within sight of U.S. Navy personnel at Guantanamo.
A year later on July 13, 1994 the tugboat "13 de marzo" was surrounded, attacked and sunk by regime agents in a massacre that killed 37 Cuban refugees, the majority women and children.

Extrajudicially executed by Cuban government agents on July 13, 1994
Incidentally on December 16, 2014 the day before President Obama announced a new policy on Cuba, and that the White House had been engaged in 18 months of secret negotiations with the Castro regime, the Cuban coastguard rammed and sank a boat with 32 Cuban refugees on board. On this occasion one refugee is missing and presumed dead, Liosbel Díaz Beoto (age 32) while the others were repatriated to Cuba.

Liosbel Díaz Beoto (age 32) Missing, presumed dead