Tuesday, May 23, 2017

2017 Oslo Freedom Forum: Honoring Vaclav Havel

"Human rights are universal and indivisible. Human freedom is also indivisible: if it is denied to anyone in the world, it is therefore denied, indirectly, to all people. This is why we cannot remain silent in the face of evil or violence; silence merely encourages them." - Vaclav Havel


The ninth edition of the Oslo Freedom Forum has been underway since May 22, 2017 and tomorrow on the last day the organizers will be presenting the 2017 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent at 10:00am CET the Oslo Nye Theater. Be sure to catch it live streamed below:


Human rights have been in retreat around the world over the past two decades and activists from around the globe need  to network, exchange information, and better coordinate joint actions and strategies to turn the tide.

Nevertheless, this requires questioning assumptions and the course taken over the past twenty five years in the human rights community.

Gatherings such as the Oslo Freedom Forum, Forum 2000 in Prague and the Geneva Summit for Human Rights are forums where this important conversation can and should take place.

This blog has served as a platform to discuss the crisis and possible solutions. It has also called on conservatives to recall their own roll in the development of the idea and language of human rights centuries before the French Revolution of 1789, its roots not in the Enlightenment but in the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, and the first recognition of universal human rights in the 15th century in the Salamanca school.

Let us take the long view back to inform the conversation on the present situation and future prospects.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Venezuelan general recorded advocating snipers against street demonstrators in Venezuela

 Murdering the future in Venezuela

Génesis Carmona: Shot in the head by a sniper on February 18, 2014
On May 18, 2017 The Miami Herald reported that it had a secret recording of a Venezuelan general advocating for the use of snipers against street demonstrators "in the future." The sad news is that this has been a practice long adopted by the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Beginning on February 12, 2014 regime agents shot Bassil Alejandro Dacosta, age 24 in the head.  One of the young students who carried Bassil off  after he was shot was Robert Redman, age 28, who reported later that day over twitter: "Today I was hit with a rock in the back, a helmet in my nose. I swallowed tear-gas, Carried the kid who died, and what did you do?" That same day he was also gunned down by Maduro's colectivos, working in concert with his security forces, and murdered. The killings continued


A high profile killing that shocked the world was the murder of a local beauty queen. Génesis Carmona was just 22 years old and nonviolently expressing her desire for a better Venezuela when she was shot in the head on February 18, 2014 and died a day later on February 19, 2014. Three years have passed and those responsible for her murder have yet to be punished.

The nonviolent street demonstrations organized by university students have captured the imagination of most Venezuelans and the world in general. It has also drawn the rage of the Maduro regime and their Cuban advisors. They have responded by murdering children to terrorize the protesters.

Kluiverth Roa, age 14, shot in the head by BNP in Venezuela on February 24th
 The snipers have been busy at work over the past three years attempting to create a climate of terror. The bodies have piled up over the years and the pattern is clear and has been denounced by human rights organizations in Venezula and by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Venezuelan human rights organization, Provea, over twitter on February 25, 2015 reported on the killing of a 14-year old stating: "Killing of  Roa Kluiverth is not an isolated event, but is a consequence of the rise of repression in the country."


Paola Ramírez and Carlos Moreno both shot in the head on April 19, 2017 in Venezuela.
 We may be powerless to stop the killing but we must not stop denouncing the crimes against humanity being committed by the Maduro regime and work towards the day that those responsible be held accountable in a court of law. In the meantime let us remember those who have been killed, tragically their ranks continue to grow.

Some of the young Venezuelans shot in the head by Maduro's agents



Friday, May 19, 2017

Two Cubans fleeing the island picked up by the Coast Guard and will be returned to Cuba

Cubans are still fleeing the Castro regime despite the gutting of the Cuban Adjustment Act

Two Cuban fisherman "adrift" for three days rescued by the U.S. Coastguard
 The U.S. Coastguard was reporting that thanks to Obama curtailing the Cuban Adjustment Act there were no Cuban rafters picked up in April 2017 and claimed that Cubans were no longer fleeing to the United States. They may want to reconsider that statement.

On May 19, 2017 the headline read "2 Cuban fishermen rescued by Coast Guard after 3 days adrift at sea" and the article said they would be returned to Cuba.  I wonder if there will now be a pattern of "fishermen" adrift in boats or rafts needing "rescuing" and being returned to the Castro dictatorship?

I've said it before and repeat here now. Cubans do not leave their homeland seeking the American dream but fleeing the nightmare regime created by the Castro brothers that has been destroying lives for the past 58 years. The door has been closed, but Cubans will continue to flee tyranny. Only now they will be illegal immigrants in the United States subject to deportation.

The Obama Administration closed the door on Cuban refugees on January 12, 2017 on his way out of The White House. President Bill Clinton narrowed the door in 1995 with the invention of the "wet foot dry foot policy" that circumvented U.S. law and President Barack Obama slammed it shut  in 2017. On both occasions this was done in consultation with the Castro regime but not the U.S. Congress.

What goes unmentioned in the reporting is that the down tick in Cubans fleeing to the United States normally occurs during Republican administrations, who have taken a harder line on the Castro dictatorship. This pattern was repeated with Reagan, Bush 41, Bush 43 and may now be occurring with the Trump presidency.

On the eve of Cuban independence and on the anniversary of the death of Jose Marti it is a shame that free Cubans still choose to risk their lives in the Florida Straits where many have died to escape a cruel dictatorship that has spent 58 years denying liberty to Cubans and rewriting the island's past to avoid condemnation for their dismal record..




Thursday, May 18, 2017

Totalitarian repression on the march in Cuba: Claiming new victims and martyrs

Old patterns of repression continue to ensnare new generations 

Clockwise: Harold Cepero, Sayli Navarro, David Mauri, Fếlix Yuniel, Karla Pérez,
Cuban students are expelled from school for refusing to repeat the old tired cliches of the revolution. Fếlix Yuniel Llerena López, a 20 year-old religious freedom defender, was expelled from the Enrique José Varona Pedagogical University in Havana on May 8, 2017 following a visit to the United States. 18-year-old journalism student, Karla Pérez González, was expelled from Marta Abreu University of Santa Clara for “political reasons” on April 12, 2017 and her expulsion ratified three days later on April 15th. 24 year old David Mauri Cardoso was expelled from the University of Cienfuegos in February of 2017 after he honestly answered politically loaded questions in what was supposed to be a Spanish literature exam.

This is not a new tactic. Expelling students and denying them an education for their political orientation has a long and shameful history, too often ignored. Sayli Navarro was expelled from her university in Matanzas for her political views in 2009. On  November 13, 2002 Harold Cepero Escalante and Yoan Columbié Rodriguez,  students in their fourth year of Veterinary Medicine, were expelled from the University of Camagüey and subjected to an act of repudiation after having signed a legal petition for human rights reforms called the Varela Project. This practice is not new. Fidel Castro declared in June of 1961 that outside of the revolution there are no rights. The regime also declared that universities are for revolutionaries.


Prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet serving unjust three year prison sentence
It does not end with school. Even professionals who dissent that have life giving skills are imprisoned and not allowed to practice their profession. A medical doctor, Eduardo Cardet, has been jailed since November 30, 2016 for speaking critically about Fidel Castro's legacy in Cuba. There is no independent judiciary in Cuba and the puppet court according to his attorney has affirmed Eduardo's three year prison sentence.  No more appeals.

Pastor Ramon Rigal (on the right) serving a year in prison for homeschooling his kids.
In Cuba not only are students expelled from school for refusing to tow the official line, but parents are jailed for trying to home school. Pastor Ramon Rigal was sentenced on April 25, 2017 to one year in prison for the "crime" of homeschooling his own kids.

Peaceful dissent, and self-expression do not only invite expulsion from school and prison but can lead to an untimely death. Harold Cepero, the 2002 expelled veterinary student, was murdered along with Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, the founding leader of the Christian Liberation Movement,  on July 22, 2012. Less than ten years after his expulsion.

This is Cuba today a totalitarian nightmare that many still try to flee and a few remain to courageously resist. There is nothing romantic about a 58 year old repressive dictatorship.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Project Varela: Looking back at the nonviolent campaign 15 years later

The nonviolent campaign that shook up the dictatorship in Cuba, changed the Cuban Communist Constitution and continues to haunt the Castro regime.



15 years ago today, carrying 11,020 signed petitions in support of the Varela Project, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and  Regis Iglesias Ramírez walked with the bulky card board boxes labeled Project Varela turning them into the Cuban National Assembly. The New York Times reported on this historic event:
"Two days before a historic visit to Cuba by the former President Jimmy Carter, human rights activists today delivered an extraordinary challenge to the Communist government of President Fidel Castro in the form of petitions signed by more than 11,000 people seeking greater freedom. The petition drive, known as the Varela Project, calls for a referendum under the terms of the Cuban Constitution on whether there should be more freedom of expression, an amnesty for political prisoners and a chance for ordinary citizens to own small businesses. The signed petitions were delivered this morning to the National Assembly, after supporters painstakingly verified each signature, in the most significant peaceful effort to bring reform to Cuba in four decades. ''All of these Cubans, who with great courage and sacrifice have signed Project Varela, are the social vanguard for peaceful change in Cuba,'' said Oswaldo Paya, who led the drive. He said changes in the rights of Cubans could only be achieved peacefully.
The three activists, members of the Christian Liberation Movement, would pay a high price, along with dozens of others, for advocating human rights reforms within the existing legal frame work in Cuba. In March of 2003 both Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and Regis Iglesias were arrested and subjected to political show trials and sentenced to long prison sentences. They would spend years in prison followed by forced exile. Oswaldo Payá was killed on July 22, 2012 under circumstances that point to a state security orchestrated extrajudicial execution.

Father Felix Varela

The Varela Project, named after the Cuban Catholic Priest Felix Varela, sought to reform the Cuban legal system to bring it in line with international human rights standards. They had followed the letter of the law in organizing the campaign and yet the dictatorship's response to a nonviolent citizen's initiative was to first coerce Cubans into signing another petition declaring the Constitution unchangeable and quickly passed it through the rubber stamp legislature without debating the Varela Project, which according to the Cuban law drafted by the dictatorship meant that it should have been debated by the National Assembly.

Oswaldo Payá Antonio Diaz, and Regis Iglesias after turning in signatures

Ten months later on March 18, 2003 the Black Cuban Spring would begin with a massive crackdown on Cuba's civil society with many of the organizers of Project Varela, imprisoned and summarily sentenced up to 28 years in prison. The 75 activists who had been imprisoned with long prison sentences became known as the "group of the 75."

The dictatorship announced, at the time, that the Cuban dissident movement had been destroyed but the Castro regime was mistaken. First, the remaining activists who were still free continued gathering signatures and would turn in another 14,384 petition signatures on October 5, 2003. Secondly, the wives, sisters and daughters of the activists who had been detained and imprisoned organized themselves into the "Ladies in White." A movement that sought the freedom of their loved ones and organized regular marches through the streets of Cuba, despite regime organized violence visited upon them.

Regis Iglesias with Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia
The Economist in its December 14, 2005 issue published a conversation with Oswaldo Paya titled "An unsilenced voice for change" that outlined what had taken place:

Between 2001 and 2004, Mr Payá's movement gathered 25,000 signatures in a vain attempt to persuade Cuba's National Assembly to change the constitution to allow multi-party democracy. Activists of his Christian Liberation Movement made up more than two-thirds of the 75 dissidents and journalists rounded up and jailed for long terms in April 2003. [...] Spain is “complaisant” with Mr Castro's regime, Mr Payá says. “We need a campaign of support and solidarity with peaceful change in Cuba” of the kind that brought an end to apartheid in South Africa and to the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.
It took over eight years, but the last of the group of the 75 were eventually released. Many were driven into exile but  a core group remain in Cuba and are still defiant. One  of the Project Varela leaders still active and mobilizing large numbers today is Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, but others  lost their lives defending human rights and dignity who had also gathered signatures for the Varela Project, such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Project Varela petitions delivered in 2002, 2003 and 2016

Project Varela lives and on March 24, 2016 another 10,000 signatures were turned into the National Assembly bringing the total number of petitions signed in Cuba to 35,404. 

Today in Madrid Cardinal Jaime Ortega was asked about when Regis Iglesias Ramírez would be able to return to Cuba and responded that "Of course, but the regime will not allow Regis to return to organize the Christian Liberation Movement ... For that I do not think they will let him return." Since July of 2012 Regis has been officially requesting to return to Cuba and been denied the right to return to his homeland.  Cardinal Ortega also made no mention that the current National Coordinator, Eduardo Cardet is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience jailed since November 30, 2016 for criticizing Fidel Castro's legacy.

Over Facebook Antonio Diaz Sanchez wrote: "We do not want to let this day go by, without making it clear to the world that even with our sadness remembering our brothers vilely murdered and with constant concern for our political prisoners today in jail we hold, by virtue of our loyalty to our heroes, out of respect for our prisoners, for the love of our country and all Cubans, our clear will to continue working civically and nonviolently to recover for the people of Cuba their legitimate right to sovereignty."

Fifteen years later the Coordinating Council of the Christian Liberation Movement issued a statement to all those who signed the petitioned turned in on May 10, 2002 concluding:
Today, wherever they may be, we want to congratulate our 11,020 compatriots who, on May 10, 2002, demanded the regime respect all the rights for all Cubans, with their name, address, identification number and signature supporting the Plebiscite of the Varela Project. They are the true heroes. Thanks to their generosity, their courage, their commitment, at that moment we were all free. Long live Oswaldo and Harold! Freedom for Eduardo Cardet and all political prisoners! Viva the Varela Project!
Cubans have demonstrated not only their desire for human rights and freedom but the persistence and courage to back it up with civic action despite the high price they've paid.
 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Cuban dissident beaten to death by Castro's political police died six years ago today

The hope of impunity is the greatest inducement to do wrong. - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia died three days after beating by political police
 
Six years ago the headlines circled the world in English and in Spanish covered by Reuters, the BBC, CNN, AFP, AP, EFE that a Cuban dissident and former political prisoner, Juan Wilfredo Soto (age 46) had been beaten and arrested by Cuban regime police on Thursday, May 5, 2011 while protesting the dictatorship and died early on Sunday May 8, 2011. The beating had been so bad that he required hospitalization. He was buried Sunday, on Mother's Day.

There are others but the regime has been often successful in intimidating family members and destroying the evidence of their crimes. "This act of police violence is not an isolated case. Each day in Cuba those in uniform respect less the citizens," said Yoani Sanchez over Twitter on the day of the burial.

According to dissidents who attended and media accounts more than 80 attended Juan Wilfredo Soto's funeral despite a heavy police presence and state security operation that blocked some activists from attending. The government agents responsible for this man's extra-judicial death must be held accountable if not by national laws then by international law.  At the funeral a Cuban pastor spoke about the life of the Cuban activist and the circumstances surrounding his death.


Juan Wilfredo Soto left behind two children and their mom. He was a member of the Opposition Central Coalition and was known as "The Student." He was a former political prisoner who had served 12 years in prison. His mother, who suffers from a bad hip, buried her son on Mother's Day. Pictures of Juan Wilfredo Soto's family members provided by Yoani Sanchez through twitter.

Children of Juan Wilfredo Soto mourn their dad
 Six years have passed and justice has not been done in this case. Nevertheless we must remember, and with this exercise of memory continue to demand justice for Juan Wilfredo and his loved ones.


Rosa Maria Paya returned to Cuba today, May 8, 2017 under a climate of repression

Alert: arrest of Cuba Decide coordinators prior to the arrival of Rosa Maria Paya in Havana Cuba. 

Rosa Maria Payá on her way to Havana this morning.
Today May 8, 2017, Cuba Decide's coordinators: Sayli Navarro, Iván Hernández Carrillo and Félix Navarro Rodríguez had been arrested by police security agents and police. Arbitrary arrests occurred early in the morning as they headed to the Jose Marti International Airport to welcome the Cuban Decide promoter Rosa Maria Payá.
Rosa Maria returned to Havana as part of her work for the campaign which aims to bring about the Binding Plebiscite.  The people arrested include: Sayli Navarro and her father Felix Navarro at 5:30am in Perico, Matanzas and Iván Hernández Carrillo at 5:00am in Colon, Matanzas.

They were on their way to Havana to wait at the airport for the arrival of Rosa Maria Payá in order to work on Cuba Decide. Before the news of the recent arrests and in what appears to be an offensive against the organizers of Cuba Decide. 

Rosa Maria still decided to continue her trip and landed in Havana today at 10:45 am and was subjected to a thorough search and interrogation before being allowed to leave the airport.

At 12:40pm Sayli Navarro reported over twitter that she and her dad had just been freed, but that Iván was still being held.

Iván Hernández Carrillo tweeted at 5:09pm that he had been held in detention for nine hours beginning at 4:30am at the police headquarters in  Colón, Matanzas. In a second tweet at 5:10pm Ivan reported that Félix Navarro and his daughter Sayli were arrested in Perico, Matanzas at 5:15am and freed seven hours later at 12:20pm.

Please follow them on social media for future updates: @RosaMariaPaya @SayliNavarro @felixncuba @ivanlibre


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cuba's role in the crisis in Venezuela and how it can also hurt Americans

Venezuela in crisis

Venezuelan women march on May 6, 2017 against repression in Cuba
Protests across Venezuela continue
Thousands of Venezuelan women, dressed in white, marched through the streets of Venezuela on Saturday denouncing repression by security forces. Some of the women flashed their breasts waving posters that read: "We have no firearms, just breasts." Young Venezuelans continue to be shot in the head by paramilitary groups working together with the police and national guard. Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado pleaded: "We beg the armed forces: don't open fire on unarmed people."

Young Venezuelans peacefully demonstrating the Maduro regime continue to be shot in the head and killed some victims from over the past month are: Hecder Lugo (age 20), Miguel Medina (age 20), Jairo Otriz (age 19)  Carlos Moreno (age 17) and although not shot in the head, but in the throat, was 18 year old violinist, Armando Cañizales. This last death led the Venezuelan director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel,  to say "It is time to listen to the people: Enough is enough.”  There is a long list of Venezuelan youth murdered by the Maduro regime.   

Where is Leopoldo?
Venezuelan prisoner of conscience Leopoldo López Mendoza has not been seen in a month. Rumors are circulating that he has been murdered. Considering that the same Cubans who are advising Maduro also murdered an international human rights figure like Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, the fears for Leopoldo's well-being are not unwarranted.

Nicolas Maduro with his rubber stamp Supreme Court
Venezuela's downward spiral into totalitarianism continues with the Nicolas Maduro regime ramping up control and repression causing millions of Venezuelans to resist it then pause for a while until the protests die down and then begin again. The latest round began on March 30, 2017, the Maduro controlled Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of its powers provoking the latest round of mass protests in Venezuela and international condemnation. President Maduro, following the escalating protests, called on the Supreme Court to reverse itself and they did. However at the same time Nicolas Maduro announced the activation of the green phase of Plan Zamora reported by Caracas Chronicles as:
an exercise of “integral anti-imperialist action (…) meant to strengthen the national deployment of civilian-military union to defend the nation.” The description’s made worse by the threats made by several regime members since Monday, concerning the plan to align all of their paramilitary groups – colectivos – and PSUV’s fighting corps towards the same goal of “defense”.
Cuban role in the rise of Chavism
In addition to domestic repressive forces there is a foreign presence heavily embedded in the Venezuelan military and intelligence services. Last year the head of the opposition National Assembly of Venezuela on May 15, 2016 was complaining, over social media, of the presence of 60 Cuban officers. This included a Cuban general, who he identified by the last name Gregorich, who had a leadership role that included issuing orders to Venezuelan troops. Capitol Hill Cubans identified the Cuban General as Raul Acosta Gregorich. 

Castro regime's number three man, Ramiro Valdez with Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro
It is also surprising that when reviewing Cuban involvement in Venezuela that the February 2010  hiring of Ramiro Valdes, then age 77, "as a consultant for that country's energy crisis" did not raise more eyebrows. He is viewed by some Cuba experts as "the No. 3 man in the Cuban hierarchy." Afro-Cuban scholar Carlos Moore offers the following background information on Commander Valdez :
"Ramiro Valdez was an inflexible, totalitarian and brutal person. He was the most feared man in Cuba. The repressive policies of the regime were crafted by him. Valdez struck fear into the hearts of Cubans (even revolutionary ones). Today, he apparently continues to be the same dogmatic, sectarian and brutal person he was at the height of his power."
The Castro regime's interest in Venezuela began from the earliest days of the dictatorship. Venezuelans understood the threat poised by the Cubans by 1960 when Ernesto "Che" Guevara was giving unsolicited advice to Rómulo Betancourt, the democratically elected president of Venezuela. Guevara called for Betancourt to use the firing squad against his "rightist opponents." In 1963 Congressional Quarterly reported on how:
"Riots led by Communists and other pro-Castro elements in Caracas [in the autumn of 1960] took the lives of 13 persons and injured 100. Venezuela recalled its ambassador to Cuba, and Betancourt ordered out the army to end the rioting, which he termed an attempt to “install a regime similar to that in Cuba.”
Cuban Communist leader Blas Roca, told a Havana rally on January 23, 1963 that when the communists gained full control and “make themselves owners of the great riches in oil, aluminum and everything their earth imprisons, then all of America shall burn.”  A cache of three tons of weapons was found on a Venezuelan beach in November 1963 that was to be used to disrupt the democratic elections there.

Fidel Castro meeting with President-elect Rómulo Betancourt in 1959
Fidel Castro would continue to agitate for revolution in Venezuela. A well documented incident occurred on May 8, 1967 and was reported by Francisco Toro in The Washington Post who described how: "two small boats carrying a dozen heavily armed fighters made landfall near Machurucuto, a tiny fishing village 100 miles east of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Their plan was to march inland and recruit Venezuelan peasants to the cause of socialist revolution." An all night gun battle with the Venezuelan military led to nine guerrillas dead, two captured, and one who had escaped.

The Castro regime's efforts would not begin to bear fruit until December 1994 with the arrival of Hugo Chavez in Havana to a hero's welcome following two years in prison for a coup attempt in Venezuela. Four years later Chavez had won the presidency of Venezuela and the Castro regime finally had its entry to Venezuela.  By 2007, Chávez had declared that Cuba and Venezuela were a single nation. “Deep down,” he said, “we are one single government.”  When Hugo Chavez died in 2013 the succession to Nicolas Maduro was planned in Havana.

 Diosdado Cabello target of the DEA with General Raul Castro and his Foreign Minister

Consequences of Cubazuela
The name of this "single nation" is Cubazuela and is a term that has been used by mainstream press publications such as The Wall Street Journal. The consequences to the people of Venezuela are well known. Violence has escalated during the Chavez-Maduro era to levels never seen before. There is widespread hunger now in Venezuela. Civil liberties and the rule of law are rapidly disappearing.

What is not generally known are the consequences for the United States and the role the Castro regime plays in this. There are numerous news reports about the Venezuelan regime's links to international drug trafficking, and that U.S. investigations point to high ranking  officials in Venezuela turning the country "into a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering," but little is said about the Castro regime's decades long involvement in it that still continues.  Panamanian police seized more than 400 kilograms of cocaine in a Cuban ship on its way to Belgium in April of 2016.

Cuba was placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on March 1, 1982, less than three months after the US State Department confirmed that the Cuban government was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democratic government.

In a 1991 Frontline documentary, Cuba and Cocaine, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Jeff Karonis, stated, "We would observe in the middle of the day an air drop going on inside Cuban waters. The scenario would be for a small twin-engine airplane with maybe 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of cocaine to fly over Cuba, drop the drugs to a predesignated rendezvous point to several boats. Then it would exit back down off Cuba, and many times a Cuban military vessel would be in the immediate vicinity, right on scene with them.''

Venezuela: Global hub of drug trafficking
Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post reported on the Venezuela, FARC, Cuba trafficking axis on May 24, 2015 in the article "A drug cartel’s power in Venezuela":

Ever since Colombian commandos captured the laptop of a leader of the FARC organization eight years ago, it’s been known that Chávez gave the Colombian narcoguerrillas sanctuary and allowed them to traffic cocaine from Venezuela to the United States with the help of the Venezuelan army. But not until a former Chávez bodyguard [ Leamsy Salazar] defected to the United States in January did the scale of what is called the “Cartel of the Suns ” start to become publicly known. [...] The day after Salazar’s arrival in Washington, Spain’s ABC newspaper published a detailed account of the emerging case against Cabello, and last month, ABC reporter Emili Blasco followed up with a book laying out the allegations of Salazar and other defectors, who say Cuba’s communist regime and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah have been cut in on the trafficking. That was followed by a lengthy report last week in the Wall Street Journal that said Cabello’s cartel had turned Venezuela into “a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering.”
Wikileaks revealed that American diplomats also know that the Castro regime provides safe haven for the FARC in Cuba. Considering the close working relationship between Cuban and Venezuelan officials and the rampant drug trafficking and money laundering in Venezuela the claim that officials of the Castro regime are not involved seems highly unlikely. Furthermore in confronting the problem of rising levels of drugs flooding the United States, U.S. officials should re-visit sharing drug intelligence with the Castro regime.

Outlaw regimes in Venezuela also allied with Cuba

North Korea
"Our government, our people, our party, in addition to condemning any imperialist attack, will fight with Venezuelans to safeguard the Bolivarian Revolution" - North Korean Ambassador Jon Yong Jin, 10/3/13 

A report appeared on May 18, 2016 that North Korean Special forces and the Chinese People's Liberation Army are in Venezuela conducting military exercises with their Venezuelan counterpart. 

In March 2016, the same month that President Obama visited Cuba, the Castro regime signed a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement with North Korea reports the Paris based publication Intelligence Online. The Cuban dictatorship, under Raul Castro, has had extensive relations with the Hermit Kingdom that has included violating international sanctions to smuggle tons of weapons.

North Korea reopened an embassy in Venezuela on June 20, 2014 following a high level meeting in October 2013 with North Korea's ambassador to Cuba Jon Yong Jin who was executed in a purge in December of 2013.  Venezuela recognized North Korea in 1974 but due to North Korea's economic crisis in the 1990s it shut down its embassy in Venezuela at the time.  Venezuelan officials who met with the North Korean diplomat showed an interest in grafting elements of the North Korean governing philosophy onto the Bolivarian Revolution.

The official claim by the Maduro regime is that all this is being done to combat the threat of U.S. imperialism, but the reality appears that this has more to do with maintaining and consolidating control over Venezuela. 

Iran
"I've visited Iran more than 20 times, I deeply know the good nature, the good, deep spirit of the Iranian people and I love it. I love Iran as much as I love our Commander Chavez.” - Nicolas Maduro, August 30, 2016

Fox News reported on April 17, 2017 of a serious security threat for the United States:
A former director of Venezuela’s Office of Identification, Migration and Foreigners said that during his 17 months in the post, the socialist government gave at least 10,000 Venezuelan passports and other documents to citizens of Syria, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries.
In an interview with El Nuevo Herald, Colonel Vladimir Medrano Rengifo said the operation was headed by current Vice President Tareck El Aissami.
He said most passports and visas were granted in the Venezuelan Consulate in Damascus, Syria’s capital.
"Today we don’t know where these people are, nor what they are doing,” said Medrano, who currently resides in the United States.
 The crisis in Venezuela is having tragic consequences for Venezuelans and, with the rising levels of drugs entering the United States, also for Americans. However the relations with outlaw states points to more ominous dangers that need to be taken into account. Lastly ignoring the role played by Cuba is a mistake.

Venezuelan prisoner of conscience held incommunicado: Leopoldo López not seen since April 7, 2017

Concerned that Leopoldo López has not been seen in a month, and rumors about his health because of  how Cubans who advise Maduro murdered Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.



Further information on UA: 33/14 Index: AMR 53/6078/2017 Venezuela Date: 18 April 2017

 URGENT ACTION PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE HELD INCOMMUNICADO

By Amnesty International

Venezuelan prisoner of conscience, Leopoldo López, has been kept incommunicado since 8 April. He has been placed in solitary confinement for reasons that have not been disclosed by the authorities. During this time, he has been illegally denied visits from his lawyer and family. 

On 8 April prison authorities denied Leopoldo López’s family the right to visit him, and informed them that he was currently serving 15 days in solitary confinement. Leopoldo López was last seen on 7 April, and since 8 April his lawyers and family have been repeatedly denied access to visit him. Leopoldo López’s lawyers were not notified of the process or decision to place him in solitary confinement, nor of the contents or basis for this decision. As a result, he has been denied his right to a defence. 

Leopoldo López, leader of the opposition party Popular Will (Voluntad Popular), has been in detention since 18 February 2014 at CENAPROMIL (Centro Nacional de Procesados Militares), a military prison in Los Teques, on the outskirts of the capital, Caracas. He is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally, as his detention is arbitrary, the charges filed against him were never adequately substantiated and his sentence was clearly politically motivated.

Placing Leopoldo López in solitary confinement is an unlawful way of justifying his incommunicado detention, and violates his personal integrity and his right to a defence and private and family life. Leopoldo López has been placed in solitary confinement on numerous occasions, and his lawyers believe that this punishment has been used systematically against him, which contradicts the exceptional nature of such practice.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:
  •  Demanding the Venezuelan authorities immediately grant Leopoldo López free and private access to his family and lawyers of his choosing; 
  •  Urging them to guarantee his personal safety; 
  •  Calling on them to release Leopoldo López immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience who was arbitrarily detained and sentenced without any credible evidence against him. 

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 30 MAY 2017 TO: 
Minister of the Interior and Justice Gen. (Ej.) Néstor Luis Reverol Torres Ministerio del Interior y Justicia Avenida Urdaneta Esquina de Platanal Edificio Interior y Justicia Despacho del Ministro  Caracas, Venezuela Fax: +58 212 506 1685  Twitter: @NestorReverol Salutation: Dear Minister/ Señor Ministro 

Minister of Defense Chief General Vladimir Padrino  Fuerte Tiuna, Edif. Sede del Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Defensa,  Caracas, Distrito Capital, Venezuela Email: mppdrrii@gmail.com Twitter: @vladimirpadrino Salutation: Dear General/ Señor General

Ombudsperson  Dr. Tarek William Saab Av. Urdaneta, Frente El Universal Financiero Latino, Piso 27 Caracas, Venezuela Fax: +58 212 507 7025 Email: contacto@defensoria.gob.ve  Salutation: Dear Ombudsman/ Señor Defensor
 
Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. This is the seventh update of UA 33/14. Further information: www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr53/2449/2015/en/



ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Leopoldo López, the leader of the Venezuelan opposition party Popular Will (Voluntad Popular), surrendered before the National Guard on 18 February 2014 after leading a protest. He was charged with a series of crimes, including terrorism, homicide, severe bodily harm, public incitement, damage to property, arson, and conspiracy to commit a crime. He has been imprisoned ever since. 

In August 2014, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions qualified Leopoldo López’s detention as arbitrary and the High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded his immediate release. 

On 13 February 2015, Leopoldo’s cell was raided by prison guards, who broke and damaged some of his personal belongings, such as photographs and documents, in what was considered an intimidation tactic. 

On 10 September 2015, Leopoldo was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison for conspiracy, arson, incitement to commit a crime, and damage to public property. On 13 August 2016, the Appeals Court upheld this ruling. 

On 6 December 2016, the Council for the Protection of Children and Youth of the municipality of Chacao ordered the prison Director to allow visits from his children, which were being denied at the time. 

Name: Leopoldo López Gender m/f: Male

Further information on UA: 33/14 Index: AMR 53/6078/2017

Issue Date: 18 April 2017

https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr53/6078/2017/en/

Friday, May 5, 2017

Cuban May Day Flag Protester Daniel Llorente remains jailed, now faces political show trial

"Freedom begins in the mind and that is something that has to change in Cubans, they are afraid to tell the truth." - Daniel Llorente Miranda

Daniel Llorente Miranda, age 52, jailed and facing show trial in Cuba
 
 The man who defied the Castro regime and exposed its totalitarian nature on May Day has been identified and his name is Daniel Llorente Miranda, age 52 and a taxi driver. He is an independent dissident, not belonging to any organization.  He's been jailed since May 1, 2017, now charged with "public disorder and resistance" for his seconds long run  with an American flag in front of the Castro regime's May Day gathering in the "Revolutionary Plaza" in Havana shouting "freedom for the people of Cuba" before being tackled down, beaten up and taken away by the secret police.

His son, Eliécer Llorente Pérez, was finally able to see him for ten minutes on Friday, May 5, 2017 and reports that his father in is good spirits and being held at the Technical Department of Investigations of the Police in 100 and Aldabó [Departamento Técnico de Investigaciones de la Policía en 100 y Aldabó]

The dictatorship's official media mouthpiece Granma, with out identifying him, declared his protest a "annexationist monologue" and sought to slander Daniel Llorente in an editorial. But what the official media writes about this independent activist does not match up with his past statements and actions.

Daniel had protested peacefully at least three times before with the American flag. When President Barack Obama arrived in Havana last March he could be seen carrying the flag, again when cruise ship Adonia docked in Cuba on May 2, 2016 and on August 31, 2017 at the Santa Clara airport when commercial flights between the United States and Cuba started up again.

Independent journalist Augusto Cesar San Martin had interviewed the independent Cuban dissident in December of 2016 and his civic consciousness and courage come across:
"Freedom begins in the mind and that is something that has to change in Cubans, they are afraid to tell the truth. The truth is that in Cuba there is a system where the biggest beneficiary is the government. The people work and benefit the State."
In another interview with the same journalist Daniel Llorento explained "It's my right to go anywhere in Cuba with the flag of the United States. ... That is my way of expressing  myself and it does not hurt anyone."

Please call your Congressman and Senators in Washington DC and ask them to contact the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC and ask for Daniel Llorento's release.  This free man living in Cuba should not be imprisoned for exercising a fundamental human right.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

World Press Freedom Day 2017: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

"Th newspaper does ivrything f'r us. It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, controls th' ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward". -   Mr. Dooley ( Finley Peter Dunne), 1902



On World Press Freedom Day the map of press freedom prepared by Reporters Without Borders is bleak with a darkening tide of censorship across the globe. Despite having a First Amendment to the Constitution that protects free speech and freedom of the press the United States today has 43 countries ahead of it with greater press freedoms.  This confirms the observation of the late conservative polemicist Joseph Sobran, who passed away in 2010 that “the U.S. Constitution poses no serious threat to our form of government.” It gives me no comfort to be able to say, but hey Cuba, our next door neighbor, is at 173 much less free then the USA. As a citizen and a patriot this is one list that if not number one, the United States should strive to be in the top ten. It has not been there for some time. The ten most censored countries in the world according to the Committee to Protect Journalists are also terrible places to live not only for journalists but everyday people.

A free press is a benchmark of a free society that needs to be celebrated and defended from both  external and internal threats to its good works. Since it is a free institution, it must be self-policing and only answer to its customers on the basis of the quality of the journalism.

The ten countries with the greatest press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders, in contrast do not have refugee exodus crises, even as is the case with Costa Rica (6) and Jamaica (8) they are not materially the richest countries but they are free peoples.

Today is a day to honor courageous and professional journalists who take their work seriously, but are willing to poke fun at themselves as Finley Peter Dunne did 115 years ago. It is an ironic tribute that his skewering of the self-important news media has been edited down and turned into a challenge to some journalists to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." On this day let us comfort journalists afflicted for practicing their trade in closed societies.

The Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known as Me Na or "Mother Mushroom" has been detained since October 2016 while trying to visit an imprisoned activist. She stands accused of "propagandizing against the state."  

Let us also recognize Nguyen Van Hoa, a 22 year old video journalist jailed for using a drone to broadcast environmental protests in Vietnam.

In Venezuela on the evening of May 1, 2017 Marcos Vergara and Deivis Valera, production assistants for the online media platform VivoPlay were taken into the custody of the Venezuelan National Guard while covering a protest, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Please spread the world and demand their freedom.

Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, journalists for Al Jazeera who were arrested in Egypt in 2013, writing today in The Australian warn that a "tragedy is unfolding in Turkey. Independent journalism is being systematically stamped out. Prison doors are slamming, media outlets are being boarded up and a disturbing silence is falling over what has been a vibrant and ­diverse media landscape."

Be not silent before this atrocity against freedom.

George Orwell well understood that "Freedom of the press if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose." He also understood what was not only "fake news" but also fake language and called it "newspeak" in his novel 1984. 

We must recognize that there are hacks that can due great and lasting damage peddling "fake news" working in free newspapers. The ghosts of Walter Duranty and Herbert Matthews continue to possess the Gray Lady with their enduring and shameful legacies in Ukraine and Cuba. Walter Duranty won the Pulitzer covering up Stalin's 1930s manufactured famine in Ukraine that claimed eight to 10 million lives. With his reports denying the reality all around him this New York Times journalist was complicit in genocide. Twenty years later in Cuba Herbert Matthews engaged in a fallacious propaganda campaign disguised as news reporting to turn Fidel Castro into a national figure presenting him as an anti-communist and a democrat. The total number of dead  is still being added to 58 years later for the lies he reported in the 1950s.

However this hacks are small time purveyors of fake news compared to governments that manufacture entire news agencies, black mail journalists with the threat of expulsion.  The way to counter fake news is with more press freedom to challenge it along with greater reader discernment to weigh the facts and seek the truth. Facts matter, recognizing objective truth exists and getting the story right regardless of agendas is the best way to serve readers.

Believing the government can be dangerous to your freedom. President Ronald Reagan said it best, "trust but verify." He applied that to his dealings with the Russians, but it should be expanded when dealing with all governments.

However the threats to a free press are not only state actors, but also technology and artificial intelligence that threatens to simulate writing and overwhelm the net with inferior prose designed to push an agenda or a product and not inform a readership is a future threat. However, an ever present threat today thanks to the greed of Western technology companies such as Yahoo, Sun Microsystems, Google and others that helped erect the Great Fire Wall of China. Modernizing totalitarianism and giving it new life into the 21st Century. Google is now collaborating with the Cuban intelligence service and military allowing them to store their servers. This means that journalists can write their articles but no one will be able to find them in their online searches. Russia is also now adopting their own version of the great fire wall. This is also a profound threat to press freedom.

The belief that legitimacy is no longer found in objective truth but in "positive results" has proven a destructive meme in schools of journalism that in the final analysis rejects reality as a social construct are bearing fruit in declining readership and sales.

These are great challenges but can be overcome if confronted and resisted.