Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Remarks by President Trump on Cuba and Venezuela today at the UN General Assembly

"From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure." - Donald Trump at the UNGA

President Donald Trump addresses the UN General Assembly
The Office of the Press Secretary at the White House released President Donald Trump's full speech to the United Nations General Assembly this morning. Below is the excerpt that relates to Cuba and Venezuela. There is no mention either of the ongoing crisis involving U.S. diplomats physically harmed in Cuba that could lead to shuttering the U.S. Embassy in Havana or the thousands of Cuban soldiers in Venezuela that have been described as an occupying force by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro. Nevertheless it is a remarkable statement that exposes the terrible record of communism generally and specifically analyses what is taking place in the two Latin American countries.
In some cases, states that seek to subvert this institution's noble aims have hijacked the very systems that are supposed to advance them.  For example, it is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The United States is one out of 193 countries in the United Nations, and yet we pay 22 percent of the entire budget and more.  In fact, we pay far more than anybody realizes.  The United States bears an unfair cost burden, but, to be fair, if it could actually accomplish all of its stated goals, especially the goal of peace, this investment would easily be well worth it.

Major portions of the world are in conflict and some, in fact, are going to hell.  But the powerful people in this room, under the guidance and auspices of the United Nations, can solve many of these vicious and complex problems.

The American people hope that one day soon the United Nations can be a much more accountable and effective advocate for human dignity and freedom around the world.  In the meantime, we believe that no nation should have to bear a disproportionate share of the burden, militarily or financially.  Nations of the world must take a greater role in promoting secure and prosperous societies in their own regions.

That is why in the Western Hemisphere, the United States has stood against the corrupt and destabilizing regime in Cuba and embraced the enduring dream of the Cuban people to live in freedom.  My administration recently announced that we will not lift sanctions on the Cuban government until it makes fundamental reforms.

We have also imposed tough, calibrated sanctions on the socialist Maduro regime in Venezuela, which has brought a once thriving nation to the brink of total collapse.

The socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro has inflicted terrible pain and suffering on the good people of that country.  This corrupt regime destroyed a prosperous nation by imposing a failed ideology that has produced poverty and misery everywhere it has been tried.  To make matters worse, Maduro has defied his own people, stealing power from their elected representatives to preserve his disastrous rule.
The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing.  Their democratic institutions are being destroyed.  This situation is completely unacceptable and we cannot stand by and watch.

As a responsible neighbor and friend, we and all others have a goal.  That goal is to help them regain their freedom, recover their country, and restore their democracy.  I would like to thank leaders in this room for condemning the regime and providing vital support to the Venezuelan people.

The United States has taken important steps to hold the regime accountable.  We are prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule on the Venezuelan people.
We are fortunate to have incredibly strong and healthy trade relationships with many of the Latin American countries gathered here today.  Our economic bond forms a critical foundation for advancing peace and prosperity for all of our people and all of our neighbors.

I ask every country represented here today to be prepared to do more to address this very real crisis.  We call for the full restoration of democracy and political freedoms in Venezuela. (Applause.)

The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.  (Applause.)  From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure.

Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems.

America stands with every person living under a brutal regime.  Our respect for sovereignty is also a call for action.  All people deserve a government that cares for their safety, their interests, and their well being, including their prosperity.

Monday, September 18, 2017

UM shutdown ICCAS and Dr. Suchlicki opens the Cuban Studies Institute

UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies shutdown while Suchlicki's Cuban Studies Institute opens.

Back on July 10, 2017 this blog first raised the call that the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS) was under threat. The University of Miami claimed otherwise that only Dr. Suchlicki was going to retire and ICCAS would continue, but facts demonstrated otherwise. All staff at ICCAS were let go and by August 15, 2017 Casa Bacardi where ICCAS was located had been shut down. Dr. Suchlicki resigned from the University of Miami and has now announced that he, many of the former staff and other distinguished scholars are forming the Cuban Studies Institute which basically continues the mission that had been pursued before at ICCAS. Today received the following e-mail reproduced below and look forward to reading CSI's research and attending their events. 

Dear Friend:

Thank you for your support of ICCAS for the past two decades and for your continuing support now during a difficult time.

We have organized a new research, non-profit center, the Cuban Studies Institute (Instituto de Estudios Cubanos), and will continue the work of disseminating the reality about Cuba and its foreign policy.

Following is the Cuban Studies Institute staff:

Director: Jaime Suchlick, Ph.D. International Relations
Executive Director: Pedro Roig, J.D., Legal Issues
Program Coordinator/Office Manager: Maria Urizar
Research Coordinator: Jennifer Hernandez

The following colleagues are also joining us as Senior Research Associates of the new institute:

Alvaro Alba, Journalist
Jose Azel, Ph.D., International Business
Robert Cruz, Ph.D., Economist
Ignacio Uria, Ph.D., International Relations
Mario Gonzalez Corzo, Ph.D., Economist
Carlos Alberto Montaner, Author, Columnist
Sherri Porcelain, Ph.D., Public Health
Marco Antonio Ramos, Ph.D., History
Ambassador Otto Reich, American Foreign Policy

Research and Administrative Offices:
1500 South Dixie Highway (corner of Madruga)
Bank of America Building, 2nd floor
Coral Gables, FL 33146
E-mail: cubanstudies@cubanstudiesinstitute.com

Activities and Programs:
American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora
1200 Coral Way
Miami, FL 33145

We look forward to seeing you in our new offices and in our programs and activities.

Un fuerte abrazo,

Jaime Suchlicki

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Constitution Day 2017: 230 years after signing and ratification of the U.S. Constitution

In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American. - Antonin Scalia, Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Mineta, 534 U.S. 103 (1995).

Constitutional Convention completed ratification on September 17, 1787
 230 years ago by 35 of the founders of the United States signed and ratified the Constitution of the United States. First recognized by Iowa schools in 1911, Sons of the American Revolution in 1917, and finally by  September 17th is set aside as Constitution Day in observance of this important day that established the U.S. Constitution. 
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Today some will revere the Constitution as a sacred text but how did one of the actual signers view it at the time? Benjamin Franklin, during a speech in the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (September 17, 1787); reported in James Madison, Journal of the Federal Convention, ed. E. H. Scott (1893), p. 742:
In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, — if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other. 
 The author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, observed in a fair copy of the drafts of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:
"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."
Today is a good day to re-read the Constitution and remind ourselves as citizens that we must hold the politicians accountable in order to preserve liberty and avoid despotism. Furthermore that over time amendments have been necessary to cautiously improve on the original document.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Remembering and honoring Winston Churchill, the greatest Briton, who was anti-Nazi, anti-Communist and pro-freedom

"Fascism was the shadow or ugly child of communism… As Fascism sprang from Communism, so Nazism developed from Fascism. Thus were set on foot those kindred movements which were destined soon to plunge the world into more hideous strife, which none can say has ended with their destruction." - Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Volume 1, The Gathering Storm (1948)

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the greatest Briton
Today the United Nations is observing World Democracy Day and the United Kingdom is observing Battle of Britain Day.  This double observance heightens the importance of remembering the wisdom of Winston Churchill and honor the man who twice saved democracy from Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism.  Today in 1940, the Battle of Britain's most decisive clash saw the Royal Air Force repel the largest Luftwaffe air strike against the United Kingdom. Months earlier on June 18, 1940 in a speech in The House of Commons titled "Their Finest Hour" Prime Minister Churchill explained the stakes of World War II and the start of the existential clash for Great Britain: 
I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
The apologists for international communism  like to extol their so-called "antifascist"credentials while remaining silent or finding bizarre revisionist explanations on the connections between fascism and communism that Mr. Churchill succinctly outlined in the quote at the top of the page. Of even greater concern is the attempt to deny the fact that Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin signed a pact in August of 1939, that secretly included the division of Central and Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, that started World War II. This alliance lasted until the summer of 1941 when Hitler ordered the invasion of the Soviet union. Consider for a moment that it was Britain and France who honoring their alliance declared war on Nazi Germany on September 1, 1939 when Poland was invaded by Hitler's Third Reich.  Churchill did not equivocate and in a radio address on October 1, 1939 described the Russian's role as invaders along with the Nazis days after.
 "Poland has been again overrun by two of the great Powers which held her in bondage for 150 years, but were unable to quench the spirit of the Polish nation. The heroic defense of Warsaw shows that the soul of Poland is indestructible, and that she will rise again like a rock, which may for a spell be submerged by a tidal wave, but which remains a rock."
Britain and France were convinced that Russia and Germany were allies and plans were drawn up to attack Russian oil fields in order to deny them to the Nazis in what became known in the planning stages as Operation Pike.  Months later the reversals continued for Christendom. The Fall of France to the Nazi war machine took place between May 10 and June 25, 1940 over the span of 46 days ending in the evacuation of Dunkirk. This disaster is what led to Operation Pike being scrapped.

The British Empire was alone for almost a year between June 25, 1940 through June 22, 1941 as the sole main resistance to Nazi Germany. The United States would remain neutral until Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the Soviet Union was a de facto ally of Nazi Germany until Hitler invaded communist Russia on June 22, 1941 in Operation Barbarossa. The United Kingdom was all that stood between the survival of Christian civilization and a new Dark Age that Adolf Hitler called the Thousand Year Reich. If one is truly Anti-Nazi then one must celebrate and honor the legacy of Winston Churchill, who early on identified the Nazi threat and issued calls to to resistance with one of the most important in a radio address to London and the United States on October 16, 1938.
"Dictatorship – the fetish worship of one man – is a passing phase. A state of society where men may not speak their minds, where children denounce their parents to the police, where a business man or small shopkeeper ruins his competitor by telling tales about his private opinions; such a state of society cannot long endure if brought into contact with the healthy outside world. The light of civilised progress with its tolerances and co-operation, with its dignities and joys, has often in the past been blotted out. But I hold the belief that we have now at last got far enough ahead of barbarism to control it, and to avert it, if only we realise what is afoot and make up our minds in time. We shall do it in the end. But how much harder our toil for every day’s delay! Is this a call to war? Does anyone pretend that preparation for resistance to aggression is unleashing war? I declare it to be the sole guarantee of peace. We need the swift gathering of forces to confront not only military but moral aggression; the resolute and sober acceptance of their duty by the English-speaking peoples and by all the nations, great and small, who wish to walk with them."
Four years earlier on November 16, 1934, after the Nazis had just been in power a little over two years Winston Churchill warned of their threat to peace:
There is a nation which has abandoned all its liberties in order to augment its collective strength. There is a nation which, with all its strength and virtue, is in the grip of a group of ruthless men, preaching a gospel of intolerance and racial pride, unrestrained by law, by parliament, or by public opinion. In that country all pacifist speeches, all morbid war books are forbidden or suppressed, and their authors rigorously imprisoned. From their new table of commandments they have omitted “thou shall not kill.”
Sadly the world did not listen to Churchill until it was too late to avoid a major conflict, but at least it was not too late to stop the Nazi war machine although it came at great cost and suffering. Churchill understood that to defeat Hitler the Soviet Union would have to change sides and when the Nazis invaded Russia the British Prime Minister joked, "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” The price of ending Hitler was cozying up to Josef Stalin, another genocidal totalitarian monster.

Churchill was not blind to the nature of his wartime ally and understood the threat of Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union and thankfully his warnings on March 5, 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton Missouri were listened to this time and may have avoided World War III, albeit with a cold peace.
"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow." 
He then went on to make a remarkable statement about the circumstances that led to World War II and how it was completely avoidable:
Last time I saw it all coming and cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention. Up till the year 1933 or even 1935, Germany might have been saved from the awful fate which has overtaken her and we might all have been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind. There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe. It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous and honoured to-day; but no one would listen and one by one we were all sucked into the awful whirlpool. We surely must not let that happen again.
Churchill was not only an Anti-Nazi but also an Anti-Communist and a conservative who on May 24, 1948 observed: "Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy." He also understood and celebrated the importance of free speech. In the midst of the war in 1943 he observed: "Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage."  Today let us remember this great statesman, democrat, and conservative and call on all people of good will to learn form this greatest of Britons.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fact checking the AP for errors of omission on 21 US diplomats harmed in Cuba

What was left unsaid about the mystery in Cuba.

Fact checking the Associated Press for errors of omission
The Associated Press (AP) has released a remarkable article today titled "Cuba mystery grows: New details on what befell US diplomats" on what they described as the "least 21 U.S. victims in an astonishing international mystery."  The AP story then quotes Fulton Armstong, without providing any context into his background beyond "a former CIA official who served in Havana long before America re-opened an embassy there" who went on to claim that there was no "reasonable explanation" and that it was "just mystery after mystery after mystery."  This ignores a long history of harassment and violence against diplomats over the years, including during prior efforts of normalizing relations not to mention outlaw international behavior. The question that arises is how could someone who was in the CIA get the Castro regime so wrong?

What the AP forgot to mention
Fulton Armstrong, a harsh critic of U.S. pro-democracy programs suspected of leaking and spinning information to the Associated Press to compromise them was also a close confidante of Ana Belen Montes, a long time agent of  the Castro regime at the Pentagon. Mr. Armstrong has sought to undermine USAID's pro-democracy programs in Cuba and was caught red handed in 2014 fabricating information with a pro-regime spin. U.S. spy catcher Chris Simmons offered the following assessment at the time on his blog:
Armstrong is well-known for consistently minimizing Cuba’s ability to threaten U.S. interests and its continued support to terrorists. In one interview, Scott Carmichael – the senior Counterintelligence investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency – said Montes was “on a first name basis” with the Armstrong. In fact, Montes and Armstrong confided in one another by phone into the final stages of her investigation.
There has been a decades long obsession in the U.S. establishment to cozy up to the Castro regime that achieved its first concrete achievements in 1977 during the Carter Administration, followed later on in 1993 during the Clinton Administration, and finally full normalization during the Obama Administration in 2014 despite numerous setbacks against U.S. national security. Fulton Armstrong, a former staffer to Senator John Kerry, has been an advocate for these efforts.

 The Associate Press has a pattern that stretches back years of publishing pro-Castro regime spin and self-censorship while at the same time seeking to minimize and marginalize Cuban democrats. In 2014 Yoani Sánchez  warned foreign news agencies of this practice: "Caution foreign news agencies! Your representatives in these lands are always in danger of becoming hostages, first, and then collaborators of the rulers." Sadly the Associated Press has not only been guilty of this in Cuba, but today in North Korea and and also in Nazi Germany until 1941.

Readers beware if you want to get spin free news on Cuba go elsewhere or read the AP articles with the same caution and skepticism that you read Castro regime publications.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ominous storm clouds continue: 2 more American diplomats harmed in Cuba

A tale of two hurricanes: Irma and Castro

Hurricane Irma devastated Cuba, but lack of infrastructure Castro regime's fault
Over the past week the news regarding Cuba has rightfully focused on the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma on the island.  The worse of the storm's impact was along the north shore where the hurricane arrived, but even in Havana that was just grazed by the storm there was significant damage and at least 10 deaths. According to EFE Irma damaged 4,288 homes in Havana, with 157 totally destroyed and 986 partially destroyed. The damage in the Cuban Capital also demonstrates over a half century of neglect by the Castro regime.

There was also some controversy regarding the tourism industry that is run by the Cuban military.  On Wednesday, September 6, 2017 the day before the Castro regime gave the order to evacuate Cayo Coco British tourists were still flying into Cuba. The British travel agency "Thomas Cook has defended itself saying the company followed the Cuban government's emergency instructions to the letter," reported BBC News. Cayo Coco suffered the full impact of Hurricane Irma and was destroyed by the storm.

However another controversy continues to fester in Cuba. American diplomats severely injured in a series of sonic attacks that caused brain trauma and hearing loss that began in November of 2016 and continued until August of 2017. Two more American diplomats have been identified as being harmed in Cuba in reports that appeared in The Washington Post, CBS News and other outlets. This brings the total number of Americans attacked in Cuba to 21.

Back on December 17, 2014 this blog made the following observation: "Rewarding the hard line and rogue elements in the Castro regime is unlikely to improve the dictatorship's behavior to the contrary it may worsen."

On September 1, 2017 in an open letter to President Trump made the stakes for changing the current policy and holding the Castro regime accountable clear:
Maintaining the present policy established by the previous administration is harming the lives of American diplomats and needs to be dismantled as soon as possible.  As you stated it is time to adopt a policy approach based "in a principled realism, rooted in our values, shared interests, and common sense."

The Castro regime has a record of attacking and mistreating diplomats stationed in Cuba. Common sense dictates viewing them as hostile not only to American interests but also American lives and security precautions taken to ensure the physical safety of diplomats and their families stationed in Cuba.
There are ominous storm clouds over relations between Cuba and the United States. Americans are already being harmed. Now is the time to address the problem before things deteriorate further. It is important for policymakers to distinguish between the totalitarian dictatorship that represses Cubans, and attacks American diplomats, and the Cuban people.

Policy should seek to help everyday Cubans while not providing or minimizing funds wherever possible going to the repressive apparatus.  Hurricane Irma was a terrible disaster for Cuba but it is also important to remember that Hurricane Castro has been an even greater disaster for the island since 1959 and shows no signs of leaving.

Ominous clouds over US - Cuba relations

Friday, September 8, 2017

Cachita's Feast Day, Hurricane Irma and the Christian Liberation Movement's Founding

"Lift up your heart and do not succumb in the face of adversities, persevere in the way of good; tirelessly helping those oppressed by sorrows and afflictions: these are the important lessons taught to us by Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre." - Pope Francis

Hurricane Irma batters Cuba on September 8, 2017
Today is the Feast Day for Cuba's Our Lady Charity and it coincides with Hurricane Irma devastating the north coast of Cuba's central provinces. Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits are praying for the intercession of Cachita for those impacted by the force five hurricane.Rosa María Payá Acevedo tweeted a photo of the Maria of Cuba along with the following message: "To the Maria of Cuba we entrust the families affected by Irma. At the feet of the Virgin of the Caridad de la Cobre our sorrows and joys."

In the pictures below taken in 2011, one in Miami and one in Havana, on the same day Cubans gathered to pray and worship for the Virgin of Charity also known affectionately as "Cachita." The Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba unites Cubans inside the island and in the diaspora.

For the past four centuries, since the Virgin of Charity appeared to the three Juanes in the Bay of Nipe in 1612, She has been a source of popular devotion among Cubans and on May 10, 1916 forever linked with Cuban independence when Pope Benedict XV proclaimed Her Patroness of Cuba in response to a request by veterans of the Cuban war of independence. Since then She has also been known as the Virgin Mambisa. Since 1959 she has accompanied the Cuban diaspora.

Today she gives comfort to the impacted and the afflicted by this monstrous storm.  In 1988 on her feast day a movement was born inspired by Christian teachings and the desire to be free. On this day in 2014 Cuba's Christian Liberation Movement released a statement recalling their founding:

We were born there in the parish of the Cerro, one of the many neighborhoods of Havana. The background: The Circle of the Cerro. Then something more formal, The Circle of Cuban Christian Thought. This was banned and dissolved when it launched the first free Cuban publication, also prohibited, titled "People of God", proclaiming the source of liberation: when we said, "We must obey God before men", "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's, "But if God gives you Freedom, who is Cesar to take it away? "All men and women are my brothers and sisters." "We will not act violently or submit to violence," "You are my brother, I do not hate you, but I am not afraid of you."
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas described how the Christian Liberation Movement, a democratic opposition movement, came into existence and explained how it was related to the birth of his first child, Oswaldo José.

“When our first child was going to be born, we have three children, we said that our children cannot live in a country without liberty and we are not going to another country to seek freedom. Therefore we have to fight for our children to live free here in Cuba and everyone else's children and their parents too.”    
Oswaldo José was born on February 17, 1988 and the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) was founded that same year on September 8, 1988.   Oswaldo Payá was killed on July 22, 2012 along with the movement's youth leader Harold Cepero. 

Jesús Mustafá Felipe at Solemn Mass for Our Lady of Charity
The dictatorship in Cuba is cruel and represses Cubans and also endangers the lives of foreign visitors. Reports emerged in the British press that travel agencies had not alerted tourists that four of the island's provinces, like South Florida, is presently under a hurricane warning. Mimi Whitfield in The Miami Herald, who on occasion gives the Castro regime the benefit of the doubt in her reporting, published a strange tweet on September 7th stating "Cuba expected to escape Hurricane Irma’s full force." Independent Cuban journalists trying to cover preparations for Hurricane Irma in Cuba have been arrested. Tonight many Cubans on and off the island would strongly disagree with her but more importantly many will be praying for Cachita for protection.

Tonight in Miami and Havana many are praying to Cachita to see them through this terrible storm and in their appeal they are united.

Placing Hurricane Irma in historical context

"Sic orate ac si totum a Deo dependeret, et sic laborate ac si totum dependeret a vobis." - St. Ignatius Loyola

Source: National Hurricane Center

Waiting and praying that Hurricane Irma do the unexpected and veer away from South Florida hopefully to dissipate away from population centers in the North Atlantic.  However at the same time  preparing for the worse. Hurricane shutters put up, food and water set aside, and supplies for the storm and the messy aftermath. Also thinking of those already impacted and the lives lost. This is a terrible storm.

Hurricane Irma
 If, as it appears now, Miami will be heavily impacted by Hurricane Irma then we must be prepared.  We must be our best and do our best at this time of crisis. We will all be tested in a variety of ways. Let us rise to the occasion.

Hurricane Irma will mark a before and after in the history not only of Miami, but of Florida.

Aftermath of the Great Miami hurricane of 1926
Let us remember that Miami has been marked and shaped by prior hurricanes. On September 18-20, 1926 the Great Miami hurricane struck the Magic City with a storm surge of 14–15 feet that caused $7.2 billion in 2016 dollars worth of damage. The storm was a category four on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

24 years later on October 18, 1950 a strong category three storm, Hurricane King, would strike Miami causing lots of damage, but was not as severe as the 1926 storm. Nevertheless it is still remembered today.

Forty two years later on August 24, 2017 Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida with winds of 165 mph and forever changed Miami, Homestead and Florida City. It was a category five storm and the hurricane was the fourth most intense to make landfall on the United States mainland in the recorded history of the country. I lived through this storm and still remember its ominous arrival. The geography of South Florida was changed by the storm and natural environments altered and invader species such as the Burmese python became a greater problem following the storm.

Now South Florida is braced for another major hurricane. This time it maybe a category four or five but the size and scope of the storm makes it, on paper at least, more powerful then Hurricane Andrew and potentially more deadly.  This means that Hurricane Irma will be a key moment in the history of Miami and the rest of Florida.

There has been a massive evacuation underway in Florida and a state of emergency declared. Flights have been cancelled and tourists evacuated. This contrasts dramatically with Cuba where reports have emerged in the British press that travel agencies have not alerted tourists that four of the island's provinces, like South Florida, is presently under a hurricane warning.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Human Rights Crises and turning points: Valladolid, Spain (1550), Paris, France (1948), and ???? (2018)

“All have understanding and will and free choice, as all are made in the image and likeness of God . . . Thus the entire human race is one.” - Bishop Bartolomé De Las Casas (1550)
Jacques Maritain

We are in the midst of an international human rights crisis. Will we rise to the occasion once again?

Human Rights are in crisis around the world and have been for some time. At such a moment it is important to return to and reflect on first principles.  The idea that human rights predate the rules set out by governments, some important thinkers argue, is based on natural law.  In 1951 the Christian Democrat philosopher Jacques Maritain published Man and the State and on pages 84-85 of his book explored the historic and rational foundation of human rights in the natural law that remains relevant today:
Shall we try to establish our faith in human rights on the basis of a true philosophy?  This true philosophy of the rights of the human person is based upon the true idea of natural law, as looked upon in an ontological perspective and as conveying through the essential structures and requirements of created nature the wisdom of the Author of Being.

The genuine idea of natural law is a heritage of Greek and Christian thought. It goes back not only to Grotius, who indeed began deforming it, but, before him to Suarez and Francisco de Vitoria; further back to St. Thomas Aquinas (he alone grasped the matter in a wholly consistent doctrine, which unfortunately was expressed in an insufficiently clarified vocabulary, so that its deepest features were soon overlooked and disregarded); and still further back to St. Augustine and the Church Fathers and St. Paul (we remember St. Paul's saying: "When the Gentiles who have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these, having not the Law, are a law unto themselves ...") and even further back to  Cicero, to the Stoics, to the great moralists of antiquity and its great poets, particularly Sophocles.  Antigone, who was aware that in transgressing the human law and being crushed by it she was obeying a better commandment, the unwritten and unchangeable laws, is the eternal heroine of natural law: for, as she puts it, they were not, those unwritten laws, born out of today's or yesterday's sweet will, "but they live always and forever, and no man knows from where they have arisen."

Jacques Maritain played an important role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and  in the above mentioned book described how individuals of radically different and traditions were able to come to a consensus on a fairly detailed document.
"How  is  an  agreement  conceivable  among  men  assembled  for  the  purpose  of  jointly  accomplishing  a  task  dealing  with  the  future  of  the  mind,  who  come  from  the  four  corners  of  the  earth  and  who  belong  not  only  to  different  cultures  and  civilizations,  but  to  different  spiritual  families  and  antagonistic  schools  of  thought?  Since  the  aim  of  UNESCO  [United  Nations  Educational,  Scientific  and  Cultural  Organization]  is  a  practical  aim,  agreement  among  its  members  can  be  spontaneously  achieved,  not  on  common  speculative  notions,  but  on  common  practical  notions,  not  on  the  affirmation  of  the  same conception  of  the  world,  man,  and  knowledge,  but  on  the  affirmation  of  the  same  set  of  convictions  concerning  action.  This  is  doubtless  very  little,  it  is  the  last  refuge  of  intellectual  agreement  among  men.  It  is,  however,  enough  to  undertake  a great  work;  and  it would  mean  a  great  deal  to  become  aware  of  this  body  of  common  practical  convictions."
Timing is also key and in the aftermath of World War II where the crimes of the Nazi Holocaust were exposed to the world, and the failure of the nation state not only to protect the lives of its citizens but to systematically slaughter them created a shock to the conscience of the international community that made the drafting of such a document possible. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified in Paris, France on December 10, 1948. It had happened before.

Bartolomé de Las Casas
Four centuries earlier in the midst of a clash of civilizations beginning with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492 and the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire in 1519 and the Inca empire in 1532.  Native Americans were enslaved and mistreated by the Spanish conquerors, but this led to the Dominican friar Bartolomé de Las Casas publishing "The Devastation of the Indies" outlining Spanish cruelty against the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Artistic rendering of Columbus's expedition to the Americas
On July 3, 1549 the Council of the Indies declared to the King of Spain that the harm to the Indians and to the King’s moral standing by the ongoing conquest required an examination of what was taking place. The Council declared:
The greed of those who undertake conquests and the timidity and humility of the Indians is such that we are not certain whether any instruction will be obeyed. It would be fitting for Your Majesty to order a meeting of learned men, theologians, and jurists … to … consider the manner in which these conquests should be carried on … justly and with security of conscience.
In April of 1550 the King, Charles I of Spain and Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, ordered that all New World conquests be suspended until a special group of theologians and counselors would decide upon a just method of conducting them. This led to a debate regarding the treatment of Native Americans by the Spanish conquistadors that took place in the Spanish city of Valladolid between the lay scholar Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda and now Bishop de Las Casas that same year. It was the first time that the morality of conquest was formally debated and a universal conception of human rights discussed that challenges assumptions today.

"The Devastation of the Indies" Bartolomé de Las Casas
 In 1550 and 1948 two international human rights crises led to two debates and reflections that first during the Spanish conquest of the Americas generated the idea of universal human rights and following the carnage of WWII and the Nazi Holocaust led the international community to agree on a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

School of Salamanca
Today in 2017, human rights have been in decline worldwide for more than a decade and all signs point to continued deterioration. Will this lead to another round of debate and reflection that will turn the tide in 2018?

Will a world leader stop a foreign action in order to examine the moral implications as King Charles V did in Spain in 1550? Will the international community come together as they did in Paris in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust in 1948 and forge a new commitment to human rights? 

Questions one ponders on the eve of the possible arrival of  Hurricane Irma.

IACHR's Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression condemns closure of more than 50 media outlets in Venezuela

The slow death of freedom of expression in Venezuela nears the end point.



The Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns the closure of more than 50 media outlets in Venezuela without legal guarantees and for reasons related to their editorial line


September 6, 2017

Washington, DC- The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the closure of more than 50 media outlets in Venezuela under procedures that depart from the principles that guarantee freedom of expression, and urges the State to urgently adopt the necessary measures to ensure that the media outlets -both domestic and foreign- can operate in the country with legal guarantees and without any distinction based on their editorial line.

According to information received by the Office of the Special Rapporteur, on August 24, subscription television providers in Venezuela withdrew from the programming grid the Colombian channels Caracol TV and RCN, on orders from the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel). William Castillo, vice minister for International Communication of the Ministry of Popular Power for Foreign Affairs, stated in an interview with an official outlet "RCN and Canal Caracol are instruments of a media war who have behaved, in Venezuela, as a machinery of aggression against Venezuelanity and legitimate authorities." The minister accused Caracol TV of committing "a series of very serious crimes, offenses against Venezuela, its authorities, and our laws." A similar criterion would have been used previously to order the suppression of CNN and NTN 24 signals.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur also received information that in the evening hours of Friday August 25, Conatel representatives entered the radio stations 92.9 FM and Mágica 99.1 FM in the city of Caracas and ordered the definitive termination of their transmissions. It was reported that minutes after both media went off air their frequencies were taken by two new stations linked to the official party. The signal of the Caracas radio station 92.9 FM, which had a large audience news programming, was replaced that night by Radio Corazón Llanero, operated by a foundation under the control of an army Captain, ​​the aide-de-camp of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and current member of the National Constituent Assembly. The signal of the Mágica 99.1 FM station was replaced by the station Vinotinto FM, whose owner is until now unknown. On September 5, Conatel reportedly ordered the radio station 88.1 FM, operated by the emblematic educational radio network Fe y Alegria in Maracaibo, to cease its operations. Hours later the decision was revoked without any explanation.

On July 16, ULA TV, the television channel of the Universidad de los Andes in Mérida, had also been closed by Conatel, invoking a lack of documents.

According to the information provided by several organizations, during 2017 at least 49 national radios have been shut down and 5 international television channels have reportedly been withdrawn from national subscription television, by government orders. As the Office of the Special Rapporteur has expressed in previous statements, most of the media operates in Venezuela with their licenses expired and the regulatory body does not have procedures with guarantees for the adjudication and / or renewal of these frequencies.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur reminds the Venezuelan State that any restriction on the right to freedom of expression must be based on a law and be proportionate and strictly necessary to protect legitimate ends in a democratic society. The closure of media outlets as punishment for maintaining a critical editorial line of a government arbitrarily suppresses the right that assists all Venezuelans to express themselves without fear of reprisals and receive plural and diverse information, and it is also a form of indirect censorship under international law.

Although the State has the power of administering the radio spectrum, this must be done in accordance with the basic principles of international human rights law that prohibit the restriction of the right to freedom of expression through abuse of the power to regulate and manage the radio frequencies.

According to these principles, the processes of adjudication, revocation, and renewal of licenses must be strictly regulated by a law and be guided by objective, clear, impartial, public, and compatible criteria with a democratic society; the process must be transparent; the decision granting or denying the request must be duly substantiated; and be subject to proper judicial control. The administration of the radio spectrum must also be guided by the principles of equality and non-discrimination, and should never be used to pressure, reward, or punish a media outlet according to its editorial line or its position concerning the government in charge.

Venezuela had already been condemned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in June 2015 for breaching these principles when it decided not to renew the concession of the RCTV television channel on May 27, 2007. In the Inter-American Court opinion’s, RCTV's closure involved "a misuse of power, since a State faculty was used with the objective of editorially aligning the media outlet with the government."

The Court also pointed out that the misuse of power in that case "had an impact on the exercise of freedom of expression, not only in the workers and managers of RCTV, but also in the social dimension of that right." In effect, the Court stated "the real purpose was to silence critical voices against the government, which together with pluralism, tolerance, and the spirit of openness, constitute the demand of a democratic debate which, rightly, freedom of expression seeks to protect."

The Office of the Special Rapporteur urgently calls for the reestablishment of the radio stations and television stations that have been shut down, as well as the restoration of all the necessary guarantees for the full exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela.


Contact details:
Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
Tel. (+1) 202 370 0816

Our mailing address is:
Sede / Headquarters
1889 F Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20006

Monday, September 4, 2017

Moral Corruption of the United Nations: Normalizing Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro

"...[T]here arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises." - Vaclav Havel, October 12, 2009, Forum 2000 conference

Time to send a message to the United Nations and Nicolas Maduro
Reuters reported on September 4, 2017 that "President Nicolas Maduro, accused of trampling on human rights and democracy in Venezuela, is expected to address the opening day of a three-week U.N. Human Rights Council session on Sept. 11." The non-governmental organization "UN Watch expressed 'shock' that the U.N. Human Rights Council is allowing Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro to open its session on Monday, September 11, 2017" and is circulating a petition urging the United Nations to suspend the Maduro regime's membership on the UN Human Rights Council. 

Human Rights defenders need to stand up and demand that the U.N. Human Rights Council regains its moral legitimacy by refusing to normalize Nicolas Maduro who is now engaged in destroying democracy in Venezuela, murdering young Venezuelan democrats, and systematically denying human rights in the South American country.

Three times in 2016 the United Nations engaged in acts of moral corruption when the international body first on December 1, 2016 at the United Nations General Assembly held a moment of silence for Fidel Castro in New York City. Five days later on December 6, 2016 at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva Switzerland another moment of silence was held for Fidel Castro ignoring the dictator's terrible human rights record. Two weeks later on December 20, 2016 the General Assembly of the United Nations once again paid tribute to the dead Cuban tyrant. Paying homage to a murderous dictator multiple times demonstrates the moral crisis engulfing the United Nations. 

We must rescue the UN Human Rights Council from the moral corruption it has descended into while at the same time restoring the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an instrument to benefit victims of repression and place human rights violators on notice.

Inviting Nicolas Maduro to open the session of the UN Human Rights Council as Venezuela burns must be denounced and rejected by all people of good will. Please sign the petition being circulated by UN Watch to suspend Venezuela's membership on the UN Human Rights Council.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Dear President Trump: An open letter on Cuba policy in light of recent attacks on U.S. diplomats

Americans are being harmed in Cuba. Time to completely dismantle your predecessors failed policy.

President Trump at the Manuel Artime Theater with Cuban Americans in June 2017
Dear Mr. President, 

The Cuba policy set by your predecessor publicly and clearly on December 17, 2014 has not only not improved relations between the United States and Cuba but endangered the lives of American diplomats. This should not come as a surprise and in fact many, including myself, predicted that the actions taken: freeing a spy who had murdered Americans, removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism without cause, and watering down a State Department report on human trafficking to improve Cuba's  international standing would only encourage the worse actors and so it has.

American diplomats are being physically harmed in Cuba and according to press accounts the number today stands at 19. Back on June 16, 2017 when you addressed Cuba policy and released the "National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba" that begins by defining what will guide this new policy:
My Administration's policy will be guided by the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, as well as solidarity with the Cuban people.  I will seek to promote a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people.  To that end, we must channel funds toward the Cuban people and away from a regime that has failed to meet the most basic requirements of a free and just society.
Mr President you identified the Castro regime for what it is and denounced it for its past crimes in dramatic contrast with your predecessor:
"To the Cuban government, I say:  Put an end to the abuse of dissidents.  Release the political prisoners.  Stop jailing innocent people.  Open yourselves to political and economic freedoms.  Return the fugitives from American justice -- including the return of the cop-killer Joanne Chesimard. And finally, hand over the Cuban military criminals who shot down and killed four brave members of Brothers to the Rescue who were in unarmed, small, slow civilian planes.  (Applause.) Those victims included Mario de la Pena, Jr., and Carlos Costa."
Mr. President the Castro regime is a state sponsor of terrorism that has not reformed its ways and you highlighted some of the Cuban dictatorship's bad acts in that same June speech:
The Castro regime has shipped arms to North Korea and fueled chaos in Venezuela.  While imprisoning innocents, it has harbored cop killers, hijackers, and terrorists.  It has supported human trafficking, forced labor, and exploitation all around the globe.  This is the simple truth of the Castro regime. (Applause.) My administration will not hide from it, excuse it, or glamorize it.  And we will never, ever be blind to it.  We know what's going on and we remember what happened.  (Applause.)
These words are important but now that American lives are being harmed it is time to take some specific actions to dismantle your predecessor's policy that is still in place. On January 4, 2017 four former U.S. ambassadors made a number of specific requests that I hope will be implemented in light of recent events:
1. Your predecessors "ill-conceived and unlawful executive orders lifting restrictions on doing business with the Castro regime should be included among the other measures that your administration plans to rescind." ... "American policy toward Cuba and elsewhere should be consistent with U.S. law."

2. "The terms of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 should be enforced, starting immediately. Tourism, purchases of Cuban goods, and partnering with government entities should be prohibited, in accordance with current U.S. law."

3. The prior administration "sought to appease the Cuban regime by removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and for the most part ceasing any contacts with the democratic opposition. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations apologized to the world body for our country’s supposed use of democracy promotion and human rights in the past as a 'pretext' to meddle in the affairs of other countries." The Cuban dictatorship should be placed back on the list of terror sponsors.

4.  "The regime should no longer be allowed to select, and act as paymaster for, the embassy’s local hires. This allows the regime to siphon off a major part of the employees’ wages, and has serious security implications as well.The U.S. should insist on strict reciprocity in how its embassy in Havana and Cuba’s in Washington are run, based on international standards and practices."
5. Cuba today has been described as an occupying force in Venezuela with at least 15,000 personnel of the Castro regime doing all they can to consolidate a totalitarian, Marxist Leninist dictatorship in Venezuela.  This runs counter to the interests not just of the United States, but of all democracies in the region and Venezuelans.
6. The holdovers at the State Department from the previous Administration need to be replaced as soon as possible with sound personnel who share your vision for Latin America.
Maintaining the present policy established by the previous administration is harming the lives of American diplomats and needs to be dismantled as soon as possible.  As you stated it is time to adopt a policy approach based "in a principled realism, rooted in our values, shared interests, and common sense."

The Castro regime has a record of attacking and mistreating diplomats stationed in Cuba. Common sense dictates viewing them as hostile not only to American interests but also American lives and security precautions taken to ensure the physical safety of diplomats and their families stationed in Cuba.

June 16, 2017 was a good first step but time is of the essence and the lives of Americans are being harmed. It is time to follow though Mr. President and dismantle your predecessors failed policy in favor of one rooted in American values, principled realism and common sense.


John Suarez
Augusto Monge