Thursday, October 11, 2018

Cuba’s worsening human rights situation: Machete attacks, more restrictive laws, and zero human rights monitoring

“The ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in, becoming narcissistic.”― Rod Serling 

Sirley Avila Leon after testifying at the UN Human Rights Council
Cuban human rights defender Sirley Avila Leon, a victim of repression, on September 24, 2018 addressed the UN Human Rights Council on what agents of the Cuban government had done to her.

“On May 24, 2015 living in Cuba I suffered an attack orchestrated by agents of the state, I was attacked with a machete to kill me cutting off my left hand and right shoulder while I covered my head with them, then cut my knees leaving me disabled for life, This was not the first attack I suffered, I was previously attacked several times, physically and verbally by the political police in Cuba: they burned my bed, I suffered arbitrary arrests, death threats, economic damages.  Only for demanding better living conditions for the peasants and their children in a rural area of ​​Las Tunas. My case is not isolated. In Cuba, the state continues to violate the human rights of Cubans, murders, imprisons and banishes those who demand rights and repress their families. To save my life, in 2016 I escaped from Cuba, since then my son, Yoerlis Peña Avila, has been threatened with death and repressed on several occasions. At this moment I fear for his life.”

Sirley had been elected to a local peoples’ power assembly at the municipal level. She thought she could help those who needed help, but the reality of the existing system demonstrated otherwise. 

Sirley Avila Leon following the May 24, 2015 machete attack
Expectations are high that a constitutional “reform” in Cuba and a new president “could help democratize the country,” but instead changes are going in the wrong direction.

The existing constitution in Cuba was not decided in a free and democratic vote nor the “reforms” that are being drafted now. It is taking an existing anti-democratic document and making it even more restrictive. For example, in the old constitution there existed a clause that a citizen initiative required 10,000 signatures for it to be officially recognized, now under the draft of the proposed constitution it raises that requirement to 50,000 signatures. They never thought 10,000 Cubans would sign a document calling for human rights reforms, because of the consequences to the signatory and their families, but with the Varela Project over 30,000 signatures were gathered. In the existing constitution there is a freedom of religion and conscience clause, but in the new draft it is just freedom of religion. Although, in practice, religion in Cuba remains subject to Communist Party control and discrimination.

Raul Castro handed over the office of the presidency to his handpicked successor Miguel Díaz-Canel on April 19, 2018. This was done to give the impression that a transition is underway in Cuba. This is not the case. General Raul Castro remains head of the Cuban Communist Party and in control of the government. General Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, Raul's son-in-law, runs the economy. Raul Castro's son, Colonel Alexandro Castro, who negotiated the normalization of relations with the Obama Administration is an intelligence officer with close ties to the secret police. Diaz-Canel, like Osvaldo Dorticos who was president of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, answers to General Raul Castro. The succession does not empower Miguel Díaz-Canel but maintains the Castro dynasty in power.

Blanca Reyes, of the Ladies in White with other activists and members of the IACHR
One of the new laws, Decree 349, signed by President Díaz-Canel in April of 2018 further restricts spaces for artists to exercise their vocation. According to Amnesty International:

“Under the decree, all artists, including collectives, musicians and performers, are prohibited from operating in public or private spaces without prior approval by the Ministry of Culture. Individuals or businesses that hire artists without the authorization can be sanctioned, and artists that work without prior approval can have their materials confiscated or be substantially fined. Under the new decree, the authorities also have the power to immediately suspend a performance and to propose the cancelation of the authorization granted to carry out the artistic activity.”

Despite the government of Cuba being a long time and active member of the UN Human Rights Council it has missed opportunity after opportunity to address key human rights issues constructively and worked with other bad actors to weaken international human rights standards and silence human rights defenders. Thankfully, they do not always succeed.

Over the past two weeks at the UN HumanRights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland and the Inter-American Commissionon Human Rights (IACHR) in Boulder, Colorado the human rights situation in Cuba was addressed by Cuban human rights defenders. The testimony and information provided point to human rights worsening in the island nation. 

Sirley Avila Leon addresses the UN Human Rights Council on September 24, 2018
For decades, international human rights monitors have been and continue to be barred from Cuba by the government to evade scrutiny and isolate Cubans. During the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review outcome of Cuba, June 21-25, 2018, Amnesty International raised the issue that Cuba was the only country in the Americas that was closed to them. Later on Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations Office at Geneva replied to Amnesty International’s comment on the refusal to accept monitors in the island, that Cuba did not require such instruments.

In addition to not allowing credible international human rights monitors into the island, the Cuban government has not permitted the existence of an independent national human rights institution in Cuba.

Furthermore, Cuba’s courts remain subordinated to Raul Castro, head of the Cuban Communist Party. This is has had repercussions on the human rights situation in Cuba.

The World Evangelical Alliance informed the UN Human Rights Council that in 2015, two thousand places of worship of a single church union had been threatened with demolition and several places of worship had been destroyed.  Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that Cuba used a range of measures against religious leaders and human rights defenders.  Arbitrary detention remained a common tactic.  

There are prisoners of conscience in Cuba today. Dr. Eduardo Cardet of the Christian Liberation Movement, jailed since November 30, 2016, under terrible conditions, for his human rights and democracy advocacy for Cubans is one of them.

Tomás Núñez Magdariaga who has been on hunger strike for over 50 days protesting his unjust imprisonment is another. Prisoners of conscience, such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010 and Wilman Villar Mendoza in 2012, died on hunger strikes.

Extrajudicial killings by the State continue in Cuba, and they are not limited to opposition activists. The case of Mr. Alejandro Pupo Echemendia is a recent and high profile example. Police detained Mr. Pupo Echemendia and took him to a police station in Las Villas Cuba, allegedly for participating in illicit horse races. Eyewitness Abel Santiago Tamayo said Alejandro suffered a panic attack on August 9, 2018, and asked for help. A guard handcuffed Alejandro from behind and began to kick him in the back until he died. Alejandro Pupo Echemendia was 46 years old, a caregiver for the mentally ill in a psychiatric hospital. Government agents placed witnesses and Alejandro's family under duress to retract their statements.

Blanca Reyes, of the Ladies in White, addresses the IACHR
One week later, in Boulder Colorado, during the 169th Period of Sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Cuban independent journalists and human rights defenders presented “Reports on the Criminalization of Social Activists and Journalists in Cuba.”

The representative of the Ladies in White in the United States, Blanca Reyes, denounced the cruelty of the Cuban government and asked for help to free five women from her organization who are presently jailed.

"In Cuba there is a special sign of cruelty of the totalitarian Communist Government against the entire female mass and, in particular, against the Ladies in White," she affirmed. "Women who belong to that organization are imprisoned, they directly suffer the threat of being taken to a cell, they are imposed heavy fines for their public activities and their families, including their children, are also victims of the unpunished conduct of the political police.”

Blanca identified five Ladies in White presently in prison and they are: Martha Sánchez González, Nieves Matamoros, Aimara Nieto Muñoz, Yolanda Santana Ayala and Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda.

Unlike at the UNHRC, the Cuban government does not recognize the competence of the IACHR, despite having been invited to return to the Organization of American States in 2009.

Cuban human rights defender impeded from attending UN-CERD Cuba review
Human rights defenders barred from traveling to human rights forums
The Cuban government has denied human rights defenders the right to travel to attend both the UN Human Rights Council and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights over the past couple of months.

MiriamCardet Concepción, the sister of prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet, was not permitted by the Cuban government to travel to attend the IACHR hearing in Boulder, Colorado. She was able, with some difficulty, to send her video testimony that was broadcast during the hearing on Monday, October 1, 2018.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UN-CERD) met in Geneva on August 15, 2018 to examine racism in Cuba. The Cuban government not only claimed that racism was not a problem in Cuba but also told the UN-CERD that human rights defenders in Cuba face no limitations to exercise their activities. Cuban diplomats assured that there had been no reprisals or harassment of activists.

Cuban human rights defenders Juan Antonio Madrazo and Norberto Mesa, both Cubans of African descent, who were to attend the same session were detained arbitrarilyand banned by Cuban government officials from traveling to Geneva to address the question of racism in Cuba.

Two other Cuban human rights defenders were also barred by the Cuban government from traveling to Geneva to speak at the pre-session to Cuba’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in April of 2018.

There is one element of the Constitutional reform that has garnered positive international attention and that is an opening to gay marriage. It does not endanger the power monopoly that the regime seeks to preserve. This constitutional initiative by the Cuban government is a textbook example of pinkwashing. It is "the practice of presenting something, particularly a state, as gay-friendly in order to soften or downplay aspects of its reputation considered negative."

The Cuban government’s leadership, who remain in power today, carried out anti-Gay draconian policies in the past, and they are the same ones now advocating for the change on gay marriage in the constitution.

The Cuban government placed Gays and Lesbians in forced labor camps beginning in 1964 in what they called Military Units to Aid Production or UMAPs (Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción). These forced labor camps were for those suspected of or found guilty of "improper conduct."  Persons with "effeminate mannerisms": what the Cuban government called "extravagant behavior" were taken to these camps. Twenty years later with the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in Cuba the regime rounded up all who were HIV positive. Cuba is the only nation in the world that mandated universal HIV testing and enforced isolation of all virus carriers in detention facilities from 1986 to 1994.

This is not a Gay-friendly regime, despite the PR offensive.

Cuban human rights defenders continue to be barred from travel, subjected to harassment, arbitrary detentions and targeted for physical attacks ordered by the secret police. There are changes taking place in Cuba, but they are either cosmetic or make the state more repressive with the goal of perpetuating the dynastic rule of the Castro family.

If Cuba is to once again be free then one must understand the difficult existing reality and the challenges confronting the democratic resistance in the island.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Cuba's Call to Freedom Remembered 150 Years Later By Honoring Laura Pollán Who Risked All for Liberty

Cuba's Yara Proclamation 150 years later and honoring Laura Pollán seven years after her death.

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo:  February 13, 1948 – October 14, 2011
150 years ago on October 10, 1868 a Cuban planter and lawyer, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo, sounding a bell gathered his slaves together and told them that they were free and if they chose they could join him and his compatriots in the struggle for a new nation. The nearest town to the plantation was called Yara and this cry for freedom became known as the "Grito de Yara" the (Cry of Yara). This initial act led to ten years of war with Spain and although ending in a frustrating and temporary peace under continued Spanish rule it did much to forge the Cuban character.

Six years and three months ago not far from Yara in the same province of Bayamo, two Cuban patriots Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante, died under suspicious circumstances in what appears to have been an extra-judicial killing disguised as a car accident

In four days, the seven year observance of another appalling anniversary: the untimely death of opposition leader Laura Inés Pollán Toledo through what a Cuban medical doctor described as purposeful medical neglect. On October 14, 2011, Laura Pollan, one of the founders of the Ladies in White died, after years of suffering physical and psychological assaults against her person. She would become a victim of the Cuban healthcare system suffering and dying over the course of a matter of days while under the supervision of doctors who were revolutionaries first and doctors second.

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes never got to see Cuban independence nor even the end of the Ten Years war he died in 1874. Unfortunately, as with Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo and de Céspedes we are seeing another generation of heroes continuing the drive for Cuban freedom but dying before achieving their goal. It is for this reason that we must remember and honor these men and women who have given their last full measure to free a country subjugated to more than six decades of dictatorship. Seven years of authoritarian tyranny with Fulgencio Batista followed by 59 years of totalitarian tyranny with the Castro brothers. The body count of innocent Cubans has been steadily rising these past six decades with brutal patterns of repression.

Let us remember Laura Pollan the school teacher who became an international human rights icon and sadly a martyr of the Cuban freedom movement. On October 14 there will be activities inside and outside of Cuba to remember and honor this remarkable and courageous woman.  No doubt throughout the world wide web there will be different efforts and actions underway to honor this Cuban mother and wife who was taken from us far to soon.

Thankfully some of her words and writings survive and we can learn from her wisdom and continue the struggle for a free Cuba.
"They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens." (2010) 
"We are going to continue. We are fighting for freedom and human rights.” (September 24, 2011) 
"As long as this government is around there will be prisoners because while they've let some go, they've put others in jail. It is a never-ending story." (2011) 
“If we must give our own lives in pursuit of the freedom of our Cuba that it be what God wants.” (September 24, 2011) 
"We are not going to stop. If you have imprisoned our sisters thinking that we would give up, they are mistaken. We are very united (...) all the women's movements are very close." (October 2, 2011) 
They tried to silence 75 voices, but now there are more than 75 voices shouting to the world the injustices the government has committed. (2004) 
“We ask on this Christmas Day for freedom for our political prisoners and for the Cuban people to have a better future.” (2005) 
“It's an extremely sad day for us, because Christmas is a family holiday. Since our husbands are not with us, our families cannot be complete.” (2005) 
"We fight for the freedom of our husbands, the union of our families. We love our men." (2005) 
“We would never have thought this would go on for so long.” (2006) 
"Human rights basically have been dead in our country for three years. Physically, I am tired. But I am still fighting, as long as I am alive and my husband is jailed, I am going to keep fighting. (2006)

“We are calling for freedom for all political prisoners.” (2006)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Bitter Taste of Freedom: Paying Homage and Demanding Justice for Anna Politkovskaya

"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting" - Milan Kundera

"People sometimes pay with their lives for saying aloud what they think."
 - Anna Politkovskaya  August 30, 1958 - October 7, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya was a journalist who spoke truth to power in Russia. She was a critic of Vladimir Putin. She was shot dead in her apartment on Putin's birthday in 2006. Six individuals have been brought to justice, but the mastermind remains free 12 years after her assassination. Below is a 2011 documentary about this courageous woman who paid the ultimate price for seeking the truth and reporting it.

She is missed. #JusticeForAnna #EndImpunity

Friday, October 5, 2018

Havel at 82: Celebrating Václav Havel's living legacy of hope

"The only lost cause is one we give up on before we enter the struggle." - Václav Havel

Václav Havel born on October 5, 1936
Václav Havel was that rarest of statesmen, a great and good man. In his first New Year's Message in 1990 as President he addressed the country with a candor and truthfulness both rare and needed stating: "I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you." 

Today, we observe the 82nd anniversary of his birth. The Czech play write, who became a dissident, defended artists, a prisoner of conscience, president of Czechoslovakia, resigned in protest over the Velvet Divorce, then president of the Czech republic and finally citizen and play write once again. All the while he demonstrated his solidarity with victims of repression in his own country and around the world.

This was done not out of a sense of optimism, but out of hope.  Consider for a moment how Havel responded to the invasion of his homeland.

In 1968, after Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring, an effort by Czechoslovak communist reformers to build socialism with a human face, Havel wrote the following to the Czechoslovak President Alexander Dubcek who had been one of the reformers later purged: "Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance." 

Václav Havel's signature card for Charter 77
Havel believed that moral actions, no matter how small or futile they may appear at the time can have profound consequences for both freedom and a just society. It is because the world is not a puzzle to be solved but incredibly much more complex that decisions of right and wrong made by each person have such great importance.

President Havel, in a November 11, 2009 address to the European Parliament in Brussels issued a challenge to the European Union and warned of the consequences of failure:
"Above all, clear and unequivocal solidarity with all those confronted by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes wherever they are in the world. And economic or other particular interests should not hinder such solidarity. Even a minor, discreet and well-intentioned compromise can have fatal consequences– even if only in the long term, or indirectly. One must not retreat in the face of evil, because it is in the nature of evil to take advantage of every concession. Besides, Europe has already had its own unfortunate experience of appeasement policies. 
On the other hand he understood that living up to the challenge of unequivocal solidarity with those resisting totalitarian regimes would have unexpected positive consequences, not only in those countries living under dictatorship, but also lifting up the moral values of those true to themselves by practicing the values preached.

"Our support can help open-minded people or outspoken witnesses to the situation in North Korea, Burma, Iran, Tibet, Belarus, Cuba or anywhere else, much more than we think. But it will help us too. It will help us build a better world and also to be more true to ourselves; in other words, to put into practice the values that we proclaim in general terms."
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and President Václav Havel in Prague (2002)
At the same time, he did not link hope with success but rather the certainty that what one is doing is both good and coherent. In 1990 in the book, Disturbing the Peace, Havel explained how he viewed hope.
“Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
The fruits of his legacy can be seen in the work of Forum 2000, an annual gathering of politicians, philosophers, artists, scientists, and the public to reflect on important issues challenging civilization. The topic on the twentieth gathering of Forum 2000 was "The Courage to take Responsibility." In two days the 22nd gathering will focus on "Democracy: In need of a critical update?"  Václav Havel was born 82 years ago today and passed away seven years ago, but his legacy of good works live on. Take part in his legacy attending Forum 2000, in person if you are in Prague, or via social media and live stream video if you are elsewhere.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

U.S. Department of State expresses concern about the plight of imprisoned Cuban pro-democracy activist on hunger strike

U.S. calls on Cuban government to free Mr. Nuñez Magdariaga.

The Wrongful Detention of Tomás Nuñez Magdariaga in Cuba

Heather Nauert
Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC
October 4, 2018

The United States is gravely concerned about the physical health of Cuban democratic activist Tomás Nuñez Magdariaga, who has been on a hunger strike for more than 50 days in protest against his wrongful imprisonment. We understand his health is in a critical state, and that the authorities have denied his family the opportunity to see him. Cuban authorities arrested Mr. Nunez, a member of Cuba’s largest opposition group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, on false charges and convicted him in a sham trial, during which they denied him the opportunity to present witnesses in his favor.

Cuban democracy and human rights activists have long experienced and denounced the Cuban government’s use of arbitrary detention on spurious charges as a tool of repression. Mr. Nunez’s condition is cruel confirmation of these wrongful practices, and serves as a dark reminder that there is no due process for those who criticize the Cuban government. The United States condemns these practices in the strongest terms, and calls on the Cuban government to release Mr. Nunez, whose life hangs in the balance, and all political prisoners in Cuba.

Tomás Nuñez Magdariaga: Before and now on hunger strike

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Mohandas Gandhi born 149 years ago on October 2nd: The International Day of Nonviolence

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty." - Mohandas Gandhi 

Mohandas Gandhi born 149 years ago today

He liberated an entire subcontinent from imperial rule without firing a shot. The United Nations has designated his birthday, October 2nd, as the International Day of Nonviolence. Nevertheless,  he did not win the Nobel Peace Prize and is recognized by the Nobel Committee as the "Missing Laureate."

He wasn't a rich man. He never held formal political office. He wasn't a saint or divine figure. He was just a man. An attorney who had taken a vow of poverty and celibacy. His name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. 

How did he do it? Through overcoming his own limitations with meditation, experiments with truth and practicing nonviolence as a way of life and then applying it to his community and country through the tradition he was brought up in. This was done through a constructive program when possible and an obstructive program when necessary. According to Gandhi, "a nonviolent life is an act of self-examination and self-purification, whether by an individual, group or nation."

Mohandas Gandhi, who greatly influenced American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., spoke of social responsibility and trusteeship. Gandhi, a self-described socialist, was not an enthusiastic proponent of an expanded social-welfare state as commonly understood arguing:  
"The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence. Hence I prefer the doctrine of trusteeship. [...] What I would personally prefer would be not centralization of power in the hands of the State, but an extension of the sense of trusteeship, as, in my opinion, the violence of private ownership is less injurious than the violence of the State. However, if it is unavoidable, I would support a minimum of State-ownership."
Furthermore the critique made by both King and Gandhi of a "thing-oriented" society or the state as a "soulless machine" looks to the person or the individual not an economic mechanism  or economic class. The focus is on the human person and polices that recognize and respect the uniqueness of each human being and their dignity.

Both rejected the doctrine of the ends justifying the means recognizing that means and ends are interrelated and cannot be separated.

Gandhi idea's inspired Martin Luther King Jr in America and Oswaldo Payá in Cuba.
The Soviet press published an article written by S.M. Vakar in 1948 following Gandhi's assassination on January 30, 1948 titled "The Class Nature of the Gandhi Doctrine" subtitled "Gandhi as a Reactionary Utopian" in the Soviet philosophy journal Voprosy filosofii (Questions of Philosophy). The Marxist Leninist argument was outlined as follows:
Although Gandhi regarded the union and independence of the Indian peoples as his goal, his reactionary-Utopian social theory and the reformist methods of struggle connected with it caused his activity to fail in facilitating overthrow of the colonial yoke [...] The social essence of the Gandhi doctrine and its fundamentally reactionary role in the history of India's national liberation movement has hardly been treated in Marxist literature. Yet this doctrine still retards the development of class awareness among the Indian masses.
What was this social essence of Gandhian thought that so troubled the Marxist Leninists in the Soviet Union? First, the reformist methods of struggle referred to in the above quote was nonviolent resistance and secondly his social theory rejected class struggle as another manifestation of destructive violence. On September 11, 1906 a new word came into existence that would give a better understanding of Gandhi's social theory and method of struggle which he described as:
'Satyagraha.' Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement 'Satyagraha,' that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase 'passive resistance,' in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word 'Satyagraha' itself or some other equivalent English phrase.
The Marxist-Leninists embraced revolutionary violence and a movement led by a small vanguard of intellectuals and professional revolutionaries that would carry out the changes necessary by whatever means necessary and rejected nonviolence as naive. They followed the doctrine of Lenin as presented in his 1902 revolutionary tract What is to be done.

Over a century has passed since both sets of ideas have been set out and applied around the world. An analysis done by Maria J. Stephen and Erica Chenoweth systematically explores the strategic effectiveness of both violent and nonviolent campaigns using data on 323 campaigns carried out between 1900 and 2006.[1] There findings demonstrate that major non-violent campaigns were successful 53% of the time versus only 26% for major violent campaigns and terrorist campaigns had a 7% success rate.

The ideas and legacy of Mohandas Gandhi have remained relevant over the past century and continue to resonate today.

Mohandas Gandhi reading 

"The world of tomorrow will be, must be, a society based on non-violence. That is the first law; out of it all other blessings will flow. It may seem a distant goal, an impractical Utopia. But it is not in the least unobtainable, since it can be worked for here and now."
 - Mohandas Gandhi

"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
 - Martin Luther King Jr. 

"The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized." 
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas

Author at the Gandhi memorial in Geneva, Switzerland with Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva

Friday, September 28, 2018

Castro regime denies racism exists in Cuba at the United Nations, bars black Cubans from speaking there

The Castro regime says there is no racism in Cuba. Cubans of African descent say different, but are detained and prohibited from speaking out in an international forum.


By Race and Equality

Washington. Sept 16. 2018. On August 16, Cuba categorically denied the existence of racial discrimination in Cuba to the group of independent experts of the United Nations (UN) that form the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) during the review of Cuba under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The purpose of the review is for Cuba to present information on how it has implemented action plans to combat racial discrimination.

Rodolfo Reyes Rodríguez, represented Cuba at the review and stressed during his presentation on behalf of the Cuban state that Cuba does not have a structural or institutional racism problem. He also emphasized that in Cuba, racial and ethnic minorities do not experience any difference in treatment legally, politically, or socially and that the concepts of “Afro-Cuban” or “Afro-descendant” do not exist in Cuba because this population is not regarded as any different from the rest of the population.

He stated that according to the results of the 2012 population census, 9.3% of the population identified as Afro-descendant because of the mixed heritage of the population. He explained that all citizens self-identify themselves as white, mixed or black just based on the color of their skin, but all are considered Cuban citizens with the same inherent rights and responsibilities. (You can read the full presentation of the Cuban representative here)

In response to the information presented, the CERD Committee issued its report of recommendations on August 31. In the report, the Committee finds that, contrary to the information presented by the Cuban state, the Afro-descendant population in Cuba continues to suffer from racism and structural discrimination as a result of the historical legacy of slavery. The report also concludes that this discrimination is demonstrated by and results in this population being unable to exercise economic, social, and cultural rights to the same extent as other Cubans. According to the report, the Committee is concerned about the challenges the Afro-descendant population faces in accessing the labor market; the low levels of of Afro-descendants in decision-making positions, both in the public and private sector; and the disproportionate levels of poverty affecting this population.

In its list of recommendations, the CERD Committee also expresses great concern that the methodology used in the census does not result in objective information that accurately presents the racial composition of the country. In this regard, the Committee calls on the Cuban State to review its methodology for collecting demographic data in the census in order to design questions and strategies with the input of the Afro-descendant population that will result in their self-identification and generate more accurate results.

The CERD Committee report calls on the Cuban State to include a clear and explicit definition of racial discrimination in its Constitution, which is currently being updated.

The Committee also recommends that the State include a gender focus in its policies and strategies to combat racial discrimination in order to address the many forms of discrimination affect women, particularly Afro-descendant women, who face greater obstacles in accessing the labor market. The Committee also stressed the need to create as opportunities for women to participate in politics and to hold decision-making roles.

The CERD Committee condemned allegations of harassment, intimidation, and hostility against those who defend the rights of Afro-descendants.

Specifically, the CERD Committee’s Rapporteur for Cuba, Silvio Albuquerque, mentioned violations of the right to freedom of movement. Juan Antonio Madrazo, Coordinator of the Citizen’s Committee for Racial Integration (Comité Ciudadano por la Integración Racial), was prevented from leaving Cuba to participate in the review, and Roberto Mesa, Coordinator of the Black Brotherhood (Cofradia de la Negritud) was arbitrarily detained a few days before he was scheduled to travel.

The representative for Cuba denied any acts of repression taking place against human rights defenders, instead asserting that these individuals pass themselves as human rights defenders but are mercenaries of the United States, paid to make false allegations of human rights violations. In its report, the CERD Committee laments the Cuban government’s denial of these violations and their failure to take measures necessary to investigate them and prevent them from occurring.

Race and Equality observes the statements presented by the Cuban government to the UN CERD Committee with great concern. The lack of specific and conclusive information provided by the government as well as its flat denial of the discrimination and human rights violations suffered by Afro-Cubans is further evidence that discrimination and structural racism are alive and well in the country.

Race and Equality thanks the CERD Committee for the recommendations offered to the Cuban government, which are to be implemented into the laws and policies of the country in order to effectively guarantee the protection of the human rights of all Afro-descendants in Cuba.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Speaking truth to power: Cuban dissident and machete attack victim Sirley Avila Leon addresses the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

"An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained." - Mohandas Gandhi, Young India 1924-1926 (1927), p. 1285

Sirley Avila Leon in Geneva, Switzerland at the statue of Mohandas Gandhi.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has failed to hold the Castro regime accountable, and too often has legitimized the 59 year old dictatorship and its henchman. Lamentably, the Universal Periodic review has also been rendered impotent by the machinations of the despots in Havana, and the indifference of too many democracies around the world. Cubans are being beaten up, mutilated, and murdered by agents of the Cuban government for trying to exercise their human rights and the chief human rights body in the world says nothing about it.

Nevertheless, over the course of this past year Cuban pro-democracy activists journeyed or tried to journey to the UN Human Rights Council to speak truth to power. (Cuban democrats did the same in 2009 and again in 2013 during the first two cycles of the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba). They all spoke truth to power, and their testimony exposes the lies propagated by the Castro dictatorship.

Earlier this week, on September 24, 2018 during Item 6 of the UN Human Rights Council on the general debate over the Universal Periodic Review, one of the victims of repression was able to address the Human Rights Council. Sirley Avila Leon addressed the Council about the May 24, 2015 machete attack orchestrated by Castro regime agents in Cuba. Below is a translation of the original Spanish statement to English:

Item 6: Universal Periodic Review 
39th regular session of the Human Rights Council

Thank you, Mr. President,

My name is Sirley Avila Leon, I am Cuban and I will speak on behalf of UN Watch.

On May 24, 2015 living in Cuba I suffered an attack orchestrated by agents of the state, I was attacked with a machete to kill me cutting off my left hand and right shoulder while I covered my head with them, then cut my knees leaving me disabled for life.

This was not the first attack I suffered, I was previously attacked several times, physically and verbally by the political police in Cuba: they burned my bed, I suffered arbitrary arrests, death threats, economic damages. Only for demanding better living conditions for the peasants and their children in a rural area of Las Tunas.

My case is not isolated. In Cuba, the state continues to violate the human rights of Cubans, murders, imprisons and banishes those who demand rights and repress their families.

 To save my life, in 2016 I escaped from Cuba, since then my son, Yoerlis Peña Avila, has been threatened with death and repressed on several occasions. At this moment I fear for his life.

Mr. President, as a direct victim of repression in Cuba, I ask: How can the Cuban government be a member of the Human Rights Council, committing so many crimes against humanity for 59 years?

Thank you very much.

Later that same day I also spoke before the UN Human Rights Council touching on pressing issues: the continuing unjust imprisonment of Eduardo Cardet; the August 9, 2018 extrajudicial killing of Alejandro Pupo Echemendia, and the threats, harassment and detention of witnesses, family members and rights defenders who spoke out; and finally addressed with great concern the plight of Tomás Núñez Magdariaga, a Cuban political prisoner on his 40th day on hunger strike this past Monday.

The life of Tomás Núñez Magdariaga continues to hang in the balance as he enters his 44th day on hunger strike on Friday.