Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Remembering Cuba's last democratically elected president and the many years of dictatorship since 1952

"They say that I was a terrible president of Cuba. That may be true. But I was the best president Cuba ever had." - President Carlos Prio Socarras, the last democratically elected president of Cuba

Carlos Prio Socarras, Cuba's last freely elected president
Past is prologue 

Cuba's last democratic president, Carlos Prio Socarras, was elected by Cubans in free and fair elections on July 1, 1948 and assumed office 70 years ago this month on October 10, 1948. He was not perfect, but he was a democrat who respected civil liberties and presided over years of prosperity and freedom for Cubans. On his watch Cuban diplomats played an important role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He warned Cubans not to be consumed by hatred, but his warnings were not heeded.

An authoritarian dictatorship was imposed by Fulgencio Batista in Cuba on March 10, 1952 that was both unexpected and unwanted but that drove President Prio Socarras from office. However there were numerous newspapers, radio and television stations that challenged the Batista regime along with a vibrant civil society that struggled and protested against the government for seven years.

Fulgencio Batista overthrew Cuba's last democratic president in 1952
Sadly, many in Cuba were seduced by the seductive call to revolutionary violence to overthrow the Batista regime in order to restore the old democratic order. On July 26, 1953 with the assault on the Moncada Barracks that was a military disaster for Castro but a great public relations move that made him a household name in the island. However it was not the military successes that won Castro the day but the ability to manipulate the political situation. Fidel Castro's July 26th Movement successfully lobbied Washington to impose an arms embargo on Batista on March 14, 1958, and the old dictator seeing that the United States was siding with the enemy made the calculated decision to flee on December 31, 1958.

Now with the arrival of the Castro regime in 1959 promising the restoration of democracy and the rule of law – the exact opposite was done. Mass executions were broadcast and filmed to terrorize the population. While Fidel Castro claimed to be a defender of freedom of expression, independent newspaper editors, were first warned that their lives were at hazard if they wrote critically against the regime and by May 13, 1960 all of the independent newspapers were shutdown, on occasion by violent mobs organized by the dictatorship. They were replaced with regime publications subordinated to the communist party line to the present day. The same was done with all radio and television stations. This took place while Cuba and the United States had normal diplomatic relations. Relations did not end until January 3, 1961.

Realizing that the Castro regime was allying itself with the Soviet Union and seeking to destabilize and overthrow neighboring states, the United States attempted to overthrow the dictatorship in Cuba in April of 1961 at the Bay of Pigs with a force of Cuban exiles that failed and instead consolidated the Castro regime.

On December 2, 1961 Castro explained the reason for the lie that he was not a communist: "If we had paused to tell the people that we were Marxist-Leninists while we were on Pico Turquino and not yet strong, it is possible that we would never have been able to descend to the plains." Communism and the communist party were deeply unpopular in Cuba because of its links to the Batista regime.

Fidel Castro and Huber Matos in 1959
 Cuba's democratic resistance
As the totalitarian dictatorship became evident, Cuba's democratic resistance defied the Castro regime in two phases: 1959-1966 (violent resistance) and 1976 - present (non-violent resistance).
Those who had fought by Castro's side in good faith believing it was a struggle to restore democracy became uneasy with the course of the revolution. Some, like Huber Matos, Julio Ruiz Pitaluga, and Mario Chanes de Armas who spoke out spent decades in prison. Many, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro, returned to the hills of the Escambray to carry on the struggle for the democratic restoration. This resistance was crushed in 1966 after the Castro regime had five years of assistance from 400 Soviet counterinsurgency advisors.

Ten years later on January 28, 1976 a candle of resistance was re-lit in Cuba and a new type of struggle for freedom initiated when Ricardo Bofill together with Marta Frayde at her home in Havana founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights.

These groups documented human rights violations in Cuba, and distributed copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their reports reached the United Nations Human Rights Commission and non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Over time this dissident movement went from documenting abuses to mobilizing Cubans to demand their rights.

Cuban healthcare facility
Healthcare and Education claims
Katherine Hirschfeld, an associate professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, in her book Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898 describes how her idealistic preconceptions were dashed by 'discrepancies between rhetoric and reality,' she observed a repressive, bureaucratized and secretive system, long on 'militarization' and short on patients' rights.
"Public criticism of the government is a crime in Cuba," and as a result "formally eliciting critical narratives about health care would be viewed as a criminal act." Hirschfeld also says that because Cuba recognizes that its health care system is a key way to impress the rest of the world, there is pressure to paint an overly rosy picture. For instance, filmmaker Michael Moore championed Cuba's health care system as superior to the United State in his 2007 documentary "Sicko," but critics later said he was given VIP treatment when he visited the island. In addition, Hirschfeld says that "individual doctors are pressured by their superiors to reach certain statistical targets," and face the possibility of being fired if there is an increase in infant mortality in their district. "There is pressure to falsify statistics," Hirschfeld says.

The focus on outcomes may also lead to heavy-handed patient care. According to Hirschfeld, "Cuba does have a very low infant mortality rate, but pregnant women are treated with very authoritarian tactics to maintain [favorable] statistics." Furthermore Roberto M. Gonzalez in his 2015 study on Infant Mortality in Cuba: Myth and Reality concludes that “that Cuba’s reported IMR seems very misleading. By exploring a sharp discrepancy between late fetal and early neonatal deaths, I develop a method for adjusting Cuba’s reported IMR. The results indicate that the adjusted IMR might be twice the reported one.”

According to Gonzalez, even with these adjusted numbers, Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower that most Latin American countries but might not be the lowest (Costa Rica and Chile might have lower IMR’s).

There is a health care system which is decent for regime elites in good favor and tourists with hard currency and another one for everyday Cubans that is not. There have been outbreaks of cholera and dengue. In 1997 when a Dengue epidemic broke out in Cuba the dictatorship tried to cover it up. When a courageous doctor spoke out he was locked up on June 25, 1997 and later sentenced to 8 years in prison. Amnesty International recognized Dr. Desi Mendoza Rivero as a prisoner of conscience. He was released from prison under condition he go into exile in December of 1998. The regime eventually had to recognize that there had been a dengue epidemic.

Imagine for a moment the tools of psychiatry used against an individual for their political beliefs.
Amnesty International raised the issue in their report Psychiatry: A Human Rights Perspective in 1995:
In Cuba, there have been allegations in recent years that not only the criminally insane but also political prisoners have been sent to forensic wards of state psychiatric institutions where they are kept in unhygienic and dangerous conditions and where they are exposed to ill-treatment either at the hands of staff or fellow inmates.
Observers need to take into account that in addition to the negligence and indifference to human suffering that led to a situation in which more than 40 patients died of malnutrition and exposure to cold in a tropical country that this psychiatric hospital was also employed in the mistreatment and torture of Cuban dissidents and human rights activists. Worse yet, it is still happening today.

This also ignores that prior to Fidel Castro's dictatorship Cuba already had a decent healthcare system by international standards.

Children in Cuba are indoctrinated not educated.
The Slovak-based People in Peril conducted a study between 2005 and 2006 that generated a 77 page analysis, What is the future of education in Cuba?, that a decade ago found an educational system in ruins . Eliska Slavikova of People in Peril interviewed by El Nuevo Herald on October 23, 2007 observed ''Cuban education is destroyed, with grave problems like the deterioration of the schools, the predominance of ideology over teaching and the bad preparation of teachers.'' The study made the following findings:
• There's been a ''pronounced'' departure of teachers to other jobs because of low salaries and the lack of social recognition.
• Many teachers also left their jobs because of the government's growing ideological pressures. The primary objective of education is the formation of future revolutionary communists.
• The great majority of schools lack the equipment and installations needed to provide a good education.
• High school graduates have been put to teach after only an eight-month special course. But much of the teaching now is done through educational TV channels. 

Page from first grade textbook in Cuba to indoctrinate children.
 A later analyses of Cuba's educational system in 2008 and more recently in 2015 arrived at the same conclusions on lack of quality, resources and continued politicization of the curriculum. Although Amnesty International mentions "people who have been expelled from university for accessing 'unapproved' information" there is no mention of students expelled and professors fired for their political views or familial ties to Cuban dissidents.

Promoting worldwide armed struggle at the Tricontinental

 The Tricontinental
According to Major David E. Smith USMC in his 1995 paper "The Training of Terrorist Organizations":
Although terrorism originated centuries ago, modern international terrorism orchestrated by the Soviet Union arguably began at the Tricontinental Conference conceived by Moscow and conducted in Havana, Cuba during January l966.[13] The purpose of the conference was to devise a "global revolutionary strategy to counter the global strategy of American imperialism."[14] It resulted in the creation of an African, Asian, and Latin American Solidarity Organization based in Havana. The Conference also passed resolutions advocating outside aid for groups fighting for "liberation". During late l966, the Cubans opened a number of training camps for guerrilla fighters in Cuba that were under Soviet supervision. Palestinian groups began sending students to these facilities on the "Isle of Pines" during l966, and upon graduation, those students spawned the terrorist groups that exploded in the Middle East during the l97O's. Castro's terrorism schools were under the supervision of the Dirección General de Inteligencia (DGI). Students were flown into the country from connecting airports, or arrived in Cuban harbors by boat. Upon debarkation in Havana, they were segregated by nationality and moved to their individual training locations. The guerrilla courses lasted from three to six months. Subject material included "tactics, weapons training, bomb making- particularly how to blow up oil pipelines, map reading, cryptography, photography, falsification of documents, and disguise."
Tricontinental Conference in Havana in 1966 was a call to violence

There was an upsurge of terrorism in the late 1960s and 1970s and some of the artifacts from that time remain in circulation today. In 1970 the Cuban government published the "Mini Manual for Revolutionaries" in the official Latin American Solidarity Organization (LASO) publication Tricontinental. It was written by Brazilian urban terrorist Carlos Marighella, and it gives precise instructions on terror tactics, kidnappings, etc. and was translated into numerous languages which were distributed worldwide by the Cuban government. This is an excerpt from the chapter advocating terrorism:
Terrorism is an action, usually involving the placement of an explosive or firebomb of great destructive power, which is capable of effecting irreparable loss against the enemy. Terrorism requires that the urban guerrilla should have adequate theoretical and practical knowledge of how to make explosives. The terrorist act, apart from the apparent ease with which it can be carried out, is no different from other guerrilla acts and actions whose success depends on planning and determination. It is an action which the urban guerrilla must execute with the greatest calmness and determination. Although terrorism generally involves an explosion, there are cases in which it may be carried out through executions or the systematic burning of installations, properties, plantations, etc. It is essential to point out the importance of fires and the construction of incendiary devices such as gasoline bombs in the technique of guerrilla terrorism. […] Terrorism is a weapon the revolutionary can never relinquish.
Daniel Ortega first came to power in 1979 in Nicaragua thanks to the active assistance of Cuban troops, Castro's intelligence service, and trainings in guerilla warfare that overthrew Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza after a long and bloody struggle.

Sao Paulo Forum in 2018 met in Havana, Cuba

 Foro de Sao Paulo or the Sao Paulo Forum
In 1990 many believed that the Cold War was over. Fidel Castro and a handful of radical left wing political parties and terrorist organizations believed otherwise and began plotting their comeback.
Ortega was voted out of office in free, fair, and internationally supervised elections after a long and bloody war in 1990. In 1990 following a request made by Fidel Castro to Lula Da Silva the Sao Paulo Forum was established with the goal: “To reconquer in Latin America all that we lost in East Europe.” The FSP is a communist network comprised of over 100 left wing political parties, various social movements, and guerrilla terrorist organizations such as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Chilean Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). This network helped set the course for the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela that was a game changer regionally.

With the help of Venezuela's riches and the corruption of some of Nicaragua's politicians Daniel Ortega was able to return to power in Nicaragua in 2007 through the ballot box with a minority of the popular vote.

Today the Nicaraguan strong man is engaged in an existential struggle murdering hundreds of his countrymen and torturing thousands more, but the Sandinista's are not alone. The members of the São Paulo Forum go beyond words and take action. Nicaraguan student leader Victor Cuadras on July 13, 2018 explained that "there are many people who, while being tortured, heard the accents of Venezuela and Cuba in the clandestine prisons.”

Cuban general Ramiro Valdes has spent a lot of time in Venezuela.
 Cuban role in the rise of Chavism
In addition to domestic repressive forces there is a foreign presence heavily embedded in the Venezuelan military and intelligence services. The head of the opposition National Assembly of Venezuela on May 15, 2016 was complaining, over social media, of the presence of 60 Cuban officers. This included a Cuban general, who he identified by the last name Gregorich, who had a leadership role that included issuing orders to Venezuelan troops. Capitol Hill Cubans identified the Cuban General as Raul Acosta Gregorich.

It is also surprising that when reviewing Cuban involvement in Venezuela that the February 2010 hiring of Ramiro Valdes, then age 77, "as a consultant for that country's energy crisis" did not raise more eyebrows. He is viewed by some Cuba experts as "the No. 3 man in the Cuban hierarchy."
The Castro regime's interest in Venezuela began from the earliest days of the dictatorship.

Venezuelans understood the threat poised by the Cubans by 1960 when Ernesto "Che" Guevara was giving unsolicited advice to Rómulo Betancourt, the democratically elected president of Venezuela. Guevara called for Betancourt to use the firing squad against his "rightist opponents." In 1963 Congressional Quarterly reported on how:
"Riots led by Communists and other pro-Castro elements in Caracas [in the autumn of 1960] took the lives of 13 persons and injured 100. Venezuela recalled its ambassador to Cuba, and Betancourt ordered out the army to end the rioting, which he termed an attempt to “install a regime similar to that in Cuba.” Cuban Communist leader Blas Roca, told a Havana rally on January 23, 1963 that when the communists gained full control and “make themselves owners of the great riches in oil, aluminum and everything their earth imprisons, then all of America shall burn.” A cache of three tons of weapons was found on a Venezuelan beach in November 1963 that was to be used to disrupt the democratic elections there.
Fidel Castro would continue to agitate for revolution in Venezuela. A well documented incident occurred on May 8, 1967 and was reported by Francisco Toro in The Washington Post who described how: "two small boats carrying a dozen heavily armed fighters made landfall near Machurucuto, a tiny fishing village 100 miles east of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Their plan was to march inland and recruit Venezuelan peasants to the cause of socialist revolution." An all night gun battle with the Venezuelan military led to nine guerrillas dead, two captured, and one who had escaped.

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

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

What is not generally known are the consequences for the United States and the role the Castro regime plays in this. There are numerous news reports about the Venezuelan regime's links to international drug trafficking, and that U.S. investigations point to high ranking officials in Venezuela turning the country "into a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering," but little is said about the Castro regime's decades long involvement in it that still continues. Panamanian police seized more than 400 kilograms of cocaine in a Cuban ship on its way to Belgium in April of 2016.
Cuba was placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on March 1, 1982, less than three months after the US State Department confirmed that the Cuban government was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democratic government.

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

However it is no longer just Cuba but a hemisphere wide totalitarian network that carries out mass murder, torture and narcotics trafficking to fuel violent revolution. The fruits of the Castro regime have caused great harm throughout the hemisphere and around the world.

It is also important to remember the positive legacy of Carlos Prio Socarras and the Cuban diplomats that helped usher in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This is the antithesis of the Castro regime and the democratic legacy that needs to be restored and improved upon.

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