Monday, December 10, 2018

Cuba's human rights legacy then and now

Human rights and democracy are intrinsic parts of Cuban heritage

Cuba today is an authoritarian dictatorship that systematically violates human rights on the island, destabilizes democracies abroad, such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, while also undermining international human rights standards.

Freedom House provides an annual rating system in a report titled Freedom in the World that ranges from 0 to 100, with 0 being the least free and 100 the most free. In their 2018 report they found that Cuba was not free with an aggregate score of 14/100.
On December 7, 2018 the Secretary General of the Organization American States Luis Almagro described the destabilizing role of Cuba in the Americas.
The Cuban authorities spread violence and illicit practices across countries in the region, Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), said, adding that in Venezuela, the presence of Cubans during torture had been documented. "We must take into account the violence being spread by the Cuban dictatorship. We can set out some examples to clarify. In Venezuela, this year the presence of the Cubans in the torture of people has been documented. It is estimated that the Cuban presence in Venezuela is 46,000 people, an occupation force that teaches torture and repression, that does intelligence work, that does civil documentation and migration work," Almagro said at an OAS conference on human rights in CubaThe OAS secretary general also referred to the testimonies received from people in Nicaragua who said that Cubans had been present while they were being tortured.
The Castro regime's diplomats have played a negative role worldwide and at the United Nations. This a small sample of what they have done over the past six decades.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1964 would brag at the United Nations in  New York City that in Cuba executions had taken place, were taking place and would continue to take place because this was a "struggle to the death."
In the 1970s the Castro regime began a relationship with the military dictatorship in Argentina helping to block efforts to condemn it at the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The military junta had disappeared thousands of Argentine leftists. .

On March 8, 1996 a group of Mexican students belonging to various universities, a federal representative of the PAN Cristián Castaño Contreras, and a Cuban journalist were brutally assaulted by officers and employees of the Cuban embassy during a peaceful demonstration outside of the embassy. The Cuban embassy staff also attacked a student displaying a Mexican flag and tried to destroy it.

On April 14, 2000 nonviolent protesters gathered in front of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC. In the early evening, a band of ten Cuban diplomats, alleged to have been drinking took off their coats, ties and jewelry, began screaming obscenities and yelling threats, and indiscriminately attacked 20 protesters with fists and sticks, even injuring a Secret Service officer.

At the Cuban embassy in Paris on April 24, 2003 Cuban diplomats engaged in the brutal beating of nonviolent protesters with iron bars and threatened them with deadly force. "Not only did members of the embassy come out with iron bars to hit us, but one of them was carrying a firearm, which he loaded while outside the embassy," Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Ménard said. "This new element is extremely serious. It is unacceptable that persons linked to a foreign embassy should commit such offences on French territory."

On April 15, 2004 when the United Nations Human Rights Commission decided by a single vote to censure Cuba for its human rights record a Cuban human rights defender Frank Calzon was physically attacked by members of the Cuban diplomatic delegation. According to Freedom House: "Witnesses said a Cuban delegate punched Mr. Calzon, knocking him unconscious. UN guards reportedly protected him from further assault by additional members of the Cuban delegation."

Costa Rican members of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba led by former president Luis Alberto Monge invited other Latin American and European leaders as well as representatives of civil society to hold a “International Forum for Democracy in Cuba” on the eve of the Ibero-American Summit on November 16, 2004. Cuban diplomats organized an act of repudiation to physically storm the event to use physical intimidation and threats of violence to shut it down after it had started.

On March 28, 2008 the Castro regime’s delegation, together with the Organization of Islamic Congress, successfully passed resolutions that turned the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression into an investigator into abuses of freedom of expression.

On February 2, 2009 during the Universal Periodic Review of China, Cuban Ambassador, Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios officially recommended that the Chinese regime repress human rights defenders in China with more firmness.

On May 28, 2009 amidst a human rights crisis in Sri Lanka the Cuban government's diplomats took the lead and successfully blocked efforts to address the wholesale slaughter there.

On May 22, 2010 Norwegian media reported that Cuban diplomat, Carmen Julia Guerra, insulted, threatened, and bit a young Norwegian woman, Alexandra Joner age 19, of Cuban descent on her mother's side while she was across the street from the Cuban embassy in Oslo. She was filming a non-violent demonstration in solidarity with the Ladies in White and in remembrance of martyred Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo. The main national newspaper in Norway, Aftenposten, photographed the young girl with bite marks on her hand.
On January 28, 2012 in the Dominican Republic the Cuban ambassador physically assaulted a 70 year old Cuban exile who had screamed "Down with Fidel! Down with the Castros!" This same diplomat had been already expelled by the United States in 1995 for beating up peaceful demonstrators in New York City.

On March 17, 2014 the UN Human Rights Council “was divided” in its discussion of the atrocities in North Korea between those who want the case to be elevated to the International Criminal Court and those who reject outright the existence of a commission of inquiry and conclusions. The Castro regime defended the North Korean regime and denounced the inquiry.

On April 8, 2015 Cuban diplomats streamed out of the the Cuban Embassy in Panama attacking civil society representatives who at the time were laying flowers at a bust of Jose Marti in a public park nearby. Several activists were injured and at least one required surgery. During the Summit of the Americas Cuban diplomats disrupted official meetings in order to block Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents from taking part, despite being officially accredited.

The pattern repeated itself in 2018. The regime brought in shock troops to disrupt events and physically and verbally threaten and assault attendees who dissented from the official line. One of the Castro regime's shock troops attending the Summit of the Americas was identified when he arrived in Peru. His name is Ronaldo Hidalgo Rivera. He was one of the men who knocked down Daniel Llorente Miranda (age 52) a Cuban dissident on May 1, 2017 as he ran with a flag of the United States outstretched in his arms over his head. 
On August 15, 2018 the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UN-CERD) met in Geneva to examine racism in Cuba. The Castro regime representative testified before the Committee that "racial discrimination is not a generalized problem in Cuba, there has been just one complaint of discrimination. Measures were taken: the perpetrator was sanctioned and the victim seemed satisfied. There are very few isolated cases." The regime also claimed that there are no racial majorities or minorities. Meanwhile Cuban dissidents of African descent that wanted to address the problem of racism in Cuba were barred from traveling to address the Committee. 
On September 21, 2018 Cuban Ambassador to the UN, Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, during the Universal Periodic Review on Cuba at the UN Human Rights Council stated that “our country will not accept monitors. Amnesty International will not enter Cuba and we do not need their advice.” 
Cuban diplomats led an "act of repudiation" on October 16, 2018 at the United Nations to prevent a discussion on the plight of political prisoners in Cuba at a side event organized by the United States.

It was not always this way.

70 years ago a democratic Cuba played key roles in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the establishment of the UN Human Rights Commission. Cuba's last democratic president, Carlos Prio Socarras, was elected by Cubans in free and fair elections on July 1, 1948 and assumed office on October 10, 1948. He was a democrat who respected civil liberties and presided over years of prosperity and freedom for Cubans.

President Prio belonged to the Autentico Party and was succeeding Ramon Grau San Martin, another member of the same political party, in the Cuban presidency who had completed his four year term. Both men respected human rights, and this was reflected by the actions taken by their diplomats at the founding of the United Nations.

Beginning in 1945 Cuba took part in lobbying for and participating in the drafting of the declaration and submitted nine proposals of which five made it into the final document. The first meetings of the General Assembly and the Security Council took place in London starting on January 10, 1946.

Cuban Ambassador Willy De Blanc in December of 1945 invited former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to lunch at the Cuban Embassy in London with other Cuban diplomats (including delegates to the U.N. Preparatory Commission Dr. Guy Pérez-Cisneros y Bonnel and Cuban jurist Dr. Ernesto Dihigo y López Trigo) where they requested his assistance in the creation of a human rights commission for the United Nations. Churchill recommended that the Cubans lobby Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, and they followed his advice. Eventually the former First Lady was selected as chairwoman to the Human Rights Commission.

Cuba, Panama, and Chile were the first three countries to submit full drafts of human rights charters to the Commission. The Cuban draft contained references to rights to education, food, and health care, and other social security. Latin American delegations, especially Mexico, Cuba, and Chile inserted language about the right to justice into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in what would become Article 8.

Guy Pérez-Cisneros and Ernesto Dihigo
Cuban delegate Guy Pérez-Cisneros in his speech on December 10, 1948 proposing to vote on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights before the third General Assembly of the United Nations in addition to highlighting the importance of the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and how it inspired the Third Committee’s work on this document also addressed the importance of the rule of law:
My delegation had the honor of inspiring the final text, which finds it essential that the rights of man be protected by the rule of law, so that man will not be compelled to exercise the extreme recourse of rebellion against tyranny and oppression.
The Cuban delegate also celebrated that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights condemned racism and sexism.
"My country and my people are highly satisfied to see that the odious racial discrimination and the unfair differences between men and women have been condemned forever."
This democratic Cuba was overthrown on March 10, 1952 by a military coup led by Fulgencio Batista and hopes of a democratic restoration were dashed by the rise to power of the Castro brothers on January 1, 1959 who established a six decade long dictatorship.

Guy Pérez-Cisneros died suddenly in 1953 trying to establish a Christian Democrat Party in Cuba in the early years of the Batista regime.

Ernesto Dihigo, like Pérez-Cisneros, left the diplomatic corps following the 1952 coup, but returned in 1959 as Cuba’s Ambassador to the United States in January of 1959 but retired in 1960. No longer a diplomat or a college professor, he dedicated the next forty years of his life to private study focused on philology. He left Cuba, with his wife Caridad Larrondo in 1989 and died in Miami in 1991.

President Carlos Prio Socarras
Cuba's last democratic president, Carlos Prio Socarras, returned to Cuba in 1959 hoping there would be a democratic restoration. Two years later, in 1961, he was back in exile plotting the overthrow of the Castro regime. Regretting that he had supported Castro’s overthrow of Fulgencio Batista, and apparently suffering economic reversals he committed suicide on April 5, 1977.

Martha Frayde
This Cuban tradition of defending human rights and democracy did not end with the death of Carlos Prio. On January 28, 1976 Ricardo Bofill, a former philosophy tutor at the University of Havana, together with Martha Frayde at her home in Havana founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights. Prior to the Revolution Martha had been a licensed gynecologist who had studied abroad. She was active in the Orthodox Party and joined the underground resistance during the Batista dictatorship.

During the early years of the Castro regime Martha Frayde was given a diplomatic posting. However, when she saw that the Castro regime was heading in a totalitarian direction, she resigned the post in 1965, and wanted to leave Cuba, but the dictatorship did not permit it. In 1976 she was accused of “counterrevolutionary conspiracy” and sentenced to 29 years in prison, but the international outrage following the military show trial led to her being exiled to Spain in 1979.

Over the next 34 years she represented the Cuban Committee for Human Rights in Spain. Ambassador Frayde never backed down from her non-violent resistance: "The Cubans inside are the ones who have to say and decide and are those who, in short, have to achieve change and count on Cubans from the exile for the reconstruction."

Ricardo Bofill
Ricardo Bofill spent twelve years in a Cuban prison for his defense of human rights. Emerging from prison he continued his work in Cuba until 1988 when left the island and continued the work of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights in Miami.

The mission of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights is for the Cuban government to comply with the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Cuba had signed in 1948. This legacy lives on in the Cuban democratic resistance to the Castro regime today.

On  Tuesday, December 11th in Washington, DC at 1pm we will revisit this human rights legacy with Cuban human rights defenders. Register here to join us and to obtain more information on the event.


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