Friday, February 21, 2020

Vigil at Cuban Embassy Feb 20th for OZT & BTTR, others plan events for 2/23 for OZT & 2/24 for BTTR


Last night on February 20, 2020 human rights activists gathered outside of the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC in a silent vigil for justice to remember Orlando Zapata Tamayo killed by the Castro regime on February 23, 2010 while on hunger strike, and the four members of Brothers to the Rescue shot down by the Castro regime MiGs on February 24, 1996, while Armando Alejandre Jr. (45 years old), Carlos Alberto Costa (29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (24), and Pablo Morales (29) were in two planes engaged in a search and rescue flight for rafters.

Others carried photos of Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá martyred by the Castro regime in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

The Center for a Free Cuba obtained a permit from the Washington DC Metro Police to hold the vigil, and the Free Cuba Foundation publicized the event.

The silent vigil began at 7:00pm and concluded with a prayer by Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso for Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Alberto Costa, Mario Manuel de la Peña, Pablo Morales, and other martyrs of the regime, and for the freedom of the Cuban people.

On Sunday, February 23 at 3:00pm, the time Orlando Zapata Tamayo died, there will be a vigil at the Bay of Pigs Monument (Torch) on Cuban Memorial Boulevard located at 806 SW 13th Ave, Miami, FL 33135. Details on the vigil were announced on WWFE 830 AM. by Mercedes Perdigón of Exilio Unido in an interview with Carlos Santana.

On Monday, February 24, at 3:00pm friends and families of Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Alberto Costa, Mario Manuel de la Peña, and Pablo Morales, and members of the FIU community will gather and hold a vigil to remember them and silently demand justice 24 years after the shoot down.

The vigil will take place at Florida International University ( University Park campus) located at 11200 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33199 at the main fountain next to the Main Library and Student Union. The silent vigil take place start at 3:21pm and end at 3:27pm, the times the two Brothers to the Rescue planes were destroyed by missiles launched from Castro's MiGs killing Armando, Carlos, Mario, and Pablo. This vigil has been taking place at FIU annually since 1996.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report on the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shootdown in 1999 and a press release on the February 23, 2010 killing of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Shadow Human Rights Summit: A Voice for the Voiceless

The 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – February 18, 2020 

2020 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

Human rights heroes to spotlight Algeria, China, Cuba, Hong Kong, Iran, Malawi, Mauritania, Pakistan, and Venezuela. This is the 12th time that human rights defenders are gathering at this important shadow human rights summit.  It was broadcast live on February 18, 2020 over the live stream video below.

Cuba was highlighted during the summit with a presentation by Laritza Diversent of Cubalex. She described how her legal aide service was shut down by the secret police, and how the dictatorship made threats against her person for being a human rights defender. Below is a quote taken twitter earlier today.

Liberal International also reported over Twitter on her presentation and the fact that free legal advice is not one of the 240 services permitted by the Cuban government.

Venezuela was featured with political leaders of the interim government, intellectuals, and Rosa Orozco, the mother of Geraldine Moreno, a Venezuelan martyr.  The 23 year old university student and athlete, who was shot repeatedly in the face by Bolivarian National Guard members on February 19, 2014 during a protest in Venezuela. Geraldine died three days later on February 22, 2014. Six years later, her mom continues to demand justice.

This was Geraldine. This is the human face of repression in Venezuela multiplied thousands of times.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Brothers to the Rescue, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the power of non-violence

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." - Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture 1986

Ideas have consequences, often rooted in actions that continue to have ripple effects across time. The Brothers to the Rescue nonviolent constructive program that began in 1991, saving thousands of lives in the Florida Straits, is still having positive impacts today.

Resisting injustice often comes at a cost, and Cubans and Cuban-Americans have suffered for their defense of human rights. This cost is raised when international solidarity declines and the dictatorship believes that it can operate with impunity. 

Mario de la Peña, Carlos Acosta, Armando Alejandre and Pablo Morales were blown out of the sky by two missiles launched by a Cuban MiG at 3:21pm and 3:27pm on February 24, 1996 on the orders of Raul Castro that destroyed two Brothers to the Rescue planes engaged in search and rescue of Cuban rafters in international airspace in the Florida Straits.

This took place while the Clinton Administration sought to improve relations with the Castro regime and began in 1994 regular contacts between U.S. and Cuban military, including joint military exercises.

Despite the danger, Brothers to the Rescue would continue its search and rescue missions for another seven years, ending in 2003Jose Basulto in 2010, who was in the lone plane that returned on the day of the shoot down, remained committed, “today we are sharing a message that people can solve their own problems. You also can be Brothers to the Rescue and create your own help organizations.” Basulto estimates that Brothers to the Rescue "saved some 4,200 rafters fleeing Cuba during the 1990s," and he added, "the experience of saving someone in the Straits of Florida was something that stays with you – we were hunting to save lives.”
This civic movement was engaged in what Mohandas Gandhi described as a constructive program. The Metta Center, an organization that provides educational resources on the safe and effective use of nonviolence, says that "it describes nonviolent action taken within a community to build structures, systems, processes or resources that are positive alternatives to oppression. It can be seen as self-improvement of both community and individual."

Brothers to the Rescue created a community structure where pilot volunteers representing 19 different nationalities flew over the Florida Straits searching for Cuban rafters for over a decade.

Fourteen years separate these five martyrs joined together in their nonviolent resistance to injustice in Cuba, and the positive defense of human rights combined with moments that U.S. outreach to the dictatorship, along with a distancing from Cuban democrats, led to their murders by the Castro dictatorship.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was by vocation both a brick layer and a human rights activist. He gathered signatures for the Varela Project, a citizen initiative to amend the Cuban constitution with the objective of bringing Cuba in line with international human rights standards. Orlando was repeatedly arrested for his human rights activism on July 3, 2002, October 28, 2002 and in November 2002.
Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet sought to promote human rights organizing "Friends of Human Rights" teach-ins. State security blocked them holding one at the home of Raúl Arencibia Fajardo on December 6, 2002. Oscar Biscet, Orlando Zapata, Virgilio Marante and 12 others held a sit-in in the street in protest and chanted "long live human rights" and "freedom for political prisoners." They were all
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was released on March 8, 2003, but Biscet, Marante Güelmes, and Arencibia Fajardo remained jailed. On the March 20, 2003 while taking part in a fast at the Jesús Yánez Pelletier Foundation, in Havana, to demand the release of his three colleagues. Orlando was taken to the Villa Marista State Security Headquarters and remained jailed for the rest of his life. 
Orlando toured Cuba's jails, including Quivicán Prison, Guanajay Prison, and Combinado del Este Prison in Havana. Amnesty International reported that on October 20, 2003 Orlando was dragged along the floor of Combinado del Este Prison by officials, leaving his back full of lacerations because he had requested medical attention. 

On May 18, 2004 Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Virgilio Marante Güelmes, and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo were each sentenced to three years in prison for contempt for authority, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in a one-day trial. Orlando Zapata Tamayo would maintain his commitment to non-violent resistance while jailed. He suffered numerous beatings and new charges of disobedience and disrespect adding decades to his prison sentence in eight additional trials.

The Castro regime announced on February 23, 2010 that Orlando Zapata Tamayo had died in their custody.  Imprisoned since 2003 he had suffered physical and psychological torture over seven years,  and while on his final hunger strike was denied water by prison officials contributing to his death. The Global Nonviolent Action Database described what happened in greater detail:
"To further discourage Tamayo, the prison director, Major Filiberto Hernández Luis, denied him water for 18 days, taking away his only sustenance. The forced dehydration induced a kidney failure, and Tamayo was taken to Amalia Simoni Hospital in Camaguay where he was fed intravenously against his will. Tamayo’s condition worsened when he developed pneumonia in the hospital bed and was transferred to a hospital at Combinado del Este prison, which did not have the capacity to treat him."
It happened while the Obama Administration sought to improve relations with the Castro regime, refused to meet with Cuban dissidents in 2009, and did not make the release of Alan Gross, an American taken hostage in Cuba in December 2009, a priority.  This signaled to the Castro regime that Orlando Zapata Tamayo could die in 2010, and it would not effect US-Cuba relations, and sadly they were right.

Laura Pollán marches with Orlando Zapata's mom Reina Luisa Tamayo in Cuba
Worse yet this failure of solidarity with Cuba's democratic opposition over the next two years would claim the lives of national opposition leaders Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, of the Ladies in White (2011) and  Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante, of the Christian Liberation Movement (2012). Both had mourned and protested the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010.
Oswaldo Payá remembered Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February 2010
On February 3, 2015, Rosa María Payá testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee indicted the indifference of the US government and the international community: "The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the U.S. government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages."

However the power of nonviolence is so great that even without the support of Western democracies Cubans "can solve their own problems" and create their own help organizations that save thousand of lives and through an act of nonviolent resistance force the dictatorship to respond to Zapata's demands.

Cuban human rights defender Orlando Zapata Tamayo's hunger strike in 2009-2010 placed a national and international focus on human rights in Cuba that within two years led to the release of 75 other Cuban prisoners of conscience arrested along with him in March of 2003.

Sadly there have been others before and after Orlando Zapata Tamayo: a partial list includes Roberto López Chávez (1966), Luis Alvarez Ríos (1967), Carmelo Cuadra Hernández (1969), Pedro Luis Boitel (1972), Olegario Charlot Pileta (1973), Reinaldo Cordero Izquierdo (1975),  José Barrios Pedré (1977) and Wilmar Villar Mendoza (2012). 

Non-violence is a method of struggle that requires both strategy and tactics. Cuba's dissident movement over the years had improved its capacity to carry out non-violent actions beginning with the Cuban Committee for Human Rights (1976) and reaching a high point with the Varela Project ( 2001-2004) and in the Cuban diaspora with Brothers to the Rescue (1991 - 2003).

However the Castro regime is not a static entity and it responds with violence, and misinformation to cover up its misdeeds, crush dissent, and it is relentless. This is why it is important for human rights defenders and advocates of a free Cuba to be persistent, protest on important anniversaries, remember the martyrs, and let others continue to know what happened. 

DIA analyst and Cuban mole Ana Belen Montes
In 1996, the regime tried to destroy Brothers to the Rescue in an act of state terrorism, mobilizing spies in South Florida, and at least one high ranking spy in the US government (Ana Belen Montes) to conduct in influence operation prior to the attack to gather and intelligence, and to spin a story favorable to the dictatorship in the press to blame the victims.

Friends of Armando, Carlos, Mario, and Pablo mourn their murders.
Brothers to the Rescue continues to maintain a website with documented information on the February 24, 1996 shoot down and on the history of the organization. Jose Basulto continues to demand truth and justice. International human rights organizations provided reports on the February 24, 1996 shoot down.
Vigil will be held again at Florida International University at 3pm on February 24th
The families of Mario de la Peña, Carlos Acosta, Armando Alejandre and Pablo Morales sued the Castro regime in the courts, denounced the freeing of Gerardo Hernandez in 2014 who was serving a life sentence for his role in the murder conspiracy that cost these four men their lives, and continue to observe at Florida International University on February 24th a silent vigil between 3:21pm and 3:27pm, the times both planes were shot down and hold Mass in their memory.

In 2010, the dictatorship tried to rewrite Orlando Zapata Tamayo's past denying that he was a dissident. This necessitated erasing their own propaganda attacks again him in prior years.

The civic nonviolent resistance recognizing this pushed back. When Brazilian president, and Castro ally, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva referred to Orlando as a common criminal Cuban exiles occupied the Brazilian Consulate in Miami in protest. Fact sheets were prepared and documentaries about Orlando Zapata Tamayo prepared and disseminated.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel explained in his 1986 Nobel Lecture why it is important to remember:  "To forget the victims means to kill them a second time. So I couldn't prevent the first death. I surely must be capable of saving them from a second death." This is why on Thursday, February 20, 2020 at 7:00pm there will be a vigil in memory of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on the 10th anniversary of his untimely death and the four Brothers to the Rescue members, Mario de la Peña, Carlos Acosta, Armando Alejandre and Pablo Morales, killed 24 years ago.

Truth and memory for those killed in defiance of the attempt by the dictatorship to whitewash and forget. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

Castro again defaults on payments to Paris Club, but purchases more US products for cash than under Obama thaw

What the Chamber of Commerce won't tell you about trade with the Castro regime.
Under the Trump Administration trade has increased with Cuba.
Taken from CubaBrief

The United States since 2000 has not provided credits to the Castro regime and maintained a cash in advance trade arrangement for the purchase of agricultural and pharmaceutical products. This protects U.S. taxpayers from having to subsidize the Cuban dictatorship when it defaults on its financial obligations. Their European, Latin American and Asian counterparts cannot say the same to their respective taxpayers.

Under this cash in advance agreement American companies sold over $6.3 billion to the Castro regime and have gotten paid. Despite billions in debt forgiveness  on its restructured debt less than five years ago by the Paris Club, the Cuban dictatorship in 2019 again defaulted on its payments, reported Reuters on February 11, 2020.

How did the Castro regime raise the money to purchase U.S. goods?

James Prevor, President and Editor in Chief of the publication Produce Business in the October 2002 article, Cuba Caution, reported that Cuba "had exhausted all its credit lines and, at best, was simply rotating the accounts. When the opportunity came to buy from the United States, Cuba simply abandoned all those suppliers who supported the country for 40 years and began buying from us."

The suppliers were not the ones impacted by Cuba's failure to pay its debts, the taxpayers of the suppliers' home countries were the one's left holding the bag. The dirty little secret is that profit is private but risk has been socialized in what amounts to a perversion of capitalism.

On November 1, 2013 the government of Mexico announced that it was ready to waive 70 percent of a debt worth nearly $500 million that Cuba owes it. The former president of Mexico Vicente Fox protested the move stating: “Let the Cubans get to work and generate their own money…They’re normally like chupacabras.  The only thing they’re looking for is someone to give them money for free.”

“Let the Cubans get to work and generate their own money…They’re normally like chupacabras." - President Vicente Fox
In December 2015 it was announced that Spain would forgive $1.7 billion that the Castro regime owes it. In December of 2013, Russia and Cuba quietly signed an agreement to write off $29 billion of Cuba's debt to the former superpower. Western governments pursued Cuban maritime debts seizing Cuban vessels and negotiating payment through Canadian courts.

The 2015 debt restructuring accord between Cuba and the Paris Club, according to Reuters, "forgave $8.5 billion of $11.1 billion, representing debt Cuba defaulted on in 1986, plus charges."

The 19-member Paris Club owed money by Cuba is comprised of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Companies, with the exception of American companies, doing business with Cuba when they are not paid pass the costs off to their respective governments, who in turn pass the costs off to taxpayers.

This is something to consider when the Chamber of Commerce argues that U.S. laws should be changed and the United States should join the long line of governments seeking to collect from the Castro regime, a deadbeat dictatorship.

Lastly, it is important to note that the U.S. Census Bureau documented the collapse of trade in goods with Cuba under the Obama thaw and have actually improved during the Trump Administration, despite tightened sanctions.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Venezuela's National Youth Day on February 12, 2014 was a defining moment: Students rose up and Maduro murdered them.

"Gentlemen, he who is here will go out tomorrow to find a better future." - Bassil Alejandro Dacosta, age 24 , over Facebook on February 11, 2014. He was murdered the next day by the Maduro regime.

Robert Redman and Bassil Alejandro Dacosta murdered six years ago today
Six years ago today nonviolent student protesters Bassil Da Costa and Robert Redman were gunned down on February 12, 2014 in Venezuela, while engaged in nonviolent street protests against the government of Nicolas Maduro. Robert Redman was shot and killed hours after he had carried Bassil, who had also been shot and died earlier that same day, and tweeted about it.

"Today I was hit with a rock in the back, a helmet in my nose. I swallowed tear-gas, carried the kid who died, and what did you do?" - Robert Redman, age 28 over twitter on February 12, 2014 
On February 12, 2014 Venezuela's National Youth Day millions of young students took to the streets to nonviolently protest "the social and economic crisis caused by the illegitimate government that Venezuela has today."  

Robert Redman with other youths carrying Bassil Dacosta on February 12, 2014.
Young Venezuelans inside and outside of the country mobilized in a coherent and sustained effort to expose the anti-democratic nature of the Maduro regime. A full and brief explanation was offered by Andreina Nash at the time in the video titled: What's going on in Venezuela in a nutshell.

The violence had escalated in the days prior to February 12th. On February 11, 2014 in an update via twitter from Roderick Navarro and Guido Mercado they reported: wounded by bullets today: Jorge Monsalve 20 years old, Franco Perez 15 years old (Thorax), Pedro Alison 24 years old (Left arm), Anny Paredes 36 years old (Abdomen). 

These students continue to face a government that over the past eighteen years has been stripping Venezuela's democracy of all its constitutional and institutional democratic safeguards in order to consolidate power into the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and in the presidency. At the same time the presence of both Cuban state security and military officials in the country who have presided over the building of a totalitarian apparatus is cause for great concern. They have used technological tools to censor images over twitter. Over the past 20 years independent television press outlets have been taken over or shutdown by the government.

Six years later and across Venezuela the youth still remember the fallen and the Maduro regime's repressive forces who murdered them. They have not forgotten and it marked a before and after in the history of the South American country. Ana Karina Garcia over twitter stated in Spanish that, " February 12, 2014 marked us as a generation. Bassil Da Costa, Juancho Montoya and Robert Redman were murdered by the tyranny while they were in the streets demanding a country of opportunities. #AHeroIsNotForgotten"    

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

MSNBC analyst warns if Castro had won Cold War there would've been executions in Central Park; asks what Sanders thinks of Castro

"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." - Mark Twain
Chris Matthews warns of the dangers of communism on MSNBC
Taken from CubaBrief
On February 7, 2020 MSNBC analyst Chris Matthews was right when he said, "I believe if Castro and the Reds had won the Cold War there would have been executions in Central Park and I might have been one of the ones getting executed. And certain other people would be there cheering, okay? So I have a problem with people who took the other side."   He also raised the point that he was unsure about "who Bernie has supported over these years, I don't know what he means by socialism -- one week it's Denmark, we're going to be like Denmark. Okay, that's harmless. That's basically a capitalist country with good social welfare programs. Denmark."  Matthews continued, "What does he think of Castro? That's a good question, what's he think of Fidelismo?"

Reason Magazine in June 2019 produced an overview of Senator Sanders political views throughout his career titled "Why Bernie Sanders' Communist Misadventures Still Matter."  They point to a lifetime of statements and actions that demonstrate solidarity with communist dictatorships in Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Soviet Union.
Senator Sanders field staff caught on video advocating political violence.
There have also been video recordings of Senator Sanders field staff advocating political violencejustifying Gulags and re-education camps in the United States.  Americans should not ignore the threats coming from some young members of Sanders’ campaign team about the kind of country they want to build.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Don’t tell us we’re not Cuban: The Real Havana Club

#ForeverCuban #TheRealHavanaClub #Amparo

Bacardi is synonymous with Republican Cuba. Two generations of the Bacardi family fought for Cuban independence with one family member fighting alongside General Antonio Maceo. During the Republic the family not only had enlightened business practices but also engaged in civic activities that promoted a democratic culture.

Each time dictatorship arose in Cuba under Machado, Batista and Castro the Bacardis joined the democratic resistance. They have recognized the work of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and in 2017 that of his daughter, Rosa María Payá and they are supporting the Cuba Decide initiative to push for a democratic transition.

Bacardi embodies the love of freedom and a good party.  They are also patrons of the arts and were also involved in an immersive theater experience called The Amparo Experience.

The anti-Bacardi's, the antithesis of a free Cuba are the Castros throughout Cuban history beginning with the war for independence through to the present day with the Castro dictatorship. Angel Castro, Fidel and Raul Castro's father fought for the Spanish crown against Cuban independence. The Castro brothers emerged out of the worse elements of political gangsterism to impose a dictatorship that has lasted 60 years and destroyed a great people.

Now they are setting the record straight and defending the legacy of Havana Club with a challenge: Don’t tell us we’re not Cuban.
"The Arechabala Family started their rum-making business in 1878 in Cuba and first registered the original Havana Club trademark in 1934. It wasn’t long before Havana Club Rum became a beloved and iconic Cuban brand – becoming a favorite amongst locals as well as American and European tourists.

Then everything changed. On January 1st, 1960, at gunpoint, the Cuban regime unrightfully seized the company’s assets without compensation. The Arechabala family lost everything and was forced to flee the homeland they loved, with a scant few of their remaining possessions – the precious Havana Club recipe being one of them. Meanwhile, the Cuban Government started to sell their stolen version of Havana Club, and continues to do so to this day.

It wasn’t until 1995 – after decades of rebuilding, the Arechabala family finally joined forces with another Cuban family in exile: Bacardi. The latter acquired the Havana Club brand and began producing rum based on the original Havana Club recipe and selling it in the one country that didn’t recognize the Cuban Government’s 1960 illegal expropriation, the United States.

The Havana Club brand is an example of how, despite the circumstances, Cubans in exile have never accepted their fate. Havana Club rum holds onto its rich Cuban culture." 
Worse yet the Castro regime's rum business in addition to providing a substandard product uses child labor. Back in 2016 news broke that Cuba wanted to pay off $276 million dollars in Czech debt with rum. "This Film Used To Be About Rum" is an interesting attempted exploration of this agreement between the Czech Republic and the Cuban dictatorship to negotiate Cuba's debt with the Central European country through rum shipments.
The filmmakers interviewed Tomas Zdechovsky, a Czech representative of the European Parliament who made a shocking revelation in the film.
"I don't think we've mentioned that the whole rum industry is based on child labor. When you come out to the countryside and take a look at who's working on the fields, you'll see ten, twelve-year-old children working there.  And then we go ahead and drink the rum wth no ethical dilemmas whatsoever. We just accept it as being part of a culture.But when you think about it, when you drink Cuban rum, you're helping the Cuban regime survive."
Let us look forward to the day that both Bacardi and the real Havana Club can return to Cuba, and make the rum on their home turf and not in exile. But that necessitates the return of freedom that also means private property rights, freedom of expression and freedom of association. It will also mean an end to child labor and a return to enlightened business practices were workers would get stock options as they did before the communist revolution.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Cubans not exceptional in Latin America. Nicaraguans and Venezuelans are also fleeing communism

Setting the record straight on Cuban exceptionalism

Cubans and Cuban Americans of all ages celebrate Fidel Castro's death in 2016.
The February 5, 2020 article by Rebecca Bodenheimer titled “Analysis: Beyond Cuban exceptionalism and toward the 2020 elections” is “problematic” on several levels and circulating on the internet and needs a response.

First, it misrepresents Cuban-Americans and events in the island. The photograph at the top of the page of her article claims that “Cuban Americans protest Raul Castro leaving office.” The fact of the matter is that Cuban Americans are protesting because Raul Castro remains in power and Miguel Diaz Canel is a puppet and not a real political leader. Hence the protest sign that reads “Raul Castro thwarts the peoples will for self-rule.”

Second, there have been other refugee exoduses in Latin America. There are over 1.272 million Cubans in the United States. It is true that for decades Cubans had been the exception to the rule of immigrants from Latin America. They were political refugees fleeing a communist dictatorship. However, there were also political refugees fleeing Guatemala due to a civil war (involving Marxist guerillas with Cuban aide) between 1960 and 1996 with a total today of 1.364 million Guatemalans. Civil war in El Salvador (again with guerrillas backed by the Castro regime) erupted in the mid-1970s and lasted for 12 years with 1.387 million El Salvadorians now in the United States.

In 1979 when Marxists took over in Nicaragua with the Sandinistas sparking a huge exodus to neighboring countries and to the United States. However, Nicaragua being a smaller country the numbers were smaller than the Cuban exodus. Today there are 405,601 Nicaraguans in the United States, but those numbers will rise with the Ortega regime cracking down on dissent (again with help from the Castro regime). But the Castro takeover in Venezuela, first with Chavez and continued with Maduro, has led to an exodus that dwarfs in absolute numbers, all others with over 3 million in mid-2019 and on track to reach five million. Venezuelans are topping asylum claims to the United States. If you ask Venezuelans you will find that many will point out the negative role of the Castro regime in helping cause this disaster.

Third, Venezuelans are the largest group of refugees fleeing communism in Latin America and seeking asylum in the United States.  Bodenheimer identifies “Cuban migrants” as “one of the largest groups seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border in recent years”, but the top group are Venezuelans. Special programs were created for Cuban refugees because their situation was unique. When one leaves Cuba, especially in the early years of the Castro regime, one was not able to return and their property was confiscated. It did not matter if you rich or poor, you were left with nothing when arriving in the United States after the regime consolidated.

Sadly, Bodenheimer is partially right but for the wrong reasons. Cubans fleeing the island are political refugees fleeing a communist dictatorship, but they are no longer exceptional in the Americas because Nicaraguans, and many more Venezuelans are also fleeing their respective communist regimes. Many of them are also moving to Florida. They also need assistance and special programs to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

Fourth, this is not preferential treatment, but dealing with human tragedies created by communist dictatorships. The U.S. in the past assisted Eastern European refugees, Vietnamese boat people, Cuban refugees, and today should be doing the same with Nicaraguan and Venezuelans refugees.

Fifth, Bodenheimer calls Fidel Castro’s communist regime socialist. Cuba is not Sweden, it has more in common with North Korea.

Ignoring that reality and the negative role it has played and is playing in this hemisphere is seriously problematic. The Castro dictatorship, like their North Korean counterpart, should not be normalized because it has been around for six decades. Bodenheimer plays the race card highlighting the first wave of refugees, which she claims were immigrants, as “wealthy and white,” raising the question of their political status when she says “these Cubans were treated not as economic migrants, but political refugees fleeing a repressive dictatorship.” Nor does she mention that later waves reflected the racial demographics on the island.

Long time allies: Kim Il Sung and Fidel Castro in North Korea
Despite her claims, and that of unidentified experts, Cubans continue to suffer under a totalitarian dictatorship that systematically denies them of all their human rights. Furthermore, many Cuban “migrants” are not able to return to their homeland because of arbitrary restrictions of the Castro dictatorship. This is something that Mexicans and most Central Americans (with the possible exception of Nicaraguans) do not have to suffer.

Sixth, Bodenheimer makes the astounding claim that “Cuba is one of the least violent countries in the hemisphere.” Unlike the rest of Central America there is no legal free press in Cuba, and reporting on crime, health epidemics and other matters embarrassing to the regime are forbidden and invite prison and forced exile. How would one know what the actual levels of violence are? We do know that in the past Cubans have been shot by government snipers, their bodies pulled out with gaff hooks by agents of the Castro regime for trying to leave. Cubans on rafts in the high seas have had sand bags dropped on them for trying to leave. We also know that they have sunk a boatload of refugees for trying to leave.

We also know that when a government dissident tried to get a school reopened that she ended up the victim of a machete attack in May 2015, and a friend who warned her that the regime was going to harm her, was also killed. This woman, Sirley Avila Leon, fled Cuba for her life in November 2016.

Sirley Avila Leon lost her hand and use of her knees in 2015
Seventh, the claim that Cuban Americans have not backed other Latin American refugees and migrants is a libelous lie.

The 1997 Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act or NACARA was sponsored by Cuban American member of Congress Lincoln Diaz-Balart and co-sponsored by Cuban American members of Congress Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Robert Menendez that provided protections to Nicaraguans, El Salvadorans, and Guatemalans.

Cuban-American members of Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz Balart and Robert Menendez also co-sponsored the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act in 1998 that provided protections to Haitian migrants.

Immigration champions: Lincoln Diaz Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Robert Menendez
Eighth, Ms. Bodenheimer’s negative view of Cuban Americans is probably that they view with horror Latin Americans in the United States who wear Che Guevara t-shirts and express a positive view of the Castro dictatorship. This cools victims of the Castro dictatorship to their Latino counterparts. To expect Cuban-Americans not to push back and warn other Latin Americans of this folly is unrealistic.

The author quotes Cuban American sociologist Guillermo Grenier saying that Cubans have never viewed themselves as “illegals.” Question for Ms. Bodenheimer what Latin American migrant self identifies as “illegal”?

Ms. Bodenheimer also tries to frame the Cuban American vote within the immigration debate, ignoring the Obama Administration’s normalization of relations with the Castro dictatorship that involved the freeing of Cuban spies that had murdered four Cuban Americans in 1996.

Furthermore, many Cuban Americans were terrified when President Obama issued a presidential directive in October 2016 that instructed U.S. intelligence agencies to share information with the Castro regime’s state security services.  Many remembered the 1998 WASP spy net work and their plan to carry out bombing campaigns and assassinations in South Florida.

This had much more to do with the Cuban American vote for Trump then immigration, and considering that the Democratic candidates today want to return to that policy it is more than likely that the President will do equally as well with Cuban Americans in 2020 or better.

The first individual in 2016 that told me in Spanish: “Sorry John, but Trump has to win was a middle-aged black Cuban who arrived in the United States in the early 2000s.”

Ms. Bodenheimer may want to look at Cuba and Venezuela policy to see what is driving Cuban American voters. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama understood this and ran as pro-sanctions candidates and did well in Florida. Hillary Clinton ran as an anti-sanctions pro-engagement candidate and lost the state.

Cubans are not exceptional, because Nicaraguans also vote Republican because of their anti-communism, and so will many Venezuelans when they get their citizenship.

Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans have a common foe.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

A Question of Tolerance: The Arts in Cuba and in Miami viewed by a anti-Castro hardliner

"Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy." - José Julián Martí Pérez

Cuban artists against Decree 349 | Photo © Facebook / Luis Manuel Otero
The regime in Havana has zero tolerance for artists who criticize the Castro dictatorship. Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot and others were not only not able to play in Cuba, but there music was and continues to banned from the airwaves, despite the artists having died years ago.

Therefore it is the height of irony that  the Associated Press's Gisela Salomon writing an article titled "Miami sees a return to Cold War cultural hard line on Cuba"  cited the tweet of the Ambassador to the Castro dictatorship, “Cultural terrorism? Miami politicians ask for Cuban artists to be excluded from a local concert” and failed to provide any context. Not to mention that the "cultural hard line" in Cuba has never lessened and is a zero tolerance policy. If excluding a Cuban artist from a local concert is "cultural terrorism" than what does one call removing all the works of an artist from their country of origin, banning their works from the national airwaves, and barring them from returning to their own country? This was done to Celia Cruz and many other artists, and has been described as "cultural genocide."

Salomon's article provides differing points of view from the Cuban Exile community on whether or not pro-communist, pro-regime artists should be able to play in Miami.  This is what one would expect in a free society: a diversity of opinions. Over twitter I was volunteered into the conversation.

It is true that when quoting the dictatorship's ambassador uncritically that Salomon is "using regime propaganda rhetoric", but the claim that exiles have never been intolerant ignores history. Ironically, so does Salomon in her article.

In 1996 folks trying to attend a concert by Cuban jazz pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba were verbally and physically assaulted by 200 exile protesters.  I condemned it at the time, and still do today.

Three years later in 1999 there were violent protests at the Miami Arena during a performance of the Cuban salsa band Los Van Van that left one person injured, and eleven arrested.  I spoke out again at that time condemning what happened, and still do today.

In April 2003 three young black Cuban men were summarily executed by the Castro regime for hijacking a boat and trying to flee Cuba. Cuban musicians and artists were obligated by the Castro dictatorship to sign a public letter supporting these executions, and more generalized repression, and many did, including Omara Portuondo, who years later would be invited by President Obama to perform at the White House.

This blog was started in 2009 responding to violent protests against the Colombian musician, Juanes, including death threats against his person, when he announced that he would be holding a concert in Cuba.  I spoke out again at the time condemning the death threats, pleading for tolerance and free expression, and organized a petition denouncing the death threats. At the same time we gave a critical and nuanced assessment of the concert.

Nor was any mention made of Decree 349 or the fact that Cuban artists living in the island that are critical of the regime are beaten up, jailed, and systematically censored. 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 cancellation of the authorization granted to carry out the artistic activity."

The speculation made in the article that the passion aroused by visiting artists was due to the 2020 elections fails to take into account this partial history, or the fact that the Castro regime extrajudicially executed tens of thousands of Cubans and is still doing it today not only in Cuba, but also in Venezuela.

The fact that Cuban artists, to be able to continue performing in Cuba, have supported the summary executions of young black men is a legitimate cause for anger, and those who signed should not be granted visas to the United States.

However, those who did not, and do not have blood on their hands, regardless their ideological outlook should be able to play their music. We do not have an obligation to watch them play, but we do have an obligation not to censor or threaten those that we disagree with.  That is what the Castro regime does.  It is because I am a hardliner that completely rejects the Castro dictatorship that the defense of artistic freedom and freedom of expression more broadly are precious to me, along with the virtue of tolerance for those I disagree with.