Sunday, September 25, 2016

Venezuela: “The recall referendum belongs to the people, as does the freedom to demand it”, says OAS Secretary General

  September 23, 2016
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, today said the National Electoral Council (CNE, for its initials in Spanish) of Venezuela is “obstructing a constitutional right and acting with a clear political bias” in announcing the rules and the timetable that will govern the process for the recall referendum sought by the opposition, and demanded that the referendum be held in 2016.

“The recall referendum belongs to the people, and it is up to the CNE to ensure the guarantees for the free expression of the people, instead of curtailing and trying to annul their rights,” stressed the Secretary General.

Luis Almagro said the dates announced by the CNE are “one more maneuver to delay the process and to impede the holding of the recall referendum this year. Constitutional deadlines cannot continue to be violated, the will of the voters cannot continue to be manipulated, it is completely unacceptable that there are attempts to cut civil and political rights through biased interpretations by the CNE.”

For the OAS leader, moreover, the CNE “arbitrarily and with demonstrated intention changed the rules of the game” by determining that the collection of 20 percent of the signatures needed to convene the referendum must be done at the state level, rather than at the national level: "Electoral bodies do not exist to undermine democracy and act in the interests of the current government; their nature and obligation is to serve as vehicles for the strengthening of the will of the people,” he reaffirmed.

In effect, during the recall referendum against the former President Chávez in 2004, under the same law, the collection of 20 percent of the signatures was carried out at the national level, which makes complete sense, given that the office in question is the President of the Republic, a national office.

“The President of the CNE Tibisay Lucena and its rectors Sandra Oblitas, Socorro Elizabeth Hernández and Tania D´Amelio are showing a high level of undue technical incompetence regarding the responsibilities they must meet. Their role is to ensure that 100 percent of the Venezuelan electoral registry is able to sign, if they desire to do so, not to certify the elimination of the rights of the people,” added Almagro.

“It is urgent that the required number of machines in all districts are present in order to meet the needs of the more than 19 million Venezuelan voters and carry out a fair and proper distribution of districts that does not blatantly favor the position of the government. This decision is unconstitutional, violates the very spirit of the recall referendum and aims to sweep away the last glimmer of democratic hope for Venezuela,” he explained.

The General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) reiterates the urgent call for respect for democratic institutions and rights, while recalling once more what is established in Article 1 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter: “The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.” "The right is that of the peoples and the obligation to ensure that right is that of the government," said Almagro.

There is an urgent need today for international observation to avoid further violations of that right.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Obama Cuba Policy Legacy: Resurrecting systemic legal segregation

"If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas." - Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac

President met Castro in Panama as Cuban activists attacked by Castro's diplomats
The Obama Administration beginning in 2009 pushed for a normalization of relations with an abnormal and totalitarian regime in Cuba that treats its own people as chattel. On December 17, 2014 the announcement was formally made and since then new relations established.

Throughout this process human rights have not only worsened in Cuba, but also in the United States with the approval of The White House until popular outrage has forced them to back track. Consider for a moment three episodes from 2016.

Protests against Carnival for discriminating against Cubans to appease Castro regime
First, Carnival Cruise Line signed an agreement with Castro regime officials on March 21, 2016 to sail to Cuba from the United States. In order to conduct their core mission Carnival had to agree to enforce the Castro dictatorship's policy that bans all Cubans from traveling into the island by water. It did not matter if Cubans born on the island were now citizens of another country.   Obama's Treasury Department on July 7, 2015 signed off on the Carnival Cruise Line - Castro regime alliance ignoring that an entire class of Americans would be discriminated against based on their national origin. Mass protests, boycotts and lawsuits led the Castro regime to blink when it became apparent that popular outrage would lead the cruise ship company to cancel its cruises.

Second, the U.S. embassy in Cuba floated a trial balloon that announced that the United States government accepted that U.S. citizens of Cuban descent born in the United States are not recognized by the Castro regime as Americans but as Cuban nationals subject to the dictatorship's laws and regulations. Even though one was born in the United States and has never applied for dual nationality in Cuba they are treated as a Cuban born by the Castro regime in terms of responsibilities but not rights and the government of the USA goes along with it in order to have "normal relations." This also means that these U.S. citizens would be denied consular access in Cuba. The State Department once again had to back track in May of 2016 when this trial balloon sunk amidst negative press coverage and popular outrage. 

Discriminating against Cuban born crew to placate Castro regime
Thirdly, American Airlines is pulling Cuban-American pilots and flight attendants off flights to Cuba in order to placate demands by the Castro regime. Fabiola Santiago, of The Miami Herald, obtained an American Airlines memo announcing the policy as follows: “Please remember that those who are Cuban born should be removed with pay from Cuba flights until we can verify what requirements the Cuban government has for these crew members.” The Democracy Movement has announced that if American Airlines does not end this policy that they will take action.

President Obama's Cuba policy legacy is to resurrect systemic legal segregation against American citizen's based on their national origin in order to placate a foreign dictatorship. Benjamin Franklin was right: "If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

President Obama Mentions Burma, Cuba at Final UN Address as President

Burma and Cuba: Contrasting approach to sanctions yields contrasting results

President Obama addresses the UN General Assembly earlier today
 Today at the United Nations, President Barack Obama gave his final address to the General Assembly as President and mentioned Myanmar (Burma) and Cuba twice:
We opened relations with Cuba, helped Colombia end Latin America’s longest war, and we welcome a democratically elected leader of Myanmar to this Assembly. [...]
I remember the young entrepreneurs I met who are now starting new businesses in Cuba, the parliamentarians who used to be just a few years ago political prisoners in Myanmar.
Hopefully the war in Colombia has come to an end, but with Raul Castro serving as a mediator skepticism about the long term prospects for peace are not unreasonable. However studying the contrast in US policy towards the military regimes in Burma and Cuba along with the differing outcomes teaches an important lesson. Dictatorships do not fall or leave of their own accord, but respond to pressures both internal and external that demand change. This can best be seen by the outcomes in Burma and Cuba with regards to U.S. foreign policy.

President Obama on April 3, 2009 loosened economic sanctions, beginning a series of unilateral concessions with the dictatorship in Cuba that would have dire consequences for democrats in Cuba. As the President extended a hand to the Castro dictatorship he withdrew it from Cuban democrats. President Obama refused to meet in June of 2009 with the winners of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Award who happened to be five Cuban dissidents. This was the first time in five years that the President of the United States had not met with the award laureates.

Meanwhile in Burma sanctions were maintained without changes until 2012 and improvement of relations and lifting sanctions made contingent upon democratic reforms. Aung San Suu Kyi was finally released from a total of 15 years house arrest on November 13, 2010.  She made the case for maintaining sanctions until serious democratic reforms were finally underway.

The response by the Cuban government to the overtures of the Obama administration in December of 2009 was to take Alan Gross, an American citizen hostage. The administration responded with initial silence and it took American diplomats 25 days to visit the arbitrarily detained American. On January 14, 2011 with Gross still arbitrarily detained in Cuba the President loosened travel restrictions on travel to the island to an extent not seen in a decade.

The concessions and the cold shoulder to Cuban dissidents sent a clear message to the dictatorship that would be devastating for the prospects of a nonviolent and democratic transition in Cuba.

 Rising levels of violence against  nonviolent activists and the suspicious deaths of human rights defenders: Orlando Zapata Tamayo (February 23, 2010), Daisy Talavera de las Mercedes Lopez (January 31, 2011) , Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (May 8, 2011), Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (October 14, 2011), Wilman Villar Mendoza (January 19, 2012), Sergio Diaz Larrastegui (April 19, 2012), Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (July 22, 2012) and  Harold Cepero Escalante (July 22, 2012).

Both Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá each had the international recognition and ability to lead a democratic transition in Cuba. Oswaldo Payá had forced the dictatorship to change the Cuban constitution in 2002 in reaction to Project Varela, a citizen initiative demanding legal reforms within the existing system, and Laura  Pollán through constant street demonstrations achieved the freedom of scores of Cuban prisoners of conscience in 2010.

Meantime in Burma Aung San Suu Kyi's party the National League for Democracy boycotted the 2010 elections but in 2012 won a stunning victory in another round of elections. Only then did the United States loosen sanctions.
In contrast the Cuba policy of unilateral concessions was escalated on December 17, 2014 with the release of three Cuban spies (including Gerardo Hernandez serving a life sentence for murder conspiracy), the promise of ending all economic sanctions and followed months later by removing the Castro regime from the list of state sponsors of terrorism despite ample reasons to be kept on it.

The White House and Cuba held secret negotiations for 18 months before the December announcement. Coinciding with the start of these negotiations in June of 2013 were a series of machete attacks against opposition activists by regime agents. Not to mention that the Cuban government during these negotiations in 2014 got its hands on a U.S. Hellfire missile and refused to return it to the United States until the story broke in 2016.

Burma in 2016 has Aung San Suu Kyi as the elected leader of her country and representing it at the United Nations and meeting with President Obama at the White House on September 15, 2016.  The White House is now calling for the complete lifting of sanctions on Burma but some Burmese democrats warn that it would be a mistake.

At the same time Cuba in 2016 finds tens of thousands fleeing Cuba having lost hope that a democratic transition is imminent, and the Castro regime is breaking new records in religious repression and arbitrary detentions. President Obama and his family visited Cuba between March 20 - 22, 2016 and legitimized Raul Castro and his heir apparent Alexandro Castro Espin in a formal meeting. This broke a tradition beginning in 1969 of not granting official visits to dictators in the Western Hemisphere.

Despite the unilateral loosening of sanctions on the Castro regime, trade between the United States and Cuba has imploded to levels not seen since 2002, and economic control is being centralized in the military. Despite President Obama's claims at the United Nations There are less Cubans who are "self-employed" workers in Cuba today than in 2014 but Castro's military monopolies are expanding and consolidating control over the entire economy.

Hope exists in Burma despite many continuing obstacles while despair is widespread in Cuba among those who want to live in freedom. However Castro's military-intelligence apparatus is optimistic in getting everything they want. Gerardo Hernandez, the Cuban spy sentenced to life in prison for murder conspiracy and freed by Obama as part of his deal with Raul Castro reflects this view: "We are going to have diplomatic relations with the United States without having ceded one iota."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Clinton, Trump and Cuba Policy: Only poll that counts is the one on Election Day

Obama's Cuba policy will be weighed at the polls in November

Donald Trump repudiated Obama Cuba policy today in Miami, FL
The 2016 presidential election was going to be a wash on Cuba policy with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump supporting Obama's failed Cuba policy. Until today when Mr. Trump in Miami announced that he had changed his mind on the President's Cuba policy. CNN reported on what the GOP presidential candidate said today in South Florida:
Trump -- speaking in a state with a heavy Cuban voting bloc -- characterized Obama's deal as "one-sided" and benefiting "only the Castro regime."
"But all of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done with executive order, which means the next president can reverse them. And that is what I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands," Trump said Friday.
"Those demands will include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners," Trump said.
This new contrast over Cuba will test the FIU poll of Miami Cubans and their supposed strong support for Obama's Cuba policy. Recall that Marco Rubio who has repudiated the Obama Cuba policy lost across the state of Florida in the Republican primary but won Miami-Dade County handily with the Cuban American vote. Trump's about face on Cuba policy will be good news for the GOP in South Florida where Cuban Americans upset over the December 17, 2014 announcement now have a candidate that they can support.  Jorge Perez, a prominent businessman promoting engagement with the Castro dictatorship, lost influence with candidate Trump over Cuba policy.

This will also turn around the erosion in support for the Republican Party by Cuban American voters. The bottom line is that like the Asian American vote, the Cuban American vote is profoundly anti-communist and in the case of Cuba taking a tough stand on the Castro brothers will deliver votes.

The Trump phenomenon is a rejection of the professional political class, of which Hillary Clinton is a paradigmatic example, due to the economic pain of the middle class.  In an anti-establishment year the GOP nominee holds the trump card as the non-politician in the race for the White House.

Now Cuban-Americans have a choice and not an echo on Cuba policy this November. This is good news for the United States and for GOP prospects in South Florida.

I still have my concerns with the Trump candidacy over issues of torture, complimenting Vladimir Putin and the Chinese communists, but at least on Cuba policy voters now have a clear choice.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Camera and microphone erected by political police outside Cuban machete victim's current residence

Welcome to the Panopticon

Spy camera in Cuba (not one mentioned by Sirley)
Received word today from Sirley Avila Leon, who was the victim of a crippling machete attack on May 24, 2015, that the Castro regime has taken a keen interest in her: "They put a camera with a microphone two meters from the front of my mother's house on the telephone pole."

Sirley Avila Leon returned home to Cuba a week ago on September 7, 2016 after six months receiving medical care and initially her phone was unable to reach contacts outside, but she was finally able to speak with folks the following day.

The news Sirley gave was and remains worrying. She returned home to find it occupied by strangers with the approval of the Cuban dictatorship. Sirley is staying at her mother's house in Las Tunas.

Ominously, Osmany Carrión, the man who brutally attacked her in that appears to have been engineered by the political police has been bragging to neighbors and Sirley's family that he will finish the job he started.

This latest episode only underscores the need for continued vigilance regarding the plight of Sirley Avila Leon. This woman, who was an elected delegate of the municipal peoples assembly in her community made the 'mistake' of fighting to keep a school open for young children that earned her the enmity of the dictatorship while at the same time endearing her with the voters.

This reality is what has led the dictatorship to carry out a systematic effort to destroy her.