Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Historical Lessons from Engaging Totalitarians: Business and High Technology

 A look back over a shameful and overlooked history
Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number. photo: Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Over the past few months there has been a vigorous debate around continuing economic sanctions on the dictatorship in Cuba and a series of manufactured controversies surrounding democracy promotion programs directed at the island. However, a couple that have gone  unaddressed are the conceits that American tourists, business, and high technology would somehow be game changers in Cuba and that "evolutionary change" would take place within Cuba.

Solidarity with dissidents in Eastern Europe from the West and a policy that took human rights into consideration did achieve great things there 25 years ago: the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Soviet Union two years later in 1991 with predominantly nonviolent movements.

The end result of ignoring the crimes of totalitarianism and engaging these regimes was one world war, and at least four genocides. Winston Churchill called the Second World War the "Unnecessary War" explaining in the preface to his book, The Gathering Storm:  "How the English-speaking peoples through their unwisdom, carelessness, and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm." Would sanctions have prevented the death of over 60 million people between 1939 and 1945? When one does not support the nonviolent option for real and profound change that challenges the fundamental injustices of a dictatorship only two options remain: war or collaboration with tyrants. Both are unacceptable.

What did engagement through tourism, business and the exchange of high technology achieve in the early twentieth century? This first entry will focus on the role of engaging totalitarians with business and high technology. In the Cuba debate there is a lot of talk about computers and the internet as the magic bullets that will end the Castro dictatorship but often times attention is not paid to who is empowered in the transfer of technology. History demonstrates that this can be a disaster.

American businessman Armand Hammer played crucial rule in Soviet Union
 Saving the Soviet Union

Armand Hammer, and Henry Ford, both sold tractors to the Soviet Union. Such endeavors facilitated commercial ties between the Soviet Union and the United States, establishing the basis for further cooperation, dialogue, and diplomatic relations between the two countries. Pravda described Armand Hammer as a confidant of Vladimir Lenin and a "red millionaire" in the article titled "The Soviet Union that Hammer Built." Hammer was a key player in Lenin's New Economic Policy that consolidated Soviet rule in the 1920s. The Black Book of Communism estimates that 20 million were killed by the communists in the Soviet Union. The United States established the Export-Import Bank to encourage more trade with the USSR and having US taxpayers assume the risk during the Roosevelt Administration.

In addition to investments in the Soviet Union, Henry Ford had extensive relations and investments in Nazi Germany. This included factories assisting the Nazi war effort that continued through World War 2.

Enabling the Holocaust

Thomas J. Watson, (middle) head of IBM and president of the International Chamber of Commerce, and members of the ICC's board meet with Adolph Hitler in 1937.
Beginning with the National Socialists arrival in power the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) provided the equipment with ground breaking technologies, precursors to computers, to identify and categorize holocaust victims. According to a October 8, 2002 article in The Village Voice "the infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number. IBM engineered a strategic business alliance with Nazi Germany and provided the punch card technology that would be used in managing the vast apparatus of the Nazi death camps. More troubling is that the NAZIS were able to arrive in a town with lists of names of people identified as being Jewish. Where did they get the data? From IBM Germany's census operations and similar advanced people counting and registration technologies. IBM enabled the Holocaust.

Yahoo identified Chinese dissidents for regime who were jailed, tortured and killed
Hunting Dissidents and Building the Great Firewall in China
The optimists would say that was 1933. It couldn't happen now. Wrong. It already has in Communist China. Western companies are assisting Communist China in spying on Chinese nationals and having dissenters rounded up. Amnesty International in 2002 reported on Chinese prisoners of conscience including some who had died and been tortured while in detention. American corporations such as Cisco assisted the Chinese totalitarians in building an internet that serves the interests of the dictatorship and spies on the people of China. American companies have also assisted in targeting independent journalists and activists trafficking in information censored by the dictatorship and providing their location to the Chinese communist regime. Shi Tao, an independent journalist, was imprisoned for a decade because of Yahoo but thanks to having family in the United States he was able to sue and the American technology company settled out of court. Other dissidents were not so lucky and were jailed, tortured and killed. The communist regime in China has been in power since 1949 and according to The Black Book of Communism has a tally of 65 million victims.

Principled diplomacy, international human rights standards combined with nonviolent interventions by civil society have been shown to produce positive change without wholesale bloodshed.  Democracy, or human rights, promotion using principled nonviolent means can always be improved, but should not be discarded.

Unfortunately, the history of the twentieth and twenty first centuries have shown that corporations engaging with totalitarian dictatorships be it the Nazi Third Reich under Adolph Hitler, the Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin, the Peoples Republic of China under Mao Ze Dong and Deng Xio Peng, or Communist Cuba under the Castro brothers businessmen peddling high tech equipment have not only provided legitimacy to these dictatorships but assisted in systematizing gross human rights violations and prolonging their rule.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero may have been extrajudicially executed

Police block Oswaldo Paya's children from attending Carromero's show trial. (AP)
 The extrajudicial killings of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante are both  back in the news in connection with an alleged Cuban defector Ortelio Abrahantes Bacallao, 42, who claims to be related to former MININT chief Jose Abrantes and to have information on the killings of the two Christian Liberation Movement activists. The alleged Cuban defector is being held in a migrant detention center in the Bahamas according to Juan O. Tamayo.

The machinations of Cuban state security, trained by the East German Stasi, are inscrutable. However, it is important to remember that the evidence that Oswaldo and Harold were killed by Cuban state security on July 22, 2012 does not depend on the declarations of a lone defector but two years of evidence accumulated, and the behavior of the Cuban government. For example, two years later the autopsy reports have yet to be turned over to the families of the two victims despite formal requests.

One of the survivors of the events that day, Angel Carromero, was subjected to a show trial to cover up the Cuban government's role in the killings of the two men. Oswaldo's children were barred from attending the trial of the man the Cuban government said was responsible for the crash.

SMS text messages and the initial declaration of a government official at the hospital in Bayamo pointing out that a second car was involved corroborate Angel's account of what happened.  Angel Carromero has gone on the record granting interviews, writing a book and speaking at a parallel forum in the United Nations Human Rights Council

At the same time high profile figures from around the world have called for a transparent and international investigation into these two deaths. 

There is much more hard evidence already out there that Oswaldo and Harold were murdered in a state security operation orchestrated by the Cuban government that demands an international investigation then the word of one defector. Furthermore it appears that 1) they weren't killed in the crash but 2) afterwards and not from injuries sustained in the car and 3) these two activists may have been extrajudicially executed in a premeditated manner.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Yoani Sanchez on how foreign press in Cuba can transition from hostages to collaborators

The controversy over the "reporting" of the Associated Press in Cuba has served as an opportunity to revisit the techniques and tactics of the Castro regime in muzzling foreign news agencies in Cuba. Yoani Sánchez's August 12, 2014 article offers an important insight by an independent journalist who lives in Cuba.

Big Brother stands as judge of journalistic “objectivity.” [The text says that CPI can temporarily or permanently cancel press credentials for “lack of journalistic ethics… or objectivity.’” Minrex is the Foreign Ministry]

Reporting is the Least of It

By Cuban independent journalist, Yoani Sánchez, in 14ymedio:

A few years ago I met a foreign correspondent based in Cuba who related an absurd and revealing anecdote. The International Press Center (CPI) had called him in to warn him about the content of an article. Receiving the summons didn’t surprise him, because warning calls like that were a common practice of this agency in charge of registering and controlling foreign journalists living on the Island. Nor could he refuse to appear, because he depended on the CPI for his credentials to report on a nature reserve and even to interview a government minister. So there it was.

The reporter arrived at the centrally located building on 23rd Street, where the CPI is headquartered, and was led to an office with two annoyed looking men. After bringing him coffee and talking about other things, they got to the point. They reproached the journalist for a report where he had referred to Cuba as “the communist Island.” This was a huge surprise to the correspondent because previous warnings he’d received were for “reporting only on the bad things about the Cuban reality,” or “not treating the leaders of the Revolution with respect.” But he never imagined that this time he would be scolded for the complete opposite.

But yes, the censors who minutely examine the cables written by foreign agencies had not been at all pleased with the use of the adjective “communist” to characterize our country. “But the Communist Party governs here, right?” asked the incredulous reporter. “Yes, but you know the word looks bad, it doesn’t help us,” responded the higher-ranking official. The man stood there in shock for a few seconds while trying to comprehend what they were saying to him and think of a response other than laughing.

The correspondent knew that annoying the CPI could bring more than just a slap on the wrist. Also in the hands of this institution is permission for foreign journalists to import a car, rent a house and—at that time—even to buy an air conditioner for their bedroom. The dilemma for the reporter was to give in and not write “the communist Island” any more, or to engage in conflict with the institution, where he had everything to lose.

The mechanisms of control over the foreign press go far beyond warning calls from the CPI. Should a correspondent get married on the Island, start a family in this land, his objectivity comes into doubt. The intelligence organs know how to pull the strings of fear to cause damage or pressure to a loved one. Thus, they manage to temper the level of criticism by these correspondents “settled” in Cuba. The perks are also an attractive carrot to keep them from touching on certain thorny issues in their articles.

I know one foreign journalist who, every time she writes a press release about the Cuban dissidence, adds a paragraph where she declares, “the Government considers this opposition to be created and paid from Washington”… But her texts lack the phrase she could add to give the readers another point view, briefly communicating, “the Cuban dissidence considers the Island’s government a totalitarian dictatorship that has not been subjected to scrutiny at the ballot box.” This way, those who consult the press release could draw their own conclusions. Sadly, the objective of correspondents like her is not to inform, but to impose an opinion framework that is as stereotyped as it is false.

Press agencies need to strengthen and carefully review their codes of ethics when dealing with Cuba. They should control the time their representatives spend on the Island, because as the long years pass here emotional bonds are created that the regime can use for blackmail and pressure. An objective examination—every now and again—wouldn’t be a bad thing, given the possible coercion and Stockholm Syndrome their employees might suffer. The credibly of an information giant sometimes depends on whether a new imported car, or a beautiful young Cuban partner, is valued more than a commitment to journalism.

Take care foreign press agencies! Your representatives in these parts are always in danger of becoming hostages, first, and then collaborators, of the ruling regime.

English translation courtesy of Translating Cuba.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cuban opposition leader recalls the August 5, 1994 Maleconazo

A convoy of trucks crammed with repressive special troops and a vehicle with a 50 caliber machine gun on top patrolled up and down the long street. - Regis Iglesias Ramírez

Regis Iglesias Ramírez above on the left.

That 5th of August by Regis Iglesias Ramírez, MCL* Spokesman

The 5th of August of 1994 in the morning my friend Lorenzo told me that he was going to the port. According to him, someone would attempt to take the tugboat. I wished him look. I saw him again around 2 in the afternoon, at that time there was an unusual movement of military trucks coming down Porvenir street.

Lorenzo narrated the adventures of his failed escape attempt but claimed that another group of people had taken the "launch of Regla.” Overexcited he told me how people had spontaneously begun to protest in Havana and that the Malecon was seething.

I got my back and moved quickly to Cerro.

Oswaldo wasn’t there but Ramoncito Antuez was. Listened in his home on Carmen and Peñón to the news that from the exterior was beginning to transmit on short wave about what was happening in Havana.

"Stay alert but calm in the neighborhood in case something happens. If the protest spreads to all municipalities I believe we should support it and give it political objectives. It cannot be us with our limited number of activists to initiate something that would mean the annihilation of Liberation," said Ramon.

August 5, 1994 protests in Havana, Cuba known as the Maleconazo
 I returned to Lawton and alerted Felix Antonio Rojas and Ernesto Martini (Freddy). Porvenir already seemed more a series of military stops than an ordinary artery of the city. A convoy of trucks crammed with repressive special troops and a vehicle with a 50 caliber machine gun on top patrolled up and down the long street.

Freddy, Felix and I agreed to meet at our parish, St. Clare of Assisi.

We notified the majority of our members and friends that we would be there if the populace joined the protest, to join in Lawton.

Many hours passed. News that in Havana the disturbances had been quelled was being announced on national television. "Everything is calm now," assured the news. It was around 1in the morning of the sixth. Despite the insistence of the friar friend who accompanied us all the time we decided to go back home at that time.

The morning appeared calm, but behind those gray clouds was the latent rebelliousness of a people who had long remained contained. The regime quickly found how to uncover the pressure built up in the populace announcing that one could launch oneself to suicide or freedom given anyone willing to use any handmade maritime means for such an endeavor. Freedom did not arrive that August, but nothing would be the same.

Original Spanish text available here.

*MCL Movimiento Cristiano Liberación which in English translates to Christian Liberation Movement

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Religious freedoms continue to deteriorate in Cuba

Cuba: Religious freedom violations continue to rise, baptist goes into exile  07/08/2014

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has today released a new report on religious freedom in Cuba, which shows that the number of documented violations of religious freedom almost doubled in the first half of 2014 compared to 2013.

From the beginning of 2014 to mid-July, CSW recorded 170 separate religious freedom violations, many of which involved dozens of victims. This followed the record of 180 documented cases in 2013, compared with 120 in 2012 and 40 in 2011. According to the report, which covers January 2013 through July 2014, religious groups across the spectrum of denominations all reported varying degrees of hostility from the government, while only a few reported any notable improvement.

CSW’s investigation showed that government agents continued to employ more brutal and public tactics than witnessed in previous years. Week after week, scores of women affiliated to the Ladies in White were physically and violently dragged away from Sunday morning church services by state security agents. Most were arbitrarily detained until after the conclusion of religious services. There were also increased reports of threats of forced closure, confiscation and demolition of church buildings, including historic, registered churches. Some of these threats were carried out. One of the most serious cases involved the destruction of a large church and pastoral home in Santiago de Cuba on 2 July 2014. Some religious leaders reported being temporarily detained and imprisoned multiple times over the course of the past year.

The report details the regular, severe and sustained harassment of Protestant pastors and lay workers in different parts of the country, as well as sporadic reports of violent beatings. This situation prompted Reverend Homero Carbonell, who for more than 50 years has been a leader in the Western Baptist Convention, a denomination recognised by the government, to accept asylum in the US on 31 July. In 2010, Reverend Carbonell published an open letter denouncing a sustained campaign of harassment against the Trinidad First Baptist Church in the city of Santa Clara. In the letter he announced his resignation as pastor and expressed hopes that his retirement would result a cessation of government persecution of the church. Despite his retirement, however, the Cuban government maintained pressure on the church, freezing its bank accounts, and continue to target Reverend Carbonell and his family.

The case of Reverend Carbonell and the Trinidad First Baptist Church is illustrative of some of the root causes behind the more general increase in religious freedom violations across Cuba, which include increased government efforts to separate perceived political dissidents from communities of faith, and heavy-handed attempts to control public manifestations of faith. Church leaders believe that Reverend Carbonell and the Trinidad First Baptist Church were singled out because of their refusal to cooperate with government demands to expel and shun members of dissident groups and their families, as well as their involvement in unauthorised pubic ecumenical activities, including a well-attended inter-denominational Easter parade through the city centre of Santa Clara in 2010.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “It is distressing to see such a significant and sustained increase in reported violations of religious freedom in Cuba, even as the government claims to be committed to reforms in this area and others. We are deeply saddened that Reverend Carbonell, who dedicated so much of his life to ministry inside Cuba, was pushed by government harassment to the point of going into exile. It is disturbing to see some groups outside Cuba interpret concessions or privileges extended to a few religious groups as an overall improvement in religious freedom, even as other groups report continued and worsening persecution, resulting in religious inequality. As long as the Cuban government refuses to allow all religious organisations to function legally, to register all places of worship, including house churches, and to remove authority over all religious activity from the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, whose decisions are issued arbitrarily and cannot be appealed, there can be no religious freedom in Cuba. We call on the United States, on the European Union and other members of the international community, to hold the Cuban government to account and to set measurable benchmarks, including the three mentioned above, in order to judge more accurately any improvement in religious freedom in Cuba.”