Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Obama Legacy: Lowering standards and betraying human rights in Cuba

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - Cuba Libre

There is a fundamental error by analysts that look at the Castro regime solely through the prism of U.S. - Cuba relations defined by economic sanctions without looking at the larger regional and international context.  This is especially the case with regards to human rights and the so-called "principle" of consistency in the light of perceived double standards. It seems that all who argue against double standards inevitably advocate lowering standards to the lowest common denominator never raising them.

Paying lip service to human rights in China
Double standards as a code phrase for lowering standards
United States foreign policy in Saudi Arabia and China have, in the name of realpolitik, not been principled on the human rights front and led to outcomes disastrous for the United States. At the same time one must recognize that narrow and powerful interests have benefited financially from these arrangements. The argument advanced by those seeking to repeat the regrettable approach used in Saudi Arabia and China with Cuban foreign policy is one of consistency that results in ending a principled human rights policy in Cuba bringing it into line with other disastrous policies that have not served the just interests of the United States. To suggest that foreign policies in Saudi Arabia and China advance human rights at the expense of narrow economic interests is to be ignored or ridiculed. Meanwhile the President visits Vietnam and opens up weapon sales to the communist dictatorship while claiming to promote human rights there.

Both help to propagate a radical brand of Islam worldwide
The Castro Regime's War on Human Rights
In the larger international context historically providing the Castro regime a free pass in its outlaw behavior has negatively effected not only countries in the Americas and Africa, but also led to more international terrorism and the decline of international human rights standards.

Cuban governments prior to the Castro regime played an important role in advancing human rights regionally and internationally punching above their weight. Sadly the Castro regime has been successful in undermining this positive legacy.

This is not an accident but to be expected for a totalitarian dictatorship that has sought to duplicate its political model around the world and has been successful in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

The decline of regional human rights instruments in the Americas is the result of the expansion of Cuban influence in the region during the Obama administration. Welcoming the Castro regime back into the Organization of American States in 2009 did not have the desired effect.

Human rights across the world have been in decline for the past decade. The policy of normalizing relations with the Castro regime in Cuba has been a contributing factor.

White House in Cuba betrayed human rights everywhere 
President Obama's failure on human rights is having serious consequences that will be felt for decades to come. The claim made by the White House that human rights are a priority in its Cuba policy are not backed up by its actions: freeing Cuban spy guilty of murder conspiracy that claimed four lives, snubbing dissidents, watering down reports to place regime in more positive light, visiting the dictatorship and legitimizing it.

Human rights activist Aaron Rhodes, writing in the Huffington Post, describes the failure in harsher terms focusing on the President's speech, which was foolishly praised by some in the Cuban American community at the time:
Obama missed an opportunity to explain and defend that idea of human rights, which animated America’s founders, and which they bequeathed to Americans and to people all over the world in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. Instead, Obama “personally” embraced an interpretation of human rights at variance with the philosophy of the U.S. Constitution. What is more, Cuba has arguably done more than any other nation to subvert respect for authentic human rights in the United Nations. With his response, Obama indirectly but clearly endorsed that program. If his words indeed reflect the U.S. approach to human rights, it is bad news for those who defend human rights as natural rights to basic freedoms, and who look to America for support and as an example of the success of freedom.
Cuba has consistently defended the world’s worst human rights abusers, like North Korea, from criticism in international forums, claiming that such criticism is “political” and “biased.” In fact, Cuba is the most vocal member of the United Nations seeking to blunt the UN’s already blunt instruments for investigating grave human rights violations and putting pressure on governments to reform, favoring anodyne, “thematic” issues instead. Cuba has been a leader in proposing bogus human rights mandates in the UN Human Rights Council, like the “Independent Expert” on the “Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order,” which is nothing but a platform for ideological attacks on free societies and free enterprise — in the name of “human rights.”
Thanks in large part to Cuba, the international human rights system has become hopelessly clogged up with such institutions.
Just after the President's visit to Cuba I gave an analysis of the speech and found it a disappointment and that former President Carter in 2002 had made a more compelling case for human rights in Cuba. Rhodes in his essay describes the depth of Obama's betrayal of human rights
Obama’s betrayal of the idea of natural rights was also a betrayal of Cuban human rights campaigners, and indeed people around the world living under dictators who exploit the conflation of human rights and welfare rights in order to defend oppression.
Rhodes left out an even more problematic part of President Obama's speech to the Cuban people. The President equated the ideals of the American rebellion that ended British rule and established the United States with the ideals of the Castro revolution that lied itself into power, claiming to be democratic, only to install a communist tyranny that 57 years later remains in power through terror and repression. Despite President Obama's claim, they are profoundly different and to equate the two not only confusing but offensive.

This trend did not begin on the Obama Administration's watch but has reached a new low that bodes ill for the future.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Human Rights Decade Long Decline Worldwide: IACHR in Crisis

#IACHRinCrisis: The latest blow to human rights worldwide

 Human rights and democracy have been in retreat worldwide for the past decade. Between 2006 and 2016 there has been a steady decline in global liberty and human rights. The Associated Press reported that the Obama administration "is blaming a global crisis in governance as well as atrocities committed by non-state actors for a decline in human rights standards around the world." 

Now the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a pioneering regional human rights organization founded in 1959 may be drastically scaled back or could even shut down due to a lack of support in the Americas if present trends continue. The attacks on regional human rights organizations in the Americas have been ongoing for years. An important highlight was Venezuela rejecting the American Convention on Human Rights and pulling out of the Inter-American Court  in 2012. Now this financial crisis which in reality is a human rights crisis in the Americas exposes the hollowness of national commitments in this hemisphere towards human rights. The United States, unfortunately, has not been immune to these trends.

Severe Financial Crisis of the IACHR Leads to Suspension of Hearings and Imminent Layoff of Nearly Half its Staff

IACHR Press Release

May 23, 2016

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is going through a severe financial crisis that will have serious consequences on its ability to fulfill its mandate and carry out its basic functions. The Commission deeply regrets having to report that on July 31, 2016, the contracts of 40 percent of its personnel will expire, and at this time the Commission does not have the funds—or the expectation of receiving the funds—to be able to renew them. The Commission is also very sorry to report that it has been forced to suspend the visits it had planned for this year, as well as its 159th and 160th sessions, which had been scheduled for July and October.

The IACHR is alarmed by the fact that this situation will result in the dismantling of areas essential to its mandate. The IACHR is also distressed for the victims, petitioners, and civil society organizations that had planned to participate in hearings, working meetings, and other forums scheduled for the October session. The IACHR also expresses its deep concern because the suspension of sessions has a direct impact on the Commission’s capacity to make progress in processing complaints of human rights violations, since it is during these sessions that the Commissioners analyze, debate, and approve reports on petitions and cases.

Moreover, it is disturbing that thousands of victims of human rights violations will be left unprotected. The total dismantling of some work teams and the cutbacks mean that it is inevitable that the procedural backlog the Commission had been trying to reduce will increase again and will reach a point where it is incompatible with the right of access to justice. The IACHR also deeply regrets having to face an imminent situation in which it could lose valuable employees who have worked tirelessly for the rights of victims and have brought a sense of duty and devotion to the cause of human rights.

In the last few months and weeks, the IACHR and its Executive Secretariat have tried its best to confirm donations that had been previously talked, but unfortunately these did not succeed. The IACHR will continue to make every effort within its power to turn this situation around immediately, to prevent the loss of 40 percent of its staff and to be able to reschedule its sessions, visits, and all the other activities planned for 2016. To this end, the Inter-American Commission calls on the member countries, observer countries, and other potential donors to make urgent financial contributions that can be immediately available.

To avert this dire situation, the IACHR would need to receive funds, or at least commitments in writing for donations, before June 15.

Beyond the immediate financial crisis, the Inter-American Commission suffers from a structural, systematic lack of funds that must be addressed and resolved. There is a deep discrepancy between the mandate the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) have given the IACHR and the financial resources they allocate to it. The regular budget of the IACHR this year is less than 5 million dollars, which amounts to $0.005 per person in the hemisphere per year. The staff of the Commission financed by the OAS regular fund consists of 31 people; in other words, it has fewer employees than countries under its jurisdiction. The other 47 employees are financed with donations, which can be unstable and unpredictable, as the current crisis shows.

In the last two decades, the Commission has made ongoing efforts with the OAS Member States to secure a budget that would enable it to work effectively to fulfill its mandate. As a result of these efforts, the OAS General Assembly has approved a number of resolutions expressing a commitment to address the situation; however, these have not been reflected in a significant increase in resources. While the Council of Europe earmarks 41.5 percent of its budget to the promotion and protection of human rights, the OAS earmarks 6 percent of its budget to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

 In this regard, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights strongly urges the OAS Member States to take on their responsibility to the inter-American Human Rights System. The IACHR hopes that the next OAS General Assembly, which will be held in June, will adopt a historic and far-reaching decision, one that reflects the States’ commitment to the defense of human rights in the region. This means radically increasing the budget of the OAS regular fund and allocating to the IACHR and the Inter-American Human Rights System in general the resources needed to fulfill the mandate the States themselves have handed down. It is essential, imperative, and urgent for the States to adopt a sustainable solution to this serious, chronic problem and demonstrate their commitment to the respect and guarantee of human rights with deeds and not just words.

The IACHR expresses its firm commitment to continue to work in the fulfillment of its functions, inspired by the words of the American Convention on Human Rights, which states that “the ideal of free men enjoying freedom from fear and want can be achieved only if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights.”

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Paying homage and giving thanks to Patricio Aylwin Azócar

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Patricio Aylwin Azócar with Vaclav Havel in 2004 in Prague, Czech Republic
Patricio Aylwin Azócar passed away on  April 19, 2016 in his beloved Santiago, Chile. Don Patricio presided over the unification of the democratic opposition in Chile, the No Campaign, and the democratic transition following 17 years of military rule under Augusto Pinochet.

We would have to be grateful to him for that example alone, but free Cubans owe him for much more. President Patricio Aylwin met with pro-democracy Cubans over the years in Santiago, Chile at his private home and freely gave his advice, but he did more.

Rosa Maria Paya meets with Patricio Aylwin Azócar at his home (2013)
 In 2004 Don Patricio was a founding member of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba. The former Chilean president traveled to the Czech Republic at age 85 to spend three days with other Latin American and European leaders in an act of solidarity with a free Cuba that will long be remembered. At the time of his passing Orlando Gutierrez of the Cuban Democratic Directorate remembered President Aylwin's role. We also know that the best way to honor his memory of solidarity is through following his example.

Patricio Aylwin, Luis Alberto Lacalle, Petr Pithart, Philip Dimitrov, Luis Alberto Monge, José María Aznar, Václav Havel, Mart Laar close the meeting of former presidents and prime ministers at the ICDC Summit.
Free Cubans are grateful, and today in Santiago, Chile when members of the Christian Democrat Organization of America gathered to pay homage and pray for Patricio Aylwin Azócar at the Frei family mausoleum, where he is being temporarily laid to rest, the above episode was remembered and given thanks for by the representative of the Cuban Democratic Directorate.

On May 27, 2016 ODCA laid flowers to Ex-presidents Eduardo Frei & Patricio Aylwin.
The Christian Democrat Organization of America held its 21st Congress in Santiago, Chile from May 25 -27, 2016.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ladies in White leader Berta Soler threatened with unjust trial for "resistance"


Berta Soler
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, who has suffered physical assaults in the past, has had her passport taken and is being charged with "resistance" and faces a regime show trial following her detention this past Sunday, May 22, 2016, during a nonviolent protest.

Berta was given the court docket number 30-260 of 2016.  She explains the motive behind the regime's action: "What they are seeking is to have power of control over me so that I can not leave the country temporarily." She refused to sign the sign the indictment drafted by the police. Nor was the document handed to Berta Soler.

However, the activist said to Cubanet, "I will continue to live my life normally as always," and further noted that if this leads her to jail that she will "go as a prisoner of conscience, because I'm sure I have not done anything."

"These are the images of arrest (last Sunday), and I did not raise my hand for anything," and Berta Soler added that this action would not stop her from trying to travel outside of the country if she needed to raising the challege: Let Immigration at the airport tell me that I cannot travel."

On May 24, 2016 the streets surrounding the headquarters of the Ladies in White were blocked by state security agents to prevent members and friends of the Ladies in White from attending their monthly literary tea.

Blocking streets around Ladies in White headquarters (Angel Moya)

This needs to be placed in the current context in Cuba and the history of her movement. 
Repression is worsening in Cuba and the Ladies in White are not exempt from this trend. Earlier this month Rosa Escalona, member of “The Ladies in White”, a human rights group in Cuba, along with her husband and three sons were subjected to a savage beating by Castro agents. All four family members suffered great bodily injury, with her husband Alberto Pedro Freire Leiva being the most critically injured. This unprovoked attack took place Sunday, May 8th in the city of Holguín, Cuba. Rosa made the following statement by way of telephone to the Cuban Democratic Directorate:

“Yesterday I was detained as I was heading to church. I was once again threatened by members of the State Security who stated that they would “finish with me and my family”. Two men came out of Lenin Hospital with iron bars and proceeded to attack us. My 25 year old son’s head was broken in two places and he received a skull fracture, my two small sons received blows throughout their bodies and I sustained direct blows to my ribs and a broken head. My husband, Alberto Pedro Freire Leiva is currently in grave condition and it is not known if he will survive. His spleen was broken in two places and as a result, he has had massive internal bleeding with more than 1,000 millimeters of blood throughout his abdomen. My son Yunior Alberto Freire Escalona is under observation in neurosurgery where he might need to be operated. During the attack, one of the men disclosed knowing that I was a member of the “Ladies in White” and a counter revolutionary, he warned me to be very careful of him because when he catches me on the street again he will run me and my sons over with a truck.”
Lady in White Daisy Cuello Basulto denounced that her 21 year old daughter was arrested, violently stripped and forced to urinate in front of police officers in a police station in Cotorro. The 21 year old was arrested along with her mom and other family on September 27, 2015 while on their way to attend the Sunday march of the Ladies in White. The young woman was locked in a cell with a strong smell of hydrochloric acid and now suffers from a sore throat. "She has a fever and feels very bad," reported her mother.

The founding leader of the movement Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died under suspicious circumstances in 2011 in the midst of a wave of suspicious deaths of opposition leaders. Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a Cuban medical doctor and human rights defender, called it a case of purposeful medical neglect.

Demonstrating support for the Ladies in White, even outside of Cuba, is not without risk. 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.

It is important to recall how the Ladies in White came into existence in 2003 in the midst of the Black Cuban Spring. Days after one of the worse crackdown's on Cuba's national civic movement that began on March 18, 2003 the wives, sisters and daughters of these unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders formed the Ladies in White. An association of women seeking the release of their unjustly imprisoned husbands, sons, brothers and fathers.

In addition to their weekly marches demanding the release of Cuban political prisoners the Ladies in White would also gather together for a monthly "literary tea." Each Lady in White would participate reading letters from their jailed husbands, poems, and literature with the objective of raising their spirits. During these gatherings there are moments of laughter and also of tears.

Amnesty international has denounced the climate of fear and repression directed by regime officials against the Ladies in White. This movement has also been recognized internationally with important honors.The Ladies in White were awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005 and were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why are some folks not blessing Obama's trips to Cuba and Vietnam?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. - Matthew 5:9

Reverend King has the answer to the question
David Beeson over twitter asked an important question: "Blessed are the peacemakers, we're told. Obama has been to Cuba and now to Vietnam. So why aren't his Bible-thumping critics blessing him?"

The trip to Vietnam is still ongoing, but there are already shadows on the visit that would give peacemakers pause. First rescinding a decades-old ban on sales of lethal military equipment to Vietnam is not a nonviolent act or the action of a peacemaker. The response by China, warning the White House to not spark a “regional tinderbox” is ominous pointing to an arms race or even conflict.

In answering the question with a focus on the Cuba half  there have been a couple of months since the visit and time to further reflect on it.

First, since the December 17, 2014 announcement by President Obama and General Castro the level of repression in Cuba has grown exponentially.

Secondly, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has compiled figures that  reveal a tenfold increase in religious repression in Cuba with 2,300 separate violations recorded in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.

Cuban Americans warned that this would happen in an open letter in February of 2015 published in The Washington Post but were completely shut out and ignored.

Furthermore, the Obama administration signed off with Carnival on an agreement with the Castro regime that discriminated against Cuban Americans that prompted mass protests.

Obama in Cuba and in Vietnam being photographed in front of communist icons
Lastly, the visit to Cuba in and of itself had some very troubling aspects that could prolong the life of the dictatorship and send the wrong message internationally on the figure of Che Guevara. Within the context of the Cuba visit being photographed in front of the Ministry of the Interior with image of the Argentine guerilla in the background is unfortunate.

Now in Vietnam, President Obama is photographed in front of the statue of the murderous Ho Chi Minh. That the U.S. ambassador would also be hanging out in the Vietnamese regime's Ministry of Public Security in a smiling photo opportunity with the head of that organization, despite that buildings history of persecuting and torturing dissidents, is again unfortunate.

Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security To Lam and US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius
The Obama administration's Cuba policy has reduced tensions between the United States and Cuba but it has not addressed the presence of injustice or the fact that it has increased during this time of reduced tension. The failure of this policy can be measured by the tens of thousands of Cubans voting with their feet and leaving the island. This is a dramatic increase over previous years and can only be compared with other attempts to reach an accommodation with the Castro regime.

It is important to recall that the United States lifted economic sanctions on Vietnam on February 3, 1994 and normalized relations on July 11, 1995. Twenty two years later the Obama administration has opened the sale of weapons to Vietnam, but unlike in Cuba that still has economic sanctions, President Obama was not able to meet with Vietnamese dissidents in a scheduled meeting.

Ending sanctions reduces leverage and normalizing relations with abnormal regimes such as Vietnam and Cuba leads the United States in being complicit with the injustice taking place there. Perhaps that is why some Americans guided by biblical principles are so upset.

Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth tweeted the following caricature summing up President Obama's visit to Vietnam.

There is an alternative and it is the road less traveled of nonviolence which has a great record of success. Unfortunately, neither the Bush policy of preemptive wars or the Obama policy of neo-appeasement follows this path.