Monday, October 5, 2015

Did U.S. Embassy officials in Havana hand over a U.S. citizen to be brutalized by Castro's secret police?

 United States embassy in Havana hands over fleeing former political prisoner to Castro's police

Missing: Carlos Manuel Figueroa handed over by US officials to Castro's police
 On Wednesday, September 30, 2015  Carlos Manuel Figueroa, a former Cuban political prisoner released earlier this year, made news over social media beginning at 3:28 pm Ivan Hernandez Carrillo tweeted: "A man jumped the fence of the US embassy in Havana this morning with cries of Down With Raul!!!" A few minutes later thanks to Ivan the identity and fate of the man was made known: "the citizen was identified as Carlos Manuel Figueroa, who protection authorities handed over to police immediately." Three hours later at 6:21pm the news took an ominous turn with the same Cuban journalist reporting that while in custody Carlos Manuel was beaten up by military. EFE news wire is reporting that the Cuban dissident is missing. The U.S. embassy is refusing to confirm what transpired citing security concerns.

The human rights situation in Cuba has been steadily deteriorating during the Obama administration with rising levels of violence and the extrajudicial execution of opposition leaders since 2009. 

Equally concerning is the claim made by Ivan Hernandez Carrillo over twitter that Carlos Manuel Figueroa is a U.S. citizen of Cuban origin.  The claim made by the Obama administration that human rights would be a priority with the new policy on Cuba would be laughable, if it were not so tragic.

Below are two videos from July 2015 where Carlos Manuel speaks his mind.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

St. Francis, his example, prayer and nonviolence

While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart. - St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi and is the first Pope to bear that name. Yesterday the Archdiocese of Miami organized a conversation on Pope Francis's visit to Cuba. Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi and presents an opportunity to reflect on the life and legacy of this Saint.

Last month during the Pope's visit to Cuba the Free Cuba Foundation announced a fast for freedom which included a call for participants to pray the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
This prayer was not written by St. Francis but is traced to the early 20th century and it does embody the life he lived.  Cardinal Bergoglio is said to have chosen the name out of a deep concern for the poor but also nature and peace. Saint Francis at the height of the Fifth Crusade traveled to Damietta, Egypt, behind enemy lines, to meet with Sultan Malik al-Kamil and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. He also met with both parties in the conflict, the above mentioned Sultan and the Christian general Cardinal Pelagius preaching peace and an end to the killing. St. Francis was threatened with being branded a heretic by Church authorities for the encounter. The Catholic saint was characterized by his willingness to engage in open dialogue with all sorts.

We live in an age in which a constant stream of information bombards those trying to listen and understand the times, but the past offers knowledge that should also be heeded because it has endured the tests of time.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pope Francis and his Visit to Cuba: A Conversation

Miami's Archbishop Thomas Wenski and Dagoberto Valdés discuss the visit of Pope Francis to Cuba

Archbishop Thomas Wenski and Dagoberto Valdés
This morning had the pleasure to attend a gathering to discuss the recent visit of the Pontiff to Cuba at St. Thomas University. Unexpectedly the press was on hand and a reporter for El Nuevo Herald immediately asked me for a comment, even before the event had started. I explained that I had come to listen, but he insisted that I provide a comment on my opinion on the Pope's visit to Cuba and I expressed my disappointment in the silence surrounding the repression of dissidents during his visit, including of those invited to meet Pope Francis who were prevented from doing so twice by Cuban regime officials.  According to a tally prepared by journalist Marc Masferrer, at least 238 Cuban dissidents were arrested during the Pope's visit to Cuba. Three Cuban dissidents who were able to to get within earshot of Pope Francis before being tackled by Cuban state security remain jailed and the Human Rights Foundation is calling for their release

Taken from Dagoberto's power point presentation
Archbishop Wenski made some brief remarks on the visit and apologized for the hoarseness in his voice acquired with the heavy travel itinerary with Pope Francis first in Cuba and then later in the United States. Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, founder of Convivencia magazine and the Civic Education Center in Pinar del Rio gave a detailed analysis of what went on during the visit and the themes touched on by Pope Francis and the impact the visit was having in Cuba. Below are video excerpts from Dagoberto's presentation (In Spanish).

Friday, October 2, 2015

On the International Day of Nonviolence a Call to Gandhian Nonviolence in Cuba

"There is no hope for the aching world except through the narrow and straight path of nonviolence." - Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi was born on this day 166 years ago
October 2 is the International Day of Nonviolence in observance of the birth of Mohandas Gandhi that presents an opportunity to reflect on the continuing relevance of Gandhian nonviolence today.  Nonviolence it is argued has no political or ideological hew. President Ronald Reagan, a conservative,  gave a definition of peace straight out of a nonviolent paradigm when he said "Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means." Mohandas Gandhi, a self described social democrat who was denounced as a "romantic reactionary" by the Soviet Union, expanded upon this idea stating: "It is the acid test of nonviolence that in a nonviolent conflict there is no rancor left behind, and in the end enemies are converted into friends."

Cuba has been in the news regularly since President Obama announced a new Cuba policy on December 17, 2014 that could best be described as neo-appeasement. Thus far the fruits of the new policy have been disappointing, with a deteriorating human rights situation in Cuba and an emboldened dictatorship. Nevertheless, Cubans need to embrace nonviolence by not ignoring conflicts but developing strategies to confront them nonviolently not only in action, but in speech and in spirit as well.

Following the path laid out by Gandhi offers practitioners of nonviolence an effective alternative to war that leads to liberation and the end of tyranny by becoming soldiers of peace. If Cubans want to be free then they should follow in Gandhi's footsteps and resist evil without perpetrating evil deeds.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cuban diplomat's conduct in EU Parliament offers unwitting testimony on human rights in Cuba

Regime officials show their true selves in the European parliament 

EU Parliament listening to human rights presentation today [photo: Dita Charanzová]
 Totalitarians have a specific playbook that doesn't vary that borders on the neurotic. Those who dissent from building the ideological project of the totalitarian regime are to be destroyed. Destruction can be verbal but all too often physical as were the cases of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.

Today, while presenting a human rights report on Cuba at the European Parliament, one of Raul Castro's diplomats sought to demonize and discredit me using the epithet of mercenary arguing that he had evidence that I was "paid to act against my homeland" and that he would distribute the evidence that I was receiving U.S. funds.

He did not address the substance of the  human rights report presented but sought to destroy the reputation and legitimacy of the author. The Cuban diplomat argued that "Cuba has presented on two occasions its country report to the United Nations Human Rights Council [during two Universal Periodic Reviews] working on implementing the recommendations approved by our country and added that "Cuba" does not recognize the European Parliament much less political groups neither the importance or competence to analyze the human rights situation of the members of the ALBA here present." Not mentioned was the process by which they circumvented the spirit of the UPR and corrupted the process.

Cuban author and intellectual, Carlos Alberto Montaner in 2012 at the Miami Book Fair analyzed this practice of totalitarian regimes and the why behind this practice of character assassination. The objective is to destroy the messenger and avoid the ideas and content being discussed. That is precisely what happened today. However the Castro regime goes further demonizing two million Cubans in Miami regardless of ideological and philosophical differences that are normal in a free society and lump them all together under this destructive stereotype that has had an impact internationally. Carlos Alberto Montaner concluded that "Cuba is one of those states that seeks to destroy the collective image of their emigrants and the particular image of those people that they have decided are their enemies."

Event today interrupted by Cuban diplomats
The Castro regime today objected to members of the European parliament freely gathering to analyze reports on the human rights situation in Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela. They disrupted the conversation were members could weigh the evidence presented and question the authors on matters of substance. They sought to threaten and intimidate participants in what amounted to persecution with the aim of supressing their work which would qualify as an attempt to censor. 

For the record, I was born in the United States and am a citizen of the United States. My family left Cuba in the 1950s prior to the Castro regime, in part, because they opposed the Batista dictatorship. They did not return to live in Cuba afterwards because of the then new and now ongoing dictatorship installed by the Castro brothers.  As a human rights activist I have never pretended to speak for the Cuban people, but will defend the content of my writings and human rights reporting.

Any reasonably objective person would conclude that the Cuban people have been subjected to a totalitarian and dynastic dictatorship run by the Castro family for the past 56 years. Taking this into account it is also reasonable that after more than 56 years under a totalitarian dictatorship that Cubans should have a say as to how they are governed and exercise their long denied sovereignty.

The statements made by the Cuban official today at the European parliament are evidence of the continuing hostility of the Castro regime towards human rights in general and the exercise of free expression in particular.