Saturday, November 22, 2014

Aid to the Church in Need reports on death in suspicious circumstances of Cuban opposition leader

"Two years and four months without Harold and Oswaldo. For justice to be done for an end to impunity of the junta." - Christian Liberation Movement over twitter on November 22, 2014
Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero killed in suspicious incident on July 22, 2012
Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation of the Catholic Church presented a country profile on Cuba that highlighted the July 22, 2012 death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas but failed to mention that Harold Cepero had also been killed following the incident with the car and misspelled the opposition youth leader's name. Its been corrected in the excerpt below. Also reported on a April 2013 violent attack on a Pentecostal pastor who he tried to file a legal complaint against local Communist Party officials. The attack left him with permanent brain damage.

Death of pro-democracy campaigner

..."And then in July 2012 came the death in suspicious circumstances of Oswaldo Paya, the driving force behind the Varela Project, a pro-democracy movement. The government stated that the driver had lost control of the vehicle but Mr Paya's family said the car had been deliberately run off the road. Mr Paya was a Catholic and, while in many respects his co-religionists saw significant improvements, the experience of some Protestant groups was very different. In 2013, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported violent beatings of Protestant ministers in different parts of the country. There was criticism of the Office of Religious Affairs and its efforts to control and monitor religious groups – especially with regard to importing religious books and other materials from abroad and receiving donations from overseas."


Progress and problems in Cuba

March 2011: Eight political prisoners were released; one being part of a group of 75 people arrested during the “Black Spring” – a government crackdown on so-called “dissidents” campaigning for greater freedom. They were part of the Varela Movement, named after Fr Felix Varela - Catholic priest and independence campaigner.
Source: Fides, 5/3/11

June 2011: Church leaders complained that although the government had authorised Catholic and Protestant religious services in prisons in 2009, permission was not always granted. The situation for non-Christian religious groups was worse, with no provision for them to organise or hold their own services. Religious rights were often violated as a form of punishment, with religious literature confiscated and prisoners denied religious visits – especially prisoners of conscience.
Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Cuba: Summary of Concerns, 1/6/11

September 2011: Some ‘Ladies in White’ were arrested after attending Mass in Santiago to celebrate the feast of Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity. The ‘Ladies; were regularly prevented from attending church services. On dozens of occasions Ardisnidia Cruz, mother of political prisoners Marcos and Antonio Lima-Cruz, was prevented from leaving her Holguin house on Sundays for Mass. In 2013 the Ladies in White again reported acts of intimidation.
Source: US State Department – International Religious Freedom Report for 2011Las Damas De Blanco website

March 2012: Pope Benedict XVI visited Santiago de Cuba and Havana. Weeks before his arrival, monitoring organisations  state that more than 100 dissidents had been arrested. During the Pope’s three day visit, about 200 Cuban critics were banned from attending Masses and other public celebrations. Some were threatened with arrest if they left their homes and their phone lines were cut.

April 2012: Good Friday was made a public holiday in Cuba for the first time in 40 years, following the request of Benedict XVI. All religious holidays were cancelled after the 1959 revolution.
Source: Fides, 3/4/12; BBC News online, 6/4/12

July 2012: Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement was killed in a ‘suspicious’ car crash. He had helped mastermind a pro-democracy movement calling for freedom of speech and assembly for which he had received a number of awards. Mr Paya and fellow activist Harold Cepero, a Swedish politician, were being driven but died when the car crashed. The regime announced that the car had come off the road, crashing into a tree. Mr Paya’s family and another passenger insisted that it had been deliberately bumped off the road. 50 activists were arrested before and after Mr Paya’s funeral Mass.

January 2013: In accordance with President Raul Castro’s stated policy to return Church property seized by the revolutionary regime in 1961, officials in Santiago de Cuba announced that two churches and a pastoral centre would be returned. The Secretary of the Provincial Assembly of the People's Power told Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez that the Church of St. Joseph the Worker and Church of St Benedict would be returned. Further reports indicated plans for the return of church buildings in Havana.
Source: Fides 26/01/13; Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba website

March 2013: For the second year running, a government decree made Good Friday a public holiday.
Source: Fides 26/1/13; Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba website

April 2013: For the first time in years multiple reports have been received of violent beatings of Protestant pastors in different parts of the country. Additionally, week after week, scores of men, women and sometimes children were physically and violently dragged away by state security agents from Sunday morning services.
Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Religious Freedom in Cuba, 1/4/13

April 2013: The Pentecostal pastor of a church in Holguin was left with permanent brain damage after a violent attack while traveling from home to the provincial capital to file a legal complaint against local Communist Party officials who had illegally confiscated his car. Similar attacks against members of Protestant churches have increased in the last year.
Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, 3/4/13

Please help end impunity in Cuba and sign the petition demanding an international and transparent investigation into the deaths of Oswaldo and Harold.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Miami with Mexico: In solidarity with the 43 missing students in Ayotzinapa

“Just as many showed their solidarity with us when we were striving for freedom, so now we must show solidarity to those who are only striving for it in uneasy conditions.” - Vaclav Havel

Nonviolent demonstration at the Mexican Consulate in Miami for 43 missing students
Over the past few weeks have been following the terrible news concerning 43 students who went missing on September 26, 2014 in Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero in Mexico and are now feared dead.  This crime hits close to home for Cubans especially in 2014 which is the 20th anniversary of the "13 de Marzo"tugboat massacre were 37 were killed, who in their majority were youth. At the same time having already witnessed the spectacle of the government of Venezuela's involvement in the killing of their youth engaged in nonviolent protests makes this year a particularly difficult one.

At the Mexican Consulate earlier this evening
Today joined with others at the Mexican Consulate in Miami to demand truth and justice for the 43 students missing in Ayotzinapa and over the social networks helped to spread the word in what was a global action. Times like these we need to get out from behind our computers and stand together in the solidarity of the shaken.

86 Students Taken in Latin America 2014: 43 in Mexico and 43 in Venezuela

“Those who falsify history do not protect the freedom of a nation but, rather, constitute a threat to it.” – Vaclav Havel, The Salzburg Festival, July 26, 1990 

 The situation in Mexico demands concrete attention and actions in the hopes that a resolution can quickly be reached such as:
  • Over social media there are numerous opportunities to demonstrate one's solidarity using hash tags such as: and #GlobalActionForAyotzinapa
  • In Miami on November 20, 2014 at 5pm in the Mexican Consulate in downtown (1399 SW 1st Avenue Miami, FL 33130) join with Mexican activists in a nonviolent protest denouncing the crime while demanding justice and the return of the 43 missing students to their loved ones. Please dress in black Protests also planned in Santa Ana, CA; Dallas, TX and elsewhere.
  • Signing an online letter from Amnesty International calling on the Mexican government to bring all responsible to justice, acknowledge that this is not an isolated case, and for the government to uphold 2012 commitment to eradicate torture and ill treatment of all detainees.
  • Writing opeds, letters to the editor, spreading the word over social media on the internet in order that others may take concrete action on behalf of these 43 students.
Meanwhile efforts by political partisans to take advantage of the situation to advance a particular agenda needs to be quashed while truth and justice serve as a guide to action on behalf of the 43. For example,  Venezuelan Analysis republished an article of Tamara Pearson of the Venezuela and Cuban sponsored television network TELESUR titled 43 Lives, 2 Countries slandering the victims of the Maduro government killed during anti-government protests in 2014 while at the same time failing to mention that in the case of the 43 disappeared students in Mexico the government officials identified as having colluded with a drug gang in taking the students are members of a left wing political party with ties to both Venezuela and Cuba.

Both Mexico and Venezuela are in the grips of waves of violence that have claimed tens of thousands of lives. Mexico with a population of 122.3 million according to the preliminary numbers published by the National Statistics Institute, (Inegi) had 22,732 homicides in 2013, equivalent to 22 per 100,000 inhabitants.  Meanwhile, Venezuela with a population of 30.41 million according to the Venezuelan Observatory on Violence, estimates that 24,000 people were murdered in 2013, according to the United Nations and the World Bank the number per capita is 54 per 100,000 inhabitants and is considered the second most likely place to be murdered on the planet with Honduras in first place. The bottom line on murder rates is that you are 2.5 times more likely to be murdered in Venezuela than in Mexico.

Some of the Venezuelan youth shot in the head in 2014 during protests
 However, the questions surrounding the 43 Venezuelans and 43 Mexicans murdered in a political context in 2014 resonate in both countries and raise fundamental questions of governance.

The mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda are suspected of ordering the disappearance of 43 students which took place on September 26, 2014 and colluding with a drug gang called Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) who allegedly murdered the students.  The governor of Guerrero state, Angel Aguirre has taken a leave of absence due to growing criticism over his role in the affair. Both the mayor and governor are members of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Leaked diplomatic cables of the U.S. embassy in Mexico indicate that the Mexican president Calderon believed that Hugo Chavez's government had secretly funded the PRD candidate's election in 2006.  The PRD also has good relations with the Cuban dictatorship.

Since February 12, 2014 forty three Venezuelans have been killed during protests against rising insecurity and vanishing rights in their country. Over 5,000 have been injured and 3,000 arbitrarily detained. Among them is the opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez who advocated for nonviolent protests and remains arbitrarily detained despite the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on August 26, 2014 calling for his immediate release.The students shot and killed in the demonstrations by government soldiers and paramilitaries that work with the Maduro government.

The pattern of conduct and impunity that took place in Venezuela and Iguala with their respective 43 students is troublingly similar. A government official unhappy with student protesters orders troops to put down their demonstration and uses non-government para-military groups as shock troops to terrorize nonviolent students. This includes unarmed Venezuelan students shot and killed at point blank range. The difference between what happened in Mexico and in Venezuela is that in the Mexican case it is a local official while in the Venezuelan case national officials are involved.

What happened in Venezuela?
The series of events that sparked the student demonstrations in Venezuela began in Táchira on February 4, 2014 when a student at the University of Los Andes in the Botanical Garden of the University was the victim of an attempted rape. Students protested that "insecurity had taken over the campus." The protest was repressed and a number of students arrested and physically mistreated by the authorities. The news of the abuse by government officials sparked additional protests

The February 10th open letter tweeted by student leader Juan Requesens, who has more than 528,000 followers the message is one that is open to dialogue with the government on two conditions 1) that students who were arrested exercising their legitimate right to protest be freed and 2) that calling them "coup plotters" or "terrorists" for engaging in nonviolent protests to demand their rights is unacceptable.

February 12 in Venezuela is a national youth day and students across the country organized nonviolent mass demonstrations in response to the earlier repression and were met with violence by regime officials working in coordination with paramilitary groups known as "colectivos." Students were shot in the head and killed. This escalated the protests and as the violence increased the demands expanded and began to focus on Maduro. These facts are conveniently ignored by Ms. Pearson in her article.

What happened in Mexico?

Students trashed City Hall in Iguala in 2013 after the slaying of a leftist social activist. Iguala is located 80 miles south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero. The murdered activist's widow, Sofia Mendoza, a City Council member, blames Mayor Abarca for that killing. The Mayor and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, were believed to have ordered local police to intercept and do away with the students who were en route to Iguala and might have disrupted a party and speech by Ms. Pineda on September 26, 2014 and were attacked before reaching their destination: six were killed, 25 were wounded and 43 went missing and have not been seen again.

More than 50 people have been arrested in connection with the disappearances, the majority of them police officers or members of the local drug gang Guerreros Unidos, all of whom authorities say were working together. It now appears that the mayor's wife, Pineda was the “principal operator” of Guerreros Unidos in Iguala.

The governor, Angel Aguirre, took a leave of absence because of the scandal, which has also handed President Enrique Peña Nieto his worst crisis during his presidency. Several top leaders of the left who had given Abarca their support have now distanced themselves from the tainted mayor. 

The Mexican government is saying that those arrested have admitted to killing the students and burning their remains. Family members are questioning the official version as one parent stated: "We are not going to believe anything until the experts tell us: You know what? It is them,"

International Coverage
Searching Google 212 reports mention protesters killed in Venezuela versus 220 reports mentioning 43 students killed in Mexico. Unfortunately, the campaign by Maduro apologists to slander the student movement in Venezuela while restricting the access of independent international human rights organizations to investigate what has taken place in Venezuela in stark contrast to the cooperation by the national Mexican government welcoming the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate and not expelling or demonizing human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch.

From Military Dictators to Populists

Forty years ago military dictatorships in Latin America were murdering left wing students and in 2014 in Venezuela and Mexico populist left wing politicians are using police, para-militaries and gangs to murder left wing students who do not obey them. One constant during these 40 years is that the dictatorship in Cuba has had and continues to have good relations with regimes that murder students.

This is Latin America in 2014.

Venezuelan students showing their solidarity with their Mexican counterparts

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The New York Times: A Propaganda Rag?

 Some of the news that they refused to print.

Since 1851 there have been lapses in journalistic ethics
Until now this blog has not addressed the eruption of New York Times editorials regarding Cuba and U.S. policy out of sheer weariness over treading once again over well trodden ground on the sanctions debate, but two items have necessitated a response. The call by The New York Times to release Cuban spies imprisoned for their crimes including the murder of U.S. citizens.

The ten members of the Cuban "WASP" spy network arrested in 1998 used coded material on computer disks to communicate with other members of the spy network of which the FBI was able to obtain 1,300 pages taken from those diskettes translated and used during the spy trial. The documents demonstrate the criminal nature of the Cuban regime's operation in South Florida including their primary objective of penetrating and obtaining information on a U.S. naval station. Furthermore intelligence operatives communicated about burning down a warehouse and sabotaging Brothers to the Rescue equipment. The Cuban government requested that the spies attempt to identify who would be flying at certain times.  What is left out of The New York Times reporting is that in the documents the operatives discuss plans to prepare a "book bomb" that evades post office security while at the same time phoning death threats to a man they describe as a CIA agent in order to terrorize him and then killing him with the mail bomb.
The seriousness of these planned action items would be confirmed by the February 24, 1996 shoot down where two MiGs hunted Brothers to the Rescue planes in international airspace and used air to air missiles to destroy two of the planes killing two pilots and two passengers based on intelligence supplied by the WASP network.

Cover of 2014 article on KGB plans to eliminate MLK
 The second item was the publication of the full letter sent to Martin Luther King Jr. on November 11, 1964  to provoke his suicide and/or silence in The New York Times Magazine article by Barbara Gage titled "What an Uncensored Letter to M.L.K. Reveals" pointing to the FBI as the guilty party. However, at no time does the article mention that the KGB also had a campaign of active measures in place to destroy Martin Luther King Jr. that is well documented.

Letter sent to MLK in 1964 published by The New York Times
The New York Times has had a long time bias in favor of dictatorships and making glaring omissions. The paper has had reporters such as Walter Duranty who ignored a genocide in Ukraine in the 1930s while providing a sympathetic portrayal of the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. Beginning in 1957 Herbert Matthews built up Fidel Castro's image both inside and outside of Cuba with a series of misleading articles in The New York Times. In July of 1959 Matthews reported: "[t]his is not a Communist Revolution in any sense of the term. Fidel Castro is not only not a Communist, he is decidedly anti-Communist." Anthony De Palma has written a book on Herbert Matthews titled, "The Man Who Invented Fidel" and describes how his heroic portrayal of Fidel Castro influenced the fall of the Batista dictatorship and the consolidation of the future dictator as a national figure.

Considering that the Castro dictatorship in Cuba, that The New York Times assisted in putting into power, has five decades of engaging and sponsoring international terrorism along with a terrible human rights record at home one would think that the Grey Lady would be more cautious in its reporting. Unfortunately what should be the paper of record has too often become a propaganda rag especially when the topic has been Cuba.

Monday, November 17, 2014

25 years after the Velvet Revolution Czechs take to the streets of Prague to protest against their government

“If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause." -T.S. Eliot
Demonstration today in Prague honoring Havel and criticizing present government
Twenty five years ago the Velvet Revolution erupted in reaction to the brutal repression of a student march on the 50th anniversary of the execution of nine Czech students by the Nazis for demonstrating against the Nazi occupation. During those protests the demonstrators jingled keys to signify support for change and the unlocking of closed doors.

Today when Czechs gathered in Prague to give thanks to the late Vaclav Havel and celebrate 25 years of freedom they also carried red cards to protest the policies of the current Czech president Milos Zeman that are a repudiation of Havel's human rights centered foreign policy.

Until now the Czech Republic has had a morally principled foreign policy based in a steadfast and principled defense of human rights and democracy without exceptions that had been vigorously defended and advocated by Vaclav Havel.

On May 30, 2014 the Czech First Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Drulák stated that Czech President Václav Havel's foreign policy with its emphasis on human rights was damaging to national interests stating: "I consider this a false universalism, a false idea that we should enforce on others our idea of an ideal society we have created." The idea that human rights are universal is not a uniquely Czech idea but enshrined and signed off on by the vast majority of nations in the world in the Universal Human Rights Declaration that came into existence on December 10, 1948.

President Zeman has repeatedly "made it clear that he considers economic diplomacy rather than promotion of human rights to be one of the pillars of Czech foreign policy." Unfortunately, this approach has also been seen in U.S. policy to China with disastrous results.
When President Barack Obama backed out of meeting with the Dalai Lama due to an upcoming trip to China, Vaclav Havel explained the importance of such "small compromises" on October 12, 2009 at Forum 2000:
I believe that when the new Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize postpones receiving the Dalai Lama until after he has accomplished his visit to China, he makes a small compromise, a compromise which actually has some logic to it. However, there arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises.
Unfortunately, the decisions being made by the Czech government today may appear to be a small compromise in favor of commercial interests but the rejection of the applicability of universal human rights standards in favor of advancing economic interests will have grave consequences to the standing of the Czech Republic around the world as it has for the United States.

Today, President Zeman's policies led to the Czech president being pelted with eggs during his speech on the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Unfortunately, the long term implications and consequences of abandoning a principled foreign policy based in human rights will be far more dire for the Czech Republic and the world.

The Velvet Revolution got its name from the American rock band the Velvet Underground whose music was covered by the Czech rock band the Plastic People of the Universe. The music outlawed by the Czech Communists led to the band members being arrested and placed on trial. This act of repression led to Charter 77 and restarting dissent after the years of repression following the 1968 Prague Spring.  This is one more example of how one action can have unexpected consequences.

Vaclav Havel's place in history is secure but the legacy of the current government of the Czech Republic is an entirely different matter. Freedom was regained 25 years ago and has lasted a generation which is a great triumph but to maintain and expand freedom depends on the current leadership pursuing the right policies and the people of the Czech Republic holding them accountable.