Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Castro's Narco-Terror network gets a free pass

"Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees." ... "The U.S. regime is very weak, and we are witnessing this weakness from close up."
- Fidel Castro, University of Tehran, May 10, 2001 quoted in the Agence France Presse

 On  March 24, 2015 the government of the United States "removed 45 Cuban companies, individuals and vessels from a sanction list of entities suspected of supporting terrorism or drug-trafficking," reported the Latin American Herald Tribune. Cuba is a totalitarian regime and all those companies, vessels and individuals are agents of the dictatorship. Not mentioned by EFE or the Associated Press but reported by Reuters was that the majority of the entities removed were:
"most of them dead people, defunct companies or sunken ships. Among them was Amado Padron, a Cuban executed by a firing squad 26 years ago along with Arnaldo Ochoa, a decorated army general who was sentenced to death by Cuba’s communist government after he was found to be connected to international drug trafficking. The U.S. Treasury Department said the delisting was aimed at clearing “out-of-date” names from its list of Specially Designated Nationals."
At the same time EFE reported, in seeming contradiction to what Reuters reported above that:
More than 30 of the 45 companies, individuals and vessels are currently based in Panama despite having originated in Cuba, while one ship, the Alegria de Pio, is registered in Spain and one company, Travel Services Inc., has its headquarters in the United States.
This action ignores a pattern that stretches back decades linking the Castro regime with terrorism, drug-trafficking and rogue behavior that continues to the present day. Furthermore, it appears that the sanctions list has not been kept up to date which leads to the question: have new entities been added to the list suspected of links to terrorism and drug trafficking?

Consider the following:

On March 2, 2015 the government of Colombia had seized a shipment of ammunition bound for Cuba on a China-flagged ship that was not properly documented. The BBC reported that "Officials said about 100 tons of gunpowder, almost three million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells were found on board. The ship's records said it was carrying grain products." First with North Korea in 2013 and now again with China in 2015 the Castro regime has been linked to scandals involving arms smuggling. Blogging by Boz reached a reasonable conclusion: "Two big shipments of weapons seized in 20 months means that this is probably a regular occurrence."

On January 27, 2015 the Spanish newspaper ABC reported that the Castro regime, in collaboration with Venezuela, was providing protection for drug traffickers traveling between Venezuela and the United States. According to news accounts the son of the Cuban ambassador to Venezuela, Germán Sánchez Otero, was using PDVSA planes to smuggle drugs with the United States as the final destination.

In 2012 there were reports in the media of Cuban, Iranian and Venezuelan officials meeting in Mexico to discuss cyber attacks on U.S. soil allegedly seeking information about nuclear power plants in the United States. Supposedly the FBI had opened an investigation into the matter, but there is no mention of this in subsequent U.S. State Department reports.
This pattern of conduct by the Castro regime stretches back more than 33 years, but following the Carter administration's loosening of sanctions between 1977 and 1980, and the opening of interests sections in Havana and Washington DC the behavior of the Castro regime did not improve. It appears to have perceived these actions as signs of weakness that led to more aggressive behavior in Latin America and Africa.

The U.S. State Department on March 1, 1982 declared Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism whose government was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democratic government. In 2001 at Georgetown University when I questioned General Barry McCaffrey, who at the time was advocating sharing intelligence on drug trafficking with the Castro regime, about this relationship between Cuba and Colombia's drug trafficking guerrillas he recognized it and expressed his concerns
During General Manuel Noriega's 1992 trial information emerged publicly implicating the Castro regime that Sun Sentinel reported at the time:
"Federal prosecutors say Noriega traveled to Havana to ask [Fidel] Castro to mediate a potentially deadly dispute with top members of Colombia`s Medellin cocaine cartel. They say the cartel chiefs were upset because a major drug lab had been seized in Panama despite payment of millions of dollars in protection money to Noriega. According to the Noriega indictment, Castro negotiated a peace accord between the cartel and Noriega at the 1984 meeting. The allegation forms a cornerstone of the racketeering and drug trafficking charges against Noriega."
At the same time convicted cartel leader Carlos Lehder directly implicated Raul Castro and U.S. fugitive Robert Vesco "to route cocaine flights through Cuba." Capitol Hill Cubans blogged how two years later, a federal indictment listed General Raul Castro as part of a conspiracy that smuggled seven and a half tons of cocaine into the United States over a 10-year period but the Clinton administration overruled prosecutors. One of the names taken off the list on March 24, 2015 was
Amado Padron, a Cuban intelligence agent executed by a firing squad 26 years ago along with Arnaldo Ochoa, a decorated army general who was sentenced to death by the Castro regime after he was found to be connected to international drug trafficking in an effort to limit the exposure of the Castro regime to prosecution.

Unfortunately, U.S. officials have declared that this action is in line with President Obama's new policy on Cuba that was unveiled on December 17, 2014 when he commuted the sentences of three Cuban spies, one of which, Gerardo Hernandez, was serving a double life sentence. One of the life sentences was for conspiracy to murder, in which four humanitarians were extrajudicially executed in an act of state terrorism on February 24, 1996. During the trial in 2000 of five Cuban spies it was also revealed that in addition to storing weapons and explosives in locations on U.S. soil that they also planned to terrorize and murder via a mail bomb an individual that they had identified as a CIA agent living in the United States.

Hopefully, the Obama Administration will learn from a mistake of the George W. Bush administration in its North Korea foreign policy and not repeat it in Cuba. In October of 2008, the Bush Administration took North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism in the hopes that it would “salvage a fragile nuclear deal” with the totalitarian regime.  Seven years after taking Kim Jong Un’s regime off the list of terror sponsors, North Korea has tested nuclear weapons, threatens to attack the United States with its new nukes, and has engaged in a cyber attack on a private company in the United States.

The negative lessons from the Bush administration’s cozying up to the North Korean tyrant and the Carter administration's cozying up to the Cuban one should give any reasonable person second thoughts about pursuing a similar path again with Cuba under the Castro regime.

"Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”- Winston Churchill, May 2, 1935

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims

"Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty." -Archbishop Oscar Romero

 IACHR Urges Countries in the Americas to Respect and Guarantee the Right to Truth

Washington, D.C. - On the occasion of the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, March 24th, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on the States of the Americas to respect and guarantee the right to the truth concerning grave human rights violations.

“The region’s democracies have inherited the responsibility of investigating human rights violations that occurred in times of dictatorships and authoritarian governments, and to punish those responsible,” said IACHR President Rose-Marie Antoine. “The path to truth and justice for these types of crimes of the past has been extremely long and difficult, but it is an outstanding obligation and a responsibility the States cannot avoid. It is impossible to build a democratic future without first shedding light on the grave violations of the past and achieving justice and reparation,” she added.

Investigations to identify and punish those responsible for the region’s serious human violations of the past have been seriously flawed. For example, some States continue to apply the military criminal justice system, and there are still amnesty laws in effect, known by different names, which ensure that these crimes remain unpunished. In many cases, there are major obstacles or it is even impossible to gain access to information about what transpired. In some countries, the concealment of extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, acts of torture, and sexual violence, along with other serious human rights violations, was a deliberate State policy and even a tactic of war. There has been important and significant progress in many areas and across different countries. However, gaining access to the full record of what transpired continues to be a major challenge.

The right to truth has two dimensions. The first is that victims and their family members have the right to know the truth and the identity of those who played a role in the violations, which means that States must investigate the facts, prosecute and punish those responsible, and guarantee access to the information available in State facilities and files. Secondly, society as a whole has the right to know the truth about past events, as well as the motives and circumstances in which the crimes were committed, in order to prevent recurrence of such acts in the future.

Consequently, the right to the truth should be a priority on States’ agendas. This means carrying out reforms or adopting legislative, judicial, and practical measures that recognize the rights of victims and their family members to know the truth about what happened, as well as ensuring access to information available in State facilities and files concerning serious human rights violations.

“States should declassify all documents that could be of use in judicial investigations, and in the case of serious human rights violations in a transnational or regional context, States should cooperate in turning over official information to other States seeking to investigate, prosecute, and punish such violations,” the IACHR President said.

In November of last year, the IACHR published the report “The Right to Truth in the Americas,” which provides tools for States that seek to guarantee the right to truth. The report identifies positive contributions in close to ten countries made by victims, family members, human rights defenders, and civil society organizations to document, verify, and spread the truth about human rights violations.

Such efforts include establishing unofficial truth commissions, conducting investigations, preparing studies and reports, and implementing initiatives to bring pressure to bear for these violations to be recognized by society and the public.

“This report provides a useful guide for the States by compiling the case law of the inter-American system on what their obligations are with regard to justice and reparation for victims of grave human rights violations and society as a whole, in order to guarantee the right to the truth,” the IACHR President said.

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.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The legacy of Oswaldo Payá and his nonviolent fight for human rights

"Two years and eight months since the unexplained deaths of Harold and Oswaldo." - Christian Liberation Movement, over twitter March 22, 2015

 Two years and eight months ago on July 22, 2012 Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were killed under suspicious circumstances that over time point more and more to an extrajudicial killing carried out by the Castro regime's security services.

Despite calls for an international and transparent investigation by world leaders including Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and Anti-Apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu none has been carried out and made public.

Unfortunately, the international environment at the moment does not favor such an investigation. On December 17, 2014 Gerardo Hernandez, the Castro spy convicted in the conspiracy to murder four individuals to a life sentence was freed, along with two other regime spies by President Barack Obama. On February 24, 2015, nineteen years after the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down, Raul Castro celebrated the return of his spies and planted medals on them.  The unrepentant spy announced that he was ready for his next order.

Rosa María Payá Acevedo asked the following question in December 2013 after the US president shook hands with the Cuban dictator in South Africa: "Why did Barack Obama shake the hand of my father's killer, Raul Castro?" Rosa's question was answered on December 17, 2014: to free three Cuban spies, opening the US embassy in Havana, and announce a campaign to end the US commercial embargo.

Last month on February 3, 2015 Rosa María before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee provided the following indictment of the Obama administration's outreach to the dictatorship in Cuba:
On 22 July 2012, Cuban State Security detained the car in which my father, Oswaldo Payá, and my friend Harold Cepero, along with two young European politicians, were traveling. All of them survived, but my father disappeared for hours only to reappear dead, in the hospital in which Harold would die without medical attention.

The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the US government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages. While you slept, the regime was conceiving their cleansing of the pro-democracy leaders to come. While you sleep, a second generation of dictators is planning with impunity their next crimes. 
Democracy is in decline in Latin America. Human rights are worsening in Cuba and in this international environment it has been in decline worldwide for the past nine years. The policies pursued by Western democracies do not promise a turn around any time soon.

Nevertheless, one cannot despair and the power of nonviolence needs not only to be remembered but acted upon. Speaking truth to power and engaging in effective nonviolent campaigns that topple entrenched unjust systems does not cost billions of dollars. Appeasing tyrants have generated great profits for industries in the past as has going to war against them. This is both the tragedy and opportunity of nonviolence that provides power to the powerless. It can emerge spontaneously but with training, tactics and a strategy the odds of success increase dramatically while at the same time lowering the cost in lives.

On what would have been Oswaldo's 63rd birthday on February 28th a Mass was held for him at Our Lady of Charity and a rousing call was made there to nonviolent resistance in a homily that reflected on the prayer, Our Father.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Human rights deteriorating in Cuba

"In the single session on Cuba, three activists complained that repression of government opponents and human rights workers in the country has continued and even increased since the announcement of normalization of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations last December." - Latin American Herald Tribune, March 20, 2015

Testifying before the IACHR on the general human rights situation in Cuba
On March 19, 2015 in the late afternoon in the Rubén Darío room, the one and only hearing on the human rights situation in Cuba during the 154 Period of Sessions was held at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The complete presentation is available online in Spanish and runs 54 minutes and 8 seconds.

However, for the sake of brevity there are some key observations that underline the reality that the human rights situation in Cuba under the Castro dictatorship is worsening:

In 2013 there were 5,718 arbitrary detentions documented in 2014 the number increased to 8,519. This is 1.49 times higher than the previous year. Source: CIHPRESS.

Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International on the situation in Cuba warned:
 “We have been receiving incredibly worrying reports about a rise in harassment and short-term detentions of dissidents throughout 2014 which has continued in recent weeks. Prisoner releases will be no more than a smokescreen if they are not accompanied by expanded space for the free and peaceful expression of all opinions and other freedoms in Cuba.” 
Death threats and torture are common practices by agents of the dictatorship that are well documented and still continue in Cuba. The presentation on March 19, 2015 began with excerpts of two video interviews documenting the February and June 2014 raids on the home, arbitrary detentions and tortures of Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez", and Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera who testified before the IACHR in 2013. Following this testimony two IACHR members expressed concerns about reprisals against IACHR petitioners.

Also highlighted in the testimony was the arbitrary detention, beating and torture of human rights defender Juan Carlos González Leiva. The fact that Juan Carlos, who is an attorney, also happens to be blind and was physically brutalized while he could listen to his wife being manhandled by state security agents at the same time only compounds the outrage that took place on January 9, 2014. Source: Frontline Defenders.

Sara Martha Fonseca shows bloody spot were officials pricked her with a needle
 Human rights defender and resistance activist now political refugee, Sara Martha Fonseca Quevedo gave testimony about her life in Cuba. Particularly disturbing was the account of being injected with a debilitating substance while walking with the Ladies in White and finding a spot of blood and finding a needle mark on her skin. Photograph of the blood spot on her white dress was presented to the IACHR. The full presentation in Spanish is available below.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

XII Anniversary: The Black Cuban Spring

Remembering the Black Cuban Spring
Twelve years ago today the Castro regime engaged in a nationwide crackdown on opposition activists followed by show trials and long prison sentences of up to 28 years for their nonviolent defense of human rights and freedoms. This was in reaction to 11,020 Cubans signing the Varela Project and demanding a referendum on human rights reforms. Alfredo Felipe Fuentes in a 2010 interview with Reporters Without Borders explained:
 Of the 75 arrested, nearly 50 were people who had were of importance in the Varela Project. Although not all were in the "hard core", I mean among those who, like me, were responsible for the collection of signatures. The majority were actively involved. The 25 others were arrested to disguise that it was an operation against the national civic project.
The above image was posted over twitter by Regis Iglesias, one of the prisoners of conscience of the Cuban Black Spring and the spokesman of the Christian Liberation Movement in Europe. Today over Facebook he made the reflection:
The 2003 crackdown has not ended, from the first kidnapping on March 18th, passing through the years of prison, exile, and the sword of damocles hanging over those who stayed in the island under an extra-penal license", the "natural" or provoked deaths of Miguel Valdes, Orlando Zapata, Laura Pollan, Antonio Villareal, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, the lack of rights of the people that in the spring of 2002 was supported in the Varela project, only confirms one thing ( and were not inventing anything new): only the continuing demand of the recognition of popular sovereignty and the vote of Cubans for their rights barred by the terror regime that for than half a century we have suffered. Free Elections with guarantees, in atmosphere of respect and plurality. Now!!!
The dictatorship thought it had ended the democratic opposition but instead the Black Spring led to the formation of a new movement: The Ladies in White. Below is a documentary filmed before, during and after the crackdown that began on March 18, 2003.