Friday, November 27, 2015

Why the Embargo on Cuba and the Cuban Adjustment Act are still needed

"La 'crisis' no es en Costa Rica, alli son 4000 que ya escaparon de la tirania. La 'crisis' es en Cuba, donde son millones queriendo escapar del comunismo." Tony Diaz Sanchez, November 27, 2015

Cubans at the Ecuadorian embassy in Havana, Cuba (Photo: 14yMedio)
International news today is reporting on the manufactured Cuban migrant crisis in Central America while ignoring the underlying crisis in Cuba. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that this has happened and those familiar with the situation in Cuba understand the real crisis. Exiled Cuban opposition leader Tony Diaz Sanchez, of the Christian Liberation movement and a former prisoner of conscience explained it well above in Spanish: "The 'crisis is not in Costa Rica, there are 4,000 who have already escaped the tyranny. The 'crisis' is in Cuba where there are millions wanting to escape communism."

It seems that many in the media are confusing the effects with the underlying cause and it is not only with the question of Cuban migration, but also with the sanctions placed on the Cuban dictatorship by the United States. The reason for the poor relations between the Castro regime and the United States is not because of the embargo but just the opposite. The reason for the embargo on the Castro regime is to safeguard U.S. taxpayers and not have them subsidize a dictatorship hostile to U.S. interests.

The Cuban embargo was first imposed on the Castro regime on  January 3, 1961 by President Eisenhower in response to the confiscation of U.S. properties and toughened by President Kennedy a short time later. The logic for economic sanctions was to raise the cost for the Castro regime to engage in subversion in the hemisphere. Unfortunately, the reason for the embargo still endures.

Cubans were fleeing the Castro regime prior to and following the embargo. However in 1965 the Lyndon Johnson Administration was faced with the Camarioca Boatlift, an migration crisis provoked by the Castro regime. Kelly M. Greenhill in her February 2002 paper, Engineered Migration as a Coercive Instrument, gave an analysis of what the Castro regime did and how the Johnson Administration responded that can be briefly summed up as follows:
In September 1965, Castro announced that any Cuban who had relatives living in the US could leave the island via the port of Camarioca, located on Cuba’s northern shore. Castro also invited exiles to come by sea to pick up family members who had been stranded on the island, following the suspension of commercial flights between the two countries during the Cuban Missile Crisis three years earlier. Two days later he began offering two flights daily from Havana to Miami. ... By unleashing his “demographic bomb,” Castro demonstrated to the US government he could disrupt its immigration policy and the opening of the port at Camarioca carried with it a “lightly-veiled” threat, namely that Havana, not Washington, controlled Florida’s borders.  Almost overnight, and with little warning, the Castro regime had presented the US with a major refugee crisis. President Johnson initially responded with contempt to Castro’s move, making a speech before the Statue of Liberty in October 1965, in which he proclaimed that the US would continue to welcome Cubans seeking freedom “with the thought that in another day, they can return to their homeland to find it cleansed of terror and free from fear.” However, after the numbers of those leaving the island began to escalate, Johnson quickly changed tack and began a series of secret negotiations with Castro. The result, announced the following month, was a “Memorandum of Understanding,” a formal agreement that established procedures and means for the movement of Cuban refugees to the US.
 All the above took place before the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) even existed.  The CAA was brought into existence on November 2, 1966 due to the humanitarian crisis spurred by the communist dictatorship in Cuba when hundreds of thousands of Cubans found themselves in a legal limbo that necessitated the creation of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Cubans historically have not been the only people to enjoy this special privilege but others such as the Hungarians, Czechoslovakians, Vietnamese and others have benefited from similar measures although for shorter periods. They did not come to the United States pursuing the American dream but fleeing the communist nightmare in their own homelands.

The common denominator was not economic sanctions but that these regime's systematically denied the human rights of their nationals under communist dictatorships, including the right to enter and exit their own country.

Sadly, Cuba today remains a communist regime with first generation leadership firmly in charge. No other people who suffered under this type of regime was able to overthrow first generation leaders due to their will to hang on to power with extreme brutality.

The Castro regime for decades has sought the elimination of both the Cuban Adjustment Act and economic sanctions on the dictatorship. However both continue to be needed the Cuban Adjustment Act to protect fleeing Cubans from a repressive communist regime and the Embargo on Cuba to defend American taxpayers from the predation the Castro regime has visited on many other countries to the tune of billions of dollars.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cuba and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

"When our revolution is judged in future years, one of the matters on which we will be judged is the manner in which our society and our homeland solved the problems of women." ~ Fidel Castro, November 30, 1974

November 25th has been set aside as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the Castro regime is attempting to use the date to white wash its dismal record and ongoing institutionalized violence against women in Cuba. Unfortunately some international organizations and non governmental organizations have looked the other way and given the Cuban government a pass on its systematic and regular violence against women. Below is a partial listing of documented instances where agents of the Cuban dictatorship have engaged in violence against Cuban women arranged by the most recent dates on top with a focus on cases where they were trying to exercise their fundamental rights.
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. In the police station "she was humiliated," although she refused to urinate in front of the agents, who constantly jeered at her, explained her mother in an interview with Radio República. 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.
On May 24, 2015 Sirley Ávila León was the victim of a machete attack
Sirley Ávila León, an ex-delegate of the People’s Assembly (Poder Popular) of Majibacoa who joined the democratic opposition after trying to keep a school open in her community. Official channels ignored her requests and when she went to the international media she was removed from office. Following escalating acts of repression by state security the mother of two, Sirley Ávila León, age 56, was gravely wounded in a machete attack on May 24, 2015 at 3:00pm by Osmany Carrión who had been "sent by state security thugs" and that the aggression "was politically motivated." She suffered deep cuts to her neck and knees, lost her left hand and could still lose her right arm.

Yris Pérez Aguilera shows cyst result of state security beatings. (Photo: Yoani Sanchez)
On September 20, 2013 human rights defender Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera briefly described the abuse she had been subjected to by agents of Cuban state security earlier that same year to the 24th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva:
I have been the victim of several acts of aggression on the part of the Cuban authorities, especially by the agents Yuniel Monteagudo Reina and Eric Aquino Yera. They have beaten me into unconsciousness in the pavement, as took place most recently this past March 7 in Santa Clara. The hits to the head, neck, and back have caused me serious health problems that I have not been able to recover from. In addition to beating me, they have threatened me with death on various occasions, these agents have told me that they are going to rape me, and have shown their genitals during arbitrary arrests. 
On Sunday, July 21, 2013 Sonia Álvarez Campillo was brutally beaten by agents of the Cuban government for her dissent and suffered lasting physical damage.  Over twitter the aftermath of the attack was posted by her daughter Sayli Navarro who tweeted: "My mom Sonia Álvarez Campillo, shows x-rays and arm fractured by her repressors on Sunday" and independent journalist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo tweeted: "This is the Lady in White Sonia Álvarez Campillo after today's first act of repudiation against Ladies in White."

Sonia Álvarez Campillo's arm fractured by regime repressors July 21, 2013
There for everyone to see, a woman with a her left arm in a cast holding up her x-ray showing where the breaks are following a savage attack on Sunday by regime agents. This is not an isolated case but a disturbing pattern of increasing violence against nonviolent activists that is primarily but not only targeting women.

Marina Montes Piñón age 60 beaten by regime agents. Needed 30 stitches
Marina Montes Piñón, a 60 year old woman and long time opposition activist, was beaten with a blunt object by regime agents on December 15, 2012 in Cuba. The end result, three deep wounds in the skull and a hematoma in the right eye. She needed nearly thirty stitches to patch up the wounds. 

Berenice Héctor González mutilated for verbally defending Ladies in White
Berenice Héctor González, a 15-year old young woman, suffered a knife attack on November 4, 2012 for supporting the women's human rights movement, The Ladies in White. News of the attack only emerged a month later because State Security had threatened the mother that her daughter would suffer the consequences if she made the assault public.

Laura Pollán repeatedly beaten and died under suspicious circumstances
Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, one of the founders of the Ladies in White in March of 2003 and its chief spokeswoman was widely admired inside of Cuba and internationally. She fell suddenly ill and died within a week on October 14, 2011 under suspicious circumstances that a Cuban medical doctor described as "painful, tragic and unnecessary." This took place within days of the Ladies in White declaring themselves a human rights organization dedicated to the freedom of all political prisoners, not just their loved ones.

Maria Elena Cruz Varela around time of 1991 attack

On November 19, 1991 the Cuban poet Mariela Elena Cruz Varela, who peacefully dissented asking for nonviolent change, was assaulted by a mob organized by the dictatorship who tried to force feed the poet her own words. She wrote about the assault in her book, Dios en las cárceles cubanas (God in the Cuban jails):

"They broke my mouth trying to make me swallow the leaflets that members of my group had distributed throughout Havana. Afterwards I spent three days brutally besieged, imprisoned in my own home with my two children, with no water, no electricity, no food, no cigarettes. We heard what the huge speakers never stopped amplifying, allegorical songs to the country, the necessary punishment of traitors, and anyone who wanted to could shout at me, organized, of course, the slogans they pleased: Comrade worm, we are going to execute you by firing squad!"

On February 26, 1961, Cuban state security agents arrested 23-year-old medical student Ana Lazara Rodriguez she had been distributing literature and speaking out against Fidel Castro as he assumed dictatorial powers in Cuba. She spent 19 years in the women's prison at Guanajay, located in Eastern Cuba, and was exiled to the United States on February 26, 1980. She was subjected to beatings, starvation, threats, hard labor, and solitary confinement for months at a time. Ana described in a 2007 interview with the Hudson Reporter how: "The men constantly beat us with their bayonets, and they would cram the cells so that we couldn't all fit," ... We used to take turns standing and sitting. Many women became ill because the conditions were so confined and there was a lack of oxygen. We were treated like animals." 

Cuban attorneys Yaremis Flores and Laritza Diversent in their 2013 report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) touch on the institutional nature of the violence upon women in Cuba by the Castro regime:
"The brutality of the police and state security agents, including women members of these bodies, against women dissidents, is supported by the state, which exemplifies the institutionalized violence as a means to repress women opposition activists. Arbitrary detention is one of the methods to prevent them from exercising their rights to speak, associate and demonstrate. In detention centers agents use violence, sexual assault and insults as means of repression. The cells enclosed in unsanitary and sometimes sanitary services have no privacy or are not appropriate for women, even having them share prison cells with men. In some cases, they forced to strip naked or forcibly stripped, obliging them to squat to see if they have items in their genitals and claims that have been reported that they have introduced a pen into the vagina, under the justification of seeking recording objects."
   This is a partial and incomplete summary. The plight of women in Cuba over the past 56 years would fill a library, but it is important to recall that the above violence is promoted, coordinated and carried out by agents of the Castro regime.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

In Solidarity with Mohammed Al-Maskati: Appeal for his freedom and personal safety

"Solidarity is no longer a question of altruism but of survival." - Rosa María Payá Acevedo

Human rights defender Mohammed Al-Maskati (Frontline Defenders)
Yesterday, received a shock while looking for a report on Cuban human rights defenders on the website Frontline Defenders a familiar face appeared on their website. It said that Mohammed Al-Maskati was facing an upcoming verdict on December 22, 2015 for illegal assembly.

 I'd met Mohammed, then President of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, in Egypt during the parliamentary elections back in January of 2012 and recorded two statements: one in solidarity with free Cubans and another outlining the situation in Bahrain at the time. Frontline Defenders provided the following background information on Mohammed's current plight:
Mohammed Al-Maskati has been repeatedly subjected to harassment and intimidation in relation to his human rights activism and Front Line Defenders has previously issued a number of urgent appeals on behalf of him. The human rights defender received death threats in 2011 and 2012. On 22 October 2013, the Ministry of Interior accused him of “inciting hatred against the regime” in relation to a speech he made on 8 September 2013 in the city of Jidhafs in which he discussed human rights and international legal mechanisms. He was released on the condition that he sign a declaration stating that he will present himself before the public prosecutor at any time.
In his message to Cubans Mohammed expressed his solidarity for Cubans and a revolution that would do away with the Castros and usher in democracy, freedom and justice.

Below he described the situation in Bahrain which included that the regime was killing and torturing the opposition and he made a call for concrete action by people of good will around the world.

Recalling Jan Patočka's observation that "the solidarity of the shaken can say ‘no’ to the measures of mobilization that make the state of war permanent" I strongly condemning the upcoming sentencing of Mohammed Al-Maskati, whose conviction is solely in retaliation to his nonviolent human rights activism and defense of human rights in Bahrain. and expresses its deep concerns at the systematic intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders in Bahrain. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

International Human Rights Organization Frontline Defenders calls attention to arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment in Cuba

Text below taken from Irish human rights NGO Frontline Defenders:
18 November 2015
Cuba: Ongoing arbitrary detention of human rights defender Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco amidst arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment of peaceful demonstrators
Mr Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco has been arbitrarily detained since 25 October 2015 and is now facing charges of public disorder linked to his participation in peaceful demonstrations in Cuba. Human rights defenders Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza are also currently under detention following their arbitrary arrest on 5 November 2015 and a summary trial on 6 November 2015 in which they were sentenced to 6 months imprisonment.
Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco
This is an example of several cases of arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment against defenders in Cuba in the past months. Amongst them, the case of human rights defenders Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” and Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera, both of whom were arrested on 11 November 2015 and released the following day.
Geovanys Izaguirre and Laudelino Rodriguez
Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez, Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza and Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez" are members of Frente de Acción CívicaOrlando Zapata Tamayo(Civic Action Front Orlando Zapata Tamayo- FACOZT). FACOZT is an organisation that fights for the release of political prisoners in Cuba and reports human rights abuses committed by police forces against peaceful demonstrators in the country. Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera is the president of Movimiento por los Derechos Civiles Rosa Parks (Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement), which is a feminist movement fighting to end the repression against human rights defenders and for the release of political prisoners. 

Human rights defender Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco has been detained since 25 October 2015 when he was arrested while on his way to participate in the demonstration “Todas Marchamos” (We all March), organised by the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) movement. He is being detained at the Fifth Unit of the Municipality Playa (Quinta Unidad del Municipio Playa), in Havana. The human rights defender is facing charges of public disorder linked to his participation in a demonstration at the premises of the Attorney General's office on 22 October 2015 demanding that all human rights defenders detained during the Pope's visit to Cuba should be released.

Human rights defenders Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza were arrested on 5 November 2015 and taken to the police station in the city of Palma Soriano. In the morning of 6 November 2015 both human rights defenders were subjected to a summary judgement and sentenced to six months imprisonment. They were both convicted of failing to pay a fine of $15,000.00 (Cuban pesos) for allegedly making anti-government graffiti in the city of Palma Soriano. The graffitti read "Queremos Cambios" (We want change), "No más hambre" (No more hunger), "No más desempleo" (no more unemployment).
On 11 November 2015, at approximately 7am, members of the regime’s special brigade broke into the home of Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” in Camaguey and arrested him along with his wife and fellow human rights defender Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera. The arrests happened one day after Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” launched the campaign “No, no and no” (“No, no y no”) asking the government to free Messrs Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza. Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” and Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera were released the following day, but their home was seized by the police and their computer was taken along with some documents.
Front Line Defenders has received recurrent reports on arbitrary detentions conducted against human rights defenders in Cuba. The human rights organisation Information Centre “Let's Talk” Press (Centro de Información Hablemos Press - CIHPRESS) has recently issued a document reporting 1021 arbitrary and politically motivated arrests in Cuba in the month of October 2015 alone. The alarming number of arbitrary detentions in Cuba shows that human rights defenders who speak out against the regime continue to be targets of systematic repression. In this context, one of the most vulnerable group of human rights defenders are the women from Damas de Blanco since they are frequently subject to harassment during their weekly protests in Havana and other Cuban cities. This group of women has seen an increased pattern of arbitrary detention against them, where the government detain them for a few hours and re-arrest them the following week.
Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned at the arbitrary arrests and detentions of human rights defenders in Cuba, intended to silence all dissenting voices. Further concern is expressed at the continuous acts of violence and human rights violations committed against those who fight for the implementation of human rights in the country.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Cuba to:
  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, and drop all charges against him, as Front Line Defenders believes that he is being held solely as a result of his legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;
  2. Immediately and unconditionally quash the sentence of Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza and ensure their release from detention, as Front Line Defenders believes that their summary trial did not allow them to exercise their right to defence and that they have been sentenced solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful human rights work as radio journalists; 
  3. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez”, Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera, Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza;
  4. Return the computer of Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” and Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera confiscated during the raid, as they are manifestly not linked to any criminal activity;
  1. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of members of Damas de Blanco and their right to carry out peaceful demonstrations without fear of reprisals; 
  2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Cuba are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.
En castellano.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Remembering the meeting with Václav Havel and Oldřich Černý at Forum 2000 in 2009

"The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility."- Václav Havel IHT (21 February 1990) 

Six years ago in October of 2009 together with former prisoner of conscience José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, Czech journalist Carlos González Sháněl, political analyst Javier Loaiza, Tamara Suju Roa and  Former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga met President Václav Havel and Forum 2000 Executive Director Oldřich Černý at the Forum 2000 on the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.

It was at this event that President Havel made some profound observations that now and hindsight speak volumes at the challenges currently faced in a deteriorating international atmosphere.
At the time President Barack Obama had 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.
Both Václav Havel and Oldřich Černý have passed away and are greatly missed, especially in these difficult times when moral clarity and discernment are greatly needed. The video below was made by journalist Carlos González.

At the gathering above President Havel signed a petition calling for the release of 305 Cuban political prisoners. Cuban democrats should honor and remember the dissident who became a prisoner of conscience who became a president and later a private citizen and through out this trajectory maintained his solidarity with the victims of repression around the world. On the 26th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution the legacy of Václav Havel and Oldřich Černý lives on in the free society they struggled to bring into being.