Sunday, July 23, 2017

How the world remembered Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero five years after their murders

Paying homage to two murdered human rights defenders across the Americas

Activists remember Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero in Guatemala

Five years ago on Sunday, July 22, 2012 near Bayamo in eastern Granma province of Cuba the incident provoked by State Security ended the lives of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante. At 5:00pm, in a telephone call, Felix Rivero Cordoví from Bayamo reported"Oswaldo Payá has died in a collision with a police car."  Later we learned that Harold Cepero had also died of his injuries. Five years later and Cuban officials have still not handed over the autopsies to the families. Instead the Castro regime engaged in a massive coverup blaming the driver of the car for the deaths while denying that a second vehicle was involved.

Mass at Ermita de la Caridad celebrated lives of Oswaldo and Harold
 On the fifth anniversary of these suspicious deaths former world leaders such as former Chilean president Sebastian Piñera, former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, former Colombian president Andrés Pastrana, former Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla, and Mariana Aylwin, daughter of the late Chilean president Patricio Aylwin issued statements recognizing the living legacy of Oswaldo Payá. Others also demanded an impartial investigation into what happened to Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012. The current Secretary Genereral of the Organization American States issued a call "for a professional and impartial investigation."

Message from Secretary General on Anniversary of the Death of Oswaldo Payá

July 22, 2017

Five years ago, on July 22, 2012, Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero died when the vehicle they were riding in crashed into a tree in the eastern Cuban province of Bayamo. Ángel Carromero and Jens Aron Modig were also in the car.

Even today, series and well-founded doubts about the case persist. That is why on this new anniversary of the death of Oswaldo Payá, I join the call of the families of the victims and of all those who demand justice for a professional and impartial investigation.

Oswaldo Payá was perhaps the best-known activist in Cuba because of his tireless work in favor of democracy. Through the Varela Project he promoted the amendment of laws to respect the right to free expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association.

The Varela Project is based on the Constitution of Cuba itself, which under article 88 (g), grants legal initiative to citizens, among other powers.

The freedom to meet, associate and to speech are fundamental rights recognized in international human rights law and all democratic societies.

These principles must be respected. It is unacceptable that those who try to defend their rights are persecuted for their opinions and have their voices silenced.

From the OAS we must always promote respect for basic freedoms, that sovereignty lies in the people, and the most complete validity of human rights.

The struggle of Oswaldo Payá is absolutely inspiring for our defense of these principles and values.
Reference: S-022/17
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio in a tweet sent by his office expressed clearly that what happened on that day was an extrajudicial killing.
 Joining Senator Rubio in calling what happened on July 22, 2012 a murder are Senators Dick Durbin, Bill Nelson, Jeff Merkley, and Cuban Americans Bob Menéndez and Ted Cruz. They are demanding an independent and impartial investigation into what happened on that day.

Activities were carried out across the Americas remembering the legacy of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero with peaceful gatherings and masses held in Miami, Cuba, Guatemala, Spain. The solidarity of the shaken was on display when family members of Venezuelan political prisoner Mayor Antonio Ledezma sent messages of solidarity and support recognizing Oswaldo's legacy. 
Hopefully the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will do its job and complete its investigation into killings of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero finally after five years. Currently we only have the report prepared by Human Rights Foundation that indicates that the official version put out by the Castro regime was a coverup and that this was most likely an extrajudicial killing.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Nonviolent Legacy of Payá: Demonstrating Love is Stronger than Hate

The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized. - Oswaldo Payá, December 17, 2002

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was right when he observed that the failure of global solidarity would endanger both human rights and the right to remain human.  At the same time he demonstrated throughout his life the power of nonviolence and prior to his untimely death provided Cubans a road map to peaceful change called "The Peoples Path" whether or not the dictatorship in Cuba wanted it or not.

It is best described in a hopeful vision of the future that Oswaldo outlined in a 1990 Christmas Message from the Christian Liberation Movement:

"The rifles will be buried face down, the words of hatred will vanish in the heart without reaching the lips. We'll go out into the street and all of us will see in the other a brother, let us look to the future with the peace of he that knows that he forgave and he that has been forgiven. Let there be no blood to clean or dead to bury, the shadow of fear and of catastrophe will give way to the reconciliatory light, and Cuba will be reborn in every heart, in a miracle of love made by God and us." 
In 2012 months prior to his untimely death Harold Cepero gave a clear assessment of the risk each individual takes when confronting a brutal dictatorship.
"Christians and non-Christians who have the courage and the freedom to consider the peaceful political option for their lives, know they are exposing themselves to slightly less than absolute solitude, to work exclusion, to persecution, to prison or death."
The nonviolent legacy that Harold and Oswaldo shared revolves around two key ideas
  • We are not against other people, only what they are doing.
  • Means are ends in the making; nothing good can finally result from violence.
On December 17, 2002 in Strasbourg, France receiving the Sakharov Prize from the European Union Oswaldo explained what motivated the choice to embark on a nonviolent struggle:

"We have not chosen the path of peace as a tactic, but because it is inseparable from the goal for which our people are striving. Experience teaches us that violence begets more violence and that when political change is brought about by such means, new forms of oppression and injustice arise."
In nonviolent expert Michael N. Nagler's book, "The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action"  a passage that reflects both the struggle now taking place in Cuba and in Venezuela is critical to seeing where things stand:
"Conflicts escalate when they are not resolved, and if they are left untended they can rapidly get out of control." From the nonviolence point of view, the intensity of a conflict is not necessarily a question of how many guns or how many people are involved (the same metric would work for a quarrel between lovers as between nations); it is primarily about how far dehumanization has proceeded. If someone no longer listens to you, is calling you names or is labeling you, it’s probably too late for petitions. In terms of knowing how to respond, we can conveniently think of this escalation in three stages that call for distinct sets of responses. Let’s call these three stages Conflict Resolution, Satyagraha (active nonviolent resistance), and—hopefully this is rare, but it helps to know it exists—Ultimate Sacrifice.
Both Cuba and Venezuela offer demonstrations of the consequences of the failure of global solidarity and the power of nonviolence to confront injustice despite great odds. Due to this failure dehumanization has proceeded to the point where many are required to make the ultimate sacrifice within a context of nonviolent resistance.

Both in Cuba and in Venezuela the democratic opposition in its vast majority have chosen to pursue a nonviolent strategy, but their respective starting points are radically different. In Cuba the regime arrived in power through a violent revolution replacing a dictator, while in Venezuela the regime took power through the ballot box. Both sought to install totalitarianism, but in the case of Venezuela the residue of democracy has made it more difficult. Another factor is that in Cuba the opposition to the regime during the first seven years was a violent resistance with guerillas in the Escambray region. Despite their courage they where either exterminated or imprisoned.

"Violent flanks" and the use of the so-called "diversity of tactics" reduces mobilization and decreases the probability of success for a resistance movement. Strategic thinker Gene Sharper put it succinctly when he said "using violence is a stupid decision."

This would explain why both the Castro and Maduro regimes manufacture evidence and constantly accuse nonviolent activists of being violent ignoring all the evidence to the contrary. First and most importantly if the charges are believed it helps to reduce popular mobilization against these regimes which is the greatest threat to their power. Secondly, it raises questions that can impact international solidarity and support. Third, it allows these regimes to infiltrate agents to carry out violent acts that delegitimize the movement placing it on the defensive in damage control mode.

The Christian Liberation Movement and the CubaDecide campaign have advocated for a plebiscite in Cuba to both mobilize and empower Cubans for a democratic change. On Sunday, July 16, 2017 the Venezuelan opposition conducted an unofficial plebiscite where more than seven million Venezuelans defying government threats went out to vote. This is not a magic bullet but it has mobilized millions of Venezuelans, attracted international attention, strengthened the opposition and placed the government in a difficult position. Cubans should be watching closely as events unfold in Venezuela. The People's Path called for by Oswaldo Payá prior to his extrajudicial killing on July 22, 2012 appears to be working in Venezuela. It is still not too late for Cubans to follow this effective and nonviolent path of liberation.

Remembering Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero and July 22, 2012

"Those who remove and crush freedom are the real slaves." - Harold Cepero Escalante (January 29, 1980 - July 22, 2012)

"They have told me that they will kill me before this regime ends, but I will not flee." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (February 29, 1952 - July 22, 2012)

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante
There are a few moments that are burned into my memory: the moment on January 28, 1986 when the Challenger blew up, the February 24, 1996 shoot down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes by Cuban MiGs, the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 and the murders of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012.

On Sunday, July 22, 2012 at 1:50pm near Bayamo in eastern Granma province of Cuba the incident provoked by State Security that ended the lives of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante was underway. Hundreds of miles away in Miami I was sitting in a movie theater in Kendall getting ready to watch The Dark Knight Rises. 

Exiting the movie theater at 6:00pm turned on my phone and Orlando Gutierrez was calling to tell me, "They had killed Oswaldo." I know several Oswaldos so immediately asked him "Oswaldo who?" "Payá" he told me, and my heart sank. I sat down opened my laptop and blogged about it in an effort to deal with this horror. 

Founding leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and author of numerous initiatives, including the Varela Project that made the Castro regime tremble and change their own constitution to hang on to power. Oswaldo Payá, like Liu Xiaobo in China, offered a peaceful way out of a totalitarian dictatorship. Began following in the late 1980s with great admiration, his long nonviolent struggle for a free Cuba.
Never met Oswaldo Payá in person, but had spoken to him on the telephone a handful of times. In 2003 the Cuban Democratic Directorate hosted his visit to Miami, but I was out of the country at the time and missed meeting him.

Funeral of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas following July 22, 2012 killing
Learned later on that in addition to Oswaldo Payá, another and much younger member of the Christian Liberation Movement had also been killed. First learned of Harold Cepero when he was expelled from university in 2002 for gathering signatures for Project Varela, a legal citizen initiative that sought to reform Cuba's legal code to bring it in line with international human rights standards and saw him in a grainy video interviewed with other expelled university students. Harold Cepero was the youth leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and was just 32 years old the day he was murdered by Cuban state security.

Five years later and friends and family of  Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero continue to demand truth and justice for their dear departed and continue the work to see the day that Cuba is free. Meanwhile we remember their example, their writings that continue to inspire, the terrible day they were taken away from us and the continuing need for justice.

"The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: ‘You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together’." - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002 

"Christians and non-Christians who have the courage and the freedom to consider the peaceful political option for their lives, know they are exposing themselves to slightly less than absolute solitude, to work exclusion, to persecution, to prison or death. "- Harold Cepero, Havana 2012


Friday, July 21, 2017

The failure of the Americas in Venezuela: Chickens coming home to roost

"Curses are like young chickens, they always come home to roost."  Robert Southey,The Curse of Kehama (1809) 

Venezuela in 2017

Venezuela is on the edge and reaching a tipping point. Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), said at the Atlantic Council that one of the tragedies of Venezuela is that what is happening there could have been avoided.

Democracy was not defended early on and now it has become a security and humanitarian crisis. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in their 2016 annual report paints a grim picture of Venezuela today. Below is an excerpt from the introduction:
1. During 2016, the Inter -American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Commission” or “the IACHR”) has continued to monitor the overall human rights situation in Venezuela and has observed persistent structural situations that affect the human rights of Venezuelans and led to a grave political, social, and economic crisis. These structural situations identified by the Commission have first of all included a worsening of the citizen security situation, related to the right to life and humane treatment.
2. Second, there has been deterioration of the rule of law and democratic institutions. Reports continue of lack of access to justice and an independent and impartial judicial branch, while on the other hand, political polarization has been exacerbated, resulting in open confrontation between the legislative branch and the other State authorities that has affected the balance and separation of powers necessary for a democratic society. In this context, the Commission has also observed a corresponding impact on political rights and the right to participate in public life.
3. Third, a deterioration of the right to freedom of expression has been observed, including the arbitrary detention and imprisonment of opposition figures and individuals who publicly express their disagreement with the government; repression of and undue restrictions on the right to protest; dismissal of public employees or threatening them with losing their jobs should they express political opinions against the government; campaigns to stigmatize and harass journalists, opposition politicians, and citizens; the use of criminal law and other State controls to punish or inhibit the work of a critical media; and impediments to the right to access to information.
4. Fourth, access to economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) has been severely restricted. Shortages and scarcity of food, medicine, water, and electricity have led to a grave crisis, contributing to disease outbreaks and other affects on health. The response to the situation has been deficient and in some situations entailed a lack of access to necessarily medical care. This has severely affected children, sick individuals, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and the elderly, among other groups. In this context, added to the political context, public protests have increased, and security forces have responded to them by using force.
5. The Commission has also continued to observe the precarious situations of human rights defenders, people deprived of liberty, migrants and refugees, and other particularly vulnerable groups. Finally, the Commission continues to find it difficult to conduct monitoring given that access to public information on the performance of State bodies is scarce, as is access to official data that would enable it to evaluate respect for human rights in Venezuela.

Obama shakes hands with Chavez in 2009 with Maduro in the background
Although the United States alone did not fail to defend democracy (others in the Americas also failed the South American country), it did play a role with a bad policy. The Obama Administration since 2009 sought a new relationship with Latin America, specifically with Venezuela and Cuba. It was achieved in the midst of a worsening human rights situation in the region, coinciding with the expanding influence and legitimization of the Castro regime as it normalized relations with the United States.

President Obama's March 21, 2016 visit to Cuba was not a step forward, but a huge leap backward into the 1960s when U.S. foreign policy in Latin America embraced military dictators calling them "Presidents." The visit was another part of the failed foreign policy legacy of the Obama administration, which in this case prolongs the life of the communist regime in Cuba and legitimized it internationally while marginalizing Cuba's democratic opposition. This has also had consequences for other countries in the region such as Venezuela where according to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro: “There are currently about 15,000 Cubans in Venezuela,” ... “It’s like an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela.”

The Obama family take in a baseball game with Raul Castro in March 2016
This process has also been underway in Nicaragua, along with the continued denial of that reality by the American embassy there. Opposition lawmakers have been ousted by an electoral authority controlled by president Daniel Ortega. Ortega did not permit foreign observers into Nicaragua to monitor the November 6 presidential and legislative elections that were riggedDespite normal relations and high level outreach early in the Obama Administration the Ortega regime pursued closer relations with Russia and China. In April 2016 Nicaragua purchased 50 Russian battle tanks at a cost of $80 million. Vladimir Putin signed a new security agreement with Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega in 2016.

Strong man Daniel Ortega and President Obama in 2009
There is a price to embracing and legitimizing autocrats, unfortunately the United States will be paying it for years to come, as will many others in the Americas.  Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) in testimony before the United States Senate on July 19, 2017 highlighted the cost of not defending democracy in Venezuela:
"When others were content to look the other way as Venezuela collapsed into dictatorship, I raised my voice to denounce the systematic violation of the Constitution and the escalating violent repression. There is no greater crisis facing our hemisphere today. We must stand in solidarity with the brave people of Venezuela in restoring democracy and the rule of law in their country.
My raison d’etre at the OAS is “More Rights for More People”. This is a solemn commitment I take seriously every single day. It is a responsibility of which I will never tire. It is the fundamental role of the Organization of American States – to stand vigilant in defense of democracy throughout the Americas. This is why the Inter -American Democratic Charter was created. It is a commitment that all member states must take seriously at this moment of truth for Venezuela.
In a Hemisphere of close to 1 billion people, 20 countries that represent nearly 90% of the population of the Americas joined to speak in defense of democracy in Venezuela. Twenty foreign ministers advocated for the lives and human rights of the Venezuelan people, at the General Assembly that took place in Mexico in June. But as the violence in Venezuela escalates and the death toll continues to rise, it is clear that words are not enough.
The reluctance of the international community to act in defense of democracy has allowed the situation to deteriorate incrementally, but consistently, to the point where today it has become a full- blown humanitarian and security crisis. Every step of the way it has been too little, and too late. The Democratic Charter was designed as a preventative tool. When it was agreed, it established a very explicit authority to act in every signatory state, when necessity requires. When used as intended, it can prevent or stop any backsliding in the regions’ hard -earned democracies.
It is true that only the people of Venezuela must solve the crisis in their country. However, in Venezuela, the words of civilians are met with the weapons of the Regime. The people of Venezuela peacefully took to the streets in defense of their fundamental rights and freedoms. The Regime responded strategically and systematically, targeting an unarmed, civilian population with violence and terror.
More than 100 people have been killed since the protests began. That is one close one person each day. Of those killed, more than 30 were under the age of 21; 24 were students; 14 were teenagers. Since the protests began, more than 450 investigations into human rights violations have been opened. Civil society estimates that the number civilians injured is above 15,000.
As of July 12, there were 444 political prisoners in Venezuela; the highest number since the military dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez. These statistics do not include the thousands of lives lost in the humanitarian crisis. Countless Venezuelans are dying without food or medicine - between 4 and 6 children die every week from malnutrition."
Million of people are losing their freedom and thousands of people are losing their lives. This humanitarian and security disaster was first a moral and ethical one that could have been prevented. The international community bears a measure of responsibility in what is unfolding in Venezuela. Hopefully responsibility will be taken to resolve it.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cuba and China

Both Cuba and China have produced monsters that dwarfed their own lands.

Leaders of communist China and Cuba meet

By Dimon Liu

I remember the year Cuba came into my consciousness.  It was 1960, the height of famine during the years of Great Leap Forward.  I was a child living in the southern city of Guangzhou in China. Meal time meant a little rice, and whatever we could scrape together.  For nearly two years, we had no meat, fish or even cooking oil. We were starving.  All of a sudden, there was cane sugar from Cuba, and we school kids had to learn Cuban songs.

We had been on rations even before the Great Leap Forward which began in 1958. Thirty jin (one jin is about 1.1 pound) of grains per month for an adult, and fifteen jin for a child above the age of seven.  Two jin of meat and two ounces of cooking oil, also for a month.  Except for my family.  Having been categorized by the government as the enemies of the people, and tarred as the "black five sorts," our grain rations were half of everyone else's.  My mother's grain ration was 15 jin a month, but I got less than half - mine was 7 jin a month. During the times of shortages, even half a jin of ration coupon meant a great deal, but during the years of Great Leap Forward, the ration coupons were nearly useless.

The persistent gnawing of hunger felt like a sharp knife twisting and thrusting in my gut without respite, and on many a night I shed silent tears until I was finally able to fall asleep - a memory so painful and vivid that it still haunts me more than half a century later. During the day, small gangs of children roamed the streets looking for food. My pals and I, skinny 7-year olds, foraged as best we could to supplement our meager fares. We hunted frogs, birds, and water cockroaches.  We climbed trees for mulberries and nuts, and scraped tree barks for our mothers to cook. I built traps to catch rats and sparrows - the beginning of my architectural career. In truth, everything was skinny, only the rats had any meat on them. People on our streets were dying of many infectious diseases, though no one dared to say anyone died of hunger.

On my eighth birthday, I got a hard-boiled egg all to myself.  It was so rare and precious, I couldn't bear to eat it.  I put the egg in my pocket.  I took it out, looked at it, and put it back into my pocket; and on and on as I wandered the streets; because staying home might mean my older brother could snatch the egg from me.  Another small gang of children saw me with my egg, and ran towards me. I quickly stuffed the egg into my mouth, barely chewed it, and swallowed it, eggshells and all, even as I was being jumped on and pummeled.

Frank Dikotter, the historian at the University of Hong Kong who wrote "Mao's Great Famine", a book about this period, said in a social media post that "the first thing the regime did in September 1960 was to procure an extra 100,000 tons of grain and ship it to Cuba," in order to help break the economic blockade imposed by Washington on the island.  Dikotter added that "you can feed about 2000 people for a day with a ton of rice... Or over half a million people for a year."

Properly fed people rarely existed in China at that time, unless you belonged in the very small and exclusive club of Chinese Communist elite. For a child like me who received coupons for under 8 pounds of rice a month, you could have fed more than 2 million of us for a year; or about half a million Chinese adults for a year on a standard ration of 30 jin, or 33 pounds of rice per month for the amount of grain sent to Cuba.

Cuba was not the only place that China exported food to during those harrowing years. Yang Jisheng, author of the searing book "Tombstone," which documented meticulously the period of the Great Leap Forward, noted that China exported a total of 5 million tons of grains in 1959, to North Korea, Vietnam, East European countries, and especially to the former Soviet Union to help cover China’s debts when famine began; and a further 2.72 million tons in 1960, the height of starvation, along with a large quantity of cooking oil, eggs and other foodstuffs.

5 million tons of grains would have fed 25 millions adults for the year 1959, and 2.72 million tons would have fed 13.6 millions for the year 1960.

As of now, estimates of the dead during this time of famine range widely, from a low of 30 million acknowledged by the Chinese government, to a high of 80 million; and we won't have a firm idea of what the figures really were until the Chinese Communists are gone from the scene, and all the archives can be opened.

The fact remains that millions of people would not have starved to death if there were some error-correcting mechanisms that existed in the Chinese Communist system, but there were none; and millions died needlessly, and in a most painful way; as the government forcibly took the grain away from its people and shipped it overseas.  Chinese Communists often extolled their system as superior to democracy because of its efficiency. It is efficient, no doubt; but also most efficient in killing its own people.

I have often wondered if the Cuban people knew about the sufferings of the Chinese people at that time, and how many starved to provide them with food. I wondered if Fidel Castro knew, and if he did know, I wondered if he cared.  We knew Mao didn't care, or he wouldn't have shipped rice to Cuba and other places when his own people were starving.  As my mother used to say, only the leaders could afford to be so magnanimous about the sufferings of the people...

Ernesto "Che" Guevara meets Mao Zedong

Castro was never given to expressiveness for the help he received from China. Or perhaps Castro couldn't express it since he relied on the Soviet Union to remain in power, and by 1958, the Sino-Soviet split was bitter, and out in the open. Or perhaps Castro shared the derogatory views of the Soviets towards the Chinese at the time.  Diplomatic relations were established in 1960, but Castro didn't visit China until 35 years later, in December of 1995, after the demise of the Soviet Union in December 1991, and long after Mao - the man who starved his own people to help Cuba – had died in September of 1976.

In a documentary about Castro, aired shortly after Castro’s death was announced on November 25, 2016, CCTV, China's state run television station, said that Fidel Castro admired Mao Zedong and “regretted not being able to get to know him." However, in his 1977 interview with Barbara Walters, which surprisingly went into considerable detail on his views about China, Castro said Mao "practically destroyed the Chinese Communist party," and that Mao "admitted [to] becoming a god and betrayed the people’s revolutionary solidarity," which Castro categorized as "Mao’s gravest error."

"The men that participate in these processes acquire great power and later abuse that power," Castro told Barbara Walters about Mao and his revolutionary comrades. "I also acquired that power, but I never abused it, nor did I retain it in my hands. I distributed it. I gave it to the revolutionary institutions," he said.

It wasn't true, of course, what Castro told Barbara Walters about himself.  If Mao had Li Zhisui, who published "The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao's Personal Physician" in 1994, which exposed Mao's luxurious, debauched and abusive life in excruciating detail, Castro had Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, who published "The Double Life of Fidel Castro: My 17 Years as Personal Bodyguard to El Líder Maximo" in 2015, which described Castro's hidden life of brutality, womanizing, and outsized greed, also in excruciating detail.

I can't help but perceive a difference between Mao and Castro, even as they loom large on the international scene, both in life and in death.  Mao's atrocities were unprecedentedly large, whatever estimates one cared to use, as he unleashed famine and wave upon wave of mob violence on the Chinese people; but they felt impersonal, as if Mao, on his elevated pedestal, couldn't care less if his people suffered, lived, or died.  Not so for Castro, he seemed as if he cared, and his brutalities - gouging out eyes of a dissident here, chopping off limbs on another one there, sending his closest comrades to the executioners, and even as the numbers piled up horrifyingly, still had the feel that they were more personal.  Perhaps it is the difference between a vast continent and a small island, but both Cuba and China have produced monsters that dwarfed their own lands.

This brings me to the family of the Trudeaus.  In 1960, the same year Cuba came into my consciousness, Pierre Trudeau, the future Canadian Prime Minister, went to China as a journalist, and didn't notice that there was a famine going on. Huh? How could he be so unobservant as a journalist? Pierre Trudeau perhaps didn't want to notice, because that might have disqualified him as a future leader who was full of magnanimity when it came to the sufferings of the people, and who pridefully counted Castro, a grand practitioner of this dark art, as a family friend.  "The point is not to judge other worlds by the standards of your own," Alexandre Trudeau explained, when he had his father's 1960 book, written with Jacques Herbert, "Two Innocents in Red China", reissued in 2007. What did Alexandre Trudeau mean exactly? That the Chinese people aren't really human? That they feel no pain, and could die in the tens of millions without the Trudeaus ever noticing or caring? That civilized standards which rightly apply to the Trudeaus, need not be applied to the Chinese?

"His Hunkiness", the current Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, Pierre Trudeau's other son, issued an official statement upon Castro's death, warmly lauding Castro as “a legendary revolutionary and orator," and having "made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation," without, as is the wont of the Trudeaus, ever noticing or caring about Castro's legions of human rights abuses; as if Castro's alleged accomplishments justified or eradicated his atrocities. They don't, of course, by any stretch, but by following their father's convenient blindness, the Trudeau sons, like their father before them, are simply abetting the tyrants in furthering the people's sufferings.

Dimon Liu was born in China and immigrated to the United States in 1965. She became a human rights activist after witnessing conditions in China during a three-month trip there in 1972.