Sunday, October 17, 2021

Placing the July 11th protests into context for a non-Cuban audience


Family Ties: Cuban Americans and Their Emigration Story | NBCLX

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Remembering Laura Pollán, Cuba's Lady in White ten years after her killing

They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens." - Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (2010

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, February 13, 1948 – October 14, 2011
Ten years ago today, Cuban opposition leader and human rights defender Laura Pollán died under circumstances that Cuban dissident and medical doctor Oscar Elias Biscet described as "death by purposeful medical neglect."
Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, a courageous woman spoke truth to power and protested in the streets of Cuba demanding an amnesty for Cuban political prisoners. She had been a school teacher, before her husband was jailed for his independent journalism in 2003 along with more than 75 other civil society members. Laura was greatly admired both inside and outside of the island.
But when one opposes the regime in Cuba not only is their physical life in danger, but their reputation is systematically slandered. The dictatorship claimed that she was a stateless "traitor." She became ill and died within the space of a week under circumstances that raise the question of foul play by Castro's secret police. Following her death the official media of the dictatorship began a slander campaign asserting that she was a common criminal.
  Following brutal repression, in an effort to prevent them from marching through the streets of Havana, Laura Pollan directly and nonviolently challenged the regime declaring, "we will never give up our protest. The authorities have three options — free our husbands, imprison us or kill us." 

Unfortunately beginning in 2010 a new and deadlier pattern of oppression presented itself with the extrajudicial death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo

Laura Pollán's "criminal" behavior was to start the Ladies in White movement after the Black Cuban Spring of 2003 and nonviolently challenged the Castro regime in the streets of Havana at the beginning, and eventually across the island. Laura reached out to the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the 75 prisoners of conscience jailed in March of 2003 along with her husband and they carried out a sustained nonviolent campaign that after nine years obtained the freedom of their loved ones.
Since she did not dissolve the Ladies in White when her husband returned home because she recognized that the laws had not changed, and that political prisoners remained behind bars and that she would continue her human rights activism, the Castro regime did away with her on October 14, 2011.
Today, the current leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, paid homage to her predecessor over FaceBook while calling out and holding responsible the Castro regime for Laura's death.
Tenth anniversary of the physical loss of Laura Pollan Toledo. The Fidel Castro regime murdered Laura Pollan, they thought to silence her, but they did not succeed, she remains high in our esteem and is among us present at every step of the Ladies in White, following her legacy. 
Example of a woman, loving, brave, intelligent, audacious, teacher, warrior, for that and much more we say: LAURA POLLAN LIVES Laura is in our hearts Ladies in White we pay tribute and homage to: Laura Pollan Toledo.
Let us remember that Laura put into action over eight years in Cuba nonviolent resistance to tyranny.
"They tried to silence 75 voices, but now there are more than 75 voices shouting to the world the injustices the government has committed." (2004) "We fight for the freedom of our husbands, the union of our families. We love our men." (2005)
"They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens." (2010) "We are going to continue. We are fighting for freedom and human rights.” (September 24, 2011)
"As long as this government is around there will be prisoners because while they've let some go, they've put others in jail. It is a never-ending story." (2011)
“If we must give our own lives in pursuit of the freedom of our Cuba that it be what God wants.” (September 24, 2011)
"We are not going to stop. If you have imprisoned our sisters thinking that we would give up, they are mistaken. We are very united (...) all the women's movements are very close." (October 2, 2011)
"My life has changed a lot, now I have learned to love the country much more, the prisoners, the humanity. That's how I have so much work, that I don't have much time to think about myself, what really satisfies me, in short, I owe myself to other more important tasks. Now I understand much more, before I could not understand these things, you have to live and feel them to be able to dedicate soul heart and life to this beautiful cause." (2011)
The regime in Cuba is the most misogynist government in all of Latin America. Women who speak out and exercise their fundamental rights are regularly slandered, physically assaulted and sometimes die under suspicious circumstances as Laura did ten years ago today.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

October 10, 1868 Grito de Yara's Double Significance for Freedom in Cuba: How Castroism betrayed both of them

 Independence and Emancipation


The Grito de Yara on October 10, 1868 has a double significance for Cubans, and Black Cubans specifically. It was the initial cry for independence that marked the start of the "Ten Years War" that seriously challenged Spanish colonial rule, and the institution of slavery.

 This day marked an immediate and concrete start of liberation.


Plantation and slave owner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo, sounded a bell that gathered enslaved black Cubans together to begin the work day, but on October 10, 1868 he freed them instead.


Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo

This slave owner then invited them, if they chose, to take up arms and join him in a new struggle for independence. The nearest town to his plantation was called Yara and this cry for freedom became known as the "Grito de Yara." 


Carlos Manuel not only promised independence from Spain, but the abolition of slavery in Cuba. 


This was a day of choosing for black Cuban slaves and over the next decade they fought for freedom, together with free blacks, and white Cubans. 


On October 10, 1878 in the Pact of Zanjón slaves that had taken part on either side of the fight were freed, but those who remained on the sidelines would not be freed until October 7, 1886. 


General Martínez Campos and General Antonio Maceo meet

Not everyone agreed with the pact. General Antonio Maceo was summoned by Martínez Campos to Los Mangos de Baraguá on March 15, 1879. General Maceo refused to accept the conditions established in the agreement. He demanded full independence and the complete abolition of slavery. This became known as "La Protesta de Baraguá" where  General Antonio Maceo told his Spanish counterpart: "We do not understand each other". 


Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer, a free Cuban black, and leader of the independence struggle defended the rights of Black Cubans for his entire career. In 1886 he founded the “Directory of Colored Societies” - the same year that slavery ended in Cuba. 

 The Central Directory of Societies of Color would spend the next seventy six years pushing for Black advancement in Cuba.   


It would be a fair assessment to define October 10, 1868 as not only the beginning of Cuban independence, but a day to celebrate black liberation from 373 years of bondage beginning with the arrival of the first African slaves to Cuba in 1513. Over 900,000 Africans would be taken from West Africa and brought to Cuba over 350 years.

Juan Gualberto transmitted the order that began the 2nd war of independence on February 24, 1895. Gómez Ferrer was captured on February 28, 1895 and imprisoned by the Spanish for three years. Upon his release he went to New York and continued the struggle for Cuban independence from exile.


"In December 1898, he accompanied Major General Calixto García to Washington, D.C. as a member of the commission sent to negotiate for funds necessary for the Cuban Liberation Army and recognition of the rebels" by the United States.


 In 1900 Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer was elected to represent Oriente in the Constituent Assembly.  


Following independence he was deeply critical of the Platt Amendment. The United States military had occupied Cuba from 1898 to 1902, and the bitter price of independence was accepting the Platt Amendment in the 1901 Cuban Constitution, which permitted U.S. interference in Cuban internal affairs to preserve order and protect American interests, put into question the status of Cuba's Isle of Pines as a possible U.S. possession. 


Gómez Ferrer held seats in the Cuban House of Representatives (1914–1917) and Senate (1917–1925), representing Havana. 


Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer

Between 1886 and 1962 in Cuba, free black people were able to organize in a network of societies founded by Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer to press for black social, economic and political advancement in Cuba.

Cuba during the later colonial period, and during the Republic wrestled with the legacy of slavery, and racism, but it was part of the public discussion – with its high and low points.   

Ugly periods, such as the 1912 race war, and private discrimination persisted, but so did black agency to advocate for each other.

General Pedro Ivonnet Dufort was a Mambi officer killed in 1912

Political leaders had to answer to these black societies, and provide patronage to them, and in a vibrant free press, and in publishing houses debates on race, and racism, and the need for redress took place.

The Central Directory of Societies of Color, founded by Juan Gualberto Gómez Ferrer in 1886 succeeded in lobbying for the 1940 Constitution to address racism in Articles 10,  20,  74, and 102.

And although incomplete and too slow, progress had been made in the 1940 Constitution, and in labor legislation to provide greater inclusion for black Cubans over the next 20 years.

All of this came crashing down with Castro’s communist revolution.  

“Of the 256 Negro societies in Cuba, many  have had to close their doors and others are in death agony. One can truthfully say, and this is without the slightest exaggeration, that the Negro movement in Cuba died at the hands of Sr. Fidel Castro.” … “Yet this is the man who had the cynical impudence to visit the United States in 1960 for the purpose of censuring American racial discrimination. Although this evil obviously exists in the United States, Castro is not precisely the man to offer America solutions, nor even to pass judgement,” reported Cuban nationalist Juan René Betancourt in his essay in the NAACP's publication The Crisis in 1961. 

Juan René Betancourt

Some of the more prominent clubs that are still remembered are the Sociedad Buena Vista ( Buena Vista Social Club), Amantes del Progreso, Unión Fraternal, Progreso, Nueva Era, and El Club Atenas.

Between 1898 and 1959 the relationship between Black-Americans and Black-Cubans was based on their race and being black minorities.  The relationship between the two diasporas ended when the Castro regime ended autonomous black civil society in 1962. 

It was replaced by Castro and his white revolutionary elite allying with Black elites in the United States, and Africa.  The Castro regime would selectively target black elites in the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, and representatives of newly liberated nations in Africa. This was exemplified by Fidel Castro meeting with Malcolm X on September 19, 1960.

The elimination of Afro-Cubans from this dynamic demonstrated how the new communist revolutionary elite transformed what race meant within the island while at the same time turning it into a political tool outside of Cuba to advance the Castro regime's communist agenda.

This ended black agency in Cuba for decades, and replaced it with a policy based in obedience, submission, and gratitude to the white revolutionary elite, and this was reflected in official propaganda with racist tropes.


From the Castro regime's publication Verde Olivo 1, no. 29 (October 1, 1960) a cartoon depicting Fidel Castro meeting with African Americans in Harlem in a pro-regime publication. On the left capitalists, and on the right Fidel Castro with black Americans featured with racist stereotypes.

Cuban blacks today that would have been political leaders in the 1940s and 1950s are dissidents persecuted, hunted and killed by the secret police.

The regime claims there is no racism in Cuba while poverty disproportionately impacts black people, and black voices are silenced.


Saturday, October 9, 2021

Note to His Admirers: Comandante Ernesto "Che" Guevara is still dead and his ideas are toxic

 "I'd like to confess, at that moment I discovered that I really like killing." Ernesto "Che" Guevara, in a letter to his father after executing an unarmed man.  


Che Guevara executed for trying to overthrow Bolivian govt on this day in 1967

Ideas have consequences and those ideas are sometimes represented in iconic images. This is the case of the image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara and his toxic philosophy of political action that others seek to emulate.  He embraced hatred and dehumanization of the other as the means to carry out what he thought necessary actions.

“Blind hate against the enemy creates a forceful impulse that cracks the boundaries of natural human limitations, transforming the soldier in an effective, selective and cold killing machine. A people without hate cannot triumph against the adversary.”

Guevara's claim to fame was the role he played alongside Fidel and Raul Castro in installing a totalitarian communist regime in Cuba then attempting to spread this model using violent means in Africa and Latin America. 

Ernesto "Che" Guevara with a Cuban delegation visited Mainland China and met with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and other high ranking Chinese officials in November 1960 to discuss conditions in Cuba and in Latin America, and the prospects for communist revolution in the Western Hemisphere.  


Mao Ze Dong caused the deaths of an estimated 45 million Chinese people in his communist project through famine and mass executions.  He is the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century, and someone Guevara stayed allied to, even after the Castro regime cooled relations with Beijing siding with Moscow.

Months after the world came perilously close to a nuclear holocaust in October 1962, Che Guevara was disappointed. The Argentine declared in November 1962: "What we affirm is that we must proceed along the path of liberation even if this costs millions of atomic victims.”

Ernesto Guevara was executed  summarily on October 9, 1967 in La Higuera, Bolivia after he and his band of guerrillas were captured trying to overthrow the legitimate government there and install a Castro style dictatorship. His legacy at the time was already one of blood and terror that should be lamented not celebrated.

Comandante Ernesto "Che" Guevara is still dead, his ideas are still toxic, and need to be buried along with him.


Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Oslo Freedom Forum: Truth Ignited Oct 4 -5

"Human rights are universal and indivisible. Human freedom is also indivisible: if it is denied to anyone in the world, it is therefore denied, indirectly, to all people. This is why we cannot remain silent in the face of evil or violence; silence merely encourages them." - Vaclav Havel 

Since 2011 this blog has followed the Oslo Freedom Forum and the different human rights themes over the past decade, and  celebrated in 2012 when the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent was inaugurated. This years theme is "Truth Ignited", and unlike other years, due to COVID-19 the Oslo Freedom Forum 2021 is being held in the capital of political exiles: Miami. Day one on the main stage is available online.

There are conversations underway that you should consider listening to, and reflecting on. The international human rights situation has been deteriorating for far too long, and the effects are impacting all of us.

Now is the time to leave our information silos prepared for us by social media giants, and re-engage on the ground in real conversations seeking our areas of both common agreement, and where we disagree to better understand each other. 

This process will help us to also live in truth to advance freedom, respect for the dignity of the other, and reviving human rights around the globe.

Day 2 promises to be interesting as well. Hope to see you there. Please spread the word and use the hashtags #TruthIgnited and #OFF2021

Update: Day 2 was remarkable. Presentations by several human rights icons, and a performance by Cuban musical icons Paquito D'Rivera,and Chucho Valdés.

See it all in the video below.