Wednesday, August 26, 2009

George Santayana on the importance of retentiveness

George Santayana
"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -George Santayana

Global Museum on Communism

The Santayana Edition

George Santayana

Monday, August 24, 2009

July 13, 2009: A Family Member Speaks Out (in Spanish)

The "13 de Marzo" Tugboat Massacre 15 Years Later: A Family Member Speaks Out (in Spanish)

Jorge Garcia lost 14 family members on July 13, 1994 when they were extrajudicially executed by Cuban government agents who attacked the tugboat "13 de Marzo" after it had surrendered. In the video below Jorge Garcia described the events leading to the massacre. This is only the first part. There are two additional videos available online as well offering more details.

REPORT Nº 47/96

CASE 11.436


October 16, 1996


On July 19, 1994, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received a complaint stating that in the early morning hours of July 13, 1994, four boats belonging to the Cuban State and equipped with water hoses attacked an old tugboat that was fleeing Cuba with 72 people on board. The incident occurred seven miles off the Cuban coast, opposite the port of Havana. The complaint also indicates that the Cuban State boats attacked the runaway tug with their prows with the intention of sinking it, while at the same time spraying everyone on the deck of the boat, including women and children, with pressurized water. The pleas of the women and children to stop the attack were in vain, and the old boat--named "13 de Marzo"--sank, with a toll of 41 deaths, including ten minors. Thirty-one people survived the events of July 13, 1994.

Read the full report here:

In the above video Jorge Garcia outlines how Cuban state security attempted to neutralize him and his families moral authority to denounce their crimes. It is in Spanish and gripping testimony that relates to the power of nonviolence and love when confronted with hatred and violence.

En castellano:

INFORME Nº 47/96

CASO 11.436


16 de octubre de 1996


Con fecha 19 de julio de 1994, la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos recibió una denuncia según la cual en horas de la madrugada del 13 de julio de 1994, cuatro barcos pertenecientes al Estado cubano y equipados con mangueras de agua embistieron un viejo barco remolcador que huía de Cuba con 72 personas a bordo. Los hechos ocurrieron a siete millas de distancia de las costas cubanas, frente al puerto de la ciudad de La Habana. La mencionada denuncia señala, asimismo, que las embarcaciones del Estado cubano embistieron con sus respectivas proas al remolcador fugitivo con la intención de hundirlo, al mismo tiempo que les lanzaban agua a presión a todas las personas que se encontraban en la cubierta del mencionado barco, incluyendo mujeres y niños. La súplica de las mujeres y niños para que el ataque cesara fue en vano, ya que la vieja embarcación denominada "13 de Marzo" se hundió con un saldo de 41 muertos, de los cuales 10 eran menores de edad. 31 personas sobrevivieron a los sucesos del 13 de julio de 1994.

El reporte completo esta aqui:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Che Guevara's Lamentable Legacy

Che Guevara's Lamentable Legacy

By John Suarez

“We must say here what is a known truth, which we have always expressed before the world: firing squad executions, yes, we have executed; we are executing and we will continue to execute as long as is necessary. Our struggle is a struggle to the death."
Ernesto "Che" Guevara
UN General Assembly, 1964

"Hatred as an element of the struggle; a relentless hatred of the enemy, impelling us over and beyond the natural limitations that man is heir to and transforming him into an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy."
Ernesto "Che" GuevaraHavana, April 16, 1967.

Film makers have been erecting a romantic image of Che Guevara from the days of his youth, as in Walter Salles's film ''The Motorcycle Diaries,"or his final days in Bolivia in Steven Soderbergh's " Che Guevara." It is important to highlight Guevara's actual message, actions, and legacy. Both films are a revisionist white wash that ignore both the atrocities committed, his hate filled writings, and their aftermath not only in Cuba but in the Americas.

The image of Che Guevara hanging in the College dorms of student radicals in 2009 may be cliché, but his message is not. In his Message to the Tricontinental Guevara argued that hatred was something to be harnessed and used: "Not only as an element to struggle against injustice,” but to be used to perpetrate new injustices. Guevara describes the utilization of hatred or as he put it “relentless hatred” to “impel us over and beyond the natural limitations of man.” This use of hatred to encourage the dehumanization of an adversary is but another manifestation of the doctrine found throughout the centuries to justify mass murder and torture.

If hate was the solution to all problems then the heroes of the 20th century would have been: Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Guevara. Instead they are viewed in most quarters as mass murderers and criminals except for those who are blinded by their "relentless hatred" of their fellow human and/or their political ideology. History has demonstrated two fundamental approaches to change the face of the world. One way views hatred of the other as an element of the struggle in which the ends justify whatever means and has been the way for the individuals listed above.

Che Guevara was an admirer of Mao Zedong and his formulation of guerilla warfare is adapted from the Chinese leader. Che published influential manuals Guerrilla Warfare (1961) and Guerrilla Warfare: A Method (1963), which were based on his own experiences and partly chairman Mao Zedong's writings. Guevara stated that revolution in Latin America must come through insurgent forces developed in rural areas with peasant support. His international legacy of glorifying violence through an erroneous analysis of guerilla warfare, based on his experiences with the Batista army, which was too incompetent and corrupt to fight, and applying Zedong’s writings on the subject led to bloodbaths in Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chiapas, Congo, Angola and decades of military dictatorship and political violence. Nevertheless it could have been worse. Che was killed in 1967 in the jungles of Bolivia. Another disciple of Mao Zedong who adapted his theories was Pol Pot, who unlike Che achieved power in 1975 after a guerilla struggle in Cambodia. He carried out a radical revolution modeled after Mao and ended by killing 25% of the entire population of his country: Cambodia.

Children in Cuba beginning at age 5 are taught to chant " We will be like Che!" every Friday at school. They are taught to be like the man who saw people as material to be molded and shaped in his Guevara’s own words: " To build communism, you must build new men as well as the new economic base. Hence it is very important to choose correctly the instrument for mobilizing the masses. Basically, this instrument must be moral in character, without neglecting, however, a correct utilization of the material stimulus-especially of a social character." One method of material stimulus was the firing squad. Che Guevara personally carried out hundreds of executions and issued even more death warrants. According to journalist Luis Ortega, who knew him, Che sent 1,897 men to the firing squad.

The consequences of building violent, selective, and cold killing machines is that these means lead to tragic ends that continue the cycle of violence and bloodshed. One example took place in the early morning hours of July 13, 1994 just six miles from Havana’s sea wall, the Malecón, out in the ocean a tug-boat with more than 71 Cubans trying to head for sanctuary were attacked. These victims were met by other tugboats captained by Che's "new men" who used high pressure hoses to knock these refugees overboard into the sea, and later rammed and sank the boat drowning 41 passengers. 21 of the dead were women and children. Ten years after the massacre acts of remembrance were carried out around the world. Jorge García, who lost 14 family members on the tugboat, poke out rejecting Che Guevara’s approach while embracing another: "There are those who think that we should be full of rancor and a thirst for vengeance, but I don't want revenge. I feel sorry for the people who assassinated my family but I do want a trial so that this situation can serve as a lesson and that these people or others like them in other parts of the world, don't do this kind of thing again. Not in Cuba. Not anywhere.” Seek justice but not revenge. Address an injustice with justice not new injustices.

This is a radical alternative to Che Guevara and Mao Ze Dong, tragically an alternative that would have saved tens of millions of more lives in the past century. Its philosophical underpinning is found in the statement: " Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” This path has and continues to be followed by persons of such diverse backgrounds as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Corazon Aquino, Desmond Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. These men and women have demonstrated that hatred is something to be overcome, not an "element of struggle," but rather a stumbling block to freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the challenge in November of 1960 in reference to sit-ins organized to protest segregation:

The sit-in demonstrations seek to secure moral ends through moral means. And ever so often in history when men seek to achieve the splendid goals of freedom, human dignity, and justice they resort to methods of violence, such as guerrilla warfare, such as assassination, and other methods of bloody revolution. […] We see here a crusade without violence, and there is no attempt on the part of those who engaged in sit-ins to annihilate the opponent but to convert him. […] I submit that this method […] is justifiable because it uses moral, humanitarian, and constructive means in order to achieve the constructive end.

Guevara had been executed on October 9, 1967 and just months before his own assassination Martin Luther King Jr. called on his staff to combat the “romantic illusion” of guerilla warfare in the style of Che Guevara among young radicals concluding: “We must not be intimidated by those who are laughing at nonviolence now.

Che Guevara argued in his writings and speeches that hatred is good because it, "transforms us into effective, violent, selective, and cold killing machines" Yet Mahatma Gandhi directly challenged this kind of thinking when decades before Che arrived on the political scene others advocated the same methods as Guevara in India arguing with great prescience: It is a cowardly thought, that of killing others. Whom do you suppose to free by assassination? The millions of India do not desire it. Those who are intoxicated by the wretched modern civilization think these things. Those who will rise to power by murder will certainly not make the nation happy.

Forty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. an African American took the oath of office and became President of the United States in a country that has profoundly changed. What of the rest of Latin America? Guevara’s call to action in a hemisphere with too many military juntas led to new military juntas in countries that had not known them before in their history: Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, and Uruguay all had their longest military juntas following the Castro regime exporting guerillas to violently overthrow governments in 1959 along with promoting Guevarist ideology. On January 3-15, 1966 the Tricontinental Conference hosted by the Cuban government and the explicit announcement of their goals in Guevara’s Message to the Tricontinental. Other countries such as Chile, who had last known a military junta between 1924 and 1931, in reaction to communist threats in 1973 embraced Augusto Pinochet who remained in power for seventeen years.

With the exception of Nicaragua Che Guevara’s prescription for revolution in Latin America led to a generation of right wing military dictatorships and harsh repression. In Nicaragua it led to a Marxist left wing military dictatorship and civil war. Ironically, Pinochet was brought down by followers of Gandhi and King who through non-violent action pressured Pinochet into a plebiscite which he lost and through persistence and patience sought and continue to seek justice for his victims. If Fidel Castro and Che Guevara had not created the Tricontinental in 1966 and explicitly called for the use of terrorism and armed guerrillas then there might not have been an Operation Condor, in which the military establishments responded to Che Guevara's call to create "cold killing machines" by creating their own and setting them loose on left wing partisans. A month before Pinochet's September 11, 1973 coup against the democratically elected Salvador Allende four radical left wing organizations from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Uruguay met and established the Revolutionary Coordinating Junta.

This struggle for real freedom is both spiritual and material. The spiritual enemies are hatred, distrust, fear and despair. For example in the case of Cuba there are abundant reasons to hate the evils and injustices committed by Guevara and his co-conspirators. They have imprisoned tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience, attempted to indoctrinate an entire generation, made Cubans second class citizens in their own country, they have divided families, made political ideology a litmus test for patriotism, and executed thousands. Cuban dissident leaders inspired by Gandhi and King have rejected this culture of violence and hatred despite great suffering on their own part. Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, an opposition leader currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for his human rights activism believes that: "To love one's neighbor is also to love one's enemy. Although in reality that qualifier-'enemy' does not exist in my vocabulary. I recognize that I only have adversaries and I have acquired the capacity to love them because in this way we do away with violence, wrath, vengeance, hatred and substitute them with justice and forgiveness."

Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas addressing the European Parliament upon being awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in Strasbourg, France on the 17 of December 2002 declared: “ 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’.” With this victory courageous Cuban democrats are in the process of bringing this lamentable legacy to an end with a rebirth of freedom and national reconciliation.

Freedom of Expression & The Juanes Affair

Freedom of Expression & The Juanes Affair

Recognizing the boundary between vigorous debate and assault

"Only oppression should fear the full exercise of freedom."
Jose Marti y Perez

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
Article 19 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

I had committed myself to not addressing the Peace Without Frontiers concert organized by Juanes in Havana due to a lack of time and interest viewing it through an entertainment and cultural prism.
At this moment Ariel Sigler Amaya, Alfredo Pulido López, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, Normando Hernández González, Alfredo Dominguez Batista, Jose Daniel Ferrer and Dr. Garcia Paneque are deathly ill. I especially fear for the lives of Ariel Sigler Amaya and Normando Hernandez who are both emaciated and in the case of Ariel can no longer walk.

I am also deeply concerned about the July 21 arrest of Dr. Darsi Ferrer who has exposed the horrible injustices of the Cuban medical system on film and now faces years in prison. Amnesty International has identified 58 Cuban prisoners of conscience rotting in Cuban prisons for exercising their fundamental human rights. This should generate a lot more passion and outrage then a pop concert in Cuba.

Sadly Cuba is not the only human rights disaster in the world there are others in similar circumstances that need help. In the past few weeks I’ve had to mobilize with others to get a friend out of a Zimbabwean detention center that has a track record of torture; denounce attacks against journalists in Venezuela not to mention highlight a new law to clamp down on freedom of expression; march with Iranian exiles against the killing of students and pro-democracy activists in Iran; sign petitions and lobby for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi who has spent more than a decade under house arrest and has now had her sentence unjustly extended an additional 18 months along with more than 2,000 Burmese political prisoners rotting in prisons throughout Burma; denouncing the extrajudicial execution of Russian human rights activist Natalia Estemirova; denouncing the rape of a Chinese student in one of the infamous Chinese black jails and other actions. These outrages should generate more passion than a pop music concert.

Nevertheless the Juanes affair dominates the news in South Florida and has gotten uglier obligating me to speak out. Why? Because as a human rights activist one cannot remain silent when they are being violated in front of you in your own hometown. Sadly this is not the first time Human Rights Watch back in 1992 wrote a report on violations of the freedom of expression in Miami and followed up with a 1994 report. This is the same organization accused by the Cuban Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council in June of 2009 of being mercenaries. This is because Human Rights Watch is both independent and objective and has written a profound analysis of Cuba’s repressive machinery and held the regime accountable for decades. With regards to the situation in Miami I’ve spoken out in print and in public both in 1996 and 1999 respectively during the Rubalcaba and Los Van Van affairs and do so again now.

Now a vigorous debate about the merits of a pop music concert in Cuba is fine, although not of great interest. My plan was to watch or listen to the September 20th concert get feedback from people who attended the concert and from members of the democratic opposition then draw conclusions about the event. This remains the plan with regards to the concert, but this essay serves to address a more important topic: the right of Juanes and a group of musicians to play in Cuba and the right of a Colombian artist to form his own opinions about Cuba and not be threatened with physical violence.

Freedom of expression is an inalienable right for all individuals in all countries, at all times especially in matters of civic and political expression and those that seek to censor free expression, intimidate persons seeking to express themselves, imprison them or terrorize them is guilty of committing a profound injustice. Individuals here have crossed that line and demonstrated their contempt for human rights.

Two clear examples first at the demonstration on August 14th on 35th Ave. and SW 8th Street where a black shirt representing Juanes was doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire by one of the demonstrators who stated to the press: “This is what we are going to do with him burn him for being a communist, a traitor, a terrorist, and for licking Fidel Castro’s boots.” Secondly, A day later on Twitter Juanes received the following message: "I hate what you are saying but you will die for defending your right to say it."These are not examples of free speech but fall under the legal definition of assault: the threat to carry out physical harm against an individual and demonstrating the means to do it and constitutes a true threat. Another example of this type of language involving death threats against a Cuban exile activist occurred in 2007 the individual making the phone calls was identified by the police and interviewed on Channel 41.

This is intolerable in a free society. However this is the kind of language often used by Cuban government agents and reflects a country that is second in the world only to China (28) with 21 imprisoned journalists according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Currently there are 58 human beings rotting in Cuban prisons recognized by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience which means they are there because they were willing to put their lives and reputation on the line to defend human rights. Just days ago a man spoke out in front of a camera that he is hungry and days later is sentenced to two years in prison. These are the kind of threats that are all too common in totalitarian states like Cuba.

Everyone, even a musician, has the right to their opinion and to expression; and that includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The debate over whether the concert and the message will leave a positive legacy in Cuba can be heatedly debated but the right of anyone from any country going to any country to play their music and express themselves is a fundamental right. Death threats meant to intimidate and silence dissent are unacceptable and need to be condemned.

One must separate politics from other spheres of life only totalitarians subsume everything to a political ideology. One of the questions raised by critics of the concert is "if Juanes would’ve played in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship?" Well for the record one of the greatest bands of all time The Police did just that in 1982 in Viña del Mar. They played a concert and were interviewed on Chilean television. They did not criticize the Pinochet regime during their visit: they played their set and did their interview focusing on their music and the band. That did not mean that Sting, Andy Summers, or Stewart Copeland were Pinochet supporters. They were musicians doing a gig.

Years later in 1988 Sting did pen a song They Danced Alone which blasts Pinochet’s dictatorship. The band also played in Argentina during the military junta in the midst of thousands being disappeared and brutally extrajudicially killed. Do not expect much from musicians other than they play their music well and are entertaining. If they care about human rights fine, but they better know how to play well.

A final observation about the Juanes concert which is billed as an apolitical affair. When you visit the official website of the concert series you’ll find that one of the documents of interest is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights encompasses civil and political rights but are not political in and of themselves but fundamental and transcendent rights that are beyond the politics of the day. If the musician understands this fact the September 20 concert in Havana should be an interesting show.