Sunday, November 27, 2011

Scenes and Sounds from Tahrir Square

The Egyptian Revolution 2.0

Tahrir Square

Before walking into the Square you had to pass through a security checkpoint that searched your bags and checked identification. The organizers of the demonstration have set up internal policing mechanisms in an effort to maintain some level of order in Tahrir Square.

Checkpoint prior to entering Tahrir Square

Walking into the square surrounded by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians engaged in discussion and debate about the future of their country.

Walking into Tahrir Square after passing through the checkpoint fireworks overhead

Banners, posters with images of martyrs, prisoners and slogans abound. At the same time merchants selling food, juice, popcorn, gas masks and more. For example, balloons imitating the “I Love NY” campaign replacing NY with Egypt raised the ire of some of the activists who exclaimed: “People are being killed just a few feet away from these guys selling balloons.” Its all a bit surreal.

International observers inside one of the tents in the center of Tahrir Square listen to an Egyptian activist

Fireworks exploding overhead and families walking through Tahrir Square with their children. There is a festive air in the Square as one approaches the tents at the center.

The nerve center of the Tahrir Square protests were organizers and politicians gather to talk. Food and banana juice are passed around the tent. Introductions are made and international visitors get a briefing on what is going on.

On Friday night between the Parliament building and the Prime Minister's office demonstrators set up their tents and expanded the demonstration. Chanting anti-military slogans and calling for the transfer of military rule to civilian rule.

At any moment shots can ring out and chaos ensues. Usually it happens late at night but on Saturday it happened in the morning, but this time a young demonstrator was run over. Also outside of the Square the situation is also dangerous. During the first phase of the revolution in January, elements in the population seized weapons caches from the police. Now in many parts of Cairo shoot outs can take place at any time over a theft or an argument.

Demonstration and occupation of street between Parliament building and Prime Minister's office

Their is great skepticism among many about the Parliamentary elections beginning on Monday. There have been a lot of last minute changes in electoral rules and procedures and as of Sunday night many questions still remain on how it will be run. At the same time news that supporters of different candidates got into shoot out raises deep concerns about how peaceful the elections will be.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Egypt at a Crossroads

Downtown Cairo on November 24, 2011

Over the next 96 hours the future of Egyptian democracy may very well be decided in the interplay of the main actors in the ongoing conflict. The military that has ruled Egypt since July 23, 1952 when a group of military officers, calling themselves the "Free Officers Movement" overthrew the unpopular King Farouk I ended the constitutional monarchy and founded a republic where the military dominated the country over the next 59 years. The Islamist movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood that participated in the January 25, 2011 revolution (along with liberal and secular Egyptian activists) is not participating in the present round of protests. The departure of both Hosni Mubarak from power and his son no longer the heir apparent is now being looked as only a first step to ending military rule by many Egyptians who are now taking to the streets once again.

Elections for the Egyptian parliament are supposed to be held on Monday, November 28.

In the days approaching the elections mass demonstrations have taken place across Egypt and the military response has been harsh. The level of violence against the demonstrators has escalated and the evidence of the brutality has generated a backlash that has forced the generals to apologize for the violence. At the same time that clashes have been taking place between the government and opposition activists gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo as well as in Alexandria, Qena, Mansoura, and Damietta demonstrating that it is nationwide movement.

The Guardian reports that prominent US-Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy was brutally sexually and physically assaulted after being arrested by Egyptian riot police during a 12-hour ordeal inside Cairo's interior ministry. She had bones broken in both wrists necessitating two casts.

Nevertheless outside of the protests life goes on much the same in the rest of Egypt. There are complaints from some merchants that the conflict has not been good for tourism and hurt their business.

Downtown Cairo on November 24, 2011

The decision to hold the first main demonstrations at Tahrir (Liberation) Square has deep roots in post-colonial Egypt that stretch back to 1919 and the uprising that formally achieved Egyptian independence from Great Britain. It was a nonviolent movement that used civil disobedience tactics. Brutal repression by the British backfired and they were forced to recognized the independence of Egypt on February 22, 1922. The square got its name informally after the 1919 uprising and was formally changed to Tahrir Square following the 1952 military coup that did away with the last vestiges of British colonial rule. It appears that Egyptian generals are repeating the same mistakes now in Egypt that the British did in 1919.

Tomorrow, Friday, November 25th Egyptian democratic opposition activists have called for massive demonstrations to demand the end of military rule. Over this weekend it can truly be said that Egypt is at a crossroads and the next few hours could chart what course Egyptian politics will take over the next half century.

Civil disobedience achieved independence for Egypt in 1922. Will it now achieve democracy in Egypt in 2011?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Surviving Senior Khmer Rouge leaders on trial for crimes against humanity

The Khmer Rouge murdered 1/4 of the entire population of Cambodia in under four years. Now more than 30 years later the 3 most senior remaining leaders of the Khmer Rouge are on trial for crimes against humanity and are offering differing explanations for the estimated 1.7 million deaths between 1975-1979. They are: Nuon Chea, 85; former head of state Khieu Samphan, 80; and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, 86 and are all charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.

The former Head of state of the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan stressed the nationalist credentials of his movement and said that communism gave the best hope for developing Cambodia. Furthermore that the crimes and genocide attributed to him were "a fairy tale."

The trouble is that others, while still trying to justify their actions admit that the wholesale slaughter went on. There is also abundant evidence to back up the fact that a genocide took place in Cambodia. Nuon Chea in the documentary Enemies of the People spoke about it and justified it although expressing some regret: "I have always said I made mistakes. I am regretful and I have remorse. I am sorry for our regime. I am sorry," but then went on to add "that they were safeguarding the revolution and that they 'were enemies of the people.'"

The trial begin in 2009 with the case of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, and the guilty verdict was delivered on July 26, 2010. Duch, 67, commanded the notorious S-21 prison where as many as 16,000 people were tortured before being sent for execution in the late 1970s. He is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial, and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison and the sentence was later reduced to 19 years. He is appealing the sentence.

A picture is worth a thousand words...

Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera arrested together with Donaida Pérez Paseiro for trying to keep a doctor's appointment.

Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera with a cyst product of beatings by Cuban state security.

The above picture was tweeted by Yoani Sanchez on November 22, 2011 at 11:03pm stating that Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" sent photo of his wife Yris, with cyst caused by beatings months ago that is still growing.

Cuban human rights defender Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera has been the victim of numerous brutal beatings by the Cuban dictatorship's state security agents and the pictures above demonstrates a consequence of the attacks. On at least four occasions on this blog the attacks have been reported on: November 4, 2011, September 18, 2011, September 28, 2011, June 20, 2011 and May 26, 2011. In addition the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights issued a precautionary measure:

PM 218/11 − Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, Cuba

On July 6, 2011, the IACHR granted precautionary measures for Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, in Cuba. The request for precautionary measure alleges that Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, reportedly a leader of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement and a political dissident, has been a victim of physical attacks, acts of harassment, and threats by agents of the State. It alleges specifically that as a result of a new attack she suffered on May 25, 2011, she is suffering from cervical trauma, memory loss, and headaches, and has not been provided with the medical treatment she needs. The Inter-American Commission asked the State of Cuba to adopt any necessary measures to guarantee the life and physical integrity of Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera; to reach agreement with the beneficiary and her representatives on the measures to be adopted; and to inform the Commission about the actions taken to investigate the facts that led to the adoption of precautionary measures.

Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera with a cyst product of beatings by Cuban state security.

To add insult to injury Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez tweeted yesterday night the above picture and that "Today Yris should leave her home for medical attention but a police cordon didn't allow it." Furthermore the brutalization of nonviolent activists by state security agents continues. Dissidents are being beaten up for demonstrating their solidarity with Cubans being evicted from their homes. As predicted, in a country where human rights are non-existent the process of privatization means expropriating the poor in favor of the politically connected. If you protest then they beat you down and arrest you.

An important update: Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera was arrested today as she tried to attend a surgeon's appointment. She was detained together with Donaida Pérez Paseiro. Jorge Garcia Perez Antunez denounced the detention and tweeted news of it at 1:39pm EST stating, "My wife was detained together with Donaida Pérez for trying to attend an appointment with a surgeon." Shortly afterwards Cuban blogger, Yoani Sanchez, posted photos on twitter of the women being arrested.

Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera being detained by Political police in Cuba

Donaida Pérez Paseiro being detained by Political police in Cuba

Both Donaida and Yris while being detained earlier today because Yris tried to attend a medical appointment in order to obtain medical care in Cuba for a beating she suffered at the hands of the political police.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Carlos Eire: Bearing Witness

“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” - Elie Wiesel, Night

Carlos Eire speaking at FIU in the Graham Center on November 21, 2011

Carlos Eire, Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University, spoke today at 1:00pm at Florida International University in a lecture titled: Exile through the eyes of a Pedro Pan. Several times during the lecture he spoke of the importance of bearing witness and made reference to the quote by Elie Wiesel at the top of this page.

Dr. Eire continued with the theme of bearing witness stating: "When someone is an eyewitness to history and that history involves some great injustice and you don't bear witness to that injustice then you are allowing evil to triumph. Not only at the event but forever." He went on to say, "If you don't set it straight you are an accomplice." You can hear him state this in the above video beginning at 1 minute 42 seconds.

He closed his lecture with a powerful observation and call to action stating: "The best history of all. The history that we each have to tell - our own lives. Especially if that history has been misshapen by others." Video excerpt is embedded below.

The main points of today's lecture were similar to a talk that the professor gave at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio on April 21, 2011 as part of the George Washington Forum on American Ideas, Politics and Institutions. That speech was entitled "Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Wayward Historian." In it he stated that in the process"[t]o bear eyewitness to an injustice you might bring it down." The entire lecture is available online.

Carlos Eire is calling on everyone, but especially victims of injustice, to tell their story. To describe the sliver of truth that they carry within themselves and to share it with others. It is a call to action and it is a call to remembrance.

For example today via twitter learned from Roberto J. Guerra of Hablemos Press that Idania Yanes Contreras, a Central Opposition Coalition leader was arrested in Santa Clara, Cuba on her way to witness an eviction. In recent days she was brutally beaten by the political police. The attack left her with a dilated kidney and bleeding. She is still recovering from that assault by agents of the government. Also learned that 17 other activists were badly beaten and detained for demonstrating their solidarity with this opposition leader. Thanks to Marc Masferrer of Uncommon Sense additional information to that provided by Roberto Guerra on twitter offers both additional information and context. Relaying their story, as well as your own, is a way of bearing witness where you can still save lives by getting the facts out to more people.

Another example from November 18, 2011 is the resignation of former prisoner of conscience and independent journalist Manuel Vazquez Portal from Radio Marti. In his letter of resignation, available on his blog, he speaks truth to power citing the reasons for his departure. The original Spanish text is available here.

One final example that terrifies tyrants. On November 16, 2011 at Miami Dade College, students dressed in white gathered to honor the memory of Ladies in White founder Laura Pollán. They were bearing witness to the nonviolent struggle waged by Cuban women for freedom in Cuba and the ultimate price that one of them had paid.

It is important for as many voices as possible to speak out and document their experience - their truth contributing to the sum total that informs what actually took place. During his lecture, Carlos Eire made reference to an interview on National Public Radio titled "Children of Cuba Remember Their Flight to America" and to read the comments sections to see the efforts by some to distort the historical record. The best way to combat untruth is with truth. The more of it the better. As Mohandas Gandhi once observed, "Truth never damages a cause that is just."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Internet Apartheid: Its not just a Cuban thing

Amnesty International has highlighted five countries where your online comments can land you in jail: Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Syria, and Vietnam. Out of the five countries only Syria (as of April 29, 2011) has sanctions leveled against it.

The other four countries have "normalized" relations with the United States. In the case of Cuba trying to provide Cubans with wireless internet connections is grounds for imprisonment. The lack of internet connectivity in Cuba has nothing to do with economic sanctions but everything to do with Cuban government policy.

In the case of Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Syria, and Vietnam there are attempts to censor what is on the internet and to imprison those within their national territories that express critical opinions online. The Cubans also have to deal with an intranet but in addition are restricted access to the internet.

Yoani Sanchez over twitter expressed the everyday reality for Cubans on November 15, 2011:
Know why I can't use Twitter from the world wide web or read your messages online? Because I'm not politically correct or a foreigner.

Did you know a foreign resident in Cuba can contract home internet connection and a Cuban cannot? That is why I tweet through sms!

No foreign blogger would lend to a alternative blogger an Internet connection. But Twitter allows publishing by SMS. Long live the smoke signals!

That is why I will not stop tweeting nor of training my countrymen to publish on the web even without an Internet connection.

Internet and life! We will Twitter!
Internet apartheid exists in Cuba. Foreigners and members of the regime elite have internet access in their homes, but not the average Cuban. Whats the difference between Cuba and these other countries? US sanctions limit the role of American companies in Cuba but not in Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Syria, and Vietnam.

Some internet companies have sold their souls for profits from repressive regimes.

In Syria where the United Nations reported in November that 3,500 Syrians have been extra-judicially executed by the Assad regime. At the same time American companies have blocked the internet and assisted the Assad regime in the persecution of the Syrian people. US senators want answers about the complicity of US companies.

Its not the first time. American companies such as Microsoft, Nortel, Cisco and Sun-Microsystems collaborated extensively with the Chinese communists to set up an intranet that blocks free access to internet to hundreds of millions of Chinese. In addition, American companies identified and located Chinese dissidents to the regime who were imprisoned and tortured. For example, according to Amnesty International, Chinese journalist Shi Tao is serving 10 years in jail after Internet company Yahoo! gave the authorities his personal email account-holder information.

American companies, such as Narus, aided the Mubarak regime during its brutal crackdown earlier this year tracking Egyptian activists during the Arab Spring and has also been suspected of helping Libya track dissidents.

The difference between Cuba and these other countries is that because of economic sanctions - some US technology corporations were blocked from doing the same sordid business on the communist island. Of course that does not mean that other companies from other countries are not already engaged in those practices. At the time of the 2003 Black Cuban Spring the Italian company, Telecom Italia, provided technology that was used to track activists that used the internet in a "counterrevolutionary manner."

Internet apartheid its not just a Cuban thing but thanks to US sanctions at least US companies do not have carte blanche to do the same thing in Cuba that they are doing in China, Syria, Egypt and in so many other places around the world. Unfortunately, there are other companies in Cuba collaborating and doing it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

FACT CHECK: Agence France Press got its facts wrong on Cuba Story

Fiber optic cable
In a November 14 ,2011 article titled Cuba says US behind illegal wireless networks the Agence France Press got a key fact wrong when it stated:
Because of the US embargo, Cuba cannot connect to the underwater fiber optic cables that pass near the island, leaving satellite connections with high rates and narrow bandwidths as the main option available to Cuban Internet users.
President Obama on April 13, 2009 directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Commerce to take the needed steps to:
  • Authorize U.S. telecommunications network providers to enter into agreements to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite telecommunications facilities linking the United States and Cuba.
  • License U.S. telecommunications service providers to enter into roaming service agreements with Cuba’s telecommunications service providers.
  • License U.S. satellite radio and satellite television service providers to engage in transactions necessary to provide services to customers in Cuba.
  • License persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to activate and pay U.S. and third-country service providers for telecommunications, satellite radio and satellite television services provided to individuals in Cuba.
  • Authorize the donation of certain consumer telecommunication devices without a license.
It was the Cuban government that showed no interest in a fiber-optic cable linking the United States and Cuba in 2009 not the Cuban embargo. Instead it went with a fiber-optic cable linking Cuba and Venezuela. Meanwhile internet access has not improved for the average Cuban.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Laura Pollán: One month later

"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." - Laura Pollán (2011)

Laura Pollán's image projected onto Cuban embassy in Ottawa

Tonight, at 10:30pm in Ottawa, Canada Laura Pollán's smiling image was beamed onto the Cuban embassy by the artist, Geandy Pavón as part of his Nemesis series.

One month ago on Friday, October 14 at 7:50pm Laura Pollán died of heart failure following being hospitalized for one week. Later that same night a special Mass was held for Laura at Our Lady of Charity in Coconut Grove, Florida. In the space of a month there has been an outpouring of sorrow both inside and outside of Cuba and the Ladies in White renamed themselves The Ladies in White "Laura Pollán" to honor her memory. Polish solidarity leader Lech Walesa sent a letter of condolence to her family. The Economist published a remembrance of the Lady in White leader.

Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet conducted a medical analysis of the painful, tragic and unnecessary death of Laura Pollán that he published on October 30, 2011. Others also raised questions around the circumstances of the Lady in White leader's death.

Today the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) reminded the world of the legacy of Laura Pollán and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her illness and death. They stated that "she now had a place in history as a symbol of nonviolent struggle against dictatorship." HRF remembered that the last moments of Laura's life "were overshadowed because over three days, visiting rights were denied to her family and because her bed was always surrounded by Cuban security agents."

HRF also noted the fact that Pollán was cremated "just two hours after her death, which the official report said was due to cardiac arrest."

The Human Rights Foundation said "the story of Laura
Pollán, is not only the history of an effective nonviolent activist for democracy and human rights", but above all "is an extraordinary love story." This is referring to how the Ladies in White movement came into existence. On March 18, 2003 the dictatorship in Cuba began a massive crackdown on independent journalists, human rights defenders, and pro-democracy activists sentencing them up to 28 years in prison. Hector Maseda, an independent journalist was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Laura Pollán who had been a literature teacher and apolitical "dressed in white and began to organize marches on Sunday accompanied by other women whose husbands and loved ones were also prisoners of conscience of the Cuban regime. "

The Ladies in White movement obligated the Cuban government to release all of the group of the 75 prisoners of conscience imprisoned in the Black Cuban Spring of 2003. Laura and the other women continued marching each Sunday despite efforts to intimidate them through constant harassment, threats and violence by the regime.

According to
HRF, in the last phone interview they had with
Pollán weeks before her death, the activist told them how she was arrested on Sunday August 28 with more than a dozen Ladies in White, and that all were beaten by Cuban political police . She told them that since July 17 of this year government repression had intensified in Cuba observing that "They do not want the Ladies in White to continue grow."

Laura Pollán Vive!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

One year ago today in Burma and Cuba two prisoners of conscience were freed

“I’m still youthful because of the demands of the cause. After we gain democracy, I will stay as an old lady.” - Aung San Suu Kyi, November 14, 2010

"I'll be involved in the same activities I did before they sent me to prison, which were not criminal but opposition" - Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique,
November 14, 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi

Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique

Aung San Suu Kyi & Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique both freed on Saturday, November 13, 2010

November 13, 2010 was a good day for freedom. Two prisoners of conscience on opposite sides of the world but facing similar regimes obtained there freedom. In Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, age 65, and in Cuba, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, age 68, both prisoners of conscience saw freedom after too many years in unjust captivity. They were freed hours apart from each other.

Aung San Suu Kyi with supporters following her release

Both have followed through with their pledges to remain active in the cause of freedom. Aung San Suu Kyi has struggled to obtain legal status for her political party the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the freedom of all political prisoners.

(From left to right) Oscar Biscet, Ángel Moya, Guido Sigler, Héctor Maseda, Diosdado González, Eduardo Díaz, Félix Navarro, Arnaldo Ramos, Librado Linares, Pedro Arguelles and Iván Hernández.

Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique has been meeting with other former prisoners of conscience and rallying the opposition in Cuba to a unified platform. On June 4, 2011 he joined with other former prisoners of conscience in demanding a proper investigation into the death of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia who was beaten by the police on May 5, 2011 and died three days later.

Both Aung San Suu Kyi and Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique could have left their respective countries and gone into exile avoiding years of imprisonment but they would prefer to stay and struggle using nonviolent means to achieve freedom for their respective peoples. This is something to be both recognized and honored.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cuban dissidents released from arbitrary detention, one with dilated kidney and bleeding from beatings

“An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so.” -Mohandas Gandhi

Idania Yanes Contreras had been beaten up and arrested on October 31, 2011 with Antúnez as they visited a hospitalized hunger striker. Released on November 3 she had to go to the hospital to receive treatment. She was suffering from an undetermined infection and the aftermath of the attack by regime agents. She was back home yesterday still suffering the effects from the physical assault by Cuban state security agents: a dilated kidney and bleeding.

On November 11, 2011 at 7:32pm Jorge Luís García Pérez "Antúnez" was released from an arbitrary detention by agents of the Cuban government and tweeted the following:
Just been released after 72 hours, if this is a strategy of attrition as officer Azaharis says, we accept the challenge. As for the Front "the streets belong to the people" is more than a slogan it is a matter of principle.

In less than 30 days suffered 3 arrests of up to 72 hours, this is the repressive balance faced in recent days. If this is not political repression that someone prove otherwise to me.

The minutes of the Central Opposition Coalition (CCO) is concerned with the delicate state of health of our leader Idania, right kidney dilated and bleeding from police beatings.
Guillermo Fariñas Hernández nearly an hour earlier, at 6:38pm on November 11 reported via twitter:
Idania Yanez, already in her home in Santa Clara. With a dilated right kidney with bleeding from beatings. - Farinas
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over recent attacks suffered by Idania Yanes Contreras in Cuba on November 10,2011.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Yoani Sanchez speaks to Al Jazeera's The Stream about the impact of the Arab Spring on Cuba

"I think the Arab Spring has been a gust of hope that has come to us from the north of Africa, especially a hope aimed at the power of the citizenry, at its capacity for change, including regimes that are decades old." - Yoani Sánchez, The Stream, October 30, 2011

Yoani Sánchez was interviewed by Al Jazeera's The Stream on October 30, 2011 about the Arab Spring's impact in Cuba, restrictions on journalists reporting in the island and the impact of the death of Ladies in White Leader Laura Pollán on October 14, 2011.

Cuban blogger, Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sánchez is a Cuban blogger and political dissident. Her blog, Generation Y, offers an uncensored look into life under the Castro regime.

Sanchez was born in Cuba when the Soviet Union was its primary financial benefactor. But she became disillusioned with Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union and left the country in 2002 for Switzerland.

She returned to Cuba in 2004 and helped publish digital magazines, Consenso and Convivencia, to give voice to her country’s political dissidents, and led the charge by publishing her blog in spite of countrywide censorship and controls on media.

While almost 25 per cent of people worldwide have access to the internet, only about two per cent of Cubans are online. After her posts became internationally popular, the Cuban government blocked the blogging network DesdeCuba, along with a number of other political blogs started on the model of Sanchez’s.

Among other honors and prizes, Time Magazine named her one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” In an exclusive interview with The Stream, Yoani Sanchez discusses the state of Cuba’s political opposition and the challenges facing bloggers and journalists reporting in Cuba.

What's the effect of the Arab Spring on reporting in Cuba?

How has the Cuban government responded to the Arab Spring?

What are the rules for international and local journalists in Cuba and how do these rules affect them?

What's the sentiment on the ground after the death of Cuban activist and founder of the "Ladies in White" Laura Pollán?

Cuban blogger, Yoani Sánchez wearing a t-shirt honoring Laura Pollán

Thursday, November 10, 2011

International Human Rights body denounces assault on Cuban human rights defender Idania Yanes Contreras

Idania Yánez Contreras badly beaten in the past and again recently by Cuban government agents


N° 118/11

Washington, D.C., November 10, 2011 - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over recent attacks suffered by Idania Yanes Contreras in Cuba. She is a beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR on June 8, 2011.

Information the IACHR has received indicates that Idania Yanes Contreras was Linkarrested on October 31, 2011, when she was protesting to defend the rights of a political dissident who was on a prolonged hunger strike. Idania Yanes Contreras reportedly was taken to a police unit, dragged by her hair, and severely beaten in the head, abdomen, and back before being released on November 3, 2011. According to the information the IACHR has received, she left the detention center in a fragile state of health and entered the Arnaldo Milián Castro Hospital with injuries to her body.

The Inter-American Commission considers extremely serious the fact that the State of Cuba has not adopted the necessary measures that were requested by the IACHR to protect the life and physical integrity of Idania Yanes Contreras, considering the threats, attacks, and harassment to which she has been subject. The IACHR calls to mind that the State has an obligation to investigate of its own accord the facts that have been reported, and to punish those responsible for the attacks.

The IACHR urges the State of Cuba to immediately and effectively implement each of the precautionary measures granted by the Commission.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tearing Down Walls: 22 years ago today in Berlin and now in Havana

22 years ago today the Berlin Wall fell. And the wall of control and censorship that surrounds us when will it fall? - Yoani Sanchez via twitter on November 9, 2011

22 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall, while in Cuba there are still walls standing against citizen freedom. - Luis Felipe Rojas
via twitter on November 9, 2011

Tearing down the Berlin Wall

22 years ago today the Berlin Wall began to be physically torn down. It was a great day for freedom and the triumph of long years of nonviolent resistance throughout Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall had been constructed beginning on August 13, 1961 with barbed wire fence followed by a 100 mile wall and more than 300 watch towers to spot and shoot escapees and the East German communists called it the "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart." Minefields were laid in some sectors.

The destruction of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 was not inevitable. It did not fall down. It was torn down.

Tearing down the Berlin Wall

Both Luis Felipe Rojas and Yoani Sanchez in the midst of their identifying the walls of repression that exist in Cuba today are doing their part to ensure that the walls of repression built up in Cuba over the past half century are also torn down.

No+Violence March in Havana, Cuba, November 6, 1989

In Germany, this was not a passive top down process or the Berlin Wall falling as a result of gravity and inertia. It bears repeating that it was torn down by courageous Germans.

Tearing down the Berlin Wall

Remember that between 1961 and the very year it was torn down at least 136 Germans were extrajudicially executed by the East German border guards just for trying to cross the Berlin Wall to freedom. There is The Berlin Wall Museum that offers a complete listing of the 136 known victims with details about them and their deaths.

Chris Gueffroy shot dead on February 5, 1989 at age 20 by East German guards while trying to cross the Berlin Wall

For example one of the last victims, Chris Gueffroy was born on June 21, 1968 and shot dead on February 5, 1989 trying to cross on the Britzer Zweigkanal, near the small garden colonies “Harmonie“ and “Sorgenfrei” on the sector border between Berlin-Treptow and Berlin-Neukölln. Dead at 20 years of age for the crime of wanting to live in freedom. A memorial column commemorating Chris Gueffroy was erected at Britzer Zweigkanal in Berlin-Treptow in 2003 in honor of his 35th birthday. A biography and account of the circumstances that led to his death and the aftermath are available online.

Memorial Column for Chris Gueffroy

As in Cuba today, the process of the Berlin Wall being torn down was both a struggle of ideas and of nonviolent action. Germans crossed the wall seeking freedom in an act of nonviolent defiance. Many escaped but many paid the ultimate price for freedom. The Order to Border Guards from the East German regime was clear:
"It is your duty to use your combat … skills in such a way as to overcome the cunning of the border breacher, to challenge or liquidate him in order to thwart the planned border breach... Don’t hesitate to use your weapon even when border breaches happen with women and children, which traitors have often exploited in the past.”
On June 14, 1973, Fidel Castro addressed the men charged with shooting East Germans fleeing to West Germany as "the courageous and self-denying border guards of the GDR People's Army who stand guard in the front line of the entire-socialist community." Later in the evening Premier Castro addressed the Nikolay Bezarin Barracks in East Berlin:
It is very important to know that the people of the GDR have great confidence in you, that they are truly proud of you. The comrades of the party and the citizens of socialist Berlin have told us with great satisfaction about the activity of the border troops, speaking with great admiration for you and for your services.
Some equate nonviolence with pacifism and they are profoundly mistaken. There is nothing passive and often times nothing peaceful about nonviolent resistance. It can be loud and boisterous or as in the case of the Berlin Wall the loud sound of tools smashing against an oppressive structure that denied the East German people the right to freedom of movement.

Those walls are present today in the Cuba of the Castro brothers but they are not only physical walls but also psychological walls. Human rights defenders like Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva of the Council of Human Rights Rapporters, bloggers like Yoani Sanchez and Luis Felipe Rojas, activists like Jorge Garcia Perez "Antunez", Oscar Elias Biscet, Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, and the Ladies in White "Laura Pollán", musicians like those that comprise the punk rock band Porno para Ricardo, graffiti artists like El Sexto and many more are working to tear down both sets of walls in Cuba.

The end of the Berlin Wall was not inevitable it was the product of the courage and sacrifice of many Eastern Europeans. The same holds true for Cuba. In the same manner that Europeans once did under the Iron Curtain, Cubans today are speaking, writing, spraying, singing, marching and protesting truth to power in Communist Cuba. They need the solidarity of people of good will from around the world to tear down the walls of repression that remain in Cuba to ensure that there is not another missed opportunity for a nonviolent transition to freedom.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Tourist Apartheid Persists in Cuba

Apartheid Persists
by Yoani Sanchez

Reinaldo took the side of yes and he insisted and insisted. I, however, am of the generation that thinks ahead of time that nearly everything is prohibited, that they are going to scold me at every step and prevent me from doing anything that occurs to me. So this time the matrimonial discussion was intense. He claimed that we could board that boat to see Cienfuegos Bay from the swells of its waves; while the little voice inside me shouted that so much enjoyment could not be available to nationals. For a couple of hours I believed in my husband’s optimism and like a tropical Candide he got away with it. We went to the marina office near the Jagua Hotel and an official there sold us two tickets for the coveted boat trip. We never hid our breakneck Havana accents, nor tried to pass ourselves off as foreigners, but no one asked for identification. We felt there were already a pair of seats on board the yacht “Flipper” with our names on them and the murmur of skepticism faded in my head.

We arrived at the dock half an hour early. The sun-burnt tourists began to board the boat. Rei and I reached the spectacular corner from where we took photos of that bay as big as an ocean. The dream lasted barely five minutes. When the captain heard us talking he asked if we were Cubans. He shortly informed us that we had to go ashore, “boat rides are prohibited for nationals at every marina in the country.” Rage, anger, the shame of carrying a blue passport makes us guilty — in advance — in the eyes of the law of our own nation. A feeling of deception on comparing the official discourse of a supposed opening with the reality of exclusion and stigma. We wanted to cause a scene and cling to the railing, to compel them to remove us by force, but what would it have served? My husband dusted off his French and told the group of Europeans what was happening. They looked surprised, whispered among themselves. None of them disembarked — in solidarity with the excluded — from that coastal tour of our island; none of them found it intolerable to enjoy something that is forbidden to us, its natives.

The Flipper sailed, the wake of apartheid was visible for a few seconds and then was lost among the dark waters of the bay. The face of the musician Benny Moré on a nearby poster seemed to have exchanged its smile for a sneer. On one side of his chin was the famous refrain from one of his songs: “Cienfuegos is the city I like best…” We left that place. Reinaldo defeated in his illusion and I sad that my suspicions had triumphed. We waked along the road to Punta Gorda while an idea took shape in our minds: “If Benny had lived in these times, he too would have been thrown off — like a mangy dog — from that yacht.”

International communist terrorist says Fidel Castro killed more people than me

"I'm a professional revolutionary." - Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, a.k.a Carlos the Jackal, on trial in Paris for murders and terror bombings, November 7, 2011

Warfare is a tool of revolutionaries. The important thing is the revolution! The important thing is the revolutionary cause ... Fidel Castro, Memorial service for Che Guevara, October 8, 1967

Carlos the Jackal inspired by Fidel Castro

International terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, also known as Carlos the Jackal, who went on trial in France on Monday, boasted in an interview with the daily El Nacional of committing more than 100 attacks that claimed up to 2,000 lives explaining that:
With the means that I have in jail I began to make a rough account and the dead do not reach 2,000. Less than 10% of innocents suffered for it.
Later in the same interview when questioned about the attacks and asked if mistakes were made Ramírez Sánchez gave a candidly brutal answer:
Reporter - But then you, personally, believe that you were not mistaken in anything?
Ramírez Sánchez- Errors one commits all the time. President Chavez makes mistakes and thats normal, it is not a serious problem. Fidel Castro made ​​terrible mistakes.

Reporter- But people were killed in your attacks.
Ramírez Sánchez - Yes, but Fidel killed more people than me.
An interesting side note the Venezuelan terrorist claims that aide sent by both Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and the former despot of Libya Moammar Qaddafi did not reach him stolen by their respective underlings.

On December 24, 1997 Ilich Ramírez Sánchez was convicted of murder by a French Court and sentenced to life in prison. He responded to the sentence stating:
"I am satisfied and I am proud I chose my cause when I was 14 and I have never strayed."
According to the New York Times, "his real cause was anti-Americanism, adopted when he was a student in the 1960s looking for a way of defying U.S. domination and capitalist values the way Fidel Castro and Che Guevara had done for Cuba before him."

In France, a life sentence apparently means at least 22 years and now the international terrorist is on trial for the first time for acts of terrorism that took the lives of 12 people in order that he spend another 22 years in prison including "complicity in killings and destruction of property using explosive substances".

The tactics for which Carlos the Jackal is on trial facing a life sentence were and are glorified by the regime in Cuba. In addition, as early as the 1960s the Castro regime recruited, organized and trained terrorists from around the world to make them more effective. Carlos the Jackal is just one terrible consequence of the Castro regime's belief in revolutionary violence.

Electoral Fraud and Irregularities in Nicaragua

Violence is a tool of people who feel weak. Nonviolence is a tool of those who feel empowered. -Cynthia Boaz

Sweep away the corruption: Corrupt Magistrates, Electoral Fraud, Stealing from the State, Decrees

The circumstances leading to the elections on Sunday in Nicaragua where one of the presidential candidates, the incumbent Daniel Ortega, shredded the constitution in order to be placed on the ballot to run for a third term were already suspect. The Los Angeles Times laid out the background:
The Nicaragua constitution forbids a person from serving as president more than twice, and from succeeding himself or herself. Ortega was ineligible on both counts. But since his second election as president in 2007 (after an earlier stint 1984-90) Ortega succeeded in placing supporters in key posts on the courts and electoral bodies. Last year the Nicaraguan Supreme Court, at Ortega’s behest, ruled that term limits were unconstitutional, clearing the way for the 66-year-old to run again.
Depressing enough without taking into account Ortega's and the Sandinista Party's financing by drug cartels exposed by wikileaks and the creation of paramilitaries and state security to repress and spy on the political opposition.

The news at the end of the day describes a stolen election with violence and a lack of transparency. The Miami Herald reported that "voting was marred by scattered violence, including reports of gunfire that wounded four people near the coffee-growing city of Matagalpa and arson attacks on several rural precincts." The Carter Center sent a group to visit Nicaragua during the elections but did not participate as election observers according to CBC due to restrictions placed by the Nicaraguan government. International observers from both the European Union and the Organization of American States expressed their reservations about the electoral process:
Luis Yanez, a Spanish legislator who heads a European Union delegation, said 20 of the group's 90 observers faced "inexplicable" difficulties in gaining access to polling stations.

"I don't understand why there are so many obstacles, so much opacity and so many tricks in a process that should be clean and transparent," Yanez said, adding that some precincts opened late, blocked opposition election monitors and filed vote tallies that were illegible.

Dante Caputo, a former foreign minister from Argentina who heads an observer mission from the Organization of American States, said obstacles were tantamount to a disavowal by the Ortega government of accords to allow election observers.

At least 10 OAS teams arrived at key precincts around the country where they were to monitor voting and ballot counting only to be told they could not enter, Caputo said.

"We faced a series of difficulties ... We were blocked from being where we were supposed to be. This kind of situation has not happened before. It is worrisome," Caputo said.

Both the violence and lack of transparency on the part of the Ortega government are demonstrations of weakness and no doubt that if the elections were properly held he would lose. Mohandas Gandhi's observation that "Truth never damages a cause that is just" is being demonstrated in Nicaragua and that what Ortega and the Sandinistas are doing is unjust. Hence the lies.

With 6% of the vote reported Daniel Ortega obtains 66% of the vote and most likely control of the legislature in order to follow the example of Chavez in Venezuela in undermining democracy in Nicaragua.

The Movement for Nicaragua has placed the above reproduced cartoon on its twitter page calling for sweeping out corruption. Unfortunately, the results tonight indicate that the elections in Nicaragua rather than being a democratic exercise that legitimizes the political system will create greater instability and insecurity in the country. The people of Nicaragua are in my prayers and thoughts at this difficult moment in their history.