Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cuba, Vietnam and the Gag Law

Amnesty International reported on October 29, 2012 that two Vietnamese songwriters who face up to 20 years in jail for writing songs criticizing their government. Vo Minh Tri, known as Viet Khang, 34, and Tran Vu Anh Binh, known as Hoang Nhat Thong, 37 have both been held in custody since late 2011.  According to Amnesty International both stand accused of "conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of Viet Nam’s Criminal Code – an offense that carries a sentence of up to two decades."

 Article 88 in Vietnam's penal code bears a striking resemblance to Article 88 in Cuba's Criminal Code. According to Human Rights Watch the Vietnamese law makes it a crime punishable with a twenty year prison sentence for anyone "conducting propaganda against the state." According to Human Rights Watch the Cuban law states that "any act designed to impede or prejudice the economic relations of the Cuban state or the economic relations of any industrial, commercial, or financial institution or any other type of institution" can be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The United States lifted economic sanctions on Vietnam on February 3, 1994 and normalized relations on July 11, 1995.  US companies are investing in Vietnam and doing business with the Vietnamese dictatorship. Its totalitarian nature has not been altered. Economic sanctions have been maintained on Cuba to the present date.

The fact that the laws and even the Article numbers are the same may be a sign that they are collaborating and sharing worse practices to maintain repression.

This leads to an interesting conclusion that economic engagement with the United States has not lead to political liberalization. On the other hand Burma (Myanmar) maintained sanctions and political liberalization appears to be underway.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Cuba's longest and most damaging hurricane

"Remember that no political programme can stand without the constructive programme." - Mohandas Gandhi

 Hurricane Sandy made landfall around 1:00am at a point close to Marverde beach in Stgo de Cuba province and left the Cuban national territory around 5:00am exiting out of Cabo Lucrecia in Holguin province on October 25, 2012. At least 11 people were killed in Eastern Cuba and the property destruction was vast.

Cuban civil society has stepped up to report on the damage done and to offer concrete proposals at addressing the destruction and the rebuilding. At the same time the dictatorship continues to harass them.

The amount of destruction wreaked by Hurricane Sandy in Cuba is only possible because of the steady damage done by Hurricane Castro over the past 53 years to the island's infrastructure. Despite the infusion of billions of dollars in Soviet aide through the 1980s and now billions in aide from Venezuela the deterioration of Cuba's buildings, roads and bridges have remained in constant decline over the past five decades. The Cuban healthcare system has also been in decline since the end of the Soviet Union. Although in many circles the myth still endures despite the squalid reality.

Now reports have emerged that Cholera, a scourge not seen in decades is back. Combined with Dengue fever the recovery from Hurricane Sandy will not be an easy process and with the continued presence of the Castro regime more difficult still for the Cuban populace.

An obvious question arises: where have the billions gone? As of June 2012 Fidel Castro was worth an estimated $900 million dollars. It would be interesting to find out what his entire family is worth. For example in the case of the current Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, his family is worth 2.7 billion dollars.

It would be fair to say that Cuba's longest and most damaging hurricane has been Hurricane Castro.

Nevertheless, in times of crisis solidarity is a must and over the past half century Cuban exiles have been the main source of humanitarian assistance to Cuba.

The Santiago section of the Municipalities of Cuba in Exile located at 845 SW 14 Avenue Miami, FL is requesting donations of canned foods, medicines and other items for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. This location will be open from 8:00am to 6:00pm EST to collect assistance for the hurricane victims. They have announced that they will not accept clothes.

Assistance will be shipped via Sisters of Charity and Catholic Charities (Caritas). Catholic Charities have also set up an online form for donations. For more information on how to help or volunteer call 305-858-6739.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Forum 2000 Commits to Furthering the Legacy of Václav Havel

"We believe that injustice and tyranny must be confronted with courage and perseverance." - Forum 2000 participants

Forum 2000 Declaration
Our Commitment to Furthering the Legacy of Václav Havel

Fresh from travelling around the globe as the new President of Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel came to realize that, although civilization had always faced challenges, those it faced today appeared more complex, more interconnected and more in flux than at any time in the past. He saw that such challenges could not be effectively met by a single individual, group, country, or region, nor could they be dealt with from the perspective of a single ideology, religion, or branch of knowledge. Instead, the search for solutions would require, he believed, a continuous, open-minded dialogue on a broad range of topics involving a wide variety of participants.

Václav Havel searched for a way to make this happen. That is why he, along with Elie Wiesel and Yohei Sasakawa, established Forum 2000 in 1997 providing it with their sponsorship, their ideas, and practical means to operate. Over the past decade and a half, Forum 2000 has made a unique contribution to facilitating a wide ranging global dialogue on many different issues, set in the symbolic environment of Prague.

The past year has been marked by two painful losses: the passing away of Václav Havel, and the death of Oldřich Černý, who from the beginning was Forum 2000’s Executive Director and moving spirit. Their legacy, however, remains and the time has come to restate clearly where Forum 2000 stands and where it is heading.

This year's conference, focusing on Media and Democracy, in itself a fundamentally Havelian topic, offers a perfect opportunity for such reflection.

Our Inspiration
Forum 2000’s founders have left us the indelible legacy of their ideas and approaches, whether it be Václav Havel’s insistence that "telling lies can never save us from further lies," or Elie Wiesel’s profound observation that "indifference is the epitome of evil," or Yohei Sasakawa’s devotion to alleviating disease and human suffering. These are the principles that will continue to guide us as we move forward.

Since 1997, our discussions have also been shaped by the growing number of Forum 2000 participants, prominent personalities from all walks of life, who cherish the experience and often return to participate again, providing us with valuable feedback and inspiration for our further activities.

And the inspiring genius loci of Forum 2000’s primary location: For centuries, Prague has been a crossroads of history. It represents a symbiosis of different cultures, in particular the Czech, German and Jewish cultures, until their relative harmony was destroyed by nationalist clashes and the horrors of Nazism. In both 1938 and 1948, Czechoslovakia paid dearly for the politics of appeasement and yielding to intimidation. Communism, which established a totalitarian state in post-war Czechoslovakia, managed to survive attempts at reform by crushing the Prague Spring in 1968 and went on to last a total of forty years. Democracy has not come easily to this region, and it has had to be struggled for throughout a troublesome transformation. The quest continues.

Our Values
We believe that injustice and tyranny must be confronted with courage and perseverance. The very least we can do is to remember and remind. The late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, as well as Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, were regularly invited to Forum 2000 conferences, even though it was certain their authoritarian rulers would not allow them to attend. Forum 2000 also repeatedly drew attention to the plight of freedom loving people in Belarus, Russia and Tibet. Václav Havel was the first head of state to invite His Holiness the Dalai Lama for an official visit, and support to Tibetans has been maintained via Forum 2000 till the present. Through Forum 2000’s Shared Concern Initiative, Václav Havel began a successful campaign to award the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, jailed in China for his human rights activities, and urged his and his wife’s release from prison. As symbolic as these actions are, we believe they bolster the power of these powerless and confirm the legitimacy of their uncompromising stances. The struggles of human rights activists are an acute reminder of the need to stand up for democracy and human rights, freedom and liberty, and the principles of citizenship, civility and responsibility, wherever they are under threat.

We believe that vibrant and engaged civil societies form the bedrock on which respect for human rights, functioning democracy, social justice and sustainable economic prosperity are based. These civil societies are equally vital for posing the key questions of public life, and often help find practical solutions.

We believe in genuine and open dialogue. Rather than pretend we have ready-made answers to the problems we face, Forum 2000 seeks to create a space for frank and profound reflection about the values that underlie human behavior and for exploring how they can be applied to real-world situations. It seeks to be a place where commonly accepted orthodoxies can be questioned with audacity, and directly.

We believe that real partnership can exist among those who speak openly and tell the truth. Such a relationship requires tolerance between nations, ethnic groups, cultures, religions and individuals at a basic human level. It requires a willingness to listen and, on occasion, an agreement to disagree. It is only by attempting to place oneself in the shoes of another that entrenched differences can be overcome and solutions to great challenges envisaged.

Our Methods
Our flagship annual Conferences gather dozens of participants of many different ethnic, cultural, religious and professional backgrounds, including prominent politicians, senior academics, religious leaders, but also little known dissidents and young activists. The discussions are open to the public in Prague, and to a global audience via online broadcasting and the publication of contributions and outcomes. In addition, Forum 2000 conducts specific dialogues in other smaller-scale formats. We envisage bringing the dialogue to other locations in the world.

The Shared Concern Initiative is a vehicle for facilitating the joint expression of an opinion shared among groups of distinguished leaders and personalities. Wherever our shared values come under attack, the Shared Concern Initiative can give a voice to that concern, one that can be heard around the world through a number of media outlets. Developments in Venezuela, Tibet and Ukraine are recent additions to the issues the Initiative has addressed since its establishment in 2005.

Forum 2000 provides intangible yet direct support to the evolution of civil society in the Czech Republic and Central Europe. The annual NGO Market in Prague helps civil society actors intensify their cooperation, find partners more easily and operate freely and effectively. Finally, an indispensable part of Forum 2000's mission is outreach to young people through a variety of educational activities.

We, participants of the 2012 Annual Forum 2000 Conference, along with members of Forum 2000 governing and advisory bodies, salute the lifelong work of the late President Václav Havel and pledge to uphold his legacy as set out in this declaration.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Power of Living in Truth

The Power of the Powerless and the Farcical Elections in Cuba

"Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance." - Vaclav Havel, Letter to Alexander Dubček (August 1969)

Blogger Yoani Sanchez's voided ballot
 In a totalitarian state, such as Cuba, where only the communist party is "legal" and dissent is outlawed even a purely symbolic act like annulling a ballot with the word democracy requires courage.  Why does it take courage? Because in Cuba demonstrating dissent with the governing regime can mean that the dissenter and other adult relatives can lose their jobs, their children can be blacklisted from pursuing higher education and can also be targeted by government organized mobs at school. Their is also an undercurrent of terror that far worse things can happen to you and your loved ones. Finally, whats the point if you annul a ballot it is the dictatorship that counts the ballots in the end giving whatever result they deem suitable.

Czech dissident Vaclav Havel understood the great importance of such purely moral acts and the power of the powerless who rejected the lies propagated by the regime in power in order to live in truth. Vaclav Havel in his 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless offered the following observation that is relevant to Cuba today:
"When I speak of living within the truth, I naturally do not have in mind only products of conceptual thought, such as a protest or a letter written by a group of intellectuals. It can be any means by which a person or a group revolts against manipulation: anything from a letter by intellectuals to a workers' strike, from a rock concert to a student demonstration, from refusing to vote in the farcical elections to making an open speech at some official congress, or even a hunger strike, for instance."
 Mohandas Gandhi on September 11, 1906 in South Africa took part in the creation of "Satyagraha" the word that would describe their nonviolent resistance: 
'Satyagraha.' Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement 'Satyagraha,' that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase 'passive resistance,' in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word 'Satyagraha' itself or some other equivalent English phrase.  
 The choice that each and every human being faces today is the choice of living an integrated life within the truth backing it up with action or passively accepting the lie propagated by those in power. Cuba in 2012 is a cautionary example of what happens to a country and a people who have accepted the latter of the two options for half a century. It destroys not only the physical infrastructure of a country but the soul of its people.  Over the past few months following the death of Oswaldo Paya the world has seen how even a Spanish political leader can fail to live in truth and go along with the lie only to be sentenced to four years in prison in a Stalinist show trial. The West is not immune to the tentacles of totalitarianism. Militarism, the spread of surveillance technology, and the consolidation of media along with the decline of "objective" and investigative news reporting are troubling trends that threaten democracy. The complacency towards existing totalitarian regimes is another troubling sign.

fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was not inevitable but the result of a number of factors not least of which was the decision of millions of Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Lithuanians, and Estonians to no longer live within the lies of the totalitarian regimes under which they had suffered for decades and the courage to back it up with concrete nonviolent action. 

Over 40 years after the letter to Dubcek, when President Barack Obama backed out of meeting with the Dalai Lama due to an upcoming trip to China, Vaclav Havel offered the corollary to the theorem expounded in the quote at the top of this essay in 1968 at the October 12, 2009 of the Forum 2000 conference he had organized:
I believe that when the new Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize postpones receiving the Dalai Lama until after he has accomplished his visit to China, he makes a small compromise, a compromise which actually has some logic to it. However, there arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises.
Ending or initiating decades of tyranny is up to each and everyone of us and the choices we make for good or ill.  The consequences of which future generations will have to live with and make their own choices to engage in moral acts or compromise their principles. Vaclav Havel passed away on December 18, 2011 but his contributions and good works live on. Today in the Czech Republic activists, intellectuals and politicians gather to reflect on and discuss challenges facing humanity today seeking solutions at the Forum 2000. Meanwhile in Castroite Cuba farcical elections are underway in which only one party is running and the only choice Cubans have is either to go along with the fraudulent exercise or void their ballot as the country continues its half century descent into ruin.


Elections in Cuba

Cuban opposition leaders dead under suspicious circumstances in past year

On October 7, 2012 the world witnessed contested elections in Venezuela, a country that is no longer democratic. On Sunday the world will be able to observe a Stalinist exercise in voting not an election but the forced ratification of a system that only recognizes one legal political party, the communist party, and where even the selection process of candidates is controlled from the center of power. Fidel Castro in an interview in 1960 with a Brazilian journalist explained his disdain for elections:
"It never functioned in Latin America. Elections are a myth. The parliamentary system in Cuba reflected the old system, which we are now destroying. Elections now would be a step backward, with time and effort wasted in sterile discussions and theoretical considerations."
The only "elections" held in Cuba over the past few years has been that of the dictatorship electing which opposition leader that threatens to be a political alternative should die prematurely under suspicious circumstances. Over the past year alone the founder of the Ladies in White, Laura Pollán and the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas have both died under strange circumstances. The family of Payá Sardiñas is demanding an international investigation.

Both Laura and Oswaldo were selected for an early termination of their natural existence by the dictatorship because they refused to go along with the plan laid out by the regime of making changes in appearance while maintaining the totalitarian structure of the dictatorship intact. Laura had succeeded in building a nationwide movement widely respected both inside Cuba and internationally. She also had the training, skills and experience to be an option for national leadership. She was also a woman of great courage. In the months prior to her untimely death, despite repeated physical attacks, she continued to organize and march and defy the dictatorship nonviolently. Her defiance was also reflected in her words:
"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)

Less than four months prior to his July 22 death on March 30, 2012 Oswaldo explained what was going on and Christian Liberation Movement's position on the subject:
 Our Movement denounces the regime's attempt to impose a fraudulent change, i.e. change without rights and the inclusion of many interests in this change that sidesteps democracy and the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The attempt to link the Diaspora in this fraudulent change is to make victims participate in their own oppression. The Diaspora does not have to "assume attitudes and policies in entering the social activity of the island." The Diaspora is a Diaspora because they are Cuban exiles to which the regime denied rights as it denies them to all Cubans. It is not in that part of oppression, without rights, and transparency that the Diaspora has to be inserted, that would be part of fraudulent change.

The gradual approach makes sense only if there are transparent prospects of freedom and rights. We Cubans have a right to our rights. Why not rights? It's time. That is the peaceful change that we promote and claim. Changes that signifies freedom, reconciliation, political pluralism and free elections. Then the Diaspora will cease being a Diaspora, because all Cubans will have rights in their own free and sovereign country. That is why we fight. 

Oswaldo and Laura are no longer physically with us, but both their spirits and examples live on. Cubans both inside and outside of the island have a choice to make - an election or a selection if you will- to continue to go along with the dictatorship in order not to draw attention to yourself and eke out an existence on the island or flee into exile. Many have done it over the past half century and that is part of the reason the dictatorship is still there. In other countries others have confronted equally brutal dictatorships using nonviolent change and achieved positive change.

This other option is full of risk and it is to carry on the legacy of courageous and principled nonviolent resistance to the totalitarian dictatorship that has plagued Cubans with the systematic denial of their human rights This would be accomplished through a combination of creativity and courage sustained by perseverance and patience to achieve real and lasting change Laura and Oswaldo demanded. Not a fraudulent change but true change were all Cubans have their human rights restored. So that one day Cuban children are able to look back at Castro era as a sad and bizarre chapter of Cuban history and question how did it ever last so long. This the only real election going on in Cuba in which the outcome is not known ahead of time.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Former prisoner of conscience and Christian Liberation Movement spokesman addresses the World Movement for Democracy

Statement by Regis Iglesias, Christian Liberation Movement spokesman upon receiving on behalf of the Cuban opposition movement the Democracy Courage Tribute from the World Movement for Democracy (WMD)

Cubans have lived under dictatorships or totalitarian regimes for over half a century.

Our situation is dramatic. 50 years without freedom of expression, freedom of association, without economic rights for citizens. Cubans do not have freedom of movement. The Cuban family is divided, our Nation is divided and popular sovereignty is trampled on by the oligarchs in power.

I have the privilege to receive this recognition that is being given to us today, on behalf of all Cubans throughout this painful time have worked and fought for the rights of the Cuban people. Men and women like 
Ofelia Acevedo, Ernesto Martini, Librado Linares, Eduardo Diaz, Jorge García Perez, (Antunez), Sara Fonseca, Rosa Rodriguez, Ivan Hernandez who like many others still resist there in Cuba, beset by brutal repression.

I receive it on behalf of more than 25,000 citizens that in the midst of terror have demanded the regime hold a plebiscite for their rights, on behalf of thousands of activists for freedom that in the face of fraudulent change that the joint military-economic junta of the island want to sell  give their support to "El Camino del Pueblo" [The People's Path]. I receive it in the name of Felix Navarro, Angel Moya, Ezequiel Morales, Berta Soler, Rosa María Paya, Narviel Hernandez, Orlando Luis Pardo and many, many more. None of them can be here today, as you, because the joint military-economic junta on the island doesn't permit them to leave their own country. Fraudulent changes announced by the Cuban regime do not include all rights for all Cubans.

But above all I want to receive this recognition for all my countrymen, for all the martyrs who along more than half a century of totalitarianism have generously given their lives for liberation. On behalf of
Pedro Luis Boitel, Sebastian Arcos, Orlando Zapata, Julio Ruiz Pitaluga, Laura Pollan.. Also for Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Paya for whom we will not rest until the truth is known about their deaths and we urge the international community to support an independent investigation that finally recognizes the crime.

With the decision of the Cuban people and your solidarity, of all men and women of good will in the world some day justice will arrive to our beloved Cuban land, the truth will have its temple. Cuba reborn and free all her children be reconciled tired of both despotism and hatred.

Truth and love will reign in our beloved island. We need our Latin American brothers, our democratic friends around the world to be with us now, that their commitment be on the side of the Cuban people who are suffering and have no rights. Dictatorships only despotic and oppressive systems that generally in the name of national sovereignty restrict popular sovereignty and leave citizens without rights.  

Thank you for walking in solidarity with Cubans all these years the steps have brought us closer to freedom, thank you that together we will realize that day long dreamed by us. 

Regis Iglesias

Palabras de Regis Iglesias, portavoz del Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, al recibir en nombre del movimiento opositor cubano el Premio al Valor del Movimiento Mundial por la Democracia (WMD)

Los cubanos hemos vivido bajo regímenes dictatoriales o totalitarios por mas de medio siglo.

Nuestra situación es dramática. 50 años sin libertad de expresión, sin libertad de asociación, sin derechos económicos para los ciudadanos. Los cubanos no tenemos libertad de movimiento. La familia cubana esta dividida, nuestra Nación esta dividida y la soberanía popular es pisoteada por los oligarcas en el poder.

Tengo el privilegio de recibir este reconocimiento que hoy se nos entrega., en nombre de todos los cubanos que a lo largo de este tiempo doloroso han trabajado y luchado por los derechos del pueblo cubano. Hombres y mujeres como Ofelia Acevedo, Ernesto Martini, Librado Linares, Eduardo Diaz, Jorge García Perez, (Antunez), Sara Fonseca, Rosa Rodriguez, Ivan Hernandez que como muchos otros aun resisten allí, en Cuba, acosados por la brutal represión.

Lo recibo en nombre de los más de 25,000 ciudadanos que en medio del terror han demandado al régimen un plebiscito por sus derechos, en nombre de miles de activistas por la libertad que frente al cambio fraude que nos quiere vender la junta económico militar de la isla dan su apoyo al documento El Camino del Pueblo. Lo recibo a nombre de Felix Navarro, Angel Moya, Ezequiel Morales, Berta Soler, Rosa María Paya, Narviel Hernandez, Orlando Luis Pardo y muchos, muchos mas. Ninguno de ellos puede hoy estar aquí, como ustedes, porque la junta económico militar en la isla no les permite salir de su propio país. Los cambios fraudes que anuncia el régimen cubano no incluyen todos los derechos para todos los cubanos.

Pero sobre todo quiero recibir este reconocimiento por todos mis compatriotas, por todos los mártires que a lo largo de mas de medio siglo de totalitarismo han dado sus vidas generosas por la liberación. En nombre de Pedro Luis Boitel, Sebastian Arcos, Orlando Zapata, Julio Ruiz Pitaluga, Laura Pollan. También en el de Harold Cepero y Oswaldo Paya por quienes no descansaremos hasta que la verdad sobre sus muertes sea conocida e instamos a la comunidad internacional a que apoye una investigación independiente que finalmente reconozca el crimen.

Con la decisión de los cubanos y la solidaridad de ustedes, de todos los hombres y mujeres de buena voluntad del mundo la justicia llegara algún día a nuestra amada tierra cubana, la verdad tendrá su templo. Cuba renacerá y libres se reconciliaran todos sus hijos cansados de tanto despotismo y odio.

La verdad y el amor reinaran en nuestra amada isla. Necesitamos que nuestros hermanos latinoamericanos, nuestros amigos demócratas de todo el mundo estén con nosotros ahora, que su compromiso esté del lado pueblo cubano que sufre y no tiene derechos . Las dictaduras solo sistemas despóticos y opresivos que por lo general en nombre de la soberanía nacional coartan la soberanía popular y dejan a los ciudadanos sin derechos..

Gracias a ustedes por caminar solidarios junto a los cubanos todos estos años los pasos que nos han acercado a la libertad, gracias porque juntos podremos hacer realidad ese día largamente soñado por nosotros.

Regis Iglesias


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Migration Reform" in Cuba: New rules to achieve the same result

What is the reason behind the latest regime distraction?

View more videos at: http://nbcmiami.com

The Castro dictatorship in 2012 is once again demonstrating that it is a master of distraction highlighting a new migration law with new rules that achieve the same result: travel in and out of Cuba is to be administered by the Ministry of the Interior and professionals such as medical doctors do not have freedom to travel. The infamous white card, an exit visa, that Cubans need to exit their own country will according to the regime announcement be replaced in 2013 with new more stringent requirements for the passport.

The White Card (La Tarjeta Blanca) is an exit visa for Cuban nationals
What do the authorities hope to accomplish with this so-called reform that the regime says will come into effect on January 1, 2013? First, one of the long term objectives of the dictatorship is eliminating the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act which grants Cuban refugees special immigration privileges for fleeing a totalitarian dictatorship where the freedom of travel is nonexistent. Floating the threat of a slow motion Mariel is meant to pressure U.S. lawmakers into eliminating a law that demonstrates that the Castro regime is different from every other country in the hemisphere. 

This migration "reform"is an example of what the late dissident leader Oswaldo Paya referred to as "fraudulent change." Giving the image of an opening while the Stalinist character of the dictatorship remains intact thus benefiting from the image makeover in order to provide decreased international scrutiny and increased legitimacy. Sadly, the reality is very different. Cubans will be no freer to travel on January 1, 2013 then they are today. It will be up to the whims of the dictatorship.
Despite the new law, Cuba remains the only country in the hemisphere that systematically bars the freedom of movement in and out of the country of its nationals in violation of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which reads as follows:
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
  2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Between 70,000 and 300,000 Cubans are banned by the Castro regime from returning to their homeland reported The Miami Herald on August 15, 2011 in an article titled Many Cuban expatriates can't go home again.The new law does nothing to change this reality maintaining freedom of movement firmly in the hands of the Ministry of the Interior i.e. "State Security."

The Cuban government under the Castro dictatorship has engaged in atrocities to prevent Cubans from freely leaving their own country such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat masssacre and has also denied activists the right to attend international human rights gatherings. 

One concrete change is that the cost of the passport for a Cuban national has increased in cost from 55 CUCs to 100 CUCs when the average Cuban earns 20 CUCs working for an entire month. This means that under this so-called reform for a Cuban to obtain a passport he needs to spend five months salary.

In August of 2012 the regime floated that it would end its blacklist of artists and got a lot of positive media coverage although a few days later clarified that artists like Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot, who had been critical of the regime would continue to be banned that is to say blacklisted. There was much less press attention to this setback for music freedom and the dictatorship got a free pass.In March of 2011 it held its 6th Communist Party Congress that kept many Cubans on the island and Cuba experts abroad focused on the gathering to the exclusion of all else and again despite all the propagandist drama anticipating and following the meeting it achieved little other than distraction.

The question that arises is why launch this migration initiative now if this is to serve as a distraction? Not to mention the rumors of Fidel Castro's death.  What is the dictatorship trying to take attention away from? Could it be to take attention away from the news reports surrounding Fidel Castro's contracting Nazi Waffen SS to train Cuban troops in the early 1960s. Is it the news that the Soviets thought the Cuban regime so unstable and willing to unleash a nuclear holocaust that they withdrew 100 tactical nuclear weapons from Cuba following a letter Castro sent to the Soviet leadership in October of 1962 encouraging they launch a nuclear first strike? Not to mention that he requested a second nuclear strike on the United States in the early 1980s? Could it be to distract from opposition activities on the one year anniversary of the passing of Lady in White founder Laura Pollan who died on October 14, 2012 under suspicious circumstances? Or could it be trying to cover up the show trial of the Spanish youth leader sentenced to four years in prison in a process where the family of Oswaldo Paya was denied access and has refused to recognize as legitimate?

The fundamental reason that the totalitarian regime in Cuba engages in these distractions is that this kind of system cannot survive transparency and the free flow of information especially when large numbers of Cubans are fed up with the system. As long as the dictatorship continues in power the art of distraction it has perfected over half a century will continue.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fidel Castro: Nazi Collaborator

 Fidel Castro's Nazi Connection
Fidel Castro recruited former Waffen SS members to train Cuban troops in 1962
Over the past four years this blog has highlighted the sordid relationships between the Castro regime and all sorts of brutal, genocidal governments and groups the world over and the commonality of tactics used by this regime and its allies in their respective countries and at the United Nations.

Now with the release of formerly classified documents by the German intelligence service the world is learning that Fidel Castro personally recruited former Nazi SS Waffen members to train Cuban troops and that he also reached out to Nazi operativesOtto Ernst Remer and Ernst-Wilhelm Springer, in Germany's extreme right to purchase weapons.

It appears that after the Soviets, who grew fearful that Fidel Castro and his cohorts were hot heads all too willing to provoke a nuclear war, pulled out tactical nuclear weapons out of Cuba that the United States had not known existed that the Cuban dictator looked for other sources for support and training.

The Russians were right to fear Fidel Castro who sent Khrushchev a letter requesting a nuclear first strike in 1962 and twenty years later again asked his Soviet allies in the 1980s to launch nuclear weapons on the population of the United States which they promptly rejected.

After learning of Castro's willingness to enlist former Nazis his strategic relationship with the Argentine military junta that disappeared 30,000 leftists in 1970s and early 1980s should be viewed as not being an aberration but part of a pattern of embracing and seeking to learn from the worse human rights violators on the planet. Furthermore that the Castro regime's hostility to religious belief in general and Judaism in particular may not only stem from its communist roots but other equally evil associations.

The dictionary offers as one definition of Collaborate: " To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort." In a real sense Fidel Castro is a Nazi collaborator. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Laura Pollán: One year after her untimely death

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo
 Over the twitter account of former prisoner of conscience and independent labor activist Ivan Hernandez Carillo we obtained excerpts of the statement made by Laura Pollán's daughter, Laura Librada honoring the life of her mother who was the founder of the Ladies in White one year after her untimely death:
"The government managed to wrest Laura Pollán from our hands, but it will never succeed removing her from our hearts.... Laura Pollán emerged to stay, for her courage, intelligence, cunning, perseverance, ability ... and infinite love of country. The government has not been able to erase Laura Pollán and will never be able to, her legacy continues, multiplies and strengthens. Laura Pollán belongs to all Cubans who seek a better Cuba, a world of love and a beautiful peace on earth."
Hard to believe that it has already been a year and at the same time only 365 days ago that Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died on October 14, 2011 at 7:50pm at the age of 63. I still remember getting the terrible news and attending a special prayer service for her at Our Lady of Charity that same night. Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet wrote about what had led to the death of the Ladies in White founder titled: A medical analysis of the painful, tragic and unnecessary death of Laura Pollán. The official cause of death was heart failure, but if there was one thing Laura had plenty of was heart and it never failed. Her courage and persistence led to the release of 75 Cuban prisoners of conscience imprisoned in 2003, including her own husband, Hector Maseda Gutierrez. Unlike the German housewives who took to the streets to protest their Jewish husbands incarceration and shipment to concentration camps in Nazi Germany  and then ended their protests when their husbands were returned to them, these Cuban women continued the struggle for human rights in Cuba.

In the days prior to her sudden illness and death Laura Pollán made a number of prescient statements outlining her commitment to the struggle for human rights in Cuba:

"We are going to continue. We are fighting for freedom and human rights.” (September 24, 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)
 Five days afterwards she was taken suddenly ill and a week later she was dead, but the group she founded did not falter or disappear. Berta Soler became the spokesperson of the Ladies in White and this movement has continued to demand that the human rights of the Cuban people be respected. The Cuban government ignored the request made by Amnesty International that the rights of Cubans to honor and remember Laura Inés Pollán Toledo be respected as it engaged in acts of repudiation and arrests of women trying to reach the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana. Nevertheless, a sizable group of women made it and dressed in white with the image of Laura Inés Pollán Toledo carrying gladiolas marched through 5th Avenue today with chants of freedom. The new spokeswoman for the Ladies in White, Berta Soler spoke very plainly about the circumstances surrounding the death of Laura Pollán and thanks to the real time reporting of Ivan Hernandez Carrillo it is reproduced below:
 "You know very well that the Cuban government had to do with the departure of Laura Pollan, she was strong and we have lost her. Likewise it happened to us with Oswaldo 
PayáWe will continue our peaceful, nonviolent struggle for human rights to be respected, for a new Cuba."
The past year has been a difficult one beginning with the death of  Laura Pollán followed by the death of Wilman Villar Mendoza on January 19, 2012 and the deaths of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012. Today Oswaldo Payá's daughter, Rosa María Payá, tweeted: "Our solidarity and prayers are today with the Ladies in White and the family of Laura Pollán on this first anniversary."

The nonviolent struggle for a democratic change in Cuba has suffered great losses over the past year but the movement continues to grow and increase in its activism because of the fundamental human need to be free and because of the leadership of courageous Cubans such as Laura Inés Pollán Toledo. We remember her struggles, sacrifices, victories and pray for her today while continuing the shared struggle for freedom.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Amnesty International: Activists must be allowed to mark anniversary of Cuban leader's death unhindered

11 October 2012

Cuba: Activists must be allowed to mark anniversary of leader’s death unhindered

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo:  February 13, 1948 – October 14, 2011
The Cuban authorities must allow a group of local activists known as the Ladies in White to commemorate freely the first anniversary of the death of their leader Laura Pollán on 14 October in Havana, Amnesty International said today.

Laura Pollán died of cardio-respiratory arrest on 14 October 2011.

The activists – who will be traveling from across the country - plan to attend mass at the Church of Santa Rita in Havana and carry out a silent march. “Given the Cuban authorities’ shameful record when it comes to the treatment of human rights activists, we are concerned for the safety of the Ladies in White as they commemorate the anniversary of the death of one of their members,” said Javier Zúñiga Mejía Borja, Special Advisor for Regional Programmes at Amnesty International.

“Our request is simple: the Cuban authorities must ensure that the Ladies in White and other activists in the country can express themselves freely.”

Members of the Ladies in White have been subjected to a permanent campaign of intimidation, harassment and short term detentions to stop them from peacefully campaigning for the release of political prisoners and greater civil and political freedoms in Cuba.

On 20 September around 50 members of the group were arrested as they travelled to Havana to participate in activities to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy (Virgen de la Merced) and in memory of late political activists.

They were held for several days before being released without charge. Various members of the Ladies in White based in the capital also received intimidating notes aimed at discouraging them from taking part in activities.

On 17 March, 18 Ladies in White were arrested during a peaceful demonstration on the ninth anniversary of a crackdown on dissidence which led to the imprisonment of 75 government critics.

All were released except for Niurka Luque Álvarez, who was released on 5 October pending trial on charges of “violence or intimidation” against a state official (“atentado”).

On 18 March, Lady in White Sonia Garro Alfonso, and her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, were detained at their home in Havana when around 50 police forced their way into the house and fired rubber bullets at them. They remain in prison without charge.

In February this year, authorities in Cuba prevented members of the Ladies in White from reaching the group’s headquarters to attend an event in memory of the second anniversary of the death of activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died on hunger strike in protest at his unfair incarceration.

Those who had already congregated inside remained there for nearly 48 hours as they feared they would be arrested if they tried to leave.

“We are all peaceful women, we have the right to walk on the streets of our country and campaign for the freedom of all political prisoners and for greater freedoms in Cuba,” said Berta Soler, spokesperson for the Ladies in White.

Background information 

The organization Ladies in White was formed by a group of female relatives of the 75 prisoners of conscience who were imprisoned in March 2003 for their peaceful expression of critical opinions of the government.

The group attends mass every Sunday in the capital, Havana, dressed in white, to pray for the release of their relatives. Afterwards they take part in a procession from the church to a nearby park, carrying white flowers.

Following the release of all the prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown, the Ladies in White have been campaigning for the release of other political prisoners and for the lifting of restrictions on fundamental civil and political freedoms in Cuba.

Laura Pollán died of cardio-respiratory arrest on 14 October 2011. Her husband, Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, was one of 75 individuals arrested and sentenced during a crackdown against peaceful dissidents in 2003, all of whom Amnesty International adopted as prisoners of conscience.

Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in March 2003 and conditionally released on 12 February 2011.

AI Index: PRE01/487/2012
AI Index: PRE01/487/2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Honoring Ladies in White Founder Laura Pollán and Cuba's Call to Freedom Remembered

Cuba's Yara Proclamation 144 years later and honoring Laura Pollán one year after her death

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo:  February 13, 1948 – October 14, 2011
144 years ago on October 10, 1868 a Cuban planter and lawyer, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo, sounding a bell gathered his slaves together and told them that they were free and if they chose they could join him and his compatriots in the struggle for a new nation. The nearest town to the plantation was called Yara and this cry for freedom became known as the "Grito de Yara" the (Proclamation of Yara). This initial act led to ten years of war with Spain and although ending in a frustrating and temporary peace under continued Spanish rule it did much to forge the Cuban character.

Less than three months ago not far from Yara in the same province of Bayamo, two Cuban patriots Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante, died under suspicious circumstances in what appears to have been an extra-judicial killing disguised as a car accident.

In four days, the one year observance of a tragic anniversary: the untimely death of opposition leader Laura Inés Pollán Toledo through what a Cuban medical doctor described as medical neglect. On October 14, 2011, Laura Pollan, one of the founders of the human rights movement the Ladies in White died after years of suffering physical and psychological assaults against her person. Finally, she would become a victim of the Cuban healthcare system that following the Castroite dictum of inside the revolution everything outside of it nothing - would suffer and die in a matter of days while under the supervision of doctors who were revolutionaries first and doctors second.

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes never got to see Cuban independence nor even the end of the Ten Years war he died in 1874. Unfortunately, as with Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo we are seeing another generation of heroes continuing the drive for Cuban freedom but dying before achieving their goal. It is for this reason that we must remember and honor these men and women who have given their last full measure to free a country subjugated to more than six decades of dictatorship. Seven years of authoritarian tyranny with Fulgencio Batista followed by 53 years of totalitarian tyranny with the Castro brothers. The body count of innocent Cubans has been steadily rising these past six decades with brutal patterns of repression.

Let us remember Laura Pollan the school teacher who became an international human rights icon and sadly today a martyr of the Cuban freedom movement. On October 14 there will be activities inside and outside of Cuba to remember and honor this remarkable and courageous woman.  At the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana, Cuba they will open a guestbook throughout the day and invite people to come and pay their respects. No doubt throughout the world wide web there will be different efforts and actions underway to honor this Cuban mother and wife who was taken from us far to soon.

Thankfully her words and writing survive and we can learn from her wisdom and continue the struggle for a free Cuba.

"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)

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 ask on this Christmas Day for freedom for our political prisoners and for the Cuban people to have a better future.” (2005)

“It's an extremely sad day for us, because Christmas is a family holiday. Since our husbands are not with us, our families cannot be complete.” (2005)

"We fight for the freedom of our husbands, the union of our families. We love our men." (2005)

“We would never have thought this would go on for so long.” (2006)

Human rights basically have been dead in our country for three years. Physically, I am tired. But I am still fighting, as long as I am alive and my husband is jailed, I am going to keep fighting. – Laura Pollan (2006)

“We are calling for freedom for all political prisoners.” (2006)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Venezuela: Contested elections in a non-democratic country

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." - Winston Churchill

 Watching the news and the twitter stream with reports out of Venezuela on the contested presidential elections there brought to mind a recent presentation at the San Francisco Freedom Forum organized by the Human Rights Foundation. It is available below:

Watch live streaming video from sfff at livestream.com

The presentation was made by William Dobson the author of the The Dictator's Learning Curve. The wave of democratic revolutions in the 1980s and 1990s and democracy promotion became a cottage industry demonstrated that it is a difficult time for dictators but nevertheless the past five years have seen a sustained decline in freedom around the world. Dobson in his book set out to travel around the world to some of the least free countries and ask the question why this was happening and the book The Dictator's Learning Curve is the end result.

Dictators are now learning how to navigate in the modern technological world in which information cannot be contained but now has to be managed. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, although a disciple of Fidel Castro, has not been able to follow the blunt path of his mentor to maintain power.

Dobson discusses how laws are broadly drafted and as a Venezuelan activist told him applied by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela: "For my friends everything for my enemies the law."

Unlike Cuba in Venezuela opposition parties are legal and although greatly restricted, harassed and persecuted there is a legally recognized independent media. Finally, unlike Cuba, where "elections" for the dictatorship win 99% of the vote in Venezuela, as in Russia, there has to be an appearance of competitiveness. There is no value in winning 99% the only election that has value is the one that appears competitive. Dobson says that 70% is the new 99% although Putin "won" with 63% and now Chavez with 54%. Today's modern dictator understands that facing outside pressures the regime has to learn and adapt with new techniques, strategies, and formulas to hang on to power.

That also means that for democrats to succeed that they must also learn to adapt to the new tactics and strategies of the regime in order to learn how to overcome them. Winning the vote in Venezuela is not enough. Having an opposition structure in place to ensure that the vote and count is fair along with the capability to mobilize large numbers of people into a coherent strategy to ensure that the election results are recognized and that the election be seen not as the end of a dictatorship but as the beginning of a process of democratic transition.

Venezuela is not a democracy. Power has been concentrated for more than a decade into the hands of Hugo Chavez, his political party and Cuban handlers. The judiciary and the Congress were subordinated to Hugo Chavez. What you have had in Venezuela today is a contested elections in a non-democratic country. If Capriles is able to take power then the hard work begins to rebuild Venezuelan democracy and if Chavez is victorious the struggle to begin a democratic transition continues.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

They Tried to Strip Me. I Resisted and Paid the Price.* by Yoani Sanchez

Text taken from Translating Cuba and photo from Yoani Sanchez's twitter account.

Missing tooth following struggle with regime agents

They wanted to keep me from attending the trial of Angel Carromero, the Spaniard who was driving when a car crash killed Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero. Around five in the afternoon a big operation on the outskirts of Bayamo stopped the car my husband, a friend, and I were driving in. “You want to disrupt the court,” a man dressed completely in olive-green told us, as he immediately proceeded to arrest us.

The operation had the scale of an arrest against a gang of drug traffickers, or the capture of a prolific serial murderer. But instead of such threatening people, there were just three individuals who wanted to participant as observers in a judicial process, looking on from within the courtroom. We had believed the newspaper Granma when it published that the trial was oral and public. But, you already know, Granma lies.

However, in arresting me, they were actually giving me the chance to experience, as a journalist, the other side of the story. To walk in the shoes of Angel Carromero, to experience how pressure is applied to a detainee. To know firsthand the intricacies of the Department of Investigations of the Ministry of the Interior.

The first were three uniformed women who surrounded me and took my cell phone. Up to that point the situation was confused, aggressive, but still had not crossed the line into violence. Then these same hefty ladies took me into a room to strip me.

But there is a portion of ourselves no one can rip from us. I don’t know, perhaps the last fig leaf to which we cling when we live under a system that knows everything about our lives. In a bad and contradictory verse it might read, “you can have my soul… my body, no.” So I resisted and paid the consequences.

After that moment of maximum tension came the turn of the “good cop.” Someone who comes to me saying they have the same last name as me — as if that’s good for anything — and they would like “to talk.” But the trap is so well known, has been so often repeated, that I don’t fall into it.

I immediately imagine Carromero subjected to the same tension of threat and “good humor”… it’s difficult to endure this for long. In my case, I remember having taken a breath after a long diatribe against the illegality of my arrest where I repeated one sentence for more than three hours: “I demand you let me make a phone call, it’s my right.” I needed the certainty the reiteration gave me. The chorus made me feel strong in front of people who had studied the diverse methods of softening human will at the Academy. An obsession was all I needed to confront them. And I became obsessed.

For a while it seemed my insistent nagging had been in vain, but after one in the morning I’m allowed to make the call. A few phrases to my father, through a line obviously tapped, and everything was said. I could then enter the next stage of my resistance. I called it “hibernation,” because when you name something you systematize it, believe it.

I refused to eat, to drink anything; I refused the medical exam of several doctors brought in to check on me. I refused to collaborate with my captors and I told them. I couldn’t get out of my mind the helplessness of Carromero over more than two months of dealing with these wolves alternating the role of sheep.

Much of the time all of my activity was filmed by a camera operated by a sweaty paparazzi. I don’t know if one day if they’ll put some of these shots on State television, but I organized my ideas and my voice so that they would not be able to broadcast anything that infringes on my convictions. Either they will keep the original audio with my demands, or have to make a hash of it with the voiceover of an announcer. I tried to make it as difficult as possible for them to edit the material later.

I only made one request in 30 hours of detention: I need to use the bathroom. I was prepared to take the battle to the end, but my bladder, no. Afterwards they took me to a dungeon-suite. I had spent hours in another with a rare combination of curtains and bars, terribly hot. So to come to a larger room, with a television and several chairs, opening onto a room with a tantalizing bed, was a low blow. Just looking at the pattern of the curtains, I had the presentment that it was the same place where they’d made the first recording that circulated Angel Carromero’s statement on the Internet.
This was not a room, it was a stage set. I knew it immediately. So I refused to lie down on the freshly made bed and put my head on the tempting pillow. I went to a chair in the corner and curled up. Two women in military uniforms watching me at all times. I was living another deja vu, the memory of the scene that transpired in the early days of Carromero’s detention.

I knew it and it was hard. A hardness not in the beating or in torture, but in the conviction that I could not trust anything that happened within these walls. The water might not be water, the bed looked more like a trap, and the solicitous doctor was more snitch than physician. The only thing I had left was to submerge myself into the depth of “me,” close the gates to the outside, and that’s what I did. The “hibernation” phase let to a self-induced lethargy. I didn’t utter another word.

By the time they told me I was “being transferred to Havana,” I could barely raise my eyelids and my tongue was practically hanging out of my mouth from the effects of prolonged thirst. However, I felt that I had won.

In a final gesture, one of my captors offered his hand to help me into the minibus where my husband was. “I do not accept the courtesy of repressors,” I fulminated. And once again I thought of the young Spaniard who saw his life turned upside down that July 22, who had to struggle among all these deceptions.

On arriving home I learned from the other detainees that Oswaldo Payá’s own family was not allowed to enter the courtroom. Also that the prosecutor asked for a seven-year sentence against Angel Carromero, and that the trial had been “concluded, awaiting sentencing” on Friday. Mine was just a stumble, the great drama continued to be the death of one man and the imprisonment of another.

*Translator’s note: Yoani lost a tooth. From El Pais