Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Guillermo Alvarez Guedes: Comedian and Cuban Exile Icon R.I.P.

“I always try to make all Spanish-speaking people laugh. Some laugh more than others, but what’s most important to me is that people get enough ‘stuff’ to improve their health.” - Guillermo Alvarez Guedes, 2010 interview with El Nuevo Herald
Guillermo Alvarez Guedes

Heard the news earlier today, career that spanned eight decades of bringing laughter and joy has come to an end. Met Guillermo Alvarez Guedes on three occasions. He was gracious, honorable, and extremely funny each time we crossed paths and the world is a lesser place without him in it. The first and last time where in marches protesting the Cuban dictatorship in Little Havana on Calle Ocho, but it is the second occasion that will be shared here.

When I was a college student at Florida International University, in the early 1990s, a friend of mind from high school who was studying at Tulane University was taking a psychology of humor class at FIU during the summer and invited me to sit in on one his classes because Guillermo Alvarez Guedes would be presenting a lecture on humor.

The audience of students where nearly all non-hispanic and Alvarez Guedes made a presentation on the psychology of humor and used a bit about the basic Spanish vocabulary, Americans would have to adopt to survive in Miami. He also said in his introduction that he would speak Spanish with an American accent to assist them in this process.  He then went on to do a bit of the following routine that begins at around 1 minute and 33 seconds in the video below:

He had the entire class taking part in an interactive experience repeating the Spanish words with an exaggerated American accent. We were laughing non-stop for the entire class but at the same time he managed to dissect the essence of humor and the necessity of observation and truth. The truth can be painful but it can also be very funny at times.

A prayer from Guillermo Alvarez Guedes (original Spanish)

Lord, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I can not change,

the courage to change the things I can not accept,

and wisdom to dodge

all those who try to ruin my day

Grant me the peace of mind to listen

to every idiot who comes to talk to me,

of each crappy suggestion that they come up with,

and every creative way to screw me over.

Also, help me to take care

of those who I had to send to hell today

as these can be well connected

to the ass that I have to kiss tomorrow

Help me to give 100% of my work:

12% Monday, 23% Tuesday, 40% on Wednesday,

20% on Thursday and 5% on Friday

And Lord, when having a bad day

and it appears that people have agreed to screw me over

help me to remember that it takes 42 muscles to smile,

and only four to extend my finger

and tell them to go to Hell.

"God! Kill me before letting me become an old man in diapers." - Alvarez Guedes, twitter profile

Alvarez Guedes did use strong and sometimes foul language in his routine but it is language that many Cubans are extremely familiar with and with the horrible experience of the past century of totalitarianism a few bad words were not out of order and extremely funny. Let us remember this giant figure of Cuba and Miami who although a family man who quietly helped many in need; was always willing to poke fun at himself. 

Guillermo Alvarez Guedes  is an icon of the Cuban exile quarter and is greatly missed.  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Church and Cubans stand up to repression in Cuba this Sunday

"To protect the inviolable field of the rights of the human person and facilitate the fulfillment of his duties, should be the essential task of every public authority." - Pope Pius XII, 50th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum (1941)

Another Sunday in which Raul Castro's paramilitary mobs and state security agents organized acts of repression against nonviolent activists. Nevertheless this Sunday offers cause for hope.  Ivan Hernandez Carrillo described two incidents that took place this morning in different parts of Cuba:

In Colón Father Nelson Santana stood before regime mobs preventing them from attacking the Ladies in White at the exit of the church. "You can march to your homes in peace this Sunday there won't be more repression," said Father Nelson Santana to Ladies in White of Colón. Thanks to Father Nelson Santana the Ladies in White of Colón who attended Mass could walk with six other activists accompanying them back to their homes.

In Matanzas, Cubans blocked the regime's mobs from storming the Church in Cardenas. The mob outside was threatening to kill all the activists inside the Church. The Bishop of Matanzas, Manuel Hilario de Céspedes y Garcia Menocal, inside the Cardenas church negotiated with regime "authorities" and gave protection to seven Ladies in White and eight opposition activists inside the Church.

Hunger strike and boycott demanding Cubans held in the Bahamas be treated decently

Jesus Alexis Gomez has been on hunger strike since July 19, 2013 and was joined on Friday July 26, 2013 by Ramon Saul Sanchez after Bahamian officials failed to follow through on a verbal agreement by placing it in writing. There is an online petition directed at the United Nations and also a campaign underway to boycott the Bahamas. Below is an essay by Rosa María Payá Acevedo that outlines what is being done to Cubans under custody of the Bahamian authorities. 

Ramon Saul Sanchez (Left) and Jesus Alexis Gomez (Right)

Categories of Human Beings
By Rosa María Payá

Where are the documentaries about the Bahamian concentration camps where there are school-age children and women with their lips sewn shut?

It has been a few weeks since South Florida’s media and social networks have been denouncing the systematic abuses to which refugees from Cuba and other nations are subjected in the Bahamas. The trigger was a series of clandestinely made cellphone videos that showed officers kicking people and subjecting them to different tortures. Those who made the videos public assure these were taken in the refugee detention camps in Nassau, and even when people have recognized their friends and relatives in the videos, the Bahamian Chancellery has denied that these are authentic.

These detention centers seem to be the scene of systematic human rights violations, but they are not a new phenomenon. The oldest data I know of refers to the New York Times of August, 1963, which discusses the intervention of Cuban air and naval forces in the former British island during which 19 refugees were kidnapped and taken back to Cuba. But even more astonishing is the reaction of the international community before a situation that has been taking place for years, and for which there are not many echoes beyond the modest ones from the voices of Cubans and Cuban Americans.

In the past 20 years, there is no trace of these events in two of the most important American newspapers, even when the Interamerican Human Rights Commission (IACHR) has issued reports thereon from allegations dating from 1998. For its part, the Spanish newspaper El País lists the names of the two Caribbean islands when it comes to hurricanes while other Iberian newspapers only mention them to highlight the progress of the oil drilling carried out in collaboration with Cuba.

The reaction is different when it comes to the equally unjust humiliations suffered by the prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo. The acts of condemnation in this case reach high political dimensions including the Human Rights Commission of the Russian Chancellery, the Swiss President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, the American Catholic Church, some leftist French party and thousands, perhaps millions of people from around the word who are in favor of the closing of this prison in the easternmost end of Cuba.

However, curiously enough, in that very end of my country the Provincial Prison of Guantánamo, run by Cuban authorities, is known for its inhumane treatment, the lack of hygiene, a poor diet and occasional beatings to which the people who are surviving there are subjected to. Most of the country’s prisons are run in similar conditions.

It would seem as if the men in orange uniforms held at the naval base belonged to a different category from that of the non-uniformed emigrants of the Caribbean. One hypothesis could be that the people of the Middle East evoke greater sympathy or compassion than the Caribbean people, but since it is precisely in that region where countless human rights violations have been committed in the past and continue to be committed to this day by the authorities of those countries, and the international condemnation has historically suffered its ups and downs, this argument doesn’t hold water. It would be scandalous if the level of the scandal was related to the category of the oppressors.

It is not the US Marines who are torturing Cubans and Haitians in the Bahamas; it is not “the Yankee empire” against “the oppressed people of the world.” Therefore, the perception is that the abuses committed by the authorities of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas are less attractive to the international community.

I cannot help questioning the motivations of the forces behind these reactions. If it is not compassion for those who are suffering, a sense of justice and respect for international treaties, could it be that the level of solidarity is determined by the unpopularity of the oppressor? Doesn’t the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaim that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights? A world in which lobbies have the last say and pressure groups have more interests than convictions is scary.

Who is lobbying for our brothers whose rights are violated with the same impunity in Havana and Nassau? Where are the documentaries about the Bahamian concentration camps where there are school-age children and women with their lips sewn shut? Where is the absolute condemnation for the humiliations that these people who emigrate suffer from, which are not subjected to any accusations? Why throughout the 20 years this situation has been taking place has it not become popular among youth to favor the closure of the prison camps in the Bahamas?

Apparently, the sense of impunity is contagious, and the Bahamian officials feel they can beat Cubans in the same way in which the repressive bodies of the State Security in the Largest of the Antilles have no mercy toward opposition members. Each of them should know that impunity is not sustainable over time, and that time is running out.

6 July 2013

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Oslo Freedom Forum: Park San Hak - 2013 Havel Prize Acceptance Speech

Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK): “Our helium balloons are the recipients of the Václav Havel Prize”

Speech by North Korean defector  Park San Hak upon receiving the 2013 Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the Oslo Freedom Forum. The regime in North Korea is an ally of the regime in Cuba.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Cuba's Dueling Legacies: December 10, 1948 and July 26, 1953

"Violence sometimes 'works,' that is, forces a particular change, but in the long run leads to more misery and disorder." - Michael N. Nagler, Six Principles of Nonviolence  

Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba

In the early morning hours of July 26, 1953 a group of young Cubans led by Fidel Castro assaulted the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Approximately, 18 pro-government officials were killed and 28 wounded in the attack. 27 rebels were killed and 11 wounded. 51 of the surviving 99 rebels were placed on trial. Fidel Castro turned himself in after seeking guarantees for his safety and was also put on trial.  This incident turned Fidel Castro into a national figure. He would go on to name his movement, the July 26th Movement. Although the image of Che Guevara is used in the propaganda, he hadn't met Fidel Castro yet and would not get involved in the July 26th Movement until 1955 when he met Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico.

Contrast this with what Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas did. In the midst of a brutal totalitarian dictatorship were all media are controlled by the government along with economic life he managed to lead a movement that persuaded more than 24,000 Cubans to identify themselves and demand democratic reforms and the restoration of human rights knowing that the Varela Project petition they were signing could lead to losing their jobs, having their children denied access to higher education and in the worse case prison.

The images of the movement, unlike the Castro regime's are nonviolent and inclusive and focus on liberation and reconciliation not violence and killing. They are profoundly anti-Castro precisely because they aren't anti-anyone. They do not succeed to destroy or slander anyone but to free a people.

Oswaldo rejected hatred and violence. He never killed anyone and offered a path to a nonviolent transition. Oswaldo's nonviolent legacy has continued beyond him and is a positive legacy for Cuba. His nonviolent struggle followed two of the basic principles outlined by nonviolence practitioner Michael N. Nagler: "We are not against other people, only what they are doing. Means are ends in the making; nothing good can finally result from violence." Oswaldo explained his position before an international audience in December of 2002:
The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: “You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together.” This is the liberation which we are proclaiming.

Regime celebrates with parties anniversary of Cubans killing Cubans

Sixty years after the tragic events of July 26, 1953 the Castro regime celebrates this shedding of blood between Cubans as "the victory of ideas," but in reality it was the triumph of brute violence and terror in the short term by Batista's forces on that day and in 1959 by Castro's forces. In Cuba the government has turned it into a day of drinking, parties, parades, speeches and the colors red and black prominently displayed.  This all occurs with prominent military displays and propaganda images worshiping violent revolution.

Cubans have been poorly served by the events of July 26, 1953. The Moncada Barracks attack laid groundwork to undermine dialogue and negotiation in favor of armed struggle. Secondly, this armed struggle that promised to liberate Cubans from dictatorship imposed a new dictatorship that continues in power 60 years later.  

Weapons, violence and militarism are promoted throughout the culture
Ten years ago on July 26, 2003 in an essay titled Nonviolent activists writing Castro's last chapter that profiled some of the men who fought alongside Castro for a democratic restoration only to be betrayed by the establishment of a new and more brutal dictatorship. Some took up arms again and paid a terrible price while others were imprisoned solely for verbally dissenting. The past decade has provided time to gain both a deeper understanding of Cuban history and of the men who abandoned violence and embraced a nonviolent struggle for change in Cuba.

Gustavo Arcos

One of these men, Gustavo Arcos, shot in the back during the Moncada attack on July 26, 1953 leaving him lame in the right leg was imprisoned with Castro in 1953 and imprisoned by Castro in 1966. Gustavo Arcos's criticism of the authoritarian nature of the regime led to his imprisonment which in turn led to his brother, Sebastian's disenchantment with the new regime. Both men, in 1981 would join the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, one of the earliest dissident movements founded in 1976 by Ricardo Bofill. They advocated nonviolent means to denounce human rights violations to the international community and call for a national dialogue to negotiate a democratic transition. The regime's response was repression and prison. When Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, passed away in 2006 the parallel between him and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was made in one of the articles remembering the old rebel turned nonviolent human rights defender.

Follow the festivities of July 26 on the social networks
 The assault on the Moncada Barracks is a  failure not only in the short term defeat suffered by Castro's forces but in the long term degradation of Cuban society and the abandonment of dialogue, moral and ethical restraints in favor of a cult of violence nurtured by a dictatorship now in its 54th year in power. Even the men responsible for doing this now complain about the society their revolution has created.They blame Cubans for their poor behavior and customs. Of course men and women with sound moral groundings who speak clearly what they believe and defend human dignity and freedom have an unfortunate tendency to die under suspicious circumstances in Cuba.

Government slogan: "Dissidence is Treason"

There are two traditions battling for control in Cuba. One tradition, embodied by the Castro regime, based on violence and the destruction of the other has dominated Cuba's political discourse for half a century. It views dissent as treason and demands unanimity; the only acceptable ideas are the dictatorship's. The second, an older tradition that built the institutions of Cuban democracy in the 19th Century using nonviolent means, who founded companies with a social conscience such as Bacardi that contributed to the common good until forced out of their homeland, and of the democrats who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 are still there in Cuba's nonviolent civic resistance movement.

Peoples Path is a nonviolent alternative of liberation for all
These civic activists were courteous, and respected the dignity of all Cubans. Some were feminists who obtained the right of Cuban women to vote in the old Republic and went on to defend the rights of poor women to a decent education and better opportunities. They nonviolently resisted the imposition of Castro's totalitarian regime and either went into exile, prison, were killed, or despite great odds are still struggling for Cuban freedom on the streets of Cuba today.

Ten years later and it remains clear that the future belongs to the nonviolent resistance. The dictatorship may have killed two of its great nonviolent leaders, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, but in doing so exposed its own brutal nature and undermined its own legitimacy. At the same time Laura's amd Oswaldo's nonviolent legacies will continue to bear fruit and in the long term and will be an important factor in Cuba's democratic transition. Nagler in his studies on nonviolence observed that "Nonviolence sometimes 'works' and always works" put another way "in nonviolence, you can lose all the battles but still go on to win the war!"  A coherent strategic nonviolent vision is necessary to achieve success, but practicing nonviolence over the long term does generate positive results in the same way that violence generates negative ones.

Liberation with nonviolence is Cuba's future
If Cuba is to survive as a nation then it will be freed from this violent regime and July 26, 1953 will be viewed as the tragic day, that it is, when Cubans killed Cubans and January 1st will only be celebrated for the New Year. Castroism due to its violent nature can only end in failure. Either it will destroy Cuba as a nation or it will implode and a democratic transition take place. The existence of people such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Harold Cepero, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and others willing to risk all for restoring a democratic Cuba using nonviolent means is a sign that Cuba will not be destroyed by the violence of Castroism. The only questions are when and how will Cuba achieve its nonviolent democratic transition.

May 10, 2002, a day to celebrate

What this post-Castro Cuba will look like can already be intimated. May 10, 2002 will be a day of celebration in Cuba commemorating the day that the first 11,020 signatures of the Varela Project were presented to the National Assembly demanding human rights and democratic reforms. At the same time International Human Rights Day will be a day to celebrate and observe human rights in Cuba and not a day of repression. Oswaldo, Harold, Laura, Orlando, and many others have done the ground work and their good works will bear fruit. The Cuban Republic's human rights legacy that is tied to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and December 10, 1948 will be restored and Castroism will be a sad and cautionary chapter in Cuban history.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Cuba a middle aged mom and a young rapper have something in common

 “It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people..." - Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

On Sunday, July 21, 2013 they were both brutally beaten by agents of the Cuban government for their dissent and suffered lasting physical damage. It takes time to get images out of Cuba, but unlike years past now it can be accomplished in hours and days instead of months and years.

Over twitter the images were posted today by her daughter Sayli Navarro who tweets: "my mom Sonia Álvarez Campillo, shows x-rays and fractured arm by repressors on Sunday" and independent journalist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo tweeted: "This is Lady in White Sonia Álvarez Campillo after first act of repudiation against Ladies in White."

There for everyone to see, a woman with a her left arm in a cast holding up her x-ray showing where the breaks are following a savage attack on Sunday by regime agents. This is not an isolated case but a disturbing pattern of increasing violence against nonviolent activists that is primarily but not only targeting women.

Sonia Álvarez Campillo is a victim of government violence

For example on the same day a young rapper was brutally attacked and Pedazos de la Isla broke the story and information and images are excerpted below.

Rodolfo Ramirez badly beaten on Sunday suffering memory loss
 Rodolfo Ramirez, known by his rapping name as El Primario, member of the hip-hop duo El Primario y Julito, was the victim of a brutal beating which left him with memory loss and serious injuries on his head. The attack occurred on Sunday, July 21st, at the Malecon (Sea wall) of Havana.

Julio Leon Fonseca “Julito”, offered declarations to ‘Radio Republica’ in regards to the situation, explaining that the repression was part of a series of hostile actions against both rappers that week. Fonseca had been verbally threatened in his neighborhood of Boyeros, in Havana, by a person at the service of State Security on July 16th. But the presence of various friends that came out in his defense forced the agent to flee.

El Primario was sitting along the Malecon of Havana with his girlfriend on Sunday morning.
“His girlfriend says that when they were sitting there he told her that there were two men following them and they looked like State Security. He told her they should leave that place“, explains Julito in the audio, “but in a little while, when Rodolfo and his girlfriend were leaving, they saw the two men again. One of them starts being rude to his girlfriend and El Primario responds, saying that its disrespectful. Quickly, one of the men throws Rodolfo to the floor and they both begin to kick him repeatedly in the head“.

It’s a very difficult case”, expresses Julito, “Because El Primario is suffering from memory loss, he is repeating things and his face is completely disfigured“.
Fonseca says that both attacks – verbal and physical – occurred the same week, and when the police arrived on the scene, they did not handcuff the attackers.

Julito's mother, Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, spoke about her son's plight:
I have more details about this case. I was able to sneak in through the backdoor of the police unit because they left it open. I could perfectly see Rodolfo. He was in a jail cell with both aggressors. He couldn’t even remember that they were the ones who attacked him. His girlfriend was the one who identified them“, recounts the activist, “both men were very confident and trusting with the political police agents. And it’s obvious that both of them had been trained with the way they beat Rodolfo. In addition, the family of one of them was there in the unit, chatting with the police with much confidence“.
We do not think this is something casual, that in the same week both members of El Primario y Julito were assaulted. We hold the regime responsible for what has happened“.
 The body count in Cuba continues to rise, yesterday was the one year anniversary of the suspicious deaths of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante. Some members of the Christian Liberation Movement were also subjected to acts of repudiation as they tried to honor their memory. People of good will need to focus on what is happening in Cuba. People are being brutalized and some are being killed by a dictatorship now in its 54th year.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and the Path That Remains to Be Taken

In a World of Conflict, UNESCO Celebrates Che Guevara, Ignores Oswaldo Payá

“Already many Cubans have discovered and soon all of them will discover that this oppression, that this imposed lie, can be overcome recognizing ourselves as brothers to conquer our rights peacefully. So there is hope.”
~ Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas,  Somos Liberación Havana, Cuba, July  2012.

Oswaldo Payá returning home to Cuba in February of 2003

Originally posted on The Canal Blog of the Panamerican Post

 The Cuban government spends lots of time and money on propaganda offensives at the United Nations, in addition to doing concrete harm undermining international freedom of expression standards, and some of what it spends is US taxpayer money. On June 18, 2013, for example, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) decided to add “The Life and Works of Che Guevara” to the World Registrar, and the Cuban dictatorship held a ceremony on July 19, 2013, to “celebrate” with members of Che Guevara’s family.

The current head of the Cuban National Commission is Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios, who was formerly the Cuban delegate at the United Nations Human Rights Council where he succeeded in attacking freedom of expression. He has now delivered on getting hard currency for the Cuban government from UNESCO to preserve Che Guevara’s papers, in addition to promoting the Cuban communist ideology which is found in Che’s writings and advocates guerrilla warfare and terrorism as legitimate methods of struggle against an enemy.

Che Guevara’s legacy is one of bloodshed that led to the rise of right wing paramilitary dictatorships throughout the Americas to confront the communist guerrilla threat Che promoted. He did so across the world, and they were all crushed, with the exception of Cuba, where he took part in implanting a totalitarian dictatorship and organizing firing squads.

In a world that has been torn apart by war, who offers more hope for the future, a disciple of Mao Ze Dong or Martin Luther King Jr.?

In contrast, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was a disciple of King, who corresponded with both Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel. Unlike the Argentine revolutionary, Oswaldo’s nonviolent resistance required much more creativity and courage to confront an all powerful totalitarian state, and he offered a moral and ethical path to liberation.

Perhaps democrats and nonviolent activists should look into having the writings of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas added to the World Registrar, set up by UNESCO. In the meantime, your signature on a petition circulated by the Payá family demanding an international investigation into the circumstances surrounding his untimely 2012 death would be much appreciated. There are plenty of articles on the suspicious nature of how Oswaldo and Harold Cepero died on July 22, 2012, but there is not that much about Oswaldo’s life in English. I hope this post will remedy that somewhat.

The regime in Cuba has claimed, and continues to claim, that it is a democracy, arguing that anyone can run for office as long as he obtains the support of enough voters. Oswaldo Payá proved that this was not true in 1992 and several times afterwards. Upping the ante ten years later, Oswaldo demonstrated that the Cuban opposition had a popular base of support in the population that wanted the Cuban government to change its laws so that human rights would be respected and electoral laws reformed to allow for free and competitive elections. Thousands of signatures by Cuban citizens shook the Cuban dictatorship and may have placed Oswaldo on a kill list.

Below are highlights of Oswaldo’s activism following the founding of the Christian Liberation Movement in September of 1988.

Exposing Cuba’s Anti-Democratic Nature With the Regime’s Own Rules and Regulations

In 1992, for the first time, Oswaldo Payá made public his intention to run for the seat of deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power, a rubber stamp organ of the Cuban government. If he were to win, he would have a national platform to speak from and be a dissenting voice in an otherwise unanimous chamber.

The response of State Security was to impede and prevent Payá from exercising his constitutional right to “be elected.” Two days before the so-called Nomination Assembly, the police detained him at home and took him into custody, parading him through the whole neighborhood to intimidate the neighbors. They took Oswaldo to a center of the “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.” There waiting for him were police members of the Cuban Communist Party who threatened him that “blood will flow if you appear in an assembly.” The Cuban Communist Party carried out the assembly under police control, only for a few minutes and with only with their followers.

It is an example of how powerful nonviolent resistance can be when combined with sound strategy. The Cuban government’s options were either to live up to their own rules and accept an opposition candidate on the ballot, ending the communist party monopoly, or ignore their own laws and deny the candidacy — exposing the arbitrary and tyrannical nature of the government.

With this one action, Oswaldo exposed the reality that the Cuban government does not follow its own electoral laws, and he underscored that Cuba was and is a lawless dictatorship.

Setting Out a Vision For a Democratic Transition in Cuba

Payá, beginning in 1992, wrote the Transitional Program, which proposed a way to transform Cuban society peacefully. In 1993, he and supporters began collecting signatures for a referendum on the Transitional Program. The July 13, 1994, 13 de Marzo tugboat massacre and the August 5, 1994, Maleconazo uprising, which stimulated an exodus in the summer of 1994, however, halted the petition drive.

In 1995, Oswaldo was one of the first to call on the United States to lift the embargo on foods and medicines without conditions and for a review of their policy towards Cuba. That year, he was also one of the five organizers of the Cuban Council, drafting the only document of unity that embodied the positions of its members.

State Security detained him and threatened him, asking him to discourage the meeting. Oswaldo refused, and they surrounded his home with state security agents until the Council was unable to be held due to repressions and the shooting down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes in international airspace.

In 1997, Oswaldo, together with 10 other members of the Christian Liberation Movement, collected hundreds of signatures in support of their candidacies for deputies in the National Assembly. It was the first time that citizens presented themselves as candidates with popular support and without being of the government. The electoral commissions did not accept the nominations, once again demonstrating how the regime fails to abide by its own laws.

In 1997, Payá presented a claim to the National Assembly of People’s Power demonstrating that the electoral law was unconstitutional and anti-sovereign and demanded its repeal and change for another democratic law.

The official press in Cuba sought to slander and defame him in order to stimulate provocations and create a cover for government attacks against him. An example of this took place just days after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City; a group of agents and provocateurs screamed at Oswaldo on the street as he walked with his wife and two children: “They too need to be finished off with a bomb.” Nevertheless, when Oswaldo was killed in 2012, hundreds turned out for his funeral to pay their respects, despite state security harassing and detaining people.


The Varela Project

From 1996 to 1997, Oswaldo drafted the Varela Project, a campaign to reform the Cuban legal system. During the Pope’s visit to Cuba in 1998, he was closely watched and guarded by state security — but that same year he and the Christian Liberation Movement still publicly launched the Varela Project and started collecting signatures for a referendum.

In 1999, he drafted the ”All United” manifesto and proposed the first meeting of the opposition, held under strong repression, which resulted in a movement of unity. Oswaldo was appointed coordinator of the “Rapporteur Committee for All United,” and in March, 2001, All United re-launched the call to collect 10,000 signatures for the referendum on the Varela Project.

On May 10, 2002, representatives of All United, led by Oswaldo, turned 11,020 signatures of electors into the National Assembly of Popular Power, in that way turning Project Varela into a bill under the prevailing Cuban Constitution. This obliged the Assembly of Popular Power to publicly discuss the Varela Project and to vote in favor or against it. Furthermore, the government was obliged to promote a public discussion of Project Varela in the mass media that it controlled (and still does).

Once again, instead of following its own rules as laid out in the Cuban government’s own laws and regulations, the regime’s response was to organize its own petition drive to make the “socialist” aspect of the current Constitution untouchable. This supposed law was presented and approved by the Assembly in violation of its own regulations, since the Varela Project by precedence should have been considered first. Then on July 5, 2002, the Assembly “indefinitely” suspended its ordinary session to avoid discussing the Varela Project. The regime also responded with acts of repression and intransigence against members of the civic, nonviolent movement — but project Varela organizers continued to collect signatures and the civic movement grew.

The thousands of signatures gathered catches the attention of the international community, because it demonstrates that the Cuban civic opposition has a popular base of support.

International Solidarity

Moving into the 2000s, several organizations recognized Oswaldo Payá as a fighter for democracy and the rights of citizens. The National Democratic Institute of the United States, for example, in 2002 awarded him the Averell Harriman prize in the Organization of American States in Washington, DC, in recognition of his work with the Varela Project. Czech President Vaclav Havel launched a campaign to support Oswaldo’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent efforts towards freedom and democracy in Cuba. Oswaldo was nominated on four occasions. In October 2002, the European Parliament awarded him the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Members of the European Union, led by Havel and Aznar pressured the Cuban government into allowing Oswaldo to travel to Europe to collect the Sakharov Prize. In December of 2002, they granted him permission to travel to the ceremonies in Strasbourg, France, but not before attacking his home and leaving death threats there.

Oswaldo did travel to Strasbourg, and on December 17, 2002, he accepted the Sakharov Prize. In the course of a twenty minute speech, he outlined his nonviolent political philosophy.
The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: “You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together.” This is the liberation which we are proclaiming.
Oswaldo traveled across Europe, the United States, and Latin America meeting world leaders and representing the nonviolent civic movement in Cuba. He received an audience with His Holiness Pope John Paul II, President Aznar in Spain, and Havel in the Czech Republic, along with the Prime Minister of Slovakia and the Secretary of State of the United States, Colin Powell, in Washington, DC. He visited Mexico and met with President Fox, and in his final stop was the Dominican Republic, where he was received by President Mejías.

He returned home to a warm welcome in February of 2003 with a large crowd of families, friends, and international media waiting for him at the airport.

Black Spring Crackdown

The Castro regime responded on March 18, 2003, with the beginning of the Black Cuban Spring. Over a 100 activists were detained and seventy-five were sentenced to prison in show trials with sentences ranging from twelve years up to twenty-eight years in prison. More than forty of the imprisoned activists had worked on the Varela Project.

The Cuban government announced, at the time, that the dissident movement had been destroyed. However, the remaining activists who were still free continued to gather signatures, and Oswaldo turned in another 14,384 petition signatures on October 5, 2003. Furthermore, the wives, sisters, and daughters of the activists who had been detained and imprisoned organized themselves into the Ladies in White. A movement that sought the freedom of their loved ones and organized regular marches through the streets of Cuba, despite regime organized violence upon them.

Oswaldo would refocus his efforts on campaigning for the freedom of these prisoners of conscience. It took over eight years, but the last of the group of the 75 were eventually released. Many were driven into exile but a core group remains in Cuba and are still defiant. Others lost their lives defending human rights and dignity by gathering signatures for the Varela Project, such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died on hunger strike on February 23, 2010.

Oswaldo continued defending human rights with well thought out projects demanding specific rights like the Heredia Project — it campaigned for Cubans to have the freedom to travel inside and outside of Cuba — and The People’s Path in 2011, which sought to lay the framework for a nonviolent democratic transition.

At the same time, Oswaldo in April 2012 denounced the campaign to marginalize the democratic opposition and the Cuban government’s efforts, along with unscrupulous allies, to carry out a fraudulent change at the expense of the freedom of the Cuban people.


Suspicious Deaths

On July 22, 2012, while heading to Santiago de Cuba in a car with Harold Cepero and two international youth leaders, on a solidarity visit, another car struck theirs. The end result was that both Harold and Oswaldo died in Bayamo, Cuba.

The Cuban government attempted to engage in a cover up and invented a story that did not line up with the known facts. It is for that reason that the victims’ families are demanding an international investigation to learn the truth of what happened.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was 60 years old at the time of his death. He had spent his entire adult life in Cuba in a struggle for Cuba’s freedom. Oswaldo’s life is an example of Mohandas Gandhi’s epigram: “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.”

The People’s path remains to be taken, but the surviving members of the Christian Liberation Movement have reorganized and are building upon the groundwork laid by Oswaldo for the path to a nonviolent transition in Cuba.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas: Living free in communist Cuba

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

Oswaldo Payá home attacked and defaced on June 11, 1991 by Castro agents
 Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas: Living free in communist Cuba

Oswaldo Payá demonstrated with his life that it is possible to be a free man in Cuba under communism. Speaking here of his inner freedom. A man can be free inside of a maximum security prison. Although Cuba under Castro is a nightmarish totalitarian regime that is recognizable in the pages of George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, unlike the character of Winston Smith, Oswaldo's life, embracing and living his Catholic faith, demonstrates the power of nonviolence to confront totalitarian evil. His life is a testament to the power of a moral and principled resistance that confronts evil but refuses to do it with evil. Oswaldo offers a liberation in which all, both captor and captive are liberated, it is a profoundly Christian outlook. He was killed along with Harold Cepero, a youth leader in the Christian Liberation Movement, under suspicious circumstances that have not been cleared up. Friends and family of Oswaldo and Harold are asking people of good will to sign a petition requesting an international investigation into their deaths. At the same time, we do know how they lived and why their lives should be studied, shared with others and emulated. Below is a brief outline of the life of a good and courageous man who spent a life time struggling for a free Cuba.

Childhood and early adolescence
 Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas never held political office. He was born into a Catholic family on February 29, 1952 that did not side with either the Batista or Castro dictatorships. Oswaldo was just 6 years old when Fidel Castro took power in January of 1959. The Payá family was considered an enemy of the regime simply because they refused to renounce their Catholic faith as the communist dictatorship demanded or to remain silent before glaring injustices.

 In 1961 during the Bay of Pigs invasion there home was subjected to what would later become known as an “act of repudiation” where a mob surrounded their home shouting insults, death threats, and for the family to be taken to the firing squad. All the adult males had been detained leaving the women and children alone to face the harassment and threats. Until 1992 the regime was officially atheist, violently hostile to religion and the continued fealty of the Payá family to their Catholic faith meant that they were targeted, their home under constant surveillance, and occasionally searched.

Forced Labor Camp at age 16
Oswaldo was the only child in his class who refused to join the young communists and its precursor the young pioneers. During the 1968 invasion at age 16 he demonstrated his sympathy with the people of Czechoslovakia and openly criticized the Soviet invaders. When other students sided with Oswaldo’s support of the Czechs, the school authorities saw the 16 year old as a threat and sent him to a punishment camp to forced labor from May of 1969 until 1972. He was repeatedly punished for not going along with what officials had planned for him. 

Returning home in 1972 he enrolled at the University of Havana in the Bachelor in Physics program. There he is also pointed out for being practicing Christian and stating that he was not and never would be a Marxist, a stance unthinkable for any student at that time. Because of this he is forced to enter night school. Since the Communist Party decided who could or could not work he was repeatedly denied employment until he found humble work as a carpenter’s assistant. Sometime later he was able to obtain a position as a high school teacher for night school while completing a program in telecommunications engineering but since he refuses to politically indoctrinate students he is forced to end his teaching career. His younger brother is not allowed to study at university for “political-ideological” problems. Other brothers of Oswaldo were expelled from University for the same reason. 

In 1980 relatives from Miami come looking for him at the port of Mariel but Oswaldo and the rest of the family refuse to emigrate. Despite this, the communists, who were targeting those who wanted to leave with violent mob attacks on their homes, also lay siege to Oswaldo’s home.

In the early 1980s Oswaldo begins to work in Public Health as a specialist in repairing electromedical equipment. Meanwhile he is constantly harassed and kept under the watchful eye of state security. State security agents begin to visit his work place and follow him everywhere. While Oswaldo traveled to different work assignments on bicycle he is followed by various cars. At the entrance to his home state security would set up a check point requesting and examining the identification of anyone who approached the house. This would go on for three or four days at a time with as many as six or eight agents within 2 to 3 meters.

Marries Ofelia in 1986
In 1986 Oswaldo participated as a delegate for the Diocese of Havana in a National Ecclesiastical Encounter (ENEC) where he gave a presentation titled “Faith and Justice” in which he defended the rights of Cuban Catholics to practice their faith with absolute freedom and that this was only possible in an atmosphere of justice and reconciliation. He also called on the Church to defend the rights of Cubans and to denounce injustice. Nevertheless, his words sounded strident in an environment characterized by caution and the trend was to adapt to totalitarianism that had extended itself across Russia, Eastern Europe, and into elements of the hierarchy.

In 1986 he also marries Ofelia Acevedo Maura, a civil engineer, and practicing catholic with whom he forges a happy home out of which Oswaldo José, the oldest, Rosa María, the middle child and Reynaldo Isaías, the youngest of three would grow up in an environment of love and faith. 

Together with a group of lay people, Oswaldo organizes regular gatherings in their parish of the Cerro on Cuban Thought. Out of these conversations and presentations Oswaldo edits, “The People of God,” the first autonomous and independent publication that defends freedom, not only for believers but for all Cubans. In 1988, after strong pressure from the religious affairs office of the Cuban Communist Party, the bishop of Havana Jaime Ortega, prohibits the publication and the gatherings on Cuban thought.

They wanted their children to grow up free in Cuba

Founding of the Christian Liberation Movement
Oswaldo, in an interview years later, explained that it was upon the nearing of the birth of their first child, Oswaldo José that he and Ofelia decided:
“When our first child was going to be born, we have three children, we said that our children cannot live in a country without liberty and we are not going to another country to seek freedom. Therefore we have to fight for our children to live free here in Cuba and everyone else’s children and their parents too.”

Oswaldo José was born on February 17, 1988 and the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) came into existence that same year on September 8, 1988 on the Feast Day for Cachita, Our Lady of Charity. The founding of the Christian Liberation Movement began a new phase of nonviolent civic struggle for national reconciliation. In March of 1990 Oswaldo is detained for several days and interrogated by the political police of the regime and threatened that if he continues his nonviolent civic struggle that he would face several years in prison.

Call for a National Dialogue
Following his release from detention Oswaldo Payá and the MCL make public a "Call to a National Dialogue" among all Cubans inside and outside the island. The movement begins a campaign to collect 10,000 signatures, with the intention of giving this citizen’s initiative the status of a Bill covered in Article 86 of the Cuban Constitution in force, before it was partially reformed in 1992.

The petition campaign began well by extending itself across the country. All that came to a screeching halt on June 11, 1991 when a mob organized by the government, raided his home, which Oswaldo had opened to the public to collect signatures and in the days leading up to the attack hundreds of Cuban citizens began to visit him to support the National Dialogue initiative. Mobs of government elements and State Security organized an act repudiation, raided and looted the house, located at Santa Teresa # 63, in the Cerro district. Mobs painted aggressive phrases on the front of the Payá home without considering that there lived two small children and his wife who was pregnant. The facade of the house remained with phrases, painted with asphalt, saying: "Payá agent of the CIA", "worm", "Viva Fidel", "Down with Payá”.

Those signs covered the front of his home for close to eight years. Oswaldo, after this act of cruelty against his family, moved his wife and children to his in-laws, who received them kindly, defying the pressures of State Security, and remained for eight years in an internal exile persecuted day by day by subjects responsible for these heinous duties. 

Much of the information taken from a biography prepared by Christian Liberation spokesman Regis Iglesias in 2005 with some minor changes and additions.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Harold Cepero's Letter of Protest

On  November 13, 2002, students in their fourth year of Veterinary Medicine Harold Cepero Escalante and Yoan Columbié Rodriguez were expelled from the University of Camagüey and subjected to an act of repudiation after having signed the Varela Project, an initiative promoted by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas to claim the right to a plebiscite from the Cuban regime.

Cepero and
Columbié were both attacked by student mobs from the campus itself and forced to collect their belongings. Afterwards a number of the students who had taken part in the attack approached Harold and apologized. Harold forgave them and asked them to live in the truth. The young Cepero undaunted continued his battle for human rights, committed to the work of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), led by Oswaldo.

This is the letter that Harold wrote in protest following his expulsion from the University. He was killed in a suspicious car crash with Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas on July 22, 2012. Harold was awarded the 2013 Democracy Award posthumously on July 17, 2013 in a ceremony were he was represented by Rosa María Payá Acevedo.

Harold Cepero Escalante

 With all due respect and the sincerity that they deserve, I think the arguments abound for our defense. Apparently the motive for this act, or I do not know how to call it, is our bad attitude towards the politics that prevail in our country today. The other, our approval of the Varela Project.I will start by saying that said project is a project of law signed by over eleven thousand Cubans (electors) and gathers up the fundamental needs of our people. I do not know why they are attempting (you who are now in a privileged situation with respect to us and those who think like us) to repress something that is not motivated by, nor has its origin in the hatred of the people, but rather in  openness, mutual respect, and dialogue.

They from their condition as: students, professors, PCC, UJC, etc., are breaking the law of the Republic. They are trying to trample on our dignity, that is of equal worth to theirs, a recognition and legal status to develop fully. Therefore, I think it totally unfair what they are attempting to do. This is a violation of international law, the Constitution and above all against our people.

The Varela Project is totally legal and recognized publicly by Fidel Castro. Also, if we support it because we believe it is just and so I would like them to consider it. The things we ask for do not exclude anyone, we simply want a space (which belongs to us) in the social life of Cuba.

Expelling us is not the solution neither for them or for us, it would be better to ask yourself why are there young people who are filled with concern and worry for the welfare of the country. It would be good that they explain to the students and to the people what the Varela Project is, what does it ask, and so give everyone the right to think and choose.

Today we are kicked out of the university for this. Tomorrow it could be one of you for just being different, for permitting yourself to think.

They are wanting to perpetuate something that it is not even known if it is fair, and in this manner they are denying the progress of a society that wants something new, something that really guarantees a dignified place for every Cuban. They are pressuring people or preventing them from expressing their true feelings, they are cultivating fear in the nation.

Under the pretext of defending freedom they are attacking it. Martí would say it like this: "The knife that is stabbed in the name of freedom is plunged into the chest of freedom". They should think if at the bottom of this attitude there is a real respect for freedom, because to say freedom, to be free, is not to snatch the freedom of others. I therefore ask that before they expel us ask themselves how long can they keep silent the mourning and the reality of Cuba, and remind them that the damage they can do to us is damage that they do to themselves. And more: it is a direct threat to every Cuban.

Those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves.

Harold Cepero Escalante

Texto original tomado de Cafe Fuerte: Documento: Carta pública de Harold Cepero/2002

El 13 de noviembre del 2002, los estudiantes de cuarto año de Medicina Veterinaria Harold Cepero Escalante y Yoan Columbié Rodríguez fueron expulsados de la Universidad de Camagüey y sometidos a un acto de repudio tras haber firmado el Proyecto Varela, iniciativa promovida por el disidente Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas para reclamar el derecho a un plesbicito al régimen cubano.
 Cepero y Columbié fueron agredidos por turbas estudiantiles en el propio recinto universitario y obligados a recoger sus pertenencias.

Con todo el respeto y la sinceridad que ustedes merecen, creo que los argumentos sobran para nuestra defensa. Al parecer el motivo de este acto, o no sé cómo lo llaman, es nuestra mala actitud respecto a la política que hoy rige en nuestra patria. El otro, nuestra aprobación del Proyecto Varela.

Empezaré diciendo que dicho proyecto es un proyecto de ley firmado por más de once mil cubanos (electores) y recoge las necesidades fundamentales de nuestro pueblo. No sé por qué pretenden (ustedes que ahora tienen una situación privilegiada con respecto a nosotros y a los que piensan como nosotros) reprimir algo que no es motivo, ni tiene como origen el odio de las personas, sino la apertura, el respeto mutuo, el diálogo.

Ustedes desde su condición: estudiantes, profesores, PCC, UJC, etcétera, están violando la ley de la República. Están intentando pisotear nuestra dignidad, que merece, igual que la de ustedes, un reconocimiento y un estatus legal para desarrollarse a plenitud. Por eso me parece totalmente injusto lo que pretenden hacer. Esto es un atentado contra las leyes internacionales, la Constitución y más, contra nuestras personas.

El Proyecto Varela es totalmente legal y reconocido públicamente por Fidel Castro. Además, si lo apoyamos es porque lo creemos justo y me gustaría que ustedes lo consideraran. Las cosas que pedimos no excluyen a nadie, simplemente queremos un espacio (el que nos pertenece) en la vida social de Cuba.

Expulsarnos no es la solución ni para ustedes ni para nosotros, sería mejor preguntarse por qué hay jóvenes que llenan esta inquietud y se preocupan por el bienestar de la patria. Sería bueno que ustedes explicaran a los estudiantes y al pueblo qué es el Proyecto Varela, qué pide, y así dieran a todos el derecho de opinar y escoger.

Hoy nos echan de esta universidad por eso. Mañana puede ser a uno de ustedes por el solo hecho de ser diferente, por permitirse pensar.

Ustedes están queriendo perpetuar algo que no se sabe siquiera si es justo, y de este modo están negando el progreso de una sociedad que tiene ganas de algo nuevo, de algo que realmente garantice un lugar digno a cada cubano. Están presionando a personas o impidiendo que éstas expresen su verdadero sentir, están cultivando el miedo en la nación.

Con el pretexto de defender la libertad están atacándola. Martí lo diría así: "El puñal que se clava en nombre de la libertad se clava en el pecho de la libertad". Deben pensar si en el fondo de su actitud hay un verdadero respeto a la libertad, porque decir libertad, ser libre, es no arrebatar a otros la libertad. Por eso les pido que antes de expulsarnos se pregunten hasta cuándo pueden mantener en luto y silencio la realidad de Cuba, y les recuerdo que el daño que nos puedan hacer es daño que se hacen ustedes. Y más: es una amenaza directa a cada cubano.

Los que roban a otros sus derechos se roban a sí mismos. Los que quitan y aplastan la libertad son los verdaderos esclavos.