Monday, September 30, 2013

Antunez on Nonviolent resistance and the price of freedom


Cuba’s Antunez: Our peaceful steps for freedom
Antunez lays a stone at a grave for victims of Warsaw Ghetto uprising


It is for me a great honor to be able to express these words in this worldwide famous University of Georgetown. I know that illustrious Cubans have been professors or students here. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, a great Cuban, murdered by the Castro dictatorship, spoke here during the historic voyage he made to receive the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament.

I never could continue my university education because of my imprisonment by the Castro dictatorship early in my life. What makes a society free is the rigor with which it seeks the truth through the free exchange of ideas. That is what we want for Cuba.

When I speak about ideas, I recall two Cuban intellectuals in exile whose work has been devoted to the achievement of freedom in Cuba. One is Carlos Alberto Montaner, a voice of guidance for the people of Cuba. The other is Pedro Roig, a lawyer and historian whose leadership of Radio and TV Martí enormously aided the Cuban domestic resistance.

The dictatorship that oppresses my country fears the free exchange of ideas because it knows that its proposals cannot withstand the light of reason. For more than half a century, it has poisoned the Cuban people with an indoctrination that goes from the cradle to the grave. The objective of it all is to stun the free decision-making power of Cubans so as to divide and fragment the nation. Whoever resists the indoctrination is punished with exile, prison or death.

My 17 years and 38 days in Castro’s prisons allowed me to see and experience close up in the diabolical machinery of a dictatorship whose objective is to crush the human spirit by utilizing the most sinister methods. I have seen this. And I have also seen how, despite this brutal repression, Cubans have risen to resist. I am part of that sea of Cuban men and women who civilly resist the dictatorship. I am here because of them and for them.

The unity of the Cuban nation in the quest for freedom is the regime’s great terror. That is why it wants to divide Cubans racially, ideologically and geographically. That is why we postulate the thesis of a single Cuban nation with a single resistance struggling for change.

The Cuban resistance, which struggles peacefully and civically, has a motto: “The Streets Belong to the People.” To all the people. To those of us who want freedom and to those who are still confused by the dictatorship. From Cuba, we have proposed - because the time has come - a Nationwide Civic Work Stoppage. A movement by the people that, in a gradual, progressive and peaceful way, may disarticulate Castro’s repression. We have gone abroad to spread the word.

We want peace for Cuba. True peace, which, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., can only exist when justice is present.

Any political proposal to attain peace in Cuba must come from the Cuban citizenry, from its persistent mobilization for freedom, which is its resistance movement. And this proposal of peace for Cuba has to include — inexorably — several cardinal issues:

• The total and real separation from power of the Castro family. Our country cannot be the property of a dynasty. Cuba was born of whites, blacks and Chinese to become a republic, the land of free men and women.

• The total separation of the Communist Party and the state. Cuban communists may have their party but never control the government of Cuba and subordinate it to their interests, as has happened for more than half a century.

• The liberation of all Cuban political prisoners.

• The legalization of the opposition political parties and the return of exiled Cubans.

• Free elections, under international supervision, for a Constituent Assembly.

• The creation of a Truth Commission that will rule on the direct responsibilities for crimes against humanity committed against the Cuban people by the dictatorship.

These issues and several more are included in a historic document titled “The Agreement for Democracy,” which was first signed by a broad majority of the Cuban opposition in 1998 and has subsequently been repeatedly ratified by Cuban oppositionists in Cuba and abroad.

I wish to close this first presentation by recalling a phrase from the man I quoted at the start: Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas. He once said, “Our hope rises from our struggle.” He was right. We Cubans are struggling for change. We want peace for Cuba.

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez” is the secretary general of the National Front of Civic Resistance Orlando Zapata Tamayo in Cuba. He gave this speech at Georgetown University on Sept. 16.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Polish Parliamentary Group Condemns Repression in Cuba

The Polish Parliamentary Group "Free Cuba" met with a visiting delegation of Cuban pro-democracy activists on September 26, 2013 to discuss the ongoing situation in Cuba with a focus on the human rights situation. At the end of the gathering the following statement was voted on and released by the parliamentary group.

Polish Parliamentary Group "Free Cuba" meeting with Antunez

Warsaw, 26 of September 2013

Statement of the Parliament of Poland Free Cuba Caucus

Parliamentary Group "Free Cuba " is gravely concerned about the increasing repression against political activists on the island. Since the easing of the European Union Common Position on Cuba in 2008 there were at least eight cases of unexplained deaths of the Cuban democratic opposition activists. They were: Orlando Zapata Tamayo (2010), Daisy Talavera de las Mercedes Lopez (2011), Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (2011) Laura Pollan Toledo (2011), Wilman Villar Mendoza (2012) , Sergio Diaz Larrastegui (2012), Osvaldo Paya Sardinas and Harold Cepero (2012). The circumstances of those deaths indicate that the perpetrators were representatives of the Cuban regime.

In this context, it is even a bigger outrage to find out that many democratic activists are currently threatened with death by representatives of the regime. In recent months the victims of death threats were: Berta Guerrero Segura (threatened with burning down her house together with her children). Angel Moya Acosta (he and his sister were threatened with death); Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez” (who was threatened with death on multiple instances, his wife was threatened as well); Gertrudis Ojeda Suarez (received death threats and poison was placed around her house); Yoan David Gonzalez Milanes (repeatedly threatened with death); Damaris Moya Portieles (despite beatings, she was threatened with death and gang rape on her young daughter, over past 20 days her house was attacked three times and the last of the attacks took place on 24th of September 2013.)

The release of 75 most famous prisoners of conscience in 2010 and 2011 that preceded the papal visit was not a democratic breakthrough. In a majority of instances the release was conditioned with forced emigration from the island. Since that time at least 114 new people were sentenced to prison for political reasons. Thousands of people have been subjected to police detentions and charged with the “pre-criminal threat to society”. In the case of the 72-year old Armando Sosa Fortuna, the 30-year sentence of which he has another 11 to serve means that he will die in prison.

The latest wave of repression was related to the detention and sentencing of Ivan Fernandez Depestre in July (in August he was sentenced to two years in prison). In August, 65 people that protested his sentence were beaten and arrested in different parts of central Cuba. Of those police was most brutal towards Yunier Santana Hernandez, who had his teeth knocked out and Yoel Bravo Lopez, who was severely beaten despite police knowing that he is living with HIV.

It is also worthy of condemnation that Yedier Rodrigueza Perez, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez’s stepson, is being forcefully conscripted into the military in retaliation for Antunez’s current visit to Europe.

The Free Cuba parliamentary caucus expresses its solidarity with all victims of the communist regime in Cuba and demands an instant end to repression.

The Free Cuba Caucus requests the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take into account the above facts during the upcoming negotiations on the European Common Position on Cuba.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Crime in Cuba: Just because its not reported doesn't make it safe

Lara Jones murdered by hostel security guard at government hotel
Today we learned that Lara Jones, a 26 year old British woman who was "a highly experienced and cautious traveler", was murdered in Cuba last year. The young woman according to news accounts was attracted to the Caribbean island, by its boasts of enjoying the lowest crime rate in the Western Hemisphere.

Unfortunately, the claim that Cuba has the lowest crime rate in the hemisphere is most likely untrue. In addition to the non-reporting on cholera and dengue outbreaks there is a history of delaying and not reporting serious crimes in Cuba. An exchange student studying Spanish in Havana was gunned down and robbed by Cuban soldier(s) in Havana on March 29, 1997.

Danish exchange student gunned down by Cuban soldier(s)

This is not a new or isolated phenomenon.

The Miami Herald on December 19, 2001 reported on the roadside murder of a family of five in Cuba stating:
Florida residents as Ada Lorenzo, 52, and Celedonio Placencia, 60, who were assaulted late Sunday or early Monday as they traveled from Havana to their family's home in Santa Clara.

The three other victims lived on the island: one of the couple's twin daughters, 28-year-old Yailén Placencia; their grandson Daniel Osmani Placencia Pérez; and Domingo Delgado, a family friend who picked them up at José Martí International Airport in Havana.

The couple had flown to Cuba on Sunday to visit Celedonio Placencia's gravely ill mother, family members said. Their bodies were found along a stretch of the Ocho Vias highway near Matanzas. Relatives in Florida said they were shot and stabbed and that the couple's daughter had her throat slit.
In the same article other killings and disappearances were reported:
In May 2001, an American priest was strangled in his home in central Havana, a month after he returned to Cuba to help the poor. The Rev. George Zirwas, 47, originally from McDonald, Pa., near Pittsburgh, was found by a neighbor. A State Department official said his apartment was ransacked.

In January 1999, two Cubans were sentenced to death for the September 1998 murder of two Italian tourists. A foreign press agency said the two Cubans also confessed to killing a German tourist in

November 1997 and a Canadian of Iranian descent in August 1998.

In November 1999, Claudia von Weiss de Venegas, a German married to a Bolivian with business ties in Cuba, disappeared from the Playa Giron area. She is still missing. 
German woman missing in Cuba since 1999 feared dead (Missing Scout)
 Claudia, the German woman, was never found and a decade later  her husband spoke out stating that he hoped one day to find out what had happened to his wife, who left a hotel on a bicycle with $500 and was never heard from again. He has given up on finding her alive. 

Cuba"experts" who claim that crime rates are low in Cuba fail to mention that the communist dictatorship rarely reports on violent crime and has been known to omit bad news and cook the books as in the case of the 2012-2013 cholera outbreak.

In this case the omissions of the Cuban government and the positive spin by so-called Cuba experts may have been a contributing factor into Lara Jones death.  The lack of a free press to hold the Castro regime accountable means in practical terms that the actual crime rate in Cuba is unknown.

Monday, September 23, 2013

3 NGOs Seriously Address Human Rights Situation in Cuba UPR Session

Three non-governmental organizations: Jubilee, Amnesty International and UN Watch addressed the systematic and pervasive human rights violations in Cuba and the regime's lack of commitment to respecting human rights instruments on Friday, September 20, 2013.

Mr. Matthew Jones, of the Jubilee campaign and Christian Solidarity Worldwide denounced continued repression in the island and the manipulation of the universal periodic review of Cuba by the dictatorship. Andrea Flora, of Amnesty International reported on the fact that six Cuban prisoners of conscience remain in Cuban prisons. Finally, Ms. Yris Perez Aguilera of UN Watch reported on her own case as a victim of multiple beatings who had received death threats and denounced state security agents exposing themselves and threatening to rape her as a method of intimidation. The Ecuadorian ambassador complained about the language of the presentation even though it fell within U.N. standards. Yris's presentation left the next speaker coughing and at a loss for words.
The following is the summary presented by the United Nations Human Rights Council news feed of three critical and realistic appraisals of the human rights situation in Cuba:
Jubilee Campaign highlighted the substantial increase in the violations of freedom of religion and belief in Cuba. For the first time in years, there were multiple reports of violent beating of church leaders in different parts of the country. The Government employed frequent arbitrary detention without charge.
Amnesty International was concerned that journalists and human rights defenders were harassed in Cuba. Amnesty International was disappointed that Cuba could not accept the recommendations on the ratification of various international human rights instruments, as well as those on the death penalty.
United Nations Watch said that human rights defenders and journalists were harassed and faced death threats in Cuba. Cruelty was worse against black people and women. Human rights defenders were held in arbitrary detention.
Unfortunately, the other six organizations that spoke during the session offered platitudes to the dictatorship and failed to provide a critical appraisal.

Below is Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera's presentation in Spanish.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Yris Pérez Aguilera presents her testimony before the UN Human Rights Council

"Soon I will return to Cuba. I ask the United Nations for protection for my life and the lives of thousands of human rights activists in Cuba today." - Yris Perez Aguilera at the UNHRC today

Statement by United Nations Watch
UNHRC 24th Session, Cuba UPR
Delivered by Ms. Yris Perez Aguilera
20 September 2013 

 Original Audio (In Spanish) from the Cuban Democratic Directorate

My name is Yris Perez Aguilera. I am a human rights defender in Cuba, leading the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement for Civil Rights.

Paragraph 56 of the Stakeholders Summary cites to our submission on the Cuban government’s growing use of violence against women human rights defenders, along with arbitrary arrests and death threats. Importantly, on page 23 of today’s report, recommendations by the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Germany, and Hungary address these gross abuses.

Mr. President, it is in this regard that I have come to bear witness.

I have been the victim of aggressions on the part of the Cuban authorities, especially by the agents Yuniel Monteagudo Reina and Eric Aquino Yera. They have beaten me into unconsciousness in the pavement, as took place most recently this past March 7 in Santa Clara. The hits to the head, neck, and back have caused me serious health problems that I have not been able to recover from. In addition to beating me, they have threatened me with death on various occasions, these agents have told me that they are going to rape me, and have shown their genitals during arbitrary arrests.

Because I am a black woman the cruelty has been worse, because the government that exists in Cuba is racist. At this moment Sonia Garro Alfonso remains in prison since March of 2012 in inhumane conditions and without trial. In October of 2011, Laura Pollán Toledo, leader of the Ladies in White died under suspicious conditions while under the custody of the political police in Havana.

Daysi Talavera Ortiz, an activist in Matanzas, died run over by a car in January of the same year. Women human rights defenders in Cuba suffer homes under siege, aggressions against their young children, and the arbitrariness of the government that has remained in power for 54 years.

Soon I will return to Cuba. I ask the United Nations for protection for my life and the lives of thousands of human rights activists in Cuba today. The authorities in Havana should respond: Why do they murder and systematically violate the rights of citizens in Cuba?

Thank you.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

China, Cuba and the Solidarity of the Shaken: Yris, Chen, and Yang meet at Forum 2000

"My dream is for China to have its own Velvet Revolution."- Yang Jianli, Forum 2000
in Ostrava, September 18, 2013

"We need to promote democracy. It isn't only on the shoulders of Chinese people, it's on the shoulders of the whole world." -Chen Guangcheng, Forum 2000 in Prague, September 17, 2013 

"It was a wonderful meeting, I learned a lot and I was able to explain my struggle. When I return to the island will tell my sisters in the movement of all these experiences that fills one with optimism for our struggle " - Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera , Forum 2000 in Prague, September 16, 2013

Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, Chen Guangcheng, and Yang Jianli
Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera met with and exchanged experiences with two well known Chinese pro-democracy activists: Chen Guangcheng and Yang Jianli.

It was a remarkable encounter that took place at Forum 2000 and an example of the solidarity of the shaken a coin termed by the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka.

Erazim V. Kohák in his book Jan Patočka: philosophy and selected writings refers to Patočka’s “solidarity of the shaken” as a community freed “from the preoccupation with the pursuits of peace and prosperity that inevitably lead to war and turn it instead to the pursuit of the Good, the care of the soul” that is “living with a clear conscience, living in truth, or in far older terms, seeking first the Kingdom of God.”

Consider for a moment the backgrounds of these three human rights defenders.
Yang Jianli witnessed the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, and later escaped to the United States. In 2002, he returned to China to help the labor movement with non-violent struggle strategies, was captured, arrested and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for “spying”. He served out his full sentence and was released in 2007. He is also a signatory of Charter 08 – a manifesto of Chinese intellectuals calling for political reform in China.  In 2010 he picked up the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Liu Xiaobo. ( Fair notice: I was one of the signers of a petition calling on the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to attend the award ceremony in Oslo and am also an advocate for human rights in China).

Chinese Lawyer and Civil Rights Activist Chen Guangcheng has worked intensively on human rights issues in rural areas of the People’s Republic of China. He gained international recognition for organizing a landmark class-action lawsuit against authorities in Linyi, Shandong province, for the excessive enforcement of the one-child policy. As a result of this lawsuit, Mr. Chen was placed under house arrest from September 2005 to March 2006, and formally arrested in June 2006. During the trial, his attorneys were forbidden access to the court, leaving him without a proper defender. In April 2012, Mr. Chen escaped his house arrest and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He is currently living in the U.S. He is a vocal advocate for women’s rights, land rights, and the welfare of the poor.

Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera is founder and President of the Rosa Parks Women’s Movement, whose objectives are to struggle against human rights violations in Cuba. Born in 1975 in Sancti Spiritus province in central Cuba, she entered the opposition movement in 1999, when her brother, Mario Pérez Aguilera, was unjustly imprisoned at Nieves Morejón prison. Thats where Yris met and later married Jorge Luis García Pérez, an activist who spent 17 years and 38 days in prison for calling in 1990 for human rights reforms in Cuba like those taking place in Eastern Europe at the time and refusing to be indoctrinated. Yris has organized protests, marches and social initiatives that have found housing for the homeless and improved, if not saved, lives in Cuba. She has stood up for those that can't defend themselves. She has paid a steep price for this suffering numerous detentions, brutal beatings that on more than one occasion led her to lose consciousness.
Worlds apart but joined together in their suffering for defending the dignity and rights of their fellow human beings because it is the right thing to do even if at the time it does not appear that it will accomplish a concrete external change, but it is the way these activists are able to hang on to their humanity confronting an immoral totalitarian regime that seeks to destroy human dignity and decency. Listening to them through translators one found that they understood each other speaking a an underlying language that transcended their languages of national origin.

The fact that they were brought together by Forum 2000 a project initiated by Vaclav Havel who's best known work outside of the Czech Republic is "The Power of the Powerless" and is dedicated "to the memory of Jan Patocka" should not be a surprise but the coherent, moral, and powerful legacy of a profoundly decent man who applied Patocka's ideas and put them into action.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Castro Regime's Cover Up of the Oswaldo Payá Killing is Crumbling

"My family has received death threats and my children have suffered physical persecution by Cuban state security of the Cuban government in the streets of Havana."- Ofelia Acevedo, UNHRC, September 17, 2013

Each day that passes more evidence and testimony arise pointing to the fact that Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Escalante Cepero were extrajudicially executed in a premeditated manner by agents of the Castro regime.

The behavior of the dictatorship following their deaths targeting the family with death threats forcing them into exile and other members of the Christian Liberation Movement with violent attacks including one nonviolent activist attacked by a government thug who attacked him with a machete. He may never recover full use of his right hand.

Yesterday at the United Nations Human Rights Council both inside the plenary session and later at a parallel forum one could witness the efforts of the dictatorship along with its anti-democractic coalition fail to first silence a widow from denouncing the killing of her husband and demanding an international investigation into the deaths of Oswaldo and Harold to get at the truth and also to prevent additional killings of Cuban dissidents.

Parallel Forum on Human Rights in Cuba on 9/17/13 (UN Watch)
At the parallel forum, diplomats from Cuba, Venezuela, China, Russia and Ecuador, as well as two NGOs from Cuba took the floor, and tried to intimidate the speakers calling them liars and disputing their testimony.

The questions and their toxic and mendacious character were exposed and the facts of what is taking place in Cuba prevailed in the heated dialogue. The dictatorship's allies wanted the event to deteriorate into some sort of angry shouting match and failed.

Each one of the presenters addressed the substance of their questions, even when some of the diplomats and NGO representatives got up and walked out without listening to the answer to their question.

Dignity, truth and nonviolence triumphed yesterday over incivility, falsehoods and verbal violence it was a great day for Cuban freedom at the United Nations Human Rights Council as the Castro regime's cover up of the  Oswaldo Payá killing continues to crumble.

Below is what Ofelia Acevedo said yesterday at the Human Rights Council that the Cuban authorities failed to silence and censor:
Thank you, Mr. President.

My name is Ofelia Acevedo, a member of the Christian Liberation Movement and the wife of its national coordinator, Oswaldo Payá, opposition leader and Laureate of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize who fought in a nonviolent way to achieve basic human rights for all Cubans.

He promoted the Varela Project, a referendum with the support of more than 25,000 citizens, who defied the crackdown against those who demand legal changes that guarantee freedom of expression, freedom of association, free elections, freedom of nonviolent political prisoners and the right to private property.

The government until now has refused to hold a plebiscite, and imprisoned the majority of its leaders. Cuban citizens being human beings we have a right to participate in the political life of our country and the Cuban government violates its own constitution to maintain the people oppressed. I ask this house to call on the Cuban government to respect its own constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to respond to the call for a plebiscite of Cuban citizens.

We now know that cars of state security of the Cuban government followed my husband and rammed the car in which he traveled the day that he died. Important press media and world leaders have demanded an independent investigation of the probably false and contradictory version given by the Cuban government.

The special rapporteur on extrajudicial crimes of the United Nations possesses a formal demand to investigate the assault that ended the life of my husband and the youth Harold Cepero.

My family has received death threats and my children have suffered physical persecution by Cuban state security of the Cuban government in the streets of Havana. Violence against the members of all the opposition grows in the country. Less than three months ago Werlando Leiva of the Christian Liberation Movement was attacked with a machete on a public street because of his nonviolent work in favor of the plebiscite and human rights in the island. Werlando, who is a father of three, may never recover total mobility in his right hand.

Yosvani Melchor Rodríguez is 30 years old and has spent three years in jail as punishment for his mother being a member of our movement.

The truth is essential so that what occurred with my husband and Harold not to be repeated with any other political activists inside the island. It is urgent to know:

How and why my husband died?

How many more nonviolent opposition activists have to die under suspicious circumstances for the world to decide to investigate the actions of the Cuban government against its own citizens?

Why is it that the Cuban government does not dare to realize a plebiscite that thousands of Cubans are demanding?

May God protect everyone and thank you very much mister president.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

5+5 = 5: Castro's Orwellian Efforts to Rewrite WASP Spy Network

Ten spies that were captured and charged back in 1998 not five, but for the Castro regime the five that pled guilty and became witnesses for the prosecution are unpersons. They no longer exist in the official discourse of the dictatorship. They have been erased. As have the consequences of other Cuban intelligence operations on United States territory.

Alejandro Alonso, Linda Hernandez, Nilo Hernandez Mederos pled guilty and were all sentenced to seven years in prison. Joseph Santos Cecilia pled guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison and Amarylis Silverio Garcia de Santos pled guilty and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

The Cuban "WASP" spies arrested in 1998 used coded material on computer disks to communicate with other members of the spy network. From the 1,300 pages taken from those diskettes translated and used during the spy trial the criminal and terrorist nature of the Cuban regime's operation in South Florida emerges. The networks primary objective was "penetrating and obtaining information on the naval station located in that city." Intelligence operatives communicated about "burning down the warehouse" that housed the nonviolent organization Brothers to the Rescue and sabotaging their equipment. The spies also helped to identify who would be flying at certain times.

In addition the spies were ordered to prepare a "book bomb" so that it evade post office security while at the same time phoning death threats to a man they described as a CIA agent and then having him killed via the mail bomb.
The seriousness of these planned action items would be confirmed by the February 24, 1996 shoot down where two MiGs hunted Brothers to the Rescue planes in international airspace and used air to air missiles to destroy two of the planes killing two pilots and two passengers based on intelligence supplied by the WASP network.
International organizations recognized that Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales were murdered by agents of the Cuban government on February 24, 1996. The first of the participants in the conspiracy to be held accountable for his actions was Gerardo Hernandez who was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder

What was broken up in South Florida on September 12, 1998 was a terror spy network with plans to damage property and kill persons with the objective of planting terror. The network achieved part of their objective in providing information that led to four extrajudicial killings. George Orwell could have cited the so-called "Cuban Five" campaign as an example of newspeak on the order of "War is Peace" only that it in this case the Castro regime declares "Terrorism is Anti-Terrorism" "Lies are Truth"and "Terrorists are Heroes." 

Meanwhile in Cuba, Lady in White, Sonia Garro, and her husband, Ramon Munoz, after being imprisoned without charges since March 18, 2012 now face a show trial and 12 and 14 year prison sentences respectively. 

Truth and reconciliation also requires a measure of justice and agreement on the facts. Imprisoning nonviolent activists while celebrating terrorists as heroes are just two of many signs that the current dictatorship in Cuba is a long ways away from that.

Monday, September 16, 2013

17th Forum 2000 Conference: A Reflection

Oldřich Černý and Václav Havel
Returning to Forum 2000 four years after being a delegate in 2009 is a bittersweet affair. Bitter because the founder, Václav Havel is no longer with us and the years of unjust imprisonment under the communist regime shortened what still managed to be a long and fulfilling life. Its a bit selfish on my part because one knows that he lived a fully integrated life and was that rarest of things a great and good man. However, the absence of his moral authority and courage is sorely felt around the world. World politics is diminished by his absence. It is also bitter because of the passing of Oldřich Černý in 2012 the first Executive Director of Forum 2000 at the age of 65.

However it is also, sweet because despite these profound losses Forum 2000 continues and in 2013 counts with the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi who both were championed by Havel until his final days. Folk singer Joan Baez who 50 years ago this year sang her songs of freedom for Martin Luther King Jr. as the Civil Rights Movement marched on Washington D.C. to guarantee voting rights for African Americans was there to celebrate the presence of Aung San Suu Kyi with song and later took part in a panel on civil society. Belarusian, Burmese, Chinese, Cuban, Ecuadorian, Egyptian, Venezuelan dissidents, former heads of state, philanthropists and intellectuals gathered to talk about the situations in their respective struggles and to exchange views. On Tuesday morning at 8:00am a working breakfast on "Challenges for Democracy in Latin America" will be held followed at 3:00pm with a panel that explores "Venezuela, Cuba: What Lies Ahead?"

A conservative intellectual heavyweight, Roger Scruton, was also present to weigh in on important matters globally in the panel on "Trust, the State, and the Rule of Law" and on Tuesday morning at 10:30am will look at the local in a panel on "Transforming Cities: Towards Smart Forms of Governance?"

Luckily, the conference is being recorded and placed on the web because a number of these important conversations are being held simultaneously at different venues in Prague and elsewhere in the Czech and Slovak Republics. It is available for thinking people around the world to engage in this important conversation about the future of our civilization.

Beyond the important achievement of creating a space of open dialogue for differing views to look at the world's problems there is also the generous spirit of the Forum that through first hand experience can be described as warm and embracing with a sense of humor. Friends, who although perhaps not in agreement meet in an atmosphere of respect to explore their differences and in doing so learn more about themselves and the other. It is a Havelian spirit.

Unfortunately, in today's news climate were trivia and distraction are often front page news, events such as Forum 2000 are poorly covered when one considers the importance of what is taking place here.

My commitment to this initiative of Havel and Černý remains firm and hope that others will take it upon themselves, both citizens and policy makers to join the conversation thinking about the long term and about the common good.

It is what both Václav Havel and Oldřich Černý did until their dying days. Their example should inspires others and make the world a better place over the long term. The bottom line is that with the freedom found in living in truth comes the responsibility to do what you can to make this world a better place for the next generation. During the current Forum 2000 Conference: Societies in Transition it was said that the Czech transition is still underway after more than twenty years. The preservation and expansion of freedom is ongoing process that must be affirmed and defended. In a real sense every country is in the process of transition. The difficult question one must ask: Is the society undergoing a transition to more or less freedom and decency?

Please consider becoming a friend of Forum 2000 with concrete and regular support by following Forum 2000 on Twitter, watching the remaining Forum 2000 events on September 17 and 18th, and letting others know about this treasure trove of accumulated wisdom that is just one of the many positive legacies of  Václav Havel and Oldřich Černý.

One side note walking into the top gallery of the Prague Crossroads prior to the Opening Ceremony and seeing a broken heart suspended on the far wall brought back the feelings of loss and mourning for a great friend of oppressed peoples around the globe. However, with the continuing existence of Forum 2000 it can be affirmed that the heart, although battered by the loss of a friend continues to beat on.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cuban dissident asks the Dalai Lama to speak on Cuba

"I usually describe the struggle between power of the gun and power of the truth. Short term power of gun is more decisive and powerful. In the long run power of truth much, much stronger." - His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Prague Czech Republic, September14, 2013

Cuesta Morua addressing the Dalai Lama with Yris Perez Aguilera at his side
In Prague on Saturday, September 15, 2013 Cuban dissident Cuesta Morua asked His Holiness the Dalai Lama to speak up on Cuba. Standing next to him was Cuban opposition activist Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera. In the video below beginning at 2 hours and 3 minutes and 44 seconds is the full exchange:

Below is an excerpt of the exchange:

Cuesta Morua: "Holiness, for me its an honor to be here. I'm part of a team of five people coming from Cuba. For first time we are  invited here by Forum 2000. ... We come from a nation fighting for freedom like yours. My question is what is your spiritual message for a people who have been fighting for freedom for many years, 45 years, speaking broadly. ... We think your message would be very important for a nation who don't know who you are and we would like back to Cuba to tell our people that the Dalai Lama have a good message for them."

Dalai Lama: ..."Change not by force but by common sense I think. Now Cuba changing, I see comparatively. This things I usually describe as the struggle between power of gun and power of truth. Short term power of gun is much more decisive and powerful. Long run power of truth much, much stronger. Some people who under difficult circumstances must keep your spirit, your hope, your determination and in some cases maybe little more patience. You should not let cause of under emotions - that you should not do as I mentioned earlier. Analyze the situation then how much you can move. Sometimes , difficult to move but with firm belief the power of truth in the long run will win and keep your will power with some patience. Okay. Thats my view. Of course ultimately you have to take the decision. I just shared my view."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Amnesty International recognizes Iván Fernández Depestre as a “Prisoner of Conscience”.

Iván Fernández Depestre who was arrested on July 30, 2013 and went on hunger strike for over a month protesting his unjust imprisonment recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience and is demanding his immediate release.

Iván Fernández Depestre: Prisoner of Conscience

 11 September 2013

Cuba must immediately release prisoner of conscience

Authorities in Cuba must immediately and unconditionally release a political activist imprisoned solely because of his political views, Amnesty International said as it adopted Iván Fernández Depestre a “Prisoner of Conscience”.

The 40 year-old political activist, was arrested on 30 July in the central province of Villa Clara as he peacefully participated in a public event to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Cuban national hero Frank País.

“Iván Fernández Depestre is being held only because he holds opinions contrary to those of the Cuban authorities. He must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor for Amnesty International.

Mr Depestre was charged with “dangerousness”, a pre-emptive measure defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes” after he was accused of “meeting with antisocial persons”. He had no access to a lawyer during his trial and was sentenced to three years in jail on 2 August.  He is currently on hunger strike.

“The Cuban authorities seem to be using every trick in the book to punish those who dare to speak up about human rights. They are even using a law that punishes potential offences on account of ‘antisocial behaviour’ to imprison political dissidents, independent journalists and government critics,” said Javier Zúñiga.

“It is a sad reflection of the state of the rule of law in Cuba, when people are convicted to prison terms not for what they have done but for what they might do.”

On 4 September, local activists were arrested after they went to meet Mr Depestre at the Guamajal prison. They were later released.

Articles 78 to 84 of the Cuban Criminal Code established that those convicted of “special proclivity to commit crimes” can be sentenced to between one and four years of re-education in "specialized work or study establishments" or sent to "a work collective".

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Christian Liberation Movement 25 years on the Path of the People

... "Must announce to Cubans that their lives , their dignity and their freedom belong to them and that no one, not even Caesar , can take it from them if they do not submit by fear or other motives." Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas

Inspired by these ideas  25 years ago our Christian Liberation Movement was founded. Born to defend the rights of all Cubans and to promote the integral liberation of the person that leads to the development of society. 
We want to serve , we are convinced that in Cuba changes that the people want will only occur if most Cubans , freeing themselves from the culture of fear, take a liberating step reclaiming their rights. The law should guarantee the right to end the simulation generated by an oppressive system, as is the totalitarian regime that prevails in our country. We are part of a same people , who live inside and outside the archipelago, we do not pretend to speak for the people we work for citizens to have a voice .

Liberation demands its right and the right of Cubans to know the truth, an independent investigation is necessary to make public the circumstances under which our leaders, Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero died after the attack on July 22, 2012. 
The dialogue that we are proposing , is inclusive , where we are all represented, and in the atmosphere of trust that only guarantees the respect of the law and practice of fundamental rights. We condemn the "Fraudulent Change" and false dialogue that excludes and discriminates against those who do not submit , tools that  the regime seeks to impose to preserve absolute power and control of the resources that belong to all Cubans. We demand transparency for Cuba and call on all Cubans  and each and every Cuban to demand and build this path of change.

Liberation together with a diverse and united opposition in the Path of the People, promotes a plebiscite for the people to decide sovereignly about the changes . Only when citizens can choose in free and multiparty elections their government, can we speak about there having begun inexorable and real democratic changes in Cuba . That is why today we demand, with the antecedent of thousands of Cubans who propose legal initiatives through a popular consultation, a plebiscite  to restore the sovereignty of the people. 
All Cubans, all brothers and now freedom. 
Coordinating Council , Christian Liberation Movement 
September 8, 2013

Original text in Spanish available here

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Stand With Sayli: Young woman expelled from university for defending human rights

"Do not forget that the secret of peace is based in the respect for human rights. In Cuba we yearn so much for it, and that is why we continue in the struggle." - Sayli Navarro, over twitter September 5, 2013

In Photo soldier who squeezed my chin said: "Girl, you saved yourself today I have my uniform on."

Today over twitter Henry Constantin revealed that "Sayli Navarro was expelled from her university in Matanzas, Cuba for her political attitude." He then went on to ask,  "if you know of similar cases, tell me. We have to do something."

This first part, the expulsion of Sayli, was news and people of good will need to denounce it and call for her readmission to complete her academic work. The expulsion took place in 2009. In a 2011 interview Sayli described what happened:
Two years ago I was expelled from the university. I was completing the third year of a degree in Law in one of the university campuses that the Ministry of Higher Education enabled in the municipalities  when I was expelled for passing a training course in journalism in the United States Interests Section, sponsored by Florida International University.
However, the question Constantin raised about other cases was surprising.

There is a long history of Cuban youths being denied entry to university or into particular disciplines for their parents religious or political beliefs alone. It is systematically considered in a student's academic record along with their own political attitudes.

Henry Constantin was himself expelled from university for being an independent blogger in 2011.

In 2010 Marta Bravo Pérez was expelled from the Universidad Central de Las Villas for resigning from the Union of Young Communists and Darío Alejandro Paulino Escobar was expelled for trying to create a facebook account from the University of Havana.

In 2009 thirty students had their exit permits denied and some were expelled from the University they were attending in Cuba for accepting an opportunity to study in the United States. One of the expelled students offered to speak anonymously about what had occurred:
"I've been told that I have been expelled from the university and that I have a hearing pending with the Communist Youth, where I am to receive a temporary sanction due to the fact that, in self-criticism, I acknowledged having applied for the scholarship. [...]Our state of mind couldn't be worse. We feel unprotected. Nobody will defend us nor challenge the Cuban government to claim our right to exercise the option any university student in the world has.''
Although,  I don't live in Cuba I know of students who were expelled for signing the Varela Project. Harold Cepero who was killed on July 22, 2012 had been removed from university on November 3, 2002 and subjected to an act of repudiation for supporting the petition initiative. He wrote an open letter in protest that has been translated to English.

In a casual conversation with rapper Raudel Collazo he mentioned in passing that he had been expelled from the university shortly after he had signed the Varela Project.  University officials invented an excuse to get rid of him and did so. Later on he began to run into other expelled students and their commonality was that all of them had signed the Varela Project.

There are generations of Cubans denied higher education because they did not pass the regime's ideological litmus test.  Unfortunately, the subordination of education in Cuba to ideological indoctrination is not something new but an old feature of a bankrupt dictatorship.

On August 28, 2013 Sayli Navarro uploaded the above picture pointing out the official who threatened her with the text:
Inside the patrol car she squeezed my chin and said: "Girl, you saved yourself today I have my uniform on."
She is a courageous young woman who is speaking truth to power while maintaining nonviolent discipline within the Ladies in White movement struggling to see that human rights are respected in Cuba.

Access to education should not be determined by a political or ideological litmus test as it is today in Cuba. In a real sense because of this there is no right to education but a privilege to be granted to those who demonstrate their unquestioning loyalty to the regime.

Capitol Hill Cubans is encouraging the circulation of the hashtag #StandWithSayli and its a great idea to highlight the courage of this young woman with a demonstration of solidarity.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Diana and Laura: A tale of two women in Cuba

''We should never, ever give up!''- Diana Nyad (2013)

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

Diana Nyad and Laura Pollán: Profiles in Courage and Persistance
Two women in their sixth decade of life taking up challenges that would lead anyone to pause and reconsider.

Diana Nyad, after several attempts at age 64, swam without a shark cage from Havana to Key West breaking a world record that will not soon be duplicated. Back in 1979 she made the swim from Bimini to Florida a world record at the time. Diana also confronted domestic abuse as a child from her stepfather and later as an adolescent from her coach. A courageous woman she overcame these traumas and demonstrated throughout her swimming career and in her life as a motivational speaker the power to overcome any obstacle.

Laura Pollán beginning in 2003, when her husband an independent journalist was arrested, tried in a summary trial and sentenced him 20 years in prison for his nonviolent dissent, was one of the founders of a woman's movement, The Ladies in White, that began demanding their loved ones freedom. These women, led by Laura, would regularly take to the streets in silent protest marches. They confronted state security agents and violent mobs sent to stop them. Laura suffered libelous attacks, physical assaults, fractured bones,  being injected with unknown substances but through it all she refused to give up. She died under suspicious circumstances on October 14, 2011 while under the custody of state security at a local hospital in Cuba. 

A Cuban doctor described it as a death by purposeful medical neglect but she had accomplished the initial goal of the Ladies in White: the release of all the activists, including her husband who had been arrested in the 2003 Black Cuban Spring. This was a historic accomplishment not seen over the past half century of the Cuban dictatorship.  Nevertheless, the transformation of the movement into a human rights movement seeking changes in the laws of the state is what most likely led to the decision to eliminate this courageous woman who passed away at the age of 65.

Diana Nyad in addition to her accomplishments has spoken out about abuse of children as a cultural problem that needs to be addressed. She understands the need to denounce the silent violence visited upon children by predators.

In Cuba young women have been mutilated for defending the ladies in white while mothers have been threatened with sexual violence and in at least one case with the rape of her five year old daughter. This was done by agents of the regime and are examples of institutional violence against women.

This past Saturday as Diana Nyad began her historic swim a Cuban mother and her son were targeted by government agents in a vehicle who twice tried to run them down and kill them on Saturday. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that this has happened and there is a previous case of a woman who was killed following this pattern of attacks in 2011.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

State security tries to run over activist and her son twice in same day

Sara Marta Fonseca over twitter on August 31, 2013 at 10:39 am: " On 2 occasions today, a modern blue car with 4 men inside one with a radio transmitter tried to run me and my son over."

Sara Marta has been a target in the past of violent acts of repudiation targeting her home and her family. She is a courageous activist who has risked all engaging in nonviolent protests in the streets of Cuba. There is video footage of Sara Marta's home under assault in the past, but this latest escalation is extremely disturbing and needs to be paid attention to. They tried twice in the same day to kill her and her son using a government vehicle.

Is this the result of international organizations and national governments looking the other way in the July 22, 2012 killings of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero?