Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cuba Sanctions: The Importance of Right Intentions and Moral Means

“The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.” - Václav Havel

It has been said that "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions," but often times they are selfish motives disguised as good intentions. Furthermore, Mohandas Gandhi understood that there is no such thing as the "ends justifying the means" when he wrote: “They say, 'means are, after all, means'. I would say, 'means are, after all, everything'. As the means so the end.” Immoral means lead to immoral ends no matter what the "good intentions" might be under the guise of the supposed end objective.

Right Intention means neither pursuing policies out of a desire for revenge nor collaborating with evil in the pursuit of profit. Mohandas Gandhi said that “Real noncooperation is noncooperation with evil, and not with the evildoer” and  Michael Nagler in  The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action reproduced Gandhi's explanation on how he would apply it in a real world scenario: 
“If we were a free country, things could be done nonviolently to prevent the Japanese from entering the country. As it is, nonviolent resistance could commence the moment the Japanese effect a landing. Thus, nonviolent resisters would refuse them any help, even water. For it is no part of their duty to help anyone to steal their country. But if a Japanese had missed his way and was dying of thirst and sought help as a human being a nonviolent resister who does not regard anyone as his enemy, would give water to the thirsty one. Suppose the Japanese compel resisters to give them water, the resisters must die in the act of resistance.” 
This was seen in action in Czechoslovakia when Soviet troops invaded in 1968 and Czechs disobeyed but at the same time tried not to harbor anger toward the soldiers as people. Gene Sharp calls it an example of a Civilian Based Defense.  

What does this have to do with the question of economic sanctions on Cuba? 


What is the intention behind those who advocate in favor of or against sanctions? People of good will with good intentions can be found on both sides of the debate. However, people of ill will can also be found on both sides of the debate as well. 

Economic sanctions are a tool found in the arsenal of nonviolent action. However, the aim of sanctions should be twofold: 1) to prevent cooperation with evil and to avoid generating debt against the citizenry. 2) The aim of sanctions should be to minimize the evils done by the oppressor not harming the already suffering population. 

A strategy of sanctions that seeks to harm the population into revolt is immoral as is playing the humanitarian card to lift sanctions and enter into business with the oppressor.

A brief history of sanctions on Cuba

What is known as the Cuban Embargo began On January 3, 1961 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower suspended trade with Cuba, a few days after his administration broke diplomatic relations with the country. The embargo on Cuba since its inception has meant restrictions on trade and travel to the island by U.S. citizens and in practice has been a partial embargo. Over the decades these sanctions have been loosened and tightened depending on the circumstances at the time.

An actual embargo would mean that there is a complete ban on or prohibition of trade by the United States with Cuba. This is not the case. What you have in Cuba is a partial embargo which is exactly the same in definition as economic sanctions. Between January 2000 and December 2012 according to the United States Census Bureau there has been $4,318,906.00 in U.S. trade in goods with Cuba.


The ban on U.S. imports from Cuba remains but U.S. exports to Cuba have been going on since 1992 with the amounts dramatically increasing since 2002 reaching its peak in exports to Cuba under the Bush Administration in 2008. Despite loosening restrictions further under the Obama Administration trade with Cuba has dropped to 363.3 million dollars in 2011 and figures for 2012 show a slight improvement with total sales to the island at $337.5 million as of September. This is not a total embargo but a partial one in which the United States is one of Cuba’s top trading partners.

Meanwhile countries that do not have sanctions in place, which includes restrictions on granting credits such as Russia, Venezuela, China, Japan, Spain, Argentina, France, Romania, Brazil, Italy, and Mexico are owed billions of dollars. Russia is forgiving $29 billion dollars of debt that the Castro regime owed it and Mexico is waiving 487 million dollars of debt owed by the regime in Havana. Where do you think the United States would be on this list if sanctions were lifted and credits became available to the Castro regime? How much would U.S. taxpayers have to shell out?

At the same time Cuban exiles, many committed to maintaining economic sanctions against the dictatorship, are also a main source of remittances to their families on the island totaling hundreds of millions of dollars per year.  The intention of the embargo on Cuba is not to harm Cubans but to limit hard currency to the dictatorship.  The aim of the embargo initially, during the Cold War, was to penalize the Castro regime for seizing U.S. properties and limit its ability to fund armed guerrillas and terrorist groups in the region aimed at toppling friendly governments. With the exception of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1979 this policy was a success in the Americas.


Following the collapse of the Soviet Union changes were made to sanctions policies that sought in the 1992 Torricelli Bill and 1996 Helms Burton Bill to make clear that sanctions would remain in effect until all political prisoners were freed, the government tolerated a political opposition and free elections were held. Funds were also set aside by Congress to assist through development assistance independent civil society. In addition Congress in the 1980s established Radio/TV Marti to break the information monopoly of the dictatorship. Also in the late 1980s the United States led an effort at the U.N. Human Rights Commission to expose the systematic human rights abuses on the island and hold the Cuban dictatorship to greater scrutiny.

The result of what amounted to a tightening of sanctions and redirecting them from Cold War considerations to a pro-democracy effort combined with diplomacy was to provide protection to Cuban dissidents on the island, along with the means to reach the populace via radio while also setting up licensing to permit the sending of humanitarian and technical assistance to dissidents by civil society groups in the United States. This led to the growth of the pro-democracy movement on the island and greater support for it internationally.

Policies have consequences: The Obama Administration
The loosening of sanctions and the lower profile on the international front has meant that the regime has not had to face the same level of accountability that it did back in 2003 for example. During the Black Cuban Spring of 2003 the international community’s response caught the Castro dictatorship by surprise with a sustained campaign to release 75 Cuban prisoners of conscience arrested during the March 18 crackdown and sentenced up to 28 years in prison.


None of the 75 are serving their sentences in a Cuban prison today. However, today in Vietnam there are still at least 70 prisoners of conscience imprisoned despite normalized relations with the United States. So what have we witnessed in Cuba over the past four years with the Obama Administration's Cuba policy? The deaths, under suspicious circumstances, of national opposition figures such as Laura Inés Pollán Toledo and Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas; The deaths of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilman Villar Mendoza, human rights defenders on hunger strike in the custody of the Cuban authorities; and, an increase both in the number of detentions and the degree of violence used against nonviolent activists.

Another is that of American Alan Gross, arrested on December 3, 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison. He spent 25 days in a Havana jail before being visited by a U.S. diplomat. By that time Alan Gross had been approached by a Cuban “attorney” who just happened to be representing five Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States for espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. Alan Gross’s supposed crime: Attempting to provide Internet access to the local Jewish community in Cuba. The reality is that he is a pawn of the Castro regime to be used in pressuring concessions from the Obama Administration.
The Administration dangled several offers to the Castro regime and made a unilateral concession

  • Take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism
  • Waive probation for one of five Cuban agents convicted of espionage in the United States that planned at least one terrorist attack in the United States and provided intelligence that led to the downing of two US civilian planes over international airspace on February 24, 1996 killing four.  
  • Cuba democracy programs would no longer be about promoting democracy but "building civil society."
  • The White House and Senator John Kerry pushed to unilaterally cut money for the Cuba democracy programs and freeze their funding. 
On the other side of the ledger the Cuban dictatorship did not suffer any repercussions for arbitrarily detaining a U.S. citizen. Alan Gross remains incarcerated to this day and December 3, 2013 marked his fourth year in captivity as an American hostage of the Castro regime. Looking beyond Cuba to China, Vietnam, and Burma, we are presented with a cautionary tale on lifting sanctions unconditionally. In China and Vietnam the United States lifted sanctions, effectively de-linking human rights considerations from economic ones. The result has been a deterioration of human rights standards in both countries. 

The Bush Administration took North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism and the result has been a more belligerent regime that has threatened to attack the U.S. mainland with Nuclear weapons. Furthermore, during the the Obama Administration it was discovered that the Castro regime was providing arms to North Korea in violation of international sanctions. This is not an argument for taking Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism but returning North Korea to the list.

In Burma, on the other hand, where sanctions were maintained, there have been signs of improvement in rights protections. The military junta, after years of trying to manipulate its way out from under them, has had to recognize the political opposition and provide a space for them in Burma's parliament. Things are still far from perfect, but there is hope that serious and permanent reforms are underway. The ability of Aung San Suu Kyi to run for public office, and for an independent press to begin to operate in Burma following decades of systematic censorship and control, are both positive signs. Aung San Suu Kyi has been clear about the importance of sanctions and of confronting those that would engage the dictatorship at the expense of the human rights of the Burmese people:

“Investment that only goes to enrich an already wealthy elite bent on monopolizing both economic and political power cannot contribute toward égalité and justice, the foundation stones for a sound democracy. I would therefore like to call upon those who have an interest in expanding their capacity for promoting intellectual freedom and humanitarian ideals to take a principled stand against companies that are doing business with the Burmese military regime. Please use your liberty to promote ours.” 
Prominent Cuban-American businessmen have also spoken out against unconditionally lifting sanctions in Cuba, stating in a letter titled “Commitment to Freedom” that “absent the dismantling of the totalitarian apparatus on the island, along with the unconditional release of all political prisoners and the restoration of fundamental human rights, there should be no U.S. unilateral concessions to the Castro regime." They, like Aung San Suu Kyi believe that it is unprincipled for companies to do business with a dictatorship exploiting the suffering of an oppressed people. Things are improving in Burma on the human rights front, while relations are worsening in China and Vietnam. Linking human rights with economic engagement has been a winning formula in Burma- and there’s hope that it can be in Cuba as well.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tiananmen Square Protests started 25 years ago this month

Strategic Blunders in China

25 years ago on April 27, 1989 soldiers try to strop students entering Tiananmen Sq.
On April 26, 1989 the People's Daily ran an editorial with the objective of frightening students into submission that had the opposite effect enraging them instead and mobilizing many more to go and protest in Tiananmen Square.  It was a strategic blunder of the first order carried out by the highest levels of the Chinese Communist regime.

Imagine for a moment that for 51 days of demonstrations beginning on April 15, 1989 thousands of students gathered nonviolently to protest and demand reforms. Protests had taken place before in China in 1986, but had not been sustained.  This time, in part due to the regime's demonizing of the student demonstrators, the protests grew and did not dissolve.

Unfortunately, the student opposition also had its issues with strategy. Gene Sharp in the documentary How to Start a Revolution described what he witnessed during his visit to China in the summer of 1989:
I’d gone to Beijing after the Tiananmen Square protests were well underway. That whole event, which it should be remembered, was not just in Beijing, but reportedly in 350 other cities of China, similar protests were going on, but they were not planned. They were not prepared. There was no strategic decision. There was no advanced decision how long you stay in the square and when you leave. What became very clear to me in retrospect was that the students in the square were operating with great commitment and bravery, but they really didn’t know what the hell they were doing. The students had no plan. They were improvising all the way through, and later on we know that many of those Chinese people who were out on the streets, in another day, were shot and killed. The attitude that you simply improvise and improvisation will bring you greater success is nonsense. Exactly the opposite – that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re likely to get into big trouble.
Michael Nagler, in his recently published handbook on nonviolent action wrote about specific tactical mistakes made by the Tiananmen Square student demonstrators. Back in 2011 when advising members of the Occupy Wall Street Movement he touched on the danger of hanging on to symbolic spaces indefinitely:
This struggle is not about particular pieces of real estate but the institutions that may be associated with them—iconically, of course, Wall Street. And it would be a bad strategy—it’s always bad strategy—to hold on to symbols, especially when they make you an easy, concentrated target.

The Metta Center for Nonviolence has a working definition of nonviolence that emerges from first principles:
Nonviolence is a compelling force that works in the social field to draw people together, often by courageously resisting injustice on one hand, but refusing to inflict suffering, on the other hand. This force, accessible to each one of us by virtue of our human being is engaged whenever we resist but do not repress a separating drive like fear or anger.

Effective nonviolent action is about identifying the pillars of power of a regime along with existing injustice and designing a strategy with the appropriate tactics to end the injustice and usher in social change that respects the dignity and rights of all persons. The Albert Einstein Institute explains how it works within a strategic mindset:
Nonviolent action works by getting a population to withdraw its support and obedience from the opponents. By getting key groups to withdraw their consent, nonviolent action is able to remove the sources of power for a regime or opponent group.
At the height of the student movement in China, over one million people marched in the streets of Beijing. This movement ended with the government's crackdown and the Beijing massacre of June 4. Below is the documentary, The Gate of Heavenly Peace, that captures the days of protest leading up to the crackdown and the massacre. Nonviolent resisters should learn as much as they can about this important movement both its successes and failures. Finally, the struggle for a free China continues to the present day and needs our solidarity.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Events in Venezuela that the Mainstream Press is not reporting

All the news they don't want you to know about.
March For Education and Against Indoctrination Venezuela, April 26, 2014

Following events in Cuba and Venezuela with access to primary sources then reading about it in the mainstream press is a sometimes sobering affair. For example, in Venezuela on April 25, 2014 the rubber stamp Supreme Tribunal of Justice outlawed spontaneous peaceful protests in Venezuela in violation of international human rights standards. The Venezuelan military has mobilized troops and maintained a visible presence in areas where the populace are anti-regime. Finally today thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets in mass demonstrations against the political indoctrination of their children. You wouldn't know this from the mainstream media.The question to mainstream journalists is not all of this news?

Merida, Venezuela  April 25, 2014
The negative news about the broadcast, cable and print news has been a steady drumbeat for many years. However, news professionals before putting the blame on consumers, technology or other factors may want to take a closer look into how they are reporting and what they are producing in the way of news. The perception is that the quality of news reporting has declined and cable programs such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have had a lot of material to mine in ridiculing what goes on in the mainstream media and demonstrating its increasing irrelevance.

In the meantime it is the social media: youtube, twitter and facebook that gets around the mainstream media getting the news out:

Protest in Caracas, Venezuela on April 26, 2014

Protest at Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela April 26, 2014

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to confront and defeat violent regimes and systems

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”  - Mohandas Gandhi

Promised in an earlier blog entry to explain how one can successfully confront violent regimes and unjust and exploitative systems with deep structural violence. At the time gave the CliffsNotes answer: With nonviolence, love and a coherent strategic vision that involves a constructive program as well as creative nonviolent resistance. This is not to be confused with passive resistance or being passive aggressive.

Today is the perfect day to begin to enter more concretely into this subject matter for a number of reasons: 1) Today marked the 100th day of the King Center's 100 Days of Nonviolence. 2) Today marks the official observance of the Armenian Genocide. 3) Just finished reading Michael N. Nagler's The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action 4) In Venezuela saw that medical students were engaged in a combination of civil disobedience and a constructive program that bears closer examination.

Nagler describes in his book the two basic ingredients for nonviolence to work:
1. We approach out situation with right intention. We are not and do not need to be against the well-being of any person.

2. We employ right means. Wrong means such as violence can never, in the long run, bring about right ends.
Reading the two theorems or postulates above led me to recall the words of the late Bishop Agustín Román first on the importance of having the right intentions
"If what we do for Cuba, we do not do for love, better not do it. If all of us who want the good of the nation, of the important internal dissident movement and the persevering of exile arm ourselves with these virtues, we will be effective. If we are committed to not let personalism, or the passions dilute them, we will have won. If we keep them and transmit them to all our people, we will have secured for Cuba a happy future. "
Secondly Bishop Agustín Román on the importance of employing the right means or of action being consistent with conscience:
More concretely, I would say that the greatest importance of the internal dissident movement in Cuba today, is that it has proven that political action can be consistent with what conscience knows and that is that the force of reason is, and should be more powerful than the reason of force.
This is a rejection of Machiavellian power politics that claims that the ends justify the means. The Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi  offers an explanation that should resonate with Cubans:
"I do not believe that means can be separated from ends.The means that you use to achieve your ends will in the end color those very ends themselves. If we are to march along the road to freedom full of hatred and full of the instincts of violence what we find at the end of the road will not be freedom but another kind of prison. A prison that we have constructed for ourselves through our own feelings of hatred and violence."
Mohandas Gandhi on September 11, 1906 coined the term Satyagraha which according to Michael Nagler literally means "clinging to truth" but has also been translated to mean "soul force."  Nagler goes on to explain the power of nonviolence in a nonviolent moment when overwhelming violent force is stopped by nonviolence and its dynamic citing Gandhi's explanation:
What satyagraha does in these cases is not to suppress reason but to free it from inertia, and to establish its sovereignty over prejudice, hatred, and other baser passions. In other words, if one may paradoxically put it, it does not enslave, it compels reason to be free." What he calls "reason" here is better described as the innate awareness that we are all connected and that nonviolence is "the law of our species."
 In the quote at the top of the page, Gandhi is saying that we do not need to wait to see what the world is going to do but in changing ourselves we are also changing the world. In that spirit let me close this blog entry with 5 Basic Training Practices for Nonviolent Living taken from Michael Nagler's book:

1. Avoid the major networks and media outlets.
2. Learn about nonviolence.
3.Take up a spiritual practice.
4. Be more personal with others.
5. Find a project and get active.

For Cubans reading this blog entry on nonviolence who remain skeptical please answer the following question: "How many more national saviors using violent means to dislodge a despotic regime only to become a worse version than his predecessor?  Violently overthrowing Spanish imperialism with the help of the United States ended with Independence war hero General Gerardo Machado becoming Cuba's first dictator who was then violently overthrown by a coalition of students and soldiers turning Fulgencio Batista into a national figure and next dictator who was then violently overthrown by Fidel Castro who then set up a totalitarian dictatorship that endures to the present day. Isn't it time to stick with nonviolence and try a different approach?" 

Cuba's democratic period that lasted between 1940 and 1952 was the product of a dialogue and negotiation between all political tendencies that although imperfect was the best period in Cuba's republican history between 1902 and the present. Unfortunately the regime now in power has proven that it will not change through a process of conflict resolution but that only means that creative nonviolent resistance combined with a constructive program can achieve lasting change on the island.

To be continued...

Armenian Genocide: 99 Years of Remembrance

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."- Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

Cengiz Aktar is Senior Scholar at Istanbul Policy Center and today in Al Jazeera reported that  April 24, 1915 was the day when the decision to eliminate Armenians from Anatolia began to be implemented by the Ottoman government of Young Turks. This would eventually become known as the Armenian Genocide. The failure of the international community to condemn this crime encouraged others to repeat the crime on a greater scale afterwards.  On August 22, 1939, Adolf Hitler in a speech to his Wehrmacht commanders at his Obersalzberg home cited the events in Armenia to rationalize committing a new genocide:
"I have given the order – and will have everyone shot who utters but one word of criticism – that the aim of this war does not consist in reaching certain designated [geographical] lines, but in the enemies' physical elimination. Thus, for the time being only in the east, I put ready my Death's Head units, with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of the Polish race or language. Only thus will we gain the living space that we need. Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?"
Ninety nine years later the world is talking about the extermination of the Armenians and other victims of man's inhumanity to man. Below is "The River Ran Red," the 2009 documentary by Michael Hagopian on the Armenian genocide.

Human Rights defender Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas in December of 2002 observed that "The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized."In the same address he continued stating that "If there is no solidarity between people we will be unable to preserve a fair world in which it is possible to continue living as human beings. I therefore humbly believe that rather than new models, both for societies and for relations between countries, what we need is a new spirit.
Let us hope that emerging international solidarity and remembrance of these past crimes will prevent new crimes in the future. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) » 2013 Annual Report » Chapter IV: Cuba

Introduction and excerpts 

B. Countries


I. Introduction

99. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has paid special attention to the human rights situation in Cuba and, in the use of its competence, has observed and evaluated the human rights situation in special reports58, in Chapter IV of the Annual Report59, and through the case system.60 In addition, on several occasions it has asked the Cuban State to adopt precautionary measures for the purpose of protecting the life and personal integrity of Cuban citizens.61

100. On January 31, 1962, the Government of Cuba was excluded from participating in the inter-American system by Resolution VI adopted at the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, held in Punta del Este (Uruguay).62 On June 3, 2009, during its Thirty-ninth Regular Session held in Honduras, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) set aside Resolution VI adopted at the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and established that “the participation of the Republic of Cuba in the OAS will be the result of a process of dialogue initiated at the request of the Government of Cuba, and in accordance with the practices, purposes, and principles of the OAS.”

101. The IACHR has recognized that the Cuban State – including the time of exclusion, is “juridically answerable to the Inter-American Commission in matters that concern human rights” since it “is party to the first international instruments established in the American hemisphere to protect human rights” and because Resolution VI of the Eighth Meeting of Consultation “excluded the present Government of Cuba, not the State, from participation in the inter-American system.”63

102. Based on the criteria spelled out by the IACHR in 1997 to identify those states whose human rights practices merit special attention, the Commission has considered that the human rights situation in Cuba fits within the first and fifth criteria, insofar as the political rights enshrined in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man are not observed, and structural situations persist that have a serious and grave impact on the enjoyment and observance of fundamental rights enshrined in the American Declaration.

103. Having evaluated the human rights situation in Cuba, the IACHR decided to include that country in this chapter because, in its view, it meets the criterion under Article 59, paragraph 6(a)(i) of the IACHR’s new Rules of Procedure, which took effect on August 1, 2013. That provision concerns “a serious breach of the core requirements of representative democracy mentioned in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which are essential means of achieving human rights, including: “there is discriminatory access to or abusive exercise of power that undermines or denies the rule of law, such as systematic infringement of the independence of the judiciary or lack of subordination of State institutions to the legally constituted civilian authority”. Also, it meets the criterion under Article 59, paragraph 6(c) which refers to “The State has committed or is committing massive, serious and widespread violations of human rights guaranteed in the American Declaration, the American Convention, or the other applicable human rights instrument”. Accordingly, the IACHR will recount the activities carried in 2013 with reference to Cuba, analyze the human rights situation in that country, identify best government practices and make recommendations.

104. The restrictions on the political rights to association, freedom of expression, and dissemination of ideas, the lack of elections, the lack of an independent judiciary, and the restrictions on freedom of movement over decades have come to shape a permanent and systematic situation of violation of the human rights of the inhabitants of Cuba. In the course of 2012, the information available suggests that the general human rights situation has not changed. The above-indicated human rights situations, as well as severe repression and restrictions of human rights defenders persist. Also, the IACHR received information on violence and discrimination against LGTBI persons in Cuba.

105. In preparing this report, the Commission has obtained information from international agencies, civil society organizations, and the Cuban government via the official web site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba. The Commission notes the scarcity of information available on human rights in Cuba from sources both on the island or abroad.

106. On November 19, 2013, the Commission sent this report to the State of Cuba and asked for its observations. The State did not respond.

Full report available online here in English and in Spanish.

Some highlights from the report:

[Deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero ]

138. In 2013, the level of physical assaults, threats, harassment, and acts of repudiation against human rights defenders in Cuba was maintained, particularly those involved in the defense of the rights of persons who have been deprived of liberty for political reasons. According to Amnesty International, the Cuban Government does not recognize monitoring and protection of human rights has a legitimate activity, nor does it grant legal status to local human rights organizations.105 As noted, the repression of human rights defenders in Cuba takes the form of physical assaults and detentions for short periods of time, ranging from a few hours to several days.

139. Various human rights organizations have called attention to the rise in acts of repression, suspicious deaths of civic movement leaders, and the use of physical and psychological violence against human rights defenders. In that regard, the Christian Liberation Movement presented a report on the suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero and called for a stop to threats against opposition members, particularly citing the fact that family members of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas continue to receive death threats.106


[Human Rights Defenders in Cuba]

141. The Commission wishes to underscore the importance of the work of human rights defenders in the region. It has consistently highlighted the importance of the work done by persons dedicated to promoting, monitoring and legally defending human rights and the organizations with which many of them are affiliated. The Commission therefore considers that the acts of violence and other attacks committed against human rights defenders not only violate the guarantees that attend every human being, but also attack the pivotal role that human rights defenders play in society and leave all those whom they strive to protect defenseless.

142. The Commission received information alleging that the State was systematically expelling human rights defenders and members of their families from universities and refusing to admit them to university-level education programs. The IACHR is compelled to reiterate that education is a human right and an essential enabler of the enjoyment of other rights.

143. The IACHR was also informed of an alleged practice on the part of the State whereby health clinics refuse to treat persons involved in the work of defending human rights, even in those cases where the condition of the human rights defender is extremely serious.107 The IACHR recalls that the right of every person, without discrimination, to physical, mental and moral integrity is protected under the American Convention on Human Rights. The right to personal integrity in the area of health is closely related to the right to health, since adequate and timely health services are one of the principal means of guaranteeing the right to personal integrity.

144. The Commission received information that states that on March 7, 2013, Yris Perez Aguilera, President of the Rosa Parks Women's Movement for Civil Rights was beaten up by government agents in Santa Clara, leaving her unconscious. A press release by the Directorio Democrático Cubano offers the following account: “According to witnesses to the assault, after dragging her by her hair from the patrol car in which they were traveling, supposedly to put her in another vehicle, he flung her to the asphalt several times, causing Yris to strike her head against the sidewalk, knocking her unconscious.”108

145. The Commission also received information from the Independent Trade Union Coalition of Cuba (CSIC) about acts of repression and police brutality committed against Iván Hernández Carrillo, an independent trade unionist and member of the “Group of 75 of the black spring of March 2003,” when he sought to show solidarity with the Ladies in White Movement on Sunday, July 14, in the municipality of Colón, Matanzas Province. Five plainclothes policemen attacked the trade unionist in broad daylight, striking him repeatedly in the stomach and on his back while stabbing him in the left shoulder with a pointed object. During the assault one of the agents whispered to Mr. Sernández Carrillo, “We are just waiting for the orders to kill you all.” Subsequently, Mr. Hernández Carrillo was arrested and driven in a jeep to a remote location where he was released.109

146. On October 29, 2013, during the IACHR’s 149th regular session, the requesting organizations told the IACHR of cases of human rights defenders who have died in Cuba under circumstances that were never investigated. The Commission was told of cases like that of dissident Orlando Zapata Ramayo, who was allegedly killed while on a hunger strike in prison, and the cases of other human rights defenders who were killed in Cuban hospitals while in the custody of the Cuban security forces.110

147. For her part, Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, a human rights defender and wife of Jorge Luís García Pérez Antúnez, also a human rights defender, told the IACHR that because of her work, she had been the victim of physical assaults that left her unconscious in 2013. A beating she received from agents of the Political Police in early 2013 had serious consequences; she was unable to walk for three months; throughout her ordeal she was denied medical assistance. The Commission was also informed that the case of Damaris Moya Portielis is one of the cruelest. She was thrown on the floor while they forced a pen into her vagina. She was later arbitrarily detained; they threatened to rape her six-year-old daughter, whom she could not send to school. As a result of these events, she had to go on a hunger strike to demand protection for her daughter, whom she could not send to school. The human rights defenders who testified before the Commission also reported cases of other human rights defenders who had been the victims of beatings and arbitrary detention by the Political Police, and other forms of abuse, destruction of their property and video cameras, and acts of repression to retaliate for their peaceful activities. 111

148. On October 29, 2013, another hearing was held on the human rights situation of the “Ladies in White” in Cuba. That hearing was attended by Berta Soler, Magaly Norvis and Sayli Navarro, members of the Ladies in White, and by Laritza Diversent and Yasert Rojas, members of Cubalex. There, the speakers explained that members of the Ladies in White are usually portrayed in the media as representing foreign interests and as tools by which to slander and defame Cuba. They pointed out that in the last six months the repression against the Ladies in White became more intense. The events in the province of Holguín, Villa Clara and Matanzas were particularly disturbing, especially those in the municipalities of Cárdenas and Colón.112

149. The Ladies in White also told the IACHR that the Rapid Response Brigades, which they said were organizations sponsored by the Cuban government, stage “acts of repudiation” [mítines de repudio] to prevent them from getting to church and/or participating in peaceful marches. The acts of repudiation staged by members of these brigades are not spontaneous; instead, those involved are summoned and at times even forced to attend the “acts” by the regime’s Political Police. They also maintained that during these acts of repudiation, civilians and members of the security services beat up members of the Ladies in White, inflicting broken bones, torn muscles, sprains, abrasions and other physical injuries; the victims are then refused medical treatment. The members of the Ladies in White are subsequently detained and transported to prisons or are left to fend for themselves in unpopulated areas far from their homes, with no personal identification documents or money and exposed to dangers of all kinds. They also pointed out that at the time of their arrest, no record is made of their admittance to the police station or how long they remained there, and no record of the arrest is made. 113

150. The IACHR also received information to the effect that the Ladies in White are usually taken directly to cells with neither hygienic facilities nor privacy. Their jailers force them to strip and to bend over to check whether they have any recording or other devices in their genitals. Recently, a group of more than 10 women from Havana were forcibly stripped and, in the presence of various officials from State Security and agents of the National Police, were carefully searched These women were beaten and threatened that a long, semi-flexible object with a bulb at the tip would be introduced into their vagina. 114

151. Organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights have told the IACHR that family members of human rights defenders in Cuba tend to be victims of intimidation and threats from State authorities, as a form of repression and punishment for the work their family members do.115 In the case of the Ladies in White, they testified that the majority are mothers whose children are treated differently by the National Education System. For example, their children are required to receive Communist indoctrination and can be expelled from school if they refuse. One of the reports the Commission received concerned the daughter of one of the Ladies in White who was 14 when she finished her basic secondary school studies, but was not allowed to pursue pre-university studies on the grounds that her mother was a counter-revolutionary.116 The Commission was also informed that the sons and daughters of political dissidents are expelled from university because of the work their parents do. These acts of repression are also evident in the difficulty that adults have in finding jobs or becoming integrated into social life in Cuba.117

152. According to civil society organizations, the case of Sonia Garro Alfonso, a member of the Ladies in White group (an opposition movement consisting of female relatives of jailed dissidents) and founder of the Independent Afro-Cuban Foundation, a civil society organization,118 is illustrative of deprivations of liberty of this type, given that she has been held in pretrial detention accused of the crimes of “public disorder” and “attempted murder” since March 18, 2012, when she was arrested along with her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, also a political dissident, in an operation carried out by members of the ant-riot forces, police, and state security agents, at their home in Havana. Mrs. Garro has reportedly been in detention for more than a year, which exceeds the statutory limit of six months established by Cuban law for keeping a person in custody while under investigation. She has been refused medical assistance on several occasions and the authorities are allegedly obstructing her, her family, and human rights organizations from having information about her state of health, given that they are not allowed access to the medical records at the prison where she is interned.119

153. During the hearing on the human rights situation of the “Ladies in White” in Cuba, the Commission received additional information about the case of Mrs. Sonia Garro Alfonso, a member of the Ladies in White imprisoned since March 18, 2012. Her health had deteriorated since entering prison and prison officials were said to be denying her the medical care that her health problems required. At the time of the hearing, the Commission was informed that Mrs. Garro Alfonso was suffering from a number of health problems, such as malignant arterial hypertension and kidney problems; also, her body was covered with sores caused by a bacteriological infection. 120

154. On October 31, 2013, two days after the hearing and just one day before the trial against Sonia Garro Alfonso, her husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González and another dissident Eugenio Hernández Hernández was slated to begin, the Cuban government decided to postpone it. It is public knowledge that postponement of trials of dissidents is nothing unusual. In this case, the court did not make public the reasons for its decision, nor did it set a new trial date.121

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Conflict Escalation in Cuba and Venezuela: Nonviolent dynamics and a call to action

"We have not chosen the path of peace as a tactic, but because it is inseparable from the goal for which our people are striving. Experience teaches us that violence begets more violence and that when political change is brought about by such means, new forms of oppression and injustice arise. It is our wish that violence and force should never be used as ways of overcoming crises or toppling unjust governments." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Strasbourg, France December 17, 2002

640 days ago civic nonviolent leaders Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero were killed under extremely suspicious circumstances on July 22, 2012 in Cuba. Both men had led lives of nonviolent resistance to injustice. 

Geraldine Moreno
 60 days ago in Venezuela, Geraldine Moreno died from her injuries on February 22, 2014. She was 23 years old. She was shot in the head with buckshot on February 19, 2014. Today learned about, Orlando Lorenzo de Jesús Castellano Olivo. the latest Venezuelan youth to be shot in the head and killed.

14 of the 43 killed in anti-government protests since February 12
 Since February 12, 2014 43 have died during anti-government demonstrations and it has now been confirmed that at least some of the youth shot in the head, were shot by government agents.  The struggle in Cuba has been going on for more than 55 years and Venezuela's now for 15 years.  While reading Michael N. Nagler's new book, "The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action" read a passage that struck me with regards to the struggles now taking place in these two countries: 
"Conflicts escalate when they are not resolved, and if they are left untended they can rapidly get out of control." From the nonviolence point of view, the intensity of a conflict is not necessarily a question of how many guns or how many people are involved (the same metric would work for a quarrel between lovers as between nations); it is primarily about how far dehumanization has proceeded. If someone no longer listens to you, is calling you names or is labeling you, it’s probably too late for petitions. In terms of knowing how to respond, we can conveniently think of this escalation in three stages that call for distinct sets of responses. Let’s call these three stages Conflict Resolution, Satyagraha (active nonviolent resistance), and—hopefully this is rare, but it helps to know it exists—Ultimate Sacrifice (see Figure)."

In both countries the regimes in power call those who oppose them: worms, and fascists. Presently sectors of the political opposition in Venezuela have sat down to dialogue with a government whose leadership rejects the legitimacy of the opposition but uses the process for tactical purposes to slow the imposition of international sanctions for their systematic human rights violations. In Cuba, the opposition is not only not recognized but also illegal.

Unfortunately, the time for conflict resolution in both countries has long passed and in the case of Venezuela the democratic resistance is engaged in Satyagraha via mass demonstrations and many young people are also risking their lives continuing to march and protest the abuses and failures of the Maduro regime. In Cuba there has been a nonviolent opposition that for decades has engaged in projects and campaigns: both constructive and resisting the regime paying a high price and risking all. These oppressive regimes thrive on violence and hatred and seek to provoke it in both their supporters and opponents in a spiral of dehumanization that entrenches an unjust and exploitative system with deep structural violence.

How to confront it? With nonviolence, love and a coherent strategic vision that involves a constructive program as well as creative nonviolent resistance. More on that in a later entry. In the mean time people of good will can take two concrete actions.

Take Nonviolent Action on Cuba and Venezuela:

The families of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero are seeking an international investigation into their deaths to arrive at the truth of what happened and are gathering signatures in support of this. Signers thus far include the South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Amnesty International has a signature campaign underway calling on the Venezuelan government to investigate human rights abuses and prevent further human rights violations in the context of the ongoing protests.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Jesus, the most active resister, nonviolence and Venezuela

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." - Edmund Burke Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770

Procession of the Nazarene in Venezuela Ave. on April 16
 On Holy Thursday in Caracas Venezuelan students continued in their religious themed protests with a "Venezuelan Via Crucis" and attending a Mass for Peace officiated by Cardinal Jorge Urosa Sabino in the Caracas Cathedral. On Wednesday scores of Venezuelan youth marched through the streets of Venezuela "barefooted for the suffering of the country."

March of the barefoot for suffering Venezuela on April 16, 2014
 At the same time over twitter The King Center on the 93rd day of its 100 Days of Nonviolence campaign quoted Edmund Burke over twitter adding the affirmation "I will be nonviolent even if it is not easy."

Easter is a time for reflection, prayer, penance and celebration for Christians. According to the Christian tradition Holy Thursday is when Jesus Christ gathered his disciples for the last supper and later that same night in the Garden of Gethsemane he was betrayed by Judas and arrested.

Father John Dear offers two reflections on the significance of the events in the Garden of Gethsemane through the optics of the nonviolent Christ who is found in the Sermon on the Mount and in his reaction to Judas's betrayal and Peter's defense. As Judas handed him over to those who would take him to his death Jesus told him: "Friend, do what you have come for." When Peter attacked one of the servants of the high priest, who had come to arrest Jesus, cutting his ear off with a sword the Nazarene chastised him: "Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." Father Dear's insight that in the Garden for the first time in the scriptures the disciples engage in two acts of violence: Judas's betrayal and Peter's violent defense:
Under the cover of night, in the first act of violence by a disciple, Judas kisses Jesus and betrays him, and the soldiers move in for the arrest. In the second act of violence by a disciple of Jesus, Peter himself takes out a sword, strikes at a soldier, and cuts off his ear. Jesus will have none of it. "Put back your sword, for those who take up the sword will surely perish by the sword." These are the last words of Jesus to the church before he was executed, and it’s the first time they recognize the depth of his nonviolence. What do they do? They all run away.
Mohandas Gandhi regularly read the Sermon on the Mount and said "If I had to face only the Sermon on the Mount and my own interpretation of it, I should not hesitate to say, ‘O yes, I am a Christian.'  However, the behavior of many who call themselves Christians led to the following observation from the Indian independence leader: "It is a first class human tragedy that people of the earth who claim to believe in the message of Jesus, whom they describe as the Prince of Peace, show little of that belief in actual practice."

How many of us follow Christ's command to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us? When we say the Lord's prayer do we understand and internalize that "If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."

In a speech the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave in St. Augustine in 1964 he described both this kind of love and the impracticability of violence:     
 "Its difficult advice and in some quarters it isn't too popular to say it...Let us recognize that violence is not the answer. I must say to you tonight that violence is impractical...We have another method that is much more powerful and much more effective than the weapon of violence...Hate isn't our weapon either...I am not talking now about a weak love it would be nonsense for an oppressed people to love their oppressor in an affectionate sense I'm not talking about that too many people confuse the meaning of love when they go to criticizing the love ethic. ...I am talking about a love that is so strong that it becomes a demanding love. A love that is so strong that it organizes itself into a mass movement and says somehow I am my brothers keeper and he is so wrong that I am willing to suffer and die to get him right and to see that he is on the wrong road."
In 2011 a young Serb activist explained people power within a strategic framework but at the same time the attitude of this activist also speaks volumes. Nonviolent resistance is not easy because it transforms the natural outrage over injustice, tyranny and brutality into nonviolent power driven by love.

Today in places like Cuba and Venezuela courageous men and women are picking up their cross in the struggle for liberation and justice while at the same time rejecting hatred and embracing nonviolence.  True reconciliation is based on principles and justice if it is to be a real and lasting peace. Nonviolent resistance is the means to achieve it without committing new injustices.

Monday, April 14, 2014

New Boss Same As The Old Boss: Castroism's International Projection 1959 - 2014

Presented at the Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami on April 14, 2014
Fidel Castro lounging with war criminal Mengistu Haile Mariam, in Ethiopia in 1977
The dictatorship in Cuba has been in power for 55 years. Despite being an island just 90 miles south of the United States it has projected itself internationally to undermine democratic and international human rights standards over that time working through international institutions such as the UN Human Rights Council. 

In the 1960s the Castro regime organized meetings in Havana, Cuba gathering guerrillas and terrorists from around the world with a common aim to destabilize governments by means of armed struggle and terrorism was viewed as a legitimate tactic. They were called gatherings of the Tricontinental.

Many focus on the Castro regime’s involvement in Angola in the 1970s backing a Marxist regime in battles against anti-communist guerrillas and the South African regime but fail to mention another important incursion in Africa.  In Ethiopia the Castro regime backed Mengistu Haile Mariam with advice, troops and high level visits by both Fidel and Raul Castro.  War crimes such as a provoked famine and the targeting of ideologically suspect children for mass killings led to downplaying the role of the Castro regime in the whole affair.  

In the 1970s in addition to supporting guerrillas and terrorists the Castro regime also began an unusual relationship with the military dictatorship in Argentina helping to block efforts to condemn it at the United Nations Human Rights Commission for thousands of leftists disappeared by the regime.

Fidel Castro conversing with Argentine military dictator and ally
 Reynaldo Benito Antonio Bignone Ramayón, brutal military dictator of Argentina between 1982 and 1983 (in the picture above with Fidel Castro). On April 20, 2010, the Argentine despot was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the kidnapping, torture, and murder of 56 people in a concentration camp.

In 1979 the Castro regime found success with the ouster of the Somoza regime and the entrance of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas into Nicaragua. In the early 1980s Cubans had made inroads into Grenada in the Caribbean.

By the late 1980s with the collapse of their main subsidizer, the Soviet Union, and the Warsaw Pact the Castro regime was temporarily on the defensive. For the first time since 1959 they felt forced to allow the International Red Cross to visit prisons, allowed Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to enter Cuba in a formal visit as well as the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

The Castro regime had been one of the few voices applauding the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre in China congratulating them for "defeating the counterrevolutionary acts.".

These trends would change dramatically by the end of the 1990s with the warming relations with Mainland China throughout the 1990s and the arrival of Hugo Chavez to power in Venezuela in 1999.

For sake of brevity will highlight here some of the outrages perpetrated by the Castro regime within the United Nations Human Rights Council.

On March 28, 2008 the Castro regime’s delegation together with the Organization of Islamic Congress (OIC) successfully passed resolutions undermining international freedom of expression standards at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The non-invitation invitation of Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, by the Cuban Ambassador and the Cuban Minister of Justice in January of 2009 to visit Cuba later that same year. Only to be put off without notice again and again through 2009 and 2010 leading to this expert missing opportunities to visit other countries and on June 9, 2010, making the following statement:
“I regret that in spite of its clear invitation, the Government of Cuba has not allowed me to objectively assess the situation of torture and ill-treatment in the country by collecting first-hand evidence from all available sources.”
On February 2, 2009 during the Universal Periodic Review of China the Cuban Ambassador, Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios encouraged the Chinese regime to repress human rights defenders in China with more firmness.

On May 28, 2009 amidst a human rights crisis in Sri Lanka the Cuban government's diplomats took the lead and successfully blocked efforts to address the wholesale slaughter there.

On August 23, 2011 the Cuban government along with China, Russia and Ecuador voted against investigating gross and systematic human rights violations in Syria.

On February 5, 2012 ALBA Countries reiterated rejection of "foreign interference" in Syria's internal affairs, expressing support for President Bashar al-Assad and confidence that he would resolve the Syrian crisis. ALBA Countries include Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. Meanwhile in Syria President al-Assad  engaged in massacres throughout the country

On June 1, 2012 at a Special Session on the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria with a special focus on the massacre in El-Houleh the Cuban regime and its allies took a stand against holding the Assad regime accountable for its gross and systematic human rights abuses.

Raul Castro with North Korea's Army Chief, General Kim Kyok-sik
On July 15, 2013: “Panama captured North Korean-flagged ship from Cuba with undeclared military cargo.”  On March 6, 2014 the United Nations released a report indicating that the Castro regime was in violation of international sanctions placed on North Korea and had not cooperated with the investigation.

On March 17, 2014 the UN Human Rights Council “was divided” in its discussion of the atrocities in North Korea between those who want the case to be elevated to the International Criminal Court and those who reject outright the existence of a commission of inquiry and conclusions. The Castro regime vigorously defended the North Korean regime and denounced the inquiry.

On March 21, 2014 at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Castro dictatorship again applauded the human rights record of the People's Republic of China, and voted to block the effort of human rights defenders to hold a moment of silence for Cao Shunli. She was an activist who had tried to participate in China’s Universal Periodic Review, but was detained at the airport trying to get on a flight to attend the current session  and accused of "picking quarrels and provoking troubles." Within three months in detention and being denied medical care Cao Shunli died on March 14, 2014.

On March 28, 2014 at the United Nations Human Rights Council a resolution for “The promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, tried to safeguard this right” passed but with the narrow defeat of amendments that would have watered it down led by South Africa with the backing of Algeria, Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Out of that list of countries the one with the closest relationship with South Africa is Cuba.  

Incidentally in the present crisis in Ukraine it is North Korea, Syria, and Cuba backing the Russian incursion into Crimea.

UN experts in the past justified the presence of outlaw regimes such as Cuba and North Korea in the UN Human Rights Council arguing that it would temper their behavior. Looking at the Cuban dictatorship’s track record and its successful undermining of international human rights standards one hopes that these experts will re-examine their assumptions.