Thursday, July 31, 2014

Harvard University Professor Jorge Dominguez lets the cat out of the bag on Cuba

Below is an example of the establishment delusion that chooses to ignore that the dictatorship in Cuba is an outlaw regime with a track record of international terrorism, nefarious alliances with pariah states such as North Korea, and its successful penetration of the highest levels of the U.S. intelligence establishment that contributed to the deaths of Americans. Not to mention holding a U.S. citizen, Alan Gross, hostage since December 2009. At the bottom of the post is a July 2010 appearance on the PBS NewsHour with Vanessa Lopez of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami.

Dr. Jorge Dominguez: U.S.-Cuban relations are just great.
A CNN GPS intern Kevin O’Donnell interviewed Jorge Dominguez, professor of Mexico studies at Harvard University, faculty associate of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and the author of numerous books on Cuba, about relations with the United States. Towards the end of the interview the Harvard professor reveals some dirty little secrets in U.S. - Cuba Relations:

 Cuban and U.S. militaries collaborate in Guantanamo
The other thing to bear in mind is that the U.S. has no particular incentive to do anything differently because, on the things the U.S. cares the most about, relations with Cuba are excellent. On the only land boundary between the U.S. and Cuba, which is around the U.S. base in Guantanamo, the two armies collaborate because the U.S. doesn’t want prisoners to get out and Cuba doesn’t want the prisoners to get in. So the two commanding officers meet at the border, salute each other, coordinate, and that’s fine.

Castro regime guards the Florida Straits preventing Cubans from fleeing the country
Similarly, on the Straits of Florida, the two coast guards collaborate because Cuba doesn’t want the kind of massive undocumented immigration of the sort that brought down the East German communist government, and the U.S. doesn’t want massive undocumented entry from Cuba. If you think about that idea, it means the U.S. has a stake in the continuation of an authoritarian regime in Cuba, because no future Cuban political regime will have the will and the capacity to cooperate with the United States to prevent Cuban people from leaving.* The Mexican government certainly doesn’t do it, and nobody else does it.

Agricultural trade loophole
So the U.S. gets what it wants, the Cuban government gets what it wants. Even with regard to trade there’s a gigantic loophole that allows western states to export agricultural products to Cuba – and Cuba pays cash. No other country does that. So as long as you don’t believe the words about regime change, U.S.-Cuban relations are just great.

*Some examples of how the Cuban government treats "undocumented immigrants" have been documented and reported on such as the "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre and the use of grenades on swimmers trying to reach the Guantanamo Naval base.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How the ANC's armed struggle prolonged Apartheid in South Africa

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

It was the United Democratic Front and Nonviolence that ended Apartheid
Michael Nagler on page 43 of his important book "The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action" offers the following analysis of the decision to embrace violence in South Africa and its consequences:
“When sixty peaceful demonstrators were shot dead at Sharpeville, South Africa, in 1960, the African National Congress leaders decided that nonviolence was not enough to overcome the apartheid regime. They subsequently lost nearly thirty years trying to fight the regime with acts of violence before Nelson Mandela was released from prison and they regained their nonviolent momentum.”
It was not the African National Congress and the armed struggle that brought the Apartheid regime to the negotiating table but the United Democratic Front (UDF) and mass civic nonviolent action combined with international sanctions

Let me be clear that I've been to South Africa and met with members of the African National Congress (ANC) and engaged some of them in civil discussions on the nature of the Castro regime and found differences of opinions within the ranks. However, the open letter by the ANC to the Cuban Communist Party released last week that re-writes South African history and the end of Apartheid ignoring that it was the nonviolent struggle that freed Nelson Mandela and brought the racist regime to the negotiating table raises great concerns. Mandela's greatness, in my opinion, is that he presided over a nonviolent transition and left office after serving out a full term as president following a free election.

Unfortunately, the legacy of violence that did not succeed in defeating Apartheid may in the end destroy South African democracy by embracing a legacy of bloody violence and a regime such as the one that exists in Cuba.  In the long run violence leads to more misery and disorder.

Civic resistance actions ended Apartheid in South Africa
Sadly, the glorification of violence is not a phenomenon unique to South Africa. Embracing violence while ignoring or trivializing successful nonviolent actions is all too common a practice around the world. In a twitter exchange with professor Cynthia Boaz on October 11, 2011 when I asked her about this she replied that these were:  "Meta frames, i.e. deeply-held hardened beliefs about perceived efficacy of violence & the misconception that violence = power."Continuing the discussion I asked her how one could go about breaking down these "meta frames" and her response was that she didn't have an answer although her opinion was "that it requires truly grasping the power of nonviolent action by engaging in it."

At the same time that doing trumps talking when breaking through the meta-frames having access to the history of what actually took place is also helpful. In the case of the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa the people who led the non-violent resistance are still around and telling their story. Let us listen to them and their courageous victories for freedom. One of these leaders is Mkhuseli Jack who is recognized by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory as a key figure in dismantling Apartheid can be heard below.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Maleconazo: A rumor of freedom that shook the Castro dictatorship

"We now know that any method or model which purportedly aims to achieve justice, development, and efficiency but takes precedence over the individual or cancels out any of the fundamental rights leads to a form of oppression, to exclusion and is calamitous for the people." - Oswaldo Paya, Strasbourg, December 17, 2002

Near the Havana Sea Wall on August 5, 1994
Cubans have been fleeing the dictatorship in Havana for decades, but there is one episode that stands out that shook the Castro regime to its very core. It has become known as the Maleconazo. Less than a month after the "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre of July 13, 1994 a thousand Cubans were marching and shouting for freedom. On that same night as the uprising, Fidel Castro, was re-framing the circumstances surrounding the attack and sinking of the tugboat that claimed the lives of 37 men, women and children. The following account is taken and translated from the Spanish newspaper ABC and from testimony by "13 de Marzo" tugboat survivor Sergio Perodin.

What happened? 
500 Cubans gathered on August 5, 1994 on the pier "de la Luz", to take the launch that goes to Regla and Casablanca because there was a rumor that it would again be diverted to Florida. It was a rumor of a path to freedom that these 500 people had seized upon. 

Cubans marching and shouting for freedom on August 5, 1994

Military trucks arrived and announced the suspension of the launches departure and dispersed the crowd.  People walking along the Malecón (The Havana Sea Wall)  joined the dispersed crowd and gathered near the  Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Castle of the Royal Force). A thousand Cubans began to march shouting Freedom through the streets of Havana. 

That 500 Cubans would gather to flee the island is not a new phenomenon but that another 500 would join them  to march and call for freedom was something new and an unexpected development for the security services.

After marching for a kilometer, a hundred Special Brigade members and plain clothes police confronted the protesters.
Plainclothes regime agent aiming his gun at protesters August 5
The demonstrators dispersed into the neighborhood of Central Havana, burning rubbish bins, smashing the windows of the dollar stores and clashing with the police with stones and sticks. Regime agents responded with physical beat downs, several gun shots and their own mobilization of repressive actors.

That same day Fidel Castro took to the official airwaves and as usual blamed the dictatorship's problems on the United States but had to address the event that took place on July 13, 1994 saying:
 " [the United States] wants at all costs to undermine the country's economic effort, as part of its overall plan to destroy the Revolution.  Radio broadcasts, subversive propaganda, all of this is spearheaded from outside and is encouraged abroad.  But, to be sure, this concrete fact--this phenomenon--has been much more clearly in evidence in recent weeks, starting with the accident involving the tug '13 de Marzo'.  I believe that one of the most infamous and most grossly cynical acts of the United States Government occurred because of this accident."
An exhaustive investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the events of the attack and sinking of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat on July 13, 1994 found that "[t]he evidence clearly shows that the sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo" was not an accident but rather a premeditated, intentional act," and held the Cuban State responsible for violating the right to life of all those killed that day aboard the tugboat. 

The beginning of the massacre had been witnessed from the Malecón and according to one of the survivors, Sergio Perodin: "People in Havana Malecon (a popular seafront place), couples, fishermen, began to shout asking the Polargo's crew not to sink us." 

Twenty three days later 1,000 Cubans were marching through the streets of Havana and clashing with regime officials and Fidel Castro was trying to justify the events surrounding the "13 de Marzo" tugboat sinking portraying the perpetrators of the massacre as heroes and defaming the victims.
ABC newspaper in Spain outlines what happened on August 5, 1994
Mass arrests followed and on Saturday, August 6, 1994 the Malecón and various Central Havana streets were closed off. Communist youth patrolled the streets. Several police officers and demonstrators hurt during the protests were hospitalized.  

It appears that what had started provoked by a rumor of freedom frustrated by repressive forces then combined with outrage from the previous month's massacre of innocents turned into a popular protest that initially caught the Castro regime by surprise. For the first time in 35 years a mass popular protest was able to sustain itself long enough to be reported on by international media before it was crushed by the regime's repressive actors.

Two decades later and the Maleconazo is still remembered in the popular consciousness of Cubans. The Cuban punk rock group, Porno para Ricardo named a song and album after the protests. Below is a video the banned group produced for the 18th anniversary of the August 5th uprising in Cuba.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What Fidel Castro and the ANC don't want you to know about Cuba and South Africa

"Cuba is the sea of happiness. Towards there goes Venezuela. " - Hugo Chavez,  March 8, 2000

Open Letter from the ANC to the Communist Party of Cuba
Voice of America is reporting that South Africa has launched a campaign against US sanctions on Cuba. Reasonable people can disagree on the wisdom of sanctions and also taking into account the South African government's close relations with Cuba the position is not at all surprising and should not be a shock. Nevertheless, the call to release the remaining Cuban spies serving sentences for past crimes in the United States should give one pause. The misnamed "Cuban Solidarity Campaign" seeks to support the Castro regime. Finally what raised concerns about the future of South African democracy is an "Open letter from the African National Congress (ANC) to the Communist Party of Cuba" written by Gwede Mantashe and published on July 25, 2014 that not only celebrates the Cuban Communist Party but its guiding hand in shaping South African democracy while also quoting Lenin:
"In our quest to strengthen and consolidate our democracy, we still rely on the PCC`s willingness and ability to hold our hand against all odds. The ANC will continue to work closely with your party collaborating in all aspects of development and peace. As Vladimir I Lenin stated, 'taking power is easy the challenge is keeping it.' Demands on our 20-year-old democracy are many and varied. The glaring inequality and abject poverty of the majority of South Africans did not come in 1994. This is the legacy of centuries of oppression and deprivation."
However, ideas have consequences as does the belief that "it can't happen here." For example in Venezuela, under a flawed democracy, many thought that Hugo Chavez would shake things up but that it was impossible for the country of Bolivar to follow the path of Cuba under the Castro brothers. Despite the claims of President Chavez that this was precisely where he wanted to take the country. Fourteen years later and with a heavy Cuban presence involved in the repression of Venezuelans and the rule of law obliterated; opinions have changed. Many Venezuelans are risking their lives and freedoms to restore the rule of law, basic freedoms, and ending the rising violence in society. 

Glorifying a false and violent narrative
Michael N. Nagler, in the Six Principles of Nonviolence observes that: "Violence sometimes 'works,' that is, forces a particular change, but in the long run leads to more misery and disorder." In the case of South Africa the decision of the African National Congress to adopt violence as a means to end Apartheid in 1961 may in fact have prolonged the life of the racist regime by decades.  However, in the open letter by the African National Congress a different and self-serving narrative is constructed:
"We do not forget the great battle of Cuito Canavale where the myth of the invincibility of the might of racist South Africa was shuttered once and for all. The military skills of the cadres of both SWAPO and ANC trained by the Cubans sent the racists packing. The "Stalin Organ" or Katusha was so devastating it sent them running helter skelter all over the place. The South African Defense Force (SADF) was forced out and had to face the nation - albeit the white minority - to explain the body bags to parents and loved ones of the young men who had fallen illegally outside the borders of their country. Their grip on illegally occupied Namibia slipped away and the way was paved for the liberation of South Africa. The ANC was absolved by history as the unrelenting force for liberation and peace."
For the record both sides claimed victory in the above mentioned battle. What is disturbing is that the open letter uses the same language of being "absolved" while referencing another act of violence that took place in Cuba in 1953:
"We particularly wish to acknowledge this friendship of progressive forces in this month of July, which marks the 61st Anniversary of the raid on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, a campaign that is to the Cuban revolution what the sabotage campaign was to the ANC in the 1960`s at the beginning of the armed struggle against apartheid. We actually have one of our Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK) detachments named the Moncada Detachment. This is after throngs of young people especially students from all over South Africa joined the ANC and MK to fight the scourge in our country that was condemned as a crime against humanity by the United Nations. The friendship between the CPC and the ANC is not accidental. ... We are working very hard to educate our people about this bond and the trials and tribulations of the Cuban revolution. In a tradition began by the likes of Jose Marti, our brother and comrade Fidel Castro and members of the PCC managed to lead Cuba to freedom. From as early as 1962, despite difficulties created by the imperialist forces, Cuba offered South Africans much needed military and academic training."

The Nonviolent Campaign that ended Apartheid
The narrative laid out by the African National Congress glorifies violence but does not reflect what happened. One thing remains clear the ANC's goal of lifting economic sanctions on the Castro regime is to ensure that the Cuban Communist Party thrive and remain in power in Cuba.  The argument made by some, that engaging the Castro government with trade, investment and political recognition will lead to a democratic transition, was repudiated when made with regards to the South African Apartheid regime. For example consider the following statement by Immanuel Wallerstein, co-chairman of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars in 1977:
"Astonishingly, it is argued that strengthening the economic basis of the white apartheid regime will in fact bring change. This is nonsense, and those who speak it know it ... Continued American investment in South Africa in any form is continued American support for the regime in power. Those who wish to support change in South Africa have only two ways to do it: (1) active assistance to the liberation movement; (2) a call for United States economic disinvestment and political disengagement from the present South African state. The rest is sophistry."
Despite the current propaganda offensive, inside South Africa it was not the ANC and the armed struggle that brought the Apartheid regime to the negotiating table but the United Democratic Front (UDF). ANC and Castro apologists have generated a so-called secret history that is propaganda that has successfully glorified a failed violent struggle as successful. What is often overlooked is the real history of how the Apartheid regime was brought to an end. This is the history of the UDF and the successful nonviolent struggle it carried out that is documented in A Force More Powerful:
 In the city of Port Elizabeth, Mkhuseli Jack, a charismatic 27-year-old youth leader, understands that violence is no match for the state's awesome arsenal. Jack stresses the primacy of cohesion and coordination, forming street committees and recruiting neighborhood leaders to represent their interests and settle disputes. Nationally, a fledgling umbrella party, the United Democratic Front (UDF), asserts itself through a series of low-key acts of defiance, such as rent boycotts, labor strikes, and school stay aways.
Advocating nonviolent action appeals to black parents who are tired of chaos in their neighborhoods. The blacks of Port Elizabeth agree to launch an economic boycott of the city's white-owned businesses. Extending the struggle to the white community is a calculated maneuver designed to sensitize white citizens to the blacks' suffering. Beneath their appeal to conscience, the blacks' underlying message is that businesses cannot operate against a backdrop of societal chaos and instability.
Confronted by this and other resistance in the country, the government declares a state of emergency, the intent of which is to splinter black leadership through arbitrary arrests and curfews. Jack and his compatriots, however, receive an entirely different message: the country is fast becoming ungovernable. Apartheid has been cracked.
Undaunted by government reprisals, the UDF continues to press its demands, particularly for the removal of security forces and the release of jailed African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela. White retailers, whose business districts have become moribund, demand an end to the stalemate. The movement also succeeds in turning world opinion against apartheid, and more sanctions are imposed on South Africa as foreign corporations begin to pull out many investments. In June 1986, the South African government declares a second state of emergency to repress the mass action that has paralyzed the regime.
End of the Cold War coincides with End of Apartheid
If further proof were needed that the violence and militarism of the African National Congress (ANC) and Castro's troops did not achieve change in South Africa then one need only consider that negotiations to end Apartheid began in 1990 after the collapse of the East Bloc and ended in 1991 the year the Soviet Union ended. The ANC no longer had the weapons and financial support provided by the Castro regime and Soviets from the 1960s into the early 1980s. There are those in South Africa who in 1989 mourned the passing of the Berlin Wall but if not for the end of the Cold War things may not have changed. Paul Trewhela in politicsweb offered the following analysis:
On 9 November 1989, twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall cracked open, the Cold War in Europe came to an end, the Soviet empire tottered to its grave and the ANC military option lost whatever teeth it might have had. The military/security state erected by the National Party never lost a centimeter squared of its soil. Umkhonto weSizwe, the military wing of the ANC and the South African Communist Party, never won a centimeter squared of soil. True, the repeated mass mobilizations and popular uprisings within South Africa through the Seventies and the Eighties placed a colossal strain upon the regime, and, true, the economic strain upon the state - especially in conditions of attrition exercised against it by the US banking system - placed it under further serious pressures. Nevertheless, honest accounting must say that, given the continuation of the Cold War system in Africa, this nuclear-armed state at its southern tip was nowhere near collapse.
The international situation that undermined the ANC's armed struggle combined with the successful nonviolent campaigns of the United Democratic Front (UDF) facilitated the end of Apartheid in South Africa. This is because in South Africa there was a far older tradition of nonviolence going back to 1893 - 1914 with Mohandas Gandhi's experiments with nonviolence in South Africa. It was in South Africa on September 11, 1906 that the word Satyagraha came into existence. In the same way that in Cuba there are dueling legacies one violent; one nonviolent the same holds true in South Africa. It is this legacy of nonviolence that has endured and gives hope for the future unfortunately abandoning it and embracing the false and violent narrative of Castroism is a recipe for endangering South African democracy. Under the Castro regime, nonviolent Cuban opposition leaders, such as  Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante have been killed under suspicious circumstances reminiscent of what was done to Steven Biko during the Apartheid regime.

Castroism's corrosive impact on democracy
Replicating the Cuban model in Venezuela has not brought the South American country into a sea of happiness the rule of law, free speech, and freedom of association have been decimated and violence has exploded in the country making it one of the most dangerous places on the planet. In Africa Cuban involvement in Ethiopia led to mass murder and war crimes bordering on genocide. In Cuba opposition leaders such as The obvious question that presents itself is what are the consequences presently of the ANC's embrace of the Cuban Communist Party to "hold [their] hands against all odds."

Amnesty International has been reporting that human rights defenders are being harassed and improper pressure is being placed on institutions, including the Office of the Public Protector and senior prosecutors. Freedom of expression is under threat in South Africa and laws have been passed restricting the rights of journalists. In 2013 the Index on Censorship made the following observation: "the past five years have seen worrying moves against free expression. These range from verbal threats to legislative measures to the irregular arrest of a journalist." On May 30, 2014 the Committee to Protect Journalists reported on another structural threat to a free press in South Africa: "Freedom of expression advocates in South Africa are concerned that the new Ministry of Communications, announced by President Jacob Zuma when he unveiled his cabinet on May 25, will compromise the independence of the public broadcaster and serve as a propaganda office."

The takeover of the media by the government and the ruling party while restricting freedoms of the press and of expression is an important step on the road to taking on Castroism's totalitarian model. Thankfully, in South Africa there is a vigorous civil society resisting these moves, but the fact that the ruling party sees in the Communist Party of Cuba an example to follow should be of great concern to democrats and human rights defenders.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Show trial underway in Venezuela: Leopoldo López and Venezuelan Students targeted

"I'd rather explain to my children why I am a prisoner, than to explain to them why they have NO COUNTRY." - Leopoldo López Mendoza on June 2, 2014

Free Leopoldo and Free the Students

Merriam-Webster has two definitions for a show trial
: a trial in a court of law in which the verdict has been decided in advance.
: a trial (as of political opponents) in which the verdict is rigged and a public confession is often extracted 

Opposition leader Leopoldo López and four students:  Marco Coello, Christian Holdack, Demian Martín, and Ángel González are being subjected to a political show trial. The verdict has been decided in advance and can only be altered by political considerations due to changing circumstances that impact the executive branch. Judicial independence and the rule of law are non-existent in Venezuela. This "trial" is an exercise in power politics and public relations.

However in this rigged trial a confession has not been extracted. At the end of the hearing today Leopoldo López reiterated that he did not have confidence in the judiciary and that he "is kidnapped" and petitioned for the students to be freed. Leopoldo went on to say "It is a political trial because on at least 16 occasions Maduro threatened me that I had to go to prison and February 12 was only an excuse."

Marco Coello, 18 year old college student jailed since February 12, 2014
 The show trial began today, July 23, 2014, and Marco Coello an 18 year old undergraduate student detained since February 12, 2014 who should never have been arrested was granted a conditional release today. He must return to face trial with Leopoldo Lopez and three other students on August 6 when the trial reconvenes. For example Christian Holdack, a 34 year old computer technician and design student has also been jailed since February 12, 2014 and was not granted conditional release and is a prisoner of conscience.

Christian Holdack, a 34 year old design student jailed since February 12, 2014
 Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas division for New York-based Human Rights Watch, which has produced reports on Venezuela's judicial system told the Wall Street Journal:
"It's hard to imagine how Lopez could possibly get a fair trial from a justice system that lacks any real independence. After keeping him locked up for months without providing credible evidence to justify his detention, the judiciary is now refusing to let his attorneys present evidence in his defense."
The obvious question that arises: What would happen to the presiding judge,  Judge Susana Barrientos, in this case if she exercised judicial independence and tried the case fairly? 
Judge María Lourdes Afiuni jailed on December 10, 2009
The case of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni provides a chilling answer for members of the judiciary. Judge Afiuni ruled that a near three year pretrial detention ran afoul of the two year limit prescribed in Venezuelan law and authorized the conditional liberty of Eligio Cedeño, a banker accused of corruption on December 10, 2009.  The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions had already declared Cedeño's detention arbitrary. The judge was detained that same day, ironically on human rights day, and jailed. 
Prisoner of conscience: Judge María Lourdes Afiuni.
 The next day President Hugo Chávez called the Judge a "bandit"who should be imprisoned for thirty years. Days later Chávez reaffirmed that Judge Afiuni was "correctly jailed" and advocated that she be sentenced to 35 years in prison. She was charged by prosecutors in January of 2010 with "corruption, abuse of authority, and “favoring evasion of justice.” Prosecutors provided no credible evidence to substantiate the charges." She was held for over a year in prison during which "Judge Afiuni was raped and suffered physical and psychological violence, including death threats from other inmates." She was then transferred to house arrest. In June of 2013, Judge Afiuni was released on bail, while her trial, which began in 2012, continues. 

Free the Caracas Six: Unjustly deprived of their freedom
 The bottom line is that judges will do as they are told or will suffer grave consequences if they choose to follow the law. Whatever small vestiges of judicial independence there were in Venezuela died with the imprisonment and rape of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni.  To save Leopoldo López Mendoza,Marco Coello, Christian Holdack, Demian Martín, Ángel González and the scores of other prisoners of conscience in Venezuela will necessitate national and international campaigns on their behalf to shift the political calculations of the regime in Venezuela. Despite the loud claims of the Maduro regime, the present government in Venezuela is not a democracy. Leopoldo López Mendoza at his June 2, 2014 hearing: "Only in dictatorship is it a crime to say there is insecurity, shortages and thousands of reasons to protest."

Sairam Rivas is a 20 year old college student at UCV jailed since May 8, 2014
Only in a dictatorship are the murderers of nonviolent student demonstrators allowed to walk free and nonviolent protesters jailed for six months and counting. On March 23, 2014 Adriana Urquiola was shot twice and killed. She was 5 months pregnant. Three months later and her killer remains free. Seven of the eight accused of murdering Bassil da Costa on February 12, 2014 will be judged in freedom.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero and the arc of the moral universe

"I have not lost faith. I'm not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven't lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." - Martin Luther King Jr., Ebenezer Baptist Church April 30, 1967

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante
Two extrajudicial killings on July 22, 2012
Today marks two years since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante were last seen alive before a car crash at 1:50pm Eastern Standard Time on July 22, 2012 on  a Sunday afternoon involving a second vehicle driven by Cuban state security. The moment that I learned what happened is burned into my memory as if it had just happened.  Over the past two years the Payá family and members of the Christian Liberation Movement have sought through all channels available to push for an international investigation into the deaths of these two activists.

The Washington Post editorial board on the eve of the two year anniversary published what is now known publicly:
The car spun out of control after being rammed from behind by a vehicle bearing state license plates, according to Mr. Carromero. While he and the associate from Sweden survived, Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero were killed. Mr. Carromero says he was then coerced to confess and subjected to a rigged trial in order to cover up what really happened. Mr. Carromero’s videotaped “confession,” broadcast on television, was forced upon him; he was told to read from cards written by the state security officers. He was sentenced to four years in prison for vehicular homicide and later released to return to Spain to serve out his term.
The cover up of this extrajudicial killing carried out by the Cuban state security service has crumbled and eventually a regional or international human rights body will produce a credible and independent report on the events that transpired on July 22, 2012 and hold the Cuban government responsible.  The facts surrounding what happened is in the public domain. It is only a matter of time before it is legally analyzed and judged on the merits. Respected international leaders, Nobel prize winners Desmond Tutu and Lech Walesa among them, have called for an international investigation.

It won't be the first time. 

"13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre investigated
Nine days ago the world marked twenty years since the attack and sinking of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat on July 13, 1994 that claimed 37 lives.  There was an investigation on the merits. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in a report released on October 16, 1996 concluded that what transpired that early morning “was not an accident but rather a premeditated, intentional act” by agents of the Cuban government and held the Cuban State responsible for violating the right to life of the 37 people who were shipwrecked and perished as a result of the sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo", which events occurred seven miles off the Cuban coast on July 13, 1994. 

Nevertheless two decades later the men responsible, despite being identified, have not been held accountable in a court of law.

Brothers to the Rescue shoot down investigated
Three years later the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on September 29, 1999 released a report on the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down concluding that: " Cuba is responsible for violating the right to life (Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man) to the detriment of Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre, who died as a result of the direct actions of its agents on the afternoon of 24 February 1996 while flying through international airspace." The Cuban state lost a civil judgement to the families of the victims in the U.S. courts and a Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez arrested in 1998 was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder for his role in the shoot down. 

Nevertheless the men who gave the orders and pressed the trigger that blew to civilian planes out of the sky have yet to be held accountable in a court of law 18 years later.

Paying homage and remembering
In the mean time Cubans and friends of freedom from around the world are remembering the legacy of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante. Masses are being organized in Havana, Madrid and Miami to give thanks for their lives and a nonviolent legacy that continues to demonstrate that love is stronger than hate.  Across social media people of goodwill are making the sign of Liberation and displaying two candles in memory of Oswaldo and Harold. 
Image taken from the Christian Liberation Movement

Impunity breeds more violence
Despite the harassment and death threats against the Payá family that forced them to seek refuge in exile and rising repression, including machete attacks, against members of the Christian Liberation Movement - the movement has continued on the island to carry on Oswaldo's legacy of nonviolent resistance. The Payá family and the Christian Liberation Movement in the diaspora have continued together to support their counterparts in Cuba and lead the struggle for justice for Oswaldo and Harold.

Justice delayed but achieved is still justice
 It is said that justice delayed is justice denied and where a statue of limitations is involved that may be true, but when it comes to murder only a few countries such as Colombia and until recently Japan have an end date to pursue murderers. Cuba does not have such a provision. Breaking the cycle of impunity with justice is itself a good that can also reduce violence.

In the case of the Czech Republic one of the most notorious cases that of  Milada Horakova who was hanged with three others in Prague’s Pankrac Prison as a spy and traitor to the Communist Czechoslovakian government on June 27, 1950 following a show trial, saw the prosecutor who presided over it placed on trial for murder 57 years later, found guilty and jailed in a fair trial. 

The arc of the moral universe
Reverend King is right "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." History has already condemned these crimes and it is highly probable that a court of justice will eventually do so as well. Keep the faith, do not despair, and continue to show your solidarity with victims of repression.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Oswaldo's and Harold's Nonviolent Legacy in Cuba: Demonstrating Love is Stronger than Hate

“The people will follow me in life, worship me in death but not make my cause their cause.” - Mohandas Gandhi, taken from Gandhi's poignant legacy
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante

Marking two years since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were physically taken from their families, friends and country presents an opportunity to reflect on their lives and the nonviolent example that they leave behind and the cause for which they gave their lives. Oswaldo's widow, Ofelia Acevedo on what would have been the Cuban opposition leader's 61st birthday addressed this legacy in an essay titled Fellowship of Truth:
"Oswaldo and Harold are no longer physically with us, and I remember now those words Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero prophetically uttered one day, knowing he was threatened with death: I will resurrect in the people. The same will happen here sooner rather than later. They and others who generously have lost their lives in this struggle for rights and democracy for Cuba, will be resurrected in her people. But his message of love is alive."
This nonviolent legacy continues on in Cuba and offers a hopeful vision of the future. Oswaldo outlined it in a 1990 Christmas Message from the Christian Liberation Movement:
"The rifles will be buried face down, the words of hatred will vanish in the heart without reaching the lips. We'll go out into the street and all of us will see in the other a brother, let us look to the future with the peace of he that knows that he forgave and he that has been forgiven. Let there be no blood to clean or dead to bury, the shadow of fear and of catastrophe will give way to the reconciliatory light, and Cuba will be reborn in every heart, in a miracle of love made by God and us." 
In January of 2014 following a brief interview Ofelia Acevedo pulled out a copy of this message and read it to me demonstrating its continued relevance to the Payá family. Both Oswaldo and Harold understood the risks and sacrifices in undertaking this struggle. Harold Cepero summed it up in concrete terms in 2012, the same year he was killed: 
"Christians and non-Christians who have the courage and the freedom to consider the peaceful political option for their lives, know they are exposing themselves to slightly less than absolute solitude, to work exclusion, to persecution, to prison or death." 
Presently in Cuba there are dueling legacies that run throughout Cuban history one is profoundly violent and embodied in the current political system and another one which is nonviolent and is a deep current that runs through the culture but not nearly as high profile. The nonviolent legacy that Harold and Oswaldo shared revolves around two key ideas:
• We are not against other people, only what they are doing. 
• Means are ends in the making; nothing good can finally result from violence .
On December 17, 2002 in Strasbourg, France receiving the Sakharov Prize from the European Union Oswaldo explained what motivated the choice to embark on a nonviolent struggle:
"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."
Currently, there is a debate underway both in Cuba and in the diaspora of how best to confront the dictatorship. There is a general consensus that the struggle must be nonviolent but on the issues of strategy there are differences, which within a democratic movement is only natural. 

 However, taking into consideration the history of the ongoing struggle in Cuba and the dynamics of nonviolent resistance a number of considerations should be taken into account when formulating a strategic vision.  While reading Michael N. Nagler's new book, "The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action"  a passage that struck me with regards to the struggle now taking place in Cuba is critical to seeing where things stand: 

"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.
Conflict resolution works if when you register a complaint the other side listens to you and although not sympathetic to you, recognizes your shared humanity. The next stage, active nonviolent resistance, is necessary when one can not reach one's adversary through reason, and involves taking on suffering: civil disobedience, strikes, standing up to physical abuse, and the full gamut of nonviolent tactics.  Unfortunately, in the Cuban scenario the conflict has escalated to the level of "ultimate sacrifice." The Castro regime labels opponents as worms (gusanos) and mercenaries refusing to except the existence of opposition parties as a matter of law and fact.  

Both Oswaldo and Harold understood this and did not back down, because "if we cannot live with an injustice, we can risk our lives to correct it." The cause that both these men have laid out to followers and adversaries alike is that love is stronger than hate and in the end will triumph over violence and lies. It is a cause worth fighting for using the nonviolent tactics and moral principles they lived by.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Light two candles and make the sign of liberation for Oswaldo and Harold

Hope is credited for every candle lit for our HEROES. - Christian Liberation Movement
Regis Iglesias issues a call to honor Oswaldo and Harold
 In just four days it will be two years since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante were killed in Cuba. Masses in their memory will be held in Cuba, Spain and the United States on July 22, 2014.  The Christian Liberation Movement is calling for friends of the movement to remember the two martyred human rights defenders in an online campaign taking photos with two candles lit while making the sign of Liberation as in the picture above:
"We ask all of our Cuban friends and friends of the world to join us in remembering Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero between now and next July 22 taking pictures with two candles and the sign of Liberation, the sign of the Freedom of Cuba, for which they generously gave their lives." - Regis Iglesias Ramirez, Christian Liberation Movement spokesperson in Europe, over Facebook
Remembering Oswaldo and Harold

Thursday, July 17, 2014

AMIA: 20 years later still no justice for victims of terrorist attack that killed 85 people

20 years of impunity in Argentina
AMIA cultural center bombed in Buenos Aires in 1994
Within the span of a week in July of 1994 two acts of terrorism murdered more than 122 Latin Americans. Thirty seven Cubans were murdered by agents of the Cuban government on July 13, 1994 in what amounted to an act of state terrorism and eighty five Argentinians, many but not all Jewish, in an act of terrorism carried out by Hezbollah  five days later on July 18, 1994. Over the past week much has been written about the victims of the "13 de Marzo" massacre but today on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association  (AMIA ) building in Buenos Aires the fact that justice has still not been achieved requires speaking out. 

What happened?
A siren sounded at the precise time the bomb exploded on July 18, 1994 at 9:53am (1253 GMT) and reduced the seven-story Jewish-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) community centre in Buenos Aires to rubble reported the BBC.

85 people were murdered ranging in age from 5 years old to 67 years old and more than 300 hundred wounded. 20 years later those responsible for this act of terrorism remain at large. A movement to pay homage to the victims of this crime continues to remember and demand justice two decades later.

Photos of AMIA victims

 The names of the 85 victims:
Silvana Alguea de Rodríguez, Jorge Antúnez, Moisés Gabriel Arazi, Carlos Avendaño Bobadilla, Yanina Averbuch, Naum Band, Sebastián Barreiros, David Barriga, Hugo Norberto Basiglio, Rebeca Violeta Behar de Jurín, Dora Belgorosky, Favio Enrique Bermúdez, Romina Ambar Luján Boland, Emiliano Gastón Brikman, Gabriel Buttini, Viviana Adela Casabé, Paola Sara Czyzewski, Jacobo Chemauel, Cristian Adrián Degtiar, Diego De Pirro, Ramón Nolberto Díaz, Norberto Ariel Dubin, Faiwel Dyjament, Mónica Feldman de Goldfeder, Alberto Fernández, Martín Figueroa, Ingrid Finkelchtein, Leonor Gutman de Finkelchtein, Fabián Marcelo Furman, Guillermo Benigno Galarraga, Erwin García Tenorio, José Enrique Ginsberg (Kuky), Cynthia Verónica Goldenberg, Andrea Judith Guterman, Silvia Leonor Hersalis, Carlos Hilú, Emilia Jakubiec de Lewczuk, María Luisa Jaworski, Analía Verónica Josch, Carla Andrea Josch, Elena Sofía Kastika, Esther Klin, León Gregorio Knorpel, Berta Kozuk de Losz, Luis Fernando Kupchik, Agustín Diego Lew, Jesús María Lourdes, Andrés Gustavo Malamud, Gregorio Melman, Ileana Mercovich, Naón Bernardo Mirochnik (Buby), Mónica Nudel, Elías Alberto Palti, Germán Parsons, Rosa Perelmuter, Fernando Roberto Pérez, Abraham Jaime Plaksin, Silvia Inés Portnoy, Olegario Ramírez, Noemí Graciela Reisfeld, Félix Roberto Roisman, Marisa Raquel Said, Ricardo Said, Rimar Salazar Mendoza, Fabián Schalit, Pablo Schalit, Mauricio Schiber, Néstor Américo Serena, Mirta Strier, Liliana Edith Szwimer, Naum Javier Tenenbaum, Juan Carlos Terranova, Emilia Graciela Berelejis de Toer, Mariela Toer, Marta Treibman, Angel Claudio Ubfal, Eugenio Vela Ramos, Juan Vela Ramos, Gustavo Daniel Velázquez, Isabel Victoria Núñez de Velázquez, Danilo Villaverde, Julia Susana Wolinski de Kreiman, Rita Worona, Adehemar Zárate Loayza.
Over the past twenty years much has been written about this crime and on the 20th anniversary interviews, articles and events have and will be carried out to recall that terrible day on July 18, 1994 and the need for truth and justice. Below is a playlist of videos related to the July 18, 1994 AMIA terror attacks.

 Please share this with others and join in remembering and demanding justice.

Where were you when you heard that Oswaldo Payá had been killed in Cuba?

"They have told me that they will kill me before this regime ends, but I will not flee." - Oswaldo Payá

On Sunday, July 22, 2012 at 1:50pm while near Bayamo in eastern Granma province of Cuba the incident provoked by State Security that ended the lives of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante was underway hundreds of miles away in Miami, FL I was sitting in a movie theater in Kendall getting ready to watch The Dark Knight Rises. Shortly around 6:00pm when I turned on my cell phone Orlando Gutierrez was calling to tell me that they had killed Oswaldo. I know several Oswaldo's so immediately asked him Oswaldo who? Payá he told me, and my heart sank. I sat down opened my laptop and blogged about it in an effort to deal with this horror.

Where were you on that terrible Sunday afternoon and when did you learn that they had killed Oswaldo and Harold?