Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Solidarity: Wear Yellow for Hong Kong and Carry an Umbrella

" People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists." - G.K. Chesterton, "Eugenics and Other Evils"

Protestors hold up their cellphones in a display of solidarity (AFP/Getty)
Today, in Hong Kong huge numbers of residents are taking to the streets in nonviolent protest because according to Yang Jianli, president of Initiative for China, Teng Biao, a human-rights lawyer, and Hu Jia , winner of the Sakharov Prize, "Beijing is reneging on the 'One Country Two Systems' principle laid out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 and the Basic Law, Hong Kong's constitution." The people of Hong Kong, according to the nongovernmental organization Human Rights in China "are rejecting the August 31, 2014 decision of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on the “selection” of the Chief Executive, which requires candidates to be endorsed by a majority of a Beijing-controlled nominating committee. In the face of threats and Beijing’s hardline stance, the students, supported by Hong Kong labor unions and the public, have resorted to civil disobedience—class boycotts and peaceful sit-ins—to press for meaningful universal suffrage."

Whats taking place in Hong Kong has some similarities to Venezuela ( and this has generated some confusion in a video that went viral). In both places totalitarians are tightening controls over a free people, who are rising up nonviolently in defense of their freedoms.

The Chinese dictatorship has responded threatening a crackdown on protesters and their exists the possibility of another Tiananmen Square like massacre but this time in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, big money interests and lobbyists for the Peoples Republic of China, such as Henry Kissinger are known to disregard human rights embracing the worse of regimes for narrow interests. Listen to the students who took part in a week long boycott of classes and were interviewed on September 22, 2014. No doubt many are now out in the mass demonstrations:

Twenty five years ago in June the international community turned its back on demonstrators in Beijing and following the slaughter continued business as usual led by the United States with the Chinese regime that had murdered thousands of its own citizens and jailed thousands more for nonviolently demonstrating for an end to corruption and democratic reforms. Economic interests trumped human rights. The legacy of the crackdown has been succinctly described by Human Rights in China:
In 1989, millions of democracy and labor activists and other citizens throughout China demanded reforms. The leaders responded with tanks and violence and then attempted to silence demands for political reform with the benefits of economic liberalization. What the Chinese people got are unsustainable and inequitable development, growing social conflicts, and massive environmental and human costs.
The movement in Hong Kong is nonviolent and international solidarity and support needs to be nonviolent in order to have a positive impact. Solidarity demonstrations are being held around the world in Delhi, Washington DCNew York City, and a college student, Heather Pickerell, has called on students to wear yellow in solidarity with demonstrators in Hong Kong on October 1st. More information is available on the campaign's facebook page and on tumblr.

Tomorrow I will be wearing yellow and carrying an umbrella in solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong. Hope to see you doing the same.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Another 3 business men jailed in Cuba under dubious circumstances

Why Western businessmen doing business with the Castro regime are on a fool's errand.
Automobile executive Cy Tokmakjian sentenced to 15 years prison in Cuba
On Saturday, September 28, 2014 the news came out that a Cuban court had sentenced Canadian executive Cy Tokmakjian to 15 years in prison on corruption charges. The sentence amounts to a life sentence. Cy Tokmakjian is currently 74 years old and has been jailed in Cuba since 2011. Two other executives from the Tokmakjian Group - Canadians Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche - were sentenced to eight and 12 years in prison.

The Tokmakjian Group, of which Cy was the chief executive officer (CEO) said the court had seized its assets in Cuba, worth about $100 million. The company went on to say that the entire process fell short of international due process standards:
"Lack of due process doesn't begin to describe the travesty of justice that is being suffered by foreign businessmen in Cuba."
This is not the first time that this has happened, and there is a systematic method to the Castro regime's madness. The judicial system in Cuba is not independent and is subject to the whims of the dictatorship under guidelines following a communist Soviet model. Human Rights Watch describes the reality of the Cuban legal system:
The Constitution of the Republic of Cuba explicitly states that the courts are "subordinate in the line of authority to the National Assembly... and the Council of State," a supreme executive branch body, and that the Council of State may issue the courts instructions. This structure robs Cuban courts of even the semblance of independence and impartiality.

British investor Stephen Purvis smiles on way to trial in Cuba
Since the rule of law does not exist in Cuba the question that arises is what is the political calculation for the dictatorship? British investor, Stephen Purvis, who was jailed for 15 months and who the Castro regime confiscated 17.3 million dollars of his company's assets in an August 2013 letter to The Economist explained what may be behind these arrests:
I spent time with a number of foreign businessmen arrested during 2011 and 2012 from a variety of countries, although representatives from Brazil, Venezuela and China were conspicuous in the absence. Very few of my fellow sufferers have been reported in the press and there are many more in the system than is widely known. As they are all still either waiting for charges, trial or sentencing they will certainly not be talking to the press. Whilst a few of them are being charged with corruption many are not and the accusations range from sabotage, damage to the economy, tax avoidance and illegal economic activity. It is absolutely clear that the war against corruption may be a convenient political banner to hide behind and one that foreign governments and press will support. But the reasons for actively and aggressively pursuing foreign business are far more complicated.  Why for example is the representative of Ericsson in jail for exactly the same activities as their Chinese competitor who is not? Why for example was one senior European engineer invited back to discuss a potential new project only to be arrested for paying technical workers five years ago when he was a temporary resident in Cuba?
A more fundamental question for investors in places like Cuba and North Korea is: "What were you thinking?" Cuba is a communist dictatorship and by definition communism argues for abolishing all private property, and claims that everything that is owned is owned by all members of society. In practice this means that it is "owned" by a governing elite and in the case of Cuba this means the Castro family and a small ruling clique overseeing a huge fortune.

If you want to experience human rights abuses in a communist prison then doing business in Cuba or North Korea is probably a good idea otherwise it seems to be a fool's errand.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

27th Human Rights Council session ends in victory for civil society

Some good news for a change. 

Ten successive hostile amendments to resolution protecting civil society were defeated by vote on the final day of the 27th Human Rights Council session. During the adoption of the resolution Germany highlighted the right to funding for civil societyThis was a defeat for the dictatorship in Cuba that sought to curtail civil society participation during the 27th session itself with two egregious examples in the general debate on item 3 and later the same day in the general debate on item 4.

Below is the text of the draft resolution protecting civil society that was adopted by consensus.

Human Rights Council
Twenty-seventh session
Agenda item 3
Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development

Argentina, Australia,* Belgium,* Benin, Botswana, Bulgaria,* Burkina Faso, Canada,* Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia,* Cyprus,* Czech Republic, Denmark,* Estonia, Finland,* France, Georgia,* Germany, Greece,* Guatemala,* Hungary,* Iceland,* Ireland, Israel,* Italy, Japan, Latvia,* Liechtenstein,* Lithuania,* Luxembourg,* Montenegro, Netherlands,* New Zealand,* Nigeria,* Norway,* Peru, Poland,* Portugal,* Romania, Senegal,* Sierra Leone, Slovakia,* Slovenia,* Spain,* Sweden,* Switzerland,* Tunisia,* Turkey,* United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay,* Yemen:* draft resolution

27/… Civil society space

The Human Rights Council,
Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,
Guided also by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the International Covenants on Human Rights, and all other relevant instruments,

Recalling the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,

Recalling also all Human Rights Council resolutions relevant to creating and maintaining civil society space, inter alia, resolutions 12/16 of 2 October 2009, on freedom of opinion and expression, 21/16 of 27 September 2012, on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, 22/6 of 21 March 2013, on protecting human rights defenders, 24/8 of 26 September 2013 on equal political participation, 24/21 of 27 September 2013 on civil society space: creating and maintaining, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment, 24/24 of 27 September 2013, on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, 25/38 of 28 March 2014, on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, and 26/13 of 26 June 2014 on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet,

Recognizing the important role of civil society at the local, national, regional and international levels, and that civil society facilitates the achievement of the purposes and principles of the United Nations,

Reaffirming that special emphasis should be given to measures to assist in the strengthening of a pluralistic civil society, including through the strengthening of the rule of law, social and economic development, the promotion of the right to freedom of expression, online and offline, including artistic expression and creativity, access to information, the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including the right and ability to solicit, receive and utilize resources, and the administration of justice, and to the real and effective participation of the people in the decision-making processes,

Recognizing the crucial importance of the active involvement of civil society, at all levels, in processes of governance and in promoting good governance, including through transparency and accountability, at all levels, which is indispensable for building peaceful, prosperous and democratic societies,

Recognizing also that creating and maintaining a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance and insecurity assists States in fulfilling their existing international human rights obligations and commitments, without which equality, accountability and the rule of law are severely weakened,

Mindful that domestic legal and administrative provisions and their application should facilitate, promote and protect an independent, diverse and pluralistic civil society, and in this regard strongly rejecting all threats, attacks, reprisals and acts of intimidation against civil society actors, and underscoring that States should investigate any such alleged acts, ensure accountability and effective remedies, and take steps to prevent any further such threats, attacks, reprisals or acts of intimidation,

Underscoring that the legal framework within which civil society operates is that of national legislation consistent with the Charter of the United Nations and international human rights law,

Deeply concerned that, in some instances, domestic legal and administrative provisions, such as national security and counter-terrorism legislation, and other measures, such as provisions on funding to civil society, have sought to or have been misused to hinder the work and endanger the safety of civil society in a manner contrary to international law, and recognizing the urgent need to prevent and stop the use of such provisions, and to review and, where necessary, amend any relevant provisions in order to ensure compliance with international human rights law and, as appropriate, international humanitarian law,

Welcoming the recent enactment by some States of national legislation and policies to facilitate, promote and protect civil society space consistent with international human rights law, and looking forward to their effective implementation,

1. Welcomes the holding on 11 March 2014 of the panel discussion on the importance of the promotion and protection of civil society space and the summary report thereof;

2. Reminds States of their obligation to respect and fully protect the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all individuals, inter alia, the rights to freedom of expression and opinion and to assemble peacefully and associate freely, online as well as offline, including for persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, and that respect for all such rights, in relation to civil society, contributes to addressing and resolving challenges and issues that are important to society, such as addressing financial and economic crises, responding to public health crises, responding to humanitarian crises, including in the context of armed conflict, promoting the rule of law and accountability, achieving transitional justice goals, protecting the environment, realizing the right to development, empowering persons belonging to minorities and vulnerable groups, combating racism and racial discrimination, supporting crime prevention, countering corruption, promoting corporate social responsibility and accountability, combating human trafficking, empowering women and youth, advancing social justice and consumer protection, and the realization of all human rights;

3. Urges States to create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance and insecurity;

4. Emphasizes the importance of civil society space for empowering persons belonging to minorities and vulnerable groups, as well as persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, and in that regard calls upon States to ensure that legislation, policies and practices do not undermine the enjoyment of their human rights or the activities of civil society in defending their rights;

5. Also emphasizes the important role of artistic expression and creativity in the development of society and, accordingly, the importance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society in that regard, in line with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

6. Urges States to acknowledge publicly the important and legitimate role of civil society in the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law;

7. Also urges States to engage with civil society to enable it to participate in the public debate on decisions that would contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law, and of any other relevant decisions;

8. Stresses in particular the valuable contribution of civil society in providing input to States on the potential implications of legislation, when such legislation is being developed, debated, implemented or reviewed;

9. Urges States to ensure access to justice, accountability and end impunity for human rights violations and abuses against civil society actors, including by putting in place, and where necessary reviewing and amending, relevant laws, policies, institutions and mechanisms to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance and insecurity;

10. Calls upon States to ensure that provisions on funding to civil society are in compliance with their international human rights obligations and commitments and are not misused to hinder the work or endanger the safety of civil society actors, and underlines the importance of the right and ability to solicit, receive and utilize resources for its work;

11. Urges all non-State actors to respect all human rights and not to undermine the capacity of civil society to operate free from hindrance and insecurity;

12. Emphasizes the essential role of civil society in subregional, regional and international organizations, including in support of the organizations’ work, and in sharing experience and expertise through effective participation in meetings in accordance with relevant rules and modalities, and in this regard reaffirms the right of everyone, individually and in association with others, to unhindered access to and communication with subregional, regional and international bodies, in particular the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms;

13. Recognizes the valuable contribution of national, subregional, regional and international human rights mechanisms and bodies, including the universal periodic review and special procedures of the Human Rights Council, the treaty bodies and national human rights institutions, to the promotion and protection of civil society space, and encourages these mechanisms in the framework of their existing mandates to continue to address relevant aspects of civil society space;

14. Welcomes the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to promote and protect civil society space, including its work on widening the democratic space, and invites it to continue efforts in this regard;

15. Requests the High Commissioner to prepare a compilation of practical recommendations for the creation and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society, based on good practices and lessons learned, and in this regard to continue to engage with and seek the views of States, the special procedures of the Human Rights Council, the treaty bodies, relevant United Nations bodies and agencies, regional human rights mechanisms, national human rights institutions, civil society and other stakeholders, and to submit the compilation to the Human Rights Council at its thirty-second session;

16. Decides to remain seized of the matter.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Protests at the United Nations in Caracas and New York City a success

"Together we will achieve the FREEDOM of political prisoners in Venezuela!" - Lilian Tintori
Protests at the United Nations today in New York City (Left) and Caracas (right)
Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuelan prisoner of conscience Leopoldo López Mendoza, successfully held simultaneous nonviolent protests at the United Nations in New York City and in Caracas to demand that human rights be respected in Venezuela and that all prisoners of conscience in Venezuela be freed. Over twitter today she announced:
"To protest for our rights is not only a right it is our obligation! Today I go to the United Nations. Venezuela our call is to a nonviolent and peaceful protest. Today I go to the United Nations for my human rights. Human rights belong to us, they are not negotiated and are enshrined in our constitution and in the United Nations."

Letter turned into the United Nations in Caracas today
 In Caracas, Lilian Tintori met with United Nations officials and turned in the above letter demanding the release of political prisoners and measures to restore human rights and democratic norms in Venezuela. Demonstrations in solidarity with these demands also erupted in Mexico.

Protest in Mexico for human rights in Venezuela on September 26, 2014
In recent days the systematic decline in and violation of human rights in Venezuela has called the attention of the Organization of American States and The New York Times

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on September 22, 2014 expressed "its deepest concern for the deterioration of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela in light of the recent events that took place in that country. These events include the continued stigmatization by high-level public officials of critical media outlets and journalists, punitive lawsuits and the dismissal of journalists, and the reported blocking of the internet signal of media outlets." 

The New York Times Editorial Board published an editorial on September 20, 2014 titled, "Venezuela's Crackdown on Opposition" highlighting among other travesties the show trial of opposition leader, Leopoldo López that has been underway since July 2014.

The struggle for freedom and human rights in Venezuela continues.

Simultaneous Protests at the UN in New York and Caracas for human rights in Venezuela

"Living the abuse of a dictatorship leads me to have an unwavering commitment to achieve democracy." - Leopoldo López Mendoza, Venezuelan prisoner of conscience September 17, 2014
For Freedom: Protest Against Maduro Friday Sept. 26 at 12 noon at the UN in NYC
Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuelan prisoner of conscience Leopoldo López Mendoza, has called for simultaneous nonviolent protests at the United Nations in New York City and in Caracas to demand that human rights be respected in Venezuela.

Ten days ago on September 16, 2014 addressing the UN Human Rights Council I named the first students extrajudicially executed by Venezuelan government agents in February of 2014: Bassil Dacosta, Robert Redman, Génesis Carmona and Geraldine Moreno and went on to recall that "[s]ince February 12, 2014 forty three youths have been killed while protesting rising insecurity and vanishing rights in their country. Over 5000 have been injured and 3,000 arbitrarily detained."

"Freedom for all the youths and students jailed"
 Now is the time to stand up and nonviolently protest and demand that those responsible for the killings be brought to justice and those arbitrarily detained such as Leopoldo López Mendoza.

Although I am far away from Caracas and New York City tomorrow the Venezuelan men and women who continue to be unjustly imprisoned and those peacefully protesting for them will be in my thoughts and prayers.

All to the UN this Friday September 26 at 11am in Caracas

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Castro regime one of five against holding Assad regime accountable for atrocities in Syria

 “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres”. ["Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are."] - Spanish proverb

Bashar Hafez al-Assad and Raul Castro
 The Associated Press reported that the U.N. Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly on Thursday, September 25, 2014, to share its evidence of Syrian atrocities in hopes it will be forwarded to the world's war crimes tribunal. By a vote of 32-5, with 10 abstentions, the 47-nation council adopted the resolution condemning the lack of cooperation by President Bashar Assad's government with a U.N. commission investigating rights violations since March 2011 in Syria, whether by the government or the opposition or the Islamic State group that controls broad areas along the Syria-Iraq border. 
Vote today on sharing evidence of Syrian atrocities with war crimes tribunal
 The five countries who voted against sharing evidence of gross and systematic human rights violations in Syria are: Algeria, China, Cuba, Russia, and Venezuela. The Castro regime that has ruled Cuba for the past 55 years has close ties with the Assad regime that goes back decades and since 2011 has repeatedly backed the Syrian government in what has been described as an "unholy alliance" ignoring evidence of torture and mass killings. This has raised questions as to why these countries are on the Human Rights Council.

Hafez al-Assad and Fidel Castro
On September 16, 2014 addressing the UN Human Rights Council I stated that "the disaster in Syria did not arise yesterday but is the long term result of the failure to have human rights respected there" and should also have added along with the failure of the international community for too many years to denounce the atrocities committed there."

At the same time the belief now that the situation has deteriorated that an expanded military response will solve the problems there is at best fool hardy if not just plain stupid.  There is another alternative between waging war and looking the other way as Syria burns and that is nonviolent resistance and solidarity.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Juan Carlos González Leiva: Speaking out before they hurt him again

"The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt; especially after you are mortally hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often essential to resist a tyranny before it exists. It is no answer to say, with a distant optimism, that the scheme is only in the air. A blow from a hatchet can only be parried while it is in the air."
—G.K. Chesterton, From his book, "Eugenics and Other Evils", found in Volume 4 of "The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton"

Juan Carlos González Leiva at the UN Human Rights Council last week
When Juan Carlos González Leiva spoke last week at the United Nations Human Rights Council he explained what he had suffered and called on the human rights body to watch over him when he returns to Cuba in a few weeks time. Today the Cuban human rights defender spoke to the international press and again called for greater solidarity with Cubans on the island resisting tyranny and vigilance over the plight of human rights defenders.

G.K. Chesterton, early in the last century, explained the importance of crying out before being hurt. Let us hope that Juan Carlos's warnings and requests are heeded.  Too many good people have died under suspicious circumstances in Cuba.  Let us see that he is not added to the list of martyrs.

Berlin: Rosenstrasse and The Wall

The Berlin Wall Memorial
Visiting Berlin in the year of the 25th anniversary that the Berlin Wall was finally torn down with a Cuban human rights icon is a once in a life time experience. Above is The Berlin Wall Memorial with the names, and in most cases the photographs of the 136 Germans killed trying to cross the Wall. In West Germany it was known as the "death strip." Estimates place the total number killed as greater than 200. The Wall began to be built by the communist East on August 13, 1961 and was finally torn down on November 9, 1989.

Chris Gueffroy 1968 - 1989
One of the last victims, Chris Gueffroy was born on June 21, 1968 and shot dead on February 5, 1989 trying to cross on the Britzer Zweigkanal, near the small garden colonies “Harmonie“ and “Sorgenfrei” on the sector border between Berlin-Treptow and Berlin-Neukölln. The Wall is a symbol of communist totalitarianism and control celebrated by tyrants such as Fidel Castro who visited there in1972 addressing the border guards and praising their "work."

The Memorial to the Rosenstrasse Protest in Berlin
Amidst the dark shadows of Nazi and Communist totalitarianism shines a powerful example of hope found in the example set by German housewives who using nonviolent means rescued their Jewish husbands who had been abducted in 1943 to be sent to the death camps. This led to a sustained civic action on Rosenstrasse Street. The book, A Force More Powerful, describes how these housewives frustrated the aims of Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich:
Word spread quickly about the abductions in Berlin, and before long a group of non-Jewish German women had gathered on the Rosenstrasse with food and other personal items for their Jewish husbands and children, whom they believed were being held inside. One of the women, Charlotte Israel, arrived and found 150 women already huddled outside. She asked one of the guards for her husband's potato ration cards, which he went to get. On the back of a card, her husband Julius wrote, "I'm fine." Other women began asking for personal effects to confirm that their husbands were inside and, soon after, began demanding their release. One woman's brother, a soldier on leave, approached an SS guard and said, "If my brother-in-law is not released, I will not return to the front." The crowds grew considerably despite the winter chill, and soon women waited outside day and night, holding hands, singing songs, and chanting "Let our husbands go!" By the second day of the protest, over 600 women were keeping a vigil on the Rosenstrasse.
This was not the first time many of these women had voiced dissent. For over a decade they and their families had challenged Nazi racial policies through letters and small demonstrations, insisting that the regime would be hurting fellow Germans by persecuting their Jewish spouses. Hitler and his circle had always tried to minimize unrest and avoid the kind of domestic opposition that German rightists saw as the "stab in the back" that had crippled the German effort during World War I. Until this point the regime had largely managed to keep the genocide against the Jews a secret. But when it affected a group who were unafraid to speak out against Nazi policies, that secrecy was jeopardized.
What gave further resonance to the wives' protest was that it was happening in the heart of Berlin, a city that had never been enthusiastic about Nazism. Cosmopolitan Berliners always saw it as a crude Bavarian aberration. Moreover, Berlin was the German base for foreign news organizations that still operated during the war. If political malcontents or the wire services were to get wind of the protest, the myth of the omnipotent Nazi state could be exposed. In fact, London radio did report on the demonstrations.
By the third day SS troops were given orders to train their guns on the crowd but to fire only warning shots. They did so numerous times, scattering the women to nearby alleyways. But the wives always returned and held their ground. They knew the soldiers would never fire directly at them because they were of German blood. Also, arresting or jailing any of the women would have been the rankest hypocrisy: According to Nazi theories, women were intellectually incapable of political action. So women dissenters were the last thing the Nazis wanted to have Germans hear about, and turning them into martyrs would have ruined the Nazis' self-considered image as the protector of motherhood.
The campaign soon expanded to include women and men who were not in mixed marriages. The ranks of protestors bulged to a thousand, with people chanting to let the prisoners go and taunting the SS soldiers. Joseph Goebbels, seeking to stop more from arriving, closed down the nearest streetcar station, but women walked the extra mile from another station to reach Rosenstrasse 2-4. By the end of the week Goebbels saw no alternative but to let the prisoners go. Some thirty-five Jewish male prisoners, who had already been sent to Auschwitz, were ordered to gather their belongings and board a passenger train back to Berlin.
My first stop in Berlin was to visit The Berlin Wall Memorial and pay my respects to those who died seeking freedom and those who in November of 1989 nonviolently tore down the wall. My final stop was to visit Memorial to the Rosenstraße Protest, the place were German housewives took a stand and saved their husbands.

The power of nonviolence when properly applied with sound strategy forced the Nazi Third Reich to blink in 1943 and brought down a hated symbol of Communism in 1989.

A segment of the Berlin Wall converted into protest art

Monday, September 22, 2014

IACHR: Freedom of Expression Deteriorating in Venezuela


Office of the Special Rapporteur Expresses Concern over the Situation of the Freedom of Expression in Venezuela


September 22, 2014

Washington, D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deepest concern for the deterioration of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela in light of the recent events that took place in that country. These events include the continued stigmatization by high-level public officials of critical media outlets and journalists, punitive lawsuits and the dismissal of journalists, and the reported blocking of the internet signal of media outlets.

According to the information received, on September 18, 2014, President of the Republic Nicolás Maduro accused CNN en EspañolEl Nuevo HeraldNTN24, among others media outlets, who had reported on deaths that took place in the Central Hospital of Maracay of "psychological terrorism", "media terrorism", among other expressions. The President called on the justice system to adopt new and greater national and international measures against those media outlets, and to act firmly and strictly to "punish" all those responsible and "prosecute terrorism."

On September 17, caricaturist Rayma Suprani was fired from newspaper El Universal allegedly for having published a cartoon that illustrated the situation of the country’s healthcare sector while using the signature of late President Hugo Chávez as part of the cartoon. Suprani had worked for the newspaper for nineteen years. Her dismissal is added to the more than 20 journalists or columnists who left the paper after El Universal’s owners changed in last July. The newspaper’s journalists issued a press release in which they expressed their decision to defend "the country’s informative spaces despite growing restrictions and censorship." Similar situations have occurred in other media.

On September 16, international news channel NTN24 had its website tampered with. Access from Venezuela to all the web portals of the channel, its applications and its live streaming signal is reportedly blocked. In a press release, the channel alleged that the blocking originated from inside Venezuelan telecommunications State corporation CANTV and was expanded to other providers. On February 12, channel NTN24’s signal was taken off the daypart of all the cable companies in the country by order of President Nicolás Maduro. Likewise, RCN Radio announced that its engineers managed to establish that CANTV "reportedly blocked the IP addresses, domain names and DNS records of all the portals of the news system of RCN Radio".

These events have taken place in the context of a dramatic scarcity in newsprint, reportedly caused by the process needed to request foreign currency to import it. This has led at least 12 media outlets to temporarily or permanently cease publication and at least 18 outlets to substantially reduce their size. These events are added to the administrative and criminal lawsuits brought against media outlets that are critical of the government, as is the case of newspaper TalCual’s media executives and columnist, who were sued for publishing a story that offended a public official. An interim order prohibits them from leaving the country. For their reporting, the defendants could face up to four years in prison and million-dollar fines.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur calls upon the State of Venezuela to adhere to the strictest international standards on freedom of expression in order to guarantee the full enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and due process by media outlets and journalists without arbitrary interventions. The Office of the Special Rapporteur further calls upon the State to investigate the cause of the blocking of the web portals and applications of media outlets and adopt the necessary measures to reestablish access, in accordance with international obligations regarding Internet, and to avoid using direct or indirect methods to prevent the publication of critical opinions or complaints against public officials.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.
Contact Information

Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
1889 F Street NW. Washington, D.C. 20006, USA.
Tel.: (1) 202-370-4614
E-mail: cidhexpresion@oas.org
Web: www.oas.org/es/cidh/expresion

26 months after Oswaldo Payá & Harold Cepero were killed an international investigation still needed

Today marks two years and two months since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante were killed in Cuba under suspicious circumstances. Last week on September 15, 2014 the case of Oswaldo and Harold was again raised along with the need for an investigation. Below is the statement that was delivered, despite the efforts of the Cuban government delegation. Video of the statement, along with interruptions, can be viewed below at 1 hour 34 minutes and 0 seconds.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante

Item 4
United Nations Human Rights Council
September 15, 2014

We welcome the conclusions of the Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and particularly the observation that what was a “conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, once between the Government and a limited number of anti-Government armed groups, has morphed into multiple shifting conflicts involving countless actors and frontlines,” and we are in complete agreement with the report that “the regional conflagration, of which the commission has long warned, illustrates the fallacy of a military solution.”

The disaster in Syria did not arise yesterday but is the long term result of the failure to have human rights respected there.

Unfortunately other areas exist that can also unexpectedly erupt into regional disasters. Years of freedom of expression and association being systematically outlawed, arbitrary detentions constant, along with politically motivated beatings, torture and extrajudicial killings lead to destabilizing responses.

The 2012 deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero have not been cleared up. Sonia Garro, a lady in white, remains jailed without trial since 2012 and Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga, a musician, has been jailed for his dissenting views since March 2013.

Bassil Dacosta, Robert Redman, Génesis Carmona and Geraldine Moreno were the first shot and killed by government agents in their country in 2014.

Since February 12, 2014 forty three youths have been killed while protesting rising insecurity and vanishing rights in their country. Over 5000 have been injured and 3,000 arbitrarily detained.
Investigations are needed into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 43 Venezuelan students and Cuba’s Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero.

Ms. Garro and Mr. Arzuaga should be freed.

These situations in Cuba and Venezuela require the Human Rights Council´s attention before they spiral out of control.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Witnessing a hero in action at the United Nations Human Rights Council: Juan Carlos González Leiva

My life is my message. - Mohandas Gandhi
Juan Carlos González Leiva with Mohandas Gandhi in Geneva
Today I was honored and humbled to witness a courageous man in action at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Juan Carlos González Leiva is an attorney and human rights activist who has spent the past 20 years defending the rights of Cubans inside the island. He has been consistently threatened with death, suffered arbitrary detention for two years without trial, received death threats and been subjected that amounts to torture. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders and the Coalition of Cuban American Women have documented his plight over this time. His family has also been a target of harassment by the dictatorship in Cuba. Many have fled into exile, but Juan Carlos remains in Cuba carrying on the struggle for human rights. The Harvard Crimson in 2003 described him as the conscience of Cuba.

What is remarkable is that a man who lost his sight completely in 1986, at the age of 21 (he had suffered with vision problems since birth) would eight years later begin the life of a dissident and human rights defender in Cuba. Below is the statement that he gave today and in the video one can witness the hostility of the dictatorship towards this man and his courage confronting it. Reading the document in braille he demonstrated a far seeing vision into the reality of Cuba that many with sight refuse or are unable to see.

In a world where so many heroes are manufactured and false it is a powerful experience to see one in action. Listen to the exchange with the diplomat of the Castro regime below at 31:45.

Item 3
United Nations Human Rights Council
September 15, 2014
I am Juan Carlos González Leiva, spent 20 years as a blind lawyer defending human rights, suffering beatings, arbitrary arrests and organized mobs. From March 4, 2002 to April 26, 2004, was detained in the Police Center of Pedernales, Holguín, without trial, for celebrating a congress about human rights. There, systematically they sprayed chemical substances over me that burned my skin and occasioned hallucinations, strong headaches and allergies.

I was confined without access to the press, telephone, correspondence, or religious assistance. Murderous prisoners threatened me and prevented me from sleeping night and day. In my cell were left exposed electric cables with current.

Human rights defenders in my country are victims of a constant policy of repression.

For example: In 2014 I was beaten together with 10 activists in the street. Agents dislocated my left leg and right shoulder and I lost consciousness when they applied a choke hold. Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez”and his wife Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera were arrested, beaten and transferred to the local police headquarters where Antúnez was placed in a choke hold losing consciousness several times and was injected by state security agents with an unknown substance. His home was invaded and sacked.

Other activists arbitrarily detained and beaten were: José Daniel Ferrer García, Yusmila Reina Ferrera, Geobanis Izaguirre Hernández and Ernesto Ortiz Betancourt.

I ask the United Nations protection for me and all the activists inside Cuba because soon I will return to my country to continue defending human rights.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cuba: Former prisoner of conscience & journalist arrested and pressured to leave his country

Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, an independent journalist based in Cienfuegos, 250 km southeast of Havana, said police pressured him to leave Cuba when they arrested him on 6 September because of his reporting for the opposition newspaper El Cubano Libre, de Hoy.

Arévalo told Reporters Without Borders that the Cienfuegos police threatened him with a four-year jail sentence if he did not leave the island.

“I don't want to leave Cuba, I don't want to,” Arévalo said. “My decision is irrevocable. I would rather go to prison than leave the country. I want to die in Cuba.”

Arévalo spent six years as a political prisoner, from 1997 to 2003, after being convicted of insulting Fidel Castro and then Vice-President Carlos Lage. Between then and last weekend, he had only been detained once – for eight hours in February 2010. 
Bernardo Arévalo Padrón
“We condemn the pressure being placed on Arévalo,” said Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk. “Cuba is reestablishing relations with the European Union and EU member countries but its treatment of independent journalists has not changed. Exile or prison, that's freedom of information in Cuba today.”

In its latest monthly report, the Havana-based Hablemos Press independent information centre said there were a total of 609 politically-motivated arrests in Cuba in August, bring the total to 6,805 since the start of the year.

One of the latest victims, independent journalist Miguel Guerra Pérez, was released on 1 September after being held for a week. Several Hablemos Press reporters have been the targets of threats. They include José Leonel Silva Guerrero, who was briefly detained and threatened with reprisals against his family if he did not stop working as the Hablemos Press correspondent in Holguín.

After the Hablemos Press monthly report was slammed by a recent “Mesa Redonda” programme on state television, the centre's director, Roberto de Jesús Guerra García, demanded the right to respond to the criticism on 1 September without holding out any hope of his request being granted.

Four journalists are currently detained in Cuba. One of them, Juliet Michelena Díaz, is still waiting for a court decision. Cuba is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index – the lowest position of any country in the Americas. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Cachita's Feast Day and the Christian Liberation Movement's Founding

"Lift up your heart and do not succumb in the face of adversities, persevere in the way of good; tirelessly helping those oppressed by sorrows and afflictions: these are the important lessons taught to us by Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre." - Pope Francis

Former prisoner of conscience and MCL member Jesús Mustafa
 September 8, 2014 marked the feast day of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba's patron saint known affectionately as Cachita and the 26th anniversary of the founding of the Christian Liberation Movement. Today the Christian Liberation Movement released an important statement recalling their founding and principled nonviolent position stating:
We were born there in the parish of the Cerro, one of the many neighborhoods of Havana. The background: The Circle of the Cerro. Then something more formal, The Circle of Cuban Christian Thought. This was banned and dissolved when it launched the first free Cuban publication, also prohibited, titled "People of God", proclaiming the source of liberation: when we said, "We must obey God before men", "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's, "But if God gives you Freedom, who is Cesar to take it away? "All men and women are my brothers and sisters." "We will not act violently or submit to violence," "You are my brother, I do not hate you, but I am not afraid of you."
Oswaldo Payá presenting the Varela Project before Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre (MCL)
Since 1961 in Miami the feast day is also celebrated on this day. Tonight  at the University of Miami's Bank United Center, Archbishop Wenski presided over the Mass. However at the beginning of the Mass Father Rumin of  Ermita de la Caridad (Chapel of Charity) said "Hear this: You can not be a devotee of the Virgin of Charity Charity live without," reported Rosa Maria Payá over twitter.

Celebrating the Feast Day of Our Lady of Charity in Miami

Over twitter Rosa Maria Payá observed: "the Church looks again at Cuba, Pope Francis sends letter to Cuba for Cobre Virgen of Charity celebration." In a second tweet she summarizes: "The Pope tells us we can not remain arms drooping bemoaning or passing the buck to others to do what is our own responsibility."

Pope Francis on Monday sent a letter to Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez of Santiago, Cuba encouraging Cuban Catholics to remain steadfast in their devotion to the Virgin Mary and highlighted three virtues: joy, service and perseverance.

 It appears that what Pope Francis is calling for came into existence in a neighborhood of the Cerro 26 years ago and continues to steadfastly follow the way of love and nonviolence in confronting injustice.

Regis Iglesias, a former prisoner of conscience and movement spokesman, posted the above Christian Liberation Movement logo along with the following message: "Happy XXVI Anniversary to all our brothers and sisters of the Christian Liberation Movement !!! We continue on with our Love of Cuba and our commitment to our Martyrs !!!"

The full text of Pope Francis' letter is reproduced below.  

His Excellency Dionisio Guillermo Garcia Ibanez
Metropolitan Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba
President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Cuba

Vatican, 8 September 2014

Dear Brother:

A few days ago, the venerated image of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre was placed in the Vatican Gardens. Its presence constitutes a moving reminder of the affection and vitality of the pilgrim Church of those luminous lands of the Carribbean which, for mor than four centuries, has addressed the Mother of God with that beautiful title. From the mountains of El Cobre, and now from the See of Peter, that small and blessed figure of Mary magnifies the souls of those who invoke her with devotion, as She leads us to Jesus, her divine Son.

Today as we fervently celebrate the feast of Mary Most Holy, la Virgen Mambisa¸ I join all Cubans who set their eyes on her Immaculate Heart to pray for favors, to commend to her their loved ones and to imitate her in her humility and devotion to Christ, of whose disciples she was the first and greatest.

Every time I read the Sacred Scriptures in the passages that speak of Our Lady, three words stand out to me. I would like to focus on them in order to invite the pastors and faithful of Cuba to put them into practice.

The first is rejoice. It was the first word the Archangel Gabriel addressed to the Virgin. “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). The life of she who has discovered Jesus is filled with such great interior joy that nothing or no one can take it from her. Christ gives to his own the necessary strength to not be sad or overwhelmed by thinking about the problems that cannot be solved. Sustained by this truth, the Christian does not doubt that that which is done with love engenders serene joy, the sister of that hope which breaks the wall of fear and opens the doors to a future of promise. “I am Our Lady of Charity,” was what the three Johns read on the tablet that was floating in the Bay of Nipe. How beautiful it would be if all Cubans, especially the young, could say the same: ‘I am a man or woman of charity:” I live to truly love, and thus not be trapped in the toxic spiral of eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. What joy is felt by one who authentically loves, through daily acts, and who is not among those who are full of empty words that are carried away by the wind.

The second word is arise. With Jesus in her womb, St. Luke says Mary arose and went with haste to serve her cousin Elizabeth, who in her old age was with child (cf. Lk 1:39-45). She fulfilled the will of God placing herself at the disposition of whoever needed her. She did not think of herself, she overcame all setbacks and gave of herself to others. The victory is for those who arise again and again without being discouraged. If we imitate Mary, we cannot just do nothing and merely complain, or perhaps pass the buck on to others for something that is our responsibility. Its not about doing great things but about doing them with tenderness and mercy. Mary was always with her people looking out for the little ones. She knew loneliness, poverty and exile, and she learned to create fraternity and to make her home in whatever place good would germinate. We implore her to make us poor in spirit, free of all pride, and to grant us a pure heart that sees God in the faces of the disadvantaged and patience that does not shrink from the difficulties of life.

The third word is persevere. Mary, who had experienced God’s goodness, proclaimed the great things He had done for her (cf Lk 1:46-55). She did not trust in her own strength, but in God, whose love has no end. For this reason she remained with her Son, whom everyone had abandoned; she prayed without failing together with the apostles and the other disciples, lest they lose their soul (cf. Acts 1:14). We too are called to persevere in the love of God and to persevere in loving the others. In this world, in which eternal values are discarded and all is mutable, in which triumphs are used and thrown away, in which people seem to have a fear of lifelong commitments, the Virgin encourages us to be men and women constant in good works, maintaining his words, which are always faithful. And this is because we trust in God and we place in Him the center of our live and of those whom we love.

We are to have joy, and share it with those around us. Lift up your heart and do not succumb in the face of adversities, persevere in the way of good; tirelessly helping those oppressed by sorrows and afflictions: these are the important lessons taught to us by Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, useful both for today and for tomorrow. In her maternal hands I place the pastors, religious communities, and faithful of Cuba, so that She might encourage you in your evangelizing commitments and in your will to make love the foundation of society. Thus you will not be lacking in a joy for life, a soul for service, and perseverance in good works.

To the children of the Church in Cuba I ask, please, pray for me, as I am in need of it.

May Jesus bless you, and the Blessed Virgin care for you forever.



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Gustavo Cerati: Gracias Totales ( Thanks Totally)

"To be able to say 'goodbye' is to grow." — Gustavo Cerati (lyric from Adiós)

Photo from Sony Music released over twitter today
Early today the news arrived from his family that Gustavo Cerati had passed away at the age of 55. On 14 May 2010, Cerati suffered a stroke after a concert in Caracas, Venezuela during his Fuerza Natural tour and never recovered consciousness. A month later in downtown Miami Luis Alberto Spinetta dedicated his concert to Gustavo Cerati. Seven months later he announced he had lung cancer and passed away on February 8, 2012. 

"El Flaco" and Gus jamming on stage
One imagines that "El Flaco" and Gus will be jamming in the afterlife as they did he here on Earth.

Gustavo Cerati and his legacy are a treasure for the world that emerged from Argentina that will live on in his music and the countless rock bands that he inspired. Fourteen studio albums and four live albums ensure that his music will be heard for generations to come.

In Argentinatwo days of national mourning were officially decreed for Cerati's passing.

In December of 2007 had the opportunity to see him twice in concert at the American Airlines Arena during the Soda Stereo tour. If one had the opportunity to be there they could only say "gracias totales" in English that translates to "thanks totally." A great musician, song writer, and rock n roll front man Gustavo Cerati has and will continue to be greatly missed.

There are two important links to Miami. Never forgetting that Soda Stereo is the iconic rock band of Argentina and Latin America. However, one should also remember that the group's most popular album ( considered one of the best albums in the history of Latin rock) Canción Animal was made in Miami, Florida at Criteria Studios. in 1996 Soda Stereo also recorded an unplugged album for MTV in Miami titled "Comfort y Música Para Volar".

A big regret is not having been able to attend the Fuerza Natural concert on May 7, 2010 which was the last time Gustavo Cerati performed in Miami. Listening to his music through out the day with sadness for him and his family and at the same time with gratitude for the music he made for the world:

Gracias totales Gustavo Cerati! En paz descanse.