Sunday, November 30, 2014

Urgent: Umbrella Movement Under Siege in Hong Kong Needs Your Solidarity

" Communism was not defeated by military force, but by life, by the human spirit, by conscience, by the resistance of Being and man to manipulation." - Vaclav Havel, February 4, 1992
Iconic photo of the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement
 This blog has been following the nonviolent protests in Hong Kong since September 2014 and has called for solidarity with the Umbrella Movement. This blog has also asked the question could something like this happen in Cuba?

Despite the regime in Beijing claiming that Hong Kong is part of China, Hong Kong student leaders were denied the right to travel to Beijing to redress their grievances. Furthermore UK politicians have been refused entry to Hong Kong.

Repression over the past few days has escalated and student leaders have been violently arrested. Tonight we re-affirm the call for solidarity and that attention be paid to the unfolding events in Hong Kong. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters have responded to the repression by surrounding government offices on Sunday and demanding free elections. Above is a live feed of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong please let others know what is happening to the pro-democracy movement there.

Protesters knocked down and beaten by police in Hong Kong (Photo by Kin Cheung AP)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Learn about the Cuban government's close working relationship with racist and fascist regimes

“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
Kim Jong-Un shakes hands with Jose Ramon Balaguer, head of the Intl Dept of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee in Pyongyang. (2013)
Over the years well meaning people at the United Nations Human Rights Council have asked:  "Is Cuba changing?" The response provided has been: Have you seen any changes in their behavior here? The response continues to be "no." The confusion is understandable especially if one gets their "news" from The New York Times.

However, thanks to the internet and Google news one has access to a wide range of information and the facts underline the continuing brutal and repressive nature of the dictatorship in Cuba at home and abroad.

For example the Castro regime's "solidarity" with brutal repressive regime's crosses ideological boundaries. In the 1970s and early 1980s the Cuban government had a solid working alliance with the Argentine military dictatorship at a time when the military junta was disappearing 30,000 leftists in Argentina. This is in the news again now because of new declassified documents that have emerged confirming the sordid relationship.

Reynaldo Benito Antonio Bignone Ramayón with Fidel Castro Ruz
At the same time at the United Nations General Assembly the Cuban dictatorship worked hard to defend the regime in North Korea leading the fight, but thankfully failing to block, the regime's referral to the International Criminal Court for its gross and systematic human rights violations. The dictatorships in North Korea and Cuba do not only cooperate together at the United Nations but also engage in arms smuggling violating international sanctions against shipping arms to North Korea.

While discussing North Korea government and the Cuban government's close working relationship one should also recall that in May of 2014 the official press engaged in a racist screed against President Obama. Below is a complete translation of the article in question taken from the blog One Free Korea:

May heaven’s punishment be visited on Obama, the world’s sole juvenile delinquent

(KCNA, Tokyo) The DPRK’s official news agency, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), announced a variety of reactions of citizens of the DPRK to the National Defense Commission’s statements on Obama’s visit to South Korea.

Hideous monkey-man

My innards were twisted and torn when I saw Obama’s ugly mug.

Dark head-dome and dull gray eyes, cavernous nostrils, thick-lipped maw, the more I gaze at him, the more I see him as a monkey in a primeval African forest.

His shape is like a beanstalk, and he scampers about with his arms flailing beside him, and scurries whenever he rides on a airplane or stands on a platform. It’s phenomenal how similar he looks to a monkey.

I am sure Obama is a monkey and doubt he is a human, because he behaves badly at every occasion, like a monkey who can’t stay calm and swings his red butt, and climbs up this and that tree and picks fruit, or picks up food from the ground.

He is unworthy to gorge himself in the south [Korean] land he has crawled into. Now he is casting his greedy eye at the north [Korean] land.

The more I see of him, the more convinced I am from his looks, behavior, and his cross-breed blood, which is impure blood, that Obama is born of a monkey.

One who is far from being a politician, and is instead an ugly sub-human, should not dare stab his finger at our dignified independent state, our republic the people’s paradise, like a raven arguing that he is whiter than the heron.

Obama is a failure and the scum of the ages without any status or right to speak filth (literally, chew the rag) about us.

Obama remains like a monkey even though the human race has evolved for millions of years. What is the habitat of such a man?

He is suitable to live among a troop of monkeys in the world’s largest African animal park, and licking at the bread crumbs tossed by onlookers.

Obama must immediately go into a monkey’s nest, carrying food over his shoulders, before he falls into contempt in the divine human world.

That is the only good way to hold on to the remainder of his life. 
 Following a formal complaint by the Obama Administration the dictatorship doubled down and defended the racist screed as the proper response to President Obama's addressing the human rights situation in North Korea during his visit to South Korea.

Communists have a long history of unsavory alliances with racist regimes stretching back 75 years to the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939, therefore the racist rants of the North Koreans should not come as a great surprise. However, that the dictatorship in Cuba that rules over an island with a populace which in its majority is of African descent would be defending this openly racist dictatorship and collaborating so closely with it should give one pause in the media campaign to rehabilitate the image of the Castro regime.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Aid to the Church in Need reports on death in suspicious circumstances of Cuban opposition leader

"Two years and four months without Harold and Oswaldo. For justice to be done for an end to impunity of the junta." - Christian Liberation Movement over twitter on November 22, 2014
Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero killed in suspicious incident on July 22, 2012
Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation of the Catholic Church presented a country profile on Cuba that highlighted the July 22, 2012 death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas but failed to mention that Harold Cepero had also been killed following the incident with the car and misspelled the opposition youth leader's name. Its been corrected in the excerpt below. Also reported on a April 2013 violent attack on a Pentecostal pastor who he tried to file a legal complaint against local Communist Party officials. The attack left him with permanent brain damage.

Death of pro-democracy campaigner

..."And then in July 2012 came the death in suspicious circumstances of Oswaldo Paya, the driving force behind the Varela Project, a pro-democracy movement. The government stated that the driver had lost control of the vehicle but Mr Paya's family said the car had been deliberately run off the road. Mr Paya was a Catholic and, while in many respects his co-religionists saw significant improvements, the experience of some Protestant groups was very different. In 2013, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported violent beatings of Protestant ministers in different parts of the country. There was criticism of the Office of Religious Affairs and its efforts to control and monitor religious groups – especially with regard to importing religious books and other materials from abroad and receiving donations from overseas."


Progress and problems in Cuba

March 2011: Eight political prisoners were released; one being part of a group of 75 people arrested during the “Black Spring” – a government crackdown on so-called “dissidents” campaigning for greater freedom. They were part of the Varela Movement, named after Fr Felix Varela - Catholic priest and independence campaigner.
Source: Fides, 5/3/11

June 2011: Church leaders complained that although the government had authorised Catholic and Protestant religious services in prisons in 2009, permission was not always granted. The situation for non-Christian religious groups was worse, with no provision for them to organise or hold their own services. Religious rights were often violated as a form of punishment, with religious literature confiscated and prisoners denied religious visits – especially prisoners of conscience.
Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Cuba: Summary of Concerns, 1/6/11

September 2011: Some ‘Ladies in White’ were arrested after attending Mass in Santiago to celebrate the feast of Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity. The ‘Ladies; were regularly prevented from attending church services. On dozens of occasions Ardisnidia Cruz, mother of political prisoners Marcos and Antonio Lima-Cruz, was prevented from leaving her Holguin house on Sundays for Mass. In 2013 the Ladies in White again reported acts of intimidation.
Source: US State Department – International Religious Freedom Report for 2011Las Damas De Blanco website

March 2012: Pope Benedict XVI visited Santiago de Cuba and Havana. Weeks before his arrival, monitoring organisations  state that more than 100 dissidents had been arrested. During the Pope’s three day visit, about 200 Cuban critics were banned from attending Masses and other public celebrations. Some were threatened with arrest if they left their homes and their phone lines were cut.

April 2012: Good Friday was made a public holiday in Cuba for the first time in 40 years, following the request of Benedict XVI. All religious holidays were cancelled after the 1959 revolution.
Source: Fides, 3/4/12; BBC News online, 6/4/12

July 2012: Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement was killed in a ‘suspicious’ car crash. He had helped mastermind a pro-democracy movement calling for freedom of speech and assembly for which he had received a number of awards. Mr Paya and fellow activist Harold Cepero, a Swedish politician, were being driven but died when the car crashed. The regime announced that the car had come off the road, crashing into a tree. Mr Paya’s family and another passenger insisted that it had been deliberately bumped off the road. 50 activists were arrested before and after Mr Paya’s funeral Mass.

January 2013: In accordance with President Raul Castro’s stated policy to return Church property seized by the revolutionary regime in 1961, officials in Santiago de Cuba announced that two churches and a pastoral centre would be returned. The Secretary of the Provincial Assembly of the People's Power told Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez that the Church of St. Joseph the Worker and Church of St Benedict would be returned. Further reports indicated plans for the return of church buildings in Havana.
Source: Fides 26/01/13; Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba website

March 2013: For the second year running, a government decree made Good Friday a public holiday.
Source: Fides 26/1/13; Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba website

April 2013: For the first time in years multiple reports have been received of violent beatings of Protestant pastors in different parts of the country. Additionally, week after week, scores of men, women and sometimes children were physically and violently dragged away by state security agents from Sunday morning services.
Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Religious Freedom in Cuba, 1/4/13

April 2013: The Pentecostal pastor of a church in Holguin was left with permanent brain damage after a violent attack while traveling from home to the provincial capital to file a legal complaint against local Communist Party officials who had illegally confiscated his car. Similar attacks against members of Protestant churches have increased in the last year.
Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, 3/4/13

Please help end impunity in Cuba and sign the petition demanding an international and transparent investigation into the deaths of Oswaldo and Harold.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Miami with Mexico: In solidarity with the 43 missing students in Ayotzinapa

“Just as many showed their solidarity with us when we were striving for freedom, so now we must show solidarity to those who are only striving for it in uneasy conditions.” - Vaclav Havel

Nonviolent demonstration at the Mexican Consulate in Miami for 43 missing students
Over the past few weeks have been following the terrible news concerning 43 students who went missing on September 26, 2014 in Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero in Mexico and are now feared dead.  This crime hits close to home for Cubans especially in 2014 which is the 20th anniversary of the "13 de Marzo"tugboat massacre were 37 were killed, who in their majority were youth. At the same time having already witnessed the spectacle of the government of Venezuela's involvement in the killing of their youth engaged in nonviolent protests makes this year a particularly difficult one.

At the Mexican Consulate earlier this evening
Today joined with others at the Mexican Consulate in Miami to demand truth and justice for the 43 students missing in Ayotzinapa and over the social networks helped to spread the word in what was a global action. Times like these we need to get out from behind our computers and stand together in the solidarity of the shaken.

86 Students Taken in Latin America 2014: 43 in Mexico and 43 in Venezuela

“Those who falsify history do not protect the freedom of a nation but, rather, constitute a threat to it.” – Vaclav Havel, The Salzburg Festival, July 26, 1990 

 The situation in Mexico demands concrete attention and actions in the hopes that a resolution can quickly be reached such as:
  • Over social media there are numerous opportunities to demonstrate one's solidarity using hash tags such as: and #GlobalActionForAyotzinapa
  • In Miami on November 20, 2014 at 5pm in the Mexican Consulate in downtown (1399 SW 1st Avenue Miami, FL 33130) join with Mexican activists in a nonviolent protest denouncing the crime while demanding justice and the return of the 43 missing students to their loved ones. Please dress in black Protests also planned in Santa Ana, CA; Dallas, TX and elsewhere.
  • Signing an online letter from Amnesty International calling on the Mexican government to bring all responsible to justice, acknowledge that this is not an isolated case, and for the government to uphold 2012 commitment to eradicate torture and ill treatment of all detainees.
  • Writing opeds, letters to the editor, spreading the word over social media on the internet in order that others may take concrete action on behalf of these 43 students.
Meanwhile efforts by political partisans to take advantage of the situation to advance a particular agenda needs to be quashed while truth and justice serve as a guide to action on behalf of the 43. For example,  Venezuelan Analysis republished an article of Tamara Pearson of the Venezuela and Cuban sponsored television network TELESUR titled 43 Lives, 2 Countries slandering the victims of the Maduro government killed during anti-government protests in 2014 while at the same time failing to mention that in the case of the 43 disappeared students in Mexico the government officials identified as having colluded with a drug gang in taking the students are members of a left wing political party with ties to both Venezuela and Cuba.

Both Mexico and Venezuela are in the grips of waves of violence that have claimed tens of thousands of lives. Mexico with a population of 122.3 million according to the preliminary numbers published by the National Statistics Institute, (Inegi) had 22,732 homicides in 2013, equivalent to 22 per 100,000 inhabitants.  Meanwhile, Venezuela with a population of 30.41 million according to the Venezuelan Observatory on Violence, estimates that 24,000 people were murdered in 2013, according to the United Nations and the World Bank the number per capita is 54 per 100,000 inhabitants and is considered the second most likely place to be murdered on the planet with Honduras in first place. The bottom line on murder rates is that you are 2.5 times more likely to be murdered in Venezuela than in Mexico.

Some of the Venezuelan youth shot in the head in 2014 during protests
 However, the questions surrounding the 43 Venezuelans and 43 Mexicans murdered in a political context in 2014 resonate in both countries and raise fundamental questions of governance.

The mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda are suspected of ordering the disappearance of 43 students which took place on September 26, 2014 and colluding with a drug gang called Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) who allegedly murdered the students.  The governor of Guerrero state, Angel Aguirre has taken a leave of absence due to growing criticism over his role in the affair. Both the mayor and governor are members of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Leaked diplomatic cables of the U.S. embassy in Mexico indicate that the Mexican president Calderon believed that Hugo Chavez's government had secretly funded the PRD candidate's election in 2006.  The PRD also has good relations with the Cuban dictatorship.

Since February 12, 2014 forty three Venezuelans have been killed during protests against rising insecurity and vanishing rights in their country. Over 5,000 have been injured and 3,000 arbitrarily detained. Among them is the opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez who advocated for nonviolent protests and remains arbitrarily detained despite the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on August 26, 2014 calling for his immediate release.The students shot and killed in the demonstrations by government soldiers and paramilitaries that work with the Maduro government.

The pattern of conduct and impunity that took place in Venezuela and Iguala with their respective 43 students is troublingly similar. A government official unhappy with student protesters orders troops to put down their demonstration and uses non-government para-military groups as shock troops to terrorize nonviolent students. This includes unarmed Venezuelan students shot and killed at point blank range. The difference between what happened in Mexico and in Venezuela is that in the Mexican case it is a local official while in the Venezuelan case national officials are involved.

What happened in Venezuela?
The series of events that sparked the student demonstrations in Venezuela began in Táchira on February 4, 2014 when a student at the University of Los Andes in the Botanical Garden of the University was the victim of an attempted rape. Students protested that "insecurity had taken over the campus." The protest was repressed and a number of students arrested and physically mistreated by the authorities. The news of the abuse by government officials sparked additional protests

The February 10th open letter tweeted by student leader Juan Requesens, who has more than 528,000 followers the message is one that is open to dialogue with the government on two conditions 1) that students who were arrested exercising their legitimate right to protest be freed and 2) that calling them "coup plotters" or "terrorists" for engaging in nonviolent protests to demand their rights is unacceptable.

February 12 in Venezuela is a national youth day and students across the country organized nonviolent mass demonstrations in response to the earlier repression and were met with violence by regime officials working in coordination with paramilitary groups known as "colectivos." Students were shot in the head and killed. This escalated the protests and as the violence increased the demands expanded and began to focus on Maduro. These facts are conveniently ignored by Ms. Pearson in her article.

What happened in Mexico?

Students trashed City Hall in Iguala in 2013 after the slaying of a leftist social activist. Iguala is located 80 miles south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero. The murdered activist's widow, Sofia Mendoza, a City Council member, blames Mayor Abarca for that killing. The Mayor and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, were believed to have ordered local police to intercept and do away with the students who were en route to Iguala and might have disrupted a party and speech by Ms. Pineda on September 26, 2014 and were attacked before reaching their destination: six were killed, 25 were wounded and 43 went missing and have not been seen again.

More than 50 people have been arrested in connection with the disappearances, the majority of them police officers or members of the local drug gang Guerreros Unidos, all of whom authorities say were working together. It now appears that the mayor's wife, Pineda was the “principal operator” of Guerreros Unidos in Iguala.

The governor, Angel Aguirre, took a leave of absence because of the scandal, which has also handed President Enrique Peña Nieto his worst crisis during his presidency. Several top leaders of the left who had given Abarca their support have now distanced themselves from the tainted mayor. 

The Mexican government is saying that those arrested have admitted to killing the students and burning their remains. Family members are questioning the official version as one parent stated: "We are not going to believe anything until the experts tell us: You know what? It is them,"

International Coverage
Searching Google 212 reports mention protesters killed in Venezuela versus 220 reports mentioning 43 students killed in Mexico. Unfortunately, the campaign by Maduro apologists to slander the student movement in Venezuela while restricting the access of independent international human rights organizations to investigate what has taken place in Venezuela in stark contrast to the cooperation by the national Mexican government welcoming the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate and not expelling or demonizing human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch.

From Military Dictators to Populists

Forty years ago military dictatorships in Latin America were murdering left wing students and in 2014 in Venezuela and Mexico populist left wing politicians are using police, para-militaries and gangs to murder left wing students who do not obey them. One constant during these 40 years is that the dictatorship in Cuba has had and continues to have good relations with regimes that murder students.

This is Latin America in 2014.

Venezuelan students showing their solidarity with their Mexican counterparts

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The New York Times: A Propaganda Rag?

 Some of the news that they refused to print.

Since 1851 there have been lapses in journalistic ethics
Until now this blog has not addressed the eruption of New York Times editorials regarding Cuba and U.S. policy out of sheer weariness over treading once again over well trodden ground on the sanctions debate, but two items have necessitated a response. The call by The New York Times to release Cuban spies imprisoned for their crimes including the murder of U.S. citizens.

The ten members of the Cuban "WASP" spy network arrested in 1998 used coded material on computer disks to communicate with other members of the spy network of which the FBI was able to obtain 1,300 pages taken from those diskettes translated and used during the spy trial. The documents demonstrate the criminal nature of the Cuban regime's operation in South Florida including their primary objective of penetrating and obtaining information on a U.S. naval station. Furthermore intelligence operatives communicated about burning down a warehouse and sabotaging Brothers to the Rescue equipment. The Cuban government requested that the spies attempt to identify who would be flying at certain times.  What is left out of The New York Times reporting is that in the documents the operatives discuss plans to prepare a "book bomb" that evades post office security while at the same time phoning death threats to a man they describe as a CIA agent in order to terrorize him and then killing him with the mail bomb.
The seriousness of these planned action items would be confirmed by the February 24, 1996 shoot down where two MiGs hunted Brothers to the Rescue planes in international airspace and used air to air missiles to destroy two of the planes killing two pilots and two passengers based on intelligence supplied by the WASP network.

Cover of 2014 article on KGB plans to eliminate MLK
 The second item was the publication of the full letter sent to Martin Luther King Jr. on November 11, 1964  to provoke his suicide and/or silence in The New York Times Magazine article by Barbara Gage titled "What an Uncensored Letter to M.L.K. Reveals" pointing to the FBI as the guilty party. However, at no time does the article mention that the KGB also had a campaign of active measures in place to destroy Martin Luther King Jr. that is well documented.

Letter sent to MLK in 1964 published by The New York Times
The New York Times has had a long time bias in favor of dictatorships and making glaring omissions. The paper has had reporters such as Walter Duranty who ignored a genocide in Ukraine in the 1930s while providing a sympathetic portrayal of the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. Beginning in 1957 Herbert Matthews built up Fidel Castro's image both inside and outside of Cuba with a series of misleading articles in The New York Times. In July of 1959 Matthews reported: "[t]his is not a Communist Revolution in any sense of the term. Fidel Castro is not only not a Communist, he is decidedly anti-Communist." Anthony De Palma has written a book on Herbert Matthews titled, "The Man Who Invented Fidel" and describes how his heroic portrayal of Fidel Castro influenced the fall of the Batista dictatorship and the consolidation of the future dictator as a national figure.

Considering that the Castro dictatorship in Cuba, that The New York Times assisted in putting into power, has five decades of engaging and sponsoring international terrorism along with a terrible human rights record at home one would think that the Grey Lady would be more cautious in its reporting. Unfortunately what should be the paper of record has too often become a propaganda rag especially when the topic has been Cuba.

Monday, November 17, 2014

25 years after the Velvet Revolution Czechs take to the streets of Prague to protest against their government

“If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause." -T.S. Eliot
Demonstration today in Prague honoring Havel and criticizing present government
Twenty five years ago the Velvet Revolution erupted in reaction to the brutal repression of a student march on the 50th anniversary of the execution of nine Czech students by the Nazis for demonstrating against the Nazi occupation. During those protests the demonstrators jingled keys to signify support for change and the unlocking of closed doors.

Today when Czechs gathered in Prague to give thanks to the late Vaclav Havel and celebrate 25 years of freedom they also carried red cards to protest the policies of the current Czech president Milos Zeman that are a repudiation of Havel's human rights centered foreign policy.

Until now the Czech Republic has had a morally principled foreign policy based in a steadfast and principled defense of human rights and democracy without exceptions that had been vigorously defended and advocated by Vaclav Havel.

On May 30, 2014 the Czech First Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Drulák stated that Czech President Václav Havel's foreign policy with its emphasis on human rights was damaging to national interests stating: "I consider this a false universalism, a false idea that we should enforce on others our idea of an ideal society we have created." The idea that human rights are universal is not a uniquely Czech idea but enshrined and signed off on by the vast majority of nations in the world in the Universal Human Rights Declaration that came into existence on December 10, 1948.

President Zeman has repeatedly "made it clear that he considers economic diplomacy rather than promotion of human rights to be one of the pillars of Czech foreign policy." Unfortunately, this approach has also been seen in U.S. policy to China with disastrous results.
When President Barack Obama backed out of meeting with the Dalai Lama due to an upcoming trip to China, Vaclav Havel explained the importance of such "small compromises" on October 12, 2009 at Forum 2000:
I believe that when the new Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize postpones receiving the Dalai Lama until after he has accomplished his visit to China, he makes a small compromise, a compromise which actually has some logic to it. However, there arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises.
Unfortunately, the decisions being made by the Czech government today may appear to be a small compromise in favor of commercial interests but the rejection of the applicability of universal human rights standards in favor of advancing economic interests will have grave consequences to the standing of the Czech Republic around the world as it has for the United States.

Today, President Zeman's policies led to the Czech president being pelted with eggs during his speech on the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Unfortunately, the long term implications and consequences of abandoning a principled foreign policy based in human rights will be far more dire for the Czech Republic and the world.

The Velvet Revolution got its name from the American rock band the Velvet Underground whose music was covered by the Czech rock band the Plastic People of the Universe. The music outlawed by the Czech Communists led to the band members being arrested and placed on trial. This act of repression led to Charter 77 and restarting dissent after the years of repression following the 1968 Prague Spring.  This is one more example of how one action can have unexpected consequences.

Vaclav Havel's place in history is secure but the legacy of the current government of the Czech Republic is an entirely different matter. Freedom was regained 25 years ago and has lasted a generation which is a great triumph but to maintain and expand freedom depends on the current leadership pursuing the right policies and the people of the Czech Republic holding them accountable.

The Velvet Revolution at 25: Václav Havel and The Power of the Powerless

"The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility."- Václav Havel IHT (21 February 1990)
The Velvet Revolution in Prague on November 17, 1989
What was achieved 25 years ago in Czechoslovakia on November 17, 1989 that makes it a day of celebration around the world? It was a rejection of totalitarianism and the system of lies and hatred on which the regime thrived. It was a rebirth of freedom and of normal human relationships.  In Vaclav Havel's address to the European Parliament on November 11, 2009 he outlined the daunting challenges faced after the transition:
A democratic political culture cannot be created or renewed overnight. It takes a lot of time and in the meantime there are plenty of unanticipated problems to be solved. Communism ruled just once in modern times (and, hopefully, for the last time), so the phenomenon of post-Communism was also a novelty. We had to confront the consequences of the rule of fear that lasted for so many years, as well as all the dangers related to a redistribution of property without precedent in history. So there were and are lots of obstacles and we are only now acquiring experience of such a state of affairs.
Months earlier in the summer of 1989 Jiří Křižan and Václav Havel had drafted "A Few Sentences" Petition calling for the release of political prisoners and respect for human rights. Tens of thousands of Czechoslovakians signed the petition and it contributed to the Velvet Revolution and the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia.

What took place on November 17, 1989 was the nonviolent triumph of the power of the powerless over a brutal totalitarian regime.This is in profound contrast to the centenary of the start of World War One that was supposed to make the world safe for democracy and instead ushered in two totalitarian systems: Nazism and Communism, a Second World War and a Cold War.

The Velvet Revolution was not inevitable, but a combination of providence, free will, and principled human action. The "Velvet Revolution" achieved profound non-violent change without wholesale slaughter and violence associated historically with revolutions. A cursory look would claim that the "revolution" took 11 days in November for the Communists to relinquish power. Some say it began in 1976 after the beating and arrest of the rock band the Plastic People of the Universe led to a number of intellectuals, Vaclav Havel, among them drafting and signing Charter 77 challenging the Czech communists to honor the rights outlined in their own constitution and in the Helsinki accords which the communist government had signed in 1975.

However some nonviolent theoreticians place the roots of the 1989 success even further back in the nonviolent response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. After Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring, an effort by Czechoslovak communist reformers to build socialism with a human face, Havel wrote the following to the Czechoslovak President Alexander Dubcek who had been one of the reformers later purged: "Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance." The response by Czechs in what later became known as a civilian based defense, nonviolently bogged down the advancing Soviet army for eight months. The nonviolent lessons learned in 1968 planted seeds that bore fruit in 1989.  Havel passed away on December 18, 2011 but his legacy endures and his ideas remains relevant raising the call to vigilance at a conference at Charles University titled “Freedom and its Enemies”:

The era of dictatorships and totalitarian systems has not ended at all. It may have ended in a traditional form as we know it from the 20th century, but new, far more sophisticated ways of controlling society are being born. It requires alertness, carefulness, caution, study and a detached view.
I've had the privilege to have walked the streets and breathed the air of Prague in May of 1990, barely five months after Havel went to the Castle in December of 1989, and returned nineteen years later in October of 2009 to participate in Forum 2000 and see the changes that had taken place. Although Czechs may no longer look in awe at all that they have accomplished after walking around the center of the city visiting shops and a grocery store, and talking with Czechs over a few beers I left impressed by all that had been accomplished, and with an overwhelming sense of happiness at bearing witness to a flowering of freedom and creativity that continues to endure and thrive. Victims of dictatorship the world over have experienced first hand the solidarity of the Czech and Slovak peoples. Further evidence that 25 years later the ideals of the Velvet Revolution endure.

Vaclav Havel greets crowds in Wenceslas Square during 'Velvet Revolution'.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Could something like the democratic uprising in Hong Kong happen in Havana?

"Nonviolent action is just what it says: action which is nonviolent, not inaction. This technique consists, not simply of words, but of active protest, noncooperation, and intervention. Overwhelmingly, it is a group or mass action." - Gene Sharp
Hong Kong and Havana
The British seized Havana in 1762 after laying siege to the Spanish colonial city and occupied it from August 1762 to July 1763.  During the eleven month occupation trade and commerce exploded and Cubans became aware of the benefits of trading with Britain and its American colonies. In 1763 Havana was returned to the Spanish in exchange for Florida and would continue under Spanish colonial rule until 1898 followed by American occupation and independence in 1902.

In the case of Hong Kong the British took the island as a result of the First Opium War in 1842 and held on to it as a colony until 1997 turning it over to Communist China. However in the treaty agreement for the handover the Peoples Republic of China made a number of commitments that called for one country, two systems and agreed “to respect Hong Kong’s freedoms of speech, religion, speech, association, an independent judiciary and that Hong Kong would enjoy “a high degree of autonomy” in all matters except defense and foreign affairs. “ China assume[d] sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997. What was a “barren island” in 1841 is now a thriving financial metropolis whose citizens in 2012 had a gross domestic product per capita of $37,000, four times that of China.”

Despite the vast historical, geographic and cultural differences the question arises in the midst of the  ongoing nonviolent Umbrella Movement protests in Hong Kong entering their 50th day: Could something like it happen in Havana?

To answer this question, a number of considerations need to be taken into account before arriving at an answer. First, what is taking place in Hong Kong? There is a freedom movement in place that preexists the British handover to Communist China. 

The democracy movement in Hong Kong was born in reaction to the June 4, 1989 massacre in Tiananmen and calls on Britain to grant Hong Kong democracy prior to the 1997 handover. Britain responds with its Governor carrying out democratic reforms. Every year on the anniversary of the massacre huge candlelight demonstrations are organized in remembrance of the victims.

This movement in Hong Kong has been able to demonstrate on repeated occasions the ability to mobilize hundreds of thousands people to protest against specific actions by the government to curtail their freedoms.

In July 2003 half a million people spilled onto Hong Kong's streets to protest against proposed anti-subversion laws. The government shelved the proposed legislation and they have not been re-introduced since, even though they are required under the Basic Law.

In April 2004 China controversially rules out the possibility of universal suffrage in Hong Kong in 2007 and 2008, further slowing the pace of political reform. China also rules that its approval must be sought for any changes to Hong Kong's election laws, giving Beijing the right to veto any moves towards more democracy.

In December 2007 Beijing says it will allow the people of Hong Kong to directly elect their own leader in 2017 and their legislators by 2020.

On July 29, 2012 close to 100,000 Hong Kongers march to protest the mainland’s attempted introduction of a curriculum which praises the Communist Party and compares it positively with America’s democratic system, which it chides for its gridlock and partisan debate. The curriculum is withdrawn.

In January 2013 Occupy Central with Love and Peace campaign is initiated by law professor Benny Tai. 

On June 10, 2014 Communist China releases its first ever “white paper” for China, which asserted “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong, and demands that any chief executive elected in 2014 must “love” China—a subjective criteria Beijing will decide.

In June 2014 nearly 800,000 people cast votes in an unofficial referendum calling for open nomination of candidates for the 2017 election, part of campaign branded illegal by the Hong Kong government and senior Chinese officials.

In July 2014 hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters march through Hong Kong, calling for a genuinely democratic vote in 2017. Police arrest over 500 protesters who stage an overnight sit-in in the main business district.

In August 2014 tens of thousands of pro-Beijing supporters stage a massive counter-protest against the Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign.

At the same time repression rises against democrats and in August 2014 anti-corruption officers raid home of Jimmy Lai, a media magnate and outspoken critic of Beijing who has supported pro-democracy activists through his publications and with donations. 

On August 31, 2014 the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress rules out a fully democratic election for Hong Kong leader in 2017, by imposing tight rules on nominations of candidates who want to run in the poll that effectively places the nomination of candidates in the hands of the Beijing communist regime. It is this decision that sparks the protests that become known as the Umbrella Movement.

What began as a student boycott in September 22, 2014 and sit-in in front of Government headquarters grew into mass demonstrations due to the arrests of the student leaders and the use of tear gas and violence against nonviolent demonstrators. Human Rights in China has a detailed chronology up until the present day of what has taken place in the demonstrations.

One lesson from the Umbrella Movement and the democracy movement in China as a whole is that the ability to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people into the streets is a demonstration of power but in and of itself is not sufficient to change things, but when combined with specific demands can achieve specific ends.

Meanwhile, the nonviolent Cuban pro-democracy movement was forged in a baptism by fire in the 1970s inside of Cuba's prisons initially as a human rights movement. The first nonviolent dissident movement in Cuba was the Cuban Committee for Human Rights. During the 1980s the movement emerged from the prisons and was primarily based in Havana but during the course of the 1990s spread across the country. Its greatest initial success was to document and expose the systematic violation of human rights in Cuba that led to the dictatorship's condemnation at the United Nations Human Rights Commission for over a decade. In the 2000s the opposition achieved another important milestone with the Varela Project, an initiative of the Christian Liberation Movement, that obtained more that 25,000 signatures demanding profound reforms to bring Cuba into line with international human rights standards. Crackdowns and political killings targeting democratic opposition leaders followed but the movement has proven resilient. Nevertheless, the democracy movement in Cuba, until now,  has been unable to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people in Cuba. However, they do have a national reach and are able to coordinate small protests.

Havana and Hong Kong have completely different histories but do have one thing in common both are cities composed of human beings. Being humans they have certain needs, among them freedom and dignity. The demonstrations in Hong Kong were not an accident and the organizers have a strategic and long term vision with specific and concrete demands. 

The romantic ideal of taking to the barricades in a reenactment of Les Miserables may provide great images for the international media but forgets, at great hazard, that those 19th century uprisings in France were a dismal failure. It is also a dramatic example that blocking streets does not necessarily translate into political change.

The answer to the question "Can something like we are seeing today in Hong Kong also take place in Havana?" is yes but the follow up question should be and "What concrete concessions would such a movement be able to obtain from the current regime in power there?" 

In the meantime there are two things that you, the reader, can do: 1) Demonstrate your solidarity with the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong signing this petition and 2) Demonstrate your solidarity with the democracy movement in Cuba signing this petition.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico hits close to home for Cubans

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. - Martin Luther King Jr.
Mural of 43 missing (now assumed murdered) Mexican students
 The apparent murder of 43 Mexican students taken by criminal gangs in collusion with the local authorities on September 26, 2014 is an outrage that has sparked protests across Mexico and international scrutiny.  Amnesty International in a October 7, 2014 urgent action reported on what had taken place:
The 43 students remain disappeared since 26 September in the city of Iguala, Guerrero state, southern Mexico. Around 25 of them had been arrested by municipal police, while those remaining were abducted by unidentified armed men operating with the acquiescence of local authorities, a few hours later. All missing students are victims of enforced disappearances.
 On November 7, 2014 at a news conference Jesus Murillo Karam, the Mexican Attorney General, announced that the students disappeared in rural Ayotzinapa had been "abducted by police on order of a local mayor, and are believed to have been turned over to a gang that killed them and burned their bodies before throwing some remains in a river." Putting an end to the press conference Murillo raised his eyebrows and said: "Ya me canse" or "I'm tired" and has now gone viral with the hashtags #YaMeCanse and #estoycansado.

For Cubans this massacre twenty years after the July 13, 1994 “13 de Marzo” tugboat massacre when 37 Cubans were massacred by government officials is particularly shocking and strikes close to home as does the indifference manifested online by Nestle that made a joke out of the murder of these students to promote their Crunch candy bar. Twenty years later in July of 2014 in New York City, Washington DC, Miami and in Cuba demonstrations in the memory of the 37 massacred Cubans were held. All these years later and the victims are not forgotten. This will also be the case for these 43 students. This is a crime that will not be forgotten but remembered for years to come.

Both in the 1994 murder of 37 Cuban refugees and the 2014 murder of 43 Mexican students a Pope spoke out  on behalf of the victims. In the first case it was Pope John Paul II and in the latter Pope Francis. It is an outrage that 20 years after 37 men, women and children were massacred that not only the individuals responsible have yet to face justice but that the remains of the victims have not been recovered because of the intransigence and complicity of the Cuban government. Decades have passed but the names of the victims are not forgotten the list of names circulated on the date of the massacre and their faces remembered. The same is now happening with the names and faces of the 43 Mexican students.

 It is a shocking outrage that a crime on a roughly equivalent scale in terms of the number of dead has been committed in Mexico. At least in Mexico, it appears that the lowest levels of this criminal act have been arrested. Let us hope that all those responsible for this atrocity be held accountable and the students (in whatever condition they are found) be returned to their loved ones. At the same time let us send a message to Nestle and boycott their candy bars in a sign of protest for their disrespect of the victims of this massacre.

The names of the 43 disappeared normalista students of Ayotzinapa who the government of Mexico now assumes have been murdered are listed below and cry out for justice:

Abel García Hernández
Abelardo Vázquez Periten
Adán Abrajan de la Cruz
Alexander Mora Venancio
Antonio Santana Maestro
Benjamín Ascencio Bautista
Carlos Iván Ramírez Villarreal
Carlos Lorenzo Hernández Muñoz
César Manuel González Hernández
Christian Alfonso Rodríguez Telumbre
Christian Tomás Colón Garnica
Cutberto Ortiz Ramos
Dorian González Parral
Emiliano Alen Gaspar de la Cruz
Everardo Rodríguez Bello
Felipe Arnulfo Rosas
Giovanni Galindes Guerrero
Israel Caballero Sánchez
Israel Jacinto Lugardo
Jesús Jovany Rodríguez Tlatempa
Jonás Trujillo González
Jorge Álvarez Nava
Jorge Aníbal Cruz Mendoza
Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño
Jorge Luis González Parral
José Ángel Campos Cantor
José Ángel Navarrete González
José Eduardo Bartolo Tlatempa
José Luis Luna Torres
Joshvani Guerrero de la Cruz
Julio César López Patolzin
Julio César Ramírez Nava
Leonel Castro Abarca
Luis Ángel Abarca Carrillo
Luis Ángel Francisco Arzola
Magdaleno Rubén Lauro Villegas
Marcial Pablo Baranda
Marco Antonio Gómez Molina
Martín Getsemany Sánchez García
Mauricio Ortega Valerio
Miguel Ángel Hernández Martínez
Miguel Ángel Mendoza Zacarías
Saúl Bruno García

Sunday, November 9, 2014

25 years after the Berlin Wall was torn down: A Celebration of Freedom

Don't let them tell you the Berlin Wall fell. It was torn down.

Tearing down the Berlin Wall
25 years ago today the Berlin Wall began to be physically torn down. It was a great day for freedom and the triumph of long years of nonviolent resistance throughout Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall had been constructed beginning on August 13, 1961 with barbed wire fence followed by a 100 mile wall and more than 300 watch towers to spot and shoot escapees and the East German communists called it the "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart." Minefields were laid in some sectors.

In Germany, this was not a passive top down process or the Berlin Wall falling as a result of gravity and inertia. It bears repeating that it was torn down by courageous Germans.

Remember that between 1961 and the very year it was torn down at least 136 Germans were extrajudicially executed by the East German border guards just for trying to cross the Berlin Wall to freedom. There is The Berlin Wall Museum that offers a complete listing of the 136 known victims with details about them and their deaths.

Chris Gueffroy shot and killed crossing the Berlin Wall February 5, 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. Dead at 20 years of age for the crime of wanting to live in freedom. A memorial column commemorating Chris Gueffroy was erected at Britzer Zweigkanal in Berlin-Treptow in 2003 in honor of his 35th birthday. A biography and account of the circumstances that led to his death and the aftermath are available online.

On the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall being torn down U2 sang at the Brandenburg Gate and on the 25th anniversary the performance that stands out is Peter Gabriel's singing a cover of David Bowie's song Heroes which has lyrics that make allusion to the Berlin Wall:
I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns shot above our heads
(over our heads)
And we kissed,
as though nothing could fall
(nothing could fall)
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be Heroes,
just for one day
It is an appropriate song for the occasion. Prior to the start of the song the pictures of the victims who were killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall from 1969 through 1989 were shown on a giant outdoor screen. Walking through the Berlin Wall Memorial and listening to the names of the victims and seeing them is a powerful experience that all who visit the German capital should experience.

Google made public a video on the 25th anniversary showing where pieces of the Berlin Wall have been placed around the world and in Miami a piece of the Berlin Wall was unveiled in a ceremony at Miami Dade College in Downtown Miami.