Saturday, January 31, 2015

Freedom in the World 2015: A Reflection on the Freedom House Report

"I am an irrepressible optimist, but I always base my optimism on solid facts." - Mohandas Gandhi 

Freedom House in its 2015 reports distressing news: for the past nine years freedom has been in retreat around the world. According to Freedom House
"More aggressive tactics by authoritarian regimes and an upsurge in terrorist attacks contributed to a disturbing decline in global freedom in 2014, according to Freedom in the World 2015, Freedom House’s annual report on the condition of political rights and civil liberties."
In concrete terms of the 195 countries Freedom House assessed: 89 (46 percent) were rated Free, 55 (28 percent) Partly Free, and 51 (26 percent) Not Free. Less than half the world is currently living in freedom.

On two previous occasion addressing the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy in 2010 and again in 2013 the global deterioration of human rights has also been painfully evident and reflected upon. A possible answer was ventured citing the martyred Cuban democratic opposition activist, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who when awarded the Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought on December 17, 2002 observed that:
“The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized.”
 Although this is part of the answer, it is not the complete answer. Over the past decade two approaches towards confronting grave injustices have been tried and found wanting: war with and/or appeasement of tyrants.

Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya to overthrow cruel and unjust regimes have led into spirals of violence that have destabilized entire regions making the situation worse. On the other hand cruel and unjust regimes such as North Korea, the Peoples Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Vietnam and now in Cuba have and continue to be appeased out of fear, greed, and perceived self interests. 

In either case human rights has worsened. Neither has worked.

The one approach that has achieved progress over the past century and when failing has not worsened the situation compared to what existed before is nonviolent resistance.  Resisting injustice without committing new injustices or accepting existing injustices to avoid new challenges or losses in the profit and loss column. Tragically in the case of Syria what was initially a nonviolent uprising shifted to violent resistance when elements of Assad's military defected to the opposition thinking it would speed up victory. It had the opposite effect. 

On February 24, 2015 the Seventh Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy will convene placing a spotlight on the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria when one of the escaped students will speak out for the first time. She will be joined by dissidents from Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Ukraine and China. 

Speaking truth to power and engaging in effective nonviolent campaigns that topple entrenched dictatorships does not cost billions of dollars. Appeasing tyrants have generated great profits for industries in the past as has going to war against them. This is the tragedy of nonviolence but at the same time the great opportunity it provides to the powerless majority but the secret is that it requires training, learning tactics and having a strategy.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Remembering Gandhi 67 years after his assassination

Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities." - G.K. Chesterton What's Wrong With the World

Gandhi spinning cloth with a symbol of national resistance
67 years ago today Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated but his nonviolent legacy remains intact and continues to inspire others. Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948 while on a walk at Birla Bhavan by Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse.  He was 78 years old at the time of his death. Below are ten quotes to read and reflect on from this nonviolent practitioner:
"No people have risen who thought only of rights. Only those did so who thought of duties."

"Appeasement has become a word of bad odor. In no case can there be any appeasement at the cost of honour. Real appeasement is to shed all fear and do what is right at any cost."

"I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power that can move the world." - Young India Journal, September 1920

"It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings."

"Terrorism and deception are weapons not of the strong but of the weak."
"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."
"A saint who considers himself superior to a sinner forfeits his sainthood and becomes worse than the sinner, who unlike the proud saint, knows not what he is doing."
"Centralization as a system is inconsistent with non-violent structure of society."
They say, 'means are, after all, means'. I would say, 'means are, after all, everything'. As the means so the end.
"The truth is that cowardice itself is violence of a subtle type and therefore dangerous and far more difficult to eradicate than the habit of physical violence." - Mohandas Gandhi

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Appeasement has two definitions: One honorable and one dishonorable

"Appeasement has become a word of bad odor. In no case can there be any appeasement at the cost of honour. Real appeasement is to shed all fear and do what is right at any cost." - Mohandas Gandhi, 1945

"I do not believe that we can make progress in European appeasement if we allow the impression to gain currency abroad that we yield to constant pressure." - Anthony Eden, 21 February, 1938

The Obama Administration has shifted from a policy of sanctions on the Castro regime to one of yielding to constant pressure and undermining the rule of law which in concrete terms means losing national honor. Taking an American citizen and arbitrarily detaining him for five years while demanding the release of men who planned terrorist acts on U.S. soil and in the case of one was found guilty of conspiring in the murder four human beings is blackmail. Giving in to this dictatorship's demand is shameful. This is a description of what is popularly known as a policy of appeasement. This definition gained currency in the 1930s following the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain government to Hitler's Third Reich which was to "buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles."

Winston Churchill in a speech in Harrow, England on October 29, 1941 provided an alternative: "Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense."

However, there is an older definition of appeasement that predates Chamberlain and is reflected in the quotes by Mohandas Gandhi and Anthony Eden at the top of the page. This older definition stretches back five centuries and means "to bring to peace, pacify, quiet, or settle."

Orwell's whose essay Politics and the English Language should be required reading to anyone writing in the English language also described in an appendix to his novel 1984 titled "The Principles of Newspeak" explained how words could become the opposite of their original meaning. This is apparently what took place with the word "appeasement."

The policy by the Chamberlain government towards Nazi Germany that led through giving into constant pressure and making immoral compromises laid the ground work for World War II is now known as appeasement. This culminated in the 1938 Munich Pact in which the British prime minister made a deal with Hitler in a series of meetings handing over territory of Czechoslovakia while giving the Czechs the option to accept the deal or face the Nazis on their own, ignoring previous security arrangements.

Winston Churchill reacted to Chamberlain's agreement with Hitler stating: "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war."

Yet, as originally defined, in terms of actually achieving peace and settlement, as Gandhi described it above real appeasement "is to shed all fear and do what is right at any cost." This is the opposite of what Chamberlain did in his negotiations with the Nazi leader.

Tragically, it is also the opposite of what the Obama Administration has done in its negotiations with the Castro dictatorship. When democrats morally compromise themselves with tyrants it begins a process where everything is on the table including morality and national honor. Castro regime's new demands are out of a very old playbook.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shakes hands with Hitler

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Liberation of Auschwitz 70 years ago today: A Reflection

It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere. - Primo Levi, 1986 The Drowned and the Saved

Seventy years ago today on January 27, 1945 the concentration/extermination camp known as Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops. Today 300 survivors of this death camp together with world leaders gathered there to remember. This day is now recognized by the United Nations as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and is observed around the world but not in Israel. In Israel in 2015 Holocaust Day (Yom HaShoah ) will be observed on April 15 at sundown.

Today the world remembers the role Soviet troops played in liberating the camp, but without the Soviet Union's actions in 1939 the atrocity in Auschwitz may have never happened. Auschwitz came into existence on May 20, 1940 when the Nazis and Soviets were still allies. This event took place following the August 23, 1939 Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact which included secret protocols to divide up Poland through military conquest. Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the West on September 1, 1939. The Soviet Union invaded Poland from the East on September 17, 1939. The two armies met and marched together in Brest-Litovsk, Poland on September 22, 1939. Russian revisionists would like to rewrite this history.

Unfortunately, the Russians are not the only ones that would like to forget what really happened. American corporations played a role in making the Holocaust possible. For example, beginning with the National Socialists arrival to power the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) provided the Nazis with ground breaking technologies, precursors to computers, that were used to identify and categorize holocaust victims. According to an October 8, 2002 article in The Village Voice "the infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number.

IBM engineered a strategic business alliance with Nazi Germany and provided the punch card technology that would be used in managing the vast apparatus of the Nazi death camps. Equally troubling is that the NAZIS were able to arrive in a town with lists of names of people identified as being Jewish to round them up. Where did they get the data? From IBM Germany's census operations and similar advanced people counting and registration technologies. IBM technologically enabled the Holocaust.

Henry Ford of Ford Motors, in addition to himself personally being extremely antisemitic, had extensive relations and investments in Nazi Germany. This included factories assisting the Nazi war effort that continued through World War 2.

This blog is based out of the Cuban exile quarter which is in Miami, a city shared with a large Jewish population. Holocaust survivors are present here among us with the tattoos on their wrists bearing silent testament to this great crime. Sadly, Cubans too bear responsibility for Jewish suffering. May 27 through June 6, 1939 spanned the period when corrupt Cuban officials extorted desperate Jewish refugees aboard the SS St. Louis fleeing Nazi Germany and then thanks to popular anti-immigrant fervor refused to grant them safe harbor leading the ship to try its luck with the United States only to be denied and forced to return to Europe where many of the passengers would later perish in the gas chambers of the holocaust.Nor is it a coincidence that Jewish refugees were not let into Cuba in 1939 and a  Jewish man was not allowed to leave Cuba in 2009 but rotted for five years in prison for trying to help Cuban Jews.

S.S. St. Louis docked in Havana Harbor in 1939
A Cuban exile sculptor, Tony López, worked on The Holocaust Memorial located on Miami Beach which is a powerful work that preserves memory for future generations of this terrible crime. We will never forget this horrendous crime or remain silent before future injustices.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Castro's criminal cocaine connection

Cuban dictatorship implicated in drug trafficking while Obama Administration shares drug intelligence with Castro Regime.
Partners in Crime: Manuel Noriega and Fidel Castro
 High ranking Venezuelan defector is now in the United States and is currently serving as a key witness for the DEA and federal prosecutors. El Nuevo Herald is reporting that Salazar has identified Diosdado Cabello, head of Venezuela's National Assembly, as the leader of the infamous drug-trafficking organization, "Cartel de los Soles". Moreover, he's revealed Cuba's role in the Cartel's narco-trafficking operations, particularly regarding transshipment to the United States. 

Wikileaks has revealed the United States and Cuba, since at least 2009 have been "cooperating" on drug trafficking. Even Fox News Latino has published favorable reporting on this relation ship as recently as January 12, 2015. Unfortunately, the experts cited in news reports regarding the drug problem in Cuba and the regime's relationship to the international drug trade bears no resemblance with reality. The State Department in its 2014 country report on Cuba repeats these claims.

The public discussion surrounding cooperating with the dictatorship on counter-narcotics efforts goes back 25 years. Representative Charlie Rangel on July 3, 1989 in a letter to The New York Times started to make the case for the United States and the Castro regime to cooperate to stop regional drug trafficking. First General Manuel Noriega, an authoritarian dictator, that the U.S. shared drug intelligence with to counter drug trafficking and "showered with letters of commendation and grateful thanks by the Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington" was not what U.S. officials claimed in their official reports. Secondly, high ranking Cuban military and intelligence officials had just been revealed to be smuggling large quantities of cocaine into the United States. The timing to be advocating such a policy was on the surface madness. On the other hand it was a good first step in a propaganda campaign to white wash the Castro dictatorship's criminal complicity in the trafficking of hard drugs into the United States. 

Placing this into context

General Noriega was revealed, by Florida prosecutors, to be involved in the smuggling of narcotics into the United States. Frontline in a chronology for the program Thirty Years of America's Drug War revealed that "Panamanian General Manuel Noriega and Pablo Escobar cut a deal which allows Escobar to ship cocaine through Panama for $100,000 per load. The two had met in 1981 when Noriega mediated negotiations for the release of Marta Ochoa. 

Seven years later on February 5, 1988 a federal grand jury in Miami issued an indictment against Panamanian General Manuel Noriega for drug trafficking.  On December 20, 1989 the U.S. military invades Panama and after eluding capture for 22 days Manuel Noriega surrenders to the DEA on January 3, 1990 and is brought to Miami. On July 10, 1992 Noriega is convicted on eight counts of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering, and sentenced to 40 years in federal prison. 

With regards to Cuba, the U.S. State Department on March 1, 1982 declared it a state sponsor of terrorism whose government was was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democratic government. In 2001 at Georgetown University when I questioned General Barry McCaffrey, who at the time was advocating sharing intelligence on drug trafficking with the Castro regime, about this relationship between Cuba and Colombia's drug trafficking guerrillas and he recognized it and expressed his concerns

During General Manuel Noriega's trial information emerged  in 1992 publicly implicating the Castro regime as the Sun Sentinel reported at the time:
"Federal prosecutors say Noriega traveled to Havana to ask [Fidel] Castro to mediate a potentially deadly dispute with top members of Colombia`s Medellin cocaine cartel. They say the cartel chiefs were upset because a major drug lab had been seized in Panama despite payment of millions of dollars in protection money to Noriega.
According to the Noriega indictment, Castro negotiated a peace accord between the cartel and Noriega at the 1984 meeting. The allegation forms a cornerstone of the racketeering and drug trafficking charges against Noriega."
 At the same time convicted cartel leader Carlos Lehder directly implicated Raul Castro and U.S. fugitive Robert Vesco "to route cocaine flights through Cuba."

Capitol Hill Cubans blogged how two years later, a federal indictment listed General Raul Castro as part of a conspiracy that smuggled seven and a half tons of cocaine into the United States over a 10-year period but the Clinton administration overruled prosecutors.

Needless to say sharing drug intelligence with the Castro regime considering its past history and current behavior is not prudent and frankly criminal considering what it will do to some of the most vulnerable in the United States.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Historic meeting between American and Cuban human rights defenders

Rep. John Lewis, Eddy Acevedo,  Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez, Yris Pérez Aguilera,
Today Mario Diaz-Balart tweeted the image of American civil rights icon Representative John Lewis seated at a table with Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez and  Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera remarking "What a historic moment: Three civil and human rights heroes meeting "  There are images that shock and uplift the imagination. The image above is one of these.

The congressman who half a century ago was being beaten bloody and unjustly jailed while engaged in a nonviolent struggle to end Jim Crow segregation in the Deep South in what became known as the Freedom Rides and later marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 in the Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights.

Sitting across from him at the same table was Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez" who suffered beatings, and spent 17 years and 38 days in prison for his nonviolent defiance of the communist totalitarian dictatorship in Cuba. In 1990 Jorge Luis stood up in a public plaza and called for reforms and was jailed for oral enemy propaganda and would not be released into freedom until 2007. 

Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, whose brother Mario was also a political prisoner, would go on to found the Rosa Parks Women's Movement inspired by the woman whose act of defiance in 1955 propelled a young Baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr. to national prominence following the Montgomery bus boycott. Yris met her future husband, Antúnez, while visiting her brother in prison. Over the past 15 years she has suffered numerous detentions, beatings, and death threats for her defense of human rights.

Seeing the three of them together seated at the same table is a powerful image.

The Struggle for Cuba's Freedom Continues

 Obama-Castro pact protest vigil

Protest Vigil at Cuban Memorial tonight
 Today, January 22, 2015, marks two years and six months since Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's unexplained deaths.  You who are reading this can do your part signing a petition demanding an international investigation and letting others know about this campaign for justice.

Tonight Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans gathered together in a protest vigil praying for justice and an end to the dictatorship that has been a nightmare for Cuba for the past 56 years.

At the same time we protested the Obama administration's decision to release Cuban spies that had plotted terrorist attacks against the United States and especially the freeing of one of them serving a life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder in the case of four men extra-judicially executed on February 24, 1996 on the orders of Raul Castro in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down.

These four men: Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales were killed while engaged in a search and rescue for Cuban rafters. Their courage and sacrifice are honored.

Tonight we gathered together not only to protest the Obama-Castro Pact but to let the world know that the struggle for Cuba's freedom continues.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Prosecuter found dead hours before testifying on 1994 AMIA Bombing

 Justice denied for two decades and the prosecutor now possibly the latest victim
Alberto Nisman found dead. A forced suicide?
 July 18, 2014 marked 20 years since the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina's history. A siren sounded at the precise time the bomb exploded on July 18, 1994 at 9:53am (1253 GMT) and reduced the seven-story Jewish-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) community centre in Buenos Aires to rubble reported the BBC. 85 people were murdered ranging in age from 5 years old to 67 years old and more than 300 hundred wounded. 20 years later those responsible for this act of terrorism remain at large. A movement to pay homage to the victims of this crime continues to remember and demand justice two decades later that continues to elude the families of the victims.

Protesters: "I am Nisman"
The failure to close the case 20 years later has now taken a more troubling and potentially sinister turn. Alberto Nisman, who was Jewish, was found dead in his apartment with a gunshot wound to the head. Some over social media are describing him as the 86th victim to have been claimed more than 20 years later on January 18, 2015 in what the government has declared a suicide, but thousands have taken to the street questioning the official version. Nisman was the prosecutor who spent a decade investigating the case and had accused high ranking government officials of allegedly obstructing the investigation was found dead the day before he was due to testify before Congress. No suicide letter was found. Reuters reported the following:
State prosecutor Alberto Nisman, the lead investigator into the 1994 car bomb attack that killed 85 people at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, was found dead in his apartment late on Sunday, hours before he was scheduled to present his case to Congress.
A 22-caliber pistol was found at his side and Nisman appears to have committed suicide, but many of the details of the case are unclear and allegations of foul play have surged. He died just a few days after accusing President Cristina Fernandez of trying to hamper his probe.
This case needs to be monitored closely as does the investigation into the worse single attack on Jews since World War 2 that has been linked to Iran.

85 victims of July 18, 1994 AMIA bombing


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

History repeats itself: Lessons from Libya and Syria for Cuba

Gaddafi and Obama (2009) Obama and Castro (2013)
The ongoing disasters in Libya and Syria are demonstrations of 1.) the failure of engaging and normalizing relations with tyrants and 2.) paying lip service to human rights violations and ignoring nonviolent opposition activists until the stench of death and the threat to regional interests ends in a military response that is also a dismal failure. At the end of the day the West ends up looking the other way impotently not having advanced freedom or stability. Unfortunately, the new Obama policy on Cuba promises more of the same. However, there is another way but first a brief review of what hasn't work.

The Syrian opposition had its greatest successes when it maintained a nonviolent posture. Unfortunately when the Assad regime was in retreat and elements of the military switched sides the temptation to end things quickly with violence only ended up in dramatically driving up the body count and strengthening the dictatorship that is in a stronger position today while at the same time leading to the spread of ISIS. In Libya the West's embrace of Gaddafi and disengagement from dissidents on the ground who rose up during the Arab Spring; followed by the quick backing of NATO did not allow for a nascent nonviolent movement to get very far. Foreign backing was able to drive Gaddafi from power, but that which was born in violence in Libya has not brought freedom or stability to that country.

Small moral compromises that led to failure

In the case of Libya in 2009 the lone convicted terrorist of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, 57, a Libyan intelligence officer, who was jailed in 2001 was freed and sent back to Muammar Gaddafi. Thousands welcomed home as a hero the Lockerbie bomber who murdered 270 people in 1988 when he blew up Pan Am Flight 103. At the time time President Barack Obama said the release was a mistake, but five years later he released Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, 49, a Cuban intelligence officer, jailed in1998 for the murder of four people in 1996 was returned to Raul Castro and a hero's welcome in Cuba.

What appears to be a small moral compromise in the service of a larger policy agenda, the freeing of murderous intelligence officers for business interests or the release of a hostage, often times return to haunt policy makers. The message not only to the Castro regime's security services but to others is clear: you can get away with multiple murders and the United States will eventually relent if you have an American hostage.

History repeats itself?
This combined with business and political interests in the United States corrupting themselves in order to pursue trade with the Castro dictatorship and the perpetuation of decades more of dictatorship will be the end result. Economic engagement that modernizes totalitarian dictatorships has led to richer countries in China and Vietnam with worsening human rights standards that are now impacting internationally. Repeating this approach in Cuba while rewarding repression promises the same outcome. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the first time that the United States backed a left wing dictatorship with the collusion of the Catholic Church and condemned an entire people to more than 70 years of what became known as the perfect dictatorship.

Withdrawing consent and regaining sovereignty
Finally in the current debate on Cuba there is a case that is not being made in Washington DC: that Cubans withdrawing their consent nonviolently with an international community that is willing to demonstrate its solidarity with them, and not empowering the dictatorship oppressing the Cuban people, is the best means to achieve a successful transition. This is why national opposition figures such as Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas who could have over seen a democratic transition have met with untimely deaths.

University Academics Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their 2008 study "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic on Nonviolent Conflict" compared the outcomes of 323 nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006. They found that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with just under half that at 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns. Finally there study also suggests “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.” This also depends on the nonviolent opposition movement having a strategic vision and maintaining its non-violent posture even under the worse repression.

Change must come from the bottom up if a democratic order is to emerge in Cuba.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. on film

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." - Martin Luther King, Jr

 There are numerous documentaries about Martin Luther King Jr. but dramatic interpretations focused on the man and his life are few and far between. However there are three that you should seek out and see. The first, Selma, is now and theaters and the other two Boycott (2001) and King (1978) are available on Amazon. These films show a Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who is nonviolent but not passive before injustice. The three movies may also help explain why both the FBI and KGB sought to discredit the man.

The film Selma, now in theaters, shows Martin Luther King Jr. the political strategist and Nobel laureate contesting power nationally with nonviolence. The movie shows the tactical and strategic considerations leading up to the decision to march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama in March of 1965.

However, this is not the first film to focus on a nonviolent campaign by Martin Luther King Jr. HBO Films released the film Boycott on February 24, 2001 that explores the campaign that began King's involvement in the civil rights movement in December of 1955 following the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat and go to the back of the bus in Montgomery Alabama.

Ten years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination the Emmy award winning miniseries King was broadcast on February 12, 13 and 14, 1978 presenting a dramatic overview of the civil rights leader's life beginning in the early 1950s as a Southern Baptist Minister taking the viewer right up to his assassination on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fact checking The Washington Post on the Antonio Maceo Brigade

A white washed history of a shameful chapter in Cuban American relations with the island
Fidel Castro with members of the Antonio Maceo Brigade
 Reading Tina Griego’s  January 5, 2015 article “They risked everything to open a door to Cuba. They were shunned for it,” was a surprise considering it celebrates the equally notorious Antonio Maceo Brigade and Areito magazine.  Christopher S. Simmons, a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, has stated publicly that “both entities have long and distinguished histories of collaboration with Cuban Intelligence.”

However it is not only from U.S. officials that such claims have been made but by a now deceased high profile Cuban in the island who met with members of the Antonio Maceo Brigade exchanging life experiences only to later discover that what was discussed would be reported on by one of these Cuban American youth from Miami to Cuban State Security in a report signed in their name.

Eliseo Alberto in 1997 published a book titled Informe contra mi mismo(Dossier Against Myself) in which he detailed the encounter and betrayal. On page 12 of his book is the first mention of the Antonio Maceo Brigade followed by how they met with the author at his home.  On page 16 while describing an interrogation by State Security to pressure him into spying on his own father Eliseo is given a report of confidences shared, and that the author wrote that the data was “worthwhile to have in mind at the hour of evaluating present and future actions.” Eliseo writes of the document that “It was signed at the bottom of the page by one of those young Cubans residing in Miami.”
Dossier Against Myself 
Cuban American youth traveling to Cuba to spy on Cubans for the Castro regime sowed distrust and division. At least one of them ended up in their professional career spying at Florida International University before being arrested by the FBI, placed on trial and sentenced to 3 to 5 years in prison. The Antonio Maceo Brigade didn't open a door to Cuba but rather another door for the Castro dictatorship to engage in espionage on both sides of the Florida Straits. That the Washington Post would ignore, or whitewash, this history does a disservice to the facts and to Cubans who are seeking an authentic and enduring national reconciliation between all Cubans.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolence will succeed today and tomorrow

"The tragedy was not the clamor of the bad people, but the silence of the good people." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Mugshot of MLK Jr. taken in 1963 in Birmingham Alabama

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was born 86 years ago today on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia and he was assassinated on April 4, 1968 when he was just 39 years old, but he packed more life in those 39 years than many do in 86. He was a baptist minister and an apostle of nonviolence that followed that retraced the path taken by Mohandas Gandhi thirty years earlier into martyrdom as he embraced the Christian ethic of radical love and nonviolence.

The next few days have over the past eight years been days of reflection on the significance of Martin Luther King Jr. and his nonviolent legacy. However the events of 2014 and the ongoing conversation bring new urgency prompting engaging in a public dialogue.

First the essay by Frank Harris III,  a professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, published in the Hartford Courant asked the question: "Would Martin Luther King Jr.'s Nonviolence Succeed Today?" I did not agree with professor Harris's conclusion that: "[t]he strategy of nonviolence in a violent world works only if those who are acting violently have some ember of a conscience."

The percentage of a population without a conscience is always minority and is clinically described as a syndrome called malignant narcissism or more commonly known as sociopaths and comprise 4% of the population. The trouble is that a clever sociopath in a position of authority can institute policies that dehumanize and demonize targeted populations that the non-sociopathic majority then set out to destroy. Sadly we have seen these dynamics in cultures and races all over the world targeting people based on their race, class or religion just to mention three categories.

The objective of nonviolence is to re-humanize both the non-sociopathic majority driven to inhumane acts and at the same time empowering and rehumanizing those targeted by exercising the healing power of nonviolence. Although this will not convert those without "some ember of conscience" they would no longer be in power.

Secondly, even in a powerful and well made film such as Selma now in theaters this dynamic is missing. Michael Nagler and Mercedes Mack of the Metta Center in their review of the film cite the southern writer Marshal Frady:     
". . . in the catharsis of a live confrontation with wrong, when an oppressor’s violence is met with a forgiving love, he can be vitally touched, and even, at least momentarily, reborn as a human being, while the society witnessing such a confrontation will be quickened in conscience toward compassion and justice." 
Nagler and Mack go on to explain that "[i]n the field of nonviolence this is known as a 'nonviolent moment.'  This is the transformative power of nonviolence on display that for whatever reason has not been reproduced or captured in a major film.

Thirdly, Cornel West in an interview on 'The Radical King' outlines Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s radical nature:
 "King was about militant nonviolence. It goes back to radical love: You don't begin by dehumanizing those who are dehumanizing you, because it contributes to the cycle of dehumanization in the world. And you're right: It takes unbelievable spiritual courage, moral fortitude, to engage in militant nonviolence. To put it another way, Martin King was an extremist of love. We live in a world where people are fearful of extremism, but King would say he was always trying to keep the flow of love in place. In that sense, he turned the world on its head."
However, at the same time that Martin Luther King Jr. was militantly nonviolent he did not abandon anger but harnessed it explaining in Freedomways magazine in 1968, "The supreme task [of a leader] is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force." He was also not a fan of moderation and in his letter to his fellow clergymen written from a Birmingham jail he explained why:
"I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season."
 There is much to be learned from the life of Martin Luther King Jr., for any activist seeking to aggressively bring an end to an unjust system. The first lesson is profoundly Christian and it is to harness the anger against injustice without allowing to contaminate your love for your enemy.  Reverend King in St. Augustine in 1964 also explained exactly what kind of love this is:
"Its difficult advice and in some quarters it isn't too popular to say it...Let us recognize that violence is not the answer. I must say to you tonight that violence is impractical...We have another method that is much more powerful and much more effective than the weapon of violence...Hate isn't our weapon either...I am not talking now about a weak love it would be nonsense for an oppressed people to love their oppressor in an affectionate sense I'm not talking about that too many people confuse the meaning of love when they go to criticizing the love ethic. ...I am talking about a love that is so strong that it becomes a demanding love. A love that is so strong that it organizes itself into a mass movement and says somehow I am my brothers keeper and he is so wrong that I am willing to suffer and die to get him right and to see that he is on the wrong road."
This idea is so powerful that both the FBI and KGB targeted Martin Luther King Jr trying to discredit and destroy him, but despite this the nonviolent action he practiced fundamentally transformed the United States of America.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Looking back at détente: Immoral policy that endangered US national interests

"I think detente had manifestly failed, and that the pursuit of it was encouraging Soviet expansion and rendering the world more dangerous, and especially rendering the Western world in greater peril." - Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick 

Détente: Mao with Nixon, Breshnev with Nixon, Breshnev with Ford
 Since President Barack Obama announced his new Cuba policy on December 17, 2014 there have been over 108 articles that mention both Cuba and détente with the vast majority viewing it as a positive.

However, if one is to revisit the policy of détente enacted by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger then carried forward into the Ford Administration. The word détente means an easing of tensions or relaxation and was a period of improved relations between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted between 1971 and 1980. According to Professor Branislav L. Slantchev the Soviets used détente "to evolve from a great regional power into a formidable truly global superpower." It was also the worse period of great defeats internationally for the United States. At the same time the United States morally debased itself into a moral equivalency with the Soviet Union and Maoist China. Gerald Ford was so wedded to détente that he refused to meet with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for fear of offending the Soviets. This led Jimmy Carter  on October 6, 1976 in a presidential debate to charge President Ford with being weak:
"He's also shown a weakness in yielding to pressure. The Soviet Union, for instance, put pressure on Mr. Ford, and he refused to see a symbol of human freedom recognized around the world -- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn." 
This low point led to a struggle for the soul of the Republican Party at the time that led to a plank in the party platform that repudiated Ford's weakness titled "morality in foreign policy":
We recognize and commend that great beacon of human courage and morality, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, for his compelling message that we must face the world with no illusions about the nature of tyranny. Ours will be a foreign policy that keeps this ever in mind…. Agreements that are negotiated, such as the one signed in Helsinki, must not take from those who do not have freedom the hope of one day gaining it.
Despite not wanting to do so circumstances forced President Carter to scrap it as a matter of policy in 1980 in reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan  and his Administration's focus on human rights. President Ronald Reagan had long repudiated this policy as immoral and completely departed from it upon taking office with regards to the Soviet Union. On January 29, 1981 in a news conference responding to a question from Sam Donaldson of ABC news whether detente was possible with the Soviet Union; President Reagan answered as follows:
"Well, so far detente's been a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its own aims. I don't have to think of an answer as to what I think their intentions are; they have repeated it. I know of no leader of the Soviet Union since the revolution, and including the present leadership, that has not more than once repeated in the various Communist congresses they hold their determination that their goal must be the promotion of world revolution and a one-world Socialist or Communist state, whichever word you want to use.
Now, as long as they do that and as long as they, at the same time, have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain that, and that is moral, not immoral, and we operate on a different set of standards, I think when you do business with them, even at a detente, you keep that in mind."
Reagan understood the nature of communist ideology something many have forgotten today in dealing with the communist regime in Cuba under the Castro brothers. At the same time it is also important to remember the role that American corporations played throughout the history of the Soviet Union in propping up and aiding that monstrous totalitarian regime. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on June 30, 1975 addressing the AFL-CIO labor union first thanked workers for their solidarity and then spoke of the alliance between Soviet communists and American capitalists:
But just as we feel ourselves your allies here, there also exists another alliance - at first glance a strange one, a surprising one - but if you think about it, in fact, one which is well-grounded and easy to understand this is the alliance between our Communist leaders and your capitalists.
      This alliance is not new. The very famous Armand Hammer, who is flourishing here today, laid the basis for this when he made the first exploratory trip into Russia, still in Lenin's time, in the very first years of the Revolution. He was extremely successful in this intelligence mission and since that time for all these 50 years, we observe continuous and steady support by the businessmen of the West of the Soviet Communist leaders.
      Their clumsy and awkward economy, which could never overcome its own difficulties by itself, is continually getting material and technological assistance. The major construction projects in the initial five-year plan were built exclusively with American technology and materials. Even Stalin recognized that two-thirds of what was needed was obtained from the West. And if today the Soviet Union has powerful military and police forces - in a country which is by contemporary standards poor - they are used to crush our movement for freedom in the Soviet Union - and we have western capital to thank for this also.
     Unfortunately in 2015 once again American corporations are falling over themselves to get American taxpayers this time to subsidize the totalitarian communist dictatorship in Cuba. Communist China and Vietnam are two other examples of short term greed ignoring the best interests of their home country much less the interests of the Chinese and Vietnamese suffering under these brutal dictatorships. After this brief historical review hopefully the word détente will not be viewed as positively as it has been over the past month and a natural question should arise: Why repeat this failed policy in Cuba?

President Obama with Chavez (2009) President Obama & Raul Castro (2013)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why President Barack Obama's Cuba policy will fail both Cubans and Americans

December 17, 2014: A historic blunder on Cuba policy

On December 17, 2014 President Obama with his Cuba policy announcement continued down a path his administration followed in 2009 that had already started in the Carter administration and restarted in the Clinton  administrations that has only served to legitimize and empower the longest totalitarian dictatorship in the Americas. The Castro regime has perceived itself on each of these occasions free to deal with obstacles to its rule without having to fear outside consequences and both Cubans and U.S. policy interests have suffered as a result.  

There is agreement on the publicly stated U.S. policy goals for Cuba which are: helping the island transition from a totalitarian dictatorship to a democratic order with civil society and the rule of law. They coincide with the aspirations of the Cuban democratic opposition. For example, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, co-founder of the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba spent a life time there pursuing nonviolent means to achieve democratic change. 

Oswaldo Payá during a national dialogue, his movement organized, with 12,000 Cubans inside and outside of Cuba participating in a process that began in 2003 and ended in 2006 with the document “Program for all Cubans”, described a transition that would go from the present totalitarian laws to the rule of law in an emerging democratic order without descending into chaos. Oswaldo was murdered, along with his movement’s youth leader, Harold Cepero, on July 22, 2012 by the Castro regime’s state security services. They aren’t the only opposition leaders murdered by the regime since 2009.

In the course of debating Cuba policy one should not underestimate the Castro brothers and their ruling military junta. The United States attempted twice to topple the Castro regime in April 1961 through the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and again with Operation Mongoose between 1962 and 1964. Beginning in 1964 despite campaign pronouncements, U.S. policy in practice and in particular with regards to economic sanctions has been one of containment with repeated attempts to achieve a détente with the dictatorship.

This is due to the realization acquired during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that Fidel Castro preferred a nuclear first strike on the United States than lose power. The Cuban dictator asked for Nuclear Armageddon during the October 1962 Missile Crisis in a letter to Nikita Khrushchev and actively sought to provoke it. This caused his Soviet allies to rethink basing any nuclear missiles in Cuba. In the early 1980s Castro again pressed the Soviets hard for a nuclear strike against the United States. Andrian A. Danilevich, a Soviet general staff officer made Fidel Castro’s second request public knowledge in 2009 in The New York Times.

This is why the United States in the 1960s stopped trying to topple Castro. Why risk 300 million lives to liberate an island of 11 million people from a sociopath willing to spark Armageddon if his power is threatened?

The Castro regime also has one of the top three intelligence services on the planet, trained by the East German Stasi, along with a half century record of sponsoring and engaging in terrorism and guerrilla warfare on different continents. In 2013 the Castro regime was caught smuggling weapons to North Korea that included ballistic missile technology, rockets, MiG fighter jets, and much more hidden under bags of sugar. Underestimating Castro has led to many a fool’s errand and not only for the United States, just ask the Venezuelan opposition for another contemporary example.

The idea, circulated since the late 1990s, that the Castro dictatorship is not a military threat to the United States was planted in a threat assessment authored by one of Fidel Castro’s spies who had infiltrated the Defense Intelligence Agency. She was only captured in September 2001 after first being detected because of some unusual behavior during the immediate aftermath of February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. Her name is Ana Belen Montes, a graduate of John Hopkins and the University of Virginia, and she is currently serving a 25 year prison sentence for espionage.

The most important action President Obama took on December 17 has been the one least debated and that cannot be undone and undermines stated U.S. policy goals in Cuba. The exchange of three Cuban spies for Alan Gross, an American held hostage since December 2009. Castro had repeatedly stated that Alan Gross would remain imprisoned until the five Cuban spies were returned to Cuba and five years later on December 17 Alan Gross was back on American soil and all five spies were back in Cuba. Adding an American spy to the mix and claiming Gross’s release is humanitarian doesn’t pass the smell test.

One of the supposed end goals of U.S, policy towards the island is to see a Cuba were “rule by law “is replaced by “rule of law.” The best way to accomplish this is to practice what you preach. Unfortunately, the freeing of Gerardo Hernandez, a Castro spy serving a double life sentence (one of them for conspiracy to murder Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales on February 24, 1996) was an unusual act that flouts the spirit of the rule of law. The United States had engaged in spy trades before but not for someone serving life for murder. Add to it that it was done responding to a kidnapper’s demand and the moral dubiousness of the action is compounded.

The idea that one should not focus on the means but on “the ends” is a mistake. Mohandas Gandhi, a great strategic thinker, understood this and on July 17, 1924 in the publication Young India said: “There is no wall of separation between means and end. Indeed the Creator has given us control (and that too very limited) over means, none over the end. Realization of the goal is in exact proportion to that of the means. This is a proposition that admits of no exception.”

This does not bode well for Obama’s Cuba policy.