Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Human Rights in Cuba during the Obama Administration: From Bad to Worse

Providing context
Some of the Cuban rights defenders since 2009 who have died suspiciously
The Obama administration and a substantial portion of the U.S. establishment have resurrected the discredited and discarded policy of détente pioneered by the Nixon administration, continued through the Ford and Carter administrations before being rejected by Ronald Reagan in 1981. Today as members of the State Department met with representatives of the Castro regime to discuss the basis of a human rights dialogue the office of the spokesperson at the State Department released the following statement:
United States and Cuban diplomatic delegations met today at the State Department to discuss the methodology, topics, and structure of a future human rights dialogue. The atmosphere of the meeting was professional, and there was broad agreement on the way forward for a future substantive dialogue, the timing and location of which will be determined through diplomatic channels. Each side raised concerns about human rights issues, and both sides expressed willingness to discuss a wide range of topics in future substantive talks.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration along with some members of congress have sought to down play the Castro regime's human rights record in order to pursue the new policy of engagement with the dictatorship. For example, President Obama on December 26, 2014, days after commuting the sentence of Gerardo Hernandez, the Cuban spy serving life for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue on February 24, 1996 in an act of state terrorism, described this crime as a "tragic circumstance." The unrepentant spy and terrorist was greeted as a national hero by Raul Castro and announced that he was "ready for his next order."

The so-called "substantive dialogue" will most likely regurgitate the sophist arguments of the Castro regime seeking to re-define human rights along a false ideological divide in order to justify its systematic and gross violation of human rights.

Poll released yesterday reveals that when informed of the human rights abuses of the Castro dictatorship, a majority of Americans are against President Obama's new Cuba policy. This would explain the president's effort to downplay the regime's human rights record. At the same time prominent Cuban Americans have opposed the new policy and young Cubans and Americans have also sent a clear message to the Obama Administration proclaiming: Not in Our Name.

The debate over the Castro regime's human rights record often times fails to look at the harm it has done internationally. At the United Nations Human Rights Council the delegation representing the Cuban dictatorship has a long track record of undermining human rights that stretches back decades. Another aspect that the mainstream media ignores is how the Cuban government has crossed the ideological divide to cooperate with right wing military and racist dictatorships in covering up their gross and systematic human rights violations.

At the same time their appears to be blind faith in technology, especially the internet, as the magic solution to opening up Cuba. However, in today's news the Agence France Press reported that "Cuba wants to boost public Internet access while keeping the Communist government's control over it."

Technology is neutral, and repressive regimes have contracted Western companies to place draconian controls on the internet that are used to target activists. Amnesty International identified "Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Nortel Networks, Websense and Sun Microsystems" as having "provided technology which has been used to censor and control the use of the Internet in China." These repressive applications of new technologies have been transferred to other dictatorships including the Castro regime.

Defenders of the Obama administration's policy claim that it was initiated on December 17, 2014 ignoring that it is the continuation of a policy that was initiated in 2009 and has coincided with a deterioration in human rights that has included the suspicious deaths of human rights defenders such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, Wilman Villar Mendoza, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante.

Now the press is reporting on the conversations between U.S. diplomats and representatives of the Castro regime. Not mentioned is that one of the "Cuban diplomats", Gustavo Machin, has been linked by  Rosa María Payá Acevedo to the events surrounding her dad's death on July 22, 2012.

Finally, while U.S. diplomats sat down with their counterparts in the Castro regime to discuss human rights  inside of Cuba nonviolent dissidents were being beaten down by the dictatorship's state security agents.

Human rights in Cuba were bad before the Obama administration came to office, but unfortunately it has gotten worse since then with increasing levels of violence and the extrajudicial killings of nonviolent opposition leaders.

U.S. diplomats dialogue with Castro regime diplomats

Sunday, March 29, 2015

18 years without justice for Danish student gunned down in Havana by a soldier

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." - Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture 1986
Joachim Løvschall: 1970 - 1997
Joachim Løvschall was studying Spanish in Havana in the spring of 1997. He was gunned down by a soldier of the Castro regime in Havana, Cuba eighteen years ago today on March 29, 1997. The identity of the soldier has never been revealed to Joachim''s family. No one has been brought to justice. Joachim's family is not satisfied with the explanation offered by the dictatorship.

The last time they saw Joachim 
On March 28, 1997 Joachim Løvschall ate his last dinner with white wine in a little restaurant called Aladin, located on 21st street in Havana. He went to the Revolutionary Plaza and bought a ticket to the Cuban National Theater. Following the performance he went to the theater's bar, Cafe Cantate, and met up with two Swedish friends. They each drank a couple of beers, but soon left because Joachim did not like the music. At 23:30, they said good bye to each other on the sidewalk in front of Cafe Cantate. Joachim was never seen alive again. 

The Castro regime's version of what happened

On September 28, 1997 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published an article by Kim Hundevadt titled "Dangerous Vacation" that outlined what happened to Joachim Løvschall and presented the Castro regime's version of the events leading to this young man's death:
Around 23:30, a person matching Joachim Løvschall's description was in a bar named Segundo Dragon d'Oro. The bar lies in the hopeless part of town, around the Revolutionary Plaza which is dominated by ministry and other official buildings of harsh concrete architecture, and lies empty in at night.

At 2:45am he left the bar, after becoming intoxicated. Around 20 minutes later, he was walking down the Avenue Territorial, behind the Defense Ministry.

Joachim Løvschall walked, according to the Cuban authorities, first on the sidewalk that lies opposite the Ministry. Midway he crossed over to the other sidewalk, considered to be a military area, though it is not blocked off.

The Cubans have explained that Joachim Løvschall was shouted at by two armed guards, who in addition fired warning shots, which he did not react to. Therefore, one guard shot from the hip with an AK-47 rifle. The first shot hit Joachim in the stomach and got him to crumble down. The second shot hit slanting down the left side of the neck.

Ten years later
On June 12, 2007 Christian Løvschall, Joachim's father, at a parallel forum at the United Nations Human Rights Council spoke about his son's disappearance and the struggle to find out if Joachim was dead or alive:
"Although the killing took place on the 29th of March, we only came to know about it on the 6th of April - i.e. after 8 days were we had the feeling that the Cuban authorities were unwilling to inform anything about the incident. Only because of good relations with Spanish speaking friends in other Latin American countries did we succeed in getting into contact with the family with whom Joachim stayed and the repeated message from their side was that they could reveal nothing, but that the situation had turned out very bad and that we had to come to Cuba as soon as possible. At the same time all contacts to the responsible authorities turned out negatively... Only after continued pressure from our side on the Cuban embassy in Copenhagen, things suddenly changed and the sad information was given to us by our local police on the evening of the 6th of April. We are, however, 100% convinced that had we not made use of our own contact and had we not continued our pressure on the embassy in Copenhagen, we might have faced a situation where Joachim would have been declared a missing person, a way out the Cuban authorities have been accused of applying in similar cases."
 Ten years later Christian Løvschall outlined what he knew concerning his son's untimely death:
We do feel we were (and still are) left with no answers except to maybe one of the following questions: Where, When, Who, Why Starting out with the where we were told that Joachim was killed by the soldiers outside the Ministry of Interior.
What we do not understand is why no fence or signs did inform that this is a restricted area? I have been on the spot myself, and the place appears exactly like a normal residential area. So you may question whether this in fact was the place of the killing? Contrary to this the authorities keep maintaining that the area was properly sealed off, and the relevant sign posts were in place.
As to when Joachim was killed we only have the information received from the police because of the delay informing one might believe that this is another forgery made up to cover the truth.
The who was in our opinion has never been answered by the Cuban authorities. We understand that a private soldier on duty was made responsible for the killing, and also it has been rumored that his officer in charge has been kept responsible. This is of course the easy way out, but why can't we get to know the whole and true story?   

Why did the soldiers have to fire two shots, one to his body and one to his head, to murder him? Was Joachim violent and did he, an unarmed individual, attack the armed soldiers? Or is it simply that the instruction to Cuban soldiers are: first you shoot and then you ask? But again: Who can explain why two shots were needed?
Despite the claims made by the travel industry there have been other travelers to Cuba who have been killed or gone missing under suspicious circumstances. Ignoring that there is no free press in Cuba and that the rule of law is non-existent there should give one pause when reading claims that there is little or no violent crime there.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Second survivor in events surrounding July 22, 2012 activists' deaths confirms car was violently forced off the road

Spanish newspaper Diario YA ES published an article yesterday citing a 2013 interview in which Aron Modig reaffirmed not recollecting the events during the crash but did recognize that the SMS texts describing a second vehicle crashing into his was sent by him.

Jens Aron Modig spoke on July 22, 2012 events in Cuba
 In the Spanish newspaper DiarioYA.ES on March 26, 2015 in the article titled "Jens Aron Modig confirmed that the car was forced off the road violently" the following information was published referring to a March 14, 2013 radio interview:
The Swedish activist Jens Aron Modig who on July 22, 2012 was in the passenger seat in the car driven by the Spanish politician Angel Carromero and in which Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Payá  and Harold Cepero were killed has confirmed that the vehicle was forced off the road violently by another car when they had the accident. Although initially the Swedish activist claimed to have no recollection of the alleged involvement of another vehicle in the accident, thus denying the criminal nature of the event while Angel Carromero was detained in Cuba, and he obtained permission from the Cuban authorities to leave the island, recognized on National Radio of Sweden the existence of SMS (text messages) that he sent that recounts how a vehicle forced them off the road. This contradicts the version of the communist government about the crash being due to a speeding driver.
For Modig what happened "was a traumatic experience .. I could see up close how it works in a dictatorship like Cuba. I was imprisoned about a week, stripped of my belongings, I had no chance to make contact with my family or with Swedish diplomats in Cuba. All without being informed of what crime I was being accused (...). I could see the reality in which people live daily in Cuba," said the young Swede.
This account contradicts the version put forward by the Castro regime and corroborates the Spanish survivor Ángel Carromero. The SMS text messages mentioned above were copied and are a key element in understanding the events surrounding the deaths of Oswaldo and Harold on July 22, 2012.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Who represents the Castro regime in negotiations with the United States?

Negotiating with the devil?
Gustavo Machin accomplice of Aron Modig kidnapping after attack on Oswaldo Paya is Cuban counterpart of WHAAsstSecty

Today over twitter Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo revealed a worrying piece of information. The Cuban counterpart to the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, who represents the United States in the negotiations with the Castro regime is Gustavo Machin. According to  Rosa he was an accomplice in the kidnapping of Aron Modig following the attack against Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas on July 22, 2012 and is linked to her father's death.

Gustavo Machin, and his sordid background, makes him an appropriate representative for the dictatorship, a reminder that this is a negotiation with the devil. The term is borrowed from a book by Robert Mnookin titled "Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight."

As a nonviolent activist "fighting" can also translate to nonviolent resistance. When dealing with highly repressive and diabolical regimes this type of approach has proven more effective than violence in achieving effective, positive and lasting change.

However, let me recommend that you read the following article available online in which he offers some past examples of when negotiation could work and when it was disastrous.

Online and real world campaign to free Cuban artist launched

Three months in jail and counting for his art.

 On March 28 at 3pm at La Paja Recold located on Ave 35 #4202 between 42 & 44 Apartment 5 in Havana, Cuba there will be a concert, expo, performance and "disrespect" all under the headline: "Freedom for Danilo." These members of civil society are testing the boundaries of what is permissible in Cuba. Increased international visibility may provide some protection.

Became aware of this event via a tweet sent by Yoani Sanchez on March 25, 2015 with the above poster.

The graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, remains imprisoned in Valle Grande prison. Today, March 26, marks three months that he has been imprisoned. Authorities rejected the habeas corpus appeal presented by independent attorney Laritza Diversent, of the NGO Cubalex .

For now, according to the independent lawyer, there is still no trial date set and she hopes that there will be a change of custody, because the events in which El Sexto is involved are a “misdemeanor.”
Also, Diversent said that she had sent information to international bodies so that they will speak out on the situation of the graffiti artist.

Fellow activists and supporters have been using the hashtag “#FreeElSexto” to promote solidarity and the immediate release of the independent Cuban artist. In addition, there is an online signature campaign underway calling for the freedom of Danilo Maldonado.

Marc Masferrer, of Uncommon Sense, broke the news on his blog that Cuban artists, including punk rocker Gorki Aguila and his band, Porno Para Ricardo, launched an online campaign on March 21, 2015 to demand that the Castro dictatorship release Danilo from jail.

As the group People In Need reported last month, El Sexto was "detained on December 26, 2014 on the Malecón esplanade in Havana as he was driving towards the Central Park to make a performance with two pigs whose bodies were painted with the names of Cuban leaders: 'Fidel' and 'Raúl.'

On March 6, 2015 the punk band Porno para Ricardo released a video calling for Danilo's release that now has over 6,032 views and the lyrics translated to English are available here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Castro's Narco-Terror network gets a free pass

"Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees." ... "The U.S. regime is very weak, and we are witnessing this weakness from close up." - Fidel Castro, University of Tehran, May 10, 2001 quoted in the Agence France Presse

On  March 24, 2015 the government of the United States "removed 45 Cuban companies, individuals and vessels from a sanction list of entities suspected of supporting terrorism or drug-trafficking," reported the Latin American Herald Tribune. Cuba is a totalitarian regime and all those companies, vessels and individuals are agents of the dictatorship. Not mentioned by EFE or the Associated Press but reported by Reuters was that the majority of the entities removed were:
"most of them dead people, defunct companies or sunken ships. Among them was Amado Padron, a Cuban executed by a firing squad 26 years ago along with Arnaldo Ochoa, a decorated army general who was sentenced to death by Cuba’s communist government after he was found to be connected to international drug trafficking. The U.S. Treasury Department said the delisting was aimed at clearing “out-of-date” names from its list of Specially Designated Nationals."
At the same time EFE reported, in seeming contradiction to what Reuters reported above that:
More than 30 of the 45 companies, individuals and vessels are currently based in Panama despite having originated in Cuba, while one ship, the Alegria de Pio, is registered in Spain and one company, Travel Services Inc., has its headquarters in the United States.
This action ignores a pattern that stretches back decades linking the Castro regime with terrorism, drug-trafficking and rogue behavior that continues to the present day. Furthermore, it appears that the sanctions list has not been kept up to date which leads to the question: have new entities been added to the list suspected of links to terrorism and drug trafficking? Consider the following:
On March 2, 2015 the government of Colombia had seized a shipment of ammunition bound for Cuba on a China-flagged ship that was not properly documented. The BBC reported that "Officials said about 100 tons of gunpowder, almost three million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells were found on board. The ship's records said it was carrying grain products." First with North Korea in 2013 and now again with China in 2015 the Castro regime has been linked to scandals involving arms smuggling. Blogging by Boz reached a reasonable conclusion: "Two big shipments of weapons seized in 20 months means that this is probably a regular occurrence."

On January 27, 2015 the Spanish newspaper ABC reported that the Castro regime, in collaboration with Venezuela, was providing protection for drug traffickers traveling between Venezuela and the United States. According to news accounts the son of the Cuban ambassador to Venezuela, Germán Sánchez Otero, was using PDVSA planes to smuggle drugs with the United States as the final destination.

In 2012 there were reports in the media of Cuban, Iranian and Venezuelan officials meeting in Mexico to discuss cyber attacks on U.S. soil allegedly seeking information about nuclear power plants in the United States. Supposedly the FBI had opened an investigation into the matter, but there is no mention of this in subsequent U.S. State Department reports.
This pattern of conduct by the Castro regime stretches back more than 33 years, but following the Carter administration's loosening of sanctions between 1977 and 1980, and the opening of interests sections in Havana and Washington DC the behavior of the Castro regime did not improve. It appears to have perceived these actions as signs of weakness that led to more aggressive behavior in Latin America and Africa.

The U.S. State Department on March 1, 1982 declared Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism whose government 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 he recognized it and expressed his concerns During General Manuel Noriega's 1992 trial information emerged publicly implicating the Castro regime that 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. One of the names taken off the list on March 24, 2015 was Amado Padron, a Cuban intelligence agent executed by a firing squad 26 years ago along with Arnaldo Ochoa, a decorated army general who was sentenced to death by the Castro regime after he was found to be connected to international drug trafficking in an effort to limit the exposure of the Castro regime to prosecution.

Unfortunately, U.S. officials have declared that this action is in line with President Obama's new policy on Cuba that was unveiled on December 17, 2014 when he commuted the sentences of three Cuban spies, one of which, Gerardo Hernandez, was serving a double life sentence. One of the life sentences was for conspiracy to murder, in which four humanitarians were extrajudicially executed in an act of state terrorism on February 24, 1996. During the trial in 2000 of five Cuban spies it was also revealed that in addition to storing weapons and explosives in locations on U.S. soil that they also planned to terrorize and murder via a mail bomb an individual that they had identified as a CIA agent living in the United States.

Hopefully, the Obama Administration will learn from a mistake of the George W. Bush administration in its North Korea foreign policy and not repeat it in Cuba. In October of 2008, the Bush Administration took North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism in the hopes that it would “salvage a fragile nuclear deal” with the totalitarian regime.  Seven years after taking Kim Jong Un’s regime off the list of terror sponsors, North Korea has tested nuclear weapons, threatens to attack the United States with its new nukes, and has engaged in a cyber attack on a private company in the United States.

The negative lessons from the Bush administration’s cozying up to the North Korean tyrant and the Carter administration's cozying up to the Cuban one should give any reasonable person second thoughts about pursuing a similar path again with Cuba under the Castro regime.

"Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”- Winston Churchill, May 2, 1935

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims

"Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty." -Archbishop Oscar Romero

 IACHR Urges Countries in the Americas to Respect and Guarantee the Right to Truth

Washington, D.C. - On the occasion of the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, March 24th, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on the States of the Americas to respect and guarantee the right to the truth concerning grave human rights violations.

“The region’s democracies have inherited the responsibility of investigating human rights violations that occurred in times of dictatorships and authoritarian governments, and to punish those responsible,” said IACHR President Rose-Marie Antoine. “The path to truth and justice for these types of crimes of the past has been extremely long and difficult, but it is an outstanding obligation and a responsibility the States cannot avoid. It is impossible to build a democratic future without first shedding light on the grave violations of the past and achieving justice and reparation,” she added.

Investigations to identify and punish those responsible for the region’s serious human violations of the past have been seriously flawed. For example, some States continue to apply the military criminal justice system, and there are still amnesty laws in effect, known by different names, which ensure that these crimes remain unpunished. In many cases, there are major obstacles or it is even impossible to gain access to information about what transpired. In some countries, the concealment of extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, acts of torture, and sexual violence, along with other serious human rights violations, was a deliberate State policy and even a tactic of war. There has been important and significant progress in many areas and across different countries. However, gaining access to the full record of what transpired continues to be a major challenge.

The right to truth has two dimensions. The first is that victims and their family members have the right to know the truth and the identity of those who played a role in the violations, which means that States must investigate the facts, prosecute and punish those responsible, and guarantee access to the information available in State facilities and files. Secondly, society as a whole has the right to know the truth about past events, as well as the motives and circumstances in which the crimes were committed, in order to prevent recurrence of such acts in the future.

Consequently, the right to the truth should be a priority on States’ agendas. This means carrying out reforms or adopting legislative, judicial, and practical measures that recognize the rights of victims and their family members to know the truth about what happened, as well as ensuring access to information available in State facilities and files concerning serious human rights violations.

“States should declassify all documents that could be of use in judicial investigations, and in the case of serious human rights violations in a transnational or regional context, States should cooperate in turning over official information to other States seeking to investigate, prosecute, and punish such violations,” the IACHR President said.

In November of last year, the IACHR published the report “The Right to Truth in the Americas,” which provides tools for States that seek to guarantee the right to truth. The report identifies positive contributions in close to ten countries made by victims, family members, human rights defenders, and civil society organizations to document, verify, and spread the truth about human rights violations.

Such efforts include establishing unofficial truth commissions, conducting investigations, preparing studies and reports, and implementing initiatives to bring pressure to bear for these violations to be recognized by society and the public.

“This report provides a useful guide for the States by compiling the case law of the inter-American system on what their obligations are with regard to justice and reparation for victims of grave human rights violations and society as a whole, in order to guarantee the right to the truth,” the IACHR President said.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The legacy of Oswaldo Payá and his nonviolent fight for human rights

"Two years and eight months since the unexplained deaths of Harold and Oswaldo." - Christian Liberation Movement, over twitter March 22, 2015

 Two years and eight months ago on July 22, 2012 Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were killed under suspicious circumstances that over time point more and more to an extrajudicial killing carried out by the Castro regime's security services.

Despite calls for an international and transparent investigation by world leaders including Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and Anti-Apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu none has been carried out and made public.

Unfortunately, the international environment at the moment does not favor such an investigation. On December 17, 2014 Gerardo Hernandez, the Castro spy convicted in the conspiracy to murder four individuals to a life sentence was freed, along with two other regime spies by President Barack Obama. On February 24, 2015, nineteen years after the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down, Raul Castro celebrated the return of his spies and planted medals on them.  The unrepentant spy announced that he was ready for his next order.

Rosa María Payá Acevedo asked the following question in December 2013 after the US president shook hands with the Cuban dictator in South Africa: "Why did Barack Obama shake the hand of my father's killer, Raul Castro?" Rosa's question was answered on December 17, 2014: to free three Cuban spies, opening the US embassy in Havana, and announce a campaign to end the US commercial embargo.

Last month on February 3, 2015 Rosa María before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee provided the following indictment of the Obama administration's outreach to the dictatorship in Cuba:
On 22 July 2012, Cuban State Security detained the car in which my father, Oswaldo Payá, and my friend Harold Cepero, along with two young European politicians, were traveling. All of them survived, but my father disappeared for hours only to reappear dead, in the hospital in which Harold would die without medical attention.

The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the US government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages. While you slept, the regime was conceiving their cleansing of the pro-democracy leaders to come. While you sleep, a second generation of dictators is planning with impunity their next crimes. 
Democracy is in decline in Latin America. Human rights are worsening in Cuba and in this international environment it has been in decline worldwide for the past nine years. The policies pursued by Western democracies do not promise a turn around any time soon.

Nevertheless, one cannot despair and the power of nonviolence needs not only to be remembered but acted upon. Speaking truth to power and engaging in effective nonviolent campaigns that topple entrenched unjust systems 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 both the tragedy and opportunity of nonviolence that provides power to the powerless. It can emerge spontaneously but with training, tactics and a strategy the odds of success increase dramatically while at the same time lowering the cost in lives.

On what would have been Oswaldo's 63rd birthday on February 28th a Mass was held for him at Our Lady of Charity and a rousing call was made there to nonviolent resistance in a homily that reflected on the prayer, Our Father.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Human rights deteriorating in Cuba

"In the single session on Cuba, three activists complained that repression of government opponents and human rights workers in the country has continued and even increased since the announcement of normalization of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations last December." - Latin American Herald Tribune, March 20, 2015

Testifying before the IACHR on the general human rights situation in Cuba
On March 19, 2015 in the late afternoon in the Rubén Darío room, the one and only hearing on the human rights situation in Cuba during the 154 Period of Sessions was held at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The complete presentation is available online in Spanish and runs 54 minutes and 8 seconds.

However, for the sake of brevity there are some key observations that underline the reality that the human rights situation in Cuba under the Castro dictatorship is worsening:

In 2013 there were 5,718 arbitrary detentions documented in 2014 the number increased to 8,519. This is 1.49 times higher than the previous year. Source: CIHPRESS.

Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International on the situation in Cuba warned:
 “We have been receiving incredibly worrying reports about a rise in harassment and short-term detentions of dissidents throughout 2014 which has continued in recent weeks. Prisoner releases will be no more than a smokescreen if they are not accompanied by expanded space for the free and peaceful expression of all opinions and other freedoms in Cuba.” 
Death threats and torture are common practices by agents of the dictatorship that are well documented and still continue in Cuba. The presentation on March 19, 2015 began with excerpts of two video interviews documenting the February and June 2014 raids on the home, arbitrary detentions and tortures of Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez", and Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera who testified before the IACHR in 2013. Following this testimony two IACHR members expressed concerns about reprisals against IACHR petitioners.

Also highlighted in the testimony was the arbitrary detention, beating and torture of human rights defender Juan Carlos González Leiva. The fact that Juan Carlos, who is an attorney, also happens to be blind and was physically brutalized while he could listen to his wife being manhandled by state security agents at the same time only compounds the outrage that took place on January 9, 2014. Source: Frontline Defenders.

Sara Martha Fonseca shows bloody spot were officials pricked her with a needle
 Human rights defender and resistance activist now political refugee, Sara Martha Fonseca Quevedo gave testimony about her life in Cuba. Particularly disturbing was the account of being injected with a debilitating substance while walking with the Ladies in White and finding a spot of blood and finding a needle mark on her skin. Photograph of the blood spot on her white dress was presented to the IACHR. The full presentation in Spanish is available below.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

XII Anniversary: The Black Cuban Spring

Remembering the Black Cuban Spring
Twelve years ago today the Castro regime engaged in a nationwide crackdown on opposition activists followed by show trials and long prison sentences of up to 28 years for their nonviolent defense of human rights and freedoms. This was in reaction to 11,020 Cubans signing the Varela Project and demanding a referendum on human rights reforms. Alfredo Felipe Fuentes in a 2010 interview with Reporters Without Borders explained:
 Of the 75 arrested, nearly 50 were people who had were of importance in the Varela Project. Although not all were in the "hard core", I mean among those who, like me, were responsible for the collection of signatures. The majority were actively involved. The 25 others were arrested to disguise that it was an operation against the national civic project.
The above image was posted over twitter by Regis Iglesias, one of the prisoners of conscience of the Cuban Black Spring and the spokesman of the Christian Liberation Movement in Europe. Today over Facebook he made the reflection:
The 2003 crackdown has not ended, from the first kidnapping on March 18th, passing through the years of prison, exile, and the sword of damocles hanging over those who stayed in the island under an extra-penal license", the "natural" or provoked deaths of Miguel Valdes, Orlando Zapata, Laura Pollan, Antonio Villareal, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, the lack of rights of the people that in the spring of 2002 was supported in the Varela project, only confirms one thing ( and were not inventing anything new): only the continuing demand of the recognition of popular sovereignty and the vote of Cubans for their rights barred by the terror regime that for than half a century we have suffered. Free Elections with guarantees, in atmosphere of respect and plurality. Now!!!
The dictatorship thought it had ended the democratic opposition but instead the Black Spring led to the formation of a new movement: The Ladies in White. Below is a documentary filmed before, during and after the crackdown that began on March 18, 2003.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Discussions and debates on US-Cuba Policy

“In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory, or an unjust interest: And endeavor to gain, rather than to expose thy Antagonist. ” - William Penn

There is a national conversation underway on U.S. - Cuba policy. At stake is not only the future of Cuba, but of democracy in Latin America and U.S. national security concerns. There have been solid debates that have shed more light than heat on this important issue such as the February 5, 2015 Tower Debate on U.S. Cuba relations, on the same day the Heritage Foundation panel on The Future of U.S. - Cuba relations held at Florida International University and the January 23, 2015 panel on Human Rights in Cuba.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

U.S. taxpayers will assume risk for US corporations investing in Cuba

American taxpayers will end up picking up the tab for investors in Cuba when the Castro regime fails to pay what it owes them.

Americans will pay

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article14065499.html#storylink=cpy
 Published in The Miami Herald on Sunday, March 15, 2015

Kudos to Michael Putney for his March 4 Other Views column, Cuba and the new normal, which outlines some of the shortcomings of the new Obama policy on Cuba.

Putney says, “Given its checkered history with foreign investors, I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could invest in Cuba now.”

This is why investors want sanctions lifted by the U.S. government in order to have taxpayers underwrite the risks of trading with the Castro regime through credit guarantees provided by the Export Import Bank.

Bottom-line: investors will get paid and the U.S. government will try to get the money owed from the Castro regime. In the end, American taxpayers will end up picking up the tab.

John Suarez, Miami

Chamber of Commerce president meets with Raul Castro in May of 2014

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article14065499.html#storylink=cpy

Friday, March 13, 2015

Cuban police arrest nine feminists for commemorating International Women's Day

How do communists celebrate socialist holiday for women? Answer: Arresting them.
Members of Rosa Parks Women's Movement marching
Cuban police arrest nine women activists as they try to commemorate International Women's Day   

Cuban police in Camaguey on Sunday, March 8, 2015 arrested nine members of the Rosa Parks Women's Movement for Civil Rights and 10 other activists as they tried to commemorate International Women's Day.  

"How sad and embarrassing that the government sees as a threat to state a group of women who gather to celebrate such a symbolic date," said the group's leader, Marvelis Rodriguez.  "It is demeaning that the government hits and jails defenseless women."

Along with Rodriguez, other women arrested Sunday were:
  • Sury Zamora Granados
  • Yudeisi Rondón Villavicencio
  • Yadisley Rodriguez Ramirez
  • Margarita Medina Sotolongo
  • Yanet Ferrá Fonseca
  • Belkis Cruz Gonzales
  • Liliana Bencomo Menendez
  • Noruelis Rguez Cruz
The other activists arrested were:
  • Yosvani Arostegui Armentero
  • Julio Brisuela Pimentel
  • Ernesto San Juan Vasquez
  • Indomar Gomez Isaguirre
  • Marcos Machado Montalvo
  • Juan Medina Braonk
  • Arturo Arias Moreno
  • Fernando Vasquez Guerra
  • Alexander Perez Suarez
  • Elikardo Freire Jimene

Lessons from Eastern Europe on Engagement: Poland and Romania

"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." - Jeane Kirkpatrick, U.S. Ambassador to the UN for President Reagan

Ronald Reagan entered office on January 20, 1981 and on December 13, 1981 the communist regime in Poland had declared martial law and was cracking down on the Solidarity movement. 10,000 people were rounded up and about 100 died during martial law. Ronald Reagan in his Christmas Address on December 23, 1981 denounced the crackdown (beginning at 4 minutes into the above video) and outlined economic sanctions against Poland while demanding that the human rights of the Polish people be respected:
We have been measured and deliberate in our reaction to the tragic events in Poland. We have not acted in haste, and the steps I will outline tonight and others we may take in the days ahead are firm, just, and reasonable. 
In order to aid the suffering Polish people during this critical period, we will continue the shipment of food through private humanitarian channels, but only so long as we know that the Polish people themselves receive the food. The neighboring country of Austria has opened her doors to refugees from Poland. I have therefore directed that American assistance, including supplies of basic foodstuffs, be offered to aid the Austrians in providing for these refugees. 
But to underscore our fundamental opposition to the repressive actions taken by the Polish Government against its own people, the administration has suspended all government-sponsored shipments of agricultural and dairy’ products to the Polish Government. This suspension will remain in force until absolute assurances are received that distribution of these products is monitored and guaranteed by independent agencies. We must be sure that every bit of food provided by America goes to the Polish people, not to their oppressors. 
The United States is taking immediate action to suspend major elements of our economic relationships with the Polish Government. We have halted the renewal of the Export-Import Bank’s line of export credit insurance to the Polish Government. We will suspend Polish civil aviation privileges in the United States. We are suspending the right of Poland’s fishing fleet to operate in American waters. And we’re proposing to our allies the further restriction of high technology exports to Poland. 
These actions are not directed against the Polish people. They are a warning to the Government of Poland that free men cannot and will not stand idly by in the face of brutal repression. To underscore this point, I’ve written a letter to General Jaruzelski, head of the Polish Government. In it, I outlined the steps we’re taking and warned of the serious consequences if the Polish Government continues to use violence against its populace. I’ve urged him to free those in arbitrary detention, to lift martial law, and to restore the internationally recognized rights of the Polish people to free speech and association.
This was in marked contrast to the relationship with the regime in Romania. Out of all the countries of Eastern Europe, the United States had the closest diplomatic relations with Romania. This was due to the Nixon administration seeking to exploit differences between Romania and the Soviet Union. Nicolae Ceasescu denounced the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and continued diplomatic relations with Israel maintaining an independent foreign policy from the Soviet Union.

Richard Nixon visited Romania in August of 1969. In 1972 Romania became eligible for U.S. Export-Import Bank credits and in 1975 was accorded most favored nation status. In 1978 Nicolae Ceasescu and his wife visited Washington, DC on a state visit and was hosted by President Jimmy Carter who welcomed the dictator and described him in the following glowing terms:
I've enjoyed being with him. He's a very good adviser. He's a man who in the past has suffered greatly, imprisoned, tortured, but because of his courage and because of his belief in the future of his own country, notable achievements have been brought to the people who have confidence in him. It's a great pleasure for me again to express my welcome to him to our country, and I would like to propose a toast to a great leader, President Ceausescu, and to the brave and friendly people of Romania. Mr. President, to you and your people. 
Despite having the worse human rights record in Eastern Europe it was not until 1988 that to preempt congressional action, Ceausescu renounced MFN treatment, calling Jackson-Vanik and other human rights requirements unacceptable interference in Romanian sovereignty. Secretary of State Schultz had warned Ceausescu in 1985 to improve his human rights behavior or lose favorable trade status. The Heritage Foundation argued in 1985 that the previous twenty years of U.S. engagement with the regime in Romania had coincided with deteriorating human rights standards.

Ceausescu with Presidents Nixon, Carter and Secretary of State Schultz
Ceasescu's regime was one of the nastier dictatorships of the East block. In addition to the typical accoutrements of a Stalinist regime this "American ally" managed to reach new lows. Imagine for a moment being born and placed in a cage as a newborn washed via a hose with cold water and never experiencing human touch.

10,000 Romanian babies infected with HIV through dirty needles
 Fed like an animal and contracting HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases through dirty needles used to inject the child with vitamins. All of this done to sell the children, as one would any other commodity, on the international black-market. Heartless capitalists? No, heartless Marxist- Leninists in the Ceausescu communist regime in Romania. The regime decided it needed to increase its population and in 2013 Scientific American explained how this crime was systematically planned out and its aftermath in the article Tragedy Leads to Study of Severe Child Neglect.
Nicolae Ceausescu decreed in 1966 that Romania would develop its “human capital” via a government-enforced mandate to increase the country's population. Ceauşescu, Romania's leader from 1965 to 1989, banned contraception and abortions and imposed a “celibacy tax” on families that had fewer than five children. State doctors—the menstrual police—conducted gynecologic examinations in the workplace of women of childbearing age to see whether they were producing sufficient offspring. The birth rate initially skyrocketed. Yet because families were too poor to keep their children, they abandoned many of them to large state-run institutions.
 Hundreds of thousands of children were subjected to this. This was the country that US taxpayers subsidized with US Export-Import Bank credits.

This close relationship that for decades ignored the human rights situation on the ground contrasted with Poland were U.S. revoked most-favored-nation (MFN) status in response to the Polish Government's decision to ban Solidarity in 1981. The outcome in Poland was a nonviolent transition led by the Polish solidarity movement and a national dialogue between the government and the opposition that ended in free elections in 1989.

Meanwhile the country with the closest diplomatic and economic relationship with the United States in Eastern Europe saw the rule of  Nicolae Ceasescu end in a violent blood bath. The dictator and his wife executed in a show trial on Christmas day and scores of innocent Romanians shot by the state security services. More than a thousand people were killed. The communists in power under Ceasescu remained in power until 1996 in a system marked by continuity until democrats were able to wrest control from them nonviolently. Meanwhile, Poland had already been a functioning democracy for seven years.

Prior to getting involved in the struggle for a free Cuba as a college student in the late 1980s and early 1990s joined with Lithuanian exiles in supporting democrats in the Baltic Republics at a time that Gorbachev was trying to starve them out and sent Soviet black beret commandos into Lithuania killing civilians. Decades later traveling through Eastern Europe in 2013 it is Ronald Reagan who is remembered favorably and whose statue is prominently displayed in Warsaw, Poland not Richard Nixon's or Jimmy Carter's.

 Ronald Reagan statue in Warsaw, Poland (2013)