Saturday, May 30, 2015

World Protest for Freedom in Venezuela Reaches Miami

From Caracas to Miami and across the world Venezuelans gather to demand freedom under hashtag

"This is the sign that in Venezuela Yes We Can! United all is possible!" - Lilian Tintori
The above image was taken in Venezuela today and tweeted by Lilian Tintori, the wife of prisoner of conscience and opposition leader Leopoldo López Mendoza, this morning at 11:22am Caracas time. In Miami at 9:00am Venezuelans gathered under the statue of Simon Bolivar at the Torch of Freedom in Bayfront Park and listened to rousing calls for freedom from Venezuelan opposition leaders and community activists.  Among them was Carlos Vecchio, of Leopoldo's political party "Voluntad Popular."

The event ended with scores of Venezuelans singing their national anthem above are some videos and below are some photos from this morning's event in Miami. This world protest comes one day after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed its concerns over the treatment of Daniel Ceballos and Leopoldo López. Both men are currently on hunger strike and these protests around the world are calling for their demands to be met.

Carlos Vecchio, of Voluntad Popular, addressing the gathering in Miami

Venezuelans singing the national anthem at the end of the event this morning
Briefly met Carlos Vecchio, of Voluntad Popular today at the rally

Friday, May 29, 2015

Regional human rights body expresses concerns about treatment of Venezuelan prisoners of conscience

Prisoners of conscience on hunger strike Leopoldo Lopez and Daniel Ceballos

IACHR Expresses Concern over Measures Taken against Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos in Venezuela


May 29, 2015

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over measures that have been taken in recent days with regard to Daniel Ceballos and Leopoldo López, who are deprived of their liberty in Venezuela. They are beneficiaries of Precautionary Measure 335/14, granted by the IACHR on April 20, 2015.
According to publicly available information Daniel Ceballos was transferred in the early morning hours of May 23, 2015, from the “Ramo Verde” National Center for Military Defendants (CENAPROMIL) to a regular prison located in San Juan de los Morros, about 150 kilometers from Caracas. Tarek William Saab, the People’s Ombudsman, indicated that his office had access to a court order for the transfer; however, Daniel Ceballos’ wife and his attorneys indicated that neither his defense team nor his family had been notified of the transfer or of the reasons for it, nor did they have access to see the alleged court order. Several days earlier, on May 18, 2015, the authorities at the Ramo Verde military prison had issued a disciplinary action against Daniel Ceballos—which consisted of “confinement to an isolation cell for up to 15 days, though this does not mean completely incommunicado”—because he had given a telephone interview to a radio station on May 15, 2015.
The Inter-American Commission expresses its deep concern over the failure to comply with Precautionary Measure 335/14, by which the IACHR asked the State of Venezuela to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the life and humane treatment of Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos; ensure that their detention conditions are brought into line with applicable international standards; and reach agreement with the beneficiaries and their representatives on the measures to be adopted. The State of Venezuela has the obligation to guarantee the life, humane treatment, and safety of everyone deprived of liberty, as well as to ensure detention conditions that meet international standards in this area. Moreover, the State must guarantee access to any medical attention that may be necessary as a result of the hunger strike which—according to information provided by their family members—Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos have begun. These measures should, as always, be adopted with the agreement of López and Ceballos.

In regards to the disciplinary action against Daniel Ceballos as a result of having done a telephonic interview with a radio station, the IACHR highlights that the right to speak, that is, to express one’s thoughts, ideas, information or opinions orally, is a basic right and one of the pillars of freedom of expression. A violation of an individual’s right to free expression constitutes, at the same time, a violation of the public’s right to obtain information, ideas, and opinions.

In August 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that the detentions of Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos were arbitrary, and recommended that the government of Venezuela order their immediate release. Leopoldo López, a leader of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, has been imprisoned since February 2014, accused of public incitement and criminal conspiracy, in connection with the protest demonstrations that took place that month in Venezuela. For his part, Daniel Ceballos, another leader of the same opposition party and a former Mayor of San Cristóbal, was arrested in March 2014 and sentenced to 12 months in prison for contempt, for failing to obey an order by the Supreme Court to prevent the placement of barricades during the protests. After he had served the 12 months, the Supreme Court said that he would remain in prison, now in pretrial custody, during the criminal proceedings for rebellion and criminal conspiracy.

The Inter-American Commission also expresses its profound concern over the complaints it has received regarding the alleged lack of guarantees to ensure due process in the investigations and prosecutions of these two individuals. The Commission also emphasizes that pretrial detention must be the exception, not the rule, and must be applied only with the aim protecting the proper goal of the procedures, namely where the person presents a flight risk or to prevent the obstruction of the investigations. In that regard, the Commission has stressed that the presumption of innocence can be considered to have been violated when a person facing criminal charges is subject to pretrial detention without proper justification, as in that case the detention becomes a punitive rather than precautionary measure, which is tantamount to anticipating a sentence. Moreover, pretrial detention should be used in accordance with the criteria of necessity and proportionality, and for a reasonable period of time.
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.
Precautionary Measure 335/14 (in Spanish)

Ten reasons that Cuba under the Castro regime should have remained on the list of terror sponsors

Cuba was listed until May 29, 2015
 The regime in Cuba has a long history of sponsoring terrorism and training terrorists that the Obama administration has sought to minimize and ignore in its drive to normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship. Despite evidence that the Castro regime is linked to drug trafficking and engaged in the smuggling of weapons to an outlaw regime (North Korea in July 15, 2013) and to terrorist guerrillas ( Colombia February 28, 2015) the Obama administration today removed Cuba from the list of state terror sponsors. Below is a top ten list that also provides some context into the Castro regime's long history of sponsoring and engaging in international terror.

1. Caught smuggling heavy weapons and ammunition to Colombian terrorist guerrillas on February 28, 2015.

2. Linked to international drug trafficking along with client state Venezuela on January 27, 2015. The Castro regime has been engaged with drug trafficking rings for at least four decades.

3. Caught smuggling weapons and ammunition in violation of UN international sanctions to North Korea on July 15, 2013.

4.Victims of the Castro regime will no longer be able to seek damages from Cuba's frozen assets in the U.S. under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. 

5. Remaining terror sponsor state Iran has taken an American hostage and placed him on trial to extract concessions from the Obama administration copying a tactic successfully carried out by the Castro regime with Alan Gross. Incidentally, Fidel Castro in an address at the University of Tehran on May 10, 2001 made a call for unity: "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."

6. 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

7. Current leadership of the Castro regime ordered an act of international state terrorism on February 24, 1996 that claimed four lives, three of them U.S. citizens blown up in international airspace by Cuban MiGs.

8. The Cuban government sent instructions to its WASP spy network agents to engage in acts of terrorism on U.S. soil during the Clinton Administration. The Cuban "WASP" spies arrested in 1998 used coded material on computer disks to communicate with other members of the network. Their primary objective was "penetrating and obtaining information on the naval station located in that city." In the final excerpt operatives discuss plans to prepare a "book bomb" so that it evades post office security while at the same time phoning death threats to a man they describe as a CIA agent living in South Florida then having him killed via the mail bomb. Under President Obama's watch all five spies were freed and returned to Cuba by December 17, 2014 including Gerardo Hernandez who was serving a life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down.

9. The Castro regime has a long history of sponsoring terrorism beginning in the 1960s with the Tricontinental meetings where terrorism was viewed as a legitimate tactic. The University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies in 2004 published a chronology of Cuban government involvement in terrorism covering between 1959 and 2003. For example, their report lists how in 1970 the Cuban government published the "Mini Manual for Revolutionaries" in the official Latin American Solidarity Organization (LASO) publication Tricontinental, written by Brazilian urban terrorist Carlos Marighella, which gives precise instructions in terror tactics, kidnappings, etc. translated into numerous languages which were distributed worldwide by the Cuban dictatorship. There is a chapter on terrorism that defends it as a legitimate tactic.

10.On March 1, 1982 the Cuban dictatorship was placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This was less than three months after the US State Department confirmed that the Castro regime 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. Despite the Castro regime's denials, it has a long and well documented history of sponsoring and taking part in terrorism, including utilizing the tactic in the struggle against dictator Fulgencio Batista. On New Year’s Eve in 1956 members of Castro's 26th of July movement set off bombs in the Tropicana, blowing off the arm of a seventeen-year-old girl. From bombings, killings, and arson in 1957 to a botched hijacking to smuggle weapons to Cuban guerrillas that led to 14 dead and the night of the 100 bombs in 1958.

 As was the case with both Libya and North Korea during the Bush administration the decision to remove Cuba from the list of terror sponsors is not based on a change of regime behavior but political calculations. The change and status did not improve regime behavior in either case. Taking Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism will provide them with more resources to engage in more mischief that will cause more harm and that is cause for sorrow. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Crackdown on opposition in Cuba ignored by visiting Congressional delegation

Will the plight of Cubans continue to be ignored for the sake of regime engagement?
Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto" arbitrarily detained since Dec 26, 2014 HRF
 Five months after President Obama's announcement of a reset on Cuba policy repression continues to rise. At the same time the Administration seems to be ignoring the Castro regime's continuing outlaw behavior such as smuggling Chinese arms through Colombia uncovered on February 28, 2015. Visiting delegations of the U.S. government have been focusing on economic opportunities with the dictatorship while remaining publicly silent on human rights situation only to say that they've discussed it privately with officials

One of these individuals, who is in Cuba today, is Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico. Back on December 17, 2014 Senator Udall discussed the policy announcement on UK's Channel 4 and at the time he said: "We are going down the road to empower the Cuban people, for us to be engaged rather than to isolate and we are going to see good things happen in both countries for our people."
Rep. John Larson, Sen. Tom Udall, Sen. Al Franken, & Rep. Raúl Grijalva Photo: Yoani Sanchez
Senator Udall is now in Cuba with Senator Al Franken, Congressman Raúl Grijalva, and Congressman John Larson with an agenda that appears to be focused on trade and lifting economic sanctions.

Unfortunately since December 17th, despite the prediction of Senator Udall, we have seen some bad things happen to Cubans. Rising violence and arbitrary detentions against dissenters among them artists such as Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto", Tania Bruguera, and Gorki Águila. Another example that demonstrates the totalitarian nature of the regime is the case of Yosvany Melchor, imprisoned since 2010 in reprisal for his mother not becoming a regime informant.  Berta Soler, leader of the internal opposition group, the Ladies in White expressed her concerns regarding the Cuba reset.
We, Ladies in White, believe that these relations and conversations between the Cuban and U.S. governments will not be of any benefit to the Cuban people. And even less will it empower civil society, as President Barack Obama says. If no conditions are placed on the Cuban government, it will be more of the same or worse. We don't see the U.S. government, the European Union, or Pope Francis, pronouncing themselves as regards the violations of human rights on the island, which is giving the Cuban government a green light to continue violating them.
Back on December 17, in the discussion with Senator Udall, I had the opportunity to briefly address some of the misrepresentations surrounding the sanctions policy on Cuba and the history of U.S. Cuba relations during the Carter and Clinton administrations and why the current administration's policy reset will not be positive.
Sadly, I disagree with the Senator in much of what he said. First and foremost the embargo policy as it was initiated in 1961 was not to overthrow the Castro regime.  It was to limit its expansion into the hemisphere of the Americas. The policy was successful with two caveats: In 1979 after the Carter administration tried to normalize relations with Cuba, loosen sanctions, open the interests section, Cuba was successful in gaining an outpost in Nicaragua with the Sandinista revolution that they helped finance and support and again in the 1990s when Bill Clinton who shook hands with Fidel Castro then and opened up trade between Cuba and the United States on a cash and carry basis we saw that Venezuela became an outpost of the Cuban regime. Cuban intelligence officials today are killing and being involved in the repression of the Venezuelan people. [...] The problem is you have a Stalinist dictatorship that will not allow normalization to flood in. The US has been trading with Cuba since 2000, not with Cubans, with the Castro regime, with the dictatorship. That has not translated into more freedom for the Cuban people. What that has translated into his hard currency for them to repress the population there.
Senator Udall, now in Cuba, has the opportunity to prove me wrong by addressing the human rights situation publicly and with his colleagues, Senator Al Franken among them, directly assist Cuban artists and others currently jailed and detained in Cuba for exercising basic freedoms.

December 17, 2014 on UK's Channel 4 discussing change in Cuba policy

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Oslo Freedom Forum pays tribute to Cuban prisoner of conscience Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto

"I dedicate this prize to those who are keeping me in prison, to remind them I'm not alone." - Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto", winner of the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent 

Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto", a Cuban artist unjustly imprisoned since December 26, 2014 for wanting to engage in a performance art piece was honored today at the 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum with the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent 2015. Since Danilo was unable to attend due to his present arbitrary detention, Lia Villares received the prize on his behalf, played the Porno para Ricardo video calling for his freedom and read a letter sent by Danilo for the occasion.

"El Sexto" dedicated the Havel Prize to the Ladies in White, his daughter, imprisoned independent journalist Angel Santiesteban and other artists persecuted by the Cuban government. Danilo also wrote: "I dedicate this prize to those who are keeping me in prison, to remind them I'm not alone."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Venezuelan prisoner of conscience Leopoldo López starts hunger strike

"We respect any person who goes on a hunger strike. That method of struggle is not ours. We're women who are never going to do it, and although we disapprove of it, we're going to give them all the moral and spiritual support we can." - Berta Soler, Leader of the Ladies in White Movement 

Leopoldo López Mendoza has announced both in a letter and in a video that he started a hunger strike on May 24, 2015 at 12 noon. The video in addition states that Daniel Ceballos is joining him on the hunger strike and calls on Venezuelans to take part in a vast and nonviolent demonstration on Saturday. Below is a translation of the letter. The original Spanish is reproduced at the end of this blog post.
To the People of Venezuela,
I have taken the decision to initiate a hunger strike as a peaceful and nonviolent protest before the lack of responses on the part of the regime to the profound crisis that we, all Venezuelans, are suffering and in particular for the already prolonged situation of those of us who are political prisoners. After two days of fasting, yesterday Sunday May 24th at 12 noon I formally initiated the hunger strike with the following petitions:
1. Freedom of Political Prisoners
2. End of the persecution and censorship
3. Publishing of the Date for elections to be announced and that the observance by the OAS and the EU be permitted.
To all Venezuelans I thank you from my heart for all of the support and ask you not to leave us alone that we will never abandon the struggle for a better Venezuela.
Your Brother,
Leopoldo Lopez
Political Prisoner, Prison of Ramo Verde
People of good will, myself included, are concerned when anyone announces a hunger strike understanding the gravity and danger of such an undertaking. In the case of Venezuela even more so when one recalls the case of Franklin Brito, who died on hunger strike on August 30, 2010.
Nonviolence expert, Michael Nagler in an Introduction to Nonviolence filmed at the University of California at Berkeley in the fall of 2006 offered the following analysis on hunger strikes within a nonviolent context in the video above starting at 46 minutes and 38 seconds stating:

"This is not a case of suicide. You are not killing yourself. You are risking death. What you are doing is putting your life into the hands of another person." ... "You are not killing yourself but you are saying to the person that your behavior is so unacceptable that if you continue it its going to kill me. It is an extreme case of taking on the suffering that is in a situation." ...This is different from a threat because what you are saying to the person is "I am going to exhibit to you mirror back to you the ultimate consequences of what you are doing." ... "This is an act of truth. You are killing us - you are killing our people and I'm going to show you that you are doing it to awaken your conscience."...Thats why you have to be carrying on a conversation on a nonverbal level.

There are several questions that any individual contemplating the extreme action of going on hunger strike should contemplate. First, are there any other out of the over 198 nonviolent actions that can be taken that should be tried before resorting to this life risking action? Secondly, who are you trying to persuade into changing their behavior?  Do they care whether you live or die? Third, is this a life or death situation that requires placing your life on the line? Finally, can you succeed in achieving your objective.

Meanwhile let us make sure that the world knows of the plight of Leopoldo Lopez and the many other political prisoners in Venezuela and their struggle for freedom and justice. 

Letter by Leopoldo Lopez announcing his hunger strike on May 24, 2015

Living in Truth: 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum

Living in Truth


The theme of the 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum is "Living in Truth" in tribute to the late Czech dissident-turned-president Václav Havel.  Living in truth as both a dissident and later as a head of state while defending and embracing human rights no matter how remote the chances for success are the reasons why many continue to celebrate the life of Václav Havel and mourn his passing from the world stage. At the same time it is important to remember some of those who had an impact on developing this powerful idea.

Erazim V. Kohák in his book Jan Patočka: philosophy and selected writings delves into the writings of one such individual. Jan Patočka was the Czech philosopher and Charter 77 member who influenced Havel's approach to the questions surrounding the challenge of reconciling a personal moral order with an objective moral order that transcends individual subjectivity. Backing up his teaching with action, he was also Charter 77's first casualty dying under prolonged interrogations over a two month period. Kohák refers to Patočka’s “solidarity of the shaken” as a community freed “from the preoccupation with the pursuits of peace and prosperity that inevitably lead to war and turn it instead to the pursuit of the Good, the care of the soul” that is “living with a clear conscience, living in truth, or in far older terms, seeking first the Kingdom of God.”

Oslo Freedom Forum has asked the question: "Living in Truth, what does it mean to you?" This is my answer as of today, and subject to amendment. Living in truth is doing and saying what you believe is true no matter the cost. While at the same time recognizing that one does not know the whole truth and that there is an objective truth that exists outside of each one of us but can be arrived at with a combination of humility and engagement with others. When this is combined with nonviolence it can become a powerful and often unstoppable force that can topple dictatorships.

A more succinct and powerful summary was made by Janie Hsieh, PhD over twitter: "For me it's about acting in the service of Truth." Below is a statement released by Oslo Freedom Forum with some slight tweaking following the first day of talks. Please watch the live stream.

Watch Live: First Day of Talks at the 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum

OSLO (May 26, 2015) – Talks at the 2015 Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) begin this morning at 9:30 Central European Time (3:30am EST, 12:30am PST) and will be streamed live at A full schedule of events is available here.

The energy in the room is high and we’re ready to hear from activists, dissidents, business leaders, members of the media, policymakers, and technologists who are promoting individual rights across the globe.

Today’s speakers will cover a range of ideas: how individual people can force repressive governments to crumble, the evolving role communications and technology play in advancing human rights, stories of challenging arbitrary power and corruption, and the absolute need for freedom of expression – even when it offends others.

Please join us online. Follow @OsloFF on Twitter and Instagram and use the hashtag #OsloFF. Your voice is an important part of this conversation.

Following the opening musical performance by The Wanton Bishops on Tuesday, May 26, Norwegian foreign minister Børge Brende joined the Oslo Freedom Forum at the Oslo Nye Theater to introduce the first session, followed by talks on the communications revolution, the right to offend, and more. Speakers included Malaysian MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, North Korean refugee Ji Seong-ho, Twitter vice president Colin Crowell, Kenyan technologist and Ushahidi co-founder Juliana Rotich, Iranian comedian Kambiz Hosseini, Afghan entrepreneur Saad Mohseni, and Charlie Hebdo columnist Zineb el Rhazoui.

Former president of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko will open the second day of talks on May 27. Other speakers include Moroccan writer, filmmaker, and gay rights advocate Abdellah Taia, Gabonese environmentalist Marc Ona Essangui, Stanford professor Larry Diamond, and Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol. After lunch, attendees and those watching the livestream will get the chance to participate in an interactive on-stage discussion with a panel of OFF speakers by submitting questions via Twitter to @OsloFF or by emailing

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Venezuela's deteriorating human rights situation: Where is Leopoldo?

 Bad news on human rights in Venezuela

Leopoldo Lopez imprisoned for over a year now faces  new threat reports his wife
It wasn't supposed to be this way. The reset on Cuba by the Obama Administration was supposed to lead to improvements not only in US-Cuba relations but across the hemisphere. Six months later the human rights situation in both Cuba and Venezuela have worsened. The Summit of the Americas was a disaster that saw the dictatorship flexing its repression in Panama turning the regional meeting into a mockery of the democratic gathering of nations and civil society it was supposed to be.  In the case of Venezuela democratic opposition leaders arbitrarily detained last year during anti-government protests, relatives fear, are being transferred to violent prisons where their physical security cannot be guaranteed. Today over twitter Lillian Tintori denounced not being able to see her husband, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

At 4:36pm she tweeted "Before the absence of proof of the physical integrity of at this hour 4:06pm I am NOT moving from Ramo Verde." She went on tweeting: "We denounce the precarious condition that is in at this moment. No more Abuses!" Nearly an hour and a half later she tweeted: Already 5:56PM time is up for visit to Ramo Verde and I couldn't confirm Leopoldo's status, nor were his lawyers able to pass! Going home where my children need me, with the fear that he will be transferred. She concluded with the ominous tweet:  "They told me not to come tomorrow that they will NOT let us pass."

In 2015 students continue to be shot and killed by agents of the Maduro regime in Venezuela. As has been the case in Cuba, the Venezuelan regime is killing the future. Prison conditions in Venezuela are notoriously unsafe with scores of extrajudicial killings reported in 2015.

The radical appeasement of the Obama Administration on Cuba, that is described by some as a policy reset, is emboldening tyrants in the Americas. The events in Venezuela are a demonstration of this and of the overall decline of human rights both regionally and internationally over the past decade.

Arbitrarily detained and lives endamgered:  Daniel and Leopoldo

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Czech NGO reports on rigged votes in Cuba that try to pass for elections

No tangible results with Raul Castro's so-called "reforms"

Elections In Cuba: The Dictatorship Lives On

Over the past few weeks, the international press has been all eager to inform the world that, for the first time in the history of Cuba (after the Revolution), two candidates of the opposition, Hildebrando Chaviano and Yuniel Lopez, stood as candidates in the election of delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power held on April 19. Recent thaw in relations with the United States has brought Cuba into spotlight and potential changes in the island’s governance toward a more democratic model certainly seem very appealing to foreign governments and investors from all over the world.

However, People in Need would like to draw attention to the Cuban electoral system, which hasn’t changed: it continues to be a hollow mechanism whose sole purpose is to ensure continuity of the one-party system. Despite the fact that every two years and a half there are elections with new candidates, we mustn’t forget that the elected delegates are at the lowest level of the strongly hierarchical system of government. As such, they are obliged to comply with the directives from the upper echelons of power.

There’s no denying that any citizen can propose a candidate for a delegate to any of the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power in Cuba. Elected delegates then choose the Presidents of People’s Council and these, in turn, elect the Chairman of the Municipal Administration, who must be a member of the Communist Party of Cuba and whose decisions are governed by the Municipal Secretary of the Communist Party. However, none of the candidates elected to posts at any of the levels will be able to defend any social or economic political program: they are all supposed to work in concert to implement the directives approved by the Communist Party, which is, in contrary to the principle of popular sovereignty, the actual governing power in Cuba under Article 5 of the Cuban Constitution.

On the other hand, it’s clear that two opposition candidates (both standing for election in Havana) in the mass of over 27,000 official candidates for delegates cannot, by any means, be thought to represent the Cuban society as a whole and its desires. Rather, they can be seen as a minor concession – an attempt to try to improve the semblance of an electoral system in which citizens’ votes lack real value. In addition, when the CVs of the candidates were published on April 1, 2015, those of Chaviano and Lopez contained information that the two men were related to “counter-revolutionary” groups. Although the Municipal Electoral Commission had previously warned them that this word will appear in their CVs, it wasn’t able to explain what the term “counter-revolutionary” meant.

Another interesting factor in the context of Cuban elections is that citizens vote for CVs, not for political projects. They give their votes to candidates judging on their merits, not on what they intend to do for the community. Thus, the act of voting in Cuba is not an entitlement to choose, but an obligation to participate in elections, which are a way of keeping the system going. Cuban citizens have become used to the fact that their vote has no real impact and that it cannot contribute to any kind of change. Some of them have even lost their fear and refused to go to the polls.

As far as the opposition is concerned, many of its members decline to participate in the elections because they see them as a way of legitimization of the regime. Then there are others, such as members of the platform known as “Candidatos por el Cambio” (“Candidates for Change”), which seeks to promote democracy from below – from the basic structures of State administration. These, on the other hand, believe that the 400 votes Chaviano and Lopez obtained are like 400 blows given to Raul Castro’s dictatorship, even though they didn’t win in the end.

In any case, so far there haven’t been any tangible results with regard to the reform of the electoral law. We should bear in mind that if a new electoral law is introduced one day, the change it will produce will be totally inadequate because free elections are impossible without freedom of expression, association and the press, which Cuba still lacks. Citizens can never be able to freely vote in a country where members of the Ladies in White movement continue to be assaulted every Sunday when marching to the Mass, a country where the graffiti artist El Sexto remains in jail for having tried to do an artistic performance, a country listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the 10th most censored state in the world. 

Graffiti artist El Sexto remains jailed in Cuba

People in Need - Human Rights and Democracy - rewriting Cuba,

Elecciones en Cuba: la pervivencia de la dictadura

La prensa internacional se ha volcado durante la últimas semanas en mostrar al mundo cómo por primera vez en la historia de Cuba (después de la Revolución) dos candidatos de la Oposición, Hildebrando Chaviano y Yuniel López, se presentaban a las elecciones de delegados a las Asambleas Municipales del Poder Popular que tuvieron lugar el pasado 19 de abril. El comienzo del deshielo entre Cuba y EEUU ha puesto a la isla en el punto de mira, y la idea de que Cuba está cambiando hacia un modelo de gobierno más democrático es muy atractiva para gobiernos extranjeros e inversores de todo el mundo.

Sin embargo, desde People in Need queremos llamar la atención sobre el sistema electoral cubano, que continúa siendo un mecanismo hueco con el único objetivo de asegurar la continuidad del partido único. Aunque nuevos delegados sean propuestos y votados cada dos años y medio, no son más que la base de un sistema fuertemente jerarquizado, y están obligados a cumplir las directrices que les llegan desde las altas esferas del poder.

En Cuba, es cierto, existe la posibilidad de proponer a cualquier ciudadano como delegado de una Asamblea Municipal del Poder Popular. Los delegados que ganan eligen a los Presidentes de Consejo Popular y estos a su vez al Presidente del Consejo de la Administración Municipal, este ya miembro del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC), cuyas decisiones están subordinadas al Secretario Municipal del PCC. Sin embargo, ninguno de los elegidos a los distintos niveles defenderá ningún programa político económico y social, pues se supone que todos van a trabajar para aplicar los Lineamientos aprobados por el PCC, que es el que dirige la nación por encima de toda soberanía popular,según el artículo 5 de la Constitución de Cuba.

Por otro lado, dos candidatos de la oposición (ambos en La Habana), entre más de 27.000 candidatos a delegados, no puede suponer en ningún caso una cifra representativa de la sociedad cubana y sus deseos, sino más bien una cuota marginal para intentar “lavar la cara” de un sistema donde el voto de los ciudadanos carece de valor real. Además, el 1 de abril de 2015, cuando se colgaron las biografías de los candidatos, en las de Chaviano y López se especificaba que estaban relacionados con grupos “contrarrevolucionarios”. La Comisión Electoral Municipal había avisado previamente a los dos candidatos de que esta palabra iría en sus biografías, pero no supieron explicarles qué significaba el término “contrarrevolucionario”.

Otro factor interesante de las elecciones cubanas es que los ciudadanos votan biografías, no proyectos políticos; votan a una persona según sus méritos, y no por lo que tenga pensado hacer por la comunidad. Así, el acto de votar en Cuba no responde al derecho de elegir, sino a la obligación de participar para mantener el sistema, y los ciudadanos cubanos ya están acostumbrados a que su voto no tenga ninguna repercusión real ni pueda generar algún tipo de cambio. Por eso, algunos de los que van perdiendo el miedo dejan de votar.
Respecto a los opositores, muchos se niegan a participar de las elecciones porque las ven como una forma de legitimar el sistema. Otros, por el contrario, como los Candidatos por el Cambio, plataforma que busca promover la democracia desde las estructuras de base del Estado Cubano, afirman que aunque esta vez Chaviano y López hayan perdido, los 400 votos que recibieron son 400 golpes a la dictadura de Raúl Castro.

En todo caso, tenemos que ser muy conscientes de que por mucho que el gobierno cambie la Ley Electoral, sería un cambio del todo insuficiente. Sin libertad de expresión, de asociación y de prensa, como no las hay en Cuba, no es posible que haya unas elecciones libres: no es posible que voten con libertad los ciudadanos de un país donde las Damas de Blanco siguen siendo agredidas cada domingo al desfilar hacia misa y donde el grafitero El Sexto sigue en la cárcel por intentar hacer una performance; un país que es considerado por el Comité para la Protección de Periodistas como el el décimo país con más censura del mundo.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Political exiles and the right to return

Defending a fundamental right
Blanca Reyes: Denied entry to Cuba in 2013 to visit her dying dad
The premise made by the Castro regime in its effort to assassinate the character of Rosa María Payá Acevedo recently when she returned to Cuba is both self serving and false. Here is what they said in the Castro regime's website Yoanislandia:
"In the case that a person has the condition of a refugee  or a political exile in any country in the world they are not permitted to enter the country that they fled for mistreatment, threats, persecution, etc ..."
The trouble is that the claim is not true. Chinese pro-democracy activist Yang Jianli in 2004 was sentenced to five years in prison after having been detained in 2002 and this is a more detailed account of what happened:
In 2002, after completing his Doctorate in Political Economy at Harvard, Dr. Yang returned to China to help the labor movement with non-violent struggle strategies. He was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment for “spying”.  Following an international outcry for his release, including a UN Resolution and a unanimous vote of both houses of the United States Congress, Dr. Yang was freed in April of 2007.
Jianli was a long time US resident. Another example, former Chinese political prisoner and current political exile Harry Wu has returned a total of five times to continue his struggle for a free China on the mainland. He succeeded in entering and exiting the country while on other occasions he has also been caught and imprisoned by Chinese authorities. Others are trying to get in but have been denied entrance to their country, even if willing to risk prison.

In the case of Burma (Myanmar) the military junta denied Aung San Suu Kyi the right to leave and return to her own country or allowed her dying husband to enter the country to say goodbye to his wife. They had not been able to see each other for the three years prior to his death.Her children were also denied visas to visit their mother. Suu Kyi understood that if she traveled outside of Burma to visit her family that she would not be allowed back in.

What Rosa María Payá, Yang Jianli, Harry Wu and other activists claim is that they have a fundamental right to enter and exit their own homeland. Their claim is backed under Article 13 subsection 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  "(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."

Unfortunately, regimes such as Burma, Cuba, China, Iran, North Korea, and Vietnam ignore this right and determine who can or cannot enter their own country based on arbitrary decisions of the dictatorships in those countries. The claim made by the Castro agent that political refugees and exiles "are not permitted" to enter the country they fled under threat is just not true. Rights are not existent in those countries and are subject to political whims.

Furthermore, if people of good will fell into the trap of believing this argument, they would only be serving the interests of these dictatorships in permanently keeping dissenters, who had to flee for their safety at a particular moment, from exercising their right to return.

In August of 2013, Blanca Reyes made public that she was denied the right to enter her country, Cuba, to visit her 93-year old dying father. On October 15, 2013 over twitter Blanca reported that father and daughter were never again to be reunited in life:
"My father died today in Cuba. I did not see him for nine years, the Cuban government stopped me. HOW MUCH LONGER MY GOD?"

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lessons for Cuba: James Lawson on the power of nonviolence

From Havana, from the world, from memory, from the future, from the Cuban heart #AFlowerforPaya - Rosa María Payá, over twitter from Cuba on May 15, 2015

Rosa María Payá in Cuba leaving a flowers at her father's tomb
We are witnessing the power of nonviolence on display now in Cuba with Rosa María Payá Acevedo's return to the island demanding justice and freedom for Cubans. Reverend James Lawson, a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr., was the man who trained youth in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins that between February 13 to May 10, 1960 challenged segregation in eating establishments. In the video below Reverend Lawson talks about the importance of Gandhi and the power of nonviolence to effect change in the video below.

Also important to remember that the adversary is not static and will take measures to neutralize your nonviolent action. For example today Sayli Navarro reported over twitter that in Cuba, "the 'authorities of the cemetery' have given the order not to permit taking photos in pantheon where Paya's remains rest."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Daughter of Oswaldo Payá holds Mass in Cuba for her dad and Harold Cepero

Rosa María Payá continues in Cuba demanding justice for her dad and Harold

Rosa María Payá in Cuba continuing to demand justice for her dad and freedom for Cubans
On May 13, 2015 at 4:30pm a mass was celebrated at the Church of the Pasionistas in Havana, Cuba with the presence of Rosa María Payá. Rosa arrived in Cuba on May 11, 2015 and laid a flower at her father's tomb. Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were killed on July 22, 2012 under circumstances that point to an extrajudicial killing carried out by state security.

At the mass on May 13 activists from the Ladies in White,  Antonio Rodiles and Ailer González of Estado de Sats, Manuel Cuesta Morúa,  of Arco Progresista, along with members of the Christian Liberation Movement, among others. Cubanet published a video of the mass and interviewed Rosa Maria.

Ofelia Acevedo, mother of Rosa Maria and widow of Oswaldo Payá,spoke out on America Teve on the program El Espejo (The Mirror) May 13th expressing her concerns with her daughter's visit and the reasons behind it.

Rosa's mom pointed out that her daughter wanted to return to Cuba before the two year mark was reached because that is when, under current Cuban law, her right to return would expire for being out of the country longer than permitted. She would then have to request permission and a visa to return to her homeland, something that the dictatorship could deny in an arbitrary fashion.

Last month, following her arbitrary detention, Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo was criticized, her mistreatment questioned, and dissidents in general were described as a "rats and a mercenaries" by Giovanni Montano, of the Student Federation of Cuba in an interview with NexTV. This discourse that dehumanizes an adversary should be of concern to people of good will everywhere. The best way to combat it is by recognizing the humanity of all parties and challenging these assumptions using nonviolent means.

Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo has asked over twitter to continue to express messages of support through social media using the hashtag #UnaFlorParaPaya ( #AFlowerForPaya). Please continue to follow her on twitter and encourage others to use the before mentioned hashtag. My prayers and thoughts are with her and the Payá family.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Rosa María Payá returns to Cuba to place flowers on her martyred father's tomb

My return to Cuba. ..." I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear." - Oswaldo Payá

Rosa Maria arrives in Cuba (Photo by Ivan Hernandez Carrillo)
Rosa María Payá returned to Cuba today to place flowers on her martyred father's tomb. Before she left she made a simple request of people of good will around the world over twitter that can provide some protection: "Join me in my return to Havana. Please share this video." Below is the video with English subtitles that outlines what is at stake. She is also asking to express messages of support through social media using the hashtag #UnaFlorParaPaya ( #AFlowerForPaya)

Why is it important to help her?

Because in returning to Cuba her life is in danger. She and her family left Cuba following death threats and what appears to have been the extra-judicial killing of her dad and one of her best friends, Harold Cepero, on July 22, 2012 in an act orchestrated by Cuban state security. The Payá family, the Christian Liberation Movement and world leaders have called for an international and transparent investigation into their deaths. She is also calling on the United States government to include the subject of Oswaldo's and Harold's deaths on the agenda in its conversations with the Cuban government.

Some more context:

Rosa's dad, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, founded the Christian Liberation Movement on September 8, 1988 with the idea of giving Cubans the possibility of choosing who will govern them. Twenty seven years later the struggle still continues, the movement and the cause endure. This terrifies the dictatorship that has held on to power for the past 56 years eliminating even nonviolent threats to its monopoly rule.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Project Varela and the price of freedom

Freedom isn't free 

Oswaldo, Regis and Tony turn in petition signatures on May 10, 2002
 May 10 marked the thirteenth anniversary of when Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas along with Christian Liberation Movement activists Regis Iglesias Ramírez and Tony Díaz Sánchez walked together with others to turn in 11,020 signatures to the Assembly of Peoples Power in 2002 supporting the Varela Project.  The Varela Project is a citizen initiative demanding human rights reforms and a referendum in Cuba. The response by the Castro regime was to: violate its own norms ignoring the petition, set up its own petition drive making the constitution "unchangeable" using threats and intimidation to obtain signatures, crack down on the opposition ( sentencing 75 to long prison terms, among them Regis to 18 years in prison and Tony to 20 years in prison ), extrajudicially executing Oswaldo in what appears to have been a state security operation on July 22, 2012 that also claimed the life of youth leader, Harold Cepero.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Remembering murdered human rights defenders on fourth anniversary of rights activist's death

Juan Wilfredo Soto García died on May 8, 2011 from a beating he received 3 days earlier by agents of the Castro regime.  Today begins the first of three dates to be observed over the next seven days of great importance to Cuba.

Juan Wilfredo Soto García: Died from beating on May 8, 2011
 Four years ago on May 5, 2011 at approximately 9am, two national police officers reportedly approached Juan Wilfredo Soto García in Leoncio Vidal Park, asked him for his ID and then asked him to leave the park. After refusing to comply and protesting verbally against the expulsion, he was allegedly cuffed with his hands behind his back then beaten with batons.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo: Hunger strike on February 23, 2010
Juan Wilfredo Soto García was arrested and detained at a police station, then hospitalized later that day. He was released from the hospital the same afternoon only to return the following day, complaining of severe back pain. Juan Wilfredo was then admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and died four years ago today in the early hours of May 8, 2011. Juan Wilfredo died on Mother's Day.

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, mysterious illness on October 14, 2011
A local source told Amnesty International that, by chance, he met Soto García as he was going to the hospital on May 5th. According to the source, Soto García said "I just got a beating in the park with batons and I’ve got a very sore back. These people killed me." Hospital sources have reportedly stated he died from acute pancreatitis, a condition which can be triggered by abdominal trauma and commonly causes severe back pain. Juan Wilfredo Soto García, 46, belonged to the Central Opposition Coalition (Coalición Central Opositora) and according to Amnesty International Juan Wilfredo "had previously been imprisoned for 12 years for his political activities."

Wilmar Villar Mendoza: Hunger strike on January 19, 2012
Parallel to the Cuban dissident's death, an effort to deny both his past human rights activism; the circumstances surrounding Juan Wilfredo's extrajudicial killing and the dictatorship's complicity by an extensive propaganda campaign combined with  the blunt intimidation of the family of the victimAmnesty International called for an investigation into his death which over a year later has not been conducted.  The Cuban dictatorship has sought to deny Juan Wilfredo Soto García's status as a former political prisoner and human rights defender in order to portray him as a common criminal.

They've done both before with numerous victims of the regime and after Juan Wilfredo's death with four later regime victims: Ladies in White founder, Laura Pollán who died under mysterious circumstances on October 14, 2011Cuban dissident Wilmar Villar Mendoza who died on hunger strike on January 19, 2012 and Christian Liberation Movement founder Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and its youth leader Harold Cepero Escalante killed in what appears to be an extrajudicial execution carried out by state security on July 22, 2012. It is a standard operating procedure of totalitarian regime's like the one operating in Cuba. Not only do they physically kill an activist but also slander and attempt to marginalize their importance and if possible make them a nonperson.

This is the price paid when engaging with tyrants and not the people being oppressed and its called appeasement.