Thursday, July 30, 2015

Correcting the historical record: The Clintons and The Castro brothers

Why friends of a free Cuba should be protesting against the Clintons.
Clinton and Kerry: No friends of Cuban democracy activists
 Hillary Clinton is going to Florida International University tomorrow to make a foreign policy speech in which she will apparently call for the end of the embargo on the Castro dictatorship. What is surprising is that this is news because back in June 2014 in her book Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton wrote that she had been urging President Obama to end the embargo on Cuba. Unfortunately, when advocates of normalized relations in 2015 claim that the sanctions policy has been in place for 55 years and that diplomatic relations have been nonexistent they overlook some key facts that get in the way of their narrative.

First, Jimmy Carter in 1977 negotiated with the Castro regime the opening of Interests Sections in their respective countries that for all intents and purposes have functioned as embassies until April 20, 2015.

Secondly, Bill Clinton in 1994 initiated regular contacts between the U.S. and Cuban military that included joint military exercises at the Guantanamo Naval base. ( Despite his rhetoric George W. Bush continued the practice during his presidency.) Despite this improvement of relations the 1990s saw some of those brutal massacres of Cubans that are rightly remembered such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. The shoot down involved two planes blown to bits over international airspace by Cuban MiGs killing three American citizens and a Cuban resident who were engaged in the search and rescue of Cuban rafters. Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Cuban spies freed by Obama on December 17, 2014, was serving a life sentence for conspiracy to commit murder for his role in these killings.  Jose Basulto, one of the survivors, who escaped in a third plane accuses the Clinton administration of complicity in the killings. Listen to what he has to say here:

Thirdly, since 1996 was an election year and the destruction of civilian airplanes in international airspace could at a minimum be considered an act of state terrorism and at maximum an act of war the Clinton administration had to do something. They had two options a military strike on Cuba or toughening economic sanctions. This is how the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 became law that toughened sanctions.

Almost immediately after being re-elected Bill Clinton sought to undermine sanctions and normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship. The first sitting president to shake hands with Fidel Castro on September 6, 2000 was Bill Clinton. One month later he signed  Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TEFRA) that opened trade between the Castro regime and U.S. companies. Opposition in congress led to that trade not being subsidized by U.S. taxpayers by not providing government backed credits ensuring that business would be cash and carry.

Thankfully the future of Cuba depends on what Cubans do and not the vageries of U.S. Cuba policy because as the above history would indicate the Clinton administration sided with the dictatorship not the Cuban people. Prior to Bill Clinton, Cubans fleeing the Castro regime were received into the United States. It was on his watch in 1995 that Cuban refugees were declared migrants and began to be seized on the high seas and deported to communist Cuba.

Unfortunately, among past presidential candidates who ended up in key positions in the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton is not the worse on Cuba policy, that prize would go to John Kerry. Secretary of State Kerry while running for President in 2004 when asked by a reporter what he thought of the Varela Project, an initiative in which tens of thousands of Cubans called for democratic reforms, his response was that it was "counterproductive." Eleven years later the daughter of the man who initiated the Varela Project now martyred was treated shabbily by the Kerry's State Department spokesman. Let me also be fair and report that this is a bipartisan affair and individuals such as Henry Kissinger are equally horrible on human rights in Cuba.

Tomorrow at 9:45am I will be at Florida International University with my poster not only protesting Hillary Clinton's position on Cuba but also her husband's horrible record. It seems that every twenty years when the Castro regime is in a moment of crisis an American president comes in to bail out the dictatorship in the name of stability only making things worse and extending the life of the dictatorship.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Undermining the integrity of the Trafficking in Persons Report of the State Department

 Obama administration's Orwellian standard on Cuba

The Obama administration apparently is continuing to pay off the Castro regime for agreeing to normalize diplomatic relations by whitewashing the dictatorship's record first on terrorism and now on human trafficking by the State Department is upgrading Cuba's status after 12 years from tier 3 to tier 2 in its Trafficking in Persons Report. Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (Atest) expressed concern:
“We are very surprised by this year’s report, which seems to be making blatantly political decisions that we consider will have a really detrimental impact on both the integrity of the report and progress in the global fight to end modern slavery."
Kimberly A. McCabe in her book "The Trafficking of Persons: National and International Responses" wrote the following on Cuba:
"Cuba is a source country for women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced child labor and has been identified as a destination for sex tourism. Cuban adults and children are also trafficked for forced labor in commercial agriculture, such as tobacco farming. There are also reported cases of Cubans being trafficked to the United States for debt bondage. Cuba's thriving sex trade caters to thousands of tourists every year from Europe, Latin America, and North America and involves not only the young boys and girls who are victims of abuse but also the state-run hotel workers, cab drivers, and police officers who may identify the commercial sex areas for those interested in participating in sexual exploitation. There appears to be little in terms of governmental help or nongovernmental organization initiatives to end human trafficking, especially sex trafficking, in Cuba. Again because of the closed nature of the government, the prevalence of human trafficking is unknown."
The Castro regime has been directly linked to exporting slave labor to the Curaçao Drydock Company in a court of law (outside of Cuba) in 2008.Conditions inside of Cuba for workers are not much better.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Fake change in Cuba: totalitarian regime maintains travel controls

"The government of the military regime has denied Cubans the universal right to freedom of travel for more than half a century and continues denying this right without any transparent prospects of change. With the greatest cruelty, it has torn millions of Cuban families apart and it still continues doing it." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas Enough of deceptions, FREEDOM NOW, April 19, 2012

The infamous white card, an exit visa, that Cubans needed to exit their own country was replaced in 2013 with new more stringent requirements for the passport. Travel in and out of Cuba is administered by the Ministry of the Interior and professionals such as medical doctors do not have freedom to travel. 

Travel into and out of Cuba remains under totalitarian control and dissenters continue to be punished. The case of Antonio Rodiles and his wife Ailer González who are not being allowed to travel out of the island is a case in point. They have not been charged with anything nor are they on parole, but the dictatorship has decided for the time being that they cannot travel. In the past the Cuban dictatorship used the white card now they use the passport as the control.

Between 70,000 and 300,000 Cubans are banned by the Castro regime from returning to their homeland reported The Miami Herald on August 15, 2011 in an article titled Many Cuban expatriates can't go home again.  A friend, born in Cuba, that I went to college with was not able to travel to Cuba when her grandmother died. It wasn't the US embargo that stopped her but the Castro regime that denied her request. No reason given.

This migration "reform"is an example of what the late dissident leader Oswaldo Payá referred to as "fraudulent change." Giving the image of an opening while the Stalinist character of the dictatorship remains intact thus benefiting it from the image makeover in order to provide decreased international scrutiny and increased legitimacy. Sadly, the reality is very different. Cubans are no freer to travel now than before January 1, 2013  it remains up to the whims of the dictatorship. 

Oswaldo knew this first hand having been "permitted" to travel out of Cuba in December 2002 to attend the Sakharov Prize ceremony in Strasbourg, France. Days prior to being granted the white card to travel, on December 13, 2002 his home was trashed and death threats were left everywhere. Oswaldo Payá was able to return home to his family in February of 2003. Dissidents in smaller numbers when politically expedient for the regime were traveling in and out of Cuba long before 2013.

Despite the so-called 2013 travel reform Cubans living abroad were still banned from returning home because they had nonviolently dissented from the official line. One high profile example was that of Blanca Reyes. 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?" 

One concrete change is that the cost for a Cuban national to travel out of Cuba has increased in cost from 300 CUCs ($300) which included in the past the passport, white card and associated paperwork to 500 CUCs ($500) now for just the passport when the average Cuban earns 20 CUCs working for an entire month. This means that under this so-called reform for a Cuban to obtain a passport needs to spend twenty five months salary.

Cuba remains the only country in the Western Hemisphere in which nationals do not have the right to enter and exit their own country. It is for this reason that the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) remains needed. The dictatorship in Cuba remains a totalitarian regime. Stories in the media have misrepresented it as some sort of "perk" but that is not the case. However since one of the long term goals of the Castro dictatorship has been to get rid of CAA which sets Cuba apart from the rest of countries in the hemisphere then this type of media campaigns should not be a surprise.

At the same time one cannot ignore that the dictatorship in Cuba is also a state sponsor of terrorism and that a small number of individuals who have engaged in human rights violations and atrocities against Cubans have been rewarded by the Cuban regime with residency in the United States. At the same time the president of the United States has said that those engaged in serious human rights violations should be barred from entering the United States and on August 4, 2011 issued a presidential proclamation to that effect that states under Section 1:
The entry into the United States, as immigrants or non-immigrants, of the following persons is hereby suspended:
(a) Any alien who planned, ordered, assisted, aided and abetted, committed or otherwise participated in, including through command responsibility, widespread or systematic violence against any civilian population based in whole or in part on race; color; descent; sex; disability; membership in an indigenous group; language; religion; political opinion; national origin; ethnicity; membership in a particular social group; birth; or sexual orientation or gender identity, or who attempted or conspired to do so.
(b) Any alien who planned, ordered, assisted, aided and abetted, committed or otherwise participated in, including through command responsibility, war crimes, crimes against humanity or other serious violations of human rights, or who attempted or conspired to do so.
Instead of replacing the Cuban Adjustment Act another approach, that underscores Obama's above stated presidential proclamation, would be to push for legislation that bars Cuban human rights abusers from entering the United States. The bill would place visa bans and asset freezes on Cuban officials involved in human rights abuses and could be patterned after the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act that was passed in 2012 that targets Russia. In addition to Cuba the new bill could also include Belarus, China, North Korea, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe and be an opportunity for unity between freedom movements.

Maintaining the Cuban Adjustment act as it is while applying the presidential proclamation and pushing for the Magnitsky Act to be expanded to include Cuba to target those who have committed serious human rights violations in Cuba seems an approach that both takes into account the systematic violation of human rights suffered by Cubans and the need to hold Cuban human rights violators accountable. Doing otherwise would be a surrender of fundamental democratic values.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Unilateral concessions that empower the dictatorship in Cuba is not a negotiation but a surrender

The truth shall set you free.
On July 22, 2015 at 7:05pm the NTN24 television program La Noche (The Night) aired an important segment titled "The diplomatic cards of the United States with Cuba and Venezuela" was aired live. In the space of a half hour this program managed to give an overview of the Obama administration's Cuba policy and its shortcomings. The program also showed the mass arrests that took place in Cuba on July 19, 2015. It also reported how Rosa María Payá was aggressively stopped by Cuban embassy officials from entering the diplomatic office to turn in a letter requesting that the regime send her family the autopsy report they've been requesting for the past three years.

Other things have gotten worse, specifically the continuing and escalating violence against activists in Cuba that was highlighted in the case of Sirley Ávila, a former regime official turned opposition activist, who was machete attacked on May 24, 2015. This was a month after President Obama shook hands and met with Raul Castro and the State Department announced that Cuba would be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism despite its continuing bad acts. The attack was so brutal that Sirley had her left hand hacked off, her body sliced up all over, and she still faces the danger of losing her right arm.

During the debate it was pointed out that in the negotiations with the Castro regime that the Obama administration was at a disadvantage with re-designating the Interests Sections in Havana and Washington DC. This allowed the Castro regime to layout various demands as bargaining tools: freeing the remaining WASP network spies, taking Cuba off the list of terror sponsor states, return Guantanamo naval base to Cuba, along with several others.

La Noche broadcast a portion of Cubanet's June 16, 2015 video interview with Sirley Ávila and gave her plight much needed visibility. It seems that what happened to her does not fit in with the current narrative being put out by The White House and other entrenched interests pushing for the new Cuba policy.

Earlier that same day, in the morning, the Human Rights Foundation released an important and detailed report surrounding the July 22, 2012 deaths of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero. The report concludes that the evidence suggests the Cuban government killed Oswaldo Payá. Javier El-Hage, a co-author of the report summarized some of the most pertinent points of the report on the NTN24 program explaining the absence of an independent judiciary and the reality that "lawyers in Cuba don't defend the accused but the government."  Javier also gave an overview of the case and the Castro regime's wholesale obfuscation of what really happened to Oswaldo and Harold while violating international standards of due process to do so.

Also brought up during the program was the question of how this new policy would likely impact human rights activists and the dissident movement. Unfortunately the mistreatment suffered by Rosa María Payá at the hands of the spokesman at the State Department who pulled her aside and threatened to have her physically removed if she tried to ask a question during the Q&A with Secretary Kerry and the Castro regime's foreign minister on July 20, 2015 is symbolic of the position dissidents have been placed in. This action demonstrates that the State Department's priority is engaging the regime not the dissident movement. This treatment in 2015 stands in stark contrast to the reception Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas got in a meeting with Secretary Powell in 2003. This demonstrates that the policy in action is between states and will not advance human rights in Cuba or a process of national reconciliation. Unilateral concessions that empower the dictatorship in Cuba is not a negotiation but a surrender of fundamental American values.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Human Rights Foundation report: Evidence suggests Cuban government killed Oswaldo Payá

Cuba: HRF Report on Oswaldo Payá’s Death; Evidence Suggests Government May Have Killed Him

Full report available online in pdf format

NEW YORK (July 22, 2015) – To mark the third anniversary of the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) published a legal report today highlighting the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of the official government investigation following Payá’s death in 2012. HRF has documented numerous due process violations, including damning witness accounts, a grossly inadequate autopsy examination, and other key pieces of evidence that were overlooked by the Cuban judicial system. HRF’s report concludes that the “evidence, which was deliberately ignored, strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident, but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the state.” HRF will present the report today at Georgetown University. Payá’s daughter, Rosa María, will be in attendance.

“Oswaldo Payá was the most prominent Latin American pro-democracy activist of the last twenty five years and he was killed under suspicion of foul play in the Western Hemisphere’s only totalitarian country. Yet, few mainstream politicians, media, and NGOs around the world have cared enough to insist on an independent investigation into Payá’s death,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “With the publication of this thorough report, which brings to light evidence that has been purposefully obscured by Cuba’s repressive apparatus, HRF hopes to fill this vacuum and help the Payá family in their search for truth and justice,” said Halvorssen.

The driver of the vehicle carrying Payá, Spanish national Ángel Carromero, was immediately taken into custody at a hospital, and later transferred to prisons in Bayamo and Havana. On October 15, 2012, he was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. On December 29, 2012, Carromero arrived in Spain under an agreement brokered by his government, and soon after retracted all statements he made under duress in Cuba. Carromero eventually told his full story in a book entitled, “Death Under Suspicion.” After analyzing all the evidence that emerged in the months that followed Payá’s death, HRF’s legal report concludes that Carromero was forced to record a self-incriminating video that was broadcast domestically and internationally, and that the Cuban prosecution ignored the complaints made by the Payá family and barred them from the court proceedings.

HRF’s report also found that Carromero did not have access to an attorney for several weeks after the accident, and later had no choice but to hire members of the only lawyers guild allowed by the Cuban government. Members of this guild are legally compelled to “defend the Revolution” and perform their duties “inspired by the example set by the Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro Ruz.” Finally, the report found that the prosecution did not allow Carromero access to the case file or to the evidence on which the accusation was based; his attorneys could not present new evidence; none of the allegations made for each one of these violations was investigated or clarified by the Cuban authorities; and that, “to date, the victims’ next of kin don’t know the full, complete, and public truth as to what happened to their relatives.”

“The best available evidence, which was deliberately ignored by Cuba’s judiciary, strongly suggests direct government responsibility in the deaths of Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero,” said Javier El-Hage, general counsel of HRF. “Specifically, the evidence suggests that their deaths were the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the state, acting with the intent to kill Oswaldo Payá and the passengers in the vehicle he was riding, with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm to them, or with reckless or depraved indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to their lives,” said El-Hage.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Taken from:

Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero's nonviolence message

 "The true Liberation is to always remember that humanity is not orphaned because we are all brothers, we are all children of God." - Oswaldo Payá

Mass tonight at La Ermita at 8pm
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante defied a totalitarian dictatorship using nonviolent means and just as importantly refused to hate their adversary. On the third anniversary of their untimely passing what they stood for needs to remembered, honored and their example followed.
"We Cubans have a right to our rights. Why not rights? It's time. That is the peaceful change that we promote and claim. Changes that signifies freedom, reconciliation, political pluralism and free elections. Then the Diaspora will cease being a Diaspora, because all Cubans will have rights in their own free and sovereign country. That is why we fight." - Oswaldo Payá, March 30, 2012

"Under the pretext of defending freedom they are attacking it. Martí would say it like this: 'The knife that is stabbed in the name of freedom is plunged into the chest of freedom'."  - Harold Cepero, November 13, 2002

The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: “You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together.” This is the liberation which we are proclaiming.  - Oswaldo Payá, December 17, 2002
Those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves.
- Harold Cepero, November 13, 2002

"The rifles will be buried face down, the words of hatred will vanish in the heart without reaching the lips. We'll go out into the street and all of us will see in the other a brother, let us look to the future with the peace of he that knows that he forgave and he that has been forgiven. Let there be no blood to clean or dead to bury, the shadow of fear and of catastrophe will give way to the reconciliatory light, and Cuba will be reborn in every heart, in a miracle of love made by God and us." - Oswaldo Payá, December 25, 1990

"They should think if at the bottom of this attitude there is a real respect for freedom, because to say freedom, to be free, is not to snatch the freedom of others." - Harold Cepero, November 13, 2002

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Cuban dissidents at the State Department: 2003 vs 2015

From being received by the Secretary of State in a private meeting to being threatened with physical removal from the State Department for asking a question.

Oswaldo Payá meets with Secretary of State Colin Powell on January 7, 2003
 On Tuesday, January 7, 2003 Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas met with Secretary of State Colin Powell in a private meeting that was later reported on by the State Department spokesperson. Below is video footage of the meeting and briefing.

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson issued a press release describing what went on at the meeting:
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that Powell "expressed his admiration" for Paya's efforts in Cuba. "It was a very good meeting and I think we heard a lot from Mr. Paya about the efforts that he and others in Cuba are making to try to bring about peaceful, democratic change in Cuba," Boucher said. Paya's 20-minute meeting with Powell followed a media picture-taking session where the two shook hands for the cameras.
 Twelve years later, and six years into the Obama presidency, everything has changed and not for the better. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas whose nonviolent path to Cuban liberation continues to inspire many was killed on July 22, 2012 along with youth leader Harold Cepero in what appears to have been a state security operation in eastern Cuba.

Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo at the State Department on July 20, 2015
On Monday, July 20, 2015 at the State Department, Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo attended a press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry and Castro's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez. Rosa Maria had proper accreditation as a member of the press. She has had articles published in news publications such as The PanAm Post and her own blog. This did not stop Rear Admiral John Kirby, who was transferred from the Pentagon and in May of 2015 became the new State Department spokesman, from takeing Rosa Maria aside and warning her that she would be physically removed if she asked any questions or caused any kind of disturbance. Cecilia Bradley of NBC6 captured a blurry image of when Rosa Maria Payá was taken aside. The young activist tweeted a photo of Rear Admiral Kirby with the following text: "John Kirby kindly told me if I caused disturbances during the conference security would remove me." In a later tweet Rosa Maria reported that "Mr. Kirby asks me not to ask questions at John Kerry's press briefing or they would use force to expel me."

The United States Department of State in the space of  twelve years has gone from receiving a Cuban democratic opposition leader to threatening his daughter with force if she dared to ask a question at a press conference in which the Secretary of State John Kerry took questions with the Cuban dictatorship's Foreign Minister. The same dictatorship that martyred her father three years earlier.

This is what is now celebrated in many quarters as the "normalization of relations." Today, when  Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo attempted to present a letter to the Cuban embassy requesting her father's autopsy report she was not allowed to turn in the letter and a patrol car was called. Since 2012 the Payá family has been requesting Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's autopsy report from the dictatorship and has yet to be given a copy as they are entitled by law.

From being received by the Secretary of State in a private meeting following a petition drive signed by more than 20,000 Cuban nationals to being threatened with physical removal from the State Department for wanting to ask a question at a press conference the moral stature of the United States government has diminished drastically. Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo in a tweet summed up this new reality perfectly:  "I didn't think I would receive in the State Dept the same kind of coercive warning security at the Panama airport gave me."

Monday, July 20, 2015

Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero and their enduring legacy

Those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves. - Harold Cepero Escalante, November 13, 2002

Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero are no longer physically with us. Martyred on July 22, 2012 and their presence denied not only to their family and friends but also to a nation that needs their leadership. Nevertheless their words and deeds endure and remain relevant today and should be reflected on by democrats everywhere.

For example on October 29, 2009 Oswaldo Payá responded to the official narrative of the dictatorship's foreign minister in clear and bold terms that resonate after today's event at the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC:

Mr. Bruno Rodríguez, you have spoken in the United Nation’s General Assembly, using the language of the agents of the repressive forces, to offend those in Cuba who defend the dignity and rights of Cubans and those who are imprisoned for this cause. As a representative of a tyranny, you spoke unabashedly, with insulting and cynical phrases, against the Cuban people. 
The first and most insulting statement: "Cuba is a democracy. First it should be clarified that Cuba is all Cubans, and the government representatives that oppress it are by no means the voice of our people. In Cuba there is no democracy, there is a totalitarian regime where one group with power, that is not popularly supported or representative, denies the citizens and people at large their sovereign rights to choose and to decide, and their right to self determination.

Mr. Rodríguez also said: "Cuba respects the freedom to travel." It is only because the Cuban people have no voice that you are able to so greatly offend them with such cynicism. In Cuba , freedom to travel is not a right and the government that Rodríguez represents denies this right to the Cubans who live inside and outside the country, a policy that cruelly separates many families.
In the midst of the Cuban opposition leader's plain speaking on the nature of the government, the arbitrariness of foreign minister's appointed position but Oswaldo also offered to defend his rights as a human being:
Bruno Rodríguez, you are a mercenary to a government that pays you to justify to the world the oppression under which our people live! But as I did with Felipe Pérez Roque, I remind you that those who order you can place and remove you with one finger; but we are not ordered by anyone. And as we said to those that are now in disgrace, we say to you: We are ready to defend your rights as a human being when they throw you to the trash; if it is not before the Cuban people win their freedom and their rights, as will surely happen.
On February 23, 2010 Oswaldo Payá addressed the lack of solidarity for Cuban human rights defenders such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo who had just died under suspicious circumstances after a long hunger strike in which regime officials refused him water contributing to his death:
We denounce all who are 'protagonists' in the official media and informally and their followers in the world of culture, with their repugnant lies and justifying silences, encourage and enable these crimes and greater crime suffered by the Cuban people.
We denounce all those governments and states in this continent and in the world together with the many institutions and persons that prefer a harmonious relationship with lies and oppression than to open solidarity with the Cuban people. All are complicit with what is happening and what will happen.
In a September 23, 2011 conversation which Oswaldo had his answers video recorded spoke on the continuing plight of political prisoners:
There are political prisoners in Cuba; the son of a member of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) was sentenced to 12 years in jail for the sole reason of being the son of a MCL member. His name is Yosvany Melchor Rodriguez and he was artificially condemned in Santiago de Cuba on November 30, 2010, after his mother was threatened by state security forces for not wanting to cooperate against us.
 In the same interview he went on to challenge the conventional wisdom that the dissident movement is divided:
There is tremendous interest in saying that there is no dissident movement, that it is fragmented, divided, that it has no program. But that is false. That is what the government needs to sustain the idea of the conspiracy against the people of Cuba at this moment. Now that the military oligarchy, with the complicity of most states—European, North American and from Latin America—decide to give a vote of confidence to Raúl Castro. That’s why the dissident movement is so bothered, because we are saying that which is radical, and that is: Cuba continues to be a state of “no rights”, a state where citizens’ dignity is not respected and where the poor have no voice even to say they are poor.
Four months prior to his untimely death Oswaldo warned of the danger of a fraudulent change carried out by the dictatorship with the complicity of elements of the Cuban diaspora:
Our Movement denounces the regime's attempt to impose a fraudulent change, i.e. change without rights and the inclusion of many interests in this change that sidesteps democracy and the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The attempt to link the Diaspora in this fraudulent change is to make victims participate in their own oppression. The Diaspora does not have to "assume attitudes and policies in entering the social activity of the island." The Diaspora is a Diaspora because they are Cuban exiles to which the regime denied rights as it denies them to all Cubans. It is not in that part of oppression, without rights, and transparency that the Diaspora has to be inserted, that would be part of fraudulent change. The gradual approach makes sense only if there are transparent prospects of freedom and rights. We Cubans have a right to our rights. Why not rights? It's time. That is the peaceful change that we promote and claim. Changes that signifies freedom, reconciliation, political pluralism and free elections. Then the Diaspora will cease being a Diaspora, because all Cubans will have rights in their own free and sovereign country. That is why we fight.
Three years have passed since Oswaldo and Harold's untimely deaths but their struggle for a real and nonviolent change in Cuba continues, their example and spirit live on.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The high price of diplomatic relations with the Castro regime

"We are going to have diplomatic relations with the United States without having ceded one iota." - Gerardo Hernandez, Cuban spy sentenced to life in prison for murder conspiracy freed by Obama as part of his deal with Raul Castro. (Capitol Hill Cubans)

Castro and Obama (April 2015) Sirley Ávila machete attacked (May 2015)
The Obama administration has had to bend over backwards in order to arrive at the formal re-establishment of diplomatic relations because since 1977 the Carter administration established de facto diplomatic relations with the opening of interests sections in both countries. Joint military exercises began to be carried out in 1994 during the Clinton administration. Therefore in reality what remained to be done was more symbolism than substance, and easier for the Castro regime to drag its feet knowing that the pressure for a breakthrough weighed more heavily on President Obama and his legacy. They were not disappointed:
Never has so much been sacrificed with regards to Cuba policy to obtain so little in return purposefully. The Obama Doctrine, first addressed by Charles A. Kupchan in 2001, and fully fleshed out in his 2010 book,  How Enemies Become Friends The Sources of Stable Peace was summarized by José Azel in the critical May 6, 2015 article The Resurrection of Neville Chamberlain into four steps:
It must begin, according to Kupchan, by making concessions to our enemies in an act of “unilateral accommodation.” These concessions must be “unusual and costly” to signal benign intent. [...] The second phase entails the practice of “reciprocal restraint” where the adversary nations walk away from rivalry, peace breaks out, and geopolitical competition gives way to cooperation.[...] “Social integration” and “the generation of new narratives and identities” are the third and fourth phases of Kupchan’s sequence towards stable peace.
Kupchan in a April 2011 article in Friedrich Ebert Stiftung attempts to refute the charge that this policy is a version of neo-appeasement arguing:

It follows that talking to the enemy is not appeasement  – as is often claimed by engagement’s critics – but, under the right circumstances, good diplomacy. To be sure,  the effort to pursue diplomatic accommodation with an  adversary may not work. The target state may refuse to  reciprocate the initiator’s signals of benign intent, ensuring that confrontation continues.
The trouble with Kupchan's argument is that what he is advocating goes well beyond "talking to the enemy" into what he describes as "unilateral accommodation" setting the stage for "reciprocal restraint." Now when one government is making "unilateral accommodations" and the other side is declaring victory and maintaining an aggressive posture in the real world, while talking the talk of accommodation in diplomatic exchanges, it does share a disturbing similarity to appeasement policies of the 1930s that did not lead to peace but was a precursor to a major war that claimed tens of millions of lives. Underestimating the capability for mischief of what appears to be a weakened totalitarian dictatorship is a script that has played out before with horrible consequences.

This approach not only ignores the underlying conflict between the United States and Cuba but also the conflict between the Cuban dictatorship and the Cuban people. This mentality is also found deeply engrained in other parts of the Obama administration. For example, when 25,000 Cubans made it known that they wanted democratic reforms in 2002 - 2003 through a citizen initiative that challenged the dictatorship, then presidential candidate now Secretary of State, John Kerry said it was "counterproductive."

History rebukes getting into bed with dictatorships, but that is precisely what the White House is doing in Cuba, and unlike the Varela Project,  it promises to be counterproductive to both the interests of the United States and the Cuban people. When this approach is proven a disaster hopefully those formulating policy in the next administration will look to a nonviolent approach that works.

Friday, July 17, 2015

History Rebukes Getting into Bed with Dictatorship

Appeasement Strategy with Cuba Has Been Tried, Already Proved a Failure

Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter meet with Deng Xiaoping in 1979
Originally published in The Canal

History demonstrates that biology does not necessarily take care of totalitarian regimes that have enslaved entire peoples. The Soviet Union founded in 1917 did not implode until 1991 when three generations had passed through that brutal system and finally brought it down nonviolently.

Likewise, China has been gripped by Mao’s totalitarian regime for 66 years and shows no signs of liberalizing, quite the contrary. Maoism is being reintroduced in the education system, and the dictatorship is flexing its economic and political muscle around the world. Sadly the US policy of normalized relations, since Richard Nixon and  Henry Kissinger went to China, has empowered the dictatorship more than the people.

When Chinese students rose up in 1989, demanding democratic reforms and an end to corruption, the United States and much of the West paid lip service in their favor. While they were massacred, western nations privately assured the Chinese communist leadership that relations would not be effected, and business would carry on as usual.

Since then, Chinese nationals have been subjected to new totalitarian controls over there lives with the help of American companies such as Google and Yahoo. Google,to be able to operate in China, censored its search engines and Yahoo went further and actively tracked down dissidents who had been sending out e-mails critical of the government, leading to their imprisonment and torture. A similar process has played out in Vietnam.

Unfortunately it seems that on more than one occasion individuals of good will have confused a people with a particular party and a culture with a particular political ideology and this can be a slippery slope that ends up empowering and prolonging the life of a dictatorship which is the anti-thesis of helping people.

In the current debate over engagement with Cuba, it is important to differentiate between Cubans and the dictatorship that oppresses them. Furthermore, if one wants to be a force for real and lasting change, then one should remember that truth, memory, and justice are necessary elements for a real and lasting national reconciliation that involves forgiveness.

Pope John Paul II understood firsthand what Cubans had suffered, and in his World Day of Peace message on January 1, 2002, he offered a solution to situations such as Cuba’s:
"How do we restore the moral and social order subjected to such horrific violence? My reasoned conviction, confirmed in turn by biblical revelation, is that the shattered order cannot be fully restored except by a response that combines justice with forgiveness.… But in the present circumstances, how can we speak of justice and forgiveness as the source and condition of peace? We can and we must, no matter how difficult this may be … In fact, true peace is “the work of justice."
Holding the Castro regime accountable, denouncing new crimes, and pursuing justice is the work of peace and can be judged by its fruits. In the above cited speech, Pope John Paul II also observed that “the guilty must be correctly identified, since criminal culpability is always personal and cannot be extended to the nation.”

Unfortunately, the Obama administration has pursued a  policy of appeasement, that in practice has ignored the above council, since 2009 that has given Castro a green light to murder several opposition leaders including Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero (July 22, 2012) along with rising levels of repression.

The Carter Administration was the first to lift the travel ban and hold high-level negotiations with the Cuban dictatorship, and both sides opened Interest Sections in their respective capitals between 1977 and 1981. Then from 1981 to 1982, the Castro regime executed approximately 80 prisoners, which was a marked escalation when compared to 1976. Furthermore, during the Carter presidency, Fidel Castro took steps that resulted in the violent deaths of US citizens.

During the Mariel crisis of 1980, when over 125,000 Cubans sought to flee the island, the Cuban dictator sought to save face by selectively releasing approximately 12,000 violent criminals or individuals who were insane into the exodus. According to his bodyguard, “with the stroke of a pen,” Fidel Castro personally “designated which ones could go and which ones would stay. ‘Yes’ was for murderers and dangerous criminals; ‘no’ was for those who had attacked the revolution.”

In Latin America, this warming of relations coincided with the arrival of the Sandinistas to power in Nicaragua in 1979 and a widening civil war in Central America, all with Cuban backing.
The second to seek engagement was  the Clinton administration in the 1990s, similarly coinciding with brutal massacres. That included 37 Cubans in the “13 de Marzo” tugboat sinking (1994) and the murder of four in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down (1996). Despite all of this, President Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro in 2000 and opened up cash-and-carry trade that formed a pro-Castro lobby in the United States. In Latin America, this warming of relations coincided with the arrival of Hugo Chavez to power in Venezuela in 1999 — with Cuban backing that has had negative consequences throughout the region.

People of good conscience must reject hatred and revenge while embracing justice and forgiveness. At the same time one must be careful not to become frustrated with the slow pace of change, and not to confuse helping an oppressed people with assisting a dictatorship. Otherwise, one could just be contributing to lengthening the life of the Castro regime and the suffering not only of Cubans but also of the peoples of neighboring countries, including the United States.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tibetan monk who died in Chinese prison cremated against family’s wishes, suspect he was murdered

"Chinese authorities denied us our right to pay our final respect to Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and refused to return his body to us for Buddhist rites. My family believes he was murdered.” - Geshe Nyima, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s cousin

BREAKING: Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body cremated in Chinese prison against family’s demands

July 15, 2015

Today, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s body was cremated at a secret prison, located approximately 5km from Chuandong prison in Chengdu, at around 7am local Beijing time by the prison authorities as reported by his family members. The cremation took place against the wishes of his family to release the body in order to perform the final Buddhist rites in his hometown Lithang.

Around 30 Tibetans who were Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s immediate family and students were allowed inside the secret prison to see the body before the cremation and perform a short prayer. The cremation follows unsuccessful negotiations over the release of the body between Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s family and prison authorities, which was followed by more than 100 Tibetans staging a peaceful sit-in protest outside Chuandong prison.

No cameras or phones were allowed inside the undisclosed prison where Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was cremated. His family described the prison conditions as despicable and “worthy for a beggar”. All of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s belongings were reportedly burned and the family and mourning crowd were not permitted to hold on to any remains.

Geshe Nyima, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s student and cousin says in a phone message: “I am heartbroken, but also extremely angry. My family cannot accept this. We will not stop demanding justice until we have answers. Chinese authorities denied us our right to pay our final respect to Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and refused to return his body to us for Buddhist rites. My family believes he was murdered.”

Tenzin Dolkar, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, says: “Injustice was committed against Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and his family by the Chinese government. With his death, Tibetans in Tibet lost their beloved leader and teacher. Today, their right to perform the last Buddhist rites for Tenzin Delek was taken away. Chinese authorities cremated his body with complete disregard to the family's wishes. It is a failure of world governments to allow the Chinese government to get away with committing such violence against Tibetans.”

For more information contact:

Tenzin Dolkar,, +1 (917) 664-5530 (English)
Padma Dolma,, +1 (917) 664- 3315 (English, German)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Three years without Oswaldo and Harold ...

July 22nd will mark three years since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante were killed in what appears to have been a premeditated extrajudicial execution by Cuban state security. Join the  Payá family and Christian Liberation Movement in honoring their memory.

"The true Liberation is to always remember that humanity is not orphaned because we are all brothers, we are all children of God." - Oswaldo Payá

July 22, 2012 - July 22, 2015

Three years without Oswaldo and without Harold...

The family of Oswaldo Payá and his brothers in the Christian Liberation movement, would like for you to accompany us to the Eucharistic celebration, that in memory of their lives we will offer next July 22 in Our Lady of Charity (La Ermita) at 8 pm.

Justice for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

"Since I am a Tibetan, I have always been sincere and devoted to the interests and well-being of Tibetan people. That is the real reason why the Chinese do not like me and framed me. That is why they are going to take my precious life even though I am innocent." - Tenzin Delek Rinpoche

Back on April 7, 2015 this blog echoed the call for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche to be granted medical parole after his health declined on the 13th year of an unjust 20 year prison sentence. On July 12, 2015, just a little over three months later Chinese authorities informed his family that this Buddhist monk and political prisoner had died in prison but did not specify the circumstances surrounding his death nor returned the remains to his loved ones. His cousin Geshe Nyima said in a statement: 
"Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was an innocent monk who suffered over 13 years of unjust imprisonment, torture and abuse in a Chinese prison for simply advocating for the rights and well-being of his people and for expressing his devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. ... "The Chinese government must immediately release his body so that our family and community may perform the last Buddhist religious rites".
Students for a Free Tibet is requesting that people of good will request the following of their respective government:
1. Demand a public inquiry into the circumstances of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's death. He was a political prisoner at the top of the priority listing for a number of countries and his passing must be officially acknowledged and the causes investigated.

2. Appeal to your Chinese counterparts that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche's body is returned to his family so that they can carry out final Tibetan Buddhist religious rites.

3. Express strong condemnation at the passing of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche; and convey to China its concern that he was sentenced in secrecy for a crime he did not commit, and China's failure to respond to the application for medical parole.
Student activists stormed the Chinese consulate in New York City on July 13th demanding that his body be returned to his family so that they be able to perform "the last Buddhist religious rites." Take action here and petition your government to demand that the Chinese dictatorship do the right thing then share the link with others. The international community must speak out or risk being morally complicit by its silence.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Reflection on conditional forgiveness, justice and the silent vigil for July's Cuban martyrs

“ Then you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

A version of this essay was published in The Daily Signal on July 13, 2015.

Over the past twenty years I have taken part in acts of remembrance for the 37 victims of the July 13, 1994 "13 de marzo" tugboat massacre and over the past 19 years for the four victims of the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. What has motivated me to do this and to continue is a desire for justice and with these actions engage in preserving memory and the facts known about these two events.  Now in the case of the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down I lost two friends: Mario de la Peña, and Armando Alejandre Jr, but long ago made peace with their untimely passing.

From the start the words of the New Testament informed my political beliefs and in public forums both written and verbal cited a key passage from the Lord's Prayer: "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." A later biblical passage expands on this passage: " If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."

In a letter to the editor to The Miami Herald published on July 30, 1996 I made the case against hatred and revenge and for civility:
Many in this community have suffered torture, the death of loved ones, decades of unjust imprisonment and the separation of families. They have good reason to hate Castro, and his supporters, but for the good of the Cuban nation (inside and outside of Cuba) they must overcome their hatred. In the words of Jesus Christ they must love their enemy. They must save the Cuban nation from the evils committed by this enemy, and not add to them out of a thirst for revenge. Leave revenge to God for that is to whom it belongs. The true test of respect for freedom of expression and of thought is how do we react to what we strongly disagree with. I believe that we have a moral obligation to criticize what we think is wrong in a civil manner, but we also have a moral obligation to protect those we disagree with from violations of their civil and political rights.
I still believe this, and live by it, and this belief is at the root of my profound rejection of the dictatorship in Cuba. The Castro regime's "political culture" is one of misrepresenting, slandering and seeking to destroy not only the person advocating a position they oppose when alive but also their dignity and memory after they have died or been killed.

My opposition to Castroism led not only to a rejection of physical violence but also verbal violence that attacks individuals. Cuba needs a new political culture that places Castroism on the ash heap of history. Change must first come from within each person. This is an appeal to civility. The Institute for Civility in Government offers the following definition: "“Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” The democratic resistance in Cuba in order to thrive and succeed must embrace and practice civility fully because it is a necessary prerequisite for effective civic action.

However, civility does not mean accepting the rewriting of history or tolerating continuing or new atrocities committed by the unrepentant dictatorship that exists in Cuba. Like, Antonio "Tony" Ramón Díaz Sánchez, a former prisoner of conscience and secretary general of the Christian Liberation Movement, I reject hatred while at the same time forgiving past injustices but refuse to forgive those that are ongoing or that will be carried out in the future. Because to forgive ongoing and future evils raises the danger of one becoming morally complicit in them or as Tony puts it:
"Because what I do not forgive is that the year has started with the same repression that ended last year. What I can not forgive is that in my country, those who govern, do not recognize the need to change to democracy and allow the people to decide in free and pluralistic elections. I can not and do not want to forgive that right now, at this instant, there are political prisoners in Cuba and that the existing laws guarantee their imprisonment or perhaps the firing squad for others. I do not forgive that young people are living without life projects, while a group in power live as billionaires. Nor do I forgive the complicity of many interests that seek capital now in Cuba without wanting to find out today what is happening there. I do not forgive out of hate. No, no but because forgiving a present and a future of injustice and totalitarianism for your country, is not mercy but complicity with the evil of others."
The extrajudicial killings of Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012 and the ongoing escalation of violence against activists and civilians cannot be ignored or tolerated. Clare Short, a former Labor member of parliament addressing the topic of forgiveness and justice raises two important points that underline the previous raised point of forgiving ongoing injustice and repression:
"Is anger about injustice one of the forces that drives historical progress and important social reform? Is there an important difference between the bitterness,hatred and quest for vengeance that can be so damaging to those who have been hurt or wronged, and the anger that thirsts after justice?" ... "I also agree that the quest for vengeance is also wrong because it so often inflicts harm on people who share an identity with the original perpetrator but have no guilt,and it means the evil of the original harm is recreated in the actions of the person who has been wronged. But all this said, there is such a thing as just anger and those who are subject to continuing oppression can get strength from that anger in order to join with others to liberate themselves. And so I wish to conclude by celebrating forgiveness and reconciliation but also by reminding us that reconciliation can not be the answer when there is a continuing wrong or continuing oppression."
Reconciliation with the Castro regime is presently impossible because of its unwillingness both to be reconciled and to admit any wrong doing. Secondly, according to some experts on the subject a "willingness to forgive" does not necessitate reconciliation or for that matter giving up on justice being served. However for forgiveness to take place it does require repentance and must be conditional. Author and theologian Chris Brauns outlines the argument on his blog which is reproduced below:
  •  Christians are called to forgive others as God forgave them (Matthew, 6:12, Ephesians  4:32).
  • God forgives conditionally. God only forgives those who repent of their sins and turn in saving faith to Him (1 John 1:9, John 3:36).
  • Likewise, we also should offer forgiveness to all. 
  • We forgive those who repent.  Indeed, we are obliged to forgive (Luke 17:3-4), knowing that whatever someone has done to offend us pales in comparison to what we have done to offend God (Matthew 18:32-33).
The alternative to this, according to Brauns, that in some quarters is called "unconditional forgiveness" may actually lead a victim to internalize "unforgiveness and bitterness." This is not the path to peace and reconciliation but to its opposite.

Defending memory by pursuing truth and maintaining the call for justice is an ever present opportunity for the other to repent and embrace justice and actual forgiveness. The antithesis of this is "forgiving and forgetting" while injustices are ongoing  and new ones being compounded not only harms the victims but also condemns the perpetrator to continue committing evil acts and is described as a "false reconciliation."   It is preaching forgiveness without repentance which the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as "cheap grace." Forgetting the past and the truths that it holds is a threat to freedom.

It is important to remember what has been done within a context of justice while remaining open to forgiveness by calling on the other side to repent and for civil authorities to hold them accountable for past and present crimes. This is why on July 13, 2015 at noon people of goodwill shall gather in silence for 13 minutes in a demand for justice for the thirty seven men, women,  and children killed on July 13, 1994 and for Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante killed on July 22, 2012 in what has all the hallmarks of a state security extrajudicial execution.  Speaking to family members in both cases who with their faith have not succumbed to hatred, but continue to demand justice. Jorge García who lost 14 relatives on July 13, 1994 expressed it best during a question and answer session at Florida International University on July 13, 2004:
''There are those who think that we should be full of rancor and a thirst for vengeance but I don't want revenge. I feel sorry for the people who assassinated my family. I can never be compensated for my loss. I will never be happy again with my family surrounding me. There will always be a tinge of sadness but I do want there to be a trial so that this situation can serve as a lesson and that these people or others like them in other parts of the world, don't do this kind of thing again. Not in Cuba. Not anywhere.''