Sunday, February 28, 2016

#AFlowerForPaya: F29 Mass for Oswaldo Payá on what would've been his 64th birthday

"Next February 29th my father would be 64 years old. Our friends and I, in person, will be there,  back in Havana in a thanksgiving mass for his life.  Death is not more powerful than Love. And the legacy of my father Oswaldo Payá and Harold  Cepero is full of love for life in a free Cuba." -Rosa María Payá Acevedo, Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, February 23, 2016

 Oswaldo Payá was born 64 years ago on February 29, 1952 and was extrajudicially executed in Cuba on July 22, 2012 along with Harold Cepero. Following these untimely deaths the Cuban opposition leader's family was subjected to death threats and heightened surveillance by state security leading them to go into exile.

Mexican Federal Deputy Cecilia Romero and Rosa María Payá on way to Cuba
 However,  Rosa María Payá has refused to go along with this all too common narrative and returned to Cuba on May 13, 2015 to hold a mass for her dad and lay at his grave in Havana. She now returns accompanied by Mexican Federal Deputy Cecilia Romero to hold a mass in Cuba on February 29th in celebration of her father's life.

Rosa María was inviting friends in Cuba to join her on February 29th in a Mass in celebration of her dad's and Harold Cepero's lives at 5:30pm at the Church of  Los Pasionistas in Havana, but now that location has been changed to Cerro parish "El Salvador del Mundo",  located on Santo Tomás y Peñón in Havana, Cuba. She has also reported that her SMS texting service has been arbitrarily blocked.

In Miami a Mass is being held at 8:00pm at the Church of Our Lady of Charity (La Ermita) at 8:00pm in celebration of the lives of  Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante.

All people of good will our invited to pray for the souls of these two good men and celebrate their lives. At the same time through the social media there is an effort underway to highlight this visit with the hashtag (#AFlowerForPaya) to let Cuban officials know that the world is watching.

In one of her final tweets before boarding Rosa made the following observation: "Soon I'll be in our beloved Cuba tragically the only country in the world Cubans don't have rights."

Going to Cuba to hold Mass for her martyred dad and friend

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Cuban artists and musicians put on performance "PORK" on South Beach

Performance art, rock n roll and Andy Warhol too...

On Thursday February 25th beginning at 7:30pm until late in the evening in South Beach Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto) was finally able to carry out his performance art piece that cost him 10 months in a Cuban prison. Two pigs named Fidel and Raul where at the center of an exhibition of drawings and paintings. In addition, Andy Warhol's acclaimed film The Life of Juanita Castro was projected in Miami's Market Gallery along with a performance by the Cuban punk rock band, Porno para Ricardo.

The exhibit will be open to the public from February 26 to March 17, from 12:00pm - 12:00 am daily. Market Gallery, 1420 Alton Road, Miami Beach, FL, 33139

Danilo Maldonado addresses the crowd with Ladies in White leader Bertha Soler
The event was organized by Market Gallery, Pollock Fine Art, and Human Rights Foundation.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Brothers to the Rescue and the Shootdown Conspiracy 20 years later

"Only through non violent means can we cleanse the Cuban nation from the hatred instilled by the dictatorship in Cuban hearts. The nonviolent methods have proven to be the most effective and humanitarian means of resistance against Castro's totalitarian state." - Jose Basulto, Our Struggle, March 2, 1996
Painting of Brothers to the Rescue shootdown
Twenty years have passed since the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down, but the regime that ordered this act of state terrorism remains in power and continues to behave in a criminal fashion murdering nonviolent dissidents and smuggling weapons to outlaw regimes such as North Korea. At the same time, it is important to remember the significance of the Brothers to the Rescue organization, the four lives lost that day and the struggle still being carried out by their families for justice and reconciliation.

How and why Brothers to the Rescue formed
In February of 1991
news accounts of the death by dehydration of 15-year-old Gregorio Perez Ricardo, a rafter fleeing Cuba, as U.S. Coast Guard officials tried to save his life shocked the moral imagination of several pilots. This was not an isolated event. Academics Holly Ackerman and Juan Clark, in the 1995 monograph The Cuban Balseros: Voyage of Uncertainty reported that “as many as 100,000 Cuban rafters may have perished trying to leave Cuba.” Anecdotal evidence documents that some of them were victims of the Cuban border patrol using sand bags and snipers against defenseless rafters. 

Gregorio Perez Ricardo
It was within this context that on May 13, 1991 Brothers to the Rescue was founded with the aim of searching for rafters in the Florida Straits, getting them water, food, and rescued. In December of 1993 Brothers to the Rescue inaugurated their permanent hangar naming it after Gregorio.

Brothers to the Rescue by November of 1995 was collaborating with the
Florida Martin Luther King Institute for Non-violence and took part in the King Day parade in 1996. On February 8, 1996 The Miami Times reported “that this group has come around to the belief that change can be brought about in Cuba in the same way that it was brought about by Dr. King in the United States.” The Miami Times concluded in the editorial “Spreading King’s Message” that “In throwing Dr. King's principle into the volatile mix of Cuban exile politics, Brothers to the Rescue is showing a willingness to be creative.”

Brothers to the Rescue logo
 Why the Castro brothers wanted to destroy Brothers to the Rescue
They risked their lives in the Florida Straits to rescue Cuban rafters and at the same time Brothers to the Rescue challenged the Cuban exile community to abandon both the failed violent resistance and appeasement approaches in order to embrace strategic nonviolence.  This path followed the way of Martin Luther King Jr. with both civil disobedience and a constructive program. What was the end result? Brothers to the Rescue saved more than 4,200 men, women, and children ranging from a five-day old infant to a 79 year old man, and rescued thousands more during the 1994 refugee crisis.

One year after
the July 13, 1994 tugboat massacre in which 37 men, women and children were killed Cuban exiles organized a flotilla to travel in a civic non-violent manner to the spot six miles off the Havana coastline where the "13 de Marzo" tugboat had been attacked and sunk to hold a religious service for the victims. The Brothers to the Rescue overflight of Havana, where they dropped bumper stickers in Spanish that read "Comrades No. Brothers" was in response to Cuban gunboats ramming the lead boat of the flotilla.

Brothers to the Rescue also served as a bridge between a nonviolent civic movement inside of Cuba and an exile community seeking a different approach. Cuban dissidents announced on October 10, 1995 the intention to hold a national gathering of the opposition in Cuba on February 24, 1996. The coalition of over a 160 groups named themselves the Cuban Council. Brothers to the Rescue in an open and transparent manner sent $2,000 of privately raised assistance to this coalition on February 13, 1996. In the days leading up to February 24 over a 180 dissidents were imprisoned in a nationwide crackdown.

Coretta Scott King and Jose Basulto of Brothers to the Rescue
The events surrounding the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down began weeks in advance with the dictatorship planning out the shoot down and using its spy networks to obtain information to carry out this act of state terrorism while blaming the victims in the media coverage. It was a conspiracy to destroy Brothers to the Rescue while at the same time taking attention away from a crack down on a national gathering of the democratic opposition in Cuba. This was taking place in the midst of a profound crisis for the Castro regime following the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991 and a warming relationship in 1994 between the Clinton administration and the Cuban dictatorship that included secret joint military exercises. However, none of this changed the brutal nature of the Cuban dictatorship in how it dealt with Cubans on the island or the continuing hostility of the Castro regime for the United States.

Juan Pablo Roque standing with Basulto and Rene Gonzalez kneeling
Castro brothers planned out the February 24, 1996 shoot down
Two Cuban intelligence agents infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, providing information to the Castro regime on the group,
disinformation to the FBI, and their Cuban spy ring leader, Gerardo Hernandez warned the two infiltrated agents not to fly during a four-day period that included the day of the premeditated attack. Six days before the attack a Cuban pilot saw Cuban MiGs rehearsing the shoot down.  

On February 24, 1996 at 3:21pm and 3:27pm two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down by two Cuban MiGs over international airspace killing four. Two more MIG’s chased a third plane to within three minutes of downtown Key West, but that plane made it back and provided critical information on what had occurred.

Within moments of the shootdown, allegations were immediately generated that Brothers to the Rescue had involved itself in "paramilitary activities against the government of the Republic of Cuba." Juan Pablo Roque, who had defected the day before, and arrived in Cuba through Mexico, claimed that they had been planning to introduce anti-personnel weapons to blow up high-tension plants. This cover story collapsed when the third plane returned to Key West.
The four men who were killed represented all aspects of the Cuban diaspora: Armando Alejandre Jr, a child who arrived with his parents from Cuba in 1960, Carlos Costa, born in Miami Beach in 1966 and Mario Manuel de la Peña, born in New Jersey in 1971 the children of Cuban exiles. Pablo Morales was born in Cuba in 1966, raised there and was saved by Brothers to the Rescue when he was 26 years old while fleeing the island on a raft. Two were from Havana, one was from New Jersey and the other from Miami Beach. 

DIA analyst and Cuban mole Ana Belen Montes
Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes facilitated a meeting between U.S. government officials and retired U.S. Navy admiral Eugene Carroll on February 23, 1996 to relay recent threats by the regime that provided Admiral Carroll a lot of television interview time on February 25 to place the Cuban government in a more favorable light and place the blame for the shoot down on the victims. U.S. counterintelligence officer Scott W. Carmichael in his book True Believer describes how they thought this was an "influence operation" - a covert attempt to influence public opinion. Her behavior raised questions that led to Montes being uncovered as a high ranking Cuban mole in the heart of the Pentagon in 2001.
The Castro regime targeted Brothers to the Rescue for slander, infiltration, sabotage and extrajudicial execution on February 24, 1996 because it viewed the organization’s nonviolent approach as an existential threat to the dictatorship.
The Brothers to the Rescue shoot down case in the U.S. courts
U.S. courts found the Cuban government guilty of premeditation in the February 24, 1996 shoot down. Family members of the four men have over the past twenty years pursued and continue to pursue justice. They have had concrete results.
  1. On November 14, 1997 U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King found Cuba guilty in civil court of planning the shoot down before the actual attack, and noted that there had been ample time to issue warnings to the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft if these had been needed. 
  2.  A jury in criminal court presided by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard on June 10, 2001 found Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez guilty of conspiracy to commit murder because of his role in providing information to the Cuban government on the flight plans of Brothers to the Rescue. 
  3. On August 21, 2003 a U.S. grand jury indicted the two fighter pilots and their commanding general on murder charges for the 1996 shoot down. Indictments were returned against General Ruben Martinez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez. The defendants were charged with four counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and two counts of destruction of aircraft. They are still at large.
There has been a lack of political will on behalf of the The White House to pursue justice in the premeditated, extrajudicial murders of these four men. The Obama administration commuted the double life sentence of Gerardo Hernandez, the one man actually imprisoned for conspiracy to commit murder in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down on December 17, 2014 setting him free and returning him to Cuba. Nevertheless, the families of Armando, Mario, Carlos and Pablo continue their struggle for memory, truth, and justice on behalf of their loved ones. This means “the indictments of the military officials involved, from Raul Castro, Minister of the Armed Forces, down the military chain of command” and documenting what happened.

Source for additional information

Official page of Brothers to the Rescue on the shoot down
Official page of the Families of Armando, Carlos, Mario and Pablo

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Rosa María Payá addresses the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy in 2016

"We, Cubans do not need that the European  Union or the United Sates solve our problems, but we need them to be coherent and to support the right to decide of the Cuban people, using all the channels available."  - Rosa María Payá, Geneva Summit, February 23, 2016

Rosa María Payá addressing the Geneva Summit on February 23rd
On February 23, 2016 at the 8th edition of the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy Rosa María Payá gave the last presentation in which she announced that she would be returning to Cuba on what would have been her father's 64th birthday, if he had not been murdered by Castro regime agents, along with Harold Cepero, on July 22, 2012.  Below is her speech in video and text formats.

Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy
Rosa María Payá,
Cuba Decide and Latin American Youth Network for Democracy

Thank you for this opportunity to spread the voice of the Cuban people. Cubans have lived for  nearly 60 years without the freedom to express our own voice. The Revolution of 1959,  immediately suppressed freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of movement,  as their totalitarian tools to remain in power forever. These suppressions came with the  repression and the violence, as illustrated by the long list of extrajudicial killings perpetrated  by the Cuban authorities.

In this moment, I would like to remember and honor the memory of Orlando Zapata Tamayo,  dead exactly six years ago, during a hunger strike in a Cuban prison. My prayers are also for the four innocent pilots from Brothers to the Rescue, shot down in international waters by the Cuban  military, on February 24, 20 years ago.

In February 2016, the same violators of human rights are still ruling on the Island. Even more  dangerous, this corporate and military elite is involved in a fake transition not to  democracy, but to legitimize their total control upon Cuban society, with a renewed image  for the international public opinion, in order to attract foreign investors and financial credits.

This combination of the worst of communism and the worst of consumerism is leading my  country into dynastic State capitalism, a “Castro-capitalism”, like my father Oswaldo Paya,  warned in a book that is going to be published very soon.  It´s a system where the “historical generation” and their descendants, have monopolized all  the economic resources of Cuba, while they keep sequestered the political sovereignty of our  nation, condemning an entire people to economic and social scarcity, because the  absence of human rights prevents Cubans from managing themselves.

Is this the Cuba where the European Union and the United States expect to make profits, with  the justification that at some point there will be an empowerment of the civil society? This  empowerment hasn’t happened, not because of a foreign policy, but because of a totalitarian  state that does not recognize legal personality to any Cuban citizen, and, therefore, no one  can belong to a business company or civil association or political party.  We do not believe that, what hasn´t happened in China or in Uzbekistan, is now going to  happen in dictatorial Cuba.

My father, Oswaldo Payá —founding leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, and winner  of the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament—, denounced this operation of the regime  as the Fraudulent Change. He paid with his life for his peaceful activism to achieve the real  rights that belong to the Cuban people. On July 22, 2012, my father was extrajudicially  executed by agents of the political police, together with my dear friend Harold Cepero, staging a car crash that never took place, in a location of Cuba that remains to be  determined.

Not satisfied with this double crime, my family was threatened with death and  forced to exile, in order to carry on with more safety our lives and our struggle for a free Cuba. But we do not belong to exile, and I refuse to remain in exile, treated as a stranger by the  Cuban government and their despotic bureaucracy, including the new embassy in Washington  DC, where they didn’t open the door to me.

Next February 29th my father would be 64 years old. Our friends and I, in person, will be there,  back in Havana in a thanksgiving mass for his life.  Death is not more powerful than Love. And the legacy of my father Oswaldo Payá and Harold  Cepero is full of love for life in a free Cuba. Many Cuban lives are still in risk today. This is  why we are now trying to open an independent investigation, to stop the impunity, to find out  how Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were murdered in Cuba.

In the summer of 2015 a special report was released by Human Rights Foundation, where all  evidences indicate that this was a crime against humanity, with the involvement of Cuban  authorities.  We’ll never give up on justice, because there can be no reconciliation without the recognition  of the whole truth. A nation that pretends to forget the violence against its innocent people  will remain a captive nation. And it will be a nation condemned to suffer such violence over  and over again.

Cuba is now the country that many Cubans DO NOT want to experience. My people are selling  their houses to escape through Central America, or boarding a raft to reach the United States.

But I’m not here just to tell you about our tragic history, I'm here to ask you to support the Cuban people in our struggle to change our history.  Today it is my honor to be part of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy. We  coordinate efforts in 20 countries to preserve and to rescue the democratic values that have  been compromised in many parts of our continent, because of corruption, authoritarianism,  and the interference of the Havana regime, as in the Venezuelan case.

So, it is time for Cubans to decide our own destiny, and to stop being the subjects of official agendas and secret pacts between governments.  It is time to put an end to the impunity of the Cuban government, which has never been chosen by Cubans in free, fair and pluralistic elections. It is time for the younger generations  to assume our responsibility to build together a better Cuba.  This why more and more Cubans are now saying YES to a citizen initiative that claims for a plebiscite in Cuba, through a national and international campaign called Cuba Decide.  Totalitarian and post-totalitarian systems cannot coexist with the people deciding by  themselves. And this is precisely what Cuba Decide stands for, in order to initiate a true  transition on the Island.

Cuba must open to our own citizens, who have the right to decide  the system we want to live in, after almost 60 years of government without consent.  Cubans have the right to be asked if we want to vote, in free elections: in a safe frame for peaceful and plural political organization, with international institutions and personalities supervising the process, to avoid fraud. In this, we need all of your solidarity to spread the liberation message of Cuba Decide, and for all Cubans finally to decide our own future.

By democratizing our country we do not need to become another corrupt nation. This fatalism  is another fallacy of the regime, a lie repeated by many academics from the free world.  Let me tell you that, as a young Cuban woman, me and many like me, are now struggling to live and love in a decent, inclusive, prosperous and modern 21st century society.

Please, join  us, in this effort to return sovereignty to the people, to give power to the people and not to  the powerful. The last Iron Curtain must fall, and it must fall now!  “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all men are not free”, said President  John F. Kennedy in his speech at the Berlin Wall.  “Dictatorships do not have political colors: they are just dictatorships”, said my father until  his life was taken.  Dear friends: the Cuban people are not a monolith, to the image and likeness of the Communist Party, the only one legal according to the Constitution.

In this new era of  “normalization with Cuba”, the table of negotiations should contribute to a true transition  and not to the interests of a General in power. We, Cubans do not need that the European  Union or the United Sates solve our problems, but we need them to be coherent and to support the right to decide of the Cuban people, using all the channels available.

We are Latin Americans, but we believe in the best principles of North America too. We are  Caribbean, but we stand for the best values of Europe too. We are Cubans, but we are Asians and Africans struggling for a better life. Despite the rhetoric of a reactionary regime, let’s  not forget that we Cubans are no less than human. And each and every one of the universal  human rights applies to us, as much as to anyone in the world.  No man is an Island. No nation is an Island. As my father used to say: help us to  globalize solidarity, or human rights in Cuba will always be in danger.

God bless you all, and all our families and countries.          
Thank you very much.

Artwork by Gianluca Costantini for the Geneva Summit

Monday, February 22, 2016

Human Rights Champions Gather at UN to Spotlight Situations in China, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Venezuela & more

 UN opening session sponsored by U.S., Canada & Czech Republic 

GENEVA, February 22, 2016 -- Covered by major media from around the world, the UN human rights headquarters in Geneva was the site today of a rare gathering of courageous dissidents from Iran, China, Russia, North Korea, and Eritrea, together with family members of famous political prisoners in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, united for the 8th annual Geneva Summit of Human Rights and Democracy, organized by 25 non-governmental organizations, including UN Watch and Human Rights Foundation.

Day 2: Live Streamed

Today's opening UN session was co-sponsored by the U.S. Canada, and the Czech Republic.

Click here for key quotes from today's speakers

The two-day Geneva Summit, whose main public session takes place tomorrow, features presentations by noted right activists, former political prisoners and victims from human rights hotspots, with the aim of placing key issues on the global agenda days before UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the world's foreign ministers gather to open the 10th anniversary session of the UN Human Rights Council. World political figures and diplomats are also participating. Today's keynote address was delivered by Maria Leissner, Secretary-General of the Community of Democracies. Tomorrow the summit will hear from Anne Brasseur, the outgoing president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Program & Media Interviews

For journalists, this week's Geneva Summit provides a one-stop opportunity to hear from and interview frontline human rights advocates, many of whom have personally suffered imprisonment and torture.

The speakers’ compelling and vivid testimonies today have called on UNHRC delegates not to allow politics to override the cries of human rights victims.

Speakers today and tomorrow include:

Antonietta Ledezma, daughter of Caracas mayor and political prisoner Antonio Ledezma
·   Svitlana Zalishchuk,
Ukrainian MP and key figure in 2013 EuroMaidan movement
·  Yang Jianli, Former Chinese political prisoner, survivor of Tiananmen Square massacre
·  Vian Dakhil, Iraq's only female Yazidi MP and champion of ISIS victims
·  Jan Ilhan Kizilhan, German psychologist who treats female ISIS victims
·  Ensaf Haidar, Wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi (winner of 2015 Geneva Summit Courage Award)
·  Anastasia Lin, Miss World Canada 2015, advocate for human rights in China
·  Jigme Golog, Tibetan monk and filmmaker recently released from jail
·  Darya Safai, Campaigner for Iranian women's rights
·  Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Turkish human rights lawyer & columnist
·  Daniel Mekonnen, Exiled Eritrean human rights lawyer and scholar
·  Lee Young-guk, Bodyguard to former North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Il who fled to South Korea
·  Rosa Maria Paya, Cuban human rights activist and daughter of late dissident Oswaldo Paya
·  Polina Nemirovskaia, Russian human rights activist
·  Joan Hoey, Editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index
·  Lord David Trimble, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former First Minister of Northern Ireland
·  Christopher Walker, VP, National Endowment for Democracy
·  Irwin Cotler, Former Canadian Minister of Justice and lawyer for political prisoners

Now in its eighth year, the annual conferences of the Geneva Summit have enjoyed widespread coverage by CNN, Le Monde, and other major media.

- All sessions will be available via live webcast at

Twitter | Hashtag: #GS16
Photos (high resolution) 
Facebook Photos (quick uploads)
Blog Post Summaries of the Speeches
Webcast: Live on Feb. 23rd from 9:15 am to 5:30 pm CET at
Videos (to be posted after the panels)
Media Coverage of the Geneva Summit

Obama Cuba Visit: Back to the Future

Reviving a shameful legacy of legitimizing dictatorship

President Coolidge with Dictator Machado and President Obama with Dictator Castro
 President Obama's announcement that he and the First Lady would be traveling to Cuba for a two-day visit beginning on March 21st to meet with "President Raul Castro" was not a step forward but a huge step backward to the days when U.S. presidents embraced and legitimized Latin American military despots.

President Lyndon Johnson and "President"Anastasio Somoza (1968)
Lyndon B. Johnson who went to Managua, Nicaragua on July 8, 1968 was the last president to visit a Latin American dictator, when he met with Anastasio Somoza Debayle and offered the following praise:
"President Somoza, Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
I am proud to be the first President of the United States to visit your beautiful country during his term of office." ... "In our conversations during the past few days, President Somoza, I have welcomed the opportunity to discuss with you, in detail, the achievements and the plans of modern Nicaragua that you lead. This magnificent new airport, the growing network of your highways throughout this country, the new efforts you have made in education and public health and rural electrification, are signs of genuine progress."
 On January 19, 1928 President Calvin Coolidge and the First Lady visited Cuba and met with General Gerardo Machado who at the time was transforming his rule into Cuba's first dictatorship. The aftermath of the Coolidge visit coincided in Cuba with dictatorship, violence and years later political upheaval that led to Machado's ouster and exile. State Department meddling during the crisis also assisted the rise of Fulgencio Batista as a national political figure in 1933.

Cuba did have a democratic restoration in the 1940s with the Presidencies of Ramon Grau San Martin (1944 - 1948) and later with Carlos Prio Socarras (1948 - 1952) but did not receive the support of an American president's visit. 

President Obama's planned visit to Cuba is not a step forward, but a huge leap backward into the 1960s when U.S. foreign policy in Latin America embraced military dictators calling them "Presidents." On March 20, 1968 Lyndon Johnson invited General Alfredo Stroessner, the dictator of Paraguay, to the White House and gave him a state dinner. The official video described how the dictator was making "democratic reforms." Stroessner would continue to rule Paraguay as a dictator until 1989 when he was overthrown in a military coup.

Like General Stroessner, and unlike President Obama, Mr. Castro has never had to undergo a popular consultation in a competitive multi-party election. Today he is in power because of the state security apparatus that he rules over thanks to his brother Fidel Castro who handed power over to him in 2006 due to illness.

The President of the United States is already calling Dictator Raul Castro "President" and treating him has an equal. The March 21st visit promises to be another part of the shameful foreign policy legacy of the Obama administration, which in this case prolongs the life of the totalitarian dictatorship in Cuba.  

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Today #20F Give a Shout for Freedom for Leopoldo Lopez and all of Venezuela in Miami

"Of all the evils that a Democrat may incur probably none is more vile than to remain silent."-  Oscar Arias, February 19, 2016 in Venezuela 

February 18, 2016 marked two years of unjust imprisonment for opposition leader Leopoldo López Mendoza and protests were carried out throughout the United States in a shout for freedom.  Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Metropolitan Caracas, marked one year of unjust imprisonment on February 19, 2016. They are both prisoners of conscience in Venezuela and there are many more. Also during these days we must remember the students extrajudicially executed by the Maduro regime during the nonviolent protests of February 2014 such as Génesis Carmona and Geraldine Moreno.

 Lilian Tintori is calling on all to give a shout for the freedom of all political prisoners and amnesty and reconciliation for all of Venezuela on Saturday, February 20, 2016 dressed in white at 3pm gathered at the Avenida Francisco de Miranda (A la altura de Chacaito) in Venezuela.

Lech Walesa with Lilian Tintori in Venezuela on February 18, 2016
 Lech Walesa on February 18th with Lilian Tintori in Venezuela observed that "solidarity is needed, a situation where all feel together and all say, enough!" 

In that spirit if you are in Miami, FL please join me at 3:00pm, dressed in white, at the Torch of Friendship located in downtown (401 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33132) under the statue of Simon Bolivar then let us together give a shout for the freedom of all political prisoners and for Venezuela. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Freedom Now for Leopoldo López and Venezuela

"Two years in prison but free in mind and spirit. Seeing that the hours of the dictatorship are numbered, I know that it has been worth it." -  Leopoldo López, over twitter on February 18, 2016

 Unjustly imprisoned for two years for advocating for the nonviolent defense of democracy in Venezuela,  Leopoldo López has become from his prison cell the most important political figure in the country. On February 18, 2014 with hundreds of thousands of supporters gathered in Venezuela he turned himself over to the agents of the Maduro regime but not before addressing them and calling on them to maintain nonviolent discipline:
"Well brothers and sisters I ask you to continue in this fight and do not leave the street, to assume our right to protest, but to do it in peace and without violence, I ask that us, all of us that are here, all of the Venezuelans that want a change, to get informed, educated, organized, and to execute non-violent protests, the protests of masses, and the will of souls and hearts that want to change, but without hurting your neighbor. " 
Since then he has been subjected to a political show trial in a Venezuela that no longer has an independent judiciary and sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison. Leopoldo went on hunger strike for 30 days demanding that a date be set for the National Assembly elections. This nonviolent action led to the elections being held on December 6, 2015 and the democratic will of the Venezuelan people being exercised and the opposition taking over the National Assembly.

Today the struggle for a free Venezuela continues and the next step is the freedom of all prisoners of conscience in an amnesty. Looking forward to seeing Leopoldo López reunited with his family in freedom and continuing the nonviolent movement to the restoration of the rule of law in Venezuela.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Two Teach-Ins on Brothers to the Rescue 20 years after the shoot down

Truth, memory and justice

February 24, 2016 will mark 20 years since two civilian planes were shot down over international airspace on the orders of the Castro brothers in Cuba. At Florida International University, students, members of the university community, and the families of the four men killed (Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales) will begin to gather at the main fountain at 3:00pm to hold a silent vigil from 3:21pm to 3:27pm the time that the two planes were destroyed.

Two teach-ins on what happened that afternoon and the aftermath will be examined over the next week and both will be in Spanish. The first will be on February 18, 2016 at the West Dade Regional Library in an event with the four families of the men killed. The second will be at Florida International University on February 25, 2016 with Jose Basulto one of the survivors of the events of that day.

Patria de Martí and Alianza Democrática invite the public to a symposium “Derribo de aviones de Hermanos al Rescate: 20 años después” [Shoot down of Brothers to the Rescue planes: 20 years later], commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of four Cuban American pilots on Thursday, February 18th at 6:00pm in West Dade Regional Library (9445 Coral Way, Miami FL 33165).

On February 25 at 7pm a panel discussion and presentation of the Translated Edition of “Seagull One: The Story of Brothers to the Rescue” will take place with panelists: Lily Prellezo, author of the book “Seagull One: La asombrosa y verdadera historia de los hermanos al Rescate”, José Basulto, founder of Brothers to the Rescue, and Vicente Echerri, translator of Seagull One into Spanish. The event will be in FIU’s Green Library, room 220 (GL220). To RSVP please call (305)348-1991 or simply respond to this message.

Both events are free and open to the public.

Ten years ago the Free Cuba Foundation organized a panel discussion on the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down in an event moderated with Neri Ann Martinez. Below is the video taken from 2006 event.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Americans thinking of investing in Cuba: A word of caution

Don't say you weren't warned...

Western business men investing in Cuba have seen Cuban prisons up close (Photo: BBC)
The Alabama-based company Cleber LLC was cleared by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)to do business under new regulations issued by the Obama administration that expand commerce with Cuba. They expect, once they have finalized an agreement with the Castro regime, to initially hire 30 Cubans and manufacture 1,000 tractors a year. The Obama administration is circumventing U.S. law using executive authority to gut the economic sanctions on the Cuban dictatorship.

Under the U.S. embargo American companies made $5.2 billion dollars in cash and carry trade with Cuba while at the same time with normal relations and financial institutions providing credits, France lost $4 billion to Cuba. Overall debt owed to several countries according to the Paris Club is $15 billion. Under the Obama administration trade between Cuba and the United States has steadily collapsed. The high point of trade between the two countries was the last year of the Bush administration (2008) when it peaked at 711.5 million dollars. Trade between the United States and Cuba in 2015 totaled 180.3 million dollars the lowest figure since 2002.

The Obama Treasury Department effective January 27, 2016 joined France and the rest of the world in legalizing financing of transactions between U.S. companies and the Castro regime.  The Cuba policy the Obama administration is abandoning has protected U.S. taxpayers. In the future in real terms trade between U.S. companies and the Cuban dictatorship will be negative, as it has been for the French, the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Russians, the Canadians and many others.

American investors should also consider what has happened to their Canadian and British counterparts who have been falsely imprisoned in Cuba so that the dictatorship would avoid having to pay what is owed them.

For example, Canadian automobile executive Cy Tokmakjian spent three years unjustly imprisoned in Cuba after being subjected to a show trial on September 28, 2014  when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The Castro regime seized about $100 million worth of company assets including bank accounts, inventory and office supplies, a ruling the company was challenging in international arbitration. (He is not the only Western executive to undergo the experience). 

British investor, Stephen Purvis, who was jailed for 15 months and who the Castro regime confiscated 17.3 million dollars of his company's assets in an August 2013 letter to The Economist explained what may be behind the arrests of Western foreign investors:

I spent time with a number of foreign businessmen arrested during 2011 and 2012 from a variety of countries, although representatives from Brazil, Venezuela and China were conspicuous in the absence. Very few of my fellow sufferers have been reported in the press and there are many more in the system than is widely known. As they are all still either waiting for charges, trial or sentencing they will certainly not be talking to the press. Whilst a few of them are being charged with corruption many are not and the accusations range from sabotage, damage to the economy, tax avoidance and illegal economic activity. It is absolutely clear that the war against corruption may be a convenient political banner to hide behind and one that foreign governments and press will support.
American businessmen thinking of investing in Cuba under the Castro dictatorship don't say that you were not warned when things take an unexpected turn and you find yourself in a Cuba prison with your assets seized. Taxpayers may bail out your losses, but years in a Cuban prison are years that you can never get back.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Another reason that Cuba under the Castro regime should have remained on the list of terror sponsors

Hillary Clinton's emails: Hezbollah sets up operational base in Cuba

Back on May 29, 2015 the day the State Department removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terror this blog offered ten reasons why it should have been kept on the list. On February 13, 2015 Vice News reported that in 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been warned that the Lebanese Islamist militant group Hezbollah was setting up an operational base in Cuba to carry out attacks in Latin America that might also involve attacks on American diplomatic posts or banks there was revealed in an e-mail from September 9, 2011 that stated the following:
The Hezbollah office in Cuba is being established under direct orders from the current General  Secretary Hasan Nasrallah, who replaced Musawi in 1992. According to the information  available to this source, in preparation for establishment of the base, Nasrallah, working from  inside of Lebanon, carried out secret negotiations with representatives of the Cuban Government,  particularly the Cuban Intelligence Service (General Intelligence Directorate — DGI), agreeing to  , maintain a very low profile inside of Cuba. Nasrallah also promised to take measures to avoid any trail of evidence that could lead back to Cuba in the event of a Hezbollah attack in Latin  America.
This is another reason that Cuba under the Castro regime should have remained on the list of terror sponsors. The full document is available online here and click on the image below to read the portion mentioning Cuba and Hezbollah.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Two years after #12F and no progress on murders of protesting Venezuelan students

"Today I was hit with a rock in the back, a helmet in my nose. I swallowed tear-gas, Carried the kid who died, and what did you do?" - Robert Redman, age 28 over twitter on February 12, 2014 shortly before he was shot and killed.

"Gentlemen, he who is here will go out tomorrow to find a better future." - Bassil Alejandro Da Costa, age 24 , over Facebook on February 11, 2014. Killed the following day.

Two years ago today nonviolent student protesters Bassil Da Costa and Robert Redman were gunned down on February 12, 2014, the Day of the Youth in Venezuela, while engaged in nonviolent street protests against the government of Nicolas Maduro. Robert Redman was shot and killed hours after he had carried Bassil who had also been shot and killed earlier that same day and tweeted about it.

Today the Venezuelan human rights organization Foro Penal published and distributed the above image with the names and images of young Venezuelans murdered during the 2014 anti-government protests along with their first names which states: "It is ironic to celebrate the Day of the Youth in Venezuela when her youth are in prison, exiled or in a tomb." 

Also toda, Robert Redman's dad visited his son's grave site and tweeted the following image recreating picture of his son holding up the Venezuelan flag with the following text:"Here with my son on the 2nd anniversary of his murder by hired assassins of the regime. God bless you son."

Two years later and a second Venezuelan human rights organization PROVEA reports that: "In 2015 there was no progress into the investigations of the cases of Bassil Da Costa, Juan Montoya and Robert Redman.

They and the others killed, tortured and arbitrarily detained by the Maduro regime are not forgotten and the call for freedom and justice continues. My prayers go out to them and their families.