Thursday, March 31, 2016

Revealed: How Associated Press cooperated with the Nazis in Germany and the Communists in Cuba and North Korea

"[T]here is no distinguishing between good or better dictatorships; between left-wing or right-wing dictatorships; they are simply dictatorships." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas,“Fifty Years without Freedom” January 2, 2009

How AP news bureaus cooperated and continue to with totalitarian regimes
The desire to maintain a press bureau in a totalitarian regime on at least three occasions resulted in self-censorship and stories that advanced the dictatorship's official narrative at the time. The Guardian in Berlin reported on how this practice was carried out in Nazi Germany and the compromises made to maintain the news bureau open in the Third Reich until 1941 when the AP was kicked out of Germany with U.S. entry into WWII.
In an article published in academic journal Studies in Contemporary History , historian Harriet Scharnberg shows that AP was only able to retain its access by entering into a mutually beneficial two-way cooperation with the Nazi regime. The New York-based agency ceded control of its output by signing up to the so-called Schriftleitergesetz (editor’s law), promising not to publish any material “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home”. This law required AP to hire reporters who also worked for the Nazi party’s propaganda division. One of the four photographers employed by the Associated Press in the 1930s, Franz Roth, was a member of the SS paramilitary unit’s propaganda division, whose photographs were personally chosen by Hitler.
In North Korea the pattern continues today and Donald Kirk in the 2013 article "The AP Plays Defense on North Korea" offers a detailed analysis of the AP news bureau in the Hermit kingdom:
Paul Colford, director of media relations for the Associated Press (AP), has the unenviable task of publicizing the AP’s bureau in Pyongyang, opened in January of last year with a reporter and photographer hired from the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) comprising its local staff. While the AP boasts of having the first western news bureau in the North Korean capital, AP publicity does not acknowledge that the bureau operates under constraints that raise questions about whether it’s a real bureau. The lone North Korea reporter does not file often, and, when he does, generally confines himself to material from KCNA that’s already been quoted by the AP and others routinely monitoring KCNA in Seoul and Beijing. Jean Lee, the AP’s Korea bureau chief, based in Seoul, goes to Pyongyang via Beijing from time to time, but she’s not able to fly in and out whenever she pleases. Moreover, she has to be accompanied by a North Korean guide or minder when she ventures outside her hotel in search of news and features.[1] Under these difficult circumstances, Colford sometimes finds himself defending an operation whose coverage would appear at variance with the gutsy reporting that often distinguishes the AP in conflicts and crises elsewhere, including South Korea. Thus he fired off an indignant email to The Christian Science Monitor (The Monitor) protesting my story on February 4. At issue was a reference to “AP coverage from North Korea that scrupulously avoids such issues as the North’s human rights record or abuse of political prisoners.”[2]
In Cuba the pattern repeats itself with the Associated Press coverage on the Castro regime. Mike Gonzalez in his oped essay titled "Cubans still suffer, but media looks away" explained that coverage is skewed because journalists in Cuba have ample reason to fear being expelled having seen colleagues such as Chicago Tribune's Gary Marx, the BBC's Stephen Gibbs and Cesar Gonzalez-Calero of Mexico's El Universal all expelled in 2007 from Cuba for offering reporting that although bending over backwards not to offend still ran afoul of the regime.

However the Associated Press went further than other press agencies in reporting that: 1) Leaves out critical facts to advance lifting sanctions and providing credits to the dictatorship. 2) Describing common sense precautions by foreign based NGOs as a "clandestine operation" in language used by the regime while also engaging in the same practices themselves. 3) Consistently providing coverage that portrays the democratic opposition in a negative light repeating the Cuban dictatorship's talking points with the most recent example being on January 8, 2015. 4) Not providing context of the totalitarian nature of the regime and the "demonstrators" bussed in by the political police to attack pro-democracy activists on International Human Rights day.

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez of Generation Y on August 12, 2014 warned: "Caution foreign news agencies! Your representatives in these lands are always in danger of becoming hostages, first, and then collaborators of the rulers." In a 2014 interview with Hank Tester, I told the NBC6 journalist that Associated Press reporting on Cuba "read like communist Cuban propaganda."

Andrea Rodríguez, the correspondent of the Associated Press in Cuba, is a worse case example of all the above practices and was challenged by the late Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas after one of her biased filled articles. On September 20, 2011 the Cuban human rights defender released the video he had made of his interview with Andrea Rodriguez because he believed that what he had told her was not fairly reflected in the article she had written. He provided a transcript along with the video of the interview and in it challenged the false narrative peddled by the Associated Press stating:
"Where in the world does a woman dressed in white walking down the street constitute a provocation? Only in a fascist-communist regime like this. Therefore the victim gets criticized because no one dares to criticize the executioner. There is a real “moral inversion,” in what the foreign media, intellectual circles, ecclesiastical circles, diplomats and politicians are doing against the people of Cuba and against the dissident right now. They judge the persecuted, the poor, those who are silenced, but they do not dare to judge the government. And what the government needs to be told is what we say in “the People’s Path”. Hold free elections; change the law so Cubans can express themselves, so they can choose. But what they want is to keep their privileges while they say that everything has been agreed upon. This joke will go very wrong because the people of Cuba are not stupid, and the majority are still poor and distressed. But the worst is that the foreign media, intellectual circles, ecclesiastical circles, and entire states are accompanying the Cuban government in setting up this fraud, this joke that will bring only confrontation and pain to Cubans, and that is keeping the majority of the Cuban people silent and gagged while this virtual scenario for change is being created."
Sadly, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was killed on July 22, 2012 and all the evidence points to an extrajudicial execution carried out by the Castro regime's security services. However on July 22, 2012, despite the misgivings of Oswaldo's family, the AP correspondent in Havana over twitter echoed the official position of the Castro regime.

These AP press bureaus in North Korea and Cuba are not centers of journalism because in order to remain open in these totalitarian dictatorships the bureaus have crossed a line. They have become propaganda outlets that cooperate with outlaw regimes who incidentally also cooperate with each other smuggling tons of heavy weapons.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

19 years without justice for Joachim Løvschall, the Danish student gunned down in Cuba by one of Castro's soldiers

 "The greatest incitement to guilt is the hope of sinning with impunity."- Cicero
Joachim Løvschall: 1970 - 1997

Joachim Løvschall was studying Spanish in Havana in the spring of 1997. He was gunned down by a soldier of the Castro regime in Havana, Cuba nineteen years ago today on March 29, 1997. The identity of the soldier has never been revealed to Joachim''s family. No one has been brought to justice. Joachim's family is not satisfied with the explanation offered by the Cuban dictatorship.

The killings and disappearances have continued but in Cuba over the past 19 years there is no independent press and a dictatorship that does not practice transparency. 

Alberto Romero 1976 - 2015
On January 8, 2015 Alberto Romero, a 39 year old Cuban American attorney from Tampa, Florida was found in Havana, Cuba dead, tied up with a family friend, beaten, stabbed and in Alberto's case one hand was severed.

Today, we remember Joachim and continue to demand justice for him and his family. Hopefully this information will assist others thinking of traveling to Cuba to take the proper precautions for themselves and their loved ones.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Rolling Stones, Performance Art and a Missing Artist in Cuba

"We know that years ago it was hard to hear our music in Cuba, but here we are playing for you on your beautiful land. I think finally times are changing." - Mick Jagger, from the stage in Havana, March 25, 2016 (In Spanish)
Gorki Águila and Lia Villares of Porno para Ricardo held a performance art protest on March 25, 2016 at 5:00pm prior to the start of the Rolling Stones concert in Havana, Cuba. During the Stones concert in Havana Mick Jagger recognized the prior censorship in Cuba that had banned the Rolling Stones and their music for decades expressing that he thought "finally times are changing" with their playing a concert now in the island. Former Cuban prisoner of conscience Regis Iglesias, and life long Rolling Stone fan tweeted"Really Dear Mick? Because the @RollingStones are in Cuba does not mean that anything has changed. Castro [does] not let me return to my own country, I can get no satisfaction, but time is on my side..."

In addition, what transpired before the concert indicates that the British rocker may be mistaken in his belief. Fraudulent change is underway in Cuba as opposed to real change. The dictatorship in order to carry out its dynastic succession makes cosmetic changes while maintaining its repressive and totalitarian nature.

Gorki explained that "upon learning that we were announcing the performance here in the house [state security] closed the block at every corner and did not let anyone pass who had been invited." We saw the deployment of a lot of state security."
Unfortunately, Danilo Maldonado (also known as El Sexto) was arrested on his way to the performance and more than 12 hours later remains missing. El Sexto is a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and a performance artist who has been targeted for his works of art.

Gorki and Lia were joined later by others, among them activists Sayli Navarro, and Rosa María Payá Acevedo. Earlier today over twitter Rosa María asked people of good will to call the police stations in Havana and ask about the whereabouts of the missing Cuban artist.

 The Rolling Stones put on a great show that pleased hundreds of thousands of Cubans and that will be remembered in the history books. Below is the set list taken from their official twitter feed.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Message for the Rolling Stones from Gorki and a new song from PPR "Down with you know who"

A message from punk rocker Gorki Águila to the Rolling Stones on their upcoming concert in Cuba and the nature of music censorship in the island.

"Ehhh, listen to what I gotta say, my brother. We, when you go over there, I’m talking with you Mick Jagger, yes, you, look over here, over here, you and your band. When you go over there and when Obama goes over there to Cuba. We will probably be stuck in a cell in the MININT (Ministry of the Interior). 

I don’t know if we’ll be able to play a small concert in the cell, but most probably they’ll put each musician in his own cell and we won’t be able to hear each other, you see? I’m a musician that’s censored in Cuba. I’m a musician that doesn’t have the right that you have to play where you want, understand? So at least inform yourself. That’s all I ask. Yell whatever you like but inform yourself.

And if you want to play because you want to play in a tyranny, do whatever you want to do but this; hopefully this gets to you, what I’m talking about here. 

"In Cuba musicians are censored." - Gorki [Artwork by Sergio Lastre]
 In Cuba musicians are censored. There are musicians that aren’t allowed to play; there are women that are beaten [by the Castro regime]. And I would love to tell it to the artists, my brother, inform yourselves first about what’s going on in Cuba and at least let out a “down with Castro” you know, a little one, my brother. Come on Rolling Stones, go for it, my brother. Ah Keith Richards! Keith Richards, he’s crazier. Keith Richards, say something, my little brother, say something, go for it with 100,000 watts, 'Down with you know who!'” 
The new song from Porno para Ricardo, "Down with you know Who" exposes Castro regime's anti-rock n roll and censorship back ground.

When people ask if progress has been made on the music scene in Cuba, an important question arises. "What does it say about the regime in Cuba that British and American rock bands are now heard over the airwaves in Cuba and The Rolling Stones are playing a concert tonight in Cuba and at the same time the music of Cuban musicians of the stature of Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot remain censored in Cuba, even though they passed away years ago?"

Claim were made in 2012 that the censorship of these artists had been quietly ended but official channels internally confirmed that it was not true. On August 21, 2012 Tony Pinelli, a well known musician and radio producer, distributed an e-mail in which Rolando Álvarez, the national director of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión (ICRT) confirmed that the music of the late Celia Cruz would continue to be banned. The e-mail clearly stated: 
"All those who had allied with the enemy, who acted against our families, like Celia Cruz, who went to sing at the Guantanamo Base, the ICRT arrogated to itself the right, quite properly, not to disseminate them on Cuban radio.
The irony that it was the Castro regime, that acted against Cuban families dividing them for over half a century, in 1962 denied Celia Cruz's request to return to Cuba to attend her mother's burial. She never again tried to return to Cuba after that and passed away in exile in 2003. Three years after John Lennon's statue was unveiled by Fidel Castro in a park in Havana, Cuba.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

The British take Havana again: The Rolling Stones rock Cuba

It's only rock n roll
The British empire invaded and occupied Havana in March of 1762. They traded Havana back to Spain in exchange for all of Florida in 1763 and two hundred years later another British invasion, this time with rock n roll music, not military fleets invaded and conquered the world. The Rolling Stones were one of the shock troops of British rock n roll.

Their music and presence banned from Cuba by Fidel Castro during their heyday in the 1960s through the 1990s only now when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both 72, Charlie Watts 74, and Ron Woods 69 will Cubans be able to finally see them play in Havana. This is because the Rolling Stones came into existence in 1962, and the following year in Cuba that kind of music was forbidden.

On March 13, 1963 Fidel Castro gave a speech were he openly attacked “long-haired layabouts, the children of bourgeois families,” roaming the streets wearing “trousers that are too tight,” carrying guitars to look like Elvis Presley, who took “their licentious behavior to the extreme” of organizing “effeminate shows” in public places. The Cuban dictator warned: “They should not confuse the Revolution’s serenity and tranquility with weaknesses in the Revolution. Our society cannot accept these degeneracies.”

The punk rock band Porno para Ricardo summed up the old official attitude with the chorus from the one of their songs La Puerca Roja: It's only rock n roll pero te molesta (but it bothers you)

Bit sad really.  This band has been rocking the world for six decades and only now has been allowed to play Cuba three days after President Obama's historic visit to the island

The British invasion arrives in 2016: The Rolling Stones in Cuba
Sadder still Cuban musical icons, loved the world over, are still banned on the official airwaves posthumously because they didn't like the government.

It was pretty cool that Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts passed by the University of Miami to jam with music students earlier this week. Members of the band have always had a well earned reputation of being pretty cool.

Not too shabby after six decades touring and making music.

Still remember seeing The Rolling Stones during the Steel Wheels Tour in Miami in 1989. Amazing show 27 years ago and they seriously rocked the entire stadium.

Rock n roll fans in Cuba have addressed the difficulties they had getting to listen to the Rolling Stones and some current rock n rollers, who are being persecuted have made a call out to the band

The playlist below mixes together some classic Rolling Stones and Cuban rockers sending them a message.

Why opening a Cuban consulate in South Florida is a bad idea

The dangers of a Cuban consulate

Miami Beach Mayor and Commissioner met with Cuban spy involved in Oswaldo Payá cover up
 Miami mayor Tomas Regalado is correct when he says that opening a Cuban consulate, with the current regime, would be a security risk that would endanger lives in South Florida.  However now Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Ricky Arriola, apparently ignoring this concern, are advocating opening the consulate on Miami Beach.

Unfortunately for them their highly publicized meeting in Cuba demonstrates why this is a bad idea. They met with a "Cuban diplomat" who was expelled from the United States for his espionage activities. Chris S. Simmons, a 23-year Counterintelligence Officer, from 1996-2004 deeply involved with the majority of US Counterintelligence successes against the Castro regime provides background on the Cuban Foreign Ministry's, deputy director of North American affairs:
The son of a revolutionary hero, Gustavo Machin Gomez, was expelled in November 2002 in retaliation for the Ana Belen Montes case. In 2003, he was Deputy Director of MINREX’s North America Division and Chief the following year. In 2006, he was appointed Cuba’s first ambassador to Pakistan, where he is believed to have targeted US counterterrorism operations in the region. He then returned home to head the International Press Center before his current assignment.
According to Simmons, Machin was involved in the operation to "spin" the death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas in 2012:
One example of Machin’s use of his position to conduct Influence Operations is seen in the article, “Jens Aron Modig confirmed Cuba’s version of the accident and acknowledged that he gave money to Payá.” (  This article discusses the International Press Center’s new conference starring Jens Aron Modig, the Swedish politician who was with Paya during the vehicle accident that took his life.  It reads, in part, “Modig was presented to the press by Gustavo Machin, director of the International Press Center, attached to the Cuban Foreign Ministry, and was in good physical condition despite being slightly injured in the accident. At the time of writing this information Jens Aron Modig appeared before the accredited foreign journalists in Cuba.”[emphasis added]
We now know that Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero were killed in an incident in which state security agents hit their car in a second vehicle, but the rest of what happened afterwards and how both men died requires an independent investigation.

A Cuban consulate in Miami-Dade County would operate as an espionage center used to target Cuban exiles, American military facilities in the area, and other targets. What this would mean in practice can be seen in the information that emerged during the WASP network trial.

The Cuban "WASP" spies arrested in 1998 used coded material on computer disks to communicate with other members of the spy network. Below are two excerpts from the 1,300 pages taken from those diskettes translated and used during the spy trial that demonstrate the criminal nature of the Cuban regime's operation in South Florida. In the first excerpt it declares that their primary objective was "penetrating and obtaining information on the naval station located in that city." In the next excerpt intelligence operatives communicated about "burning down the warehouse" and sabotaging Brothers to the Rescue equipment. Also requested that they attempt to identify who would be flying at certain times.  In the final excerpt operatives discuss plans to prepare a "book bomb" so that it evades post office security while at the same time phoning death threats to a man they describe as a CIA agent and then having him killed via the mail bomb.

This Cuban spy network gathered information that led to the murder of three Americans and a permanent U.S. resident on February 24, 1996. The head of that network Gerardo Hernandez was sentenced to a double life sentence, one of which was for murder conspiracy. President Obama commuted his sentence and returned him to Cuba on December 17, 2014.

The first duty of government is to afford protection to its citizens. Opening a Cuban consulate in Miami-Dade County will needlessly endanger the lives and security of South Florida residents and would be a failure of governance.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Obama in Cuba: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

"[T]here is no distinguishing between good or better dictatorships; between left-wing or right-wing dictatorships; they are simply dictatorships." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas,“Fifty Years without Freedom”  January 2, 2009

On March 21, 2016 President Obama laid a wreath at Havana's José Martí Memorial
President Barack Obama and his family made history this week when they visited Cuba beginning on Sunday, March 20th  and leaving for Argentina on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 22nd. Whether one is a supporter or a critic of the President's Cuba policy this fact cannot be denied. However what the impact of this official visit will be in the weeks, months and years to come requires an analysis that looks at what was positive, what was negative, and the imagery surrounding the visit. In short looking at what was good, what was bad and what images could be viewed as unfortunate or negative i.e. ugly through the optics of what would help Cubans be the authors of their own destiny versus assisting the Castro regime in a dynastic succession to secure power for another generation.

Guest book entry signed by President Obama at the José Martí Memorial on March 21

 At the same time the past three days need to be placed within the context of the Obama administration's efforts beginning in 2009 to normalize relations with the regime in Cuba. Secondly, the Castro regime sent its own signals during this visit with scores of Cuban democratic activists, human rights defenders and independent journalists roughed up and arbitrarily detained on the day of the President's arrival. This message was meant for the Cuban people that even with a high profile visit that the dictatorship had the will to carry out repression.

Finally the discussion generated around the visit focused on political prisoners on the one hand and short term arbitrary detentions on the other hand but failed to address the extrajudicial execution of opposition leaders beginning in 2010. Also not mentioned in the English speaking media was the escalation in violence against non-violent activists following the announcement of normalized relation on December 17, 2014, best reflected in the case of Sirley Ávila León who was nearly killed in a machete attack on May 14, 2015 in which she was left an invalid, then denied proper medical attention afterwards. The international media treated the extreme violence of the Castro regime as something of the distant past from the early years of the revolution. This ignores the brutal and murderous reality that continues to the present day.

The Good

"It is a great honor to pay tribute to Jose Marti, who gave his life for the independence of his homeland. His passion for liberty, freedom and self-determination live on in the Cuban people today."
- Barack Obama, March 21, 2016 Guest book entry at the José Martí Memorial

Meeting with Civil Society Members on the afternoon of March 22, 2016
In his speech to the Cuban people on March 22, 2016 President Obama made a number of statements that will hopefully have a positive impact for years to come in Cuba. An appeal to nonviolence and reconciliation is a theme throughout the speech that begins in the fourth paragraph:
“Cultivo una rosa blanca.” In his most famous poem, Jose Marti made this offering of friendship and peace to both his friend and his enemy.  Today, as the President of the United States of America, I offer the Cuban people el saludo de paz.
 Later in the speech he cites nonviolence icon Martin Luther King Jr. to explain the Obama administration's decision to change policy:
And I've always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now” -- we should not fear change, we should embrace it. 
President Obama offered an outline of his beliefs on matters of human rights and democracy beginning with a quote from the Cuban independence leader whose memorial he had visited the day before:
As Marti said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.” So let me tell you what I believe.  I can't force you to agree, but you should know what I think.  I believe that every person should be equal under the law.  Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads.  I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights.   I believe that every person should have the freedom to practice their faith peacefully and publicly. And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections. Not everybody agrees with me on this.  Not everybody agrees with the American people on this.  But I believe those human rights are universal. I believe they are the rights of the American people, the Cuban people, and people around the world.
The President also spoke candidly about the short comings of the United States on race, his own path and the ability of democracy to overcome injustices:
We do have challenges with racial bias -- in our communities, in our criminal justice system, in our society -- the legacy of slavery and segregation.  But the fact that we have open debates within America’s own democracy is what allows us to get better.  In 1959, the year that my father moved to America, it was illegal for him to marry my mother, who was white, in many American states.  When I first started school, we were still struggling to desegregate schools across the American South.  But people organized; they protested; they debated these issues; they challenged government officials.  And because of those protests, and because of those debates, and because of popular mobilization, I’m able to stand here today as an African-American and as President of the United States.  That was because of the freedoms that were afforded in the United States that we were able to bring about change. I’m not saying this is easy.  There’s still enormous problems in our society.  But democracy is the way that we solve them.
This speech most likely raised expectations in the population, especially the plurality that have black ancestry, and for decades have been told to be grateful to the Castro regime because in the United States blacks do not have any opportunities. The Obama family is a powerful refutation of this regime narrative.

President Obama meeting for two hours off the record with members of the democratic opposition with different ideological tendencies is of great importance because of its rarity these days. 

 The Bad

President Obama in bilateral meeting with Raul Castro also meets with Alejandro Castro
On March 21, 2016 in the bilateral meeting with Raul Castro, President Obama also met with and greeted Alejandro Castro ( in the picture above on the far right). He is considered the man who will take over for Raul Castro when he retires in 2018. President Obama's visit and meeting with both Castros can have the unintended effect of assisting in the dynastic succession of the dictatorship prolonging the regime another generation.

President Obama on December 17, 2014 in his address announcing the normalization of relations made the claim that there had been a static policy of isolation for the previous half century that had failed. He repeated the same idea in Cuba on March 22, 2016:
What the United States was doing was not working.  We have to have the courage to acknowledge that truth.  A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century.  The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them.
The trouble is that this statement is not factually accurate. First the Kennedy Administration between 1960 and 1963 sought to violently overthrow the Castro regime first with the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion and later with Operation Mongoose that sought to assassinate Fidel Castro. It was under the Johnson administration that the policy of isolation and containment without belligerence went into full effect.

Secondly, between 1977-1980 during the Carter administration and again between 1993 - 2000 during the Clinton Administration the United States engaged the Castro regime, as the Obama administration is doing today, and the results were disastrous for both Cubans and Americans. Worsening human rights violations, migration crisis, and U.S. national security undermined as the dictatorship obtained greater legitimacy. This led to a return to sanctions and a policy of isolation in both instances.

The implicit and sometimes explicit argument is that pressuring the Castro regime does not work. However, it is also important to note that the only visit of International Red Cross to visit Cuban political prisoners was between 1988 - 1989 after the Reagan administration had tightened sanctions, sought to break the totalitarian regime's monopoly of information with Radio Marti and aggressively challenged the Castro regime at the United Nations Human Rights Commission appointing a former Cuban political prisoner ambassador.
Unfortunately on the theoretical front some concerns also emerge when President Obama asserts that "human rights" and their "universality" are a personal belief it has the potential to downgrade a fundamental principle into an opinion. President Jimmy Carter who visited Cuba in 2002 in his speech to the Cuban people did not assert human rights as a personal belief but as an objective universal value:
I am not using a U.S. definition of "democracy." The term is embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba signed in 1948, and it was defined very precisely by all the other countries of the Americas in the Inter-American Democratic Charter last September. It is based on some simple premises: all citizens are born with the right to choose their own leaders, to define their own destiny, to speak freely, to organize political parties, trade unions and non-governmental groups, and to have fair and open trials.
Carter offered greater specificity on the differences between the American and Cuban regimes:
 Democracy is a framework that permits a people to accommodate changing times and correct past mistakes. Since our independence, the United States has rid itself of slavery, granted women the right to vote, ended almost a century of legal racial discrimination, and just this year reformed its election laws to correct problems we faced in Florida 18 months ago.   Cuba has adopted a socialist government where one political party dominates, and people are not permitted to organize any opposition movements. Your Constitution recognizes freedom of speech and association, but other laws deny these freedoms to those who disagree with the government.
Things go from troubling to a matter of great concern when President Obama in his March 22, 2016 speech to the Cuban people equates the ideals of the rebellion that ended British rule and established the United States with the ideals of the revolution that lied itself into power claiming to be democratic, only to install a communist dictatorship through revolutionary terror were profoundly different
The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution -- America’s revolution, Cuba’s revolution, the liberation movements around the world -- those ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy.
In one case the ideals where applied, although imperfectly, towards building a more perfect and democratic union in the second democratic ideals were paid lip service but Marxism - Leninism was the driving force to take power and purge dissenters. The President does a disservice to his audience conflating the two.

Obama's speech praises the Cuban exile community and Miami but in exchange, perhaps for time reasons, looses critical specificity on the projects of the Cuban opposition in 2016. President Carter was able to outline in 2002 a citizen initiative that had shaken the dictatorship and caught the attention of the world:
That fundamental right is also guaranteed to Cubans. It is gratifying to note that Articles 63 and 88 of your constitution allows citizens to petition the National Assembly to permit a referendum to change laws if 10,000 or more citizens sign it. I am informed that such an effort, called the Varela Project, has gathered sufficient signatures and has presented such a petition to the National Assembly. When Cubans exercise this freedom to change laws peacefully by a direct vote, the world will see that Cubans, and not foreigners, will decide the future of this country.
President Carter also made some specific requests in 2002 to the Cuban regime that were not made by President Obama but that are still relevant in 2016:
I would ask that you permit the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons and that you would receive the UN Human Rights Commissioner to address such issues as prisoners of conscience and the treatment of inmates. These visits could help refute any unwarranted criticisms.
Obama offered no specifics on opposition projects or specific requests, despite an atmosphere in which human rights have seriously deteriorated over the past seven years. President Carter managed greater specificity and demands without offending his Cuban hosts.

The Ugly

President shook hands with Gustavo Machin who was involved in Oswaldo Payá killing
Unfortunately it seems that President Obama was poorly served by his staff over the three day visit several unfortunate images emerged that do not help the Obama administration, have angered many in the Cuban exile community, and may send an unintended message that the worse actors in Cuba willbe able to operate with impunity.

For example in the picture above President Obama on the right shakes hands with Gustavo Machin, a spy who served as a diplomat for Cuba in the United States and was expelled for his actions there. He appeared in 2002 when he was identified as Aaron Modig's "interrogator" in the Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero cover up when witnesses needed to be silenced.

The image of President Obama photographed with the Ministry of the Interior in the background with Che Guevara prominently featured and used by Cuban official media as endorsement of the violent revolutionary martyr sends an unfortunate message around the world. 

President Obama and General Raul Castro do the wave during baseball game
 Finally, the images of President Obama with Raul Castro during the The Tampa Bay Rays exhibition game with the Cuban National Team at Estadio Latinamericano are regrettable considering that the Cuban dictator has been associated with extrajudicial killings from the early days of the Cuban Revolution when he blind folded individuals before having them shot by firing squad, to the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down in 1996, and Oswaldo Payá in 2012, just to name three, of many, instances.

Raul Castro blindfolding man about to be executed
President Obama ignored uncomfortable truths when he announced the end of the Cold War in Cuba in his speech.
"I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people."
It is the dictatorship in Cuba not the Cuban people or the United States that wants to continue the Cold War. For example, the Castro regime was caught in 2013 smuggling tons of weapons to North Korea, including ballistic missile technology, and was caught smuggling another weapons shipment in Colombia in 2015.  During the secret negotiations between the two countries, Cuba somehow got its hands on a U.S. Hellfire missile in 2014 that had been used in a military exercise in Europe. At the same time the State Department politicized a report in 2015 on human trafficking to place the Castro regime in a better light.

Reviewing Obama's visit to Cuba one finds lights and shadows. Whether his visit helps Cubans to be authors of their own destiny or the Castro family to further entrench in power will be revealed over the next few years. This visit to Cuba will be remembered good or bad for a long time to come. Let us hope and pray that Obama's official visit to Cuba does not end up as Calvin Coolidge's,  strengthening a dictator and prolonging political unrest for the Cuban people.

President Obama and General Raul Castro at baseball game

 The Cuban dictatorship allowed the live broadcast of the entire speech but going forward will selectively play those portions that are convenient to advance their interests report dissidents on the island. Sadly, the Obama speech does have elements that they can exploit. Cuban democrats will have to endeavor that the Cuban people be given access to the full speech and the excerpts that address what the Castro regime would prefer be forgotten.

Which image will win out in the public consciousness Obama under the watchful eye of Jose Marti or Obama before the Ministry of the Interior with Che looking down? Obama meeting with Cuban dissidents or meeting with Raul Castro and shaking hands with Gustavo Machin, who was involved in the untimely demise of Oswaldo Paya in 2012? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Obama in Cuba: The price of appeasement and the whims of the Cuban dictator

The price of appeasement

Much has been made of the shift from decades long imprisonment to shorter term detentions in the press and by U.S. officials but little has been said with regards to the simultaneous escalation in knife attacks, breaking bones, machete attacks and extrajudicial killings of high profile human rights activists since 2010. On April 6, 2015 made the case "why the Obama policy will worsen human rights in Cuba and in the Americas" highlighting new patterns of repression that have emerged in the island during the Obama administration. 

The suspicious deaths of human rights defenders such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo (2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (2011), Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (2011), Wilman Villar Mendoza (2012), Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (2012), and Harold Cepero Escalante (2012) is a terrifying alternative to the long prison sentences that the Castro regime would use to take opposition leaders out of circulation, as was the case in 2003, during the Bush administration.

On May 14, 2015 Sirley Ávila León lost her left hand, had her right arm broken by a second machete blow, and her knees slashed by several more machete blows by a married couple in an attack orchestrated by Cuban state security. The husband wielding the machete and the wife throwing the severed hand into a pigsty. Cuban doctors told her that because of the contamination in the pigsty that the hand could not be reattached. She was left completely incapacitated, not even able to bend her knees. 

Human rights defender machete attacked on May 24, 2015
The reason for the attack? Sirley Ávila León had been an elected delegate of the municipal people's power assembly and taken seriously the pledge to represent her constituents. When the order came from on high to shut down schools in the country side (as a cost saving measure) and one of those schools was in her area, Sirley began to lobby first through official channel. When the official channels ignored her entreaties she went to the international media. This got her booted out of her position through a series of machinations by Castro regime officials. She responded by joining the opposition and the repression against her escalated into harassment, threats of violence, home invasion and beat down by state security, arson, and the machete attack that nearly killed her.

In an interview on March 21, 2016 with the Spanish Daily ABC the human rights activist declared: "After they began relations with Obama, the totalitarian regime tightened up against those who truly fight for the rule of law in Cuba." ... "All this" - in allusion to the trip of the US president to the island- "is a fallacy." For her, "this friendship of Obama [with Raul] will not bring anything good to the Cuban people."

President Barack Obama and Dictator Raul Castro at press conference
The U.S. English speaking press has not reported on this preferring to focus their questions to Raul Castro on the issue of Cuban political prisoners while going along with the lie that education and healthcare in Cuba are rights and not privileges, given and taken away on the whims of the dictator. Yesterday at the joint press conference with President Obama, General Raul Castro claimed not to have political prisoners and then announced that if he were provided a list of political prisoners that he would immediately free them. That same day Cuban human rights organizations presented lists to the international media in the hope that long term political prisoners would be freed. Some are now trying to spin the joint press conference as Obama laying a trap for Raul Castro. This is highly unlikely. The Castro regime has trafficked in political prisoners for over a half century. Freeing with one hand while imprisoning with another and using human beings as currency for their propaganda campaign.

However the silence by President Obama, the U.S. press corps on the escalating violence and murder of opposition activists speaks volumes on moral failings of the Cuba policy of the United States that is assisting in a dynastic succession of the Castro regime by meeting with Alejandro Castro in the official sit down with Raul Castro while ignoring the terrible price being paid by Cubans who want to be free.

There is still one day left in this official visit and an important meeting planned with Cuban civil society, but the actions of the past seven years and the images of the past two days do not give much cause for President Obama to have a "Reagan moment" in Cuba. The image of President Obama photographed with the Ministry of the Interior in the background with Che Guevara prominently featured and used by Cuban official media as endorsement of the violent revolutionary martyr sends an unfortunate message around the world. We need more images of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi not a mass murdering and hate filled communist icon.

Did Castro manipulate Obama into this photo-op or did White House want it?
 Hopefully, President Obama will lay a flower at Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's tomb in Havana, Cuba honoring the request made by Oswaldo's daughter, Rosa María Payá. It would be a powerful gesture and honor the memory of a man who nonviolently struggled for a free Cuba and was killed on July 22, 2012 along with Harold Cepero for empowering Cuban people to be free with the Varela Project

Will President Obama pay his respects to a man of peace?