Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Obama Legacy: Lowering standards and betraying human rights in Cuba

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - Cuba Libre

There is a fundamental error by analysts that look at the Castro regime solely through the prism of U.S. - Cuba relations defined by economic sanctions without looking at the larger regional and international context.  This is especially the case with regards to human rights and the so-called "principle" of consistency in the light of perceived double standards. It seems that all who argue against double standards inevitably advocate lowering standards to the lowest common denominator never raising them.

Paying lip service to human rights in China
Double standards as a code phrase for lowering standards
United States foreign policy in Saudi Arabia and China have, in the name of realpolitik, not been principled on the human rights front and led to outcomes disastrous for the United States. At the same time one must recognize that narrow and powerful interests have benefited financially from these arrangements. The argument advanced by those seeking to repeat the regrettable approach used in Saudi Arabia and China with Cuban foreign policy is one of consistency that results in ending a principled human rights policy in Cuba bringing it into line with other disastrous policies that have not served the just interests of the United States. To suggest that foreign policies in Saudi Arabia and China advance human rights at the expense of narrow economic interests is to be ignored or ridiculed. Meanwhile the President visits Vietnam and opens up weapon sales to the communist dictatorship while claiming to promote human rights there.

Both help to propagate a radical brand of Islam worldwide
The Castro Regime's War on Human Rights
In the larger international context historically providing the Castro regime a free pass in its outlaw behavior has negatively effected not only countries in the Americas and Africa, but also led to more international terrorism and the decline of international human rights standards.

Cuban governments prior to the Castro regime played an important role in advancing human rights regionally and internationally punching above their weight. Sadly the Castro regime has been successful in undermining this positive legacy.

This is not an accident but to be expected for a totalitarian dictatorship that has sought to duplicate its political model around the world and has been successful in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

The decline of regional human rights instruments in the Americas is the result of the expansion of Cuban influence in the region during the Obama administration. Welcoming the Castro regime back into the Organization of American States in 2009 did not have the desired effect.

Human rights across the world have been in decline for the past decade. The policy of normalizing relations with the Castro regime in Cuba has been a contributing factor.

White House in Cuba betrayed human rights everywhere 
President Obama's failure on human rights is having serious consequences that will be felt for decades to come. The claim made by the White House that human rights are a priority in its Cuba policy are not backed up by its actions: freeing Cuban spy guilty of murder conspiracy that claimed four lives, snubbing dissidents, watering down reports to place regime in more positive light, visiting the dictatorship and legitimizing it.

Human rights activist Aaron Rhodes, writing in the Huffington Post, describes the failure in harsher terms focusing on the President's speech, which was foolishly praised by some in the Cuban American community at the time:
Obama missed an opportunity to explain and defend that idea of human rights, which animated America’s founders, and which they bequeathed to Americans and to people all over the world in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. Instead, Obama “personally” embraced an interpretation of human rights at variance with the philosophy of the U.S. Constitution. What is more, Cuba has arguably done more than any other nation to subvert respect for authentic human rights in the United Nations. With his response, Obama indirectly but clearly endorsed that program. If his words indeed reflect the U.S. approach to human rights, it is bad news for those who defend human rights as natural rights to basic freedoms, and who look to America for support and as an example of the success of freedom.
Cuba has consistently defended the world’s worst human rights abusers, like North Korea, from criticism in international forums, claiming that such criticism is “political” and “biased.” In fact, Cuba is the most vocal member of the United Nations seeking to blunt the UN’s already blunt instruments for investigating grave human rights violations and putting pressure on governments to reform, favoring anodyne, “thematic” issues instead. Cuba has been a leader in proposing bogus human rights mandates in the UN Human Rights Council, like the “Independent Expert” on the “Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order,” which is nothing but a platform for ideological attacks on free societies and free enterprise — in the name of “human rights.”
Thanks in large part to Cuba, the international human rights system has become hopelessly clogged up with such institutions.
Just after the President's visit to Cuba I gave an analysis of the speech and found it a disappointment and that former President Carter in 2002 had made a more compelling case for human rights in Cuba. Rhodes in his essay describes the depth of Obama's betrayal of human rights
Obama’s betrayal of the idea of natural rights was also a betrayal of Cuban human rights campaigners, and indeed people around the world living under dictators who exploit the conflation of human rights and welfare rights in order to defend oppression.
Rhodes left out an even more problematic part of President Obama's speech to the Cuban people. The President equated the ideals of the American rebellion that ended British rule and established the United States with the ideals of the Castro revolution that lied itself into power, claiming to be democratic, only to install a communist tyranny that 57 years later remains in power through terror and repression. Despite President Obama's claim, they are profoundly different and to equate the two not only confusing but offensive.

This trend did not begin on the Obama Administration's watch but has reached a new low that bodes ill for the future.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Human Rights Decade Long Decline Worldwide: IACHR in Crisis

#IACHRinCrisis: The latest blow to human rights worldwide

 Human rights and democracy have been in retreat worldwide for the past decade. Between 2006 and 2016 there has been a steady decline in global liberty and human rights. The Associated Press reported that the Obama administration "is blaming a global crisis in governance as well as atrocities committed by non-state actors for a decline in human rights standards around the world." 

Now the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a pioneering regional human rights organization founded in 1959 may be drastically scaled back or could even shut down due to a lack of support in the Americas if present trends continue. The attacks on regional human rights organizations in the Americas have been ongoing for years. An important highlight was Venezuela rejecting the American Convention on Human Rights and pulling out of the Inter-American Court  in 2012. Now this financial crisis which in reality is a human rights crisis in the Americas exposes the hollowness of national commitments in this hemisphere towards human rights. The United States, unfortunately, has not been immune to these trends.

Severe Financial Crisis of the IACHR Leads to Suspension of Hearings and Imminent Layoff of Nearly Half its Staff

IACHR Press Release

May 23, 2016

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is going through a severe financial crisis that will have serious consequences on its ability to fulfill its mandate and carry out its basic functions. The Commission deeply regrets having to report that on July 31, 2016, the contracts of 40 percent of its personnel will expire, and at this time the Commission does not have the funds—or the expectation of receiving the funds—to be able to renew them. The Commission is also very sorry to report that it has been forced to suspend the visits it had planned for this year, as well as its 159th and 160th sessions, which had been scheduled for July and October.

The IACHR is alarmed by the fact that this situation will result in the dismantling of areas essential to its mandate. The IACHR is also distressed for the victims, petitioners, and civil society organizations that had planned to participate in hearings, working meetings, and other forums scheduled for the October session. The IACHR also expresses its deep concern because the suspension of sessions has a direct impact on the Commission’s capacity to make progress in processing complaints of human rights violations, since it is during these sessions that the Commissioners analyze, debate, and approve reports on petitions and cases.

Moreover, it is disturbing that thousands of victims of human rights violations will be left unprotected. The total dismantling of some work teams and the cutbacks mean that it is inevitable that the procedural backlog the Commission had been trying to reduce will increase again and will reach a point where it is incompatible with the right of access to justice. The IACHR also deeply regrets having to face an imminent situation in which it could lose valuable employees who have worked tirelessly for the rights of victims and have brought a sense of duty and devotion to the cause of human rights.

In the last few months and weeks, the IACHR and its Executive Secretariat have tried its best to confirm donations that had been previously talked, but unfortunately these did not succeed. The IACHR will continue to make every effort within its power to turn this situation around immediately, to prevent the loss of 40 percent of its staff and to be able to reschedule its sessions, visits, and all the other activities planned for 2016. To this end, the Inter-American Commission calls on the member countries, observer countries, and other potential donors to make urgent financial contributions that can be immediately available.

To avert this dire situation, the IACHR would need to receive funds, or at least commitments in writing for donations, before June 15.

Beyond the immediate financial crisis, the Inter-American Commission suffers from a structural, systematic lack of funds that must be addressed and resolved. There is a deep discrepancy between the mandate the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) have given the IACHR and the financial resources they allocate to it. The regular budget of the IACHR this year is less than 5 million dollars, which amounts to $0.005 per person in the hemisphere per year. The staff of the Commission financed by the OAS regular fund consists of 31 people; in other words, it has fewer employees than countries under its jurisdiction. The other 47 employees are financed with donations, which can be unstable and unpredictable, as the current crisis shows.

In the last two decades, the Commission has made ongoing efforts with the OAS Member States to secure a budget that would enable it to work effectively to fulfill its mandate. As a result of these efforts, the OAS General Assembly has approved a number of resolutions expressing a commitment to address the situation; however, these have not been reflected in a significant increase in resources. While the Council of Europe earmarks 41.5 percent of its budget to the promotion and protection of human rights, the OAS earmarks 6 percent of its budget to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

 In this regard, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights strongly urges the OAS Member States to take on their responsibility to the inter-American Human Rights System. The IACHR hopes that the next OAS General Assembly, which will be held in June, will adopt a historic and far-reaching decision, one that reflects the States’ commitment to the defense of human rights in the region. This means radically increasing the budget of the OAS regular fund and allocating to the IACHR and the Inter-American Human Rights System in general the resources needed to fulfill the mandate the States themselves have handed down. It is essential, imperative, and urgent for the States to adopt a sustainable solution to this serious, chronic problem and demonstrate their commitment to the respect and guarantee of human rights with deeds and not just words.

The IACHR expresses its firm commitment to continue to work in the fulfillment of its functions, inspired by the words of the American Convention on Human Rights, which states that “the ideal of free men enjoying freedom from fear and want can be achieved only if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights.”

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

Paying homage and giving thanks to Patricio Aylwin Azócar

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Patricio Aylwin Azócar with Vaclav Havel in 2004 in Prague, Czech Republic
Patricio Aylwin Azócar passed away on  April 19, 2016 in his beloved Santiago, Chile. Don Patricio presided over the unification of the democratic opposition in Chile, the No Campaign, and the democratic transition following 17 years of military rule under Augusto Pinochet.

We would have to be grateful to him for that example alone, but free Cubans owe him for much more. President Patricio Aylwin met with pro-democracy Cubans over the years in Santiago, Chile at his private home and freely gave his advice, but he did more.

Rosa Maria Paya meets with Patricio Aylwin Azócar at his home (2013)
 In 2004 Don Patricio was a founding member of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba. The former Chilean president traveled to the Czech Republic at age 85 to spend three days with other Latin American and European leaders in an act of solidarity with a free Cuba that will long be remembered. At the time of his passing Orlando Gutierrez of the Cuban Democratic Directorate remembered President Aylwin's role. We also know that the best way to honor his memory of solidarity is through following his example.

Patricio Aylwin, Luis Alberto Lacalle, Petr Pithart, Philip Dimitrov, Luis Alberto Monge, José María Aznar, Václav Havel, Mart Laar close the meeting of former presidents and prime ministers at the ICDC Summit.
Free Cubans are grateful, and today in Santiago, Chile when members of the Christian Democrat Organization of America gathered to pay homage and pray for Patricio Aylwin Azócar at the Frei family mausoleum, where he is being temporarily laid to rest, the above episode was remembered and given thanks for by the representative of the Cuban Democratic Directorate.

On May 27, 2016 ODCA laid flowers to Ex-presidents Eduardo Frei & Patricio Aylwin.
The Christian Democrat Organization of America held its 21st Congress in Santiago, Chile from May 25 -27, 2016.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ladies in White leader Berta Soler threatened with unjust trial for "resistance"


Berta Soler
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, who has suffered physical assaults in the past, has had her passport taken and is being charged with "resistance" and faces a regime show trial following her detention this past Sunday, May 22, 2016, during a nonviolent protest.

Berta was given the court docket number 30-260 of 2016.  She explains the motive behind the regime's action: "What they are seeking is to have power of control over me so that I can not leave the country temporarily." She refused to sign the sign the indictment drafted by the police. Nor was the document handed to Berta Soler.

However, the activist said to Cubanet, "I will continue to live my life normally as always," and further noted that if this leads her to jail that she will "go as a prisoner of conscience, because I'm sure I have not done anything."

"These are the images of arrest (last Sunday), and I did not raise my hand for anything," and Berta Soler added that this action would not stop her from trying to travel outside of the country if she needed to raising the challege: Let Immigration at the airport tell me that I cannot travel."

On May 24, 2016 the streets surrounding the headquarters of the Ladies in White were blocked by state security agents to prevent members and friends of the Ladies in White from attending their monthly literary tea.

Blocking streets around Ladies in White headquarters (Angel Moya)

This needs to be placed in the current context in Cuba and the history of her movement. 
Repression is worsening in Cuba and the Ladies in White are not exempt from this trend. Earlier this month Rosa Escalona, member of “The Ladies in White”, a human rights group in Cuba, along with her husband and three sons were subjected to a savage beating by Castro agents. All four family members suffered great bodily injury, with her husband Alberto Pedro Freire Leiva being the most critically injured. This unprovoked attack took place Sunday, May 8th in the city of Holguín, Cuba. Rosa made the following statement by way of telephone to the Cuban Democratic Directorate:

“Yesterday I was detained as I was heading to church. I was once again threatened by members of the State Security who stated that they would “finish with me and my family”. Two men came out of Lenin Hospital with iron bars and proceeded to attack us. My 25 year old son’s head was broken in two places and he received a skull fracture, my two small sons received blows throughout their bodies and I sustained direct blows to my ribs and a broken head. My husband, Alberto Pedro Freire Leiva is currently in grave condition and it is not known if he will survive. His spleen was broken in two places and as a result, he has had massive internal bleeding with more than 1,000 millimeters of blood throughout his abdomen. My son Yunior Alberto Freire Escalona is under observation in neurosurgery where he might need to be operated. During the attack, one of the men disclosed knowing that I was a member of the “Ladies in White” and a counter revolutionary, he warned me to be very careful of him because when he catches me on the street again he will run me and my sons over with a truck.”
Lady in White Daisy Cuello Basulto denounced that her 21 year old daughter was arrested, violently stripped and forced to urinate in front of police officers in a police station in Cotorro. The 21 year old was arrested along with her mom and other family on September 27, 2015 while on their way to attend the Sunday march of the Ladies in White. The young woman was locked in a cell with a strong smell of hydrochloric acid and now suffers from a sore throat. "She has a fever and feels very bad," reported her mother.

The founding leader of the movement Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died under suspicious circumstances in 2011 in the midst of a wave of suspicious deaths of opposition leaders. Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a Cuban medical doctor and human rights defender, called it a case of purposeful medical neglect.

Demonstrating support for the Ladies in White, even outside of Cuba, is not without risk. On May 22, 2010 Norwegian media reported that Cuban diplomat, Carmen Julia Guerra, insulted, threatened, and bit a young Norwegian woman, Alexandra Joner age 19, of Cuban descent on her mother's side while she was across the street from the Cuban embassy in Oslo. She was filming a non-violent demonstration in solidarity with the Ladies in White and in remembrance of martyred Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo. The main national newspaper in Norway, Aftenposten,  photographed the young girl with bite marks on her hand.

It is important to recall how the Ladies in White came into existence in 2003 in the midst of the Black Cuban Spring. Days after one of the worse crackdown's on Cuba's national civic movement that began on March 18, 2003 the wives, sisters and daughters of these unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders formed the Ladies in White. An association of women seeking the release of their unjustly imprisoned husbands, sons, brothers and fathers.

In addition to their weekly marches demanding the release of Cuban political prisoners the Ladies in White would also gather together for a monthly "literary tea." Each Lady in White would participate reading letters from their jailed husbands, poems, and literature with the objective of raising their spirits. During these gatherings there are moments of laughter and also of tears.

Amnesty international has denounced the climate of fear and repression directed by regime officials against the Ladies in White. This movement has also been recognized internationally with important honors.The Ladies in White were awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005 and were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why are some folks not blessing Obama's trips to Cuba and Vietnam?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. - Matthew 5:9

Reverend King has the answer to the question
David Beeson over twitter asked an important question: "Blessed are the peacemakers, we're told. Obama has been to Cuba and now to Vietnam. So why aren't his Bible-thumping critics blessing him?"

The trip to Vietnam is still ongoing, but there are already shadows on the visit that would give peacemakers pause. First rescinding a decades-old ban on sales of lethal military equipment to Vietnam is not a nonviolent act or the action of a peacemaker. The response by China, warning the White House to not spark a “regional tinderbox” is ominous pointing to an arms race or even conflict.

In answering the question with a focus on the Cuba half  there have been a couple of months since the visit and time to further reflect on it.

First, since the December 17, 2014 announcement by President Obama and General Castro the level of repression in Cuba has grown exponentially.

Secondly, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has compiled figures that  reveal a tenfold increase in religious repression in Cuba with 2,300 separate violations recorded in 2015 compared to 220 in 2014.

Cuban Americans warned that this would happen in an open letter in February of 2015 published in The Washington Post but were completely shut out and ignored.

Furthermore, the Obama administration signed off with Carnival on an agreement with the Castro regime that discriminated against Cuban Americans that prompted mass protests.

Obama in Cuba and in Vietnam being photographed in front of communist icons
Lastly, the visit to Cuba in and of itself had some very troubling aspects that could prolong the life of the dictatorship and send the wrong message internationally on the figure of Che Guevara. Within the context of the Cuba visit being photographed in front of the Ministry of the Interior with image of the Argentine guerilla in the background is unfortunate.

Now in Vietnam, President Obama is photographed in front of the statue of the murderous Ho Chi Minh. That the U.S. ambassador would also be hanging out in the Vietnamese regime's Ministry of Public Security in a smiling photo opportunity with the head of that organization, despite that buildings history of persecuting and torturing dissidents, is again unfortunate.

Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security To Lam and US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius
The Obama administration's Cuba policy has reduced tensions between the United States and Cuba but it has not addressed the presence of injustice or the fact that it has increased during this time of reduced tension. The failure of this policy can be measured by the tens of thousands of Cubans voting with their feet and leaving the island. This is a dramatic increase over previous years and can only be compared with other attempts to reach an accommodation with the Castro regime.

It is important to recall that the United States lifted economic sanctions on Vietnam on February 3, 1994 and normalized relations on July 11, 1995. Twenty two years later the Obama administration has opened the sale of weapons to Vietnam, but unlike in Cuba that still has economic sanctions, President Obama was not able to meet with Vietnamese dissidents in a scheduled meeting.

Ending sanctions reduces leverage and normalizing relations with abnormal regimes such as Vietnam and Cuba leads the United States in being complicit with the injustice taking place there. Perhaps that is why some Americans guided by biblical principles are so upset.

Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth tweeted the following caricature summing up President Obama's visit to Vietnam.

There is an alternative and it is the road less traveled of nonviolence which has a great record of success. Unfortunately, neither the Bush policy of preemptive wars or the Obama policy of neo-appeasement follows this path.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lessons from Cuba and Vietnam

Vietnam and Cuba remain totalitarian regimes 

President Obama has arrived in Vietnam for an official visit, hopefully it will be more productive than his visit to Cuba. As was the case during the Cuba visit, public protests in Vietnam have been put down with force by the regime's security.

Human Rights Watch reports that Vietnam's human rights record remains dire in all areas. This in spite of the United States lifting economic sanctions on Vietnam on February 3, 1994 and normalizing relations on July 11, 1995.

US companies are investing in Vietnam and doing business with the Vietnamese dictatorship. Its totalitarian nature has not changed, but there is now a possibility of the United States selling weapons to this regime that represses its own people.

For example, Amnesty International reported on October 29, 2012 that two Vietnamese songwriters faced prison for writing songs criticizing their government. Vo Minh Tri, known as Viet Khang, 37, and Tran Vu Anh Binh, known as Hoang Nhat Thong, 41 were both held in custody since late 2011. According to Amnesty International both stood accused of "conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of Viet Nam’s Criminal Code – an offense that carries a sentence of up to two decades." On October 30, 2012 Tran Vu Anh Binh (aka Hoang Nhat Thong) and Vo Minh Tri (aka Viet Khang) were sentenced to six and four years in prison respectively.

Young man arrested and throttled in Saigon for peaceful protest

Tri, a.k.a. Viet Khang, was freed on December 13, 2015 and driven by police escort to his family’s home outside of Ho Chi Minh City. Tran Vu Anh Binh a.k.a. Hoang Nhat Thong who was jailed at the same time remains in prison.

There are many other political prisoners in Vietnam just as there are still many in Cuba.

Cuba, like Vietnam, also has a law 88 that carries up to a 20 year prison sentence. The fact that the laws and even the article numbers are the same may be a sign that Cuba and Vietnam are collaborating and sharing worse practices to maintain repression in their respective countries.William J. Dobson has described how this process occurs in his book, The Dictator's Learning Curve.

This leads to the conclusion that economic engagement with the United States has not led to political liberalization in Vietnam and it will not do so in Cuba. Meanwhile the sanctions policy on Burma did play a role in generating reforms.

Questions about violent repression in Vietnam against peaceful protesters
Human Rights Watch is calling on President Obama to press the regime in Vietnam to end its crackdown on peaceful activists and to hold free elections.  Amnesty International is calling on the U.S. President to urge the Vietnamese communist dictatorship to free over 80 political prisoners during his visit to the country.

2016 Oslo Freedom Forum: Catalysts

"The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized." - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002

 "A single spark can start a raging fire, which is why this year, the Oslo Freedom Forum is dedicated to catalysts: women and men who have realized that while individuals can’t change the world on their own, the world can’t change without individuals. That even if you are the first person to stand up, you won’t find yourself standing alone for long."
The 2016 Oslo Freedom Forum for the seventh time brings together human rights activists for a three-day summit (May 23 - 25) to promote human rights worldwide. Since 2009 Oslo Freedom Forum has been a gathering point for grassroots activists, policy makers and artists with themes focused on advancing human rights and freedom for all. In 2012 the Václav Havel Prizes for Creative Dissent was inaugurated at the Oslo Freedom Forum. The Oslo Freedom Forum has an archive of past presentations of all the Freedom Forums available online.

The event will be broadcast live over Livestream.

Two Cuban speakers will be addressing the Oslo Freedom Forum this year:
Rosa María Payá, daughter of the deceased democracy activist Oswaldo Payá, is one of Cuba’s most vocal political dissidents. Payá serves as the president of the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, and is a member of the Cuba Decides campaign. In April 2014, Payá was detained in Panama before the Summit of the Americas in what has been criticized as a move of political intimidation. Since her father’s passing in a mysterious car accident in 2012, Payá has repeatedly called for a formal investigation into his death, speaking around the world on his behalf and addressing a public letter to President Obama following the change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in 2014.

Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado is a Cuban graffiti artist and activist whose public work has subjected him to ongoing repression and imprisonment at the hands of the Castro dictatorship. A target of the Cuban government, he has been detained numerous times for his protest art. In December 2014, El Sexto was arrested on his way to put on a performance art piece called "Rebelión en la Granja," with two pigs decorated with the names “Fidel” and “Raúl.” El Sexto was charged with contempt and imprisoned for 10 months without a trial. He was finally released on October 20, 2015, following pressure from international human rights groups.

Oslo Freedom Forum 2016 events are underway and can be followed over twitter.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

North Korean, Cuban and Chinese military forces in Venezuela

"Our government, our people, our party, in addition to condemning any imperialist attack, will fight with Venezuelans to safeguard the Bolivarian Revolution" - North Korean Ambassador Jon Yong Jin, 10/3/13 

A report appeared on May 18, 2016 that North Korean Special forces and the Chinese People's Liberation Army are in Venezuela conducting military exercises with their Venezuelan counterpart. Days before the head of the opposition National Assembly of Venezuela on May 15, 2016 was complaining, over social media, of the presence of 60 Cuban officers. This included a Cuban general, who he identified by the last name Gregorich, who had a leadership role that included issuing orders to Venezuelan troops. Capitol Hill Cubans identified the Cuban General as Raul Acosta Gregorich.

Considering the promise made above by the late North Korean Ambassador these two bits of information may give Venezuelan democrats cause for alarm. 

Providing some context

In March 2016, the same month that President Obama visited Cuba, the Castro regime signed a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement with North Korea reports the Paris based publication Intelligence Online. The Cuban dictatorship, under Raul Castro, has had extensive relations with the Hermit Kingdom that has included violating international sanctions to smuggle tons of weapons.

North Korea reopened an embassy in Venezuela on June 20, 2014 following a high level meeting in October 2013 with North Korea's ambassador to Cuba Jon Yong Jin who was executed in a purge in December of 2013.  Venezuela recognized North Korea in 1974 but due to North Korea's economic crisis in the 1990s it shut down its embassy in Venezuela at the time.  Venezuelan officials who met with the North Korean diplomat showed an interest in grafting elements of the North Korean governing philosophy onto the Bolivarian Revolution.

The official claim by the Maduro regime is that all this is being done to combat the threat of U.S. imperialism, but the reality appears that this has more to do with maintaining and consolidating control over Venezuela. 

Chinese military commandos in Venezuela (2015)

Kim Jung-un comes to Maduro's aid

Intelligence Online, Issue No. 759 dated May 18, 2016

Observers are wondering just how involved the North Korean Praetorian Guard that Pyongyang has sent to assist Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro will become. Hugo Chavez’s successor has declared a state of emergency in the country while anti-government protests continue to mount. The man behind the 'loan' of North Korean troops is General Kim Yong-chol, who is close to the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un. The general is both head of the special forces and the United Front Work Department, or Tongil Chonsonbu, the intelligence service in charge of relations with friendly political movements.

North Korean special forces are training with their counterparts of Venezuela’s Grupo de Acciones Commando (GAC) and Chinese troops of the 21st Armed Group of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Caracas this month.

Back in March, Pyongyang also signed a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement with Cuba, even though the latter is in the midst of a reconciliation process with the U.S.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cuban Independence Day: 1902 vs 2016

A sobering reality

Cuba 1902: On the path to freedom and independence

“Bringing down the American Flag and Raising the Cuban Flag in Havana, May 20, 1902

Tomas Estrada de Palma becomes the first president of Cuba
One hundred and fourteen years ago today at noon the flag of the United States was brought down and the Cuban flag raised over Havana as Cuba became an independent republic and its first president, Tomas Estrada de Palma, took power and would serve four years and leave office. Prior to the Castro brothers taking over, the Cuban Republic had 12 presidents over its first 58 years which averages out to 4.8 years in office per president. Meanwhile since 1959 two brothers have run Cuba into the ground through an absolutist, totalitarian, communist dictatorship.

Cuba 2016: Over a half century under communist tyranny

Former prisoner of conscience and independent journalist Iván Hernández Carrillo tweets: "Another May 20th without a Republic, without freedom and with a dictatorship in the hands of some tyrants perched in power."

Why have United States presidents only visited dictators and strongman in Cuba and not their democratic counterparts while in power? President Coolidge visited Dictator Machado in 1928 and President Obama visited Dictator Castro in 2016.

Last month the tyrants presided over another rubber stamp session of the Communist Party Congress with the two brothers now in their 57th year of absolute power.

Tyrants Fidel and Raul Castro now in their 57th year of presiding over Cuba's destruction
  Hopefully one day soon Cubans on the island will regain their popular sovereignty and once again proudly declare their freedom.

Cuba Independence Day 2016: A reflection on the first 467 years

Before the arrival of the totalitarian darkness

Independence Day in Havana, Cuba on May 20, 1902
One hundred and fourteen years ago today at noon the flag of the United States was brought down and the Cuban flag raised over Havana as Cuba became an independent republic. However, when looking at Cuba one should look back over the past 500 years and where it is situated today to gain greater understanding of the unfolding tragedy.

Cuba is just 90 miles south of the United States with a population of approximately 11 million people. It is 780 miles long and has a land area of 40,369 square miles and is the largest island in the Caribbean and 17th-largest island in the world by land area.

Columbus’s second stop in the New World was on October 28, 1492 when he landed in Cuba. (The first place he landed on October 12 was the Bahamas). Cuba was a Spanish colony from Columbus’s landing in 1492 until 1898 when Spain lost Cuba in the Spanish-American War.

Cubans engaged in two protracted wars of independence. The first was the 10 Years War that took place between 1868 and 1878 and the second took place between 1895 and 1898 ending with U.S. intervention and a 4-year occupation that ended on May 20, 1902. Cuba's first president was a Cuban exile named Tomas Estrada de Palma.

Future first Cuban president Tomas Estrada de Palma on way to Havana
There are many important figures that emerge in the 19th century but for the sake of brevity will mention Father Felix Varela, Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo, Maximo Gomez and the Bacardi family.
Father Varela was a catholic priest who is said to “have taught the Cubans how to think” and entertained ideas of independence that led to his exile to the United States. Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez were Cuban generals that played important roles in both wars of independence. Antonio Maceo was of a mixed racial background: part Spanish and part African.

Jose Marti was a journalist, poet and revolutionary who organized and advocated for the 1895 war of independence and spent most of his adult life exiled in the United States in New York City.
Maximo Gomez, was an experienced military man of Dominican origin who oversaw the overall military campaign in the second war of independence and of the three previously mentioned was the only one who survived the war to see the arrival of the Republic.

The Bacardi family, began their world famous Rum business in Santiago de Cuba in 1862. Don Facundo Bacardí Massó founded Bacardi Limited on February 4, 1862. The family would also play an important role in civic life in Cuba, especially Santiago over the next century, and were constant opponents of dictatorship, political corruption and remained ardent Cuban nationalists over several generations. Forced into exile by the Castro regime the Bacardi family has maintained the traditions of the Cuban Republic celebrating independence day, carrying on the family business and continuing the fight for a free Cuba.

Emilio Bacardi: Rebel who fought for independence
The beginning of the Cuban republic on May 20, 1902 had an asterisk – The Platt Amendment: which allowed the United States to intervene in Cuban affairs if U.S. interests were threatened. This Amendment was gotten rid of in 1933 but left a bad taste in the mouth of Cuban nationalists.

Between 1902 and 1952 Cuba progressed socially and economically but faced challenges on the political front. For example in the late 1920s Gerardo Machado, the democratically elected president did not want to leave power becoming a dictator. He was driven from office and into exile in 1933 by a general strike. This was followed by a revolution led by university students and enlisted men in what became known as the sergeants revolt. This put Fulgencio Batista into the national spotlight and by 1934 he was the strong man behind the scenes even though democratic formalities were restored.

In 1940 all the political tendencies in Cuba met to draft what became known as the 1940 Constitution and a presidential election was held and Fulgencio Batista elected. He served out his term as president from 1940 to 1944. Due to a clause in the new Constitution he was unable to run for re-election. In the election of 1944 the opposition candidate, Ramon Grau San Martin, won and served a term as president from 1944-1948 and in the election of 1948, Batista’s political party again lost at the general elections and Carlos Prios Socarras was elected president.

Cuba's republic during this democratic period played an important role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.

This democratic renaissance was brought to an end within days of the 1952 presidential elections, when on March 10th Fulgencio Batista organized a coup against the last democratically elected president.

A little over a year later on July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro organized an armed assault on the Moncada Military barracks that was a military disaster but a public relations success. Although most of the men involved with Fidel Castro in the assault were killed, Fidel Castro became a national figure at his trial for the attack. At the trial he portrayed himself as a democrat that wanted to restore the previous democratic order and attacked the Batista dictatorship for its usurpation of the democratic order.

How the totalitarian darkness arrived in Cuba

Upon Batista’s departure from Cuba on December 31, 1958, Fidel Castro began his triumphal trek across Cuba to Havana where he began to consolidate power while continuing publicly to claim that he was a democrat but privately began to infiltrate his movement with communists, alienating many who had fought with him, and began to approach the mass media threatening them with violence if they reported anything critical. As the months passed all independent media were taken over. Mass televised executions imposed fear in the populace.

Ramiro Valdez oversaw the installation of the totalitarian communist apparatus in Cuba beginning in 1959. He is now probably doing the same thing in Venezuela.  It was on his watch that the East German Stasi trained Cuban State Security.

This is how the darkness of totalitarianism took over Cuba and 57 years later remains entrenched there. Cuba gained its independence on May 20, 1902 after centuries of Spanish colonial rule and four years of U.S. occupation following the Spanish American war.

Half of Cuba's post colonial history, thus far, has been under the boot of a totalitarian caudillo whose father, ironically, fought for the Spanish crown in the war of independence.

José Martí
What would José Martí say? 

José Martí was killed in battle against Spanish troops at the Battle of Dos Ríos, near the confluence of the rivers Contramaestre and Cauto, on May 19, 1895. He is buried in the Santa Efigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Cubans the world over honor his memory and Cuban independence follows a day later. Seven years and one day after Martí's death Cuba formally obtained its independence on May 20, 1902.

Cubans across the ideological divide claim José Martí as their own. The claims of the dictatorship led by the Castro brothers that Martí is the intellectual author of their political project is ironic considering that the life and writings of this Cuban patriot is the antithesis of the Castro regime.

José Martí believed that "Peace demands of Nature the recognition of human rights." A 57 year old dictatorship that rejects fundamental human rights is the antithesis of what he fought and died for.
Furthermore, he proclaimed the idea that "One just principle from the depths of a cave is more powerful than an army." A principle shared not only by dissidents in Cuba but also echoed by Vaclav Havel, one of the dissidents who had an important role in ending Communism in Eastern Europe in the1989: "I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions."

May 20, 1902 the Cuban flag is raised and the Republic born

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Warned UNHRC in 2014 that Venezuela would spiral out of control and that it required their attention

 "These situations in Cuba and Venezuela require the Human Rights Council´s attention before they spiral out of control." - John Suarez to the UN Human Rights Council 9/15/14 

Venezuela under Maduro's regime on May 18, 2016
What is happening now in Venezuela could be foreseen, but the world chose not to act. On September 15, 2014 at the United Nations Human Rights Council  under Item 4 on the agenda I read a statement ( 1 hour 33 minutes and 59 seconds) that made the case that the failure to address human rights issues nonviolently in Syria had ended in disaster and that this would be repeated elsewhere  where human rights are systematically violated. Two examples offered up as future regional disasters where Venezuela and Cuba. Repressive regimes attempted to disrupt the presentation with points of order, but the full statement was eventually read out and is reproduced below.  

Text taken from Directorio Archives

Item 4
United Nations Human Rights Council
September 15, 2014 

We welcome the conclusions of the Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and particularly the observation that what was a “conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, once between the Government and a limited number of anti-Government armed groups, has morphed into multiple shifting conflicts involving countless actors and frontlines,” and we are in complete agreement with the report that “the regional conflagration, of which the commission has long warned, illustrates the fallacy of a military solution.” 
The disaster in Syria did not arise yesterday but is the long term result of the failure to have human rights respected there.

Unfortunately other areas exist that can also unexpectedly erupt into regional disasters. Years of freedom of expression and association being systematically outlawed, arbitrary detentions constant, along with politically motivated beatings, torture and extrajudicial killings lead to destabilizing responses.

The 2012 deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero have not been cleared up. Sonia Garro, a lady in white, remains jailed without trial since 2012 and Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga, a musician, has been jailed for his dissenting views since March 2013. 
Bassil Dacosta, Robert Redman, Génesis Carmona and Geraldine Moreno were the first shot and killed by government agents in their country in 2014.

Since February 12, 2014 forty three youths have been killed while protesting rising insecurity and vanishing rights in their country. Over 5000 have been injured and 3,000 arbitrarily detained. Investigations are needed into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 43 Venezuelan students and Cuba’s Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero.
Ms. Garro and Mr. Arzuaga should be freed.

These situations in Cuba and Venezuela require the Human Rights Council´s attention before they spiral out of control.