Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Castro's Legacy and the Future of Cuba: What's past is prologue

"What's past is prologue" - William Shakespeare, The Tempest.

Murray Bessette of VOC, Rosa María Payá of Cuba Decide, John Suarez of CFC

The Dividing Line
It is an honor that this event today is hosted by The Eric Voegelin Institute and if you'll indulge me I'd like to begin by citing Russell Kirk who wrote the following in which he cited the great political scientist from Louisiana State University in Ten Conservative Principles:
"The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal."
This division can be seen in Cuba between those who view human beings as a means to be used for material ends and those who in recognizing the intrinsic dignity of the person and the spiritual dimension to human existence understand that human beings are an end in and of themselves. Cuba endured three centuries of slavery under colonialism and has now been subjected to 58 years of communism and this is a tragic history, because on both counts a large number of Cubans were and are treated as something to be used and not as persons but the struggle for that to be changed continues.

In this spirit let me focus on two specific cases that offer a snapshot into the current Cuban reality:

Sirley Ávila León, age 56, a mother, and an ex-delegate of the Municipal People’s Assembly (Poder Popular) of Majibacoa, a relatively sparse area of Cuba did something highly unusual in Cuba that got her in trouble. She had represented her community not the dictatorship and been re-elected for three terms. She had gotten the government to establish an elementary school for the few students who lived there. Otherwise they would have had to travel nine kilometers daily to get to a school. At the same time transportation in Cuba is also a complicated affair to get around. When in 2012 the regime wanted the school shut down and Sirley began a protracted struggle to keep the school open she was confronted initially by the refusal of anyone to meet with her or the state controlled press to report on what was happening. She broke a taboo when she appealed to the international media and then had her district eliminated, in a maneuver by the regime to get her out of the position.

Cuban dissident Sirley Ávila León: Machete victim
Sirley Ávila León was gravely wounded in a machete attack on May 24, 2015 at 3:00pm by Osmany Carrión who had been "sent by state security thugs" and that she is sure that the aggression "was politically motivated." The attack was severe enough that she suffered deep cuts to her neck and knees, lost her left hand. Although Carrión was the principle assailant, his wife threw her into the mud after he cut off her hand compounding the injury with infection. It was a coordinated attack. Sirley had not recovered from her injuries, her life hanging in the balance but she was sent home in this critical state without the proper medication.

Doctors warned her that if she wanted to get proper treatment Sirley would have to leave Cuba. Thankfully the Miami Medical Team, a group of doctors, agreed to help her. She arrived in Miami on March 8, 2016 and for the next six months received medical treatment and physical rehabilitation. She regained the ability to walk limited distances and returned to Cuba on September 7, 2016. She found her home occupied and had to move in with her mom. She also learned that her assailant was free and vowing to finish the job he had started with the machete attack. A short time later a microphone and camera were placed on a post across from the mother's home to spy on her. By the end of October the threats against her life worsened and on November 1, 2016 she fled to the United States and requested asylum.

Eduardo Cardet Concepción: prisoner of conscience
Another case in which you can offer concrete help is that of a new Amnesty prisoner of conscience who faces a three year prison. Eduardo Cardet Concepción was born in Holguin, Cuba on October 25, 1968. He is a Cuban physician, politician, and national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL). He joined the MCL, one of the most important opposition groups in Cuba, then headed by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas in the early 2000s.  Eduardo was an active participant in various MCL initiatives aimed at achieving a nonviolent transition in Cuba to democracy. He was a manager of the Varela Project, the Heredia Project, The Peoples Path and  One Cuban, One Vote. Cardet held various responsibilities within the organization and was a member of the movement's coordinating council.  Eduardo was appointed Vice-President of the Christian Democratic Organization of America (ODCA) on August 23, 2013.

Following the extrajudicial killing of Oswaldo Payá  and Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012, the Christian Liberation Movement restructured its leadership and Eduardo Cardet was appointed national coordinator of the movement in November of 2014.

Due to his opposition activity Eduardo Cardet has been arbitrarily detained on several occasions. The last time he was taken prisoner by the Cuban political police was on November 30, 2016, shortly after the death of Fidel Castro. The MCL has denounced that on that occasion he was also badly beaten by Castro's state security agents. The beatings continued following his arrest in the detention center. Eduardo was taken to prison on December 7, 2016, pending a trial with a fabricated charge by the Castro regime to end his work as national coordinator of the  Christian Liberation Movement.

Eduardo Cardet is married with two children, works as a family doctor at the health center in the town of Velasco in Holguín province, where he lives. He was subjected to a political show trial on Friday, March 3, 2017 and is said to be formally sentenced on March 20, 2017 to three years in prison based on the prosecution's request. There is still time to obtain his freedom by backing the ongoing Amnesty International Urgent Action on his behalf and sending letters and e-mails to the Castro regime calling for his freedom. Please use the hashtag #FreeCardet in your social media and share it with your friends.

Past is prologue: How did it happen?

Forty two years after the founding of the first communist regime in 1917, Fidel Castro and his guerillas, with the help of international communist networks, and a U.S. weapons embargo on Fulgencio Batista succeeded in establishing the first communist outpost in the Western Hemisphere in 1959.  The Cuban communists achieved this through a combination of deceit and terror.  Communist morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of acquiring power and the Castro regime lied throughout the 1950s claiming to Cubans and the world that their movement was to restore democracy in Cuba but instead installed a totalitarian communist regime. But to understand how this happened, and what will come after, one must take a deeper look into Cuba.

Cuba, seen from space with Florida (North), Mexico (West) and  Haiti (East)
 Cuba is much more than the Castro regime.

Geography and population are important considerations. Cuba is just 90 miles south of the United States with a population of approximately 11.39 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.

History not only informs the present and the future but past actions lead to future ones. Therefore to glimpse the future of Cuba one should not only look at the wreckage of Cuban society that is the legacy of Castroism but also what came before it. Out of 525 years of history the Castro regimes 58 years constitute 11% which is a lot, but one must look at the other 89% to gain a better understanding of longer term trends.

An outpost of the Spanish Empire
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.

The indigenous tribes that existed in Cuba did not survive Spanish colonialism due mainly to small pox. Cuba's main crops throughout more than five centuries have been coffee, tobacco and sugar. In 1517 the King of Spain granted a contract for 4,000 African slaves to be introduced to Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Jamaica of which 300 were allocated to Cuba. Over 600,000 Africans would be taken from West Africa and brought to Cuba over 350 years. Slavery would continue in Cuba until 1886.

Fort of Saint Charles and the  Morro Castle (Havana, Cuba)
 Wars of independence
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 four year occupation that ended on May 20, 1902. The wars were a brutal affair with the Spaniards establishing concentration camps and relocating large numbers of Cubans, sympathetic to the rebels, who ended up dying from disease. Cuba's first president was a Cuban exile named Tomas Estrada de Palma.

Tomas Estrada de Palma, first president of Cuba 1902
Many important figures emerged in Cuba in the 19th century that still reverberate today in Cuba's national memory but for the sake of brevity will mention Father Felix Varela, Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo, and the Bacardi family.

Pope John Paul II during his 1998 visit to Cuba where he venerated Felix Varela, said of him that he is "considered by many to be the foundation stone of the Cuban national identity. He is, in his own person, the best synthesis one could find of Christian faith and Cuban culture." Antonio Maceo  was a Cuban general that played an important role in both wars of independence. Antonio Maceo was of a mixed racial background: part Spanish and part African and developed guerilla strategies and tactics that are still studied today. 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. He died in one of the early skirmishes in the second war of independence.

The Bacardi family, began their rum business in Santiago de Cuba. 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.

Future first Cuban president Tomas Estrada de Palma on way to Havana
 Cuban Democracy
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. The beginning of the Cuban republic 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.

Fulgencio Batista
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.

Cuba's last democratically elected presidents: Carlos Prío and Ramon Grau San Martin
The Coup
This democratic renaissance was brought to an end within days of the 1952 presidential elections, when on March 10, 1952 Fulgencio Batista organized a coup against Carlos Prio, the last democratically elected president in Cuba.

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, 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. Batista pardoned Castro in 1955 and the guerilla fled to Mexico, regrouped and returned to Cuba in 1956 and carried on the war against Batista in the Sierra Maestra. By early 1958 the United States had placed an arms embargo on the Batista regime.

Executed in Santiago de Cuba by the Castro regime in 1959
Totalitarian darkness takes hold 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 totalitarianism took over Cuba and 58 years later remains entrenched there.

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

Fidel Castro eliminated later critics from official photographs
The Resistance
Between 1960 and 1966 there was an insurgency in the mountains of the Escambray that fought the Castro regime made up mostly of farmers and rebels that had fought the Batista Regime demanding a democratic restoration. The rebels turned against the Castro brothers when they saw them establishing a new dictatorship. The Castro dictatorship called it the "War against the Bandits." Tom Gjelten in his book Bacardi and the Long Fight for Freedom gives an account of what took place:
With the guidance of Soviet counterinsurgency experts, Castro sent thousands of army troops into the mountains to pursue the guerrillas. Captured Escambray insurgents were often executed on the spot, and in a move reminiscent of the Spanish army's "reconcentration" strategy during the independence war, Castro ordered the relocation of entire villages where the guerillas enjoyed mass support. The villagers were moved en masse to western Cuba, where they could be closely monitored. 
The guerrillas were eventually exterminated and the uprising was crushed by 1966. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in their April 7, 1967 special report on Cuba documented that on May 25, 1963 the Castro regime issued orders to the armed forces that any peasant seen out of their home after 8:00pm and before 5:00am be executed without a trial by an official of the army or the militia. They also provided numerous examples of young Cubans who were detained and summarily executed.

Raul Castro preparing prisoner for firing squad execution
For example the IACHR documented the October 24, 1964 armed invasion of the Uruguayan embassy in Cuba by forces of the Cuban government in order to machine gun to death four Cubans that had sought asylum there.

On the dawn of May 27, 1966, around six in the morning until sunset, about six in the afternoon they were, executing, by firing squad and with single shots (coup de grâce) in the fortress of La Cabaña in Havana, political prisoners, civilians and military. The firing squad was composed of three members of the militia and one officer. The severity of these events is even greater, when one adds that the executed were previously subjected to the procedure of blood extraction to replenish the Blood Bank. 166 Cuban civilians and military were executed and subjected to the medical procedures for drawing blood at a rate of an average of 7 pints per person. This blood was sold to Communist Vietnam at a rate of $ 50 per pint. Relatives to see their imprisoned loved ones also had to "donate" blood.

The IACHR also reported that on October 23, 1966 a group of young Cubans tried to flee Cuba swimming from the populated coast of Caimanera to the Guantanamo naval base. The "Frontier Batallion" of the Cuban government pursued them and shot them with automatic weapons killing three of the four of which two were identified:Pedro Baraña age 35 and Francisco Arcano Galano age 21. Their bodies were found floating in Guantánamo Bay. The same type of action was denounced in 1993 with the addition of grenades used against defenseless swimmers.

The full number of dead may never be known, but the killings continued afterwards and overall estimates range from 12,000 to 100,000 if one includes those who have died trying to cross the Florid Straits. The number of political prisoners in Cuba in the 1960s alone was estimated to be 60,000 and 100,000 political prisoners over the past half century.

Dr. Ricardo Bofill in Havana, Cuba in the 1980s
Human Rights and the Nonviolent Resistance
Out of the terror, extrajudicial killings and consolidation of totalitarian rule the seeds of a new resistance began to germinate within the Cuban prisons ending in the emergence of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights on January 28, 1976. Cuban author and academic Carlos Alberto Montaner described how this movement came into existence during a speech in 2009 in Madrid, Spain:
Finally, in 1976, half a dozen Cuban opposition actvists with leftist backgrounds were summoned by professor Ricardo Bofill [3] and founded in Havana the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, the first political organization in the nation's history to expressly renounce violence as a method of struggle. The group decided to abide by the rule of law to reclaim the rights quashed by the dictatorship. Meanwhile, in exile in Washington, about the same time, Mrs. Elena Mederos, former minister in the revolutionary government, and activist and political scientist Frank Calzón, founded Of Human Rights with the same objective: to defend, by nonviolent and legal means, persecuted individuals, dissidents and political prisoners in Cuba.
The struggle against communist regimes typically involves two phases. The first an armed uprising as was the case in Poland in 1944, in Hungary in 1956, and throughout most of Eastern Europe. The second phase is nonviolent and involves human rights activism, the emergence of alternative social institutions and independent civil society. In Poland it was the Solidarity movement, and in Czechoslovakia it was the Velvet Revolution and in Estonia it was the "Singing Revolution." Although the collapse of these regimes occurred quickly in the media cycle; the actual opposition dynamics took years and decades.

Oswaldo Payá, Antonio Díaz Sánchez, and Regis Iglesias deliver Varela Project

A nonviolent movement has also been underway in Cuba for decades. For example, the Christian Liberation Movement was founded in 1988 by lay Catholics at their local parish in Havana in the neighborhood of the Cerro. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was the chief spokesman of the movement and the chief strategist behind initiatives such as the Varela Project, the Heredia Project and the Peoples Path.

The Varela Project, named after a 19th Century Cuban priest, sought to reform the Cuban legal system working within its own laws via referendum. According to Article 88(g) of the Cuban Constitution Cubans can push through a legislative initiative via a petition with 10,000 signatures. In May of 2002 Oswaldo Payá along with Regis Iglesias Ramirez, Tony Diaz Sanchez and others turned in 11,020 signatures to the rubber stamp Cuban National Assembly.

The Cuban government's response was to organize its own mandatory petition drive to make the Cuban Constitution "unchangeable" and on March 18, 2003 it launched the Cuban Black Spring rounding up 100 activists and sentencing 75 of them to long prison terms of up to 28 years in prison. The dictatorship thought that this draconian response along with the execution of 3 young Afro-Cubans who had tried to hijack a ferry out of Cuba would shut down dissent.

Within days of the crackdown the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of the 75 activists formed the Ladies in White. Meeting on Sundays they would go to Mass at the Catholic Church and then march silently carrying white gladioli demanding that their loved ones be freed. They would also hold literary teas at the home of the chief spokeswoman of the movement, Laura Pollán, a former school teacher. Ten years later they are still marching, their loved ones now out of prison, they continue to walk demanding that all political prisoners be freed and the laws changed so that new ones not replace them.

The leaders of the nonviolent civic resistance movement have paid the ultimate price in their struggle for freedom. Laura Pollán after years of suffering beatings, a fracture, injections from government mobs, became ill and in the space of a week died on October 14, 2011. A Cuban dissident doctor who examined her treatment described it as "purposeful medical neglect."

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and the youth leader of his movement, Harold Cepero, died on July 22, 2012 following a car crash under suspicious circumstances. The Payá family has called for an international investigation into the deaths of both Oswaldo and Harold. Rosa María Payá, Oswaldo's daughter, continues her father's struggle today for a free Cuba as well as pursuing justice for her dad in the Cuba Decide campaign.

The Bacardi family, forced into exile by the Castro regime, has maintained the traditions of the Cuban Republic observing independence day on May 20th, carrying on the family business, continuing the fight for a free Cuba and battling the dictatorship in the courts over trademarks for their rum brands.

Fidel and Raul Castro at 2016 Communist Party Congress

U.S.-Cuba Policy
U.S. - Cuba policy over the past 58 years has had four approaches that began when the Eisenhower Administration quickly recognized the Castro regime in January of 1959, after having placed an arms embargo on the Batista dictatorship in March of 1958. Castro's seizing of U.S. businesses on the island and embrace of the Soviet Union led to a cooling of relations, the end of diplomatic relations and sanctions.  This was followed by attempts to overthrow the dictatorship with the Bay of Pigs invasion and Operation Mongoose that failed during the Kennedy Administration culminating in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and some speculate the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.

This led to the adoption of a containment policy involving an economic embargo and diplomatic isolation that raised the cost on the Castro regime's efforts to subvert other governments in the Western Hemisphere that carried on until the Carter Administration in 1977 scrapped much of the Cuban embargo and began taking steps towards normal diplomatic relations.

Under Carter, Clinton and Obama attempts to normalize relations with the Castro regime led to a worsening human rights situation in Cuba, the regime projecting itself more into hemispheric affairs undermining governments and coinciding with the rise of other communist regimes: Nicaragua in 1979, Venezuela in 1999 and now Colombia teeters on the brink. Migration crises from Cuba that negatively impacted the United States also coincided with Carter, Clinton and Obama who pursued a neo-appeasement policy with Cuba. Economic sanctions have saved American taxpayers billions in payouts unlike their Canadian, Mexican, European and Japanese counterparts.

Ambassador Armando Valladares
The Reagan Administration in 1981 rolled back the Carter opening to Castro and pushed forward with Radio Marti in an effort to break the Castro regime's information monopoly. President Reagan appointed a former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares, Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1987. The results were positive in the sense that for the only time in 58 years the International Committee of the Red Cross was able to visit Cuban political prisoners, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were allowed into Cuba, and the UN Human Rights Commission was able to enter and author a report on the human rights situation on the island.

Lamentably, the international community led by the Obama Administration over the past eight years pursued policies that legitimized the Castro regime and have assisted in the regime's succession more than it has a democratic transition. Opposition leaders have been murdered and the dictatorship shored up with new loans and the refinancing of old debts. The Trump Administration has announced that it is conducting a review of U.S. - Cuba policy creating a moment of uncertainty. The Obama Administration's executive orders run afoul of current US law and must be repealed if the rule of law is to be respected.

Out of the three policies containment, especially under the Reagan Administration, served U.S. interests best to date with a combination of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation when applied to limiting the Castro regime's threat in the region.

However, in Eastern Europe the Reagan Administration abandoned detente but did not return to containment preferring to pursue a policy of rollback that liberated tens of millions of people. The future of Cuba as always is in the hands of Cubans, and only time will tell how and when things will change for the better but international solidarity from the world's democracies can contribute to speeding up rather then delaying that process by legitimizing a 58 year old totalitarian regime.

 What of the future?
There are two competing agendas in Cuba. The Castro regime is trying to achieve a succession to continue Castroism under a new generation. Fidel Castro died on November 25, 2016 but the old tyrant had been a diminished actor for years with his brother General Raul Castro in charge since 2006 when the elder Castro became ill. Cuban dissidents and opposition activists are working towards a democratic transition and an end to totalitarian communist rule in Cuba. They seek to empower Cubans and restore their sovereignty.

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