Friday, June 30, 2017

Forget Castro: Next month we observe five years since two were killed that would've led a free Cuba transition

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

History knows the names Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Mart Laar, and Vytautas Landsbergis all of whom presided over the liberation of their countries: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, and Lithuania respectively. These movements had the solidarity of the free world and the Catholic Church which offered a measure of protection and moral support that made a difference.

Sadly others have not had such support. This is the case with dissidents in China and the moral failing of the West to back Chinese democrats in 1989 in order to pursue commercial interests with their communist oppressors. The consequences are seen today with an aggressive communist regime in China with a modern military that backs rogue regimes such as North Korea. The political show trial of Chinese scholar, dissident and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo in 2009 who has spent the past eight years unjustly imprisoned and today faces terminal liver cancer and the specter of medical neglect while in the custody of the Chinese communists.

The same holds true in Cuba where the embrace of commercial priorities, especially during the previous Administration coincided with the deaths of many high profile dissident leaders. Next month on July 22nd friends, family and human rights activists the world over will remember Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante two who were killed for dedicating their lives to a nonviolent transition to democracy and freedom in Cuba.

Harold Cepero (age 32) was a youth leader in the Christian Liberation Movement of which Oswaldo Payá was a founder. In 2002 he was expelled from the university for his role in a petition drive to reform Cuban laws to bring them in line with international human rights standards. At the time he wrote a statement on the injustice of what was taking place not only for him, but Cuban society as a whole:
"They are wanting to perpetuate something that it is not even known if it is fair, and in this manner they are denying the progress of a society that wants something new, something that really guarantees a dignified place for every Cuban. They are pressuring people or preventing them from expressing their true feelings, they are cultivating fear in the nation."

Vaclav Havel and Oswaldo Payá meet in Prague (2002)
 Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (age 60) spent his entire life advocating for Cuban freedom and consequently in opposition to the Castro regime's tyranny. He exchanged letters communicating with Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel. When Havel passed away in December 2011 Oswaldo Payá remembered his friend stating:
Havel, precursor and guide to liberation in this new era. God receive you, friend in solidarity with the cause of democracy in Cuba. Personally I lose an inspiring friend, from whom I received a great education. Always grateful to Havel for the reception he gave me.
Havel met Oswaldo in Prague in 2002 but Lech Walesa never did and following the Cuban dissident's death observed:
I regret that I never had the opportunity to meet with Oswaldo and personally express my admiration for his courage and his extraordinary spiritual strength. But Oswaldo, although he died, in my memory he will remain alive forever. I am confident he will stay alive in the memory of all, for whom freedom and human rights are a fundamental value. 
We owe it not only to these two Cuban martyrs but all Cubans to remember and place their struggle into the Cuban historical context. Furthermore all people of good will should continue to demand an international investigation into the suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths of Oswaldo and Harold.

Polish solidarity leader, Lech Walesa sent his condolences to the Payá family on July 23, 2012 and eight days later on July 31, 2012 in a second communication called for an international investigation:
 It's hard to calm the pain and be resigned to the loss of a loved one. It is difficult to understand the meaning of this suffering, when the family is denied the truth about the circumstances of the death of someone close. The lack of official information, the denial of contact with the participants of the accident, raises questions about the version of events presented in the mass media in Cuba. That is why I am supporting your efforts and those of the MCL for an open transparent investigation and to convene an international commission
Five years have passed and both the demand and need for justice continue to be called for around the world. How do you plan to remember and honor Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

#WithLiuXiaobo : Free Liu Xiaobo and let him and his wife Liu Xia travel abroad to get medical care

Jailed Chinese dissident diagnosed with terminal liver cancer granted medical parole but not allowed to move around freely.

Share hashtag #WithLiuXiaobo and post a selfie with Liu Xiaobo
Unjustly imprisoned for over eight years China's Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiabo is seriously ill and although granted medical parole continues to be arbitrarily detained, although now in a hospital diagnosed with terminal liver cancer his access and movement continue to be restricted. His wife, Liu Xia says that her husband, according to The Guardian, "cannot be given surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy," allegedly "because the cancer is so advanced." Chinese Human Rights Defenders reports that individuals in custody, like Liu Xiaobo, have been denied medical treatment and is a life threatening form of torture. The NGO is calling for him to be freed and allowed to choose doctors and treatment.

Nonviolent dissident, scholar and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the crime of speaking. He had already been jailed for more than a year for being one of the authors of Charter 08 that sought to gather signatures in a petition calling on the Chinese regime to gradually shift toward democracy. Liu Xiaobo had played a prominent role in the June 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square engaging in a hunger strike that he mentioned in a statement he made on December 23, 2009 during the political show trial he was being subjected to:
But I still want to say to this regime, which is depriving me of my freedom, that I stand by the convictions I expressed in my "June Second Hunger Strike Declaration" twenty years ago ‑ I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies. Although there is no way I can accept your monitoring, arrests, indictments, and verdicts, I respect your professions and your integrity, including those of the two prosecutors, Zhang Rongge and Pan Xueqing, who are now bringing charges against me on behalf of the prosecution. During interrogation on December 3, I could sense your respect and your good faith.
Hatred can rot away at a person's intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation's development and social change, to counter the regime's hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love.

Hard to believe that it has already been eight years and Liu Xiaobo, this symbol of human rights has spent all that time in a Chinese dungeon. Seven years ago, less than a month before the Chinese communist court had rejected Liu Xiaobo's appeal in a process that began with an arbitrary detention in mid 2009. I first addressed the plight of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010 at the opening of the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy:
"Chinese Dissident Liu Xiaobo was arrested on June 23, 2009 and charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for co-authoring Charter 08, a declaration calling for political reform, greater human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China that has been signed by hundreds of individuals from all walks of life throughout the country. On December 25, 2009 Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison and two years' deprivation of political rights. The Beijing High Court rejected his appeal on February 11, 2010."
On January 19, 2010 Havel met with the Executive Director of Human Rights in China, Sharon Hom, and engaged her in a dialogue/interview about Liu Xiaobo, Charter 08 and the struggle for democratic reform in China. When asked about the similarities between China today and Czechloslovakia in 1977 explained that:
The similarities, I would say, are in the basic structure of human rights reflected in a democratic system, which of course the regime doesn’t want. The regime wishes for the dictatorship of one party. I think this is where Charter 08 and Charter 77 are similar: they have similar targets and similar messages to deliver to the [respective] regimes.
On February 3, 2010 both Czech and Slovak members of parliament nominated Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination was also endorsed by Vaclav Havel and many of the former spokespersons of Charter 77. The 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate, Herta Müller, in a letter to the Nobel Foundation on behalf of Liu Xiaobo wrote:
I have urgent request to make to you today. As you know, Vaclav Havel nominated the Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize 2010.[...]I, too, believe that Liu Xiaobo deserves the Nobel Peace Prize because in the face of countless threats from the Chinese regime and great risk to his life, he has fought unerringly for the freedom of the individual.
Eight months after the rejection of his appeal on October 8, 2010 the Nobel Committee in Norway awarded this Chinese dissident and Amnesty International prisoner of conscience the Nobel Peace Prize despite threats from the Chinese regime. As December 10th, the day for the ceremony to recognize the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, approached the Chinese regime engaged in a human rights crackdown in Mainland China. Neither he or his wife, Liu Xia, who has been kept under house arrest, were allowed to attend. The actress Liv Ullman read the final statement that Liu Xiaobo read out at his December 2009 trial titled: "I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement" already mentioned and cited above.

If you care about the plight of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia then you too will share the hashtag #WithLiuXiaobo and post a picture of yourself with the Nobel Laureate calling on the Chinese government to let Liu Xiaobo and his wife travel overseas to seek treatment.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Cuban dissident sent to the madhouse of death for defying regime

The price of dissent in totalitarian Cuba today

Daniel Llorente running with an American flag chased by secret police on May Day
On May Day 2017 Daniel Llorente Miranda (age 52) a Cuban dissident unfurled an American flag and ran in front of the official gathering in Havana, Cuba. The image captured by international media captured the imagination of many around the world. It was a symbol of freedom and of defiance by a Cuba who understands that "Freedom begins in the mind and that is something that has to change in Cubans, they are afraid to tell the truth. The truth is that in Cuba there is a system where the biggest beneficiary is the government. The people work and benefit the State." Moments later he was tackled down by state security agents and quickly whisked away.

Daniel Llorente knocked down by political police and about to be roughed up
He was charged with "public disorder and resistance" and was initially held at the Technical Department of Investigations of the Police in 100 and Aldabó and the official media slandered his courageous action as an "annexationist dialogue." 

Things took a more sinister turn when over three weeks ago Daniel Llorente Miranda was transferred to the Comandante Dr. Bernabé Ordaz Ducungé Psychiatric Hospital better known by its pre-revolutionary name Mazorra.

Using psychiatric facilities to torture dissidents is a practice that originated in the Soviet Union but was adopted early on by the Castro regime's intelligence services. In the Cuban case Mazorra is a madhouse of death were patients have died by the score from exposure to the elements and neglect by hospital staff.

Cuba's National Psychiatric Hospital "Mazorra"
Daniel Llorente Miranda has been terrorized, responded by going on hunger strike and is now requesting to be exiled. This is the price of dissent in totalitarian Cuba. When you defy the dictatorship you risk: arbitrary detention, death or exile.

Daniel is imprisoned and his life is in danger. He carried out a series of protests and risked all to try to raise the conscience of Cubans and their desire for freedom. The price he is paying is a steep one and he is asking for international solidarity and asylum.

Three of 26 patients who died of exposure in 2010 in Cuba


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Maduro regime still murdering Venezuelan youth but it is failing to silence protests and generating outrage

 Venezuela, June 24, 2017

Protesters shout "murderers" in Carlota, Francisco Fajardo highway

22-year-old David Vallenilla was shot and killed by the military police and is the 75th killed in anti-government protests in Venezuela on June 22, 2017. This has failed to quell protests and is generating outrage among Venezuelans.

The Associated Press reported the following today: "Venezuelan anti-government protesters once again took to the Francisco Fajardo highway Saturday in response to the latest casualty from the protest movement, a 22-year-old student who was shot and killed Thursday."  However the video does not reflect what was taking place at the peak of the protest but only the aftermath.

The press is also failing to mention the extensive involvement of the Castro regime's intelligence services and military assisting Maduro's repressive forces repressing and killing peaceful Venezuelan protesters.

Communism has killed over 100 million persons over the course of the 20th century and continues to do so in the 21st in places like Venezuela.  What Hugo Chavez called "socialism of the 21st century" looks a lot like "communism of the 20th century": a deadly totalitarian failure.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Christian Solidarity Worldwide: Young Cuban religious freedom defender blocked from leaving Cuba

Cuban religious freedom activist Félix Yuniel Llerena has been banned from travel after he returned from his first trip outside of Cuba.


Félix Yuniel Llerena banned from travel

Religious Freedom Defender Blocked From Leaving

19 Jun 2017

By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

A religious freedom defender has been blocked from leaving Cuba to attend a conference on human rights and democracy. Fếlix Llerena López was preparing to board his flight on Saturday 17 June, when state security agents approached him and took him into an office where they informed him that he was barred from leaving the country. 

While Llerena López was not given a reason for the travel ban, he was told that it had been put in place after he returned from a visit to the United States (US) in May, his first trip outside of the country. Llerena López works with the Patmos Institute, an independent civil society organisation which promotes freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all and inter-religious dialogue. While he was in the US, he raised concerns about FoRB violations in meetings with US government officials and members of Congress arranged by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Llerena Lopez was expelled from university shortly after his return.

In addition, last week, a prominent leader in the Apostolic Movement, Pastor Alain Toledano, was visited by state security agents and Communist Party officials at his home in Santiago de Cuba, who showed him an ‘acta de advertencia’, or a pre-arrest warrant, which he is concerned may also be used to block him from traveling abroad.

 In a statement to CSW, Pastor Toledano said, “…the strategy that the police are using here is that they come one by one to the house, they don’t send a citation, nothing written down, and they don’t give you a copy of the ‘actas de advertencia’ against you, even if you ask for one, since they know it can be used against them. They are perfecting their methods so as not to leave any traces of their persecution and acts of evil against the churches and ministries, even as we suffer here in the country.”

While the government requirement for an exit visa was dropped in 2013, there has been an increase in the number of Cuban activists involved with independent civil society organisations and the defence of human rights or democracy being blocked from leaving the country. In one example, that of Karina Gálvez, who works with Convivencia, an independent civil society organisation in Pinar del Rio. The government has brought trumped up charges against her which prevent her from leaving the country. In other cases, like that of Llerena López and also Berta Soler, a leader of the Ladies in White Movement who was prevented from leaving the country last month, officials have simply blocked them from boarding flights out of the country with no official justification given. 

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We are deeply concerned by what has happened to Felix Llerena López and Pastor Toledano over the past week, and condemn what appears to be a wider strategy of arbitrarily blocking certain human rights and democracy activists, including religious leaders and FoRB defenders, from leaving the country. We call on the European Union, the United States and other members of the international community to raise this with the Cuban authorities and to push for the right of freedom of movement to be respected for all, especially those who are involved in peaceful religious activities and the promotion of universally recognised human rights.”

Related article:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cuba policy, the Alan Gross precedent and the death of Otto Frederick Warmbier

 Actions have consequences
Alan Gross before and after 5 years in a Cuban prison

American Alan Gross was arrested on December 3, 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison. Alan Gross, an American citizen, spent 25 days in a Havana jail before being visited by a U.S. diplomat. Gross's supposed "crime" was providing uncensored internet access to local Jewish communities, but in reality it was to test the resolve of the new Administration that had just entered office. The signal sent was that Mr. Gross was not a priority and the drive to normalize relations was. Alan Gross was finally freed on December 17, 2014 emaciated, missing teeth and exchanged in a swap with Cuban spies, one of which was serving a life sentence for murder conspiracy. Unfortunately other outlaw regimes were also paying attention and taking hostages knowing that it would provide leverage to advance foreign policy goals as it had the Castro regime.

College student Otto Wambier was sentenced to 15 years in prison and hard labor in March 2016 for trying to steal a political propaganda poster in North Korea. One year and three months later he was released to the United States in a coma acquired in prison allegedly from botulism and died a day after his return. Fred Warmbier, Otto's father, in a press conference prior to the young man's death lamented that the previous Administration 'could have done more.' Worse yet they told the Warmbier family to keep a "low profile" so as not to "upset the North Koreans." "We've been forced to be quiet and act different because we didn't want to 'offend them."

Cuba and North Korea have close relations. Cuba was caught smuggling tons of weapons including warplanes and missiles on a North Korean ship in 2013 in violation of international sanctions. These type of regimes share information on their bad practices.

Alan Gross got out alive, but Otto Wambier was not so lucky. Otto Warmbier's death in North Korea is the responsibility of Kim Jong-un but bad policy contributed. The legacy of appeasing dictators played a role in ending the life of a 22 year old American college student.

Otto Wambier: December 12, 1994 - June 19, 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The New U.S. Cuba Policy: A good first step

The reality versus the spin

President Trump at the Manuel Artime Theater with Cuban Americans
Friday, June 16, 2017 was a good day  for Cuba's freedom at the Manuel Artime Theater. On February 3, 2017 White House spokesman Sean Spicer announced that the Trump Administration was in the midst "of a full review of all U.S. policies towards Cuba" and that human rights was a priority.  Over four months later with the input of all interested parties in the government having a voice a new policy was announced in stark contrast to what the prior Administration did.

The Trump Administration took a first step to address the previous Cuba policy's shortcomings releasing the "National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba" that begins by defining what will guide this new policy:
My Administration's policy will be guided by the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, as well as solidarity with the Cuban people.  I will seek to promote a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people.  To that end, we must channel funds toward the Cuban people and away from a regime that has failed to meet the most basic requirements of a free and just society.
The previous US Cuba policy was drawn up in secret, excluding Congressmen, Senators and even the State Department but included high ranking members of the Castro regime, among them Raul Castro's son, Alejandro Castro, with a small group of Administration officials led by an individual with a degree in creative writing. The end result did not advance U.S. national interests, marginalized Cuban dissidents, and worsened human rights in Cuba.

Cuban Americans where told that the new Cuba policy was unchangeable and Hillary Clinton openly campaigned on lifting sanctions on the Castro regime and her running mate Senator Tim Kaine said, "...we may have a fast or slow process, but we're not going back". This led the Brigade 2506 to endorse Mr. Trump for President on October 25, 2016.  Donald J. Trump got 54% of the Cuban American vote in 2016 that helped him win Florida. Elections have consequences and Cuba policy is being changed.

What is taking place now is a debate over what U.S. Cuba policy should be defined by what would serve the just interests of the United States. The previous policy failed on several counts and needs to be dismantled and replaced.  The memorandum and Friday's statement by President Trump is a good start but much more needs to be done.

Critics of President Trump's Cuba policy announcement such as Fabiola Santiago call this policy announcement "window dressing, a way for Trump to save face with Bay of Pigs veterans and his Cuban-American supporters," trying to downplay its importance but the howls of indignation indicate that it is not cosmetic.

The Miami Herald Editorial praising the new Cuba policy, "Trump right to make Cuba pay for its intransigence," will give some insight into all the angry noise from those who backed the previous policy:
Trump’s new measures are designed to exert more pressure on Havana to reform itself." ... "Trump is right to recalibrate this policy without jettisoning it wholesale. In one of the most important changes, transactions with the Business Administration Group, S.A — GAESA — will be prohibited. GAESA is the company of the Cuban Armed Forces that, according to estimates, controls 60 percent of the Cuban economy."

Read more here:
This recalibration is a shift in direction but how far it will go depends on what is done over the next three years. When the previous Administration announced the new Cuba policy on December 17, 2014 in a post titled "Obama's Legacy: Normalizing relations with an Abnormal Regime" the observation was made that "President Obama in his address gave the impression that the economic embargo had been completely lifted and that is not the case."

Read more here:
Then, the Obama White House took a step in a drive to set a new policy that over  2015 - 2016 would continue to radically change U.S. Cuba policy. The Obama State Department politicized the human trafficking report to benefit the Castro regime, and took Cuba off the list of state terror sponsors. President Obama signed executive orders repeatedly loosening sanctions, carried out an official state visit that helped to raise the profile of Raul Castro's son Alejandro Castro as a successor, ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to share information with the Castro regime's secret police in October 2016, and finally shut the door on fleeing Cubans in January of 2017. All of this that unfolded could be traced back to secret negotiations begun in mid 2016, a handshake between President Obama and Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's funeral on December 10, 2013, although formally announced on December 17, 2014.

June 16th, like December 17, 2014, marked a turning point in Cuba policy. In both cases claims were made that exceeded the changes announced at the time. What was announced on December 17, 2014 set the direction on Cuba policy for the rest of the Obama Administration.  However on both occasions a tone was set that was equally important.

President Obama described the premeditated act of state terrorism carried out on Fidel and Raul Castro's orders on February 24, 1996 as a "tragic circumstance" on December 19, 2014 while ignoring the open indictments on members of the Cuban military directly involved in the shoot down by U.S. courts. The human rights situation in Cuba during the Obama administration deteriorated and there was a body count that coincided with the normalization drive that first began in 2009 and continued to the end of that Presidency.

President Trump identified the Castro regime for what it is and denounced it for its past crimes in dramatic contrast with his predecessor:
"To the Cuban government, I say:  Put an end to the abuse of dissidents.  Release the political prisoners.  Stop jailing innocent people.  Open yourselves to political and economic freedoms.  Return the fugitives from American justice -- including the return of the cop-killer Joanne Chesimard. And finally, hand over the Cuban military criminals who shot down and killed four brave members of Brothers to the Rescue who were in unarmed, small, slow civilian planes.  (Applause.) Those victims included Mario de la Pena, Jr., and Carlos Costa."
Last year during the campaign Donald Trump met with Cuban exiles and listened to their concerns. Attending the gathering on Friday where Cuban opposition activists from the island such as Angel Moya, Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez", Antonio Rodiles, Martha Beatriz Roque, and young Cuban millennials such as Rey Anthony Lastre who'd taken to the streets to protest the previous policy in 2014 and 2015 when Hillary Clinton advocated the lifting of the Cuba embargo when she visited Florida International University. 

Among the human rights activists sitting front and center behind President Trump was Rosa María Payá Acevedo whose father Oswaldo Payá and friend Harold Cepero were both murdered on July 22, 2012 for denouncing the fake change the Castro regime was preparing to carry out. Rosa is 28 years old. She was able to talk to President Trump and hand him information on Cuba Decide's campaign for a plebiscite and on the murder of her dad and friend.

Contrast this with how she was treated by the Obama Administration when Rosa María attended a press conference, as an accredited member of the press (she'd been writing a blog for a newspaper) she was threatened by the State Department spokesman that if she asked a question she would be forcibly removed to avoid offending the sensibilities of Castro's Foreign Minister. The exchange was caught on video by other journalists who were present.

Sitting nearby was Sirley Avila Leon, who was the victim of a brutal machete attack in May of 2015 planned by Cuban state security in retaliation for her opposition activities.

Also present was Silvia Iriondo of Mothers Against Repression, who was aboard the one Brothers to the Rescue plane that made it back on February 24, 1996 the day two other planes of that same organization where shot down in a premeditated act of state terrorism ordered by Fidel and Raul Castro.

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, the most well known opposition group in the island, released a letter supporting the Trump Administration's shift in Cuba policy and thanking President Trump for mentioning them during speech:
In my capacity as leader of the Cuban non-violent human rights defenders, the Damas de Blanco, I am honored to convey to you the warmest thanks from all the members of our organization, including our four Damas recently sentenced to up to 3 years in prison, for your kind mention of our struggle. These days, Mr. President, when most of the World responds with a deafening silence to the harassment, arbitrary detentions, beatings, house searches, and robberies against peaceful opponents, human rights activists and defenseless women, your words of encouragement are most welcomed. 
Important elements of the dissident movement in Cuba, victims of repression are supporting this change in direction and rhetoric. Time will tell if this positive turn of events signals a profound and continuing change in Cuba policy that unfolds over the years to come.

Read more here:

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The American case for a reboot of U.S. Cuba policy

Current Cuba policy does not serve the just interests of the United States

 Raul Castro with North Korea's Army Chief, General Kim Kyok-sik
 Cuba is a communist totalitarian regime, a political model that over the past century has claimed over 100 million lives of the people they govern. Manufactured famines are a feature of this type of regime. This type of regime once installed is difficult to dislodge. Furthermore the Castro regime is hostile to U.S. interests and has allied with enemies of the United States such as North Korea, and has successfully sought to undermine democracies in the Western Hemisphere, and promote terrorism world wide.

What we are undergoing now is a debate over what U.S. Cuba policy should be and as a conservative I ask: "What would serve the just interests of the United States?" The current policy fails on several counts and needs to be dismantled and replaced.

First, during the previous Administration the effort at outreach and loosening economic sanctions coincided with an emboldened dictatorship in Cuba that invited back the Russians, was caught smuggling heavy weapons (including war planes and missile technology) to North Korea, got its hands on a U.S. Hellfire missile, used in NATO exercises in Europe, on its way back to the United States ended up in Cuba by June of 2014. Despite a request from the Administration, Cuba refused to return it until it became a public embarrassment over a year later in February of 2016. All this took place while the White House was secretly negotiating with the Castro regime.

Mystery: How did a US Hellfire missile (pictured above) end up in Cuba?
Second, the rest of the world that trades with Cuba is owed billions of dollars and the Castro regime has defaulted on tens of billions of dollars more over the years. The argument made U.S. law should be changed to provide this notorious deadbeat regime credit would end up leaving U.S. taxpayers holding the bag to subsidize the dictatorship in Cuba. This is what the citizens Canadians, Mexicans, Italians, Spaniards, Argentineans, Japanese, Russians an other nations have been doing for decades. It is also what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Ag lobby do not want Americans to know. How does it serve U.S. interests to subsidize a hostile military junta in Cuba with taxpayer dollars in order to destabilize democracies and support regimes that want to do harm to the United States?

The Chamber's dirty Cuba secret
Third, the fruits of the policy can be seen today in Venezuela where tens of thousands of agents of the Cuban government assist in the building of a totalitarian dictatorship there, killing nonviolent Venezuelan protesters, while infiltrating all levels of government.  The Castro regime's intelligence services and military have a high level and active presence in the country. Doing business in Cuba, almost always necessitates doing business with the government, at a time when Venezuelans are being killed by Cubans in Caracas, this is a profound injustice.

1975 Fraunces Tavern bombing committed by Cuban backed FALN
Fourth, Cuba despite having a track record of sponsoring and training international terrorists since the 1960s, placed on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism when it was discovered that the regime used drug trafficking to finance a revolutionary guerilla group in Colombia. Despite continued bad actions by the Cuban government, the previous Administration to satisfy demands by Raul Castro, in order to restore normal diplomatic relations removed them from the above mentioned list and freed a Cuban spy serving a life sentence for conspiracy to murder four Americans, including a retired U.S. marine.

Cocaine from Cuban ship hidden under molasses discovered in Panama 2016
 Furthermore to share drug intelligence with a government with a half century track record linked to facilitating drug trafficking into the U.S. does not serve American interests, but places in harms way countless young Americans with the explosive growth of drug smuggling.  In 2016 a shipment of 401kilos of cocaine was discovered camouflaged under molasses.

Fifth, the October 2016 Presidential Policy Directive ordering U.S. intelligence agencies to share information with the Castro regime's spy agency considering all the above is a profound threat to the just interests of the United States, endangering lives and property. It needs to be ended immediately.

Finally, the United States since its founding has been a symbol of liberty that over time has worked to build a more perfect union in which civil liberties have expanded and deepened for most of its history. The advocacy for human rights, siding with the victims of repression, and advocating for greater freedoms is an element of the soft power of the United States that is weakened by going back to the old ways of embracing dictators for economic interests. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Please U2 consider adding Cuban women democrats to your Ultraviolet montage on Women's movements

Open plea to the Irish rock band to consider adding images of Cuban women human rights defenders to their tribute to women's movements during the song Ultraviolet.

Images of women's movements and movement leaders during U2 concert

Dear Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry:

Great show tonight in Miami. One Republic was also a great opening band. Furthermore thank you for your shout out of support tonight for Senator Marco Rubio, and his support for AIDS funding for those most in need. I've been a U2 fan since high school, remembered your performance during the Conspiracy of Hope tour in in 1986 and seen all your concerts in Miami beginning with the Pop tour and was there on June 29, 2011 when you gave a shout out of concern for Cuban human rights defender Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet:
"Now I would like you to do something we've never done before. A beautiful man, a doctor who has spent his time in the prisons of Cuba. He is also released. His name is Dr. Biscet. I want you to hold him up. Let everyone in Cuba know that he is special to us and we are watching WE ARE WATCHING. Hold him in your thoughts. Hold him in your prayers."
The past six years have been difficult ones and although Dr. Biscet, perhaps thanks to your shout out, is still alive and doing well others have not been so fortunate.

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo died on October 14, 2011 at 7:50pm from heart failure at the age of 63 under suspicious circumstances in the custody of Cuban State Security. Dr. Biscet called it a case of purposeful medical neglect. Laura was one of the founders of the Ladies in White, a movement nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and winner of the European Union's Sakharov Prize.

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo (1948 - 2011)
The Ladies in White came into existence in the midst of a government crackdown in Cuba that imprisoned 75 Cuban human rights defenders in March of 2003 sentencing them to long and unjust prison sentences. Amnesty International recognized them all as prisoners of conscience. This movement was made up initially of the wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of these political prisoners. They began organizing regular events, marches and campaigns for the liberation of their loved ones. They faced regular harassment, beatings, and death threats but refused to back down. They continue to march and protest today under the leadership of Berta Soler.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante were killed in what has all the hallmarks of state security extrajudicial execution camouflaged as a car accident on July 22, 2012. Both were members of the Christian Liberation Movement. Oswaldo was the founding leader and Harold, a youth leader in the movement.

The Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), founded on September 8, 1988, organized a petition drive in Cuba named after a Catholic priest called the Varela Project that called for human rights reforms in the Cuban legal code. Tens of thousands of Cubans signed it, MCL turned into the National Assembly and it led the Castro regime to ignore its own laws refusing to debate this initiative and instead change its constitution to make it "unchangeable." The current MCL leader in Cuba is Eduardo Cardet, who has been jailed since November 30, 2016 and is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

Rosa María Payá Acevedo
Following the deaths of Oswaldo and Harold, Oswaldo's daughter Rosa María Payá Acevedo began the CubaDecide campaign calling for a plebiscite, that she says is a continuation of the Varela Project. She frequently travels to Cuba and remains a legal resident there.

Tonight watching the images of women's movements during your performance of Ultraviolet from the Achtung Baby album I was surprised not to see the Ladies in White or Rosa Maria Payá represented.

Both Rosa Maria Payá, and the Ladies in White would benefit by being highlighted in your Ultraviolent video montage on Women's movements. Please consider adding these Cuban women democrats to your tribute to women's movements because at times of uncertainty it could make a crucial difference.

Thank you.

A lifelong U2 fan


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Honoring the memory of over 100 million victims of communism

"To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” - Elie Wiesel, Night 

Friday, June 9th starting at 9:00am on the corner of Massachusetts and New Jersey Avenues NW in Washington, DC for the tenth year there will be a Roll Call of Nations Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Victims of Communism Memorial.  This annual event is hosted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Government representatives of formerly captive nations, civil society groups and victims of communism will gather to honor the memory of the more than 100 million persons killed  by communism over the past century.

Communists massacred the Russian royal family in 1918
 Last year I was physically present and humbled to translate for Cuban dissidents Oscar Elías Biscet and  Sirley Ávila León at the Roll Call of Nations at the Victims of Communism Memorial.

Roll Call of Nations Wreath Laying Ceremony at Victims of Communism Memorial
 This year I will be unable to physically but will be there in spirit and lament that I will not be able to once again meet such great heroes of freedom as Mart Laar of Estonia and Vytautus Landsbergis of Lithuania.  They not only played crucial roles in the liberation of their perspective countries but have been steadfast champions for the freedom of Cuba.

Communists today celebrating a bloody and murderous legacy
 2017 has an important historic significance because it marks the 100th anniversary of a tragic event, the founding of the first communist dictatorship that murdered the Russian royal family, plunged Russia into what would be a bloody century of war, repression, manufactured famines and terror that claimed tens of millions of lives.  Children were not spared. Like their totalitarian Nazi counterparts the Communist Party of Great Britain will be celebrating this criminal enterprise.

Communists manufactured famines to liquidate class enemies started in the USSR
However the apologists for communism will downplay the human cost and the 1939 Molotov - Ribbentrop Pact where the Soviet Union, the first communist regime, allied itself with Nazi Germany to divide up Poland and usher in World War II.

German Nazi and Russian Communist soldiers greet one another in Poland (1939)
Think of it for a moment, over a 100 million lives over the span of a century. One million state engineered violent deaths a year for one hundred years. The death toll of communism can clearly be seen today rising in places like Venezuela, North Korea, and China but the killings although lower profile also happen in other communist regimes.

We owe it to both the victims of communism from the past and of today to remember them and denounce what has happened and is still happening now in order to finally bring an end to the communist death toll. Below is a partial list of the dead reaches 102.566 million dead.

Communist death toll (estimate)*
Soviet Union 61 million dead
Peoples Republic of China 35 million dead
Khmer Rouge (Cambodia) 2 million dead
Communist Vietnam 1.670 million dead
North Korea 1.663 million dead
Communist Ethiopia 725,000 dead
Communist Rumania 435,000 dead
Communist Cuba 73,000 dead

Please if you live in or near the nation's capitol then this Friday, June 9th at 9:00am join in this vigil for justice for victims of communism on the corner of Massachusetts and New Jersey Avenues NW in Washington, DC. I'll hold a moment of silence at that time in remembrance of the victims. Either way please consider sending a tax deductible donation to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation because they are doing important work educating America's youth on the real nature of communism.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Case for a Reboot of U.S. Cuba Policy

"They are selling a virtual reality as if it was real change, and that is fraud. It is outrageous." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Cuban opposition leader interviewed on October 3, 2011

 The New York Times has published an Editorial titled "Undoing All the Good Work on Cuba" that rehashes Obama Administration talking points that advance a specific policy agenda, although ignoring the current situation, changing policies over the past half century, security concerns, and how sanctions on the Castro regime have protected US taxpayers.

During the eight years of the Obama Administration the situation for Cuban opposition leaders became more precarious and this was demonstrated with the deaths of high profile figures that could have over seen a democratic transition such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Laura Inés Pollán Toledo.

The current situation

Levels of violence against dissidents worsened while the old totalitarian patterns of repression still endure.  Rising violent repression against political dissidents in Cuba, including crippling and disfiguring machete attacks, became a high profile regime tactic starting in 2013. The case of Sirley Avila Leon in May of 2015 is well documented, even if it is not widely well known because The New York Times did not find it "fit to print" but thankfully others have.

Machete attack victims 2013 - 2015

 There is no right to education in Cuba if you dissent from the official line. Fếlix Yuniel Llerena López, a 20 year-old religious freedom defender, was expelled from the Enrique José Varona Pedagogical University in Havana on May 8, 2017 following a visit to the United States. 18-year-old journalism student, Karla Pérez González, was expelled from Marta Abreu University of Santa Clara for “political reasons” on April 12, 2017 and her expulsion ratified three days later on April 15th. 24 year old David Mauri Cardoso was expelled from the University of Cienfuegos in February of 2017 after he honestly answered politically loaded questions in what was supposed to be a Spanish literature exam.

If you have a relative who is a dissident, although you are not, you can still be fired from your job. Professor Dalila Rodriguez from the University of Las Villas was expelled from her job on May 9, 2017 because her father, Leonardo Rodriguez is a dissident. 

Dissidents have been jailed and mistreated in psychiatric facilities in Cuba. The practice continues today with Daniel Llorente Miranda, the dissident who on May Day ran out in front of the parade with an American flag shouting out for a free Cuba, held in Mazorra.

There is no right to travel for Cuban nationals and dissenters are regularly denied exit and entry. Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, and Sayli Navarro were denied the right to travel by the Castro regime on June 4, 2017. 

Amnesty International has recognized Eduardo Cardet as a new Cuban prisoner of conscience and has an urgent action underway for his release.

What is taking place in Cuba is fake change. The regime is working to achieve regime succession and prevent a democratic transition in Cuba.

Policy changes over the past half century

The argument made by the Obama Administration and repeated by The New York Times that "hard-line sanctions-based approach was in place for more than 50 years after the 1959 revolution and never produced what anti-Castro activists hoped would be the result" is both a straw man argument and untrue.

The Castro regime beginning in 1959 sent armed expeditions to Panama, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic to overthrow their governments. The regime's destabilization policy led two thirds of the 21 states of Latin America voting to expel Cuba from the Organization of American States on February 14, 1963.   A cache of three tons of weapons was found on a Venezuelan beach in November 1963 that was to be used to disrupt the democratic elections there.

Due to the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle that consolidated Castro's rule and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that ruled out a direct U.S. invasion, economic sanctions were put in place not to eliminate the Castro regime but limit its ability to expand into the rest of the hemisphere and to force the Soviet Union to expend large sums in keeping the Castro regime afloat which may have contributed to the USSR's demise in 1991.  The embargo was not designed to overthrow the Castro regime but to contain its mission to destabilize other governments in the region.

President Carter ended Cuba travel embargo and began normalizing relations in 1977

On April 27, 1977 representatives of the Carter Administration and the Castro regime sat down and personally negotiated an international fishery agreement. This was the first time since 1958 that any officials of the United States government sat down with representatives of the Castro regime to formally negotiate an agreement. 

President Carter in an interview with Robert Fulghum on December 19, 1996 quoted on page 310 of the book Conversations with Carter said: "When I had only been in office two months in 1977, I opened up all travel for American citizens to go to Cuba and vice versa. And we opened up an entry section, which is just one step short of a full embassy in both Havana and Washington. And those offices, by the way, are still open."

Outcomes of Carter normalization with Castro regime

Robert A. Pastor, of The Carter Center in July 1992 in the report "The Carter Administration and Latin America: A Test of Principle" summed the outcome of the Carter policy on Cuba: "In November 1977 there were 400 Cuban military advisers in Ethiopia; by April 1978 there were 17,000 Cuban troops there serving under a Soviet general.

The Castro regime also played a crucial role in the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua while the Carter Administration imposed sanctions on the Somoza regime when it refused to pursue democratic reforms. According to Robert Pastor:  "Somoza pretended the sanctions had no effect on him. He doubled the size of the National Guard and evidently believed he was secure. However, by May 1979, with Cuban President Fidel Castro's help, the three Sandinista factions had united and established a secure and ample arms flow from Cuba through Panama and Costa Rica."

During the Mariel crisis of 1980, when over 125,000 Cubans sought to flee the island, the Cuban dictator sought to save face by selectively releasing approximately 12,000 violent criminals or individuals who were mentally ill into the exodus. 

Towards the end of the Carter Administration the discovery of a Soviet ground forces brigade operating on Cuban territory and the ineptness in handling the Mariel boat lift crisis spelled not only the end of the policy but was also a contributing factor to the defeat of President Carter during his 1980 re-election bid. 

This first attempt at normalizing relations saw a worsening human rights situation in Cuba, a migration crisis and reversals in US interests in the region.

President Reagan restores Cuba embargo in 1981 and challenges Castro regime on international stage

Carter's policy of détente was rejected by the Reagan administration. Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1981 and re-imposed the travel ban, toughened economic sanctions, in 1982 placed the Castro regime on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and started Radio Marti to break through the communist monopoly with uncensored information for Cubans on the island. 

Ronald Reagan backed the creation of a Radio Free Cuba to break Castro regime's information monopoly over the Cuban people beginning in 1981. When it finally went on the air in 1985 Radio Marti marked a before and after inside Cuba. At the time President Reagan hoped that Radio Marti would ''help defuse the war hysteria on which much of current Cuban Government policy is predicated.'' 


The Castro regime's response was to end an immigration agreement and suspend the visits to Cuba by Cubans living in the United States. The Reagan Administration named former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and made human rights in Cuba a priority there. The end result was that for the first and last time Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Human Rights Commission were able to visit Cuban political prisoners inside the island. There was no Cuba migration crisis during the Reagan Administration.

President Clinton seeks rapprochement with Castro regime in 1993

The Clinton Administration in 1994 initiated regular contacts between the U.S. and Cuban military that included joint military exercises at the Guantanamo Naval base. Despite this improvement of relations the 1990s saw some brutal massacres of Cubans that are rightly remembered such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. The shoot down involved two planes blown to bits over international airspace by Cuban MiGs killing three American citizens and a Cuban resident who were engaged in the search and rescue of Cuban rafters This led to the signing of the Helms - Burton Bill later in 1996, but as soon as he was re-elected President Clinton renewed his drive for normalized relations with the Castro regime. 

The worsening human rights situation was a contributing factor in the August 1994 rafter crisis in which 35,000 Cubans fled the country. Experts have identified that this was a migration crisis engineered by the Castro regime. The Cuban dictatorship did this because it successfully reasoned that it could coerce the Clinton Administration to the negotiating table to obtain concessions which indeed it did and prolonged the life of the dictatorship  President Clinton  shook hands with Fidel Castro in 2000 and opened cash and carry trade with the dictatorship loosening economic sanctions.  This new period of engagement coincided with the rise of Hugo Chavez and reversals of the democratic gains made in the 1980s and early 1990s.

President Obama pursues normalization of relations with Castro regime in 2009
The Obama Administration beginning in 2009 loosened sanctions on the Castro regime. On his watch concluding on December 17, 2014 the Obama administration freed all five members of the WASP spy network, including Gerardo Hernandez -- who was serving two life sentences, one of them for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue murdered during the previous attempt at normalizing relations during the Clinton Administration. They de-linked the pursuit of full diplomatic relations from the rise in human rights violations in Cuba and in the region by Cuban state security.

The Obama administration doubled down on concessions ignoring the Castro regime's continuing sponsorship of terrorism and smuggling of weapons to North Korea in order to take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. President Obama followed through on his pledge made at the State of the Union to work for the lifting of economic sanctions on the dictatorship.

The Obama Administration marginalized dissidents and downplayed their importance early on in 2009 refusing to meet with them; the Obama State Department threatened the daughter of a martyred dissident in order to protect the sensibilities of the Castro regime's foreign minister in 2015. Not to mention claiming that there was no room for dissidents at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana later that same year.

President Obama went to Cuba with his family in March of 2016, in the midst of a human rights crackdown, and legitimized Raul Castro's regime before an international audience. In October of 2016. Less than a year after a fleeing refugee was shot in the back in the spring of 2015 by a Cuban state security agent. Mr. Obama issued a Presidential Policy Directive ordering U.S. intelligence agencies to share information with the Castro regime's secret police.  In January of 2017, in one of his final acts, President Obama further gutted the Cuban Adjustment Act ushering in the wholesale deportation of Cubans fleeing to the United States.


President Obama on December 17, 2014 claimed to have charted a "new" course on Cuba but in reality it was a very old and discredited policy applied in Cuba of marginalizing democrats and embracing dictators for perceived gain.

Human rights have deteriorated in Cuba with rising levels of violence against nonviolent activists. including machete attacks, and 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).

There were 9,940 politically motivated arbitrary detentions over the course of  2016. In 2009, the first year of the Obama Administration, there were just 869 arbitrary detentions documented. During the eight years of the Obama White House there has been an eleven fold increase in politically motivated arbitrary detentions with 2016 being the worse. Religious repression escalated in Cuba in 2016 including the beating of pastors, the confiscation of Churches and some demolished by the dictatorship.

This worsening situation in Cuba is also reflected in an increase in Cubans fleeing the island. In 2008 there were slightly more than 10,000 visaless Cubans entering the United States compared to 46,635 visaless Cubans entering the United States in the first ten months of 2016.

On the economic front the Obama White House repeatedly claimed to have achieved $6 billion in trade with Cuba under the new policy but the actual number according to the U.S. census bureau is $380.5 million dollars in trade in goods with Cuba.


Trade between Cuba and the United States imploded under the Obama Administration. Peak year of U.S. trade in goods with Cuba was 2008, the last year of the Bush Administration. The two worst years in trade are the ones following the new Cuba policy launch in December of 2014. All of the details are available at the U.S. Census Bureau. The Cuban economy contracted in 2016 and at the same time military control over it has expanded.

The consequences in the region have also been negative. The Castro regime's military and intelligence services have been heavily involved in the attempt to build and impose a totalitarian regime in Venezuela for the past 18 years. Furthermore in Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Ecuador regimes with links to Havana pursue an anti-democratic agenda. Yoani Sanchez, the Cuban dissident blogger journalist, wrote a May 28, 2017 entry titled "The Kremlin is Back."  The Russians returned to Cuba, and made new inroads into Latin America during the Obama years.  


The New York Times has a terrible track record in Cuba and its latest editorial continues that lamentable tradition trying to make the case for the Trump Administration to continue the failed policies of the Obama Administration on Cuba. However, even a broken clock is right twice a day and The New York Times on December 8, 2016 reported how increased U.S. tourism to Cuba has meant more food shortages for Cubans because food production is geared to tourists. The record indicates that the case for tightening sanctions, and pushing a human rights centered policy will best serve both U.S. national interests and the prospects for a non-violent democratic transition.

The good work on Cuba was undone by the Obama Administration when it prioritized engaging with the Castro dictatorship, marginalized Cuban democrats, ignored the regime's support for outlaw regimes, and terrorist groups all in the service of a flawed policy.