Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Remembering Cuba's last democratically elected president and the many years of dictatorship since 1952

"They say that I was a terrible president of Cuba. That may be true. But I was the best president Cuba ever had." - President Carlos Prio Socarras, the last democratically elected president of Cuba

Carlos Prio Socarras, Cuba's last freely elected president
Past is prologue 

Cuba's last democratic president, Carlos Prio Socarras, was elected by Cubans in free and fair elections on July 1, 1948 and assumed office 70 years ago this month on October 10, 1948. He was not perfect, but he was a democrat who respected civil liberties and presided over years of prosperity and freedom for Cubans. On his watch Cuban diplomats played an important role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He warned Cubans not to be consumed by hatred, but his warnings were not heeded.

An authoritarian dictatorship was imposed by Fulgencio Batista in Cuba on March 10, 1952 that was both unexpected and unwanted but that drove President Prio Socarras from office. However there were numerous newspapers, radio and television stations that challenged the Batista regime along with a vibrant civil society that struggled and protested against the government for seven years.

Fulgencio Batista overthrew Cuba's last democratic president in 1952
Sadly, many in Cuba were seduced by the seductive call to revolutionary violence to overthrow the Batista regime in order to restore the old democratic order. On July 26, 1953 with the assault on the Moncada Barracks that was a military disaster for Castro but a great public relations move that made him a household name in the island. However it was not the military successes that won Castro the day but the ability to manipulate the political situation. Fidel Castro's July 26th Movement successfully lobbied Washington to impose an arms embargo on Batista on March 14, 1958, and the old dictator seeing that the United States was siding with the enemy made the calculated decision to flee on December 31, 1958.

Now with the arrival of the Castro regime in 1959 promising the restoration of democracy and the rule of law – the exact opposite was done. Mass executions were broadcast and filmed to terrorize the population. While Fidel Castro claimed to be a defender of freedom of expression, independent newspaper editors, were first warned that their lives were at hazard if they wrote critically against the regime and by May 13, 1960 all of the independent newspapers were shutdown, on occasion by violent mobs organized by the dictatorship. They were replaced with regime publications subordinated to the communist party line to the present day. The same was done with all radio and television stations. This took place while Cuba and the United States had normal diplomatic relations. Relations did not end until January 3, 1961.

Realizing that the Castro regime was allying itself with the Soviet Union and seeking to destabilize and overthrow neighboring states, the United States attempted to overthrow the dictatorship in Cuba in April of 1961 at the Bay of Pigs with a force of Cuban exiles that failed and instead consolidated the Castro regime.

On December 2, 1961 Castro explained the reason for the lie that he was not a communist: "If we had paused to tell the people that we were Marxist-Leninists while we were on Pico Turquino and not yet strong, it is possible that we would never have been able to descend to the plains." Communism and the communist party were deeply unpopular in Cuba because of its links to the Batista regime.

Fidel Castro and Huber Matos in 1959
 Cuba's democratic resistance
As the totalitarian dictatorship became evident, Cuba's democratic resistance defied the Castro regime in two phases: 1959-1966 (violent resistance) and 1976 - present (non-violent resistance).
Those who had fought by Castro's side in good faith believing it was a struggle to restore democracy became uneasy with the course of the revolution. Some, like Huber Matos, Julio Ruiz Pitaluga, and Mario Chanes de Armas who spoke out spent decades in prison. Many, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro, returned to the hills of the Escambray to carry on the struggle for the democratic restoration. This resistance was crushed in 1966 after the Castro regime had five years of assistance from 400 Soviet counterinsurgency advisors.

Ten years later on January 28, 1976 a candle of resistance was re-lit in Cuba and a new type of struggle for freedom initiated when Ricardo Bofill together with Marta Frayde at her home in Havana founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights.

These groups documented human rights violations in Cuba, and distributed copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their reports reached the United Nations Human Rights Commission and non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Over time this dissident movement went from documenting abuses to mobilizing Cubans to demand their rights.

Cuban healthcare facility
Healthcare and Education claims
Katherine Hirschfeld, an associate professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, in her book Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898 describes how her idealistic preconceptions were dashed by 'discrepancies between rhetoric and reality,' she observed a repressive, bureaucratized and secretive system, long on 'militarization' and short on patients' rights.
"Public criticism of the government is a crime in Cuba," and as a result "formally eliciting critical narratives about health care would be viewed as a criminal act." Hirschfeld also says that because Cuba recognizes that its health care system is a key way to impress the rest of the world, there is pressure to paint an overly rosy picture. For instance, filmmaker Michael Moore championed Cuba's health care system as superior to the United State in his 2007 documentary "Sicko," but critics later said he was given VIP treatment when he visited the island. In addition, Hirschfeld says that "individual doctors are pressured by their superiors to reach certain statistical targets," and face the possibility of being fired if there is an increase in infant mortality in their district. "There is pressure to falsify statistics," Hirschfeld says.

The focus on outcomes may also lead to heavy-handed patient care. According to Hirschfeld, "Cuba does have a very low infant mortality rate, but pregnant women are treated with very authoritarian tactics to maintain [favorable] statistics." Furthermore Roberto M. Gonzalez in his 2015 study on Infant Mortality in Cuba: Myth and Reality concludes that “that Cuba’s reported IMR seems very misleading. By exploring a sharp discrepancy between late fetal and early neonatal deaths, I develop a method for adjusting Cuba’s reported IMR. The results indicate that the adjusted IMR might be twice the reported one.”

According to Gonzalez, even with these adjusted numbers, Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower that most Latin American countries but might not be the lowest (Costa Rica and Chile might have lower IMR’s).

There is a health care system which is decent for regime elites in good favor and tourists with hard currency and another one for everyday Cubans that is not. There have been outbreaks of cholera and dengue. In 1997 when a Dengue epidemic broke out in Cuba the dictatorship tried to cover it up. When a courageous doctor spoke out he was locked up on June 25, 1997 and later sentenced to 8 years in prison. Amnesty International recognized Dr. Desi Mendoza Rivero as a prisoner of conscience. He was released from prison under condition he go into exile in December of 1998. The regime eventually had to recognize that there had been a dengue epidemic.

Imagine for a moment the tools of psychiatry used against an individual for their political beliefs.
Amnesty International raised the issue in their report Psychiatry: A Human Rights Perspective in 1995:
In Cuba, there have been allegations in recent years that not only the criminally insane but also political prisoners have been sent to forensic wards of state psychiatric institutions where they are kept in unhygienic and dangerous conditions and where they are exposed to ill-treatment either at the hands of staff or fellow inmates.
Observers need to take into account that in addition to the negligence and indifference to human suffering that led to a situation in which more than 40 patients died of malnutrition and exposure to cold in a tropical country that this psychiatric hospital was also employed in the mistreatment and torture of Cuban dissidents and human rights activists. Worse yet, it is still happening today.

This also ignores that prior to Fidel Castro's dictatorship Cuba already had a decent healthcare system by international standards.

Children in Cuba are indoctrinated not educated.
The Slovak-based People in Peril conducted a study between 2005 and 2006 that generated a 77 page analysis, What is the future of education in Cuba?, that a decade ago found an educational system in ruins . Eliska Slavikova of People in Peril interviewed by El Nuevo Herald on October 23, 2007 observed ''Cuban education is destroyed, with grave problems like the deterioration of the schools, the predominance of ideology over teaching and the bad preparation of teachers.'' The study made the following findings:
• There's been a ''pronounced'' departure of teachers to other jobs because of low salaries and the lack of social recognition.
• Many teachers also left their jobs because of the government's growing ideological pressures. The primary objective of education is the formation of future revolutionary communists.
• The great majority of schools lack the equipment and installations needed to provide a good education.
• High school graduates have been put to teach after only an eight-month special course. But much of the teaching now is done through educational TV channels. 

Page from first grade textbook in Cuba to indoctrinate children.
 A later analyses of Cuba's educational system in 2008 and more recently in 2015 arrived at the same conclusions on lack of quality, resources and continued politicization of the curriculum. Although Amnesty International mentions "people who have been expelled from university for accessing 'unapproved' information" there is no mention of students expelled and professors fired for their political views or familial ties to Cuban dissidents.

Promoting worldwide armed struggle at the Tricontinental

 The Tricontinental
According to Major David E. Smith USMC in his 1995 paper "The Training of Terrorist Organizations":
Although terrorism originated centuries ago, modern international terrorism orchestrated by the Soviet Union arguably began at the Tricontinental Conference conceived by Moscow and conducted in Havana, Cuba during January l966.[13] The purpose of the conference was to devise a "global revolutionary strategy to counter the global strategy of American imperialism."[14] It resulted in the creation of an African, Asian, and Latin American Solidarity Organization based in Havana. The Conference also passed resolutions advocating outside aid for groups fighting for "liberation". During late l966, the Cubans opened a number of training camps for guerrilla fighters in Cuba that were under Soviet supervision. Palestinian groups began sending students to these facilities on the "Isle of Pines" during l966, and upon graduation, those students spawned the terrorist groups that exploded in the Middle East during the l97O's. Castro's terrorism schools were under the supervision of the Dirección General de Inteligencia (DGI). Students were flown into the country from connecting airports, or arrived in Cuban harbors by boat. Upon debarkation in Havana, they were segregated by nationality and moved to their individual training locations. The guerrilla courses lasted from three to six months. Subject material included "tactics, weapons training, bomb making- particularly how to blow up oil pipelines, map reading, cryptography, photography, falsification of documents, and disguise."
Tricontinental Conference in Havana in 1966 was a call to violence

There was an upsurge of terrorism in the late 1960s and 1970s and some of the artifacts from that time remain in circulation today. In 1970 the Cuban government published the "Mini Manual for Revolutionaries" in the official Latin American Solidarity Organization (LASO) publication Tricontinental. It was written by Brazilian urban terrorist Carlos Marighella, and it gives precise instructions on terror tactics, kidnappings, etc. and was translated into numerous languages which were distributed worldwide by the Cuban government. This is an excerpt from the chapter advocating terrorism:
Terrorism is an action, usually involving the placement of an explosive or firebomb of great destructive power, which is capable of effecting irreparable loss against the enemy. Terrorism requires that the urban guerrilla should have adequate theoretical and practical knowledge of how to make explosives. The terrorist act, apart from the apparent ease with which it can be carried out, is no different from other guerrilla acts and actions whose success depends on planning and determination. It is an action which the urban guerrilla must execute with the greatest calmness and determination. Although terrorism generally involves an explosion, there are cases in which it may be carried out through executions or the systematic burning of installations, properties, plantations, etc. It is essential to point out the importance of fires and the construction of incendiary devices such as gasoline bombs in the technique of guerrilla terrorism. […] Terrorism is a weapon the revolutionary can never relinquish.
Daniel Ortega first came to power in 1979 in Nicaragua thanks to the active assistance of Cuban troops, Castro's intelligence service, and trainings in guerilla warfare that overthrew Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza after a long and bloody struggle.

Sao Paulo Forum in 2018 met in Havana, Cuba

 Foro de Sao Paulo or the Sao Paulo Forum
In 1990 many believed that the Cold War was over. Fidel Castro and a handful of radical left wing political parties and terrorist organizations believed otherwise and began plotting their comeback.
Ortega was voted out of office in free, fair, and internationally supervised elections after a long and bloody war in 1990. In 1990 following a request made by Fidel Castro to Lula Da Silva the Sao Paulo Forum was established with the goal: “To reconquer in Latin America all that we lost in East Europe.” The FSP is a communist network comprised of over 100 left wing political parties, various social movements, and guerrilla terrorist organizations such as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Chilean Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR). This network helped set the course for the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela that was a game changer regionally.

With the help of Venezuela's riches and the corruption of some of Nicaragua's politicians Daniel Ortega was able to return to power in Nicaragua in 2007 through the ballot box with a minority of the popular vote.

Today the Nicaraguan strong man is engaged in an existential struggle murdering hundreds of his countrymen and torturing thousands more, but the Sandinista's are not alone. The members of the São Paulo Forum go beyond words and take action. Nicaraguan student leader Victor Cuadras on July 13, 2018 explained that "there are many people who, while being tortured, heard the accents of Venezuela and Cuba in the clandestine prisons.”

Cuban general Ramiro Valdes has spent a lot of time in Venezuela.
 Cuban role in the rise of Chavism
In addition to domestic repressive forces there is a foreign presence heavily embedded in the Venezuelan military and intelligence services. 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.

It is also surprising that when reviewing Cuban involvement in Venezuela that the February 2010 hiring of Ramiro Valdes, then age 77, "as a consultant for that country's energy crisis" did not raise more eyebrows. He is viewed by some Cuba experts as "the No. 3 man in the Cuban hierarchy."
The Castro regime's interest in Venezuela began from the earliest days of the dictatorship.

Venezuelans understood the threat poised by the Cubans by 1960 when Ernesto "Che" Guevara was giving unsolicited advice to Rómulo Betancourt, the democratically elected president of Venezuela. Guevara called for Betancourt to use the firing squad against his "rightist opponents." In 1963 Congressional Quarterly reported on how:
"Riots led by Communists and other pro-Castro elements in Caracas [in the autumn of 1960] took the lives of 13 persons and injured 100. Venezuela recalled its ambassador to Cuba, and Betancourt ordered out the army to end the rioting, which he termed an attempt to “install a regime similar to that in Cuba.” Cuban Communist leader Blas Roca, told a Havana rally on January 23, 1963 that when the communists gained full control and “make themselves owners of the great riches in oil, aluminum and everything their earth imprisons, then all of America shall burn.” 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.
Fidel Castro would continue to agitate for revolution in Venezuela. A well documented incident occurred on May 8, 1967 and was reported by Francisco Toro in The Washington Post who described how: "two small boats carrying a dozen heavily armed fighters made landfall near Machurucuto, a tiny fishing village 100 miles east of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Their plan was to march inland and recruit Venezuelan peasants to the cause of socialist revolution." An all night gun battle with the Venezuelan military led to nine guerrillas dead, two captured, and one who had escaped.

The Castro regime's efforts would not begin to bear fruit until December 1994 with the arrival of Hugo Chavez in Havana to a hero's welcome following two years in prison for a coup attempt in Venezuela. Four years later Chavez had won the presidency of Venezuela and the Castro regime finally had its entry to Venezuela. By 2007, Chávez had declared that Cuba and Venezuela were a single nation. “Deep down,” he said, “we are one single government.” When Hugo Chavez died in 2013 the succession to Nicolas Maduro was planned in Havana.

Consequences of Cubazuela
The name of this "single nation" is Cubazuela and is a term that has been used by mainstream press publications such as The Wall Street Journal. The consequences to the people of Venezuela are well known. Violence has escalated during the Chavez-Maduro era to levels never seen before. There is widespread hunger now in Venezuela. Civil liberties and the rule of law are rapidly disappearing.

What is not generally known are the consequences for the United States and the role the Castro regime plays in this. There are numerous news reports about the Venezuelan regime's links to international drug trafficking, and that U.S. investigations point to high ranking officials in Venezuela turning the country "into a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering," but little is said about the Castro regime's decades long involvement in it that still continues. Panamanian police seized more than 400 kilograms of cocaine in a Cuban ship on its way to Belgium in April of 2016.
Cuba was placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on March 1, 1982, less than three months after the US State Department confirmed that the Cuban government was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democratic government.

In a 1991 Frontline documentary, Cuba and Cocaine, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Jeff Karonis, stated, "We would observe in the middle of the day an air drop going on inside Cuban waters. The scenario would be for a small twin-engine airplane with maybe 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of cocaine to fly over Cuba, drop the drugs to a predesignated rendezvous point to several boats. Then it would exit back down off Cuba, and many times a Cuban military vessel would be in the immediate vicinity, right on scene with them.''

However it is no longer just Cuba but a hemisphere wide totalitarian network that carries out mass murder, torture and narcotics trafficking to fuel violent revolution. The fruits of the Castro regime have caused great harm throughout the hemisphere and around the world.

It is also important to remember the positive legacy of Carlos Prio Socarras and the Cuban diplomats that helped usher in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This is the antithesis of the Castro regime and the democratic legacy that needs to be restored and improved upon.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Remembering the wise counsel of prisoner of conscience Jorge Valls applicable to the USA in an age of political polarization

"The noblest way to avenge an insult is not to imitate he who has offended us." - Jorge Valls

Poet, former prisoner of conscience Jorge Valls
We are living in an age of political polarization that is threatening democracy in the United States. On both sides of the political divide there have been calls by leaders to disregard standards of civility for the sake of political advantage. This is a mistake that endangers the Republic and opens the door to escalating political violence. Consider for a moment a small sampling of incidents of politically motivated violence and terror over the past two years.

At least five explosive devices and suspicious packages targeting the homes of George Soros, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the New York offices of CNN were intercepted this week. The packages had the return address of  Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

On November 5, 2017 while mowing his lawn Senator Rand Paul was viciously attacked by a neighbor who is a liberal democrat. Some media accounts attempted to downplay the politically motivated nature of the attack.

On June 14, 2017 a Bernie Sanders supporter fired at least 70 rounds at Republican members of Congress while they were at baseball practice. The FBI initially claimed that the attack was spontaneous and not an act of terror, but other news contradicted this initial assessment.  CNN reported months later that the shooter had cased the area for months and had taken cell phone video of the field as far back as April 2017. Six were injured. Most seriously injured was House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

On October 9, 2018 Hillary Clinton stated: "You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about." Congresswoman Maxine Waters in June 2018 called on Trump opponents to target members of the Trump Administration and to engage in what amounts to acts of repudiation. President Trump has engaged in name calling and will not be accused of being a practitioner of civility.

Earlier this month in Miami, Republicans copied their Democratic counterparts in engaging in act of repudiation against Liberal Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Lee when the Congresswomen visited Miami in order to support the Democratic nominee for Congress Donna Shalala.

Protesters were particularly outraged by news that Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a supporter of the Castro dictatorship, who admires the Castro brothers and saw that admiration reciprocated by Fidel Castro in 2004 would be joining Congresswoman Pelosi in supporting Donna Shalala in Miami.

This led to a protest that ironically mirrored one of Castro's acts of repudiation. However, in Cuba these type of repudiation acts are organized by State Security to silence dissenting voices. Witnessing this I was horrified and commented on it over social media at the time.
There are other ways to send Donna Shalala a message. One is not to vote for her, and politely calling Congresswoman Pelosi's and Lee's offices to explain that Congresswoman Lee's position on Cuba and friendship with the Castros was a decisive factor in how you decided your vote. Another is to write a letter to the editor or an oped piece. How about holding a protest (but make it a non-violent one) highlighting the victims of the Castro regime and why the old tyrant needs to be condemned not honored?

What is not needed is shouting down political leaders in order to shutdown speech you disagree with. This holds politically true for those on the other side of the political divide. Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach explained its essence when he observed that "Civility is not about dousing strongly held views. It's about making sure that people are willing to respect other perspectives." Sadly in too many cases this is not where many people are today.
Jorge Valls with Pope John Paul II
This descent into intolerance reminded me of the words of an old friend, who is no longer physically with us and that describing Cuba in the 1950s seems prophetic today in the context of the United States.

Jorge Valls, a poet and former Cuban prisoner of conscience who had unjustly spent 20 years and 40 days in a Cuban prison passed away three years ago on October 22, 2015 in Miami. He'd fought against two dictatorships and in favor of human rights and dignity and paid a heavy price for being a free man with a conscience.   He explained what happened in Cuba, and what appears relevant today in the United States.

Like Mr. Castro, I wanted a radical change in Cuban society, but I also knew that authority would never become legitimate unless the pure power of violence was submitted to reason, and strict respect for individual rights was guaranteed.

Without civil rights, the best intentions turn into a trap, and societies become prisons and asylums. There is a danger that we become as alienated and as fierce as the evil we think we are fighting.

That is what happened in Cuba under the Castro regime. In 1964, I was convicted of "conspiracy against the state," because I testified against the Castro government in a political trial, and I spent 20 years and 40 days in jail. I don't regret my time there, because I was defending this essential respectability of the human person.
My first encounter with Jorge Valls was in the 1987 documentary Nobody Listened. Janet Maslin of The New York Times in 1988 reviewed this important film at the time and highlighted the imprisoned poet:
Jorge Valls, a writer, on the other hand, points out that at least ''free thinking dwelt behind prison walls; it was truly the free territory of Cuba.'' As for public free expression at the time of the revolution, Mr. Valls says: ''None of that in 1959! Just extraordinary exaltation, fanatical idolatry of the victorious warrior, and rampant folly that made everything acceptable.'' 
Jorge in this documentary on the human rights situation in Cuba in the early years of the Castro regime gave a powerful testimony in defense of freedom of expression and human dignity that remains relevant today.

Let us pray that his words are heeded and that there is a return to civility before its too late.

Jorge Valls (1933-2015)


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Forever Celia: Celebrating a Cuban Woman who shaped Miami and generations of Cubans

Celebrating the life and music of Celia Cruz

GenXers growing up in Miami remember Celia. She was everywhere: on the radio, on Sesame Street, in the movies, in advertisements, and often times at the table next door in Versailles or at Our Lady of Charity. In 2016 The Miami New Times listed her as one of the "ten Cubans who shaped Miami." 

She was in such iconic films as The Mambo Kings and at the same time played roles in films that highlighted the plight of Cuban political prisoners, such as the 1991 film, Fires Within.

Mass held in Miami for Celia Cruz on 15th anniversary of her passing.
When Celia passed away in 2003, Cuban Miami grieved. It felt as if a close family member had been taken away from us. Billboard described the scene on July 21, 2003.
Tens of thousands of mourners lined the streets of Miami on Saturday to pay their respects to salsa legend and Cuban exile Celia Cruz, weeping at her casket but also celebrating her music and shouting her trademark phrase, "Azucar!" 
On the anniversary of her passing a special Mass was held for her in Miami at Our Lady of Charity, a sacred shrine for the Cuban diaspora.

Fifteen years after her passing, her life and music are being celebrated in Miami at the The American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora from October 20, 2018 through March 31, 2019 in an exhibit titled: "Forever Celia."

Castroism's cultural war against Celia
Celia Cruz was and remains a nonperson in Cuba. Celia Cobo of Billboard Magazine once said "Cruz is indisputably the best known and most influential female figure in the history of Cuban music." The impact of the Castro regime on music in Cuba goes beyond jailing musicians and includes systematic censorship that threatens the island's musical legacy as has been the case with the Queen of Salsa.

According to the 2004 book Shoot the singer!: music censorship today edited by Marie Korpe there is increasing concern that post-revolution generations in Cuba are growing up without knowing or hearing censored musicians such as Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot and that this could lead to a loss of Cuban identity in future generations. This process has been described as a  Cuban cultural genocide that is depriving generations of Cubans of their heritage.

Let Celia Cruz's music be heard in Cuba

Defy the effort to erase Celia and take a friend to learn about the life of Celia Cruz at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, and if you are going to Cuba be sure to take her music with you.

Hours Tuesday to Saturday – 10 AM to 6 PM 
Sundays – 12 PM to 4 PM
Viernes Culturales (last Friday of the month) 10 AM to 9 PM

Admission Regular: $12 
Students and Senior Citizens: $8 
Children under 12: FREE

Museum location: 1200 Coral Way Miami, FL 33145

Street parking available. 

The Cuban is located near the Vizcaya Metro Station and is easily accessed by public bus and City of Miami trolley.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Castro dictatorship today answered the question #JailedforWhat?

"Censorship reflects society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime." ~Potter Stewart, United States v. Ginzburg, 1965

Cuban diplomats lead act of repudiation in failed attempt to silence speakers.
Cuban diplomats led an "act of repudiation" today at the United Nations to prevent a discussion on the plight of political prisoners in Cuba at a side event organized by the United States, and I was an eyewitness to this exercise in totalitarianism.

Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council presented the campaign for the release of Cuban political prisoners and was met by a disruption engineered by Castro regime diplomats. However, she did not stop or waiver but continued her presentation.

Cuban U.N. Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo protested to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ahead of the #JailedforWhat event, and described it as a “political comedy.” The Cuban Ambassador to the U.N. also claimed that “Cuba is proud of its human rights record, which denies any manipulation against it.”

If the event were so unimportant then why did the Ambassador and other diplomats spend over an hour shouting themselves hoarse, banging on tables, attempting to disrupt the event?

Sirley Avila Leon at the United Nations today.
The Castro regime may be proud of its dismal record but most Cubans are saddened and/or ashamed by it, as they also are by the spectacle carried out today at the United Nations by diplomats, claiming to represent the Cuban people, but in reality only represent a 59 year old dictatorship that has killed thousands of Cubans, imprisoned tens of thousands of Cubans for their political beliefs and led millions more into exile.

Ambassador Michael Kozak, who moderated the event responded to the screaming and banging on tables along with other frequent interruptions to shut down the gathering: “I want to thank the Cuban delegation for giving us such a graphic show of how alternative opinions are accepted in Cuba.”

Sirley Avila Leon following May 24, 2018 machete attack
Sirley Avila Leon, a former delegate of a local municipal assembly of peoples power in Cuba until she tried to keep a school open for children in her constituency turned the regime against her and ended in a May 2015 state security engineered machete attack, attended the event today at the United Nations. She made a number of observations over twitter following what transpired that I am translating to English.
Sirley Avila Leon: "The discriminatory intolerance of the Castro regime and its clique became evident in the UN today, the democratic and free governments of the hemisphere must not allow their discriminatory impositions in an international space based on mutual respect.

Sirley Avila Leon: "The Castros killed millions of people around the world: African continent, American, in Vietnam, etc, all the governments that support them become an accomplice of these crimes against humanity!!!"

Sirley Avila Leon: "People indoctrinated to discrimination by the Castro regime live from "battle of ideas" to rapid response brigades against human rights defenders in Cuba Nicaragua Venezuela etc. They should be excluded from international events were human rights are discussed." 
The Castro regime today answered the question #JailedforWhat? Based on what transpired today at the United Nations in Cuba you can be jailed for defending human rights.A new hashtag should be added to the campaign #ShoutedDownforWhat? The answer based on what occurred today is discussing human rights.

Carlos Quesada, of Race and Equality, discussed the number of political prisoners and said that “Cuba should respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression and release the 139 political prisoners.”  He also addressed the charges most frequently used against dissidents: "predilection to social dangerousness", and "disrespect."

Alejandro Raga, a Cuban prisoner of conscience of the group of the 75,  arrested in 2003, discussed the inhuman conditions in Castro's prisons in Cuba. He also highlighted the the case of Mario Chanes de Armas, a prisoner of conscience who spent over 30 years in Cuban prisons. Raga also raised the plight of women political prisoners and specifically the Ladies in White.

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro gave a talk where he stated that "the regime in Cuba is responsible for exporting practices, techniques and models of repression and torture in the region." The entire speech is available in Spanish below.

The best way to deal with this attempt at silencing discussions on human rights is to share these conversations as widely possible. The good news is that they failed, and the event was a success.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Cuba’s worsening human rights situation: Machete attacks, more restrictive laws, and zero human rights monitoring

“The ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in, becoming narcissistic.”― Rod Serling 

Sirley Avila Leon after testifying at the UN Human Rights Council
Cuban human rights defender Sirley Avila Leon, a victim of repression, on September 24, 2018 addressed the UN Human Rights Council on what agents of the Cuban government had done to her.

“On May 24, 2015 living in Cuba I suffered an attack orchestrated by agents of the state, I was attacked with a machete to kill me cutting off my left hand and right shoulder while I covered my head with them, then cut my knees leaving me disabled for life, This was not the first attack I suffered, I was previously attacked several times, physically and verbally by the political police in Cuba: they burned my bed, I suffered arbitrary arrests, death threats, economic damages.  Only for demanding better living conditions for the peasants and their children in a rural area of ​​Las Tunas. My case is not isolated. In Cuba, the state continues to violate the human rights of Cubans, murders, imprisons and banishes those who demand rights and repress their families. To save my life, in 2016 I escaped from Cuba, since then my son, Yoerlis Peña Avila, has been threatened with death and repressed on several occasions. At this moment I fear for his life.”

Sirley had been elected to a local peoples’ power assembly at the municipal level. She thought she could help those who needed help, but the reality of the existing system demonstrated otherwise. 

Sirley Avila Leon following the May 24, 2015 machete attack
Expectations are high that a constitutional “reform” in Cuba and a new president “could help democratize the country,” but instead changes are going in the wrong direction.

The existing constitution in Cuba was not decided in a free and democratic vote nor the “reforms” that are being drafted now. It is taking an existing anti-democratic document and making it even more restrictive. For example, in the old constitution there existed a clause that a citizen initiative required 10,000 signatures for it to be officially recognized, now under the draft of the proposed constitution it raises that requirement to 50,000 signatures. They never thought 10,000 Cubans would sign a document calling for human rights reforms, because of the consequences to the signatory and their families, but with the Varela Project over 30,000 signatures were gathered. In the existing constitution there is a freedom of religion and conscience clause, but in the new draft it is just freedom of religion. Although, in practice, religion in Cuba remains subject to Communist Party control and discrimination.

Raul Castro handed over the office of the presidency to his handpicked successor Miguel Díaz-Canel on April 19, 2018. This was done to give the impression that a transition is underway in Cuba. This is not the case. General Raul Castro remains head of the Cuban Communist Party and in control of the government. General Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, Raul's son-in-law, runs the economy. Raul Castro's son, Colonel Alexandro Castro, who negotiated the normalization of relations with the Obama Administration is an intelligence officer with close ties to the secret police. Diaz-Canel, like Osvaldo Dorticos who was president of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, answers to General Raul Castro. The succession does not empower Miguel Díaz-Canel but maintains the Castro dynasty in power.

Blanca Reyes, of the Ladies in White with other activists and members of the IACHR
One of the new laws, Decree 349, signed by President Díaz-Canel in April of 2018 further restricts spaces for artists to exercise their vocation. According to Amnesty International:

“Under the decree, all artists, including collectives, musicians and performers, are prohibited from operating in public or private spaces without prior approval by the Ministry of Culture. Individuals or businesses that hire artists without the authorization can be sanctioned, and artists that work without prior approval can have their materials confiscated or be substantially fined. Under the new decree, the authorities also have the power to immediately suspend a performance and to propose the cancelation of the authorization granted to carry out the artistic activity.”

Despite the government of Cuba being a long time and active member of the UN Human Rights Council it has missed opportunity after opportunity to address key human rights issues constructively and worked with other bad actors to weaken international human rights standards and silence human rights defenders. Thankfully, they do not always succeed.

Over the past two weeks at the UN HumanRights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland and the Inter-American Commissionon Human Rights (IACHR) in Boulder, Colorado the human rights situation in Cuba was addressed by Cuban human rights defenders. The testimony and information provided point to human rights worsening in the island nation. 

Sirley Avila Leon addresses the UN Human Rights Council on September 24, 2018
For decades, international human rights monitors have been and continue to be barred from Cuba by the government to evade scrutiny and isolate Cubans. During the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review outcome of Cuba, June 21-25, 2018, Amnesty International raised the issue that Cuba was the only country in the Americas that was closed to them. Later on Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations Office at Geneva replied to Amnesty International’s comment on the refusal to accept monitors in the island, that Cuba did not require such instruments.

In addition to not allowing credible international human rights monitors into the island, the Cuban government has not permitted the existence of an independent national human rights institution in Cuba.

Furthermore, Cuba’s courts remain subordinated to Raul Castro, head of the Cuban Communist Party. This is has had repercussions on the human rights situation in Cuba.

The World Evangelical Alliance informed the UN Human Rights Council that in 2015, two thousand places of worship of a single church union had been threatened with demolition and several places of worship had been destroyed.  Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that Cuba used a range of measures against religious leaders and human rights defenders.  Arbitrary detention remained a common tactic.  

There are prisoners of conscience in Cuba today. Dr. Eduardo Cardet of the Christian Liberation Movement, jailed since November 30, 2016, under terrible conditions, for his human rights and democracy advocacy for Cubans is one of them.

Tomás Núñez Magdariaga who has been on hunger strike for over 50 days protesting his unjust imprisonment is another. Prisoners of conscience, such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010 and Wilman Villar Mendoza in 2012, died on hunger strikes.

Extrajudicial killings by the State continue in Cuba, and they are not limited to opposition activists. The case of Mr. Alejandro Pupo Echemendia is a recent and high profile example. Police detained Mr. Pupo Echemendia and took him to a police station in Las Villas Cuba, allegedly for participating in illicit horse races. Eyewitness Abel Santiago Tamayo said Alejandro suffered a panic attack on August 9, 2018, and asked for help. A guard handcuffed Alejandro from behind and began to kick him in the back until he died. Alejandro Pupo Echemendia was 46 years old, a caregiver for the mentally ill in a psychiatric hospital. Government agents placed witnesses and Alejandro's family under duress to retract their statements.

Blanca Reyes, of the Ladies in White, addresses the IACHR
One week later, in Boulder Colorado, during the 169th Period of Sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Cuban independent journalists and human rights defenders presented “Reports on the Criminalization of Social Activists and Journalists in Cuba.”

The representative of the Ladies in White in the United States, Blanca Reyes, denounced the cruelty of the Cuban government and asked for help to free five women from her organization who are presently jailed.

"In Cuba there is a special sign of cruelty of the totalitarian Communist Government against the entire female mass and, in particular, against the Ladies in White," she affirmed. "Women who belong to that organization are imprisoned, they directly suffer the threat of being taken to a cell, they are imposed heavy fines for their public activities and their families, including their children, are also victims of the unpunished conduct of the political police.”

Blanca identified five Ladies in White presently in prison and they are: Martha Sánchez González, Nieves Matamoros, Aimara Nieto Muñoz, Yolanda Santana Ayala and Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda.

Unlike at the UNHRC, the Cuban government does not recognize the competence of the IACHR, despite having been invited to return to the Organization of American States in 2009.

Cuban human rights defender impeded from attending UN-CERD Cuba review
Human rights defenders barred from traveling to human rights forums
The Cuban government has denied human rights defenders the right to travel to attend both the UN Human Rights Council and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights over the past couple of months.

MiriamCardet Concepción, the sister of prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet, was not permitted by the Cuban government to travel to attend the IACHR hearing in Boulder, Colorado. She was able, with some difficulty, to send her video testimony that was broadcast during the hearing on Monday, October 1, 2018.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UN-CERD) met in Geneva on August 15, 2018 to examine racism in Cuba. The Cuban government not only claimed that racism was not a problem in Cuba but also told the UN-CERD that human rights defenders in Cuba face no limitations to exercise their activities. Cuban diplomats assured that there had been no reprisals or harassment of activists.

Cuban human rights defenders Juan Antonio Madrazo and Norberto Mesa, both Cubans of African descent, who were to attend the same session were detained arbitrarilyand banned by Cuban government officials from traveling to Geneva to address the question of racism in Cuba.

Two other Cuban human rights defenders were also barred by the Cuban government from traveling to Geneva to speak at the pre-session to Cuba’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in April of 2018.

There is one element of the Constitutional reform that has garnered positive international attention and that is an opening to gay marriage. It does not endanger the power monopoly that the regime seeks to preserve. This constitutional initiative by the Cuban government is a textbook example of pinkwashing. It is "the practice of presenting something, particularly a state, as gay-friendly in order to soften or downplay aspects of its reputation considered negative."

The Cuban government’s leadership, who remain in power today, carried out anti-Gay draconian policies in the past, and they are the same ones now advocating for the change on gay marriage in the constitution.

The Cuban government placed Gays and Lesbians in forced labor camps beginning in 1964 in what they called Military Units to Aid Production or UMAPs (Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción). These forced labor camps were for those suspected of or found guilty of "improper conduct."  Persons with "effeminate mannerisms": what the Cuban government called "extravagant behavior" were taken to these camps. Twenty years later with the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in Cuba the regime rounded up all who were HIV positive. Cuba is the only nation in the world that mandated universal HIV testing and enforced isolation of all virus carriers in detention facilities from 1986 to 1994.

This is not a Gay-friendly regime, despite the PR offensive.

Cuban human rights defenders continue to be barred from travel, subjected to harassment, arbitrary detentions and targeted for physical attacks ordered by the secret police. There are changes taking place in Cuba, but they are either cosmetic or make the state more repressive with the goal of perpetuating the dynastic rule of the Castro family.

If Cuba is to once again be free then one must understand the difficult existing reality and the challenges confronting the democratic resistance in the island.