Monday, December 31, 2018

Not one more year of dictatorship in Cuba: Let this be the year of liberation

Let them be heard

In English it reads "not one more year for Cuba

Over different social media platforms the campaign Not 1 More year of dictatorship in Cuba was launched. Cubans inside and outside of the island are calling for an end to dictatorship in Cuba.

At the same time the lackeys of the dictatorship are clear. Sixty and more years of dictatorship is what they desire, while insulting those who dissent as ill born. This is what the "president"of Cuba Miguel Diaz Canel tweeted on December 28, 2018.

"60 and more [years] of Cuban Revolution even if it hurts and troubles you. I vote yes."
Yesterday morning the tweet included an attack claiming that there is no lack of the "ill born by error in Cuba, who can be worse than the enemy that attacks her." Ironically, it better describes the last sixty years of the Castro regime attacking a free Cuba.

Let the voices of the democratic resistance and the communist dictatorship be heard, and in the battle of ideas the Castro regime will lose. This is why they outlaw all speech that dissents from the official line, and lock up those who exercise their fundamental human rights.

Those who think that the regime will gradually democratize should wake up. The words of Diaz-Canel are clear and so are the actions of the Castro regime over the past 60 years.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

CUBA: The Lost Cause?

“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.” - Mohandas Gandhi

Cubans in Havana in August of 1994 chant "Liberty" in an uprising known as the Maleconazo
Over the past six decades Cubans fought for a lost Cause. Their rewards were summary executions, decades suffering torture under inhumane prison conditions, or exile from the land of their birth. This sacrifice was made for the Cause. What is this Cause? It is the return of the republic and the rule of law to Cuba. Cubans fought and died for independence and a republican democracy throughout the second half of the 19th century. This struggle became primarily a political struggle throughout the first half of the 20th century culminating in the Constitution of 1940 and the election of the opposition figure Ramon Grau San Martin in 1944. On March 10, 1952 Fulgencio Batista plunged Cuba back into the anarchy and chaos of dictatorship and the lack of rule of law. This opened the way for violence to triumph and become institutionalized on January 1, 1959 by the Castroite terror. 

Cubans have suffered sixty seven years without democracy and sixty years under a totalitarian communist dictatorship ruled by the Castro brothers. Fidel Castro died two years ago, but his brother Raul Castro remains the head of the Cuban Communist Party, and firmly in control of the dictatorship. There is cause for despair, and the communists have also sought to educate generations of Cubans in the doctrine of despair with the knowledge that it breeds both inaction and acceptance. They have sought to rewrite Cuban history with numerous myths and lies to justify their continued rule.

Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas understood this and rejected the counsel of despair with his Christian faith. He also wrote with admiration how the Polish people, under even more dire circumstances, succeeded in not only rejecting despair, but embracing solidarity and obtaining their freedom. In this September 16, 2005 essay titled "From the battle of Poland to that of Cuba: The path of liberation in the face of totalitarianism," Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas gave a warning to those liberated from communism while at the same time calling to task the double standard of many in the world with regards to Cuba.
With Solidarity, the Polish people carried out a liberation movement because it awoke the hope that renewed the life of the peoples subjected by lies and fear.

Hopefully the youth will know how to tell the true history, hopefully they will not lose their memory, because conquered liberty is not preserved spontaneously; it can be lost if the people lose the faith and the values ​​that sustain liberty.

Cuba still suffers this regime based on fear and lies; not because our people have less value or less values, but because over Cuba has fallen, to summarize, a complete and very complex compilation of the conflicts of humanity and it has been expressed and nurtured the lie of which many of the victims, including even those who live in democracy; and many of those who suffered this same regime, but who perhaps think that our people do not deserve the solidarity that Solidarity had.
Totalitarian regimes are difficult to dislodge from power and they are brutal. The Soviet Union took 74 years to bring to an end in Russia. Communist China has remained in power since 1949 and today poises a threat to the international democratic order.

Oswaldo's warning that conquered liberty required keeping the faith and values to sustain it was proven true in Russia and Nicaragua.  The Soviet Union was peacefully dissolved on Christmas Day in 1991 and for eight years Russia had an imperfect democracy and was no longer totalitarian but wracked with many troubles. In 2000 a former KGB officer Vladimir Putin was democratically elected by a frustrated Russian populace and over the next decade and a half restored totalitarianism to Russia.  In Nicaragua, a corrupt political bargain, altered the constitution, and returned Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas to power in 2007. Over the next decade they would rig elections and dismantle democratic institutions rebuilding their dictatorship.

The Western world cheered the liberation of Eastern and Central Europe in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991 declaring the end of history and triumph of democracy and free markets. They thought Cuba was no longer a threat and sought to legitimize and reach an accommodation with the dictatorship while loosening sanctions. This strengthened the Castro regime's ability to project power in the region to the detriment of the Venezuelan people. This triumphalism ignored the wise counsel of the past.

This caution can be summed up in the words of the great English poet T.S. Eliott: "If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors' victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph."

Over the past sixty seven years in Cuba there has been a resistance to dictatorship, with or without international backing. Cubans fought against both the dictatorships of Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro.

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 Washington was siding with the enemy  made the calculated decision to flee on December 31, 1958 and boarded a plane in the early morning hours of January 1, 1959 an fled Cuba.

Castro had to lie and tell Cubans that the 1959 revolution sought to restore the old democratic order. At the same time the Castro brothers proclaimed themselves Jeffersonian democrats, they erected, with the help of the Soviet KGB and the East German Stasi, the totalitarian apparatus that would imprison the Cuban people for six decades and counting.

On December 2, 1961 after consolidating totalitarian control,  Fidel Castro explained the reason for claiming 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 prior dictatorship.


 Millions of Cubans fled the communist dictatorship over the decades that followed and live scattered around the world. An unknown number died fighting in the hills of the Escambray between 1960 and 1966. Hundreds of Soviet counter insurgency experts assisted their Cuban counterparts in wiping them out. Thousands of Cubans were executed by firing squad for resisting the regime, many shouting "Long live Christ King" before the volley of bullets took their lives. Following the collapse of the violent resistance, a non-violent opposition emerged in 1976 and proliferated across the island in the decades that followed.

Tens of thousands of political prisoners would spend decades behind bars. There are still political prisoners in Cuba today and opposition leaders such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas have been murdered by the secret police. Cubans are still killed for trying to leave the island. Cuban Americans were shot out of the sky by Cuban MiGs while searching for rafters in the Florida Straits.

This history demonstrates that Cubans want to be free and have not surrendered despite all the betrayals, lack of solidarity, and brutality of the communist dictatorship on the island over the past six decades.  This is why today they are saying "not one more year."  This is why earlier this year Oswaldo's book, "The night shall not be eternal" was released posthumously defying the dictatorship. This is why his successor Eduardo Cardet, national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, has spent over two years in prison for criticizing the legacy of Fidel Castro and the communist dictatorship.

We have entire generations of Cubans who are ignorant of their own history. This has generated apathy and a sense of hopelessness and loss. This serves the interests of the Castro regime and runs counter to the interests of the democratic opposition. Robert A. Nisbit states it succinctly that, "a sense of the past is far more basic to the maintenance of freedom than hope for the future. ... Hence the relentless effort by totalitarian governments to destroy memory. And hence the ingenious techniques for abolishing the social allegiances within which individual memory is given strength and power of resistance." If the struggle of the opposition over the past six decades is to be continued and honored, then it must be taught in context along with the rest of Cuban history (which is the collective memory of a nation).

This also includes remembering that thousands of Cubans took to the streets of Havana on August 5, 1994 in protests chanting "Liberty", that Castro's secret police fired on these protesting Cubans, and this led to a rafter exodus of tens of thousands of Cubans.

Christian Liberation Movement activists turn in petitions in 2002
This also includes remembering that eight years later between 2002 and 2003 over 25,000 Cubans signed the Varela Project petition giving their names, home addresses and identity numbers demanding reforms that would bring Cuba's laws into line with international human rights standards.

The Castro regime responded to this legal initiative declaring the constitution unchangeable and locking up the organizers of the initiative in a March 2003 crackdown called the Black Spring. Ten years later on July 22, 2012, the leader of the initiative, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, was killed by the secret police along with a youth leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Harold Cepero.

Cubans want to be free and continue to struggle for their freedom and have paid and continue to pay a high price in their pursuit of freedom. The free world should be in solidarity with them and not their oppressors.

Friday, December 28, 2018

#Nonviolence: 20 years after the silent call for justice in Cuba

"What's past is prologue" - William Shakespeare

Below is the OpEd published in the Miami Herald twenty years ago today. It continues to set the context for the present struggle for a free Cuba. Vigil for the victims of the Castro regime are held every year at FIU on February 24th and July 13th.

Published Monday, December 28, 1998, in the Miami Herald


Join our silent call for justice

``Justice does not help those who slumber but helps only those who are vigilant.''-- Mahatma Gandhi

IN A FEW DAYS the world will be marking the 40th anniversary of the systematic denial of human rights and basic human dignity in Cuba. The 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was observed in Cuba by beatings and arrests of dissidents and human-rights activists leading up to and on the anniversary itself.

It is sad to note how far the Cuban government has sunk. It was 50 years ago that the Cuban delegation, representing a democratic and constitutional republic, wrote the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The members recognized that this document would have been ``accepted by that generous spirit who was the apostle of our independence: Jose Marti, the hero who -- as he turned his homeland into a nation -- gave us forever this generous rule: `With everyone, and for the good of everyone.' ''

Last Dec. 10 a spiritual heir of the 1948 Cuban delegation held up copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the New Testament and was knocked down and dragged away by Cuban police. Today the mere support of those principles enunciated by the Cuban delegation in 1948 leads to beatings, arrests, and in some cases, deaths.

We shall raise here a silent call for justice. We shall use petitions, silent vigils, and fasts to raise the issue of justice for those who no longer can speak. We will not forget those innocents who died at the hands of the Cuban government such as:

  •  On Dec. 22, 1997, Sebastian Arcos Bergnes died of a cancer that was allowed to spread until terminal while he sat with violent criminals in a Cuban prison cell. His crime was being a human-rights activist and the vice-president of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights.
  •  On March 29, 1997, Joachim Lovschall, a 26-year-old Dane studying Spanish at the University of Havana, was shot to death by Cuban state-security agents while crossing a street in Havana. Nearly two years later no disciplinary or lawful investigation of the guard who killed Lovschall has begun despite Denmark's official protests.
  •  On Feb. 24, 1996, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario de la Peña, Carlos Costa, and Pablo Morales where blown out of the sky over the Florida Straits while searching for Cuban rafters in international waters. The Cuban pilots responsible for the shootdown have yet to face justice for their actions.
  •  On July 13, 1994, an estimated 41 men, women, and children were drowned by agents of the Cuban government for the sole crime of exercising their right to leave Cuba. The Cuban government has not held a proper investigation, brought those responsible to justice, or recovered the bodies of the victims and returned them to their families.
  • We call on all people of goodwill to join our silent call for justice. Let others know of these travesties.

    We have embraced the principle of nonviolence, and we seek the truth as our ends. Gandhi said:
    ``Use truth as your anvil, nonviolence as your hammer, and anything that does not stand the test when it is brought to the anvil of truth and hammered with nonviolence, reject it.''
    We call on people everywhere who share our passion for justice to join us. Nearly a year ago we signed an Accord for Democracy in which the final line quoted Marti's noble sentiment: ``With everyone, and for the good of everyone.''

    Let us work so that in Cuba once again this will become a reality and not just a noble sentiment.

    Susana Mendiola
    Viviana Mendiola
    Vice President,
    Marco J. Alonso
    John Suarez
    Free Cuba Foundation
    Florida International University

    Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald 

    Wednesday, December 26, 2018

    Remembering during the holidays those in prison for acts of conscience: A Call to Action

    Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."- Hebrews 13:3

    Enjoying the holidays with family and friends. Getting ready for the New Year's celebrations? Please take a moment from the festivities and think of those locked up and mistreated for exercising their fundamental human rights.

    More than a dozen human rights and pro-democracy organizations from Latin America, Europe and the United States have made a request during this holiday season that bishops, priests, pastors, rabbis, and men and women of good will to engage in all possible efforts with the authorities to obtain an amnesty of all political prisoners in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

    Partial lists provided by internal human rights groups indicate that there are at least 120 political prisoners in Cuba, 576 political prisoners in Nicaragua, and 288 political prisoners in Venezuela spending the holiday season behind bars. At a minimum 984 fellow human beings arbitrarily detained and subjected to cruel and unusual punishments for being prisoners of conscience.

    On December 23rd focused on three cases from three different countries: Cuba, Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco;Venezuela, José Alberto Marulanda; and Nicaragua, Amaya Eva Coppens. Sadly, there are many more and some cases are critical.

    Cuba: Jailed artist on hunger strike
    Maykel Castillo Pérez: Prisoner of conscience on hunger strike.
     In September of 2018 rapper Maykel Castillo Pérez, "El Osokbo" protested against Decree 349/2018 during a show. Three days after the concert, he was detained, and a case alleging that the artist committed assault against the police re-opened.  On November 15th Maykel sewed his mouth shut and began a hunger strike demanding he be freed. An official told him that they would meet his demand, and he ended the strike. But as the days turned into weeks, and the imprisonment continued, the Cuban artist on December 4th re-started the hunger strike

    This is not the first time that he has been the victim of a politically motivated prosecution. On January 28, 2015, Maykel Castillo Pérez was sentenced to a year in prison in Havana. He was targeted for having used music to express his dissenting political opinions. He was charged with ‘peligrosidad predelictiva’ (‘pre-crime dangerousness’), which is used to imprison dissidents for what they potentially do in the future due to their associations and/or views.. His defense attorney told a reporter from Diario de Cuba that prosecutors wanted the judge to sentence him to five years. He once described his musical style as that of someone who “doesn’t make concessions with a system full of liars.”
    Venezuela: National Assembly jailed on trumped up charges

    Opposition deputy Juan Requesens in custody without a hearing (PanAm Post)
    Former student opposition leader and opposition deputy of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Requesens, has been a steadfast, moderate, non-violent opposition leader to the Maduro regime in Venezuela.  The Maduro regime has manufactured charges that the opposition leader planned the assassination of Nicolas Maduro and is seeking to sentence him to 30 years in prison. He is 29 years old, married and father to two young children. He has been arbitrarily detained for 142 days. He has been the target in the past of brutal beatings.

    On August 7, 2018, “fourteen men of the SEBIN (Maduro's intelligence agency) forcefully kidnapped lawmaker Juan Requesens and his sister Rafaela Requesens, the president of the Federation of University Centers, ” reported the Justice First party, to which Requesens belongs. His sister was released a short time later.

    Nicaragua: Journalist arbitrarily detained

    Lucia Pineda Ubau: Journalist imprisoned for exercising her freedom of expression
    Lucia Pineda Ubau is the press chief of 100% Noticias, and she has Nicaraguan and Costa Rican citizenship. On the evening of December 21st, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, "the Nicaraguan police entered the offices of 100% Noticias, a privately owned cable and internet news station in Managua, ordered the station off the air, and arrested the channel's director Miguel Mora and news director Lucía Pineda Ubau." The Inter-American Press Association and the Nicaraguan auxiliary bishop of Managua, , Silvio José Báez, have publicly criticized the arrests.

    Please join us in speaking up for these and other political prisoners. Please remember the words of the great Czech dissident Václav Havel who explained back in 1990 that "[t]he salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility."

    It begins with you. Will you do your part?

    1. Please  ask your pastor, rabbi, or priest to pray for the freedom of political prisoners during their religious services during this holiday season.

    2. Please write letters to religious leaders in your community to request that the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua free their political prisoners.

    3. Please use the following hashtags to spread this message.

    #NavidadSinPresosPolíticosEnCubaVenezuelaYNicaragua. #ChristmasWithoutPoliticalPrisonersInCubaVenezuelaAndNicaragua  

    Sunday, December 23, 2018

    Join the campaign for Christmas without political prisoners in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua

    Campaign for general amnesty for political prisoners in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

    More than a dozen human rights and pro-democracy organizations from Latin America, Europe and the United States have made a request during this holiday season that bishops, priests, pastors, rabbis, and men and women of good will to engage in all possible efforts with the authorities to obtain the amnesty of all political prisoners in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

    Now is the time to demonstrate our solidarity with those unjustly imprisoned for their political convictions. The late Vaclav Havel in an interview with Amnesty International in 2011 understood the need for people of good will to take action: "It's up to all of us to try, and those that say that individuals are not capable of changing anything are only looking for excuses."

    Uruguayan campaign for freedom of political prisoners in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua
    In addition to the dozen human rights and pro-democracy groups mentioned above, the Urguayan Network for Democracy in Cuba has also launched a campaign titled "Christmas without political prisoners in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua."
    Partial lists provided by internal human rights groups indicate that there are at least 120 political prisoners in Cuba, 576 political prisoners in Nicaragua, and 288 political prisoners in Venezuela spending the holiday season behind bars.

    New political prisoners are being unjustly imprisoned in these countries in conditions that constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Between the months of November and December 15 members of a workers movement in Venezuela were jailed for their activism.

    Jose Alberto Marulanda is a Venezuelan political prisoner
    Medical professionals, like their counterparts in Cuba, are also subjected to politically motivated arbitrary imprisonment. Venezuelan medical surgeon José Alberto Marulanda has been imprisoned since May 19, 2018 in Ramo Verde prison.

     Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco is a new Cuban political prisoner
    On December 18, 2018 in Cuba Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, a leader in the Orlando Zapata Civic Action Front was sentenced to a year in prison for "pre-criminal dangerousness."This is an Orwellian charge reminiscent of thought crime or Philip K. Dick's pre-crime, and is totalitarian.

    In Nicaragua, student activists are facing prison sentences in excess of 30 years, torture, and rape. Amaya Coppens, reported on in this blog back in September of 2018, remains in prison and faces a political show trial with a Sandinista judge in February of 2019. She was just 23 years old at the time of her arrest.

    Amaya Coppens is a Nicaraguan political prisoner
     Solidarity has been described as an act of resistance, but it is also an act of hope. Let us take action together and demand a general amnesty for all political prisoners, and in light of the present crises in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua let us pay special attention to what is going on in these three countries.

    This is a time of unity, solidarity and generosity. Please share the following hashtags along with this campaign for a general amnesty for political prisoners and specific and documented information on the political captives of these three regimes.

    1. Please  ask your pastor, rabbi, or priest to pray for the freedom of political prisoners during their religious services during this holiday season.

    2. Please write letters to religious leaders in your community to request that the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua free their political prisoners.

    3. Please use the following hashtags to spread this message.

    #NavidadSinPresosPolíticosEnCubaVenezuelaYNicaragua. #ChristmasWithoutPoliticalPrisonersInCubaVenezuelaAndNicaragua 

    Wednesday, December 19, 2018

    Major League Baseball goes into business with Castro Inc.

    The devil is in the details.
    Two years after making their initial proposal, Major League Baseball (MLB) is going into business with the Castro family.  Cuban baseball players will be able to play in the Majors, but at a cost. According to Reuters, "MLB teams will pay the Cuban Baseball Federation a release fee for each player to be signed from Cuba."  How big will this release fee be? Will Cuban baseball players have to give up a big chunk of their salaries, like Cuban doctors have had to do?

    With all apologies to Sarah March but the reasons for defecting are still there, and they are to be free of the Castro regime. The spin in the media is that this will "limit defections, trafficking of players." Additional questions arise such as:

    Will the MLB be turned into a collaborator with the Castro regime in trafficking players as the Pan-American Health Organization has allegedly trafficked in doctors?

    Will anyone mention that Fidel Castro's son, Antonio Castro, runs the Cuban Baseball Federation? Antonio likes to live large. What will be his cut?

    Not all agree that this is a good idea. Incidentally the more informed appear to have a more negative view.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2018

    Remembering Havel

    "If there is to be any chance at all of success, there is only one way to strive for decency, reason, responsibility, sincerity, civility and tolerance, and this is decently, reasonably, responsibly, sincerely, civilly, and tolerantly" - Václav Havel 

    Seven years ago on December 18, 2018 Václav Havel passed away. He would have been 82 this year. Over the course of his life he worked in a brewery, became a play write, a dissident, a political prisoner, president of his country, and then a citizen, but through his example he was much more than all of that put together and is greatly missed.

    Havel believed that moral actions, no matter how small or futile they may appear at the time can have profound consequences for both freedom and a just society. It is because the world is not a puzzle to be solved but incredibly much more complex that decisions of right and wrong made by each person have such great importance.

    Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and President Václav Havel in Prague (2002)
    At the same time, he did not link hope with success but rather the certainty that what one is doing is both good and coherent. In 1990 in the book, Disturbing the Peace, Havel explained how he viewed hope.
    “Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpromising the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
    The fruits of his legacy can be seen in the work of Forum 2000, an annual gathering of politicians, philosophers, artists, scientists, and the public to reflect on important issues challenging civilization. The topic on the twentieth gathering of Forum 2000 was "The Courage to take Responsibility." In such times this is wise counsel both for citizens and political leaders. 

    Short trousers for Havel.
    At the same time he also understood the value of humor. Václav Havel in an address to the Central European University on June 24, 1999 at a difficult moment on the international scene made the case for laughter.
    "The only thing I can recommend at this stage is a sense of humor, an ability to see things in their ridiculous and absurd dimensions, to laugh at others and at ourselves, a sense of irony regarding everything that calls out for parody in this world."
    Following his death in 2011, every year on the anniversary of his passing admirers of Václav Havel the world over wear short trousers in his memory. Organizers explained its historic significance along with its particular Czech sensibility.
    The “Short Trousers for Václav Havel” initiative started in 2012 to honor the memory of Václav Havel with a gesture that was unique, memorable and easily achieved by supporters of this exceptional person in modern Czech and European history.  Short Trousers is a reference to Havel stepping into political life in 1989 and his inauguration to the presidency in visibly short trousers. He explained vainly that rather than a tailor’s mistake it was his habit to pull his pants up at every dramatic situation. To this, one might say global mythology of his short trousers, he added with a smile: "I must say that I am glad of it, more or less. From my point of view it’s a pretty gentle way of mocking myself."  An effort to honor such a respectable person by a gesture that points to this humorous episode might appear, at first sight, as a contradictory act. But the opposite is true. We believe that rolled up trousers on the anniversary of the death of Václav Havel is a gesture which is Czech, slightly satirical and which can be easily joined by anyone who wants to honor the memory of the last Czechoslovak and the first Czech president Havel in a cheerful way.
    This method of spontaneous remembrance contrasts dramatically with how dictators forcibly demand that they be remembered on penalty of imprisonment for dissenting as has been the case following the 2016 death of Fidel Castro

    Czechs remember and honor Vaclav Havel by wearing short trousers

    Wednesday, December 12, 2018

    Organization of American States holds Conference on Human Rights in Cuba

    "We must take into account the violence being spread by the Cuban dictatorship. We can set out some examples to clarify. In Venezuela, this year the presence of the Cubans in the torture of people has been documented. It is estimated that the Cuban presence in Venezuela is 46,000 people, an occupation force that teaches torture and repression, that does intelligence work, that does civil documentation and migration work." -  Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization American States, December 7, 2018

    On December 7, 2018 the Organization of American States held a Conference on Human Rights in Cuba that spanned the entire day. Below are the videos of the morning and afternoon sessions. It was a historic day that highlighted the human rights record in Cuba and how it negatively impacts the region.

    Morning session

    Afternoon session

    The testimonies provided in these videos are of great importance and required viewing. Please share with others.

    Monday, December 10, 2018

    Cuba's human rights legacy then and now

    Human rights and democracy are intrinsic parts of Cuban heritage

    Cuba today is an authoritarian dictatorship that systematically violates human rights on the island, destabilizes democracies abroad, such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, while also undermining international human rights standards.

    Freedom House provides an annual rating system in a report titled Freedom in the World that ranges from 0 to 100, with 0 being the least free and 100 the most free. In their 2018 report they found that Cuba was not free with an aggregate score of 14/100.
    On December 7, 2018 the Secretary General of the Organization American States Luis Almagro described the destabilizing role of Cuba in the Americas.
    The Cuban authorities spread violence and illicit practices across countries in the region, Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), said, adding that in Venezuela, the presence of Cubans during torture had been documented. "We must take into account the violence being spread by the Cuban dictatorship. We can set out some examples to clarify. In Venezuela, this year the presence of the Cubans in the torture of people has been documented. It is estimated that the Cuban presence in Venezuela is 46,000 people, an occupation force that teaches torture and repression, that does intelligence work, that does civil documentation and migration work," Almagro said at an OAS conference on human rights in CubaThe OAS secretary general also referred to the testimonies received from people in Nicaragua who said that Cubans had been present while they were being tortured.
    The Castro regime's diplomats have played a negative role worldwide and at the United Nations. This a small sample of what they have done over the past six decades.
    Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1964 would brag at the United Nations in  New York City that in Cuba executions had taken place, were taking place and would continue to take place because this was a "struggle to the death."
    In the 1970s the Castro regime began a relationship with the military dictatorship in Argentina helping to block efforts to condemn it at the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The military junta had disappeared thousands of Argentine leftists. .

    On March 8, 1996 a group of Mexican students belonging to various universities, a federal representative of the PAN Cristián Castaño Contreras, and a Cuban journalist were brutally assaulted by officers and employees of the Cuban embassy during a peaceful demonstration outside of the embassy. The Cuban embassy staff also attacked a student displaying a Mexican flag and tried to destroy it.

    On April 14, 2000 nonviolent protesters gathered in front of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC. In the early evening, a band of ten Cuban diplomats, alleged to have been drinking took off their coats, ties and jewelry, began screaming obscenities and yelling threats, and indiscriminately attacked 20 protesters with fists and sticks, even injuring a Secret Service officer.

    At the Cuban embassy in Paris on April 24, 2003 Cuban diplomats engaged in the brutal beating of nonviolent protesters with iron bars and threatened them with deadly force. "Not only did members of the embassy come out with iron bars to hit us, but one of them was carrying a firearm, which he loaded while outside the embassy," Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Ménard said. "This new element is extremely serious. It is unacceptable that persons linked to a foreign embassy should commit such offences on French territory."

    On April 15, 2004 when the United Nations Human Rights Commission decided by a single vote to censure Cuba for its human rights record a Cuban human rights defender Frank Calzon was physically attacked by members of the Cuban diplomatic delegation. According to Freedom House: "Witnesses said a Cuban delegate punched Mr. Calzon, knocking him unconscious. UN guards reportedly protected him from further assault by additional members of the Cuban delegation."

    Costa Rican members of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba led by former president Luis Alberto Monge invited other Latin American and European leaders as well as representatives of civil society to hold a “International Forum for Democracy in Cuba” on the eve of the Ibero-American Summit on November 16, 2004. Cuban diplomats organized an act of repudiation to physically storm the event to use physical intimidation and threats of violence to shut it down after it had started.

    On March 28, 2008 the Castro regime’s delegation, together with the Organization of Islamic Congress, successfully passed resolutions that turned the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression into an investigator into abuses of freedom of expression.

    On February 2, 2009 during the Universal Periodic Review of China, Cuban Ambassador, Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios officially recommended that the Chinese regime repress human rights defenders in China with more firmness.

    On May 28, 2009 amidst a human rights crisis in Sri Lanka the Cuban government's diplomats took the lead and successfully blocked efforts to address the wholesale slaughter there.

    On May 22, 2010 Norwegian media reported that Cuban diplomat, Carmen Julia Guerra, insulted, threatened, and bit a young Norwegian woman, Alexandra Joner age 19, of Cuban descent on her mother's side while she was across the street from the Cuban embassy in Oslo. She was filming a non-violent demonstration in solidarity with the Ladies in White and in remembrance of martyred Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo. The main national newspaper in Norway, Aftenposten, photographed the young girl with bite marks on her hand.
    On January 28, 2012 in the Dominican Republic the Cuban ambassador physically assaulted a 70 year old Cuban exile who had screamed "Down with Fidel! Down with the Castros!" This same diplomat had been already expelled by the United States in 1995 for beating up peaceful demonstrators in New York City.

    On March 17, 2014 the UN Human Rights Council “was divided” in its discussion of the atrocities in North Korea between those who want the case to be elevated to the International Criminal Court and those who reject outright the existence of a commission of inquiry and conclusions. The Castro regime defended the North Korean regime and denounced the inquiry.

    On April 8, 2015 Cuban diplomats streamed out of the the Cuban Embassy in Panama attacking civil society representatives who at the time were laying flowers at a bust of Jose Marti in a public park nearby. Several activists were injured and at least one required surgery. During the Summit of the Americas Cuban diplomats disrupted official meetings in order to block Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents from taking part, despite being officially accredited.

    The pattern repeated itself in 2018. The regime brought in shock troops to disrupt events and physically and verbally threaten and assault attendees who dissented from the official line. One of the Castro regime's shock troops attending the Summit of the Americas was identified when he arrived in Peru. His name is Ronaldo Hidalgo Rivera. He was one of the men who knocked down Daniel Llorente Miranda (age 52) a Cuban dissident on May 1, 2017 as he ran with a flag of the United States outstretched in his arms over his head. 
    On August 15, 2018 the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UN-CERD) met in Geneva to examine racism in Cuba. The Castro regime representative testified before the Committee that "racial discrimination is not a generalized problem in Cuba, there has been just one complaint of discrimination. Measures were taken: the perpetrator was sanctioned and the victim seemed satisfied. There are very few isolated cases." The regime also claimed that there are no racial majorities or minorities. Meanwhile Cuban dissidents of African descent that wanted to address the problem of racism in Cuba were barred from traveling to address the Committee. 
    On September 21, 2018 Cuban Ambassador to the UN, Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, during the Universal Periodic Review on Cuba at the UN Human Rights Council stated that “our country will not accept monitors. Amnesty International will not enter Cuba and we do not need their advice.” 
    Cuban diplomats led an "act of repudiation" on October 16, 2018 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.

    It was not always this way.

    70 years ago a democratic Cuba played key roles in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the establishment of the UN Human Rights Commission. Cuba's last democratic president, Carlos Prio Socarras, was elected by Cubans in free and fair elections on July 1, 1948 and assumed office on October 10, 1948. He was a democrat who respected civil liberties and presided over years of prosperity and freedom for Cubans.

    President Prio belonged to the Autentico Party and was succeeding Ramon Grau San Martin, another member of the same political party, in the Cuban presidency who had completed his four year term. Both men respected human rights, and this was reflected by the actions taken by their diplomats at the founding of the United Nations.

    Beginning in 1945 Cuba took part in lobbying for and participating in the drafting of the declaration and submitted nine proposals of which five made it into the final document. The first meetings of the General Assembly and the Security Council took place in London starting on January 10, 1946.

    Cuban Ambassador Willy De Blanc in December of 1945 invited former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to lunch at the Cuban Embassy in London with other Cuban diplomats (including delegates to the U.N. Preparatory Commission Dr. Guy Pérez-Cisneros y Bonnel and Cuban jurist Dr. Ernesto Dihigo y López Trigo) where they requested his assistance in the creation of a human rights commission for the United Nations. Churchill recommended that the Cubans lobby Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, and they followed his advice. Eventually the former First Lady was selected as chairwoman to the Human Rights Commission.

    Cuba, Panama, and Chile were the first three countries to submit full drafts of human rights charters to the Commission. The Cuban draft contained references to rights to education, food, and health care, and other social security. Latin American delegations, especially Mexico, Cuba, and Chile inserted language about the right to justice into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in what would become Article 8.

    Guy Pérez-Cisneros and Ernesto Dihigo
    Cuban delegate Guy Pérez-Cisneros in his speech on December 10, 1948 proposing to vote on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights before the third General Assembly of the United Nations in addition to highlighting the importance of the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and how it inspired the Third Committee’s work on this document also addressed the importance of the rule of law:
    My delegation had the honor of inspiring the final text, which finds it essential that the rights of man be protected by the rule of law, so that man will not be compelled to exercise the extreme recourse of rebellion against tyranny and oppression.
    The Cuban delegate also celebrated that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights condemned racism and sexism.
    "My country and my people are highly satisfied to see that the odious racial discrimination and the unfair differences between men and women have been condemned forever."
    This democratic Cuba was overthrown on March 10, 1952 by a military coup led by Fulgencio Batista and hopes of a democratic restoration were dashed by the rise to power of the Castro brothers on January 1, 1959 who established a six decade long dictatorship.

    Guy Pérez-Cisneros died suddenly in 1953 trying to establish a Christian Democrat Party in Cuba in the early years of the Batista regime.

    Ernesto Dihigo, like Pérez-Cisneros, left the diplomatic corps following the 1952 coup, but returned in 1959 as Cuba’s Ambassador to the United States in January of 1959 but retired in 1960. No longer a diplomat or a college professor, he dedicated the next forty years of his life to private study focused on philology. He left Cuba, with his wife Caridad Larrondo in 1989 and died in Miami in 1991.

    President Carlos Prio Socarras
    Cuba's last democratic president, Carlos Prio Socarras, returned to Cuba in 1959 hoping there would be a democratic restoration. Two years later, in 1961, he was back in exile plotting the overthrow of the Castro regime. Regretting that he had supported Castro’s overthrow of Fulgencio Batista, and apparently suffering economic reversals he committed suicide on April 5, 1977.

    Martha Frayde
    This Cuban tradition of defending human rights and democracy did not end with the death of Carlos Prio. On January 28, 1976 Ricardo Bofill, a former philosophy tutor at the University of Havana, together with Martha Frayde at her home in Havana founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights. Prior to the Revolution Martha had been a licensed gynecologist who had studied abroad. She was active in the Orthodox Party and joined the underground resistance during the Batista dictatorship.

    During the early years of the Castro regime Martha Frayde was given a diplomatic posting. However, when she saw that the Castro regime was heading in a totalitarian direction, she resigned the post in 1965, and wanted to leave Cuba, but the dictatorship did not permit it. In 1976 she was accused of “counterrevolutionary conspiracy” and sentenced to 29 years in prison, but the international outrage following the military show trial led to her being exiled to Spain in 1979.

    Over the next 34 years she represented the Cuban Committee for Human Rights in Spain. Ambassador Frayde never backed down from her non-violent resistance: "The Cubans inside are the ones who have to say and decide and are those who, in short, have to achieve change and count on Cubans from the exile for the reconstruction."

    Ricardo Bofill
    Ricardo Bofill spent twelve years in a Cuban prison for his defense of human rights. Emerging from prison he continued his work in Cuba until 1988 when left the island and continued the work of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights in Miami.

    The mission of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights is for the Cuban government to comply with the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Cuba had signed in 1948. This legacy lives on in the Cuban democratic resistance to the Castro regime today.

    On  Tuesday, December 11th in Washington, DC at 1pm we will revisit this human rights legacy with Cuban human rights defenders. Register here to join us and to obtain more information on the event.