Friday, August 30, 2019

Franklin Brito: Martyred human rights defender tortured by Venezuela's regime

"I’ve learned of the death of hunger striker Franklin Brito. It appears that Hugo Chavez now has his own Orlando Zapata" - Yoani Sanchez, August 31, 2010 on twitter

Franklin Brito ( September 5, 1960 – August 30, 2010)
Franklin Brito was a farmer and biologist whose 250 acre fruit and vegetable farm was expropriated by Hugo Chavez in 2003.

Notice of expropriation
Hugo Chávez nationalized 2.5 million hectares as part of a “land reform drive.” This was done allegedly to address past inequalities in distribution. The so-called reform, combined with increased government control over the economy exacerbated food shortages in Venezuela, just like the Castro regime did in Cuba.

Franklin Brito on his farm prior to it being seized in 2003.
Today, the fruits of this policy in Venezuela is rising malnutrition approaching famine levels, but for too long the humanitarian crisis was covered up.

Franklin Brito's ability to provide for his family was crippled when the Chavez regime took his land. The politicized courts in Venezuela, unwilling to provide a just decision, left him in a desperate situation.  

Despite its widespread violation there is a right to private property, it is an internationally recognized human right, in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
Human rights and the rule of law exist in order to provide justice and protect those without power from the abuse of the powerful. Both have been long absent in Venezuela.

Sowed his mouth shut in 2004 protesting the Chavez regime.
Brito began a series of protests and demonstrations to defend his rights. Franklin exhausted every recourse until he was driven to the final option.  

The Venezuelan regime said Brito was mentally unstable because he had sown up his mouth and cut off one of his fingers on live television protesting the seizure of his land.

Franklin Brito protested Chavez regime's property seizure
The Red Cross, Caracas Clinical Hospital and the Venezuelan Psychologists' Association said that Franklin Brito was of sound mind.  

Franklin Brito exhausted every nonviolent recourse and was driven to the final option: six different hunger strikes that began in 2004. 

Franklin Brito on hunger strike holds up photo of himself prior to start.
During one of these hunger strikes on November 19, 2009 Brito explained what drove him:
"I am not doing this strike for something material or because persons have behaved badly towards me - that one could say are corrupt. I am doing this strike for dignity and justice. I believe that these are the greatest values that a human being should have."
Brito was taken by the military on December 13, 2009 held at the Military Hospital "Dr.  Carlos  Arvelo" in Caracas. He was taken under the excuse of protecting his health, but was subjected to cruel and unusual practices that rose to the level of torture and compromised his health.

Military Hospital "Dr.  Carlos  Arvelo"
He was kept next to an air conditioning unit at 8 degrees Celsius (46.4 degrees Fahrenheit). This unit also made a constant and incessant noise that made it difficult for him to sleep. Officials used the pretext of treating the "insomnia" to use medications for schizophrenia, specifically hallucinogens. This practice of using psychiatric "treatment" as a weapon against dissidents has been well documented both in Cuba under the Castro regime and in the Soviet UnionForo por la Vida Coalition of Venezuelan NGOs reported on further mistreatment that compromised the farmer and biologist's health.
Franklin Brito started having breathing problems attributable to the negligent performance of  doctors  who,  through  a  procedure  executed inefficiently, pierced  a lung, which resulted that this be filled with water; in this procedure he also suffers havoc in the glottis, generating  difficulties in  speaking. Is worth noting that this occurs in  mid-July, eight months after a Criminal Court decided  that only under the custody of state his life could be safe.
Franklin Brito died on August 30, 2010 in the Military Hospital "Dr.  Carlos  Arvelo" in Caracas

The tactics Hugo Chavez used, questioning the mental stability of Franklin Brito, weaponizing medical care to break him down both physically and psychologically using torture then smearing him, in death, were copied from the Castro regime's repertoire.

In Cuba Pedro Luis Boitel (1972), Orlando Zapata Tamayo (2010) and Wilman Villar Mendoza (2012) all died on hunger strikes protesting their unjust imprisonment and ill treatment while in the custody of regime officials.

In his last interview, Franklin Brito called on Venezuelans to be the authors of their own destiny and not rely on politicians.   

Franklin Brito's family stated that he stood for "the struggle of the Venezuelan people for property rights, access to justice, for living in freedom."

Nine years later and the wisdom of his advice and his courageous stand become more evident with each passing day.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Amnesty International identified five new prisoners of conscience in Cuba, but there are more.

The current human rights situation.
Amnesty International on August 26, 2019 identified five new prisoners of conscience in Cuba, and states that they likely represent “a tiny fraction of those behind bars for peacefully expressing their views.”
The human rights organization goes on to explain that this is due to Cuban authorities continuing to deny independent human rights monitors access to Cuba and its prisons. Last time the Castro regime allowed such a visit was 1989.
In addition to the lack of access Amnesty International also highlights a “profound climate of fear” due to "the state’s machinery of control.” More media attention, especially by foreign correspondents based in Cuba would discourage these outrageous abuses.
Yoani Sánchez over twitter on August 27, 2019 placed the crime of "pre-criminal dangerousness" into context:
" Did you know that in Cuba you can be jailed for a crime that seems to be taken from the film ‘Minority Report’? It's called 'pre-criminal dangerousness' an they lock you up for what you could do, for the suspicion of an action in the future. Many times, that's how political reprisals are hidden."
Amnesty International should add independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones to the list of prisoners of conscience. He faces one year in prison for his journalism.

Roberto de Jesus Quiñones
Amnesty should also add Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda, a jailed Cuban dissident to the list of prisoners of conscience. Xiomera is a member of the Ladies in White, a mother, and a prisoner of conscience. She was arrested on April 16, 2016 for speaking out during a human rights demonstration in Havana's Central park. She was placed on parole in January of 2018. She was re-arrested in mid-September 2018 under the charge of being "threatening." On September 19, 2018 she was tried and sentenced to one year and four months in prison.  

Amnesty International, August 26, 2019
Cuba: Amnesty International names five new prisoners of conscience
Just over a year since President Miguel Díaz-Canel took office, the existence of prisoners of conscience in Cuba remains a sharp indicator of how authorities there continue to restrict the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said today.
“For decades, Cuba has stifled freedom of expression and assembly by locking up people for their beliefs and opposition to the government. Over the years, the names of Cuba’s prisoners of conscience have changed, but the state’s tactics have stayed almost exactly the same,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
For decades, Cuba has stifled freedom of expression and assembly by locking up people for their beliefs and opposition to the government. Over the years, the names of Cuba’s prisoners of conscience have changed, but the state’s tactics have stayed almost exactly the same. - Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International
“Sadly, we know that the five prisoners of conscience we have named today likely represent a tiny fraction of those behind bars for peacefully expressing their views. As the Cuban authorities continue to deny independent human rights monitors access to the country and its prisons, and because the state’s machinery of control maintains a profound climate of fear, there are serious barriers for Amnesty International to document such cases.”
The list of prisoners of conscience includes members of political and pro-democracy groups not recognized by the state – all of whom have been imprisoned for crimes that are either inconsistent with international law or that have been used for decades in Cuba to silence critical voices. As the executive continues to tightly control lawyers and the judiciary, there are few ways to challenge such decisions.
“The government of Díaz-Canel should focus on finding real solutions to Cuba’s problems, which include increasing scarcity of food and medicine, according to news reports. Instead, it continues to lock people up for their views”, said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
The government of Díaz-Canel should focus on finding real solutions to Cuba’s problems, which include increasing scarcity of food and medicine, according to news reports. Instead, it continues to lock people up for their views. - Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

Amnesty International, August 26, 2019


In a rare press conference with former US President Obama in 2016, President Raúl Castro flatly denied that there were any “political prisoners” in Cuba. However, in the past four years, Amnesty International has named 12 prisoners of conscience in the country, and there are likely many more.
Amnesty International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, as they have been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.
Just over a year after new President Miguel Díaz-Canel assumed office, NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders claims that at least 71people are imprisoned on politically motivated charges. Having considered just a handful those cases, in which we were able to review official court sentences and other available documentation, Amnesty International believes that the below mentioned individuals are prisoners of conscience –people imprisoned solely because of the peaceful exercise of their human rights.
Without access to Cuba, and because lawyers and the judiciary remain firmly under the authorities’ control, there are serious barriers for Amnesty International to document cases of those imprisoned solely for politically motivated reasons, and as such there are highly likely to be many more cases of prisoners of conscience than our organization has been able to document.
According to information available to Amnesty International, all the individuals are members of political opposition groups, not recognized by the authorities. All of them have been imprisoned for offences that are not internationally recognizable, which have been used for decades in Cuba to silence critical voices. Amnesty International calls for the reform of Cuba’s criminal laws to remove provisions that are inconsistent with international law, such as “dangerousness” and “contempt.”


Provisions of the criminal code such as “resistance” to public officials carrying out their duties, and “public disorder” have been used for decades to stifle the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Cuba.CONTEMPT“Contempt”, defined in article 144.1 of Cuba’s Criminal Code, is an undue restriction on the right to freedom of expression, as public officials should tolerate more criticism than private individuals. The use of defamation laws with the purpose or effect of inhibiting criticism of government or public officials violates the right to freedom of expression.
The provision of “dangerousness” is contained in Articles 78-84 of the Penal Code. These provisions are imprecise and subjective, which allow the authorities to apply them arbitrarily. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions has stated that detentions in Cuba are arbitrary when “persons are deprived of their liberty for a long period on the basis of their alleged dangerousness, with no reference to specific acts defined with the rigour that has been required by international criminal law since at least the eighteenth century, and which is now enshrined in article 11, paragraph 2, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
Amnesty International has further documented how the authorities use dismissals from state-employment, and harassment of self-employed workers in emerging private sector, as tactics of control over the right to freedom of expression, leaving many critical of the state’s economic or political model jobless.In multiple sentences issued for “dangerousness” reviewed by Amnesty International, the court refers to the fact that the accused does not work, as part of its reasoning for issuing the sentence of “dangerousness”. As those overtly critical of the government are frequently subject to such dismissals, this, in turn, facilitates the authorities’ ability to imprison dissenting voices for “dangerousness”.

1. Josiel Guía Piloto (male) is president of the Republican Party of Cuba and serving a five year-sentence for “public disorder” and “contempt.”Josiel was detained after having criticized former President Fidel Castro on 1 December 2016. According to his mother, who has also been involved in activism against the Cuban government, prison officialsbeat him in prison leaving him with complications to his left lung. On 11 June 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures to respect and protect his rights to health, life and physical integrity.

Josiel Guía Piloto
2.Silverio Portal Contreras (male), former activist with the Ladies in White, is serving a 4-year sentence for "contempt" and "public disorder." According to a court document, Silverio was arrested on the 20 June 2016 in Old Havana after shouting “Down Fidel Castro, down Raúl...” The document states that the behavior of the accused is particularly offensive because it took place in a touristic area. The document further describes the accused as having “bad social and moral behavior” and mentions that he fails to participate in pro-government activities. According to Silverio’s wife, before his arrest he had campaigned against the collapsing of dilapidated buildings in Havana.  

Silverio Portal Contreras
3. Mitzael Díaz Paseiro(male) is a member of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Cívica Orlando Zapata Tamayo (FNRC-OZT) and who was imprisoned in 2017 for four years, for “dangerousness”.Mitzael Diaz Paseiro is a political activist who was campaigning against the government’s position in the constitutional reform process. According to his wife, prior to his imprisonment the police had detained him multiple times for his activism. According to court documents, which Amnesty International was able to review, Mitzael was imprisoned for “dangerousness”, for among other things, failing to hold a job, for meeting with “citizens of terrible moral and conduct”, for drinking alcohol frequently, and using vulgar language. Mitzael’s wife says he suffers a heart condition and says he has been beaten by officials in jail for his views.

Mitzael Díaz Paseiro
4. Eliecer Bandera Barrera(male), an activist of the Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU) since 2015, is serving a sentence for “dangerousness” until 2021. Eliecer was arrested in September 2016 after having filmed videos for UNPACU about the conditions of workers interned in camps, according to his wife. Eliecer was sentenced to four years imprisonment for “dangerousness” by the Municipal Court of Rio Cauto in 2016, and subsequently further sentenced to 10 months for escaping the camp where he was interned to make a phone call to a sick family member, before voluntarily returning. According to the sentence, during his imprisonment for “dangerousness”, Eliecer “did not participate in political and educational activities” ... “showing disrespect for the officers guarding him”. He also has a prior sentence for “resistance” issued in 2003. 

Eliecer Bandera Barrera
5. Edilberto Ronal Arzuaga Alcalá (male) is an UNPACU activist, reportedly imprisoned for not paying a fine.According to information received by Amnesty International, Edilberto has been imprisoned since December 2018, reportedly for not paying fines related to his alleged distribution of political posters. Edilberto was most recently involved in the “Cuba Decide” Campaign and campaigned against the government’s position in the recent constitutional reform process. According to Cuban Prisoners Defenders, Edilberto was detained on 24 December 2018, when filming testimonies of people discussing the constitutional reform process in a public market, in the city of Camagüey. After being taken to prison, he was sentenced to 14 months of prison for failing to pay fines previously accumulated.On 22 April 2019 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures calling on Cuban authorities to respect and protect the rights to health, life and physical integrity of Edilberto.

Edilberto Ronal Arzuaga Alcalá
These five cases show that although the leadership in Cuba might have changed, illegitimate restrictions on freedom of expression and association are still the practice. Therefore, besides other key recommendations presented in our Human Rights Agenda for Cuba, we urge the Cuban government to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, and quash their convictions, which are solely based on their peaceful exercise of their human rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly;
2.Pending their release, ensure that prisoners of conscience are protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and are allowed access to their family, a lawyer of their choice, and adequate medical care; and are treated in full accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules);
3.Guarantee the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association in Cuba, including for dissident, opponent or activist voices and repeal all legislation which unduly limits these rights.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The New York Times, the Castro regime, and Fake News

"The leader of pro-Castro opinion in the United States is Herbert L. Matthews , a member of the editorial staff of the New York Times. He did more than any other single man to bring Fidel Castro to power." - William F. Buckley Jr.,  Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations

Yesterday, blogged about the latest example of The New York Times bending over backwards to present the Castro dictatorship in a positive light. However, it is important to provide some historical context.

Beginning in 1957 editorial staff member and journalist Herbert Matthews built up Fidel Castro's image both inside and outside of Cuba with a series of misleading articles in The New York Times. In July 1959 Matthews reported: "[t]his is not a Communist Revolution in any sense of the term. Fidel Castro is not only not a Communist, he is decidedly anti-Communist." 

Anthony De Palma wrote an important book in 2006 on Herbert Matthews titled, "The Man Who Invented Fidel" that describes how Matthews's heroic portrayal of Fidel Castro influenced the fall of the Batista government and the consolidation of the future dictator as a national figure.

Fidel Castro's July 26th Movement successfully lobbied Washington to impose an arms embargo on the Batista regime on March 14, 1958, and the old dictator seeing that Washington was siding with Castro made the decision to abandon power on December 31, 1958.
William F. Buckley Jr. in an article in the March 1961 issue of The American Legion magazine outlined the impact of Mr. Matthews on the imposition of communism in Cuba and placed it in a larger context: 

"The leader of pro-Castro opinion in the United States is Herbert L. Matthews , a member of the editorial staff of the New York Times. He did more than any other single man to bring Fidel Castro to power. It could be said - with a little license - that Matthews was to Castro what Owen Lattimore was to Red China, and that the New York Times was Matthews's Institute of Pacific Relations: stressing this important difference, that no one has publicly developed against Matthews anything like the evidence subsequently turned up against Lattimore tending to show, in the words of a Senate investigating committee, that Lattimore was 'a conscious, articulate instrument of the Soviet conspiracy.'"
This was not the first time that The New York Times had a journalist who covered up communist crimes or attempted to portray a communist regime in a positive light.

Nearly ninety years ago Walter Duranty, an employee of The New York Times assisted in covering up the crimes of Josef Stalin. He was the newspaper's man in Moscow, and he repeated Stalinist propaganda and downplayed the atrocities taking place there. Duranty received the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and decades later the world finally learned that more than 10 million people had died in a genocide in the Ukraine, despite the efforts of the New York Times reporter covering it up. Although Stalin's surviving victims sought to have the prize revoked, the Pulitzer Prize board refused to do it.

Over the next six decades, with a few notable exceptions, The New York Times would continue the tradition established with Herbert Matthews of giving positive coverage to the Castro dictatorship regardless what the facts are on the ground.

When one wonders why less people trust journalists the growing phenomenon of fake news should be looked at as a factor.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Correcting The New York Times spin machine on the 2017 Zika outbreak in Cuba

Setting the paper of record straight

The New York Times spin machine is working over time trying to cover up the fact that healthcare in Cuba is a disaster.  In a August 22, 2019 article by Carl Zimmer, "Zika Was Soaring Across Cuba. Few Outside the Country Knew", the newspaper tries to shift the blame for an unreported outbreak of Zika in Cuba in 2017 on a reporting glitch. This ignores a decades long government pattern of covering up epidemics.
"Until now, the Pan American Health Organization had no record of any Zika infection in Cuba in 2017, much less an outbreak. Following inquiries by The New York Times about the new study, published in the journal Cell, officials acknowledged that they had failed to tally 1,384 cases reported by Cuban officials that year. [...] Officials at P.A.H.O., an arm of the World Health Organization, blamed the failure to publish timely data on the Cuba outbreak on a “technical glitch.” The information was held in a database, they said, but not visible on the website. By Thursday afternoon, the website had been updated."
On August 25, 2016 this blog raised concerns about the reporting on Zika in Cuba. This was done by looking back at past Castro regime responses to previous epidemics, and expressed skepticism of reporting that claimed their was nothing to worry about.
Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald reported on August 17, 2016 in the article "How Cuba is fighting Zika" in the first paragraph a claim that should raise concerns:
"After Cuba was ravaged in 1981 by an epidemic of hemorrhagic dengue fever — a mosquito-borne illness — the island nation’s communist government launched an aggressive response that created the framework for its reportedly successful fight against Zika, according to an article published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature."
Tragically, the so-called aggressive response to dengue by 1997 involved arresting at least one doctor for enemy propaganda who correctly warned of a Dengue outbreak.  Eventually when the bodies started to pile up, it was no longer possible to cover up the epidemic, and the regime admitted it had a problem. This pattern of denial and lack of transparency was repeated with a cholera outbreak in 2012.
On September 2, 2016 this blog again warned about the dangers of Zika and Associated Press reports that Cuba had "remarkable success in containing Zika virus." This report made no mention of the regime's past history of covering up epidemics on the island.

On January 8, 2019 New Scientist reported: "Cuba failed to report thousands of Zika virus cases in 2017," but this blog added that New Scientist had "forgot to mention that Havana failed to report outbreaks of Dengue (1997) and Cholera (2012). Jailing those who warned the world of the threat.

Reality of Cuba's healthcare system

Cuba has a two tiered health care system one tier for the nomenklatura and foreign tourists with hard currency that offers care with modern equipment and fully stocked pharmacies, then there is a second tier which is for the rest with broken down equipment, run down buildings and rooms, scarce supplies, a lack of hygiene, the denial of certain services and lengthy wait times. Healthcare professionals are poorly paid and lack food.

In 1997 a Cuban doctor was silenced for warning about a deadly dengue epidemic. Dr Desi Mendoza Rivero, married with four children at the time, was arrested on June 25, 1997. On November 28, 1997 he was sentenced to eight years in prison for "enemy propaganda." Amnesty International declared Desi a prisoner of conscience and campaigned for his freedom. He was released on November 20, 1998 due to health reasons following the visit of the Spanish Foreign Minister,  under the condition that he go into exile in Spain.  First official report to the World Health Organization of the dengue outbreak was six months after initial identification made by the jailed and later forcibly exiled physician. Mendoza's reports were eventually confirmed. This episode would have a chilling effect on other doctors coming forward.

Three of the victims of exposure and hypothermia at Mazorra in 2010
On January 15, 2010 The New York Times reported the confirmed deaths of at least 20 mental patients at the Psychiatric Hospital in Cuba, known as Mazorra, due to "criminal negligence by a government characterized by its general inefficiency," a day later the Cuban government confirmed that 26 patients had died due to “prolonged low temperatures that fell to 38 degrees.”

News of a cholera outbreak in Manzanillo, in the east of the island, broke in El Nuevo Herald on June 29, 2012 thanks to the reporting of an independent reporter in the island. Calixto Martinez, the independent Cuban journalist who broke the story was jailed. The state controlled media did not confirm the outbreak until days later on July 3, 2012. The BBC reported on July 7, 2012 that a patient had been diagnosed with Cholera in Havana. The dictatorship stated that it had it under control and on August 28, 2012 said the outbreak was over

In July 2013 an Italian tourist returned from Cuba with severe renal failure due to Cholera. New York high school teacher Alfredo Gómez contracted cholera during a family visit to Havana during the summer of 2013 and was billed $4,700 from the government hospital. A total of 12 tourists were identified who had contracted cholera in Cuba.

On August 22, 2013 Reuters reported that Cuba was still struggling with cholera outbreaks in various provinces.  

On December 28, 2017 the Spanish news service EFE reported that the Castro regime had dismantled a network of medical officials and workers who'd adulterated a medicine for children made at the laboratories of the state-owned drug company BioCubaFarma. They replaced the active substance methylphenidate with a placebo substance in the manufacture of the drug marketed as "Ritalin." The active substance was sold on the black market. Nevertheless, the Miami Herald had an article touting the importance of importing drugs from Cuba on December 14, 2017.

The statistics and numbers that the international community has access to with relation to the Cuban healthcare system are manipulated by the dictatorship. Anthropologist Katherine Hirschfeldin the book she authored, 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.

Mosquitos are the vector for Zika
Conflict of interests? Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Castro regime's relationship

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is being sued for conspiring "with the Cuban government to collect millions of dollars by unlawfully trafficking Cuban doctors to Brazil." (PAHO is the Regional Office for the Americas for the World Health Organization [WHO], and is recognized internationally as a part of the United Nations system.) According to a November 29, 2018 article by Frances Robles, in The New York Times, PAHO "made about $75 million off the work of up to 10,000 Cuban doctors who earned substandard wages in Brazil." 

Perhaps Mr. Zimmer and The New York Times should explore this relationship and the possibility that more than a glitch was involved in endangering the lives of thousands of travelers with the complicity of both the Cuban government and the Pan American Health Organization.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Black Ribbon Day 2019: Day of Remembrance for Victims of Totalitarian Regimes

"In continental Europe Fascist movements were largely recruited from among Communists, and the opposite process may well happen within the next few years." - George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism, 1945
Nazi and Soviet soldiers celebrate their military victory in Poland (1939)
Eighty years ago on August 23, 1939 Josef Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, the first communist regime, signed a treaty with Adolph Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany it was initially named after their respective foreign ministers, V.M. Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. However it also became known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact

It was publicly described by both parties as a non-aggression treaty but it had a secret additional protocol that divided up Poland and the Baltic states. In reality it was a an aggression treaty in which the two aggressors Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia agreed before hand how to divide up the spoils as follows:
Article I.
 In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement in the areas belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern boundary of Lithuania shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and U.S.S.R. In this connection the interest of Lithuania in the Vilna area is recognized by each party.

Article II.
In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement of the areas belonging to the Polish state, the spheres of influence of Germany and the U.S.S.R. shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narev, Vistula and San. The question of whether the interests of both parties make desirable the maintenance of an independent Polish States and how such a state should be bounded can only be definitely determined in the course of further political developments. In any event both Governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly agreement.  ...
Nine days later on September 1, 1939 at 4:45 am Nazi Germany invaded Poland and World War II started. Sixteen days later the Soviet Union exercising its secret agreement with the Nazis invaded Poland from the East and met their German allies in the middle of Poland. 

On September 22, 1939 the German Nazi army joined with the Soviet Communist army in a military parade in Brest-Litovsk and the two sides celebrated together. In the above picture German Lieutenant-General Mauritz von Wiktorin, General Heinz Guderian and Soviet tank commander Semyon Moiseevich Krivoshein fraternize in Brest-Litovsk, Poland.

Each year on August 23rd beginning in 2009 there is a day of remembrance for the victims of Soviet Communism and Nazi Tyranny across Europe, Canada and the United States.

We should remember the long history of Communist-Nazi collaboration that began long before August 23, 1939 and resumed after the end of World War II, and the nature of these totalitarian regimes.

This is an important moment to hold such acts of remembrance because Russia is engaged in a campaign to rewrite this history, justifying the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact to whitewash Josef Stalin's crimes. This is also why the statement below is now needed.

Joint Statement by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania on the occasion of 80 years since the signing of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

August 23 will mark 80 years since the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that sparked World War II and doomed half of Europe to decades of misery. The Pact contained the secret protocol which effectively carved up Eastern Europe into spheres of influence. 
This is why on this day proclaimed by the European Parliament as a European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Totalitarian Regimes we remember all those whose deaths and broken lives were a consequence of the crimes perpetrated under the ideology of Nazism and Stalinism. 
Pain and injustice will never fall into oblivion. We will remember.
Remembering and commemorating past horrors gives us the knowledge and strength to reject those who seek to revive these ideologies or who seek to exonerate these ideologies of their crimes and culpability. The memory of the victims compels us to promote historical justice by continuing research and raising public awareness of the totalitarian legacy on the European continent.
The basis for sustainable conciliation and building a common future is justice and objective truth. Victims of totalitarian crimes have a right to justice. Unfortunately, the practice of investigating and prosecuting the crimes of totalitarian regimes has been insufficient and inconsistent across countries.
We call upon the governments of all European countries to provide both moral and material support to the ongoing historical investigation of the totalitarian regimes. By acting in a concerted manner, we can counter more effectively disinformation campaigns and attempts to manipulate historical facts.
We must stand together against totalitarianism. A clear and firm position of the international community will pave the way to further reconciliation.
We are confident that today's Europe is a safe place for all peoples, and ready to resolutely resist any kind of injustice. We believe that Europeans will never tolerate totalitarianism or genocide against any people.
Our countries have been reborn as free and democratic nations after decades of totalitarian rule. Thirty years ago, our nations started the democratic transformations that eventually made us equal and vigorous members of the European Union. Our countries are determined to continue working with our partners in Europe and around the world so that the horrors of the past never re-emerge.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia Urmas Reinsalu
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia Edgars Rinkēvičs
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland Jacek Czaputowicz
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania Ramona-Nicole Mănescu

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Learn why Cuba is the only country in the Americas that Amnesty International cannot visit

"It’s people imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. And it’s the continued prohibition of the legitimate work of human rights organizations and lawyers who seek to defend them." - Louise Tillotson

Amnesty International's Caribbean researcher Louise Tillotson published an article on August 14th titled, "‘We are continuity’: What the president’s hashtag tells us about human rights in Cuba today."
The essay highlights that the only country in the Americas that does not allow Amnesty International entry is Cuba, but they are not the only one barred.

Consider the following, we know of the human rights situation in the Guantanamo Naval Base because more access has been granted there to international NGOs. The reason that so much is known and documented with regards to the prisoners there is because the International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the Guantanamo detention facility over 100 times.

Meanwhile over the past 60 years the Cuban government permitted some visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross to Cuba's prisons between 1988-1989. The last visit was thirty years ago. They considered allowing a visit in 2013, but decided against it.

Not allowing human rights organizations visit prisons for decades has a lower cost then opening them up to international inspection.

Amnesty International, August 14, 2019

‘We are continuity’: What the president’s hashtag tells us about human rights in Cuba today
By Louise Tillotson, Caribbean researcher

Late last year, in a country where the Internet remains state-controlled and censored, Cuba’s new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, launched a twitter account. Since then, one of his favourite hashtags has been “#SomosContinuidad” (We are continuity). But what does “continuity” mean for human rights in Cuba?

Just a month after the president took office, the UN conducted a review of Cuba’s human rights record. As in previous reviews, Cuba’s authorities continued to reject a host of recommendations by other UN member states to ratify even the most basic international human rights treaties. They also refused multiple recommendations to strengthen the independence of the judiciary or to bring Cuba’s criminal laws in line with international law.

“Continuity” also means that Cuba will remain the only country in the Americas that Amnesty International, and most other independent human rights monitors, cannot visit. In September, we publicly reiterated our multiple requests to enter Cuba. After years, Cuba’s ambassador to the UN finally gave us a response: “Amnesty International will not enter Cuba, and we don’t need their advice.”

'Continuity' also means that Cuba will remain the only country in the Americas that Amnesty International, and most other independent human rights monitors, cannot visit.

But we won’t be deterred. Although not being able to visit Cuba makes our job harder – because we always prefer to sit down with governments and hear their version of events – we will keep finding ways to get around this. For example, in 2017, when thousands of Cuban migrants were crossing South and Central America and heading to the United States, we went to find and interview more than 60 of them in Mexico. Many had sold everything they owned, crossed about eight countries, and walked through the Darién Gap – a wild and perilous stretch of jungle between Colombia and Panama – in search of a life where they didn’t feel weighed down and suffocated by Cuba’s oppressive state machinery.

The report we produced after many hours of interviews with ordinary Cubans detailed how trumped-up charges for common crimes, and politically motivated dismissals from state employment, continue to be used as tactics to silence those who even vaguely criticize the country’s political or economic system.

President Díaz-Canel seems to only want to strengthen this web of control over freedom of expression. In April 2018, one of the first laws he signed was Decree 349, a dystopian prospect that stands to censor artists, who will need prior authorization from the state in order to work, or risk sanction. So far, authorities have reportedly arbitrarily detained independent artists who have dared to protest the law. Of course, this is nothing new. Amnesty International has documented repression of independent artists in Cuba since at least the 1980s.

Perhaps a glimmer of hope last year was found in the constitutional reform process. Amnesty International welcomed the inclusion of protections against discrimination for LGBTI people in the first draft, and a provision which would have made Cuba the first independent nation in the Caribbean to legalize same-sex marriage. But by the end of 2018, the government had removed support for same-sex unions from the draft Constitution that will be put to referendum this month.

So, what is 'continuity' for human rights in Cuba? It’s confrontation and often detention or job loss, rather than dialogue, for anyone who challenges the state’s system.

There are some more progressive parts of the new Constitution – such as the explicit recognition of climate change as a global threat. But unless the authorities stop locking up activists like environmentalist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola for alleged “contempt” or disrespect of public officials, start giving Cubans access to information to participate in policies that affect the environment, and make the judiciary independent enough to enforce constitutionally protected rights, it’s hard to imagine that the new Constitution will translate into greater protection of human rights in practice.

So, what is “continuity” for human rights in Cuba? It’s confrontation and often detention or job loss, rather than dialogue, for anyone who challenges the state’s system.

It’s people imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. And it’s the continued prohibition of the legitimate work of human rights organizations and lawyers who seek to defend them.

But within this tired system, “continuity” is also brave independent journalists and human rights activists taking risks, getting arrested, and daring to look through the cold divides of political ideology to think about alternatives and change.