Thursday, October 31, 2019

Open Letter to Anne Ewbank regarding Atlas Obscura's article on Bacardi and Bay of Pigs Veterans

Dear Ms. Ewbank of Atlas Obscura,

Writing to express my disappointment in your October 31, 2019 article "Bacardi’s Head Honcho Once Tried to Bomb Castro’s Cuba" that sought to paint the history of the Bacardi family in a negative slant, and uses the slanders of the Castro dictatorship against the courageous volunteers who risked life and limb in April of 1961 when they tried to free their homeland from communist rule.

Two generations of the Bacardi family fought for Cuban independence with one family member fighting alongside General Antonio Maceo. During the Republic the family not only had enlightened business practices, but also engaged in civic activities that promoted a democratic culture. It is not an understatement to say that to understand Cuban history one must know the role played by Bacardi.

Emilio Bacardi: Rebel who fought for independence
In your article you making passing reference to Tom Gjelten's book, Bacardi and The Long Fight for Cuba :The Biography of a Cause.  It deserves more attention. Gjelten is a journalist for National Public RadioA 2008 review of the book in The New York Times by Randy Kennedy touched on an important figure in the Bacardi family.
Emilio Bacardi Moreau, especially, comes to life as the book’s most powerful character, though one so strange that Gabriel García Márquez might have invented him. Emilio was imprisoned twice by Spain off the coast of Morocco for his revolutionary activities. But he still managed to hold the company together, to serve as Santiago’s mayor during the unsettled years of the American occupation, to help found a salon called the Victor Hugo Freethinker Group, to practice theosophy in a predominantly Catholic country and to track down a genuine mummy on a trip to Egypt, which he bought as the centerpiece for a museum he had founded in San­tiago. (Modest he was not; he signed his revolutionary correspondence with the name Phocion, after the Athenian statesman known as “the good.”)
His son Emilio Bacardi Lay actively took part in Cuba's war of independence. In 1895, he was a field officer for Gen. Antonio Maceo during the invasion of Cuba by independence forces. He reached the rank of colonel by the age of 22. He fled Cuba in 1961 due to the Castro regime. Bacardi Imports, Inc., re-established its headquarters in Miami in 1963 after having been based for a century in Santiago de Cuba. Emilio Bacardi Lay died in exile in Miami on October 14, 1972 at the age of 95 and was the last surviving ranking officer of Cuba's war of independence with Spain. This founding father of Cuba is buried in Miami.

Emilio Bacardi Lay
The Bacardi family tradition, which you make light of in your essay, is one of public service and steadfast defense of democracy against tyranny that stretches back 151 years. Each time that dictatorship arose in Cuba under Machado (1927-1933), Batista (1952-1959) and the Castros (1959-present) the Bacardis played an important role in the democratic resistance. 

They have continued this tradition and recognized the life and work of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and in 2017 that of his daughter, Rosa María Payá. They are now supporting the Cuba Decide initiative to push for a democratic transition in Cuba.

There are two traditions competing for control in Cuba. One tradition, embodied by the Castro regime and prior dictatorships, is based on violence and the destruction or subjugation of the other has dominated Cuba's political discourse for six decades. It views dissent as treason and demands unanimity. 

The second tradition that built the institutions of Cuban democracy in the 19th Century using civic means, that founded companies with a social conscience was represented by Bacardi, in Cuba. This Cuban company, now in the diaspora, continues to contribute to the common good fighting for freedom using all means at their disposal. This tradition on the international scene, embodied by Cuban democrats played an important role in the drafting and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Making light of this democratic tradition only serves to empower the dictatorship, and is a disservice to Cuban democrats and the many who have been killed resisting or fleeing the dictatorship over the past six decades.

This letter is not meant to attack you, the author, or your publication, but express the disappointment and anguish that such a well written article would regurgitate talking points of a six decade old dictatorship. It also serves to provide links and videos that present a factual history that too many have overlooked.

Pray that you revisit this history and take a closer look at Cuba's democratic tradition and give it a fairer shake.


John Suarez

This Film Used To Be About Rum from MEL Films on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Repression rising in Cuba, opposition leader threatened with prison or being disappeared

Urgent notice from Cuba. Possible death threat.

MCL Coordinator in Santiago de Cuba, Eliécer Porto arrested by the political police.
Eliecer Porto, MCL

Eliecer Porto, Coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement in Stgo de Cuba has been arrested and interrogated today by the political police of Palma Soriano.

He was threatened with "imprisonment or disappearance." There have been numerous occasions when he and other members of the MCL have received this kind of threats

"The regime intends to suffocate the opposition, the level of repression is very high and very punctual and personalized," says MCL National Coordinator Eduardo Cardet

Original text here.

Note of condolence of the Christian Liberation Movement for Armando Sosa Fortuny

Yesterday, this blog paid tribute to the life and struggle of Cuban political prisoner Armando Sosa Fortuny, who spent 43 years in Castro's prisons for defying the dictatorship. Today we reproduce and translate a message of condolence from former prisoner of conscience and opposition leader Eduardo Cardet.

Armando Sosa Fortuny, 1943 - 2019. 
The death of the political prisoner Armando Sosa Fortuny, an elderly man gripped by the diseases and the rigor of the political prison, at the hands of his captors fills us with pain and deep dismay. Rest in peace Armando.

We extend our deepest condolences to family and friends.

Freedom and Life!

Freedom for all political and conscientious prisoners.

Eduardo Cardet
National Coordinator, Christian Liberation Movement

Original Spanish text.

El fallecimiento del preso político Armando Sosa Fortuny, hombre de avanzada edad atenazado por las enfermedades y el rigor del presidio político, en manos de sus captores nos llena de dolor y profunda consternación. En paz descanses Armando.
Llegue a familiares y amigos nuestro más sentido pésame.
¡Libertad y Vida!

Libertad para todos los presos políticos y de conciencia.

Eduardo Cardet
Coordinador Nacional del Movimiento Cristiano Liberación

Requiescat in pace, Armando Sosa Fortuny 1943 - 2019, Cuban political prisoner

The Castro regime condemns Armando Sosa, but celebrates Fidel Castro for doing the same thing in the struggle against Fulgencio Batista.

Political prisoner Armando Sosa Fortuny was born on March 5, 1943 and died on October 28, 2019 at the Amalia Simoni provincial hospital in Camagüey, as confirmed by relatives and activists. Sosa Fortuny spent 43 of his 76 years in Cuban prisons.

Sosa Fortuny was jailed twice for fighting for the freedom of Cuba. His first sentence was served from 1960 to 1974, according to a report from El Nuevo Herald. (Other sources place his release date as 1978.)

According to 14ymedio, Armando Sosa left Cuba clandestinely at age 18 for the United States. In October 1960 he returned with the intention of overthrowing the dictatorship, at which time one of his companions died in combat and ten others were shot by firing squad, including three Americans.

After being released, he came into exile in the United States but did not give up his struggle to see a free, democratic and prosperous Cuba.

On October 15, 1994 Armando Sosa Fortuny returned to the island, along the coast of Caibarién, Villa Clara, with Lázaro González Caraballo, Pedro Guisao Peña, José Ramón Falcón Gómez, Jesús Manuel Rojas Pineda, Miguel Díaz Bouza and Humberto Real Suárez to continue fighting for freedom. They belonged to the National Unity Party (PUND) a militant organization.Their plan was to establish themselves in the Escambray mountains, to create guerrilla groups and carry out military actions to overthrow the Castro dictatorship. Following their clandestine landing he was captured, arrested and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The Cuban dictatorship called him a "terrorist". One of the members of this group, Humberto Real was accused of killing Arcilio Dionisio Rodríguez García.

Press accounts identified Mr. Rodríguez García as a police man or guard.

Humberto Real Suarez: Then and now
Armando Sosa Fortuny was not an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience because like Fidel Castro he took up arms against a dictator in an armed assault that failed then was imprisoned, left for exile and returned in an armed incursion that was also crushed by forces of the dictatorship.
The Castro regime condemns these actions carried out by Mr. Sosa Fortuny, but celebrates the same kinds of actions carried out by Fidel Castro on July 26, 1953, and on December 2, 1956 but on a larger scale with a greater loss of life.

In the early morning hours of July 26, 1953 a group of approximately 150 young Cubans led by Fidel Castro assaulted the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Approximately, 18 pro-government officials were killed and 28 wounded in the attack. 27 rebels were killed and 11 wounded. 51 of the surviving 99 rebels were placed on trial. It was a failed coup. Fidel Castro turned himself in after seeking guarantees for his safety and was also put on trial. He was sentenced to a fifteen year prison sentence, but was pardoned after 22 months, and went into exile in Mexico. Castro raised money in Miami, and plotted his return to Cuba.

On December 2, 1956 Castro and 81 others land in Cuba on the yacht “Granma.” Most were killed by Batista's troops, but 12 survived, including Castro, his brother Raul Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. They regrouped in the Sierra Maestra mountains where they launched their guerrilla war.

There are some differences between Sosa Fortuny and Castro that need to be highlighted. First Armando Sosa Fortuny spent fourteen years in prison and was not pardoned, like Fidel Castro was. Secondly, when he returned to Cuba in 1994 Armando Sosa was captured and spent another 25 years in prison and died while in custody.

Lastly, there are two more fundamental differences between Armando Sosa Fortuny and Fidel Castro. Armando Sosa did not seek to become dictator of Cuba, and he confronted a much more effective, brutal and totalitarian dictatorship constructed by Fidel Castro than the authoritarian dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista faced by the young guerrillas in the 1950s.

Violent resistance by an internal indigenous movement has a much lower chance of success than a nonviolent one.  University Academics Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their 2008 study "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic on Nonviolent Conflict" compared the outcomes of 323 nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006. They found that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with just under half that at 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns. Finally there study also suggests “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.”

The sad lesson of Cuba is that violent resistance succeeded in overthrowing Fulgencio Batista's authoritarian dictatorship in 1959 and replaced it with a far more cruel and brutal totalitarian dictatorship of Fidel Castro. Armed resistance failed to overthrow the Castro regime, and many brave men like Armando Sosa Fortuny were killed or jailed for decades under inhumane conditions without access to the International Red Cross. 

Armando Sosa Fortuny, Requiescat in pace

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Requiescat in pace, Vladimir Bukovsky 1942 - 2019: Author, Activist, Dissident

“Power rests on nothing other than people’s consent to submit, and each person who refuses to submit to tyranny reduces it by one two-hundred-and-fifty-millionth, whereas each who compromises only increases it.” - Vladimir Bukovsky, To Build a Castle

HRF Mourns the Passing of Vladimir Bukovsky

By Human Rights Foundation

NEW YORK – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) mourns the passing of Vladimir Bukovsky, the Russian author, dissident, and fearless critic of the Soviet Union and Putin's regime. Bukovsky was a founding member of HRF’s International Council and a frequent participant in HRF’s activities.

Bukovsky spent a total of 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps, and forced-treatment psychiatric hospitals for his outspoken opposition to the communist regime. Bukovsky was successful in smuggling documents detailing the Soviets’ political use of psychiatric institutions.

“With Bukovsky’s death, the world has suffered a terrible loss. He was a a man of gigantic moral stature, an icon to activists everywhere for his uncompromising commitment to human rights and for being an eloquent and categorical opponent of dictatorship in all its forms. He is an inspiration to anyone that defies tyranny against all odds,” said HRF President Thor Halvorssen. “Bukovsky will be deeply missed by the HRF community. He will always be remembered as a dear friend and beloved member of the Oslo Freedom Forum family.”

Born in 1942 in the Russian village of Belebey, Bukovsky began his activism at a young age. As a 19-year-old biology student enrolled in Moscow University, he declared the USSR an “illegal society” with “moribund” institutions. That year, Bukovsky was arrested for the making and possession of photocopies of anti-Soviet literature.

Soviet psychiatrists declared Bukovsky mentally ill and imprisoned him in the Special Psychiatric Hospital in Leningrad for two years. After his release, Bukovsky was arrested again and sent to another hospital in Dec. 1965 for helping to organize a demonstration in Pushkin Square. Bukovsky spent a total of twelve years in Soviet psychiatric hospitals, where he endured forced psychotropic drug treatment, isolation in KGB custody, and frequent torture.

While in prison, he co-authored A Manual on Psychiatry for Dissidents, to help other dissidents fight psychiatric torture. After his release, he published numerous anti-communist works, including his bestselling autobiography To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter.

In 1971, Bukovsky smuggled over 150 pages to the West, documenting his experiences and the punitive nature of Soviet psychiatric institutions in a letter to the global psychiatric community. His efforts prompted organizations everywhere to investigate and condemn the Soviet Union’s practices, eventually leading to the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from the World Psychiatric Association in 1977.

In 1983, he co-founded the international anti-communist organization Resistance International, which was instrumental in organizing protests in captive nations and opposing western financial aid to communist governments. In the last two decades, Bukovsky was active in a number of capacities, including successful opposition to the use of torture by the U.S. government and opposition to the tyranny of Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Bukovsky was a member of HRF's International Council, a director of the Gratitude Fund, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and a member of the international advisory council for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which honored him with the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom in 2001. Since 1976, he has lived in Cambridge, England, where he passed away from cardiac arrest on Oct. 27, 2019.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Reflection from the radical opposition to the Castro dictatorship

"A genuine man goes to the roots. To be a radical is no more than that: to go to the roots." - Jose Marti

Regis Iglesias Ramirez: Former prisoner of conscience
Following a presentation of two of his books on October 26, 2019 at Cafe Demetrio in Coral Gables, Regis Iglesias Ramirez answered questions from the audience and explained the Christian Liberation Movement's radical position and the root problem that confronts Cuba.
"Our position is radical not only in discourse, it is in our actions. Because we go to the root of the problem. The root of the problem in Cuba has not even been the violence, repression, jail, and exile that has been exerted against persons. It has been precisely that the Cuban people have not been able to decide for themselves in 60 years. Therefore, all the proposals of the Christian Liberation Movement have gone to the root of the problem that is to give tools to the Cuban people so that they can reclaim their rights and truly take their sovereignty into their hands. 
We, the Christian Liberation Movement, have always said that we are willing to die for what we want but we are not willing to kill. And in this sense I believe that it is the spirit of the gospel that Oswaldo always referred to by which we have been guided and by which we have been consistently determined to work for the freedom of Cuba."
Regis Iglesias Ramirez with Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas in May 2002
Original text in Spanish: 
Nuestra posición es radical no solo en el discurso, es en nuestro accionar. Porque nosotros vamos a la raíz del problema. La raíz del problema en Cuba no ha sido incluso la violencia que sé ha ejercido contra el pueblo, no ha sido incluso la represión, la cárcel, el exilio contra las personas. Ha sido precisamente que el pueblo Cubano no ha podido decidir por si mismo en 60 años. Por lo tanto todos las propuestas del Movimiento Cristiano Liberación han ido a la raíz del problema que es darle instrumentos al pueblo Cubano para que pueda reclamar sus derechos y verdaderamente tomar en sus manos la soberanía popular.

El Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, nosotros siempre hemos dicho que estamos dispuesto a morir por lo que queremos pero no estamos dispuesto a matar. Y en este sentido creo que es el espíritu del evangelio que hacia siempre referencia Oswaldo por el cual nos hemos guiado y por el cual hemos estado consecuentemente decididos a trabajar por la libertad de Cuba.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Francisco Franco and Fidel Castro: A Good Friendship

Spanish Socialist hypocrisy and the Castro regime

Fidel Castro and Francisco Franco were close allies.
International news outlets today are reporting on the exhumation of late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's remains from the Valley of the Fallen. Monument dedicated to the fallen in the Spanish Civil War.

Prime minister, Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), at a news conference this afternoon said this “ends a moral affront: the exaltation of a dictator in a public place.”

This is the same Prime Minister Sánchez who made an official state visit to Cuba in 2018 and publicly embraced the Castro dictatorship.

Legitimizing the Castro regime is an outrage in and of itself, but the good friendship between communist despot Fidel Castro and fascist despot Francisco Franco is too often ignored.

Prime Minister Sánchez in Cuba with Diaz Canel in 2018
Both Franco's father and Castro's father had been soldiers who fought in Cuba to preserve the Spanish empire. Castro's father, Angel, according to a 2016 documentary, had a photo of Franco on his nightstand.

In 2016 Catalonia region, TV3 produced a documentary "Franco and Fidel: A Strange Friendship" that explored this relationship between the two dictators and is available online.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara with Franco's secret police attending a bull fight in Madrid
In the documentary it reveals how pro-Castro Cuban exiles were able to celebrate Fidel Castro's triumph in 1959 with a mass protest in Retiro Park in Spain. This was at a time when Spaniards could not do that. Latin American Herald Tribune reports on this and more regarding the TV3 production.
Also revealing are accounts by Castro revolutionaries who said that during their struggle against dictator Fulgencio Batista their lives were saved thanks to the help of the Spanish Embassy, as well as images of Ernesto "Che" Guevara walking in Madrid and attending a bullfight with members of Franco's secret police.
Following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the US pushed for tight economic sanctions on the Castro regime, the rest of Latin America, France and the United Kingdom all went along with the Americans, but Franco's Spain continued trading with Havana.

On Franco's death in 1975, Fidel Castro decreed three days of mourning in Cuba, although he made sure that it went unnoticed by the press, it was an official decree signed by Cuban president Oswaldo Dorticós.

This should not be viewed as a "strange" relationship considering that the Castro regime had close relations with former high ranking Nazis.

Wonder if Prime Minister Sánchez will ever raise the history of this good friendship between the two dictators with the Castro regime and demand truth and reconciliation?

Valley of the Fallen in Spain

Monday, October 21, 2019

Cuba's Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz was born 94 years ago today in Havana but Castro still bans her music

"Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is remembering without pain." - Celia Cruz  
Celia Cruz 1925 - 2003
Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso was born 94 years ago today in Havana, Cuba, but she was better known as Celia Cruz. She played in Cuba for twelve years from 1948 until 1960. Because she wanted to play her music around the world, she was banned by the Castro regime from returning to the island.

Celia was not able to return to Cuba when her father died there in 1961, and she was not allowed to return to Cuba when her mother became ill, or at attend her funeral when her mom died in 1962.

Celia Cobo of Billboard Magazine observed that "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.

Google Doodle of Celia Cruz from 2013
She is recognized around the world as an icon of music and in 2013 Google honored Celia on the 88th anniversary of her birth with a Google Doodle. In 2010 the United States Postal Service issued a postage stamp in her honor describing the Cuban artist as follows.
"A dazzling performer of many genres of Afro-Caribbean music, Celia Cruz (1925-2003) had a powerful contralto voice and a joyful, charismatic personality that endeared her to fans from different nationalities and across generations. Settling in the United States following the Cuban revolution, the “Queen of Salsa” performed for more than five decades and recorded more than 50 albums."  
However in Cuba the Castro regime continues to ban the music of Celia Cruz from the radio airwaves. She is not alone. There are other banned Cuban musicians of great importance. According to Shoot the singer!: music censorship today, a book edited by Marie Korpe states that there is increasing concern within the international music community that post-revolution generations are growing up without knowing or hearing these censored musicians and that this could lead to a loss of Cuban identity in future generations.

The phrase cultural genocide is used to describe the "cultural revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s that blacklisted and censored scores of Cuban musicians and artists.

The above censorship is widely known, but not as well known is that the way Celia Cruz was blocked by Fidel Castro from returning to Cuba to say goodbye to her parentsstill goes on today in Cuba with members of the diaspora barred arbitrarily from seeing their loved ones by the Castro regime.

Celia Cruz: The Queen of Salsa
The Queen of Salsa passed away sixteen years go on July 16, 2003 and her music is still banned in Cuba today.  At the time of her death the Associated Press reported:
"While the death of salsa singer Celia Cruz was reported prominently in newspapers across the world, the news got scant and somewhat bitter treatment Thursday in the official media of her homeland. The Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma reported Cruz’s death in a tiny, two-paragraph story published low on page 6 of the eight-page edition."
On August 8, 2012 BBC News reported that the Cuban regime's ban on anti-Castro musicians had been quietly lifted and two days later the BBC correspondent in Cuba, Sarah Rainsford, tweeted that she had been given names of forbidden artists by the central committee and the internet was a buzz that the ban on anti-Castro musicians had been quietly lifted. Others soon followed reporting on the news.  The stories specifically mentioned Celia Cruz as one of the artists whose music would return to Cuban radio. 

Let Celia Cruz's music be heard in Cuba
This wasn't news but a rumor that nine years after her death her music would be played on Cuban radio, after a half century absence but they were dispelled by regime officials. On August 21, 2012 Tony Pinelli, a musician and radio producer, distributed an e-mail in which Rolando Álvarez, the national director of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión (ICRT) confirmed that the music of the late Celia Cruz would continue to be banned.

Sharing the music of Celia Cruz in Cuba is a counter-revolutionary act according to the Castro regime and is an act of subversion against the communist dictatorship. Please share her music widely because it is the sound of freedom. This is why Cuba's tyrants hate her and her music so much, even in death.

Viva Celia Cruz!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Democracy and Human Rights in Crisis: Lessons from the UN General Assembly and Forum 2000

"Each time the West made the wrong decision of support [for] what they call stability, instead of supporting the peoples right to be free they end up with the situation as the one we are facing today in our hemisphere, Latin America." - Rosa María Payá, Opening Panel of Forum 2000

Challenges and opportunities for Cuban democrats at the UN General Assembly and Forum 2000

Source: CubaBrief

There is an international crisis that finds both human rights and democracy in retreat around the globe. The roots of this crisis are found externally, with the rise of communist China as a great power, and internally with a crisis of values in established democracies.

On October 17th at the United Nations the 193-member General Assembly, elected Brazil and Venezuela to the region’s two vacant spots. Brazil obtained 153 votes, followed by Venezuela with 105 votes both beating Costa Rica, that obtained only 96 votes. The two countries will each serve three-year terms on the UN Human Rights Council beginning January 1, 2020. Costa Rica has the best human rights records of the three candidates, but did not garner enough votes to get elected.

The Washington Post reported on the consequences of this vote and quoted U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, Louis Charbonneau, who observed that “with the seat, Venezuela will try to undermine scrutiny of its abuses and the abuses of its allies,” and that in "votes on some issues can be close, so we don’t need countries like Venezuela who try to undermine the good work.” This vote is an insult to international human rights standards.

Meanwhile in Cuba, U.S. economic sanctions are impacting the Castro regime and forcing it to open up the economy to obtain more hard currency for the dictatorship. The prices of household appliances and other items have been lowered, but Cubans will have to purchase them in dollars.This is part of an effort to limit US economic leverage. The United States has tightened sanctions over the Cuban dictatorship to push for the Castro regime to end its bad actions in Venezuela. Paradoxically it is forcing the regime to open up economically to its own population.

Oved Lobel, a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, outlined the Cuban role in Venezuela in his June 6, 2019 article "What are Russia, Iran and Cuba doing in Venezuela?" in the publication The Strategist.
"Amid the continuing political, economic and humanitarian meltdown of Venezuela, an anti-American alliance consisting of Russia, Cuba and Iran is coalescing to counter US economic and diplomatic pressure on embattled President Nicolas Maduro. The anchor of the alliance is Cuba, which colonised Venezuela through its security services when Fidel Castro’s protege Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998. Castro then began shipping tens of thousands of barrels of oil a day back to Cuba, while Venezuela became what is widely considered a ‘mafia state’. He also expanded his relationships with the narco-terrorist insurgencies plaguing the region, most famously FARC and the National Liberation Army in Colombia. Cuba’s security services helped stand up loyalist paramilitary organisations called colectivos to terrorise opponents of the Maduro regime. More recently, Cuba assisted in creating the Special Actions Force, or FAES, which strikes at opposition figures."
Despite Cuba's role as a bad actor in Venezuela, and the unfolding crisis there, the European Union has pursued an engagement policy with the Castro regime while marginalizing the role of the Cuban opposition both at diplomatic gatherings in Cuba and international meetings in Europe. Leaders of the European Union have forgotten the lessons of 1989 and statues of Karl Marx are being erected in Europe once again.

In contrast to the European Union, much of European civil society has maintained its commitment to Cuban democrats and independent civil society.

Opening Panel of Forum 2000
Earlier this week, over two days on October 15th and 16th in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, Forum 2000 gathered to analyze the challenges to a democratic world order that defends human rights. Forum 2000 is a joint initiative of the late Czech President Václav Havel, Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa, and the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel that was founded in 1996.

Over the past 23 years beginning in 1997, Forum 2000 has organized an annual gathering to focus on pressing international issues. This year's Forum 2000 Conference theme was "Recovering the Promise of 1989" and looked back at the optimism of thirty years ago and the pessimism and challenges of today:
"Thirty years ago, the world was full of hope that, finally, democracy, freedom, and a global order based on peace and responsibility would prevail. In the tumultuous year 1989, people rallied against governments with a dismal human rights record and a lack of respect for the rule of law. Protests in Beijing, Berlin, or Prague coincided with ongoing or looming democratic transitions in Chile, Nicaragua, South Africa and elsewhere. Citizens globally asked for more freedom and democracy and hoped for a just society. Western democracies served as a model to which many looked up to.
Since then, the spirit of freedom and civic responsibility in new democracies, as well as in the more established ones, has faced many difficult tests and today, we are at perhaps one of liberal democracy's most demanding moments."
Cuban dissidents were prominently featured during this edition of the Forum 2000 Conference.

Lech Walesa and Rosa María Payá at Forum 2000
Cuban dissident Rosa María Payá took part in the opening panel, "Ambitions of 1989? Ambitions of Today?" at Žofín Palace, Forum Hall together with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman, Mikuláš Minář, Šimon Pánek, Maia Sandu and moderator Jacques Rupnik. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Karman addressed how "bad choices are made between tyranny and terrorism," and she declared that "we will fight both. Any war against terrorism is also a war against dictatorship. Every dictator is a terrorist and every terrorist is a dictator."

Rosa María Payá warned of the dangers of ignoring the Castro regime in Latin America, citing her martyred father Oswaldo Payá who said "the cause of freedom is the cause of peace" and no strategy that ignores the authoritarian presence and interference of Castroism in Latin America will be successful in obtaining and maintaining either."

Manuel Cuesta Morúa responds to a question on the Forum 2000 anniversary panel
Cuban dissident Manuel Cuesta Morúa spoke on the anniversary panel, "30 Years of Czech Human Rights Policy Abroad: Achievements and New Challenges" in the Žofín Palace, Forum Hall with speakers Arzu Gebullayeva, Carl Gershman, and Alexandr Vondra.

During the panel discussion Carl Gershman highlighted the criminal nature of the Castro regime and the fact that Cuba's secret police had murdered Oswaldo Payá in 2012.

Tania Bruguera addresses Forum 2000 panel
Cuban artist Tania Bruguera took part in the panel discussion, "60 Years of Communism in Cuba" at Žofín Palace in the Conference Hall along with Wilhelm Hofmeister, Miriam Kornblith, and Danae Vilchez. According to the event description: "Cuba is one of the five remaining modern-day communist countries in the world along with China, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. Its communist regime, established in 1959, survived even the collapse of its one-time supporter, the Soviet Union. Despite the new constitution and the so-called 'transition of power' to the new President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018, Cuba remains a country ruled by a communist government. What lessons can Cuba learn from the countries that successfully overthrew their communist regimes in 1989? Is there a role for the international community and regional actors in supporting Cuba's eventual transition to democracy?"

This past week demonstrated both the challenges and opportunities for Cuban democrats.

International institutions such as the UN General Assembly are dominated by anti-democratic actors. The election of Venezuela to the UN Human Rights Council adds to the roster of the world's worst human rights offenders sitting on that body with the objective of neutralizing it.

This is due in part to the West's failure of prioritizing human rights over economic interests. The rise of China as an international power aggravates this negative trend.

On the other hand Forum 2000 continues its work of bringing together people of good will from around the world to engage in a democratic conversation on the pressing matters of the day. It also serves as a platform for democrats to network and coordinate their efforts.

This is of great importance to counter the coordination and networking of authoritarians and totalitarians to undermine democracies and international human rights standards.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and President of Poland Lech Walesa in the concluding panel of Forum 2000 explained the concept of solidarity. He described it as follows: "If you can't lift heavy weights, you need to ask somebody for help. The Soviet Union was such a weight. We asked Europe, the United States, and Canada for help and together we got rid of the system. Now we need the same spirit of global solidarity in the world."

The rest of the panels are available here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A debate: Protests at soccer games and effectiveness of electoral strategies in totalitarian regimes

Bad night for Castro followed up with an opportunity to debate tactics and strategy.

On Friday, October 11th the CONCACAF Nations League held a Team USA vs Team Cuba soccer match at the Audi Field in Washington, DC. Cuban diplomats attended the game and large Cuban flags were seen in the stadium. There was also a heavy showing of American flags, and fans dressed in Revolutionary era garb.

It was a bad night for the Castro regime. Team Cuba lost to Team USA by seven to zero, and before the game a Cuban player defected.

In the midst of all this ten of us stood together with a banner and flag from CubaDecide calling on Castro to leave power.
Approximately a half hour into the game we were approached by stadium officials and told that political banners were prohibited and that we’d be asked to leave if we kept holding it up. At the time I posted what had taken place on twitter.

Four day later on October 15th Nizmy Liberty responded to the tweet raising a number of issues related to the protest and also to CubaDecide's position on the 2019 Constitutional referendum and the "No" campaign.

I responded, but twitter is a platform that does not allow much nuance, and decided to blog on the issues raised.

First, Nizmy is right. I have lived many years in the United States, and have also worked on political campaigns. However that "rule" was non-existent during much of my life here. We engaged in distributing political propaganda in both football games and baseball games in Iowa and Nebraska in the 1990s for state and federal races.

In the above tweet Nizmy makes reference to a law that bars "any kind of political propaganda in games." There is no law that I know of, but policies by sports leagues, and stadiums, but they are considered controversial. If there is such a law please share it.

Court decisions have been all over the place on this issue, especially with public stadiums on first amendment grounds. Private stadiums have more latitude on restricting free speech, but again their policies vary.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a September 17, 2019 OpEd in The Guardian titled "Banning fans' free speech is not consistent with our vision of sport. Or democracy," in which he makes the case for defending the rights of fans to peacefully protest at sporting events.
"What leagues can do is insist that expressions of political allegiance are maintained within consistent parameters that insure they don’t interfere with fans watching the event they paid to enjoy. By consistent, I mean that if a stadium allows American flags or team banners to be waved or displayed, then they should allow political flags and banners of the same size to be waved by fans, as long as they don’t promote symbols of hate and violence, such as swastikas.
The rule banning political banners at Major League Soccer (MLS) is a relatively new policy, and has been controversial on first amendment grounds.

The problems is that some of these policies do not ban all political speech, but leave it up to the discretion of the stadium owners, the league, or other entity.

For example, on August 1, 2019 four fans at the Baltimore Oriole's Camden Yards were booted out for unveiling a "Trump 2020" banner during the Orioles-Blue Jays game. According to a USA Today article the following day:
Camden Yards' stadium policy states that no banners can be hung anywhere in a way that would obstruct other fans' views of the game, according to the Orioles' website. Based on the organization's policy, political banners are subject to confiscation and based on the "Orioles' discretion."
In the same tweet Nizmy also argued that if one wanted to free Communist Cuba then one should "ask for arms", not for  an "electoral" agenda that has proven a failure in Venezuela.

My response on twitter was inadequate due to space limitations, and focused more broadly on an approach that "ask for arms" which means a violent resistance and not an "electoral agenda" that falls within the category of nonviolence and responded as follows.
Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their 2008 study "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic on Nonviolent Conflict" compared the outcomes of 323 nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006. “They found that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with just under half that at 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.” Finally there study also suggests “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.”
Also added as a post script that I have not been a supporter of the “electoral agenda” in Venezuela and have called them fake elections for some time. This also holds true for Cuba. Now my definition of the "electoral agenda" as presented in Venezuela is one that viewed elections as the means to defeat Chavez and Maduro without doing anything else.

My argument with Venezuelans over a decade ago was that elections were an opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of the regime and to mobilize large numbers to assert political power, but it depended on challenging the results that had been rigged by the regime. A non-violent approach is much more than agreeing to the results of an election that falls far short of international standards and in which the vote has been rigged.

Venezuelan opposition leader María Corina Machado,  over twitter on December 22, 2015 stated: "We knew that they were elections in a dictatorship; that is why we fought in the streets and tables. Today, it is the same dictatorship, defeated politically and electorally." 

The opposition National Assembly was a battle won, but it was not a final victory over Maduro and his Cuban handlers. Nizmy's response in Spanish said: "Breifly. In a tweet I told you everything. You confuse "civil resistance" with "electoral path "under Communist tyranny to get it out. Do not support it for Venezuela but for #Cuba it is a double standard. I reminded you of that law from the stadium. Something else, I see you stopped following me."
My response to her was that I had not stopped following her and then went to the substance of the points she had raised.

My position with regards to Cuba is that dividing the opposition over a tactical issue was a mistake. In the debate over the “No” campaign in Cuba believed back then and still do today that either position was not going to end the dictatorship. The “electoral agenda” without placing it within a broader civic resistance strategy as described above would never succeed. The claim that this was a double standard, with one position for Cuba and another for Venezuela, is not true.

This is the reason that on February 24, 2019 when many were focused on the sham constitutional referendum in Cuba was with a group outside of the Cuban Embassy in a silent vigil demanding justice for the four victims of the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down.

Returning to the topic of protests, and new restrictions on free speech. This is not a law but an apartment in Washington DC decided to ban tenant's hanging political banners in 2017 from their own balconies due to political content.

Communist China is having an impact on free speech due to its economic might and has led to Tibetan flags and the defense of Hong Kong becoming controversial, and fans being expelled for their t-shirts, banners and flags. It is not a stretch to imagine that Cuban diplomats, who were attending the game, protested the presence of the banner.