Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Why President Obama, Senator Sanders and conventional opinion are wrong about healthcare in Cuba

“There is nothing groovy about a dictatorship!” - Whoopi Goldberg

Sanders featured in Castro's official communist daily
Senator Sanders in the past made claims that were not true about Cuban resistance to Castroism in the first years of the Castro regime that this blog has addressed. Over the past couple of days, he has shifted the debate to claims about literacy and today healthcare while citing President Obama.

Before President Obama or Senator Sanders made their trips to Cuba those dissenting from their policy approach to Cuba would have recommended that they first read Paul Hollander's Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society if they did not want to be manipulated by the Castro regime.  This book studies and catalogs the strategies and tactics that these totalitarian regimes use to control what one sees visiting their respective countries and what the unintended consequences are for its victims: i.e. the people who have to live there. This is what it had to say about healthcare in Cuba from a past regime supporter as early as 1987, prior to the Special Period in the 1990s when it further worsened:
Maurice Halperin, a supporter of the Castro regime who lived in Cuba between 1962 and 1968 teaching at the University of Havana and working in the ministry of foreign trade ... reported on a "confidential public opinion poll made by the Communist Party in ... 1987" about public health conditions in Holguin province, provides a far less rosy picture of the vaunted health care system than one can find in much of the literature on Cuba under Castro. Of those polled (over ten thousand) 87 percent had unfavorable views of the health care they received. Most of the complaints "as summed up in the report concerned 'lack of attention, negligence and abuse of patients.'" There were also many complaints  "about the chronic absenteeism of both doctors and nurses and about favoritism in the treatment of well-connected patients."
The negligence and abuse have had deadly consequences. 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.” This tragic episode only became known because brave souls leaked the information, and made it impossible for the dictatorship to cover it up.

Three of the victims of exposure and hypothermia at Mazorra in 2010
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 second book to have recommended the President, the Senator and their advisors would have been Katherine Hirschfeld's Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898. This anthropologist spent a long time in Cuba, studying the healthcare system, she contracted dengue while there experiencing first hand the 'discrepancies between rhetoric and reality,'  What she found was a repressive, bureaucratized and secretive system, long on 'militarization' and short on patients' rights

This would have saved President Obama from the embarrassing
March 23, 2016 spectacle in  Buenos Aires, Argentina where he repeated the Castro regime's talking points on its healthcare system: 
“Medical care–the life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to that of the United States, despite it being a very poor country, because they have access to health care.  That’s a huge achievement. They should be congratulated.”
It also would  have saved Senator Sanders from doubling down on a position that is factually incorrect. How is it that the same rational individuals that snicker at absurd North Korean healthcare claims take seriously Cuban healthcare claims? 

President Obama and Senator Sanders celebrate a system that coerces medical doctors to work for starvation wages around the world while the Castro regime makes billions of dollars.Worse yet, it has also potentially corrupted an international health body.

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."

Sam Bernstein in a March 30, 2016 publication of The Advisory Board raised questions about the official statistics on health care in Cuba and how they are generated, raising questions about their validity.

Communist regimes in China and Cuba cover up epidemics targeting doctors and journalists
We have witnessed in China how communist regimes cover up a healthcare crisis making it worse. Doctors and journalists who tried to warn about the coronavirus were arrested.  Is this something to be congratulated or declared a huge achievement?  The Castro regime has repeatedly done the same thing in Cuba, and have endangered lives in the process.

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.

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.

In a August 22, 2019 New York Times 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.

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."

Medical care denied as punishment 

Human rights defender Sebastián Arcos Bergnes, in 1992 was charged with "enemy propaganda" and "inciting rebellion," he was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison. Sebastian was transferred to Ariza Prison in  Cienfuegos Province,  more than 130 miles from Havana, where he was imprisoned alongside dangerous criminals and systematically denied medical attention. In 1993 the regime offered Sebastian a deal: He would be released immediately if he only agreed to leave the island for good. Sebastian rejected the deal, choosing prison in Cuba over freedom in exile.

Sebastián Arcos Bergnes in front of his home on May 31, 1995 following his release
After an international campaign that included his designation as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and a request by France Libertés, the organization founded by former French first lady Danielle Mitterrand, Sebastian Arcos was released in 1995. A few weeks after his release, Arcos was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in the rectum, for which he had previously been denied medical care in prison. After a Cuban doctor was fired from his post for diagnosing Arcos, he traveled to Miami for further care. Sebastián Arcos Bergnes died in Miami on December 22, 1997


Sirley Avila Leon.  Sirley was a true believer who grew up in the revolution and was a member of a local municipal assembly. She believed the claims that free education was a right for all Cubans. This belief left her an invalid and nearly led to a violent death. She lobbied and agitated for a school to be opened in her municipality so that the children there would not have to trek 5.6 miles to go to class and then trek the same distance back to get home.

Sirley Avila Leon
On May 24, 2015, Sirley Ávila León was the victim of a brutal machete attack that cost her her left hand and also left her right upper arm nearly severed and knees slashed, leaving her crippled. She was denied adequate medical care and was told quietly by medical doctors that if she wanted to get better she would need to leave Cuba. The regime had been embarrassed by a campaign she organized to keep a school open. She arrived in Miami on March 8, 2016 unable to bend her legs, or use her remaining had.Thanks to a team of medical doctors treating her, by September 2016 Sirley had regained the use of her hand, and was able to walk short distances.

Lady in White Xiomara Cruz 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. She was sent to a prison 400 kilometers from her home. This was an added hardship for her family to visit her, and keep an eye on her well being.
Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda before and during her jailing.
Over the course of one year in custody of the Castro regime her health radically declined. Rashes that appeared on her body in June 2019 that Cuban medical doctors in Ciego de Ávila claimed to be unable to diagnose. In mid-July she was returned to Havana to La Covadonga hospital

On August 8, 2019 she was transferred to intensive care. Cuban dissident Angel Juan Moya posted videos of interviews from August 6th and August 7th with doctors at the hospital. Family members complained that they are receiving differing diagnoses and her situation continues to worsen. Xiomara was in intensive care and doctors were saying that it could be lung cancer. A doctor refused to update the family saying: "that he did not want to see those people."

Near death she arrived in Miami on January 21, 2020 on a humanitarian visa, and was immediately placed in intensive care.

Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda arrived in Miami on January 21, 2020

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.  

The communist dictatorship has also punished dissidents by denying them healthcare, or not providing adequate healthcare. 

There are serious consequences for travelers to Cuba when they are not properly informed with what to expect with Cuba's public health failures and the disastrous state of Cuban healthcare. Not to mention a hefty bill for catching Cholera while on vacation, or worse yet discovering that you had been exposed to Zika virus when your child is born with microcephaly, a serious birth defect.

The healthcare claims about Cuba made by both President Obama and Senator Sanders are but one of the many myths propagated by the Castro regime that do not hold up under scrutiny.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Paltering or when the truth is not the truth: Summary executions, Soviets put down 1959-66 Cuban uprising

"Facts are stubborn things." - Ronald Reagan

Senator Bernie Sanders in his remarks on both Cuba and China in tonight's CNN Townhall is engaging in paltering, which is the art of deceiving with true statements. He also omitted inconvenient truths, and fudged on some facts ignoring context. This is a continuation of what he did in the 60 Minutes interview broadcast the night before.

He argued in the 60 Minutes interview that the reason Cubans did not rise up against Castro in 1961 was because "he educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society, you know?"

Senator Sanders is wrong on three counts.

Anti-communist guerrillas in Cuba in the early 1960s
First, Cubans did rise up against the Castro regime.  Between 1960 and 1966 there was an insurgency in the mountains of the Escambray that fought the Castro regime made up mostly of farmers and Revolutionary Directorate rebels that had fought the Batista Regime demanding a democratic restoration. The dictatorship called it the "War against the Bandits." Tom Gjelten in his book Bacardi and the Long Fight for Freedom gives an account of what took place:

The peasants in the Escambray Mountains, an independent group even during the anti-Batista struggle, took up arms again, this time in opposition to the government's heavy hand. Castro had taken a lesson from Batista's hapless efforts at counterinsurgency, however, and he responded to the Escambray guerrillas with more force and ruthlessness than Batista had dared employ. With the guidance of Soviet counterinsurgency experts, Castro sent thousands of army troops into the mountains to pursue the guerrillas. Captured Escambray insurgents were often executed on the spot, and in a move reminiscent of the Spanish army's "reconcentration" strategy during the independence war, Castro ordered the relocation of entire villages where the guerillas enjoyed mass support. The villagers were moved en masse to western Cuba, where they could be closely monitored. 
The guerrillas were eventually exterminated and the uprising was crushed by 1966, but the Castro regime had to obtain outside assistance to destroy the resistance,  and they obtained it from hundreds of  Soviet counterinsurgency "advisors."  It was described by Mary O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal in 2017 as a "Soviet cleansing." 

Eusebio Peñalver with machine gun and Joaquin Membibre, with M-1 carbine.
 Not all were killed in the field or executed. Eusebio Peñalver (pictured above) opposed the Batista regime and fought with the rebel army to restore Cuba's constitutional democracy. Mary O'Grady wrote about him in 2013 and quoted the Cuban warrior. "But when Castro hijacked the revolution for himself, Peñalver broke ranks rather than 'sell my soul to the same devil that here on earth is Castro and communism.'" He took up arms against Castro's military in the Escambray Mountains, he was captured in October 1960. He spent 28 years in Cuban prisons and was banished from the island upon his release in 1988. "From exile in Los Angeles he wrote about the 'naked brutality' and round-the-clock beating and harassment that he had endured: 'They made the men eat grass, they submerged them in sewage, they beat them hard with bayonets and they hit them with fence posts until their bones rattled.' I knew Eusebio, and in 2000 we toured campuses in Southern California where he shared his experiences. We were deeply saddened when he passed away in 2006. Others were not so lucky.

 Secondly, the Castro revolution executed thousands of Cubans, locked up hundreds of thousands of Cubans, built a police state, with the assistance of the KGB and the East German Stasi, and imposed revolutionary terror to consolidate power. Credible and conservative estimates of the Castro regime’s death toll against Cuban nationals ran from 35,000 to 141,000, with a median of 73,000. In the beginning executions were televised in Cuba to terrorize the populace. 

Che Guevara addressing the United Nations on December 11, 1964 did not mince words: "We must say here something that is a well-known truth and that we have always asserted before the whole world: executions? Yes, we have executed people; we are executing people and shall continue to execute people as long as it is necessary. We know what the result of a losing battle would be and the worms also have to know what the result of the lost battle is today in Cuba."

 Third, Fidel Castro lied about his true intentions, because he knew that if he had told Cubans that he was a communist he would never have taken power. On December 2, 1961 he explained his reasoning.

"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."

Years later on March 26, 1964, after announcing that he had always been a Marxist Leninist, Fidel Castro explained: "I conceive the truth in terms of a just and noble end, and that is when the truth is truly true. If it does not serve a just, noble and positive end, truth, as an abstract entity, philosophical category, in my opinion, does not exist." Jose Ignacio Rasco, who knew Fidel Castro from school and afterwards concluded that the Cuban revolutionary had been a committed communist by 1950. Listening to Senator Sanders discuss truth tonight, reminded me of the late communist leaders view of truth.

These are the truths that Senator Sanders omitted, but let us examine his claims of the literacy program that he used to distract from what actually happened between 1959 and 1966.

Senator Bernie Sanders: "When Fidel Castro first came to power, which was when 59? That sound right? Ok, you know what he did? He initiated a major literacy program. There was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate. He formed a literacy brigade and they helped people to learn to read and write. You know what I think teaching people to read and write is a good thing."

It it true that the Castro regime, in the early days of the Revolution carried out a literacy campaign between January and December 1961. This was part of a propaganda offensive for both internal and international consumption. Senator Sanders makes the claim that "there was a lot of folks in Cuba at that point who were illiterate."

Let us examine that claim further. According to the 1953 Cuba census, out of 4,376,529 inhabitants 10 years of age or older 23.6% were illiterate, a percentage lower than all other Latin American countries except Argentina (13.6%), Chile (19.6%), & Costa Rica (20.6%). Factoring only population 15 years of age or older, the rate is lowered to 22.1% ( Source: Alvarez Díaz, José R. “A Study on Cuba .” Cuban Economic Research Project. Coral Gables : University of Miami Press, 1965. pg 426-427.)  According to UN statistics other Latin American countries achieved similar or better outcomes without becoming Communist. There are other myths that are worth exploring about the Castro regime's supposed achievements.

Senator Sanders: "I have been extremely consistent and critical of authoritarian regimes all over the world, including Cuba, including Nicaragua, including Saudi Arabia, including China, including Russia. 

For the sake of time did a google search of "Bernie Sanders" "criticism" and "Fidel Castro." What I found going back decades was an apologist of the Castro dictatorship with a deep admiration for the communist dictator. I also found a communist critique of Castroism, but it was not by Senator Sanders, but Slavoj Zizek.

Senator Sanders: I happen to believe in democracy not authoritarianism, but you know you can take China as another example. China is an authoritarian country, becoming more and more authoritarian, but can anyone deny, I mean the facts are clear, that they have taken more people out of extreme poverty than any country in history. Do I get criticized because I said that? That is the truth, so - that is a fact, end of discussion." ...  "Truth is truth, all right? 

He left out that under Mao over 45 million people were starved to death during the Great Leap Forward. That at least another million were killed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and that the brutality of the system continues to the present day with the descendants of that first generation of communist leadership. He also failed to point out the role Western Democracies have played in building up and empowering this monstrosity.

Senator Sanders: If you want to disagree with me, if somebody wants to say that — and by the way all of the Congress people you mentioned just so happen to be supporting other candidates ... but you know, the truth is the truth. And thats what happened in the first years of the Castro regime."

The whole truth is the truth, not the strategically incomplete version that Senator Sanders has presented on the national stage. There is one last item that Senator Sanders left out, that would bother a democrat, but not a hardcore Marxist Leninist, that there is no morality beyond whatever serves you to take power. Vladimir Lenin stated it clearly in a speech to Russian communist youth on October 2, 1920:

"The class struggle is continuing and it is our task to subordinate all interests to that struggle. Our communist morality is also subordinated to that task. We say: morality is what serves to destroy the old exploiting society and to unite all the working people around the proletariat, which is building up a new, communist society."
 This is why Fidel Castro denied being a communist, why Hugo Chavez called Fidel Castro a dictator during his first presidential campaign, and why Senator Sanders claims to be critical of Cuba and Nicaragua, when he has been a long time apologist, and made no mention of Venezuela that is currently the victim of an authoritarian regime that has generated millions of refugees.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Brothers to the Rescue shoot down 24 years later: Memory, calling for Justice, and taking action

24 years ago today a terrible crime was committed that still cries out for justice.

February 24, 2020 marks 24 years since two civilian planes were shot down over international airspace on the orders of the Castro brothers in Cuba. At Florida International University, students, members of the university community, and the families of the four men killed (Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales) will begin to gather at the main fountain at 3:15pm to hold a silent vigil from 3:21pm to 3:27pm the time that the two planes were destroyed. This will be followed at 7:00pm with a Mass at St Agatha Church located across the street from Florida International University.

Audio recordings of the pilots that carried out the extrajudicial killings on February 24, 1996 are damning.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released an authoritative report on the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down on September 29, 1999 and the complete report is available online. Below is the summary.

REPORT Nº 86/99
CASE 11.589
September 29, 1999
          I.          SUMMARY
          1.          On 25 February 1996, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Commission” or “the Inter-American Commission”) received several complaints brought against the Republic of Cuba (hereinafter “the State,” “the Cuban State,” or “Cuba”) according to which a MiG-29 military aircraft belonging to the Cuban Air Force (FAC) downed two unarmed civilian light airplanes belonging to the organization “Brothers to the Rescue.”[1] According to a report issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the incidents occurred on 24 February 1996 at 3:21 p.m. and 3:27 p.m., respectively, in international airspace. The air-to-air missiles fired by the MiG-29 destroyed the civilian light aircraft, immediately killing Armando Alejandre Jr. (45 years old), Carlos Alberto Costa (29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (24), and Pablo Morales (29). The complaint concludes with the Commission being requested to begin proceedings in accordance with Articles 32 et seq. of its Regulations and to declare Cuba responsible for failing to comply with its international obligations contained in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (hereinafter “the Declaration” or “the American Declaration”) for violating the right to life and the right to a fair trial as set forth in Articles I and XVIII of said international instrument.
          2.          After receiving several complaints regarding the same incident and persons, the Commission combined them, as provided for in Article 40(2) of its Regulations, as file Nº 11.589.[2] Thus, the petitioners in the case at hand are the direct relatives of the victims (Marlene Alejandre, Marlene Victoria Alejandre, Mirta Costa, Osvaldo Costa, Miriam de la Peña, Mario de la Peña, and Eva Barbas), Dr. Haydeé Marín (Institute of Human and Labor Rights at Florida International University), Dr. Claudio Benedí (Cuban Patriotic Council), and Mr. José J. Basulto (Brothers to the Rescue).
          3.          Since the start of proceedings in this case on 7 March 1996, the Cuban State has not replied to the Commission’s repeated requests for information regarding the admissibility and merits of the matter. Therefore, based on an exhaustive analysis of the legal and factual grounds and in accordance with Article 42 of its Regulations,[3] the Commission believes that the complaint meets the formal requirements for admissibility as set forth in the Regulations and concludes that the Cuban State is responsible for violating the rights enshrined in the American Declaration as reported by the petitioners in their complaint of 25 February 1996.[4]. Based on the analysis and conclusions of this report, the Commission recommends that the Cuban State conduct an exhaustive investigation into the incidents in question, prosecute and punish the individuals responsible for the different violations described herein, and make adequate and timely amends to the victims’ direct relatives, including the payment of fair compensatory indemnification. [ Full Report]
Jose Basulto, who was in the third plane that made it back, has gone on the record as to what he believed happened that day, and continues to demand both truth and justice.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was murdered by the Castro regime 10 years ago today, but his legacy lives on

"Long live human rights, with my blood I wrote to you so that this be saved as evidence of the savagery we are subjected to that are victims of the Pedro Luis Boitel political prisoners [movement]" - Orlando Zapata Tamayo, letter smuggled out April of 2004*

Today at 3:00pm at our Lady of Charity in Miami, better known to Cubans as "La Ermita de la Caridad," a nun read out names of those who had died, including Bishop Agustín Román and Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and asked parishioners to pray for them.

Father Fernando E. Hería during his Homily at the 3:00pm Mass reflected on the nonviolent doctrine of the Church and the martyrdom of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, ten years ago on February 23, 2010. 
A 24 x 36 inch poster of Orlando Zapata Tamayo was on display in the front pew of the Church.

It is necessary to revisit the last eight years of Orlando Zapata's life to understand why his death made such a profound impact inside and outside of Cuba, and is remembered today. The following chronology is based on a 2010 handout by the Cuban Democratic Directorate, that documented Orlando's case closely.

It was ten years ago at 3:00pm on February 23, 2010 that it was announced that Orlando Zapata Tamayo had died. This humble bricklayer who became a human rights defender, spent nearly seven years being mistreated and tortured by the Castro regime.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas holds up a flier with Orlando Zapata Tamayo's photo
He had worked alongside both Oscar Elias Biscet, and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas on projects that sought to advance the cause of human rights in Cuba with Biscet's human rights circles and Payá's Varela Project.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was arbitrarily detained by the secret police on December 6, 2002 together with other activists, including Dr. Biscet, to stop them participating in a human rights workshop at the home of human rights defender Raúl Arencibia Fajardo. Three months later on March 8, 2003 Orlando was released.

Twelve days later on March 20, 2003 Orlando Zapata was re-arrested in the midst of the Black Cuban Spring when over 75 activists and independent journalists were jailed during a crackdown and sentenced to long prison terms. He had been taken part in a fast and vigil demanding the freedom of Dr. Biscet, who had remained jailed since the December 6, 2002 arrest.

Orlando Zapata photographed with prominent dissidents
Amnesty International reported that on October 20, 2003 Orlando was dragged along the floor of Combinado del Este Prison by prison officials after requesting medical attention, leaving his back full of lacerations. Orlando managed to smuggle a letter out that was published in April of 2004:
"My dear brothers in the internal opposition in Cuba. I have many things to say to you, but I did not want to do it with paper and ink, because I hope to go to you one day when our country is free without the Castro dictatorship. Long live human rights, with my blood I wrote to you so that this be saved as evidence of the savagery we are subjected to that are victims of the Pedro Luis Boitel political prisoners [movement]."*
Orlando would remain jailed without charges or a trial.  On May 18, 2004 Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Virgilio Marante Güelmes, and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo were each sentenced to three years in prison for contempt for authority, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in a one-day trial.

This did not silence him. When prison officials chose to attack his human dignity, and engaged in acts of physical and psychological torture, Orlando Zapata would respond with nonviolent defiance. He carried out hunger strikes within the prisons he was transferred to. The regime's response to his nonviolent defiance was to pile on prison years to his sentence. Between May 2004 and December 2009 they carried out nine trials without due process guarantees for a total sentence of 25 years and six months.

What we know is a partial accounting of what he suffered. On July 26, 2008 in the Holguin Provincial Prison he was brutally beaten, on the orders of the prison director, Major Orelvis Miraldea, and Orlando's body was covered in bruises, but especially suffered blows to the head that caused a intracranial hematoma in the lower part of his brain, and a year later he needed to be operated on for this brain injury. 

Despite this, because of his refusal to be re-educated and silenced, the beatings continued on August 29, 2009, September 24, 2009, and a more severe beating on November 26, 2009.

Reina Luisa Tamayo, with her son's blood stained shirt
On December 3, 2009 he is transferred to Kilo 8 in Camaguey, a maximum security prison. Upon his arrival the food that his mother had turned into him the day before was confiscated, and they wanted to force him to wear the uniform  of a common prisoner. Orlando refused and begins his last hunger strike.

Major Filiberto Hernandez Luis, director of Kilo 8 prison, retaliates placing him in isolation without clothes and sleeping on the floor. Over 18 days they deny him water in an effort force him to end his hunger strike, and break his spirit.  On January 3rd and again on January 6th he is taken to Amalia Simoni Hospital  and undergoes intravenous rehydration and is returned to his isolation cell.

On January 21, 2010 he is transferred to the Amalia Simoni Hospital prison ward where he is kept under strong air conditioning unit with a thin blanket that causes him to develop pneumonia, aggravating his health situation. At the same time on several occasions members of the political police film Orlando Zapata in his hospital bed.

On February 16, 2010 he is transferred to Havana in a military operation, and his mother is not allowed to accompany him in the ambulance. This is the last time that she sees her sons conscious.

On February 20, 2010 after strong protests by his mother to the secret police, she is able to see Orlando at the Combinado del Este prison ward, but he unconscious and intubated.

On February 22, 2010 she is called to a late night meeting with doctors, where she is filmed without her knowledge. There she is told for the first and only time that her son is alive thanks to an artificial  respirator.  ( However, in a later article in the official newspaper Granma it is reported that he had been on a respirator for days.)

On February 23, 2010 around mid-day, the secret police and military doctors in form Reina Luisa Tamayo, Orlando's mother, that he is being transferred to Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital in a critical state. He dies three hours later at 3:00pm according to the information by the political police to his mother.

Castro regime book “The Dissidents” mentioned OZT as an opponent.
Following his death the Castro regime sought to destroy Orlando's reputation and went as far as to deny that he had been a dissident. This campaign failed, because even the dictatorship's own propaganda had recognized his activism, published a picture of him with other activists and attacked him years earlier.

This extrajudicial killing turned out to be a very costly one for the regime. Ten years later protests were carried out at the Embassy in Washington DC, in Miami, and in Cuba. It is most likely not a coincidence that the hacking of the University of Havana home page by Anonymous was carried out on the ten year anniversary of the death of this Cuban human rights defender.

They killed his body, but they did not obtain his obedience, and his spirit of defiance lives on.

Where were you the day Orlando Zapata Tamayo died? Please write down what you remember in the comments section.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Vigil at Cuban Embassy Feb 20th for OZT & BTTR, others plan events for 2/23 for OZT & 2/24 for BTTR


Last night on February 20, 2020 human rights activists gathered outside of the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC in a silent vigil for justice to remember Orlando Zapata Tamayo killed by the Castro regime on February 23, 2010 while on hunger strike, and the four members of Brothers to the Rescue shot down by the Castro regime MiGs on February 24, 1996, while Armando Alejandre Jr. (45 years old), Carlos Alberto Costa (29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (24), and Pablo Morales (29) were in two planes engaged in a search and rescue flight for rafters.

Others carried photos of Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá martyred by the Castro regime in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

The Center for a Free Cuba obtained a permit from the Washington DC Metro Police to hold the vigil, and the Free Cuba Foundation publicized the event.

The silent vigil began at 7:00pm and concluded with a prayer by Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso for Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Alberto Costa, Mario Manuel de la Peña, Pablo Morales, and other martyrs of the regime, and for the freedom of the Cuban people.

On Sunday, February 23 at 3:00pm, the time Orlando Zapata Tamayo died, there will be a vigil at the Bay of Pigs Monument (Torch) on Cuban Memorial Boulevard located at 806 SW 13th Ave, Miami, FL 33135. Details on the vigil were announced on WWFE 830 AM. by Mercedes Perdigón of Exilio Unido in an interview with Carlos Santana.

On Monday, February 24, at 3:00pm friends and families of Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Alberto Costa, Mario Manuel de la Peña, and Pablo Morales, and members of the FIU community will gather and hold a vigil to remember them and silently demand justice 24 years after the shoot down.

The vigil will take place at Florida International University ( University Park campus) located at 11200 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33199 at the main fountain next to the Main Library and Student Union. The silent vigil take place start at 3:21pm and end at 3:27pm, the times the two Brothers to the Rescue planes were destroyed by missiles launched from Castro's MiGs killing Armando, Carlos, Mario, and Pablo. This vigil has been taking place at FIU annually since 1996.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report on the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shootdown in 1999 and a press release on the February 23, 2010 killing of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Shadow Human Rights Summit: A Voice for the Voiceless

The 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – February 18, 2020 

2020 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

Human rights heroes to spotlight Algeria, China, Cuba, Hong Kong, Iran, Malawi, Mauritania, Pakistan, and Venezuela. This is the 12th time that human rights defenders are gathering at this important shadow human rights summit.  It was broadcast live on February 18, 2020 over the live stream video below.

Cuba was highlighted during the summit with a presentation by Laritza Diversent of Cubalex. She described how her legal aide service was shut down by the secret police, and how the dictatorship made threats against her person for being a human rights defender. Below is a quote taken twitter earlier today.

Liberal International also reported over Twitter on her presentation and the fact that free legal advice is not one of the 240 services permitted by the Cuban government.

Venezuela was featured with political leaders of the interim government, intellectuals, and Rosa Orozco, the mother of Geraldine Moreno, a Venezuelan martyr.  The 23 year old university student and athlete, who was shot repeatedly in the face by Bolivarian National Guard members on February 19, 2014 during a protest in Venezuela. Geraldine died three days later on February 22, 2014. Six years later, her mom continues to demand justice.

This was Geraldine. This is the human face of repression in Venezuela multiplied thousands of times.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Brothers to the Rescue, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the power of non-violence

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." - Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture 1986

Ideas have consequences, often rooted in actions that continue to have ripple effects across time. The Brothers to the Rescue nonviolent constructive program that began in 1991, saving thousands of lives in the Florida Straits, is still having positive impacts today.

Resisting injustice often comes at a cost, and Cubans and Cuban-Americans have suffered for their defense of human rights. This cost is raised when international solidarity declines and the dictatorship believes that it can operate with impunity. 

Mario de la Peña, Carlos Acosta, Armando Alejandre and Pablo Morales were blown out of the sky by two missiles launched by a Cuban MiG at 3:21pm and 3:27pm on February 24, 1996 on the orders of Raul Castro that destroyed two Brothers to the Rescue planes engaged in search and rescue of Cuban rafters in international airspace in the Florida Straits.

This took place while the Clinton Administration sought to improve relations with the Castro regime and began in 1994 regular contacts between U.S. and Cuban military, including joint military exercises.

Despite the danger, Brothers to the Rescue would continue its search and rescue missions for another seven years, ending in 2003Jose Basulto in 2010, who was in the lone plane that returned on the day of the shoot down, remained committed, “today we are sharing a message that people can solve their own problems. You also can be Brothers to the Rescue and create your own help organizations.” Basulto estimates that Brothers to the Rescue "saved some 4,200 rafters fleeing Cuba during the 1990s," and he added, "the experience of saving someone in the Straits of Florida was something that stays with you – we were hunting to save lives.”
This civic movement was engaged in what Mohandas Gandhi described as a constructive program. The Metta Center, an organization that provides educational resources on the safe and effective use of nonviolence, says that "it describes nonviolent action taken within a community to build structures, systems, processes or resources that are positive alternatives to oppression. It can be seen as self-improvement of both community and individual."

Brothers to the Rescue created a community structure where pilot volunteers representing 19 different nationalities flew over the Florida Straits searching for Cuban rafters for over a decade.

Fourteen years separate these five martyrs joined together in their nonviolent resistance to injustice in Cuba, and the positive defense of human rights combined with moments that U.S. outreach to the dictatorship, along with a distancing from Cuban democrats, led to their murders by the Castro dictatorship.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was by vocation both a brick layer and a human rights activist. He gathered signatures for the Varela Project, a citizen initiative to amend the Cuban constitution with the objective of bringing Cuba in line with international human rights standards. Orlando was repeatedly arrested for his human rights activism on July 3, 2002, October 28, 2002 and in November 2002.
Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet sought to promote human rights organizing "Friends of Human Rights" teach-ins. State security blocked them holding one at the home of Raúl Arencibia Fajardo on December 6, 2002. Oscar Biscet, Orlando Zapata, Virgilio Marante and 12 others held a sit-in in the street in protest and chanted "long live human rights" and "freedom for political prisoners." They were all
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was released on March 8, 2003, but Biscet, Marante Güelmes, and Arencibia Fajardo remained jailed. On the March 20, 2003 while taking part in a fast at the Jesús Yánez Pelletier Foundation, in Havana, to demand the release of his three colleagues. Orlando was taken to the Villa Marista State Security Headquarters and remained jailed for the rest of his life. 
Orlando toured Cuba's jails, including Quivicán Prison, Guanajay Prison, and Combinado del Este Prison in Havana. Amnesty International reported that on October 20, 2003 Orlando was dragged along the floor of Combinado del Este Prison by officials, leaving his back full of lacerations because he had requested medical attention. 

On May 18, 2004 Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Virgilio Marante Güelmes, and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo were each sentenced to three years in prison for contempt for authority, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in a one-day trial. Orlando Zapata Tamayo would maintain his commitment to non-violent resistance while jailed. He suffered numerous beatings and new charges of disobedience and disrespect adding decades to his prison sentence in eight additional trials.

The Castro regime announced on February 23, 2010 that Orlando Zapata Tamayo had died in their custody.  Imprisoned since 2003 he had suffered physical and psychological torture over seven years,  and while on his final hunger strike was denied water by prison officials contributing to his death. The Global Nonviolent Action Database described what happened in greater detail:
"To further discourage Tamayo, the prison director, Major Filiberto Hernández Luis, denied him water for 18 days, taking away his only sustenance. The forced dehydration induced a kidney failure, and Tamayo was taken to Amalia Simoni Hospital in Camaguay where he was fed intravenously against his will. Tamayo’s condition worsened when he developed pneumonia in the hospital bed and was transferred to a hospital at Combinado del Este prison, which did not have the capacity to treat him."
It happened while the Obama Administration sought to improve relations with the Castro regime, refused to meet with Cuban dissidents in 2009, and did not make the release of Alan Gross, an American taken hostage in Cuba in December 2009, a priority.  This signaled to the Castro regime that Orlando Zapata Tamayo could die in 2010, and it would not effect US-Cuba relations, and sadly they were right.

Laura Pollán marches with Orlando Zapata's mom Reina Luisa Tamayo in Cuba
Worse yet this failure of solidarity with Cuba's democratic opposition over the next two years would claim the lives of national opposition leaders Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, of the Ladies in White (2011) and  Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante, of the Christian Liberation Movement (2012). Both had mourned and protested the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010.
Oswaldo Payá remembered Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February 2010
On February 3, 2015, Rosa María Payá testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee indicted the indifference of the US government and the international community: "The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the U.S. government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages."

However the power of nonviolence is so great that even without the support of Western democracies Cubans "can solve their own problems" and create their own help organizations that save thousand of lives and through an act of nonviolent resistance force the dictatorship to respond to Zapata's demands.

Cuban human rights defender Orlando Zapata Tamayo's hunger strike in 2009-2010 placed a national and international focus on human rights in Cuba that within two years led to the release of 75 other Cuban prisoners of conscience arrested along with him in March of 2003.

Sadly there have been others before and after Orlando Zapata Tamayo: a partial list includes Roberto López Chávez (1966), Luis Alvarez Ríos (1967), Carmelo Cuadra Hernández (1969), Pedro Luis Boitel (1972), Olegario Charlot Pileta (1973), Reinaldo Cordero Izquierdo (1975),  José Barrios Pedré (1977) and Wilmar Villar Mendoza (2012). 

Non-violence is a method of struggle that requires both strategy and tactics. Cuba's dissident movement over the years had improved its capacity to carry out non-violent actions beginning with the Cuban Committee for Human Rights (1976) and reaching a high point with the Varela Project ( 2001-2004) and in the Cuban diaspora with Brothers to the Rescue (1991 - 2003).

However the Castro regime is not a static entity and it responds with violence, and misinformation to cover up its misdeeds, crush dissent, and it is relentless. This is why it is important for human rights defenders and advocates of a free Cuba to be persistent, protest on important anniversaries, remember the martyrs, and let others continue to know what happened. 

DIA analyst and Cuban mole Ana Belen Montes
In 1996, the regime tried to destroy Brothers to the Rescue in an act of state terrorism, mobilizing spies in South Florida, and at least one high ranking spy in the US government (Ana Belen Montes) to conduct in influence operation prior to the attack to gather and intelligence, and to spin a story favorable to the dictatorship in the press to blame the victims.

Friends of Armando, Carlos, Mario, and Pablo mourn their murders.
Brothers to the Rescue continues to maintain a website with documented information on the February 24, 1996 shoot down and on the history of the organization. Jose Basulto continues to demand truth and justice. International human rights organizations provided reports on the February 24, 1996 shoot down.
Vigil will be held again at Florida International University at 3pm on February 24th
The families of Mario de la Peña, Carlos Acosta, Armando Alejandre and Pablo Morales sued the Castro regime in the courts, denounced the freeing of Gerardo Hernandez in 2014 who was serving a life sentence for his role in the murder conspiracy that cost these four men their lives, and continue to observe at Florida International University on February 24th a silent vigil between 3:21pm and 3:27pm, the times both planes were shot down and hold Mass in their memory.

In 2010, the dictatorship tried to rewrite Orlando Zapata Tamayo's past denying that he was a dissident. This necessitated erasing their own propaganda attacks again him in prior years.

The civic nonviolent resistance recognizing this pushed back. When Brazilian president, and Castro ally, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva referred to Orlando as a common criminal Cuban exiles occupied the Brazilian Consulate in Miami in protest. Fact sheets were prepared and documentaries about Orlando Zapata Tamayo prepared and disseminated.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel explained in his 1986 Nobel Lecture why it is important to remember:  "To forget the victims means to kill them a second time. So I couldn't prevent the first death. I surely must be capable of saving them from a second death." This is why on Thursday, February 20, 2020 at 7:00pm there will be a vigil in memory of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on the 10th anniversary of his untimely death and the four Brothers to the Rescue members, Mario de la Peña, Carlos Acosta, Armando Alejandre and Pablo Morales, killed 24 years ago.

Truth and memory for those killed in defiance of the attempt by the dictatorship to whitewash and forget.