Sunday, May 31, 2020

#MiamiProtests Why was a Sandinista Flag on display at a protest for George Floyd?

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial 'outside agitator' idea." - Martin Luther King Jr. , Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

Mothers mourn their murdered children in Nicaragua. Victims of the Sandinistas
I have no doubt that white supremacists and Neo-Nazis are exploiting the civil unrest in the United States, targeting the police who they hate, and making a bad situation worse, but they are not the only ones. Antifa and other hard Left elements are also doing the same introducing symbols and rhetoric that take away from the cause of justice for George Floyd.

In the Miami Protest on May 30, 2020 demanding justice for George Floyd a picture was taken of two individuals holding up the black and red flag of the "National Sandinista Liberation Front" (FSLN) in the midst of the protest, and it was posted on Twitter by a self-described militant of the Sandinista cause.

If we believe, as Reverend King did, that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" then these individuals need to be called out for carrying a banner, representing Daniel Ortega, a dictator who uses his security forces to murder, torture and rape opponents in Nicaragua to maintain power. Ortega has a lot more in common with Derek Chauvin, and has been placing his knee on the necks of Nicaraguans collectively for years jailing and killing many.

Mother demands justice for her murdered son on May 30, 2018 in Nicaragua
Nicaraguan mothers have been killed by Daniel Ortega's repressive forces for demanding justice for their murdered children. How can people of good will associate and promote such a regime? Two years ago on Mother's Day in Nicaragua, that was celebrated on May 30, 2018, a peaceful protest march was carried out in solidarity and mourning with mothers whose children had been killed in previous weeks by the Sandinistas. The mothers carried photos of their murdered children. During the march Ortega's henchman killed 16 more Nicaraguans and nearly another 200 were injured.

Young man shot by Ortega's repressors taken to hospital. 5/30/18. (AP /Esteban Felix)
According to a 2018 United Nations report, many of those arrested "were subjected to extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, rape with rifles, and torture with Taser guns, barbed wire, tubes and attempted strangulation." Death squads are operating in Nicaragua today.

Why would advocates for justice for George Floyd associate with people carrying such a loathsome symbol?

Should they not show solidarity for the victims of Daniel Ortega and not march together with his supporters? 

What would George Floyd do?

Paula Hernandez, mother of Michael Gonzalez (age 24) shot to death by FSLN on May 30, 2018

Friday, May 29, 2020

American Martyr 2020: Justice For George Floyd

“If this age is to survive, it must follow the way of love and nonviolence that [Gandhi] so nobly illustrated in his life.” - Martin Luther King Jr., All India Radio ,1959
George Floyd
George Floyd, "Big Floyd", spent his life serving others and evangelizing in one of the most difficult neighborhoods in Houston, TX.  He was known as a person of peace. Floyd moved to Minnesota in 2018 and two years later was killed.

A local shop keeper called police over a $20 counterfeit bill, and the police suspected that Floyd had passed the bill.

Videos emerged demonstrating that he had been detained by the police, ended up on the ground with three police officers pinning him down, and one officer standing by and looking around. One of  the officers pinning him down placed and kept a knee on his throat.  Floyd told the police who were pinning him down: "Please I can't breathe. My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. They're going to kill me." Minutes continue to pass and, he died. 
George Floyd holding up a bible with friends in Texas.
These are times when those engaged in crimes have names that seem to point to their guilt. Last week a women with the last name of a fictional serial killer (Ripley) murdered her autistic son, but tried to cover it up blaming it on two non-existent black men who she claimed had ambushed her and had kidnapped her son.

Now the police officer charged with his murder, Derek Chauvin, who placed the knee on George Floyd's neck and disregarded his pleas to be able to breath has a last name (Chauvin) that is linked to the origin of the word chauvinism in the 19th  century, to Nicolas Chauvin, that signifies prejudice and hostility to outsiders.

In the discussions of lethal force used by the police there is an understandable focus on black men, because according to a 2019 study one in 1,000 can expect to be killed by the police, and they are most in danger during their life time. However, one in 2,000 men of all racial groupings, including the majority white population, can expect to be killed by the police during their life time. Reforms can take place that can reduce these numbers and place them in line with other Western countries. For example, neighboring Canada has a rate of police killing civilians of 9.7 per 10 million that is one third that of the United States that has a rate of 28.4 per 10 million.

We can do better.

These are strange, terrible days with COVID-19 claiming over 360,00 lives worldwide, with over a 100,000 fellow countrymen dead, racial tensions rising in the midst of chronic anxiety, and fear that we are just at the end of the beginning, with tough times lying ahead with a pandemic and economic collapse.

Protests have exploded into riots, and innocents are also impacted, and it is ironic and tragic because Floyd lived his life as a peacemaker in his community.

The death of George Floyd for one rare moment united a divided America in condemnation for this unjust killing, and thanks to the video footage led to the firing of the four officers involved, and the charging of one of them, Chauvin with murder and manslaughter. The others need to be held to account.

These are times when many are suffering through no fault of their own. But let us remember the words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., "unearned suffering is redemptive."

The pursuit of justice and the reduction of impunity is not an easy journey, but it is both a needed and a worthy undertaking that requires great discernment and wisdom that often times necessitates hard earned experiences with injustice.

Monday, May 25, 2020

#WeRemember: 48 years ago today student leader Pedro Luis Boitel who fought against the Batista and Castro dictatorships died on hunger strike

Martyred student leader Pedro Luis Boitel fought by Fidel Castro's side to bring an end to the Batista dictatorship and restore Cuban democracy. However as Castro came to impose a communist regime the student leader became a liability.
Pedro Luis Boitel was born in Cuba to a family of modest means of French origin. He studied at the University of Havana while working as a radio technician. He was also a poet. Opposing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista he joined the July 26 movement led by Fidel Castro. The majority of the movement's members like Pedro were anti-communists.

Once Batista left for exile and Fidel Castro took control the anti-communist members of the July 26 movement became an obstacle to absolute power. Following the revolution, Boitel returned to University were his fellow students nominated to run for the presidency of the Federation of University Students in 1960.  Fidel Castro personally intervened to remove him from the presidency. Pedro Luis Boitel's threat to the emerging communist regime was that he refused to betray the Federation of University Students and sought to maintain academic freedom and autonomy.

Pedro Luis Boitel at CMQ Radio Station
As time went on and the dictatorial nature of the Castro regime became more apparent, the student leader became an opponent to Fidel Castro. Condemned to a decade in prison in 1961 he served the cruel and unjust sentence but as the date of his release came and went prison officials refused to free him. 

Boitel while imprisoned continued to challenge the repression and the impunity of regime prison officials. He left a powerful impression on his fellow political prisoners. In 2009 Gregorio Asorio in an interview discussed how he first met Boitel while in prison for his opposition to the Castro dictatorship in the 1960s. Prison officials condemned black Cuban political prisoners for opposing Castro, thinking that they should be grateful to the dictator ,and this thin man challenged the guards declaring that Cuban blacks were part of the Cuban nation, and had helped found the Cuban nation in the struggle for independence. This man then cited Jose Marti's quote that anything that divides humanity is a sin against humanity.  Gregorio introduced himself and asked his name, and learned that he was Pedro Luis Boitel.

In response to the years of cruelty, torture and now denial of his freedom he went on hunger strike on April 3, 1972. Pedro Luis Boitel died forty eight years ago on May 25, 1972 after 53 days on hunger strike in Havana in the Castillo del Principe. Academic freedom and autonomy ended in 1960 replaced with fear, repression, and ideological litmus tests to attend university. It has still not been restored today. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

Fifteen years later, in the documentary Nobody Listened, Boitel's mother spoke on camera about her son's imprisonment and death.  

El destierro

por Pedro Luis Boitel

Melodía distante que invade mi habitación
sombras que transitan los rincones de mi mente
mis manos, el destino con vivencias ha encadenado
esa, esa es la ley del desterrado.

Cruces de experiencias grabadas en mi piel
lastimándome cual el mortífero desdeño de una mujer
recubierto de épocas efímeras subsiste mi corazón
dependencia nostálgica de un niño que se olvido de crecer.

Memorias transformadas en fantasmas
aquellos que me asedian mientras reposo
omnipresentes sombras que perturban mis sueños
mientras yo evoco mi país a mi modo.

Isla que desaparece en el horizonte
crepitante estación que alguna vez ocupé
hoy sólo este éxodo marchito recoge el viento
pétalos esparcidos en una corriente ausente de mar.

El destierro me vincula al pasado
soy esclavo de un concepto, de una idea
busco entre los recuerdos el principio de todo
más sólo hallo cenizas, parcialmente sepultadas durante mi trayectoria.

El destierro me ha sentenciado a vivir encarcelado a la nostalgia, compartiendo su celda
pero al transcurrir los años he aprendido a despertar,
y ahora en mi realidad busco mi emancipación, mi senda.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Stand With Hong Kong

The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits 'atrocities' but that it attacks the concept of objective truth; it claims to control the past as well as the future. - George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune (4 February 1944)

Over the past 71 years the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has murdered tens of millions of Chinese citizens, backed the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and the Kim regime in North Korea. The CCP through its lack of transparency, silencing of Chinese scientists and journalists, has led to a global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and crashed the global economy.

This blog has followed the freedom struggle in Hong Kong over the years.  The Umbrella Revolution in 2014, and continued the resistance to totalitarian repression. Students were jailed for non-violently defending their city's freedom and the world  responded with acts of solidarity in the midst of worsening repression.
With Nathan Law at Initiatives for China event in 2015

We cannot remain silent before the enslavement of the citizens of Hong Kong by the Chinese communist dictatorship that is violating its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.  We must stand with Hong Kong and the forces of freedom and democracy. Now is the time to speak out and be counted.  

China will bypass the city’s own legislators to clamp down on activists in Hong Kong

Thursday, May 21, 2020 12:07 PM

Beijing has today announced that it will impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong.
It is said that the Chinese National People’s Congress plans to chart legislation for a new national security law tailor-made for Hong Kong; the new law is to be introduced to the city through promulgation. This signals Beijing’s abandonment of previous plans to instruct the Hong Kong Legislative Council to enact Article 23 of the city's Basic Law, which allows the criminalisation of acts of “treason, secession, sedition, or subversion” against China.

The act to bypass the city’s own legislators is a significant shift, as it demonstrates that Beijing is now unafraid and willing to renounce the very principle of “One Country, Two Systems”, the foundation for the transfer of sovereignty agreed in the Joint Declaration, thus marking an end to the city’s autonomy.

A previous attempt to enact Article 23 in 2003, which coincided with the SARS epidemic, was successfully stalled after 500,000 people bravely took to the streets in protest. Widespread resistance forced the administration to announce that further attempts to introduce the legislation would have to first undergo public consultation. Yet the Chinese government is now ramming through its planned legislation without giving Hongkongers any say.

The Beijing-controlled administration in Hong Kong has already arrested peaceful pro-democracy campaigners and used COVID-19 related social distancing laws to stifle protests. This startling new development sounds a death knell for the city’s autonomy under One Country, Two Systems, signalling unprecedented and fundamental threats to Hongkongers’ rights, freedoms, and way of life.
A spokesperson from grassroots campaign group “Stand with Hong Kong” commented:
“Hong Kong is being frog-marched towards a police state. What is left of our legal and political system is being shredded up before our eyes. Any pretence at autonomy is being rapidly undermined. Hongkongers oppose any introduction of laws to criminalise free speech and expression. As Hongkongers, we will keep fighting to defend our rights and freedoms.

We call upon the British Foreign Secretary and the British government to denounce these actions and to hold China to account for this latest fundamental breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, before it is too late.”

Monday, May 18, 2020

Rescuing José Martí 125 years after he was shot and killed in the second war of Cuban independence

"I think they kill my child every time they deprive a person of their right to think." - José Martí 
Writings of José Martí twisted and distorted by Castroism since 1953.
José Julián Martí Pérez was shot and killed 125 years ago shortly after landing in Cuba at Dos Rios in the early days of the second war of Cuban independence on May 19, 1895. Both his writings and actions taking in life point to a man who prized liberty, independence based in popular sovereignty, and freedom of speech, thought and association as fundamental to his sense of being.

Martí rejected hatred as a animating emotion in the struggle for independence writing, "There is no forgiveness for acts of hatred. Daggers thrust in the name of liberty are thrust into liberty's heart." He also criticized the writings of Karl Marx, and with reason, they were antithetical to his own values. Marx in 1849 had written, "We are ruthless and ask no quarter from you. When our turn comes we shall not disguise our terrorism."

It is not a surprise that Martí saw the dangers inherent in Socialism and its doctrine of envy observing: "Socialist ideology, like so many others, has two main dangers. One stems from confused and incomplete readings of foreign texts, and the other from the arrogance and hidden rage of those who, in order to climb up in the world, pretend to be frantic defenders of the helpless so as to have shoulders on which to stand." 

José Julián Martí Pérez: 1853-1895
Sadly, the Castro regime over the past 67 years has been slowly murdering his legacy with the assistance of international institutions such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). They have re-written the real Jose Marti in an Orwellian fashion to advance the communist narrative.

This is not unique to the Marxist-Leninist regime in Cuba but a common practice among communist regimes to legitimize their rule. Carlos Ripoll, an expert on the life and thought of Jose Marti in 1994 wrote in the journal Cuban Studies published by the University of Pittsburgh Press the article titled, "The Falsification of José Martí in Cuba" and provided an abstract of his argument:
"Marxist-Leninist governments have traditionally falsified history to justify their rise to power and the political systems they have imposed. In response to the worldwide collapse of Communism, Cuban authorities have intensified their adulteration of history so as to offer a nationalistic rationale for their continuation in power. The highest exponent of the revolutionary tradition in Cuba is José Marti and, therefore, the falsification of his thought and doctrines is the first priority of many historians and critics. They concentrate, in particular, on the Cuban Revolutionary party founded by Marti, which they misrepresent as a forerunner of the Cuban Communist party, the basic institution that holds the monopoly of power and consequently is responsible for all the misfortunes and injustices that afflict the country. This study shows some of the forms this falsification takes in Cuba, its objectives, and attempts to disprove the inconsistent and false arguments of those who purport to find similarities or coincidences between the free, democratic republic that Marti wished for his country and the totalitarian state there in existence." 
In a letter in 1988 to The New York Review of Books, Professor Ripoll revealed how José Martí in a letter to his friend, Valdes Dominguez, written just a year before Martí’s death, criticized the “arrogance and hidden rage” of “socialist ideology” whose adherents, “in order to climb up in the world, pretend to be frantic defenders of the helpless.”

Seven months after the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Cuban independence leader, in 1953, a failed armed attack on the Moncada barracks by Fidel Castro and a group of revolutionaries, led the future Cuban dictator,  during his trial to declare José Martí the "intellectual author" of the attack.

In 1972, the Castro regime created the "Order of Jose Marti" and over the next  48 years awarded it to dictators and war criminals such as: Alexander Lukashenko, Jiang Zemin, Xi Jinping, Kim Il-sung, Nicolae Ceaușescu, Hugo Chávez, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Robert Mugabe, Erich Honecker, Vladimir Putin, and Saddam Hussein.

The International UNESCO/José Martí Prize was instituted in November 1994 under the claim that it sought "to promote and reward an activity of outstanding merit in accordance with the ideals and spirit of José Martí." This was done with the active support of the Castro regime, and turned upside down the values of Martí.

Roberto Fernández Retamar, signed death warrant for 3 young black men in 2003.
Consider that the 2019 winner of the José Martí Prize was Roberto Fernández Retamar, Cuban poet, essayist, literary critic and President of the Castro regime's Casa de las Américas.  Mr. Fernández Retamar was also a member of the Council of State, and in 2003 he signed the death sentence that led to the execution by firing squad of three men, who had hijacked a ferry to flee Cuba.

Lorenzo Enrique Copello, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla and Jorge Luis Martínez
The three men, Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla García and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, were part of a group that hijacked a Cuban ferry with passengers on board on April 2, 2003 and tried to force it to the United States. The incident ended without bloodshed, after a standoff with Cuban security forces. They were executed nine days later, following a summary trial, by firing squad.

They did not have a political agenda. Their only goal was fleeing Cuba to the United States.  Questions were raised at the time that if they had been white and not black they would not have been executed.

Retamar also served the agenda of the regime to distort the views of the Cuban independence leader who advocated freedom of speech and conscience, trying to turn him into a censor to fit Castroism's repressive communist ideology. An ideology that is incompatible with Martí.

Standing, left to right: Manuel de la Cruz, Jose Maceo, Guillermo Moncada.
Seated: Juan Gualberto Gomez, Jose Marti, Jose D. Poyo. Key West, Florida.

José Martí not only proclaimed racial equality but practiced it, and would have been horrified to see three young black men executed, who had not physically harmed anyone, through a summary trial and rushed execution.

Ironically, Fidel Castro, although claiming José Martí as an intellectual author of his communist revolution, is not a descendant of those who fought for Cuban independence. Castro's father, Ángel María Bautista Castro Argiz, fought for the Spanish crown and against José Martí in Cuba to preserve the empire. This reality is reflected in how he acted in Cuba once achieving power, along with his strange friendship with Francisco Franco. Both Franco, and Castro's father had fought in Cuba for Spain, and Angel, according to a 2016 Spanish documentary, had a photo of Francisco Franco on his nightstand.
Ángel Castro Argiz
Raymond Carr, one of Britain's greatest historians, found that Castroism had more in common with Francisco Franco and Primo de Rivera than with José Martí, in a 1988 letter to The New York Review of Books exposed the source of Castro's approach to the "public square."
"Having witnessed Castro’s performance at the Second Declaration of Havana I compared Castro’s use of mass meetings as a source of democratic legitimacy with the manipulation of “the constant plebiscite of public opinion” by the Spanish dictator Primo de Rivera. In the 1970s I argued that Castro, like Franco, believed in “the democracy of the public square—the endorsement of mass audiences felt directly by the dictator.” In both these cases the “democracy of the public square” was a bogus democracy since it was a rejection of any form of representative government, of the freedoms of which Martí was a passionate advocate."
 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 ideological flexibility with non-communist dictatorships and their agents should not have been a surprise, Castro in the 1960s had contracted former high ranking Nazis to train his repressive forces.

Fidel Castro and Francisco Franco were close allies.
Many claims can be made about the Castro regime, but one that does not past muster is that it, in any way, embodies the values and spirit of José Julián Martí Pérez. The man who died at Dos Rios on May 19, 1895 was guided by a profound love of freedom that included the right to think, speak and associate freely.

Things that have been denied Cubans for 68 years.

These ideas expressed below by José Martí are in conflict with Castroism and cannot be reconciled. However they are in accord with the democratic Cuba that helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and struggled for a more just and democratic order, but was overthrown by Fulgencio Batista on March 10, 1952 then destroyed systematically by Fidel and Raul Castro beginning on January 1, 1959. 
"Man loves liberty, even if he does not know that he loves it. He is driven by it and flees from where it does not exist."

"Freedoms, like privileges, prevail or are imperiled together You cannot harm or strive to achieve one without harming or furthering all."

"Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy."

"It is the duty of man to raise up man. One is guilty of all abjection that one does not help to relieve. Only those who spread treachery, fire, and death out of hatred for the prosperity of others are undeserving of pity."  
These views exist today in Cuba, but not in the regime oppressing Cubans, but among the dissidents and the resistance defying the communist regime and embracing freedom of speech, thought and association, while rejecting hatred.

Oswaldo Paya on December 17, 2002, addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, declared:
"The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: ‘You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together.’" 
Less than ten years later, Oswaldo was extrajudicially executed by the Castro regime. Nevertheless this sentiment embodies the living legacy of José Martí that endures in Cuba today in the actions of the non-violent Cuban civic movement.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Fast Against Crime: Remembering Boitel and Zapata while demanding freedom for all political prisoners

We remember and continue to demand justice.

Cuba, under the Castro regime, has had prisoners of conscience over the past 62 years, and this is a painful reality that many have become accustomed to,  but not all.

On May 13th hundreds of Cubans inside and outside of Cuba initiated a three day fast. They are calling for the freedom of all political prisoners in Cuba and an an end to state repression.

This fast started on the anniversary of the birth of Pedro Luis Boitel and will end on the anniversary of the birth of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Both are prisoners of conscience who were tortured by Castro regime officials over many years, and resisted through non-violence until the end. Below are brief biographies of the two human rights defenders.

Pedro Luis Boitel was born in Cuba to a family of modest means of French origin. He studied at the University of Havana while working as a radio technician. Opposing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista he joined the July 26 movement led by Fidel Castro. The majority of the movement's members like Pedro were anti-communists.

Once Batista left for exile and Fidel Castro took control the anti-communist members of the July 26 movement became an obstacle to absolute power. Following the revolution, Boitel returned to University were his fellow students nominated to run for the presidency of the Federation of University Students in 1960.  Fidel Castro personally intervened to remove him from the presidency. Pedro Luis Boitel's threat to the emerging communist regime was that he refused to betray the Federation of University Students and sought to maintain academic freedom and autonomy.

As time went on and the dictatorial nature of the Castro regime became more apparent, the student leader became an opponent to Fidel Castro. Condemned to a decade in prison in 1961 he served the cruel and unjust sentence but as the date of his release came and went prison officials refused to free him. In response to the years of cruelty, torture and now denial of his freedom he went on hunger strike on April 3, 1972. Pedro Luis Boitel died forty five years ago on May 25, 1972 after 53 days on hunger strike in Havana in the Castillo del Principe. Academic freedom and autonomy ended in 1960 replaced with fear, repression, and ideological litmus tests to attend university. It has still not been restored today.

Fifteen years later, in the documentary Nobody Listened, Boitel's mother spoke on camera about her son's imprisonment and death.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was born in Santiago, Cuba on May 15, 1967. He was by vocation a brick layer and also a human rights activist, a member of the Movimiento Alternativa Republicana, Alternative Republican Movement, and of the Consejo Nacional de Resistencia Cívica, National Civic Resistance Committee. Orlando gathered signatures for the Varela Project, a citizen initiative to amend the Cuban constitution using legal means with the aim of bringing Cuba in line with international human rights standards.

Amnesty International documented how Orlando was arrested several times in the past. For example he was temporarily detained on 3 July 2002 and 28 October 2002 for his human rights activism. In November of 2002 after taking part in a workshop on human rights in the central Havana park, José Martí, he and eight other activists were arrested and later released. He was also arrested on December 6, 2002 along with fellow prisoners of conscience Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo.

Dr. Biscet just released from prison a month earlier had sought to form a grassroots project for the promotion of human rights called "Friends of Human Rights." State security prevented them from entering the home of Raúl Arencibia Fajardo, Oscar Biscet, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Virgilio Marante Güelmes 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 then arrested and taken to the Tenth Unit of the National Revolutionary Police, Décima Unidad de La Policía Nacional Revolucionaria (PNR), in Havana. 

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was released three months later on March 8, 2003, but Oscar Elias Biscet, Virgilio Marante Güelmes, and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo remained imprisoned. On the morning of March 20, 2003 whilst taking part in a fast at the Fundación Jesús Yánez Pelletier, Jesús Yánez Pelletier Foundation, in Havana, to demand the release of Oscar Biscet and the other political prisoners. Orlando was taken to the Villa Marista State Security Headquarters. 

He was moved around several prisons, including Quivicán Prison, Guanajay Prison, and Combinado del Este Prison in Havana. Where according to Amnesty International 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 following a brutal beating it 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... 
The uproar caused by his death was a key factor in the later release over the course of 2010 and 2011 of the remaining prisoners of conscience imprisoned in 2003. Following Orlando's death, Amnesty International said that "Cuban authorities [were] responsible for activist's death on hunger strike." 

Activists in Cuba have organized themselves under the Twitter hashtag #AyunoContraElCrimen (#FastAgainstCrime) and in their demand to free all political prisoners have highlighted the case of Roberto de Jesús Quiñones, an independent journalist and attorney, jailed since September 11, 2019 for having covered the political show trial of two homeschooling parents.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Does forced labor of Cuban doctors and shipyard workers amount to a contemporary form of slavery?

From: CubaBrief

Ms. Urmila Bhoola, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, along with Ms Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children, sent a letter on November 6, 2019 to the Cuban government regarding the regime's medical missions in which the special rapporteurs indicated that "according to forced labor indicators established by the International Labor Organization. Forced labor constitutes a contemporary form of slavery."

However this is not the first time that the issue of the Castro regime engaged in the trafficking of Cuban workers was addressed formally as a contemporary form of slavery. Fourteen years ago a civil suit was filed in a U.S. District court in Miami that disclosed "that up to 100 Cuban shipyard workers are forced to work against their will at Curacao Drydock Co., a ship repair company with an agent in Delray Beach, Klattenberg Marine Associates" in conditions that were "practically slave labor" fixing up vessels.

The suit was filed by three workers who escaped [ Alberto Justo Rodríguez, Fernando Alonso Hernández and Luis Alberto Casanova Toledo] and revealed that "they were ordered to work 16-hour shifts for $16 a month." ... "According to the suit, the men often worked 112 hours a week. Their wage amounted to 3 ½ cents an hour." The suit was filed in August 2006 and was first reported by the Associated Press. The Cuban government was using the Cuban workers' labor to pay back what the regime owed to Curacao Dry Dock Company for the repair of Cuban ships.

Alberto J Rodríguez, Fernando A Hernández and Luis A Casanova Toledo

Similar to the Cuban doctors, the shipyard workers upon their transfer to Curacao had their passports seized, and were monitored by state security and held against their will.
"The men were forced to labor in sweltering weather and dangerous conditions, like hanging from scaffolds. When Rodríguez broke his foot and ankle in 2002 while scraping rust from the hull of a ship, he was sent home to heal -- and then ordered back after his recovery. [...] Plaintiff Luis Alberto Casanova once suffered an electric shock but was forced to finish his shift despite bleeding from his tongue. The workers' supervisors were other Cubans, including a nephew of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the suit alleges. ''They always told us if we didn't work, they'd throw us out of the country, fire us and send us to jail,'' Rodríguez said. "Really, we were slaves. We didn't have a voice or a vote.''
The Miami Herald continued to follow the story and reported on it in 2008.The trio were awarded US$50 million as compensation and US$30 million as punitive damages in 2008, in a default judgment, and the appeals process has continued over the next 12 years. On  May 27, 2015 the Curacao Chronicle, in the article "Slave labor victims of Curaçao Dry Dock get nod enforce $67million USA claim" reported that "the quest by three modern-day slaves for US$80 million in restitution has come to the Singapore port of call. Three Cuban slave-labor victims were given the High Court’s go-ahead to enforce a US$50 million claim won in a United States court against any assets that the Curaçao dry dock has in Singapore. The High Court rejected the bid by Curaçao Drydock Company to set aside the US judgment, making clear the claims were enforceable in Singapore as they were meant to compensate the victims, not punish the company."

Ironically, the World Health Organization (WHO) and its American subsidiary, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) published a hand out in 2012 on human trafficking that includes the above chart on "health and well being at various stages of trafficking." This is ironic because in December 2018, the PAHO was named in a class action lawsuit  by Cuban doctors, who are trafficking victims, who claim that the international health organization had "collected over $75 million since 2013 by enabling and managing the illegal trafficking of Cuban medical professionals." Both organizations have been under scrutiny for their relationships with dictatorships, and reporting on outbreaks of dangerous diseases.

Secrecy continues to shroud these arrangements between the Castro dictatorship and other countries, but from time to time information arises that illuminates the reality behind the propaganda.

Rebecca Davis, of The Daily Maverick, in her May 9, 2020 podcast "Don't Shoot the Messenger" reported that the South African state is being charged over R450 million ( $24,434,550.00 ) for the Cuban medical mission sent to South Africa to fight Covid-19. Meanwhile, South African doctors who trained overseas do not have the right to practice medicine in their home country. "Unlike with the Cuban doctors, nobody is rolling out the red carpet for these unemployed local medics." revealed Davis. She also interviewed Rene Govender, an advocate, who has spent years trying to obtain the right for these South African doctors to practice in South Africa, who reflected the outrage of these medical doctors at the Cubans getting a green light to practice, while they are still denied.

Mary O'Grady in her May 10, 2020 column, "How Cuba’s Spies Keep Winning" published in The Wall Street Journal explained how "Cuba has myriad ways of spreading disinformation, combating critics, and widening its influence. Return access to the island for journalists and academics, for example, is denied when there is unfavorable coverage, which is presumably why yours truly cannot get a visa."

This explains, in part the positive press coverage, but the profitable trafficking of doctors can be explained by another common practice. "Blackmail is another method of manipulation," and O'Grady explains how she has "twice interviewed a Cuban defector who told me it was his job in Cuba to retrieve video cassettes from hidden cameras in hotel rooms and official residences where visiting dignitaries were staying. The goal was to capture on film compromising behavior that could be used to extort political favors or, for example, force a resignation. With heavy political and diplomatic traffic to the island from Europe and Washington, it’s a safe bet that at least a few have been compromised in this way."

However, the heavy diplomatic traffic also involves Latin America and Africa. The same practices can be applied there, and would explain how the Castro regime could charge over $24 million dollars for what is billed in the press as a "humanitarian deployments."

Dr. Jaime Suchlicki interviewed in the publication The DePaulia on April 27, 2020 provided greater context on the Cuban government's "Doctor Diplomacy" agenda explaining that, "If you go to Cuban hospitals you will find out that they’re understaffed.”  The director of the Cuban Studies Institute added, “a lot of the better doctors are out of the country,” and that "Cuba still does not have enough equipment, medicine, or doctors to combat a pandemic and to receive support from the government." Dr. Suchlicki concluded that the Cuban dictatorship's "top priority is economic and second political influence to vote with Cuba and support Cuba’s position internationally.”

However, international political influence also means that the Cuban dictatorship inserts itself into national politics. Over the past six decades the regime has used bombs and bullets, but also "doctor diplomacy" to advance its objectives in ways that violate medical standards and ethics. The New York Times on March 17, 2019 reported that Cuban doctors on orders from their ideologically committed higher ups have been ordered to deny patients needed treatment in exchange for political loyalty and not all the folks dressed like health care workers, were healthcare workers but some were just playing the role.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Project Varela: Looking back at the nonviolent campaign 18 years later

The nonviolent campaign that shook up the dictatorship in Cuba, changed the Cuban Communist Constitution and continues to haunt the Castro regime.

Oswaldo Payá Antonio Diaz, and Regis Iglesias after turning in signatures
18 years ago today, carrying 11,020 signed petitions in support of the Varela Project, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and  Regis Iglesias Ramírez walked with the bulky card board boxes labeled Project Varela turning them into the Cuban National Assembly. 

The national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, Eduardo Cardet, issued a statement on the 18th anniversary of these petitions being presented.
"On a day like today, 18 years ago the first signatures were delivered in support of the Varela Project (11,020 signatures), which constituted a formidable expression of free adherence to a project that managed to unite diverse people in a common purpose, demanding full rights for all Cubans. The totalitarian state persists, misery as a resource of oppression deepens, repression intensifies; the longing for freedom, justice and prosperity of our people is an old long-delayed longing.
Enough of dictatorship!All rights for the Cuban people!Long live the Varela Project, Long live the MCL!Homeland, Liberty and Life!"
The General Secretary of the Christian Liberation Movement and one of the individuals who turned in the petitions, Tony Diaz Sanchez placed the importance of the Varela project in context stating, "The liberation of a people begins at the ballot box as an invitation to each of the citizens to actively participate in the necessary transformations. This is the essence of the Varela Project, an essence that is also the aim and strategy of the Christian Liberation Movement and that we do not abandon ourselves until we Cubans live in freedom in the land that saw us born."

Regis Iglesias, Tony Diaz, and Eduardo Cardet of the Christian Liberation Movement

The New York Times reported on this historic event at the time and the author of the article understood its importance:
"Two days before a historic visit to Cuba by the former President Jimmy Carter, human rights activists today delivered an extraordinary challenge to the Communist government of President Fidel Castro in the form of petitions signed by more than 11,000 people seeking greater freedom. The petition drive, known as the Varela Project, calls for a referendum under the terms of the Cuban Constitution on whether there should be more freedom of expression, an amnesty for political prisoners and a chance for ordinary citizens to own small businesses. The signed petitions were delivered this morning to the National Assembly, after supporters painstakingly verified each signature, in the most significant peaceful effort to bring reform to Cuba in four decades. ''All of these Cubans, who with great courage and sacrifice have signed Project Varela, are the social vanguard for peaceful change in Cuba,'' said Oswaldo Paya, who led the drive. He said changes in the rights of Cubans could only be achieved peacefully.
The three activists, members of the Christian Liberation Movement, would pay a high price, along with dozens of others, for advocating human rights reforms within the existing legal frame work in Cuba. In March of 2003 both Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and Regis Iglesias were arrested and subjected to political show trials and sentenced to long prison sentences. They would spend years in prison followed by forced exile. Oswaldo Payá was killed on July 22, 2012 under circumstances that point to a state security orchestrated extrajudicial execution. 

The Varela Project, named after the Cuban Catholic Priest Felix Varelasought to reform the Cuban legal system to bring it in line with international human rights standards. They had followed the letter of the law in organizing the campaign and yet the dictatorship's response to a nonviolent citizen's initiative was to first coerce Cubans into signing another petition declaring the Constitution unchangeable and quickly passed it through the rubber stamp legislature without debating the Varela Project, which according to the Cuban law drafted by the dictatorship meant that it should have been debated by the National Assembly.

Ten months later on March 18, 2003 the Black Cuban Spring would begin with a massive crackdown on Cuba's civil society with many of the organizers of Project Varela, imprisoned and summarily sentenced up to 28 years in prison. The 75 activists who had been imprisoned with long prison sentences became known as the "group of the 75."

The dictatorship announced, at the time, that the Cuban dissident movement had been destroyed but the Castro regime was mistaken. First, the remaining activists who were still free continued gathering signatures and would turn in another 14,384 petition signatures on October 5, 2003. Secondly, the wives, sisters and daughters of the activists who had been detained and imprisoned organized themselves into the "Ladies in White." A movement that sought the freedom of their loved ones and organized regular marches through the streets of Cuba, despite regime organized violence visited upon them.

Regis Iglesias with Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia

The Economist
 in its December 14, 2005 issue published a conversation with Oswaldo Paya titled "An unsilenced voice for change" that outlined what had taken place:

Between 2001 and 2004, Mr Payá's movement gathered 25,000 signatures in a vain attempt to persuade Cuba's National Assembly to change the constitution to allow multi-party democracy. Activists of his Christian Liberation Movement made up more than two-thirds of the 75 dissidents and journalists rounded up and jailed for long terms in April 2003. [...] Spain is “complaisant” with Mr Castro's regime, Mr Payá says. “We need a campaign of support and solidarity with peaceful change in Cuba” of the kind that brought an end to apartheid in South Africa and to the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.
It took over eight years, but the last of the group of the 75 were eventually released. Many were driven into exile but  a core group remain in Cuba and are still defiant. One  of the Project Varela leaders still active and mobilizing large numbers today is Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, but others  lost their lives defending human rights and dignity who had also gathered signatures for the Varela Project, such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Project Varela petitions delivered in 2002, 2003 and 2016
Project Varela lives on and on March 24, 2016 another 10,000 signatures were turned into the National Assembly bringing the total number of petitions signed in Cuba to 35,404.  

However, let us end this entry with a documentary produced at the time followed by a reflection 
on one of the key actors in the Varela Project.  The National Democratic Insitute created a documentary in September 2002 about the Varela Project, entitled "Dissident: Oswaldo Payá and the Varela Project," which premiered in several film festivals.

Regis Iglesias has written a chronology of how he experienced things on May 10, 2002 that has been published at the Christian Liberation Movement's website and below is an excerpt.
... Under this repressive state, hundreds of citizens have been working for Cuba. All of this was on our minds the night of May 9. For these reasons that night, in a small room in a house literally fenced by the most sophisticated espionage techniques and by dozens of repressive agents, we met, Oswaldo Payá, Antonio Díaz, Oswaldo Alfonso, Julio Ruiz Pitaluga, Ernesto Martín Fonseca, José Daniel Ferrer, Efrén Fernández, Jorge Colmenero and I to decide the details of the presentation, the next morning, of the Varela Project at the headquarters of the National Assembly of People's Power. Our will was unwavering because millions of Cubans have placed their hopes for freedom in this Project, even from their silent sympathies. We cannot fail them.
A wave of journalists rushed at us as he got out of the car. Behind him, Antonio and I went down with the two boxes containing the signature ballots. Oswaldo declared: “We came to present the Varela Project, then we will talk. Now we are going to present the signatures, more than 11,000 ″, and we continued our march towards the side entrance of the building where the population is served. I raised my fist with my index and thumb fingers extended to make the sign of Liberation. Dozens of onlookers, journalists, repressive agents and seven more opposition activists involved in the "operation" watched the scene, some with disbelief, others with hatred, most with hope and happiness. "I have waited 42 years to see this," said Julio Ruiz Pitaluga, who spent 24 years in Castro jails and still lived on the Island. 
The doorman of the legislative offices recognized Antonio and greeted him. Another individual dressed as a custodian asked how many of us were to enter, after Oswaldo informed him of the reason for our presence there. "Three, we are three," replied the Liberation leader. We went up the few steps of the premises and they invited us to go to a small room that was on our left. 
There we waited for an official to arrive, who identified herself as Columbié Lugo, who would attend to us because the Deputy in charge of the Population Services Department was absent at that time. We explained the reason for our presence and delivered the two boxes with the signature forms, a list with the names and general information of each signatory, the Legal Foundation of the Varela Project (with a copy). The lawyer corresponded to our courtesy and we asked her to sign a duplicate of the letter to Mr. Alarcón, she graciously agreed to stamp the official seal of said legislative body on his signature. We said goodbye to Lic. Columbié Lugo, of the people who were in the hall of the building and began to go down the steps of the entrance to the offices amidst the "assault" of questions from the press who anxiously waited on the sidewalk our departure. Several dozen curious onlookers crowded the street. 
I couldn't sort all the images and fleeting thoughts that went through my mind. Now I was trying to take a look at the people on the street. I looked at their amazed faces, their gestures and tried to guess their mimics. I was able to see Ernesto Martín, José Daniel, and Ricardo Montes among the large group, they were part of our support." ...
This courageous act of civic courage is remembered, and continues to impact inside Cuba and marks a historic moment that is shaping the eventual democratic transition that will arrive on the island.