Thursday, July 30, 2020

Remembering John Lewis, the non-violent movement, and the principle of Satyagraha that changed America for the better

"John Lewis called what we did the nonviolent movement of America. Not the CRM. I think we need to get the story straight because words are powerful" - James Lawson, Ebenezer Baptist Church, July 30, 2020
Remembering John Lewis's nonviolent legacy.

John Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020 after a long illness. He was the last living member of the Big Six civil rights leaders. The other five were: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr; Whitney Young of the National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph of the Negro American Labor Council; James L. Farmer Jr., of the Congress of Racial Equality; and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP.

Today, the funeral of John Lewis was held in Atlanta, Georgia at Ebenezer Baptist Church.   Civil rights leaders and friends of John Lewis gathered to celebrate his life and remember this nonviolent icon and public servant.  Among them were: Bernice King, an activist and Martin Luther King Jr.‘s daughter, civil rights pioneers Xernona Clayton, James Lawson, and John Lewis's niece Sheila Lewis O’Brien. 

John Lewis on the steps of the Capitol on evening of July 28, 2020
On July 27, 2020 Congressman Lewis was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state at the US Capitol Rotunda, according to congressional historians. Prior to John Lewis, two Black Americans had lain in honor: civil rights icon Rosa Parks and Officer Jacob J. Chestnut Jr., a Capitol Police officer killed in the line of duty.

Due to the pandemic, Congressman Lewis following laying in state in the Capitol Rotunda was moved outside to the steps of the U.S. Capitol where thousands socially distanced, and made the line to pay their respects.  I paid my respects on the evening of July 28th.

Today, we listened to eulogies that highlighted the nonviolent legacy of John Lewis. Reverend James Lawson gave an overview of the Nonviolent movement that between 1953 and 1973 changed America for the better. At the same time, Reverend Lawson in his prophetic role critiqued a capitalism that views persons as commodities and not children of God. The alternative to this is not communism, both John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. rejected this ideology for sound reasons.

However, what they did embrace, Satyagraha is rarely heard in popular culture, but is of great importance, and worthy of a deep dive. The alternative is the belief in power and violence that has too often won the day at the nation state level, but also at the grassroots level with disastrous results

100 years after the term was coined, on September 11, 2006, Mohandas Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi, joined together with John Lewis and other nonviolent activists at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. It was there that Arun declared, "we have to stop this madness and the only way is to adopt non-violence." ... "Let us follow the path Gandhi showed us 100 years ago on this very a path of non-violence to right wrongs." Congressman Lewis called on nations "to push for peace and lay down their tools and instruments of violence and war."

This is not just a question for the United States and India, but as John Lewis observed for activists and nations around the world. It is for this reason that if you want to effect positive change, as John Lewis did, then you must study the origins of the word and concept of Satyagraha.

Gandhi in South Africa photo taken from here.

On September 11, 1906 in South Africa Mohandas Gandhi coined the term Satyagraha which brought together truth and firmness into one word defining the essence of nonviolent resistance.

On September 11, 2001 the United States was attacked and 2,977 men, women, and children were murdered and over 6,000 wounded in terrorist attacks planned by Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.

The date September 11 was picked by the terrorists because it marks the September 11, 1683 defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Vienna. It turned the tide of Islamic conquest in Europe.

Humanity faces a stark choice defined and marked by the chasm between the strong and courageous Satyagraha of Mohandas Gandhi and the weak and frustrated nihilism of terrorists. Will hope or terror triumph? In the text below Gandhi describes the meeting where the word Satyagraha came into existence and with the life he lived gave the answer to the question. Other continued his path, and demonstrated the strength and truth of nonviolence.
Martin Luther King Jr., James Lawson, and John Lewis chose the path of Satyagraha and followed in the footsteps of Mohandas Gandhi, and changed America for the better. Their nonviolent legacy needs to be fully explored, along with the Indian independence leader that inspired them.

The young Mohandas Gandhi

Gandhi, M.K., Satyagraha in South Africa (Ahmedabad, 1928 (revised 2nd edition, 1950) pp. 95-102)  

The meeting was duly held on September 11, 1906. It was attended by delegates from various places in the Transvaal. But I must confess that even I myself had not then understood all the implications of the resolutions I had helped to frame; nor had I gauged all the possible conclusions to which they might lead.

The old Empire Theatre was packed from floor to ceiling. I could read in every face the expectation of something strange to be done or to happen. Mr Abdul Gani, Chairman of the Transvaal British Indian Association, presided. He was one of the oldest Indian residents of the Transvaal, and partner and manager of the Johannesburg branch of the well-known firm of Mamad Kasam Kamrudin. The most important among the resolutions passed by the meeting was the famous Fourth Resolution by which the Indians solemnly determined not to submit to the Ordinance in the event of its becoming law in the teeth of their opposition and to suffer all the penalties attaching to such non-submission.

I fully explained this resolution to the meeting and received a patient hearing. The business of the meeting was conducted in Hindi or Gujarati; it was impossible therefore that any one present should not follow the proceedings. For the Tamils and Telugus who did not know Hindi there were Tamil and Telugu speakers who fully explained everything in their respective languages.
The resolution was duly proposed, seconded and supported by several speakers one of whom was Sheth Haji Habib. He too was a very old and experienced resident of South Africa and made an impassioned speech. He was deeply moved and went so far as to say that we must pass this  resolution with God as witness and must never yield a cowardly submission to such degrading legislation. He then went on solemnly to declare in the name of God that he would never submit to that law, and advised all present to do likewise.

Others also delivered powerful and angry speeches in supporting the resolution. When in the course of his speech Sheth Haji Habib came to the solemn declaration, I was at once startled and put on my guard. Only then did I fully realize my own responsibility and the responsibility of the community. 

The community had passed many a resolution before and amended such resolutions in the light of further reflection or fresh experience. There were cases in which resolutions passed had not been observed by all concerned. Amendments in resolutions and failure to observe resolutions on the part of persons agreeing thereto are ordinary experiences of public life all the world over. But no one ever imports the name of God into such resolutions.

In the abstract there should not be any distinction between a resolution and an oath taken in the name of God. When an intelligent man makes a resolution deliberately he never swerves from it by a hair's breadth. With him his resolution carries as much weight as a declaration made with. God as witness does. But the world takes no note of abstract principles and imagines an ordinary resolution and an oath in the name of God to be poles asunder. A man who makes an ordinary resolution is not ashamed of himself when he deviates from it, but a man who violates an oath administered to him is not only ashamed of himself, but is also looked upon by society as sinner. This imaginary distinction has struck such a deep root in the human mind that a person making a statement on oath before a judge is held to have committed an offence in law if the statement is proved to be false and receives drastic punishment.

Full of these thoughts as I was, possessing as I did much experience of solemn pledges, having profited by them, I was taken aback by Sheth Haji Habib's suggestion of an oath. I thought out the possible consequences of it in a moment. My perplexity gave place to enthusiasm. And although I had no intention of taking an oath or inviting others to do so when I went to the meeting, I warmly approved of the Sheth's suggestion. But at the same time it seemed to me that the people should be told of all the consequences and should have explained to them clearly the meaning of a pledge. And if even then they were prepared to pledge themselves, they should be encouraged to do so; otherwise I must understand that they were not still ready to stand the final test.

I therefore asked the President for permission to explain to the meeting the implications of Sheth Haji Habib's suggestion. The President readily granted it and I rose to address the meeting. I give below a summary of my remarks just as I can recall them now:
"I wish to explain to this meeting that there is a vast difference between this resolution and every other resolution we have passed up to date and that there is a wide divergence also in the manner of making it. It is a very grave resolution we are making, as our existence in South Africa depends upon our fully observing it. The manner of making the resolution suggested by our friend is as much of a novelty as of a solemnity. I did not come to the meeting with a view to getting the resolution passed in that manner, which redounds to the credit of Sheth Haji Habib as well as it lays a burden of responsibility upon him. I tender my congratulations to him. I deeply appreciate his suggestion, but if you adopt it you too will share his responsibility. You must understand what is this responsibility, and as an adviser and servant of the community, it is my duty fully to explain it to you. 
"We all believe in one and the same God, the differences of nomenclature in Hinduism and Islam notwithstanding. To pledge ourselves or to take an oath in the name of that God or with him as witness is not something to be trifled with. If having taken such an oath we violate our pledge we are guilty before God and man. Personally I hold that a man, who deliberately and intelligently takes a pledge and then breaks it, forfeits his manhood.

"And just as a copper coin treated with mercury not only becomes valueless when detected but also makes its owner liable to punishment, in the same way a man who lightly pledges his word and then breaks it becomes a man of straw and fits himself for punishment here as well as hereafter. Sheth Haji Habib is proposing to administer an oath of a very serious character. There is no one in this meeting who can be classed as an infant or as wanting in understanding. You are all well advanced in age and have seen the world; many of you are delegates and have discharged responsibilities in a greater or lesser measure. No one present, therefore, can ever hope to excuse himself by saying that he did not know what he was about when he took the oath.
"I know that pledges and vows are, and should be, taken on rare occasions. A man who takes a vow every now and then is sure to stumble. But if I can imagine a crisis in the history of the Indian community of South Africa when it would be in the fitness of things to take pledges that crisis is surely now. There is wisdom in taking serious steps with great caution and hesitation. But caution and hesitation have their limits, and we have now passed them. The Government has taken leave of I all sense of decency. We would only be betraying our unworthiness and cowardice, if we cannot stake our all in the face of the conflagration which envelopes us and sit watching it with folded hands.
"There is no doubt, therefore, that the present is a proper occasion for taking pledges. But every one of us must think out for himself if he has the will and the ability to pledge himself. Resolutions of this nature cannot be passed by a majority vote. Only those who take a pledge can be bound by it. This pledge must not be taken with a view to produce an effect on outsiders. No one should trouble to consider what impression it might have upon the Local Government, the Imperial Government, or the Government of India. Every one must only search his own heart, and if the inner voice assures him that he has the requisite strength to carry him through, then only should he pledge himself and then only will his pledge bear fruit.
"A few words now as to the consequences. Hoping I for the best, we may say that if a majority of the Indians pledge themselves to resistance and if all who take the pledge prove true to themselves, the Ordinance may not I be passed and, if passed, may be soon repealed. It may be that we may not be called upon to suffer at all. But if on the one hand a man who takes a pledge must be a robust optimist, on the other hand he must be prepared for the worst. Therefore I want to give you an idea of the worst that might happen to us in the present struggle.
"Imagine that all of us present here numbering 3,000 at the most pledge ourselves. Imagine again that the remaining 10,000 Indians take no such pledge. We will only provoke ridicule in the beginning. Again, it is quite possible that in spite of the present warning some or many of those who pledge themselves may weaken at the very first trial. We may have to go to jail, where we may be insulted. We may have to go hungry and suffer extreme heat or cold. Hard labour may be imposed upon us. We may be flogged by rude warders. We may be fined heavily and our property may be attached and held up to auction if there are only a few resisters left. Opulent today we may be reduced to abject poverty tomorrow. We may be deported. Suffering from starvation and similar hardships in jail, some of us may fall ill and even die. In short, therefore, it is not at all impossible that we may have to endure every hardship that we can imagine, and wisdom lies in pledging ourselves on the understanding that we shall have to suffer all that and worse.

"If some one asks me when and how the struggle may end, I may say that if the entire community manfully stands the test, the end will be near. If many of us fall back under storm and stress, the struggle will be prolonged. But I can boldly declare, and with certainty, that so long as there is even a handful of men true to their pledge, there can only be one end to the struggle, and that is victory.
"A word about my personal responsibility. If I am warning you of the risks attendant upon the pledge, I am at the same time inviting you to pledge yourselves, and I am fully conscious of my responsibility in the matter. It is possible that a majority of those present here may take the pledge in a fit of enthusiasm or indignation but may weaken under the ordeal, and only a handful may be left to face the final test. Even then there is only one course open to some one like me, to die but not to submit to the law. It is quite unlikely but even if every one else flinched leaving me alone to face the music, I am confident that I would never violate my pledge.
"Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying this out of vanity, but I wish to put you, especially the leaders upon the platform, on your guard. I wish respectfully to suggest it to you that if you have not the will or the ability to stand firm even when you are perfectly isolated, you must not only not take the pledge yourselves but you must declare your opposition before the resolution is put to the meeting and before its members begin to take pledges and you must not make yourselves parties to the resolution.
"Although we are going to take the pledge in a body, no one should imagine that default on the part of one or many can absolve the rest from their obligation. Every one should fully realize his responsibility, then only pledge himself independently of others and understand that he himself must be true to his pledge even unto death, no matter what others do."
I spoke to this effect and resumed my seat. The meeting heard me word by word in perfect quiet. Other leaders too spoke. All dwelt upon their own responsibility and the responsibility of the audience. The President rose. He too made the situation clear, and at last all present, standing with upraised hands, took an oath with God as witness not to submit to the Ordinance if it became law.  

I can never forget the scene, which is present before my mind's eye as I write. The community's enthusiasm knew no bounds. The very next day there was some accident in the theatre in consequence of which it was wholly destroyed by fire. On the third day friends brought me the news of the fire and congratulated the community upon this good omen, which signified to them that the Ordinance would meet the same fate as the theatre. I have never been influenced by such so-called signs and therefore did not attach any weight to the coincidence. I have taken note of it here only as a demonstration of the community's courage and faith. The reader will find in the subsequent chapters many more proofs of these two high qualities of the people. The workers did not let the grass grow under their feet after this great meeting. Meetings were held everywhere and pledges of resistance were taken in every place. The principal topic of discussion in Indian Opinion now was the Black Ordinance.
At the other end, steps were taken in order to meet the Local Government. A deputation waited upon Mr Duncan, the Colonial Secretary, and told him among other things about the pledges. Sheth Haji Habib, who was a member of the deputation, said, 'I cannot possibly restrain myself if any officer comes and proceeds to take my wife's finger prints. I will kill him there and then and die myself.'

The Minister stared at the Sheth's face for a while and said, 'Government is reconsidering the advisability of making the Ordinance applicable to women, and I can assure you at once that the clauses relating to women will be deleted. Government have understood your feeling in the matter and desire to respect it. But as for the other provisions, I am sorry to inform you that Government is and will remain adamant. General Botha wants you to agree to this legislation after due deliberation. Government deem it to be essential to the existence of the Europeans. They will certainly consider any suggestions about details which you may make consistently with the objects of the Ordinance, and my advice to the deputation is that your interest lies in agreeing to the legislation and proposing changes only as regards the details.'

I am leaving out here the particulars of the discussion with the Minister, as all those arguments have already been dealt with. The arguments were just the same, there was only a difference in phraseology as they were set forth before the Minister. The deputation withdrew, after informing him that his advice notwithstanding, acquiescence in the proposed legislation was out of the question, and after thanking Government for its intention of exempting women from its provisions.

It is difficult to say whether the exemption of women was the first fruit of the community's agitation, or whether the Government as an afterthought made a concession to practical considerations which Mr Curtis had ruled out of his scientific methods. Government claimed that it had decided to exempt women independently of the Indian agitation. Be that as it might, the community established to their own satisfaction a cause and effect relation between the agitation and the exemption and their fighting spirit rose accordingly.

None of us knew what name to give to our movement. I then used the term 'passive resistance' in describing it. I did not quite understand the implications of 'passive resistance' as I called it. I only knew that some new principle had come into being. As the struggle advanced, the phrase 'passive resistance' gave rise to confusion and it appeared shameful to permit this great struggle to be known only by an English name.

Again, that foreign phrase could hardly pass as current coin among the community. A small prize was therefore announced in Indian Opinion to be awarded to the reader who invented the best designation for our struggle. We thus received a number of suggestions. The meaning of the struggle had been then fully discussed in Indian Opinion and the competitors for the prize had fairly sufficient material to serve as a basis for their exploration. Shri Maganlal Gandhi was one of the competitors and he suggested the word 'Sadagraha,' meaning 'firmness in a good cause.' I liked the word, but it did not fully represent the whole idea I wished it to connote. I therefore corrected it to 'Satyagraha.' Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement 'Satyagraha,' that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase 'passive resistance,' in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word 'Satyagraha' itself or some other equivalent English phrase.

This then was the genesis of the movement which came to be known as Satyagraha, and of the word used as a designation for it. Before we proceed any further with our history we shall do well to grasp the differences between passive resistance and Satyagraha, which is the subject of our next chapter.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

From Batista to Castro: Transition from authoritarian to totalitarian dictatorship

From bad to worse

"We are Continuity" (Meme by Center for a Free Cuba )
Today, the Castro regime, its fellow travelers and agents of influence will continue the lie that something positive occurred on July 26, 1953.  The only way that they can accomplish this exercise is by rewriting and omitting history. Here is some of what they won't tell you.

July 26, 1953 was a tragic day when Cubans killed Cubans in a failed attempt to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista with an attack on the Moncada Barracks.

Aftermath of the July 26, 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks
Between 1902 and 1950 with moments of great glory and great shame the Cuban Republic transited through 17 democratically elected presidents. One of them, Gerardo Machado elected in 1925, despite constitutional prohibitions, he had the constitution modified and ran for re-election in 1928. Like Hugo Chavez decades later in Venezuela he became a despot, and was removed from office by force in 1933. This led to a return to democracy.

Some accomplishments of Republican Cuba that the Castro regime has tried to keep memory holed.

McGuire and Frankel in their paper “Mortality Decline in Cuba, 1900-1959: Patterns, Comparisons, and Causes” found: Cuba led all Latin American countries at raising life expectancy and reducing infant mortality between 1900 to 1960 during the Republic.  From 1960 to 1995, by contrast, it came in fourth and fifth respectively.” In Cuba's history two doctors ( Carlos Finlay & Agustin Walfredo Castellanos ) were nominated for the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work in pre-Castro Cuba.

In 1959, the island already had decent education, according to U.N. statistics, and its rising literacy rates tracked with the rest of Latin America. Costa Rica achieved the same results without dictatorship and firing squads.

“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%.” This means that 77.9% of Cubans fifteen years and older were literate six years prior to the Communist takeover.

In addition to its successes on the healthcare and education front the Republic had advanced human rights on the international front through the Organization of American States and the recently created United Nations.

Tragically, this democratic republic was brought to an end on March 10, 1952 by Fulgencio Batista. Batista was a military man who had entered the presidency in free and fair elections in 1940 ( in coalition with the communist party) and left office in 1944. He returned to Cuba under the presidency of Cuba's last democratically elected president, Carlos Prio and within days of the next presidential elections carried out a successful coup against the democratic order that had existed from 1902 - 1952.

Was the Republic perfect? No it was not, but then what country is? Was it a country that was able to feed its own populace? Yes. Did it have a vibrant civil society that resisted the Batista dictatorship? Yes.

No doubt, regime apologists will dismiss these claims because they come out of the Cuban exile quarter. However, would they dismiss what Fidel Castro said at his trial on October 16, 1953 and became known as the "“History Will Absolve Me” speech?
“Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time there was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its freedoms, a President, a Congress and Courts of Law. Everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with complete freedom." …"Public opinion was respected and heeded and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, radio and television debates and forums of public meetings. The whole nation pulsated with enthusiasm.”
The promise made by the July 26 Movement was to restore the pre-existing democratic order along with reforms. The Castro revolution ended a seven year authoritarian dictatorship, and replaced it with a communist dictatorship that has ruled over Cuba for 61 years and counting.  The Castro dictatorship was not a break from Batista but a continuity into more profound tyranny that continues to kill Cubans and has already, at a conservative estimate, killed tens of thousands of Cubans..

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Cuba's Dueling Traditions: December 10, 1948 and July 26, 1953

Moncada vs Varela

     Bodies from July 26 Moncada Assault.   Dissidents turn in Project Varela petitions
In the early morning hours of July 26, 1953 a group of Cubans led by Fidel Castro assaulted the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Approximately, 18 government officials were killed and 28 wounded in the attack. 27 rebels were killed and 11 wounded. 51 of the surviving 99 rebels were placed on trial. Fidel Castro turned himself in after seeking guarantees for his safety and was also put on trial.

This attack turned Fidel Castro into a national figure. He would go on to name his movement, the July 26th Movement. Although the image of Che Guevara is used in the propaganda today, the Argentine hadn't met Fidel Castro yet and would not get involved in the July 26th Movement until 1955 when he met Raul and Fidel Castro in Mexico.

Leftists continue to celebrate this date along with the Castro dictatorship. In time of the pandemic the Castro regime has canceled its obligatory rallies in Cuba, but encouraged their allies outside of Cuba to take their chances.

They continue the lie that the Batista dictatorship was U.S. backed, while ignoring that the United States placed an arms embargo on Batista in March 1958 responding to a request by Fidel Castro's July 26th Movement, and the U.S. Ambassador in Havana pressured the Cuban authoritarian despot to leave in December 1958.

Contrast this with what Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas did. In the midst of a totalitarian dictatorship were all media are controlled by the government along with economic life he managed to lead a movement that persuaded more than 24,000 Cubans to identify themselves, demand democratic reforms, and the restoration of human rights knowing that the Varela Project petition they were signing could lead to losing their jobs, having their children denied access to higher education and in the worse case prison.

The images of the movement, unlike the Castro regime's are nonviolent and inclusive and focus on liberation and reconciliation not violence and killing. They do not seek to destroy or slander anyone but to free a people.

Oswaldo rejected hatred and violence. He never killed anyone and offered a path to a nonviolent democratic transition.
Oswaldo's nonviolent legacy has continued beyond him and is a positive tradition for Cuba. His nonviolent struggle followed two of the basic principles outlined by nonviolence practitioner Michael N. Nagler: "We are not against other people, only what they are doing. Means are ends in the making; nothing good can finally result from violence."

Oswaldo explained his position before an international audience in December of 2002:
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.” This is the liberation which we are proclaiming.
Sixty seven years after the tragic events of July 26, 1953 the Castro regime celebrates this shedding of blood between Cubans as "the victory of ideas," but in reality it was the triumph of brute violence and terror in the short term by Batista's forces on that day and in 1959 by Castro's forces. In Cuba the government has turned it into a day of drinking, parties, parades, speeches and the colors red and black prominently displayed.  This all occurs with prominent military displays and propaganda images worshiping violent revolution.

Cubans have been poorly served by the events of July 26, 1953. The Moncada Barracks attack laid the groundwork to undermine dialogue and negotiation in favor of armed struggle.

Secondly, this armed struggle that promised to liberate Cubans from dictatorship imposed a new dictatorship that continues in power 61 years later.

This is nothing to celebrate.

Seventeen years ago on July 26, 2003 in an essay titled Nonviolent activists writing Castro's last chapter that profiled some of the men who fought alongside Castro for a democratic restoration only to be betrayed by the establishment of a new and more brutal dictatorship. Some took up arms again and paid a terrible price while others were imprisoned solely for verbally dissenting. The past decade has provided time to gain both a deeper understanding of Cuban history and of the men who abandoned violence and embraced a nonviolent struggle for change in Cuba.

Gustavo Arcos
One of these men, Gustavo Arcos, shot in the back during the Moncada attack on July 26, 1953 leaving him lame in the right leg was imprisoned with Castro in 1953 and imprisoned by Castro in 1966. Gustavo Arcos's criticism of the authoritarian nature of the regime led to his imprisonment which in turn led to his brother, Sebastian's disenchantment with the new regime.

Both men, in 1981 would join the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, one of the earliest dissident movements founded in 1976 by Ricardo Bofill. They advocated nonviolent means to denounce human rights violations to the international community and call for a national dialogue to negotiate a democratic transition. The regime's response was repression and prison. When Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, passed away in 2006 the parallel between him and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was made in one of the articles remembering the old rebel turned nonviolent human rights defender.

The assault on the Moncada Barracks is a  failure not only in the short term defeat suffered by Castro's forces but in the long term degradation of Cuban society and the abandonment of dialogue, moral and ethical restraints in favor of a cult of violence nurtured by a dictatorship now in its 61st year in power.

Even the men responsible for doing this now complain about the society their revolution has created.They blame Cubans for their poor behavior and customs. Of course men and women with sound moral groundings who speak clearly what they believe and defend human dignity and freedom have an unfortunate tendency to die under suspicious circumstances in Cuba.

There are two traditions battling for control in Cuba.

One tradition, embodied by the Castro regime, based on violence and the destruction of the other has dominated Cuba's political discourse for half a century. It views dissent as treason and demands unanimity; the only acceptable ideas are the dictatorship's.
Regime mural in Cuba: "Dissidence is Treason"
 The second, an older tradition that built the institutions of Cuban democracy in the 19th Century using nonviolent means, who founded companies with a social conscience such as Bacardi that contributed to the common good until forced out of their homeland, and of the democrats who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 are still there in Cuba's nonviolent civic resistance movement.

These civic activists were courteous, and respected the dignity of all Cubans. Some were feminists who obtained the right of Cuban women to vote in the old Republic and went on to defend the rights of poor women to a decent education and better opportunities. They nonviolently resisted the imposition of Castro's totalitarian regime and either went into exile, prison, were killed, or despite great odds are still struggling for Cuban freedom on the streets of Cuba today.

Ten years later and it remains clear that the future belongs to the nonviolent resistance. The dictatorship may have killed two of its great nonviolent leaders, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, but in doing so exposed its own brutal nature and undermined its own legitimacy.

At the same time Laura's and Oswaldo's nonviolent legacies will continue to bear fruit and in the long term and will be an important factor in Cuba's democratic transition. Nagler in his studies on nonviolence observed that "Nonviolence sometimes 'works' and always works" put another way "in nonviolence, you can lose all the battles but still go on to win the war!"  A coherent strategic nonviolent vision is necessary to achieve success, but practicing nonviolence over the long term does generate positive results in the same way that violence generates negative ones.

If Cuba is to survive as a nation then it will be freed from this violent regime and July 26, 1953 will be viewed as the tragic day, that it is, when Cubans killed Cubans and January 1st will only be celebrated for the New Year. Castroism due to its violent nature can only end in failure.

Either it will destroy Cuba as a nation or it will implode and a democratic transition take place. The existence of people such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Harold Cepero, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and others willing to risk all for restoring a democratic Cuba using nonviolent means is a sign that Cuba will not be destroyed by the violence of Castroism. The only questions are when and how will Cuba achieve its nonviolent democratic transition.

What this post-Castro Cuba will look like can already be intimated. May 10, 2002 will be a day of celebration in Cuba commemorating the day that the first 11,020 signatures of the Varela Project were presented to the National Assembly demanding human rights and democratic reforms.

International Human Rights Day will be a day to celebrate and observe human rights in Cuba and not a day of repression.

Oswaldo, Harold, Laura, Orlando, and many others have done the ground work and their good works will bear fruit.

The Cuban Republic's human rights tradition that is tied to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and December 10, 1948 will be restored and Castroism will be relegated to the sad and cautionary chapter in Cuban history that it deserves to be.

Oswaldo Payá addresses the European Parliament on December 17, 2002
The prophetic warning of Oswaldo Payá to the international community on December 17, 2002 was not heeded:
"The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized."
The West's failure to practice global solidarity with Chinese democrats has led to a global decline in human rights over the past 14 years, and over the past seven months with the COVID-19 pandemic we are witnessing how the lack of transparency of the Chinese Communist dictatorship has jeopardized our right to remain human amidst a global health crisis and economic collapse.

We must do better and redouble our efforts in the defense of human dignity and human rights.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Paying homage to Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Harold Cepero Escalante and the martyrs for Democracy in the Americas.

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’. - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002

Oswaldo Payá, and Harold Cepero murdered by Castro regime on July 22, 2012

Today we pay homage to Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Harold Cepero Escalante and the many other martyrs for Democracy in the Americas.

Oswaldo was sixty years old at the time that he was murdered by agents of the Castro regime. He was a family man and lay Catholic from Havana, an engineer, who in September 1988 founded the Christian Liberation Movement with fellow Catholics in the neighborhood of El Cerro, and over the next 23 years would carry out important campaigns to support human rights and a transition to democracy in Cuba.

Harold Cepero was 32 years old at the time he was killed together with Oswaldo. He was from the town of Chambas in Ciego de Ávila. At age 18 he began to study at the University of Camaguey, and in 2002 together with other students Harold signed the Varela Project. It was an initiative that was legal within the existing Cuban constitution that had been authored by the Christian Liberation Movement.

On May 10, 2002 Oswaldo, along with Regis Iglesias and Tony Diaz Sanchez of the Christian Liberation Movement turned in 11,020 Varela Project petitions, and the news of the petition drive was reported worldwide.

Despite this, Harold and other students were expelled from the university for signing it and sharing it with others. The secret police would organize a mob to “judge”, scream at, insult, threaten and expel the students who had signed the Varela Project. Following his expulsion on November 13, 2002, Harold wrote a letter in which he cautioned that “those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves."

Regis Iglesias and Tony Diaz Sanchez were sentenced to long prison sentences in March 2003 following show trials, along with 73 other Cuban dissidents, many of them had taken part in the Varela Project and nearly eight years later were forced into exile as an alternative to completing their prison sentences.

In spite the crackdown, Oswaldo would turn in another 14,384 petition signatures on October 5, 2003. He would spend the next eight years campaigning for the release of his imprisoned compatriots, and continuing campaigns to achieve a democratic transition in Cuba.

Ten years, two months and twelve days after turning in the first Varela Project petitions while traveling in Eastern Cuba on a Sunday afternoon on July 22, 2012 with two international visitors Oswaldo and Harold were killed. Cuban state security bumped into the car they were driving, and when the vehicles stopped, with everyone still alive in the car, approached the driver striking him in the temple with the butt of a pistol. Within hours the lifeless and brutalized bodies of both men would appear.

These are somber times with a pandemic raging across the world killing hundreds of thousands, in part, due to the lack of transparency of the Chinese Communist Party.

We are witnessing protests and riots in the United States today, but they are not inspiring hope in a new dawn of freedom because too many wear the image of Che Guevara, embracing his doctrine of hatred and are advocating for a variant of Marxism-Leninism that are at odds with the call to end police violence.

Freedom House in their 2020 Freedom in the World report found that “despite mass protests in every region, world suffers 14th consecutive year of deterioration in political rights and civil liberties.” Human rights have been in decline for 14 years.

Oswaldo Payá when awarded the Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought on December 17, 2002 spoke prophetically when he said: “The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized.”

The failure of the international community to advance human rights along with globalization that is made manifest by the West’s embrace of Communist China, ignoring its continuing dismal human rights record has created a crisis of values that has become a global economic and health crisis.

Oswaldo understood that the means are also the ends and in the same talk explained: “We now know that any method or model which purportedly aims to achieve justice, development, and efficiency but takes precedence over the individual or cancels out any of the fundamental rights leads to a form of oppression and to exclusion and is calamitous for the people.”

Oswaldo was a consistent human rights defender.

On January 12, 2002 the Cuban Communist Party's daily newspaper Granma offered the official position of the dictatorship on the United States opening a prison camp in Guantanamo: "We will not create any obstacles to the development of the [U.S. military] operation, though the transfer of foreign prisoners of war by the U.S. government to the base—located on a space in our territory upon which we have been deprived of any jurisdiction—was not part of the agreement that the base was founded upon."

The first Cuban on the island to criticize and denounce the United States for housing Afghan prisoners in Cuba and demanding they be treated with dignity was Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas on December 17, 2002:  

"It's obviously a matter of shame that our land is being used for that purpose, having foreign prisoners brought to Cuba. Even if they are terrorists they deserve respect. Their human rights should be respected."
 In the midst of darkness, it is important to remember these points of light that give us hope and a path to freedom and improved human rights around the world.

Five years ago on July 22, 2015 Javier El-Hage, and Roberto González of the Human Rights Foundation released a 147 page report titled The Case of Oswaldo Payá that concluded.
"Information that emerged in the months that followed and that was not at all considered by the Cuban court that convicted Carromero – consisting of witness statements, physical evidence and expert reports – suggest direct government responsibility in the deaths of Payá and Cepero. Specifically, the evidence deliberately ignored by the Cuban State strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident – as was quickly claimed by authorities in the state-owned media monopoly and later rubber – stamped by Cuba’s totalitarian court system – but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the State, acting (1) with the intent to kill Oswaldo Payá and the passengers in the vehicle he was riding, (2) with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm to them, or (3) with reckless or depraved indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to the life of the most prominent Cuban activist in the last twenty-five years and the passengers riding with him in the car."
Let there be truth and justice for Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero and the many victims of Communism around the world, and let us continue their work in defense of human dignity and in pursuit of the global solidarity that they advocated and lived for.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero, and America's New Martyrs for Democracy

"The greatest incitement to guilt is the hope of sinning with impunity."- Cicero

Castroism has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the Americas and Africa over the years, and despite this bloody and dark history there is an amnesia that seems to impact national leaders when dealing with this dictatorship, and in at least two cases, the memory was recovered by both the leadership and the people, but too late to avoid the same tragic fate of the Cubans.

This is why it is important to remember what the true nature of the dictatorship in Cuba is, and that of its blood allies in the region: Venezuela and Nicaragua.

On July 22, 2012 beginning at 9:00am there will be virtual live broadcast of tributes to Cuban martyrs Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero, and other new martyrs for democracy from around the Americas. CubaDecide provides the following description for the video:
"Live broadcast of the Tribute to Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero on the 8th anniversary of their murder. From various cities around the world we gather to commemorate the Victims of Communism in the Americas, a tribute to the new Martyrs of Democracy."
 Below, in Spanish, is the schedule for the day beginning at 9:00am EST and ending at 9:00pm EST. It is a 12 hour event, and should be widely shared to inform friends of freedom from around the world.


Monday, July 20, 2020

Christian Liberation Movement recalls legacies of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero and organizes masses around the world in their memory

Eight years without Oswaldo and Harold.

Regis Iglesias, spokesperson for the Christian Liberation Movement, on July 19, 2020 spoke in a webinar organized by Christian Democrats on Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero on the legacy of these two Cuban martyrs and the ongoing work of the movement in which they had leadership positions.

Conversation with MCL's  Regis Iglesias on anniversry of Oswaldo and Harold's death
Iglesias also published an essay on July 15, 2020 titled Without Oswaldo and Harold where he laid out the case that what happened on July 22, 2012 was an extrajudicial killing by Castro's secret police:
"This July 22, eight years will have passed without the Cuban regime giving answers about the deaths of Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and Sakharov Prize laureate of the European Parliament 2002 and of the young activist Harold Cepero while traveling by road to the east of the island.

Oswaldo and Harold were accompanied by the then president of New Generations of the Popular Party in Madrid, Ángel Carromero and the Christian Democrat Swede Aron Modig.

From Carromero and other witnesses who could see Cepero alive in the hospital we found out from the first moment that it was an organized crime and executed by the repressive forces of the Cuban regime that had been following them throughout the trip.

Also the sloppy official version itself is a lie due to the irreconcilable technical contradictions with which they tried to make us believe that it had been a traffic accident.

Carromero himself after his return to Spain claimed that Oswaldo and Harold were alive when he was taken from the scene by the forces of the political police.

After a light blow from the car that was following them, Ángel was able to brake and when he was going to complain to his attackers, he received a pistol blow to the temple, losing consciousness until he was introduced to another vehicle that took him to the hospital. This was confirmed with monosyllables from prison and using the consul's cell phone in Kirpatick, who had come to visit the current president of the Popular Party, Pablo Casado.

Carromero told all this to the Spanish and North American press, but no one listened to him, no one has supported him on his return, and the crime has gone unpunished."
The Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) organized a mass for their martyred compatriots on  July 17, 2020 in Havana, and on July 19th in Guanabacoa.
MCL on July 22, 2020 is also organizing masses that are currently scheduled to take place in Madrid, Miami, Berlin, Key West, Hialeah, Rome, Alicante, Paris, Texas, and Mexico.

Eight years have passed, and the memory and legacies of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero remain strong, and so does the demand for truth and justice with over 8,790 signatures gathered demanding an investigation. If you have not yet signed then please do so here.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Remembering a non-violent icon on his passing: Requiescat in pace John Lewis

Some people love the world, but they don't love people. You have to respect the dignity and worth of every human being. Love everybody. - John Lewis, over twitter on March 5, 2015  

July 2, 1963, six leaders of the nation's civil rights organizations met at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York.
John Lewis passed away on July 17, 2020 after a long illness. He was the last living member of the Big Six civil rights leaders. The other five were: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr; Whitney Young of the National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph of the Negro American Labor Council; James L. Farmer Jr., of the Congress of Racial Equality; and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP.

He was a son of sharecroppers' who fought for civil rights using nonviolent means, and went on to a long career in Congress.

John Lewis in 1961
Imagine for a moment hundreds of young Americans threatened, attacked, imprisoned and responding with nonviolent resistance. This happened in the Freedom Rides initiated by the Congress of Racial Equality on May 16, 1961. Fifty years later they still gather to remember what happened and to tell new generations that they too can make a difference for the better. Twenty year old John Lewis was one of those young Americans putting his life on the line.
"Boarding that Greyhound bus to travel through the heart of the Deep South I felt good. I felt happy. I felt liberated. I was like a soldier in a nonviolent army" - Representative John Lewis, Freedom Riders trailer, American Experience, 2011
John Lewis helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was elected its chairman in 1963, making him one of the Big Six at the age of 23, and two years later he was leading a march over a bridge named after a Klansman in Selma, Alabama.

Two Minute Warning, Police readying to attack marchers in Selma on 3/7/65. Spider Martin
The Library of Congress described one of the first flashpoints in the Selma conflict began on March 7, 1965 with John Lewis and Hosea Williams leading marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that became known as Bloody Sunday:

On Sunday March 7, 1965, about six hundred people began a fifty-four mile march from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery. They were demonstrating for African American voting rights and to commemorate the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson, shot three weeks earlier by an state trooper while trying to protect his mother at a civil rights demonstration. On the outskirts of Selma, after they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers, in plain sight of photographers and journalists, were brutally assaulted by heavily armed state troopers and deputies.
Thanks to press on hand the world saw in video and photographs the brutality visited upon nonviolent demonstrators that day who maintained their nonviolent discipline in spite of the brutal attacks on them by the local authorities in Selma. 

It would lead through a protracted struggle into a march from Selma to Montgomery on March 25, 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr. and would serve to usher in the 1965 Voting Rights Act for African Americans in the United States signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 5, 1965.

Back in 2014 Congressman Lewis spent three hours in an in-depth interview on C-SPAN talking about his life, and is available below.

Fifty years after Selma, Congressman John Lewis would meet with Cuban dissidents currently engaged in civil disobedience in Cuba inspired by his struggle half a century ago. The positive fruits of nonviolence knows no bounds.

Congressman John Lewis meets with Cuban dissidents in 2015
In 2015 Representative John Lewis, sat down with Cuban dissidents, Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez, Yris Pérez Aguilera and engaged them in conversation. These opposition activists were being accompanied by Eddy Acevedo, of Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen's office.

Civil rights icon and Member of Congress John Lewis (1940 - 2020)
Thank you Congressman John Lewis for your life of service, leadership, and example of nonviolent resistance that made the United States a better place. Thank you for showing us how to get into good trouble. 

Requiescat in pace John Lewis