Sunday, February 28, 2021

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas born 69 years ago: Honoring Cuba's Consistent Human Rights Defender

"And we, without hatred, sow hope. We say socialism or death, no. Liberty and Life." -  Oswaldo Payá

Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas Feb 29, 1952 - Jul 22, 2012

Oswaldo's daughter, Rosa María Payá, over twitter today posted a photo in Spanish with the above quote by her dad in the original Spanish, with the following statement, here translated.

"In these days my dad would be celebrating his birthday, if hatred, made totalitarian power, had not killed him along with Harold Cepero. Hatred and death failed: they could not eliminate his legacy.
#Homeland And Life 
 #Freedom and Life  
Oswaldo Payá, Feb 29. 1952 - Jul 22 2012"
Embedded below is Rosa's tweet from today.

Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas was born 69 years ago on February 29, 1952 and was extrajudicially executed in Cuba by Castro's secret police on July 22, 2012 along with Harold Cepero.

Ten years earlier, Oswaldo Payá along with other members of the Christian Liberation Movement in May 2002 turned in thousands of signatures from the Varela Project, a petition that called for human rights to be respected in Cuba, and that the matter be debated before the National Assembly.

 In December of 2002, thanks to lobbying and pressure from Spain, Oswaldo Payá was able to travel to Strasbourg, France to receive the European Union's Sakharov Prize and address the chamber.

In 2011, seven Norwegian members of parliament nominated Oswaldo Payá for the Nobel Peace Prize.( Václav Havel had also twice nominated Oswaldo Payá ).

Following the untimely deaths of Oswaldo and Harold, the Cuban opposition leader's family was subjected to death threats and heightened surveillance by state security.

Nine years later and his legacy lives on in Cuba, in the diaspora, and with his family. In 2019 his book "The Night Will Not Be Eternal: Dangers and Hopes for Cuba."   
In Cuba, today activists from the Christian Liberation Movement remember and honor their founder in a Tweet that reads, translated to English: "Christian Liberation Movement, Palma Soriano: Today we remember Oswaldo Payá on the 69th anniversary of his birth. Example of dignity and courage. We are liberation. Homeland, freedom and life."

Today, let us also remember and pray for the soul of this good man, who sacrificed all for the freedom of the Cuban people.

It is also a moment to share with others how others looking from outside the Cuban experience viewed this human rights defender and Cuban patriot. Below are observations made by Norwegian members of parliament in 2011 when they nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Norwegian members of parliament nominated Oswaldo Payá for Nobel Peace Prize in 2011
Norwegian MPs nominate Oswaldo Payá for Nobel Peace Prize

Source: Christian Liberation Movement

A group of 7 Norwegian Members of Parliament has nominated the Cuban Oswaldo Payá for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. – The Nobel Prize to Cuba’s most important oppositional leader would be an important contribution to peace and democracy for a people who have been denied their fundamental human rights for far too long, the MPs write in their nomination letter.

Through nearly two decades Oswaldo Payá has been the leading figure in a peaceful struggle for basic human rights in Cuba. Oswaldo Payá represents all Cubans who want a peaceful change based on reconciliation and dialogue.

– We believe the Nobel Peace Prize would send a strong signal to the Cuban government that it is time for change, says Dagrun Eriksen, MP, deputy leader of the Christian Democratic Party and one of the signatories.

Oswaldo Payá has built his work on the conviction that all human beings have inviolable rights. He believes that the right to freedom of speech is the basis on which to solve all other problems in society. Only when the people themselves can express their concerns, Cuba will be able to find its own way out of the country’s challenges.

- Oswaldo Payá recognizes that freedom of speech and respect for fundamental human rights is a precondition for a peaceful development, says Jan Tore Sanner, MP, deputy leader of the Conservative Party and one of the other signatories.

Oswaldo Payá has consistently tried to work within the frames of Cuban law, through petitions calling for the respect for basic human rights. When the Varela project succeeded in collecting enough signatures to set of a referendum in 2002, the Cuban regime’s response, however, was to arrest 75 oppositional leaders, in what became known as the Black Spring.

Last spring, Mr Sanner and Mrs Eriksen took the initiative to form a support group for Cuban political prisoners in the Norwegian Parliament, including MPs from all the Norwegian parties. Following the release of more than 40 prisoners into forced exile last summer, 19 of them wrote a letter to the group, proposing that they nominate Oswaldo Payá for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

- The support from the former prisoners of conscience shows how Oswaldo Payá has succeeded in gathering different groups of dissidents in dialogue and peaceful resistance, says Dagrun Eriksen.

Jan Tore Sanner was one of the nominators behind last year’s winner Liu Xiabo.

- Oswaldo Payá represents the same peaceful struggle for human rights as Liu Xiabo, says Mr Sanner.

Payá has continued to call for unity and dialogue between all Cubans, in and outside the country. His National Dialogue program and All Cubans Forum, have involved thousands of Cubans in discussions on proposals for a peaceful change towards democracy. Payá is now again calling for a referendum on basic human rights.

- Oswaldo Payá would be a worthy winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, say Dagrun Eriksen and Jan Tore Sanner.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Brothers to the Rescue shootdown 25 years later: Continuing the struggle for truth, justice, and memory


Mario de la Peña, age 24; Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, both 30, and Armando Alejandre Jr., 45 were murdered in international airspace on February 24, 1996 at 3:21pm and 3:27pm by heat-seeking air-to-air missiles launched from a MiG-29 UB piloted by Lorenzo Alberto Peréz Peréz that destroyed the two planes the men were onboard. Mario, Carlos, Pablo and Armando were members of the humanitarian organization Brothers to the Rescue.

This was a premeditated act of state terrorism carried out by Mr. Peréz Peréz on the orders of both Fidel and Raul Castro and through the chain of command issuing the unlawful order that killed these four men.

Cuban spies obtained the information on flight times, and were told not to fly on February 24th, and if they did have to fly to signal the MiGs with a motion while in flight to avoid the fate of the others.

This was a premeditated killing over international airspace. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) concluded that the two planes "were shot down miles away from Cuba’s boundary having never entered or touched it on that day and the planes had been in contact with the Cuban tower throughout the flight."

They failed to destroy a third plane with Sylvia Iriondo, Andrés Iriondo, Jose Basulto, and Arnaldo Iglesias on board. 

There is no statue of limitations on murder and state terrorism.  There is much more in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reports on the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down, and worth reading.

Over the past 25 years friends, and family have continued to demand truth, respect memory and demand justice through protests, petitions, and law suits.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Letters to the Editor: Biden must minimize overtures to Cuba | The Miami Herald

The Miami Herald, February 18, 2021

Letters to the Editor

Biden must minimize overtures to Cuba

The tip of the iceberg.

Source: The Miami Herald

Kudos to Kevin G. Hall and Nora Gámez Torres for their well-researched Feb. 12th article, “Brother of powerful Cuban general moves like aphantom in embargo-evading offshore world.”

It exposed the links between Guillermo Faustino Rodríguez López-Calleja who controls the Luxembourg registered Mid Atlantic company and his brother Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja who runs Cuba’s military-industrial conglomerate, Grupo de Administracion Empresarial S.A., (GAESA), that reportedly controls 60 percent of Cuba’s economy.

Monies generated by Mid-Atlantic and GAESA go to the repressive elements of the Castro regime that finance mistreatment of Cubans, and funds Castro’s military and intelligence personnel propping up Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.


The Prague-based CASLA Institute in its 2021 report “Venezuela: Crimes Against Humanity, Systematic Repression and Torture, Responsibility of the Cuban regime” presented testimonies they obtained in 2020 from Venezuelan civilian and military witnesses who were tortured by Cuban officers. A rape was also reported.


Greater military control of the Cuban economy occurred during the warming of relations between the United States and Cuba, between January 2009 and January 2017.


The Obama Administration's 2014 opening to Havana resulted in Castro’s military exponentially expanding "its economic empire under detente" seizing control of economic sectors previously controlled by civilian elements.


Resuming détente with Havana will provide more resources to commit atrocities to spread Cuba’s communist ideology.



John Suarez

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Celebrating real Cuban culture and the artists defying totalitarian efforts to rewrite it

Let us no longer shout "Homeland and Death" but "Homeland and Life"
Artists from the San Isidro Movement celebrating Cuban culture

"Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth," observed George Orwell in his essay, "The Prevention of Literature" in the journal Polemic, published i
n January 1946. Writers that refuse to go along with alteration of the past all too often pay a terrible price. This is also true for artists in other fields because totalitarians seek to control the culture.
Ángel Cuadra, who passed away on February 13, 2021, was a Cuban lawyer, writer, poet, and actor who in 1967 was sentenced to 15 years in prison and in February 1977 Amnesty International highlighted his case and recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. He was paroled for four months in 1976, but returned to prison to serve out his sentence after a book of his poems were published abroad. Castro could not tolerate independent cultural expression and punished him with another five years in prison followed by forced exile.
Ángel Cuadra defending Cuban culture and ideas prior to his arrest.

Those who wish to be fooled by the totalitarians fall for their lies time and time again, but facts intrude for those seeking the truth. On February 12, 2021 the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) "described as a mockery against freedom of the press and expression a series of measures of economic opening that the Cuban regime dictated and that leaves out the exercise of independent journalism." No doubt those seeking to legitimize the dictatorship in Havana will want to once again give it the benefit of the doubt.
But those who recognize Cuba's past and listen to its authentic cultural expressions in the present have captured truths that point to the regime monstrous nature.  New generations in Cuba today, such as the San Isidro Movement, continue the work of Ángel Cuadra defending the existence of objective truth, and recovering the past the dictatorship in Havana continues trying to erase.

Patria y Vida (Homeland and Life)

By Yotuel with Gente De Zona, Descemer Bueno, Maykel Osorbo, El Funky

And you are my siren song
Because with your voice my sorrows go away
And this feeling is already stale
You hurt me so much though you are far away

Today I invite you to walk through my building
To show you what your ideals are worth
We are human although we do not think alike
Let's not treat or harm ourselves like animals

This is my way of telling you
My people cry and I feel their voice
You five nine me double two
Sixty years without the dominoes shuffled
Celebrating the five hundred of Havana
While at home, their pots are empty

What do we celebrate if people are hurrying
Trading Che Guevara and Martí for foreign currency
Everything has changed it is no longer the same
Between you and me there is an abyss
Advertising a paradise in Varadero
While mothers cry for their children who left

It's over, you five nine me double two
It's over, sixty years without the dominoes shuffled, look
It's over, you five nine me double two
It's over,
sixty years without the dominoes shuffled

We are artists, we are sensitive
The true story, not the fabricated one
We are the dignity of a whole people trampled on
At gunpoint and words that are still nothing

No more lies, my people ask for freedom, no more doctrines,
Let us no longer shout "Homeland and Death" but "Homeland and Life",
And start building what we dream, what they destroyed with their hands ...
That blood not continue to flow, for wanting to think differently,
Who told you that Cuba belongs to you, if my Cuba belongs to all my people

It's over, your time is up, the silence is broken
It's over, the laughter is over and the tears are already running
It's over, and we're not afraid, the deception is over
It's over now, it's sixty-two doing harm

There we live with the uncertainty of the past, planted
Fifteen friends standing, ready to die,
We raise the flag still the repression of the regime to the day,
Anamely Ramos steadfast with her poetry,
Omara Ruiz Urquiola giving us encouragement, of life
They broke down our door, they violated our temple,
And the world is aware that the San Isidro movement continues, since

We continue in the same, security imposing their perspective,
These things make me indignant, the enigma is over
I know your malignant revolution, I’m funky’style here is my signature
You are already left over, no more left, you are already going down,
The people got tired of holding on, we are waiting for
a new dawn

It's over, you five nine me double two
It's over, sixty years without the dominoes shuffled, look
It's over, you five nine me double two
It's over, sixty years without the dominoes shuffled




Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Celebrating Lithuania's Independence Day today February 16th and giving thanks for their solidarity with free Cubans

Celebrating a Free Lithuania.

Vilnius castle tower at night in Lithuania

Present day territory of Lithuania has been populated all the way back to 12,000 BC.  Between the 5th and 8th centuries tribal groups arrived, among them were the Lithuanians. The name Lithuania first appeared in 1009 in a written account of the St. Bruno Mission. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Magnus Ducatus Lithuaniae) appeared in world maps, on July 6, 1253 with the coronation of Mindaugas, ruler of  a unified Lithuania. Over the next five hundred years Lithuania would prosper and achieve great things, but in 1795 this Baltic state was occupied by Tsarist Russia, and would reappear on the map of Europe 123 years later on February 16, 1918.  Restored Lithuania 100 described the events  that led to this Baltic country rejoining the family of nations in the midst of World War One.

On 16 February 1918, 20 courageous, determined and trusted representatives of the Lithuanian nation signed the Act of Independence of Lithuania “re-establishing an independent state, based on democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital city, severing all previous links with other states.” Having withstood the fight for independence against Bolsheviks and Polish invaders, Lithuania sealed its parliamentary democracy in the Constituent Assembly (Steigiamasis Seimas) in 1920.

This new period of freedom would be short lived. On June 15, 1940 the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania in the midst of the Second World War. The Soviet Union had allied with Nazi Germany on August 23, 1939 in a "non-aggression pact" that plotted the conquest and division of Poland and carved up spheres of influence that placed Lithuania in the Soviet sphere.  

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945 the Soviet Union consolidated its Eastern European empire and reaffirmed its annexation of the Baltic states, including Lithuania. Forty four years later the nonviolent movement that had emerged years earlier in Poland at the Gdansk shipyards, along with new Soviet leadership reluctant to engage in new blood baths to maintain its rule, led to an unraveling of the Soviet empire that in 1989 resulted in mass nonviolent protests across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania that became known as the Baltic Way.

 On June 4, 1989 the Solidarity labor movement won in free elections and the Polish people finally regained their sovereignty after nearly 50 years under Soviet domination.  

Two million Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians joined hands together in a giant human chain stretching 370 miles on August 23, 1989. Fifty years to the day after the treaty that brought them so much grief had been signed.  Restored Lithuania 100 described the process that unfolded and restored the Baltic nation for a third period of freedom beginning on March 11, 1990.

The Initiative Group of Sąjūdis (Lithuanian Reform Movement), established in June 1988, inspired us with faith and hope: the independence movement Sąjūdis soon spread into the whole of Lithuania. On 23 August 1989, we joined our hands to form a human chain stretching 650 kilometres across Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn to mark the 50th anniversary of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a result of which Lithuania lost its independence. The Baltic Way was a symbolic action that separated the Baltic States from the Soviet Union and by which our people expressed their will to be free. We did not have to wait long. On 11 March 1990, the independent State of Lithuania was re-established. However, our people’s will was opposed by the Soviet Union authorities which, on 13 January 1991, sent to Vilnius their well trained and heavily armed paratrooper units. But even under the threat of violence we responded to the Soviet Union's aggression peacefully – without arms, singing songs and with an endless faith in our victory. That is why these events are commonly referred to as the Singing Revolution. This was the third time in history that Lithuania started an epoch of autonomous life. 

This is why Lithuania has two national independence days: February 16, 1918 (the Restoration of the State Day) and March 11, 1990 ( the Restoration of Independence Day).

Member of Lithuania's Parliament Zygimantas Pavilionis

Free Cubans owe Lithuanians a debt of gratitude. When the rest of the European Union embraced the Castro regime in a EU-Cuba agreement that gutted human rights concerns it was the Lithuanian Parliament that stood alone in 2020 refusing to ratify it with leaders saying it would betray "Cuban political prisoners" and demanding a commitment to human rights and democracy for the Cuban people.

Therefore today on your Restoration of the State Day we say thank you and God bless Lithuania.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Friedman 8: Lessons from Latin American Countries

Cuba is a cautionary lesson that was not heeded in Latin America

Cuba is a cautionary lesson that has not been heeded in Latin America, and the model has been exported to Venezuela and Nicaragua resulting in generations of suffering in these three countries. 

 The Friedman 8 panel "Lessons from Latin American Countries" was hosted by the Atlas Network with the following speakers: Joseph Beteta (Historian, Professor & Executive director of the Association of Taxpayers Peru), John Suarez (Human Rights activist & Executive director at the Center for a Free Cuba), Daniel Di Martino (Young Voices contributor) and Priscila Pereira Pinto (CEO of Instituto Millenium)


Below is the portion of the presentation recorded by the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance the main organizers of Friedman 8: The Digital Conference that was held on July 10-11, 2020 over 24 hours worldwide.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Fact Sheet on February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue Shoot down

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”― John Adams, Boston Massacre trial (1770)

Murdered on Raul Castro's orders on February 24, 1996
February 24, 1996 shoot down was an act of state terrorism that blew two civilian aircraft out of the sky with air to air missiles while in international airspace after regime planned the act months beforehand with its espionage network in the United States.
 FACT 1: By definition: Terrorism is the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear)  

FACT 2: Cuba is responsible for violating the right to life (Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man) to the detriment of Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre, who died as a result of the direct actions of its agents on the afternoon of 24 February 1996 while flying through international airspace.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights September 29, 1999 Report on the Merits

FACT 3: Cuba is responsible for violating the right to a fair trial (Article XVIII of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man) to the detriment of the relatives of Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre, in that to date the Cuban authorities have not conducted an exhaustive investigation with a view toward prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators and have not indemnified those same relatives for the damage they suffered as a result of those illicit acts.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights September 29, 1999 Report on the Merits

FACT 4: In Alejandre v. Republic of Cuba, 996 F.Supp. 1239 (S.D.Fla. 1997), a federal district court awarded the families of three of the four occupants of the “ Brothers to the Rescue” planes shot down by Cuba in 1996 a total of $187.7 million in damages against Cuba.

Lawsuits Against State Supporters of Terrorism: An Overview by Jennifer K. Elsea

FACT 5: WASP spy network was involved. One of the “illegal officers” (Gerardo Hernandez) was convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder based on his role in the February 24, 1996, shoot-down of two unarmed civilian aircraft in international airspace by Cuban Air Force jet fighters, which resulted in the deaths of four people, three of them U.S. citizens.

Department of Justice on Obama Commutations

FACT 6: Brothers to the Rescue had spotted and saved thousands of rafters in the Florida Straits and was engaged in such a mission on that day. The one plane that skirted the boundary briefly was the only one to return. The other two were shotdown miles away from Cuba’s boundary having never entered or touched it on that day and the planes had been in contact with the Cuban tower throughout the flight.

ICAO Resolution on February 24 shootdown

FACT 7: On July 26, 1996 the United Nations Security Council: "Noting that the unlawful downing of two civil aircraft on 24 February by the Cuban Air Force violated the principle that States must refrain from using weapons against airborne civil aircraft, the Security Council this afternoon condemned such use as being incompatible with the rules of customary international law "

ICAO Resolution on February 24 shootdown

FACT 8: Ana Belen Montes, the US intelligence community's top analyst on Cuban affairs had throughout a sixteen-year career at the Defense Intelligence Agency sent the Cuba intelligence service sensitive and secret information and helped to shape US opinion on Cuba. Investigation against her was triggered by her odd behavior before and after the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. On September 21 2001 Ana Belen Montes was arrested and subsequently charged with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage for the government of Cuba. Montes eventually pleaded guilty to spying, and in October, 2002, she was sentenced to a 25-year prison term followed by 5 years of probation.

True Believer: Inside the Investigation and Capture of Ana Montes, Cuba's Master Spy

FACT 9: On December 27, 2010 and again in a January 19, 2011 clarification the defense of Cuban spy-master Gerardo Hernandez acknowledged that "there was overwhelming evidence that the 1996 shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes occurred in international airspace, not Cuban territory."

The Miami Herald: Cuban spymaster now claims Brothers to the Rescue shooting was outside Cuban airspace by Jay Weaver December 27, 2010

FACT 10: On December 17, 2014 President Barack Obama commuted Gerardo Hernandez’s two life sentences and returned him along with two other spies jailed for crimes in the United States to Cuba where they were received with a hero’s welcome in what is an immense propaganda victory for the Castro regime.

Department of Justice on Obama Commutations 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Eleven years ago on February 23, 2010 prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on hunger strike in Cuba

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

Orlando Zapata Tamayo 1967 - 2010
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was a human rights defender who was unjustly imprisoned in the Spring of 2003 and was tortured by Cuban prison officials and state security agents over the next six years and ten months. He died on February 23, 2010 following a prolonged hunger strike, aggravated by prison guards refusing him water in an effort to break his spirit. He is a victim of Cuban communism.

Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who was killed under suspicious circumstances on July 22, 2012, issued a statement the same day that Orlando died and appeared in a photograph holding up a photocopy of the martyred human rights defender name and image.

"Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died this afternoon, February 23, 2010, after suffering many indignities, racist slights, beatings and abuse by prison guards and State Security. Zapata was killed slowly over many days and many months in every prison in which he was confined. Zapata was imprisoned for denouncing human rights violations and for daring to speak openly of the Varela Project in Havana's Central Park. He was not a terrorist, or conspirator, or used violence. Initially he was sentenced to three years in prison, but after successive provocations and maneuvers staged by his executioners, he was sentenced to more than thirty years in prison." 
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas with photocopy image of Orlando Zapata Tamayo
Remembering Orlando Zapata
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 had documented how Orlando had been arrested several times in the past. For example he was temporarily detained on 3 July 2002 and 28 October 2002. In November of 2002 after taking part in a workshop on human rights in the central Havana park, José Martí, he and eight other government opponents were arrested and later released. He was also arrested on December 6, 2002 along with fellow prisoners of conscience 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)

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 that are victims of the Pedro Luis Boitel political prisoners [movement]."*
On May 18, 2004 Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Virgilio Marante Güelmes, and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo were each sentenced to three years in prison for contempt for authority, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in a one-day trial. Orlando Zapata Tamayo would continue his rebelliousness and his non-violent resistance posture while in prison and suffer numerous beatings and new charges of disobedience and disrespect leading to decades added to his prison sentence in eight additional trials.

Protests for Orlando Zapata Tamayo continue
Eleven years have passed but the martyred Cuban human rights defender has not been forgotten. From the beginning the regime sought to put down and silence protests and acts of remembrance for him, but failed. In March of 2010 at the second Geneva Summit for Human Rights former prisoner of conscience Jose Gabriel Ramon Castillo testified to what had happened to Orlando Zapata. In Norway, regime agents became violent and created international controversy after a Cuban diplomat bit a young Norwegian-Cuban woman for trying to record her mom engaged in a protest remembering Orlando Zapata Tamayo in front of the Cuban Embassy in Oslo in May of 2010.

On September 30, 2010 the Canadian punk rock band I.H.A.D. released a song linking what happened to Orlando Zapata Tamayo to the indifference of Canadian tourists visiting Cuba asking the question: Where were you the day Orlando Zapata died? On May 10, 2012 the Free Cuba Foundation published a video accompanying the song, after receiving the band's permission, with images and song lyrics.

Rosa María Payá Acevedo remembers Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2016.
On February 23, 2016 at the 8th edition of the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy Rosa María Payá gave the last presentation in which she remembered and honored the memory of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on the sixth anniversary of his passing. 

On 2/19/2018 twenty activists remember Orlando Zapata Tamayo
Four days prior to marking eight years to the day that Orlando Zapata died, activists inside Cuba took to protest in the streets with banners remembering the courageous and martyred human rights activist.
The Castro regime did all it could to eliminate the memory of this humble and good man. The dictatorship failed.

Special Mass for Orlando Zapata Tamayo at Our Lady of Charity on February 23, 2020

Later this month let us once again honor and remember the brick layer and human rights defender by writing about him, organizing vigils and protests, and continuing his work for human rights in Cuba.

*Source: "Queridos hermanos míos de la oposición interna de Cuba", escribió Zapata en su misiva, "tengo muchas cosas que decirles, pero no he querido hacerlo por papel y tinta, pues espero ir a ustedes un día cuando nuestra patria sea libre y sin dictadura castrista. Vivan los derechos humanos, con mi sangre les escribí, para que la guarden como parte del salvajismo de que somos víctima el presidio político Pedro Luis Boitel". - "Golpiza y celda tapiada para Orlando Zapata"  La Habana, 22 de abril 2004 (María López, Lux Info Press /  

Sunday, February 7, 2021

China, Cuba, and COVID-19: How communists prioritzed power, silencing whistleblowers like Dr. Li Wenliang, and plunged the world into a pandemic

Remembering a hero one year later.

Today remembering Dr. Li Wenliang, the hero who warned about the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China. He was grabbed by secret police in the middle of the night and threatened with prosecution for making "untrue statements." He died a year ago today on February 7, 2020. The police state had silenced him and COVID-19 took his life, but the whistleblower is not forgotten despite the efforts of Beijing to erase him.

Dr. Li Wenliang warned about intitial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan

On March 15, 2020 this blog warned about the ability of Communist regimes, such as the ones operating in China and Cuba, to engage in the "denial of objective reality, truth and an ability to systematically lie to achieve is sometimes effective in taking over a country and imposing a totalitarian dictatorship, but is a total disaster when dealing with infectious diseases, and an outbreak such as the coronavirus."

Others in China, who questioned the Chinese Communist dictatorship's response to COVID-19 went missing this past March 2020. A high profile case was the Chinese tycoon Ren Zhiqiang "wrote in a scathing essay that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, was a power-hungry 'clown.' He said the ruling Communist Party’s strict limits on free speech had exacerbated the coronavirus epidemic," reported  Javier C. Hernández in The New York Times on March 14, 2020. Mr. Zhiqiang went missing at the time, and reappeared in September 2020 when he was found "guilty of corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds" in a Beijing court fined $620,000 and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

The message to the Chinese populace is clear: criticize the Chinese Communist leadership at your own peril. Transparency and the free exchange of ideas and data are non-existent in such an environment. This is not good in the midst of a pandemic.

Regimes in China and Cuba both seek political advantage in viral outbreaks

This is also not unique to China, but is also taking place in Cuba. This blog initially looked at the Chinese response to COVID-19 in Wuhan, and compared it with what Havana had done in 2016 and 2017 with Zika. In both cases the severity of the outbreak was covered up, and the result was the spread of the disease around the world which was traced back to China and Cuba respectively.

Duane Gubler at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore commenting on the 2017 Zika outbreak said Cuba had "a history of not reporting epidemics until they become obvious," and that this was due to their desire to maintain high levels of tourism into the country.

What happened with Zika appears to have also taken place with COVID-19 in Cuba.

Above is an advertisement posted on March 9, 2020 by Havanatur, a tourism company owned by the Cuban military that claims that because "Cuba is bathed in the rays of the sun all year, and taking pertinent measures they have greater strengths before COVID-19 and that Cuba is a safe destination"  showing a picture of folks on the beach in Cuba, without masks contrasted with two women with masks in an urban setting somewhere else.  Many tourists who believed Havana's propaganda as a safe haven, ended up having a bad time in Cuba in 2020.

Castro regime officials falsely claimed throughout February and March 2020 that Cuba was a safe harbor with effective treatments for (SARS-CoV-2) virus for visiting tourists, and found it echoed elsewhere.

Officials refused to close schools, or take other precautions, Cubans desperately began to take steps on their own against the pandemic, having learned about it on the internet. Teachers, ignoring the regime's orders, closed schools and sent children home. The Catholic church, aware of the danger presented by public gatherings, suspended religious services. 

Cuba’s independent journalists raised the alarm while the official media insisted that the country was prepared for the epidemic, that tourists were welcomed while the pandemic ran its course elsewhere. Officials falsely said that Cuba’s sun was “a good antidote” that "Coronavirus doesn't replicate at high temperatures" and continued to advertise their false claims on social media targeting European and North American audiences.

Cuban-American economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago observed in a Harvard webinar on May 1, 2020 that in Cuba, “there is no independent entity that can report its own [coronavirus] figures or criticize the government’s data.”

According to data reviewed by the Miami Herald and reported by Nora Gamez, "in the week ending on March 21 there were 144,095 newly reported 'acute respiratory illnesses.' By March 28, the number of new weekly cases of people with acute respiratory diseases rose to 188,816, more than double the weekly average this year. 'Not only could the increase be explained by a COVID-19 outbreak, it most likely does reflect the COVID-19 outbreak based on when it started and what has been going on in the world,' said Dr. Aileen Marty, an expert on infectious tropical diseases and director of the Florida International University Health Travel Medicine Program."

In less than a month (March 15 - April 4th) the Cuba based, Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine, "reported 491,494 cases of acute respiratory diseases."  This was a dramatic increase from measurements taken in Cuba over the past five years, and the months prior to March 2020.

It also points to a far more serious outbreak that probably killed many more than the number officially reported by Cuban officials. In January and February 2021 reports emerged from Santiago of hospitals and morgues overwhelmed with COVID-19 dead in the second largest city in Cuba, while regime authorities continue to present low numbers of dead that do not correspond with anecdotal reports around the island.

Castro regime continues to pitch Cuba as a medical superpower to attract tourists.

This lack of transparency by communist officials in China led to a global pandemic that has so far killed 2,323,593 people around the world and infected over 100 million, and caused an economic downturn that has impacted millions more.

The repetition of these practices to silence health workers in Cuba does no favors for combating the pandemic in the island, and protecting visitors from the present threat.  The regime has attempted to return to the propaganda line they ran with a year ago, of Cuba as a safe haven, but now promise "beaches, mojitos and vaccines all in the same place" in their pitch to tourists.

A year into this global pandemic and the question arises what would have happened if instead of silencing Dr. Li Wenliang, they had listened to him, and raised an international call to alert the world to the danger and contained the outbreak? Will we ever learn what really happened (and is happening in China) or the true impact of the pandemic in Cuba?