Sunday, May 30, 2021

Reflection on the final day of the Week of Prayer for the Church in China and the peoples of China

Say a prayer for China and her people.

Prayer to our Lady of China
 

Today is the final day of the Week of Prayer for the Church in China and the peoples of China that is being held from Sunday May 23rd until today, Sunday May 30th.

The GlobalPrayerforChina.org was created by an informal coalition of lay Christians from six continents who have joined together to facilitate a response to Cardinal Bo’s Global Call for Prayer for the Church and Peoples of China.

14 years ago, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI published his letter to the Church in the People’s Republic of China, and designated May 24th, the Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, a Worldwide Day of Prayer for the Church in China. Cardinal Charles Bo extended it in 2021 to a week of prayer.

 

Through these days of prayer, signs have also appeared on the consequences of bending the knee to the Chinese dictatorship. On May 24, 2021 two events occurred that demonstrate the increasing international power of the People's Republic of China and the negative consequences for not only the Chinese people, but the world at large.

On May 24, 2021 the actor and wrestler John Cena made an abject apology in Mandarin for having correctly identified Taiwan as a country. Communist China does not recognize Taiwan, a free and sovereign country with 23.57 million inhabitants living in a representative democracy. 

A more egregious action was revealed the same day when Taiwan's Foreign Minister and Health and Welfare Minister expressed their "deep displeasure at Taiwan’s exclusion from the virtual 74th World Health Assembly." 

In a time of a global pandemic to play politics to exclude the participation of a country that early on successfully contained the outbreak, and today needs help with vaccinating their entire population is an outrage against global public health.

On May 26, 2021 the City of Vienna's Mayor, Dr. Michael Ludwig, gave the Ambassador of Communist China "the Great Gold Medal for Services to the State of Vienna" in a public ceremony. 

Dr. Yang Jianli, Tiananmen Square massacre survivor, former political prisoner, and founder of Citizen Power Initiatives for China responded, along with others in a press release from the Forum for Religious Freedom Europe

It is a great shame for Vienna to honor Chinese Ambassador Li Xiaosi, because Li does not represent himself, but a government that opposes values that the people of Vienna cherish. The Chinese government responded to the COVID-19 epidemic by covering up its outbreak, cracking down on whistleblowers, falsifying casualty data, and misleading the world. Furthermore, the Chinese government has erected all kinds of barriers to prevent independent experts from investigating the origins of the coronavirus, placing all of humanity, including the people of Vienna, at risk for a future crisis.  The Great Gold Medal for Services to the State of Vienna awarded to a representative of such a dictatorial government not only disregards the dignity of the direct victims of this repressive regime, but also insults the integrity of the people of Vienna.   I hope this deplorable episode serves as a wake-up call to Vienna, Europe and the free world.

Finally on May 29, 2021 was dismayed to learn that after 31 years of nonviolent protests in Hong Kong to observe the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre that Hong Kong’s Security Bureau "warned Hongkongers not to take part in this year’s Tiananmen Massacre vigil on June 4, or commemorative long-distance run this Sunday." If one promotes these acts of remembrance they are subject to a year in prison, and if they attend - they face a five year prison sentence.

Today, on this final day of this Week of Prayer for the Church in China and the peoples of China I pray for the end of communism in China, and the freedom of the Chinese peoples from genocide and totalitarian rule.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Cuba's Competing Processes are Succession vs Transition: A conversation with Professors Jaime Suchlicki and Carlos Eire on May 27, 2021

Will Cuba's dictatorship be the first communist regime to not survive beyond the founding generation?

A conversation with Professors Jaime Suchlicki and Carlos Eire


  • Transition is understood as the gradual replacement of an autocratic regime by a democratic political order.
  • Succession denotes changes of power within the boundaries of a given regime.
  • Communist Cuba is still ruled by leadership of the founding generation of the Castro dictatorship.
  • Communist regimes around the world have continued beyond first generation leadership. Will Cuba's regime be different? 

Professor Carlos Eire 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A Yale University scholar, writes often about Cuban politics and culture. His memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana received the National Book Award for Nonfiction. He is the author of several other books, including A Very Brief History of Eternity (Princeton University Press, 2010), and Reformations: The Early Modern World (Yale University Press, 2016).  

Professor Jaime Suchlicki  

The Director of the Cuban Studies Institute. Has written many articles and several books, including Cuba: From Columbus to Castro and Beyond (Potomac Books). Dr. Suchlicki is often interviewed by TV, radio, and printed media on Cuba and Latin American politics. One of his latest reports is Doing Business in Cuba: Investors Beware. 

Below is a copy of the advertisement circulated for the May 27, 2021 event with these two scholars.


 

Friday, May 28, 2021

Amnesty International at 60: Are they staying the course or has mission creep led them astray from their founder?

 We remember


On the 28th of May 1961 an article appeared in The Observer that captured the imagination of people around the world. This text was taken from an Amnesty statement on the 50th anniversary and adapted for the 60th.

Written by London lawyer Peter Benenson, The Forgotten Prisoners called for an international campaign for the release of thousands of people who had been jailed because of their political or religious beliefs. They were given the name ‘prisoners of conscience.’That call for justice a six decades ago was the birth of Amnesty International, a human rights group which has since grown into a global organization with over three million supporters in 150 countries. In recognition of their human rights campaigning, in 1977 they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

[...]

Peter Benenson said that the impetus for The Forgotten Prisoners was a newspaper article he read about two students jailed for seven years in dictator Antonio Salazar’s Portugal simply for raising their glasses and toasting freedom. At the time he said he wanted to “mobilise world opinion” about the human rights abuses being committed by governments around the world against those citizens whose opinions differed to theirs.

Amnesty International's first meeting where it came into existence in London in July 1961 with Peter Benenson and six other men that included a Conservative, a Liberal, and a Labour Member of Parliament. It was an initiative that had a broad consensus, but that has changed over the past six decades.

The Left's take over of human rights discourse over the past decades to advance its own agenda has benefited it but at the expense of the pre-existing international human rights consensus. For example, Amnesty International's campaign beginning in 2007 to conflate the right to an abortion with its worldwide campaign to stop violence against women alienated many Catholic supporters, and has been described as anti-Catholic

Catholic bishops, who had been members of Amnesty International, resigned over the abortion issue because the human rights group had become an abortion lobby group. Catholics generally have been encouraged to boycott the organization. Independent Catholic News reported:

Cardinal Martino, who served as the Holy See's permanent observer at the United Nations, says that this change of position is part of the "pro-death" agenda in modern culture. The cardinal said that Amnesty International's decision means Catholics and Catholic organizations should no longer financially support the group. "The promotion of abortion opens the door to the slippery slope of evil and death, where human rights are taken away from the most innocent and vulnerable children of God," he said. "I believe that, if in fact Amnesty International persists in this course of action, individuals and Catholic organizations must withdraw their support."

Furthermore Article Three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to life, and this is not accidental. This is because this human rights document drafted and signed on December 10, 1948 was not a compromise between liberalism and socialism but lobbied for and drafted by Christian Democrats with the active support of the Catholic Church and all the world's great faith traditions.

Jacques Maritain

Catholic roots of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Pope John Paul II recalled the Roman Catholic Church's role in 1991 in the Papal Encyclical Centesimus Annus published on the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum:

...[A]fter the Second World War, and in reaction to its horrors, there arose a more lively sense of human rights, which found recognition in a number of International Documents52 and, one might say, in the drawing up of a new "right of nations", to which the Holy See has constantly contributed. The focal point of this evolution has been the United Nations Organization.
One of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was Jacques Maritain, a French philosopher who was a profound Catholic and anti-modernist inspired by Christian humanism:
There is but one solution for the history of the world, I mean in a Christian regime, however it may be otherwise. It is that the creature be truly respected in its connection with God and because receiving everything from Him: humanism but theocentric humanism, rooted where man has his roots, integral humanism, humanism of the incarnation.
The formation of the United Nations was an opportunity for Latin Americans to push for international human rights standards. The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man was the first international human rights instrument signed into existence in Bogota, Colombia on May 2, 1948 eight months prior to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December of 1948 where Latin Americans played a major and crucial role, among them the Cuban delegation. The first draft of the Declaration was fashioned from various models collected by the UN Secretariat among them "a model based on a Cuban-sponsored proposal at the San Francisco conference, a proposed first draft offered by the Chilean delegation, and the earlier Panamanian draft."

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is heavily informed and influenced by Catholic social doctrine found in the 1891 Papal Encyclical Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII. The Catholic Church in its social teaching rejects both liberalism and communism embracing a defense of the dignity of human beings grounded in its own metaphysical vision of personhood that began to be formulated in the Middle Ages, and developed into a universal concept in the 1500s.

Bishop Bartolomé De Las Casas

The holistic approach to human rights that embraces both civil/political and social/economic rights was not found in a compromise between the liberal Anglosphere and the socialist Soviet sphere but was the initiative of Catholic thinkers, states and the Holy See that shaped this important document that was embraced by the major faiths around the world that shared its common truths achieving a unanimous human rights consensus with that document.

This is all the more ironic because the founder of Amnesty, Peter Benenson, "in 1958, he underwent a conversion to Roman Catholicism, and his new faith became a dominant influence in his life. He ceased to look to politics for a solution to the world's problems, and concluded that the answers lay in individual regeneration", reported The Guardian on his passing in February 2005.

 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

#OTD: 49 years ago today student leader Pedro Luis Boitel who fought against the Batista and Castro dictatorships died on hunger strike

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

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

Pedro Luis Boitel at CMQ Radio Station

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

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

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

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

Forty nine years later and we witness the cruelty of the Castro dictatorship continues unabated as does the courage of Cubans that resist it

Below is a poem by Pedro Luis written during his long years of imprisonment.


The Exile 
by Pedro Luis Boitel 
 
Distant melody that invades my room 
shadows that travel the corners of my mind 
my hands, destiny with experiences chained 
that, that is the law of the exile. 
 
Crosses of experiences etched on my skin 
hurting me like the deadly disdain of a woman 
covered with ephemeral times my heart subsists
nostalgic dependence on a child who forgot to grow up. 
 
Memories turned into ghosts 
those who besiege me while I rest 
omnipresent shadows that disturb my dreams 
while I evoke my country in my own way. 
 
Island that disappears on the horizon 
roaring station I once occupied 
today only this withered exodus picks up the wind 
petals scattered in a stream away from the sea. 
 
Exile links me to the past 
I am a slave to a concept, to an idea 
I search among the memories for the beginning of everything 
but I only find ashes, partially buried during my journey. 
 
Exile has sentenced me to live imprisoned in nostalgia, sharing his cell 
but as the years have passed I have learned to wake up, 
and now in my reality I seek my emancipation, my path.

Original Spanish text below

El destierro

por Pedro Luis Boitel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Truth and Memory: Update on Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Mary Karla Ares, and Maykel Castillo (Osorbo) and others taken by secret police in Cuba

Update on kidnapped Cuban dissident taken from his home at 5:00am on May 2, 2021, possibly subjected to electroshock and other dissidents and journalists jailed since April 30th for protesting on his behalf.
 

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has been arbitrarily detained ( held hostage) for 21 days in the Calixto Garcia hospital in Havana. The facility is militarized: those who have tried to see him are now incarcerated. It is not known what Havana is doing to Otero's mind and body. However it is evident that the Castro regime wants to destroy the artist who has challenged the regime both in Havana, the national, and international stage.

The regime has also sought to send a message to other Cubans willing to show their solidarity for the artist. Mary Karla Ares, Esteban Rodríguez, Yuisán Cancio Vera, Inti Soto Romero, Luis Ángel Cuba Alfonso and Thais Mailén Franco remain jailed after 23 days  for reporting on or participating in the nonviolent protest on Obispo Street on April 30, 2021 for the life and freedom of Luis Manuel.

Still detained from April 30, 2021 protest in Obispo Street in Havana 

The human rights NGO Cubalex reported on May 22nd that "Mary Karla Ares is taken out of her cell nightly to be interrogated, then stopped, and a few minutes later a new interrogation. This is done again and again in the early morning hours. The intention is not to let her sleep, to torture her. She is a journalist and lives in Cuba." According to Cubalex she "suffers from endometriosis, and during the weeks that she has been detained she has not received specialized care or medication, despite severe pain." 

Amnesty International reported that Maykel Castillo (Osorbo) was taken by police on May 18 and has been missing over the past 72 hours. According to Erika Guevara-Rosas of Amnesty International in a tweet on May 22nd, "musician and human rights defender Maykel Osorbo, more than 72 hrs after his arbitrary detention, does not appear in police system records. Unaccounted for, authorities do not provide information, which could constitute forced disappearance, a crime under international law."

Memory against power

The Castro regime would like to disappear Luis Manuel, and the other persons they have taken who nonviolently protested against the abuses visited upon the Cuban artist. Milan Kundera, the Czech writer, in his 1999 novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting observed that "the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." This blog post will revisit what happened that led to where we are today.

Origin of the San Isidro Movement

San Idisdro Movement founded in 2018 to protest Decree 349

The San Isidro Movement, a dissident movement made up of artists that came into existence in 2018 to protest Decree 349, a new law that further tightened the dictatorship's grip over the arts in Cuba. headquarters in Old Havana. Their mission is to campaign against Decree 349 and defend the freedom of expression of artists. Luis Manuel is one of the leaders of this movement, and his home is the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement. Over the past three years, Amnesty International has on three occasions recognized Luis Manuel Otero a prisoner of conscience. With the most recent designation being on May 21, 2021

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara since 2018 has been engaged in a dialogue with the Cuban government demanding that artistic freedom in Cuba be respected and expanded.  The dialogue was initiated when the Cuban government announced Decree 349, a dystopian law that further restricted artistic freedoms in the already existing state of repression that existed. 

In an interview with Amnesty International in 2019, Luis Manuel said: “I’m like the tip of the iceberg. We are talking about an endless number of artists in Cuba. [The authorities] come after me, because as I am supposedly the most visible of the youth, activists-artists, they send the message ‘Well, if we lock this one up, look what we can do to you lot.’”

Prisoner of conscience first time

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Claudia Genlui

In March 2020, the World Movement for Democracy condemned the violent arrest and detention of artist and civil society activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara by Cuban authorities and joined organizations like PEN America and the San Isidro Movement in demanding his release. "He was arrested in Havana on March 1 as he was leaving his home to attend an independent anti-censorship demonstration organized by the local LGBTQ community. During the arrest a policewoman threw Otero Alcántara’s girlfriend, Claudia Genlui, to the floor and hit her for attempting to record the arrest on her cellphone," reported the World Movement.  Many feared that he would be subjected to a political show trial. March 13, 2020 was the first time that Amnesty International recognized Luis Manuel as a prisoner of conscience.

On November 9, 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the San Isidro Movement were confronted with a new challenge. Their colleague Denis Solís González was arrested for recording and speaking critically of a police officer searching his home without a warrant. He was subjected to a summary trial on  November 11, 2020 and sentenced to eight months in prison for “contempt” (desacato). Denis was taken to Valle Grande, a maximum-security prison just  outside Havana to serve out his prison sentence.

 Luis Manuel, together with other artists and intellectuals started holding protests outside the police station. They were roughed up and their protests shut down. The activists moved the protests to the San Isidro Movement's headquarters, Luis Manuel's home and beginning on November 15, 2020 they were surrounded by police. They were protesting the arbitrary detention of Denis Solís González.

On November 18, 2020 when it became clear that officials would not allow anyone to deliver them food, and in the early morning hours of that day had used a chemical agent to poison their water supply that nine of them decided to go on hunger strike, and four of them took the additional step to also start a thirst strike. This was done to conserve food and water for those among them in a more vulnerable situation.

Luis Manuel was one of the four that initiated the hunger and thirst strike on November 18, 2020. Four days later around midnight, despite a cordon of state security and revolutionary national police surrounding the San Isidro Movement headquarters a Luis Manuel Alcantara was attacked with by an unidentified man who broke into the San Isidro Movement's headquarters on November 22, 2020. This was suspicious because police had blocked neighbors, friends, and family members from reaching them in the previous four days. 

On November 26 at 8:00pm regime officials shutoff their access to internet and to their phones and organized a rapid response brigade for an act of repudiation. Secret police dressed as doctors raided the San Isidro Movement headquarters and forcibly expelled and arrested everyone inside and beat them up.  

Prisoner of conscience a second time on 27N 

Prisoners of conscience: Luis Manuel Otero and Anamely Ramos González

On November 27, 2020 Amnesty International recognized Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and academic Anamely Ramos González prisoners of conscience. This was the second time that Luis Manuel was recognized a prisoner of conscience. Hundreds of artists and intellectuals gathered outside of the Ministry of Culture for several hours to protest the raid on the San Isidro Movement, and demand greater artistic freedom in Cuba. They met with officials, peacefully presented their demands, and dispersed.

Level of surveillance and harassment against Luis Manuel and other members of the San Isidro Movement grew exponentially after the events of November 27, 2020. 

On December 15, 2020 Amnesty International released  a statement titled "Cuba: San Isidro movement and allies under frightening levels of surveillance," and raised the alarm of how they were being treated. “The disturbing level of restrictions to which activists and independent journalists are now being subjected is like something out of an Orwell novel set in Havana’s palm-lined streets. The police presence outside their homes, and constant threat of arrest, is so relentless that activists are essentially being imprisoned in their own homes,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

Homeland and Life 

San Isidro Movement artists in the music video Patria y Vida.

Despite the surveillance and harassment Maykel Osorbo, El Funky, and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara were able to collaborate on a song and video with other artists that demanded an end to repression in Cuba. The song rejects violence and death in favor of life, and calls for understanding and treating each other with humanity.

Cuban artists both in the diaspora and on the island: Yotuel Romero, Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno, Maykel Osorbo, El Funky, and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, collaborated in the song and video Homeland and Life (Patria y Vida) that challenges the regime's official narrative. On February 16, 2021 the video was premiered live with Yotuel Romero, Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno on Youtube, and Maykel Osorbo briefly speaking live from Cuba before the secret police cut him off.

Performance highlighting precarious position of dissidents

Vile Garrote performance on April 16, 2021

The dictatorship responded with escalating acts of random violence against San Isidro members. On April 16, 2021 over Facebook, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, one of the leaders of the San Isidro Movement announced a performance to dramatize the vulnerability of dissidents on the island. He explained the dramatic protest he was undertaking.

"From today I will be for 8 h daily for 5 days, sitting in a Garrote, days when I remain besieged by the DSE (State Security), I call on the authorities to turn this lathe and execute me publicly. Today Cuban activists and opponents live more vulnerable than ever, every day we are more exposed, and that vulnerability is coming from a dictatorship that is 62 years old. That 62-year-old dictatorship that copies the most repressive models of many dictatorships and security and repression organs like Russia, and those of the world.

This work is the result of a series of videos where we denounce the arbitrary way in which activists and opponents in Cuba are accused. From Law 88 that can sentence you to up to 20 years in jail, coming with the black spring, to the charge of contempt, a crime for which Denis Solis is now in prison, and Luis Robles is also in prison for expressing himself .. The law against insulting patriotic symbols is another one of those laws that criminalize free speech, crimes made up by State security. This performance is based on the garrote technique of killing activists or criminals in dictatorships like Franco's and in the Spanish Colonies. It is a wake-up call to what this dictatorship is capable of doing. Imagine if Luis Robles was handed down a six years prison sentence for expressing himself with a sign, what can happen to an activist who actually succeeds in having millions of followers for Cuban Freedom?"

The political police arrived that same day and took him away then returned with a mob to seize and steal or destroy his artwork located there at his home and studio. It was captured on video by a neighbor. 

"Following his release, [Luis Manuel] had planned to protest the repeated persecution he and other independent artists have faced in recent months at the parliament building in Havana, but officials blocked his movements, reportedly throwing him in jail every time he attempted to leave his apartment. Authorities have reportedly cut off his internet access, and police have surrounded his apartment, preventing anyone from entering. 

Hunger and thirst strike 

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara on hunger and thirst strike

On Sunday [April 25, 2021], Otero Alcántara announced his hunger and thirst strike, intended as an act of protest against the seizure of his works and the ongoing persecution of artists," reported PEN America on April 26, 2021. They are arbitrarily detaining activists, like rapper and poet AfrikReina for trying to visit him at his home.

'This is not a performance or a work of art, it is demanding rights' in a protest that is life threatening to Luis Manuel. Havana Times on April 28, 2021 also outlined the circumstances that led to the hunger and thirst strike, and listed the demands of the San Isidro Movement for it to end.

1- Lift the police cordon on Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara in force since November 2020, and get rid of the state of siege as a practice to stop the free movement of artists, journalists and activists.

2- Return the art works that were stolen from Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and compensate him for any damages that they’ve incurred.

3- Respect for Cuban artists and them exercising their freedoms fully.

Protest and crackdown 

It was obvious that his physical condition was deteriorating, and in desperation friends and colleagues held a sit-in protest at the intersection of Obispo Street and Aguacate Street in Havana on April 30, 2021. Surrounded by police and state security agents they shouted "We want to see Luis Manuel!", "Luis Manuel is dying!", "Homeland and Life", and "We are more than them!" and other phrases. Passersby joined in, and the situation grew tense when police and intelligence officials arrested the nonviolent protesters and took them away.

Anamely Ramos González, a former prisoner of conscience, listed some of those arrested on April 30th either at the Obispo Street protest, or detained when leaving their homes to see Luis Manuel: Thais Mailen Franco, Esteban Rodríguez, Douglas Batista, Lara Yumila, Mary Karla Ares, Nancy Vera, Yuisan Cancio Vera, Luis Ángel, Inti Soto, Félix Modesto Valdés, Carolina Barrero, Joe Luis Cerutti, Maykel Castillo (Osorbo), Héctor Luis Valdés, Félix David Estévez and Leonardo Romero.

 Taken hostage

At 5:00am on Sunday, May 2, 2021 state security agents forced their way into Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara's home. Officials gave contradictory statements to attempt to discredit the dissident. Activists and family members demanded proof of life. Over the next three weeks the dictatorship released private medical information claiming that Luis Manuel had not been on hunger strike and sporadic videos that show an emaciated activist in a worsening condition. The San Isidro Movement continues to demand access to Luis Manuel Otero, and only some relatives have been permitted limited access. 21 days later and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara remains a hostage and their are fears that he is being subjected to electroshock and other psychological instruments to destroy his identity.  

We continue to fear for his wellbeing, and his life, and that of his friends who are still jailed.

Screen grab of Luis Manuel from video released by regime

Saturday, May 22, 2021

This is not a performance: Cuban artist and dissident Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara kidnapped and tortured by Castro dictatorship for 20 days

“Luis Manuel must not spend one more day under state custody. He has been detained solely because of his consciously held beliefs and must be released immediately and unconditionally. It is time for the Cuban authorities to recognize that they cannot silence all the independent voices in the country,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

Concept taken from Norges Rodriguez
 

Today, May 22, 2021, marks 20 days since state security agents forced their way into Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara's home at 5:00am on May 2nd, and took him to Calixto Garcia Hospital. They refused to meet his demands, and feared the consequences, at the time, of the Cuban artist and dissident dying on a hunger and thirst strike.

Amnesty International on May 21, 2021 recognized  Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara as a prisoner of conscience for the third time since 2018. A day earlier on May 20, 2021 they issued an urgent action calling on members to write letters to the Cuban government demanding Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara's immediate and unconditional release and to condemn his detention.

 What is the immediate cause of this crisis and the urgency in demanding his release? 

 

On April 25, 2021, Otero Alcántara initiated a hunger and thirst strike to protest the seizure and destruction of his works of art on April 16, 2021, his de facto house arrest, and the ongoing persecution of artists. Officials arbitrarily detained activists, like rapper and poet AfrikReina who tried to visit Luis Manuel at his home, and forcibly isolated him.

News reports are emerging with sources claiming that Luis Manuel is being subjected to electroshock therapy. There is reason to be concerned with these emerging claims of psychiatric instruments being applied against the Cuban dissident.

In 1991 Freedom House and Of Human Rights published The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba by Charles J. Brown and Armando M. Lago that reported on the political abuse of psychiatry in Cuba under the Castro regime. The preface was written by Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky in which he described how the Soviet Union used psychiatry as a weapon. Bukovsky observed that "Cuba in this regard is unique only by the hasty pace of the disease: it covered in thirty-two years what the Soviet Union achieved in seventy-three. Within a single generation, Cuba advanced from 'revolutionary justice' to 'socialist legality,' from liquidation of 'class enemies' to 'political re-education' and psychiatric treatment of those 'apathetic to socialism'."

Not only have regime agents used psychiatry as a weapon to destroy the psyches of dissidents, but  Calixto García Hospital has a track record of suspicious deaths of dissidents in a militarized environment.

Ministry of the Interior agents at the same hospital oversaw the untimely death of Ladies in White leader Laura Pollán in October 2011. She was isolated, relatives and friends not allowed to see her, and she died and was quickly cremated. There are numerous other cases of unexplained deaths in hospitals on the Island under the custody of State Security. Another one was that of the blind dissident Sergio Díaz Larrastegui in April 2012. In both cases, that of Pollán and that of Díaz Larrastegui, whose homes were headquarters in Havana of important human rights organizations, their deaths meant the closure of the headquarters and a severe blow to the civic movement.

In the case of Otero Alcántara, his home is the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, an organization that in recent months has raised its voice in favor of freedom of expression on the Island, achieving numerous spontaneous and organized demonstrations in favor of their demands. The dictatorship that brought this activist to the brink of death cannot be trusted to now want to save him. We must demand that he be freed immediately and returned to family and friends.


 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Observing Cuba's First Independence Day in 1902: Reflection on the Democratic Republic's first 50 years and what followed

A great day in Cuban history. 

Independence Day in Havana, Cuba on May 20, 1902

One hundred and nineteen years ago today at noon the flag of the United States was brought down and the Cuban flag raised over Havana as Cuba became an independent republic and its first president, Tomas Estrada de Palma, took power and would serve four years and leave office. Prior to the Castro brothers taking over, the Cuban Republic had 12 presidents over its first 58 years which averages out to 4.8 years in office per president. Meanwhile since 1959 two brothers have run Cuba into the ground through an absolutist, totalitarian, communist dictatorship.

The beginning of the Cuban republic on May 20, 1902 had an asterisk – The Platt Amendment: which allowed the United States to intervene in Cuban affairs if U.S. interests were threatened. This Amendment was gotten rid of in 1933 but left a bad taste in the mouth of Cuban nationalists.

Future first Cuban president Tomas Estrada de Palma on way to Havana

Between 1902 and 1952 Cuba progressed socially and economically but faced challenges on the political front. For example in the late 1920s Gerardo Machado, the democratically elected president did not want to leave power becoming a dictator. He was driven from office and into exile in 1933 by a general strike. This was followed by a revolution led by university students and enlisted men in what became known as the sergeants revolt. This put Fulgencio Batista into the national spotlight and by 1934 he was the strong man behind the scenes even though democratic formalities were restored.

In 1940 all the political tendencies in Cuba met to draft what became known as the 1940 Constitution and a presidential election was held and Fulgencio Batista elected. He served out his term as president from 1940 to 1944. Due to a clause in the new Constitution he was unable to run for re-election. In the election of 1944 the opposition candidate, Ramon Grau San Martin, won and served a term as president from 1944-1948 and in the election of 1948, Batista’s political party again lost at the general elections and Carlos Prios Socarras was elected president.

Cuba's republic during this democratic period played an important role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.

This democratic renaissance was brought to an end within days of the 1952 presidential elections, when on March 10th Fulgencio Batista organized a coup against the last democratically elected president.

A little over a year later on July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro organized an armed assault on the Moncada Military barracks that was a military disaster but a public relations success. Although most of the men involved with Fidel Castro in the assault were killed, Fidel Castro became a national figure at his trial for the attack. At the trial he portrayed himself as a democrat that wanted to restore the previous democratic order and attacked the Batista dictatorship for its usurpation of the democratic order.

How the totalitarian darkness arrived in Cuba 

Upon Batista’s departure from Cuba on December 31, 1958, Fidel Castro began his triumphal trek across Cuba to Havana where he began to consolidate power while continuing publicly to claim that he was a democrat but privately began to infiltrate his movement with communists, alienating many who had fought with him, and began to approach the mass media threatening them with violence if they reported anything critical. As the months passed all independent media were taken over. Mass televised executions imposed fear in the populace.

Ramiro Valdez oversaw the installation of the totalitarian communist apparatus in Cuba beginning in 1959. He is now probably doing the same thing in Venezuela.  It was on his watch that the East German Stasi trained Cuban State Security.

This is how the darkness of totalitarianism took over Cuba and 57 years later remains entrenched there. Cuba gained its independence on May 20, 1902 after centuries of Spanish colonial rule and four years of U.S. occupation following the Spanish American war.

Over half of Cuba's post colonial history, thus far, has been under the boot of totalitarian caudillos whose father, ironically, fought for the Spanish crown in the war of independence to preserve Cuba as a Spanish colony.