Wednesday, May 25, 2022

#OTD: 50 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 Luis, 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, where his fellow students nominated him 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 refused to betray the Federation of University Students. He sought to maintain academic freedom and autonomy. This made Pedro Luis an obstacle
to the emerging communist regime. 

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 of 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. 


While imprisoned, Boitel 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 fifty years ago on May 25, 1972, after 53 days on hunger strike in Havana at the Castillo del Principe prison. Academic freedom and autonomy ended in 1960 and were 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.  

Fifty years later, the Castro dictatorship's cruelty continues unabated, as does the courage of Cubans who oppose 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.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Cuban Freedom March NYC today May 21st starts at 11am: A reflection on its significance

 "If there is to be any chance at all of success, there is only one way to strive for decency, reason, responsibility, sincerity, civility and tolerance, and this is decently, reasonably, responsibly, sincerely, civilly, and tolerantly" - Václav Havel 


The Cuban Freedom March arrives in New York City, New York today on May 21, 2022 with a march from Good Morning America in Times Square to the Jose Marti statue in Central Park. The protest starts at 11:00am. Organizers have carried out successful marches in Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Miami.

This is a freedom movement led by young Cubans and Cuban Americans with a presence on social media on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

This is a means to demonstrate continued support for human rights and freedom in Cuba through the nonviolent exercise of an important and fundamental right: peaceful assembly.

 The values expressed by this youth movement thus far are in agreement with the values expressed by the San Isidro Movement, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the Ladies in White and the Liberation Christian Movement in Cuba.

 
The pro-democracy movement in Cuba is a nonviolent movement, and within the spectrum of nonviolent actions there are at least 198 identified by the nonviolence theoretician Gene Sharp.
 
These freedom marches fall under the category of processions by Professor Sharp. Marches are identified as the 38th of 198 identified nonviolent actions by Gene Sharp.  
 
Strategic nonviolence takes a pragmatic approach that is based on being more effective then violence, especially when confronting brutal dictatorships, like the Castro regime
 

Non-violent resistance is an armed struggle but its weapons are not deployed to do violence or kill. These arms are  psychological, social, economic and political weapons.  Gene Sharp argues with much evidence "that this is ultimately more powerful against oppression, injustice and tyranny then violence. Historical studies are cited that demonstrate the higher success rates of nonviolent movements when compared against violent ones:
University Academics Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their 2008 study "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic on Nonviolent Conflict" compared the outcomes of 323 nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006. They found that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with just under half that at 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns. Finally there study also suggests “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.”
Therefore, if you want to help Cubans on the island than you owe it to them and to yourself to listen to them, review what they have done in the past, are doing today, the repression suffered, and learn as much as you can about the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence they have embraced for decades.
 

Beginning in the 1970s a nonviolent human rights movement emerged in the prisons and would win some battles against the dictatorship using grassroots civic resistance tactics and endure to the present day inspiring millions of Cubans on the island and around the world.

Transnational assistance to Cuban nonviolent activists have been measures of concrete solidarity with the Cuban people that draws howls from the dictatorship and their allies, but gratitude from most Cubans. 
 
Below are some presentations, documentaries, and historic clips that can be of use as an introduction to nonviolence. 
 
Many are also available in Spanish to circulate among Cubans on the island that until now have not been directly connected to the national civic resistance movement there.  

Friday, May 20, 2022

Cuba Independence Day 2022: A reflection on the first 530 years

 Before the arrival of the totalitarian darkness

Independence Day in Havana, Cuba on May 20, 1902

One hundred and twenty 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. However, when looking at Cuba one should look back over the past 530 years and where it is situated today to gain greater understanding of the unfolding tragedy.

Cuba is just 90 miles south of the United States with a population of approximately 11 million people. It is 780 miles long and has a land area of 40,369 square miles and is the largest island in the Caribbean and 17th-largest island in the world by land area.

Columbus’s second stop in the New World was on October 28, 1492 when he landed in Cuba. (The first place he landed on October 12 was the Bahamas). Cuba was a Spanish colony from Columbus’s landing in 1492 until 1898 when Spain lost Cuba in the Spanish-American War.

Cubans engaged in two protracted wars of independence. The first was the 10 Years War that took place between 1868 and 1878 and the second took place between 1895 and 1898 ending with U.S. intervention and a 4-year occupation that ended on May 20, 1902. Cuba's first president was a Cuban exile named Tomas Estrada de Palma.

 

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

There are many important figures and entities that emerge in the 19th century but for the sake of brevity will mention Father Felix Varela, Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo, Maximo Gomez and the Bacardi family.

Father Varela was a catholic priest who is said to “have taught the Cubans how to think” and entertained ideas of independence that led to his exile to the United States. 

Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez were Cuban generals that played important roles in both wars of independence. Antonio Maceo was of a mixed racial background: part Spanish and part African.

Maximo Gomez, was an experienced military man of Dominican origin who oversaw the overall military campaign in the second war of independence and of the three previously mentioned was the only one who survived the war to see the arrival of the Republic.

José Martí and Antonio Maceo

Jose Marti was a journalist, poet and revolutionary who organized and advocated for the 1895 war of independence and spent most of his adult life exiled in the United States in New York City.

The Bacardi family, began their world famous Rum business in Santiago de Cuba. Don Facundo Bacardí Massó and Don Emilio Bacardi founded Bacardi Limited on February 4, 1862.

Emilio Bacardi Lay, son of one of the two founders of Bacardi, Don Emilio Bacardi, "was a field officer for Gen. Antonio Maceo in 1895 during the invasion of Cuba by independence forces, and reached the rank of colonel by the age of 22," according to his obituary in The New York Times on October 16, 1972 when he died at the age of 95 in exile in Miami.  

Emilio Bacardi Lay

The family would also play an important role in civic life in Cuba, especially Santiago over the 20th century, and were constant opponents of dictatorship, political corruption and remained ardent Cuban nationalists over several generations. 

Forced into exile by the Castro regime the Bacardi family has maintained the traditions of the Cuban Republic celebrating independence day, carrying on the family business and continuing the fight for a free Cuba.

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.

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 and the establishment of the UN Human Rights Commission.

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 organizing 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 January 1, 1959 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 63 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.

Half of Cuba's post colonial history, thus far, has been under the boot of communist caudillos whose father, ironically, fought for the Spanish crown in the war of independence.

 

José Martí
What would José Martí say? 

José Martí was killed in battle against Spanish troops at the Battle of Dos Ríos, near the confluence of the rivers Contramaestre and Cauto, on May 19, 1895. He is buried in the Santa Efigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Cubans the world over honor his memory and Cuban independence follows a day later. Seven years and one day after Martí's death Cuba formally obtained its independence on May 20, 1902.

Cubans across the ideological divide claim José Martí as their own. The claims of the dictatorship led by the Castro brothers that Martí is the intellectual author of their political project is ironic considering that the life and writings of this Cuban patriot is the antithesis of the Castro regime.

José Martí believed that "Peace demands of Nature the recognition of human rights." A 63 year old dictatorship that rejects fundamental human rights is the antithesis of what the Cuban independence leader fought and died for.

Furthermore, José Martí proclaimed the idea that: "One just principle from the depths of a cave is more powerful than an army." 

A principle shared not only by dissidents in Cuba today but also echoed by Vaclav Havel, one of the dissidents who had an important role in ending Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 said: "I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions."

On this Cuban Independence Day we observe that Cubans have lived without democracy for 70 years, and rededicate ourselves to the struggle for a free Cuba. 

May 20, 1902 the Cuban flag is raised and the Republic born


Thursday, May 19, 2022

On this day in 1895 José Martí was killed by Spanish troops in Cuba. The struggle for Cuban freedom continues.

"There is no forgiveness for acts of hatred. Daggers thrust in the name of liberty are thrust into liberty's heart." - José Martí

José Julián Martí Pérez: January 28, 1853 - May 19, 1895
 

José Julián Martí Pérez was killed 127 years ago today in battle against Spanish troops at the Battle of Dos Ríos, near the confluence of the rivers Contramaestre and Cauto, on May 19, 1895. He is buried in the Santa Efigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Cubans the world over honor his memory and Cuban independence follows a day later. Seven years and one day after Martí's death Cuba formally obtained its independence on May 20, 1902. Dr. Suchlicki in his essay "THE DEATH OF A HERO" describes him as Cuba’s greatest hero and most influential writer.

Maykel Castillo Pérez Osorbo

Yesterday, a modern José Martí, marked one year in prison. Maykel Castillo Pérez Osorbo is an artist, husband, father, and an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience who has spent one year in prison for exercising his fundamental rights. He is a rap artist,  like Martí a poet, a defender of human rights, and imprisoned for his defense of Cuban sovereignty residing among the Cuban people.  

The Castro regime jails minors for expressing themselves, in an action reminiscent of the Spanish colonial government's targeting of the future Cuban independence leader when he was a child. On October 21, 1869, when he was just 16 years old, José Martí was jailed,and accused of sedition for a letter he wrote criticizing a friend for joining the Spanish army.

Cubans across the ideological divide claim José Martí as their own. The claims of the dictatorship, led by the Castro family, that Martí is the intellectual author of their political project is ironic considering that the life and writings of this Cuban journalist, poet, and independence leader are the antithesis of the Castro regime.

Killed 127 years ago today riding into battle on horseback.

It is doubly ironic because both Francisco Franco's father and Fidel and Raul Castro's father had been soldiers who fought in Cuba to preserve its colonial status within the Spanish empire. Castro's father, Angel, according to the 2016 documentary, "Franco and Fidel: A Strange Friendship", had a photo of Franco on his nightstand. This historical link translated into a "special relationship" between the two dictators and is available online.

Both José Julián Martí Pérez's writings and actions taken by him in life point to a man who prized liberty, independence based in popular sovereignty, and freedom of speech, thought and association as fundamental to his sense of being. He was a prisoner of conscience, before Amnesty International coined the term, jailed for writing a disapproving letter to a classmate who joined the Spanish army.

Under the Castro regime freedom of expression can end in prison for engaging in "enemy propaganda," and freedom of thought can also lead you to prison for the crime of "dangerousness." This is an affront to José Marti's belief that "liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy." Hypocrisy, under the Castro regime, is a currency for survival.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas

Cuba under the Castros is not the vision advanced by Cuba's greatest hero. This tradition of freedom and respect for freedom of thought and speech existed during the Republic (1902 - 1952) and still exists today, underground, among dissidents in the island, and on more than one occasion cost the lives of other heroes to defend. One of Marti's modern day counterparts is Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who addressed the European Parliament on December 17, 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.’"

Oswaldo was extra-judicially executed by the secret police on July 22, 2012. Other modern counterparts can also be found in the 27N and San Isidro movements, and the artists, journalists and intellectuals that nonviolently gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture to read the works of José Martí on January 27, 2021, and were beaten up by the Castro dictatorship's Minister of Culture, and arrested by the regime's political police.

The Cuban dictatorship has managed to exceed the Spanish colonial authority by jailing a parent for speaking up for their imprisoned child. Rowland Jesús Castillo Castro, jailed at age 17 for nonviolently protesting during the 11J protests, is serving an unjust 18 year prison sentence. His father, Rolando Castillo, was subjected on May 18, 2022 to an "express trial" without an attorney and sentenced to two years in prison, with less than two hours notice.

Father and Son: Rowland Jesús Castillo Castro and his father Rolando Castillo

The legacy of José Martí in Cuba today is found among the persecuted dissidents defending free speech, freedom of association and demanding a free and independent Cuba. Although the Castro regime uses the name and image of the Cuban journalist and poet they have done everything to pervert and destroy his true message of liberation.

"I think they kill my child every time they deprive a person of their right to think." - José Martí 

 

Burial site of José Martí

 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The truth about the murder of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero streams worldwide on May 19, 2022 at 8:00pm

#PAYÀVIVE


Ten years ago this upcoming July 22, 2012 near Bayamo in eastern Granma province of Cuba an incident provoked by State Security put into a motion a series of events that ended the lives of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante. 

At 5:00pm, in a telephone call, Felix Rivero Cordoví from Bayamo reported"Oswaldo Payá has died in a collision with a police car."  

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante murdered on July 22, 2012

Later we learned that Harold Cepero had also died of his injuries. Five years later and Cuban officials have still not handed over the autopsies to the families. Instead the Castro regime engaged in a massive coverup blaming the driver of the car for the deaths while denying that a second vehicle was involved.

On December  14, 2021 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held an in-depth hearing on these two extrajudicial killings.

Tomorrow night, May 19th at 8:00pm over YouTube the documentary, The truth about the murder of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, will premiere and stream worldwide. Below is a link to the documentary.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Pedro Luis Boitel: Cuba's martyr for academic freedom and human rights born 91 years ago today

 "Men do not abandon the fight when the cause is just." - Pedro Luis Boitel

Pedro Luis Boitel born May 13, 1931 - May 25, 1972

Pedro Luis Boitel was born in Cuba on May 13, 1931. He studied at the University of Havana while working as a radio technician. Opposing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista he joined the July 26 movement led by the Castro brothers. 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 impediment to the new regime's absolute power.  

Pedro Luis was a popular student leader, and was nominated to head the Federation of University Students.  The Argentine NGO,CADAL (Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina), describes what happened to the young leader.

In 1960, Boitel ran for president of the University Students' Federation (Federación Estudiantil Universitaria - FEU) at the University of Havana and was backed by the 26 de Julio Movement. Even though Castro headed this movement during Batista's dictatorship, Fidel Castro and the other revolutionary leaders removed their support for Boitel precisely due to his independence of thought and democratic convictions. Castro himself personally intervened in the student elections at the University of Havana to remove Boitel from the FEU presidency. This event and other repressive measures that were carried out by Castro against Boitel led him to begin to conspire against the recently-established totalitarian regime in Cuba.
He was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1961 for his opposition to the new dictatorship. Today marks what would have been Pedro Luis's 91st birthday, but he died in 1972 at age 41 on a hunger strike in one of Castro's dungeons, the Castillo de Principe prison in Havana.

May 25, 2022 will mark 50 years since he died after completing his unjust prison sentence, and prison officials refused to free him. This led to his final hunger strike. 

Pedro Luis Boitel's ideals and example live on in the Cuban opposition both inside and outside of Cuba. 

The world knows about Pedro Luis Boitel because his mother, Clara Abrahante Boitel, fought to save her son and make known the atrocities committed against him, despite the threats visited upon her.

The first time I heard about Pedro Luis was in the 1987 documentary Nobody Listened. The image and testimony of Clara Abrahante who looked forward to death to be reunited with her son is heart breaking. 

Please consider organizing nonviolent vigils outside of Cuban Embassies and consulates around the world on Wednesday, May 25, 2022 in remembrance of this student leader and upload photos, and videos over your social media documenting your action.

 
Original Spanish quotes by Pedro Luis Boitel and English translations:

“Los hombres no abandonan la lucha cuando la causa es justa.”

"Men do not abandon the fight when the cause is just." 

“Podrán matar y acabar con mi cuerpo, pero nunca con mi espíritu, ese no lo podrán doblegar jamás.”

"They can kill and destroy my body, but never my spirit, that they will never be able to break."