Friday, August 5, 2022

#5A Maleconazo at 28: When secret police shot into crowds of non-violent Cuban protesters with live ammunition

 "Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future." - Elie Wiesel  

Secret police in plain clothes firing live ammunition at protesters on August 5, 1994

28 years ago on August 5, 1994, a thousand Cubans marched through the streets of Havana chanting "Freedom!"and "Down With Castro!" They were met with brutal repression, including regime agents dressed in plain clothes shooting live rounds at unarmed demonstrators.

Cubans chant "Freedom" and "Down with Castro" on August 5, 1994 in Havana

Last year on July 11, 2021 it happened again, but this time it was not just in Havana, but across the island with tens of thousands of Cubans participating in over 50 cities and towns. The response of the dictatorship was the same as 1994, but this time the images reached the world almost immediately. 

Cubans chant "Freedom" "Patria y Vida" and "Down with the dictatorship" on July 11, 2021.

In 2013 photographs taken during the 1994 protests by Karel Poort, a Dutch visitor, were made public and confirmed the anecdotal accounts of that day. Cuban dissident Regis Iglesias described how the dictatorship militarized the streets in an effort to terrorize the populace: 

A convoy of trucks crammed with repressive special troops and a vehicle with a 50 caliber machine gun on top patrolled up and down the long street.

Little has been reported on this, but some of the images and sounds remain. This combined with testimony of those who were there provide a better idea of what took place.

What happened?

Five hundred of the Cubans had arrived at the Havana sea wall (El Malecon) to board a launch that was rumored was going to be taken to Miami.  These people were not seeking to overthrow the dictatorship but did want to live in freedom.

They were met by the Castro dictatorship's secret police who told the crowd to disperse.

Instead of diffusing the situation another 500 Cubans joined in and  they began to march along the Malecon chanting "Freedom!"and "Down With Castro! After marching for a kilometer, a hundred Special Brigade members and plain clothes police confronted the protesters firing live rounds into the crowd.
Secret police aiming handgun at protesters on August 5, 1994
28 years later and the full details of what transpired remains mostly silenced despite the pictures of regime officials pointing their handguns at the demonstrators combined with reports of the sounds of gun shots and wounded protesters echoing down through the years in anecdotal stories about that day. 

Eyewitness account
Ignacio Martínez Montero

Ignacio Martínez Montero posted on la Voz del Morro a first hand account of what happened that day that is translated to English below:
Then came the year 94 One hot August of that year's day, I'd arrived at my mother in laws home in Cuba and Chacón in the heart of Old Havana, near the Malecón, for that reason alone, after visiting my mother in law, I sat , like many, on the wall of the bay, very close to where still today the famous Casablanca launch travels in and out. That year was turbulent, constantly talking about boats diverted to Miami, and the tugboat. Maybe that's why the special brigade trucks arrived and attacked all of us who were sitting. 
Our response to this aggression was only to clamor for freedom. It has been said that we threw stones; but all that is a lie, the truth was that we were tired of so much aggression and without agreeing to we began to walk together screaming, Enough, Down with the revolution ... And before reaching Hotel Deauville, a battalion waited for us that attacked us with sticks and iron rods. It was they who made the big mess. They broke my left eyebrow and left me semi-lame. Yes, there were assaults and the aggressors had guns, but not among the civilians. One of the boys who went with us, who was called the Moor, even while handcuffed, they shot him in the torso and it was a miracle that he did not die. Who do you think paid for that? No one. 
They put us in a truck where they received us with beatings only to convince us to scream "Viva Fidel." They took us to the police station located at L and Malecon. Hours later I was taken to Calixto García hospital. There they attended to my foot and I treated the eyebrow wound; the medical certificate, never appeared. From there we boarded another bus and were taken to the prison 15/80, I could say "kidnapped" because nobody knew where we were. Some kids and nephews of my dad, who were with us, were released immediately. A boy could not take it and ended up hanged. No one learned of this; but we are many the witnesses who know what really happened that August 5th 1994, the day of Maleconazo.
Twenty eight years later and the Castro regime continues in power terrorizing, beating, torturing and murdering nonviolent dissidents, and shooting young black men in the back, but some Progressive Americans want to apply Cuban style policing in the United States, and claim that there is a lot we can learn from them. 
We invite all people of good will to remember some of the victims of the Cuban dictatorship.
Diubis Laurencio Tejeda was a 36-year-old singer who was shot in the back by the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Havana on July 12. 
There are others, but they have not been officially recognized. 
This is the case of Christian Díaz, age 24, disappeared after joining the 11J protests. Relatives on July 12 reported him missing to the PNR in Cárdenas. Police told his father that Christian was jailed in Matanzas. On Aug. 5, officials informed his family he’d drowned in the sea and was buried in a mass grave. His family is convinced he was beaten to death

Hopefully, the events of July 11, 2021 and August 5, 1994 will wake up more to the true nature of the Castro dictatorship, and the need to be in solidarity with the Cuban people, not their oppressors.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Cuba's Dueling Legacies: July 26, 1953 and May 10, 2002

Moncada vs Varela

Bodies from July 26 Moncada Assault. MCL turns in Project Varela petitions

Today, the Castro regime, its fellow travelers and agents of influence will continue the lie that something positive occurred on July 26, 1953.  The only way that they can accomplish this exercise is by rewriting and omitting history. Here is some of what they won't tell you.

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

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

Aftermath of the July 26, 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks

This attack turned Fidel Castro into a national figure. He would go on to name his movement, the July 26th Movement.  

Between 1902 and 1952 with moments of great glory and great shame the Cuban Republic transited through 17 democratically elected presidents. One of them, Gerardo Machado elected in 1925, despite constitutional prohibitions, he had the constitution modified and ran for re-election in 1928. He became a despot, and was removed from office by force in 1933. This led to a return to democracy.

Cuban presidents from 1902 to 1952, and dictator Batista 1952-1959.

Tragically, this democratic republic was brought to an end on March 10, 1952 by Fulgencio Batista. Batista was a military man who had entered the presidency in free and fair elections in 1940 ( in coalition with the communist party) and left office in 1944. He returned to Cuba under the presidency of Cuba's last democratically elected president, Carlos Prio and within days of the next presidential elections, when Batista saw that he could not win at the ballot box, carried out a successful coup against the democratic order that had existed from 1902 - 1952.

Fidel Castro during his trial on October 16, 1953 addressed the court in what became known as the "“History Will Absolve Me” speech:

“Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time there was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its freedoms, a President, a Congress and Courts of Law. Everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with complete freedom." …"Public opinion was respected and heeded and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, radio and television debates and forums of public meetings. The whole nation pulsated with enthusiasm.”

The promise made by the July 26th Movement was to restore the preexisting democratic order along with reforms. The Castro brothers ended a seven year authoritarian dictatorship, and replaced it with a communist dictatorship that has ruled over Cuba for 63 years and counting. 

#TheyAreContinuity #TheyAreDictators ( #SomosContinuidad #SonDictadores)

The Castro dictatorship was not a break from Batista but a continuity into more profound tyranny that continues to kill Cubans

Contrast this with what Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) did. In the midst of a totalitarian dictatorship were all media are controlled by the government along with economic life they managed to lead a movement that persuaded more than 35,000 Cubans to identify themselves, demand democratic reforms, and the restoration of human rights knowing that the Varela Project petition they were signing could lead to losing their jobs, having their children denied access to higher education and in the worse case prison.

On 5/10/02, MCL members delivered 11,020 Varela Project signatures to the National Assembly. (Jose Goitia/AP)

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

Coordinators of the Varela Project

Oswaldo and his movement rejected hatred and violence. They never killed anyone and offered a path to a nonviolent democratic transition.

Oswaldo's nonviolent legacy has continued beyond him and is a positive tradition for Cuba. His nonviolent struggle followed two of the basic principles outlined by nonviolence practitioner Michael N. Nagler: "We are not against other people, only what they are doing. Means are ends in the making; nothing good can finally result from violence."

Oswaldo Payá receives the Sakharov Prize in Strasbourg, France in 2002

In December 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 where he outlined the movement's position to an international audience.

The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: “You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together.” This is the liberation which we are proclaiming.

Sixty nine years after the tragic events of July 26, 1953 the Castro regime celebrates this shedding of blood between Cubans as "the victory of ideas," but in reality it was the triumph of brute violence and terror in the short term by Batista's forces on that day and in 1959 by Castro's forces. 

In Cuba the government has turned it into a day of drinking, parties, parades, speeches and the colors red and black prominently displayed.  This all occurs with prominent military displays and propaganda images worshiping violent revolution.

There are two traditions battling for control in Cuba.

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

These civic activists were courteous, and respected the dignity of all Cubans. Some were feminists who obtained the right of Cuban women to vote in the old Republic and went on to defend the rights of poor women to a decent education and better opportunities. 

They nonviolently resisted the imposition of Castro's totalitarian regime and either went into exile, prison, were killed, or despite great odds are still struggling for Cuban freedom on the streets of Cuba today.

Ten years after the July 22, 2012 murders of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante and it remains clear that the future belongs to the nonviolent resistance. The dictatorship may have killed two of its great nonviolent leaders, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, but in doing so exposed its own brutal nature and undermined itself.

What a post-Castro Cuba will look like can already be intimated. 

Castroism will be relegated to a sad and cautionary chapter in Cuban history that it deserves to be.

May 10, 2002 will be a day of celebration in Cuba commemorating the day that the first 11,020 signatures of the Varela Project were presented to the National Assembly demanding human rights and democratic reforms.

"Down with the dictatorship - Homeland and Life" Cuba, July 11, 2021

July 11, 2021 will also be a day of celebration for the day that tens of thousands of Cubans peacefully gathered across the island demanding freedom and an end to dictatorship.

International Human Rights Day will once again become a day to celebrate and observe human rights in Cuba and not a day of repression. The Cuban Republic's human rights tradition and the role it played in the drafting and passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 will be restored and celebrated in Cuba. 

Finally, the phrase "Patria o Muerte" will be rejected, and "Patria, Libertad y Vida" embraced.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Remembering Cuban opposition leaders, Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, both murdered by Castro regime on July 22, 2012

Cuba is a place where the government imprisons, forcibly exiles, or kills citizens who peacefully petition for change within the existing constitutional framework in defense of human rights.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante, two martyrs for democracy in the Americas, were killed on July 22, 2012 by Castro's secret police.

Oswaldo Payá was sixty years old at the time that he was murdered by agents of the Castro regime. He was a family man and lay Catholic from Havana, an engineer, who in September 1988 founded the Christian Liberation Movement with fellow Catholics in the neighborhood of El Cerro, and over the next 23 years would carry out important campaigns to support human rights and a transition to democracy in Cuba.He would speak out against human rights violations and demand dignity for victims, even if it meant criticizing the US for the mistreatment of Al Qaeda prisoners at the Guantanamo Naval Base prison in 2002.

Oswaldo was a consistent defender of human rights.

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

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

Expelled from the university for signing the Varela Project together with other students. He entered a seminary and began studying to enter the priesthood, but left to join the Christian Liberation Movement and became a human rights activist. 

Harold was a seminarian who became a human rights defender.

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

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

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

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

These are somber times with a pandemic raging across the world, killing millions, in part, due to the lack of transparency of the Chinese Communist Party. Thousands have died in Cuba from COVID-19, in part because of the decision of the Cuban Communists to highlight their domestic vaccines, waiting months to inoculate their populace while vaccines were being distributed across the rest of Latin America.
Oswaldo Payá, when awarded the Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought on December 17, 2002, spoke prophetically when he said: "The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people." "The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized."

In the midst of darkness, it is important to remember these points of light that give us hope and a path to freedom and improved human rights in Cuba, and around the world.

Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero, and others living and dead have laid the groundwork that made possible the nonviolent character of the mass nationwide protests that marked a new before and after in Cuban history on July 11, 2021. 

Remembering Harold Cepero Escalante: the seminarian who became a human rights defender

"Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world." - Mishnah  (1135-1204)

Harold Cepero Escalante (January 29, 1980 - July 22, 2012)

Harold Cepero Escalante was born in the town of Chambas, in the province of Ciego de Ávila on January 29, 1980. He was drawn to his local Catholic Church in Chambas while in High School. 

In 1998, at age 18 he moved to Cuba's third largest city, Camagüey, and began his studies at the University of Camagüey. He also began, along with other university students, to take part in informal conversations with Father Alberto Reyes Pías.

Student expelled for signing the Varela Project

In 2002 Harold together with other university students signed the Varela Project.

The Varela Project, named after the 19th century Cuban Catholic Priest Felix Varela who resisted Spanish colonialism, was a citizen initiative that gathered signatures to hold a referendum to change existing laws in order to reform the Cuban legal system to bring it in line with international human rights standards. The Christian Liberation Movement (MLC) had followed the letter of the law in organizing the campaign.

 On May 10, 2002, after MLC turned in 11,020 signatures exceeding the 10,000 required by the regime,  the dictatorship's response to the nonviolent citizen's initiative was to first coerce Cubans into signing another petition declaring the Constitution unchangeable.

Harold knew that this regime pushed petition drive was a direct reaction to the Varela Project and refused to sign it. He also began to explain this among students at the university in the dormitories and hallways without fear. This is when the threats of expulsion from the university began.

The dictatorship's "petition" quickly passed through the rubber stamp legislature without debating the Varela Project, which according to the Cuban law drafted by the regime meant that it should have been debated by the National Assembly.

On November 13, 2002 State Security organized a mob to judge and expel Harold Cepero and Yoan Columbié, another youth who signed the Varela Project. They were screamed at, insulted, threatened and finally expelled.

This is a 2002 interview with Harold Cepero, and other students expelled from school for signing the Varela Project.

This is the letter that Harold wrote in protest following his expulsion from the University.

 With all due respect and the sincerity that they deserve, I think the arguments abound for our defense. Apparently the motive for this act, or I do not know how to call it, is our bad attitude towards the politics that prevail in our country today. The other, our approval of the Varela Project.I will start by saying that said project is a project of law signed by over eleven thousand Cubans (electors) and gathers up the fundamental needs of our people. I do not know why they are attempting (you who are now in a privileged situation with respect to us and those who think like us) to repress something that is not motivated by, nor has its origin in the hatred of the people, but rather in  openness, mutual respect, and dialogue.

They from their condition as: students, professors, PCC, UJC, etc., are breaking the law of the Republic. They are trying to trample on our dignity, that is of equal worth to theirs, a recognition and legal status to develop fully. Therefore, I think it totally unfair what they are attempting to do. This is a violation of international law, the Constitution and above all against our people.

The Varela Project is totally legal and recognized publicly by Fidel Castro. Also, if we support it because we believe it is just and so I would like them to consider it. The things we ask for do not exclude anyone, we simply want a space (which belongs to us) in the social life of Cuba.

Expelling us is not the solution neither for them or for us, it would be better to ask yourself why are there young people who are filled with concern and worry for the welfare of the country. It would be good that they explain to the students and to the people what the Varela Project is, what does it ask, and so give everyone the right to think and choose.

Today we are kicked out of the university for this. Tomorrow it could be one of you for just being different, for permitting yourself to think.

They are wanting to perpetuate something that it is not even known if it is fair, and in this manner they are denying the progress of a society that wants something new, something that really guarantees a dignified place for every Cuban. They are pressuring people or preventing them from expressing their true feelings, they are cultivating fear in the nation.

Under the pretext of defending freedom they are attacking it. Martí would say it like this: "The knife that is stabbed in the name of freedom is plunged into the chest of freedom". They should think if at the bottom of this attitude there is a real respect for freedom, because to say freedom, to be free, is not to snatch the freedom of others. I therefore ask that before they expel us ask themselves how long can they keep silent the mourning and the reality of Cuba, and remind them that the damage they can do to us is damage that they do to themselves. And more: it is a direct threat to every Cuban.

Those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves.

Scores of Varela Project activists were arrested less than a year later in a crackdown that started on March 18, 2003 and became known as the Cuban Black Spring. Within days 75 human rights defenders, independent journalists, and Varela Project organizers were sentenced to long prison terms and recognized as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. Other Varela Project petitioners were threatened with the death penalty.   

Leaves seminary, and becomes a human rights defender

In 2003 Harold entered  the Seminary of the City of Camaguey and spent the next two years there. In 2005 he is transferred to the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary in Havana. 

In 2009, Harold left the seminary and joined the Christian Liberation Movement and begins to coordinate its youth group and became a member of the Coordinating Council of the MLC.  He organized workshops on leadership training.

Harold understood that those who engaged in repression were also not free stating "[t]hose who remove and crush freedom are the real slaves."

Martyred ten years ago today.

Three years later on July 22, 2012 Harold Cepero Escalante was killed in Bayamo, Granma with Oswaldo Payá, the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement while on their way to conduct trainings in Eastern Cuba. 

Investigations, and a hearing over the past decade

On July 22, 2015, Javier El-Hage and Roberto González of the Human Rights Foundation released a 147-page report titled The Case of Oswaldo Payá concluded it was "the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the State, acting (1) with the intent to kill Oswaldo Payá and the passengers in the vehicle he was riding, (2) with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm to them, or (3) with reckless or depraved indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to the life of the most prominent Cuban activist in the last twenty-five years and the passengers riding with him in the car."

On December 14, 2021 a hearing was held at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on "Case 14.196 - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Harold Cepero and others vs Cuba." 

On May 19, 2022 the documentary short, "The truth about the murder of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero" premiered worldwide and was streamed over Youtube. 

Take action

People of goodwill that wish to send a message to the international community that the deaths of Oswaldo and Harold need to be investigated should sign the petition circulated by the Christian Liberation Movement. They are demanding truth and justice for their murdered founder Oswaldo Payá, and murdered youth leader Harold Cepero.

Please use the hashtags #PayáVive #OswaldoYHaroldViven along with quotes by Oswaldo and/or Harold Cepero with a link to the petition.