Friday, May 29, 2020

American Martyr 2020: Justice For George Floyd

“If this age is to survive, it must follow the way of love and nonviolence that [Gandhi] so nobly illustrated in his life.” - Martin Luther King Jr., All India Radio ,1959
 
George Floyd
George Floyd, "Big Floyd", spent his life serving others and evangelizing in one of the most difficult neighborhoods in Houston, TX.  He was known as a person of peace. Floyd moved to Minnesota in 2018 and two years later was killed.

A local shop keeper called police over $20 counterfeit bill, and the police suspected that Floyd had passed the bill.

Videos emerged demonstrating that he had been detained by the police, ended up on the ground with three police officers pinning him down, and one officer standing and looking around. One of  the officers pinning him down placed and kept a knee on his throat.  Floyd told the police who were pinning him down: "Please I can't breathe. My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. They're going to kill me." Minutes continue to pass and, he died. 
George Floyd holding up a bible with friends in Texas.
These are times when those engaged in crimes have names that seem to point to their guilt. Last week a women with the last name of a fictional serial killer (Ripley) murdered her autistic son, but tried to cover it up blaming it on two non-existent black men who she claimed had ambushed her and had kidnapped her son.

Now the police officer charged with his murder, Derek Chauvin, who placed the knee on George Floyd's neck and disregarded his pleas to be able to breath has a last name (Chauvin) that is linked to the origin of the word chauvinism in the 19th  century, to Nicolas Chauvin, that signifies prejudice and hostility to outsiders. 

In the discussions of lethal force used by the police there is an understandable focus on black men, because according to 2019 study one in 1,000 can expect to be killed by the police, and they are most in danger during their life time. However, one in 2,000 men of all racial groupings, including the majority white population, can expect to be killed by the police during their life time. Reforms can take place that can reduce these numbers and place them in line with other Western countries. For example, neighboring Canada has a rate of police killing civilians of 9.7 per 10 million that is one third that of the United States that has a rate of 28.4 per 10 million.

We can do better.

These are strange, terrible days with COVID-19 claiming over 360,00 lives worldwide, with over a 100,000 fellow countrymen dead, racial tensions rising in the midst of chronic anxiety, and fear that we are just at the end of the beginning with tough times lying ahead with a pandemic and economic collapse. 

Protests have exploded into riots, and innocents are also impacted, and it is ironic and tragic because Floyd lived his life as a peacemaker in his community.

The death of George Floyd for one rare moment united a divided America in condemnation for this unjust killing, and thanks to the video footage led to the firing of the four officers involved, and the charging of one of them, Chauvin with murder and manslaughter.

These are times when many are suffering through no fault of their own. But let us remember the words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., "unearned suffering is redemptive."

The pursuit of justice and the reduction of impunity is not an easy journey, but it is both a needed and worth undertaking that requires great discernment and wisdom that often times requires hard earned experiences with injustice.

Monday, May 25, 2020

#WeRemember: 48 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 free 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.  


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.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Stand With Hong Kong

The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits 'atrocities' but that it attacks the concept of objective truth; it claims to control the past as well as the future. - George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune (4 February 1944)

 
Over the past 71 years the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has murdered tens of millions of Chinese citizens, backed the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and the Kim regime in North Korea. The CCP through its lack of transparency, silencing of Chinese scientists and journalists, has led to a global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and crashed the global economy.

This blog has followed the freedom struggle in Hong Kong over the years.  The Umbrella Revolution in 2014, and continued the resistance to totalitarian repression. Students were jailed for non-violently defending their city's freedom and the world  responded with acts of solidarity in the midst of worsening repression.
With Nathan Law at Initiatives for China event in 2015

We cannot remain silent before the enslavement of the citizens of Hong Kong by the Chinese communist dictatorship that is violating its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.  We must stand with Hong Kong and the forces of freedom and democracy. Now is the time to speak out and be counted.  


China will bypass the city’s own legislators to clamp down on activists in Hong Kong

Thursday, May 21, 2020 12:07 PM

Beijing has today announced that it will impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong.
It is said that the Chinese National People’s Congress plans to chart legislation for a new national security law tailor-made for Hong Kong; the new law is to be introduced to the city through promulgation. This signals Beijing’s abandonment of previous plans to instruct the Hong Kong Legislative Council to enact Article 23 of the city's Basic Law, which allows the criminalisation of acts of “treason, secession, sedition, or subversion” against China.

The act to bypass the city’s own legislators is a significant shift, as it demonstrates that Beijing is now unafraid and willing to renounce the very principle of “One Country, Two Systems”, the foundation for the transfer of sovereignty agreed in the Joint Declaration, thus marking an end to the city’s autonomy.

A previous attempt to enact Article 23 in 2003, which coincided with the SARS epidemic, was successfully stalled after 500,000 people bravely took to the streets in protest. Widespread resistance forced the administration to announce that further attempts to introduce the legislation would have to first undergo public consultation. Yet the Chinese government is now ramming through its planned legislation without giving Hongkongers any say.

The Beijing-controlled administration in Hong Kong has already arrested peaceful pro-democracy campaigners and used COVID-19 related social distancing laws to stifle protests. This startling new development sounds a death knell for the city’s autonomy under One Country, Two Systems, signalling unprecedented and fundamental threats to Hongkongers’ rights, freedoms, and way of life.
A spokesperson from grassroots campaign group “Stand with Hong Kong” commented:
“Hong Kong is being frog-marched towards a police state. What is left of our legal and political system is being shredded up before our eyes. Any pretence at autonomy is being rapidly undermined. Hongkongers oppose any introduction of laws to criminalise free speech and expression. As Hongkongers, we will keep fighting to defend our rights and freedoms.

We call upon the British Foreign Secretary and the British government to denounce these actions and to hold China to account for this latest fundamental breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, before it is too late.”

standwithhk.org
 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Rescuing José Martí 125 years after he was shot and killed in the second war of Cuban independence

"I think they kill my child every time they deprive a person of their right to think." - José Martí 
 
Writings of José Martí twisted and distorted by Castroism since 1953.
José Julián Martí Pérez was shot and killed 125 years ago shortly after landing in Cuba at Dos Rios in the early days of the second war of Cuban independence on May 19, 1895. Both his writings and actions taking 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.

Martí rejected hatred as a animating emotion in the struggle for independence writing, "There is no forgiveness for acts of hatred. Daggers thrust in the name of liberty are thrust into liberty's heart." He also criticized the writings of Karl Marx, and with reason, they were antithetical to his own values. Marx in 1849 had written, "We are ruthless and ask no quarter from you. When our turn comes we shall not disguise our terrorism."

It is not a surprise that Martí saw the dangers inherent in Socialism and its doctrine of envy observing: "Socialist ideology, like so many others, has two main dangers. One stems from confused and incomplete readings of foreign texts, and the other from the arrogance and hidden rage of those who, in order to climb up in the world, pretend to be frantic defenders of the helpless so as to have shoulders on which to stand." 

José Julián Martí Pérez: 1853-1895
Sadly, the Castro regime over the past 67 years has been slowly murdering his legacy with the assistance of international institutions such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). They have re-written the real Jose Marti in an Orwellian fashion to advance the communist narrative.

This is not unique to the Marxist-Leninist regime in Cuba but a common practice among communist regimes to legitimize their rule. Carlos Ripoll, an expert on the life and thought of Jose Marti in 1994 wrote in the journal Cuban Studies published by the University of Pittsburgh Press the article titled, "The Falsification of José Martí in Cuba" and provided an abstract of his argument:
"Marxist-Leninist governments have traditionally falsified history to justify their rise to power and the political systems they have imposed. In response to the worldwide collapse of Communism, Cuban authorities have intensified their adulteration of history so as to offer a nationalistic rationale for their continuation in power. The highest exponent of the revolutionary tradition in Cuba is José Marti and, therefore, the falsification of his thought and doctrines is the first priority of many historians and critics. They concentrate, in particular, on the Cuban Revolutionary party founded by Marti, which they misrepresent as a forerunner of the Cuban Communist party, the basic institution that holds the monopoly of power and consequently is responsible for all the misfortunes and injustices that afflict the country. This study shows some of the forms this falsification takes in Cuba, its objectives, and attempts to disprove the inconsistent and false arguments of those who purport to find similarities or coincidences between the free, democratic republic that Marti wished for his country and the totalitarian state there in existence." 
In a letter in 1988 to The New York Review of Books, Professor Ripoll revealed how José Martí in a letter to his friend, Valdes Dominguez, written just a year before Martí’s death, criticized the “arrogance and hidden rage” of “socialist ideology” whose adherents, “in order to climb up in the world, pretend to be frantic defenders of the helpless.”

Seven months after the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Cuban independence leader, in 1953, a failed armed attack on the Moncada barracks by Fidel Castro and a group of revolutionaries, led the future Cuban dictator,  during his trial to declare José Martí the "intellectual author" of the attack.


In 1972, the Castro regime created the "Order of Jose Marti" and over the next  48 years awarded it to dictators and war criminals such as: Alexander Lukashenko, Jiang Zemin, Xi Jinping, Kim Il-sung, Nicolae Ceaușescu, Hugo Chávez, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Robert Mugabe, Erich Honecker, Vladimir Putin, and Saddam Hussein.

The International UNESCO/José Martí Prize was instituted in November 1994 under the claim that it sought "to promote and reward an activity of outstanding merit in accordance with the ideals and spirit of José Martí." This was done with the active support of the Castro regime, and turned upside down the values of Martí.

Roberto Fernández Retamar, signed death warrant for 3 young black men in 2003.
Consider that the 2019 winner of the José Martí Prize was Roberto Fernández Retamar, Cuban poet, essayist, literary critic and President of the Castro regime's Casa de las Américas.  Mr. Fernández Retamar was also a member of the Council of State, and in 2003 he signed the death sentence that led to the execution by firing squad of three men, who had hijacked a ferry to flee Cuba.

Lorenzo Enrique Copello, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla and Jorge Luis Martínez
The three men, Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla García and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, were part of a group that hijacked a Cuban ferry with passengers on board on April 2, 2003 and tried to force it to the United States. The incident ended without bloodshed, after a standoff with Cuban security forces. They were executed nine days later, following a summary trial, by firing squad.

They did not have a political agenda. Their only goal was fleeing Cuba to the United States.  Questions were raised at the time that if they had been white and not black they would not have been executed.

Retamar also served the agenda of the regime to distort the views of the Cuban independence leader who advocated freedom of speech and conscience, trying to turn him into a censor to fit Castroism's repressive communist ideology. An ideology that is incompatible with Martí.

Standing, left to right: Manuel de la Cruz, Jose Maceo, Guillermo Moncada.
Seated: Juan Gualberto Gomez, Jose Marti, Jose D. Poyo. Key West, Florida.

José Martí not only proclaimed racial equality but practiced it, and would have been horrified to see three young black men executed, who had not physically harmed anyone, through a summary trial and rushed execution.

Ironically, Fidel Castro, although claiming José Martí as an intellectual author of his communist revolution, is not a descendant of those who fought for Cuban independence. Castro's father, Ángel María Bautista Castro Argiz, fought for the Spanish crown and against José Martí in Cuba to preserve the empire. This reality is reflected in how he acted in Cuba once achieving power, along with his strange friendship with Francisco Franco. Both Franco, and Castro's father had fought in Cuba for Spain, and Angel, according to a 2016 Spanish documentary, had a photo of Francisco Franco on his nightstand.
Ángel Castro Argiz
Raymond Carr, one of Britain's greatest historians, found that Castroism had more in common with Francisco Franco and Primo de Rivera than with José Martí, in a 1988 letter to The New York Review of Books exposed the source of Castro's approach to the "public square."
"Having witnessed Castro’s performance at the Second Declaration of Havana I compared Castro’s use of mass meetings as a source of democratic legitimacy with the manipulation of “the constant plebiscite of public opinion” by the Spanish dictator Primo de Rivera. In the 1970s I argued that Castro, like Franco, believed in “the democracy of the public square—the endorsement of mass audiences felt directly by the dictator.” In both these cases the “democracy of the public square” was a bogus democracy since it was a rejection of any form of representative government, of the freedoms of which Martí was a passionate advocate."
 On Franco's death in 1975, Fidel Castro decreed three days of mourning in Cuba, although he made sure that it went unnoticed by the press, it was an official decree signed by Cuban president Oswaldo Dorticós. This ideological flexibility with non-communist dictatorships and their agents should not have been a surprise, Castro in the 1960s had contracted former high ranking Nazis to train his repressive forces.

Fidel Castro and Francisco Franco were close allies.
Many claims can be made about the Castro regime, but one that does not past muster is that it, in any way, embodies the values and spirit of José Julián Martí Pérez. The man who died at Dos Rios on May 19, 1895 was guided by a profound love of freedom that included the right to think, speak and associate freely.

Things that have been denied Cubans for 68 years.

These ideas expressed below by José Martí are in conflict with Castroism and cannot be reconciled. However they are in accord with the democratic Cuba that helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and struggled for a more just and democratic order, but was overthrown by Fulgencio Batista on March 10, 1952 then destroyed systematically by Fidel and Raul Castro beginning on January 1, 1959. 
"Man loves liberty, even if he does not know that he loves it. He is driven by it and flees from where it does not exist."

"Freedoms, like privileges, prevail or are imperiled together You cannot harm or strive to achieve one without harming or furthering all."

"Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy."

"It is the duty of man to raise up man. One is guilty of all abjection that one does not help to relieve. Only those who spread treachery, fire, and death out of hatred for the prosperity of others are undeserving of pity."  
These views exist today in Cuba, but not in the regime oppressing Cubans, but among the dissidents and the resistance defying the communist regime and embracing freedom of speech, thought and association, while rejecting hatred.

Oswaldo Paya on December 17, 2002, addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, declared:
"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.’" 
Less than ten years later, Oswaldo was extrajudicially executed by the Castro regime. Nevertheless this sentiment embodies the living legacy of José Martí that endures in Cuba today in the actions of the non-violent Cuban civic movement.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Fast Against Crime: Remembering Boitel and Zapata while demanding freedom for all political prisoners

We remember and continue to demand justice.


Cuba, under the Castro regime, has had prisoners of conscience over the past 62 years, and this is a painful reality that many have become accustomed to,  but not all.

On May 13th hundreds of Cubans inside and outside of Cuba initiated a three day fast. They are calling for the freedom of all political prisoners in Cuba and an an end to state repression.

This fast started on the anniversary of the birth of Pedro Luis Boitel and will end on the anniversary of the birth of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Both are prisoners of conscience who were tortured by Castro regime officials over many years, and resisted through non-violence until the end. Below are brief biographies of the two human rights defenders.

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. 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.

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 free him. 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 five 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.



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

 
Orlando Zapata Tamayo was born in Santiago, Cuba on May 15, 1967. He was by vocation a brick layer and also a human rights activist, a member of the Movimiento Alternativa Republicana, Alternative Republican Movement, and of the Consejo Nacional de Resistencia Cívica, National Civic Resistance Committee. Orlando gathered signatures for the Varela Project, a citizen initiative to amend the Cuban constitution using legal means with the aim of bringing Cuba in line with international human rights standards.

Amnesty International documented how Orlando was arrested several times in the past. For example he was temporarily detained on 3 July 2002 and 28 October 2002 for his human rights activism. In November of 2002 after taking part in a workshop on human rights in the central Havana park, José Martí, he and eight other activists were arrested and later released. He was also arrested on December 6, 2002 along with fellow prisoners of conscience Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo.

Dr. Biscet just released from prison a month earlier had sought to form a grassroots project for the promotion of human rights called "Friends of Human Rights." State security prevented them from entering the home of Raúl Arencibia Fajardo, Oscar Biscet, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Virgilio Marante Güelmes and 12 others held a sit-in in the street in protest and chanted "long live human rights" and "freedom for political prisoners." They were then arrested and taken to the Tenth Unit of the National Revolutionary Police, Décima Unidad de La Policía Nacional Revolucionaria (PNR), in Havana. 


Orlando Zapata Tamayo was released three months later on March 8, 2003, but Oscar Elias Biscet, Virgilio Marante Güelmes, and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo remained imprisoned. On the morning of March 20, 2003 whilst taking part in a fast at the Fundación Jesús Yánez Pelletier, Jesús Yánez Pelletier Foundation, in Havana, to demand the release of Oscar Biscet and the other political prisoners. Orlando was taken to the Villa Marista State Security Headquarters. 
 

He was moved around several prisons, including Quivicán Prison, Guanajay Prison, and Combinado del Este Prison in Havana. Where according to Amnesty International on October 20, 2003 Orlando was dragged along the floor of Combinado del Este Prison by prison officials after requesting medical attention, leaving his back full of lacerations. Orlando managed to smuggle a letter out following a brutal beating it was published in April of 2004:

My dear brothers in the internal opposition in Cuba. I have many things to say to you, but I did not want to do it with paper and ink, because I hope to go to you one day when our country is free without the Castro dictatorship. Long live human rights, with my blood I wrote to you so that this be saved as evidence of the savagery we are subjected to... 
The uproar caused by his death was a key factor in the later release over the course of 2010 and 2011 of the remaining prisoners of conscience imprisoned in 2003. Following Orlando's death, Amnesty International said that "Cuban authorities [were] responsible for activist's death on hunger strike." 



Activists in Cuba have organized themselves under the Twitter hashtag #AyunoContraElCrimen (#FastAgainstCrime) and in their demand to free all political prisoners have highlighted the case of Roberto de Jesús Quiñones, an independent journalist and attorney, jailed since September 11, 2019 for having covered the political show trial of two homeschooling parents.