Friday, January 31, 2014

International call on UN Secretary General to address Cuba

The United Nations and Cuba
As scores of non-violent Cuban dissidents were harassed, threatened and arbitrarily detained the UNSG Ban Ki-Moon got a haircut in Havana
International organizations, activists and parliamentarians call on the UN Secretary General about Cuba

Geneva, January 27, 2014.

We, the undersigned human rights organizations,


Having listened to the Secretary General's January 27th remarks upon arrival in Havana where he stated that he looked "forward to hearing views on key issues from peace and security to sustainable development and human rights" and that he looked forward to his "meetings with Cuban officials, including His Excellency President Raul Castro and many ministers" but made no mention of meeting with Cuba's democratic opposition or human rights defenders,

Recognizing that the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights says the United Nations must address human rights abuses "whenever and wherever they appear."

Disappointed that coinciding with the Secretary General's visit and CELAC Summit scores of opposition activists and human rights defenders have been, and continue to be, threatened, harassed, their homes laid siege, and detained since the 23rd of January to prevent independent civil society organizing meetings and events around the CELAC Summit.

Observing that despite the Cuban government's claim that Cubans are free to travel, Cubans inside of Cuba are denied the right to travel freely in their own country. For example, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" is unable to travel to the Geneva Summit for Human Rights because his home is surrounded by state security agents blocking him from leaving his house.

Concerned about the human rights situation in Cuba in general: the increasing number of human rights defenders’ arbitrary arrests, suspicious deaths, beatings on the streets of Cuban citizens, and other repressive measures taken by the Cuban government,

Recalling that according to news reports a team of United Nations experts in September of 2013 concluded that a shipment of Cuban arms, that included MIGs and rockets, interdicted by the Panamanian authorities in July en route to North Korea, were in violation of UN sanctions on North Korea.

Also recalling the election of Cuba to both the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Executive Board of  the United Nations Democracy Fund whose stated aim is building democratic societies is troubling. Cuba is a dictatorship hostile to democracy in its own country that has also undermined and continues to undermine democratic institutions in other countries.

Further disappointed by the United Nations inaction on investigating the circumstances surrounding deaths of democratic opposition leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012 despite direct requests made by his daughter and over 125 world leaders and nongovernmental organizations, among them Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu.

Extremely concerned that the Secretary General's visit to Cuba may be seen as legitimizing a government that systematically violates human rights, collaborates with outlaw regimes and is itself a state sponsor of terrorism.


We call on the Secretary General to:

Address both the human rights situation in Cuba and the ongoing crackdown coinciding with his visit to Cuba

Address the violations of international sanctions on North Korea by the Cuban government through the smuggling of weapons.

Address where the United Nations investigation in to the deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero stands.

Meet with Cuba's democratic opposition and human rights defenders to obtain a more complete vision of the challenges facing Cuba.


1.       Ana Maria Stame Cervone, President, Centrist Democratic Women International (Italy)
2.       Martin Elgue, parliamentarian, Partido Nacional, Montevideo  (Uruguay)
3.       Micaela Hierro Dori, President, Centro de Investigación y Capacitación de Emprendedores Sociales (CICES Asociación Civil) (Argentina)
4.       Nazly Escalona, Coordinator, Red Latinoamericana de Jóvenes por la Democracia en Cuba
5.       Regis Iglesias, spokesman, Movimiento Cristiano Liberación (Cuba)
6.       Edil Christian Núñez (PartidoNacional) Montevideo (Uruguay)
7.       Jose Luis Guerrero Martínez,  Ecuatorian dissident (Ecuador)
8.       Hillel C. Neuer, executive director, UN Watch (Switzerland)
9.       Janisset Rivero, Cuban Democratic Directorate (Cuba)
10.    Tomasz Pisula, Chairman, Freedom and Democracy Foundation (Poland)
11.    Dmitry Makarov, Chair of the Board, International Youth Human Rights Movement, (Russia)
12.    Gabriel Salvia, Director, Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (Argentina)
13.    Laida Carro, Coalition of Cuban-American Women (Cuba)
14.    Ana Rosa Quintana, The Heritage Foundation (USA)

Taken from the website of the Cuban Democratic Directorate

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gandhi, Marti and Harold Cepero's nonviolent legacy

"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." - Harold Cepero Escalante, 2002

“Liberty and democracy become unholy when their hands are dyed red with innocent blood.” - Mohandas Gandhi

Harold Cepero (January 29, 1980 - July 22, 2012)
The end of January for nonviolent resisters inside and outside of Cuba has new added meaning. The birth of Cuban national founding father Jose Marti is on January 28, 1853; while Cuban nonviolent martyr Harold Cepero was born a day later on January 29, 1980; and finally Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948.

Both Marti and Gandhi had a profound influence on the Christian Liberation Movement youth leader Harold Cepero and one of its founders Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas. All of these men died violently, but only one, Jose Marti, advocated violence as the solution to a political problem: the question of Cuban independence.

Cuba's republic was born out of a protracted war between Cubans and Spaniards that began in 1868 was waged for ten years lay simmering for 17 years only to explode again into a brutal conflict that was ended by the intervention of the United States in 1898 and a four year occupation that ended in 1902.

The nonviolent chapters of the struggle for independence have been largely buried while the martial exploits of its soldiers and general's glorified. At the same time a political culture emerged that elevated revolutionary political violence as both legitimate and virtuous.

Cuban democracy suffered two dictatorships that were overthrown with both violent and nonviolent elements. In both cases the violent elements overwhelmed nonviolent civil society and plunged the country into chaos and tyranny. Gerardo Machado was democratically elected but refused to leave office and led to a national resistance both nonviolent and violent that overthrew him. The violent element made Fulgencio Batista into a national figure who would be democratically elected in 1940 and later return to become dictator in 1952 overthrowing Cuba's democracy opening the way for another mixed resistance that had violent and nonviolent elements. The violent elements dominated and democracy was never restored and Fidel Castro began is five decades long tyranny. There are dueling legacies at work here.

What we have today in Cuba is a direct result of the triumph of this tradition of violence culminating in the totalitarian regime of the Castro brothers with its constant appeal political violence in its most extreme manifestation: Communism. Although totalitarian and communist the Castro regime has collaborated with other regimes that were extremely violent but of a different political tradition.

Harold Cepero was a youth leader in a movement founded by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and other lay catholics that is the antithesis of this tradition that embraces and is inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Despite the terrible performance of the United Nations Secretary General in Cuba over the past week and the squalid state of affairs at the United Nations Human Rights Council, human rights remain as important as ever and precede the United Nations because they are part of the natural order and their modern understanding first emerged in debates during the Middle Ages in the Catholic Church.

Human rights are not something granted by either the nation state or the international community. It is something that precedes both and how they respect the rights of persons determines whether these states or community are just or tyrannical. They serve both as a measure and a protection against the powerless individual against the powerful. One could make the case that they are the ultimate defense or shield against injustice.

Today, voices once again cry out for a violent response claiming that the way of Gandhi would not work in Cuba. Despite the fact that the most successful challenges to Castro rule in the past 30 years were first the Cuban Committee for Human Rights campaign to denounce human rights violations in the Cuba; followed by the Varela Project which demonstrated that tens of thousands of Cuba wanted change to a democratic system that respects international human rights standards; and the Ladies in White who took to the streets nonviolently to demand the release of their loved ones and reform of the system to make the category of prisoner of conscience an impossibility in Cuba. There are other nonviolent movements doing important work in Cuba but wanted to focus on three historical highlights.

What is ironic is that the critique leveled against nonviolence in Cuba was also leveled against Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States. Those critiques were wrong in India, and in the United States and are also wrong in Cuba. Repeating the same cycle of violence in Cuba will only lead to the destruction of the Cuban nation - which is extremely battered and damaged by the current dictatorship.

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.” This also depends on the nonviolent opposition movement having a strategic vision and maintaining its non-violent posture even under the worse repression.

One concluding observation for advocates of violence and that is that for a violent campaign to succeed it requires the assistance of an outside government to back the violent insurrection and even then the rate of success is half that of nonviolence which does not require outside support. If the past week has taught Cubans one thing is that at the level of nation states no one is coming to the rescue.

Nonviolent resistance is the only option that has a reasonable chance of success in the Cuban context the fantasy of violent resistance in some quarters can only benefit the dictatorship because it has no chance of succeeding. 

Arun Manilal Gandhi, Gandhi's fifth grandson, today initiates the latest edition of Gandhi-King Season for Nonviolence that begins on the day of Gandhi's assassination and ends on April 4th the day of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. We should join this tradition and add other nonviolent martyrs to remember and honor.

A question for Cuban freedom activists inside and outside of Cuba: What would Harold Cepero do?

Mohandas Gandhi   Martin Luther King Jr.  Oswaldo Payá

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Amnesty International calls on UNSG Ban Ki-moon not to overlook Cuba crackdown

International leaders that are supposed to uphold human rights standards have either remained silent or praised the dictatorship in Cuba while ignoring the ongoing crackdown that Amnesty International is denouncing.

Cuba steps up repression on the eve of the CELAC summit

January 27, 2014

The Cuban authorities must halt their campaign of repression against opponents and dissidents and allow peaceful activities to take place during the second summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Amnesty International said today.

The meeting will be held on 28 and 29 January in Havana.

“The attitude of the Cuban authorities is an outrageous attack on freedom of expression and assembly which should not go unnoticed by the many leaders now gathering in Havana,” Amnesty International’s Special Advisor for Regional Programmes, Javier Zúñiga, said.

“It is a futile attempt to silence those who speak out about the systematic violation of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and demonstration in Cuba. The government may stop dissidents from getting near the conference but their voices will get through. There is nothing that can silence human rights.”

Last weekend in many parts of the island dozens of dissidents were arbitrarily detained or pressurized not to participate in private events scheduled to run parallel to the summit which begins tomorrow in Havana.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN, Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional) has recorded 43 cases of people held for short periods between 23 and 26 January. Another five have been put under house arrest. At least 18 were warned by the authorities not to travel to Havana.

As a result of these arrests and the wave of intimidation, various meetings that were due to be held in parallel to the summit have been cancelled.

Among the activists arrested over the weekend were José Daniel Ferrer García, President of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU, Unión Patriótica de Cuba), and Yusmila Reina Ferrera, a member of the same organization. Both were held for almost 48 hours in different police stations across the country.

José Daniel Ferrer told Amnesty International that he and his colleague were intercepted by men in civilian clothes at about 1pm on 24 January as they were walking to the office of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Ferrer asked them to identify themselves, which they refused to do. They were then pushed into a car and taken to a police station on the boundary between the provinces of Havana and Mayabeque from where they were transferred to separate police stations in Havana where they spent the night.

On 25 January they were taken in the direction of Santiago de Cuba, but they spent the night in a police station in Camagüey. They were eventually released at about midday on 26 January in the province of Santiago de Cuba.

José Daniel Ferrer told Amnesty International that police officers were currently watching his house and it was impossible for him to return to the capital.

“It is an outrage that those who disagree with the Cuban government are unable to say so publicly and collectively. The heads of State from the member countries of CELAC and senior officials from regional and international organizations such as the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, should not overlook the fact that, as they carry on arriving in Havana to participate in the summit, Cuban activists are being clamped down on by their government,” Javier Zúñiga said.

“The leaders of an organization that has full respect for democracy and human rights amongst its principles should speak out in support of freedom of expression and assembly for Cuba citizens,” he added.

The arrest and coercion of dissidents and opponents is a tactic routinely used by the Cuban authorities. During 2013, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported 6,424 arrests of government critics. In December 2013 alone there were 1,123 arbitrary arrests on “political grounds”, the highest monthly figure since the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in March 2012.
AI Index: PRE01/048/2014
Also available in Spanish.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

CELAC 2014: What would José Martí do?

"I am especially pleased to be visiting Cuba as you mark the anniversary of the great Cuban and Latin American hero, José Martí." - Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General, January 27, 2014

To witness a crime in silence is to commit it. - José Martí  

CELAC is underway today in Havana, Cuba on the birthday of José Martí and it is taking place in the midst of a nationwide crackdown on nonviolent dissidents. Furthermore, Gabriel Salvia, an Argentine national was stopped at the airport upon his arrival in Cuba and declared "persona non grata." He had planned to attend a parallel summit organized by dissidents. The main organizer of the gathering Cuesta Morua has been detained since Sunday and held by the political police. Dozens of other activists have been detained and others have had their homes laid siege and are effectively under house arrest.

From Cuba, the opposition activist Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina tweeted blindly: "The day of Marti for Cubans ends up an affront to the wave of repression unleashed by the regime against the peaceful resistance."

Regime agents beat Cuban woman with blunt object in 2012. UNSG Ki-Moon meets regime officials now
Unfortunately, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, met with the oppressors and praised them for their work on violence against women.
Cuba is a leader on many development issues, including expanding opportunity for women and girls.  It has battled stereotypes and worked through its institutions to advance equality and prevent and end all forms of violence. [...] Since this threat is rooted in discrimination, impunity and complacency, we need to change attitudes and behavior – and we need to change laws and make sure they are enforced just like you are doing in Cuba.
The Secretary General is ignoring the well documented regular beatings visited on Cuban women who dissent from the official government line such as the Ladies in White and the Rosa Parks Women's Movement. On July 9, 2013 two dissident Cuban attorneys, Yaremis Flores and Laritza Diversent presented their report to Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as it examined Cuba, that touches on the institutional violence against women:
The brutality of the police and state security agents, including women members of these bodies, against women dissidents, is supported by the state, which exemplifies the institutionalized violence as a means to repress women opposition activists. Arbitrary detention is one of the methods to prevent them from exercising their rights to speak, associate and demonstrate. In detention centers agents use violence, sexual assault and insults as means of repression. The cells enclosed in unsanitary and sometimes sanitary services have no privacy or are not appropriate for women, even having them share prison cells with men. In some cases, they forced to strip naked or forcibly stripped, obliging them to squat to see if they have items in their genitals and claims that have been reported that they have introduced a pen into the vagina, under the justification of seeking recording objects.
The government organizes in workplaces the so called Rapid Response Brigades (BRR) to suppress even with the use of violence women dissidents. It is the absolute government inaction regarding those involved in rallies of repudiation against the Ladies in White and other women opposition activists, acts against the public order, groups that gather to promote hatred against opponents of the government and advocate for socialist revolution, to which are added the media with smear campaigns against these women, who have no opportunity to exercise their right to reply.
This is not the vision of Cuba José Martí had in mind when he fought for Cuban independence over a century ago. In his work "Nuestra América" he warned against the rise of caudillo governments in Latin America that would perpetuate autocratic regimes in Latin America. Nor is the passive and silent acquiescence of international figures and Latin American leaders before massive human rights violations and a decades old tyranny perversely called a democracy the vision that the Cuban national hero had of Latin American unity.

José Julián Martí Pérez was born in Cuba 161 years ago today on January 28, 1853.  Fifty five years into a Stalinist dictatorship installed by the Castro brothers. Ironically, the Castros, who claim José Julián Martí as a revolutionary inspiration, are sons of a Spanish peninsular who came to Cuba to fight to preserve colonial rule, and later became a rich landowner.

If José Martí had been born and grown up under the Castro regime then he'd either be a martyr, such as Pedro Luis Boitel or Orlando Zapata Tamayo who died on hunger strike defending human dignity or an opposition leader murdered under suspicious circumstances such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas or Laura Inés Pollán. José Martí with his passion for freedom, justice and human dignity would have been a dissident protesting the totalitarian regime in Cuba. As a writer, poet, and orator who could appeal to large numbers of people who would have been perceived by the Castro brothers as a threat. 

His vision of the Cuba and the Americas he wanted to see and the critique of the CELAC Summit that he would have made are reflected in the words of Yoani Sanchez: An important challenge for the CELAC Summit is that respect for diversity not be "tolerance for authoritarians or human rights violations."

He would not remain silent. José Martí understood the importance of speaking out and the complicity of remaining silent before a crime. 

Amnesty International condemned the ongoing crackdown against nonviolent activists, including many women, by the Cuban government and called on the UN Secretary General and other dignitaries to address it:
It is outrageous that those who disagree with the Cuban government are not allowed to express themselves in a public and collective manner.  The heads of state of the CELAC member countries and the high officials of regional and international organizations, such as UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, should not ignore the fact that as they arrive in Havana to participate in the summit, Cuban activists are being repressed by their government.
Like Amnesty International Martí would've called on leaders to hold tyrants and dictators accountable and to make them uncomfortable in their repression.

 Instead UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon failed to address the crackdown publicly but instead met with Raul Castro to discuss in part how the US embargo impacts on human rights in Cuba and later his daughter, Mariela, where he celebrated the regime's treatment of women and finally met with Fidel Castro for 55 minutes.

Its enough, that if he were alive, it would bring José Martí  to tears.

Monday, January 27, 2014

CELAC 2014: Human rights violations in Cuba and silent friends

“Ver un crimen en silencio, es cometerlo” - José Martí

 "In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

These are sad days for democracy and human rights around the world. Two representatives of international organizations charged with defending human rights and democracy are not only remaining silent before wholesale human rights violations but in the case of the United Nations placing some of the enemies of human rights and democracy in charge of a fund supposedly dedicated to promote democracy

 As world leaders gather in Havana, Cuba the state security apparatus across the island has rounded up dozens of activists, laid siege to the homes of many more. Over the past four years activists have died on hunger strikes, others have been beaten to death, and two prominent opposition leaders died under suspicious circumstances that point to state security.

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza, expected to be visiting Cuba to attend the meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the regional grouping created by Hugo Chavez, the late authoritarian president of Venezuela, with the aim of doing away with the OAS that is currently led by Cuban dictator Raul Castro had this to say about meeting Cuban democrats and human rights defenders:
"I don't want to provoke any problem or situation that can be uncomfortable for anyone, for I don't think it corresponds to me. When one travels as an observer to a meeting, one does not do it to seek protagonism."
Last week the world observed the legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. who was born on January 15, 1929 but all too often this remembrance is superficial. Secretary Insulza in his above statement is providing the anti-thesis of what Reverend King advocated. The late civil rights leader spoke of the need to create uncomfortable situations to expose injustice that he described as creative tension:
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue…I must confess that I am not afraid of the word, tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive tension that is necessary for growth… the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”
The statement made by Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations raises concerns:

Remarks by the UN Secretary General upon arriving in Havana, Cuba
Despite the regime in Cuba:  violating United Nations sanctions smuggling weapons to North Korea hidden under bags of sugar through the Panama Canal where they were intercepted; systematically violating human rights in Cuba and working to undermine human rights internationally; and a petition to the United Nations to investigate the murders of Cuban democrats, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante the Secretary General has decided to visit Cuba to discuss peace, security, sustainable development, and human rights with the dictatorship that has ruled Cuba with an iron fist for 55 years. During these years the Castro regime has murdered thousands of Cubans and imprisoned tens of thousands more for their political and religious beliefs.

The United Nations (UN) claims democracy as a core value, and both the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) require states to be democracies to be members. Nevertheless, the OAS has welcomed the dictatorship of Cuba back into the fold and currently the Cuban dictatorship is heading CELAC.

George Orwell would have had a field day. Meanwhile Cubans continue to suffer systematic human rights violations and those who should be their friends remain silent while breaking bread with their oppressors.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Update: Cuban political prisoner and hunger striker lies near death

"Marcelino Abreu was unjustly jailed for speaking his mind: Down with Fidel. Now he is on hunger strike for his freedom." - Marc Masferrer over twitter January 21, 2014
Marcelino Abreu Bonora
 Over twitter beginning at 9:44pm on January 23, 2014  and ending 11 minutes later at 9:55pm with the last of  five tweets the independent journalist and human rights defender Iván Hernández Carrillo made the following update on the health status of Marcelino Abreu Bonora: 
"Yesterday political prisoner Marcelino Abreu Bonora was visited by his wife in the National Hospital, where he is kept isolated in a serious state. Martha Velazquez said she saw her husband, Marcelino Abreu Bonora, the hunger striker, very yellow including the palms of his hands. Marta explains that Marcelino Abreu Bonora continues with low arterial blood pressure, headaches, almost fainting, and his voice is breaking when he tries to speak. Marcelino Abreu Bonora can no longer fend for himself, and since January 16 the regime doesn't allow his wife to even help him bathe. Hunger striker and political prisoner Marcelino Abreu Bonora worse than this recent photograph provided by Hablemos Press."
This update should raise concerns about the plight of this Cuban hunger striker whose condition has continued to deteriorate and as was reported back on January 19th is near death.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero: 18 months demanding justice and freedom

"Those who steal the rights of others steal from themselves. Those who remove and crush freedom are the true slaves."- Harold Cepero Escalante, Havana 2002

"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." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Strasbourg, 2002

Oswaldo and Harold
Over Facebook this morning, January 22, 2014, the Christian Liberation Movement published the following message:
"Today it's been a year and a half that Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were killed . We will continue demanding an independent investigation because it is right and to put an end to impunity. Will continue to do so despite the complicity of those who, knowing the truth, do not want it to come to light, and despite the indifference of others inside and outside of Cuba."
Time passes and the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero raise more and more questions. The initial story of the Cuban government that a lone car lost control and hit a tree killing the two activists has been demonstrated to be a fabrication. As time has passed and the evidence multiplied it is now evident that the car was hit by a second vehicle driven by Cuban state security agents.  Furthermore there is evidence that both Oswaldo and Harold survived the crash. This led Rosa María Payá Acevedo on August 6, 2013 to ask over twitter:
A red Lada followed them, a blue car hit them from behind, but they were still alive. What did they do with my father, Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero?
The Payá and Cepero families are not along in asking what happened and calling for an international investigation. The Washington Post Editorial board along with 127 dignitaries including Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu have called for an international investigation into these two deaths. 

At the same time as the cause of justice for Oswaldo and Harold continues to be pursued it is important to recall that their legacy of nonviolence did not die with them, but their work continues to bear positive fruit in Cuba and around the world. 

Oswaldo Payá had a dream that continues to inspire many inside and outside of Cuba:
"The rifles will be buried face down, the words of hatred will vanish in the heart without reaching the lips, we'll go out into the street and all of us will see in the other a brother, let us look to the future with the peace of he that knows that he forgave and he that has been forgiven. Let there be no blood to clean or dead to bury, the shadow of fear and of catastrophe will give way to the reconciliatory light, and Cuba will be reborn in every heart, in a miracle of love made by God and us."
On January 21, 2014 in the far eastern city of Holguín over a thousand Cubans took to the streets to nonviolently demand their rights reported Cubanet. News of the demonstration spread over social media. Franklin Peregrino in an interview with Radio República explained how state security detained activists trying to report the protests. However, intrepid activists managed to circumvent the efforts of state security and were able to obtain images, videos, and audios to let the world know what had taken place. Reports continued to arrive that on the morning of January 21st between 100 and 150 demonstrators with posters continued their demonstration despite being beaten up and a thousand onlookers gathered around the protestors. One of the leaders of the demonstration, William Reinaldo Zaldívar Pérez, " was taken out of the government headquarters handcuffed and his whereabouts are unknown." The reason for the protest is self-evident the Cuban government is next to last in rankings on economic freedom. Its ally North Korea is dead last.

Demonstration in Holguin on January 21, 2014
Over twitter at 3:01pm on January 21, 2014 Rosa María Payá tweeted that Eduardo Cardet Conce was reporting that more than 50 self-employed were protesting in front of the Popular Power Assembly of Holguin asking to let them work, and that the response was repression. She went on to explain that the "small entrepreneurs" of Holguin are called  "catreros" because they show their products on "catres" (cots)  = makeshift beds with a tarp and 4 boards. She went on to explain the reason for the demonstration: "Before the ban on the sale of many products, that the Cuban government ordered, the catreros went out to protest and many were arrested." 

She then concluded with two additional tweets tying into the need for rights instead of government permission and a call to solidarity with the protesters:
Plebiscite Now! For Cubans to have the right to undertake private businesses and not the permission of the will of the government. Solidarity with "catreros" arrested in Holguin for the citizen to be free and then enterprise will be free too. Plebiscite PV.
This was not a demonstration organized by Cuban dissidents, but a spontaneous protest by Cubans not previously active demanding their rights. Oswaldo and Harold's dream lives on and the work for a nonviolent democratic transition in Cuba continues.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Human Rights Watch World Report 2014: Cuba

In 2010 and 2011, Cubas government released dozens of political prisoners on condition they accept exile in exchange for freedom. Since then, it has relied less on long-term prison sentences to punish dissent and has relaxed draconian travel restrictions that divided families and prevented its critics from leaving and returning to the island.
Nevertheless, the Cuban government continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Officials employ a range of tactics to punish dissent and instill fear in the public, including beatings, public acts of shaming, termination of employment, and threats of long-term imprisonment. Short-term arbitrary arrests have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely.
Arbitrary Detentions and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliationan independent human rights group the government views as illegalreceived over 3,600 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through September 2013, compared to approximately 2,100 in 2010.

The detentions are often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in events viewed as critical of the government, such as peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Many  dissidents are beaten and threatened when detained, even if they do not try to resist.
Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify detentions and threaten detainees with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in counterrevolutionary activities. In some cases, detainees receive official warnings, which prosecutors may later use in criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings aim to discourage them from participating in activities seen as critical of the government.

Victims of such arrests may be held incommunicado for several hours to several days. Some are held at police stations, while others are driven to remote areas far from their homes where they are interrogated, threatened, and abandoned.

On August 25, 2013, more than 30 women from the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White)a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegalwere detained after attending Sunday mass at a church in Santiago, beaten, forced onto a bus, and left at various isolated locations on the citys outskirts. The same day, eight members of the group in Havana and seven more in Holguin were arbitrarily detained as they marched peacefully to attend mass.

Political Prisoners

Cubans who criticize the government may face criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are subordinated to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence. Political prisoners are routinely denied parole after completing the minimum required sentence as punishment for refusing to participate in ideological activities, such as reeducation classes.

The death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010 after his 85-day hunger strike and the subsequent hunger strike by dissident Guillermo Fariñas pressured the government to release the remaining political prisoners from the group of 75 (75 dissidents sentenced to long prison terms in a 2003 crackdown).

Yet most were forced to choose between ongoing prison sentences and forced exile. The overwhelming majority accepted relocation to Spain in exchange for their freedom.
Dozens of political prisoners remain in Cuban prisons according to local human rights groups, which estimate that there are more political prisoners whose cases they cannot document because the government prevents independent national or international human rights groups from accessing its prisons.

Luis Enrique Labrador Diaz was one of four people detained in January 2011 for distributing leaflets in Havana with slogans such as Down with the Castros and was subsequently convicted in May 2011 for contempt and public disorder in a closed, summary trial. He was still in prison at time of writing.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression.

Only a tiny fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of and limited access to the Internet. A May 2013 government decree directed at expanding Internet access stipulates that it cannot be used for activities that undermine public security, the integrity, the economy, independence, and national security of Cubabroad conditions that could be used to impede access to government critics.

A small number of independent journalists and bloggers manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. Yet those who publish information considered critical of the government are sometimes subject to smear campaigns, attacks, and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.

After jazz musician Roberto Carcasses called for direct elections and freedom of information in a nationally televised concert in Havana in September 2013, officials told him that his words benefitted the enemy and that he would be barred from performing in state-run venues. The government lifted the ban widely reported in the international pressa week later. In May, the director of the government-run Casa de las Americas cultural institute, Roberto Zurbano, published an article in the New York Times highlighting persistent inequality and prejudice affecting Afro-Cubans. He was subsequently attacked in the government controlled press and demoted to a lesser job at the institute.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Meanwhile, government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminate the need for an exit visa to leave the island, which had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government and their families.

Nearly 183,000 people traveled abroad from January to September 2013, according to the government. These included human rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers who previously had been denied permission to leave the island despite repeated requests, such as blogger Yoani Sanchez.
Nonetheless, the reform establishes that the government may restrict the right to travel on the vague grounds of defense and national security or other reasons of public interest, which could allow the authorities to deny people who express dissent the ability to leave Cuba. The government also continues to arbitrarily deny Cubans living abroad the right to visit the island. In August, the Cuban government denied Blanca Reyes, a Damas de Blanco member living in exile in Spain, permission to travel to Cuba to visit her ailing 93-year-old father, who died in October before she could visit him.

The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217. Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires that Cubans obtain government permission before moving to the countrys capital. It is often used to prevent dissidents traveling there to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live in the capital.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded, unhygienic, and unhealthy, leading to extensive malnutrition and illness. More than 57,000 Cubans are in prisons or work camps, according to a May 2012 article in an official government newspaper. Prisoners who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care. Prisoners have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress.
While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April, it continued to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Key International Actors

The United Statess economic embargo of Cuba, in place for more than half a century, continues to impose indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and has done nothing to improve the countrys human rights. At the United Nations General Assembly in October, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the US embargo.

In 2009, President Barack Obama enacted reforms to eliminate restrictions on travel and remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba put in place during the administration of President George W. Bush in 2004. In 2011, Obama used his executive powers to ease people-to-people travel restrictions, allowing religious, educational, and cultural groups from the US to travel to Cuba.

The European Union continues to retain its Common Position on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which conditions full economic cooperation with Cuba on the countrys transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights.

Former US Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross remained in prison despite a UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention report in November 2012 that called for his immediate release. Gross was detained in Cuba in December 2009 and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for distributing telecommunications equipment to religious groups. The working group said Grosss detention was arbitrary and that Cubas government had failed to provide sufficient evidence of the charges against him.

In May, Cuba underwent its second Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council. Several countries expressed concern with repression of human rights defenders, increased arbitrary detentions, and lack of freedom of expression.
Cuba rejected many of these recommendations on the grounds that they were politically biased and built on false premises, resulting from efforts to discredit Cuba on the part of those who, with their hegemonic ambitions, refuse to accept the diversity and the right to freedom of determination of the Cuban people.

In November, Cuba was re-elected to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, defeating Uruguay for a regional position despite its poor human rights record and consistent efforts to undermine the council’s work to respond to human rights violators.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King Day 2014: Choose Nonviolence

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."  - Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (1963)

"Today the United States of America celebrates Martin Luther King Day, which also serves to remind that all Cubans are entitled to rights. We also have a dream." - Rosa María Payá Acevedo, January 20, 2014 over twitter

January 20, 2014 is Martin Luther King Day in the United States.  The King Center based in Atlanta, Georgia announced a campaign ,"No shots fired", to honor Dr. King by abstaining from violence on his holiday.  They are calling for a cease fire: "abstaining from gun violence, violence in the media, physical violence, and violence in speech."

Google also honored the memory of the civil rights leader with a google doodle.

The U.S. Cuba Young Leaders Group honored the civil rights leader over twitter stating: "Today we remember the legacy of  MLK who serves as inspiration to so many in Cuba who continue to fight for freedom," and the picture below:

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 and beginning on the day of his birthday through today there have been numerous postings and reflections about his legacy. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Nobel Peace Prize Lecture

There is much to learn both in his writings and in the interviews in which he responded to questions about his nonviolent philosophy that still apply today. For example in a 1957 interview Rev. King explained the importance of not being passive while remaining nonviolent: 
“I think it’s better to be aggressive at this point. It seems to me that it is both historically and sociologically true that privileged classes do not give up their privileges voluntarily and they do not give them up without strong resistance.
 Imagine for a moment that this was a man who was being targeted by both the FBI and the KGB in campaigns to discredit him.  Despite these efforts Dr. King was able to transform the United States and frustrate the agenda of the KGB using nonviolent means. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life is a powerful example of the strategic and moral advantage of nonviolent resistance as opposed to violence.

Nonviolent leaders such as Gandhi, King and Payá have died martyr's deaths, but their good works and impact have outlived their physical presence and continue to offer a real alternative to hate, violence and self-destruction. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's widow in a 2014 reflection on Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a legacy of love and responsibility that was continued by her husband in Cuba.

The choice is up to each and every one of us. I choose nonviolence. Will you?