Sunday, November 19, 2017

Don’t tell us we’re not Cuban: The Real Havana Club

#ForeverCuban #TheRealHavanaClub


The Bacardi family is the antithesis of the Castro family in Cuban history through to the present day.

Consider for a moment that Angel Castro, Fidel and Raul Castro's father fought for the Spanish crown against Cuban independence. The Castro brothers emerged out of the worse elements of political gangsterism to impose a dictatorship that has lasted 58 years.

In contrast two generations of the Bacardi family fought for Cuban independence with one family member fighting alongside General Antonio Maceo. During the Republic the family not only had enlightened business practices but also engaged in civic activities that promoted a democratic culture. Each time that dictatorship arose in Cuba under Machado, Batista and Castro the Bacardis joined the democratic resistance. They have recognized the work of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and earlier this year that of his daughter, Rosa María Payá and they are supporting the Cuba Decide initiative to push for a democratic transition.



Now they are setting the record straight and defending the legacy of Havana Club with a challenge: Don’t tell us we’re not Cuban.
"The Arechabala Family started their rum-making business in 1878 in Cuba and first registered the original Havana Club trademark in 1934. It wasn’t long before Havana Club Rum became a beloved and iconic Cuban brand – becoming a favorite amongst locals as well as American and European tourists.

Then everything changed. On January 1st, 1960, at gunpoint, the Cuban regime unrightfully seized the company’s assets without compensation. The Arechabala family lost everything and was forced to flee the homeland they loved, with a scant few of their remaining possessions – the precious Havana Club recipe being one of them. Meanwhile, the Cuban Government started to sell their stolen version of Havana Club, and continues to do so to this day.

It wasn’t until 1995 – after decades of rebuilding, the Arechabala family finally joined forces with another Cuban family in exile: Bacardi. The latter acquired the Havana Club brand and began producing rum based on the original Havana Club recipe and selling it in the one country that didn’t recognise the Cuban Government’s 1960 illegal expropriation, the United States.

The Havana Club brand is an example of how, despite the circumstances, Cubans in exile have never accepted their fate. Havana Club rum holds onto its rich Cuban culture." 
Let us look forward to the day that both Bacardi and the real Havana Club can return to Cuba and make the rum on their home turf and not in exile. But that necessitates the return of freedom that also means private property rights, freedom of expression and freedom of association.
  

With Mugabe's impending departure will Ethiopian war criminal Mengistu finally face justice?

"When we planned our country's economic development, we had the strategic objective of our Revolution in mind. It was not planned for economic development [to be] solely an end in itself. There are some who have forgotten that the sole basis of our revolutionary struggle was the ideology and politics which we follow..."- Mengistu Haile Mariam (1987)


Mugabe flanked by Army Chief Chiwenga delivers speech at State House in Harare /AP
Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, is in the midst of a power struggle within the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) he co-founded in Zimbabwe in 1987 and the military. Officially, ZANU–PF has a socialist ideology. The party maintains a politburo and a Central Committee. During the 1970s and 1980s Mugabe self-identified as a Marxist-Leninist but re-branded himself a socialist following the collapse of the East Bloc and the Soviet Union, but his close relationship with the Castro regime continued. The 93-year old attended Fidel Castro's funeral last year and reflecting on the Cuban dictator's death said "I have lost a brother."


Close Allies: Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, and is refusing to resign, but within the ranks of his fellow party members and the military are demanding for an end to his rule. Events in Zimbabwe are being followed closely in Cuba, and also in Ethiopia

Mugabe's regime is particularly loathsome. There is documentation on the use of rape as a political weapon to silence women in Zimbabwe. AIDS-Free World in 2009 published a detailed report titled Electing to Rape: Sexual Terror in Mugabe's Zimbabwe which analyzed the situation there during the 2008 elections and the aftermath:
In the weeks immediately after the June 2008 presidential elections in Zimbabwe, AIDS-Free World received an urgent call from a Harare-based organization. The human rights activists were overwhelmed with reports from women associated with the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who had been raped by members of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, in a vicious campaign to intimidate voters and emerge victorious in the presidential election. In response, AIDS-Free World undertook a series of investigative trips to the region with teams of lawyers to interview survivors of this violence. What emerged from the testimony was a brutal, orchestrated campaign of rape and torture perpetrated by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF youth militia, agents of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), and people who identify themselves as veterans of the liberation war (known as war veterans) affiliated with ZANU-PF. The exceptionally violent rapes, as described by women from every province of Zimbabwe, were often nearly fatal. Survivors’ terror was prolonged by fears that their attackers were among the 15% of adults infected with HIV in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe may have stopped calling himself a Marxist Leninist after the implosion of the USSR but the use of terror to maintain power continued long after and he protects his friends who have the same ideology.

There is an international communist movement that operates as a network. Fidel Castro on April 3, 1977 met in East Berlin with Erich Honecker about the need to help the revolution in Ethiopia and talked up Mengistu Haile Mariam, an emerging new Marxist-Leninist leader. Fidel Castro celebrated the initiation of the Red Terror on February 3, 1977 in Ethiopia: "Mengistu strikes me as a quiet, serious, and sincere leader who is aware of the power of the masses. He is an intellectual personality who showed his wisdom on February 3. [] The prelude to this was an exuberant speech by the Ethiopian president in favor of nationalism. Mengistu preempted this coup. He called the meeting of the Revolutionary Council one hour early and had the rightist leaders arrested and shot. A very consequential decision was taken on February 3 in Ethiopia. []Before it was only possible to support the leftist forces indirectly, now we can do so without any constraints."

Fidel Castro lounging with Mengistu Haile Mariam, in Ethiopia in 1977
During 1977-78, a conservative estimate of over 30,000 Africans perished as a result of the Red Terror unleashed in Ethiopia by the communists and their Cuban allies. Amnesty International concluded that "this campaign resulted in several thousand to perhaps tens of thousands of men, women, and children killed, tortured, and imprisoned." Sweden's Save the Children Fund lodged a formal protest in early 1978 denouncing the execution of 1,000 children, many below the age of thirteen, whom the communist government had labeled "liaison agents of the counter revolutionaries."
Fidel and Raul Castro were both deeply involved in sending 17,000 Cuban troops to South Africa in assisting Mengistu in consolidating his rule and eliminating actual and potential opposition. The last Cuban troops did not leave Ethiopia until 1989 and were present and complicit in the engineered famine that took place there.  In 1990 traveling on a train through East Germany on my way to Prague, I spent some time speaking with an Ethiopian economist who told me how Cuban troops would round up starving Ethiopian farmers when they got close to the cities, with grain stores, and drove them back out into the countryside to starve. Donald R. Katz in the September 21, 1978 Rolling Stone article "Ethiopia After the Revolution: Vultures Return to the Land of Sheba" gave the following description of the wave of terror and repression unleashed by Mengistu.
"Toward the middle of last year [1977], Mengistu pulled out all the stops. "It is an historical obligation," he said then, "to clean up vigilantly using the revolutionary sword." He announced that the shooting was about to start and that anyone in the middle would be caught in the cross fire. In what came to be known as the "Red Terror," he proceeded to round up all those who opposed the military regime. According to Amnesty International, the Dergue killed over 10,000 people by the end of the year. One anti-government party, mostly made up of students and teachers, was singled out as 'the opposition.'"
 Human Rights Watch in their 2008 report on Ethiopia titled outlined "Collective Punishment War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Region" some of the practices carried out by Cuban troops sent there by Fidel and Raul Castro excerpted below
Africa Watch (the precursor to Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division) analyzed Ethiopian counter-insurgency operations in this period and found that they followed a four-pronged approach: i) the forced displacement of much of the civilian population into shelters and protected villages; ii) military offensives against people and economic assets outside the shelters; iii) the sponsoring of insurgent groups against the WSLF and Somali government; and iv) attempts to promote the repatriation of refugees.23 In December 1979, a new Ethiopian military offensive, this time including Soviet advisors and Cuban troops, “was more specifically directed against the population’s means of survival, including poisoning and bombing waterholes and machine gunning herds of cattle.”24
Raul Castro and Fidel Castro with ally Mengistu Haile Mariam
Fidel Castro addressing Cuban and Ethiopian troops in Ethiopia in September of 1978 celebrated the bloody victory in that country proudly proclaiming the Castro regime's involvement.
"Comrade Cubans, I can recall those days of December 1977 and January 1978 when we said farewell to the first Cuban internationalist combatants who were leaving for Ethiopia. [...]Eighteen months later we have returned to a Ethiopia which is victorious be cause of its combative sons' heroism and the support of international solidarity, as Comrade Mengistu stated 2 days ago. Moreover, it is also an already powerful Ethiopia. Tuesday's popular parade confirmed the enormous popular support for this revolutionary change. Yesterday's military parade tells us of the degree of organization and discipline achieved by the combative and courageous fraternal Ethiopian people. The rapid revolutionary offensive of the Ethiopian and Cuban troops practically annihilated the enemy. [...]Ethiopian brothers, together with you we have fought and we have won. Together with you we are ready to fight again and to win again. Together with you we pledge: Fatherland or death, we shall win!"
The last few years of the Cuban government's collaboration with the Ethiopian communist regime were particularly brutal, and reminiscent of Stalin's treatment of the Kulaks in the 1930s. During the 1984-85 famine in northern Ethiopia, which shocked the conscience of the world and led Bob Geldof to organize the 1985 international rock concert "Live Aid," Cuban troops, following the lead of their ally, made the famine worse by refusing to allow food to be distributed in areas where inhabitants were sympathetic to opposition groups and engaging in a policy of "forcibly resettling people."

Charles Lane of The Washington Post in the December 1, 2016 article "Castro was no liberator" described how "the last Cuban troops did not leave Ethiopia until September 1989; they were still on hand as hundreds of thousands died during the 1983-1985 famine exacerbated by Mengistu’s collectivization of agriculture." Mengistu was forced out of power in 1991 and fled to Zimbabwe.

In an interview published in 2003 by Riccardo Orizio in his book, Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators, Mengistu defended his actions in Marxist-Leninist terms,  "I'm a military man, I did what I did only because my country had to be saved from tribalism and feudalism. If I failed, it was only because I was betrayed. The so-called genocide was nothing more than just a war in defence of the revolution and a system from which all have benefited."

Mengistu was found guilty of genocide in Ethiopia on December 12, 2006, and was sentenced to life in prison in January 2007. He was sentenced to death in absentia on May 26, 2008 following an appeal. Mengistu currently resides in Zimbabwe under the protection of African dictator Robert Mugabe. Question now arises that if Mugabe is forced to resign, will the new government turnover the now 80-year old war criminal to Ethiopian authorities to face justice?

Communist networks will defend Mengistu because the mass killings and manufactured famine that caused over a million deaths in Ethiopia was done "in defense of the revolution." In the same manner that Fidel Castro defended the revolution in Cuba in the early 1960s exterminating Cuban peasants who resisted the imposition of communist rule, with the critical help of 400 Russian advisors. This approach of mass murder and genocide to consolidate total power was carried out by Lenin and the Bolsheviks a century  ago in Russia.  On August 11, 1918 in a telegram sent to his communist comrades Lenin laid out the need to impose terror by setting an example: "1.You need to hang (hang without fail, so that the people see) no fewer than 100 of the notorious kulaks, the rich and the bloodsuckers. 2.   Publish their names. 3.   Take all their grain from them. 4.   Appoint the hostages — in accordance with yesterday’s telegram. This needs to be done in such a way that the people for hundreds of versts around will see, tremble, know and shout: they are throttling and will throttle the bloodsucking kulaks. Telegraph us concerning receipt and implementation. Yours, Lenin. PS. Find tougher people."

Mengistu's monstrous actions in Ethiopia was not an aberration but the faithful fulfillment of the guide book for a Marxist-Leninist to achieve and maintain power. This is the real reason why Robert Mugable protected this war criminal and odds are that if the new rulers of Zimbabwe are Marxist Leninists, like their predecessor they will continue to do so. Otherwise they would all be subject to being hauled before international courts for war crimes and crimes against humanity.




Saturday, November 18, 2017

Remembering some of the victims of Cuban communism: Danish student gunned down by soldier in Cuba in 1997 and disappeared in Cuba

Joachim Løvschall, a Danish student studying Spanish at the University of Havana gunned down by an AK-47 wielding Cuban guard as he walked home on the evening of March 29,1997. The body remained hidden for days. The shooter was never identified. Ten years after his son's extrajudicial execution, Christian Løvschall spoke at a parallel forum in Geneva Switzerland about what had happened
Joachim Løvschall: December 7, 1970 - March 29, 1997
Some psychologists argue that as the number of victims increase into the hundreds, and thousands that compassion collapses out of the human fear of being overwhelmed. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin put it more succinctly: "When one man dies it's a tragedy. When thousands die it's statistics." In the case of Cuba the communist regime has killed tens of thousands, and many have become numb in the face of this horror. Therefore on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first communist regime in Russia, that caused so much harm around the world, will focus on the small corner of Cuba and on an infinitesimal sampling of some of the victims of Cuban communism. 


There have been many non-Cuban victims of Cuban communism. This sixth entry focuses on a young man murdered for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Imagine for a moment that you are studying Spanish in Cuba, spending time out having dinner with friends and going to the theater. A few hours later you are gun down in the street by a soldier of the Castro regime wielding an AK-47 because you were on the wrong sidewalk but there was no warning.

Communist soldier in Cuba killed Danish student with an AK-47 in 1997
 
Previous entries in this series where about Cubans trying to change the system nonviolently. The first entry concerned Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a humble bricklayer turned courageous human rights defender who paid the ultimate price in 2010 for speaking truth to power. The second entry focused on Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, a Catholic lay activist, nonviolence icon, husband, father of three and the founder of a Cuban opposition movement that shook up the Castro regime with a petition drive demanding that human rights be respected and recognized in Cuba. This action and speaking truth to power led to his extrajudicial killing in 2012. The
third entry focused on one of the great crimes of the Castro regime that has been well documented by international human rights organizations and reported on ABC News Nightline that claimed the lives of 37 men, women, and children. They were trying to flee the despotism in Cuba to live in freedom and were extrajudicially executed. In the fourth focused on an act of state terrorism when two planes were shot down on a Saturday afternoon at 3:21 and 3:27 on February 24, 1996 over international airspace while engaged in a search and rescue flight for Cuban rafters killing four humanitarians. Their planes were destroyed by air-to-air missiles fired by a Cuban MiG-29 aircraft on the orders of Raul and Fidel Castro.
In the fifth focused on Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Wilman Villar Mendoza who died on hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment on January 19, 2012 at the age of 31 left behind two little girls, a young wife and grieving mother.

Joachim Løvschall was studying Spanish in Havana in the spring of 1997. He was gunned down by a soldier of the Castro regime in Havana, Cuba twenty years ago today on March 29, 1997. The identity of the soldier has never been revealed to Joachim''s family. No one has been brought to justice. Joachim's family is not satisfied with the official explanation.

Goose stepping soldiers in communist Cuba
The last time they saw Joachim
On March 28, 1997 Joachim Løvschall ate his last dinner with white wine in a little restaurant called Aladin, located on 21st street in Havana. He went to the Revolutionary Plaza and bought a ticket to the Cuban National Theater. Following the performance he went to the theater's bar, Cafe Cantate, and met up with two Swedish friends. They each drank a couple of beers, but soon left because Joachim did not like the music. At 23:30, they said good bye to each other on the sidewalk in front of Cafe Cantate. 


Joachim was never seen alive again. 

The Castro regime's version of what happened
On September 28, 1997 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published an article by Kim Hundevadt titled "Dangerous Vacation" that outlined what happened to Joachim Løvschall and presented the Castro dictatorship's version of the events leading to this young man's death:


Around 23:30, a person matching Joachim Løvschall's description was in a bar named Segundo Dragon d'Oro. The bar lies in the hopeless part of town, around the Revolutionary Plaza which is dominated by ministry and other official buildings of harsh concrete architecture, and lies empty in at night.
At 2:45am he left the bar, after becoming intoxicated. Around 20 minutes later, he was walking down the Avenue Territorial, behind the Defense Ministry.
Joachim Løvschall walked, according to the Cuban authorities, first on the sidewalk that lies opposite the Ministry. Midway he crossed over to the other sidewalk, considered to be a military area, though it is not blocked off.
The Cubans have explained that Joachim Løvschall was shouted at by two armed guards, who in addition fired warning shots, which he did not react to. Therefore, one guard shot from the hip with an AK-47 rifle. The first shot hit Joachim in the stomach and got him to crumble down. The second shot hit slanting down the left side of the neck.
Joachim Løvschall
Ten years ago
On June 12, 2007 Christian Løvschall, Joachim's father, at a parallel forum at the United Nations Human Rights Council spoke about his son's disappearance and the struggle to find out if Joachim was dead or alive:

"Although the killing took place on the 29th of March, we only came to know about it on the 6th of April - i.e. after 8 days were we had the feeling that the Cuban authorities were unwilling to inform anything about the incident. Only because of good relations with Spanish speaking friends in other Latin American countries did we succeed in getting into contact with the family with whom Joachim stayed and the repeated message from their side was that they could reveal nothing, but that the situation had turned out very bad and that we had to come to Cuba as soon as possible. At the same time all contacts to the responsible authorities turned out negatively... Only after continued pressure from our side on the Cuban embassy in Copenhagen, things suddenly changed and the sad information was given to us by our local police on the evening of the 6th of April. We are, however, 100% convinced that had we not made use of our own contact and had we not continued our pressure on the embassy in Copenhagen, we might have faced a situation where Joachim would have been declared a missing person, a way out the Cuban authorities have been accused of applying in similar cases."
 Ten years later Christian Løvschall outlined what he knew concerning his son's untimely death:

We do feel we were (and still are) left with no answers except to maybe one of the following questions: Where, When, Who, Why Starting out with the where we were told that Joachim was killed by the soldiers outside the Ministry of Interior.

Where

What we do not understand is why no fence or signs did inform that this is a restricted area? I have been on the spot myself, and the place appears exactly like a normal residential area. So you may question whether this in fact was the place of the killing? Contrary to this the authorities keep maintaining that the area was properly sealed off, and the relevant sign posts were in place.

When

As to when Joachim was killed we only have the information received from the police because of the delay informing one might believe that this is another forgery made up to cover the truth.

Who

The who was in our opinion has never been answered by the Cuban authorities. We understand that a private soldier on duty was made responsible for the killing, and also it has been rumored that his officer in charge has been kept responsible. This is of course the easy way out, but why can't we get to know the whole and true story?   
Why

Why did the soldiers have to fire two shots, one to his body and one to his head, to murder him? Was Joachim violent and did he, an unarmed individual, attack the armed soldiers? Or is it simply that the instruction to Cuban soldiers are: first you shoot and then you ask? But again: Who can explain why two shots were needed?

Despite the claims made by the travel industry there have been other travelers to Cuba who have been killed or gone missing under suspicious circumstances. Twenty years later and justice is still denied to Joachim's family and friends.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Amnesty International releases important report on how Castro regime uses job sector as "a tool of repression"

"Many Cubans feel suffocated by a web of state-control over their daily lives. Part of that control is: if you want to hold a job, you have to agree with everything the government says." - Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International


November 16, 2017

Cuba: Job sector, a tool of repression as perceived critics face jobless life

Ordinary Cubans perceived to be even subtly critical of life in the country face a future of harassment at work, or unemployment as authorities use their control over the job market as an additional tool of repression, Amnesty International said in a new report today.

Your mind is in prison explores how decades of arbitrary use of criminal laws and other unlawful practices -- including discriminatory and wrongful dismissals from state-employment and further harassment in the emerging self-employed sector -- translate into a system where even Cubans who are not politically active have to avoid criticizing the government if they want to hold a job.

“Many Cubans feel suffocated by a web of state-control over their daily lives. Part of that control is: if you want to hold a job, you have to agree with everything the government says,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“As Raúl Castro prepares to step down in February 2018, Cuba has an opportunity to open a meaningful dialogue on human rights. It is imperative that the country starts making the necessary changes for freedom of expression to become a reality for people.”

The Cuban government is the largest employer in the country - approximately 70% of the jobs available are in the public sector. The government also controls the small and emerging, but highly regulated, private sector.

Cuba remains the only country in the Americas where Amnesty International is not allowed to officially visit. The organization’s researchers spoke to more than 60 Cuban migrants in various cities in Mexico to document their testimonies about daily life in a country where freedom of expression has been historically restricted.

Most of the people interviewed had never been overtly critical of Cuba’s political or economic system and were not involved in any form of activism or political opposition. Still, approximately half said they were arrested and imprisoned at least once, mostly accused of crimes that are inconsistent with international law.

For example, one woman, a former shop assistant, told Amnesty International that she had spent eight months in prison in 2011 for “illegally buying beef”, before a judge acquitted her after finding there was insufficient evidence for her detention.

Cuba’s Penal Code also provides for a range of sanctions based on the proclivity of an individual to commit a crime, and the perceived likelihood of potential future actions that could be considered “anti-social”. It also punishes those who have relations with people considered by the authorities as “potentially dangerous for society” or who “pose a threat to the social, economic or political order of the socialist state”.

“Everything is illegal in Cuba”, said a former state security agent, whose job was to infiltrate job places to report on workers in the country.

Those who even delicately disapprove of the Cuban government’s policies are either arbitrarily dismissed from their jobs or harassed by the state until they feel they have no option but to resign or leave the country. Once dismissed from state employment for expressing a critical view, it is nearly impossible for people to find other state employment.

Most people who spoke to Amnesty International said that when they approached new potential state employers, after being dismissed from a previous job, they were rejected and simply told “you aren’t trustworthy” (no eres confiable). The phrase – explicitly used to mean an individual is not politically trustworthy in terms of state ideology – was frequently the only explanation the individual was given by potential employers for not getting a job.

Jorge Luis, a champion sportsman, said that after saying the Cuban government didn’t finance sport during an interview on state television, he began to be progressively excluded from his sport and was fired from his job with the state. He was simply told he no longer met the requirements to work.

He said he was given 20 days to find another job, because otherwise the police said they would charge him with “dangerousness” for not working. He found it impossible to find another job, as everywhere he went potential employers told him he was a “counter-revolutionary”. Unable to support his family he decided to leave Cuba.

Those pushed out of work because of their views, have nowhere to challenge their dismissal. Most said Cuba’s only official trade union didn’t represent them and that they didn’t have the option to join an independent union. None interviewed had appealed their dismissal through the courts, as they considered them to be fully under the control of the government.

“Why would you hire a lawyer if the lawyer is from the same government?,” said a 31-year-old man who had tried to leave Cuba six times by boat and was then denied access to employment and harassed by the police.

Despite recent changes in Cuba’s migration laws, trying to leave the country by boat is still considered a crime. Those who leave the country are labeled as “deserters”, “traitors” and “counter-revolutionaries” – detained and excluded from access to state employment in the same way as others who peacefully exercise their right to freedom expression.

“The failure of the authorities to respect people’s human rights has had an impact far beyond those directly targeted for their activism and seeps into the everyday experiences and hopes of people from all walks of life.”

“If authorities in Cuba want to claim they are really committed to change, they must review all criminal laws that are inconsistent with international standards and end the discriminatory and wrongful dismissals and harassment of workers as a way to silence even the most subtle criticism. Until that is done, the country will continue to be a prison for their people’s minds,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Full report here: Cuba: "Your mind is in prison" - Cuba's web of control over free expression and its chilling effect on everyday life

 https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/11/cuba-job-sector-a-tool-of-repression-as-perceived-critics-face-jobless-life/

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Remembering some of the victims of Cuban communism: Wilman Villar Mendoza

 "When one man dies it's a tragedy. When thousands die it's statistics." - Josef Stalin

Wilman Villar Mendoza: May 30, 1980 - January 19, 2012
Some psychologists argue that as the number of victims increase into the hundreds, and thousands that compassion collapses out of the human fear of being overwhelmed. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin put it more succinctly: "When one man dies it's a tragedy. When thousands die it's statistics." In the case of Cuba the communist regime has killed tens of thousands, and many have become numb in the face of this horror. Therefore on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first communist regime in Russia, that caused so much harm around the world, will focus on the small corner of Cuba and on an infinitesimal sampling of some of the victims of Cuban communism.

In this fifth entry will focus on a Amnesty International prisoner of conscience who died on hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment in 2012.


Previous entries in this series where about Cubans trying to change the system nonviolently. The first entry concerned Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a humble bricklayer turned courageous human rights defender who paid the ultimate price in 2010 for speaking truth to power. The second entry focused on Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, a Catholic lay activist, nonviolence icon, husband, father of three and the founder of a Cuban opposition movement that shook up the Castro regime with a petition drive demanding that human rights be respected and recognized in Cuba. This action and speaking truth to power led to his extrajudicial killing in 2012. The
third entry focused on one of the great crimes of the Castro regime that has been well documented by international human rights organizations and reported on ABC News Nightline that claimed the lives of 37 men, women, and children. They were trying to flee the despotism in Cuba to live in freedom and were extrajudicially executed. In the fourth focused on an act of state terrorism when two planes were shot down on a Saturday afternoon at 3:21 and 3:27 on February 24, 1996 over international airspace while engaged in a search and rescue flight for Cuban rafters killing four humanitarians. Their planes were destroyed by air-to-air missiles fired by a Cuban MiG-29 aircraft on the orders of Raul and Fidel Castro.


On Sunday, January 15, 2012 (on Martin Luther King Jr's birthday) a large group of the Ladies in White were brutally beaten up and detained as they marched from the Cobre to the hospital Juan Bruno Zayas calling for the release of Wilman Villar Mendoza and that his life be saved. Wilman has been on a hunger strike for over 50 days protesting his unjust imprisonment. Comparisons are being drawn between his plight and that of the late prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo.


Four days later he was dead. On January 19, 2012 two little girls lost their dad; a young wife her husband; and a mother her son. Wilman Villar Mendoza died after his kidneys and other organs failed. He died, the result of a prolonged hunger strike provoked by outrage over a profound injustice committed against him by the communist regime in Cuba. He was just 31 years old.


Wilman Villar Mendoza was arrested on November 14, 2011 during a violent crackdown by the political police on nonviolent Cuban democrats. Wilman and the others had engaged in a public protest in the town of Contramaestre in Santiago, Cuba on November 2, 2011

Police told him "he would be disappeared or face imprisonment on criminal charges stemming from an earlier arrest if he did not stop his protests and leave the dissident group."
 

Ten days later in a closed-door, one day sham trial on November 24 , where the judge "refused to accept testimony from his wife or other defense witnesses," Wilman was sentenced to four years in prison for disobedience, resisting arrest and contempt and was sent to Aguadores prison.

Outraged at the injustice committed against him Wilman launched a hunger strike on November 25, 2011 and refused to wear the uniform of a common prisoner. There was little press coverage or official protests regarding his plight until his death appeared imminent.

Ladies in White and other opposition activists marched and demonstrated on his behalf suffering brutal beatings and detentions but the international press remained silent. When confronting a brutal totalitarian dictatorship there is a very simple equation:

silence = violence = death.
International official protests and heightened press scrutiny on behalf of brutalized dissidents means less bloodshed. Silence means that Maritza Pelegrino Cabrera, Wilman's wife, is now a widow and her two young daughters ages 5 and 6 will not get to grow up with their dad.

On January 20, 2012, the Special Adviser at Amnesty International, Javier Zúñiga condemned the regime:"[t]he responsibility for Wilman Villar Mendoza’s death in custody lies squarely with the Cuban authorities, who summarily judged and jailed him for exercising his right to freedom of expression."

Five years later the human rights situation remains dire, but the untimely death of Wilman Villar Mendoza is not forgotten or the need for justice for him and his loved ones.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

International Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes Against Humanity of the Castro Regime met in the U.S. Congress today

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” - Milan Kundera

Some Cuban martyrs and victims of communism in Cuba

Today the Cannon Building of the U.S. Congress hosted an event that heard the public testimonies of the mother and father of Mario Manuel de la Peña, who was extrajudicially executed along with Armando Alejandre Jr, Carlos Costa, and Pablo Morales on February 24, 1996 in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down, and they continued in their 21 year odyssey seeking justice for their son and the others killed that day on Castro's orders. Three planes ventured out that day to search for and rescue Cuban rafters but only one plane returned. Sylvia Iriondo was on that plane and today she gave her testimony on what she experienced that terrible Saturday afternoon.

Parents of Mario de la Peña address Justice Cuba in the Cannon Building
The International Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes Against Humanity of the Castro Regime, also known by the abbreviated term JusticeCuba, met in the U.S. Congress today in the Cannon Building and listened to the testimony of victims of cruel and unusual punishment, relatives of individuals extrajudicially executed by agents of the Castro regime, of Cuban political prisoners in the 1970s had been the victims of sonic attacks, and the harm done to Venezuela by the Castro regime's military and intelligence services.

Sylvia Iriondo addresses Justice Cuba in the Cannon Building
I had the difficult task of serving as an interpreter for: Jorge García Más, who lost 14 family members in the July 13, 1994 "13 de marzo" tugboat massacre; political prisoners Ernesto Díaz Rodríguez and Basilio Guzman who served 22 years in prison and recounted the beatings, sonic attacks, and mistreatment they and their compatriots were subjected to in Castro's prisons and a member of the Venezuelan military  testified on the systematic penetration of Venezuelan institutions by the Castro regime and how it has turned Venezuela into a totalitarian regime.

Listening to Jorge García Más, who lost 14 family members on July 13, 1994
Basilio Guzman was freed and forcibly exiled in 1984, after 22 years in prison, and flew to the United States along with 25 other Cuban political prisoners with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who had petitioned for their release when he visited Cuba and met with Fidel Castro. Ernesto Díaz Rodríguez who was freed in 1991 also addressed the use of sound to mistreat political prisoners:
"Although with other characteristics , in the summer of 1977, on the occasion were various Cuban political prisoners found ourselves in the punishment cells of the Combinado del Este prison, the prison authorities made use of the application of acoustic tortures with the intention of breaking our physical and mental states of health. In the area of the punishment cells where I had been confined during those days were also the political prisoners  Luis Zuñiga, Miguel Angel Alvarez Cardenty, Servando Infante Jimenez, Remberto Zamora Chirino, Teodoro Gonzalez Alvarado, Sergio Bravo and Reinaldo Lopez Lima.

Rafael del Pino Siero, U.S. citizen, was another who inhabited those infernal jails. We knew of his personal differences with Fidel Castro, with whom he had shared a frustrated friendship. This was the apparent reason that in reprisal during many years they denied him adequate medical assistance to correct a serious infection that he had suffered in the bladder. In that way from the time of his arrest and imprisonment he had been obligated to carry, for years, with a catheter and plastic bag for the collection of urine. The accumulated suffering of this period of cruelty, added to the sonic tortures that together with us he was a victim of, were probably the cause during those days that motivated what the government defined as a suicide by this political prisoner in his punishment cell."
Although Ernesto Díaz went on to say that it was possible it was a murder covered up as a suicide. In reality, either way, Rafael del Pino Siero was a victim of the Communist tyranny of Cuba. Basilio Guzman described the after effects of the sonic attacks he suffered while in prison: "I have never been able to climb a ladder again, the doctor has forbidden me, because I feel that I have lost my stability since those days in prison."

Basilio Guzman (left) and Ernesto Díaz Rodríguez (right) testified today
Congresswoman Illeana Ros Lehtinen and Congressman Mario Diaz Balart addressed the Commission and thanked them for their work and the need for it to continue in order to hold the Castro regime accountable.

Congressman Diazz Balart addresses the Commission and the audience
Congressman Mario Diaz Balart tweeted: "[m]ust continue to condemn abuses + brutal oppression of the Castro regime. Thank you to pro-democracy leaders, families of victims, + participants who shared their stories today in the halls of Congress

Earlier in the day members of the JusticeCuba commission went to the Embassy of Cuba in Washington, DC to obtain visas to travel to Cuba to interview victims and oppressors. They were denied entry to the diplomatic compound. This should not have been a surprise.

Members of theJusticeCuba Commission outside the Embassy of Cuba in DC
The regime in Cuba refuses to be held accountable. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Committee of the Red Cross have not had access to Cuban prisons for decades. Furthermore, former long term political prisoner and opposition leader Jorge Luís García Pérez “Antunez” was blocked from traveling out of Cuba to testify at this hearing.

All of this demonstrates that the Castro regime fears truth and memory because it leads to justice that would hold the oppressors accountable.







Remembering some of the victims of Cuban communism: Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia

The hope of impunity is the greatest inducement to do wrong. - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia died three days after beating by political police
 Some psychologists argue that as the number of victims increase into the hundreds, and thousands that compassion collapses out of the human fear of being overwhelmed. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin put it more succinctly: "When one man dies it's a tragedy. When thousands die it's statistics." In the case of Cuba the communist regime has killed tens of thousands, and many have become numb in the face of this horror. Therefore on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first communist regime in Russia, that caused so much harm around the world, will focus on the small corner of Cuba and on an infinitesimal sampling of some of the victims of Cuban communism.

In this fifth entry will focus on the death of
Cuban dissident and former political prisoner, Juan Wilfredo Soto (age 46) beaten and arrested by the Castro regime's police on Thursday, May 5, 2011 while protesting the dictatorship and died early on Sunday May 8, 2011. The beating had been so bad that he required hospitalization.


Previous entries in this series where about Cubans trying to change the system nonviolently. The first entry concerned Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a humble bricklayer turned courageous human rights defender who paid the ultimate price in 2010 for speaking truth to power. The second entry focused on Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, a Catholic lay activist, nonviolence icon, husband, father of three and the founder of a Cuban opposition movement that shook up the Castro regime with a petition drive demanding that human rights be respected and recognized in Cuba. This action and speaking truth to power led to his extrajudicial killing in 2012. The third entry focused on one of the great crimes of the Castro regime that has been well documented by international human rights organizations and reported on ABC News Nightline that claimed the lives of 37 men, women, and children. They were trying to flee the despotism in Cuba to live in freedom and were extrajudicially executed. The fourth entry focused on four men. members of the humanitarian group Brothers to the Rescue, killed when the two planes they were flying in were shot down on a Saturday afternoon at 3:21 and 3:27 on February 24, 1996 over international airspace while engaged in a search and rescue flight for Cuban rafters. Their planes were destroyed by air-to-air missiles fired by a Cuban MiG-29 aircraft on the orders of Raul and Fidel Castro

Six years ago the headlines circled the world in English and in Spanish covered by Reuters, the BBC, CNN, AFP, AP, EFE that a Cuban dissident and former political prisoner, Juan Wilfredo Soto (age 46) had been beaten and arrested by Cuban regime police on Thursday, May 5, 2011 while protesting the dictatorship and died early on Sunday May 8, 2011. The beating had been so bad that he required hospitalization. He was buried Sunday, on Mother's Day.

There are others but the regime has been often successful in intimidating family members and destroying the evidence of their crimes. "This act of police violence is not an isolated case. Each day in Cuba those in uniform respect less the citizens," said Yoani Sanchez over Twitter on the day of the burial. 



 

According to dissidents who attended and media accounts more than 80 attended Juan Wilfredo Soto's funeral despite a heavy police presence and state security operation that blocked some activists from attending. The government agents responsible for this man's extra-judicial death must be held accountable if not by national laws then by international law.  At the funeral a Cuban pastor spoke about the life of the Cuban activist and the circumstances surrounding his death.

Children of Juan Wilfredo Soto mourn their dad
Juan Wilfredo Soto left behind two children and their mom. He was a member of the Opposition Central Coalition and was known as "The Student." He was a former political prisoner who had served 12 years in prison. His mother, who suffers from a bad hip, buried her son on Mother's Day. Pictures of Juan Wilfredo Soto's family members provided by Yoani Sanchez through twitter.

Six years have passed and justice has not been done in this case. Nevertheless we must remember, and with this exercise of memory continue to demand justice for Juan Wilfredo and his loved ones.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Remembering some of the victims of Cuban communism: Four victims of the 1996 Brothers to the Rescue Shootdown

“There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends.” – John 15:13 

Murdered by the Castro regime on February 24, 1996
 Some psychologists argue that as the number of victims increase into the hundreds, and thousands that compassion collapses out of the human fear of being overwhelmed. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin put it more succinctly: "When one man dies it's a tragedy. When thousands die it's statistics." In the case of Cuba the communist regime has killed tens of thousands, and many have become numb in the face of this horror. Therefore on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first communist regime in Russia, that caused so much harm around the world, will focus on the small corner of Cuba and on an infinitesimal sampling of some of the victims of Cuban communism.

In this fourth entry will focus on an act of state terrorism that could have ended in an armed conflict between the Castro regime and the Clinton Administration. Four men were killed for trying to save lives in the Florida Straits in 1996 in an elaborate conspiracy carried out by Cuban communists involving espionage and Cuban warplanes.

Previous entries in this series where about Cubans trying to change the system nonviolently. The first entry concerned Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a humble bricklayer turned courageous human rights defender who paid the ultimate price in 2010 for speaking truth to power. The second entry focused on Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, a Catholic lay activist, nonviolence icon, husband, father of three and the founder of a Cuban opposition movement that shook up the Castro regime with a petition drive demanding that human rights be respected and recognized in Cuba. This action and speaking truth to power led to his extrajudicial killing in 2012. The
third entry focused on one of the great crimes of the Castro regime that has been well documented by international human rights organizations and reported on ABC News Nightline that claimed the lives of 37 men, women, and children. They were trying to flee the despotism in Cuba to live in freedom and were extrajudicially executed.

Four men were killed when the two planes they were flying in were shot down on a Saturday afternoon at 3:21 and 3:27 on February 24, 1996 over international airspace while engaged in a search and rescue flight for Cuban rafters. Their planes were destroyed by air-to-air missiles fired by a Cuban MiG-29 aircraft on the orders of Raul and Fidel Castro

Who were they? The four individuals who were killed represented all aspects of the Cuban diaspora: Armando Alejandre Jr, a child who arrived with his parents from Cuba in 1960, Carlos Costa, born in Miami Beach in 1966 and Mario Manuel de la Peña, born in New Jersey in 1971 the children of Cuban exiles. Pablo Morales was born in Cuba in 1966, raised there and was saved by Brothers to the Rescue when he was 26 years old while fleeing the island on a raft. Two were from Havana, one was from New Jersey and the other from Miami Beach.

The oldest of the four, Armando Alejandre Jr. born in Havana, Cuba on April 16, 1950 who was nine years old when Fidel Castro came to power. He arrived in the United States with the rest of his family at the age of 10. He graduated from high school in Miami enlisted in the military, out of gratitude for the United States providing refuge to Cubans fleeing the Castro regime, serving two tours in Vietnam. Following his military service, he attended Florida International University, which is my alma mater, and following graduation went to work in Metro-Dade Transit Agency in Miami. At the time of his death he was 45 years old leaving behind his wife of 20 years, Marlene and an 18-year-old daughter Marlene Victoria. Armando became a U.S. citizen and was a Cuban-American.

Mario Manuel de la Peña, the youngest of the four was born the township of Weehawken, New Jersey on December 28, 1971 when the Castro regime had already been in power 12 years. He was a son of Cuban exiles. Mario received his degree of Associate in Science in Professional Piloting Technology from Miami-Dade Community College at age 21. In 1996, he was completing his senior year at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Following the shoot down, Embry Riddle conferred upon Mario the degree of Bachelor of Aeronautics honoris causa. At the time of his death he was just 24 years old and is survived by his parents and brother.

Carlos Costa was born on June 23, 1966, in Miami Beach, FL, to Cuban exiles and attended Monsignor Pace High School. He was a graduate of Embry-Riddle University of Aeronautics, where Carlos obtained a bachelor of science in airway science and was licensed as a commercial, instrument, and private pilot, as well as a flight instructor and multi-engine flight instructor. Carlos worked at Miami International Airport, where he trained employees on aviation rules and enforced Federal Aviation Administration standards. Carlos Costa was 29 years old when the shoot down occurred. Carlos is survived by his parents of Cuban origin, Mirta and Osvaldo Costa, his sister, Mirta Mendez, one niece and two nephews.

Pablo Morales was born in Havana, Cuba, on May 16, 1966 and was the same age as Carlos Costa but with a different life experience. He studied cartography and obtained a degree as a geodesics technician. In August 1992, Pablo fled Cuba on a raft and after three days at sea, was spotted in the ocean by Brothers to the Rescue. This experience motivated him to join the previously mentioned organization. He was a passenger in the aircraft with Carlos Costa when they were shot down. Pablo was survived by his mother Eva Barbas, who passed away in 2013, a sister, and a brother. He was a Cuban citizen at the time of his death with residency in the United States and was just 29 years old.  


15-year-old Gregorio Perez Ricardo in 1991
 How and why Brothers to the Rescue formed
In February of 1991 news accounts of the death by dehydration of 15-year-old Gregorio Perez Ricardo, a rafter fleeing Cuba, as U.S. Coast Guard officials tried to save his life shocked the moral imagination of several pilots. This was not an isolated event. Academics Holly Ackerman and Juan Clark, in the 1995 monograph The Cuban Balseros: Voyage of Uncertainty reported that “as many as 100,000 Cuban rafters may have perished trying to leave Cuba.” Anecdotal evidence documents that some of them were victims of the Cuban border patrol using sand bags and snipers against defenseless rafters. 


It was within this context that on May 13, 1991 Brothers to the Rescue was founded with the aim of searching for rafters in the Florida Straits, getting them water, food, and rescued. In December of 1993 Brothers to the Rescue inaugurated their permanent hangar naming it after Gregorio.

Brothers to the Rescue by November of 1995 was collaborating with the Florida Martin Luther King Institute for Non-violence and took part in the King Day parade in 1996. On February 8, 1996 The Miami Times reported “that this group has come around to the belief that change can be brought about in Cuba in the same way that it was brought about by Dr. King in the United States.” The Miami Times concluded in the editorial “Spreading King’s Message” that “In throwing Dr. King's principle into the volatile mix of Cuban exile politics, Brothers to the Rescue is showing a willingness to be creative.”


Coretta Scott King and Jose Basulto of Brothers to the Rescue
 Why the Castro brothers wanted to destroy Brothers to the Rescue
They risked their lives in the Florida Straits to rescue Cuban rafters and at the same time Brothers to the Rescue challenged the Cuban exile community to abandon both the failed violent resistance and appeasement approaches in order to embrace strategic nonviolence.  This path followed the way of Martin Luther King Jr. with both civil disobedience and a constructive program. What was the end result? Brothers to the Rescue saved more than 4,200 men, women, and children ranging from a five-day old infant to a 79 year old man, and rescued thousands more during the 1994 refugee crisis.
One year after the July 13, 1994 tugboat massacre in which 37 men, women and children were killed Cuban exiles organized a flotilla to travel in a civic non-violent manner to the spot six miles off the Havana coastline where the "13 de Marzo" tugboat had been attacked and sunk to hold a religious service for the victims. The Brothers to the Rescue overflight of Havana, where they dropped bumper stickers in Spanish that read "Comrades No. Brothers" was in response to Cuban gunboats ramming the lead boat of the flotilla.

Brothers to the Rescue also served as a bridge between a nonviolent civic movement inside of Cuba and an exile community seeking a different approach. Cuban dissidents announced on October 10, 1995 the intention to hold a national gathering of the opposition in Cuba on February 24, 1996. The coalition of over a 160 groups named themselves the Cuban Council. Brothers to the Rescue in an open and transparent manner sent $2,000 of privately raised assistance to this coalition on February 13, 1996. In the days leading up to February 24 over a 180 dissidents were imprisoned in a nationwide crackdown. 
Humanitarian supplies provided by Brothers to the Rescue
The events surrounding the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down began weeks in advance with the dictatorship planning out the shoot down and using its spy networks to obtain information to carry out this act of state terrorism while blaming the victims in the media coverage. It was a conspiracy to destroy Brothers to the Rescue while at the same time taking attention away from a crack down on a national gathering of the democratic opposition in Cuba. This was taking place in the midst of a profound crisis for the Castro regime following the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991 and a warming relationship in 1994 between the Clinton administration and the Cuban dictatorship that included secret joint military exercises. However, none of this changed the brutal nature of the Cuban dictatorship in how it dealt with Cubans on the island or the continuing hostility of the Castro regime for the United States.  
Castro brothers planned out the February 24, 1996 shoot down
Two Cuban intelligence agents infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, providing information to the Castro regime on the group, disinformation to the FBI, and their Cuban spy ring leader, Gerardo Hernandez warned the two infiltrated agents not to fly during a four-day period that included the day of the premeditated attack. Six days before the attack a Cuban pilot saw Cuban MiGs rehearsing the shoot down.  
On February 24, 1996 at 3:21pm and 3:27pm two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down by two Cuban MiGs over international airspace killing four. Two more MIG’s chased a third plane to within three minutes of downtown Key West, but that plane made it back and provided critical information on what had occurred.
The Brothers to the Rescue shoot down case in the U.S. courts
U.S. courts found the Cuban government guilty of premeditation in the February 24, 1996 shoot down. Family members of the four men have over the past twenty years pursued and continue to pursue justice. They have had concrete results.
  1. On November 14, 1997 U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King found Cuba guilty in civil court of planning the shoot down before the actual attack, and noted that there had been ample time to issue warnings to the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft if these had been needed. 
  2.  A jury in criminal court presided by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard on June 10, 2001 found Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez guilty of conspiracy to commit murder because of his role in providing information to the Cuban government on the flight plans of Brothers to the Rescue. 
  3. On August 21, 2003 a U.S. grand jury indicted the two fighter pilots and their commanding general on murder charges for the 1996 shoot down. Indictments were returned against General Ruben Martinez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez. The defendants were charged with four counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and two counts of destruction of aircraft. They are still at large.
There has been a lack of political will on behalf of the The White House to pursue justice in the premeditated, extrajudicial murders of these four men. The Obama administration commuted the double life sentence of Gerardo Hernandez, the one man actually imprisoned for conspiracy to commit murder in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down on December 17, 2014 setting him free and returning him to Cuba. Nevertheless, the families of Armando, Mario, Carlos and Pablo continue their struggle for memory, truth, and justice on behalf of their loved ones. This means “the indictments of the military officials involved, from Raul Castro, Minister of the Armed Forces, down the military chain of command” and documenting what happened.

 
Source for additional information
Official page of Brothers to the Rescue on the shoot down
Official page of the Families of Armando, Carlos, Mario and Pablo