Human Rights "Marathon" Begins

Saturday, December 5, 2009
Today was the official start of the "International Marathon for Human Rights in Cuba."

Demonstrators gathered in cities throughout the world, including Madrid, Paris, New York and Miami, to call for an end to the systemic repression of the Castro regime against the Cuban people.

This solidarity initiative, the brainchild of Cuban political prisoners Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and Dr. Darsi Ferrer, will culminate on December 10th, which marks the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (also recognized as International Human Rights Day.)

Here is a picture from one of today's gatherings in Miami's Little Havana.

Please note all of those older, intransigent, first-generation exiles. Apparently -- as has been widely reported -- the younger generations of Cuban-Americans are just not that interested, active or passionate about their parent's and grandparent's homeland.

Sarcasm in bold.

A Look at the Flip-Side

Ana C. Perez of the San Francisco-based Central American Resources Center has written an opinion editorial for the Progressive Media Project, which attacks President Obama for recognizing last Sunday's election in Honduras.

Yet, beyond Honduras, Ms. Perez also suggests that:

"The administration's approach to the Honduran crisis is not the only disappointing policy direction Obama has taken when it comes to Latin America.

He has maintained the draconian embargo on Cuba, criticized progressive governments in Latin America and cemented ties with the repressive government in Colombia."

This bold criticism led us to wonder:

What would the flip-side of these policies look like?

He has unconditionally normalized relations with the repressive Castro dictatorship, embraced Hugo Chavez's expansionist authoritarianism and placed an embargo on the democratically-elected government of Colombia.

Scary thought, but apparently that would be Ms. Perez's ideal hemispheric policy.

Kudos to President Obama on this one.

Don't Betray Our Principles

Prepared to Surrender

by Miguel Perez

At a time when a human rights organization is charging that Raul Castro is just as ruthless as his brother Fidel, when Cuban political prisoners are on the rise, when dissidents are being assaulted by government goons on the streets of Havana, a growing number of American lawmakers are ready to end the Cold War with Cuba — by surrendering our democratic principles to the Castro communist dictatorship.

In a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last week, proponents of lifting the U.S. travel ban to Cuba argued that they are ready to cave in, without preconditions, without even asking the Castro brothers to respect human rights and implement democratic reforms.

Never mind the atrocities of the Cuban government; never mind the suffering of the Cuban people. These so-called democratic leaders argue that all that matters are "American interests" — the interests of agricultural, hotel and other American business groups that are lobbying to relax U.S. sanctions against Cuba and the interests of the many Americans who would flock to Havana resorts while turning a blind eye to the repressive and impoverished side of Cuba that only Cubans have to endure.

And their outrageous arguments in defense of "American interests" leave you wondering whether they are very naive or extremely hypocritical.

"Waiting for a concession from Havana before we do something on behalf of our own citizens perversely puts the Cuban government in charge of that decision," said the committee's chairman, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., in a statement that perversely insults our intelligence. This congressman either is either incredibly stupid or thinks everyone else is stupid. I think it's the latter.

Berman is leading the pack of those in Congress who argue that the U.S. embargo against Cuba hasn't worked and that it's time to try "something else." And on that point, they are right.

But when they explain what they mean by "something else," as a Cuban-American who has lived through the 50-year cold war between my native and adoptive countries, I feel I've been assaulted intellectually.

They know that overtures already made by the Obama administration have not been reciprocated by the Cuban government. They know the Castro brothers would resist any change that would undermine their totalitarian authority. They know American tourism would only help to resuscitate a dying dictatorship. And they know that tourists have been going to Cuba from all over the world for many years and that those tourists have not been able to give the Cuban people even a breath of freedom.

Yet they expect us to believe that American tourists would be able to crack the Castro repression machine somehow instead of helping to fund further repression.

"Dissidents who try to express their views are often beaten, arbitrarily arrested, and subjected to public acts of repudiation," reported Human Rights Watch last week, as the group explained that — despite rhetoric that would indicate the contrary — Raul Castro has maintained the same repressive system that made his brother the world's longest-lasting dictator.

The report explained that under Cuban law, the state can imprison people for "dangerousness" — even before they commit the "crime" of staging a peaceful demonstration or organizing a workers union — and that the group has documented more than 40 such cases under Raul's reign in the past three years. Of course, those cases are in addition to scores of others who have been held in Cuba's "inhumane" prison conditions even longer, the report noted.

Here in the United States, we get to scream and demonstrate to demand our rights and protect our freedom. But if American tourists were to visit Cuba, they would have to ignore the plight of a people who can go to jail just for planning a peaceful protest. I know that for many freedom-loving Americans, this would be very difficult.

Yet a House bill to lift the U.S. travel ban to Cuba, expected to be introduced early next year, already has close to 180 bipartisan co-sponsors and could be on its way to the 218 votes it needs to pass. A similar bill introduced in the Senate also has a chance to get to President Barack Obama's desk sometime next year.

Even while arguing that the United States should end its "failed embargo policy" and lift the travel ban, the Human Rights Watch report noted that it must be based on the precondition that the Cuban government release its political prisoners. In fact, the report said the United States and its allies should give Cuba six months to free its political prisoners. If the Castro brothers refuse, the report said, the world should impose joint sanctions on the communist island.

But don't expect such conditions from those in Congress who are ready to capitulate on the principles that once made us the champions of freedom, democracy and human rights. Don't expect them to plead for political prisoners or to call for independent media, for freedom of speech or for free elections — not even for a government that treats people with a little more humanity.

The fight is no longer over ideology; it's over dinero! It's all about which side has more money to contribute to the re-election of politicians who could sell their ideology and go either way on this issue. It's the so-called "powerful" Cuban-American lobby in Washington against a much more powerful coalition of business interests, which wants to sell our democratic soul to Cuba.

When politicians shamelessly argue against "waiting for concessions from Havana," we should be asking them why they are so ready to betray our principles.

© 2009 Creators Syndicate.

Dissidents Unite to Demand Change

Friday, December 4, 2009
Agenda para la Transicion ("Agenda for a Transition"), which is comprised of representatives from 32 opposition parties and dissident organizations within Cuba, released a statement yesterday stressing that there can only be "real change" on the island pursuant to democratic reforms, the unconditional release of political prisoners and the ratification of international human rights accords.

During a press conference in Havana, the opposition members said that Gen. Raul Castro's regime must "put an end to the permanent repression of society and the human rights movement."

They also asked that the regime ratify "without reservation" the human rights accords that it has signed, hold "free and plural elections" and respect the right of Cubans to display their "free business initiative."

The statement was read by Agenda spokesman Francisco Chaviano, a Cuban human rights activist and former mathematics professor, who served a 15 year prison term for his efforts to document the cases of people who have disappeared or died while trying to flee Cuba. He was recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.

U.N. Resolution on Human Rights Defenders

The United Nations General Assembly allocates to its Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee, commonly referred to as the Third Committee, agenda items relating to a range of social, humanitarian affairs and human rights issues.

Last week, the Third Committee passed a resolution on human rights defenders, which was adopted by consensus, and will now be formally adopted by the whole U.N. General Assembly.

This resolution can serve as an advocacy tool for human rights defenders from throughout the world, in demanding that their governments live up to international standards of behavior.

Here is a summary of the some of the key aspects of the resolution:

• Expresses concern that national security and counter-terrorism legislation is misused to target human rights. Urges States to ensure that such legislation does not hinder the work and safety of defenders.

• Recognizes that impunity for threats and attacks against defenders persists and that this has a negative impact on their work and safety. Urges States to address such impunity (including for gender-based violence) by ensuring that complaints from defenders are promptly investigated and addressed in a transparent, independent and accountable manner.

• Recognizes the serious nature of the risks faced in particular by women human rights defenders.

• Recognizes the important role that defenders play in promoting human rights.

• Emphasizes and calls upon states to adopt strong and effective measures for the protection of human rights defenders.

• Includes a new reference urging States to prevent and eliminate human rights violations against defenders.

• Where registration of NGOs exists, calls upon States to adopt measures that are transparent, non-discriminatory, expeditious, inexpensive, allow for the possibility to appeal and avoid requiring re-registration.

• Calls upon States to give serious consideration to responding favorably to the requests of the Special Rapporteur to visit their countries.

• Strongly encourages States to translate the UN Human Rights Defenders Declaration and to take measures to ensure its widest possible dissemination and engage in training and awareness raising about the Declaration.

• Includes a new reference to the Universal Periodic Review, welcoming the fact that some states have accepted recommendations on the protection of human rights defenders.

• Includes new elements regarding freedom of association, calling on states to ensure that the rights to freedom of expression and association are respected.

We'd like to recognize the leadership of the Chair of the Third Committee, H.E. Mr. Normans Penke of Latvia, and the Norwegian delegation, which led the negotiations, for their efforts.

While dictatorships will surely brush this resolution aside, it serves as an important reminder to courageous defenders of human rights in Cuba, Belarus, Sudan, Iran, Burma, North Korea and other brutal tyrannies that they are not forgotten.

The Gold Medal for Hypocrisy

Thursday, December 3, 2009
From The Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer on international reaction to last Sunday's presidential elections in Honduras:
 
The gold medal for political hypocrisy should go to Brazil. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the group of nations that is not recognizing the results of the Honduran elections won by leftist-turned-conservative businessman Porfirio Lobo. Lula da Silva says, rightly, that recognizing Lobo's election would set a bad precedent for Latin America because it would legitimize an election convened by a non-democratic government.

The trouble with that argument is that most of today's democracies in Latin America were born out of elections called by coup-originated governments, starting with the 1989 victory of late Chilean President Patricio Aylwin in national elections organized by Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. Also, the recent Honduran elections were not a concoction of outgoing President Roberto Micheletti's de facto regime, but had been scheduled before the coup.

But what makes the Brazilian position a showcase of political hypocrisy is that, only days before asking the world not to recognize Lobo's election in Honduras, Lula da Silva had given a red carpet welcome in the Brazilian capital to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, giving him much-needed international recognition.

In addition to defying United Nations warnings about its nuclear program and repeatedly stating that he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, Ahmadinejad has just proclaimed himself the winner of highly dubious elections. Worse, Ahmadinejad's regime has condemned eight opposition protesters to death -- something the outgoing de facto Honduran government has not even come close to doing.

Besides, how can Lula da Silva call for maintaining international sanctions against Honduras while at the same time urging the world to lift remaining sanctions against Cuba?

Brazil apparently wants to maintain Honduras' suspension from the OAS while it recently championed the vote that lifted Cuba's nearly five-decade suspension from the OAS. It's a curious stand, considering that the Cuban regime has not allowed a free election nor opposition parties in five decades, something that cannot be said about Honduras' de facto government.

Granted, Brazil may be forced to be louder than others in defense of Zelaya's position because the ousted Honduran president is holed up at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. But Brazil's handling of the Honduran crisis has been a joke.

A Lesson for Senator Dorgan

According to Europapress:

"During a trade fair this month in Havana, Germany's Ambassador to Cuba, Claude Robert Ellner, told German businessmen that Cuba's debt to the German government had been forgiven, in the hopes that Cuba will meet its debt obligations to them."

In other words, German taxpayers will now be responsible for bailing out its private sector and, by implication, the Castro regime.

Thanks to the U.S. policy of requiring the Castro regime to pay "cash in advance" for its purchases of agricultural products, U.S. taxpayers can rest assured the same will not happen to them.

We hope that U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who wants to legalize financing for agricultural trade with Cuba, is taking note.

The Price of Spain's Concessions

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The Castro regime has mastered the art of making some European governments acquiesce to its every whim, even if it means a free-pass for its daunting repression.

So what's the secret?

It's very simple.

They give European countries a choice: Either do as we say or we will freeze your nationals' bank accounts and default on any debts.

This practice is also known as blackmail.

Let's take Spain, for example.

This week, European news services reported that Spain has begun a diplomatic offensive to convince the Castro regime to unblock nearly 266 million euros ($400 million) in funds that have been frozen from over 300 Spanish companies in Cuba.

Not coincidentally, the Spanish government announced this week that upon assuming the presidency of the European Union in 2010, it would enter into a new bilateral agreement with the Castro regime that would replace current EU policy, which contains diplomatic sanctions for human rights violations.

The Castro regime had made it clear to Spain that the current EU policy was an "insurmountable obstacle" to normal relations (and for Spanish nationals and companies to get their money back).

Therefore, the Spanish government immediately jumped.

Lesson for dictators: Frozen bank accounts and debt can buy you a free-pass for repression.

Note to the Spanish government: Get some dignity.

Don't Make the Same Travel Mistake

Last year, we expressed concern that:

"[Anti-sanctions advocates'] most paradoxical political platform is that 'national reconciliation' between Cuban nationals on the island and those in exile is best pursued by eliminating regulations on Cuban Americans visiting family members in Cuba. Factually, this argument fails to consider that, while most of the exile community in the United States is white, the vast majority of the population and most of democracy's advocates in Cuba are of African or mixed descent and have no family members living in the United States. The result would be a policy that not only creates an underclass among those -- the majority -- without family abroad, but also foments division among Cuba's active and courageous democratic opposition. It would set back rather than advance national reconciliation in Cuba."

- Mauricio Claver-Carone, "Why Travel to Cuba Must be Regulated," The Miami Herald, March 1st, 2008

Yesterday, it was reported:

"Representing 25-odd different groups, black dissidents in Cuba argue that racial disparities on the island are worsened by the Obama administration's recent decision to allow Cuban-Americans to freely send remittances (worth an estimated $1.5 billion yearly) to their relatives. More than 85 percent of Cuban-Americans are white, they say, so the beneficiaries in Cuba of the new remittances policy will also be white."

- Carlos Moore, "Is Black America's Honeymoon with the Castros Over?," McLatchy Newspapers, December 1st, 2009

As regards the future, please keep in mind:

"Whites are clearly preferred in the government controlled and highly profitable tourism industry, from taxi drivers to waitresses and hotel maids. Meanwhile, blacks in Old Havana are continually stopped by police for I.D. checks on suspicion of black market activities."

- Miami Herald Staff Report, "A Barrier for Cuba's Blacks," June 20th, 2007

Therefore, don't make the same mistake by unconditionally allowing tourism travel to Castro's Cuba.

African-American Leaders Challenge Castro

Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Is Black America's Honeymoon with the Castros Over?

By Carlos Moore
Special to McClatchy Newspapers

In a landmark "Statement of Conscience by African-Americans," 60 prominent black American scholars, artists and professionals have condemned the Cuban regime's apparent crackdown on the country's budding civil rights movement. "Racism in Cuba, and anywhere else in the world, is unacceptable and must be confronted," said the document, which also called for the "immediate release" of Dr. Darsi Ferrer, a black civil rights leader imprisoned in July.

The U.S. State Department estimates Afro-Cubans make up 62 percent of the Cuban population, with many informed observers saying the figure is closer to 70 percent.

Traditionally, African-Americans have sided with the Castro regime and unilaterally condemned the U.S. which, in the past, explicitly sought to topple the Cuban government. But this first public rebuke of Castro's racial policies may very well indicate a tide change and a more balanced attitude.

Representing a wide spectrum of political opinion, the document was signed by Princeton University scholar Cornel West; famed actress Ruby Dee; former Essence magazine editor and current president of the National CARES Mentoring Movement Susan Taylor; Bennett College President Julienne Malvaux; UCLA Vice Chancellor Claudia Mitchell-Kernan; Chicago's Trinity Church Emeritus pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright; retired Congresswoman Carrie Meek; former Black Panther activist Kathleen Cleaver; former Jesse Jackson presidential campaign manager and current director of the African-American Leadership Institute Ron Walters; movie director Melvin Van Peebles; and former Miami-Dade County Commissioner, Betty Ferguson.

Read the full statement here.

Senator Feingold Endorses Granma

Last week, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin announced the launch of his "Spotlight on Spending" series to highlight actions Congress can take to reduce the deficit, which is currently at $1.42 trillion.

Considering the multi-billion dollar bailouts the U.S. budget has been subject to over the last two years, we commend the Senator -- in concept -- for this effort.

So which of the billionaire bailout programs will Senator Feingold first tackle?

Will it be the $700 billion bank bailout?

The $800 billion economic stimulus package?

Nope, he's chosen the $32 million dollar FY '10 budget of Radio and TV Marti.

Seriously?

Plus, to add insult to ideological absurdity -- for this item was surely not targeted due to any fiscal rationale -- Senator Feingold issued the following statement,

"As we progress toward a more modern and constructive relationship with Cuba, Radio and TV Martí no longer have any real diplomatic or fiscal purpose."

In other words, let's join hands with the totalitarian Castro regime in censoring the Cuban people.

Or, more bluntly,

If you can't beat them, join them. Plus, since we're not serious about tackling the huge $700 and $800 billion bailouts, let's just bailout the Castro regime's censors and save $32 million.

Of course, the Castro regime has already highlighted Senator Feingold's statement in Granma, Cuba's official state-media.

Seems tragically fitting, as the Senator is now working for the U.S. to espouse the Castro regime as the only news source for the Cuban people.

"Fact-Finding Vacation"

Monday, November 30, 2009
According to The New York Post:

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Laura Jacobson was reimbursed $2,878.40 to travel to Cuba in late September with the National Association of Women Judges for what one attendee reportedly called a "fact-finding vacation."

Perhaps Justice Jacobson traveled to Cuba to see how people get arrested for "social dangerousness" (in other words, for posing a threat to the regime), or maybe to learn from the kangaroo-court proceedings of pro-democracy activists, who are imprisoned indefinitely without due process or an independent defense.

Or, maybe she just went to enjoy some mojitos at a Varadero beach resort.

Either way, we hope that -- at least -- the National Association of Women Judges took note of how the Castro regime violently beats up 100 lb. women for posting online criticisms of the regime. Thus far, we haven't seen a press release or condemnatory statement.

Bottom line: New York taxpayers deserve better.

Don't "Engage" Without "Change"

From the Editorial Board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Same old Cuba: Tyranny pervades

No one should be surprised that Raul Castro's July 2006 assumption of power from his ill brother has yet to free the Cuban people from heinous repression by their island nation's Communist regime.

Thus, the U.S. must not use this regime "change" -- a distinction without a difference -- as a reason to further "engage" Cuba.

The unchanged plight of the Cuban people is made clear by the new Human Rights Watch report, "New Castro, Same Cuba." Raul Castro has shown he cares as little for human rights and civil liberties as his brother Fidel always has, making unwise any additional Obama administration moves toward more normal relations with Cuba.

Under Raul, the Castro regime continues to use vague "dangerousness" charges to persecute Cubans whose advocacy of fundamental freedoms threatens the government's power. The 132-page report documents more than 40 cases of the Cuban police state suppressing dissent through imprisonment imposed by kangaroo courts, denial of work and brutality toward political prisoners.

Raul Castro can have better relations with America -- but only if he ends his tyranny. Not until Cuba proves it respects fundamental freedoms should the U.S. stance ease further. Otherwise, the U.S. will only strengthen the Castros' iron hand.

Humanitarian vs. Repressive Aid

How many times have we read this story (or some version of it) over the past decade?

"Members of Pastors for Peace arrived in Cuba Sept. 13 with a shipment of 435 computers in a challenge to the unlawful blockade against the people and the government of Cuba.

The Cuban government has from the start said the donated computers were to be used solely for a medical information network in emergency clinics and other priority institutions."


Answer: Yearly.

Yet, it's rarely noted that the Castro regime's security forces are apparently one of the "other priority institutions."

But don't take our word for it.

Analyze the picture below from this week's Bastion 2009 "war games" designed by the Castro regime to vividly remind the people of its extensive repressive capabilities.

Moral of the story: Humanitarian aid must go directly to the Cuban people, for only repressive aid is funneled through the Castro regime.

Quote of the Month (Cuba's Cowards)

Sunday, November 29, 2009
"Coward is the government that through its absolute power denies the rights of its citizens and condemns them to live in the material and spiritual poverty of slaves. Cowards are the servile oppressors, who supported by their limited, momentous and fragile impunity believe that tyrants will always spared from justice. Cowards are also those poor souls -- fortunately, those are the least in numbers -- who under the guise of dissatisfaction and incapable of shining in their own light, today operate as occasional allies of the regime screaming insults at Cuba's bloggers, in an effort to tarnish the civility and honesty of those that work with extraordinary sacrifice, more or less talent, and that extraordinary treasure that sadly appears to be so scarce: dignity."

- Miriam Celaya, Cuban blogger, from her portal Sin EVAsion (Without EVAsion), November 26th, 2009.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to fear of government repression, Celaya used to write under the pseudonym Eva. At the beginning of 2009, in an act of extraordinary courage and symbolism, she revealed her real name and even her state identity card. Thus the name of her blog, Without EVAsion.