Thursday, April 27, 2017

Venezuela: Protests continue as Maduro's forces kill more students

"Years selling us the idea that all the weapons of war they bought was to fight the gringos, it turned out to be that it was to kill ourselves," Juan Pablo Pernalete, student age 20, murdered by Maduro's political police

Juan Pablo Pernalete, age 20 murdered by Maduro's political police
The situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate as the Maduro regime announces that it will leave the Organization of American States to avoid having its anti-democratic behavior called into question as it's repressive forces kill more students.

Marching in memory of Juan Pablo Pernalete and other fallen students
Juan Pablo Pernalete, a 20 year old college student majoring in economics, was shot and killed by Maduro's Bolivarian National Police on April 26, 2017 and a day later thousands took to the street to honor his memory. Juan Pablo was a youtube sensation who had a presence on twitter with a photo of his girlfriend, Fabiana Marchesini, who now mourns for him.

Juan Pablo Pernalete with his girlfriend Fabiana Marchesini
The killings are meant to terrorize and break the spirit of the young protesters. Maduro and his Cuban handlers have apparently misjudged the situation and a child of a prominent regime official has taken to the streets and to social media to call out his dad to do the right thing and denounce the violence.

The narrative of the Castro and Maduro regimes in Latin America that all the evils of the world are due to the United States is breaking down before the cruel reality both are inflicting on Venezuela's youth in the name of 21st century socialism.

The nonviolent struggle by the student movement in Venezuela is shaking the pillars of power of the Maduro regime now is the time to step it up not abandon it.  Maduro and his Cuban masters know how to deal with violence, but are at a disadvantage confronting a nonviolent opposition.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Reality Bites: Living in Communist Cuba in 2017

“The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream." - Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls, 1993

General Raul Castro and Colonel Alejandro Castro of the secret police
In the debate over U.S. - Cuba policy the discussion often times pretends that the crimes of the Castro regime are a thing of the past. This does not reflect the current reality of living in this communist country. Fidel Castro died on November 25, 2016, but his equally ruthless brother Raul Castro had already been in charge since July 31, 2006 when Fidel became deathly ill. General Raul Castro formally took power on February 24, 2008 and repression worsened. 

Cubans who did not sufficiently mourn Fidel Castro's death were arrested and jailed. Cuban physician Eduardo Cardet, jailed since November 30, 2016, was sentenced to three years in prison in March 2017 for giving a critical assessment of Castro's legacy.   

During General Raul Castro's tenure politically motivated arbitrary detentions of opposition activists increased exponentially, along with political violence, and the murder of prominent dissident leaders.

In 2016 there were new prisoners of conscience behind bars and 9,940 politically motivated arbitrary detentions over the course of the year. By comparison in 2009 there were 869 arbitrary detentions documented. Religious repression escalated in Cuba in 2016 including the beating of pastors, the confiscation of Churches, some were demolished by the dictatorship.

Victims of state violence in Cuba
Rising violent repression against political dissidents in Cuba, including crippling and disfiguring machete attacks, became a high profile regime tactic starting in 2013. The case of Sirley Avila Leon in May of 2015 is well documented, even if it is not widely well known.

The murder of prominent opposition leaders such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010, Laura  Pollán in 2011, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero in 2012 happened under General Raul Castro's tenure. Refugees have been killed trying to leave Cuba, shot in the back by Castro's secret police, as recently as 2015.

Some of the Cubans killed by the Castro regime over the past eight years

All of this is attributable to dictatorship, but Cuba is also a communist regime which claims that there is common ownership of the means of production. The claim is that under communism all is shared but in Cuba one sees that misery is shared but not by all, a wealthy politically connected minority live in luxury while the majority suffer. The difference from a capitalist regime is that in Cuba complaining about it is punishable under the law.

Fidel Castro's son Antonio Castro visited Greece in this 160 foot yacht with five suites.
For example, Fidel Castro's son, Antonio Castro was photographed in Turkey in June of 2015 when leaving a restaurant he had his bodyguards beat up the reporters and try to take their cameras.  Antonio Castro had arrived on board his 160 foot yacht from the Greek island of Mykonos and booked five en suite rooms at a luxury hotel for himself and his entourage.

Antonio Castro, Cuban dictatorship's point man for baseball business
This lavish lifestyle does not come cheap. The Castro regime exports workers abroad and gets billions of dollars a year with this practice. In 2014 the Cuban dictatorship forecast "$8.2 billion from sending doctors and nurses abroad." In order to achieve these results the health workers are paid miserable wages and as a result some defect, and are denounced as traitors.

However it is true that the Cuban economy is centralized and controlled by the government, with most of it controlled by the military. Both healthcare and education are monopoly controlled by the Castro regime, private schools were prohibited in Cuba at the start of the revolution and continue to be today. But what does this mean in practice for Cubans?

The Slovak-based People in Peril conducted a study on education in Cuba concluding that ''Cuban education is destroyed, with grave problems like the deterioration of the schools, the predominance of ideology over teaching  and the bad preparation of teachers.'' The study made the following findings:
• There's been a ''pronounced'' departure of teachers to other jobs because of low salaries and the lack of social recognition.
• Many teachers also left their jobs because of the government's growing ideological pressures. The primary objective of education is the formation of future revolutionary communists.
• The great majority of schools lack the equipment and installations needed to provide a good education.
• High school graduates have been put to teach after only an eight-month special course. But much of the teaching now is done through educational TV channels.
2014 and 2015 analyses of the Cuban educational system find that nothing has changed: lack of quality, resources and continued politicization of the curriculum in the island continues.

The health care system also leaves a lot to be desired. Medical neglect led to scores of psychiatric patients dying of exposure and hypothermia in 2010. Outbreaks of cholera across Cuba in 2012 -2013 points to systemic problems with the healthcare system. Furthermore, arresting  medical doctors and independent journalists to cover up epidemics should raise alarm bells in the international community.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its massive subsidies ended both the education and healthcare systems in Cuba have deteriorated. Nevertheless access to both have under the Castro regime always been contingent upon political loyalty to the dictatorship.

Fidel Castro announced over 50 years ago that the universities are for revolutionaries and in practice this has meant that those who do not pledge their loyalty to the dictatorship face not getting into university at all or being expelled. This still happens in 2017 under Raul Castro.

David Mauri Cardoso expelled from University of Cienfuegos for political reasons
24 year old David Mauri Cardoso was expelled from the University of Cienfuegos in Cuba in February of 2017 after he honestly answered politically loaded questions in what was supposed to be a Spanish literature exam.

Journalism students Karla María Pérez González expelled
18 year old Karla María Pérez González, a journalism students, was expelled from the Marta Abreu Central University on April 12, 2017 in Las Villas Cuba.  She is a member of a youth movement Somos+ (We are more).

Healthcare is rhetorically universal but in practice can be withdrawn or refused on the orders of the Castro regime and its secret police. This was case of Cuban dissident Sirley Avila Leon, a former government official, she was purged for trying to keep a school open and was the victim of a politically motivated machete attack in 2015. She was not only denied adequate medical care but was prescribed treatment worsening her condition. This practice goes back decades and has cost the life of more than one human rights defender.

Doctors told her quietly, risking their careers, that if she wanted to get proper treatment that she would have to get it outside of Cuba. She was left a complete invalid. After fleeing to Miami a year later over the course of six months of physical therapy she was able to regain the ability to walk.

It is said that in communist regimes healthcare and education are free, but in reality the price of both are far greater than in non-communist countries because the cost is your freedom, and if you dissent possibly your life.

Fidel Castro is long gone but his brother, now dictator is apparently grooming his son, Alejandro Castro, a colonel in the secret police as a successor. Cuba is a communist dictatorship where dynastic succession, within the Castro family, is reminiscent of another communist dynastic dictatorship, the Kim family in North Korea.

This reality of living in Cuba today is a nightmare that is the cause of the exodus of Cubans out of the island. At the same time it is the reason that many have also stayed to fight for change in Cuba risking their lives.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Yom Hashoah: Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day

"It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere." - Primo Levi, 1986 The Drowned and the Saved 

Holocaust memorial on Miami Beach
"To forget the victims means to kill them a second time. So I couldn't prevent the first death. I surely must be capable of saving them from a second death." - Elie Wiesel

We must never forget what happened and remain vigilant now and in the future to battle against the mass destruction of innocent human beings.  Unfortunately the international community has failed more than once since 1945 to prevent another mass slaughter. Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge murdered between one fourth and one third of its population between 1975 and 1979, civil libertarian Nat Hentoff pointed to another genocide that could have been stopped in Rwanda in 1994, and today we are witnessing another in Syria where religious minorities, including Christians are being targeted.

Today it is also important to remember that antisemitism is on the rise world wide and people of the Jewish faith need our solidarity and support in confronting rising hatred and intolerance to ensure that what Nazi Germany did never be repeated. 

At the same time it is important to remember and honor the martyrs and heroes who resisted the Nazis.  They are exemplars in moral courage that are much needed today.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

March of Silence for the Fallen: Remembering the Maduro regime's victims

Silent marches and vigils for Maduro's victims in Venezuela
"No more murders in Venezuela"
The Maduro regime is killing young Venezuelans in order to provoke a violent response for the opposition. It is a trap for the opposition as was seen in Syria. A civic movement abandoning nonviolence and fighting the regime militarily is taking the fight to ground where the dictatorship has the advantage. Rather than falling into the trap, nonviolent opposition is organizing a nonviolent silent march later today to remember those killed and demand justice.

"Silent march in honor of our fallen"

 Mobilizing millions of Venezuelans to nonviolently resist the Maduro dictatorship has a better chance of forcing a democratic transition and the ouster of the regime. The alternative would be civil war and the odds are it would lead to the permanence of the Maduro regime with the aide of Cuban soldiers and intelligence assets.

Paola Ramírez and Carlos Moreno both shot in the head on April 19, 2017 in Venezuela.
Shooting young Venezuelans in the head to terrorize demonstrators and provoke a response has been a Maduro regime tactic since at least February 2014.

Beginning on February 12, 2014 regime agents shot Bassil Alejandro Dacosta, age 24 in the head.  One of the young students who carried Bassil off  after he was shot was Robert Redman, age 28, who reported later that day over twitter: "Today I was hit with a rock in the back, a helmet in my nose. I swallowed tear-gas, Carried the kid who died, and what did you do?" That same day he was also gunned down by Maduro's colectivos, working in concert with his security forces, and murdered. The killings continued.

Some of the young Venezuelans shot in the head by Maduro's agents
 A high profile killing that shocked the world was the murder of a local beauty queen. Génesis Carmona was marching at approximately 4:00 pm on Tuesday February 18, 2014, near Cedeño Avenue and the intersection of Carabobo, when  a group of masked gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on the demonstrators. Génesis was shot in the head in the left occipital region. She was a model who had won the Miss Tourism Carabobo beauty pageant in 2013.There have been dozens more executed by Maduro regime agents in an effort to terrorize and either silence or provoke nonviolent protesters.

March of silence for the fallen on Saturday, April 22nd at 10am
Families of the victims have pursued justice and had some successes, but much remains to be done to end impunity and hold those responsible accountable. This morning beginning at 9:00am silent marches and rosaries will be held in Acarigua and Araure while an hour later marches will begin in other parts of Venezuela. Demonstrators are asked to dress in white.

March of silence in honor of the fallen. Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 10am
Those of us who advocate for nonviolence in Venezuela have an obligation to speak out and denounce the violence visited on non-violent opponents by the Maduro regime and their Cuban handlers. Those engaged in violence need to understand that sooner or later they will have to answer for their crimes in a court of law.

"They did not die. They murdered them."
Please use the hashtags and #SilentMarch along with #Venezuela and share pictures of those killed by Maduro. Tragically, there are many to choose from. They must be not be forgotten.

Vigil for the fallen in Anzoategui, Venezuela last night


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Venezuela takes to the streets in nonviolent protest, Maduro's forces murder two youths

 Bravery and villainy in Venezuela

Venezuelans marched for freedom today in Caracas

Venezuela's downward spiral to totalitarianism continues but millions of Venezuelans are doing all they can to resist it.  Hundreds of thousands took to the streets today in Venezuela in what was described as "the mother of all protests." Some have been killed today for standing up nonviolently for freedom and the rule of law there. A 17-year-old boy and a 23-year-old woman died after both being shot in head this past Wednesday. There names are Carlos Moreno and Paola Andreina Ramírez Gómez. This pattern  can be traced back over three years.

Paola Ramírez and Carlos Moreno both shot in the head today in Venezuela
The Maduro regime has used terror gunning down students many of them shot in the head, beginning on February 12, 2014 with Bassil Alejandro Dacosta, age 24. A day earlier on social media he declared: "Gentlemen, he who is here will go out tomorrow to find a better future." One of the young students who carried Bassil off Robert Redman, age 28, reported later that day over twitter: "Today I was hit with a rock in the back, a helmet in my nose. I swallowed tear-gas, Carried the kid who died, and what did you do?" That same day he was also gunned down by Maduro's colectivos, working in concert with his security forces, and murdered. The killings have continued.

Some of the Venezuelan youths shot in the head during 2014 protests

 Non-violent student protesters continue to be shot in the head in Venezuela. Meanwhile the Maduro regime with their Cuban handlers continues the transformation of Venezuelan democracy into a totalitarian dictatorship. Strategic non-violence is the best hope the opposition has to restore democracy in that South American country. However repeated mass protests since February 12, 2014 may have become the new normal.

17-year old Carlos Moreno shot in the head by Maduro's colectivos
Repeating the same tactic over and over again allows the Maduro regime to develop new techniques of repression to more effectively counter it. This is not a call for violent action, but its opposite. There needs to be a diversity of nonviolent tactics, strung together in an overall strategy to restore democracy. Gene Sharp of the Albert Einstein Institute outlined 198 methods of nonviolent action.

The international community was warned in 2014 that Venezuela would spiral out of control but it was not heeded. The Obama Administration embraced Nicolas Maduro and Raul Castro legitimizing both.  

Paola Ramirez shot in the head by Maduro's colectivos today
On August 20, 2015 Secretary of State John Kerry in an interview with journalist Andres Oppenheimer made it known that "the United States and Cuba are talking about ways to solve the Venezuelan crisis."  In a blog post at the time I made the following comparison: "Secretary John Kerry asking the Castro regime in Cuba to help in Venezuela today is like asking Jack the Ripper to help stop knife violence in London in 1888."

President Obama with Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in the background
Taking a longer view, what is happening in Venezuela today is because the region's democrats failed to back democrats in Cuba in the 1990s preferring photo ops with Fidel Castro. Sadly the United States also jumped on that failing approach during the Obama Presidency accelerating the downward spiral.

Dictator Nicolas Maduro and Secretary of State John Kerry