Thursday, December 1, 2016

Regime to Cubans: Mourn Castro or suffer dangerous consequences of dissent or indifference

“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


Eduardo Cardet of MCL badly beaten, jailed and threatened with 15 years in prison 
Danilo Maldonado, a Cuban artist, was beaten up, abducted and continues to be detained for shouting "Down with Fidel!, Down with Raul!" live from the Habana Libre Hotel in the Vedado Saturday, November 26, 2016 at 5 a.m. Six hours later at 11:15am Cuban intelligence officials forced their way into his apartment, physically assaulted him and dragged him away. His story has received coverage in the media but there have been others, but not covered by the English speaking news.

The plight of Eduardo Cardet Concepción, national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) in Cuba is especially worrying. In an interview published in ACI Press on November 30, 2016 Eduardo declared that the true legacy of Fidel Castro for Cuba is sadness and "misery of all kinds" and he went on to say that those communists praising Fidel Castro abroad "have wanted to have a regime of this kind" for their own country. Cardet went on to observe that although Fidel Castro had died that "repression has intensified" and that the mass exodus of Cubans "is a direct indicator that this is the true legacy of Fidel Castro, a painful legacy, a legacy of sadness, a legacy of misery of all kinds. There's really nothing positive. " The Christian Liberation Movement leader was also interviewed on Spanish radio where he outlined the measures taken by the Castro regime to pressure and manipulate Cubans into creating an image of Cubans mourning the dead dictator, but that in reality Fidel Castro "was rejected and hated by the Cuban people." Viewing the scenes in Miami of thousands of Cubans and Cuban Americans living in freedom taking to the streets to celebrate Castro's death would back up Eduardo Cardet's assertion.
In the early morning hours of today various police officials detain and badly beat up Eduardo Cardet and he is currently in a dungeon in Holguín, Cuba. Regime officials are threatening him with 15 years in prison for "meeting with people he shouldn't have during his visit to the United States last week." At 4:16pm the Christian Liberation Movement tweeted the above message in Spanish, "Urgent: Eduardo Cardet of #MCL will be taken to court for contempt, public scandal, resistance to authority and injuries."

These courageous activists are not the only ones being targeted but the Cuban populace has a whole is being pressured and implicitly threatened to mourn Fidel Castro or face the consequences. Cubans who have been caught playing music for example have had their sound systems taken away. Some Cubans at their work have been told to go out and participate in official mourning activities.

This is totalitarianism. An authoritarian regime will be satisfied with your non-participation in political activities and silence but a totalitarian regime requires that you take part and mouth the right words and sign the right documents

Some experts do not like to use the word "totalitarianism" because they feel it does not address the complexity of these type of regimes, but I disagree for one simple reason it provides an effective and brief description of how this type of regime operates.

The dictatorship in Cuba is a communist totalitarian regime and because of this it strives to control everything. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a correspondent for The Atlantic presented a classical definition of totalitarianism in his March 26, 2014 essay "The Meaning of Totalitarianism":  
Although it has been most often used to describe Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, the word “totalitarian”- totalitarismo - was first used in the context of Italian fascism. Invented by one of his critics, the term was adopted with enthusiasm by Benito Mussolini, and in one of his speeches he offered what is still the best definition of the term: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Strictly defined, a totalitarian regime is one that bans all institutions apart from those it has officially approved. A totalitarian regime thus has one political party, one educational system, one artistic creed, one centrally planned economy, one unified media, and one moral code. In a totalitarian state there are no independent schools, no private businesses, no grassroots organizations, and no critical thought. Mussolini and his favorite philosopher, Giovanni Gentile, once wrote of a “conception of the State” that is “all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value.
This is what is meant when one defines the dictatorship in Cuba as totalitarian. Under the Castro regime only one political party is legally recognized in the Cuban constitution, the Communist party. Private schools were closed in Cuba in the 1960s and all is controlled by the dictatorship and students who dissent, such as gather signatures for a legal citizen initiative like the Varela Project are expelled. There are no legally recognized independent non-governmental organizations in Cuba that are truly independent. The economy remains under control of the Castro regime with the military directly controlling 80% of the economy. Any foreign investors must enter into partnerships with the dictatorship. Workers salaries are paid by foreign investors to a regime agency that in turn pays Cuban workers in the local and devalued currency. Employers who have tried to pay workers directly under the table have been arrested and jailed. Critical thought can fall under the categories of oral or  written enemy propaganda and is punishable by prison. Also associating with persons with these ideas opens one up to a charge of "predilection to social dangerousness" and can also be imprisoned.

Hannah Arendt, the political scientist who wrote the opus The Origins of Totalitarianism offered further insights into how totalitarian functions at a lecture in Oberlin College on October 28, 1954:    

“If we look at it as a form of government, it rests on two pillars: on ideology and on terror. It is no tyranny because tyranny is lawlessness and because it is content with the political sphere in the more narrow sense of the word.” ...“Authoritarianism in many respects the opposite of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism possible only after all authorities broke down.” 
With the death of Fidel Castro, the great helmsman of the communist revolution in Cuba, although a non-entity in day to day operations of the dictatorship over the past decade still the symbol he represents now departed spooks the regime leadership. They are trying to strengthen their main two pillars: ideology and terror. Cubans are given a choice swear ideological loyalty to the regime or be targeted for terror that may include other members of your family.

There is a reason that totalitarian regimes have lasted so long.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Rights violations under Fidel Castro: What Amnesty Int'l and Human Rights Watch left out

“We must say here what is a known truth, which we have always expressed before the world: firing squad executions, yes, we have executed; we are executing and we will continue to execute as long as is necessary. Our struggle is a struggle to the death." - Ernesto "Che" Guevara, UN General Assembly, 1964



Reading two press releases released by prestigious international human rights organizations on November 26, 2016 analyzing Fidel Castro's record on human rights in Cuba some glaring omissions are found in both that ignore some of the most grievous human rights violations committed by the Castro regime over the past 57 years.

37 victims of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre on 7/13/94

Some of what was omitted
Amnesty International released a press release titled "Fidel Castro: A progressive but deeply flawed leader" and Human Rights Watch released one that read "Cuba: Fidel Castro’s Record of Repression Misguided US Embargo Provided Pretext for Abuse". Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International address the lack of freedom of expression, harassment, intimidation and possible prison for speaking out against the Castro government but also go out of their way to praise the dictatorship with claims that are at best questionable.

However there is no mention in either report of the political show trials that fell short of international standards that sent thousands of Cubans before firing squads or that this method of execution would continue until at least 2003. Amnesty mentions that Fidel Castro's provisional government carried out "hundreds of summary executions" in 1959 but doesn't mention that thousands more followed. There is no mention of how prisoners in the 1960s had their blood extracted prior to being placed before the firing squad.  Nor is their mention that family members of the condemned had to donate blood to see their loved ones. This practice was documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in its 1967 Country Report on Cuba.



There is no mention of the extrajudicial execution of opposition leaders with Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante on July 22, 2012 being two high profile examples. There is no mention of the methods of torture used by the regime against prisoners of conscience including the denial of medical care. Nor the games played by the Castro regime to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in order to get positive media coverage but then not follow through. This is a curious oversight because in the past Amnesty International has reported on these practices. There is no mention of the massacre of refugees by agents of the Castro regime for the sole crime of trying to flee Cuba although Amnesty International had reported on it in the past.

When nuance crosses the line
Amnesty International made no mention of the "abysmal prisons" as Human Rights Watch did but their Americas Director, Erika Guevara-Rosa praised the departed leader while recognizing some of his flaws as follows:
"There are few more polarising political figures than Fidel Castro, a progressive but deeply flawed leader. Access to public services such as health and education for Cubans were substantially improved by the Cuban revolution and for this, his leadership must be applauded. However, despite these achievements in areas of social policy, Fidel Castro’s 49-year reign was characterised by a ruthless suppression of freedom of expression. The state of freedom of expression in Cuba, where activists continue to face arrest and harassment for speaking out against the government, is Fidel Castro’s darkest legacy. Fidel Castro’s legacy is a tale of two worlds. The question now is what human rights will look like in a future Cuba. The lives of many depend on it.”
Guevara-Rosa also mentioned "an unprecedented drive to improve literacy rates across the country" and described this as an improvement in human rights in Cuba. This ignores that Cuba had the fourth lowest illiteracy rate in Latin America in 1953 with an illiteracy rate that was 23.6%. Costa Rica's at the time was 20.6%, Chile's was 19.6%. and Argentina's was the lowest at 13.6%.  She praises the improvement in literacy as if it were something exceptional but much of the rest of Latin America would show similar or greater gains without sacrificing civil liberties as can be seen in the table below. 

The decline of Cuba's education system on Fidel Castro's watch
There are also great concerns about the Cuban educational system. First the issue of a system of education being transformed by the Castro dictatorship into a system of indoctrination and secondly following the collapse of Soviet subsidies the material decline of the entire system along with shortages of teachers.
The Slovak-based People in Peril conducted a study between 2005 and 2006 that generated a 77 page analysis, What is the future of education in Cuba?, gathers criticism,  suggestions and proposals for a future educational reform. According to Eliska Slavikova in an interview with El Nuevo Herald on October 23, 2007 observed ''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.
More recent analyses of the Cuban educational system in 2014 and 2015 arrive at the same conclusions on lack of quality, resources and continued politicization of the curriculum. 
Hospital bed in Cuba under the Castro regime

 The Castro regime's healthcare claims and the dismal reality today
Totalitarian regimes often times make outlandish claims of great successes in particular areas in order to justify or rationalize repression and political terror elsewhere. It is true of North Korea and it is also true of Cuba. The only difference being that Cuba has a much more effective propaganda apparatus than their counterparts in Pyongyang and they have invested heavily in their education and healthcare claims.
Katherine Hirschfeld, an anthropologist, who wrote the book:  Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898 described in it how her idealistic preconceptions about the Cuban healthcare system were dashed by 'discrepancies between rhetoric and reality,' she observed a repressive, bureaucratized and secretive system, long on 'militarization' and short on patients' rightsThere is a health care system in Cuba which is decent for regime elites in good favor and tourists with hard currency and another one for everyday Cubans that is a disaster. With regards to the public health system the priority is the good image of the dictatorship not the well being of Cubans or visitors. 


However Amnesty International should already have an institutional memory with regards to Cuba. In 1997 when a Dengue epidemic broke out in Cuba the dictatorship tried to cover it up. When a courageous doctor spoke out he was locked up on June 25, 1997 and later sentenced to 8 years in prisonAmnesty International recognized Dr. Desi Mendoza Rivero as a prisoner of conscience. He was released from prison under condition he go into exile in December of 1998. The regime eventually had to recognize that there had been a dengue epidemic. The same pattern repeated itself in 2012 with a cholera outbreak, but this time it was an independent journalist jailed for breaking the story on mishandling of medical aide by Cuban officials. Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias was recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience and the organization described how: 
"He had been investigating allegations that medicine provided by the World Health Organization to fight the cholera outbreak (which began in mid-2012) was being kept at the airport instead of being distributed. Since then, he has been detained in various detention centres. He has been held at Combinado del Este prison since November 2012." 
If you have to lock up journalists and doctors to cover up problems in your healthcare system then its probably not a great healthcare system and outsiders should be a little more skeptical with official claims. 
Human Rights Watch also cites as evidence that the Castro regime has achieved much in social, economic and cultural rights that UNESCO had concluded that there was "near-universal literacy"in Cuba, but one should also recall that this UN body is terribly politicized. For example on June 18, 2013 UNESCO added “The Life and Works of Che Guevara” to the World RegistrarUNESCO is providing funds to preserve Che Guevara’s papers. Guevara in addition to promoting communist ideology, is best known as an advocate for guerrilla warfare who viewed terrorism as a legitimate method of struggle against an enemy. 
The Embargo: Otherwise known as "the elephant in the room"
The firing squads in 1959 had nothing to do with the Embargo because it did not yet exist nor with U.S. subversion because the Eisenhower Administration quickly recognized Castro's provisional government and hoped for normal relations. The repression was a classic tool to impose revolutionary terror and prepare the population for a communist dictatorship while wiping out all resistance and dissent in order to install a totalitarian regime and then export it to other countries.
Following the failures to overthrow the Castro dictatorship that Human Rights Watch quickly outlined and the dangerous nuclear confrontation in October of 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis the decision was made to push for a policy of isolation and making it more expensive for the Castro regime to export its revolutionary project to other countries, and it did work. 
However the Carter Administration's dismantling of sanctions and opening of Interests Sections in Havana and Washington DC ended the political isolation and the Castro regime was able to project itself more successfully in Latin America. The end result was the Sandinista regime taking power in 1979. Ronald Reagan enters the White House in 1981 rolling back the Carter policy changes and isolation was able to reassert itself. 
The Clinton Administration in the 1990s sought a rapprochement with the Castro regime believing that with the collapse of the Soviet Union the regime's days were numbered and by 1999 Castro ally Hugo Chavez was taking power in Venezuela and the Cuban dictatorship had a new lease on life. In 2000 despite a horrid number of human rights atrocities committed by the Castro regime Bill Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro and a short while later opened cash and carry trade between US companies and the Castro regime. Now Obama has taken things further and the human rights situation, predictably has deteriorated and the dictatorship gotten more aggressive. Once again the tide is going out for democracy in Latin America
Furthermore, as Venezuela has demonstrated, getting rid of economic sanctions in Cuba will only mean a change in language to defend maintaining the totalitarian nature of the regime intact by whatever means necessary.


International Young Conservatives issue statement on Castro's departure

The International Young Democrat Union (IYDU) the official youth organization of the International Democrat Union, is the global alliance of center-right and conservative youth political parties.Simon Breheny of Australia is the IYDU Chairman who wrote and published the statement below.

"This is Fidel Castro’s legacy. The man was a violent tyrant. He was a murderer, a robber, a racist, a homophobe, and a torturer. The trail of human destruction he leaves behind is worthy of nothing but obloquy."

IYDU statement on the death of Fidel Castro

Sirley Ávila León and John Suarez at IYDU council meeting in Miami
One of the most powerful stories I’ve heard this year was that of Sirley Ávila León. She’s pictured here with John Suarez of the Free Cuba Foundation, addressing International Young Democrat Union delegates at our recent council meeting in Miami.

Sirley was the victim of a brutal machete attack organized by Cuban state security on 24 May 2015. The man responsible beat and mutilated this woman, and left her for dead in her home in Havana.
This is Fidel Castro’s legacy. The man was a violent tyrant. He was a murderer, a robber, a racist, a homophobe, and a torturer. The trail of human destruction he leaves behind is worthy of nothing but obloquy.

The death of Fidel Castro is not a time to mourn. It’s an opportunity to write a new chapter for a Cuba. One that is free from oppression, and which embraces democracy, human rights and human dignity.

¡Viva Cuba libre!

Simon Breheny
IYDU Chairman




Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro is dead but the evil he did lives on

Castro's legacy and Cuba's killing fields

Executed in Santiago de Cuba by the Castro regime in 1959
Fidel Castro, the Cuban tyrant, who presided over the extrajudicial execution of thousands of his countrymen, the destruction of Cuba, twice called for a nuclear first strike on the United States, sponsored terrorism across the world, collaborated with genocidal dictators who murdered millions in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East is dead at age 90. An official statement from the Cuban Embassy in the United States said he died on November 26, 2016 at 10:29pm.

Fidel Castro with ally and war criminal Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia 1977
It is difficult to understand some of the voices coming forth to say positive things celebrating the life of Fidel Castro with all the usual cliches about education and healthcare in Cuba to justify the dictator. They ring hollow when faced with the facts on the ground in Cuba and in the rest of Latin America. Healthcare, despite the propaganda is a disaster in Cuba with a two tiered system that benefits the elite and foreigners with hard currency and a disaster for the average Cuban. Most of Latin America's leaders raised literary rates with similar or greater success than Cuba without having a communist dictatorship imposed in their respective countries along with censorship and propaganda being passed off as education. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich offered sound advice that he tweeted earlier today:
The ongoing destruction of Venezuela is a legacy of the Castro regime and the continuing systematic brutalization of women and the murder of Cuban dissidents is cause for condemnation of the late Cuban dictator.

Some of the Cuban dissidents killed during the Obama years
Not to mention Fidel Castro turning Cuba's diplomatic corps into a weapon of subversion and violence, recruiting Nazis to train his repressive apparatus in the mid 1960s and being caught up with cocaine traffickers in the 1980s in an effort to target the soft underbelly of the United States. The extreme violence against those who peacefully dissent has been well documented as recently as a 2015 machete attack against Sirley Avila Leon, a dissident who had been purged from her government post trying to keep a school open and later joined the opposition.


In the streets of Miami the victims of the Castro regime are celebrating the tyrant's death and are happy and hopeful that the end of the dictatorship is near. For over 57 years Fidel Castro has been a symbol of the communist tyranny in Cuba. The crowds celebrating his death have believed for a long time that the dictatorship in Cuba will somehow disappear when Castro is gone.

Tragically that may not be the case because the international community led by President Barack Obama has sought to bury the past, ignoring and downplaying past crimes, while trying to legitimize the Castro regime. This approach is evident in the statement issued by the Obama White House earlier today in which not one negative thing was written about Fidel Castro. The words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu came to mind while reading the White House statement: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

Sadly the brutal totalitarian dictatorship that Fidel Castro founded in Cuba in 1959 lives on with his brother Raul Castro in charge and another generation of Castros preparing to take over in a generational succession. However after 57 years of the same people in power there maybe enough pent up frustration in the population that has given the dictatorship cause for concern. This could explain all the lights on in the early morning hours at the Ministry of the Armed Forces in Havana.

"The lights in the Armed Forces Ministry reveal rare activity in the AM" - Yoani Sanchez
Predictably over the next few weeks inside Cuba the world will see spectacles organized by the totalitarian dictatorship to "mourn the great leader." The regime has already started with nine days set aside for official mourning. This will not be the first time that monsters are mourned by an oppressed people through different methods of command, control and manipulation. The world has witnessed it before in the Soviet Union in 1953 and more recently in North Korea with the Kim dynasty. The death of Stalin as dramatized in the film "The Inner Circle" is recommended viewing for those about to follow the circus in Cuba in the wake of Fidel Castro's death.

 Meanwhile in Cuba as the regime prepares its state funeral the Castro dictatorship's secret police begin to make threats, round up and take dissidents to undisclosed location and commit acts of violence. Let us not forget that is many celebrate the departure of Fidel Castro it is his brother Raul who personally carried out the firing squads in Cuba in 1959. Furthermore it has been on Raul Castro's watch since 2006 that violence and extrajudicial executions have escalated, especially during the Obama Presidency, against nonviolent opponents such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Harold Cepero, Laura Pollán, and many others.

Hopefully the international media will now take notice, but whether they do or not this blog will be following developments closely.

Cuban Americans celebrating the death of Fidel Castro in Miami 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Syria and Iraq: Civil War and Genocide

A silent genocide in the Middle East
British Parliament and other buildings went red to protest religious repression  
There has been a civil war underway in Syria that emerged out of the 2011 Arab Spring and continues to the present day and is a humanitarian catastrophe. However at the same time religious minorities have been systematically targeted in Syria and also in Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S. intervention, 

On March 17, 2016 the U.S. State Department finally recognized that religious minorities are being targeted for genocide in Iraq and Syria. Three religious minority groups: Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and Christians have suffered and continue to face systematic ethnic cleansing. The Media Research Center has criticized news media for under reporting this story.

The United Nations issued a report on June 16, 2016 stating that "Islamic State fighters are committing genocide against Yazidis in Syria and Iraq by seeking to destroy the group through murder, sexual slavery, gang rape, torture and humiliation" with the ominous objective to erase their identity.” 


Christians are also facing genocide in the Middle East and despite the under reporting there is some coverage and CNN on November 21, 2016 reported the following:

ISIS marked Christian houses with the Arabic equivalent of the letter "N" for the derogatory term Nazarene. The militants blared ultimatums from the loudspeakers of Mosul mosques: Leave by July 19 to avoid death or forced conversion to Islam. The terror-driven exodus emptied the city of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities. A decade ago, 35,000 Christians lived in Mosul. Now maybe 20 or 30 remain.
There is a serious discussion underway that contemplates the possibility of the end of a Christian presence in the Middle East after more than 2,000 years beginning with the ministry of Jesus Christ.

In the midst of all this there is great concern that something unusual is taking place with the pattern of refugees entering the United States not reflecting the population of Syria or those most currently impacted. Judge Daniel Manion of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in mid-October of his "concern about the apparent lack of Syrian Christians as a part of immigrants from that country" and detailed it in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit appeal:
"It is well‐documented that refugees to the United States are not representative of that war‐torn area of the world. Perhaps 10 percent of the population of Syria is Christian, and yet less than one‐half of one percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States this year are Christian. Recognizing the crisis in Syria, the President in 2015 set a goal of resettling 10,000 refugees in the United States. And in August the government reached this laudable goal. And yet, of the nearly 11,000 refugees admitted by mid‐September, only 56 were Christian. To date, there has not been a good explanation for this perplexing discrepancy."  
Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations provided some context to the above question in an OpEd in Newsweek:
The BBC says that 10 percent of all Syrians are Christian, which would mean 2.2 million Christians. It is quite obvious, and President Barack Obama and Secretary John Kerry have acknowledged it, that Middle Eastern Christians are an especially persecuted group.So how is it that one-half of 1 percent of the Syrian refugees we’ve admitted are Christian, or 56, instead of about 1,000 out of 10,801—or far more, given that they certainly meet the legal definition?
Abrams concludes that in a de facto manner the United States is barring Christians, not Muslims from the United States and goes on to explain how to solve this problem with some common sense reforms that the current Administration has failed to implement.

However it is not only Christians but also Yazidis, mentioned above, with only 24 granted refuge in the United States in 2016 out of an estimated population of up to 700,000.

Refugees fleeing a war zone should be granted refuge, but refugees targeted by a regime for genocidal extermination should be given priority. The fact that the United States has done the opposite is a shameful failure of historic consequence.