Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Oswaldo Payá and his legacy of life and liberty

"We say that what you have to do is give the vote to the Cuban people." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, 2011

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas: martyred icon of nonviolence
Today marks four years and seven months since Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante died under circumstances that point to an extrajudicial killing carried out by the Castro regime's intelligence services. It will also mark the presentation of the the first Oswaldo Payá Liberty and Life Prize in Havana in an event organized by the Latin America Youth Network for Democracy and the Cuban citizen initiative Cuba Decide. This award ceremony will recognize both Mr. Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States and, in a posthumous manner, Don Patricio Aylwin with an honorable mention that was to be received in his name, by his daughter, the former member of parliament and former Chilean minister, Mariana Aylwin. However the Castro regime denied her entry to Cuba at the last moment.

Nevertheless the ceremony will take place Wednesday, February 22, at 11:00 am at the Payá residence located at: 221 Peñón Street, between Ayuntamiento St. and Monasterio St in Havana, Cuba. This is taking place amidst a massive state security operation that seeks to silence Rosa María Payá shutting off her cell phone and limiting her internet access. The dictatorship has even generated an international crisis refusing for the first time to allow a former Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, to enter Cuba. Independent journalists and activists on the island have been detained or denied access to transportation in order to impede their covering or attending the award ceremony in Havana. These tactics are not new and have been applied to other activists such as the Ladies in White.

The question that arises observing all these regime machinations is why? Consider for a moment Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas never advocated violence, rejected hatred, organized a petition drive for democratic reforms that fell well within the legality of the Castro regime. Nevertheless, he was the victim of harassment, death threats, and an untimely death.

Why is the Castro regime behaving this way?
The answer is that paradoxically totalitarian regimes are quite resilient at confronting and crushing a violent resistance, but nonviolent resistance and speaking truth to power are existential threats to that kind of dictatorship.

Oswaldo Payá spoke plainly about regime crimes such as the "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre of July 13, 1994 and exposed the fake change being engineered by the Castro regime in 2011 and 2012 speaking truth to power. This is what the Castro dictatorship fears: a decent and plain spoken opposition leader that can inspire and mobilize Cubans with a message of justice and reconciliation:
"Let the silenced bells toll. But let them toll for all the victims of terror that in reality is only one sole victim: the Cuban people that without distinctions, suffers the loss of each one of their children." 
For decades the regime has sought to divide Cubans inside and outside of the island. It is a very old tactic that goes back millennia: divide and rule. Oswaldo Payá  shattered the artificial division recognizing that "Cubans in the Diaspora and those of us who live in Cuba, are one people, victims of the same oppressive regime and we have the same hope and the same claim to liberty."

Even in death they fear the power of his example and regime agents are scrambling now to do everything possible to minimize his legacy and erase Oswaldo Payá from Cuba's national memory, but the dictatorship is failing. The panic over this award ceremony is evidence of the regime's fragility, weakness and failure when confronted by the legacy of this nonviolent icon. Fidel Castro is dead and the regime must repress and terrorize in order to maintain the semblance of order and respect for the old tyrant. The current head of the Christian Liberation Movement, Eduardo Cardet, faces a three year prison term for speaking truth when he summed up the legacy of Fidel Castro as follows: “Castro was a very controversial man, very much hated and rejected by our people.”

What might happen today?  

My friend Mica Hierro of the Latin America Youth Network for Democracy offered a summary of three possible scenarios two days ago that on two counts seem remarkably optimistic and the one prescient with an exception:
This trip can have 3 results: 1) Cuba acts with authoritarian practices as always and tries to prevent the trip of Latin American politicians on the one hand and on the other, stops and threatens Cuban activists to prevent them from attending the awards ceremony. The event can not be done or at least not with all the guests as planned because the Government of Cuba violated the fundamental right of assembly. 2) The Cuban Government does not repress, does not threaten the guests neither foreigners nor Cubans and the meeting is carried out successfully. 3) The Cuban government is pleased with the visit of Almagro and takes advantage initiating the dialogue required for its reintegration to the OAS.
All evidence points to the first result outlined, but the practices are not authoritarian but totalitarian. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a correspondent for The Atlantic presented a classical definition of totalitarianism in his March 26, 2014 essay titled The Meaning of Totalitarianism:  
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.
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 and the abyss between authoritarianism and totalitarianism:    

“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."
However when Oswaldo Payá stood up before the European Parliament in Strasbourg in December of 2002 and proclaimed: 
The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: ‘You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together’.
The opposition leader in this speech and by the example of his life rejected the product of terror which is fear and embraced the pursuit of truth that transcends shallow ideology. This is why the dictatorship still fears Oswaldo Payá  and these ideas because they threaten the very pillars of totalitarianism in Cuba.

Totalitarianism is rooted in death and subjugation and Oswaldo Payá advocated and embodied the opposite for a lifetime celebrating while at the same time defending life and liberty. Friends of freedom the world over should honor this man and share his writings because they remain relevant today.
"The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Christian Democrats denounce Castro regime blocking political leaders travel to Cuba

Castro regime shows its dictatorial nature


 In response to the decision of the Cuban authorities to impede an act of recognition of international figures for their struggle in favor of democracy and human rights, the Christian Democratic Organization of America (ODCA) declares:
  1. Our solidarity with the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy and its president Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late Christian Democrat leader Oswaldo Payá, before the decision of the Cuban authorities to prevent the ceremony of awarding the Oswaldo Payá Prize in Havana.
  2. We support the initiative of young Latin Americans whose main objective is to recognize the former President of Chile Patricio Aylwin and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro for their commitment to democracy and human rights.
  3. We protest the decision of the Cuban authorities to ban the entry of former Mexican President and former ODCA Vice-President Felipe Calderón, who was traveling as a special guest, and former Chilean Minister of Education Mariana Aylwin, who was traveling to receive the posthumous award for the former Chilean president.
  4. Our solidarity with former minister Mariana Aylwin and former president Felipe Calderón and we value the formal protest of the governments of Chile and Mexico, since the measure of the Cuban government is unacceptable for the terms of respect and reciprocity that must exist between States that maintain diplomatic relations and consular posts.
  5.  ODCA reiterates its historic position in favor of the respect for the human rights and public liberties of the Cuban opposition seeking to peacefully promote a process of democratization in Cuba, a struggle historically promoted by Christian Democratic leaders such as Oswaldo Payá, who died in 2012 under unexplained circumstances.
  6. ODCA subscribes to the words of the former president of Mexico and former vice-president of ODCA, Felipe Calderón, who, being prevented from traveling, declared: "I yearn and I pledge to fight so that one day all Latin Americans can live in Freedom, Justice and Democracy".

ODCA President
Executive Secretary
Vice President of Political Issues 
Santiago Chile, February 21, 2017 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Castro regime refuses entry to former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Chilean Minister Mariana Aylwin to attend Oswaldo Payá Prize ceremony

OAS Secretary General and Chile's President Patricio Aylwin to be presented Oswaldo Payá Liberty and Life Prize in Havana

Rosa María Payá with President Patricio Aylwin and Secretary General Luis Almagro

Former president of Mexico Felipe Calderón banned from entering Cuba by the Castro dictatorship's immigration authorities announced the news in a series of tweets on February 21, 2017. First that "I am also invited to the anniversary of the death of Oswaldo Payá. I ask the Cuban government to rectify this absurdity and allow us to remember it. In a later tweet embedded below cited AeroMexico: "We are informed by Immigration of Cuba that FCH passenger is not authorized to enter Cuba and requests that he not be documented in flight AM451."

This is the first time that a former Mexican President has been denied entry to Cuba reports journalist Joaquín López-Dóriga.  Other high ranking officials from Latin America have also beeen barred from entering Cuba. Last night, February 20, 2017 at 9:15pm, Mariana Aylwin, daughter of the former Chilean president Patricio Aylwin tweeted "I can not embark to Cuba because of a ban issued by immigration from Cuba." A short while later Rosa María Payá posted the document prohibiting Mariana from traveling to Cuba by order of the Castro dictatorship's immigration department.

"Please don't invoice or send passenger who is inadmissible in Cuba. Information issued by Cuban immigration"
 Rosa María Payá Acevedo returned to Cuba on February 15, 2017 to receive Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States at her home a week later on February 22, 2017 at 11:00am in Havana, Cuba.  The purpose of the encounter is the presentation of the annual Oswaldo Payá Liberty and Life Prize to Luis Almagro also present at the ceremony will be Mariana Aylwin, daughter of the former Chilean president Patricio Aylwin who will receive the posthumous award on behalf of her late father. Patricio Aylwin was the president who oversaw the democratic transition in Chile following General Pinochet's military rule and passed away on April 19, 2016.
Unfortunately the repressive nature of the regime was already on display with Julio Álvarez and Félix Fara two promoters of the Cuba Decide initiative, a campaign for a plebiscite led by Rosa María Payá Acevedo, were taken and have been under arrest since February 18, 2017 at 11:00am.

In addition communication has become much more difficult with the telephones out of service and all matter of obstacles to prevent that the information surrounding this event be made known inside Cuba. Despite this there is optimism that the word has gotten out and that civil society will be well represented on Wednesday.

Rosa María Payá Acevedo laying a flower at her dad's tomb

What can you do?
First sign a petition supporting this event and secondly let others know what is happening and encourage them to follow Rosa Maria over twitter, demand the release of Julio and Félix, the restoration of communications, and keep an eye out between now and February 22nd and follow the awards ceremony in real time. This event is being hosted by Cuba Decide and the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy.

The Castro dictatorship shows no indication of opening up and the denial of entry to President Patricio Aylwin's daughter is an outrage. Will it be repeated with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro? We must be vigilant and hold the regime accountable for what it does next.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy: Venezuela, Cuba Under U.N. Spotlight as Political Prisoners Gather


Venezuela, Cuba Under U.N. Spotlight as Political Prisoners Gather

Just released from Cuban prison 3 weeks ago, artist and dissident Danilo Maldonado (aka El Sexto) will be in Geneva to testify at the U.N.
Activists to address human rights in Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Turkey, Tibet, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Mauritania, Maldives

GENEVA, Feb. 14, 2017 –  A coalition of 25 non-governmental human rights groups announced today that Cuban dissident and graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado (aka El Sexto) who was just released from prison, and the daughter of the jailed Mayor of Caracas will be in the United Nations to turn an international spotlight on rights abuses by Cuba and Venezuela, at the opening of the 9th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights & Democracy, which takes place on February 20-21, 2017.

El Sexto, known for his provocative performance art criticizing the Castro regime, was just released from prison after spray painting “He’s Gone” in Havana on the day of Fidel Castro’s death. El Sexto was also imprisoned two years ago for painting the names “Raul” and “Fidel” on two pigs. He recently called out Cuba for sitting on the U.N. Human Rights Council while it oppresses its own people.

Testifying on the dire situation in Venezuela—another country on the U.N. Human Rights Council—will be Antonietta Ledezma, daughter of the imprisoned Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma.

On the second anniversary of her father’s arrest, Antonietta will call for his release, and for freedom for all Venezuela’s political prisoners. As a UNHRC member, Venezuela is obliged to respect the highest standards of human rights.

Antonietta Ledezma (left), pictured with sister Oriette, will be speaking at the U.N. to mark
two years since her father, Mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma, was arrested.
El Sexto and Ledezma will join some of the world’s most courageous champions of human rights: dissidents, activists, victims and relatives of political prisoners from Iran, Russia, Turkey, Tibet and Vietnam, who will be testifying on the human rights situation in their countries. A high-profile North Korean defector, and a young Yazidi woman who wrote a book about being raped by ISIS terrorists, will also speak.

Mohamed Nasheed, the veteran human rights activist who was elected president of the Maldives only to be arrested and jailed as a political prisoner, will be one of the keynote speakers. Amal Clooney, his lawyer, has received death threats for defending Nasheed. See selected presenters below.

The acclaimed annual conference is timed to take place in Geneva days before foreign ministers gather to open the 2017 U.N. Human Rights Council session.

“It’s a focal point for dissidents worldwide,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, which for the ninth year in a row will be organizing the annual event together with a cross-regional coalition of 25 other human rights groups.

The global gathering is acclaimed as a one-stop opportunity to hear from and meet front-line human rights advocates, many of whom have personally suffered imprisonment and torture.

“The speakers’ compelling and vivid testimonies will aim to stir the conscience of the U.N. to address critical human rights situations around the world,” said Neuer.

Subjects on the program this year include discrimination against women, jailing of journalists, prison camps, Internet freedom, religious intolerance, and the persecution of human rights defenders.
Videos of past speaker testimonies are available at

Admission to this year’s February 21, 2017 summit is free and open to the public, but registration is mandatory. For accreditation, program and schedule information, visit The conference will also be available via live webcast.

For media inquiries or to request interviews, please email

9th Annual Geneva Summit Agenda

February 2017
9:15  Welcome
  • Hillel Neuer    (@HillelNeuer)
    Executive Director of UN Watch
9:25  Opening Address
  • Irwin Cotler    (@IrwinCotler)
    Chair, Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights
9:45  The Return of Authoritarianism 
Moderator: Jakub Klepal    
Executive Director, Forum 2000
  • Can Dündar    (@candundaradasi)
    Exiled former editor of Turkey’s Cumhuriyet
  • Zhanna Nemtsova    (@ZhannaNemstova)
    Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom
  • Anastasia Zotova
    Human rights activist, wife of jailed Russian dissident Ildar Dadin
10:45  Presentation of Geneva Summit 2017 Women’s Rights Award
Presenter: Tamara Dancheva
Liberal International
  • Shirin
    Freed Yazidi sex slave of the Islamic State, author of “I Remain a Daughter of the Light”
11:15  Fighting Oppression, Defending Human Rights
Moderator: Jared Genser    (@JaredGenser)
Perseus Strategies
  • Antonietta Ledezma    (@anleca15)
    Human rights activist, daughter of imprisoned Mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma
  • Chito Gascon
    Chair, Philippines Human Rights Commission
  • Taghi Rahmani
    Journalist, former Iranian political prisoner, husband of jailed human rights activist Narges Mohammadi
12:15  Do Human Rights Matter?
  • Ambassador Alfred H. Moses
    Chair of UN Watch
———————— 12:30   Networking Lunch ————————
13:00  Side Event – Youth, the Media and Human Rights Activism: Uses and challenges
With: Zhanna Nemtsova
Journalist, founder of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom
14:00  Art for Human Rights
  • El Sexto
    Cuban graffiti artist, dissident, jailed for criticizing Castro, just released from prison four weeks ago
14:20  The Fight for Freedom and Democracy
Moderator: Maria Alejandra Aristeguieta
Coordinator, Iniciativa por Venezuela
  • Nyima Lhamo
    Escaped Tibetan activist, niece of Buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche who died in Chinese prison
  • Biram Dah Abeid
    Leader of anti-slavery fight in Mauritania
15:00  Presentation of Geneva Summit 2017 Courage Award
Presenter: Astrid Thors    (@AstridThors)
Former OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Finnish Minister, MP & MEP
  • Mohamed Nasheed    (@MohamadNasheed)
    Former President of the Maldives, country’s leading human rights activist, former political prisoner
15:30  Voices for the Voiceless
Moderator: Médard Mulangala    (@medardmulanala)
Opposition leader in DRC
  • James Jones    (@jamesjonestv)
    Producer of film “Saudi Arabia Uncovered”
  • North Korean Defector
    (Identity concealed for security purposes)
  • Dang Xuan Dieu
    Vietnamese human rights activist, political prisoner for 6 years, just released last month
———————— 16:30   End of Summit  ————————

Venezuela: Remembering Génesis Carmona three years after Maduro's gangs killed her

Remembering a young woman who died for her country.

Génesis Carmona: 20 September 1991 – 19 February 2014
 She was just 22 years old and nonviolently expressing her desire for a better Venezuela when she was shot in the head on February 18, 2014 and died a day later on February 19, 2014. Her name was Génesis Carmona. Three years have passed and those responsible for her murder have yet to be punished.

The headline in the February 20, 2014 edition of People Magazine read " Venezuelan Beauty Pageant Winner Killed in Anti-Government Protest." She was a model who had won the Miss Tourism Carabobo beauty pageant in 2013. On her Twitter account Génesis described herself as “friendly, but not stupid!” and “passionate about life.” She was studying marketing at Center Technological University (UNITEC) and was in her last year of study. 

Genesis Carmona is evacuated on a motorcycle after being shot.

What happened
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 with her sister Alejandra Carmona at the moment it happened. Alejandra in a radio interview said "I was with her, when the motorized units (of the Government), we fled running. We were stopped on a street corner, looking up and then suddenly she fell."   

According to VOXXI the "22-year-old was rushed in a motorcycle to the Medical Center Guerra Mendez in Valencia, where she was operated and kept in intensive care. Less than 24 hours later on 12:14 p.m., the doctors announced that she had died from her injury. 

Ms. Carmona was one of many young Venezuelan victims killed while peacefully protesting against the Maduro regime.  43 young Venezuelans were killed during the 2014 protests.