Saturday, October 22, 2016

All eyes on Venezuela: Mass civil disobedience underway

Venezuelan women take to the streets demanding change

We did it Venezuela, told the dictatorship recall will be this year. - Ana Karina Garcia
Venezuela is in the news again with The Washington Post declaring Maduro's regime a dictatorship because it is ignoring its own constitutional laws in blocking a referendum on his continued rule.

Today, Venezuelan women are protesting by the thousands met in Miranda Park and took to the highway demanding the law be respected and the referendum on Maduro's rule to be held this year.

However it is important to remember that Venezuela has been a dictatorship for far longer than this past week. Students have been shot, killed and tortured for their nonviolent opposition to the regime. Cuban state security is assisting the Maduro regime to repress Venezuela's democrats along with Cuban soldiers. Workers are being stripped of their rights in Venezuela. Opposition leaders have been subjected to show trials and sentenced to long prison terms. The 2012 presidential election in Venezuela fell far short of international standards and was stolen from the opposition.

Secretary of State John Kerry in  August of 2015 ignoring the above reality and believing that the relationship between the U.S. government and the Castro regime had been fundamentally changed said "the United States and Cuba are talking about ways to solve the Venezuelan crisis." 

Meanwhile members of the Maduro regime hide billions in overseas bank accounts, traffic in narcotics, while Venezuelans go hungry in Venezuela and do not have access to the most minimal healthcare.

The international environment and the Obama Administration's outreach to the Castro regime leaves the Venezuelan democratic opposition in a more isolated and vulnerable position. This was easily predicted when the new Cuba policy was announced and is now a reality with Latin America imploding. The only option for the democratic opposition in Venezuela is to resist nonviolently and to develop a well thought out strategy of non-violent civic resistance.

Venezuelans have been standing up for freedom and need the solidarity of all people of good will. These are difficult times when international leadership on human rights is absent to a large degree.

All eyes on Venezuela this week because the democratic opposition needs your solidarity. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Crackdown on journalists in Cuba denounced by Reporters Without Borders

In addition to the individuals named below by Reporters Without Borders, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina and Manuel Alejandro León were also detained for seven hours on October 14, 2016 and threatened with prison for trying to provide reporting on the impact of Hurricane Matthew.

Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina (left) Manuel Alejandro León detained (Right)
Crackdown on media includes ban on Hurricane Matthew coverage

The arrests of journalists trying to inform fellow citizens about the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Matthew’s passage over eastern Cuba on 4 October are the latest example of how the Cuban government continues its harassment of independent journalism. Their reporting clearly did not please the authorities .

Maykel González Vivero, a journalist working for the Diario de Cuba news website, was arrested in the eastern city of Baracoa on 10 October while interviewing people about hurricane damage and was held for three days. He had just been fired from state-owned Radio Sagua for working for independent media.

On 11 October, it was the turn of six members of the Havana-based Periodismo de Barrio news website, include its director, Elaine Díaz, to be arrested while visiting Baracoa to cover the aftermath of the hurricane. Their equipment was confiscated for several hours.

The team of Periodismo de Barrio heading to Baracoa, Guantánamo. via Facebook

Read more here:
According to the authorities, the journalists were arrested under the state of emergency proclaimed by President Raúl Castro on 4 October, which supposedly prohibited journalistic reporting without special authorization. But for the state of emergency to be valid, it should have been accompanied by a resolution defining how and in what regions of the country it was to be applied. No such resolution was ever formally issued by the authorities.

There is no shortage of subjects that are off-limits for unauthorized media outlets. Reinaldo Escobar, a journalist with the 14ymedio website, was unable to cover the inauguration of the first regular flight between the United States and Cuba. He was arrested in Santa Clara on 31 august for doing “enemy journalism” and was forcibly escorted back to Havana.

Oscar Sánchez Madan, a reporter for the Hablemos Press independent news agency, was arrested by three members of the National evolutionary Police (PNR) in the municipality of Cárdenas on 18 August while interviewing Leticia Ramos Herrería, a representative of the Ladies in White, a movement formed by the wives of political prisoners.

We deplore the Cuban government’s growing hostility towards the country’s independent media,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk.
The recent attempts to censor ‘unofficial’ media, especially during a natural disaster, are completely unproductive and reinforce self-censorship, which is very harmful for the entire country. The Cuban government should drop its ideological postures and help the independent media to develop instead of systematically opposing them.

There have been many cases of harassment in recent months, making independent reporting impossible. RSF has learned that four Hablemos Press members – director Roberto Jesús Guerra Pérez, deputy director Eduardo Herrera, executive director Magalay Otero Suárez and reporter Arian Guerra – had no choice but to leave Cuba at the end of September after repeated threats.

Hablemos Press has been the target of harassment and arbitrary arrests for 13 years. Guerra Pérez told RSF he had been constantly harassed by the government in recent weeks in the form of comments by state employees in the street, telephone death threats or being repeatedly prevented from working. Now that he is in exile, he fears an illegal raid on the news agency’s headquarters in the coming weeks.

The Centro de Información Legal (Cubalex), a Cuban NGO that defends media freedom, has been subjected to various forms of harassment –including searches, disconnected phone lines and humiliating interrogations – since it issued a report on free speech in Cuba and presented it to the United Nations in Geneva. The level of persecution of Cubalex got to the point that the office of the special rapporteur on freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued an alert on 13 October condemning the harassment.

14ymedio, the website found by Yoani Sánchez (an RSF media freedom heroine in 2014), revealed in an investigative report in September that Cuba’s state-owned telephone company Etecsa was blocking text messages containing the terms “human rights” or “hunger strike,” the name of the opposition magazine Convivencia, or the names of certain government opponents.

At the same time, the list of websites that are blocked or are the target of cyber-attacks has lengthened this year and now includes such sites as Cubaencuentro and Martinoticias.

Cuba is ranked 171st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index – the lowest position in Latin America.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cuban plea to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Please tell Castro to stop ordering the beating of women and harboring of terrorists

Online advertisement in The Rebel Yell
On the eve of the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, “The Rebel Yell”, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas student newspaper published a full page ad urging them to “prod the Obama Administration to condition any future negotiations and affirmative responses to General Raul Castro’s requests to … the immediate end to beatings and abuses of peaceful dissidents by the regime’s police.”

The ad “calls on all Americans to petition General Raul Castro to stop beating and abusing these women.”

The petition, issued by the Center for a Free Cuba, an independent, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights in Cuba, says that “despite President Obama’s hopes since December 17, 2014 when he announced [his Cuba outreach], political repression including the beatings resulting in bone fractures and the dragging of the Ladies in White, mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of political prisoners have increased.”

The ad includes five photographs of Cuban police assaulting the women, including two photographs showing them with broken arms. Among them in the photos is Laura  Pollán, the founder of the “Ladies in White” with a broken arm and her hand showing the “L” sign for liberty. Ms. Pollán died under suspicious circumstances at a Cuban hospital. The autopsy report has yet to be released.

Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, Mari Carmen Aponte and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Tom Malinowski carried out diplomatic negotiations last week with Cuban officials. It is not known if the death of peaceful dissidents was discussed.

The petition asks Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump to urge General “Raul Castro [to permit] the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International to visit Cuba’s political prisoners.”

Further negotiations with Havana should be incumbent “on the return by General Castro of American terrorists, killers of U.S. police officers to face American justice. They are wanted by the FBI and President Obama withdrew Cuba from the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. Now out of the list Cuba should act accordingly,” the Center for a Free Cuba says.

“We call on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to pledge to base U.S. policy toward Cuba on an immediate cessation of these outrages,” Ambassador James Cason, president of the Center for a Free Cuba said. Ambassador Cason a career diplomat served as Ambassador to Paraguay and Chief of Mission in Havana for three years. [Ad follows]

The Center for a Free Cuba based in Washington DC is an independent, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights in Cuba.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Forum 2000 Conference: The Courage to Take Responsibility

20th Forum 2000 Conference remains as relevant as ever

Forum 2000 asks a central question for participants to reflect on the 20th edition of the Forum 2000 Conference and it is a question that I often ask myself and others when surveying the political landscape today:
The life and work of Václav Havel, an intellectual, an author, a political prisoner, a human rights defender and a president of a country, is an amazing example of democratic leadership and of taking personal responsibility for the state of public affairs and the world as a whole. Nevertheless, today´s democratic leadership seems to be in crisis, contending with a lack of vision, responsibility, and perhaps even courage to lead. Are the current democratic systems unable to generate true leaders? Is the growing authoritarianism in the world a result of the weakness of democratic leadership? Where are the Havels, Churchills, or Mandelas of today?
The gathering officially opened last night in Prague with a keynote address by Andrej Kiska, the President of the Slovak Republic, and archived video of the event is available online here. This morning  the conference gets underway and can be watched live below.

Representing Cuba at this conference are former prisoner of conscience and activist Jorge Olivera Castillo, pro-democracy activist Rosa María Payá of Cuba Decide, former prisoner of conscience and independent lawyer René Gómez Manzano of the Corriente Agramontista. Representing Venezuela is Lawyer and President of New National Awareness Foundation Tamara Suju.  Also long time friend of free Cubans and Venezuelans Gabriel Salvia, of CADAL from Argentina is attending. 

Please use the hashtag #Forum2000 when commenting on the Forum 2000 conference.

Today at 11:15am Central European Time there was a panel on Latin America at Forum 2000 with a distinguished panel outlined below.


11:15 - 12:45 Panel (European House) 
 In cooperation with CASLA Institute

Panel discussion:
Oscar Arias Sánchez, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Former President, Costa Rica
Mauricio Alarcón Salvador, Human Rights Lawyer, Executive Director, Fundación Ciudadanía y Dessarrollo, Ecuador
Axel Kaiser Barents von Hohenhagen, Co-founder and Executive Director, Fundación Para el Progreso, Chile
Alejandro Medinaceli Avila, Activist and Leader, National Unity Front, Bolivia
Rosa María Payá Acevedo, President, Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, Coordinator, Cuba Decide Campaign, Cuba
Mario Lionnet Valenti, Politician, Nicaragua

Moderator: Tamara Sujú, Human Rights Lawyer, Venezuela

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Communism Kills ...

Today 1 in 5 live under a communist regime.

On October 13, 2016 the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation placed a series of advertisements in Times Square in New York City highlighting the crimes of communism including the killing of 100 million human beings in less than a century. The day before the organization posted a video that in the space of a minute exposes the malevolent nature of this ideology that in practice is a system of repression.

Among the victims highlighted is Sirley Ávila León, a local elected official who tried to keep a school in open in Cuba, was purged from her position, and once she became a dissident Sirley was subjected to a machete attack engineered by Castro's intelligence service in May of 2015.

She went back to Cuba last month, found her home occupied by strangers placed their by the Cuban government, and her attacker out on the street threatening to finish the job he started.

This is Cuba in 2016. It remains a brutal communist dictatorship. Thank you to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation for reminding the world of this at a time of great moral confusion.

This image of Sirley Ávila León now on display in Times Square